Three Monsters and the Devil
A Halloween Short Story by Priscila Santa Rosa
The Monkey’s Paw wasn’t just some bar with a horror reference for its name. It committed to the whole thing one hundred percent: skeletons hanging from the ceiling, dark corners covered with webs, candles inside smiling pumpkins, and weird smells coming from the bathroom. It was all very cliche, but it worked. That night, like every Halloween, the bar was packed with teens pretending to be twenty-one. Margaret knew their ages because they chose the tables in the darkest corner to “avoid” calling attention to themselves. Of course it didn’t work, their giggles and overexcited conversations were all dead giveaways.
She would also hear their beating hearts, see the veins on their necks pulsate with blood traveling so sweetly all over their young, stupid bodies. It made her unbearably hungry.
“Marge, you’re vegan now, come on.”
She turned to Bob. His face was all bones and tight green skin, the makeup did nothing to help, but bless him, he tried. Pink blush on a Zombie; now she had seen everything.
“Like you didn’t think about it too,” she said, going back to stirring her Bloody Mary — one sadly without any blood. “Are you not even a bit tempted? Those tasty brains, still barely used…”
Bob’s eyes wandered too much at the teens’ direction. He tightened his gloved grip around the half-empty glass of a Peach Smoothie. To cover up the falling skin and exposed bones, he wore layers upon layers of clothing. The problem was the minute he tried to walk, his frail muscles and decomposing body wouldn’t withstand all the weight and, well, it made him walk like a zombie, defeating the purpose of the disguise. She was lucky vampirism didn’t include decaying flesh.
“Anyway, how’s your daughter?” he asked, facing the front of the bar counter to avoid any more temptation. “Is she coming?”
“Of course not. She’s barely a week old. She needs at least a month chained to the basement. The bloodlust on newborns is such a hassle.”
Daniella was her twelve attempt at motherhood. The last eleven all rebelled against mommy dearest, deciding to betray her at some point, breaking the bond and running away. It broke her heart, so eventually, she broke their necks. No wonder she had abandonment issues.
“Then why do it? I mean, it’s not like you are…”
“Am I what? Motherly?”
He tilts his head and shrugs. “Well, yeah.”
Only Bob, her friend for almost two centuries, would survive such a comment. She loved her little decaying piece of brain eater, so her fangs retracted soon enough. Ripping apart rotten meat had no appeal anyway. The smell could last years.
“You’re right. I hate being a mother,” she said after calming down with a shot of her drink. “But everyone needs a hobby, Bob, especially a vegan vampire. One that wants to stay that way, at least.”
“How about collecting something else instead, huh? Rocks… or stamps.”
Walter decided this was a good time to phase through the wall and say, “Stamps? Nobody uses stamps anymore, Bobby, my boy. Get with the times, buddy. It’s all hyperlinks and The Web now.”
The ethereal voice of Walter made the lights of bar flicker a little while his transparent form glided over the counter, laying down on it. With one hand supporting his head and the other on his waist, he made himself too comfortable. That was Walter, always too comfortable for someone always turning down the room’s temperature.
“Nobody says ‘The Web’ anymore, Walter. Please stop trying to pretend you know more than us,” Bob said, quickly grabbing his smoothie from the table to avoid the ectoplasm dripping from Walter. “What took you so long? We said ten o’clock.’
“Oh, buddy, this is Halloween night, I get busy. And since you all know I can’t feel the sweet taste of liquor anymore, but still insist on meeting here every week… Well, priorities, Bobby, priorities!”
Margaret placed a hand on her cheek, rolling her eyes. She hated ghosts. They never stopped harping on the fact they were ghosts. Poor me, I can’t feel the wind anymore! Well, tough luck, she hadn’t seen the sun for four centuries, but nobody saw her complaining about it.
Ghosts, being free from the material world, didn’t care about social decorum anymore: they invaded your privacy, had no notion of when to stop and, most of all, they didn’t care about anyone’s opinion. Instead, they thrived on making people uncomfortable, and, of course, scared. Petty little creatures, exercising their revenge on the living (or undead, as it were) any chance they could. They were no better than parasites of the monster world.
Walter was no exception, insisting on commenting about their choice of meeting in a bar every single time. Bob met this ghost on a support group, and ever since, Walter decided to haunt them for fun. She suggested more than once to call an exorcist friend of hers, but for some reason the zombie liked Walter. Perhaps it had to do with Walter’s constant sunny disposition, a contrast with Bob’s numbness and her broodiness. Dammit, she wouldn’t help it, she was a vampire — brooding was in her nature.
