Louis looked up at the orange sun slowly crawling up on the dawning sky. Never once in his life did he observe the lights with such wonder. But that morning was different. It is clearly unbelievable how little things of someone’s everyday routine get immeasurably valuable, when that someone’s last day begins on a podium tied to a pole soon to be burned to death. Regardless of the wee hours of the morning, bystanders started to gather already filling the first rows. They all wanted to see how one of the bastard sons of Satan would be banished to Hell.
At first, all Louis did when hearing the gossips was laughing even though he knew exactly well how dangerous it could be when the superstitious villagers were spreading rumors of someone they picked up among the others because of standing out or simply being different in any way. The stories about him circulating the village could even be flattering in any other epoch, but in this years of the Creator it was simply a threat of a looming punishment for something he has no control over. Nor had he control over the spreading rumor, over whom they would get to, or over who listened to them. The most dangerous among them was the priest of the village.
As Louis’ aggravated situation was proof enough of, the father was the least impressed by Louis’ ethereal beauty, by his fairy-like grace, in fact he was furious over it on behalf of everyone in the village. Furthermore the priest was so scandalized by Louis tempting appearances without any doubt bestowed by Satan itself, he wanted to unveil all the threats Louis meant for the pure souls of his lambs. At first he just preached about divine justice, punishment of the unworthies, telling parables about men and women being the beauty incarnated by satanic machinations attempting to destroy the immortal soul of humans.
Then slowly those parables started to depict a wicked woman, a foul witch who wanted a place among pure-hearted men, corrupting the true believers of God. That evil woman of his preaches wandered from one village to another always taking the face of someone innocent so nobody would suspect anything impure. In order to attain that unnatural seductive power she had lain with the Devil who rewarded her with a male body capable of the most evil kind of magic. Even if the body was created using the most disgraceful matters of the world under the Lords blue Skies, his beauty was unheard of and so compelling even the most righteous ones had found it hard to resist its charm.
Thus not only the Lord, but the Devil also works in mysterious ways, the witch was deceived. When she left behind the female body to occupy the male one, her soul did not become male. She was trapped as a woman in a man’s body. Her gestures, her way of speak, even her voice, the softness of her skin and hair all was left female.
Louis knew right away when he first heard the parable, the witch represented him, this was how the narrow minded villagers saw him. Had he ever had any doubt regarding the symbolism in the preacher’s parable, the way the people started to ogle him, washed away all of it. When he walked the streets the villagers spitted at him, cursed him, started to avoid him. At first they just did not return his greetings, but soon they started to distance themselves from him, keeping as much distance between them, as was usually reserved for lepers.
And finally a pack of goons had come for him. Louis was thrown in a deep hole for days and for cold, miserable nights. That hole was dug out eons ago at the outskirts of the village, belief was that only that hole could contain witches and leech on their power until they were left raw and shivering. After never-ending days and nights they came for him, to take the abomination to the parsonage where all his sins would be judged by the priest and the purest hearted believers of the village. Louis could not fathom for the life of him how many invented sin he could have committed in the eyes of his fellow villagers. During his trial almost everyone in the village had something to say about his evil deeds.
The smith claimed that his frail body must have harbored a woman’s soul otherwise he could not find a way to lure his son in the haystack to do unspeakable things with the poor enchanted soul. He swore on the Bible to have seen them together, nude bodies pressed together in a devilish dance. Louis must have used magic, he said, without witchcraft his son would never gone down that path of sinful sodomites, forgetting his wife and half of a dozen of their children. Louis listened to the accusations, but not for once interrupted the smith’s ranting. How could he explain that nothing or no-one, not even wife or kids would hold someone lusting after him? He wisely chose silence in order not to aggravate matters more. Better not to get horsewhipped for the truth.
Not to mention his gravest secret, he kept to himself his whole life. If he could have just one wish granted, he would wish for becoming a woman. Women could love men freely – after a man has chosen one for them. The whole truth was that Louis wanted to love men. As a man. But as this was not possible for him because the world wouldn’t sling that way, he was left with his wishes never to be fulfilled of womanhood and a life entirely controlled by unwanted men. But if he was a woman, he could have had a thin chance to find that special one one day and not to be punished for it. And sometimes, in his most daring dreams, he wished for a world accepting men like him. Put that secret to words like this, and no one would doubt his evil origins.
