In the final part of Cliff's struggle to obtain answers, he is subjected to a unique and fitting hell. This man who has reaped reward from the suffering and destruction of others, now faces his true self and is forced to acknowledge what is on the mirrors surface. Remember, it's all in good fun.
Cliff Ortiz awoke to the feeling of sex, someone straddling his bones, and half opened his eyes, feeling sicker than before.
This was it, he thought, this was going to be the last day of his life, here on this bed. He saw shapes, tits hanging in front of him, hair let down, and he reached for them. He squeezed them in both hands, so warm and soft, brought one to his lips, wishing there was milk in there. He was so fucking hungry.
His other hand ran the length of the figure’s side, down her stomach, to her thigh, and felt her firm ass, took hold of a cheek as she crashed down onto his lap with a plop. He had to see who was riding him, so he brushed the brown hair out of her face, felt his insides churn, felt like vomiting, and pushed her feebly.
“Get off me!” He cried, coiling himself, “Get the fuck off me!”
“What’s wrong, little brother?” The figure came into view, “You’re the one who’s always making jokes about how I want you.”
It was the fifth day, and he felt too weak to get out of bed, so he just lay there.
Sheryl dressed in black pants and a black blouse, buttoning it, went to stand before him. “Not having fun anymore, Cliff?”
“You fucking . . .” tears streamed down his cheeks. “You piece of shit . . .”
“That’s no way to talk to your beloved sister,” she frowned at him. “What would mom say?”
“You’re not my sister,” he fought back, bringing the pillow down to hold between his legs and stomach. “You’re a part of this nightmare that’s trying to break me.”
“No,” she knelt down before him, “you’re already broken. I’m just trying to make you see.”
“Just fucking kill me already.” He turned his head away, averting his eyes. “Let me die.”
“Not just yet,” Sheryl went to stand by the monitor, put a box of crackers beside his keyboard. “If you want these, you’ll have to come get them.”
“They’re not real,” he shook his head, smashed it against the pillow. “It’s an illusion.”
“Is that what you think,” she let out a puff, went to pick them up, “fine.”
“Wait!” he tried to rise, fell to the floor, and smashed his left elbow. He felt like it broke, with the impact it might as well have, and found that he couldn’t move it. He cried out, nursing it, and felt pain each time he tried to move it.
“This is a limited time offer . . .” the Sheryl doppelganger sounded annoyed.
He crawled towards her, holding his injured arm to his chest, wincing with each step. He was at her feet, sliding against the wood-tiled ground, and peered up at her.
“Please,” he stared up at her unmoved features, “I’m dying.”
She slowly edged the box off the desk, and it fell before him. His good hand shot out and did his best to rip the blue box open, but it was hard without his other hand, so he chewed on it, tearing into it with his teeth. As if that wasn’t problem enough, the crackers were wrapped in plastic which was even harder to tear into.
“This is pathetic,” she watched him from the chair, one leg folded over the other. “Just admit to what you did, and you will be free from this torment.”
He took a handful of crackers, shoved them into his mouth, and chewed three or four times before swallowing. It gave him a stomach ache, eating so fast, and he immediately felt a thirst.
Standing to go to the restroom was going to be tough without the help of his left hand. He edged himself to the bed and climbed up using his right, standing, wobbly, he made his approach to the bathroom. Sheryl was still there, watching, likely enjoying this, with her arms crossed.
She was wore heels, they clicked and clacked as she approached him, a simper on her face. This enigma meant to see to his final moments, he decided, wary of her.
“Just in case you’re curious,” she followed him towards the kitchen. The bathroom door was beside the stove. “Your viewer count is at ‘50,000 viewers’. Congratulations, you’re famous!” she laughed mockingly, clapping slowly, deliberately. “Why don’t you take a bow?”
On his way into the kitchen he wrapped a bed sheet around his left arm like a sling, and it helped some, though not by much. He crashed against the bathroom door, twisted the knob, and spilled onto the linoleum floor. It made his left arm buzz with fresh shooting pain, and he fought back a scream, refusing to give this revenant the satisfaction. She watched him crawl to the toilet bowl, lean against the rim to fill a plastic cup. Then the toilet flushed, and he watched it swirled down out of reach before his eyes, the cup clanking against porcelain.
“Why,” he crushed the cup in his hand, “are you so fucking cruel?”
