A Definite No
“He’s coming. He’s going to destroy everything, and no one can stop it. Humanity won’t survive. That’s what he wants. Go somewhere safe, where he can’t find you. Don’t let him find you. In seven days, everything will be gone. You have seven days until it’s all gone.”
I sat up in bed, stretched my arms, and yawned. Of course I knew the end was coming. Anyone who didn’t was a fool, and I took comfort in the thought of billions perishing in disbelief.
I watched as my dog pranced into the room, her favorite toy in her mouth. “Good morning Thena.” I patted her head, and she closed her eyes happily.
I stared at my desk as I walked over to it, sitting in my amazingly comfortable chair. Thena laid underneath the chestnut wood, chewing happily on her ratty blue bunny. Pages upon pages of scribbled research sprawled in front of me. A highlighted bible stared back, its fiery pages of Revelations screaming for me to read them--for just about the millionth time.
A colleague of mine--I say that as though I’m some kind of old lady--convinced me to finish his research before he died. He said, “This will kill me, you know. The Devil doesn’t like being chased, and he will find me. You have to finish what I started, Hera. You have to find him before it’s too late.”
I, of course, didn’t believe him. But being the newest professor at a prestigious university, I felt inclined to do whatever he said. Though he was a little cooky, Dr. Thornton was my only friend. I had to leave my friends and family behind. My boyfriend, my mother and father, my two younger brothers, my best friends. I left because I had to. After my famous dissertation on Queen Elizabeth I, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, and Harvard offered huge pay bonuses to be their new, young, up-and-coming head of the history department. I ended up choosing Yale.
The thought of being the youngest professor at such a university excited me. I was going to make upwards of six figures within ten years. I loved history, and I was getting paid that much for doing what I loved? Who wouldn’t jump at a chance like that?
My boyfriend thought it was stupid. He demanded I stay with him, follow him through his destined-to-be professional baseball career. I knew he wasn’t going that far, and I also knew I halfway hated him for his emotional manipulation. I was angry at myself for staying so long with such an idiot. But I stayed because he was easy to be with, and it was easier to stay than leave. However, as soon as I committed to teaching at Yale, I left in the dead of night on a Thursday and blocked his number as soon as I was on the plane.
Dr. Thornton was the first to welcome me. He was kind and very sweet, always bringing me tea and coffee cake.
“My dear,” he told me one day as he passionately annotated his seventy-sixth bible, “you are going to save the Earth.”
I always thought he was talking about climate change, which I was most keen about, so I chuckled and brushed it off. But the doctor specializing in religious studies insisted I was the one. He was wrong, but he wholeheartedly believed I would stop the Armageddon.
The other professors mocked me behind my back. The women would laugh as I walked by. The men would attempt to flirt. And the few who tried to force themselves on me ended up dead within a week. At first, I was alarmed, especially at the way in which they died, but as time went on I felt no remorse. I hadn’t hurt them, and monsters like that have no place among humanity anyhow.
I was at Yale for about two years when the doctor began a spiral of psychosis and heart failure. Every time he felt pain in his body, he exclaimed, “He’s found me, Hera. He’s found me and I’m going to die.” I shook my head and drank his wonderful tea. It took just a month for his only words to be incoherent messages scribbled on his bedroom walls. He refused to leave his house, and since he had no family, I took care of him and taught some of his classes. After his last words to me, he was dead a few hours later.
I don’t like thinking about such a brilliant mind withering into nothingness, but everyone’s fate was the same. Even if it was stalled, the Devil would have always found a way to expand his territory and bring about the end of times.
After the doctor’s death, I cleaned the clutter and uncovered his beautiful home. I moved in, as he made everything in his will out to me. It was a comfortable home, and I enjoyed our talks in his cozy living room by the crackling fire. I brought my dog, a gorgeous mongrel shepherd whose eyes were a deep, preciously pretty sea green. Thena at first wouldn’t leave the kitchen. But as time went on, we both became more comfortable with the creaking wood and doors that seemingly closed on their own.
