Sometimes, the world can feel like it’s going straight to hell.
That feeling had beset Amie throughout her life, as though she was infected with a ceaseless paralytic plague of apocalyptic despair. She had always struggled to shake it away for mere brief periods even while she rationally, consciously recognized that it was more that, a sensation or feeling, than it was tangibly true. She knew, and hated that she knew, hated herself for how she couldn’t help it. The infectious sting remained, even as her daughter tried to remind her of all the good news stories: diminishing violent crime statistics, reforms like ending private prisons or federally protecting her daughter’s rights.
One can know these things, feel them in their heart, but there’s only so much it can do. She didn’t want to allow her fear, her sense of confusion and loss, to hurt people the way so many others let theirs do. It was the tinder that fueled hateful fires across this world and throughout its history; providing momentum to terrifying figures like the one on the television every day, that her family feared. She had to try to keep aware, to not be like them, but it ached so much.
She sat in that chair, looking out past the balcony, and started to recall the last time this fear had struck her as hard and fast as it did today. It was in the middle of the 70s, after high school. She was a young woman then, so long ago and so much closer to home, after returning from Kansas for time with family. Time that’s always too brief. In a spark of realization, she thought it strange that her daughter had staked out her adulthood in Missouri, while she herself had so close by.
A flash of images shot through her mind, a disorienting barrage capturing the chaos that ballooned and consumed them throughout that decade, embodying the utter loss of control that enveloped humanity from its top to its bottom and burst its seams at all the edges. The memories came at her so fast she lost track of half of them. A massive, interconnected city swamped in darkness on a hot summer evening. The cultists and anonymous murderers stalking the part of California she called home and inspiring her to study them intensely just to protect herself. A man with a false name hijacks a plane and parachutes out, never to be seen again. The murders and resignations that made both political institution and radical upheaval seemingly disintegrate.
She had spoken with her daughter about how when one looked back on it now, or saw it all depicted by media from that time, it had to seem exaggerated without all the context. It was genuinely surreal to live in, even more so than it appeared from afar, to the younger set. Who could possibly blame them for questioning any or all of it?
Even just in recollection she felt overwhelmed, enveloped by the atmosphere of the era all over again as she arrived at its crystalizing moment, a night of unforgettable passion and spectacular pain.
* * *
They had taken her car to drive outside of town that night, drifting around the Southern California landscape as the evening settled in, and the sunlight gradually crept back towards the shores from whence it came. Amie hadn’t wanted to leave the Midwest without her in tow, and hoped to guide her through her home’s sights, gazing upon with fresh eyes all the unique, natural signposts dotting the area as well as the more famous landmarks. All of these disparate places were reclaimed by the power of discovery shining out from her Joan’s eyes, shedding familiarity in exchange for a gentle majesty. When they weren’t admiring each other’s faces, they soaked in the Sun and the natural beauty together, just as they took comfort in the rural solitude and each other’s company, all in equal measure.
She remembered how they could relax around each other, even while still keeping parts of themselves still at bay. That distance was something carefully but uneasily navigated, and they knew in their hearts that it had far more to do with their individual selves than the nature of their relationship. Joan had never said that in so many words, but in those days they simply trusted and understood each other, even if nerves or well-meaning concern could sometimes get in the way.
In the encroaching darkness, they had missed most of the signs, literal and otherwise. Perhaps even without the woodland shadows, the two would be far too distracted by each other to recognize any of the warnings. The noises, the smoke, the lights, all getting closer. She had always tried to be a practical woman. That night had made Amie feel like a fool time after time again. The cloud of shame still hovered above and followed wherever she went, even four decades later.
Jovial, hollow laughter, louder with each tree the car passed along in the narrow forest road, was what firstly and finally shattered the bubble sheltering them. If there were enough space to turn the car around, she would have, but all she could do was keep going as the color drained from their faces. If the laughter was unsettling, the primal chants and visible fire were downright haunting, instilling a sharp chill deep into their bones to contrast the summer warmth. The shift had been so abrupt it might as well have been out of a dream, stumbling from an idyllic sphere into an upsetting unreality, but it was their waking up back into the living nightmare of this unpredictable time and country. They began to see an uncountably large crowd approaching from afar, covering every inch of the ground before them.
Then the pair saw their pale robes, and Amie immediately put the car in reverse.
A crowbar cracked against the passenger side window. Joan shut her eyes, turned away from the shrapnel, and screamed. The vehicle was soon completely immobilized, surrounded by pale shrouds that struck at it with crowbars and bats. A cacophony full of hatred rang out painfully within the shell of their car, and Amie covered her ears in futile hope that it could just stop. With the windows and windshield shattered, their greasy hands fumbled around and eventually pried open the front doors before yanking the two women out, and. . .merrily patted their backs.
When sealed off from them, the car had previously held complete unknowables, the exact entity these people hated and feared most, but now they saw kindred spirits in shared tone of skin, while the pair looked back and saw a monstrous funhouse mirror reflection of themselves, of their country’s wild and ruthless id. It happened all the time, whether in Kansas or California and whether the toxin in their words was overt or covert. Amie looked through the small, ragged-cut eyeholes in the makeshift hoods and saw eyes as blank and unfeeling as a porcelain doll’s. They may have begun to act joyful and welcoming, but the crowd still forcefully pulled the two along, away from their metal safe haven.
Set down upon the field’s patchy grass, she and Joan were still hyperventilating as they looked towards each other in wary relief. Now they had to slip back into their other selves, the ones they wore out in the streets when subjected to the public’s watchful gaze. Survival instinct kicking into overdrive, initiating the camouflage that kept intrusive eyes from wondering. Could they see right through you? Catch the longing in your eyes, the twitch of restrained affection in your fingers? You better hope they couldn’t. You better hope you can slink away from the crowds, into the shadowy alleyways, behind the shut green doors, as fast as possible.
