art by Jason Barnett
Pyrros was the very essence of blood and fire. He was about six feet tall, perhaps not so tall that he loomed, but that still didn’t mean he didn’t loom in his own way. He looked like an unstoppable force, someone that no one could ever defeat.
He had spiked black hair, his hair so sharp that each strand looked like a knife blade; sometimes, the strands even glinted, bearing the message of, “Stay Away.” His eyes were just as sharp as his hair, orange with red flecks. He was also very tan, looked as though he’d spent his entire life in the presence of the sun.
But Pyrros did not feel as though he had the advantage. How could he have the advantage, with his enemies murdering him again?
Pyrros lay strapped to a metal table in a dark room (which actually felt more like a tomb), the only light coming from a candle on a wooden table in the corner. One being stood over Pyrros, chanting many words, so fast that Pyrros couldn’t hear what he said. He wore a hood as well, and he held a knife, so sharp it was unreal, and looked more like a dagger than a knife. Three other beings stood in the room, and they wore hoods as well.
Indeed, Pyrros had been here before. He’d been here every night of his life. But tonight was going to be worse than any of them … because he was getting stronger. It was getting harder and harder for them to kill him and extract the violence, blood, and pain.
Pyrros looked at his body, saw that he had stab wounds in his chest. He was sure he had an infinite number of stab wounds in his chest. They had really done a number on him. He was sure they were going to stab elsewhere, but not until they finished with the chant.
They were trying to feed the demon. The demon would only be satiated if Pyrros died. However, he wasn’t dying, and it posed a huge problem … and not just for them, but also for Pyrros. He was sick of going through this, exhausted from all the brutal murders. He couldn’t do it anymore.
“Please let me go,” Pyrros said. “I don’t deserve this.”
The figure just continued to say the chant.
It wasn’t long before a blast of light filled the room. The light didn’t last long, but during that time, Pyrros looked over, and saw the sight he’d seen so many times.
It was a portal, it seemed, very small. Pyrros watched as the blood from his chest wounds began to go toward the light. Pyrros also saw a purple strand (which represented the violence) and a white strand (which represented pain) fly from his body and go toward the portal.
The portal devoured the elements.
But it wasn’t long before a voice, seemingly draped in the very essence of evil, said, “It isn’t enough.”
The figure in the hood, who was of course the leader, said, “It isn’t over.”
He took the knife and stabbed Pyrros in the groin. Pyrros cried out, but the figure wasn’t finished. He took the knife and plunged it into Pyrros’s stomach, stabbing again, again, refusing to stop. Once Pyrros’s stomach was mutilated beyond repair, the figure went to Pyrros’s leg, and stabbed that once, twice, three times, then went to his other leg and stabbed three times.
Pyrros looked at himself, saw blood falling upon the floor, refusing to go into the light. Even though Pyrros was wounded beyond repair, he still fought: his blood refused to feed the demon.
“He’s not going to die!” the demon shouted.
The figure nodded his head, and said, “We need to dispose him.”
“If this happens again, I’ll kill all of you,” the demon threatened.
One of the other people took a brick and slammed it across Pyrros’s head. Pyrros blacked out.
Pyrros lay dying in an alley, blood pooling around him, his wounds feeling as though fire existed within, burning with the very core of pain. Blood came out of Pyrros’s mouth, and he let it, as he cried out gently, wishing that someone could help him, wishing that he wasn’t going to die, but it was useless to believe this, because they always won in the end. With nothing but suffering upon his body, Pyrros closed his eyelids, the eyelids falling heavily, and at last, Pyrros felt blackness approach him, putting him in a peaceful, eternal sleep.
Pyrros awoke to the shrieking of his alarm block, seeing that he’d drenched his sheets and clothes. He thought it was blood, but when he opened his eyes, he saw that it was only sweat.
You died last night, he thought. Again.
Pyrros couldn’t think like that. Today was going to be a good day at his high school, it wasn’t going to have anything to do with a cult that sacrificed everything about his suffering to a demon.
He stood up, and changed his clothes (a solid black shirt with blue jeans and black shoes), and then went to his bathroom. He grabbed his gel and began to spike his hair, looking in the mirror as he did so.
He’d already looked to see if he’d been hurt, and there was nothing, but for good measure, he scanned his reflection in the mirror. There was nothing. All of it had just been a dream. A nightmare, of course, but a dream nonetheless.
That was when he saw his shirt drenched in blood.
Pyrros closed his eyes. He was just imagining this. There was nothing wrong with him. Of course the evil in the world wanted him to think something was wrong, but nothing was.
“You’re going to talk to Johnny,” Pyrros said, when he opened his eyes and saw that the shirt was still drenched. “You’re going to talk to Johnny, and you’re going to be just fine. You’re going to have a good day. It will be the best day of your life.”
Pyrros closed his eyes again, opened them, saw that his shirt was fine. He finished spiking his hair, and then walked outside.
Johnny waited for him outside. He wore a leather jacket, and always gelled his hair, to look as slick as possible. Pyrros smiled briefly at Johnny, glad to see his good friend again, and said, “Ready to tear up another day?”
“Of course,” Johnny said.
Pyrros and Johnny began to walk to school.
But as Pyrros and Johnny walked, Pyrros realized that things were not okay. How could they be, when he spent his nights getting murdered?
Pyrros could see every death he ever died working upon him. He saw the portal of light sucking up all of the violence, blood, pain, and eventually, death (which always came out as a black strand). Pyrros saw his throat slit; he saw a single stab wound to the heart wipe him out in literally a heartbeat; saw a slow bleeding out of the stomach from a gunshot; saw his throat getting slit again; saw them pounding his head against the wall, and killing him from brain damage; saw them killing him what seemed to be a million other ways, never holding back.
Pyrros lay on the ground, crying that he didn’t want this to happen anymore, and it wasn’t long before he saw that Johnny was beside him, asking him if he was okay (and also asking what the hell he was doing).
