A small, handwritten tag attached to the handle of a sturdy cage declared: Caution: Exotic Animal. The warning, in Hindi, fooled few visitors at the bazaar near Nepal’s border. The little beast in the metal cage hidden by a thick, green canvas cover was an imp. I made the inconceivable purchase in full sobriety and more lucid than I’d been in years. Even so my mind was scattered, fractured.
The man who sold me the tiny brute smiled at me with gold-capped teeth under a thin, ferrety mustache. His twinkling gleam made me more aware I was an American than I’d been in years of living abroad. I hefted the cage and walked away from his ramshackle table. I plowed my way through the crowded market dodging mounds of goods from every stretch of the continent. Dark faces, hundreds of them, watched me while I hustled away with my unusual fare.
Did I set out to buy such a creature when I drove away from my cottage as the sun began to rise over the Himalayas? I can say one thing for sure, I regret the decision, but it became the right choice given the circumstances.
The Jeep ride back to the cottage, a hundred kilometers away, gave me some time to shake off bad feelings and mull things over. I walked into our old-world chalet unable to melt the cold icicle stuck between my shoulder blades.
“What in the world did you bring home this time?” Sheila slurred.
The cage made a dull thunk when I set it down on our dining table. “Are you keeping track or is it a whatever happens kind of day?”
“What’s it to you?”
I stabbed a finger at my watch. “We’ve got to catch our flight in less than three hours.”
“I’ll be in fine shape by then.”
“I’m not dragging your sloppy ass through security, again.”
“Asshole. I’ll be out on the lanai until you get the fuck over yourself.” She strolled to the double doors. Her light-blue dress whipped up from the wind as she stepped into brilliant sunlight.
“I’ll try to remember you’re out there when the taxi arrives.”
The cage sat next to a bottle of gin. I tried to focus on one or the other, but it was difficult. The tantalizing items blurred together, a single image. Somehow, I held off pouring myself a glass to boost my nerve. A few minutes of hesitation froze me in place until I shook out of it. My hand stretched out and lifted the heavy cover off the cage. As the green canvas inched up the round metal bars, a sense of no turning back made gooseflesh creep across my arms. My first view of the little beast, other than a quick peek during the transaction, throttled up my heart rate. I tossed the cover onto the back of a chair and distanced myself from the cage.
Getting my bearings, as the demon took in its new surroundings, demanded a lot of effort. The creature stood a wiry, fourteen inches tall on two hideous stick legs. Its skin, a bright color of crimson, glowed like a dying ember even in the well-lit room. The color had to be why paintings and drawings of Satan were most often portrayed in red. Dark, black pools fixated on me after the tiny beast finished its visual exploration.
We stared at each other until Sheila came in to bartend herself another round. Her glass shattered on the tile floor and she stood statuesque right inside the double doors. She became transfixed by the small beast, the same as me. One of her hands held down the back of her dress, but the wind gusts had stopped—the room was stifling.
“What in the fuck is that?” Her eyes fluttered as if sick with delirium tremens. “Why in God’s name is it here?”
Her voice, icy with fear, propelled me into action. I began reciting the words scrawled on a little wrinkled card the purveyor gave me during our exchange, cash for creepy. The incantation, also in Hindi, would bind the creature to my control. I chanted four peculiar, but catchy sentences and then waited, my mouth dry and tacky.
“What were you muttering to that hideous…”
The beast lurched, contorted, and then spun around like a caged, rapid badger. When the creature stopped circling, it was so abrupt that I took a step back and Sheila gasped. The beastie rose into a stiffened posture and pointed one of its alien fingers right at me. A shrilling noise erupted, which I assumed came from the beast even though its mouth was closed. Sheila moved in my periphery and I glanced at her, a pasty whiteness had bleached her face. Her eyes were opened as wide as her drunkenness would allow and she’d covered her mouth with a hand, yet she seemed impervious to the loud noise.
I turned back to the imp; the whistling continued to shrill in my head. Soon the screech evolved into radio static and after a few more moments I could understand bits and pieces of the squelchy foreign words or ideas. Like eavesdropping on a conversation in an unfamiliar language, but close enough to Hindi or English that I could make out every third of forth word.
