* This is a chapter from my other story "I'm Sure Your Plan is Sound". I thought it could work as a standalone, too. It's just my take on how I think Husk's life was before ending up in Hell.
Hope you enjoy it.
Note: Some of you will think that there's a Supernatural reference in this, and there isn't. Supernatural just so happened to popularize this kind of thing.
Warnings: Alcoholism, gambling, swearing, and mentions of death.
What started off as a family joke might as well have been a premonition of Husk's future.
It wasn't his given name, but everyone called him Husk, even during childhood. The definition of 'husk' was that of a shell, cold and empty. Husk, though, was anything but. He definitely wasn't the life of the party by any means, but he did always enjoy being social and having a good time. And when your family owned a casino, having a good time often included gambling and drinking.
Unfortunately, by age eighteen, it was no longer unusual to see Husk clutching a booze bottle.
He didn't know why drinking came easy to him. He had everything! He was an heir to a successful family business, had made friends with the many patrons, and heck he even finished high school and could move onto college if he wanted to. Not many people his age and at that time period would ever experience those kinds of opportunities, all of which he was thankful for. He really was.
But it was his heart that was missing from the equation, and he didn't know why. His family and friends and all of the casino patrons were wonderful. And it wasn't as if he was lacking a purpose given that the casino provided that. So, why on earth did he always feel…empty?
On a particularly unlucky day, Husk's personal stash of alcohol that he kept behind the main counter had finally run dry. The manager who was running the bar that day held his ground, eyeing Husk both stubbornly and with barely-concealed pity. Husk, who was only a little tipsy at that point in the evening, halfheartedly tried to coax him into pouring out something for him, but he wasn't stupid. Husk had a hunch that his parents ordered the manager to never give him anything that wasn't from his own stash. If he ran out and wanted more, he'd have to get it elsewhere.
Husk was no stranger to buying his own booze, but he was also a lazy son of a bitch. Why go to any other distributor when he was destined to own a business that always had the drinks flowing?
With a huff and a curse directed at the manager, Husk gave an awkward wobble as he abruptly turned away and headed for the casino's showroom. He needed a distraction from that damned hollow feeling, and if alcohol wasn't available to soothe it, then the gimmicky performer his parents hired for the night would have to do.
He hated magic shows. Flashy, fake, and unpredictable, they didn't hold his attention for long at all. But he sank down in a leather chair anyway, banging his elbow as he placed it on the table in front of him and slumped his chin in his hand. The show was already halfway through, with the magician now currently on some boring card tricks. However, things took a not-so-boring turn very quickly.
The cards burst into flames, causing the audience to jump excitedly in their seats. Husk was about to scoff at the ridiculousness of it all when the sound of glass shattering caught his attention. A woman a couple seats down from him had been so engrossed in the show that she'd dropped her glass of red wine. When it hit the carpeted floor, the glass shattered and splattered wine everywhere at the same time.
The woman was beside herself, glancing rapidly and embarrassedly between the floor and the select few individuals who saw this and laughed drunkenly at her. Desperately, she grabbed a fistful of cocktail napkins and began dabbing hopelessly at her dress and at any remaining alcohol from her skin. She was clearly flustered, and her once pristine dress was now ruined…
And Husk had never seen anyone more beautiful in his entire, inebriated life.
With the mindset that a patron of the casino needed assistance, he decided to pluck up the courage to leave his table. Shouldn't be too difficult for him, given his social nature. So why was it, by the time he got over there, that his mouth had suddenly become as dry as the Mojave Desert?
He stopped in front of the woman, and cleared his throat. Not to get the woman's attention, but because he needed his vocal chords to cooperate in order to form some words, for Pete's sake!
By the time he was ready, the woman realized she had an audience. She stopped dabbing at her dress to grimace sharply at Husk.
"I'm not interested in anymore gawking from anyone," she huffed. "My night's already ruined. I don't need anyone making it worse, especially from some tipsy barcat."
"Yeah," Husk muttered dazedly. Then, he shook his head so quickly his neck cracked. "No, no! I mean, uh…That ain't why I came over."
She raised a brow. "Then why did you?"
