How to Beat the Legal System

(Plan B)





            "I knew you'd come, Herr Hoft," said the lanky shadow leaning against the wall to the husky figure approaching from the parking lot.

            Herr Hoft heard the greeting, and was not surprised that the shadowy man was outside, expectantly awaiting this, unanounced visit.  Von Hoft knew the shadow's reputation, though not his name.

            "They say you're the most powerful magician in this part of the world."

            Lurking behind tangled bangs dangling past his nose, two sunken, bloodshot orbs whose stare would crack granite sized up the comment, as well as the man who made it.  The reply was a low snort.

            "I don't know who They are, but I know who you are."  Cold, emotionless: "and I know why you are here."

            Franz Von Hoft smiled playfully, causing the scar running from temple to jaw to wrinkle unfavorably.  Some said that the scar was self-inflicted.

            "If you know so much," he said in his heavily accented English, "you already know if my idea will work or not.  I don't want to waste your time or mine, so do you think I can benefit from your magic?"

            The magician matched Von Hoft's smile with one of his own, exposing yellowed, rotting stumps of teeth.  His voice was an unpleasant guttural mumble.

            "Magic?"  A pause.  "Magic is like good or evil: it depends on the circumstance.  Half the things we take for granted today would've had us burned at the stake two hundred years ago."

            Whatever Von Hoft expected for an answer, that wasn't it.  The Rational Voice suggested, and not for the first nor last time, that he was wasting his time and should resort back to his original idea: Run Like Hell.

            The speaker continued; though his voice was only a whisper, Von Hoft heard him perfectly.  "There is a lot of potential energy in the universe waiting for a catalyst to make it kinetic.  The catalysts we understand are called 'science'.  The ones we don't are arbitrarily labeled 'magic' or 'divine providence'. "

            Despite his cool composure, several tendrils of sweat dripped down from Von Hoft's Hitler Youth Haircut.  Those who knew him usually thought he had been born a couple of decades too late: he would look more appropriate as a guard at Auschwitz than as an international sales rep for BMW.  But like Eichmann, he kept his composure as the magician seemingly put him through his own personal Nuremburg.  He drifted up to Von Hoft, so close that their faces almost touched.  Franz was assaulted by hot, rancid breath as he continued, "Likewise, there are also creatures that exist beyond the average level of comprehension, and are also subject to such arbitrary labelings.  Some call them Angels, others call them Demons."  He smiled a knowing smile at Von Hoft.

            This actually reassured him, and he smiled back.  "Neat.  Introduce me to one," he replied in a quiet, almost playful tone.

            "Ooooohhh - summonings are a hassle.  Can you make it worth my while?"

            Von Hoft's right hand clutched a brown paper bag, the contents of which were almost starting to smell.  He held it up with prideful grin and handed it over.

            The conjurer accepted the bag and opened it curiously.  After a moment, he reached in and removed the contents.

            The hand was roughly severed at the wrist, though part of a bone stuck out of the raw circle of flesh where the forearm began, its end twisted and jagged.  Grime was caked under long, uncut fingernails, and amid callouses were old scratches and scars.  To an extent, it was still soft.

            "Hand of Glory?" he inquired, a note of excitement in his voice.

            Von Hoft nodded.  "Right hand of a hanged man."  Of that he was certain, because he had acquired it himself the hard way not half an hour ago with a makeshift noose and a hacksaw.  The wino wasn't fully dead when he began amputating, and the strangled cries reminded Von Hoft of the animals he used to do similar things to while growing up in Bavaria.

            Gift in his own hand, the magician opened up the sliding garage door and went inside the self-storage lot he was living in.  The place was ideal for him: low rent ($50 a month), free utilities (if they existed) and in the middle of nowhere (the Mojave stretched out in all directions).

            Von Hoft's nose was instantly assaulted by a combination of stenches - body odor, carrion, herbs, unpleasant things he couldn't identify.  He saw the other's lanky frame disappear inside, and then brightness flared from a naked 200 watt bulb which swung from the ceiling in metronome time on a knotted black cord.

            The place was the size of a single-car garage, and it resembled its owner.  Opposite walls were lined with bookshelves, all haphazardly cluttered with literature.  Against the far wall, a stained mattress was shoved between a mini refrigerator and a small stereo rack system.  The entire floor was dusted with stale clothes, old pizza boxes, books, and medium-sized cardboard containers.  A line from Frank Zappa floated into Von Hoft's head: "Is this the old loft...with the rugs and the dust, where the books go to die?"

