Heathens

Apollo and Dion, a dysfunctional rag-tag pair of demon hunters have been sent to investigate the city of Havenbrook and its inhabitants.

The mission is simple: to find the cultists responsible for a recent string of murders and to bring them to justice. Even if it takes killing dozens of demons on the way there.

But things are never that simple when you deal with the dark arts. Cultists, demon pacts, sacrificial murders all stand in the demon hunters' way as they search for the truth. A truth that will force them to question their own identities, a truth about the absolute evil lurking beyond heaven and earth. The question is, if they find the truth, will they be strong enough to handle it?

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75. Chapter 73 Part 2

Jeremiah

He had turned his head over his shoulders twenty-three times and he kept count. He could feel the rocks that came through the holes of his shoes and the way the rubber soles slapped about sounded like a drowning man at the water surface. They clung, just barely, by sweat and will.  But it didn't matter much, discomfort that is. For all he worried about was how to get the boy to safety.  He felt two things chasing him, the demon with the large figure and the chasing tremors of a buried horror. He could feel the pulses of the creature, underneath the cracked and desolate earth. He could see the ground move up and vibrate and the twisting of stone as the creature circumvented and went around and played with its food. He saw a tree collapse to his rear. It made a loud bang on the floor and its stems and branches fell off into a rain of bark. Closer. 

Knowing this and knowing the child, Jeremiah wore his best face, something in between anger and determination. He put his hand on Bartholomew. 

"Split up from me when I say so. And when you leave you get as far away as possible, you hear me?"

The child nodded his head and looked around. It must have been a joke, as if there was any place to actually run.

They went for some ten minutes, far and steady. Jeremiah looked at the floor, where the bulge of earth was traveling and where the rocks flew out with intense thrashing, hitting his face and his teeth with small particles. 

The astringency on his tongue was harsh, as if his mouth was shrinking and with it, seemingly every muscle on his body. First, his mouth, then his arms, then his heart and at last, as if weakness had been pumped through his body steadily, he felt it in his heart. A quiver, a skip of the beat perhaps. Anxiety, was it? Something worse, worse than not knowing. Maybe knowing too well.  The sweat on his hair dragged his head low to the ground. He was done processing it, he knew what it all meant, his worry. He told Bartholomew in a whisper. 

"Run far from me, alright." His voice was abnormally calm. “You get as far as you can get, don’t you stop until I disappear to your small eyes. Till I'm a blip. Then you keep running. Don’t you ever stop, too.” 

The boy looked him and his face, eerily calm and still. There was not a single crack on Jeremiah’s young face. 

Bartholomew ran. Jeremiah ran opposite, stomping hard on the floor near the creature. And the simple animal, with his simple hungers, chased after the largest piece of meat. He swam through the desert rock towards Jeremiah. 

He was quick paced, he was light and he came to a simple oak tree somewhere in the few minutes of his running. There were no leaves growing on it and its trunk was filled with the shavings of bark. It was great here, Jeremiah thought. With the branches soft and uninterrupted with the chaos of the hunt. Jeremiah looked to see how far he was, maybe just twenty yards away from the creature. He slowed down around the oak and put his hand on it and felt it through his skin. It was strange to have his senses so heightened, to feel the texture of the bark, rough and frail. To smell the wood, somewhat sweet. To feel the breeze behind his ear and to have that sensation of ebbing in his body. His head faced the clear skies, he swore he saw an eagle. He hoped it to be a dignified bird. It was most likely a vulture, probably. 

Jeremiah ignored the closing sound of the burrowed thing. He made a hat out of his hands and looked to find the boy. The boy was looking at him, disobeying him. He could only sigh and raise his other hand and wave wildly.

Bartholomew understood the message but he stayed anyway.

Not again, he thought. He couldn’t scream now though. The sound of crushing rock was too loud. Jeremiah looked at the burrowed thing, like a shark, leaving his trail on the floor. He could see two deep-green antennas flickering and moving to every obtuse step Jeremiah took. He decided to just be still then and let it come with that ruthless discipline, the kind you could only find in the simplistic brains of animals. It was just programming, just instinct for the creature. Another day here. The last day, for Jeremiah.

