**Ladies and Gentlemen, Kinfel Bartell (Irabor Jordan, actually). There is no smoke without fire**
Mastermind: Rugenne Kinfel Bartell
“Do what I want this once”
I watched her lips move. I got up, stretched a little before pulling down the curtains.
“You should get dressed. It would help you get warm”, I replied.
Her lips widened into a smile, one of her hands pulled her clothes tighter around her frame.
I walked over to my little bar, pulled out a bottle of Rhine wine and reached for a glass cup. I returned to the chair, sat down and studied the creature that lay on my bed. My mind was racing wildly and she knew nothing of it. She knew nothing of the thoughts cavorting in some sort of macabre dance in my head.
I had known her for roughly eight hours. Frankly, I think I have known her enough, no pun intended. I knew her name was ‘Amanda’ and I knew what she looked like without clothes.
“Tomorrow would be a special day” I couldn’t hide my excitement.
“Yes-yes Honey! So many things we can do tomorrow. It should be special for both of us”. She sounded even happier than I was. I shook my head woefully in the darkness of the late evening. She was one of little knowledge. I poured myself half a glass cup of wine.
I took the first sip and carefully let its gentleness pacify my taste buds. The evening air was cool and the atmosphere was totally unaware of the human drama going on within.
“Why are you so silent? Are you always boring at night?” She rushed her words and giggled. I looked out through the window pane. I watched dancing trees cast unearthly shadows under the moon-light. I turned towards Amanda and asked. “What exactly do you want me to do for you?”
“Umm… Anything, lovely darling. Can you write me a story?” She laughed again.
Something about what she asked for got me agitated. I felt a familiar tickle in my head and my blood ran cold. She asked for a story, I know it is her ‘Death Warrant’ but I wondered if I even knew any story that could satisfy a woman’s longing. I let my mind drift far back in time. Once again I was a kid.
I remember the first day I think I ever saw. Life was new to me. It appeared so colorful and scintillating. I was little and no one was really concerned about my existence.
I perceived the scent of newly baked cookies so I went up to the kitchen. My mum wore a soiled apron and she smiled at me, I felt so clean, fresh and good. I ran round the kitchen nibbling at this and nibbling at that. Life was so interesting, I hoped the moments would last forever, but I was wrong.
I grew a little older and Life threw its first harsh puzzle at me. My mom told me that I would never see my dad, for some reason it didn’t bother me. I never felt his absence.
Mum was just a cook in a little restaurant, she worked hard so our lives could have a semblance of meaning.
My existence was totally wrong. My thoughts even as a child were chaotic. I often wonder why such a lovely woman as my mum had to be damned by giving birth to me.
My thoughts and actions somehow were different from other children’s. I imagined crazy things and spoke of the wild. And worst of all, I had this gross interest in fire.
Some misinformed scholar may go so far as to oversimplify my ‘condition’ and stamp the pyromaniac tag on me. I wish it were that simple. I was worse…a lot worse than that.
I knew fire was dangerou, but I suspect it was the danger itself that drew me so eerily to it. Mum would say “Greg, stay away from my cooking stove! It’s too dangerous!” and smack me on my back, making an angry face. The next minute she would hug me and tell me a million stories. Stories about how I would someday be a great man.
My mum had no friends. She only saw a fortune teller every Sunday.
One Saturday evening, my mum and I watched TV for a while until she fell asleep. I got bored too and thought of something better to do. I tiptoed out of my mum’s room. To be sure she wouldn’t catch me, I locked her room’s door and took the key along with me.
I was, quite literally, playing with fire.
Orange flames mean danger but I cared nothing about it. I toyed with the flames and gas till my head began to spin. I turned down the stove’s flaming threads and slept off abruptly. I often wonder where that one-time narcoleptic attack came from.
I woke up only a few minutes later. I opened my eyes and saw red. Literally.
I was surrounded by flames! I knew something had gone wrong. It was either I had forgotten to turn off the gas or I didn’t put off the fire completely.
The flames came dancing at me in a wild choreography. I was so afraid and confused. I wanted to run to my mum’s room but the flames were all around me, I remembered my mum’s door was locked. I searched my pockets for the key but I couldn’t find it. It was horrible. I didn’t remember where I left the key. I wanted to cry but it was useless – the fire dried what little water it could find. The smoke made me choke.
I inhaled hot, acrid air. There was a burning pain at the back of my throat.
