Jason turned the brass hoop handle in the centre of the door and pushed; a loud creak broke the tranquil evening air as the solid oak door stuttered open. He hesitated. Keep calm, he thought. You’re not in the hospital anymore; there will be normal average Joes in there. He stepped into the pub.
A generous open fire crackled in a twisted iron grate on the right. The flickering illumination from the burning logs created a dance of shadows upon the rough lime-washed walls. Even though the open fire burned in full splendour, the interior seemed to be cooler than the outside air—almost freezing.
An old man sat on a rocking chair next to the fire, his back hunched as he leaned forward and stared into the pulsating flames. A large dog lay on the slate floor next to the old man’s feet. The dog looked to be a German shepherd. Jason stood on the threshold of the pub and considered the dog. It was a magnificent creature but striking in its immensity. If it was a shepherd, it was at least twice the size of any other he had seen, and there wasn’t an ounce of fat on the creature, either. The dog’s sculpted muscles looked both impressive and intimidating through its sleek black fur. The dog raised its head, aiming its snout high, and with rapid thunderous breaths, it tasted the air. Its moist lips rippled in waves over large canine teeth. The moment the dog’s dark, penetrating eyes locked on Jason, it stopped sampling the new scent and became a terrifying freeze-frame.
“Don’t worry ’bout old Hobs, son, he’s not hungry yet,” said the old man in the rocking chair. “I’ll be feedin’ him soon.” He reached out with a jittery hand to stroke the dog but halted a few inches from its fur. He returned the apprehensive hand to the arm of his chair.
“Good to know,” Jason replied, while his eyes remained concentrated on the dog.
He liked dogs, the big breeds most of all, but there was something about this one that ignited the hairs on the back of his neck and made his throat itch. That the hound’s eyes glowed red for a moment added more jitter to Jason’s nerves. With an uneasy hand, he shut the door. The dog’s eyes simmered to a less terrifying black.
“What can I getcha?” a jolly voice called out from the well-stocked bar.
The dog lowered its head back to rest and closed its eyes, and the old man resumed his intense visual search of the burning logs. Jason decided it would be safe to continue with his quest for a drink, so he made for the bar. He kept a respectful distance from “old Hobs” as he passed.
“Hi,” Jason said, as he surveyed the drinking options. One beer, in particular, stood out as the appropriate choice. He was about to order but stopped, realising he’d better check his financial situation. Searching the pockets of his jeans, he found a twenty-pound note and pulled it out. “A pint of Old Asylum please.” He looked again at the money in his hand and corrected himself. “Make that two pints and a double of your best whisky. Thanks.”
After being unable to enjoy a drink for the last four years, he had no intention of wasting time easing back in with moderation. He considered jumping off the sobriety train faster by dispensing with beer altogether and sticking to straight whisky, but experience had taught him that beer made for a softer landing the next morning. That he was an alcoholic on pause played little on his mind. He had started his quest for the perfect drink about a year before his daughter’s death—it was the only way he could cope living with the bitch wife from hell. Now, after four years festering in the hospital, consumed with thoughts of the past and unable to wash them away with a simple drink, he had no care to live another day without alcoholic lubrication. Time to fill a few glasses and push the play button on his vice once more. How close to personal oblivion can I get on twenty quid, he wondered. Not very, but at least it’ll get me moving in the right direction.
“Ice in the whisky?” the grotesque and obese barman asked through a yellow smile.
“Only if you put it in a separate glass, my friend,” Jason replied. He tried to make the crumpled note in his hand look more presentable before passing it with blatant enthusiasm across the counter.
“Huh? Oh, separate glass. Yeah, I get it. Witty fuck.”
Jason watched, his fingers tapping on the counter, as the barman progressed through the motions of pouring his drinks. Disgusted fascination drew his attention to the rolls of fat oozing out from beneath the barman’s skin-tight shirt. The colossal belly rolled and stretched for a moment before it caught fright and disappeared back up under the shirt again, a shirt with a kaleidoscope of stains from various and dubious origins. Jason tried to hide the revulsion writing itself across his face as he debated the wisdom of drinking from any glass given to him by this man. Don’t worry, he thought, the alcohol will kill any bugs that might want to jump ship from that toxic monstrosity. He forced a congenial smile but, after catching his reflection in the mirrored wall at the back of the bar, realised it looked more like a petrified grimace.
The barman passed the drinks across the sticky counter—spilling a sip or two with his clumsy bulbous hands.
