Much worse, he thought to himself, flicking ash off his cigarette and stepping out of the shadows to follow Angela. But he could live with doing a little worse if it meant getting revenge on Carlos.
James Burns was never supposed to be born. As unnatural as a frigid inferno or a planet orbiting around a black hole, he belonged neither in the human world nor in the demonic underbelly. A hybrid who shared compassion and cruelty, a lust for creation and a lust for destruction; he had to hide his true origin for as long as he remembered. His existence alone was a defiance to the laws governing earth and his mother was the one who paid the price. He never met her, for he was condemned to kill her as soon as he took his first breath, but her voice still echoed in his mind, singing lullabies while still in the womb. He remembered the warmth of her love when she’d rub her belly and read fairytales to her unborn—it was the blessing and curse of his duality and the nourishment of his hatred. Yes, James Burns was prepared to do anything to get revenge on Carlos; the creature who sowed him, the demon who bestowed a taste for murder on him, the father who gifted him the thirst for blood, and soon the half-breed would return the favor...
James would watch the earth burn and be reborn again if it meant fulfilling his life’s purpose. He had waited an eon for the perfect candidate, the missing piece, the correct pawn to set his plan into motion, and, of all the minions his father leashed, Angela was far the most promising. She nurtured the right amount of aversion for James to exploit in convincing her to switch sides and the rebellious personality to encourage her to fight back. He had to find a way to summon her. Tiptoeing between the world of the living and the kingdom of monsters came with limitations. No mortal could come within arm’s reach without feeling the chill of corruption in their hearts. As for a mortal who carried the Mark, he was as bare to their gaze as the shadow of an atom under a microscope. Should he ever approached her without permission, should she ever saw his true form, Angela’s sanity without a doubt would be ripped to shreds and then she’d be useless to him.
He trailed her back to her house and lingered outside, contemplating on his next move—if she kept rejecting his card, he’d have to try a different way—when, through the walls, his eyes caught a glimpse that seemed imperceptible to everyone but the marked human. It crackled with energy that tingled his skin. It called to him but at the same time stung like a porcupine wiggling inside his brain. His mind circled back to the exchange he witnessed in the dark alley, the mysterious box and the golden lock, and a gear snapped into place, forcing a gasp out of him. It couldn’t be... He couldn’t possibly be so lucky as to have stumbled upon the Possessor, right?
Erick Stool, or that's what he claims his name is. For eight hours a day five days a week, I watch him babble about a dead sister who every man wanted to get with. I fall asleep for several seconds to wake up to him babbling, trying to hang me with his shirts, saying not to get with his sister. I don't want his sister. I'm not a damn necrophiliac. I kick him back in his place, and check his vitals. No bruises on the patients was Father's only rule. But, this one just made me want to kill him. I mean, his sister died of AIDS. She obviously got around, but now she just lived in his head, pushing him to be crazy.
My phone rang, and I checked the caller ID. Mom. No thanks. I hung up on her two weeks ago, and now all she can do is call me and bitch that I'll get my comeuppance for what I did. Whatever. Stool is up again, babbling about his sister, Shine. What a stupid name for a girl. My daughter, Tiffany, didn't have the best name either but Shine was just a bad name. Mom was having Gina call now. Whatever. I couldn't talk to her either. She knew to text me that it was about the kids before she called. I couldn't talk to her right now either. She'd take mom's side like always. If only she hated Mom as much as I did. Our relationship would be better.
"Sister!" Stool screamed, lunging for an empty chair in a dark corner.
"Shut up!" I screamed, kicking him in his stomach. "She's dead. Will you shut up!"
There was a knock on the door. This fool has a no visitors rule. Who the fuck would break the rule of someone with a contagious life-threatening illness. I opened the door to see a woman standing there.
"Who the fuck are you?" I asked through my respirator.
"Um... My name is Shine. I'd like ot see my brother, Erick Stool."
"Keep dreaming kid," I chuckled, slaming the door shut. "Hey weirdo, guess who's here?"
“It was her bestfriend disguised as her killer - a traumatic betrayal that she’ll carry even in her grave.” Two high school students, sophomores engaged in intimate relations, stare at the girl’s laptop, gaping at the ending of the story they have binged for the last week. Lola opens her mouth, the promptly closes it, like a fish, really. Raúl blinks endlessly, shuts his eyes, then slowly opens them.
