“Older and Fouler Things” Chapter 1

Had something else in mind for this post, but got too busy.  So here’s a bit of a look at the work in progress.

 

Chapter 1

Crossing the police line was like stepping into a sauna.  It had been warm enough out on the street; it was the middle of August, after all.  But Spokane was relatively dry and arid.  This felt like we’d just walked into a swamp in the middle of Mississippi.  In August.

There was also a heavy scent in the air.  It wasn’t quite incense, and it wasn’t quite burned blood, though there was a hint of that; something metallic.  It was something I’d smelled before, and didn’t care to smell again.  Cloying, sickening, and absolutely wrong.

I had felt like we were being watched before we even set foot across the police line and onto the yard in front of the spruced-up old neo-Victorian house.  And not necessarily by the swarms of cops, firefighters, EMS personnel, reporters, cameramen, and curious neighbors who were gathered on the street.  There was someone, or something, up in that house, and it didn’t want us there.  That was abundantly clear as soon as Eryn, Kolya, and I stepped onto the grass.

If there was any noise, it was drowned out by Father Ignacio’s chanting.  The long-haired, mustached, craggy-faced itinerant exorcist was presently right behind me, a stole over his biker leathers, a large silver crucifix held up in one hand and an ancient book of prayer in the other, praying in Latin at the top of his gravelly voice.

But while we couldn’t hear the thing that had been whispering and growling at the police line for the last ten hours, we could sure feel the pressure it was exerting to keep us away.  Walking up the sloped front lawn was like walking into a stiff wind, except there wasn’t any wind.  Whatever was in there was bad medicine.

“I do not like this,” Kolya said from beside me, his voice low.

“There ain’t much to like,” I replied.  And there wasn’t.  Not when three of the sixteen people who had been in that old house turned Bed and Breakfast had come screaming out at three in the morning, all but incoherent in their terror.  Not when half of the Spokane Police Department was standing behind us, watching, having been unable to get in there in the first place.  Only the police chief’s growing desperation had gotten us past the first police cars in the first place.  Even worse, half the local TV news stations had cameras pointed at the house, and therefore, at the four of us.

But what really bothered me was the fact that this incident was so high-profile.  The Enemies of God and Man who lurk in the darkness of the Otherworld, or the hellish fires of the Abyss generally keep to the periphery, sticking to the shadows, picking off their victims on the fringes of the herd, as it were.  It didn’t suit them to be exposed for an unbelieving world to see.  This was different, and it was disturbing.

I looked to my right and left.  Kolya was as impassive as ever, his flat Russian face set and his .35 Whelen Remington 750 ready in his hands.  The little Russian expat always looked a little angry, but I couldn’t recall a time when he had ever actually lost his temper.

Eryn was calm and serene, her red hair pulled back in a ponytail and her Remington 870 held with the muzzle down.  My lovely wife had come a long way since she’d first swallowed her fear and stood her ground against hordes of monsters on the steps of St. Anthony’s Church in Silverton.  She might still be nervous, but she always had it under control.  Sometimes it felt like she had it under better control than I did; I always worried more about her getting hurt when we stepped into these things than I probably should.  After all, she wasn’t about to let me continue the life of a Witch Hunter, going into the dark places after monsters and spooks and other things that go bump in the night, alone.

Together, with Father Ignacio calling on Heaven to banish whatever was causing that awful pressure, we started up the lawn.

The front yard was on a slope leading up to the house’s porch.  Unlike a lot of the places we end up having to go, the house was very nicely kept up.  Of course, it had only opened as a B&B a week ago.  Three stories tall, with the requisite Victorian tower on one corner, it had been painted light blue with white trim, and there was a white-painted sign out front proclaiming it to be the Cedar Slope Bed and Breakfast.  The whole thing should have looked bright and inviting.

But even under a clear sky and the bright summer sun, there was something dark and foreboding about it.  As we got closer, the light didn’t change, but it still felt like we were walking under a brooding overcast, somehow.  The windows were all pitch dark, and the sense of something lurking in there, watching us malevolently, only increased as we crossed the sweltering lawn.