Pyrros opened his eyes and looked at Johnny. He quickly stood up, said, “Sorry. I’m just … sick.”
“You want to head back?” Johnny asked.
“No,” Pyrros insisted. “I’ll be okay.”
Johnny patted Pyrros on the shoulder. “Just hang in there, buddy. I know you’ve got a lot going on and all, you know, with your parents being dead and everything, but you’ve got to keep strong.”
Of course Johnny brought up Pyrros’s parents. They died last year, brutally murdered. If Pyrros really experienced murder at the hands of a cult, it wouldn’t surprise him if they had been responsible for the deaths.
But they say he wasn’t even your father.
This was true, Pyrros had to admit. There were theories that …
That the demon is your father.
Pyrros couldn’t think about this anymore. He pushed Johnny away, so he’d get the hint to back off, and then said, “Let’s go.”
It wasn’t long before the night came again. Pyrros felt himself getting closer and closer to his inevitable death. Because of course they were going to succeed this time. Last night had been a failure (they had to kill him within a certain time frame, as the demon could only stay present in this dimension for a certain amount of time), but tonight, they were going to succeed.
He could feel it.
He stayed with Johnny until twelve o’ clock that night, and then realized he was getting sleepy. Why was he bothering trying to fight it, anyway? They were always going to get a hold of him; this cult was beyond this world, in many ways, and could do things.
Pyrros watched as Johnny left, after saying he’d see him tomorrow, and then Pyrros was gone.
Again and again. Pyrros would suffer again and again, over and over, because there was no other way.
Before the cult took ahold of Pyrros, he dreamed about all of the violence in the world. He could see all of it happening in front of him. Violence was worse now than it had ever been, and it was because of the demon that Pyrros fed every night.
Yes. It was Pyrros’s fault. Because he had to go and help the demon with all of his suffering, the world was in a worse place, because this demon was relentless, would never stop spreading terrible consequences for the world.
Then Pyrros was on the table again, strapped. They were chanting, they were doing what they always did, but it was going to be even worse tonight, to make up for last night.
His body was covered in stab wounds, each a thick patch of red injury, checkering him.
“You have to die,” the leader said, and he took the knife and stabbed it into Pyrros’s brain.
“You can’t keep doing this to me,” Pyrros said, and he fought to stay alive. They weren’t going to take another one of his deaths.
“You just don’t get it,” the leader responded. “There is no other way. What we’re doing is what’s right. I’m sorry you don’t understand that, but it is the truth.”
Pyrros closed his eyes, and felt as the knife entered his chest again. He could feel his body being butchered by the blade, but there was nothing he could do about it. He was strong, but not strong enough to interfere with a matter that dealt with other dimensions.
The thing was, Pyrros still had his dignity. It didn’t matter how much they destroyed him, he always remained whole in his own way. They couldn’t defeat him, ultimately. Even though he couldn’t defeat them, he could still stand his ground.
The knife entered his heart again. He felt it beating frantically, but he wasn’t going to let them take him again …
And then he began to drift. It was over. He opened his eyes for just a moment, and watched as a black strand began to fly toward the portal of light. As the strand continued to move, Pyrros continued to die, and it wasn’t long before he was gone, before there was nothing left of him, and …
… he woke up on his pure, white, un-bloodstained bed. According to his body, everything was okay. Sure, he’d drenched the sheets again, but he was okay, when it came down to it.
He was just fine.
“I need to talk to Johnny,” Pyrros said, and got out of bed, changed as fast as he could, spiked his hair, and went to find his friend.
He couldn’t keep this contained anymore.
Mr. Gard began to teach at Delis High School the very moment that Pyrros was born. He had gotten the job because he knew he needed a steady job during the day, to keep the bills paid, give him the money he needed to make sure he always kept Pyrros under his and his cult’s control, etc.
Gard hated his job, the one that dealt with his cult. He had only done it because he was somehow bound to the demon Schack. Schack was a cruel demon responsible for much of the damage in the world, and the more Gard fed him, the more brutal he became to society. That didn’t mean Gard could stop. The only way the demon could stop feeding was if Pyrros died. It was possible, but highly unlikely, when considering there were complications to the possibility of Pyrros dying.
He still remembered when the demon began to contact him, telling him that he needed to start making the preparation. The demon was going to impregnate a beautiful woman, and then the son would need to be sacrificed every night, for all of his life.
It was terrible, when considering that Pyrros was Schack’s son, and the demon sacrificed him. But it was the way it was. Evil knew no bounds, that was the whole point of evil. Evil did whatever it needed to to survive.
Lately, things had begun to pick up in intensity. Pyrros was beginning to fight, become resistant. This was expected, and it wasn’t even that much of a problem … but it was interesting, because there was no telling what they were going to have to do in the future to make sure Pyrros continued to die.
But Gard wasn’t worried about it. Indeed, he hated his job, but it had a few perks, one of which was always being able to watch innocence die. Even though Gard liked Pyrros, admired him, even, Gard also hated him.
And that hate wasn’t going anywhere.
“So … you’re saying you die every night?” Johnny asked.
Johnny wasn’t sure what to make of all of this information; part of him wanted to believe it, because of all the detail Pyrros gave, but the other part … how could he actually believe something so insane?
“Why are you telling me this?” Johnny asked.
“Because you’re my friend. I don’t expect you to do anything—would rather that you don’t, because this is out of your hands—but I felt you deserved to know, and I needed to tell you. I couldn’t keep this bottled up anymore. It kills me, man, in every way … and telling you has given me some relief.”
Johnny wasn’t sure what to do; of course he wanted to help Pyrros. The thing was, what could he really do?
The bell rang.
“Let’s go to Gard’s class,” Johnny said, “and worry about this later.”
Pyrros stood up, said, “Okay.”
Gard taught English. Pyrros noticed that he usually taught violent books, which always made Pyrros wonder about … things. But, it was useless to speculate, because Gard didn’t know anything.