I tried to decipher the broken message when a resounding clang, like a loose chain snapping tight cut off the shrilling whistle. Full clarity of the foreign sounds and images followed.
“You’re my new master and I’ve been bound to you by the ancient decrees. I must do everything you command.”
Words were amiss from the mental conversation and our communication formed in a way that awed. It went beyond mental telepathy as images, emotions, and deep understanding formed in lieu of speech. The way communication between beings should be, but right then I was too terrified to appreciate it.
“If I let you out of the cage will you harm me?” I sent the question back as easy as the imp’s proclamation came to me.
“Unless you command me to do so, I cannot harm you.”
“Jesus Christ, Colin. What in the fuck are you going to do with that—that thing?” She’d stepped around the shattered glass and moved into position right behind me.
I waved her off. “Shhhh, I’m talking to it.”
She glided off towards the kitchen with slow cautious steps, her gaze locked on the monstrosity in its cage. “Bullshit, you’ve been standing there gaping at it, silent as a statue.”
“Do you have a name?” I closed my eyes to help relay the question, which was unnecessary.
“Recent masters have called me Munna Kroni.”
My eyes flitted open, baby devil? Holy shit. “How many masters have you known?”
“Hundreds.” Faces and figures of all types and sizes rolled by in a blur; I dizzied as the answer reverberated.
The information continued to sink in as ice clinked into a tumbler and the glub, glub, glub of liquor followed. My hand trembled and I fought against the urge to grab the gin Sheila had abandoned by the cage. Munna Kroni kept quiet and unmoving, waiting. She hurried past me with a wary look and tried to slip back outside without making a sound. As she stumbled through the shards it crunched and cracked breaking apart the silence. Her failure to be soundless made her scuttle out of the door to reach safety even faster.
“Can you access all of my thoughts?” I gaped at Munna Kroni, my whole-body trembled.
The demon shook its head. An unnatural movement like a wooden figurine come to life. “No. We’re bound by the universal laws of bondage. We communicate using our minds, but no intrusion unless you allow.”
“How can I be certain you’re telling the truth?” I searched for a focal point, other than the imp or bottle of booze. My gaze landed on our wedding photo, an orangish purple sunset over the Mediterranean.
“Our binding compels me to speak the absolute truth to my current master.”
I swallowed, a poor alternative to slake my thirst. “Where in the hell did you come from?”
“Far beyond your galaxy.” A bony, demonic hand motioned to the ceiling, but the imp kept its gaze on me.
“Do you eat and drink?”
“No. It’s not required for my existence to continue.”
My face mashed up, but I was unwilling to ask how that was possible. “Do you breathe air?”
“An illusion, because that’s unnecessary as well.” The creature blinked. “The limited familiarities between our species proves difficult for most humans.”
Shock of that concept annihilated the flimsy rails of my train of thought. Was that the first time it blinked? Was the blink another deception for familiarity?
The imp sat down or—squatted, sensing its services were on hold.
“What have others commanded you to do?”
The blast of information started as a video reel in my brain that spread out and afflicted all my senses. Unbelievable horrors and atrocities assailed me. Flesh being burned, tore, and mutilated seared, ripped, and rankled my skin. Piercing screams and fiendish noises louder than jet engines roared in my ears. God, the stench of death and destruction of life made me gag. How long the sensory overload of its history would’ve continued is uncertain because I screamed, “Make it stop.”
The onslaught faded and I held back welled up tears from a strange, illogical sense to keep them from spilling down my cheeks. My outburst caused Sheila to step back into the room. Her entire body was rigid, and she remained close to the doors. I rubbed my chest where the worse pain from the intense experience still burned. I also kept trying to pop my ears as I processed that was revealed.
Earth was the third or fourth world the imp had performed its duties on and the unbelievable things it could do, or did, were incomprehensible. Ages ago the demon had roamed free on its home planet millions of light years away. Even so I was left with an impression the creature was created or perhaps tamed by a malignant hand for evil purposes.
“You’re not keeping that awful beast, are you?” The fear in her voice was laced with curiosity.
“Why else would I bring it home?”
“Getting it through customs to Cape Town is impossible.”
“Piece of cake.” The blast of information had provided me a steep learning curve.
