"Uh-uh," Anthony protest. "I'm not going back out there!"
"I told you there's nothing out there!" David replied. Several large globs of black mud slid off of his clothes and joined the ever-growing pile of gunk on the carpet around him. "I just CAME from there!"
"And you saw the generator?" said Dr. Jeffries.
"Where, exactly?" said Lindsay.
"Fuck the generator; I ain't going."
"What happened to you, David?" said Dr. Hixon. "You look like-"
"Like something dragged me under a lake and tried to fuck me. But I wasn't having that. And on the way back here, I got an idea of where the generator might be."
"Lake?" said Kyle. "There's a lake here?"
"You've been out to the garden, haven't you." Sarah Bishop accused.
"Duh. I should think that's fairly obvious. Geez, Hixon, where'd you get this genius?"
"Don't trust him," said Sarah. "There's something wrong here."
"Ooohh, more psychic bullshit."
"I told you we shouldn't venture outside the house. You did it anyway. I told you not to disturb the force in the garden. You did it anyway. I told you that this experiment should be discontinued and we should all just leave... we're still here-"
"NEWSFLASH: The car batteries are DEAD!" said Anthony. "Ain't nobody going anywhere!"
"Doesn't matter the reason... the fact is that every time I warn or suggest something, you end up doing the opposite. And the consequences of that are getting steadily worse as the night goes on. NOW I'm telling you NOT to trust this man!" Sarah pointed a short, pudgy finger at David. "He isn't right. There is something about him that is disturbing the forces in this place... and those forces may be disturbing HIM as well. Something about this place has reached out to him-"
"Bitch, go get a sandwich or something and shut the fuck up before I reach out to YOU!" David spat.
"Sounds like the same old David to me," said Anthony.
"David-" Dr. Hixon began.
"You know what... fuck all of you. You wanna sit around here in the dark, fine. I'M going to get my equipment. And if I get a hernia from dragging it in here by myself, then when I get out of the hospital I'm gonna WHEELCHAIR your asses to death!"
David turned around and, with wet, sloshing footsteps, marched down the hallway to the front door.
"Hold up!" said Anthony. He followed David.
"Thought you weren't going outside," said Dr. Hixon.
"Whatever's out there didn't fuck with HIM, right?"
"Fine," said Sarah as everyone except herself, Lindsay, and Kyle went outside with David. "Ignore me again."
"Maybe they don't like you," Lindsay offered.
"Maybe I don't look as good as you do in a tight sweatshirt."
David led the group to the large rental truck parked just outside the door. He walked up to the rear doors and pulled them open, revealing a rectangle of inky darkness Anthony shined his flashlight into it.
The generator was inside, sitting among a few pieces of stray equipment like a diamond in a coal bin.
"Told you," said David.
"In the truck," Anthony said incredulously. "Its been sitting here in the truck all this time."
"Why?" said Hixon.
"What's the last place YOU would look, doc?" David replied. "I mean really... why would ANYONE think to look in here? Unless they're a genius like me."
"No... why hide it at all?" said Dr. Hixon. "Why not just destroy it?"
"Because ghosts are stupid," said David. He hopped into the truck and waited for the others. "Well... you gonna help me tote this bastard or not?"
The generator was a heavy machine... bigger and heavier than a car engine by a considerable amount. It normally sat on its own wheeled metal cart for easy maneuvering, but whatever had taken the generator had discarded the cart, and no-one was in a particular hurry to go and look for it. It took all four of them to move the generator off of the truck. After that, the short trip back inside the house seemed like an eternity of straining muscles and grunting, gasping lungs. Lindsay held the door open for them while kept a fearful eye on the darkness surrounding the courtyard. Kyle just sat and watched.
They deposited the machine at the edge of the living room, with the exhaust hose aimed back toward the front door. Anthony, Dr. Hixon, and Dr. Jeffries had to take a few minutes to catch their breath. David immediately squatted down and began inspecting the machine.
"One of these breakers is burnt out from earlier... but I can rig it," he said.
"And then what?" said Sarah.
"We could use the generator to recharge the car batteries," Lindsay suggested. "Then we can get the hell out of here."
"That won't work," David said. "Different voltages. Hook this thing up to the batteries and they'd pop like balloons."
"Balloons filled with acid," Antony added.
"But you could rig something, can't you?"
"No, we can't," said David.
"Yeah, we can. I think Lindsay has a good idea... we can make a voltage regulator-"
"What we can MAKE, is the Sampler operational again. That's all this generator is meant for... it's a finely-tuned machine, and you don't go fucking with it just to start a car. Somebody hand me the electrical tape."
"Thanks. Getting the Sampler back online is the best thing we can do right now."
"I-I think he's right," said Hixon. "These spirits in here... they're just too powerful."
"But with the Sampler, we can fight back,"
"Hell fuckin' yeah," said David.
"But it isn't the ghosts we should be afraid of," said Sarah. "Its the Other."
"Oh, you gave it a name now?" said Anthony. "I liked to call it 'The Mutherfucker That Shot Me In The Balls,' but I guess that's kinda long, huh?"
"You got shot in the balls, dude?" said David.
"Yeah, but I'm better now."
"Oh." David went back to work on the generator. "Look, these ghosts already got a taste of this thing once. They didn't like it. All we gotta do is turn it on again and no ghost in its right mind will fuck with us."
"At least until the gas runs out." Anthony and David looked at each other. "There IS still gas in this thing, isn't there?"
David checked the fuel level.
"No... just kidding," said David. "We got plenty of juice for what we need to do. Hey, Kyle... make yourself useful and go get-"
"Kyle?" said Dr. Jeffries.
Everyone turned to where Kyle had been sitting.
The chair was empty.
"Where's my son?"
"I dunno... he was just sitting there and... now he's not."
"KYLE!" Dr. Jeffries shouted.
"...dad!..." came a weak, muffled reply. "...dad, help me!..."
It was coming from the chair. Not from 'near' the chair or 'around' the chair... no, the boy's faint voice was coming from INSIDE the chair.
Suddenly all of the doors in the house flew open and slammed shut with one, tremendous BANG! The furniture in the living room began shaking and moving, slamming itself against the floor and walls with increasing intensity. But the chair where Kyle had been sitting was ominously still. It held its space as if nailed to the floor.
"What's happening!" Lindsay screamed.
"You know what's happening! The souls in this house are angry!"
"THEY'RE angry! I'M the one that got his balls shot off!"
"They don't want us to fix the Sampler," said David... busily tinkering with the generator's inner works. "But they're gonna have to try harder than that."
"Where's my SON!"
"Fuck him," said David. "He never did shit anyway."
Kyle's voice... if it was still present... was lost in the storm of sounds from the dancing furniture.
"It was this chair!" said Jeffries. "His voice was coming from this chair! Someone help me!"
Dr. Jeffries fingers scratched at the furnishing's antique fabric... but the thick cloth refused to yield. Lindsay and Dr. Hixon joined him. Together they, kicked, yanked and pulled. The chair would not move, and its fabric would not tear.
"Use this!" Anthony tossed them a small utility knife. Dr. Jeffries caught it and began cutting the tough fabric on the chair's seat. At first, the chair's skin held firm... but he applied more pressure and the blade sank in. The chair produced a deep, almost inaudible groan. The wound that Dr. Jeffries had made spurted a thick, pestiferous fluid that splattered over his hands. The fluid was slimy and warm to the touch.
"...my God..." Dr. Hixon gasped. Lindsay backed away, but Sarah moved in to take her place.
Gritting his teeth, Dr. Jeffries cut some more. Once the initial incision had been made, the knife cut more easily. The chair was now gushing copious amounts of body-temperature fluid in regular, powerful spurts... as if the doctor had sliced into an artery. Dr. Jeffries ignored it. When the hole was big enough, he dropped the knife, grabbed the sides of the wound, and tore it open.
The chair jerked. It did not move because of Dr. Jeffries external attack, but rather from some inner convulsion.... like living flesh pulling away from an open flame.
The fabric split with a wet, ripping sound. More pus splattered up into the doctor's face, and now a thick mucous was oozing out onto his hands. The hole had only widened slightly, however. Dr. Hixon and Sarah added their efforts to Dr. Jeffries', and then Anthony aided them as well. With their combined strength, they split the fabric right down the middle.
The chair ballooned outward like a giant, swollen blister, and then it exploded... sending chunks of is fabric/flesh in all directions, and spraying everything around it with warm, clear pus.