Husk glanced around rapidly, as if he would eventually locate the correct words if he did so. Come on, you dumbass, he thought tensely. All you gotta do is welcome her to the fucking casino. That's all! Just like you do with everyone else. That ain't so fucking difficult!
He jabbed a finger in the direction of the wine bottle on the table in front of her. "You enjoying the wine," he asked as he turned his attention back to her…and her stained dress.
She blinked incredulously at him. "Am I what?"
Shit, shit, shit! "Uh, w-wait," he stuttered. And he stuttered some more, grappling through his hazy mind for an apology and a proper introduction.
Until he saw a reluctant smile tugging at her lips. It grew wider, and eventually he heard a slight chuckle bubble from her. He half-smiled as well, a shaky one as he awkwardly rubbed the back of his neck.
"It, uh," he mumbled. "It ain't meant to be a joke."
"I know," she exhaled, her smile never leaving. "I can tell by looking at your face." She glanced at the bottle. "If you must know, I was enjoying the wine."
Encouraged by her lighter tone, he added, "Well, it's some top-shelf shit, so…"
"Oh, my dress definitely agrees with you," she chuckled again, glancing down at herself. "Tell me, is this how you charm all the ladies?"
The words tumbled out of his mouth before he could stop them. "Just you."
Something in her smile changed as she studied him closely. The semi-awkward, semi-flirtatious atmosphere was still there, but now with added warmth as they gazed endearingly at each other. They were reminded that their private moment actually wasn't so private when some other people noticed the woman's state and snickered at her.
Husk whipped around to glare at them. "You got something better to do," he snapped. "There's an attention-hogging clown on stage right now. Laugh at him!" Without any reluctance, and looking thoroughly chastised, those people immediately took their attention and focused it on the performance.
"Ugh," the woman muttered, continuing to look at her attire. "I should go home and clean up." She glanced at the magician. "And I really wanted to see the end of his performance."
"Why can't you?"
She stared at Husk with a sarcastic expression. "You are aware I've spilled wine all over myself, yes?"
He shrugged. "I'm around alcohol every day. It don't bother me."
Her lips perked up into a smile once more. She took another hopeful glance at the stage before focusing on Husk again. She tapped the chair beside her. "Do you want to join me," she asked. "I need someone to finish off this wine. I don't think I'll want any more of it."
"Nah," Husk grinned as he got two empty glasses from a nearby table. He sat down next to her and poured the wine. "Good wine should never go to waste."
She stared at the glass he was offering. She then placed her hand over his for a few purposeful moments before taking it. "And neither should the evening," she added before taking a sip.
Husk nodded. As she elegantly drank, he couldn't take his eyes off her for some reason. The red stains on her dress made it look pastel, and the cloche hat she wore had little dove feathers protruding out of it, with the feathers sticking in all directions from her previous fussing.
"That's, uh, a good hat to wear," he said. At her confused expression, he pointed to the stage. "You know, 'cause…magicians like doves and shit." He leaned back in his chair as he slapped a hand to his face. "I ain't good at this shit apparently," he muttered as he let his hand drop to his lap.
"How about we start again, then," she suggested. "I'm Ava."
Husk nodded instantly, extending his hand to her. "They call me Husk."
Giggling, a little dumbfounded, she shook his hand with a smirk.
He raised a brow at her. "What?"
She shook her head at him. "Offering me your hand as if I was a long-time friend of yours? Swearing in front of a lady? You definitely aren't conventional, are you?"
He scoffed. "People say all kinds of shit about me. We'll just add that one to the pile, I guess."
She scooted her chair closer to him as she went back to watching the stage. "I like it. It's different." She paused. "I like you."
"Give it a minute," was his immediate joking response, causing her to giggle again.
The void was gone. His heart beat soundly the entire evening. He found himself enjoying the show.
For the first time since he was a teenager, he felt sober.
The clock had just struck midnight.
Husk had just popped the cap off his third bottle that evening.
Even though he was beginning to feel light-headed, it wasn't his personal best and he would need a couple more glugs before he could even consider himself drunk.
He ran his hands over his face with a lethargic groan. He was hoping the alcohol would wake him up a little…And because he also needed to take the edge off immediately.
He was losing his mind. He felt so fucking helpless.