Thena, one morning, decided to yelp and whine until I followed her to the basement door. I avoided it because it gave me an unsettling feeling, but if Thena was okay with it, I was okay with it. I turned the doorknob and it whistled past my face, missing me by inches, and slammed into the wall. Thena wagged her tail expectedly.
“Jesus, girl. What do you suppose is down here?” Instead of answering me, she bolted down the stairs and barked for me to follow. I did, and found a very empty space shrouded in darkness.
The doctor never told me about a basement, and there were so many doors in the house that I never asked if there was one. Curious, I flipped on the light switch to find a lone desk and a few shelves as bare as a skeleton, a few strings of decayed meat still hanging off.
“Weird old man,” I muttered. The basement door creaked shut and Thena began growling at the nothingness. Goosebumps rose on my arms and the hair on the back of my neck stood, sending electric shocks through my bones. I shivered and stared at the floor, mouth agape, as the dust on the dirty ground started shifting. At first it was only vibrating, but it grew into a violent, loud shuddering. The air was quiet for a moment before the dirt shot out, covering my front half and sending me into a coughing fit.
Thena ran up the stairs, tail between her legs. Gasping for air, I followed her, careful not to look over my shoulder. What I saw scared me, and I am not a generally frightened person. But I started to think that maybe the doctor was right, so I delved into the darkest crevices of his research.
The more I read, the more comfortable with the idea of death I became. Thena never went into the basement on her own, but she would warily follow me when I did--which was almost everyday. I needed to know what the doctor had hidden in that room, and what made the dust vibrate like that. The doctor’s latest notes I couldn’t make sense of, as I could barely even read the words, but I was determined.
I used the money he left me and I took a trip, with Thena and the doctor’s research, to Europe. I stopped in every church I could, but as soon as I mentioned Thornton’s name, I was asked to leave. Most made a point to drench their hands in holy water as I left, muttering prayer after prayer. I almost lost hope until I heard whispers of an excommunicated priest living in the rolling hills of Scotland. A hermit, he was shunned and banished for doing the most unspeakable thing a priest could--try to communicate with the Dark Prince himself. He painted a pentagram on the floor of a church basement, sacrificing animals to bring him closer and closer to the Devil. Lucifer took interest after a human sacrifice and appeared before the priest as an old woman. After their meeting, he became hysterical. He never slept. He screamed and screamed that he knew when the antichrist was coming, that the world would fall to the undead, swarms of locusts and scorpions destroying crops and eating away at the dead bodies. He spoke in a horrible Satanic tongue, hissing and spitting between words. The bishop who told me this was sent to a mission in Egypt shortly after I left for Scotland.
The Scottish countryside was beautiful. Thena was happy frolicking through the fields as we backpacked into the priest’s territory. She chased the flocks of sheep and begged for treats from the shepherds, who were perfectly fine to have the upbeat help. But as soon as we came upon the old shack in the bottom of a valley, the sky grew dark, and Thena kept close, her fur constantly brushing against my thigh.
I knocked on the rickety door once, and there was no answer. Twice, no answer. A third. No answer. Four, five times. No answer. On the sixth, it flung open with a loud BANG. I jumped back and Thena flew into a frenzy of barking. She went quiet as an old, decrepit man crept into the doorway. He winced away from the light, quietly ushering us inside.
“Hera Chatfield,” he whispered. “Welcome.”
“How do you know my name?” I stood frozen as he shut the door, switching the five locks. He laughed.
“He told me, dearie. Your friend warned you, you know. The Devil doesn’t like being chased.” Thena let out a low growl, wedging herself between my legs and baring her teeth. “Come on now, I can’t hurt her even if I wanted to,” he scolded, pointing a bony finger at my dog. “I’m too weak and you know it.” She whimpered in response, grumbling and trotting over to the logs in the fireplace. The priest waved his hand, and flames sprang to life. Thena nodded and laid down on the rug, warming herself as rain began to pelt on the shack’s wooden roof.
