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Fantasy Fiction

Mayor Ross Reddick squints behind his thick oval glasses as he reads aloud. “…We the people of the town of Exeter, Nebraska do willfully enter into this contract with Jinks Mandel…”

“That’s Professor Jenkins Mandel.”

“…On June 24, 1926. Professor Mandel guarantees four inches of rain within seven days for the price of ten thousand dollars.”

Professor Mandel takes the pen in his hand, taking time to balance his top hat. At sixty-four, he knows his latest chosen profession is his last, and he must continue to be successful, no matter how distasteful it may seem to others. Grey-haired, with a trimmed salt and pepper beard, the paunchy professor has a twinkle in his eye that belies his larcenous nature.

Reverend Antek Kazimir and Mayor Reddick watch Professor Mandel sign the contract. A Czechoslovakian immigrant with haunted eyes, a pale complexion, and a permanent five o’clock shadow, Antek Kazimir found God in the trenches of the Great War and is devoted to saving souls at any cost. Bookish-looking Mayor Ross Reddick, who considers himself a modern, logical thinker, is embarrassed that Exeter’s five-month drought has brought him to this desperate moment.

“It’s been a hundred degrees or better for the past two weeks and we’re barely into summer,” Mayor Reddick says. “I never thought there’d come a day when ninety degrees could feel like winter.” 

“This agreement goes against God’s plan,” Reverend Kazimir says.

“If God had a plan for Exeter, he needed to share it with us months ago,” Mayor Reddick replies. “There were three thousand people here six months ago, now we’re down to less than six hundred. Families are abandoning their farms, the stores barely have enough provisions to get us through next month, and I’m getting damned tired of waking up with the taste of sand in my mouth.”

“This man is a charlatan,” Reverend Kazimir continues. “I have seen his kind before. He is like the man who claimed to have invented a pen that could write underwater or had a pig that could speak English.”

Professor Mandel harrumphs. “I beg your pardon. Parson. I’m offering a hundred percent guarantee. No rain, no payment, no harm done. That’s how sure I am that my method works.”

“Nothing is a hundred percent sure, except God’s grace.”

The three men exit the town hall, their shoes scraping against the gritty film of sand that has collected on the steps.

A hellish gust of wind blows intermittently, buffeting the small crowd of townspeople with sand as they gather next to Professor Mandel’s Ford pickup.

Professor Mandel unties the canvas covering his cargo.

“Is this your rain-making machine?” Mayor Reddick asks.

“You could say that.”

Pulling off the canvas, Professor Mandel reveals a large cage.

The crowd lets out a collective gasp. Husbands hold their wives and mothers protectively clutch their children to their bosoms.

Disbelieving his nearsighted eyes, Mayor Reddick pulls off his glasses, cleaning them. “What in the name of heaven is that?”

“I am sure heaven has got nothing to do with it,” Reverend Kazimir replies.

Inside the cage is an enormous creature with grey, stony skin, hands with sharp claws. elliptical yellow eyes, and large feathered wings. Its ears and chin are pointed, and most alarmingly, it has sharp, jagged teeth and two white horns protruding from its head.

“Do we need any more proof that this contract is the work of the devil?” Reverend Kazimir asks aloud.

Unnerved, Mayor Reddick looks to Professor Mandel for an answer. “Is this a devil?”

“No. He’s a gargoyle.”

Reverend Kazimir groans disapprovingly. “What is he going do, scare the rain from the clouds?”

“Barrios can fly. He’ll seed the clouds with my special mixture that will make it rain.”

The crowd cautiously moves closer to the cage. Barrios pays no attention to them. Leaning over, he places his elbow on his thigh, holding the weight of his chin in his hand like The Thinker.

Jeb Blaney, a hefty farmer with reddened, weather-beaten features gazes at Barrios. He has watched his cows die and his crops shrivel and has agreed with the rest of the townspeople to do whatever it takes to save Exeter.

“Ugly thing,” he says.

Barrios hisses, displaying his sharp teeth. His voice is deep and gritty.

“Tules deformis nimes.”

Shocked, Jeb backs away. “It can speak! What’d it say?”

Professor Mandel translates. “He said, you’re ugly too. Barrios is as intelligent as us, smarter. His kind was on earth thousands of years before we crawled out of the primordial ooze.”

