“I’m not stealing a Bible!” Peter said.

Nat’s Black Death long sleeve shirt sagged off his wire frame; he looked ready to disappear on the autumn breeze like a kite without a string. “Come on, man,” Nat said as he kicked the loose gravel from the surface of the baseball diamond. “I’d boost one myself, but they won’t even let me back in church.”

Peter shook his head. “You stole from the collection plate, dumbass!” Nat flinched at the anger in Peter’s voice. Peter’s home life wasn’t peachy by Brock P.S. standards. Mom was gone three years this July. Dad worked nights, forgot his birthday the past three years, and yelled like Satan on a bender whenever the Leafs lost a series.

But Nat’s place…

“I really need your help,” Nat said. He always did. His mom sold dope and rumor was she did more than that. Some Friday in September, Nat had boosted some of her weed. They scored some Zigzag papers and in the ravine they’d hacked their guts out and laughed their asses off. That Monday, Nat had a shiner from “some bullies,” which Peter figured wasn’t exactly a lie, but barely the truth. His nerves worsened every week after that.

Peter calmed himself. “What the hell do you need a Bible for?”

“I can’t tell you.”

“Come on, dude.”

“No, you’ll just laugh at me.”

“You’re not that funny.”

Nat smirked. “Ok, but don’t laugh. I need a Bible to get a wish.”

It was all Peter could do to keep from chuckling. “You’re thinking of a genie’s lamp, stupid.”

Nat’s face scrunched. “I don’t plan on rubbing it. I gotta…burn one. On Halloween. To get a wish.”

Peter burst. “That’s crazy! Who told you this crap?”

Nat’s eyes stayed locked on the gravel. “It’s written in the Devil’s Handbook.

Peter had a copy of the Devil’s Handbook. It came with the latest Fleshwound CD. It had instructions for all sorts of Satanic junk to spook you. Peter loved Fleshwound, but the lyrics were just stupid, evil-for-evil-sake stuff. They pissed people off, which was good enough for Peter. “Nat, that’s just a joke, a gimmick.”

“What if it’s true?”

“Then Fleshwound would be rich or have superpowers, not touring the U.S. in a cargo van!”

Nat shook his head. “You didn’t decode the hidden script. It can only be done once every hundred years, and only if all the fans do it on Halloween, and not everyone gets it, just one, and—” Nat shut up as his eyes gazed behind Peter.

“Looks like civil war in the Welfare State!”

Peter spun around to see a wall of kids laughing, smiling, and pointing. Each one wore clean clothes, had shoes not held together with duct tape, and seen a barber in the past year. The Captains of Industry of Brock P.S., Gordon Shift, the pudgy mouthpiece, snorted at his own joke. Next to him was Duncan Thistle, smoking a cigarette, eyes smiling. “You guys dressed for the Halloween party a day early,” Duncan said.

“Every day is Halloween to them!” Gordon countered. The wall of kids laughed.

“Screw you, Gordzilla.” Peter said. God, how he hated every clean-shirted one of them.

“Watch it, McAllister,” Duncan said. “You’re outgunned and outclassed. And your boyfriend looks like he’s gonna piss his pants.” Nat shivered on the spot, hands in pockets, silent.

“And you’re a pussy hiding behind these jerks!”

Like that they were at it. The Fight! Fight! chant filled Peter’s head as he and Duncan threw wild fists and savage kicks and finally tumbled to the ground.

Peter got in one good shot. His knuckle stung against the cigarette’s burning heater, driving it into Duncan’s lip.

Duncan screeched, stumbling to his feet. “Get him!”

The wall piled on his legs, immobilizing him.

Duncan dropped his knees on Peter’s shoulders. He grabbed Peter’s chin with his left hand. In his right was the crushed but still lit cigarette pinched between his fingers. Peter squirmed uselessly.

“Eye for an eye!”

The heater bit into his lip with sheering, deep pain. Peter screamed as the bell rang.

The wall scrambled. Peter got up, shaking, ready to puke. He covered his lip with spit to cool the biting pain.

