Thursday, October 10, 2019

#OctoberFrights Short Story "Awakening"

Welcome to the October Frights Blog Hop!


I have a short story for you...inspired by the log home company I worked for. They posted a picture of a house on a lake at dusk and asked for captions in two words.
Well...
Murder mystery was my answer. I may have stolen the set-up from the movie Clue and it evolved away from murder mystery--into something else entirely.
As with all my short stories, it didn't stay very 'short's but anyway. And it might be a bit rough as I sort of wrote it last minute in two days...
Here it is: Awakening



The Awakening
By McCallum J. Morgan

“Beautiful view, isn’t it?”
I spun around to find my friend home after all.
“Phil,” I said, “Good to see you! Sorry for dropping in unannounced. You always said I could swing by.”
A weird flicker crossed his grey, lined face. “Of course!”
“I’ve already shot some pictures,” I said, hefting my camera. “I can go back into Hoperington tonight.”
“Absolutely not!” Phil said. “The hotels will all be full this time of year. Come inside, Chaz.” He waved me away from the low stone wall overlooking the lake. I followed him along a paved path to one of the side doors into his sprawling log house.
The sound of a vehicle made me glance back down the long, winding driveway.
“Who’s here?” I asked curiously.
“My guests,” Phil replied.
“Oh—I should just be off, then.” I paused in the doorway.
“Nonsense,” Phil barked. “I’m just having a very small dinner party.”
“But I couldn’t—”
“There will be plenty of food.”
Beyond the heavy wooden door, we were met by a windowless hall of immaculately chinked, hand-hewn square logs. A rich Persian runner ran the length of the hall and two more heavy mahogany doors greeted us.
Phil led me through and up a few steps to a wide room with French doors that led out onto the deck. A grand piano and a cabinet of curios dominated the lounge. We passed through into the foyer, where the stained glass around the front door broke the setting sun into colorful spatters of blue and red across the curved staircase that led to the first floor.
“There’s the bar,” Phil said, pointing past the stairs to the wide, two-story window. A chandelier of antlers dangled like a spider over the huge room and the walls were splotched with expensive paintings. Opposite the staircase, a huge slab of wood glinted with lacquer and behind it glittered racks of sparkling bottles.
Outside, tires crunched gravel.
“I’ll just go invite them in,” Phil said. “Please, help yourself.” Phil squeezed my elbow. Rather hard, I thought. But his smile was wide as he turned toward the door.
I went to the bar and glanced over the posh labels. I turned away and gazed out the windows onto the lake. The water twinkled red and gold. Along the far bank, the edges of the trees were gilded. The deck would be lovely right now. The interior of the house was dark—the lights dim and candle-like—and it smelled oddly musty for such a new house.
The door banged open.
“So glad you could make it out here, it is a bit of a drive,” Phil said. “This is my friend, Charles Wynthorn; he’s a photographer. Charles, this is Jonas Kaplan—ah.” He broke off a more tires crunched up the gravel outside.
Jonas Kaplan stepped hesitantly across the polished hardwood. He was dark haired, in his mid-twenties, with eyes that cut through everything they fell on.
“Nice to meet you,” I said, smiling. Jonas smiled back nervously and jumped as the door banged shut behind Phil, rushing out to meet the new arrival.
“You too,” Jonas said, his eyes tracking around the room, absorbing the oozing wealth with the disgusted wonder of one familiar with, but unaccustomed to such surroundings. His jeans were worn and his flannel coffee-stained.
“Nice house, isn’t it?” I asked. Jonas nodded and opened his mouth to say something, but the door banged open again.
“I’ve had a hell of a time with the landscaping,” Phil said, leading in two men. “Finally found a company that did it right; all of the retaining walls are new and the grass has barely just come up.”
The first man was heavyset and balding, with hooded eyes and an easy smile. The second was thin with thick reddish hair and large teeth.
