The old witch stabbed me.
I hadn’t sensed the knife nor had I expected the hag to be able to move that fast. I realized being in this human form had dulled my senses and I wasn’t at the top of my game. I should have known that the witch would want to dissect me to see what I was. Looking around, I saw that she dissected a lot of things that ended up in jars.
I bled like a geyser from the wound in my stomach, but it didn’t hurt so much. Nevertheless, I was pissed off. If my body’s heart stopped, then I would be forced to leave it. I realized now that I didn’t want to. This was my body, the one I had spent seventeen years in, and I wasn’t going to give it up so easily.
“Heal me, vieja,” I snarled. Manuela was a witch. She could do it.
She turned her head and looked at me out of the corner of her eye. “And if I do not?”
She was testing me, forcing me to tell her more about what I was. Too bad I didn’t have the luxury of stalling or steering her away from the subject. I could feel the life draining out of my body and knew it wouldn’t be long before I would have to give it up.
This pissed me off even more. “If my heart stops, I will live again. But this time, it’ll be inside of you, vieja.”
I wasn’t so sure about this. What if Evil decided that I couldn’t have another body and I was forced to return to it, leaving Luz, Liliana, and my revenge behind ? I pushed that thought away and glared at the old woman. I was pretty sure my eyes were still black, so I hoped that helped to put the fear of Hell in her.
But she didn’t seem affected by anything I had said. She simply turned to Luz, and with a nonchalant wave of her hand, she said, “He’s the one.”
I wasn’t sure what that meant, but Luz looked relieved and maybe even happy. For Luz anyway.
“You will help us, Bryce?” Liliana said.
I looked down. I hadn’t even noticed the little girl standing there. She wasn’t afraid of me and I wanted to know what part this child played in all of this. There was something going on here. Something beyond me. There was a bigger game at play and I was the pawn. I didn’t have to question if Evil was involved. It was, I knew it.
“Move your hand,” Manuela ordered. I had been holding the gaping hole in my stomach so my body wouldn’t bleed to death but at her command, I moved it.
After a quick examination, she ordered me to lie down on the couch even though my shirt was soaked with blood and demanded that Luz boil water. Gathering a few strange tools and a couple of unlabeled jars, Manuela went to work on my wound. She sprinkled this, smeared on that, then sewed me up with a precision that made me think she had done this many times before to many different people. I wondered how many of them had had injuries she had inflicted on them herself.
I had assumed the water she had told Luz to boil had been for her to sterilize her tools or clean my wound, but in fact, it had been for tea.
The two women and little girl sat around the old woman’s small, rickety floor table on filthy cushions. I was feeling better, so I joined them. No one seemed to care that I was still covered in blood or that the bullet wounds in my neck were leaking red fluid even though the old witch had smeared something foul on them and stitched the holes up.
Manuela poured us each a cup of pitch black tea that smelled like pine wood and dropped a bone she had taken from a jar labeled “Gato” into each cup. Luz and Liliana drank without hesitation, but I was reluctant to drink any of this witch’s brews. My body was in bad enough shape, having been shot and stabbed, without also having to endure one of Manuela’s spells too. Although I was pretty sure her spells would only affect my body and not my soul, I wasn’t taking any chances.
“You are a demon,” Manuela said to me, sipping her bone tea.
I still hated being called that, but said, “Sort of.”
“You are not alive anymore.”
“No.” I looked at Luz and Liliana. Neither of them seemed surprised by my admission. It was like they had already known this.
Manuela looked me over and I felt my eyes go back to their original color. “You lived a bad life. You were no better than the ñeros that terrorize the slum. But it was a good thing you did for the girl. That is why there is still hope.”
I knew she meant me killing my father for abusing Becca. I only wondered for a second how she knew. “I was running from the police when I died,” I said, “They had discovered my father’s body and had found me hiding out in the basement at a friend’s house. I stole their car and led them on a high speed chase through the city. I had a head on collision with another car and died in the hospital. I think I killed the people in the other car too.” I wondered about something. “Did Evil reap them along with me?”
Manuela waved a hand. “This, I do not know. It is unlikely. But if they deserved to die, then maybe.”
I didn’t like that thought. “Do you know what happened to Becca?”
I nodded. I was probably better off not knowing anyway, at least, that’s what I told myself.
“You take souls from this world.”
I swallowed. “Yes.”
“You are a reaper.”
There was a silence, then, “What do you really look like?” That was Liliana.
I dipped my head. “Not like this.”
“It would only frighten you.”
“No it won’t.”
“Mamita.” Luz intervened, “Leave it alone. Bryce doesn’t want to tell you.” Liliana scowled but did as she was told and dropped it.
“Why did you save Luz?” Manuela questioned.
Now wasn’t that the question of the fucking century. “I...I guess...because she needed me. There was no one else.”
“So you care for her.”
I looked at Luz, who simply stared back, waiting for his answer. “Yes.”
Manuela smiled, displaying a mouth full of rotten teeth. “Then there is hope.”
“Hope for what?”
“Not what, child. Who.” She gestured. “Luz and Liliana.”
Luz stared at me, anxiously. Liliana smiled. I don’t think I expressed anything but total confusion. And dread.
“What’s going on here, vieja? And don’t waste your time telling me that nothing is.”
Manuela smiled again. “I would not dare. For there is much that is going on.”
“It is simple.” Manuela took a last sip of her tea then pushed her cup away. “There are those that exist that are worse than the one you call Evil.”
I snorted. “Impossible. I know evil. I’ve seen it. I’ve been in its presence. It’s touched me, and corrupted me with its sick, twisted thoughts. I know evil and there is nothing more depraved than the being I’ve reaped mortal souls for. Nothing.”
Manuela only chuckled. “Because you are trapped within the invisible confines of Hell, you have made yourself believe this. But you are wrong. There is worse evil that exists. That is the point.”
What was the point? “Tell me then. What could be worse than the evil I know?”
She said one name. “Lu Mal.”
The witch had to be kidding. “Lu Mal may be a murdering fucker who has a very gruesome death coming his way, but he’s human. Humans are only capable of so much depravity before they are dealt with by creatures like me.”
Manuela smiled. “Have you seen Lu Mal?”
“Then how can you be certain he is human?”
I swallowed. I wasn’t now, not anymore. “What is he then?”
“He is not human, you must know. He has no humanity.”
“Okay.” What the hell had I gotten myself into? Lu Mal wasn’t human? Fuck. “What is he?” I asked again.
Manuela shrugged. “He is a being that must be encountered for you to understand his existence. For now, I will tell you that Lucifer,” She touched the name that had been burned into my arm with the cat bone that had come from her tea cup, “knows Lu Mal well. They are former acquaintances.”
I blanched, literally, blanched. My physical heart raced. “Please...tell me...”
“Lu Mal and Lucifer are related.” She bit into the bone. “They are brothers.”
Copyright © 2012 by Diantha Jones