My eyes stung, and still no moisture came from them.
I coughed weakle.
My head spun.
I woke up alive. How it happened, I may never know. I had third degree burns, though and my skin seemed really exposed. I was surrounded by some men in neat uniforms. Fire men.
“My mum is still in!”, I coughed urgently. I was amazed at the sound of my own voice. The firemen didn’t appear to hear me, and if they did, they simply chose to ignore me.
Life became a horrible thing. An exact opposite of what I first knew. I was 16 years old and my whole body was badly burnt like a mishap bun. I lost my mum to a fire accident at the age of 12. I lived four horrible years with an insane fortune teller. My conscience was the worst – with its constant reminders about how I had killed my own mother.
The day my life changed (yes, the fire was pretty much eventful, but it wasn’t the biggest event in my life) was just like any other day. I was returning from the grocery store when I had a brilliant thought. I got to the fortune teller’s house (where I now lived) and delivered the groceries.
She was insane, the fortune teller was
She laughed at a red apple and spoke to an onion bulb. I hated every waking moment under her roof. I waited for her to be mentally calm before I spoke.
“Mrs. Dimson” I started. “Do you really tell people’s fortune?”
She looked at me with obvious disgust “What!? Four years, dummy! Four years. I do tell fortunes. What about it?” Her voice sounded like it came from afar. I almost laughed at her frustration.
“Can you… Umm, would you tell my fortune? Please?” Her eyes widened then narrowed only to widen again. She let out forced laughter and I hoped it was a good sign. She remained silent after that. I knew better than to query her again.
I made lunch and I wasn’t even sure I liked its taste. About an hour after we were done eating I heard Mrs. Dimson call for my attention. She looked calm and serene when I met her. Creepy.
“Do sit close to the flames, Greg”, she said with motionless lips. I sat close to the fire house and observed the irregular pattern of the fire’s movement. Mrs. Dimson tossed some black shiny distinct game cards at me and asked me to choose a single card out of the deck while I kept my eyes focused on the flames. I could feel the flames calling me, leering at me, wrapping around my soul…
She had me do some other abnormal things then her eyes turned white and she began speaking some jargons in a ghoulish voice.
Haha! Cursed is Thou O son of Hephaestus!
Sorrow and ill luck is thy penalty for vaporizing The One Who Conceived Thee.
You shall be called ‘cursed’ and you shall know nothing of happiness all of the days that thee shall see.
Thou art destined for eternal damnation.
It was like a horrible flash before my eyes yet I understood all I heard. I felt this bitter stinging pain at the back of my throat.
“Isn’t there anything I can do to erase my past? Correct my mistakes and live a colorful life?” Tears rolled down my burnt cheeks. Mrs. Dimson coughed painfully and blood trickled down her nose. She seemed in agony.
“There is but a way out. You shall be penalized with sorrow and worry but if thou maketh a pact with the ‘Concealed One’ Thy life may be better but I warn you, the concealed one’s pacts always have other curses attached.“
I cared nothing about the ‘curses’ all I wanted was a better life. “How do I meet the…er…Concealed one?” Mrs. Dimson wasn’t looking at all any good. I thought the spirit that spoke to me through her was the most powerful she had ever experienced.
“Thou must go into the elements and arrive at hh-e……“
The voice faltered and Mrs. Dimson dropped dead at my feet.
Mrs. Dimson died telling my fortune.
The flames now grew about 15 times its original size. When I stared at it I thought I saw my mum in it. She looked so sad and she signaled me to come a bit closer. Tears trickled down my face. My life was meaningless and hopeless. “Why not just jump into the fire and have a rebirth?” a voice in my head spoke.
And so I did.
I woke up in a mystical world. A ghoul whizzed past me and I heard him bleat out the words “Welcome – to – hell“.
I was too weak to panic. The whole place was beautiful but the air within smelt of death. The next thing I heard was ‘heavy pounding’, I looked over and saw a three headed scary hell hound (Cerberus). Atop its back was a middle aged man wearing a cap that shadowed his face. He looked like he was standing somewhere between the natural and spiritual world. His clothes were a black, shiny expensive cape and a glittering leather trouser. The hound stopped just about two feet away from crushing my burnt face.
There was palpable silence for about a minute. The man got off the hell-hound in one fluid motion. He stood in front of me. I looked up and my eyes met his thigh. I felt a strong urge to lie down there and worship him.
