July 15th, 2017
The most peculiar thing about the nineteen-ninety-four Volkswagon was not the two demon hunters driving it, Vicars as they’re called. Nor was it the zooming eighty miles an hour pace they were working it to. Nor was it the incoming image of Havenbrook that superimposed itself on the front glass, that little gritty town sitting at the top of the little-itty mountain in the eastern parts of rural Colorado (yet somehow maintaining that new age industrial edge). No. The most peculiar thing about that car and about those inhuman men was the laptop sitting atop the passenger, Apollo. More than that, it was the images he scrolled through as he took lazy puffs of Camel gold-band cigarettes.
They were images of a corpse. What the Havenbrook Report called ‘The latest bite of the Vampire of Havenbrook’. Apollo sifted through the images of the corpse, copied them, saved them.
“Do you really need to do that right now?” Dion said (the driver). He turned sharp, the whole car nearly derailed but Apollo sat, comfortable in the intense cloud of smoke he fumigated the car with. It was hard to believe he could look through the black screen and into the laptop. Dion steadied the car, put his hand in front of him and wafted away smoke. He looked to the passenger, to Apollo, and stared at his eyes. It looked like he (Apollo) hadn’t slept for weeks and Dion suspected that perhaps he was the vampire spoken of.
The car bumped. Both of their tall heads hit the roof of the car.
“I’m sorry.” Dion half-smiled at Apollo.
“Keep your eye on the road.” Apollo exhaled smog. Dion looked forward, gasped, turned his wheel, and made his brake screech as he came around the bend. Apollo didn’t flinch.
“Don’t apologize.” He closed his laptop with a ceremonious clap. “We’ll be there in thirty minutes.”
“Was that article important?” Dion asked, more out of nervousness than curiosity. He was taking glances at his partner to be, the intense fellow with the dark rings around his eyes and the brown skin and the unyielding gaze.
“It might be. It might not be. It’s just something to read to catch up on the recent history of the city.” Apollo said.
Dion looked ahead, both his arms were straightened out on the wheel. It felt worse now without the cacophony of typing or the buzz of a computer fan to keep the attention away from Dion. Now it felt, at least to Dion, that all the attention was on him. On his driving, or rather, skidding around.
“So, uh, is this your first mission?” Dion scratched his neck.
“No, it’s not.”
“How long have you been in the game?”
“Wow, you were young when you started.” Dion said in a tone he reflected might have been too patronizing. He took glances to see if the man took offense. On further inspection, he began to wonder if Apollo was even here, for Apollo was looking elsewhere, maybe to the sky or the smog or at the sun, as his face looked scrunched and wrinkled.
Dion licked his lips, fidgeted with his hair.
“A Vicar for thirteen years.” Dion said. “So you’ve seen them right? Creatures. Monsters. Demons?”
“How was it?” Dion’s mouth was slack-jawed now in what looked like child-like curiosity. Well, as child-like as a twenty-two-year-old man could get.
Apollo looked past Dion to the window, then to the forest that colored the mountain range a drab green like cancerous ocean algae. He looked closer, to the lake and closer still to people he saw on the water surface, swimming and dunking each other in their wisp-like white clothes.
“It’s frightening.” Apollo answered.
“Oh, I’m sure.” Dion said. “How many times have ya fought?”
“Is this an interrogation?” Apollo drew his sharp eyes to Dion. Dion felt the sweat upon his forehead.
“I’m sorry.” Dion went back into his seat. He waited a bit for the silence to pass. “Right. I get it. It’s rude to ask so much of you without introducing myself. Well, my name’s Dion and I – ”
“Don’t care.” Apollo interrupted. “I know everything I want to know about you. You were taken to an orphanage, a Japanese-American from Virginia. Poor and abandoned by your mother from birth. At the age of six, you were indoctrinated and spent the next twelve years training in that lonely hell you’d call the Vatican. You had your operation four years ago and after adjusting to your new existence, well here you are. A real church boy, fresh out the f****** archways in what I assume you assume to be the holiest f****** mission you could ever undertake for the Lord himself.”
Dion felt naked, exposed to a burning sun as it felt.
“Hey come on. You represent the church as well, don’t insult it.” Dion said.
“They give me work. That’s it.”
“What does that mean? If you weren’t raised there then where’d you get your training from?”
“Doesn’t matter.” Apollo said.
