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Chapter 25: Demons!
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Sunday, January 5, 11:00 P.M.
Dan leaned back in his favorite chair, relaxed if not contented. The cherry embers of a dying fire provided the only illumination in the shadowy living room and an occasional popping coal sent a few sparks up the fireplace chimney.
The muted voices of Karen, Ronni and Lacey drifted down from the master bedroom where the three women were discussing the possibility of swapping some clothes. Both visitors were planning to stay overnight.
After a quarter hour of spark watching, Dan began to feel drowsy. With a grunt he tilted the recliner all the way back and was sound asleep in less than two minutes. The grandfather clock in the corner chimed his Westminster melodies at 11:15, 11:30, and 11:45 but the slumbering man never stirred.
Then it began.
At first Dan thought he was having some kind of hellish nightmare as a lingering aftermath of his experience Friday night with Ronni's black cat. He shook his head furiously to make sure he was fully awake. But instead of diminishing with the return of full consciousness, the sound grew in intensity. His heart palpitating with terror, Dan struggled to get his chair into its upright position and finally managed to stagger to his feet. His entire body was bathed in frightsweat as he tiptoed across the carpet to stand at the bottom of the stairs.
As before, the sound was coming from above but in just a few seconds he was able to discern a distinct difference in its characteristics. Instead of overtones of anger as on Friday night, this sound conveyed a feeling of mirth. Not mirth in the sense of joy and happiness. Mirth in the sense of a spider racing across her web to reach an enmeshed fly. Dan had no intention of climbing the stairs and searching for the source of the hideous sound. And yet, Karen and her guests were up there. He must go. Slowly his right foot moved up on the first step. And then, step by step, he moved carefully up the staircase, treading as though it might collapse under his weight at any second.
As he got near the top, various aspects of the sound became identifiable. In contrast to Friday night's experience, tonight's sound seemed more human than animal. And there was also a hint of the female gender. Female without femininity. At the top, the odor hit him in the face like a vomit-soaked towel. An odor so indescribably foul that its presence in the air lined his nasal passages with a furry blanket of revulsion so substantive it impeded his breathing.
And the cold was there, too. Not the draft from an open window on a January night. The cold of an absolute state of nothingness. Not anything from this world, at least. Dan could see that the master bedroom door was closed. The sound seemed to be emanating from beyond its white-enameled surface and his wooden legs carried him in that direction. The gleaming brass knob, when he touched it, burned with the fire of dry ice.
With a convulsive twist of his wrist he turned the knob and thrust the door open wide. Instantly Dan experienced a savage bout of projectile vomiting. Again and again his stomach convulsed as geysers of acidic fluid spewed from his sagging mouth.
In thinking about it later, Dan realized that he would never be able to adequately describe to another human being what he saw and experienced during the next few minutes. The horror, the terror, the otherworldliness, the revulsion . . . they were all beyond the descriptive powers of his logical mind and superlative vocabulary.
As the bout of vomiting eased and Dan's vision cleared, his mind nearly rejected what he was able to sense. Only a steel will and an ardent love for Karen kept him from fleeing such evil which exceeded human comprehension in its degree of vile intensity.
An abominably obnoxious and repulsive liquefied substance eddied and swirled across the polished oak surface of the bedroom floor. Its basic colors were brown, green, and black with occasional overtones of red and gray. Although the consistency was like slurry, some objects of substance were visible, flowing by in a swift current from nowhere to nowhere across the floor. The open sewers of hell were running at Dan's feet!
The slurry itself appeared to consist of a satanic mixture of every substance excreted, secreted, or suppurated by the human body. Although Dan's brain was not consciously making visual identifications at the time, he would remember later that the objects of substance were parts of human bodies in various stages of decomposition. A hand here, an eyeball over there, an intact brain with ears attached bobbing by in the current . . .
Although the noxious flood appeared to be several inches deep, it did not flow out into the hall when Dan opened the door. Nor did it flow into the open closet or bathroom doors which led off the bedroom. And as Dan's mind began to adjust slightly to the horrific visual onslaught, he became aware again of the equally hellish sounds and odors which had confronted him earlier.
