Hangin' Around (4)
4. The Rise and Fall of Crooked Larry
All Maggie wanted to do was ask Adam about the possession, but a bet was a bet. From word one, it was clear that Larry wasn’t going to last. When Maggie floated down from the top of the tree toward his position near the ground, he recoiled in shock and tried to kick his way backward. Of course, this had no effect other than making him look slightly ridiculous as he flailed midair, but Maggie understood the impulse.
“Begone demon!” Larry shouted. “God does not suffer evildoers like you!”
“Christ, Adam, you killed a zealot.” Those with faith never lasted long in Maggie’s experience. There was something particularly demoralizing about being confronted with the absolute fact that, if there was a god, they had a blind spot.
“I am on my way to eternal rest!”
“Yeah, if that’s true, then you’ve taken a bit of a detour.” It wasn’t the most tactful way to go about it, but Maggie didn’t suffer religion much. As far as she was concerned, the word of God was used to persecute and commit heinous acts while still being able to sleep at night. There were of course religions around the world that preached tolerance, but not in the west. In the west, there was good ol’ bible-thumping, and anything else saw you swinging from the end of a rope or taking a bullet in a back alley.
“This c-can’t be,” stammered the man, running his hands through one another, no doubt fascinated by the complete lack of feeling in anything. “Those men, this has to be some kind of a mistake.”
For once, Maggie agreed with him. “What’s your name?”
“Larry. Pastor at the Church of our Mighty God.”
They sure do love their credentials. “How is it that you came to be in such mixed company, Larry?”
“I—” he faltered as Adam appeared over the curve of the hill, still steaming from his run-in with the barrier. “That’s the demon I saw just moments before the end!” Larry tried to tilt his head to get a better look, but found it stuck at an extreme angle. Like Adam, he also sported a neat hole in his forehead, making them look as though they might have belonged to the same sect of some obscure cult.
The irony. Maggie chuckled at the notion and immediately regretted it.
“Is something funny about this?” Larry found his way shakily to his feet, swelling up with righteous indignation. He tried to adjust his neck again, but frustrated, settled for hovering at an angle to make the world look straight.
Otis floated down to join the conversation. “I see Maggie’s giving you the warm welcome you deserve.”
“Oh yes, Larry here was telling me all about how this is some kind of mistake.”
Otis sighed. “Yeah, well he’s not wrong about that.”
Adam approached with excitement and no sense of caution. “Did you see that? I was in that man’s body!”
“I saw you get shot out the other side like an imbecile.” Maggie was impressed, but she didn’t want to inflate Adam’s head any larger than it already was. “Maybe next time you might save a life instead of taking one.”
“YOU, DEMON!” shouted Larry.
“I’m not a demon.” Adam backed away slightly. “But, look, sorry about that whole mess back there. You were about to be hung…”
Otis nodded in agreement. “Kid’s got a point, and I don’t say that often.”
“Why, God?!” Larry tried to look up, but couldn’t quite manage it without floating sideways.
“Look, I’m sorry about that, but I think I might have a way to get us out of here.” Adam’s eyes were beaming, filled with newfound hope.
Maggie also felt a twinge of hope but did her best not to show it. “That seems like a far leap from one quick possession.”
“Well, it’s a step in the right direction!”
“Possession is the work of The Devil!” shouted Larry.
“Oh please, there’s no Devil and no God here, just the four of us.”
Adam grew frustrated and ignored Larry. “Don’t you see? If we can get back to the physical world, even for a moment, then we have a chance of destroying the barrier penning us in here.”
Maggie thought it over. “You might be right there, but the incantations keeping us in here were made by the Shoshoni, and I don’t know how you’re going to break them.”
“I’m through with this demon speak!”
Otis floated in front of Larry, semi-obscuring the other two spirits. “Why don’t you and I go have a talk, Larry? We can discuss the religious implications of our predicament, while these two heathens keep on with whatever it is they’re blabbering about.” He gave Larry a big smile and motioned toward the tree.
Larry eyed Otis suspiciously, but eventually consented. “Whatever gets me away from him.” He jabbed a finger in Adam’s direction.
“I said I was sorry!”
“Let it go, kid.” She mouthed ‘thank you’ as Otis shepherded Larry away.
Otis gave her a curt nod.
“I’m definitely going to owe him for that one. Listen, if Otis is having ‘the talk’ with him, Larry will be gone by nightfall.” Over the years, Otis had honed the skill of talking people into the ground. As it turned out, not everyone who was hung was pleasant, and the peaceful repose the two of them had cultivated could be easily undone. Maggie would have felt bad about it, but all the spirits stayed underground on their own volition. Unlike the circle around the hill, no one was forcefully keeping them there.
She waited to be sure Otis and Larry were out of earshot before continuing. “Alright, kid, how did you do it?”
Excitement flashed back into Adam’s eyes. “I’m not sure. I got angry, like really angry, and the next thing I knew I was running. It felt like passing through a spiderweb or something, and then I was back in the land of the living. I actually felt the breeze on my skin.”
Maggie savored the sensation that ran through her at the idea of feeling the wind. She was comfortable in her afterlife, but there were things she missed.
“I could try to teach you.”
Maggie reserved her excitement, knowing that if what they tried failed, Adam would be insufferable again. “Teach me how to get angry and run at someone?”
Adam rolled his eyes. “Look, I’m not sure how it works, but you speak Shawshanee.”
“Shoshoni,” she corrected him.
“Right, but you speak it, so you could possess one of the hangmen and get us out of here.”
“I haven’t had the opportunity to practice in almost fifteen years now. Best I could manage is basic conversation. But, assuming I could figure out a way, how do we know I’ll even be able to stay in long enough to break the barrier?”
“Well, there’s only one way to find out.”
Maggie looked around at the desert. The last thing she wanted to do was have Adam teach her anything. The kid was arrogant, privileged, and too damned unstable, but it was hard to ignore what he had done. “Fine, but I’m not going to call you sir or show you any deference.”
Adam whooped with joy; the sound more haunting than he had expected.
“Let’s check on Otis.”
As they turned around, Maggie caught sight of Larry’s head passing through the dirt, an expression of righteousness on his face. Otis was standing above him, muttering some words that sounded vaguely like a prayer. When Larry had fully submerged, Maggie and Adam floated over.
“Didn’t know you were religious, Otis.”
Otis made a shushing sound with his finger and motioned for them to float away. When they were a safe distance away from Larry’s ‘rest’, he spoke. “I went to church a few times in town, before it became clear I wasn’t welcome, but I’ve got a dang good memory. I just pieced together a few prayers and sermons that fit my goal, and next thing you know, Larry’s convinced he’s waiting for God underneath that soil.”
Adam looked disgusted and impressed. “Damn, old timer.”
“Who you calling old timer? Besides, I was saving your ass from months of religious repentance at his hand.”
“Don’t worry, Otis, you’ll forgive the kid if what we’re talking about works. We’ve got a plan.”