Satan vs. Spirit

Posted: 5th September 2013 by Jeff Bouley / Deacon Blue in Single-run ("One off") Stories
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The amateur footage was several days old but still stark—mangled vehicles, still bodies on the ground, storefronts blown out. The video of the post-battle scene didn’t show much blood, but the seriousness of the injuries was apparent; the property damage even more so.

Still, despite the grim scene, the newscaster had an upbeat tone in her voice. After all, this video was for context; the battle between the Texas superhero team Rough Justice and an unnamed group of domestic terrorists—a mix of transhumans and baseline human anti-government agitators—had ended with the criminals in custody and now charges were officially being leveled. And so the video of the aftermath switched to an interview with the district attorney. As it did, a dark-haired young man at the bar watching the TV took a long pull on his bottle of Lone Star beer, set it down hard, and turned to his blond-haired friend.

“Love Rough Justice, man! Takin’ care of business,” he said, more loudly than necessary. “Only thing’d make that team better would be getting the damn chink off it.”

His friend kicked him in the shin. Ignoring him, the dark-haired man continued, “What the fuck is a Chinawoman doing on a Texas team anyway?”

“Kev!” The blond hissed. “Shut the—”

“Lemme finish, Harv!” Kevin snapped. “I mean, women are already dicey, but if they’re transhuman, OK. Maybe. But at least let’s keep it white and tan. I can understand a Mexican or two on the team, but a…”

“Kev! Shut up!” Harvey urged.

“No, by all means, let him talk,” came a woman’s voice, smooth and firm. Kevin’s head drifted lazily to his left to see if she was a looker. His face was relaxed, eyes half-lidded, and his smile affixed.

Kevin was taken aback for a split-second to see the woman next to him was Asian.

No problem. She’s cute. I’ll just launch into some bullshit to gloss over anything she might have heard.

To his right, he heard Harvey whisper, “It’s her, shithead. Eastern Rider.”

Kevin’s bottle of beer slipped from his suddenly lax fingers to clatter loudly against the bartop, and it almost tipped over. He looked more intently at the woman in the mostly cowgirl-themed outfit—a jean jacket over a bodice-style top and a Western hat topping her black hair. She had chaps on and at least one holstered gun was visible, and he swore he just heard a spur jangling but was afraid to look down at her boots to find out for certain.

“So, ‘Kev’ is it? Irritable boy’s got issues with me being in Rough Justice?”

“Um. Ma’am, it’s just…I mean…”

“I ain’t old enough to be a ma’am,” Easter Rider stressed, “but you also ain’t exactly in a position to be calling me darlin’ either, are ya? First off, I’m half-white and half-Korean. Not Chinese. Second off, few things piss me off as much as a Texas man who can’t recognize a fellow Texan just cuz she’s got a slant to her eyes.”

“He wasn’t born here, Eastern Rider,” Harvey offered lamely. “Moved here when he was 12.”

“Worse yet,” Eastern Rider drawled, pulling out a Marlboro and lighting up. She blew the smoke into Kevin’s face. “You ain’t even a Texas native and you’re spouting off about who the state should be proud of. I’m a Texan before I’m an American, and I’m both before I’m a so-called ‘chink’.”

There was a short, rumbling laugh from the other side of Kevin, and he turned to see another member of Rough Justice, American Spirit, looming over him. The man smelled faintly of bourbon, sweat and cologne, and peered at him through a domino mask that matched the sandy hue of the man’s facial hair. American Spirit pushed out his chest, clad in red and white stripes like the U.S. flag, then tipped his Stetson hat in the direction of his teammate, and Kevin nearly pissed himself.

“I’m so sorry…” Kevin began.

“Shut up, son,” American Spirit said, “for your own good. Kimi, you ain’t gonna break this boy up, are ya?”

“Was about to work out an apology deal with him that would involve him opening his wallet and paying for a gal’s drinks,” Eastern Rider commented, taking a drag off her cigarette. “Could break him, though. Might be fun.”

