I weren’t happy about things as they were, to say the least.
Angel had taken my eye. My good one. I think. It was hard to say without a gun in my hand. The world seemed smaller on account of it no matter how much land still laid out before us on this damned journey. There was still at least a good day’s travel to the mountain we’d been heading towards the past two days, and the closer we got to it, the more my blood seemed to be boiling inside of me. Even if I hadn’t known where we were heading on account of a light that only my eyes could see rising like a beacon from the top of that mountain, the fever that was welling up in me would have told me the same. As if darkness could emit such blinding light that it made me all kinds of ill. Something was happening to me, and I didn’t like it.
From the start of this madness, the second I’d stepped out of that rotten cave after seeing that cursed map, I saw the light off far in the distance. It seemed that whatever dark magics rested in the map had passed through to my eyes. And while no soul ever touted the great memory of one Abacus Jones, and I dare offer that one never would, once I seen that map, it was a part of me. As soon as I set foot on the ground thereafter, the tip of my boot was always facing that damned light that only my eyes could see. I would’a bet that I couldn’t have turned tail and ran even if I would have. It seemed that every damnable thing that I’d come across was all lain out as part of this path. As if the map itself had already foretold the whole God damned journey.
I knew as much that it was just a thought passing in my head. That there weren’t a speck of truth in it. How could there be? Banshees? Vampires? Apocitus? But as much as I tried to shake the thought, the words that had lain about the map, burning in a dark sort of glow like a fire that only my eyes could see were coming back to me now, just as they did any time it got quiet since I seen em.
Ye road will be wrought with evil. What darkness though crosseth, wilt though
be burdened by it. What light thou seek, wilt though snuff it.
And still more started flooding back into me. Words I had tried to keep from my thoughts now overflowing in a repeat about my head. As if they were being spoken into my ears by a mouth that was always just behind me, unseen, and unheard by any other.
Tread lightly, wanderer. For if thou seek such bounty, shalt thou be sought
by all the dark manner of evils. Shalt thou be tempted. Shalt thou be tried.
Shalt thou be changed. For none that seek shall be remain as they were.
None that are, shall remain.
I shook my head, but could shake the map. The warnings. The bodies sold for the sake of it all. Kids skinned alive to enliven the dark magics that had brought us here to the doorstep of the Devil. At least from what I took to understand of all of this. We were seeking the Devil’s Hand. His power on this world. Soul or not in my heart, this seemed like a damn bad idea. Especially with me at the center of it all. For even though Angel could see the way through the eye he’d taken from me, I still had the last of the map’s words stuck in my head.
A riddle. If that’s what it was. And I was hoping it was despite the fact that I hated riddles. Sure there were the coming tasks. There were always tasks. And sure enough some folk were going to die in those. And they’d need to keep me alive, because I knew the riddle. Only thing is that even after all this time of thinking on it, I still didn’t have an answer for it. So the words kept on like some old folk verse.
Many may come.
Only one can remain.
Enter now through door unseen
And in darkness, at last, attain.
It danced in my head all night as the folks that kept me captive took to sleeping. Everyone but Angel. I watched him much of the night, fidgeting with his gun. Loading it and checking it over and over. Taking that telescope of his he’d crafted with my eye and looking towards the mountain, that glowing spire that only he and I could see. At some point I must have gotten some sleep myself because when I looked to the mountain again the red light of morning was hitting its side and the men were about making breakfast and tearing down tents and rolling up sleeping arrangements.
Angel was nowhere to be seen. I wondered where he’d got to but only because it made me double my efforts for a sharp rock with him not having eyes on me. But I should have known better, Angel had it in for me for as long as I could remember. So when I heard him clear his throat from behind me, I couldn’t say who I was more upset with, him for being there, or me for not realizing until he made me.
“You really think you’ll get free, Jones?” Came that smooth voice I’d come so disgusted with. I told myself that if I could make myself vomit when he’d speak I’d do it. But I reckoned that’d only make the sick bastard smile. And hell if I’d give him the satisfaction.
“Can’t blame any folk that try to get away from you, can you? I reckon you’re used to it by now. At least by anything living.”
