|THE DEVIL’S DOWNFALL|
by Andrew Bell
“My spirit shall not always strive with man.”
David Corbin, 42, crossed the room, cut through the square of light, and took his place in his seat. On his desk stood a Disney World cup, dirty with neglect. A small chip along its rim caught the light sometimes. There was also a chip in one of its big ears that jutted out the side. It was a gift from Marcy, the girl from the front desk. She had legs and... that was it, nothing else; a pair of legs at the desk, answering phones and shuffling paper around. When she brought the little trinket back with her, it was like the Holy Grail to him, it was a step closer on that illusive ladder in her stockings. That was, until a week or so later, that David found out she had visited the place with her new boyfriend. He still drank from it, but it rarely got an oil change. Sometimes pens and pencils sat in it.
He sometimes thought he carried a plague, and that something was growing on the side of his body; and people usually put two and two together to make thirty five, thought it was catching. Giving him a wide berth, their eyes often met, but he would never engage in conversation with them. Often times they would nudge each other accidentally by the water machine, apologise; grabbing a pen or a ream of paper for the Xerox machine. They’d acknowledge each other, say sorry then get on with things. They’d look, then, hurriedly, turn away.
You see, David was one of those people that never seemed to be busy, yet always got things done. He’d never broke a sweat in ten years, that’s how cool he was. There was something not quite right about him.
“So, how you’re going to get to the bottom of this one?” asked Detective Stevens, coughing into a hand-kerchief. He quickly looked at its contents, grimaced and then stuffed the rag into his back pocket. “Huh?”
Detective Corbin looked up from the ripped stomach of the corpse. He wasn’t listening. His attention was for the creature sitting beside him on the rock. Silently, it had surveyed the woman, that seemed older than her appearance would imply, and it screwed its face up in deep concentration, before shaking its head. It looked at him, tears forming at the corners of its eyes.
“Could you turn around—”
“I always thought you were like that,” replied Stevens dryly, lighting a cigarette.
“—and go as far away from my scene as possible, please?” he finished his sentence. “Don’t smoke near here, you dick!”
The other man clicked his teeth like a petulant child, and walked off, drawing deeply on his cigarette.
Skin cracked like salted leather, as features appeared in the creature’s oval face. Something akin to a mouth formed, like a tear full of jagged and blackened teeth. Its eyes lacked pupils, and veins spread across them like wild ivy. The eyes wore cataracts like the skin of an old hound; hung loose, pulled down by a great weight. It never slept, just hid within the folds of the detective’s clothes when it got weak. And each day it was getting lighter, losing weight, it seemed. It was humanoid in form, it featured the appendages that the pictures depicted; two arms, two legs, but no sexual organs. This way, try as they might, the human host could never understand its emotions. It was the one thing that distinguished them, gave them identity, a soul. These creatures were the stuff of a child’s nightmares, even though they were real. Everyone had their misconceptions, but this seemed to fool Corbin.
When the stakes had been high, almost as high as everyone around the table, through the haze of still cigar smoke, the little critter didn’t look so bad. Of course, it had taken a while before he had accepted it instead of hard cash. After all, God only knew what it would do once it left the room. It had been a gamble alright. Instead of a jaw full of broken teeth, he had gone home with the creature. Days passed into months, and the demon had been faithful. He had been happy.
Now it was starting to feel the burn. Restless, it moved about a lot. Like a lizard on sand, it lifted its limbs from the ground. And when it cooled, rested them a while. This behaviour had occurred only recently, like the constant reminder of time.
“Any ideas?” said Corbin, under his breath, waiting for Stevens to get out of earshot.
Hands cupped and covered its eyes, pulling skin, like a tight hood, over its face. The hood hid its eyes and mouth. Tiny, razor fine nails dug into the grooves there; that had been designed over the years. Corbin could see a slight inflation, as though it were breathing. But he knew that it was already dead. At least it didn’t have a pulse when it was offered. Air had no right in its lungs, in fact, it didn’t have any. The skin was membranous and clotted in various areas. The flesh was as thin as a bat’s wing, gossamer thin. Thick vessels throbbed, like veins pumping blood, around its being. It hunched its shoulder-like parts, and it folded down into a small ball shape, like an egg. Then it suddenly unfolded, and stood upright, reaching almost nine feet, He first feared it. Then he grew to see it for what it really was; beneath him.