Nat still stood there, hands in his pockets.

“You know I ain’t good in a fight,” Nat muttered.

Anger boiled Peter’s blood to steam. “How would you know? You ever throw a punch? You ever even kicked anyone? I’d rather you fought like a sissy than just stand there and watch. Just once I wish you had my back!” Peter marched away with an inflamed lip on rubber legs. The blood pounded in his ears so hard it took a moment to hear the sobs.

Peter stopped, turned around. Nat shook in his thin long sleeve shirt, face bone white.

Peter walked back. “Roll up your sleeves,” he said, spit dripping from his fat lip.

Nat’s face soured but he did as he was told.

He was tattooed. Bruises. Burns. Old. Fresh.

“I’m sorry.” Nat said. “I just, I can’t take another shot.”

Peter covered his sore mouth. “Jesus, Nat, you gotta tell someone.”

“They’ll kill me! They said they would!” Tears streamed. “I need a wish.” Pete tried to speak but Nat kept talking. “I need a wish to get somewhere safe. Or else I’m running.”

Pete took a long breath. “But, this is wrong. I don’t like church, but burning a Bible. It’s just wrong.”

Nat sniffed. “A lot of things are wrong. Maybe two wrongs can make a right.”

Peter wanted Duncan to eat his fists, so he found it hard to argue with Nat’s logic. “You could stay with me.”

“Your dad hates me, and you’re no Donald Trump.”

Both true. Dad’s only fatherly advice had been to avoid the weak and the unlucky, and he considered Nat to be both.

Brain on empty, Peter spoke. “I’ll see if I can snag one.”

Nat sniffed, asked if he was sure and Peter said yeah, no big deal. “But, if it doesn’t work, we gotta tell someone about those marks. Promise me that or I won’t do it. Deal?”

Nat shrugged. “Ok.” Peter nodded, wishing he was smarter.

Nat called that night as Peter was boiling a hot dog for dinner, and the plan was made. Tomorrow, Halloween, they’d meet up at Fisher Park a half-hour before midnight. There was a fire pit in the ravine that they could use. At two minutes to midnight, the good book was toast.

Peter sat at the kitchen table, Mom’s old KJV Bible in one hand. He sat there, mind buzzing on any other way out. Hours passed. He brooded. No revelations came. He went to bed, praying for something to stop them from doing the deed.

The school’s Halloween party lasted from 3:15 to 4:30 p.m. Pete and Nat sat in the back of the class as all the kids in costumes laughed and ate pizza and bobbed for apples and listened to Britney Spears ask to be hit, baby, one more time. It was hell.

“So?” Nat whispered. “Did you get it?”

“Yeah,” Peter said, yawning. “No problemo.”

“Did you boost it from church?”

“Nah, I had a spare.”

They looked at the class of army men, runway models, superheroes, and dancers. Each costume bought with hard money that wasn’t desperately needed for a secondhand fridge motor, or the overdue gas bill, or an emergency dentist trip.

“What are you going to wish for?” Nat said.

Peter grimaced at the laughing kids. “That we didn’t need wishes.”

They met at 11:30 at the moonlit gate of Fisher Park, hopped the fence, and worked their way down the park path that led to the side trails. The place was deserted

Nat led the way, down the trail’s well-tread path, toward the ravine, into the little stretch of woods that housed Miller creek. Blue moonlight revealed teenager trash: condoms, cigarette butts, crushed beer cans and broken bottles. They tramped through the crud and came out to the clearing that held a circle of stones and a log for sitting.

They scrounged some sticks and Nat produced a rusty flask. “I boosted some lighter fluid, you know, just to speed things up.” He dripped a few drops on the kindling then took a pack of matches from his pocket.

“Do the trick,” Pete told him.

Nat smiled. Quicker than a speeding bullet, Nat removed and lit a match by only using the fingers on his left hand; just about the most useful thing his dad had ever taught him. Pretty soon they had a solid fire roaring for their sacrilege.

