20 Nov The Curtain
“The Curtain”Written by B.T. Joy Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 20 minutes
If Yannick hadn’t been here before he wouldn’t have known what they were.
The countryside that surrounded them was French; anyone could have guessed that. Flaxen fields of barely tillering wheat ran as far as the eye could see and stopped only, perhaps, where the rough beach grass trimmed the boundaries of the Normandy coast. But they, themselves, the figures that stood among the level farmlands, were far harder for a stranger to the dream to identify.
Trees, they appeared at first. Or, rather, blasted, dead stumps that dotted the otherwise empty plain like an extinct forest. Then — from the nearest of these broken pillars — the eye discerns a ruffling movement around the steady form and — suddenly — the dreamer realizes that each dark shape against the yellow crops is clothed in a furling black habit that trails along with the wind.
The nuns, Yannick thought, and he looked with his dream-eyes at the plaster-like, cracked faces that hung like Venetian masks on the heads of each sideward leaning and colorlessly dressed body.
Yannick hated them; hated them and needed them all at the same time.
The shape closest to him in the sisterhood of shapes let a pale and blue-veined hand slip from under her mantle and then it pointed, twist-fingered, towards the shambling relic of disordered stone that had been their home when they were alive and young.
Yannick refused to look the way the wind was blowing: towards the convent that had stood on that spot when he was a boy — in his summery childhood — but that was now nothing but a mound of rocks. He focused instead on the long, indicatory arm and the spiny hand of stretched fingers that concluded it.
In that hand, the nun was still holding her crucifix and the silver chain and glass beads of the rosary wound around her digits and her wrist like a length of cheese-wire digging into the skin.
As Yannick watched she tightened her grip on the awkward cruciform shape she held and with such vehemence that a dribbling run of blood fell from her palm and stained the blonde ground at her feet a darker color.
Yannick was not shocked. He had seen all their blasphemies before. His blue eyes trailed up the line of the nun’s arm, not stopping at her hunched shoulder, and carrying on to her grinning, feral, parody of a face.
The thing inside the nun winked at him and then her long, black tongue unfolded like a sexual invitation from the cavity of her mouth.
She opened her throat to speak to him but the only sound that issued out was—
The alarm! Stark and jarring and military in its directness.
Yannick rolled over with a practiced precision and fingered the device until the noise stopped.
He sat up on his elbow on the hard mattress in the center of the concrete room. The window behind his head had only then begun to turn a darker shade of blue with the oncoming night.
He listened, cocking his head to one side like a predatory bird. His blue eyes shimmered lightly in the shadows as he took in all the auditory information he could; interpreted it and drew his conclusions about the other inhabitant of the house.
His breath stilled a little when he first heard the low bass of the ruckus downstairs. The basement was well enough soundproofed so that only a particularly attentive ear could ever pick out the noise but Yannick had spent the last nine years training himself to detect even the slightest disturbance at even the most extreme thresholds of his senses and so, to him, any sound louder than a whisper was unnerving enough to cause him to go down and quiet it.
Still, though, he could never react in a spurt of panic or discord. It was what it wanted and he simply wouldn’t allow it.
He calmed himself and blinked the still burning pictures of all those dead French nuns out of his memory. Then he pulled the blanket away from his still-dressed body and rose; limping off into the pit latrine to prepare.
When inside the doorless cubicle that he used for the inevitable calls that nature made each day Yannick pushed his trousers down to his knees and touched his inner thigh with exploratory fingers.
Blood. He pulled his hand back and looked at it. His palm and all his digits were smeared red.
He saw the yellow fields again: the nun’s hand bleeding onto the wheat.
He winced a little as, tenderly, he reached down again. He grabbed the buckle of the improvised cilice and slackened it only momentarily before dragging it shut again with another notch of tightness that drove the razorblades deeper into the flesh.
There was another spurt of fresh bleeding across his wrist. He set his jaw and meditated on the pain. He imagined the Venerable Antonietta Meo; her tiny bones rife with life-eating osteosarcomas; the doctors applying a tourniquet to her leg before sawing it off; and, all the while, the six-year-old Saint maintaining a composure of prayer and gratitude to Christ.
