Not Satan, Not Evil

Tyler walked through the woods and fought the urge to turn on his phone’s flashlight. Someone might see him if he did that. Also, it didn’t seem fitting for a Satanist to be afraid of the dark. 

Not only was he a Satanist, he was also certain that he was evil, or at least getting there, and it felt even more unseemly for an evil person to be afraid of the dark. 

Granted, the doctrinal issues of Satanism and of evil as a state of being were very unclear, despite the amount of time he spent researching both. There were pretty clear assertions in regard to Satan. Satan was evil. Thus, a Satanist was evil, but there were serious chicken and egg problems to work through.

He had a lot of time to think this over. He’d been saddled with detention for a month and in that time he had filled several notebooks full of pentagrams and pictures of Baphomet. He thought that these drawings had improved in quality since he’d first begun. The notebooks were routinely confiscated. He’d tried to summon the first amendment to no avail. 

His commitment to a personal relationship with Satan had been easy. He only had to identify the shitheads in his life and it was clear. His father and stepmother were both born again, and they were complete assholes. And the boy who had beaten the shit out of him at school wore a cross around his neck. And the teacher who confiscated his notebooks had called his sketching ‘offensive’. It wasn’t his fault that Baphomet had a huge dick.  He thought that Satanism would be unnerving to them, and so he was sure it was the right position for him to take.   

He stumbled over a root but kept his feet. Hail Satan. There was no moon tonight. He’d been uncertain about the right phase of it to dedicate to a sabbat. No moon was darker, but a full moon was associated with werewolves. Werewolves were badass, but not clearly Satanic. 

Tyler was certain that he was evil, though there were a lot of conflicting positions about the concept. Still, most people were really opposed to it, and that spoke to its merits. 

Ultimately, he thought that the approach to Satanism that most appealed to him was free form. None of the stuff in that Crowley book seemed dramatic enough. And he’d been forcing himself to like Norwegian black metal. Those guys had a legitimately offensive and terrible world view, and seemed to approach it all from a mindlessly violent perspective. 

\ And that was why he was going to sacrifice a cat. People loved cats. His stepmother loved cats. He hated people generally and his stepmother in particular. 

He didn’t have the cat yet. He’d thought about abducting his stepmother’s, but he liked that specific cat. She slept with him, sometimes right on his stomach, and while he was certain that wanting to be loved was not Satanic and probably only evil when taken to its limits, he really didn’t want to hurt Bessie. 

So he’d purchased a trap, the kind that doesn’t kill the animal. There was some old woman who fed the ones who roamed the industrial park. He watched her from the shadows when he hid there after school. It bothered him that she was happy and that she loved them. She sang to herself as she emptied bags of food onto paper plates.  There was an entire colony of them living there. They were used to being fed, and nothing bad had happened to them yet, so they were trusting. Trusting was very stupid, not Satanic at all, and decidedly not evil. 

He had a can of spray paint he’d stolen from his father’s workshop. It was purple, left over from the church summer camp. Tyler had tried to tell him that the children wouldn’t know who Barney was, but he’d already cut the shape out of plywood and wouldn’t be dissuaded. He doubted that purple was an ideal color for creating Satanic sigils, but nothing he’d found had anything to say on that point. Maybe it was just assumed that red or black were the obvious and correct choices. 

He felt frustrated with himself. He could have painted the circle in daylight and it would have made for a more circular circle, but then again maybe not. He expected that there was a workaround, but he couldn’t think of a way to mark a circle without another circle. 

Another problem with daylight was that other kids might have come along, and whether he knew them or not they’d smell out his difference, and he was fairly certain that the difference they would smell wouldn’t be evil. Disappointingly, they would probably smell weakness. Or fear. Probably both. 

In his studies of evil, there was a lot of conflicting information regarding weakness and fear. There were people who attributed the capacity for evil to these two states of being, but this was usually stated by people who didn’t like evil. 

Despite what was said, Tyler felt that evil promised strength, and he was convinced that strength involved hurting people. If he could be more evil, maybe he would be strong and then he’d be able to hurt people. Or maybe it worked the other way around. Whatever the case, he was usually the one being hurt and he desperately wanted this equation to change. 

He found the gap along the fence and crouched through. His backpack ripped and he cursed, then gathered up the lighter fluid and the paint can, then crouched again. There were voices.  

He stayed in the darkest shadows. This was a place he knew well. They used to make parts for military planes here. It had closed decades ago, after the owners were arrested. In the days after his mother had died, before he remarried, his father would say that it might have been the water that killed her. This is where death would have gotten into the water.

