June 9th, 2012

A Delicate Interrogation

Most of the houses in Love & War had barns on their property: large, mostly vacant buildings with crumbling walls that smelled faintly of hay and mold. Gracey’s house was no different, and as Marco plodded slowly toward the barn, he found himself wishing for a way to avoid going inside.

The Flores house was one of the few that didn’t have a barn, and Marco had always been grateful for that. Though he had sometimes considered the benefits of a barn — it would make a wonderful hideout, a great haunted house for Halloween, and the perfect place for him to run around using his imagination without anyone asking him what he was doing in that tone that implied they thought he might be soft in the head — all things considered, he decided that his life was better off without one. Barns, after all, were home to many suspect creatures, such as bats, mice, spiders, and drunks who couldn’t find their way home from La Boca Loca after a few too many shots of Sauza. Not to mention that barns, with their creepy shadows and penchant for collecting long-forgotten things, were just downright creepy.

Standing in front of Gracey’s barn now, Marco clenched and unclenched his fists, biting down on the inside of his cheek until he tasted blood. He turned his head and spat pinkly to one side, then heaved a heavy sigh. He didn’t have to go in there. He didn’t even know for sure that the Prime of Darkness was in the barn. And if he went in there for nothing and stumbled into a spider web—

The thought creeped him out so much that he began to shiver, and before he realized he was doing it, Marco was backing away from the barn, every inch of skin pimpling over as he imagined the feel of invisible spider webs tickling his skin. He was about to turn and run home when he saw his brother and Cheehawk on the other side of the street, heads pressed together in conspiratorial whispers. He halted in his tracks, breathed deep as his nostrils flared. He couldn’t turn coward now. Not this time. He wouldn’t going to let his brother get the best of him. He needed to speak to the Prime of Darkness, and it had to be tonight. It had to be now. And if that meant braving the belly of Gracey’s barn, well, he would draw down courage from Heaven if he had to. He imagined a lightning bolt from a darkened sky rending the darkness apart and striking Marco with a blinding blast of divine intervention, delivering courage directly into his veins.

He could just picture it. He’d seen something similar in his comic books so many times.

Emboldened by the idea of being a superhero in his very own graphic novel, Marco spun on his heel and marched toward the barn, forcing his feet to move one in front of the other. I wish I had a cape, Marco thought idly. This would be so much better if I had a cape. When he reached the barn door, he gulped, steadied himself, and stuck one arm out, gingerly pressing the flat of his hand against the barn door. It squealed as it swung inward, but the squeak of rusty metal was the only he heard. No scuffling of mice. No moans of half-passed out men. He tried to peer inside, but the barn was illuminated only from the outside by the golden rose light of a setting sun. He couldn’t see a thing.

Tentatively, knees having all but gone to liquid, Marco stepped into the gray, and found that entering the barn was not unlike closing his eyes. The darkness swelled around him, pressing in on him, popping out beads of sweat along his brow. He hadn’t been this scared in a long time.

It’s just a barn! he scolded himself. Just a place to keep tools and cow food. It’s not haunted for cryin’ out loud.

But even as he chided himself with these words of wisdom, Marco found himself fingering the Santa Lucia necklace at his neck, praying for his saint eyes to see what his corporeal eyes could not.

Open your ojos de los santos, Marco. The words of his great-grandmother, La Condesa, echoed through him, reverberating in the hollows of his stomach and chest. Learn to see with your saint eyes.

As his lips mouthed the words, his eyes adjusted to the dark, and Marco found that he could make out the dim outlines of an old lawn mower (useless in Love & War, which produced nothing in the way of grass), a wooden ladder, several half empty cans of paint, and a dozen cardboard boxes. Breathing a sigh of relief, Marco surmised that Gracey’s barn wasn’t all that different from his own garage.

Well, with one small difference.

“Prime of Darkness?” Marco called.

He waited in stillness, ears straining for a response. When he got none, he stepped further in, small steps muffled by loose dirt underfoot. “Prime of Darkness? Are you in here? It’s me, Marco from across the street. Gracey’s friend. Prime of Darkness?”

Again, there was no answer, but Marco could have sworn that the air around him began to grow somewhat cooler, and though it seemed crazy, he thought he saw the shadows shifting around him. He blinked. His eyes must be playing tricks on him.

Marco listened, but heard nothing. At last, he took a deep breath and called, “La Venganza de la Noche?”

He knew he was taking a risk. For though the demon that Marco suspected might be hiding in Gracey’s barn looked identical to the superhero La Venganza de la Noche from his favorite comic series, the demon had denied that they were the same person. And despite the fact that they looked so similar, Marco had no reason to doubt the demon. Still, the physical similarities were so strong, and Marco at eight years old knew so little if disappointment, that holding on to a wild hope, no matter how far-fetched, came quite naturally.

