Gemstone City is home to millions of sinners who believe their evil deeds have gone unnoticed. Little do they know that the Devil has grown impatient for their souls, and has decided to skip final judgement. Sins are debts owed to the Devil, and all debts must be paid. Instead of waiting for them to die, the King of Hell has sent forth his strongest alley - The Shadow - to collect on his behalf.
In the beginning of all creation, The Shadow was born from the darkness just before the dawning of the light. He helped Lucifer ascend to the throne, and remained by his side. Together they created Hell’s most fearsome creatures - the Hellhounds.
These evil hounds were originally created to hunt down lost souls in the afterlife. Later, they became guardians to the world of the dead. During this time, The Shadow decided to keep one for his own personal use. This hellhound is an apex predator, and the strongest of its kind. After several decades of hunting down sinners in the realm of the living, he became known as Hot Head.
The death of winter gives birth to spring every year. To celebrate this event, Gemstone City hosts an annual spring festival in West Central Park. The park has over fifty acres of land, full of trees, flowers, and bushes just bursting with life. Floral wreaths adorn every lamp post spread across the many walkways in the park. Park employees have set up extra benches and chairs throughout the park to accommodate the many tourists that come every year.
The clearing in the middle of the park has been transformed into a concert area, complete with a huge stage, and hundreds of lawn chairs. It’s bluegrass night, and local officials are expecting a huge crowd. Bluegrass Dan, a local legend in Gemstone City is scheduled to perform his latest single, The Grass Makes Me High.
Night quickly swallows the day, and West Central Park gets flooded with people. They all take their seats with eager anticipation for the bluegrass concert. In a local convenience store a few blocks away from the park, Victor Wong impatiently waits for his wife.
“Where is that woman!” he said.
He grabs another can of mosquito spray to fill up the cardboard display case, and positions the display near the register. It was spring after all, and Victor knew that the bug spray would be a hot seller. He heard the entrance door ring, and saw his wife Leah enter the store. As she walked past him, he started to sniff the air.
“Where have you been?” he asked.
Leah quickly runs to the breakroom and yells, “I was held up in traffic!”
Victor rolls his eyes, and walks over to the front doors. He locks the door, and turns the Sorry We’re Closed sign on. When he turns around he sees Leah staring at him with a bewildered look in her eyes.
“Why are you closing the store?” she asks.
Victor wrinkles his face in anger, and says, “I know what you’ve been doing!” He points his finger at her and continues. “I smell his cologne all over you!”
She replied, “This is your cologne.”
“I don’t wear Midnight Steel!” he yelled.
He reached over and grabbed a lighter from the front counter, and a can of bug spray. He held the lighter in front of the can and said, “I know you're cheating on me again!”
“What are you doing Victor!” she cried.
“You should burn in Hell for cheating on me!”
“I don’t feel like waiting!” he yelled.
Victor hammered his thumb down on the lighter and sprayed the bug spray into the flame. The can became a flamethrower and he laughed hysterically as he roasted Leah to death.
When he was sure she was dead, he wrapped her burnt body in plastic wrap, and pulled her out the backdoor. It took all of his strength to throw her in the dumpster, but the deed was done. When he turned around he came face to face with The Shadow.
The Shadow was wearing a black trench coat, and a matching fedora hat. Black wisps of smoke were emanating from all around his body. Victor was frozen in place with fear. He watched as the shadow raised his finger to his black puckered lips and said:
“I know what you did, boy!”
Victor was now trembling. “Who...who are you?”
The shadow chuckled to himself and said, “I’m a debt collector, and it’s time to pay up.”
“What are you talking about?” he asked.
The Shadow stepped aside, and pointed down to his evil friend. The hellhound was bigger than any known bear, and his wolf like head made Victor pee his pants.
“This is Hot Head, and he is very hungry!” said The Shadow.
Hot Head’s eyes burned with fire, and thick saliva dripped from his razor sharp teeth. Black wisps of smoke were also emanating from his body - just like The Shadow. Victor’s eyes started to tear up from the smell of burning sulfur.
“Are...are you going to kill me?” he asked.
The Shadow started laughing. “I’m not going to kill you...but Hot Head will.”
He raised his arm to point at Victor, and Hot Head pounced. He tore Victor limb from limb devouring every last morsel of flesh. Saving his head for last, Hot Head ripped it off with his ferocious maw. As Hot Head bit down on his skull the loud crunching noises echoed through the back alley. There was nothing left but a pool of blood.
Hot Head burped a fiery flame, and cocked his head to one side. He heard something strange in the night air. The Shadow listened intently, and realized it was music. Dueling banjos to be exact, coming from the park. Hot Head decided to investigate, and crept slowly towards the park. The Shadow followed closely behind.
As they entered the park they could see a colorful display of lights and music from just beyond the trees where they were standing.
“Come along Hot Head. We don’t have time for this!” The Shadow said.
Hot Head let loose a tiny whimper, and burped another flame.
When they turned to leave, they were blinded by a bright light. Standing in front of them was Azrael, The Angel of Death. He was wearing white robes with red trim, and a huge white cowl covered his face. White streaks of smoke were emanating from all around his body, just the opposite from The Shadow and the beast. He’s holding a big iron chain in his left hand.
“Azrael...I heard you were looking for me!” yelled The Shadow. “I heard what you did to my brother Asmodeus.”
