Hey ya'll, I'm back with more. Mandy's un-funny in this chapter; I apologize. I'm coming back from a recent bout of depression myself, so I'm sorry for the long delay and lack of humor. Enjoy :D
Every person, at some point in their life, has some experience that just causes them to stop dead in their tracks, their jaw hanging open, and stare, feebly, at some wonder that lies before them, be it man made or natural. Or, supernatural. Mine was the last one. Sure, I'd met a couple of vampires, and I was currently the devil's plaything, accompanied by the Grim Reaper and her posse of assistants, which included the half-angel-man-thing I was standing next to at current moment, but, you know, this kind of topped it off.
I was forced to take a step backward as some lurking Minotaur creature lunged by me, letting out an awful cry before taking another step. A passing angel, one who distinctly reminded me of Angelica, shook her head and frowned. She fanned out her wings after it passed her, before darting across the aisle. I watched her move, an effortless glide across the floor, unaware that she was staring at me as well.
Alarmed, I looked around. There were more creatures, more uglies, more pretties, more weird things, gathering around me. They all fell silent, staring at me like I was an endangered panda or something. At least, I didn't think I looked like Ling-Ling or something.
The angel I'd been watching took a step toward me, her wings fluttering slightly. I scanned above her head for a halo, and found none, but that didn't mean anything, I guess. "You…You're Mandy Hoff, aren't you?"
I nodded. The angel let out a snort, almost of disbelief, of laughter.
"That's the thing that Lucifer picked? He's gone crazy, then." She looked me up and down. "No offense."
"None taken." Bitch.
Vincent pulled me out of the crowd, afraid I'd start a riot or something. Smart man. "Aren't angels supposed to be nice?" I asked him as he pulled me out of the fray.
He led me down an aisle of booths, advertising new caskets, funeral homes, parts of scythes, robes, etc, etc. I hadn't thought that there was this much marketing in death, but apparently ad men have their place in the afterlife as well. Just as long as there were no lawyers. "She should be around here somewhere…" he said to himself, while I simultaneously wondered, who?
A woman's voice cut the crowd. "Vincent! Vincent sweetie!"
Aww, how adorable. He located the sound of the voice, a small, plump woman in a maroon suit, one from a very early time that I couldn't recognize. She was in her forties, maybe fifties, with an ear to ear grin that could only mean one thing.
It was his mother.
"Oh, Vincent," she said, her voice low and full of excitement to the brim, "I've missed you so much."
"Hi, ma," he said, reaching out and hugging her. She only came up to his shoulders, her stout body wrapping a pair of small arms around his waist. The hug was over faster than it had began. She turned her attention to me. "So you're Mandy, then?"
"Yes'm," I replied. She put a hand on my shoulder, and I found she was still even shorter than I was. She barely topped out at five feet, her hat giving her an extra inch or so, maybe a smidge more due to the tacky hat pin.
"Walk with me, dear," she said to Vincent, nudging him along. I followed suit, strangely aware of the stares and gaping faces watching me, like I was a liger or some circus freak. "So how are things up there? You never call me anymore, Vincent. How's Ryell? And Lucifer? I'm surprised he didn't come this year-"
Vincent slowed down. "Ma, he hasn't come in almost sixty years. And Ryell's fine; I think she went to talk to Charon again…"
"Well, how have you been, then?" she pressed.
"I…I've been fine." He seemed unusually uncomfortable around his mother, but perhaps it was just because I was witnessing how much of a mama's boy he really was. She held him at arm's length, frowning as she studied him up and down.
She pinched the sides of his suit, pulling up the slack. "You've lost weight," she said, her voice falling. "You're pitifully thin, Vince. Haven't you been eating properly?"
"Ma," he started to protest. I was saved from watching him flounder in the masculinity he was rapidly oozing by a tap on my shoulder. I turned around, startled, expecting Ryell or Ed.
But what I got was a boy, a little older than me, clad in a black robe and holding a scythe. He had on a pair of glasses, which he took off, almost dramatically, holding them in his hand. "You're Mandy Hoff, right?"