            The owner plowed through the linen detritus to the refrigerator.  Atop it was a wax skull and a small statuette of a sphinx-like black cat, which blinked copper eyes as the hand was placed under its nose.  By that time, Von Hoft was close enough to see that the skull was also real.  He studied it, the expression on his face akin to someone studying a fine painting.  It was only after several moments that he noticed the melted wax and smudge marks in the hollow eye sockets.

            "Well, Rasputin?" the magician asked his familiar, who after a moment looked up at his master, purring.

            Having verified the authenticity of the item, he looked at Von Hoft smugly.

            "I think we can do business," he whispered, and placed the hand beside the cat, saving it for some future use.  "Wanna shut the door, Doc?"

            The media nickname for Von Hoft was "The Doctor", and while he actually did have a smattering of medical training, the moniker bore a much more sinister connotation.  His husky frame was excellently toned from a variety of unpleasant activities, so it was with little difficulty that he yanked the door down into place, sealing him in with the magician.

            "Any preferences as to who I conjure?"

            Von Hoft looked puzzled.  "Does it matter?"

            "Oh, but most definitely."  He looked at Von Hoft, his eyes boring into Franz's from behind his tangled, lice-ridden mane.  After a moment, he began nodding, and that secretive smile touched his lips again.

            A whisper: "I know who you want."

            Somehow, that didn't surprise Von Hoft.

            Glancing at his watch briefly, he sat down on the mattress and watched the conjurer turn on the stereo.  Fishing a disc from beneath the semi-sentient laundry, he put it in the tray and keyed several buttons.  After a moment, Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" seeped out at subdued volume from concealed sound sources placed strategically about the room.  He walked to the center of the room and began kicking clothing off to the side with his bare feet.  Slowly, a concrete floor became visible as it was cleared of old clothing, boxes, empty cups from the 7-11 a couple of miles down the road.  When, after several minutes, most of the floor was cleared, he began his assault on the bookshelves.

            Despite the utter chaos, the sorcerer knew exactly where everything was.  He began pulling books from the shelves, stacking them in the clean zone he'd made.  The books were an unusual hodgepodge: one was a tenth-generation xerox, another was one of eight remaining copies from the 1600s.  All had been annotated with grease pens and a rainbow of highlighters.  One was smeared with the blood of a Papal paper cut.

            Out of one of the boxes shoved to the side he produced a plastic bag quarter full of a white powder.  Squatting in the middle of the clearing, he broke the seal and began sprinkling the powder into a wide circle around him.  Von Hoft thought he could hear him mumbling to himself.  After a moment, he poured a concentric circle several inches inside the first.  Out of what powder remained he fished a small piece of chalk.  The mumbling turned to a low chant as he used the stub to inscribe odd glyphs in between the two circles, occasionally checking some of the books for reference.

            Task finished, he dropped what remained of the stick back into the bag, and then began to wipe his fingers on the ripped, oil-smeared Levis which looked like they hadn't been washed since April.  Judging by the vigor with which he did the job, it was obvious that he didn't like having the chalk residue contacting his skin.  It actually had the effect somewhere between a tingle and an itch.  However, the powder refused to leave his fingers, so after a minute of futility he reluctantly abandoned that task and returned to his original one.

            He found another zip-lock full of powder, this one of a slightly darker shade.  He poured it into three lines, inscribing an equilateral triangle inside the inner circle.

            "Isn't it supposed to be a pentagram?" Von Hoft asked from off to the side.  The reply was a stern glare and a disgusted shaking of the head.  Von Hoft wasn't sure if he was upset with the interruption or the ignorance of the question, but either way decided not to ask about the necessity of the traditional green-eyed, red-haired virgin.

            From a small wooden box, three candles were removed.  They were long, slender, and had more of the strange symbols engraved along the sides.  Out of nowhere, the conjurer produced a lighter, applied the flame to the base of each.  After they had melted slightly, they were placed at each of the triangle's points.  To Von Hoft, they looked like skeletal fingers clawing out of the ground.

            Moving everything outside the Thaumaturgic Circle, he looked over at Von Hoft.


            Von Hoft certainly was: he wasn't sure how much time he had before the FBI caught up with him.

            The warlock pulled the stainless steel ball chain on the ceiling, and the room plunged into darkness.  A moment later, the lighter flared to life, and was applied to each of the three candles.  They burned with an unpleasant fatty smell that quickly filled the room, overpowering all previous odors.