“Everyone has a back story, come on.” Dion turned and swore he felt the car drop inches closer to the pavement.
“A man’s origins are important to him and him alone. To strangers? It’s just a good way for them to play armchair psychologist. And let me tell you something, that’s the worst thing to be, in someone else’s small f****** box. I’ve heard enough of that psycho-babble-injured-child b******* to know I don’t want it or need it.” He said with finality. Dion stared, confused as to why he had even bothered asking. That was the end of the conversation in that car. And both of them it seemed had decided unanimously, through wordless agreement, to stay silent for the rest of the ride. Idle silence, a jumping and wobbling idle silence.
They passed a blemished sign, rust-red. Apollo turned his head to read it. ‘Welcome to Havenbrook’.
They both turned then to the city now sprawling and unfolding itself upon their eyes. It looked like a city about to dissolve into the forest. The road was broken into cracks, black shards of asphalt. The stores were of worn stone and from the crevices and gaps of brick and concrete, you could see the wild grass and weed growing out serpentine-like. There was a pharmacy. A goodwill store. A candy store and all of it was so barren and lifeless as to be mistaken for a photograph of some grim Depression-era stock photo. It had the same wasted palette too, gray, brown, black. Apollo almost confused it for those ghost town tour props, like the walls would fall down after revealing themselves as being cardboard cutouts. But it was real. As they came along the sidewalk and looked out, it was all real; the broken turbulent road, the empty-eyed people wandering about like zombies, an old factory chimney towering over them with its shadow. It looked like a pipeline straight into the heavens, there to deliver the all the obfuscating grime the city had to offer.
They stopped their car and got out. They stood in front of the pharmacy and looked across the street. There was a parking lot, the children were on the floor pulling out fistfuls of wild grass and driving their toy cars on uneven terrain. The adults were looking up to a man (a loud-mouthed man at that) and suckled on water bottles.
“Do you think we’ve been punished without reason?” The man said to a speechless crowd. “That this was some kind of cruel lottery we had the unfortunate pleasure of having won? Don’t be a fool! It’s all the Lord’s design you see. This punishment, this sin. All a test! A test we have failed, I tell you! We have succumbed to that vanity of vanities, just look around yourselves!”
“Amen.” Some old soul said in the background. The younger parents wanted to speak but felt choked to answer.
“Our debauchery, our gluttony, our worship of these false idols known as money, known as lust, known as man! Known as man! For all worship not of God is not of good faith. So can you see now, why we have earned this punishment? What it is deserved?”
“Amen.” A few more voices said.
The preacher rose and stood atop a turned over shopping cart. The wheels still spun and they pulled on his dirty vestment, a black robe botched with holes.
“You weep and moan for the freshly dead that litter the obituaries, I don’t! I tell ye. For they had deserved it! They’re sinners, sinners I tell ye! And I know! I know because I heard God, in the privacy of my lonely existence, I heard his voice. And what did you know? He reached out to me. To me! And he offered salvation. And it’s on discount, I tell ye. It is for sale, clearance! So long as you heed my words and put your faith in God, you will have salvation. It’s cheap, it’s not easy, but it’s cheap.” He licked his lips. “And know this. Know this! That this plague of death is His machination and if you listen, you too can avoid it! Let me tell ye!” He was spitting with the excitement. “He sends the trumpeters up and above the mountain, He sends the plague through the rivers! And the horrors, they live beneath us in want and wait like roots, there to tangle and strangle. So heed me, let me deliver you away from this evil. Let me tell ye. Amen!” The Preachers baritone voice seemed to ring with a sweet timbre and finally forced the rest of the crowd to cheer or gawk or leave.
He fell (the Preacher) back to earth, nearly taking off into orbit with that throttle of blood-rushed screaming. He settled himself next to the shopping cart and began shaking hands, talking privately, mingling as they say and handing out small pamphlets with a pixelated picture of his face on the front and the words in comic sans font that read ‘JIMMIES NEW CHURCH OF THE LATTER-DAY SAINTS’. Most people, however, looked afraid and ashamed of being afraid.
“I don’t think that’s in the bible.” Dion closed the door of the car with a gentle tap. He began to feel cold for a moment before he realized it was sweat and the gust of air.