“I’m not living with a demon. Either it goes or I do.” The ice in her glass rattled and some of her drink sloshed onto the floor as she thrust it at me.
I shrugged. “Fine, go ahead and leave.”
“That’s up to you.”
“To our stupid Villa, on the tip of South Africa—by myself?”
“No. That place was my idea and I’m keeping it.”
“Do you mean…” She took two steps forward. Her light-green high heels crunched on the glass again, louder and sharper.
The imp stared at me with no emotion, no care for anything we said. “By God, I think I do.” The second verbal use of the word God had no discernible effect on Munna Kroni.
“I’ll take every penny of my father’s money with me.” Her voice became cold, but she was unable to internalize her shocked alarm.
“I’d think long and hard about your threat.”
“I will do no such…”
I nodded my head at the undersized horror squatting in its cage. “Are you sure about that?” A menacing smirk twisted into place and I swear the creature matched my sneer.
Her body stiffened into her higher-than-though posture. “How long have you been planning this insanity?”
“The creature? Eh, that was an impulse buy. But I’ve been wanting to be free for years.”
“You’ve grown too soft to give up the easy life.” Her forehead scrunched up and a small vein popped up, an angular blemish.
She glared at me. “What the hell am I supposed to do?”
“You’ll figure it out.”
“You bastard. I’ll make you pay for this.”
I whipped around. “I’m not fucking with you. We’ll go to Cape Town and have the lawyers draft up the paperwork. You’ll give me half of everything, although I deserve more.”
“You’re just being the same childish boy I met in Cairo.” She took a long drink from her glass. “Make your demands, you…you man-child. Your terrible creature unnerves me, but you’ll get zilch, fucking zero.”
I walked over to the cage and opened the latch using a stout key I’d tucked into my pocket at the bazaar. I expected the creature to make a mad dash for freedom and kill both of us for mere fun. Munna Kroni remained uninterested and acted as if the door was still sealed shut. That’s when my power and control over the imp became clear to me.
“Please exit the cage.” I gave the order using our unusual form of communication.
The imp rose onto its hideous legs and scampered out of the cage. The critter walked over and stopped a few inches away from the edge of the table. It stood and waited for my next command; a trained soldier ready for action. Sheila glowered at me, but her defiance was frail and weak.
“Hop down and give the woman a scare.” I spoke the words so Sheila could hear them. She needed to understand that I was master and commander of the imp. Faster than I anticipated the creature jumped down from the table and ran at her. It snarled and brandished shark like teeth, which lengthened as it attacked her with unabashed impunity.
She tried to move backwards, but one of her three-inch heels caught on the tile and she fell on top of the broken glass. A loud whump, followed by her piercing screams echoed above the sounds of snarling and thrashing. The beast kept at her and showed no mercy for the blood seeping from her palms or the terror that gripped her. In shock, I was too dumbfounded to stop the action before it became intense and disturbing.
After a minute or more I came to my senses, “Okay, that’s enough.” Munna Kroni backed off many feet and stood motionless, waiting for my next command.
Sheila lifted up her hands and examined the deep cuts made by the glass shards while tears rushed down her cheeks. “You’re fucking insane.”
“Here, let me help you.”
“Fuck you Colin. Come near me and I’ll…” Waves of pain coursed over her face as she pulled a two-inch blade of glass out of her palm.
“I’m going to call for a doctor?” I moved towards the bell to ring a servant, but her words stopped me short.
“Your terrorism is useless. I’ll never give you half of my dowry.” Her entire body trembled from sobbing, yet she managed to act insolent.
“Perhaps you need another demon—stration.”
“That thing scared you as much as it did me.”
I shook my head. “Freaked out, maybe. Scared? Not a chance.”
“You’re too gutless to do more than scare a woman with your hideous little beast.”
“Become a massive, hulking version of yourself.” The beast began growing. Its bones cracked and snapped. The skin stretched and pulled as its sinewy muscles became large, bulging masses. When the imp’s bestial head touched the ten-foot ceiling, my mouth dropped open and Sheila whimpered. For a few seconds, she swooned as though she might faint.
“This evil will be your doom.”
My mouth snapped shut and became drier as I gave the mental command. “Become invisible.” The huge, gruesome figure vanished.
