“Belial, wake up.”
Deep within the bowels of the Milwaukee sewer system, he did as commanded and roused from his hiding spot. He had passed out in a small drainage recess, and with a small beam of light reflecting off the water’s surface from a nearby surface grate, it was just enough to allow for a few faint details to be seen. Panic instantly struck him as he realized that someone had uncovered his whereabouts.
“Who are you, and how the hell did you find me?”
“You’re cuter than I expected!” the young feminine voice replied.
Belial gazed upon the girl in her late teens, eyes adjusting to being woken so abruptly, stunned at her audacious intrusion. She was wearing a long, blue skirt that ended just below her knees, and a conservative, loose white shirt. Her brunette hair was pulled back into a pony tail, with a few loose strands falling down on either side of her face. The most striking feature wasn’t her style or pretty facial characteristics, though, it was the assault shotgun that she was holding, with a cylinder drum magazine attached. The innocent-looking young woman handling an AA-12 with such ease horrified Belial, and with her being in such close proximity, waking came as even more of a shock. He didn’t know for sure if she would pose a threat, but chances were good she wouldn’t attack, since it would’ve been easier to ambush him while he slept.
In his early twenties, he was dressed like a vagabond with his clothes shredded to rags. Belial was feeling the effects of The Milwaukee Massacre in full force. In the course of that event, he was pushed nearly to the brink of death as a constant bombardment of .50 cal shells, helicopter armaments, and near unlimited rifle rounds rained down upon him. AFVs--light tanks and fully armed Humvees--accompanied a number of Apache helicopters into the melee. He had ripped through a heavily armed assault party thanks to his Djinn abilities carrying him through the ordeal, but not without massive bodily damage. Towards the end of the battle, a B2 Stealth Bomber attacked him with what could only be described as a sound bomb. It tore away the skin from the front of his body and blew away the top few layers of highway underneath his feet. The group had been trained just for this attack on him, and the only thing he could do was scramble to safety underground, where their sensors and tracking systems couldn’t follow. But apparently, someone else could.
“Seriously, who are you?”
“Not in the mood to check me out a little further?” the young woman toyed, hiking up her skirt just enough to show her knees, swaying her left leg out slightly. She smiled coyly, knowing the intended reaction was occurring.
Belial didn’t realize he had been eyeing her for a few moments while his heart rate returned to a non-panicked level. He felt uncomfortable, especially since it wasn’t clear if she was even of legal age. “What do you want from me?”
“Our mutual friend Mephistopheles wanted me to have a little chat with you. I am Eris, and he said you might need a little help getting your head straight.”
“You know what he just put me through?”
“Nope. Well, kinda. He said you really got fudged up. He also said you were probably succumbing to the Djinn Sickness.”
“That’s what he’s calling the stench?”
Previous to The Massacre, Belial was given a series of abilities; rapid healing, empathy through smell and touch, and incredible strength. The downside, and it was a major one, is that the empathic response forced him to see and feel the dirty deeds that people hide within them, the abhorrent actions of the past that should only be seen on their judgment day. Belial called it a Guilt Pheromone or a Sin Sense. Djinn Sickness made just as much sense to him.
“You must’ve been tapped into their world, huh?” Belial asked.
“You got it, big boy. Can you see this?” Eris pointed towards the area above her skin, her aura. It was red, and a clear indicator that she was indeed tapped into the Djinn life.
“Yes, and I guess it’s safe to say you can see mine?”
Belial’s aura was a deeper red, almost crimson. His was achieved from having a direct connection with Mephistopheles. A typical untapped human boasts a faint orange aura, but the Djinn display many colors. Those brought into the fold by Mephistopheles all share the reddish bodily illumination. These auras could typically only be seen by others who had been introduced into the Djinn world in one way or another, with the exception of a few natural talents.
“Yes sir! So, now that you’ve gotten your butt beaten pretty hard, would you like to learn some technique?”
“And you’re the one to teach me?” Belial scoffed.
“Listen, buddy, I’m a bit more experienced than you’d expect. This thing right here is my best friend and she really knows how to knock the living crap out of an enemy!” Eris swung around her AA-12 as if it were a Super Soaker. The action disregarded all caution.
“Where the hell did you come from, church? Don’t you cuss?”