“So,” he rattled, “what exactly do you want from me?”
“I think you know. Why would anyone want to come here for just a visit?” I drew my lip up in a slight smirk. He scowled and receded farther into his wool shawl.
“Hey now! What is so wrong with my home?” he spat.
“Nothing, nothing,” I laughed. “It’s just… different?... than what most people are used to.”
“Well,” he croaked, “it’s no ravishing colonial house.” I froze. “Unsettling at first, I know. But you’ll get used to it. He tells me many things.”
“Who?” I asked, starting to shiver.
“Come on now, do I really need to answer that question?” He hobbled into the north corner of the shack and stirred a pot with a metal fork. My stomach grumbled loudly.
“It smells wonderful.”
“Thank you. Since I knew I would have visitors, I decided to do something fancy.” He smiled to himself.
“You say the Devil told you?” I crossed my legs as he brought three bowls over, setting one in front of me and one on the floor.
“You aren’t a believer, and that’s fine. But you will be,” he warned. He wagged his finger and sat across from me with his own stew. “The stories you’ve heard are true--mostly. I wanted to know more about the church’s enemy, so that maybe we could beat him. But God isn’t here anymore. He left a long time ago, and humanity has never been strong enough to thwart my master’s attacks.” He took a bite, savoring the tangy lamb.
“I never believed in God. My parents raised me in the Baptist church. But I never understood the blind trust they put in a deity they could never meet.” I shrugged my shoulders. “I just pretended so they’d give me money for college.”
“Ha! Smart young lady, you are.” He sipped some of his broth. “You were right to question it. Christianity was a dead religion hundreds of years ago. God abandoned Earth and went on to the next world to start a new story. All the evil spread across the human race made Him sick.”
“It makes me sick, too. But not making any use of it is foolish.”
“Tell me more.” The old man placed the spoon carefully on the table and clasped his hands together. He held a strange glint in his eye, and I swore his pupils dilated ever so slightly.
“If the world is going to shit anyway, why not make the most of it? Why not manipulate and lie and steal if you can get away with it? Why not become powerful at the expense of the ignorant and selfish?” I finished the last of my stew and gave the bowl to Thena to lick clean. “My parents believed I was their little angel. I sort of was, I mean I never did drugs or drank myself into blackouts. But I did start selling marijuana when I was in the eighth grade. I made a hell of a lot of money.”
“Your character is surprisingly dark, Miss Chatfield. I’m delighted.” He smirked. “It sounds like you’d rather the human race die out.”
“Oh no,” I said, shaking my head. “I want to live. A select few need to live. But for the most part? Yes. I don’t want us completely gone, but I’d say leave a few hundred on each continent. Let the rest die off.”
“So you’d like to see it all burn?” he asked, his eyebrow raised.
“Well that wouldn’t be smart.” I rested my chin on my fist and leaned forward. “I think wiping everyone out at first would leave those left to deal with the disease and decay; sadly, that’s too much work.”
“What would you propose?” He stood and walked over to the fire, patted Thena on the head, and started poking the burning logs with his finger. “I’m curious.”
“I don’t know exactly what, I don’t think on it all that often.”
“Theoretically, Miss. Just a question.”
“Hmm…” I sat in silence for a moment, watching him play with the fire. “Periodical, systemic elimination. Some type of disease that slowly eats away at a population until the right amount of people are left.”
“Dear, what do you think cancer is?”
“Please,” I scoffed, “we all know it isn’t working fast enough. The medical community is already halfway to a cure. Polio, the flu, Zika virus, Ebola… it’s all been thwarted.”
“I think it’s time you left,” he stated robotically.
“What? Why??” I stood and leaned over him. “We’ve only been here twenty minutes!”
“I know, and trust me, you’re a good conversationalist.” He shrank down into his chair and furrowed his brow. “But I’ve taken up enough of your time. He wants to talk to you.”
