Copyright © 2010 Jeff Gonsalves
All rights reserved, Wild Child Publishing.
I arrived at my sister's duplex in ten minutes. Elliott's agenda had detonated like a nuclear warhead, laying everything to waste. The lawn had been replaced by a volcanic ulcer of lava, neon orange and rippling sideways. Steam sprayed out of the fire hydrant, hovering in a scalding fog over the magma. The driveway was scorched black, paved with charred cinderblocks. His illusions seemed so realistic I found myself stumbling back even after a sludgy wave of lava failed to scorch my shoe.
Ash coated the roof, as if dozens of corpses had been cremated there. Withered trees trailed smoke into the sky. Flowers in the garden became hands clutching fistfuls of air, their wrists submerged in mud. Scarlet light spilled out the windows as though the duplex had been converted into a forge.
Perhaps the most striking feature was a monstrous, forked tongue protruding beneath the garage door, flailing like a bullwhip.
Elliott's doomed, I thought, reeling on the threshold of Hades.
The air around the house was hazy, singed by heat. The odor reminded me of burnt waffles, which is what Velma had told Elliott "Hell smelled like". Amazingly, my nephew was now capable of olfactory hallucinations. He could produce scents to accompany his illusions.
Defying his horrific mirage, I tiptoed across the lava, greasy fumes puffing up to liquefy my vision. Tortured banshees wailed in my ears, hinting at condemned souls torn apart in the netherworld. With each step, chunks of scree belched up and became stepping stones so I wouldn't plunge into the inferno. On the other side, a sooty beach washed up to the front door. The sand was littered with razored shells waiting to mutilate my feet. A raven perched on the duplex's gutter, a lock of Elliott's hair pinched in its beak. Beside it rested a nest made of bones, its pink, squalling bird fetuses eaten alive by maggots.
The living room, too, had been warped by Elliott's raging psyche. Contrasting the childish panorama of Hell, it was transformed into a mortuary. The windows were colorful stained glass, fashioned with images you would see inside a church. The brown carpet was now a plush purple, the sour odor replaced by incense. A flickering TV flashed images of veiled widows mourning the deceased. Watching them turn to face the screen, their faces were identical. Each bore the stern countenance of Ms Horner, a schoolteacher who disliked Elliott because he was an "aberration". Organ music groaned from a radio, casting a pall over everything.
In the center of the living room sat a coffin on an oval dais, a red satin cloth drawn over the casket. Massive holes had been gouged in the lid, the way Elliott might render a plastic box containing his pet lizard.
Chilled, I stepped forward and heaved open the lid. Inside, Velma lay cloaked in her wedding gown, a frilly, white, moth-eaten dress. Shovelfuls of dirt smudged the gown, as though gravediggers had tried to bury her with the coffin unsealed.
Velma's hands were crossed over her chest, clutching a vidpager. She gazed up at me through jittery eyelids. Her face looked grisly, powdered with mortician's attar.
"I can't move," she sobbed.
"Shhh, take it easy." Tears crept down her cheeks. "What happened?"
"Elliott got mad because I wouldn't let him play with a neighbor boy. He created the burning bush, and I told him to stop. He threw a tantrum, screaming that he was a bad boy and was going to Hell."
"Where's Elliott now?"
"A military patrol came by and saw my lawn on fire, so they smashed down the door. Elliott slipped out the back. He jumped on his bike and tore off down the road."
"He'll be okay, sis."
"The guards had rifles."
"They won't hurt him. They're instructed to contain a juvenile, not gun him down."
"I'm afraid I'll never see him again, Chuck."