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The young boy walked slowly with hesitation. His palms began to sweat, throat becoming choked up. His strides became slower as he reached the threshold of the decrepit shack. Through the cracked wooden walls he could see a figure. He saw the man he had come to see. Some called him Hernan, some called him the elder, but to the little boy he was known as abuelo.
This man was his grandfather on his mother’s side. This was only the second time he had ever seen him. His mother kept in contact with him though letters, mostly because she is too busy to visit him herself. The only other time he had seen this man was at his uncle’s funeral. The boy remembered that cold, empty stare he had given him on that day. He knew that his grandfather was blind, but he could see something in his eyes that no one else could see, something behind that emotionless gaze. He saw pain. His mother had always told him that the eyes are a gateway to the soul. If he had truly looked into his soul that day, he wasn't sure if he really wanted to see this man.
Seeing the elder was a right of passage in his village. Young boys would make a journey to the elder’s home, returning as a man to their families. The boy had reached the house in three days, camping out in the wilderness at night and walking endlessly during the day. It was almost night now. The gray sky loomed overhead, as if threatening to rain, but the journey was almost at an end.
The boy slid away from the crack and walked up to the doorway. He opened the door and looked inside this man’s home. The home looked as if it hadn’t been cleaned in years. As he walked through the door and into the house, he could see his footprints in the dust-covered floor. Each step gave another unnerving creek in the aging floorboards. Each step brought him closer to the man he was sent to see. The child reached a large curtain covering the place where a door used to be. He could see a silhouette of a man sitting in the corner of the room on a large chair. The boy finally reached his grandfather.
He pushed aside the curtain and walked into this new room, scanning this new environment, hoping to get a better understanding of this enigma of a man. Glass was littered across the floor below the rectangular outlines of picture frames on the wall. These picture frames were gone, but whoever threw them out neglected to clean up the glass below. The youth finally laid his eyes upon the man. His unkempt beard was matted and filthy. Dark sunglasses rested upon the large bridge of his nose. His dark grey hair was pulled back into a ponytail. His hands began to shake and he placed his wooden walking stick on the ground by his feet. Using it to brace himself, he stood up and looked in the boy’s general direction. His head moved from left to right, as if trying to see, but to no avail.
“Carlito?” the man said abruptly in his raspy, anxious voice. “Is that you?”
Carlito inhaled, taken aback by his voice. He didn’t expect him to know he was here. He walked towards him again, taking his time. “Always a quiet boy, eh? Your mother always tells me about how shy you are. You must have gotten your father’s genes, we Cabellos just never shut up, do we?” the man snickered at his own joke. His English was poor. Most of the village had taken up speaking English exclusively because of its convenience when dealing with people from outside of the village, but his grandfather was a stubborn old man, and never got a good grasp on the language until later in his life. Though he tried to be friendly, Carlito could tell that he we using it to mask his true self.
“Come in, come in. Sit down. I will tell you a story, niño. Make yourself comfortable, Carlito. I have only told this story to a few, probably because most consider it- how you say… unbelievable. But I lived it, mijo, and your mother as well, but she was young and doesn’t remember. This is a tale of my youth. This is the story of the diablos.”
When Hernan was a young man, brash and wanting more for his fledgling family, he moved out of his village. He believed that there was opportunity elsewhere, and he would be damned if he would die in the miserable pit he was born in. Hernan led his family north, hoping to find wealth. The only thing that Hernan would find in this new land would be suffering. On the fifth week on their journey north, they were robbed. All of the money he had saved was gone, and his family was starving. With no food and little hope of reaching the north, Hernan had to make a desperate decision to save his family. He and his wife had to work in a sweatshop. The work was agonizing and degrading, but it was all he could do. Hernan had no formal education, no friends in this country, and no money to his name. This was his only option.
Hernan and his wife worked long hours with little pay, but they were given shelter and food. Though the food wasn’t much, it was enough to survive. The kids would stay in the living quarters while they worked. The children were too young to work, but in a few years they would join their parents. The only other people allowed in the living quarters during work hours were new mothers and their children. Their job was dying clothes that would then be stitched by children no older than seven or eight. The dye was cheep, often leaving his hands blue after he left work. No matter how hard their scrubbed, the dye wouldn’t come out. The dye wouldn’t go away for years and neither did the shame. Whenever Hernan gave the clothes to the children, he couldn’t help thinking of his own. This was the life they were destined to live now. Hernan cursed himself daily, cursing the man who doomed his family to this lowly existence: himself.
“RAPIDO!” the large men would yell, hitting them with their belts to make them work faster. Each blow was harder than the last, more vicious, like a horse being whipped by its rider.