“Ad majorem Christi gloriam,” he muttered: For the greater glory of Christ.
He left the contraption tightened around his thigh and pulled up his trousers; tightening too the belt around his waist.
In the basement room downstairs the noise must have been getting out of hand because he could hear it almost clearly through the thickly insulated floor.
He left the latrine and made his way — limpingly — toward the stairs.
* * * * * *
The curtain ran on a straight runner across the ceiling and cut off a narrow strip of the room by the back wall. Behind it, as was often the case, there was such a filthy stream of caterwauling and profanity that it hurt Yannick’s soul to hear it.
Today, Yannick could just about make out from the muffled protestations, that it was the Holy Trinity that was the target of the thing’s tirade of execration.
On other days there would be diatribes given out to nearly every sacred thing. The testicles of John the Baptist, for some outlandish reason, were a particularly favored subject.
The Popes of Rome lick the fat arse of Mammon, it would slobber. Jesus’ mouth and Saint John’s balls! The tongues of the nuns in the dusty, black cunt of the Mother of God!
Of course, through the gag, Yannick could rarely catch enough for the offense to be total.
He crossed now to the curtain and listened for a moment. Some diarrheic drivel about a homosexual orgy between the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Nothing unique or even shocking.
Yannick blinked. It would be disgusting if it wasn’t so boring and predictable.
It never said anything else. Just an on-running stream of the carnal conflated with the spiritual in all its mind-numbing permutations.
Yannick put his hand on the small collection of switches on the wall by the curtain.
He waited a moment. The thing had heard him enter and should have quieted on its own.
He counted down in curse words.
“Whore!” it screamed.
“Five,” Yannick said.
“Come at me, you cocksucker!”
“Two,” he rested his thumb tiredly on the light fixture.
“Fuck you!” it answered.
“One,” Yannick flicked the switch and completed the circuit.
A faint buzzing noise began behind the curtain; like a current running through metal. The once colorful language turned into an agonized scream and, in seconds, the smell of slightly burning skin and hair filled the entire basement.
Yannick turned off the electrics for a moment; waited for silence; then cranked it on again.
The screaming filled his eardrums and echoed across the naked soundproofing.
He switched off for the second time and listened once more as the soft yelping from back there became only the sound of breath whistling between rotten teeth and as— slowly— even that sound gave way to peacefulness.
He listened to the pattern of its inhalations and knew that it was either sleeping or faking sleep.
In all the years he’d kept it there, behind the curtain, Yannick had never truly decided whether it slept or not. Its true self— Yannick knew— needed neither rest nor nourishment. But, then again, maybe while established in the host it did require the necessities of life to keep its vessel from giving out on it.
Yannick thought of Gaga. He knew for a certainty they were hardy things. He frowned as he remembered her: strapped to the observation chair in the center of the basement and begging for water in that sickly-sweet voice she had affected in order to weaken his resolve.
He remembered Ilil, the male one, growling like a rabid dog in his cage; so much in fact that Yannick had had to turn on the electric seven times on the night that Gaga died.
In the end, even Ilil — irreverent and smut-mouthed as he usually was — tried a subtler and more cunning tack. Yannick still remembered how saccharine and false it was; the servile and unconvincing tone he’d adopted.
“Please, Yannick,” he’d mewled like a wounded puppy. “Please. Give her water.”
* * * * * *
Success is never a virtue in itself.
Over time that had come to constitute one of Yannick’s deepest moral assumptions.
After all, if success were the primary measure of the importance of one’s life, then any intestinal parasite that slithers through shit and so feeds itself on blood would be the pinnacle of divine creation. Many who are wicked or vile succeed, but are they virtuous?
Didn’t Judas himself succeed in betraying Christ and yet, with that very success, condemned and hung himself before the Passover had finished?
Yannick strolled down the snowy sidewalk of Nägeligasse; past the squared-off neoclassical frontages that had been all the rage in Bern before Le Corbusier.
