ISSUE #7 (May 2020) Written by Chris Munn Featuring:
"HELLO DARKNESS" PART 4 OF 4
"I have a message for you, John."
John Constantine scowled as he stepped into the two-up, two-down squatting in the heart of Belfast, pushing his way past the woman of the house. His sidekicks, the two youngsters pulled into a situation that was miles above their heads, hung back under the porch light, afraid to step over the threshold. The woman, Kathy Ryan, didn't know whether to be terrified or pissed off. John didn't have such a problem; he knew exactly which emotion to have when the demon in the identical scruffy trench coat smiled its row of razored teeth and extended his middle finger into the air.
"Up yours, mate!"
"Several years ago," John began the long explanation, while his demonic doppelganger smirked and lit a fresh fag, "a demon had me over a barrel. Because of me, a mate's kid was going to Hell, literally, unless I offered up my soul in his place. It was the demon blood I had swimming around in me veins that had doomed me to accept the fucker's trade, but I eventually came up with a way out. I created a double of meself, split meself in half and animated it; it got the demon blood and all the rest of the negative badness that had built up inside me over the years, all the viciousness and apathy. I created this lesser Constantine and offered it up on a plate to the First of the Fallen, and because it had the demon blood the Devil had no choice but to take it in my stead."
"Jesus," the young man named Shocka whispered from the doorway.
"Hell didn't kill me though, did it?" the Demon Constantine interjected. "I survived; hell, I fucking thrived down there, embraced the demon part of me and ascended up through the bloody ranks. Once I got my fill, I came back to Earth, 'round 'bout five weeks ago, maybe?"
"And now this mad fucker has been killing off women whose only sins were falling in love with me at one point in their lives!" John yelled, tearing off his coat and tossing it to the side, getting ready for the confrontation. "You went after Kit, you poncy fuck? We bloody loved her!"
Kathy Ryan kept silent while two halves of the same man argued about her like she wasn't there. Instead, her eyes darted over to the young girl that had crept her way to John's back, a manicured hand placed soothingly on his shoulder. John calmed at her touch, leading Kit to wonder just what kind of sick relationship he was having with a girl young enough to be his daughter.
"So, Mum's ghost was right," the girl said, "in a queer way, you did murder her, didn't you John?"
The Demon Constantine's eyes lit up at her statement, prompting him to sit forward on the edge of the couch to get a better look at her with his blood-red eyes. "Strewth, is that Mercury back there, John? Little girl's come back all perky and round-arsed, hasn't she? You haven't diddled her yet, have you? I'd hate to have to add her to me list and all, you swarthy bastard you."
He stood, then, the Demon Constantine, causing all assembled but John to take a nervous step backward. In one clawed hand a cigarette dangled between fingers while in the other was clutched the red-stained butcher's knife. "I'm going into the kitchen," he said, pointing with the cigarette to the door at his left, "and there I'll be waiting, John, for you to come in and settle this. If you're able to man up first, of course."
The Demon raised the knife, causing only poor Shocka to flinch, and with a casual downturn of his arm stabbed the blade into the wooden coffee table sitting in front of him. With a smirk and a draw of his cigarette, the creature turned and walked through into the kitchen, the door swinging back and forth on its hinges. Kit, Mercury, and Shocka all turned toward John, who sighed and with a deliberately slow pace unpacked and lit a cigarette of his own.
"I see it now," he said, "I really am a sodding prick, aren't I?"
"I want to know why," John asked as the door swung closed behind him, plunging him into the darkness of the kitchen, the only light coming from the cherries of his and his doppelganger's cigarettes. "Why the girls, for God's sake? It can't be just revenge, right? You loved them, too, when you were a part of me."
