A small, hand written tag attached to the handle of a sturdy cage declared: Caution: Exotic Animal. The warning, in Hindi, fooled few visitors at the bazaar near Nepal’s border. The little beast in the metal cage hidden by a thick, green canvas cover was an imp. (About 8100 words)
A small, hand written tag attached to the handle of a sturdy cage declared: Caution: Exotic Animal. The warning, in Hindi, fooled few visitors at the bazaar near Nepal’s border. The little beast in the metal cage hidden by a thick, green canvas cover was an imp. I made the inconceivable purchase in full sobriety and more lucid than I’d been in years. Even so my mind was scattered, fractured.
The man who sold me the tiny brute smiled at me with gold-capped teeth under a chintzy moustache. His twinkling gleam made me more aware I was an American than I’d been in years of being abroad. I hefted the cage and walked away from his ramshackle table. I plowed my way through the crowded market dodging mounds of goods from every stretch of the continent. Faces, hundreds of them, watched me while I hustled away with my unusual fare.
Did I set out to buy such a creature when I drove away from my cottage as the sun began to rise over the Himalayas? I can say one thing for sure, I regret the decision, but it was the right choice all things considered.
The Jeep ride back to the cottage, a hundred kilometers away, gave me plenty of time to shake off bad feelings and mull things over. I walked into our old-world cottage unable to ease my dread, the cold icicle stuck between my shoulder blades.
“What in the world did you bring home this time?” Sheila slurred.
The cage made a dull thunk when I set it down on our dining table. “Are you keeping track or is it a whatever happens kind of day?”
“What’s it to you?”
I stabbed a finger at my watch. “We’ve got to catch our flight in less than three hours.”
“I’ll be in fine shape by then.”
“I’m not dragging your sloppy ass through security, again.”
“Asshole. I’ll be out on the lanai until you get the fuck over yourself.” She strolled to the double doors. Her light-blue dress whipped up from the wind as she stepped into brilliant sunlight.
“I’ll try to remember you’re out there when the taxi arrives.”
The cage sat next to her bottle of gin like an equal. Trying to focus on one or the other was difficult. The tantalizing items blurred together as a single image. I held off pouring myself a glass to boost my courage. A few minutes of hesitation froze me in place until I shook out of my deliberation. My hand stretched out and lifted the heavy cover off the cage. As the green canvas inched up the round metal bars a sense of no turning back caused gooseflesh to creep across my arms. My first look at the little beast, other than a quick peek during the transaction, quickened my heart rate. I tossed the cover onto the back of a chair and distanced myself from the cage.
Getting my bearings as the demon took in its new surroundings demanded a lot of effort. The creature stood a wiry, fourteen inches tall on two hideous stick legs. Its skin, a bright color of crimson, glowed like a dying ember in the well-lit room. The color had to be why paintings and drawings of Satan were most often portrayed in red. Dark, black pools for eyes fixated on me after the tiny beast finished looking around.
We stared at each other until Sheila came in to freshen up her drink. Her glass shattered when it hit the tile floor and she stood statuesque right inside the double doors. She became transfixed by the small beast, the same as me. One of her hands held down the back of her dress, but the wind gusts had stopped and the room became stifling.
“What in the fuck is that?” She blinked as if overcome by delirium tremens. “Why in God’s name is it here?”
Her nasal voice, icy with fear, propelled me into action. I began reciting the words scrawled on a little card the purveyor gave me when we made the exchange, cash for creepy. The words of an incantation, also in Hindi, would bind the creature to my control. Four peculiar, but catchy sentences and then I waited, my mouth dry and tacky.
“What in the world were you muttering to that…”
The beast spun around like a crazed dog getting ready to lie down cutting off her words. Then the creature stopped circling with such an abrupt manner I took a step back and Sheila gasped. The beastie rose up into a stiff looking pose and pointed one of its alien fingers right at me. A shrilling noise erupted, which I had to assume came from the beast because its mouth was closed. Sheila’s movement in my periphery made me take a quick glance and turn right back to the imp.
Her eyes were opened as wide as her drunkenness would allow. She’d covered her mouth with a hand, but seemed impervious to the loud noise. The whistling shrill was in my head and nowhere else. Soon the screech evolved into radio static. After a few more moments I could understand bits and pieces of the foreign squelches. Like eavesdropping on a conversation in a language unfamiliar to me, but close enough to Hindi that I could make out every third word.
As I began to decipher the message a resounding wham, similar to a loose chain snapping tight clanged in my brain. Full clarity of the foreign sounds followed the whiplash noise.
“You’re my new master and I’ve been bound to you by the ancient incantation. I must do everything you command.”
Words were amiss from the mental conversation and our communication formed in a way that’s difficult to explain. It went beyond mental telepathy as images, emotions and deep understanding formed in place of audible oration. The way communication between beings should be, but at the moment I was too terrified to appreciate it.