Frontages, Yannick thought. Yes. Frontages.
All elegance and je ne sais quoi to the eye; but inside, in its internal portions, where substance should reside: nothing but decadence leading to rot and excess as the harbinger of putrefaction.
Yannick ducked into the arched doorway off the street and, with an appearance of boundless confidence, he just kept on going through the backdoor of the hotel.
He corrected his limp as best he could. He’d even removed the cilice for this job and washed out his self-inflicted wounds with cool water. The pain of the mortification brought his soul closer to Christ, he knew that. But he knew equally that the Lord would grant him dispensation from his usual pain for long enough to do his work. After all, this business required that he travel as persona incognita, if you will, and nothing draws more attention, Yannick found, than a sudden spill of blood running down the trouser leg onto a freshly shampooed carpet in the lobby of a five-star hotel.
Ad majorem Christi gloriam, he thought to himself as he walked. Ad majorem Christi gloriam.
He could hardly believe how easy these little public subterfuges had become, with practice. Several times on his route to the staffroom facilities that he’d scoped out on his previous visit he’d been spotted and eyed — though momentarily — by a few bellhops and even a manager. He’d smiled at them crisply and they — not knowing him for guest or colleague — had succumbed to the general hypnosis of his mannerisms and simply let him pass unmolested.
He’d been forced to look around cautiously only once: when he’d forced the lock on the night cleaner’s locker and found, as he knew he would, her skeleton key pass lying there for use during her shift.
He passed out of the staffroom again, turning the pass like a trophy between his fingers; crossed the busy and quite palatial lobby and tucked himself in among the nine or so others who were now standing in the open elevator.
“Floor, sir?” the red uniformed operator said.
“Ah,” Yannick smiled. “Twelve. Please.”
The operator smiled back and thumbed the button with his white-gloved hand.
The elevator began its smooth upward transit. Yannick stared expressionlessly at the ceiling for most of the time.
Moments in, however, he felt the feeling of two warm, sticky, little eyes on his face.
He became necessarily aware of the people round about him. Just like his hearing, his sense of being watched became ultra-sensitive and precise given the mortal danger any servant of the Cross may face.
He scanned the faces around him quickly and noted that each one was staring only at the walls; then he looked down at the tiny, winter-blushed face that was staring up at him like he was a skeleton in a carnival ghost train.
He smiled at the little girl. She didn’t smile back.
He winked at her and she stood bemused.
He stole one last glance at the girl’s mother whose hand she held in her own mittened hand. Then he decided he’d really nothing to lose.
He stared back into the girl’s glistening eyes. There was a moment when he did nothing but smile politely. Then he bared his teeth; scrunched up his face into a plaster-like mask and stuck out his tongue as though in a sexual frenzy.
When he left the elevator on the twelfth floor no one aboard could understand why the little girl was breathless and crying.
* * * * * *
Frontages, Yannick thought. Frontages.
And behind the frontages: Devils, all of them.
He thought of Gaga dying on the stirruped observation chair; crying for water; pretending to be only a girl, though he’d seen Ancitif prancing in her eyes and watched her chalky throat bulge with obscenities. A frontage!
He thought of Ilil in the cage, behind the curtain, in the basement room, at the outskirts of Bern, screaming tirelessly about Saint John’s bollocks and then pretending to sleep like an inoffensive lamb. A frontage!
Yannick even thought — and he hadn’t for years — about his summery childhood in the north of France. About the nuns who had brought him up. About dear Sister Camille and dear Sister Mariette. Their golden voices. Their sweet faces.
Affront! he thought. Affront! A frontage!
His thoughts — their passion — had nearly put his breath out of kilter and he did well to right it again. After all, where he was standing, in the wardrobe of Room 1208, any stray noise he made may have been picked up on and identified from the room at large.
He steadied himself and stopped thinking about the past; that was done anyway and couldn’t be relived. Instead, he tried to focus all his attention on the present; on the job at hand.
He thought about Herr Grosh — that fat, entitled hog living off of the filth of a once-proud banquet now gone to spoil.
