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For Lindsay

••• that he was mere blocks away from the

route that had signaled the tranquility of
Joshua Keller glanced at his wrist- his thoughts for so long. For a moment,
watch as he walked through the city, he considered turning around and retrac-
retracing a familiar path he had often ing his steps to his intended turn, but a
traveled in reflection. It was 12:14 in the surprising sense of adventure came over
afternoon, and he had been awake since Joshua, and he suddenly felt alive with
the vision tore him from sleep. After years this discovery of new sights.
of this dependable pattern, Joshua slept Joshua continued his journey out of
very little, even when the demon in his the boundaries his habits had imposed on
head allowed him a night of peace. him, now lifting his head to investigate
This afternoon was much like any the world around him. He didn’t let his
other, and he walked his familiar path, sight settle on any faces, fearing these
traveling without direction, his head lost new strangers even more than the famil-
in a familiar semiconscious haze. The lack iar strangers of his daily walk.
of sleep left him constantly ragged, and Then, suddenly, as he walked past the
he shuffled down the street with very lit- gated patio of a thriving sidewalk café,
tle enthusiasm, barely noticing any of the Joshua stopped. A panic overtook him, as
people walking past him. he glanced to his side and saw that one of
They were nothing to a man who the patrons wore a familiar face. He hur-
spent his days waiting for promised ried his steps away from the café, shaking
death, and he had learned long ago not his head absently.
to look at their strange faces. For, far too As he rushed from the scene, he was
often, he saw the face of the man with sure that the man in his vision was sitting
the pistol staring back at him, less terri- at the café behind him, sipping from a
fied at seeing the man than knowing teacup and looking very satisfied from
that the man had seen him. Earlier, the the devouring of whatever became the
sight would startle him, but the shock remnants on his plate.
would always bring him back to reality, Joshua shook his head. His mind had
and a second glance would reveal that it surely invented the sight, initiating a
was not his eyes that saw the man, mere- cruel jest with him. He had seen the face
ly his head. Now, as he traveled with his of his death thousands of times, on any
head bowed, he saw only shoes passing number of pedestrians he had encoun-
by him, none of which resembled the tered, and the man at the café was only
pistol-bearing visage in his dreams. the latest trick his mind played on him.
As Joshua made his journey, he sud- There was nothing to fear, as this was a
denly became aware of different colored hallucination, nothing more.
legs on a bus stop bench. Had they been But, Joshua could not convince himself.
painted? He wondered for a moment, Something inside him told him not to
afraid to examine his specific surroundings. listen to his reassuring reason, and, as
As he hesitantly lifted his head to never before, he felt sure that he had
investigate the unfamiliar sight, he quickly finally encountered the man in his head.
became aware that the intersection he Joshua had to be sure, and he quick-
walked by was not part of his routine trav- ened his steps around the block, intent on
el. Apparently, so deeply lost in his musing, returning to the path he had just traveled,
Joshua had missed a familiar turn, and seeking the same view of the man on the
now found himself in a part of the mon- patio. He would look again, and see if his
strous city that he had not been through. eyes still beheld the man that would kill
He looked around him, feeling odd for him. And if what he saw was the same,
finding the spectacle so engrossing. what then?
He felt a strange fear, lost in these He came down the block, approach-
unknown surroundings, despite the fact ing the corner of the café, the fear drain-
Their dialogue was brief. Then, finishing water refreshed him, and he began to feel
it with two words, the seated man relaxed himself returning to normal. He rinsed
into his vast chair and closed his eyes. the cloth again and kneeled before the toi-
The other man moved only slightly, slid- let, attempting to clean his mess.
ing a gloved hand into the hip pocket of his However, as his face neared the pile, he
dark brown trench coat and withdrawing a began to feel sick again, and backpedaled
pistol. He aimed the weapon at the seated man away from it.
and let his outstretched arm hang in the air He stood again, this time on his
between them for a moment. own, and wiped himself again with the
The seated man did not stir, even as cloth. He looked once more at his
the trigger was pulled. His eyes opened vomit, and decided to leave it until his
suddenly with the impact of the bullet as stomach was settled.
a torrent of blood gurgled from the He looked in the mirror again, sad to
wound in his throat. He began to shudder see his familiar face glaring back at him.
in the chair, his body spasming as his life Joshua had seen the vision his
faded down the front of his shirt. The entire life. When he was a child, he dis-
twitches gradually slowed and each was missed the horrible sight as a night-
less violent than the previous. mare. But, even at a young age, he
Then, after the movements dwindled knew that there was something very
to stillness, the vision was gone. different about this nightmare.