Jason motioned with a nod towards the twenty. “Thanks.”
The barman gave a perfunctory wave. “Oh, that’s okay. We’ll sort out what you’ll pay later. Looks like you’ve got some serious drinking to do first. Don’t want to bother yourself with the economics of it all.”
“A bar tab, cool idea. Thanks.” Jason looked down at his dishevelled note on the counter. “That’s all I’ve got, though. Let me know when I hit it.”
A slight but unsettling expression took hold of the barman’s face. Jason wondered if the man was trying to look into him instead of at him. He could almost feel someone scratching around inside his head. Get a grip, he told himself. He also wondered if the barman had once been a bare-knuckle fighter and had had the shit kicked out of him on more than a few occasions. An assault course of bumps and jagged scars covered his ill-fitting face. Some bizarre boils of purple and greenish hues mingled with the bumps. His crooked nose appeared to be an afterthought thrown onto his face. Jason’s gaze fell to the barman’s slimy anaemic lips and watched as they slid over the yellow and black of his sporadic teeth.
The barman’s lips parted, leaving two fine strands of spittle in their wake as he released a weak laugh. “Don’t worry yourself about that. Life’s too short.”
“Well, okay then. Thanks again.” He pocketed the twenty, picked up his drinks and turned to locate a place to set up camp. He wanted a quiet place to drink and think. The old guy was still gazing into the open fire, with Hobs the mutant wolf asleep at his feet. On the other side of the room were two rickety looking tables, each with two accompanying chairs. At the table nearest to the bar sat another old guy—this must be the Friday night bus pass club, he thought. As he made for the empty table, Jason considered how he could kick-start his life again. Visiting Emily’s grave would be the first stop tomorrow—since he was in police custody and had been refused permission to attend the funeral four years ago.
“This is your last chance to repent,” announced the solitary man as Jason passed his table.
“What?” Jason exclaimed in surprise and spilt more precious beer. “Shit!”
“Off he goes,” the barman said, chuckling to himself. “Got to jump right in, ain’t ya, Peter? Why are you spoiling the fun?”
The old man, Peter, glared at the barman. “Mind your place, Sam.”
Jason ignored the man’s offer to converse with the Almighty. He wanted to get to the empty table as fast as possible and to try to blend in with the nineteenth-century decor. As he made himself comfortable at the empty table by the window, and was about to continue his mindful plans for the future, Peter broke his train of thought once again.
“You’re no longer alone in your thoughts. There are many eyes watching you, and your poor soul is about to be judged. These despicable creatures of filth, these demons, want your judgement to be harsh.” He raised his hand and pointed a gnarled and bent finger towards the bar, where Sam was polishing glasses and placing them with careless abandon on a shelf above the counter. The accusing finger moved its aim towards the old man by the fire, but the finger’s final target wasn’t the old guy, but the dog at his feet. A moment later, the loaded finger withdrew. He held out his withered hands towards Jason. “I can lead you away from this place but you have to repent your sins.”
“Thanks for the heads-up. But I’ll pass.” Jason offered a placating smile instead. His smile was met with a face of stone, so he returned his gaze to his drinks. He positioned the three glasses into a line, like a trio of old but not forgotten friends, ready to welcome him back into their liberated fold.
A hearty laugh erupted from behind the bar. “Leave him be, Peter,” Sam said while pouring himself a shot of whisky. “He doesn’t want to hear your jabberings. Nor do I, for that matter.” He lifted his glass towards Jason in a drinker’s salute. After draining his glass, he continued, “Don’t mind the old fool. He’s like this with all new arrivals. Thinks he can save everyone. You would’ve thought he’d given up trying by now, but no, off he goes again.”
Jason lifted his glass and, with a half-hearted nod, returned the salute. He downed the whisky and enjoyed the comforting warmth as it coated his throat. It’s been a while my friends, he thought. Time to cool the fire. He took a pleasing sip of beer. After waiting a minute or two for the atmosphere in the room to feel a little less charged, he stole a look across at Peter. The old guy was leaning back in his chair, gazing up with wide vacant eyes at a precarious-looking ceiling beam. A faithful congregation of one, Jason thought. Waiting for the word that’ll never come. He looked back at the silky white head of his drink. If this situation was on the road to getting any weirder, he didn’t want to be sober when it arrived. He raised the glass to his mouth and paused, relishing the tingle of the delicate bubbles on his top lip before taking a loud gulp of the fermented nectar.