Just as he was bringing the rim to his lips, sharp coughing from upstairs made him halt. The hacking tapered off into heavy, painful wheezing, and Husk flinched at how it sounded. Suddenly, his lips came into contact with cold glass, and he realized that he was already in the involuntary process of taking a drink.
Before he even took a sip of this third one, he slammed it to the table. And before he even had his jacket on, he was out the front door.
To this day, Ava still joked that Husk wasn't conventional, and she was right. He didn't care about what he looked like, what other people thought of him, or what other people thought of his actions. He…actually didn't care about a lot of things by the time he'd started his drinking addiction.
He only cared about Ava.
He walked for quite a few seemingly aimless miles, until he got further into the countryside. The city faded behind him, until the only light for miles around was the full moon above his head. He arrived at a dirt-road intersection. When his footsteps stopped, everything was eerily quiet. A shiver raced down his spine at how still everything seemed, at how alone he felt.
He scratched the back of his neck as he paced for a while.
He remembered having a conversation with one of the casino's magicians. The magician offhandedly mentioned that he got his talents from a crossroads demon, and that they could be summoned to do one's bidding.
But now that Husk had finally arrived at a crossroads, he felt pretty ridiculous. Plain and simple. What was he supposed to do? How was he supposed to summon the damned thing?
Husk knew that the magician had been joking, and that there probably was no such thing. However, Husk had tried everything for Ava. He'd gotten all the best books, contacted the most expensive and competent experts, and hadn't left her bedside for nearly a week now. He had tried everything!
He opened his mouth wide and exhaled loudly. "Okay," he began vaguely, and raised his voice a little. "So, uh…Are there any demons fucking around tonight?"
The only answer he got was his own echo.
He grumbled irately and impatiently as he resumed pacing in circles over the intersection. "God, I feel stupid," he grumbled to himself. Then, he raised his voice again. "Alright, look! I ain't got time for any of this bullshit. If you demons are bored outa your skulls and want something to do, I got a job for you. But since I'm standing around here like a fucking idiot and clearly talking to thin air…" He trailed off, and he finally stopped pacing.
He stepped away from the crossroads and leaned his back against a tree. With a weak huff, he buried his face in his hands. "This is pointless," he muttered into his palms.
"Not hardly, my good friend! I'd say you accomplished your goal," a cheerfully distorted voice rang out, causing Husk to nearly leap out of his skin.
"Jesus Christ," Husk hollered as he all but plastered his back against the tree. Some sort of…thing was standing in the center of the crossroads!
From a distance, it looked like an ordinary human, but this wasn't the case. The man had small deer antlers protruding from his scalp, his skin was pale-grey, and there was a consistent background buzz surrounding him and laced with his voice. The only thing normal about him was his red and black dress suit, but even that looked striking to the eye.
Husk gulped. "The fuck are you?"
"I'm the demon you meant to summon, of course! Who may I ask am I serving?" The demon's smile, which seemed to be a permanent fixture on his face, widened as he leaned on some sort of microphone stand.
Husk shivered, not liking the smugness in his looks and tone. Begrudgingly, he shoved himself away from the tree. He straightened his back and squared his shoulders, sauntering towards the demon in what he hoped was an imposing manner. He tried not to falter when the demon simply raised a brow at him, and…Was that amusement in those red eyes?
Husk shook his head rapidly, trying to ignore the continuously growing unease in his gut. "Husk. They call me Husk." He stared cautiously at him. "You're supposed to do my bidding, right?"
The demon nodded. "As I've just stated."
"So you gotta do everything I tell you, right? No questions asked?"
Another serene nod.
Husk always enjoyed the simple pleasures in life. And while it was great to see the demon's blink of astonishment when he suddenly got in his face, his current goal wasn't to intimidate an all-powerful demon. Staring him dead in the eye, Husk snarled, "Cure. My. Fiance."
When the last word left his lips, Husk slammed his eyes shut and sucked in a shaky breath. "C-cure her…Please."
The demon stopped leaning on his microphone to straighten himself up a little, putting a couple inches of distance between them in the process. "Cure, you say."
