After Al had finally been able to get Marjorie out the door, he sank back onto his cot in exhaustion. “What a night!” he sighed. It was almost five in the morning and the rain had finally stopped.
As Al’s body relaxed and his consciousness edged closer and closer to sleep’s sweet oblivion, in his unconscious mind his alien senses were ever on the alert. Automatically he began to tune in on the thoughts of others, at first nearby. He heard the silent anguish of the homeless in the alley outside The Last Resort, then the sleepy dull buzz and occasional incoherent reverie of the downtown area. As his mind ranged farther and farther, he found himself listening in on the thoughts of the still-awake inhabitants of The Madhouse at Page and Fillmore, causing him to chuckle in his sleep. Finally, however, he found himself drawn to his earthly birthplace—Golden Gate Park.
Phyllis Dean was almost beside herself with terror. Still chained to the tree in the Park, she watched as the three satanic wannabes, Tom, Dick and Harry, lit a huge fire in the middle of the enigmatic glowing green ring. She could hear them chanting weird sing-song phrases, and every so often one of them stopped his dancing around the circle to throw something into the fire that made it burn even more brightly.
Their talk of a human sacrifice had made her deathly afraid, and she began berating herself mercilessly. “You had to be the big hero, the tough girl. You see where that’s gotten you. These guys look like they mean business, so they’re not gonna cut me any slack. From the looks on their faces, they’re more than ready to burn me alive to conjure up Satan. Oh, how I wish I was still back at that bar,” she thought wistfully. “That bartender was kind of cute. What was his name? Al? Boy, I’ll bet if he was here, he’d save me! He sure has the muscles for it. He’d walk over to this tree and break the chains with his bare hands. Then he’d knock those freaks out, throw me over his shoulder and carry me to safety! Oh, Al! Al! If only you could hear me!”
“Where the fuck is that ditzy broad?” Blair Brockman, Founding Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Bay Weekly was restlessly pacing around his office. “Lyle, what time did she call in? And do you have any idea where she might be?”
Lyle, assistant to the chief, was sitting morosely in a corner of the office, finishing a cup of cold coffee. “I told you before, Chief, she called about two o’clock and said she was going to get a front page scoop on the UFO story. Said she’d be here by four. So that’s when I called you ‘cause I know you don’t want me to make important editorial decisions on my own.”
“Damn straight!” snorted Brockman. “If it were up to you we’d still be littering our front page with those insipid ‘quality of life in the Bay Area’ stories.” He looked at his watch and pulled at his beard savagely. “But it’s after five now, so where the fuck is she?”
“I don’t know, Chief.” Lyle squirmed in his chair, desperately wishing he were somewhere else. At times like this, he thought, becoming vice president in his father’s insurance agency didn’t look so bad.
“As you know,” retorted Brockman, pointing his finger accusingly at Lyle, “we’re on deadline. So if she doesn’t get here pronto, whatever shit scoop she’s got won’t make next week’s issue. So get ready to go with the alternate lead: ‘Bay Area Outraged by Proposed PG&E Rate Increase’. When in doubt, stick with the tried and true, I always say.”
“Come on, Chief, give her a few more minutes. She could have got delayed or something. I’ll bet she’ll be walking through that door any minute with a dynamite story.”
That Lyle had a weak spot for Phyl and thought she was really sexy was common knowledge at the Weekly. It was Lyle who had talked Brockman into hiring her a few years ago on the strength of only a few novelty pieces in the neighborhood rags. And it was Lyle who always defended her frequent absences from the daily staff meetings. “She’s a pro,” he would say. “You can’t expect a real journalist to keep regular office hours.”
But Brockman was obviously on the warpath now. When he got in his put-up-or-shut-up mode, God help those who couldn’t put up. Lyle closed his eyes and prayed for oblivion. Brockman just kept pacing.
Phyl was listening to her own thoughts veer shamelessly from sheer terror to erotic fantasies, when suddenly a voice not her own seemed to speak within her mind.
Phyllis Dean, it said, Listen to me.
“What! Who’s there? What’s going on?” Phyl cried out.
This is a friend. The voice in her head was calm and self-assured. You want to be released from this situation, so listen carefully. I can hear you clearly if you just speak inside your head. Visualize the words you want to say as if you were reading silently.
OK, said Phyl, how’s this?
Fine. Now, I understand that these men intend to do you harm. Trust me. When they come to unchain you from the tree, do not resist them. I promise no harm will come to you.
“Are you kidding!?” She cried aloud. “They want to burn me alive to conjure up the Devil!”
Silently. Don’t speak aloud. You must help me to help you, however. I am unfamiliar with this Devil they seek. Give me a picture.
