Next to the stairs on the sixth floor in the Texas School Book Depository, bent at the waist with his arms outstretched, Lee Harvey Oswald beckoned to a stack of boxes in one corner. He looked as though he were coaxing a stray in out of the rain, waving with his left hand. The thumb on his right arched out as if Lee were playing marbles, using a cat’s eye croaker to win the game.
“Everyone’s gone,” he whispered, “You can come out,” and as if on cue, scuffling from what could have been a small animal pattered about behind the boxes, moving toward exposure.
From behind the boxes, walking on its hind legs, a black and white rodent stepped into view. He wore shorts colored red with twine wrapped around two white buttons at his waist. From the depths of hell, the rodent’s shoes, yellowed with age and coated with the dust of a million miles or more, created little puffs that hung in the air before coating the floor around him. The dust also coated the fluid, what could only be blood, left behind by his shorts, dripping with a never-ending supply of hideous intentions. His white gloves, perpetually glistening, saturated the air with a foul turpentine stench. Instantly, the demon’s smell overpowered the earthy odors coming from the surrounding books like rancid meat in a flower garden, the kind of smell that wrinkles the nose and tests the gag reflexes as your eyes drown in a flood of bleary tears. Ornias the Demon Rat, with eyes that swirled to their pits as if they were black holes from hell, stood two and a half feet tall and wore a grin that would make a madman giddy with delirium. The only thing different between him and a real rodent were the folded wings that gleamed with a snake-like quality that seemed slippery in the noonday light.
Lee grunted, feeling wet lips encircle his outstretched thumb, turning away from the rodent’s odorous presence and feeling the familiar draw, the draining sensation that fed the demon. Sweat tickled his forehead as it dripped to the floor. His stomach tickled in another way, however, threatening to disgorge its contents as it performed unpleasant little loop-de-loops. “Jesus Christ,” Erk! “Does your smell ever change or do I have to put up with your stink for the rest of my life?” Erk!
This demon, a messenger from the deep according to The Testament of Solomon, threatened Lee’s family in the most fundamental way, using their continued safety as trade for servitude. Ornias held him captive the same way a flytrap drains its victim, merciless, forcing Lee to succumb to the demons contorted malevolence.
Releasing Lee’s thumb, Ornias giggled. Maliciousness soaked his grin like oil on the surface of a lake, slick with contamination and deadly to everything below its abalone sheen. “Oh, Mr. Oswald, such a naughty boy, your mother would turn over in her grave if she heard you take the lord’s name in vain…old cow. And the next time you address my fine odor, take into account that I know where your son sleeps; I know where your wife sleeps. Now, is everything ready as planned? We wouldn’t want today’s festivities to be spoiled like last time, would you?”
Little more than seven months ago, the pair of them attempted an assassination of General Edwin Walker. At the last second, with the back of General Walker’s head firm in the crosshairs of his Carcano rifle, a twitch ran down the length of Lee’s left arm causing it to drop a fraction of an inch. The result, besides the severe lashing taken from Ornias later, was a drop in the bullets trajectory and a complete failure of their mission.
“No,” Lee agreed, “we wouldn’t.” His jaw was stiff with tension, resigning to hold his tongue against his blackmailer.
“Don’t sound so down, partner. I am Ornias, first of those fallen to Solomon, and the first released.” the demon said, laughing his pesky laugh as he used his wings to vault to Lee’s left arm, rebound, and land on Lee’s back with the flat of his feet. The precision was equal to that of a trained acrobat, delicate and decisive. Proving this point, he scrambled up Lee’s neck as if he were a gecko and straddled him as if he were an accessorized pony. Lee barely felt the movement as Ornias’s face lowered into view. “And if you forget it, Oswald, old friend, I’ll rip your tongue out and feed it to my hound. Nothing personal, I just know pain is a much better motivator than a simple friendly reminder, understand?” Lee nodded. “Good, I think we can move on then. Where did you hide the gun?”