“Sheila. Who’d ever believe such a creature exists?” A few low chuckles escaped and sounded more sinister than I’d intended.
Her eyes darted around the room; her injuries forgotten. “Where in the hell did that thing go?”
“If you’re dead, I’ll get everything.”
“You’re sick and you need help. Please make it come back.”
“If you agree to my terms.” My voice sounded foreign, even to me.
“Yes, I agree.”
“No funny business?”
“You’re crazier than I ever dreamed possible.”
I gave the mental command, “Reappear.” My beast materialized right in front of her. The frightening form towered over her. She shrieked and scrambled backwards. I cringed from the terrible scratching noise the glass shards made as she shuffled across the tile floor like a crab in retreat. More pain from the forgotten glass broke through her terror and forced her to stop. Sheila lifted her hands, more blood and tears poured out of her. I ordered Munna Kroni back into the cage and poured myself a drink.
We inked our divorce papers two days before she flew out of Cape Town away from the nightmare, I’d put upon her. One of her lawyers, an old family friend, whispered to her the whole time we met for final negotiations. His glares and superior righteousness made me chuckle. Before Sheila left the conference room, I took a long, goodbye look. She’d done everything I’d demanded or as she called it, coerced. The ghost like shell of her former self was pronounced and unexpected. Her vacant look, washed out by booze and Xanax, would’ve made most men cave.
I shuffled my portion of the money into new accounts bearing my name. Seeing Colin Warner on the accounts instead of Sheila and Colin Rathashire was long overdue. The pent-up angst from all those years of being an authorized user on her accounts fell off me like a moth-eaten cashmere coat. My evil actions and deeds to get that part of myself back were validated. I braced myself for the ensuing guilt, but it was taking a long time for any sting to set in.
Weeks later, maybe a month, I’d learned Munna Kroni better, but my understanding of the creature and how to use it required more time, more learning. The imp was an emotionless being, but my mind was always heavy with thought or addled by substances. I had a strange sensation my mastership paled in comparison to all those who came before me. The haunting suspicion became more prevalent once coercing Sheila became unnecessary.
Could the little bastard be waiting for things to get more interesting? Shit. Maybe I was starting to lose it? I’d go days without needing anything from the imp other than inquisitive conversation, which must’ve been damn dull to it. I’d grown more accustom to talking with our minds and senses, yet it was far from being natural or stale.
I took a sip of vodka and cranberry juice, a lime slice clinging to the rim of my tumbler. “Can you teleport?”
“No. Not in this world.”
“Do you believe in a God or Gods?” My mouth twisted into a wry smile.
“No. I believe in my creator, but that’s much different than when humans say such things.” The beastie had a habit of mimicking my reactions, not all the time, but enough to be unsettling. The sardonic grin, a mirror of my own, had nothing to do with the imp’s answer. Even so, removing the wryness from its words proved hard to do.
“Has any master ever offered you your freedom?”
“Yes, but the price of my freedom is too great for any master to be willing to do their part.”
“What do you mean?” My lips moved saying the words, but the communication remained in our ethereal connectivity.
“A master would have to travel to my creator’s planet with me and bear witness to an ancient ritual. Afterwards the creator would devour my current master as the final act of sacrifice.”
Did the damn thing just show some emotion? Nah, I had to be imagining things. “Oh. That’s asking a lot. Does your creator still exist?”
“I still exist—without a doubt, the creator does too.”
“If the creator dies do you cease to exist?” I cocked my head, was I on to something?
“No.” The imp blinked. “The creator cannot die.”
I sighed, guess not. “Do you want your freedom?”
“Want and freedom are human concepts.”
“You don’t have—desires, needs, or urges?” I squinted and leaned my head back against the chair.
“Not now, but perhaps gaining my freedom would change that.”
Shit, what a circle of madness. I sighed. “How far away is the creator’s planet?”
“In Earth speak? More light years than you could fathom. In cosmic reality, less than a month if you know some of the secrets to space travel.”
“How’s that possible?” I let my arm and hand droop over the chair’s side and tapped my fingers against the dark, hardwood floor.
“Centrifugal diversion and a few other well-known tricks.” The imp dropped a hand to its side, its three fingers moving like mine.