The place was destroyed. Forgotten metal and animal bones. Nothing would ever be built here again. The ground was poisoned. The air smelled like rot, even though nothing was left but metal. On that first day he thought that this was how the world should be. Empty. Quiet. Unmourned. The first time he’d come he’d been wearing a suit. It was black. It would have looked great on him tonight. 

From the shadows he saw boys, older than him by a few years, tagging walls. They were very good at it. He’d not seen them before but their work was everywhere. He wouldn’t say he was a fan, and he wouldn’t say he was envious, but there was no one to listen so he wouldn’t say anything, period. He didn’t know how long he would have to wait. He would just have to sit and think about how awesome his pentagram was going to look when it was on fire. 

They moved differently than him. Loose. Easy. He wondered how that felt. Sufficiently evil, he would outdo them in comfort and confidence. It would only be a little longer, then he would be nonchalant as they begged for his acceptance. And mercy. But he was pretty sure that mercy wasn’t evil, so they were in for a bad time. 

He stopped feeling excited and started feeling bored. He tried to keep his mind on the night’s events. He wasn’t sure how Satan worked. There were a lot of opinions about it. He felt like it was a little silly, but he was hoping for wishes. The general sentiment was that Satan made deals. He was a very transactional devil. So he was prepared for downsides, but he was ready to bargain for a package of wealth, power, and to be conventionally attractive. He’d thought about asking for his mom to be brought back to life, but he’d seen enough horror movies to know that it would blow up in his face. 

They finally left, with the same sloppy grace they’d been projecting for the past two hours. He hated them for being what appeared to be happy. They probably could have painted him a pretty amazing circle, but they wouldn’t have done it. And then he would have been embarrassed. At best. At worst… ‘worst’ really had no limit, but it was within the realm of possibility that they would have kicked his ass. 

He left the shadows and walked to the concrete pad he’d chosen. There wasn’t a lot of sand, and it was big enough for an impressive circle. It was also far from the brush. While he was fairly sure that creating a large and destructive fire would be both Satanic and evil, he kind of liked the woods. And, he supposed, Satanic and evil things were more likely to happen there. 

He leaned his phone against a rock and took out his supplies. Five black candles. Well, purple candles. That was all they had at Bed, Bath and Beyond, and they looked black at night. He also had the little statue of Baphomet he’d made in shop class. It lacked a certain quality of not-looking-like-a-deer, but he knew that intention was important in magic. And his paint. The last component was near the other fence. He’d get it in a moment. 

Making the circle was difficult. He had to do it slowly, because he knew that it would be very possible to paint an oval, and worse, one that wouldn’t connect. He was fairly certain that Satan wasn’t sloppy, though there were some compelling arguments circulating that evil might be. 

The circle ended up not being a disaster and he was pleased with himself, but he’d underestimated how much paint he would need, so the star was very spotty at points. He thought Satan might be offended, but he was going to do a very Satanic and unarguably evil thing when he lit it all on fire, so he thought it would balance out. 

It was time for the cat to make its debut. He kept to the shadows. He didn’t like to be observed and rarely wasn’t. This was his time. He could hear the crunch of sand under his feet and thought that he would probably be a lot quieter after tonight, probably turning corners and approaching from behind all the time. 

In the dank stink of the building he heard the cat backing away in the trap. He could see it’s eyes shining and it tried desperately to escape as he drew near. 

Ten feet from it Tyler’s foot did not meet the grimy floor. Instead it plunged past where the floor should have been into cold and wet and he fell forward, and he remembered the checkered floor was cut out at points, holes filled with water that refused to drain. His phone slid away from him, casting light and framing shadows. As his head hurtled toward the floor he felt fairly humiliated. Satan didn’t trip, and pratfalls didn’t feel evil. Then there was a crack and bright light. 

Tyler was very confused after this. He was in an incredibly dark place and was under the impression that his body hadn’t accompanied him. It was possible that he was in hell, or at least dead, but it didn’t match up. Hell was supposed to be a busy place and there didn’t appear to be anything happening here. As far as places to spend eternity went, he could think of a lot worse. A voice rang out. 

“Hello?” it said, somewhat surprised. 

Tyler didn’t think that evil demigods were likely to be surprised, but he had to ask regardless. “Are you there Satan? It’s me, Tyler.” 

He saw a strange gradient. Something opened in the dark. It looked like it could be any number of orifices on a human body, though to his disappointment, Tyler had little familiarity with orifices. Black flowed in and out of a hairy, pink demarcation. 

