Indrapramit Das

24, 676 words



                                                     Demon Son

                                                            By Indrapramit Das

Sanctuary Terrace


Had he run far enough? The blackest of holes? The man who called himself Jerusalem, or Jeru for short, snorted. He didn’t think he had run far enough. How could he?

   He held the quivering match against the damp cigarette; the flame flickered and died. In its life of one second it had achieved its one goal of heating a moist cigarette end till it sprung coils of thin grey smoke in a miniscule flare that lit Jeru’s scarred face a mild orange. Other matches would be more fortunate, perhaps lighting the way of a child under the rubble of an earthquake, lighting the path to freedom and air gritty with dust. His match would only aid him in withering his lungs. As bad as the demons that chased him, Jeru often said of the cigarettes he held in his quivering fingers. Mental demons? Some would ask. And Jeru would say yes. Indeed. As you wish.

   The club terrace was bright, high noon sunlight streaming onto tables, and blazing on white bleached tablecloths. Too bright—who would expect him, of all people, to end up in such a cheerful place for a drink? Not his pursuers, certainly. A waiter came up to his table.

  The man’s skin was a parched colour, browned under years of Indian sun, and wrinkled like a burnt parchment after enduring those years. His uniform was bleached, like the tablecloth on which Jerusalem’s elbow rested, but it was already smudged with stains. The club’s standard was emblazoned in blue string onto the fellow’s breast pocket. He spoke. His voice was heavily accented.

  ‘No smoking, sir.’

  Good for him, thought Jerusalem. No smoking. The demons couldn’t find him in this cheery terrace of Indian sun, and nor could the cancer smoke. This club was sanctuary, he thought. He wondered at his luck at getting a membership. He also thought about his appearance. Perhaps that had threatened the fellow behind the desk a bit when he had applied. Threatened enough to give a devilish looking thug a membership? He doubted it. He had worn a rented suit. He wondered if they had told him before there was no smoking in the terrace. A good thing they hadn’t, he thought. It might have affected his decision to enter sanctuary. He would refer to it as Sanctuary Club. Jerusalem had already forgotten the real name. He placed the cigarette between his teeth, and took the deepest drag he could manage. He wondered why he did that. The waiter shuffled nervously, as if fearing violence from the man at the table. Who could blame him? Not Jerusalem. He knew what he looked like. The waiter waited. Jerusalem smoked. Oh, he thought. Sanctuary, how could he forget. The waiter had just told him the rules of Sanctuary. No smoking. He cleared his throat and told the waiter.


  The waiter nodded eagerly and shuffled off.  Jerusalem smoked on, whittling away the cigarette. The fellow came back in a minute, placing on the bleached tablecloth an old, cheap brass ashtray. Jerusalem thanked the waiter and crushed the cigarette into the ashtray, where it died and breathed out its last strings of smoke. The waiter left with the ashtray, leaving Jerusalem to drink his frosted glass of chilly beer.


Jerusalem was caught unexpected, much to his distress.


But it was no demon who came up behind him to place on his shoulder a hand. It was an ordinary hand, with well-manicured nails shining pink.

  “Jerus. By the gods, man. I never thought I’d see you here. Or ever again, for that matter. This is something, huh?”

  It was Alexander behind him, a friend. A friend who called him jee-rus. Another name he didn’t mind. A name he hadn’t heard in quite a while. In fact, he thought he liked it better than Jeru.

  He didn’t think he’d see Alexander here either, until he had arrived in India. Alexander, wearing a bright white suit and black shirt that welled dark against the limp snake of a white tie that hung from his collar. Alexander with his blonde hair slicked back with gel. Alexander irritatingly conspicuous. Alexander with his half Scottish accent though he was an American. Alexander with the name of a conqueror and handsome face of innocence, hiding god-knew-what. Jerus knew, though. Alexander sat down in the chair opposite to Jerusalem, focusing on his lost friend with dark grey eyes.

  “So….Jerus. what brings you to Kolkata, of all the places in the bloody world?”

  Jerus stared blankly.

  “Well? You do know where you are, right, mate? Or would you prefer Calcutta? They changed the name, you know.”

  “I know, you silly bastard. I’m just taking you in. You haven’t changed in three years.”

  Alexander chuckled, and tapped his fingers on the tabletop. He looked odd in the middle of the terrace. They were an odd pair indeed.

  “So. Are you ever gonna start talking? How did you end up here? Just when I thought life was getting normal around here, with my nice little thing with the pharmacy…neat little setup… you call up….jesus bloody christ…I can’t wait to hear your story. Where the hell have you been for three years?”

  Jerusalem smiled as shadows of the past flitted across his eyes like wet bats. “Where the hell have I been? Funny you should ask that. Because….you could say that’s exactly where I’ve been.”

  Alexander raised his eyebrows. And then chuckled again. “I should ha’ known, eh? Still old Jerus the Fatherless, no changes here. Got yer clichés mugged and sealed in that brain of yours, I can see. Still think you’re Merlin, do you? Still roaming the earth for the lost demon father….ah, some things never change.”

  Alexander was a friend. If he wasn’t, Alexander would be in serious danger. Jerus knew Alexander liked to irritate him about his goal in life. Some would find it ridiculous, enough excuse to put the man called Jerusalem in a straightjacket and shove him in a dark padded room for the rest of his life for all they cared. Alexander didn’t think Jerus’s pursuit in life ridiculous or insane. He just found it unlikely, and probably in vain. Alexander was a member of the club which Jerus called Sanctuary. Jerus had an inkling that his slick haired friend probably had something to do with his prompt acceptance into the place. His pharmacy paid off well, it seemed. Over the phone, Alexander had told him to meet him at the club on Tuesday morning, and get a membership there in the days between. Until then, Jerus had been boarding at a dingy excuse for a hotel in the north of the city, a veritable warren of heat and smoke, perfect for concealing him. Now he had sunshine and bleached tablecloths, candy green blinds and grassy lawns, and a room with clean sheets. Good enough for Jerusalem. And thanks to Alexander, Friend for Life. A man with connections. 

  “Yes. Some things never change, Alexander. They never will. It’s the only thing I’ve got.”

Alexander shook his head, smiling to show his white as ivory teeth. Herbally maintained.

  “Now, now, Jerus. Ya know I’m just joking around. I jus’ think you’re ne’er going to find the bugger. He’s gone for good. Its no easy thing looking around this world for a demon. Cos there’s too many around, be them mortal men and women, or real ones, though I never saw any of the latter in my life. Hanging around you, one just gets to believe, I guess…”

  Jerus stroked the scars on his cheek, puckered white streaks that shrunk into browner skin. The bugger Alexander referred to was his father. No doubt the fellow deserved some abuse on his head, claiming to be a demon and then running off to leave his mother with newborn child. But Alexander differed in his point of view: to him, Jerus’s father was a demon and a bugger due only to the fact that he had abandoned a bearing lover. To Jerus, his father was definitely not one to be proud of, because of his fleeing at the hint of his lover’s swollen belly, but he was a demon because Jerus really believed he was a demon. Why else would the fellow tell Jerus’s mother that he was? What fool would claim to be a demon when he wasn’t? Jerus didn’t care about the answer to that question.  He just believed that he had demon blood flowing in his veins, much like Alexander’s comparison, Merlin. When his mother had died, when he was a mere fourteen years of age, he vowed to find his father, if just to find out the truth. He had some theories, of course. When he found his mother’s stomach, where he had spent the first nine months of his life sleeping, cleanly cut open on that dusty summer morning, he wondered whether his father had killed her. Come back and slain her, for whatever reason, or the reason he had figured. Either way, he would like to find the demonic fellow, to punish him, love him, or just understand him. Which one, if not all three, he would never find out till he found him.

  Strangely, he had named himself after the city where he was born and grew up in. Jerusalem. Because for fourteen years on the streets and seedy rented rooms, his mother had called him “Baby”. Why, he never found out. He planned on asking her on his fifteenth birthday, but that didn’t quite work out. Perhaps she had been afraid that a name would trigger his unholy blood. Then again, that was only a guess.

  “A’ right. Enough beating around the bloody bush. Are you going to tell me what happened in these three fine years?”

  “You know…you never did tell me where you got that Scottish accent from. It’s kind of slipping, by the way.”

  For the first time Jerus had ever seen him do so, Alexander blushed a warm scarlet. “Aw shut up. That ain’t your bloody business. Just tell me about you, now, and I might just offer you a bed at my place rather than this shit hole. And don’t get me wrong now, a bed for sleeping only.”

  Jerus noticed his accent going terribly awry, lapsing into a plain monotone and then into Scottish harshness and back to slight American. It was stumbling wildly into a mess of articulation. He also wondered what kind of Club Alexander thought was not a shit hole. “Fine.”, said Jerus.

  “See. When you last saw me, three years ago. What did I say when I left? Do you remember?”

  “Yes, I do. You said that you were beginning to get a real life, which was unacceptable until you found your father. Then you left your newfound life and fruitful job to search for your demon father, like before. A wonderful choice it was, I’m sure.” His accent was adjusting back again. In fact, Jerus had done more than leave a job. He had left his first discovery of love, or something as close to love as he had ever come in his life. The woman had been beautiful, young, intelligent, and sensible. The realisation had come with difficulty, and leaving her had been a painful task indeed. Alexander had skipped the bit about Tina very sensibly.

  “Yes. That’s more or less what I said. After I left, I roamed the earth like before for a few months, and realised I was doing the wrong thing—no, no, stop, wait…let me bloody finish. It was doing no good searching for my father in this world. You know, like trying to look for a needle in a haystack, or somesuch. That’s when I figured out a new theory. Or a new opinion on why its so impossible to find him here—its because he’s gone. He’s not on earth anymore.”

  “So you’re saying he’s dead?”

  “No, you ass. He’s a demon. He’s gone back to Hell. So I figured, now I’d better get started trying to get to Hell. Then I can get to finding him. Think about it: why would a demon stay on earth? Maybe he’d had enough—or maybe he got afraid, of the bigger ones back there, like what we call Satan. He disobeyed the rules by coming down here to earth, after all. So he ran back, came here again to kill his lover, the only one who knew about him, and fled off again.”

  “I don’t know about that. Don’t go jumping at shadows, Jerus. You’re mother died because of some creep on the streets, just another one of her customers. A sicko. It’s no’ likely that your father came back just to do that. What about you, then? Wouldn’t he kill you too?”

  “No, Alexander. You don’t understand. I’ve a better perspective than you on these things. Maybe he just didn’t have the heart to kill his own child, after his lover’s blood still fresh out of her skin. Or maybe he just forgot about killing me. Or perhaps short on time. Demons are most likely erratic creatures, Alexander. Think about their jobs, its no easy thing. Anyway, ever since the day I figured he’d probably gone back, I started looking for a way into Hell.”

  Alexander snorted. “Well, that’s an easy one, isn’it? All you have to do is sin.”

  “You think I didn’t think of that? But I’d have to die to get in like that, and there’s no guarantee that that’s the right ticket in anyway. Or maybe only baby-killers get in after death, or just rapists, or just pick-pockets, or perhaps its just a bloody place where demons stay….it’s just assumptions, man. I don’t want to die now, anyway. If there’s a way to get here from Hell, there has to be a way to get in there from here as well. That’s the logic I used. My father got here, didn’t he? And he got back in as well. Though the death thing…I’ve taken care of that, just in case. If this world is right about sinners going to Hell after death, I’m definitely going, should I die. So, if I get myself killed searching for my father, there’s a solid chance that I just might get to meet him anyway.”

  “Okay…what in God’s name did you go and do?”

  “Well, to sum it up, I sinned as best I could. If the only way to get where I want to go is pure sin, then so be it.”

  “You murdered someone, didn’t you?” said Alexander with a good swig of his beer, draining it right down to the bottom and warming his gut a trifle too much. Jerus scratched his chin thoughtfully.

  “You could say that. More than one, to be truthful.” Alexander sighed. And waved his hand, as if to tell him to go on. Jerusalem’s memory was like a well-cut diamond. Vibrant and clear. He remembered everything, and very well. Demon blood? Who knew? His father. Tautological reasoning was a big thing in Jerus’s brain. He remembered, and he told Alexander.


Dingy back alley


LA had been the city, he thought. Towering concrete, soaring up to the skies and interwoven with snaking stone and steaming life. LA? Perhaps. That was the only facet that didn’t shine with the clarity of a well-cut diamond. Los Angeles was the only name he associated with that city, near two and a half years aging in his memory, so he would use that name. Dingy back alley, stinking of garbage. That was the place he began the sinning. The backup plan. Should I die, I will go to Hell. Make sure I do. That’s what he said to himself, and then he went into the little building.

  A sinning house. Packed full of sinners like himself, ethnically mixed. It had been hot inside the little brick building, all flaking paint, rotting posters, broken panes and corrugated tin boiling under the summer sky. And of course the heat from the sinners, with their gaudy ornaments, necklaces and earrings and tooth caps glittering a sullen gold, jackets open to reveal sweaty muscles well bulged from a hundred workouts. Soaked vests, and toothpicks propped between yellow teeth. A haze of cigarette smoke coiling from worn stubs, enticing Jerusalem himself to light up. A cancerous house of sin. The perfect place for Demon son, himself, Jerusalem.


I had contacts, you see. I made sure I could find a place like this. Made sure they would trust me. In his memory, he stopped, paused, and fast forwarded nearly three years to a terrace of the Indian sun, and told Alexander that.


Rewind. They trusted him. And soon he was in the sinful business. Wearing cheap ornaments like the rest, chewing toothpicks, and dealing in poison. Pallid bags of white powder, packed tight in boxes and suitcases, crushed herb, exchanged under closed roofs and behind grime layered windows. Herb to kill. Indirect sin? Jerus didn’t know. Bags of the stuff. Jerus never tried himself. Fast forward.


So once I got myself established dealing drugs with the scum of the earth, I got around to the real sin in a few days. Destroyed their trust. Rewind back.


Warm afternoon, Jerus faces the Ringleader. A fake gold tooth glittered in his mouth. A cap on his real yellow ivory. “Jacob. What you want?”, the fellow greeted him, grinning like a fool. No one else in the room itself. Trust, unworthy trust. The weak light bulb hanging on a string smoldered dully above the Ringleader. Not the best Ring in the city, though. Backwoods boss, some would say. “I want you to go to Hell. And hopefully, I’ll follow you soon.” Jerus laughed, raised the gun from out of his jacket, and shot the Ringleader through the head. The back of his skull spit out a healthy amount of blood onto the wall, but the silencer muffled the exploding fire. Just the crack of shattering bone, the smack of the bullet. The Ringleader died, the hole in his skull leaking all over the floor. Down in the bottom floor, his fellows played pool. Fast forward. I had other contacts, of course. Spent all the drug money on explosives(and got a great discount too), suitcases packed full of it. Plastic, just like play dough. Packed in just like the drugs. One in the Ringleader’s office, two downstairs, under the chairs. The fellows were clueless. Dumb lot, worst Ring in the city even. Rewind.