“It’s all in good fun,” she dropped the lid and sat down, watching him squirm. “If you’re thirsty,” she let her head fall on her fist, “there’s always that.” She motioned at the waste bin with a red nail, about a quart of piss sloshing when he tilted it.
The putrid smell infiltrated his nostrils, making him gag.
“You’re going to have to boil it.” She stood over him, arms at her sides. “The kidneys wash away unnecessary minerals, potassium, sodium, and so on. Drinking them back in your body can be harmful. Drinking too much of it can make you even thirstier, like drinking seawater. Your gums and mouth are also susceptible to suffering.”
He dunked the crinkled cup into the piss, warm to the touch, overflowing, and stared at it. There was no other choice, he took a drink, and immediately coughed, puking up the cracker bits into the waste bin. Piss splashed up against his forehead, bits of cracker spilled out of the rim of the waste bin on to his hand.
The beer in the fridge was his last option, so he went to it, crawling, with arm pulsating worse than before.
He opened the fridge door, got the beer at the end out, took it by the neck, and smashed it onto the counter.
“What are you doing, Cliff?” Sheryl sounded annoyed, standing at the kitchen entrance. This version of Sheryl looked like a goth queen, all black, her hair curly, a faux mole above her lip, a deep dark shadow around her green eyes. She even seemed so much paler than before.
He walked past her, walked to the camera with its red light, to the monitor that had 50k viewers just as the doppelganger said.
“You want a fucking show?” He ran the broken bottle across his neck, blood cascading down his shirt, choking as a result of the act. He felt the life draining from him, ready to give this up.
“Do you think it’ll be that easy?” Sheryl stood behind him, pulled his head back, his eyes shot open, and the bottle was gone—the blood and hole in his throat were gone.
“You fuck!” He thrashed around in the chair, “You heartless piece of human filth!”
‘IT’S ALL IN GOOD FUN . . .’ the screen read in white bold letters over the black screen referencing what he used to say to all those people who called him out for recording fights on the street. The audio of him fighting with the cops played, droning and loud.
Sure, sometimes he got chased, his heart thumping so hard and fast, knowing that if he got caught, they’d break his teeth in. He never did get caught, not by the criminals anyway. He was arrested a handful of times, but his sister always got him out, as she had friends’ in the department.
He heard the old woman’s door opening in the hallway, so he rose abruptly, too much so and nearly fell. He banged on the door, peering out through the peephole, but the woman kept walking. She was deaf to his pleas.
“Tell us what happened to Juliet, Cliff.” Sheryl was at his ear, speaking softly. “Once you tell us, you’ll be free.”
The Mexican’s room, the guy he had deported, his door opened then. A long black shadow was cast when the door came unhinged, and Cliff stared at it transfixed.
“This will end when you tell us what we want to hear.”
“She was my girlfriend.” He cried, done fighting back all the tears, watching the blackness of the neighbor’s room overtake the hallway. “One day we were out together, and I had to take a wicked piss, so we stopped at this place . . .”
He could see a figure emerging from the supposedly empty room, black from head to toe, as if covered in tar, thick oily black horns protruding from its head.
“That is the Accuser, Cliff, and he will not be as forgiving as I.” His sister’s doppelganger leveled with him. “That creature brings a hell you do not wish to know.”
“It was a place we’d been together—where we met.” he continued, watching the black mass of demon standing in the dark hallway. It was illuminated by something, what he couldn’t say. “She wanted to keep going, but I told her it couldn’t wait . . . so I told her to wait by the door, you know, ‘Don’t go anywhere, babe’.”
“Go on,” Sheryl stood beside him, hand on his shoulder. “Tell us the rest.”
“I came back around,” he ran his fingers down his mouth from his eyes, wiping the tears into his growing facial hair. “And she wasn’t in the bar. I waited, thinking she might have gone into the girl’s room. That’s when I noticed a crowd of people outside, and people from the bar were heading out. I heard someone say, ‘She’s bleeding’, and I didn’t know what the fuck they were talking about. Then I went outside, and I saw it, I saw Juliet bleeding out. No one called the fucking cops, no one called an ambulance, but sure as shit, every last one of those cockroaches had their fucking phones out, recording her dying there on the street!”
The black monstrosity was approaching, walking towards his room to collect him, add him to the souls that dwelled in the space between hell and purgatory.
“You stabbed her, Cliff.” Sheryl spoke into his ear, her voice so unbelievably sweet.