The Demon Constantine smiled his rows of razorblade teeth, plumes of smoke exhaling from his rotting nostrils. A maggot fell from the great hole in his cheek, landing with a squirm on the collar of his coat before he flicked it off into the darkness. "Sex magic is a potent brew, old son," he answered with a hiss, "and murdering every twat you stuck your prick into over the years is just one piece of the pie. I turned each of them into a Scarlet Woman, like ol' Aleister Crowley taught me to do down in Hell, and with each dead cunt the spell gets that much stronger. Five girls dead now, Johnny boy, that makes me a fuck sight more powerful than you these days."
"That tells me fuck-all, arsehole," John countered as he stepped further into the black room. His double had taken a seat at the dining table, one leg hefted up onto his knee as he sat back in recline, an arm slung over the seat back. "What gave you this sodding plan after all these years? You sure as shite didn't get my bloody brains when I made you, so something else had to have turned you on. Stop me if you've heard this one, you git."
"Maybe so," the Demon answered as he stamped out his cigarette on the tablecloth, "maybe no."
It was so very dark in the kitchen, and John had trouble making out exactly what his copy was doing at the table. His finger ran across the tablecloth, around where he'd put out his fag, but what was he really doing? The double raised his bloodshot eyes to gaze at John as his finger traced along the cloth. "Even after everything you did to me, John, even after Hell, all I ever wanted was to be just like you. I ached for a return to what had been our life before you sold me off like some old, dusty curio at an auction. I came back from the Pit five weeks ago, aren't you curious what I was doing all that time?"
"Don't give two tugs of a dead dog's cock, mate," John answered, "you murdering me girlfriends has kind of put me off having a chit-chat, y'know?"
"Have it your way, then," the Demon responded as he stood from the table, shedding the brown trench coat from his shoulders and tossing it into the corner. "We'll have a chance for chit-chat soonish like, I promise."
Suddenly, the pitch dark of the room shattered as the kitchen door behind John swung open fiercely, causing the true Constantine to turn blinded, a hand raised up over his eyes to try and force an adjustment to the sudden influx of light. "Arsehole!" he heard screamed, Kit's voice ragged with rage and pain, and his vision corrected itself just in time to see the butcher's blade coming at him in her hand. The knife stabbed deep into his left shoulder, followed by a kick of her shoe in his breadbasket, knocking him over onto the ceramic tile floor.
She landed another kick to his ribs before the Demon lurched forward, yelling her name as he tackled her back through the door into the sitting room. Through the pain, the sharp piercing pain of the blade stuck in his shoulder, John took to his feet and staggered out through the back door of the house, Kit's screaming still ringing in his ears.
What the fuck had just happened?
It hit him as he stumbled out into the Belfast night, his "fight or flight" response carrying him desperately out of harm's way, to wherever he might find safety or sanctuary. The fucking double took off his coat just before Kit attacked, mirroring what John himself had done in the sitting room when he discarded his own coat. The two were wearing identical clothes, and - fuck! The tablecloth, the sodding ashes from his fag! He drew a fucking sigil in the ashes, a glamour spell! He hadn't just made himself look like "normal" Constantine, he made John look like the demon!
And now John was running, bleeding to death in the moonlight while gunfire played out in the distance (it was Belfast, after all). He'd left his companions in the company of a demon, a demon who most likely was getting ready to go on the hunt. His identity had just been stolen, and now he was just another demon to be squashed by the bloody great John Constantine...
"Kit, what the bloody hell were you playing at in there?" John - the Demon John, glamoured up to hide his true appearance - asked as he pushed Kathy back into the sitting room, where Mercury waited to catch her as she fell backward.
"He's gone out the back," Shocka said as he cracked open the kitchen door, very much afraid of what might have been on the other side, "so what's the plan?"
"That thing killed my sister and my brother!" Kit yelled, slapping Mercury's hands off her shoulders. "It was here to kill me, too, wasn't it?"
"Aye, luv," Constantine answered, a seemingly genuine look of regret on his face, "that it was. Don't worry, though, ol' John's here to sort it out right. I promise."
"I will never forgive you for this, John Constantine," Kit swore, daggers stabbing from her cold eyes.