  Jerus went down, past the fellows playing pool, past the explosives, and lit a cigarette by the door. Sunlight streaming on the dust. Jerus lit it, and, sucking the smoke, lit the fuse of the homemade grenade behind his jacket. Tossed it under the chairs, fuse sparking, and ran out. The matches had poured out and rattled on the floor like the bones of little birds. The pool players confused, looking at Jerus running out, bright eight-balls rolling to and fro on vivid green tables. The grenade had blown, along with the bags of explosive. Jerus had looked at the flame blasting out the windows of the ground floor, looked at the gaping window frames vomiting black smoke and fire through the jagged teeth of broken glass. Another lit grenade, tossed in through a second floor window. The glass had shattered and the grenade had rolled beside the body of old Ringleader. One more case of plastic, blown away, and the second floor shattered. A low, tremendous thump, reverberating throughout the neighbourhood. The house of sin was nothing but  a burnt out shell of smoke and charred flesh, a charnel house. Thus did his plan end, with Jerusalem watching the burning house of sin from a distance, face dark under the hood of a raincoat, eyes glazed with reflected fire that made them glitter. Demon blood? Who knew. His father.

  Fast forward.


  “Holy shit.”, whispered Alexander hoarsely, his glass of beer empty but for foamy dregs.

  “Unholy, rather. Or so I would hope.” Jerus added.

  “Oh my God. If blowing up a building full of people doesn’t get you where you want to go, Jerus, nothing will.”

  “That’s what I thought.”

  “Jerus. Listen to me. Are you insane? That is…oh, man. Shit. Wiping out an LA drug ring? Jesus! You’ll get yourself killed trying to get a backup plan like that!”

  “Calm down, Alexander. I left LA (or whichever city it was, thought Jerus) immediately, of course. No one there knew my name, or who I was. I don’t even have  a name, Alexander. I don’t have a birth certificate, nothing. No one will find me. And mind you, that was two and three quarters of a year ago, or something like that.”

  Alexander’s ears were red at the rims. He loosened his pale worm tie and wiped his flushed neck, breathing deeply.

  “Well, I’m glad to hear it. I don’t want a bloody imported SWAT team breaking down my door in the middle of the night. And Jerus, why did you choose a drug ring? Ease the old guilty conscience? It’s still murder, Jerus. I hope you know that. A sin is a sin.”

  “If it matters, yes. It was my conscience. I know it’s still mass murder, Alexander. But I chose a busload of scumbags to make it easier on myself, and to please my father’s kin. By doing what I did, I sent a whole batch of sinners to Hell prematurely, you know? That should please whoever’s lurking up—or down—there. Fresh meat to tenderize. Might just get me some favour.” Alexander shook his head and emptied the cold bottle into his glass. Half of it frothed with liquid malt. He swigged. Gases brewed, and came back out of his mouth in a rolling belch. “God dammit. I don’t see you for three years, and you come back with stories of joining LA drug rings and blowing them away. What a guy.” The last bit he muttered to himself, and drank up the last of the beer. He took out a pack of cigarettes, looked at it, and put it back into his breast pocket. Rules were rules. He forgot. Jerus remained quiet. The summer noontime air, loaded with heat rushing in from the sunlit ground outside the terrace was beginning to heat the shining leather of his jacket. What a fool, he thought to himself. Who wears a leather jacket in Indian summer?

   “So now its roaming the earth for the gate to Hell.”, muttered Alexander, if only to break the silence.

  “Exactly. I thought about the sinning bit at first, killing a bit, but then figured out the death bit. Then, like I said before, I went ahead and booked myself a probable ticket to Hell in LA, just in case I die. Oh, by the way, in the middle, I realised this is one of the few places in this cesspit of a planet that I haven’t looked for Hell in. India! How could I miss it….exotic and whatnot, right? I was thinking perhaps the local gurus could help me?”

  “Gurus? Help you find Hell? What the hell is wrong with you? They don’t even follow the same concept of Hell that you do…and they don’t look for Hell, they look for peace! Meditation, shit like that, you know! No guru’s going to help you, Jerus. And you’ll not find any gurus just on the street. This is a city. There’s plenty of cults around here, but hardly anyone knows about them. What kind of Hell you looking for, Jerus? You ever thought of that? There’s a hundred concepts of Hell in this world, you know. Religion shapes Hell. You ask a guru here how to find a “demon” it ain’t going to do shit, pal. They don’t call demons demons all around the world, and they sure as hell don’t call Hell Hell all around the world.”

  Jerus paused and thought about it. He had been around the world, and he already knew that. Though he hadn’t thought about why a guru should help him find the gate to Hell. He would have to inquire about those cults, though. And now that he thought about it, he hadn’t seen a single guru since he arrived in Kolkata. Though he had seen plenty of scrawny, dirty cows chewing cud by the roads while crows picked at their fleas.

  “Look, Alexander. I’m just looking for a world beyond this muckball in space, where demons or whatever they call them in Hindu (Hindi, snapped Alexander) or a hundred other languages devote themselves to the noble and good task of punishing the sinners of this shameless piece of lost paradise. And my father is one of them demons, which is why I have to get into the place. Anyway, never mind this. It’s all irrelevant, because I found it. All this chatting, I nearly forgot that I’m on the run. I found a part of it….and that seems to be the trouble.”

  “A’ right. You got some bloody explaining to do, bud. And this sure as…hm…isn’t the place to do it.” Alexander flustered, loosening his already loose collar. Wiping the frost on his empty glass with well manicured fingers. Flesh squeaking on moist glass.

  “Right you are. Your place?”


  Alexander’s place it was.


Taxi oven


Jerus wondered at how efficient the metal shell of the cab was at trapping the afternoon heat and compressing it. It felt like an oven in the car, and he was being boiled(how would one boil in an oven? he wondered again) alive in his wrapping of shiny leather. Alexander beside him was doing little better, pale skin burning red and shining with sweat, snake tie darkening with moisture, loosened at the collar. His nice neat black collar, and silky shirt getting crumpled and dirty. Outside, the traffic crawled on like a giant slug through mud. The road was jammed with cars, trucks, buses, and taxis. the trucks glittered with gaudy decoration and green paint, while the buses gleamed with red and yellow paint, some worn with dusty weathering. The taxi driver in the front seat seemed unaffected by the heat, except for the dark blotches of moisture on the grey fabric of his shirt, especially his armpits. Jerus suspected the reek that filled the car came from those.

  A string, on which a few dried lemons and green chillies tied together hung from the rearview mirror, swinging gently. Some kind of charm. Superstitions? Perhaps. Sweat, heat, and stink. Who cared about the lemon charm. The heat reminded him of Hell. His eternal pursuit. And there he sought comfort. If he was going to wilt in tropical weather, how would he face the infernal landscapes of his father’s homeland? That is, if the majority view was correct. After all, Dante saw the place as a frozen lake. Who knew?


His father.


He shook his head and clasped the side pocket of his jeans, where his wallet made a lump. He fished it out and rummaged inside it, ignoring the wad of bills, mostly pounds and dollars. He found the scales in the change pocket amongst a clutter of coins, and delicately took them out, wrapping them in his fist. That was a good luck charm.

  Or at least he called them scales. His mother had given them to him when he was twelve, telling him that they were given to her by his father two days before he disappeared. She guessed they were scales pulled from his skin. She never told him whether she had seen any evidence of his demonic constitution, but she had given him the scales. They were the roots of Jerusalem’s belief—crimson slivers of chitin(?), hardened over the years. Alexander had offered many an explanation—dyed slivers of glass, small pieces of painted seashell, broken and smoothened fragments of lobster shell (Jerus had found that the most amusing), or even real scales plucked from some large snake or fish and dyed crimson. Why anyone would go through so much trouble to prove he was a demon, he never explained. Jerus would refuse to let Alexander tamper with it or analyse it. The three scales were the roots of his belief—and he would let no one tarnish them, even if they were nothing but broken seashell or coloured glass. Because they were the only parts of his father (or his trickery) he had.

  “Aw, not those things again,” said Alexander, looking at the red fragments of what Jerus believed to be actual demon skin in his palm.

  “Those don’t mean a thing, Jerus.”

  “And I’ve heard it all, Alexander.”

  “Fine, fine.”

  After a few moments of kneading the bits of the past in his palm, Jerus put them back in the change pocket of his wallet. He would endure heat or cold, wherever it may be. Because his pursuit gave him faith. The taxi started up again with a rumbling cough, and rolled. The lemon charm swung around merrily. On Jerus’s side, a massive bus roared like an insane beast and blasted a stream of hot black exhaust fumes into his face before overtaking them. Jerus rolled up the grime layered window and reddened his palm on the heated metal of the handle. “Shit.” Said he softly.

  “You got that right,” piped up Alexander. “These cabs are pure crap. They’re still using these ugly vintage cars that are a billion years old. The things look hideous. Ambassadors, they call them here. The cars, I mean. The…”

  “Got it, Alexander.” Jerus wasn’t talking about the cab. He was talking about the heated metal of the handle which bit his palm. Though he did notice the taxis were quite ugly—fat, bulbous and rounded vintage cars that looked like giant metal toads on wheels, painted bright black and yellow. Whatever. Who cared. They served their purpose.

  “They serve their purpose, Alexander.”


  “Never mind.” Jerus needed some air in the moving oven. And the sweat stink was filling the place up faster than a broken perfume bottle. The digits in the electronic meter changed from 10 to 11. The little device looked strange under the lemon charm. Jerus rolled down the window again, to get some air.

  “So, Jerus—I think its time you get on with your story. You blow up the drug men of LA vigilante style. Then what?”

  “Damn it!” Jerus rubbed his hands in an irritated fashion on his faded black jeans.

  “What now?” muttered Alexander.

  “That bloody story needs a smoke. You just reminded me of smoke. That’s just great. I was doing fine with the pollution and the heat. Now the cancer comes back.”

  “Stop the spouting and get on with it. If all this smoke all around doesn’t remind you of fags and your life story does, it’s not my fault, is it.”

  Jerus scowled and tapped the crumpled pack of cigarettes, procured from the recesses of his leather jacket. He extracted one, muttering and grumbling to himself all the while and popped it between teeth with an enthusiasm that belied his irritation. As bad as the demons that chased him, after all. He showed the driver the pack, which confused the fellow somewhat, until he realised Jerus was asking whether he could smoke in the cab. The fellow nodded when he did realise, with a brief muttering of “Ha, sahib.”

  “What did he say?”

  Alexander wiped sweat from under his chin. “He said yes, white sir. Which, I presume, means you can smoke in his cab.”

  “Thanks.”, mumbled Jerus, shoving the pack back into his pocket and fishing out a pack of matches. He fumbled and lit one. The flame licked the filter tip, and the evil sprouted in the form of a translucent tentacle. The tentacle crawled towards Alexander. He ignored it. “Say, Jerus. Why don’t you get a frigging lighter if you still smoke so much?”

  Jerus sucked on the cigarette and plucked it out of his mouth, holding the tip out of the window so that the excess was carried away in the miniature slipstream. Like bullets streaming out of an army helicopter and zipping away on the slipstream. Or smoke from the gun inside the army helicopter. Jerus chuckled.

  “Because matches are inconvenient, and cost more because you have to keep buying them. So I keep using matches in the hope that the inconvenience will get me off smoking. Doesn’t seem to work.”

  “Whatever happened to nicotine patches?”

  Jerus shrugged. The slipstream carried away more smoke that disappeared into the polluted air. A traffic light, bright red. The taxi stopped. Big buildings all around, shops by the sidewalks. Jerus smoked, and there was no more slipstream. The taxi interior began to curdle with the milky haze of smoke and burnt tobacco smell.

  “Will you ever get on with the story?” asked Alexander.

  “Oh. Right,” Jerus paused to recollect his thoughts. “Right. So I after the LA incident, I went about searching for the gate to Hell. After a bit of useless travelling and enquiring, I thought about it a bit. So I went to some asylums around the country, because asylums are where some of the sanest people in the world hang out. You know, unfortunates victimized because they’re too aware of the world and the worlds beyond it, and scare the people who don’t want to know so much. Or, they go crazy seeing to much and knowing too much and thus get tossed in the bins. So I went, and talked to some of the inmates in some of these places. I guessed that some of them must have seen Hell, or know something about how to get there without the usual arrangement.”

  Alexander ground the heel of his palm against his chin and twisted his head to the side till his neck popped comfortably. “You always were most logical, Jerus.”

  Jerus nodded hastily and sucked on the cigarette.

  “How did you get in and talk to inmates?”

  “Easier for a man like me than one would think. Bribing the higher ranking workers of an asylum is conveniently easy. Especially with assets such as mine. Appearance, guns, money.”

  “Jerus. Where’d you get the money?”

  “Murder isn’t the only sin available to me, Alexander.”

  Alexander took out his own crumpled pack and lit a fresh cigarette with his neat little lighter, glinting silver in the sunlight. More smoke.

  “You know, Jerus. Sometimes I wonder if you use this as nothing but an excuse to sin. Quite a convenience, you’ll admit.” Jerus smiled. “Keep wondering, bud.”

  “Besides, I do get the occasional job to help me along. Anyways, let’s get back. I found a dozen or so guys and girls who claimed to know their bit about getting to Hell or gaining immortality so as to obtain infernal afterlife and come back unscathed. Most of it was shit—impractical, lies, delusions. So, after a lot of searching and looking through the casefiles of various asylums with the help of management (Jerus remembered how helpful management could be. Once you blow away a drug ring, he thought, holding a silenced gun to the cold forehead of a bald fellow belonging to asylum management in a dark park wasn’t so hard. The man cooperated alright. What kind of demand was being allowed to talk to the inmates undisturbed?), I got to one guy. He was in European asylum. Big place near Belfast, quite well kept. This fellow was a complete nutcase according to his files. Apparently an Englishman by birth—they found him in his eastern Belfast apartment gutting dogs and stuffing their corpses with garlic and stitching them up. Claimed it was a little known recipe for summoning neutral demons into the earthly shells of animals such as dogs or wolves. Police had a hell of a time getting him, because they couldn’t run with the blood and entrails under their feet, making them slip. And once they did, they had twelve cold dogs stitched up and stuffed to the teeth with garlic on their hands.”

  “Why was he doing that? The dog thing, I mean.” Alexander took a drag with disgust on his face.

  “He told the police that he needed demons to protect him from other demons. Nothing else could save him. Another thing—they found him horribly scarred from old wounds. From blades and hooks, among other things. Yeah, you guessed right—he said that he’d been to Hell and back, and that Hell was chasing him for escaping.” Alexander reared up in the hot taxi seat, tapping the ash of his cigarette out of the window. Jerus’s cigarette was half burnt away, and the whole car stank. Sweat and smoke. “So I decided to see him. See what I could squeeze out of the sod. Went to see Trevor. His name was Trevor. I went to see Trevor in the asylum.”


Trevor in the asylum


Rewind to Trevor in the asylum. The day had been chilly, misty, but bright. Belfast chills, and fog descends on grime laced buildings. The asylum was a bleak place, like all the others. Corridors bright and nauseous with the smell of disinfectant. Management helped, and arrangements had been secret. Trevor in a little room like a cage and sunlight through the grills—Trevor like an animal. And management bald guy a few wads richer and with a red circle on his forehead from a silencer muzzle. Albeit covered up with cream and powder. And Jerusalem in leather.

  Jerusalem Lord of Leather, he remembered and told. Stomped into the little private room provided by management (oh so helpful always) with silver necklaces jingling and boots thumping on the polished and mopped floor. The floor had squeaked like rats on fire, friction against his thick soles. Disinfectant and reflections of cold blue neon lights under the boots, buzzing soundlessly. Trevor. Trevor as he saw the Lord of Leather walk in, cowering and amazed at his unexpected visitor. Trevor withdrawing into the shell of his mind as he glimpsed the silver plated pentagram hanging from Jerus’s necklace. Jerus unarmed and warned by management. This man is dangerous. Dangerously insane. As if the bald guy didn’t think that Jerus wasn’t both.

