So I saw Infinity War today…

Here’s my spoiler filled review (of sorts) of Infinity War for those that care.

The Facts:

First off, let me say I went in with zero expectations. Wait… that’s not true. I went with expectations so low that it circled back to a zero medium. With that barest of bare minimums, I actually enjoyed it. Because listen… I was not looking forward to the mess that was gonna happen on my screen ever since they announced this film years ago. 60 characters? In one movie??? No thank you. But in the end I think they balanced them as well as they could have. Though, if you’re going for particular faves, especially from the new movies (mainly Spider-Man and Black Panther, they won’t get enough screen time to sate you.)

But enough about that! Let’s move in to…

The Good:

1) Thor got a lot of shine in this film. More than he’s ever had in any of the previous Avengers. And thank all the gods for that. Thor not getting the attention and love he deserves especially after the superb Ragnark would have been nothing short of a tragedy. Chris Hemsworth acting was spot on as well. He beautifully portrayed the pain of realizing that he is now the last Asgardian and he can’t even mourn that loss because now they have to stop Thanos, aka the biggest Big Bad that ten years of film have been leading up to. Thor/Hemsworth fans will leave the theater satisfied in his characterization. The humor from Ragnarok remains, though he now has an eye again (it’s a mechanical/techo(?) eye that Rocket stole). In the hands of skillful writers (or writers who at least give a fuck about him), Thor is a solid and formidable character.

2) Steve Rogers’ beard. Listen, if you know anything about me, then you know that I love Steve Rogers with all that is within me and putting a beard on all that fine is like my birthday and Christmas wrapped in one. I mean look at this shit:

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Look at it! That’s 100% authentic, Boston-made beard right there!

Now look at this:

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My dear friend, Jasmine, told me that I had to witness that gorgeousness on the big screen and, boy, she was right. These pictures, the videos, the gifs do not do it justice. When Steve’s 6’1, fine, thick ass came on the screen, I cheered. (Which, incidentally, was also the first time that I showed any real emotion in regards to this film, but I’ll get to that when we get to the bad.) Steve didn’t really get too much to do in this film but I’m fine with that. Especially since I think he’ll get more to do in the next film. If they don’t kill him off early on. Speaking of which, STEVE LIVES! I’m so happy because that was the one thing I wasn’t looking forward to. But you know who doesn’t live?

3) Loki dies. Yes this is a plus. Loki, was once herald as the greatest villain in the MCU (with good reason). But lately we’ve gotten other villains who have stolen that spotlight from him, both on the big and small screen. You have Erik Killmonger from Black Panther; Cottonmouth, Mariah, & Shades from Luke Cage; Killgrave from Jessica Jones; Hydra & Ava from Agents of Shield; and Hydra & The Winter Soldier in Civil War. Hell even in a shared franchise, Loki is bested by his sister Hela. Although he was the impetuous that initially brought the Avengers together, Loki doesn’t have to bear the load anymore.

Great villainy aside, Loki’s storyline has also come to a close. Unlike some other characters who “died” (yes, that’s in quotations, I’ll explain later) in the film. Villains rarely ever get a chance to show multi-dimensionality over multiple films. Loki was allowed that opportunity and it’s a solid ending for him. Killed by the man who sent him to destroy New York in the first Avengers. It’s poetic. It’s the ending Loki deserved.

4) The humor. It gave us a bit of breath in a very dark movie. Everyone got a chance to shine. Which was nice. Because usually it’s just Tony tossing out way too many quips and the other characters reacting to it. Which would’ve been fine if it wasn’t already established that they, too, had their own sense of humor.

5) The romantic subplots weren’t cumbersome or distracting. I’ll admit, I was really expecting to hate everything about Wanda/Vision. Wait, let me back up and say that I don’t care about either character standalone so I could care even less about them together. But I feared it would be, well, like how every other romantic relationship in the films have been since the beginning*. Annoying and, frankly, a bit unnecessary. (I’m thinking mainly of the awfulness of Thor/Jane. God, who allowed that to happen??? Don’t y’all screen test?!)

Also, BruceNat was acknowledged but not really delved into and, boy, I cannot tell you how much I appreciate that. It makes me want to boost the final score up an entire letter grade.

*Sans Black Panther which gave us a romantic pairing with chemistry that didn’t feel shoehorned. You know what? I’m going to relegate this statement to the main three films: Iron Man, Thor, Captain America. Because those franchises are where the problem lies the heaviest.

6) The action scenes wasn’t as overbearing as I feared. Y’all know how bad action films have gotten lately, right? They’re all explosions and destruction but no plot. Even in films that do have some semblance of a plot, if the action scenes are overdone they can leave you exhausted. (I’m looking at you Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman and Age of Ultron and Civil War.)

The Bad:

1) The film started right where Ragnarok left off, Thanos has fucked up Thor’s ship and killed nearly everyone aboard except Thor, Loki, and Heimdall. Which begged the question: WHERE THE HELL WAS VALKYRIE??? With a movie filled with characters, y’all mean to tell me y’all couldn’t find five minutes to give her? I know she’s not dead or else they would’ve shown it. So what gives???

2) Also Heimdall’s death was bullshit. That gets its own line because that was the first death in the film that I felt with my whole heart.

3) Speaking of Heimdall, since when can he summon the BiFrost? I’ve seen all three Thors and nowhere did it ever show him being able to do that. I didn’t mind it but I’m kind of over these films adding random powers out of nowhere. At this rate, in the next film Steve Rogers is going to be able to summon the dead with his mind. Mark my words.

4) Speaking of deaths, there weren’t really a lot of them. And I know that’s audacious to say, but, I’m sorry, I just cannot take these “deaths” at face value. Aside from Loki, Heimdall, Vision, Banner, and Gamora, the others feel like a gambit. A ploy. Something to shock the audience. But I just felt nothing. Short of agitation.

Sure Heimdall and sweet Peter’s death (that child begging to live hurt my heart; Tom Holland is a gift) got me emotional, but other than that? Nothing. And I love majority of these characters and still, nothing truly moved me. I didn’t leave the theater weeping or in anguish. And I’ll get into depth about that in the ugly.

5) The humor. I know. I know. I already made it a good, but please hear me out. While the humor was necessary for a movie of this caliber it also often felt out of place. Some scenes lingered on too long just for a joke. I kept thinking, “Oh my god, can we move on now please?” At one point, I was sure they were just padding it out for time.

6) Way too many people were able to put their hands on Thanos’ crew. I haven’t read the comics but I heard that Thanos rolls with some pretty tough people, so scenes like Steve Rogers being able to catch Proxima’s staff (something I read that no human was supposed to be able to do) was ridiculous. I love you, Steve, but WHAT?! I enjoyed the little smirk Thanos gave Steve when he wrestle with his Infinity Gauntlet-covered hand but again, BITCH WHAT?! I get Thor being able to go toe-to-toe with them seeing as gods can only kill gods but everyone else?

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Another reason why this irks me will be covered in the ugly section below.