“What time is it?” Nat said, throwing a stick into the flames.

“We got ten minutes,” Peter said, mind racing to find someway out of what he quickly realized was a stupid idea. Maybe when it was done Nat would see it was all bull and that they had to tell a grown up and get him help—

Feet crunched leaves. Voices.

“Teenagers,” Peter whispered.

Monsters couldn’t hold a candle to the bare-knuckle nightmare of wasted teens out for kicks on Halloween.

“Let’s go,” Peter said, preparing to stand.

Nat grabbed him. “It’s almost time!”

The crunching got louder and the voices cackled and laughed until one of them mentioned the fire. Then silence.

Peter’s heart punched his chest like a speedbag. He nodded at the woods, too scared to speak. Nat just grabbed tighter. Too late.

Three large forms rustled through the trees and came into the fire pit. Each wore a different colored lumber jacket. The one in blue had red hair and was built like a hockey goon, all shoulders and few teeth. The one in grey had messy black hair covering his eyes and a perma-smile on his face. But the one in the lead, the one in the red flannel, was so white he looked like a ghost. His eyes were red. And dilated.

“Mike Sharp,” Nat said as the deadliest shitkicker from Baker High marched into the glow of the fire. That meant the redhead was Steve Rowan and Mr. Happy was Weezer Mitchell. Collectively, they were known as the D-Boys. D for Destruction.

“Just some kids!” Steve said, relieved. “Man, I must be high! I thought it was Freddy!”

“Or Jaws!” Weezer said, hacking his trademark laugh.

“You turds ain’t welcome here,” Mike said, red eyes flickering in the firelight. “Beat it.”

Slowly, gently, Peter stood, pulling Nat up with him. “You’re the boss.”

“Got that right, dipshit,” Mike said. Rumor was Mike had knifed someone in the eye during a pool hall fight, but everyone was too scared to finger him. Peter moved a foot before, then felt resistance. He pulled. Nat wouldn’t budge. “What’s the retard’s problem?” Mike said. “Better scram while I’m still buzzing ‘cause if you stick around I’ll roast your ass on a spit.” He flashed a nicotine-stained smile.

“C’mon,” Pete said, and gave Nat a yank.

“We ain’t done it yet.”

“Done what?” Mike said. He took a step toward Peter, who bit his sore lip. “I can beat it out of you, fucker, it just takes longer. Stop killing my buzz and tell me what two baby faggots are doing in the woods on Halloween.”

Peter told them. Then, as ordered, he handed over the Bible. Nat whimpered.

“Woah,” Weezer said. “That’s spooky shit.”

“You guys are hardcore!” Steve said.

Peter relaxed a little. Then he saw Mike staring through his buzz, dead on Nat.

“You. I know you. What’s your name?”

Nat looked up, then back at the fire. “Nat Parker,” he said, all hushed tones.

It took a moment to register, then Mike’s mouth dropped open wide enough to shove a loaf of bread in.

“You’re Lucy Parker’s kid?”

Nat shrugged.

“No way!” Weezer said. “That’s Miss Lucy’s kid? She has a kid? Really? Man, your Mom’s a friend of ours!”

What luck! Peter thought.

“Yeah, and she’s a good friend of Mike’s,” Weezer said.

Peter’s guts went to water as he listened to them joke about Loose Lucy and all the good times they’d had with her at Cloverleaf Billiards, a Penthouse letter written by perverts and read by assholes.

“Shit, the kid’s probably yours, Mikey!” Weezer said, cackling. Mike, Bible in his hand, wore a sick grin.

The fire was dying. Peter shivered. He stole a glance at Nat. He looked like a dead toy. But he didn’t shake or cry. Just stared at the fire, as if somewhere in its red heart was an answer to the grief and terror that echoed from the D-Boys’ laughter.

“Let’s burn it,” Nat said, his voice cracking as he spoke above the shit and giggles around him.

Mike looked at the Bible in his hand, then Nat. “You really want to go to hell, don’t ya?”

