01 Feb The Devil and Max Sullivan
3 a.m. a neon sign flickers in the distance on an isolated stretch of highway, the roar of an engine cuts through the night air as a car speeds along. Behind the wheel sits a career criminal named Maxwell Sullivan, he’s celebrating pulling off the biggest lick of his life and he couldn’t be happier. Just a few hours ago Max along with two of his associates robbed a drug dealer named Eddie Lang, while the robbery may have been a success it didn’t come without a price. Mr. Lang and his wife were murdered by this treacherous trio so they could walk away with 1.5 million dollars, once they were on the road Max decided that splitting the money didn’t suit his lifestyle. When they came to their first stop Max killed his cohorts and dumped their bodies in a shallow grave before heading to his final destination. He raced along the dark highway tapping his fingers on the steering wheel to the rhythm of his favorite song, Max knew this stretch of highway well, the cops didn’t patrol it and most people don’t drive it so he was free to mash down on the accelerator and push his speed well into the hundreds. White lines and scenery zipping by in a blur while Max laughed and made plans for his new found wealth, he took his eyes off the road for a split second to grab a cigarette but that was all it took for a deer to leap out into the road ahead of him. The next few second were a flash of blood, fur and twisted metal that left Max unconscious in a burning vehicle.
“Mister, hey mister are you ok?” A child’s voice cut through the darkness as Max slowly opened his eyes, blue skies and buzzards circling overhead were the first things he saw as his vision cleared. The child’s voice called to him again, “What are you doing laying in the road mister? You should get up before somebody runs you over.” Max slowly turned his head to see a young boy sitting on a bicycle a few feet away, once the kid saw he was awake he smiled and waved to Max before riding away, after a couple of seconds he got up off the concrete and dusted himself off while looking around. “Where the fuck am I?” the car was gone, the money was gone and he had no idea how he had ended up laying in the middle of the road. The heat was staggering, Max held up his hand to shield his eyes from the light as he looked around eventually spotting a diner not too far down the road. He was a little sore but other than that he felt just fine, the idea of not knowing where his money was had his blood boiling, anger was his motivation as he walked to the diner. As he got closer he checked his pockets and found a couple of wadded up 20s “Better than nothing.” He thought as he stepped through the door, the chimes sounded as a cute blond waitress smiled and greeted him, “Welcome to Lucy’s, have a seat and I’ll be over shortly to take your order.” Max sat in a booth near the restroom watching the waitress, something about her seemed so familiar but for some reason he just couldn’t find her face in his memory. After a few minutes she came to his table, “Ok sir what can I get you?” Max glanced up at her name tag “Cali” he smiled, the name didn’t ring any bells but it didn’t matter. “Steak and eggs with coffee, I know this is a strange question but where are we right now?” She smiled and walked away without answering.
Max sat there looking out the window, the landscape seemed so foreign, rolling hills of sand as far as he could see, after a few minutes Cali came back with his food and sat it on the table. “So you never did tell me where we are, what is this place?” She smiled that same odd smirk “This is Lucy’s diner just off highway 6, didn’t you see the sign when you walked up?” I don’t know how it was possible for her to answer me without telling me anything but she did it flawlessly. Before I could restate the question she was walking off, the food smelled amazing so I shrugged it off and dug in, after a bite or two I heard the chimes over the door and looked up. Standing in the doorway was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, her body was full and curvaceous her long black hair cascaded over her shoulders and framed her face perfectly. Her skin seemed to almost glow under the florescent lights as she moved effortlessly through the diner stopping at my table, “Hello Max, I’ve been waiting for you.” she took a seat across from me and as she did time stopped. I looked around the room at everyone frozen in mid motion then turned to face her, looking into her eyes made my stomach turn, I swallowed down the lump in my throat “Who’re you and how do you know me?” She smiled a wicked smile and placed her hands on the table. “Oh Mr. Sullivan let’s not waste time with pointless questions, I have something that belongs to you and I’ll double it if you agree to help me acquire a few things.” I looked down at my plate to see it covered with meal worms, maggots and mold, pushing it away I sat back. As beautiful as she was I couldn’t look directly at her, “Help me Max and I will give you riches beyond your wildest dreams.” Her words floated across the table and exploded in my brain filling my mind with images of her sitting on a throne made of living flesh as the world burned at her feet. “What if I say no?” She smiled at me and snapped her fingers, suddenly I was trapped in a burning car, my lungs filled with smoke as my skin bubbled and blistered from the flames charring my flesh. I screamed and howled in pain while her laughter made the flames grow higher and just as I slipped into darkness I heard her fingers snap and I was back sitting in the diner. Smoke wafted up from my skin as the blisters vanished, “Holy shit! What was that, how did you” she cut me off and got up from the table.