“Could you build a ship to transport us there?”
“Yes. Earth has everything necessary to build a ship to make the journey.”
I sat up so fast my drink spilled into my lap. “How long would it take—to build a spacecraft?”
“Six to eight months depending on the difficulty of getting certain supplies and solving the problem of what Earthlings call man hours.”
“By yourself? That’s impossible.” The word impossible trailed off because the beast had yet to be caught in a lie or something as trivial as impossibility.
When Stephen Tremellis stopped by for an extended visit, I stared at him on my stoop as if he might be related to the imp. My old acquaintance asked to hang out for a few days, and I agreed, predicting the idea would bring far more trouble than the fun would be worth. Divorce, no matter how much I had desired it, and owning a monster, made me lonesome for real companionship. Stephen would help take my mind off things or at least distract me from them.
Neither of us considered the other a true friend and I preferred it that way as I’m sure he did too. For a partying expat from America he made for good laughs and lamenting about home verbal comraded poetry. Having a fellow deviant around to feel better about myself was the tipping point. I considered myself pretty fucked up, but his ability to be even more reprehensible far outweighed my own.
He’d made himself at home behind my bar as soon as his bag dropped onto a bed in one of the spare rooms. “What kind of a maniac let’s a woman like Sheila go?” Stephen flipped on the blender and the loud whirring wiped out my response.
“She’s all yours buddy.” I sat in my favorite chair facing away from the bar towards two large French doors standing wide open. The trees swayed in the breeze under a bright lit sky.
Whether he heard my response was of little consequence. I bet he’d been thinking those kinds of thoughts ever since I told him we’d gotten divorced. Their sexual tension was center stage in more than a few arguments between Sheila and me. I expected him to grab his pack and fly to Monaco at any moment.
“Now, that’s a motherfucking margarita.” He handed me the frozen concoction and I hesitated. “Too soon for tequila? You wanna beer instead?”
“No. This is great, thanks.” The cold beverage chilled my fingertips and my heart rate picked up.
“No worries mate, the opium will sober us up when its time.”
“I’m off—er yeah, you got that right.”
“Say, what’s the deal with the cage out on the balcony?” He nodded his head to the wide-open doors when I glanced at him behind the bar.
“Oh that? Sheila wanted a macaw and I brought one home right before we spilt up. The guy I sold the bird to said he had plenty of cages.”
“No shit, did the bird talk your ear off?”
“Eh, not so much just answered a lot of my questions.” I smirked.
“Hmmm, a girl I dabble with in Khartoum has one. The damn thing jabbers all day and half the night. Goes ballistic when we fuck and says shit like harder, faster, to the left and balls deep. It’s obnoxious.”
“That’s messed up.” A large drink of the margarita gave me brain freeze. I got up and walked over to the bar rubbing my temples. I tossed back a shot of tequila to hurry the process along.
He winked and joined me for the impromptu round. “Tell me about it. Takes me forever to shoot a load. Maybe, that’s why she lets the damn bird rant as we rock the Kasbah. She gets off five times to my one.”
“Lucky girl. Speaking of which, do you want to get some girls up here and party like the old days?” My interest in partying with a couple of bimbos was quite low, but he’d been hedging for it ever since he walked in the door.
“Man, I was becoming worried you were done with that sort of thing.” He gave me a huge grin and then took a big slurp off his slushed treat.
“Can you still make the magic happen?”
“Shit, I’ve gotten better, but I bet you’re outta practice. Eh chap?”
I gave him a glib smile as killing him with the imp fleeted through my brain. “Yeah, I’m a bit rusty at fishing for women.” Man, what a callous fucker—the perfect company at the right time.
The bar, one of our old haunts, was a standing room of locales and expats from all over the world. In a half hour of elbows to assholes Stephen found three “petunias” he deemed worthy of his good time. He upheld the claim, his lady charming skills had improved. He had them in his snare within minutes. The five of us stumbled back to my villa with too much booze and enough midnight oil to kill off every elephant in the Serengeti.
Our first round of the dream stick had just set the mood when a loud knock on my door stopped us cold. I moved the handle and let the heavy front door swing outward. The slow movement of the door held my gaze until a well-dressed man standing on the stoop appeared. His lanky body relaxed when he noticed my condition.
