My father used to tell my brother and I a bedtime story to help us sleep. According to the story, he and my mother lived in a beautiful place, but Something Happened, and they had to leave before I was born. That's all he told us. Something Happened.
I have a feeling an acquaintance of mine was behind it.
My brother would always ask a question when my father told the story. Stupid questions like "what was the fox's name?" or "what did you eat on Tuesdays?" My brother was always a dreamer.
My brother is also dead. Dead for a long time now. I don't like to talk about it. Bad memories and all that.
So, anyway, I was in Times Square in New York City, my fourteenth favorite place in the world. At the time, I thought I might go catch a show on Broadway. The Lion King was back, and I hadn't seen it in ages. Then my tattoo throbbed.
Suddenly alert, I watched as one man focused in on me, or rather, the bulge of my wallet. As he slowly approached, I continued walking, appearing to be oblivious prey. As his hand reached towards the pocket of my jeans, I slapped it away.
The man looked startled, and ran away.
This tattoo is a pain, but it has saved my sorry ass plenty of times. It looks like this red snake, crawling up the side of my face, the top half of its body resting on my forehead. It has also been on each of my arms, my left leg, several places on my back, and… other parts of my anatomy that I won't get into. Let's just say it's a certain appendage only found on males.
This tattoo is special, since it will give me some kind of warning whenever I am in danger, or there is lots of evil buzzing around in the air.
I digress. See, after that man dashed off, I was scanning the crowd. I knew he was there, but I didn't know where. Then, I saw it. That posture was unmistakable. That cocky swagger, the defiant tilt of the chin, it could only be him.
The man saw me staring and grinned. There was no going back now. He was already picking his way through the crowd towards me.
"Cain!" he cried. "I haven't seen you since Normandy!"
"Mainly because I've been avoiding you like the God damn plague." I muttered. "Leave me alone, Luke. Whatever you're planning, I don't want any of it. I'm in enough trouble as it is."
But Luke wasn't listening. He was too busy laughing at something I had said. "God damn plague. God damn." Luke snickered. "You are such a clown, Cain." He playfully smacked me on both cheeks. Then his eyes fell on my tattoo. "The tat's on your face this time? How'd you hide that from the 'rents?"
"Well, it appears on my seventh birthday, right? So two weeks before, I ran away and hid in the woods for a little while. Then, about a month later I came home, told them a cultist kidnapped me and he branded me or something. Then I ran away when he wasn't looking."
Luke whistled appreciatively. "And they call me the master of lies."
"I've had a long time to get it right. Now let's cut the crap. Why are you here? Lucifer."
Luke winced. "Not so loud. You never know who's watching."
"God is always watching."
"Then we better look busy!" he said with almost genuine concern.
"Cut the farce, Lucifer."
"You want me to cut my witty banter short?"
'Like hell I do. At least at Normandy, I could do something about it."
"'Like hell'. Man, you just get better and better." Lucifer, for that was his real name, winked playfully. "But back to Normandy. I understand the grenade down my shirt, but was the knife to the face really necessary?"
"Yes," I said.
By now, you must be very confused. So a quick history lesson. My father was Adam. Yes, the Adam. The "let there be light, world created in seven days, made from clay in the garden of Eden" Adam. And I am his firstborn son Cain. You have all probably heard the story of my fratricide, so I won't get into the details. All I'll say is, Lucifer convinced me to do it. And how was I supposed to know what was wrong or right? My parents only committed one sin in their lives, and that was his fault too.
So God branded me with the Mark of the Serpent, and made me take up the quest to vanquish Satan, the evil one who fucked my life up so bad. Obviously, so far, no luck. I've been born and reborn in different bodies for millennia. At age five, I get all the memories of my past lives back. At age seven, my mark appears.
I've watched empires rise and fall, the man many know as Jesus Bar Joseph of Nazareth be crucified. I never found out if he was the Son of God, or the Messiah or whatever. If he was, then maybe he could have removed this blasted blessing disguised as a curse.
I have fought in countless wars, used weapons as varied as sticks and rocks, swords, muskets and blunderbusses and AK-47s. I watched there when Babylon fell, when the Bubonic plague wracked Europe, when the Goths sacked Rome. When Rome burned because of the Emperor Nero. When man landed on the moon. When World War II ended. I watched as the Mayflower docked at Plymouth.
I have seen everything. I am the Forever-Man. I am a demon slayer.
And yes, I was there on D-Day when we stormed the beach at Normandy. Lucifer was there, fighting with the Nazis. After I fought my way up onto the beach, dodging enemy fire, I shot him several times, dropped a grenade down his uniform, and stabbed him before I ran away. And here he is today.
You just can't kill demons like you used to.
Back to the present. "You need to help me with this one, teeny-tiny, itsy-bitsy little thing," Lucifer said. "And after that, all you owe me is cancelled."
"First off, I owe you nothing. You owe me. Second, the last time I helped you with a teeny-tiny thing, Archduke Ferdinand got his head blown to bits and plunged Europe into World War One!" I cried.
"Ah, yes, that was fun, wasn't it?" Lucifer sighed. "The good old days."
