"Can you believe this fucking shit?"
David, Anthony, Dr. Hixon, and Dr. Jeffries stood solemnly in the hallway... gathered in a semicircle around the empty space where the generator once sat. David held the severed power cord in his hand. The thick cable had been snapped in half.
"He stole the generator," said Anthony.
"I didn't hear anything," Dr. Hixon offered. "If he'd taken it, then it would have made a sound, right? I didn't hear anything. There aren't any scratch-marks on the floor."
"Then where do you think the generator is, doc?" David said sarcastically.
Dr. Hixon leaned down and cautiously waved his hand around in front of him. It encountered no resistance.
"It's gone," he said.
David and Anthony looked at each other. Dr. Jeffries shook his head.
"Well then," said Jeffries. "We'd best get started."
"Started?" The wood floor creaked painfully as Sarah waddled down the hall toward the men. "Started with what?"
"Finding the generator, of course."
"I don't think that's a good idea."
"How else do you intend for us to run the equipment? Science has come a long way, Ms. Bishop... but we have yet to find a way to pull electricity out of thin air. We need the generator for the experiment to continue."
"Maybe it shouldn't continue."
Dr. Jeffries gave her an impatient look.
"They don't want us here," Sarah continued. "We've hurt them and now they're frightened. We should leave them alone."
"Why?" said Jeffries.
Sarah stammered over her words for a moment. Clearly she was not expecting to be asked for an explanation.
"We came here to study ethereal remnants," Jeffries continued. "And that's exactly what we're going to do."
"These 'remnants' are human souls, doctor. Your machine is hurting them. No WONDER they took the generator!"
"You're speaking as if these 'ghosts' of yours have some sort of prior rights over and above our own," said Jeffries. "They do not. They aren't alive; they are merely quantum vibrations in space-time that molded themselves to the thought patterns of the people who used to live here. They have no right to exist; they have no right to remain undisturbed, and they MOST CERTAINLY have no right to OUR generator!"
"Maybe its still here," said Dr. Hixon. He was still crouching down, staring at the empty space on the floor and occasionally waving his hand through it.. "Maybe they shifted it out of our reality and into theirs-"
"Or maybe dude just opened the door, picked up the generator, and carried it the fuck outside!" said David "We heard the door open and close. And this power cord isn't 'shifted'... it snapped in fucking half, dumbass!"
"Do you know how much force it would take to snap-" Anthony began.
"-NOW we're just standing around here like a buncha pussies? Fuck that. I'm gettin' our shit back!" David reached for the door.
"WAIT!" Sara shouted. "DON'T GO OUT THERE!"
"Uhhh... why is she shouting at me?" said David.
"I told you! It isn't safe to go out there!"
"Riiiiight. Okay, well we'll just wait for the generator to come back to US, then. That'll work. Sure."
"She may have a point," said Dr. Hixon. "I mean... this is a strange town. At night. I'm sure half the town knows we're staying here. Just because this house is haunted doesn't mean that it was a GHOST that stole our generator."
"That isn't what I-"
"Hixon's right," said Jeffries, with a barely-concealed tone of surprise. "We shouldn't go off alone. David, with me. We'll search the garden. Anthony, you go with Dr. Hixon and search the back. Sarah, you and Lindsay and Kyle stay here and make sure nothing ELSE gets taken. Lindsay can start analyzing the data while we still have SOME power."
"I dunno, doc," said Anthony. "Without that computer on, we could have enough juice left to power the lights 'til morning."
"Yes, but then we'd be behind schedule. We need that initial test data to make the final adjustments to the machine. When we have that, THEN we'll worry about the lights. Speaking of which.... KYLE! Bring us the flashlights!"
"Awww, c'mon dad-"
"GET OFF YOUR ASS AND BRING THE DAMNED LIGHTS!"
A minute later, Kyle trudged down the hallway with flashlights for everyone... except himself, of course.
"I'm not going, am I?" he whined.
"Hell no," David mumbled.
"Make yourself as inconspicuous as possible, boy. Don't disturb Lindsay, and don't touch anything."
"Let's go." David opened the door and stepped out into the dark courtyard. His light illuminated the vehicles parked in front of the building, but not much else. The other three searchers soon joined him. If there was a moon in the sky, it was cloaked by clouds that only allowed a few stars to shine through the gaps..
"Sure is dark out there," Anthony remarked.
"Stay away from that place, Dr. Jeffries," Sarah warned. "You know the one. Stay away from it."
"What's that about?" said David as he and Dr. Jeffries made their way toward the garden. "What's she talking about?"
"You'll see in a few minutes."
"So... can you read my mind?" said Kyle. The boy returned to his chair in the ancient living room and propped his feet up on the edge of the Sampler's control panel. Lindsay was still parked in front of her workstation, frantically trying to coax a detailed analysis out of the machine before the batteries gave out.
"No," Sarah replied. "I can't."
"Why not? You're a psychic, right?"
"There are lots of different kinds of psychics, Kyle. I'm not the mind-reading kind."
"What kind ARE you, then?"
"A sensitive. I sense feelings. Strong emotions. See and hear things that others can't."
"Can you teach me to do it?"
"It can't be taught,"
"Naw... see, I heard Dr. Hixon say that all that stuff is like... latent and shit. That anybody can learn how to do it."
"Dr. Hixon is wrong," said Sarah. "About quite a few things. And don't curse... it's rude."
"But Anthony and David-"
"Are not the people you should be modeling yourself after."
"You're not my dad!" Kyle folded his arms across his chest and huffed defiantly.
"And neither are you," said Sarah. "That's the problem."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Sarah?" said Lindsay. "Could you come here a minute?"
"Yes?" Sarah looked over the young co-ed's shoulder and squinted at the indecipherable rows of numbers scrolling across the computer screen. "What is this?"
"It's data from the test we just did."
"Yes, I know, but... I have no idea how to read any of this."
"Okay, give me a second to graph it out..." Lindsay hit a few keys and the screen went blank for a second. It was replaced by a chart with numbers running across the bottom and left side. A single green line slowly snaked its way across the chart, reaching a sharp peak somewhere near the middle of the graph.
"What am I looking at?" said Sarah.
"This is the girl," Lindsay replied.
"A human soul... reduced to a line of numbers on a computer screen. My, how far we've come."
"Okay, save the attitude and watch for a minute, okay?" Lindsay hit another key. Six more lines appeared. They were roughly the same shape as the first, but were much lower on the graph. "These are the other entities we measured. Now, their energy registers lower because the Sampler wasn't aimed directly at them. Okay so far?"
"Now... watch this." Lindsay hit another key. Nothing happened.
"Did I miss something?"
"There's a new line on this graph. We just can't see it because its off-scale. But watch what happens when I do a log plot-"
With a few more keystrokes, Lindsay redrew the graph with a different scale. The previous lines were still there, but they were shaped differently and were now all crammed together at the bottom of the chart. The rest of the image was taken up by a NEW line: a bright-blue streak that sat on the axis like a wide plateau.
"What is that?" said Sarah.
"At first I thought it was a glitch, but I re-ran some of the numbers and they still came out the same. The numbers are right. This thing-" Lindsay tapped on the screen. "Measured SEVEN orders of magnitude higher than anything else in the house. And THAT was just a tangent reading. If the machine were aimed straight at it, then it'd probably be closer to ten or fifteen-"
"But what IS it?"
"I don't know," said Lindsay. "I was hoping you could tell me."
"So, doc, are you gonna hit that or what?"
Dr. Jeffries was leading David through the garden, trying to remember the path that he'd taken earlier with Sara and Dr. Hixon. He made all of the turns in all of the right places, but the landscape offered very few cues to reassure his memory. Every square foot of garden looked the same as every other square foot: Dark and ominous. He was trying to decide which patch of greenery lead to their destination when David interrupted his thoughts.
"Ah, c'mon, doc. YOU know what I'm talking about."
"I'm afraid I don't, David. But I assume it has something to do with finding the generator?"
"Ms. Hilliard? What about her?"
"She's into you, man. Big-time."
"If you say so, Mr. Randolph."
"Oh, come on! She's done everything but throw her panties in your face! You gonna tag that ass or what?"