  The room had two chairs and a white table, with large frosted panes covered in grills. Steel legs shining, and the inmate’s wrists cuffed and chained to ankles so that he jingled with each movement of his body. Old grey shirt and pants like pajamas. Trevor. Easily remembered. The man had been bald as an orange, pate shining under the tube lights. Lean and stringy, face rawboned and mean. Eyes a milky grey like his pajamas, distant and watery above pouched lids. Hands thin and bony, with long fingers and yellow nails and cuticles chewed to shreds, green veins weakly throbbing under worn skin. Face and bald head and arms crisscrossed with white scars, some, like those on his forearms and the sides of his head, regular and equal in length and distance from each other. Scars everywhere. His eyes twitched rhythmically with forced blinks, and he constantly rubbed his left ear against his shoulder. Thin lips twisted in curiosity and fear, eyes large in sunken sockets.

  “Trevor, I need to talk to you.”

  Trevor grinding back the legs of the chair on which he sat, against the squeaky floor, rubber leg caps rubbing against the moist stone. Trevor had spoken.

  “Oh yeh? Who the fuck are you?” Eyelids shut and open in a forced blink.

  Jerus opened up the pack from his side pocket, scented with deodorant which he had sprayed in his pockets to dissipate the sweat stink. Took out a slim rod of well wrapped tobacco. Lit it up, scratch, snap. Match flame flickers and butt glows red. Matches folded and put into the pocket with the pack.


Fast forward to Indian taxi and boiling summer sun. Alexander. “Did you have to mention that you were taking a smoke then?”


Jerus supposed so. The smoking was like an obsession for him. An insatiable craving, and he cursed the day he ever experimented with them. No matter his hate, he could not stop. A clue. Demon blood, perhaps more than anything else? The craving for heat, and smoke, and cancerous fumes on the tongue, for breathing poisonous fire, was perhaps the working of demon blood within him. A side effect…addiction to smoking. Strange. There was something…something about the smoking? Closer to Hell? Something…. Strange, all the same.


Rewind. Smoke wound up against the grills of the little room, tracing the sunlight. “I….am a man in pursuit of Hell.” Jerus breathed pale blue.

  Trevor looked up, eyes spilling tears quickly blinked away. Frantic rubbing of ear against shoulder.  “Who the fuck ‘r’you?”

  “I just said.”

  “What the…what the….who….ah. So what?”

  “So…I’ve been told you been to Hell. And back. I want to get there too…maybe you can tell me how. You need not know any more about me.” Trevor looked wildly.

  “No smoking in here, you know. This a talking room? No smokinitsays. The sign NO smoking. Can’t you fucking read, you twit?” Jerusalem Lord of Leather smoked on and nodded. “Yes I can. I’ve got concessions, Trevor. Management can be helpful. Concessions. Nothing stops me. My only concern here is Hell.”

  Trevor’s eyes had widened to spill new tears. Mean face, teary eyes. Lord of Leather was dazzling him then. “No….why should I talk to you? Who…who?” Eyes that glance over to the silver pentagram again. Ornate little necklace.

  Yeah, I got that one in a little shop in Rome, of all places. Alexander looks over it. Pentagram, steel lines coated with gleaming silver, framing the long, cunning face of a horned animal, a devil, a goat. Representation of Hell’s master and founder as according to many a human on earth. Jerus did not know or question who Hell’s master was. He liked the necklace, though.

  Trevor was frightened by it. Frightened out of his wits. Devilish Lord of Leather stomps into the caged room to blur the grill filtered sunlight with his smoke. Not good, not at all. What was wrong here?, Trevor must have thought. Something, definitely. He had looked into Jerusalem’s eyes, and seen no hellfire. Only dark steel grey and black dots. And yet, he was frightened out of his wits.

  “No…they….they sent you. Fuck no you’re from Hell. From Hell, they sent you t’killme….no!” Trevor pounced off his chair and collapsed on the ground with chains tinkling. Guards burst in and wrenched him off the ground to take him away. Trevor was howling then. “Gemme outahere! Gemme out! He’s come to kill me from Hell demon help! Gemme out!” Jerus stared at the guards. “Stop.” They did. Did not take him out. “Did I not say no interruptions?” The guards nodded complacently. Dull faces and uniforms white. “Then get out.” The guards plopped Trevor in the chair and left with shrugs. Whatever.

  Snap eyes to Trevor. Jerus had been livid. “I am not from Hell. I want to get in. Can I make it any clearer?” Jerus had sat back down on the chair and sucked the cigarette. His gaze had shut Trevor’s thin lips like glue. The glue snapped again, but less hysteria flowed. The gaze cut deep.

  “Yeh, you can. But I won’t ask.”

  Jerus blew out tobacco smoke.

  Trevor’s eyes leaked tears. “Why……do you want to get in. I’m not a retard, you know. People don’t want to get into Hell.”

  “The same reason you wanted to get in.”

  Trevor had shuddered at those words, spittle flying down his chin in a tremulous thread. The bristle caught it. “You don’t know sh-shit bout that. That was different. All I wanted was penance and…and. You better start talking. I ain’t gonna spill my past to you. Why you here. Why? Tell me now or I’m getting out.”

  “Penance.” The cigarette butt had danced between Jerusalem’s lips.

  “Just tell me how you got there. To what you claim was Hell.” The lips exude more fumes. Chain smoker. He was beginning to look like an exhausted dragon.

  “I’m not a fucking nut. I don’t care what anyone says. It was Hell.”

  “And I am beginning to lose my patience.”

  Trevor thinks for a moment on his chair, reddened and thin wrists turning this way and that within the steel cuffs. He rubbed his head against his shoulder…once, twice, thrice in succession. Frantic movements like a caged bird in grey pajamas. Skin taught against lean muscle, stretched against those green veins wound around the tough arms like stringy snakes. Tattoos of serpents, fruit and dendritic imagery broken by the scars.

  “I might say.”

  Jerus glared. “Really.”

  “Yeh. But what’s in it for me?”

  Silence. Jerus Lord of Leather had said not a word in smoky silence. He had continued to drag on his burning tobacco. The sunlight had not faded through the grills. Trevor had nearly asked again.

  But he didn’t get the chance. Jerus had leapt like a panther bound in chains of silvered metal, a pentagram glittering as he flew across the table on all fours. Growling, nearly. A blur of leather wrapped motion and Trevor had whimpered. Spittle gathering in the corner of his twisted lips and flying as Jerus collided and grabbed him by the collar in his scarred fists, bunched tight. Crumpled grey cloth in his fingers, Jerus had hurled him off the chair. Steel legs squeaking and clattering on the polished floor. And Jerus had taken the chained Trevor and shaken him like a doll, slamming his bald as an orange head against the cool surface of the table so that the fellow’s bristled flesh groaned with friction on the formica. Trevor had see nothing but sunlit haze and smoke, rancid breath laced with tobacco smell against his ear, the grills that imprisoned them in the little room nothing but a blur. The cigarette glowing dangerously close to Trevor’s tortured skin, bit down between Jerusalem’s stained teeth. Silence again, and Trevor opened his mouth to speak. Smack!

  Jerus remembered the sound. A brilliant facet shining in the diamond of his memory. The sound of Trevor’s face hitting the table as Jerus lifted his body up and threw it back down on the formica. Trevor’s lean head had jumped up and landed solidly on the table like a lead ball attached to a string. The string being his unsuspecting neck.

  Smack! and Trevor’s whimpers. Jerus had tightened his grip on the collar till the fellow’s neck was red. Demon breath gushing and nostrils smoking. Trevor had whimpered, and on the clean, cool surface of the white table there had dropped one, two drops of crimson. Quivering droplets of blood from Trevor’s blushed nose. His veins had pumped green on his neck, jumping like vines around a blushing tree trunk                as Trevor choked on his own collar being squeezed against his skin by Jerusalem’s bunched fists. Trevor leaking spittle on the table to mingle with blood. Jerus hissed hot words into Trevor’s red ears. Trevor quivered under him. More pressure. Choking.

  “You sick shit. What the hell can possibly be ‘in it’ for you? You’re in a fucking asylum, Trevor! Nothing is going to do you any good here! So, I’ll give you another chance. Do you still want to ask what’s in it for you?”

  Trevor had spluttered. “No.” Barely a word. Spit out like a rotten portion of fish after a nausea attack.


  Trevor, released. Shoved back onto the chair, hastily picked up. Trevor had breathed for a while, grasping his sweaty neck and moistened collar with cuffed hands. Rubbing the chafed skin, regaining his breath. Wiping the crimson welling from his nostrils. The blood on the table had become a red smudge from Trevor face rubbing against it. After  which Trevor’s bristly cheek was speckled with haemoglobin. His own. His many scars had been livid.

  Jerus himself had many scars, Trevor had noticed. But declined to comment.

  “Speak away, Trevor.”

  Trevor had spoken.

  “I swear to God it was Hell I was in.” That was the silly sod’s first line, Alexander. I remember clearly. So it had been. Opened the gates to the flood. He had told him of the Hell he went to. Fast forward.

  Jerus tossed his worn cigarette butt out of the window. The miniature slipstream carried it away, a smoking line in the air. Debris that flew under the wheels of Kolkata traffic. Alexander hadn’t finished his own. The car was aflame with odours of all varieties, exuded from various sources, as well as residual smells that all combined to marinate the three inside the oven of the cab and aid in their roasting. Jerus did not take off his leather jacket. The pentagram glinted in the sun pouring in through the window. Outside, a taxi passed them. Tinted windows and a bright, gaudy rear window. On it was a disproportionate giant sticker of a red scaled monster with yellow eyes and a tongue of fire. Under it was printed in gold letters: DRAGON. Jerus stared at it. It reminded him of his scales. The ones in his wallet. DRAGON overtook them. Good riddance to the distraction. Jerus continued.

  “I swear, the psyched out shit told everything. Everything he knew, everything I wanted to know. He told me Hell was a basement where sinners gathered to atone. He told me of the Keeper of the Basement who brought them Hell. The man he knew as Conrad. The man who taught them the Erebus theory. Bring Hell to yourself. Conrad who taught them to suffer for their sins now so that they could attain salvation later. They gathered there in the basement and called a part of Hell to themselves, to their little basement. And they suffered, they suffered like never before, glutted on the pain so that they could enter Heaven when they died. And God knows that shit had a lot to atone for. Thus the scars. There was only one problem he faced in their share of Hell.” Rewind.


  Trevor, exhausted from talking. “One fucking problem….I couldn’t handle it. See all these scars? The scars? In Hell. I got them from Conrad’s little Hell. The pain was too much. I ran. I ran like never before. But you can’t just run out on old Conrad and the Hell he brought us. So they chased me. They chased me. I’m telling you they did. Sent demons after me, they did. I seen them. I seen them with my own eyes. And they’re still hunting me, I can feel it. Feel those demons, filth things in the night. Searching the moors….the Lord cannot save me from them. This place can. Aha…I’m happy here. Oyes. I’m safe here, no demons.” Trevor, grey eyes wide and brimming with tears as his face twisted in a leer. “You probably don’t even believe this.” Trevor looked menacingly at Jerus, eyes lowered as the smoke continued to wind out of the glowing tip sticking out of Jerusalem’s teeth. “I believe every word.”

  Trevor’s delight, flashing past the contracted muscles of his leer. “Ahhh….you do. Do you? I think so. Yes, you seek it. If only the fucking board could see the demons. Oh yes, the demons would show that board with their white coats! They think I’m mad. No, they are! They are! They are mad. If only they’d see what’s after me, oh yes. Demons, they should see, then they’d see who’s mad.” Trevor had leered like a cat under the mating moon. And burst into a grotesque parody of a tune. An effort at song. In the tune of a song from ‘The Sound of Music’, from what Jerus could make out. Trevor had tilted his head and chin to the ceiling and howled in song.

  “If on-n-lyyy, they could seee a dee-mon, theeyy’d wilt like a rose, in the sum-mer suuunn!” Jerus, for the first time in the man’s presence, had actually shuddered. At how off-tune it was. Trevor had snapped his head back down and thumped his hands on the table with a wide grin at imagining ‘The Board’ wilting like roses at the sight of a demon. His expression of delight hadn’t lasted. Face drooping quickly, lips curled back down. Eyes brimming with tears again.

  “They’re still after me. And they’ll never give up. They’re demons, they are. Conrad, he summons them, he does. He’ll never send them off me. He never will. I’ll just stay here.”


He stayed there, Alexander. That he did. What became of the sod I don’t know. Don’t care. He told me everything. Where to find the basement where the sinners brought a bit of Hell to themselves. The basement they called Erebus Minor. Where to find Conrad. Where to find what I’d been searching for all my life. If Conrad and his sinners called Hell to their Erebus Minor, I could use it as the gate to my father. I was willing to try anything, and this was the closest I’d gotten to Hell. Ever. This Conrad’s cult of atoners was opening up their own little gateway to Hell. And I was determined to use it to get to my father. So I set out to find Erebus Minor. Conrad’s basement.


Fast forward to Kolkata traffic. Fading traffic and the cab moves fast. “He said one thing to me. Trevor. One last line before I left that room and that asylum.”


Rewind. Trevor’s eyes watering like crushed grey grapes in his sunken sockets. “See you, whoever you are. Just promise me one thing. If you find Hell, tell them to lay off me so that I can get the fuck outta here, okay?” His chains jingled as he raised his hands in farewell.


Alexander’s place


“And that was the last of Trevor.”

  “And the end of this bloody ride.” Alexander muttered and flicked his burnt out cigarette through the rolled window. The taxi ground to a halt as he mumbled something to the driver. He fished out his wallet and began to fumble with the wad inside, extracting ten rupee notes from the mess.

  Jerus looked out into a narrow road, more like an alleyway, packed on either side with short, grime stained buildings. Wet clothes fluttered from verandahs and windows like colourful flags to bring cheer to the dirty walls of the place. On the right of the taxi was a rather dilapidated pavement, on the side of which was a three floored structure with walls washed with cheap yellow bleached to near white by the sun. A dirty neon sign hung over an open door that looked into shadows within, barred off by a collapsible gate. White plastic framed in metal grills, the neon tubes behind inactive during the day. On the white plastic were bright blue letters indicating the presence of a pharmacy within.




The blue neon letters boasted behind the metal grill. Under it, in smaller blue letters was PHARMACY. MEDICAL SUPPLIES.


Framing it all on either side were two bright red crosses. And that was the sign outside Alexander’s place, which would flicker to life and glow in a soundless hum after dusk darkened the streets.


Jerus looked around. A taxi drove past them and down the road, disappearing around the corner, followed by a white van. The back of the taxi leered. A candy red monster with yellow eyes grinned on the tinted glass. DRAGON. It drove away. The tinted windows of the van had nothing on them. Jerus wondered how many taxis had the DRAGON sticker in Kolkata. Alexander was paying the taxi driver, handing out damp ten rupee notes and a few coins. He got out, and slammed the door shut. The taxi coughed and drove off after the white van and the DRAGON cab. The clotheslines shook in the wind, drizzling detergent scented moisture over the streets, indifferent to all.

  “We’re here,” said Alexander.

  “Very original.” Jerus remarked on the neon sign. He slung  the dark green knapsack over his shoulder. His only belongings. Alexander smiled and fished out a bunch of keys from his pocket. “Yeah well. This kind of thing holds well in this city. Look around.” Jerus did, again. Across the street was a sweet shop, with a dusty sign, no neon, only painted metal. SEN & SONS, it flashed to the street. No further comments as Alexander walked up to the front door, shut with a collapsible gate of black metal. He unlocked it, after a few moments of squinting at the keys, and shoved it back with a nerve jangling rattle. The interior of Alexandrine pharmacy gushed out cool air and darkness like a minty mouth: the collapsible gate rolling back a rattling cough in out of the dark throat. How ominous, thought Jerus. Ominous for a pharmacy.