“Oh come on. I told you that I don’t believe in God, now you expect me to believe in Satan?” I slung my pack over my shoulder and gestured for Thena to follow.
“Go back to your basement,” he commanded. “You’ll find all your answers through him.”
I was completely baffled. I wanted to know more, and I had a feeling the old priest was crazy, but what he seemed to know made me uneasy. How could he know my name? How did he know what was in the basement? My logical mind had no answer for it. I was too scared to ever think about the shack and the dark feeling inside it.
When I got home, I paid two-thousand dollars for a security system. The backyard was tripwired, the doors had hidden cameras, I could even see the windows from inside the monitors in my bedroom. I was afraid the priest was going to send someone after me. But the following months were quiet.
The doors stopped closing by themselves. My trinkets were where they were supposed to be, not to be found in obscure places--like on top of the kitchen ceiling fan. Thena didn’t growl at the basement door anymore, and we sure as hell didn’t go down there. Then came a bad winter, and we were stuck in the house for a month. We were lucky we had food stocked up. The howling winds completely knocked out the wifi, which meant I couldn’t distract myself from the evils lurking within.
On the first day it was the flickering of lights in the late evening. I assumed it was just the blizzard. The second, I still wasn’t convinced I should’ve been scared. I would find Thena staring at the basement door for a few minutes, but after I called her name she would come over to me for ear scratches. The third day wasn’t much different, but an odd, almost sinister feeling fell over the house. The corners of the living room seemed a little darker. The TV would suddenly shut off. I spent increasingly more time in my secure bedroom.
On the fourth day, I woke up to every single cabinet, drawer, and door in the house open. That included the front door, which had been shut tight since the storm started. I never touched it, and no one from the outside could have opened it. I hurriedly swept the piling snow back outside and shut the door as my fingers began to go numb. I only came out of my room for food, water, and the bathroom. The fifth day convinced me that I would not open my bedroom door until someone came to check on the house. I would hear knocking on the front door. Quiet at first, then thunderous, angry racks… as if someone was trying to break it down. Footsteps creaked across the old floorboards, a hand ran against the outdated wallpaper. It stopped at my door. From the middle of my bed I could faintly make out the TV playing loudly, then cutting out to static, then back again.
The sixth day sent me into a chaotic frenzy, and I thought my mind was going to break, just like Dr. Thornton’s. Shadows slithered across the floor and walls in the dim, cold light, then darted away once my eyes snapped to them. They stayed on the edges of my vision, taunting me to look; but I was afraid I would see something I didn’t want to. By the end of the day, I refused to open my eyes as I held Thena close to my chest, crying into her thick fur. She growled periodically, and she never left my side. Then, just before the sun fell below the horizon, everything vanished. The terrifying, dark blanket covering the air lifted. The lights returned to their normal brightness. The TV went silent. But, when I finally crept out of my room, I found the basement door wide open.
“No,” I muttered. Thena agreed with a small whine. But I knew I had to go down there and find what I wanted. I remembered what the priest said, and tried to brace myself for what--or who--I might find waiting for me. “You don’t have to come, girl. You can stay here,” I assured my nervous companion, but she stubbornly sat down next to my feet. “Fine, but just remember that you said yes.” I shook my head and we steadily made our way down the steps.
The room was draped in a deep red glow, but there weren’t any lights on. I didn’t bother to flick the switch. My whole body clenched as my eyes focused on a hooded figure on the other side of the room. It stood completely still, its back to me. I gulped. It started to walk backwards, slowly, until it placed itself in the center of the room. The redness intensified. I felt my back touch cold concrete. The basement door slammed shut with a loud, resounding BANG.
The air in my lungs dissipated into nothingness. Thena, the hair on her back raised, ferociously bared her teeth at the figure. A low hum started and soon graduated to a deafening roar. I covered my ears. I tried, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the thing in the center of the room. The redness turned into a white-hot fire as the dust vibrated once again, spinning in a circle, then shooting out towards us. I blocked my face, and as I lowered my arms, a pentagram, outlined in fire, surrounded the figure.
