Lying in bed, staring up at the ceiling, Jacob thought about God.
His parents hadn’t brought him up to believe in ‘things that weren’t there’, as his father had put it. When Jacob was seven, this same man had been diagnosed with pulmonary heart disease. He’d died ranting about how cures that didn’t exist being denied him by an elitist government clique that also didn’t exist. As such, Jacob’s childhood had given him a skewed perception of fact and fiction. This was why he was an atheist, confirmed and unrepentant.
Pilgrim wore a cross on a silver chain around his neck. Jacob had noticed it only after their conversation earlier in the day. Now it drew his eyes. He tried not to think of the little eyes of the dying Christ watching him from the little unadorned cross. Then he would think about how ridiculous the idea was and smile to himself and shudder. Now whenever he thought of Pilgrim he thought of that. That, and the man’s words.
‘See you later my little two-faced friend.’
Jacob blinked and pulled the covers tighter around himself. Then he reached out to his bedside table and switched off his lamp, plunging himself into darkness. Rolling over, he shut his eyes and tried to fall asleep.
Instead, he dreamed.
There was a rhythmic clicking sound in the darkness, like claws repeatedly tapping out a steady beat.
Turning, Jacob saw a chess board, carved into the ground, illuminated by a circle of light. It had been set up with little pieces that looked like they were made of bone. Nothing else was visible.
“Do not fight me,” said a voice from the darkness, “you surely cannot imagine that you will win.”
“More importantly,” Jacob murmured, “I can’t fight something that doesn’t exist. Leave me alone. I can’t imagine you.”
“Little two-face is so bold,” hissed the voice, “maybe if he knew to whom he spoke he’d be more courteous. I am the true master of the house of the gods. One-eye’s father is mine. He dances his puppet’s jig for my amusement.”
“I see,” Jacob sat down and crossed his legs. He examined the chess board in front of him. He was playing white, apparently. His knowledge of chess was rudimentary at best. He moved a pawn forward two spaces.
“If you’re so powerful,” he said, “why don’t you show yourself? You claim to be a demon. Well, then, let’s see you.”
From the darkness there was a noise that sounded like a snort. Then something came out of the darkness, picked up a black knight, and moved it on the board.
It was a clawed hand. The skin was leathery and dark hued. A talon as long as one of Jacob’s fingers hooked the piece under the chin and lifted it delicately.
Staring into the darkness from which the arm came, Jacob could just make out a hunched form. Behind it, two huge bat’s wings were spread out like vast shrouds. Two black and glistening eyes regarded Jacob.
“You see me?” The creature said, “Many can’t. Many refuse to. For all your denial, though, you see me.”
Jacob blinked. He looked down quickly at the chess board, intent suddenly on his opponent’s piece.
“What did you expect to see?” The voice crooned softly, “Nothing?”
“I expected a man with a goatee and cloven hooves,” Jacob shrugged and moved a bishop, keeping his eyes on the board in front, “or a woman with large breasts and tiny goat horns. That’s what demons are, nowadays. You’re nothing. No, you’re worse than nothing. You’ve been made meaningless, childish, unimportant. We’ve outgrown you.”
A claw snaked out of the shadows and snatched up a pawn, sending it skittering across the board.
“Fool,” gurgled the thing, “some things cannot die. Some things are too strong to die. Some things lurk in the dark and never go away.”
“Right,” Jacob moved his queen, “May I just ask, why are we playing this game? It seems pointless to me.”
“You made the first move,” said the darkness, “the game is of your own creation. You can’t help but see puzzles in everything, can you little two-face? You can’t help but look at things and desire to understand how they work. Let me tell you something.”
There was a pause. When the voice spoke next it was right next to him, whispering over his shoulder into his ear.
“Some things must simply be believed in,” it said, “and some things must simply be feared.”
Jacob awoke with a start. He stared up at the ceiling, unblinking for a few moments.
For all his ranting about made up stories, Jacob’s father had been very good at making them himself. For the first few years of his life Jacob had lived in fear of the big bat-winged demon that would gobble him up if he got out of bed late at night, or didn’t eat his vegetables, or was rude to his parents.
Some things are too strong to die.
“Too damn stubborn more like,” Jacob muttered to himself.
Reaching over to his watch, he checked the time. It was far too early to go downstairs, even for morning coffee. Still, further sleep felt like a bad idea.
Getting out of bed, Jacob paced up and down his bedroom for a few minutes. Then he sat down on his bed and sighed. There was no distant sound of music, the house was dead and lifeless. It didn’t seem like Gabriel’s father was up that night.
Gabriel, Gabriel, Gabriel. He was certainly a problem. A puzzle. A puzzle that Jacob was going to solve. An interesting little box of lies and secrets that was going to be pried open, whatever happened. Jacob was good at that sort of thing, he could get into people’s heads, he could read all their mysteries and untruths. It was his special gift.
“If there is a God,” Jacob muttered to nobody in particular, “He better damn well be watching.”