7) Strange giving up the Time Stone was bad writing. It made no sense other than to give Thanos a chance to get five stones before he went after Vision. Unless this leads to the one scenario out of 14 million that they win (which they most likely will because Marvel has so many movies still lined up and they don’t plan on stopping soon). But even so, it left a bad taste in my mouth. You never sacrifice billions of lives for person. Ever.

8) Thanos as a villain. Meh. Seriously. He was teased so much and for so long and now we have him and I’m indifferent. His reasons for wanting the stones could barely be called that. He wants to destroy half the universe because why now? It’s finite? Is that a reason? I mean sure, it can be. But is it a good one? No, not at all. What happened to him trying to court Death? Why couldn’t we have that one? That made more sense. Now look what you gave us!

I heard some reviewers were gushing over Marvel finally fixing its villain problem with Thanos and really? Y’all gonna spit on the graves of Erik and Hela and Cottonmouth like this? Right in front of my fucking salad????

I won’t lie, he made me a little twitchy when he got in the vicinity of my faves but that doesn’t mean he deserve to be at the top of the list.

9) They fucked up Wakanda. This is unforgivable and further proves why you can’t let white people in paradise. They come to your house, put their dirty feet on your table, and wreck all your shit. Disrespectful.

The Ugly:

And now we’re at the meat of the matter. Let’s get into it.

1) That ending was trash. Throw it away. I saw a review whose headline read (paraphrasing): “This ending is what happens when you let money write your movies.” And honestly? Tea.

Look, I knew when I went in that the final Avengers would be splint into two films but I thought they would at least give us a more solid ending than that. Half the remaining Avengers fading into dust? Then cut to black? I’m sorry Marvel but you are not the Sopranos. Or hell not even Agents of Shield. You’re not an hour long drama where vague endings are suitable because they will be answered in next week’s episode. We know that this story was going to continue but to do this ridiculous ass ploy? It’s a weak, unnecessary cash grab.

Nearly everyone in the theater walked out dissatisfied. This is what happens when you know there will be no repercussions for your actions. This movie will still make millions of dollars. It will still be a success. It will sell out theaters, and DVDs/Blu-rays/VOD, people will buy the Funkos, the toys, all the merchandise shit. They will bitch and complain and Marvel will not hear it or give a shit because they know that we’ll come back for Avengers 4.

Despite the truth of ALL of that, it still doesn’t justify half-assing an ending. It reminds me of when The Walking Dead kept the fate of the characters, namely Glenn, hanging in the balance at the end of season 6, only to kill him off at the end of the first episode of season 7. Sure it hurt, because I loved the character but I knew it was going to happen. And instead of letting the story play out to a satisfying end, they teased it for months. That’s not smart writing. That’s lazy. In the case of Infinity War, it’s lazy and arrogant.

Marvel knew what they were doing when they made that ending. They know what game they’re playing. They placed all their cards face up on the table and dared us to walk away. Knowing good and goddamn well majority of us won’t. And as true as that may be, that doesn’t mean we don’t deserve more for our loyalty and devotion. We already suffered through a decade of rehashed plots and creative dead zones (sans, like, three films). They don’t give a shit about the story they’re telling now. Everything is a never ending set-up. This film is not, say, Inception. Where a vague ending is fine because it’s a singular story told in a singular movie. Infinity War is culmination of ten very long years of various interconnecting films. The very least we deserve is a solid goddamn ending.

2) The fact that none of these deaths may be permanent.

Guardians of the Galaxy will most likely get a third movie since Marvel loves trilogies. So regardless of Gamora’s death being permanent or not, the franchise will have an opportunity to finish with Starlord, Drax, Groot and possibly Mantis. Dr. Strange, Black Panther, and Spider-Man only had one movie each so those character deaths are reversible. Bucky’s death would be uncertain if Sebastian Stan didn’t have more movies on his contract. I believe Anthony Mackie does as well. So I would say it’s a safe bet they will return as well.

Knowing all of this, the question remains: WHY? Why even kill off any characters or certain characters if their fates are already known. Because these are the games Marvel plays with the MCU.

Laying out all their planned movies in advance takes away the power of any decisions made in these films. Oh Thanos is going to destroy the universe you say? Gonna be tough to do that when you have films lined up for the next three years. Oh these characters are dead? Sure, Jan. I’ll see them in their main franchise sequel. It’s that bullshit ending all over again. It’s #CoulsonLives all over again.

This makes every death meaningless. Which means that two hours of my time has been wasted. Unless, of course, Kevin Feige was lying to us about the upcoming films. Which, if that is true, then woe unto Feige for the unholy hell that will be unleashed upon him from every black person on Earth, including me, for promising us Black Panther 2 then taking it away. It’s one thing for us, the fans, to hope a fave isn’t dead or be in denial about the death and, in turn, make fics and canons where they aren’t. It’s another for Marvel to dangle these characters in front of us, then pull them way, only to dangle them again. Like emotional cat toys. (That’s an awful analogy but please go with it.)

It would’ve worked if the original Avengers had turned to ash. If Steve or Natasha or Tony began to fade away. But when Bucky crumbled I was cautious. Then when T’Challa, Strange, and Peter died? I knew it was bullshit. Those three? Of all characters! C’mon, son! Marvel’s not even trying anymore and that’s just sad.

3) This movie made me kinda want to see Dr. Strange and… god help me… Benihana Coccyx wasn’t as ugly and alien like as he usually is. This is the worst infraction of them all.

Final Movie Score:

I don’t know. Let’s go with a C. That feels right.

Okay, Jay, but should I go see it?

Eh… That’s up to you, homie. I mean if you wanna. If you have a two and a half hours to kill then sure. Watch it. Mind you I spent $6.10 at the matinee and two of that was convenience fee from ordering with the Cinemark app. So it didn’t hurt me financially to waste my time on this. If your theaters don’t have prices like that, then you better figure it out. I know there’s a semi-decent cam out there somewhere. (Beneath the pale moonlight…) Or you can wait to rent it on VOD. But whatever choice you make, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Additional Thoughts:

One of the joys I’ve found in going to the movies is sharing audience reactions. (I’m an introvert and a loner so, yes, this is new for me.) The group excitement of Steve’s entrance. The collective shock of Heimdall & Loki’s deaths. The shared laughter at the genuine funny moments. The shared silence when the jokes ran on too long. The side comments when Tony was stabbed. The loud “WHAT?!” when Fury turned to ash. The audible disbelief of the ending eventually turning into silence when everyone left the theater in a collective state of “What the fuck did I just watch?” Aaah. I love it!

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Feminist Reads For Women’s History Month

Musings of A Romance Junkie

                                                                     Image via Google

Do you consider yourself a feminist? Is your feminism intersectional? March is Women’s History Month, and I have two books in my arsenal that I am going to make a point to read before the end of the month.

The first book had me at the title: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay.