The people in the vision never
Joshua found himself in the bath- changed, and he grew to know every
room, forgetting the trip as the vision detail of their faces. For a long time, he
echoed in his head. His legs were shak- could only speculate who the men might
ing, and he reached for the sink top to be, their features unfamiliar to him. But,
brace himself. A sudden sickness came as he grew older, he began to resemble the
over him, and he twisted his body seated man, and the vision became even
toward the toilet. He vomited during more horrifying to him.
the motion and missed the bowl, Now, as he looked in the mirror, 32
splashing bile on to the tile floor. years of the vision worn hard on his face,
Joshua fell to his knees, then into a Joshua Keller did not see himself. He
full collapse, and found himself lying saw the man slumped backward in his
on the floor, the smell of his vomit nau- chair, leaking from his throat and suffo-
seating him again. He began to sob cating on his own blood. Every twisted
uncontrollably, choking back tears that wrinkle was in place, and his face per-
poured out like the blood in his dream. fectly matched the one he had seen his
In this state he stayed for several min- entire life.
utes before finally rolling away from the His cruel fate danced around in
rancid pile by his head and crawling for his head, and he knew, as he had
the door. guessed some time ago, that it was
He used the doorknob to pull up to his own death that he had been see-
his feet, clutching it for life as he strug- ing in his sleep since birth. The fear
gled to balance himself. The shaking came over him, and he bolted from
began to slow, and Joshua wiped his the room, crashing hard on his bed-
sickness from his lips, breathing heavily room floor and choking back another
to calm himself. He gave an uneasy batch of tears.
glance to the mirror, noticing how He stopped them this time, and
pathetic he looked, then glanced at the pushed himself to his feet again. He could
vomit on the floor. still taste the bile in his mouth, and
He took a washcloth from the cabinet resolved to get a glass of water. He head-
under his sink and ran it under the water, ed for the kitchen, the same familiar
then used it to wipe his face. The cold thoughts pounding in his head.
down. Joshua undressed slowly, waiting the relentless beating that Joshua’s hands
for the water to heat, throwing his blood had administered.
stained clothes into a heap in the corner. The mass of gore didn’t resemble any-
As he stepped into the warm flow of thing human anymore. But it was still a
the water, he played the events of this face, and the teeth, although there were
early evening in his head, searching for a only a few, seemed to form a wicked smile,
mistake in his actions. Joshua had cheated enhanced by the gaping sockets where
death of claiming its prize, and he had no eyes once rested. It was a face without
intention of trading his new gift for a flesh, floating in a pool of its own blood
prison term. within the hollow remnants of a skull.
No one had seen the deed, he was And with that face, the demon still
fairly sure of that. The street was rather smiled back at Joshua Keller.
quiet when he dragged the demon into When he opened his eyes, the demon
the alleyway, and the darkness between was gone again, and he returned to his
the two buildings offered no clear vision euphoric new life, the liquor beginning to
to anyone who might have passed by perform its task, adding to the bliss. There
during what followed. was no remorse left in Joshua for what he
His shower was long and exquisite, had done. All had been swept away by
and as he stepped out, Joshua felt cleaner relief of the demon’s demise, even though
than he had ever been. The blood was the demise had left him with lingering
now absent from his body, still swirling visions of the non-face in the alley.
down the drain with the last of the water He drank more, quickly finishing his
from his cleansing. He wiped fresh fog screwdriver, then returned to the kitchen
from the mirror and smiled at the man and mixed another. As he returned to his
looking back at him, a boundless joy recliner, he glanced at the hammer on the
behind the expression. floor, which lay surrounded by stains
Tonight Joshua Keller felt alive for from the blood that had slid down the
the first time in his summoned memory, tool his absence.
and the vision was all but forgotten in his The hammer had writing on its han-
merriment. He dried himself deliberately, dle, and it was then that Joshua Keller
his eyes never leaving the gaze of the realized that the weapon could be traced
ecstatic man in the mirror, admiring the to the construction truck he had stolen it
happiness that he saw in the stare. from after following the demon to its
After slipping into his bathrobe, large office building. The evidence of his
Joshua went into his modest kitchen deed taunted him from the floor, and he
and mixed a screwdriver. For a studied it intently.