"Yes…" I answered. I really needed a name tag or something. People kept asking that damn question.
"The one with Lucifer, right?"
He shook his head, scoffing. "You don't deserve it."
Please be kind, rewind. "What?" I asked.
"You don't deserve to be treated like that. You don't deserve the little throne this community puts you on. You don't even have your scythe yet." Okay, other than the fact that he was yelling at me, I was pretty cool with this guy. And the fact that I got a scythe. Come on, man. I'd have killed for one in high school.
He shoved by me, decking me in the side. Mandy Hoff, however, does not let that stand. I used my fist and hit him in the gut as he stepped past me. I saw him double over, and shot him a sneer. "Listen, pal," I spat, "I don't know what's gotten your panties in a bunch, but I died, just the same as you. And that means I don't have to take your shit."
I felt Vincent's presence over my shoulder, as he stared down at the kid I'd just whalloped. He gave me a mildly shocked look, but I only shrugged. I turned away and started to walk down another aisle, passing a booth for some new scythe grip tape, with Vincent and his mother following. A few people and creatures had turned to look, watching me go by again.
The kid was starting to get up, holding onto his scythe. "You don't deserve any of it, Hoff!" he called after me. "You don't deserve Lucifer!"
My blood ran cold.
What did he mean? I didn't "deserve" Lucifer? I didn't deserve a rich, flamboyant, gay, narcissistic whoreboy? None of Lucifer's redeeming qualities were coming to mind at present moment, in case it didn't show.
All I could think about, however, was the way he said it, like he was in love with Lucifer. Just how many boys had Lucy seduced, anyway? I should start a tally.
"Any clue who that was?" I asked Vincent. He shot a glance at his mother, who tilted her head in an expecting way.
"Ryell will explain," was all he said.
I managed to peg down the elder Reaper as she hopped the elevator back to our rooms. Vincent had gone off to spend quality time with his mum, and I'd decided to meander up to my room. My head was starting to hurt, and I was hungry, and there was apparently no food court here.
She held the door open for me as I hopped inside, and pressed the little plastic button for our floor. The doors closed, and the elevator started up.
"How was your first day?" she asked me.
"Fine," I lied. "Listen, I have a question?"
She raised her eyebrows in a curious sort of manner, her lips pursing slightly, and her black hair falling into her face. "Hm?"
"Do I get a scythe?" I asked, rather frank, praying that the answer was yes silently in my mind. Please be yes, please be yes, please be yes.
She nodded, the black mop-top shaking slightly. "Yes. On the last day of the convention, we give out the scythes."
Wait, what? Please do explain.
"Each year, we recruit more reapers of all ages. We start the actual year from the end of the convention, so any Vulture who died from the day after the convention all the way to the day before the next year's convention are lumped together, like a graduating class. On the last day, we award the scythes out to the newcomers. It's just a sign that you're a Vulture. Purely decorative."
Okay, here we go with Mandy's Annual Stupid Questions. "So, Vincent, Morgan, Angelica- they all have one?"
She nodded again. "And you'll get one at the end of the 2007 convention."
Sexy. I couldn't wait.
Now it was time for another Stupid Question. "So I'm one of the youngest Vultures of this class, aren't I? Since I only died a few days before the Con?"
Her head bobbed up and down in another nod. "Naturally, we have some Vultures who have been around almost a full year before they get a scythe. Others, just a day."
I bit my lip. So I was once again the lowest guy on the totem pole. Great. And I thought being a freshman was as a bad as it could get. Now I was the bottom rung on the death ladder. "Ryell," I began with Stupid Question Number Three, "did they have the convention when you died?"
She smiled, and laughed. "No, of course not. They had a small festival every year, kind of a religious thing. That was when they handed out the scythes." Her posture straightened up, stiffening, not in a cold way, just in a reminiscing way. "Of course, mine's not made of the fancy-schmancy materials they use nowadays, but it holds together."
