Lindsay screamed. The sound tore free from depths of her soul and burst from her lungs like the cry of a banshee...
But no one heard it.
Not even her.
The howling roar of the Redeemer drowned out her very thoughts. She trembled at the indescribable shape of it... hovering before Anthony... a vision of terror beyond anything her mind could comprehend. Finally, her mind could take no more. It shut down, plunging her into a maddening darkness filled with visions and echoes. Dr. Hixon tried to grab her as she fell, but his own arms were too weak from fear. She slipped from his grasp and collapsed... still trembling...
Anthony wished he could join her, but the very thing that has scattered her consciousness held his transfixed. His mind, body, and soul were all paralyzed as the thing continued to unfold in front of him. He tried to run... he tried to scream. Failing both, he tried to at least understand the thing that reached for him. But he couldn't. Even the SIGHT of it was a direct defiance of everything he knew. Its arms... innumerable knots of substance that trailed from its body... undulated in more dimensions than he'd previously thought existed.
They came for him. Stabbing like daggers, yet rippling like waves through water, they tore black holes in the air as they sought his terrified flesh-
But suddenly something dark and fluid rushed past Anthony's startled face, leaving a stench of smoke and burnt flesh in its wake. The cloud of black ash circled the Redeemer and began to spiral furiously around it, blasting both it and Anthony with its fury. The ash scoured Anthony's skin like sandpaper... but it tore at the Redeemer as well. The impossible creature's roar transformed from one of victory to one of pain as the storm dug into it... ripping at it with millions of invisible claws. Its tentacles drew back away from Anthony and began slicing at the black storm... tearing away bits of its substance...
"ANTHONY, MOVE!" someone shouted.
Anthony didn't hear.
The Redeemer flexed... its body both shrank and expanded as it threw the stinging cloud off of it. The swarm of ash streaked across the room, once again rushing past Anthony... this time with enough force to knock him back.
Anthony fell, and the sudden jolt loosened the Redeemer's hold on his mind just enough-
"ANTHONY, GET AWAY!" Sarah cried.
Anthony was already scrambling for safety.
Meanwhile the ash-cloud had condensed into a dark, burnt shape that hung in the air before the Redeemer. The witch wasted no effort with words or warnings... she just opened her mouth and spat a lance of blinding white flame that licked along the Redeemer's form(s). The Redeemer twisted and writhed in the flames, then gave a defiant roar. Dozens of ghostly tentacles stabbed into the witch... impaling her chest, face, and limbs with impossible needles of darkness. The witch convulsed as they tore at her... slowly pulling her apart. Her mouth widened, but instead of a scream, she belched forth a tremendous ball of crackling fire. The knot of flame struck the Redeemer squarely in the center of its substance... where it exploded into thick ropes of fire that grasped it like a giant fist.
The Redeemer's roar shook the entire house. The creature held for a terrifying instant... and then it fled before the witch's assault. But the victory was not without cost. The Redeemer pulled back quickly, ripping its appendages out of the witch's body. The ghost screamed as the Redeemer tore out dark chunks of her substance and shot down the front hallway...
Dr. Hixon and Dr. Jeffries scattered, with Dr. Jeffries dragging Lindsay's unconscious body aside just as the creature surged past. Dr. Jeffries wasn't quite quick enough.
One of the Redeemer's flailing tentacles lashed across his left forearm...
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIRRRRRRRRRRGGGH!" Dr. Jeffries dropped Lindsay and fell to the floor beside her... grasping his arm. He screamed until his lungs were empty. Then, hissing and trembling, he toppled over on top of Lindsay.
The fleeing Redeemer struck the front door like a shot from a cannon. The impact thundered through the house... but the monster passed through the door as if it was merely an illusion. The shuddering of the house rose to a frightening crescendo... and then faded away...
A long and terrifying silence followed.
"...what...the...fuck..." Anthony gasped when he could finally force his lungs to draw air.
"My God," Sarah whispered. Her chest heaved as she caught her breath. "Oh my God, we did it. The only thing they have to fear... and we've left them completely at its mercy-"
"We need some HELP over here!" Dr. Hixon's labored voice called out. He was trying to pull Dr. Jeffries off of Lindsay, but the doctor's muscles were clenched so tightly that he was nearly impossible to move.
"Don't touch me," Jeffries grunted. "AAH, it hurts...dammit..."
"Come on, old man..." Anthony helped Hixon move Jeffries to one side.
"It touched him," said Sarah.
"No shit." Anthony rolled down Dr. Jeffries sleeve down to expose the forearm that the Redeemer had grazed. The shirt was unharmed, but the Redeemer's touch had left its mark on the flesh beneath. A thin black stripe stretched from Dr. Jeffries' elbow all the way to his wrist. The mark was solid black, but it wasn't a burn... at least, not a burn from an ordinary flame. The surface of the skin was barely disturbed, but the underlying layers of flesh were scorched crisp all the way to the bone. Dr. Jeffries' arm had been cooked from within... and the infernal process continued as Anthony watched. Tiny, twinkling embers still glowed deep within the charred stripe. "Oh shit, doc.... does... does that hurt?"
"Of COURSE it hurts, you moron!" Dr. Jeffries hissed. He tried to snatch his arm from Anthony's grasp, but the sudden movement unleashed spasms of intense pain. The old man wailed like a child and curled up into a ball on the floor.
"Doc!" Anthony grabbed his arm by the bicep and straightened it as Dr. Jeffries howled in agony. The black stripe on the doctor's forearm was already noticeably wider. "We need a doctor! A REAL doctor! Somebody do something!"
"...belt..." Dr. Jeffries moaned. "T-tie it off..."
"Right!" Anthony removed his belt and looped it around the doctor's arm above the affected area. He pulled the makeshift tourniquet tight. "Good idea."
"Tighter," Dr. Jeffries ordered. Anthony pulled the belt tighter. "TIGHTER!"
"That's as tight as it gets, doc..."
"... tie it off..."
Anthony tied the belt in a knot. Dr. Jeffries' arm was already beginning to turn purple... not from the Redeemer's touch, but from the complete lack of circulation.
"Doc, we can't leave it like this-"
"DON'T touch it! It's fine." Dr. Jeffries sat up and rolled his sleeve back down. He winced as the cloth touched his skin. "It's fine," he repeated. "Thank you."
"Lindsay's okay," said Dr. Hixon. Dr. Hixon had propped Lindsay up and was gently tapping her on the cheeks, trying to bring her around. She mumbled a few words and her eyelids fluttered. She came awake suddenly. Her eyes popped open as she opened her mouth to scream... but she caught herself before the cry could erupt. She looked around...
"That's what we'd ALL like to know," said Dr. Jeffries. With Anthony's help, the doctor got to his feet. "Dr. Hixon... I suggest you begin explaining yourself."
"Yes, you!" Lindsay scrambled away from him, then stood up. "You and your notes! You knew all about this place! Dr. Jameson's party didn't just find a bunch of ghosts, they found that... THING... in the garden! It came after them! It got inside Dr. Jameson and it killed them all! And YOU KNEW! YOU brought us here and you KNEW what was going to happen!"