moment, he considered how ironic the His eyes scanned the claw end of the
ritual would be if he had used a screw- hammer, which he had imbedded into the
driver in his deed. back of the demon’s skull after it left the
He sank into his recliner, drink in hand, office. He had used the firmly inserted
lost in thoughts. He closed his eyes and claw to yank the devil’s twitching body
drank deeply, wincing at the bitter first into the darkness of the alley. He remem-
swallow of the liquor. While the joy of his bered how quiet the motion had been,
newly earned life remained at the center of done in a split second and in near silence.
his thoughts, something else remained, like His eyes moved to the head of the
a dark cloud in a clear blue sky. tool, which he had used to pound the
There was a face. Not the face in his demon’s taunting face, repeatedly. When
vision, but, rather, what remained of it: a the demon’s conquered body lay before
horrible red nothingness framed by Joshua, the face in his vision still stared
strands of tattered, blood-soaked hair. back at him, the eyes wide open at the ini-
There were a few teeth left in the mess, tial shock of the assault. Even as the form
but most had been knocked out during lay dead, the face was still very much
alive, and the relief that Joshua Keller had knowing that it would read 3:49.
dreamed of while he prepared for his vio- However, he was sharply surprised to see
lence did not come. That was when he the numbers 3:46 glaring back at him
began hacking away at the demon’s face through the darkness. Until this night, the
with the blunt side of the hammer, occa- vision had always pulled him awake at
sionally twisting the tool around to strike 3:49, and Joshua agonized over this minor
with the claw. He did not stop until he discrepancy.
had erased the face completely, leaving Perhaps there had been some sort of
behind the liquid visage that now lin- electrical short, he speculated, or he had
gered in his thoughts. hit a button on his remote control by acci-
But the demon was dead. dent. He glanced over his shoulder to the
Though he knew the hammer should display on his microwave, and was some-
be carefully disposed of, Joshua resolved what startled to see it agree with the num-
to leave it where it lay for the moment. bers on his VCR. Joshua was unnerved by
Though the bloody tool was gruesome to this inexplicable alteration in the scenario
behold, it was a comforting reminder of that had repeated itself with impeccable
the devil’s defeat, and a symbol of the timing his entire life.
new life that awaited him. And, then, the perfect stillness of the
So, he settled into his chair again dark was interrupted.
and continued his drink. As he rested his “Hello, Joshua Keller.”
head back, smiling broadly, exhaustion The voice cut through the darkness,
began to overcome him. Before long, three calm words that penetrated
Joshua Keller fell into a deep and Joshua’s chest like daggers. He didn’t
refreshing sleep. want to look, but his eyes forced them-
selves slowly to the source of the sound.
••• And, deep in the shadows, there was a
figure, revealed only slightly in the dim
Joshua Keller screamed as he awoke. illumination the moon shed through the
He shook in his recliner, drunk and window. Joshua could not move, frozen
barely conscious, as an icy terror con- with wonder, and it suddenly became
sumed him. As he had slept, lost in dis- clear to him why the vision had come to
tant dreams, his rest had been cruelly him early on this night. He did not need
interrupted. For, those dreams had con- light to identify the source of the voice,
cluded with the familiar vision, as power- and as the figure moved methodically out
ful as ever, jarring Joshua awake. of the shadow-draped corner of the apart-
He reached for his throat, relieved to ment, Joshua Keller knew that he was
not find a gaping bullet wound. He foolish to think that he could stop the
breathed in heavily, calming himself, and devil from winning the game it had
blinked away the forming tears on the played with him his entire life.
corners of his eyes. He regained compo- As the darkness parted for the fig-
sure and sat forward, resting his head in ure, Joshua began to see the features
his hands. that he had disassembled with a ham-
Joshua’s thoughts were heavy as he mer earlier in the evening form again,
sat perched in the quiet darkness. The untainted, in the light. The man in his
devil was dead, he was certain of that. So, vision crept before him, seemingly
why had the vision returned to his sleep, unaffected by the death Joshua Keller
the very night he removed the man in his thought he had served him. He knew
dream from existence? Had his act of sav- what was about to take place, but
agery failed to provide him with the there was little fear in his paralysis,
peace he so desperately desired? rather a wretched curiosity that kept
He peered at the digital display on his his eyes locked on the figure stepping
VCR through the tops of his fingers, toward him.