He smirked. “Mr. Warner?”
“Maybe, who’re you?”
“Here’s your subpoena. You’re being sued for marital corruption and coercion. You’re required to appear in the courts in Monaco two weeks from today.”
“The fuck you say.” I would’ve throttled him, but the booze and drugs had stripped away my conduits to anger and hostility.
“No sir, consider yourself served. I’d bid you to have a good night, but that seems to be a given.”
Being drunk and high made it hard to decipher the paperwork. The Rathashire’s had put a hold on my accounts and were suing me for every penny and possession. Wealth will always have its privilege and I remained unworthy of the honor in, and now, out of marriage to it. Stephen insisted I take the extra girl since my night had become less agreeable. Of course, that was also because I flew into a drug tempered rage until the right amount of opium coursed in my veins.
The following days and nights became a blur of drink, opium smoke, flesh upon flesh, and wild, crazy dreams. We woke up four days later and had to make a pact to stop partying. I dreaded what had occurred over those days and night because my recollection remained foggy, almost nonexistent.
I sprawled on my couch and tried to gauge the others if I’d slipped up and introduced them to the imp. None of them acted like they’d met a fourteen-inch fiend, but everything seemed different. Sure, I’d partied harder many times before, but I more or less time traveled to that point after getting served my subpoena. The imp factor scared the living hangover out of me, well somewhat. Being unable to locate the beast as soon as I could function made my trepidation even worse.
“Where are you?” My head hurt so bad I feared my mental connection with the creature might not work.
“I’m in the baggage area of an airplane somewhere over the African continent.”
“What in the fuck are you doing there?” My tongue was stuck to the roof of my mouth and mental communication was a godsend.
“I’m returning from where you sent me, master.”
“Where in the hell did I send you?”
I took a few moments to digest what the red demon had transmitted into my brain. I gulped down a swallow of air, as if I was prepped to say something too sinister to speak about. The word Monaco echoed as my self-induced migraine hammered away inside my skull.
“Why did I send you there?”
“You commanded me to take care of the individuals causing problems in your life.”
“Are the Rathashire’s—dead?” I braced myself for what was coming.
“Yes. Every human at the residence is no longer alive except…”
I shook my head. “Jesus fucking Christ, twelve people at the Rathashire’s estate are dead?” Screaming in thought communication was less effective than shouting out loud, at least from my end of it.
“Yes master, that’s correct.”
Stephen jumped up from his chair and ran out of the room to puke. One of the girls stood up to follow but fell onto the floor and remained motionless. The other two lolled around on the far end of the divan in varying stages of nudity, mannequins with the slightest twinge of life. I let the distractions playing out before me become the reason my mental pause held for too long.
I shuddered. “Did I command you to do anything else?”
“Yes. You said to torture Sheila but leave her alive.” Was the imp’s head mimicking mine moving side to side in disbelief or was it shaking up and down answering my questions?
“And you did that too?” Oh fuck, what’ve I done?
“You ordered me to do it, therefore it’s done.”
“When will you return?” I wished the others were gone so I could let more booze and opium erase what the beast had told me, what it…I had done.
“I expect to be back by nightfall.”
“Did I give you any other commands?”
“Yes, you commanded me to do many things over the last few days.”
Use pointed questions dumbass. “Anything worse than killing an entire family?”
“Did the other people—my guests, see you?”
“Yes, you showed me off numerous times.”
I slumped my head into my hands and muttered oh shit. “Can you build that spacecraft any faster?”
“Yes, if I could find others like myself.”
“Are there others like you?” In normal circumstances, the question would’ve intrigued me.
“There’re ten of us on Earth.”
“Could you find any of them?”
“Depends on how many you want me to find.”
“How about four more? Would that be enough?”
“Weeks, perhaps a month, and yes four would suffice.”
“All right. Find four others like you.” I sighed and took a sip of seltzer water.
About a month after Stephen’s visit I awoke to find the imp staring at me. I was at a loss of how long it’d been since I’d talked to it. Some vapid conversations here and there was all I could recollect. The pipe on the coffee table drew my attention from the beast, but at some point, getting stoned had become unappealing. I sat up and tried to recall the last time I used drugs or drink. Christ, I’d sobered up and was more cognitive than I’d been in ages. The little black eyes across the room were a bit shocking, but more fitting than anything else.
