The Hanged Man

By @FrancisLeigh
The Hanged Man

NYC, 1925. After a rival gang murdered his sister, Julian Hale encounters a magical pocket watch which can help him restore her honour. But the powers come with a price, and Jules must decide if getting revenge is worth losing humanity.

Chapter 1

Part One

It was around ten in the morning when Julian Hale slammed some dumb Dora up against the back wall of the Herbal Emporium. She struggled against him, but he glared over her head at the store’s owner and prayed she didn’t come out to question him.

As Queenie Devereaux rolled her eyes at him and returned to the customer awaiting her at the front of the store, flaming hair flying behind her, Jules pressed his forearm against the girl’s throat.

“You have ten seconds,” he eased up the pressure a fraction, “to tell me where the pocket watch is. Or I’ll make you dance with my bullets, got it?”

She whimpered, the pathetic little thing, but didn’t open her red painted mouth. He leaned into her a little more, causing a gasp and her heart rate to pick up. He could feel it thumping beneath him as he leered at her.

It’s what she got, running drugs and hooch for Alberto D’Angelo. He’d seen her before, back when he’d run with the rival gang while his sister had still been breathing.

******* D’Angelo boys and their ******* flying bullets.

But the girl just whined high in her throat and widened her eyes.

“You ain’t some assassin,” she said, finding her voice at last, “I ain’t telling you *******

He pulled his gun from the holster under his suit jacket, and fired off a round into the brick just inches from her perfect bobbed hair.

“You’ll tell me,” he kept his hand on the butt of the gun, but aimed it at the sky, “and it’d better be right now. Queenie doesn’t like us to interrupt her business.”

“Who the ****** Queenie?”

Said woman was glaring at him through the back door.

“Anyways,” the girl shifted under his arm, “you don’t need the watch. ‘Cause you ain’t gonna be summoning no demon. Kids die all the time in the business, and Caterina was different.”

“Caterina,” he bared his teeth at her, “wasn’t a part of this business, and your people shouldn’t have murdered her.”

The girl grew her spine, at last, she shoved him backwards. “She’s your sister, dumb***,” she straightened her dress and patted her hair, “she was always gonna be a part of this.”

“She was seventeen years old, your lover should have left her well enough alone.”

The girl narrowed her eyes and raised herself up on tiptoes. “You shut your mouth. You don’t know anything, you left this business so you stay out of it.”

“I need to restore her honour, and that pocket watch will help me to do it.”

Her hands, delicate little things in lace gloves, flew to her coat pocket.

Jules narrowed his eyes and smirked.

Found it.

But she shoved him again, this time with enough force to knock him on the ground and get his hair, dark enough from the October sun, caked in the mud from the puddles dotting the cobbled street.

She made a run for it, he stretched out to grab her leg and jerk her down.

Her head thumped on the pavement. He didn’t know why he picked up a loose cobble and hit her again with it.

He did know why he rummaged in her pocket for the smooth and cold metal of the pocket watch.

He’d just slid it into his own pocket when the sharp and loud, “Julian Hale,” sounded from the door to the herbal store.

Queenie did not look impressed. “You get your *** in here right this second.”

Jules slunked in and hissed as a hand found its way to the back of his head. She didn’t stop at the slap, she grabbed his hair and hauled him behind some shelves full of poison.

“Don’t you give me those pitiful baby blues, I ain’t falling for them.” Now she had him backed against a wall with an arm pinning him in place. “Do you want to bring the Council down on us all? Bumping off a human like that, do you even have a brain between your ears?”

He sighed, rolled his eyes, and stared at the pink spiky flower behind her.

Her sharp nails found their way to his jaw, she turned his head back to look at her. “Are the azaleas more interesting than me? Do you want to spend the rest of the day as a houseplant? I can keep you on the front desk so you don’t get yourself into trouble.”

“I want that plant.”

“You killed the hydrangea I gave you last month.”

“It was Mrs Shapiro from the floor above, she dropped her hooch down the fire escape.”

“You take care of that azalea, or you’re not getting anything for your birthday next week.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“And you’re paying me for that, it ain’t free.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

He forked over the money and she handed him a diamond lilac azalea. The money went into the front pocket of her apron.