“Jonas?” asked the second man in surprise.
Jonas’s dark eyebrows shot up. “Carl,” Jonas said. “Didn’t expect to see you here.”
“I bumped into Jonas in Hoperington this morning!” Phil chuckled. “Told him he really needed to drop in and see the house now it’s finished.”
“Ah,” said the balding man. “What are the odds?” He laughed with a deep rumble.
“Chaz,” Phil said, “these are Greg and Carl.” The mirth was out of place on Phil’s face and I glanced between him and his guests, bemused by the odd formal familiarity between them.
“Lovely to make your acquaintance,” I said.
“Oh, and here’s another,” Phil said with another grin that did not reach his cold eyes. He rushed back out the door to leave the four of us clustered awkwardly beneath the monstrous chandelier.
“What have you been up to?” Carl asked Jonas.
“I’ve been working for a contractor in Hoperington,” Jonas said. “The roofing company didn’t work out.”
“Oh, that’s too bad, but this is? Working out?”
Jonas nodded.
“So, how do you know Mr. Daley?” the balding man—Greg—asked me. I paused. How had I made friends with the scaly old coot?
“Oh, I did photos for him once,” I said, trying to remember the exact details. It had been headshots for his website—for whatever archeology books he’d written. We bumped into each other again later at one of my shooting locations—an alpine village—and had a few drinks, he asked if I could photograph his wedding. The young lady hadn’t stayed with him, though. If I was remembering right.
Phil led another man into the room and introduced him as Lyle. Carl also seemed to know the grey-bearded man. I was about to ask Phil quietly how he knew all these men. Aside from Greg’s polished bearing, they didn’t strike me as Phil’s circle. But then, I could hardly pass, either.
Another arrival prevented my query. I half listened to Carl and Lyle exchanging work updates—they were both in construction by the sounds of it.
“Chaz!” called a feminine voice. I stared—blinked. A tiny woman was bounding toward me, trailed dourly by Phil.
“Yvonne,” I said, accepting her hug awkwardly. Phil’s eyes twinkled coldly over her shoulder as she pulled back and smiled at me with those thick red lips.
“I didn’t expect to see you here,” she said.
“Neither did I,” I blurted. She flicked her auburn hair and glanced around at the other guests.
“This is—” began Phil.
“I’m Yvonne,” she cut in. “I run a travel agency.”
Phil introduced the others and said “We’re just waiting on Mr. Lewis, we may as well go into the dining room.”
I waited as the guests filed in after Phil, my eye lingering on the cardigan-and-legging-clad Yvonne. I had photographed her wedding with Phil…but was certain they were now divorced. She was out of place in this already odd assortment.
Jonas lingered behind, his face white. He swallowed when he saw me looking. We were the last in the room.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I wasn’t even invited.”
“I just didn’t realize he was having a party,” Jonas muttered. “I just came to see the house.”
“Did you work on it?” I asked, leading the way after the others. Jonas nodded. “I’ve always been curious how they put these monsters together. They go together a bit like Lincoln logs, right?”
“Yeah,” Jonas said.
“So do you have to use a crane?”
“Yes, they’re assembled at the shop, normally. Hand hewn, in this case, and dovetail notched. We fit them together from the ground up—the whole floor plan. Then it’s all taken down and hauled to the construction site and reassembled.”
“Really?” I asked.
“Yeah.” I hoped he’d elaborate, but he fell silent as we entered the dining room. More wide windows looked out on the purple lake. The sun had set already. A lustrous sideboard sported a shining selection of covered silver trays.
“Just go through the buffet and sit wherever you like,” Phil said.
“Please go ahead,” Yvonne told Jonas and I. “Chaz, what have you been up to? I’ve seen a few of your recent shoots—what you post on instagram. But I don’t keep up on it. Lots of projects?”
“Oh yes,” I replied, grabbing a plate from the stack. The doorbell chimed and Phil disappeared. “I’m always busy with engagement and wedding shoots. Seems like all anyone does is get married.”