Husk swallowed harshly, only opening his eyes again when he was sure his tears wouldn't make an appearance. He nodded once. "She's sick. Real sick."
To Husk's surprise, the demon finally broke his smug demeanor. The smile was still there, but the demon glanced away from him as he contemplatively scratched his chin with a curious hum.
Not liking the hesitancy, Husk continued. Maybe details were needed. "She's coughing all the time. Doctors ain't able to do nothing. The books are goddamn useless. Hell, she can't even breath anymore! She's fucking dying! And…And I can't stop it." He paused. "You can."
The demon looked at him sharply. "Oh? Can I?"
Husk's heart sank to the pit of his stomach…just as the demon's shoulders began shaking with laughter. A snarl erupted in the back of Husk's throat, and his hands curled into fists. He opened his mouth to shout all kinds of profanities at this heartless freak of nature when the demon began speaking again, and in an obnoxiously lively tone.
"Of course I can, my dear Husker," he exclaimed, while making Husk grimace at the use of his name. "I wouldn't be useful to you otherwise." He paused to hum thoughtfully again. "Can't say I've used a curse to cure an illness, but I'll gladly give it a go. What fun!"
Husk sneered at him. "I didn't say nothing about a curse. I said for you to-"
"And a curse is what you'll get," the demon interrupted firmly. "Unless, of course, you don't want my help. Just send me away. I've a surplus of already-damned souls to entertain myself with, thank you very much."
Husk shook his head stubbornly. "You ain't going nowhere until Ava ain't sick anymore. And you're gonna do that without cursing her."
"A curse is my final offer. Take it or leave it." At Husk's growl, he continued, twirling his microphone stand in a showy gesture. "Are you even aware of what you're asking of me? You want me to do something that your modern doctors aren't able to do. And I'm fully capable of doing so! But I fear there's a price.
"Magic and nature go hand-in-hand in order to function properly. A requirement of balance, if you will. Tip that balance, and it results in a curse." He suddenly laughed loudly. "Good thing I never cared too much for balance and stability! What's a little chaos, my dear friend?"
"I ain't your fucking friend," Husk growled. "Get to the goddamn point."
"You are asking me to bring someone from the brink of death." He raised a brow at Husk. "You are asking me to use my magic to go against nature. And you think there won't be consequences, hmm?"
Husk flexed his jaw and clenched it at the same time. "W…What kinda consequences?"
The demon shrugged. "Not sure. It all depends on the individuals involved and how high the stakes are."
"So…It may not even be that bad."
"Only time will tell," he responded with another shrug. "But if you wish to ignore such things to set your mind at ease, then who am I to stop you?"
Husk started pacing again, but much slower, all the while not taking his eyes off of him. He realized that that the longer he paced, the more the demon smiled, as if he knew what his decision was inevitably going to be.
And it had to be inevitable.
"Fine," Husk snapped, stepping closer. "Fucking fine! We'll do it your way. Just…Just make her better."
"With pleasure," he said jovially. He made his microphone disappear. "Payment first, though."
Husk shot him a murderous glare. "There ain't no payment. You do what I say-"
"Regretfully there is," he calmly responded. "Everything costs something, and you're no exception simply because you summoned me. I require something from you."
Husk stared at him suspiciously. "What?"
"Your assistance. Nothing more, my good friend," the demon replied.
"Not sure yet. We'll discuss that matter upon your death. Now…" The demon held out his hand. A bright aura abruptly washed over them, flashing too rapidly to keep up with it. The wind whipped up, forcing the trees around them to thrash.
Amongst the cacophony was the demon's voice. "Do we have a deal?"
Without thinking, wanting the sudden chaos to end, and just wanting Ava to be alright again, he dug his nails into the demon's skin as he shook the offered hand. All at once, the chaos was over and everything died down.
"So, uh," Husk said as the demon released his hand. "Is that it? Did that do it?"
The demon held up a finger to instruct him to wait. Husk immediately reeled back in preparation for more magic when the demon raised his hand and loudly snapped his fingers. Only, no chaos came, not even a whisper of wind.
The demon dusted off his hands. "There," he said. "That should do it."
"I...It," Husk stammered hopefully. "S-so that's it, then? She's cured?"
