Patricia Robinett banged the hogtied boy’s head on the barn door as she pushed her bicycle into the gloom.
He lay over the vehicle, face down, buttocks in the air. As dignified as he’d always conducted himself on the playground. He grunted when the seat jabbed him in the gut and attempted screams as Patricia wheeled him to his fate. But to these protests, she’d paid no mind. It seemed no one else minded as well, for nobody stopped her along the way. Life is like a wheel. Karma — as they said — had a lot in common with her old dog, Betty.
The bicycle had a basket with pink plastic daisies stuck on the front. White and pink paint coated the frame, gave it a refreshing Victorian feeling. Or so Patricia thought. Pretty and dainty, it fitted the stereotypical image of a girl’s bike. Only the gagged child, slung over the side like a bag of rubbish, ruined the aesthetics. Along with the contents of the basket.
The location also jarred with the cuteness of both cycle and child. An ancient and forgotten spot, humans hadn’t occupied this place in more than 50 years. Its red paint had cracked, peeled and faded to an unpleasant brown. The horizontal boards of the exterior clung on for dear life, but many had since given up the ghost. A dilapidated wagon decayed out front, three out of four wheels now absent. Wild grass rose, waist height for an adult, near shoulder height for Patricia. A way through the swathes marked the course she’d taken, prisoner and all.
Broken shafts of light angled through the holes in the rafters, golden and warm. Motes of dust — of which there seemed to be plenty — floated through the beams. A stale taste stung the back of Patricia’s throat, but the scent didn’t make her wrinkle her nose. A familiar aroma, the perfume of nostalgia and forgotten ghosts. At the sight of the worn-down interior, Darell resumed his efforts to wriggle and cry out. She knew she should have blindfolded him, too.
Patricia smacked one flabby butt cheek, the way a parent scolds a small child. With an open palm, hard enough to leave a red handprint beneath his clothes. “Quiet, you. Don’t make me poke your eyes out.”
At the threat, the boy ceased his fight. Amazing, thought Patricia, how the prospect of blindness sobered a hostage up.
She pushed the bicycle further into the barn, beads of sweat upon her brow. On either side, posts stretched up to the roof. Sectioned off parts of the barn lay in shadow. Where she guessed, in all her eight years of experience, that the farmer once shod the horses. Or something like that. Rotten bits of hay and straw lined the floor, with mildewed piles in the corners. On the walls, pieces of equipment — and tools for which she had no name — hung upon rusted nails. A ladder, several rungs snapped or missing altogether, rose into the loft. Patricia squinted, but she could see nothing of interest up there.
In the centre of the room, she tipped her bicycle and spilled the bound boy to the floor. He landed with an inelegant grunt, and sawdust coughed into the air upon impact. Behind the tied pillowcase that gagged him, Darell groaned. He rolled over and shot her a red-eyed glare. Patricia returned it right on back, without so much as a blink.
Patricia rolled her bike — now light, without Darell Wheeler to weigh it down — back to the entrance. She leaned her pink and white bike against the inside wall and peered through the open door. The long grass wavered in the breeze and whispered its sibilance. The path she’d taken lay flat, but she couldn’t do much about that now. No people. No couples walked by, hand in hand. No cars buzzed past on the main road. In the background, crickets buzzed and a bird chirped. She grinned and pulled the door shut. It groaned and squealed, an old soul with sore joints.
From the cute basket with the daisies, she grabbed her tools. A red spray paint can, and her father’s hunting knife. Patricia sauntered back over to Darell, who’d succeeded in worm crawling half a meter. She allowed him to have that much. Here or there, it didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.
With the knife tucked into her waistband, Patricia uncapped and shook the can. Around the boy, she sprayed a five-point star. Darell cringed away from the paint as if the wet red stuff shared something in common with the other wet red stuff. Patricia took her time with this, the lines all came out straight, the proportions of the star all equal. Many a graffiti artist would have nodded in approval at her work. To finish, she sprayed a ring around the star, connected each point.
When she connected the last of the circle to her start point, Patricia’s breaths paused. The crickets outside no longer chirped, the bird no longer sang. The wind itself had died, the whispers of the grass now silent. As if the very air itself held its breath, in anticipation. Waiting. Beneath the weight of the two children, the floorboards groaned and sighed. Like some creaking behemoth.
Patricia capped the paint, tossed it in the direction of her bike, and straightened up. She pulled in a deep breath and extended her arms. As if to cradle the scene. He’s got the whole world in his hands, he’s got the whole world in his hands. She spoke as loud and deep as she could muster, her voice even and calm.
All while Darell squirmed in the centre cavity of the inverted pentagram.
“I give to you, Lord Satan, a gift.” She paused, groped for the words. “A present. A sacrifice. A gift. A tribute, if you will. Lord Satan, I present to you…” She crouched down and ungagged the boy — silenced him with a single raised finger. He knew better by now. “Speak your name.”