“Four souls and you’re free, the first’s a man named Fletcher Sims, good luck.” As she walked away the people in the diner slowly started moving again, “Wait, how am I supposed to find this guy?” she turned and shot me that wicked smile, “Look for him.” As the words left her lips my vision blurred, the world around me started to spin and everything went black, the next thing I know I’m waking up at a bus station in some shithole town called Idleberg.
When I opened my eyes the first thing I noticed was the smell of smoke, I looked down at my hands and saw charred skin slowly returning to normal. A phone vibrating in my pocket nearly made me jump out of my skin, as soon as I picked up my stomach lurched, “Time’s wasting Max, get it done or burn.” The line went dead and I puked a pile of black ash on the sidewalk, once I got myself together I walked around town until I found a bar and stepped inside, two beers and a shot later I had the address and was on my way. The house was on the edge of town, it took all day to find the place and by the time I got there the sun was setting I had to laugh when I finally found it. Everything in me was thinking I was going to see the murder farm from “House of a 1000 corpses” but what I got was the cover of “Better homes and gardens”, from a distance you would never know what was going on in this place but the moment I got close enough to see the barn, I smelt it. The rancid stink of rotted flesh hung over the place like a dark cloud, I stayed hidden in the bushes for hours waiting to see someone and when I finally saw my target I knew this wasn’t going to be easy.
A fairly new modeled truck pulled up to the barn and parked, out steps Fletcher Sims. He’s a tall bastard, close to seven foot if I had to guess, slim build clean shaven with short dark hair and glasses. He walked around to the bed of the truck and let down the tailgate then stood there staring into the back of the truck. I couldn’t hear what he was saying but I could see by the way he was moving that he was talking to someone in the bed of the truck. After a few seconds he reached in and drug out a body, by the way he manhandled the corpse, easily tossing it up on his shoulder I could tell this guy was a lot stronger than he looked. He carried the man into the barn and slid the door shut behind him, I waited a few seconds then moved in. I stayed low and got to the truck as fast as I could, from where I was squatting I could see the barn door was slightly open but I couldn’t see Fletcher. When I made it to the door I peeped inside to get a quick look at the layout, there were walk-in freezers lining either side of the building and the floors look like weather treated concrete. Overhead there’s a track with meat hooks hanging from it, at the end of the walkway there’s another area but it’s blocked off by those hanging rubber flaps. The sound of someone rushing up behind me caught me off guard, I ducked and spun around out of reflex and caught a hard right cross to the chin. I stumbled back, squared up then threw two stiff jabs in his face and followed up with a pair to the body. He reached out with both hands grabbed me by the head and bounced my skull off the barn door then punched me in the stomach so hard I nearly folded. My reaction was to throw an uppercut and cracked his jaw but I swear it didn’t faze him he just leaned in more. He threw a brutal left hand that damn near broke my nose, but he slipped and dropped his right and left his chin exposed. I dipped and led with a hard left hook, it didn’t work. I never saw the punch that dropped me, just a flash of white light as my knees buckled. The next thing I know he’s got me by the leg dragging me into the barn, with his back to me the big dope couldn’t see me taking the knife out of my pocket, I snatched my leg free and got to my feet, the second he turned around I drove that knife through his eye socket until I felt the handle scrape bone. He didn’t make a sound, he just smiled as he dropped to his knees and started having a seizure, I waited till he stopped twitching and gurgling then dug my knife out of his head and cleaned it on his shirt. Since old Fletcher was dead I decided to take a look around, there was nothing out of the ordinary in the freezers. Sides of beef, whole hogs, goats and I think I might have seen rabbit but not one human corpse. Now I’m getting curious so I stepped in the back, the place was clean, not a drop of blood anywhere. There were three bodies being bled out on tables then processed and mixed with cuts of beef and pork, he was packaging it himself and selling it to the local grocery stores and restaurants. I found receipts going back years I also found a couple envelopes stuffed with hundred dollar bills. (Kept those.) In the middle of snooping around I started smelling smoke, my skin started to itch and burn it felt like the air had been sucked out of my lungs, I panicked I had to get air, I turned pushed through the flaps into the barn and there she was.