“I’m not… whatever Satan is.” 

Tyler wasn’t disappointed. Deep down, under it all, he’d always thought it was fake. If he believed in Satan then he believed in Jesus and he wasn’t going to be able to stick to that contradiction for very long. Evil was different. Evil only required him to believe in himself. “What are you?” 

The voice that spoke to him sounded tired. “I’m just a thing. My name is about eight syllables long, and you’re not going to remember it.” 

“Like a demon?” asked Tyler. 

“No. I don’t think so,” it replied.

Tyler considered this. Demons probably lied. “Are you sure? If you’re a demon and you tell me your name then you have to do what I tell you to.” 

It hesitated before answering.“That really doesn’t sound like what I want.” 

He realized that he wasn’t being subtle, and he cursed. “Shit. Well, think about it. I have a very long list of people I need to get even with.” 

There was another long silence before it asked “What does that mean?” 

Tyler felt grateful. No one ever asked him about his hate, or much of anything really. “Oh, like people to kill. Or them and their families. Because they made me feel like shit.” 

The orifice in the darkness was, if it had a jaw, slack-jawed. “You want to kill people? Why would you bother? They’re going to die anyway. Pretty pointless to go after them.” 

Tyler thought for a moment. “You’re quite intimidating. Are you evil?” 

It sighed. “I don’t know. People do have opinions about that. Can you explain what exactly evil means to you?”

“Oh, absolutely.” And instead of words, images arose and played across the dark. They were the things that Tyler thought of as he fell asleep. A mushroom cloud rose from his neighborhood. An older, thinner Tyler stalked through a school, killing with no fear of reprisal. He gave a speech as bodies at the end of ropes swayed in the breeze. Finally, Tyler, but with red skin, horns and wings sat on a throne and beautiful women sought his favor. 

The orifice considered. “Is this evil?” and images arose again. A man worked at a machine, one of the ones left in the industrial park but brand new and shining. There was a yellow barrel behind him. Then that same man was lying in a hospital bed, wasting away. Faces flashed before him, each one grey, with vague impressions of people watching them die. 

The images proceeded. That piece of metal was cut and formed and machined and then it was gleaming from deep within a plane, a plane that dropped bombs on people far below. 

Then there was an image of yellow barrels again, stacked on top of one another with a steady leak from beneath them, soaking into the ground. But as a cross section in a map, with an illustration of those barrels, a black plume flowing from beneath them to move its way through the water table, only to be siphoned up, emerging from a tap, a showerhead, a hose filling a swimming pool. And then black eggs grew inside of people. Tyler felt like he saw his mother in this procession of images, just a flash. They plunged into darkness again and the orifice spoke: “Is that what you’re looking for?” 

Tyler considered. “Not really. That looks very indirect. I was hoping for something a little more flashy, and that I would be in charge of.” 

The orifice looked like a mouth for a moment, and its edges disappeared. This was the expression his step mother made when she was trying not to explode at him. “Sorry. It’s almost impossible to be in charge of me. Even I’m not. I just go where I go. I do kill. Indirectly. That’s not evil?” 

Tyler thought about this and then replied, “No. That’s just being a thing. It’s just bad luck.” 

“Well, I saw a lot of things that you wanted to do earlier. You were walking around with a gun in a building. So, you might have been doing the killing, specifically you, but you’re clearly a pretty fucked up kid, so who gave you the gun? Someone lazy? Or stupid? Or greedy? Are they evil?” 

Tyler was silent. This conversation seemed threatening to his worldview, and he’d only developed it a few months ago. “I… really don’t know. Are they?” 

Another image blossomed in the darkness. A man being handcuffed. Another man burning paper in an office. Brown-skinned men wheeling those leaking barrels into the back of a truck. People walking through the site, looking very official, then shrugging their shoulders. He couldn’t hear them, but he knew they were saying ‘fuck it’ in a very professional way.

“Maybe. I don’t know if it matters. They were probably doing the most convenient thing for the sake of money and all of a sudden there are a bunch of dead kids somewhere and I’m here in the dirt and the water. I’ve been here for forty years.” It was silent for a moment. “And that whole thing with you and the wings and the horns…  It seems pretty boring. Are you just going to hang out on that throne the whole time?” 

Tyler had no foot to rub in the ground in this place. “I just wanted respect, I guess. I just thought it would be nice to be in charge. I didn’t really think of what else I would do. Kill people I don’t like? Have sex with those women?” 