“Woman... here... open... man... had... advantage... took... what... machined... her... insides…” it spoke in slurred clicks and clacks, and croaky here and there, like fingers scrabbling through pebbles at the bottom of a fish bowl. And Corbin understood every word.
“All I need is a name and address.”
“Take... you... there,” it replied, climbing onto his back, up his sleeves, slowly crawling underneath his jacket. It wrapped like a long snake, around his body, over-lapping itself over and over. To others, Corbin should look obese, carrying this extra being everywhere he went, but his clothes hung loosely. It couldn’t be seen by any other person. That was what the guy at the table had said. The thing had been a “great weight” to him. Corbin couldn’t understand that; it had been nothing but a massive help to his investigations. “Brian... Thompson... 43... Cornhill... Street.”
Corbin nodded, smiled, then made his way to his car. He passed Stevens on the way.
As he turned the engine, the younger man relaxed in the passenger seat. “Got an address?” he asked.
Corbin didn’t say a word, just reversed from the kerb, and drove away.
It waited until late then went to the library. It was a place that only it knew of, at the shoulder of a black hill. No living man went there, for he would have to see God’s face first. It was invisible. And when the detective was in slumber, it could just reach that damnable place. It took the book from the shelf on high.
The page crackled like bones, and it enjoyed the smell and dryness of the parchment. The tome was bound in flesh, hidden amongst the dust and dead insects of the furthest shelf. It needed to stretch as far as it could to reach it. It was not human hide, it was thicker and heavier. Hairs dotted here and there, and if you looked closely one would see it move, its pores breathe.
The demon smiled as it read, moving its strange mouth, soundlessly, its claw tracing the jagged writing. It read the words, moving its ragged mouth, and its smile wavered. It knew time, and it was quickly disappearing, like sand through a glass. It had to act, and fast.
The book spoke of a distant land that had no name. Four earthbound spirits had supposedly spoke with the Creator Himself, and scribbled His words down. It was a way from this damned existence, a place of purity, and goodness. The Holy Bible was its name, and it had to wear gloves when it touched its butterfly wing pages. It spoke of an insistency; that once the ball was set in motion, there was no turning back. Passages warned of a heat that would approach until it had passed through this time and space. To the end it would drift, taking all on its way as though it was air.
The creature had been a plaything for too long, a human had owned him before Corbin. It had been a slave, a creature even lower than its human counter-part. But this excuse inherited it because he could not shake off the things he had done. The card game had lasted all night, and it was one of the desperate player’s last resort. From “misplaced” mortgage deeds to a being in a box. Anything went. It all depended on a card. A demon in a will, captured by law. It was cursed to be passed from dead hands to the damned. Five hundred years, or maybe more, it had curled about a human thing’s waist, just because of the things it had committed in some past existence. Then it was put in a box, to be used or forgotten. To be at a human’s beck and call.
It understood how a soul had to live with its history, how the past had a way of creeping, or pulling one back, but now it was time to exit. It had had enough.
It followed the words, reading voraciously, turning the pages. It read every night. There was so much to learn, it thought. Yet it came down to one thing, just one simple thing, to break free. It just might work. And when it was done, it gently, slowly, put the book back. It sat until dawn, thinking over its plans. And when Corbin was about to stir, it climbed in beside him, like a lover returning to the warmth of his beating heart. It was a while before its smile faded. It knew that a fire was coming. So it had moved, feeling the heat move beneath its skin, as if maggots writhed there.
It had to catch him first.
Detective Stevens watched the officers escort Brian Thompson to the waiting police van and let the handcuffed man get comfortable in his seat before climbing in beside him. Then they drove away. Stevens lit another cigarette. He looked over at the obligatory twitching curtains of the homes along the street.
“How many of you knew he was here, eh?” he mumbled, almost whispered, the words. The clouds were filling with rain, and he felt the first needles of it touch his cheek. Corbin’s little mole had to be hiding somewhere close. He shook his head, then climbed behind the wheel of his car, and broke away from the kerb.
It wrapped its arm around his waist, slightly tight for comfort, thought the detective, walking away from the coroner’s office.
Her name had been Billy Danes, and her parents had identified her by the small home-made tattoo of a hummingbird on her wrist-
We told her not to go to her friend’s that night. How we argued to her about catching something with that tattoo
-other than that, she had been unrecognisable when the police had dredged the river for her missing remains.