"AAAH!" Lindsay screeched as the gore soaked her.
The chair was gone, but it had given up its prisoner. Kyle lay on the floor, nestled in a web of what at first appeared to be tentacles, but were actually thick strands of milky-white mucous. They had been serving some infernal purpose before... but now that the chair was gone, they were just so much warm, lifeless gore. Dr. Jeffries tried to pull them free, but at his touch, they disintegrated into a disgusting white slush that soon covered everything. Some of the mucous had made its way into the boy's mouth, and when this was scooped out, Kyle coughed... rolled over onto his stomach and expelled a lung-full of pus through his mouth and nose.
"Son... are you all right?"
"...dad..." Kyle gasped. "It.... it ate me..."
"Jesus H. Christ," said Anthony. "The chair fucking ATE the kid!"
"I... I sat in that chair," Dr. Hixon mumbled.
"Hey... everything's stopped..." Lindsay remarked. The rattling of furniture and slamming of doors that filled the past minute had finally ceased... its ending punctuated by an uncanny silence.
"It hasn't stopped," said Sarah. "Its just beginning- LOOK OUT!"
A billowing black non-shape burst from the hallway leading to the bedrooms. It came at them quickly, expanding as it did until it blocked half of the room. Before anyone could draw breath to scream, the cloud heaved outward and split open, forming a gigantic black mouth that exhaled a gust of intense heat and ash. The rest of the cloud formed a face... a woman's face... burnt and horrible. The eyes were dark pits scowling out at the fools standing before it. The heat and ash made the air unbreathable, and as the stunned researchers coughed and sputtered, a single mid-night black tentacle snaked out of the burnt ghost's mouth and wrapped around Kyle's legs.
"NO!" Dr. Jeffries managed to scream.
The tentacle withdrew, taking Kyle with it...
The boy vanished into the apparition's mouth. The gaping maw clamped shut and the face began to dissolve as it retreated back down the hallway. The shadows swallowed it... and a sudden gust of wind sucked the heat and thick, chocking ash out of the room... leaving it exactly as it was before. Minus one occupant.
"What the FUCK just happened!" said Anthony.
"My son is gone!" Dr. Jeffries turned to confront Sarah. "What do these things want with MY SON!?"
"I don't know, but-"
"WHERE IS HE!?"
"He's in the house... but yet, he's not in the house. I can sense-"
"God DAMMIT, woman! Something just ATE my son, and you're standing there spouting NONSENSE! DAMN you!"
"I don't think he's hurt, but-"
Dr. Jeffries snatched a flashlight from the table. He seemed on the verge of smacking Sarah across the face with it, but instead, he went into the hallway and kicked open the first door he came to.
"Dr. Jeffries," Sarah began, "I don't think-"
"WHAT DO YOU WANT WITH MY SON!"
Dr. Jeffries went from door to door in the short hallway. At each room, he forced the door open and shined his light inside... only to find nothing but dust and darkness.
"KYLE! Where are you!"
Neither the house nor the boy replied. Dr. Jeffries searched the last room, then came back down the hall and headed for the stairs.
"Get this machine operational," he spat as he passed David. "I don't care WHAT you have to do. Make this thing WORK, and make it work NOW!"
"Oh, it's gonna work alright," said David. He had connected the generator to the Sampler, was now making some adjustments on both machines.
Dr. Jeffries started marching up the stairs to the second floor.
"Is it safe for him to go up there alone?" said Dr. Hixon.
"I'll go," Lindsay blurted. "Dr. Jeffries, wait! I'll help you!" She chased after the irate doctor, while Sarah gazed suspiciously down the hallway that Jeffries had just searched. She seemed to be listening to something.
"KYLE!" Dr. Jeffries voice boomed from upstairs.
Sarah continued staring down the hall.
"What?" said Dr. Hixon. "Do you sense something? Down there?"
"Yes," she said in a distant voice. "I think I've just received an invitation."
David looked up from diligent tinkering for the first time since he'd started. He glanced at Sarah and frowned.
"A what?" he said.
"They want to talk to me. I think." She started toward the hall.
For a second, David had an odd of concern on his face. But it quickly faded and he returned to his work.
"...whatever..." he mumbled. Sarah went down the hall, where the darkness closed in around her.
"Hey, wait!" Dr. Hixon trotted after her, and they were soon both gone from sight.
"Invitation, my ass," David murdered. "She probably just snuck off for a snack."
"Okay," said Anthony as he watched David's hands toying with the Sampler's innards. "Okay, dude... please tell me... what the HELL are you doing?"
"Do you think we'll find him when Dr. Jeffries couldn't?" Dr. Hixon asked as he caught up with Sarah.
"If they let us," Sarah replied.
"And IF they took him."
"Well, who else-"
"It should be fairly obvious that there's more going on here than just ghosts," said Sarah. She flashed a serious glance toward her companion. "Don't you think?"
"You're the psychic. I'm just..."
"Here to ride Dr. Jeffries' coat-tails. I understand."
"Hey! Hey, a lot of legitimate research went into this project. Research that was done by me!"
"Researchers don't get their pictures on the covers of magazines. They don't win prizes and don't pull down ten-thousand dollars per speech."
"What are you saying, Ms. Bishop?"
"I'm not quite sure." Sarah looked confused for a moment, then paused in front of one of the bedroom doors. It was the room that Kyle had claimed he'd seen a ghost in earlier. When she'd come to investigate, she found the room to be one of the more intense places in the house... as if someone had been living in it for a long, long time. No one else had felt it, of course.. but it was there. Now, however, that intensity had increased ten-fold. The air surrounding the door vibrated with an unseen energy... a cold and eerie electricity that Sarah had long since learned to associate with the whisperings of unquiet souls. The energy hovered around the door like a thick, invisible fog that seemed to push her away and draw her in at the same time.
Sarah stepped forward and let the energy wash over her. She opened her mind to receive whatever impressions it contained.
"Sarah?" said Dr. Hixon.
"They're not sure," Sarah replied. "They don't know if they can trust me."
"You can tell that?"
"I can feel it."
Suddenly, the bedroom door opened. It swung open slowly, revealing the blackness beyond. Dr. Hixon shined his flashlight into the room. The darkness swallowed the feeble beam like a ravenous black predator. Sarah couldn't see anything inside the room, but she could feel that something was there. Several somethings.
A barrage of disparate emotions assaulted her as she stepped over the threshold. Anger. Fear. Concern. Suspicion. Hate. She accepted them all, and tried to project as much calm and reassurance as she could... which wasn't very much, considering the current situation. It was enough. The flood of negative emotions subsided, leaving only brief, but powerful flashes.
Sarah found herself standing alone in the middle of the room. The surreal darkness was gone now. She could see the walls... the window with its eerie curtain... and the door.
Dr. Hixon tried to join her in the room, but he was met with a loud, primal wail of pure emotion... a wail that was felt more than it was heard. Hixon gasped as something unseen knocked him back out into the hallway.
"Hey-" he began. The door slammed in mid-protest, sealing him out.
Sarah frowned and turned away from the door. She didn't know where to look, so she looked at the curtain.
"Let him in," she said. There was a forceful edge in her voice. "It's not safe for him to be alone, and you KNOW it. Let him in."
There was no verbal response, but Sarah felt the energy around her rise up in silent denial of her request. She asked again.
"You're placing him in danger. Let him in... or I won't talk to you."
The door opened slowly... cautiously. Sarah almost expected to hear the hinges creak... but they didn't. Dr. Hixon peeked in and glanced expectantly at Sarah. She nodded, and he entered.
"They have something to say. What, I don't know."
"They. How many are there?"
"Nine, I think. They're all around us."
Dr. Hixon looked around.
"Of, COURSE you can't see them," Sarah replied to his unspoken remark. "That's why you brought ME, remember?"
"Oh. Right. C-Can you talk to them?"
Something moved in the room.
"What was that-"
A damp, musty breeze ruffled the curtains and crossed the room to touch Sarah. It was invisible at first, but soon it condensed into a brown haze. It blew around her in a tight circle... leaving a characteristic and familiar stench in its wake: Stale vomit and fresh whiskey. Urine and sweat.
"Oh no!" Dr. Hixon gasped as he backed away. "I remember this thing... no... tell it to go away! Go Away!"
"Stop making an ass out of yourself, doctor. If they wanted you, they'd have you by now."
The unusual spirit continued to circle her... almost as if it were waiting for something. Sarah couldn't read its thoughts any more than she could sense a living person's... but she could feel its emotions clearly. It was afraid, but it wanted something. It wanted her to DO something.
