It wasn’t the first time I’d slept on a park bench, but as the biting wind tore at my ragged coat, I began to wonder if it would be my last. When I packed my meager belongings and a wad of cash stolen from my parents’ rainy day savings, I didn’t know how difficult life on the streets would be until the money ran out and I realized my parents would never again welcome me in the place I used to call home. With no one else to turn to, I joined a gang – The Shadow Puppets. As a symbol of loyalty, I tattooed an open eye on each of my palms. When I came to discover the atrocities I would be forced to commit, I fled. I’d been running for days with no money and no food. Each time I gathered up the courage to take another step away from my past, my twin tattoos throbbed and pulled, demanding I return to The Shadow Puppets. Every time I stopped, my mind became fuzzy and I would find myself turning around, walking back to my guaranteed death. It took every ounce of strength I could muster to set myself on the right path once again. Sometimes, I wondered if my tattoos were haunted.
As daylight faded into long, cold stretches of night, I grew unimaginably cold and tired. Tired of fighting for each scrap of food. Tired of begging for spare change. But I wanted, more desperately than I ever had before, to live. I willed myself to take another breath – then another. As my body succumbed to the gentle embrace of darkness, a hooded silhouette emerged through the heavy blanket of snow.
“Hello, darling.” The figure caressed my frozen cheek with a scalding hand. “Poor little dear. How about we get you someplace warm?” A soft, lilting voice soothed me while strong arms scooped up my frail body.
As my eyes drifted shut, a breathy whisper brushed my frozen ears. “You’re perfect. We have waited a long time for you.”
When I awoke, my eyes stayed pressed firmly shut – my mind too foggy to be worried. I spent a few moments collecting my fragmented thoughts before my eyes fluttered open. Above me, angels danced across a domed ceiling. I blinked in confusion. Where was I? My aching limbs and pounding head protested as I slowly sat up. If I had been able to move my arms and legs, I would have leaped back in horror. Pews stretched beyond my blurry vision, but the massive cathedral wasn’t as alarming as the sheer number of people staring back at me. Blood pounding in my ears, I attempted to stand. Manacles pulled at my wrists and the harsh clank of chains made my heart thump more frantically than before.
Struggling to find my voice, I croaked, “Help! Someone help me!” My pleas were met only by blank, unblinking faces. The closer I looked, the more frightening the faces became. Lips were drawn into tight smiles. Eyes were drained of all color and life, leaving only a darkness that made me shiver. In a sudden, synchronized motion, arms extended, showing me the palm of each hand. The familiar tattoo of an eye stared back at me from each palm.
Suddenly, a hollow chuckle rang out through the palpable silence. I opened my mouth to scream, but only air escaped past my dry lips. In the space of a blink, the hooded figure reappeared.
“Hello again, dearest,” a crooning voice called out to me. My tattoos throbbed in time with the footsteps of the stranger as strode toward me. With a casual brush of their hand, the figure lowered the hood to reveal pulsing golden eyes and two sharp horns peeking out from their dark curls.
“We may have failed with the others, but, with you, we shall surely succeed.” The creature’s words were sweet and thick – tempting. They trailed a hand down my trembling arm to my palm.
“O Lucifer, your servants, The Shadow Puppets, gift you this child so you shall be reborn on this Earth.”
As cruel fingers brushed my tattoo, I writhed in agony. Color blossomed in my vision, and I couldn’t be sure if my eyes were open. The flashing colors gave way to an image. An intricate throne made from bones and human flesh. Perched atop the remains sat a beast with massive, twisting horns and eyes made of flickering flames. I was in the presence of the Devil himself.
Unconsciously, I sank to my knees and lowered my gaze. The monster bellowed with such ferocity it shook the walls. When the floor began to tremble beneath me, I raised my eyes to find him stomping closer.
I had come so far, and this was where my life would end.
“The others were too weak to possess, but you, my child, are worthy.” The Devil’s voice was so gravelly, it was almost indistinguishable from a growl. I shook my head frantically. I had never been worthy of anything in my life. And what did he mean that the others were too weak to possess? Was he going to possess me? How was I special? I was a nobody; just a kid who ran away from home.
The Devil grew so close I could feel his hot breath fanning my face. “Surrender now, child. Give in to me. Stop fighting and let me take control of your weak mortal body.” My palms stung and commanded I give myself over. I dug my nails into the tattoos and bit my lip until I drew blood. I had come so far, faced so many trials. This couldn’t be my demise. With a cry, I wrapped my bleeding hands around the Devil’s horns. He looked faintly surprised before I began to feel his life draining into my hands.
With one last mighty roar, the Devil blinked out of existence.
Flames licked the place where my eyes used to be.