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
“That’s it? Nah - shit, bruh, that can’t be it-”
“Damn, son, I don’t fuck with these cliffhangers, moe, the fuck is going on-”
“Ay, yo, hol’ up a minute, I gotta take this.” A twenty-something-year-old woman stands from the bed, cutting her eyes at Raúl, who opens his mouth to complain. She doesn’t need to speak and tell him to shut up; her glare does all the talking. Briskly leaving the dorm room, heels clicking with each, poised step, she answers the phone the moment the door is closed and she feels alone enough to speak freely. ”¿Hola? Carlos, ¿qué quieres? Estoy en medio de una misión con Lola y Raúl y ahora no es un buen momento.” She huffs, running her freshly manicured nails through wavy, chocolate, stress-prone locks. Not this. Not now. “Ya te dije esto. Ya no trabajo en esos trabajos. Encuentra alguna otra puta perra. Estoy tratando de armar mi mierda. ¿Lo entiendes?”
“Angela? You alright?” Fuck. She whips her head around to find Lola standing in the hall, gentle hand resting against the doorframe. Her lips are pressed into a thin line, concern branded across her face. Angela resists the urge to cringe, to lash out, to break down; she promised herself that her little sister would never see her like this - never again. But Carlos is there, in her ear, like Mephistopheles, tempting her patience, tempting her emotions, tempting her-
Angela needs the money. Lola needs the money. This is the only way to get her through this expensive-ass, cash-thirsty boarding school. This is the only way to keep her from going back home.
”¿Asi que? ¿Ha cambiado de opinión?” Carlos almost sounds smug. Angela clenches her fist tighter around her phone, acrylics scratching at the screen. But, to her sister - her darling, innocent sister who is far too good for her own sake - she forces a smile and giggles, waving her hand in such a carefree manner that Lola grins right back at her.
“I’m fine, Lo. Just some bullshit from work. Don’t worry about it, sweetheart.”
“Good, because Rafa wants to talk about the fic. Could you believe that ending!” Lola throws her hands up, the most eloquent way to get her words out, still at a loss. “I mean, what the fuck man! I wasted a whole week, I coulda been doing that project for Lang-”
”‘Project?’” Angela quirks an eyebrow at Lola, who falters, swallowing thickly. She barks out an over-exaggerated laugh that is born from her diaphram and booms forth from her mouth. Though her defense mechanisms were more incriminating than helpful, Angela knows her sister well enough to know that the sudden guffaw is just a highly awkward don’t worry about it. “Lo, I’ve gotta go.”
The laughter dies down a little more rapid than Angela would have liked, and she grimaces at the crestfallen look on her sister’s face; at the way her back and shoulders collectively slump, defeated.
“Right. Well, you are working and everything now. These calls come with the territory, I guess. Shoulda peeped that...” Angela wants to pull her sister into a hug, wants to tell her that it’s alright, wants to scream and shout at her that what she’s doing is for her and that she needs to grow the hell up.
Angela, instead, like a good big sister, just leans forward, kisses Lola’s forehead, and takes a step backwards. “I’ll see you later,” she promises, and she means it.
When Lola looks back up, Angela’s already so far down the hall that she didn’t get the chance to sneak a peek at caller ID on the screen.
“Good girl,” the demon on the phone praises her. “I’ll see you soon.”
Well. That was rude.
I stood there, a bit stunned, as I registered what just happened.
He was about 32, and from the bag under his eyes and the short temper, he appeared to have a child. A yell of, “Daddy!” confirmed that theory as I racked my mind for more details concerning this man.
While still fit, he showed signs of a beer belly, indicating a former life of activity negated by sedentary actions, most likely due to the kid. His button down shirt was crooked, the consequence of misbuttoning a top button. Hm, either he doesn’t care about appearance or he’s too hagrid to notice. From the pancake batter still present in his beard, I assumed the latter.
Did I want to knock again? I was here on a mission: to find my long lost brother Erick Stool. Seperated for years, Erick and I had last seen each other on a dark, rainy day. I remember the creasing of his eyes, the sound of his sobs, the rain tasting like tears as we buried the last of our parents’ remains into the ground. There wasn’t much to bury.
I decided knocking was ineffective, and instead burst into the hospital doors, to the protest of a nurse angrily following behind me.
“You can’t do that!” she howled before the door was promptly slammed in her face too. Hey, that was kind of fun.
Brushing off my jacket, I eyed the rude doctor from before. His daughter sat in the corner, coloring happily. Tiffany, read her name tag.
