by Joseph L. Jones
“We all know what awaits you down that road, Emilaz. If you don’t, I’ll hurt your precious family until you change your mind. What would you like to have done to them? Dissection? Gallbladder removal? Liver resection?”
I shuddered. How could he say that? My parents weren’t rodents in some twisted lab experiment or scum that could be eliminated for a selfish purpose like his. They were living, breathing human beings.
“You’re evil! I’ll never give you my blood, you monster!”
“Say what you like, but I will have your blood. Unless you’d like to see what your mother’s insides now look like since you’ve been out? Or how about your father’s? Make your decision, Emilaz.”
The box cutter had imprinted ridges on the inside of my hand, because I had been gripping it so hard. I brought it up to his face.
“I won’t do it.”
“Then they’ll die.” A scream followed his claim from far away, and my eyelids darted up.
“Mom! Stop, don’t hurt them. Please don’t!”
“Then cease your stalling, Emilaz, and pay the tribute. Why is it that you resist such a simple command? You are clearly a frail child. Never will your life amount to anything but naught, be that a blackness or a white space filled with no objects. You are destined to grow in reverse. Constantly will you thin out like wispy clouds during a reverse magnetic pull. You will become an eater of yourself because that is the only way to adhere to the rule of the weak.
“You are forced to feed off individuals weaker than you in the hope that you will become strong, yet there are none weaker than yourself. Therefore, you devour your own flesh!” His jagged, sickle-like teeth became fully exposed when his thick, coarse cheeks moved out and his rusted lips separated.
“What are you talking about?” I demanded.
His brows deepened into dark shadows. “You don’t understand me. Weaklings eat others who are weaker. You cannot eat the strong. You fear them, for they will eat you. But, you specifically cannot eat either one. Because of degrees, there is a point at which the strong can become no stronger, and to balance the upper limit, there is a lower limit.
“You are at the very bottom, and with nothing to feed on, you will rot away. Why not serve my purpose willingly? You could die with the knowledge that you helped the Dealmaker ascend to the top.”
“No, because you don’t deserve it.”
“Well, since you suddenly think that you meet the criteria of an unbiased judge, let’s discuss your merits. In an argument, there are always two or more opposing views. The same is true for ours. I have one point and you have another. What we need to do now is to decode and discover who is lying...”
“Not so fast. You’ll get your turn, but I’ll go first. My first piece of evidence is that you are a frequent liar. And don’t think that I wouldn’t know. You’ve lied your entire life. Not to mention that you are dishonest in other acts as well.
“Remember when you told your parents that you had never had a boyfriend? Poor girl. You just couldn’t stand the thought of your parents knowing that their little twelve-year-old angel had betrayed them for some low-life scumbag with a nice smile.
“And let’s not forget your old friend Courtney Flare. She stole your lunches, assaulted you whenever she felt the desire, and worst of all — well, you remember the day she forced you into the broom closet, don’t you? You told your parents that you got the bruises in gym class and that you kept losing your lunchboxes. And the closet incident was something that you kept from them altogether. You just couldn’t stand the thought of them knowing, so you let them believe what they wanted to believe: that you broke your hymen while exercising.
“Why don’t you just become an instructor in the art of lying, Emilaz? Such a teacher would bring in a steady income. And you’d like that, wouldn’t you? Why else would you tell your seven-year-old cousin Ryan that he could have three brand new five-dollar bills for his one, crinkly twenty?”
The booming sound of his voice flooded my ears, and he continued to spew forth anything that he had to hurl at me. But after he mentioned Flare, his words were no longer the harmless companions of sticks and stones. They weren’t little codes that my brain had to sort out to gain an understanding of their painless meaning. Instead, they shot at me like verbal missiles and torpedoes. Suddenly, I found my insides boiling as if I were sitting in a cauldron.
My knees buckled, and I went down. Despite an impact that was significant enough to tear the skin from my already scarred knees, my shaky hands didn’t budge. They continued to cling to my chest as if I couldn’t stand the cold.
