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REQUIEM

Linda Falorio, 1990

 

The Demon brooded on the edges of their remote encampment. An amorphous, lurking sense of evil, a malevolent Presence, it loomed dark and gray over New Jerusalem threatening to descend upon them, howling, crashing, rending through the torture of their minds like the devils of Saint Anthony.

Though perhaps it was only the infernal weather preying on their minds. The atmosphere was heavy, with morose low-pressure clouds hanging oppressively above them. Just the sort of unbearable weather that aggravated Emmy's sinuses, made her head throb, about to burst with pain, maddening her, so that it seemed relief could only come through violence.

The scissors gleamed evilly before her on the table, pointed, hurting her light-sensitive eyes. And the perverse thought came upon her that if she would only pierce the pupil of her eye with something sharp, it would release the pressure on her swollen brain in one sudden pleasurable colloidal oozing of aqueous tissue.

"No!" She pulled her hand away as if it had touched fire. She couldn't let the madness get her. She must fight the awful message in the deadness of the moisture-laden air, erect a wall on the crumbling borders of her mind, keep the thoughts of It outside the heinous Presence that brooded on the edges of the jungle, invading her all dreams, poisoning her unconscious waking moments, watching, waiting to destroy her.

She wanted to scream out as she shuffled across the lifeless compound, kicking at the dust. She looked nervously at the bleak colonial church set against the darkening jungle, its faded wooden spires blank and ineffectual against the leaden evening sky.

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It had been two years since Bob O.D.ed on Quaaludes, deliberately, she thought, crippled physically and emotionally from the years in Vietnam. But who had not come out of those awful years unscarred, spending a lost decade trying to piece together the broken puzzle of their lives. She had met him one blistering Autumn day on the ward at the V.A. hospital. She was a rehab nurse fighting to keep her life together, and that of her tiny, helpless Mark.

A lizard, dusty, dry, slithered from beneath a fallen leaf into the night. "Ill-begotten child of mortal sin," Emmy's dad scathingly intoned when she refused to name the father. But to her it didn't matter, the myriad of boys who might had been responsible had blurred and faded, faceless, into one stream of long-forgotten nights. Though she hadn't planned the child, she loved him dearly. He was all she had.

She had hated Bob at first. "You can always tell an old nurse," he'd said to her as she prepped him for a shot. Emmy, proud of her starched professionalism had suppressed a pleasured smile. "But you can't tell her much," he had then sneered, making her the fool.

He wore the bruise from that shot for the weeks it took to melt her shyness, her reluctance to again become involved; his vitriol eating through her shell until she asked him home for dinner, then to bed. The rest was lost in a blinding blur of drugs, delirium, madness.

"Fighting mental illness," Bob would laugh, tossing down another couple pills. He ate them like candy. Butazolidin and Percodan for pain, Quaaludes to help him sleep, and the ever-present coke to keep him wide awake behind it all.

Gradually, he had drawn her into it, until Emmy hardly recognized herself. She flushed with shame remembering how she must have seemed to those around her: flighty, ill-tempered and morose, with a growing foulness to her language that made her want to crawl into the jungle as the memory of it rang indecently against her ears. And the sex they had together was illegal in six states.

She shuddered as a breath of evil wind, tendril of insane desire curled from the voluptuous darkness of the jungle. "What'd I get you into, Mark, ..."

Bob hadn't had the dreams though, the screaming night terrors that wakened some of them in blinding rage and violent madness, and he hadn't had the flashbacks. Just a strange nerve damage that started quietly with tremors and a numbness, then progressed to complete paralysis and pain. "Agent Orange," he claimed, but the Army wouldn't talk, just kept him quietly pumped with drugs at the V.A.

It was ironic. He had been so careful over there, his soldiering desultory at best. And when it hit him that he might actually be killed, he flatly refused to fight. So, he was ordered to a Unit whose detail was to simply spray defoliant -- the lethal Agent Orange, with its poisonous dioxin.

When Bob brought out his old uniform, insignia and all, she should have guessed where he was heading. For months he wore it day and night, become strangely fearful and excited, pouring over mercenary mags filled with ads for hit-men, their stories of war-macho. It was on his ten-year anniversary of return from Vietnam that she found him dead.

Emmy figured someone must have buried him, though she really wouldn't know, for the next thing she knew she was somewhere on the road with all her gear, a toddler Mark buckled into the seat beside her in the rusted old corvair.

The jungle closed threateningly around her. "Better check on Mark," she thought, making her way along the row of clapboard huts spiraling like giant galactic arms into the jungle.

That's when she'd picked up Faith, a buxom girl, dressed the way they do these days, with strange stockings, bizarre foot-arrangements, gathered skirts hung demurely long, and all in black, with white breasts burgeoning, the face too-sweet, scrubbed, clean, shining with innocence.

"Where you going?" Emmy had asked. "To Babylon," the girl had answered cheerfully, pointing down the highway to Atlanta. "Our work is in the cities where the Devil's hold is strongest, . . but The Reverend says it's time to found a 'New Jerusalem'."

"I'll take you where you're going," Emmy had offered then, wishing she could recapture the innocence Faith showed, her past mistakes erased, her life washed clean, her soul pure once again.

