THE BRIDGE

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic

Sean's encounter with the supernatural while crossing the city bridge sets him on a path of discovery as he tries to work out who, or what calls the bridge home.

~~~{{ONE}}~~~

Sean was familiar with the Gray Street bridge, but he had no idea of the misery it holds within its concrete and steel body. The bridge was just a thing of legend and stories until the night he found himself entwined in the tale of its most famous ghost; a desperately troubled young mother by the name of Lorna Sole.

He sees Lorna for the first time on a foggy night as he makes his way home from work. He does not know, initially, what he is seeing until oncoming headlights illuminated a woman standing on the sidewalk. She is looking over the railing into the void below, and Sean can tell that the woman is holding a bundle in her arms. And as he passes she kisses the bundle and throws it over the side.

"What the hell!" Sean yells as the bundle rotates and he sees the face of a child. Then, as the bundle disappears into the abyss, the woman climbs up onto the stone wall and falls forward.

In desperation, Sean throws open his door and races across the bridge to where the woman went over. But when he gets there and looks over the edge it's too dark to see anything; but it's not what Sean can't see that drives a chill down his spine, it's what he hears. From somewhere in the dark below, Sean can hear a child crying. And as he stands there listening, hypnotized by its call, he hears the sad, lonely voice of a woman whisper, "Please, won't you join me; It's so lonely down here."

~~~{{TWO}}~~~

As he searches the depth below, Sean is conscious of shouts and car horns, but he can't bring himself to look away from the darkness.

"Hey!" A teen shouts, jumping from his bicycle and grabbing Sean by the arms.

Sean feels the hands, and is aware that he is being pulled backward, and even though he fights to keep his footing, he is pulled back back from the edge of the wall. Standing there, looking at the teen's concerned face, not understanding what is happening, Sean watches as a crowd gathers behind the young man. And as it does, it closes in around him as if to protect Sean from something horrible.

"Hey," the teen says again, snapping his fingers at Sean. "Are you hearing me?"

Sean nods weakly and looks behind him. "What?"

"You were up on the wall," the young man says sympathetically. "I thought you were going to go over before I could get to you. If it wasn't for that prevention fence, you'd be laying at the bottom, dead."

"No," Sean says, coming back to himself. "I wasn't going to jump."

He looks around, pleading for understanding. "There was a woman. She fell. I saw her. Didn't anyone else see her? Someone must have seen her!" He looks at the faces surrounding him. "She was right there!" He shouts, pointing at the railing. "Right there!"

~~~{{THREE}}~~~

Sean sits in the library running through old microfiche of newspapers from the years around the building of the bridge. It has been several days since his experience, and he has finally found the time, or courage, to look into the history of the place. The first thing he looks for is the heart-wrenching story of Lorna Sole and her baby. What he finds, however, makes him dive deeper into the void.

From the first moments of construction to just a few weeks ago, that particular structure has seemingly taken lives, rather than accepted them. As Sean digs deeper into its past, he finds that he can very nearly make the case that the bridge is a living, breathing serial killer. He is sure that if it had been a person, it would have been prosecuted and convicted on nothing more than the evidence at hand.

But, it is not a man nor a woman; it is a structure of concrete and steel. "So why," Sean asks the microfiche machine, "do so many people go there to kill themselves? What is it that draws them there? I mean, look at the area around the bridge. There are more than enough places to go and do yourself in; much more private places than the bridge. But people keep going to this very public place, climb up over the railings, look down into the darkness below, and let themselves fall."

And that is the thing that bothers him the most about the bridge. The seeming willingness that every one of its victims shows when they go there to die. He does not believe that without the bridge, everyone who died there would have gone on to live long happy lives. After all, he knows that most of those who go there to die are firmly caught in the grip of depression and despair, seeing no other way to ease their tortured minds. But Sean does believe that those feelings are what made them a perfect target for the bridge.

And that is what Sean thought he would find when he went in search of the power behind the precarious tipping point between life and death. However, what he has seen is much darker than he could have imagined. What he has found is an entrance. Not to hell, at least he doesn't think it is. It seems more like an entrance to the underworld, purgatory, or maybe it's something no religion has ever been able to envision. Whatever it is, he somehow knows that it is a place that holds suffocating darkness that waits to wrap its tentacles around anyone, and everyone. It is a beast that feeds on the loneliness and despair of its victims; a hunter; a monolithic horror, older than time, and twice as hungry.

Sean takes his findings, and does what an individual dealing with obsession would do. He plans an expedition to the bridge to find the source of the evil. And to do so, Sean enlists two of his oldest and closest friends.

~~~{{FOUR}}~~~

They spend a week or so going over the plan, using whatever they can find on the internet and at the library to help. But trying to sift through the mud to find those few nuggets of truth takes up most of their time. And the public records aren't much help either. There are a few pictures, and some handwritten progress reports from the construction, along with shipping records and inventory sheets. But the thing they are most interested in, blueprints and schematics, are not there. In the end, they end up getting most of their information from a few books, satellite photos, and a curious eyewitness account of a strange death during construction.

The man's name was Cecil Black, and he was a vagrant who had been living in the gully for years when the construction started. The account says that he was not happy about "his" land being defiled by "that concrete monstrosity." He would do annoying things during the night, nothing too destructive to begin with, just things that would slow the start of the workday. Most of the workers believed him to be crazy — a man too long on his own. But the writer of the report thought differently. He believed Cecil had been possessed.

It wasn't too long after the appearance of Cecil that the mischief turned to dangerous tampering. If the report writer is to be believed, Cecil was to blame for the first death associated with the bridge. “We never discovered how he managed to cause it to happen the way it did,” the report writer said, “but everyone was sure it was he who was the cause of it.” So, in the end, Cecil was arrested and committed to the state hospital for the mentally deficient. Six months later Cecil was seen again, standing in the gully near the base of one of the support columns. He just stood there, staring up at the workers. Then he was gone.