“Well, I ain’t got a ton of time, ’Rider, and you asked me to meetcha here; can we get to business?”

“Sure thing,” she said. As American Spirit found a table nearby, Eastern Rider turned to follow, grabbing her bottle of Corona from the bartop. A few seconds later, she paused, just before grabbing a chair to sit in. Without turning around, she said loudly, slowly and calmly: “Kevin, get your ass back on that stool. We ain’t done yet. You play by my rules, this night might end up nice for you still. You make me chase you down, you’ll be nursing bruises and breaks for weeks.”

She smiled as she heard the thump of a jean-clad ass on a leather stool and the volley of quiet, fierce, frightened—but largely indistinct—words between Kevin and Harvey.

As she pulled out her chair and sat down with American Spirit, Eastern Rider waved over a cocktail waitress to get his drink order. The man ordered a bourbon straight up, pulled out his pack of Pall Malls, and lit up a cigarette to add to the haze in the bar’s air.

“So, aside from treating me to a show of your usual tough cowgirl thing, but against a civilian, watcha got me here for?” American Spirit asked.

“Someone approached me about a private job. Good money, but I don’t want it. Thought I’d pass it along to you since I knew you were in town. Good excuse to have a drink with you away from team shit, if nothin’ else,” she added, taking a drink from her bottle of beer.

“You don’t want it? Why?”

“The guy hiring is a preacher. I hate most preachers. I don’t like side jobs to come with a sermon or sanctimonious assholery,” she said. “But I know you bought a new hog to tear up the highways with, and it’s a pricey, noisy one, so I figured you could use some extra cash.”

“What’s the job?” he asked, sipping at the just-delivered bourbon and then drawing on the butt of his Pall Mall, blowing a couple smoke rings.

“Some transhuman calling herself Satan is terrorizing this preacher and threatening his church, it seems,” Eastern Rider said. “Over in Kyle, about 20, 30 miles down from Austin.”

“Austin! Why the hell ain’t this preacher calling up Lone Wolf or Torch, then, if he wants to pay someone from Rough Justice to clean up his mess? They’re both local. You’re Dallas mostly. That even farther from Austin than me, and I’m San An-fucking-tonio with precious little care what happens in or near the People’s Republic of Austin.”

“I’m guessin’ cuz Lone Star only spends a third of his time in Austin and ain’t there right now, and Torch is the one truly liberal member of our team and would probably mix with a fire-and-brimstone preacher like this about as well as gas fumes and a match,” she said, pointedly stubbing out her butt and pulling out another Marlboro to light up.

“Ah, what the fuck? Why not?” American Spirit said. “I could use a few extra bucks, and the country ‘round Austin’s pretty. Nice place to put my bike through its paces.”

* * *

“I admit, I really would have preferred that Eastern Rider had taken the job,” Rev. Robert Ramsey told American Spirit as they sat in the former man’s office at the church.

“What? You a fan? A devotee?” American Spirit prodded amiably.

“No, it’s just that I’m not sure I want a man for this task,” the reverend answered. “I think a man might…hesitate…to get violent with a woman. Especially an attractive one.”

“If the woman is dangerous enough, especially if she’s transhuman and dangerous, I’ve got no problem punching her out—or shooting her if it comes down to it,” American Spirit said. “I don’t get in the habit of hitting women in general,” and then held his tongue before the words unless that’s the kind of thing she’s into rolled out of his mouth, remembering he was dealing with a preacher. “But if she’s dangerous…”

“Oh, she is, sir,” Rev. Ramsey answered.

“Being that she’s so dangerous and all, mind tellin’ me why you want to hire some costumed transhuman instead of calling the cops? I mean, sure, I am a deputized member of the Texas Rangers, so I am law enforcement, but you do have local police and county folks, too.”