He looked across at the old man by the fire. He was rocking slowly back and forth in his chair, and the chair creaked in time with its motion. Jason remembered some of his compatriot inmates at the hospital, those whose brains had travelled to a land of drug-induced apathy while their flesh remained planted to a plastic chair. A few of them used to while away their days head-banging to the beat of their own wasteful demise, as their inner demons feasted on the remnants of their lives. The old man also looked emaciated. His translucent skin stretched smoothly over his skull, cheek and jawbone almost visible as they pushed back against the old canvas. Crinkled strands of grey hair fountained out in confusion from the back of his otherwise bald and liver-spotted head. No doubt death stood a step away from the old guy but waited until the cruel picture of decay had painted itself, before it would step forth to take him.
If I end up like that in thirty-odd years, Jason thought, I’ll be throwing a noose over the nearest beam. He drained his first pint.
The old man stopped rocking and leaned down to pat Hobs, but again he stayed his hand at the last moment. He crooned to the dog, “You hungry yet? I’ll feed you now if you want.”
Hobs’ ears twitched, but the dog’s apparent enthusiasm for the old man’s offer stopped there.
“She won’t be happy if you feed her mutt when she ain’t here, Vermis,” Sam advised, pouring himself another drink.
Vermis? Jason thought. There’s a name you’d thank your mother for.
“No, I know,” Vermis replied. He rubbed his deep-set eyes and returned his gaze to the flames. Without looking away from the fire, he asked, “How long will she be?”
“Not long,” Sam answered. “When Peter fucks off, you’ll know she’s here. Then you can feed it.”
Jason lifted his second pint to his mouth but didn’t drink. On overhearing Sam’s words, voyeurism became the taste on his lips. He looked over his drink at Peter, who was still looking skyward with no apparent reaction to Sam’s comment. I might stick around for this, he thought. Better than a television soap. Hope my twenty quid lasts, though, because I could do with another round. He put his drink down and dug deep into the pockets of his jeans for backup to his dwindling twenty; there might be more money hiding away in there among the lint.
“You look like you’re ready for round two.” Sam placed two new pints and another double whisky on Jason’s table.
“Whoa, didn’t see you coming. Thanks. You read my mind.” Jason gave up on his futile search and pushed his two empties across the table towards Sam. “So, Lilith is a real person? Not just the name of the pub, I mean.” Although tempted, he refrained from also asking if her folly was running a pub in the middle of nowhere.
Sam’s cold studious eyes fixed on Jason. “Oh, yes. Lilith is real. Real as real can be. She’ll be here soon.”
Jason sipped his whisky, and then asked, “Does she look like the picture?”
“The one on your sign.”
Sam laughed: a guttural explosion that sounded as though thick mucus had moved up in the world. Jason retreated his drinks to his side of the table, away from any incoming pollution.
“That’s a sexy picture, ain’t it?” Sam replied. He rubbed his nose with the back of one hand and then continued, “No, not quite. That picture loads my gun, but Lilith, the real Lilith, she’s the one who fires it.”
Jason wished he hadn’t engaged Sam in a conversation. The man was a slobbering fool and resembled a giant slug.
“It’s a good pic, but it misses the mark when it comes to my Lilith. Ain’t got that devilish sparkle.” He belched with pride and thumped his chest with a fist, dislodging something sticky in his throat, which he hacked up and then swallowed back down again.
“Your Lilith? She’s your wife?” Jason couldn’t help sounding surprised. The ugly ones always get the stunners, he thought. Another mystery of the universe. Although, devilish sparkle could be like saying someone has a good personality; she looks like crap but can be fun to pass the time of day with, and after a few drinks, who knows.
Sam laughed. “No, no. We were together once, a long time ago, but no, she’s not my wife.” He lowered his voice, put a hand on the table to steady himself, and then leaned in closer to Jason. With a croaky whisper, he continued, “I sure would like her to grease my pole again, though, from time to time. Y’know, those times when I ain’t got no other flags worth flying. Don’t tell her I said that, she’d rip out my tongue and ram it up my derrière.” He barked out a dry laugh.
An acrid odour hit Jason’s nostrils—a sensory assault that felt like a red-hot poker being rammed up his nose. He looked up at the slimy ogre who stood, far too close, before him and wondered what sort of woman could tolerate this man’s company while she was still in anything resembling a living state. Sam’s occasional other half, he mused, probably looks like a haggard witch with a side order of violence. Jason’s memory flashed to thoughts of Zoe.
