“So what do we do next?” Steven asked. “We were going to get Ash and Sabbath out of the house, but Carlton wasn’t exactly clear on how.”

     “Sure he was,” Pepper replied. “He said we were going to use a miracle. Because we all know that’s going to happen, right?”

     All eyes turned back to Carlton, who wore a sardonic grin. “Oh, we have one up our sleeve,” he said. He motioned toward Roderigo, who by then had cleaned up–he was wearing an old seersucker shirt and a pair of ratty blue jeans. “Roderigo can heal from just about anything, right? I’d say that’s a miracle. If he can stomach a performance, that is.”

     “Yeah, let’s have him do that,” Pepper smirked. “Let’s have him slash his neck or shoot himself in the head. Let’s give Ash a heart attack and put him into a position to call the police. We’ll have a lovely time explaining that to Gibson, won’t we?”

     “I guess I could just tell him,” Roderigo said. He pulled his old pocketknife and, placing his thumb on the spur behind the blade, flipped it open. He drew the blade across his fingers. A drop of blood fell from each incision, only to stop as the wounds closed.

     “Cops,” Pepper said. “Gibson. Do we really want to draw this type of attention to ourselves?”

     “Well, we don’t have to do anything too drastic,” Carlton said. “Then again, a visual aid works wonders in cases like this.”

* * *

It was 7 at night, and the racket was loud enough to fill Niles Manor. Even from where he sat, Ash could hear the grinding of electric guitars clear as a bell. The wild drums pounded both in the walls and in his skull, sounding to him like a young child banging on the bottom of a frying pan. It was a shrill, droning pain, a testament to the concept of noise pollution.

     Still, he tried to bear it. Even if he had knocked on their bedroom door, Twitch would not have heard him, and as it stood, someone far closer to her was going to end up as through with it as he was. Sure enough, the noise stopped, and as he heard Sabbath shouting at her sister, he breathed a sigh of relief, and went back to his reading.

     Or he would have, had there not been a knock at the door. He tossed the book aside and went to answer, pausing briefly to peer through the peephole. It was Roderigo, standing inches from the door in an old seersucker shirt and a pair of ratty blue jeans–not his typical attire. He forced a smile and opened the door. “Hey Rod,” he said, “What’s up?”

     “Just wanted to see how you were doing,” Roderigo said. The normally flat monotone of his voice somehow seemed a bit more three dimensional.

     “Come in,” Ash said. As Roderigo stepped inside, wiping his feet on the doormat, Ash’s smile gave way to a frown. “You look pale,” he said, offering Roderigo a seat. “Are you sick?”

     “I might be a little anemic,” Roderigo said. “Medication issues. It’ll blow over.” He sat down on the couch. “Seems quiet,” he said as he leaned back in his seat.

     Ash smiled. “Well, you just missed the concert,” he said. “Twitch was reminding us why her favorite death metal band hasn’t gone mainstream.”

     “She doing alright?” Roderigo asked.

     There was a strange hint of dishonesty in his voice. However, Ash knew that Roderigo’s lack of affect could make him seem insincere, so he brushed it off. “She’s fine,” he said. “Obnoxious, unruly, but fine, at least for her.”

     “And how’s Sabbath?” he asked, his voice losing the air of insincerity.

     “Depressed,” Ash said. He motioned Roderigo to a nearby chair, and calmly took his seat. “You know how she is. A little too emotional sometimes, but she’s a sweet kid. I don’t really know how she’s handling it as well as she is.”

     “I guess she’s too young to remember,” Roderigo said. “Frank’s death… Anne didn’t take that very well herself.”

     “No, she didn’t, but the women in this family are troopers. They pull through. Me,” Ash said, gazing toward the stairs, “Well, you know how I handled it when my dad died.”

     “Better than you think you did.” Roderigo’s face seemed to tighten, as if he was trying to frown. “Better than I am,” he said.

     “Did something happen?”

     As Ash watched, Roderigo pulled his pocketknife from his jacket, idly thumping it against his leg. He thought it was strange, but he dismissed it as a tic that Roderigo must have picked up due to stress. As he laid eyes on the micarta handle, however, his mind shifted away from the action and toward the knife itself. Suddenly, he realized exactly what kind of knife it was. “Holy crap,” he said, leaning forward in awe, “Is that an Emerson knife?”

     Roderigo’s eyes connected with Ash’s. “CQC Super Six,” he said. “Custom made, and Emerson doesn’t offer them anymore.”

     “That’s a hell of a blade,” Ash said. Roderigo seemed to cringe, and then it dawned on him what he had meant just moments before. “What happened?”

     “She’s dead,” Roderigo said. “Yvonne’s gone. She was killed by a man who broke into our house the other day.”

     “Holy–” Ash said, immediately stopping himself. “Why wasn’t I told? Shouldn’t it have been on the news?”

     “That’s the thing,” Roderigo said, unfolding the knife. “See, ‘man,’ is putting it rather loosely, and when I say he killed her, that’s not exactly accurate.”

     Roderigo opened the knife and pressed the tip of the knife against his palm. Slowly the blade pushed through flesh and muscle, past bone, before finally erupting on the other end. Ash was too shocked to move.

     “He was once–a man, I mean. But that was a long time ago. I guess ‘demon’ fits it better, although that’s not quite right either. And while he did cause her death, and while he certainly intended for it to happen, he didn’t actually kill her. His master did.”

     With that, he pulled the knife back out, and his hand contracted into a fist. Blood flowed from the wound for only a second. Ash could barely bring himself to speak. “Rod, you’re scaring me. Put the knife down….”

     “I’m fine,” Roderigo said. He closed the knife in one hand, and placed it back in his pocket. “Listen, there’s something you need to know. It’s about your daughter–”

     “Rod, stop.”

     “–Twitch. She’s not really your daughter. She’s a god, and a nasty one at that.”

     “Roderigo, stop–”

     “She eats souls. Living, dead, it doesn’t matter to her, and the fate they suffer, it’s worse than hell. She got her, Ash. She got her, and now Yvonne will know nothing but–”

     “Shut the fuck up!” Although furious, Ash was also confused. Why was Roderigo saying this? Did he expect him to believe it? It wasn’t typical of him–it wasn’t even the right symptoms for his disorder. And why did these words strike such a raw nerve? He considered calling the police, but he couldn’t, hell, he couldn’t even stand. He fell back and gripped the chair, his dull claws digging deep into the leather.

     Roderigo knew he had him, and reaching back into his pocket he pulled out a rag and wiped the blood away. “I’m not really a man, either,” he said, showing him the now clean and unblemished skin of his hands. “At least, not anymore.”

     Ash stood, his eyes staring at that hand in horror. Is this a trick? he thought. Some kind of sick joke? No it couldn’t be–the angle he’d seen the knife go through at was impossible to fake without special effects. Even a skilled magician could not have pulled it off. He couldn’t articulate his disbelief–it was not possible. God would not allow it.

     “Please continue,” a voice said. Both Roderigo and Ash looked up to see Twitch, standing at the top of the stairs, her arms dangling over the railing. “It sounds fascinating.”