Peter Chiara looped a perfect noose around the neck of a neighborhood dog. It was dead, of course. But such was the ritual. Bind, torture, asphyxiate. And then, after hours of sexual gratification, Peter would noose the dog from some structure visible from the owner's home; in this particular instance, a Japanese maple. He leered silently from behind a small hedge as Beth Engels unexpectedly stepped out onto her front stoop and called, "Charlie!" into the early morning air.

"C'mere, Charlie!" she chimed again.

And Peter forced his eyes closed at the sound, forced himself to complete the ritual without deviation. But her voice was innocent, sweet. He imagined a life wherein Beth Engels prepared his breakfast each morning. She would gaze at him lovingly and her thoughts would be pure. Not like the dogs.

"Freak. Freak. There goes the freak." the Ogawa's collie had told him in a dream. And when Peter woke, he had sought the collie and given its soul to the Dark Lord, as per the ritual. That was the first. It made him ache to remember.

"Charlie..." Beth Engels sighed. Her shoulders slumped and she returned to the warm safety of her house. Peter's hand jostled the lump inside his grey sweat pants absently. What was he doing? No. Beth was pure. No. No, no, no. He stopped himself just on the edge of release and skulked quietly back to his backyard shed. He wouldn't think about her there. He couldn't. Not yet.

Jeffrey Engels ruffled his daughter's hair as she joined him in the kitchen. "He's just wandered off, my dear." he hoped aloud, "I'm sure he'll come home when he gets hungry."

"I thought I heard him sneeze last night. What if he's sick?" Beth's eyes pleaded with her father.

"Nonsense." Jeffrey swabbed an errant pool of milk from the counter and placed a protective hand on Beth's cheek. "We'll see him soon. I promise."

Beth gathered her science project and headed toward school, her backpack heavy against her left shoulder. As she adjusted the strap, Saturn and Mars struck Uranus and rolled across the cold pavement. She huffed, then set the entire contraption down and hurried after the rogue planets. Reaching for Saturn, another hand managed to arrive first and Beth was suddenly face to face with Peter Chiara, a boy she knew quite well from the neighborhood. She smiled, knowing he would smile back and that would be the extent of their conversation. Peter had never spoken. To her or anyone else. Still, she happily welcomed his assistance.

Peter silently carried Beth's science project to the doors of the school they had once both attended. He seemed uneasy so close to the campus. Beth wondered if his father's home schooling was helping or hindering his young son, and she tried to recall whether Peter had always behaved this strangely.

"Oh well," she hadn't meant to say aloud, "thanks, Peter." Beth smiled but Peter only continued to stare at her contentedly. It sent a shiver down her spine. As she disappeared down the crowded corridors, Beth felt relieved to have left Peter Chiara well behind.

He slagged through the shrubbery, his plump arms swaying heavily like an ape's. There was sweat staining the grey sweat shirt now, he knew it. And he was panting. Hard. Had he been panting while Beth Engels had been by his side? Had his sweaty palms removed the paint from her beautiful solar system? He eyed the puffy fingers and found them clean. Good. Good.

As he entered the small house he and his father shared, he grabbed the bottle half-full of milk from the table and quickly drained it, his chest still aching from the long walk. As he swallowed, he could feel the small lumps of drowned flies floating within a sea of warm milk. Peter imagined them screaming as they went down. It aroused him sexually.

The flies had long since lost interest in Mr. Chiara, although Peter was sure that the Dark Lord now inhabiting his corpse still ocassionally called to them. Sometimes, while Peter gently sponged clean his former father's shell, a fly would emerge from his mouth or an eye socket. A messenger?

Peter exited the back door and grabbed the end of the noose with a strange reverence. The morning had come and gone without the ritual's completion, and this was unacceptable. To Peter. To the flies. To the Dark Lord. He made his way to the same Japanese maple he'd chosen hours before, and hung the dead dog from the tallest branch he could reach. Almost. It's almost time. He was panting again.

Jeffrey Engels anxiously sorted through a series of boxes, hoping to find his electric drill. It held deep meaning for the squat little man, having been his father's before him.

"Where could it be?" Jeffrey lisped, "I don't understand it!"

He kicked over a large box of Christmas ornaments and growled.

"Clifffffff!"

Jeffrey waddled out of the house, failing to lock the door behind him in his haste. He had remembered loaning his drill to Cliff Huxtable months ago and he'd be damned if the disgraced doctor was going to steal it.

"Thief!" he muttered, "Criminal!"

But as Jeffrey turned his gaze to the Huxtables' large front window, he eyes stopped upon something else entirely. Something horrifying.

"Ch-ch-ch...Charlie?" Jeffrey's voice caught in his throat. He thought of Beth and his heart lurched. He had to cut Charlie down and bury him before she returned from school. He would make something up. She would never share this sight, now burned into his psyche forever. Not now, not ever.