Yvonne laughed. “Yes, they do.” She was at least twenty years younger than Phil.
Jonas and I found seats and Yvonne slipped into the chair next to Jonas—the only one in the room remotely close to her age. His ears turned red as she began chatting him up.
Phil brought in the final guest, a scruffy-looking chap somewhere between Jonas and Yvonne in age. He had a snag-tooth and intelligent eyes—I didn’t think Yvonne would have chosen a different seat had he been here earlier. This was Mr. Lewis—Damien—and he seemed to know everyone but Yvonne. He cracked a joke to Jonas that no one else caught.
Phil wasn’t eating, I noticed, just sipping his sherry and eyeing all of us with a smug little smile. His dark eyes fell on me and I averted mine. Carl and Lyle did most of the talking—all about the building projects their companies were currently embroiled in. Beside me, Jonas continued to blush under the lurid attentions of Yvonne. Though he warmed up a little now that Damien Lewis was here to swap stories with. Yvonne thought all of the stories were hilarious and kept catching my eye to force me to laugh along with her over-enthusiasm. Why was she here?
I gathered that the rest of the guests had all had something to do with the construction of the house. Her hand was bare of wedding band as it lighted on the jumpy wrist of poor Jonas.
And Phil was still silent. Watching. Watching me. I wasn’t supposed to be here. But why were they? And again, why Yvonne?
“If you’ll excuse me,” Phil said, standing, “I forgot the wine.”
“Silly,” said Yvonne, “we’re nearly done eating!” Phil glowered for a second before forcing a smile into the wrinkles of his grey face.
“Better late than never,” he said, gliding from the room like a stop-motion skeleton.
“Forgive me, Yvonne,” I said once he was gone, “I vaguely recall seeing something somewhere about your…divorce…”
“Oh, God, yes,” Yvonne laughed. “Phil and I just weren’t right for each other. I took half his money, though.” Jonas and the others laughed nervously. “I’m kidding! We’re still friends. We just can’t live together—I’m a nightmare.” I couldn’t stop my eyebrow from drifting up. “I think he wanted me to come tonight as honorary hostess. He’s no good at parties.”
“And you’re all here to see your finished work?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Carl. “Timber 10 built this house. I own Timber 10 and Greg is our in-house architect. Jonas used to work for us when this house was being built.” I was about to ask about Lyle and Damien, but the lights abruptly went out.
Darkness swallowed the room with a little gasp from Yvonne. It pressed against our eyes for several seconds before light soaked softly in from the deepening dusk outside. The horizon was still visible as a faint blue line over the trees.
“Power must have gone out,” Lyle mused aloud.
“Shit,” said Yvonne.
“I’m sure it will come back on in a second,” I said.
Glass shattered and a grunt and then a thump and clatter. “Sorry!” yelped Yvonne. “I tripped over my chair and dropped my plate.”
“I think we’re all done eating, anyway,” said Carl.
“Yes, let’s go outside,” Yvonne said, the sound of her chair banging around filling the darkness. “It’s probably a bit lighter, and maybe there’s a lamp or something.
We rose cautiously and followed the sound of Yvonne’s babbling voice as she felt her way across the room.
Jonas found the French door for her and we all filed out into the cool night air. I blinked. It was possible to see the vague outlines of people now. Why was it so much darker inside with  such huge windows?
“I hope it comes on soon,” Yvonne said. “Where’s Phil? He might trip and break the wine bottle and hurt himself.”
“Maybe we should go find him,” I suggested. “Anyone have a flashlight?” a couple phones were produced and by their light, we ventured back into the dark caverns of the house. I had left my phone in the car.
“Where’s Lyle?” Carl asked as we filed back inside. Everyone looked around. I could see Carl’s face in the light of his phone, and Greg beside him. Yvonne hovered by Jonas’ phone-light and Damien was there…but Lyle…
“Maybe he stayed in?” Yvonne suggested. “Lyle?” she called into the dark room.
