It came in the mail. I didn’t know what it was but it was wrapped in a weathered box and was marked with words in several foreign languages, including some foreboding African ones that had their “t’s” crossed with machetes. I was reluctant to let the damn thing in my home, especially since it was radiating a weird energy and there were bloody footprints leading away from it. I could only presume that they came from the mailman, who had limped away after some titanic struggle with whatever was in this terrible box. But I looked at the return address and saw the familiar and reassuring name of my good friend, Raven Mack. So despite my misgivings I brought the package inside and opened it, cutting it open with a chainsaw because that’s just how I do.
I’ll never forget what I saw. It appeared to be some sort of bejeweled demon with the hilt of a mighty blade sticking out of it. I pulled on the blade but it would not come free. I cursed and slapped at the thing and my palms immediately felt hot, as if they had been burned by the demon. Afraid that I had angered it, I threw a towel over its head and retreated to the dark, where I nursed some banana beer and wondered why Raven had sent me such a thing. And then, I saw it.
In the wreckage of the box lay a shredded note. I staggered over to it, half-drunk on banana beer and I did my best to reassemble it. Even then, it wasn’t easy to read, as it appeared that it had been written in blood and the words were smeared by either tears or old semen. I couldn’t be sure. But I could make out the following:
“ . . . been too much for my family to bear . . . sixteen deaths . . . mutilated goats . . . I fought for hours but it just kept coming . . . to you in the hopes that you can figure out how to defeat it . . . look to the tipi . . . it is coming, it is coming . . . no! NO!!!”
Shaken, I nervously eyed the demon with the towel over its head. The words seemed like nonsense. Maybe Raven had taken up drinking again. Maybe he had finally lost it at work and was now driving railroad spikes into the sunken eyes of the decapitated skulls of his coworkers and fortifying his compound with their bones. Who knows? But I trusted the man. We had simply been through too many Spirit Wars together not to and so I decided that I had to learn as much about this bejeweled demon and the blade that it so curiously housed.
I took to my archives, gathered from years of painstaking research and field work in the darkest corners of both the world and the human heart. I ran my fingers along my beloved books containing the myths and legends of that great human protector, The Great Willie Young, books that took up two whole walls of my makeshift study. I pored through them all night, looking for answers, but even The Great Willie Young never seemed to encounter this strangely bejeweled demon. The hairs on my neck began to stand up as I remembered old legends about aliens come to eviscerate the local cattle. A man had found his dog walking bowlegged with a ruptured anus one morning and had blamed it on shape-shifting greys. No, get a hold of yourself damn it, I thought, downing what was left of my stock of banana beer. You’re too drunk and you cannot figure this out in this state.
That night I couldn’t sleep and I found myself picturing the face of that monstrous demon. Goddammit, what was it? Was it really a demon? No, don’t be preposterous. The skull of a fallen grey? No, that would be even more absurd? A turtle perhaps? Yes, a giant turtle. That was it. That had to be it. I convinced myself that this was all there was to this fiend and I huddled under my covers and drifted off into a dreamless sleep.
I awoke with a start. How long had I been out? An hour? Two? It was still dark but there was an ominous . . . presence I suppose is the only word for it, and I crept out of bed with a monstrous erection. Don’t ask why. These things just happen. I crept out of my room and into the hall where an eerie glow illuminated the walls. Bloody handprints reached up and up and up, finally dying near the ceiling as if some poor creature had been literally climbing the walls in desperate fear. My pulse quickened and, in an instinctive crouch, I moved down the hall, naked, eyes wide, my adrenaline keeping my erection firm and at the ready in case of . . . in case of . . . god only knows but as the Boy Scouts say, always be prepared.
The glow increased in intensity with each step and when I emerged from the hallway I discovered the bejeweled demon, glowing with an intensity that I fear may have permanently damaged my retinae. Whenever I close my eyes, I can still see it, leering at me from within that awful glow. Terrible, terrible, terrible . . .
The towel I had thrown over it was smoldering in the corner, more ash than towel really, and the corpse of a giant elk was crucified on my wall. I am not one to panic, but in that moment I am not ashamed to admit that I lost it a bit. I ran from my home, screaming and was intercepted by a concerned neighbor who said “Neil, you’re naked again. Why don’t you let me get you back to bed.”
I cuffed him with a brutal right hand, shattering his ear-drums and screamed something unintelligible at him. Poor Doug. An 89 year old man does not deserve such things. But these were desperate times and I simply could not tolerate his inanity. There was a goddamn demon on the loose.