I felt a cool breath of air enter my lungs and my body cool off just as my stomach turned sour and I puked a cloud of black ash. She smiled at me trying to wipe the taste away on my sleeve, “Not bad, you’re the second one I’ve sent, the other one.” she glanced over to the body on the table. “Didn’t do so well.” There was something about her smile, it was horrible and beautiful at the same time, I didn’t want to look at her but I couldn’t look away, I watched her step over to Fletcher and wave her hand over his body. A few seconds later I could see him start moving but not like he was about to get up, it was more like his skin was shifting, bulging, rippling as the sound of bones being broken slowly filled the room. Baseball sized dark brown maggots tore their way out of his body and turned to black ash when there was nothing left. She looked at me and smiled that smile one last time, “See you soon Max.” and with a snap of her fingers, everything went black.
When I opened my eyes I was back at the diner, staring down at my steak and eggs with my steaming hot cup of coffee. I ran my hands across my face and rubbed my eyes then looked at the clock on the wall 7:45 a.m., the waitress walked by with a glass of water and I stopped her. “Hey uh, Cali how long have I been sitting here?” she gave me an odd look, “It’s been about twenty minutes since you pulled up, why? Are you waiting for someone?” I shook my head, “Nah, wait did you say I pulled up, what do you mean?” she smiled like she thought I might be joking then narrowed her eyes and looked out of the window , pointing out my car. “You’re in the Chevy, I remember because you came speeding into the lot driving crazy. Are you ok sir? Do you need me to call someone?” I chuckled to myself, “Nah, I’m fine thanks.” Cali walked off, I sat there stunned for a moment as the memories of what just happened vanished from my mind like a bad dream. “I must be losing it” I thought as I dug into my food, when I was finished I reached in my pocket and found two envelopes stuffed with cash. For some reason I couldn’t remember where the money came from, I pulled out a hundred dollar bill and dropped it on the table then got up and walked out, the second I slammed my car door I was back in the diner starring down at my plate of steak and eggs. Cali walked by with a glass of water but before I could stop her the phone in my pocket vibrated and I got nauseous, it took everything in me not to vomit as I answered it, “Hello” the line crackled with static then I heard her voice. “Stay put, I’ll see you soon Max.”…………
I’m not sure how long I’ve been here, the second I hung up the phone everything stopped. The clock still reads 7:45 and everyone’s standing exactly where they’ve been for who knows how long. I couldn’t take it anymore, I got up and rushed out of the diner to my car but this time when I slammed the door nothing happened. I cranked the engine and tore out of that parking lot as fast as I could, I made a left onto the highway and punched it, speeding down the road I kept seeing something out of the corner of my eye way off in the distance. Taking a quick peep I spotted what looked like some sort of animal keeping pace with me running along the hilltops, I glanced down at the speedometer, I was pushing 90 whatever that was shouldn’t have been able to keep up. I pushed down on the accelerator and heard a loud metallic clank as smoke erupted from under the hood and the engine died, “Shit!” the car rolled to a stop and I sat there banging on the steering wheel. I yelled and screamed every curse word I could think of before popping the trunk and getting out of the car, in the trunk was my 1911 and a duffle bag filled with cash, I slipped the pistol in my waistband and grabbed the bag just as I started to hear dogs barking. I slammed the trunk shut and looked around but I didn’t see anything, whatever that thing was maybe it had given up, I slung the bag over my shoulder and started walking. The sun was blistering, it was the type of heat that makes the concrete look wet as you stare down the road. I walked for what felt like hours when I finally did look back the car was just a few feet away, I dropped the bag and sat in the middle of the road.
