A Lifetime of Devilish Haunts

A Horror Short Story by Clark Roberts

A Lifetime of Devilish Haunts

by Clark Roberts

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The first time the man saw the Devil in a familiar face was during the Persian Gulf War. The enemy fired a grand total of eighty-eight Scud missiles during the seven-week war. One of those eighty-eight struck the base in which the man was stationed. The rest of his life he would never forget.

He remembered smoke and fire and yelling and a damned lot of confusion. He remembered focusing on pushing his buddy’s hot guts back into the giant gash that had been ripped into Lincoln Brubaker’s side. He remembered Lincoln’s breathing, hard concentrated breaths, the hardest breaths that had ever been breathed in the history of mankind. He remembered the moment those breaths abruptly ceased. He’d looked up into Lincoln’s face, probably to say something inanely futile, because everything is inanely futile when your elbow deep and slathered in your friend’s sliding guts, something like hang in the there, Linc, or don’t you die on me.  

Lincoln’s eyes had become the Devil’s eyes.  

Then Lincoln had spoken, except anymore it wasn’t really Lincoln’s voice. The voice was lower, thick with bubbles—War, and you still don’t play by my rules. I’ll haunt you to the grave.

Despite the Devil’s declaration, during the rest of the man’s service time the man stayed true to his scruples. The man refused the influence of war to besmirch his predilection of mankind. Never once was he guilty of such a minor offense as cursing the term raghead.

***

Back in civilian life and on the man’s wedding night was the next time the Devil haunted him. The man was consummating the marriage with his new wife. She was on top and riding him, the room dark. It was lovely until he experienced the shift in the room’s atmosphere, felt it in the way his wife’s skin had become almost reptilian, smelt it in his nostrils burning sulfurous. Without doubt, it was now the Devil on top of him and what had just moments ago been blissfulness had morphed into a pornographic grinding. A voice above him, darker than the cavern of a throat—I’ll break you yet; I’ll win in the end.

Seconds later it was his panting bride who collapsed on him. Her skin once again delicate and slick with sweat. Her voice gentle, she asked, “Why are you trembling?”

On and on it went. At times the Devil would show his presence three or four times in a month. The dentist grinned crazily; a driver at a stoplight stared into his soul; a cashier promised to hunt down and slaughter his parents. Another stretch of time the man went three full years without crossing the Devil’s path.

When the man’s son was born he expected a Rosemary’s Baby situation. It did not happen. The Devil’s countenance only sprang alive within a person when the man least expected it. Each time the man had to fight harder and harder to recover his sanity.

Although never overtly religious, one Sunday he persuaded the family to church. He held his secret within, hoping this effort at divine worship might be his cure from the madness. The man and his family sat in the third row of pews. Halfway through a sermon concerning Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well, the minister turned his countenance squarely upon the man.  

It was the Devil that chuckled at the man—No havens for you, not even here.

The man never again attended a church service.

***

One night the shadow-shape of his teenage son drifted to the edge of his and his wife’s bed. The man was awake and saw his son’s pupils glowing ember. The Devil that was and wasn’t his son spoke—I’ve found my new home; this time it’s permanent. 

The shape faded back into the darkness of the hallway.  

From that night forward the man noticed more sneers from his son, and noticed his son sarcastically mocking others’ mannerisms. By the age of fourteen the son had twice been arrested for stealing. At sixteen the son was charged with drunk driving. In the decade of his son’s twenties the man knew his son was deeply entangled into a drug culture. The son’s life was spent in and out of jail even encompassing two stints in prison.  

The man continued to love his wife, love his son, and love humanity.

***

Into his dotage the man outlived nearly all of his friends and acquaintances. On a windy autumn day, frail and weak, the man watched his wife’s coffin as it lowered into the ground. Later into the winter and on his own deathbed, a beeping machine was all that kept the man alive. He could not see, could not speak, could not consciously move. Yet his body felt a heated shadow drape over him, and knew whom it was. His ears received the ancient foe’s diabolical voice—Old friend, all your defiance of the evil I’ve drowned the world with couldn’t save your son.  

Inside, the man built a wall of calmness.

I’ve ruined his life.

Still inside, calm.

He’ll suffer when it’s his turn; he’ll suffer tremendously from guilt.

Did the man’s subconscious hear any of this? Did the man’s subconscious one last time pray for his son?

A hand cupped his, gentle and cool. His son’s true voice, just a man’s voice this time, but a voice as innocent as a toddler’s. “I’m sorry for how I’ve been. I love you, Dad.”

But the man had already gone forward and into the light.

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