Restless We Wait
The darkness was complete. The building was quiet except for the sound of deeply sleeping people within. IT moved restlessly. ITS hunger was overwhelming and IT was ready to feed.
Lights flared and the sudden wailing made IT draw back. Frustrated once more ITS anger boiled over and IT flew to the sky. Rapidly IT flew until the downtown portion of Carson came in to view.
Down IT went and landed on the first hapless victim it could find. A homeless person, sleeping on a park bench died in the quiet dark of the night. Again it rose and passed through the town, finding another victim. Three more were attacked and their empty shells left behind for police to find and try to puzzle out.
On the news the following day coverage of the discovered cadavers made top story. People were huddled around television sets watching the macabre scenes flash across their sets. Fear slowly penetrated the small town and police were begging for the public not to panic and also asking for witnesses to step forward.
“Hey, guys, come listen to this!” Chet was watching the noon news on Roy’s television. The men had met up at the paramedics home after leaving the station for a much needed two days off.
“What?” Johnny asked as he strolled into the room. “What’s that thing?” He peered closely at the small screen.
“It’s what’s left of a homeless man. They found him lying under a tree in the park just down the road from the station.”
“Really?” Johnny asked, raising his brows in surprise. “I heard something about someone else being found at the beach.”
“Not just one, three more. This makes number five in two days.”
Roy walked in followed by Marco and Hank. “Are you talking about the deaths?”
“Yeah, they just found another body.” Chet reached out and grabbed a burrito and began to munch on it. “The news people are calling it a crime spree.”
“More like a serial killer,” Marco plopped onto the couch and reached over and grabbed a hamburger from the tray Roy placed on the small coffee table. “How’s the burrito?”
Chet wiped his eyes and choked slightly, “fine! What’s in these things?” he wiped the tears from his face and grabbed his beer.
“Jalapenos, onions, beef, beans and a little chili powder. Oh, and some hot salsa. That’s how mamma makes ‘em.”
Chet swallowed the beer and reached for another of the fiery concoction. “We didn’t have these when I was growing up!”
“You’re still growing up, a hopeless situation because you’ll never get full grown.” Johnny grinned at the scowl Chet gave him.
“Shh!” Mike said as the news returned after a commercial break. “Have any of you noticed the proximity of these killings to the station?”
IT swept through the town. Anger and frustration boiled it to a maddening rage. Victim after victim fell to ITS evilness.
Two men caught up in an argument never felt the presence of IT when IT engulfed both of them. The coldness entered their hearts and one man ended up dead from a gunshot, the other fell to the ground, dead from an unknown source.
A homeless woman was found dead on the corner at a bus stop. Two teenagers wrecked their car and failed to get out alive, again, due to an unknown cause.
IT rejoiced in the frenzy of feeding, uncaring of the death and destruction IT was leaving behind.
Meblba sat in her rocker beside the window overlooking the spacious lawn of the nursing home. She sighed in loneliness. A soothing breeze ruffled the curtains at the window and a slight chill entered the room. Melba drew her shawl closer around her old bent shoulders and continued to gaze out the window. She did not see the deeper darkness creeping closer to her.
The light flooded the little room and Melba turned to see who had disturbed her and the darkness. She frowned at he heavy set nurse who bustled around the room getting things ready for the night.
“Must you disturb my silence now?” Melba asked querulously.
“Now, Melba, it’s almost ten o’clock and you should have been in bed over an hour ago. You know the rules.”
“But my son promised to come see me, and he hasn’t made it yet.” Melba scowled again and turned away from the nurse. “Just go and turn off the damnable light. I like the dark; it’s cooler than the lights.”
The nurse sighed. Melba still would not accept the death of her only son. He had died three days before in the sudden killing spree. Quickly she turned back the sheets on the bed and plumped the pillows.
“Well, everything’s ready when you are, Dear. Good night. I’ll check on you in the morning.”
The nurse left with a bustle, flipping the switch to plunge the room back into darkness.
“Don’t stay up too long!” and she was gone.
The silence returned and Melba went back to staring out the window. The night had gotten darker and the air cooler. Melba shivered and started when a thin tendril of mist crept over the windowsill. She watched in fascination as the thin wisp grew into a larger blackness. She tried to call out, but the darkness became suffocating and a heaviness settled in her chest.
Her bones began to ache and her breathing grew shallow. The darkness intensified until she gave in and slumped over the arm of her chair. A soft cry escaped her lips and the room was suddenly flooded once more with light.
IT pulled away from the woman and turned on the one entering the room, but left in haste at the sight of the uniformed figure.
Father Dias heard Melba cry out and entered her room with out thinking. He felt the strange intense cold and saw the deep blackness in the room. It appeared to turn on him for a brief moment before disappearing from the light.
Quickly he crossed to the old woman’s side and felt for a pulse.
“Daisy, call nine-one-one! Melba’s had a heart attack, I think!”
The sound of hurrying feet filled the hallway and soon the tiny room was filled with people who transferred the fragile patient to her bed.
“SUAD 51...POSSIBLE HEART ATTACK AT DRYERS NURSING HOME....2445 WEST HARTFORD...........DRYERS NURSING HOME.............2445 WEST HARTFORD..........TIME OUT 0230...”
Captain Stanley grabbed the microphone beside his bed and confirmed the call. He handed Roy the slip as he passed by on the way out. Johnny grabbed the slip from his partner and climbed into the squad, still wiping sleep from his eyes.
“Man, a heart attack at a nursing home! Sure hope it’s not one of the patients!” Johnny muttered.
“It’s a nursing home, Partner. Our older members of the population live there.”
“You know what I meant!” Johnny grumbled as he pulled the strap tighter under his chin. “Turn left at this light.”
A few minutes later the Squad was turning in to the drive to the nursing home. They passed through a dense shadow and up the curve to the front door. Johnny shivered when they passed through the shadow and glanced at Roy to see he, too, was shivering.
“That WAS just a shadow and heavy mist, wasn’t it?” Johnny asked as they unloaded their equipment.
“Well, if it wasn’t, I’d hate to run through it again.”
Melba was lying on her bed wrapped in a heavy comforter. She was shivering and crying. When she saw the two paramedics she cried out in a high shrill voice, “It was evil! It was trying to take my spirit!”
Johnny eyed the old woman, but did not speak immediately. He pulled out the stethoscope and blood pressure cuff. He gave her a smile and patted her hand gently.
“It’s okay. We’ll take care of it.” He had no idea what she was talking about, but she needed to be calmed and he used his best gentle voice on her.
She shook her head and pushed at his hands, trying to get the blood pressure cuff off. She became more agitated as the seconds passed.
“It’s outside, now! Just under the window! It’s waiting to come back! Please, you’ve got to do something!”
“Okay, okay, now just lay quietly and I’ll check it out.” Johnny soothed Melba the best he was able then rose to his feet. He leaned out the window and searched the area he could easily see. Down the drive he could still see the intense darkness he and Roy had passed through, other than that the area was clear. He frowned. The darkness did appear different from the other shadows. He shrugged and turned back to the patient.
“Whatever was here is gone now. There’s only stars and lights and shadows.” He smiled at her.
Melba relaxed back against the pillows of the bed, “The lights must have chased it off. Oh, thank you!”
Suddenly a wail broke the quiet of the nursing home. One of the nurses left the room on a run. Another wail joined the first and soon the whole branch of the nursing home wing was filled with noise.
“Wonder what’s going on,” Roy said quietly as he replaced the receiver on the biophone.
“I dunno, but I bet it isn’t good.” Johnny smiled at Melba again then turned back to his partner, “You want to ride with her?”
“Sure. Maybe we should check to see if we’re still needed first?” Roy started to leave the room, but Melba stopped him with a giggle.
“Don’t worry about that racket. It’s just Old Mister Crankers down the hall. Anytime there’s the least bit of excitement he goes to screeching and wailing. Always wakes up the whole wing.”
The nurse entered the room as Melba finished the explanation. She smiled and nodded at the two men.
