Thank You to Rick Rupert, photographer, for the amazing photos.
Despite fishing not allowed, the fish swimming in the reservoir still were not safe. The lake supplied the drinking water for the entire city making it off limits. Unlike the lake in the city center, this was off the beaten path. Despite all those barriers, many risked a brush with the law. There was an increased chance against the fish who were not used to the sport fishermen.
“Things have changed; your role has to be increased.” A hat covered the handsome features of the man as he monitored the floating orb in the water.
“I am performing my role. I do not think you know how well I am achieving my purpose.”
Antonio usually enjoyed fishing. The mortal shell he inhabited seemed to be at ease when he was sitting next to the dam waiting for his bait to snag something. There were no problems here. Fewer and fewer mortals seemed to find a way to unwind in nature. The nightmares of his spirit seemed to forget the nightmares of the burning pits when he was on the banks.
It took a lot of work to escape the torment of the pit. When his superiors had a problem with his performance on the surface, like now, there was a threat of being returned. Punishment for taking a valuable empty body and not producing a benefit to his kindred. Corruptors were the lowest creatures to be allowed out of the pits. Antonio was not even allowed to address his grievances with the fallen angels that spawned him.
So much was demanded from them. The only reward was not being sent back. Tormentors made the pits so miserable for their kin that the spirits would do anything to avoid them.
Hatred had Built up, it needed directed to a target. Those with free will were the easiest target. Even if the demons were created with sympathy they would hold none for those who knew what was right and still let selfishness motivate them.
That was all that Antonio truly was, a physical representation to encourage selfishness. The hatred stirred so strongly within Antonio that today he could not enjoy fishing. He was being asked to do more. Why wasn’t he created as a higher being? Why wasn’t he a tormentor? The hatred churned.
“What more can be asked of me?”
“Do I sense you are forgetting your place? Are you becoming homesick?”
“You know I am not. I am not sure what more I can do?”
“Look around, this area is dying.”
“That is why there are so many of us in these cities.”
“But you are not doing your part to diminish hope.”
“My former coworkers are slowly destroying themselves. There are hundreds of them lost in a bottle.” Antonio caught his bobber move in the corner of his eye. It could be the breeze but he needed to give it more attention. “Within a few days they will be susceptible to our bait. When they have lost the last drop of hope free will is clouded with desperation. Desperation leads to trading their souls. That desperation leads to your success.”
“I know how the system works. What I don’t understand is why you are not capitalizing on the rippling of despair outside of those from the factory. This city has been hit with a loss of jobs and yet no one is whispering to their greed. Only the weakest have fallen. You cannot rest on your laurels. Too many of us need your assistance.” The forked tongue escaped from out of the shadow. “Mortals are not fish; you cannot always wait for them to take the bait. You have to take the bait and shove it down their throats until their souls choke on it.”
“Isn’t that how my brother attracted his demise? Has his spirit returned to the pits?”
“He is no more.”
The fishing was forgotten for a moment. Antonio was bewildered by the impossibility. Death in this world placed the spirit elsewhere. He and his family were predestined to return to Hell. Mortals chose through their actions where they ended up after their bodies expired. “What do you mean he is no more? You have to mean his spirit has not been found yet. I know we cannot cross barriers put up by faith, but there has always been a way to escape the traps.”
“He is not trapped. Our masters knew where he was. Now they assure us he is no more.” Casting his line near Antonio’s. He was claiming the fish that his companion was stalking. “He has been destroyed.”
“How is our destruction even possible?”
The senior demon had no answer.
“Did he disappoint our master?”
“It is unknown. I do know that if you do not want to suffer the same fate, you will break the hope. You must create terror, and remove the safety of community. When they cannot run to each other they will run to us.”
“Any suggestions on how I can do that to your satisfaction?”
“Do you know why the reservoir is wide open and people still drink the water that comes from it?”
“So you want me to do something to the water?”
“No I want you to hear me. They trust in each other. They trust that someone will take the water from here and make sure it is kept safe. They take comfort in knowing their neighbors who works in the building across from the Dam will protect them from evil men. A strong community has faith in each other.”
“I believe I am following you.”
“That faith and trust are lost when it is one of their own who is plotting against them. Chisel the faith but turning one or two at a time. Appeal to the greed of some to poison the community. Smash the safety of their faith, and many more will make the wrong choice when at critical moments.” The rod bent as the senior demon’s bobber disappeared. A short fight with the unseen fish. The Bluegill crested the water and was pulled to the bank. “You bait the mortals and we will reel them in.”