“YOU ARE HERE FOR A REBIRTH.” his voice thundered. I didn’t see his face but I was quite sure he was smiling.
“Ye-ess. I actually came to see the concealed one”. My voice sounded like a kid’s voice. He laughed mockingly and his laughter echoed like a thousand voices. I could have sworn that his voice erupted from the darkest parts of hell.
“CHOOSE YOU DESTINY, FOR YOU LIE AT THE FEET OF THE ONE YOU SEEK”.
“I want a new life. I want to choose my destiny” I said hurriedly.
“NOT MANY ARE GIVEN WHAT YOU ASK FOR SO CONSIDER YOURSELF SPECIAL BECAUSE I DEAL ONLY WITH THE ESOTERICS.
“I AM THE CONCEALED ONE. I AM, AS YOU MORTALS SAY, THE DEVIL. I DO NOT GIVE GIFTS WITHOUT GETTING RETURNS, DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”
I really didn’t know what he meant but I nodded in approval.
“GOOD. THIS IS WHAT I’M GOING TO DO FOR YOU. I’LL GIVE YOU A NEW DESTINY, I’LL TAKE OUT YOUR WORRIES AND PROBLEMS AND I’LL GIVE YOU HAPPINESS!”
It was like he knew my dreams. I smiled and said “Thank you Mr. Concealed One, I’ll do whatever you ask of me.” I got up and suddenly felt good and strong.
“THERE’S SOMETHING ELSE GREG.” he smiled wickedly and his eyes lit up with red flames. “What is it sir?” I asked still looking happy. There wasn’t supposed to be happiness in hell, I didn’t know that.
“I WANT YOUR SIGNATURE ON THIS AGREEMENT SCROLL.” A scroll and a quill appeared out of thin air and they came flying towards me so I grabbed them. I saw words on the scroll which read: Crimson Covenant. I attempted signing but there was no ink for the quill.
“OH. THAT? YOU’D HAVE TO PRICK YOUR SKIN AND USE YOUR BLOOD AS WRITING INK.” His left eye twitched and he laughed horribly. I did as he told me. Just immediately as I signed on the pact. The scroll disappeared into thin air just as it had come.
The whole place shook and there was an earth quake, when next I looked, the devil was gone! I heard an evil laugh followed by terrible words. They said :
“GREG EDISON! SON OF HEPHAESTUS. FROM TODAY THOU SHALL BE CALLED ‘MESSENGER OF DARKNESS’, ‘ENEMY OF GOD’ AND ‘REAPER OF SOULS.’
Thou shall bear the curse of immortality for two centuries.
Thou shall kill an assigned female every single day you live.
Thou shall be made irresistible and charming to attract thine prey
You shall be given possession of The Book of Names.
And last of all, thou shall bear the curses of the Death Warrants
The shaking stopped and the whole scene calmed completely.
I felt cheated.
The devil hadn’t told me all these before he made me sign the pact. I guess that was why he earned the title ‘devil’. Sneaky bastard.
My head suddenly felt light and like the lights were turned off, my vision became dim. I could only make out a picture of a man in a hood holding a boat’s paddle before everything totally went blank.
I woke up in a smelly gutter. I felt terribly weak and all my body parts throbbed with excruciating pains. I moaned. I picked myself up like a broken little toy. I woke up in a street I didn’t even know. In front of me lay a red book. Strange, I recognized it like I had owned it a long time ago. I picked it up with one shaky hand. It felt heavy. It was as big as a complete ‘A – E New Caxton encyclopedia book’. I looked at my hand and was quite shocked to see it fine and smooth other than rough and burnt. I felt like a totally new person. I felt like my whole system had been reset.
I found a little shelter under a tree. I sat there and opened the pages of my only possession. The first page read :
Death warrants : Mystical translations of mortal languages to mean approval of death.
Assigned Persons: people who will somehow make a good difference in the world if allowed to live till the right time.
I flipped over to the next page. I saw a long list of names with funny sentences or words beside them each.
The first name and sentence atop read :
Angela Herr —— “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin”.
I flipped and flipped till the end of the book. All except the first page contained names and ‘Death warrants’. I wondered if it was possible to kill all those people in even two hundred years. My curse was horrible. I had to find an assigned woman every day. I could be friendly with her till she somehow voiced out her death warrant then the devil in me would fully take control.