"Hey, wait a minute... I didn't know-"
"We found your briefcase, doctor," said Jeffries. "We know some of you've been hiding things from us... the question is how much MORE is there? And will ANY of it get my son back!"
"I don't know anything about your son!" Dr. Hixon protested.
"LIAR! You led us into this trap on purpose! Now, I DEMAND to know-"
"I don't know ANYTHING!" said Dr. Hixon. "Okay, there's a bit of history about this place that I've been keeping secret, but I didn't want prior knowledge to taint our results-"
"A BIT OF HISTORY!?!?!" Dr. Jeffries bellowed. "HISTORY!? EVERYONE who's ever spent ONE night in this house has either died, disappeared, or GONE INSANE!"
"Wait, wait, wait..." Anthony stepped between Jeffries and Hixon. He turned to Jeffries. "So... you're saying that this guy knew some shit about this place that he wasn't telling the rest of us?"
"YES!" Lindsay shouted.
"Things that could have kept all this shit from happening?"
"Oh..." Anthony shrugged "Okay...." then turned and hit Dr. Hixon in the jaw with a solid right-cross.
"Ahk-" Dr. Hixon stumbled backward, and Anthony helped him along with an uppercut to the stomach-
Dr. Hixon tried to double-over, but Anthony shoved him back against the wall. He threw his left arm across Dr. Hixon's throat and held him there while he peppered Hixon's ribs and gut with punches...
"David was my BEST FRIEND!!!"
"And YOU Killed him!"
"He died because of YOUR bullshit!"
"MY BEST FRIEND!"
"Somebody grab him!"
Sarah and Lindsay managed to pull Anthony away from Hixon... who promptly collapsed.
"BEST FRIEND!" Anthony screamed. He managed to tag Hixon in the ribs with one kick before the women pulled him out of range. "That thing crawled inside of him and ATE HIM ALIVE! And NOW its got Dr. Jeffries!"
"Show 'em your arm, doc," said Anthony.
"My arm is fine-"
"Your ARM is FUCKED! And SO Are we! ALL because of HIM!"
"What's happening here has nothing to do with Dr. Hixon," said Sarah.
"But if it weren't for him, it wouldn't be happening to US!" said Lindsay.
"And David would still be alive," Anthony added.
"What IS happening here," said Dr. Jeffries. He grabbed Sarah's shoulder with his right hand. His left arm hung limp at his side. "What was that thing?"
"You're the man of science, doctor," Sarah replied. "Shouldn't you be going there for your answers?"
"DAMMIT, woman! This is no time for sarcasm! I want answers!! That thing has taken my son-"
"Your son is safe," said Sarah. "Safer than we are... but that isn't saying much."
"Where is he!"
"And how do we get the fuck OUT Of here!" said Anthony.
"The spirits took him to protect him. To keep him safe from what WE were about to do."
"What DID we do?" said Lindsay.
"...ouch..." Dr. Hixon moaned. He uncurled just enough to spit two dislodged teeth across the floor. "...I'm okay... don't everybody try to help me at once-"
"MutherFUCKER!" Anthony kicked him in the stomach. "HERE'S your fucking help!"
"STOPIT!" Sarah ordered. She shoved Anthony away from Hixon. "You're not HELPING this situation! You're only making it WORSE!"
"It can't get any worse!"
"Ohhhhhh, yes it can," Sarah replied. "It can and it will. Soon."
"Will somebody PLEASE tell me what the hell is happening!?!" Lindsay screamed.
"Hell IS happening," said Sarah. "This place isn't a haunted house. It's a sanctuary. Or a purgatory, depending on how you look at it. All the spirits here are victims. They were all murdered."
"By that thing we saw?" said Lindsay.
"No-" Sarah began.
"-By Elias Kitchens," Hixon wheezed. The doctor had gotten to his feet and was leaning against the wall for support. His face was bruised and bloody. A steady stream of bloody drool ran from his rapidly swelling lips. "A church pastor. He was really popular here in the late 1800's. But then he went insane and m-murdered seven people. He slaughtered them all in one day... one after the other. A drunk. A prostitute and her daughter... who was believed to be his own granddaughter. Some thieves and revelers. A schoolteacher who was caught teaching witchcraft to her students. People that he thought were contributing to the moral decay of this town. He hunted them down and tortured them to death. For some reason, their spirits all ended up here. I don't know why-"
"They were BROUGHT here," said Sarah. "For protection. Kitchens wasn't satisfied with just killing them; he wanted to personally condemn them to hell. Lacking the power to do that, he brought hell to THEM instead. He summoned... something... to torture their souls right here on earth."
"But wouldn't he have to have been a witch HIMSELF to do that?" said Lindsay.
"He was. A powerful one, from a long LINE of powerful witches. They claimed to derive their power from God, but whatever the source, he was strong enough to tear a hole into hell and summon the Redeemer."
"Ohhhh... so you're on a first-name basis with it, now?"
"But he wasn't fast enough," Sarah continued. "A rival family of witches... the Coles... had already gathered the murdered spirits into this house. They placed a spell around it to keep the Redeemer out, but the demon was too powerful. It kept getting in. The spirits needed a protector... someone to fight the Redeemer when it broke through the barriers..."
"The gunman," said Lindsay.
"Oh, shit," Anthony gasped.
"NOW do you understand what we've done? That spirit was here to PROTECT them-"
"So WHY did it shoot me in the balls!"
"Why not?" Lindsay smirked.
"It attacked you for the same reason it stole the generator, and the same reason it fights the Redeemer when it comes: You were disturbing the spirits in this house-"
"DISTURBED!? SHE jumped on top of ME, okay!! I didn't ASK!"
"My God, we've destroyed everything," said Dr. Hixon. "We've condemned them all to hell-"
"Them!? FUCK them! What about US!?! That thing is after the ghosts, right... so why won't it let us leave!?"
"It wants us, too."
"What the fuck FOR!?!"
"I don't know! At first I thought it was because we disturbed it with the Sampler. Then I thought it was just David that it wanted... but no. No, it wants ALL SEVEN... of.... my God."
Sarah pointed to Anthony.
"Lust," she said.
"Gluttony," she continued, pointing to herself. "Dr. Hixon: Envy. Dr. Jeffries: Pride. David was wrath. Lindsay: Greed."
"Whoa, WHO are YOU calling greedy!"
"Sloth. There are seven of us-"
"A fucking all-you-can-eat buffet of sin!" said Anthony. "Jesus fucking CHRIST ON A STICK!!"
"That's why the ghosts took Kyle," said Sarah. "To THEM, he's still a child that needs to be protected."
"Exactly!" Anthony blurted. "If they can protect HIM, then they can protect US! That witch-bitch kicked its ass! We're SAFE as long as she's around, right?"
"The Redeemer was already weak from what it did with David. And just driving it away that once took everything she had. He wounded her; now I can't even sense her in the house any more. She's gone. I think we've seen all the help we're gonna get."
"So now what?" said Lindsay.
"We RUN LIKE HELL!" said Anthony. "We hit that door, and we don't stop running until we hit Alaska!"