The next to testify against him, was the smith’s son. Louis did not know whether to laugh or cry when the son explained about all the evil practices he was submitted to. At some point Louis covered his face with his palms to mask his silent and pained laughter, only given away by the discreet shake of his shoulders. The whole idea was outrageous. Who could possibly believe that he with his thin shoulders, weak arms, slim waist could force a giant like the smith’s son to do anything. Compared to Louis short form, that huge man with his bull-like build could be the Minotaur himself.
When the priest noticed the shaking of Louis’ shoulders, he misinterpreted this as a gesture of penitence, and he was not slow to encourage Louis to confess his sins before the face of the Lord and seek his forgiveness. As he proclaimed this was the last chance he could grab to save his immortal soul. Louis’ soul may still be salvageable, but one look at the expression on the priest’s face was all it took to make clear to him that his life was forfeited from the beginning of the trial. When the villagers voted him consistently guilty, he wasn’t even taken aback.
And as the villagers didn’t want to keep him in custody for long and by doing so wasting valuable food on him, they sentenced him to be burned on a stake for practicing black magic and following evil ways. They decided to carry out the sentence before Sunday mess, because the pious routine of the villagers cannot be disturbed any more than necessary.
And here he was. The stake was built the day before, and he was tied to the pole on it before dawn on Sunday. The skies were just beginning to get lighter on the East. When the sun came up, the main square in front of the church was crowded with curious onlookers hungry for the suffering of the unfortunate to be burned alive. Some of them arrived from the neighboring villages seemingly not wanting to miss the rare event of a male witch to be burned which did not happen everyday.
Louis couldn’t imagine how would it feel to be burned to ashes on the stake, but he too had the chance before once or twice to watch some poor women as their sentences have been carried out. And as he could recall, their cries and shrieks were almost inhuman. They continued to wail like a banshee till the burning smoke suffocated them. Tied to his pole, Louis tried to pray spiritlessly for the smoke to suffocate him before the flames climbed up on his flesh. Rather suffocating a thousand times than to be burned alive trapped in his helpless body.
The preacher stepped up on the stake. He came to administer the last rites. He did not ask anything from Louis, he did not care if he was afraid or even if he could find his peace. Besides how could ever anyone find peace before him? What kind peace could anyone hope or wish for before the stake was ignited? Was it that kind of fast suffocation Louis was wishing for only minutes before?
Looking at the crowd, no-one cared about him. No-one asked him for any last words. The only thing they cared for was the spectacle he was about to give them. Maybe if he was allowed to speak, he would urge the priest not to make those who gathered wait to watch him perish in fumes and flames. Better not to make wait the entities on the other side either who had to judge his soul after it has left his body.
The preacher was followed by the executioner with a torch in his hand. After the priest had jumped off the stake, the executioner ignited the hay at Louis’ feet. It was the smith carrying out his sentence. Everyone had to know it was him. Nobody in the village was as tall, as broad-shouldered as him, not even his son who also easily could easily be a giant. And only the smith was missing among the villagers waiting in circle around his stake, so it was easy to figure out who accepted the obligation. Louis wanted to tell him to take off that ridiculous hood, because it would not mask neither his stature nor his identity.
But he couldn’t speak. The hay stuffed between the logs on the podium caught fire immediately, and spread the flames real fast, faster than Louis ever had imagined, or as he’d ever seen fires spread before. Soon black smoke started to rise from the wet wood, which was much more hotter than it should have been. It made tears well up in his eyes, his throat started to burn from the smoke, as it penetrated his lungs painfully with every single breath. Louis heard as the crowd started to cheer, the shouts of joy as his agony pleased them. So at least there was one thing he did right. Maybe himself too could be happy with satisfying their bloodlust.
But when the flames reached his legs, and started to eat away his skin as the fire climbed up on his trousers, the pain became unbearable. He screamed till his throat was raw, till it started to bleed. Till he lost consciousness. Louis did not know how long he was screaming, but after a certain time, his head fell forward, he slumped, but could not sank to the ground because the ropes held him tight to the pole. The world tilted as his head fell forward and his view started to narrow. And finally the blackness swallowed him.
His hearing returned first. His mind was still foggy, he couldn’t pry open his eyes, but he could hear two person talking beside him clear as day. He did not recognize the language the man and women were talking to each other. And then sharp pain stabbed trough his skull behind his right ear, it was like a needle penetrating his bone. The pain lasted a moment only, it was gone almost immediately, and he became more alert right away. And he still couldn’t open his eyes.