But as Pyrros sat at his seat, taking notes, he began to wonder. He couldn’t explain where this feeling of suspicion came from, but it came nonetheless. Perhaps because of the plastic way in which Gard taught, as though protecting something. Perhaps because Gard’s name sounded like “guard.” Perhaps because Pyrros sensed something was wrong about Gard …
“Are you okay?” Gard asked Pyrros.
Pyrros looked down at his paper. He hadn’t been writing notes. He’d been writing the words, “I need to die …” over and over again.
He needed to leave. Now.
“Yeah, I’m okay,” Pyrros said, turning the paper over. “I just … I need to go to the bathroom.”
“No one’s stopping you,” Gard said cheerfully.
Pyrros stood up, and went to the bathroom. The moment he stepped inside, his body exploded with pain. He had died every day for years, and he felt each death upon him, made more intense by his fear that he was never going to get out of this mess, especially now that he knew Gard had something to do with it.
You don’t know that, Pyrros thought. For all you know …
Pyrros tried to turn away from these thoughts. He couldn’t blame Gard. He doubled over, expecting to see blood fall off him, but there was nothing. That didn’t mean he didn’t feel the pain, which seemed to increase by the moment, as he thought about each death he’d died …
“Keep yourself together,” Pyrros said, and went to the mirror.
He looked for the longest time, saw that he was fine. He stared, thinking that there was nothing wrong with him, and then realized that part of him wished something was wrong.
Indeed, he was not prepared for the thought that came upon him.
You like this?
Pyrros’s face was pure confusion and pain, strained with these emotions and by this possibility.
But it was true. He liked the idea of being a kid who could withstand nightly deaths. He liked being that tough knight, that tough hero, who could withstand all of this pain. Indeed, he was the protagonist in his own story. And he’d survived this much …
“Shut up,” Pyrros said, and began to lean against the mirror. “Please, stop.”
But it was true: part of him liked what he went through. It was wrong, so screwed up, but … it was the truth.
The worst part was that Pyrros understood why he liked it. He was the son of the demon, and simply by sharing blood, they shared goals. The demon’s goal was to remain powerful and cause infinite damage to the world, and Pyrros wanted to supply that to his father.
“Shut up!” Pyrros screamed, and looked in the mirror, the pain still increasing.
He looked down at his crotch, because the pain was strongest there. At first, he didn’t see anything … but then, when he thought about being stabbed there, so many times in the past, particularly his experience that seemed to be just a few minutes ago, he saw blood seeping through his jeans.
Pyrros quickly looked up, looked at his face. It was butchered, raw and open, slashed and torn.
He looked at his body, saw every wound he’d ever received, the blood pouring through his clothes, drenching him in red, in martyrdom. He looked like a monster, to the unsuspecting viewer, all drenched in blood and mutilation … but Pyrros liked the way he looked as well. He looked like a war hero. His skin had slashes and open stab wounds all over, but he didn’t care, he liked it, reveled in this truth …
Pyrros looked away. He still felt all of the pain and wounds he ever received, but he realized that he needed to get a grip on things. No, he did not like this. He had never liked this.
When he looked back, he realized that the mirror image, still butchered and mutilated, was talking to him: “I bet you wish you could come back.”
“To Hell, you mean?” Pyrros snapped; he realized he was talking to the demon.
To his father.
The demon nodded. “You wish you could.”
Pyrros saw that the demon had a knife in its temple. The demon took it out, and said, “You like what we do to you. You like what it represents. You like that you’re better than any puny human in this world.”
“Go ahead and kid yourself, but you enjoy being this powerful, able to sacrifice yourself again and again, always for the benefit of us. And you know what? You should like it. Nothing is better than what you have. What’s great is you’ve already accepted this.”
“I’ve accepted that I hate this.”
“You wish you hated it,” the demon said, and Pyrros watched as the body handed the knife to Pyrros.
It was strange, how it happened: the hand of the demon (or Pyrros?) extended out of the mirror, handing the knife to him.
When Pyrros grabbed the knife, it felt right. He hated to admit this to himself, but it was the truth.
“Come on,” the demon said. “Feed me.”
Feed him. Yes. It was the right thing to do.
Pyrros took the knife and looked at his arm. Nothing but fresh, untouched skin. He took the knife and began to slice across his arm.
He hadn’t made too big of an incision, when he realized that Johnny was about to enter the bathroom.
Johnny had flipped over the page when he got the chance, and when he saw the words, “I need to die,” it was obvious something was up. So, once he got the courage, he slipped out of the classroom, and went to find Pyrros.
He had the feeling that Pyrros was in the bathroom, and when he felt heat coming from the bathroom, heat like the fires from Hell, it was clear that Pyrros was in there.
But he wasn’t able to enter the bathroom because Pyrros said, his voice drenched in pain, “Stay away.”
Johnny wasn’t going to stay away. Pyrros was his friend, and he wasn’t going to let Pyrros struggle with this battle alone.
And yet, Johnny couldn’t enter the bathroom. The heat was too intense. Whatever was happening in there was something that Johnny needed to stay away from.
Johnny was about to override this thought when Pyrros said, his voice almost pleading, “Johnny, stay away.”
“What’s going on in there?”
“Nothing you have to worry about.”
Johnny wasn’t going to take this. It was stupid. Pyrros was suffering and Johnny wasn’t doing anything.
So, with all the courage he had, Johnny went into the bathroom.
When he stepped inside, he saw Pyrros lying on the ground. He held the knife to his heart, slowly pushing it inside. Pyrros didn’t look like Pyrros, however, looked like someone who’d gone to Hell and back: he had wounds all over himself, wounds that couldn’t have accumulated in a single death, but over an infinite number. It was so unreal that Johnny almost stepped back and ran away.
But he forced himself to step forward, to Pyrros.