"It won't let us leave-"
"You just said it was weak!"
"In here, we at least have SOME protection from the spells the Coles put in place. The Redeemer has to gather its strength before it can penetrate them again... but the SECOND we step outside we are completely at its mercy."
"We'll be entering its territory," said Dr. Jeffries. "It lives in that garden. In the pool."
"Pool?" said Anthony.
"Yes..." said Dr. Hixon. "It lives out there in the remains of an old fountain."
"It's like a... a lake of filth. That's where its resting... right now..."
Anthony looked at Jeffries, then at Hixon.
"You guys thinking what I'm thinking?" he said.
"What?" said Lindsay. "You have an idea to get us out of here?"
"We know where its sleeping," said Anthony. "Its a big lake or a hole or something, right? So what if we go out there... POUR GASOLINE on that mutherfucker and LIGHT IT THE FUCK UP!!"
"Will that work?" said Dr. Jeffries. "There's gasoline in the cars outside-"
"OUTSIDE!" Sarah spat. "But we can't GO outside! Even if you COULD kill it with fire, you'd never get the chance-"
"Not if its sleeping. Not if its resting, like you said. We could sneak up on it-"
"Well what do YOU suggest? Sitting here and waiting for that thing to come and devour us? I don't think so!"
"We wait for dawn-"
"Why? This thing doesn't come out in the sun?"
"It prefers the night. I think it's less powerful during the day."
"Which means," said Dr. Jeffries. "That it will attack us as many times as possible between now and then."
"All the more reason to TORCH this mutherfucker while its napping!"
"What about the Sampler?" said Lindsay.
All eyes slowly turned toward her... and then to the machine.
"I mean... that's what this thing is FOR, right?" Lindsay continued. "Right?
"The Redeemer is much, much too powerful-"
"So's the Sampler," said Anthony. "David... I mean, the Redeemer... screwed with it. Made it stronger. If he didn't fuck it up TOO bad, we might still be able to use it as a weapon. Maybe."
"I don't think this thing is stupid enough to leave us with a weapon that can be used against it," said Hixon.
"Maybe not," Anthony replied. "But WE'RE not stupid, either. I think it fine-tuned this thing to kill the protector. All we gotta do is fix whatever is broken... and RE-tune this fucker for the Redeemer." Anthony removed the machine's cover-plate and studied the nest of wires and boards behind it. The wires leading to and from the power supply were burnt.
"I can fix this. Then we'll all be snacking on country-fried Redeemer on our way back home! Theoretically."
"Uhhh... well... if none of the unique components were scorched, I can get it working again. And even if they were, I can rig spares. As for tuning it... I have nothing to go by. If the computers had been taking data during the attack, I'd have everything I need. But they weren't. All I can do is... guess..."
"Suddenly this doesn't sound like a very good plan," said Hixon.
"Sounds a hell of a lot better than dragging us out here in the FIRST place, doctor!"
"You all agreed to come out here-"
"You've already killed one person... and now, while the rest of us are trying to figure a way OUT of this, YOU'RE standing there talking shit! And don't THINK I'm not gonna finish that ass-whuppin' I owe you when we get out of here!"
"And don't think I'm not going to press charges-"
"I'm gonna press my FOOT up your ass if you keep talking, doc!"
"The computer can extrapolate the data that we DO have," Lindsay steered the conversation back to a more constructive avenue. She turned on the powerful SGI workstation and sat down in front of the monitor. "Give us a starting point. At least we'll be in the ballpark when that thing comes back."
"Good," said Jeffries. He turned to Sarah. "In the meantime... would you use your so-called psychic abilities to GET ME MY SON BACK!"
He wasn't alone.
He couldn't see anything, but he could feel them. Icy fingers... cold and ephemeral... dragging across his body, penetrating his clothing as if he weren't wearing any. The ghostly talons neither tickled nor scratched... they just held him there. At first they'd been steady and firm, but then they became agitated. Something had upset them, and Kyle prayed that it wasn't something they would take out on him.
Part of him wished he knew what was going on... but it was only a small part. The rest was content to huddle in the darkness and wait...
But then the darkness changed. The solid, impassible blackness had become a swirling mass of smoke and ash... all around him... everywhere. There were brief flashes of color and heat that almost burned him. In between these flashes he could see...
He was still in the house!
He opened his mouth, but something cold clamped down over his lips and stifled his cry.
The entire world shuddered.
Then it screamed, and the darkness burst like a soap bubble. The empty room snapped into focus as somewhere... something cried out in tortured pain. The hand over his mouth vanished, and Kyle gasped. His throat opened and he sucked the cold, dry air into his lungs in one, tremendous gulp. Lingering remnants of soot choked him. He coughed... doubling over in pain and breathlessness as invisible shapes swirled around him. He knelt on the floor in an upstairs bedroom. With both arms wrapped around his heaving chest, he leaned over until his forehead almost touched the floorboard.
He managed another breath... then another.
Something touched him.
Something cold... but light and tentative.
Kyle closed his eyes and continued breathing.
The tiny hand gripped his shoulder.
"Don't be scared," the little girl said.
Kyle jerked away from her, then fell over onto his back. He looked up at the girl standing in front of the window. Moonlight from outside shined through her translucent form.
"Don't be scared," she repeated. She walked towards Kyle, but he dragged himself across the floor to get away from her.
He blinked, and suddenly she was behind him.
He got to his feet and backed away.
"Get away from me!"
"They're really mad," she said. "But they aren't mad at you! They know you didn't do anything! Just the others! They won't hurt you... she told them not to!"
That tiny, curious part of Kyle almost asked the ghost what she was talking about. Almost.
Instead, Kyle ran past her to the door. He grabbed the latch, but it wouldn't turn. He yanked on the door... it wouldn't open.
"DAAAD! DAD HELP MEEE!" he screamed.
"They can't hear you," said the girl.
Kyle turned to face the spirit.
"OPEN THE DOOR!"
"I can't," she said, frowning. Then she smiled. "They won't let me. But we can be friends! My name is-"
Kyle ran THROUGH the spirit to the window.
"OPEN, DAMMIT!" he screamed. The window wouldn't open. He pulled with all his strength...
"DAAAD! DAD HELP MEEE!"
The second scream wasn't Kyle.
"DAAAAAD!" the voice yelled. "DAD, I'm OUT HERE!"
It was coming from courtyard.
Kyle peered through the window, but there was nothing below but the abandoned cars... and the garden.
...and something invisible that was imitating Kyle's voice.
"Oh, my God..." Kyle gasped. "It's a trap..."
Dr. Jeffries ran down the hall, but Sarah stopped him before he reached the door.
"You can't go out there!"
"My SON is out there!" Jeffries spun to confront Sarah. "YOU said they were keeping him safe! But they've sent him out there with that THING!"
"No, something's wrong," Sarah warned.
"Damned RIGHT, something is wrong! My son is out there and I'm in here talking to YOU!"
"I'll come with you," said Dr. Hixon. He brought two flashlights from the living room and handed one to Dr. Jeffries.