"I'm going after the bugger," John said, brushing off Kit's epitaph, "you three hold down the fort here and I'll be back quick as cats."
Then he left, with no one giving a word of protest, through the kitchen door on the trail of his other. He stopped for a moment, retrieving the coat he'd tossed into the corner of the kitchen, and was off to eliminate the real John Constantine. It hadn't been part of the plan, of course, but improvisation could most certainly be a good thing for them.
After his departure, Kit sat down, ignoring her two guests in favor of a cigarette and silence. Shocka made his way to Mercury, calling her attention to the chair beside the door. "John forgot his coat," he remarked, noticing the trench coat that Constantine had discarded upon entering the house.
"That wasn't John," Mercury corrected as she picked up the coat and slipped it on. She closed her eyes, a hand held to her forehead as if she had just picked up an intense migraine. When she opened them, a smile danced across her lips. "Our John, the real John, is on the run, and he left us instructions."
"You're kidding," Shocka said in disbelief while Mercury fished through the coat's pockets. She produced the contents and held them up to the New Orleans native. "Oh Christ," he groaned before taking the object from her hand, "roll up your sleeve, cherie..."
He barely made it a kilometer through the city before collapsing in the drainage ditch dug out on the right side of the street. Constantine fell in a bloody heap, his shoulder fucking killing him and a blood loss-induced headache that made his skull throb and pulse. The ditch was cold and wet, soaking through his white dress-shirt after only a few seconds of lying face down in the muck.
What a way to spend a night in sodding Belfast, he thought as he rolled over onto his back, hand pressed to the bloody knife wound in his shoulder.
He'd been played by a fucking Xerox copy of himself, led right into a trap that he fell for hook, line, and sinker. He still didn't understand, though, why the bastard had come after Kit out of all the ex-girlfriends they'd had throughout the years. Yes, Kit was the one that John loved more than any other, at least at the time, but there was a big damn bloody reason that he wouldn't have considered her a target had he known who the killer truly was.
"So I bet I can guess what you're thinking, Johnny," a voice that sounded like his own, but filtered through a mix-master, said from the street above him. Crouching down to get a better look at his fleeing victim, the Demon Constantine smiled and sucked on the end of his cigarette.
"For someone that used to be a part of me," John spat back from the ditch, "you know fuck-all about what I think."
"You're wondering why I went after Kit," the Demon continued, the smoke from his cigarette forming a ghostly halo around his putrefied features. "To tell you the truth, I don't know if I'd really had it in me to finish the job before you came riding in like the cavalry. I've been here, in her presence, the better part of the day - killed her brother, killed her sister and the woman's oafish husband - but I'd look at her face and all the things we shared came rushing back. I'm sure you thought you were doing me a solid when you left me your 'gift', mate, but what you did was more of a torture than anything Hell could attempt."
And there it was, the answer to John's unspoken question. When Constantine created him, cast the spell and annexed the negative parts of his soul, he decided he couldn't completely damn the poor bastard. He left him one shining ray of hope; he left him all the love that John had felt for Kit Ryan. Constantine had clear, vivid memories of his time spent with Kit, but the emotions attached to those memories were gone now. He'd given them to his double as an act of kindness and look at what that gift had done.
"If you still feel one sodding ounce of the love I felt for Kit," John said as he sat up with his back against the dirt and grass wall of the ditch, "there's no way you could've killed her."
"You're probably right," the Demon said as he stubbed out his fag, then reached inside his coat pocket for another.
He produced two cigarettes from the pack, lit them both, and passed one down to John.
"Cheers," John said as he took a draw, "guess you're not a total bastard, huh?"