The man kept his hands in the pock- hundred or more times since coming
ets of the trench coat he wore, which here. I have even been inside your apart-
swished across the carpet with each step ment, Joshua Keller, many times while
he took, and his eyes matched Joshua’s you were away. I have walked every inch
stare. Neither man wore an expression as of this dwelling, and I have learned
they studied each other, and though everything that I could about you.
Joshua’s mouth struggled for words, it “I was not just trying to satisfy my
was the familiar stranger who broke the own curiosity by keeping close track of
glass silence a second time. you. I have done it all for you, Joshua
“Do you know who I am, Joshua Keller. For, when I knew where you were,
Keller?” asked the man, his tone soft and I could make sure that our paths would
deliberate. not cross, and I would not have an oppor-
“Yes, I know you,” he replied, stone- tunity or reason to perform the execution
faced. “You are the devil.” that my dreams had foreshadowed.
The man’s blank expression widened “But, I was not with you today,
for a slight smile. “Hardly,” he assured. Joshua Keller, when you took your after-
“It appears maybe you don’t know me.” noon walk. I was at home trying to erase
“How do you know me, then?” a pounding in my head. For, at 3:49 in the
Joshua challenged, his voice monotonous morning I was jolted awake by my famil-
in his awe. iar dream. But, there was something dif-
“Why, I have known you my entire ferent about this dream, an electric inten-
life, Joshua Keller,” the man began. “Ever sity that made it more vivid and graphi-
since I was a child, I have had dreams cally realistic than it had ever been before.
about this moment we are in right now. I When I awoke screaming, I was nauseous
have seen your face every day, and each and sweating, and feeling a deep sickness
time I have been consumed with an ago- in the pit of my very soul, as if I had actu-
nizing guilt over a heinous act that I have ally performed the disgusting act I had
seen myself commit on the man wearing seen. This feeling lingered through my
that face. But, I always told myself that I entire day, and I chose to remain at home
was not capable of killing someone, and rest, and avoid being anywhere near
and I knew that the terrible prophecy you. I told myself to ignore the dreadful
would never materialize, I would not feeling that washed over me, and assured
allow it to.” myself, that even if one day our paths did
Joshua pondered this optimistically. cross, I would never have a reason to
“Imagine my surprise,” the man con- wish such a brutal action upon you.
tinued, “when, a mere 20 days after mov- “And all of these things were swim-
ing into this city, I was stopped at a red ming in my pounding head when I
light, and happened to glance out my received a phone call from the police say-
window and see a face all too familiar to ing that they thought that my brother
me. You were walking with your head had been the victim of a savage attack.
bowed, but I knew, and something inside They told me that they couldn’t be sure
me confirmed my thoughts. I had laid because the victim’s face had been disfig-
my eyes on the man I killed in my ured beyond any possible recognition,
dreams forever. but a wallet in the pocket contained my
“As you probably know, I was brother’s identification.
amazed to find you, so I followed you to “Of course, I had to be sure, and I
your apartment building. I didn’t dare insisted to see the remains. There are no
confront you, but I was completely fasci- adequate words to describe the atrocity
nated with your existence, and decided to that I saw this night, or the feeling of pure
study you extensively. I have watched and unblemished pain that arose in me
you many afternoons from afar, and seen after seeing my brother in such a state. A
you take your routine walk perhaps a part of me died and was lost in that man-
gled tissue that used to be a face identi-
cal to mine. My twin brother was dead,
and I had a pretty easy time figuring out
who would have a reason to do such a
vomitous deed.
“But, still, I convinced myself that
someone else was responsible, and I
assured myself of this on the way to your
apartment tonight. For you see, I have
never wanted to kill anyone, and as much
as my brother’s missing face destroyed
me, a part of me feared that I might be
forced to fulfill the prophecy. I assumed
your innocence all the way through your
front door, when, as I watched you sleep,
I noticed a mess on your carpet.”
The man motioned to the blood-
stained hammer resting in the center of a
crimson stain on Joshua’s carpet.