“He has to come around soon,” said the woman “he should be waking up as we speak.”
That scared Louis. He had no idea where he was or why they did not let him die. He tried not to make it evident that he was awake, as he was afraid what these two will do to him when they discovered that he wasn’t sleeping anymore. His burned body parts started to hurt anew, but the pain was somewhat dulled this time. Nonetheless it made him feel miserable, and he wanted it to stop.
“I was afraid of being too late and get him burned much more seriously” now it was the man speaking.
“His burns aren’t nice, but they could be worst” replied the woman. “It was a great save. Speaking of it, you still did not tell me how did you bring him out. It certainly could not be easy in that crowd. How comes no-one noticed you?”
“Oh, they did notice me all right” the man was laughing, like it was some kind of pleasant memory for him, and Louis could imagine as he tried to enchant the woman with his storytelling. All the men were always doing this, trying to get under the skirt of any woman available. “I walked into the flames straight and simple. The people were staring at me, like I was an ungodly miracle. And I thought I just had to give’em a good scare they could gossip about for ages. So, I freed this poor bastard from the pole he was tied to, I gathered him in my arms. You know, he’s so light he ain’t weight nothing. Anyway, then I turned to the crowd and told’em that ‘the Devil prefers to decide when to take back his own.’ Then I opened the portal and brought him home.”
The woman started to laugh nonchalantly.
“If it wasn’t for you I would not believe it. But you shouldn’t brag about it. You know this kind of conduct perfectly qualifies for disciplinary actions.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m well aware that I breached the base principles, the ‘no-one could see’ and ‘don’t cause lasting effects’ bullshit. But all of us are breaching it, right? We are doing so since the moment we decided to bring him back.”
“We had to get him back home, he belongs here with us.”
Louis wished for the bed to swallow him whole. So, the villagers were right about him the whole time. His entire being really do belongs to the Devil. What other explanation could exist for this outcome? The Devil even sent a demon to get him out of the flames. What will he want in exchange for saving his life? Will Louis have any chance to say no to the request and save his soul? He was shaken out of this musings by the woman’s next question.
“Did you not find his mother?”
“No, I didn’t. As far as I know, she vanished and left the boy alone.”
“Great,” the woman let loose a heavy sigh “so this mission is far from over.”
Louis tried to keep his breathing even like he was still asleep. So his mother too has origins from Hell. He was born without a father, and the villagers always were wary towards them. But his mother survived each test imposed upon her. She managed to make the villagers to believe her, and finally she and his fatherless son were accepted to the village. But after being accepted, his mother refused to re-marry any of the man proposed to her claiming that she was mourning for his husband, the father of his son. Following along this thread of thoughts, Louis came to the stunning recognition, that his father certainly was a demon. Something terrible had to happen to him prompting his mother to return to the human realm.
“Oy, Kim!” The woman’s voice again cut the line of his thoughts. “Why are you staring at him like this?”
“Because… I don’t really know. Look at him… he’s so frail. How could a grown man be so small? It’s just hard to believe he was born here.”
“But it’s really him. No doubt.” Confirmed the woman. “All his tests came back positive. He’s Katerine’s son for sure. But to answer your question: he’s small because of his living conditions, he was brought up on lesser quality foods than any of us. Everyone would be this underdeveloped in his place.”
Louis felt someone’s shadow covering him. It was wide, and the presence giving away an air of authority. It couldn’t be the woman and Louis couldn’t imagine why the man was watching him this closely.
“He’s so freaking beautiful” said the one called Kim with a sigh. “Look at his face, his hair…”
The woman snorted in amusement.
“You got it bad, you know? When I first saw him, I was sure he would captivate you. When he wakes up you can try to seduce him.”
At that very moment, all the entourage around Louis went off in a shrill beep. He needed all his self-control not to burst out in scared screaming as the beeping continued. He could not give away that he was awake until he worked out how to react to Hell where he has been brought. Where a man – with the smoothest voice he ever had the chance to hear implied he wanted to seduce him. This was proof enough of the fact that we has thrown back to Hell, because there was no other place for sinners like him. At his thought a faint voice started to speak in his head. Isn’t it what you wanted all your life? Why are you so sure it’s Hell where you’re now? How could be Hell the place where your wishes could be granted?