“Did I summon you?”
“Then why’re you here?”
“I’ve completed your last command.”
“You found others?” I stood up. “Well, where are they?”
“Over by the table.”
“In cages?” I stepped over to the large dining table unsure of what to expect.
“No. Cages have never been necessary during our time in between masters. Humans are…”
“Superstitious.” The imps were differing shapes, sizes, and colors, which threw me off. There was a deep purple one with a long, thin neck that lead to a conical shaped face. A bright yellow one with a bulging Buddha belly was hunched over as if searching for bugs to eat. The sapphire one with flaky, scaled skin of a fish or dragon looked ready to take flight and swim through the air.
I turned and faced my little beastie. “I assumed they’d all look like you.”
“Your species is just as varied.” My imp’s mouth was gaped open, a direct reflection of my own.
“Yes, that’s true but…well, never mind. Do I say the same incantation?”
“I got rid of the incantation. Do you know it?” My fascination overcame the dark mood that had taken control of me.
“We all know it.”
The imp provided the words using our connection and I recited them to the small quartet. An odd sensation of fulfilling some sort of destiny hit me as I muttered the words. Their fate, mine, or a jumble of both? I doubted I’d ever figure out that conundrum. Whatever might happen next, my control of everything had been removed. I’d been a bigger fool than I ever imagined possible. I never had control of anything at all.
Instead of the imps spinning around in a circle like the first one had done, each one did something different. I took a few steps back when the acrobatics intensified. After they finished and stood in frozen poses pointing varied, yet fiendish fingers at me I shook head. The eerie familiarity made the sense of lost control more abrupt. I walked into the kitchen and poured vodka into a dirty tumbler until it lapped over the rim.
“How long will it take you to build the ship?” All five sensory-fueled voices came into my brain at the same time and I winced, unable to understand any of them.
“Please, one at time.
My imp stepped forward from the group. “It’ll take three months to build a ship capable of transporting the master to our creator’s planet.”
“Will the old stable be big enough to house your activities?”
“Yes. The large building will be more than adequate to camouflage our progress.”
“Will you have to kill any more people to complete this final tasking?”
“There’s a high probability more humans will die.”
“Fine. Build a ship that can get all of us to your creator’s planet.”
My imp tilted its head to the side. “We will all travel with you?”
The imps glanced from face to face. Being sober made their confused emotion stand out like the green one’s head, a big blob with the slightest hint of facial features. Confusion? The little fuckers were confused. As their flash of emotion vanished, I drained half my glass.
“That’s correct. Now, I’ve run out of money, but I’m guessing funding is of no concern.”
“Minimize human loss as you obtain all the necessary items to construct the vessel.”
“I want to hear…er feel every one of you say it.”
“We’ll minimize human deaths as much as possible.” The crescendo of voices in my head overlapped in perfect unison, but a distinct inflection from each beast distorted perfect harmony.
“Now be off and leave me alone until it’s time to go.”
“Yes master.” Five animated responses flooded my senses in the same unbalanced harmony.
The frightening little creatures scurried off and I gulped down the rest of my vodka. I sat down on the couch and filled my pipe with a healthy amount of brown powder. The silence of the Villa settled back in as I took a second hit from the pipe. A loud knock echoed throughout the emptiness of my house. I remained seated and hoped the person would give up and go away. I’d let them knock until their knuckles bled.
Sheila set her leather travel bag down in the foyer. “You should’ve changed the locks.”
I remained seated. “What in the fuck are you doing here?”
“This is a bad idea.” She strolled into the living room and stood near the couch; her nose wrinkled at the mess
“Yup. Whatever you’ve got planned is a terrible idea.”
“That goddamn demon of yours invades every fucking thought in my head. It haunts my nightmares, daydreams, and idle thoughts.” She slumped down onto the couch.
I leaned up a bit. “You’ve no reason to believe me, but I…”
“What’s happened is of no concern because I’ve no future. I want you to have your demonic imp—kill me.”
“You’re out of your mind.”
“Yes, that’s right. I tried to do it myself, but I don’t have the fortitude.”