Zoe had been a beautiful woman, small and elfin-like in stature, with long silky black hair that gave Jason a titillating rush every time she flicked it in his direction, always followed by a playful glance and a knowing smile. He had fallen in love with her the moment they met. In the early years she had been a gentle and loving person, with a passionate and seductive streak she used with natural elegance to drive him wild. But everyone has a darker side, a festering inner twin that hides somewhere deep within. Sometimes it never raises its ugly head. For an unlucky few, though, it takes hold of the delicate and fragile being it inhabits. Zoe’s darker twin became apparent soon after Emily came into their lives. The doctors said the fiery moments were down to postnatal depression and assured them it would pass in time. But it didn’t pass. And as the years went by, her sudden outbursts grew more violent. Jason believed he was, and would remain, the only target for Zoe’s venom. He had never considered the possibility she could lash out and kill their daughter, discarding of her body in such a callous way.
He tried to push the memory of his wife from the forefront of his mind. He knew travelling down that particular memory lane always ended in a dark place he would find hard to return from. He wanted this fat disgusting man to go away, but he needed to guide his mind away from toxic thoughts about Zoe—chit-chat with fat Sam the barman would have to do. He leaned back in his chair in a futile attempt to distance himself from the noxious fumes emanating from Sam. “Who is Lilith? The one on your sign?”
“Yeah, you know, God’s grand plan.”
“Oh, that Adam.” Jason looked down at his drinks but saw Emily’s broken and bloodied face staring back at him. He held her in his arms, his hands covered in her blood… Need to think about something other than the violent past, he thought, but not religious claptrap. I can’t deal with a discussion about the guy in the sky who loves to play with his human ant farm. And how we’re all screwed from the start because of Adam and… “Hang on, Adam’s wife? That was Eve. That much I remember. Adam and Eve.”
Sam exaggerated a sigh and then asked, “Have you read the Bible? Have you seen the words with your own eyes?”
Jason rolled his eyes and looked up at Sam.
“It’s playing with you,” Peter interrupted. “Like a cat pawing at the crippled mouse. Don’t let it distract you.”
“Have you read it?” Sam asked again, waving Peter off with a brisk hand.
Jason’s attention became drawn to the dog. Hobs sat up and looked back at him with luminous ruby-red eyes. He wondered if it came from somehow crossing a wolf with a bear. This dog was enormous.
Vermis leaned forward, his face an inch from Hobs’ ear. “I want to feed you, my glorious beauty, I do, but Samael, he says no I can’t. I got to wait for…” He turned and fixed his smoky bloodshot eyes on Jason.
“Well?” Sam said, crossing his arms tight to the northern hemisphere of his gargantuan belly.
“Many moons ago, yes,” Jason lied. He had considered reading the Bible in the past. From time to time. More out of curiosity than any religious inclination, and to see what two thousand years of fuss was all about, but he’d never got around to it. Zoe believed that every child should have a Bible, so she’d bought a small leather-bound one for Emily. She had placed it on Emily’s bedside table. Soon after, Jason had moved it to the bookshelf and placed it between Alice in Wonderland and Winnie the Pooh—a joke not well appreciated by Zoe. He threw back his whisky. “And I’m sure it was Adam and Eve the Bible talks about, not Adam and Lilith.” His head spun for a moment as the spirit hit his stomach with a harsh bubbling heat.
“Shit on a stick,” Sam said. “Hang on.” He reached for his back trouser pocket. His enormous weight and apparent lack of dexterity made this a monumental effort.
Jason watched as droplets of sweat rolled down Sam’s face. The flowing yellow beads mingled with grease and dirt and created a small tide of grime. The disgusting brew hung from his chin for a moment before dripping onto his shirt. That explains one stain, Jason thought. He reduced his three pints to a pair as he continued to watch the curious discharge exuding from the barman’s face.
“Let there be light,” announced Sam, as he pulled a small Bible from his pocket.
“You’re kidding?” Jason said, and then thought, careful Jase, the locals could be stoking the fire for the heretic.
“Kidding about what?” Sam used his stubby unwashed thumb to swipe with reckless disregard at the dishevelled pages. “Here it is!”
“If you’re about to read the Genesis story to me, don’t bother, I’ve heard it before. God pulls out Adam’s rib, and—voilà!—creates a woman.”