No... it wanted to do something TO her. Something that she would have to allow.
She knew what it was.
"No," she whispered. She hadn't realized she'd spoken aloud until she felt the reactions. Energy began to boil all around her... buzzing with in a half-dozen angry voices that Sarah could neither hear nor understand. All she could sense was their anger. And fear.
"What are you afraid of?" she asked aloud. "What?"
The anger kept rising. But out of the midst of it came something else.
"They want to show me," said Sarah.
"Show you what?"
"I'm going to find out. Dr. Hixon, some strange things may happen in the next few minutes... I can't tell you what, because I don't know yet. Use your best judgement... if things seem like they're getting out of control, run and get the others. If you can."
Sarah nodded. She took a deep breath... her chest rose and fell slowly as she closed her eyes.
"Okay," she whispered. "Show me."
"What if we don't find him," said Lindsay. She and Dr. Jeffries had just reached the top of the stairs, where the doctor paused briefly to shine his light down the length of the hallway. There was nothing there but the same familiar rooms where they had attempted to sleep. Sarah had said that the upstairs rooms were less active. Considering what had transpired so far, Lindsay would have hated to see what would have happened if they'd slept in the downstairs rooms.
They'd probably ALL be missing now, instead of just one.
"We probably won't," said Dr. Jeffries. "But we have to look anyway. He's my son, and I have to do something!"
Dr. Jeffries reached the first room... the room where that he and his son has shared. He opened the door and looked in.
He stepped across the hall to the next room. Nothing.
"So, we check all the rooms, and then what?" said Lindsay.
"By then, the Sampler should be operational again. THEN we'll get my son back."
"The Sampler? How will that help... it's just an instrument-"
"You obviously weren't paying attention to the test. It's much more than an instrument."
"Well, I DID have my head buried in data... but I don't understand how you're going to use it to get Kyle back."
"One at a time, Ms. Lindsay," Dr. Jeffries turned to look at her. "They took my son. They will return him... or I will tear them apart one at a time. Beginning with the girl."
Lindsay shuddered. She knew that Dr. Jeffries didn't actually consider these 'ghosts' to be actual human souls... but what he proposed was cruel, even if he'd been talking about something as decidedly non-living as a chair or a table.
But then, in this house, chairs and tables weren't necessarily non-living.
Lindsay placed a hand on the doctor's shoulder to comfort him.
"We'll find him," she said in a soft voice. "We won't rest until we do."
Lindsay leaned toward the doctor... tilting her head and parting her lips slightly. Dr. Jeffries pulled away.
"Your timing needs a lot of work, Ms. Hilliard," he said as he turned toward the next door. It was Dr. Hixon's room. Jeffries tried the latch. It turned, but the door didn't budge.
"Locked?" said Lindsay.
The doctor tried it again, this time he threw his weight against the door to dry and dislodge it. It won't move.
"Help me," he said.
On the third try, Lindsay threw her shoulder against it. She expected the obstinate door to rebuff them, but instead it flew open suddenly, dumping them both into the bedroom. They fell, and a howling gust of cold, musty wind blew in from the hallway behind them. The unnatural wind circled the room like a miniature cyclone, growing stronger and faster...
"What-" Lindsay began as she started to rise
"Keep your HEAD down, woman!" Dr. Jeffries shouted. He grabbed her head an forced her back down to the floor. Then he threw his arm across her to hold her in place, since the wind would have surely sent her spiraling around the chamber if given the chance.
But their combined weight managed to keep them secure as the icy tornado swept the room. Dr. Hixon's briefcase rested against a wall near the door... the indoor windstorm picked up the case and flung it violently through the air. It orbited the room several times... picking up speed as it went... before finally slamming into the same wall from which it had been snatched. The briefcase came apart on impact. Both halves separated and flew in opposite directions, releasing the case's contents into the room. A storm of papers fluttered around Lindsay and Dr. Jeffries like thin white bat.
And then... as if it had accomplished what it had come to do... the wind gave a last, mighty heave and then died. In the span of a second, it had faded to a gentle breeze... and then to a barely tangible sigh... and then it was gone entirely. It left the bedroom door wide open, and the floor covered with papers from Dr. Hixon's briefcase.
"Oh, my God..." Lindsay gasped. "What-"
"Don't waste your time asking what it was... when you already know good and well what it was," said the doctor. He removed his arm from across Lindsay's body and slowly stood. Then he helped her to her feet.
"Thanks," she said. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine." The doctor aimed his flashlight around the room.
"I'm okay, too," Lindsay offered.
"I noticed as much."
"Don't you think that's odd... considering... you know.... I mean, we're both okay."
"The offending spirit is afraid of us, no doubt. Ms. Bishop has been saying as much since our arrival. They probably took Kyle because he's young and weak. Whatever the reason... he isn't here."
Lindsay had been listening to Dr. Jeffries when he started talking, but by the time he finished, her attention was fixed on something else. She shined her own light at one of the dozens of pages littering the floor.
"Hey," she said as she picked one up. "Hey, have you seen these?"
"What is it?" Dr. Jeffries looked over her shoulder.
It was a photocopy of a handwritten page, bearing a date and time in the upper left corner: The date way May 3, 1986.
"It's the Jameson research," said Dr. Jeffries. "I'm aware of it."
"Yeah, but have you SEEN it?"
Lindsay waited while Dr. Jeffries scanned the words on the page. She watched his face... saw his brow furrow and his lips turn downward into a frown.
"This is nonsense," he said.
"And so is this one," said Lindsay. She snatched another sheet of paper and held it up. Dr. Jeffries looked at it, and then at the rest of the notes on the floor.
"Gather them," he ordered. "Something is not right here..."
The spirit entered her roughly, like the clumsy thrust of an inexperienced lover. It hurt. Sarah's eyes opened as the storm of sensations swallowed her. She saw the room, and glimpsed an assembly of ephemeral shapes standing around her.
And then she saw nothing.
The wiskey was a river of fire oozing slowly down her throat. She coughed half of it back up, only to catch it between tightly-sealed lips and greedily swallow it all back down again.
"Ahhh..." she grunted, wiping her damp lips with the back of her right hand. Her left hand still held the old, dirty bottle. The light-brown liquid inside barely covered the bottom. Or did it? As she tried to focus, the one bottle split into three... and together, the kaleidoscope of whiskey circled her face like a carousel. The street in front of her faded away into an obscure blur.
She could barely make out the townsfolk as they walked past. Most of them quickly turned away before they could meet her/his drunken stare. They pretended not to see him. They walked past the alley as if he weren't there. And, when he eventually passed out, they would calmly step over him and go on about their business as if he hadn't existed. But just because they wouldn't look at him, didn't mean he couldn't look at them.
They were funny. The rich folk in their fancy clothes... the poor folk in their rags. All sharing the same street... although on different sides more often than not. But they were all the same... all just blurs swaying in the imaginary wind that was slowly pushing him over.
"heee, heeeee..." he laughed for no reason. He downed the last of his whiskey. The bottle left his lips just in time for him to greet two of the fancy ladies who were trying so hard to ignore him. "'ellowww, misssesses," he hissed. One woman held her frilly handkerchief up to her nose and hurried away. The other tugged on her husband's arm and pointed. The husband pulled her away with comical suddenness.
Suddenly feeling nature's call, he retreated back into the alley and fumbled around in his pants until he found the proper equipment. Then... hand firmly grasping his manhood... he urinated in his pants while pointing his thumb at the wall.
Just when he was wondering why everything was getting so warm, he passed out.
When he woke up, it was dark. It was dark, and he wasn't nearly as drunk as he wanted to be. His bottle was gone. His pants were damp. His head hurt. And he had to piss again.
"I'll be damned," he muttered with sharp, fetid breath.
"Damned you be," came a reply.
He turned to face the man that was standing between him and the street. It was an old, thin man with a shocking mop of pure white hair perched atop his head like a bird's nest.
"Damned to an eternity of hellfire Don't you even CARE about your immortal soul, John Parker?"
"Pastor Kitchens," John mumbled. "I don' know nuttin 'bout no souls... but if they got whiskey in hell, then I'll be the FIRST in line at the pit 'o fire! HA!"
The pastor looked into John's bloodshot eyes, and John's drunken levity shriveled under the man's authoritarian glare. John had forgotten who he was talking to for a moment. But now he remembered. He shrank away from the pastor like a abused dog before a cruel master.