I huddled behind a makeshift shed behind Doug’s house. I could see his wife peering at me from behind the blinds, phone in hand. The harridan was calling 911, I was sure of it. I wanted to stop her but I figured the site of a naked man with a beard on both his face and his junk would send her into a panic and I didn’t need a SWAT team chasing me through the night along with that horrible bejeweled demon. But wait, maybe that was exactly what I needed. If I could turn their firepower against this vondruke perhaps I could escape this night with my life and my sanity after all. And so I did the only thing I could do. I leapt from behind the shed and ran at the old lady. I feared for a moment that she would suffer a heart attack. She was 102 years old after all, a lusty cougar who had seduced young Douglas back when he was on the cusp of retirement and she a desperate widow who had pissed away her previous husband’s life insurance and had been . . . indiscreet with her social security money, buying the finest hams and showering a young Filipino gigolo named Manuel with gifts. She had targeted Doug and his union pension, probably for several years, and I know she wished the man dead so she could collect on his benefits and so I decided that if the shock of seeing me rushing at her home, naked with crazed fear in my eyes caused her to drop dead of a heart attack then so be it, at least Douglas would be free. I didn’t feel particularly good about it but tough decisions had to be made.
When she saw me coming, she dropped the phone. But I knew that eventually she would gather what was left of her dusty wits and place that call and so I kept on running, and I ran and I ran and I ran until I could run no more, until finally the panic had passed and I could think clearly, rationally. I remembered the note. What had Raven said? Something about a tipi? I imagined him sitting inside his own tipi, hard at work on his zine and then I imagined that bejeweled beast attacking him, perhaps ruffling his papers around, messing them up so they were out of order, just to be a dick, and I became angry. That foul fiend. And so I made the decision to creep back to my home. I had to hide in the bushes while a patrol car crept by, shining a flashlight down my drive. One car. One goddamned car. That was all they could send? I cursed under my breath and knew that I was on my own. I felt bad for involving Doug and his old (old as dirt) lady in this affair but it couldn’t be helped. Besides, they had both seen worse. He was a Korean War veteran and even worse they had been my neighbors for six long terrifying years. The things they had seen, the depravities and crimes against humanity . . . awful, awful. Once, Doug told me that he sometimes wished he was back in Korea, fighting the Slopes. I admonished him for his appalling racial insensitivity but he told me “Goddammit, Neil, at least them mongrels have a shred of decency. They’ll just bayonet you in the balls. You on the other hand . . . goddammit, son, don’t think me and the wife haven’t heard the screams coming from your place.” He then shuddered and we never spoke of it again. Yes, they probably thought this was just another Tuesday. At least I wasn’t asking to borrow a shovel and a bag of lime again.
I waited out the patrol car and then I slipped down my drive. It was freezing out but my adrenaline kept me safe, kept me moving. The soles of my feet were raw, bleeding, and I knew that I would be in pain the next day but goddammit, I had work to do just to see the next day. There were no guarantees, not with this demon running around, and so I resolved to do anything, destroy anything, myself included, if it meant preserving the world for just one more day. After all, if nothing else, I am a hero.
My entire home was aglow at this point. In restrospect, the sight was hauntingly beautiful, eerie like the Northern Lights shining over the fresh kill of a polar bear and when I think of it I am sometimes brought to tears. But on that night it was just terrifying. There was no beauty to the moment and I closed my eyes and barreled right through my front door. Almost immediately I was set upon by tiny little demons, each with that terrible bejeweled head. They clawed at me and bit my legs. I howled in pain and squashed several of them but each time I did more sprung up to take their place. I grabbed the giant horns of the crucified elk and I swung like Tarzan into my kitchen where I tossed a handful of the horrible miniature demons in the microwave and hit START. The damn thing sparked and then blew up and yet they did not die. Desperate, I lunged for the bejeweled statue, knocking it to the floor. It was then that I saw that the hilt of the blade seemed loose. I reached for it and I pulled. It still wouldn’t give. Damn it, I thought, how am I supposed to beat this thing? I pressed myself against a wall and as I held the swarming miniature demons at bay with desperate kicks and wild punches, I said a silent prayer to The Great Willie Young. And in that moment, a strange calm came about me and I knew that if I tried again the blade would come free. I reached out, I pulled and sure enough, the blade slid free. The air rushed with a sort of hissing noise and I could hear an awful scream, as if some terrible fell beast had been wounded in another dimension.
