22 Sep Penny Blood Side Stories #2
THE DEVIL IN ME BLUES
By Ari Lee
The pale ghosts shifted through the darkness.
They swarmed out of the thick forest into a clearing at the top of a hill overlooking a town. They occasionally spoke to one another as they worked, accompanied only by the soft chirps of crickets in the brush. The air was still and quiet; a gibbous moon illuminated the night sky.
The ones in white were soon followed by those in shimmering green. In the center of the clearing, white shadows tied together two wooden poles of different lengths in the shape of a cross. They coughed as the powerful stench of kerosene filled their nostrils and crouched down around the cross, covering every inch of it in burlap sacks that had been drenched with the foul-smelling liquid.
A tall red shadow stepped out from the forest into the center of the clearing, lauding the others for their efforts. Four of the white ones gathered up next to the cross and began to raise it. As the red one watched it grow taller and taller, he let out a small sigh of awe. It was a burning symbol of great change; a promise to God that they would serve him faithfully. He had spoken to them through the angel, who had bestowed great power upon them. Their time had finally come.
The ghosts moved back and formed a wide circle around the wooden cross, each brandishing a large piece of wood in their arms. One by one, they lit the burlap cloths attached to the ends of each stick, creating a ring of bright, blistering fire.
The flames illuminated their tall, pointed hoods, as well as the holes that framed their eyes. The specters marched in a circle a few times, then came to a stop and tossed their sticks at the cross in the center of the ring.
Some missed, scorching the green grass and weeds that surrounded it. But a few hit it square at its base, and within moments, the great monument had begun to burn.
The red one’s eyes gleamed in delight as he watched brilliant orange flames race across the burlap, creating a towering beacon in the darkness. A few of the white shadows whooped and cheered. The red one cried out as well, then raised his hand and commanded silence.
“Alright, brothers,” he spoke through his cloth hood. “Time to go hunt us some negroes.”
“And oh how the night did howl.”
She sang under the dim lights, shifting slowly with her arms outstretched, never falling out of tune with the banjo that twanged behind her. A thick black curl was plastered to the side of her face with sweat – the only lock that had escaped from the tight white cloche that covered the top of her head, and a black fur stole covered her slender shoulders, dangling down over her shiny white dress.
“You can tell them not to find me, ‘cuz I ain’t never coming home.”
Black men and women stood shoulder to shoulder in the small basement, huddled around the tiny stage. The ceiling was so low that some men had to slouch a bit, and the air was hazy with cigarette smoke. Harlem had many underground hooch joints like this, and Roxane Archambeau had sung at every one of them.
“Well, you can tell them not to worry, because you know I got the devil in me.”
Roxane shook her head as she sang, ever swaying. For a moment, memories of burning flesh and smoldering blood threatened to fill her mind, but she closed her eyes and pushed it out with a soulful murmur. Behind her, Gus continued to work his banjo while sweat poured down his big, bald head.
“Old man tried to beat it out me, but old man ain’t here no more.”
As the banjo reached the climax of the song, Roxane twirled around, passing her eyes over the room and smiling at those she knew and those she still had yet to meet. She saw a handsome young man at the end of the bar with his hat cradled in his lap and a cup of gin in his hand. His eyes were fixated on her, and she liked the look of him as well. He had eyes like a puppy dog’s, and arms like battering rams.
“And oh, oh, oh how the night did howl.”
The banjo quieted down after one final, lonely twang, and the basement erupted with cheers and applause. Many pulled out coins and lone bills to offer her, but she shook her head with a smile and motioned to the bartender behind the counter.
“I’m glad you all enjoyed the music, but we aren’t here trying to get rich. If you want to show your thanks, do old Sylvester a favor and buy another round of drinks. That man’s got six kids to feed, for Pete’s sake,” she said, with a playful chuckle.
This summoned another round of applause from the crowd, and hats were waved in approval. Within moments, rows of men and women had lined up at the bar. Roxane watched it all with a smile, but found herself drawn once again to the man at the end of the bar with the puppy dog eyes. She took a few steps toward him, pulled a cigarette out from the small purse that hung at her waist, and lifted it up to her lips. With a chuckle and another flash of his cute, toothy smile, he pulled out a match and lit her fire.
“Mighty fine singin’, Miss” he said, shaking his head as she inhaled. “Mighty fine singin’.”
“Thanks for the light,” she replied, gave him one last moment’s warm grin, then turned her back and slowly walked away.
“Well where you going, Miss Roxane?” he called out to her. “You only just got here!”
“Miss Roxane’s got better things to do than sit and chit-chat with an alley cat like you,” another man said with a guffaw.
Laughter and murmurs followed as Roxane slowly made her way back to the far wall of the room. For a moment, she imagined letting Mr. Battering Ram invite her to a night out on the town. They’d share drinks and laughter, she’d make him smile, and he’d make her smile. There was nothing to suggest they wouldn’t have a wonderful night together. They might even sow the seeds for a proper relationship. And then, when the night was over…
When the night was over…
All Roxane saw in her mind was darkness, until the darkness peeled away to reveal carnage, screams, and tears. It didn’t matter how nice a man he was, or how nice any of them were. She was a monster, and that would never change. Let them in close, and they would find out eventually. Whatever people saw in her was purely skin deep, and the moment she bared her fangs, they would only end up suffering.
Roxane walked over to join Gus as he finished tending to his banjo and slid it into his case. Gus was the son of freed slaves. His parents had wanted to flee the South as soon as the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued, but it’d taken them a whole decade to do so. By the time they finally reached New York, they’d made sure to bring their music with them. Gus had lived in New York since long before Harlem had begun to flourish with artistic creativity, and was the first person Roxane had met after she stepped off the boat from France. He offered her food, a warm place to stay, and was the closest thing she had to family in this strange new land.
Gus knew her secret. She hadn’t wanted him to know, but she’d been a bit more naïve back then. She understood now that if she got close to someone, there’d be no way to hide it forever – and from the moment he’d found out, their relationship had changed. She knew he still loved her like a daughter – except now, reverent fear had been added to the equation.
Roxane looked at Gus, passing her eyes over his bald head and lazy eye as he cradled his banjo in his long, thin arms. He had a face like a weathered statue, and wore a modest black suit.
Gus patted his belly. “Hope you worked yourself up an appetite. Shirley’s cooking up some jambalaya at home.”
Roxane gave him a hint of a tired smile. “You know I’ve always got room for jambalaya.”
Gus nodded with a chuckle, and they shifted over to the hidden door behind the stage. It led up to the domicile situated above the cramped basement.
“See you tomorrow, Miss Roxane!” a voice called out from the audience, while they gave her another round of applause. Roxane and Gus shut the door behind them and climbed the rickety wooden stairs up to a small storage room that had been sectioned off from a living room by a curtain. In the center of the room sat an elderly lady in an armchair with a radio earphone pressed up to the side of her face. She gave the musicians no mind as they shuffled into the back alley behind her house.
It was another warm night outside, and a barely-there breeze softly pushed an empty can along the side of the street. Heading east along the alley would have taken them out to 125th street, not too far from the Apollo Theater, with all its noise and busy tin lizzies. Instead, Roxane and Gus headed west, deeper into the crux of Harlem, moving toward one of the many housing complexes that welcomed Black tenants with open arms.
And they would have made it, too – if that Ferris sedan hadn’t pulled out in front of them before they crossed their last street. The moonlight did little to illuminate the face of the passenger inside, but Roxane already knew who it was.
Out from the driver’s seat stepped John Hoover. Short brown hair was just barely visible under the brim of his tan Stetson hat, and there was no smile on his pale face.
“They said you’d be here,” he said grimly. “There’s been a–”
“Not tonight,” Roxane said, as she sharply turned to walk around the sedan. “Please, John.”
“The least you could do is hear me out,” John said casually, adjusting the leather strap that kept his firearm tightly bound to the waist of his grey pinstripe suit. “There are people out there who need your help.”
“Oh yeah? Who’s in trouble this time?” Roxane stopped in her tracks. “Three sisters instead of two? Babies?”
“Try families,” John said darkly. “All holed up in one big farmhouse. My wager is they won’t survive the night without your help.”
“Come on, Roxane,” Gus said, as he shuffled up to the woman and tried to redirect her attention. “Dinner’s waiting.”
“So that’s it, huh?” John let out a dry laugh. “You’re going to go home to your cozy rooms and warm meals while entire families get slaughtered like livestock?”
“Sure beats risking my neck for a bunch of cavemen who can’t even do their own jobs, just to have them ridicule and chase me out of the whole damn town when it’s all said and done.”
“Now, now, you know I’d never do such a thing. I respect you a great deal, Miss Roxane. You and your…abilities. And I’m sorry, but I can’t control how my own investigators react, let alone county police,” John said, rolling his eyes and shaking his head. “You’re lucky to find one who knows his arithmetic.”
“Yeah,” Roxane turned to glare at the
police officer. “Guess they aren’t smart enough to use people the way you
“Use?” John scoffed, and the furrow of his eyebrows told Roxane that she’d finally struck a nerve. “You think I want to see some Black folks out in the country get slaughtered by a bunch of crazy hillbillies? Hell, Roxane, I hate ’em as much as you do. And I wish I could put a bullet in every last one of them myself. But you know I can’t. You know exactly why. And so I came here out of the kindness of my heart to give you a chance to right yet another one of this world’s many wrongs. I need someone with the power to do what not even the Bureau of Investigation can – and honey, I’m sorry to say it, but that’s you. Now I know you’re tired from your performance and all, but the least you can do is listen.”
The words danced out of John’s mouth so effortlessly. He was the worst kind of manipulator, as far as Roxane was concerned, because he was so skilled at efficiently utilizing truths in the most self-serving way possible. She took one last look back at Gus, who let his head hang down in sad resignation.
“Let’s go,” Roxane exhaled, in what was mostly one big sigh. She had only taken one step toward the sedan when she heard a new voice echo out in the street.
“Sounds like you might need some extra help, officer.”
Roxane turned around to see Mr. Battering Rams. Standing tall in his three-piece-suit, the moonlight seemed to make him look even more dashing than he’d appeared in the speakeasy.
