Monsters Beget Monsters

This is a revised tale from my Twilight Nightmares compilation. To read all 50 stories, click here!

The hot summer melted Harvey’s garage into a sticky sauna. A cup filled with a recipe he found on the dark web stood upon the table in front of him. Inside was a black liquid tinted purple with a thick yellowy head. He took a deep breath, clenched his teeth, and closed his eyes.

Nine weeks ago, a drunk ran down his wife and son. Alexis died immediately. Charlie, however, flew forty feet from the accident. In the hospital, the boy fought hard to survive occasionally waking long enough to ask where his mother was, but soon died. The final blow came when the judge freed the drunk with only probation and a fine. Apparently, growing up affluent didn’t afford him the necessary experience to make good choices. For this, the murderer walked.

Anger seethed from Harvey’s eyes, raining hot madness upon the surface below. He gripped the edge of the table and his thick veins slithered just below his skin. He didn’t know what would happen if he drank it, but he didn’t care. It would either kill him or help him get revenge. It was win-win.

He grabbed the glass, and some of it sloshed over, stinging his hand. He pressed the rim against his quivering lip, and finished it in three searing gulps.

He didn’t wait long before an acidic burn trailed up his esophagus. He retched, and then vomited the brew onto the table. He heaved until nothing but stringy bile hung from his lips.

Suddenly, the spot just below his ribs began to hurt. He looked down at his nude torso and watched a claw tear its way through his skin. As he fell to his knees, another ripped through the other side. He rolled over, screaming.

Black flaps shot from his shoulders spraying flecks of red against the floor. Bones snaked through them forming bloody wings, and the bone pierced through the ends resulting in sharp bat-like points. He climbed to his hands and knees, coughed, and watched his teeth blast out of his mouth and spin across the floor. Blood drained from his lips as he reached for his gums, and he found jagged fangs pushing through the soft tissue. He leaned back as the skin on his chest split and burned as if someone had doused him with fuel and lit him ablaze. The pain was so intense he scratched and clawed, ripping the skin away, which revealed a hard, scaly armor.

He uttered soft cries as he used the table to climb back to his feet. He lumbered to a mirror, legs shaking. He looked upon a monster. Inky-black wings. Pointed teeth. Sharp claws replaced his hands and he had two extra arms. He felt stronger, though, and when he ran his new claw along the scales, it didn’t pierce. However, he *hadn’t* changed because he was still the same bloodthirsty man that would make all of them pay. Every last mother fucker that wronged the world would pay.

For Emily (based on true events)

There's nothing you wouldn't do for your sister.
There’s nothing you wouldn’t do for your sister.

“Be careful out there,” your mother’s words echo in your mind as blood oozes from Cheryl’s perfectly plump lips. “You know tonight is the anniversary, right?”

A cold breeze dances through the forest, and a million leaves clap for its performance. You breathe deep the fresh air, and wonder how they could be so stupid to think you didn’t know what they did. You guess ignorance and careless assumptions have been the deficiency of man, and you’re right. Oh, but how you wish you were wrong. Had you endured your own ignorance you wouldn’t be in that dark forest. As it were, however, fate has other plans for you.

You had blindfolded each of them. You didn’t do it because you were afraid they’d see your face but rather to scare the shit out of them. They needed to know real fear. They needed to know what it felt like to be your sister. She had been born into darkness, you wanted them to feel as she felt when they lured her into this god-forsaken forest and snuffed out her innocent life.

The soft moonlight intermittently shines through the branches as the percolating clouds pass overhead. Cheryl whimpers, and even though her tears wet the blindfold, you chuff with disgust. Maybe there was a point when curiosity had turned her into an ice-cold monster, but that time had gone. Now, she is nothing more than a frightened woman wishing she hadn’t killed your sister. She begs for your forgiveness, but she doesn’t deserve it because now it is you suffering life as a soulless monster.

“Who’s idea was it?” you ask as lightning flashes overhead. Booming thunder crashes, a crescendo to your climaxing emotions.