“I’ve no intention of fulfilling your request.” I picked up my pipe and lighter. “How did you even get here?”
“I promised my psychiatrist that I’d stop trying to hurt myself if he helped me face my demons.”
“He thinks you mean me. Is he outside?”
“I made him stay in Monaco, whether he keeps his word is anyone’s guess. Colin, if you ever loved me at all then please—please do what I’m asking.” She began to cry. “No amount of therapy, drugs, or time will help me cope with what you’ve done.”
“No, I’ve already done too much with the imp.”
“You fucking bastard, you coward, you owe me more than that.”
I leaned forward. “True, but you’ll have to find another way.”
“Then I might as well stay here and rot away with you.” She closed her eyes and wiped away her tears.
“You can stay, but no more than a few months.”
“Are you going to let me sit here and suffer or offer me a hit?”
“Here, smoke your fucking brains out because that’s my plan.”
Sheila and I fell back into the same normal routine and I often had a hard time believing any of our ordeal happened. The drinking, drug use, and companionship became heightened, like a natural order was resurrected. Soon, I began lamenting the day the ship would be completed, but not enough to put the brakes on my grand scheme. Each time I woke up, it took a great deal of contemplation on why she let me live for another day.
Weeks later, without an obvious trigger, Sheila started sobbing and said, “you killed my parents and their entire staff.”
Too high and drunk to be affected by her words, I murmured, “I had nothing to do with it.”
“That’s like saying the gun killed the man not the trigger man.”
“I’ve no memory of giving the command. Stephen and I were…”
Her sobbing subsided as if she had a magic switch that controlled her outburst. “It makes no difference. You’re a murderer.”
I gave a sullen, half shrug. “Yeah.”
“You can live with all the guilt—eating you up inside?”
“No. Its insufferable.”
“You’re just going to kill yourself with drugs and drink as fast as possible?” She took a hit off the pipe and held it out to no one.
“Nah. I’ve got another way out.” I slipped the pipe from her hand and held it as though the damn thing might fly out of my grasp from unseen forces.
“What’s this other way out?”
“I’m going to take off in a spaceship with the creatures and travel to their creator’s planet. I’m going to set them free.”
She eyed me with horrified suspicion. “There’re more of those terrifying things—on Earth?”
“Four of them are here, less than a dozen in total.”
“Jesus, this has to be a fucking nightmare.”
“You could go with us.”
Her gaze followed the whitish-grey smoke rising to the ceiling. “In space? With those creatures?”
“You’ll get your wish.” My motor functions waned, and I slouched down in my chair ready for another journey into happy land.
The five creatures stood around the bed in sentinel formation and I laughed. I’d more clarity than the last six months should’ve allowed. If there was a leader amongst them then the head imp remained elusive. When the group declared it was time to go their unified voice provided odd sensations of calmness and certitude. The same serenity I’d experienced every time I took a hit.
I stumbled into the stable expecting a flying saucer like the ones depicted in films and shows from the fifties. Instead, a shiny ship similar in shape and design to the Stealth Bomber stood before us, before me. My body went stiff and Sheila clutched my arm tighter. Our trip was going beyond joke, more than a pipe dream. We were about to go far beyond where any human had ever ventured.
Inside the ship, our beastie crew explained all the accommodations and how we’d survive the month-long trip. They’d planned everything and thought of things my wildest imagination was too limited to conjure. More opium and liquor than I’d ever dreamed about was presented to us as if we were King and Queen of the cosmos. We settled in as the craft came to life with peculiar noises, shuddering movements, and a thousand lights.
I sat in the cockpit of the spaceship as it shot upward leaving the African continent far below us. Everything became quiet, or demure, and the view more amazing with every mile we zoomed away from our planet. Sheila stood beside me with a drink in her hand and ran her long fingernails through my hair.
She sighed. “What I’m leaving behind had to be someone else’s fairy tale dreams with a nightmare ending.”
“We’re not leaving a damn thing behind, because what really matters is out there.”
David Grubb is a retired Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer. He’s been a creative writer his entire life, yet never focused on it because of career and family. He’s changing that part of his life one day at a time and loving every minute of it. He also immensely enjoys being a stay at home dad, more or less.