“Joshua Keller, you told me I was the
devil, but after seeing this hammer cov-
ered in red mass that used to be my
brother’s life, I know now that the devil
is you. The reprehensible thing you did
to the other half of me was inhuman, and
for the first time in my life, I do not fear
my dream.
“I have no guilt anymore, and I am
ready to do what I have watched myself
do forever. My only regret is that I will be
sparing you of the agony of watching
yourself die every morning. You deserve
much worse than this for what you have
done, but I apparently don’t have much
choice in the matter, do I?
“So, Joshua Keller, here is your peace,
and mine.”
“Thank you,” said Joshua Keller,
uttering the final words that had always
eluded when he observed the scene he
was now living. There was nothing else to
say, quite simply, and he closed his eyes
and leaned back into the softness of his
recliner, hearing the strikingly familiar
sound of a leather-gloved hand sliding
into a trench coat pocket.

ing with each step as he realized the With a simple “excuse me,” the man
improbability of walking past the man in stepped away from Joshua, and hurried
his vision by chance. He prepared to forward on his path, walking down the
round the turn, coming around for anoth- sidewalk bordering the café patio and
er pass of the patio. He approached his tucking a newspaper under his arm.
destination, and the fear completely Joshua’s eyes followed the gentle-
faded from him as he saw exactly what he man, though his mouth was still too
had assured himself he would. stunned to speak. The man walked
The table that Joshua had seen the quickly along the sidewalk toward a dis-
man at was unoccupied, and there was no tant horizon, growing smaller with each
one there to wear the face he had seen. He second he was watched. Just as quickly
smiled for the first time that day, elated to as he had been there at the café, he was
find out he had not glimpsed his death on quickly disappearing.
his afternoon walk. Perhaps the excite- But Joshua knew that he would
ment of exploring a new part of the city be back.
had been too much for him, Joshua For an absurd moment, he wondered
hypothesized. Maybe he had walked if the brief altercation would provide the
enough for today, and it was time to head motive for the inevitable reality in the
back to his familiar path home. vision. He realized that he had never
As he quickly turned to begin his trip given much thought to why the man in
home, he stumbled into a man who was his dream meant to kill him.
hurrying out the café’s front door. Joshua And then Joshua Keller remembered
Keller collided hard with the man, the a sound, heard moments before.
impact dazing him for a moment. His lack When he had collided with the devil,
of sleep prompted his temper to flare, and causing the well-dressed man to stagger
he aimed his angry eyes at the well- backward a step, death let out a slight
dressed gentleman, intent on prolonging groan. Much like the soothing voice that
the confrontation. came from the demon’s lips, the noise
However, as his dizzy eyes began to was not what Joshua would expect from
focus on the face before him, he began to the man in his vision.
see familiar features come to life. The man It was a very normal noise: the loss of
before him was the man he had seen in breath, the noise every human makes
his sleep his whole life, every chiseled when winded. Not a reflex, but an expres-
detail on his face matching the vision. sion of being stunned, and maybe an indi-
And, Joshua Keller was paralyzed by cation of...
a numbing fear unlike any he had ever Pain?
experienced. So, as he watched the death that he
They were face to face for mere sec- had encountered not five minutes before
onds, but a lifetime of thoughts traveled disappear into the horizon, Joshua Keller
through Joshua’s mind. He studied the knew that he had hurt the devil.
face intently, expecting the sight before A smile crossed his face, the expres-
him to dwindle away and reveal anoth- sion broad and rich. There was a deep joy
er deception from his head, but it did in the smile, and beneath it, a twisted sat-
not. The man was as real now as the isfaction that his simple misstep had led
visions had been for so long, and as he him to his death, only to find his fate to be
glimpsed into the eyes of his death, as human as he.
Joshua Keller watched the man’s pupils It was not until now, as his shoulder
dilate, studying him. Yet, Joshua could throbbed slightly from the impact min-
sense no recognition. utes before, that he began to ponder his
Then, the devil spoke, his tone fate differently. He had seen his death
warmer and milder than Joshua would as a tangible thing, and caused the
have ever expected. being pain.