Roxane Gay is a bad mamma jamma, and I encourage you to check her out. Bad Feminist is a collection of essays in which she speaks on past and modern-day issues that affect women in general and as a woman of color. Part musing, part call-out, this one is definitely worth consideration. Any woman who is willing to sacrifice money for principles is aight with me!

The next book on my list is a collection of historical romances. Daughters of a Nation: A Black Suffragette Romance Anthology has been in my TBR for a…

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Ratchet Research

Dust

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We cooked up something new for y’all while Black Girl Squee takes a brief holiday break. There’s a new show on the BGS feed called Ratchet Research. Author Katrina Jackson (Encore, @katrinajax) and I (@dustdaughter) host the monthly Black pop culture podcast with an historical perspective. We combine the ratchet pop culture news we all hate to love with the analytical eye for research and historical references. That’s where the name of the show comes from.

The first episode of Ratchet Research talks about The Knowles Sisters, Beyonce and Solange. We talk about the importance of their two brilliant albums, Lemonade and A Seat At The Table. And we also just stan out for these two supremely talented Black women. It’s a long episode but I think it’s a lot of fun. We sure had a lot of fun recording it!

Please send…

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Please Don’t Stop the Music: 2016 Favorites

Corner Store Press

I don’t know the person who said it, but this tweet is the best description I can think of: this year was a terrible movie with an awesome soundtrack. Or something to that effect. In a year when we lost Natalie Cole (technically 2015), David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, Glenn Fry, Sharon Jones and… Prince… we lost Prince…, it’s easy to lament the genius we lost rather than celebrate the genius we might have gained. In that spirit, I am going over some of the artists and their albums and EPs that contributed to the year 2016’s awesome soundtrack. I tried to focus on talent that might not appear on the lists of bigger publications, so albums like Rhianna’s Anti, A Tribe Called Quest’s We Got It from Here and Frank Ocean’s Blonde are all awesome but absent here. There will be some overlap, but this list is…

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It Wasn’t All Bad: Music That Got Us Through 2016

Corner Store Press

No matter how we feel about arbitrary time markers, we have to admit that this year did too much too fast. An absolute bullshit of a year determined to make us mourn every little thing we ever held near and dear to us. This isn’t to say this year didn’t offer us a few gems. It did. While some of us are still wounded by the loss of knowing we’ll never get new music from a few legends, we’re still celebrating some amazing music we got this year. Here are a few tracks and artists who made this year just a little more bearable.

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Halloween Horror Prompt #3

The list of prompts can be found here. Please join me in taking on this self-imposed, challenge if you want. I’m excited to see what anyone else comes up with.

Also I decided to keep the same characters from my first prompt. Mainly because I don’t want to keep coming up with new characters but also it’ll be a fun way to tie them all together.


Prompt: “You can’t tell me you don’t believe in ghosts after all we’ve been through.”


A Conversation:

Eriq and Greg sat in a diner in Some Town, USA. After uncountable years on the road, they all blur together eventually. Large cities like New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans were virtually indistinguishable from Podunk towns that even an extensive Google search couldn’t find. The men swore they had sat in this same dinner over a hundred times. All the waitresses were different yet the same. Same tacky uniform; same stale coffee; same half-warm, half-sincere greeting: “What can I get for you today?”

“The Special,” they would say. Every diner had them. Whether they were burgers, chicken fried steaks, over-cooked platters, they all tasted the same.

“This case,” Greg said while sipping back the weak coffee, “is unusual.”

“You say that about all of them, Greg, and they never are.”

“Granted,” he conceded. “But this one is.”

“Lemme guess. Vampires? Werewolves?” Eriq sighed heavily before adding: “Aliens.”

Greg chuckled at that one. Their last case started off typical then turned out to be a big hoax involving aliens. Rather, involving teenagers who found their website and thought it would be fun to waste the men’s time and resources. They ended up apologizing but not before Eriq put the fear of God into them. “Nah, man. A haunting.”

Eriq rolled his eyes. Not this shit again. “Bruh, how many times do I have to tell you—”

“‘There’s no such thing as ghosts.’ Yeah, I know. I heard you the first million times but you’re wrong. Ghosts are real.”

“Oh really? And you know this because you’ve seen one?”

“C’mon, Eriq! You know better than anyone that seeing is not always believing.”

“True. But in this case…”

“Oh, c’mon now! You can’t possibly tell me that you don’t believe in ghosts! Really? After all we’ve been through?”

“Ghosts are—” Eriq paused when the waitress returned to their table with two steaming plates of greasy cheeseburgers and thick cut fries. The men smiled politely at the food. They had seen this exact “special” at least twenty times.

“Here you go, hon,” the waitress said while refilling their coffees. “Can I get y’all anything else?”

“This will be fine for me thanks,” Greg said as he snatched the bottle of ketchup before Eriq could grab it.

Eriq rolled his eyes at the gesture before shaking his head “no” to the waitress. He watched her walk away, making sure she was out of earshot. The diner was sparse. Including the duo, two waitresses, and the cook in the back, Eriq counted ten people. “Ghosts,” he resumed their previous topic, “are explainable. A creaky door, a drippy faucet, a gas leak causing hallucinations.”

“Or… they’re real,” Greg countered. Eriq groaned again before popping a fry into his mouth. The food had no distinct taste or flavor. He ate it out of habit than hunger. “Alls I’m saying is, is that, while there are some stories that are fake, not all of them are.”

“I’ve never heard of a real one. All these shows… they have everyone with an iPhone thinking they can ‘catch’ ghosts and whatnot. But really, they’re just conning the people. People who need actual problems solved; not to have their fears solidified.”

“Ooh… ‘Solidified,’” Greg joked. He took a large bite of his sloppy burger.

“It’s my word of the day, pal. Maybe you should get one.” Greg made a face and shimmied his shoulders in a mocking manner. Eriq laughed at it then looked out the window. The sun was setting, casting a golden-purplish hue over the land. Another day ending.

Strange, he thought, that he couldn’t remember it beginning. Just like he couldn’t remember the outside weather. Was is Spring or Summer? Was it scorching hot or warm and windy? Matter of fact, what day was today? Something in him wanted to say Friday but was that the actual date or just longing for the weekend? What month was it? What year?

He pushed all these thoughts away. Another effect of the job. People and places didn’t just merge together, dates and seasons did too.

“I’m just saying,” Greg added after swallowing his bite, “there are more to ghosts than that. They’re much more complicated than creaking floors and whispering voices.”

“Oh really?”

Greg nodded his head and wiped his mouth. “Yeah. See, intelligent hauntings are so common now. Everyone can fake them, like you said. If you got a camera, basic understanding of video editing, and a YouTube account you can fool a million people with one video. But the residual ones are killer.”

“Residual?”

“Yeah. Think of them like…” he clicked his tongue as he pondered a proper simile. “Like a video set on repeat.”

“Okay?” Eriq raised a brow.

