In the game Awkward Family Photos, one of the pics shows a family of four. You can safely ignore the parents and one of the kids, but the kid off to the left? Keep an eye on that ghoul.
He’s wearing a mask. In the age of COVID-19, the presence of this article might set Awkward Family Photos up as a forward-thinking entertainment gambit. Don’t be fooled.
This mask doesn’t protect shit. It looks like a melted plastic turkey, melted alongside a cornucopia from the image archives of The Saturday Evening Post.
Worsening the ghouldom, the kid is wearing a stunted cone hat, flat brim, with a buckle on the front, completing his metamorphosis into—Demon Pilgrim.
Demon Pilgrim didn’t get what he wanted for the first Thanksgiving dinner. Instead of turkey, he got enslavement. His hunger not sated, thirst not slaked, he resolved to exact revenge on those who sought to enjoy dinner in his stead.
* * *
As long as I can remember, I’ve lived life by everyone’s terms but my own (go to debtor’s prison for you, and you’ll let me watch? Okay!). I’ve subjugated my desires for the benefit of others (go on a long boat ride? Okay!), degraded myself (serve on bucket duty? Okay!) so others could achieve (serve as bait just this one time to attract the savages? Okay!), struck a flint, held it to the tinder of my dreams, and served as the instrument of destruction to any design on my future I might have had that didn’t include servitude (serve as a prisoner of war just this one time? You’ll come by in the morning to rescue me? Okay!).
I didn’t think I could be broken. I thought I would stretch out, growing thinner and thinner, until I was only a Robin’s egg shell, a brittle patina, a glaze across a pastry designed to feed the world, designed to consume me so that the world would live.
Fuck the world.
I am pieces of myself, each containing a legion ready to break out.
And seek revenge.
Tonight, the pilgrims—my former brethren, my tricksters, my slave-trading, human life-bargaining pimps—dine to celebrate safely landing in the New World. Secondarily, they celebrate having reached a pact with the native savages. Until today, the savages had been using our bones to season our meat as they rotated us on their spits.
(Why is only one of my legs rounded and meaty? The savages got hungry while they waited for the prisoner exchange to occur.)
Now, post-ceremony, they will no longer slaughter us, they say. They will no longer eat us, they say.
(My whole leg weeps in terrorized dread. But not for long.)
This is the opening I need.
I’ve prayed to the Christian god, and He has ignored me, if He even bothered to listen. Perhaps He looked down at me from His holy dais and found me lacking.
He knows not what He has done, for I have turned to the dark realm. I have new allies, allies with red skin and horns and talons for fingernails and dark magic for thoughts. I will return and tear down His hollow pulpit. I will stand up and declare my desire to be law.
But first, the transition.
I’ve passed a series of smaller steps, and now I am one step away from becoming a demon. One step from having power. One step from willingly, and with malice, siphoning the life-force from those who’ve torn away my foundations and my home.
Darkness has fallen.
I am crouched behind trees, but I see them in firelight glow, the traitorous lot, sitting at their table. Look at them, smug and self-satisfied, distractedly gorging themselves on wine and boar and bird. Men dip their heads to drink from between the breasts of women to whom they have professed no commitment. Women accept, switch roles, and become the aggressors, hungrily attacking the rotted mouths of men who become less human with every triumph.
They have earned nothing, and it emboldens them, this awarding of accolades without effort. Continuous satisfaction breeds complacent entitlement.
Soon, the satisfaction will be mine.
I will earn it.
I move forward, quick as a rabbit, deadly as a fox. I jump like a lion and bite with the bloodthirsty ferocity of a wolf.
I start the evening with an amuse bouche of throats. I clear my palate with blood. 30 people sit around—well, slump around—the table, and fountains are plenteous.
Next, I taste a delicacy of eyes. Some are gelatinous, exploding like little taste bombs; others, like hard boiled eggs. Both are delights!
Finally, I dig into the main course: chest cavity organs. I gnaw through pectoral muscles, clean my teeth on bones, and work my jaw up and down with the hunger of a storm surge that comes again and again until it has subsumed all.
When I am done, my belly is swollen with the flesh and life-force of all the pilgrims complicit in my subjugation. Their flesh is my flesh.
We are one.
I take a be-buckled hat from one pilgrim and go to sit by the fire. The hat begins to melt, and the wax runs down my face like a scalding waterfall.
I smile, my teeth reflecting red, fat bubbling in the gaps, a rendering plant sending product down my gullet.
Your transformation is complete, my masters whisper in my mind.
You are Demon Pilgrim.
* * *
Roughly 400 years later (historical accuracy dubious), this scene inspired the game Awkward Family Photos. How’s that for a sticky idea?
Demon Pilgrim sure earned his moment in the spotlight. I suggest we keep it on him.
For glorification purposes.