So, how much could he hurt He became aware of the weight in his
this devil? jacket pocket and pulled out the blood-
Now, new thoughts began working drenched hammer his hands had used in
their way through his head. The demon did such a brutally effective fashion. As he
not wear a trench coat, so today was not the twirled the hammer in the light, he
day. Forever, he had simply been waiting noticed bits of tissue clinging to the thick
for his destiny to come to him, and now he metal head and tufts of hair swimming in
had been presented with an unforeseen the blood that caked the claw side. He let
opportunity to confront that destiny. the hammer fall from his shuddering
At that point, he realized that, just as hands to the carpet, stepping over it as he
his blunder had stopped the devil in its further ensconced himself in the security
brisk walk, his actions had the power to of his familiar home.
alter the course of the demon’s fate. A Now, safe in his apartment, the horror
new world of possibility opened up to of his deed consumed him and he fell to
him, and he drank it in deeply. the floor weeping. He buried his eyes in
Joshua laughed like he had not done his hands, forgetting the blood and smear-
in some time: a buoyant, joyous sound ing a light layer of the fluid across his face.
that turned the heads of the patrons on He trembled to his feet and walked care-
the café patio. He knew now that he could fully to the bathroom, noticing the digital
alter his destiny, and vowed that the fiend clock on his dresser. It was 8:23.
who had haunted him for 32 years would As he stepped through the doorway,
not have the chance to perform its his red-stained face greeted him in the
hideous deed. mirror, another reminder of the carnage
So, as the man from the café began to earlier in the evening. He walked toward
almost disappear completely into the himself slowly, lost in his own eyes. It was
horizon, Joshua Keller followed, shuffling then that he saw a smile stutter to life
quickly along the sidewalk. His eyes beneath the lips in his reflection, as new
remained fixated on the distant dot in thought entered his head.
front of him as he quickened his pace, The devil in his vision was dead.
almost jogging. He weaved his way A mere hour before, Joshua Keller had
through the people walking toward him, lived in constant terror of a nameless
his glance never wavering from his point demon that haunted him in his sleep.
of fixation. Now, that demon had no face, and no life
A vision came to him, but it was a left to take his. The death in his vision
new vision. There was still a man bleed- could not come, he had seen to that, and
ing from his throat in a chair, but it was Joshua was free of his fate.
Joshua Keller on his feet, smiling jubilant- And he rejoiced, a smiling fool in the
ly with a smoking pistol hanging at his mirror, with still-moist blood stained on
side. He walked faster. his skin. There was a madness in the
smile, a lingering thread of the demon
••• that had consumed Joshua an hour
before. He had destroyed the devil in his
There was a tremendous amount of dreams by becoming the devil, and it sat
hot blood on Joshua Keller’s hands when perched on his lips now.
he returned to his apartment. He shuffled But, the blood drying on his face
distantly, horrified by the atrocities that became uncomfortable and began to
his eyes had witnessed his hands per- remind him of the demon he had slain an
form, yet still relieved to be safe inside his hour previous. He pulled the shower
apartment. His long walk from the scene door open eagerly, leaving bloody finger
was a blur, his head overcome with the tracks on the glass.
grotesque images. He twisted the shower to life, admir-
But, he had made it. ing the cool stream of water that cascaded
The vision dragged Joshua Keller from began his familiar journey to the bath-
sleep, as it had countless times before. room to wash off the newly formed per-
He sat up in his bed, feeling the icy spiration on his brow.
sting of the winter air that ebbed through And again the vision played in
his open bedroom window as he slid his head:
from under his blankets. He glanced out
this window for a moment, distracted by The two men were silent, one stand-
the neon lights of the Marlboro billboard ing, one seated, both wearing emotionless
atop the building across the street. faces as they gazed at each other. Joshua
Calmed by this familiar sight, he spent watched this scene as from a distance, a
a thought reflecting on how his eyes had casual observer of the wordless conversa-
been drawn to this neon beacon night after tion before him.
night. He had gazed upon the billboard When the men finally spoke, he
perhaps thousands of times, but never had watched their lips move soundlessly,
the smallest desire to partake in the prod- their calm voices beyond his hearing. But
uct that tantalized him so persistently. somehow, he knew that this seated man
Then, he thought of the vision, as was about to die.
familiar as the billboard, but without the Despite the intended violence, the seat-
calming effect. ed man showed no fear; rather, his face was
He glanced at the clock radio, free blank like that of a pondering infant, with
with his subscription to Sports eyes that looked on with a wonderment
Illustrated, which read 3:49 a.m., then that substituted his lack of expression.