The moment he reached for the knife, he felt something, like an electric shock, but something that burned like a conflagration, fly toward him. It pushed him back, into the wall.
“Johnny, get out of here!” Pyrros cried out. “You don’t know what he’s capable of!”
“There’s no one here—” Johnny began, moving again toward Pyrros, but then saw Pyrros standing in the mirror. He was on fire.
And the look on his face could tear through the strongest resolution ever forged.
“What the hell is going on?” Johnny asked, but felt the electric blast again.
It pushed him into the wall. He hit his head, and blacked out.
Gard found Pyrros and Johnny lying on the ground of the bathroom floor. The demon had tried to feed himself. It was a mistake, to try and feed himself during the day. Gard would need to talk to the demon to try and bring him back to his senses, because it was dangerous for him to try and work during the day, because the day could turn on him, and kill him.
But it meant the demon was desperate. He starved to hurt Pyrros even more.
He quickly said all of the chants to clean up Pyrros (who made a huge incision in his arm) and wake up Johnny, who luckily hadn’t received any damage, except for slight “fire shocks” (which was a blast of energy that felt like electricity but also burned). Johnny thankfully would be fine once he woke up, but Pyrros would remember what happened to him, of Schack trying to get to him, and it would make him stronger.
When Gard finished the chants, Pyrros and Johnny stood up. They both said, “Mr. Gard?”
Gard nodded. “I don’t know what you two boys were doing.”
Pyrros looked down for a moment, as though to gain his understanding of the situation. To Gard’s surprise, he immediately began to fight: “You’re part of this.”
It was obvious what Pyrros was talking about, but Gard was not going to let Pyrros have the satisfaction of unmasking him. So he said, “What are you talking about?”
“You know exactly what I’m talking about,” Pyrros snapped. “You’re the main leader of the Schack cult.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Gard said. “Pyrros, can you come with me to my classroom?”
Pyrros hesitated, looked at Johnny. Johnny’s forehead was creased, but at last he said, “Go ahead.”
Johnny had seen more than he needed to. Gard would request that Schack kill him. In the meantime, Gard needed to deal with Pyrros, who was getting out of control, like a wild fire.
Pyrros followed Gard to his classroom. Gard offered Pyrros a seat, but Pyrros didn’t take it, just said, “You’re part of it.”
“I’m not a part of anything that isn’t beneficial to humanity,” Gard said, realizing it was pointless to hide anything.
“Schack’s getting restless,” Pyrros said. “He’s taking risks, attacking me during the day.”
“That’s my problem, not yours,” Gard explained. “Your problem is to focus on sacrificing yourself every night, the way you’ve been doing since your birth.”
“Go to Hell.” Pyrros advanced on Gard, and looked as though he was about to push him through the wall.
Gard was not intimidated: “You just don’t understand how important this is, do you?”
“I understand that there’s no way out. You’ve all thought this out, so well: why else would I live in a desolate town? So people would be less likely to discover the terrible secret that a cult exists in their midst.”
“It is what it is,” Gard said. “Feel free to leave. The thing is, I know you’ll come back. It’s in your blood to sacrifice yourself.”
“You’re lying.” Pyrros’s voice faltered, which was all Gard needed.
“Am I? You wish I was lying, because it would make your life easier. The thing is, I’m right, and you’re perfectly aware of it. Now why don’t you focus on doing your job correctly?”
“It’s not my job,” Pyrros said, and backed away from Gard.
Gard smiled easily. “You’ll learn sooner or later there really is no other way. This is what you need to do.”
But Gard didn’t believe any of the words he said. He wanted Pyrros to continue to fight this.
Pyrros didn’t say anything for the longest time, then left the classroom, after slamming the door.
“You’ll learn sooner or later,” Gard said again, and hated how conflicted, incomplete, his smile was.
Johnny saw Pyrros practically storm out of the building. Johnny ran up to him, calling after him, but Pyrros continued to move. It wasn’t until Johnny pushed Pyrros that Pyrros finally stopped, turned around, said, “What do you want, Johnny?”
“I want to help you. Something’s going on, and I want to help in whatever way I can.”
“This is over your head,” Pyrros said. “There’s nothing you can do to help me.”
“Because who can stop a cult from murdering a teenager over and over again, right?” Johnny said. “Come on, man, just give me a chance.”
“I need you to leave me alone right now,” Pyrros almost shouted, and took off running.
Johnny tried to follow him, but eventually, Pyrros outran him.
But Johnny wasn’t going to give up. Tonight, he would spy on Pyrros, and see if he was telling the truth. Because, Johnny had begun to believe every word Pyrros told him earlier, and its implications were not good.
Pyrros punched the wall, several times. He was sick of all of this. He’d lived through all the suffering for so long, only to find out that part of him actually liked it. He never admitted that to himself before, but he was now, and it pained him with too much certainty, like a sharp blade to the heart.
But he didn’t stay in a doubtful position for too long. He had noticed that Gard seemed conflicted about his position. He was doing his best to conceal it, and probably would have done it successfully, if Pyrros hadn’t paid attention.
If Gard had cognitive dissonance about his situation, about being the leader of the cult, then maybe Pyrros could use that to his advantage. How, he wasn’t sure … but he had to try something.
He decided that he was going to fight tonight. It wasn’t clear how he was going to fight, but again, he had to try. They couldn’t keep him contained anymore, not unless they expected some kind of rebellion.
Indeed, they needed to expect a rebellion. Pyrros wasn’t coming quietly tonight.
Night came before Johnny was ready for it. He hid outside of Pyrros’s house, waiting for the cult to come and take him.
The night rolled by, and Johnny began to fall asleep. He didn’t fall asleep, however, because it wasn’t long before he heard a quiet chanting sound. He opened his eyes, and saw three people, all in hoods, approaching Pyrros’s door.
They opened it (even though it had been locked), and walked inside. Johnny waited. It wasn’t long before they walked out, two of the people holding Pyrros, one by his legs, the other by his arms.