He nodded. "In a day or so the illness shall pass. In a few days after, she should be up and about. You and your lover should have many happy years ahead of you now."
"Oh, uh, okay," Husk said, his mind going a mile a minute as he hurriedly looked in the direction of his apartment. "I-I gotta go, then. I gotta see it for myself." He briefly glared at the demon. "And to make sure you ain't screwing me over with your tricks."
The demon's smirk widened. "Smart one, aren't you? A bit too smart, though. I'm nothing if not a man of my word. I've no time to waste on lying."
"Pfft," he scoffed. "We'll see. So…How do I make you go away so you don't fuck with anyone else?"
When Husk looked back at the demon again, he found himself alone at the crossroads, as if the demon had never been there in the first place.
The days that followed went exactly as the demon had described. By the end of the week, Ava was wandering around their home and neighborhood, free of any sign of illness.
Over the next few years, it became yet another family joke. No matter how much they gambled, no matter how much they drank, no matter how many sicknesses they got, they could endure anything!
They could also joke about anything, including about how Ava had survived. Everyone in their circle had theories, getting more and more outrageous and humorous as the years went by. And every time someone made a joke about it, Ava always glanced at Husk. He always responded to that with an awkward smile.
He'd yet to tell her how it happened, and Ava was smart enough to know that Husk had a hand in it – metaphorical to her, but literal to him obviously. It wasn't that Husk was afraid to tell her, but how do you explain to someone that some trickster abomination that you summoned in the dead of night was the cause? With every passing year, though, that need for an explanation grew ever closer.
They'd never set a concrete date for their wedding. Husk had many inner demons to sort out, and that he wanted to be sure he had them under control by the time they'd wed. Ava was perfectly fine by this. God, that woman had the patience and understanding of a goddamn saint, in his opinion!
So much so that he wanted to reward that patience as well as to convey his appreciation for her. He needed to explain this. The week before their wedding, Husk found that he had one last inner demon to sort out.
He sat Ava down at their tiny dining room table in their tiny apartment, and he told her what happened at the crossroads. She'd been understanding of everything about him thus far, surely this was no exception.
Horror washed over Husk at seeing the utter disbelief on Ava's face. "You…did what?!"
Husk could only stutter, not knowing how to handle her sudden ire, an emotion that he'd never seen from her in all of the years he'd known her. "I-I just – You were sick-So sick! I w-was-"
"And you risked your life to confront a demon to do so?! Husk!"
"I don't give a shit what I'd have to risk," he said, much louder than intended. "I don't give a shit about me! I don't give a shit about that smug little shit at the fucking crossroads! All I give a shit about is you!"
"And that's what scares the hell out of me," Ava shouted back. It shut him up instantly. She didn't swear often. "Every time someone has hassled me, every time someone has ever even remotely threatened me, you don't hesitate to get in their face and start something with them!"
He looked at her incredulously. "It's my fucking job as your fiancé!"
"That's right. I wanted you to be my fiancé! I never asked you to be my knight in shining armor every five seconds."
"Why the hell did you want us to get married, then?!"
His words echoed around them before a long silence fell.
Husk was the first to break that silence. He needed to break it. "I…I…I don't know what to do without you."
Ava gave him an odd smile. It wasn't a happy one, though. "I…I know, Husk." She reached across the table and gave his hand a firm squeeze. Normally, he welcomed her touch, he welcomed everything about her. But her hand that he had held countless time throughout the years felt different all of a sudden. It felt cool to the touch instead of warm.
She released his hand and went to bed that night without a word. By the end of that week, she'd left to build a life of her own.
The night that was supposed to be their wedding day, Husk sat in their – his apartment. Thinking.
Things had been going so well since the incident at the crossroads. And now, years later, things had gone up in flames. Ava's reaction haunted his nightmares, that sudden switch in her usually calm demeanor. It wasn't like her. Why did she react that way? As Husk brought the bottle to his lips and took a gulp…Oh, he knew what the answer was.
That fucking demon. That good-for-nothing, deal-making trickster. He did this.
So, what was left for Husk to do?
Empty bottles and cans were strewn everywhere. He was determined to drink until he forgot, to drink until he felt nothing else.
To drink himself to death.