The heat was building, and the pressure increasing, but every time Father Ignacio raised his voice again, it seemed to give way, just a little.  We had already gotten farther than the cops had by the time we reached the porch.

It was getting hard to breathe.  Whatever was in there, it wasn’t happy, and this was bound to get worse.

With Eryn and Kolya covering down on the door, I reached out and tried the knob.  To my complete lack of surprise, it didn’t budge.  It was also hot to the touch, as if it had been in direct sunlight, even though it was deep in the shade of the porch, and there were two big pines overshadowing the east end of the same porch.  It threatened to sear my palm as I tried to turn it.

It didn’t feel like it was locked; there was just enough give in the knob that it felt like there was someone on the far side trying to hold it closed.  I grimaced, took half a step back, and slammed my boot into the door just below the latch.

It still didn’t open.  A deep snarling noise came from the other side.  I kicked it again, and the jamb cracked, but the door stayed stubbornly closed.

Father Ignacio paused in his litany, and spoke a single, growled command in Latin.  The door flew open under my boot, though I could have sworn I heard another vicious snarl as it did so.

The inside was dark, and as we stepped through the doorway it was as if we’d left the summer sun behind us altogether.  The brightly lit doorway was behind us, but it cast no light on the interior.  The darkness was thick, almost cloying, and the air was even hotter and more oppressive inside than it had been outside.

There was nothing in the entryway that might have been blocking the door.  There was also no place that anyone who might have been holding it closed could have run and hid after it swung open.

That this came as no surprise to any of us should probably tell you something about our line of work.

While the sunlight seemed to stop dead at the threshold, that didn’t mean we couldn’t see anything.  Far from it, unfortunately.

The living room was lit by what had to be close to a hundred black candles, that burned with a weird green flame.  That could have been done with chemistry, but still didn’t account for the cloying darkness inside.

The candle flames lit a scene of horror.  A pentagram had been drawn on the floor in blood, and there were five headless bodies hanging from the ceiling by their ankles, naked and blood-spattered, one at each point of the pentagram.  At first glance, I couldn’t see how they’d been hung, which was somehow even more disturbing.

There was a bundle of something in the center of the pentagram.  It took a moment of my eyes adjusting to see that it was the chopped-up body parts of at least three more corpses.

That was about all I was able to make out before the five living people kneeling at the points of the pentagram all turned and looked at us with a creepily singular motion.

All five of them, three men and two women, were naked, and painted in blood.  Their hair was plastered to their skulls with it, and dark clotted splashes made their skin look mottled in the green light.  Their eyes were rolled back in their heads, far enough that only the whites were showing, though they still seemed to be staring at us even though they couldn’t actually see anything besides the insides of their own eye sockets.  Every one of them had a kitchen knife in their hand.

As one, they suddenly lurched toward us, hissing, their knives raised.  The three of us stood our ground, shoulder to shoulder.  Two big-bore rifles and a shotgun snapped level, and fingers tightened on triggers.

“Hold it!” Father Ignacio growled, right behind my shoulder.  “Don’t shoot!”

I almost blasted the nearest one anyway; my trigger was that close to its break.  When the nearest blood-smeared, knife-wielding maniac is already within bad-breath distance, it can be almighty hard not to let that shot fly.  But I trusted Father Ignacio.  I let off the pressure on the trigger, though I didn’t take my finger off of it.

Somehow, miraculously, nobody fired.  But we didn’t get swarmed and stabbed to death, either.

The closest naked psychopath, or whatever he was, stopped four feet from me, his knife still raised, and actually recoiled.  It took me a second to figure it out, but I soon noticed that if he’d had the use of his eyes, they would have been fixed on the center of my chest.

Right where my worn silver crucifix was hanging on its age-darkened leather thong.

The rest were similarly frozen, snarling and hissing, dancing back and forth on the balls of their feet, brandishing their knives but evidently unwilling to get close.