“I can blame you for much. For you are responsible for much. I’d see your end this moment at the end of a noose, every bullet in my belt, and the knife at my hip if it weren’t for the path you started these people on.”
“Seems excessive. And I didn’t start none of this.”
“Your very existence ignited such a journey. That much is certain. All other details matter not. You are evil. This path leads to further evil. I am here to part the world of all such evil.”
“The Mayor won’t be none too fond of your sentiments, Angel. Not that him knowing would matter. I reckon he’ll betray you before this is all over.”
“I would not worry about them, Jones.”
“I ain’t worried for none of them.” I said with venom.
“I’m well aware of your cares, or what you lack of any such things. So many lives you have corrupted in your wake. So much death. Destruction. Such a thing as you. That I am suffered to prolong your engagement to this world…” Angel looked like he smelled something foul, “but only out of necessity. For there is a road ahead which I can see, but a door ahead that only you can open.”
I didn’t respond, mostly because he was probably right and I hated that fact.
“So, Jones, perhaps it’s time to disclose our road with more detail. If you cooperate, I might even find you a horse of your own to ride, instead of being dragged by one.”
“Hell of an offer, coming from you.”
“So what will it be, demon? What comes to mind of our journey?”
“Well, I did want to tell you about how I’m gonna hurt you in the next couple of days. And it ain’t looking to be pretty.”
Angel continued to smile as the tip of his boot sunk into my gut. Cut my breathing off and I struggled to find a way to get air back in me for a moment. I coughed when I finally did, relieved the ability wasn’t simply gone.
“That’s mighty kind of you to be thinking of me, Jones. But I don’t bend your way. So best get your mind off the thought of me, and onto what lies ahead. We got roads to travel now that the sun’s coming up. I would say our journey towards the mountain will end today.”
“I’m surprised you survive in the sunlight, something like you.”
The boot flew into me again and I found myself that much closer to learning how to vomit.
“I’m not the demon here. But don’t worry. Your kind will be cleansed from this world soon enough.”
“The only monsters around here are the folk you done rode in with. And if there’s one thing I know about, it’s monsters. And they don’t share power. Not if they get a hand on it.”
At that the smile on Angel’s face fell and he eyed the people packing up to get started on the day’s ride.
This sort of agreement between the two of us actually did enable me to vomit, finally.
“You disgust me, Jones. I’ll enjoy when this is all over and you are no longer among the filth of this world.”
“Anything that makes it so I don’t have to see your face anymore.”
Angel raised his boot to put his heel in my face, one I was happy to receive, but it stopped just short when a voice called out his name. The voice of the fat mayor.
“Angel! We need him awake for the rest of this journey. You already took his eye, so leave him be for now, we’ll need the other one intact! We should be at the mountain by midday. So get him up on a horse already for the day’s ride.”
The Mayor turned back to his people, busy at tearing down tents, packing up, the like, while he just stood there and watched. Angel put his foot down, the smile wiped clean from his face for likely the rest of the day.
“Good to see that the dog can still obey his masters.”
The foot met my rib cage and likely snapped a few bones. Felt like they stabbed into my innards themselves and I wondered if I’d ever breath right again. He stood there another moment before spitting on my face.
“I’ll go prep your horse, Jones. Feel free to clean yourself up on the dirt. Like the pig you are.”
At that, he was gone. Off to saddle a horse I suppose. I rubbed my face in the dirt getting his spit off then rolled over onto my other side looking for a rock sharp enough to start cutting at the ropes I was hopelessly bound in, but there weren’t any around. Just small brush and tumbles. Nothing that would assist me. I looked out at the distant hills and smoke still rising from the town we’d left to burn, and figured the vampire was out there somewhere, his eyes on me as he laughed beneath his bandaging. I hated the feeling of him out there, even if for the moment he was my only way out of the bindings.