"Mr. Randolph... one doesn't get to be one of the premier research physicists in the country by not remaining focused on one's true objectives. I don't have time for dalliances with immature co-eds."
"Don't let Anthony hear you say that. That'd break his heart... he'd loose all respect for ya."
"Besides," said Dr. Jeffries. "Younger women tend to become overwhelmed by my... credentials."
"Ohh, I think Lindsay's got some credentials of her own!"
"This way..." Dr. Jeffries pointed to a seemingly impassable wall of shrubbery. "Its through there. Follow me."
Covering his eyes with one arm and holding his flashlight out in front of him with the other, Dr. Jeffries pushed his way through the razor-sharp leaves to the place beyond.
"Aww, what the HELL..." David hissed as he followed. "Ouch! FUCK! These things are sharp! Gimme some fucking warning next-"
David's words caught in his throat when he saw the garden's dark heart. The place still reeked of fungus and rotting things. Pale, translucent worms wiggled in the thick mud, their bodies glowing eerily in the darkness. The remains of the fountain rose from the sanctum's center like a shattered gravestone.
"Interesting," Dr. Jeffries mused. He aimed his light at the base of the fountain, where worms were oozing out of the muck in a slow, but continuous stream. It was as if the darkness beneath the stone was giving birth to them. The doctor's light moved from the stones to the lake of mud surrounding it. "Very interesting. Has it rained since our arrival here, David?"
"Then I wonder where this mud is coming from. It wasn't here before."
"What the fuck is this place, doc?"
"Ms. Bishop seems to think this is the heart of some kind of ethereal corruption. I figured that there was a better than average chance our generator would be here.... but I was wrong."
"Oh, well," said David.
"But then there was my other reason for bringing you here."
"Be thinking about a place to set up the Sampler. We're bringing it out here tomorrow... I want to see what sort of energies THIS place is hiding."
"What's chunky-style gonna say about that?"
"Something ridiculous, I'm sure. But we won't let her stand in the way of science, will we?"
"Good. Let's take our search elsewhere, then." Dr. Jeffries stated back through the bushes. "Now... tell me again about Ms. Hilliard's 'credentials'?"
"Do you believe in ghosts, Mr. Moore?" said Dr. Hixon.
"Be kinda strange of me to BE here if I didn't, doc," said Anthony.
"Oh, I don't know. A lot of people believe without even knowing it. No reason that the opposite can't be true as well."
"Does it matter?"
"No, not really. Just making conversation."
Anthony grabbed Dr. Hixon by the shoulder and yanked him to a halt. They'd just rounded the corner and were staring at the wide stretch of land behind the mansion. Every inch of it was overgrown with waste-high weeds that stretched as far as their flashlights' beams would reach.
"I ain't going out there," said Anthony.
"It's just grass-"
"Fuck that. Looks like the fucking discovery channel out there! Snakes and shit!"
"We're in a haunted house, with ghosts that can carry off a half-ton generator without making a sound... and you're afraid of snakes?"
"No, I'm afraid of something sneaking up on me and taking a CHUNK outta my ass! You ever been bitten by a snake, doc?"
"I have! And you know what? THAT SHIT HURTS!"
"Anthony, it's dark. Snakes sleep at night. We'll be fine."
"Absolutely. And we HAVE to find this generator or we'll all be sleeping in the dark tonight."
Dr. Hixon started out into the grass. Anthony followed reluctantly.
"Of course," said Dr. Hixon. "I'm just a parapsychologist. I don't know squat about snakes."
Anthony turned around and marched back toward the house. Dr. Hixon held him back by the arm.
"Come on, Anthony."
"That shit wasn't funny, man!"
"You and David have been cracking jokes all night. I figured I owed you one."
"Oh yeah? Well.... doctors aren't supposed to be funny, so chill."
Anthony and Dr. Hixon spent the next few minutes wandering around the back yard, eyes cast downward, searching for any sign of the missing generator.
"I don't think we'll find anything in these weeds," said Hixon. "They're too tall. If its out here, its gonna take more than the two of us to find it."
"I wonder if Jeffries and David have had any luck."
"Jeffries has had a lot of luck," said Hixon. "But there's no telling if they've found the generator or not."
"What's that supposed to mean?
"What you said about Jeffries."
"Oh, you know. Famous researcher.... Nobel price nomination. He's just a very lucky man."
"He got all that because he's a genius, doc. Luck didn't have anything to do with it."
"You don't have to get defensive, Anthony... it was just a remark, that's all. I didn't mean anything by it."
"Naw, what you MEANT was that when a man busts his ass to get ahead, everything he gets is due to luck and not hard work. That's what you meant."
"Hard work? The man sits around and solves equations all day.... now he's got more money than most people can count and he's got women like Lindsay throwing themselves at him... hard work? I don't think so. Plenty of people work hard and they don't have anything like that."
"Me? No, I was just speaking in general-"
"Uh-huh. Whatever, doc. Lets go back inside; something's starting to smell bad out here."
"We looked everywhere."
"It could be out back," said Anthony. "But the grass is too high. We'll never find it in the dark."
"Ditto for the garden. That place is a maze."
"At least the past few hours haven't been a COMPLETE waste of time," said Dr. Jeffries. "Lindsay has some amazing results from our test-run."
"Just in time," said Lindsay. The lights in the room were already dim, and now they'd begun to flicker... on the verge of going out completely. The computer's uninterruptable power supply kicked in with a loud 'beep,' indicating that they had only a few more minutes before the powerful machine shut down completely. Dr. Jeffries was unconcerned. He studied the information on the screen, using the last few minutes of power to copy some of the juicier tidbits of data onto a notepad.
"This is amazing," he mused.
The power supply beeped again.
"Maybe you should email that data back to the university," Dr. Hixon suggested.
"That would require an internet connection," said Lindsay. "I haven't seen any phone or ISDN jacks around here, have you?"
"Besides, I've already burned the data onto disks." Lindsay tapped the stack of CD-Roms sitting on the table beside her.
"That's all well and good," said Anthony. "But what are we gonna do for POWER, eh? Without that generator we might as well just go home."
"I'm not averse to that idea," said Dr. Jeffries.
Everyone looked at Dr. Jeffries as if he'd just announced that he enjoyed wearing women's underwear.
"Not home, of course.... but I'm certain this town has a hotel of some sort. We could return here just before dawn and commence a proper search for our missing equipment. There's no use in staying here if we can't do anything."
"That sounds reasonable," said Hixon. "Don't you think so Ms. Bishop?"
Sarah Bishop continued to stare into the air for a few moments before acknowledging that someone had spoken to her.
"Yes," she said finally. "I think we should leave. And I don't think we should come back."
"But what about the equipment," said David. "You want us to tear all this shit down and set it back up in the morning?"
"No, that would be an unnecessary waste of effort." said Jeffries. "The machine is assembled and calibrated... it should remain that way until we're done."
"But we can't just LEAVE it here."
"Actually, we can. As long as someone stays behind to watch it."
"Ohhhh... I KNEW that was coming," said Anthony. "And lemme guess who' that's gonna be."
"Anthony? David? This machine is your handiwork... you should want to stay and make sure nothing happens to it."
"So we get to make like a cheap reality TV-Show while the rest of you get toilets and running water. Sounds about right."
"Leaving them here by themselves-" Sarah began.
"Oh, shut up," David snapped.
"You're gonna have to move your truck so I can get my car out," said Lindsay.
"Here-" David tossed her a set of keys. Lindsay caught them... barely... and looked at them as if she'd never seen keys before.
"I don't know how to drive that truck-"
"Oh, JESUS CHRIST! FINE! I'LL move the damn truck!" David snatched the keys back and headed outside. Everyone else grabbed their belongings and followed him, except for Anthony. He plopped down in Kyle's chair and sighed.
The last person out of the mansion slammed the door. It made a low, muffled sound...not quite as loud as it should have been, yet Anthony could still hear the footsteps on the cobblestones outside. He heard car doors opening and closing. Silence. More car doors opening and slamming shut. Footsteps... headed back to the mansion?
The front door flew open-
"FUCK!" David swore. "God-DAMMIT!"