He had passed the killer’s details onto other detectives then called it a day. He passed the Danes’ family in the hall. They were a bunch of arms and legs, a heap of human being, cuddled-up and crying for their daughter, their sister…
Corbin entered a well of sunshine, descended the steps, and left gloom behind him. He patted the creature, affectionately.
It waited, patiently.
That night, it woke up from its bed on the curve of the man’s body. The dream had been too real. It cried silently, in pain, rubbing its flesh with its nails. Walking across the carpet, back and forth, leaving small patches of skin where it had moved, it remembered how time was quickly making it its own.
The dream was like any other. Around its waist, like cement, holding it in place, was a chain. It was made from fire. Orange and red flames licked around it as it tried to pull away, but it was futile. It knew sin. It had for thousands of years. But this one, this discrepancy, was a tale it would never tell and get away with. It just couldn’t fathom out why. Despite trying to remember the details, it knew that now was the time to act. It set its plans.
Corbin felt the hood removed forcibly from his head, his black hair caught in his eyes. The darkness around him was palpable, and he could smell thin dust floating in the motes around him. He tried to move his hands, but they were chained fast, with handcuffs. The same went for his feet, he realised, trying to kick. Then he froze, the familiar scent of rotten fruit and dead flowers filled his surroundings.
“Show yourself, I know you’re there,” he said, his voice thunderous in the small room. For it had to be a small size, after all, his voice was ricocheting off the close sides
“We’re alone, my child. I swear,” said the voice.
The detective jolted furiously at the sound. It was a loud but gentle voice, one that was strange to him. It spoke with a heavy, old, tone. It was slow and deliberate, as though with tiredness and resignation.
“Nothing will leave this place,” said the voice. “Whatever you want off of your chest, this is a little archaic, but the right place to do it.”
“Just... tell me,” said Corbin, his throat as dry as freshly fallen leaves. “Where am I?”
“There has to be something on your chest, if you don’t know that—”
“Where is this place, please?”
There followed a moment’s silence, then the person spoke.
“I’ve never stepped in a church before, let alone a confessional booth,” said Corbin, trying to pull at his restraints.
“Here at St. Anderson’s, I understand,” the voice chuckled, dryly.
“... say... hello... to... the... priest…” the creature said, its face appearing in the darkness.
The air caught in the detective’s throat, and he looked down, to see one of the creature’s large razor-sharp claws press against his belly. “I... said…”
“Please forgive me if I don’t ask you your name. I won’t tell you mine,” the older man said. “Here, we are anonymous. Nothing will leave these walls; you have my word on that.”
Corbin looked into the face of the demon, saw the saliva drip like living wires from its scabrous mouth. It was smiling.
“I... I... don’t know why I’m here…”
The claw pressed even further against his tummy, threatening to break the skin. The face was an inch from his now, spittle almost touched his chin.
“Confess... to... the... nice... man... and... you’ll... never... see... me... again,” said the creature.
“Confess what—I don’t—”
“Just talk,” said the priest, softly. “All will be well.”
“You... heard... the... man,” said the demon. “... I’ll... tell... you... what... to... say... or... else…”
Silence as Corbin sat still, the claw pressed in his side. He watched its edge break the skin, a tiny pearl of blood appeared, and ran along the serrated bone. Breath caught in his throat, afraid of the damage it was capable of. Then he saw the gauze, and the faint outline of a face behind it. Like a cameo, he saw its profile; wondering if he was there at all.
“I... say... words... you... copy... what... I... say... yes?”
Corbin nodded, fear in his eyes. He could feel the beads of sweat roll from under his arms.
Slowly, the demon chose his words.
Corbin did as the creature asked of him, having to sit in silence for a faint spell, as the priest, hearing such filth, couldn’t help stepping out for fresh air now and again.
“I cannot believe what kind... of man, he must think I am?” the man whispered, hearing someone throw up noisily, beyond the confessional booth.
“I... don’t... care…”
“He’s coming back in,” said Corbin, trying to keep his voice at a low level. The sound of hinges moving in the confessional booth beside him, broke the solemnity of where he was, like a heavy boot through thin ice. He didn’t just feel small, he felt insignificant.
“I’m sorry,” stuttered the priest, his voice hoarse. “You... can carry on, if you... really have to.”
If you wish. He was meant to ask if I wish to carry on.
Corbin took a deep breath, asking the other man if he was okay to hear the last of his words.
