The Devil's Apprentice

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic

There was a dead woman in Ma's bed. It wasn't Ma, thank the Lord - I hadn't seen her in years, an' she was always spittin' mad when she came - but this was a new woman. She was the third soul I'd seen in my damned house all week, but unlike the others this one wasn't moanin' like somethin' fierce. No, she just watched me with them glassy eyes, the gash across her chest bleedin' onto her white gown like the roses that were thrown on her coffin.

I licked my lips - talkin' to the dead always dried me out like 'em - and said soft-like, "Ms. Thorpe? We put you in the ground yesterday, what're you doin' up?"

"He knows about you, he's comin' for you," Ms. Thorpe gasped with a breath that reeked of embalmin' fluid. It almost distracted me from her words.

"Who's comin'?" I demanded, my heart racin' like it did every day I was in the hospital.

Ms. Thorpe said nothin', just crossed herself with grey fingers and clutchin' her rosaries so tight they shook.

"Ms. Thorpe if you will not speak to me then I ask that you git out of my house and back into your mother lovin' coffin!"

The rattlin' of her beads stopped as she fixed her dead eyes upon me. The whole collar of her gown was wet with blood.

"You helped me when it was my time, so I owe you a favor, but don't scold me for shakin' in my boots," she said in a voice as cold as the earth she would sleep in. "Now I wasn't a good little lady, I know who's comin' for me. The worms told me he was on his way. 'Say, you look awful pretty for a corpse, almost like you ain't dead. Who did that?' An' they didn't wait for me to speak, they just dug in my brain. 'Annabelle Lewis, such a pretty name.'

Ms. Thorpe stopped as she started to sob, the shakes wrackin' her body so hard I swore she was about to fall to pieces right there. My bones felt grave-dirt cold: she couldn't even tell me who was comin', it scared her so bad.

"When is he comin'? If you won't tell me who, then when?" I demanded, crossin' the room so fast my boots thudded like thunder across the floor. I gripped her arms an' shook her, her dead blood spillin' over my hands.

She didn't have the chance to answer. Three sharp knocks echoed up from the front door. Ms. Thorpe gasped, apologized, then my hands were grippin' nothing, just slick with her old blood. I let out a curse my Pa would've been proud of, lookin' at the heap of grave dirt Ms. Thorpe left behind as my guest knocked again.

"Just a minute!" I called out in a voice so sweet it would've charmed the devil, and quick-like cleaned myself up before dashin' downstairs to greet who came. They had scared Ms. Thorpe good, so when I opened the door the last person I was expectin' was a fellow as handsome as the one who greeted me. He was dressed like he'd just left a funeral, coat as black as sin swallowin' the light of the sun. His skin was so pale, I don't think he'd ever seen the sun. From under his wide black hat trailed a wisp of cigarette smoke, curlin' through his wild dark hair as he watched me with eyes more hallowed 'n night.

Foldin' my arms as I scowled at the smoke, I told him, "Those things'll kill you, you know."

He let out a breath of a laugh and pulled the stub from his lips, smashin' it in the soil. "They haven't yet." Lookin' hard at me, he asked, "Annabelle Lewis?"

"Who's askin'?"

The man nodded and pushed past me, ignorin' me to tell him to stop, to tell me who he was, anythin'. He just sat at my kitchen table like he owned it, slingin' clean black boots up an' in my face.

"Either tell me who you are or git out," I snapped, shovin' his feet aside. He held up his hands in surrender.

"They told me you were special but they didn't say you were feisty," he chuckled, soundin' like a storm brewin' on the horizon. Stickin' out his hand like he was belittlin' himself, he introduced himself, "Adrian Lawson."

Keepin' my arms folded, I demanded, "What do you want, Mr. Lawson?"

"You," he replied so simply as if this were obvious. "Word has it that you're the witch of Coal Junction, that you can summon the dead."

My heart fluttered. Only the town knew that, and they were too scared to let that news get out. An' well, I couldn't summon anyone, the dead came to me, always have, but most of the town just thought somethin' was wrong with me. So how did this man know? Was he the one talkin' with the worms in Ms. Thorpe's head?