“Melba’s right. No emergency. Which hospital will you be taking her too?” the nurse looked at her chart, “We usually use St. Francis, but they’re swamped with emergencies form an automobile accident.”
“We’ll be taking her to Rampart Emergency, if that’s okay with Melba, here,” Roy smiled at the woman.
“Oh, yes. Are there other cuties like you there?”
Johnny and Roy chuckled at the old woman’s spunk.
“Melba, I’ll introduce you to the best and cutest doctor there tonight, how’s that?” Roy said with a smile.
Melba smiled her acceptance and waved at the nurses as she was wheeled out to the ambulance.
IT slowly drifted away. A sudden knowing came to IT, and as the lights flashed their colorful red and blue dance, IT knew how to get to the Master.
Dixie glanced up at the darkening sky and hastened to her car. The wind had died, but the clouds continued to roll and boil overhead. A long low rumbled rolled across the heavens quickly followed by a bright flash of light. Another storm had blown in from the coast and threatened to tear the umbrella from the head nurse’s hand.
IT remained hidden in the clouds and did not flinch from the sudden flash of light. The week of feeding had strengthened IT and now IT feared no one and nothing. The darkness of IT was intense enough to bring a leaden appearance to the clouds.
IT saw the One get into the mechanical device that many of her kind used to get from place to place. IT had a knowing about the destination of the One and was prepared to put the plan into action.
Dixie started the car and carefully backed from her place. She maneuvered around other parked vehicles and waited at the exit for traffic to clear. She gave the car some gas and joined the departing traffic from the hospital then turned left and headed to the hills just past the city limits. A friend was waiting for her at a small cafe¢ so they could finalize wedding plans for her friend’s sister.
IT followed the swiftly accelerating vehicle and thrummed with excitement. SOON! As the miles passed IT grew more and more excited. A blast of cold air caused IT too swing upwards into the clouds before descending once more to follow the prey.
The darkness fell quickly and Dixie turned on her headlights. She felt the car sway in a sudden gust of wind and slowed her speed momentarily. Just ahead was the exit she needed and with a flick of the wrist her blinker was on and the car was slowing. The road ahead was filled with switch back turns and sharp corners, as well as several bad drop off spots that she wanted to avoid.
IT felt the thrill of the hunt. The mechanical animal turned and headed across the sharp terrain. Quickly IT lowered to ground level and sped along side the creature within which road ITS prey.
Dixie glanced out the side window of her car and peered into the deepening darkness. She had never seen the night so intense. Another gust of wind returned her attention to the road ahead. The trees on each side waved their branches around as if trying to sweep the clouds from the sky. The swoosh of her wiper blades made a hypnotic sound so Dixie turned the radio on for background noise. The blare of music made her jump and she laughed nervously.
Dixie saw the first switch back ahead of her and cautiously slowed to the recommended speed. Two other sharp curves followed and Dixie slowed even more. After the third curve she knew there was a straight-a-way of three miles before the final curves leading to her destination. With the music playing and the windshield wipers popping rapidly, Dixie relaxed slightly.
IT saw the prey relax and knew the time had come. With the swiftness of a snake IT made a blurred shape of an unidentifiable animal. Ahead was a curve and just before the mechanical animal could slow, IT darted into the path of the lights.
Dixie jammed on the brakes and felt the car slide. She turned the wheel trying to keep the vehicle on the road, but screamed in terror when the car slipped over the edge and down into a steep gully.
The car bounced and jounced its way down and came to a sudden stop against a boulder. Dixie felt her head crack against the side window and the last thing she saw was a dark shape looming over the car and a cold chill filled the space.
Marco walked into the day room and saw Chet sitting on the sofa, the station’s mascot, Henry, was curled beside him.
“Hey, man, why the tense look?” Marco stood in front of his friend.
“What?” Chet said with a start. He dropped the book he was reading. “Man, you shouldn’t sneak up on people like that! You nearly gave me a heart attack!”
“What sneak? I walked in just like always. You’re sitting there stiff as a board looking like you’re gonna jump through the roof.”
“Oh,” Chet gave a weak smile and a chuckle. “Yeah? This book is enough to scare even the bravest heart. Especially in this kind of weather!”
“Let me see it.” Marco
snatched the book and read the title, “Spells and Incantations to Make You Rich
in Thirty Days. Come on, you don’t believe this stuff, do you? And what’s so
scary about it, any way?”
“Some of the stories in here,” Chet grabbed the book back, “have the results of the spells, and they aren’t pretty.” He flipped through the book and stopped at one of the chapters.
“Look, this is about some dude from Georgia. HE used the spell on this page and got gobs of money, but before he could spend much of it, he died a mysterious death. And in this one,’ he quickly flipped again, “A lady from Michigan used the same spell and she died of unknown causes just after she got her money!”
“So are you gonna try it, too? Maybe if you died I’d get a better partner and the Phantom would leave us alone.” Marco laughed at Chet’s incredulous expression.
“Marco, these are real people! You shouldn’t laugh! Besides, I’ve said several of these things and nothing’s happened to me, so they obviously don’t all work.”
“Yeah, right, they just bring spooks and goblins.” Marco turned away and unseen by Chet, crossed himself, after all, one could never be too careful around the paranormal.
The door to the truck bay was heard opening, then the rattle of its closing filled the silence for a moment. Roy and Johnny strode into the room.
“Look, Johnny, I told you, what you saw was just a trick of the lights. What you saw was a shadow, nothing more.”
“Oh yeah, where’d that sudden chill come from, a refrigerator? The fire was so hot that cold of air couldn’t possibly have been natural and that animal was no shadow! I tell you, I saw the eyes! They were red!”
Roy handed his partner a cup of steaming coffee, “Okay, maybe you saw a dog. Sometimes the refracted light looks red. That cold we felt was probably a down draft from the storm brewing.”
Johnny shook his head, “No way, man. There’s something out there and it’s stalking us or someone in this station.”
“You sound like Chet, now.” Marco joined the conversation. “I just scared his wits out of him by asking a question.”
“That shouldn’t prove too hard to do,” Johnny said with a grin. “After all, he’s already pretty witless.”
“Ha-Ha,” Chet said then hid once more behind the book he was still holding.
“What’s that you’re reading now?” Johnny asked as he walked across the room. “How to get a brain in one easy lesson?”
“For your information, Pal, I’m gonna be rich in a few days and then we’ll see who’s brainless!” Chet shot back.
“From reading a book? Let me see that thing!” Johnny grabbed it and looked at the title. His face lost all color and he stared at the short Irishman. He flipped through the book and stopped at a place where a page had been removed, leaving only the serrated edges attached to the binding.
“Where’s this one?” Johnny pointed to the page.
Chet pushed Henry aside and rose from the sofa. “What one?”
“Here, on page one-sixty-six. It’s been torn out.”
Chet shrugged, “Dunno, that’s probably why I got it for two dollars instead of five. Why?”
“It’s a counter-spell to
the one on page twenty-five, and it could be the reason we’re having trouble
again. Have you used any of these things?”
“W-w-ell, yeah, a couple of them. But, nothing’s happened.” Chet rubbed the back of his head. “I only read them, I didn’t do any of the motions or anything.”
Johnny stared at the chunky fireman and shook his head. “Man, you just never cease to amaze me. You do realize that these things are real? There’s real consequences for the use of these things and if you do them wrong, you’ll really be in big trouble.”
“You have to do it all though to get any kind of results! Just saying the words won’t make stuff happen. Heck, if that was true we’d all be in deep by now, cuzz I saw Cap reading it and muttering, and Mike, too.” Chet stood with arms crossed against his chest.
Johnny looked at the quiet Engineer who was cooking the dinner. Mike shrugged in silent answer to Johnny’s silent question.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this, Chet. You’re messing with something you have no idea how to handle. I’ve had my run-in with this stuff, never again.”
The lights in the building dimmed then brightened as a flash of lightening lit up the sky; low rumbles followed. The sound of rain drowned out any further conversation and the men turned their sights to the food now sitting on the table before them.
