12:00 on the nose, precisely. The cell phone sounded next to Thomas, pulling the shroud of unconsciousness away. Thomas was surprised that anyone remembered his number, as long as it had been since he had received a call past normal working hours. He was even more surprised by the familiar Alice in Chains song, “Down in a Hole” playing as his ringtone. He hadn’t set it. In fact, he couldn’t even remember what song he’d previously used.
“Hello,” Thomas answered with a half asleep tone.
“Hello, Azazel.” A digitally scrambled voice spoke. Determination of its identity was impossible.
This startled Thomas. In his normal life, he had never used that name, but in the computer world, Azazel was quite frequently adopted as a screen name. He’d picked the pseudonym only because he liked the way it was spelled and how it flowed from the mouth. He had a vague idea of its religious origin, but didn’t care enough to research it thoroughly.
“Who is this?” Thomas asked, obviously disturbed by the breach of privacy.
“Settle down, Azazel, my little scapegoat. I have a task for you.”
“Hold up, tell me who you are, since you know who I am.”
“How about…Lucifer? You are the scapegoat. I am the devil at your side.”
Azazel could almost feel the person smile through the phone as he uttered the analogy. At least a gender could now be given to the mystery person. “Scapegoat?”
“Please tell me you know a little about your name before we progress?” Lucifer toyed.
“Can I look it up?”
“It’s not wise to choose a name with such meaning without understanding it completely. Besides, there’s no time. I have something for you to do.”
“Me?” Azazel was confused. “It’s the middle of the night.”
“Arrive at the Court Street Bridge downtown, the one hanging over the railroad tracks, by 12:10, and your evening is done. I’ll let you be and nothing else will follow.”
Thomas looked at the clock, which read 12:03. He had seven minutes to navigate across town, about four miles. Even with it being a straight shot down Route 17, the road that feeds into Court Street, there were many obstacles that could impede his course. “Hold up, man, I can’t do that! Why the fuck would I just get up and go?”
“12:04, better hurry. You’re wasting time. Your children are waiting.” Sounds of his two boys screaming sent Azazel into a momentary panic. The phone went dead immediately afterwards.
“Fuck!” Azazel screamed as he scrambled for the car keys, forgetting everything else, and shot out the door, not even questioning the motive for the call. He almost broke the phone on the door handle, momentarily forgetting it was in his hand.
Upon the newly acquired adrenaline rush, the previously consumed alcohol hit Azazel hard. Stumbling to the car, he fumbled the keys, scratching up the surrounding paint. The 1986 black and rust colored manual transmission Camaro wouldn’t start because for some reason it was in drive. He couldn’t remember not parking it properly, but the concern slipped away quickly.
Returning the stick-shift to park, Azazel turned the ignition and punched the gas, only to smell burning rubber. The emergency brake was engaged which lead to panic and confusion. He unlatched the e-brake. Four miles he had to go, and four miles was the distance to travel in basically five minutes. He was almost positive it wasn’t an achievable goal, but had to give it a try. Normally Azazel wouldn’t fall for such a game, but the alcohol in his system shorted the thinking process.
The thick layer of fog dropped visibility to less than a block, and his windshield remained saturated with condensation until the defrosters kicked on nearly two miles into the drive. Racing down Route 17 at 70 MPH through 25 MPH speed zones, Azazel held his breath as he nearly T-boned a couple of cars crossing intersections that couldn’t be seen moments before. They had the right of way as he blew through the traffic lights. Luck was being pushed as the Camaro sped into the dark nothingness of fog.
Three hundred feet away, the Camaro flew up the hill leading to the Court Street Bridge. Azazel slammed on the brakes, but the slick roads took their toll on the balding tires, haphazardly launching the vehicle across the bridge. He tried performing a U-Turn, but that forced the car to fishtail, slamming into the corner of the opposite side of the street. The tires hit a curb and the Camaro flipped and rolled into the empty Walgreens parking lot, resting on a set of parking blocks.
To his surprise, Azazel wasn’t knocked out. A sharp pain from the steering wheel impacting his chest quickly dulled as the adrenaline pumped. Freeing himself from the car, something muffled could be heard in the distance. The deadline had been narrowly missed, but he was so close. The Camaro was totaled, so there wasn’t any reason to worry about leaving it behind. It would take the strength of at least four men to flip the car upright.
