Sitting on the 2nd to last step of the winding staircase, I find myself watching the light from my lantern as it frolics through the whiskey in the bottle sitting between my feet, casting amber waves like molten honey on the rough edges of stone. “I really should just install some lights down here,” I think to myself. But, there’s just something about the light that comes from a flame that makes sense in this place.
I look at the cigarette in my left hand, and remember exactly why I quit smoking… as I take a drag.
I look at the pistol in my right hand and hope that it’s enough for what I have in mind.
Standing, sliding the pistol into the kydex holster at my hip, I reach for the whiskey and take another shot of courage. Feeling the ignition of every single neuron from my tonsils to my gut. The warmth giving way to a shiver.
I’ve found myself here, at the door to the pit where I’ve caged my demons.
And I’ve come to kill them.
The locks have all been turned. The door sits heavy on sagging hinges. The battle to come is playing out in my head, amplified by the liquor and the need to be done with this.
One deep breath, held for a full second, and my right boot comes off the floor – the sole making contact with the center of the door as I snap out a front kick. The impact rattles me back into the moment as my hand finds and draws the pistol in one movement. My left arm underhand pitches the lantern into the room and as it hits the floor it explodes into a puddle of flame. The entire chamber is bathed in firelight as I march in – pistol up. Eyes scanning for targets.
The room is empty other than the cages, chains, and the lake of fire spreading out from the shattered lantern.
Panic. Sheer, nerve searing panic. “Fuck, they’re already out,” My brain manages to scream between my involuntary gasps. “No. No. No. No…”
I’m spinning. Gun barrel following my line of site as I search for the beasts that I absolutely know are descending on me. Coming to rend flesh from bone and dissolve me into a silly pile of ego, hubris, and demon shit. The monsters that I kept locked in these cages, behind that door, have been doing nothing but raging and waiting for the day that they find a single flaw in all this confinement. So that they can destroy me again. That’s all they’ve wanted. They plotted and waited with that unearthly patience that our demons are born of, and set a trap.
And my dumb ass just walked right into it.
The voice in my head turns professorial. Calm.
“You’re an idiot to think you can kill them. You’re an idiot for even coming down here. She tricked you into thinking that you could kill them when she showed you SHE wasn’t afraid. But now she’s not here – and they are LOOSE.”
Inching forward to the nearest cage my brain derails from its panicked locomotion as I notice a very, very important detail: The chains on the cages are intact. The locks are still closed. The cages are still whole.
The petulant child that is my heart whispers, “they aren’t loose – they are gone.”
And then it makes sense. Realization flooding over me like the burning fuel on the floor: The second I decided to let those demons go, they were gone. The only thing holding them back was MY hand on the leash.
So there I stand alone. Pistol hanging limply in my hand as I stare at her footprints in the dust. Perfect little impressions of small feet next to my boot tracks. Marred only by the tear I didn’t feel roll off of my cheek. In showing me her strength, she set me free. And in her absence, this warrior spoiling for a fight finds himself alone. No more battles to wage. No more wars to win.
It’s not the demons that got set free… It’s me.