The writer ends the report with a short postscript, which reads, "Right after we saw Cecil standing in the gully I received word that he had died in the hospital. I figured that Cecil had escaped and they were covering it up, but I'm not so sure now. The man I saw in the gully that day was Cecil. He was not a ghost. He cast a shadow, and when he was gone, there were footprints in the soft mud. But now, looking back, I still believe that he was there, but not that he was human. Too many things have been happening around here that no one can explain. I suggest, no, I implore you to please have the bridge exorcised and cleansed before you let anyone cross it. Cecil is still down there. He is not human. And he is waiting. For what I do not know. But I fear that bridge, and I fear for anyone unfortunate enough to cross it at the wrong time."

~~~{{FIVE}}~~~

"So do you think he's the one calling everyone to their death," Kevin asks as he skims through the report, "or is he just another victim of the bridge?"

"I don't know," Sean replies, getting up to get a beer. "That's one of the things I hope to find out. And maybe help with."

"Help with?" Pat asks.

"Yes," Sean says as he opens the fridge and nods towards Kevin and Pat, asking if they are ready for another as well. They each nodded back, and Sean grabs three beers and returns to the table. "I'm hoping to find a way to give them some peace. Maybe help them cross over."

"Wow," Kevin says, smiling, "you sound like the guy from that TV show."

"Well," Sean replies with a wink, "maybe we can put a pitch together when it's all over. ghost hunting is pretty big right now."

Pat smirks and shakes his head while Kevin gives Sean two thumbs up and goes back to reading the report about Cecil. As he does, Sean settles in to watch some videos about the bridge and other peoples experiences there. Most are iffy, or crap, but one of them catches his eye. It's not so much the video's presenters who piques his interest, but what he sees in the shadows while they go through the area under the bridge. He doesn't catch it right away, but knows that something is bothering him about the scene, and finds himself watching and rewinding it over and over again until he sees it.

"Christ," Sean says, "what the hell is that!?"

"What the hell is what?" Pat asks, looking up from his GameBoy.

"I think I just found something," Sean says, holding his phone out. "Look."

Sean spins his chair around and links his phone to the TV. The video begins innocently enough, showing three friends on a ghost hunt, but after a while, it gets a little dark. It never really loses its comedic value, but it does get tense when the trio goes down under the bridge and starts playing with a spirit board. And that's when Sean pauses the video.

"Okay," he says, pointing at Kevin and Pat in turn. "Watch closely. If you blink, you'll miss it."

Sean presses play again, and they watch as the three begin using the spirit board. Then one of them looks away and comments on the shape of something looking like the devil.

"There, did you see it?" Sean says excitedly, pointing at the screen.

"Did we see what?" Pat asks.

"The shadow," Sean says, turning to look at him. "The shadow that passes behind him as he says the word ‘devil.'

"I didn't see any shadow," Kevin answers, shaking his head. "I think you've had enough for one-night."

"Fuck that," Sean barks queuing the video again, and points at the person that says the word devil. "Watch the area right behind him."

Sean starts the video again, this time at half speed, and as the shadow crosses the frame, he hits pause. And there it is, clear as day. The shadow stands head and shoulders above the guy it appeared behind, and even though they know it's a shadow, they can see muscles moving under the black form.

"Holy shit!" Pat says, holding his breath. "What the fuck is that!?"

"A trick of the light," Kevin says, smiling. "Just a shadow cast by the guy in front of it."

"Really?" Sean asks. "And what is the shadow being cast on?"

"No idea."

"That's right. You have no idea," Sean says, triumphantly. "We're going to have one hell of a good time."

"Let's see the rest of it," Kevin says, smiling at Sean’s enthusiasm. "Maybe, there's something else."

"Now you're on the right page," Sean says and hits the play button again.

They go through the video twice more and find three oddly shaped and moving shadows. The first is a small, stooped figure that is hiding behind the trash can as the trio make their way back along the path to the stairs leading up to the bridge. It appears right after the one carrying the spirit board drops it into the trash can and walks away. The shape seems to sway slightly in the windless night as its head follows the three, watching them as they climb the stairs.

They see the second shadow on the opposite side of the bridge as the ghost hunters walk to their car. It starts as a small wisp of grey smoke behind the suicide prevention fencing but multiplies as it moves through the fence and wraps itself around the bottom of a street light. Then, like a snake, it begins to rise along the shaft of the light post in coils as thick as a man until it reaches the top where it slides out to cover the light, producing an eerie blood-colored glow.

"How did they not see that?" Pat asks, staring at the screen.

Sean is about to answer when the snake starts to hang from the light post like a thickly oozing ichor mass. Then it shifts, and Sean is looking at a shadow hanging from the light post that bears a striking resemblance to the group leader.

"How the hell are they not seeing this!?" Pat yells at the TV. "It's right there! Right there!"

"Cool your jets," Kevin says, staring at the scene playing out on the screen. "Maybe they added this in editing."

"I don't think so," Sean says, rewinding the footage and watching it again. "It looks real. And I've watched this guy's stuff before, he’s kinda weird, but I don’t think he's a fake."

Sean watches the snake turn into the hanging man a couple more times before letting the video continue. As the light post disappears, and the three friends approach the house sitting on the edge of the gully where the bridge starts, Sean notices something in the window of its front room.

"Oh, hell," he breathes as he watches as another wisp of grey smoke begins to form, "here we go again."

"What," Pat asks, looking up from the report about Cecil. "Where are we going again?"

Sean points at the window to the right of the hunters, and they watch as the wisp becomes a cloud. Then it stretches and takes the form of a woman standing in the window. As the camera lingers on the window for a moment the shape solidifies and snaps into a dark figure, its face taking on a familiar form.

"Holy crap," Sean says excitedly, "that's her."

"That's who?" Kevin asks.

"Lorna Sole. The woman who jumped off the bridge after throwing her baby over the side."

"No way."

"Seriously, bro," Sean says with emphasis. "I’ve seen her picture, that's her."

They watch as the group passes by the window, seemingly not seeing the apparition. As they do, the woman's shade raises her hand and points at the lead investigator before opening her mouth as if to scream. Then she steps through the window to follow them and disappears.

"That was freaky," Sean says, turning off the video.

"That's an understatement," Pat says, walking to the kitchen.

"What do you guys think?" Sean asks, looking from one to the other. "Looks promising, doesn't it?"

"Yeah," Pat says. "A barrel of laughs."

"Really, guys?" Kevin asks, shaking his head. "You two do know that that was fake right?"

"Then there's nothing to be afraid of, is there?" Sean fires back.

Kevin smiles at Sean and shakes his head. "I guess not. Count me in.”

~~~{{SIX}}~~~

"Have we got everything?" Sean asks as he loads the last of his equipment into the trunk.

"Yes mother," Kevin smirks, throwing his backpack into the trunk. "I have everything I need."

"Were you able to fit all the camera gear in that bag?" Pat asks as he tosses in his backpack. "I mean, with all the snacks you stuffed in there I'm surprised there was room for anything else."

Kevin smiles, "Shut up, wiseass. There was room on top."

"Let's go," Sean says as he climbs into the driver's seat. "We need to be there by three."

"Why the hell do we have to do this at three in the morning?" Pat chimes back. "I thought midnight was the witching hour."

"It is. But we're after demons. They party harder and all night long."

~~~{{SEVEN}}~~~

Sean pulls over and parks just off the bridge and next to the house in the YouTube video. As hard as he tries not to, he finds himself glancing up apprehensively at the window, half expecting to see Lorna staring back at him. She is not there, and Sean lets out the breath he does not know he is holding.

"Are we going to sit here all night?" Kevin asks.

"No, I was just trying to think of the best way to do this." Sean answers, opening his door.

"From home," Pat chimes in with a sharp twinge. "We could have done this from your living room."

"Where's your appetite for adventure?" Sean jibes as he walks around to the trunk and unlocks it. "It's a beautiful night for a stroll."

Pat grabs his bag from the trunk. "My sense of adventure is back home on the couch. And I can do all the strolling I need to do with a controller in my hand."

Sean shakes his head and throws Kevin's overstuffed backpack to him. "Hold that a sec."

"Sure, whatever you say," Pat says, catching the backpack and dropping on the grass.

Sean smirks at him and pulls three walkie-talkies out of his backpack, hands one to Kevin and tosses one to Pat. Pat catches the radio and stuffs it into his jacket.

"Um, are you going to turn it on?" Sean asks with a smirk.

"Sure," Pat replies, "as soon as I want to talk to either of you two."

"What's that...?" Sean says, pointing at the house from the video.

"What?" Kevin asks.

Sean stands, looking at the house from the video, eyes locked on the front window. "I could swear I just saw the thing from the video."

"No," Kevin says, smacking him across the back of the head, "what you are seeing is the lady that lives there. Stop staring at her before she calls the cops."

Sean turns back to the house and sees a woman, not Lorna Sole, standing in the window looking at him. She makes a dismissive motion with her head and moves away. "Jeez," he says, turning away from the house. "Let's get this party started before I creep out anyone else."

"Yeah," Kevin says, shaking his head. "You need to work on your social skills.

"Kiss my ass," Sean says, picking up his backpack. "Alright, let's go," he continues, starting across the bridge. He looks back once, but the light in the house has been turned off. Then he takes a quick look at the lamp post to see if the other ghost would make an appearance, but it stands bright and unmolested.

"Shit," Pat exclaims, stopping by the stone wall bordering the bridge, "this writing looks fresh."

Sean and Kevin stop next to Pat and study the shaky scrawl of a black sharpie. "I ended the loneliness on 05/08/2018."

"Christ," Kevin sighs, "that makes it a bit more real then I would have liked." He looks around and drops his backpack. "I think I'll go from here," he says opening his pack and pulling out a coil of climbing rope, a harness, and other repelling gear. "Who's on belay?"

"That's me," Pat says. "The guy at the end of his rope."