“Now get,” she waved her hands at him, “I’ve got a business to run.”

He fled all right, straight back to his dilapidated apartment.

The azalea he placed on the window sill of the picture window, but the pocket watch was more valuable.

That ended up on a cushion and he drew a pentagram around it.

His mother would come back from the dead to skin him alive if he didn’t take the proper precautions while doing magic. And a barrier between himself and whatever came out of the pocket watch was a small price to pay, especially if this went all **** up.

There was an engraving on the pocket watch, he noticed, written in a cursive script more illegible than perfect. It took a little effort to understand what was there.

Shadows lurking in the night, I summon you. Come to me tonight.

If that wasn’t the incantation, he didn’t know what was.

He had enough sense in him to wait until he was outside the circle before he said the words out loud.

Then there was black. An endless cloud billowing out from the pocket watch and filling every square inch it could from within the confines of the pentagram. When it receded into a handsome Persian man dressed in fine clothes, hair white at the temples, Jules knew he was in deep ****.

This was Asmodeus, the King of **** and the demon of lust.

The one demon all witches knew never to summon.

But he could make this work. Caterina was worth everything and more.

“Hey kid,” said Asmodeus. “Whatcha doing?”

This wasn’t what Jules had in mind, at all. Asmodeus just stepped over the line and limped his way to the beaten-up couch.

He also waved a hand in front of Jules’s face, “Kid? What did you summon me for? I should specify the watch is only intended for witches, cause if you’re human there’s not a lot I can do for you.”

“Uh,” said Jules, because his brain had shut down and he couldn’t move his eyes away from the pentagram. He had drawn it right, he knew he had. “I’m a witch. I know I’m a witch.”

Asmodeus wasn’t impressed with his eloquence. He sat with the grace of a king and the smirk of a man who knew things ordinary people had no hope of understanding.

“Look, kid,” he held out a hand and the watch leapt into it, “summoning demons isn’t something you should ever do on the fly.” He cast an eye at the pentagram, raised a perfect eyebrow, and sighed. “Though you do know what you’re doing, more than most, I’d say.” He tucked the pocket watch into his jacket, not making so much as a bulge to show its whereabouts. “I’ll give you one wish,” Asmodeus said. “And only one wish. Whatever your heart desires is yours.”

Jules wasted no time in thinking, his mouth moved and he said, “I want the powers to kill Alberto D’Angelo.”

Asmodeus’s face fell. “Elaborate on the why you want this, I’m not sure I understand this to be a good thing.”

“He killed my sister, so he has to die.”

“You seem so certain of this, but then, so did the witch back in Salem. Killing people for the slightest faults is why things like witch trails happen. Try again.”

“I want to avenge my sister’s honour?”

Asmodeus massaged his temples, Jules was sure he saw an eye roll in there.

“Are you,” Asmodeus said, voice sincere and hard, “sure you want this?”

Jules nodded, D’Angelo had to pay for taking away his sister’s life.

Asmodeus plucked a card from the air between two fingers, and handed it to him with a flick of his wrist.

It was a Tarot card, he’d seen Queenie use them on unsuspecting humans.

A faded and monochrome card, yellowed at the edges and depicting a man hanging upside down from a tree by his ankle.

“Beware your choices, Julian Hale,” Asmodeus stepped around him back towards the pentagram, “because only you are responsible for them.”

“I just want to be a good brother,” he said to his feet, head bowed and mind racing with all the ways his parents had told him he wasn’t. “She’d want me to do it, defend her like a princess in all the old stories.”

“The Hanged Man,” Asmodeus said, instead of giving him an actual answer, “means a crossroads and the chance of starting again. But you can’t act until the situation has passed. Think, boy, and see beyond your limits to what good you can gain from this.”

“I could make him pay,” Jules said. “I could make him feel her pain as she took her dying breath.”

Asmodeus, it turned out, didn’t see it that way. “On your own head,” he flicked his fingers towards Jules, mint green sparks flaring from the tips, “may you get what you desire. Now, if you’ll excuse me.”

And a black fog crept towards Jules and pulled him under, fire consuming him from the inside until he could scream no more.

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