The blade itself appeared to be fairly ordinary, a little rusted, dull around the edge, but it glowed red with the hot fire of The Great Willie Young himself and so I felt confident as I began to hack at the terrible little demons assaulting me in my own home. And one by one, they died at the edge of this holy relic, this blade that was infused with the immortal power of The Great Willie Young himself. And yet, there were too many of them. I am but a simple man, and it wasn’t long before my arms tired and the swinging of the blade came slower and slower. And still they came, in the thousands, the millions. The floor of my home was an ocean of their dark blood and I swam through it – don’t ask me to recount the memory of that experience for it is too horrible to even imagine – the holy blade clutched in my teeth, the demon statue under one arm. I do not know why I grabbed it. I suppose that I knew that if I didn’t find a way to defeat it that no one would and I would not be responsible for the world ending. And so I grabbed it and I swam and I swam and I swam through that viscous muck until I spilled out of my front door.
It was then that I heard the barking of the police dogs, and saw the helicopters with their giant lights shining down on me. I saw Doug and his extremely old lady huddled on their front lawn, a blanket wrapped around them while paramedics saw to their various maladies and I cursed the old woman. But it was half-hearted. I couldn’t blame her. And besides, I had bigger issues to deal with. And so, naked, covered in the blood and viscera of countless slain miniature demons, I ran through the woods behind my home, glowing statue in hand and blood-soaked blade in my mouth. It tasted of . . . death, and with each demon drop that slid down my throat on that terrible night I could hear the savage wails of billions of tormented souls. But still, with tears in my eyes and madness in my heart, I ran on. I could hear the dogs yapping and snarling as they chased after me, and I could hear the terrible whir of the helicopters above as they searched and every once in a while I would hear the crack of a gun and would almost feel the bullet whiz past me but still I eluded them.
But as I ran, I got the sickening feeling that I wasn’t alone. I had yet to look back, such was my desperation to flee that terrible place, but I decided that I had to, if only to achieve a sense of closure, and when I did I saw the horrifying sight of countless miniature demons chasing after me. But they were keeping their distance and when I stopped to look back at them, they stopped too, and they leered at me with terrible, toothy grins, devilish grins and I screamed at them “Back, you fell beasts! You unholy monsters! You have plagued me long enough! Long enough!” But the demons just laughed at me. Angry, and not knowing what else to do, I held the bejeweled statue in front of me. And one by one, the demons knelt. I cried with sudden relief and held the statue before me. I could hear the dogs getting closer and I wondered if perhaps I could somehow turn this to my advantage. It was clear that these demons worshipped the statue. They seemed to revere it as some sort of great mother from which they had all sprung. I had no desire to make deals with such evil but these were desperate times and hey, fuck the police.
And so I began to scream at the demons, ordering them to set up a defensive perimeter. But again, they just laughed at me and it soon became clear that their “fealty” was little more than a disgusting attempt to mock me. After all, why would demons revere anything but themselves? And even then, is not a demon merely the ultimate manifestation of self-loathing? No, if anything, they hated themselves and their “mother.” Realizing this, I tossed the bejeweled demon statue to the ground. The little hellions all screeched with anger and began to chase me again. Oops.
Realizing my error, I turned and ran, blade in hand, and yet no matter how close they came, the demons never seemed to catch me. I was nearing the river and I realized with sickening dread that they were penning me in, playing with me, waiting for me to reach the river where they would no doubt consume both me and my soul.
But still I ran. After all, what more was there left for me to do? In the absence of Hope man must still find something to cling to, and the rawest and most basic thing that any of us has left is the animal instinct to simply survive, even if it is but for an extended moment, one more moment to think, to feel, to know, to experience the feel of a blade of grass on the feet, the gentle breath of a cool breeze, the laughter of a river as it rushes by. I ran and I lived, without Hope, but with the desire to simply exist for one more moment compelling me forward, forward, forward . . .
And it was then that I was saved, as a host of River People sprang from the mud and the reeds surrounding the river and threw themselves at the tiny demons. I saw the haunting death in one of their faces, the face of a man who knows he is giving the ultimate sacrifice for something greater than himself – for life itself and the possibility that lies at its fragile little heart. I looked at him and he looked at me and just before he was swarmed by an army of those tiny monsters he said to me “Go! Live! And never forget that we River People saved you and saved you for a mighty cause, the cause of Truth! Spread this Truth to the world and remember us, not as vagrants or mongrels but as men, the last free men there are!” And then, the last free man died, swarmed by hundreds, thousands, of the hellions, who ate his flesh and left him nothing more than a quivering mass of red bones. I will never forget the sight of it as long as I live.