“What the fuck are you saying?” he held his eye against the peephole.
“You stabbed her because she was breaking up with you.”
“Shut the fuck up!” he screamed at her, pulling away from the door, backing up. If he had a gun, he’d pull the trigger. “You don’t know shit!”
“You asked her to meet you, begged her not to leave you.” Sheryl followed him as he backed away, “But she told you something right before you went into the bar.”
“She told me she loved me!”
“She told you she wouldn’t be out there when you returned. She told you it was over.”
His door vibrated, jumping, being pounded upon, a heavy breathing, like that of a bull.
“No, she told me she would wait for me, because she loved me.”
“She told you to lose her number, to move on with your life.”
“She told me we’d always be together.”
“She told you there was someone else.”
The door was being smashed down from the other side, moaning filtering from outside, voices of damned men.
“She told me it would be the two of us forever.”
“And that’s when you stabbed her.” Sheryl stood over him as he whimpered on the floor.
“And that’s when I hugged and kissed her.” He wrapped his arms around himself.
“And then you went into the bar.”
“And then I went to take a piss.”
“You killed her because she didn’t love you anymore, Cliff.”
“No,” he shook his head. “I loved her with all my heart.”
The door was being ripped off the hinges, the monstrosity so close to him now.
“You killed her because you couldn’t stand the thought of her living the rest of her life without you.”
“I didn’t kill her.”
“Then who did?”
“I DON’T KNOW, ASSHOLE!” He ran to the window, trying to jimmy it open, get out of here before that thing could get him. “Someone who wanted her purse killed her.”
The keys clacked and clacked and the screen filled with:
You killed Juliet.
You killed Juliet.
You killed Juliet.
He hugged her, he remembered that, but when he moved back, there was blood on her yellow cardigan. She stared at him, eyes asking ‘why’ even though her lips didn’t ask it. He went into the bar, into the restroom, but he didn’t need to take a piss. He washed blood from his fingers, though he didn’t know how it got there. Then he went outside, and that’s when everyone was staring at her, dying on the sidewalk, no one doing anything to help her.
“If I killed her, then why wasn’t I arrested?”
“You were Cliff, but because of evidence mishandling the case was thrown out. You were freed.”
His mugshot appeared on the screen, dated two months ago.
“That’s doctored . . .” He fought, jumping over the bed to get away from the devil covered in tar.
“I didn’t fucking kill my girlfriend!”
“She wasn’t your girlfriend.” Sheryl’s eyes followed him wherever he went. “She broke up with you that day when you returned from Montana, and then she reiterated it right before you killed her. You willfully chose to hold onto the illusion that you were still together. You used the knife you claimed to own for protection, to take her life.”
“It wasn’t an illusion.”
“Sheryl is the one who misplaced the knife.” The doppelganger revealed.
“She wasn’t there.”
“It’s why you call her a klepto.”
“I call her a kleptomaniac because she steals!”
“She works for the prosecutor’s office that was handling the case. She made the knife disappear.”
“You’re so full of shit, every word . . .”
“You’re her brother, why wouldn’t she protect you . . .”
“Who are you?” he screamed at the woman, at the demon that pursued him ceaselessly around the room. “Why are you doing this to me?”
Juliet appeared on the screen, “You killed me, Cliff.”
The view counter below her features was at 1,000,000 viewers.
His fingers caressed the screen, head shaking, “No, I loved you so much.”
“Admit to your crime, Cliff.” She pleaded, the demon approaching, closing in. He felt its heat as it advanced. “And this will all end.”
He wept openly again, deciding to let it have him.
“Please, Cliff,” she tried to find his eyes. “If you ever did really love me, you’ll confess.”
“I do,” he wiped tears from his eyes. “I love you, Juliet.”
“Then say it, say it now, and let the world know.”
“I killed you.”
The Accuser’s hand was coming down on him, but stopped. It moved back.
“Thank you, Cliff.” Juliet put her hand to the screen, “you’re doing the right thing.”
“I was going to kill myself, too . . .” he sat down, staring into her eyes, putting his hand over hers on the video feed. “I wanted to, but when I pressed the knife to my chest . . . I couldn’t do it, I was scared.”
“It’s not too late,” she assured him. “We can still be together.”
He noticed then that the sliding door onto the balcony was open. He turned back to the screen, and she nodded, “Make us as one, Cliff.”
