by J.L. Hepler
Almost totally bereft of all reason. Naked
besides underwear and unlaced tennis shoes. Blinded by the sun. Weary. Splattered in blood. Dehydrated and dying. This was
Eloy Gonzalez’s current dilemma.
“I know you’re coming. I feel
it in my side.”
He had been mumbling to himself for the
past six hours at least. His once lucid and demanding mind was floundering bit by bit due to the deprivation. And the six-inch
scar just above his left hip was burning more now. He didn’t know exactly what was happening anymore. What he did know,
or felt, for sure though, was that that fucking beast had been closing the gap between them over the past day and a half.
It was stalking him, calling out to him. A pact needed to be fulfilled.
Eloy, a third generation Amarillo Narcotics
Officer, had abandoned his ’98 Ford Taurus on I-40 where it intersected the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest.
Leaving the car door ajar and incessantly dinging, keys dangling from the ignition, blood pooling in a pile of glass in the
back seat, blood dripping onto the pavement beneath the car, and bits of skull and brain crusted to the passenger window.
He had bolted into the Painted Desert in
an attempt to escape. Though deep down, beneath the initial panic and the delirium now setting in due to dehydration, he knew
that the effort was futile. That fucking beast would know where he had gone. And despite his attempt to flee, he knew that
their meeting was inevitable whether he was alive or dead. He just preferred dead.
If his life was going to end, and he knew
that it soon would, this is where he wanted it to happen. On the sands of the uninhabitable desert that was interspersed with
fantastic erosions, and random hills of soft toned colors of yellow and green separating the flow of red, whose crests were
often tipped in black. “They were charred by the relentless sun” his father once told him. A sun that Eloy was
hoping would scorch him too.
“Take me please death…Faster.
I know you’re close.” His barely audible whisper sent the highly aware insects watching him scurry away.
While stumbling forward, he felt his knees
buckle. Stopping and gazing out across the desert, he smiled for the first time in days. He was inching closer to death, on
his own terms, it would be the last task he’d get to tackle alone in this world, and it was getting prettier the closer
he got. Yet the scar continued to ache in the background of his joy.
“This is it. I want to die here. Going
And just before he took his last step, on
his second to last step to be exact, his left foot hit a patch of red quicksand. Momentum carried his right foot onto the
patch, and he instantly sank. His beefy and often overworked body penetrated the ground like a drill bit barreling into dry
wood. The initial descent was quick. He was dumbly shocked and only slightly aware. But once fully immersed in the sand his
body slowed, bringing the downward spiraling sand to a near standstill like a glob of noodles blocking a drain.
His fading mind was conflicted. The take-charge
half fighting the tug of the ground, clawing to get out. The rebellious half glad to bring it all to an end, finally. He tried
to scream, but only inhaled a mouthful of gritty sand.
His chest tightened, his body began quivering.
But seconds before he was about to die, just before his lungs exploded and right after he had smiled at death, the bottom
of the quicksand fell out from under him.
He yelled out “OH SHIT!” in
a gurgle of spit and sand while plunging into darkness. He hit the ground flat on his back with a sickening thud.
He sat up and looked at the sand trickling
from the hole that had swallowed him. It was contracting closed like a sphincter. The damp tunnel he landed in went from east
to west, both ways descending down hill as far as he could tell into black nothingness. But once his eyes adjusted, the darkness
seemed more maroon than black, resembling the glistening maroon color the pooled blood in his back seat took on when under
“Oh God… Sheila. The blood.
No, that fucking beast, no.” It had taken Sheila and was inching closer to him. He could still feel it on his side.
The scar was throbbing now. Swelling and reddening against his brown skin.
After he stood up and vaguely got a grip
on the situation, he saw the signs. Two of them. One behind his right shoulder wedged into the mud wall, and the other behind
his left. “You Want To Go This Way,” the one on the left said. “You Don’t Want This Way,” the
right one rendered in bold black letters. Both had bright yellow arrows pointing in their respective directions.
Under normal circumstances the decision
would have been simple. No contest. Take Charge Officer Eloy would’ve followed the signs like he had his whole life
and gone the way he was ordered. But part of him, the scared part who realized that this wasn’t a take charge circumstance,
thought it was a trap. A ruse to lure him into the beast’s grasp before he could achieve death.
Mulling it over was getting him nowhere
in his state of mind so he made a choice, the reverse psychological one. He stumbled down the “You Don’t Want
This Way” path in hopes of out-smarting the beast. He held onto the damp walls for support with one hand and clinched
his scar with the other. And after walking for what he thought was a mile, but could’ve been ten steps, he heard sand
falling from the hole up the path. That fucking beast is here, he knew it, he felt it. The scar was boiling the closer it
got. It had swollen to the size of a grapefruit. His walk progressed into a staggered dash.