"I'm afraid I don't know what you're talkin' about," I said with a quick smile, hopin' he couldn't hear my racin' heart.

"No one likes a liar, Annabelle," he sighed.

"'Scuse me?"

"I know damn well what you can do. Did you think that no one listens to the worms in that pit you call a cemetery? I know you can hear them too, screamin' at you to help."

Barely trustin' my voice, I whispered, "Who are you?"

Throwin' up his arms, he retorted, "I can talk to worms in the cemetery, what does that tell you?"

My breath caught in my chest. No way this man was. "Lord?"

"I talk to worms, Annabelle. No way in Hell would He do that."

The clock ticked so loud it sounded like church bells. I watched the man, exhudin' a darkness that ate at the light in my kitchen like starvin' wolves.

"... Death?"

"Close enough. Now, you can bring souls to me faster than if we let 'em go to Heaven or Hell like they normally do--"

I held up a shakin' finger, not trustin' my voice right away. "You're tellin' me you're Death, an' you want my help." Lookin' up at him with fire in my eyes, I continued, "You let my Pa die in the mines. You let my kid sister drown. You let my Ma go so mad with loss that she took her life." Part of me was ashamed to let him see me cry, but I was too angry to care. "You didn't help me when I needed it, so why the hell should I help you now?"

He said nothin' for a few minutes, watchin' his hands like they would tell him what to say.

"I am sorry for all that you have lost, an' hope that you can look past my failures to help me now." He gazed at me with a look so sorry I nearly forgave him on the spot. "But you can help the souls of today. I just hope that you care more about that than hatin' me."

"An' another thing, why should I help you? Pretty sure you've got this takin' souls business figured out." I could still feel my blood boilin' but could tell it was startin' to cool.

"You want to be the witch of Coal Junction your entire life? Souls are waitin' centuries to get where they need to go, an' you can help 'em through faster. An' I'm pretty sure the angel of Coal Junction has a better ring to it than the witch of Coal Junction."
"Why can't you do anything about it? I thought Death had the final say in everythin'."

"I can't interfere. I can see the problem but I can't fix it. But you can do it for me. Instead of being accused of stealin' souls, you can be savin' 'em."

"How am I supposed to do that?"

Diggin' in his coat for somethin', I watched as he pulled out a glass vial the size of my thumb, full of liquid that sparkled like gold.

Pickin' up the glass and twistin' in the light, he said more to himself than me, "With this. It's holy water. It'll wash out any bad thing in a person an' keep them alive."

Hypnotized, I reached for it, but he snatched it away. "I will give this to you, but only on the condition that you listen to me. If I tell you to use the bottle on someone, you do. If I say not to, you don't. I won't tolerate you challengin' my decisions, alright?"
Honestly if he asked me to stand on my head without a stitch on me, I'd've said yes. The way that the light caught that gold was singin' to my soul like a choir of angels.

Releasin' his hand from it, he slid it to me. He disappeared into my house, but with the bottle in my fingers, I didn't care. The glass was colder 'n ice, freezin' my hand no matter how tight I gripped it.

"An' don't drink it. You ain't the one that's dyin'."

We quick-like got to work, Mr. Lawson accompanyin' me every day to the hospital. No one liked me there anymore, not after the rumors that I was rootin' through the cemetery like some unholy hog, but after they saw me save patients with that bottle, they started warmin' up to me again.

Usin' it was awful strange though. I put three drops on their tongue like Mr. Lawson told me, but they acted like I was givin' 'em old sewer water. They'd try to spit it back up, retch on the floor, anythin' to get the taste gone.

It wasn't long before Mr. Lawson was tellin' me to use the bottle for everybody. I thought it was mighty strange that he was savin' so many people; I definitely didn't want any souls to go to Hell, but I felt like there should be balance. I said as much to him an' he just smiled at me an' said that he knew what he was doin', that I shouldn't worry about all the good work I had done.