Its cloak was dropped. An old woman faced me, her eyes without pupils and irises. They were nothing but a vast blackness. Wings sprouted from her hunched back, the bat-like leather fraying at the ends. My shallow breaths stopped as she opened her mouth to speak.
“Hello, child.” A deep, demonic voice scratched in my ears. “How I’ve been longing to speak with you.”
I couldn’t even form words.
“I can look a little more welcoming for you.” She paused and lowered her wings. The redness dulled and the dust finally settled. “Would you like that?” A quizzical look befell her face.
I nodded. I tried to swallow, but my throat was dry. She bowed her head, her eyes still fixed on mine. She smiled to reveal a set of sharp, pearly white teeth. She crumbled down into ashes. For a moment, I thought she was gone. But then the shadows on the walls crept into the middle of the pentagram, writhing within each other, and finally shaped a tall, lean man in an all-black, slim-fitting suit.
“My dear,” he crooned. “How have you been?” He reached into the air and grabbed a chair out of the shadows. He put it down in the pentagram and sat.
“Good…?” I still couldn’t breathe.
“I apologize for the old woman mirage, but you must understand that appearances are very important.” He checked his nails and shifted in his seat. I nodded. “My name is--”
“Lucifer,” I finished. He paused and watched me for a moment.
“Very smart,” he replied. “See, you aren’t scared darling. Come sit with me.” He waved his hand and in front of us appeared a small chestnut table adorned with delicious food. A chair for me was placed opposite of him. I obeyed and sat in it.
“What is all this?”
“For you!” he exclaimed, holding his hands out to his sides. I didn’t move. “Don’t trust me?” The accusation whistled through his perfectly straight teeth.
“Why would I?” I returned, narrowing my eyes. If he really was the devil, I had to play his game. He laughed.
“You are right. You continue to surprise me, dear Hera. You really do,” he chuckled to himself.
“What does that even mean?” I sat forward and felt my eyebrows raise dramatically. “You’re talking as if you’ve always known me.”
“Oh but I have.” He laced his fingers together as he placed his elbows on the table. “I’ve followed you your whole life. From birth, to getting the best grades in school, to selling drugs, to manipulating your parents for money… you’re an interesting one. And here we are now. You’ve been searching without even knowing what your purpose is.”
“I wanted to finish my friend’s work.”
“But you never really believed him, not until long after his death. Which, by the way, was unfortunate. By the time I knew what was happening to him it was too late to stop it.”
“What? What happened to him?”
“One of my children got to him. There are too many of them to know what’s going on all the time. They assumed I wanted him dead because he was looking for me. But the more people look, the stronger I get. It’s not like anyone can really stop what’s happening. The searching only fuels it further. Speaking of, Miss Hera, was that your goal? To find me?” he questioned, eyes gazing into my soul. I nodded. “Well, here I am. What now?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted, my throat tightening.
“And that is the problem with you humans. You fight blindly with no end goal. None of you have purpose. It’s sad. And that is why it’s all going to end soon.”
“So the priest was right?”
“Ha! That old man,” he started, “is as crazy as they come. Sacrificing all those animals, and finally that poor girl.”
“Wait, you don’t want human sacrifices?”
“No, love. Another soul is always nice, but highly unnecessary. Enough come to me every single day to fill my legions. That girl was a sweet one, you know. Very charming. A shame she died so early.” He blinked slowly. “I know you probably have more questions, but those will have to wait. We have a mission.”
“We? Who is ‘we’ supposed to be? I literally said that I don’t trust you. What makes you think I’ll do anything you want?” I spat.
“Quite frankly, you owe me.”
“Owe you? What the hell would I ever owe you for?” I slammed my hands on the table.
“I like your choice of words.” He leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs, pointing his finger at me. “My dear, I’ve protected you for a very long time. The amount of money you made from selling drugs? The abusive boyfriend I kept from beating on you? The nasty men who tried to take what wasn’t theirs to take? Me.”