“Apologies, Miss Roxane,” he said, removing his hat from his shaven head. “I didn’t mean to eavesdrop. I just happened to see you and Mr. Gus on my way out, and thought I’d walk over and thank you one last time.”
“Get out of here,” Roxane said, in as cold a voice as she could muster. “This doesn’t concern you.”
“Could use someone to watch the car, though,” John added, as he sized up the tall, muscular man. “What’s your name, boy?”
“Abraham Leroy, sir,” he said, then took a step closer to Roxane.
“Are you as dumb as you are big?” Roxane was nearly spitting fire as she stared up to the tall man. “I said get outta here, right now. You don’t know what you’re getting into!”
“Oh, I think I have a pretty good idea.” Abraham stared back down at Roxane, both eyes brimming with affection. “We’re gonna go stop a lynch, ain’t we?”
“I’ll tell you all about it on the way,” John said, as he pulled open the door to the passenger seat. “Come on in. You go on home, Gus – tell old Shirley that Roxane won’t be able to make it to dinner tonight.”
“You don’t have to do this, Roxane!” Gus shouted through his grimace. “You already paid him back tenfold what you owed him!”
“It’s not about that and you know it,” Roxane said, without turning around to face him. “Tell Shirley I love her.”
Gus shook his head and stood his ground – but so did Roxane. And so, after an awkward glance from Abraham, and a dismissive hand wave from John, he let out a frustrated grumble and went trudging down the street.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” Roxane asked, as she turned around to face the handsome young man. “You should get a move on too.”
“I’m a trained soldier,” Abraham said confidently. “I can help. And more than that, it’d be my honor to assist the talented Miss Roxane in whatever she may require.”
Roxane put her hands on her hips and let out a frustrated sigh. “You’re a hero, alright? A real knight in shining armor. I honestly think you’re a true gentleman. That’s what you wanted to hear, right? Well, you’ve already proved it, so you can just go home and –”
“Enough is enough,” John said, after a cackle. “If he wants to come, let him come. He looks like can hold his own. The more the merrier, I say.”
“You haven’t even told us where we’re going yet.” Roxane moved up to the open sedan door, locking it in place with her hand. “And before you ask, no, I’m never going back to West Virginia.”
“Woodridge, in Sullivan County,” John said, showing off his pearly whites. “Just about an hour’s drive out into the quiet countryside.”
Roxane sat in the back seat of John’s sedan next to Abraham, watching the lights of New York City fade into the darkness. What lay beyond the metropolis were tenebrous fields, abyssal forests, and the rolling hills of the Appalachian Mountains.
As the car’s orange lights rushed over the smooth dirt road, that feeling of escape bubbled up within her yet again. The first time she ever left Alcaise-Lorraine, she had been far more cramped– smushed between two big crates, trying to stay still and keep her breathing low. Roxane had done everything in her power to evade the eyes of the German Empire as she fled France, if only because she knew that capture meant a fate worse than death. She tried to take her life more than once and failed – there was no easy death waiting for her, she realized – and from that point on, nothing scared her more than imagining what the Kaiserlich would do when they realized they’d gotten their hands on a true monster.
Roxane’s parents were dead, and it was all her fault. She’d wanted to rip herself right out of existence itself, but such a feat was not easily accomplished. And so she’d wandered, ever alone, until jazz lured her to America. She discovered the blues in Harlem, and hadn’t once looked back.
If only it had ended with the music. Every time she sang her heart out to a crowd and watched the smiles and tears surface on people’s faces, a momentary calm washed over her mind. Deep down, she knew it was an illusion. Roxane could never truly be free – monsters could never break their curse.
“So, Abraham, how long you been in New York for?” John piped up, seemingly eager to break the silence.
“Since 1913, sir. Traveled up with my folks. Joined the service during the war, then came home just in time for Christmas in 1918.”
“Is that right?” John said, glancing at Abraham with impressed eyes through the rearview mirror. “So you were in the city for the Red Summer, then.”
“Yessir. Sort of reminded me of being back in Alabama, to tell you the truth.”
John let out a wry chuckle. “Too many colored people moving up to the city all at once. Locals simply didn’t know what to make of it. Thought they were being overrun,” he chuckled again. “You know what I think, Abraham? Racism all stems from fear. Fear of change, fear of uncertainty…fear of choice. What do you say to that?”
“I might be inclined to agree with you, sir,” Abraham said with a thoughtful twitch of his eyebrow.
“Yeah, the Red Summer…” John went on wistfully. “That was a mad, mad time. You know that’s when I met Miss Roxane here? Four long years ago. She took out a whole mob of white men who were trying to tear down a Black speakeasy, all on her own. Never did I ever meet a Black girl who was so good at killing whites.” John shook his head as his lips stretched into an impressed smile. “Never in all my years.”
Roxane looked to the side to see Abraham speechless, with a stunned look on his face. In turn, she glared daggers at John. “I thought you said you were going to tell us what’s going on out there in Woodridge, not take us on a trip down memory lane. I for one would much rather forget.”
“Sorry, sorry,” John waved sympathetically. “I just thought the fellow was nice enough to come out and help us, might as well fill him in, you know?”
Oh, to forget. If only such a thing were possible. Just like John, she never found out what spurred that group of men to attack the speakeasy she was performing in that night, or who had fired the gun shortly after the break-in occurred. But when she smelled the violence in the air and saw a shotgun pointed at her face, a switch went off inside her – the very same eruption of rage that had once summoned fire and death to that small manor in Alcaise-Lorraine. She took out every last one of them that night, and John Hoover had been the first man on the scene. Roxane never did find out what he had been doing there that night, but she was fairly sure he had mentioned something about investigating Italian anarchists, whatever that meant.
“You see, I was the one who found poor Miss Roxane back there,” John went on after a moment, seemingly happy to ignore Roxane’s objection. “I even offered to clean up the incident, paperwork-wise, you know, so she wouldn’t end up a wanted criminal. Can you imagine? Black, female, and if that wasn’t bad enough, an immigrant – cards couldn’t have been more stacked against her. And she was so talented. I just wanted to do what I could.”
saw an opportunity,” Roxane cut in. “And I had no other choice.”
now…” John’s dry lips curled into an offended frown. “I don’t very
much appreciate that, Roxane. You’ve been my go-to girl over these past few
years, and I’ve done my best to look out for you in return. Come on now, think
of everything we’ve been through. You ever counted all the lives you’ve been
able to save?”
Roxane turned her eyes back to the turbulent black nightscape. She’d counted the lives. Of course she had. Despite the resentment she felt for John and his gleeful selfishness, she couldn’t deny the fact that he had given her a chance to repent – to do something truly good and balance her sins. Repentance did little to wash her conscience clean, but it was still something.
“I don’t get it, though,” Abraham said, looking between the two. “You work for the government, don’t you, sir? I find it hard to believe your men wouldn’t be able to–”
Roxane grabbed Abraham’ forearm and held it tight as she looked up to him and silently shook her head.
“That’s my problem,” John said coldly, blue eyes piercing through the rearview mirror. “Not yours. Got it?”
An eerie silence followed, and Roxane loosened her hand around Abraham’s warm arm. Outside, tall blades of grass danced in the night, glowing momentarily whenever the moon peeked out from behind the clouds.
“It all started in the morning,” John began abruptly, after glancing into the rearview mirror to make sure both Abraham and Roxane were listening. “Local seamstress named Annie Milch ran into a police station with her dress all tattered, talking about how some negro had jumped through her window at the crack of dawn and attacked her. Now, I wasn’t there to hear the story myself, but by the time I got to town in the evening, word had it that an escaped convict had raped the poor woman.”
“A convict?” Roxane repeated with a suspicious eye. “Were there any eyewitness reports?”
“Not a one,” John replied with a nod. “But when the Sullivan County sheriff sent out a search party, he learned that a transport of colored prisoners had been overturned on the road in the middle of the night. The driver and one prisoner were found dead inside the vehicle, but there wasn’t a trace of the other names on the list.”
“So let me guess,” Roxane went on. “The white folks figured someone in town was hiding the convict.”
“Figured isn’t quite strong enough, I’d say. From what I gather, the sheriff followed the normal course of law in his procedure, but it wasn’t moving fast enough for the locals. In a few hours, they’d already decided to form their own vigilante search parties and went around interrogating Black locals who all lived on the east side. Oh, and you can bet some of them were drinking while they were at it. You know how it goes. One thing led to another, and they roughed up more than a few of the colored men who happened to be home that afternoon. One got shot in the face. Another eventually confessed – no doubt after a hearty helping of torture – and said a landowner named James Kilner had given shelter to a colored man who was on the run, just that morning.”
Roxane let out a curse and furrowed her brow. “It took the sheriff that long to send the word out?”
“He never contacted anyone,” John said coldly. “In fact, our governor went on a hunting trip yesterday, and the kind sheriff went out of his way to send a telegram informing him that ‘everything was under control’. An officer just happened to notice a drunken, belligerent mob driving down the road that afternoon. They’d left Woodridge momentarily to go round up more help. Little did we know there’d been a klan demonstration in Sullivan County just the other day. Same old rigamarole, talking about protecting the sanctity of womanhood, bringing back the true America, the dangers of immigrants, and so on and so forth. I guess someone in town knew where they were staying, so they gave ’em a social call.”
A moment of silence followed. Roxane could feel her facial expression sink as a chill ran up her spine. “The klan’s in Woodridge right now?”
“They’re on their way, that’s for damn sure. The sheriff’s lost complete control of everything, and the best he could do was run around ordering as many colored people as he could to evacuate or hole up in the mills where they were working – anywhere outside of Woodridge.”
“What happened to Kilner?” Abraham spoke up. “The man who sheltered the fugitive.”
“Oh, him? That’s the funny part – Kilner’s white. A Jew. Doesn’t make much of a difference to the klan, of course. In the evening he started gathering up his Black neighbors and hid them in his basement. A small mob put his house under siege while the other group went to call the klan. Kept trying to coax him out by calling him names, and they even tried climbing through his window, but he got a few of ’em. More shots were fired, and one young colored boy was caught trying to escape from the back door. He ended up mutilated and hanging from a tree.”
“And that’s where we’re heading now,” Roxane sighed. “The Kilner house.”
“Yes ma’am,” John said slowly, eyes flitting across the empty dirt road. “My aim is to make it back there before the ghosts do.”