“It doesn’t matter what’s in the bible. It’s a brand and he’s a smart salesman.” Apollo studied the Preacher. “And honestly, if you ask me, that was one hell of a pitch. For idiots, at least. I’m sure those poor f**** think he’s the next messiah.”d.
“Don’t be so snarky, man.”
“Doesn’t make me wrong.” Apollo watched as the people helped the preacher through the crowd and started throwing small coins from their light purses inside a fedora sitting on the floor.
“Look at ‘em.” Apollo’s eyes narrowed. “I never expected to find any rocket scientists in this dump but this s*** still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. They’re like monkeys.”
“Come on.” Dion bemoaned louder.
“What? They’re rejects. The accumulative IQ of this city probably sinks into the single digits.” Apollo spat. Dion walked towards him, chest forward. He seemed transformed, completely different than the Dion in the car. Apollo made a mental note, a catalog he named Dion’s range of emotions.
“I don’t like bullies like you.” Dion frowned, in a dignified kind of way, with his chin up. “A servant of God ought to be kinder, more sensitive to the troubles of the common man.”
“Get your head out of your ass.” Apollo looked back to the people still huddling. “I’m not a servant of God, just His child. And one with a good pair of eyes, for I foresee nothing that resembles any kind of future for this s*** hole of a city.”
“That’s what I mean. They’re just misguided and down on their luck is all.”
“Two hundred.” Apollo interrupted. “This city has seen two hundred rapes since last year from a measly population of about three thousand four hundred. Wanna know the only thing that outperforms the rapes? The rate at which a m*********** kills another m***********. Five hundred out of three thousand four hundred. Wanna know what outperforms the murderers? The junkies.” Dion walked back. He felt trepidation coming onto him like a hot flash across his cheeks. His high pumped chest deflated.
“All right. All right. I get it.” Dion said.
“Most of these f**** can’t even read. Read, Dion, read. Wouldn’t be surprised if that Preacher carries around the holy book for show.” Apollo pointed to the false prophet (or honest one, to some circles) and the cart he drove with earnest excitement, the loose change was coming off him and the baskets sitting on the baby seat of the car. He stopped for a moment. Knelt down and picked up a quarter with shaking hands.. “I’ve made a fair judgment. These people, they’re like Neanderthals. I’m sure they’d worship a f****** tree if you told them it’d help.”
A shoe-less man passed them, hair longer than his arms, who ate from a loose packet of raw hot dog sausages.
“Look at that? Some of them even look prehistoric. Like they came right out of the f****** wax museum.” Apollo laughed.
“That’s enough.” Dion looked down at Apollo. Apollo looked up. Dion’s shadow was wide across the floor yet looking closer into Dion he could see the innocence in his eyes and it made Apollo calm. He was a child in a man’s body, he thought. A bit dafter than one though.
“These people need our help. With the recent killings, you could be a bit more sympathetic, ya know? Stop judging them. Only He has that right, after all.” Dion nodded his head, agreeing with himself.
“I don’t care to be a hero and I don’t care to be sympathetic. These people were already at the edge of self-destruction.” Apollo threw a sardonic laugh at Dion. “This thing is probably a huge f****** joke anyways, the cities so s*** they’ve probably confused their problems for the work of a demon or anti-christ. I see this happen all the time.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“Oh, I am. Nine times out of ten – from experience – these demon sightings tend to be false positives. I wouldn’t be surprised if this whole mission was a hoax.” He spat a cigarette and found another in his pocket. It was mechanical, the way Apollo lit and drew in his deep breaths and exhaled, like the giant industrial furnaces and chimneys towering over them. “You see Dion, sometimes people see violence so palpable and so outrageous that the only excuse they can imagine is that it was the work of a demon. Sometimes that’s right. Sometimes. But most of the time, most of the time… it’s just a man, just a regular ol’ man, exercising the capacity of his cruelty. A tragedy, so to speak.”
They both kind of stood there, existing but not exactly acknowledging each other. Dion’s neck was craned, his eyes yielded away from Apollo and stared at the floor. Apollo looked up, to the sun and then to his dragging shadow. His face scrunched a bit and he walked away towards the noise of people, a crowd on the sidewalk. And Dion stood there, feeling jelly-like as if the concrete pillars inside of him (those of faith and of courage and of honesty) had been reduced some and all that was left was a worried man. Worried, annoyed, angry.
He looked up, the sun was blinding and he mumbled to himself: “This is going to be terrible.”