As the men dug into their food Henry sat up and gave a short “Woof!” In strolled the cat who jumped up and attacked the dog’s long floppy ears. She let out a rumbling purr and settled down to sleep.
The men laughed at her and the dog then concentrated on the food before them, hoping to eat before another run could be called.
“STATION 51.................CAR OVER CLIFF...............CRAGGY MOUNTAIN ROAD ABOUT 4 MILES FROM ENTRANCE RAMP.............CRAGGY MOUNTAIN ROAD ....TIME OUT 0245...........”
“Ten four, KMG 365,” Captain Stanley acknowledged as he scribbled the information on a note pad. He pulled his suspenders over his shoulders and slipped on his turnout coat. Roy passed by at a trot and Hank gave him the copy as he passed.
After pausing by the large area map to locate the accident, all the men climbed into their respective vehicles. The bay doors opened slowly and noisily and the trucks pulled out, their sirens shrieking into the pre-dawn morning, breaking the silence with their mournful call.
Consciousness slowly returned and Dixie tried to figure out who was moaning in the bed beside her when memory brought back the accident. She tried to sit up straighter to relieve some of the pressure on her legs but was quickly thwarted by the big cat laying across her, successfully pinning her to the seat. What she had thought was the rumble of a small motor turned out to be a low rumbling purr from the animal sharing her car seat.
Surprise and shock held her still. Then the cat turned and blinked it’s luminous eyes at her and a rough pink tongue raked across her chin and cheeks.
“Uck! That hurt, you big oaf! Get off me!” Dixie tried to move the animal, but was defeated by the passive resistance from the cat. Its purr grew louder and the animal pressed Dixie more firmly against the seat.
With a swiftness Dixie was not expecting, the cat’s purr changed to a low warning growl. Cold seeped into the wrecked vehicle, followed by a deep tense darkness. The cat wrapped itself firmly around Dixie and growled even louder.
Dixie sat still, unable to move more than an inch one way or the other. The large cat, a cougar, she realized, was between her and whatever had caused her to loose control of the vehicle. Its presence was reassuring, if not plain warm, so Dixie relaxed and did the only thing she could do; wait.
The coldness grew more intense. Dixie was able to glance through the cracked side window and the total blackness gave her pause. She strained to look toward the sky, but all she could see was black.
A feeling of dread and fear worked its way up her spine. The fear was unreasonable, she told herself. No one would hurt her with a hundred pound cougar sitting on her. Then again, they could not help, either!
Judging time was impossible in the darkness. She had forgotten to put her watch back on after assisting in an emergency surgery. The longer she sat in the car, the colder she grew, but the cougar refused to let her up, or out.
Something moved outside the car. There was no definite shape, only a deep shadow of the darkness. A misty tendril trailed across the broken glass leaving a line of moisture behind. It also left a shiver running up and down Dixie’s spine once more. Something short of a hissing whisper filtered through the closed window. It almost sounded like a voice, but too soft to be certain.
IT stopped short of the car. Inside was ITS prey, but a feline of huge proportions had appeared and now lay protectively across the intended victim. IT writhed in anger. IT sent the coldness filled with fear into the mechanical creature to try and flush the ONE, but the cat refused to budge and ITS prey was safe.
IT brushed against the car, having drawn the information from this One’s mind. IT trailed across the cracked glass and left ITS mark so the cat would know it could not win. Darkness was on ITS side now and no lights penetrated the area.
IT felt the warning growl, but a sense of sheer pleasure coursed through IT and a knowing of triumph was at hand kept IT from leaving in anger. IT watched the cat, waiting patiently.
Something moved overhead. Lights! IT hissed and started to draw back, but the lights went on by after a short time. IT moved in once more, triumph written in the darkness.
Dixie drifted in and out of consciousness. She had no idea how much time had passed. At one point she thought she had seen lights, but then darkness fell again and she dropped back into the world of unknowing.
The cougar watched her. Its luminous eyes glowed in the darkness. Twice it purred deeply and brought the woman back. Help was on the way now. IT could not, would not win. This night would be ITS undoing.
In the distance the mournful wail of double sirens was heard and the cougar perked its ears in the direction from which the sound came. Another deep purr emanated from its throat and Dixie felt the vibrations change from a croon to a deeper, more anxious call. She stirred once and thought she heard a siren, then fell back into the darkness of unconsciousness.
“There, I see a hole in the brush!” Johnny pointed the area out to his partner. “Slow down now, this curve is a bad one.” Johnny grabbed the mic and radioed to the engine following them, “Cap, I think we found it. There’s some bushes down and possible skid marks.”
“Ten-four, Squad 51,” Captain Stanley answered and motioned to Mike to slow and be ready to pull over.
Mike nodded his acknowledgement and shifted the big rig down.
“Marco, you and Chet check for any signs of fire. I’ll radio in for a brush team and more lights!” Hank swung around and opened his door before the engine came to a full halt behind the squad. “See anything?”
“No,” Roy said flatly, “It’s too dark down there to see anything. Johnny, pull the squad around so the lights are shining out over the ravine.”
Johnny waved and climbed into the squad. Moments later the high beams cut a swatch through the darkness and the glint of light off of something metal caught their eyes.
“Over there!” Roy pointed.
“Okay, get what gear you think you’ll need and get ready to go down. I’ve got back up on the way and we’ll have more light.” Captain Stanley turned to the others, “Marco, Chet, any signs of fire visible?”
“I see what might be smoke down there, but it could just be mist.” Marco stood looking into the steep drop off to the ravine. “Cap! I think something’s down there that isn’t human! It looks like a cougar!”
“What?” Captain Stanley joined Marco where he was standing, “Where? All I see is gray mist.”
“Watch, you’ll see a shadow move. It looks like a cat.”
Hank stared at the darkness then sucked in a breath, “I believe you’re right, Marco!” The Captain turned and called to the paramedics, “Roy, you and Johnny better wait until the lights get here.”
Roy jogged to his captain, “Why? What did you see down there?”
“Looks like a big cat from the hills has joined the sight. I’m calling in animal control, they may have to shoot it.”
Johnny peered into the darkness from where he was standing beside the squad. He, too, saw the shape of a large feline and sucked in a breath in surprise. He knew that the cougars rarely came this far from the hills.
Something dark and gray moved in the blackness edging the lights of the ravine. Johnny strained his eyes trying to catch a glimpse of whatever it was. An uneasy feeling crept over him and lodged in his gut. For reasons unknown he glanced into the night sky and noted the clouds that hid an almost full moon. The crunch of dry grass and a hand on his shoulder made him jump.
“Dang! Don’t be sneaking up on a guy! Give some warning, why don’t ya!” His heart finally settled back in to his chest and slowed its rapid pace.
“Sorry, Junior. I thought you heard me coming. What are you looking at so hard?”
Johnny shook his head, “I don’t know, but there’s something down there that’s not human, or animal. Can’t you feel it?”
Roy did not want to admit to the feeling he had, but listening to his partner made him feel better for his fear, and more willing to admit to it.
“I feel it, too. Something nasty’s down there. I can almost feel the freezing cold that’s emanating from whatever it is.” Roy looked at his partner’s face and saw the expression written there. “What? You think it has something to do with that book Chet’s been reading?”
“I dunno, but I’ve been thinking a lot about it, and the spell that’s got the missing counter spell is the one Chet read out loud to himself at the station.”
“But he said he didn’t do the ritual all the way...” Roy started to say but stopped as Johnny shook his head.
“Doesn’t matter with that stuff. What may have started out as harmless can turn sour if it isn’t completed, or is done only half way. I don’t usually hold to that voodoo type stuff, or witch craft, or whatever, but too many things have happened that can’t be coincidental.”
“You’re talking about the destruction at the station?”
“That and all the random killings since Chet got that book. They’re related, they have to be.”
Roy had no answer. His partner was actually making sense, and that scared him worse than the THING waiting in the dark down below.
