John knew some nights tended to seem longer than others.
Running away from barking snarling canines always made the longer ones even a little more memorable than most. The remote scatter of the ranch’s acres hadn’t seemed all that concerned with much security outside of keeping the chickens safe from coyotes and the front step free of well meaning traveling evangelists. However, the anticipated lazy howls of a few ancient hounds were not even close to what he encountered instead. Even after he heard one of the beasts snap its chain right off the shed it was attached to, he thought he’d still come adequately prepared.
John had always thought that dogs were a lot like people. If you gave them an excuse not to treat you like a threat they usually wanted to take it. For instance, a well placed toss of cheap meat marbled with fat usually did a pretty neat trick of dog-be-good. Unless they were trained killers encoded with German passwords to rip out a larynx on command like these relentless bastards happened to be. Landing in the safety over the side of a six foot fall of chain link, John hadn’t cared much if he left his footprints all over the muddy barnyard grounds. Giving the foaming muzzled guards a small wave, he wistfully wished he’d been born spiteful enough to be able to shoot at least a couple of them. But the urge had swiftly passed. Despite the savage mutt’s efforts to maul him to death, he had gotten what he came looking for and had managed to stay relatively intact.
With his delicate prize also miraculously unharmed in the flight, he carefully placed it in the backseat of the car. Playing some music for the long drive back, he hoped some ‘Moody Blues’ would sooth the nerves of himself and his skittish disinclined passenger. But the distressed mewling sounds only got worse and worse with every mile marker until John started daydreaming of using his pistol again. By the time he pulled in front of the small rental house he’d made an address of for the next month, all he wanted to do was hit the sack.
It hadn’t really occurred to him until he got through the front door that he hadn’t explained much about this particular late night outing to his kids. The kids that were supposed to have been in bed and sleeping over four damn hours ago. John had noticed that if he carefully orchestrated his fatigue to mask any acknowledgment of the time he avoided having to perform a high-quality rant when he had no good material. Besides, blatant violation of law or not, he was relieved sometimes to find anyone awake when he got home in the early morning quiet. Even if one of them was face down in an unauthorized giant salad bowl sized helping of fruit loops. Or better yet, the other one who could barely be bothered to roll away from a noisy commercial celebrating prescription strength relief for jock itch.
He supposed there was the small charity of occasionally allowing his spawn to feel like they had gotten away with something. If any of that 'getting away with bullshit' business was going to go down on his watch than some of it might as well be what he doled out. At least the optimistic belief that he still maintained semblances of control of what his children did while unsupervised was somewhat comforting.
John was pretty sure that his ten year old son had seen an adolescent version of a sheep before. The real question being raised was why his father was walking through the living room with one of the noisy things wrapped up in a leather jacket.
“It’s the answer to all my current problems.”
He liked to make all encompassing vague statements that sounded effectual. When the words were spoken in the correct tone of confidence it usually made his oldest son stop asking about stuff he didn’t want to explain. It also seemed to make the kid feel better when some solution to an issue was inevitably on its way. Unfortunately, the sight of the tiny wooly creature trying to steady wobbly legs as it was set down next the television set needed a bit more clarification than the firmly unclear. Sam had abandoned the kitchen table to observe the shaky but brave four legged exploration of the curtains. Dean sat up uncertainly on the sofa and watched it give the throw rug an experimental nibble.
“What’s it... for?”
John appreciated the automatic assumption of function his son had made. It always made him feel good when he knew the kid was absolutely on the right page. Besides, there weren’t many reasons to have the thing around unless it happened to know how to fix the neglected brake pads and a couple misfiring sparkplugs. He briefly examined his jacket for anything likely to be left behind by something that liked wallowing in a farm yard.
“It’s for a job.” John fought a yawn and lost. “Why don’t you go ahead and get it a dish of water?”
“Are white ones more lucky?” Sam interposed drowsily from his roll on the floor. “The baby white ones?”
His youngest child was always more often than not much more aware of what was going on than John usually cared for. The time when he could openly discuss matters over his head had sorrowfully passed on by. Discretion and selective censorship had turned into a code language that his eldest knew well. But even with exhaustion making him careless with the flow of information, it seemed Sam’s limited span of knowledge hadn’t quite come as far as the severe rites and rituals being referenced.
“Yeah.” John told him. “Something like that.”
It was a fairly simple thing to see when Dean was actually listening and when he was just barely attempting to behave as if he were. Complete failure to notice a direct request was generally a decent sign. Unable to take his eyes off the tiny wandering animal, Dean continued to make no move away from his spot on the couch and go looking for a water dish as ordered. Instead, Sam had quietly offered it one end of a rolled up magazine which it tentatively sniffed before earnestly giving it an eager gnaw. John cleared his throat loudly enough to draw his eldest’s attention.
“You been readin’ up on all that Voodoo like I told ya?”
“Some.” Dean said hesitantly.
“Well, we don’t have seven different waters sacred to the Loa handy.” John tossed the silver flask of holy water across the room. He smiled a little when Dean’s fist came up and caught it solidly despite the hours of television that had glazed his eyes. “So just mix some tap water with what we got.”
Turning the bottle in his hands, Dean reexamined the pilfered livestock with a new worried consideration in his gaze. The slightly astonished look his oldest son had been wearing since the lamb appeared began to slowly be replaced with some grim comprehension. It was then that Sam happily discovered that what was left of the bowl of soggy cereal was of much more interest to the animal than the pages of a three month old copy of BowHunter.
“We’re supposed to be purifying the damn thing.” John tiredly placed the small inventory of his pockets out on the table while he listened to the energetic lapping of a little tongue. “Not making it puke.”
