Devils

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Erik Henry Vick is an author who happens to be disabled by an autoimmune disease (also known as his Personal Monster™). He writes to hang on to the few remaining shreds of his sanity. His current favorite genres to write are dark fantasy and horror.

He lives in Western New York with his wife, Supergirl; their son; a Rottweiler named after a god of thunder; and two extremely psychotic cats. He fights his Personal Monster™ daily with humor, pain medicine, and funny T-shirts.

Erik has a B.A. in Psychology, an M.S.C.S., and a Ph.D. in Artificial Intelligence. He has worked as a criminal investigator for a state agency, a college professor, a C.T.O. for an international software company, and a video game developer.


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Come, step inside the dark passageways of Erik Henry Vick’s mind. Come meet his friends, devils, one and all.

Robert is a war hero on his way down. Addicted to cocaine, wallowing in guilt, he meets a beautiful woman with the quirky habit of telling everyone she’s the devil.

Rick Bergen learns the true cost of revenge when he enters the world of the voodoo pantheon and meets the manifestation of vengeance.

Rena is kidnapped by polygamist extremists bent on creating an army for the apocalypse—by any means necessary.

An ancient evil has returned to stalk the shores of Lake Seneca. A colonial New Yorker, with the help of an Onondowaga warrior, must confront beings that can’t be killed or reasoned with.

A man is trapped in Rochester, NY by a massive snowstorm, but if he doesn’t make his appointment in Buffalo, his entire bloody itinerary will be in jeopardy.

Mind your step. Don’t attract these devils’ attention.

Devils is a collection of devilish short fiction from the mind of horror writer Erik Henry Vick, comprised of four novellas and one flash piece. Included in this edition is a four-chapter preview of Erik’s next novel, Errant Gods.

“With imagistic prose and a keen eye for exposing his characters’ deepest fears and flaws, Vick takes no prisoners as he guides you through a landscape of demons so dark and decadent that you’ll recognize it immediately. Even more remarkable, he exercises a tremendous reserve, steering clear of the cliches and shopworn tropes of the genre to bring us something much more honest… and much more chilling. A phenomenal debut that will haunt readers for years to come.” — Peter Telep, #1 NYT Bestselling Author of the Doc Harrison and the Apocalypse Series

 


The Devil

 

I’ve seen the devil, and she was beautiful. The first time I saw her, I was high on coke, and I believed she must have been a hallucination or a dream. She had red hair that fell to the middle of her back like a red stage curtain at a fancy theater. When I say red, I don’t mean like what the Brits call a ginger—not like my hair at all. No, her hair was the color of arterial blood, like red licorice, or cherry snow cones. Her skin was creamy, almost translucent, with pale blue veins drawn across it. She wore a black leather minidress and knee-high boots that ended in chrome stiletto heels—not the typical outfit for a coke house.

Even so, it was her orange and strangely magnetic eyes that stood out the most. She had walked right in like she owned the place, kicking aside the trash, needles, and junkies that were in her way. She glanced around and then stared at me. I was sure she could see my lust for her burning like a torch, and a blush crept up my cheeks. Her lips twitched in what could have either been a suppressed smile or a sneer. She flipped her hair and walked out without so much as a word for anyone, leaving me wondering if she was real at all. The next time I saw her, I needed to score like I needed to breathe.

My body was on fire with the Aches and the Shakes. The day was gray, and the air tasted desperate. I was running around harum-scarum, looking for anyone I knew who could fix me up. I was flat broke. I was always beggared, and most of the people I knew avoided me like I was soaked in gasoline and playing with a lighter. I was under the elevated tracks between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues in Brighton Beach, which was a far safer place for a redhead with freckled skin to score than Harlem or Jackson Heights. I was begging a Russian dealer I knew to cut me a break when I saw her looking down at me from the second-story window of one of the row houses. Her eyes bored into mine, and I could feel her fury, though I had no idea why some strange, albeit beautiful, woman would be mad at me. She opened the window and leaned out, still glowering at me. Her hair was like a wide swatch of blood-red silk billowing in the breeze.