“Make sure those lights cover as much as the ravine as possible!” Captain Ashton of 210 called to his men. They had arrived on the scene five minutes earlier and had immediately begun to set up the halogen lights needed for the rescue.
Down in the ravine IT seethed and boiled. The lights hurt! The cougar just sat and waited, unwilling to leave its charge until the others had arrived to take control. IT recoiled into the darkness as one light after another sent its hurtful rays down.
IT would wait. Time was on ITS side, or so IT felt. The cougar knew differently, since it could tell the coming of morning was near.
Finally the cougar rose and passed from the car and between IT and ITS prey. The cougar sat still and alert to any movement by IT. A low growl and the twitch of the tail was all that showed there was life in the big cat.
Johnny and Roy tied themselves to the safety lines then slowly worked their way to the wrecked vehicle. The cougar was now sitting outside the car with its back to them. A low growl floated on the cold morning air and both men moved cautiously.
“Let’s hope that big guy doesn’t decide we’re his next meal,’ Roy said quietly as they approached the vehicle.
“I don’t think it’s paying any attention to us right this minute,” Johnny answered just as quietly.
Roy stopped beside the car and peered in the broken window.
Johnny heard him suck in a breath and asked, “Roy? You okay?”
“What?” Johnny moved a little faster to get beside the car and he, too, peered in through the window.
The head nurse at Rampart was half sitting/half lying in the seat. The only thing holding her in place was a seatbelt. A large welt was on her forehead and a trickle of blood ran from her mouth. Her eyes were closed, but both men could see her chest rise and fall as she breathed.
“Well, she’s alive.” Johnny turned and placed the drug box on the ground. “We gonna need the K-12?”
“The door doesn’t look too damaged, maybe we can get it open.” Roy placed the bio-phone on the ground and pulled his gloves from his hip pocket. Suddenly he paused and looked around. A shiver ran up his spine and lodged a cold dread in his chest. The temperature had dropped in the few seconds they had been by the car and a new feeling was slowly creeping into the pair.
“You feel that?” Johnny asked.
“Yeah, and I don’t like it.” Roy looked around again and stopped on the black spot just out of the light’s beam. “Look over there, by the cougar.” He pointed carefully.
“I see it. I think that big cat is keeping it at bay.”
“That or the lights,” Roy agreed. “Come on, let’s get this door open and get out of here.”
“You don’t hear me arguing.” Johnny had drawn on his gloves and was holding a pry bar at the ready.
“On the count of three, then,” Roy said and at Johnny’s nod, braced himself to pull.
Several things happened at once. The door screeched open, the darkness drew closer and the cougar pounced.
Johnny and Roy practically dived into the car and scrambled across the unconscious woman in their haste. Roy pulled the door as closed as possible behind him then turned to see his partner moping at his brow where a jagged piece of glass had cut him.
“You okay there?” Roy asked.
“Yeah, it’s not as bad as it looks. Man, what is that THING?”
“I don’t know, but I sure didn’t want to stay around and find out!”
The cougar was pacing back and forth in front of the car. Its tail switched rapidly and angrily. Low rumbles and hisses came from the pacing animal as the darkness swirled and boiled.
“Now what?” Johnny asked.
“We do what we can from here.” Roy pulled the HT from his pocket. “Squad 51 to Engine 51.”
“What’s going on down there?” Captain Stanley’s voice came across the HT loud and clear.
“Seems the cougar decided to pounce on something down here. We’re in the car with the victim. It’s Dixie McCall from Rampart. We’re going to need a back board, stokes and a C-collar. We’ll have to treat her top side.”
“Okay, hang tight. Marco and Chet are on their way down.”
Johnny looked out the window and heaved a sigh of relief. “The cat’s gone, want to try and get her out?”
“Let’s wait for back up.”
What felt like hours, but was only minutes, later, Chet and Marco were at the car. Marco tapped on the window and then helped reopen the door.
“Did you see what that cat was doing?” Chet asked, awed by the animal’s size. “I don’t want to be on the receiving end of his paws.” A grunt was the only reply anyone gave.
“Okay, on the count of three,” Roy gave the signal and the four men lifted the stokes with the injured nurse inside. They began the trek up the hill when the cougar stepped in front of them and sat down. The men froze in place, unsure as to what to do.
“Johnny, talk to it!” Chet whispered.
“What?” Johnny said, incredulously. “Who do you think I am, Dr. Doolittle? I can‘t talk to that cat!”
A reply by the stocky Irishman was cut short when Marco held out his hand to the cougar. He wiggled his fingers and chirruped at the animal.
“What are you doing?” Chet hissed at his partner.
“Talking to it,” Marco answered. He chirruped again and made a meowing sound. The cat perked its ears at the fireman and purr-uped back at him.
The cougar rose and walked to Marco. It rubbed its large head against his extended hand then stepped around all four of the men and their patient. The cat sat down between the men and the darkness behind them. It gave a warning growl and Marco stepped away, forcing the others to follow him.
“You’re Dr. Doolittle now?” Chet said, shaking his head.
“That’s no ordinary cougar, Chet. Did you see the stripes along the coat? And it’s a ‘she’, not a ‘he’.”
“And you know this because?” Johnny puffed.
Marco shrugged, “I just do.”
A noise behind them made their blood run cold. The freezing cold had returned and was creeping up faster than the men could move. They felt their limbs becoming heavy and lethargy entered their bodies.
“Keep moving!” Johnny said. “We’re almost at the top!”
All looked up and into a darkness that had not been there before. It pitched and boiled. Tendrils of darkness kept flaring from the deep center, sending a chill up each man’s spine and into his heart.
Marco and Chet swallowed convulsively. “What is that thing?” Marco whispered.
“Where’s the guys on top?” Roy asked into the stillness. “I can’t see them.”
It was then that the others noticed the absence of light.
“What is it?” Marco whispered again, looking at the other men. “Why’s it just...floating there?”
“Maybe it’s waiting for something, a sign, maybe?” Chet whispered back.
The darkness did not move from ITS position before the men. It waited, quietly, coldly. “Why didn’t the Master not call to IT? It had come in answer to the call.” IT swirled in confusion. Something was not right. This one before IT was the Master, but not the Master.
The darkness swirled more rapidly. Tendrils drifted from IT and towards the waiting men. IT touched the one called Master, then drew back. This one had called, but so had another. The darkness swelled and shrank, not moving, yet not still.
Suddenly light pierced IT and with a sharp anguished cry IT fell away from the Master. Before IT was the cat. Growls and hisses drove IT back, back into the bushes and surrounding darkness.
IT hissed and wailed its anger and confusion. With a rush IT darted toward the men and then around them to vanish into the heavy shrubbery. The cat followed, not looking back.
All four men let out the breaths they had held. No one spoke, but they continued up the hill. The cold remained, but warmth was slowly returning.
Captain Hank Stanley joined the men at the waiting ambulance. He waited until Dixie was loaded and the vehicle rolled before corning the remain men.
“What happened down there? We saw something that looked like a shadow, but denser come between you and us.”
“We don’t rightly know, Cap,” Johnny said giving Chet a long sideways look. “Whatever it is, is gone. That cougar chased it away.”
“That was no cougar!” Marco said. “Didn’t you see the stripes along its back and sides?”
Chet nodded his head in agreement, “Yeah, and it had a collar on that looked like the one Marco put on that cat at the station!”
“We’ll discuss it back at the station. Johnny, get on to Rampart. You and Roy don’t hang around any longer than it takes to be sure Dixie will be okay.”
Johnny nodded and turned to climb into the squad. He motioned to Chet to draw nearer to the vehicle.
“You have that book handy when we get back. I’ll see if I can get Patsy to come to the station. She’s into this type of stuff. Are you sure you don’t know where that missing counter spell is?”
Chet sighed and reached into the pocket of his turnout coat and withdrew a small piece of yellow paper. “I found it this morning while cleaning the latrine. It must have gotten torn out when the book fell out of my pocket.
“Do you really think this has something to do with what we just saw?”
“I don’t know, but I have a strong suspicion it does. See you back at the station.” Johnny cranked the squad and pulled away, leaving his friends and co-workers behind.