            He assumed the lotus position a few feet away, and both hands made fists: pinky and index fingers extended.  On his own accord, Rasputin jumped from the top of the fridge and stalked over on padded feet to curl up in the lap of his master, who  began a strong, whispering chant.  The language was beyond Von Hoft, though parts of it he strongly suspected were Latin, and when he read from one book, the incantation suddenly sounded Arabic.  Mostly, though, it sounded like backmasking heard on records, and it blended wonderfully with the softly peaking Stravinsky.

            After about ten minutes, Von Hoft shivered, noticing simultaneously the goosebumps on his arms and the puffs of frosty exhails issuing from his mouth.  He looked up at the incanting figure and noticed similar billowings.  He frowned, wondering why the temperature had suddenly dropped, but then forgot all about it when he noticed that the runes on the floor had changed slightly.  He leaned forward, blinked, and found that they had shifted their configuration again.  As he watched, the lulling, hoarse chanting began to slowly mesmerize him, and he began to get lost in it.

            He was suddenly brought back to his senses by a very loud chime.  Starting slightly, he shook his head and then looked over to find the sitting figure holding a small, dark bell.  The latter counted under his breath to ten, then rang the bell again, uttering a Word as he did.  Von Hoft noted with some amusement that he was using a bone for a ringer.

            He rang the bell one last time, uttering the unintelligible Name as he did so, and then put the bell down.  In the cold candlelight, his face glistened with clammy perspiration, which he began to mop up with his shirt.  It was a wrinkled black t-shirt which had been rather poorly hacked into a tank top.  On it, the Grim Reaper sat upon a demonically contoured albino mount.  A skeletal hand clutched an M-16, the caption read "Death rides a Pale Horse."

            He looked over at Von Hoft.  His face was flushed, he looked exhausted.

            "All done."

            Von Hoft looked at the inscribed circle.  In the light of the half-spent candles, only shadows were visible inside.

            "It takes a while for the summons to be answered," the conjurer explained to Von Hoft's unasked question.

            'A while' whittled into half an hour, much to Von Hoft's irritation: he knew it was only a matter of time before the authorities caught up with him.

            That was largely his fault - being on the run was something he had never done before, so consequently he in his ignorance had made some colossal blunders which allowed the authorities to stay on his trail with consistency.  He was a hot news item, and the networks occasionally ran updates on the man they were calling everything from "The Bavarian Ted Bundy" to "Franz the Ripper."  The last newscast he'd seen had really disheartened him - not only did they know he was now in Arizona, but extradition papers had also been filed by other countries, chiefly his native Germany.

            During his childhood in Bavaria, Franz spent most of his time unsupervised: his parents were too busy fighting with each other, usually verbally, often physically.  Taking a cue from them, he became a bully and a troublemaker, though to put complete blame on them is erroneous - his teachers had suspected that there was something wrong with him from Day One.  Most of them wouldn't have been surprised to learn that by age seven he was torturing small animals.  By sixteen, he had moved on to larger game: people.  Those he didn't like (for whatever reason) had a nasty habit of ending up in various chunks under his vegetable garden.

            Unfortunately, a week ago, he had left the disemboweled form of Mr. Mark Burton for dead.  Aside from the outstanding non-posthumous evidence that Mr. Burton would be providing, some good detective work had been done, and before you could say "meat cleaver" contextual proof arose linking Von Hoft to twenty-two other murders.  And that was just in America; Canada and especially Germany were also espousing an interest in him in relation to some unsolved murders, including his parents.  Not surprisingly, they'd been among the first to go.

            Every now and then, a Rational Voice entered Von Hoft's head, and one night while he was watching a CNN update on himself, one did and said "Don't bother running anymore.  It's only a matter of time before they catch up."  However, these irregular Rational Voices were usually accompanied by the more common Irrational Voices.  Often, these Voices said things like "That guy over there is looking at you funny.  Kill him."  This time, however, the Irrational Voice suggested an alternate plan to running.  This plan directly involved the black shadow that was growing in the center of the triangle.

            Von Hoft watched the shadow thicken until it had expanded to the border of the inner circle.  Wisps of smoke began to rise from the blackness, along with an unholy stench.  Faintly, odd growlings came from inside, along with an almost imperceptible Gregorian-like chant.  Then, without warning, the dark shadows parted, revealing a deathly total blackness out of which It arose.

