A/N: Inspired by the below comic from A Softer World.
The slippery pink Pokemon stares at me, its head tilted to the side, its mouth hanging open and drool coming out, the picture of stupidity. That's okay. In this case, stupid is better. I light a cigarette, let it dangle from my lips for a while. I don't need to inhale, just need to know that the burning is right there, that if my tongue and teeth are curious, they could feel the fire up against them.
It was July, I remember so clearly. That month is hot, sticky, sweaty, filled with bright lights and loud noises. Nobody could keep anything straight. It is the month that makes me innocent. It is firecrackers and explosions and a hundred thousand excuses. My fingers dance across the keyboard, double checking that my decision is right. Tap, tap, tap. The noise is innocuous, but it carries a meaning, a meaning like the tolling of church bells or a shovel digging up soil.
His response to me:
(7:27:45 PM) : (nightknight27) k then come 2 my house in an hour, alrt, babe ;)
I press down on one key, slowly, savoring the sealing of fate. 'K'. I smile at the connotation of that letter. In the Chinese alphabet, each symbol is a different word. I only knew one: the symbol for fire. It looks suspiciously like the letter 'K' with a dash above it. For me, this is auspicious. Far in the past, some precognitive god has given me permission to do this. I have been chosen. I finally take a long drag of the cigarette. I watch the smoke twist and swirl around me, a grey dragon that licks my skin with obvious affection. I push my desk chair back, step off. The Pokemon is looking at me the same way. It hasn't moved at all. Poor, stupid thing. I take its Pokeball off of my cluttered desk and call it back. It disappears in a flash of red light, leaving only a vaguely Slowpoke-shaped patch of pristine white carpet beneath. How long had it been sitting there? Four days? Five? A week? It didn't matter. At least it's slowed the accumulation of junk that has claimed the rest of my basement. Dirty clothes, wrappers, bits of paper covered in intelligible writing. This is the place for dreaming, the place for planning. A safe place, but I would have to leave it to do my work. I trudge up the damp cement stairs and into an unforgiving world.
The top floor of my house, the one attached to the street, was mostly devoid of furniture. I had a few chairs and tables and things near windows, even though the blinds were always tightly closed. Pesky neighbors are something I've become accustomed to. They are one of the universes tests for me. I peek out of the peephole in my door. The street is deserted, the sun growing low on the horizon. Any neighborhood children have gone inside to escape the heat and the coming darkness. I slink out the door, lock it behind me carefully, and get into my car, a beat to hell Ford Tauros with faded orange paint. The interior is clean, only a few old receipts and a half empty bottle of water. Not too clean as to arouse suspicion. The man's house is in the southern part of town. Not too bad. Not too good either, but I'd been to worse.
When I arrive at his house, the sun has gone below the edge of the earth. The sky is a deep navy blue, the color of the ocean on a stormy day or a pretty girl's blue jeans against spring grass, still some dying sunlight fighting off the coming stars. Everything here is all chain link fences and barbed wire. Beware of Pokemon signs on every fence, poor, dirty children running half naked in the street. It feels like the end of the world. Deep breath, inhaling smoke, relaxing my muscles. I pop open the trunk, grab the black Jansport inside. It is heavy with my supplies, and the weight gives me courage. I walk up to the door of the house and feel as though there are eyes on me. The feeling makes my heart race and I ring the doorbell, praying he answers soon. When he does, I smile inwardly. He is perfect.
Fat, balding, old enough to have a face almost made of wrinkles, he wears only boxers and a t-shirt. "You look older than I thought," he says.
"Yes," I reply. "My apologies."
"I suppose you want the money up front." It isn't a question and he pulls out a stack of bills. I shove them into the bottom pocket of my backpack, careful to keep from revealing its contents. "Let me see you," he adds, and grabs my head with one huge hand. My heart beats faster and faster. I want to bite him and rip him open, to make him bleed. But instead I let him touch me, for a little while. His bloodshot, yellowed eyes look into mine, the irises a muddy brown. "Did you bring the Pokemon?"
"Yes, sir," I mumble, feigning fear. It helps. I let my partner out of his Pokeball, and he materializes at the man's feet in the same position he went in.
"A Slowpoke?" He frowns.
"Yes, you see, they're easier to train and safer."
He just nods. My answer makes sense. I can feel his eyes digging into me and it hurts so bad he might as well be stabbing at me with a screwdriver. I shiver a little, and behind his ugly eyes I can see the hint of a smile. "At least you're what I ordered," he says, and in my mind's eye I can see the order form that was emailed to me. Black hair, green eyes, 5'2" or shorter. A check mark next to each option. I was something for consumption. I just smile at him.