“I’m concerned about involving norm police. As I said, she’s quite dangerous, and I think I’d rather a competent transhuman handle her.”

“You keep insisting she’s dangerous, reverend,” American Spirit noted. “Since I got here 20 minutes ago and you started briefing me, you’ve been sayin’ that. If she’s so dangerous, why are you still here and breathing? I mean, if she’s got such a big thing against you?”

“She’s terrorizing me; playing me like a cat does with a mouse. She wants to torment me and she has told me she will bring terror and death to my congregation as well. She seems to be in no hurry, but I have no doubt she’ll make good on her threats. The church board is convinced as well, which is why they’ve authorized me using the money raised for the church’s building fund to hire someone like you.”

“Why? Why you? Why this church?”

“She calls herself Satan, sir! What more do you need than that? We’re one of the fastest growing communities in the state—the population’s grown 500% in 10 years. This church has grown fast as well. Isn’t there some villain named Baalzebub over in New York…”

“New Judah, I think it is,” American Spirit corrected him.

“In any case, doesn’t that Baalzebub character terrorize religious people and religious institutions? I’m sure that must be the same motivator as Satan here. We’re fresh meat and we stand out from the crowd. Maybe she’s Texas’ own Baalzebub.”

“Sure, sure. Of course, there’s also Devil-May-Care, Speed Demon, Madamnation and Handsome Devil to name just a few more famous devilishly named characters in the United States,” American Spirit pointed out, “and they don’t terrorize random churches. You’ve been really vague, reverend, about motive. She hasn’t given you any clue about why you and why here? I mean, you keep saying she threatens you and she’s murderous…”

“When you first got here, I showed you samples of security video of her. You’ve seen her confront me here at the church. You’ve seen her lurking outside at times I didn’t even know she was there. This is not the behavior of someone who means me well. Or this church.”

“Calm yourself, reverend,” American Spirit said. “I’ll take care of this situation. But just because this gal’s named Satan doesn’t mean I’m gonna charge in and shove a wooden stake through her heart just on your say-so.”

* * *

The whole situation still wasn’t sitting right with American Spirit, but on the other hand, this would be an easy job and he could sort things out once this Satan character was in cuffs. She’d been making almost regular nightly visits to either the church or the reverend’s home, depending on where he was at.

Although the reverend wasn’t at the church tonight, American Spirit had ensured his car was parked there and a light on in the church. Hidden between a pair of trees and mostly obscured by shrubbery, American Spirit sat and waited, a rifle perched atop his thighs—still trying to decide if he might just shoot her in a leg as soon as she appeared to slow her down and get this over quicker.

He’d hunted since he was a kid—animals back then but mostly people now—and he expected he’d see Satan appear soon enough to try to put the scare into Rev. Ramsey.

He didn’t expect to smell marijuana smoke just behind him, though, nor have his rifle suddenly snatched away. He snapped to his feet with superhuman swiftness—he was a Speedster, after all—and spun around, but she wasn’t there. Just the lingering smell of marijuana.

Just when I thought the situation was already weird, now this Satan gal turns out to be a pot-smoking sneak-thief on top of everything else.

“Ya know, the preacher mentioned the evil part, but he left out the pothead part,” American Spirit said, moving slowly in a circle to try to pinpoint her.

Suddenly, a face dropped down from above, smiling at him upside down and sticking her tongue out from between ruby-red lips as she hung from a limb in the tree above him—her hair was an unnaturally bright shade of red, and she wore red horns atop her head. Her arms dropped down just as suddenly as her head had, and her palms pressed against American Spirit’s chest. She pushed hard, and he tumbled backwards and landed on his butt.

She’s stronger than I expected, and faster too—maybe as fast or faster than me, American Spirit thought.

Satan dropped from the tree and then rolled away from him, smoke trailing from her mouth as she did.

“Evil? Not me. And I thought I’d have a joint tonight because I smoke pot to have fun, and I figured it would be fun when I saw I’d have someone more interesting than the reverend tonight,” Satan said. “Oh, dammit! I lost my joint when I shoved you. Poo!”