“Pull it together, Emilaz. You can’t fall to pieces just yet. If you’d just submit to my will, it would end. You caused this, and you can end it.” The excited face grew taller. “You want to be stubborn unlike your forefathers. Don’t you realize it’s useless? Maybe you think that someone will come along and save you. Did anyone save you from Courtney Flare? Who came to your rescue when she had you screaming for mercy in that broom closet, Emilaz?!”
Two hot tears rolled down my cheeks and two more followed. My eyes had given up their hold and resigned from their occupations as the dams that hid the secret waters of my river of sadness. For a moment, I lived in a different world.
A swollen cloud suddenly engulfed me and Courtney Flare was now hunched close behind me. My arms were pinned to my back and her breathing felt harsh against the nape of my neck. She whispered, “Don’t you like being my slave?” over and over again.
I didn’t even want to breathe, but I had to, and I did so lightly. My neck became hot with her breath, and my ears were next.
“Don’t you like being my slave? Say yes. Say yes, Emilaz.” Her breath singed my eyebrows with a foulness that resembled the foulness of fried onions and feces. I couldn’t see anything but a crack of light that was coming from outside the closet in the hallway. I could feel myself letting go, but I couldn’t scream loudly enough.
When Flare spoke, I knew that she smiled as though her words came out of a spiral, a result of her curved lips. She smiled because she knew no one would come for me. I belonged completely to her. “Now, take off your shirt, or do you want me to do it for you?”
Then, in another instant, I came back to the lime face.
“You are unfit even to be a slave,” he said.
“Shu... uh,” was all I could get out.
“You see? The truth hurts, Emilaz. That’s why you feel that inner flame. It’s because I’m telling the truth. You are nothing. You will be nothing. Submit to my will.”
I looked up and saw his now huge face looming above me, occupying most of the space in the creek with its herby color and shadows.
“What will happen to me if I do?” I said.
“Honestly, you won’t change. Except in the history books, next to your name it will say ‘the girl who assisted the Dealmaker’. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?”
It didn’t sound nice to me at all.
His voice rumbled again. “You’ll be famous. What are you waiting for? Cut your hand and make it official.”
And in the next instant his words mesmerized me. I couldn’t believe I actually agreed with him, even for a moment. How could such a nasty thing be real?
“What about my parents?” I said.
“Emilaz, you still misunderstand. Everyone will become slaves to my will! No one will escape! This is inevitable! Stop your negotiating and spill the blood!” His face grew so large that the entire creek was illuminated with its greenness. I couldn’t understand how only I could see him.
I held the cutter tightly, and as I brought it to my other hand, the gentle sounds of the waters caught my attention. They seemed to call me by a name that I knew couldn’t have been mine, though it felt as if the name should’ve been. I took a step towards the water.
“What are you doing? Cut yourself and bleed on the book!” he said. His voice was loud, but my ears were focused on the waters of Partic Creek. My mind swam in their calm flow.
“I’m not doing it,” I said before the words had instilled themselves in me.
“What are you talking about? If you don’t do it, they’ll die. I’ll kill them, remember?”
“I said... I’m not doing it!” I turned, reached down, and slammed the book shut before impaling it with the box cutter. The pages sandwiched the green face.
“It doesn’t matter what you do. It’s fated for your family to suffer by my hand. If you destroy this book, I will return! I cannot be destroyed by a nugatory human girl!” he said. I picked the book up, wound my arms back, and threw the book as far into the water as I could see.
“Say what you want, but I’m a liar, remember? I know when someone else is lying. You may have been telling the truth about one thing, though. I probably am at the bottom. But you said the bottom is what balances out the top. And if you try to kill my family, even if you succeed, you’ll still lose out.
“A nobody like me isn’t afraid to die. If you destroy the people I love, I’ll drown myself, and you’ll still be without my blood. When you use someone who’s not aware of your intentions, you tend to underestimate that person’s strength. No matter how much you’ve practiced manipulation, one truth remains: the manipulator needs the manipulated. And I refuse to be your marionette.”
* * *
My name is Emilaz. I know it’s a weird name, but now it’s a name that no one will ever forget. Emilaz, the brave Conqueror of the Dealmaker and the current Duchess of Dealings.
Copyright © 2011 by Joseph L. Jones