"Anthony, Lindsay, get the Sampler working," Jeffries ordered. "If we don't come back... best of luck to you."
Dr. Jeffries opened the door.
Everything was calm and dark outside... but there was no sign of Kyle.
"Where is he?" said Hixon.
"Don't go out there," said Sarah.
Completely ignoring her, Dr. Jeffries rushed out into the courtyard and shined his light toward the roof.
"KYLE!" he shouted.
Kyle was hanging from upstairs window... bloody fingertips just barely gripping the frame. Shards of broken glass tore into his hands as he tried to find a way down. But there was none. The thing ledge below the window has broken loose... there was nothing left to hold the boy's weight.
"HELLLP!" Kyle shouted. "DAD, HELP ME!"
"Kyle! I'm here! Hold on!"
"We have to get up there and pull him back in," said Hixon, who'd joined Jeffries in the courtyard. He turned back toward the door, but suddenly Sarah Bishop lurched out into the yard... arms pin-wheeling.... and collided with Hixon. They both hit the ground just as the door closed with a loud-
"JESUS CHRIST, woman... why are you always FALLING ON ME!!" Hixon grunted as he extricated himself from Sarah.
"They pushed me..." said Sarah. "They pushed me out here and-"
"THE DOOR'S LOCKED!!!" Hixon interrupted. He grasped the door-latch with both hands and pulled with all his strength, but it wouldn't budge.
"DAAAAADDDD!" Kyle screamed.
"We're COMING, Kyle!" Dr. Jeffries ran to the nearest window and pounded on it with his fist. It was like hitting brick. Meanwhile, Dr. Hixon was kicking the front door-
"ANTHONY! LINDSAY! LET US IN!"
Sarah Bishop stood and looked out at the darkness beyond the garden.
She felt something look back at her.
"Did you hear something?" said Lindsay.
"What?" Anthony pulled his head out of the Sampler's innards and listened. All he heard was the sputtering of the generator. "I don't hear anything."
"I thought I heard...." Lindsay got up from the computer and walked down the hall to the front door. Halfway there, a sharp chill assaulted her. A wall of darkness closed around her like a fist.
"Everything's fine," Sarah's voice called from beyond the massive shadow. "So far-"
"Get back to that data!" Dr. Jeffries ordered.
Lindsay backed out of the darkness, then turned to Anthony.
"Something strange is going on-"
"What, you're just NOW noticing that?"
Anthony shined his flashlight down the hallway. The darkness was gone. Sarah Bishop stood in the doorway, looking calmly out at Dr. Jeffries and Dr. Hixon in the courtyard.
"What?" said Anthony.
"A second ago, I thought-"
"It's a fucking HAUNTED HOUSE, Lindsay! You're SUPPOSED to hear strange shit!" Anthony shouted. He went back to work, replacing burnt out cables in the Sampler's power supply.
Lindsay glanced out at the courtyard a final time, then went back to the computer.
"DAD!" Kyle shouted. His voice echoed awkwardly in the empty room... as did the solid thuds of his fists as he pounded on the bedroom window. But the glass wouldn't break. It wouldn't even crack.
Down in the courtyard, his father, Dr. Hixon, and Ms. Bishop were staring up at the window... but it was obvious that whatever they saw, it wasn't him. They were shouting at something just beneath the window, and no matter how loud Kyle yelled, he couldn't get their attention.
It was the ghosts. They were doing something to the sounds. They'd lured the doctors and Ms. Bishop out into the yard, and now it looked like they'd been locked out of the house. Hixon was kicking the door, and Kyle's father was pounding on a downstairs window while still casting worried glanced up at whatever the ghosts were showing him.
"Why are you doing this!" Kyle demanded of the spirit sharing the room with him.
"...they're mad..." the little girl replied. "...they're reeeeally mad...."
"Then let us go! If you want us gone, just LET US GO!"
Something made Kyle turn back to the window. He looked down... not at the courtyard, but at what lay beyond it. The garden. The hideous maze of shrubs was alive with movement.
Something was moving through the bushes, coming toward the house... Toward the courtyard.
"What is that!"
The little girl lowered her eyes and turned away.
"ANSWER ME! WHAT IS THAT THING OUT THERE WITH MY DAD!"
The girl ran to a corner, where Kyle expected her to run through the wall and vanish. But she didn't. She knelt down with her face to the wall, and began rocking nervously back and forth... trembling in fear.
"WHAT'S HAPPENING!!" Kyle demanded.
"...it's coming..." the girl murmured. "it's coming...it's coming...it's coming..."
"Dr. Hixon, we have to get out of here..." said Sarah.
"I'm TRYING!" Hixon yelled. He was throwing himself against the door, trying to knock it down. It wasn't working.
"AAAAAAH!!" one of Kyle's hands slipped from the window frame. "Dad, I can't hang on!"
Dr. Jeffries looked up at his son, then down at the ground.
It was only two floors. The boy would survive the fall if he landed right. IF.
"Okay, son... LISTEN to me! When I say 'now,' I want you to let go! You'll fall... but I'll catch you!"
"DR. HIXON!" Sarah warned. Her eyes were fixed on the shrubs that marked the boundary of the courtyard. They were moving. From not too far away came the sound of rustling leaves and snapping branches...
...and the faint rumble of something huge gathering its breath...
"UNNNGH!" Dr. Hixon bounced off of the front door and landed on his back in the dirt. "DAMMIT!" He got up... then turned to see what Sarah was looking at.
"DAD, I'M SCARED!"
Dr. Jeffries held out his arms so he could catch Kyle... but his left arm was numb and completely useless. It wouldn't move. Dr. Jeffries began to untie the belt that was keeping the Redeemer's poison from spreading. The instant he loosened it-
"AAAAHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!" The pain knocked the doctor to his knees. He crouched on the ground, howling in abject agony as fire seared through his veins. "AAAAAAAAGOD! IT HURRRRRRRRTS!!!!!!!"
Dr. Hixon drew the belt tight around Jeffries' arm once more.
"You have to c-catch him," Jeffries hissed.
"We have to get out of here NOW!" said Sarah.
"Then LEAVE!" said Jeffries. "GO! I'm NOT leaving my SON out here with that thing!"
"I've GOT you!" Hixon shouted up at Kyle. He stood under the boy and extended his arms. "JUMP! I'll CATCH YOU!"
"I'm SCARED!" Kyle shouted back.
Hixon looked back at the bushes. The cobblestones began to vibrate beneath his feet.
And then came the sound:
"JUMP, BOY!" Dr. Jeffries yelled.
"DAD, HELP ME!"
"HIXON WILL CATCH YOU! JUMP!"
"TOO LATE!" Sarah screamed. "It's HERE!"
Something huge and unimaginable tore free of the garden and sliced toward the doctors.
Moving faster than she'd ever thought possible, Sarah Bishop threw herself into the Redeemer's path-
"JUMP, KYLE!" she screamed-
"SARAH, DON'T-" Dr. Jeffries began
"YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!-" Kyle let go of the window and dropped like a stone.