He picks me up, stronger than I'd have thought, and I can feel his palms, sweaty and warm through my thin white blouse. He lays me down onto a dirty, stained up couch. His hand touches the edge of my skirt and I cringe, but don't move. Not yet. I wait for him to relax and to begin to climb on top of me. Slowpoke moves a little and I sense the time is right. "Disable, Slowpoke!" I shout. The man jumps. This obviously isn't his first go round, but it will be his last. Slowpoke moves, suddenly with lightning-like speed. It just stares at him and blinks, but this simple action makes the man's muscles lock up and he falls to the ground, stunned for the moment. I jump off the couch, slide across the dirty tile floor to my backpack and pull out the rope. I tie him up, my hands making knots that would make a sailor proud.
"What is this?" the man screams, spittle flying from his lips. "Did I not pay your boss last time? I have the money!"
I ignore his cries. "James 3:6," I say instead, "The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell."
"What!?" he screeched. "Oh God, are you one of those door-to-door people? Look, I can pay you, I already said that!"
The words mean nothing to me. "Numbers 1:23, everything that can stand the fire, you shall pass through the fire, and it shall be clean, but it shall be purified with water for impurity. But whatever cannot stand the fire you shall pass through the water."
I snap my fingers and the Pokemon approaches, its webbed paws scrabbling on the floor. It has done this before and it leans forward, waiting eagerly for my command.
"Use Water Pulse." The words slip out of my mouth easily, having been said many, many times before. In the distant past, my predecessors had said these words as well. They are words that belong not to me or any human, but words that belong to a force greater than anything on this earth. The Slowpoke opens its mouth and several rings of water come out. It looks almost as if it is blowing bubbles. The water slams into the man with enough force to send him sliding across the floor and into a table. He hits his head hard enough to leave a gash on his scalp.
He splutters, the water filling his mouth and nose. "Cut that out! Jesus! When I get out of here I'm going to sue you for all your worth."
He is not very intelligent. Poor, stupid thing.
I am ready for the last part of the ritual. I am ready to cleanse him. My heart flutters with glee and anticipation, alive like a small bird in my chest. "Isaiah 66:15," I say with a voice that is not my own. The voice is strong and deep. The voice is ancient. The voice is truth. "See, the LORD is coming with fire, and his swift chariots roar like a whirlwind. He will bring punishment with the fury of his anger and the flaming fire of his hot rebuke."
I dig through my backpack and come up with a can of kerosene, the metal cool against my hand. My other hand curls around a book of matches. When the man sees what I'm carrying he begins to thrash around. I can almost smell his panic and fear, bitter yet sweet. I sigh, full of ecstasy. I open the can and out comes the kerosene, covering the man's clothes and skins.
"NO!" he yells, sounding more animal than human. "No, no, no, no, no..." his screams begin to turn into helpless whimpers.
"Repent," I whisper to him and light a match.
My fingers release it.
It falls through the air.
Then the real screams start.
I stand in the light of the fire for a moment, bathing in the heat and the smell of burning flesh. Smoke begins to fill the room, so finally, I return my Slowpoke to its Pokeball, grab my things and leave. Luckily, the house seems to lack a smoke detector. What a pity. I drive away under the cover of darkness.
When I arrive back home, I unlock my house and step in the door. My skin reeks of smoke and sweat. I'll have to take a shower later, but for now, I walk down into the basement. I pull an apple out of the fridge and turn on the TV, waiting for the news to come on. The wait isn't long. Soon enough, there is the story. A man's house is burning down on the screen, a live feed apparently. The fire is beautiful, an inferno of justice, of righteousness. The news reporter says something about a basement filled with kiddie porn, both videos and images. Some taken by the man himself even. I take a bite of the apple, crunching it slowly, letting the juice run down my face. I let the Slowpoke out and give him the rest. He chews very, very slowly.
They say that the pattern leads firefighters to believe it was set purposefully, though the fire burned away any evidence. Finally, I turn the TV off and go back to my desk chair. The computer starts with a quick click of the mouse. My fingers fly across the keyboard, pale and long like snowy white spiders. Tap, tap, tap. The sound is inside my head and outside, permeating everything. I go to the site I normally do.
17. Black hair, green eyes. Short. Looking for work. Minimum $300.
I hit enter and the post goes up. I close my eyes for a minute, praying silently. I know in my heart this is right. I am Right. I am an executioner. This is what God made me, as much as He made the lion prey upon gazelles or the wolf upon deer. I sink into my seat. I wait.
What would God do? That question is always in my heart. A can of kerosene is always the answer.