"I'm sorry, pastor," he said. John prepared himself for the stern and fiery sermon that he knew he was about to receive. But perhaps if he groveled enough, the pastor would cut it short. Maybe even buy him a drink! No... no, probably not. "I hope I didn't offend-"
"You ARE an offense, John Parker. An offense to this town. An offense before God and his Holy Son. You're a drunkard and a idolater. You don't worship the good Lord, no, YOUR god comes in a bottle... and you worship him with a fervor and devotion the likes of which I rarely see in my congregation. While the good people of this town tend to Godly matters, YOU are wallowing in your own vomit before the sun even hits noon-day!"
"Sorry," The pastor repeated coldly.
John ventured a look at the pastor's face. He expected the normal look of pity or disgust that he normally got But what he saw in Pastor Kitchens' eyes was something else.
"The Lord hates sin, Mr. Parker," said the pastor. "And so do I."
"What-cha talkin' bout there, pastor? You sayin... you sayin' you hate me?"
"October Falls is a troubled place. Troubled. Tainted by the sin and corruption of people like you. God is watching, and he does not like what he sees. Drunks and harlots. Adulterers and idolaters..."
Pastor Kitchens advanced on John with small, determined steps. Though the pastor was older and smaller than John, the drunk backed way before the man's sheer, dominating presence.
"A drunkard is a waste of God's creation, Parker... but you... you're something worse. Do you even know what today is?"
"I..." John's whisky-soaked mind stumbled through this smudged and tattered memory. A few thoughts managed to fall into place, leading to a revelation which blurted from his mouth amid a spray of spittle. "It's SUNDAY!"
Pastor Kitchens took more steps toward him, and John kept backing away.
"Sunday," the paster said. "The Lord's day, when the few GOOD men of October Falls gather to worship Him. And what do YOU do, John Parker? You plant yourself here within smelling distance of my church... and you ACCOST the Lord's children with your foul stench and drunken ramblings! On the LORD'S DAY, John Proctor!"
"I- I didn't know... h-honest-"
"The Lord has seen your sin this day, John Parker. He has seen it and has cried out from the heavens that your sin is in need of swift and unerring judgement-"
John's back bumped up against the back wall of the alley. The moonlight cast a sinister glow over Pastor Kitchens' face as he stood before the drunk.
"And I, His humble servant, have heard my Master's cry. You, will bespoil this town no longer, John Parker."
Had John's eyes not been blurred he would have seen the broken whisky bottle in the pastor's hand. Had his reflexes not been dulled by a lifetime of drink... he would had the speed to dodge the jagged glass claw before its talons reached his throat. But he had none of these things, and the first warning the drunk received was the flash of pain as his flesh split. He felt something warm, and saw the fountain of scarlet pouring down his chest. John clamped his hands to what remained of his throat. He tried to pull away from a blow that had already come and gone. He lost his balance and collapsed at the pastor's feet. He looked up at the man who'd struck him down-
"Ya...ya... ya ki-k-" John's words were choked off by his own blood. Tears and fear pooled in his eyes, even as the life drained out of them. The last thing he saw was the pastor's face framed by the cold and sinister moonlight....
The breath exploded from Sarah's lungs in a powerful gust as the tormented spirit left her. With its departure, Sarah's mind and muscles un-clenched all at once. The sudden, dizzying release nearly deposited her on the hardwood floor. The psychic staggered backward, senses still reeling from what she had just experienced.
"...he killed him," she managed to gasp.
"Who?" Dr. Hixon rushed up behind her.
"Stay back!" Sarah warned. As she turned toward him, she saw something else approaching. A roiling knot of emotions... a shimmering shadow reaching out for her... "No, it's too soon!" Sarah objected. "I need time to recov-AAAaaa..."
The ghost's entrance was gentle, yet insistent. Sarah could have resisted had the first spirit not left her weakened and vulnerable. But in her current state, her spiritual defenses yielded easily, handing control of her senses over to the spirit that now possessed her...
The grunting thrust of her lover's hips brought little in the way of pleasure, but it was enough. He was the third one tonight, and what he lacked in finesse, he certainly made up for in enthusiasm. He would learn the rest in time. Perhaps SHE would be the one to teach him... perhaps not. It depended on how long his money held out. For now, he gave her just enough to keep her on the edge... just enough to keep the fire of her own loins burning as she thought about the ones who would follow. She ran through the upcoming appointments in her mind. Oh, yes... the NEXT one would be spectacular. The mere thought of him brought a moan to her lips... and her lover of the moment took it as a sign to intensify his efforts. Good. Very good. She wrapped her legs around him and guided his clumsy thrusts with her thighs, placing him just where she wanted him to be. He followed obediently, and she rewarded him with another moan. She grasped and stroked his manhood with her womanly skill. Her lover's eyes, which had been tightly clenched, popped open. His groans of pleasure filled the room, but were quickly swept away by the sound of all hell breaking loose.
The bedroom door flew open as if kicked in by an angry mule.
Her lover... who's name she could not remember at the moment... twisted awkwardly to see who had dared interrupt them. He saw... and then he was gone. He jerked away from her so fast that he tossed himself right out of the bed. She whimpered at the sudden emptiness, but then snickered at the THUMP of her lover hitting the floor. He got up and snatched the filthy sheet away from her to cover his own lusty nakedness.
"Hey!" she protested. But she saw his terrified stare and followed it to its source... the stern, slim figure standing in the doorway watching them both.
"P-P-Pastor Kitchens!" her lover stuttered. His lips were trembling so badly that he had begun drooling on himself.
Suddenly aware of her own nakedness, she reached for the sheet that her lover clutched tightly about his fear-shriveled loins. He moved away, leaving her naked and alone on the bed.
Fine. She'd just have to be naked, then.
She closed her legs and propped herself up on her elbows.
"How DARE you come in here like this!" she spat.
"How dare I?!" Pastor Kitchens replied with mouth full of venom. "Who are YOU to question the works of God's servant!"
"Oh, spare me-"
"The LORD will not spare you, HARLOT! Nor YOU, Marlon!"
At the mention of his name, her lover trembled like a startled rabbit.
"I- I- I was... was..."
"Your sins pile deep enough, Marlon," said the pastor. "Do not weave lying into the net of irons that will surely drag you down to hell should you not change your ways. YOU were a good and proper boy, once. Baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ by my own hand. You disappoint me AND the Lord with your transgressions, but your soul can still be saved... UNLIKE HERS!"
"GET OUT OF HERE, you proselytizing old FOOL!" she cried.
"Not until the Lord's work is done," said the pastor. "Marlon... remove yourself from this place. Forget this night... and this woman... and PERHAPS the Lord will forgive you."
"Y-yes, P-Pastor Kitchens!"
Marlon dropped the stained sheet just long enough to squirm into his pants. Then, still half-naked, he sprinted from the room. Pastor Kitchens closed the door behind him.
"What's the matter?" she said. "Couldn't wait for a turn like everyone else?"
"To blaspheme a man of God is to blaspheme the Lord himself."
"But this isn't about the Lord, is it pastor? This is about someone else. Someone a bit closer to you, maybe? How's your son doing... haven't seen him in a while."
"With much atonement and repentance, the Lord has seen fit to FORGIVE him. But there IS no repentance for one such as YOU! You-" Pastor Kitchens pointed an accusing finger at her. "Are a WHORE among WHORES! Every MAN in this city can blunt their lusts with your flesh for a few paltry dollars, and yet THAT is not enough for you! You have to go and SEEK OUT men among the Lord's flock and LURE them away!"
"I don't have to lure anybody anywhere-"
"GOOD men, lead to their damnation by the stench of your womanhood. My son among them!"
"Your son was a joke! The worst lover I've ever known! You should be happy I was willing to teach him how to pleasure a woman."
"He was but a BOY!"
"Oh, please, pastor... he was man enough then, and he certainly is now. But why are you just NOW coming to me about things that happened years ago-"
"Because this night, the Lord has sent a DECREE to his servant, that the worst among us must be CLEANSED if this city is to be saved."
"There's no saving October Falls, pastor. Everybody knows that-"
"Not while we allow WHORES like you to suck away our innocence with promises of the flesh!"
"Promises of the flesh?" she said with a sarcastic smile. "What... you mean this?"
She spread her legs wide, revealing her sex to him. Pastor Kitchens didn't even glance at it. He kept his burning eyes fixed firmly on her own... and then he started toward the bed.