As the last remnants of his daughter's best friend disappeared beneath shoveled earth, Jeffrey had come to a bitter conclusion. Cliff Huxtable had done this. Cliff Huxtable had asked to borrow his father's drill knowing full well that he had intended to steal it. And the dog, the dog was merely insult to injury. Cliff's way of laughing right in his face. Jeffrey dropped the shovel and clenched his fists at his side. Cliff Huxtable was responsible. And Cliff Huxtable would pay.

"Jeffrey Engels, what a pleasant supri..." Clair's voice was like a long-forgotten recording of itself. Fake. Empty.

"I'm here to see Cliff!" Jeffrey demanded, "Right now."

"Cliff...Cliff is...indisposed..." Clair eyed the staircase leading to the couple's bedroom. She had left him draped across the ottoman, eyes lolled back, his veins full of black tar heroin. Clair had no such escape. And without Cliff, she had nothing. But Jeffrey had already started up the stairs. And after all these years, and all this pain, she just didn't have the energy to stop him.

Beth Engels called out to her father as she dropped her backpack onto the livingroom floor.

"Dad, I'm home!"

But there was no answer. Beth shrugged, grabbed an apple from the bowl of fruit atop the coffee table, and headed for her bedroom. She wanted to call Rudy and find out where she had gone during lunch. She hoped the explanation was juicy.

Peter Chiara grabbed her head as she rounded the corner and pulled her into the bathroom. It all happened so quickly that she was only acutely aware of the smell of bleach and the gentle swish-swish of cotton-clad thighs rubbing against one another. Plump fingers held her head tightly and squeezed as they moved. Peter twisted her head to meet his gaze, his expression blank. Beth began to weep.

Bottles of Clorox had been emptied inside a tub of hot water, and the air was noxious. Peter still held her by the head, his hands curled around her cheeks and ears, pushing them together. Beth's sobs made him excited, and he grabbed onto her ear with one hand while caressing his erection with the other. She sobbed even harder.

"P-P-P-Peter?" she began, hoping he would just run away, as he had done so many times before, "Peter? Why?"

He cocked his head to one side and relished her confusion. She was his gift. A gift from his true father, the Dark Lord. He had been pleased with Peter's latest ritual. And now, Peter would finally become a man.

Beth struggled valiantly against Peter's inhuman strength as he held her naked body beneath the hot bleach water. His knees rested on the tatters of clothing he had ripped from her moments before. Soon she would be clean, he thought. Soon she would be ready.

"Are you...are you going to kill me?" Beth sobbed, trying hard to find some semblance of humanity in his vacant eyes.

Peter shook his head, lifting her body from the tub and wrapping it in white sheets he had procured earlier from the Engels' linen closet. Beth sniffed and pulled the sheets tighter. Peter's mood had seemed to lighten and this time, he lead her through the house by the hand. Gently. Perhaps everything was going to be OK. She took a deep breath and tried to sound calm.

"Peter, it's alright." she told him sweetly, "You won't get in trouble. Just go home and you won't get in trouble."

But Peter had come for his manhood, his salvation. The Dark Lord had promised this. He peered into her soul, his faith unwavering. He slung Beth over his shoulder, exited out the back, and scurried to the old shed.

When Beth regained consciousness, pointed rocks pierced her back and she felt as if her hair had been pulled out by the roots. Had hours passed? Or was it days? A small window offered just enough light to make out a pair of eyes above her, grimacing in ecstasy. She gasped, her memory flooding back all at once.

Peter's strangely-shaped member pulsed inside of her. It felt wrong, barbed and cold. The darkness swirling around them seemed alive, and the dirt floor of the shed pushed her upward, prodded her purposefully. There was evil here and it was consuming her. Peter had promised not to kill her, but now she knew that there were worse things than death.

Peter experienced orgasm after orgasm, emitting a high-pitched shriek with each release. His semen felt like carbonated ice water. The air became thick and black. She could no longer make out his eyes. Was this death? Her body was falling, falling. And then, nothing.

Jeffrey stroked his daughter's face as she lay motionless in the hospital bed. Seven months since he had found her lying on the floor of her bedroom, bloody and broken. Seven months since she had entered into a deep coma. He was forgetting the gentle lilt of her voice, the way she smiled outside of school photographs. It was as if she had died already. He had prepared himself for it. He was ready. Hell, he had had seven months to steady himself for the inevitable.

But Beth woke up. Almost seven months to the day. And Jeffrey held his daughter as if he had always expected a miracle.

"Daddy?" The words came out in an almost inaudible whisper.

"I'm here, pumpkin." Tears streamed down Jeffrey's cheeks.

Beth shifted uncomfortably. Her back ached and she felt as if her stomach was full of lead.

"Easy...easy..." her father gently lisped.

"I'm OK, just..." her hands lingered at her midsection, the source of her discomfort, "Oh God. Oh God no."

The swollen flesh harbored something alive, something not quite human, and it undulated at her touch. Tears filled her eyes.

"What is it, pumpkin?" Jeffrey was already poised to call the nurse.

"I'm...I'm..." she sobbed.

"Seven months pregnant! Isn't it miraculous! All hail the Dark Lord!" her father beamed.

Beth closed her eyes and prayed for death.