The Redeemer surged toward Sarah-
-but at the last instant, it veered to the right-
Its hideous, twisted body struck the U-Haul van. The impact folded the van in half... the ruined truck swallowed the Redeemer within its crumpled embrace-
"-AAAAAAAAA" Kyle screamed on the way down. Hixon braced himself, but when the boy reached his arm-
'Kyle' ruptured like a water-balloon, spraying Dr. Hixon with slimy pus and long, thick strands of mucous.
"THERE!" Sarah pointed up at the window that 'Kyle' had been hanging from. There... clearly visible in the glass... was Kyle's terrified face. He was shouting down at them, and pointing...
...at the van.
Cracks began propagating along the van's surface. Tiny at first, the fissures merged and multiplied into a vein-like network of dark, jagged chasms... chasms that spread into the ground as if the cobblestones and the van were one continuous surface.
The van swelled and surged like giant lung. The cracks paused... and then... began to converge on Dr. Hixon.
"RUNNNNN!!!!!" Kyle shouted.
They ran. Pain was slowing Dr. Jeffries down, and Sarah's own weight made running an almost comical impossibility... but they ran anyway.
"HELLLLLPPPPP!" Dr. Hixon screamed. He, Dr. Jeffries, and Ms. Bishop raced past the front door without stopping. The reached the corner of the house and turned to run down its length.
Two seconds behind them, the fissures reached the same corner and made a crisp 90-degree turn to follow the fleeing prey.
Dr. Hixon paused at the first window he came to. He pounded on the glass. "LET US IN!!! LET US IN!"
The only response he got was the crackling of the cobblestone walkway behind him. Hixon abandoned the window and kept running.
"WE CAN'T GET IN!" He shouted as he caught up with the others. "It's going to GET US!"
"We can't OUT-RUN it!"
"JUST GET TO THE BACK DOOR! IT MIGHT BE UNLOCKED!"
"WHAT IF IT ISN'T!!?!"
"JUST PRAY THAT IT IS!"
"Okay, THAT I heard!" said Anthony.
"Sounded like screaming," Lindsay replied.
"Sounded like that THING was coming back!"
"Dr. JEFFRIES!" Lindsay rushed to the front door, only to find it closed and locked. "The door is stuck!"
"They're not out there," said Anthony. "I just heard someone banging on the kitchen window..." Anthony ran to the window, arriving just in time to see Dr. Hixon running off... "They're going around back! I think something's after them! GET THE DOOR!"
Lindsay tried to open the back door. The latch turned. The door opened...
...but an invisible force slammed it shut again, then shoved Lindsay violently to one side.
"AAAAA!!! It won't let me open the door!"
"HELLLLPPPP!!!!" Dr. Hixon's voice came from the rear of the house.
"They're almost there! GET THAT DAMN DOOR OPEN!"
"I can't!" Every time Lindsay tried to open the door, something either knocked her hand away or it pressed against the door so she couldn't budge it. "It's the ghosts!"
Anthony ran past Lindsay, returning to the living room.
"What are you DOING!?"
"They don't call me a fucking genius for nothing..." Anthony muttered as he grabbed the wires from the power supply. He'd already managed to replace or re-route most of them, but there still a few more to go. His fingers danced frantically among the clot of half-melted wires.
Something huge hit the back door, forcing a frightened yelp from Lindsay's throat.
It was Sarah.
"LET US IN!" Sarah pummeled the door with her fists. Lindsay saw the woman's terrified face through the window. Again, she tried to let them in... but this time, not only did something knock her hand away, but it SLAPPED her as well.
"LINDSAY! ANTHONY!" Dr. Hixon's voice joined the panicked screams from outside. "OPEN THE DOOR!"
"I CAN'T! ANTHONY!!!"
"...almost got it!" Anthony replied from the living room.
"OH MY GOD! It's COMING!"
Dr. Jeffries, Dr. Hixon, and Ms. Bishop all turned to look at something that Lindsay couldn't see. The floor began to tremble.
Dr. Jeffries started punching at the window with his fist. His knuckles left smears of blood on the undamaged glass. Ms. Bishop turned as white as sheet... her body stiffened as the fear hit her. Dr. Hixon screamed.
The kitchen shook as something tremendous approached-
"YEAH!!" came Anthony's triumphant shout. He slammed the Sampler's cover shut. Then he cranked the generator up to full-output and yanked the power handle down.
The generator coughed... then rumbled deeply as the Sampler sucked the power from its gasoline-powered heart. All over the house, the spirits of the dead felt the Sampler's touch. The touch became a scratch... the scratch became a burn... and the burn became a white-hot hook that pierced their substance and dragged them screaming out of the ether...
Kyle was still begging the ghost to let him go when the little girl suddenly began screaming uncontrollably. Kyle quickly backed away from her as her scream of fear and pain became a warbling siren. Her transparent body shimmered and almost solid... then it started to distort like an image in a fun-house mirror. The distortions became more severe, until the ghost was barely recognizable-
The twisting, flailing splash of color ran across the room toward Kyle. But when it reached the center of the empty room... it stopped. The ghost gave a child-like yelp of surprise as something began to pull her through the floor and into the room below.
Kyle leapt. He caught hold of what MIGHT have been an arm... but he wasn't sure. Whatever it was, he held on tight.
"I GOT YOU!"
He tried to pull the... thing... back up into the room, but the force opposing him was too strong. He could barely maintain his grasp as more of the girl sank into the floor.
"HELLLP!!!" He shouted.
Behind him, the bedroom door opened.
He stared at the door, and the hallway beyond. Freedom. Whatever was happening was keeping the ghosts from holding him prisoner.
He could leave.
Any time he wanted.
The spirit struggled in his arms, trying to hold onto him. But she couldn't. The girl was slowly slipping from his arms.
All he had to do was let go.
Kyle looked back to the door.
"HELLLLPPPP!!!!!!" he shouted. "SOMEBODY HELP US!"
At the back door, a multicolored haze appeared in front of Lindsay. The haze became a short, unfamiliar man who was standing in front of the door... holding it closed with one hand.
He scowled at Lindsay.
Lindsay took a step back... and jammed her knee upward in to its groin.
The spirit squealed and stumbled away. Lindsay snatched the door open. Sarah and Dr. Jeffries fell in almost on top of one another. Dr. Hixon was right behind them...
...but the Redeemer was quicker.
With all the sound and fury of a speeding train, the demon surged past the door and snatched Dr. Hixon into its clutches. Dark, crackling tentacles wrapped around the doctor's leaping body and yanked him back out into the night. The doctor screamed as the thing engulfed him.
"DR. HIXONNNNNNN!!" Lindsay squealed.
The doctor and the thing that swallowed him were both gone. But then-
The Redeemer reappeared in front of the still-open door. It hung there... floating in mid air, its ebony tentacles moving through incomprehensible dimensions as they caressed the doorway.
And with the Redeemer, came Dr. Hixon.