Sam gave Jason a disdainful glance and stabbed at the Bible with another dirt-encrusted digit. “No, not that part, not Eve. That’s Genesis 2:21, I’m talking about what happened before that, in Genesis 1:27.”
Jason could see the fat man preparing to read. “Okay fella, you don’t need to…”
Sam cleared his throat and preached. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” Sam stabbed at the pages once more. “Male and female created he them. Male and female; man and woman; at the same time. Adam and Lilith, way before that submissive slut, Eve, came on the scene.” He kissed the Bible.
“Take it easy there, big guy. I could almost hear the choir. I don’t care either way, but I’m sure Adam’s other half was Eve.” Jason didn’t know why he enjoyed goading this fat obscenity of a man. In the past he had tried to avoid confrontations, but he felt a thrill at the prospect of making Sam angry. Maybe it was because he had no time for religion, or those who preached it. Jason felt an urge to take a mouthful of his drink and spit it into Sam’s face—a long phlegm-rich burst smack into that fat… ugly… excuse for a face. He didn’t spit, as he slayed the beer duo down to one.
Sam threw the Bible down in front of Jason. “Are you sure? Read it for yourself. It’s there. In all its cryptic glory. It doesn’t mention her by name, but it’s talking about Adam and Lilith. Not Adam and Eve.”
Peter slapped his hands down hard on his table and yelled, “Stop this, Sam. This isn’t a game.”
“What? I ain’t doing anything I shouldn’t. I’m just talking to this guy. Getting to know what’s going on in his witless head.” Sam chuckled. “It is a game, Peter. A splendid game. You’re just bad at it.”
“No, Sam, you foul creature, it’s not a game. The immortal life is not a prize. He must have this chance to see his mistakes, and you will let him.”
Sam threw his hands in the air. “Yeah, yeah. You old… Go on then, give it your best shot, but you won’t get this one. He’s not listening to you.” He headed back to the bar with Jason’s empty glasses.
Jason had heard, but not listened to Peter and Sam’s little discussion. His attention was drawn to the small tattered Bible that Sam had left on his table. A cold chill ran up his spine, and a sudden urge to vomit churned around in his stomach. With escalating horror, he realised the Bible Sam had pulled from his ass pocket and thrown onto the table in front of him was the same one Zoe had given to Emily. His expectation of throwing up increased when he flipped the pages back to the inside cover and read the name scrawled in a child’s handwriting. He could hear his dead wife’s voice as clear now as he had heard her speak back then.
“When you’re older you can choose what you want to believe. It will be your choice. But this book will be there for you if you want it, or if you need it. Write your name in your best wormy writing, Em, and make the book your own.”
With a careful studious hand, she wrote:
Laughter exploded from behind the bar.
Jason glared at Sam. “What the hell is this? A trick? That’s it, isn’t it? A bloody pub trick. Not funny, pal. How did you get hold of this?” He held up Emily’s Bible and waved it with evangelical energy at Sam.
“No magic, and you’re correct, it’s not funny,” Peter said. “It’s all very real. More real than anything you’ve ever known. Repent now, before the judgement is made. Or you’ll go to a place of eternal pain and suffering.” His voice became more urgent as he pleaded. “Please, before it’s too late.”
“Look, I respect your beliefs an’ all, but I don’t share them. I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in God.”
Sam laughed. “No? God don’t believe in your worthless ass either. You’re an atheist, you say? Well, God don’t give a shit.” His laugh became a roar.
“Don’t listen to it,” Peter said. “Sam is but a loathsome creature of no consequence. Its only purpose here is to get inside your head and draw out your anger. Don’t let it. God is here and His light is upon you. But, your time is short in this place. Show God the regret you hold for the things you’ve done.”
“Things I’ve done? What the hell do you know?” He felt his hands shake. They know nothing, he thought, they don’t know that I murdered my wife. How could they know that? Sure, Sam had somehow got hold of Emily’s Bible, but… This is just a stupid trick… Or something? The Bible has just, somehow, worked its way into Sam’s possession. They’re just small-minded religious shits having fun at a stranger’s expense. Let’s get him all worked up and on his knees, fearing for his immortal soul, and then laugh our asses off at him.
“Your wife, Jason,” Peter said. “Ask God to forgive you for killing your wife. Tell Him that you regret that part of your life.”
