The seal of the wizard King Solomon. It is supposed to be able to raise evil sprits: see how to summon the devil.

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This is supposed to be a close approximation, but my ASCII art ain't that good.

Baxter is probably my best friend in the world, the best friend I’ve ever had, even if knowing him guarantees me a spot in the pits of Hell itself.

I’d gone most of my twenty-six years quite alone, just another faceless grad student installed in the University’s flock of thousands. My work was good enough to keep the grant money coming (and therefore making my professors loath to get rid of me; I hesitate to claim that some were even appreciative of my long hours in the libraries), but not good enough to teach any classes or get any sort of solid degree beyond my almost fascinatingly useless bachelor of arts in applied psychology and superstition. Pretty fitting for an introspective freak of nature such as myself.

I was lucky enough to avoid a complete and crushing place among the lost and the pathetic due to my accent—my parents were from Chechnya and home-schooled me until sixth grade, so I sound like a scientist or terrorist—and the fact that some girls found an albino with dyed-black hair and brown contacts sexy. Even now, my hair college-rat long, my powder skin wrapped in thrift store blue jeans and shabby black, I attract unwanted attention.

Between the ages of fourteen and twenty-one I accumulated twelve different lovers and a larger number of admirers, and determined that I was decidedly not bisexual after an experimental evening of too much wine (spiked with something periwinkle blue I’d never seen before or since and probably very illegal) at the house of an old acquaintance. I blame it on being forced to waddle for a few days after the whole affair, wondering if I’d gotten drunk and spent the evening placing potato-sized objects in my rectum; that and being mailed one of those party-image-bordered Polaroids depicting me screwing Daniel while he was busy wallowing in Lilli and Aaron grunting along like a steam drill somewhere behind my right shoulder. The Polaroid was promptly burned in a tiny pyre of newspapers lit with my Grateful Dead lighter; after I had emptied the ashes out the window I threw up in the toilet and took a two-hour-long shower. I was unable to look at myself in the mirror for a week. This helped solidify my opinion that women give me less of a case of the cringes, not to mention much less anguish on the commode afterwards.

Despite the people all wanting to get to know a real live albino and the easily harvested sex (I am not bragging of this, as I’m hardly proud of it; the simple fact is that I never slept alone if I didn’t want to because hopping in the sack with a man whose skin is the color of a fresh head of cauliflour makes for a great anecdote, especially one with as much sexual experience as myself) I knew I didn’t have anyone who truly was a friend. After goggling at the white hairs under my arms or down my legs, or listening to me gulp my vowels and pronounce my Ws like Bela Lugosi, or pretending to love me until I gave them what they wanted (usually money or jewelry), everyone always left.

One summer I slipped into the women’s restroom to read the walls. I saw at least five different accounts, one written in hot pink glitter pen, of women lusting after me or calling me disgusting or wondering if I was a better partner than their boyfriend (this being in correlation with point #1). I also learned that even those equipped with one have trouble properly drawing a vagina, but this discovery was more of an afterthought than anything else. One can only do so much with tiles and felt-tips, I suppose, and the mirrors aren’t exactly in the most convenient location for portraiture. Unsure of what I wanted to find I washed my hands and returned to my research.

I found it somewhat appropriate that most of my work that day was centered around goddess theories.

I had finished my latest thesis and all the associated paperwork when I made my decision. I hated these little halfway points; they (the University) would devour my work and tell me it was a bang-up job and they (the critics) would love it and I was one of their (the University’s) best men, then I would have to crawl on my knees through rivers of blood just to get approval for another nearly identical smear of work. They toyed with me, or at least it certainly felt like they were. To the University I was probably just another grad student with an apartment and the occasional ream of papers to place in their inboxes; just another face to do work and sometimes request money and increase their coffers with my blood, sweat, and adjectives; just another one trying to get by in the name of academia because God knows you can’t do anything else with this sort of degree unless you happen to like cleaning the grease trap at Arby’s professionally. To me they were like some monstrous beast that never learned not to play with its food.

In other words, I was yet again in Limbo.

