31 Dire

When the figure Satan projected into his world shimmered and dissipated, Tom sat back in his seat and exhaled. If he felt the weight of the world was on his shoulders, it was because the devil himself had just told him as much. He’d long since passed the point where it was too much to bear. He could have simply given up and waited to die if it weren’t for the fact that, somewhere out there, a demon held those dearest to him.

Tom rose with such weariness that he wondered where he got the strength to stand. He grabbed his keys, walked outside, and drove to the local synagogue. The place was empty with the exception of the rabbi and his assistant, who recognized Tom.

“How are you, Professor Corman?” the young woman asked politely.

“I’m,” Tom began, stumbling over the simple response. “I’d just like to spend some time in the sanctuary thinking, if it’s not too much trouble.”

With a smile, she said, “I’ll just unlock it for you!” Tom followed her and, when she turned the key, he thanked her. “Are you sure you’re alright, sir?” she asked with concern.

“I’ll be fine in a little while,” Tom said with a smile well-crafted to disarm the woman’s worry. “I just need some time to reflect.”

“I suppose we all just need to get away sometimes,” she mused. “Let me know when you leave so I can lock up?”

“Of course,” he said, mustering a bright smile. “Thank you for your assistance….”

“Any time, professor,” she said, smiling and walking off, apparently having decided Tom was okay enough to be left alone.

Tom sat numbly in the front pew and put his head in his hands, but the words wouldn’t come. Suddenly with a burst of aggressive emotion, Tom rose and strode up to the ark which held the Torah scrolls. He drew back the curtains angrily and yelled, “WHY ME? I AM NOT ENOUGH FOR THIS!”

The silence in the room was deafening, but Tom demanded answers. From deep within his soul, a force rose up to call the One, or his voice, or at the very least some angelic messenger, to account for his absence. Humankind may be vicious to its very heart, but at last too much was being permitted. The silence wasn’t just deafening: it indicted Heaven.

“Ancient of Days,” Tom demanded with the firmness of a man of conviction, “I call upon you today to submit to justice! I bring a complaint against you, and there is no Judge who can adjudicate between you and me.”

A deep rumble like distant thunder answered him from beyond the ark, but that was punctuated by silence. “You send someone down here to speak to me! I’ve met half the hierarchy of Hell, and they can’t wait to help. WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOU?!”

An eddy of wind manifested inexplicably from the ark, and bore a whisper aloft to him: ‘I. Have. Been. With. You. Always.’

“I feel so alone,” Tom said, a tear forming in the corner of his right eye.

‘You. Are. Never. Alone.’

“Help me,” Tom pleaded.


Tom fell to his knees, then, and whispered, “I just don’t know what to do!” And the answers were not forthcoming.

Salpsan sat cross legged on the floor of the cave playing with some bugs. Of course, playing might be a misleading term for dismembering and reconfiguring different species. The centipede with a scorpion’s stinger was a favorite of his, particularly when he had given it the many eyes of a spider.

Malphas, meanwhile, paced ceaselessly. ‘What are we doing? What are we waiting on?’ he wondered to himself.

“Time,” Salpsan said softly, as if speaking to himself. “We are biding our time, Malphas. We have an advantage: We have an infinite amount of time to wait for just the right moment to act. Their clocks are constantly counting down. Time is on our side. Your constant attempts to outmaneuver Tom almost cost us everything: all it really takes is the one right moment. And then everything falls into place,” he added with a vicious smile, as he put wings on his little monstrosity. The abomination flew off under its own power.

Tom drove from the synagogue without a clear sense of purpose, but with a renewed feeling of calm. He had felt something good, he just wished it would offer some guidance.

All he could think to do was to return home and delve into his most arcane books to see what he had missed, to find a way to combat a being that worried even the devil.

“I’m not worried, Tom,” Satan responded from the passenger’s seat. “I may be a bit anxious to see this ended but I’m not worried. Faith might not be the right word exactly,” he added with a grin, “but our Father will not allow this. I know that.”

Tom snorted, and said, “Perhaps your faith is stronger than mine, Nick….”

“Nick?” Satan chuckled, “I thought that went out of style a long time ago.”