"The fucking CARS won't start!"
"The batteries are dead," said Dr. Hixon. He and the others were now filing back into the mansion. "All of them."
"I can NOT believe this shit!"
"It isn't like you were going anywhere anyway, David," said Dr. Hixon. He pulled a cell-phone from his pocket and raised the antenna. "Just calm down; I'll call AAA."
"This doesn't make any sense," said Lindsay. "How could they all go dead at once?"
"You KNOW what happened!" said David. "Fucking ghosts.... YOU THINK THIS SHIT IS FUNNY!? HUH!?! I'LL KICK YOUR FUCKING ASSES!!!"
"I thought these ghost wanted us out of here?" said Anthony. "Why are they sabotaging our cars if they want us to leave?"
"Perhaps they weren't the ones that did it," said Sarah.
"Well it wasn't ME!" said David. "Hell, we've all been sitting in this room all night!"
"And when we went out, we went out in pairs," Anthony added. "Nobody fucked with anything."
"So if it wasn't the ghosts and it wasn't us... who was it?"
"Something else," Sarah replied. "There's something else here."
"Oh, NOW she tells us," Anthony sighed.
"I wasn't sure at first. There's so much energy here that it all sort blends together... hard to separate one thing from another. But after the machine.... I think it stirred up something. I got a hint of it then, but it wasn't clear until I saw the lines on the computer-"
"The data," said Jeffries. "What about it?"
"The spike on the Q-E graphs," said Lindsay. "Is that what you're talking about?"
"Yes. That spike... it wasn't a ghost. I think it's masquerading as a ghost... but its really something else. Some OTHER kind of entity. The spirits in this house want us gone, but this OTHER thing... it wants us to stay."
"Is it dangerous?"
"The cowboy," said Anthony. "It snatched the generator and drained the batteries."
"I don't know. It's still very confusing."
"Well what DO you know! Dammit, what the hell are you even HERE for if you can't TELL us shit!"
"David, why are you so angry?"
"Uhhh...," Dr. Hixon began. "We've got another problem. My phone's got no signal."
"Cheap phone," said Anthony.
"I've got the same problem," said Dr. Jeffries. He had his phone out as well, but the display indicated that there was no signal. "There is no service here. It seems that circumstances have made the decision for us... we'll be staying here tonight after all," said Jeffries.
"With no electricity."
"We have the flashlights and lamps I brought," said Hixon. "Candles. Plenty of light."
"I suggest we take the rooms upstairs," said Sarah. "They are less... active... than the ones down here. And I don't think we should sleep alone."
"I don't think Lindsay was planning on doing that anyway-"
"Shut up, Anthony."
"Somebody should stay here and watch the equipment-"
"And I think THIS dude should take first watch-" Anthony pointed at Dr. Hixon.
"Fine. That's fine. I'll take first watch. No problem."
"The women will be together," said Jeffries. "Kyle will be with me-"
"Oooo, tough luck, Lindsay."
"That leaves Anthony and David. We'll all take adjacent rooms. The ones nearest the stairwell. Everyone brought their own blankets and pillows... try to get some sleep, we'll start tomorrow at dawn. That's about four hours from now. If we can't find the generator, then we'll have to purchase another one."
"So, uhhhh... exactly what am I supposed to do if something happens down here?" said Dr. Hixon.
"Shout really loud," Anthony replied. "Really, really loud. Think you can manage that, doc?"
"Six years of undergraduate work... a doctorate in parapsychology... only to be a glorified car alarm. Great."
"We'll be right upstairs," said Jeffries. "After a couple of hours, come and get one of the others."
"Ah, let him stay down there the whole night," said Anthony as they walked up the stairs. "Its not like he'll be doing anything constructive tomorrow."
"...if he knocks on MY door I'll kick his ass..." David added.
Sleep was a restless domain filled with screams and smoke... and of the Sampler's high whine mingled with something else... a dark, ominous rumble that rose from the ground as if the earth itself were enraged. David pulled the bedroll tightly round him as if to block out the sounds, but they kept coming. Wave upon wave of wailing and gnarling... and growling. He shuddered in his sleep, and, in doing so, managed to shake himself awake. The sounds faded slowly. He could still hear them for the first few seconds after waking... echoing reminders of something that his conscious mind had already forgotten. But even as they faded, the baneful chorus was replaced by something else:
David groaned as the sound took shape in his mind.
"rrrr.... RAH! Rah! RahRahRah!"
It was outside, and, from the sound of it, the tiny fiend had planted itself right underneath the bedroom window so that they could all appreciate its post-midnight serenade.
"rah! rrr... RAHRAHRAH!"
David shuddered once more, this time in growing annoyance at the incessant barking that went on and on and on and on...
"RRRRRAH! RAH! RAHRAHRAHRAH! rrrrrrr..."
"...oh, come ON!"
"Oh, COME THE FUCK ON!!" David growled as he threw the blanket back and jumped to his feet. He stomped over to the window and looked out. The clouds had receded somewhat, allowing some moonlight to illuminate the landscape. The window overlooked the garden, but there was nothing below but shadows and cobblestones.
The barking was coming from further away than David thought... from somewhere in the garden. But it sounded for all the world as it the mutt were barking right into his ear.
David leaned out the window and shouted.
"SHUT THE FUCK UP, ALREADY!"
"GIVE IT A FUCKING BREAK, OKAY! JESUS CHRIST!"
"David, would you shut the fuck up!" Anthony moaned from his corner of the room. David heard his friend roll over and mumble under his breath.
"Dude, do you HEAR this fucking shit!"
"Man, this isn't funny any more... just go the fuck to sleep, okay?"
"Damn RIGHT it ain't funny! I can't sleep with all that fucking-"
"HEY!" David hollered out the window at the top of his lungs. The barking paused for a few seconds... and then-
"HEEEEEY!! Fuck this!" David stomped over to the wall and pounded on it with his fist. Lindsay and Sarah were sharing the room next door. "HEY! HEY, get the fuck up and go get your FUCKING DOG!"
"HEY!" Lindsay's shrill voice called from the other side of the wall. "I don't care what you two fags are doing to each other there, just stop POUNDING ON THE GODDAMN WALL, okay!"
"What the f-... BITCH!"
"....oh, geez..." Anthony mumbled. "And I thought the nightmares were bad..."
"GO GET THAT FUCKING DOG!"
There was a merciful period of silence that lasted about ten seconds. And then-
"FUCK THIS!" Anthony snatched jacket from the floor and thrust his arms into the sleeves. He yanked his sneakers onto his feet and grabbed his flashlight. "I'll go get that fucker my goddamn self!" he said as he stomped out of the room. "Kick his ass over the wall like a goddamn football!"
He slammed the door behind him and stormed down the hall, pausing just long enough to pound his fists on Sarah's door.
"WAKE UP, BITCH! If I can't sleep, NOBODY fucking sleeps!"
"FUCK YOU!" Lindsay screamed in return.
David continued down the hall. He took the stairs two and three at a time, without regard for the long shadows that reached out to snare his feet. He reached the bottom and headed straight for the front door, not bothering to glance back into the living room or investigate the strange chill that followed him down the hall. He reached the door and went out into the courtyard. The beam from his flashlight became visible in the late-night mist... it slashed too and fro in the darkness like the blade of a enchanted sword.
"Uh-huh." David turned toward where he thought the sound was coming from, but he couldn't be sure. He waited.
"Gotcha!" David marched off toward the garden as the barking continued.
Dr. Jeffries was reading by candlelight when someone knocked on the door.
"Who is it?" he snapped. While he wasn't doing anything vitally important, he still hated to be interrupted just on general principle.
It was a woman's voice. Sarah Bishop.
Dr. Jeffries sighed and put he journal down, then checked on Kyle. The boy was sound asleep in a corner of the room.
Jeffries tied his robe tightly around him, he got up and answered the door. Dr. Hixon's psychic stood patiently in the hallway, dressed in the same clothes she'd been wearing all day.
"I need to talk to you," she said. "About your students."
"Anthony and David?"
"Yes. How well do you know them, Dr. Jeffries?"
"Please. This is important."