But thanks to him and his people I did get to live, as I dove beneath the frigid waters of the river and swam to the safety of a small wooded isle. Weeping for the heroic sacrifice of those brave men and women of the River, I crawled, blade in hand to a clearing, where I lay sobbing, naked and terrified. Up above, the police helicopters still tried to track me but the island repelled their efforts and hid me in its embrace. And yet, after a time, I could hear the sounds of something – millions of things – swimming. Horrified, I peered out across the waters of the river only to see in the moonlight those horrible hellions swimming slowly toward me. A mass of them in the middle carried on their backs that horrible bejeweled statue, glowing with its hellish light, and I collapsed on the ground and screamed at the sky, asking what I had done to deserve such a monstrous fate. I thought back to my friend Raven and I wondered how he had escaped, how he had found a way to rid himself of these demons. Perhaps he hadn’t. Perhaps he had just bought himself much needed time, or maybe he had found a way after all. Yes. What did he say? Look to the tipi? Yes, that was it. Perhaps . . . yes! Yes, it made sense. After all, he had often spoken with me of the sacred nature of his tipi, ranted and raved to me about it being a sanctuary from the evils of the world. I always thought he was just being hyperbolic or metaphorical and then we would do another line of crank and forget about the whole thing while we fought crime using advanced forms of karate until the sun came up and we shook hands and went back to our homes. But what if he wasn’t being metaphorical? What if it were all true?
I breathlessly asked myself this as I watched them slowly doggy-paddle across the river. Either they weren’t very good swimmers or they were toying with me, the bastards. On the other hand, it was possible that the sanctifying power of the river itself was slowing them down. Who knows? Whatever the case, their slow approach gave me time. And with this time I used the holy blade, wrested from the prison of the demon, to fashion for myself a crude tipi. It wasn’t much, but it was enough. Or so I hoped anyway.
When I was finished, I stood naked, still covered in demon blood, in the middle of the tipi. The blood sizzled and seemed to scream and although it burned and left me permanently scarred, a hideous mangled man who will be forever wrecked and wasted physically, a blight in the eyes of “normal” men, destined to be little more than a local legend, a folk tale told around campfires to scare children, I love each and every scar, for it is a reminder that I fought the good fight and so long as I am alive, the world shall know peace.
And it will know peace because on that night those hellions stormed the isle, like terrible little soldiers storming Normandy and for a while I simply watched as they threw themselves against my tipi and were repelled by its holy powers. But yet they still kept coming and kept coming and kept coming and it wasn’t long before I realized that they would never stop, no matter how hopeless their attempts. I knew that as a mortal man this would eventually drive me insane and I feared what I would do in that insane state. Would I give in to these monsters? The thought was too horrible to contemplate and so I did what I had to do and I leapt out, blade in hand and I slew scores of them, hundreds of them, thousands, so that the isle’s ground was dyed with their black blood. It is horrible and where they died I fear no new trees will ever grow. But it had to be done. The island and the river that feeds it and the river people that are its guardians understand. I fought for what had to be hours with the little demons. The sun rose in the sky and it fell again. Occasionally, I would still hear the distant barking of a dog or the whir of a copter’s blades but they could not find me and so I ignored them as I fought. Seven times the sun rose and seven times it fell before finally I wrested the bejeweled demon statue from the clutches of those monsters and dragged it with me, fighting my way back to my tipi, an effort which itself took another several days. Finally, exhausted, I collapsed inside of my tipi and as I did the statue finally ceased to glow and with a terrible shriek I will never forget all the little demons shriveled and died, crumbled to dust and were blown away by a cold and merciless wind.
And so now here I sit, inside of my tipi on this deserted island in the middle of the river, naked and cold. But I am sustained by the solemnity of my office, by my duty, for I am the guardian of the bejeweled demon statue, like that old ass knight who guards the Holy Grail, and it has fallen to me to protect it, to keep it safe and imprisoned in this holy sanctuary. I am just thankful that the island has Wi-Fi.
I didn’t ask for this duty, nor do I take any special pride in it, and on some nights I weep for my lost humanity, for all the people I might have known, the things I might have done, the places I might have seen, but still, I do it because no one else can. Perhaps this makes me a hero, or perhaps this just makes me a man. Who is to say? All I know is that it’s been a hell of a month and at least now I don’t have to watch the Lions play.