  “Alexander. Where is this pharmacy of yours?”

  “What? It’s here. I live above it.”

  “I know….but where is it? I can’t see it. Besides that revolting sign, of course.”

  A toothpaste ad smile from Alexander. “It’s inside. Down the corridor. The neighbourhood knows that.”  They entered the Alexandrine, pharmacy and centre of the blonde conqueror’s empire of medical supplies.


Alexander’s home was on the second and third floors of the yellow washed structure, with cramped rooms and cooler air than the outside, dark green wooden shutters. The bottom floor had sickly walls of green and white. Hospital colours. Low ceilings, but the area of Alexander’s home was quite large. In one of the dusty living rooms, Alexander switched on the green table fan beside the window, so that the dusty air swirled with little particles on the sunbeams filtering in through faded curtains. Flickering sunlight sliced and minced through the blades of the table fan, casting alternate light and shadow on Jerus and Alexander. Jerus found that it reminded him of strobe lights in a disco. Up in the ceiling, a rather flimsy ceiling fan whirred in a clattering monotone, quite sensibly in the place where its label denoted it should be. Ceiling fans belong on the ceiling. The table fan continued to chop up the dusty sunlight and play havoc on Jerus’s retinas.

  Alexander was muttering low words into a black phone receiver, smeared with sweat from his palms so that it glimmered in the dim light like a dark slug. One pink, clean, finger twirled the coiled chord. Alexander seemed to sweat a lot. Outside, the afternoon smoldered on, and the table fan still sliced the light through the window and spat it out flickering with hot air. Recycled air. Jerus flicked droplets of sweat from his forehead. They vanished into the whirling blades.

  Alexander’s place. It was dark, unlike the fellow’s taste in clothing. He was a neat man, but his home was stale and cramped, dusty and dense. Jerus didn’t really mind, though he began to wonder again how Alexander considered the Club a shit hole. “Thank you.” Alexander suddenly barked into the phone, and placed it rather carelessly in the cradle. The receiver continued to shine with transferred moisture, looking even more like a slug in its cradle.

  Alexander tugged at his tie, and like the limp white snake it looked like, it slithered out of its grip around his collar and flopped in his hands. It was tossed over a couch.

  “Sorry about the heat. The bloody air-conditioner’s not working. Always conk out in the middle a’ summer, sure as the bloody sun rises.”

  “That’s alright.”

  “I was on the phone with the Club fellows. Told them you’d checked out, since we left without a word saying so. Is that the only luggage you have?” Jerus nodded yes. Alexander sat down on a leathery couch and relaxed. “Make yourself at home.” Jerus tried and flicked more sweat into the table fan. The dim light of the room flickered.

  “Right, now we can continue in peace. You got to leaving Trevor to go find his ‘Hell’. Relax, the kid’s coming with some tea.” No sooner had he said that, a boy of around twelve appeared barefooted through the door, his brown skin burnished with summer sweat from playing cricket with his friends out on the street. He hadn’t expected Alexander back so early. The young fellow brought in a tray with two cups of steaming black tea, a cup of sugar, a steel kettle and a porcelain milk jug bejeweled with beads of cold water. “Thank you, Ganesh.” The black haired by nodded and went off, grinning. He found English thanks somewhat amusing. Alexander turned and muttered a few more words. “Ak hari mishti doi niye asho. Akhon. Jao.” He handed Ganesh a few notes and patted him on the back. The boy went off.

  “Clever little kid. I hire him part time to do little things.”

  “What did you just tell him?”

  “To go get some sweet curd from Sen and sons down the road. One pot. See if you like it.” Jerus grimaced. It didn’t sound too appetizing. “Its bloody yogurt, Jerus.”

  “Never did like yogurt that much either.”

  “Never mind. Can we get back to your life story? Sugar and milk?”

  Jerus nodded, wiping his face with his hankey. Alexander dropped two spoonfuls of coarse sugar into both cups, where they disappeared into the inky liquid. The milk fell in too, in a pearly thread. Plop, and suddenly the black swirls into cloudy brown. Alexander evened out the colour with a teaspoon. The clinking of the spoon against the cup rims added to the tune of the clattering ceiling fan and the whirring blades that continued to chop sunlight. Jerus wetted his lips with the tea, and found it too hot. Alexander drank nonetheless.

  “So. That was the last you saw of Trevor. Then what?”

  Jerus cogitated for a while, and tasted the tea again, gingerly. The cup hit the saucer as he placed it back down in irritation. Cogitation again. “Then we get to Erebus Minor. Hell, in a word. Conrad’s cult, that brought Hell to themselves. How did they do it? That’s what I went to find out, because Trevor spilled everything. The basement which Trevor had run from….the place where Conrad’s bunch of sinners gathered to greet Hell and atone, was in New York city. Yeah, Trevor went to America, found the solution to his crimes, and ran from it. Ran all the way across the Atlantic to Belfast.” Jerus sipped his tea, while Alexander drank. Steam that smelled of delicately crushed and soaked tea leaves coiled out of the cups slowly. Rising until they were hurled into speed by the current of warm air from the table fan.

  “So, after I’d gathered enough cash in Belfast, I went to New York city. To the basement.”


Before the Basement


The basement had been in New York city, or so his diamond of a memory told him. The facets gleamed as Jerus turned the diamond in mental fingers again, letting it sparkle in the light of contemplation, running his thumb across the facets smudged with the grease of years so that they became clearer. Erebus Minor. The basement had been very large.

  Conrad. A phone call. Trevor had actually remembered the number. Etched into his memory like the burnt mark of a branding iron on the skin of a cow. Jerus had dialed from his little hotel room, crushing cockroaches under his boots. He lived cheap, so that he could travel when he needed to. He had phoned, listening to the faint crunch of broken chitin under rubber soles. Crunch. Yet another dingy hotel room, walls peeling and bloated with blisters of moisture under the soft skin of cheap paint. Toilets scabbed with rust, or something similar to rust in appearance. Cockroaches.

  He had dialed. And Conrad. Deep and masculine voice slithering through telephone chords. Jerus had his ways and charms. His lies.

  Conrad was convinced for the moment. Or half convinced of Jerus’s intentions of penance. Where had he got this number? A man now dead, I believe. Jerus would harm no poor Trevor. After all, the sorry son of a bitch had given him what he needed. A former member of Erebus Minor’s bunch of merry sinners. Conrad had asked no more.

  So Jerus had gone to the basement of atonement. It was a large basement, somewhat shadowy even in his clear cut facets. Always dim, yet bright. There did he find what Trevor had fled from. Hell.

  Before entering the basement of his dreams, Jerus had met Conrad’s right hand man and woman in a shady room in the same building. Once again, the staple walls saturated with mildew and moisture. Those obscene blisters of paint. Peeling and cracking. Dirty grey blinds lowered, one single light bulb glowing. The man and woman, keepers of Conrad’s own slice of Hell. Keepers of Erebus Minor. The woman, red hair flaming under weak electric light, pasted back with moisture. Streaked with glowing orange paint. Her skin, a milky white, contrasting with lips painted jet black, the same as her eyelids. A beautiful woman, framed in hideous colours. Silver crosses, inverted, had hung from her ears. Body wrapped in black. All black.

  The man, the same. All black, glittering. Hair jet as coal, also smoothened back to gleam under the bulb. The same crosses hanging from the ears, skin white, lips and eyes inky. The keepers. Conrad’s own. First there was the transfer of cash, dollars. Crisp notes only, no change. How was good Conrad supposed to keep Hell in the basement without some form of sustenance? Thus did the sinners pay to get into the nightmare of punishment. First the transaction, thick wads wrapped up in plastic sandwich bags and tied up with rubber bands. Quickly accepted by the gatekeepers. First transaction, then talking.

  “Your name.” The woman had asked.

  “Jason Firestone.”

  A flicker of surprise under shaded eyelids, the quiver of a smile quickly concealed. Faceless, expressionless porcelain mask again. Red hair glowing with orange pigment. It was the man’s turn.

  “There is only one purpose for entering Erebus Minor One. Penance. Do your intentions match this?” Jerus had nodded yes. The woman again.

  “Pain is punishment. Punishment is penance. Penance is purity.” Thus did Jerus hear the chant of the atoners for the first time. Conrad’s bunch. Tautology reigns supreme. He hadn’t given a shit. All he wanted to do was get in and see what kind of Gate to Hell this Conrad opened for his sinners. And whether he could use it to enter the rest of Hell. The Hell which wasn’t Conrad’s. The Hell where his father was.

  “Thus is our purpose. Hell is penance. Conrad does us all a favour by bringing Hell to us, so that we may enjoy the afterlife in Heaven. Conrad has risked his life to make a pact with the Devil. A pact of blood, sealed and maintained by our blood. A pact that gives Conrad his share of Hell, so that we may atone. Conrad is our saviour.”

  The woman. “In this life, we worship Hell, and Conrad. So that we may atone and reach Heaven in the next.”

  “Such is our purpose. Once you enter, you cannot break away until Conrad deems it so. Is this agreed?”


Thus had Jerus sealed another pact. To remain tied to the Cult of Conrad, wannabe Demonlord of NYC. Lord of his own slice of Hell. Good for him. Jerus just wanted to see if he could use Conrad’s personal gateway from Hell for himself. That was all. Was that so impossible? Seemingly so.


Erebus Minor One. That was the first time he’d heard the One in the name. Why the One? He had wondered. And they had led him into the basement of penance. Conrad’s creation. And there they told him while leading him through mazelike passages lit by ultraviolet pulsations that trembled on the black walls. Walls that glittered with the sweat of the underground—the musty reek of dank and watery air. They had told him the Erebus Theory. Conrad’s own. The demonlord wannabe himself, pouring over papers on a desk, under a night lamp.  Just an image. Erebus theory, mugged and sealed in their brains, bring Hell to yourself. How? Chemicals. Chemicals were the key to opening Conrad’s gate, that which he had sold his soul for. The knowledge of the damned, applied under a hot lamp and written on crumpled A4 size papers and distributed. The Erebus Theory. Everyone must participate in the opening of Erebus Minor. Bring Hell to us through acceptance, and intoxication. A perversion of Bacchus, perhaps. Gain divinity through intoxication. Who wanted divinity? Who wanted crushed grapes? Conrad’s lot wanted Hell. So here was their theory. Gain Hell through intoxication, for that was one of the keys to the Gate. Intoxication through Conrad’s own chemical cocktails. Swallow them down, and accept Hell. Not wine. Conrad’s own recipes.

  In the pulsating light of the ultraviolet lamps, bathed in the rushing clouds of steam that ran through the purgatorial passages before Erebus Minor One, they had given him the chemicals.

  Pushed into his clammy palm, three white tablets. White as chalk, round as a miniature moons, no seal or imprint of commercial success. Plain white tablets of compacted chemicals too exotic to name. He had held them to his nostrils, and they had sent his head spinning with a bitter scent. Bacchus inverted in ultraviolet steam, before the doorway to Hell. They had told him to shove those tablets under his tongue, and enter the world of penance.

  And so had he done, placing each dry piece of EMO key tablet under his tongue, and letting them dissolve bitterly till he just swallowed them whole. Down they rushed, squeezed down his gullet and dropped into his throbbing body to be absorbed. And as the bitter residues rotted on his tastebuds to vaporize and float into his sinuses, he entered the basement. Erebus Minor One. EMO. As his sinuses flooded with bitter and flaming vapours that shook his vision into a blur and made his eyes spill over with tears.


Erebus Minor One


The facet gleamed in Jerus’s eyes, blinding him. Yet, inside, it smoldered dark. He had entered Erebus Minor One with the tablets being absorbed in his gut to race through his bloodstream and aid the maintenance of Hell on earth. Hell in the basement. And finally, here was the basement of atonement. Bitter vapours choked his senses and at the same time enhanced them, making the world a vivid blur, sharpening some edges and blurring others. Lights seared into his retinas and left their mark in coloured afterimages, lines of bright motion.

  The basement was big. And dark.

  Yet, it was bright. Intoxication made it brighter. The air was stifling, like a sponge, absorbing the sweat and blood, the thick atmosphere of pain glutting his nostrils and eyes. Sound, smell, and sight combined into one painful realization of his surroundings. Hell.

  I’ve finally found it were the first thoughts that swam out of the blurred recesses of his brain as he entered. An abominable stench assailed his already battered sinuses, a mixture of various spilled bodily fluids and the soft reams of smoke that spewed out of swinging censers that hung from the ceiling, blurring the air with strong incense. And his ears: assaulted with the drone of sinners, packed together tightly. The chant of atonement, mumbled under tortured breath over and over again, like a mantra. Interspersed with the moans of agony. Fire breathed out of hidden vents sporadically, torches of stinging pitch spitting bright flames that stood out against the dark black walls and enclosed air. Dense, claustrophobic, the basement was packed full of flesh, writhing in pain under the watchful eyes of demons.

  Yes, there were demons. What Hell without demons? That was what Jerus saw, with amazement and shock, ecstasy and terror. Demons, with their reek of blood and sugar. Wandering the dark basement to guide the writhing flesh in their torturous journey of penance, dark creatures with rasping breath, whipping and piercing the bared flesh of sinners with gleaming spears and blades. All around, fire and smoke, ultraviolet pulsations, and the demons with their spears and whips. Jerus tried to look at them, but they were too dark, wrapped in shadows that shifted and warped, human and yet not, horns of mottled bone curving out of their hunched heads, claws and teeth glittering like metal and clicking as they walked past. The place throbbed with heat, sweat soaking his body and dripping in sheets down his flesh. The demons whipped him with stinking leather. The sinners wept around him, some lying on the wet floor, some tied to the walls with chains, some splayed on slabs of metal, or hunched in heaps together under the hot gaze of the demons. Summoned by Conrad. Flesh gleamed sickly under the sheath of sweat, sparsely clad, bleeding from blades and whips and spikes.

  The black horned shapes of the demons sailed through the wet masses of atoners. And they chanted. They chanted for dear life.

  Pain is punishment.

  Punishment is penance.

  Penance is purity.


 Pain is punishment.

 Punishment is penance.

 Penance is purity.


They suffered, and they chanted. Fire roared from ducts, and spat out of pitch torches, biting the delicate membranes of the eyeball. And the demons tortured. Sliced the skin of men and women on the floor and slabs, under dim fire and ultraviolet lamps, sliced and stitched, sliced and drained them of blood to spray on the slick floor. Whipped the huddling atoners on the floor. Who chanted dutifully.  Again and again.

  Pain is punishment.

  Punishment is penance.

  Penance is purity.


Fire, smoke, ultraviolet steam, dizzy nausea and demons. Blood and sweat. Hell, brought out to earth by intoxication and magic. Erebus Minor One. Where was the gate? Where was Conrad? The gatekeepers were gone, slunk into fiery shadows. The demons were noticing him amongst naked flesh to be punished. Sinners strapped in studded leather. Jerus had wandered in a dizzy haze as reality melted into a searing blur of shadowy horned monsters and suffering, shifting light and heat.

  Where was his father? The demons, sailing through the sea of pain, shifting beings of fiery black shadow. Not red. The scales in his wallet were red. The demons here were dark, dissolving into the smoke and light. He couldn’t make out for sure, but no red. Where was his father? The scales, tucked away amongst the change in his wallet. The keys.