“If I let you out of the cage will you harm me?” I sent the question back as easy as the beast’s statement had come to me.
“Unless you command me to do so, I cannot harm you.”
“Jesus Christ, Colin. What in the fuck are you going to do with that—that thing?” She’d stepped around the shattered glass and moved into a position right behind me.
“Shhhh, I’m talking to it.” I waved her off with my hand.
She moved off towards the kitchen with slow cautious steps, her gaze locked on the cage. “You’ve been standing there in silence gaping at it.”
I ignored her. “Do you have a name?” I closed my eyes to help relay the question, which was unnecessary.
“Recent masters have called me Munna Kroni.”
My eyes flitted open, baby devil? Holy shit. “How many masters have you known?”
“Hundreds.” Faces and figures of all kinds rolled by in a blur and my head became dizzy as the answer reverberated.
The information continued to sink in as ice clinked into a tumbler and the glub, glub, glub of liquor followed. My hand trembled and I fought harder against the urge to grab the gin she’d abandoned by the cage. Munna Kroni kept quiet and unmoving, waiting. She hurried past me with a wary look and tried to slip back out onto the lanai without making a sound. The glass crunched as she stumbled through the shards cracking apart the silence. Her failure to be soundless made her rush out the door to reach safety even faster.
“Can you see all of my thoughts?” I gaped at Munna Kroni, my whole body trembling.
The demon’s head shook. An unnatural movement like a wooden figurine come to life. “No. We’re bound by the universal laws of bondage. We can communicate using our minds, but no more than that unless you allow otherwise.”
“How can I be certain you’re telling the truth?” I tried to find a focal point other than the imp or bottle of booze. My gaze landed on our wedding photo, a sunset over the Mediterranean.
“The same laws governing our binding compel me to speak the absolute truth to my current master.”
I gulped, a poor alternative to slake my thirst. “Where in the hell did you come from?”
“Far beyond your galaxy.” A bony, demonic hand motioned to the ceiling but the imp kept its gaze on me.
“Do you eat and drink?”
“No. It’s not required for my existence to continue but I’ll devour anything presented to me as food or drink.”
My face mashed up, but I was unwilling to ask why. “Do you breathe air?”
“Yes, but that’s unnecessary as well.” The creature blinked. “The limited familiarities between us need to be as strong as possible.”
I forgot my next question. Had it blinked yet or was that the first time? Was the blink out of need or familiarity?
The imp sensed I would not need its services right away so it sat down or—squatted.
“What have others commanded you to do?”
The blast of information started as a video reel in my brain, but it spread out afflicting all my senses. Unbelievable horrors and atrocities assailed me. Flesh being burned, tore and mutilated seared, ripped and rankled my skin. Piercing screams and fiendish noises louder than jet engines roared in my ears. God, the stench of death and destruction of life made me gag. How long the information would’ve continued is uncertain because I screamed at the creature, “Make it stop.”
The onslaught faded and tears that had welled up were held in from a strange illogical feeling to keep them from spilling down my cheeks. My outburst caused Sheila to step back into the room. Her entire body was stiff with terror and she remained close to the doors. I rubbed my chest where the worse pain had been and I kept trying to pop my ears as I processed what had been revealed. The room became smaller, our world—miniscule.
Earth was the third or fourth planet the imp had performed its duties upon and the unbelievable things it could do were incomprehensible. At one point in time the demon had roamed free on its home planet millions of light years away and ages ago. Even so I had the distinct impression the creature had been created or perhaps tamed by a malignant hand for evil purposes.
“You’re not keeping that terrible creature, are you?” The fear in her voice was laced with curiosity.
“Why else would I bring it home?”
“Getting it through customs to Cape Town is impossible.”
“Piece of cake.” The blast of information had provided me a steep learning curve.
“I am not living with a demon. Either it goes or I do.” The ice in her glass rattled and some of her drink sloshed out onto the floor as she thrust a hand at me.
I shrugged. “Fine, go ahead and leave.”
“That’s up to you.”
“To our stupid Villa, on the tip of South Africa? By myself?”
“No. That place was my idea and I’m keeping it.”
“Do you mean…” She took two steps forward. Her light-green high heels crunched on the glass again, louder and sharper.
I’d turned my attention back to the imp. It stared at me with no emotion, no care for anything we said. “By God, I think I do.” The second use of the word God had no discernible effect on it.
“I’ll take every penny of my father’s money.” Her voice became cold, but she was unable to keep the shocked alarm internal.
“I’d think long and hard about your threat.”
“I will do no such…”
I nodded my head at the undersized monstrosity squatting in its cage. “Are you sure about that?” A menacing smirk twisted into place and I swear the creature held the same look.
