Chapter 5: The Hanging Bell

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: The Horror House

Reads: 79

As Devin started to walk away from the door, the entire room shook, rattling the bottles lining the bar back. Craig held the revolver in both hands, eyeing the door.

“We should move to the back,” he said, “to the storage room.” The others stared, not moving.

A glow of pale yellow light was starting to illuminate the frosted windows lining the front, revealing a massive shadow that grew larger and larger. The silence deepened as everybody’s eyes were locked on the door, waiting.

Something wet and heavy slammed against the door, and Craig fired a shot off that hit the door dead center. A moaning, howling growl answered. The hanging bell outside started ringing violently, and there was a cracking sound as it was ripped off the door frame.

“Go! Now!” Craig shouted, and the four friends scrambled to their feet, heading for the hallway that led to the washrooms and back room. Craig was the last to leave, grabbing the bottle of scotch from the table as he did.

They dashed down the hallway, rounding the corner at the end which led to a single door, which was unlocked. Once inside, the bartender hit the lights and slammed the door behind them. Surprisingly, the rumbling outside seemed to subside.

“Now what?” Lily asked, as they all tried to catch their breath.

“I don’t think there is a now what,” Devin said. He looked at Craig, who was examining the handgun. “How many rounds does that thing hold?”

“Six,” he said, setting the bottle down on the floor. “Well… five now, I guess.”

“Not that it matters,” said Leo. “That thing’s unstoppable. Bullets probably wouldn’t even do anything.”

“I don’t know,” Lily said, leaning against a crate, “it sure seemed like that first shot managed to piss it off.”

“That’s something, right?” Craig said. “It felt it, at least.”

“I guess,” said Leo. He was shivering. “Anyone else cold?”

Nobody answered, but they could all see their breaths misting up the air in the room. The thunder noises came again, shaking the building and causing the lights to flicker. One went out and didn’t come back on.

“I guess,” Leo said, slowly, “that we have a Plan B.”

Lily looked up. “What do you mean by that?”

He pointed to the revolver in Craig’s hand. “Five bullets.” He paused. “Five of us.”

Chris shook his head. “That only works if we don’t try Plan A.”

For a few minutes they all just stood there, taking in the new surroundings. The storage room had no windows, just the door to the hallways and a wide metal door that led to the back alley. The walls were lined with shelves of liquor boxes and there were stacks of crates and pallets all around.

“Which of you has the bottle?” Craig asked, suddenly. The others looked around. Nobody was holding the scotch. Craig looked back to the floor. “I could have swore I put it right here.”

“No,” Lily said, “you did…” she trailed off, staring at the wall nearest the back alley. “Oh God,” she whispered.

“What?” Chris asked, jumping and looking around. As they all followed Lily’s line of sight, they could see that slowly, gradually, the paint surrounding the metal door was peeling and fading out of sight, leaving bare brick behind.

“What the hell?” Craig said, staring in disbelief.

“It’s taking it away,” Leo said, his voice shaking. “It’s taking everything away, turning it all to dark.”

Devin reached out a hand to steady himself on the crate he was standing next to, but his hand went through empty air, causing him to stumble. The crate had also vanished from the room.

“That’s why it didn’t follow us inside,” Lily said. “It doesn’t have to. It’s just consuming everything.”

The five of them stared around at the room as it started to change before their eyes. Wooded shelves splintered and creaked. Cracks began to appear, running along the concrete floor and through the brick walls. Bottles cracked and shattered, filling the air with the smell of alcohol, but that was quickly overpowered by an ever more present stench of decay. The building shook.

“No, no, no, no…” Craig said, his eyes wide with fear. “Come on, think! There must be something, anything that we can try.” The group watched as another on the overhead lights died out.

“Why not fire?” Devin asked, his voice desperate. “To fight the cold, and the darkness?”

“If we can keep the darkness at bay, that might buy us some more time,” said Lily.

Leo nodded. “It might.”

Craig pulled a lighter from his jeans pocket. “I picked a good week to start smoking again. Grab some of those bottles of 151 before they vanish too.”

They grabbed handfuls of the high proof rum from the crates and poured it out over a stack of crates and pallets in the far corner, away from the hall door. Craig tore a calendar down from the wall, lit the edge, and tossed it onto the pile.

The alcohol-drenched wood flared to life, sending sudden, dry heat radiating out through the cold air. It seemed as though the decay in the room started to slow a little as the flames lit up the space. They crowded together, holding out their hands to warm them in the heat, as the last of the overhead lights flickered and died. The flames crackled as the wood blackened and charred, sending shadows dancing over the walls of the little room.

“The smoke,” said Devin, “we need to let out the smoke or we’ll suffocate in here.” It was true. The air was quickly filling with smoke, and they all started to cover their faces as best they could, coughing against the soot and fumes.

“The door,” Craig said, and ran to the metal door. He fumbled with the lock for a moment before getting it open, and it swung open wide. Air rushed into the room, causing the fire to flare up and swirling the smoke out into the darkness.

“Nice one,” Chris said to him.