“God created man. This is Satan’s handiwork,” Reverend Kazimir counters.

Mayor Reddick cuts off their argument. “Let’s not conduct another Scopes monkey trial here in the square. We’ve got children here, Professor. You make sure your friend is caged when he’s not flying around.”

Barrios’ yellow eyes burst wide with anger. “Hoc non est nostrum pactum!”

Mayor Reddick turns to Professor Mandel. “Translation?”

“That was not our agreement. Read the fine print. Barrios and I will set up camp outside of town near the caves. When Barrios isn’t flying, he’ll stay in his cave. He’ll be free to roam around inside the cave, but there’s no need for concern. Gargoyles generally don’t attack humans.”

Reverend Kazimir seizes on the flaw in Professor Mandel’s statement. “Generally? It is a killing machine.”

“He’ll listen to me.”

“What about at night?” Reverend Kazimir asks. “These creatures hunt at night.”

“You know more about gargoyles than you’re letting on, Reverend,” Mayor Reddick notes.

“More than I would like to admit. We had six, a nest of his type back in my hometown of Paskov. They prefer to stay in the shadows during the day. They hunt at night, and that is when they are most dangerous. But they do have one admirable trait. If you save the life of a gargoyle, they will pledge themselves to you. I am assuming that is what Professor Mandel did to gain this creature’s loyalty.”

“You’re right, Reverend. I was in Arizona, in the desert, when I heard a mournful wail. His wife, children, and the rest of his nest had died from tuberculosis, and he had contracted the disease himself. I nursed Barrios back to health, and he pledged to serve me for four years. This is our second year together.”

“You cannot trust the devil,” Reverend Kazimir says. “I know from experience that your agreement is useless. The head gargoyle in Paskov, Praxis…”

“Pater meus,” Barrios rasps.

“Praxis was his father,” Reverend Kazimir translates.

“You understand him?” Mayor Reddick asks.

“He speaks Latin, the language of Christians, which is a further blasphemy against our Lord.”

“What happened between you and the gargoyles to make you so distrusting?” Professor Mandel asks.

“They attacked us. They took four of our children. Fortunately, Praxis, like all gargoyles, didn’t like fire. We torched the inside of his cave and drove him and his fellow creatures off. We never found the children.”

Barrios growls. “Et fregisti verbum tuum.”

Reverend Kazimir refuses to translate.

“Barrios said you broke your word,” Professor Mandel says. “You failed to understand how important keeping to an agreement is to a gargoyle.”

“Well, we won’t make that mistake,” Mayor Reddick says.

Carmel Blaney, Jeb’s six-year-old daughter, inches closer to the cage, her bright blue eyes wide with wonderment.

Reaching in the pocket of her dusty bib overalls, she pulls out a butterscotch candy, placing it in the cage in front of Barrios.

“Carmel!” her father shouts, pulling her close to him.

Barrios reaches for the candy. Putting it in his mouth, he smiles at Carmel.

“Pueri nesciunt quid sit odium.”

Everyone’s gaze focuses on Professor Mandel.

“He said children don’t know what hate is.”

Jeb pulls his truck into Professor Mandel’s camp.

Professor Mandel sits in a chair under an overhang casually smoking a cigar and reading a book. He smiles amiably at Jeb and Carmel as they walk toward him.

“Are they all there?”

“Yes. Two goats, two chickens, and a cow,” Jeb answers. “I can’t believe he eats that much at once.”

“He only eats once a night. I set a corral up in the cave. Take it to him.”

“He’s loose, isn’t he? I’m not going in that cave.”

“He won’t attack you.”

“He’s harmless,” Carmel chimes in, “as long as the town honors the agreement.”

Jeb gives Carmel a perplexed look as if his blonde-haired pixie-like daughter has suddenly grown up before his eyes. “Stay here.”

Carmel follows her father.

“What did I just tell you? He’s dangerous.”

“No, he’s not.”

“I’ll keep an eye on her,” Professor Mandel promises.

Jeb herds the animals into the cave while keeping an eye on Barrios, who sits on his haunches watching him.

Carmel reaches in her overalls, pulling out a butterscotch candy.

Before Professor Mandel can grab her, Carmel runs to Barrios’ side.

Jeb moves toward Barrios.

“Stop!” Professor Mandel shouts. “Trust him. Trust your daughter.”