Something stirred. Marco could hear a faint bustling, like boxes sliding along the ground. He drew in a sharp breath and held it, hardly daring to exhale. He watched fervently, eyes searching the darkness for the movement he heard but hadn’t yet seen. Then, he saw it. Just beyond the rusted-out tractor, the Prime of Darkness stood, red cape wrapped around his body like a bullfighter, black eyes glinting in the fading sunlight.

“What are you doing here?”

His earlier fear of the barn quite forgotten, Marco smiled brightly, heart thumping happily in his chest as he found his confidence and skipped toward the demon. “Thank God I found you,” Marco said, shaking his head. “I didn’t know where else to look. I gotta talk to you.”

The demon glowered. “Can it wait?”

Marco shrugged. “I don’t know. Why? Are you busy or something?”

The demon licked his lips. “I am presently engaged in another activity.”

This piqued Marco’s curiosity. “Oh yeah? What is it?” He was already walking over to where the demon stood, but when he caught the expression on the demon’s face, the boy drew up short, frowned. “Yuck, you’re not looking at naked chicks or something, are you?”

The demon made a disgusted expression that matched Marco’s own. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he said. “I consume human souls. Breasts don’t interest me.”

“Me neither.” Marco shuddered. “Uh, hold on.” He opened his mouth slowly as the demon’s words fully registered. Marco swallowed hard and cleared his throat. “Prime of Darkness? Did you say…Do you really eat souls?”

The demon made a dry, cracking sound in his throat. “I said consume, not eat.”

Marco crossed his arms protectively over his chest, mouth pulled down in despondency. “Why would you do that, Prime of Darkness?”

The demon shrugged. “Why do you breathe, Marco?”

The little boy blinked. “If I don’t, I’ll die.”

To this, the demon only nodded, eyes never leaving Marco’s.

“But people need their souls,” Marco explained.

“Do they? What is your soul good for, Marco?”

The boy had to think a moment about this.  He knew he had a soul — every kid who’d ever been to Sunday school knew that. And he knew he prayed for his soul every night. Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. And if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Now, Marco, for all that he was Catholic, didn’t spend very much time talking to God. The only time he did so was during prayer, and he only prayed before going to sleep and over meals when his family had company. So Marco estimated that at least half of all his conversations with God were about his soul. So even if he wasn’t entirely sure what it was, he figured it must be pretty important if it warranted so much bargaining and worrying over.

“Well, you can use souls for all kinds of stuff,” he began slowly. “Like, you can sell it to the Devil in exchange for something cool like being a rockstar or having a house on he moon. In Skyrim — that’s a video game— you can use a soul to recharge a magical item after it runs out of magic. And black people can put souls in their food like jalapeños and it makes it taste better.”

As Marco listed off the various uses for souls on his fingers, the demon managed a small smile that put Marco at ease. “What do you want, Marco?”

The boy had been so engrossed in their conversation that he’d forgotten the reason he’d breached the barn entryway in the first place. “Oh! I need to know something. Don’t tell me I’m stupid,” Marco explained, holding his hands in front of him as though to ward off an attack, “but I have to ask because my brother and my friend Cheehawk made me come ask you, because I think you might be an expert.”

The Prime of Darkness made no attempt to respond to this. He merely continued to peer at Marco with a vague smile and eyes full of genuine curiosity.

Sensing that he might lose his nerve if he didn’t spit out his question, Marco took a deep breath and asked, words nearly tripping over each other, “Is there such things as zombies?”

It was perhaps only seconds before the demon responded, but in those eternal seconds, Marco imagined an entire host of answers, none of which he could have imagined before the words escaped his lips. Before he had asked the question, Marco was sure of the answer, certain that brain eating, eternally rotting monsters that roamed the earth searching for flesh to gnaw from bone were fancies of movies, comic books he wasn’t allowed to read, and the imaginations of the demented. But as soon as the words were spoken, something shifted inside Marco, and the things he was certain of became, in that moment, nebulous. The question took form in his mind, and for the first time that evening, he could see in his mind’s eye a reality that easily encompassed zombies and other creatures beyond his own reckoning. The shift in certainty and the dawning realization that everything he knew could be shattered with one word from the Prime of Darkness caused a riot in his belly. His insides squeezed, the black taste of bile rising in his throat. The boy closed his eyes against the swelling nausea and willed himself not to become sick. He steeled himself for the word, readied himself for it. Tell me now, Marco thought. I can take it.

But the word the demon uttered was not a word Marco could have prepared for.


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3 Responses to “A Delicate Interrogation”

  1. It’s going to be ending of mine day, however before finish I am reading this wonderful piece of writing to increase my knowledge.

  2. Le soir une salade avec du jambon Je mange très léger le soir car
    je rentre tard du boulot en vélo et je n’ai pas très faim.

  3. C’est pourquoi il est indispensable de surveiller particulièrement son alimentation :
    on arrive ainsi à juguler un certain nombre de
    symptômes, dont le cholestérol et la prise de poids.

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