“But I don’t get it.” Abraham looked nervously between Roxane and John. “It’s not a matter of firepower, is it? Why can’t the state police or the government do anything against the klan?”
“And here I took you for a guy who knew his onions,” John said with a laugh. “Who do you think’s under those sheets these days, Abraham? Just a new breed of inbred rednecks? I eat rednecks for breakfast. You think I would’ve driven all the way to the city and back just to get some backup for a mob of uneducated pinheads?”
“I don’t… What?” Abraham looked to Roxane, seemingly at a loss for words.
“President Harding loves the KKK,” Roxane said softly. “He’s smothered them with praise ever since he first saw The Birth of a Nation. Surely you’ve seen them parading in the streets, Abraham, in the light of day. They grow prouder and prouder every year. And the more Blacks migrate up here, the more white folks get scared.”
John nodded his head in firm affirmation. “You wanna know who’s under those sheets, Abraham? Senators. Lawmakers. Police officers. They know what they’re doing…it’s all bait. Torturing colored people is only part of it. They’re also trying to lure out their dissenters, the ‘anti-American’ whites that they need to target to make sure they keep a tight control over the opposition…to make sure they can keep America safe.”
Abraham shook his head with a wince, stammering a bit before he went on. “Then…there’s nothing we can do. If what you’re saying is true, they’ll see our faces. They’ll remember us, and they’ll go and tell the rest of the klan about us. Even if we save those families tonight, more of them will just come for us next.”
“If they survive,” John said with a devilish grin. “And that’s where your Miss Roxane comes in. Should be a simple job tonight, Roxane. Just head into the house and escort whoever’s hiding in there to safety while Abraham and I watch the car. If whatever sort of mob decides to get ornery, well then, you know what to do. They’re drunk idiots. We’ve done this a dozen times before – this night ain’t gonna be any different.”
“I’ll handle the violence.” Roxane kept her eyes focused on the murky horizon. “And you’ll make all the evidence disappear.”
“That’s right,” John said with another grin as he adjusted his hat. “Same as always. Shouldn’t take us more than thirty minutes. I got one of my men hiding in a wagon right outside of town. All we need to do is escort the townspeople there, and we’ll be home free. Now if that ain’t easy peasy, well then I don’t know what is.”
The trio reached the entrance to Woodridge 30 minutes later. Just as John had promised, there was a large covered wagon parked on side of the road, manned by two tired-looking horses. The path into the village slowly developed into a paved main street equipped with a general store and post office, sandwiched between houses that spread out to the east and west.
They caught sight of the flames long before they saw the Kilner property. Past the main road on the east side of town, several establishments had been sent on fire, including a church. A few white men could be seen walking along the side of the dirt path carrying torches and shotguns, but the tinted windows on John’s sedan hid the two riding in the back seat.
Every time Roxane saw a burning building, images of her mother and father’s corpses resurfaced. One moment, they had been huddled in a corner, and the next, they had been lying in bloody heaps on the ground. Then came the flames, eager to burn their lifeless bodies away. The weight of knowing she had killed the two people who had loved her more than any other hung heavy on Roxane’s heart, and it took evert fiber of her being to push the horrible thoughts out of her mind.
John made a few more turns around large sugar maple trees until he reached a driveway. Beyond was a spacious yard and a farmhouse with a group of armed men camped out in front of it. To the side, Roxane saw a bonfire littered with empty cans of baked beans, and further back, a few wagons and horses tied to a post. Two of the men were carrying torches and what looked like cans of kerosene toward the driveway.
John parked the car and hopped out. “Whoa, whoa, what in tarnation’s going on here? I thought y’all were gonna catch a fugitive, not burn the whole damn town down.”
“Ain’t burning the whole town,” a tall man with short red hair said. “Just this side. One per hour until they give up the rapist!”
“Well knock it off,” John said firmly, turning his head to follow them with his cold gaze. “You think your sheriff’s really gonna let all this slide?”
“Sheriff ain’t here,” a shorter, pockmarked man said, followed by a snicker. “Too busy warnin’ all the darkies.”
“‘Sides,” the tall man added, “we been deputized.”
John let out a frustrated grunt and turned back to send Roxane a glance, skritching his feet on the pavement as he did so. She watched the sweat roll down the taut muscles of his face as he struggled to keep his temper under control.
“Well, you aren’t gonna need to burn any more,” he said calmly. “We’re getting everyone out of that house for you.”
That stopped the men in their tracks. Slowly, with confused wrinkles lining his long, balding head, the tall man turned around.
“Horsefeathers,” he said, before taking a pause to spit into the dirt. “Bastards been barricaded in there since supper time, and they got hunting rifles, too. We already lost four men tryin’ to get through the windows. Don’t tell me you think you’re gonna storm the fortress all by your lonesome.”
“I’m not,” John placed a hand on the open sedan door, then looked inside and nodded his head. “I brought a negotiator.”
Roxane let out a sigh and placed her hand on the door handle. Abraham immediately reached out to her.
“I wouldn’t go out there if I were you, Miss Roxane,” he warned, care and concern emanating from his warm touch. “Those men out there are liquored up. There ain’t no tellin’ what they’re gonna do.”
A dark chuckle escaped from Roxane’s lips as she turned to stare back at him. “You’re a darling, Abraham, you know that?”
Abraham shrunk back with a perplexed frown. “I was just–”
“You just be a doll and stay in the car. You were never supposed to come here in the first place, and I sure as hell don’t want to have your dead body hanging over my head too,” she said, feeling her own tone shift from soft to grim.
“They’re armed!” Abraham whisper-shouted as Roxane moved out of her seat.
“Good,” she replied. “That’ll make things easier.”
Roxane turned around one last time, and a powerful pulse of dark energy emanated from her body. Her brown eyes flashed red, swirling with tiny crystals of hellfire, and Abraham froze. He blinked, rubbed his eyes, but no matter how many times he looked, the demonic glow never disappeared. Rendered speechless, Abraham’ shoulders slouched, and his jaw slipped open.
“You shouldn’t have come here,” Roxane repeated, shaking her head as she pushed open the door and walked outside. “But I’m glad we talked.”
“W-wait,” Abraham stammered, as he shifted over to the open car door. “Here. I want you to have this.”
turned around to see a hefty brass lighter in the center of Abraham’ thick
“Look, I appreciate the light you gave me in the bar, but it’s not like I’m short on matches or anything,” Roxane said with a laugh.
“No, it’s…this is important to me. I got it at a very important turning point in my life, right after I got back from the war. It’s sorta been a lucky charm for me ever since then, I suppose. I want you to have it now,” Abraham said, as he outstretched his arm. “Please?”
Roxane stared down at the man. He looked so sincere, but also sad and scared – she remembered the first time she’d seen him, and the powerful, indescribable attraction she’d felt.
What if, though?
What if he could see all of me, and didn’t run away?
Just like she’d done so many times before, Roxane caught the dangerous fantasy as soon as it surfaced within her mind and cast it out. She closed her hand around Abraham’ and his lighter, gave him one final look, then took it and turned away.
The powerful smell of kerosene and burning caused Roxane’s nostrils to flare as she walked outside and around the car. She knew she stood out like a sore thumb, and not just because of her skin color. The soft breeze caused her fur stole and thin dress to ripple, and she lamented the fact that she’d most certainly need to go out and buy a new one come tomorrow.
“What in God’s name…” the tall man carrying the cans of kerosene murmured, as he dropped them to the ground and stood there, stupefied. “You outta your damn mind?!”
“Figures,” the shorter one dropped his as well. “Shoulda known the copper was a spade lover. No different from the goddamn sheriff.”
The rest of the mob walked toward the car, cradling their shotguns and hunting rifles in their hands, murmuring in disbelief as they passed their eyes over Roxane.
“I told you,” John said, flitting his eyes around the group. “She’s a negotiator. You want that fugitive, or you want more dead men?”
“They’ll probably shoot her dead the minute she walks on the porch,” the tall man said, chuckling all the way. “They’ve been shooting at anything that moves, and why the hell would they trust someone who works for a cop?”
“You worried about them shooting you?” John asked, as he turned toward Roxane.
“Not particularly,” she replied casually, then took a step toward the house.
“You figure out what’s going on in there, and bring out the criminal,” John shouted loudly, which Roxane knew was mostly a ploy to try and prove to the mob that she was completely under his control. “Let’s put an end to this so these men can all get back to their families.”
“Too late for that,” an unseen member of the mob called out. “The Imperial Wizard’s already on his way!”
“That’s right,” another called out. “They didn’t just hide the rapist, they shot at us! The whole lot of ’em. Killed old Joe and Earl! And they’re gonna pay!”
let out another frustrated grunt. “Alright, well, just get ’em to stand
down then. Talk some sense into ’em, for god’s sake!”
“You better not be lyin’ to us, boy,” the tall man said, without an inkling of fear in his eyes. “Case you haven’t noticed, you’re outnumbered here.”
I never should have come here either, Roxane thought to herself, as she did her best to ignore the leers of the mob while she moved past them. Things are worse than we expected. If only it wasn’t for that soul-crushing guilt…
Beyond the white picket fence of the farmhouse, five concrete steps led up to a spacious front porch that went around on both sides. There were four windows on the first floor, two each on both sides of the door. All of them had been shattered, and the same was true for the five on the second floor. Soft orange light poured out from behind closed, raggedy curtains, but all was quiet.
Roxane moved up the first step, and then the second. The moment she reached the third, she heard a deep voice from inside the house.
“Who are you?”
“My name’s Roxane.” She kept her head high. “I sing the blues in Harlem.”
“Why are you here?”
“To talk,” she said, raising her hands. “I’m unarmed.”
“Go up and open the door. It’s unlocked.”
Roxane did as she was told, but kept an eye on the fragments of glass that still hung precariously from the remainder of the window in the door frame. It swung open with ease, revealing a small front area that branched out to the rest of the house, along with a stairway leading up to the next floor.
As she moved inside, a white man in his 50s with a bushy, salt-and-pepper beard slid out from a room to the left. He kept his back firmly to the wall and his hunting rifle held tightly to his chest. Roxane could tell that he had shells stuffed into every last pocket of his denim overalls. The man squinted and stared at her, as if he was expecting her to blink and fade away.