The voice sounded bored, and Tyler wondered if it had this conversation often. “I’ve been killing people for several decades. It’s not fun. Here. This is what it’s probably going to look like.” 

Images lit up in this dark space. He saw the cat, dying in flames, and his own face watching it happen, and where he thought he would look terrifying, he just looked disgusting. He saw himself as a big man, hand cocked to deliver an open hand to someone’s face, and again, he looked disgusting. Then, himself again, in a policeman’s uniform and pressing a taser to someone’s back. He was not singular or triumphant. He was just a dick, and not a tiny bit different from the people who hurt him while wearing crucifixes between Sundays. 

The inky mass opened again. “That’s what you’re looking for? I don’t really want anything, so I can’t parse this stuff out, but I’ve left eggs all over the place, and people who do that stuff aren’t powerful. There’s always someone else to take their place.  And, they do not die well. They always talk about being cheated and how some person named God fucked them over.” 

Tyler didn’t want to accommodate any more doubt. He thought that evil people very likely didn’t doubt much of anything. Being evil was the root of all confidence. He thought he could turn things back towards his aspirations. 

“No, I’m thinking of something more… attractive. Like, really muscular, with a giant penis and some kind of superpower.” 

“Tyler, I think you’re really off track. I’m an industrial catastrophe-” 

He grew excited. “Yes! You’re exactly the thing I’m shooting for. This is how people get superpowers.” Tyler was relieved for a moment. An image flashed. Though Tyler wouldn’t admit it, it was almost entirely stolen from Dragonball Z. He took to the air with his awesome bat wings, ripped off an angel’s head, then laughed in triumph.

The black thing sighed. “That’s not really how I operate. If I did, everyone drinking from this aquifer would be able to fly and lift buildings.” It hesitated for a moment. “Tyler… it’s all just people. I get into everyone in the end.”

Tyler didn’t like this, and he didn’t want to show it these things, but they spilled forth anyway. First there was an image of himself, two years ago, just a kid with no pretensions with his head in his mother’s lap, crying. She was wasting away, and he tried to never remember this, because he did want her back, but it was stupid to want things that he couldn’t have. Even this Satan thing. He couldn’t have it. It wasn’t real, and underneath it all he knew this. 

It was the evil that he really wanted, and even that was hollow. Evil was capricious. A person couldn’t plan being monstrous. They just had to be in the right place at the right time, and after everyone’s rage had cooled, he wouldn’t be evil and powerful. He’d be sick and weak and very possibly stupid and more likely than not, dead. 

“Here. This won’t look like it’s any better, but it is. It’s the best you’re going to get.” Then the darkness projected another image. It was of Tyler, not on a throne but on a rock, and there were no humans of any sort. No supplicants. No victims. Just him. He was drawing, but not Baphomet or carnage, just the things around him that were neither good nor bad, incapable of passing judgement or being judged. 

Then another: He was older, and Bessie was sleeping on his stomach. She was older too. And he looked much like his mother towards the end. He was being hollowed out, and this wasn’t evil either. It was just an accident. Someone stupid and lazy and greedy had been wildly irresponsible and because of this he was dying. He didn’t look angry or scared, just alive, if only for a little while longer. 

“Do you see? You might not have time for all those violent things you’d like to do. One of my eggs is inside you. I didn’t put it there on purpose, but in time it will end your life. This has happened many, many times. Like I told you, I’ve been here for 40 years and no one has ever cleaned me up. I’d like to be back in those barrels. It was cool and dark and quiet. But some people are lazy, and stupid, and greedy.” That strange pink mouth opened again. “I think you’re leaving now. Just some thoughts before I go: All the people I’ve killed have wanted more time, and they hardly ever get it. Try to live while you can. This ‘evil’ thing seems like it might not be worth pursuing.” 

The last words sounded as though they’d been spoken underwater. Tyler’s face was pushed into the wet grit of the factory floor. His head hurt terribly and there was filthy damp soaking through his t-shirt. His leg was throbbing. 

He retrieved his phone. He thought that perhaps he would bring the cat home, but it was wild and lived here. It already had a life. He opened the mouth of the trap and began to limp home. He would say that he needed to go to the doctor tomorrow, and he knew they would find the end of him. He would ask for some simple things. A set of pencils. A trip to somewhere green, and he would let his father and stepmother speak of Jesus if that made them happy. Satan wasn’t real. Jesus wasn’t real. Nothing really mattered, and Tyler was happy to be okay with that. 

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