  Conrad! He howled but all was drowned in the roar of fire and steam, in the blended voices of chanting sinners.


  Nothing. The demons circled, and tight fingers gripped him. Leather stung his skin as whips were lashed. Steel glinted. Jerus the scarred one. To be more scarred. Welcome to Hell.

  The demons took him, and he was one of them. Conrad’s lot of atoners. The demons crowded around him, their smell overpowering him, their metal glinting in the warm light. The drugs weakened him, and he was lost in a soup of sickness and sweat, pleasure and pain. The colours brightened, and the pain floated across his skin like cold snakes as blades cut across, blood welled dark in the tinted steam. Demons all around. But none were his father.

  As they came closer, the demons seemed to materialize out of their black shells, blurry yet sharply forming in his eyes, the horned heads leering. The chords of thick veins pulsing across slick skin and bulging muscle, snaking and slithering under scales. Black and blue and red all shining like rainbow colours but uncertain as the sun behind rain clouds. Here they were. Demons. Here he was. Hell.

  No father.

  Only Conrad, and invisible.

  And penance.


  They cut me up. Fast forward.


  “Holy fucking shit.” Alexander’s words of wisdom. On listening to Jerusalem’s words on the discovery of Hell. Or one Hell.

  Alexander now noticed in the sliced sunlight through the table fan. He noticed that Jerus now had more scars than before. On his face, more white streaks of healed tissue.

  “They cut you up.”


  Both the teacups were empty except for the dark dregs at the bottom. They had both enjoyed the moderate doses of caffeine. Jerus preferred coffee, but tea was somewhat exotic to him. Strangely enough.

  The red clay pot of sweetened curd, the top still wrapped in thin paper, lay still and full beside the cups. Untouched. Somewhere in the middle, Alexander had warned that curd and tea together could cause acidity. So, sensibly enough, it lay untouched for the moment.

  “Then what happened?” Alexander said, sipping air from his teacup and cursing his idiocy. The clock on the wall said 2:24. And common sense read the hands as 2:24 PM, due to the presence of solar illumination. How time flew.

  “Penance….” Jerus shuddered visibly. And Alexander felt a chill crawling up his spine as he saw it, for he had never seen Jerus so blatantly express pain or fear, or remembrances of either. His eyes seemed to fade into eternal distances, like normal people reminiscing. Jerus was rarely normal.

  His fingers went up to the scars, shrunken over a little over half a year of healing, but the cold bite of blades and leather still resurfaced, the smell and heat of Hell still explicit. The pain still lingering in the miniature valleys on his face, where rivers of blood had once run vivid. Now they were dry, the beds pale like bones long crushed on a river bed, and transformed to a bleak soil.

  “I woke up in an alleyway.” Jerus spoke again. Alexander actually jumped a millimeter or so from his chair, startled. “There’s a lot of those in New York. Anyway, I woke up, and I couldn’t move. It hurt that bad.  My face, scarred.” His hands, stroking the sealed gashes again, caressing them like a haunted lover. “Blood, stiffened into a mask on my face, and over that, a real mask. A mask of bandages. They had given me penance in Hell, and thrown me out at dawn with bandages on my wounds. I found….a typed note in my pocket. It said ‘Come back on Saturday. Penance is purity, and the first step is gained. Twenty more, and Heaven shall greet you on your final day. EMO is for Conrad’s children only. Come back, without visitors. We are watching you.’ I remember… clear. I’d found Hell. But a wrong part of it. But they weren’t about to let me go. A feudal Hell ruled by Conrad. A Hell bought by a power hungry weirdo with lots of money and a soul he doesn’t value. And now, I’d gotten myself stuck….twenty more weeks of penance, Conrad had deemed for me. Then I was free….but I couldn’t stay for twenty weeks. This was Hell, but the wrong corner. A forgotten piece I couldn’t stay in.”

  Alexander pondered for a while. “Jerus, this…..this isn’t what you’ve been looking for. This isn’t like you. How could you trust some masochistic cult of sinners who live on unmarked drugs to obtain some painful high that is beyond me? That wasn’t Hell, Jerus. That was an illusion. An elaborate hallucination brought on by chemicals and pain and lighting. God only knows what they made you swallow, Jerus. Whatever it is, it could not have been safe. Some home engineered shit that’ll screw up your brains in a month, I’ll wager.” Sweat dripped down his pale forehead. He sweated a lot, already. And even more when he got nervous. He flicked off the moisture with clean fingernails.

  “I went back.”

  “You what?”

  “You heard.” Alexander glared.

  “Yes I did, Jerus. Yes I did. Why did you do that, for heaven’s sake?”


  Rewind. To talk to Conrad. And so it was.

  Jerusalem returned to the pit of fire and pain where the demons lurked, seeking one known as Conrad.




He had returned during the day, to the dark basement. Empty and dank, huge and foreboding. No Hell did he find. Only whispered echoes and silent shadows. He had cried to the shadows “I want to speak to Conrad”. Roared so his scarred neck pulsed with throbbing snakes. Snakes that held vibrant blood. Demon blood?


He knew who knew. And he would find him if it took his entire life. The shadows had held Conrad. In contemplation. He was lucky. Conrad had lingered in his basement, his brainchild and dish of summoning delights. EMO.  In the shadows he spoke, unseen.

  “How strange. Who is it that returns here by day?”


    Firestone. Jason.


  “Indeed. I am here, so speak. What do you want?” So Jerusalem without a last name, now Jason Firestone under the eyes of Conrad spoke. “I came here to get into Hell.” A torch, held under cupped fingers in the dark. Conrad had pushed a button. And the torch glowed, the light born under those fingers, lighting them from beneath. Flesh and blood had glowed a heavenly colour of diluted sunlight and mellow murder. In the shadows, all Jerus had seen of Conrad were his glowing hands.

  “A strange thing to ask of me,” that handsome voice curled out of the black, “Since I live to bring Hell to all under me. And you….Mr. Firestone, are one of those, I believe.”

  “You brought me pain and….something. You bring Hell to this basement, but I want the real Hell. I search for….for a demon.”

  “Here be demons.”


  Jerus grinned without humour. The hands of Conrad continued to glow like those of a saint out of plagued blackness.

  “No….a demon who ran from me. Long ago. I want to go to the place from which you summoned those demons. The ones I saw yesterday.” A silence followed. A silence of doubt? Jerus had questioned himself. The scars of penance, still red, burned with pain.

  “Who are you, Jason Firestone? And why do you seek a demon? Why do you not seek simple penance, like the others?”

  “He is my father.”

  Alexander’s bright surprise in the present. The vessels of his face, filling with hot blood. How could you tell him?


  “Your father.” Conrad had whispered with a voice of steel. Hesitation. The glowing hands flickered out. And the shadows melted back into place to wrap Conrad. “You are mad.” Jerus had felt rage then. Well up like ultraviolet steam. “Let me use the gate, Conrad. I will pay you what you want.” Silence. And then, the soft whispers. This time of soles on polished floor. And he had realised. Conrad was gone. And Jerus was left in a pit of shadows, once ruled by fire and demons. With rage flowing into his limbs with each jerk of his cardiac muscles, he ran out of the place where once he had found unwanted penance. Out to greet the sunlight of morning and chase a wannabe demonlord.


The sun had nearly blinded him, out in the side alley, trapped within a canyon of brick and concrete, of gaping eyes of smeared glass and boards. A canyon that ran in the middle with a river of solidified tar and the slush of garbage. And a figure dressed in black, running like the wind. And disappearing around the corner. Up ahead, white sky had stared through the crack in the canyon, like a massive blind eye. And out had come Jerusalem’s gun. A new one, gleaming a dull silver. This time he was prepared. No silencer, though. The shot had cracked the air of the canyon, and gentle smoke had poured from the muzzle. The corner of the brick wall had sparkled into shattered crumbs.

  Jerus had given chase. By the time he reached the corner, his jeans were soaked to the knees in the water of garbage. Turn the corner. And he remembered clearly the black car, veering away around the corner with a screech, leaving acrid fumes in the air and hot black rubber on the road.


  Conrad had run. Another retort in the crisp morning air. Cracking the air like a Ming vase. One less bullet in the clip, and there had been a spark and a hole in the back of the car, neatly rimmed with a circle of superheated silver metal where the paint had been shaved off. And then the car was gone. Jerus left alone with a gun clamped in his hands, and rage working through his body.

  But Conrad never travels without bodyguards, apparently. Another car, behind Jerus as he ran. The tinted glass rolled down, black doors flung open. And Conrad’s shadowmen had poured out. Two, three of them. No demons from Hell available in the daylight, so make use of the mortal ones. Mere men, sheathed in black from head to toe. Heads wrapped in black too. Humanoid shadows in the daylight, holding silver weapons. Handguns, and the brief memory of the sinners of LA, gold teeth, and polished guns tucked behind underwear elastics.

  Behind the car door, one of them had crouched, aimed, and fired. A shot echoing in the urban canyons, and the eye of the .45 muzzle had glowed for a second. A hot bead of light had streaked past Jerus’s face, glancing off his cheek and slicing through the outer rim of his left ear. Blood had spurted in the air in droplets that drizzled warmly down his cheek and neck. And Jerus had collapsed as his ear and cheek leapt into mental flames. He had grunted like an animal, spittle dropping from his loose lips as the crimson line on his cheek dropped warmth all over the side of his face, and his ear sprayed over his shoulder. Two more shots thundered as the shadow men of Conrad fired. More Colts smoking. Bullets had screamed past him and Jerus had awoken through the fire on the left side of his face. He had raised the gun, and fired back. Four shots fired, pushing the trigger hard enough to redden his finger as he ran sideways. They fired back. Raw smoke, making the sinuses itch, blurred the air.  And sound flew around cracking the morning.

  A shadow man flew back, his chest throwing a copious string of brightly oxygenated blood into the air, where it broke into a line of fat drops that painted themselves into the absorbent black of his fabric. Breath and gun flew, and the shadow man landed on the tarmac of the road. Jerus ran.


  Alexander stared at the ragged gap in the rim of Jerusalem’s left ear, where a gold earring now nestled. And the shrunken line on his cheekbone, the strings which had once stitched the wound long dissolved. Rewind.

  The gun shuddered in Jerusalem’s hand, recoiling as it spit out bullets without inhibition. The trigger remained held down firmly. With his cheek burning and ear aching like a mad dog on fire, Jerus had run and fired as the shadow men floated apart and sprinted to corners. Their car’s windows were frosted with spidery cracks and holes. As they ran and hid, they fired at Jerus. And he continued to run and shoot as well. The air of the canyons was torn open with the searing paths of screaming projectiles, dissected with sound and smell.

  Another black clad shadow flew to the ground sideways, its head popping as it snapped to one side, the hole gaping and squirting unpleasantly. The tar was stained once again with dark fluid. Jerus had turned the corner. So had he run, with left side drenched. Nary a taxi-cab would accept him, but he found one. And ran from the shadows of day and Conrad to his bathroom with the human demons on his heels. Unlicensed doctor, and painful stitching under painfully bright bulbs, and clothes washed off red in the bathtub.

  I fled New York City.


  “And here lies the crux of the matter. They chased me, Alexander. They’ve been chasing me for nearly, or is it over, half a year now.” Alexander sighed and looked into his friend’s eyes. No joke here. The sunlight being cut up through the table fan like Jerus in Conradian Hell was now slightly weaker.

  “And the bigger problem is,” said Jerus with a muffled cough. “They sent more than just shadow men with handguns after me.” Alexander looked expectantly with worry in his grey eyes.

  “Demons.” Alexander breathed out the word in a barely audible fashion, both syllables pronounced tiredly. Jerus nodded slowly. Of course.


  “Jerus. You paid them. They fed you drugs and tortured you. It’s a bloody pervert’s disco you went to. Sadomasochism and all that. I don’t think any of this is real. They might have been hallucinatory drugs. This Hell through intoxication is just a sick idea. And going to places like that is unsafe.”

  “Alexander. I don’t need a lecture. It was real. You weren’t there. It was real, I saw them, smelled them. Demons. The Erebus theory is real.” Alexander lapsed into an irritated silence, though worry found its way into crevice in his face. Jerus pulsed his jaw, grinding in it the bitter memory of the basement.

  “And you don’t need to tell me it was a bad idea. I need to find another way. But there’s the problem of them following me. Demons, Alexander. You don’t realise how dangerous the things pursuing me are. Like my father. But these don’t have any familial connection with me, I’ll tell you that. They won’t stop hunting me till Conrad calls them off. And he never will, because I hold knowledge of his basement of summoning. And he cannot allow that knowledge to leak.”

  “Are you sure they’re still following you? Maybe they lost you along the way….I mean, you’ve come all the way to Kolkata. Do you think they’re that persistent? Whoever, demons or not.” The table fan rattled and the ceiling fan clattered in unison. Jerus wondered if the tea had reached his bladder yet, because the paper over the pot of sweetened curd was beginning to blend into translucency with sagging moisture. Then he realised he didn’t want to have yoghurt, Indian or not, in the first place. Alexander’s eyebrows rose questioningly.

  “Oh. Well, I really don’t know. And I don’t want to find out. obviously, I’m hoping they’ve lost me. But….everywhere I go, they seem to be there. Just behind me. Demons….have their ways…..”

  Alexander looked out. Late noon sun now, stretching the shadows of the lamp posts and making the lazy dust gambolling in the air glow. Conversation ends.


Thus did the telling of Jerusalem’s life story of three years, ultra compacted and reduced for convenience, end. And Alexander digested the compacted story and his tea, and opened up the pot of curd in a few minutes. The talk went on, with Alexander’s staple assurances of Jerus’s being in safety, and persuasions for Jerus to move in until further notice and relax and etcetera. And Jerusalem’s agreement. They talked and enjoyed the comforts of normality in the natural strobe effect of sunlight chopped through a table fan like flesh through a meat-grinder. Behind the normality, there lurked the fear. Of demons and abnormal lives.


Incidentally, Jerusalem didn’t quite like the sweetened curd.


Curdled moon


And Alexander’s house became the epitome of normality. Fearful normality.


And underneath lay the fear. Demons and masochists? Shadowmen with Colts in broad daylight? Scarred Jerus sipping tea by the checked orange and white tablecloth and watching the old TV set, wincing as he tossed  the spoonfuls of sweetened curd down his gullet. Because Alexander had said curd would cool him down. And Jerus needed to be cool. Watching in normality. Everybody loves Raymond.

  And Alexander hoping Jerusalem’s shadowy pursuers were gone. Or nonexistent. Hallucinations in a neon hell? Perhaps, they had fed him drugs, after all.

  Either way, it was worry and worry again for Alexander the pharmacist and Ruler of Alexandrine pharmacy, where the lands were ripe with harvest of stinking bottles and plastic packets. Needles and chemicals and tablets and pills. Worry for your friend, said his mind. And he obeyed. He worried.


  Conqueror or not, Alexander was scared witless.


  But hope might ripen, thought he.


  Two days passed.

  Normality fermented and smoothened.

  A third day. Cold beers at the club, with parched brown waiters serving under blazing noon sun. Sale of medicines and medical supplies continuing in the Alexandrine. Jerus staying in the cool shadows of Alexander’s home of normality, sleeping away half the day under the luxuriant strobe of the table fan.

  Fourth day, normality begins to set.