“James Kilner, I presume?” Roxane extended her hand. “I’m Roxane Archambeau. Nice to meet you.”
James shook her hand, albeit with a flabbergasted expression. “That man really brought you here?”
“I came here to stop this,” Roxane gripped the man’s hand, trying to reassure him. “Just stay away from the windows, and I promise you’ll be alright.”
“I wish I could believe you,” he said with a tired exhale. “But you haven’t seen what those monsters have been up to all day.”
“They may be monsters,” Roxane gripped his hand harder. “But they’re tiny ones. Puny ones. Trust me.”
“They killed an unarmed, innocent old lady,” he spat. “All because she ran. They’re maniacs. I’d kill ’em all right here if I had the arm for it. I just couldn’t stand by and watch them do it. They’d string up every last one of them if they had their way. Not here… Not in my town!”
“I’m with you,” she said. “I want to put a stop to this. Where’s everyone else?”
“In the basement,” he said. “I gotta stay here and watch the door. Head over to the back of the stairs.”
“Thank you,” she said. “I shouldn’t be too long.”
Roxane moved past the staircase and into the kitchen. Someone had pushed the pantry cabinet in front of the back door, while the rear windows had been blown out as well. The most striking thing in the room was the corpse of an elderly Black woman bent over the counter with her head in the sink. Blood and brains splattered the linoleum, mixing in with a knocked-over bottle of milk. Roxane scanned it only for a moment before she turned to gaze at the door to the basement, situated right underneath the second-story stairs.
She pushed open the flimsy wooden door and made her way down a flight of rickety wooden steps. The small pole that served as the banister felt wobbly when Roxane grabbed it, as if it was moments from falling apart.
Below she glimpsed a dirty cement floor enclosed by rocks and cement lining the walls. Instead of the warm orange light that had greeted her upstairs, the basement was illuminated only by the flickering shadows of candlelight.
When Roxane reached the end of the stairs, she heard metallic clicks as guns were raised in her direction. Huddled in the center of the spacious basement were about two dozen African-Americans of varying ages. Some held lanterns, others sat in blankets and on wooden crates, while the younger men stood with their guns raised.
“My name’s Roxane,” she said slowly. “I’m here to help.”
Roxane stood in the dim, musty basement, listening to the stories of the Black men and women who’d been chased out of their homes. Some of them had been pulled right out of their houses, others interrogated on the street – everyone had their own nightmare to share, and yet there wasn’t any time. According to one, the convict had been found by a couple with three teenage children who believed the man’s story and had given him refuge. This only lasted a few hours, however, until they fled their own home and were taken in by James Kilner, ‘the only white man in the town that anyone could trust.’ Roxane felt pressure dripping down her brow as she tried to befriend the people and lend them the ear they needed, but Abraham and the situation on the surface remained ever in the forefront of her mind.
“They wanna kill us all!” a young man in a tank top and slacks shouted. “You know that, right?”
“I’m not gonna let them,” Roxane said defiantly. “Now, I don’t mean to rush things, but we’ve got a situation outside. Where’s the man they accused of rape?”
“And why do you wanna know that?” a young girl with braids walked up, but still made sure to stay a step behind the man in the tank top, who Roxane guessed was her brother.
“Because I want to talk to him,” she replied carefully. “Help him figure out how he’s gonna escape here without getting lynched.”
“He wouldn’t hurt a fly,” the girl added, looking as if she was on the brim of tears. “That bitch just made it all up!”
“Language, Bessie,” her brother said. “Carl’s innocent, ma’am. We interrogated him ourselves. He didn’t even go near Mr. Milch’s house.”
“Yes, it happens a lot, I know,” Roxane said, looking between the young man and his sister. “Maybe her folks were coming by and she needed a scapegoat for her husband’s abuse. Maybe it was just hatred. I’m sure we’ve all seen something similar before…but I still need to get his story. That’s the first step here.”
passed, and she heard the group whisper among themselves within the flickering
shadows. Finally, two of the men stepped forward. “We’ll take you to him.
He’s in the furnace room.”
Roxane followed them through a wooden door in one corner of the basement, which led to a smaller, mustier room lined with copper pipes. Aside from some old tools and piles of logs, she saw a large furnace stationed against the far wall. Next to it, slouched on the floor with a glass of water, sat a large, bald man with dried blood running down from a bandage around his upper arm. He gazed up at the three with weary eyes and once he noticed Roxane, he hurriedly picked himself up.
“Wh-who’s that?” he asked nervously.
“Roxane Archambeau,” she said, then reached out to shake his hand. “I came here to try and get everyone out of this mess. What’s your name?”
“Carl Clover,” he answered with a bashful smile. “I’m awful sorry about what happened here today, Miss Archambeau. Didn’t mean for none of it to happen. Our vehicle got into an accident on the road…”
“I heard,” she answered, as she stared at the blood vessel that had burst in one of his eyes. “What caused the accident?”
“Two of the guys started playin’ rough. Messin’ around in the back, tryin’ to pass the time. All of a sudden one started chokin’ the other. Driver looked back for one moment, but I guess it happened to be the wrong moment. He hit something, and the whole damn car toppled over. Killed one right then and there – a branch got him. Another guy got broken free, found the keys, and let us all out.”
“And so you got hurt,” Roxane said, as she reached out and lightly slid her finger over the dried blood on Carl’s arm. She pulled her fingers back and casually licked their tips. “What’d they have you in for?”
“Armed robbery,” he said, as he gave her a strange look. “I got called in with a bunch of other guys who were about my height, and the witness said I looked most like the guy who did it.”
“But you didn’t,” Roxane said plainly. “Did you?”
“No Ma’am,” Carl said with a vigorous shake of the head. “Never even owned a gun. I worked in the coal mines. When that car got turned over, I thought, this is it! The Lord was shinin’ down on me, givin’ me a chance to get my life back! So I ran for it. I found a mill nearby, and an old man there pointed me to this town, tellin’ me I’d be able to get something to eat, maybe even a bed to sleep in before I moved on. I never meant to–”
“Alright, Carl, alright,” Roxane nodded her head. “But you know I have to ask. Did you rape that woman this morning?”
“No Ma’am,” Carl said, with both a voice and face that were entirely unwavering and unified in their conviction. “I swear on my mother’s grave. Never touched a single hair on her head.”
“Okay, Carl,” Roxane said, as she turned to face the other two men. “Let’s go back out to the others. There’s something I need you all to hear, and Carl should be there for it.”
The two men gave Roxane a curious look, then glanced over to Carl.
“You okay with that, Carl?” one of them asked.
“Of course,” he said with a warm smile. “I been cooped up in here long enough.”
Back in the center of the basement, the group’s eyes began to glow once they set sight on Carl. He moved over to them with a modest smile, checking in to see if everyone was alright, even sharing some reassuring hugs with a few.
“Before we get down to business,” Roxane said. “I’d like to sing you all a song. For morale’s sake.” A a sad glimmer flashed across her brown eyes. “And it’s dedicated to you, Carl.”
Carl sat down on one of the wooden boxes and stared at Roxane in anticipation.
“Is she an angel?” a little boy whispered to his mother.
“I think she’s a witch,” muttered a little girl.
“Whatever she is, if you wanna hear her sing, you’d better hush up,” a stout woman with short curly hair said, then nodded toward Roxane. “Sorry to hold you up, honey.”
And so, Roxane began to sing.
“Mm, mm mmm. The bell tolled for me this evening, yes I heard it a mile away.”
As she sang, she slowly moved toward Carl, shifting softly with the rhythm. He sat with a wide-eyed grin on his face, watching and swaying right along with her.
“I was hurting so bad, the doctor wouldn’t even see me no more.”
Roxane moved up to Carl and put a hand on his leg. Carl stopped swaying. He sat upright, eyes glued to her, and she saw the muscles in his shoulders relax.
“I saw the devil outside my kitchen window, but I didn’t pay him no mind.”
Roxane reached up and lightly caressed Carl’s bald head. His jaw fell down, and a tiny drop of spittle dangled from his front teeth. His eyes remained on her, and she could feel the blood pulsing softly through his veins.
“Got no time for lies, got no time for troubles, got no time for playin’ the blues.”
“What are you doing to him?!” a woman cried. “What are you doing to Carl?!”
“I’m not going to hurt him,” Roxane said softly, as she kept her hand firm on Carl’s head. ” I’m sorry, Carl, I don’t like doing this, I can tell you that. But there are dead bodies up there. People died trying to protect you, and their families have a right to know what they died for.”
“Yes…” Carl droned, in a far less jovial voice than the one he’d shown her earlier. “Yes, my queen…”
Instantly, every member of the group backed away from Carl and Roxane. With wide eyes frozen on the ghastly scene, the men raised their guns again.
“Now, Carl,” Roxane said sweetly, as she continued to lovingly caress his head as a mother would a child. “I’m going to ask you again, and this time I want you to tell me the truth. Did you rape that woman this morning?”
Carl’s face wrinkled up like a prune as he cringed, and tears began to bubble up in his eyes. “Y-yes…” he moaned. “I didn’t mean to… I just saw her… Been so long since I’ve seen a woman. Right through the window, right there in the morning light… She looked so beautiful, so perfect… Like she was standin’ right there waitin’ for me…”
glanced up from Carl for a moment and stared at the rest of the group.
Horrified expressions slowly developed on some faces, while others were frozen,
utterly confused at what they were hearing.
“I couldn’t help it… It’d been so long… I needed her… I thought God was finally givin’ me something good for a change. But she didn’t want it… She wouldn’t listen… She was gonna scream…”
“What are you doing to him?!” Bessie cried. “Why is he saying that?!”
“She hypnotized him…” an old man muttered. “She really is a witch!”
“It’s true, I hypnotized him,” Roxane spoke calmly. “It’s one of the few ways to force someone to be completely truthful.”
One of the younger men in the crowd desperately looked between Carl and Roxane, unsure of what to believe. “But if that’s true… Then that means Granny Philomena got her head blown open…for a liar…”
“Kill him!” an old bald man shouted, aiming his rifle. “Kill his ass!”