Unseen by him was the rising darkness that was slowly creeping up on the unsuspecting men.
Captain Stanley turned from the retreating squad to the Captain of Station 210.
“Good job, Roger. Thanks for the help.”
Captain Ashton smiled and reached out to shake the hand of his good friend and co-worker. His expression slowly changed from the smile to one of surprise and fear. He stared behind 51’s Captain, mouth slightly open. Hank looked at his friend the turned to see what he was staring at.
“Turn that light this way, now!” Hank cried to the men who were taking the lights apart.
The men, well trained to act immediately to any order, quickly turned the light toward Engine 51. Caught in its glow was a large black cat, tail switching and eyes glaring at the men. It had crept close to Mike Stoker, who had not noticed the creature, and crouched, waiting.
Mike saw the creature and froze in place. He saw the darkness that was swirling and boiling. It had the vague shape of a cat, but he could hear the low pitched hiss and growls that sounded like voices just barely being whispered. He felt his skin crawl and the hair on the back of his neck raise. A low, almost voice, called to him. Mike stepped back once, twice, then turned and fled to the lighted area where his crewmates were standing.
The blackness followed him to the edge of the light where it stopped and howled in a sonic tone. LIGHTS! The master was in the lights! IT swirled in agony, but kept trying to get to the one IT perceived as the Master.
“Any of the other lights still set up and warm?” Hank asked the assembled men. Seconds later a second light shed its brightness toward the darkness waiting by the engine.
IT had to get to the Master! IT was running out of time! One more night, and if IT did not succeed in getting to the Master IT would return back to the darkness from where IT had come. IT sent tendrils of dark mist toward the master, but each time withdrew due to the pain of the lights.
“Hank, what is that thing?” Captain Ashton asked.
“I don’t know, Roger, but it’s been dogging us for several weeks now.” Hank glanced at Chet who was slightly apart from the others. His eyes were slightly glazed and Hank was worried about the Irishman.
Chet stood transfixed. He could hear the darkness calling to him. Only the lights and his best friend kept him from approaching the thing in the shadows.
“Master!” Chet heard the cry and wondered that none of the others could hear it as well. “Maaaster, I have come!”
Chet shook his head. The THING was talking to him? He reached up and tugged on his ears, trying to clear them of the rushing sound that filled them. A quick glance at the others confirmed that at least one other person was hearing the call, too.
“Marco, can you hear it?” Chet whispered.
“Hear what?” Marco asked, turning to his friend. He saw the glazed expression on Chet’s face and reached out to shake his friend’s arm. “Chet, man! Snap out of it!”
“I can hear it! It’s calling to me! Oh, man, did I do this?” Chet had begun to shake and beads of sweat covered his forehead and neck. “What did I do?”
“Maaaaaster!” the voice called. The darkness swayed and swelled, feeling triumph within its reach. If IT could not go to the master, then the master would come to IT.
Hank rubbed his head behind his ears. Pressure was building up and causing grave discomfort. His ears felt full and a rushing sound was drowning out all other sound. Small specks of light danced before him. Sweat beaded his brow and a coldness caused him to shiver.
“Maaaaaster!” he heard the call. With a will stronger than he thought possible he broke eye contact with the darkness. Glancing around he saw the others standing and staring as if in a trance.
“Everyone, get in the engines! Keep those lights on! We can return for them later! Move it, now!” He darted for the passenger side of Engine 51. His voice jarred everyone from the trance and all climbed in to their respective vehicle.
“Move it, Mike! Keep the brights on and don’t stop until we get back to the city and street lights.”
“Gotya, Cap!” Mike said and gunned the engine. Big red did not disappoint him as the rig fairly jumped forward and raced down the dirt road, slipping and sliding in the mud.
As both rigs disappeared from sight a large cougar climbed onto a boulder and sat to watch the people go. Down below the darkness boiled and raged as ITS master left IT behind. The cougar roared at IT and smirked in a feline way. The cougar then did a very un-cougar-ish thing. With one paw the big cat reached up and touched the collar around its neck then taking one claw, rung the bell that was attached.
IT heard the bell and saw the cougar. One final time was all IT had left to get to the master. Two days before the master would return to the place of calling.
The cougar stretched and yawned. She turned away from the darkness, which had begun to move toward a cave due to the sunrise. A small scrubby pine stood in her path. With a feeling of satisfaction she reached out and clawed the tree’s trunk. Once the bark was in shreds, she headed up the hill until her tawny coat blended in to the terrain, then she vanished into the hill and headed back to the station to meet her charges. A good night’s work had been done.
Hank paced the floor of his office, upset and a little disturbed by what had happened on the rescue. He had done some quick explaining to the Captain of Station 210 once they had returned to the city and what he hoped was enough light to keep them safe. Now he paced while waiting for the two paramedics to return.
The bay doors rattled their noisy song announcing the return of the squad. Hank stepped out of his office and waited until Roy and Johnny had finished writing in the log before motioning them to join him in the office. With a quiet snick, the door closed behind Johnny and Roy.
“Can you explain to me what just happened out there?” Hank asked with no preamble, looking at Johnny.
“I don’t know, Cap.” Roy said, perplexed himself. He turned to face his partner. “Johnny, you want to tell Cap your theory?”
“Before you do, let me tell you what happened after you left.” Hank said, going to sit in his chair behind the desk. He motioned for Johnny and Roy to be seated. Then proceeded to fill them in on the what they had missed.
Johnny whistled long and low. He ran his hand through his dark hair then sat forward in the chair. “Cap, I’ve been thinking on this for the better part of a week, now. And what I’ve determined is this. Chet started reading that book of his three weeks ago. Less than two days after he started reading it, strange things started happening.
“Now,” he held up his hand forestalling his captain’s words, “The only time anything really happens is when you and Chet and Mike are together, and it’s dark. Not just slightly dark, but way dark, like tonight. You three are the only ones to have actually read the book. Chet, I know, actually said part of one of the spells in the book, and he said you read one, too.
“Do you remember which one you read and did you read it out loud?”
Hank thought for a moment then slowly nodded his head. “I didn’t think anything of it. I wasn’t reading it to make anything happen, just trying to grasp the idea of some of the ingredients it called for. But it also called for motions and other things besides just reading the spell. I didn’t do any of those, in fact, I didn’t even finish reading the whole spell!”
“Do you remember which spell it was?” Johnny asked, intent on the answer.
“Um, yeah, something about riches and wealth for the asking. But those never interested me. I just thought it was a strange thing to put in a book. Do you mean to tell me that Chet and I may have brought this...this THING among us?”
Johnny nodded, “Yeah, Cap, I do. That’s why I asked Patsy at the hospital if she would come by on our next shift. I want to show her the book and see if she knows what we can do to get rid of it.”
“Don’t you know? You said you’ve run into this type thing before.” Hank watched the lanky paramedic as he dropped his eyes, then ran his hands down his face as if to wipe away all traces of the memory.
“I’ve come in contact with something similar, but my grandfather was the one to banish it. I left the lodge, so I have no idea how he got rid of it.”
“How can this Patsy help?”
“Patsy is of Cherokee bloodlines. She is a ‘pure blood’ of her people and her grandmother was a shaman. Patsy trained with her for five years before going to nursing school. I asked her if she had ever come across something of this nature and she said yes. That’s why I asked her to come by.”
“Why is it you know all these women with such colorful pasts and lives?” Hank asked, bemused by his junior paramedic.
“Luck of the draw, Cap.” Johnny grinned. “But at least they can help us when Chet pulls this kind of stunt.”
“Not just Chet this time.” Hank sighed, tired beyond measure. “Do you think we’ll be safe apart? I sure don’t want to put my family in danger, Maggy’d kill me.”
Johnny nodded, “It seems this ‘thing’ only comes round when we’re here at the station, so I think we’re all safe at our homes.”
“Okay, good. Let’s call it a shift and hope for the best. Oh, and don’t forget, Halloween is two days from now. We’ll be handing out candy and coloring books again this year, so be ready.”