As the tunnel went deeper, the maroon darkness
grew thicker. Hollowness began overtaking his heart the farther he went. His dislocation from self growing exponentially with
each prolonged second. Stopping to catch his breath, he was tottering, about to go down again, when whispers from deeper in
the tunnel drifted up into his ears. Then the voices amplified, calling out from the corners of the darkness, louder, carving
into his hollowness, deepening it. Voices he recognized, but couldn’t place. The hot words cut through the cool moist
air and hit him like hot candle wax dripping into his ears.
“You stupid asshole. You stupid bitch.
You’re worthless. You’re fat and ugly. You’re the scum of the earth.”
The voices got louder even, overlapping
one another trying to get his sole attention. Each remark still coming from a familiar voice. A voice with measured tones
that Eloy knew well. He stopped and tilted his head like a bemused puppy trying to gauge the tone. An nihilistic horror fisted
his heart into a tight ball. It was his voice. The scar violently pulsated with each scruffy word.
“I can’t believe that you did
that. Get undressed bitch. You worm. Dregs of society. Fucking loser. Give me that dope. Go look in a fucking mirror.”
Eloy, buckled over, winced and covered his
ears. The words were getting hotter, burning not only his ears, but worse than that, his mind. The doors to his fickle memory
were being scorched open. He turned around in the tunnel, made an attempt to scream, but his own words echoing in the tunnel
only grew louder and drowned out his terror. Going back would’ve been his next move, to follow the sign’s advice
from the get go, be the obedient officer, but he couldn’t. The beast was coming. He could smell its stench wafting down
the tunnel now, getting thicker with the darkness. The smell of blood mixed with Polo cologne engulfed him. The scar expanded.
The damaged skin pulled so taut it was almost translucent now.
Memories began inundating him as the voice
faded. The first one was positive. A fragmented silent film of him, his brother Odilio, and his father Estaban, walking through
the Painted Desert. Estaban pointing out rock formations and animals along the way. Eloy embraced the memory. It felt soothing.
But this was a mistake. For it was the only positive memory that would come. A trick to pull him into his mind’s cavern
of buried memories.
Then a barrage of negative memories, negative
ones, vile ones he’d repressed, ones that judged him, clouded his thoughts. Eloy collapsed onto the cold muddy floor,
wailing like a child, and rolled over on his side as the memories rifled across his inner eye in sequential order. The pen
he stole from Mrs. Edwards in second grade. The transformer he stole from David Hanna in third. The time he pissed in Odilio’s
mouth at summer camp. The girl he molested in sixth grade. Rubbed her up good. The car he stole. The homeless beggars he and
his friends put cigarettes out on under the bridge. The guy he beat with a bat at the park. The girl he raped in high school.
And the many more in the back of his police cruiser. The homeless man he beat with his baton. The drugs he stole and sold.
The drugs he took from the station and indulged in. The lovers he took on a ride.
His spine recoiled with the pain of the
memories. Each prodding at him from the inside out. It felt like a prisoner was attempting to escape his body by burning through
his skin with a hot poker. Especially on his left side. That damn scar, the curse. The memories continued to play, vividly.
The last one in particular. The ride with the lovers.
They were all three in Eloy’s Taurus.
He driving, Sheila, his wife in the back seat, and Odilio, his brother, in the passenger seat. The smell of Polo cologne filled
the car. A gun was pressed tight to Odilio’s temple.
“Calm down Eloy. You don’t know
what you’re doing. You’re going crazy.”
“The fuck I don’t. I saw you.
I saw you fucking her in my bed.” Eloy glowered at his brother. “Did it feel good?” He shoved the barrel
of the gun harder against Odilio’s temple.
“No Eloy.” Sheila yelled, grabbing
his arm from the backseat. “Just calm down. You’re going crazy.”
Eloy bit her hand, drawing blood. She jerked
her hand away. The car swerved into oncoming traffic almost colliding with a diesel. Odilio instinctively tried to correct
the wheel. Eloy cocked the hammer of their father’s six shooter and slapped him the cheek with it.
“Don’t fucking move.”
Eloy shook his head in disdain. “Brother my ass. You’re like a fucking beast sent to curse me. The fucking devil
“We didn’t mean to hurt you
Eloy.” Sheila proclaimed in a slobbery sob. Tears dragging eyeliner down her cheeks.
“Whatever. Like fucking my brother
isn’t bad enough. Now you lie like a bitch. You stupid cunt. I hate you. All you do is hurt me.” he angled his
eyes toward Odilio, “Both of you now.”
“SHUT UP WHORE!”
Odilio sat tense and motionless with his
hands firm on his thighs as Eloy glowered at Sheila through the rearview mirror. He was waiting for his chance. Being a cop
also, his robotic, take charge mind that was much like Eloy’s was going through the protocol on how to handle such a
situation. Or better yet, how to diffuse it and get out alive.
“Don’t even think it.”
Eloy said noticing his bother’s guise. They had a special connection. The finish-each-other’s-words, know-each-other’s-thoughts
bond. Odilio cut his eyes at Eloy. Sheila shrieked and smashed her head through the passenger window in the backseat. A gush
of stale air rushed into the car not unlike the gush of blood running down her face. The brother’s glanced back at her.