“You can’t do that,” Roxane said, as she moved up and shielded Carl with her hands. “You don’t have the right to take another’s life. No one does…that’s the easy way out. You’ll regret it in the end.”
“Shut the hell up!” another man shouted, fixing his gun on Roxane. “Goddamn witch!”
She watched the chaos develop in the crowd and felt panic creep up her skin. I thought I was doing what was right. I wanted to give them the truth they deserved… But when truth breaks hearts, is there such a thing as too much?
In her years of crimefighting, Roxane had only come across a lying victim once before – but that was all it had taken to sow the seeds of doubt. From that point on, she’d made it a point of tasting everyone’s blood – and Carl’s blood had unmistakably tasted like that of a liar’s.
Once known, how could I keep that secret hidden? I need to get them to listen somehow. There must be a way–
Suddenly, Roxane heard the crack of a rifle. She dodged as quickly as she could, but felt the bullet graze the side of her arm as she yanked both herself and Carl out of the way. Curses and screams exploded from the escapees, and she realized there was only one thing left to do.
Roxane spread her wings, feeling the flesh in beneath her shoulder blades burst as massive leathery appendages spawned along with a burst of dark power. Transforming cost her precious energy, but it could be easily replenished with the right fuel. Cradling Carl in her arms, she shot back up the stairway with a bounding leap and spun around the kitchen corner. By the time she made it back to the ground floor, the skin on her arm had already regenerated.
At the front entrance, she saw that James Kilner had returned to his post next to the window, staring into a gap between the curtains with wide eyes.
“Take him, and protect him,” Roxane said, tossing Carl to the man before she turned to survey the outside herself.
Behind John Hoover’s unmarked sedan there now stood three cloaked men on horseback. Their steeds were all covered in long white sheets with eyeholes, emblazoned on both head and flank with white crosses on red circles. The horsemen themselves wore similarly marked robes and pointy hoods that covered everything but their eyes. The men on the left and right sides wore the standard white robes, while the one in the center’s was a shimmering green.
Roxane watched through the window of the farmhouse as the mob of townspeople turned to face the new arrivals. Simultaneously, she heard footsteps coming up from the basement as several of the armed escapees pursued her.
They’ll have us surrounded in a matter of minutes!” James whispered in a panicked tone. “We’ll be trapped!”
“We probably already are,” Roxane said, feeling her heart sink. “I’m sorry. I never thought things would get this bad this quickly.”
As she saw two of the escapees run up behind her and raise their guns, a loud snap sounded out, and dark energy once more began to pulsate from Roxane’s body. In a flash, her eyes burned red, and her hands shot toward them, pinning both to the sides of the hall by their necks. Instead of soft skin, what extended from Roxane’s shoulder was an arm covered in hardened, charred flesh. Her fists had become grizzled claws, from which sharp black nails extended, inches away from puncturing their tender human necks.
“Don’t try to kill him,” Roxane growled. “Stay inside and protect each other. Please.”
The others who had run up from the basement froze in their tracks the moment they set their eyes on Roxane’s monstrous new form, while the men she had pinned nodded slowly with wide eyes, probably due to the lack of any other option. As she stood there, desperately trying to strike some sort of mutual understanding, a loud voice boomed through the front yard.
“Greetings and salutations to our red-blooded American brothers and sisters,” the bombastic male voice announced. “The knights have been assembled, as promised. The Imperial Wizard, his ten Genii, twenty Grand Dragons, their Grand Titans and Furies, and still their Grand Giants and Goblins – all who were in attendance at yesterday’s protest have all been summoned and accounted for. Tonight, God’s wrath shall be brought down on the violent minorities who dare to infringe upon the human rights of their superiors! In just a few moments, a great monument shall be erected to the one and only true God, upon which our forces shall descend upon this town with a righteous swiftness not unlike the archangels themselves!”
The man’s deep voice echoed throughout the clearing, easily reaching past the broken window into the front room. Roxane released the men slowly, glancing between them to make sure they understood the depths of their peril, then turned to look out the door herself. In the yard, the mob along with John Hoover stood and stared up at the three klansmen in awe, as well as desperation as they tried to keep up with the man’s furious speech.
“We will suffer this abuse no longer!” the green klansman continued. “Time and time again the lesser races have asked for more, robbing us of our god-given rights and freedom. The negroes, the immigrants, the Jews, the Catholics! And what do they give us in return? They rape our women, molest our children, and steal our hard-earned wages! No more, we say, no more! This town of Woodridge will be made into an example tonight – a warning to all those who oppose the superior white race and all the possessions God has rightfully given to us! Tonight we will stand and fight for the purity of America, and we will not rest until every defiant negro is hanging from a tree!”
The messenger fired his pistol into the sky, and the crowd erupted in cheers and praise. As if that had been his cue, John stumbled before turning around and diving into his sedan. As soon as he started the engine, one of the white klansman moved his horse around to the rear of the car, while the mob walked out in front of it.
“Where do you think you’re going, officer?” the green klansman asked calmly. “Surely you’ll stay to bear witness to this triumph, yes? I’d hate to think that our brothers in the government disapprove of our conduct.”
Roxane spun around and whipped one of her armored limbs at the door, splintering the remains of its frame. Pieces of wood clattered out into the night, and Roxane crushed them beneath her clawed feet.
“Hey,” Roxane called out to the mob, as her canines slowly extended into razor-sharp fangs. “I’ll give you one chance to stand down, but that’s it.”
“What in God’s name…?”
The mob turned to stare as Roxane exposed herself on the front porch of the farmhouse. With skin as black as iron, and equally dark, grotesque claws extending from every last finger, she looked like a true monster. Her eyes burned blood red, and massive leathery bat wings extended from her shoulder blades. As she exhaled, dark mist poured out of her nostrils, covering her body in a hazy glow.
Roxane remained still, casting her eyes over the stupefied faces of the men down below. Her warning had gone unheeded, it seemed, which meant that only one thing could come next. She leapt into the sky just before the first shotgun blast rang through the air. As she spread her wings, two murky portals rippled on their soft inner surfaces. The men below hurriedly readjusted their firearms, but by the time they did, her children had already emerged from the dark pools of miasma.
A horde of shadow bats flew screaming from Roxane’s wings, both absorbing and shoving past the flurry of bullets that were coming her way. Each bodiless, faceless specter that survived the onslaught each slammed into through a man with the force of a speeding train. Some bumped the barrels of guns up to their owners’ faces, while others knocked the men’s bodies into mid-air backflips.
Roxane had discovered the dark mist that flowed through her body after her first transformation – a discovery born from rage on that fateful night in Alcaise-Lorraine. Whatever it was, it gave her power – the power to transform, the power to mold shadow into powerful bats to do her bidding, the power to hypnotize, the power to regenerate, the power to destroy. It did not come without a cost – but she knew that as long as she kept her body fueled, it would never quit on her.
Once she had disarmed the mob, Roxane flew around the outer perimeter of the farmhouse, shooting shadow after shadow into the trees, determined to flush out every last assassin. When she returned to the front yard, she extended her claws and broke into a run, trampling the many bodies that now lay strewn across the ground. On the other side of the lawn, two men who’d managed to evade the bats were frantically trying to reload their weapons. They were the first to feel her nails explode through their chests, pulverizing flesh and bone no different from any bullet.
She retracted the thick black nails just as quickly as she’d extended them, allowing the bodies to fall, then reached down and picked up the writhing figure of a particularly healthy-looking young man. Without hesitation, Roxane opened her mouth and sunk her fangs deep into the man’s neck, harvesting the fuel her body craved. He let out a yelp of pain and twitched as she sucked fresh blood straight out of one of his arteries. The acidic flavor of yet another liar singed her tongue, but such was the norm. The more he wriggled, the more she gnashed her teeth into him, chewing through vein and artery as she absorbed his life energy.
Finally, she let him drop. Crimson lines dripped down Roxane’s chin as she took a moment to breathe, ever cloaked in a thin cloud of dark mist.
The vampiress surveyed the area and noticed that John’s sedan was gone, prompting a sigh of relief. The few remaining members of the mob had run to hide behind the three klan horses, obviously too frightened to fire on the creature again.
Blood dripped down onto Roxane’s clavicle and fur stole as she shifted her weight onto one hip and relaxed her wings. “If you all want to turn tail and run now, be my guest. I’m merely acting in self-defense.”
“Black devil!” the green klansman raged, as he readjusted his pistol’s aim. “Satan’s whore!”
Roxane easily sidestepped the shot after the green klansman fired, then prepared to intercept the two white ones as they rushed her on their horses. With practiced finesse, she extended her claws yet again, raking both men and pulling them from their steeds.
It was easier than singing, and far easier than trying to make a living in this twisted world, but that only made it hurt worse. She had been born with this curse, and it ran deeper in her blood than any of her other abilities. She was born a vampire, or a murderous monster, as she saw it, and she hadn’t found out until it was too late. She’d thought she was just a normal girl until that night when the rage took over and the devil awakened within her. The moment the soldiers prepared to execute her parents, she’d exploded. Her claws, bats, and dark mist had pierced everything, including the man and woman who’d adopted her and loved her like true parents.
One of the remaining members of the mob tried taking a pot shot at her, and she lazily deflected the tiny bullet with a wing as if it was nothing but a peanut. Roxane kept her eyes fixated on the green klansman and approached, readying a claw once more.
Then, she heard the trumpets.
“We shall not fear you, black devil!” the remaining klansman screamed, as he gestured toward the western hills beyond the main street. “We shall not kneel to you, for our brothers are with us – we are many, and we are strong! Go on, devil, and look to the hills! The holy cross has been ignited, and God’s power is with us!”
Roxane glanced toward the source of the fanfare. At the top of a foothill only about a mile away stood a massive flaming cross – a radiant beacon in the tenebrous sky. Standing on the edge of the hill was a long line of klansmen, some dressed in white, others dressed in green, and blue, each carrying a torch to illuminate their ghostly shapes. In the center stood the only ghost dressed in a crimson robe – the Imperial Wizard, they called him. Roxane remembered seeing him in the parades in New York and in newspaper articles. He commanded the northeastern chapter of the Ku Klux Klan and was also a senator, according to John.
“The klan has risen,” the green one spoke triumphantly as he watched his comrades begin to gallop down from the hill. “America’s salvation is nigh.”