~~~{{EIGHT}}~~~

Sean and Pat walk toward the stairs leading down under the bridge while Kevin readies his gear. He pulls a yellow and orange reflective vest out of the front pocket of his backpack and slips it on. Then, he ties his rope to the base of a street lamp and throws it through a small gap between the top of the prevention fence and the stonework of the bridge.

"That's going to be a tight fit," he says, pulling on his repelling harness, and pretending to check the light fixture when a car passes. Once the car is gone, he pulls out an ascender clamp and two cameras. He looks up and down the bridge to ensure no vehicles are coming and then climbs the stonework, slides around the fencing, and hooks up to the rope. "Come on, Pat," she says to himself, "let's get a move on."

~~~{{NINE}}~~~

Sean and Pat reach the bottom of the stairs just in time to see Kevin climbing around the suicide prevention fence that runs along the bridge. "Jesus," Pat says, walking faster, "he doesn't like to wait, does he?"

"No, he does not," Sean says following at Pat's heels. "But he does get things done, so..."

"Hey," Kevin says into his radio, "get a move on ladies, I'm a sitting duck up here. I don't want someone to come by and think that I'm a jumper ready to go over."

"Hold your horses," Pat replies as he searches the dark for the end of the rope. Seeing it, he walks over, grabs it, and walks back until the line is angled away from the bridge. "Okay, crybaby, we're waiting on you."

Kevin flips Pat the bird and turns to face the bridge. He leans back until he is hanging straight out from the deck. "Here goes nothing," he says as he walks his way down the side, holding himself just under the first overhang.

"This looks like a good place," Kevin says to the small camera as he pulls it from his pocket. "What do you think?"

"Help me."

"What the hell!" Kevin says as he looks around and almost loses his footing on the bridge.

Pat and Sean watch from below as their friend turns his head at an impossible angle, as if he is searching for something behind him. "What are you doing?" Sean says into the radio as Pat pulls back, keeping the rope tight.

"I heard something," Kevin replies, steadying himself. "Most likely the wind, but it sounded like someone saying, 'Help me.'" Kevin shakes his head and gives a thumbs up. "I think the bridge is getting to me already."

"Okay," Sean says, "just be careful."

Kevin goes back to placing the first of the cameras and ignores the wind rushing past him as best he can. "It didn't seem this windy up on top," he muses, "it's like a different world down here."

~~~{{TEN}}~~~

Sean watches Kevin as he installs the wireless cameras on the bridge. They had chosen that spot for them because that is where he had seen Lorna Sole go off.

"What's that?" Pat says, looking into the shadows of the bridge.

"What?" Sean replies.

"Over there," Pat motions with his head, "by the second pylon."

Sean squints into the night, trying to see what Pat is seeing. "I don't see anything," he says and then notices a door embedded in the concrete of the structure. "Where did that come from?" He asks. "I don't remember that being there in the videos we watched."

"Yeah," Pat says, adjusting the slack on Kevin's rope. "Neither do I. But we weren't looking for it either, were we?"

"I guess not," Sean says. "But you think we would notice a big black metal door set into the stark gray of a concrete pillar."

"How very poetic," Pat jibes, "but I think that the prospect of a door appearing out of thin air is much less likely than us just not seeing it in a video shot at night with poor lighting."

"Smartass," Sean says, heading away. "I'm going to go check it out."

As he moves away toward the door, Sean hears Kevin's voice coming over the radio, letting them know that the cameras are up and running. "It's about time," Sean says, aware of his impatience.

He reaches the door and finds it has seemingly changed again. What, from a distance, looked like a solid metal door now, upon closer inspection, looks similar to a cell door from an old movie — a solid iron plate with a two-foot square, iron-barred window.

"This thing looks like it's a hundred years old if it's a day," Sean says into the walkie-talkie.

"Well, that would fit with the construction of the bridge, wouldn't it?" Pat responds.

"Yeah, but it has a barred window in it," Sean says, trying to look through the opening. "That doesn't seem like a good choice for an external door, does it?"

"Not really,"

"Okay," Kevin's voice breaks through, "everything is good to go up here. I'm coming down."

~~~{{ELEVEN}}~~~

Kevin finishes placing the second camera below and to the left of the first and checks them with his phone. "Perfect," he smiles to himself and begins his slide toward his two friends. As he does, a thin mist starts to form in the air below him, and as he descends into it, it becomes a fog. "What the?" he says as the fog closes in around him, blocking out the ground below entirely.

"Hey, Pat?" Kevin calls into the radio. "Pat? Sean? Someone?"

Kevin lowers himself a few more feet to try the radio again, but as he does, he hears a voice coming through the static. "Help me," the woman's voice says, distant and slight. "Please, help me. I'm so lonely."

"Hello?" Kevin says into the radio, stopping his descent. "Hello, is someone there?"

"Help me," the voice comes again, a little clearer this time.

"Hello," Kevin says, a shiver running down his back. He is about to start down again when he feels a tug on the rope above him. A moment later, he is falling.

~~~{{TWELVE}}~~~

"Kevin!" Pat screams as the rope in his hand goes slack, and falls to the ground.
Sean hears Pat's scream, and then the desperation registers. "What the fuck is going on now?" He says, turning from the iron door just as a shadow passes between it and the darkness within. "What was that?" Sean says, looking back for a moment, trying to decide whether he saw what he thinks he did. Then he abandons the idea as Pat's second scream comes toward him like an out of control banshee.

He rushes back but finds that Pat is not where he left him. "Pat!?" He calls, searching the shadows that seem to breathe in the night air around him. "Pat, goddammit, where the hell are you!?"
Sean hears movement in the shrubs off to his right and starts to move in that direction. Before he can catch sight of what is there, however, Pat comes out of the shadows ahead of him. Sean stares at Pat as he comes stumbling out of the night, the other sounds forgotten.

“What?" Sean asks his beleaguered friend. "What's going on? Where's Kevin?"

Pat sinks to his knees a few paces away and holds up his hands in a helpless motion. "I don't know," he says, distracted, "one minute everything is fine, and the next the rope snaps and Kevin is gone."

"What do you mean he's gone?" Sean says, stepping toward the other man. "If the rope snapped, then he fell. He has to be here somewhere, and he's most likely seriously hurt. So, pull yourself together and help me find him."

"I looked," Pat says, tears welling up now. "I looked, and he's not there. He's gone, Sean. He's gone!"

"Look, Pat," Sean says, calming his voice, "take a breath. We'll find him. He can't have just disappeared, right? He has to be here somewhere. Let's take a minute, focus, and look again. We'll do a spiral out from where Kevin should have landed, and we'll find him."

Pat nods and gets to his feet. "Okay, I'm fine now," he says, starting away, "he would have hit over here. On the other side of those two trees."