Craig smiled back, grasping the door frame as he took a deep breath of the fresh air rushing in. He had just let go and turned to walk back by the fire when another tremor ran through the building, shaking them all and sending new cracks running along the walls. The bartender lost his balance, falling back into the darkness.

At the last minute, he dropped the revolver and grabbed the door frame. The gun skidded to a stop on the floor. Craig managed to hang on, and the shaking subsided. He let out a sigh of relief.

Before he could climb back in, a mass of fleshy ropes snapped around his leg, tightening like a grotesque hand. “What?” Craig gasped. In an instant, the thing had ripped him away into the dark. He didn’t even have time to scream.

Chaos erupted inside the storage room.

Devin and Lily screamed, scrambling away from the still-open metal door as fast as they could move. Chris dove for the revolver, grasping it in one hand. An instant later, Leo was on top of him, trying to pry it out of Chris’ grip.

“Leo, stop!” Chris shouted, mantaining his hold on the gun.

“I’m not letting that thing take me,” Leo shouted back, tearing at Chris’ hands. Letting go with one hand, Leo punched Chris square in the face. “Let go!” he screamed.

The two of them rolled on the floor, Chris’ nose running with blood, fighting over the gun. Devin and Lily pleaded with them to stop, for Leo to let it go, but before they could intervene two shots fired off in quick succession.

“No!” Lily screamed. Devin froze, staring at the heap on the floor. Somebody was standing, but in all the smoke and flickering firelight, it was impossible to tell who it was. The figure put a foot on their victim’s chest, holding them down. The person on the floor was moving slowly, choking.

“If I die tonight it’s on my terms,” Leo said, now pointing the gun at Devin and Lily. He gestured towards Chris, who was fading fast. “Roisin. That was her name, right?”

Lily didn’t answer him. “You’re a monster,” she said.

Leo shuddered, the inky pattern flashing over his skin again. “Not the one you should be worried about,” he said. Using his foot, he gave Chris a push, sending his limp form rolling across the floor and into the darkness outside. He was gone.

“No!” Devin screamed, starting towards him, but Leo aimed the gun square in his face. “You’re the one who’s crazy,” Devin said through gritted teeth. “You’ve lost your mind.”

Leo smiled, tears in his eyes. “Don’t you see? It’s an offering,” he said. He turned to Lily, keeping the gun aimed at Devin’s face. “When it fed off that girl, Lily, it let you escape. So don’t you see? If we can please it, it might let us go.”

Lily shook her head. “No, you don’t know that!”

“What better chance do we have?” Leo demanded, spraying spit as he shouted. “It’s how you escaped last time. I’ll take my chances.”

“You sick son of a bitch,” Devin said.

Leo cracked him in the side of the head with the gun. “Get back,” he said. “We can’t stay here with that door open.” Lily and Devin didn’t move. “Go!” he shouted, raising the revolver again.

Lily and Devin edged towards the hall door. While Devin held his injured head, Lily turned the handle and opened it slowly. The foundations beneath them groaned as they moved. The hall was empty, but dark. Only one light was left functioning, out in the main room of the bar. It flickered, threatening to go out entirely.

“What are you waiting for?” Leo whispered. “Move.”

Lily glared at him, but continued down the hall, one step at a time. Part of the wall to their left had completely disintegrated, and she peered through it out into the bar. There seemed to be nothing moving out there. The front door – miraculously – was still shut. Everything else, though, was in decay.

Most of the tables, chairs and stools had faded away. The walls were bare and peeling, and in places the cracks revealed brick or even the darkness beyond. In the center of the ceiling, a great hole had opened up, and a single swinging ceiling light hung near the edge of it, blinking weakly. A black liquid oozed down the walls, dripping in through the cracks and the damaged ceiling.

“I don’t see it,” Lily whispered.

“Then keep going,” Leo demanded. “The fire’s starting to spread.” Hot, smokey air was rushing out of the storage room at their backs.

Slowly, Lily and Devin edged their way out of the hall and into the main room of the bar, with Leo behind them. The wood floor sagged beneath their feet.

“Now what,” Devin asked, looking back at Leo in contempt. “What’s your big plan now?”

Leo’s eyes moved from the two of them to glance at the open ceiling in the center of the room. “Back up,” he said, gesturing with the revolver. “And tell me what you can see.”

Lily and Devin huddled together, tiptoeing towards the yawning gap in the ceiling. The rumbling outside ceased, leaving them all in near-total silence. The only noises were their footsteps on the decaying wood, and their breathing in the cold air. Gradually, the two of them came to the edge of the chasm, and look out into what lay beyond. Neither of them said anything.

“Well?” Leo said, “What do you see? Can you see stars? Is it gone?”

Lily was the first to speak. “Yes,” she said, a tear running down her cheek. “Yes – it’s breautiful.”

“Come look,” Devin said, not taking his eyes away from the hole.