Poo? he thought. Evil incarnate is saying Poo?

American Spirit quickly got back up and into a fighting crouch. Now that he knew she was a Speedster like him, he would have to be more on guard. Not to mention the fact she seemed to be a Brute given how easily she’d knocked him over. He was heavily muscled, but if she was a Brute, she might be stronger than him even with her very slight frame.

She wasn’t rushing off this time, so he took some time to assess her. Aside from the red plastic horns she was wearing, there wasn’t a thing remotely devilish about her costume unless you counted knee-high red boots with black flame designs on them. She had on a black halter top, black yoga pants and didn’t seem to be sporting a weapon of any kind.

She might just have really lethal transhuman powers I’m not aware of yet, but for someone so dangerous and murderous, she isn’t very well equipped to torment or kill, American Spirit considered.

“Are you checking me out?” she asked. “That’s so cute. I’m up for some fun, and my boyfriend and I have an open relationship. Let’s dance!”

She sprinted forward and then came around with a roundhouse kick. American Spirit ducked and spun around with his own enhanced speed, so that he was behind her. He got ready to punch her in a kidney for a quick take-down, but his fist met thin air as she did a series of somersaults away from him.

“I’m not sure I like your idea of dancing,” he said, back in a fighting stance, and one hand on the butt of his favorite gun—a .357 Magnum tricked out to look more like a vintage Old West revolver. He resisted the urge to draw the gun. Something wasn’t right here, and Satan hadn’t done anything to deserve a bullet at this point.

“You’d rather two-step?” she teased.

“Now, I can two-step with the best of them, but don’t go stereotyping me, now,” he growled, without much anger. He briefly wondered if she was dampening his aggression with a Psionic power but he was still ready to hurt her at the right provocation, so it didn’t seem likely.

Apparently, Satan has an infectiously playful personality. Never got an indication of that in my Bible.

“Tennessee waltz? Line-dancing?” she prodded.

“Let’s just stick with the melee combat,” he suggested. “Though I think I could surprise ya. I’ve been known to dance respectably to a Britney Spears tune with some co-eds in nightclubs. Ya know, you’re far from home, Satan.”

“What? You think I came from Hell?” she teased, circling him under the light of the nearly full moon. “Oh…it’s my accent, isn’t it? Because I don’t have a chummy Texas drawl or the overblown uptight Southern gentleman accent of Rev. Ramsey. I’m local. At least now, I am. Colorado got too boring for me.”

“Guessing you didn’t spend much time in costume there, then,” American Spirit said. “I keep up on trans action and I’ve never heard of Satan before.”

“That’s because the reverend is a special case—most people don’t call in help,” she responded. “Too much chance of their deep, dark sins being revealed to anyone else. And their sins are what I come for. And then I come and go like the wind—a redheaded, fun-loving, satanic wind.”

She’s dropping all kinds of clues about herself, but not in that clichéd villain-soliloquy way, he realized. She just doesn’t care what I know, and she’s not worried about her identity enough to wear a mask.

“I’m not gonna keep dancing all night, and I’m not gonna play nice for too much longer, Satan,” American Spirit said. “You’re a danger needs to be taken down.”

“This coming from the guy who was waiting for me in hiding with a goddamn rifle,” she noted, half-disgustedly and half-amusedly. “You came in hot—well, locked and loaded, anyway. You are kinda hot, though, in a bouncer/bruiser kind of good-ole-boy way.”

“Where is my rifle, by the way?” he snarled, slowly moving closer to her as they circled each other. “It’s got sentimental value.”

“You’re gonna have to climb the tree for it. Can I watch your ass while you go up?”

“I’ll take care of that after you’re cuffed to a tree,” he said, continuing to close the distance between them subtly, hoping she wouldn’t notice until he was close enough to dash in at super-speed.

