It's just that, whenever I write in my book, something strange always happens...
|The Angel and the Devil
I have finally come to grips with the fact that I am dying. My seizures are more frequent now, and for the past two months, I have had delusions of an angel and a devil following me around.
The three of us walk along the dusty roads together: Azazel, the Prince of Darkness, Michael, the Archangel, and me, a writer, slowly losing his mind.
“You have written nothing in your book for days, Jesse,” Michael said. He cocked his head and gave me his most angelic smile. “How come? Are you afraid I’ll read it and disapprove?”
“I don’t care what you think, Michael,” I said in my defense. “It’s just that whenever I write in my book, something very strange happens.”
“Perhaps you should be more careful with whom you share your work,” Michael said and glared at, Azazel, with eternal hatred. “One of us here is a very unsavory character, with no place to go and nothing better to do than to cause mischief and misfortune.”
The devil gave him a defiant stare. “Maybe it’s the uppity and arrogant company he keeps,” Azazel said. His words dripped scorn and disdain. “Don’t you have some place to go, Mikey? You know, off to save somebody’s soul somewhere or something? I know...how about a long pleasant trip to Hell? I can show you the way.”
I rolled my eyes. “All right you two,” I said. “Don’t start that again. I know the closer I come to insanity, the more you two quarrel. I’m getting a headache just listening to the both of you. Let’s walk along for awhile in quiet, shall we?”
“You’re not going to fall down frothing at the mouth again, are you?” the angel asked. “I just can’t bear to see you like that, Jess. It really gives me the creeps.”
“I see people act like that all the time.” Azazel laughed, and then bared his fangs. “Just before they turn into one of my creatures of the night, thrashing upon the ground as their souls become lost to their Master.”
“Ha!” Michael said with disgust. “Master of hatred and lies, Deceiver of all humanity, that’s what you are!”
I wandered away from them and their unending argument. Up ahead, I could see a small village. A river ran along its eastern side. Nestled in the protective arms of a large circle of pines, its beauty made me want to open my book and write about it, but I resisted.
“Hey! Wait up, crazy boy!” yelled Azazel. “Don’t leave me here with this pompous do-gooder.” He hurried to catch up with me. Michael followed behind. He shrugged his shoulders and shook his head in disbelief.
My vision began to swim, and fighting vertigo, I sat down upon the cool green grass that grew on either side of the road. I ran my fingers through my hair, wiped the sweat from my forehead, and then made a mask of my palms and fingers.
I heard them begin to fight again as they approached, so I pulled out my journal and prepared to write.
I noticed that each time I wrote in my book, my companions became completely silent. It was as if they were no longer present, and for that brief moment, I was again rational. When I wrote, they could no longer be seen, nor heard. Sometimes, like now, I found it to be a pleasant experience. They’d traveled with me for so long I’d grown weary of all their prattle.
I began to write.
The story appeared with such uncanny ease and swiftness that it almost seemed as if the tale had been written earlier and stored magically in my pen.
I wrote of the village and the simple people who lived there. I called it Salem, and described the villagers going about their usual routine of daily life and their belief in the knowledge that the sun would surely rise the very next day. Even as I wrote, I could hear them talking to one another. Ah... the sounds of an uncomplicated life, the noise of the innocent and the naive. They had no idea of the evil that lived among them. Evil that could call upon the demons of prejudice for services rendered at the expense of the defenseless, and cast spells of ‘hearsay’ to attain wicked goals.
I wrote feverishly.
It wasn’t long before the simple folk began to talk about a rise in the amount of dead animals found in and around the village. Some complained of cherished house pets that had vanished, never to return.
Soon, rumors spread throughout the town: witch.
One particular woman seemed to stand out from the rest—a newcomer, somehow different from everyone else. The woman’s name was Megan Hornsby, and she was quite beautiful, pious, filled with love for family, the earth, and all the things that grew and lived upon it.
But it’s a cold and uncaring universe, either because God made it that way as a test to determine good souls from bad, or simply because it’s just the way things really are. Nevertheless, a year previous, Megan’s young daughter had become deathly ill. Even though she tried her best, providing healing herbs and plants, her knowledge was limited, and her child eventually died. Shattered, she smoothed her daughter’s hair back from her face for the last time, kissed her brow, kissed her left cheek and then her right, so her head wouldn’t be unbalanced by the weight of the kiss, and then wandered out into the wilderness.
In an attempt to bury her past, she burrowed through the unforgiving countryside seeking to unearth a new life. She traveled light. The only heavy things she carried were memories, fear, and loneliness. Then, within the moon-bleached hours of the longest night, she collapsed in a field.
A wealthy young farmer, just on the outskirts of Salem, found her sleeping amongst his corn. He carried her home, and over time, nursed her back to health. But, as fate would have it, he too became deathly ill, and died in her arms after bequeathing everything he owned to her. She held him, as he had held her. Destiny held them both. It had a firm grip.