“No, listen! You know how you go to one of them electronic stores? The ones that sell computers and shit?” Eriq nodded. “And how in the TV section there’s some film playing on them?” Eriq nodded again. “Well it’s like that. See… the store is us, the living. The film on the TV is the residual haunting. It’s playing regardless of us. It doesn’t care if we’re watching, it has no idea that we’re there, it just plays out like it’s supposed to. Get it?”

Eriq shrugged. “A little. So,” he licked his lips and leaned forward, “you’re saying that residual ghosts can’t be faked because they just… repeat themselves?”

“Something like that, yeah. See, they relieve a moment—either traumatic or otherwise—over and over. You can speak to them all you want but they’re not really there. They’re stuck in that moment. You know how the TVs at those stores never have remotes? You can play with the buttons but the channels won’t ever change? Nothing you do will affect them. Residual.”

Eriq pondered his partner’s words; trying to soak them in. “Okay. Okay. I think I got you. But what does this have to do with this case you were telling me about?”

“Well the client—”

Possible client,” Eriq corrected.

Greg shrugged it off and continued: “The client says that the haunting happens every night at the same hour for the same length of time. She claims that she tried to make contact with it, to ‘see what it wants,’ but got nothing. Basically, she’s terrified. If we can go over there and prove that it’s residual and, therefore, nothing to worry about, we can put her mind at ease.”

“And how much does this ‘peace of mind’ cost?”

Greg shook his head and chuckled. “Always about money with you, huh?”

“It’s the only way to pay the bills, my friend.”

Greg agreed with a nod. “I told her the usual starting fee.”

“Good.”

“And… I told her we’ll be there some time tonight.”

“Not good! Dude…”

“You didn’t hear her! She was desperate.”

“So are half the quacks who contact us! You can’t just agree to shit without checking in with me first. Goddammit, we still haven’t gotten paid for the case out in McCormick!”

“Lower your voice,” Greg admonished under his breath. They looked around the diner to see if anyone had heard them. None of the other patrons seemed to be concerned with them at all. The men continued: “Listen, I took it because one, some things are more important than money…”

“Oh god…” Eriq scoffed.

“…and two, it’s only an hour away. We can check it out and if it’s nothing, no harm; no foul. We were going that way out anyway. But if it’s legit… then we owe it to her to help. Remember why we started this business, man.”

“Yeah. Okay, okay. But I tell you right now if it’s like that alien shit again, I’m leaving your ass in St. Noshitwhere, got it?”

Greg chuckled. “Got it.”

An Accident:

The duo paid for their meal and headed outside. The sky was illuminated only by the crescent moon peaking behind a thick fog. They entered their pickup and headed toward the town’s exit. Some country tune played out of the static-y radio. Every so often it would overlap with a commercial from another station. They never tuned it; the dial sat permanently on 98.6FM. It was easier than having to adjust it every time they entered a new town. The song continued to play while another commercial overlapped the chorus.

Although the static annoyed him, Eriq didn’t bother to turn the radio off. He knew Greg liked the noise. He was one of those types. The kind that would be driven insane if the air wasn’t constantly permeated with some sort of sound. If there were a lull in a conversation, for example, even if he had nothing to say, Greg would hum just to fill that silence with something.

Normally, that type of behavior would drive Eriq up the wall, but when you love someone you take them flaws and all, right? Besides, that was one of the man’s less egregious ticks. The one that irked Eriq the most, was his naïveté. Someone could tell him rain fell upwards and he’d run to the window to look. In some ways, Eriq admired his innocence but usually it worked against them. Like now. With them driving through a town with one cross light and long stretches of unlit dark roads. Just to help a woman that might have a paranormal issue. He shook his head at the very thought. There were a lot of things that Eriq could believe (hell his profession counted on them); but in the ten years that he had been a supernatural hunter there are three entities that he’d never accept: ghosts, aliens, and Bigfoot. (And he wasn’t entirely sure on the latter.)

The radio was now playing two overlapping songs: another country hit and some pop tune. Eriq’s irritation grew. “Greg, please put in a CD or something.”

“I can’t. The player’s still broken, remember?” Eriq mentally kicked himself for putting off on repairing it.

“Fine. Plug in your cell. The AUX should be in the back.”

Greg dug through the backseat for the cord. Once he found it, he plugged it into his phone. “Shit,” he lamented. “My cell’s dead.”

“Just plug it up to mine.”

“Why?” Greg asked with a laugh. “You never have music on it. Honestly, what is the point of having an iPhone…” His voice trailed off as he returned to the back of the vehicle. He rifled through their duffle bags but found nothing. He turned on the overhead light to aid in his search.

Eriq winched at the sudden bright light filling the cabin. “Shit, turn that off! I can’t see.”

“You’re the one who wanted to listen to something else.”

“Well, I change my mind. Shut it off.” Greg readjusted in his seat and turned off the light. “Thank you. That’s b—oh shit!”

It was a deer. Eriq swerved to avoid it but overcorrected and ran the truck off the road. It smashed into a tree but miraculously neither man was seriously injured. They groaned at the pain in their necks and backs. “Shit! Fuck!” Greg mumbled as he freed himself from his seatbelt. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m good,” Eriq replied. “I think our truck’s dead, though.”

“Better it than us,” Greg stated with a groan. Eriq laughed lightly in agreement before sucking in a hiss of breath at the pain. “You got your phone on you?”

Eriq patted the pockets of his jeans in search of his mobile. He pulled it out then swore, “Shit.” He showed the damaged phone to his partner.

“Damn. We’re not too far from the diner. If you have the energy, we could walk back and get some help.”

“Well, it’s either that, or wait here in hopes of someone to come along,” Eriq lamented as he popped open his door. “Let’s go.”

The Aftermath:

They arrived to the diner and returned to their original booth. They were greeted by the same waitress from before. “How do y’all like your coffee, hon?”

“Black, no sugar,” Eriq replied.

“And for you, hon?” she asked Greg.

“He’ll have the same,” Eriq answered for him.

“Be back in two shakes.”

As Eriq watched her leave, an odd feeling of déjà vu creeped over him. “Do you ever have that feeling like we’ve done this before?”

“You mean sit in a diner and be offered the nasty coffee?” Greg asked. “Yeah. We’ve done that for over a decade now.”

“No, no. I mean…” Eriq tried to find the right words but were a lost for them. “Nevermind. It just… it feels like I’m forgetting something.”

“Your phone?”

“No.” He patted his jeans and pulled out the near-pristine cell. “I have that.”

“Left the keys in the ignition?”

Eriq pulled out the keys and set them on the table. “Got them as well.”

“Huh. I’m sure it’ll come to you. Give it some time.”

“Yeah. I guess you’re right.” The waitress returned and filled their cups with the watered down coffee. She asked for their orders; again they went with The Special.

“So about this case,” Greg said as he took a sip of the disgusting liquid. “It’s… unusual.”

“Oh god, it’s not the aliens again. Because I swear to Christ—”

“No! It’s not that. This one is a haunting.”

“Even worse. You know there’s no such thing as ghosts!”