Azrael stared at him with his big yellow eyes, and said, “My mission to kill the seven princes of Hell began with him.” He pointed at The Shadow, and continued, “Now, you’re next!”
The Shadow raised his arm, and pointed at Azrael. “Kill him now!” he shouted.
Hot Head growled fiercely, and pounced. Azrael threw his chain into the air and caught Hot Head around the neck. He used the momentum to slam Hot Head down into the ground. The impact created a small crater in the soil.
“It’s time to put this beast on a leash,” Azrael said. “You have always let this animal fight your fights! This is between you and me now!”
Azrael reached into his robes and pulled out his sword. He held it high above his head and the sword ignited in flame. “This will kill you...do you fear it?” he asked.
The Shadow started to laugh. “I fear nothing! When you killed Asmodeus, the other princes went into hiding, but here I stand before you...BOY!!!”
Azrael grew angry and started to stomp towards The Shadow. Hot Head was just coming to his senses and couldn’t free himself from the iron chain. He quickly ran out in front of Azrael and circled him with the chain. Azrael was trapped by his own chain, and squirmed to break free.
“Release me you bastard!” he yelled.
The Shadow started to laugh, and said, “Roast him Hot Head!”
Hot Head was still attached to the chain, but there was enough slack for him to unleash a fiery inferno. He opened his mouth wide, and spewed forth fire from the pits of hell. The flames were so hot the iron chain began to glow a hot cherry red, and Azrael dropped the sword to the ground.
Azrael looked at The Shadow who was watching from a safe distance. “You can not burn me to death!” he shouted. “When I break free I will have your head!”
The Shadow walked over to Azrael, and noticed his sword lying on the ground. He reached down and picked it up. He studied the sword for a moment and said, “I like this weapon. Do you mind if I keep it!”
Azrael was trying to break free from his fiery hold, but Hot Head would not let up. He kept the flames burning hot. The Shadow held the sword high above his head, and the bright flames turned black.
“Ah...that’s better,” said The Shadow. “This is now my shadow sword.”
Azrael shouted, “You can’t kill me!”
The Shadow swung the sword at Azrael’s neck with great power. The black flames from the sword cut through his neck in one swift motion, decapitating him. His head fell off backwards and rolled off in the grass. In an explosion of bright light, Azrael was dead.
“Well...I expected more from you Azrael,” said The Shadow. “You look dead to me...ha ha ha!”
The Shadow and Hot Head turned to leave, and noticed the crowd watching them. Hot Head burped another fiery flame, and the crowd ran for their lives. Bluegrass Dan was the only one left watching.
“Who the hell are you guys?” he asked.
The Shadow looked at Bluegrass Dan and said, “This is going to be a busy night.”
He looked down at Hot Head, and patted him on the head.
“I was going to come for you later, but since you're here, Hot Head is still hungry!” he said.
Bluegrass Dan started to walk backwards. “What are you talking about?”
“You’re the kingpin of drugs around here.” The Shadow chuckled, and continued, “You thought no one knew, but I do. You are responsible for countless drug overdoses.”
Bluegrass Dan shook his head no, and said, “Hey man! I didn’t kill anyone, I just sold the drugs to fund my music career!” He backed up more, and said, “It’s not my fault they overdosed!” He turned, and ran away.
He ran as fast as he could to get to his car. He opened the door and quickly fired up his red Dodge Viper. He drove away like he had just robbed a bank. The Shadow could hear the squeal of his tires as he sped away.
“Hot damn! I got away. They can’t catch up with me now!” he said.
Bluegrass Dan turned his wheel to get around a sharp corner just beyond Main Street. Out of nowhere Hot Head jumped up and landed on the front of the car. The Dodge Viper flipped up and somersaulted in the air. It came crashing down to the asphalt with a loud bang.
Bluegrass Dan was hanging upside down in his seat, and could smell gasoline. He looked up at the ground and saw the gas spill into the street around him. The Shadow was staring at him from across the road, and held his finger to his puckered lips and said:
“Shhh! The Devil’s debts must always be paid!!”
Hot Head approached the wreckage, and was growling fiercely. He saw Bluegrass Dan hanging in the car like a piece of meat in the butcher’s shop. His mighty paw stepped into the gasoline and suddenly, Hot Head burped a fiery flame.
The gasoline ignited, and as the flames drew closer to Dan he said, “Oh Fu-”
The car exploded, and Bluegrass Dan was burned alive. Hot Head let loose a small whimper, feeling disappointed. He was hungry and wanted to feast on his flesh.
The Shadow laughed hysterically. “Don’t worry Hot Head! Barbecue tastes good!”
Hot Head dove into the flames tearing the car apart with his mighty paws. He threw out the roasted body, and dug in with his insatiable hunger. Hot Head ate every last bit of Bluegrass Dan. The Shadow picked up a banjo that was lying next to him. He looked at it for a moment and thought about playing it.
“Nah! I don’t think so, rock is more my style!” he said.
He tossed the banjo into the burning wreckage and watched it burn. In the distance police sirens could be heard, and were quickly approaching. The Shadow looked at Hot Head and said:
“Let’s go Hot Head, we have more work to do!”
The Shadow and the Beast faded away into the wind just as the police arrived on the scene.
Daniel R. Hayes