by Toni Rendon ’24
“AGH, WHAT’S HAPPENING TO ME?” Helen’s howls bounced off the walls of Packard Manor, causing Howard, the head of staff, to rush to the master bedroom in concern. What happened next could only be described as unearthly. Helen, the mistress of the house, was laying on her back in bed with her legs raised while her husband, Thomas, looked on with an eerie sense of satisfaction. Her stomach rocked and bulged as if there was something trying to claw its way out. Helen continued to howl and plead for help as her stomach began to tear apart from the belly button to the perineum.
“Come now darling, you knew what you were getting yourself into. Now be quiet and complete your duty.” Thomas demanded in a kind tone wearing a nightmarish grin.
Howard, petrified with fear, couldn’t help but watch as the final section of skin was torn asunder giving way to an Adonis of a man. Basking in his mother’s blood, the strange man yawned, stretched, letting the entrails that adorned him drop to the floor. Scanning the room to find who summoned him, he locked eyes with Thomas and approached him. Howard wasn’t able to hear the conversation, but from what he witnessed it wasn’t pleasant. Thomas slapped the stranger, who then picked Thomas up by his head and launched him through the door and into the wall behind Howard. His body landed with a squish and clear sound of bones shattering, Howard, now free of his petrification, rushed to his side.
“M-M-Master Thomas, what’s going on?” he stammered while propping Thomas’ body against the wall.
Floating in and out of consciousness, Thomas noticed the stranger approaching them, and with the last strength in his body, he looked at Howard and muttered, “Run, Howard. Run.”
Howard, realizing there wasn’t anything more he could do for his master, took Thomas’ advice and turned around, and began to run down the hall. Running at full speed, he was suddenly stopped in his tracks when the strange man said, “Stop.” The strange man began approaching Howard like he was a predator stalking his prey.
“Turn around,” the strange man demanded, causing Howards’ body to turn around on its own. “Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Leopold Wayne, and you are?”
“H-H-Howard J-J-Jones,” Howard stuttered.
“Nice to meet you, Howard Jones. Now you and I are going to make a deal, or I will kill you and everyone else in this house, understand?” Leopold grinned wickedly.
“Y-Y-Yes sir,” Howard whimpered.
“Good boy, now tell me, do you know what a bloodline is to a demon?” Leopold asked while sticking his hand towards Howard.
“COME BACK HERE, PUSSY!” is all Atlas heard besides his heavy breathing and the soles of his sneakers slapping on the pavement as he fled from the bullies. He raced down the block and around the corner towards his house. Reaching his front door, he felt a sense of peace washing over him as he reached into his pockets to grab his keys, but he couldn’t seem to locate them. It’s okay, I probably left them in the house or in my locker at school, he thought to himself, trying to remain calm as he heard the approaching call of “stop hiding you little bitch.” After banging on the door a few times, trying to get the attention of someone in the house, he realized his grandfather had already left for work and his mom hadn’t come home from her shift yet.
“I FOUND HIM! HE’S OVER HERE!” rang in his ear as he realized that his lack of entry into his house gave the bullies a chance to catch up. Before they could regroup outside of his yard, Atlas took off running again, his soles once again pounding on the pavement. I can’t run to Mom—she works halfway across town—so my best bet is to go see Grandpa and get his keys, Atlas thought to himself as he raced down the street towards the manor where his grandfather worked.
Reaching the manor, Atlas raced up the steps, threw the door open, and ducked inside the foyer to seek refuge. Taking a couple deep breaths Atlas heard the bullies call out, “YOU CAN’T RUN FOREVER, WE’LL SEE YOU AT SCHOOL TOMORROW!” and return in the direction from which they came. Atlas waited a few moments to make sure his pursuers had truly fled before got up and wiped his hands on his pants, leaving small palm prints on his thighs from where the sweat rubbed off. Grandpa has worked here for my entire life and I’ve never actually been inside before today, Atlas thought to himself as he explored the foyer.
“Grandpa Howard, where are you? It’s me, Atlas, I can’t find my keys, so I need to borrow yours.” Atlas called out to the seemingly empty manor, “Grandpa Howard, are you here? GRANDPA HOW—”
“I THOUGHT I TOLD YOU TO NEVER COME HERE ATLAS!” Howard shouted, appearing behind Atlas and putting his hand on his shoulder.