“You’ve been saying that forever and I refuse to believe you.”

Eriq looked out the window. The sun was beginning to set. The day felt odd. It felt like a Friday. But not any Friday; the same one set on repeat for months, maybe years. This day—this particular one, in this specific place—felt old. Half-remembered like a dream. He couldn’t recall waking up or getting dressed. He couldn’t even remember walking into the place. How did they get here?

“Ghosts,” Greg’s voice pulled him from his thoughts, “are more than what people think. See those shows only show one kind—intelligent. They know you’re there and interact with you and shit. That shit’s easy to fake.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Eriq added, resuming a conversation he didn’t realize he was in the middle of. “With the proper tools and editing, anything can be haunted.”

“Exactly!”

“Which is why ghosts aren’t real!”

“Oh, c’mon, now. What about—”

“Residual,” Eriq finished. How did he know that? Admittedly he was ignorant on the varieties of ghosts. So how did he know?

Greg took a large greedy bite of his cheeseburger. When did their food arrive? The waitress must’ve brought it out but when? And who ate most of his fries? Those greasy, tasteless fries that he had a thousand times over. Just like he had been in this place, on this day, at this time, in this booth numerous times. Except not.

“…it’s like a movie playing on a TV in the background, you see,” Greg continued.

“Residual hauntings?”

“Yes. See, they don’t even know they’re dead. You could be standing right next to them but nothing you say or do will affect them.”

“They repeat themselves.”

“Like scenes from a movie.”

“We have to help her.”

“Yes.”

“What’s the cost for ‘peace of mind?’”

“Always about the money,” Greg said with a chuckle and a shake of his head.

“How else are we supposed to pay the bills?”

“If it’s nothing, no harm; no foul. We were heading out anyway. But if it’s legit…”

“We have to help,” Eriq finished. “We owe it to her to help.”

“Right. That’s why we started this business, yeah?”

They were in the truck now. Eriq didn’t remember leaving the diner or climbing inside the cab. “I can’t see. Turn off the light!”

A screech of tires followed by a loud crash. “You okay?” Greg asked between groans.

“Yeah. I think the truck’s dead, though.”

“The diner’s not far. We can get help there.”

“What can I get for you today?” the waitress asked. That same tacky uniform; the same ten people. Always.

“The Special,” Eriq replied. He looked down at the table. His plate sat before him a few fries already missing.

“…residual…” Greg said, continuing a thought in a conversation that Eriq knew too well, even though they’ve never had it.

“And that’s?”

“Think about a scene from a movie being played on loop. No matter how you try, you can’t change it. It just plays out like it’s supposed too. Forever.”

Eriq stared out the window. Some Friday, early evening, golden purple fading into blue black. Always. He shook his head then popped another flavorless fry into his mouth. “Poor bastards.”

 

 

 

Halloween Horror Prompt #2

The list of prompts can be found here. Please join me in taking on this self-imposed, challenge if you want. I’m excited to see what anyone else comes up with.

Also I decided to keep the same characters from my first prompt. Mainly because I don’t want to keep coming up with new characters but also it’ll be a fun way to tie them all together.


Prompt: “What’s behind you in these pictures…?”


Dana wiped the sweat from her brow as she carefully loaded a heavy box marked “dishes” onto the back of Eriq’s truck. Her friend Michelle just signed on a bigger home and she, Eriq, and Greg agreed to help her move. She had been packing and lugging boxes from the house and garage all morning. The constant bending and lifting was starting to get to her. Dana paused to crack her back. “Ew,” Eriq said as he placed the box in his hands down. “That sounded awful.”

“Yeah but it feels amazing.”

“It won’t later on. Don’t worry about carrying any more boxes out, okay? Greg and I will get the rest. You just go help Michelle finish packing.”

She smiled at his concern. “Thanks, man.” She rubbed her lower back with her thumbs. “I and my back thank you.”

Dana climbed out of the truck and headed inside. She ran into Greg who was wrapping more dishes. “Double wrap the ones in the cabinet,” she pointed to the large China cabinet standing in the corner of the dining room. “They’re a family heirloom. Irreplaceable. ‘Chelle will be crushed if anything happened to them.”

“Got it,” he replied before rising with a grunt and walking towards the cabinet.

Dana left him; trusting that he’ll take care of the valuables. She then made her way towards the back of the single story home. The muffled sound of music wafted down the hall. Upon recognizing the tune, Dana hummed along to it then rapped twice on the door before opening it. She stifled a laugh at the sight she walked in on. Michelle was dancing—more like thrashing—about the room. Dana watched her friend for a moment more before greeting, “Hey, hey, hey.”

Michelle stopped short and let out an embarrassing laugh. “Oh… Hey, D! H-how long have you been standing there?”

“Long enough to know you still ain’t got no moves.”

“Excuse me?” Michelle asked in mock offense. “Girl, I’m the next Beyoncé.”

“Maybe Beyonce Jenkins down the block but definitely not Queen Bey.”

Michelle laughed at the remark then tossed a pair of balled up socks in response. “No more mouth! Help me pack the rest of this shit up.”

“Okay, okay.” Dana pulled down a crate from the top shelf of Michelle’s closet. “Hey, look!” she exclaimed while digging through it. “Your old photo album.”

“God, when was the last time we owned literal albums? God these must be so old.” Michelle took the large book from her then cleared a spot for them on the bed. They sat and began flipping through it.

Every so often they would pause and giggle at a picture. Long faded memories began to refocus: birthday parties, sleepovers, school dances, family trips, prom. Yet as they continued on Dana noticed something strange in a number of them. She was currently studying a photo of Michelle posing and smiling in front of an old house. Michelle was about the flip the page but, Dana stopped her. “Hold on. What’s…. what’s that?”

“What’s what?”

“That,” Dana pointed to the white blur. “What’s behind you in these pictures…?”

Michelle squinted but still couldn’t make out the image. “I don’t know. Maybe a lens flare?”

“Yeah,” Dana agreed weakly. “Maybe.” They flipped the page and continued their reminiscence until Dana saw that spot again. She said nothing, however, sure that it was just another flare. Yet then it appeared again and again. Sometimes it was directly behind Michelle; others it was hanging out in the background. It changed shape as well. One was round; another looked like ribbon; one was misty like a fog hanging in the back ground; and yet another appeared to look almost human. Finally, it was too much for Dana to ignore. “‘Chelle, this is really… odd. It’s not just flares. It’s more that something on the picture. Have they always been like this?”

“Yeah. I mean… I guess so. Honestly, I’ve never seen this album before. My brother found this hidden in our grandmother’s attic when he was cleaning it out one day. I always meant to look through it but I got so busy that—”

“The attic?” Michelle nodded in reply. “Since when did your grandmother hide pictures away? As long as I’ve known you she kept all her albums out front for easy showing.”

“Yeah. I thought that was weird too.” She dismissed the thought with a shrug. “I just figured she had forgotten about it. I mean that house was a mess when she died.”