Although his mother had never told him this, the boy had another uncle. His name was Emilio. He was the oldest of Hernan’s children, though Hernan sometimes questioned if the boy was indeed his child to begin with. He was a shy boy, who tended to keep his head down. He would only convey what he needed to get across in as little words possible, most of the time not talking at all. His skin was much paler than Hernan’s. His eyes did resemble his mother’s, though. Hernan doubted that his wife would be so unfaithful, but there was always that lingering doubt that this child isn’t his.
At night, Hernan would hear the birds. Every night the clamoring of birds would awake them. Hundreds of them would amass in the area, circling the facility from atop the trees. Then after a while they would stop. The cawing would cease and they would all fly away. The only person in the facility who wasn’t awoken by this incessant calling was Emilio, who would simply sleep though it. For some in the facility, this could be explained simply. This area was a popular path of migration of birds from the north. In the winter, these birds would flee the cold, traveling south towards the equator. For others, the explanation of this was much more sinister. Alana, the oldest woman in the facility, was a devout Christian. She often ranted about how these were the end of days, and that the devil has a grip on this world. She would often yell passages from the book of revelations over the deafening sound of birds.
“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird!”
One night the birds didn’t come. But something else did. Hernan remembers the night vividly. He remembered the cool air, the gently swaying grass, and the clouded gray sky. He also remembered the beatings. That day the beatings were especially worse. The guards became more temperamental than before. Without provocation, one woman was beaten. She was dragged in front of everyone and kicked and punched. She cried, her calls for help echoing in the packed room. Nobody did anything. Everyone sat and focused on their work, praying not to be next. The woman’s cries became more gargled, blood pooling in her mouth, making it harder for her to speak. Her face became disfigured, broken bones and swollen bruises making her almost unrecognizable.
Hernan stared at the clothes. He looked down at his blue hands. Those damned blue hands, a constant reminder of his slavery. He grabbed the clothes tighter, shoving it into the dyed water before him. Water splashed across his face, but all he could hear is the screaming. She was dying and there was nothing he could do about it. They were all dying and there was nothing he could do. Hernan’s grip became tighter. His wife tried to warn him, but the crying blocked out her voice. Hernan tugged at the cloth, gripping tighter as he thought of his loved ones being beaten by these animals, these monsters of men, these devils!
The clothing ripped. The ripping sound of the fabric sent the room into a period of silence. Everyone stopped what they were doing. The man with the belt stopped right before he was about to hit the young girl again. He turned around. Stepping forward, the sound of his boots hitting the ground was the only noise coming from the room. Hernan realized he had made a mistake. Each step made him realize what he had wrought. His family, his legacy, his future would all be gone soon. They were going to kill him. He looked at the woman on the floor, struggling to get up, coughing up the blood. She was nearly dead and the only reason that they didn’t kill her is because now they were going to kill Hernan. He stood up and the man stopped in his tracks. The man reached behind him and pulled out a gun from the back of his jeans. The metal shimmered in the artificial light of the sweatshop. Hernan stared dumbstruck down the barrel of the gun, not expecting things to end up this way.
“Outside, pendejo,” he said breaking the silence. Hernan got up and walked outside. His wife reached for his arm, but he pushed her hand away, smiling at her. He assured her that everything would be alright. A single teardrop crawled down her face. Hernan walked outside, ready to face death.
The first blow was to his legs, knocking him down onto his knees. He was hit by some kind of metal rod. The stinging was unbearable. The next came to his temple, but this time it was only a foot. He could feel his brain smash against the other side of his skull. His head began to throb. One of the men grabbed the metal rod and smashed his fingers. They felt as if they were on fire. Hernan screamed out in pain, but nobody was coming for him. He knew that from the beginning. His screaming was interrupted by a swift kick to the ribs. They were definitely broken. Hernan crawled towards the living quarters. The men laughed from behind him.
“No one’s coming to save you! You’re going to die tonight!” the man with the gun taunted. Hernan kept crawling. Not knowing what else to do. He didn’t know if it was willpower or fear that kept him going, but he didn’t care.
“What are you crawling to, eh?” the man said. He walked up to Hernan and shoved the gun in his face again. “Got any kids, man?” he asked
“Y-yes,” Hernan answered.
“Those little shits are yours? I’m guessing they’re the older kids in there, the boy, the girl, and the creepy one. Jose! Get them out here.” The large man nodded and walked towards the living quarters and Hernan tried to scream. The man put the gun against his temple and put his finger over his mouth, snickering the entire time. The large man came back with his three children. Anything but is children, he thought. Just kill him and let it be done. The glimmer of hope he had that he would get out of this was now gone, the only thing that remained was the realization that this was the end.