You pull a bloodstained bat from your bag. The very same bat they used to kill your sister. Alan suddenly starts to cry. With each deep-bellied wail, he spits snot and tears into the darkness. You thought for sure Cheryl would cave first, but now that you think about it, Alan is the weakest of the three. Of course, even the weakest find strength when self-preservation is the only thing they have left. You walk to Alan, and he tilts his head toward the sky.

“Alan?” You ask, and press the thick end of the bat against his cheek.

“No, man, I swear to God it wasn’t me.”

“Shut the fuck up, Alan.” Richard’s deep, forceful voice cuts through the night like a train through a brick wall. He’s the guy everyone listens to because he’s got a leaders personality. “If you say one more fu—”

The bat slams against Richard’s head, and your fingers go numb. Three more times you smash it into his face, and although Alan’s cries are almost too loud to bear, you can still hear Richard’s skull crunching. When you finished, he leans forward, now only held up by the binds the tie him to the tree.

You return to Cheryl and ask her, “Dick over there started this whole thing, right? You guys were just along for the thrill?”

Alan said, “Leave us alone, man.”

Another frigid breeze thrashes the leaves, and the comforting drum of rain follows it. Soon, the oddly warm water beats against all of you. After closing your eyes, you enjoy the feel of the water as it pours over you. “I know what they found at your house, Alan. The police tried to hide that fact from my family, but I know what you did to her.”

“I didn’t, I swear I didn’t!”

The bat lands hard against his stomach, and then you swing for a homerun. Unfortunately, the ball doesn’t leave the park. It merely falls to the side, silent and no longer weeping.

You return to Cheryl one last time, and move close enough to smell her perfume and feel the fine peach hairs on her ear tickle your lips. You whisper, “Do you know what blood and death brings to this forest?”

She starts to whimper again, and you take a long deep breath to savor her fear. “It brings all kinds of dangerous creatures. Ones that suffer eating dead flesh, but will enjoy the live treat I intend to leave them.”

She blubbers as you walk to your bag and pick it up. She calls for you to spare her, but you can’t do that. You won’t do it. You gave the others a quick death, but you cannot give her the same relief. She was supposed to be your sister’s friend. She was supposed to protect her from the world she herself couldn’t see. She knew your sister was blind in reality, sure, but she was innocent, too, blind to the darkness of man. For her betrayal, you will never forgive her. So she must suffer, and while you may never feel whole or at piece, at least for a short time you can feel some manner of adequate albeit false satisfaction.

The United States of Max Carter

He walks alone, but strong.
He walks alone, but strong.

Max Carter laid on his bed with the coverlet draped over his head and the beam of a flashlight bearing down on the cream pages of a novel. His body warmth kept him toasty on this cold winter evening as he read each line carefully, soaking in every detail of an alternate universe created by his favorite author. Perhaps to some it might seem boring, but for him, it was an imperfectly perfect evening. It was certainly much better than the alternative, so he was thankful for that much.

In all of the stories he read, he typically became the main character (so long as it was a good person). He liked to experience the life of someone faced with hardships and triumphs so that he may laugh and cry with all of them. He liked to romance the lovers and dream with the dreamers. More than anything, he liked to save people even if he could never find the courage to save himself.

As he read himself into his illusion, he softly whispered the words. In his story, he was a man who had just become the president of the United States. The election ended, and the inauguration completed. Now he stood in the oval office at the foot of a glorious desk. The great picture window masked by thin white curtains cast a soft glow of the sun’s warm embrace into the room. He looked down to find a small note telling him to check the drawer for instructions.

“I wonder what’s in there.” Max whispered to himself as he turned the page.

The edge of the page grazed the sheets and made a subtle hollow sound that reminded him of the time he used to lay his head on his mother’s lap. She would stroke his hair, and sometimes her wrist or forearm would lightly touch his ear making a similar noise. The thought of it sent a wave of warm chills over his body and prickled his skin with gooseflesh.

That was the only thing he could really remember about her. He looked away from the book and at the clean white fabric of the coverlet hoping he could withdrawal from his memory a hidden snippet of his mother. That was his practice every time something reminded him of her, and each time he hoped he might find even the smallest thread that might lead to a larger tapestry depicting the woman who brought unequivocal warmth to his heart. However, he found nothing this time (as with every other time) because he was too young to remember her before she went away.