The boy squealed and whimpered. His wide eyes regarded her with bovine simplicity. His lips — stretched in a perpetual pout — quivered. “D-Darell. Darell Wuh-Wuh-Wheeler.”
“Darell Wheeler.” Patricia nodded. “Do you know why I’ve brought you here, Darell? Do you know why you’ve been chosen?”
Darell’s wide eyes widened even further. The stench of his sweat — pungent and rancid — stung her nostrils. “I-I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to! I didn’t know I was taking the jokes too far, honest. That’s all they was. Jokes. I swear! And—”
“A simple yes will suffice. Darell.”
His mouth snapped shut with a click of teeth. He nodded. Up, down. Up, down.
“I give to you, Lord Satan, this school yard bully.” She rose to her feet. “This sexist, racist, little pig.”
The barn groaned around her.
“He is yours for the taking, Dark Father.”
The floor beneath her feet shuddered.
“All I ask in return is something slight. Something that is yours to give.”
The groan grew to an ursine growl.
“Give me, O Lucifer, the strength to fight back.”
The boards danced, up and down, a piano played by a ghost.
“The strength to take on big bullies, such as the not-so-bright Mister Wheeler, here.”
High-pitched, above the cacophony, came Darell’s puppy dog whine.
She closed her eyes. “Dark Father, hear my prayer.”
An enormous crack rent the air, a lightning strike on her position. An explosion buffeted her, a gust tore at her hair, made her stagger a step back. Wood splintered, fragments rained. Rotten eggs, thick and sulphurous, plumed into the atmosphere. The sudden certainty that another had entered the room. The sense of a chasm, open like a flower. Something shifted its weight — a stamp of hooves. A loud, heavy breath. Like a horse. But not a horse.
Patricia Robinett opened her eyes.
And came face to face with the Devil.
Ten feet tall and exactly as she’d pictured him. All red skin and demon horns and yellow eyes and mouth so full of teeth that it couldn’t close. He even held a pitchfork, either painted red or so red hot that it glowed. He shuffled his feet — cloven hooves. He looked around the barn. The cat’s eyes took in everything.
And then he spotted Patricia and did a double-take.
“YOU?” A demonic voice filled with bafflement. “YOU ARE THE ONE WHO SUMMONS ME?”
Patricia nodded. She did not lower her gaze, nor did she take a knee. “I did, Dark Father. I, Patricia Robinett. Have you heard my prayer, Satan?”
Satan thumped his trident on the ground, spikes raised to the heavens. “I HAVE.”
The Devil seemed to ponder for a moment. One Machiavellian eyebrow raised. He smiled. “I AM ABLE TO GRANT YOUR—” He shook his head. “I’m sorry, I can’t do this, little girl. Maybe if you were older, but…”
“Patricia,” said Patricia.
“My name’s not Little Girl. It’s Patricia. P-A-T-R-I-C-I-A. Patricia.”
The Devil’s grin became something more genuine. “Well, you see, you don’t actually need me… Patricia.” She did not know that hers was the first human name he’d spoken in a millennium. He pointed with his horns to the hogtied boy. “You caught him all by yourself. So, you see, you don’t need my powers.” Inspiration struck, and the Devil added the cherry on top: “The strength was in you all along!” He smiled at that.
Patricia looked down at the boy, consternation upon her tiny face. The horned, hoofed, torturer of the damned had a point. She had gotten this far by herself. Did she need — need — infernal powers? Besides, she didn’t very much like the idea of indentured servitude to the Man With the Pitchfork. She eyed Darell, whose frantic eyes begged her to end this madness.
After a minute, she started to nod. She looked up at Satan and smiled, and the Devil couldn’t help but smile back. Who could not return the honest grin of a pigtailed eight-year-old? Not Beelzebub, for sure.
“Gee, you’re right, Satan!”
Satan blushed. As much as a demon with red skin can blush. “Aw, shucks, well I—”
She pulled the knife from her belt, dropped to her knees, gripped Darell’s hair in her fist.
And slit his throat.
Blood — bright red and vital — spurted across the scene, pattered against the floorboards.
“Oh.” Satan retched and dry heaved. “Oh God.” Satan took a step back, away from her.
Patricia smiled and watched as the boy bled out, a mess of liquid gurgles and choked cries. When he’d gone, she wiped the blade clean on his trousers and pocketed it again. She got to her feet, did a little hop on the spot and smirked up at Satan. “The strength was in me all along!” She giggled.
He watched her go. Her blonde pigtails swayed. A whistled tune danced on her lips. She tossed the spray can and the hunting knife into the basket. The one with the pink daisies on the side. Once out the door, she hopped on her bike and rode off. Before she left the barn, Patricia turned and waved — all cheer and smiles. “Thanks, Satan!”
When he could be sure she’d left earshot, Satan armed beads of sweat from his forehead. And muttered to himself.
Saturday, August 14, 2021
Written for the August 2021 #BlogBattle — ‘Tribute’