She was asked to sing at the Devil’s Variety Performance, and she did not disappoint.
Patrons of the bar, all unusual and in various stages of decay, scoffed as she made her entrance from the side door, her raven hair trailing behind her like smoke, her glimmering eyes starlight in the dimly lit room, and her smile a secret on her lips. Her children crawled at her heels, like shadows, fingernails scrabbling on the stage’s hardwood floor.
Someone from the audience made a comment about her not being able to find a nanny or something, and a few others chuckled. Eyes sparkled from every nook and cranny of the room, brimming to the rim with an intense madness. The temperature inside was warm and humid, a distinctly sweet aroma hanging in the air.
As was the case every year, devils, poltergeist, and demons were in attendance. Monsters, too. Some, as a show of power, came wearing their possessed victim’s skin. Barabak, who devoured the souls in attendance at last year’s Variety Performance, stalked the bar wearing the man suit of the Cardinal of Rome, the poor soul’s eyes like two shrinking nuggets of gray, low burning coals staring out, frightened, from the pits of hell.
Chumbucket, Chum to his friends, who was for all accounts just that—a grotesque mish mash of fish organs, blood, scales, and bone—tore himself from the bar, wearing a black garbage bag for pants and leaving a trail of fermenting fish-smelling ooze behind him. He took a seat in front of the stage, a mean, crooked smile on what would maybe be considered his face, one large gelatinous eyeball watching as the performer took center stage, taking the microphone in her hands.
The speakers spat and rumbled. A screech of distortion rang out.
The room went silent.
She goes by many names. Maria was the one she liked most, for its simpleness. A name like Maria evoked no immediate threat, no immediate impression at all—a clean slate. Lamia and Coatlicue were other names she had gone by centuries ago. La Llorona or The Weeping Woman, perhaps the most widely known of her names, were also her least favorite because they implied a certain level of weakness. The poor mistress of Hernan Cortes, they’d say of her, doomed to search for the children she’d drowned in the river, cast down from heaven. For the love of a man.
Lies. She was the eater of children, mother of none, and no man would ever bring her to her knees.
So she sang.
She sang of darkness as she opened up, shadowy smoke unfolding from her, covering the crowd, choking them, smelling of sweet dulce de leche, of caramel . Chumbucket shrank back, as little hands and feet padded by him, touching him as they passed, their shambling figures mere shadows, like patches of deepdark, of black holes in the shape of small, twisted children.
Something like a scream uttered from his mangled throat, as he looked around the room, the others in attendance now gone. Each one in their own personal hell. Maria’s words were muted, like whispers from another room, while all around him the laughter of children filled him, vibrating within him, filling him with…
Then there was light. The light was muted too, shimmering gently behind the smoke. Something landed on his eye and he brought a twisted, bloody paw up to his face. Water. It was water. More of it fell from the ceiling, as the smoke rose up to form storm clouds, which rumbled and spat, sparks of lighting glowing within them, threatening all in attendance. Chumbucket opened his gaping maw upwards, catching the droplets in his mouth, letting it touch his tongue and run down his throat. He laughed like a child.
He looked around the room. Slowly, one by one the others materialized as the rain swept away the darkness. Beside him, the frightened eyes of the children met his. A tired sort of recognition wafted into their eyes, as the cloudiness dissipated.
One by one the children exited the bar, running, the darkness running off of their flesh like paint.
One by one they returned, clawing their way back, through the mud, through the asphalt that scraped the palms of their hands, bleeding them raw.
One by one they returned home.
To the parent who no longer wanted them.
Mathew Allan Garcia is the publisher of Pantheon Magazine. His fiction has been published or is forthcoming at Goldfish Grimm’s Spicy Fiction Sushi, BLIGHT DIGEST, and NewMyths.com, among others. You can follow him on Twitter @sound879