Her body stiffened into her higher than though form. “How long have you been planning this insanity?”
“The creature? Eh, that was an impulse buy. I’ve been wanting to be free for years.”
“You’ve become too soft to give up the easy life.” Her forehead scrunched and a small vein in the center popped out.
She glared at me. “What the hell am I supposed to do?”
“I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”
“You bastard. I’ll make you pay for this.”
I spun around. “I’m not fucking around. We’ll go to Cape Town and have the lawyers draft up the paperwork. You’ll give me half of everything, although I deserve more.”
“You’re just being the same childish boy I met in Cairo.” She took a long drink from her glass. “Make your demands, I could care less. Your terrible creature unnerves me but you won’t get a fucking dime.”
“Is that so?”
I walked over to the cage and opened the latch using a stout key I’d tucked into my pocket at the bazaar. I’d expected the creature to make a mad dash for freedom and kill both of us for mere fun. Munna Kroni remained uninterested and acted as if the door was still sealed shut. That’s when my power and control over the imp became clear to me.
“Please exit the cage.” I made the order using my mind.
The imp rose onto its hideous legs and scampered out of the cage. The critter walked over and stopped a few inches away from the edge of the table. It stood and waited for my next command like a trained soldier. Sheila glowered but her defiant air was weak and fragile.
“Hop down and give the woman a scare.” I spoke the words so Sheila could hear them. She needed to know I was master and commander of the imp. Faster than I anticipated the creature jumped down from the table and ran at her. It snarled and brandished shark like teeth that lengthened as it attacked her with impunity.
She tried to move backwards but one of her three-inch heels caught on the tile and she fell on top of the broken glass. A loud whump, followed by her piercing screams echoed above the sounds of snarling and thrashing. The beast kept at her and showed no mercy for the blood seeping from her palms or the terror gripping her. In shock, I was too dumbfounded to stop the action before it became so intense and disturbing.
Soon, I came to my senses, “Okay, that’s enough.” Munna Kroni backed off many feet and stood motionless, waiting for my next command.
She lifted up her hands and looked at them while tears rushed down her cheeks. “You’re fucking insane.”
“Here, let me help you.”
“Fuck you Colin. Come near me and I’ll…” Waves of pain coursed over her face as she pulled a long shard of glass out of her palm.
“I’m gonna call for a doctor?” I moved towards the bell to ring a servant but her words stopped me short.
“Your terrorism is useless. I’ll never give you half of my dowry.” Her entire body trembled from sobbing but she managed to look insolent.
“Perhaps you need another demon—stration.”
“That thing scared you as much as it did me.”
I shook my head. “Freaked out, maybe. Scared? No.”
“You’re too gutless to do more than scare a woman with your hideous little beast.”
“Become a massive, hulking version of yourself.” The beast began growing. Its bones cracked and snapped. The skin stretched and pulled as its sinewy muscles became large, bulging masses. When the imp’s bestial head touched the ceiling, my mouth dropped open and Sheila whimpered. She’d been brought up in old money but I’d yet to see her pass out from too much emotion as her mother often did. For a few seconds she looked like she might faint.
“This monstrosity will be your doom.”
My mouth snapped shut and became drier as I gave the mental command. “Become invisible.” The huge, gruesome figure vanished.
“Sheila. Who’d ever believe such a creature exists?” A few low chuckles escaped and sounded more sinister than I’d intended.
“Where in the hell did that thing go?” Her eyes darted around the room, her injuries forgotten.
“If you’re dead, I’ll get everything.”
“You’re sick and you need help. Please make it come back.”
“If you agree to my terms.” My voice sounded foreign, even to me.
“Yes, I agree.”
“No funny business?”
“You’re crazier than I ever thought possible.”
I gave the mental command, “Reappear.” My beast materialized right in front of her. The frightening form towered over her. She gasped and scrambled backwards. I cringed from the terrible scratching noise the shards made as she shuffled across the tile floor. More pain from the forgotten glass broke through her terror and forced her to stop. Sheila lifted up her hands, more blood and tears poured out of her. I ordered Munna Kroni back into the cage and poured myself a drink.
We inked our divorce papers two days before she flew out of Cape town and the nightmare I’d put upon her. One of her family’s lawyers whispered to her the whole time we met for final negotiations of the divorce terms. His glares and superior righteousness made me chuckle. Before Sheila left the conference room I took a long, goodbye look. The ghost like shell of her former self was pronounced and unexpected. Her vacant look, washed out by booze and Xanax, would’ve made most men cave. She’d done everything I’d demanded or as she called it, coerced.
I’d shuffled my portion of the money into new accounts bearing my name. Seeing Colin Warner’s name on the accounts instead of Sheila and Colin Rathashire was long overdue. The pent up angst from all those years of being an authorized user on her accounts fell off of me like a heavy coat. My evil actions and deeds to get that part of myself back were validated. I’d been bracing myself for the ensuing guilt but it was taking a long time for any sting to set in.