            Its skin was a grotesque shade of red that was covered with ugly blemishlike scales, plus a gruesome assortment of hooks, knobs, and barbs that sprouted from strategic locations on Its manlike frame.  Two membranous wings protruded from Its muscular back, though they were folded and penned in as if a glass wall blocked their sprouting.  That wall, oddly enough, would have been where the inner circle was.  Atop massive shoulders were two heads that resembled jackal skulls with layers of flesh tightly wrapped around them.  Von Hoft noted (as his bowels reflexively unloaded their contents in his pants) that only half of It was present: the ceiling blocked Its complete appearance.  From the abdomen downward It was not present, but lost in the void of purple and red hues that shone from beneath.

            The runes around the circle were blazing.

            Both of Its heads studied the conjurer.  Neither of the heads looked pleased.  One head spoke, a low, bassy reverberation that vibrated internal organs, and the other head spoke the same words a fraction of a second later.

            "Your summons is untimely and unwelcome.  We have pressing matters that require Our personal attention in Our Noumenal world.  Release Us."

            The summoner feigned obsequiousness.  "You give me no credit.  I would not arbitrarily summon a Prince of Avernus without making it worth His while."

            One of the heads remained trained on its summoner, the other began to look around the room.  It stopped when it came across Von Hoft.  "Then speak quickly," both heads commanded in off time, the second almost smiling.

            The summoner looked over at Von Hoft and nodded.  Von Hoft was enraptured with the horror before him, and unable to speak.

            After several uncomfortable seconds of silence, the other head joined its mate in scrutinizing the pale figure before it.  "Well," they hissed with scathing impatience, "what is it you want of Us?"

            Vaguely, Von Hoft noted It's speech and wondered if each head was a separate entity, or if It chose to address Itself with the Royal 'We.'  Franz cleared his throat and said somewhat weakly, "I wish to sell You my soul."

            The second head's grin widened.  "A soul..." both said.  "It has been long since We have feasted on one."  Its voice suddenly altered, and Von Hoft took a step back when It asked "Was wollst du fur es, Franz?"

            The voice was his father's.

            Von Hoft stammered, unable to answer.  Its grin widened, and It seemed to be laughing as it yelled indignantly, "Well?  What the fock d'ya wanfer it, ya fockin' Kraut?"

            The voice was Mark Burton's.

            "Immortality," he mumbled, not for the first or last time wondering if this was the right choice.

            Even though Von Hoft was not an American citizen (Green Card Number WA 4376243784) he was still subject to the law.  In twenty-two cases, the evidence against him wasn't 100%, and there was an offhand chance that he might be able to go free.  The twenty-third, though, was pretty solid, thanks to Mark Burton.  The electric chair hadn't been used in New York since the late '50s, but popular opinion wanted to make the exception.  Then, while watching CNN, he formulated a plan: he knew his actions would send him to Hell, so if he sold his soul he'd have nothing to lose since he was Damned anyway.  Immortality would be the ideal trade: they can't electrocute you if you're immortal.  Even if he only got life, he'd eventually make parole.  Foolproof.  He made a long distance call to a friend of his, who once told him about a friend in Attica who dabbled in the occult.  For twenty cartons of cigarettes, that friend put Von Hoft in touch with a man who could arrange a meeting with The Devil.

            That meeting was turning out to be a lot more than Von Hoft had expected: the Thing in the circle was literally scaring the shit out of him.  However, he played his fear against one other factor - how badly he wanted to live.

            It looked disappointed, as if It had been expecting more of a request.  "Agreed," both heads responded, and Von Hoft had to keep from screaming.

            The voice was his own.

            "Come," they hissed, and Von Hoft looked questioningly at the conjurer, who nodded.  Uncertainly, he stepped to the outer circle.

            "Closer," both heads whispered.  Again, he sought confirmation with the conjurer, who again nodded.

            Von Hoft inched forward with more than a little hesitancy, and suddenly encountered an invisible force.  There was some give to it, but not much - Like Saran Wrap covering Jell-o, he thought wildly.  The parts of him in contact with it felt a pins-and-needles sensation.  It raised one of Its long, crimson arms and reached a gaunt hand toward him.  It too encountered the barrier, but with effort worked Its taloned hand into the neutral zone between the two circles.  The pads of Its fingers touched Von Hoft directly over his heart, and a low moan escaped the back of his throat.  It smiled, and suddenly there was an agony which he had never imagined possible emanating from inside him.  It felt as if hooks had lodged into his heart.  Suddenly, he realized that that was exactly what had just happened, except that those hooks had sunk themselves, not into his heart, but his soul.