Yannick remembered the article in the Zeitung that had first alerted him to the German lawyer’s impending visit to Switzerland. He thought of Grosh being escorted around the decadent, meaningless installation art at the Kunsthalle and then dining on micro cuisine at Mille Sens; only to retire later to more private regions of the city and to engage there in his darker appetites.
Yannick saw them there — Grosh and his associates in law — discussing it cynically and without feeling: their latest plans for an all-out attack on the Holy Catholic Church.
What was it now, Grosh? Yannick thought. Who have you found this time to help you defame the incorruptible? Some pedophiliac thing hiding inside the body of a priest? A Jesuit, maybe, with a slobbering ghost concealed beneath his cassock? A nun—
Yannick stopped breathing and thinking all at once as he heard the teeth of a key pushing into the lock of Room 1208.
He heard drunken laughing from the hall and a few rags of German. His lip curled.
Yannick had been born in Lausanne and had lived his summery childhood in Normandy. He’d never really liked the necessity of the German language in his homeland.
His blue eyes twinkled inside the wardrobe as Grosh and the prostitute rolled into the room; her lean body strangled in his mountainous fat; his chubby, greedy hands toying with the zip that ran down the back of her evening dress.
Yannick blinked. Waiting.
In minutes the call-girl was naked and Grosh— the fat pig— was pulling his underwear down around his coffee can ankles.
The lawyer sat on the bed and the whore climbed aboard. Yannick kept watching and waiting as Grosh tucked his flabby hand in between his body and the woman’s; seizing his cock and beginning to guide it into her soft opening.
That’s enough, Yannick thought, and seconds later there was a skittering clatter as the assassin kicked open the wardrobe door and rushed into the room.
The whore didn’t have time to scream, though she gargled a little, as Yannick threw his hands over her head and applied the steel garrote to her pulsing neck.
Her veins quite literally burst and it was Grosh who did the screaming as her squirts and pinwheels of lifeblood dribbled and spattered and jetted onto his face and chest and genitals.
Yannick threw the lifeless woman — an unfortunate casualty of the spiritual crossfire — onto the bedroom floor; she lay there in a naked and bloody heap as Grosh, naked and bloody too, threw up his fat hands and begged for his life in English, French and German.
“Please,” he blubbered. “Please. Please. Who are you? Who are you?”
Yannick righted the stained garrote in his capable grip.
“Ad majorem Christi gloriam,” he whispered calmly as he approached.
* * * * * *
Yannick checked his watch.
By all calculations, it had been six and one-half minutes since Grosh started shouting his pleases and who are yous and same such nonsense. And, by the same token, it had been nearly one hour and ten minutes since Yannick had left Ilil sleeping off (or pretending to sleep off) his electrocution in the cage behind the curtain.
All in all, time was tight.
Yannick reached inside his jacket and removed the athame from its custom-made shoulder-holster.
He crouched above the whore first, one leg on either side of her body, and turned her over until her tits faced the ceiling. Then, with all the methodical care of a watchmaker, he inserted the blade into the flesh of her chest and began to write.
Innocent, was the word he carved into her skin.
Then, when he’d finished, he moved on to Grosh. It pleased him that the fat lawyer had spewed up all that fine, frothy, Swiss cuisine over his cheeks and chin and, equally, over the carpet under his head.
Yannick stuck the athame into the lawyer’s stomach like the opening motion of gutting a fish and then, slowing his motions, he engraved that mound of lard with a second message.
Washed in the Blood, it said.
Before he left, Yannick lined the bodies side by side in a ritualistic simplicity and dignity. He carved a cross into each of their foreheads and closed and kissed all four of their sleeping eyes.
Then, as though he knew the sinners needed love the most, he kissed Grosh too on his vomit stained mouth.
“Ego te absolvo,” he whispered.
* * * * * *
It was night all over Bern and the hilly country around the city was almost lifelessly still; all dairy farms and conical trees and miles of sparsely-roaded silence where barely a car ever came by.
It was here — in anonymity — that Yannick had built the house; installed the electrified cages behind the curtain and brought Gaga and Ilil to be confined when they first spilled, mewling profanities, into the world from the black void beyond it.