Eris giggled. “Ha! Church is right.”
Belial looked at her with several levels of contradicting thoughts. “But you have no problem killing a fellow man?”
“The world’s full of ding dongs, and if they need to be removed, well…” Eris spun in a circle and swung the AA-12 around again. “Boom!”
Belial recoiled by ducking. “What the fuck! Who gave you that gun? Are you sure you don’t need some lessons?”
“The safety’s on. Stop worrying so much.” Eris haphazardly squeezed on the trigger, and as she expected, no round shot out. “See?!”
Belial’s heart still raced. This was by far the rudest awakening he had ever been granted. “Jesus help me…”
“You’re praying? Who’s the church person now?!” Eris smiled and snickered, which was simultaneously innocent and demented. “Can we get out of here? It stinks and I’ve been down here too long anyway. The walls are feeling a little tight! LOL.”
Eris guided Belial through the maze of sewers. There were tunnels weaving in all directions, all a head-length shorter than his own height. It was an uncomfortable return to the surface. He was far from confident that his new companion was on his side, but since she discovered him where no other being should have been able, he rolled with it. She was a pro through the tunnel system, easily dancing along the filthy vermin infested underground walkways, effortlessly tiptoeing along the narrow corridors and bobbing under stone protrusions until her entry point was reached. A moist, rusty ladder greeted Belial, who felt uneasy about returning to the surface, but to his surprise, no search parties were anywhere near his current location.
“Where are they?” Belial asked.
“Who? The military? Oh, they went away.”
“By whose authority? I killed a few of them. They wouldn’t just go away.”
“Admiral Baphomet, of course!” Eris gleefully replied. “Great guy. I hope that attack didn’t hurt your feelings too much.”
“My feelings weren’t what I was worried about. I feel like hammered shit that got smeared across the highway.”
“Yuck, who would hammer poop?” Eris asked, rhetorically.
Eris guided Belial to a blue Maserati Ghibli and threw her AA-12 into the back seat, disregarding any caution yet again. Belial cringed at her recklessness and was terrified at the thought of allowing her to drive such a magnificent sports car. Holding his tongue, he reluctantly slipped into the passenger side, leather bound seat.
“Don’t worry, Belial, I’m a great driver. Watch! This car goes crazy fast!”
Eris tapped on the exceptionally sensitive accelerator and smoked the rear wheels as the vehicle darted up an entry ramp onto the nearby Southbound Interstate 43. Belial realized with all the underground navigation, he really hadn’t traveled very far from where The Massacre took place. Eris floored it onto the three-lane road and swerved effortlessly and carelessly through the traffic, as if she were playing a video game. He wondered if her mind was reacting to Reality like it was digital.
“Listen, I know I have tough skin, but could you please slow down a bit? You’re making me queasy!” Belial complained.
“Quit being a prude. My reflexes are incredibly heightened by my time with Mephistopheles. Watch, I can drive backwards!”
Eris wildly cocked the steering wheel to the left and spun the car, then tossed it into reverse like a pro stunt driver. She nearly hit a vehicle in the left lane and forced one on the right to swerve to avoid collision. The Ghibli kicked back, and while it managed to momentarily maintain speed while in reverse, it slowed due to the transmission having difficulty at such high speeds.
Belial’s eyes grew large and his mouth dropped. His heart sank and his belly groaned. Belial did the only thing he could think of, he bailed. He rolled down the window and, as the car decelerated to 60 MPH, he slipped out like a bass from a fisherman’s hands. If Eris was a cruel joke sent by Mephistopheles, he wanted no part in the gag. As he glided through the air, he wished the ground wasn’t approaching so quickly. He tumbled into the nearby median cement partition. Another car was diverted by Belial’s quick departure, and Eris hit the brakes. Belial reeled in pain as he crashed into the barrier separating the two sides of the highway, but recovered with a rolling hop and leapt across the southbound lanes using the remaining momentum. He dodged incoming traffic like an accelerated game of Frogger.
“You’re not getting away that easy, bae!” Eris yelled, teasingly.
“What the fuck…” Belial said to himself, irritated by the new pet name, and tried to catch his breath as he found a temporary hiding spot behind a tree opposite to Eris’s side of the highway.