"I'm not going to help you!" I said. I drew a knife form the inside of my jacket and was about to plunge it deep into where his heart should have been.
Lucifer grabbed my wrist. "Don't make me hurt you," he hissed.
"'He who harms Cain shall be avenged sevenfold,'" I quoted.
"I've had worse."
He snapped the fingers on his left hand. On an interesting side note, I have been around for millennia, and I still don't know how to do that.
Anyways. He snapped his fingers and we were in a parking garage. The parking garage where I had parked my motorcycle. The only way he could have known about this was if he'd been tailing me. I cursed myself for negligence.
Lucifer gestured with his free hand at my black and red Kawasaki Ninja. "I remember when you rode into battle with the Holy Roman Empire on a black horse with red armor. This a bit of nostalgia for you?"
"Shut up. I remember you killing that horse. I'm still pissed about that."
"Let bygones be bygones."
I delivered a sharp kick to his groin. "I've been busy since Normandy," I said. "I spent my last life training to become a master of tai-kwon-do, American kenpo, tiger, dragon and crane kung-fu, and Brazilian ju-jitsu. Plus, I helped invent bushido when you had your sojourn in Japan. They still tell that story, you know. Except they call me Susanoo, and you're a giant snake with eight heads. Orochi."
Lucifer's lower lip stuck out in a pout. "But I had ten heads. Leave it to them to mess up a perfectly good demonic form. I knew I should have gone with the twenty-foot tall bear."
I flipped my arm out of his grasp and leapt away. "I'm a damn good shot with this knife." I said. "I'll get it right between you eyes, and give myself a break for a little while."
Lucifer smiled. "Despite your skill at diverting my pickpocket earlier, you were distracted by my witty banter." He jangled my motorcycle keys. "Now have a getaway car. Bike. Whatever. You get my drift."
I cursed. I really had liked that bike. Oh well. Time to do that plan that I wanted to avoid. I hadn't smoked in ages, at least two lives ago, but I made a point to carry a lighter. I flicked the starter and threw it at my motorcycle.
I hadn't lied about my aim. The lighter hit right near my gas tank and the bike exploded in a giant fireball. Lucifer snapped his fingers, and before the garage sprinklers could turn on, we were whisked away through space.
When we "landed" in our new location, it was sunset. Chinese characters flickered on neon signs. Cars honked far below.
"What do you think?" Lucifer said. "How's this for our epic clash between good and evil?"
I looked around. "You want to have a battle for the fate of the world on a rooftop tennis court? In China? You must be stark raving mad."
Lucifer kicked a stray ball, pouting again. "Well, I thought it was a good idea." His teeth sharpened into fangs and tongues of fire flickered in the air around him. "Looks like I won't need your help. You have become an obstacle to the plan."
I cracked my knuckles. "What was your plan, anyway?"
"Oh, just a little thing, really. Just launching a few nuclear warheads."
"Nowhere important. Just Beijing, Moscow and Brussels."
I mentally reviewed what I knew about nuclear missiles and their blast radius. And became very, very frightened. "That would take out most of Russia, East Asia and almost all of Western Europe!"
"Exactly. See, to launch the missiles, we need to push two separate launch buttons at the same time. So I thought to myself, 'why not have my old friend Cain help out?'"
"I'm not your friend. Why would I ever want to plunge the world into a nuclear war?" I cried.
"Because, if the world is destroyed, I am no longer a threat to mankind. You can die and stay dead. You can see Abel again. You can apologize."
Oh, God, he really had me. That made sense, and I'd get to do something I'd wanted to do for centuries. But… I had centuries worth of sins on my shoulders. There's no way I'd get into Heaven. No way I'd ever see my brother again.
"No," I told Lucifer. "Abel has gone where I cannot follow. I'll stay here and conquer you until the sun swallows the earth. I've bested you before, and I shall best you again!"
Sulfur poured from Lucifer's mouth. "Have it your way, then."
I covered my mouth and nose with my sleeve, determined to hold my breath. I punched Lucifer hard in the gut, and delivered a hard uppercut to the jaw. Then I jumped up and delivered two sharp kicks to his chest, the same place I had punched.
I clutched his throat, cutting of the stream of noxious gases. I forced him to the edge of the roof shoved him off. Right as he fell over the edge, he snapped his fingers.
And landed on a soft cushion of pine needles. We were back on level ground, in a valley, probably in the Washington/Oregon area.
Lucifer jumped to his feet and lunged at my throat, his fingernails sharpening to claws. I parried, and his hands went wide.
"You never told me what happened after you killed me at Normandy," he rasped.
"I made it one hundred yards up the beach and got shot in the head."
"Hope that Nazi's still alive. I want to send him flowers."
I kneed him in the groin. He sucked in a breath, and I punched him in the gut. Then I shoved him into the rough bark of a pine tree. Before his head made contact, he snapped his fingers.
I really need to learn how to do that.
We were falling through the sky. I was on top of him. He would fall first. We zoomed past the onion domes of St. Petersburg. I waited for him to crash into the ground, effectively getting him out of my hair for the next couple years. Granted, I'd probably die too, but at least Lucifer wouldn't be causing the nuclear Holocaust any time soon.