            He broke contact, fell out of the demonic DMZ, and onto all fours.  He could still feel the inner tearing, and his throat began to burn as he started to vomit.  And when his stomach had given its all, he dry-heaved.  Faintly, he heard three sets of laughter: the conjurer, and both heads laughing his own throaty laugh.

            When Von Hoft had stopped convulsing, It spoke to him one last time in Its original delayed voice.

            "You are now immortal.  No force in your world can kill you, and though you will age, you will never die until you will yourself to.  And when you do, Our grasp on your soul will be complete."  It turned It's full attention back to Its summoner.

            "Thank you for bringing Us this delicacy.  You will be repaid in the future, but now We must depart.  Goodbye for now.  Goodbye, Rasputin."

            "Agreed" said the summoner, and said the Banishing Mantra.

            With that, The Creature sank back into the depths from which It had arisen.

            Von Hoft closed his eyes and cried for several minutes.  When he opened them, still on all fours, he was greeted with the sight of blood.  It took several moments to realize that's what he'd been vomiting.

            The conjurer had since put the light back on, and both he and Rasputin were looking at him with something akin to pity.  Several hours later, he would discover that his hair had turned from Aryan Blond to Antarctic White.  He was amazingly weak, and didn't have the energy to apologize for the mess on the floor, or to thank him for arranging The Deal.

            Truth be known, he wasn't all that sure that he should be thankful.

            He tried moving, instantly regretted it.  He lay there, immobile, still in shock trauma.  Time seemed to slow to an agonizingly slow pace, each moment an epic in numb stupor.

            Indeed, he was so out of it that he didn't even realize that the magician had picked him up and was carrying him over his shoulder down the dark highway.  He wouldn't have thought the man strong enough to support his weight, but then again most of his expectations had been turned on their heads tonight.

            They reached the 7-11 that was down the road from the storage lot, and the magician propped Von Hoft against the wall before making an anonymous call to the police department, telling them where they could find one of the nation's most wanted.

            Von Hoft vaguely saw the conjurer disappear back down the road, back to his lair.  He wasn't alone for long - within twenty minutes, state troopers swarmed all over the store.  Von Hoft surrendered without a fight; he was in no condition to give one.  When he reached the airport an hour later, he was almost starting to regain his strength.  He tried sleeping on the plane back to New York, but his nightmare had two canine heads which whispered to him what it would be like to have his soul eaten.  The marshall awoke him because he was screaming.

            In their eagerness to put Von Hoft away, they were able to schedule a trial ten days after his arrest.  He was in no shape for it, physically, mentally, or spiritually.

            The trial was a disappointment to the tabloids that had adopted Von Hoft as a topic.  It lacked the grizzly details that his murders were full of, and more importantly, it lacked Von Hoft's active participation, especially his characteristic gruesome off-the-cuff remarks.  Before, his eyes had burned with a psychotic energy.  Now they were sunken and lifeless.  His testimony was also very lifeless and lackluster, as if he were semi-comatose and a million miles away.  It all seemed rather moot, anyway: everyone knew that, in at least one case, the evidence was unambiguous, thanks to the testimony of Mark Burton.  The verdict came as no surprise: Guilty on all charges.  Neither was the sentence: Death by electrocution.  Von Hoft sat limply in the courtroom and displayed no reaction.  Some wondered if he even heard the jury at all.

            The appeals were mandatory, but the result inevitable: eleven months later, Franz Von Hoft found himself on Death Row at Rikers Island.  He was the first person there in over thirty years.

            At 7 pm, they served him his last meal: bratwurst, potatoes, and a six-pack of Beck's.  He ate mechanically, and what was once his favorite meal tasted like ashes.  He didn't finish it.

            "I'm saving it for later."

            When he was offered Last Rites and Confession, an odd look came in his eye as he declined.  The guards watched him silently - they had already learned that he was no longer one for conversation.  It was assumed that the horror of his actions and conviction had finally set in - a belief reaffirmed at night when his dream-induced screaming could be heard for some distance.

            However, as he shuffled down the hall in his prison-issued slippers, he was beset by a grim confidence and even grimmer smile that really threw the guards off.  They led him into a large lima bean green chamber.  Opposite the door he entered was another door, which led to a small operating room.

            The chair was a hard brown wood without cushions - comfort was not its purpose.  Standing behind it was a middle-aged doctor who looked like she would rather be anywhere but there.  She refused to make eye contact with him as the two guards who served him dinner tied leather straps around his arms and legs.  Electrodes were attached to his chest, hooked up to an EKG machine concealed behind the chair, and a stainless steel visor was dropped over his head.  The inside front was coated with teflon for easy cleaning - sometimes the recipient's eyes exploded.  On top of his head, he could feel the sponge soaked with saline making contact with his freshly shaven scalp.