Belial ran through the nearby forest preserve on a paved trail running along the Milwaukee River, and hoped a tracking device wasn’t implanted into his body. That would explain how Eris followed him, not to mention the military forces. They shouldn’t have been so well prepared. Although his body was heavily damaged, it was more of a devastating blow to his morale. Bad memories of that recent one-man war really cast doubt on his stealth capability. He needed to find a doctor, legal or otherwise, who’d be able perform a scan, but could he just walk into a hospital without garnering unwanted attention? He figured it was worth the risk. With Eris nearby, he had to do what he could, as soon as possible.
Unfamiliarity of the area made trying to find a hospital more difficult than Belial liked, but to his delight, the Golden Apple Health Center came into view two blocks away from the preserve, through a small residential area and next door to Malcolm’s Liquor & Snacks/Tire Exchange. It was slightly run down, with weeds poking through the sidewalks and building crevices, and rust trailing down the walls from the exposed metal frame sources such as the gutter drains. He walked into the over-crowded emergency room and was instantly gasping as his Guilt Pheromone kicked in. Not all of the patients of this clinic were worth saving, but this wasn’t the time for Belial to cast judgment, so he headed straight towards the front counter.
“May I help you?” the female receptionist asked, not bothering to look up as she smacked on her peppermint gum.
Her hair was long on top, but the buzz cut around the sides and back really bothered Belial. He could smell a slight tinge of the Sin Stench fleeing her obese body, mixing in with other pungent fried food odors, but he ignored the combined repulsiveness.
“I really need to see a doctor at this very moment. I’m in a bit of a hurry.”
Methodically, the blasé CNA responded, “Fill this paperwork out and have your insurance card ready. The line starts there, so please take a…”
“No, Alice, you misunderstand,” Belial whispered as he touched the hand that was extended out, holding the paperwork. The contact was all he needed to channel the thoughts. “I must see a physician right now. You wouldn’t want the police to know that you’ve been collecting the Hydrocodone and Oxycontin for your own personal use, would you?”
The words of accusation inadvertently flowed out of Belial’s mouth. Belial’s frantic mental state allowed an abrupt telepathic union from which he pulled the necessary information for blackmailing the 20-something pill-popper. Alice looked up, stopped chewing her gum, immediately stood up and ushered Belial into the only open waiting room. All the others were filled with patients that had been waiting for hours, and Belial could almost feel their collective frustration with the government-subsidized clinic.
Alice’s words were faintly unnerved, “You’re not going to say anything to the doctor now, are you?”
“If you keep your mouth shut, I’ll keep my mouth shut. You should probably quit using if you know what’s good for you, though. Trust me on this.”
She nodded and reluctantly left Belial’s side, unclear if she could trust this random man that knew her most incriminating work related secret. During the short mental bridge, he wasn’t able to withdraw any additional useful information, so he assumed the theft was at the forefront of her thoughts. Belial reminisced on his days as a drug head. He indulged in everything, from frequent weed parties to occasionally snorting cocaine, and even hit the crack pipe once. A few times he partook of heroin when he could afford it, so he understood Alice’s desire for consuming a dangerously high concentration of the Hydro and Oxy.
Belial had popped pills a few times as well, whenever his mother or sister had a stash in the house during their times of recovery. They always wondered where the remaining pills went, but never accused him. They even stuck up for him when the extended family demanded that he return the loot. Raiding medicine cabinets was a frequent hobby of his as he enjoyed the thrill of doing something wrong.
Five long minutes passed in the waiting room as Belial anxiously anticipated the doctor’s visit. Finally, the long and auburn-haired female doctor entered and shook Belial’s hand. “Good day, Mr. Anonymous,” She teased with a soft but stern feminine voice. “What would you like me to call you?”
Gathering only minor discrepancies in her history, like a tryst with a colleague, Belial’s artillery for blackmail would be limited. Fortunately, he found she was willing to uphold his secrecy in exchange for a favor from the young receptionist. The doctor didn’t know the receptionist was a thief, but she liked the young girl and tried her best to keep her straight.
“Well doc, thank you for not getting offended by seeing me before everyone else. I have an urgent, pressing matter and it’s quite time sensitive.”
“A true emergency takes precedence over most of the cases out in the waiting area. I sort through many of them based on the regularity of their visits. As it is, six of my patients happen to be frequent fliers. I do not cast judgment. I just make them wait a little longer. I trust this is a true emergency, then?”