For a second, she thought the pastor meant to force himself upon her. The very idea brought a flash of warmth to her loins. Then she saw his face. His eyes. She felt the burning hatred that poured forth from his body like a lighthouse beacon.
She drew herself up and tried to kick at him as he approached the bed. The pastor swatted her legs away; his iron knuckles left black bruises on her skin.
"AAA!" she yelped. The pastor reached for her. "HELP! SOMEBODY HEL-" His long, thin fingers clamped down on her throat and choked her words off at the source. She squirmed and kicked and punched and slapped, but Pastor Kitchens would not be thrown off of his murderous intention. He grasped her neck with both hands and shook her violently as he choked the life from her. Her eyes bulged obscenely... staring up at her murderer in a silent plea for mercy.
But there was no mercy in Pastor Kitchens' eyes. Only a dark and angry rage that drove his fingernails into her flesh like talons. She grasped his wrists and tried to force his hands away, but even the strength of desperation wasn't enough to dislodge the insane holy man's grasp. His vigorous shaking whipped her head back and forth like a doll. Tiny blood vessels ruptured in her eyes, face, and tongue. Her pale skin reddened... then took on a bluish color. Her loosely flapping tongue turned purple as she died, and all she could do was gag and spit. She had no air with which to scream. No strength with which to fight. Her eyes continued to beg for her life, but the pastor continued pouring his hate down upon her.
"Judgment is upon you, Harlot!" he hissed. The pastor's spittle showered her discolored face. "But HELL will not have you, this night! The lord has ordained a special torment for your filthy soul! Ohhh, yes!!! Die, now, harlot, for the REDEEMER awaits! And once he has you, you'll long for the pits of hellfire the same way you burn for the manly flesh of this town's innocents!"
"...mommy?" came a timid voice from the door. She felt a pause in the pastor's throttlings as he turned to see who had entered. Her five-year-old daughter stood watching the murder from the hallway.
The pastor froze... hands still clamped around her throat. His insane sneer flickered for a moment... and then returned with twice the intensity as it had before.
"Like mother like daughter?" he said. "The daughter of a whore is destined to be a whore herself! Judgment comes for you AND your whore-spawn this night!"
She tried to cry out... tried to tell her daughter to flee this madman. But with no breath and no strength, all she could do was squirm weakly and moan like the whore she was.
The pastor removed his hands from her throat, but before she could take her first breath, he grabbed her chin and her forehead and twisted sharply.
"Hand me the soldering iron again," said David.
Anthony handed his friend the tool and watched as David began to re-assemble the Sampler's capacitor bank. The generator hummed quietly beside them, supplying power to the lights as well as the tools that David had been using almost non-stop since his return from the garden. After bypassing the protective relays on the generator, David began what amounted to a complete overhaul of the Sampler's field circuits. He removed and re-arranged components... he re-soldered connections and replaced vital fuses with solid pieces of metal. It was obvious that he was trying to squeeze more power out of the Sampler, but Anthony couldn't figure out why. The machine had worked fine before, and now, after all these adjustments, they would have to run it through the whole battery of tests from the beginning... something Dr. Jeffries certainly wasn't going to like. Anthony didn't care too much for it either.
"Okay, I understand why we were adjusting the field-guides," said Anthony. "Those things were fucked-up anyway. But why are you fucking with the capacitors?"
"Just tweaking the frequency a little," David grunted.
"Dude... the freq is fine. You saw what we got before."
"We're after something a little different this time. Gotta get this baby tuned in just right."
"So, what... are you doing the equations in your head?"
"You could say that."
"You gonna share 'em with me or what... because to me it just looks like you're fucking with shit just to fuck with it. Normally I don't have a problem with that, but seeing as how that machine is the only thing standing between-"
"Are you going to let me work or not?" said Anthony. He stepped back from the machine and held the soldering iron like a knife. A thin curl of smoke rose from the tip. "Eh?"
"If you fuck this machine up-"
"I'm not gonna fuck it up. Trust me."
Anthony looked into his friend's eyes, and decided to back off. After all, David helped build and design the machine... he had as much right to screw with it as anyone else.
"Okay," he said.
David returned to his work. He leaned into the Sampler's chassis and continued his tinkering. Anthony stood behind him and watched. He leaned closer to get a good look at what David was doing to the capacitors, and, for the first time, Anthony realized that David wasn't working as silently as he'd thought. He was mumbling something... or singing... Anthony couldn't tell for sure. Whatever it was, it was repetitive... almost like a mantra.
"What are you saying, dude?" said Anthony.
"Nothing," David replied. "I ain't saying anything. Why... you hear something?"
"No," Anthony lied. "Nothing."
Lindsay went around the room and grabbed the papers from the floor, briefly examining each one. Most of them made more sense than the first pages she'd seen, but some were... disturbing. The notes seemed to be an hourly log of the Jameson party's research. Each entry occupied its own page, and some of the pages seemed to be missing. But the date and the time in the corner of each page made it easy for Lindsay to assemble what she had.
"It starts off normal enough," she informed the doctor, who was searching the remains of Dr. Hixon's briefcase.
"May 2nd, 1986. 9:00am.
First Entry - Cole Orphanage (October Falls, GA)
We've arrived at the house only 30 minutes ago, and have spent the intervening time unpacking our belongings. I must admit that my expectations of this place are rather high, given its past, both recent and historical. I admit this reluctantly, since, as a man of science, I must not allow my own doubts or feelings to influence the objective nature of what we are here to do... BUT, expectations or no, I am fully and completely impressed by what we've seen so far. While we have encountered no truly paranormal phenomena (at least not in my opinion), this place does have certain qualities that are more than keeping with what I already know of its nature.
Our psychics... Madam Grace, Thurgood Ramsey, and Zell Horner... all felt distinct emanations from this place as soon as we crossed the main gate. (It should be noted that Ramsey and Grace noticed these things first, and Horner only later. My previous work with Horner has revealed his 'psychic' ability to be nonexistent at best. He is a charlatan, to put it bluntly. Still, he will make an adequate control with which I can contrast the findings of the truly gifted). Ramsey said that he felt an intense fear from the house as we approached. Grace indicated a deep and somewhat sinister excitement... a longing or desire. The exact word she used was 'Hunger,' although she is a bit of a show-woman herself and does tend toward the dramatic in her choice of description. For completeness, I will include Horner's impression as well: He said that he felt a raw emptiness that seemed centered around some unseen place in the garden. He seemed unusually disturbed by this... more so than Grace and Ramsey were by their respective impressions.
But our first findings weren't in the realm of the psychics alone. Upon entering the house we all noticed the queerness of the light in the hallway, the stairs, and the adjoining rooms. Darkness seemed to gather in certain places like water seeking a low ditch. Even when lit by candles, flashlights, and sunlight from the windows, these places... most noticeably the hallway to the downstairs bedrooms... were abysmally black more often than not. Sometimes there appeared to be shadows moving within the shadows... a physical impossibility, to be sure.
I suppose I should credit Zell Horner for the other notable first impression, even though it is not due to him, but rather to his dog. Zell's hound... a small black mutt... was extremely agitated from the moment we arrived. In fact, the dog began to shiver and whine even before we had passed the main gate. Upon exiting the vehicle, the dog became so frightened that it howled, urinated, and defecated almost continuously for several minutes. Horner went to great lengths to try and calm the animal down, and, having only moderate success, was forced to place the animal on a leash rather than let it run freely through the house. We were expecting the animal to be reluctant to enter the house, but once the door was open, the tiny creature nearly yanked Horner across the threshold by the leash. Apparently it either had a change or heart, or it wasn't the house that had frightened it so... but rather something OUTSIDE the house."