The elevator came to a stop, at my floor, and I backed out, slowly, Ryell staring at the floor. "Night," I said, turning away, but catching a glimpse of her as she reached into the pocket of her pants, pulling out an old necklace, one of yellowed teeth two inches long, spaced between shells and other old, browning things. It looked as though it belonged in the Smithsonian. But then again, it probably could have. This was Ryell.
"Good night, Mandy," she said, smiling at the end.
The elevator doors shut, leaving me standing in the middle of the deserted hallway. I bit my lip, wondering what Vincent was doing at current moment, but I decided to just forget about him, and Ryell, and most importantly, Lucifer. What was he doing right now? Sitting down to lunch? Going out with Eric? Or still asleep?
Option three seemed viable. I didn't really know what time it was up on the surface world, having been down here for what felt like forever. Now I knew what people meant with all that "eternal damnation" stuff. An hour down here felt like a million years.
I walked, somewhat downtrodden, back to my room, finding the key in my pocket and unlocking the door, pushing it open to reveal its contents just the way I'd left them. There was still a lonely feeling hanging about the room, but I knew it to be superficial, since I had more friends in death than I'd ever possessed in life. A part of me, however, yearned for stupid people like Kyo, whom I could make fat jokes about only to have her agree. I felt like I'd just been ripped out of one life and crudely taped into another. Couldn't Lucifer have at least used a glue-stick?
I rubbed my temples as I sat down on the bed, despite the fact I had no headache. I rarely got them, but when I did, all hell broke loose.
Reaching over to my suitcase, I unzipped one of the pouches, the one I thought I'd put my toothbrush in. Instead, I got a photograph, folded in half, with a date and a name on it. I opened it, revealing a picture of a happy couple.
They weren't laughing; the picture was too old, and judging from the date, the exposure would have taken close to five minutes. Subjects didn't smile back then. That was why everyone looked unhappy in the Civil War era. Well, that plus the war.
I flipped it over. Madelyn Henloff, May 9th, 1877, was written neatly on the back, in Lucifer's spidery writing. I'd never been much for anagrams, but there was something...something about the name that bothered me.
Reaching on the desk, I grabbed a notepad and a pen, the kind that were in all hotels, standard procedure, like the bibles in the dresser-drawer. "Mandy…Ellen…Hoff…" I whispered to myself as I wrote my name down on the paper. "Now, M…A…D…" I scratched the letters off one by one. Until, I was left with nothing. Except for the words, "Madelyn Henloff."
Strangely enough, it didn't shock me. Instead, I took the photograph, and headed to the mirror, to see my reflection to the living. I held up the photo for reference.
We were almost the same person. The face, mine a bit younger, was long and slender, with big eyes and a dainty nose. My hair was cropped short, layered; hers long and flowing. But the resemblance was striking.
Lucifer was re-creating Madelyn.
And I was the catalyst.
I didn't sleep that night. I wasn't expecting to. Instead, I was up most of the night with pains in my chest and a tingling feeling in the back of my head. This was it. I wanted to throw up and call it quits and go home. I wasn't cut out to be a Vulture; my rep with Lucifer was killing any allies I might have made. And I wasn't even cut out for Lucifer- he had to sculpt me into his poltergeist-of-a-girlfriend to like me.
I tossed and turned, tired but not tired enough to sleep, caught in this stupid lullaby state between my semiconscious mind and reality. So when I started to hear the hustle and bustle of other residents as they started their morning routines, I got up, showered, and dressed. It was done with cold apathy and hatred for Lucifer, and for all of them, for not telling me what they had to have known.
Or maybe they didn't. I mean, Vincent hadn't been alive when Madelyn was; he couldn't have spotted the signs. And Ryell had tried to take me away from Lucifer; I couldn't really blame her. So that left the fault squarely on Lucifer.