It felt good having the body of a 23 year old male. I looked so good. My whole body was without a burn or a scar. I had the build of a wrestler. It felt so good
My immortality curse was just beginning.
That night, I did slash out the first name on my somewhat endless list. I killed a preacher’s wife.
I was at the parking lot when a woman approached me like she had being following my scent. She looked about thirty three and she was well dressed. She walked up to me and asked if I knew directions to a certain town. “Yes ma’am, that’s where I live” I lied.
“Really? Why don’t you come into my car? I can drop you at home while you show me directions?”
She drove off and there was stiff silence in the car for about 6 minutes.
“What’s your religion” she at last began a conversation.
“Atheist, ma’am. I don’t believe in anything. Safe that way.” I lied.
She sighed “Do you know Jesus loves you?”, she asked.
“I know that ma’am, I’ve heard it a thousand times.” I replied.
She went on telling me about Jesus and his gospel and for an unknown reason I had a strange desire to hear more. As she was driving I spotted a lonely road ahead.
“The road by your left ma’am” I said.
She turned to the left obediently and as we drove down the road looked even more lonely. “I have a question ma’am” I said.
“Go on, ask anything.” she assured me.
“You said Jesus loves us all right? If he really does, why doesn’t he save us from all our misfortunes? Why doesn’t he save us before we fall into the traps of the enemy? The…covenants of the devil?” I felt bitterness settle on my tongue.
For about two seconds she remained silent. “You see”, she began, “there are a few questions that are left unanswered simply because the answers are not known. Your question falls into that category. Examples of some of those Questions are ‘how many slaves can drink from the edge of a basin? Why exactly did dinosaurs go extinct? How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? How many….”
Everything fell silent, something about the last question was so wrong. I felt a tickle in my head. My eyes longed to see crimson and my blood ran cold. I was a normal human till she voiced out her Death warrant… I suddenly grabbed the steering wheel of the car, swerved it violently off the road and hit a tree. She let out a loud scream.
Her blood was all over my face
The preacher’s wife was dead.
My legs hurt badly from the accident. The fact that I was immortal didn’t mean I was invulnerable. I wailed as I struggled out of the crushed car. I felt a little lighter after killing my first victim.
One less assigned female.
It wasn’t a good thing knowing that I would live for two hundred years in exchange for killing a woman every night.
It felt like I was killing my mother all over again.
Killing her every day for 200 years.
I lived my life miserably. Search for an assigned lady in the day. Kill her at night. A process only to be continued till…..
Today. I met a lady at the train stop. We spoke for a while. She told me her name was Amanda. My charming face got her enchanted. I wasn’t impressed that she was about to fall in love with a two hundred and sixteen year old soul.
We discovered that our houses were on the same street. She said she’d spend the night with me. Why not?
She came to my home at dusk just as she promised. She looked even more beautiful at night. We spoke for a while and then we lay together. She gave her whole body to me.
I promised to marry her.
She believed me.
The glass of whiskey I had been drinking slipped from my hand and crashed to the ground. The shattering sound brought me back to the present.
Amanda was staring at me with a look of expectation. I got up almost reluctantly.
Would you write me a story?
Her death warrant echoed in my head. I almost wished she hadn’t said that.
The devil who wrote this warrant is such a romantic bastard.
I walked across to the shelf, picked up my red book and my pen. I got back and sat on the same bed with Amanda. She had a grin on her face. “Honey, I want you to write about our love” She said.
I raised the pen up, smiled crazily and took a deep breath. In a flash I plunged the pen into her left eye. She let out a shriek as I pulled out the pen. In another quick thrust, I buried the pen in her throat. Blood gushed out of the two wonderful holes I made. She struggled to move. With my two strong hands I twisted her neck so it faced the exact opposite direction.
I killed Amanda.
With her blood on the pen’s tip I made a slash across the last name on the last page of my red book. I felt like my whole burden had been taken away.
I lay on my bloody bed. It felt so good knowing that my curse was over. I laughed crazily
“Tomorrow would be celebrated”
My voice sounded like metals jamming against each other.
Come tomorrow, I would no longer be ‘reaper of souls’.
Come tomorrow, my sins would be forgiven.
Come tomorrow my curse shall be forgotten.
Tomorrow, my life begins.
Tomorrow itself. I shall be born into a peaceful home.
I closed my eyes and slept for the night.