Caught in the thing's impossible arms, the doctor writhed and flailed in torment. The Redeemer's slightest touch was agony, and Hixon was held tight in its embrace. The substance of his own body stretched and twisted in grotesque ways as the Redeemer slowly... very slowly... absorbed him into itself. Dr. Hixon reached out for escape... but his flesh cracked and fell apart like shattered glass. The doctor's eyes were filled with pain and horror as they melted into nothing. Soon, the only thing that remained was a mouth...
...a mouth that screamed and screamed and continued to scream long after there were no lungs from which it could draw breath. Even without a body, the mouth howled its agony to the world because there was no end to its torment. There would be no end.
"MAKE IT STOP!!" Lindsay cried. "MAKE IT STOP!!"
"LINDSAY! THE COMPUTERS!" Dr. Jeffries pointed to Lindsay's abandoned workstation. The computer sat ready... waiting to process data from the now-operational Sampler. "ANTHONY!"
Anthony rotated the Sampler so that it pointed into the kitchen... and out the back door. Lindsay sprinted to her chair and activated the data-retrieval program.
"I'm getting something!" Lindsay announced. "GOD! This thing is off the scale!"
"FORGET the scale!" Anthony replied. "We don't need MAGNITUDE; we need FREQUENCY!"
Suddenly, the Redeemer surged violently toward the open door-
Dr. Jeffries kicked the door closed-
The demon's impact knocked him to the floor. The walls moaned as they rebuffed the demon... but the Redeemer would not be turned away. Dark, sinister cracks began to radiate outward from the door... slowly insinuating themselves into the very fabric of the house.
Sarah and Dr. Jeffries backed away....
"LINDSAY! NOW would be a good time-"
"I thought you said that computer was FAST!" said Anthony.
The door was a spider's web of dark fissures. The wood began to pulsate as if it were a living thing... swelling inward as the Redeemer tried to enter.
"It's too strong!" said Sarah. "The house can't keep it out!"
"DO something!" Dr. Jeffries ordered.
"Do what you did out front! You made it turn away from you... do it again! Send it back where it came from!"
"I don't KNOW what I did!"
Suddenly, an oozing darkness began to gush through the cracks and coalesce in the kitchen. The Redeemer flowed into the room like a dark tide. It assembled itself in front of the back door... then, without hesitation, it flung itself at Lindsay-
Something small and loud fell from the ceiling near the Sampler. The shape hit the floor, where it resolved into a familiar shape. The frightened little girl saw the Redeemer... and she screamed.
It was the wrong thing to do.
At the sound of the girl's voice, the Redeemer's multi-shaped head turned toward her. It swerved away from Lindsay and shot across the room. The girl tried to run, but the same energy field that had dragged her through the ceiling now held her fixed in place.
Everything in the house screamed as the Redeemer jagged tentacles pierced her body and, in one impossibly quick motion, yanked her into its mouth.
The gaping, tooth-filled mouth slammed shut, but the little girl's screams didn't die... they got louder. They increased a thousand-fold as the young soul met her torment inside the beast.
"NOOOOOO!!!!!!!" Sarah cried. The house joined her in a wail of fear and anger so loud that no one heard Kyle running down the stairs. He burst into the room... and saw the Redeemer for the first time:
The Redeemer's head swiveled toward him. Its eyes... some of them... gleamed.
"NOO!" Dr. Jeffries shouted. He and the Redeemer both moved as one.
The Redeemer jetted across the room like a shark. The doctor got a running start and dove UNDER the demon... narrowly avoiding its flailing tentacles. He landed at Kyle's feet, but quickly stood to face the Redeemer as it came.
The Redeemer's monstrous bulk halted instantly. It hung there... floating in mid-air... its mouth mere inches away from Dr. Jeffries. Half of its eyes fixed on the doctor... the other half on Kyle, who stood trembling behind his father.
"...run, Kyle..." Dr. Jeffries whispered. "...I'll slow it down...run!"
But it wasn't Kyle that ran.
The Redeemer's jaws parted, and the beast bellowed a screech of rage so intense that it rattled the hinges on the front gate. Dr. Jeffries' eyes were firmly closed, but Kyle couldn't look away from the thing. He looked through its mouth and into the very belly of the thing. He saw the horror that lay there... waiting...
As Kyle's unconscious body hit the floor, The Redeemer twisted around and flew from the room, diving through the rear wall. Its surreal body merged briefly with the wood... the house shook as it shrugged the demon away, expelling it into the darkness outside.
Dr. Jeffries shook his son. The boy's eyes opened, but they were blank and empty.
"...I couldn't hold her..." he said in a faint, distant voice. "...I couldn't hold her..."
"...I saw her... inside it..."
"...and Dr. Hixon..."
"Kyle! Snap out of it, boy!"
"...It was... it was..."
Dr. Jeffries slapped his son firmly across the face.
It didn't work. The boy just started over:
"...I couldn't hold her..."
"Hey, guyyyys..." Anthony called. "We still got company in here..."
They were all over the room. The spirits of the house had gathered in the living room, where they stood motionless... glaring angrily at the living. Their ash-grey bodies flickered in the Sampler's field.
"I think they're pissed," said Anthony.
"They're more frightened than anything," said Sarah. "But-" Sarah looked at Kyle, then at Dr. Jeffries... then at Anthony.
"What?" said Anthony.
"They want something. From us. I can't tell what, but I definitely sense-"
"Ignore them," said Jeffries. "Lindsay did you get what we needed?"
"Uhhh..." Lindsay crawled out from under the table where she'd been hiding. She checked the computer. "Uhhh... y-yeah. I got the harmonics-"
"Well GIVE 'EM HERE!" said Anthony. "Before that thing comes back!"
Lindsay sat down and began to read the numbers off the screen:
"X2: One-Two-Four Gigahertz. Y2: Seven-Nine-Eight Gigahertz. Z2: Five-"
The window closest to the computer shattered as the Redeemer crashed through it. Dark tentacles thrust into the room and snared the computer workstation... and Lindsay.
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!" she screamed as the tentacles burned into her flesh. In one tremendous yank, she and the computer were both snatched out through the window... and right into the Redeemer's waiting mouth:
The Redeemer's mouth snapped closed, severing the computers power and I/O cables. Sparks danced briefly across its teeth as Lindsay's screams became an ear-splitting wail of agony. The Redeemer glared at those still left in the room... then it pulled away from the window and let the darkness claim it. It was gone.
"Anthony, did you get those frequencies!"
"IT SWALLOWED HER!"
"...yeah..." Anthony looked down at the Sampler as if he'd never seen it before in his life. "I...uhhh... It'll take some work to get those freqs out of this thing, but, uhhh.... fuck."
"We've got it, then," said Dr. Jeffries.
"...yeah... but, Lindsay-"
"It's too late for her," said Dr. Jeffries. "We have to work on getting OURSELVES out of-AAAK!" Dr. Jeffries grabbed the side of his neck, but when his hand touched the skin, he screamed and dropped to the floor.
Anthony unbuttoned the doctor's shirt and pulled it open-
The burn on Jeffries' arm had spread. Crispy tendrils had snaked past the belt tied around the doctor's arm, taking the fiery infection up to his shoulder and down onto his chest. Everything on the left side of the doctor's torso was black. And now it was spreading up the side of his neck toward his head.