Nat nodded. No, Peter thought, he’s already there.

“Yeah, this’ll be a trip,” Mike said. “You gotta say anything before we feed it to the fire? Unga Bunga or Abracadabra?”

“No. But I gotta put on the magic liquid.” He took out the flask. “Hold it out.”

“He’s Lucy’s kid, alright!” Weezer said.

Mike shoved Peter out of the way and presented the Bible to Nat. “Hurry up, kid. The shrooms are almost peaking.”

“Don’t!” Peter said, and like that Steve and Weezer clasped his arms, making baby noises.

Nat stood before Mike Sharp, ready to step into hell. Mike held out the Bible and Nat began to pour the fluid on to the cover.

“Watch it, retard!” Mike said. “Don’t waste good hooch.” The liquid covered the drugged teen’s hand and flannel cuffs.

Then a light snapped to life from the darkness.

Peter gawked as Nat pulled his one-handed match trick. His eyes glowed with firelight as he touched the burning match to the cover.

Yellow flame shot across the Bible, on to Mike’s hand, and straight up his arm, so fast that everyone froze in amazement.

Everyone but Nat.

Mike screamed and dropped the Bible, waving his flaming arm. The Bible landed face up, flames licking the air. Like a priest with holy water, Nat threw the liquid in wide arcs, screaming “Go to hell! Go to hell!”, watching as the liquid burst to living flame across the teen’s burning jacket.

All of a sudden, Peter was free. Weezer and Steve pushed Mike to the ground, snuffing out the flames. But Peter froze in the heat of the moment.

A hand, black as oil and liquid in movement, climbed out of the Bible’s flaming cover. Its talon fingers spread and dove through the two thugs and went straight for Mike Sharp.

Peter snatched Nat and ran into the dark woods. Rough branches scratched them to hell, rushing blind through the trees, tripping and falling, gasping for air. Peter dragged Nat, light as a ghost, with every unsure step.

“Better split up,” Peter whispered, terrified lungs huffing air, legs sprinting for all their worth. Nat said nothing.

He looked back and couldn’t believe his eyes.

Nat looked zombified. “It worked.”

Peter let go. “Did, did you see it?” Nat just looked at him without a care in the world, as if he knew something Peter didn’t. Through the trees came the horrific echo of the teens left in the wake of the burning Bible.

“Meet at my place?” Peter said.

“Go,” Nat said. “I’m going to watch.”


“I paid for it. I’m going to watch.” He took off toward the screams.

Peter ran. A cold, dark breeze bit at his neck.

He got home and grabbed a shower to wash off the stink of the fire pit. Dressed, he sat at the kitchen table, waiting for Nat, fearing Nat wouldn’t show up, scared if he did. He woke to the feel of his dad’s rough hand shaking his shoulder. It was 6 a.m.

Nat had vanished. Peter got his dad to call the cops. They said that Nat hadn’t been home all week, not that his parents seemed to care. And the D-Boys had gone missing, too.

“They think Nat ran off,” Dad said. “Any idea where he might be?” Peter shook his head. Runaway or disappeared somewhere, Peter didn’t know. Either way, his only friend was gone.

Armed with a shovel and a full backpack, Peter biked in sunny daylight to Fisher Park. He found the Bible, its cover a ruined mass of burnt leather and trash, surrounded by ashes. He buried it, along with the Devil’s Handbook and his Fleshwound CDs, a few feet from the fire pit, nearly snapping his wrists on the hard ground.

# # #

Advice from the Devil's Handbook by Jason Ridler
originally published October 19, 2009



Jason Ridler has published over 30 short stories in venues such as Brain Harvest, Not One of Us, Crossed Genres, Chilling Tales, Tesseracts Thirteen, as well as Big Pulp and many other venues. His non-fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Dark Scribe, and the Internet Review of Science Fiction. A former punk rock musician and cemetery groundskeeper, Mr. Ridler is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and holds a Ph.D. in War Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada. Visit him at his writing blog, Ridlerville, Facebook, and on Twitter.

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