“It did,” Tom smiled grimly. “But my grasp on reality is a bit too tenuous to have a casual conversation about faith in my car while addressing you by name.”

“Tom, the time has come. No more running, no more planning. There’s nothing in your books. He wrote the most powerful book of all, but there’s nothing in it you could use, dear boy,” Satan said with an almost paternal tone.

“There has to be something,” Tom complained.

“There is something,” Satan responded with a nod. “And I can show it to you, but I need you to pull the car over and park before I reveal it.”

Tom pulled into a boutique store’s parking lot, turned the car off, and faced his passenger. “Alright, lay it on me, Nick.”

Satan smiled sadly and said, “The only thing that can defeat Salpsan is inside you. You need the faith to pray, and you need faith in your fellow man. This isn’t yours to carry alone, Tom.” Then Satan patted his chest and said, “Everything he needs is in here!”

Tom looked confused and said, “But….”

“Tom, I’m sorry this has to be so cryptic, that you have to figure it out on your own. But most of all, I’m sorry for what I’m about to do…. Not even I would wish this upon the worst of the worst,” Satan admitted, true regret in his eyes.

“What,” Tom began to ask, but was silenced by the ball of energy Satan had conjured.

“I may not be able to do much given the constraints placed upon me at the fall,” Satan explained, “but for weeks I’ve been gathering energy for just this.” And then the ball exploded and all Tom felt was falling.

Deep in his cave, Salpsan’s childlike brow furrowed with anger and hatred as he snarled, “FATHER!” Then with a glance at Malphas, he said, “It’s not time! Secure the prisoners!”

Before Malphas even had time to register the command, an explosive noise cracked through the room as a body fell into the cave near the smaller cave holding the prisoners. “Who?” Malphas exclaimed.

Tom quickly took in his surroundings and cursed, “Mother fuck!” He rolled and rose, drawing up a quick binding spell with which he entangled Malphas. It wouldn’t hold, but it was only meant to distract the demonic lieutenant long enough for Tom to get his bearings.

“Nice to see you again, Tom,” Salpsan said with a smile.

“Salpsan,” Tom said neutrally as he backed toward the magical cage holding his friends. He could feel its energy and began disrupting it. “I wish I could say the same.”

Salpsan’s boyish giggle was chilling. “I’ve kept your friends alive! I thought about playing with them like I played with the bugs. But I wanted them to fully experience what’s coming.” Seeing Tom’s confusion, Salpsan raised his hand and the flying spider-centipede-scorpion landed gracefully. “The wonders of un-nature,” he laughed.

“Why?” Tom asked simply as his fingers began to move behind his back, unraveling the mystical energy that formed the prison.

“They joined you in resisting me,” Salpsan explained simply. “I thought they ought to see how it all ends, how you end.”

“I have it on good authority that this is not how it ends,” Tom said.

“The Bible? Propaganda,” Salpsan laughed dismissively.

“Not exactly,” Tom rebutted. “I’ve had very interesting conversations with your father.”

Salpsan blinked, momentarily surprised. “I must say, Tom, you are an interesting opponent. Not many of the ‘good guys’ would sit down with my father.”

Tom noticed Malphas was about to break out of his bindings, so he took that moment to bring down the prison holding his friends. They had been preparing to make a break for it, having noticed Tom’s hand gestures. As soon as the mystic door snapped, Tom yelled, “Scatter and defend yourselves!”

David grabbed Sebastien and dragged him off and to the left, sticking to the shadows. Peter and Billy tried to follow but Peter tripped and Billy stopped to help him. Avram and Judah made off in the opposite direction, the mentally incapacitated Shirit in tow. Alasdair ordered the ‘civilians’, Aiden and his parents, along with Roy, to the back of the cave’s prison room, out of the line of sight, and began building circles of protection around them. “Don’t move,” he whispered.

Cho and Dietrich had spread out and begun casting their own circles. The twins, Misha and Alexa, had begun establishing a shared defensive vantage-point when Misha saw Billy trying to drag Peter toward David and Sebastien. Just before Alexa closed her circle, Misha took off toward the boys as Malphas turned his attention toward Billy and Peter.

“NO!” Misha yelled, causing Malphas to spin and fire a wild bolt into Misha’s shoulder, knocking him on his back. Misha barely dodged a second curse by rolling over.