His renewed awareness of sound drew his attention to the opposite side of the room where a massive triple dresser stood between two windows. Standing on its top, backs pressed to the mirror and wall, were Karen, Ronni, and Lacey in varying states of hysteria. Karen was looking straight at Dan across the bilious flood, her fright-stretched mouth forming his name over and over again. The demonic cacophony which engulfed the room all but obliterated the sound of her voice as she screamed his name. Ronni was totally catatonic. She stood in the middle of the trio, feet together, back straight, hands clenched at her sides. Lacey's face was buried in her hands and her convulsing torso indicated she was crying wildly.
Then Dan's gaze dropped below the dresser top and great waves of blackness washed over his mind. His terror-fogged vision was able to make out three small forms cavorting in the putrid slurry. His mind immediately rejected the concept of cavorting as incongruous but a second glance confirmed the word as the only one which fit. The three forms danced and skipped and splashed through the unmentionable substance like Kevin and Kellie had done at Myrtle Beach last summer, just where surf and sand meet.
Sometimes they splashed each other. Sometimes they splashed themselves. And every once in a while one would scoop up a dripping and unthinkable something to fling at the trio on the dresser. Karen ducked and weaved, avoiding most of the badly-aimed slimy projectiles. Ronni never flinched as again and again her clothes and skin were splattered and befouled. After a near miss by a partially-decomposed eyeball, Lacey turned toward the mirror, her shoulders hunched against the continued barrage from below.
The poor aim of the hurlers caused Dan to flick another glance their way. He was both amazed and repulsed to discover that the three small forms were actually in the configuration of 6-month-old babies. They appeared to be identical and their normally-cherubic features were contorted with demonic and manic glee. For a milisecond, Dan wondered about babies being able to walk and play and throw at such a young age. But nothing else he could hear or see or smell made any sense, either.
Suddenly Karen was hit full in the face with a slime-soaked quarter-section of a human brain. Dan turned, slammed the door, and ran for the stairs. Later he would estimate he had stood in the bedroom doorway no more than 20 seconds but it seemed like an eternity at the time. In his helter-skelter dash down the hall, he tripped on the top step and cartwheeled all the way down, slamming against the baseboard at the bottom. He didn't even notice a bleeding wound in his right forearm until he tried to open the locked gun safe.
The Smith and Wesson .22 automatic nestled benignly in its crimson-lined rosewood case. Dan removed the gun with his left hand and tucked it in his right armpit. With his left hand, he slammed the full clip in and thumbed off the safety.. The severe pain in his right forearm indicated sprain in addition to laceration but he didn't give it a second thought.
He moved back down the hall to the foot of the stairs through a haze of pain and horror. Above his head the hideous sound continued unabated and without hesitation, Dan began to climb the carpeted steps. Once again he approached the pristine surface of his bedroom door and turned the icy knob.
The cauldron of evil inside the once-serene bedroom was unchanged. At the sight of Dan, Karen resumed mouthing his name in shrieks which were largely lost in the satanic noise. When she realized Dan had the gun, her eyes got ever wider and she paused in her calling for a moment. Ronni was still locked in the immobility of total catatonia and Lacey still huddled against the mirror with her forehead pressing against the wall above the glass. Her face was buried in her hands. On the floor, the sludge of the damned still flowed endlessly and the three child-shaped creatures with the fires of hell glowing behind their eyes still gamboled in the unspeakable filth.
After checking to see that the women were as he had left them, Dan turned his attention to the creatures on the floor. He raised the gun and leveled it at the head of the middle one of the trio. At the moment, they were again dancing in front of the dresser on which the women stood. Suddenly they stopped their frenetic movements and stood with hands on diminutive hips, their heads thrown back in what appeared to be crescendos of ribald laughter.
Dan faced the dresser from his position in the doorway and he had a perfect shot at the back of a down-covered baby-shaped head. His finger tensed on the trigger and then he paused. It isn't easy to shoot the image of a 6-month-old baby, even when the target is most likely not a baby at all but some sort of demonic entity. The action of the creature on the left in scooping up a globule of congealed bilge and flinging it at Karen's face erased his hesitation, however. He fired directly into the back of the small head, square between the ears. The crack of the gun was lost in the continuous roar but Dan felt the revolver twitch and knew his aim at that distance was sure. A chip flew away from a carved molding on the dresser but the targeted head was unmarked. If he didn't know better, Dan would have been tempted to think the bullet had passed clean through the head without leaving a blemish. He fired again with further damage to the dresser but the head was still unmarked.