I wandered aimlessly around on my second day at DeathCon, finding the stares and gawking all the more usual. I shrugged it off and pretended to look at the nearest thing to me, with was usually some sort of scythe polish or stain remover for the enchanted robes. It was like the Resolve from hell, literally, since it described all the undead gunk and goodies it could take off (minotaur snot? I didn't know such a thing existed). And I wonder how good scythe polish would have worked on, say, a car.
I picked up a brochure on scythe management at some stand, and a woman recognized me and handed me a basket full of maintenance products, telling me over and over that it was on the house when I explained that I couldn't pay her. The money down here was different, too. Hopefully I could find a currency exchange or something. I still had almost forty bucks left over from my shopping trip at Jewel.
But maybe sales tax was high in Hades. I mean, especially if everything was imported, like Hawaii. Strangely enough, there were chickens running rampant on those islands, and yet it cost you an arm and a leg to buy frozen chicken breast.
There were no chickens running rampant down here, however.
The day didn't really pick up until I bumped into Ryell as the lady was giving me the basket of goods. I was standing next to an elder man, gray hair, George Clooney look to him, who was in the next booth over, reading some pamphlet or other. I didn't pay attention. But then Ryell appeared, seemingly out of thin air, but I knew it would have been hard to miss her otherwise.
She had on a black and white skull T-shirt, with bluejeans that had little dangly charms on them, like chains, with a pair of Converse All-Stars, black with a red pattern on them. Her hair was done in its normal style, but she had on thick black eyeliner, pulled out around her eyes, almost like that old Egyptian style.
Ironically, I wasn't the first one to notice her; the guy next to me was. He straightened up, standing, a sharklike grin on his face. "Ryell," he began in a smooth, slick voice that was reminiscent of an old leather chair in a library. "It's good to see that you could make it this year."
"Nice to see you too, Charles."
He set down the pamphlet. "Such a shame Lucifer couldn't make it. Although, from what I hear, he's a wreck now."
Ryell shrugged. "He's doing just fine," she corrected. "You can't believe all the rumors you hear, you know." She grinned. "Now if you'll excuse us," she said, putting a hand on my shoulder despite the fact that she was four inches shorter than I.
"Just one more thing," he said. "Have you heard the rumor that Lucy's being demoted? They're supposedly looking for a new Vulture to take his spot."
Ryell scoffed. "I'm pretty sure you started it, Charles."
Oooh. Burn. Charles looked at her with a look that spelled, "bitch," to a t. Ryell stared back with one that read, "Bring it."
It was so on.
She sighed. "Now if you'll excuse me," she said, sneering, "Mandy and I have to go meet someone."
Whatever. It got me away from the jerk, so I limped off with triumphant fossil Ryell, parading Charles' wounded pride like an animal skin draped on her shoulder. I checked her neckline, making sure there wasn't a lion skin across them, but all I saw was that funny necklace she'd had the other night, the one with the teeth and the bits of shell. Except now she was wearing it.
"Who are we going to meet?" I asked sheepishly.
"Your mom." The reply was blunt, but I knew she was joshing me. "We're not meeting anyone. Charles is a pompous buffoon, in case you haven't noticed."
That mean she liked him. Ryell had a crush. It was just like being in kindergarten again. Now I wanted to fingerpaint, have a snack, and then it was naptime.
"Are you in competition with him, or something?" I asked.
She stopped dead in her tracks. "As a matter of fact, I am." She opened her mouth, and I knew story-time was coming. Please let it not be too boring. "We're two of the oldest Vultures out here, and he's been jealous of me ever since the start. You see, Lucifer was my teacher, and later, my partner. And Lucifer's always been one of the top dogs around here, right up there with Hades, Anubis, Set and Yama."
There was a pause in the story, probably because she had seen the fact that my eyes were as wide as saucers. "They're normal people, Mandy. Anubis doesn't have a dog head or anything."
"Anywho, Charles always thought himself the better Vulture. Throughout history he's tried to show me up." She shrugged. "Never quite did, though. The bastard needs to just learn that he's a damn good Vulture himself. I have respect for him, although it shrinks every time he tries to pass me up."