  Alexander’s beginnings of relaxation and further nervousness. Perhaps there was no Conrad or Hell or demons. Perhaps Jerus was delusional. Or perhaps there was all of that, and hallucinatory demons, and no pursuit. Perhaps Jerus was paranoid. No pursuers hunting him across the globe to slice the secret of Conradian Hell from his brain. Or perhaps all was true; and the pursuers far behind, lost, given up.

  Relaxation began to set as well, and smoothen. The shadows were sanctuary from the Indian sun, and Alexander’s home was sanctuary from all.

  Fifth day passes on, and relaxation smoothens and sours all in one go.

  A trifle too sour. One go, and normality doesn’t get the chance to sweeten, no time to add in the sugar and relax.


  The night of the fifth day, hot summer moonlight and excessively thick air rushing in through the table fan. Alexander asleep in the room down the corridor, Jerus sprawled on the couch. Moonlight everywhere.

  The curtains on the verandah door fluttering and floating on the warm currents like ghosts dancing in the celebration of murder. Translucent and light on the moonlit breeze. Jerus was dozing. Nothing heard but the rattle and cough of fans, table and ceiling. Sweat beading on moist flesh in droplets that quiver and vanish into the magical mists of evaporation.


  Normality hurled out of the pot and into the gutter before one can even add the sugar. There in the dancing ghosts of verandah curtains, bobbing on the lunar breeze, was the hazy hint of a horned head. Black as shadows of starless night.

  Wrapped in the translucent white reams of curtain like the shimmering shroud of a dead bride, a demon shape floated through the moon blue portal of the verandah door. Horned head and all, swirling black. And smell of sweet smoke.

  Jerus had watched normality hurled in a sour mess of curd, churning, churning. And out, the curdled remnants of mishti doi poured out of his mouth in a bitter vomit. Rolling sickly down his chin as the shape floats through the open door, glimmering shroud of curtains slipping and rippling over its body. The terribly sweet smell, of hazy smoke. Jerus watched in numbing terror the shadow of his past emerge in Kolkatan moonlight and curtains and his hair stood on end, his eyes watered. And dizziness struck as the horned shape blurred and swirled.

  A hiss.

  There was smoke pouring out of the demon shape in the moonlight. It was wreathed in it. And a tinkling. Of scales?

  Shink! Metal on leather, and a curved blade gleamed in the moonlight bringing haunting echoes of penance in ultraviolet steam.

  Jerus, mouth clogged with long transformed and mutated milk, sputtered. “No!” He meant to say but no word emerged, only a spray and a hoarse whisper. It would have to do, the demon shape floating towards him out of the curtains with the curved blade. Out with the gun. No! Jerus tugged out the silvered Colt from under the cushion, pulled the safety. A hiss. No! Demon shape swirling tendrils of black around its body, the world turning hazy, smoke rushing off it. Jerus aimed and pulled the trigger. The shot made him jump, the gun recoiling warmly in his hand. A deafening crack in the cool shadows of the room, and through the dizzy haze, muzzle flash drew the clear cut face of demon, black and horns and black glassy eyes glittering out of stemmed sockets. Orange light of a fraction of a second. Outside a dog emitted a piercing howl of terror at the gunshot. Two more shots fired. The demon shape went tumbling back, back and out onto the verandah. Muzzle flash cutting through the smoky hell haze. The black swirling shape of humanoid demon tumbled over the rails of the verandah.

  Sweat rolling down his face, Jerus felt the cold but oh so familiar embrace of abnormality embrace him again with undying love.


  There were dark smattering of crimson droplets, stark against the thin white of the curtains, which continued to flutter and dance indifferently. Demons bleed, do they? Bleed red.

  Alexander came running. Time to worry again, and time for fear again, conqueror or no conqueror. Out goes normality and sweet curd, in white lines down Jerus’s chin. “Oh my bloody god what happened? Oh my god Jerus! Oh bloody hell what happened?” The curtains with blood, dizzying sweet wreaths of smoke floating about on the warm moonlight. “I puked.” Jerus muttered.

  Alexander held Jerus, like conqueror grasping his loot. “Jerus what happened?” Silence. “They’ve arrived. They’ve found me again. I knew it.” Jerus ran to the verandah. Over the rails, wet with more blood. And down onto the street, moonlit.


  No body. The demon shape, shot and tumbled over balcony rails to plummet three floors to the stone was gone. Disappeared. Only a blotch of crimson on the pavement. And a stray dog howling madly. All over the street, flickerings of light behind window panes. A gunshot was a rare thing in the streets of Kolkata. Most of the streets of Kolkata, at least. City of Joy that it was, where criminals preferred to bludgeon or cut under night skies, for lack of equipment or pure bloodlust. And here, by Alexandrine pharmacy, people had heard four shots in the dead of night. Terrified they huddled in their rooms, unaware of vanishing demons or vomited curd.


  “This is blood.” Said Alexander. Demons bleed. Bleed red. “And there’s no body anywhere downstairs. It’s gone. Vanished.” Added Jerus.

  Alexander’s frustration and panic, blended with terror. “No Jerus, it wasn’t a demon. It did not vanish. It bled on the curtains. It was a person, an assassin!”

  Demon! It was a demon Alexander for the love of God look down. No body. It vanished. Disappeared.”

  “No it didn’t Jerus. It did not disappear! Someone must have took it! It did not disappear Jerus you have to think straight.” Jerus lunged a panther with a glint of familiarity in his glittering eyes. Trevor whimpering and the crack of nose on the table. Jerus’s hands grabbing Alexander’s collar and shoving the muzzle of old .45 right into his sweaty throat where it grew cold against his pounding jugular. “Jerus what the fuck you doing?” Alexander whimpering like Trevor. “You listen to me, Alexander. It was a demon. Its gone. I’ve seen them with my own eyes. I’ve seen them, and I just saw right now….again…oh…” The muzzle of the gun pushed painfully into Alexander’s jugular, making him gulp audibly against the pressure. “Alright, Jerus. Calm down damn it calm down Jerus. Please it doesn’t matter now, alright? They’re here, someone’s found you and we have to get out of here, right now. And…”

  Jerus let him go and placed his palms on the ground with a soft burp. He jerked and vomit leaked from his mouth and splattered to the floor. “Jerus…” Out of nowhere a blur charged into the scene and the gun went flying out of Jerus’s hand and spinning into the corner with a clatter, and a curved blade was shoved under Alexander’s chin, conforming neatly with the curvature of his neck. One push and it would open up a new mouth for Alexander.

  Sweat rolling down his forehead to mingle with curd waste on the floor, Jerus looked up with reddened eyes. “Don’t move, don’t lunge for the gun. Hold on.” A female voice, sublime and soft, untouched by any accent, but perfect in articulation. “Oh God,” was Alexander’s reply with blushed jugular a bit uncomfortable against cold steel. Jerus blinked hard. There was a shape behind Alexander, but no demon. It was a woman. Dressed in black, it seemed, unless his eyes were lying. Black against Alexander’s cheery white. Jerus stopped for the first time to wonder why on earth Alexander was still wearing his white suit and black shirt and white tie from the Club dinner they had returned from two hours before, before surveying the woman with blurred eyes. Did everyone wear black? Demons all black, shadow men in Conrad’s alleys all in black. Perhaps she was a shadow woman. But she wore no mask to hide her pretty face, touched with slightly oriental features. And more black, curving down in strands that joined to form a luscious mane that poured onto Alexander’s shoulder and tickled the back of his rather uncomfortable neck. Which sprouted bristling gooseflesh at the prompting of both hair and blade against its skin. Jerus squinted at the woman. “Who are you?” The obligatory question.

  “Later. This is fine. For now, you can go get your gun, but don’t shoot me.” She let Alexander go. The curved knife, long and menacing, gleamed in gloved fingers. “I just did that to make sure you didn’t kill me.” Alexander, gasping and rubbing his throat with eyes bulging like onions out of a slit sack. Jerus gaped, wiping vomit from his chin. “You….know of the demons?” Her exotic face glowed in the moonlight that was being recycled through the tablefan. A smile curved her lips. “Demons?”

  “I shot one.” Alexander, still optically bulging, gawped like a fish at the unfolding events. Beginning to hyperventilate and keep down the mush of rice, fish and curd in his own stomach. The woman spoke again.

  “If you call them demons, you can call me an angel.” Jerus frowned.

  “Will that do for now? More explanation later, perhaps. We have to leave, now. So go get your gun.” Jerus scampered to the corner and clamped the firearm within clammy fingers. “Let’s go.” Before they could protest, she ran out of the room. Alexander and Jerusalem, alone in the moonlit room still vaguely stinking of digested organic matter and strange smoke. Deciding to toss hesitation out of the window, Jerus ran after her, grabbing Alexander by the collar. He also grabbed his jacket and knapsack on the way.


But getting out isn’t easy.


In the dank hallways of Alexandrine Pharmacy and home, the angel ran with sinuous grace, and Jerus held the gun ready. Clamped tight in his hands. And demons watched. For they had arrived and invaded Alexander’s home.

  At the corner, a black shape shifted like oil. A horned head? Too much black on this night. The woman spoke.

  “I don’t think they expected you to have a gun. Around here, its pretty rare. And you’re not from here. How’d you get that piece into the city?”

  “Long story.” Jerus muttered inaudibly. She didn’t probe further. Around the corners of both sides of the hallway, hissing and clicking. The demons awaited, and smoke gently drifted in the air. Jerus’s head reeled. Alexander was now pale as chalk, skin imitating his nifty suit. “I…… home, I can’t leave….I….” The woman whirled around and glared into his eyes with her own, dark brown to boot. “We might just be able to come back. For now, we have to get out.” She nodded, and without warning, broke into a sprint for the end of the hallway. Moonlight, shadows, and smoke painted the halls of the Alexandrine in pastel slush for Jerus’s eyes as he followed the angel from nowhere, with his friend clinging to him like cheap paint. They whirled around the corner. Hiss.


A demon crouched in the stairwell.


Hearts stopped, and the demon crouched low. Smoke rushed off it. And another wicked blade, curved, out in black fingers. Behind them, out of the shadows, another. Horned and swirling dizzily. The gun went limp in slack fingers, as sweat dripped. The smoke—his brain responded like the pastel slush of the world. The demons closed. The angel, gloved fingers grasped desperately within the black of her clothes. And out in a flash, a blur of movement and her cry of “Come on!”. Something exploded, blasting the blue haze of the pastel hallways into a searing white blossom of light and sparks that etched the demon faces and their glassy eyes within black stems and their obsidian horns; acrid smoke(more smoke Jerus was getting sick of it smoke and no cigarettes?) and dancing sparks filled the air as the demons hissed. And the firm hands of the angel grasped their wrists, pulling Jerus and Alexander down the stairs. Alexander was now The Mute, having seen with his own swimming eyes the demons that haunted Jerusalem’s past, and now believed. They had horns. 

They sprinted.


Ran, ran until they were out into the open.


And awaiting them, a white van with tinted windows. There it stood, with Suzuki imprinted on its back in metal letters. Japanese cars were pretty popular in Kolkata. No time to think, the angel, the demon son and the conqueror were ushered into the car by hands gloved in (more)black, and the van sped away into the night. A taxi screeched after them, with a dreadfully gaudy rear window sticker leering towards the sky with yellow eyes and bright white fangs. DRAGON, the sticker said. The white van howled down the alley and away, and DRAGON cab chased it.


Inside the van, Jerusalem says to the dark shapes around him. “They’re chasing us.” The angel immediately replied. “They won’t after a while.”


  “They left their demons behind.”

  “Demons travel in cars?” In the dark of the van, a whisper of irritation, perhaps. The angel speaks again, with no irritation. “Apparently so.”


Surely enough, in two and a half seconds, the DRAGON went into raving reverse and headed back for the Alexandrine.

By the time they were back in the chase, the white van had turned two corners and disappeared. They had escaped.

  They left behind quite a few events, though. In the alleyways around the Alexandrine and Sen & Sons sweet shop and Sagar Tailoring, the gunshots had eventually raised the eyebrows of a local vigilante patrol with their eyes peeled for dacoits and their heads dulled with cheap alcohol. Sticks and stones were hurled at a taxi making a racket at an unearthly hour, and windows were smashed. The car was stopped, but only after it broke the kneecaps of a vigilante with its bumper.

  In the dark alley while helpless people clustered in their bedrooms in terror of an unknown sound—the gunshot, a taxi was battered by enraged neighborhood protectors, vigilantes with bottles and sticks. Headlights were shattered and metal dented.

  Unfortunately, they messed with the wrong taxi.

  A cracked window was rolled down, and a (black)gloved hand had emerged with a revolver. And in the night, another blast had echoed. One vigilante shot, two more run over. The last had run, and something had chased him. By the time it caught him in between two smelly buildings in a creviced passage smelling of urine, he had no breath left in him, and he didn’t manage to take any more in since his throat was slit and his back slashed open. The vigilante who’s knees were cracked was beaten to death with his own stick.

  By morning, the Hooghly, sacred tributary of the Ganges, was polluted with four more battered and bleeding bodies, a little more garbage. In two days, the corpses would be fished out of the muddy banks of the river by bathers seeking purification, and stashed into a crematorium to be burnt and forgotten, members of some gang fight somewhere.


Inside the white van


Obligation induced Jerusalem to talk in the cramped darkness of the white van.

  “Who are you?”

  Alexander, pushed against the tinted glass windows. Outside, through hazy layers of dark colour, the orange glow of streetlamps filtered in hesitantly as they sped by. The van was moving fast. Rubber burned, and the people inside swayed.

  “Who are you all?”

  “Who are you? I think we should ask first.” A deep voice, definitely male, and with the touch of an accent. “Why should you ask first?” Jerus enquired.

  “Because we saved your life. And this one’s too.”

  “Oh.” They swayed as the van turned a corner at breakneck speed. The interior remained dark. Packed. Claustrophobic. Silence for a moment. Then tautology strikes again. “Who are you, then?” Jerusalem pondered, and shuffled out the crushed pack from out of his back jeans pocket, fishing out a cigarette and propping it into his mouth. It was dark in the van, but not dark enough to blind anyone. The angel spoke. “Not in here.” Jerus breathed out heavily, and removed his hands from the booklet of club matches in the same pocket. Tugged the cigarette out and pushed it back into the pack. Pack goes into pocket. “Why did you save me, then? And this one.”

  Silence, annoyed most likely. The angel again, voice soft and sweet. “This one knows of demons. They chase him, I think.”

  Again, the male voice. “Are you a demon?”

  “No.” Jerusalem, somewhat surprised. Was the guy stupid?

  “Do you run from demons?”


  “Then, my friend, you are in the safe hands of Heaven.” My friend, you are in the safe hands of…

  “Heaven?” Friend? Suddenly he was this fellow’s friend? “Yes, Heaven. In this city, you will be safe from your demons only in our care. There are many cults here, but we are the only true ones. We follow Heaven. What is your name?”

  “Jerusalem.” Jerus blurted it out before he could stop himself, then cursed himself. But they had saved his life. Probably. “A strange name.” The Angel said. “Well, isn’t this all a bit strange? Could you tell me who it is you people are?” Alexander unbound from the corner of the dark stinking van, cried out.

  “While you people debate about who you are, my house is probably being robbed! That was my home! Bloody demons and Heaven worshippers and bloody God knows what I cannot believe this shit! Let me out of this damn van and….that’s my home! I want the police! Drive me to the police, now! Get to a station and let me out!” The angel spoke.

  “The police cannot do anything. They are useless. It isn’t safe now—we can go back in the morning and you can live in you pretty little home and take your chances. But not until morning. You’re white. Pretty easy to pick out on a street in this city. Assassins would have a ball picking you off.”

