Authors: Joshua Ingle
Shenzuul led him to a small, disorderly tech repair shop. Behind a simple counter and cash register, wires and computer parts of all shapes and sizes littered dozens of tables, lit only by the neon signs beside the front door and the lone lamp in the back, where a man was working late. Shenzuul drifted near the man, and motioned for Thorn to come closer.
The man was in his thirties, bearded, thin. He was tinkering with a miniature remote-controlled car. After observing the nondescript scene for a minute, Thorn was certain it was a cheap trick, that Marcus lurked behind a wall somewhere, waiting to spring out at him. But Shenzuul remained still, watching the ordinary man with Thorn. “A dead girl is in next room,” he said plainly.
Thorn tensed. “What?” Shenzuul motioned toward a closed doorway. Thorn warily approached it, then peeked through to the other side. Sure enough, the body of a recently deceased teenage girl lay supine on a foldout table. A large bloody wound gaped in her stomach.
Thorn turned back to Shenzuul. “What is this?”
“You mean who is this.” Shenzuul smiled an ugly, toothy grin, lit by soft lamplight from beneath. “This Garrett. He a murderer. What you call serial killer. Marcus have him, I steal him, give to you.”
Stunned, Thorn examined the man more closely. Could this truly be Marcus’s pet killer? The one the Judge had spoken of? What was Thorn supposed to do with him? Cause more homicides? Shenzuul surely expected it. Or could this be an elaborate trick of some sort?
As if I don’t have enough to worry about, now I have to find a way to stop a serial killer while maintaining my cover of wickedness?
“I know you busy,” Shenzuul said, as if he’d heard Thorn’s thoughts. “Garrett here if you want use him, but you no have to. I just want you be sure I not with Marcus anymore.” He slid a friendly arm around Thorn’s shoulders. Thorn flinched, then tried to relax. “Marcus want use Garrett to kill all your humans and make you look dumb. I say no. I get other demons, kick Marcus out. Garrett ours now. You and me.”
Garrett finished his work, set down his equipment, stood, and glanced around to ensure he was alone. Then he opened the door to the room where the body was hidden and stepped into the darkness, leaving Thorn alone with Shenzuul.
“I your friend,” Shenzuul said to Thorn.
Shenzuul was smiling as Joel signed the last page of his divorce papers, but Thorn could tell the grin was faked. Shenzuul would likely rather be with his serial killer than in an attorney’s office with Joel and his wife.
Joel’s grin was as big as Shenzuul’s, though likely a tad more genuine. His wife Angela had taken the house, the kids, and a hefty child support obligation, but what did Joel care? He was rich and famous now. His book,
The Afterlife is Real
, was flying off the shelves. Tying himself down to his family in the face of such success would only hold Joel back from realizing his personal dreams. At least, that was what his previous demon had led him to believe.
Joel’s case was one of the most bizarre and intriguing Thorn had ever encountered. He’d been a neurosurgeon with over five hundred successful operations who had woken up one night with severe bacterial meningitis. His wife found him unconscious and rushed him to the emergency room, where doctors raced to save one of their own. When Joel woke up, his infection subsiding, he had an unusual story to tell.
Joel claimed he had been to Heaven. He believed that during the time when his brain was comatose, when his cerebral cortex was shut down by the invading bacteria, he had entered another plane of existence, where a beautiful woman had met him among a sea of butterflies, and taken him on a tour. They flew through “an infinite whiteness” into “a sphere of light,” where Joel felt a comforting, divine presence, who told him he was loved and need not be afraid. He was led through billowy clouds to an area full of sparkling beings zooming across the heavens—angels, he assumed. Their uncontainable joy leaped from their bodies and fell down on him like physical rain. Once this boundless love had fully enveloped him, he awoke in his hospital bed.
His doctors had politely nodded and sent him on his way, but Joel went on to write a book about his experience, and that book became a
New York Times
#1 best-seller. Religious leaders across Atlanta, the nation, and even the world were using Joel’s example as proof of their beliefs.
Of course, it was all bullshit. Thorn had been to Heaven; had been created there, had fought a war there. Heaven was pretty, but in the end it was just a big golden city with a great view of Earth. No butterflies or beautiful women, and if Thilial was any indication, the love of angels was not exactly boundless and uncontainable. The question for Thorn was whether Joel really believed he had seen Heaven, or was making it all up.