Sean lets out his breath and follows Pat toward the spot where he is expecting to find his friend's body. His focus and fear blind him to the thing emerging from the brush directly across from him, and he passes without seeing it. The beast sniffs the air, cocks its head, and glides into the shadows stretching out from the bridge above.

~~~{{THIRTEEN}}~~~

Kevin lands hard on a pile of uprooted shrubbery. Laying on his back, he tries to find the bridge, but it, or rather he has been swallowed by the fog. "Jesus," he says, sitting up, pain exploding in his head, "how did that not kill me?" Turning his head at the sound of movement, Kevin expects to see Pat standing there but sees no one. "Hello?" He calls into the darkness, and when he gets no response, Kevin stands and takes a step forward, trying to focus on the shadows. "Pat?" He calls out. "Pat, is that you? Stop fucking around, man. This little game isn't funny."

"Douche-bag," Kevin Continues as he stands and begins moving in the direction of Pat and Sean. "Sean!? Where the hell did you two go!?"

He limps through the underbrush and trees until Kevin is sure that he is where he last saw Pat. What he finds, however, is a soggy patch of slick black moss and stagnant water seeping up with each footstep. And it's not so much the feel of the ground, or the look of the sludge he is trudging through that causes him to wish he was anywhere else, it's the smell of death and rot. A smell like no other he has ever experienced. The aroma of hell.

"I must have gotten turned around," Kevin says, looking into the darkness, trying to find his bearings. "I must be on the wrong side of the bridge."

As he turns to go back the way he came, Kevin hears the crash of a tree falling. He looks around, wondering where the sound came from and sees the silhouette of a man standing in the shadows near the base of the closest bridge support.

"Hello," he calls into the night, and when no answer comes, he takes a few steps forward and asks, "Pat? Sean?"

"No," comes the answer, but Kevin doesn't so much hear the words as feel them. "Your companions are not here, my friend. You are alone."

"Oh, great," Kevin thinks to himself, "I've woken up the local sage of the homeless population." Then, as the other man steps toward him, Kevin recognizes him. "Jesus," he says, his breath leaving him as fear takes hold, "Cecil?"

"Yes," the other man says, his smile chilling Kevin to his core. "Well. Almost."

~~~{{FOURTEEN}}~~~

"Where is he?" Sean asks, stepping through the last of the large bushes blocking his view of Pat.

"I don't know where he is," Pat says, panic in his voice, "all I know is where he should be. Right here."

Sean takes a breath and looks up. There, dangling like a loose thread, is the rest of Kevin's rope, just visible in the glow of the street lights. "Where did he hit? Maybe we can figure out where he ended up if we can find where he hit."

Pat nods absently and begins to move off to the left. "Don't go far," Sean says and begins to follow a more spiraling search path out from where Kevin should have fallen. When he gets to the edge of the small clearing, he looks back at the center and sighs. "He couldn't have gone farther than this," Sean says, turning back to Pat. "Do you think he landed in the tree?"

"Pat?" Sean says, looking at the empty clearing. "Pat? Where the hell did you go? Pat!"

~~~{{FIFTEEN}}~~~

Pat is nearing the edge of the clearing when he hears movement in the bushes. "Kevin?" He calls out, rushing into the dark, ignoring the changes as he passes from clearing into the darkness of the trees. "Kevin?"

“Over here," comes a muffled and injured voice. "I'm over here. Help!"

"I'm coming buddy," Pat says, frantic. "Keep making noise. Keep talking to me."

Pat pushes through the brush, anxiety, and desperation blocking the pain of the tearing thorns. "Keep talking," he yells, forcing himself through one final massive tangle of razor-sharp branches as they try to restrain him from his path. "Kevin," he says, bursting into the small clearing under an ancient oak. "Kevin, where are you!?"

"Over here," comes the voice that he heard on the other side. But now it's different. Now it is weaker. Feminine. Unfamiliar.

"Where?" He asks. "I can't see you."

A small, pale hand drifts out from behind the massive oak tree. It hangs in the air like a wisp of smoke before falling back behind the trunk. Then it rises again, this time holding the limp remnants of a climbing rope, the end dripping with blood.

"Jesus," Pat says, rushing around the tree to find no one there. "What the hell!? Kevin! Stop screwing around, man. Where are you!?"

"Over here," the voice comes again. Pat turns and sees the climbing rope being pulled into the bushes off to his left and, as he stands there hypnotized, he fails to see the woman step out of the shadows to his right. The woman glides over the ground silently until her lips are inches from Pat's ear. "Stay with me," she says in a cold, spine-numbing whisper, "It's so lonely here."

Pat jumps to the side, spinning to face the voice. What he sees is the pale, sad face of a young woman, her eyes begging him for understanding. She motions to him to follow her and, even though his mind is screaming at him to stop, Pat begins to take slow, hesitant steps. "Lorna," he hears himself say, his voice distant and strange. "Wait for me. I'm coming."

~~~{{SIXTEEN}}~~~

Sean moves through the underbrush, following the sound of Pat's voice. When he finally pushes through to the small clearing under the ancient oak, he sees nothing but the tail end of a climbing rope poking out of the bushes near the opposite edge. "Pat!?" He calls into the night. "Pat, can you hear me!? Pat!?"

"Sean," Pat's voice rings out from behind him. "Sean, over here. I found Kevin."

Sean turns and starts pushing his way back toward the bridge, struggling against a seemingly thicker undergrowth; It seems to take him hours to finally break through the hostile, grappling hands of the bushes. Finally, Sean breaks through the tangle and almost falls into the clearing under the bridge. "Pat!?" he calls, looking around him.
"In here," Pat's voice comes again. This time from the room that was behind the now open iron door. "Hurry, Sean, he's hurt bad. We have to get him to the hospital."

Sean breaks into a run, digging through his pocket for his cell phone. He covers the ground quickly and rushes through the open door. "Where is he," he says, looking around frantically. "Pat, where is he?"

"Behind you," the voice comes again, and before Sean can turn to see his friend the door slams shut, locking with a clang. Sean stands, staring out through the window at the face of Cecil.

"Wha..." Sean says, voice trailing off as if his lungs cannot hold enough air. "Cecil?"

The figure on the other side of the door smiles and shakes his head. "No, not really."

"Then, who are you?" Sean asks, stepping closer to the door and pulling on it. "And why have you locked me in?"

"I am who I am," the other man says. "And I've locked you in because the hungry must feed."

"What?" Sean asks, pulling on the door again. "What the hell does that mean!?"

Cecil smiles, turns from the door, and walks into the fog forming behind him. "What the fuck is going on!?" Sean screams into the night. "Who are you!?"

Then there is a scream from below. It is a mixture of terror and pain, and Sean's blood freezes in his veins. "You'd better go find your friends," Cecil says, his voice clear and calm though he is now a shadow in the fog. "There is so much down there to dance with that their card may already be full, but you have to try. Do you not?"

"Who the fuck are you!?" Sean screams as the figure disappears from view, banging and kicking at the door in desperation. "What the fuck is going on?" He says softly, leaning his head against the cool of the door's surface. "Why is this happening? None of this was supposed to be real."

~~~{{SEVENTEEN}}~~~

Kevin comes awake in a dark room lit by a single candle flame. He looks around the room, vision shaky, trying to pick out anything that might tell him where he is. As his vision clears, he begins to make out shapes in the darkness, but it is the wall behind the candle that strikes at his sanity. As he watches the shadows dance along its surface, Kevin begins to see the movement is not just from the candle's flame, but the wall itself. In between the flickers of light, the wall seems to pulse and throb, then hold still, as the thin shaft of light moves across its surface.

"Is the wall...it can't be." Kevin asks, squinting at the wall, and trying to sit up, realizing that he is strapped down to a surgical table. He has been laid out with his wrists and ankles tied to the corners in a spread-eagle. He pulls at the chains and gasps as they cut into the flesh of his injured leg.

"God-Damn-it," he screams as the pain cuts through him. "Help!"

"Now, now," a voice comes out of the dark, false sympathy within its tone. "What is all this noise about?"

Kevin snaps his head to the left, searching for the owner of the voice. "Who's there?" He asks. "Show yourself."

"Who's there?" The voice returns, mocking the other man. "Show yourself."

"Please," Kevin’s voice cracks with the strain of searching for his tormentor. "Please, let me go."

"I'm afraid that I cannot do that," the creature that is Cecil says, coming into the dim light of the candle. "You see, you came to me. I did not go looking for you. So, as I see it, I'm only giving you what you want."

Kevin turns his head, straining to watch as Cecil moves around the room. "We just came for some fun," he says, panic growing in his voice. "Find some ghosts. We didn't know any of this was real."

Cecil stops at a rolling tray and starts to move it toward the table. As he approaches, Kevin can make out the line of filthy surgical instruments carefully arranged on the tray. Cecil leaves the tray in full view as he disappears back into the shadows, letting Kevin's imagination take hold. Then, Kevin is blinded by the overhead lights as they snap on, flooding the room with a stark, clinical wash.

"We need plenty of light," Cecil says, moving back to Kevin's side. "We don't want any silly mistakes, do we?"

"Please," Kevin begs, tears now flowing from his eyes. "Please don't. I'm begging you. It's not my fault. It's not my fault!"