“They’re possessed,” Father Ignacio said.  “And whatever’s inside them doesn’t have a high tolerance for silver or the sight of the sacred.”  I kept my eyes on the five possessed psychos in front of us, my old Winchester 1886 leveled and the muzzle not moving a millimeter away from the bridge of the closest guy’s nose.  I heard the priest shuffling pages behind me.  “Spread out and keep them contained,” he said.  “We can deal with this.”

“You’re going to try to cast out all five at once?” I asked, even as Kolya started to work his way around to the right, and Eryn did the same to my left.  We were going to have to be very, very careful.  We had to make sure they didn’t have an escape route and ensure that we didn’t inadvertently turn ourselves into a Polish firing squad in the process.

He grunted.  “See how they’re all moving in unison?”  He was right; after a moment I could see that while their movements weren’t all identical, they were close.  They’d all hop on the same foot at the same time, and they all had the same arm cocked, knife in hand.  It was like they were all on the same set of puppet strings.  “If there was more than one entity, they’d all be behaving differently.  Whatever they did in here, they all opened themselves to the will of one spirit, and it’s playing them like marionettes.  If we can banish it, we can deal with them.”

I was edging around the room, careful to watch my step and avoid putting my boot on a burning candle while still covering down on the five slavering meat-puppets.  “If they committed that kind of murder to summon this thing,” I pointed out, “they might not be all that reasonable once they’re freed.”

“Maybe not,” Father Ignacio growled in reply, as he lifted the crucifix again.  “But how about we deal with that when the ancient evil is banished back to the Abyss?”

I shut up and let him get to work.

Exorcisms are not comfortable things to witness or participate in.  Any direct struggle with the demonic is deeply disturbing, and I’ve been in a few.  This one was no different.  At least, it started out as no different.

Father Ignacio began with the typical Latin prayers, calling upon God to chastise the demon and ordering the demon to be silent.  He was answered with the usual screaming, screeching, hissing, snarling, cursing, and blasphemy.  All the noises and all the curses were the same.  The same noises in the same voice.  Then things went pear-shaped.

The center guy, the one that I’d nearly shot in the face, suddenly turned to the young woman next to him, and, quick as a wink, sliced her throat.  In the same instant, the other woman did the same to the skinny short guy next to her.

Without making a sound except for a horrible gassy bubbling noise as they choked on their own blood, both of them turned and threw themselves on the pile of body parts in the middle of the pentagram.  Meanwhile, the remaining three started to croak something, still in the same voice and precisely harmonized.

Although “harmonized” doesn’t sound right.  There was no harmony in anything happening in that room.  Whatever they were chanting, it didn’t just sound ugly.  The weird odor in the air, that managed to smell like blood, rot, sulfur, and burned meat all at the same time, got more intense.  My guts twisted and I tried not to inhale, but it seemed to reach into my nose anyway, forcing itself past my nasal passages and into my sinuses.  A piercing, stabbing pain started to build behind my left eye.

I heard Kolya grunt, and Eryn was panting, breathing shallowly.  I spared a worried glance at her, to see that she still had her shotgun up, though she looked pale and sick.  Granted, some of that might have been the green light of the candles on her already fair complexion, but whatever was happening was not conducive to human beings.

As soon as they landed on the corpse pile, both figures went limp, though blood continued to pump from their savaged throats, coating the floor and the already bloody meat that had once been human beings.  For a moment, all was still.  Father Ignacio was continuing the Rite of Exorcism, but the three still-living cultists, or whatever they were, were still facing the pile of human remains, still croaking that blasphemous sound, though they still flinched with each syllable of the Rite.

Then the pile started moving.

At first, it looked like a tentacle made of blood came slithering out, though it soon solidified into an arm.  A very long arm, with talons on the end.  It was followed by three more, then a head, apparently put together by mashing five skulls together under a miasma of blood and patches of torn flesh.  There was only one mouth, a massive, three-sided maw lined with broken bones for teeth, but all five eyes were there, staring the thing’s hate at us.