Her eyes were bright—like two fiery suns. I don’t mean it like she was happy or mad or whatever. They were bright like a light bulb is bright. “Ay, que chulo,” she yelled with a sneer and a twist of her chin toward the heavens. I had no idea what that meant, but from her tone, I didn’t think it was a term of endearment. It made me feel like a scumbag, and a blush stole up my neck like a wolf stalking prey. I ducked my head, and just then, happened to see my friend Mikhail come through the alley from Tenth a couple of blocks north. I shot her the bird as I turned toward Mikhail. It didn’t make me feel any better, though. In fact, it made me feel like more of a sleaze ball. All I wanted was a little coke, a clean needle, and some water. “Hey there, Rob,” said Mikhail. He looked me up and down. “You look terrible!” “I feel worse.” He just looked at me for a second, all serious. “I will still pay for rehab, Rob. A guy like you—a soldier and all—this…this isn’t good for you.” I tried to smile, but I hated it when Mikhail got like this. “I’m all right, Mikhail. I just need a fix.” He nodded. “I know. But still, when you are ready, I will pay.” “Yeah,” I breathed. “Okay, okay,” he laughed. “That’s for later then. For now, let’s go to my apartment. You’re not going to believe the stuff I’ve got now.” He clapped me on the shoulder. As we started walking toward Oceana, he slipped his arm through mine. Yeah, it was weird, but Mikhail did it to everyone.

The next five or six days are like a blank spot in my mind. Mikhail was rich, see? He shot coke up his arm like a fiend, sure, but he kept it under control most of the time. Not like me. No, not like me at all. He bought the good shit from his Russian “associates” by the kilo, and if you were his friend, he never asked you to pay up. Mikhail just smiled and laughed and patted you on the back if you tried to thank him. Everyone said he was Bratva, that he was dangerous. I didn’t know and didn’t care. Whether he was part of the Russian mob or not, his coke was excellent, and he was willing to share. Anyway, I woke up not knowing where in the hell I was. I didn’t know what day it was, and I didn’t care. I was much too focused on getting the eight-hundred-pound gorilla to stop stomping on my head. It’s not like I had to be anywhere. I had long since passed the point of being able to hold a job. Not that I wanted to. Wherever I had decided to sleep, it stank like a sewer. Eau de Rotting Garbage. Or worse. I felt trashy and mean, lying in the proverbial gutter. Yeah, my skin ached like mad, and I felt like the fleas of a thousand dogs had infested my hairy bits, but it wasn’t just that. My mouth tasted like I’d been eating the garbage that was strewn around me.

I didn’t dare open my eyes for more than a second. They burned and ached like I’d put hot coals under the lids. I must’ve resorted to snorting coke or meth or heroine or dog shit at some point because I could feel the thick sludge trying to creep down the back of my throat. Without opening my eyes, I hawked and spat. Something slammed into the side of my head, and the fireworks went off. “What the fuck?” I mumbled. Wham! More fireworks. I knew what this was. Beat cops. Beat-down cops, to be precise. I rolled myself into a tight little ball and waited for it to end. I just hoped to God I hadn’t spit on someone’s shoes. I was lying there, fretting about the next boot to the head, or chest, or side, or groin. I might have been talking—I’m not clear on that. If I was, I was talking nonsense and gibberish. “Oh, shut up, Bobby.” The voice was electric, soft, and smoky. It made me think of every sex dream I’d ever had as a kid. It sounded familiar—like it was someone I’d known since childhood, but hadn’t seen in a long while. I opened my eyes and peeked through the fingers I had laced over my face. If I weren’t already on the ground in the garbage piled up in the alley, I’d have fallen on my ass. It was her. The “ay, que chulo” woman.

The goddess in black leather. She of the red hair and pale skin. She was even wearing the same little black dress and spike-heeled knee boots. Sex incarnate. She was standing above me, looking down. Her hair fell toward me like a river of blood going over the falls. I couldn’t see her eyes, but everything else was just like I remembered. Perfect. I spoke with the devil, and she was as persuasive as she was beautiful. “Listen, Bobby,” she said, her face shadowed by her hair. “This shit you put in your arm is a waste.” Yeah, it made me angry. I mean, who the fuck was she to say that to me? “What do you know about it? What do you know about me? And my name is Robert, not Bobby.” “Oh, I know everything there is to know about you, Bobby. I know that you hate yourself and that putting that marching powder up your arm is your slow way of committing suicide. I know all about your time in the Army. I know about what happened over there, but this bullshit isn’t what you were meant for, papi.” She didn’t look Hispanic at all, and, to be honest, she didn’t sound Hispanic, either. She spoke like a bad actress with an even worse dialogue coach. I didn’t know why she played at being a Latina gangster, but it seemed to get her off. “No? Then tell me, lady, what am I meant for?” I was angrier than I’d been in a long, long time. The blood pounded in my temples until I thought my head was going to burst. She tilted her head to the side, pushing her hair behind her ears, and a splash of sunlight lit up her face like dawn breaking over the ocean.

