Lucas took a deep breath. Wading into Parham’s Field was the last thing he wanted to do, but this was a teachable moment. He wanted Jonathan to not be afraid of anything. That following the rules, even if they were stupid, was important. The kid might be a horse’s ass, but he might be less of one if he took these things to heart.
He stared at the wall of grass for a second, and was about to walk into it, when there was movement to his left. The grass didn’t just move. It shook and rattled, making the grasshoppers and crickets jump and chirp.
“What the hell was that?” Lucas muttered.
“Dad, come back!” Jonathan said, his voice quaking with worry.
“I’m sure it’s just a bird or something,” Lucas said. He raised his right foot and moved forward. Mid-stride, the field erupted into a flurry of movement. Lucas jerked backwards instinctively, settling in his own well-kept yard. There was a violence to the rattling in the field, but it wasn’t spastic, like a wounded animal. It was concentrated in one area.
“Dude, seriously,” Jonathan said. “Let it go.”
But Lucas was curious, and he crouched down in front of the patch of moving grass, trying to find the source of the ruckus. He cocked his head to the side, willing himself to see through the spaces between the blades. There was a strange noise coming from the field now, a moaning. Was that human? It certainly wasn’t a noise he had heard coming from any normal woodland creature.
More creeped out than afraid, Lucas stood back up. As he did, the grass rattled, like someone shaking a chain link fence. The volume of the moaning increased, the hollowness of it centering itself like a small vortex above the field. Lucas backed up involuntarily.
Then it stopped, and the silence was as shocking as the sound.
“Dad!” Jonathan said. Lucas turned to see Jonathan pointing towards the ground.
“What?” he said. “What is it?”
“Look down,” Jonathan said.
Lucas did, and at his feet was the baseball. A bite had been taken from it; Lucas could see the hard pink rubber core. It was like a half-eaten white apple. In the moment it took Lucas to process the scene, visually and logically, he pivoted, put his arm around Jonathan’s shoulder and began walking him towards the house. “Come on, my son,” Lucas said.
“Where are we going?” Jonathan asked.
“To sign you up for wrestling classes,” Lucas said. “Outdoor sports are stupid.”
Edward lowered his eyes to the floor, patted Penny on the leg and stood up.
“There’s only one kind of person who could engender feelings such as that into a sanctified daughter of Christ,” Edward said. “A witch.”
Penny tried to scoot further back into her pew to get away from the horrible truth. Rafferty buried his face in hands and started praying in tongues.
“She tried to place a curse on you, Sister Penny, oh, yes, she did. She wanted to drag you down to her level, make you perform unnatural acts and get you to believe in something you know in your heart is wrong! That is the modus operandi of a witch!”
The pastor’s eyes seemed to blaze with a holy fire as he begin to spin and dance, a crazy stumbling jig, all the while screaming, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live! Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live!” Rafferty and Penny howled in their seats, wailing their thanks and prayers to God for deliverance. The building echoed with the screams of the righteous.
To anyone who had passed by, it would have sounded like Hell.
“But there is good news, people, for deliverance is at hand,” Pastor Edward said. He stopped dancing, sweat dripping from the tip of his nose, and stood with his arms outspread, Bible clutched in his right hand like a stone.
He smiled, the love of God pouring out of his very being, and said, “The Lord has given me a plan.”
“Tell me, Graham,” Will said. “Do you not hear the howling and the crackling of the fires every night there’s a full moon? Don’t you ever wonder why we don’t have any of the big chain stores in the Keep, or why you have to drive all the way to Bell Plains to get a fast food cheeseburger?”
“I guess I never thought about that,” Graham said. “Maybe Bell Plains is offering some bigger tax breaks than we are.”
“Fuck the taxes,” Will said. “Don’t you get what I’m saying? This town is weird. The ground it sits on has been a place of mystery since before God abandoned it. Everything is slightly off balance in the Keep. If there’s a hell, Elders Keep is one of the gates to it. Every myth, every superstition, and every tale of boogeymen or shadow people you’ve ever heard, all those creatures, in one form or another, live here. This is the birthplace of nightmares and dying fires.”
Graham laughed. “Are you writing a brochure? Because that was beautiful.”
Will kept going. “You know why this place is named Elders Keep? It’s because your elders keep showing up! They don’t pass on. They don’t fucking leave like they’re supposed to!”
“Oh, come on, Will! You are frustrating me with your folk tales! Folk tales and bullshit.”
Will stuck his finger in Graham’s face, almost touching the end of his nose. “I hear you saying it,” Will said, “but I know you don’t believe it. Your eyes tell me you know exactly what I’m talking about.”
Graham pushed Will’s hand away. “Look. Let me just buy you another one of whatever you were drinking before you got here and we’ll call it a night, huh?”
“I’m not drunk, goddammit!” Will exclaimed, exasperation creeping into his voice. “You ever go into Parham’s Field at night?”
Graham shook his head and laughed. “Oh, hell no. Never.”