“Misha!” Alexa yelled. “You damned fool!”

Tom was about to attack Malphas and distract him from Misha, when Salpsan said, “Tom! Pay attention!” The boyish demon had an evil gleam when he caught Tom’s eye, but then he added, “Malphas! Stand down!”

The demon looked at Salpsan, confused, but did as he was told. Misha struggled to his feet and stumbled to Peter and Billy to reinforce their position, as silence fell over the room. Billy saw to Peter first, before turning to Misha, whose forehead was covered in sweat. “Are you okay?” Billy whispered.

“Flesh wound,” the Russian laughed weakly, before collapsing.

“Now everyone has a better view! Excellent,” Salpsan said with a smile. “But Tom, you haven’t taken the time to defend yourself?”

“You’d like that?” Tom asked casually, scratching in the dirt with the toe of his shoe.

“Very much,” Salpsan grinned. “The more struggle, the more fun it is!”

“Why should I accommodate you then?” Tom said, like he might to a spoiled child.

“Do you want to die?” Salpsan growled in a way that would have been funny if a real boy had done it.

“I am ready to die if I have to,” Tom declared.

Salpsan sneered and powerful jolts of static charged the room as little bolts sparked off his hair. “I wanted this to last,” Salpsan growled as electricity shot from his eyes at Tom.

Tom held up his hand and, utilizing an ancient Akkadian spell, deflected the energy. “I didn’t say I was going to lie down and die, either,” Tom said evenly.

Salpsan laughed and said, “Good enough….”

Tom fell to his knees then gave himself over to prayer, closing his eyes in the presence of his enemy. Salpsan’s cry of rage at the insult drowned out all other sounds, including the sound of David yelling and berating the son of Satan. Salpsan’s rage then turned on the boy: Salpsan struck out at the teen’s circle, beating at it with all his might.

When Tom opened his eyes and saw Salpsan beating weakly at David’s circle, he thought back to how the demon had waded through his own well-laid home defense spells.

‘Check your shirt pocket, Tom,’ came a disembodied whisper from Hell.

Tom reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a piece of paper, which Satan had slipped into his pocket earlier that day. Tom recognized his own handwriting instantly. He took a small stone and wrapped the paper around it. Catching Billy’s eye, Tom indicated he was going to toss him the stone, which the young baseball player caught easily.

Salpsan turned again to Tom, his anger building with each little misstep. “How dare you turn your back on me, you stinking, hairless ape?”

“How dare you?” Tom snarled. Raising his hand, contempt shining on his face, Tom said, “I bind you, servant of the evil one, child of Satan, first born of discord, Salpsan! I command you, begone into the pit of despair whence you came, never to return!”

Salpsan laughed, but it caught in his throat. He could feel a tingling in his lower back as a gentle force began to build, becoming harsher by the moment. “I’m no fallen angel to be exorcised, wizard! I AM UNCREATED EVIL! I AM THE AFTERBIRTH OF SATAN’S DISOBEDIENCE, THE ONLY THING IN ALL THE WORLD WHICH GOD DID NOT WILL DIRECTLY!”

“And I am not impressed, for I am a servant of the Most High God, El Elyon. It is not I who commands you, but the One who spoke and whole worlds came into being who commands you! The author of life and death commands you!” Tom persisted, stepping towards, rather than retreating from, Salpsan. This time it was Salpsan who involuntarily took a step back, before slamming his fist into the ground and sending a concussion through the room that knocked everyone to their backs and caused debris to crash down randomly.

“Give the paper to David,” Tom called to Billy as he rolled over and pushed himself again to his feet. Billy did as instructed as Tom continued to yell commands at Salpsan as they circled each other.

David took the paper from the stone and read it. Then he read it again. But he could not imagine why Tom would have given it to him.

Just when it seemed Tom and Salpsan’s little game of cat and mouse would intensify, an earthquake shook the floor of the cave, releasing noxious gases into the room.

Salpsan smiled coyly and looked around. “We have a visitor!” Then he laughed easily and said, “Come out, come out, wherever you are!”