The beeping continued, bumping off the walls with a deafening echo. And one minute later as suddenly as it started it had been cut off.
“They have found Katerine” stated the woman.
“Yeah” confirmed Kim “I have to go. I have to catch her before she causes us a new anomaly. That crazy bitch.”
Louis stole a look from under his eyelashes. He had to see the man before he goes God knows where. He had no idea why they were searching for his mother. What did she do getting her a reputation this bad among the devils? Maybe he could ask had the opportunity had presented itself. But first, he had to take a look at the man wanting to seduce him.
He turned his head toward the direction of Kim’s voice. And when he looked at him, his breath got caught in his throat. He never ever had seen a man this stunning. He was huge. The smith’s son would be dwarfed by him. And Louis never had seen anyone with a skin this pale, Kim was almost translucently white, his blood vessels shown trough his skin with a blueish hue. His eyes were almond shaped and sparkling with an incredible shade of blue. His hair was ebony black and almost unnaturally straight. Looking at him, Louis forgot to breathe, his thoughts had fall behind. Kim really was marvelous. And in that very moment Louis understood how could demons tempt even the purest of souls. He knew without the shadow of any doubt, that he would happily sell his soul not once, but as many times as necessary just to be in Kim’s good graces.
He had forgotten to keep his eyes shut, just to have one more glance at him. He followed his every movement his mouth wide open, as Kim walked towards the room’s door. After the door closed behind him, Louis could not fake sleeping anymore. When the woman turned to him, she realized right away how mesmerized he became by Kim.
“This is the first time, you’d seen a half-albino, isn’t it?” The woman was smiling at Louis.
“Half-albino?” Repeated Louis the word in such an awe, it almost could be called shock. He did not understand what it meant.
“Yeah, half-albino. I see your translator works just well. It’s good to understand each other, don’t you think?” Seeing his stunned expression, the woman added “behind your ear.”
Louis touched almost involuntarily behind his ear, while he did not take his eyes off the woman. With his fingertips he located a button-shape something resting perfectly against the arc of his skull. Astonished by it, he tried to pry his fingernails under it, but at the woman’s piercing stare he stopped.
“Good boy. If you remove it, you won’t understand my English and I won’t understand your ancient French. You hear me?”
Yeah, he could hear her crystal clear, but he did not understand a word of it. But better be in the favor of the demons, right? So he nodded. Do everything that won’t get them angry at you. But could they be really evil? Neither Kim nor this woman seemed malignant or spiteful. Not to mention that the appearance of this woman attracted his eyes like magnets. She was much more strange than Kim.
Her skin was not as pale as Kim’s, her cheeks were healthy rosy. So nothing strange there, nor her light grey eyes. But her hair! Louis never had seen anything even slightly similar. Every color, every shade of the rainbow could be spotted in her hair. In the chill of the room some of her locks became deep blue, but when she touched the strands of hair to tuck them behind her ear, in the wake of her touch the strands became bright orange. As the light coming through the window-like holes on the walls kissed her hair, the light turned it into flame-red, as the shadows changed it to purple.
This woman couldn’t be older than 25 and certainly wasn’t an ordinary human. But couldn’t be a demon, right? She was too divine to be evil. So what? May she be an angel? And if she was one, what on God’s green earth could she possibly doing among the demons?
“What kind of magic is this?” Asked Louis pointing at the woman’s hair, still stunned by her appearances.
“It isn’t magic” explained the woman smiling “we call it ‘Design’. I was designed to look like this, my parents wanted me to be this way.”
Louis’ mouth once again opened wide by astonishment. If she created to be like this, she really could not be evil, nor demon. The Devil was unable of creation, what he was able is to temper with things already created. So this place could not be Hell, could it? Then were was he? In Purgatory? But before he could ask anything, the woman sat down on the edge of his bed. She took Louis’ hand in her smaller ones. Her touch was gentle on his skin.
“I’m Remedy, but everyone calls me Rem” she introduced herself. “We’re happy to have you back with us, Louis. Can you believe that two weeks ago you were just an infant? But now, after Kim got you back… Look at you, you’re all grown up…”
“T-then” his voice was shaking “in Hell time flows differently?”
“In Hell? Why would you be in Hell?” Rem giggled at him. “No Louis, this isn’t Hell. This is the future.”