Starring down the road the diner looked impossibly far away, with this heat the walk was going to be hell. I closed my eyes and dropped my head in defeat, while I was sitting there something big and heavy landed just off the road to my right. A dust cloud rolled over me and suddenly all I could hear was vicious snarling dogs, I shielded my eyes and got up grabbing for my gun with my free hand. As the dust settled I saw it, a three headed dog the size of a city bus. It growled and barked just before it charged me, I pulled the pistol and fired off a shot but it didn’t make a difference. It snapped me up, tossing my body in the air for one of the other heads to clamp down on my legs and ragdoll me like a toy. I thought I would I have blacked out but instead, I stayed conscious right up until it chewed me up and swallowed me.
Her laughter cuts through the blackness and I can smell smoke, as I my vision clears I find myself staring into her empty black eyes. I’m back in the diner and she’s sitting across from me, “So are you ready to get back to work?” I looked around noticing the diner was empty now, “Do I really have a choice?” she smiled “No.” She brought her hand up and snapped her fingers, in the blink of an eye I was looking out over New York City from a high rise hotel. All I could do was smile and shake my head, New York is one of those places I’m technically not allowed in anymore. (Long story.) I looked around and spotted my duffle bag next to the door, before I could take one step towards it she came walking in. “Tonight’s going to be easy for you Max, there’s a club on the bottom floor of this building, go there order yourself a drink and pick up this woman.” She held up a picture, “This is Veronica, get her to come back to your room and offer her a drink, anything you give her from that bar’s going to do the trick, so let her pick. When it’s over I’ll be back to collect.” She stood there for a second looking around then tapped her wrist and motioned towards the door, “Why are you still standing here? Get moving, I don’t have all night.”
In the back of my mind I kept wondering what this one could’ve done, I mean I could kind of understand that Fletcher guy, he was doing some messed up shit, in the end I guess it really didn’t matter. Whatever she’d done or might have been doing it ends tonight, I stepped off the elevator and made my way to the club. I wasn’t there long, getting Veronica back to my room turned out to be a lot easier than I thought it would be. I was starting to understand why she had been picked, this was clearly a set up. I don’t know what she was planning, this was all a game for her, and I could tell, when we finally made it back to my room she got comfortable and I fixed her that drink. We sat talking for a while and the second her cup went empty I smiled, “So tell me Veronica. What’d you do, to end up here?” The expression on her face changed to concern. ”What do you mean?” she reached for her purse just as her eyes rolled over white in her skull and she started spitting up brownish-red foam. I shook my head and stood up watching her trying to suck in big gulps of air only to gag on the foam. Blood poured from her nose as thick dark veins spread through her face then she slumped out of her seat to the floor, Veronica managed to let out one last gurgling scream through the frothy mess as she curled into the fetal position and went still. I stepped over her and picked up her purse, there was a decent amount of money that I gladly took and a syringe filled with a yellow fluid. I slipped the needle back into the purse and tossed it on the couch just as the bedroom doors slid open. There she was, that horrible sick feeling lurched in my gut as she walked over to Veronica, she held up her left hand and using her right she took her little finger and sliced open her palm. She made a fist as thick black blood dripped down onto Veronica’s body, suddenly the room filled with the sound of fly’s buzzing around. I glanced up to see the sealing covered with millions of them, the swarm swept down and covered the body. She looked at me and smiled then wagged a finger at me as if she was telling me no, I knew what was next I tried to say something before she could do it, “What the fuck is” I didn’t get to ask, she snapped and just like that, I was back in the diner…