But doubt began to wind through my bones like a snake in the tall grass. In my soul I could feel that somethin' wasn't right, but Mr. Lawson said that the stuff was holy water. Death was tough, but he wouldn't lie, right?  

Summer rolled across the Junction with waves of bitin' bugs, blazin' sun an' thick heat. Lots of farmers came in with splittin' headaches, so dizzy they couldn't walk straight. We'd always had lots of folk comin' in because of the heat, but never this many.
Mr. Lawson livened right up. He had me use the bottle on everybody that came in, which struck me as strange. They weren't dyin', they were just in the sun too long. I told him my concern an' he just smiled at me an' told me to keep up the good work.

He must've had me usin' the stuff because it was so cold. As the heat crawled into the hospital, it felt soothin' in my hand, and I had to remind myself to not drink it like Mr. Lawson said. But that got harder an' harder as the days got hotter an' hotter, until one day I couldn't take it anymore; the heat was too much for me to handle.

I cradled the bottle an' stared at it for a long time, feelin' frost crackle across my skin. I blocked out all the people reactin' to it bad, only thinkin' of how cold it must be down my hot throat.

Only two drops, I told myself. Three was for the dyin', an' that wasn't me. I popped the lid, ignorin' the stink it gave off, an' poured it onto my tongue.

It dripped down like honey but tasted so awful, I started coughin' an' sputterin'. I instantly felt cold, even though I could've sworn I was coughin' my soul up. I could feel shadows racin' through my veins, chillin' my bones so cold I started to shiver in spite of the heat.

As I caught my breath again, I looked out over the room. Shadows that I knew to hide in the corners were creepin' across the floor. The shadows under the bench I sat on started creepin' out an' started crawlin' up my leg, colder 'n ice an' not carin' when I jumped up an' tried swattin' 'em away.

When they sunk into my legs, fadin' like smoke, all of me went numb. All of a sudden, I didn't care about savin' nobody. All my work with Mr. Lawson over the past few months felt pointless. Continuin' felt like a waste of time.

I rolled the bottle in my hand, light dancin' off the gold in it. It used to sing to me, but now it moaned like whatever was inside was cryin' to get out.

It rolled to my fingers, an' part of me didn't mind if it crashed to the floor. I knew that it held a power I had no business playin' with, even if Mr. Lawson was guidin' me.

As if summoned by my thoughts, Mr. Lawson appeared - did that much darkness always hang around him? - an' he closed his hand over mine, savin' the bottle from crashin' to the floor.

His fingers dug in like claws, colder 'n ice, colder 'n the bottle. The look he gave me was colder still.

He didn't say anything as he turned an' walked away from me. The darkness trailin' behind him said enough.

As the heat of summer died down an' faded into the bite of autumn, I started feelin' like my old self again. Unfortunately, that seemed to bring a new wave of people to the hospital. They were comin' in complainin' of stomach aches. Patients would say their bellies felt full of snakes, twistin' an' writhin' an' bitin'. No one could figure out what was going on, but everybody in the hospital looked to me with my magic bottle to save 'em.

After drinkin' it myself, I couldn't stand to give it to nobody else. It shriveled up my soul like old fruit on the vine; no way could I force other people to feel like that.

But as much as I hated usin' the stuff, I had no choice but to use It. Patients came floodin' in from all over the region just for the hope of bein' cured. Reporters, hearin' about what I could do, filled the town like flies. Churches all across the state were conflicted about what I could do. Some praised me for doin' the Lord's work, while others damned me for the same reason.

I had stopped goin' to church after I drank from the bottle. I didn't feel like my soul was worth savin' anymore. I knew that the colored light from the windows wouldn't warm my skin, the sweet singin' wouldn't touch my heart. I wanted to throw the damn thing in the quarry for what it took from me, but knowin' what it gave others kept it in my hand.

One quiet afternoon, light streamin' from the windows like the Lord Himself was watchin' me work, frail Mrs. Peterson came in, wheeled in in her chair with arms clamped around her belly an' the cross hangin' from her neck. My heart sank; she was the light of Coal Junction an' I didn't want to be responsible for keepin' her shinin'.