Johnny followed them, until they finally arrived at a building. The town was already desolate, but the location of this building, which looked as though it was about to fall apart, made the desolation of the town look like nothing.
They went inside, still chanting, and Johnny waited a moment, then went to the door and opened it.
Or, at least he tried to open it. The moment he touched the doorknob, his hand felt as though it had touched fire. He jerked his hand back, annoyed, but somehow expecting this.
He went to a window, tried to open it. It also didn’t let him, however, as it was too hot.
Johnny went back to the door. He heard Pyrros screaming inside, and hated how no one was around to help him. How no one had ever been around to help him.
That was when Johnny began to suspect this was because everyone in the town knew about it, in one way or another, and vowed to stay out of the cult’s business.
Johnny was not ready for the realization.
Pyrros received every slash to his body. His clothes were ripped to shreds, and he bled extensively; all of these slashes unevenly lined his body, but they somehow defined him. He was aware of this, and hated it.
But he was fighting. Yes, he screamed in agony, but he was still fighting. By now, he should have died, considering all of the damage they had done, but he was still alive, still struggling.
He heard Schack screaming from the portal, telling the leaders that they needed to hurry, as they were running out of time.
Gard took the knife and made even more wounds. It wouldn’t be long before Pyrros wasn’t even made out of flesh anymore, was only made out of injury, would be nothing but a red body.
They can’t kill you, Pyrros thought.
“Kill him!” Schack shouted. “Kill him, or I’ll kill all of you right now!”
“Patience,” Gard said, and reached into his pocket and pulled out a match.
Pyrros could see where this was going. Just the thought of it made him angry.
Gard struck the match and lit Pyrros on fire. Pyrros began to wrench in his restraint, but began to feel strength flowing through him. As the fire burned upon him, he realized that he had just been given the fuel to feed his fire, his rebellion.
He tore out of the restraints, and pushed Gard against the wall, and let himself burn. He was nothing but a fiery fury now, the very essence of fire and blood, where even his blood blazed. The light of the fire accentuated the blood of his wounds, and the blood fed the fire.
Pyrros approached Gard, all anger and blazing blood, and put his hand on the hood. It began to burn. Gard quickly took it off, exposing his wicked but vulnerable face.
“I owe you for everything you’ve done,” Pyrros said, ignoring the raging of the demon behind him. “You’ve made my life hell. It’s time I do the same to you.”
Pyrros then put his burning hands on Gard’s face, and watched as it caught fire. He put his hands on Gard’s back as well, and then his legs, and let the man catch fire.
Gard began to scream, but Pyrros didn’t care. He stood up, a bloody torch in the night, a red conflagration, and lunged toward the other two cult members, who had simply watched all of this happen, too shocked to do anything. He let them catch on fire as well, and then went down the hall, toward the door.
Gard followed him, and he said, his voice nothing but pain and betrayal, “You don’t want to do this.”
“Yes, I do,” Pyrros said, and ripped the door off its hinges.
When Pyrros walked out of the building, burning with an insane amount of energy, Johnny admitted to himself that he looked like a being that just came from Hell. Pyrros did not recognize him as his friend. He tried to look for that comforting smile, but there was no smile. He tried to find peace in familiar facial features, but that was non-existent. Pyrros was now an entity that had come from the very depths of Hell, and the anger that he radiated was enough to cause Johnny to want to run away, before he got tangled with something that was just out of control.
Johnny wasn’t going to leave, however, no matter what happened. He followed Pyrros, who went as a burning beast through the town. No one was around, as though they had expected something like this to happen.
It wasn’t long before Johnny realized Pyrros was going toward the river. This sparked something hopeful in Johnny. Perhaps he wanted to put the fire out, before it destroyed everything.
In fact, it was amazing the fire hadn’t caught anything aflame. It was as though Pyrros controlled it, and with a perfectly steady hand.
“It’s not over for you,” Johnny said, and felt pride for his friend, who had overcome so much, who fought, regardless of everything he’d been through.
It wasn’t long before Pyrros finally arrived at the river. He walked into it, and Johnny expected the water to stop the flame.
However, all the water did was fuel the fire, as though it was gasoline, as though it was Pyrros’s blood.
This was when Johnny realized he had to make himself known. He shouted, “Pyrros!”
Pyrros turned to Johnny. He looked confused for a moment, then said, “Johnny.”
Johnny hated how lost his voice sounded, as though he didn’t know who he was anymore, as though he didn’t understand where he was, as though his knowledge of everything had collapsed.
“I need your help,” Pyrros said at last.
Johnny went toward his friend, and said, “What do you need, man?”
“Touch the fire.”
Johnny hesitated at this. Touch the fire? Was Pyrros insane?
You have to … trust me,” Pyrros said, and all Johnny heard in his voice now was exhaustion, as though he was moments away from dying, only for real this time.
So Johnny touched the fire. When he did, his hand caught flame, but only for a second. He noticed that the fire had dimmed some. So, Johnny did it again, and again, until at last the fire was gone.
Pyrros’s wounds had been a fierce red from the blood while on fire, but now, the wounds were charred. Pyrros was black in many places, and Johnny realized it represented the truth that Pyrros was burnt out. All of the rage was gone, and in its place was hopelessness and the desire to give up.
“I need to die,” Pyrros said, and then collapsed on the ground.
Pyrros awoke (or at least tried to awake), what seemed to be an eternity later. He was awake, but he couldn’t open his eyes. Nothing was guarding them … he realized it was the feeling that he needed to keep them shut, at least for now.
He tried to get up, but a familiar voice said, “Don’t move.”
Pyrros wanted to spit at Gard. He still remembered what happened last night (unless more nights passed, which hopefully wasn’t true), what Gard had done to him.
“Why did you do what you did?” Gard asked.
“Why do you think?” Pyrros snapped. “You really think I’m still in this game, to come quietly, without a single scream?”