At this point, I’d learned Munna Kroni better, but my understanding of the creature and how to use it required more time. The imp was an emotionless being and my mind always heavy with thought or addled by substances. I had this strange sensation my mastership paled in comparison to all those who came before me. This became more prevalent once coercing Sheila became unnecessary.
Could the little bastard be waiting for things to get more interesting? Maybe I was starting to lose it? I’d go days without needing anything from the imp other than inquisitive conversation which must’ve been damn dull to it. I’d become used to talking with our minds, yet it was far from being natural or stale.
I took a sip of vodka and cranberry juice, a lime slice clinging to the rim. “Can you teleport?”
“No. Not in this world.”
“Do you believe in a God or Gods?” My mouth twisted into a wry smile.
“No. I believe in my creator, but that’s much different than when humans say such things.” The beastie had a habit of mimicking my reactions. The sardonic grin, a mirror of my own, had nothing to do with the imp’s answer. Even so removing the wryness from its words proved hard to do.
“Has any master ever offered you your freedom?”
“Yes, but the price of my freedom is too great for any master to be willing to do their part.”
“What do you mean?” My lips moved but the communication remained in my head.
“A master would have to travel to my creator’s planet with me and bear witness to an ancient ritual. Afterwards the creator would devour my current master as the final act of sacrifice.” Did the damn thing just show some emotion? Nah, I had to be seeing things.
“Oh. Yes, that’s asking a lot. Do you think your creator still exists?”
“Yes. I still exist, so without a doubt, the creator does too.”
“If the creator dies do you cease to exist?” I cocked my head, was I on to something?
“No.” The imp blinked. “The creator cannot die.”
I sighed, guess not. “Do you want to be freed?”
“Want is a human concept.”
“You don’t have—desires, needs or urges?” I squinted and leaned my head back against the chair.
“Not now, but perhaps gaining my freedom would change that.”
Shit, what a circle of madness. I sighed. “How far away is the creator’s planet?”
“In Earth speak? More light years than you could fathom. In cosmic reality, less than a month if you know some of the secrets to space travel.”
“How’s that possible?” I let my arm and hand droop over the chair’s side.
“Centrifugal diversion and a few other well-known tricks.” One hand dropped to its side.
“Could you build a ship to transport us there?”
“Yes. Earth has everything necessary to build a ship to make the journey.”
I sat up so fast my drink spilled into my lap. “How long would it take?”
“Six months depending on the difficulty of getting certain supplies.”
“By yourself? That’s impossible.” The word impossible trailed off because the beast had yet to be caught in a lie.
I was reading the newspaper and sipping hot coffee while gloating about my success. My concentration froze on the part about a night watchman being slaughtered and my delight vaporized as if it were the steam coming off my cup. I wanted to blame booze and drugs for the innocent man’s death. I’d been too careful with my drinking and drugging to take that easy way out of guilt’s hell. I walked into the kitchen and poured myself some Irish coffee without much java.
I admit the creature’s perceived boredom was part of the reason I got up the nerve to use its services. In truth, I’d decided that having a sharp, magnificent tool hidden in a safety box was stupid. I shoved the paper off the table and its pages scattered in every direction. The innocent man’s death became a glaring reminder of my fledgling mastership. I’d taken days to plan the robbery and it should’ve been a perfect crime. Overlooking such important details made me question my newfound tool and the ability to use it.
Of course the beast gave no indication of killing a guard. Should I have known better? Oh, I suppose, but I asked an indirect question. When I entered the Villa after whoring the night away in a brothel to secure a tight alibi my question fell short.
“Everything went well?”
“Yes master,” it nodded to the bag full of South African currency.
Lusty greed and excitement about getting away with the crime held my terrible assumption in place. The beast would relay such important information without inquiry. Right? Not a fucking chance. I rued my decision to rob the bank as the way to try out my fancy new tool. The moderate take made the guard’s life a dollar figure, and I sought solace in altered states.
With my belief of getting away with three million Rand scot free torn asunder, the guilt showed up and ran deep. I vowed to be more careful if I ever used the critter again. Harder to do since being on the wagon’s step was getting iffier by the day.
When Stephen Tremellis stopped by for an extended visit I stared at him on my stoop as if he might be related to the imp. My old acquaintance asked to hang out for a few days and I agreed knowing full well the idea would bring more trouble than it would be worth. Divorce, no matter how much I desired it, and owning a monster had made me lonesome for real companionship. Stephen would help take my mind off things or at least distract me from them.
Neither of us would consider the other a true friend and I preferred it that way. As a partying expat from America he made for good laughs and lamenting about home. Having a fellow deviant around to feel better about myself was the tipping point. I considered myself pretty fucked up but his ability to be even more reprehensible far outweighed my own.