Rather than spend another week coming up with a presentation concept and practicing my best give-me-funding smile, I decided to do something I’d put off for far too long. I’d spent too many years feeling sorry for myself, smoking clove cigarettes and writing poetry about the blackness of my lily-white and/or candyfloss pink heart matched only by the Stygian pit that was my soul. This had resulted in erratic behavior on occasion that even the other lurkers on my favorite BBS were hard-pressed to beat (though it was depressingly easy for them to match it, even the times where I spiced things up a bit to try and get their attention away from themselves for once).

The day before I submitted my latest work to the usual University suits I considered messy and dramatic suicide, but smacked myself mentally immediately afterwards. First I had to see if I could find someone to give a damn first. Only after making absolutely sure I had no reason to live would I kill myself. My hands shook when I put down the revolver and put it back under my pillow (three break-ins in four months make a man nervous). I swore off coffee for a week as a sort of punishment for trying to rush things, and in a triumphant display of self-control managed to keep my agreement for two days.

So Limbo came as usual. I wandered the University, conversing with my old professors. I mentally ticked off names as I went; Professor A was pleasant but certainly not a man to call for pizza and beer, Professor B was a complete asshole and I wanted nothing more to do with him aside from occasionally get his signature for paperwork, Professor C was trying to get into my pants despite the fact she was engaged to be married. She reminded me of one of the first whores I ever saw on television, some Las Vegas callgirl that was knifed on COPS, and the idea of looking down at something your brain keeps thinking should be dead didn’t seem like anything particularly pleasant, so I declined after making sure I lead her on as much as humanly possible. No friends there, now to scour the students.

I was soon made aware of just how alienated I felt from the remainder of the student and grad student body. Long story short, I was less than pleased with my findings (though allowed myself a quick and messy tryst in a supply closet, since it had been a whole three and a half months since my last good screwing; after I had gotten what I wanted I told her I would never love her and she might want to visit a clinic (not so much because I had anything, but because I felt like watching her squirm and attempt to casually catch a glimpse of my presumably disease-riddled crotch as she gathered up her ripped pantyhose)). My options, such as they were, exhausted themselves rather quickly.

I called relatives. I called old flames. I called past employers. I emptied out my Rolodex into the trash, becoming even more bitter with my life-without-life than usual. I then threw my favorite poetry notebook into a dumpster after realizing what I had once thought was hard-hitting and deep was just the same redundant gloomkiddie pap that papers the back alleys of the Internet like so many livejournal personality test results. Live at the ~d3th_wyshe~ club, The Same Damn Thing Over And Over And Over Again, right here on our big stage with blurry scans of razored wrists as a special encore! After this I had a brief break for some Chinese take-out and old war movies. Sitting in front of my flickering screen, lo mein gurgling in my stomach and dripped on part of my collar, I wondered what to do next.

You’d be surprised how hard you’ll try to avoid killing yourself if you know you’re only considering doing it out of boredom.

I’d probably had too many hard lemonades when I decided to pull out my more esoteric reference books. Despite being fairly drunk I copied down every religious symbol I found with flawless grace. Paleolithic, Christian, sort-of-Christian, not-so-Christian, Babylonian, Kabbalic, neo-pagan, Islamic, Zoroastrian, Satanist, Buddhist, Australian aborigine, even a few I was pretty sure had been lifted from role-playing games. I slit my finger on an X-Acto knife and let it drip on the chalked-over floor.

"Okay," I said, "if any of you hoary old farts actually exist outside of some crazy’s head, and if any of said old farts actually give enough of a damn about me to stop me from redecorating my bedroom in Skull and Gray Matter #2, here’s your chance. Otherwise I invite you all to kiss my not-washed-in-a-couple-of-days albino ass." I had a feeling I’d offended someone, and despite the fact that the hairs on the back of my neck stood straight up and seemed to be trying to set themselves alight I admit I felt pretty good.

"You have thirty minutes, then bang goes my head. I’ll be waiting."

I felt a surge of goosebumps—which I found myself classifying in the back of my mind, academic to the core that I am—and then the room started to stink very badly. I knew it wasn’t the air conditioning because it was still whirring serenely in the background and making a decided lack of rrrk-rrrk-rrrk sounds like the last time it broke down. I knew it wasn’t rotting food because there was nothing in the kitchen besides some silverware and a box of some generic sugary kids’ cereal. I knew it wasn’t neighbors because I live on the top floor of a crackerbox building and I had, at that time, no neighbors to speak of, unless one wanted to count vermin. I smirked to myself, and leaned back in my recliner (probably still very drunk, now that I think about it), and waited for the smell.