Lee carried the rodent into the maze of boxes, heading toward a window at the southeast end of the room. Once there, Lee pointed out a brown gym bag and enough room for two behind the stack of boxes directly under the south facing window. Lee leaned and felt Ornias’s weight shift as he adjusted for balance. The two of them had spent a lot of time together in the past year; most of it was just as they are now, the demon perched on Lee’s shoulders as if he was a monkey instead of a rodent. Inside the bag, the rifle waited.
Moments before noon, with his Carcano in one hand and the demon sucking the thumb on the other, Lee and Ornias waited—one atop the other—at the open window on the sixth floor in the Texas School Book Depository.
“I can’t do it,” Lee said, glancing at the rodent straddling his neck.
Ornias spit Lee’s thumb clear of his greasy lips and tilted his head in amusement, smacking his forehead in disgust. “Jesus wept; don’t tell me you’re getting the pre-game heebie-jeebies. We’re this close to changing history, and now you want to back down?”
Lee stiffened, fear for his family rushing over him like an atomic heat wave, baking his shame and regret in self-conscious awareness, bringing to light his fatal desperation. “I’m not a coward, you walking pile of cat food, but I can’t do it. I mean, what happens afterward? What if we’re caught, what if we can’t be protected? What if missing the General was a bad omen? What if…”
Ornias’s balled up fist struck the right side of Lee’s head. The rifle wobbled, wordlessly threatening to ditch this insanity, while the demon swayed, agile as death on horseback, and as magnetic as chewing gum to bedposts nationwide.
“Stop asking questions, Oswald,” Ornias insisted. “Pay attention, or we’re gonna miss the party. Again! And you know what I’ll do if that happens; who I’ll hurt?”
Below, the first of the procession passed.
Lee saw what Ornias saw and froze. “I can do it, I can do it, I can do it…I can do it, I can do it, I can do it,” he chugged. His body moved into position, leading his target as trained and lending support to his arms, ensuring the shot. He felt cold, dark, and sickened by the situation Ornias had led him. He wanted to vomit, to feel release, to do something other than he’s done in the past.
The cursed rodent had tormented Lee since he was a young boy. A month before his sixth birthday, his first encounter took place at a local Halloween Carnival where Ornias blended with the costumed residents of Benbrook, Texas, waiting for his opportunity. When the demon found it, Lee was helpless to stop him and helpless to stop the kidnapping of Sara-Sue Staves, Lee’s grade-school crush.
Sara-Sue’s bewildering disappearance had only been the beginning. Afterward, Lee kept an eye out for Ornias. He knew the rat was out there, biding his time and waiting to seize another opportunity to strike. Again and again, he did, and when Lee returned from his military tour overseas, he had fended off the small demon half a dozen times or more. In the end, however, with his turpentine gloves, Ornias gained the upper hand and cornered Lee. He twisted Lee’s soul into a limp cord of submission and before long, pulled him apart one strand at a time. He suffered hallucinations of such ferocity their thought haunted Lee’s dreams with dark terrors and ill begotten atrocities.
Lee thought of his past, thought of the bloodshed, thought of the terror the small demon had injected in his life like poison in the bloodstream, and pushed to overcome it. The mantra changed, “I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I can’t do it.”
“Take the shot, Oswald,” Ornias admonished, trepidation seeping through his hidden seams like sap, thick and slow.
Lee panicked still mumbling in a melancholic state. All his life he struggled to leave his mark on the world, to make a difference. He thought the partnership between himself and Ornias would enable those ambitions. Since then; however, Lee felt himself abused as though he were nothing more than a pawn. Lee’s dreams of importance, dashing in delusional grandeur, couldn’t have been further from achievement. He knew that, now. And, as the knowing sank in, his mind cleared.
“I’m not doing it,” Lee asserted.
“You LITTLE…” Ornias’s balled up fist plowed into the right side of Lee’s head, this time knocking him from underneath the rodent who leapt into the air and plucked the rifle that had likewise been knocked free. He landed on the boxes with a light step, letting his wings carry him. “…I’ll deal with you later.”