Leo’s surprised look turned to one of anger. “Liars,” he snarled. “Filthy liars.” There was a flash of light and a bang and Devin fell to the floor, holding his hand to his stomach. Lily reached out to steady him, but a second later Leo fired the gun again and she cried out, grasping her shoulder. The two of them collapsed to the floor, crying out in agony.

“Why?” Devin pleaded, blood running between his fingers.

Leo took a step ahead, trying to get a glimpse of what was visible through the ceiling. “Four offerings,” he said, “is better than two.” He paced, impatiently.

“Leo,” Lily said, her voice growing faint, “it’s not going to work.” Her eyes were closed as she huddled on the floor. “Why don’t you just accept it?”

“Shut up,” he spat. “I’m making it out of this alive. I won’t give in like you. I’m not-“

A tremor ran through the structure, widening the gap in the ceiling. The whole building was coming apart. Floor boards groaned and snapped, reaching up like arms as a giant crack ran across the room between the three and the front door. The floor dropped an inch or so, and as it did Leo stumbled, dropping to one knee and losing his grip on the gun.

Lily sprang to life. Rolling across the uneven floor, she snatched the revolver before Leo had a chance to pick it up, and backed away quickly.

Leo’s eyes widened. “No,” he shouted. “You can’t, you’re ruining it! I shot you!”

Lily offered a hand to Devin, helping him crawl out from under the hole in the ceiling while maintaining her aim on Leo with the gun. The two of them made it over the crack in the floor and shuffled toward the front end of the bar. “Guess your aim wasn’t as good as you thought,” Devin said. Leo regained his footing, and made a start in their direction.

“No.” Lily said, using both hands to steady the revolver. “This is over, Leo. Stay where you are.”

A deep, groaning sound came from the darkness outside, and the room shuddered once more. The floor started tearing apart, sending giant cracks running up the walls to meet in the center of the ceiling at the opening. Leo started screaming at them. “You can’t do this,” he howled. “You can’t do this to me! I didn’t do anything! You can’t!”

In a moment, Leo’s voice was drowned out by a sound like thunder and the twisting and tearing of nails, wood and brick. The structure broke in two. Devin and Lily watched as the gap widened and Leo crawled back from the edge. Flames were spouting out of the hallway behind him as the fire spread through the roof. The two halves of the building drifted apart, and after a minute the burning husk of a structure that Leo clung to was swallowed in darkness, and all they could see before them was the vast, empty nothing.

That single, still flickering ceiling light swayed violently from the edge of the ceiling, illuminating them in a dull, weak glow. Small bits of tile, glass and wood splinters were breaking off and drifting into the void, being swallowed up and disappearing in the distance. They slumped down on the floor and stared out at the shadow.

“Can I see it?” Lily asked, pointing to Devin’s abdomen. He winced, lifting his hand and pulling up his shirt to show the entrance wound. Blood was seeping out slowly. “It might just be your stomach,” she said. “Keep pressure on it.”

“I’m not sure what good it’ll do me,” he said with a grimace. “It could buy me a few hours to wrap it up, but…” he looked around at the decaying half-room. “I don’t think we’ve got that long.”

Lily opened the revolver and looked down at the chamber. One last round was all that remained. She closed it up again, and handed it to Devin. He took it in his hand and stared at it for a while. “If anybody needs it, it’ll be you,” he said, offering it back.

She shook her head. “That’s not now I want to go. Even now, even…” She stared out into the darkness. “Leo said he wanted to die on his own terms but those aren’t my terms. I can’t think there’s no hope. I won’t give it the satisfaction.”

Leo nodded, and tossed the revolver away. It hit the floor a few feet from the edge and slid over. “That’s that,” he said. He shrugged, and leaned back against the wall, letting out a deep sigh. “Might as well try and get comfortable. I’ve got nowhere to go.”

Piece by piece, plank by plank, brick by brick, the structure faded. Window panes cracked, then fell, then slid away. The last of the polished hardwood holding the bar counter together collapsed and drifted off. Even when the great shadow formed before them, gigantic, deeper and darker than the rest of the pitch black out there, eyes staring, the two friends sat quietly. Waiting.

And when the light finally died out and they were covered in shadow, they waited, still. Listening and feeling the last remains of the floor, walls, and ceiling fall away. In the end, there was nothing but the dark all around, unending, unrelenting. Even the eyes that grew steadily closer and closer seemed to fade – that sickly glow leaving until they were not two bright lights but two holes of oblivion, drawing them in. Everything, everywhere, was silence.

The hanging bell outside McCarrow’s pub rang once more as one of the patrons – who was obviously drunk – stumbled their way out of the door and onto the street. They buttoned their coat against the cold and turned slowly before walking off down the street, swaying slightly. As the door swung slowly shut behind them, there were sounds of laughter and the sight of many faces could be seen amid the warm glow inside. Among the crowd, three men and a woman sat quietly around a table, their faces blank, their upturned hands stained black. In the center of the table was an dusty, dark green bottle – uncorked. They didn’t move, didn’t speak, didn’t laugh with the others. It was like they were in another world.

Submitted: November 23, 2020

© Copyright 2021 keithdaniels. All rights reserved.


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