Darren was deep into his notebook when Phil arrived to The Mound. Never before had they met up at a coffee house. Usually it was a bar, usually The Track, but Darren said he wasn’t drinking anymore and even though Phil didn’t believe him, he decided it best to humor the friend he felt an obligation to see at least once a month. He was lucky if he could push it to two, but Darren was a man of ritual and if that was disrupted, everything was disrupted.
“Back to the diary,” said Phil as he sat down.
“Eat a dick,” said Darren, not looking up until he finished his sentence. He capped his pen and closed his notebook, putting them both on his lap before leaning over the table. In front of him was a tall white cup with orange spiral designs all over it. He drank from it slowly.
Dramatic ass motherfucker, thought Phil. Here we fucking go.
Darren exhaled so as to draw attention and only then did he look Phil in the eyes. He wasn’t surprised that Darren’s eyes were widened and didn’t believe for a second the caffeine was guilty. “It’s good to see you, man. You’ve been busy.”
“They keep me busy.”
“God,” said Darren. “The devil. Their brothers and sisters. The whole family.”
Jesus, thought Phil. More bullshit.
“I have to tell someone. Show someone. Sorry it’s you. There’s not really anyone else, ya know.”
Phil squinted. He needed to show concern. He put his lips together, trying to keep them neutral, between a frown and smile. One of the two would show up if he didn’t.
Darren exhaled again. It would’ve been a sigh if it weren’t so loud. A lady behind them cleared her throat. A man across from Phil stared at them over his laptop screen. The barista, the skinny white kid with dreadlocks that reeked of patchouli, swept slowly beside them, ignoring the cropped hair portly women with football hoodies that stared up at the menu chalkboard in front of the cash register.
I’d rather be in Bible study.
“Spectrum City is haunted,” said Darren, and right as he did, Phil noticed a relief cross his old friend’s face. Almost as if it were a physical skin, shed like a reptile.
The dreadlocked barista stopped sweeping and looked over. Phil turned to him and stared until the barista went back to sweeping and pretended to stop eavesdropping. “You’re talking about ghosts.”
“No,” spoke Darren, once again drawing the attention from the other coffee shop patrons. “They aren’t ghosts. They’re gods. Two, I think. I don’t know. There are more, but they may not be gods. It doesn’t matter. What matters is I have to do something that I don’t want to do but have to do because if I don’t…” He winced and his face muscles became tight. Maybe fighting some kind of pain. Maybe preparing for it. “I just have to, okay? So just don’t hate me, or whatever. Just be cool and don’t try to stop me or anything. ”
“Okay,” said Phil. He wanted coffee, but that would only prolong the whole thing. He could still make it to dinner with Amy and her roommates on time if he left in five minutes. “Whatever you got to do, man.”
Darren exhaled again and when they asked Phil what the last thing he said was, Phil didn’t remember. He remembered hearing the words, but they didn’t seem important at the time because he didn’t think they made sense.
Maybe I should get coffee, thought Phil. Maybe Amy would like some. No, I’d have to get her roommates coffee then too. They always expect things. Just because I’m dating who they live with doesn’t mean they’re entitled to the gifts I give her. I don’t owe them anything. I’m going to stop giving them things. I do too much already for other people. I need to focus on myself and Amy. No more needless generosity. It’s like I’m dating three girls instead of one and two of them I don’t even like. Pretty girls always surround themselves with less pretty girls to make themselves feel prettier. If I can find boyfriends for them I’ll have more time with Amy. That way we can actually start fucking. We’ll just keep saying we’re waiting for marriage, but that’s how all the Christian girls work. You just keep saying it and keep kissing until they’re so wet they think they’ve been anointed with Christ’s oily blessing and of course he wants them to have sex because it’s not like we aren’t going to end up married anyway. Might as well just start now if we want it so much. God won’t care, Pastor Craig won’t know. Our parents can go along thinking we’re virgins and we’ll get married and just keep fucking. I wonder what her pussy smells like. Goddam, it’s been too long.
Darren set down two knives on the table in front of them. He exhaled louder than before and grabbed the handle of one, placing the tip by where his jawline met his ear. He breathed in and out while Phil came out of his own head, squinting and confused.
Phil opened his mouth but couldn’t even finish his question. “What are you…”
The thin knife slid up under Darren’s skin as easily as a letter opener into an envelope. There was no blood visible until he dragged the metal edge down his jaw line. His eyes were open the entire time, vacantly staring at nothing as his hand concentrated on guiding the knife, sawing underneath his skin and keeping the cut smooth, straight and even.
Having traced from ear to ear, Darren removed the knife from his face. The blood covered his blade hand completely. Phil stood up then, the shock having worn off enough to realize action was necessary, and put out a hand to stop Darren. The blade entered his palm, directly through the middle, and Phil stared at the blade tip that pointed directly at him out the back of his hand. He turned his wrist and panic took him once he confirmed that the knife actually was inside him, the handle sticking out of the inside below his fingers like a misplaced sixth.
“You stabbed me,” said Phil. He stumbled back, squeezing his wrist, and plopped into his chair.
Darren took the other knife off the table and dragged it up from the front of his ear, separating the skin below his hairline and above his forehead.
The dreadlocked barista kept his phone steady on the scene, recording as blood reached Darren’s eyes.
“He’s stabbing people,” yelled a lady behind Phil into a phone.
The man behind the laptop watched silently and others from the back ran for the front doors. The cropped hair portly women with football hoodies almost got involved, until they saw how much blood there was and decided to get coffee elsewhere.
Oh my God, thought Phil. What do I do? Should I take the knife out? Oh Lord, please. Please, help me. What if I lose my hand? I’m going to be handicapped. I could die. I can’t die. I still have to fuck Amy. Please, God let me fuck Amy.
Darren put the knife down and dug his fingers into the cut atop his forehead. He gripped the skin flap and pulled down. It removed easily at first until he got to the eyelids, but he ripped harder and they came away from his eyes, stretching the skin holes. The circles elongated into ovals and the skin then pulled away at the cheeks with a fair amount of ease. The nose was difficult, but it was the most stubborn at his mouth and so he went back for the knife to cut between where his lips and gums met. He cut around feverishly with the rest of his face hanging over and his eyes wildly glued, exposed completely to the open air.
Phil never took his eyes off the knife in his hand.
When Darren was done, he got up from his seat, leaving the knife on the table and taking his face with him. It didn’t look like a face the way it hung from his fingers, but when he stretched it back out on the counter by the cash register, it almost resembled one again, though flat and weird as it was with the extra skin of the nose, scrunched and folded, resembling more of a pig’s than a human’s.
Later, witnesses outside claimed the raw faced man was trying to tell them something. When they were questioned later as to what specifically he was saying, none of them were able to discern it accurately. He wasn’t saying the word, “separatist” and he wasn’t telling them he was the “devil’s gift”, but both were close enough.
At the hospital, days later when Darren wasn’t dead and they gave him a notepad to communicate, he wrote only one phrase over and over.
SEVIL LIVES, SEVIL LIVES, SEVIL LIVES, SEVIL LIVES…