Carmel gives the candy to Barrios.

“You are most kind,” he says in English.

“That’s the first time I’ve ever heard you speak English, Barrios,” Professor Mandel says. “Why?”

“Your love comes from paper, coins. Eius amor est ex animo. Her love comes from the heart.”

Professor Mandel and Barrios stand on a hill overlooking the swirling sands pelting Exeter. Barrios hangs a knapsack filled with chemicals around his neck. Spreading his massive wings, he takes flight, seeding the clouds with Professor Mandel’s rainmaking mixture.

The townspeople look up to see Barrios cutting through the clouds.

“What do you suppose is in that rainmaking mix the Professor uses?” Jeb asks.

“He told me it contains nitroglycerin and dynamite,” Mayor Reddick replies.

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. He’s turned that gargoyle into a flying bomb. How many more days are they going to be doing this?”

“They’re under contract for a week,”

“We’re going to run out of animals soon.”

“That’s all right. He’ll be eating something else by then,” Mayor Reddick replies cryptically.

Carmel unwraps a butterscotch candy, eating it gleefully. She hands a piece to Barrios.

“She had no fear of him,” Professor Mandel says in amazement.

“Well, I’m sure petrified,” Jeb says.

Carmel starts to laugh.

“I didn’t know he had a sense of humor,” Professor Mandel says.

Carmel suddenly rears back, grabbing at her throat.

Jeb runs to Carmel’s side as she keels over backward, turning blue.

“Blasted candies! She’s choking!”

Carmel lets out a last loud, strangled gasp.

Professor Mandel leans over her, searching for a pulse. He looks up mournfully at Jeb who drops to his knees, crying hysterically.

Barrios moves toward Carmel. Kneeling, he spreads his wings over her.

Professor Mandel manages to hold Jeb back.

“NO! DON’T LET HIM EAT HER!”

Looking upward, Barrios says in English, “Spare this one, Great Maker.”

Barrios pulls away, standing.

Carmel coughs loudly. The butterscotch candy lodged in her windpipe shoots in the air, shattering when it hits the cave’s dank floor.

Carmel sits up, smiling at Barrios, who helps her to her feet.

“She carries a bright light within her,” Barrios says in English. ”It is too soon for it to be extinguished.”

“His saving Carmel’s life doesn’t make this any easier,” Jeb says, leading a bleating goat into the cave.

Professor Mandel follows, dragging a frightened goat behind him. “Yes, they can sense they’re going to die.”

“You know what’s worse? The thought that he eats them alive. I wish there were another way.”

“There is,” Professor Mandel replies. “But you’re going not going to like it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Hasn’t anybody in this town read the full contract?” Professor Mandel laments. “You’ll find out after tomorrow’s meeting.”

Moving the cow and chickens aside, Professor Mandel pushes the goat into the makeshift corral. “I’ll watch over Carmel while you finish up,” he says, heading out.

Jeb coaxes the goat toward the corral. Barrios cuts him off. Reaching for the rope, he takes the goat away from Jeb.

Rivers of sweat break out on Jeb as he slowly back away.

Barrios tears off the goat’s head. Its blood splashes onto Jeb’s clothes.

Jeb slowly emerges from the cave, staring blankly, his sweaty pallor fading to ghostly white.

“It’s not easy watching him eat,” Professor Mandel offers.

“I can’t believe that’s the same gentle being who saved my daughter’s life.”

“He’s a lot like you and me, Jeb. A fallen angel. Part saint, part sinner.”

“It is not enough that you have turned your back on God, now you want to break the sixth commandment?” Reverend Kazimir shrieks.

“It’s in the contract,” Professor Mandel says. “The towns of Boutanville and Mercerie both agreed to the clause when they signed their contracts.”

“They followed through?” Mayor Reddick asks.

“They did.”

Mayor Reddick takes off his glasses, wiping them on his shirt. “You’re asking us to sacrifice a human being to make it rain.”

“Let us call this what it is, murder,” Reverend Kazimir says angrily.

“And if we don’t, will he take our children like he did in your town?”

“That’s not what happened,” Professor Mandel protests. “Reverend Kazimir left out part of his story.”

“Then tell us, Reverend.”

“We promised Praxis and his nest four humans. We could not go through with it. So, he took the four children. One of them was mine.”