“You didn’t go and scare that grandma again, did you?” Bob said, before trying to slurp the remaining smoothie in his cup, resulting on the liquid trickling between the folds of his scarf. “Someday she’s going to die of a heart attack.”
“Oh, one would only hope so! I mean, it would be so perfect if she died at ninety-nine, a mere few weeks before reaching one hundred. I get shivers just thinking about her frustration.” His laugh was as cold as his presence, and the pumpkin’s lights flickered once more.
“And I was under the impression you were working on your poltergeist tendencies. Falling off the wagon so soon, Walter?” Margaret said, finishing her drink. “What a pity.”
“Not everyone can be as motivated as you, Maggie. Besides, I didn’t see dear old Ethel. I was at the cemetery, catching up with my ghostly pals. All very harmless.”
“And boring,” she added, with a smile.
Walter moaned, floating away with frustration. The bar’s windows opened and closed with violence. The teens in the dark corner giggled nervously in an attempt not to appear scared.
“Yes, yes, so very dull. If I would, I would kill myself all over again.”
For once, she and Walter agreed on something, both letting out sighs.
“Come on, guys, respecting humans is not boring. It’s a challenge,” Bob said, trying to stop the smoothie from leaking, but failing miserably like with everything in his undead existence. “A challenge we’ll overcome.”
Bob placed a hand on her shoulder when neither offered an answer. “Hey, think about your new daughter. This one will work out, you see.” Then he pointed at Walter, still floating above the counter. “And you, connecting with your own kind is good, it helps to have friends, right? Besides, we’re all in this together.”
Eventually, they nodded.
“Okay, good. Let’s have another drink then,” he said, calling the barman, who brought two glasses and filled them. “Walter, why don’t you grab a cup, just for a toast.”
The ghost moaned again but used his power to float Margaret’s empty cup. The three of them raised their glasses.
“To overcoming challenges,” Bob said.
Their glasses touched, and Margaret let herself smile. Yes, being a vegan vampire was hard, but she managed to stay clean for fifty years, another night wouldn’t be that hard.
“Aren’t you all a merry bunch,” the bartender said, getting close to them while cleaning a glass with a dirty piece of cloth. “What are you toasting for?”
He didn’t smell human, of course, as they would never come to a bar owned by one, but whatever he was, Margaret didn’t liked the way he kept smirking. She was a predator; she recognized that look very well.
“Just friendship,” Bob answered, leaving his drink on the counter, untouched.
“Oh yes, the unbreakable bond. The joy of sharing hardships with close friends. Always nice to see.”
Walter, who until now had concentrated only on keeping the glass floating, sat on the counter and extended his arm, letting it pass through the body of the barkeeper.
“Gah, you’re cold,” Walter said, immediately taking the arm out. “Even for me.”
“Really? Normally people say I’m scorching hot,” the man said, giving her a wink.
Yes, he was very hot, in a way she wouldn’t find words to describe. He reminded her of her human husband, her vampire sire, and her first love all in one dangerous package.
“What do you want?” Margaret said, also leaving her drink without tasting it.
“Nothing, really. Usually, folks come here to tell me their problems, so it’s nice to see how well you three are dealing with yours. Almost refreshing.”
For years, they meet in that bar and not once the barman had talked to them. Even strangely, she had never noticed his existence before. Something was very wrong, even for monster’s standards.
“You are dealing it well, aren’t you?” the smiling man asked, pointing at Bob’s clothes. “I mean, it’s not like you’re hiding blood stains and pieces of brains under those gloves, right?”
The zombie’s hands immediately went to his back. Margaret raised one of her eyebrows while Walter gasped.
“I don’t know what you mean,” Bob said, avoiding eye contact. He opened a huge, forced grin to appear calm.
“Is that… a piece of a brain between your teeth?” Walter asked, floating close to the zombie. “Buddy, what did you do?”
“Yes, buddy, do tell what you did to that homeless man,” said the barman.
Bob let out a sigh and took off one of his gloves. The decaying hand showed the undeniable proof: the few nails left were stained with fresh blood and brain, just like the bartender had suggested.
He looked away from their reactions. “You don’t understand! If I don’t eat, my body will just… I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I was so hungry… ”
Margaret placed her manicured hand on his shoulder. “It’s okay, Bob. We all make mistakes, what’s important is that you’re trying,” she said to him, repeating the support group’s mantra.
His reaction was only to place both hands on his face, moaning exactly like a proper brainless zombie.
“Yes, trying. That’s what’s important,” the barman said, no hint of sincerity in his sickly-sweet voice. “I mean, let’s just brush off the murder of a helpless man, because, really, trying not to kill people is enough.”
