Note: Those of you who have read my novel, Escaping the Mirror, may remember that Karen is the mother of my main character, Evil, and her brother, Jim. I’ve written quite a bit of material about Karen that I may use for a future sequel. This is a little snippet of her story.
I knock on the picnic table in three cycles of two, in just the right rhythm, knuckle knuckle, fist, knuckle knuckle, fist, but it doesn’t feel like enough. So I start the sequence again.
“That’s twelve!” Angel says. “That’s twelve, not six! It’s supposed to be six.”
“The first set didn’t count,” I say. “It didn’t feel right.”
“Yes, it did,” she says, with a smug little smile I’d like to slap right off her face. “Now you’ve just reversed it.”
“Ugh!” I growl. “Fine. I’ll do it again.”
“It’s too late,” she says in a sing-song voice. “You can’t undo it now.”
“You should’ve done it right in the first place,” she says. “Now they’re gonna come.”
I ignore her, fighting the panic down. It’s worked before. It has to work again–it has to. I start knocking again, knuckle knuckle, fist, knuckle knuckle, fist, but Angel just laughs at me.
“Too late now!” she sings out happily, and sure enough, I hear them, rumbling deep down in the earth under my feet–first like a purring cat, then like heavy machinery, until finally, the ground beside the monkey bars opens right up and two of the fattest demons I’ve ever seen come rising out, mucus-smeared faces leering, eyes rolling. They chuckle, deep as thunder, and I jump up from the picnic bench.
No, not the children. Please don’t hurt the children.
The little boy and girl–brother and sister, I think–are climbing with abandon, oblivious. Their mother is smoking a cigarette on a nearby bench, looking bored. No one seems to notice that the gates of hell have opened up and they’re about to be dragged down into the pit.
It’s not real, I tell myself. It can’t be real. They’d see it, too. They’d notice.
The demons’ wings whir like a bumble bee’s, struggling to carry their huge grey lumpy bodies closer to the children. I fight the panic, fight it back. The last time I tried to save one of the children, I got into trouble. I can’t forget that–the policeman with the disgust on his face, the handcuffs tight around my wrists. I don’t want that to happen again.
So I fight. I fight myself. I push the panic down.
Angel isn’t helping matters. “Quick, move! What are you doing?” she shrieks. “Help them! Save them!”
“You’re not real,” I mutter, trying to convince myself. That’s what Dr. Simmons always used to say. He’s the expert.
“He’s one of them!” Angel screams. “Of course he said that, that’s what they want you to believe!”
I put my hands over my ears, trying to shut her out. The demons are hovering right over the children now, one per child, dripping greenish snot on their innocent little heads. Their mother has finally dropped the bored look and is watching me with wary eyes.
“They’re going to take them!” Angel goes on. “they’re going to burn in hell because you wouldn’t do anything to stop it!”
The mother gets up and walks over to the monkey bars, looking scared. “Come on, kids,” she says. “It’s time to go.”
“But Mom, you said we could stay ’til lunch,” the boy whines.
“Yeah, you said we could stay ’til lunch,” the girl chimes in.
“We have to go now,” the mother snaps, grabbing the girl’s arm.
Above them, the demons snicker and lick their lips. More snot falls on them. So they’re contaminated now. They’ll never be the same. I want to warn them, but I know they won’t listen. It’s too late now, anyway.
The mother manages to wrestle both children off the monkey bars, kicking and screaming. The demons follow right along behind them as they hurry out of the park.
Angel sighs, shakes her head at me, then shrugs and skips over to the swings. She climbs on, kicks her feet out helplessly. “Push me!” she demands.
I can’t move. A pit of grief, deep and endless, opens up inside of me.
“Please?” she calls out again, in a sweeter tone.