EXCERPT from The Devil’s Hand: Conviction by Mark Taylor:
Darin strode with purpose down the sidewalk. It had started to rain again. He’d know Tesla on sight now, well, he’d be able to spot that someone wasn’t human, and that was enough. But time wasn’t on his side.
He had known Bruce since before he was one of the protectors of the Kings of Hell. That was a time before the fall from grace of Lucifer. A time no one dared speak of now. When Lucifer took over the whole show, the Lamassu were scattered across the earth, sent into exile to live eternally among the human race. Lucifer had seen that as both an act of kindness—for not slaying them—and as a punishment for not bowing down before him. Honestly? It was pretty decent of him. But they were all bound to single dwellings. Over the century’s their strength diminished, until now…the likes of Bruce Masters barely held on to what little power remained. Darin discarded his spent cigarette and pulled another immediately from his pocket and lit it.
All he needed to do now was head back to the Melbourne Grand, and wait. Tesla would make his appearance soon enough, and then Darin had to act.
To do what, though, he wasn’t sure. That all depended on whether The Alp wanted to play…fair.
That was easy. Darin had only been waiting outside the hotel for around fifteen minutes when someone had walked by and Darin sensed that they weren’t human. His perception had changed. It was like the guy had some sort of black line drawn around him, it was a sensation that Darin had never felt before, but that was the way when you ‘borrowed’ power.
The feeling was so strong in fact, it brought him over a little queasy.
He stepped forward flicking his smoke away, and towards the man. Something he did, perhaps some way he moved, had tipped Tesla off, as he turned sharply, even though he was on the other side of the street and could in no way have known. There was a spark of recognition in his eyes as he looked straight at Darin.
He turned and ran.
“Shit!” Darin muttered starting after him, “I hate it when they run.”
Tesla cornered the Hotel and ran hard—away from the river bank—deeper into the city. Darin could tell instantly that he was going to try and lose him in the crowd, but that wasn’t going to work. Not at the moment.
Darin weaved between the cars in the street causing them to swerve out of the way, hands being pushed onto horns, and then back onto the sidewalk and around the corner.
Tesla was making good distance, but Darin could see him—his outline—clearly. His feet thudded after him, but Darin’s chest was quick to tighten, his footfalls slowing, and sweat breaking out on his face. He started to roll to a stop. “I’ve gotta stop smoking,” he heaved. He squinted up the street and saw Tesla dart left.
Darin took one left earlier. He moved as quickly as he could—which wasn’t overly quick—to the end of the building and slipped his head around the corner carefully. As he suspected, Tesla had doubled back. He smiled to himself. Recently, Darin had begun to think that he might be getting smarter. He glanced around for something big, his eyes fell on a trash can, and he picked it up.
Timing it carefully, he spun around the corner, trash can held at chest height and thrust it into the face of the oncoming Alp as he screamed the loudest war-cry his tar filled lungs could muster.
Tesla crashed to the ground with a thud and Darin discarded the metal trash can, which now had an Alp face impressioned on one side of it.
People stopped and stared.
Darin leaned over the black outlined figure as he lay flat on his back. “Right,” he huffed, jabbing his finger into his face, “you…” breath in, “need to…” breath out, “…wait.” Darin stopped and squinted at the man. “You’re not Tesla.”
The man on the floor frowned, asked “Who?” and quickly lay an excruciatingly hard fist onto Darin’s jaw. The force of the punch sent him bolt upright, flailing his hands like a wire walker trying to regain balance.
Before Darin’s focus had returned, the man was on his feet (which raised a whoop from a couple of members of the public who had witnessed this innocent man jumped by some crazy hiding around a corner) and stomped his foot hard into Darin’s gut sending him sprawling to the floor and off the curb.
As he lay, wedged between the wheels of a parked car and the concrete, the man walked over and crouched next to him. He looked around at the collection of people watching, some waving cellular devices at the two men, recording, and then returned his gaze to Darin. “Maybe next time, Hand,” he said, “I haven’t finished with you,” before standing and slipping through the crowd.
Darin lay there for a moment staring up into the blobs of rain that were falling onto his face, his coat absorbing the water that ran down the guttering. He sighed, not even surprised that his day was going this way, pulled a cigarette out of his pocket and smoked it right there, watching the crowd disperse—the last of the teenagers stopping recording the bum that lay in the street.
“What the hell is going on?” he grumbled, eventually pulling himself back to his feet. “What’s with the other team?”
Darin stumbled into O.B.’s clutching his chin. His lip was still bleeding.
Bruce shook his head and glanced at the clock on the wall, “Just over an hour…that has to be a record, even for you.”
Darin took a seat on a stall. “Hit me.”
Bruce slipped out a flaggard from beneath the bar. “The usual?” he grinned.
Darin nodded and mouthed ‘yeah’ whilst frowning.
“Walk into a wall, did you?” Bruce asked casually as drew a pint of stout.
Darin shook his head. When Bruce placed the mug in front of him, Darin took it and supped deeply. He placed it back down and wiped the remnants of the ale from his mouth, then said, “A Celestial.”
“What in…well, God’s name, is a Celestial doing down here?” Darin asked rhetorically for the third time.
“Quite.” As Bruce couldn’t leave the tavern there was nothing he could do, in fact, little he could say. He did however glance at the time again. “Hand,” he began, “you don’t have long to find The Alp. Perhaps it would be better to deal with one thing at a time.”
Darin nodded, deep in thought, “Do you think I should tell Him?”
“I would not. What do you have to tell him, anyway? That there is an angel on the loose? He would only burden you with what you must already do, and that is to find out why, but find The Alp, whilst you still have the time.”
Darin nodded. “You’re right, my friend. I’ll head back to the hotel—hopefully Tesla won’t have caught any of that earlier, and I can still catch him unaware.”
