I had a friend who was terrified of four-way highway crossings. So he retreated down the highway to cross. He wound up crossing in less safe locations sometimes. He was so hung up on crossroads that he was upset when he found out that one of the literal translations of my last name was crossroad.
Eventually, he required therapy for the condition, and the therapist suggested that he might want to confront his fears by talking about them. The unexpected consequence of this was that our friend became garrulous to a fault. We heard the story about his acid trip in the Haight with some hippies a dozen times. They all promised their souls to the devil at a crossroads in exchange for musical ability. He cheated by crossing fingers, toes, arms, and legs. He came away with the talent, but the devil was seeking him looking for his payment.
We were blunt in our disbelief. The four were the core of a very famous west coast acid rock group. And he was a third-rate folksinger. He claimed he needed to keep a low profile so the devil wouldn’t find him and carry him off.
His therapist was innovative. She read up on this type of devil’s pact and suggested to him that most of these deals were sealed at remote crossroads in rural Mississippi at midnight. As a result, he slept better, drove his car again, and his guitar work improved remarkably. He began getting better quality gigs all over New England. Then came the record contract and the national tour.
The call came in on a Thursday. We were sitting around telling stories, playing guitar, and drinking when the phone rang. It was his agent looking for information on next of kin. The tour bus had crashed on a remote stretch of rural highway in Mississippi. Everyone had been blissed out on Lucifer Red, the best MJ available in the Big Easy, their previous concert location. They died in bliss, I guess? So he needed contact information on them for funeral arrangements. He also required information on our friend who was in the hospital, barely clinging to life. The broken bones in his arms, legs, hands, and toes were much too numerous to get noted in a telephone conversation. The rescue workers found him in the bus bathroom. He looked like a human pretzel but somehow survived.
About a year later, he limped into the Harvard Gardens and sat down at our table. The story we got out of him was that as they passed a dark crossroads, the demons had boiled forth from the soil. They came through the sides of the bus and were a sort of literal pandemonium tearing and rending the innocents. He ran into the bathroom as a last resort, but they got him anyway. The twisting and breaking of bones were awful, but then they double-crossed all the fingers, toes, arms, and legs that he had crossed that first night and left him looking like a contortionist.
We were stunned, but I spoke up and asked him what his therapist had thought when he related all of this. ” Oh. I don’t see her anymore. Much too orthodox for my condition.” He undid the toggles that held his loose shirt together. We could see the rippling of scars and tattoos underneath the shirt, overlayed with more scars and tattoos. The best description would be that he resembled nothing so much as Ray Bradbury’s Illustrated Man. But the illustrations were weirdly grotesque and seemed to move about, turn and look at you with evil intent. One seemed to be attempting to crawl off his arm and onto the table. It was enough to make us all abruptly sober. And when he asked if he could move back into our apartment, we all replied with a blunt “No.”
He didn’t turn out well. There were the inevitable cult associations, drug busts, and incarceration, and at last, a term in a halfway house in Salem. Whatever persuaded them on Salem? It’s our state’s capital for the manic promotion of anything supernatural.
When he called us, we pointed this out to him. He was not amused and said he was coming for a visit.
Since then, the cultists keep knocking on the door asking if we have a moment to talk about their lord and savior, Baphomet. Ads for cult accessories keep appearing on the television; calls come through offering occult services.
The supermarket’s supply of garlic and salt is exhausted – we keep repairing the salt ring around the house with the salt. Garlic is festooned in each window and above each door. And watching horror movies is a major no-no in the house. I’m having trouble with the local church’s though, none claim to do exorcisms. It’s two and a half months to Halloween. Our latest idea is water guns filled with holy water. We think we found a Dominican friar who believes in us and is willing to help.