After some research, Thorn had decided on the latter. Joel’s previous demon, despite his accomplishments, was a timid fellow; not the type to dupe his charge in this manner. And Joel, a prosperous family man, hid a host of both insecurities and ambitions behind his placid veneer. After his friendless teenage years, Joel’s childhood dreams of becoming a world-renowned rock star had been crushed when his father demanded he go to medical school. Joel hated every moment of his schooling, then his internship, then his residency, and he similarly disliked the practice he started with some med-school friends. But he did like his small yacht and his big house. He loved giving his parents the finger when they hit hard financial times and needed money. For a few years, he even enjoyed his wife, despite their hasty matrimony. But as Joel’s previous demon had boasted to Thorn, Joel always wanted more. He thought he
more. So Joel gambled on some high-risk investments and lost most of his savings. Then a successful malpractice suit forced him to sell everything but his house, and shamed him among his peers. Once again, Joel was broke and friendless, with little direction or purpose in his life. Using a religion-based lie about his near-death experience to catapult him into the national spotlight had been a brilliant move, and though Joel’s previous demon had claimed otherwise, Thorn was certain it was Joel’s own idea rather than the demon’s.
As a man of science, Joel’s opinion held credibility. No one would ever guess that his visions of the Beyond were really a vague memory of an acid trip from his college years (or so Thorn had guessed). The neuroscience community argued that Joel’s visions had occurred as he came out of the coma, when his cerebral cortex was first sparking back to life and his temporoparietal junction was impaired. But demons had trained average Americans to regard hearsay and scientific consensus as being equally valid, as long as the hearsay supported their preexisting beliefs. Thus the book had taken off.
Whenever Thorn was alone with Joel, he tried to convince him to publicly confess his lie, but so far Joel had proven stubborn. Such a prideful mind would not willingly humble itself, Thorn knew from experience.
“Idea for you,” Shenzuul said as Joel and his wife parted ways for the last time. “We make him lose all money. He miserable. Live in poverty.”
“Poverty does not guarantee misery,” Thorn said, trying to sound wise. “Think subtly. In any society, money must concentrate somewhere. Best to let it fall into the hands of those who will hoard or misuse it. If we made Joel poor, the money he would have had could end up with someone who will use it well.”
Shenzuul grumbled an unintelligible complaint.
For how much he claims a desire to learn subtlety, he seems uninterested in it.
Thorn still worried about Shenzuul’s loyalties, despite the introduction to Garrett last night.
They followed Joel out toward his car, a sleek new Mercedes-Benz.
“Joel boring,” Shenzuul blurted. “He no challenge.”
Thorn might have felt the same way three months ago. “Not challenging, but important. Celebrity is critical to demons in the U.S. Any demon of significance will have at least one celebrity charge.”
“A killer is better charge to have.”
“Which do you think hurts the Enemy more: killing one human or ruining the lives of millions? If you influence a person of influence, everyone who admires that person will go down with him or her.”
“Ah. Like president?” Thorn and Shenzuul settled into the back seat of Joel’s car as he revved the engine and turned up some classic rock.
“Or an actor, or a singer, or a novelist. Challenging charges are of course just as prestigious as influential charges, but often you can find both in the same person.”
Shenzuul pondered this, then said, “You have many famous humans?”
“Now? No, just Joel. Back in the day, though…” When a small group of demons had devised and helped implement the Hollywood star system, something akin to a gold rush had swept the demon world. Millions of devils had left New York and D.C. for Los Angeles. Thorn had been one of the first on the scene. “D.W. Griffith was my charge. Fatty Arbuckle, too.”
Shenzuul nodded respectfully, clearly unaware of who those people were.
Shenzuul’s eyes lit up. “Rapper who died from drugs last year? He yours?”
Thorn nodded. “He lived in Cascade Heights.” Joel’s car left the parking lot and took off down the road.
“I hear his music sometimes in Kinshasa.”
“See what I mean? Halfway around the world, my whispers to Jamar had influence. With their short lifespans, most humans don’t realize how suddenly this new information age appeared, how historically unprecedented and promising it is.” It could be used for good as well, but Thorn left that part out. “You can use movies and music to lie to the masses about anything. You can trap people into oppressive gender roles, glorify violence, tell children that love is about sex and that sex is about power.