He’d made himself at home behind my bar as soon as his bag was in one of the spare rooms. “What kind of a maniac let’s a woman like Sheila go?” Stephen flipped on the blender and the loud whirring wiped out my response.
“She’s all yours buddy.” I sat in my favorite chair facing away from the bar towards two large French doors standing wide open. I stared at the trees swaying in the breeze under a bright lit sky.
Whether he heard my response is of little consequence. I bet he’d been thinking those kind of thoughts ever since I told him we’d gotten divorced. Their sexual tension had been center stage in more than a few arguments between Sheila and me. I expected him to grab his pack and fly to Monaco at any moment.
“Now, that’s a motherfucking margarita.” He handed me the frozen concoction and I hesitated. “Too soon for tequila? You wanna beer instead?”
“No. This is great, thanks.” The cold beverage chilled my fingertips and my heart rate picked up.
“No worries mate, the opium will sober us up when its time.”
“I’m off—er yeah, you got that right.”
“Say, what’s the deal with the cage out on the balcony?” He gave a small nod of his head to the wide open doors when I careened my head to the bar.
“Oh, Sheila wanted a macaw and I brought one home just before we spilt up. The guy I sold the bird to said he had plenty of cages.”
“No shit, did the bird talk your ear off?”
“Eh, not so much just answered a lot of my questions.” I smirked.
“Hmmm, a girl I dabble with in Khartoum has one. The damn thing jabbers all day and half the night. Goes ballistic when we fuck and says shit like harder, faster, to the left and balls deep. It’s obnoxious.”
“That’s messed up.” A large drink of the margarita gave me brain freeze. I got up and walked over to the bar rubbing my temples. I tossed back a shot to hurry the process along.
He winked and joined me for the impromptu round. “Tell me about it. Takes me forever to shoot a load. Maybe, that’s why she lets the damn bird rant as we rock the Kasbah. She gets off five times to my one.”
“Lucky girl. Speaking of which, do you wanna get some girls up here and party like the old days?” My interest in partying with a couple of bimbos was low, but he’d been hedging for it since he walked in the door.
“Man, I was becoming worried you were done with that sort of thing.” A huge grin and then a big, slurping gulp of his frozen concoction.
“Can you still make the magic happen?”
“Shit, I’ve gotten better but I bet you’re outta practice. Eh chap?”
I gave him a glib smile while killing him with the imp fleeted through my brain. “Yeah, I’m a bit rusty at fishing for women.” Man, what a callous fucker.
The bar, one of our old haunts, had become a standing room of locales and expats from all over. In a half hour of elbows to assholes Stephen found three “petunias” he deemed worthy of his good time. He upheld the claim, his lady charming skills had improved. He had them in his snare within minutes. The five of us stumbled back to my villa with too much booze and enough midnight oil to kill a herd of elephants.
Our first round of the dream stick had just set the mood when a loud knock on my door stopped us cold. I moved the handle and let the heavy door swing outward. The slow movement held my gaze until a well-dressed man standing on the stoop appeared. His lanky body relaxed when he realized my condition.
“Yeah, that’s me.”
“Here’s your subpoena. You’re being sued for marital corruption and coercion. You’re required to appear in the courts at Monaco in two weeks.”
“The fuck you say.” I would’ve tried to throttle him but the drugs and booze had stripped me of angry hostility.
“No sir, consider yourself served. I’d bid you to have a good night but it looks as if that’s unnecessary.”
I tried to read the documents he’d thrust at me in the manila envelope but being drunk and high made most of it hard to grasp. The Rathashire’s had somehow put a hold on my accounts and were in the midst of suing me for every penny and possession. Wealth will always have its privilege and I remained unworthy of the honor in, and now, out of marriage. Stephen insisted I take the extra girl since my night had become less agreeable. Of course that was also because I flew into rage after rage until the right amount of opium coursed in my veins.
The following days and nights became a blur of drink, opium smoke, flesh upon flesh, and wild, crazy dreams. We woke up four days later and had to make a pact to stop partying. A terrible feeling about what occurred held its place in my hangover because my recollection remained foggy.
I tried to gauge the others if I’d slipped up and introduced them to the imp. None of them acted like they’d seen a fourteen-inch fiend, but everything seemed different. Sure, I’d partied harder many times before and more or less time traveled to that point. The imp factor scared the living shit out of me. Being unable to locate the beast as soon as I could function made it even worse.
“Where are you?” My head hurt so bad I wondered if my mental connection with the creature would work.
“I’m in the baggage area of an airplane somewhere over the African continent.”
“What in the fuck are you doing there?” My tongue was stuck to the roof of my mouth and mental communication was a godsend.