            From his understanding, there was a large entourage of people outside the prison, guzzling beer, eating fried chicken, and waiting for midnight.  He smiled to himself.  They were in for a big disappointment.

            By state law, three bursts were used.  The first was a relatively low one: it zapped Von Hoft, and consciousness receded to a pinprick on a black horizon.  He was teetering on the edge of awareness, but before he had time to fall one way or another, the second burst slammed into him.

            His whole body became numb, and then every single nerve ending was on fire.  But all the excruciation was dwarfed, put to shame by the reappearance of the Inner Torment: he searing hooks that were piercing his insides, the agony worse than it had been during the creation of The Pact.  He tried to scream, but only he heard his wail of anguish.  All he could do was endure.

            Just as the pain began to fade, the third jolt thundered into him.  It was technically designed to insure death should the second frying fail (it happens), but Von Hoft clung to life and semi-awareness with a rugged tenacity brought on by another electric immolation.  And yet again, the Beacon of Pain from where the demonic hand had arrested his soul.

            Faintly, he could hear voices talking, exclaiming.  He laughed grimly to himself.  The visor was being removed, and he could feel hands on him.  With a Herculean effort, he wrenched his eyes open.  The two guards and the doctor literally jumped back in shock.  By state law, immediately after the third electrocution an autopsy was to be performed, so that if by some miracle the voltage didn't kill the victim, the autopsy certainly would.

            The doctor, however, wasn't about to do an autopsy on someone who was looking and grinning directly at her.

            "Juice him again," she ordered.

            The guard running the switchboard looked uncertainly at her.  "The law says only three..."

            "Fuck the law," she snarled back, but it was the look she gave him that convince the guard to slap the visor back into place.  Hell, nobody'd know, and they all wanted to go home.

            Again the electric agony, though by now Von Hoft was shaking violently - the soul rack was so intense that it drowned out the other torture.  Dimly, Von Hoft saw the irony that what kept him alive also put him in the most unbelievable agony.

            After an eternal thirty seconds, the doctor looked at the EKG and saw to her amazement that not only was there still a heartbeat, but a strong one.  She lifted the helmet herself and found Von Hoft looking at her, laughing the laugh he'd heard when he'd sold his soul.  Crimson tears were flowing from pulpy eye sockets.

            Von Hoft could still see, though mostly it was in fuzzy scarlet.  Through the echo of his mental screaming, he dimly heard the doctor recommend that they juice him again.

            One of the other guards, however, suggested that perhaps that wasn't going to work.  They quickly came to the consensus that the chair was malfunctioning, and that they'd better call the governor.  There was general agreement with this, and they began unstrapping the still laughing Von Hoft.  His face was the portrait of triumph.

            Two guards helped him up, both noticing how much he trembled, as well as what hair he had left was standing on end from static electricity.  They began dragging him toward his cell, at least until somebody could call the governor or an electrician.

            Half way out of the chamber, Von Hoft grazed the doorknob.  The moment he made contact with the aluminum handle, his victorious cackling changed to an unearthly wail of torture.  Reflexively, both guards dropped their hold on Von Hoft and began clutching their hands, which tangibly realized the jolt he was receiving.  Unable to stand under his own power, he fell, breaking contact with the knob.  The pain faded, except for an amazing afterglow throughout his nervous system and heart.

            The guards looked at each other with puzzlement, then at Von Hoft.  Hesitantly, one of the guards reached down and touched him.  Von Hoft jerked reflexively.  A faint whimper escaped his throat.  The guard took a firm hold on his bicep, then nodded to the other guard that he seemed safe to touch.  With obvious reluctance, the other squatted down, took Von Hoft by the other side, and hoisted him up.  They managed to get him out of the room that time, and dragged him down the hall toward his cell.

            One guard leaned the half-comatose Von Hoft against the iron bars of his cage so the other one could unlock it.  The resulting scream was heard by the people outside of the prison, and a cheer went up among their ranks.

            The guards were able to separate him from the cage, stopping him from screaming.  Von Hoft felt as if every fibre in his body were being shredded, but it was that unholy touch from the Prince of Avernus that truly racked his soul.  By this time, his eyes had the consistency and appearance of scrambled eggs, but he didn't need them to see his fate.





1989, 2001  Matthew Thomas Farrell