The klansman fired his pistol again, but Roxane transformed into a bat and shot straight under his horse, causing it to let out a whinny and rear up on its hind legs. With expert finesse, she swooped up on the back of the horse and phased into her human form. While the horse bucked around wildly, she whipped out her arms and caught the klansman in a bear hug that rendered him immobile.
He struggled and spat a string of expletives at her, but Roxane ignored it all and calmly sunk her fangs into his neck. She was due for another jolt of energy, and his volume had certainly made it seem like he was healthy enough.
Roxane recoiled in fright as black blood exploded out from the man’s neck. Putrid and sour, it burned her throat, causing her to retch and spit it out as quickly as she could. For the second time that night, panic sunk into Roxane’s mind, and she quickly extended her claws and thrust them through the man’s spine, piercing his chest. She felt her nails pass through flesh and bone and sat there, watching in horror as black blood dripped from his wounds while the man’s body twitched like a fish impaled on a spear.
Roxane tried to pull her claws out, and something pulled back. Frowning, she yanked harder, but they wouldn’t budge, as if they’d been trapped in some sort of vice. Growing angrier, Roxane let out a grunt and leapt off the back of the horse as it bucked one last time and promptly galloped away. The green klansman’s body came with her, and her claws ached in pain as the weight pulled them down toward the ground. Not one to give up, Roxane planted both of her feet on the man’s body and pulled back with all her might.
At last, she heard something snap, and her hand popped out of the man’s chest, causing her to roll back from the force she’d had to exert to rip it free. She quickly picked herself up and looked back at the corpse. A monstrous screech pierced the empty front yard as three black and green speckled tentacles quivered out from its chest cavity, flicking back and forth like the tails of ornery cats. There was a clear puncture in one from where Roxane’s nail had ripped through its grip, from which black blood dripped.
Roxane’s eyes remained wide as she tried to make sense of what she was seeing. Each tentacle had a mouth-like opening on the end, from which smaller, sharper tentacles twitched back and forth like miniature tongues. She watched as they slowly calmed down and slithered out around the klansman’s robes. The more they stretched themselves out from within, the thicker they became, until they tucked their tips into his mouth, navel, and anus. Horrified, Roxane watched the man’s body pull itself upright. His limbs spasmed as if he’d just woken up from a very long rest. Black blood dripped from his eyes, ears, and chest, and he let out a deep hiss.
Roxane stood up and heard four familiar words roll off her tongue.
“What in God’s name…?”
Tiny flames trickled down the hillside as the klan descended on the eastern side of Woodridge, determined to finish what the vigilantes had started. Screams erupted from houses black families had barred themselves within, while others burned. Midst it all, Roxane stood her ground and watched the inhuman grotesquerie lurch toward her. Covered in rivers of black blood, the man was clearly dead, yet the tentacles that had erupted from his chest seemed to be doing their best to salvage his body. Through the holes in his robes Roxane could see his flesh rippling as the smaller tentacles busily invaded every corner of his inner workings. Watching it made her feel sick to her stomach, but she knew that running was not an option.
I can’t let this thing survive…
Roxane spread her leathery wings once more and let her dark power surge. Shadow bats exploded from the abyss, slamming into the creature and causing it to stagger backwards. It screeched in return, and smaller tentacles burst out like whips from various points along the klansman’s limbs, cutting through the manifestations. She was so shocked by the monstrosity’s refusal to die that she froze for a moment – just long enough to notice that the smaller tentacles were indeed cutting straight through her bats and coming for her body.
Frantically, she swung out both claws and she stepped to the side. The small tentacles continued along their trajectory, wrapping themselves tightly around her nails. Like boa constrictors, they tightened while simultaneously pulling her back in toward their core. Up close, she could see a tiny mound of teeth at the end of each tentacle as the pointy ends turned inside out in an attempt to both bite and suck at whatever they could reach. Gritting her own teeth, Roxane tried to yank the tentacles out from the klansman’s body, but they wouldn’t budge.
She took to the skies once again with a frustrated grunt, both arms stretched out before her. At around ten feet off the ground, she felt the tentacles grow taught, but she refused to relent. Letting out a bellow, Roxane gave her wings a powerful flap and soared further – up to the nearest sugar maple tree, yanking the klansman’s body off the ground with her, then hooked the tentacles over a sturdy-looking branch and hopped over it. The corpse flew up along with her, causing the tentacles to momentarily support the weight of both bodies. Eventually, Roxane heard a snap and felt the pressure leave her claws. The ruptured tentacles wriggled and fell to the ground, while the klansman’s body went sailing down headfirst to the ground with a wet crunch.
Roxane stomped down on the tentacle pieces, splurting black blood all over the grass, then walked over to the immobilized amalgamation. The blackened tentacles continued to writhe and pulsate around the broken, twisted body. Not wanting to miss this chance, Roxane ran over and grabbed one of the cans of kerosene that had been stockpiled by the vigilantes. After pouring it all over the monster, she used Abraham’s lighter to set it ablaze. A cacophony of shrieks erupted as flames began to eat away at the alien mess.
Roxane only allowed herself to breathe out a single sigh of relief before she took a moment to survey her surroundings. The farmhouse was quiet, while the town continued to burn.
Suddenly, Roxane heard a different kind of screech in the distance – the kind that one often heard from a car crash, accompanied by a loud bang. With a flap of her wings, Roxane propelled herself off the ground, soaring high over the entire village of Woodridge. Up in the dark sky, she could see everything – the klansmen dragging Black people out of their homes, the smoke rising up from every burning building, and John’s sedan flipped over at the entrance to town, right next to a burning wagon. Both vehicles were surrounded on every side by klansmen on horses.
Roxane cursed and shot through the sky as fast as her wings could carry her. Dark mist seethed from her eyes, ears, nose and mouth, and once she reached a proper vantage point above the vehicles, she opened her wings wide and let loose a horrible wail.
Shadow bats once again flew out from the darkness of her wings, assaulting the six white-robed klansmen positioned around the car. Roxane’s black mist rode on her scream, surrounding the bucking horses and the panicking humans on top of them. The klansmen began clutching at their throats while their mist invaded their lungs, and soon Roxane was upon them. While checking the color of the blood that spurted out from each neck, she bit down and sucked out more fuel from each, absorbing new life energy to replace all she’d expended.
Once recharged, Roxane ran over to the car. The bodies of two other white-robed klansmen lay slumped next to it, and all of its doors had been opened. Instinctively, she looked into the back seat – it was empty.
Roxane’s panic reached her throat, and she shifted herself over to the front row. Inside lay John Hoover face-up with his head against the dashboard, holding his pistol in his right hand. He was bleeding from his leg, and when he saw her, he let out a gurgling chuckle.
“Guess this means you’re free now,” he chuckled. “No more havin’ to deal with me breathing down your neck anymore.”
Roxane ignored his words as her eyes scanned his body.
“Am I an idiot or what?” His body seemed to vibrate along with his murmurs. “God, I hate those inbred pinheads. Never trusted ’em, either…but for some reason…I believed they’d never actually try and kill me. I’m assistant director of the BOI, dammit…that should count for somethin’. Got two of the bastards…but…they got me too…” He sounded a bit like he was singing as his voice withered.
“John, hold on.” Roxane let out an exasperated sigh and moved inside the car. “If you can still talk, you can still live.”
got Abraham,” he moaned, as if every word caused him pain. “Dragged
him right out of the back…”
Roxane glanced back at the main street. “It looked like some were marching toward the farmhouse. Now, just calm down while I clean up your wound.”
John let out a cough, then struggled to carry a cigarette from the front pocket of his uniform to his mouth.
“I know how much you hate yourself, Roxane…” he muttered. “It’s written all over your face…at least to me. I wanted to make you smile…give you a reason to be proud of yourself. No different from one of my own men…”
Roxane let out a sigh and lit John’s cigarette with Abraham’s lighter. “Lying to make me feel better, at a time like this? I guess you must be better off than I thought.”
John inhaled deeply, then let out what sounded like a painful mixture between a laugh and a cough. “Come on, now. It’s not all a lie… Yeah, I did it to save my own skin, too. Sure was a lot easier having you clean everything up without having to get my own men involved… But that’s how this goddamn world works, isn’t it? Nothing’s ever cut and dry…when you get down to it. Everyone’s done something good in their life…and everyone’s told a lie. Every last person on this goddamn rock’s…got a touch of evil in ’em.”
“Just shut up already,” Roxane growled. “Find somewhere safe to hide until I return. As soon as I find Abraham, we’re outta here.”
“Right…” John struggled to take another toke of his cigarette and nodded. “Whatever you say, Miss Roxane.”
Roxane shut the door to the car and surveyed the town. Flames crackled, but all was quiet. She thought about how little she knew about John, how she didn’t even know if he had a wife or children, or what he really felt about race deep down. During the time they spent together, he’d mostly annoyed her, but she’d gone along with all of his crazy plans, in the hope that it would lead to something good. In the end, what had he really accomplished? Was his life nothing but a futile mistake, or had he really managed to bring a little good to the world despite all his shortcomings?
Regardless of the answer, it’ll all end here if I fail, she realized. The end of everything going well. The end of whatever positivity she and John had managed to create. The end of Abraham’ life, unless she somehow managed to get to him before those monsters started to abuse him – and if the alien creature she’d just killed was any evidence, it was the beginning of something more horrific than any of them could ever imagine.
Roxane felt the doom closing in on her as she turned her back on John. Screams and cries rang out from the town while a burning stench filled the air. Although she was many things, she was not a quitter – but the crushingly meaningless nature of all the death and destruction weighed heavy on her shoulders.
Still, Abraham’s face remained in her mind, as did the images of all the townspeople who had hidden themselves away in James Kilner’s basement.
This isn’t over yet. I can still save them.
Sealing away any emotions that might’ve summoned tears, Roxane flexed her wings and soared over the blazing town. Within seconds she cleared the flames and returned to the farmhouse, alighting right next to the smoldering remains of the green klansman – and when she looked up toward the house, she saw him there, hanging from the branch of the nearest sugar maple.
Bloodied and beaten, Abraham hung from a rope that had been affixed to a branch, clutching desperately at the noose that had been fastened around his neck. His skin glistened with kerosene. Below, white and green klansmen stood in a circle, watching, jeering, and laughing.