On his side, Lee saw the demon-rat stand, aim, and fire three shots in rapid succession. Outside, screams pierced the early Dallas afternoon, a tornado of sirens shrieked dire urgency. There were no clouds overhead, yet a storm engulfed Dallas all the same.
“That’s how you do it, Oswald!” Ornias bragged as the rifle clattered to the floor. “Now, let’s do it again.”
Lee had been waiting for him. He laid flat on his back and caught Ornias in mid-air. Lee felt the rodent try to resist but now that his mental hold had faded, Lee suspected the demon-rat probably found humans could be quite strong if they need to be.
They wrestled, kicking and flailing, when Lee managed to find Ornias’s neck. Gripping it with both hands, he slammed the rodents head into the wall beside them. Moments later Ornias lay in Lee’s arms, unconscious.
Lee stuffed the small limp body into the rifle bag, zipped it shut, and slung its straps over his right shoulder.
Lee knew when the police found the weapon; it would only be a matter of time before they linked him to the scene. He need to get rid of the rat while he had a chance. But how? He had an idea, but it was a long shot.
Ditching the rifle in the opposite corner of the maze of boxes, Lee descended to the Depository’s ground floor. Sweat moistened his underarms and crotch.
At the front doors, a Police Officer checked and verified anyone coming in or out of the building. Lee got lucky. Once close enough to make the officers acquaintance, Lee’s superintendent intercepted the officer’s hand, vouching for him and ensuring his escape.
Outside, anxious to be away, Lee caught a bus hoping to make it home before the police caught him. But as it lurched forward, a slow acceleration at best, the driver hit the brakes and brought the bus to a stop. Heavy traffic—never what it should be—refused to work with Lee’s final plans.
Disembarking from the bus, Lee hailed a cab but the cab turned out to be as successful as the bus had been.
“Let me out here, I can walk the rest of the way!” Lee barked in frustration.
“All right buddy but you gotta pay the whole fare otherwise I’d be doing you a favor and I ain’t in this business for favors, you know what I mean?” The cabby joked.
Lee listened to his rehearsed bouts of laughter filling the inside of the taxi. They hung in the air for an awkward moment, lost their shape, and disappeared as quickly as they were conjured. Lee saw worry, and then recognized the fright for what it really was, cautious pacifism. If Lee had to guess, this was not the first time the cabby was going to lose money due to a backseat crazy.
“Hey, uh, you all right back there?”
“Just dandy.” Lee menaced. “Now, here’s what’s gonna happen, I’m gonna get out of your car and I’m gonna walk home. If I hear you try to follow or even make one word or protest, I’ll come back here and finish a very, very bad day for you, got it?” In the reflection Lee saw, sweat bead between the cabby’s eyes and drip down to the point of his nose. The cabby’s semblance said it all. Lee opened the cab door and climbed out, walking the rest of the distance.
Half an hour later, Lee reached his rental room and started packing items into his jacket pockets. First, he grabbed his revolver, a .38 Caliber, and checked its cylinder with a spin. Once the gun was stored in his jacket, he took a second to check on his demonic package before locating the thing that started this whole mess, a gold ring with the Star of David carved into its head, surrounded by symbols from the zodiac.
Ornias assumed he had gotten rid of the ring after a strict order to dispose of it, but switched it out with a fake at the last moment. And now, after all these years, he finally had a chance to use it the way God intended.
Lee thought about performing the task there in his rental room but the sound of sirens deflected the idea with vigor. Instead, he left the building in hopes of finding somewhere a little more private.
Back on the street, he tried to look calm and collected keeping the suspicions of passersby to a minimum when a Dallas City Police cruiser pulled along side him. Lee froze.
“Hey buddy, come here for a second. What you got in that bag of yours.” Officer Tippit spoke leaning over the passenger seat next to him and peering out the open window. Lee obliged him with a lie, but when the officer started to get out of the squad car, Lee knew what was going to have to happen.