He walked out onto his balcony and saw that there were hundreds of people staring up at him, holding cameras or phones, all laughing with him. Tears streamed down his cheeks, Sheryl went to stand at his side, the breeze blowing by the both of them.
“What are you?” he asked her.
“I am nameless. However, the Queen of the Marshes is what the accursed have taken to calling me. There are songs about me, about what I am. Know this . . . I am fairer than the Accuser. You saw your wrong, fixed it, and now you can be free, as promised.”
“What is it, the Accuser?”
“That is a creature that can only be summoned by a living being,” she gave him a long hard look, “and no one summons an Accuser unless they want a person to suffer the worst torment imaginable. Whoever you offended, they wanted to send you directly to the lowest layer of suffering and despair.”
“Did a living person hire you to make me see my wrongs?”
“No.” she looked out at the city below. “Only the dead can ask for my help, and I review each case, decide which ones I will take. Alternatively, only a living person can summon an Accuser. It takes much preparation and someone with decades of experience in the black arts to summon one. Even then, there is no guarantee the Accuser will show.”
“Will I see her again?”
“I cannot answer that.”
He climbed over the railing, waving a feeble hand at his admirers.
“They are the damned,” she put her hands on the railing, “they will not judge your actions.”
“For Juliet,” he closed his eyes, “for our love.”
He plummeted to his death, but when he hit the ground, all the people were gone—vanished. He would soon join them.
Sheryl came by as soon as she heard the news.
She had to show her credentials to get past the caution tape, but she didn’t want to see the body. She’d seen him yesterday and he didn’t seem all that out of it, no more than usual.
She couldn’t help thinking mom was old, and how there was no way she could handle this, losing her baby boy.
When she got to the room, there was a detective and two cops. The detective told her they found a waste bin full of piss and one with feces. He asked if she knew anything regarding this apparent suicide, was her brother having problems.
She said she didn’t know anything about it, that she’d seen him yesterday morning and he was alright. “He seemed . . . fine.”
Cliff wasn’t exactly a normal person, so to say that he seemed fine, meant saying that he went on his usual tangents about how the world was hell and he was surviving.
It wasn’t the time for that, she decided, he was gone, and she couldn’t do anything to bring him back.
“You picked him up at the precinct, right?” the detective rubbed his dark bald head, brown fingers. “It says here he was released yesterday into your hands.”
“He was,” she stared at the cop for a long moment. “I didn’t have anything to do with his death, if that’s what you’re insinuating.”
“I’m not insinuating anything.” He stared back, “Isn’t this the same kid who was involved in the murder two months ago, that girl who was stabbed in front of that tavern—”
“He was acquitted,” She fought fiercely, “because he was innocent.”
“I hear it was a lack of evidence.” He wasn’t ready to back down either. “As in the knife went missing.”
“I wasn’t on that case, ‘conflict of interest’.”
“Conflict of interest, right, that’s right.” The way he studied her said he either wanted to fuck her or fuck her over.
She’d seen him around, a guy hard up for his job or a promotion, always digging deeper into situations. He was divorced, no kids, in his mid-thirties. This was all he had, so she figured she couldn’t blame him for being so dedicated to it.
“Can I look around in my brother’s room please?” she gritted her teeth, “I want to remember his smell before your people tear the room apart.”
“Alright,” he hesitantly granted her the time. “Five minutes, and then we’ll be back in here.”
She walked around and when the door closed behind the cops, the computer turned on. She hadn’t noticed it at first, because she walked over to the balcony where he had jumped from.
This is where he spent all of his time after Juliet Valentino died. Had she not acted quickly, he would have been in jail or prison or wherever they take delusional wrecks. Had she just let it happen, let the knife be used to prosecute him, he’d likely still be alive. She knew a dirty cop or two who did favors for cash money, and with that making evidence disappear wasn’t such a hassle anymore.
A beeping started, so she walked over to it, and saw the screen showing her standing in front of it, the camera on the tripod facing her, red light on. At the bottom of the screen it read ‘0 viewers’.
“You were such a creep, little brother.” She decided to leave.
She walked over to the door to but it was jammed. She knocked for the cops to open up, but when she stared through the peephole, the hallway was completely empty.
She walked over to the sliding door, but it was jammed, so was the window.
She drew her cell, but it showed zero bars, and when she walked over to the screen, it read ‘1 viewer’.