"Pazuzu - Abeyance" sample

© 2009 by Matthew Sawyer

All rights reserved


1
Enmity


D
il Cortras dared and approached the gate on the Wall. This was the way he had come into Capital with his brother and Benedict Ishkott - he recognized the buildings. The new and uniform architecture in this neighborhood of the Cap had attempted its lasting impression. Eventually, after a few days of the monotonous cityscape, every block became indistinguishable. Although, this street, and the way to Saint Erasmus, was embedded in his memory. Dil memorized the path to hell.

He remembered this street was under vigilant surveillance by the Chosen's military, though he was always consciously paranoid. Patrols hunted him because Dil was an undocumented UnChosen migrant and possibly an accomplice to murder. The military had already caught his little brother, Hen. Both Cortras might as well be dead.

If Dil recognized this gate, its guards will recognize him, even though his clothes have changed. When the demon had worn his body, Pazuzu mimicked the attire of a priest. Today, Dil's old, blue denim shirt and pants would have instantly given him away. Different clothes weren't enough disguise and he felt better not being seen by anyone. He crept as close as half a block toward the gate and remained inconspicuous, clinging within recesses and doorways of the stucco buildings.

More important than hiding was finding Margot Sebash. Light had begun to fail when Dil arrived at the Wall with the reporter. He hunted for her red compact now, but the streetlights will come on too late, or soon, depending on who found whom. The shadows in this urban canyon caused problems differentiating figures among the cars and trucks lined up to exit Capital. Ironically, once the city lights came on and Dil saw clearly, curfew will be in effect.

Dil doubted Margot had parked her car so close to the gate and so soon; she might have parked somewhere else and walked. Dil stalked back, past the last couple cross streets he crossed. He didn't spot her car down either of those directions, only endless streams of automobiles. Dil didn't even see a sliver of the color red – she may have parked a mile or more away. Dil returned to the place he judged a safe distance from the gate. He watched from his fleeting vantage point, backed into an alcove and escaped notice.

The gate dissolved into a black hole at the base of the Wall as the sun sunk. People might stand right inside the opening and Dil saw not one. Only busy and monotonous minutes passed while cars were rushed out of Capital and the street was cleared, causing his loiter to look suspicious. Paranoia and good sense drove him further from the exit.

The streetlights flickered on while the sky changed to dark blue, like a bruise. Over the rooftops, toward the west, soft, glowing bands of violet and red faded with the sunset. Curfew was imminent, yet Dil might still watch the exit.

The line of cars shrank as traffic moving in either direction strained from the street. The gate closed when a long metal arm dropped between concrete columns. Nobody had been detained at the exit. Only the UnChosen wanting inside the Wall had been denied. Upon nightfall, everyone was restricted entry to the Promised Land.

The moon hung low on the horizon, concealed by tall buildings. Dil missed gazing at constellations. In the desert, beyond the Wall, the sky was so clear, even the Milky Way was visible. Conversely, in cities, lights intimidated the stars and the sky went black.

A jeep full of soldiers raced by the doorway Dil had pressed himself into. The jeep resembled a shuttle for changing guards. The driver and passengers seemed interested only in their destination. They would not watch for curfew violators, yet. Dil hoped that was the case. For safety sake, he stayed hidden until the jeep disappeared. From where he cowered, near the gate, he overheard soldiers joke and bid each other farewell. He strained to hear Margot's voice and heard no woman, whosoever.

She had abandoned him. Her betrayal felt as bitter as if she just turned him straight over to the military. Stranding him at the gate, alone after curfew, was spiteful. Dil didn't know why Margot had left him behind. He had never said anything about lusting for that woman who attacked her. Dil especially did not reveal the demon brought her to Saint Erasmus as a reward for faithful service. That would have upset Margot and he knew enough not to say anything.

What Margot did tonight was even worst than ditching Dil Cortras. She threw his brother, Hen, to the dogs. Why was she so angry with them? Dil thought because she was a Chosen. Hatred flowed in their veins. Why, then, did Margot say she would help him find his brother? She even fed him that afternoon.