Lee pulled his weapon and aimed the .38 Caliber. Tippit took an involuntary step backward, almost flattening himself by way of a passing Mack Truck. Lee watched the officer flail as he tried to maintain his balance. When he found it, the cop’s hands moving toward his weapon, Lee’s finger squeezed the trigger: once, twice, then a third.
On the ground, Tippit shivered and bled as darkness closed around him. Lee looked down at the cop as if he were no more than a lame animal. Tippit’s eyes, wide and disbelieving stared back.
“I’m sorry,” Lee said. “Someday I’ll tell the world why you had to die. I just hope the world will believe me.” The fourth shot scrambled Tippit’s brain.
Lee ran. Buildings, cars, and people rushed by as his vision blurred. He pushed, wanting his heart to explode, wanting his body to collapse, wanting God to reach down with his almighty finger and strike him dead. He wanted an escape. He had dealt with this curse for long enough. It was time to finish.
Lee came to a stop in front of the Texas Theater where Cry of Battle was showing. People gaped at his appearance and he heard a few people mutter, “Is that him? I think that’s the one. Someone call the cops.” But Lee paid them little attention as he darted inside carrying a gun in one hand and the brown bag holding Ornias in the other.
Pausing inside the door, Lee pulled open the flap on the bag to see how Ornias was doing. The little demon was unconscious and bleeding out of a cut on his head, but other than the occasional groan remained silent. All at once, Lee thought of doing the putrid nuisance right there in the lobby while he was incapacitated and harmless. Yet after a quick look around, seeing frightened on-lookers, a crying baby reaching for a mother who seemed entranced by Lee’s presence, he moved further into the theater.
Lee’s instincts led his to a thick curtain, maroon and emitting voice’s that echoed and pitched with the amplified sound of the theaters one o’clock showing. Eager for solitude, he pulled the curtain aside and moved into the darkness beyond.
Finding a seat a safe distance from the other patrons, Lee dropped the bag unceremoniously and heard a loud grunt as the bag hit the floor.
“So Hell’s finest is alive and well,” Lee scoffed, dropping to sit next to the open bag.
Ornias spoke, his voice weak and tiny in comparison to his earlier vengeance. “What ever you’re doing, it won’t work. I’ll be back, I’ll find you. You’ll see Oswald. You’ll see.”
“You can’t follow me if you’re in a cell, demon,” Lee said pulling Solomon’s ring from his jacket pocket, “at least this way you become someone else’s problem.”
Sitting up in the gym bag, Ornias laughed his pesky laugh, ending it with a cough that sprayed blood along the bag’s top. “So, do it! Throw me back to the pit with the others,” he challenged. “But before you do you should know you’re too late. Like everything else in your life, you’ve failed, Oswald.”
Noticing sirens above the movie, Lee realized what the demon-rat meant a second before impact and the weight of two armed men bearing down on him. He struggled against them, trying to tear his way through to freedom, but before he could retaliate, two armed men became four, and then four became eight. During the tussle, Lee felt his world shatter. The ring, once owned by King Solomon, slipped from his grasp and took his hope with it.
Outmanned, Lee let the officer’s escort him to the police cruisers parked in front of the theater. He never raved about Ornias and they never asked, but as a Dallas Police Officer pushed Lee into the backseat of his cruiser, his stomach flipped when he saw the pesky demon sitting in the seat next to him, undamaged, clean, and grinning.
“I told you that I’d find you, Oswald. Now, be a sport and let me see that right thumb of yours. I feel like lunch.”
I was born on July 6th 1981 in Farmington, New Mexico. Five minutes later and my birthday would have had been on the 7th. I spent my early years between parents that cared for each other the way a cat cares for its litter box, but outside of that, in the world beyond, life was good. Years later, I used my parent’s misfortunes to write The Fatherless Trail, a memoir that earned an Honorable Mention in the 78th Writer’s Digest Annual Competition. Since then, I have focused on writing fiction and have several short stories that are in the re-writing process. Aside from my writing passions, I work for my grandfather in the family auto shop, and try to attend as many college classes as possible. At the end of the day, however, I always find myself in front of the keyboard, ready to pursue the tingle at the back of my imagination.