Dr. Jeffries glanced back at Kyle, then stepped out into the hall with Sarah.
"What's going on, Ms. Bishop?" he demanded.
"That's exactly what I'm trying to find out."
"Is this something that can wait until morning?"
"No. Tell me about your students, Dr. Jeffries. Please."
Jeffries gave her a suspicious frown.
"They're brilliant," he said in a guarded tone.
"I don't doubt that," Sarah replied. "But that's not what I'm asking."
"What ARE you asking?"
"How well do you know THEM... WHO they are?"
"I stay out of my student's personal lives, Ms. Bishop... just as I expect them to stay out of mine. They're brilliant students and hard workers. That's all that matters to me."
"Then you may have just doomed us all."
"KEEP barking you little mutherfucker!" David seethed. "Keep riiiiight on barking!"
The dog's maddening voice lead David through the garden as surely as a signal flare on a dark sea. He navigated the maze of cobblestone walkways, winding ever-nearer to the source of his anger. On either side of him, the razor-leaved shrubs hissed and swayed in an unfelt breeze, but he paid them no mind. The barking continued. And each annoying blast of sound spurred David on that much faster...
...until finally he realized that he was moving AWAY from it.
"What the fuck?" David turned around and listened.
He backtracked a few yards. Then he remembered where he was.
"Gotcha NOW, ya little FUCKER!"
David plunged into the wall of shrubs on his right and fought his way through to the other side. The ground became soft and spongy with every step, until finally it was sucking at his sneakers like a thing alive.
"Fuck!" David swore when he almost lost a shoe. He changed his gait to an odd, shuffling motion that only served to throw the filthy muck up onto the legs of his pants. "FUCK!"
Finally he emerged.
The old sanctum was now an ocean of worm-infested mud surrounding a single tiny island of rock. The smashed fountain rose from the filth like a tiny mountain... and perched precariously on top of the tallest peak was the psychic's dog.
The animal was terrified. It shook visibly as it peered down at the muck below. It growled.. then its tiny mouth opened-
It was barking at the worms. They were everywhere, but there was an enormous mass of them had clustered around the old fountain, where they wiggled and squirmed with unnatural vigor. They were tiny worms, but their numbers were so great that David could actually HEAR them squishing around in the mud. And their intent was obvious: they had surrounded the poor dog, and they wouldn't let him go.
"...Jesus..." David gasped. His anger pulled back for a moment-
"RAHRAHRAH!" the dog barked.
-and then it was back again.
"Well how the fuck did you get OVER there, then!" David snapped.
The animal looked at David with tiny, fear-filled eyes. It whined.
"Fuck you. Stay there."
David took a step toward the fountain. One step. His foot sank down in the mud... and it kept sinking... and sinking...
"WHOAH!" David pulled his leg back out of the sinkhole. It made a loud, wet sucking sound. Mud coated his pants leg up to mid-calf. "DAMN!"
David glared at the dog.
"Just shut the fuck up."
David looked around the edge of the sanctum and saw a few loose stones that has so far escaped the ever-growing tide of mud. He sloshed over to a patch of them and snatched one of the smaller rocks.
It was a sharp, nasty-looking stone.
David hurled the rock at the dog.
The stone bounced off of the fountain, missing the animal entirely. It did get the dog's attention, however. The animal looked incredulously at David, as if not believing what had just happened.
"Hell YEAH!" David shouted. "BARK one more time!"
David sent another rock hurtling toward the dog. Again, he missed.
The dog whined. He looked down at the worms, then at David. It shivered.
"Bark," said David, already holding another stone ready to throw. "BARK! You wanted to bark all goddamn NIGHT, right!? So FUCKING BARK!"
The dog made a quiet, tentative 'yip'
David threw the rock-
"YIIIIPE!" The dog screamed as the stone struck it in the center of the skull. The impact knocked the small animal off of its perch and sent it tumbling into the mud. It landed with a single, ominously muted 'plop'....
...and then there was nothing. No sound. No struggle.
"Heh, heh, heh."
"What on earth are you talking about, Ms. Bishop?"
"There are a lot of things wrong in this place, Dr. Jeffries. Lots of negative energies... but not all of it was here before we came. We brought some of it with us. I think that energy has awakened something. At first I thought it was the Sampler that started it... but now that I've had some time to think-
"Ms. Bishop, please... go spin your yarns to Dr. Hixon."
"You don't believe me."
"Oh, I believe you," said Dr. Jeffries. "I just don't care. I'm here to do research... not to psychoanalyze my students."
"You don't have to care, Dr. Jeffries... just help me. I'm here to help YOU with YOUR precious research... could you please help me with mine?"
Dr. Jeffries sighed.
"Anthony and David are two normal young men," he said. "David has a bit of a problem with his temper, but that's never interfered with his work."
"Has he ever been treated for any kind of mental illness?"
"David? No. Not that I know of. But then, I WOULDN'T know... I'm a teacher, not a parent. Why? Certainly you're not suggesting-"
"Perhaps. He's acting very strange, and it's getting worse. Ever since we arrived, David has had a... fixation... with my dog."
"Yes. Just a little while ago he was carrying about the barking and-"
"Good night, Ms. Bishop. If this is some kind of joke, it isn't funny. Try again in the morning and maybe I'll indulge you... for now, think I'll finish my reading."
Dr. Jeffries turned back to his room. He opened the door, but Sarah called after him:
"I take it that your reaction means you've noticed the same thing that I have?"
"And what would that be, Ms. Bishop?" said Dr. Jeffries as he paused in the doorway.
"That I don't have a dog."
David stared stonily as the patch of mud and worms where the dog had vanished. Then he nodded. Then he smiled.
"Goddamn mut." David started back toward the bushes.
A single, tiny bubble rose to the surface of the mud near the fountain. Two more followed it... and then another. The fourth was larger and further away from the rocks. Closer to David.
"You still alive down there?" said David, already casting around for more rocks.
Another bubble burst... this one large and close enough to splatter tiny specks of mud onto David's face.
"What the f-"
Something burst out of the mud two feet in front of him. Something HUGE! David didn't get a chance to see what it was, because at that very instant the ground beneath him gave way. It was as if a carpet had been snatched out from underneath his shoes. David's legs shot forward and he fell... but instead of hitting solid ground, he sank beneath the cold mud. The black and brown filth clamped down over his face like a giant fist. David felt the muck sucking him down... he would have HEARD it as well, if his ears weren't already host to a dozen mud-worms trying to squirm their way into the soft warmth of his tissues. His limbs flailed wildly, but the more he struggled, the deeper he sank. He felt things squirming violently across his lips and tightly-closed eyelids... easing under his fingernails and up his mud-filled nostrils.
"MMMMMMMM!!!!!" He shouted through closed lips. "MMMMMM!!!!"
Oxygen-starvation added the strength of desperation to his struggle. He tried to claw and kick his way to the surface, but his every movement took him lower... deeper. Finally, his brain would have no more of it. It over-rode his will and threw open eyes, lips, and throat in one desperate, convulsive gasp. Worm-infested mud flooded down into his lungs and stomach, but even as his innards railed against the unbreathable intrusion... his eyes...
...even in the pitch blackness of the depths... even through the worms and the muck...
They could see...
They could see it coming...
Dear GOD, they could SEE!
Anthony shivered slightly within the confines of his sleeping bag. He could still hear it. The last echoes of David's angry slamming of the front door. They were still there, haunting him like every other sound in the house.
The shadows. The ghosts. The eerie 'too dark' darkness that clung to every corner. Those were bad enough, but the one thing that Anthony couldn't stand about the house was the sound... the way it played and toyed with them... turning the slightest noise into something malicious. Every sound. Every voice. Every footstep had a dark and sinister overture. A settling foundation on the far side of the building sounded like something trying to scratch up through the floorboards underneath him. The echoes of a slamming door became gunshots that steadfastly refused to fade, and instead bounced around the mansion for far, far longer than nature itself would allow.
Were Anthony more awake than he was, he would have tried to calculate, derive, and solve for the true physics behind the phenomena. But he wasn't quite awake enough for that... so all he did was listen. And wait. He didn't know if he were waiting for dawn, or for David's return, or for the next eerie echo to send a chill down his back. In truth, he hoped to be asleep before either one of those things happened.