“You hurt me worse than her bro,”
Eloy’s gimlet eyes pierced Odilio as they turned back, “we’re blood. We come from the same womb. We were
fucking one person at birth.” Tears started running down his cheeks. He swallowed dry and hard.
“I’m sorry Eloy, but I don’t…”
Odilio eked out.
“No buts. You shut up. You don’t
deserve to answer.” Eloy’s fist clinched the gun tighter. He was in control and it was going to stay that way.
Odilio watched Eloy wipe the tears from
his cheeks out of the corner of his eyes and saw a chance to diffuse the situation. He grabbed and twisted Eloy’s wrist
holding the gun. The car careened onto the shoulder. The gun fired hitting Odilio square in the forehead and he crumpled over
into the floorboard held upright only by his seatbelt.
“You fucking beast!” Eloy fired
two more shots into Odilio’s chest.
Until that point, Eloy didn’t know
what he was going to do, but now he knew what he must. Sheila started screaming and banging on the seat, contorting her body
in spasmodic gusts of violence as she watched bits of brain and skull slide down the passenger window.
“ELOY!” She grabbed his hair.
“What the hell have you done?”
He pointed the gun at her, struggling to
maintain the wheel, and shot three times, blindly. Hitting her in the abdomen with the first two, and in the thigh with the
last one when she raised it for protection.
“Eloy… why?” Her scream
faded into a muffled cry and moan. She fell onto her side clinching her stomach. Grasping for breath. Then she went limp.
“You know why bitch. You know. How
long have you been fucking him?”
Eloy knew what he had to do next. He couldn’t
spend the rest of his life on death row, living with the same inmates he abused, robbed, ratted out undercover, and put behind
bars. Oh no, he wanted to die in the desert. He knew Odilio’s spirit, that fucking beast who’d taken Sheila from
him and given him the scar would know that he was going to the desert and follow. He didn’t want to die on Odilio’s
terms though. Death was the last thing he would ever be allowed to do alone. He needed this last isolated event before an
afterlife he was sure would be coupled with Odilio and his hatred. It was inevitable.
He’d dumped the bodies in a ditch
behind a rest stop on I-40 and headed across New Mexico toward the Painted Desert. The pact he’d made with Odilio as
a child, as a teenager, and over and over again as an adult replayed in his head. That’s when the scar on his side started
hurting.Promise we’ll be together until the end of time. Always together even though we’ll be separated.
Eloy snapped back into reality with a scream.
Back into the tunnel sitting up on his knees as if in prayer, in agony, but away from the memory of his horrid actions. His
continuous screams were barely audible because of his parched mouth. He opened his bleary eyes and saw other eyes, his brother’s
chocolate eyes, though his own eyes oddly, emerging from the darkness and felt them judging him. His first instinct was to
get up and run, but his emaciated body was too weak and feeble for that. Besides, the scar was immobilizing at this point.
He collapsed limply onto the ground. His eyes staring into the darkness awaiting his brother’s revenge.
Odilio eased over him. He had no shape but
a shadow swirling behind his eyes. Eloy could feel his excitement at finally catching up. Odilio hovered over Eloy momentarily
and then plunged what felt like a knife into Eloy’s bloated scar, rupturing it. Black goo mixed with blood oozed from
the gap. Eloy’s mouth gaped open to scream, but nothing came out. Surprisingly, the pain and hollowness once consuming
Eloy seemed to seep out the hole rather than intensify. Finally, Eloy thought closing his eyes in relief, death will sooth
me and end this. I’m sorry Odilio. Forgive me.
Odilio reached into Eloy’s chest and
grabbed his heart and leapt into the red sand above. It spiraled open for them.
“Heaven?” Eloy uttered with
an undertone of sarcasm. He felt Odilio giggle as they floated upward. They penetrated the sand together as one and punctured
the other side attached at the hip like they had been at birth.
Eloy opened his eyes, lying on the desert,
an IV in his arm, surrounded by FBI agents and medics. Alone.
“You have the right to remain silent.”
One of the agents mindlessly announced.
Eloy, dazed, looked around in a panic. He
looked down at his side. The scar was not burning or swollen or bleeding. In fact, it was gone. “No Odilio. Take me
with you. I’m sorry. We had a pact. Always together remember? I can’t go to jail. I’ll be tortured in there.”
Eloy violently shook his head side to side grabbing his side. “Not revenge like this. ODILIO!! I NEED YOU!! TAKE ME!!”
J.L. Hepler is presently unemployed due to injury. In his healing time he has edited
a role playing novella for Australian author Simon Taylor, had two poems published in A Far Off Place, an annual poetry anthology,
and had short stories accepted at the Harrow, 31 Eyes, Prose Toad, Smokebox, Demon Minds, and the Dark Krypt.
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