She wore a crooked little smile, and her eyes were orange, not to mention exquisite and beautiful. “You were meant for greater things, Roberto. What you did in the Sandbox—in Iraq—you were like some kind of god. The god of war, chavo—like Ninurta.” “Ah,” I said with as much boredom and exhaustion squeezed into my voice as possible. The war-hero shit. I wished for the thousandth time that the story in Newsweek had never been published. Anyway, I wasn’t that man anymore and hadn’t been for years. No, I was the ghost of that man, and like all good ghosts, I wanted to be left alone. “Meant for better things? Like things in your bed?” I don’t know why I said that—maybe because I felt like my life was ebbing away and wanted to hurry things along. Or maybe I was trying to drive her away. I was good at that—pushing people away. She treated me to a bigger smile. “One thing at a time, esé.” I let my eyes stray away from her face and slide down her beautiful body. Her legs looked about five feet long, all smooth skin and taut muscles. She was voluptuous, but not in the Marilyn Monroe way. She wasn’t soft and curvy at all. She was small chested and thin-hipped, but she knew how to work what she had, that was for damn sure. When my eyes got back up to hers, she had a strange expression on her face. Man, I came close to my grave that day. I didn’t know it until later, but it was a close thing. She hated to be ogled by anyone she didn’t want ogling her. “What do you want?” I was more curious than anything else. “And how did you know where I was? I don’t even know where I am.” She laughed. It was a magical sound, and as she made it, her face relaxed. “I told you, Bobbicito. I know everything there is to know about you.” Bobbicito sounded about as natural coming out of her mouth as opera from a bear. She held out her hand, and when I took it, she pulled me up as if I were a small child. She was tall in those boots. Maybe six-two—taller than me, anyway. I looked up at her and grinned. “A supermodel in black leather? My luck is changing,” I said. She patted my cheek, and as she pulled her hand back, she let her fingernails scrape through my stubble, like a promise of things to come.

Her nails were lacquered with red polish, but that doesn’t give them credit. They looked like a six-coat lacquer job on a hot rod. That was when I noticed she had them filed to sharp points, like claws. “As for what I want from you, you gotta get that shit out of your system first,” she said. “No more trying to hit on Mama until then.” “Ah,” I said and looked at the dirty ground. “You keep away from that shit for thirty days, Bobby, and I’ll get you higher than you’ve ever been. I’ll make you feel like coke is nothing but white powder, and after we’re done, you won’t ever want anything else but me. That’s a promise you can believe, vato.” I shrugged and tried to look bored. “The girl that got me hooked on coke said almost the same exact thing.” She turned her head a bit to the side and stared at me hard. “I look like just some girl to you, chulo?” Her gaze was so intense it felt like it was giving me a sunburn. I just stood there, staring at her, and after a protracted moment, I realized she was humming some kind of spectral lament, just loud enough for me to hear. It made my skin crawl. She waved her hand. “You do that for me, Bobby.” It wasn’t a question, and I didn’t feel like I could have answered her anyway. “In the meantime, there are a few other things you can do for me.” She kicked at a black duffle bag lying on the ground beside her. I could have sworn it hadn’t been there before she kicked it. “Take this bag. Put the shit on. Get comfortable in them duds, and I’ll tell you where to go and what to do.” I unzipped the bag. Inside of it was the uniform of a Brink’s security guard—the kind of guard that drives those rolling bank vaults. “It’s just in case someone sees us walking away carrying a Brink’s bag, Bobs. No big deal.” She laughed. “No one is going to see us. Here, you’re going to need this.” I looked up at her, and my mouth dropped open. She was holding a gun out in front of her, pommel toward me.

A Glock. It was like she’d pulled it right out of thin air. Trust me when I say that there was no place in that little black dress to hide a pistol. “And Bobby? Call me Lily.” I stole for the devil, and she was very appreciative. We waited in a dank alleyway—the kind of archetypal back-alley they always show in the movies. I stood in the shadows, and Lily stood near the back exit of Montague’s Jewelers. She smiled at me, and when she did, she glowed like there was a soft spotlight on her. The Brink’s guy came out of the jewelry store and sauntered up the alley toward the truck. “Oh, sir!” called Lily. “You’ve got to help me.” The guy was wary right away. He had his free hand on the butt of his pistol. “Ma’am, stay back. I’m not a cop, I can’t help you.” Big crocodile tears dripped down Lily’s cheeks. “But you have to help. Some skanky bum up the alley took my purse. It has my WIC check in it. The bastard who knocked me up doesn’t help even a little, and my baby will starve without that check. Please, mister. You have to help, or my child will go hungry.” The guard sighed and looked up at the sliver of blue sky. “Lady, you are going to get me fired.” She let the hair hang down in front of her face and whimpered. Hell, even I wanted to go up the alley and curb-stomp the bum.