Dana continued to think it over while flipping through the book. “It just… It doesn’t make any sense. Do you remember taking any of these pics?”

“Vaguely. My parents were photographers. There were always countless pictures in the house. You know this. It was hard to keep track of them sometime. Which is why my grandmother probably stored these away. Who would miss one of a thousand albums anyway, ya know?” Michelle rose and grabbed an empty box from a stack in the corner. “Enough of that. We need to pack my cl—”

“Aren’t you concerned?”

Michelle exhaled a long dramatic sigh. “Not really.” She was over the conversation entirely. There was nothing else to say about an explainable processing error.

“But—”

“Let it go, D.”

“I can’t. There’s too many unanswered questions. Like—” Michelle cut her off with another groan. Yet Dana would not be deterred. “Like if they are simple errors then why did your parents keep them?”

“Maybe they liked the pictures? Ever think of that?”

“No. I knew your folks, remember? They usually took multiple shots before they found the perfect one. Any pic with them was a test of patience.” Michelle shot her a look of warning. Dana quickly clarified: “I didn’t mean it like that. I’m sorry. I loved your parents. I just meant that every shot had to be perfect. There’s no way they would have kept these pictures.”

“Okay, well, maybe Gramps kept them. She was a hoarder after all.”

“True but she was also sentimental, remember. Only things she locked away were broken and useless. Old sewing kits, defunct typewriters, broken mannequins. She wouldn’t care about a few spots in a photograph. She’d’ve had it on display with the others.”

“Oh god, Dana, just let this go.” Michelle tried to remain calm but her tone was showed her growing annoying.

“No.”

“Please, D. For me?”

“Not even for you, ‘Chelle. I can’t. I just can’t.”

Michelle’s patience had run out now. “Goddammit, Dana! Why the hell not? Why can’t you just let this go?”

“Because it’s too weird to just ignore, Michelle! You should be worried about what the hell ever this thing is too but you’re not. You’re too calm and, honestly, that’s even creepier. You would think you would want to find out about this more than I do!”

“I do! Alright? There! Happy now?” Michelle confessed; her eyes were red and threatened to tear. “I would love to know what this thing is because it’s been following me for as long as I can remember.”

“Wait… I thought you said you’ve never seen these pictures before.”

“I haven’t.” She looked at her feet and sniffled. Her eyes stung with unshed tears. Michelle hated to show her vulnerable side even to her best friend. “Those… those aren’t the only pictures,” her voice was barely above a whisper.

“What?”

She looked back at her friend now. “I said, ‘Those aren’t the only pictures,’” she repeated.

“H-how many more are there?”

Michelle shrugged. “I don’t know. Thousands, I guess. It’s been there so long. I remember my grandmother first mentioning it, though, when I was, like, seven or eight. She was talking to them, whispering, telling them something. She said something about ‘getting rid of it’ and my mother just… lost it.” Her eyes began to water now as the memory replayed in her mind. “She started yelling and shit; calling my grandmother crazy. I didn’t understand. I thought they were talking about me. You remember that summer I said we should run away?”

“Yeah.”

“That was it. I thought if I ran away they couldn’t get rid of me. I dunno. I was young…” She sniffled and wiped her nose with the back of her hand. She returned to her spot next to Dana on the bed. “For the next two years, whenever we would go visit, my grandmother would mention something about a ritual. She was always vague on the details but she said that it would free me. I was a kid, I didn’t know what that meant but I trusted her, you know? That was Gramps. She’d never hurt me. Or so I thought…”

Michelle’s vision drifted off. She stared into the distance as if she could see the following scene played out before her: “One day, she took my hand and told me that we were going to play a game. I was so excited! She always came up with the best games. She dressed me in this white gown. It looked and smelled old. Like it had been locked away in some cedar trunk somewhere—but I didn’t mind. Then she took me to her bathroom and told me to sit in the tub. It was filled with water. Lukewarm. I did. Then she told me, ‘Close your eyes and think of all the things you love. No matter what happens next or what you feel, focus on that love.’ I started feeling a little uneasy then but I didn’t dare question Gramps. I started thinking of everything I had ever loved up ‘til that point. Then she put her hand on the back of my neck…  and pinched my nose… and dunk me into the water.”

“Th-then…” Michelle choked on her word. Not only had the images returned but the emotions as well. “Then it got weird. She… she started saying something in some foreign language and when she did the water started to boil. I mean boil! It was so hot I swore I could feel my skin start to burn off. I tried to sit up but… she…” She inhaled deep then exhaled in hopes that it would calm her; it didn’t. Michelle could almost feel the hot water splashing against her skin as she continued, “She held me down.” Her voice cracked now. “I kicked and move but she wouldn’t let me go. I tried to scream but I only choked on the water. I… She…” Long overdue tears finally fell down the curve of her cheek.

The image played before Michelle now as if she was back there. Her grandmother shouting gibberish as Michelle’s skinny limbs fought and kicked to be free. “Things went dark. I-I-I blacked out I guess. When I came to, my father was holding me in his arms. He was screaming at Gramps. To say he was mad was an understatement. He started swearing at her, telling her that my mama was right. He said she’ll never see us again as long as she lived. And we didn’t. Not until her funeral when I was fifteen.”

The images faded away and Michelle returned to the present. She turned to see Dana sitting in stunned silence; her face stained from crying. Before Michelle could speak again, Dana wrapped her in a tight embrace. “I’m so sorry, ‘Chelle,” she cried into her friend’s shoulder. “I had no idea.”

Michelle wanted to pull away, to calm her emotions, but she enjoyed the warmth of the hug. Truthfully, she was glad to be able to finally share the traumatizing secret with someone. Who better than the person she trusted more in the world.

They held each other and cried for ten minutes straight before parting in exhaustion. They shared a small laugh while they whipped the dried tears from under their puffy eyes. “You know,” Dana opined, “in the twenty years I’ve known you, that’s the first time I’ve ever seen you cry.”

“Bullshit.”

“Real shit. Not even when you broke your arm in eighth grade. You were a tough lil’ broad.” Michelle chuckled at the comment. She rose again and resumed folding and packing away her clothes. They’ve wasted nearly twenty minutes travelling down memory lane. She didn’t have spare time to spend now. She wanted to have everything packed and moved before the week ended. By then, work would have called her attention away.

Dana followed suit and continued helping her pack. Minutes passed and the previous tension in the room seemed to ease a bit. Yet a thought continued to niggle in the back of her mind. She dropped the shirt in her hand into the box at her feet. “Did it work, though?” Dana cautiously asked. She didn’t want to re-dig into a twenty year, still-open wound but her curiosity got the better of her.

“Did what work?” Michelle replied while pulling out the drawers from her dresser.

“Gramps’ ritual?”

Michelle stopped and looked at her friend. “What?”

“I’m sorry. I don’t want to dig up old hurts for you. I know that was very traumatic but… I mean… did it at least work?”

Michelle’s eyes dropped back to the floor. She shook her head. “No. Actually I think it made it worse.”