Lindsay flipped to the next page and kept reading:
"May 2nd, 1986. 10:00am
Cole Orphanage (October Falls, GA)
My photographer, Dennis Fullerton, has succeeded in becoming the first victim of the house's more playful spirits. No sooner had he unloaded his rather large array of camera and recording equipment than several of the more expensive pieces went missing. When he pulled me aside to inform me of this development, his intention was clearly that one of the others had stolen his prized cameras. This was not the case. I had witnessed him bringing in the equipment himself... and, from the time he brought it in to the time he noticed it missing (no more than five minutes), everyone except Ms. Hamby was in my sight. I assured him that my research assistant was no thief, and also that he himself had not misplaced the items. Someone other than the members of the party had taken them. When I presented this to the others, Mr. Horner seemed somewhat amused. Grace and Ramsey both reported that the spirits in the house did not condone our presence and that the theft of equipment was perhaps a warning that we were not wanted. Neither of them could tell us where the cameras where, which seemed to annoy Fullerton. Having very little else to do until night fall, we conducted a tour of the house, with the ostensible purpose of finding Fullerton's property. We found nothing, but we did familiarize ourselves with the house. Horner's dog... who's bladder and bowels were mercifully empty... whined and protested the entire time. He was unusually reluctant to enter the downstairs hallway. Madam Grace informed us that some of the rooms were 'occupied.' These rooms, of course, were our first stops. Fullerton snapped several pictures, but none of us saw anything unusual... except for the odd shadows and the disturbing reluctance of Horner's hound. One room had a strong odor of smoke and ash, but there was no sign of any fire damage to the walls or floor. We took note of the room and moved on. When we returned to the living room, two more of Fullerton's cameras were missing. Horner couldn't contain his laughter, which became contagious. We all had a good laugh at Fullerton's misfortune, but I later assured him that if the equipment didn't turn up, the university would reimburse him for it.
On another note, Ramsey said that he felt a child's presence in one of the downstairs rooms. He suggested that this child might be our best hope for a positive contact during tonight's seance "
"Stuff like this goes on for the next few entries," said Lindsay. "They take some pictures of stuff... see some ghosts...I guess those are the ones we saw earlier. Some creepy stuff happens, but nothing nearly as bad as what we've seen." Lindsay flipped further back in the pile of notes. "AH!.. I think this is where the shit hits the fan. Remember when Hixon said that Jameson's group didn't know about the garden?"
"Check this out:"
"May 3nd, 1986. 10:00pm
Cole Orphanage (October Falls, GA)
Never in my life have I seen a place so vile and disturbing. When we discovered the hidden garden alcove earlier today, it's eeriness was enough to almost demand that we hold our second seance there instead of in the house. But once we arrived with candles and folding chairs to set about the actual work, we found the place in much worse... much more sinister condition than when we had left it. Whatever ancient waterworks must have powered the ruined fountain have again sprung to life. The ground in the secret sanctum is now a lake of dark black mud which we dare not attempt to cross. The place is alive with small white worms of a most vile nature. They are everywhere, but they swarm over the fountain's remains like maggots in rotted meat. Entire sheets of them reacted to our presence by stretching themselves erect and pointing toward us... their tiny mouths opening and closing greedily. The sight was disturbing to say the least.
Naturally, we abandoned our plans. The psychics, Ramsey and Grace, expressed their extreme disapproval of our presence there. We were about to start back to the house when certain events transpired that I am reluctant to relate. My reluctance stems not only from the terrible grotesqueness of the thing, but also from the uncertainty of the facts about which none of us could agree afterward. All we could say was that, at this point, SOMETHING happened... and at the end of it, we were all equally shaken by what we thought we had seen. I say equally, but that is in fact untrue. Zell Horner endured the worst of it by far, and even now we are unsure whether the man's consciousness... indeed, his very soul... will be able to bear the horrors he must have witnessed. Horrors that we did not see, and that I would not want to see despite all the lofty ideals of scientific curiosity responsible for our presence here. As I re-read the last few lines, I see that my reluctance has devolved into base rambling, and so I must force myself to continue with the account as I witnessed it:
We had seen the abysmal lake of filth and turned from it, intent on fleeing the place and performing the second seance within the closed walls of the house. The first step had not yet been taken when, from that very same house we presumed to be safe, there arose cacophony of sounds the likes of which have never heard. It started with screaming. A loud, unholy shrieking that is impossible for a sane man to describe in full. I can say that Fullerton and I perceived it to be the screaming of a woman in pain or terror, while Emma Hamby and Madam Grace swore that it was a wail of anger, not pain. Ramsey was alone in his impression that it was a child's voice. We never found out what Horner thought it to be. The screaming was followed by a deep rumbling growl that emanated from far, far beneath the earth. The entire garden shook with such violence that I had to grab my assistant Emma to prevent her from tumbling into the worm-filled muck. The rumbling increased in intensity until it was no longer a sound or a vibration... but a physical force that assaulted us from all sides. And yet we were clearly not the object of this thing's focus. We were feeling only the fringe effects of something that was originating from the house! As Emma Hamby held onto me for dear life, the ground continued to shake and rumble with increasing violence. The lake of mud became a boiling pot of darkness that sprayed bits of itself over us all. And then there came another sound. Like claps of thunder, they came... so loud that they were almost unrecognizable. Gunshots. Gunshots from inside the house. One after another, the deafening BOOMS sent shocking bolts of pure fear down my spine. On how many shots where were, we could never agree, but whatever their number, the mere sound of ONE of them was too much for us to endure. We scrambled toward the bushes, seeking whatever cover we could. All except for Horner. The man stood transfixed by the sounds. He was frozen to the spot, eyes staring wildly in the direction of the house. Ramsey and Fullerton ran to get him, but by then the quaking of the ground had increased to such a degree that their gallant charge was reduced to clumsy stumbling amid the muddy rocks. The roaring that had come from the house grew sharply louder as the gunshots continued. And then the sound changed... not in intensity or quality, but in location! The unholy source of the infernal sound was moving! Moving toward US! The sharp-leaved bushes rustled violently at the thing's approach, but their warning was too late. The thing burst into our midst like a speeding train... ripping through the shrubs in front of Horner and continuing in a straight and terrible line toward the lake of mud. I cannot describe the thing that came. There are no words in any of God's languages that will even touch at the twisted grotesqueness of it. And, even if there were, I would not use them, because doing so would summon the image of the thing once more into my mind, and I don't think I could endure that screeching, horrid image again. I can only say that it was large... larger than any two of the automobiles that had conveyed us to this fearful place. And from this central mass trailed... things. I don't know if I should call them shadows or tentacles or hairs or something else... but whatever they were, one of them shot out and wrapped around poor Zell Horner like a lasso as the thing roared past him. The thing drew tight around his waist and yanked him off of his feet. Horner screamed like a man insane... by this point he may have been... as his body whipped up into the air. The creature never even slowed down to inspect the prize it had captured... it just kept going until it reached the lake. It submerged with powerful splash and was gone in less than an instant. But that one tentacle remained long enough to wave Horner back and forth in the air several times before following the thing down into the muddy lake. Horner's terrified screams ended suddenly as he was submerged. Powerful waves disturbed the surface of the lake where he had gone down... almost as if Horner were still fighting for his life down there in the dark.
At this point, Emma Hamby screamed at the top of her lungs and fainted dead away in my arms. Grace swooned, and seemed on the verge of following Emma into peaceful slumber, but she somehow managed to cling to consciousness as Fullerton... Fullerton, the quiet cameraman... did the most foolish and incredibly heroic thing that I have ever witnessed. Fullerton shrugged out of his shirt and took a running leap into the lake where Horner had vanished. His splash was considerably less than the thing's, but the sound alone shook my soul to the core. Fullerton had gone after Horner. The cameraman twisted wildly in the mud... trying to stay afloat while searching the depths with his hands and feet. Finding nothing, he up-ended himself and dove into the muck. He was gone for several tense seconds before returning empty-handed. Ramsey and I both shouted at him to return to safety, but he would not. He dove again, and remained under the surface so long that I thought he had either drowned or that the thing that had taken Horner had snatched him as well. But he returned. And he did not return alone.
He had Horner in a lifeguard's rescue-hold, floating on his back while clasping Horner's unconscious body around the chest. Only God knows how they managed to stay afloat, but float they did. Fullerton struggled through the mud until he was close enough for Ramsey to reach. Ramsey pulled them both from the lake and onto the thin shelf of dry land that surrounded the dark place. Fullerton was about to administer CPR when a clod of worm-infested mud launched itself from Horner's throat with a mighty cough. Horner was still alive... and breathing now that he was free of the mud. We all crowded around him to inspect the damage that the thing must have done to him... but there was none. Horner's body and even his clothing was unscathed, save for the mud that clung to every inch of him. We wiped off as much of the worms as we could, and it was then that we noticed that he was holding something. It was a rock. An extraordinarily sharp piece of the shattered fountain, with which Horner must have battled the beast for his freedom. Now the stone was clasped so firmly in Horner's grasp that, for all of our combined strength, we could not dislodge it. With Grace's help, we managed to carry both Horner and Emma back to the house, where Emma awakened and Horner still rests in uneasy sleep. After a quick change of clothing, Fullerton has begun gathering all his remaining equipment while Ramsey assembles everyones belongings. It take this time to make these hurried notes while the terrible events are fresh in my mind. We will not remain here now... we cannot. This experiment is concluded. The only question in our minds is if we shall wait until Horner has regained consciousness, or depart immediately for a medical facility. Ah! It seems that our decision is made... I see Horner stirring even now."
