There is a crossroads in town, one mile west of the 7-Eleven and two blocks away from High Shine Nail Salon on Fifth. Micah stands on the sidewalk with a bag of groceries and a cheap cell phone.
He bites his lip. Once, when he was seventeen, he tried to pierce that lip, and ever since he’s felt a raw slice of tissue missing from the inside, an aversion to needles growing into a panicked phobia he found difficult to control. Micah grips the groceries tighter, and the cool bite of air on his neck is comforting.
He read something about a crossroads once. In the old church, after hours, when his parents had left him with old Father Gregory while they were at work. A book on demons.
Micah can’t quite recall the contents of the book. He finds often that he can’t remember a lot of things, the past becoming a wash of unintelligible colors, unidentifiable shapes, faces he couldn’t place and places he couldn’t ever remember seeing. Micah supposes, then, he should be worried. But he isn’t.
He does, however, recall a picture, done in ink.
If you want a favor, bury a box. The picture showed a careful “X” of criss-crossed dirt roads, a single black square in the center. And bury in the box three items.
Micah blinks. The crossroads is just an intersection, not at all resembling the delicate calligraphy of lines and pebbles and tumble-grass the drawing had shown. There was nothing remotely religious about the quiet grey of cement, the crushed can of Diet Pepsi and THANK YOU COME AGAIN written twice on plastic, in red.
It would be hard to bury a box in the middle of the street, Micah thinks. He takes a step away (the milk is getting warm, the chicken roast cold and his brother is waiting at home impatient for the groceries).
It would be hard to bury that little black square at the crossroads here.
Micah finds himself crossing the street. The night is young, the city waking, but the street is empty and silent. Gravel and gum and sliding puddles of oil stain the ground. Micah bends lower, placing his bag carefully down beside him. His cell phone bites the pads of his fingers and he hates that slide of metal across his skin. He tucks it into a pocket, and lays his hands on the hot black cement.
The items are as followed: a depiction of the mortal wishing to bargain a debt, a handful of graveyard ground, and the white-washed bones of a dead black cat.
The cement is cracked underneath his palm. Micah knows the divet here, has rode the bus over the pothole and clutched his stomach as the vehicle lurched. Last year, a teenage girl home after her first drunken stupor lurched over it and crashed to her death in a nearby storefront. A wreath of decaying roses decorate the sidewalk, and somebody has scrawled a note there in the road, lines intelligible and worn by tire.
He has an ID in his pocket, the one from work he keeps on him in case of emergency. A blurry headshot of a young man, lost in cataonia. Micah hates the picture. He fiddles with it in his pocket, brushing against the filmy plastic with his knuckles.
A car is coming down the road. It stops just outside a leaning apartment building, and a woman in high heels (something pricy and shiny and way-too-tall) steps out with her coat wrapped tight round her waist. She spares Micah a glance and for a second he thinks he knows her. He thinks he's seen her walk into the grocery store with 2.5 kids and sad, sad eyes but it isn't here, it can't be. He looks back down at the cement, at the gravel gathering between his pinky and his pointer nail.
His brother works by a graveyard. Technically, Jonah was an ad salesman, AM/FM radio times, the same as Micah, but occasionally he worked the sour job for stoners down in the graveyard. Sells the soft stuff to the kids at the high school or even the middle school (sometimes). He has morals, he tells Micah, and all the real dangerous stuff stays in the hands of the higher-ups.
If he played his cards right, Micah knows that graveyard dirt is easy enough to steal.
A girl walks out of High Shine Nail Salon. She wears black on black, dark shoes and dark hair, her face down-turned towards the street. Observing her fingers. A smile flashes, then is gone, and the girl is walking with her head down and earphones shoved deep into her head. Micah tries to wave as she goes, but she ignores him. The roses on the sidewalk shift in the wind.
Now he stands again, running a hand through his hair. It needs a wash, the gel from yesterday stuck still in dark locks. He'd gotten the gel for a big date, but the guy had shown him up and Micah ate alone at a Thai place down the road, reading yesterday's newspaper under cheap fluorescents. Revolution in the Middle East, bankruptcy eating Europe. America a stand-still of fat people and bad music and far too much shoot-outs for Micah keep his food down later. Food poisoning.
That was the same night the neighbor's cat had died. Buried alongside the orange tree in her front yard.
Micah owns a shovel.
His cell phone rings as he flicks his ID from his pocket, staring into his own confused face.
And once the items are buried within, a Demon of the Crossroads shall rise from the dirt and grant a desire for the price of your soul.
Father Gregory had called the book fake. Micah found it amusing. What was one soul to desire? He didn't believe in Hell anyway, thoughts of fire suddenly loud at the back of his skull.
He answered the phone. It was Jonah, voice dry from lack of alcohol.
"The hell are you, man? Shit, I'm starved!"
In ten years time, a hound of Hell will travel to your doorstep to collect the fee, taking with it your body, heart, and final breath.
There is a crossroads in town, one mile west of the 7-Eleven and two blocks away from High Shine Nail Salon on Fifth. Micah kneels on the road with a bag of groceries and a cheap cell phone.
As he leaves, ("Jonah, calm down, I'm coming. You're giving me a freaking headache, moron,") Micah spares one last glance at the crossroads.
A car with a sad-eyed woman starts down the street. A girl with nice nails disappears while walking home. Faded roses die on the sidewalk, dog-piss and cigarettes staining the tiny white cross there.
And Micah leaves his ID buried in the soil.