“How do you know?”

“I can feel it now. Before… I…” She sighed. “I didn’t know it was there except in pictures. But now… it’s… You know that feeling when someone’s watching you? That nervous tingle that travels all the way up your back?” Dana nodded. “That’s it.”

“Do you feel it now?”

“No. I haven’t felt it in a couple of days. It does that sometimes. It’ll suddenly leave. Sometimes when it comes back it does things?”

“Like… The Entity kind of things?” Dana questioned in all seriousness.

“Oh, God, no! Just… at first it was little things. Moving shit. A pen here, an earring there. Small things that could easily be lost. I didn’t even know it was this thing at first. Not until larger things started going missing. I remember sitting at my computer at work, sipping on a cup of coffee. I put it down, looked away for a second, the when I reached for it, it was gone. I thought it was my coworkers playing tricks on me. I even asked around about it. No one knew anything. Even after it reappeared in the same spot ten minutes later, still piping hot. I just assumed no one was mature enough to admit they took it. Then about a week or so later, I was working from home and it happened again. My laptop would go missing constantly. I’d leave it in the living room and find it in the hall closet later on. Once I came home and my entire living room was rearranged.”

“Oh my god, ‘Chelle! Why didn’t you say or do something?”

“What and have people look at me like I was crazy? I didn’t even believe me. I doubt anyone else would.”

Dana placed a reassuring hand on Michelle’s shoulder. “I believe you. Furthermore, I think I can help you. God knows it’s only a matter of time before this thing escalates.”

Michelle looked down at her feet in shame. “It-it already has.” She lifted her shirt and showed Dana a large, discolored mark on her stomach.

“Oh my fucking god!” Dana gently touched it causing Michelle to suck in a pained breath. “What happened?”

“I don’t know. I had a nightmare one night—a really bad one. I can’t even remember it. I just know that I was running from something I couldn’t see. But I could hear and feel it. Then this strong wind knocked me down. It was so real that I shot awake. I felt this burning on my stomach and when I looked down it was there.”

“No. No, no, no. This isn’t good. ‘Chelle, you can’t live with this another day. It might kill you… or worse.”

“What can I do? I’m not attempting another ritual ever again.”

“No, nothing like that. I know someone. She’s not cheap but she’s good.”

An hour passed before Madame Zuri arrived. Michelle had scoffed at the ridiculous name and with good reason. Madame Zuri had chosen it because she thought it sounded “authentic.” In actuality, she had been born Marie Ann Hopkins in a little town in Alabama. Despite the showbiz name, she was anything but fake. She had been blessed—though some would say cursed—with the gift of second sight since she was a small child. Madame Zuri could see both the dead and those close to dying. She could call forth spirits and angels and send forth malicious entities and demons back to the deepest pit of hell. She was the one you called in cases such as these. Results always guaranteed.

Michelle, Dana, Eriq, and Greg sat in a circle as Madame Zuri blessed the house with incense. Every so often she would ask questions and Michelle would answer them as honestly as possible. Madame Zuri told her from the beginning that she had to have Michelle’s utmost trust or else the entire ceremony would be in vain. She couldn’t help if there was no belief. “This thing… it’s very nasty,” she said while fanning down the corners of the room. “It has left a trail behind. One that is very heavy. It’s a miracle that you are even still alive. Someone must’ve cast a great protection spell on you, my dear, for you to have come this far.” Michelle briefly thought about her grandmother’s ritual. Could that be what she was trying to do?

“Ooh. I feel that,” Madame Zuri said with a shiver. “Who was the bruja in your family?”

“Bruja? We… Nobody. There wasn’t one.”

Madame Zuri studied her face intently. Michelle, understandably, was put off by having the young woman’s face so close to hers. Yes, she wanted her help but—my god!—personal circles were still important! “No, my child. There was one.” Michelle stopped herself from rolling her eyes. Since this woman entered her home nearly thirty minutes ago, she had been calling Michelle her “child” nonstop. It was doubly annoying since Michelle easily had a decade on the woman. But she trusted Dana. If she said the woman was on the up and up, she had no choice but to believe her.

“Your grandmother knew of many things. Things she didn’t tell you. You were too young to understand but I suspect you knew too. This thing that has attached itself to you, she could tell it was evil. She tried to cleanse you once, yes?”

“I-I-I guess. I don’t know.”

“Oh you know. The tub? The burning?”

Michelle’s eyes widened. She shot a look to Dana. An unspoken glance that read: “Did you tell her?”

Madame Zuri laughed at the exchange. “She said nothing to me, child. Your grandmother speaks to me. She says she tried but your father stopped her. Because she could not finish and because you were taken from her constant protection, this demon grew in power. Though she weakened it some. Which is why it’s taken this long to show take hold of you.”

“I’m sorry, back up there for a minute. Did you say ‘demon’?” Eriq questioned.

“Yes. Demon,” she repeated slowly. “Did you catch it that time.”

“Yeah…” Greg said now. “Not to sound all… rational but there’s no such things as demons.”

Madame Zuri turned to him and laughed. “A skeptic. How fun.” Her tone was sarcastic. In her profession, skeptics came a dime a dozen. They would traipse into her shop to mock and belittle her but she paid them no concern. The ignorant always mock what they do not understand. She was sure, though, that she would make a believer out of him before the night’s end. Just like she had countless others.

She sat in the empty chair across from Michelle. “Let’s get started. We don’t have much time. Everyone clasp hands.” The group did as they were instructed, although with some reluctance. “Now it is very important that you listen to me. When this thing comes in, do not, under any circumstance, break this circle. Think about good things, things you love. Not just enjoy but truly, truly love: family, friends, etc. Before this night’s ended, Michelle will be free, as will you all.”

That last remark made the group collectively question her but she gave them no replies. Instead she closed her eyes and began to murmur a chant. Michelle immediate recognized it. “That’s… Those words! I think… Gramps said them to me when she…”

“They’re words of protection and cleansing, my child. Your grandmother was very strong indeed. She’s with us here now. She’ll protect you. Think on her. All of you now. Think on those good things.”

The group closed their eyes and lost themselves in deep reflection as Madame Zuri continued to chant. Everyone, that is, except Greg. He still scoffed at the entire ordeal. Ghosts, demons, physics? None of them were real. And this hack of a woman would prove that. He didn’t know what was upsetting Michelle but he did know that this woman could not help her. After the show was done and their money settled deep in Madame Zuri’s pocket, Michelle would be left to wrestle with her metaphorical demons.

The group sat quiet for a couple of minutes as Madame Zuri muttered prayers and supplications to the spirits. “The one who demands this child’s soul, let him come forth and answer for it.”

Greg rolled his eyes. More nonsense.

“Come forth and answer for it!”

He was tempted now to break the circle to end this foolishness. He briefly wondered what would happened if he did.

“Come forth, you profane thing, and answer for it!”