A light bobbed across the dining room, glinting on scattered dishes. But it wasn’t Lyle.
“Just a moment,” Phil said. “I have to go start the generator. Wait on the deck. There’s a tiki torch or two out there.”
“Have you seen Lyle?” Greg asked.
Phil shook his head. “No, I thought he was in here with you. I’ll tell him to join you if I see him.” Phil stalked off into the musty shadows.
“Probably just using the facilities,” Yvonne said, as we fumbled our way back out onto the deck and began searching for the tiki torches. It was an appalling deck, stretching across the entire lakeside of the house in weird, staggered layers. I noticed as we lit the nearly empty torches that the deck had no steps or access to the ground. I glanced dubiously at the architect but said nothing.
“Thank goodness for your lighter,” Yvonne gushed to Jonas. The flame-light danced across her face in demonic swirls, reflecting in her shiny eyes.
We all sat down on the deck furniture in the weak flicker of the two torches and settled back into conversation. Damien, I finally gathered, specialized in doors and windows. Yvonne wasn’t interested in that, though, trying to get Jonas to tell her more about wielding a chainsaw. I was glad Phil wasn’t there.
“I’m just going to pop in and find the restroom,” Greg said.
“What do you mean?” laughed Carl. “You know exactly where it is!”
“In the dark,” huffed Greg, switching on his cell phone’s light. He vanished into the quiet house. Yvonne shivered.
“It’s cold,” she said. “I think I’ll run out to my car and get my jacket.”
“Want someone to come with you?” Jonas asked.
“No,” Yvonne said. I blinked. So did Jonas. “I’ll be fine.” She laughed and pranced off into the house. Jonas exhaled in relief.
“Pretty,” said Damien. I raised an eyebrow and glanced at Carl.
“So, you’re a photographer?” Carl asked.
“I photographed Yvonne and Phil’s wedding,” I said. “I just dropped by to take some pictures of the lake. Didn’t know he was having a party.”
“Odd party,” Carl said. “Take any pictures of the house?”
“A few,” I said. “It’s a magnificent structure.”
“Yes,” Carl agreed proudly, glancing at the towering wall behind him. Jonas rolled his eyes.
The lights came back on inside and along the deck railing. I blinked in the sudden brilliance. The distant rumble of a generator throbbed on the still air.
“Ah,” said Carl. “Let’s go in, shall we?”
“Should we put out the torches?” Jonas asked.
“They’re about to burn out, anyway,” Damien said.
We left them sputtering and returned to the dimly-lit dining room. Phil was sweeping up glass.
“Where’s everyone else?” Carl asked.
“In the lounge, I believe,” Phil said. “The wine is waiting there, help yourselves.”
“Can I help you with that?” I asked Phil as Carl, Jonas, and Damien left.
“No,” Phil said shortly. He glanced up at me with a weird smile. “That’s perfectly all right, go have some wine.”
I followed the others out to the lounge. Another antler chandelier dominated the room, which was richly appointed with leather chairs and sofas. Oddly, Lyle, Greg, and Yvonne were absent. I ran back to the bar and collected my camera bag. The lounge also looked out on the lake and the moon was rising. Stepping out onto the deck, I dug out my telephoto lens and began eyeing the yellow curve as it cut its way into the sky.
The door scraped behind me and jumped. It was Jonas, lighting up a cigarette.
“You don’t mind?” he asked.
“No, no,” I said.
“You sure?”
“Yeah.
He puffed silently and I snapped the moon.
“So, you did a lot of the log work,” I said. Jonas nodded. “And Greg’s the architect, Carl’s the boss, Damien worked on windows and doors…but where does Lyle come in?”
“He was the other contractor,” Jonas explained. “We just built the log part. Lyle’s company came in to finish it out. Frame the interior walls and basement and stuff.”