The clicking of heels on hard stone announced the newcomer, who walked slowly and steadily into the crowded cavern. “It’s time to end this,” came a deep, resonant voice from beneath a heavy black cowl. The moth-eaten garment looked like it might weigh twenty pounds. It would have been hot in the dead of winter, never mind the sweltering cave.

“But I’m just starting to have fun daddy,” the demon boy said, punctuating his words with a sinister giggle. “Have you projected yourself up to watch me work?”

“Salpsan, this has to end,” Satan said softly, his voice creating a hot wind, noticeable even in the heat. He walked over to Tom and patted his chest with a wink, confirming beyond doubt that he had placed the paper in Tom’s pocket.

“You’re such a prude, dad,” the demon giggled again. “There’s nothing anyone can do!”

“Come back with me to hell,” Satan said, something soft in his voice. “Come on.”

Salpsan walked over to where David shielded Sebastien, before looking over his shoulder at his father, the devil. “This world is so full of soft, pliable flesh and innocent souls. Why would I ever go choose to walk away?”

“I suppose obedience is out of the question,” Satan mused.

“Our father, who art in Hell? Quaint!” Salpsan teased. “We weren’t made for such things as obedience.” Then he chuckled and said, “Well, I wasn’t made for anything at all, much less such things. You and your kind, little rabble rousers corralled in your little prison, cowering before the petty demands of a weak and sniveling god! YOU DEMAND OBEDIENCE?”

“It was always going to come to this, then, wasn’t it, son?” Satan said, the sadness now perceptible. “My Father knew that prison could hold me, and I always knew it could never hold you. But I tried. I didn’t want to see you destroyed.”

“Destroyed?” Salpsan laughed, as if the possibility was absurd. “The only power that has resisted me so far is this petty mortal. And now you’re here to, what, reason with me?”

“No,” Satan said, raising a hand. “I’ve come to stop you.” Suddenly five ropes of fire lashed out from his hand, one from each finger, and began to wrap around the little blond.

Salpsan began to writhe in pain, but more so in anger. “WHAT IS THIS?”

“You’re weakened, son! It must have been your little show to save Malphas, or perhaps going round and round with Tom took more than you realized?” Satan suggested with a withering look at his prince and little brother, who did not yet move to help Salpsan.

”You can’t project this kind of power,” Salpsan whispered with a grimace. “You’re here! That CANNOT be! This wasn’t how it happens!”

“For all your wisdom, son, you cannot see,” Satan said sadly.

Suddenly, Salpsan bucked, thrusting out his slight chest with defiance, and the ropes of infernal power binding him began to crawl back like serpents retreating before fire. “No, father, you cannot see! You have no idea!”

Satan laughed, pouring more energy into his assault. “I’m not leaving without you, son!”

“Without your little princes, you’ll never take me,” Salpsan declared with difficulty. “You’ll exhaust yourself, and I’ll do what God itself had not the will to do. I’ll begin with you, and I’ll destroy them all one by one, until there is nothing of Hell left. Every one of its lords will kneel before me and beg futilely for its existence before I undo it.”

It was a battle of wills, and no one knew, besides Salpsan and Satan, who would win it. Both knew Satan couldn’t last forever. Malphas suddenly yelled, “EVERY LORD?”

“You didn’t imagine you’d be spared, you ignorant monkey?” Satan laughed, huffing with exertion.

“I … I,” Malphas stammered before realizing the truth. He was a dupe and a tool.

“It’s not too late, Malphas,” Satan encouraged him. The renegade demon prince joined his old master in his attack on Salpsan, who groaned in hatred at the betrayal.

“You know why I picked you, Malphas?” Salpsan sneered, his energy flagging. “Because the other princes would never have fallen for this. They’re too smart!” With a deep inhalation, Salpsan stumbled back and to one knee. “How did you get out, father?” he asked, struggling to maintain the expenditure of strength.

“I was released for a time,” Satan replied.

“But why? Why here? Why now? Why, after He has remained aloof for so long?” Salpsan wondered.

“Because Tom prayed,” Satan smiled, a look of disgust creeping into the admiration.

Salpsan laughed weakly and nodded. “In all the eons, I only underestimated him,” the demon said, rising to his feet. All his weakness had been a ruse, a distraction, during which he had drawn more energy to himself from the whirling cosmos. “Peculiar….”