And he almost was...
Anthony frowned so deeply that his face hurt. Was someone knocking on a door? Was someone knocking on HIS door, or was it one of the other rooms? Or perhaps it wasn't knocking at all. Perhaps it was something else entirely.
"hhhhuuhhh?" Anthony moaned. He opened one eye and stared at the dark rectangle on the opposite side of the room. He couldn't actually see the door... but he tried anyway. His right hand felt around in the sleeping bag for his flashlight. "Who's there?"
Anthony heard the latch turn. The door opened, and light spilled into the room from a single, feeble flashlight held by a dark figure that remained in the hall.
"Whozzat?" Anthony finally found his own light. He clicked it on and aimed it at the figure in the doorway. It was Lindsay. The young woman wore pink jogging pants with a matching sweatshirt... hardly the night-ware that Anthony envisioned for the sexy graduate student. But then, she probably saved the good stuff for rich professors and researchers. Anthony figured that he didn't rate high enough for the Victoria's Secret lingerie... just the K-Mart sweatsuits.
Too bad. Even in bulky cotton, the swell of Lindsay's curves was more than enough to stir the loins. Anthony wondered what she was wearing underneath. If anything.
"Hey," he said. It was all he could come up with, and, between the rising lust and the fading sleep... he was lucky he got THAT.
"Where's your friend?" Lindsay replied.
"Damned if I know. Why... did 'Heavy-D' send you here to ask? She worried about his 'vibes'?"
"No," Lindsay said, still standing out in the hall. "Can I come in?"
"I dunno... how much is it gonna cost me?"
Lindsay flashed him an exasperated look and made an almost imperceptible move away from the door.
"Hey!" Anthony blurted. "Hey, I'm sorry." He wasn't. He STILL thought it was funny. "Yeah, come on in."
Lindsay closed the door behind her and padded softly over to where Anthony lay. He bare feet made soft, comfortable sounds on the wooden floor. Anthony sat upright and leaned his back against the wall as Lindsay sat down just a few feet away. She sat cross-legged, with knees spread wide. Anthony couldn't help but glance at her jogging pants, which were pulled tight against her crotch. The mere thought of-
"Huh?" David's gaze snapped back up to Lindsay's face. "What's up?"
"This place," said Lindsay. "I don't like it. I think we should leave."
"Wow, Lindsay... that must be the first original thought you've had all day! No, wait... Sarah's been saying that since we got here."
Lindsay rolled her eyes. She started to get up-
"Heeeyyy... hey, now," said Anthony. "Sorry. Reflex."
"Why do you guys give me such a hard time?"
"Hard time? Well-"
"I'm serious. All you've done is talk and make jokes about me. Why?"
"Well, let's see..." Anthony was tired, sleepy, a unnerved, and he knew he didn't stand a chance in hell with the woman sitting in front of him, so he may as well tell the truth. He held up his hand and started counting on his fingers as he spoke, "There was Dr. Richards. Dr. Soloman. That junior VP from IBM. The SGI research coordinator-... do you see a pattern here?"
"Lindsay. Now, don't take this the wrong way, but the minute anybody who smells like money steps on the campus, you're on 'em like roaches on Corn Flakes."
"That's not true."
"Lindsay, have you SEEN our school? We've got like SIX people in the whole student body. Word gets around, ya know?"
"You think I'm a slut."
"Why are you asking me this shit? We're trapped in a haunted house, and all you wanna talk about is your reputation?"
"Reputation is important."
"Ordinarily, I'd say you were shallow... but see, I've got you figured out."
"Yeah. It's reconnaissance. YOU wanna know what Dr. Jeffries knows, so you can plan out your tactics. So you figure you'll pump ME for information. Sorry. No dice."
"Dr. Jeffries doesn't have anyth-"
"Ohhhh, plleeeeease," said Anthony. "Famous physicist? Research grants that could buy a small country? You've been on his dick since the second he came to the campus. My FIRST day as a grad student, I go to meet with the doctor for the first time and WHO do I see camped outside his office?"
"Okay... so maybe that was a bit obvious." Lindsay smiled.
"But I think you're jealous."
"No, of me."
"Oh, is this another gay joke? Look, that was just a STORY that this little undergraduate bitch started when she found out I was fucking her roommate, okay. That shit she said... I did NOT-"
"When a man wants something, he has a lot of different choices of how to go about getting it. Lots of different ways to get what he wants. When a WOMAN wants something, she has all those same options... PLUS one that he DOESN'T have."
"'Scuse me, but... uhhh... what the FUCK are you talking about?"
"Using what you have to get what you want. Everyone does it. But women have one thing at their disposal that men don't, and some men are jealous."
"You've got this shit down to a philosophy, eh? The Zen of Gold-Digging. It's like a science to you."
"It has to be. I want a lot of things."
"And getting a degree and working for is just too much of a hassle or something?"
"That," said Lindsay. She eased forward slightly, bringing herself closer to Anthony. Her cotton-clad leg brushed briefly against his. "And not as much fun."
"Oh, well at least there's fun involved," Anthony replied. He reached out to straighten the blanket, then left his hand resting on his knee... which was just an inch away from Lindsay's thigh. "I mean... I'd hate to think you slept your way through the Campus Rich and Famous just for the cash."
"Cash is enough," said Lindsay. "But if I couldn't have fun getting it then I'd be... well... like you."
"Hey, physics is fun." Anthony made a lame attempt to stroke Lindsay's leg while pretending to scratch his knee. Lindsay said nothing... so he did it again, this time without the pretense.
"Maybe." Lindsay leaned forward and spoke in a soft, deep whisper. "But does it get you everything you want?"
"Not yet." Anthony's fingertips traced a long, slow path along Lindsay's outer thigh... slowly making their way upward and inward... "But there's always hope."
"So what is it that you're hoping for?" Lindsay's body came closer to Anthony. He felt her warmth... smelled the faint traces of powder and perfume. Anthony searched for that expectant look in her face, but instead he found an intensity that turned him on even more. His tongue danced briefly across his suddenly dry lips, moistening them. She repeated the gesture, but her lips were already wet. Her tongue slid between them slowly before vanishing into back into her mouth.
"I think you already know," said Anthony. His left hand, which had been slowly snaking its way up her left thigh, now switched legs as Anthony moved forward to bring his face close to Lindsay's.
"Do I?" Lindsay whispered. Anthony listened to her sultry breath. He was close enough to feel it on his face. His hand sat poised and ready on her thigh... his lightly stroking fingertips just inches away from her crotch. Her hand appeared on his leg, but it didn't move. It just waited. "Maybe you should tell me again."
Anthony paused. Not for fear or nervousness, but because it was the way things were done. He basked in the heat of his own lust for a moment... honing it to a razor's edge... then tilted his head and leaned in those final few inches to press his lips against hers. Their lips parted, and their tongues met in that passionate in-between that was neither his mouth nor hers. They did not meet timidly or tenderly... but instead, they tasted each other's mouths with an urgent, lustful hunger. Anthony's hand moved back to Lindsay's left leg, where it slid boldly up to the joining of her thighs and caressed her crotch with one long, slow stroke.
Lindsay moaned into Anthony's mouth as his fingers stoked the heat of her sex, pressing the tight cotton against her flesh. She eased her hips forward and began to move rhythmically against his fingertips. Her hand moved up his leg, leaving a trail of heat behind it as it approached his thigh. Using his free hand, Anthony pulled the blanket away from him, exposing his bare skin to her touch. Then he brought his hand to her side and slid under the hem of her sweatshirt. Her skin felt both cold and warm to his fingers as they made their way up her torso... stroking her stomach and side... feeling the rise and fall of her increasingly urgent breaths.
She continued to grind herself against him... harder now... and then faster. Her fingers left his skin as they traced across the thin cloth of his boxer shorts... still moving upward. Anthony encountered the swell of Lindsay's braless breasts under her sweatshirt. Their mouths parted slightly, but their tongues continued to dance in the open air. Their hands reached their destination at the same time... Anthony filled his hand with the shape of Lindsay's breast while her fingers snaked into the gap of his boxers and gently grasped him. He brushed his fingers across her nipple... one finger at a time... and they both moaned.