“But you like it,” Gard said. “You need it. It’s a part of you. You’re just as important to Schack as he is to you.”
“You’re lying. You want that to be the case, because it makes your life easier. I could have killed my friend Johnny last night, being ablaze the way I was. I could have burned down the whole town. Obviously this is getting out of control. Schack used to wait until the night to attack me and feed, but he actually started attacking me during the day.”
Gard remained silent for the longest time. Pyrros eventually thought that Gard had left.
That is, until he said, “I was wrong about you.”
Pyrros felt irritation at this, but he kept his mouth shut, only said, “What do you mean?”
“I’ve always hated what I do. The only reason why I’ve remained the cult leader for so long is because for me, there really was no other way. It’s in my nature to serve Schack. It’s the only reason why I’m on this godforsaken earth. I never thought that the person that I tortured would be my savior.”
“What are you talking about? I’m not your savior.”
“There’s a way out of what you go through. Schack would kill me if he found out about me telling you, but I can’t keep it a secret, especially now that you’re rising. You’re like a rising phoenix, Pyrros, and it’s time that you stand up for what you really believe in. I’m too much of a coward, which works anyway, because you’re ultimately the one who has to take yourself out of this problem.”
Pyrros absorbed all of this as best he could. He had trouble believing that there was a way out of this, a way out of what he was born into. But, he continued to listen.
“Put out your hand.”
Pyrros put out his hand. A second later, he felt the handle of a blade, most likely very sharp, in his hand.
“I’ve cursed this knife,” Gard explained. “To you, though, it won’t be a curse. It will save your life.”
Pyrros shuddered at the feeling this knife emitted, but tried to remain as calm as possible.
“If you kill yourself, you can get out of this situation you’re in.”
“What do you mean?” Pyrros asked.
“This knife can extinguish your soul. If you stab yourself directly in the heart, at the stroke of midnight, when you were born, your soul will extinguish. You will no longer exist, in any form. You won’t be alive, but you will be free.”
Pyrros hated that the knife was becoming a comfortable weight in his hand. He said, “You’re telling me that I can end everything?”
“Yes. You’ll no longer have to go through this.”
It was a lot to think about. He didn’t like the idea of not existing anymore, but at least he would be free.
“There is another side to the equation,” Gard said.
Pyrros just listened.
“After your stunt last night, Schack is going to want you to suffer. If you voluntarily consent to him abusing your mind, you’ll be able to calm some of his anger. The only thing is, it will hurt a million times worse than any pain you’ve ever experienced on your body. Quite simply, it’s something you aren’t used to.”
Pyrros hated that the knife was no longer becoming a comfortable weight in his hand.
“You can surrender to the cult, no longer fight them. It will be a step in the right direction. It will allow Schack to take human form.”
Pyrros thought about everything Gard told him. Part of him wanted to end his life, part of him wanted to surrender completely to his purpose in life. Either way, it was a wrong decision … but either way, he was, in one way or another, doing the right thing.
“You can open your eyes now.”
Pyrros opened his eyes slowly. He first looked at his body, saw that he wasn’t injured in any way. It was as though nothing had happened. But when he looked at Gard’s face, he saw that it had parts that were nothing but burnt skin. Part of Gard’s eye was also gone, burned away.
“Schack didn’t want to heal me all the way,” Gard said. “I would be in worse condition, though, after what you did to me. But, I chose to heal you. I hate to admit to this to you, but I’ve always cared about you to some degree. It’s an incredible weakness, but I guess it doesn’t matter, now that you’ve been given this ultimatum.”
Pyrros felt his heart drop at seeing what he’d done to Gard. Yes, Gard was evil, but had he deserved this?
Pyrros set the knife down on his bed. He realized now more than ever that he didn’t want to kill himself. He wanted to consent to the torture.
But he wouldn’t tell Gard this. He would show it.
Pyrros swallowed all of his pride. He needed to help his father, even if he was a demon. So, Pyrros went to the building that Gard told him to go to, before he left, and waited at the front door.
The night descended like an approaching fate. Pyrros fell asleep for some of the time, but opened his eyes again, when he saw one figure approaching him, in a hood.
He didn’t say anything for a moment; then: “If this is what you feel.”
He opened the door, and waited until Pyrros entered.
Pyrros did enter, and he was sure he heard his death knell.
Gard performed his chants after strapping Pyrros to the table. He opened the portal. Pyrros could tell that the chants were a lot more violent than they’d ever been, but that was because Pyrros had consented to having his mind brutalized.
He wasn’t sure he could handle it, but he realized that it was the only way.
It wasn’t long before Schack entered his mind. At first, he didn’t feel anything … but then, it was as though the good memories he experienced in the past didn’t exist, were only monstrous things that happened to him, deformed in every way.
But this was only the beginning.
Johnny snuck inside the building, and waited all that day. He couldn’t hear Pyrros screaming, which he feared was because the pain he felt was so bad that he couldn’t even release it through a scream.
He was going to interfere, when the time came. He wasn’t sure how, but he had to try. He didn’t want his friend to go through this anymore.
Pyrros lay on the table, writhing in extreme agony. The worst part was the he couldn’t do anything about it, couldn’t even release the smallest sound of discomfort.
He felt as though someone was taking his body and ripping it apart to shreds again and again, with all the remorselessness needed to destroy the entire world. Pyrros couldn’t explain what he was going through, except that it was unnatural in every way.
Aside from the pain, he saw things in his mind’s eye. He saw the world tearing itself apart, the way that Pyrros’s mind was being torn apart. And the worst part was that they liked it, liked going through this, just as Pyrros liked watching it. He was the Prince of Destruction, who put even the Devil to shame.
Pyrros saw everything on fire now, saw everything bleeding. But it was the way it needed to be. He had to accept that.
“Ascend to your throne,” Schack said. “All of your deaths you continue to feed me will give you the ability to claim all of this destruction as your own.”