Azazel felt lucky that the alcohol had been in his system during the accident. If he was sober, his body’s instincts would have caused him to tense up and incur more damage, making him feel like hammered meat after that wreck. As it was, though, he was ready to see what was waiting at the bridge.
Twenty feet away from the overpass, he noticed something dangling from the south side. Fifteen feet, a figure could be made out. Ten feet, the object was clearer and still moving. Five feet, he realized his ex-wife was dangling below, still swaying from just being thrown over the side. His mouth dropped.
Azazel still thought he might have a chance to save Lori. Upon grabbing for the rope, he saw a terrible thing. She was tied up with barbed wire, and he had nothing to cut it with. The jagged wire shredded through the flesh of his hands, and he didn’t have the strength to pull her up, as if she was weighed down. He tried desperately to release the tension of the tightly wound wire to drop her to the ground, but she had clearly perished. He still loved her and frantically fought the inanimate anchor until the phone rang with that same Alice in Chains song.
Tears rolling down Azazel’s eyes, he grabbed the phone with a bloody shredded hand. “What the fuck is wrong with you?” he screamed, terribly angered and horrified.
Lucifer answered calmly, “You didn’t make your deadline. Are you ready to play, now?”
“Fuck you, asshole! I ain’t playing your shit,” Azazel answered, infuriated.
“Maybe you would like to talk with someone?” Lucifer said.
“Dad. What’s going on?” It was the voice of Azazel’s 17 year old son, Luke.
“Luke, are you ok?” Azazel’s tone changed dramatically as he wiped the tears from his face.
Lucifer broke in, “If you succeed at this game, you won’t have to worry about Luke ending up like that lovely cheating ex-wife of yours.” Lucifer didn’t even give Azazel a chance to counter. “Go to the Convenient Store over on Jeffery Street.”
“What about Lori? I can’t leave her here!”
“She’s dead now, and like I said, if you don’t want your kin to succumb to the same fate, do as I require.”
“And what am I supposed to do there?”
“Cheating?” Azazel had a slight suspicion that Lori was unfaithful before they divorced. He still loved his ex, even though she stopped reciprocating years ago. She tried her damndest to urge Azazel to participate in their marriage, but the couch is where he stayed, unwilling to live a normal life.
After climbing down the embankment towards the tracks, Azazel looked up again towards Lori. Her eyes were closed and tears streamed down his face. The thought of this woman out of his life was almost more than he could bear and it weighed heavy on his heart. Five long minutes passed before Azazel could continue onto the commanded path. “I’m sorry, Lori. I still love you.” He gestured by kissing his fingers and waving it in her direction.
A tangle of emotions prevented clear thinking as he headed towards the designated Convenient store a couple miles away. The Court Street Bridge was an overpass for the railroad tracks that essentially created a direct route to Jeffery Street. It was the first time he’d ever walked along railroad tracks, especially one that extended over a waterway like the Cain River, which spanned approximately three hundred feet.
The pain of the accident moments ago surfaced through the adrenaline, and Azazel realized his chest was bruised from slamming against the steering wheel, and his head hurt from the rolling action. Emergency vehicles sped towards the overturned Camaro and Lori’s lifeless body, as evidenced by the sirens breaking the silence. Maybe after this task was over, he’d be able to sort it all out with the police. Just maybe.
He worried about what his task might be at the Convenient Store, not knowing what the psychotic Lucifer had planned. What could the Devil possibly want from Azazel? Nothing made any sense. Azazel was still feeling the strong effects of the cheap gin, and longed for another taste. Something to dull the multiple forms of pain.
Azazel reached the 24-hour Convenient Store and walked in, then anxiously browsed the isles. Tylenol, Red Bull, and bottled water called his name. He approached the counter and was about to pay the cashier when the panic-ushering ring of his cell phone sounded off.
“Kill him.” Lucifer commanded.
“Why? No. Why would I do that?” Azazel walked away from the cashier.
Lucifer instigated, “Because if you don’t do it, then I will. Because he is the man that your wife was cheating on you with. Because he doesn’t know you, yet he took what was yours.”