Both men rose and bid their commander good bye. They would cross the next bridge in the saga of the THING when they returned to work in two days.
Chet slunk into the building with a hang dog expression on his otherwise handsome face. His mustache drooped in agreement with his feelings. He peeked onto the locker room before entering and quickly changed into his uniform. A few minutes later he strode back to the day room with a completely different expression and attitude.
“Morning, morning, morning!” He cried cheerfully to the assembled group.
“When did you get here?” Marco asked. surprise written on his face.
“Been here a while, Buddy, just hanging around out back. Got that coffee ready yet?” Chet sniffed the air.
“You had to of just snuck in. I was out back until a minute ago shooting some hoops.” Marco’s look of displeasure made the stocky Irishman droop.
“Awe, man, I came in the front door. I didn’t want anyone jumping me about the book until I had my first cup of coffee.”
Mike looked up from the paper and raised an eyebrow. “If you hadn’t brought the book here in the first place we wouldn’t be in the mess you put us in.”
“Hey, you read it, too! And so did Cap, so don’t go blaming me!” Chet growled back at the usually quiet engineer.
“I didn’t read aloud or say any of the incantation, Chet, you did.” Mike snapped the paper straight and disappeared behind it once more. About that time Captain Stanley walked into the room.
“Well, I’m just as guilty. I also read bits of it aloud, so let’s not start the blame game, okay?” Hank glared around the room.
Roy walked through the back door in time to hear the last part of Captain Stanley’s speech. His eyes widened at the tension in the room. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, he headed for the locker rooms to change.
Johnny entered a few minutes later. In his hands was a sheaf of papers he silently gave to Hank and Chet.
“What’s this?” Chet asked before his superior could speak.
“Both of you need to read it and follow the instructions. Patsy’s grandmother and her will be here tonight after all the trick-or-treaters leave. She said both of you need to do everything on the lists to prepare for cleansing.”
“What kind of cleansing?” Hank asked; skepticism tinged his voice.
Johnny shook his head, “I’m not sure, but it’s nothing like Chet is imagining. No hocus pocus stuff and no sitting naked in a teepee.”
“Whew, that’s a relief,” Chet said on a breath.
Hank took his copies and headed to his office. He called over his shoulder, “Roll call in five, men!”
The day was busy for the men of Station 51. The squad rolled out twice about the time the engine returned. A structure fire had the whole station out for over an hour and the men returned tired, dirty and hungry.
“I call first dibs on the shower!” Johnny said and dashed to the locker room for a fresh change of clothing. A loud ‘sproing’ was followed by a cry of disgust, then laughter. Johnny poked his head out the locker room door and called, “Tell the Phantom I said thanks for the shower!”
Chet sighed and shook his head. Another prank bites the dust, he thought.
By five o’clock that afternoon the station was ready for the yearly visits from very human ghosts and goblins, along with the occasional fire fighter or policeman. At six o’clock the station was called out for a motor vehicle accident. One woman was transported to the hospital and one was a fatality. The men were quiet and in a somber mood by the time they returned to the station.
A gray car was parked in the visitor’s spot when they returned and two women watched as the trucks were backed into the bay. They waited until they were certain the men had vacated the vehicles and then headed for the door on the side of the building.
One of the women was a young, chubby girl with short brown hair and glasses. The other was an older version of the young one, only stooped and moving with more hesitant steps. The younger walked beside the older, offering her an arm to lean on.
Mike saw them first and headed out to them to offer any assistance he could, but the older woman waved him away saying in a surprisingly strong voice, “No, my granddaughter will help me.” She peered at him with eyes that sparkled with mischief and mirth.
“Grandmother, he only wants to help,” she said quietly.
“He is rather cute, isn’t he?” she asked and winked at Stoker, whose ears turned bright red.
“No offense meant!” the old woman said with a chuckle.
“None taken, ma’am.” Mike replied.
“Patsy. let this nice young man help me in and you get our supplies.”
“Yes, Grandmother. Do you want all of it, or just the small bag this time?”
“Better bring all of it, child. If what you have told me is true, we’ll need all the help we can get.”
The younger woman nodded and left her grandmother in Mike Stoker’s capable hands.
“Now then, young man, what are you called?” Mike’s reply was lost as they entered the door to the fire house.
A second later Johnny trotted out to help bring in the supplies and grinned at the young woman.
“Glad you could make it, Patsy. Your grandmother has all the guys in her spell,” Johnny laughed delightedly. “Even Cap is jumping through hoops for her.”
“Oh, dear. I hope he doesn’t take offense. Grandmother automatically expects respect for her age and instant response when she gives an order.” Patsy said to the grinning paramedic.
Johnny looked at all the things Patsy had taken from the car and whistled slowly. A medium sized box held jars of powder and an assortment of liquid. Another box was sealed tightly with duct tape and a third held some brightly colored material he assumed was a costume they wore during special ceremonies.
“You think you’ll need all this?” he asked in surprise and awe.
Patsy shrugged and said, “Grandmother thinks you are dealing with a really nasty demon. The only reason it hasn’t done anything really bad is because it is still in its shadow stage and not the corporeal stage yet.”
“Great. I was afraid of that. Can we get rid of it before the kids start coming for trick-or-treat?”
“I doubt it.” Patsy shook her head and grabbed one of the boxes. “Will you bring those two? Be careful, one had Grandmother’s ceremonial robe in it and she’s very protective of it.”
“Not a problem. I really appreciate you two coming.”
“Just as long as you introduce me to Chet afterwards!” Patsy said on a laugh. “He really likes those hokey horror movies?”
“Yeah, right up your ally.” Johnny rolled his eyes.
“Cool.” Patsy walked ahead of Johnny and the conversation was brought to an end.
As the sun began its slide to the horizon the first of the Trick - or - Treater’s arrived. The station closed once for a call to a house fire that turned out to be nothing more than a flickering electric candle in a window.
“Man, that was dumb!” Chet said as he slipped from the engine.
“Better safe than sorry, Chet!” Mike Stoker told him as he disappeared in to the locker room.
“Yeah, yeah,” Chet muttered as he headed for the day room and their guests who had gone outside until the men had returned.
“Come on back in, Ladies!” Chet called to the two women waiting out by the back brick wall of the station. “What were you looking at?”
“The stars,” Grandmother told him.
“You could see stars?” Chet craned his neck trying to see around the tree and the light post.
With a chuckle Patsy and the Grandmother walked by Chet and into the building.
“Come, child, let’s get things ready.”
The men of Station 51 continued with their duties for the rest of the evening. Roy and Johnny took turns handing out candy while Mike, Marco and Chet gave tours to the interested children and parents. Captain Stanley would poke his head out the door of his office now and then to greet the children and parents he knew.
By nine thirty the doors were lowered and the outside light, except the safety light, was turned off for the night.
Several times during the evening Chet and Marco would pause in their tours to watch the two silent women going about their business and then answer the children’s questions regarding why they were at the station. Simple replies and turning the attention elsewhere kept anyone from becoming uncomfortable with the questions.
Captain Stanley left his office and walked into the day room to see both women changed in appearance. He stopped and gaped for a minute then quickly recovered to ask, “Well, what do you want us to do now?”
“Go to sleep.” Grandmother told him simply.
“What? That’s it?” Hank stared in shock. “Don’t we need to do something?”
“Like what?” answered Grandmother. “You read the instructions I sent?”
“Well, yes, Ma’am, we did, but I thought there would be more to it.”
Grandmother smiled serenely and shook her head. “While you sleep, we, she motioned to Patsy and herself, will keep watch. IT will not try anything until much deeper into the night.”
“IT probably won’t appear until the witching hour,” Patsy explained as if to a small child.
“But, that’s just a couple of hours from now.” Hank was worried about what would happen. Would the station be damaged? Would he or his men get hurt? How would he explain what happened to McConnike in the morning?
Grandmother was shaking her head as she watched the emotions cross the Captain’s face. She smiled and gently took him by the arm as if to lead him away.
