by Joseph L. Jones
“Emilaz?” The phone, I still had it in my hand. Impossible! I thought. I hadn’t taken it with me. But somehow I held it. Just what was going on? “Emilaz?” Then I noticed that the person on the line wasn’t my tormentor. I raised the phone.
“Okay, now that was some strange stuff, girl,” she said. Exactly who she was, I couldn’t say for sure. My mind rattled around like an empty tin can in a twister.
“Who is this?” I asked, rubbing my cheek and head at the same time. She sucked her teeth, then:
“Girl, please.” I recognized her immediately from the signature recoil in her voice.
My eyes kept moving the entire time, just waiting for someone to jump out from somewhere. Though, realistically, there weren’t any places for that sort of thing to happen in my room. I left the closet open, and my wardrobe pretty much took up all of the space in there. My shoes conquered and controlled the domain under my bed. The only available nook was a few inches that separated my two dressers, but it was way too small for anyone to fit in there. I strode over to the side of my bed and sat down.
“Listen, Tasha, I think someone broke into my house today.”
Click. I kind of figured that sort of thing would happen. She never could keep from being so brash. In a few minutes, she rapped at my door. I went down and opened it.
“We got here as fast as we could,” said some brown-haired girl. I had never seen her before, but she looked as eager to help as the other two girls who were standing with her. Those two happened to be Tasha and Chandra. Did I mention that Tasha had an enormous mouth?
They all came in and I led them upstairs, retelling the story, beginning with the phone call.
“That’s some creepy stuff,” Tasha said, after I’d finished. The other two girls sat on the bed, both of them quiet.
“I thought it was Frank or Eddie. But, they wouldn’t do anything like that,” I said.
“Yeah, right. Never trust ’em.” Tasha said that about everyone, and her constant usage of the expression made it seem trite.
“Boys are always doing crazy stuff,” said the brown-haired girl. I ogled her for a moment, surprised that she had spoken so soon and by the word she had fabricated.
“Right,” I said. “Boys are always doing crazy stuff.” Tasha snickered.
“So, Emilaz, who do you think is responsible, now? I mean, since you’re so sure it wasn’t Frank and Eddie,” Chandra remarked. I hated her snobby little voice: “Sooowuh, Emielahz, who doo yoo tink est reesponsibel, nowuh?” was what I heard.
“The value of friends can be a great asset just as a valuable ass can be a great friend.”
All of the girls searched each other’s faces.
“Who said that?” I asked. When no one answered, I went over to the window. The others still said nothing.
“This is my power, Emilaz Rory Durham. And my power is great.” The words sounded through the voice box of an older man, but the girls mimed it with their lips like they were marionettes in a play in which they didn’t know the words.
“What do you want?” I asked. My hands were feeling against the sill for a weapon. They landed on the phone receiver.
“For now, you may relax. And afterwards, I shall inform you.”
“What about my friends?” Seeing them talk as if they were puppets was extra freaky.
“Ah, yes. I might as well reveal that they are not here.”
Somehow, all three of them had been snatched from my sight. I never blinked, but I missed them anyway.
“What is this all about?” I said. There was a pause that lasted for an odd several minutes. I didn’t move from the window.
“Pick up the book. And I expect you will not depart from it with haste.”
I knew immediately which book he meant. I went to my bed, looking around the room, my mind confused but alert. The book rested at the foot, serenely and innocently. I lifted it and cracked it open to a random page, thinking, This is so stupid.
The pages were blank, which added to the stupidity of the situation. I flipped to another page, and upon finding this page to be empty as well, I snarled and shut the book.
“This is stupid!” I screamed.
“Understand this. Everyone whom I take hostage will not be safely replaced. There are but two ways for this business transaction to be carried out. We can politely assist one another, in which case I’ll be given a token of your appreciation when we part ways. Or I can take what I want from you after destroying your world. Which would you like?” the voice said.
“What do you want? Answer that and then I’ll choose.”
“Negatory. Choose now.” I heard something move underneath my bed, and I dove onto the covers.
“What’s under my bed?” I called out to the voice. I leaned over the side and waited. The covers that hung over the side were moving, but I didn’t think it was from something supernatural. I had jumped on the bed several times before, and each time they had done that. I reached down, holding my breath. I tried to think while I did this. There weren’t too many things that could actually fit under my bed with all of my shoes. I yanked the covers up, and scurried to the head of the bed.
Something pink darted out and ran around, its tail curled. Screams escaped my throat before I even knew what it was, but when it slowed, I calmed down.
Now, I just wanted to know how a pig had managed to appear out of nowhere and fit underneath my bed.
“Do you like fresh pork, Emilaz?”