“I’ve had to sit through worse stories,” the priest lied, trying to sprinkle the place with his version of humour. But it wasn’t working. “Erm, please. Go on, son.”
“That... was the first time I—” Corbin started, looking at the creature beside him, “that was the first time I had eaten human entrails. But that wasn’t the worst thing I had been ordered to carry out.”
“Go on,” the priest, eventually. There was an air of trepidation in his voice, as though he needed to hear the story, yet his stomach was turning with revulsion.
He heard the words but could not believe he was relaying them; it was soul-destroying. Tears ran down his face, but he wiped them away, before the creature could see them. Corbin sat up straight and cleared his throat. He noticed the ever-widening patch, the deep red stain of blood, in his shirt.
“The room was at the bottom of the garden. Tools adorned the dusty shelves. It was a shed that had small barrels of home brewed wines and beers here and there. Mouse traps and rotten lumps of cheese dotted about the dusty floor. In the window, a fly hung lifeless, in a spider’s cobweb. When it was time to raise the dead from beneath, the place had been the perfect hiding place. Nobody knew they’d crawl from there, nobody believed.
“I knew not what was required of me... until I led the victims there. Then one by one, the others came. Knocking their dead fists against the wooden boards. I had to rip up the floor, let their blood-red eyes see the dimness of the room. They looked like me... they could have been from the same spawn... but I threw... I threw the young... I threw the victims, their throats freshly cut, at the ground. The dead lapped their tongues like thirsty dogs, at the open arteries... then they pulled their meal... down into the ground. I recovered the ground as best as I could. He rewarded me with the freedom of a human man... and I went in to the dark and stole from... from cribs—look, can I stop for some fresh air? I... I think I’m going to be sick.” Corbin wanted to throw open the doors of the booth before the priest or the demon had time to answer. But he had been bound, and nothing could stop the helplessness he felt.
The creature leant forward in the dark oppressiveness, smiling at the outline seen in the gauze. The old man held a cloth to his mouth, and his thoughts were as visible as a candle burning in the umbra. He wished the old man could hear him, surely, he had that power? But the detective would wear his sins for him, and he shall be worthy again... the book said so.
Corbin saw a bar of sharp autumn light lance through the shadows, and the demon quickly looked away. Dust swam about in the motes, like microscopic atoms.
The demon grimaced, covering the hole where its nose should be.
“What the hell do you think I eat? Roses?” mumbled the detective, getting comfortable.
“Let’s just get this over with,” Corbin, replied. His nose was almost touching the creature’s face. He didn’t think hate could burn through his skin, to rise this far to the surface. And he wanted the creature to see it in his eyes.
“I am... running... out... of... truths…” it said, a tone of sorrow in its voice. “My... time... is... short.”
“There’s a bottle of whiskey waiting for me back home,” Corbin replied, his voice barely a whisper. “It’s the only spirit I want to see.”
It turned to the gauze patch in the wall then started to speak, and the detective closed his eyes, and repeated what he heard; a tear rolled down his cheek. Then he stopped, suddenly relaxing somewhat, although what he said turned his stomach. He realised that... no matter what he said, everything would be okay. He sat up straighter in his chair. Whatever he said wouldn’t go anywhere, no matter what it did to his reputation as a man. He looked around in the darkness, smiling wanly.
“What could... you... be... smiling... about…?”
“Say whatever you want,” Corbin chuckled. “Say whatever you want.”
It looked over at the square on the wall, the sound of breathing, just beyond.
“Before we go on,” said the priest, “I must warn you that, to save a soul as yours, you should seek the help of the local constabulary—”
“I’ve heard it all before, old man,” said Corbin. “No offence.” He looked at the creature he had won in a card game and felt something akin to pity for the shrivelled-up excuse. “I say my piece, walk away, all’s forgotten and forgiven. I know the hypocrisy, so do you.”
There was silence in the next few seconds, and as the faint outline moved behind the gauze, they relaxed in their seats.
“Your... time... is... almost... done,” the demon said in Corbin’s ear. His gravel-like voice was followed by the softness of laughter, almost too human, he thought.
Corbin closed his eyes, feeling the rise of the pores in his cheek; the smell of burning hair tangible in the small confines of the booth. He readjusted his position to get more comfortable, but again, he felt the burning sensation slowly spreading across his clothing. Now was not the time for awkwardness, he said to himself. Soon it would be over, he just needed to stay still. But he couldn’t help feeling as though the room was changing into an oven. He felt the beads of sweat zigzag down his back.