Jason looked at the old man, stunned, and then declared, “Okay, mindfuck over.” He poured the final beer down his throat in one, and then stood and pulled the twenty-pound note from his pocket. He threw the money down next to the Bible and glanced across at Sam. “Keep the change, you fat fuck, if there is any.” He lowered his gaze and looked at the Bible. Intense sorrow welled within him. It can’t be the same one, he thought. No way it’s the same book. Jason left it on the table and made for the door.
Sam called after him, “You can’t leave, fuckwit.”
Jason cringed, remembering how Zoe used to call him that, screaming her twisted thoughts in frenetic bursts of verbal poison and always postscripting her insults with either violence or lyrical name-calling.
Jason grabbed the door handle and turned it. The door remained shut, and his aggression towards the handle had no effect on this fact.
“Jason, you can’t leave,” Peter advised. “You must be taken from this place. Either by me or…”
Jason cut Peter off with a loud grunt as he pulled hard on the door handle. He threw his weight against the door, shoulder first, trying to loosen the hinge, lock, or whatever barred his exit. It remained shut. He looked at it with contempt and then glanced at the windows either side. Unsure what to do next, how to deal with this situation, anxiety and fear clamoured over his thoughts. He had just spent four years living behind locked doors he had no keys for and would not be passive while forced to endure another moment of imprisonment. He considered breaking a window with a chair or using Sam’s face to smash the glass. Without turning round to face the bar, he said, with seething calm, “I suggest you open this door, Sam.”
“No, I don’t believe I will,” Sam replied.
“Is Lilith here yet?” Vermis asked. “I don’t want to disappoint. I made a promise I must fulfil. He will punish me if I don’t. Please let me balance the scales.”
“Shut up, Vermis,” Sam answered. “You’ll be able to feed Hobs soon enough.”
Jason turned and came face to face with Peter.
He looked into Jason’s eyes with an unnerving intensity. “Don’t listen to Sam. He’s in your mind and has been since you first came, playing with your memories, your emotions, and he’ll use them to cloud your thoughts.”
“Look, I don’t know how you know what you know, and, to be blunt, I don’t give a shit.”
Peter grabbed Jason’s shoulders. “Do you regret killing your wife? You don’t understand what’s happening here and you’ve no idea what will happen if you don’t repent. Regardless of your beliefs, both heaven and hell do exist. If you don’t show regret, now, you’re going to the latter.”
Sam interjected, “He has to mean it, Peter, don’t forget that bit, and you know the simple-minded shit don’t. He can’t just say it. You can’t have him unless he means it.”
“Hold your tongue, Samael,” Peter hissed back. “Or I’ll ignite your foul breath and let you burn for a thousand years.”
Jason knocked Peter’s hands away. “No! No, I don’t regret killing that evil bitch, and I’d do it again with relish if I had the chance. So, fuck off, and leave me alone.”
Peter lowered his head. “I’m sorry, Jason.” A single tear rolled down his cheek.
“Don’t sweat it, old man.” Jason pushed past and made for the bar. He grabbed the empty pint glass as he walked by his table. He felt an anger growing inside, a rage he hadn’t felt before. Different even to that which drove him to kill his wife. That was an uncontrollable response to the death of his daughter. This was a pure sadistic desire to inflict pain on a complete stranger. Many unknown voices burst into his mind.
“Cut his throat out.”
“Slam the glass into his face.”
The voices taunted him.
“You’re a coward if you don’t kill that disgusting, fat piece of excrement.”
“Are you a coward, Jason? Are you a weasel of a man?”
“He is. He’s the discarded afterbirth from a rancid whore.”
Jason could hear laughter but knew not from where or whom it came.
Hobs’ eyes tracked Jason as he passed. The dog then turned to Vermis and licked the old man’s eager face. Vermis began unbuttoning his shirt while a gap-toothed smile grew across his face. “Okay, my beauty, I am for you.” His arthritic fingers fumbled and twitched as he worked to open his shirt.
Jason stopped a few feet from the bar and tried to fix Sam with his best “Don’t fuck with me” stare. He knew it was more like the wide-eyed stare of a rabbit just before being squished by an oncoming truck. Shame washed over him as he considered what he might do next: was he prepared to smash the glass into Sam’s face? Anger had been his biting companion for so long, twisting his perception of the world, and the people living in it, into a disjointed and chaotic mess. Maybe anger could be his ally now. He would make the threat and hope he wouldn’t have to act on it. Although he did feel a thrill at the prospect of cutting Sam’s face open. He raised the glass, making his intention obvious, and then spat his order at Sam. “Open that fucking door.”