“Since Catholic priests are supposed to be celibate it must have caused you quite an embarrassment,” Mayor Reddick notes.

“It was not as important as the loss of the children. Nevertheless, it prompted me to leave home.”

Professor Mandel adjusts his top hat. “Sounds like you’re hardly fit to judge anyone. When I say a gargoyle follows a contract to the letter I’m not joking.”

Mayor Reddick turns to Ty Talley, Exeter’s Chief of Police. “You’ve been awful quiet.”

Chief Talley squirms in his tight-fitting uniform. Clearing his throat, the overweight chief says, “I don’t like the idea of human sacrifice any more than the rest of you. That’s why I resigned when Ross told me what the meeting was about. My wife’s not making any money from her dress shop and my brother sold what was left of his farm. The only reason I’m even here is to collect my last check. We’re pulling out.”

“You still have not told us what you think,” Reverend Kazimir points out.

“You want my answer? The law says it’s murder, period. You want an out for your conscience? Do what Boutanville and Mercerie did. They both rid themselves of murdering scum nobody will miss. We have some like that. There’s a young man sitting in our jail who’s likely to be charged with murder one.”

“Gordon Ware? That case has not been decided yet,” Reverend Kazimir says. “He does not have the temperament of a killer. He could be innocent.”

“He admitted to strangling his wife and two children.”

Kazimir continues to object. “His wife had terminal cancer and his children were starving to death.”

“That’s what he says. Maybe he’s just a cold-blooded killer,” Chief Talley replies. “He took it upon himself to play God. I would think that’d bother you more than anyone else, Reverend.”

“The solution bothers me more. Perhaps we can give the beast something else to eat.”

“It says plainly in the contract that Barrios has to have human flesh once during the week,” Professor Mandel says adamantly.

“You are less human than that demon,” Reverend Kazimir counters.

Mayor Reddick gives Professor Mandel a grim glance. “It rained in Boutanville and Mercerie after they gave Barrios the human sacrifices, didn’t it?”

“Yep. It rained for a solid week until I was asked to make it stop.”

“We going to need your handcuffs and your pistol, Chief.”

Shaking, Gordon Ware stands before Barrios, who appears even larger as he lingers in the shadows of the dimly lit cave.

Professor Mandel and Jeb hold Ware in place. The ropes on Ware’s hands and legs foil his escape while the gag in his mouth muffles his screams.

“Guilty or not, we’re sorry it has to be this way,” Mayor Reddick says.

“Let’s do this quickly,” Jeb urges. “I’ve seen Barrios eat and I sure as hell don’t want to see it again.”

Reverend Kazimir’s car pulls up to the mouth of the cave.

“Speaking of hell,” Mayor Reddick quips.

Carrying a bucket, Reverend Kazimir slowly enters the cave.

“It’s settled, Reverend,” Professor Mandel says.

“I’ve come to baptize Barrios,” Reverend Kazimir replies.

Laughing, he throws the contents of the bucket on Barrios. Some of the liquid splashes Professor Mandel.

While the others stand dumbfounded, Reverend Kazimir quickly pulls out a box of matches. Lighting a match, he throws it at Barrios.

“Back to hell, demon!”

Barrios’ body is engulfed in flames. Professor Mandel screams as his clothes catch fire.

Shrieking, Professor Mandel drops to his knees, his top hat falling off as the flames envelop him. He raises his hands in a vain attempt to stop the smoldering flesh sliding off his face.

Jeb and Mayor Reddick pull Ware away. Patting out the small fires on Ware’s clothes, they hurry to untie him.

Barrios slashes Reverend Kazimir with his sharp claws, cleaving his head from his shoulders.

Trailing smoke and flames, the gargoyle runs toward the entrance of the cave.

He turns, saying, “I am not a devil. The devil lives inside of you.”

Spreading his wings, Barrios launches himself into the blackening sky.

Mayor Reddick, Jeb, and Gordon Ware run to the mouth of the cave. Looking up, they see Barrios’ flaming form hovering in the distance.

Thunder sounds as it begins to rain. Within seconds the storm becomes a deluge, turning the dry sand into mud.

The flames on his body extinguished, Barrios disappears into the rainy darkness.

“Looks like the drought is over,” Jeb says.

Mayor Reddick nods in agreement. “Too bad the only person who can stop the rain is dead.”

August 25, 2022 17:06

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