Emmy fell in easily enough with the New Jerusalemites. First dinner, then some slides, and didn't she need a place "just for the night?" After that, her life became a whirlwind that almost numbed the pain. Hanging out at airports, the ever-present shopping malls, handing out literature and small paper flowers in return for begged donations to their cause. Her new religion was a comfort, and Mark showed himself at last to be an asset, for who could refuse a woman with a child?

Still, something vital gnawed at her. She was becoming restless, bored, wanting to move on. She didn't seem to have The Call, as did the others. And every time she looked at Mark, she felt the pain of something evil, growing. His small sensuous mouth, the sight of his tiny penis when she washed it caused something unnatural to stir in her that had to be the working of the Devil.

At last The Reverend himself, remote and unapproachable, summoned her for a private meeting to bolster up her faith. She nervously wrung her hands outside his doors as the others eyed her with mute and knowing envy. Hours later she emerged as if transformed. There no longer were dark corners in her world, there were no lingering doubts. Her mind instead was filled with light, disturbing thoughts become but fleeting shadows of dead past, flung into the Void. At last she knew she had The Call. She felt reborn, ecstatic, renewed. And the sense of growing evil seemed distant as a dream.

Of what transpired, she remained strangely indifferent, and had but little memory. Perhaps she had confessed her sins, begging his forgiveness. She tried to form a picture in her mind: The Reverend, tall, angrily righteous, shouting the Devil out of her as she had seen him do Sundays on TV Instead, disconnected vaguely disturbing pictures as in dreams kept breaking through moist lips caressing, the oddly erotic smells of new leather, stale cologne, fresh sweat along with an undefinable undercurrent of vague evil that disturbed the otherwise bright Calling of her faith.

The Reverend then brought her to his secret enclave in the jungle, half-way round the world, to Sri Lanka, what had been Ceylon, a settlement built and then abandoned by the British. Their first days had seemed obscurely pleasant the old Presbyterian church built to withstand the ravages of the tropics, the few tiny cottages sprawled into the jungle, the sound of the lapping sea at night filled as they were with the quiet tasks of manning The Reverend's Inner Circle, and always, her private nightly meetings with The Reverend.

As if to contradict, the sky lowered unendurably, the threatening Presence beckoning on the shreds of rising wind, insinuating, whispering hideous, suggestive thoughts into her mind, as night things buzzed, croaked, clicked, drawing her against her will into the pulsing darkness of the jungle.

It had been weeks since she remembered sleeping, for It called to her at night, the nightmare Thing that brooded in the denseness of the jungle. It glittered in her dreams, formless, malevolent, savage, whispering suggestions of indecent things, maddened things she could not bear to hear, that yet stirred some unnamed fascination deep within. Like a boat adrift on roiling storm-tossed seas, she fought to keep control, her mind yet wild, her body raging with unnatural desires that threatened to swamp the small island of sanity she so desperately clung to.

Caught up with sudden fright, she pulled violently away. Careening down the narrow path she hurried to the cottage and her child, for he had again begun to worry her. He'd seemed perceptibly to change, the evil again to grow and shine within him. He seemed unquestionably to know, to listen, as if waiting for the Presence from the jungle, riding on the rising evening wind.

He would laugh in his excitement at the hour when the brooding Thing would come, welcoming, as if the Demon was his father, and he a child of darkling, unknown Night. Then Evil would glow from the little, clear blue eyes, the dreadful, sparkling Knowing.

A salamander, fire creature appeared then vanished from the door as Emmy approached, greenish in the shining of the night. Mark was playing quietly alone inside, talking to the wind, carving at a stick with his new knife.

Emmy froze as Mark at last smiled up at her, become a loathsome stranger, the leering, tiny teeth too pointed, gleaming, white. Her head again began to pound, the pressure behind her eyes to build, her vision shift, so that horrified, she clearly saw the Evil again growing. He had become the Devil's child, had formed alliance with the Presence brooding in the foulness of the night. Glittering, no longer formless, it was the Thing itself that glowed behind his shock-blue eyes, fed fat upon his soul.

Mark laughed at her and sang, his child's voice ringing in the dreadful silence, his knife glinting in the stillness of the night.

Something in Emmy broke then, as something primitive, inchoate worked itself through her, and released the building pressure into a flood of nameless fear. Her mind went adrenaline white. Her vision blanked, then cleared. She would kill the thing she loved, for only violence could exorcise the growing Evil, and she moved to seize the cold and gleaming knife.

Fed upon the power of her fear, Mark seemed to change, to suddenly grow, and twist monstrously before her, his baby's face become alien, unhuman, bloated and hideous, devoured in lust. He hissed at her, and bared his tiny savage teeth that dripped fresh blood as if they'd torn at living flesh.

Emmy screamed and pushed the creature from her. Tearing at her clothes as if they were a liquid fire, she crashed from the horror of the cottage. And when at last she found herself awakened in the brooding jungle night, panicked, her memory a blank, her body scratched and smeared with loathsome mud, her mouth caked with bright fresh blood as if she too had eaten living flesh, she knew that she was lost.

She smiled then, her eyes glazing with strange ecstasy, as the Demon came upon the wildly rushing wind, and pulsing close about her, feasted deeply on her blind desire.

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The End

 

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