His eyes fell back to the pages of the book, and as he absentmindedly began to read the words, he raised his hand to his young face. The tip of his second digit lightly passed over his cheek, the fine clear hairs tickled his touch. As it reached further north, his hand began to tremble.

His finger found its destination. There was no hair in that spot, and the skin was puffy and slightly raised. The smoothness was still foreign to him, but it had been there for some time. Most times, he avoided looking at it in the mirror, and often refused to touch it. However, the thought of his mother sometimes brought him to recognize its existence upon his face. However, it was never good memories that followed.

He traced the scar from the upper part of his cheek to his eye. He gently passed over the mangled lower eyelid, feeling every bit of roughness, slope, and incline. He dared not to touch his sightless eye, though it wouldn’t matter much if he did. When he reached the other lid, he barely touched it because that was the worst one. The scar continued north to his scalp. His hair parted away from the mutilation as if shunning the part of his body that could no longer produce those long dark fibers. When he finally reached the end, he’d traced toward the right side of his head just above his ear.

Ache seemed to drive forth from his chest. It spread from deep within and wide across his body. Max’s eyes began to burn, and a thin line traced his eyelids. Small tears formed, and he felt the soft tickle as they rolled to the edge of his eyelashes and leapt off.

He brought his head back up and looked blurrily at his book. The pages looked distorted like the ocean floor in shallow waters warped by turbulent currents. He couldn’t read the words, but he saw in his mind what the book represented, and it saddened him. He knew it was only his imagination that he was the President. Reality offered a truth he continually denied through ritual, but one that he held on to dearly because that truth was something that hurt and frightened him.

Max closed the book and pushed it aside. No matter how hard he tried, he knew he wasn’t going to be able to read even one word and enjoy it. The last thing he wanted to do was destroy the only thing that brought comfort and joy to his world.

He took a deep breath, and then threw the coverlet back. The cool air nipped at his skin as if the room had filled with millions of tiny ice crystals that hungered for human flesh. He shook with a violent shudder, and crawled to the edge of the bed.

When he put his feet on the frigid surface of the wooden floor, his skin felt slightly numb. He looked around the room he’d always known to be his, but he never really felt like it was actually his. At one point, it was his home, long before in a time when he was too young to comprehend the world. Now, it was as foreign as a country on the other side of the world. One ruled by a vicious man who liked to make his people suffer.

Max walked to the door and laid the left side of his face against the cool painted surface. The unintelligible voices of the television echoed from the first floor where his father sat, probably with a cold beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. The place where the subtle stench of sweat and something sour resided.

Tired didn’t quite explain how he felt at that moment as he listened to the television, one that reminded him of his terrible life in that foreign place. Well, he was tired, but he was also dejected. He felt imprisoned.

He breathed deep, and sighed. He wondered what President Max would do in his place. Would he continue to allow the dictator of this foreign nation to treat his citizens this way? No, what president would? What virtuous person could allow anything like this happen to anyone?

For a long while, he thought about how the president might stand up to a criminal. After all, evil people were still just evil people, but he wondered where the president might get the strength to be bigger than those people. He wondered how he might gain that strength and push himself to rid the country of its rain and clear the skies of those dark thunderheads.

The answer wasn’t one he liked. When reality finally fell into the matter, he was nothing but a little boy. Not even a teen and a runt who was barely tall enough to reach items on the tall counters in the kitchen. Not old enough to drive a car. Not wise enough to best adults in the game of life. Just a little boy with a blind eye and love for books; neither of those made for a very good leader or president.

Finally resolving to defeat, he began to think about his book again, which excited him. His books always did that for him. He began to imagine where he left off with President Max in that oval office, and wondered what kind of instructions he might find in that secret compartment. Maybe they were instruction on how the man might sniff out spies or perhaps it was a joke offered by one the assistants.

Maybe the message was simple, and he spoke the words aloud, “There is a certain enthusiasm in liberty that makes human nature rise above itself in acts of bravery and heroism.”