He was bathing now in that quiet space for spiritual meditation that he’d carved out for himself among the chaos of the mundane. Slowly he removed his bloodstained clothes and stored them for later washing in the wardrobe in the concrete room. Down in the basement, Ilil had not made a sound and Yannick hoped he wouldn’t start up with his blasphemous yawping until after there’d been time for a short nap.
He took off the shoulder-holster with the athame still inside, hung it up, and then removed his shirt, trousers and underwear, placing the whole bloodied assortment into the wardrobe and closing over the door.
He stepped back a little and retrieved the mass of wire and razors that was his homemade cilice. He knelt down naked on the floor and ratcheted the barbed device back onto his scarred and infected thigh. He tightened it as far as the buckles would allow.
He knelt there in contemplation for a long while.
He contemplated Origen of Alexandria who had cut off his own penis with a flat stone in fealty to Saint Matthew. He thought of Saint Apollonia who let the mob batter her teeth from her skull and leaped into their flames in joy. Or Saint Basilissa who, in still-pagan Rome, had her feet and hands, breasts and tongue removed, and was still singing as they cut her head from her body.
Great beings, Yannick thought. True servants of the Cross.
He steepled his hands over his naked chest.
“Lord, have mercy,” he prayed. “Lord, have mercy. O Christ, hear us. O God the Father of heaven. O God the Son—”
The curtain, Yannick thought. He saw it as the blackness behind his eyes. Draped there and concealing a hundred memories of the past.
In his mind’s eye, he saw Isabelle, his dead wife. She was sat on a quilted bed somewhere in Zurich reading The Wizard of OZ to — to someone.
He remembered the curtain — the emerald one — and how the wizard had been one thing on one side and quite another in the invisible portion of the room that had been obscured by the drapery. Ostensibly great and powerful but actually, on the inside, weak and bumbling and unsure of himself.
Yannick saw the nuns — dear Sister Camille and dear Sister Mariette. He saw their faces wrinkle with smiles and their eyes glimmer with religiosity and goodwill towards the little children in their charge.
Masks, Yannick thought. Masks and frontages.
How many had they caused to turn? Those black deer ticks that had latched onto the bodies of the sisters and turned their flesh to pustulant meat. How many orphaned children filled with the living spirit of Holy Mother Church, and cradled in her arms, had those things inside the nuns transformed into adults with no innocence and no faithfulness in Christ?
Many, Yannick assumed, though never him.
He had known when young the difference between the appearance and the substance and he’d recognized the curtain that hung often between the two.
Sister Camille’s beatific face and then the wormish, sexual tongue that wound out from behind it like the Serpent from the Tree of Life.
Sister Mariette’s red hands; stained with the caustic lye of selfless work in the washhouses of ten convents. And then, those same hands, red with blood from holding shut a mouth and white with—
A fierce battering from the basement tugged Yannick out of his absorption.
He opened his eyes fiercely and craned his neck. Ilil’s strong, bass voice was drifting up through the floor and it was only then that Yannick realized he’d been weeping.
He slapped away the tears from his face and berated himself silently.
It’s a sin, Yannick, he thought. It’s a sin.
He pushed away the thoughts of his beloved nuns and the things he abjured that had lived inside them. The past was done and couldn’t be relived.
But now, in this moment, there still was a chance to rescue the precious, nameless thing, made in God’s image, that Ilil had infested so young and would not now let go of.
Yannick rose smoothly to his feet; dressed slowly, though with purpose, and moved out of the room in the direction of the noise.
* * * * * *
There wasn’t much time, and Yannick knew it.
He had little idea, practically a foreigner, of how efficiently the criminal police in the Swiss cantons worked when compared to the rest of Europe but he guessed they’d be high in the ranking.
The hotel on Nägeligasse would be swarming with homicide detectives by now; Room 1208 would be swept for DNA within the hour and photographs would be processed of the ritual scars and messages that the killer had left on the flesh of his victims.
Victims, Yannick scoffed.