The diner is empty now, all the food is rotten and that dog thing is sitting in the parking lot watching my every move. The sun never stops shining here, wherever here is. Why’s she taking so long? How long’s it been? A day, a month, a year? She’s trying to break me, punishing me for trying to escape. It’s like prison with a better view, so that makes this solitary confinement, I guess. I laughed at the thought then stood up and stretched, on the upside there’s plenty of coffee, sugar and powdered creamer, ha I win. I reached in my pocket and dug out one of my last two cigarettes and sat it on the bar then went to make a fresh pot. As I’m pouring my first cup I hear the sound of someone striking a lighter, “Ide like mine black no sugar, no cream.” The smell of smoke slowly drifted in and I almost lost it, I damn near turned around threw the pot at her, I took a deep breath and poured another cup then slowly turned to see her smiling at me. I walked over and set the cups down as she took another drag, “Enjoying that?” she exhaled and smiled, “Yes I am.” I nodded my head then reached over and plucked my cigarette from her hand, “Get your own shit.” The smile left her lips and she snapped her fingers sending my entire body up in flames before she snapped a second time leaving me standing there trembling. She calmly reached over and took it back then hit it and dropped it in my coffee while looking me straight in the eye. ”I’ve got good news for you Max, someone beat me to one of my last two targets.” She rolled her eyes and pointed up with a disappointed look on her face. “So after this you’re free to go back. Or, now hear me out on this. You could stay on the payroll and handle things for me on the outside.” I nodded my head then pulled out my last cigarette and lit it, “Think I’ll pass on that one. What do you want?”
She stood up and stepped towards the door as the phone started to vibrate in my pocket. “There’s a woman at the address on your GPS. She’s carrying something that I need, go there pick her up and take her to Randsburg. There’s an old opera house there, in the basement there’s a hidden doorway that will lead you to a burial chamber, deliver the woman there and you’re free to go.” As she stepped out of the door the diner was suddenly filled with people even the staff had changed. I walked outside to see the setting sun and cars flying by on a busy street, no more desert, no more giant dog just the cool breeze and the sounds of city life. I walked to my car and glanced back to see the diner was gone, in its place was a steakhouse dealing with an early dinner rush. I checked the trunk and found two identical bags stuffed with cash, I couldn’t help but smile, I slammed it shut then went around to the driver side and hopped in, the sound of the engine roaring to life made me happy. I threw it in drive and peeled out of the parking lot, I wasn’t wasting time. I made it to the address in an hour, pulling up I spotted a chromed out chopper in the front yard. Standing on the front porch was the stereotypical biker guy, he looked exactly like Opie from “Sons of Anarchy”. I checked my pistol then got out of the car, before he could say a word I shot him in the face then kicked in the door and went inside. On the couch was an older guy who tried to leap up when I came in, I put two in his chest and saw a woman running towards the back of the house, aiming low I put a bullet through the back of her right leg and she hit the ground screaming. “Please don’t kill me I’m pregnant!” I walked over pulling out my phone and checked the picture, it was her. I got her up off the floor and took her to my car, as I slammed the door two guys came running from across the street. “Hey what the hell are you doing!?” I turned and shot both of them then hopped in my car and drove off.
She did the usual, begging, crying, telling me her husband’s gang would track me down and kill me, but in the end I didn’t give a shit. I found the town and took her down into the burial chamber, it was a huge black room with white glowing symbols carved into the walls, in the center of the floor was a huge hole with the same symbols all the way around the edge. The sound of her clapping let me know she was there as she stepped from a shadow in the corner of the room. ”Are you sure you don’t want to come work for me?” I shook my head and let the bleeding pregnant lady sit down, “Nope, but I am a little curious, what’s in the hole?” she smiled and walked up to the edge. “Famine, the last piece of the puzzle.” I laughed to myself, “Famine, yeah ok. Good luck with that, see you later unless I see you first.” I turned and started to walk away, she started laughing. “I said you can go back, I didn’t say you could leave.” I turned around just in time to see her snap her fingers, instantly I was speeding down a dark stretch of highway. Glancing down at the clock it was 3 a.m., I slowed down, pulled off the road and stopped the car. I grabbed my smokes and stepped out onto the road just as a deer leaped out of the bushes and crossed a few feet away. I shook my head and lit up as my phone started to ring, I answered. ”Hello.” there was a pause then I heard her say. “See you soon Max.”