“I’m returning from where you sent me, master.”
“Where in the hell did I send you?”
I took a few moments to believe what the red demon had transmitted into my brain. I tried to gulp down a swallow as if I was getting ready to say something too sinister to speak about. The word Monaco echoed as my self-induced migraine hammered away inside my skull.
“Why did I send you there?”
“You commanded me to take care of the individuals causing problems in your life.”
“Are the Rathashire’s—dead?” I braced myself for what was coming.
“Yes. Every human at the residence is no longer alive except...”
Stephen jumped up and ran out of the room to puke. “How many?”
I shook my head. “Jesus fucking Christ, twelve people at the Rathashire’s estate are dead?” Screaming in thought communication was less effective than shouting at least from my end of it.
“Yes, master, that’s correct.”
I shuddered. Was the imp’s head mimicking mine or was it shaking up and down? “Did I command you to do anything else?”
“Yes. You said to torture Sheila, but leave her alive.”
“And you did that too?” Oh God, what’ve I done? “Why would you do that?”
“You ordered me to do it, therefore I did.”
“When will you return?” I wished the others were gone so I could let more booze and opium help ease what the beast had told me.
“I expect to be back by nightfall.”
“Did I give you any other commands?”
“Yes, you commanded me to do many things over the last few days.”
Use pointed questions dumbass. “Anything worse than killing an entire family?”
“Did the other people—my guests, see you?”
“Yes, you showed me off numerous times.”
I slumped my head into my hands, oh shit. “Is there any way you can build that spacecraft any faster?”
“Yes, if I could find others like myself.”
“Are there others like you?” In normal circumstances the question would’ve intrigued me.
“There’re a dozen of us on Earth.”
“Could you find any of them?”
“If you commanded me to do so, yes.”
“How long would it take to find more?”
“Depends on how many you want me to find.”
“How about four more?”
“Weeks, perhaps months, and yes four would suffice.”
“All right. Find others like you.” I sighed. Could I even be master to more than one at a time?
Stephen and the girls had been gone about a week when Trigger McFadden, the Rathashire’s private investigator and lifelong friend arrived at my Villa. I’d been limiting my use of opium, but of course he found me on my couch in a druggy haze after banging on the door. He wrote the name and phone number of his hotel on a notepad, then left me to my vices.
The following afternoon, once I became human enough to deal with his questioning, I rang him. He made me promise to wait until after we talked in person before going on another bender. I told him I’d do my best and that he better hurry up, although I had no intention of getting high. Why he’d showed up at my place to snoop around was no mystery. Having been under his scrutiny before marrying Sheila, his modus operandi was familiar to me.
“You telling me you have no clue of what happened at their residence?” I stared at his alligator cowboy boots. Who in the fuck wears shit kickers like that anymore?
“You already know the answer to the question. How is Stephen doing, the girls?” I sipped on my second gin and tonic.
“I’ve yet to see him that shook up and out of control with drugs and drinking.” He adjusted his cowboy hat.
“Yeah, we had a pretty good time when he stayed here, just like we always do.”
“Well, you know the man better than I do.” He shifted in his seat, a matching chair opposite the living room couch. “Sheila may not recover, if she does it’s going to take a long time. I doubt you give a fuck.”
“Crazy how fast things can go south, even for the rich, huh?” I raised my glass.
“She’s gone catatonic and just scribbles insane things on any form of paper she can get her hands on. Well, when she’s awake and lucid enough to do so.” His glare stabbed into me more than Sheila’s father ever could.
“Jesus, like what?”
“Something tells me you know better than anyone the crazy shit she keeps writing about.”
My head jerked back. “How could I know what in the hell she’s writing? Being married to her for too many years makes me stupid not clairvoyant.”
He gave a humph. “Guess you can call it my detective’s hunch.”
“I’m not about to play your mind games for much longer so you might as well get down to the real grilling.”
“During my last visit, while you were high as shit, I took the opportunity to look around. Your alibis and no evidence of travelling clears your name but I thought I’d find something matching Sheila’s irrational scribblings.” He glanced around the main room with a look of disgust. The place had seen better days and I’d let the cleaning staff go months ago.
“You found no evidence because she’s messed up from what happened, who wouldn’t be jacked up over that? I wanted a divorce but my ill will for her family isn’t on the scale of mass murder.”
“Yeah, you’re a slimy little fuck, but you’re too gutless for what I saw at their estate.”
“Fuck man, that bad?” My sneer faded.
“We’re not here to discuss details of the horror story’s gruesome parts.”
“Shit man, I wish I could help but you’ve seen what my life’s become.” I waved my hand around as if revealing a magic trick.
“I’ll find a way to link you to these murders if it’s the last thing I do before crawling into my own grave.” His teeth grinded together and scene’s from the Dirty Harry movies came to mind.