“Get down,” Satan warned, withdrawing his power and forming a shield in a moment. Malphas was a bit slower, but he wasn’t the primary target. Still, the initial blast was devastating. The demon prince’s form flickered as he leaned into the explosive force emanating from Salpsan’s palms and struggled to raise his own defensive powers.

“How is it that, in all the world, I’ve been challenged only by this human and his band of freaks? How is it that, when this man speaks, the One listens?” Salpsan asked with wonder.

“He has always listened to the voice of one man,” Judah coughed. Unnoticed, he’d been injured in the earthquake. Avram held him lying on the ground as he said, “One man, one woman, one child, can always rise up and touch the face of heaven, demon! This is why our power is greater than yours. It’s why we’ll always prevail in the end.”

Salpsan turned his attention to Avram and Judah for a moment, going so far as to turn his back on Satan and Malphas. “Do tell?” Salpsan said with a patronizing smile, kneeling down just outside of Judah’s protective circle. “Your power is greater than mine? Your God is more powerful than me? Then tell me: where is IT now? Where is IT when the circle has turned and the era of man has come to its pitiful anticlimax? If your faith is so great, why won’t you come out and show me?”

“If your power is so great, why won’t you come in and take me?” Judah coughed, his broken rib sending pain down his torso.

Salpsan’s face twitched as he touched the invisible barrier separating him from his captives. His boyish expression returned as, without turning, he said, “Now, now, daddy!”

Satan knew he had never had the element of surprise. He knew too well the extent of the knowledge possessed in the mind of this being, which had been the byproduct of his own malice. Nevertheless, Satan unleashed a torrent of power, further depleting his energy. Salpsan was knocked to the ground face first, and the skin of his porcelain face sizzled as it was driven into Judah’s circle.

Pushing off the ground and rising up against his father’s onslaught, Salpsan turned and said, “My turn!” His counterassault was a punishing display of lightning, which in the closed space of the cave rendered the humans temporarily deaf.

Tom was reeling when Satan caught his eye and raised his hand to his chest. The lord of Hell mouthed to him, ‘I’m almost done…,’ and held out his arms wide, summoning Salpsan’s lightning into his hands.

“Well, well!” Salpsan said, dropping his arms to his side.

“I’ve spent an eternity preparing for this day, Salpsan,” Satan said calmly, moving away from the captives to turn his son’s attention away Tom, who was scooting towards the boys. Satan was so distracted by what Tom did then that Salpsan’s stream of black swirling energy hit him mid-chest and tore his earthly form apart. Salpsan didn’t even turn to look at Malphas: he just pointed back at the demon, who melted, returned to his ancient prison.

“Apparently,” Salpsan said with a smirk, turning to his captives, “an eternity was not enough. Tell me, Tom: that wasn’t all you had planned?”

“I didn’t really even expect that to work,” Tom said his expression flat. David still bore a look of shock and terror as he looked down into his hands, having barely understood Tom.

“Did you … kill him?” Shirit asked, her affect flat. She had checked out mentally when Malphas had killed Elise.

“No, silly girl. He’s back where he belongs until I get around to them,” Salpsan laughed. “Now Tom, is the fun over? Can we begin the formalities of my victory?”

Tom nodded and stood to face Salpsan in a fighting position. “I am not the one you have to fear, Salpsan. I’m not the one who will spell your doom.” Stopping, he began to speak to someone else. “David, you are strong enough. Only you….”

Salpsan chose to ignore Tom’s aside to David for the moment, instead laughing at Tom’s continued insistence on resisting. “Tom, please. I thought we were beyond this. This is … well if it weren’t so pathetic it would be insulting.”

“What’s he doing?” Avram whispered to Judah.

“He’s done what none of us could do,” Judah whispered, his voice strained. “He’s put his trust in the only one who can defeat Salpsan….”

“Not Tom?” Avram asked.

“It was never Tom,” Judah said with a smile. “He’s the only one of us with a small enough ego to put that in someone else’s hands at a time like this.”

Avram looked to David’s trembling hands and saw a sheet of paper being unfolded. “Not the boy,” Avram whispered, and Judah just squeezed his hands as Tom began to circle Salpsan, who played along.