Margaret bared her fangs to the man. “Be quiet, or I will rip your throat out.”
His laugh had more chill than Walter’s presence. He threw the dirty cloth over his shoulder, placing the still dirty glass on the counter. “No wonder you scare off all your progeny.”
She was on him in a flash, grabbing him by the tie, forcing his head to taste the wood of the counter.
“Are you trying to prove me right?” he said, his smile showing perfect white teeth. “Because it’s working.”
For a few seconds, she faced him head on, fixing her eyes on his. He’s amusement hid something else, a different purpose to the minor provocations. To search for an answer she tried glamoring him.
He returned her stare with equal fervor, appearing to enjoy her attempt on using her powers. The deeper she went inside his mind, the more she was afraid. If her heart were still able to beat, it would be pounding.
“Marge, people are staring,” Walter said, drawing her attention.
She blinked and let go of the man, who adjusted his tie and hair.
“I know what you are,” she said, ignoring her instinct to flee. “I don’t understand what you could possibly gain from this.”
“Took you long enough. I thought monsters would be quicker to realize the obvious.”
“What do you want?”
“What the Devil usually wants?”
The word made Bob snap back to reality and Walter flip out, floating behind her for protection.
“He wants me,” said the ghost, his voice vibrating the lights. “It’s me he wants.”
“Oh no, Walter, you got this all wrong.” the Devil said, snapping his fingers and conjuring a small flame on the top of his thumb. “I already own you. You committed suicide, remember?”
Walter let out a shriek, disappearing into nothing, a gush of air following after him. The bartender from Hell just smiled and lit a cigar that appeared from thin air on his other hand.
“Bob and I, we don’t have souls anymore. So what you want?”
“Who said I was here on business? This is my hobby, you know.”
Margaret’s eyebrows shot up. “The Devil’s hobby is bartending. Sure.”
He opened his arms, after placing the cigar in his mouth and smiling. “Why not? What other profession has access to so many drunk and miserable people willing to share their deepest regrets? Misery loves company and I love misery. It’s a match made… well, in Hell.” He let out a short laugh at his own joke.
“So you just want to make us miserable?” Bob asked, hoarse voice still barely audible. “Is that it?”
He puffed a small cloud of smoke, enjoying the cigar. “You think I’m the reason you’re miserable, Bob? Really?”
The zombie lowered his head.
“Look, we’re all on the same side here.”
“I don’t think so, no,” Margaret said, crossing her arms.
“You were made to kill and eat humans, and my job is to condemn them to the fires of Hell. Pretty close, no? So let me give you guys some advice: enjoy it, embrace it.”
“Killing humans is wrong,” Bob argued weakly.
“Killing them is nature. Don’t let teen novels fool you, my friend. No matter what’s hot on TV right now: you are nature’s answer to the plague of the 21st century. Everything needs balance.”
Margaret traded a look with Bob. The sale’s pitch was clear as day. “Are you that stupid to think we will listen to you at all?” she said, getting up from her seat. “I mean, you’re the freaking Devil.”
“Yeah, she’s right. We’re leaving.”
Again, he only laughed. “You can’t leave. Not until I get what I want.”
“Spare us the threats,” Margaret said. “Like I said, we don’t have souls to sell.”
“You don’t, but they did. And just for a chance to drink alcohol too.” The Devil pointed to the group of teens sitting at the corner table. “I would wait until they died of liver cancer, of a drug overdose, or the usual causes, of course. But why wait? It’s Halloween. I think you monsters deserve a treat too. So you will stay here and eat them for me.”
Margaret tried to kick the front door open, but her vampire strength had no effect. His powers were too great.
“We won’t do it. No way,” Bob said, keeping his distance from the teens. “We can resist it.”
“Maybe. Perhaps it will take a few hours. Maybe a day, sure. But eventually the hunger will win. It always does.”
“You twisted bastard,” she said, fangs out.
“Yes, am I the very definition of a twisted bastard, I suppose. Have fun, dear monsters. Take my advice: enjoy it.”
In the end, they did enjoy it. After all, teens will always try to sneak into bars, and monsters will always be monsters.
At least now the Monkey’s Paw decorations had authenticity to go with the whole horror theme. Not every bar could brag about having blood, raw meat, and brains splattered all over the floor and walls, body parts on the bar counter. Of course, the clientele would surely drop to zero after that little Halloween massacre and the human owner would be forced to sell the place for a fraction of the buying price, losing so much money his despair would lead him to gambling, drinking, and… well, perhaps selling his soul to Devil.
A mere joyful coincidence, of course.