“He likes it.” Sam responded curtly from the carpet.
Thinking of a number of threatening dramatic sentences he could have thrown together to make the inhumane feeding stop, he decided it wasn’t really required. In all honestly, he personally had nothing against a decadent last meal for the doomed. A sickly rainbow tainted heap of milk logged sugar loops seemed like the least a guy could do in exchange for a bloodletting to erase a bakisi curse. But it turned out his other kid seemed to be much more alarmed by the final unwitting merciful gesture than John could manage to be. Dean quickly knelt down to remove the bowl much to the lamb’s and his younger brother’s combined dismay.
“Tie it up in the back yard.” John’s thoughts and motions were all turning to the dark quiet room at the back of the house with his bed in it. “And don’t forget that water.”
He had gone to bed way past midnight but he had to be awake way before dawn.
All he had to do was be in the right place at the right time. The rest was what any amateur butcher could accomplish. He wasn’t a sanctified priest of Vodoun but there were a few loopholes you could work through if you knew how much was pomp and what the magic actually required. All religions boiled down to some fundamentals no matter what their origins where. The pope sitting far away in a palace of gold was as capable as the penniless local minister to bind or bury the faithful. John had long since learned that massive tributes of elaborate stained glass and burnished stone weren’t all that necessary in the great scheme of things. You could accomplish the same job with a knee in the dirt and a blessing.
Rolling out of bed he realized he had slept all three hours in the same awkward position he’d collapsed in. Stretching painfully, he stumbled into his jeans and shirt. Reaching under his pillow for his pistol, he carefully rolled the chamber before stowing it. Walking down the hallway he half expected the television to still be on along with anything connected to a light bulb, but the house was finally quiet. He stopped in front of the room his children shared. The walls were lit up dimly by a small plug in lamp that was meant as a nightlight for those susceptible to a dread of the dark. John had long ago replaced the lamp’s cover meant to send playful warm patterns of rocket ships, cartoon stars and ringed planets. Instead, the soft shapes of shadow were now etchings made by his own hand. The weak filament cast the protective arc of the symbols splayed in broad curving lines up over the ceiling and stretched out over the floors.
Under the meager glow he could see his boys both in their distinguishable lumps under the masses of blankets. They couldn’t have been in bed for much longer than he had been. The both of them were keeping hours like they were working hard on a graveyard shift. It occurred to him that his oldest might be just staying up to hear the engine in the driveway. The anarchistic inclined six year old was probably struggling to stay awake just as long as his brother just for the sake of engaging in some irresistible mutiny. A glance at his watch told him that life for those two was going be spectacularly unpleasant when they had to be on a cheerful yellow bus in less than 90 minutes. It was going to be a lot worse when they had to be conscious and coherent for the remaining 360 behind a desk and a pen. If John got one more threatening phone call about their shitty attendance record they were going to have to move a lot sooner than expected.
The longer of the burrowed lumps stirred a few times before it rolled over and unenthusiastically flipped the covers up off its face.
“You get your asses to school today.” John rubbed at his eyes, unwillingly feeling miserable on his son’s behalf. “You hear me?”
“I’ll be back tonight.”
He waited impatiently. All he wanted to do was get into the cold kitchen and mix some of that gritty instant coffee into the hottest water he could get from the faucet before hitting the road again.
“You know that sheep?”
John felt suddenly uneasy. Weeks worth of disagreeable toil were promising to end with that precious little lamb’s demise. The act wasn’t anything most 5 star restaurants didn’t do in their own kitchens. In fact, John wasn’t even going to humiliate the thing any further by flambéing its helpless carcass in wine and outrageously decorating it with those weird flowers made of radishes.
“What about it?”
“I-I think it might not be out there any-anymore?”
He shut his eyes for a moment and let his sleep deprived mind slowly sort out the odd phrasing of the statement that had been set almost like a question. When he realized what precisely he was listening to, he settled back to lean in the doorway and wearily crossed his arms. For some reason it had never really completely dawned on him how outstandingly terrible his sons were at lying.
“Why wouldn’t it be?” John asked for the pure hell of it.
“I think it ran away?”
“You know Dean, a newborn like that isn’t goin’ to live real long out on its own—“
“What if it got into someone else’s yard?” Dean immediately suggested. “Maybe it would live just fine like that. If you know, it went and did that?”
They were surrounded on all sides by more farm land than a man could count by the square mile. John bleakly wondered just how many different directions could be walked and returned all within the span of his blissful but brief blackout. He rolled his stiff neck and involuntarily thought how nice it would feel to get right back into that bed he’d left down the hall. As a matter of fact, he couldn’t think of any incredibly great reasons not to do just that. He might even sleep in until deep into the afternoon. Unbuttoning his shirt, he headed back towards his door.
As his mind started the slide back under he resisted allowing the crushing surge of frustration of the setback to settle like it wanted. Sure, it would take another few weeks to get back to where it had all started. The words, the people, and the dates all had set fixed places like hands of a clock. He would have to spend another aggravating amount of time trying to locate another fresh young victim with cloven hooves to put the entire vicious business to an end. But there was no reason to begin tormenting himself about it now. The mattress was nice and flat just like he left it. The hard pillow was lumpy and perfect. Hell, he might not bother getting up until the evening news came on.
Nonetheless, he did at least come away with one valuable piece of understanding he didn’t have previously. It was information that he would unquestionably integrate into his second attempt. Next time he had to procure a living sacrifice he’d make sure what he brought home was in no way deemed agreeable.
John rolled over and dragged a quilt over his head.
Especially nothing that possessed a charming fondness for goddamn fruit loops.