"One last smoke for the condemned man," the Demon replied, still squatting over the disabled and defenseless Constantine. "Truthfully, old squire, it was our love for Kit that allowed me to hold on to the last scrap of humanity my soul had left. You passed along everything bad to me, John, how did you really think I was going to turn out - especially with demon blood factored in? But Kit, jaysis, thinking of her, it made me long for what I had before you split us up. I wanted to be you again, the John Constantine! But I was in Hell, where I thought I'd be for eternity; where you sent me, you bastard. Then things changed down in the Pit, and what had been a life sentence suddenly turned into early parole for good behavior."
"So what's the plan now, mate?" Constantine asked. "Hero or villain, which part you playing now?"
"Now," the Demon replied, "I think I'll just kill you and take your place. Why settle for a copycat existence when I can have the real thing, y'know?"
"Right," John said, suddenly smiling in the face of impending death, "too bad there's just one fatal fucking flaw, you tosser."
At that moment, thin, lithe arms wrapped around the Demon's neck, yanking him backwards onto his ass. It was Mercury, still wrapped in John's coat, and something sharp was gripped in her hand. It was the needle, the same sodding cursed hypodermic that John had taken from Shocka a few days before - the needle capable of shooting more than just drugs into a person's system. She stabbed into the Demon Constantine's neck before he could dislodge her, plunging a red liquid straight into his hellish veins.
"Cunt!" the Demon screamed as he tossed Mercury aside, sending her flailing into the ditch to be caught by John. "What did you fucking spike me with?"
The answer to his question came as he fell to his knees, muscles locking in spasms and convulsions as thick foam came bubbling from his mouth. Choking and writhing on the street, the Demon was attacked by his own body, assailed by whatever the little cum-rag had injected him with. Images played across his mind's eye, visions of each woman he'd murdered over the past week, their pain now his to feel through every agonizing moment of their deaths. The most painful by far was the death of the woman named Marj, Mercury's mother, and the pain was enough to cause even a demon to weep bloody tears.
"How's it feel to be played, you arrogant prick?" Constantine spat as he and Mercury climbed from the ditch. "Have you ever known me to discard me coat like that? There's a reason I wear that bloody thing every sodding day; it's connected to me through sympathetic magic. I knew I couldn't just talk openly with you in the room, so I left a psychic message imprinted on the coat, just waiting for Merc here to put it on and receive."
The Demon could barely hear the words, but the meaning behind them was clear even through the agony he was feeling. John crouched over his convulsing body, the cursed syringe held in his open palm. "This needle is damned, cursed by all of the vile shite it's put into people over the years. Mercury here, if you remember, is an empath. She felt the sympathetic pains of every girl you chopped up, each one leaving a psychic impression in her mind. What she shot you up with was her own blood, amplified by the needle's curse; we injected you with empathy, arsehole! How's it fucking feel?"
"All I wanted," the Demon choked out, "was to be whole again…”
"How did you get out of Hell?" John asked, lifting the demon up by the lapel of his coat. "You said things had changed down there, what did you mean?"
"The door is open," the Demon answered with a smile through the pain, “and you’ll never be able to close it back again. They’re all walking out into London, John, and they’re all coming after you."
"Where is the fucking MAW?" John asked again, slamming the Demon's head against the pavement as incentive.
“You’ll never find it," the Demon Constantine laughed with the last of his strength, "the Maw, the gateway to Hell that’s been flung wide open, it’s with you always, it’s where you’d never think to look. I’m going back to Hell now, John, but the doors open and I’ll…be…back…"
With those final damned words, the Demon Constantine died, overwhelmed by the empathic feelings of death and misery that had been inflicted by his own hands. Mercury came and put her arms around John, trying her best to comfort him. "Kit's okay," she said, "Shocka stayed with her."
"She may be alive," John responded as he and Mercury began the walk back to the house, "but I think she's pretty fucking far from okay."
Mercury and John came through the front door of the Ryan household, finding Shocka alone in the sitting room, watching the telly of all sodding things. "John, thank Christ," the Orleans expatriate greeted them, standing up from the sofa, "er, that is really you, right?"
"Piss off, Soule," Constantine said as he brushed past the young man, "where's Kit?"