“Now, before I was so rudely interrupted,” I said, watching as the doctor’s mouth gaped open and shut. Easily stunned, I surmised. Off a recent familial argument, too, I surmised from a quick glance at the phone in his hand. Ten missed calls from his mom. Jeez...
“I would like to see my brother, Erick Stool,” I continued, walking to the other side of the room. “I must talk to him, urgently.”
Finally regaining his composure, the doctor grabbed my arm, yanking roughly. “You can’t be in here! He has a no visitors rule. Meaning you. Can’t. Be. Here.”
Easily, I shook his hand off and turned around, walking towards the man on the opposite side of the room. “Now that simply won’t do. The news I bring is lethal.”
“So is he,” cut in the doctor. “He’s contagious. Life-threatening illness.”
“Then why is your daughter here?” I rebuked, not breaking eye contact with the man cowered in the corner. Unshaven, his eyes shook with the fear of a wounded animal.
“How did you know she was my daughter?”
“It was obvious. Did you have a good time last night?”
“What?” The man seemed taken aback. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Your clothes were clearly hurriedly put on and wrinkled too, meaning they were either folded or crumpled previously. That indicates you were sleeping elsewhere, or it was laundry day. Now, based off your daughter’s clothes, perfectly primed, it was clearly not laundry day. Tiffany, dear,” I said, whirling around to face the child. She peered up at me, a crayon positioned in one hand. “Where was Daddy last night?”
“I don’t know, I was with the sitter,” she mumbled, already bored as the crayon began moving again.
“Uh huh. Sitter, not mother. However, you still wear a wedding ring. Now, you could also be a widower but you rarely wear your ring. You have tan lines present everywhere except at your ring line. Meaning, you take your ring off often. Need I say more?”
The doctor was speechless, as I often left people. “Okay, five minutes. Go.”
Smirking, I knelt by my brother. “Erick, can you understand me?” I got only a garble as a response. “Mom and dad... I know why they died. They died for you.”
”Good girl,” the demon on the phone praises her. “I’ll see you soon.” Angela stayed motionless in the hall long after the phone clicked off.
How did that fanfic put it again? “A presence of an emotional gun in her head.” That’s what this phone felt like in her palm; a gun. She wondered if she would have pulled the trigger right now.
Then she wondered if it would have killed her after that call anyway.
Her perspective on the world before her took that familiar, violent shift to monochrome. She felt The Mark coming back, she felt it sear into the side of her face along her temple, spreading from the phone still at her ear; the inescapable curse of Carlos.
Angela turned away from the pain, without trying to hide The Mark, knowing better - from the last time - that no one would be able to see it. Knowing that no one would be able to help her. It was a job Carlos had branded to Angela and Angela alone. “A forbidden story to tell. And a truth escaping from hell.” sometimes she wondered if Carlos was the author of that story, she wondered if it was another one of his sick jokes to haunt her. She cursed under her breath in spanish, pocketting her phone and swiping a sweaty hand over her face and through her hair. Angela was a strong woman, no one would see her tears.
Could she cry anymore though? Did she have tears to shed?
For as long as it took to complete this job, as long as this invisible mark was here, she was the demon, and she would commit to any level of demonic actions to finish up this mess and get back her humanity.
He couldn’t possibly be so lucky as to have stumbled upon the Possessor, right?
Angela snuck back into her home and crept silently down the hall and into her room. She really didn’t need a questioning from Lola after the events she had already endured that evening. As she slipped from her clothes and into her pajamas she felt a strange niggling from her pants pocket. A familiar fear surged through her body. A demon was summoning her. But it didn’t feel exactly the same. This felt… more human than demon; there was warmth mixed in with the coldness. She tentatively reached into the pants and pulled out that very same dog-eared business card she had previously destroyed. Carlos wasn’t usually so persistent in his testing. This must be someone else. It didn’t feel the same.
“Alright James Burns. Let’s meet. I’m ready.” This was all the summons he needed before appearing in front of her. He took on a new form before appearing. Old Noir detective seemed to make the most sense, what with the business card and all. He was dashing in his sharp trench coat and fedora. This wasn’t what Angela was expecting.
“I see you have yourself a demon problem. James Burns at your service.” He smiled and took her hand to shake it. She pulled her hand away like she had been bitten by a snake.