An ear-shattering howl pierced the night as Roxane lunged toward them, seized by a desire to feel the life seep out of every last one of the pale specters. Long, sharp black nails cut through white cloth, flesh and bone, causing both red and black blood to erupt out in streams. One of the klansmen hurriedly pointed his shotgun at her, and she retaliated with quick volley of shadow bats who slammed hard into the barrel of the gun, knocking it right under the man’s chin just as he pulled the trigger.
As soon as she saw an opening, she spun into the air and caught Abraham’ body with both hands, biting down into the rope as she supported his weight with her own mid-flight. Extending out from the knot of the noose behind his neck was a single, thick strand of rope that easily tore as she dug into it with her fangs. She could feel Abraham wheezing, struggling to keep his heart beating as she pulled up and beat her wings furiously in the air. Roxane let out a growl of pain as a stray bullet cut into her side, which only served to further fuel her rage. Both of them heaved and panted as she pulverized the rope with her teeth, until finally a soft snap sounded out from the hemp.
Once freed, Roxane’s powerful wings pushed her through the air with Abraham in her arms. She carried him into the woods and set him down in the dirt, sticks, and weeds, watching as he struggled to regain his breath.
“You were right…” he coughed out at last. “I should’ve never come here…”
“Just stay here,” Roxane said, caressing his head with a bloody hand. “I’m going to kill every last one of them.”
“There’s more of them…some went inside the house. But…you’re hurt.” He stared at her bloody left side. “They shot you…”
Silently, Roxane stood up before him and let the dark mist shroud her body once more. Her red eyes pulsated, and her flesh began to regenerate itself, pushing the tiny bullet out from the wound.
“They can’t kill me.”
Shock glazed over Abraham’ eyes, and she watched as he reflexively made the sign of the cross over his chest. “Miss Roxane… Wh-what are you?”
“A monster,” she replied sadly. “A creature that excels in violence. I wish I could be something else, Abraham, I really do, but it follows me everywhere. I traveled to the other side of the world to try and escape it, but it didn’t work. This is who I am.”
Abraham said, shaking his tired head. “You’re more than that. You’re
“Stay here,” Roxane said, as she turned away and tried desperately to hold back her tears. “I won’t let another one of them get near you.”
Roxane…” Abhram said, struggling to pull a tiny brass lighter out from
his pocket. “Just in case we don’t see each other again… Take this. To
remember me by.”
meet again.” Feeling wetness slide down across her cheek, Roxane quickly
took the lighter and leapt into the sky.
A powerful gust of wind blew up dirt and leaves from the ground as Roxane shot out of the forest, right as the remaining klansmen reached its edge. Just as she’d expected, tentacles had erupted from within the three green klansmen and taken control of their corpses. The two other white-robed klansmen hung back, cradling their shotguns in fear.
Roxane’s crimson eyes glowed in the night as she let out another roar, expelling more mist and bats. They pulverized the white klansmen and their bullets, but the green klansmen stood their ground, swatting away the projectiles with their alien appendages.
As her attack ended, Roxane dashed over to the freshly-subdued white robes and sunk her teeth into both of their necks, one after another, quickly absorbing all the energy she could muster. Mist continued to pour out around her body, cloaking it like a thick cloud. While the green ones slowly approached, she planted her feet firmly in the ground and grasped out at the mist with her claws, molding it into two dark purple orbs – one for each palm.
With another howl, Roxane let the orbs explode out from her palms. They crackled and sparked as they converged on the green klansman in the center, exploding into a sizzling array of dark fireworks that sent both tentacles and limbs flying through the night.
Roxane allowed herself only a few moments to drop to her knees and catch her breath. Her body was such a convenient weapon that it could keep going as long as she continued to fuel it, but the same couldn’t be said for her mind. Fatigue had caused it to grow hazy, but it hadn’t weakened the rage that burned in her heart.
You could take Abraham and run, a powerfully tempting voice boomed within her mind. You’ve done enough. This is a lost cause. Go and find peace with him.
Roxane stared up at the broken windows of the farmhouse as she listened the voice, remembering the dead old woman she’d seen in the back, brains splattered all over the sink.
No, she replied. If that’s what I wanted, I should have just gone home with him after the speakeasy. That’s not what I came here for.
Roxane took one last look around the vicinity to make sure no other klansmen were near, then forced her body up once more and climbed the steps to the front porch.
I came here to save these people and stop these crimes, no matter how much pain and suffering it may cause me. It’s my duty as a monster whose hands are so deeply stained with blood. I can’t stop here. I can never stop.
Roxane walked through the gaping maw to the farmhouse and looked to her side. In the living room, James Kilner, Carl Clover and several other men lay dead in a massive pool of blood. James’ head had been neatly severed from his body and placed on the mantle of his fireplace.
Her pace quickened, and in the kitchen, she saw the corpses of three more. All of their limbs had been severed and arranged like a bundle of firewood next to their mutilated torsos. Roxane could hear her heart pounding in her chest as she threw open the door to the basement and leapt down the flight of stairs.
In the center of the wide, murky basement was a configuration assembled completely of body parts. Arms and legs connected torsos that functioned as nodes, all leading to a small circle of severed heads in the center. Faces of men, women and children frozen in expressions of pain and horror flickered in the light provided by the candles that the refugees had once held for security, now placed in a wide circle around the grotesque creation.
I failed… Roxane fell to her knees, finally unable to bear the weight of her own heart any longer. I couldn’t save a single one of them…
Then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw him – a figure in crimson robes, only somewhat visible in the dim light.
“An offering to the Old Ones,” the Imperial Wizard said as he moved out from the shadows. “You will join them too, dusky one, and your blood shall herald the rebirth of the true America.”
Roxane leapt over the grotesque creation in reply and fastened her hand around the man’s thick neck. As he sputtered, he grabbed her arm and tried to remove it, but she was far too strong.
“Go on, transform or whatever the hell you’re going to do,” she growled. “I’ll kill you however many times I need to.”
She closed her hand tighter and stabbed her nails deep into the man’s neck. As bones and muscle snapped, his body slipped away from his head, which went rolling off the top of her fist. Roxane let mist pour out of her body as she watched the body splat to the floor.
Sure enough, after a few moments, she heard a crack, followed by a splinter. As if controlled by invisible strings, the klansman’s ribcage spread out from his stomach piece by piece, blossoming open like a pale, ossified flower. Organs and viscera spurted up as the torso’s flesh was ripped into ribbons, and Roxane saw a pale green light begin to glow deep within the man’s chest cavity.
Then came the arms. Long, supple, and pale, they reached out from the void and began feeling around for solid ground. Incredulous, Roxane reached out a claw to slice one off, but was surprised as a thick green tentacle came shooting out from the very same green abyss and deflected her strike. That tentacle was followed by another, and soon she saw a pale torso lift itself out from the dead one.
He had long purple hair, and the skin on his face, neck, and chest and arms were all speckled orange. As he lifted his head up, Roxane studied his white lips, the small singular hole where his nose should have been, and the strange eyes that stared intently at her. Were it not for the thick tentacles that wrapped around his body and the clear white irises that surrounded his abyssal black pupils, he would have looked almost human.
With a lurch, the creature lifted his torso out from the rift and shoved a thin thigh forward, kicking open the rest of the cavity as he did so. Green tentacles extended from every joint. Finally free from his fleshly confines, he stood on the smooth cement and stared at Roxane, intrigued.
“Well, I’m here.” His voice sounded smooth and velvety. “Ready to kill me?”
All was quiet in the basement as Roxane continued to survey the being who had so casually stepped out from the chest of the Imperial Wizard. No more screams, burning, or gunshots could be heard from the surface, and the dwindling candlelight flickered precariously against the walls, threatening to disappear at any moment. It was as if she and this strange creature had been cut off from the world, trapped in their own private prison.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, smirking with his white lips. “Go on, I want to see you try and kill me.”
Roxane took a deep breath and spread her wings, despite knowing that something wasn’t right. That thing, whatever he was, felt…different, and the confidence he exuded wasn’t the usual ignorant foolhardiness she normally encountered. Still, she followed through with her attack, sending a new army of shadow bats screaming towards the creature.
He held up his palm, and a dark violet glow began to emanate from his body. The moment a bat closed in on him, it dissipated against the partly-transparent shield of violet power that now lined his body, while the rest went flying through the back wall. Roxane ran forward and slashed out with her right hand, only to see the creature whip up a groinal tentacle and fasten it around her pinky nail, freezing it in place. Caught by surprise, Roxane’s momentum carried her forward until she somersaulted in mid-air and felt the acute pain of her nail snapping in the thick tentacle’s grip.
Roxane’s head hit the cold, hard floor and she screamed in pain. Wincing, she hurriedly tried to pull herself to her feet, but before she could, she felt a powerful kick slam into her side. Searing pain ripped through her body as it was lifted up from the floor only to fall back down in the center of the configuration. The stench of human viscera filled Roxane’s nostrils as she scrambled back to her feet yet again.
“So weak,” the creature called out calmly. “Oh, how those humans have leashed you!”
Roxane heaved while her assailant slowly approached. Just like she’d done outside to exterminate the lesser creatures, she molded two orbs of mist into her palms and shot them straight toward her target. He dodged them with ease, and they too went flying into the stone.
A mixture of frustration and doom gripped Roxane’s heart. He’s the one responsible for this. He killed them all… I can’t give up here!
She let out a scream and charged, slashing out with all her might, but he caught both her wrists in firm grips. She could feel her body creaking in pain as she swung a leg out in a desperate kick, which he deflected with a powerful tentacle strike, causing her to stagger backwards. Before Roxane could even catch her balance, he used his groinal tentacle to slap the backs of her knees, flooring her.
She could have transformed into a bat and fled in the shadows. She could have given up, but there was something inside her – something so angry and frustrated that it refused to let her stop. Gritting her teeth, Roxane tried to pull her quivering body up once more.
“All out of tricks?” the creature scoffed, fastening a tentacle around her neck and effortlessly lifting her body off the ground. “So be it. Now you will watch and listen. There’s no reason for us to fight, you know… Especially seeing as how we have something in common.”
