Content Warning: Violence and Gore
Cold wind whips around my formless body, rousing me from the void. The chains loosen and grow longer, releasing me from the suspension. My feet touch the ground, and the incorporeal me becomes corporeal. I stretch and crack my neck. Mmm, that feels good. I take a deep breath of the night air. What or who has summoned me forth? No one is around to make a deal with, so it can only mean someone’s contract has come due. I reach into my suit coat and produce my deck of very special tarot cards, my contacts and debts collected, and those outstanding.
A card protrudes from the center of the deck, and nimbly I remove it. I look at its blank white face and bloody thumbprint, and I know. Christine Bethal. Has it really been ten years? Sure enough, it has! I see now like it was yesterday. Young blonde, preppy, holding the hand of her black girlfriend. She offered it up for political powers and then how those two did kiss after the deal was made, my, my, my.
“Long time no see, Christine,” I say to no one in particular as my hounds approach.
They are big black things with sharp teeth, red eyes, and wagging tails. They keen in the back of their throats as they brush against me. “Them’s a good boys.” They’re ready to hunt. I hold the card out to them, and they sniff it with their big muzzles. The keening turns to vicious growling, but they don’t move unless I say so.
“Go, find, come back,” I order them.
Like that, they are gone like shadows in the night. Once again, I am alone on my corner. To my right stands the Lalaurie mansion. It and I have history, and I doff my hat to it. I step from my place, the invisible chains rattling in my ears with every step, reminding me of my place in the world these days. I go to find a local eatery. One does not go collecting on an empty stomach.
I amble along until I come across the Moonlight Diner. Well, this looks interesting. I enter, take a seat, and the server comes by to take my order. He is a young fella, not human at all. I can see it and sense it, but I ain’t never seen his kind before. I order eggs, bacon, hash browns, toast, and a pot of coffee. He nods and goes off as I pull out my deck. I shuffle and draw three cards. These collected souls will assist me this evening in the capturing of Christine Bethal.
They appear before me, ghostly images of who they used to be, Thomas Sandoval, Ethel Broom, and Patrick Borgman. Their skin is ashen gray, and they have big black circles under their hollowed eyes. Those eyes have adopted the thousand-yard stare from the horrors they have seen in Hell. They are mute unless I instruct them otherwise.
I hear my hounds approach. They are invisible to the naked eye, except to those they hunt and possibly those gifted with sight. They come to heel at the table, tails wagging, making whining noises. They have found her. I turn my attention to the souls who stand mutely before me.
“Go with them and start. I will be along shortly,” I instruct.
They all vanish, and the server comes back with my meal. I love breakfast. Mama always said it was the most important meal of the day. It is a sumptuous meal, truly my compliments to the chef. I pay and tip the young thing handsomely as I leave.
Outside I close my eyes, take in a deep breath of that gorgeous jasmine laced night air. When I open them, I am standing outside a gate before a grandiose looking palace. She has done well for herself, sure enough. To my astonishment, I find my hounds and assistants outside the fence, blithely staring at the house. What is the meaning of this? I seize the gate and find out for myself.
My hand is on fire. It burns as I cry out and pull my smoking mitt away. With a growl, I watch the smoke tendrils rise from my burning palm as I try to rub away the pain. The gate is blessed. No wonder they are standing out here like a bunch of dullards.
“That bitch,” I hiss.
Nothing is insurmountable, not even this. I have never missed a collection, and she will not escape me. I survey the gate and see my means of entry, a speaker box that doesn’t appear to have a camera. Can we say deus ex machina? Sure you can, of course, you can. I stroll over to the box and push the call button, a male voice answers.
“Security, this is Paul. How can I help you?”
I take a deep breath in, and when I speak, it is with Christine Bethal’s voice, “Hey Paul, it’s me. I forgot my key to the gate and went out. Silly me, right?”
“Right away, councilwoman,” Paul answers.
Councilwoman? My, she has done well for herself. I smile as the gates give a rumble and retract on their treads. I note the small guard shack as we pass and whisper to my hounds.
“Kill him,” I instruct.
They are quick as they descend upon the young guard in the shack. He lets out a cry as he is knocked over by the unseen weight of one of the hounds. His screams become gargled cries as they rip out his throat. Splatter and splashes of blood hit and adorn the windows as the hounds return to me.
We stand outside the darkened house. I can sense one person inside, and it is the one I am here to collect. There are traces of others inside, that black girlfriend she married, and children. But I don’t care about them.
“Little pig, little pig, let me come in,” I say under my breath.