Up to this point, the ghoulish trio had acted as though Dan didn't exist during both his visits to the bedroom. After the second shot, however, they whirled as a unit and brimstone shot from their nonhuman eyes directly into Dan's brain. All vestiges of frolic were gone and their howls were now of rage and not glee. For an instant their gaze left Dan's face and they seemed to be searching in the satanic sea for some specific article of abomination. They stooped as a unit and suddenly each right hand was holding aloft a fleshless skull, chubby fingers inserted in the eye and nose holes like bowlers grasping their balls.
The arm of the creature on the left blurred and a skull hit Dan between the eyes, snapping his head back against the door jamb with a force which drew blood. His vision turned rosy but before the second tiny arm started its arc, he fired three more times, directly into the creature's face. The result was the same as before and this time the skull hit him full in the stomach, causing him to bend forward with the impact. In desperation he willed his vision to clear so he could fire accurately without endangering the women on the dresser. Before he could aim, the third skull caromed off the crown of his head and he pitched face downward into the turgid foulness. The last thing he remembered before dark silence was shrill, maniacal laughter rising above the sense-shredding sounds and smells of the pit.
When Karen saw Dan fall face-down in the filth, she almost lost her perch. Her knees buckled and the straight lines of the door frame across the room wavered in shimmers of vertigo. She realized the creatures would be impervious to gunfire after the first shot had tunked into the dresser without causing so much as a bob of the demon's head. However, long years of love and dependence had given Karen an innate faith in Dan's ability to always do what needed to be done at the peak of any crisis. Now he was face down, perhaps seriously injured, probably drowning in a substance which only hell could produce. At that moment Ronni fainted and slumped against Karen's arm. She came very close to falling off the dresser.
Karen grabbed frantically for the neck of her sweater and just managed to yank Ronni back to an inert and precarious position on the dresser's edge. Her fainting served a purpose, however, triggering Karen to remember some of the things Ronni had said Friday night about demons and Satan. Without a doubt what was happening in their bedroom was of the devil and his minions. Without hesitation she sprang out over the heads of the demonic trio and landed with a flounce on the foot of the bed. Quickly she scrambled to the head and reached out toward a bedside table.
With her leap, the trio had turned toward the bed and were splish-splashing in her direction, their treble sound of glee continuing to shred the fetid air. When they sensed the object of her grasp, however, they stopped short and then began backpedaling toward the far wall. When Kevin and Kellie were born, a local church--maybe the one Jason had pastored--had given them a large, white family Bible. Her perusal of its contents had never gone beyond the ornately embellished family record pages in the front where she had dutifully recorded the twins' birth and the rest of the significant family data.
The Bible was large and heavy. In its ornamental position on the table beside the bed, it was almost beyond her one-handed grasp. By putting her left hand down on the bed rail for support and by stretching and reaching as far as she could with her right arm, she was just able to touch the wide scarlet ribbon which protruded about six inches from the gilt-edged pages. Frantically she wrapped the surplus bookmark ribbon around the fingers of her right hand and braced for a jerk. She could take a little more time now because the creatures were cowering silently in the far corner of the room, watching her silently
Karen took a deep breath, held it for a second or two, and then jerked as hard as she could. Fortunately the Bible had been lying on a small lace doily and it snapped off the polished tabletop and landed neatly on the edge of the bed. The ribbon marker had been inserted between pages near the back of the book. Blindly she opened the Bible to that point and held it aloft in the direction of the now-docile threesome.
Immediately the air was punctured with howls of fear instead of glee. No longer cavorting and gamboling, the three were down in the slime, curled into fetal positions. Their faces were covered with baby fingers and they peeped furtively at the book Karen was thrusting toward them. Karen's hands were shaking so badly she had trouble holding up the heavy Bible. But she clenched her teeth and forced herself to keep the book opened to the ribbon marker and aimed in the direction of the shrinking trio in the corner. Her fingers and wrists started to grow numb but she kept the big, white Bible in position, hoping desperately that some power in it which was beyond her understanding would produce a miracle.
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