I immediately put a shot through the thing’s head.  Four hundred five grains of silver-jacketed lead blew right through the mess of blood, skin, and bone, but didn’t slow the thing down.  That mass of gore was as much a puppet as the people had been.

It took a swipe at me, but even as I ducked, Father Ignacio roared, “Pray!  Open your mouths!  That’s the only way to fight this thing!”

I shot it again anyway, and so did Kolya.  The three of us had shifted back closer to Father, so we were no longer in any risk of shooting each other.  Which was good, because the big bullets we were putting through that thing were going right through and blowing big holes in the walls beyond.

But Dan Weatherby, my mentor, had taught me a long time ago that defiance, exemplified in this case by shooting, was another weapon to use against the creatures of the Abyss.  A big bullet to a travesty of a face was a pretty powerful denial.  They couldn’t actually hurt a spirit that was puppeteering a mass of dead flesh and bones.  But it was something.

Father Ignacio raised his voice, bellowing the Rite at the top of his lungs, somehow making himself heard even over the roaring booms of our weapons.  The thing swiped at us, but jerked its hand back as if burned when Father thrust that big silver crucifix at it.  Whatever it was, it was reacting to the sacred exactly the same way that the idiots who had summoned it had been.

Which was when I noticed that the three survivors had dropped to the floor as soon as this thing had crawled out of the pile of bodies and body parts.  Which told me that this was the exact same thing that had been controlling them.

As soon as it flinched away from that crucifix, Father started advancing on it, still chanting in Latin.  He wasn’t even using the book in his left hand anymore; he had this part memorized.  He held the crucifix straight out in front of him.  It seemed to gleam palely in the dimness, somehow untouched by the sickly greenish hue of the candlelight.

The thing shrank back with a bubbling snarl, and the three of us stepped forward, flanking the priest.  I lowered my Winchester and put my hand to my chest, lifting the crucifix and holding it out at the end of its thong.  Eryn and Kolya followed suit.

It kept trying to back away from us, but it didn’t go far.  It had no legs or feet that I could see; in fact it seemed to be anchored to the pile of body parts in the middle of the pentagram.  That was strange.  It was almost as if the cultists hadn’t finished their ritual.

Finally, it simply didn’t have anywhere else to go, and Father Ignacio pronounced the final words of the Rite, ordering the thing back into the Abyss, on the authority of the Most Holy Name.  With a final, ear-splitting shriek, the thing suddenly dissolved into a splattering mass of dead tissue and blood, falling to the floor in a cascade of carnage.

We all stepped back in unison, trying to keep our boots out of the splatter of blood and meat.  It wasn’t just disgust at being splashed with human remains, either.  The manifestation might be gone, but it didn’t mean that the spirit behind it had necessarily given up.  There can be deeper side effects to making contact with human remains used in demon-summoning rituals.

But after a few moments, the inky darkness within the house seemed to dissipate.  Sunlight started to filter in through the doorway and the windows.  If anything, the greenish hue to the candle flames that were still burning started to die away.

Carefully, keeping her shotgun ready, Eryn bent to examine one of the catatonic cultists.  “Jed,” she said, “this guy is dead.”

I checked the other two.  Neither of them was breathing.  They were dead as doornails, without a mark on them.

Kolya was frowning.  “Something strange about this,” he said.

“Well, yeah,” I replied.  “A demonic blood monster just manifested in a Bed and Breakfast living room, in broad daylight.”  As flippant as my comment was, I actually shared his disquiet.  There was definitely something off about this.

“But what was point?” he asked.  “Why summon it in first place?  It was not very powerful, really.  Flashy, but it was stuck in pentagram.  Makes no sense.”

“Doesn’t have to,” Father Ignacio said.  “We’ll never know what it promised these people.  The Devil is a liar, remember that.  They may well have had all sorts of plans that it never had any intention of fulfilling.  As far as the Abyss is concerned, their deaths as murderers and sorcerers is a win.  It convinced them to conduct the ritual, complete with human sacrifice, then kills them and drags them back to the Abyss with it.”