~~~{{EIGHTEEN}}~~~

Sean hears Kevin's screams as they rise from the bowels of the underground structure; the shrill sound jarring him from his thoughts. Frantically, he looks around the small room, squinting in the dim moonlight coming through the window of the iron door. As he does, a glowing red line appears on the far wall. Sean watches as the line widens and lengthens into a door.

"What the fuck is going on," Sean says as he approaches the door. "Where is that light coming from?"

When he reaches the door, he sees that it opens onto a small circular room with a spiral staircase going down into the substructure. On the wall above the landing is an emergency exit sign flanked by two red lights. Sean lets out a sigh of relief upon seeing the lights, his imagination having already run away with him.

The screams come again. This time they are muffled and guttural, almost too quiet to make out. "Kevin!" Sean screams down into the darkness below. He waits for a moment, and when no sound returns, he begins his descent.

~~~{{NINETEEN}}~~~

Pat follows Lorna Sole into the trees, a desperation building in him to catch up to her. As he does, branches reach for him, entangling him, trying to stop his progress. He fights against them, pushing with a strength he did not know he had. Without warning, Pat finds himself stumbling forward as the trees release him. Overbalanced, he falls, but he does not hit the ground. Instead, he falls through the leaf-covered soil and into darkness.

"Hello," Pat call, squinting into the pitch black. "Hello, is anyone there?"

Silence is the only response that Pat gets from the darkness enveloping him. He crawls forward, reaching out a hand, searching for the wall of the room. After a long moment, his hand touches a smooth cold surface, and he stands, listening.

"Hello," he calls again, wincing at the echoes as they bounce back at him.

"Follow," a voice comes from somewhere in the distance. "Lorna is over here. She needs you."

Pat starts moving in the direction of the voice, his hand sliding over the smooth stone of the wall. "I'm coming," he yells. "Tell her that I'm coming."

He pushes on in the dark for a while longer before realizing he had forgotten about his cell phone. "Jesus, " he curses, turning on the flashlight app. "I'm such a moron."

The light from Pat's phone splashes across the floor and walls of the stone hallway, illuminating the slick, red reflection of blood. He watches as the thick liquid runs down the walls, pooling on the floor at his feet and spreading out across the width of the hall.

"What is going on?" Pat asks, reaching out his hand and touching the wall. The blood parts as his fingers come into contact with it, opening and then closing on them. It flows and pulses around his finger-tips, caressing him with a familiar sensation. Then, without warning, the blood grabs hold, pulling Pat into the wall.

Pat lets out a scream and tears at the bloody mass as it pulls at him. He is thrown into hysterics as the crimson flow transforms into a woman's hand. Fighting and clawing at the thing now emerging from the gore-soaked wall, Pat's mind begins to break. The last ling he sees before he collapses is the leering grin of Lorna Sole as she steps out of the wall.

Lorna stands over Pat's crumpled form, blood dripping onto his pale, slack features. Cocking her head to the side, she squats down next to him and pokes at his cheek. Lorna watches him for a long moment before sliding her arms beneath him, picking him up, and cradling him as if he were a child. Kissing his cheek, she turns and steps back through the wall, pulling the blood with her and leaving the hallway untouched, except for the pale light coming from Pat's cellphone.

~~~{{TWENTY}}~~~

Sean comes to the bottom of the staircase and finds himself in a hallway intersection. "Kevin!?" He yells, looking from one hallway to the other, his voice echoing back to him. He can only see a few feet either way as the only lights on are those at the landing.

"Where the hell are you?" Sean asks, pulling his cellphone from his pocket and entering the corridor to the left of the staircase.

The light from Sean's phone guides him deeper into hallway’s darkness, bringing the things around him to life in shadowed animation. "Hello?" Sean calls, seeing a faint glinting just outside the lights reach. “Is someone there?” He calls again, taking another step, his phone's light creeping along the wall to expose a door. "Jesus," he sighs as the silver doorknob reflects his light back at him. "Calm the fuck down, man."

Sean reaches for the door handle and jumps as a single knock resonates through the hallway. It takes him a moment to realize that the blow did not come from the door in front of him, but somewhere further down the corridor..

"Hello?" He calls and again, but his echoes are his only response. "Is anybody there?"

He half expects to hear a voice respond with, "No," but when nothing comes, he turns back to the door. He stands there staring at the shiny handle that had winked at him and wonders why he's here, how this got so out of hand, and what would happen if he couldn't find Kevin or his way back out.

"He's mine," a voice whispers into Sean's ear, hot breath coating the side of his face.

"What!?" Sean says, jumping at the sound of the harsh voice, searching the darkness. "Who's there!?"

Suddenly, the door bursts open, catching him in its wake and throwing Sean hard against the wall.

"He's mine!" The voice booms maniacally, resonating in the hallway and crushing Sean beneath its weight.

Sean tries to stand up, but he is knocked to the ground again by a force that reeks of hatred and malice. He climbs up to his hands and knees, struggling to overcome the pressure forcing him down, trying to crawl back the way he had come. To his horror, Sean sees the beastly deformed figure of Cecil standing in the glow of the landing's emergency lights. Then he tries to turn toward the open door, but before he can, Cecil is on him.

Sean covers his head and curls his body into a ball to try to protect himself from the onslaught of Cecil's clawed fingers. He can feel the ribbons of flesh being torn away by the creature's razor-sharp nails. "Mine! Mine! Mine", the frantic voice continues as if in desperation. Then, as suddenly as it began, the attack is over.

Sean peaks out from under his torn and swelling arms, the taste of blood mixing in his mouth with the sudden burn of bile. Sitting up, he looks from the light at the landing to the dark of the hallway and sighs. "What the fuck was that?" He says, picking up his phone and leaning on the wall as he tries to stand.

As he gets to his feet, Sean sees a small desk light in the room that was hidden by the now destroyed door. He takes a moment to assess what he is seeing, and he is sure that someone is sitting at the desk. Stepping into the room, he finds the light switch and hears a sharp click, but no lights come on.

"This is some stupid shit I'm about to do," he says bringing up his cellphone. "Hello," he says, sweeping his light across the room. "Is anyone there?"

The light passes over the metal desk, illuminating the chair behind it. "What the..." Sean says as the shadow that he thought was a person disappears as the light passes over the chair, and reappears when the dark reclaims it. He can see dark shoulders and what looks like a head, but when he sweeps the light back, the figure is gone.

"Nope," Sean says, backing out of the room. "No way. Nuh-uh. Not this time, my friend."