The confusion made her betrayal more poignant. The trap seemed exactly like something a Chosen woman schemed. Dil normally never trusted anyone. Hateful games, like Margot's, tonight, were the reason, and this one was downright murderous. Hen and Dil were plunged into mortal danger.

Trapped, Dil could only wish evil on the woman, though the Mortal God never allowed the vice. Anyway, a curse an UnChosen wished upon a Chosen was as pathetic as a mouse that fought a hungry snake. Dil's curse was laughable for someone like Margot.

Heathens believed mankind had no right to demand retribution from the Living God. Luckily, Dil could ask a divine power he knew personally. Pazuzu will give him revenge; the demon reveled in chaos and violence. Dil wished Margot would trade places with his brother. The woman deserved wrath. Dil did try and warned her about the demon. She should have considered consequences before she left the Cortras brothers in peril.

Preoccupation with thoughts of revenge were currently a liability - Dil needed to stay attentive to his environment, especially at night. The military now actively hunted people like him. During the day, the fact Dil belonged to the UnChosen caste, and his permission to stay in the Cap having long expired, presented a risk. Still, then, Dil did not expect anyone looked for him, except the assassin Pazuzu helped kill at Saint Erasmus. That was a different matter. The military had not sent soldiers after him.

Even after a patrol had captured Hen, the military never came to Saint Erasmus that following morning. Only Margot, the traitorous reporter, and her boyfriend showed up. Despite the encounter with the assassin, Dil enjoyed untested anonymity in the daytime.

After curfew, the military sent patrols. They still weren't specifically looking for Dil, but they were on a hunting expedition. The soldiers pursued whatever game became available. Dil felt like prey, unconcealed and outside in the dark. He needed to stay hyper-vigilant, in case someone watched him. If spotted, Dil needed to know instantly. Above everything else, he needed to stay invisible and undetected. The game used to be fun, as a kid. The circumstances and his age now made the adventure arduous.

Dil's heart beat too loud and fast. His breathing became laborious and noisy. His own body refused to cooperate with the strategy to survive the night. Dil's mind and body cooperated the same way he interacted with his brother. When told to do something, Hen did the exact opposite, with results usually more disastrous than anticipated.

Dil will not allow Hen, or rather himself, to mess up the predicament tonight. Before Dil moved, he took a few deep breaths then forced himself to breathe with a rhythm, on a count of two. He hoped his heart would get the idea and adopt the pattern.

He remembered walking on the streets in the Cap after curfew before. Pazuzu then guided his actions. The demon was reckless and could afford to be. It could pull all sorts of supernatural hocus-pocus out of thin air. Dil, on the other hand, was completely unarmed. He couldn't even recall what happened to the screwdriver shank that had proved so useful during the past week.

Although, the shank was still a hopeless weapon against soldiers with rifles. They would use the tool as an excuse and kill Dil where he stood - if the military ever needed a reason. Dil fooled himself, they'd shoot him anyway.

Dil first needed to get out of sight of the gate. The soldiers inside had no other place to look except down the street Dil was stranded. He lay with his back against his wall and moved between doorways, where he might quickly hide. As Dil crossed the facade of buildings, he resembled a sliding, organic growth on the architecture. An ugly twitching mole is the only thing Dil imagined himself may be; something to be removed. The impurity of an undocumented UnChosen can become cancerous. The military trained soldiers to excise unwanted blemishes such as himself from the Cap.

Dil's careful journey of hide and seek completed at the first intersection. Thankfully, a patrol never passed. Their headlights would have caught him in a peripheral glow. If the jeep's spotlight also bathed building faces, Dil would have glowed like lice under an ultraviolet beam.

Dil rationalized he had escaped the busiest and most treacherous street. Unfortunately, it was the one he had followed when he first entered the Cap. It led to Saint Erasmus. Dil needed planned to travel parallel to the street. He decided he'd head westward, once he recognized a landmark or something else familiar. Luckily, Dil landed on the correct side of the street when he turned down the intersection. This busy street will not be crossed again.