“Do you have any idea what you’re involving yourself in Mr. Burns? Carlos is the worst type of demon. He has hold of my whole life. He might be listening to us right now. How do I know you aren’t involved with him? I can trust no one.” She blurted all of this out while he smiled at her. She continued rambling at him; she was explaining her life story. She couldn’t believe how much she felt like spilling her guts to this man she just met. Why did she feel a close connection to a complete stranger?
“Oh I am definitely involved with Carlos.” He said casually. Angela started backing away, but realized there was nowhere to go in her small room. Why did she tell him all of that? James saw he was terrifying her and added, “but not like that! I want him destroyed same as you! I don’t know what you’ve offered him in payment, but he’s pretty focused on you. That didn’t happen to be a lock of hair in that vial did it?” He casually added that last question, trying not to look too concerned over the answer.
“Yes, it was a lock of hair, but not the lock he actually wanted. I didn’t complete the job correctly. He doesn’t have what he thinks he does. I do. I possess my mother’s lock of hair.”
“Strange choice of words.” He grinned, “To use the word, ‘possess’ very strange. Angela just looked at him, not understanding his amusement. She felt bare, stripped, drained. Why had she told this man/demon so much? Was this his demonic power?
James began to reflect. So she is the Possessor. How convenient. She possesses the golden lock of hair that Carlos has been seeking. Her mother’s hair. Turns out Carlos has also been seeking a lock of his mother’s hair. The same lock of hair. So, Angela is my sister. So sorry I killed our mother. Sorry Angela. Damn you Carlos!
“I will destroy Carlos for you. Let’s talk payment.”
“Good girl,” the demon on the phone praises her. “I’ll see you soon.”
Angela's hand slides down from her ear and she stares blankly at the empty, dark hall. He is a demon; nothing more than an evil spirit. Will she ever rid herself from his clutches?
She tiptoes back into the room; she knows exactly the location of what she's looking for.
"Hey, Ange, want to watch something else with us?" Lola asks.
"Not now," she feigns a smile. "I have to go out for a second." Lola frowns; an indication to her disbelief. It's late, not the time to go out shopping. Angela quickly continues. "Emergency. I'm out of tampons. You guys go ahead, you'll catch me up later."
Finally, Lola seems okay with Angela's explanation. Angela turns to the file cabinet snuggled at the corner of the room; she pulls open the last drawer, careful not to make a sound, and reaches into the back. She brings forth a small wooden box with engravings on it. The rough wood is gray and cracked, the engraving are blackened by time.
While Lola and her friend have busy eyes on the bright screen of the laptop, Angela slips the box into the pocket of her coat and steps out the room. She swings the coat on as she takes the stairs. The sense of being watched lingers like a shadow on her back; she pays close attention to anyone she encounters. The demon's minions can be found anywhere, even at school.
Angela leaves the building. The cold, wintery air is like a splash of reality; this is not a game, this is real. She walks away from campus knowing she'll be face to face with her one true fear. The demon.
Her steps echo on the pavement; loud and brisk, just like the beat of her strumming heart. Angela moves along the blocks, turns at the corners, and keeps on walking, unaware of where she is headed, but somehow pulled to keep on moving.
From the darkness of an alley, two strong hands snatch her from the shoulders. The hold is familiar, possessive. The demon.
Thrusted against the rough bricks of the wall, his arms encase her body, and in his dark stare, victory shines.
Thrusted against the rough bricks of the wall, his arms encase her body, and in his dark stare, victory shines.
Angela’s gasp turns into measured breaths. She stills herself, as she’d been taught. The demons hands rove over her body, goosebumps rising under his cold touch. His fingers close around the wooden box and he wrenches it out from her coat pocket. He holds it in front of him, studying the engravings. The pause gives Angela a chance to look at his face. This time, he’s taken on the form of a thirty-something guy, dressed in a casual plaid shirt and jeans. A slight stubble rings his sharp jaw. His features are pleasant, but generic. She would not have given him a second glance if he passed her on the street. The expression on his face moves from triumph to puzzlement to anger. He can’t get the box to open. He meets her glance and sneers, his teeth are filed to points - the one sign of his true nature.
“You think you can fool me? Open it!” he barks.
Angela reaches for the box and slides the engraved portion to the right, pulling the base to the left. The top springs open. The box is empty.
The moment he sees this, the demon flings the box right out of her hands. It hits the alley wall with a crash and falls to the ground in pieces. Despite her situation, her temper rises and she scowls at the demon.