I whistle, and my hounds go bounding towards the house. They mount the stairs to the porch, hit the door, and both are flung backward. They lay on their backs whimpering. The home is blessed. Of course it fucking is.
Well, there is only one thing to do. I need to get her attention. I send my assistants forth, and they shamble to the house, proceeding to smack into the invisible force that is keeping us out. The power of the assault becomes so great that the window of the first floor rattle. That ought to do the trick, and sure enough, it does. I sense stirring inside, and Christine peers out the window. She looks sleep-deprived and slightly haggard. I can feel the turmoil in her soul, and it is delicious, like candy. She knew this day was coming and fretted all these years. She looks at me, her eyes as wide as saucers. I give her a casual little finger wave, “Yoo-hoo.”
My minions stop their assault and stare at her with dead eyes. She is frozen to the spot, looking at them. She sees Hell in their eyes, and rightfully so, she is bound there. One of the hounds jumps up and pounds the window, barking and snapping its teeth in a spray of hot spit. She screams and stumbles backward. I can’t help but laugh as the hounds and souls resume the barrage upon the house. Eventually, something in the warding slips, cracks, and breaks.
The three of them march through the wall. There is a powerful racket from inside, followed by hysterical screaming. The front door creaks as Ethel Broom opens it for me. I casually stroll inside, followed by the hounds.
“Heel, sit,” I tell the hounds, and they do.
I stand in the kitchen doorway and watch the shades work. Christine is in a ball on the floor surrounded by them. In her hand is a butcher knife, which she swings at them to no avail. That thousand-yard stare has been replaced by pure hatred, for they do indeed hate her. They pull her hair, slap her, and yank at her clothing. They shake her so violently her head looks like a rag doll, baring their teeth and growling. She cries out with every swing of that knife, every pull to her hair, and slap to her face. She sobs, panicked and choking. She manages to crawl away a short distance before Thomas grabs her ankles and pulls her back. She screams, and they begin their attack on her anew. I snap my fingers. The three of them stand at stark attention, but their hate-filled eyes never leave Christine.
She remains on the floor, looking up at the things she will become. Her breathing is labored, coming out in short gasps. She has a death grip on the handle of the knife. I clear my throat, and her head turns slowly towards me. She whimpers as I smile and tip my bowler hat to her.
“Good evening, councilwoman,” I say.
“Good evening, councilwoman,” the shades echo back in a flat monotone.
I smile widely as her head turns back to the three of them. I walk into the kitchen and sit at the table. She can’t decide whom to look at as she points the knife to me and then back to them. The only sound is that of her panicked breathing. I pull out her blank card and place it on the table. I snap, and my assistants fade from existence. Back to Hell they go.
“You and I had a deal. It has now come due to collect on said deal,” I say.
“We…we..we can make a new deal, please!” she cries.
“But you only have one soul, and you dealt it away. It don’t work any other way. There ain’t no extended warranties. A deal is a deal, and it’s time to pay the piper. You had ten good years,” I tell her.
“I will give you whatever you want! Just please don’t!” she sobs.
“Don’t be so obtuse. It is unbecoming, really. I only want one thing, and you knew what you were getting in for when you came to me, sure enough,” I reprimand her.
She sobs as the knife clatters to the floor. She covers her face and cries into her hand. Loud, gasping hiccups escape her as she trembles on the floor. I smile. I can’t help it, really. The sound is like music to my ears, a sweet symphony. I sit back and indulge in it for a bit longer before speaking again.
“Oh, oh, alright. Tell you what. The good doctor is a sporting man, so I am gonna give you a chance to escape,” I say.
She stops crying and looks up at me with a glint of hope in her eyes. She wipes her nose on the back of her hand and sucks in snot before she speaks.
“Really?” she asks.
“Sure enough, if you can outrun my hounds and make it past the gate, why I’ll burn your card an’ ain’t nobody gotta know. You live out the rest of your life happily ever after. Why I’ll even give you a head start,” I say.
She jumped to her feet and bolted out the door. I whistled, and there was no time between her hitting the walkway and her letting loose a blood-curdling scream as the hounds pounced on her. I slam my palm onto her card, and as I pull my hand away, the image and legend of the card appear.
The image is of a full moon in the night sky, and in the background Christine’s house, in the foreground Christine Bethal herself. Her skin is as pale as the moon. Her eyes are wide and filled with terror. Her hands are pressed to her cheeks, and in one hand, the blade of the butcher knife can be seen. Her mouth is wide open in a permanent silent scream. I guess you can call it the final scream. The legend reads, Ms. Bethal’s Sad Last Day, and sure enough, it is. I smile as my chains tighten and yank me back to my void.