"She's in the kitchen with her sister," Shocka answered, "they're still kinda stunned about all this mess."
"Wait, Uncle John," Mercury said, stopping Constantine before he could enter the kitchen, "take this, it's yours. Thank you for trusting me with it."
She removed the brown trenchcoat from her shoulders, handling it like it was some form of holy relic, an artifact fragile to the touch. She folded it, doubled it over, and handed it back to John who quickly threw it over his shoulders. "You were perfect, love," he told her, stepping over to place a kiss on the girl's forehead, "just bloody perfect."
John turned back toward the kitchen, not seeing how Mercury blushed from both his kiss and his praise. Shocka noticed, though, and shot her a look of disbelief. "You're kidding, right?"
"Piss off, Shocka," was Mercury's reply as she took a seat, "and turn the telly back on, would you?"
John entered the kitchen and found Kathy and Claire sitting at the dining table, cups of tea smoldering in their hands. Their conversation stopped dead in mid-sentence when he entered the room, both women turning to glare their hateful stares at the man responsible for the misery of the past twenty-four hours. "Kathy," her younger sister Claire said as she placed a hand on Kit's shoulder, "you want I should stay?"
"No, dear," Kit said with a reassuring smile, "John and I have some shite to work through, I think. I'll be up to your room soon, go get some rest."
Claire nodded and stood from the table. She paused as she moved past Constantine, steeling herself for the confrontation. "You're a disease," she said whilst fighting back tears, "and if you love my sister at all you need to leave and never, ever look back."
John said nothing, just lowered his head in shame, as Claire Ryan moved past him on her way up the stairs. "So," Kit began, offering her sister's seat to him, "what's the story? How else is John frigging Constantine going to ruin my life while he's on holiday in Ireland?"
"I can't say how sorry I am about your siblings, Kit," John replied, his head still hung low, "just tell me you believe me when I say I didn't know this was happening until it was too late. When I found out, you were the first person I came to find, I swear."
"So in comes John, riding in like my personal white knight to save the day and rescue the poor wee damsel?" Kit remarked, her tone growing bitterer with each word. "The sad truth of the matter is that I do believe you, John. That's what makes this so bloody hard, right?"
"So where do we go from here?" Kit asked when John failed to respond to her first question.
"I don't know, Kit," he answered sadly, "I just don't fucking know anymore..."
The dialogue in this is taken from the song “If I Ever Leave This World Alive” by Flogging Molly.
John Constantine and Katherine Ryan. Former lovers reunited by murder and death, specifically the murders and deaths of her siblings, Ann and Peter. Their funerals had just finished up, one after the other along with Ann's husband who had also met his end. John had stayed in Belfast longer than he should have, knowing that he had long outlived his welcome in the city. But it was Kit, and her family, and it was only right for him to stay and see her through it. They hadn't spoken to one another during the walk back, and as they entered the house shared by Kit and her only living sister Claire, they remained silent. The two went into the kitchen, coats off and placed on the backs of chairs, and John lit a Silk Cut while Kit put the tea kettle on. He watched her move across the kitchen, her sadness covered up by the hard shell she'd built up around herself as a defence against a bad childhood and just living in Belfast in general. He'd notice brief moments where her mask would crack, the veneer would slip oh so slightly, and a genuine emotion would seep through.
He'd loved her once, but those feelings were gone, taken from him during an act of self-preservation years before.
There was still something there, though, he had to admit. A spark, the smallest flicker of passion that he could see still burning behind her eyes. How could someone love and hate a man in equal amounts?
“If I ever leave this world alive,” he began, the words coming out seemingly of their own volition, “I'll thank you for all the things you did in my life.”
The words caught her off guard, and she turned to him with a look of confusion mixed with sadness.
“If I ever leave this world alive,” John continued, “I'll come back down and sit beside your feet tonight. Wherever I am you'll always be more than just a memory.”