“Now, which one is going to go first?” the man with the gun asked. Hernan stayed quiet, not sure if this man was seriously asking what he thought he was.
The man broke the silence, “I don’t think you realize the situation you’re in. You must be think to yourself: he won’t actually kill me, can he? At this point, we’re mostly doing this for fun. You’re completely expendable. We can just hire the next person who walks through that door and pay them half of what you get. You and your family disgust me, you worthless piece of garbage. Take him to the grill. Make his face look nice and crispy.”
Hernan struggle to get up, trying desperately to escape, but two men grabbed him. He looked over to his children, about to give them words of assurance. Then he saw Emilio’s face. His son was completely emotionless, not completely; there was one emotion on his face. That emotion was boredom. Hernan saw his other children crying and scared for their lives, but he stared at Emilio’s faced. As Emilio stared at the ground Hernan finally saw the smirk on his face.
Suddenly the ground began to shake. Cracks began to appear in the earth, as if the world itself was tearing apart. The shaking became more violent and leader of the men fell to the ground, dropping his gun. The gun slid into the crack in the earth. The cracks began moving towards each other, each of them meeting in the middle. Grey skies gave way to a black night. There were no stars on this night, just the unforgiving moon. The earth began to crumble and a hole began to appear in the ground. Some of the men fell into the hole. Their screams were audible for a while, but eventually were too far away to be heard. For a while, the earth stopped shaking. All seemed normal again. Whatever had transpired before the tremor had been forgotten. All was calm. All was quiet. Then the devils came.
One by one they flew out of the hole. Each was going at lightning fast speeds, illuminated by the pale moonlight. They shot up straight into the air, each becoming lost in the night sky, not for long though. The demons then descended, each singling out specific targets. Hernan watched as they chased their prey, toying with them, savoring the hunt. Then they would strike, each cutting their target with surgical precision, but not going for the kill. Amputating limbs, severing tendons, leaving deep wounds in their backs, these things were trying to cause as much suffering as they could before death. Hernan grabbed his children and ran to the living quarters.
Keep looking forward, he thought, keep running. He had to make it to shelter, that would be the only way to make it through this. His hand was mangled to the point where it was in constant pain, but he had to keep running. He finally reached the door of the living quarters and saw what was waiting for him inside. A woman was on the ground, squirming in a pool of her own blood. The demons crowded around her and watched, enjoying her torment, enjoying her suffering. Hernan and the children quickly got to cover. While the demons where distracted, they made a break for the bathroom, locking the door behind them. The demons hadn’t heard them yet. His daugter put her head on Hernan’s chest and began to cry. Hernan held her close. Hernan looked up, surveying the room. Emilio was gone. Hernan tried desperately to remember when he had lost him, when he had strayed away from the rest of them. He couldn’t remember. His son wouldn’t survive out there, those things would get him if he didn’t do something, but if he opened the door those things would kill him and the rest of his children. He looked around the room again, seeing a window. Just as he was about to open it, a demon flew by. Hernan quickly sat back down. There was nothing he could do. He looked out the window, scanning for the rest of his family.
The facility had collapsed. The only thing that remained was rubble now. He kept looking, hoping that someone was alive in this massacre, dreading the thought that he would find his son or his wife’s face in the bodies. Emilio was nowhere to be found, no sign of the boy anywhere. Could he have escaped? He kept looking. He found what he was looking for. A hand was sticking out from the rubble, completely still. Hernan looked closer at the figure. Blue hands. Hernan saw the blue hands of his wife sticking out from under the debris. It had to be her hands, no one else in the facility dyed cloths except him and his wife. He realized that the love of his life was dead. He had killed her. With his selfishness and greed he had killed his love, his sweet rose, his everything. Hernan would be damned if more of his family would die because of him tonight, but there was nowhere to go. The demons grunted from the other room. The woman must be dead. They seemed to be moving about in the room, sniffing out their new prey. Soon he heard footsteps just outside his door. They were here. The door shook violently, the doorknob jiggled left and right. They were trying to open the door. These monsters were strong enough to rip the door off its hinges. Why were they trying to open it? It was toying with them, trying to bring dread to the survivors. Claws appeared through the door. They slowly moved down the door, creating a way for them to see the demons. One of them put its face right up against the door. It’s charred black face was illuminated by an orange glow radiating from the creature’s mouth. It was smiling at them. It turned around and walked away from the door.