“Nothing... can... hinder... my... progress—”
“What’s wrong with you?” hissed Corbin, his breath rattling in his chest. Blotches swam before his eyes in the darkness.
The face stared blankly at the detective, a lump bobbing up and down in its throat. It stood still, suddenly remembering. As though his crimes were far too heinous to tell. But the thoughts were of a different kind.
“You wanted me to... say those things,” the detective said, under his breath. “They can’t go back now.”
Then it started to speak once more, but this time, it shook with fear and something akin to dread. It grabbed Corbin by the lapels and squeezed them. No words came, just the heat from his face. It was as though it wanted to say something, something it couldn’t quite recall. And slowly, it loosened its grip, letting him fall to the ground.
The detective instinctively put his hand to his throat, a tightness there.
“What the hell is wrong with you, huh?” he said, breathing deeply.
The creature curled into a ball, holding its head, and shook. Corbin reached out, but pulled back his hand. The cuffs rattled in the darkness. The heat of the small confessional booth was almost intolerable, and it was getting hotter.
Corbin turned to the door to let in some air, but he stopped, his eyes widening.
Small tendrils of smoke licked at the air around its shoulders as it hugged itself. It was as though it needed to generate heat in its body.
“I don’t know what to do.”
Suddenly, the demon looked up. Tears coursed down its cheeks, its body continuing to rock back and forth.
“It’s... too... late,” it croaked, a flicker of flame appearing in the smoke on its shoulders. “I... was... there... I... saw... the... miracle... I... didn’t... believe…”
“I don’t understand.”
Already the flesh was starting to crisp and blister on its face. A small eye quickly covered in cataracts, popped, then ran down its cheek. As if it was made from wax, its face started to misalign, and fall to one side. Corbin could hear the bones break, and grimaced.
“I... was... in... paradise... when... it... fell,” it said, trying to manipulate its tongue, but what looked like teeth fell onto the floor. “I’ve... no... way... in... now…”
“I’m atoned, isn’t that right, father?” said Corbin, almost choking on the smoke. He felt the twang of his heart strings almost. “Surely what I’ve told you will... atone for... my sins?” he added, looking down at the thing in the corner.
“I’ve... read... the... good... book,” said the demon. “It... is... over... The... Nazarene... healed... the... weeping... the... suffering... I... didn’t... believe…”
Corbin wanted to sing and dance, to cry the place down with the relief he felt inside. He also felt a kind of sadness. If he was to carry on and relay the creature’s sinful past, he thought, and to a priest of all people, then it was on the right road to Heaven? Right?
“You... have killed,” said Corbin. “Now that’s a sin.”
“Yes... but... that... is... pardonable…”
“No,” shouted Corbin. “This is insane. The worst sin is cutting a man down? Surely?”
The demon shook its head, curling into a foetal position. Smoke continued to rise from it, and this time the detective had to kick out with his feet, to push open the booth’s door to clear the air.
He made his way down the aisle, coughing. The chains there hung on to his skin like claws. And when he reached the large oak front doors, he threw them wide, and took the steps three at a time. The air felt delicious in his lungs, he didn’t look back.
The priest slowly opened the confessional door and peered inside. There weren’t even the signs of a struggle. The floor was as highly polished as always. The small seat was warm at his touch, but apart from that, it was as though the place hadn’t even been occupied. He looked inside once more, but there was nothing there. He looked over at the entrance, the doors still closing slowly, then he shut the booth.
The creature burst into flames, yet nobody could see it. In the corner of the booth, tongues of fire licked at the body, devoured it. And like ash, it fell apart.
Corbin looked everywhere for the creature, but it was nowhere in his apartment. He even checked all of the closets, to see if it was hidden amongst some of his old junk. But it had gone. Although he was now free to live his own life, the detective could still feel a loss. He even pined for it. He remembered its final moments, trying to make sense of the madness. After all, it had almost got to where it wanted to be.
With this thought, he switched on his laptop, and found some whiskey in an old bottle, pouring it into a dirty mug. He waited for the laptop to boot up, then searched for old quotes. There had to be something there, he thought, taking a long draught of the hot liquid. He was about to retrieve some ice from the kitchen when he stopped in his tracks.
He read the words, then switched to another site, just in case they somehow had it wrong, but…
He leaned in closer, and read the quote:
“Therefore, I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.”