Without warning, the pig stretched out and began to hover. It squealed and squirmed, but nothing made it drop back to the floor.
Before I knew it, the pig squealed loudly and a trail of blood blazed across its side. I covered my mouth when the skin flapped down, revealing dark veins and moist flesh.
The dense mass of veins and white meat was sliced open next, just as the first layer of flesh had been divided. Thick, hearty blood poured over the already chopped pieces that were falling off like a chef’s handiwork.
“Please stop it! Stop!”
“Is your appetite still in need of a satisfying dinner?”
The pig and its butchered parts disappeared in an instant.
“Will you cooperate?”
“Yes.” I didn’t know if I was scared or sad or what. I felt awful.
“You know where to find Partic Creek. Go there right now. And take your box cutter with you.”
* * *
The wind had begun to swirl through my jeans as I approached the tall blades of grass nearby. Had I screwed on my thinking cap, I would’ve picked a pair of jeans that weren’t ripped. But my mind had settled on one thing: the book.
The book called Peaceful Instruction bobbed up and down in my arms. Such impatience.
The little spindles of grass brushed against my shoes in a manner that emulated the sound of a salt shaker. The wind slowed, seemingly savoring its own unnaturally strong current and my responses — rubbing my arms and shivering — under its icy kisses.
I tried to steal a chance to see the sun, but it had completed its westbound descent into a horizon of snow-capped, grayish mounds. The orange-stained clouds above waned and withered at the coming cold. They seemed to understand that the warmth would soon be gone and that not even a bit of free-flowing sunlight would be able to paint their billowy puffs through the night. As a result of the sun’s course, the blackened-trunked oaks that I crossed barely harbored a glimmer of orange.
I would’ve been covered by darkness — completely swallowed up — but I had come prepared.
Streams of pure, white light pierced the darkness as I clicked the button on my flashlight a few times. The light flickered and flashed. And then I allowed the light to remain. I would certainly need it.
I came upon a tree with narrow, yawning strips hanging from its branches. Somewhere along the side of the tree, near its base, I saw its eye. A depression in its old skin stretched from the height of my knees to a place near my throat, a deep scar.
Crickets sang their nightly chirps as I came to rest on the tree, just beside the scar. No other sounds announced life. I didn’t count the distant bursts of wind that whistled meekly through the darkness or those cars on the highway en route to wherever.
A crack startled me, a snapped twig or something near the dark chaparral that lined the sides of the creek water. I shone the flashlight around, my back pressed hard against the base of the tree trunk. From my position, I could just make out the waters of the creek, a thin rivulet flowing downstream where it probably ran into a tributary or something of that sort. Its waters were serene and unsettling.
All was still except for the wind, but that was normal. Relieved a bit, I sighed and tried to calm down.
“Open the book, Emilaz,” I heard. Immediately, the book began to flap around wildly in my arms. When I managed to get hold of it in both hands, it settled a little.
I opened it, and the book flew out from my hands. The creek waters splashed and flipped, and the wind kicked up into a frenzied whipping.
From its open pages, the book projected a sickly green light. Its brightness made me have to squint to see it, but the bizarre occurrence didn’t last too long. Eventually, the light settled back into the book and when it next returned, it resembled the head of an unnatural creature with eyes of black, thick nostrils immediately below, and a hairy mouth with sickle-like teeth protruding from it. The face reminded me of a statue that I had seen on the roof of the Saints of Revival Church.
“Greetings, Emilaz. I am known as the Dealmaker, the Duke of Dealings. For centuries, I have been trying to get my hands on the blood of a Durham, and at last I have you,” he said, voicing his words so that they popped with a unique hum at the end of each syllable, as though they were being spoken in a cloudy, otherworldly bubble. I snickered a little, but I quickly composed myself. What a stupid name!
“But, I’m not the only Durham. And besides, what do you need my blood for?” I said. My voice was shaky, but at the same time it remained steady enough to hide my inner feelings.
“You are not the only Durham. But you are the only Durham I’ll ever need. Turn the page.” I reached down through the ghostly face and flipped to another sheet, peering down onto three splatters of dried, ruby-red paint. “That’s the blood of three of your ancestors,” he said. “I need one Durham of each blood type and you have the last type. It took forever for a Durham to be born with the blood type you have. I need the blood to achieve my omnipotence — not that it concerns you.”
“But why my family?” I asked, trembling.
“You humans always ask that question,” he complained. “Why me? Why us? Why, why, why? It’s called fate. Fate is the answer. It was fated in the past that your family would deny me my ultimate power and seal me within the bindings of this book. And it is fated for me to achieve my power through your family. Just as it will be fate for me to conquer mankind once I get my power back.”
“And what if I don’t cooperate?”
Copyright © 2011 by Joseph L. Jones