“Child, the Witching Hour is not midnight as many believe. It is three in the morning that you will find the action, if it is to take place. Now, go, rest, and keep your mind at ease as I have instructed.”
Hank glanced around once more before nodding his acceptance. “You heard her, gentlemen. To bed we go.”
“But I wanted to watch “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes”! Chet whined.
“Not tonight, pal. Let’s go. I want SOME rest before we have to face that THING!”
Hank herded the men from the room and nearly tripped over the cat as she dashed in. With what sounded like a pleased “Merrow!” she jumped into the arms of the old woman.
“Hello, Pewaukee.” they heard her say as they left the room.
IT waited for darkness to come. Tonight was the last chance to meld with the Master. IT waited outside the building. IT felt the cat enter the building and something else, too. IT swirled in confusion at the new feeling. A ripple of electricity crossed the darkness, making it flow and dance. Misty tendrils floated away from IT and returned. Something was not right. There was a different feeling in the building, but IT was not blocked from entering. Rather, IT felt called.
The building began to quiet down and become still. IT felt a great hunger overcoming ITS other baser reactions. Cautiously IT sent more tendrils to investigate the newness within.
The CALL! IT felt the strong pull and surged toward the building. Rolling darkness covered the parking lot, then the tree and blocked the stars from overhead. IT passed through the door and into the building. At long last IT and the master would be united!
IT passed the room where the Master had been and continued across the floor of the truck bay. A sudden wariness caused IT to slow, then pause in ITS wild flight. Something was waiting for IT. The something was not the Master.
Slowly IT sent a tendril into the sleeping room. Nothing stopped the tendril. IT rolled forward and into the sleeping room. Darkness greeted IT and with a new found strength, IT found the Master sleeping quietly. The temperature of the room dropped. The Master sat up and looked around..
With a shiver he lay back and pulled the covers up around his ears, then suddenly threw them back as the sound of a hiss filled his ears. “Maaaassster!” The whispers filled his head and blotches of darkness filled his eyes. Bright colors flashed and danced behind his closed eyelids. Pain lanced through his head as the whispers grew more insistent.
“Maaasssster! We have waited so long!”
The Master rubbed his head then tugged on his ears. “What?” he asked the darkness.
“We wait, Maaassster! Complete the calling so we may live!”
Light, bright, white and burning filled the darkness. IT shrieked in jubilation.
“You have lost! We have the Master!”
“Wrong!” came a voice strong and full of authority. “You have come too early and now you will pay the price!”
“Noooo!” IT wailed in anger. “He will complete the calling! You have lost!” A laugh full of madness filled the room. The darkness grew and tendrils of ink black mist flew from IT as the men slowly began to waken from the deep sleep the cold had caused.
“Yesss, waken! You will meet the Master! You will feed us! We live!”
“You have lost, Spawn of Darkness.” The voice was calm. Collected. From another place came the sound of chanting with the occasional smell of spices and herbs. Tiny bells rang clear and loud in the darkness.
IT twisted away from the sound and surrounded the Master. IT would not give up now. Victory was in ITS grasp!
“What the...? Someone turn on the light!” Roy was standing as far from the darkness as he could get.
Johnny sat in the middle of his bed, lost in silence. His eyes were closed in concentration and his body swayed to a silent rhythm. Roy saw his partner’s lips moving and understood that he was helping the two women out in the truck bay.
“Leave the light!” the Master said with a voice full of thunder. “There will be no more light!”
The chanting grew in volume and nearness. The bells changed from tiny and sweet to loud and commanding. The old woman entered the room, followed closely by her granddaughter who was ringing the bells hanging from a brightly colored stick. Two white feathers and three brown hung from the knot holding the bells in place.
Both women had changed into the clothes they had brought and painted their faces with garish colors. Closely following them was the cat, changed now and looking fierce in its new form.
Roy jumped when he felt someone touch his elbow.. He looked around and almost smiled in relief. Marco was standing beside him with a look of wonderment on his face.
“Is that Miss Kat?” he whispered.
“I think so, but, maybe not?” Roy was not sure. The scene before him was bizarre.
“Where’s Chet and Cap?” Marco whispered, keeping his eyes on the scene before him.
“The other side of that black hole, I think,” Roy whispered back.
The chanting and the bells stopped, leaving a deafening silence behind. A soft murmur came from Johnny’s bed.
The Master turned and peered at the paramedic sitting rigid on his bed. With a wave of his hand the bed began to tilt, but surprisingly, Johnny did not fall. Instead, the bed righted itself and slowly turned toward the Master.
Surprise crossed the face of the Master. He waved again and the bed began to tilt, but again, it righted itself, leaving the paramedic sitting safely in the middle. The Master looked up and rested his eyes on the two firemen standing beside the bed. With a wave, Marco and Roy were flung against the wall where they landed and did not move again.
Another wave and the two unconscious men floated across the room and into the darkness. The cold grew more intense. Roy’s hand flashed briefly, then faded from view.
On the other side of the darkness the two men watched in horror as their friends and shift mates were taken into the darkness. Their feet were frozen in place by the chanting going on behind them.
“Do not fear for your friends,” came a calm voice. “They are protected against IT.”
“Do not speak!” Grandmother swept past the two men and stood with her back to them. She raised her arms and something fell from her hands. A bright flash followed and the sound of a shriek pierced the men’s bodies.
Strange, un-English words came to them. Another flash and another shriek.
Both men heard the voices. A strong call pulled at them, but with the strength culled from those around them, they fought the call and the urge to join with the darkness.
A sing-song voiced cleared their minds of the call. A beauty they had never seen before flooded their minds and brought lightness to them. The song carried them away from the darkness and promised them light. At first they struggled, but the lure of the voice was that of the siren from Odysseus’ journey.
Unbeknown to both men, they were returned to their beds and covered with white sheets embedded with the herbs and spices often used to preserve the deceased.
The smell caused the Master to go wild. He had to get away from the room and from those who would keep IT from living! His way was blocked. A large feline stood before him. Its teeth were bared and a low growl rolled from deep within its chest. The tail flicked around, the only sign of any emotion it felt.
The Master lashed out. A dark tendril covered the feline, but shattered a moment later leaving the cat unharmed. A swipe of its paw staggered the Master and briefly his eyes cleared and in that moment of confusion he heard clearly the chant being said.
“Fight, child! Fight for your very life and soul! We cannot fight for you, we only hold IT at bay!”
“What’s going on?” he shook his head trying to clear it. Something was whispering in his ears. Voices were calling him. He turned his head and saw the darkness.
“Masster! Finish the call! Finish the call so we may live!”
“Who are you? WHAT are you?” he backed away, batting at his head as if swatting a fly away. “Get out of my head!”
He could hear chanting and smell the spices and herbs, his stomach rolled. Death! It smelled like death! He stumbled toward the sound of the chanting. He reached out and felt a hand take his. It was a small, wrinkled hand. He looked up and saw the face of an old woman.
Here eyes burned like coal and her voice was rushing water. The bells called him to the woman. He heard another voice join hers. It was younger, full of hope and promise. His eyes locked with the old woman and the darkness faded from his sight.
IT shrieked and engulfed the Master. The old woman was also covered in darkness, but the chanting call continued.
“Masster! Do not listen to them! They lie!! They lie!”
“No,” he said softly, then again in a stronger voice, “NO! You lie! Get away! You lie!”
He could hear the encouragement coming from the woman. He felt the dry wrinkled skin of her hand clasped in his, holding him to this plain of existence. He struggled, whether against her hold, or against the darkness, he did not know.
Then he saw it, the cat. She was huge in his sight. She stood before him, mouth open, and breath gently fanning his face. A long purr issued from her and a soft paw stroked his cheek.
“Listen to her,” the cat said. “Listen to her and follow her. She will keep you safe.”
He looked toward the old woman, but she was no longer there. In her place was another being, painted face and arms; skirt of grass and top made of leather. A garishly painted smile covered her face and her hands were small, delicate and warm.