I was brought to her bedside, clutchin' that bottle that was colder 'n ice. Mrs. Peterson caught sight of it as the doctor was talkin' to her an' she looked at it like it was a knife I had brought to cut out her heart.

As soon as the doctor left, Mr. Lawson swaggered in. Patients never saw him, but Mrs. Peterson gasped and started prayin' at the sight of him.

He grimaced like she was shoutin', an' said "Save this one" before quick-like walkin' away. As soon as he was gone, she grabbed me an' pulled me close.

"Do you have any idea who that was?" she hissed, lookin' behind me like she was scared of Mr. Lawson returnin'.

Pryin' her white knuckles off my arm, I told her calmly, "It's alright, that's Death."

She shook her head so fierce, I thought she was about to shake herself onto the floor. "Death came when my Maggie fell out of our apple tree so long ago, and that ain't him."

Chills rolled down my spine, freezin' me. "Who is that man?"

Mrs. Peterson crossed herself before she hissed, "The devil!"

The claim was so ridiculous that I couldn't help but laugh. "Mr. Lawson? The devil? I don't think so."

"Ain't you wondered why the dead stopped comin' to you?" she pressed, clutchin' her cross so hard I thought she would cut herself. "They're afraid of him draggin' 'em to Hell if he sees 'em."

I gave a laugh again but I could feel the smile slidin' from my face. Come to think of it, I hadn't seen the dead in my house for ages. Even Ms. Thorpe so long ago couldn't bring herself to tell me that he was comin'.

"You was the angel of this town, but you dirtied your feathers by helpin' that man," Mrs. Peterson said, pullin' me from my thoughts as she shook her head.

"Now listen here," I snapped, feelin' shadows bestir in my veins. "No one is questionin' that you're the most pious of this town, but you don't get to shame me for helpin' him when I thought he was someone else."

"It's all cause you stopped goin' to church," she continued, an' for a moment I swear I saw a halo gleamin' over her head, and Lord be damned, I wanted to break it.

Feelin' the shadows curl around my heart, I growled, "The Lord is with us even if we don't go to His house." She was testin' me an' I could feel somethin' in me rise to the challenge. I couldn't figure what it was, but it was dark, an' I could feel it gatherin' ice in my hands.

Mrs. Peterson puffed up like a proud hen an' said, "You ain't been comin' 'cause you're loyal to the devil."

The darkness swallowed me whole at her claim. It struck like snakes, an' in a heartbeat my hand was pushin' against Mrs. Peterson's chest. With weak hands she scratched at my arm, callin' out for help that I knew wouldn't come.

Her light was easy to find. Brighter 'n the sun an' quicker to come 'n her soul - I didn't want that; thick as molasses an' just as messy - an' it came to my hand like a puppy, all eager for my touch.

I was too distracted by the light of her life to care about her gaspin' an' sputterin' for breath; rather, the shadows takin' hold of me did. I knew I was killin' the saint in this town, but the thing controllin' me didn't care about that. All it wanted was to put her fire out.

An' it did. As the shadows left me, I could feel the dyin' light of Mrs. Peterson, like someone leavin' a room with a lit candle. I tried to bring 'em back, pleadin' with the Lord to breathe life back into her flame, but it was useless. She went cold like dyin' embers, hand grippin' her cross as if to remind Death where to take her.

The REAL Death, I told myself. I clenched the bottle, lookin' into Mrs. Peterson's eyes that were blue as the skies she wouldn't see again.

She didn't deserve this. I knew the snakes in her belly was Mr. Lawson's doing. All those people I thought I saved were bound for Hell. I didn't know how, but it was a feelin' in my gut surer than anythin'.

I gazed down at the bottle. Even though I knew what it was, part of me wanted to save it, to keep that gold liquid dancin' in the light. My fingers curled around it, the cold glass stingin' my sweaty palm, an' in the blink of an eye I raised it over my head and threw it into the ground.