Caught up in the narrative, Lindsay went on the next page of notes without pause:
"May 3nd, 1986. 11:00pm
Cole Orphanage (October Falls, GA)
It is worse than I feared. Much, much worse. I had hoped that my previous entry would be the last one made from this infernal place... but I am wrong. God help us.
Horner has awakened, but it is clear now that the man Fullerton fished out of the lake is not the same man that was pulled in. Horner awoke into a fit of loud and terrible screaming. He called out in a language that none of us recognized, and then began babbling... in English... about things that confounded us all. He seemed to be spouting Bible verses, but Madam Grace corrected that notion. If they were indeed verses of the Bible, they were of some Apocryphal version unknown to her. Horner droned on about redemption and torment, repeating the same phrase over and over again until we finally concluded that what he had seen in the depths of the garden had driven him totally mad. Whether the state was permanent or temporary, only a professional could discern. We resolved to get poor Horner to help as quickly as our vehicles would carry us. Fullerton was in the process of trying to get Horner on his feet when Horner exploded into a rage. He lashed out, swinging that sharp stone that he'd dragged up for the depths of the garden. The stone's sharp edge caught Fullerton across the left temple. So powerful and angry was the blow that it would have certainly killed Fullerton had Grace's shout not warned him that it was coming. As it was, the strike was only a glancing blow that nonetheless stunned Fullerton and sent his sprawling into Ramsey's arms. Seeing an opportunity, Horner leapt to his feet and fled the house... dashing out the front door and leaving the rest of us to see to the dazed cameraman. Fullerton's wound was not severe, but it would likely require stitches and perhaps treatment for a concussion. But our real concern was Horner. He was out of our midst now, so we had no idea of what devilment his now-deranged mind was up to. There could be no doubt that he was dangerous, but there was also the chance that he could do some harm to himself. I feel that I am ultimately responsible for the fate that has befallen him,and, despite Grace and Ramsey's urgent protests, I've decided to go out and find Horner before some further evil befalls him. Or us.
But I am no fool. I have loaded my revolver, and it sits beside me now as I write these hasty words. I will make a quick search of the grounds in hopes that Horner will either seek me out, or that I will stumble across him by chance. I pray that one of those things occurs before I am forced to seek him out in that place... in that evil sanctum where Horner's sanity was torn from him by the indescribable thing. And yet, something within me knows that it is THERE that I must seek him. And so I go... weapon in hand... back to the dark, festering heart of this place. Back to hell. God help me."
"And here we are with this..." said Lindsay. "Last entry." She held up the page that had first drawn her attention. It was one of four, all similar. The handwriting on the sheets was not the smooth script of Dr. Jameson, but was instead a crooked, jagged scrawl that seemed more at home on an asylum wall than on a sheet of paper. The numerous dark blotches that stained the pages made the curious writing even more difficult to read. Since the text was a photocopy, it was impossible to tell just what the stains were, but for some reason, Lindsay strongly suspected that it was blood. Or mud. But despite the stains and the strange script, enough of the words were legible to allow a deciphering of the first half of the first page. After that, the rest of the pages were easy to deduce, as they were all the same. Every page... every line... all the same:
"And the Sinners Shall Fear the Redeemer, For The Path to Redemption Is Torment.
And the Sinners Shall Fear the Redeemer, For The Path to Redemption Is Torment.
And the Sinners Shall Fear the Redeemer, For The Path to Redemption Is Torment.
And the Sinners Shall Fear the Redeemer, For The Path to Redemption Is Torment.
And the Sinners Shall Fear the Redeemer, For The Path to Redemption Is Torment.
And the Sinners Shall Fear the Redeemer, For The Path to Redemption Is Torment.
And the Sinners Shall Fear the Redeemer, For The Path to Redemption Is Torment.
And the Sinners Shall Fear the Redeemer, For The Path to Redemption Is Torment.
And the Sinners Shall Fear the Redeemer, For The Path to Redemption Is Torment."
The verse repeated identically on every page until it was finally obliterated by a massive stain on the bottom of the last sheet.
Lindsay and Dr. Jeffries stared at the words... and then at each other.
"Who wrote this?" said Lindsay. "Horner?..."
"Or Jameson," Dr. Jeffries finished. "Either way, Dr. Hixon has much to account for. There are other notes here as well... newspaper clippings. Pages from books. Information about the history of this place that he neglected to share with us."
"Man... I always thought Hixon was kinda slimy, but... damn..."
"Let us go and find the good doctor, shall we?"
"AAAAA!!" Sarah screamed as second the spirit left her. "Oh, my God...He's a madman..."
"Ms. Bishop-" Dr. Hixon began. If the doctor finished his sentence, Sarah never heard it.
The next spirit did not circle tentatively and await her permission as the first had done. Nor did it enter slowly, like the second. No, this one came to her with quickness and pain, stabbing deep into her soul like a knife. Sarah choked on the stench of smoke and ashes as it impaled her mind. Such POWER! And ANGER! It was too much! She couldn't take it! Sarah thrust her head back and...
...screamed as the flames began to lick at her legs like a pack of hungry dogs.
"Scream, witch," said the shape beyond the curtain of flames. She saw him standing there, watching her naked body burn. The heat had already blistered her limbs, and now her skin was beginning to char and blacken. She screamed into the night sky as she struggled to free herself... but the ropes that bound her to the wooden stake were too strong. They, too, would burn away, but by then, she would be just a smouldering lump of burnt flesh. She tried to separate herself from the pain, but it was too much. And just as the fire tore at her skin, the injustice of it ripped at her soul. That insane fool... that bastard... he was MURDERING her!
"STOP!" she screamed. "PLEASE!"
"Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live!" was the pastor's only reply.
"PLEASE! I'm BEGGING YOU!"
She'd said that she wasn't going to beg. She'd told herself that she wasn't going to give this self-righteous fool the pleasure of hearing her cries... but that was before the fire had been lit. Before the first tongue of flame had licked her flesh. Now, she begged. She pleaded and screamed at the monster to free her. Fear and panic and pain wrenched the tears from her eyes... tears that boiled away on her blackening cheeks.
"HELLLP MEEEEE!" The screams were gone. Now she was howling like some tortured beast... bellowing out mighty wails of agony: "AAIIIEEEEEE!!!"
The smell of her own burning flesh filled her nostrils...
"This is but a TASTE of what awaits you in the arms of the Redeemer, witch!" Pastor Kitchens shouted. "Worshipper of FALSE GODS! TEACHER of blasphemy! Peddler of the UNHOLY!"
Pastor Kitchens laughed. His insane cackling merged with the crackling of the fire... and with the hissing and popping of her flesh as it cooked on her bones. The thick post to which she'd been bound was aflame now. Tongues of agony licked at her back and buttocks. Her hair was on fire. She could feel her scalp burning. Flames from the wood piled high around her assaulted her from all directions. There was no skin on her legs and hips... just burnt flesh and bubbling blood. Fire caressed her breasts and face like a lover's hands. With each breath she took in the heat and ash of her own pyre. She breathed the fire, and it scorched her throat from the inside. The smoke was so thick that she couldn't see the fire on her own body now. She could feel it. She felt it consuming her alive. She prayed to the Goddess for death... for release from this agony. She prayed with all her mind and soul, for her body had no lips with which to pray aloud.
And her prayers were answered. The last of her skin burnt away just as the binding ropes snapped. She fell forward... right into the heart of the fire. She landed on the oil-soaked wood. The fall shouldn't have broken her back, but it did. A sharp and angry numbness silenced the pain from her extremities. The flames hissed gleefully. They boiled the fat and fluids from her still-living corpse, but though she was still conscious, she felt none of it. She thanked the Goddess for her mercy as the flames chewed the face from her skull...
...there was a quiet darkness that lasted forever... and then voices.
"...we're too late."
"No we're not... there's still time to stop him."
"We can't stop him-"
"Not HIM... but what comes after. THAT must not be. It must never come to pas... these souls have suffered enough."
One eye opened and looked up at the smoke-filled sky. Two souls looked down at her. If it weren't so dark... so cold... if her eye wasn't half-blocked with the remains of her scorched face, she might have recognized them....
A woman gasped.