“So we’re not talking anymore, Tom?” Salpsan laughed. “That’s pretty antisocial. You should see someone for that.”

“Be silent, demon,” Tom growled, beginning a new exorcism. “In the name of the Most High God, I exorcise you fell demon, Salpsan, child of darkness, first born of Satan. I cast you down into the pit of your iniquity, to the prison of your family.”

Salpsan’s face twitched, clearly feeling discomfort. “I have borne the brunt of my father’s wrath, mortal. This is ridiculous!” With one finger, he unleashed a massive force against Tom, which pushed the man back but did not knock him down. This infuriated Salpsan, who repeated the move with his whole hand. Tom fell back against the wall of the cave and crumpled to the ground, but Salpsan was livid. “No man could,” he began, but then he heard it. The weak, trembling, frightened voice of a boy.

Salpsan rounded on the circle holding David and snarled, “YOU? YOU!” He began to unleash a new barrage of powerful spells – backed by much more power and hatred than his previous attack on the circle – that caused streaks of liquid fire to shoot off in all directions. Salpsan at last brought his hands down hard against the circle’s walls which did not waver. Again and again he struck, the flesh on his hands sizzling from each contact. David kept mumbling nervously as the shield around him began to shimmer. It was faltering.

“Salpsan,” Tom yelled. “It is not I who commands you, but the Lord God of heaven and earth who commands you. Bow down low before the one who made you! Bow low, and tremble, for the day of your judgment has come!”

“I. AM. NOT. MADE!” Salpsan roared, feeling every word of Tom’s but refusing to take his attention off of David. Every fiber of his being told him he must destroy the boy. “He has NO power over me! He is nothing! HE WILL NOT HELP YOU!”

“David,” Judah called. “Don’t listen to him. The One you are calling on can hear you! Just mean it, David!”

David had tears in his eyes as he kept repeating the words over and over so softly no one could hear them. Sebastien cowered, terrified, at his feet, but as the shield began to falter the small boy stood and put a hand on David’s arm. “David,” he whispered. “Have faith!”

“I do,” David whimpered, “but….”

“In YOURSELF,” Sebastien whispered. “Like I do.”

David looked into Sebastien’s teary eyes and saw in a moment it was true. Even as the shield came tumbling down, the boy’s faith in him was absolute. There was a moment of shock before Salpsan even realized the shield had fallen, but it was too late.

David reached out and put his hands on the boyish demon’s shoulders and squeezed, and the demon howled in pain. David repeated the words, no longer needing the paper: “I am a son of God, I am a child of Light, I am one too strong to fight. The Lord has appointed a thousand of his chariots to go out before me, his four guardians arrayed by my side.” The cave filled with a light so bright it was excruciating. “The morning star is cast down before me, the wicked tremble and crouch down, the noonday demon is stricken, the accuser is held at bay.” The ground began to shake beneath their feet and a crack opened up in the floor of the cave, even as the power coursing down David’s arm drove Salpsan to his knees. “Evil ones, bow down before the servant of your Maker, one who dwells in the presence of the Most High, and fear the mighty power of God, who stands in his place….”

Suddenly a powerful storm wind tore through the cave and cast the humans down – all but David. An indecipherable voice spoke with painful intensity: all present knew they were hearing words, but their minds could not comprehend their contents. The effect was, nonetheless, instantaneous: the veil of perceptible reality peeled back and the sight of a supernal being of light standing before David made Salpsan writhe in unimaginable agony.

From the crack in the ground, the familiar voice of Satan answered an unheard question: “Salpsan cannot be contained! He must be destroyed!” More storm and thunder and indecipherable words of power. Satan responded, “Salpsan has always been outside the order of Hell!” When the light flashed and rumbled once more, Satan growled, “NO!”

The figure of light spoke out of the storm of wind and light, and the sound of a piercing song penetrated from a yet more distant reality, as David continued to hold onto Salpsan, who gradually sank into the cracks in the ground, dragging David with him. The boy knew if he let go it might yet be possible for Salpsan to escape. Suddenly he heard in his ear the sound of a man repeating the words he himself had been chanting. And then he was shoved away, and an explosion of light filled the room with the sound of a crashing tidal wave, and everything was silence.