“You can even lie about us.” Thorn had always found it ironic that nearly every popular misconception about demons came from the demons themselves. Many demons found the accentuated portrayals of themselves in movies to be hilarious. Little girls vomiting blood and contorting into impossible positions played like comedy to devil folk. In truth, demon possession was often a dull affair (and always an illegal one). It was more useful for influencing the physical world than for frightening people.
“Or lie about Enemy.”
“Like how some people think humans turn to angels when they die.”
Thorn chuckled insincerely. “Or whenever a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.”
If that’s the case, where’s my damn bell?
“But humans supposed to be ice—ice-lated?”
“Isolated from each other? Yes. Well, in the case of celebrities, not always. If they’re listening to you, it’s good to keep them visible and therefore influential.”
“Like Joel is visible and influential.”
“Yes, we will keep him visible, and let his lies inform people. And entertain them! Always remember this. Entertainment is just as useful for distraction from good as it is for temptation to evil. Every half-day spent reading Joel’s book is half a day spent not doing something truly meaningful.” Thorn realized with a sickening unease that he was still quite passionate about these matters. He had to remind himself that he was trying to change.
He examined the renegade neurosurgeon in the front seat, pumping his head to “Back in Black” and speeding twenty over the limit. Driving like this, Joel seemed in his element, at peace, but Thorn knew he would likely go prowling the bars for a hookup tonight, and work on his follow-up book tomorrow… or perhaps on the restaurant he was reopening. Joel was as ambitious as Thorn had once been. Ambition was a good distraction too.
Joel and Angela were so dysfunctional, they decided to have sex later that afternoon while their kids were at school. Once upon a time, Thorn would have found this amusing, but now it was just sad.
The last time Angela had had sex with Joel, Thorn had realized she was not
moaning in pleasure. She just did that because she thought Joel liked it. She faked most of her orgasms too. They mostly slept together out of neediness these days, and neither enjoyed it. Nevertheless, both humans were in great physical shape for their age, each with firm muscles and toned buttocks, and the illusion of pleasure was more than convincing.
Thorn could not have been more bored. If demons could fall asleep, he was certain he would have by now. Shenzuul looked like he felt the same way; he was examining an ant crawling on the wall, while Thorn checked the nearly healed wounds Vucion had dealt him, trying to console himself over the train wreck of a relationship playing out on the other side of the room.
At least the human couple had ostensibly separated, which would be healthy for them in the long run… assuming they could stop screwing. Not for the first time, Thorn wished he had a sex drive—not so he could enjoy sex, but so he could
the damn thing.
Shenzuul casually swatted at the ant, and his hand went straight through the wall. “You study sex?” he asked Thorn.
“I have, but it still baffles me. Usually, the bottom line is to give people as many odd complexes as you can. Make sex awkward, make them worry if they’re sinning, or make them self-conscious about their bodies. Guilt, too. Whenever you can attach guilt to sex, you’ve won.”
“No, you wrong. Enemy say same thing as you. That sex is bad.”
Shenzuul had a point, though Thorn wouldn’t admit it. He’d often wondered why the Enemy preached single-partner-for-life monogamy so adamantly, yet created a people whose instinct was often to be with multiple partners over time. He also wondered why the Enemy was said to frown on indecency when the Bible itself featured all sorts of perverse sex acts among God’s own followers, under His blessing.
Shenzuul abandoned his ant and rose into the air to press his point further. “I think you can let some people treat sex as most important thing in life. Let the only reason they friends with opposite sex is to get in their pants. Have them compete for it, live for it, obsess. Not because it evil, but because it pointless. When you can attach com—compulsion to sex, you’ve won. That’s what I think about sex.” Thorn tried to formulate a response. He imagined that sex
important, that it could be used as a perfect connection between two people, and could be an invaluable emotion moderator and mood booster. Amy had taught him that. If Chaz had been a better man and his affection for her genuine, the sex would have brought her great joy.
Why is the Enemy so prudish about something that brings people joy and harms no one? Wasn’t joy a “fruit of the spirit”?
Mysteries upon mysteries…