The dregs in the glass dripped out and splashed onto the slate floor. Sam stared at Jason for a moment, smiled, and lifted a hinged section of the countertop. He squeezed his enormous gut through and joined Jason on the public side of the bar. Jason took a jaded step backwards. Sam’s smile widened and he laughed into Jason’s face, his breath potent with the smell of rancid putrefied meat. Jason’s moment of bravery diminished. The provoking voices within his head fell silent. The glass in his hand descended back to his side. His attempted hard-man stare was now nothing more than that wide-eyed rabbit waiting for the oncoming truck.
Sam’s mocking laughter abated. “Go ahead. I’m done with this body now, anyway. It’s dead, and the decaying flesh of your kind offends me.”
“I used it like you’d use a car, and when I’m done, I’ll find another.”
“Time for a new one, methinks. Who knows, maybe I’ll go ride your daughter for a while.”
“Emily… Emily’s dead… Don’t talk about my daughter.”
Sam moved to within inches of Jason. “Is she? You think you know what life and death are? The comprehension for the eternity of things is far beyond your grasp. A pathetic creature. An insignificant parasite. You’re lost in a stagnant pool of filth. Swimming in circles of shit as the pure ocean of existence is about to wash you away. You should have listened to Peter, Mr Jason Drake, because you are now fucked.”
“I… I want to leave.” Jason took another step backwards. You coward, he thought. If mice could talk, one just did.
Sam’s tongue slid out and moistened his cracked lips. Then he asked, “Before you’re taken to hell, tell me something. Do you think your daughter’s decaying body will still be juicy enough to grease my pole?”
Jason smashed the pint glass into the side of Sam’s head, shards of glass cutting deep into the pale skin of his ear and cheek. Sam winced and his balance faltered, but he didn’t fall.
Jason glared at the fat man. There were no schizophrenic voices directing him this time, just pure fury now burning within. He glanced down at his own hand, and the cuts he’d received from the broken glass. Deep lacerations smiled back at him from his slashed skin, but no blood. He looked at Sam. No blood flowed from his wounds either. Sam’s left cheek hung in torn strips. The lower half of his ear dangled from the side of his head by a thin shred of skin, but there was no sign of blood flowing. The flesh below his skin looked more pink than red and was mottled with dark spots, which might be congealed blood, but nothing at all resembling a fluid.
Sam grinned at Jason’s obvious confusion. “It died a while back. Oh, but wait, so did yours. But you and I are still walking and talking. Hmm… How’s that work then? Bit of a mindfuck, you might say. Pain? Yes, you betcha there’s pain. You better get used to that because you’ve got an eternity of it ahead of you. Pain upon soul-crushing pain. Like nothing you’ve ever known before.”
Jason cocked his arm back, preparing to ram his fist into Sam’s face, but a sound from behind broke his concentration: a short rip and then a wet splattering thud. Jason spun round. He expected to see Peter standing there, but Peter had gone.
Jason gasped and then stumbled back against Sam, fear transforming his body into a trembling mass. His brain was at odds with what his eyes were telling it. Jabbering thoughts filled his mind as his eyes widened, trying to take in more of the horrific and disturbing scene before him.
Vermis hadn’t moved from the fireside, but he was naked from the waist up. The pallid skin of his belly was cut open in a vertical cut from button to breast, his bowels trailing out from the open wound and being devoured by Hobs. Jason watched in terror as Vermis jerked forward when Hobs tugged on the human sausage a little too hard. A contented smile rested on the old man’s face while he continued to feed himself to the dog, piece by glistening piece. Vermis appeared happy, even ecstatic, to pull the contents of his own belly out and offer them to the hungry, oversized wolf. Unlike Sam and himself, Vermis had blood, lots of blood, which poured from his open belly.
“All… for you… my beauty.” Vermis eased out more of his bloody entrails for the ravenous dog. His words became mere murmurings as his life ebbed away with the dog’s every gluttonous mouthful. “You can… have it all.”
Jason’s shock and confusion grew as he looked upon a new figure in the room and realised that Vermis might not have cut himself open.
A naked woman stood next to the bloody carnage. In her right hand, she held a foot-long dagger, its handle and guard dotted with sparkling gemstones, its blade dripping with blood.
Jason tried to swallow, but his mouth was too dry. “Who—?”
“I told you Lilith was real. Real as real can be.”
Sam’s voice passed over Jason without recognition.