The sweatshirt was halfway off by the time the moan ended. Lindsay released him just long enough to slide out of the garment, then he was back in her slow, stroking grasp once more. Anthony's fingers returned to her breasts... he hefted one of the succulent orbs and leaned down to take the nipple into his mouth, but Lindsay would have none of it. She planted one hand on his chest and... gently... eased him back until he was flat on the floor.
He looked up into her hungry eyes as she kneeled beside him... lust-soaked skin gleaming in the light of the discarded flashlights. With one hand she teased his manhood free of his shorts. Her other hand grasped Anthony's and brought it to the waistband of her jogging pants. Anthony eased the pants down past her hips, slowly exposing her beauty. When they reached her knees, Lindsay discarded them with a quick shuffle. Anthony beheld her nakedness, discovering with lusty glee that she either wore no panties, or they had vanished along with the pants. His left hand slid up her thigh and danced across the naked skin of her sex, but before he could tease her any further, she thrust his hand away and threw one of her long legs across his stomach, straddling him.
She leaned backward, briefly stretching her breasts toward Anthony. His hands found them instinctively. Then she reached behind her and took him in her hand. Supporting herself on knees, Lindsay slid back ... paused seductively,... and then thrust herself down onto him. She mounted him like a champion, and immediately began to ride him with a fierce and urgent tempo.... thrusting her hips upon him faster and harder... then slower and softer.... and all while her sex massaged his like a lover's tender hand. But there was no love in this. Only lust. And the only thing that Anthony could do was try to keep up. Every time he tried to establish his own rhythm... every time he tried to move his hips to compliment her own pleasureful thrusts... she flash him an annoyed look and jerk her thighs together sharply in silent notice that she KNEW what she was doing... that he was to just lay there and enjoy it.
And enjoy it he did. The pleasure rose so high, so quickly, that it was all he could do to not embarrass himself. But he needn't have worried. It was as if Lindsay were plugged in to his mind. Every time he neared the pinnacle, she altered her tempo just enough to keep him back. And when he adjusted to the new rhythm, she changed it again. She was in charge of his pleasure as well as her own, and she would not be finished until SHE was ready. And when that moment came, Lindsay's chest and neck flushed a deep red as her mouth locked open in a silent scream. Anthony felt the hot pressure of pure ecstasy grasping him in hard, angry rhythms, continuing to stroke him even though the woman herself was frozen solid with pleasure. She raced over the edge and dragged him screaming along with her. Eyes shut, mouth open, Anthony's whole body became a solid iron bar of pure orgasm. The only thing keeping him on this side of consciousness was the realization that, if he passed out, he'd be missing the last few spasms...
Lindsay collapsed on top of him and panted her hot breath into his ear. She eased her hips forward and removed herself from his manhood almost as an afterthought.
"...whoa..." Anthony said between gasps of breath. He didn't know why he said it or what it meant... it just came out of his mouth for no reason. And then it happened again. "...whoooa..."
"So what do you want NOW?" Lindsay whispered. She followed the whisper with the tip of her tongue... gently tasting the curves of his ear.
"I want... I want five minutes."
Lindsay nibbled on his ear for a moment...
"...and then what?" she said.
"Round Two," Anthony replied.
"Ohhhh...." Anthony could feel her smiling against his face. He could feel the weight of her body against him... the heat of her sex as is rested on his stomach. She pressed her mound against him, and his lust began to stir once more.
"...or maybe I only need one minute-"
Suddenly, Lindsay sat bolt upright. She was still straddling his stomach, but now her knees were digging painfully into his sides. Her head turned toward the door.
"He's here!" she gasped.
"Huh?" said Anthony. He looked at the door... he listened. And for ONCE he didn't hear a damned thing. "Who's here? David?"
"I shouldn't be here!"
"What are you talking about?"
Lindsay leapt to her feet and glanced down at Anthony. She met his confused stare with a look of pure terror.
"It's COMING!" she screamed. And then she ran from the room... she ran...
...right through the wall.
Anthony sat up and blinked repeatedly, not wanting to believe what he'd just seen. Not wanting to accept the ramifications of what he THOUGHT he saw...
"...wh...wha...what... What the FUCK!?!"
Lindsay had run through the wall as if it wasn't even there. And Anthony was right behind her... only he had sense enough to use the door. He burst out into the hallway and looked up and down the dark aisle of rooms. He shined the light toward the stairs, expecting to see nothing.
But there she was, looking back at him. Only it wasn't Lindsay.
Anthony knew the dark-haired woman only from the photographs that Hixon had shown them. A photograph of a ghost, who looked exactly like she did now... right down to the wall that was plainly visible through her almost transparent form. She stared at Anthony with wide, dark eyes.
"Get out!" she screamed. Her voice was high and loud, yet distant. But it was clear enough for Anthony to read the emotion behind it... clear enough for him to know that her words weren't a threat. They were a frantic and sincere warning. She started to speak again, but then she turned toward the wall beside her. She looked at it fearfully, and then she ran screaming down the stairs.
"HEY!" Anthony shouted after her. He ran for the stairs-
The impact shook the entire house. Every room, every hallway... every nail in every piece of wood... But it wasn't an earthquake or explosion, no, it was as if something huge had risen up and slammed its unholy fist into the house with every bit of infernal anger that it could muster. One tremendous impact... and of everyone in the house, Anthony alone knew where it was...
Because he was looking right at it.
The wall adjacent to the stairs buldged outward like some obscene growth. Something outside had struck it, but instead of breaking or shattering, the wooden beams flowed and twisted out of shape... warping far beyond nature's intention, yet still remaining intact enough to keep the source of the impact from passing through.
But it was not over.
Before Anthony could take one step back, the wall began to crack. Jagged slivers of darkness radiated out from the impact-zone, propagating along the twisted surface... and then making sudden 90-degree turns when they encountered the floor, ceiling, and the adjacent walls. They made a sound was like a large tree slowly falling... its fibers snapping one by one...
...and they were heading straight for Anthony.
All of them. Every single crack, of which there must have been hundreds, raced down the hallway... turning the walls, floor, and ceiling into an evil spiderweb of miniature chasms. And the closer they got, the faster they came--
"Guys?" Anthony said as he backed away. He pounded on the first door he came to. "Guys! SOMETHING'S HAPPENING!"
Now came the low growling of something dark... something evil. Something huge. It was just waking up, and it was reaching for Anthony with hundreds of dark, jagged fingers.
"DOCTOR JEFFRIES! MS. BISHOP!!!! SOMEBODY!"
There was no response. He was in the house by himself... he didn't know HOW he know this, but he did... just as he knew that this was not a dream. Anthony backed away faster. HE wanted to turn and run, but he couldn't take his eyes away from what they were seeing.
"DAVIIIIDDD!!! OH, GOD, HELLLP!!!"
The sinister cracks doubled their speed and began to converge on him. Anthony turned to run-
His face sank into the dusty, solid chest of the thing that had been standing behind him. Instinctively, Anthony looked up. The thing wore a man's face and body... it wore a dusty hat and tattered poncho... it wore a scent of heat and sweat, and a belt with two silver six-guns hanging from their holsters... but it was no man by any stretch of the imagination. Its eyes gave it away. Two glowing THINGS set so far back into their sockets that their light seemed to have traveled miles just to bathe Anthony in their angry glare.
The gunman's frowned, the skin of his dusty brow bunched up like a meaty tentacle perched above his eyes. His head tilted slightly to the side as he breathed a blast of hot, fetid air into Anthony's face. The man's teeth were like two rows of shattered tombstones set into withering black soil.
He tried to turn and run, but only ended up stumbling backward, arm's pinwheeling wildly as he tried to catch his balance. The gunman snatched both revolvers from his waist. He held one at his side while pointing the other straight ahead... aiming it at the sweaty notch between Anthony's eyes. He eased the hammer back...
"NO! Oh, PLEASE NO!!!" Anthony begged. "NOOOO, please, GOD, NO!"