Lucifer snapped his fingers. Man, I'm getting tired of that.
Now he was on top of me, and we were still falling through the air. I tilted my head back, and saw the white swathes of the Sydney Opera house.
"How come I'm on the bottom this time?" I grunted.
"I went south of the equator. Everything gets flipped."
"That doesn't even make sense!" I cried. I grabbed him around the neck and flipped him under me. I delivered a sharp kick to his ribs and smiled as he grimaced. He snapped his fingers.
And we fell with an "Oof" on a plateau in the Tibetan highlands. Lucifer got to his feet fist clapped his hands twice. The grass below my feet wrapped itself around my legs, immobilizing me.
Shards of jagged rocks rose into the air with a wave of Lucifer's hand. He smirked at me. "Cain, I am the Master of Chaos, the King of Evil. I have power over all the forces of nature. My power rivals that of God. And what to you have?" He fired the rocks at me. "You have nothing."
As the first rock whizzed past my face, I snatched out a hand and grabbed it. I used the jagged edge to slash at the grass around my feet. I rolled out of the way, and came up smiling.
"I have damn good reflexes." I said. "That has to count for something."
Lucifer tapped a finger to his chin. "Count. Count. Dracula was a count. Vlad the Impaler. Now there's an idea."
Jagged spires of stone erupted from the ground all around me. I flipped and rolled and darted out of the way. Finally, I just shimmied up one to avoid becoming a Cain-ka-bob.
Lucifer snapped his fingers, and a gust of wind blew me down, knocking the breath from my lungs. I scrambled to get behind a large boulder that could protect me.
Lucifer grunted. "I'll just smoke you out, then." A concentrated sphere of sulfur gas landed next to me.
I did the only sensible thing, and charged at the Devil head on. Well, I know it was stupid, but I was out of options, really. As soon as I got close, he just flicked me. I went flying back, and had to grab onto the edge of the plateau to avoid falling off.
As I clambered back on, Lucifer only laughed at me. And it was easy to see why. He was an all-powerful immortal being that led an army against the highest power in the universe.
I was just a man. Sure, I was fast, strong, and clever, but that really didn't mean much against a being that could control the forces of nature. I need a weapon. I thought. In this form, Lucifer is basically just an avatar. He can die like a normal human. He'll come back, but he won't be an immediate threat anymore. If only I had a gun.
And there it was. Someone up there had heard my desperate prayer. In my hand, there was a custom made black pistol with a silencer. On the right side of the barrel, there was a pair of angel wings and an uppercase cursive "M".
I knew who sent me this. My old World War I wingman, Michael the Archangel. He had come to Earth to help resolve the conflict that had claimed innumerable lives. He met up with me, and together we enlisted in the British Air Force. We flew together, always side by side.
When Lucifer destroyed Michael's plane in a German Bomber, I drove my plane into Lucifer's, taking off the wing and a portion of the engine. Unfortunately, my plane sustained heavy damage as well, so I crashed. When I got to the Other Side, I waited in Purgatory for a while before being reborn. I later found out that Michael had been arguing for me to get into Heaven before the Heavenly Court and the Hierarchy of Angels. His appeals were overruled, but he still likes to help me out in any way he can.
I hefted Michael's pistol and aimed it at Lucifer. Lucifer's eyes widened in shock. "No!" he cried "No! Cain, please, no! That's a heavenly weapon! That will destroy me, and you too! Cain, this is suicide!"
"He who harms Cain shall be avenged sevenfold," I murmured. And I pulled the trigger.
A bullet of pure light shot from the gun. It stuck Lucifer square in the chest, and his human shell began to dissolve. Soon all that was left was a column of flames shaped like a human. "Cain," it rasped. "If I must go, I shall take you with me. We shall finish this in Hell!"
The column exploded, and I felt the flesh being seared from my body. The pistol melted in my hand, but I didn't feel the scalding metal. All my nerve endings were gone. I felt my bones melting, my whole being becoming dust. And I smiled. Dying only hurts the first time.
Then, I was flying down the tunnel, something I'd done hundreds of times before. I passed through the light, and entered an expanse of whiteness. My skin was back. There wasn't a mark on me. And my tattoo was gone. Same old, same old.
An angel was there. She took me by the hand and led me somewhere. I knew I was about to be reborn, to once again chase down the devil and put a stop to his evil plans, as I would do until the end of the world.
But this angel led me to a pair of golden gates. My friend Michael stood before them, his long, golden hair waving in a non-existent breeze. His blue eyes flashed with happiness when he saw me. He stretched out his hands, and we embraced. "My appeal went through!" he murmured in my ear. "You can go to Heaven!"
I cried. Tears of joy ran down my cheeks, the emotion preventing me from speaking, from thanking Michael, to asking about Abel, to the men I led in past battles, my squad from Normandy, to see Aristotle and Mark Anthony and Simon Peter and Napoleon again.
My angel guide opened the gates of Heaven for me, and I stepped into Paradise. It was just like my father described.