Back in the hallway, Sean grabs the broken door and swings it back into place, closing off the room as best he can. As he does, he hears the faint scraping of a metal chair on concrete. "Jesus," Sean says, turning from the protective light of the landing and the stairs that can take him out of this place, to the oppressive darkness of the hallway. He stands there for a moment, but the sound of footsteps coming towards the door sends Sean into the darkness.

~~~{{TWENTY-ONE}}~~~

Kevin lays on the operating table, staring up at the ceiling. He has been left alone to suffer his wounds in silence and tries to comprehend and rationalize what has happened. His throat is raw from his screams, and he can taste blood when he tries to speak or call for help. So he lays there, terrified of looking anywhere but up.

"Your friend will be here soon," the Cecil thing says, entering the room from the left and moving to stand beside Kevin. "You will soon all be together again. Doesn't that sound fun?"

Kevin tries to answer, but all he can do is croak out is a single word. "Sean?" He asks.

"No," Cecil says, a harshness slipping into his tone. "Not Sean. He seems to be holding his own for now. I am referring to Patrick."
Startled, Kevin turns to Cecil, fear for his friend evident in his eyes. "Where?" He manages to ask before needing to clear the blood from his throat.

"He has found himself a young lady," Cecil says, a wry, knowing smile crossing his lips. "And she is going to bring him for a little visit. But first, I have to finish getting you ready for your reunion."

Kevin hears the rolling tray being pulled over to the table once again and begins to squirm and cry out. His cries are nothing more than the gurgling coughs of a dying man, and as he searches the room for anything that might help him to end his suffering, Cecile begins work on his torso.

Kevin feels the cold touch of the scalpel as it is pressed against his blood slick skin. And as the blade pierces him, he lets out a silent scream of agony, spraying himself and Cecil with blood as his throat ruptures. With eyes fixed on the ceiling, his life's blood flowing from his mouth and the wound on his chest, the light in Kevin's eyes fades, sparks, and goes out.

~~~{{TWENTY - TWO}}~~~

Lorna squats in the corner of the small room, swaying on her heels, and caressing Pat's head. Her lips move in a constant dance of silent words meant only for him, her eyes pleading as she waits for him to wake up. When he stirs and rolls onto his back, Lorna scurries away to the opposite corner of the room. There, she watches, using the shadows like a blanket, concealing herself from his eyes.

Pat lets out a horse cough, rolls onto his side and sits up. He takes a breath, grimaces at the odor of mold and stale air, looks around the room, and struggles to his feet. He sways there for a moment, hands holding the sides of his head, fighting down nausea.

"Fuck, my head feels like it's going to explode," Pat says, putting a hand out to steady himself. "What the hell happened to me?"

"Fall," Lorna says, her voice distant and timid.

Pat turns his head in the direction of Lorna's voice and squints into the gloom. The only light in the room is coming in from under the doorway leading to the hall, and he can just make out her silhouette.

"Is someone there?" He asks, straining to see.

"Mamma," Lorna says, standing and moving toward him.

Pat takes a step toward the light. "Who?” He asks, reaching for the door and groping for the knob.

"It is mamma," Lorna says earnestly. "Come to mamma. Come to mamma, baby Billy.”

All Pat can think to say is, "Who's Billy," before Lorna has him by the arm. "Please," he says to her as her cold, dead lips kiss his forehead, "let me go. I'm not Billy."

Pat tries, but cannot break away from both her iron grip and her needful gaze. Then, seeing her eyes go sad, he asks, "Who is Billy? Maybe I can help you find him."

Lorna’s features change suddenly. Her complexion goes from a pale pink to an ashen gray, and her lips pull back along the line of her teeth like shrinking flower petals. Once exposed, Pat watches as her teeth go from a pearly white to a black and jagged mass of fangs. But it's her eyes that make him twist and pull violently to break free. Her eyes sink into her skull as her skin tightens, and soon there is nothing there but two black holes, far deeper than they should be. Pat stares into the abyss and is terrified at what he sees.

"Let me go!" Pat begs, his strength leaving him. "I'm not Billy. I'm not your child."

"Child," Lorna says, a deep sadness strangling her voice. "Billy? Billy? Billy!?"

The last word comes out of Lorna like the wailing of a banshee. Pat screams again as her grip tightens and she begins to shake him violently. He fights against the pain and fear, but the now decrepit figure of the once beautiful woman is more than he can manage.

"What are you doing!?" Pat asks, bewildered as he is lifted from the floor.

Lorna lets out another banshee call and hurls Pat toward the door, the impact thundering through the room. Pat staggers to his feet, trying again to find his way from the room to the safety of the lighted hallway.

"Billy!" Lorna screeches behind him. "My little boy is dead!"

Pat feels the impact of Lorna as he finds the door knob. His hand is ripped away from the cold metal as he is pulled from the door by taloned fingers. He stares at her, the fight leaving him. "Please," he begs. "No more. Please, let me go."

Lorna cocks her head to one side as if confused. She lets go of Pat's arms and lays her hands gentle on the sides of his head, wiping away his tears with her thumbs. For a moment, Lorna seems to be genuinely sorry for what she has done, and Pat begins to hope that his ordeal has come to an end. But then her features go hard, and the torment returns to her features. Pat feels the tips of her right-hand dig into his skull, having just a moment to recognize the discomfort before feeling his head slam against the wall.

Lorna continues to batter the wall with Pat's now broken and twisted visage, all the while screaming, "My child, my child, my beautiful baby boy!" And then, with a final push, Pat's skull collapses and Lorna lets him fall to the floor.

"Give him back!" she curses at the crumpled form. "Give me back my baby!"

"Lorna, my dear," Cecil says from the darkness across the room. "What have you done?"

Lorna looks up, her face once again young and beautiful. "Billy?" She asks, the pleading tone of her longing returning.

"No, my love," Cecil replies. "It's Cecil. Billy is dead." He points to the crumpled body on the floor at her feet. "You have killed him. Again."

Lorna's wailing scream is the sound of heartbreak and desperation. She falls to her knees, face covered with hands ill-equipped to stop the flood of tears now flowing from her tormented soul.

"I'll just take this away and let you grieve, my dear," Cecil says, picking up Pat's body and opening the door. "You come and find me when you are feeling better, okay?"

Cecil exits the room, not waiting or caring for a response. As he enters the hallway, he carries a darkness that mutes the stark overhead lights with him. After a few steps, he begins to fade until he and Patrick disappear entirely.

~~~{{TWENTY-THREE}}~~~

Sean stumbles into a brightly lit hallway just as his phone alerts him to its remaining ten percent battery power. "Shit," he says, switching to 'low power mode,' and turning off the flashlight app. Then, thinking better of it, he turns the phone off entirely. "No use using what little I have for no reason," he says, putting the phone in his pocket. "I may be needing to make an emergency call before the night is over."

Sean moves down the hallway toward a single door at its end. As he does, he notices a faint shift in the lighting. It seems to be going from a stark, clinical white light to a pinkish and ever so slightly red. At the midway point of the hall, he stops and looks up at the light fixture. "What is going on,” he thinks to himself as the light fluctuates between pink to red. When he steps forward, the reddish color takes hold, but when he backs up, the light goes pink again. And when he looks back the way he came, it is empty and starkly lit, but toward the door at the end of the hall, the light takes on a dark, seething red hue.

The sound of breaking glass brings Sean's attention back to the path behind him, and he watches as the bulbs in the overhead fixtures explode, sending glass showering down onto the floor. It is not until the echo of crunching footsteps pulses through the hall that Sean realizes that he is being hunted. Deep in the shadows that fill the hallway, he can see movement. Something is coming.

Sean turns and runs for the door at the end of the hallway, trying to ignore how the light seems to drip in red swells from the overhead light. As he reaches the end of the corridor and grabs the doorknob, the light above him explodes and showers him with glass. Sean turns the knob and pushes through the door without a backward glance, slamming the door behind him. From the other side comes a roar and a shattering bang as whatever is chasing him, collides with the door in an effort to break through. The door holds, and Sean finds himself in another hallway, only this one is not part of the substructure of the bridge. This corridor is something completely different.

Sean takes a few steps, and the smooth painted walls fade into stone and mortar, while the light fixtures elongate and shift, becoming torch-carrying sconces. Sean takes another step, and the pounding from the other hallway stops.

"Where the hell am I now?" Sean asks, turning to see the stone hallway stretching out behind him. "Jesus, Toto," he says, heart sinking, "I really don't think we're in Kansas anymore."