"Doc... Doc this don't look good-"
"I know," Dr. Jeffries grunted. He sat up and caught his breath, but didn't try to stand yet.
"Naw, doc... I mean this looks REALLY bad-"
"I KNOW what it looks like, Anthony... YOU just get that machine working. I plan on being here MORE than long enough to see that demon sent back to whatever hell it came from! But that won't happen if you stand there GAWKING."
Anthony looked at Sarah and shook his head.
"Help me up-"
Sarah pulled Dr. Jeffries to his feet. He swooned unsteadily for a few moments.
"Next time this thing shows up," said Anthony. "We're gonna char-broil its ass like a-"
The generator sputtered... coughed... sputtered again... and then rumbled to a silent and ominous halt. The lights on the Sampler winked out... all the dials on its control panel fell back to zero.
The ghosts in the room faded away...
Anthony, Sarah, and Dr. Jeffries looked at the generator as if it had just stood up and loudly declared its allegiance to the Redeemer.
"What... happened... to the generator?" said Sarah.
"It's out of gas," Dr. Jeffries replied. He pointed to the fuel gauge. It read zero.
"There's fuel in the cars," Dr. Jeffries said calmly. "Someone will have to go and siphon one of the gas tanks."
"Hey, I hate to sound like a coward, but FUCK THAT!!!!!"
"Don't worry, Anthony... YOU have to run the Sampler. I'll go. Sarah, you come with me."
"To watch the door. I trust you can keep your friends from locking us out again."
"Here-" Anthony tossed Dr. Jeffries an empty gas container and a long rubber tube. "You stick the tube in the-"
"I have a doctorate in physics, Anthony... I think I can manage siphoning gasoline out of a car."
"Just be careful," said Anthony. "And quick."
"Watch my son."
Kyle was curled up in a ball against the wall behind Anthony. His eyes were open, but he didn't appear to be seeing or hearing anything around him. He blinked once... swallowed... and began to drool.
"He ain't going anywhere."
"Make sure that he doesn't. Sarah?"
Sarah followed Jeffries down the hallway, while Anthony removed the Sampler's cover and began making the adjustments.
The truck was in pieces. Literally.
Fragments of it lay scattered around the courtyard like an explosion in a metal-shop. There wasn't a single piece larger than a man's chest.
"Good God..." Dr. Jeffries whispered.
"My car is closest," said Sarah. She pointed to her Mazda. Of the remaining cars, it sat closest to the door.
"Stay there," said Jeffries. He pointed to the doorway- "Stay RIGHT there. If you... 'sense'... anything-"
"I'm sensing all kinds of things, doctor... none of them good."
Dr. Jeffries walked out to the car. The flap that covered the gas-cap had to be released from the inside.
Sarah tossed him her keys. He unlocked the door and pulled the tiny lever beside the driver's seat. The gas-door popped open. Dr. Jeffries unscrewed the cap and began siphoning the gasoline into the container into that Anthony had given him. He looked around nervously as the liquid drained into the thick plastic bottle.
"It happened again," said Sarah. "Inside. It didn't attack you and Kyle. It WANTED to... it wanted you both. But it didn't take you. Why?"
"Your guess is as good as mine," said Jeffries. He looked around the courtyard. Nothing moved.
The gas-can was one-third full... but it was a small container. He needed to fill it up.
Fortunately, the courtyard was still empty. So far.
"That's the third time," Sarah continued.
"Yes, well I don't see... third?"
"Anthony. When it chased him back into the house... it was coming through the door. But it stopped. He stopped it."
"And he's going to stop it again," said Dr. Jeffries. "With the Sampler."
"Do you think your machine is strong enough to destroy it?"
"Destroy it? I don't know. But at the very least it can hold it in place while the we get away."
"And then what?"
"Then? Then we come back here with a bigger generator... a stronger emitter... more equipment... and we dissect this place and everything in it one atom at a time. When we're done, there won't be enough of this 'Redeemer' left to fill a petri dish."
"No," said Sarah. "No, no, no... THAT'S what got us into this in the first place! Your science-"
"And that's whats getting us out! Science! NOT whatever spiritual voodoo you're trying to put together now."
"I don't think so..." Sarah gazed at the garden. Jeffries followed her eyes... but didn't see anything. "I wish Hixon were here-"
"All he wanted was to be like you. A success. He was jealous, but that doesn't make him evil. NONE of our faults do-"
"What good would he do now?"
"He knew things about this place. About its history... about the spirits here. Things that the spirits aren't telling me. There MUST be some key that we're missing."
"Yes, and its called 'gasoline.' For the generator. We're collecting it right now."
"No, there's something else. They wanted something. You, me, and Anthony... I can see the connection there, even if I don't understand it yet. But Kyle... I don't know. He must have done something when they had him. He must have-"
"This place has taken quite enough from me and my son. They'll get nothing else. And if its Hixon's knowledge you're after, you can go look through it yourself. Its strewn all over his room upstairs. And here-"
Dr. Jeffries retrieved a few crumpled sheets of paper from his pocket and tossed them at Sarah.
"What's this?" Sarah looked through the notes.
"More information that he kept hidden from us. I can't see how its useful-"
"Laslo Cole," said Sarah.
"It's part of the Cole family history. Laslo Cole. Son of Thaddius and Talia Cole. Left October Falls to seek his fortune out west. Returned years later... fell in love with..." Sarah frowned. She looked at the next page... "...the schoolteacher. The one that Kitchens killed. He disappeared not too long after... wait a minute..."
"What is it?" said Dr. Jeffries.
"I think I've got it-"
"And so do I." Dr. Jeffries put the screwed the cap onto the gas container, which was now full. As he did, something in the car caught his eye. The driver's side door was still open. The doctor leaned forward and peered cautiously into the dark interior...
"Ms. Bishop?" he said slowly...
"Am I remembering correctly... that you... DON'T... have a little black dog?"
Sarah nodded as she slowly backed away from the door...
"...Sarah..." said Dr. Jeffries. "RUN!"
Dr. Jeffries sprinted away from the car as the Redeemer exploded out through the door. Black tentacles streaked through the air, impaling the doctor from behind. Their harpoon-like tips exploded out through his already blackened chest.
"AAAAAAAAAAAA!!!" Dr. Jeffries screamed. The Redeemer yanked him back into the car, but at the last instant, the doctor managed to fling the container of gasoline toward the house-
-where Sarah caught it.
"AAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!" Jeffries howled in torment as he slid into the Redeemer's gaping maw. The mouth oozed shut around him... and the doctor's screams only increased.
The small Mazda swelled... cracks appeared all along its surface... then the car exploded, sending tiny fragments of itself all over the courtyard.
Roaring in rage, the Redeemer streamed out of the hail of wreckage, surged across the short distance to the front door, then shot down the hallway after Sarah. Dark tentacles of pure torment stabbed downward toward Sarah's back.
Sarah tripped, hit the floor, and skidded all the way to the end of the hall... where Anthony snatched the gasoline from her grasp. He turned to the generator and began pouring the fuel in-
"Anthony, I know how to stop it!" said Sarah as she tried to get up. "I know what the ghosts want! You have t-AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!"