That little part of the story was fine except for one detail. "Throughout history?" But then it hit me. I'd thought Vincent had seen a lot. Ryell was thousands of times worse. She had seen the pyramids of Egypt built. The Roman rise and fall. The golden age of Athens. The Middle Ages. The Renaissance. The Protestant Reformation. The Age of Exploration. The list just didn't end. I had images of her wearing Egyptian garb, Roman togas, medieval dresses, to her most recent outfit.
What was it like to see any and every important milestone in the rise of man?
Basically, how 'ya been doin' this past six thousand years?
I shook my head. Ryell looked over her right shoulder suddenly. The crowd was picking up, chattering loudly, and reforming, surrounding something like a bubble. Whatever that something was, it was headed toward Ryell and myself. At that instant, every ugly looking demonic thing I had seen here flashed into my head, except with one alteration- now it was coming to kill me. "Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."
Kind of a stupid quote to have in your head if you were about to die.
But I was already dead. So it was okay. What's the worst that could happen?
More and more people parted the crowd, whispers and talk rushing along the grapevine.
"Is that really him?"
"My, he looks awful."
"I never thought he looked like that."
People backed away, revealing a twenty-foot berth around someone/something. And knowing my luck, that someone or something was someone or something I wouldn't want to meet again. But then again, my life had taken a hundred and eighty degree turn (kind of ironic because a hundred and eighty degrees was a straight line, thank you very much) since I'd died. I needed to stop calling it "my life." It was more like, "my afterlife."
Kinda sounded like a bad TV show or something…
My feet cemented themselves to the ground, just like they had when the taxi hit me, turning into marble sculptures fused into a base. I swallowed, watching Ryell to see what she did, which was apparently stand there and wait. Ryell might have been alive for an eon or two, but that didn't make her smart. The little claxon inside my head was beeping, and the tiny people running around my brain like it was the bridge of the Starship Enterprise were all fleeing for their lives.
"Ryell, what is it?" I asked her.
"It's not a what," she said, "but a who."
Hot damn. At least it was somewhat human.
The last layer of people split, moving like the cell wall in the biology video on exocytosis. And I saw the lone figure, limping, half hunched over, dripping wet and oozing a reddish trail with each footstep. And that lone figure happened to own a funeral home and a BMW and had a boyfriend named Eric.
He looked up at me, and he smiled.
Damn it, Lucifer.
Ten minutes later found me in the elevator with him, canvassing the lurid form before me. His hair was matted and wet, so it must have still been raining in NY above me. His face looked more gaunt than it usually did, with dark, tired, gray circles under his blue eyes. He didn't speak as I pressed the button to close the doors, just kept clutching his side and sort of doubling over. "Lucifer," I began, "why'd you come down here?"
He looked at me with sorry eyes. "I wanted to see you." There was a grimace, and he began to fall, leaning on the wall and groaning, his body sliding downwards. I grabbed him before he could hit the floor, supporting his surprisingly light frame on my shoulders. His thick brown jacket shifted away from his side, and I could see that it was entirely red. Red with blood red. A ugly red.
It had dripped and oozed everywhere, down his jeans, all over his blouse and his jacket (at least the inside, which was probably why I didn't notice it before), his shoes- there was even a thick smatter on his face and neck.
"My God," I whispered. "What happened?"
"Tell you later," he said, smiling weakly. He started to cough, more or less to vomit, thick, sticky blood flowing past his teeth and down his chin, staining his shirt. Whatever happened to him, it was serious. Very, very serious. I mean, Lucifer was immortal, but right now it looked as though he was just about to buy the farm.
I fished in my pocket for a Kleenex, finding none, and watching him wipe his mouth on his shirtsleeve. Note to self- don't touch the brown jacket from now on.
He coughed again, violently, just as the doors opened and I ushered him down the hallway, his feet barely able to compose steps, stumbling and staggering, and occasionally falling, trying to take me with him, and I haphazardly fought back, struggling to stay upright and keep him from slipping. He had to stand alone for a second while I unlocked the room, a feat he managed by leaning his body against the wall, pushing his forehead near the doorframe and grimacing.