It stopped in front of Jeremiah. The earth was still for a moment and peace only seemed to magnify the drama of the next event. Without conceit nor ceremony, it rose. A creature he could only imagine in Hell. A creature with a long-striped body, a trunk of sorts. With legs thigh and nimble, whose small claws latched to stone like feet. On it, a large set of pincers for a face, an armored body for a skin. Some nasty cross abomination between a centipede and a scorpion and through some abominable form of alchemy had managed to take the worst of both. It made no sensible noise. It was loud and screechy and it undermined the oppressive sun within moments. It was cold in the shadow. Jeremiah stood, his thighs forward, almost to a kneel. 

The centipede wrapped around Jeremiah, boa constrictor-like, with a slither with its shiny body. It threw rock casually away until the prison was constructed correctly. Jeremiah couldn’t even tell how large it was, most of the body still remained underground. Its beady eyes stared at Jeremiah, he saw his own reflection eight times. The antennas rattled. They sounded like maracas, he almost laughed. This stupid thing will get me, finally. He thought. A fucking bug? 

It lunged. Jeremiah jumped. He tried to climb out of that trap, pushing down with two arms as he vaulted the first circle of the centipede's body. He was pulled back with the pincer. He could feel them stabbing through his thighs. And it did not let go. It gobbled and ate with that bored, mechanical mouth. Chomping down, little by little, like a wood chipper. Jeremiah saw his clothes go first, his skin second and at last his flesh and bones. He had to look away at that point. 

A sloppy eater.

“Fuck off me.” He screamed. He struggled, trying to rip his leg (whatever remained of it) out. After a while, he was hoping for the natural opiate of his brain to deliver him unto easy death. It couldn’t. There was too much nibbling and shredding happening. He had to feel his bone scratched and drilled through. He had to feel the marrow leave him empty. He closed his eyes, like casual meditation. His forehead could not stop sweating. He could not stop screaming. Then finally, out of mercy it seemed, the creature stopped. Jeremiah could finally see what remained, the few toes and pieces of bone. He mostly saw nubs, the little-tender-bleeding-amputations.

He raised his fist into a hammer and brought it down. He felt his thumb break. The creature wasn't even aware. He moved his antennas around and returned to eating. Jeremiah had his body against the large expanse of the centipede. He could feel the digestive track running. I hope you choke on it, he thought. He punched again.

He hoped at least that it was just him, that this was just his punishment. Hope didn’t seem to come easy down here though and it didn’t then.

The child was still there. Watching. Holding his breath. Too courageous or stupid for his own good.

In a crying fit of rage, he ran towards Jeremiah.

Both his hands were up like a disarmed cavalry rider. He was running towards Jeremiah.

Jeremiah saw his tiny head through the slits of the slithering body. The small scalp of hair was bobbing. 

"Get away! Ah" He cringed. “Fuck off!”

He couldn't feel his leg anymore. Thank god he couldn’t feel his leg. He fell down on the floor. What remained of his foot was pale and contrasted sharply against the yellow rock. It looked like a disease shrub, with skin so mangled as if to look like the hundred ends of thorny plants.

He crawled up again, towards the sound of Bartholomew crying. The centipede was conscious of it. It turned and dragged its antennas, detectors of life and joy. They wobbled and picked up the signal quickly. Then it dug again, which sounded like the march of an army, which felt like numbness to Jeremiah.

A stupidly smart creature.

"No, no, no." He said to himself. 

“I said run!” He slammed the floor with open palms and immediately felt the motion underneath the floor. It was going towards the child, the child who came towards Jeremiah. Bait for bait.

Jeremiah pushed himself off the floor. Almost. He slipped on his blood and fell. He leg felt worthless, like dangling wooden parts of a rope-cut mannequin. Red and white, all his lower body was red and white. Again he pressed down. He could stand on a leg at least.

He stepped forward. Sharp pain hit him, he slipped and hit his chin on the floor. His brain felt scrambled. 

"Come on, let me run. Let me stand, come on." He said, to God, probably. 

Third time. He lost his balance and hit his shoulder on the cruel, cracked earth.

"Why am I asking?" Jeremiah said. "Why not just do it, why not just fucking move? Will you?"