Windows and doors of the buildings on both of the street were dark. Parked cars completely filled the parking spaces, without room to fit even a bicycle between the vehicles. Dil wondered why the street facing Saint Erasmus remained clear most of the time, and where all these people in this part of the Cap vanished. If he still broke into cars, these huddled orphans were like money left on cafe tables.

He entertained breaking into one of the automobiles and spending the night, but worried he would fall asleep and be discovered in the morning. Or worst, a foot patrol will probe the interior of each car with a flashlight. Dil wondered if the military did that. If so, he probably wouldn't even hear them coming. Ducking into a car, even for a little rest, was too risky. Tonight, the vehicles were instant traps.

Streetlights on both corners flooded the empty street with illumination. Dil decided he'd sprint down the block and onto the street that ran parallel the one he just left. He listened for vehicles approach before he started his run.

The silence made the night eerie; not even a cricket chirped. While Dil ran, the fancy dress shoes the demon had purchased slapped on the concrete. An echo carried the noise longer and further than Dil preferred. He had no solution, the shoes must stay on his feet. Dil feared stubbing his toe or stepping on something sharp - injury impeded progress.

The parallel street hosted as many parked cars as the one Dil passed. Apartment houses, with lit exteriors, lined one side of the street. Dil elected to pass directly under the light and windows. He figured anyone who peered outside will see him creeping along the other side of the street. He passed more easily right under their noses. Once people went to sleep, his criminal passage will become less hazardous.

Dil easily cleared the next few blocks, without a sound of traffic. Capital remained sleepy and idle - so far, so good. He heard people listening to radios in apartments. They talked and, more often, argued with each other. Dil passed many buildings where he heard neighbors pound on connecting walls and yell through sheet rock. No one dared step out of apartments after curfew and settle confrontations face-to-face. A passing patrol would put an unbiased, indisputable end to any argument.

Lights within buildings were extinguished as hours passed. The radios remained awake longer, like crying children at bedtime. The same news and sermons repeated through the evening. In fact, Dil knew he heard an exactly identical sermon aired days ago. The same priest talked and everything.

The radios did not cover the sound of the approaching jeep - the first patrol Dil must avoid. The jeep came up fast. High beams and a spot light made the street appear as if he had strayed onto a sports field during an unattended event. Light from the jeep reflected into dark apartments and penetrated so sharply, Dil could count people in pictures that hung on walls.

The apartment buildings were built close together, without gaps between them - row houses. Dil could not dash to either side of the block because the patrol was almost upon him. He crouched behind the wheel of the car directly at his side.

Dil grabbed his ankles and bent his head between his knees, so he might completely hide behind the hood of the car. As a kid, Dil could easily hold the pose. Age stiffened him and he now hoped the patrol passed as quickly as it came.

The patrol cooperated and kept its speed. Dil collapsed. He rolled backwards and threw his arms over his head. The sidewalk still felt hot from that afternoon, which did not bother him. Dil exhaled and breathed deep. While the jeep went the direction he came, Dil took advantage of the timing. He stood up and ran, slapping the pavement again. He took his chance everyone had gone to bed. Dil estimated he got a mile before he grew too tired and slowed, then tumbled forward on a corner.

Peeking into the street Dil should follow revealed nothing familiar, which wasn't a worry. He knew the street on which he would turn west still lay ahead. Dil continued moving while the stitch on his left side eased. His feet felt sore and blisters had probably already bloomed on the backs of his heels. Dil lived with the pain. By dawn, they will tear open and expose raw flesh, so he hoped to reach Saint Erasmus long before daylight.

Twenty minutes or more of travel passed and another set of headlights appeared ahead. The patrol had just passed, which gave Dil a sinking feeling his running attracted attention. A conscientious citizen had called the military and reported suspicious activity after curfew. Even his old boots would not have created such racket - the shoes really should come off.