“Ah,” I said. That made sense. “And why’d you quit?”
“Found better work,” he said. “Or so I thought.”
“Maybe now’s your chance to switch back,” I joked.
Jonas shrugged, glancing over his shoulder at Damien and Greg. “I had no idea they would be here…it’s really weird. I didn’t really want to accept Phil’s invite in the first place…but I was curious to see the place all finished. Last I saw it was when I put the log accents in the basement. Damien was there…working on the door…” his eyes slid off of me into the gloom over the lake, thinking.
His face vanished, swallowed up in the dark as the lights went out again.
A sharp cry rang from inside the house.
Jonas’s phone light came on in an instant and we made for the glassy black mirror of the French door. I followed close behind Jonas, my camera clutched in my hands.
“What’s happened?” I called into the cavernous shadows. No answer. Just Jonas’s rasping breaths. His light passed over the lounge, each chair and couch vacant. We passed back into the foyer.
“Hello?” I called. Still nothing. My nose wrinkled on the stale air…the mustiness I’d noted earlier seemed much stronger. Something boomed from below the house.
“The basement,” muttered Jonas. He’d forgotten his cigarette, still alight between his lips. He yanked it out and crushed it in his palm, wincing.
A door opened.
We spun around and saw Phil’s eyes twinkling in the dark rectangle.
I sighed. “Where is everyone? Did you hear that shout?”
“It was Yvonne. She tripped in the dark. She’s fine.”
A waft of stench rolled into me as Phil stepped into the room, closing the door behind him with a sharp click. I sniffed. Not quite mold…a woodsy mustiness, almost like moss…
“Do I smell a cigarette?” Phil asked.
“Sorry,” said Jonas. “I forgot to put it out before we came in to investigate the yell.”
Phil glowered. “I’m afraid I forgot to fill up the generator. I will be right back. You should wait in the lounge, the others will be there in a moment. Yvonne’s upstairs, tending to a slight cut.”
Phil vanished back through his door with another wave of stench.
I glanced at Jonas. His eyes were wide in the dark, like a cats’.
“We all know about the basement,” Jonas said. “Except for you and Yvonne. But Yvonne’s his ex, right? And you’re not supposed to be here.” His eyes darted back and forth. He went to the front door. The handle rattled. He thumped on it, shoved his shoulder against it and tugged violently on the handle.
“It’s locked,” he gasped, turning to me with the widest eyes I’d ever seen.
“You can’t be serious,” I said. “It’s probably stuck.”
“No, look!” Jonas turned the deadbolt back and rattled the handle again. Nothing. The door would not open.
“Are you sure it’s not just stuck?”
Jonas turned to me and swallowed. He paused and took a deep breath. “Maybe you’re right.”
“Phil has no reason to lock us in,” I said, thinking about what Jonas had just said.
“Let’s check another door.”
I led him back through the hall to the door Phil had let me in through. It, too, was somehow barred or blocked.
“Where is everyone else?” Jonas asked. He ran back through the house and I stumbled after him, still clutching my camera. The lounge, the foyer, the dining room…all empty. We glanced into an office, a toilet, and the kitchen. No one. We checked all the doors leading out of the house. They were all mysteriously blocked, except those that led onto the isolated deck.
Jonas was breathing hard, even though I had a decade or two on him. Must be the cigarettes.
“What did you say about the basement?” I asked. His paranoia was starting to get to me. Surely the doors and the absence of the others could be explained. I had no idea how…but…
“There’s a secret door he had Damien install,” Jonas explained in a rough whisper. “A secret room down there. Greg designed it. Carl knew. So did Lyle, he framed it. He wanted it to be a truly secret room. I wasn’t supposed to see it, but I was installing the log accents in the main basement room and Damien came back to grab something…he joked about us getting knocked off like the guys who built the Taj Mahal…”
“But—but,” I said. “That may be, but it doesn’t explain what’s happening.”