It’s rather difficult to describe it, the aroma that filled the air. I had never been party to anything like it before, but then, I had never exactly immersed myself in the curdled blood of a hundred murderers before, nor had I rolled merrily on a pile of corpses left in a hot summer swamp. I didn’t even have a clue what these sort of things could smell like, but as soon as it hit my nose I found myself knowing all manner of interesting things about who it used to be. Should you ever have the desire to rape a pregnant woman, pull the fetus from her womb, use the mother’s own hands to tear apart her child, and then feed the remains to her forcefully, I can honestly say that your rendered fat and charred bones will produce some of the most vile exotic soap on record, and that’s before they mix it with the menses and vomit. Lovely stuff. Quite unforgettable.

There was someone else in the room with me, then.

Sometimes you can be sitting at a table in the library and realize that someone else is behind you just by feeling them there. And I don’t mean tipping your seat back and accidentally smacking them in the stomach, I mean just how something in the pit of your stomach will say "person here person here" and your fight or flight reflex starts gibbering to itself about whether you should punch them in the jewels or run, screaming, to the elevators. This was something like that, except it was more like an entire legion of unseen people was there, and not behind me. There was a decided presence in the space between my sofa and the wall. It was looking at me.

"So," I said, "can you do anything besides negate my air freshener?" Mother always said I was a smartass. I found myself remembering all the instances she’d said so in succession.

"You will do something for me," said a voice that uncannily resembled a trio of James Earl Joneses who were fifty feet underwater. "Then we will discuss your reward."

I palmed the gun from under a cushion and cocked the hammer. The barrel was cold when I placed it to my forehead. "We discuss first, I think." The Aquajones Three rumbled something I didn’t understand. "I have nothing to lose," I continued. "Either you give me a good deal or I gallivant off to my final reward. I’m not going down on anyone else’s terms, understand?" The gunmetal heated a bit in my hand. "And don’t try to make me drop this thing. I have a surprisingly high pain tolerance." I could practically feel it thinking.

"Accepted," answered whatever was in my apartment. "Name your price."

I did. It laughed. It told me what I had to do. I laughed.

Things started to get better, then.

The rapes were the easiest. High school girls, most of the lot, and it took barely any effort at all to approch them in coffee bars or make myself blatantly interesting in the park. Get to know them, meet them once or twice more, offer to take an evening walk with them to discuss philosophy or poetry or whatever seemed convenient at the time. They went down with a minimum of chloroform. I did my duty under the south bridge where there weren’t any lights, then carved the symbol I was shown into their stomachs after performing the rite that casually altered the scraps and blots of DNA I left behind into those of a certain gentleman currently serving a life sentence in prison. The invisible presence thought of everything.

The desecrations weren’t exactly difficult, but it took a bit of effort to find the proper medical waste without leaving a paper trail. I went the extra mile and used some of the human fat I acquired as well. Pride in one’s work is a dying trait.

I would rather not discuss what I stole or how I did it.

The hardest part, in my opinion, was getting the newborn child. I don’t blend into crowds well and it would seem rather obvious whether or not a baby was mine; the presence with three voices had to open a one-way door for me leading from the hospital nursery to my apartment, but I managed to avoid anyone seeing me. Security cameras are the bane of all child-thieves, I can honestly claim. Also, just for reference, I’d avise against watching an infant implode and then be eaten by an unseen being. It put me off my breakfast.

After I had done everything I was asked, the presence kept his...its...his word. I’ve never been happier.

Baxter is the best friend I could ever want. He’s always got new stories to share or a joke to tell. He always calls me by my full name, not "Sol" like everyone else has since I was little. He’ll bring by movies that I actually want to see, watch shows I actually enjoy, talk shop about his job in ways that make me wish I was him. He might be covered in tally-mark tattoos from head to foot, he might be skin and bones, he might be twice as tall as me when not hunched over, he might have three cats’ heads where he should have a face; I don’t care. When he pulls me off the hooks and pulls the skewers from my flesh it’s because he wants to talk to me, me, and until my skin is peeled back again I’m the star of the show. I don’t care if I stay in this place forever. Baxter will always be here for me.

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