I kicked the door open, dragging him inside, where I threw a couple of towels down on the bed so that the blood wouldn't get everywhere. (I had to sleep someplace, mind you, and I hadn't fit in the bathtub since I was ten.) He fell back on them, vomiting more blood while I tossed a towel at him.
"Ryell's coming up," I said. "She just went to get some stuff from her room."
He nodded, just before a fresh wave of red coated his chin. He feebly wiped at it with a hand towel, but it kept coming up and he found himself powerless to stop it. And I had a feeling Pepto Bismal wouldn't do any good against whatever was wrong with him.
So instead I fetched all the remaining towels, stacking them neatly on the bed, and proceeded to strip him of his jacket, and I started on his white-turned-red shirt. He kept trying to undo the buttons, poor thing, his bloody fingers too slick to hold on to them. So he just scowled and let me do it, opening his shirt up to reveal his chest.
I'd seen CSI: and House, MD, but nothing prepares you for seeing lurid carnage in reality. I mean, I watched a behind-the-scenes thing on how they made those scenes, using karo syrup and pantyhose stuffed with Styrofoam for organs, but the real thing was more disturbing than anything I'd encountered. Lucifer's entire chest was a maze of red, ugly cuts, patterned so intricately they were like whorls on a fingerprint. Near his stomach was a particularly nasty one that revealed a curl of what I thought was pink intestine, threatening to wiggle its way out.
"It's pretty bad, isn't it?" He vomited up more blood.
"Yeah." No shit, Sherlock. "Yeah, it's bad, Lucifer." Mouth agape, I reached out and gingerly touched the area above the one that nearly disembowled him, his face twitching with the momentary pain. The wound wasn't healing- it wasn't sealing like his finger had done back at the house. And there was no smell of death. "Why aren't they fixing themselves?" I asked.
"Demonic wound," he answered, despite a great gush of blood in the midst of the word "demonic." He struggled to finish his sentence. "It doesn't heal up right away. Lasts longer."
Oh. "What do I do, then?" I asked. "Holy water?"
He raised an eyebrow. "That's just water some priest-"
"Save your breath, Luci. Just tell me what to do."
He frowned at his nickname, but reluctantly decided to shut up, probably due to the fact he was tossing up gallons of blood at this point. "Rubbing alcohol. Under the cabinet. Bathroom."
Mandy had her marching orders. I returned with the plastic bottle in my hand, unscrewing the cap. "Do we need a cotton ball or something?"
He laughed, the blood oozing out of a corner of his mouth. "No, just one of the towels. Yeah, that's it. Don't just dab the stuff on one corner of it- do the whole fucking towel."
What? The man was crazy. I squirted the alcohol over the whole towel and held it out, like some kind of art project I'd done in third grade. He pointed to his chest. I almost started to wipe at one of the wounds, but he snatched it and draped the thing over his full chest.
Which promptly started to smoke. "Holy fuck," he whispered, tossing his head back. I snatched the towel off of him, prompting a sharp glare. "What'd you do that for?"
"You….you were smoking…" I had paused to stare at the wounds, which had started to seal up, scabbing over. Reluctantly, I dropped it back on him, ignoring the smoke and the small shriek he let out. It fizzled out after about thirty seconds, at which point I pulled it off to reveal a clean, bare chest (save for the blood smears on it) with only the faintest of scars. He sat up, wriggling out of his shirt, since I'd left him still in it, and tossing the ugly thing to the ground.
Lucifer reached for the bottle of alcohol on the dresser. "Here. Hit me," he said, showing me his spine and handing it to me. My shaky hands dropped the towel. "Just squirt it on there. Don't be nervous."
His back was just as bad as his front. Slashes, looking almost like claw marks, ran up and down it, twisting and turning like some mad scribble. But the strange thing were the two long scars, parallel to one another, running down his back, almost like….
Almost like wings. Or the part that held them to him.
