Ryan Bradford

Arson and murder are the legal terms for sacrifice, you say.

It’s the morning after and there’s still a perimeter of white-blue makeup around your face. The black tendrils that hang under your eyes have faded but aren’t gone—that shit’s harder to wash. Bet it’s an awesome mugshot.

We leave it at the sacrifice line because it’s a good line. It’s from our second EP, and although the real line is ‘arson and murder are mortal terms for sacrifice,’ it’s not the best time to correct you.

I tell you that I’ll come visit you every day until this is over. You say, from behind your hair, that everyone dies alone. It’s your chemically-dyed shield. It lifts with each exhale and your breath smells awful. It’s always smelled that way. I think the only person to tell you that was Lonnie.

You move your arm to the table and pull your sleeve up. You show me an upside-down cross that runs along your median vein. I remember when you carved it in, didn’t even sterilize the blade. Did mine with the same knife and then we lay there until we got light-headed. It was more blood than I’d ever seen before. But now, from across the table, your scar looks like a real goddamn motherfucking Jesus Christ crucifix. Guess we were always looking at them side-by-side.

 

* * *

 

I don’t visit you the next day because of the lawyers. They all tell me not to talk to anyone and then they turn around and they ask the same questions that everyone else is asking:

Satanism?

Pentagrams?

Ouija boards?

Wülvs?

Umlaut?

They become accusations: 35 to life. Hell. Lonnie.

The next time I visit, you ask what I said.

Nothing, I say.

Fucking pigs, man, you say. They got nothing on me. Your voice sounds weak, not at all like the weapon that delivered us from the isolation and loneliness whenever we took the stage. You look around and ask, again, if I said anything.

What would I have said, I say.

Careful, they’re listening.

So what? We’re innocent.

You lean back and cross your arms.

Right?

 

* * *

 

The lawyers tell me you did it. My parents tell me you did it. Goddamn kids from school are telling me you did it. Billy Myers and his fucking minion of bumfuck-jocks walk past my house, point their fingers and cock their thumbs. I open the door and tell them that Lonnie was only the first.

Mom pulls me in and asks what I said. She says I have to be careful what I say. Everyone’s so worried about what I say. We’re all so careful with our words. That was the beauty of Wülvs. We screamed and burned and cut what we wanted.

 

* * *

 

The next time I see you, you’ve already confessed. The fact that you told the cops before you told me maybe hurts more than the fact that you actually did it. They’ve cut your hair and it’s the first time I’ve really seen your face.

I don’t ask why, but how.

You say: Lonnie opened the door, which is strange, really. He just opened the door. Seemed like such a harmless act. I let my guard down. He attacked me. I kicked him and threw him to the ground. He got up and tried to get his knife in the kitchen and I thought ‘if he’s going to have a knife, I’m going to have a knife.’ I had a pocket knife—a small pocket knife. I got up and stopped him from getting to the kitchen. Then he started to run off toward his bedroom.

You laugh at this point.

You continue: I just—I just jumped on him and um, chopped? Stabbed. Stabbed him in the skull. I wasn’t even thinking. He died instantly.

You move forward and reach out. I notice your breath smells fine. I’m scared by your violence, but also maybe jealous of it too. I realize mine was always make-believe. It feels so childish.

 

* * *

 

I now have a wife and new friends. I live in a new town because I hated our old town and that fucking church got rebuilt. That might have been the worst, but painting over the pentagrams sprayed onto my mom’s garage door every Halloween got pretty old too. Not very many employment-opportunities for a Satan worshiper, either.

I Spring Clean—that’s something I do now. My wife thinks it’s therapeutic. She phrases it “pulling skeletons out of the closet.” That term gives me pause.

I pull an old box down from the closet, covered with permanent ink: ‘memories’ crossed out becomes ‘knickknacks’ crossed out becomes ‘ETC.’ The box has all the legal papers from the trial, a Polaroid of you and Lonnie and you two face each other with arms linked like a chain while you drink tallboys. Then, underneath all the yellowed papers, there’s our album.

Well shit, I say.

My wife looks up.

Look what I found.

Wülvs? she asks.

My band.

Oh the death metal band? She smiles.

Black metal, I say. Satanism, pentagrams, blast beats. Corpse paint.

Like KISS?

Nothing like KISS.

I shut whatever it is that we’re listening to off—just sounds like pussy shit now. I slide the recordable CD into the player and hit play. The disc is scratched as fuck but some of the middle tracks play all the way through.

My fingers still know the notes. They yearn to slide up the dropped-C fingerboard and send all those notes to Hell. At first, I fake the reverence, putting my fingers into devil horns and wagging my tongue. My wife claps her hands together and holds them under her chin, bent like an adoring mother. The music takes hold. My heart rots and pumps black blood in the way that it used to. It’s warm in the garage but my breath becomes visible. The transformation upsets my wife and the pride drains from her face. I cherish her fright.

But she’s pointing at my arm. There’s a black widow crawling along the scar that runs up my median vein, its legs severe like the charred framework of a burnt church. It’s been hiding in the box this whole time. A lineage of evil has resided in this box, but it’s not been the music—just these deadly spiders.

 

* * *

 

The final time I visit you, we’re different people. The years have hardened you and made you wiry. I feel self-conscious of the extra weight in my torso and messenger bag strapped across my collared shirt. I don’t want to tell you about my wife. I avoid talking about her as if I was tricked into marrying her. I dance around the subject of my job. I just say I work in computers and you look at me like that’s the answer you were expecting.

So you got my letter, you say.

I did.

There’s a pause. I don’t know where to go from here. You crack your knuckles—tattooed, ravaged, perhaps bitten—are tattooed with old English: WüLF on each side. You see me looking at them.

Oh these, you say.

I chuckle. I say that I found our old album.

Did you bring it?

The CD?

No, what I asked for.

My voice gets hushed. Yeah, I brought it.

Let me have it.

I bring out two pucks of face makeup. One white, one black. I drop them in front of you like poker chips. The two canisters click softly together.

You open the white puck and smell it. You take two fingers and circle the perimeter until there’s a thin layer of makeup on them. You use the same circular motion to spread it around your cheek. A white blot spreads to just below your eye like an epidemic on a news channel.

I’m sorry, you say.

Hey! yells a guard watching over us.

You start a second blot on the other cheek.

I never told you I was sorry.

The guard runs over. His handcuffs are already out. His buddy is pulling a baton loose.

Not for Lonnie though, you say.

You’re smearing the make-up with your whole hand now. It’s in your hair and on your lips. The contrast makes your teeth look so yellow.

I’m sorry I didn’t invite you along, you say. I’m sorry I didn’t ask for your help.

It’s the apology I’ve been waiting years to hear.

The guards are on you before you can get the black makeup open. They tackle you and your face hits the ground. You spit out a tooth and throw your head back. It meets the nose of guard on top of you. He howls and holds his broken face. His baton buddy starts to pummel you and you just fucking scream.

The acoustics in this place are amazing.

 
 
 


Ryan Bradford’s writing has appeared in Quarterly West, Paper Darts, Vice, and [PANK], and he’s the founder of the literary horror journal, Black Candies. He lives in San Diego. Find him at ryancbradford.com.