“Denounce the darkness. Send it out and away. Only you can do this, I can only lead the way.”
He grasped the hand and held on as if to a life line. He felt torn in two, but then he heard the whispers again. They spoke of riches and wealth beyond his wildest dreams. The whispers spoke of life as he had never known it could be. He turned his head toward the sound and froze at the site.
In the darkness he could see IT. There, plainly, dressed in a fine suit and handsome shoes. IT smiled and preened before him. “You will have all this and more, Master!” IT promised, luring him away from the chanting women.
He felt his heart constrict and he looked away from the handsome stranger and back into the eyes of the woman who still held his hand.
Which did he want? Riches, fame and wealth? All he had to do was finish the call. IT crowed in triumph.
He heard the sound and a chill went up his spine. He looked once more at IT and then wrenched himself away. Fame and fortune, never work again! Yes, this was what he wanted! But at what cost?
“No! I won’t!” he cried and leaped toward the cat and those who would help him.
IT shrieked and reached for the Master. No! So close, too close! IT would not be defeated! IT grabbed and flashed scenes of great wealth and happiness to the Master, but he had turned away.
“Send it back!” the chant came to him. “Only you can send it back.”
Slowly, he turned and faced the darkness. In that darkness he saw his greatest fears, his greatest wishes, hopes and dreams. He saw all he wished for, fulfilled, and then dashed. With a heart wrenching sigh he pulled a torn and wrinkled piece of parchment from the air and slowly unfolded it.
IT saw what he held and desperation made it swell and leap toward the Master, but the feline was in ITS way. A barrier was up that IT could not cross. The decision had been made. The feline growled a warning that IT could not ignore.
A new voice began to grow and fill the void that was left behind once the women stopped speaking, but the sound of the bells continued. The voice grew and swelled with strength as each word was uttered.
IT writhed and boiled and began to shrink. NO! So close! So close! A thousand, thousand years IT had waited, and now it had come so close, only to lose out because of a human trait.
IT shrieked in defiance then flew back to the void from whence it had come. Down to the darkness where IT belonged, buried under the psyche from whence IT had been called.
The Master slumped to the floor, his color gray and skin cold. Roy and Marco stood up, none the worse for their ordeal, and saw him falling. With a lung Roy caught his fallen comrade and then looked up at his crew mates.
“How could it have been him? He said he didn’t read it aloud.”
Grandmother knelt beside both men. “The mind is strong and the heart yearns for much. One need not speak aloud to call the darkness up from within. If the spirit yearns hard enough and the mind shapes the thought, much can be done, either for good or ill.”
Chet and Hank sat up in their bunks. They looked around and saw the group gathered around someone on the floor. Both rose and went to join them. Questions formed and remained unasked for the time being.
“Mike?” Cap said, confused. “Is that why you didn’t give him those instructions?”
“Yes, of the three, only he did not read aloud. When a spell is spoken, even brokenly as you two have done, no great harm can come about. But if it is spoken with the mind, with the heart also engaged, then damage will be done and harm will befall the one who has the yearning.”
“Then, it really wasn’t our fault this THING came about?” Chet asked, relieved. The others glared at him when they heard the relief in his voice. Chet shrugged then turned back to listen to the Grandmother.
“Yes and no, child. You started the rift in the void. Your Captain enlarged it, but he,” she pointed to the unconscious Engineer, “threw open the door. He did not realize what he had done. So often we wish for things best left alone.
“Tonight this evil one was returned to the place where such things belong. Give me the book.” Grandmother held out her hand to Chet.
“I’ll get it right now!” Chet scurried to the locker room and returned with the book wrapped in brown paper and tied with a cotton string. “This is how I bought it. It’s even the same paper and string.”
Grandmother nodded. “This is good, come, let us destroy it now.” She turned and lead the men and her granddaughter outside where a circle in red had been formed with sand. Several designs were around the outside of the circle and only one small break appeared in the image.
Roy and Mike joined the small group. Mike leaned heavily against the paramedic but waved away his concern.
Grandmother handed the book to Chet and motioned him into the circle. “Since you bought the book, you must destroy it.”
“Place the book in the center of the circle and walk three times counter clockwise, turn and walk four times clockwise. As you walk you must repeat the words I gave you earlier. Once you have completed this, you will step from the circle and close the gap.”
“What good will that do?” Chet asked, suspicious. He felt ridiculous standing inside a sand circle.
“You will see,” Grandmother told the assembled men. “Now, child, begin.”
Chet sighed and began to walk slowly one way, speaking softly as he walked, then turned and began going the other direction. He spoke softly, as he had been instructed, head down, concentrating on the destruction of the book. He pictured the book burning, then turning to ash and blowing away in the wind.
As the others watched Chet the old woman pulled a knife from the long billowing sleeves. Carefully she slid the knife across her palms. A bright spurt of blood ran down her arm and on to the ground. Before anyone knew what she was doing, she tossed her arm towards the book and let her blood splatter the worn cover.
Immediately the ground began to tremble and the book burst into flame. All the assembled fell or staggered around trying to stay upright. Chet fell from the circle, away from the brightly burning book as if pushed.
“Grandmother!” Patsy cried when she saw the blood running from the old woman.
“No! Stand back! Blood called this from the depths and blood will send it back!”
“What’s she talking about?” Hank asked as he tried not to fall.
“Someone must have spilled blood in ITS presence at one point. It didn’t have to be the one who called it. Blood is blood and that THING didn’t care.”
Mike stumbled from the Roy‘s side, “No! Don’t let her destroy the book! It’ll kill her!”
All eyes turned to the shapes coming from the book. Smokey, ghostly shapes of darkness. Shrieks of pain and anger filled the still night air as each hazy figure dissolved and vanished.
Patsy realized what the engineer meant and leaped to her grandmother’s side, “Grandmother, no!” But it was too late. The old woman slumped in her granddaughter’s arms. A smile creased her old face.
Patsy could feel the life leaving her grandmother and tears fell from her eyes. “Why, Grandmother? Why didn’t you tell me this was what you were planning?”
Her Grandmother weakly opened her eyes and smiled at her granddaughter. “Shed no tears for me, Granddaughter. I go to the next plain. Remember what you were taught.”
Roy and Johnny ran for their gear from the squad.
Johnny had the biophone open and was calling the hospital even as he saw the old woman’s hand fall. Roy began CPR, but Patsy stopped him.
“Grandmother’s wish was not to be revived.”
“We have to try, Patsy. Until we get to the hospital and the doctor orders it otherwise.” Roy told her gently. He turned back to her grandmother and began to follow the treatment ordered by the night shift doctor.
Two hours later a defeated set of Paramedics sat in the lounge at Rampart hospital. Neither spoke as they fell onto the couch by the window.
Doctor Brackett entered the room and strode tot he coffee pot. “Coffee?”
“No thanks, Doc.” Roy said and Johnny shook his head.
“I know how hard this hit both of you. Patsy’s not in any better shape. Her grandmother made the request as witnessed by the granddaughter and the rest of the family. We have to abide by that decision.”
“Yeah, I know, but that doesn’t make it any easier.”
“The good news is, Mike will be okay. There was no injury I could find so he will be released and cleared for work. How’s your head, Roy? Still hurt?”
“No. How about Marco?”
“That head of his is almost as hard as Johnny’s.” Brackett grinned at the lanky paramedic. “What happened tonight? How did you get hurt?”
Both paramedics shook their heads, but did not answer. From somewhere in the hospital a clock struck the hour. Three o’clock, it rang. Johnny and Roy shared a look then rose and left the lounge without a backward glance.
Brackett stared after them and wondered what had happened to these men this night. And where had a chiming clock come from? With a grunt he rose from the chair and left to finish his interrupted rounds.
IT raced down, down, back to the darkness where it belonged. Anger and hate boiled along its darkness. Deep into the darkness it joined others of ITS kind to wait.
The whispers greeted IT.
“We wait. Restless, we wait.”
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Halloween Stories Stories by Peggy Bedingfield