“I will,” Pyrros said, but the pain refused to stop. His mind continued to tear itself apart, and at last Pyrros was able to scream, because he saw that this wasn’t what he wanted any longer, it was what he had never wanted, and …
And he could see it ripping to shreds. His mind was his body, and he saw it literally turning into nothing, every centimeter of it ripped into nothing. He wished more than anything that he could watch it getting stabbed, because this was much worse, because of what it told him about himself: he was weak.
But then he realized that he’d made it this far, and realized that he was, in his own way, whole. All of this was only smoke and mirrors.
It wasn’t real, no matter how real it felt.
And that was when he began to fight again.
“He’s trying to break out of the restraints!” Schack shrieked.
But Gard didn’t do anything, just let Pyrros continue to struggle. And, it wasn’t long before he got out of it.
“I’ll kill you,” Schack said, with too much certainty, but Gard didn’t say anything, just accepted the knife that came from nowhere and stabbed him in the heart, killing him instantly.
But Pyrros saw that Gard’s soul was only going to Hell, where Schack would torment him. He already heard it happening.
Pyrros needed to get out of here. He went toward the door, which was open. When he tried to leave the room, however, he found that he couldn’t leave. It was as though a wall prevented him from leaving.
But he saw Johnny on the other side. And he began to fear for Johnny’s life, screamed, “Johnny, get out of here!”
“I have to help you, man,” Johnny said bravely.
Pyrros felt knives flying toward him. He shouted for Johnny to leave, but Johnny didn’t, stayed where he was.
Pyrros felt a knife enter his back. But, he stayed in front of the doorway, because he needed to guard Johnny, make sure none of the knives stabbed him.
“You aren’t getting out of this!” Schack screamed, and Pyrros turned around to see if Schack was in his human form yet. He wasn’t. All Pyrros saw was a portal of light throwing out intense energy.
But he could see the rage of Schack, and it was more than Pyrros could stand.
So much so, that he concentrated, and burst through the invisible wall keeping him inside. When he saw he made it through, he ran through the hall with Johnny.
“You shouldn’t have come,” Pyrros said, ignoring the screaming demon behind them.
“You’re my friend, and I wasn’t going to let you suffer anymore.”
Pyrros smiled at this, but it was the most short-lived smile he’d ever had. Because at that moment, a knife went toward Johnny, coming from nowhere, and stabbed him in the stomach.
Johnny fell. Pyrros cried out in shock, and pulled the knife out, but it was useless, because another knife hit Johnny, and then another, and then another …
“You aren’t getting away,” Schack said, and Pyrros knew he was in his human form, standing directly behind Pyrros. But Pyrros couldn’t look at him.
Pyrros picked up the wounded, almost dead Johnny and ran out of the building. He turned around, expecting to see Schack’s human form, but he wasn’t there.
This was when Pyrros realized the only way out of this was if he killed his soul, because Schack would no longer be able to exist without Pyrros’s deaths. So, he ran to his house, still carrying Johnny, and went up to his room, where his knife was.
But it wasn’t there.
“You couldn’t have expected an easy way out of this,” Schack said, and Pyrros looked at the human form of his demon father.
There were some resemblances, to Pyrros, except Schack appeared much sterner, and yet, beheld an obvious glint of insanity and chaos in his solid red eyes, gleaming like angry beacons or rage as lights. He almost looked like a normal human, except for the strange thing on Schack’s chest.
Pyrros wasn’t sure how to explain it, but it reminded him of a black hole. On Schack’s chest was a swirling, writhing, overpowering red substance. The substance moved deep inside Schack, in fact looked like a portal to another dimension or place, perhaps Hell. Pyrros could feel it sucking out his energy, trying to weaken him, and Pyrros also heard himself screaming. He recognized all the various screams as the ones he’d done when tortured to oblivion, murdered over and over.
In the core of the strange thing (which Pyrros couldn’t believe he saw, as it looked as though if anything touched it, it would be smashed into nothing) was the knife.
“I’ll offer you a chance to get out of it,” Schack said, “but not before you suffer, and feed me.”
Pyrros turned to look at Johnny one last time, wishing that he had dealt with this right, that he protected Johnny. But unfortunately, he had to leave him, most likely dead (based off the damage he’d sustained) where he was, because when Pyrros looked, Johnny wasn’t there, and Pyrros was no longer standing in his room. He stood in an open space that went for miles, and Schack was no longer in front of him; replacing Schack was a strange wall, blurry and moving, reminding Pyrros of blades moving back and forth so fast that they became almost impossible to see.
It wasn’t long before Pyrros began to fear that this was exactly what this strange wall was, which extended forever, it seemed.
“You have to do this,” Pyrros said to himself, and began to walk through the blades.
At first, he didn’t feel anything. That didn’t mean it wasn’t doing anything to him, of course, but his eyes were closed so he didn’t have to see the damage.
However, it wasn’t long before it began to hurt, intensely so. He began to tear.
“Beat it,” Pyrros said to himself, and believed he was blood and fire. When he opened his eyes, crying out in pain, he saw his body butchered extensively. The strange wall he was going through was trying to chop him into mincemeat, and he feared that it might succeed.
“Your core’s too strong,” Pyrros said to himself. “Don’t believe it’s weak.”
But the strange wall continued to try and destroy him. He hated the way he looked now, not for aesthetic reasons, but because he felt as though he was incredibly weak, and this was what his core looked like. Sure, it couldn’t be defaced to the extreme, as Pyrros was always whole, even in his own damaged way … but that didn’t mean that Pyrros was strong enough to withstand what he was going through.
Still, Pyrros continued to move, continued to believe in what he was doing. It wasn’t long before he saw Schack standing at the end. He had an angered expression on his face, but it was also full of arrogance.
“You think you can beat your own father,” Schack said.
And Pyrros continued to move.