“Sorry. Not gonna happen.”

“We’ll see…” he said, and lunged forward, breaking into a full Speedster sprint.

“Wheeee!” Satan said, and spun away even faster. “Want some more fun? We’re dancing, so let’s make it more rave-y and cheesy nightclub-y.”

Suddenly, there were streamers of smoke coming off her as she circled away from him again, slowly. No, he realized, smoke was pouring out of her mouth.

She ain’t got a cigarette, so how’s she smoking?

Then the smoke was pouring from her skin as well, clouding the area, messing up his visibility. but he realized he wasn’t smelling smoke.

An Ecto maybe? Except she can make the quasi-matter look like smoke, American Spirit theorized. Probably doesn’t need to; probably just likes to with her whole reefer madness attitude.

American Spirit didn’t like losing visibility when it was already dark out, and he was about ready to pull his pistol. Things weren’t looking nearly as good for him as he figured they should, and she was stepping up the game.

Movement. Shadow. A fist.

Satan came in fast, plowing a fist into his belly, and he doubled over, wheezing. As she passed him, she backhanded his skull from behind, and—half-dazed—he tried to formulate a plan to get his hand to move toward his gun faster no matter how much he just wanted to lie down for a second or two.

Shit! I’m about to get my ass handed to me. I don’t mind getting beat up by a woman, but dammit, not a woman this goofy.

But there were no more blows, and the faux smoke was dissipating.

She had me dead to rights, American Spirit thought as he caught his breath and regained his senses. She could have disarmed me and beat me senseless, or vice-versa.

Then she zipped by him again from a completely opposite direction from what he’d expected, and in that split-second, his mind winced at the blow to come.

It didn’t.

She quickly tweaked an earlobe and poked the tip of his nose, and then finally stopped 20 yards away from him.

She’s not fighting me. She’s sparring with me. And why would she do that if she’s such an evil bitch? Damn preacher.

“Time!” American Spirit shouted, putting his hands in the T-shaped time-out gesture.

“I sucked at gym class. Didn’t have the right attitude. Does that mean it’s time to fight some more?”

“What the hell is goin’ on here?”

“You set a trap for me, you came to fight me, and we’re doing the—you know—combat thing,” Satan answered, twisting her face into a dopey expression. “I mean, a guy sics someone from Rough Justice on you, whatcha gonna do?”

“Just stop. I’m here because you threatened to kill—”

“I threatened to what?” she sputtered.

“You’re threatening this man’s church and you’re threatening to hurt and kill him,” American Spirit said, though he wasn’t so sure of either thing anymore.

Satan burst out laughing.

“I don’t care one bit about this guy’s church or his congregation,” she said. “I’ve been eerie and threatening, yeah, but I never threatened him. Not like that. I never once said I’d hurt him, cripple him, kill him or anything else like that. Put a scare into him, sure. Dude, I have trouble killing spiders, and it’s not because I’m scared to get close to them.”

For several moments, he just stared at her, and then simply said, “Shit.”

“Yeah, shit indeed,” she agreed. “Look, this is all fucked up now. It’s been fun meeting you and all, but you being here has screwed everything up. Knowing he might convince you to keep after me, or hire someone else from your team or hire someone really nasty, just messes up the vibe. If I’m all alone with him and being freaky and scary, it works. But now the rhythm is all screwy. I can’t play this out the way it’s supposed to be played out.”

She reached down into one of her boots and pulled out an envelope, tossing it toward American Spirit.

“Just give these to him,” she said, more than a little dejectedly. “I’m done with this guy. First time I haven’t been able to see one of these things through to the end. Fuck it all. Hope this isn’t the start of a trend.”

American Spirit stepped forward, picked up the envelope, and looked inside. Several photographs were there, all of a child.

“What’s this got to do with him?” American Spirit asked. “Did he knock up a woman and this is his illegitimate kid? Or did he rape this kid? Kill her?”