Roxane opened her parched mouth. “No we don’t.”
“Yes, yes we do,” he chuckled, as he wrapped his groinal tentacle around his waist. “Neither of us are human, now are we?”
“What are you?”
“A complicated question,” the creature replied, “The humans have called us denizens of the otherworld many things. Yvthuva, Nephilim, Demon… But you can call me Egens, for now. And your name is?”
“You’re confused,” Egens said with a smile, seemingly reveling in the obvious. “Maybe you’re wondering why I haven’t killed you yet, or what I was doing in that flesh sack…” He glanced over to the mutilated corpse with glee. “The Imperial Wizard, they called him. Silly humans with their silly costumes and games. It’s so easy to get them excited… So easy to get them to dedicate their lives to yet another meaningless cause.”
Roxane looked back to the corpse, remembering how Egens had erupted from the Imperial Wizard’s chest. “You were hiding inside him the whole time? Controlling him with those tentacles?”
“Oh, heavens no.” Egens grimaced as he shook his head. “I’d never want to wear one of those flesh suits. So brittle… So inconvenient. I merely placed a parasite in him, for safekeeping, just like the other ones. Easy to keep tabs on them that way. Easy to use as portals as well.”
Slowly but surely, the pieces to the sickening puzzle began to fall in place within Roxane’s mind. “They were just…pets to you, is that? Guinea pigs?”
“Yes, see, I knew you’d catch on,” Egens said, as his monochrome eyes lit up. “Just like how humans have their fun with their dogs and cats. They think it’s so cute when a dog steals something and parades it around proudly, without ever realizing that they’re exactly the same way. You should have seen how giddy the Imperial Wizard was when I helped him secure his seat as senator, whispering to him about how it was all part of God’s grand plan. No different from a dog… No different at all!” Egens laughed. “That’s what separates us and them. In the end, they’re just animals – the basest of creatures. We’re hardly similar, species-wise. Not even in the same league,” he snorted, gesturing at the severed body pieces that he’d lined up in the center of the room.
“Why did you kill everyone who was hiding down here?!” Roxane shouted hoarsely. “They were innocent!”
“Innocent?” he laughed. “Harmless from our point of view, perhaps, but innocent? Please. All they ever do is bicker, steal, and fight with one another. And on top of that, they’re ignorant and arrogant, one of the most hazardous combinations. Does being innocent mean they’re free to ruin this planet as they please? This planet, which was once home to extraordinary beings far more powerful than they could ever hope to be?”
“What are you…talking about?”
“The Old Ones,” Egens spoke, with all the fascination and admiration of a professor describing his latest discovery. “The ones who molded and shaped this planet long before humankind ever learned to stand on two feet. They’re out there…listening. Waiting for someone to invoke them once more. Watch, you’ll see.”
Saying that, Egens raised a palm before his bloody configuration. Green energy pulsated out from it, washing over the severed body pieces and lighting them up together like a neon sigil.
“Your silence speaks volumes,” Egens went on, glancing over to the shadows with a smirk. “Let me guess what you’re thinking. I’ve met other superbeings like you before, you know. They were horribly confused, brainwashed by the humans into thinking that there was beauty in humanity… That being more human would somehow bring them peace. It made them hate themselves. They all died of course, the poor creatures… There isn’t much coming back from that, I’m afraid. But I can sense that there’s still ferocity in you. A desire to be something greater, something better…”
The ground began to crack and splinter. The green glow emanating from every severed body piece now cut through the darkness like fire, and soon, the entire basement began to shake.
“Just think about it. Do humans think fish and insects have the potential for infinite growth? Of course not… Yet their idiotic narcissism, their ignorant hubris makes them believe that they have the virtue to rule. Humans, of all creatures! Humans, who devote so much time and energy to deceiving and brainwashing one another! They’re so craven and afraid of each other that they use skin color to justify enslavement and murder. I expect you’ve suffered from it as well, judging from your pigmentation.”
Roxane could feel Egens’s face next to hers now, speaking clearly into her ear as the basement continued to shake. Images of the great war and the further violence she’d seen in America passed through her mind, followed by the bloodied bodies of John and Abraham.
“Can you believe it?” Egens went on, cracking himself up as he continued. “Slow-minded, weak sacks of flesh, fashioning themselves as Gods and rulers. Pretending like they’re better than their kin, all for the sake of a fleeting, hollow sense of security! Weak, stupid, conceited animals, desperate to feel special, desperate to gain any sort of immunity, despite the fact that none of them could ever do the kind of things you can, no matter how hard they tried! Surely you must understand what I mean, Roxane. Haven’t you ever once despised them?”
As the rumbling got louder, so did Egens’s voice, until the floor beneath the configuration crumbled away, leaving only them and the neon symbol floating over an abyss.
“Time after a time, one faction of humanity rises with the assumption that they control the world – fooling themselves into thinking they have everything under control, and that everything is theirs to take. The warriors, the priests, the capitalists…if only they knew what was coming!” he cackled. “It’ll be the slowest, most agonizing death in the history of the human race. All of their legacies, everything they’ve hoped to accomplish, slowly crumbling into nothing. And the best part is that it’ll all happen by their own hand. Fitting, wouldn’t you agree? Simply give them the tools to destroy each other, and they’ll do it, mark my words. But one big, instant kaboom wouldn’t be very festive, now would it? No… Creatures this vile deserve a death that will last decades… Centuries, even.”
As Egens’ words pierced her brain, Roxane watched a massive mouth burst up from the ground and swallow every last glowing piece of human that had been floating over the chasm. Five rows of razor-sharp teeth gnashed in a circular motion, while a continual burst of flame shot up from within its throat. Purple rubbery lips ran around their edge, while the bit of skin that could be seen above ground was riddled with spiny, hairy antennae that reached out like ghostly fingers.
“Behold,” Egens sighed. “Kep-Gur, devourer of flame.”
As Roxane gazed upon the alien beast, she could feel the last gnarled finger of that fist of doom tighten around her heart, threatening to crush it along with all her remaining hope. Body shaking, drenched in cold sweat, she flitted her eyes between Egens and the creature he had summoned.
Just need to buy a little more time…
“You commanded them to destroy this town. You killed everyone…” she murmured. “For what? Just to…torture them?”
Egens shrugged. “Do humans question the why when they smash a bug? Of course not. Maybe they just hate how it looks…or unconsciously believe they have the right to crush one whenever they feel like it, because they’re superior. Yet they aren’t – they’re confused, drunk on their own narcissism. We are the superior ones, Roxane. You and me – for we have never been human nor animal. Tell me, Roxane? Do you hate yourself?”
“What do you want from me?!” she screamed.
“Answer the question!” Egens screamed in return, as he whipped one of his tentacles and slapped her hard across the face. “Have those inferior humans brainwashed you into hating yourself?!”
true that I killed innocent people…” Roxane moaned, as tears at last
began to drip down from her bloodshot eyes. “People who loved me. People
who I shouldn’t have killed…”
“Such is your right,” Egens said calmly. “You feed off their blood. Just like humans breed cattle specifically for the purpose of killing them, you too must kill to survive. You were only following your instincts, Roxane.”
“But there are still humans I love. Humans I care about…” she cried, shaking her head. “You’re the one who’s trying to brainwash me!”
“I know, I know.” Egens fastened his tentacles around her shoulders as he moved toward her and lightly caressed her cheek with a pale, sticky hand. “I know it may hurt at first, Roxane. Truth has a way of hurting sometimes. Just know that this is for your own good. For your own growth… Your own freedom.”
“I’m not a monster… Abraham said so,” Roxane said powerfully, as dark mist began to once more cloak her body. “Maybe I’m not strong enough to defeat you now… Maybe this monster you’ve summoned really is capable of swallowing us all up… You think I care about that? You think I’m going to give up here just because I’m having a hard time?”
“Act as tough as you want,” Egens smirked, as he tightened his grip. “What can you possibly do at this point?”
“I already did what I needed to do,” Roxane smirked. “What’s wrong? Can’t smell it? That space back there is a furnace room filled with kerosene. Seeing how well your flunkies burned, the first thing I did was use my bats to poke some holes in the back wall and what lied beyond it… Kerosene’s been leaking into this room ever since.”
Hearing this, Egens took a suspicious look around. “Kerosene…?”
“What was that monster’s name again? Devourer of flame?” Roxane went on, as she pulled Abraham’s lighter out of her pocket and flipped it open. “Let’s see him devour this.”
“Wai–” Egens began, just as Roxane dropped the lighter and lit the entire floor on fire.
That moment of shock was all she needed – mustering up all her strength, Roxane broke free of the creature’s grip and gave him a swift kick in the stomach at the same time. As he struggled to maintain his balance, Roxane let her mist burst out and took to the skies. At the same time, a blazing explosion rocked the entire basement, filling it with fire and smoke. Roxane flew out as quickly as she could, gasping for fresh air as she tried to escape the growing inferno.
Using her remaining nails as a shield, Roxane burst through the closest window she could find on the first floor and sailed out into the night sky, only a moment before the entire Kilner house went out in flames.
I’m not a monster… And no matter what hardships may come, I’ll never give up on myself.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
NEW YORK, SATURDAY, AUGUST 8, 1922.
IDYLLIC TOWN BURNED TO THE GROUND IN RACE RIOT
WOODRIDGE, New York, Aug. 7 – The peaceful town of Woodridge was burned to the ground last night by a terrible fire that began in the east part of town and eventually spread to the rest, destroying every block. It began when armed posses of white men began scouring the village for Carl Clover, escaped Black convict, in connection to an attack on a white woman. The fire is thought to have started from an explosion that resulted from a shootout during the search. Many of those found were unidentifiable due to burn wounds; death toll currently unknown.
According to the eyewitness testimony of Mr. Abraham Leroy, the heavily wounded lone survivor rescued by the state police, the only reason he survived the terrible fire is thanks to a mysterious Black woman who went in to confront the armed posses all on her own.
When state troopers investigated the basement of the house where the woman was last seen, they found an unspeakable number of mutilated corpses. But none matched Mr. Leroy’s description of the woman. Strange hairs and pieces of pale flesh that seemed neither human nor animal were also retrieved.
Currently, further investigations are scheduled to be carried out by the BOI’s special investigation unit.