That crazy bitch said seven.
Seven of them, but she didn’t say which seven. She didn’t say where they were or how to find them!
Why did everything have to be so damn cryptic? He hated all the mysticism and bullshit.
Peter recalled that conversation, the last normal conversation he’d had. “Seven Devils, boy. You have to kill them all at once, or they come back.” She laughed, sticking her bony finger in his face.
“What the hell are you pointing at?” He slapped at the finger, but she was too quick. Old age had taken nothing but her looks away from her.
“I can see them,” she cackled. The last three teeth in her head were black. The urge to strangle the life out of her was overwhelming.
“I can’t see them. How can I kill what I can’t see?” he spat back at her.
“No, you choose not to see them, but they see you.” Her laughter became hysterics, her eyes watered as she cawed. She pushed back from the table trying to stand. Her back arched with decades of arthritis and rough living.
“We’re not done here!” Peter slammed his fist on the table. The crystal in the center bounced out of its holder and rolled to the edge, but it didn’t fall. The damned thing stopped itself as if out of pure defiance.
The old woman whirled around so fast, Peter saw nothing but a blur of black fabric. She pointed her gnarled finger at him again. “Don’t upset the glass, boy. There are worse things in there than your ill-tempered petulance.” She waddled back and picked up the ball, caressing its smooth surface like a lover.
“You want to rid yourself of them, you need to start from within,” she squawked, leaving the tent from the back.
Peter’s rage took hold and he stood, tossing the table aside as if it were made of balsa. He stormed after her; he was going to have another victim!
The old woman whipped around the flap where she’d left and made contact with his skull, using only that damned finger. Peter fell on his ass. His teeth smacked down on his lip, and he tasted blood.
The old woman hovered into view as Peter’s vision cleared.
“I didn’t say we were finished, boy. Didn’t anyone ever tell you it’s impolite to wander through someone’s tent smashing their things?” She was an inch from his face now and he could smell the stench of those three rotting teeth.
“Take this box and hold it until midnight. Open it on the stroke of twelve and not a second before or you’ll regret it.” The old woman dropped the box into his lap. The pain was immediate. The box was ironwood and whatever was inside felt like it weighed a ton.
“Midnight and not a second before, if you know what’s good for you, now get out!” She cradled the ball in her arms and waddled back out of the tent mumbling something. He didn’t know what it was; he couldn’t speak the language but he had an idea it was derogatory.
Peter picked himself up and took hold of the box. For a moment, he had a strong urge to leave it on the floor and take off, but it passed and he walked out to his motorcycle. The bike was a used piece of shit he’d bartered for when he arrived. He needed a fast getaway; if all else failed, he’d ride all night.
He left the Wanderer’s encampment the way he’d come in; with no answers and the urge to kill seething from his fingertips.
Peter glanced at the horizon. It was well past noon, heading into dusk, and he needed to lock himself in somewhere or there wouldn’t be anything left of this old bitch or her family by sun up. The urge to kill rippled through him as he mounted the bike. This had to stop.
Peter kicked the old bike into life. Smoke billowed from the tailpipe. He hoped the bike would make it the hundred miles to his rented place before dark.
As the desert tore past him, he let his mind wander. How many had he killed so far? More than he wanted to count, but he forced himself to. He needed to stay in control of whatever this was long enough to lock himself in before he convinced himself to ride back to the camp site and…
The sound around him faded to quiet and the wind buffeting his face didn’t seem as strong. When he looked at the gauges, he broke into a cold sweat. He’d only gone twenty miles when the bike’s engine stalled. He’d never make it back in time.
All the killings played on in his head. At first, they were like a slide show; pictures without sounds, but then the images started to quicken. The slide show gave way to a stilted projection film; a shitty 8mm movie.
He watched as each successive murder got more brutal, more imaginative. Peter screamed and slammed his hands over his eyes waiting for the horror reel to stop. It didn’t stop. Hundreds of organs were ripped out, necks broken, faces torn off. Peter fell onto the desert hardpan, writhing and screaming at the horror. He blacked out.
Peter came to, slowly. His eyes opened and he could taste desert in his throat. Grit coated his face and hair. It took a minute to realize his eyes were open. Stars began to appear slowly as his eyes adjusted. He hadn’t made it to the cage in the rented house.
Peter tensed, remembering the horror film that had played over and over in his head and waited for the terrible images to start up.
No images came but the old woman’s words did. The memory of the box did.
Peter found the bike and the box and began to walk. The urge to kill was still there.
The night crept forward and he walked with his head down, waiting for the moment when he couldn’t control his impulse anymore, his devils.
The last conversation he had echoed back in his head. “…all Seven Devils, all at once.”
He’d have to find and kill them quickly but he hadn’t even figured out what they were. Something was tormenting him, pushing him to take another person’s life with no excuses and no apologies. He hated himself every minute of every day for it and he was powerless to stop.
As Peter walked deeper into the desert he felt control slipping. He decided that if the sun peaked over the horizon and he hadn’t figured out where these seven devils were, he’d kill himself. He’d use the ironwood box and smash himself over the head or leap off a mesa. He’d run straight at the edge, close his eyes and let go.
Hours passed and Peter walked. The images returned but they were low compared to the bloodlust he felt. His legs hurt but he kept on walking, head down. He started to mumble to himself but he didn’t know when.
His sanity slipped away with each passing step. The urge to find someone to kill and the need for this to be over pulled in equal measure.
The end was coming, one way or the other. He looked out at the dark background for a place to jump and saw nothing. He didn’t know what time it was.
He stopped walking and held the box out. Something in him screamed to drop it, run for the encampment, but he held onto it as if his life depended on it.
The old crone’s voice spoke up over the babble, “Open it boy, and see what’s inside.” She cackled, echoing across the desert.
Peter opened the box and stared. It held a gun and a single bullet. What the fuck was he supposed to do with one bullet?
“You said seven, you bitch!”
“Seven indeed, boy. It’ll come to you if you want it to,” she said, not unkindly.
Peter looked at the gun in the box and then at the bullet. It wasn’t silver and appeared normal, but the math didn’t work. He had to kill seven of something with one bullet.
He plucked the bullet out of the box and then the gun. He threw the box to the ground and glared at the solution, not seeing it yet.
How the hell was he supposed to… His thought trailed off. The voices all stopped and so did the images. The emptiness was staggering and he took a step back.
“You said seven, you old bitch.” Peter laughed again. He laughed until his eyes watered.
“It starts from within,” he said and looked for the moon. It was time.
A single gunshot echoed across the flat desert land as seven devils died, all at once, altogether.
~ Christopher A. Liccardi
© Copyright Christopher A. Liccardi. All Rights Reserved.