The tentacles came down like knives... dozens of them sliced into her back and grabbed hold of her spine... nearly ripping it out of her body.
Anthony turned to look. Sarah's considerable flesh was already charring and dissolving as the Redeemer pulled her into its mouth.
Anthony hit the 'START' button on the generator.
The machine rumbled... growled... then roared-
The Redeemer gushed into the room... its tentacles stretching outward like a razor-sharp web... seeking not only Anthony and Kyle, but every spirit in the house. When they touched the floor, walls, and ceiling, the dark appendages became cracks that flowed along the surfaces like liquid shadows.
Kyle whimpered as the Redeemer expanded to its full and horrible size before them.
The house and its ghosts screamed in terrified protest.
"Shoulda let us go when you had the chance!" Anthony yelled. He spun the Sampler around and aimed it at the Redeemer. "Because now... NOW you're gonna get FUCKED UP!!"
Anthony pulled the main power handle.
The Sampler emitted a piercing, electronic whine. Its invisible field surged forth, striking the Redeemer squarely in the center of its impossible body. Instantly, thin tendrils of smoke began to rise from its body. The Redeemer screeched in pain as the energy tore at it like a million hungry insects. The demon rolled and thrashed in the air... then it paused. It fixed its eyes on Anthony and gave one massive shake that jolted the entire house. Its tentacles ripped free of the walls, pulling up floorboards and snatching down entire sections of the ceiling.
Several boards from the ceiling struck the Sampler, knocking it off balance and swinging the Emitter to one side.
"NO!" Anthony reached for the machine and tried to aim it back at the Redeemer, but he was too slow. Momentarily free of the Sampler's fury, one of the Redeemer's jagged tentacles arced through the air... went AROUND Anthony... and snagged the thick power cord running from the generator to the Sampler.
It sliced the cord in half... then cut it again, cleanly removing a two-foot section of the cable. Just as Anthony had it pointed at the demon, the mighty machine died with a disheartening whine.
Anthony turned his back to the demon, just as the wiggling tentacle crackled across the floor toward Kyle. Kyle looked at it... too terrified to move.
"HEY! LOOK OUT!"
Anthony hopped over the dark tendril, grabbed Kyle and snatched him out of the way. The appendage made a 90-degree turn and came after them. More cracks began snaking down the walls toward the corner where they crouched. The floor was alive with miniature chasms... all leading back to the Redeemer. The demon floated gleefully in the air before the now-inert Sampler.
It laughed at them... a bellowing roar that shook Anthony to his very soul
All over the house, the spirits of the dead wailed in torment...
Anthony pushed Kyle behind him. He looked out at the Redeemer... then down at the dozens of tentacles coming for him. He saw one end of the power cable by his foot. The other end was just out of reach. The missing section had rolled to the other side of the room.
The generator was still running.
Anthony knew it wouldn't work. He knew all the laws, theorems and constants that made it impossible...
...and he knew what would happen to him if he tried. But he also knew that it was the only thing left to do...
Anthony grabbed one end of the power cord in his right hand, then snagged the other end with his foot. He dragged it closer... then reached down and picked it up. The ends were too far apart to bring together, and without the missing chunk of cable there was only one way he could complete the circuit and restore power to the Sampler.
"HEY UGLY!" He screamed at the Redeemer. "YOUR PASSPORT HAS EXPIRED.... TIME FOR YOU TO GO BACK TO HELL!"
Holding the cable ends tightly, Anthony clamped his sweat-soaked hands down on the bare metal. The generator growled as the Sampler came back online. The electric current scorched a sizzling black path from the cable in Anthony's right hand... across his chest... through his heart... down his left arm and into the other end of the severed cord-
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAA-" Anthony screamed until his bleeding, burning lungs were empty, he could feel his flesh cooking, but still he smiled as the Sampler's characteristic whine reach his ears...
The Redeemer heard it too. It turned toward the machine and saw... and saw...
The creature howled like a hurricane as the Sampler's fury slammed into it. The first incredible wave seared the skin from its body. Immediately, the underlying flesh began to melt and burn. Its appendages flailed in the air, leaving puffs of black smoke in their wake as they dissolved. Pieces of them snapped off and disintegrated as the Sampler drew them in. The Redeemer tried to pull away, but no matter how hard the beast struggled, the infernal physics of the Sampler held it in place like an immovable fist. The machine ripped and tore at its substance... biting off burning chunks with teeth forged of pure electromagnetic rage... and tainted with the one thing that the Redeemer could not endure:
The Redeemer swelled... contracted... twisted and convulsed. The monster writhed in uncontrollable agony, its flesh churning... literally boiling away in the Sampler's onslaught. Huge, cancerous knots bubbled to the surface, where they popped like bubbles-
Other shapes came now... smaller... tighter...
...a half-dozen arms reached out of the Redeemer's roiling flesh. They carried something with them... dragging it up from the depths and thrusting it out toward freedom. The tiny shape unfolded... it stretched out a small hand-
"...TAKE HER!" Came Sarah Bishop's voice. "TAKE HERRR!"
A strong hand clamped down on the girl's, and Kyle Jeffries pulled the child free of the Redeemer's flesh. When the last of her plopped free, the other souls sank back into the churning muck. Kyle dragged the girl to the furthest corner of the room and shielded her with is body as the Redeemer gave its final roar-
What remained of its tortured form turned inside out... twice... before coming completely apart. Sizzling chunks tore free and vanished into nothing while the main mass exploded in a silent splash of gore and cinders.
And soon, even the cinders were gone.
Kyle didn't know how long he crouched there. He listened to the rumble of the generator for a long time... waiting... for ANYTHING.
Finally, someone tapped him on the shoulder.
Kyle shoved away from the wall and scrambled to his feet.... where he found himself face-to-face with Anthony.
"Show's over," said Anthony. "You can go home now."
Kyle looked past Anthony.... and saw the still-burning corpse laying behind the Sampler. The two ends of the main power cable were still clasped in the corpse's charred fists.
"Yeah," said Anthony. "Sucks. But it could be worse."
Anthony stepped to one side. There were other shapes behind him... thin and ephemeral. Ghosts. Two of them stood together... a mother and a daughter. The little girl waved.
"Like I said," said Anthony. "You can go home. Don't come back."
Anthony shook his head.
Kyle nodded. He hesitated, unsure of what to do. Finally, he just started walking. The ghosts vanished as he approached... winking out of existence one at a time, until Kyle was alone again. He cast a glance at the Sampler as he reached the hallway. Black smoke rose from the machine's control panel. The buttons and switches had melted, and tiny tongues of flame licked out from behind the blackened dials. The machine was a complete loss... not that Kyle cared.
He walked down the hallway... which seemed not nearly as dark and ominous as it had when they'd first arrived. The front door was open when he reached the end... and it closed gently behind him as he stepped out into the courtyard.
Picking a careful path through the debris, the boy strolled slowly toward the main gate as the sun rose over the garden.
copyright 2001 by Dark Icon (Marc Washington)