Belial nodded, although he wanted to say that he knew that she passed judgment on every single patient. She was doing so with him at that very moment. “I need you to find a tracking device implanted in me. I don’t know where it is, but…” He noticed the instant glare of dismissal on the doctor’s face, the look of a person talking to a patient with paranoid schizophrenia. He stopped talking for a moment to figure out how to make her believe. “Look, I know you’re not going to believe me if I continue that sentence without giving you something believable to counter it, so here you go.”
“I’m glad you said it.”
“Doctor Millie Beckson, you studied at Chicago Medical School and graduated with honors. You managed to make it through to the finals without a problem, but the night before, you spent with two men who took advantage of your inebriated state. You weren’t mad at them, although it left you with a nasty little disease that you still carry with you till this day. No one else knows about this, do they?”
Her eyes grew large, and her mouth opened as if she were about to speak, but she remained silent.
“I only tell you this because I want you to understand that I’m not paranoid. I literally have someone looking for me right now, and I don’t know how they’re finding me. The only thing I can narrow it down to is that something must be in my body that I can’t find. I need help, and fast.”
“Very well. Take off your shirt and we’ll start there. What should I call you?”
Dr. Beckson laughed, “The Worthless One. Are you?”
“I was, once. Then someone transformed my life. I don’t know what I am now.”
The doctor traced her fingers along all the ridges and creases of Belial’s chiseled body. Since enduring the metamorphosis, his metabolism accelerated into hyper mode, burning all unnecessary fat off his body. “My god, you have a lot of scar tissue. You really must’ve had some wild teenage years. And where are your fat reserves? Are you a body builder?”
Belial chuckled lightly, knowing that Millie was slightly aroused, but he wasn’t going to initiate an impromptu rendezvous. He also worried that even though his body had an incredible healing factor, the disease mentioned moments before remained within her. “No, I don’t lift weights, and you wouldn’t believe me if I told you the truth. Besides, the scar tissue is from two days ago. I had a bit of a rough time.”
“Impossible! This deformation is that of years of…what is this? Why did your skin form…” She was once again at a loss for words. “This isn’t natural.”
“I know it’s not. That’s why we kind of need to hurry. Is there a machine that could find the thing that might be inside me?”
“We could do a full body CT scan, but there’s a good possibility that what you think might be inside you could be too small to be seen.”
Weighing his options, he figured it would be worth a look. “Could you do it right now?”
“I’ll need authorization, but yes.”
“Let me know who to talk to so I can force this along.”
“Come with me.”
Dr. Beckson led Belial through a corridor into an adjacent wing of the hospital. Just before reaching the office, a bench appeared half a room away with a particular person waiting for him.
“I told you you’re not getting away, Belial.” Eris smiled.
Belial was about ready to run as Dr. Beckson stood in shock. If there were any doubt in her mind of Belial’s truthfulness, it disappeared.
“I think we got off on the wrong foot,” Eris said.
“Yes, we did. You’re fucking crazy!”
“There’s no tracking device in you, honey. It’s my gift, like that handy dandy telepathic touch you were granted.”
“What is this?” the doctor asked, disbelieving she was in the middle of such a conversation.
“Hi, I’m Eris.”
Eris extended her hand. Millie reluctantly met the gesture, unclear of what was going on. The moment their skin contacted, Eris sent out a wave of relaxing energy with the effects resembling morphine. “Perhaps you should sleep,” Eris replied. “You’re hallucinating.”
“Perhaps I should.” The doctor sat on the bench and rested her eyes. A moment later, she had clearly slipped into The Dreaming.
“That’s fucking scary.” Belial’s eyes were wide open.
“Don’t worry. I can’t do it to other Djinn, yet. Anyways, could we have a real discussion?”
“Only if you’re not driving while we’re doing it.”
“Here, you can have the keys. I was just hazing you. Welcome to Djinn Life, bae!”
“God, I hate that word.”
“I know. Djinn is such a stupid word. Who’s the a-hole that put a silent D and an extra N in the word?”
“What?” Belial thought about it. “No, I was talking about bae. Was babe so hard to say that it needed to be abbreviated?”
“You’re so silly! I think I love you, bae!”