They had been victims before he’d found them. The thing living in the whore had whispered in her ear and shot up into her nasal cavity with one too many lines of cocaine purchased for her by a smirking pimp. And him — Grosh — hind-headed Furfur had squatted down over his mouth while he slept and defecated there a ball of cockroach eggs to gestate into scurrying liars inside the lawyer’s brain.
Still, though, the courts of this temporal domain would no more listen to talk of the supernatural than they would reinstate trial by combat or by the ducking chair.
They’d catch him, Yannick knew, and they’d find him either wicked or insane and dispose of his body in what way seemed best to their skewed and satanically befuddled laws.
There wasn’t much time.
He was thankful for one thing: that, when he entered the basement, Ilil’s shouting had trailed off and been replaced only by a frightened breathing from inside the cage.
The thing was afraid, Yannick knew. Afraid of the switch and the electric current flowing through its host’s body.
He approached the furthest wall in the large room and touched the curtain softly with his hand.
It was old — the curtain — and clung all over with frays and a fuzz of dust.
Had it been so long since he’d last pulled back that drape? Had it been during Gaga’s exorcism when he’d had to remove it that last time? He remembered having to drag Gaga kicking and screaming from her own cell in the cage; Ilil chattering and swearing and shaking his own bars like a monkey in a vivisectionist’s lab.
Yannick stroked the curtain compassionately and listened to Ilil’s painful breathing.
He remembered Gaga begging for water. He remembered Ilil begging for water for Gaga.
Water, he thought.
Water where demons may rest and grow strong. The water of the amniotic sack; the liquor amnii by which the Demiurge, the Sultan of Devils, brings each child’s body into His broken world.
Of course, Gaga had wanted water. Of course, Ilil had desired that she drink it.
That was their plan, after all: to keep themselves moist and alive and in sordid, black fealty to their Satanic Majesties.
He stopped thinking and pulled the curtain away in anger and repulsion.
* * * * * *
A wave of putrid stench hit him in the face. A few fat houseflies shared the confinement with Ilil and were, at that moment, rubbing their blue wings together on the heaped pile of both solid excrement and diarrheic ooze that occupied the far corner of the cage.
Yannick held his nostrils slightly closed as he hunkered down by the bars and looked softly at the unblinking, milky-eyed face of Ilil. He reached carefully between the bars and tugged the gag out from the thing’s mouth. A line of yellowish drool ensued and then Ilil rested his head back down, defeated, in the same position as before.
The thing was just lying now on his side in all that filth and squalor; staring fixedly into nothing at all, just at the space where the curtain had hung steadily for six months or more.
Behind the curtain, another curtain, Yannick thought.
Ilil wore his mask better than any subject Yannick had ever seen. Sisters Camille and Mariette had given away so many cues in their expressions and demeanors that Yannick, even as a boy, had always been alerted early to their intentions and so always knew ahead of time when a trip to the greenhouses by night would be in order and of the particular sadistic hells that waited for him there.
Ilil, however, showed not the slightest sign that he was anything other than that which he appeared to be: a thirteen-year-old boy, lying traumatized and wounded on the floor of a kennel.
“You stink—” Ilil rasped from behind brown and rotten teeth.
Here it comes, Yannick thought. Ilil’s mask never slipped, but his mouth always gave his inner perversity away.
The boy breathed hard through his mucus-clogged nostrils and, as though he could sense Yannick had been praying, he clarified his point:
“You stink of God,” he said.
Yannick blinked softly. Today he was willing to take any insult.
“They’re coming for me, demon,” he explained in a measured voice. “I killed Grosh in Bern tonight and they’ll come for me soon.”
“Good,” Ilil’s voice sounded as though he may be dying. ‘I hope… they put you… in a cage.”
Yannick shook his head.
“It was never a cage I wished for you,” he was speaking to the boy’s body and not to the spirit of Ilil within. “I only ever wished to release you from one.”
Yannick reached into his jacket and pulled the razor-sharp athame from the shoulder-holster.
A thick tear ran down the layers of grime on Ilil’s face.