“Why not?” Will asked.
Graham shrugged. “Everybody knows you don’t go into Parham’s Field at night.”
“But why, Graham? Give me an answer.”
Graham searched his brain. Had he ever heard a story about the Field? Had his brother ever tried to frighten him late at night with tales of something dreadful in Parham’s Field? Not that he could recall.
“I don’t rightly know why, Will,” Graham admitted. “You just don’t. You don’t do it; everybody knows it and I guess nobody knows why.”
“I know why,” Will said, softly. “And someday, you will too.”
It is impossible, the thing you are seeing, and when you try to scream or call out to Tony for help, nothing comes out. The man is also quiet, making no sound as whatever it is that lives inside him pushes its way out, out of some kind of nightmare world in to this one. Then the man has three eyes: the two in his head and the one staring at you through the jagged gap in his neck, where his artery should be. It gazes at you, diamond-shaped pupil of the purest black, surrounded by an iris of all the colors in all the worlds, a kaleidoscope of knowledge encircling that black jewel of hatred, looking upon this place, this Earth, from a new perspective. It looks at you like it knows you.
Does it know you? Could it possibly recognize you, the same way a great-grandfather recognizes his great-grandchild, picks out the family resemblance, understands intuitively that somehow, that child is his?
Two eyes are poking out of the man’s neck now, and you believe he is smiling. He’s done it. He’s shown you his real self, his true face.
Fuck your years of training, fuck everything they taught you to believe, everything they told you was true about life and science and evolution and how you got here and what you’re supposed to doing.
You actually feel a small “pop” when your mind breaks, a subtle shift in the skull, the slight separation of hemispheres.
As the creature grows and continues to climb out of its host into the room, you can’t stop gazing into those cold reptile eyes, the eyes of something old and evil, something that refused to evolve or die off like it should. You feel that hate that keeps it alive. You burn with the hunger it feels, to be warm again, to rule again, feeding and feasting, culling the herd as it did when it roamed freely and was worshipped as a god.
You begin laughing. You can’t help it. Everything is starting to make sense now. Religion, government, medicine, it’s all wrong. Those things are simply human constructs. Everything you were taught or compelled to believe in is designed to hide people from the ultimate truth. You want to see more, you need to see more of this thing, this genesis of everything, but your eyes are in the way. They don’t do enough, can’t open wide enough, can’t see far enough into the past to give you the vision your brain now desires.
Fumbling about in your coat pocket, you find the syringe, the one you had previously threatened the man with. The man. The messiah. The one who opened your mind. You love him. You love him for showing you the way, the truth and the life. You squirt the water out of the syringe onto the floor. Even if it had been truth serum, it wouldn’t have given you the kind of enlightenment you’ve received now.
You jab the syringe into your left eye. The nerve endings in your cornea scream with pain at the puncture. Agony means nothing to you now. It feels like adoration. Laughing even harder, you pull the plunger down on the syringe. The fluid in your eye begins draining down into the clear plastic cylinder. You remember the medical name for eye juice: aqueous humor. Good thing you’re laughing. You can feel your eye deflating, your vision dims. You’ll never watch a 3-D movie again, you think.
It’s all right, though, you think. The things you know now, the things you’ve seen, the expansion your mind has undergone! What are you now?
What are you becoming?
You plunge the needle into your right eye. It pops like a water balloon filled with lube. You have to stop seeing in order to see. As sight fades, you take one more look at the man in the chair.
The face is gone. The thing inside him has disappeared. It has crawled back inside, waiting and hiding, and there’s not a single mark on the man. No spot where his skin distended and tore, no marks of the door to the ancient portal that dwells within him. In the last second before you go blind, you wonder if the whole thing was a hallucination, a waking dream, a trick of the light.
And if it was, isn’t that the funniest thing you’ve ever heard?
Here’s a little known fact about the Devil. He hates having his picture taken, absolutely hates it.
“I look fat,” he says.“I look old,” he says. “I look like someone just killed my favorite demon. Put that camera away.”
If anyone has a right to be a bit of a grump, it is the Devil. He’s the scapegoat for every bad thing that happens. People talk about the place he lives like it’s the worst slum ghetto in the world. He’s also really sensitive about his nails. Look, he gets ingrown, okay? It happens. They’re actually very painful, and if you’ve never had them, you just don’t know. The Devil doesn’t give a shit what the current fashion trends are; you can’t bully him into manscaping. He’s a hairy guy. Deal with it.
Yes, he does have his demonic children collared and chained to a large stone in front his dark throne. That’s only because those kids aren’t twenty-one yet. The Devil will be damned if he’s going to let them go sweet-talk their mother into letting them have their trust funds early. They would doit, too, the little connivers.
Pile up on Old Scratch if you want. Talk about how he is the cause of all the evil in the world. Blame him for every little thing that goes wrong. But ask yourself this. If he’s so bad, why is he giving you the “Live Long and Prosper” sign? Huh?
I think you’ve got some re-evaluation to do.