When the Town Council heard the rumors of the new owner and the young farmer’s death, they became furious. In an attempt to takeover the farm, trumped-up charges were brought against Megan Hornsby. In the cover of darkness, she was taken into custody.
Pleading to the Magistrate of her innocence, and the circumstantial evidence that was used against her, she begged for her life. For her efforts and denial of being a witch, she was brutally whipped, and then dragged from the Council Hall and tied to a stake in the center of town. Some folks, with a bit of good still left in them, winced at the cruelty inflicted upon her. Megan screamed her curses at them, yet not a one dared lift a finger to save her. The Magistrate, full of self-righteous piety, had wood stacked about her feet, and then proclaiming her a witch, set fire to it.
Megan struggled for breath, choked on the bitter smoke, and gasped lungfuls of sour, smoke-filled air. Frantic, weeping, praying for delivery even as her clothes caught fire and her skin began to blister, she screamed until she died.
A whip of lightning cracked and scarred the skin of the night. The townspeople were frightened, but took it as an omen of the woman’s guilt. Blackness poured down around the town, as dark pressed the last red wine out of the twilight.
As a thunderclap boomed, my bones seemed to rattle in spite of their padding of flesh. I jerked and twitched upon the ground like a crippled crab.
“Jesse? Jesse, what have you done?” the Archangel asked. “It’s happening again, isn’t it—one of your seizures?” He knelt beside me as I shook and shuddered, and then looked toward the town. “My God, Jess, what have you done to that poor woman?”
I didn’t remember when I had stopped writing, or when the fit had overtaken me, but when I could finally stand, I looked up to see a pillar of smoke rising from the town. In the distance, I could hear the woman’s screams as the fire consumed her. The townspeople stood around in a circle and watched.
Azazel approached us from the direction of the village with a wicked grin. “That was simply marvelous!” he exclaimed. “Mortals are such fun to observe as their superstitious minds win out against all sanity and reason.” As he smiled at me, I could see the gleam of his pointed teeth. Under his brow, his eyes were deep wells of foul water that glistened darkly at the bottom. He was dressed in his usual attire, black suit, red ascot; his cape flowed like the night. “Write some more, Jess. I just love the way your twisted little mind works.”
“I…I did that?” I stuttered. “That’s not possible! That poor woman died because of me?” I could feel another seizure coming on and sat shakily down upon the grass.
“Jesse, are you all right?” Michael asked. “You look very pale.”
I stared at the Archangel and longed for my life to end. I wanted nothing better than to be taken up into Heaven and have all this insanity simply stop forever.
Michael bent over me and wiped the spittle from my mouth. His huge wings, brilliantly silhouetted from behind by the occasional flash of lightning, shielded my eyes from the rain. I marveled at his white robes that never seemed to get dusty or dirty, and his glowing face appeared flawless, finely crafted by God himself. His blond hair hung down in golden locks upon his immaculate brow, and his gaze was as irresistible as gravity pulling a dropped stone into a deep crystal blue lake. Michael was beyond handsome and beautiful, he was...perfect.
Another boom of thunder turned my head toward the heavens. The sky strained like a boil about to burst, I could feel the pressure in the air.
“We had better get him out of the rain,” Azazul said.
“Please,” I said, “can’t I just lie down and rest? I honestly can’t remember the last time I slept or ate.”
“You should drink blood,” Azazel said with a laugh.
“You should shut up!” Michael said. “Can’t you see he’s dying? Help me carry him. Maybe we can find an isolated farmhouse somewhere and beg for some food and shelter.”
Azazul quickly grabbed my journal and flipped through the pages. “Here’s a good place,” he said. He showed the book to Michael and pointed to a page.
Michael agreed, and then my two hallucinations picked me up and carried me away into the night.
I’m not sure how far we traveled, but the sky was without sun, and the storm was without lightning, and the rain was without wind. It fell straight down as if in exhaustion; a great burden of rain fell by the pound, by the ton, crushing the grass, sighing wearily through the trees, then slid languidly to the ground and slept there in puddles.
The storm washed all the color out of the day as we finally came across a small peasant farm with several animals and a dilapidated old house and barn.
I had the strangest feeling that I had been here before.
My companions laid me down by the front door and knocked, then walked off arguing. I thought I heard Michael murmur something about the necessity to keep me alive for as long as possible before I discovered my true identity.
Abruptly, the front door opened and I looked into the face of the most beautiful girl I have ever seen. Her long chestnut hair fell about her shoulders and framed the bluest of eyes. She looked down at me with a startled expression, and as I drank in the vision of her beauty, I blacked out.
I awoke to find myself lying in bed. Coppery late-afternoon sunlight slanted through the windows, the air glowed as if the world outside had caught fire.
“Are you feeling better now?” a young woman asked. “You really gave me a fright, you know. I thought at first, you had died right there upon my doorstep.”