As he left the pub, Bruce simply called after him, “… and make sure it’s him this time…”
Darin’s lips tugged on the cigarette. Remember, he thought, to make sure he’s wearing a hat. The Celestial wasn’t. He’d gotten caught up in the moment.
He flipped the smoke away as he went straight into the hotel lobby. He wasn’t going to take any chances this time. It was lunch time and there was a reasonable possibility that Tesla would be here somewhere. After all, why leave—The Hand didn’t know who he was, right?
Darin pushed the double doors of the dining room open and stood there, arms spread. He thought it made him look dramatic. When he glanced around, the room was mostly devoid of patrons, and none that were there were Tesla.
Darin’s chest deflated as the Maitre D’ walked over. “Table, Sir?” He looked him up and down.
Darin nodded with a weak smile.
Tesla sat at the same table this evening as last night. He had ordered the scallops and a bottle of fine champagne. Why not? he had thought to himself. It wouldn’t be long before The Hand caught up with him, or the Devil would send someone else…or any other number of things that would preclude him from enjoying fine French wine and seafood. That was when Darin sat down opposite him at the table.
“Tesla,” he smiled confidently.
Tesla tipped his head slightly as a greeting, “Hand, how nice of you to join me.” He raised his hand and beckoned over the waiter who without word lay a second place at the small table, in front of Darin. Then a glass was placed, and before he had a chance to object, he was rolling a flute of champagne between his fingers. “How did you know?” Tesla asked.
“The hat,” Darin lied—having been loitering in and around the dining room for some hours. He glanced at the Madison placed carefully on the table to the side of Tesla’s dinner setting. “I like it, always been a trilby man myself,” he removed his own hat and dropped it onto the table, his hand reaching across towards Tesla’s. “Mind if I try it on?”
The Alp’s hand snaked out quickly, slipping the hat away and down into the shadows of his lap, leaving Darin’s hand hanging. “I don’t think so,” Tesla smiled.
Darin rubbed his fingers against his thumb for a second and then withdrew back to his own space on his own side of the table. He sipped his champagne and looked at The Alp over the lip of the glass.
“You look nervous, Hand. Do tell me what the plan is. I’m dying to know.”
The plan Darin had, like most of his plans, was flaky. Most importantly, he needed to get Tesla somewhere more private, and he wasn’t going to achieve that by force. He painted a smile on his face. “Later, Tesla. Tell me,” he sipped at his champagne again, “why the disappearing act?”
“Told you to find out, did he? Before you stopped me?”
Darin’s eyebrows flicked up and down, indicating the question was moot. “Well?”
Tesla waited for the waiter to slip professionally around the table and serve two plates of scallops before he continued, “You really have no idea, do you?”
Darin looked at the seafood, scrunched his face up and pushed the plate away. “Okay,” he said, raising his hands passively, “if you won’t tell me that, then tell me this: Why is there a Celestial walking the streets of Melbourne? There’s something going on and I want to know what it is.”
Tesla shook his head back and forth, a wide grin, as he savored his lunch. “What makes you think I know?”
Darin sat back in his chair and stared at The Alp.
“Oh,” Tesla continued, “going to sulk now, are we?”
Darin fumed. He breathed in as if raise mighty Hell at the table and then breathed back out, slowly. A sigh.
Tesla smiled as he continued to eat, now silent.
“You’re not losing your touch, are you?” Darin asked, “I thought you daemons knew everything?”
Tesla raised an eyebrow, his smile rose on one side. “I like you, Hand, I always have…but if you insist on such things, you might be sorry if I agree.”
Darin stood watching. He was on the brow of a hill and the world below burned. He started down the grassy hill, the earth cracked beneath his feet as smoke rose—the heat of the soil burning through the soles of his shoes—the stench of sulfur in the air. He found the smell out of place but comforting…like home.
He stepped over the burning corpse of a child.
What had happened? Darin looked around, he didn’t truly recognize the area, but it could have been any one of a hundred places. It was a city: London? Edinburgh? Paris? Rome? It could have been one or none of the cities that he had visited in his time.
He stopped and watched a river of Hellion Roaches spew from a glowing red crack in the floor. They were not of this realm. They should not have been here.
And he couldn’t control them like he should have.
Hundreds of them rolled out and down towards the street…the screams of innocence filled the air. Darin shook his head and continued down to the street and over to the window of a store. He wiped his hand over the soot blackened window and squinted through. The family that hid—cowered—inside stared at him, the father’s eyes wide and terror filled. He couldn’t know who—or what—Darin was…the fear was something else.
He listened to the familiar applause of the scuttling creatures getting louder as their excitement grew. He watched them crawl through the cracks under the doors…he watched them find the family.
A man, a woman, and a child.
Darin watched his pets feed. They tore at the family, an orgasmic chatter rising from them as they took them with prejudice, without concern for age or sex.
Darin squinted in distain. This wasn’t right.
He turned away and continued down the street. It was night—dark—but there were no street lights…the light came only from Hell seeping through from below.
“Alp!” He turned, his eyes darting around looking for a sign that Tesla had followed him into this…dream. “What is the meaning of this?”
Tesla’s hand came to rest on his shoulder and Darin spun to face him. The Alp shook his head slowly. “Can you see what is happening, Hand?”
Darin licked his lips and reached into his pocket, pulling out his smokes and lighting one. “Tell me…”
The Alp shook his head harder. “It is not for me to say. That would surely spoil the fun.”
Darin grabbed Tesla to pull him into Hell, but aside from the two scuffling briefly, nothing happened.
“Not in here,” Tesla tapped the side of Darin’s head with his finger, much to his annoyance. “You have no power when I am in control.”
“So why show it to me, if you’re not going to explain it?” Darin snapped.
“So you have something to tell Him.”
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.