EXCERPT from The Devil’s Hand: Celestials by Mark Taylor:
Darin looked around the wasteland that was neither Hell nor Earth. It was an inbetween where no immortal bore power, and no man was safe.
The red hues and heat of Hell, the smell of sulfur burning sweet in the air, was replaced by a nothing. The grey dirt ground, the flat grey sky…it was all punctuated by the overpowering smell of nothing.
It reminded him of Scotland.
“Hello?” he called out into the echoless nothing. “Is there a doorman about?”
Darin jumped as the deep voice came from behind him. He turned. “Hi,” he said, smiling. “I’m here to see—”
The tall hooded figure didn’t so much speak, as project sound. And it did it very effectively. “How?” Darin continued.
YOU MUST REMEMBER THE SEER THAT YOU SENT TO US—ALONG WITH THE THOUSANDS OF OTHERS. YOU WISH TO SEE THE MAN PETIOT.
IT IS A FOOLS ERRAND COMING HERE, HAND. YOU HAVE SENT MOST OF US HERE YOURSELF. WHY DO YOU DARE CROSS THE THRESHOLD?
“Um,” Darin paused, trying to put the words together in his head. Something eloquent like I appreciate your apprehension, friend from the netherworld, but I seek knowledge, answers, and the truth. Instead he said, “Whatever. Where can I find Petiot?”
HE IS WITHIN THE LANDSCAPE. DO AS YOU WILL.
Darin looked out to the landscape, barren as it was. “Perhaps a clue?” he asked the doorman.
He was gone.
“I’m looking for Marcel Petiot,” Darin called, turning back to the wasteland and stepping forward, “Marcel with an M.”
As a sigh escaped his lips, Darin trudged further into Purgatory. It was depressing.
Although he supposed that was the point.
The ghosts of those that died in Hell and on Earth drifted by, a glimpse of their faces, torn into terrible screams for eternity, haunted each of The Hand’s footfalls. It was a dim reminder of what could happen.
In the distance a lone figure appeared. He stood and waited as Darin got closer. The hat gave it away.
“Tesla,” Darin said, greeting him.
Darin raised his hands passively, a sign of peace. “Where is he?”
“He’s here,” the ex-Alp nodded.
“Here, Hand. He wants to know what you want,” Tesla smiled.
Darin looked surprised. “What are you, his bitch?”
Tesla laughed. “After what I have foreseen? I wonder why you are here myself.”
“Don’t you know?” Darin smirked.
Tesla tilted his head to the side. “It’s curious. I know what will happen up there. I always have, but I see nothing here in Purgatory. It is like the reality of what is, and what is to become, does not belong here. Perhaps I do, therefore, belong here. Where it is dull, and safe…”
“I am here, Hand.” Petiot’s growl came from behind Darin. He turned. Petiot was burned, scarred, from their last encounter. His skin was raw and his eyes glowed a deep red. “Tell me why I shouldn’t kill you where you stand.”
“Because,” Darin answered, “first I’d like to see you try, and second…well, I’m worth more as The Hand than I am as a fleeting moment of satisfaction…to you, at least.”
Petiot snorted. “What do you want?”
“The Journals, of course.”
“And you cannot find them?” Petiot roared with laughter.
Darin stared at him. “They are no use to you here, Marcel. Tell me where they are.”
“What is it worth?”
“I can get you out of here. You know that. Take you back to where the air is laced with sulfur.”
“In exchange for the book?”
As Petiot went to step forward, Tesla took him by the wrist to hold him back. “Don’t,” he whispered.
Petiot yanked his arm from the Alp’s grip. “Come, Hand.”
Darin smiled at Tesla. “See you around,” he winked.
“No,” Tesla answered. “You won’t.”
As Darin and Marcel returned to the door, Petiot sneered at The Hand. He continued to deride Darin’s efforts to find the Journals. As they approached, Marcel finally said, “And you’ll shit when you find out where I put them.”
“Yes,” Darin sighed. He pointed to the door. “We’re here. Spill.”
Petiot smiled. “Tell me, where would you put something that you didn’t want you to find?”
Darin shook his head. “No more games.”
Petiot nodded. “I trust you are a man of your word?”
“You know me.”
“The British Museum, Hand. I put them on display.”
Darin walked into the Devil’s office. He was sitting behind his desk, curiously just waiting. “Petiot is in a holding cell, and I know where they are.” He tried to refrain from swaggering, but he failed to do so.
The Devil nodded over Darin’s shoulder, back to the door. “Go.”
“I was. I was only letting you know what I’d done with Petiot.”
The Devil shook his head. “No, Hand. Go. You must leave.”
“What?” Darin raised his eyebrows.
“While you were in Purgatory, I got word that God’s Army is being raised once again. They are coming for you, apparently.” He looked away. “I don’t wish to wage a Celestial war. Not again. Not over you.”
“You’re turning me out?”
Darin approached his desk. “What do they want with me?”
“It is not my concern.”
Darin slammed his hands on the desk. “This is Tesla’s doing. I’ve done nothing.”
“Again,” the Devil turned back to face Darin, “that is not my concern. I won’t have a war on my doorstep.”
Darin was speechless. “But,” he stumbled over words, “I…you…” He dropped his head in defeat.
Standing back up straight, Darin turned to the door.
“If I hear anything, I will get word to you,” He said. “Good luck.”
“I’m sure going to need it,” Darin mumbled, leaving.
Darin sucked on a cigarette.
It was raining.
A fat man in a red suit walked by, his brass bell clanging from side to side. “Merry Christmas!” he hollered.
Darin had chosen to be returned to England, two days ago. He had taken to the streets of Canterbury—with all the shoppers and bustle it was a good place to hide. That, and the Cathedral. It masked his scent. He hoped for time before they found him.
He wasn’t surprised that the Devil had restricted his power.
He left the hordes in the street and turned down one of the alleys towards the Cathedral. He’d found a reasonable place to stay there, and it was getting dark.
The sign above the door waved back and forth in the wind, creaking as the first flourishes of snow fell, melting into the wet ground.
The Ingold Inn.
Darin opened the door, brushed the few flakes from his coat and entered. It was warm inside. He wasn’t one for the cold.
Maybe he should have hidden in the south of France?
Mrs. Ledbetter smiled warmly at him, her old skin wrinkling as she did. “Good evening,” she said, “and how are you today? How’s the weather?”
“Cold,” Darin replied. Why did the English always talk about the weather?
“There’s soup in the kitchen,” she smiled and turned back to buffing the brass.
She was sweet. The old lady ran this house like her own, with just Darin and two others staying there. He’d briefly met them at breakfast: a young man in his twenties, and a slightly older one. They clearly had a passing acquaintance and the three had nodded some sort of greeting.
Mrs. Ledbetter mothered them.
She had no obligation to provide anything other than the rudiments of breakfast for the three of them, and certainly nothing else.
But now, for the third night running, when Darin had returned, there had been fresh made soup and bread.
“Thank you,” he nodded, and turned into the kitchen.
Mark Taylor’s debut novel crash landed on planet earth in 2013. Its dark brooding style benchmarked his writing and has led to further releases of novel and short story collection alike.
While most of Mark’s work is macabre, occasion has it that he will write about kittens and daisies. Just not very often.
Some say he is a product of his environment, others, a product of his own imagination.
Whichever it is he works happily, portraying dark existences on this planet and others. He relays his fears and doubts on his characters, so always has a smile. If Mark is real, as some say he is, you might find him in England.
©Mark Taylor, 2016. All rights reserved.