What do you mean?
Visualize this Devil in your mind. As if you were recalling a picture.
OK. Phyl thought about all the pictures she had seen of devils in the occult books she had read in college. Does that help?
Yes. Now be brave. They are coming for you.
And indeed, Tom, Dick and Harry seemed to have finished their fiendish preliminaries and were advancing toward her.
“OK,” said Tom. “The fire’s ready. You two unchain the bitch and feed her to the flames.”
“Oh boy!” Dick clapped his hands. “We’re gonna have a sacrifice, gonna call up Satan. But Tom,” he paused, looking slightly confused. “Tell me again why we want to call up Satan.”
“You nitwit!” Tom screamed in exasperation. Then he began to explain carefully, as if to a five year-old. “We want to call up Satan in order to serve him as his loyal subjects. In return, he will grant us everything we ever wanted here on earth in our lifetimes. Money, power, fame, chicks. Or do you want to be a tire inspector all your life?”
“No,” Dick replied, a bit uncertainly. “I guess power sounds OK to me.”
“How about you, Harry?” Tom asked sarcastically. “As long as we’re taking a vote, what do you say? A life of drudgery, or a life of luxury?”
Harry thought about it for a minute. “Uh, luxury, I guess.”
“Then we’re decided! Go get the girl!”
“OK, Tom,” they said in unison and began to unchain Phyl.
“So, bitch,” Dick leered at her. “Are you ready to meet your fate?”
“Yeah, I guess so,” said Phyl with a shrug. “I guess there’s nothing I can do about it.”
“That’s right,” said Harry, trying for an evil laugh but producing a childish giggle, “you’re completely in our power!”
They finished removing her chains and led her to Tom, who was standing only twenty feet away from the huge bonfire.
“By the way,” Tom asked her casually, “you’re not by any chance a virgin, are you?”
“Are you kidding me?” exclaimed Phyl. “I haven’t been a virgin since I was sixteen!”
“Oh, well, it was just a thought. Virgins work better.” He jabbed her in the chest with his forefinger. “But you’re going to fry all the same! Boys!”
Dick and Harry grabbed her and pulled her toward the fire. Terrified, she began to scream and struggle desperately, but it was no use. Just as she began to feel the heat of the flames on her face, a shape began to materialize in the very center of the bonfire. It was bright red and shaped roughly like a large, powerfully-built man, but with horns, a pointed beard, forked tail and cloven hooves. It fixed the three Satan worshippers with a malevolent gaze and began to speak inside their heads in a deep, powerful voice.
Do you know who I am? it boomed. I am the Lord Satan! Why have you summoned me here?
Tom immediately prostrated himself upon the ground and motioned to his two brothers to do likewise. “Oh, great Lord Satan,” he began. “We are here, your humble servants, to do your bidding. We sacrifice this woman to you that we may taste of your power and glorify your name on earth.”
You fools! it cried. Why do you bring me the uninitiated in the form of this girl? Do you think it pleases me?
“But Lord Satan,” pleaded Tom, “we thought but to honor you!”
Taking souls without their choice and free will is repugnant to me, it said. But I will forgive you, for I know your desire to worship me is real. Therefore I will allow you to choose one of the three of you to sacrifice yourself to me, to reign by my side in Hell. For the other two of you, there will be riches beyond your imagining for the rest of your lives, after which you too will serve me in Hell. So, on which one shall I bestow the honor?
“This isn’t going right, Tom,” complained Dick, twisting his hands together. “Did he just say one of us has to be sacrificed?”
“Shut up, Dick,” cried Tom in frustration. “I’m thinking. I’m thinking maybe this wasn’t all that great an idea in the first place. Either of you want to be sacrificed to Satan?”
“No!” said Dick quickly.
“Not me!” said Harry just as quickly.
“Then I’ve got another idea,” said Tom even more quickly. “Let’s run for it!”
And the three of them ran out of the park as fast as they could.
As Phyl stood there by the fire, dumbfounded by this turn of events, the image of Satan slowly faded into nothingness. As it did so, the fire as well quickly burned down into a pile of smoldering ashes that soon died out into darkness. As the pale dawn slowly crept over the meadow, only the glowing green circle remained.
“That was too weird!” she said to herself. “I’m getting out of here.” She could no longer hear any voices in her head. “Was it just stress? Or was I hallucinating the whole thing? Or did something really get inside my head and save me? The Devil, the voices, was any of it real? I don’t know, but I’m sure not hanging around to find out!”
As Phyl quickly made her way out of the park, she saw the sun just beginning to rise.
© Cantara Christopher 2001, 2022