The gunman lowered the weapon, but as he did, his finger pulled back on the trigger-
Anthony's crotch exploded in a splash of brilliant red. A giant flower of blood blossomed across his boxers like a crimson magnolia as the slug shredded his delicate flesh.
Anthony clamped his hand over the wound and tried to scream... but his lungs would draw no air. His mouth hung open, frozen in an "O" of fear and pain as he dropped to his knees. He felt blood spraying out from between his frantically clutching fingers... the sudden warmth made it feel as if he were urinating on himself. He smelled the blood. He could smell his own blood.
Still unable to draw enough breath to scream, Anthony looked up at the gunman.
"...why..." the boy said in a high, weak voice.
The gunman's only response was an unintelligible sound. It was neither the hiss of a cat nor the rattle of a desert snake... but rather a little of both. And then both the sound and the apparition that made it were gone.
Both hands still clamped to his empty, bleeding crotch, Anthony leaned to the side and finally fell over. When his shoulder hit the floor... then... THEN he screamed:
Bedroom doors flew open on both sides of the hall. Dr. Jeffries and Ms. Bishop came storming out into the hallway.
"Oh, my God!" Sarah gasped. She rushed over to Anthony and knelt beside him... she tried to pull his hands away from his crotch, but they wouldn't budge. They were fixed so tightly in place that the muscles were beginning to tremble. "SOMEBODY HELP HIM!"
"What happened, son!" said Dr. Jeffries. "Who did this!"
"...he shot me... he shot me... he shot me..." was all that Anthony could say.
"I know some first aid," said Sarah. "Help me get his hands away-"
"What's going on?" Kyle called from Dr. Jeffries room.
"Get back in there, boy!" Dr. Jeffries ordered "This isn't for you to see!"
"Yeah, okay," said Kyle as he stepped out in the hall to get a closer look.
As did Lindsay. She wore a familiar pink sweatsuit that drove Anthony into paroxysms of terror when he saw her.
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!" he bellowed. He removed one hand from his shredded loins just long enough to point a bloody finger at Lindsay. "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGET THAT FUCKING BITCH AWAY FROM ME!!!"
Lindsay saw the blood and stifled a scream.
"He's lost a lot of blood!" Sarah shouted. "Must have severed an artery!"
"I've lost more than BLOOD! That Fucker SHOT MY NUTS OFF! Ohhhhh GOD!""
"He's going to BLEED to death if we don't' stop it! Somebody HELP me here!"
Jeffries stood back... well out of the way of the rapidly spreading pool of blood.
Lindsay hesitated for a moment, then knelt beside Anthony and tried to grab his wildly flailing hands... both of which were furiously trying to push her away.
"NO! NO! NO! DON'T TOUCH ME! GET AWAY! GET AWAAAAYY!!!"
"He's hysterical," said Sarah. With Anthony's hands occupied in trying to push Lindsay away, the psychic now had clear access to the boy's crotch. She tore at the thin, bloody fabric of his shorts and-
"...what?" she said "What's going on?"
Sarah moved back so that everyone else could see. There, nestled in the bloody cloth, were Anthony's privates... intact... without a single wound, mark, or scar on them.
"Ewwwww..." said Lindsay. "Was this some kind of fucking JOKE to show us your dick!?"
Despite the bloody evidence to the contrary, there was no wound, gunshot or otherwise.
"What? WHAT!?!" Anthony sat up and examined himself. Not believing what he saw, he examined himself again. And again.
"Now he's playing with himself," Lindsay sighed.
"But.. but it was REAL! Look!!" Anthony pointed to the blood that was all over everything, including Sarah's hands. "Blood! Where'd the blood come from?"
"Is it real blood?" said Kyle.
"Smells real," Sarah replied.
"It WAS real!" said Anthony. Suddenly bereft of pain, he got to his feet and tucked himself back into what remained of his boxers. "IT WAS REAL... that COWBOY MUTHERFUCKER SHOT MY BALLS OFF!"
"Your balls are fine-
"I FELT it! HE SHOT OFF MY FUCKING BALLS!"
"It didn't happen, Anthony-"
"The HELL it didn't! That bastard... that.... that..."
Anthony's raging hysteria finally played itself out as the facts caught up with him. He hadn't been shot. There were no injuries. He wasn't in any pain. There was plenty of blood, but if that much blood had come out of HIM, he certainly wouldn't be walking around screaming about it. He'd be in shock, or dead.
"Okay," he said as he caught his breath. "What... the FUCK... just happened to me?"
"Maybe you should tell us," said Sarah.
"Okay.... okay, i was in my room... I was in my room trying to get back to sleep... and Lindsay comes in-"
"I did NOT come into your room," Lindsay protested.
"Well SOMEBODY did! It was that fucking GHOST bitch from the pictures.... but she LOOKED like YOU! We had sex and then-"
"You come running out here screaming and yelling because you had a wet dream!?"
"It was REAL!"
"Like when you were shot?"
"YES! I mean... uhhh.... I was AWAKE, okay! It was NOT a dream! DREAMS don't bleed! DREAMS don't SHOOT people in the FUCKING NUTS!!!"
"I think this is all just a fucking joke. You and that other asshole..."
"Where IS David?" said Dr. Jeffries. He looked around, and peered into Anthony's room. "Where is he?"
"He left," said Anthony. "He went outside."
"What!? WHEN!?" said Sarah.
"What do you mean, 'when'? You didn't HEAR him? C'mon, he slammed every goddamn door in the house!"
"I didn't hear anything," said Jeffries.
"Me neither," said Kyle.
"I heard him screaming and pounding on the wall," said Lindsay. "but after that it just got quiet; I figured you two were in there fucking or something-"
"BITCH, I will-"
"Calm down, Anthony."
"If he went outside, then Dr. Hixon would have seen him," said Sarah. "Dr. Hixon!" she shouted toward the stairs. There was no reply.
"He's supposed to be watching the equipment," said Lindsay
"HIXON!" Jeffries yelled.
"Ohhhhh, shit," said Anthony.
Sarah was the first one at the stairs. She started down, with Dr. Jeffries and Kyle right behind her. Lindsay was next, and Anthony brought up the rear. He paused to look at the wall... it was perfectly normal now. The bulge and the cracks were gone. Like nothing had ever happened.
"Anthony!" Jeffries called from downstairs.
Realizing that he was alone on the second floor, he sprinted down the steps and joined the others in the living room. They were gathered around the comfortable chair that was Kyle's usual spot. Dr. Hixon was sitting in it now, however... sound asleep, and snoring heavily.
"Oh, you've gotta be fucking kidding," said Anthony. "He's ASLEEP!?!"
"Hixon-" Dr. Jeffries grabbed Hixon's shoulder and shook it gently. Dr. Hixon's eyes popped open.
"Huh?" he said. He slowly sat up straight in the chair and squinted at the crowd gathered around him. "Heeeeeeyyyy..... howw ya'll doin?"
"My God, look at his eyes-"
Dr. Hixon's eyes were bloodshot to the point of looking unhealthy.
"Wha...?" Hixon slurred. He pawed at his eyes with limp, uncoordinated hands. "Waz wrong wi' my eyez? I don' see nuttin' wrong..."
"Doctor Hixon's drunk!" Kyle announced..
"Drunk, hell," said Lindsay. "He's shitfaced!"
"I'mmm snot drunk," Hixon protested. "I'mmm ferflekly ssober."
"Drunk!?" Anthony started looking around Hixon's chair. "You got some shit in here, doc!? Where ya hidin' it?!" Finding no hidden bottles, Anthony stared filing through Hixon's coat pockets.
"HEEEEY!!!" Hixon tried to pull away, and nearly fell out of his chair.
"I need it more than you do, doc! I got shot in the fucking nuts an all you got hit with is GUARD duty! Now GIVE IT HERE!"
"I ain' got nuttin!" Hixon slapped Anthony's hands away, and ended up hitting himself in the face accidentally. "Ouch. Stop hittin me!"
"Stop It," said Sarah. She stepped between Anthony and Hixon. Dr. Hixon looked up at her-
"Heeeey," he said. "You're fat."
"He's not drunk. Something else is wrong."
"Goddam, you're fuckin' HUGE!"