That was one of his favorite quotes by Alexander Hamilton. He read it once at the beginning of one of the books on his shelf. He could never remember which one. Back then, it really resonated with him, but he wasn’t quite sure why. Now he knew. He needed to rise above himself, take charge of his situation, and liberate himself from this terrible foreign nation. He had to be brave, and although someone other than the brave typically asserts heroism, he would be his own hero; he could assert it for himself because he was both the people and the leader.

That was it. That had to be what President Max was going to find in that desk, and even if it wasn’t, that’s what normal little Max needed. Those were his instructions, his direction in life. To be as strong and as heroic as a president should be. To stand against opposition and fight for the people that matter. True, at this point Max was the only person that mattered, but he stood to gain immeasurably from it, and he felt as though if he could do this for himself, then what might he be able to do for other people in his future. What might he accomplish by taking that first step toward salvation?

He quickly pulled his Ninja Turtle themed backpack from his closet and filled it with the necessities: a jacket, some clothes, the novel he started reading, and, of course, a pack of grape flavored Bubble Yum.

He opened his door, and the hinges betrayed his silence. The squeal seemed to scream like an alarm to alert the warden that a prisoner was about to escape. He paused mid-step with the door half open, and listened. The television continued to blare; now more clear than before. He still didn’t know what the man was watching, but after too long, it was obvious his father didn’t get up from his seat.

As he started down the stairs, he descended gently. Because the wood floor was old and he was getting heavier, he didn’t want it to call out and warn his father that he was coming. He couldn’t have that happen. Capture was not an option.

Each step down the stairs was another step toward freedom, and when he reached the ground floor, he swam through the darkness toward the living room. He stopped just shy of the door, and peered into the room.

Just as he’d imagined, there sat his father—an enemy of the state. He was watching late night television, a movie with some woman wrestling with a man in her bedroom. The cool condensation of the beer’s green glass glistened from the warm glow of the screen. Sinuous threads of smoke snaked from his other hand. The man lifted it a moment later, took a drag of his cigarette, and followed it with a swig of his brew while he blew the smoke from his nose.

The man was a dragon, a formidable foe for any hero—especially for Max. Just looking upon that man paralyzed him. He wasn’t just scared or terrified. He was damn frozen inside. He knew what it meant if he was caught trying to escape, trying to leave that prison. He knew what the man was capable of doing.

A few years ago, his mother had died. Not by any natural causes. No, it was his father. Well, it was his father’s fault, of that he was sure. They were fighting one night, as they always did, and she drank too much as a result. He didn’t blame her for trying to numb the emotional and physical pain that he caused her because there were times Max wished he could drink himself stupid to make the abuse hurt less. What Max didn’t agree with was that she stole the keys to the car, and tried to leave that night. She was too drunk to drive, and died in a terrible car accident.

Meanwhile, as she tried to escape their prison, Max was the new target for his father. Of course, Max was small so he could hide anywhere he wanted, but that night he hid in the wrong place. His father had chased him through the house, and Max found himself cornered in his bedroom. He scurried under the bed, a cockroach of a boy trying to flee the foot of an enraged human. He wasn’t fast enough, however, and his father grasped his legs and pulled him out.

The bed was made of wood, an old job put together by Max’s grandfather. It was sturdy, but it had its faults. None of them really concerned anyone except the night when Max’s father forced him from under the bed. As he passed under the bottom frame, a loose nail protruded an inch down. It first caught Max’s cheek, and when Max started crying to tell his father to stop, the man became more enthusiastic about pulling him out. The nail dug deep, and as his father pulled him out, it tore up through his cheek, split the eyelid, sliced a fissure through Max’s eye, and reentered through the other eyelid. Max tried to turn his head to get the nail out from digging under his skin, but it continued to cut all the way back until his father pulled him out completely.

Max now stood there in the soft glow of the television, trying to remain hidden in that corridor. His hand was once again gently touching the puffy skin of his scar, which had reversed the paralytic effect his father had by reminding him of why he was there in the first place. He dropped his hand, and step backwards to allow the shadows to consume him.