“He said Yvonne’s upstairs,” Jonas said. I followed him back to the foyer and up the huge curving staircase. The camera cut into my ribs where I clutched it to me, shaking slightly despite myself. That smell…I kept seeing Phil’s eyes, glinting. Did I really know him?
But this was absurd. Phil wouldn’t actually kill off the men who’d built his secret room. If he had one. I glanced at Jonas’ perspiring neck.
Yvonne wasn’t in any of the three bathrooms upstairs. Or any of the other rooms. We found ourselves back at the top of the stairs, shivering in the foul mustiness.
“Maybe she’s in the basement,” I said.
“They all are,” Jonas said.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I snapped. But my leg was shaking and it was difficult to make my way back down into the foyer.
The lights came back on.
Jonas jumped and dropped his phone. It bounced over the marble floor and I heard it crack.
“Shit,” he gasped. “Tell me you told someone where you are.”
“Stop that,” I grunted. The lights were back and the house felt normal again. I couldn’t smell the musty odor. Probably all my imagination. Jonas retrieved his broken phone and squinted at the spiderwebbed screen.
He tried the front door again. Still wouldn’t budge.
“There’s got to be a way out,” he muttered.
“You know you can always climb down from the deck,” I said. Jonas scowled. “Now, I’m going to get my camera bag from the lounge and then I’m going to find Phil.”
“He’s downstairs,” hissed Jonas. “They all are!”
“Well, you know where the door is,” I said, marching off to the lounge, leaving Jonas to examine the front door’s lock with his pocketknife. I restored my camera to its case and poured myself a drink. The glass shook in my hand. Voices murmured in the foyer behind me. I spilled my wine and listened. Jonas…and…Yvonne. I sighed. See. Nothing was going on here.
“We have to get out of here,” Jonas hissed.
“Shhhh,” said Yvonne, soothingly. “That’s it. Don’t struggle.”
I dropped my wineglass and it shattered on the floor. I hadn’t heard that. A door closed. The stench trickled up my nose, vile and alive, whispering of green things.
I ran out to the foyer. Jonas’s pocketknife and dead cigarette lay on the marble, alone. I panted into the silence. It bounced back to me, amplified in the large space. The windows were black. I looked at the door. Not the front door. The one which Phil had vanished into. The one that led to the basement. I picked up Jonas’s pocketknife and stuffed it in my pocket.
I should try to climb down from the deck outside. Much more difficult for me than for Jonas. There was probably a window I could break.  The stained glass around the front door was in too narrow of panes for me to squeeze through. But the kitchen had windows that opened onto the driveway.
Why had Phil let me stay? If he’d planned to kill these people tonight, why not turn me away? Or was one more victim no sweat?
I sounded crazy. This was crazy! Phil, a murderer? Yvonne his accomplice? They weren’t married anymore…
And what was in the secret room?
I found myself at the basement door, hand on the brass knob. Every nerve screamed that something was wrong, and the smell of verdant moss rolled up from underneath the door, stronger than ever. Yet part of me wanted to see…a mad, hysterical shred somewhere deep inside wanted to know where that smell was coming from. What was in the secret room? And what if I could take pictures of it? The camera bag swung down from my shoulder and a hand—mine—dug the camera back out and let the bag slide gently to the floor.
Another hand—also mine—turned the knob. I was not greeted by darkness. The stairwell was well-lit and richly carpeted. I raised my camera as if in defense and crept down the stairs. My footsteps made no noise and the basement below was quiet.
Reaching the bottom of the stairs, I found a well-lit, empty room. Another, smaller, antler chandelier dangled from the ceiling. There were a couple of bookcases and a couch and a strange painting.
I glanced back up the stairs, wondering if Phil might slam the door and trap me down here. But that was foolish. There was another sliding glass door out onto a patio beneath the deck. I could break the glass and escape.