I started, nervously, to pour the stuff on him, watching it sizzle and smoke, like some chemistry lab gone wrong. The flesh scabbed and sealed and bound together as I did so. "Doesn't this hurt?" I asked him.
"Like a bitch."
I paused, letting silence fall for a moment, the only noise being the sound of Lucifer's skin searing. "I'm sorry."
"For what?" he replied between gasps.
He shook his head. "You didn't leave. You came down here. I knew where you were. And you left me a note. And you were with Ryell. And Vincent." He fell silent. "Oh, fuck."
"Not your fault."
I finished up, noting that some of the wounds ran a little beneath his belt line, and I decided I'd just give him the bottle and let him sort those out. He stood up, stretching, and examining my handiwork in the mirror. "This looks okay, doesn't it?" he said. "I mean, I don't think Eric will notice."
I grinned a little. He was still surveying himself in the mirror, apparently unsatisfied with the way his ass looked in his jeans. "Aright," he began, "give me that; I'll finish up in the bathroom and take a shower. If you wouldn't mind, could you run down and ask Vincent for something to wear? Seeing as…" He pointed to his ruined shirt and jacket.
I shrugged. "Sure." Snagging my key, I headed for the door. He caught me just as I was about to leave.
"Don't get me anything too stuffy or stiff looking. That boy's wardrobe is so bland. At least try to get some color, will you? Not too much black?"
I got the sense I needed to write this down. Did he want fries with that? As he shut the bathroom door, I slipped out into the hallway, snaking my way down to Vincent's room. There was no sign of him in the halls along the way, so I assumed he was either here or with Ryell back at the Con.
Taking a left down the hallway, I narrowly avoided colliding with a young man, who had to be the palest critter I'd ever seen. He had dark blue eyes, and blackish hair, and a nervous demeanor, and he stammered out excuses for almost hitting me. "S'okay," I said, starting off, but I couldn't shake the somewhat cold feeling I'd gotten. He seemed to radiate it.
I knocked on the door of his room, hearing muffled footsteps and a soft cry of, "Coming!" as he answered the door. He pulled it open rather fast, so I got the sense of urgency. "Oh," he said, sounding crestfallen. "It's just you, Mandy."
Who did he expect? Mr. T?
"Yeah, it's just me," I repeated, slightly confused, as Vincent led me in.
"He needs clothes, I assume?"
Mind reader. He was good.
I nodded, and watched Vincent eagerly tear apart his suitcase looking for some. He pulled out a pair of jeans, a blouse, and some other things, putting them into a neat pile on the bed. "How's he doing?" he asked.
"Did he use alcohol or mercury?"
He laughed. "I know, it's kind of funny, isn't it? Rubbing alcohol. My mom used to use that when I'd scrape my knee or whatnot. Never thought it would be for demonic wounds."
I shook my head and tried to grin. "Yeah, it seemed a little random." The question was now burning in the back of my head, and I doubted Vincent knew the answer any more than I did, but it still couldn't hurt to ask. "Why is Lucifer being attacked by demons? Or whatever got to him?"
Vincent froze. I'd crossed some invisible boundary, I knew it. "You'll have to ask him; I can't tell you that."
I uttered a soft, disappointed, "Oh."
He handed me the clothes. "Ryell'll be by soon; she'll want to have a word with him, I'm sure."
My head bobbed up and down. "Okay."
He ushered me out the door. "I'll see you in a little bit, aright? Give Lucifer my regards."
I raised my eyebrow, but he had already shut the door. I limped back upstairs, unlocking my door and slipping inside the room, back to the chaos that was Lucifer.
"Oh, dear lord!" he yelled, obviously in pain. "I think I just made myself a fucking eunuch."
"You poor baby," I chided. He wasn't amused. After a few more minutes of intense cursing and yelling (Lucifer had a sailor's mouth, apparently), he started the shower, and it ran for a good half hour.
Eventually it stopped, and the door opened, his arm sticking out impatiently for the clothes, which I started to hand to him, but then yanked away. He whined in protest.