Dil hurried his hopped pace and slipped into a breezeway between buildings. He then spied around the corner. Spinning yellow lights flashed on the top of the vehicle and it had not come much closer than when Dil first spotted the light. He grew curious, but didn't care enough to give up his concealment.

He spent the wait scouting the block before him, looking for other places to slip into unnoticed. Very few possibilities presented themselves. A few minutes passed and the yellow lights stopped spinning. They still glared and now came his way.

When the light passed, a vehicle revealed itself a tow truck. Dil didn't imagine cars would be towed at night, but the idea made sense. Towing operations in many cities were owned by the military and run by war-stressed soldiers.  After curfew in Capital, there was no traffic to contend. The position and hours fit the qualification and attitude of a lot of old soldiers.

Drivers worked alone because most got angry too easily. The profession attracted the sort to shoot-first and lie about circumstances. These professionals considered no difference between victims, whether one be an illegally-parked, uppity civilian car owner or fussy colleague. Regardless, the driver was still a soldier and carried a military band radio in the cab.

If a situation ever went beyond control, many drivers shot themselves in the head rather than accept discipline. Dil witnessed something similar happen years ago. As a teenager, he wondered if the suicide reflected some old soldier code of honor. He decided then, tow tuck drivers should be avoided. Letting them out at night seemed better for everyone.

The path ahead looked clear again and Dil continued on his way. He spotted another patrol blocks away on another street, but the soldiers never turned his way. Hours passed while he stumbled on. Dil wondered if military patrols ran up and down a single street or completed a loop every night. Knowing the pattern would have made evasion simple. The military probably had figured that out, too.

Maybe patrols were assigned a territory and soldiers roamed free. If a person knew soldiers in a patrol, an arrangement might be made - all wishful thinking on Dil's part. He imagined the fantasy and failed to fool himself, and his situation was no more hopeful. An UnChosen would never become acquainted with a cooperative soldier.

The street on which Dil must turn west lay at the corner ahead. He had no idea when the sun will rise, but dawn was bound to be further than he imagined. Tension, fatigue and pain made time drag implausibly slow. Dil turned the corner and pressed on.

He seriously entertained stealing a car, but recalled that was how his brother got caught. Ben provided Dil that much detail. The patrol saw the “borrowed” car rolling down the street after curfew and the lights and sound lured soldiers straight to Hen. Dil continuously reminded himself of the fact while he marched. The reminder became a mantra that kept him moving on foot.

The area Dil entered appeared strictly residential. Apartment buildings in this part of Capital now included underground parking. A few buildings featured open vestibules and ornate metal gates.

A dog lurking inside an entryway first heard the older Cortras come up the walk. The animal then caught sight of Dil move in the shadows across the street, and the dog barked in alarm.

Even if the entryway were lit, Dil would not have seen the tiny animal. Its small size provided effective concealment, though the noise it made wholly spoiled the advantage. The sharp echo from inside a vestibule revealed the building from where the dog yipped, like a siren that woke the neighborhood. The outcome seemed unavoidable, so Dil hurried. His aching feet slowed his movement.

The pain forbade a dead run. There was no more running tonight, or this morning, depending on how late, or early, the time. Dil never learned to assume time or date with the position of the moon, currently shaped like a thick sliver that leaned sideways. He did not know if it waxed or waned.

Dil got a block away and the dog still barked. The animal sounded more excited. Dil had never met a dog so frustrated a stranger passed from sight. This one sounded furious, then yelped in pain. Dil expected its owner had finally come out and lashed the animal, but the dog barked mean and sounded vicious, as if fighting.

The disturbance made Dil pause, though he would not crawl back and look. The animal sounded as if it took serious blows and the barking stopped. Helpless wails replaced the furious commotion. Light suddenly poured from the vestibule and down the block. Dil stood too far from the building for immediate concern.