She approached the bed with a bowl of steaming food, and then sat in a chair beside me. “Your fever broke, but you are weak and need to eat.” She began to spoon-feed me the most delicious soup I have ever tasted.
She smiled at the fervor of my appetite.
“They call me Jesse,” I said in between mouthfuls. “Do you live here alone?”
“Yes,” she said. “My name is Kara. Father died several months ago, leaving me the farm. I have to admit it’s a bit more than I can handle. It’s odd though, you seem so familiar. Have we met before?”
“Uh…no, I don’t believe so. I’m just passing through. But this house...you, everything, seems like a dream I once had.”
“There was a young man a few months back, that sat upon the hill over-looking the farm. It was right before father died. Now that I think about it, he did look somewhat like you. I remember going out to feed the animals and seeing this person; he appeared to be drawing or writing in a book. As I began to approach him, I heard my father yell for help. I ran back to the house, but there was nothing I could do, he was already dead. Later, when I returned outside, the young man had gone.”
I shuddered as with fever chills. I felt like a swimmer who has been weighed down with iron shackles and blocks, drowning in oceanic depths, suddenly freed and soaring toward the surface, light as air. “I do remember!” I said. “Your father was very old and longed to join his wife. Your mother had died after a long and hard childbirth. There was no doctor close enough to be called in and after she passed away, he was left to raise you on his own. He named you Kara.” My mind whirled. “I wrote about it! It’s in my book…all of it!”
The girl became frightened, stood, and backed away. “How could you know this? Who are you?”
“I’m... I’m not really sure,” I said. “But it’s all beginning to come back to me. It’s in my book.” A wild and swooping terror, like a frantic bird, flapped crazily within me. I bolted from the bed and tried to find my journal.
Kara stumbled toward the front door terrified. Perhaps she thought I was going to harm her, or maybe that I had simply lost my senses, nevertheless, she threw the door open and ran from the house.
Forgetting about the girl, I found my belongings and pulled out the book.
Azazul poked his head through the open door. “Hey, Jess,” he said. “Are you in there?”
Michael followed him into the house. They stopped and stared at me as I flipped through the pages of my book.
“Uh…what the hell are you doing, Jess? Azazul asked. “And what did you do to that poor girl? She went tearing out of here like she’d seen the devil himself!”
“Here it is!” I said, “The Farmer and His Daughter.” I showed them the story I had written. “It’s all here! Everything!”
The two of them looked knowingly at each other.
“And here’s the one about Salem.” I showed them that one as well. “Do you know what this means?” I asked. “I wrote it all and then it came true. None of this is real! It’s nothing more than a figment of my imagination.”
The Archangel smiled at me. “So, you’ve finally come upon the truth, then?”
“The truth?” I asked.
“You know who you really are.” Azazul added.
“Well, I know that I’ve somehow created all this,” I said. “I’ve written it in my book and it has all become real.”
“But do you know who you are?” Michael asked.
I felt a cold, gripping chill come over me as his question began to sink in. I went and stood by the fire that Kara had built to keep me warm. My head began to hurt as I tried to understand the meaning of what Michael had asked.
“Look in your book, Jess,” he said. “It’s all there.”
I paged through the book again and came upon the story, ‘The Angel and The Vampire’. My mouth fell open. “You mean, as long as the book exists, you exist?”
“That’s right,” Azazel said. “Without the book, none of us would be here.”
“You mean, even...me?”
“Even you,” Michael said with love in his perfect eyes.
“That can’t be! I know that I’m real! You two are nothing more than a simple story I wrote.”
My hands began to shake and I felt another fit coming on. “I’m real, I tell you, real!” In my panic, I ripped their story out of the book, and without thinking, threw the pages into the fire.
Michael reached for the book. “No, Jesse, no!”
As they stood before me, they both began to flutter: like butterflies drying their wings, like pages of a book folded in half. Their substance dimmed, and began to fade.
“Oh Jesse, what have you done?”
Flames licked all around them. They became pale as ghosts, until they both vanished.
I blinked my eyes in disbelief. “They’re gone,” I whispered. “They’re really gone. I’m finally rid of them...forever.”
I suddenly felt better than I had in a long time, as though my illness was directly related to the stories in the book. I began tearing out page after page and throwing them one by one into the fire. With each page I burned, my health seemed to improve.
The farmhouse started to fade. I rifled through more of the pages, until I noticed the title of the very first story in the book. It read, “The Insanity of Jesse”.
My mind spun out of control. I read as though panic-stricken.
“No! That’s impossible!” I heard myself whimpering and could not stop. My breath caught in my throat as the full impact of the truth finally hit me.
I had written a story about myself.
I was like the others. I didn’t exist!
I let the book fall from my limp fingers into the glowing embers. It flickered for a moment, caught, and then became an inferno. My body screamed with pain as I felt the flames begin to burn my skin, but I never cried out. After all, what would be the point?
I had found the perfect ending to my story.