I checked the other rooms first, timidly. A spare bedroom and bathroom, and an office, all empty.
I found myself before the strange painting. I didn’t spare a glance for the bookshelves. I wasn’t about to go pulling out books, looking for the lever.
The artist loved the color green. The scene before me was executed almost entirely in shades of emerald, lime, and sage. Putrid. I would describe the work as putrid. It looked like that word, looked like a smell. The smell I had smelled upstairs. It was stronger here, as if radiating from the dried oil pigments. It didn’t look dry, either…it looked wet and slimy. I peered closer at the varnished surface, amazed at how photographic the painting was. As if someone had photographed a nightmare. Wasn’t that how they described Beksinski? The man who photographed his nightmares?
It throbbed under the light of the chandelier. An antlered figure standing in a thicket. Deformed, twisted, and mysterious. My head tingled with fuzziness and I closed my eyes, but the swirling colors of the nightmare photo whirled in my head.
I put out a hand to steady myself and it fell upon the frame. It was cold to the touch. But wet. I drew back my hand and was horrified to see it red. Blood. I reached around behind the frame and found the catch. I held my breath.
Who was behind this door? All the guests? Dead?
Where was my host?
I glanced around again. The room was still and tense. As if hushed with waiting. Waiting. No one. No sound. No generator hum. Just my breath and the button under my bloody finger. I should run for it. But another glance. Just one, at that remarkable painting. Could I take a photo of it?
When my eyes returned to the painting, it whirled and my eyes fuzzed over as dizziness churned my stomach. I clutched the frame…and in so doing, pressed the catch. I staggered back as the painting swung silently outward toward me.
I clutched my camera and waited to be stabbed. There was no one behind the painting. Just a small room of stonework walls. Tile floor. Ample lighting from wall sconces made from small deer antlers. So many antlers. I understood they were ‘rustic’ but this seemed excessive. My eyes snapped to the floor. A trapdoor. A streak of something red marked the floor from my feet to the square of hardwood with the metal loop handle.
Only an idiot would open that trapdoor. But I still couldn’t believe this was actually happening. Maybe it was a prank. No. I knew that wasn’t true. The mad little voice inside kept urging me on. The painting swung shut behind me. I dropped my camera and it cracked on the floor. I scooped it up and brandished it by the strap. I was still alone. The trapdoor didn’t budge. I searched frantically for the button to open the door from the inside and found a handle, but it wouldn’t move.
I turned back to the trapdoor with ragged breaths. This was a trap. But I could only go on. Perhaps I had a chance…camera in one hand, I dragged the trapdoor up and prepared to bring the expensive device crashing down on Phil or Yvonne’s head. Instead, I staggered back, choking on fumes of that earthy moss perfume.
Maybe it was poison. My eyes watered and I blinked violently. Still, I was alone. The trapdoor led down into another brightly lit stone room.
Had this been added after Damien and Carl and the others were done? Surely Jonas would have mentioned such an odd chamber. I scrambled down the ladder into a long tunnel, lined with stonework. Who had done the stonework? Why hadn’t Phil invited the mason to die here, as well?
Why was I down here? I glanced back up the ladder in a panic, and back down the tunnel to the green door at the end. Where else could I go?
I marched down to the green door and threw it open. I sat down on the floor.
I was looking at an altar. Wrought of gold, with a beautifully painted altarpiece done in the same nightmarish style as the painting over the secret door. But it wasn’t the altar that had made me sit down so abruptly on the cold floor. Nor was it the statue of the unnaturally shaped being that loomed over it, crowned with emeralds and antlers. Nor was it the choking miasma that puffed from the incense burners swinging hypnotically in all corners of the secret shrine…
It was the offerings laid out before the altar.
On a long table with a white table cloth, lay Lyle, Greg, Carl, Damien, and Jonas. Their eyes were closed peacefully, but the tops of their heads were shaved and tubes ran out and down the table, across the floor and up into an intricate golden chalice. Blood coursed languidly through the clear tubing.