“Kolya’s right though,” I mused, even as the police started to cautiously come through the door behind us.  “Why leave it at that?  It was too easy.  That thing barely put up a fight.  I’ve seen you take hours on an exorcism.  This was done in minutes.”

He was looking at the carnage around us as the cops hovered near the doorway, a pensive look on his face as he nodded slowly.  “You could be right.  This could all be a trap.”  He turned to look at the two police officers at the door.  “Give us a few more minutes,” he said.  “We need to be careful about this.”

Both cops were looking a little green.  I was sure that between crime scenes and vehicle accidents, they’d probably both seen plenty of horror, but this was horror of a whole different level.  One of them looked like he was about to be sick right there on the floor.  The other, a thickset young woman, just nodded.  “Do what you have to do, Padre,” she said, her voice a little hoarse.  She was looking a little pale, herself.  “Just be careful not to disturb too much, okay?  This is still a crime scene.”

Father just nodded.  It wasn’t his first rodeo.

“How much did you see?” I asked the cops.  The door had been open, after all.

“More than we would have liked to,” the young man with the shaved head replied.  “What was that thing?”

“Something not of this world,” Kolya answered.  “Or don’t you believe in such things?”

“I didn’t think I did,” the young man replied.  “But after what I just saw…and after I got laid out on the lawn by something I couldn’t see…well.  I think I believe there’s something weird going on here.”

Father was praying and making the sign of the cross over every stain and blot in the room, while Eryn followed behind him, carrying a flask of holy water.  Every few feet, he’d stop, trade the book for the flask, and splash a little bit on floor, walls, and furniture.  He was being thorough.  We didn’t want that thing finding a crack to come crawling back later.  Not that the developer was likely to get much of anyone to stay in this place again.  He’d be better off burning it to the ground.

The prayer and blessing took about another half an hour.  The cops waited patiently.  They’d seen that we hadn’t killed anyone inside, and the corpses weren’t going anywhere.  When Father finished, they politely ushered us outside, into the sunshine.  I took a deep breath as Eryn stepped up next to me, and put my arm around her.  The evil stench was gone from the air, and the sunshine felt clean after the darkness inside.

As soon as we reached the police line, a young man, probably in his early thirties, his hair disheveled and still wearing his pajamas, came up to us.  He grabbed Father’s hand in both of his, then went around to each of us to do the same.  “Who are you?” he asked, his voice shaking.  “How did you stop that thing?”

“We didn’t,” Father said.  “God banished it.  We only helped.”

“I’ve…I’ve never seen anything like that,” the young man said.  His eyes were haunted.  “I was only there to write a review of the place.  I’m a lifestyle reporter.”  He stopped and shook for a moment.  “I woke up in the middle of the night, and there was screaming and chanting, and the room was so hot…then one of them came smashing through my door, carrying a knife.  I jumped out the window.  Something grabbed my ankle when I was halfway through.  And the girl with the knife was still stuck in the doorway.”  His eyes cleared as he looked around at us.  “Please.  Can I come with you, wherever you are going?  I’m afraid to stay by myself, and I know that you could protect me.  I’m…I’m scared that something from in there might still be…still be around, you know?”

“Of course you can come with us,” Father Ignacio said.  He certainly wouldn’t be the first stray we’d taken in after an incident.  People often needed time to process what had happened, and often found a new level of spiritual life, if not a newfound faith altogether, in the aftermath.  Not a few had become Witch Hunters of the Order, themselves.

“Thank you, thank you,” the young man said.  For a moment, I almost thought he was going to drop to his knees in gratitude.

As Father forestalled his genuflection, or whatever it was, I suddenly spotted two people, a man and a woman, wearing FBI windbreakers, walking toward us.  They didn’t look nearly as friendly as the young reporter in his pajamas.

“Here goes neighborhood,” Kolya muttered.

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