His body, raw and red, finally reached the end of the wall. Ashamed to realize that he was kneeling, Pyrros said, “Please … you can’t make me go through this anymore. Give me the knife.”
“Go ahead and take it,” Schack taunted. “It’s yours. You’ve made it this far, all those deaths you sacrificed for me … go ahead. It’s yours.”
Pyrros looked up at the demon, and saw the knife, simply waiting for him to take it, as though suggesting that Pyrros could really control his fate.
He began to believe that he could, until a strange force made him stand up straight.
“You liar,” Pyrros tried to hiss, the anger at this betrayal blind sighting him.
“You’re my slave for a reason,” Schack pointed out.
Pyrros wanted to collapse on the ground from exhaustion, all the wounds he’d sustained from the strange wall practically trying to shove him onto the ground. But the force made him remain standing.
“Your core is always whole,” Schack said. “I’ve never liked that. Somehow, you’ve always fought my abilities.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You don’t let me behead you. Or dismember you. You insist on being whole. I don’t think I want that anymore. I can make that call, you know, when considering how powerful you’ve made me, and how powerful I am now.”
Pyrros felt something, like an invisible blade, try to slice off his head. Schack hesitated when he saw that Pyrros was fine, except for a ring of red around his neck.
“You can’t win this,” Schack said, and Pyrros felt the same invisible blade.
He felt it again, and again, not just on his neck, but also on his arms, his legs, his torso, his chest. Schack wanted to chop him into pieces, but it wasn’t working. The only evidence that Pyrros was sustaining any damage was the rings surrounding all the places where the blade had sliced through, without actually slicing through.
Pyrros was looking down on the ground, but he began to smile, ever so slyly, at this. He looked up into Schack’s eyes and said, “You can’t dictate how I die. Maybe you can kill me, but you ultimately can’t touch my core.”
Schack almost shrieked, “You don’t make that call.”
“But look at me. I’m fine.”
Schack laughed, so insidious that Pyrros almost stepped back, only regained himself because he was looking these brutal deaths straight in the face and not flinching at them.
Then he said, “You aren’t whole, like you say. You should see yourself right now, all drenched in red and flame. You look so weak, so fractured. So destroyed. It’s the only thing I could ever hope to see in you.”
“You can’t kill me,” Pyrros said, and looked at his body. Somehow, he had caught fire, and he burned steadily. It kept him warm, and made the injuries he sustained hurt less and less, the more he burned.
When Pyrros said this, Schack looked as though he wanted to cave and do something even he’d regret. But instead, he increased the tempo of the invisible blades.
But still Pyrros withstood it.
“Why don’t you die?” Schack said, and Pyrros heard something like regret in his voice.
“You don’t decide what happens to me.”
Pyrros, with all the strength that hadn’t bled out of him, reached toward the knife. He was about to stick his hand into the strange substance in the chest when Johnny said, “Pyrros.”
Pyrros jerked back his hand. Standing in the place of Schack was Johnny. He had a smile on his face.
“You aren’t Johnny,” Pyrros said, and tried to reach for the knife again, when Johnny spoke: “Come on, man. You don’t want to do this. Think about what you’d be killing off. You’re serving something so meaningful.”
“Killing the world isn’t meaningful,” Pyrros snapped. “I don’t share my father’s dream.”
“Yes, you do. Come on, man: look at yourself.”
And Pyrros saw himself standing in front of a mirror. He had never thought he could look so destroyed, so mutilated, so raw and red, but it was what it was. And he hated to admit, but he did admire himself. He was so incredibly strong, and he needed to embrace that about himself. He needed to fulfill his mission, which was to spread evil through the world.
But then Pyrros shook his head, and adamantly, and closed his eyes, and reached for the knife. When Johnny shouted, “No!” Pyrros’s eyes snapped open.
Johnny said, “You killed me, man. Please don’t let my death be for no reason.”
“You were trying to save me!” Pyrros shouted, hating the turn this had taken, hating that he wanted to give up, but found himself believing these lies. “You didn’t sacrifice your life for this. You sacrificed for the end of it.”
“That’s what you want to believe,” Johnny said, with slickness. “But I sacrificed because I believed what you were doing.”
“I can’t die anymore,” Pyrros said, and hated himself for wanting the easy way out, for not killing himself because he didn’t want evil in the world, but because he couldn’t stand any more pain.
“Yes, you can. You’re so incredibly strong. You’ve overcome so much.”
Pyrros stepped back, shook his head in despair, in agony, in confusion. Everything was the wrong answer with this. It was in his blood to betray the world and die for their destruction. Which was what they wanted anyway.
And yet … and yet killing himself was the only way to get out of it …
“Johnny, I know you’re in there somewhere, so please get this: your death was not in vain.”
And Pyrros reached into the substance and pulled out the knife. As he did this, he felt the pain of his wounds increase, and felt all the strength left in him evaporate in an instant, with the force behind the strange substance still sucking energy out. And yet, Pyrros still reached for the knife.
As he did this, he saw his hand turning into a skeleton. Nonetheless, he grabbed the knife, and pulled his hand quickly out.
Now Johnny was gone, and Schack somehow had a loving expression on his face, but it was a lie, and Pyrros saw right through the lie, so he took the knife and stabbed his heart.
Pyrros saw every death he ever experienced play out in front of him like a movie. Again and again, he’d struggled. Again and again, he’d died. But it was over now, and he could feel it. The knife spread the curse throughout him, throughout his soul, killing him off, and Pyrros could feel the flame dying around him, could feel his blood beginning to cease its flow, but it didn’t matter, because it was his right to leave the situation he was in. No longer was he going to suffer so the world could suffer even more. It was wrong in every sense, and he could say no to his heredity.
After Pyrros saw every death, he felt himself lying in darkness. His eyes began to close.
And, it would be for the last time.
Click the intradimensional portal
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Click Clack, Click Clack
by Keith P. Graham