He went to the front door, and disengaged the lock. He pulled it as slow as possible to keep the hinges from ratting him out, and when it was open enough, he slipped into the wintery night. Once he closed the door, he ran as hard and as fast as he could down the street until the thin cold air burned his lungs, forcing him to stop.

He looked back at that foreign country lead by an evil tyrant, and was pleased with himself that he’d finally escaped. He bravely saved himself, a boy who was destined to live as a prisoner unless someone did something about it. He did something about it. President Max liberated normal Max, a brave hero.

Max turned and headed down the street. The frigid weather chilled him to the bone, making violent shivers quake through his body, but he pressed forward. He wasn’t done being brave or heroic, and he had a much more terrifying moment’s in his life that would require him to continue being brave. That night, however, he conquered one of the darkest dictators in his life, and though he may have more to face, he knew that he could face anything after having finally freed himself of the thing he feared the most.

“Welcome, President,” he told himself, “to the United States of Max Carter.”

The Man in the Yellow Coat

Careful what you wish
Careful what you wish…

Emon sipped his cola-laced rum, and as he set it down, the clear cubes of ice settled against the glass. The alcohol burned his throat, and it was the first time he didn’t care. He used to worry that drinking might damage his vocal cords, but ever since he was in a car accident, he couldn’t say more than a few ragged-sounding sentences before succumbing to an irritated throat and uncomfortable coughs. So, it didn’t much matter what he stuffed down his throat.

He said, “Have you ever wanted something so bad you’d do anything for it?”

He wasn’t talking to anyone in particular, and it surprised him when the man next to him replied, “Yep. Too many times to count.”

Emon looked over, and the stranger didn’t look back. He just looked into his nearly empty tumbler. He had silver hair peppered with black shading that suggested he wasn’t as old as he appeared, though deceit is always a two-way road where the gullible is almost as guilty as the deceiver. He wore an odd yellow corduroy coat with brown leather patches on the elbows. Emon didn’t know people still wore jackets like that, and so he suspected the man was in fact as old as he appeared.

The man in the yellow coat looked at him and said, “We’ve all made our fair share of mistakes, son. What was yours?”

It’d been a while since someone gave Emon an ear, so he took it kindly. “Car accident.”

“That’s all?”

Emon was originally too ashamed to answer, but when he looked into the man’s soft, comforting eyes, his inhibition eased. Because he’d already spoke too much, his voice started to take on a rough quality. “The accident… it was my fault.”

The man gulped the last bit of his drink. “Run a red light? Stop sign?”

“No, nothing like that.” Emon said, and sipped his rum. “Much worse.”

“Ah, say no more, friend. Not everyone can escape fate when they drink and drive. Someone has to fall some time.”

“Ain’t that the truth?” Emon growled, but unintentionally. His voice had reduced to a deep rumble, one without tone or softness.

“So, what is it? You want to take that night back?”

“I would if I could, but I’d take something more subtle you know?” He paused to take a sip of his drink with the hope it would soothe his now burning throat. It was as if he’d swallowed barbed wire. “I’d give anything to sing again.”

“Sing?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s a pretty odd thing to want.”

“Nah, not when you love someone.”

“Oh, it’s for a woman.”

“It was for a girl, but she’s not so into me anymore.”

“I don’t understand why, you’re still pretty handsome for a man who lived through a car accident.”

Emon took in a long deep breath and let it out slowly. “What she loved most was my voice.”

“Well, that sounds shitty of her. Was it that good?”

“The best.” he said as Aria, a young blonde woman, entered the bar. She wore a short white skirt, black corral boots, and a baby-blue spaghetti strap. A soft, white cardigan hung from her shoulders, which danced in the air as she made her way to the other side of the bar.

“Let me guess…” the man in the yellow coat said.

“Yup, that’s her.”

“If you don’t mind me saying so… wow. I don’t blame you for wanting your voice back.”

“I don’t mind at all. She’s to die for.”