~~~{{TWENTY-FOUR}}~~~

Cecil drops Pat's body on the viscus throbbing floor and watches as it rises and falls with the pulsing breath of the living chamber. He smiles as Pat is carried slowly across the room, and then steps thoughtfully over to the body of Kevin, who still lays flayed open on the hospital bed. The young man's eyes stare blankly at Cecil as he approaches, and the demon smiles at this as well.

"I think it is time to get you ready for your final performance," Cecil says, pushing the instrument tray aside and leaning over Kevin's body. "You and your friend are going to help me in ways you could never have imagined."

Cecil pulls the sheet off of Kevin's body, exposing the flaps of skin that hang down at his sides. Then he reaches under Kevin's ribs and gingerly removes his heart and places it on the instrument tray. "You are a fantastic specimen," Cecil remarks as he picks up a scalpel and begins to slice between Kevin's skin and muscle. "You will be my masterpiece," he says, leaning over to kiss Kevin's forehead before making an incision from his armpit to wrist. "A true masterpiece."

~~~{{TWENTY-FIVE}}~~~

Lorna peaks through a small break in the wall of Cecil's 'playroom' and lets out a little whimper. The missing brick provides her a limited view of the room, but she can see Pat's body lying against the opposite wall. She can hear Cecil humming and a slight ripping sound, but she cannot see him.

"Baby," she says sadly, longing to crawl through the slight opening, take him up in her arms, and run far away from the thing that has imprisoned her here. But all she can do is watch as Pat's cold body moves gently up and down with the pulsing of the living floor.

A rage fills her as Cecil comes into view and she sees the blood that stains his hands. She watches as the demon picks up Pat and turns to carry him away. As he does, Cecil's eyes lock with hers, and she shrinks away.

Cecil smiles playfully at her and turns, leaving Lorna alone in the darkness behind the wall. She watches until he is gone and then slips along the passage like an animal driven to madness. "Baby mine," she says, "monster bad."

~~~{{TWENTY-SIX}}~~~

Sean moves through the corridor at a frantic pace. He can hear the scratching and moans of some creature he does not understand as it follows close behind. Searching for any sign of an exit or branching hall, Sean runs with his hand sliding along the wall as the sparse torchlight leaves large areas of dark smoking nothingness.

After what feels like an eternity, Sean sees a low red glow in the distance and pushes himself on, ignoring the burning in his chest and legs. Whatever is behind him is closer now, and he is desperate to evade it.

As he approaches the glow, it seems to pulse as if a heartbeat and Sean can hear breathing coming from the corridor beyond. He reaches the intersection and peers into the new hallway, seeing what more closely resembles the throat of a giant beast. The stone walls fade into a mass of writhing flesh and bleeding pustules, heaving and shuddering under its existence.

"Jesus wept," Sean says, looking behind him and seeing the shadow of whatever is hunting him clearly through the gloom. Then he looks in the direction he was running and wonders for a moment about the chances of finding another escape further on. "It's too close," he says, stepping into the writhing corridor, "but maybe it has the brains not to follow me into this mess."

Sean is correct; the beast stops at the mouth of the new passage and roars its disbelief at the loss of its quarry. Its rage echoes far beyond Sean as he moves from the cold stone of the tunnel and into the throat, but it does not enter in pursuit.

"Fuck me," Sean says, looking back over his shoulder, "what the hell is down here that has enough juice to scare you?"

The beast paces back and forth for a long moment and, with one last ear-splitting howl, moves off into the tunnel. Sean waits, sure that the beast is playing games. But after a minute or two, when the creature does not reappear, he moves further into the belly of this new thing.

~~~{{TWENTY-SEVEN}}~~~

Cecil carries what's left of Kevin into a branching corridor, climbs three shifting, blood-slick steps, and stops just inside the long throat-like hallway that Sean has just entered from the other end. "It is time for you to serve your purpose," Cecil says to the skin bare corpse, laying Kevin on the floor, putting a foot on his body to keep him from being carried away by the undulating corridor.

Cecil stands facing the pulsing, quivering mass that was once a wall and smiles. Poking a finger into one of the larger pustules and popping it, he watches transfixed as the fluid inside flows thickly to the floor. Then, as if sensing his time is short, Cecil begins to chant. His words are those of an unknown dead language, but whatever lives in the corridors of his world reacts to them and begins to change.

"Thro'a-tri-ma'nu-bah-froo'az'e-tou," Cecil says, hands waving in figure eights. "Mana-ge'e-twys-volns-fe'a-from'tia."

The chant resonates through the hallway until the quivering mass of the wall suddenly snaps back like an overstretched elastic, its surface becoming smooth. Reaching out with both hands, Cecil touches each index finger to the smooth, soft surface, raising a small bump. Each bump grows slowly until another joins it, and then another, until two hands are pushing their way from within the wall, reaching down toward Kevin's corpse.

Cecil watches with fascination. In the many times that he has seen the process with which the beast feeds, he has never entirely understood it. The hands take hold of Kevin and raise him from the floor, turning him so his dead eyes pear into Cecil's.

"Today you become part of something greater than you could have imagined," Cecil says, stroking Kevin's cheek. "How I envy you."

~~~{{TWENTY-EIGHT}}~~~

Sean stands dumbfounded, watching as the hands reach down and take hold of Kevin's body. Cecil turns to him as he stands there rooted to the floor, and smiles. His smile is not taunting, nor predatory. Instead, it is joyous and proud.

"Do you see?" Cecil's voice echoes through Sean's mind. "Do you see the blessings that I have brought to you and your brethren? Do you see it? Do you see the glory!?"

~~~{{TWENTY-NINE}}~~~

Cecil turns from the awestruck figure at the end of the hall and descends the staircase, going back the way he a\had come. As he does, the sloping corridor begins to change, resembling a throat more than a stairwell before Cecil reaches the landing below. With a glance of self-importance and arrogance, Cecil awaits Sean's arrival at the top of the stairs, but when he does not come, the creature that was once a man exits the landing with a shrug.

~~~{{THIRTY}}~~~

Sean stares into the unseeing eyes of his friend as he fights to keep his legs from collapsing beneath him. From somewhere far away, he hears a door close, but the sound barely reaches him through the cloud of disbelief. And reaching out he flinches as his fingertips touch the still-warm flesh of Kevin's corpse.

"Awe, Kev, I'm sorry," Sean says, tears welling in his eyes. "I just wanted us to have some fun, man. I never meant for anything like this to happen." Then, after a moment, Sean leans forward, puts his forehead against that of Kevin's and exhales. "I'm going to rip his fucking heart out, Pally. That, I promise."