“It has a false bottom, you jerk!” She hisses.
The demon is taken aback with her outburst. Angela kneels and starts to pick what pieces of the box she can see. Luckily what the false bottom was treasuring is intact. A glass vial containing a lock of blonde hair. It belonged to her mother. Or so the demon believes. She holds it up resignedly to the figure looming over her. The demon takes the vial and places it in his front pocket. Angela stands up, clutching at the remnants of the box.
The demon opens his mouth to say something, a parting shot, but disappears before he does.
Alone in the alley, Angela is no longer afraid. For once, her temper had been a blessing. In her head, she had built up the demon to be much more than he is.
As she steps into the streetlight, she notices a deep bruise on her hand from when the demon flung the box. She would have some explaining to do to Lola, she thinks, retracing her steps back home. But more importantly, she needs to plot her next move. She has caught a glimpse of the demon’s fallible side. He did not check the vial, was impatient and quick to act. A shiver runs down her spine. She wonders whether it is from the cold night or the thrill of the challenge and stuffs her hands in her coat pockets. There is something in her right pocket, where the pieces of the box lie. It was definitely not there before. A dog-eared business card with a single name on it: James Burns.
She snapped to find cussing words floating out of her mouth as she saw herself hurling insults at her boss who stood incredulous as she took the verbal shower abuse. She saw herself arriving earlier to work to find herself summoned to her boss's presence. She remembere having both uncomfortable and defiant feelings at one. As if she had a battle to fight, and at one end, she will come winning and at the other end come out losing. She didn't know which demon was more in control of her, her jealousy of her boss's new favorite co-worker or her pride as she deemed herself the one most knowledgable to get things done. Her mind strayed a few days back when a task was called to order and she was assigned to it by her boss who raised above others because of her feist, determinatino, and firm resolve. So much so, she never hesitated to berate her boss if need be. Maybe, at the beginning in the most sutbltest of ways, but her boss always gave in to her. Maybe because she reminded her of her youth. Maybe she like the more determined, feminist side of her. As her boss bloated her over, she took the task. A few days later, she found out that the boss had given the same task to her co-worker. She needed to have demonic control. She needed to be the one unthroned. As the co-workers met in the corridor, words were spun at the speed light and spat out even faster, with accusations and insults interchanging as quickly as they could be thought of. A inner city street girls' fight transferred into the corridors of finesse, and people getting hurt in all directions without a single one being admitted to hospital.
Then her memories stopped as she felt her demons marking her ready for the boil and the blurt. She heard her boss scold and belittle. She heard her bring her down from her tower of Babylon. Inside her head, she did not know which reality to hang on to. Should she hang on to the reality that she actually had no control over the matter? Or should she hang on to the reality that she has control over herself and no one has control over her? As she sawyed between them, her head chose the latter, and decided to take berating her boss to new heights. The inside of her mouth was the inside of a cannon as it fired its unmissable shot, transforming all reality into fragments she would live to regret.
“Angel of Darkness”
For as long as it took to complete this job, as long as this invisible mark was here, she was the demon, and she would commit to any level of demonic actions to finish up this mess and get back her humanity. It was always the job, always the job. How did it ever come to this? A mistake made long ago, a simple mistake that she had never been able to completely free herself from. Anytime the demon needed her he would call, it had changed over the years. First, he would send one of his minions, then it was an image or two flashed into her memories as a message. Now it was a phone call. Evolving over the years as time passed Carlos would always find her.
From one simple mistake she was now a reaper of death on this world, a bringer of destruction. She is the darkness from which humanities nightmares are molded. She was here to grow the ranks of the demonic army waiting to rise and consume the world. She was now faced with another choice in her life. The same kind of choice that allowed her to be cursed, seduced by a lover who told her everything she wanted to hear and then stole her soul for his own. She has been alone ever since, answering the call of deaths bell when it rang.
But now, now she was not alone. She had family and friends. She had a life of her own. Could she still fulfill her duties or was this the moment she had dreamed about all her life, her chance at freedom. To be free from the demon Carlos and her unholy duties.
As she walked outside she was hit by a blast of cold air knocking her back she braced against the now closed door. Cold! It was summer… She was worried now, cold always preceded him. He was here, he had sensed her dissension to his plans. He would not be coming to see her to bargain, if he was here it was for something else. What that was Angela could only wonder, one thing she did know was that whatever the reason she would be a big part of it.