“Well man, I’ve been so fucked up and high since we separated I’d wouldn’t be shocked if you could find a way to connect me to this horrible tragedy in some way or another.”
“You’re not a very good guy, Mr. Warner.”
“Nah, I’m just a little fucked up is all.” I poured the rest of the drink down my throat and gurgled the last swallow.
“I thought about shooting you the last time I was here and I’ve got a good mind to do it now.” A glib grin.
“That’d make you no better than me.”
“It’s funny but my days of giving a shit about things like that are long gone.” His hand eased into his jacket and stayed there.
“Well, go with your gut, Trigger. I’m unarmed and don’t give a shit.”
“You go and ahead and do it the slow way.” His hand dropped back down to his lap. “I’ll enjoy watching your slow trip to hell just as much as putting a bullet in your head.” He nodded towards my pipe and bag.
“Good call. The way I’m going, I’ll be dead in week.” We got up and moved towards the front door.
“Good day Mr. Warner.” He stepped out into the bright sunlight and I shied my head to the side. “If you see me again you should run and hide.”
“Sounds good Trigger.” I flaunted my own glib smile at him. “When you hear tiny little feet scurrying across your floor just after you turn out the lights, try and believe I had nothing to do with it.”
“Are you threatening me?”
“What’s your private dick hunch saying?” I slammed the door on him.
Two months after Trigger’s visit I awoke to find the imp staring at me. I couldn’t remember how long it’d been since I’d talked to it. Some vapid conversations here and there was all I could recollect. The pipe on the coffee table drew my attention from the beast, but at some point getting stoned had become unappealing. I sat up and tried to recall the last time I used drugs or drink. Christ, I was soberer than I’d ever been in ages. The little black eyes across the room were a bit shocking, but more fitting than anything.
“Did I summons you?”
“Then why’re you here?”
“I’ve completed your last command.”
“You found four others?” I stood up. “Well, where are they?”
“Behind the couch.”
“In cages?” I stepped over to spy the new additions.
“No. Cages have never been necessary during our time in between masters. Humans are…”
“I see.” The differing shapes, sizes, and colors threw me off. I turned back and looked at my little beastie.
“I thought they’d all look just like you.” There was a deep purple one with a long, thin neck the lead to a conical shaped face. A bright yellow one with a bulging belly like Buddha was kind of hunched over as if looking for bugs to eat. The sapphire one with flaky, scaled skin like a fish or dragon looked ready to take flight and swim through the air.
“Your species is just as varied.” Its mouth was agape as mine had been.
“Yes, that’s true but… well I guess it doesn’t matter. Do I say the same incantation?”
The memory of getting rid of the card with the cage a few days before Trigger had come by for his inquisition came back to me. I shook my head as another bout of being stupid overwhelmed me.
“I got rid of the incantation. Do you know it?” My fascination overcame the dark mood that had taken control of me.
“We all know it.”
“Will it work for all of them at once?”
“Try it and find out.”
The demon spoke the words into my head and I recited them to the small quartet. An odd sensation of fulfilling some sort of destiny hit me as I muttered the words. Their fate, mine, or a jumble of both? I doubted if I’d ever know. Whatever might be coming next, my control of everything had been removed and denying it would be futile. I’d been a bigger fool than I ever thought possible. I’m not sure I ever had control of anything at all.
Instead of the imps spinning around in a circle like the first one had done at the end of the incantation, each one did something different. I stepped back a few feet as the acrobatics commenced. When they finished and stood in frozen poses pointing at me the eerie familiarity made me more aware of losing control. I walked into the kitchen and poured a dirty tumbler full of vodka.
“How long will it take you to build the ship?” All five voices came into my brain at the same time making it impossible to understand any of them.
“Please, just one of you speak at a time.
“We’ve concluded it’ll take three months to build a ship capable of transporting you to the creator’s planet.”
“Will the stable be big enough to house the ship and your activities?”
“Yes. The large building will be more than adequate.”
“Will you have to kill any more people to complete this final tasking?”
“There’s a high probability we’ll have to kill more humans to do as you command.”
“Fine. Build a ship that can get the six of us to the creator’s planet.”
“Your plan is to take all of us to our creator?”
They looked around at each other and being sober made their confused emotion stand out like the green one’s head, a big blob with the slightest hint of facial features. Confusion? The little fuckers were confused and as their emotion vanished I drained the glass.
“As you wish master.”
“I’ve run out of money but I’m guessing it’s unnecessary.”
“Minimize the human deaths as you obtain all the necessary items to construct the vessel.”
“I want to hear every one of you say it.”
“We will minimize human deaths as we build the ship.”
“Good. Before you start on the ship I’m going to need some supplies myself.”
“As you wish.”
“Now be off and leave me alone until it’s time to go.”