"Just give me the damn clothes."
"Not until you answer a couple questions."
There was a stubborn sigh on the other side of the door. "Fine."
I sifted through the questions I wanted to ask him, listing them by importance. The one with the large, red, flashing lights on it went first. "Who was Madelyn?" I asked.
"A woman. Now give me my shirt."
"Not good enough," I retorted, pulling it away. "Who was she?"
He snorted. "She was a woman I was in love with. She died. End of story."
"I know that already. Tell me more."
"Fine. I was desperately in love with her, and she was with me. We never married, because her parents wouldn't allow it. She got consumption one year after a bad winter, and she died, slowly, in great pain, and I couldn't do anything to save her. And then when she died, I reaped her, and she found out who I truly was. I offered to give her life, life as a Vulture, because then we could have been together, but she said no. She said no because she thought I was a monster and she was scared of me." A pause. "You happy now?"
Yeah, that definitely warranted a shirt. I handed him the blouse.
"Any other questions?"
It was time for Double Jeopardy. "Who or what attacked you and why?"
"Demons. Worthless lot of malformed souls from hell, who were probably promised a reward if they got me. As for why, someone sent them."
"Ah ah ah. Watch it. You owe me another article of clothing; I answered your question."
I handed him something. "Now, who?"
"Death, probably. Knowing him, he coerced Beelzebub into doing it."
"Who are they?"
I handed him those. I was running out of clothes.
"Death. The Death. The overseer of this grand project. And Beelzebub. The whelp of a being I left in charge of hell while I was gone."
"Who's 'The Death'?" I asked, giving him his socks.
"Someone you'll hopefully never meet. You got anything else?"
I was out of ammo. "No. That's it."
The door swung open, revealing six foot Lucifer with a bemused expression on his face. "Do you want to keep playing Twenty Questions?" he asked.
I looked down at the floor. "I don't mean to pry," I said. "I just want to know what's going on."
The bemused expression turned thoughtful. He strode across the room, sitting on the bed and reaching for his shoes. He glanced up and saw the post-it on my desk. "You figured it out, didn't you? Like I said before, you're a smart kid."
Smart was the Asian kid at my high school who had a four point eight GPA. In essence, smart was not me. "Figured what out?"
"The link between you and Madelyn."
"Oh. That? Yeah."
"I'm sorry." He shook his head, his damp auburn hair sticking to his face. "I just wanted to see her again, to have her… And I fucked up your life because I'm so goddamn selfish."
Part of me wanted to forgive him. But another part of me couldn't. I found myself sitting on the bed next to him, just an undead girl next to the angel of hell. It was like any other day.
"Death's calling me back, Mandy. My time's up; I have to go back to here, to Hades. Beelzebub can have hell; I just have to come back here. You understand, don't you?"
You had me at hello, I thought to myself. "It's still kind of confusing," I admitted.
"I'm sorry." He tilted his head. "Let me make it up to you. We'll visit my house while we're down here. Tomorrow, after you get your scythe."
"You have a house down here?" What kind of property value could one get down here? Scenic two bed, two bath. Great view on River Styx. Contact Charon of Pluto Realty for more info!
He nodded. This was no joke, apparently. "I lived down here for a long, long time, Mandy. I had to have a nice place."
He stood up, stretching, mindlessly ambling toward the door. "What'd Vincent say?"
"Nothing. Just asked how you were. Said Ryell would be by."
He rolled his eyes. "Typical. He's never been the same since."
Lucifer looked taken aback. "Since we slept together."
I coughed and choked, my face turning bright red. "Are you serious?" I asked, praying he wasn't.
He grinned devilishly, and shook his head no. "Of course I am. The boy's already got a stick up his ass." He groomed himself one final time before the mirror, and then focused back on me. "Wanna get something to eat? I'm starving."
"Sounds good," I replied. He smiled at me as he opened the door.
"Chin up, kid. Things'll be okay," he told me as we started down the hall.