Greg felt a strange feeling shoot across his entire back. It felt like every inch of his skin prickled. No, it felt like when tries to stand only to realize their foot had fallen asleep. No, it wasn’t that either. It was hard to explain. All he knew was that a great fear fell over him.

“He’s here,” Madame Zuri spoke. “Do not open your eyes, children. Do not look upon it.”

For the first time that evening, Greg wanted to obey the young woman’s advice. He tried to close his eyes but couldn’t. His body felt like it wasn’t his own.

“Speak, you profane thing, tell me your name.”

“A woman asks so much of me.” Greg heard it. Loud and clear. He felt the tongue rise and fall, the mouth move. It was his voice and not. Something was speaking through him.

“Ah. I see you have found a new host. You cannot have him either.”

“I do not want him.” Greg looked at Michelle. He could see her through eyes that were not his own. She looked different. The whole room did. He could see a bright ring of light surrounding the group. A faint shadow stood behind Michelle and a group of them stood behind Madame Zuri. What were these creatures? How could he see them?

“You cannot have her.”

“She is mine!” The voice roared. Greg could feel it’s anger in the pit of his stomach. It was so strong. It felt as if it would rip right thorough him.

“She is protected.”

“A dead thing does not scare This One.”

“You know better than most that power does not die. Don’t look, my children,” she reminded the group. “Don’t stop thinking on good things. If you can, call upon the memories of the passed love ones.”

Greg tried to think about his deceased uncle and grandfather but his mind only produced vicious thoughts. He saw viscera of people. Were they his friends? We’re they those already long dead? He could almost feel the blood on his hands. The thought pleased him. Rather it pleased the thing within him.

“I call upon the ancestors brought here now.” Greg looked about the room and saw more shadows appearing as she spoke. “Come forth and protect your own. He cannot harm you.”

“You lie!” the demon roared.

“There is more power here than within you. Tell me your name, you filth, and I shall cast you down gently.”

The demon laughed loudly. It was ugly. It sounded like a thousand voices screeching at once. Greg’s body started to grow cold then colder. It was as if someone had sat on his lap and claimed his body as his own. The demon had fully taken over now. It made him stand to his feet. Madame Zuri’s grasp on his right hand tightened. Her nails sunk deep into the palm of his hand. He could both feel it and not. He jerked his left hand but Dana held on to it equally as tight. Madame Zuri began to chant.

The demon growled as she called on the ancestors and gods. Greg could see the shadows walking towards him. He wanted to run but the demon held still. He had no fear of them. Not even when they reached out to him and made him howl in pain. Greg had no idea what was going on but he was grateful for it. The more the shadows pulled at the thing inside him the weaker he could feel it become.

“Continue calling on your ancestors, children. They need your strength to fight on. Have faith in them.

The demon jerked and bent Greg’s body in a way that he never thought physically possible. The demon screamed as the shadows continued pulling him. They whispered something but Greg couldn’t quite make it out. It was one word stuck on repeat. Every time they said it the demon would bend or shout anew.

“Free us from this arcane beast!” Madame Zuri shouted to the spirits in encouragement. “Let us send him back to hell. What is your name foul demon?”

That was it! The word Greg heard. The demon would not speak it but he was weakening. Greg was more in power now. The shadows continued to whisper it urging him to say it aloud. “My… name… is…” The demon shrieked again. Having a demon’s name would give one power over it. The shadows continued to whisper. “A-A-A…” The demon continued to howl. It was stubborn. It didn’t want to leave. It’s been lying in wait for over twenty years. Why would it give up now?

But the spirits were stronger now. They would not allow him to remain. The name started to shout in Greg’s head now. “My name is…” The voice sounded more like Greg now. The demon must’ve been so weak now that he couldn’t fight both the physic and spirits. “Atarak!”

The sound the demon made at his own name was indescribable. The group, having never heard something so horribly inhuman, covered their ears. “No!” Madame Zuri shouted. “You must not break the circle! It’s not over yet!”

But it was too late. The loud demonic howl faded into nothing. The group looked around the room. Nothing had moved or changed but they all knew something supernatural had transpired. Greg, however, looked a lot worse for wear. He looked exhausted; as if he hadn’t slept in years. “What… what happened to him?” he croaked out.

“Atarak is gone.”

“You… you mean I’m free?” Michelle asked in relief.

“For now,” Madame Zuri answered honestly. “You broke the circle before I was able to cast him down. He’s in hiding. Weak and angry. I’ll make you all protection bags to keep you safe and, Michelle, I’ll have to bless your new home as well.”

“Can’t you just call him back and finish the ceremony?”

“I’m afraid it’s not that easy.” She tried to rise but fell back into the seat. “Every time I perform an exorcism, it takes a lot out of me. I must regain my strength: physical and spiritual. When it has returned, so will I. I never leave my job undone, my child.” Michelle smiled gratefully. “Now someone help me up. I must make your protection bag immediately. I doubt Atarak would have gotten far. He’ll be back and he’ll be much wiser now.”

——

Greg sat on the edge of his bed rubbing the tension in his neck away. His protection bag sat next to him. He still wasn’t entirely sure what happened tonight. Did the events really occur or was he so caught up in the moment that he imagined them? Either way he could really use a hot bath and a good night’s rest.

He opted for a shower instead. He feared he would fall asleep in the tub and drown. When it was done he grabbed a towel and headed back toward his bedroom. He barely got two feet down the hall when he felt it.

That odd sensation that crept up him back at Michelle’s place. It was then he knew that the previous events of the evening were, in fact, real. He ran towards his bedroom in search of the little brown bag Madame Zuri gave him. But it was gone. He was certain he left it on the bed. Then he remembered that it fell when he rose to shower. “I’ll pick it up later,” he had said in his exhaustion. Stupid! Madame Zuri had said to wear it around his neck at all times!

Greg fell to his knees and lifted the covers under his bed. There it was! The bag sitting within reach! He grabbed for it; his fingers flicked against the drawstring. Almost… almost…

That odd numbness fell over him again. That heaviness of having another being within him returned. He tried to move; to continue grabbing for the bag but the demon stood him to his feet. He felt it drag him to his hall closet, pull out a broom, and sweep the tiny bag from under the bed. It picked it up with the towel then tossed it into a nearby trash bin. Greg was a smoker so he always had extra lighters lying about. The demon found one sitting unused in the nightstand.

The demon curled Greg’s lips upward as he lit the bag on fire. No more protection. Not for him anyway.

Next the demon turned to the mirror. Greg could see it blending over is features like an ill-fitted mask. The demon smiled at him but didn’t speak. It didn’t have to. Greg knew his thoughts better than his own.

The demon quickly dressed itself it a pair of Greg’s sweats and a tee. It went to the kitchen and grabbed a large butcher’s knife.

Greg wanted to yell; to plead; to beg it not to do what is was about to. It wouldn’t listen, of course. It would not be commanded. Never again. It fished Greg’s keys out of the bowl on the living room table and chuckled that dark, shrieking laugh of its before leaving for Madame Zuri’s.