Suddenly, the man was standing so close that Emon could smell his cologne. It had a hint vanilla, but there was something else he couldn’t quite place. Ever since the accident, everything smelled wrong. Flowers smelled unpleasant, and already unpleasant things smelled even worse. This man smelled like burnt or rotten food. Emon was always passive, so he didn’t say anything to him about it, but he placed his hand over his mouth to muffle the stench.

The man in the yellow coat said, “What if I could help you out?”

Emon let out such a sharp laugh that it sounded more like a bark. He looked up at the man who smiled, but there was a quality of seriousness in his face, too. “You’re not kidding.”

“No, not at all,” he said, and pointed to different people as he spoke. “See that man over there in the corner? He also caused an accident, one that killed a family of four. The mother, father, and daughter all died on impact. The son was found a day later wandering the streets screaming for his father. The boy died that night from his injuries. The judge took it easy on him, though. He even got a promotion at work.”

“One in a million.”

“Then there’s that guy over there, had sex with a woman while he was drunk, though she said he raped her. He was given a chance because he was too drunk to realize what he was doing.”

Emon didn’t reply this time, only listened. His throat was hurting too bad, but also he wasn’t sure what any of this had to do with his situation. Removing his guilt from the accident was hardly the same as judges finding leniency on drunks. He was becoming increasingly curious of how all of it connected to him.

The man in the yellow coat continued, “The woman at the end of the bar…”

Emon perked up and looked at Aria. The man quickly said, “No, not her. The other side. She crashed her car right through a family’s living room. Killed a little girl, the husband, and left the wife to suffer permanent injuries in a long-term care facility. The driver herself suffered deep gashes to her face.”

“I don’t see any…”

“I know. Everyone gets a second chance, Emon.”

“I don’t understand.” He said, shaking his head.

“What I’m trying to say is that I can help you like I helped them.”

“Wait, what? Who the hell are you?”

“Just someone who wants to help.”

It wasn’t until that moment he realized he hadn’t told the man in the yellow coat his name. “How did you…”

“You want to sing again, right?”

Emon carefully considered his next words, but there was only one thing he wanted to say. “More than anything.”

“What I’m trying to say is that I can give that to you.”

“I dunno, man. I don’t believe in all that mystical bullshit.” Emon said, and coughed from the harsh tickle in the back of his throat, his voice nearly dead.

“You don’t have to believe, you just have to accept my help and you’ll get your voice back.”

“I don’t know about that…”

“What could it hurt? Worst case, nothing happens. Best case, you’re singing again.”

Emon spoke again, but his voice was little more than pops of air. “Fine.”

“Are you giving up or accepting my help. Which is it?”

“The second one.” Emon whispered, as he felt tears burn in his eyes. The pain in his throat had become so intense that he wanted to reach in and tear it out. No, worse. He wanted to get the pistol his father used to commit suicide and use it on himself. Befitting since he was the reason his father killed himself. He forced himself to speak up, “Goddamn it, the second one.”

“Then it’s done.”

Suddenly, the pain stopped. The swelling thickness of his neck and fat globulous feeling deep in his throat disappeared. Emon reached up and rubbed his skin. It was as if nothing was wrong. He swallowed a few times just to be certain, and all things awful had ceased. He didn’t know who this man was, but he had to be an Angel sent by God to give him just one more chance.

Emon opened his mouth to speak, but the man in the yellow coat interrupted him with his finger. “Not yet. Don’t waste your first words on anything but a song.”

He furrowed his brow, and the man continued, “Go sing. Perhaps you’ll win her back.”

A cold sweat permeated his body, every inch of his skin a swamp of nervousness. Rolling drips tickled him as they ran the length of his body. He shook his head.

“Go on,” the man urged.

Emon didn’t know why, but he felt compelled to give it a shot. He really had nothing to lose. So what if someone laughed at him? He already knew the dark stories of half the people in there, and while he killed an old woman in his accident, it wasn’t nearly half as bad as their crimes. Hell, not even a little bit. At least his accident killed someone that was already on her way out. That was his rationalization, anyway. The only one that got him through most days, but to him, it was good enough.