He groaned as he came up off the ground. He took a step, a limped step. A button press, maybe a gift of his blood-drained, fatigued brain, but he saw his life coming before him. He watched every person who had insulted him and every person who had loved him, side by side, cheering and booing so fast together that he could barely tell them apart. It was like a strobing light. Just give up. 

Just stop. You wasted your life. You kept chasing after the vanity of vanities.

On and on and on, he walked down the path towards Bartholomew and towards the land shark.

Heinz appeared in front of him. Not smiling, not angry. Somewhat disappointed, wearing that dumb drill instructor hat, wearing the stupid whistle and the black boots. He was too embarrassed not to run. 

Jeremiah put his bad foot forward. He felt pain. Then his good, then his bad, even and fair with the insults. 

His eyelids were heavy. 

What was he doing again? He asked himself. The fog formed in his head, his eyes a constant blur into darkness, as if his body was sinking into the dark depths of an ocean and re-surging like a drunk diver.

Can I do it? The question of his life. Can I do it for someone else? 

He put his arms forward and stroked them. He put his head forward, it wasn't hard to do with how heavy it felt. His thighs carried his feet, feet that had been obliterated long ago, feet that could not even hold their own shape. They were deflated, cheapened.

I can't disappoint again, Jeremiah thought. If running is all I'm good for, then let me this be my best work.

The dust came to his lungs, he breathed it in. He ran. 

He bit his tongue and felt it bleed. He ran.

He could feel the sharp pain of air coming into his lungs.

He ran up. He felt the blood come down. He ran. He felt his head go light. He ran up. His eyes were tired. He ran. His mouth, bleeding. He ran. Ran. Ran. 

Without sweat, without tiredness, without anything holding him back. Not even life itself. He had nothing to lose, everything to gain. 

The boy was in front of him, reaching for a hug, to be held, to fight that useless fight. 

Jeremiah pushed him. He watched the boy hit the floor with a loud thud and watched the small hands reach over to rub the small bruise on his forehead.

The child raised his brow and looked, at first, with angry surprise, disappointment, betrayal. Then with shock. With his mouth open, wide, with tears following the contours of the strain on his face. He watched with horror.

“Behind you.” The boy shouted. 

Jeremiah didn't understand. Was there something funny about him? He sure felt funny. And heavy. His legs seemed to wobble, his lungs felt full, as if he was drowning. The heat seemed to disappear from him, escaping with the blood down his nose. 

Jeremiah’s eyes came down. He felt a sting, then coldness. Foam started up his throat like a seltzer had been shoved into his screaming mouth.

He kept looking down. He understood then.

Small armored hands stabbed through him. The spots of blood were forming on his perforated torso. They looked like little spurts, splashed of red ocean water. They stained his shirt. He felt funny.

Jeremiah reached for his chest to hold the wounds that suckled onto his shirt and that winked. He was lifted and raised high, then thrown to the floor. He stopped breathing then. Between the bones and the wounds, his skeleton seemed broken. The frame of his body, falling to small bone chips and pieces. His head was left to stare at the boy who had fallen on his back and who looked up to the monstrosity. Jeremiah wanted to smile, to comfort at least. He couldn’t move his face though. His thoughts dissipated into dark obscurity. All he could think of was fragmented, words and single pictures with long gaps of time between them. It was not a slide show of his life. And if it was, it was played through a broken projector.

He thought, by association probably, of that other night with Heinz. The shitty day, with the shitty coffee and the shitty punk and the shitty car. With the unfinished walls and doors and the tarps of blue and the headache pain and the nightmare of his sleep.

Air escaped his pursed lips. It was supposed to be a scream.

He looked at the boy, who had his eyes covered. And for an instant, only wished above all else, above family and friends and petty pleasures, Jeremiah wished for the child to be saved.

The behemoth of the earth rose. His body constricted the very earth itself, held it hostage. 

If I could beg. I would. A thought. It was hard to think now.

The sun sky went dark. There was a splash of liquid on his face. A dying cry of a monster. 

There was the sound of crying. The sound of small hands shaking his body. And for some reason, it was easier to sleep now.

If there was no calendar, no clock, no keeper of horrid history then let this stand as a beacon of place and time. Today, Jeremiah died. 

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