  “Well, I don’t care! I don’t have anything to do with cults and demons in this or any other city, and that includes you people, whoever you are!” In the light of phosphorus lamps speeding by through smoked blue windows, Alexander’s distinctive blush crawled up his neck and collected furiously in his ears, making them glow against the window, on which his spittle had settled from his shouting.


  “No, Jerus, no! I think I’ve had enough of what you go through everyday, believe me I’ve had enough! I thought my life used to be strange! And what we did before….Jerus, these….demons! I can’t believe it! I don’t want to believe this. I just want to get back home. I am going home, and…..and…… can stay with these fellows if you like.” He seemed to lose some of his newfound fury when he got to the prospect of abandoning Jerus. “I….Jerus, I don’t think it’s safe….if you stay with me. Maybe the Club…”, without warning, he thumped his elbow on the window and gritted his teeth. He couldn’t believe this shit. Unsaid words. Jerus just nodded, shocked and heartbroken at his friend’s easy collapse into terror and abandonment, but deciding not to make big deal out of it. After all, his father had done the same. Jerusalem was an expert at stifling feelings. Elite. Veteran. Stony faced Jerusalem and red faced Alexander sat in the dark of a Suzuki van.

  The van moved on in silence.


Crumbling Place and too many Cults


“So, you still haven’t told me. Who are you guys?” Jerusalem said those words under a weak bulb hanging from a flimsy wire connected to a mostly home-made electrical system that coiled like skinny snakes through the crumbling red walls and flaking ceilings of a big place. Big, crumbling place where the people in black and the angel had driven the van into a shady porch. It looked like an abandoned building. An ancient, broken down mansion from the ubiquitous “Colonial British” category and time slot. A broken shell of a once grand house, with moist red brick walls and shutters of painted green wood and stony arches and spiraling staircases and dark, black windows that signified abandonment. Walls caught in a net of roots and weed, plants crawling all over it like ants, mingling with home-made networks of wires. Black, empty windows shattered and dusty. A colonial mansion situated on the side of a great big field of empty land, just waiting to be demolished for that tempting acre to be used by fellows with cash and ambitions. In this particular case of old mansion with a big field, contractors might find themselves with knives against their throats at midnight, because even vigilantes with Heavenly ideas need secret hideouts.

  One of those places schoolchildren walk by at night in groups and call haunted, seeing gaping black windows like hollow eyesockets and crumbling walls like congealed blood. This crumbling place was haunted by none other than the rescuers of Jerusalem and Alexander. Men and women clad in black, ushering them deep down into the basement of this empty mansion, into its damp bowels, where the gas of the earth was stored as if in a great, dark stomach lit by manually arranged light bulbs that flickered in the damp air. Hideout of the heavenly vigilantes of Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta. The people of black garments and heavenly ideals of justice preferred Calcutta, as the city was less populated with cults of the less heavenly sort before the changing of its name. Coincidence, most likely. All the same, the city required the justice of the underground, and they considered themselves Calcutta’s(Kolkata’s) saving grace, its gift from Heaven, preventing the shadowy crimes of nether cults from breaking out into the open and adding to the chaos of normal crime and political strife.

  Who were they? Jerus had asked in the stomach of the diseased Colonial British mansion, where gases fermented and bulbs hung off the ceilings like fungus. And they had finally answered. He had answered.

  The man with the slight accent, stepping forward into the light. Jerus and Alexander finally saw him. Dressed in black(everywhere black), the man had a chiselled face browned by Indian sun, and slick black hair pasted back against him head with oil(state manufactured and reeking). The fellow had introduced himself in the car as simply Arjuna.

  “We are the Hands of Heaven.”

  Jerus nearly widened his eyes, but decided not to. They were a cult all right, right down to the bizarrely clichéd name. Images of Conrad’s basement flashed in his mind. He glanced at the angel, she hadn’t looked to him like the religious type. Trust not in looks, he thought. The angel spoke.

  “So, the….demons are after you. We will not ask why, but we would advise you to stay under our protection. And in time, join our cult.” Alexander rolled his eyes and gritted his teeth, and Jerusalem blinked once, twice in surprise. “What?”

  “We would advise you to stay under our protection, and, in time, join…”

  “Your cult?” The angel and Arjuna nodded. “Well, I….I can’t join a cult!”

  “Why not? It’s the only place where you can find sanctuary and allies,” Arjuna glanced at Alexander with a twist of his lips and continued, “against this threat. We know of Conrad, Jerusalem.” Jerusalem looked up. “Yes. Those were Conrad’s, your attackers, the people in the taxi. Conrad, who has a cult of his own. There are a hundred and more cults in this world, but Conrad’s is pure evil….and it grows like a cancer throughout the world. The man is making money as we speak, from whipping and wounding madmen and masochists, people who have sinned enough to lose their sanity and seek solace in the arms of a greedy Satan worshipper. The Erebus Minority, they call themselves. No doubt you have done something to them, or tried to escape penance, as they say, perhaps? We don’t care here. But the Erebus Minorites are beginning to infect Calcutta. We have problem enough here, with the underworld….the Kali cults, killing off more and more and dumping them into the river with the Goddess as their excuse, the lower Antichrist churches are growing, the black saddhus still vigilant….and now this Erebus Minority. The penance to avoid Hell, this Conrad’s men and women are teaching the people, the sinners of Calcutta. And that we don’t like. Twenty three Erebus Minors in the world, word has it. number one in New York, they say. And twenty three in this city now perhaps….no, that’s just wrong. Enough cults here. We want them out. and if you want to stay, Jerusalem, you should want them out as well.”

  But strange things happening in the mansion, Jerusalem had no time to answer. Outside in the wilderness of the Colonial field of urine and grass, assassins of burnished skin blackened with coal had crept through the pungent air and reached the dark hollows of the crumbling place.  They were dressed in(black?) orange reams of saffron and (more)black underneath the glowing silk, which quite blemished the camouflage of soot on skin in the first place. But assassins they were, all the same, their tongues stained red as blood with sweet colours and bitter humours spilled from the throat of a goat. One of the  Kali cults had finally found the Hands of Heaven in their little hideout. In the night of the City of Joy, cults crept in the streets. Assassins in their taxis and vans, hiding and waiting for other cults to join them. And a silent war commenced. Some days, nothing happened. On this night, however, the red tongued rogue worshippers of an obscure Kali cult recognised the arrogant Hands of Heaven after strange goings on near Alexandrine pharmacy.

  So they followed, witnessing demons in the moonlight, and the fleeing white skins under the shelter of a Heavenly van. They found the crumbling place. They crept into the shell of a British mansion, and slithered into its moist gut like saffron bacteria. Darts flew, piercing the necks of  Heavenly guards in popular black and…

  Jerusalem couldn’t answer because a man in saffron and black flew into the shady room under flickering bulbs with red tongue out of his lips and black skin gleaming. And another one. Curved knife in jet hands. Suicide Kali assassins? Thought Arjuna.


  Jerusalem and Alexander watched a fraction of the cult war in a lonely Colonial ruin on the edge of a toilet field, as the righteous Hands of Heaven, for whom religion was no bar, as long as one believed in the upholding of the glorious and universal concept of Heaven; the Hands in black beat on two Kali assassins till their tongues were red with more than colour and goat fluids, and their bodies were awash with dark streams of black soot tremblingly flowing on streams of blood. The Kali assassins survived no longer than four minutes of the assault, and their battered corpses were taken away(for later disposal in the ever available Hooghly).

  Arjuna wiped sweat from his brow, and returned to his guests. And smiled nervously. “Ah…these cults, I told you, na? Two of our guys are knocked out; bloody darts. Insane people, I tell you. Oh come on, you have to fight back, see? Look at these people, assassins everywhere—and now this Erebus Minority. We are the only people with sense in this place, this underworld. You have to kill to survive. This kind of thing happens all the time. So….I’m giving you a choice, Jerusalem. You join us, or you leave and go into the underworld of Kolkata. Into what you just saw. Kali worshippers, black saddhus, Antichristians, and hundred others. And now, Conrad. What will it be?”




Jerusalem and Alexander stood in the middle of the empty road. Dawn had not yet arrive. What will it be? Arjuna had asked.


No. Had been the answer.


Outside they went, no longer under heavenly protection. Stars grudgingly showed themselves through the pink haze of polluted clouds over the city, and night air gave some respite from the summer heat. Jerus shook his head to clear it. Too much. Demons in the night, Kali worshippers beaten by Heavenly cult members who saved their lives, sour curd unsettling in his stomach.

  No, no cults, no nothing. He left.

  Had he noticed some trace of disappointment in the angel’s face? Had her eyes flickered with a shade of loneliness, of desperation as he left the crumbling refuge of Colonial ghosts and black clad cult members?

  Was he imagining all of it? Was he beginning to remember Tina all of a sudden? Was his mind finally breaking down? No, no. it could not.


Then, the farewells. He realised Alexander was no longer giving him protection, no sanctuary. Both bound by fear of moonlit demons, and yet torn apart by it.

  “So….I’d….better get back home.”


  “Jerus…..I…..I’m sorry, man. It’s….it’s just…”

  “Unsafe, I know. I’ve done enough to your life in these few days. I’d….better start running again. In a month or so, maybe. Get some money first. I’ll shack up at that hotel I told you about, cheapshit…but inconspicuous.”

  “I’ll give you the cash, Jerus—look, just stay at the club, okay?”

  “No. it’ll be the hotel. I’ll call you when I get there. I’ll come get my stuff.” A silence.



  With two okays they parted into the dense night in search for taxis, to go their different ways. Jerusalem with his heart broken despite battle scarred blank face, and Alexander the Guilty, no conqueror of fear.


Morning after next, the holy tributary of the Ganges is muddied once again with flecks of coagulated blood. In the musty veils of sinister dawn, more bodies, Kali worshippers with red tongues and battered skin dumped into the brown waters of the Hooghly. They washed up on its banks eventually, long after the pathetic corpses of vigilantes who met their deaths by the Alexandrine pharmacy, stained on their death hour by the shadow of moonlit demons.


Thus, Alexander and Jerusalem parted. Not for long.


After their parting, many things happened within two days. The Hands of Heaven conspired and the cult war of Calcutta(Kolkata) continued in undertones without the influence of Jerusalems or Alexanders, just as it had for years with ninety five percent of the population unaware of its existence. A conqueror was reborn amongst the placental fires of demonic destruction. In a dingy hotel room in a place that was hardly a hotel, Jerusalem saved money by discarding empty packets and saving his full ones, and smoking cheap local cigarettes, biris marinated in the sweat of truck drivers’ fingers where they were rolled. He smoked and crushed cockroaches under his soles, much like he had done nearly a year(or more than year, if his memory was playing games of smudged facets) ago in a similarly dingy New York City hotel room while talking to Conrad on the phone. He had yet to phone Alexander.


He didn’t need to.




The massive insect crunched under his sole, big and brown and ugly. Flying roach. He had read somewhere they were called steam flies. So be it, cockroach or steam fly. Jerusalem grimaced at its insides, staining the grime coated floor like a burst pustule. There were more, growing old on the floor.


Ramesh Hotel, the signboard has proudly proclaimed. With restaurant facilities and rooms. A hotel with rooms, according to Ramesh, was indeed impressive.

  Dingy as any hotel could get, perfect for Jerusalem. Used to such conditions. But somehow, he missed the Alexadrine halls of sweet curd(however unlikable) and cool shadows. Soft couch cushions. And he missed a companion. Alexander.


  Should he have joined the cult? No he missed the Alexadrine halls of companionship. No cults. Tina? He shook his head and pinched the skin of his forehead between big thumbs.

  Alexander had abandoned him. He smashed chitin and basked in his gowns of rancid smoke, glowing softly in sunlight through the barred windows. Alexander, gone like the wind at the sight of danger. He had cried. He never did. Never. Never. And now, once again the tears welled like unwelcome relatives in the late morning, and fell to pat the floor and mingle with dead cockroach fluids.


  But then came Alexander.

  Alexander himself, reborn. Baptised in tears of firebred sorrow, cutting traceries of black rivers down a face glazed in soot. Alexander, wrapped in a brown shawl like one of the intellectuals that hung around the Victoria Memorial looking for inspiration in marble domes and blue skies. Alexander.

  “Alexander!” A hoarse whisper from the throat of Jerusalem, tear stained himself. His abandoning friend barging into his dingy smoke filled hotel room, and stepping all over cockroach spillage with black shoes, usually polished, now smeared in grime. And the brief thought, why was Alexander wearing a shawl in the summer heat? And then, the tears, the soot. The glazed shock in his eyes.

  “Jerus! Oh God they burned my house! They burned it! Burnt it right down to a husk, my home gone gone no pharmacy nothing they burnt it to cinders! The bastards burnt it,” tears rolling copiously down cheeks in hideous black fluid, fresh with bounty of dissolved ash and soot. Inky streams, making him look terrifying in biri smoke and sunlight, “burnt it bloody bastards I’m so sorry Jerus I should have never….never left you alone on the street they’ll kill you. Kill you! They burnt my house! Never should ha’ left you alone stranded they’ll kill you, man, they’ll kill you! Kill you! Just like I killed him I’ll they’ll kill the bastards they…my house is gone.” Alexander whipped off the shawl to reveal perpetual white suit and black shirt, even the tie still there. White fabric smeared with crimson. Smatterings, droplets. And hands, greasy with slick blood heated and boiled to a thick membrane in the smoky fires of his burning Alexandrine. His white hands, now dark with blood. Alexander reborn, soot and blood coating him, and tears spouting like a flood amongst sobbing. The God knows what secret ripped out after so many years from under the innocent face.

  Alexander the timid and innocent, once a conqueror of fear, murderer of two. At the tender age of twelve he had beaten two bullies to death with his bare hands. Murdered one, two boys with fingers and fists, smashing bone and breaking skin, hammering till their breath left their cruel bodies in a whisper. Alexander’s secret, dark, shameful, terrifying secret, whipped out again.

  Jerus realised. Alexander had killed again. Alexander, conqueror  of fear, was reborn in shame and grief, baptised in blood and tears and dissolved ash.

  Jerus held the quivering man in his hefty arms, an uncomfortable embrace. Alexander cried, and broke out. “I’m sorry Jerus never should ha’ left you. God damn it…..I killed him. I killed it. They were there. The bastards were there in the night, they broke in and set fire to Alexandrine my home and I did what I could, Jerus. I did what I had to do….no choice, no choice. I did what I had to do killed it. They’re not demons, Jerus. They’re bastards. I killed it.” Tears rolled off his flesh to once again to wet the floor.


  The night had given him pain and rebirth. In the placental flames of his burning house, as he confronted the horned heads leering beyond hellish tongues of blazing heat, silvery blades bared, he had lost everything. His house was gone, the little boy who worked for him had been sleeping in the house, he went home on weekends. Ganesh, the little fellow was slaughtered like lamb amidst the flame, his entrails spilled across the floor and hollowed corpse tossed into the fire. Barely a teenager.

  His pharmaceutical kingdom was destroyed, and the demons had come to claim his soul. In his eyes blurred with tears he saw them, black and hunched, swirling tendrils of shadow wreathing their coiled bodies, stemmed sockets glittering with beads of malice. Clinking of scales(?) and teeth and claws(?). The past had returned then, the fury, the secret. Years of innocence, layers of pink face and manicures. Pink layers of innocence were stripped off, like a shroud ripped of to reveal the putrid corpse of the past grinning underneath. The God knows what secret behind the innocent face of Alexander came back; he had killed two boys. Beaten them to death. Bullies. Demons. He lost it.