She crossed the room to him and placed a hand on his cheek. He closed his eyes and leaned his face into her hand, feeling the soft touch of her fingers on his skin. “If I ever leave this world alive...”
They returned to their silence following the showing of emotion, sipping their tea and smoking their cigarettes with nary a word said by either. The distance between them had grown too large due to time and tragedy. She wouldn't admit it to him, but Kit hadn't loved another man since John, fourteen years of loneliness and an emptiness in her heart that could only be filled by a man that she forbade herself to love. John had loved her, she knew that, but she also knew that she would always come in second place to his true love. She was a poor substitute for magic, and the moment his hidden life intersected with their personal life the show was over between them.
Constantine knew this, too, and had long ago accepted it. Unlike Kit, John had taken a few lovers since their time together. Some were serious, others not, but in hindsight none were able to replace the feelings he had for Katherine Ryan, the clichéd “one who got away”.
“If I ever leave this world alive,” John spoke again, and again the words seemed to come from nowhere, surprising even him, “I'll take on the sadness that I left behind.”
Her reaction this time, instead of a tender caress, was an angry slap of her palm across his face. How dare he continue this? Words came so easily to him, promises to take on the sadness that he himself had inflicted upon her, intentionally or not, that the sentiment sounded cheap when sounding from his lips. He'd hurt her again, wounded her just as deeply as before, with nothing more than mere words.
“If I ever leave this world alive,” he continued, nursing the red mark on his cheek, “the madness that you feel will soon subside.”
She stood angrily from the table, turning away from him with her arms crossed beneath her breasts, hiding the tears that were fighting to drop from her eyes. He came up behind her, placing his hands on her shoulders, and pulled her back into his chest. “So in a word don't shed a tear, I'll be here when it all gets weird.”
Kit laughed and pulled herself free from John's grasp, brushing past him to leave the kitchen in favor of the sitting room. John nodded solemnly and collected his coat from the back of his chair. “If I ever leave this world alive...”
He pulled on his olive-drab trenchcoat and moved into the sitting room, finding Kit at the far end, staring out the window at the cars passing by her house. Slowly he moved through the room, on a bee-line for the door, noticing that she was intentionally ignoring his presence. When he reached the door, he paused before going for the handle, giving one last look in her direction. She eventually gave him notice, a weak smile playing on her lips. Despite everything between them, she decided she could at least give him a proper goodbye.
She met him at the door and the two embraced in a final hug, her face pressed against his neck. “So when in doubt just call my name,” he told her, “just before you go insane. If I ever leave this world...”
She raised her head to interject, but John continued on.
“Hey, I may never leave this world. But if I ever leave this world alive...”
She stopped him there with a finger pressed against her lips. Finally, she spoke to him, giving him a reply to his sorrow-filled words. She said, “I'm okay; I'm alright, though you have gone from my life. You said that it would, now everything should be alright.”
And with that, John smiled, finally hearing what he'd wanted to hear from her. She was happy with her life, she was surviving without him, just like he was. It made him content, though also a little sad that, with those words, she had effectively put to rest their time together. This was it, the final goodbye between these two people whose lives had grown so far apart yet so close together during their impossibly-long years. He kissed her on her cheek, then, and hugged her for the last time before pulling away and placing a hand on the door knob.
That was how John Constantine walked away from Kit Ryan, leaving them both the better for it.
He met up later with Mercury, the young woman that had travelled with him to Belfast. She looked up to John as a father-figure, an uncle who protected her since she was a small child. Her eyes asked the question that her voice was afraid to ask. What happened between him and Kit, her expression asked, and so John responded to her unspoken question.
“She says, I'm okay; I'm alright, though you have gone from my life. You said that it would, now everything should be alright.”
Seeing how much those words had affected him, Mercury took John's hand in hers and held it compassionately. He pulled her close, hugging the girl tightly against him, not wanting her to see the single tear streaming down his cheek. “Yeah, it should be alright...”