“How do you know anything about my life? Why did you do all that for me?”
“Even though that egotistical man in the sky creates everyone, because of my origins I get a sneak peak. I saw who you would be. Not the process of becoming it, but I could see you. And you are absolutely glorious. You, my dear Hera, play a vital role in the end times.”
“That’s outrageous. I’m a human, not some ethereal being.”
“You make the mistake of thinking you cannot be both at once.” He stood and paced across his symbol. “You’re special. So special even I can’t see into your soul. It’s hard to say why, because I haven’t a clue. I can peer in the darkest depths of anyone’s heart and see everything they’ve ever wanted and will want.”
“But not me?”
“But not you. At first, that irked me beyond fury. But I had to keep the endgame in mind.”
“The Armageddon? I get that you’re the Devil and all, but why the end of the world? Wouldn’t you want somewhere pleasant to live?”
“I forget how little humans actually know. Dear, this isn’t the only planet I have or will get my hands on. God makes humans, humans destroy themselves, I destroy the planet, I move to a new one with my own plans, and that bastard just finds me. But this time will be different, because I have you.”
“Different planets? This is so confusing. I thought Earth was it.”
“No, no. Never. Did you really think that such powerful beings would be confined to one planet?”
“I guess not. It doesn’t make sense for it to work that way. But why me? What’s special about me?”
“You’re extremely smart, for one. You also have this transcendent ability to see through everyone’s bullshit. Which is exactly why,” he took a bite out of an apple on the table, “you continued Thornton’s research. You were curious to find the darkness, whereas he sought to destroy it. Your soul is a kind of conduit for that darkness, and he mistook it for powerful light. Your magnetism made it easy to follow you throughout your life.”
“So do I have any other special powers?” I laughed jokingly.
“Have you ever felt powerful after doing something you shouldn’t have?”
I thought back to selling drugs and manipulating my simplistic parents for money. I nodded, and then my heart nearly stopped. The Devil smiled and looked me dead in the eye.
“Am I… am I the Antichrist?”
“That would be a definite no. I’m sorry if that disappoints you, but no. My son has been walking this Earth for awhile now. You’re actually about the same age. Which brings me to what you’re here for.”
“Which is what?”
“I want you to help him repopulate the next planet. You’re perfect for each other, I’ve seen to that. Your personalities perfectly--”
“Deal,” I interrupted. “But I have one condition.”
“Oh?” The corners of his mouth curled into an evil smile.
“I want to help destroy it.”
“You continue to surprise me, Hera. You really do. I, of course, already had some lofty plans for you… but I am very excited to hear what you have in mind.”
Lucifer visited me everyday for the rest of the winter storm. After that, he came every Sunday at noon. Over lunch, we discussed his plans for the Armageddon and my role in it, as well as my future husband’s. I infiltrated governments and bribed officials with devilish promises. I sought out the few perfect candidates to take with us to our new world. Thena was with me the whole time. Lucifer promised that if I fulfilled my end, her and I would both be granted immortality as minor deities. And he did.
The world fell into a nuclear apocalypse. Most of the powerful men I manipulated died anyway, despite my assurances of salvation with the Devil. I set up the goals, and the antichrist knocked them down. My sweet husband was talented at it; after all, it was his purpose to destroy.
So, when I woke up that morning, Dr. Thornton’s ghoulish words echoing in my brain, I was calm. Lucifer taught me so much. He told me to study the Bible as if it were just another historical document. The secrets hidden in its pages were absolutely astounding. But that’s a story for another time.
But what happened to God? Why didn’t he stop you? Why didn’t he stop the Devil?
Well those are just foolish questions. We killed him, silly. God is dead, and you will be soon. Don’t worry, though, dear human. It won’t be painful. Your will is strong, but ours is stronger. As the last human in the universe, you’ll die knowing you tried your best. And no, I’m not going to tell you how we killed him, because it was rather gruesome. You have a good rest, now. I have a very long, enjoyable, immortal life to get back to.