“Bullshit!” Azazel looked back at the cashier, who suspiciously looked at him. The man was normal build, clean cut, but a cashier, nonetheless. What could his wife have seen in him? The thoughts were crisscrossing his brain. “You can’t be serious. I’ve never done anything like this.”
“You’ve spent the last few years sitting in your living room, watching TV and drinking your life away. You are already dead to the world, so what does it matter if you take someone with you?”
Azazel constantly tried to think of who it could be on the other end of the line. None of his friends kept in contact. What was this about? Revenge? Retribution? He was lost.
“I’m not going to do it,” Azazel said.
“Not even for Luke? You really have given up on your kids, haven’t you?” Lucifer prodded.
“I’m not doing it and that’s it!” Azazel thought taking a firm stand was the wisest route.
With the hostile warning signs popping up, the cashier had the phone and was ready to call the cops. Azazel forgot to pay as he exited the store with his new supplies. An arrow penetrated the blurry fog into the store through the door Azazel was walking out of, impaling the cashier’s head. The cashier dropped the phone and screamed bloody murder as Azazel could only look upon the horror with his mouth gaped open. He thought twice about returning inside because of the cameras, even though he was already recorded on them. He realized they could prove he wasn’t the shooter, so he ran back inside to check on the dying man. Azazel’s phone buzzed as he peered at the nearly-dead cashier, who looked upon his face in terror. Buzz again.
He answered and Lucifer spoke, “Breathe.”
Azazel didn’t realize it, but he hadn’t taken a breath in the minute or two since the arrow hit. How did Lucifer know that he wasn’t breathing? Azazel gasped for air, but it didn’t make him feel any better. The cashier gave his final breath in Azazel’s arms and he cried again. The tear ducts were getting a workout that hadn’t been felt in years, not since the divorce was finalized.
“There you go. Now, I’ll tell you this once, and only once. You have one way of getting out of today with both of your sons and your daughter.” Azazel didn’t even know he had a girl. “You listen to me clearly and precisely, or I’ll make everything look like you did it anyway. Your fingerprints are on the arrow, so pull it out. Then collect the surveillance hard drive in the back. You’re not using this for proof that you didn’t do it. That would make things too easy.”
Azazel didn’t say anything. He just did as he had been told. The arrow had harpooned in tight, and he had to use his feet to hold the head for leverage.
“Hurry!” Lucifer yelled. “Someone’s coming, and if you don’t rush, I’ll have to eliminate them, too. No witnesses!”
Azazel pulled with all his strength and the arrow gave. He ran to the office and found the hard drive recording the event, then found a back door. No alarm sounded, but Azazel panicked because he forgot the phone inside. He ran back in and slouched down. The woman now browsing through the aisles hadn’t noticed the corpse yet, so Azazel had one clear chance to collect the phone. He crept under the counter’s line of sight, and stepped over the dead cashier, seizing the phone as the lady’s footsteps sounded closer. He crawled as fast as he could, still barely hidden, and shot out the back door once again.
Screaming bellowed from the customer as the lifeless body was discovered. Azazel felt terrible for allowing anyone else to witness that terrible situation, but he didn’t have much of a choice. Azazel walked away with tears in his eyes, a bloody arrow in one hand, and the cell phone from hell in the other.
Azazel walked until finding a quiet place to rest. Sitting on a bench in Nebuchadnezzar Park, he wondered why Lucifer hadn’t called yet. The adrenaline of the prior situation subsided and drowsiness kicked in, even with the Red Bull. The alcohol’s depressive effects made staying awake a monumental task. He thought about all that had occurred within the last half hour and couldn’t believe he was involved. Azazel rubbed his chest, cringing as he glided over the bruising from his accident, almost feeling an indent of the wheel. Rubbing the bruise and wincing strangely made him feel more alive than he could remember.
Then more anxiety filled thoughts accumulated. How did Lucifer find Luke? How did he get Lori, his ex-wife? Where were the other kids, and who was this female child Lucifer was talking about? Some pieces fit, while others were completely baffling. Lucifer, what a name, Azazel thought. Today was going to be a hell of a day.