"Well, there's nothing wrong with his eyes," Lindsay mumbled... just loud enough for Anthony and Kyle to hear.
"Shh!" Sarah demanded. She grabbed Hixon by the shoulder and shook him violently.
"HEEEEYY!!" Hixon protested. "HEEEEY Lemme GO! Let GO a' me!"
"Get OUT!" Sarah shouted into Hixon's face. "GET OUT! LET HIM GO!"
"Aaaaaa..." Hixon's half-hearted scream was almost comical. "Aaaa... she's gon' crazy! She's try'n ta SHAKE me ta death! PLEASE don' let her SIT on me!"
Sarah ignored the plea and shouted at Hixon as loud as she could... punctuating each syllable with a violent jerk.
"LET him GO!!!"
"Sarah!" Dr. Jeffries protested.
Suddenly, Dr. Hixon convulsed. Every muscle in his body clenched at one giant spasm tore him from Sarah's grasp and threw him onto the floor.
"OUT!" Sarah commanded.
Hixon rolled over onto his back... his chest and abdomen lifted up off of the floor, then dropped back down again.
Hixon's mouth opened and he began to gag.
"Roll him over!" said Jeffries. "He'll choke on his own vomit-"
"I ain't touching him!" Kyle replied, backing away.
"Stay back!" Sarah demanded.
Hixon spasmed again. His stomach clenched violently, and the convulsion expelled a huge cloud of light-brown smoke from his mouth.
"Oh, my God," said Lindsay.
The thick haze poured out of Hixon's mouth and nose in a continuous stream. It gathered in the air above him like a miniature storm cloud until all of it had been forced out. It hung there for an instant longer... and then shot out of the room like an arrow, leaving the stench of stale vomit and fresh whiskey in its wake. It flew down the hallway to the bedrooms and vanished in the darkness.
"ohhhhhh..." Dr. Hixon groaned. "...what happened..."
"It was a ghost."
"Naww, FUCK that!" said Anthony. "I get SHOT in the balls and this guy gets a fucking BUZZ!?!? What kinda shit is THAT!?! I'm OUTTA here!"
Anthony marched down the main hallway to the door.
"Anthony you can't go out there!" Sarah shouted after him.
"The hell I can't!"
"Where are you going, the cars don't work!"
Anthony slammed the door behind him, leaving the others to deal with the echoes. He trotted across the courtyard, trying to get as much distance between him and the house before someone came after him. When the front door opened, he wanted to be out of sight and well on his way to the front gate.
It was a long jog to the exit. In the dark and on foot, the path seemed a lot longer than it had when they'd driven in this afternoon. Anthony slowed his jog to a quick walk, but saved enough energy for a mad dash if the need arose.
The shrubs lining both sides of the path rattled... hissing loudly as they yielded to some wind that Anthony couldn't feel.
Anthony stopped. So did the bushes.
"David?" he called. "David, is that you?"
"Hey, I'm getting out of here, man! C'Mon... let's go!"
"David! YO, man... this place is fucked up! Stay here if you want! I'm gone!"
The darkness around him responded with a single sound... a light, faint crack, like a pebble skipping across cobblestones.
Anthony peered into the blackness... the blackness that seemed less intense just a second ago... and saw no sign of anyone.
Anthony started walking again, and his first footstep was touchstone that caused all hell to break loose. Something roared in the darkness... a deep, horrible sound that Anthony remembered all to well. He broke into a run, but stopped cold as the cobblestone path ahead of him erupted in a network of deep, dark cracks... miniature chasms that tore through the stone like tiny serpents zigzagging their way straight toward him.
Anthony turned back and ran for the house. The roar faded, but the infernal crackling behind him got louder and closer and CLOSER with every step he took. It was after him! He didn't know what it was, but it was coming and it was coming FAST!
"HEEELLLLLPPPPP!!!!" Anthony ran for his life... chased back toward the mansion by the animate cracks in the cobblestone. He burst into the courtyard. Lindsay and Sarah were standing just outside the front door, both shining flashlights and calling his name.
"INSIDE!" Anthony warned as he streaked past the cars. Sarah looked past him and saw... something. Her eyes widened in terror. The psychic moved back inside the house, but Lindsay didn't. Anthony couldn't see the cracks behind him, but he could HEAR them. He could hear them gaining... He could feel the ground beginning beneath his speeding feet...
"LINDSAY, GET INSIDE!" Anthony screamed. She started to back away, but was too slow. Anthony threw his arm out to the side and caught her around the abdomen as he raced past... yanking her along with him. The impact knocked the air from Lindsay's lungs... she gave a startled yelp as they both collapsed on the floor inside. Anthony rolled over and looked through the open door... he saw the sea cracks tearing across the last yard between them and house.
Anthony kicked the door closed, then got up and threw himself against it.
The house shook as something slammed into door. The door cracked... and kept cracking... long, thin fingers of darkness began crawling across the surface.
Anthony looked back to the others, who'd gathered in the hallway behind him. Dr. Jeffries was pulling Lindsay to safety.
"GO!" Shouted as the door became a spider-web of cracks. Something pushed hard against it... Anthony pushed back. "GO! GET AWAY! GET OUT!"
"FOR GOD'S SAKE, RUN, YOU STUPID MUTHERFUCKERS!!!!"
Again, something huge and powerful rammed into the door. Again, Anthony held it back. Sharp pieces of splintered wood rained down on him as the door began to disintegrate from all the fractures riddling its surface. He couldn't hold it long. He closed his eyes and prepared for the inevitable...
...but it never came.
Everything stopped. The cracks in the door disappeared... the force that had been pushing against Anthony vanished.
Anthony backed away... eyes fixed on the door.
"You... you saw that, right? Somebody please tell me you saw all that."
"I saw it," said Sarah.
"We all did," said Jeffries. "I suggest we move away from the door... and abandon any further plans for sleeping tonight."
"It wouldn't let me out..." said Anthony. "I was leaving... it wouldn't let me go. Oh, God.. DAVID is out there! DAVID!"
Sarah shook her head.
"What are you shaking your head for! He's OUT there! He's out there with that THING!"
"If he is-"
"Nobody saw him leave," said Jeffries. "He could still be-"
"He's OUT THERE! OUT-FUCKING-SIDE! I HEARD him leave!"
"W-what are we going to do now?" said Lindsay.
"I'm not going out there to look for NOBODY!" Kyle announced. He was promptly ignored. They all returned to the living room, where the Sampler sat quietly. Dr. Hixon, who looked very, very hung-over, plopped down in a chair and tried to rub the redness out of his eyes.
"Ohhhh... my head," he moaned.
"So what are we going to DO!?" Lindsay repeated.
"Nothing," said Sarah. "We'll wait until morning. It might let us out then."
"It? WHAT 'it,'" said Anthony. "What IS this thing!?!"
"I don't know."
"Well HOW do you know it'll let us go in the morning!"
"I don't. It might not. But at least we'll have a fighting chance."
"Fighting chance!? A chance to fight WHAT!?!?! Without the Sampler, we are FUCKED, okay! FUCKED! These ghosts can come in here and FUCK US UP THE ASS whenever they fucking FEEL like it!"
"Anthony," said Jeffries. "You're getting hysterical again."
"HELLOOO! I GOT SHOT IN THE FUCKING BALLS!!!"
"...what the fuck?"
Everyone turned to look down the hallway leading to the door.
"Ummm...," said Lindsay. "did anybody LOCK that door?"
Footsteps began to echo down the hallway. Everyone slowly got to their feet as the sounds drew nearer. Something was coming.
"Who...who's there?" said Lindsay.
"Who the fuck do you think!?" said David. He stepped out of the shadows and into the living room. The boy was completely covered with dark, foul-smelling mud. The stench of it filled the room instantly. Thick globs of it slid off of his clothes and splattered onto the carpet. "What's everybody staring at?" he said.
"David?" said Anthony. "What...uhhh..."
"Don't ask," said David. He tried to wipe his face clean, but only ended up smearing the mud over his already coated face. Finally he gave up. "Oh, by the way," he said. He jerked his thumb back to the front door, the motion sent more mud splattering over the floor. "I found the generator."
[To Be Continued]