In the end, of course they saw through the veil. Of course it didn’t matter how pragmatic and careful they were. Of course it didn’t. None of it mattered. Those words kept painfully reverberating in her brain. She was ashamed, even when she knew she shouldn’t be. It wasn’t their fault that these people were looking far more closely than any street passerby would be. Of course it wasn’t. These people were looking for any excuse. They were itching for violence, clamoring for that mode of expression just as desperately as she did for Joan’s love. All it took was a moment of recognition as “That bitch from the baseball team,” to be admissible in this court of public opinion. The words were a rough smack to the face, like the glob of concrete tossed at her by other brutish men on another summer day. Probably was the same damn kid. “Throw these dykes on the fire with the rest of the kindling.”
Dragged towards the bonfire, overwhelmed in body and soul by her surroundings, Amie transported herself by shutting it out, fully disassociating from her present state and transferring herself out of her own body. When she regained her internal, astral sight, when she fluttered her eyelids back open, there was only darkness around her, and a very different sort of feral call in the air. She could sense the innumerable pained souls wailing faintly in the distance, but there was nothing she could do for them. At last it appeared before her, the one she had been waiting for. A servant of the fallen one. It had been so long since they last saw each other, another summer night stuck far away in some faded memory. The one who kept her alive when nothing else could, and now she was once again in time of need.
“I don’t care about what happens to me, but you absolutely have to protect her. I know what I have to give to make that happen. Let’s not drag this out any further.”
A bitter chuckle. “No journeys down memory lane, no exchanges of pleasantries? Straight to business? Fair enough, given the. . .urgency of the situation, but even if we both know what’s to be done, the words have to be spoken aloud to seal the contract.”
In unison they performed the ritual, locking their fingers and harmonizing their voices, and then their forms, as one, interlocking their very essences, ascending beyond their limited individual, spiritual forms and becoming something far beyond the darkest reaches of humanity at its apocalyptic heights. Purer, darker, stranger. It felt good to be one again, to even briefly be on this wholly separate plane of existence. Both were equally terrified of how exhilarating it felt to be this entity.
The body belonging to Amie shuddered back to life, her captors wary and her companion petrified. It was the vessel and puppet of the new creation. Now she and the demon alike were trapped inside, looking away from the windows of her eyes so as to not have to witness what their creation would do. It took so long for it to be over. She would catch glimpses out of the corner of her eye, crimson flashes, dismembered beings, flickering flames, all strewn across the summer air and all that she strained not to focus on. Monstrous words spilling out from the mouth that she no longer commanded, she tried in vain to block out, to will out of existence.
It was in these drawn out moments that she recognized the position of privilege she was in that Joan altogether lacked. All she wanted to do was protect her, but Joan had no grasp or register of what she was experiencing, and no capability of shielding herself from every single action that played out before her. However powerless Amie felt by such a sensation as being imprisoned in one’s own body, Joan’s vulnerability and lack of control was tenfold. The creature tore apart those that meant her harm, commanded them to hurt themselves with its intoxicating, hissing words, but it was unknowable and unpredictable. It could still turn to her at any moment, foul glee shimmering in its eyes. And above all. . .she was witnessing what appeared to be her love, her friend, committing these acts, uttering those foul things. No matter how wrong, how utterly alien they certainly felt, that was what she was seeing: Amie’s hands turned into weapons, her love turned into hate, and the predators around them both turned into her prey.
Eventually, its dark bidding was done, and Amie’s essence fully returned to her own body, filling it to burst with renewed, exhausted energy as she gratefully stretched her every limb, and bid farewell to the darkness inside as it dissipated into the aether. Her flesh was soaked in the blood of dozens, but at least it was hers again. At least it was safe, if not. . .untouched. At least Joan was safe. She turned towards her companion, and her worst fears were realized. They could together wander out of those woods in silence, but they were now forever separate. Her love could not bear to look at her, and she never could the same way after that night.
* * *
Amie sat in solitude, in an empty apartment, again looking out over the balcony to the Houston vista. It was nice enough here, but it could never be California, nor could it be home. She had tried to call Joan a few days ago, with still no response. Forty years, and she was still frightened of what she saw that night. Amie could hardly blame her, but it still stung, and the pain only became a dull ache without ever vanishing as she waited for the contract to be completed. She shifted in her seat, and was taken aback by the sight of the demon, her demon, in the kitchen pouring itself some milk.
“. . .Oh, sorry, Amie.”
It wasn’t easy to shock her by now, and once the initial moment was over, resignation washed back over her form. She supposed it was time. “Nothing to apologize for.” She stood up, groaning as she stretched out her spine. “The time is upon us at last?”
The demon appeared almost nervous. A strange expression for her to recognize upon such a beastly countenance, but considering again, the truth was that its sight was a familiarity to her, practically an old friend. Why couldn’t it be unsure? Finally, after all these years, she could at last feel contentment again, in knowing that it was coming to an end. She owed it her soul. With it, sorrow and regret could vanish forever, the uncertainties and the apocalyptic fears of the mortal plane could at last slip away towards becoming a distant memory. She would feel at home in its realm. When so rejected and feared anyway, why not embrace what we’re told we are? Impure, sinful, seductive, resilient, passionate, rebellious. We are Devils, for better and ill.
She took the arm of her companion, one new, yet also terribly old, and together they left her living hell for one more suitable.
Have a good night, everybody!