“I can’t leave you like this,” Yannick found that he too was weeping silently. “I’ve failed you, but I can give you your freedom before they take mine from me.”
The blade in his hand shone in the poor light of the basement.
For some reason — Yannick had no idea why — he saw his dead wife again sitting on a child’s bed in a nursery in Zurich. She was reading the passages about the curtain in The Wizard of OZ; reading it softly, liltingly, to — to someone — to someone—
“Please,” Ilil had promised himself he wouldn’t beg again, but here he was: begging. “Please, Yannick. I want my life.”
The croaking of the demon’s voice caused Yannick’s lip to curl.
Did it have no remorse or shame? Could it not stop pretending for one moment? Pretending to be the boy it appeared to be. Pretending to be afraid.
“Shut your mouth,” Yannick warned.
“Please, Yannick,” the demon crooned.
“I said shut your mouth!” Yannick struck the bars of the cage with all the ferocity his muscles could supply.
Ilil stopped begging; another tear ran down the length of his contorted mask.
“I want my life,” the boy cried silently to himself.
“Jesus,” the man was crying too. “He is the truth, the way and the life. You cannot come to the Father except by way of Him.”
“Please, Yannick—” that rasping parrot-fashion voice, “Please, Yannick. Please.”
Yannick reached into the cage with one hand and seized the boy’s thick, matted hair in an iron grip.
“Get off me!” The demon’s low and terrible voice had returned; Yannick nodded in certainty as it continued: “Keep that fucking blade away from me! Shove it up your arse, Yannick! Murderer! Killer! You killed Gaga! You killed Gaga! You fucking motherfucker!”
He slipped the blade into the cage. Ilil turned at once from a boy into a wild dog. The change was quite remarkable; how he barked and snarled and tried, with everything he had, to sink his weakened, decayed teeth into the skin of Yannick’s hand. Then, again, as the demon realized he was losing the fight:
“Please. Please. Please.”
Yannick pushed the blade of the athame softly against Ilil’s jugular.
“Ad majorem Christi gloriam,” he said in a slow monotone; and then: “Ego te absolvo”
“Please, Yannick. Yannick! Yannick! Don’t. Please. Yannick.”
He sliced the razor through Ilil’s neck. The vein slit like rubber and for a fraction of a second nothing happened. Then, in one heady spurge, the body began emptying out all the blood that had been running to its head.
* * * * * *
Yannick fell back onto the concrete floor and leaned his spine against the wall.
He cradled his head in his hands and tried not to listen as Ilil choked on and swallowed his own fluids.
A horror house of images flashed through his brain: the whore’s neck bursting; Grosh begging for his life in three languages; the nuns standing, black and stump-like, on the golden fields of Normandy; Sisters Camille and Mariette laughing decadently in the dark greenhouse; the little girl screaming in the elevator and then—
Inside his brain, his dead wife was reading to a child — no — to two children. She read to them about the curtain; in front of which the wizard looked strong and frightening and behind which he was frightened and weak.
Yannick unshielded his eyes.
In the cage, Ilil was bleeding to death. A slowly moving creep of red liquid pooled out from under his head and oozed forward in Yannick’s direction from inside that kennel of piss and shit and blue flies where the boy had spent his lifetime.
Yannick looked at the boy’s cracked lips; at how they still moved, though weakly, as though trying to communicate.
It would all be over soon, Yannick reassured himself.
Soon he’d take up the athame again and carve the words Washed in the Blood into the chest that Ilil had once inhabited.
He’d take the body out from the cage at last. He’d wash its skin with cool water and mark a cross lovingly into its forehead.
There was no need for cremation as there had been with Gaga. The cantonal police could find the body if they wished and, when they did, the only marks they would be able to discern would be marks inflicted out of love.
Love, Yannick thought. Love.
He thought of putting Ilil on the observation chair after he was dead. He thought of kissing his brow and his ragged lips. He thought of stroking his hair and then turning out the basement light; as though the story were finished now and he had done nothing less natural than to lay the poor boy down in a warm bed; than to put the child to sleep after such a long day.
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