“Yes master.” Five voices in chorus.
The little creatures scurried off as I gulped down the rest of the vodka. I sat down on the couch and filled the pipe with a large amount of brown powder. The silence of the Villa settled back in as I took my second hit from the pipe. A loud knock upon my door echoed throughout the empty space of the whole house. I waited to see if the person would rap again or go away.
“I’d of knocked once more and then came in anyways.” Sheila pushed past me.
“What in the fuck are you doing here?”
“Trigger says this is a bad idea.”
“He’s right. Whatever you’ve got planned is a terrible idea.”
“My sanity has unraveled. All I can think about is that goddamn demon of yours. It’s in my nightmares, daydreams, and idle thoughts.” She slumped down onto the couch and I did the same.
“You’ve no reason to believe me but I…”
“What’s happened is of no concern because I’ve no future. I want you to have your demonic imp kill me.”
“You’re out of your mind.”
“Yes that’s right. I tried to do it myself but I don’t have it in me.”
“I’ve no intention of fulfilling your request. How did you even get here?”
“I promised Trigger I’d stop trying to hurt myself if he helped me face my demons.”
“He thinks you mean me. Is he outside?” I edged forward on the couch.
“No one will ever believe in the creature until they have to. I made him stay in Monaco or at least I hope he does. Please Colin, if you ever loved me at all then do what I’m asking. No amount of therapy, drugs, or time will help me cope with what you’ve done.”
“I won’t do what you’re asking.”
“You fucking bastard, you owe me far more than that.”
“I suppose I do, but you’ll have to find another way.”
“Then I might as well stay here and rot away with you.” She seemed impervious to the abhorrent conditions of the Villa.
“You can stay, but no more than a few months.”
“Are you going to let a gal just sit here or offer her a hit?”
“Here, smoke your fucking brains out cuz that’s all I plan to do for the foreseeable future.”
Sheila and I fell back into such a normal routine and I often had a hard time believing any of our ordeal happened. The drinking, drug use and companionship became heightened, like a natural order had been resurrected. I began ruing the day the ship would be completed, but not enough to put the brakes on. Each time I woke up it took a great deal of effort to rationalize that she let me live for another day.
“You killed my parents and their staff.”
“I had nothing to do with it.”
“That’s like saying the gun killed the man not the guy who pulled the trigger.”
“I’ve no memory of giving the command. Stephen and I were…”
“It makes no difference. You’re a murderer.”
My shoulders moved up and down, a sullen half shrug. “I know.”
“You can live with all the guilt—eating you up inside?”
“No. As a matter of fact I can’t.”
“You’re just going to kill yourself with drugs and drink as fast as possible?” She passed me the pipe.
“Nah. I’ve got another way out.” I gripped the pipe like it might fly out of my hand from some unseen force.
“Tell me about this other way out.”
“I’m going to take off in a spaceship with the creatures and travel to their creator’s planet. I’m goint to set them free.”
She eyed me with horrified suspicion. “There’re more of those terrifying things?”
“Four more with us and maybe a dozen or so on Earth.”
“Jesus, all of this has to be a fucking nightmare.”
“If so, then there’s no chance of waking up from it, because I’ve tried.”
“Yes, me too.”
“You could go with us.”
She stared at the whitish-grey smoke that rose up and away from my mouth. “In space? With those creatures?”
“Yeah. You’ll get your wish. I’m certain of that.” I handed her the pipe.
“I’m not sure, let me think about it.”
The five creatures stood around the bed like sentinels and I stared at them with more clarity than the last six months should’ve allowed. If they had any leadership amongst them then the head critter remained unidentifiable. The way they appeared on the fateful night we departed Earth reminded me of Jim Henson’s creatures except more sinister and bloodcurdling.
I stumbled into the stable expecting something like the flying saucers depicted in films and shows from the fifties. A shiny ship similar in shape and design to the Stealth Bomber stood before me. My mouth gaped open. Sheila clutched my arm tighter. The trip would be no joke or pipe dream. We were about to go far beyond anywhere most humans had ever been or would ever go.
Inside the ship the little beasties explained all the accommodations and how we’d survive the month long trip. They’d planned everything and thought of things my wildest imagination was too limited to conjure up. More opium and liquor than I’d ever dreamed about was presented to us as if we were king and queen of the cosmos. We settled in as the craft came to life with noises and shuddering movements.
For the first time in a long while I wanted to be sober and free of mind altering substances. I sat in the cockpit of the spaceship as it shot upward leaving the African Continent far below us. Everything became quiet and the view more amazing with every mile we zoomed. Sheila stood beside me with a drink in her hand running long fingernails through my hair.
She sighed. “What I’m leaving behind had to be someone else’s fairy tale dreams with a nightmare ending.”
“Fuck, was any of it even real?”