The guard glanced toward the mouth of the alley and the big diesel Brink’s truck idling at the curb. If he walked toward the truck, I was going to sprint after him and smash him anyway. He sighed and turned toward the shadows of the dark alley. “Show this bastard to me. I’ll straighten him out.” “Oh, thank you, sir. My baby thanks you!” He glanced sideways at her and gave her half a nod. “I’ve got a little one at home, too. Let’s go get your check.” He followed her up the alley like a cat following string. When she got to where I hid, she turned and faced the collection of seedy blankets and rotting cardboard across from me. “He crawled in there,” she said. The guy shook his head and stepped forward. “Hey! You in there, drag your miserable, cowardly ass out here.” That was when I did it. I took two quick steps out of the shadows and smashed the Glock into the side of his head. His arms reeled. “What the fuck?” he muttered, sounding a bit groggy. I slammed the gun into his head again, this time drawing blood. I could swear Lily’s eyes lit up and started spinning like pinwheels when the blood flew. “Shit,” he said, as befuddled as a drunk after nickel beer night. I hit him for the third and final time, and he went down like a bag of bricks. “Órale, chavo!” said Lily. “But next time put him down in one.” “You know I don’t speak Spanish, right Lily?” She smiled with that high-amp smile of hers and winked at me. She bent down and grabbed the bag from the unconscious guard. “Do I have to…” I shrugged, weak-kneed. “What, bébé?” “Do I have to kill him now?” She smiled as if I’d said something funny. “Why? Do you want to kill him, Bobbles?” “No!” I tried to keep the revulsion off my face. I didn’t want to piss her off. “But I will if you need me to.” She already had me. I didn’t know it yet, but I’m sure she did. She just smiled and patted my cheek as she had back in the alley when I complimented her. “There’s no immediate need, Robear.” “Won’t he give your description to the cops?” I looked her up and down with a wry smile. “It’s not like any man will ever forget how you look.” “You say the sweetest things.” She smiled at me, but her smile was like the smile of a magician before his final trick. “So, you’re not worried, then?” She shrugged. “Come on, Bobo. Mamacita wants to go shopping.” And that was the end of it. I felt bad for the guard. I mean, he did a pretty chivalrous thing without any promise of reward, and he paid a big price for his gallantry. Plus, I knew Brink’s would shit-can him for breaking policy. We hit thirty-three Brink’s trucks in the next four weeks. They called us the “Dynamic Duo” in the news coverage. As unbelievable as it sounds, I don’t remember giving it a second thought at the time.

That sting shouldn’t have worked more than once, but we always walked away with a bag of cash, even after the pattern was recognized and the guards had been warned. I don’t know how she did it, I just know she never messed it up. It all revolved around the story she used to trick the guards deeper into the alley. The stories were never the same, but they always worked. It was like she could read something in them—like one of those little cards that tell you how to fold a box: put tab A into slot B—and instantly knew what would work and what wouldn’t. Easy-peasy. We let the real Brink’s guy go inside and get the pickup. When he came out through the alley (and he always came out through the alley—he never went out through the front), Lily put the thousand-watt smile on him and played out whatever gambit was going to work for that guard. Just like she always knew what gambit was going to work ahead of time, Lily also knew which route was going to work—and which one wasn’t. Sometimes she cursed like a sailor when the truck pulled up and then led me through a warren of evil-smelling back alleys to another pickup point. There was never a reason to move that I could see, but I went along willingly enough. Once the guard stopped to talk to her, it was my turn. I never had to do anything but hit him with the gun. She’d position the guy so his back was to the place where I was hiding. I’d just step forward and smash the Glock into the base of his skull until he went down. At first, it took two, three, sometimes four hits to get the guy on the bricks. By the end of those thirty days, I could get him the first time, every time. Practice makes perfect, just like they say. Come to think of it, I don’t even know if that Glock had any bullets in it. Funny I never thought of that until now. I have no idea how no one saw us hanging around before the heists, or walking back to her warehouse off Third in Gowanus with a bag full of cash. A redhead wearing a Brink’s uniform over skin that looked like it would sunburn under a night light, and a dazzling Kool-Aid red-haired woman dressed in a black leather minidress should have stuck out like sore thumbs, but no one so much as glanced our direction. Not once.

After doing stickups with Lily for a month, and spending all my time with her, I was gone. I mean, the real me, the war hero, was just gone. I wasn’t even the ghost of a war hero anymore. The war hero was her victim too, you see? I was enthralled, ensorcelled, bewitched—whatever you want to call it. The last Brink’s robbery ended just like the first thirty-two: with a shopping trip up and down Fifth. She didn’t buy a single thing for herself—not ever. I thought that was weird because I never saw her wearing anything but that black leather minidress and those knee boots or thin air. I never said anything, though, because in either outfit, she was a vision of heaven. No, she never bought anything for herself. She bought me presents instead. Few of them were anything more than expensive trinkets that I had no real use (or desire) for, but she did buy me a beautiful Bowie knife

 

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Erik Henry Vick

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