Hernan began to pray, something he hadn’t done in years. Hernan prayed to God, asking him desperately to get his children out of here alive. Hernan no longer cared for his safety. He only wanted to save his children. He knew that his life was a lost cause. Each prayer was quicker than the last as his time began to run out. His hands pushed up against each other harder with each passing second. He began to cry. They all began to cry. The demon breathed fire onto the door, charring the wood and fully exposing Hernan to them. They sat under the window, the only light in the room was the light coming from the moon and the fire from the demons’ mouthes. They ran at the family, charging straight at them. They all closed their eyes, hoping it would be over soon, but knowing that it would not. Hernan uttered one last word: amen.
Their prayers were answered.
Suddenly they could hear the screams of the demon. Their agonized cries soon faded, as if they were purged from existence. The sound of death ceased in the camp. They still kept their eyes closed. Thinking this was some kind of trick, luring them into a false sense of security. Hernan was the only one to open his eyes. The devils were gone. Hernan got onto his knees and looked out the window. What he saw remained with him until his death. He saw a heavenly glow, a white light emitted from a figure above the facility. The figure began to take shape and he saw what it was. It was a woman.
“Hernan,” she said, "my son.” Her voice was motherly. He received a vision. He saw the end of days, he saw men kill one another in the name of the Lord. He saw vast famine, people starved nearly to death. He saw great sickness, men and women covered from head to toe in bubos and poxes. He saw the end. The earth would become the devil’s domain, land becoming great lakes of fire, spewing up into the heavens and into space. Lastly, he saw something he could not explain. He saw his lost son. He saw Emilio. Hernan screamed as his vision turned to black. His eyes were open, but he couldn’t see anything. His world had gone dark.
Hernan ended up in the hospital along with his children. The police had found the place completely abandoned excepted for a man with two children. Hernan was blind. He was the only one that remembered the demons. His children said they found him passed out and the facility abandoned. The doctors said there was an explanation for this. The chemicals that were used in the cheap, homemade dye at the facility were dangerous to be handled, especially without the proper safety equipment. The overexposure to the chemicals must have left him blind and hallucinating. As for the disappearance of the others who worked in the facility, the government was onto the sweatshop for some time now, and they were about to shut it down. They must have caught on to the police’s plans and moved to a different location. The guards must have left Hernan in his hallucinogenic state, assuming he would be no longer useful. There was one odd thing though. It turns out the cheap dye was carcinogenic. There were traces of cancerous cells in Hernan’s hands, but he was somehow in remission. It was as if the cancer had just disappeared over night. Hernan was the living embodiment of “the lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.”
“The Lord saved me on that day, niño.” the elder said.
“Although he took my sight that day, he saved your mother, your uncle and I. On that day I swore to spread the word of god. I became a priest, but eventually I became too old for that, and now I am the elder. It is not so bad. I get some peace and quiet now and again. What I saw on that day, though, it changed me. The end is coming, my son. Just be prepared for when it does. I suppose you have been here long enough, go ahead and leave. Your family is waiting.”
Carlito stood up, his legs feeling numb from sitting there so long. He stretched out, reaching towards the ceiling. Before he left he walked over to his grandfather and gave him a hug. He wasn't sure if his story was true or not, but he didn't care. The man genuinely believed it was.
"Thank you, abuelo," Carlito said after a long pause. He gave his grandfather a comforting smile. The old man was on the verge of tears.
"You... you are a good boy, Carlito. Take care of yourself," Hernan replied.
He walked out the door, and slid over to the crack again, getting one last glimpse of his grandfather before he left him again. Hernan was shaking. He took his dark glasses and put them on the table besides him. Carlito saw his gray pupils. Although the man was blind, he turned around as if he could see what was behind him. There was someone standing behind Hernan. He stood up to great this figure, bracing his weight against his walking stick again.
“I suppose you would come for me eventually. I’ve had enough time to think about what you are. My visions didn’t end that fateful night. God has shown me the truth. Do what you have to do, but know that I will always forgive you, Emilio.”
Hernan gasped for air, grabbing his chest. He fell to the ground, desperately struggling to breath, but he just could not. His desperate choking filled Carlito with dread. Within a few minutes he was dead. The man had not even put a hand on him. The figure stepped forward, looking upon his former father. His pale skin and dark hair stood out in the dim light of the room. He was a thin man, but not much taller than his father. A smirk appeared upon his face. He turned away from his father.
He turned towards something else in the house. At first, Carlito didn’t know what he was looking at. His dark stare and his smug look was focused in Carlito’s direction. He didn’t realize what the man was looking at until he started walking right towards it. What he was looking at sent Carlito running. Emilio was looking at him.
Written by The Damn Batman