“I know, but I didn’t have my keys and Ma wasn’t home, so I came here to get your keys,” Atlas said, looking up into his grandfather’s stony eyes.
“I don’t care why you’re here; you should’ve never come to begin with. Now take my keys and leave before anyone else sees you.” Howard said, pushing Atlas towards the door. As Howard opened the door to let Atlas out, they heard, “Who’s your guest Howard?” which caused them both to turn around. Approaching them from across the room was Leopold, his beautiful caramel complexion glistening in the light coming from the windows. His 6’5” athletic build intimidated Atlas with its perfection, and making eye contact with Leopold instantly turned Atlas’ stomach inside out. One eye was a white as ivory and the other was a shade of pink Atlas couldn’t put his finger on.
“Are you going to make me ask again?” Leopold asked Howard, the neutral look on his face transforming into a pout.
“N-No of course not, Master Leopold,” Howard said, moving behind Atlas and presenting the boy to the head of the house. “This is my grandson, Atlas. He came by to get my keys, but he’s leaving now.” Howard said, proceeding to open the door and push Atlas out, but Leopold stopped him and crouched down to get a better look at Atlas.
“Atlas is it? A strong name for a strong child.” Leopold said flashing the same smile he gave Howard that night back in ’46. “I knew your genes would be strong. I just didn’t know they would be this strong. He looks exactly like you did when we met.”
“Yes sir, he’s basically my spitting image,” Howard said with his voice wavering. “He must really get going though.”
“Yes, take young Atlas home, but first follow me for a second, I must talk to you,” Leopold said, beckoning Howard to follow. A few minutes went by before Atlas saw Howard enter the foyer by himself.
“Come now Atlas, your mother is probably waiting for us,” called his grandfather as he walked out the door. “Atlas, I want you to know I’m sorry for everything that’s going to go wrong in your life.” A tear from his left eye slid down his face.
“Mr. Jones, your grandfather will see you now,” said the nurse, signaling that it was finally time for Atlas to see Howard. Walking through the waiting room, Atlas thought he spotted his grandfather’s old boss Leopold, but when he turned to check, nothing was there. Atlas entered the room to see his grandfather sitting up in bed staring off into the distance, his eyes cloudy from time.
“Hey Grandpa, how are you feeling today?” Atlas asked as he draped his coat across the back of the guest chair and took a seat.
“I’ve been dying for the past five years,” Howard struggled to reply. Despite never being sick a day in his life, five years ago after Atlas visited Packard Manor, Howard contracted a terminal disease and had been fighting for his life since, but recently the battle had gotten too hard for him to continue.
“How’s the eye, you regain sight yet?” Howard asked sarcastically while violently coughing. Atlas’ left eye had clouded over around the same time that Howard had been hospitalized, leaving him partially blind. “Atlas, I know I’ve been apologizing for the past five years, but I can feel my time coming to an end. I just want to let you know I was young and scared to die. I didn’t know you’d be the price when I made the deal.”
“What deal are you talking about?” Atlas asked.
“My deal with Leopold Wayne—” Howard’s EKG changed from beeping rhythmically to a long deafening beep, shattering Atlas’ world. Nurses and doctors rushed into the room trying to breathe life back into Howard’s body, but they were unsuccessful. Escaping the suffocating atmosphere of the room, Atlas rushed into the hallway for fresh air.
This doesn’t have to be the end, Atlas heard from a voice that he remembered belonged to Leopold. Looking around he abruptly noticed Leopold standing at Howard’s door, watching the doctors’ futile attempts to resuscitate him.
“What do you mean this doesn’t have to be the end?” Atlas asked, riddled with grief.
“I can give him back his life and health if only you follow through on his end of the bargain, my dear Atlas.”
“How would you do that?”
“Don’t worry about that, all I need to know is if I can count on you to follow through on the deal.”
“Yes, fine, I’ll do whatever I have to,” Atlas said, desperate.
“Good boy,” Leopold said, sticking his hand out and flashing a wicked grin, “Now put it there, partner, and I’ll tell you what a bloodline means to a demon.”