Then I remembered the Banshee woman. She was being held by these men. If I got free then she could suffer for it. Angel would see to it of course. Hell, he was going to see to it either way. So best I kept my place for the moment. It about made me sick that I was in agreement with the Vampire. And as much as I wanted to be rid of any of my current companions, to be rid of this damned task altogether, once those eyes of mine had seen the map, there was no unseeing it. And I knew back then same as I knew now that I was being taken on this trip. As much as I could lie and say I’d made my own way. I’d taken my own steps, made my own getaways, it weren’t in the least a speck of truth. Because I was being taken on this path. And every one of these folks that hitched themselves to me on this were in for the same pull. Once a foot got on a dark road, it was set to stay on it. And every damnable thing that cropped up in this pathway was doing so because of me. Because of what I and no other had seen. All the dark creatures and things, they tethered to me like my own limbs. Bound to the same path as I was on.
Even now, I smelled a fire that weren’t the one them folks was roasting up beans and meats over. Something farther away, something acrid and old. Something more foul than Apocitus. Something even older. And I knew it was ahead. I knew that smell was only going to grow more foul, and strong. And I knew that I was the only god-damned one of any of these people that could smell it. And I don’t know why it was then that it hit me. The words I’d seen but hadn’t wanted to think on since I seen em. I hadn’t seen what it meant. But pure as day it was before me. As if something written in blood as old as humankind itself was lain out waiting for my very eyes.
Only one of us would remain at the end of this.
The ride on back of a horse was much better than behind it. Even though my hands were bound as much as the rest of me, I weren’t being dragged any longer, and that gave me time to think, but no thought I was having was helpful in the least. I was at the front of the whole bunch, with only Angel in front of me to lead my horse. I found myself lucky that he seemed to have lost his taste for conversation since this morning and that was just fine by me as I was feeling more unlike myself with every passing hour.
Throughout the day he’d take short glances through his telescope to eye the mountain that was still a ways in the distance, but getting closer with each passing hour. It was about noon, I think, when the sun was beating down something fierce on my exposed face where I didn’t have a hat to help shelter myself, when things started to turn.
I heard them before I saw em, and at first I tried to shake it off as the heat or the sun playing its tricks on me. Whispers, dozens. Hundreds. It was hard to tell. More of em started to fill my ears with each passing minute. I couldn’t understand a word of it. Too many of em going off at once. And as I squinted out the sun as best I could, I saw the figures. Pale dark figures of people. Short, tall, kids, fat adults like the mayor. Ghosts. And I hated ghosts.
Their speak kept growing stronger over the next hour as the boiling feeling under my skin was growing hotter. I shook my head, figuring I needed waster, that this was a mirage. It had to be. All around me were ghosts. Dark figures just standing around. So loud that I could no longer hear the trotting of the horse I was on. Or the breathing of the fat mayor behind me. It was so loud that I could not take it any more and let out a yell for them to be quiet…which was a bad idea.
At that moment I knew full well it weren’t a mirage or fever, or anything tricking my senses. They was all real. The second I spoke, each of their heads turned towards me. The whole vast sea of them. Endless and suddenly silent. Where their eyes should have been only dark pits remained. The hollow spot I seen in many a skull before staring back vacantly at me. And all of them, every one of them as they all began to surround me, their hands raising up around me.
The company of us had stopped, Angel having become curious at my sudden outburst and now over the curious expressions I was now likely giving off as I looked all around me at the faces no one else could see.
“What’s the matter with him?” The Mayor rode up alongside me and asked of Angel.
“He’s a demon. How should I know?”
“Is this just part of the road? Is this one of the trials?”
“Doubtful.” Angel said as he pulled out his telescope to look now at me. “Ah, I see the trouble.”
“What’s that? What is going on?” The Mayor asked.
“It seems the souls of the dead are all around us now. The Ghosts of this world.”
The men became spooked, started looking all around them to see if they were indeed close to something unseen. I told you they was morons.
“Calm down!” Angel said. “You cannot see them. Only his dark eyes can. They cannot harm you here. Not in this place untethered to anything of this world. Let us keep going.”
“But what of Jones here?” The Mayor called to Angel who had spun his horse back in the direction of the mountain.
“Let him see the faces of all those that have died from him and his kind. Sadly, he’ll live.”
The company started moving again, but all I could see were the hands reaching up to me now. The hollow sockets where eyes once were trying to look at me. And as we moved, they began to follow. Off in every direction, nothing but an endless sea of them. And every last one of them once again whispering, but this time it was the same three words. Over and over again.
He has come.
He has come.