When he reached the stage, he grabbed the microphone and looked at the bartender. Dean cocked his head to the side as if to ask if he was sure he wanted to sing, and Emon nodded. Dean shrugged, and turned the karaoke system on. The man already knew what Emon liked to sing, so he threw on Metallica’s cover of Turn the Page.

The guitars sung a sullen melody as Emon watched the small crowd of late night degenerates from center stage. All of them drank some kind of drink to forget their past, and they all looked toward him as he began to sing.

The words flowed freely through his throat, and the voice that came out of his mouth was good. No, it wasn’t just good, it was better than he remembered. Aria turned toward the stage, her eyes wide as he watched her. He felt his smile stretch across his face, and he had a hard time keeping his words from distorting, but he couldn’t help it. It had been so long since she noticed him, and now she seemed enchanted by him.

Aria stepped toward the stage, and began to sing with him. Her voice was smooth like velvety fudge, but that wasn’t the most amazing part. It was as if they’d never broke it off or that months hadn’t passed since the last time their lips pressed against each other. They stared deep into each other’s eyes, and at that moment, despite their falling out, he’d just as sudden fallen back in love with her in a way that made him immediately forgive her for everything that happened.

As she approached the stage, probably to join him, she suddenly stopped. Her eyebrows turned up with worry, and she grabbed her throat. She started to back away as a heavy cough barked from her lips.

Emon said, “What’s wrong?”

She didn’t say anything, she just continued to cough. Then her cough seemed to echo, but as he looked around, he realized it wasn’t an echo after all, it was everyone in the bar coughing. When his eyes returned to Aria, black soot billowed from her mouth each time she heaved, and her skin began to turn ashen-pink. Boils appeared, and her hoarse shriek grew louder.

“What’s happening!” he said, and ran to her. He dropped the microphone, and a quick chirp of feedback called from the speakers. He grabbed her arms, but it burned his hands. He immediately let go, unsure of what to do. She dropped to the ground, and her hair crackled and smoked as if on fire. She frantically patted at her head as her shrill call for help transformed from fright to agony.

Emon looked at the other patrons of the bar, and they, too, screamed with misery now. One man’s hand had melted, and then chunks of meat fell away from his skeleton. He fell to the ground in a soup made of his own dissolving flesh. The rapist’s eyes exploded and splattered all over his female date. It melted through her skin like an acid, and they screamed a song of unequivocal torment. The woman at the other end of the bar who drove her car through the house had lesions open across her face from which blood and black ooze poured. Flames seemed to lick from the wounds and burned the surrounding skin. Everyone but the man in the yellow coat was dying.

Emon ran to the man. “Make it stop!”

The man smiled. “It is as it should be.”

“What are you—just stop it!”

The screams died one by one, the sole voice remaining was that of a terrified Aria. She cried, “Emon!”

He turned just in time to watch her hit the ground. He looked back the man in the yellow coat, and said, “What the fuck did you do?”

“This is all thanks to you, my friend.”

“This is my fault?”

“No. It’s their fault. Their sins damned them. They were nothing more than rotting souls waiting for me to collect them. You just, simply put, helped the process along.”

“But Aria…”

“That I didn’t see coming. I don’t always know when someone has sinned, but as it turns out, she was no better than the rest.”

“Why… how did I… everyone’s fucking dead!”

“Oh, Emon. I hope you understand, but as a demon, I cannot collect souls. I need a tool. In this case, I needed your human voice. Normally I have to spend a lot of time convincing someone to accept something in return for a gift, but once in a while someone comes along like you that accepts without asking too many questions. I only have you to thank for that.”

“I never wanted this… I can’t be your tool. I’ll kill myself!”

“It’s all right, Emon. Relax. Your job is done,” he said, and threw some bills on the bar. “You paid your price. Enjoy your voice, son.”

As hot tears poured down Emon’s face, he watched the man in the yellow coat straighten his jacket and then disappear out into the hot afternoon sun. As the door closed, the force of the wind blew a nearby window open. It clattered against the wall, and the sun poured in as if to call his attention to ensure he witnessed what he’d done. Indeed, he paid, but he wasn’t so sure it was worth the price.