"She's alive! That monster left her alive!"
"Elize," said a man's voice. "Elize... we're so sorry. We didn't know... we couldn't tell. None of the signs foretold this madness. But though we've failed to protect your life... this monster will NEVER take your soul. This, we promise you: In death, you will be safe from him and his madness. We will protect you"
And Elize knew that it was true.
Elize breathed her last breath... a thin sigh of ash and smoke and heat... in peace...
...The breath was like the gust of a hurricane that swept Sarah off of her feet. Thrown backwards by the witch's harsh exit, Sarah collided with Dr. Hixon. They both fell, but Dr. Hixon had the misfortune of landing first. Sarah dropped on top him-
"AAAAAK!" Dr. Hixon screamed. "Aaa, GOD you're heavy! Get off! Get off! ...oh, shit..."
Dr. Hixon's grunts grew weaker, and Sarah realized that she was actually crushing the breath out of him. She rolled off of the doctor, who quickly scrambled to away. He got to his feet and did his best to help her up.
"What happened?" said Hixon.
"I know..." Sarah replied. "...I know what happened. He killed them all!"
At the mention of the name, the spirits in the room grew violent. The door opened and slammed repeatedly, and the floorboards began to rattle. The mirror on the wall shattered. The angry murmuring of the spirits became intense enough for even Dr. Hixon to hear it.
"What's going on!?!" he cried. "What did you do!?"
"The question isn't what I did... its what we're GOING to do! We have to find the others!"
"ALLL RIIIGHT!" David howled as he slammed the Sampler's chassis shut. He grabbed the handles on either side of the machine and rotated it away from the bedrooms... turning it toward the kitchen.
"Hey, what are you-"
"ROCKING AND ROLLING!!" He yanked the main power handle. In the hallway, the generator groaned as the Sampler began to draw current. The Sampler gave its characteristic high-pitched whine....
Something in the house screamed. The single scream was quickly joined by others, forming a chorus of terrified, unearthly voices.
The furniture in the room began to shake.
"STOP!" Sarah Bishop shouted. She and Dr. Hixon burst into the room just at Dr. Jeffries and Lindsay reached the bottom of the stairs. "TURN IT OFF!"
"Ain't NOTHING getting turned off around her unless you think you can get through ME!" David replied "And I don't advise trying!"
"DAVID! ANTHONY!" shouted Dr. Jeffries. "WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING!"
"Exactly what you wanted, Doc," David replied. "Time to fry us some ghosts. Starting with Mr. BadAss himself..."
The sound of spurs and heavy footsteps started in the kitchen, and quickly approached the living room.
"OH SHIT! He's COMING!
"Gooood...." David reached for the power control, preparing to turn the machine up to full power.
"NO! DON'T! You'll PISS HIM OFF!"
A semi-solid shape appeared in the small doorway to the kitchen. It was a man... wearing a poncho and a wide-brimmed hat. His empty eyes seemed to radiate a dark coldness. He wore a six-shooter on each hip, and his hands hovered weightlessly above the holsters.
He stared angrily at David.
David stared back.
"STOP!" Sarah Bishop stampeded across the room, but something small and dark shot out in front of her without warning. She tripped and fell hard, hitting her head on the floor.
Dizziness assaulted her, and as she struggled to get up, she saw what it was that had tripped her.
A small, black dog.
"You're real!" Sarah gasped. The dog growled deeply... much too deeply. It opened its mouth and spat a stream of mud and worms right into Sarah's face
"AAAAH!" Sarah scrambled away from the hound, clawing and slapping at the worms that wiggled all over face.... worms that only she could see.
Meanwhile, the gunman in the kitchen snapped into sharp, solid focus.
"David, do you have him!?" said Dr. Jeffries.
"I GOT HIM NOW!"
David grabbed the power knob and twisted it. The generator grumbled. The screams in the house got so loud that they became a roar. The walls began to breath in and out as every door in the house began to open and slam repeatedly.
"The ghosts are pissed, dude," said Anthony.
"Fuck 'em! LOOK!" David pointed past the machine's Emitter, where the gunman's form was beginning to bulge and warp like an image in a distorted mirror.
"WHERE IS MY SON!" Dr. Jeffries shouted. "WHERE IS MY SON!"
"MORE POWER!" David twisted the knob to its maximum.
"NO!" Dr. Jeffries warned. "You'll TEAR IT APART!"
"THAT'S THE IDEA!"
The gunman's shape twisted into something unrecognizable... something not even remotely human. Long streams of sparking energy began to peel off of its surface and spiral into the Sampler... creating a complex, flower-like pattern in the air.
"YOU'RE KILLING IT!" said Dr. Hixon.
"YES!" David replied. "YES, I AM!"
"STOP! It can't tell us where Kyle is if you DESTROY it!"
Dr. Jeffries ran for the generator, obviously intending to yank the power cord out at the source. He didn't make it-
The wooden floor split, and a huge chasm yawned open between him and the generator. Jeffries teetered on its edge for an instant... and then fell in.
Lindsay's hand appeared at the last instant and grabbed his sleeve. She pulled him back towards her, but the chasm suddenly widened and threatened to swallow them both.
"HELLLLP!" Lindsay screamed. "I CAN'T HOLD HIM!"
"I'VE GOT YOU!" Dr. Hixon yelled.
"NO!" Jeffries yelled. "PULL THE GENERATOR!" Hixon sprinted across the room... right past the generator... and made a running leap over the chasm. He grabbed Lindsay around the waist and pulled her back... bringing Dr. Jeffries along with her.
"ANTHONY!" said Sarah. Her voice was muffled by the hundreds of worms squirming around in her mouth... trying to wiggle down her throat.... "DESTROY THE MACHINE! ANTHONY! DESTROY IT!"
Anthony didn't move. He watched in perverse pleasure as the gunman... the sadistic spirit that had temporarily castrated him with an ethereal bullet... was pulled apart by the Sampler. The machine stripped the spirit layer by layer, ripping its substance apart with claws of quantum energy. The gunman struggled in the field. For an instant he seemed to be pulling his body back together... reclaiming it from the machine. But the success was as ephemeral as his own failing substance. Like a muscle failing under strain, the gunman's spirit-form finally yielded to the Sampler. The twisted shape unraveled, sending the final glowing strands of its being into the Emitter. The tattered shapes left tiny sparks in the air behind it, and even these were drawn into the Sampler like iron fillings to a magnet.
And then it was gone.
Where the gunman once stood, there was now nothing but air.
David began to laugh.
"Hell, yeah..." said Anthony. "Hell Yeah! HELL FUCKING YEAH!!!! WE GOT HIS ASS!!! WHOOOHOOOO!!!"
"Anthony, you FOOL!" Sarah shouted. The worms that infested her face were now gone, as was the black dog that had spat them at her. Across the room Hixon pulled Lindsay and Jeffries out of the chasm just before it slammed shut and vanished, leaving not the slightest mark on the floor.
"Huh?" Anthony looked around.
"YOU'VE DESTROYED IT!"
"Destroyed it?" Anthony replied. "Destroyed it? Hell... We TORE IT THE FUCK UP!!! WE TOASTED HIS ASS!"
"YOU'VE KILLED US ALL!" Said Sarah.
"This place is a sanctuary! The gunman was its PROTECTOR!"
"Protector?" said Dr. Hixon.
"Protector from what?" said Anthony.
"heh, heh, heh, heh..." David chuckled. He slowly turned around to face the others. As he did, his laughter grew deeper... rougher... more sinister... "Heh, Heh, Heh...HA, HA HA!!!"
Tiny, hair-thin shadows began to snake across David's face. The shadows deepened into miniature cracks, which split and multiplied until David's entire body was riddled with them. Where the cracks intercepted, Tiny pieces of David's flesh began to fall away, revealing not blood and bone... but fleeting glimpses of the thing inside him... the thing that had worn him like plaster cast and was now discarding him one chunk at a time...
"AAAAHAHAHAHAAAAHAHAHAAAAAA!!!!!" David's laughter became an inhuman bellow of triumph. He raised both of his undulating arms... the cracks in his flesh struck out through the air like tiny black tentacles. They merged with the floor... the walls... the ceiling.... and began to propagate through the house like veins.
"And the Sinners Shall Fear the Redeemer!" The thing roared. Anthony watched in horror as the last of David's form shattered and fell away, unleashing the pulsing, indescribable thing beneath. "For the Path to Redemption.... IS TORRRRMENNNNT!"
[To Be Continued]