“I don’t know what you have done, but please don’t bring us down with you.”
Yancey was struck. He had been careful in his actions. He alone would suffer the consequences of his deeds. No sin goes unpunished, even his own. His wife and son, did not deserve to pay for his sins. “What do you think I have done? I work and come home to you both.”
“I have seen the blood on your clothes. I am your wife. I would have known if it was your blood from an injury.”
“Please do not ask me about what I do at work. It is better if you don’t speculate. It is best if you don’t know. Too many nights of sleep have been lost because I do know.”
“Turn yourself in. It is guilt keeping you awake.”
“What do you think I am? A monster? Why would I turn myself in?” He did not want to lie, but confessions would serve no purpose. Urges needed silenced. Confessing to her his delicate wife would just create worry.
Worry that she not only married a murderer but also he would tell her of what he had seen. Stories of the reality of pure evil. Ignorance and suspicion were better than revealing the reality of hellish creatures he dispatched. Their existence proved that behind the safety of not knowing was the truth. Truth that people were always hunted. Truth that death was not the end.
“I will never do anything to hurt you. You two are my family. I could not hurt a soul. The blood was probably from work. Accidents happen.”
A sadness occupied her face. Yancey could tell his insecurity was obvious to her. She feigned belief in his words. “I trust you, I always have and always will. I was blessed when I met you. We were blessed when we became a family. I know you will do nothing to disturb this trust.”
He leaned down and kissed her forehead. Guilt gnawed at him. He had lied to his wife. Lying was a sin and no sin goes unpunished.
Clemmons loved his hometown. It had its problems but they were problems that made it stronger. The dark clouds always seemed to lurk, but the rays of sunshine made up for the darkness. Times were tough while they were awaiting one of those rays of sunlight. Jobs took an exodus and took the life out of the factories. Their carcasses created a haunted look. Where once production ruled now a graveyard of old buildings were all that was left. Clemmons did not need to look at old photos to see the same buildings in their prime, which made their current state all the more haunting.
A security officer at some off location had called the police when they noticed someone walking around in the former factory. The last job had transitioned. The building was still standing. Filled with materials, the building was a purgatory of sorts for supplies that the executives did not know how to handle. The leftover materials and machinery still held value so they had to be monitored. Late shift officers can get bored and their eyes play tricks when they watch the cameras for too long. It usually leads to a call to the police department to have a police patrol check.
Driving down the rows, Clemmons imagined the bustle of the buildings. The raw supplies being converted to finished tires. It was only a few months ago but the lack of maintenance made the buildings appear desolate for centuries. The overcast sky added to the ominous presence of trouble.
In an instant after turning the corner, Clemmons found the source of the complaint. He exited the patrol car and headed toward the seated man.
“A little early to be hitting the bottle, isn’t it?”
“Not if you started when it was late and you never stopped.” Harold sat there, bottle in hand.
“What are you doing here? You know you are trespassing, right?” Clemmons knew to be calm but stern with drunks. The way the man looked at the building it was obvious he had a connection to it.
“I am just planning my next step.” Harold offered to share his bottle. Clemmons raised his hand to decline. “When I worked here life seemed so simple. Then it crashed. Was hoping that sitting by my old workplace would rekindle the confidence I had when I worked here.” Another sip, “But it is locked away.”
“Let me get you home. I think you need to sleep this off.” There was no reason to punish a man who was down on his luck. Clemmons never wanted to add needlessly to troubles. If someone was hurting another or his city, then all bets were off, he would become that person’s worst nightmare, but this was not the time. There was no harm being administered here.
“This used to be my home.” The bottle was empty now. “Well second home at least. Then they evicted me, they evicted all of us.”
“Things will get better. Part of the magic of this place is how quick we recover.”
“The only magic here is that jobs are disappearing.” If Clemmons was not a cop, there was a good chance Harold would have thrown the bottle at the building. The grip made the action pretty obvious.
“Nothing is new. We have all tread this path before.”
“With all due respect officer, quit trying to be the silver lining. I just want to wallow in the cloud of my self-pity.”
Clemmons chuckled, “Well, let’s get your wallowing butt home.”
“I am done here anyways. I think I know exactly what I need to do next.”
Photos Presented By Rick Rupert (Rupertrick@gmail.com), special thanks once again for the high quality photographs.