The sound of it smashin' was drowned out by the roar of screams, deafenin' as the gold liquid bubbled and hissed across the floor. Shadows erupted from the shinin' puddle, cryin' out as they disappeared into the ceiling.

Then I swore they started lookin' right at me.

I didn't stay to make sure; I was out of that room as fast as could be, hands fumblin' to shut the door behind me. Nurses were lookin' at me strange, wonderin' why I was makin' such a racket an' breathin' so hard.

When I didn't feel thuds at the door, I started to doubt that anythin' bad was there, that everythin' Mrs. Peterson said about Mr. Lawson was nonsense, the crazy ramblin' of a dyin' woman.

But in my bones I could feel those shadows takin' root like weeds, fillin' my soul with soot.

I had to talk to him, just to lay my worries to rest.

Boots clashin' like thunder across the room, I stomped up to the doctor I'd been workin' with an' asked where Mr. Lawson went. Well, demanded.

"I thought he told you."

"Told me what?"

"Told you he was leavin'."

I blinked in surprise, too shocked to be mad. "He told me no such thing. Where did he say he was goin'?"

The doctor shrugged. "He didn't say, but he looked madder 'n a wet hen after he left here."

I didn't even say thank you before runnin' outside. Anger started fillin' me as I noticed the sky. At the edge of town I could see the white clouds turnin' black. I knew right away that it was Mr. Lawson's doin', so like a fool I ran towards the growin' storm.

The closer I got, the fiercer the wind started to blow. Branches full of dyin' blossoms whacked me across the face, warnin' me to turn back. But I could feel those black clouds call to me, even with the wind howlin' like a ghost. I had to speak with Mr. Lawson or die tryin'.

The cracklin' of the clouds around me mirrored the anger in my heart at the sight of him headin' out of town, not carin' about the flashes of lightnin' above us.

"Mr. Lawson!"

I shouted just as a spear of lightnin' came down between us. I was mad enough that I knew he could hear me over the din, yet he kept on walkin'. The rage of the storm was fillin' me as I ran up to him, grabbin' him by the arm an' whirlin' him around to face me.

"Get off me, Annabelle," Mr. Lawson snapped as he pulled his arm away, his voice boomin' with thunder.

"Not before you tell me why you're leavin'!" I roared back.

"You want to know why I'm leavin'? After you drank the ambrosia an' acted against what I said? Hellfire, Annabelle, I knew you were gullible but I didn't know you were stupid."

"'Ambrosia'? That stuff was worse 'n lickin' a town of boots."

"It doesn't matter how it tasted, it got me souls," he scoffed. "My business here is done. To Hell with you. Oh wait!" His lips curled into the most awful smile. "You drank the stuff, so I'll be seeing you there!"

My heart stopped. "But I didn't drink three drops."

"That doesn't matter. Any damns your soul. I just like the number three so I told you three. And you gave people that stuff for months. Your soul is far from clean, and it is mine."

I wanted to scream and cry and damn him, but more than anything, I wanted to hurt him. Not just for what he did to me, but what he did to Coal Junction. He let me give people hope, an' now I knew he was just pullin' the rug out from under 'em.

With a scream as loud as the lightnin', I struck at Mr. Lawson. I would have hit him, except he grabbed my arm first an' forced it to my chest, holdin' it there with an icy hand.


"I can't have you hangin' around, claimin' I'm the devil," he panted, unholy light dancin' in his eyes.

The ice from his hand was crawlin' to my skin, freezin' everythin' in me.

As I felt it freezin' my heart, I knew this was the end.

"Goodbye, Annabelle," he relented with a sneer as he pushed me away, lettin' me fall into the soil. "It was fun while it lasted."

I lost sight of him walkin' away as my sight went dark. I could feel my soul slippin' away from me like someone with a candle leavin' a room.

The last thing I felt as it left me for good was rain drops on my cheeks, hot against my dyin' skin.

Submitted: October 14, 2019

© Copyright 2022 awelker. All rights reserved.

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