“Not your business. That’s between him, her, me, God and maybe a couple other people,” Satan said. “I was just here to get him to do the right thing and to have fun making his life hell in the process of doing that. Oh, well. They can’t all be winners, right? I got some fun fucking with him. Gonna be a bit anticlimactic for you to hand him the photos and he probably won’t do shit now that’s right, but honestly, I don’t have the heart for this job now that someone’s shown up to take me out—even if it doesn’t look like you’ll keep trying to take me in.”

“You weren’t ever trying to hurt him, were you?”

“Nah. Not physically. And no, not through some nasty Interfacer pain power or Psionic brain fuck, either,” she said. “I mean, I was more than happy to make him hurt psychologically and screw up his life and all. But actually hurt him? Nah.”

“Jesus God. Satan is an avenging angel,” American Spirit muttered, shaking his head.

“Far from it, cowboy. Sure, I mostly go after people who’ve done someone wrong and deserve all the hell I give ‘em, but sometimes I just do it for fun. There’ve been basically good people with skeletons in their closets whose lives I’ve messed up in some way just because it seemed cool at the time. I’m Satan. I may not be damning innocent souls, but you don’t get to be an angel with a name like that.”

“Look,” she continued, “I’d love to invite you over to my place to share a bong with me and Matt or something, but since you’re not just a member of Rough Justice but also a Texas Ranger, the state probably drug tests you and shit. So, let’s just say it’s been nice meeting, and we’ll call this battle a draw.”

American Spirit snorted derisively and loudly. “Ain’t no draw! You and I both know you coulda cleaned my clock. How’s about joining Rough Justice if you really are living in Texas now. Sure, everyone else is a native, but it ain’t no rule or nothin’. Love to have someone fights as well as you on the team.”

“No. Hell no! Rough Justice has that rough-and-tumble thing but I’m sure you have some rules. And I hate rules. Nice dancing with you. Tell all your friends how well I two-step, even if you leave out the part that I could’ve kicked your entire ass.”

American Spirit smiled. “You want a rep? Sure. Why the hell not. I’ll spread the word how big and bad your redheaded self is—short of making myself look like a pussy.”

“Thanks kindly, pardner,” Satan said before she blew him a kiss and ran into the night.

* * *

When Rev. Ramsey opened his front door at American Spirit’s knock, the hero pushed his way in without preamble.

“Did you—” the preacher began.

“Shut up.”

“Pardon me?”

“I said, ‘shut up.’ So, lemme guess. The reason you wanted Eastern Rider is you figured her ‘always ready to pick a fight’ attitude and the fact she was a chick and might feel competitive toward another attractive chick would increase your chances of Satan being taken out—maybe permanently,” American Spirit said. “And when that didn’t work out because she didn’t want the job, you thought I was enough of a bumpkin to just take everything hook, line and sinker and that I was enough of a hotshot maybe I’d shoot Satan or something. That about right?”

“I don’t know where you—”

“—got that kind of idea? I ain’t got the smoothest edges, but I ain’t a moron. More to the point, I ain’t a reckless hothead. However, I am a little heated. Here, why don’t you have these.”

The reverend looked at the photos now scattered on the floor in front of him. His eyes widened slowly.

“Oh, God. Oh God. Dear Lord. You know.”

American Spirit paused for a moment, almost said I don’t know shit and then stopped himself. Why not just run with it? Why not try to salvage what Satan had worked so hard for?

“Yeah, I know everything, preacher,” he lied. “Now, if you don’t want everyone else to know, I suggest you do the right thing finally. And quick like. Because if you don’t, not only will your business be out for everyone to know, but I’ll come back here to personally kick your ass.”

As he stormed out of the man’s house, hearing the man’s family coming down the stairs to ask what was going on, American Spirit felt pretty good.

But I’d feel a shitload better if I didn’t still have to go back to the church and climb a damn tree to find my rifle.