Sean stays in that position for a long moment. When he stands again, his face has taken on the look of both a warrior and lunatic. "Cecil!" He screams down into the void below. "I'm coming for you, you son-of-a-bitch!"

~~~{{THIRTY-ONE}}~~~

Cecil enters his chamber with a broad smile, gliding across the floor as if dancing with some unseen partner. He motions for Lorna to join him, but when she shrinks away, he laughs and continues on his way to Pat's body.

"It is time for you to ascend to your place of honor," Cecil says as he squats down beside the dead man. He waves a hand over Pat's face, shooing away the flies that have gathers, and smiles.

Cecil lifts Pat and carries him to the table that was, until very recently, occupied by Kevin. "It's a shame," he says, snapping a look over at Lorna, "that you are not as fresh of an offering, but that cannot be helped." And picking up his scalpel, Cecil continues, "We will just have to make due until that lively friend of yours finds his way here."

Cecil's scalpel bites into Pat's flesh at his shoulder and begins to slide effortlessly through the loosening skin of the dead man's chest. Once the blade reaches the corpses navel, Cecil makes two more cuts perpendicular to the first, and then slides the knife under the upper corner, working his way down the chest, peeling the flesh back like a flap.

Then, a faint shudder runs through the floor, causing Cecil to pause his work. "Something is not right, Lorna my dear," he says as Lorna backs toward the opening between the walls. "Something is not right indeed."

~~~{{THIRTY-TWO}}~~~

Sean watches through the window in the door leading to Cecil's chamber as the demon stands over Pat's open chest, rage pulsing in him like an inferno. Cecil seems to be looking around, almost like he is confused. Then the demon's eyes fall on him, and Sean glares back with contempt and venom. Cecil smiles broadly, holding his bloody hands out as if offering Sean a hug, beckoning him into the room, and as he does the floor beneath Sean's feet begins to shudder and pulse.

Sean looks down in surprise and sees that the clean tiled floor now resembles cracked and bleeding flesh. The mass begins to pulse and heave, and before he can react, Sean is thrown through the door. He sprawls on the floor, sliding to a stop at Cecil's feet.

"Clumsy boy," Cecil says condescendingly. Then turning toward Lorna as she creeps out of the wall, he continues, "Isn't he just the most clumsy thing that you have ever had the misfortune to meet, my dear?"

Lorna crawls along the floor on hands and feet, her eyes shifting from Cecil to Sean and back again. "Baby," she says, stopping a short way from the two, gesturing at Sean. "Mine."

"No, no, my dear girl," Cecil says dispassionately. "This is not your baby. Remember? You killed your baby."

Sean listens to the change in Cecil's voice; the sound stinging his ears, and looks over at Lorna. Tears are flowing from her eyes as she stares longingly at him, mouthing the work, Billy. "You lying son-of-a-bitch," Sean says as the rage returns. He stands and faces Cecil with fists clenched, and sees, or thinks he sees, a slight flinch in the other's eyes. Then turning to Lorna, he softens his voice and takes a step toward her.

"He's lying, Lorna," he says gently. "He's been lying to you this whole time. Billy survived the fall. You didn't kill him..."

"Shut up!" Cecil rages, striking him and sending Sean staggering across the room.

"Fuck you," Sean says contemptually, and turns back to Lorna. "Billy survived, Lorna. He grew up and had a family. You're not a monster. You don't have to listen to him anymore."

"Shut your mouth!" Cecil screams as he comes at Sean, claws set to tear the man apart, but Lorna is quicker. The rage and pain that she has been feeling since leaping to her death, and believing that her baby boy had died, explodes and she launches herself at Cecil. Cecil tries to twist out of the way of her attack, but he is too slow. Lorna lands a blow to his chest, wraps an arm around his throat and winds her way onto Celil's back, tearing at his neck.

"You worthless bitch," Cecil screams, reaching over his shoulder and grabbing Lorna's arm. She screams and thrashes, trying to break free but Cecil strength wrenches her free, and he casts her aside like a doll.

While Cecil's attention is on Lorna, Sean pulls a rusty table leg free and takes a two-handed swing at the demon's head. Cecil's claw flashes up and grabs the bar, holding it motionless.

"That's not very sporting of you," Cecil growls, his head turning to lock eyes with Sean. "I will have to punish you for that."

Cecil's eyes blaze and the heat of them wash over Sean as he pulls on the table leg, trying to free it for another swing. The demon's strength is more than a match for him, however, and Cecil twists the bar until it comes free from Sean's hands and clangs to the floor.

"Time to join your friends," Cecil mocks as he throws Sean into the wall. And as he sits there gasping for breath, Sean watches as Lorna launches herself onto the demon's back once again.

This time, however, Cecil grabs her out of the air, his hands squeezing her arms until they snap in protest. "I am going to miss you, my dear," he cooes at her. "I am going to miss you so very much."

Lorna screams in pain and frustration as Cecil pulls her arms from her sockets, the tearing of the muscle and bone deafening. "You did this," Cecil says over his shoulder, leering at Sean. "Why couldn't you have just kept your mouth shut and died like a good boy?"

Lorna's broken body falls to the floor, her fading eyes looking at Sean. He watches as a small thin smile stretched across her ghostly lips, and then she is gone. "Goodbye," Sean whispers. "Rest in peace."

Cecil reaches down and grabs at Sean's leg, but he rolls away and lunges under a surgical table. He stands and dodges again as a metal desk chair flies at him, tearing into the wall behind him.

"Stand," Cecil rages, "the beast is awaiting its feeding!"

"What beast?" Sean fires back. "What the fuck are you talking about?"

Cecil hurls another chair, this one catching Sean on the shoulder with its sudden appearance. Before he can recover, Cecil is on him again, dragging Sean back toward the table with his friend's corpse.

"Look at him," Cecil says, his clawed hand holding Sean’s head so he cannot look away. "Look at how happy he is. He is going to be part of something so much bigger than either of you can understand."

Sean tries to fight, but he is held fast, his eyes blinded by the ruined body of his friend. "I'm sorry, Patty." He says, tears falling onto Patrick's open chest. "This is all my fault."

Cecil erupts into laughter and pulls Sean upright, turning his face to his. The demon’s eyes smoke and flame as he regards the other man, searching for something only known to him. "It is time, little man," Cecil says contemptuously. "It is time for you to feed my master."

Sean feels the clawed fingers wrap around his throat, and he kicks out at the demon, arms flailing and grasping at the thickly muscled arm. He rakes at the demon's face as little white explosions dance in front of his eyes, but the beast does not relent. Then, his hand falls on the surgical tray, and his fingers find the knife that Cecil used to disembowel Kevin. And as consciousness slips away, he swings the blade in a violent arch, tearing into the demon's face.

Cecil roars and throws Sean to the floor where he sits gasping for air. "You bastard," the demon bellows, its clawed hand now taking the place of the flesh ripped away by the knife. "Look at what you have done!"

"Oh, I'm nowhere near done, you fucking prick!" Sean screams as he climbs to his feet and faces the wounded Cecil. "Nowhere fucking close."

Cecil attacks again, but the damage done to him causes him to hesitate when Sean counters and the knife bites deep into his side. The demon squeals in pain and pulls away, blood pouring from the wounds. Sean continues the attack, slashing and stabbing at Cecil until the beast falls to the floor in surprised horror.

"Now I end you, you son-of-a-bitch!" Sean says, standing over the dying creature. "Now, I end it all."

Cecil’s waning smile spills blood from his ruined cheek, but he says nothing. And as Sean's blade cuts into his neck, Cecil whispers, "Thank you."

~~~{{THIRTY-THREE}}~~~

Sean stands under the bridge looking up at the passing headlights. He knows that the beast will have to feed soon, and he knows he is the one who'll have to feed it.

~~~{{END}}~~~

 

 


Submitted: November 16, 2020

© Copyright 2020 M.D.Blagdon. All rights reserved.

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