  A little Swiss knife he had kept out for emergencies following the warnings of the angel. A little candy red knife; flicked up the little blade with his cleanly trimmed thumb. And through smoke and searing heat he had charged, despite dizziness, nausea and tears and sweet smoke smell coming off them. Rage had filled his mind. He had emerged from it with little knife coated with gristle and crimson that bubbled and baked in the heat, and he had seen the demon in reality. Smoke rushing off its corpse, black skin split open, he had seen….the second one had stared and run. Demon had run? The demon got bloodied hands around its leg. And Alexander Conqueror of fear had returned.


  And in Jerus’s room, crying. He  told.

  “I’m so sorry Jerus I left you now…now its gone! Everything my place, everything. I’m coming with you, wherever you go….”

  Jerus comforted him. And Alexander told him.

  “Conrad….he’s a faker. Fraud! The demons—they’re human, Jerus! I killed it….the blood, on my hands, my hands just like when I was a kid. It’s the demon’s. I killed….it’s human, Jerus. They’re human after all.”

  “Alexander, you have got to calm down—you’re not thinking clearly.”

  “I killed it! God damn it I’m telling you demons who burnt my house are actually human, and you insist in them being demons and are telling me to think straight? Me? Jerus….maybe everything is true, every religious concept on earth is true but this bunch of Erebus Minorites are fraud! They’re demons, but the human kind!”

  Jerusalem stared, unable to register. The biri was nearly burnt out in his fingers, whittling away to bite his skin with miniature flame. A hiss, and the butt fell to the dirty floor. “You killed….a demon?”

  “Yes, Jerus. I did…..but human, God knows I did…..oh, God damn it! Again, just like then and now…I got him. His blood on my hands. But…..oh, there’s another. Alive, and I got him.” Jerus, once again unable to register, stared.


Alexander had gotten to the dingy hotel in his car, an old fiat. He drove rarely. But this time he couldn’t take a cab. Blood on his hands, and something else.


In the trunk.


In Alexander’s trunk, a demon swirled in oblivion, complete and utter darkness, bathing in his pain and the black void the warrior of filthy light had banished him into. The smoke of demons and Conradian concoction had filled the cramped space, saturating every cubic inch of the air, swelling into his nasal passages, dissolving on his palate, his tongue. Bittersweet, the smoke, which once entangled prey, weaved its magic and filled his brain, cloying at his sinuses and blinding him. There was no doubt. Hypnotised in the net of intoxication, the man knew he was a demon. A demon of the Hellish variety, born in the flaming pits of the eternal abyss of sin.

  He was demon, and a warrior who slew his brethren had captured him. Captured him in his blinding white armour and  snared him in a grip of disgustingly holy strength, battered him with light imbued strength. But he was demon, and once he escaped this prison of oblivion, where his muscles cramped and his sweat made his leathery skin reek, and his horns bumped against invisible walls, he would slay the warrior(Alexander something was his name?)and drink his blood.

  He was demon, and no one could capture him. The smoke filled him, and he drank it like the drug it was.

  He was demon. Hell born.


  The prison was shattered in an instant, black void of cramps broken to bring in a blazing white light that seared his eyes, blinding him behind dull lenses on stemmed sockets. Out of the blinding light(he was demon he would kill) emerged two blurry shadows, against the (sun?)light. Kneeling down, two shapes. Blinding light(he would kill them if only he could move, pain of course he could he was demon).


The trunk was opened, and inside crouched the black shape of a demon, whimpering wordless growls on a high note. Sweet, thick smoke poured out like from the flames of a portal to hell. Thought Jerusalem, ironic. Alexander spoke. “Hold your breath.”


  Alexander had refused to open the trunk, and driven Jerus in his sky blue faded and rusted fiat. Driven to a secluded alley(lots of those in any big city), stinking, as was normal for such alleys, of urine. Broad daylight, still morning. And opened the trunk which held the demon and its residual smoke.




Jerus couldn’t believe it. It was human.


What he saw in the trunk was a demon, of the human variety, as Alexander would put it. A bit dressed up. This was what Jerus had seen dancing in moonlit smoke, as he choked on regurgitated sweet curd. Demon, horns and all.


A mere human. The horns, plucked from the dead skull of some goat and painted black, attached to human scalp. Human body, wrapped all over in black leather and tight, clinging woolen cloth. The black, leathery skin of a demon, putridly smelling of sweat.

  The hideous stemmed sockets, with glassy eyes of unholy fire. Able to see in the dark.

  The black plastic stems of goggles, their lenses gleaming in the sunlight like lizard’s eyes. Behind lay intricately woven circuitry that gifted the human eyes with vision in the night. Demon sight, stemmed sockets.

  Black gloves. All black everywhere.

  That was the demon, dancing in the moonlight. A horrible mockery. A shadowman, like any other in shady cars guarding rich madmen.

  The clink of teeth, of scales and claws. Nothing but the tinkling steel of zips and chains, crisscrossing the human demon like silver lines, binding the leather skin. The faded white of dog teeth hung in a necklace from his neck. They clicked like fangs. A mask of cloth against his face, head. All covered, zipped, goggled. The demon. The fraud of Conrad.


But Jerus had seen them; they swirled with tendrils of shadow, shifting like lunar winds. The most important factor. Hold your breath, Alexander had said. Alexander had killed the other, ignoring fear, eyes, senses. Through the smoke. He blindly stabbed.

  The demons gave of smoke, like unholy creatures.

  Mere human. A necklace, heavily weighed down by a small censer of bronze, from which there rushed the spiced smoke of Bacchus inverted, more homemade toxins and chemicals brewed on Conradian principle. Exotic drugs, inducing hallucinations. Swirling shadows around black clad men with horns. The demons in Alexandrine, in the ultraviolet steam of Erebus Minor One. The fools didn’t even carry guns, because they convinced themselves. Their only weapon was fake fear. All fraud. Conrad the fraud.

  Jerus grabbed the censer with crumpled fist. “It was this….this smoke.” The device shattered in his grip, and bits were crushed under the sole of his shoe; it bled gouts of smoke. Its last breaths.


  He grabbed the human in demon skin, and hurled him out of the trunk. Cramps prevented it from responding. Guttural growls. The smoke had done its work on demon man, instead of victim. The man was completely convinced. He was demon.

  “I am going to show this man what true demon blood can do.” Growled Jerus. The perfect time for the cliché, welcome to Hell. The real thing. Only it wasn’t the real thing. The real place was where his father was. Jerus, of all people, could not afford to make generalizations about Hell, even if it was in suitable clichés.


Ramesh hotel with rooms had several back doors and stinking kitchens and dirty corridors with apparently no purpose. The few people who saw two men carrying in what looked like a horned man dressed in black and tied up in jumper cables upstairs were clever enough not to ask questions.

  In the gloomy privacy of his room, Jerus went to work on the demon of human variety. Jerus had finally bought a lighter. It was inaugurated not on a cigarette, but on the edge of his knife. It worked perfectly, one flick of his thumb and the flame sprang up eagerly to lick at the blade. Alexander watched as the metal proceeded to glow a soft red in the dimness of the room, after much waiting. Questions after questions, but the man was convinced—he was demon. Only growls and grunts. But the Conradian smoke of his necklace censer, lying smashed on the road, was slowly wearing off.

  The knife was heated.

  And in the gloom of barred sunlight, with a shining shadow of the floor, a carcass over which crouched Jerus with his knife steaming with blood, the door had flown open, and it had streamed with her gleaming hair and twinkling eyes and ever black clothes. The angel. “What the hell are you doing here?” Alexander.

  “I’ve been sent here by Arjuna. By the Hands of Heaven. Been following both of you for a while.”

  “Why?” Should have known. She saw the carcass on the floor, amidst other shadows.

  “To kill you both.”


Before the Angel came. Strangely enough, the demon had talked. Or not so strange, for this was no fireborn, this was the human kind, weaker, far weaker. A sinner masquerading as a tormentor of his own kind, a mockery, seared into conviction by strange intoxications. Convinced that it was genuine. That didn’t last.

  It took some coaxing in the shadows, coaxing by Jerus and his glowing blade. The demon would growl and bite at the cloth between its teeth, shoved into the slit in its leather mask(skin?). But Jerusalem would do more than cut at its two layers of skin. He coaxed, and the thing began to talk as the fog of chemicals lifted slowly, aided by hot metal and weeping blood. The floor slickened, and words poured out like the fluids from peeled skin, howls as well. Ramesh’s people might have phoned the police, but fear reigned and the sun was bright outside.

  Then, it was done, and no more words would come out since the demon knew nothing more. A mere shadowman. He hardly knew anything. A pathetic hireling of Conrad wallowing in the safety of leather and hallucinatory power, and yet the moaning, growling, living carcass that Jerusalem had turned the man into held on to its position of demon. Born in the infernal abyss.

  Jerus had smashed his fist into the gleaming goggles, the demon eyes that had glittered with malevolence in the moonlight. Glass smashed and bit at his knuckles, the stemmed sockets cracked and gave way. Leather and horns and broken eyes torn and ripped. The skin and organs of the demon were pulled away to reveal the face of a human.

  Wide eyes, reddened with pain. A murmur. “I am demon. I am demon. I am de.”

  Jerusalem’s cut fists came crashing down into the human face. Pounding like a hammer against a nail, mercilessly bashing in the clean skin and bone. Pounding and pounding. Alexander gripped his forehead tight as the sound went on. Like a baseball bat hitting a pillow. Maybe stuffed with some glass and feathers. And a bit of water, squelching with each blow. Pound, pound, pound. Alexander tried, tried so hard to think of the little child Ganesh, his guts strewn to the floor and corpse tossed into flames by this demon man and his fellows. He tried so hard. And Jerusalem delivered back the penance that was once given to him in ultraviolet steam.

  After half a minute, Jerus stopped battering the man’s face. He couldn’t recognize the human anymore—his face was destroyed beyond recognition. Jerusalem’s knuckles came away sore.

  He held his arm above the shattered face, and pierced his own skin with his knife. Metal lifted away tissue, parted it to reveal the flow underneath. Hot blood fell on the broken and disfigured face, dripping in crimson drops to mingle with the plentiful streams traversing the destruction.

  This is demon blood. Demon blood. Real demon.” Jerusalem hissed.

  And through lips broken and swollen, straining to see through eyes ruptured to rubies, the human murmured.


  No. You are human.”

  Then, as Jerusalem plunged the knife into the man’s belly and cut upwards, the words finally registered. Recognition swept across the devastated face, eyes widening in horror as the man realised. He was not demon. He was human. Jerusalem feasted on the expression of realisation, as the man’s intestines were exposed to the air, much like one little boy, Ganesh. In the last moment of his life, the man realised after a long time that he was not fire born, but human sinner.

  Now, dead, perhaps he would meet a real demon somewhere or the other.


Then, the angel had come to kill Jerusalem and Alexander.


Green hills


The cult war boiled on in Kolkata and Jerusalem sat admired the green hills all around him. Rolling hills that blended in and out of the haze of mist that constantly sheathed them; in the distance, soaring faintly above the clouds, sat Kanchenzhonga, among the highest of earthly peaks. Perhaps unmatched by the blazing towers of obsidian, of the monolithic volcanoes of certain other worlds.

  He wouldn’t know. Like Dante speculated and Jerus had pondered many time before, it could be flat ice.

  The cult war seemed far away, his pursuers vanished into mundane humanity. No more demons chased him. He was back to chasing one. Horned men in leather might just come after him like rats, but he wasn’t afraid. The veil of Bacchus inverted had been lifted. And now he sat amongst the rounded green hills of the north east of shady India. Beyond which lay the Himalayas.

  He had left behind the dirt of wannabe demonlords, of foolish cults, of horned men. Let them come to him. In this little land he had found peace. And Buddhist temples and monks wearing sneakers at dawn. Alexander and him, and the angel. They had run together. Alexander, too, found pacification in the pure air of the high places. He had come to terms with the loss of his life. And the beginning of a new one. One startlingly similar to a friend who was partly responsible for his death, and rebirth as long subdued conqueror of fear. He looked ahead to times of running. He would go with the demon son Jerusalem wherever he chose, even if it meant following him into the ultimate Abyss.

  Incidentally, the angel’s name was Asha. She had come to kill him and Alexander. And ran with them instead. Ran from the Hands of Heaven, from their wars, from their pretensions. She began fearing Arjuna and his cult more than their enemies. Fearing their hypocrisy. Fearing their knives, if they should find out her thoughts. So she ran to green hills. With Alexander and Jerusalem, and, strangely enough, Jerusalem felt glad.

  Now they had two cults on their heels, and Jerus was little worried. His anger, however, was unbound, yet submerged in the peace of the hills. Conrad. He would find him eventually. He would find him, and show him true demon blood. Show him real hell by killing him. Just like he had shown the shadow of a man in a room in Ramesh hotel, Kolkata, now floating in the overpopulated corpse river Hooghly.

  So it was that Jerusalem gained two companions. An angel of sorts, a conqueror of sorts, and a demon son. Of sorts. Who found peace in the hills, and awaited the future, awaited the coming of similar minds. Awaiting the birth of a new cult. Awaiting the de-commercialisation of Hell and atonement.


In Kolkata, the cult war proceeded under moonlit skies, with blood winking on knives and darkening holy waters already brown with silt and dirt. In a sprawling house that breathed history, with faded corridors and locked rooms, great hallways where cold lingered even in summers, a man of much learning sat in the darkness of a powercut.

  In a white gown he sweated despite the unhealthy damp of his house, sweated by candle light. A big man, in his white looking like a massive brooding angel in his chair. He was no angle, even metaphorically. His garden shimmered in the moonlight, dogs moaning under his bed. The candle dripped hot wax onto his black wooden table, and the man sat and began to unwrap the heavy box that had arrived in his mail. Flies whined around it like diseased sentinels, a little cloud of them. The box smelled vaguely of rot and tea.


The big man, he was a master.


He looked at the box, cut open the brown tape, pushed the knife into the cardboard. It parted with soft squealing.


He was a master. He had rejected Hinduism for certain principles written on sheets A4 size under lamplight. Bacchus inverted had snaked its way into Calcutta. He was a master, and he had one too. One who had gifted him with authority. Every night he went to a dark place of ultraviolet steam. Every night he went to Hell. Conrad’s Hell. A hell which he mastered. He was Conrad’s representative in a far off city. He was a master.


And every night he was demon lord. Whipping and cutting, under leather. They screamed for him, the sinners.


The box opened. The flies shrieked desperately, the candle glimmered with a gust of escaping gas. A stench of hideous decay choked his nose. In the box lay a demon’s head, horned and glassy eyed. Only, it was destroyed, its leathery black skin split open to reveal the bloody and broken flesh of something. Of a human. A severed head, sitting in a box. A demon’s head, and a human’s head. And a note wrapped in plastic. Big crimson letters This is for Conrad tell him I will find him I’m just waiting for reinforcements. I will show him real demon blood. And real Hell.


The demon had talked. And died. And Calcuttan master sent the message to his lord Conrad. And for the first time in a long while, as he looked upon the head of his demon, the wannabe demon lord himself felt the cold grasp of terror.

  Jerusalem had baptised the note in crimson fluid, written it in blood. His own blood. Demon blood? Who knew? Beyond Conrad, beyond cults, beyond all, his pursuit remained the same. To find that someone who knew.


His father.



                                                              THE END