The light meant someone had woke, that whole block was probably awake. Dil rushed away. He cast aside the danger of injuring his feet and took off the cheap shoes They had to come with him. Sadly, they were the only footwear he owned, so he brought them along.

Taking the shoes off his feet granted instant relief. Dil picked up speed again. Running in nothing but his thin socks worked. He thought his foot would puncture the instant he took off the shoes, but mercifully, he was disappointed. Dil forgot he traveled the Cap. Litter was absent on the sidewalks; all the junk was found on the freeways, where people spent their days.

The sound of the dog's fight haunted Dil the next few minutes. Dark silence encouraged disturbing thoughts that lingered. He had heard dogs fight each other, hunt and beaten - and Dil is no expert - but whatever happened to that dog sounded like it died.

As a boy, Dil once heard mournful cries of a puppy struck by a car. The dog tonight, now a couple blocks back, made noises just like that one. The animal pleaded for mercy before death. The terrible memory made Dil feel sick, and the thought was distracting. He very much needed to concentrate on himself until he found safety.

Exhaustion made him drag his feet. The concrete felt coarse against the soles of his feet because holes had already been torn into the dress socks. The holes were stretched so wide his heels and toes precariously held the socks in place. Dil had walked for hours without rest.

The journey tonight was not a hike he could undertake in daylight. Sweat already soaked his clothes and dripped from his nose and chin. No wind blew to carry the moisture away. For a modicum of comfort, the shirt came unbuttoned and was draped out of his pants.

Dil became thirsty, but felt even more concerned he'd faint; his head spun. The remainder of his course lay in a straight line and he longed for Saint Erasmus to appear on the next block, but knew it wouldn't be near. The church was still many blocks away.

Headlights again appeared ahead. Dil felt so grateful a patrol had not come from behind. In his condition, he wouldn't have known what happened until soldiers tackled him to the ground. Dil lost his ability think straight and now desperately sought a hiding place.

In his haze, Dil found nowhere adequate. He did the only thing his body allowed and dropped to the ground. He rolled between a car and the curb, suspended in a narrow gap an inch above the gutter. The ground felt drier than himself.

Now that Dil lay down, he fought against passing out. All the while, lights from the approaching patrol brightened the asphalt beneath the car. The soldiers neared and must see him barely hidden and laying on the ground. Like his brother, Dil knew his undoing came in a jeep.

The patrol must have overlooked him, because he still lay on the curb when the sun rose. Panic gripped him with the instant realization he had slept until dawn. Fully awake, but disorientated, Dil jumped to his feet.

The sidewalk had filled with people moving to parked automobiles. A few minutes passed before he realized what was happening - curfew had just expired and people now went back work. Dil looked for his shoes. Once he recovered his footwear, he once again went on his way.

Dil moved the right direction. The daylight cleared his mind and he recognized the neighborhood. Saint Erasmus lay just ahead. He skipped buttoning up his shirt and putting on his shoes. His haggard appearance and sour odor were enough to draw, or forbid, attention. He no longer cared and had nothing to hide. The church offered shelter and that was all he craved.

Saint Erasmus held more than safety. The squat hosted luxuries such as water, a bed and, later, a shower. Dil could now plead with the demon for vengeance, after he rested.

Margot Sebash had signed his brother's death sentence, and she now tried to get Dil killed. The Chosen always underestimated the strength of the lower caste, and their disdain was a mistake. Margot will pay for her ignorant malice.

“Are you going to see the Living God?” someone asked Dil. The question shocked the older Cortras. Living God was the reference heathens used instead of the name Mortal God. The blasphemous term might be expected in other cities, but in the Cap, no one dared utter the heathen devil. Dil jerked around and faced the question.

“What?” was the best Dil could ask.

“He's risen,” an old man with blue hands answered. “The old are given youth. Do you know where Saint Erasmus is? It's supposed to be in this neighborhood.”

“Yeah,” Dil answered, lacking a more verbose reply. He thought he had shaken his disorientation, but realized he needed proper sleep.

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