I heard the painting open. Yvonne slid down the ladder. Phil followed her slowly.
“Welcome, Master,” Yvonne said, looking directly at me, a weird weird smile on her red red lips.
“You’re crazy,” I coughed at Phil. Phil smiled—snake-like, as always.
“Not so,” he said, advancing down the tunnel. I dragged myself to my feet and swung the camera on its strap.
“I’m not going to be sacrificed to some imaginary demon.”
“You won’t. You’re not imaginary or a demon,” Yvonne said. Her hands were empty. So where Phil’s. They clasped them in prayer and the mad voice in me smiled.
“They are the sacrifices,” Phil said. “Their blood will free you!”
“What?” I blubbered, confused and terrified. Why did they have no weapons? Why was that strange—sensation—growing in me? It was happy. Not my happiness. It, the thing, was happy. I dropped the camera.
“I was meant to come here all along,” I gasped. Phil and Yvonne nodded.
“You were meeting the man in Hoperington about your portfolio. I paid him to do that…you then came here of your own volition. You want this.”
I staggered away from them as they advanced on me. They came forward slowly, with measured paces, and with their hands clasped before them, they began to chant a prayer that trembled my bones. I fell back, stumbling into the room of horror—of delight.
“Teh Ri’teth, Lord of all and king of hell,” intoned my host and his ex as they drove me toward the altar,
“Nesillagh, horde of death and queen of ice,
Pa’lagithon, lord of night and prince of dreams,
Sheddiroth, drinker of blood, shed no tears.”
I staggered around the table and glanced down at poor Jonas. His face was white. His eyes flew open and I screamed. Phil and Yvonne kept chanting.
“Sheddiroth, drink our oblation,
Unleash your glory,
Obliterate the earth and bathe in its blood.
Sheddiroth! Hamat, erah! Secu, nemat erha! SHeddiroth!”
“Knife,” Jonas gasped. My hand flew to the pocketknife and drew it from my pocket. The happy thing in me quailed. I flicked the blade out as I looked around at the altar, where the golden chalice was filling up with blood.
“Hamat, erah! Secu, nemat erha! Ludisa, hamat! Sheddiroth! Sheddiroth! Sheddiroth!”
My hand trembled. The thing in me—Sheddiroth—writhed and my other hand reached for the chalice.
“Drink, Sheddiroth, drink!” Yvonne begged. I looked back at Jonas and the others. His eyes were closed again, but he was still breathing.
Yvonne and Phil were on their knees now, pleading with tear-stained faces and the thing in me was delighted, raising the chalice to my lips.
“DRINK! HAMAT!” Yvonne screamed.
I dropped the chalice and drove the pocket knife into my ribs. Yvonne’s scream continued, rising in pitch. I gasped and fell to the floor, dropping the chalice. Blood gushed out across the shrine’s floor.
Phil roared in anger.
The thing in me screamed through my lips.
“You failed me, Phil!” I said.
Yvonne stopped screaming and scrambled to my side.
“I’m sorry, Master,” she wept. Sheddiroth grinned through me.
“Go and drown yourself in the lake,” I commanded. “Phil, stop their blood flow, unlock the house and hang yourself from the chandelier in the foyer.”
They left to obey.
 I lay back in a pool of my own blood. My hands were too weak to lift the chalice to save myself and Sheddiroth. Phil and Yvonne couldn’t help me, I had to drink myself. My vision blurred in and out. Sheddiroth grumbled in the depths of my mortal coil.
We could have reigned the earth.
But one of the last things I saw was Jonas’s foot twitching and I knew they were all still alive. They would escape Sheddiroth.
For now.



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4 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thank you! I still need to read everyone else's! I haven't had time for anything lately, barely managed to write this story...

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  2. Love that you've included some illustrations!

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