Vivian was dreaming with her eyes open.
In the dream, her boyfriend's little brother, Danny, was being torn from her arms by a squirming black mass. His face was frozen in a silent scream, piercing her heart like a knife as it vanished into the putrid darkness. She screamed. Then a dark, armored hand reached out from the black, and a voice echoed from beyond: "GO!"
Then she awoke, the evening light returning to her eyes as the retinal gateway snapped shut just as quickly as it had opened. The familiar white stucco ceiling stared grimly back at her. She breathed a sigh of relief and slowly sat up, squinting in the fading orange sunlight. She remembered that they'd shown a bizarre neighborhood murder on TV last night. Her mother couldn't stop talking about it. Biting her lip, Vivian rolled out of bed and quickly changed. It was Halloween night, and she was planning on going trick-or-treating with her boyfriend, his little brother, and two friends.
"I don't think you should go out tonight," her mother said as she came down the stairs.
"What?" Vivian was shocked. She had been very excited to go trick-or-treating this Halloween.
"Vivian!" Her mother sounded hurt. "Remember the murder last night?"
Vivian jumped off the bottom step and lay down on the warm corduroy couch that sat in their living room.
"Mom, it's fine," she said, stretching herself out. "Nothing's gonna happen to us."
"Aren't you a bit old to go trick-or-treating?"
"Mom, fourteen is not too old to go trick-or-treating."
Her mother sighed and shook her head. "I'm just worried about you Viv," she said, her eyes flicking apprehensively to the TV. "What if something happened to you?"
Vivian lay silently on the couch, her big brown eyes fixed on some invisible object hung before her in her mind's eye.
Her eyes slowly turned to face her mother's. "Mom, come on," she pleaded. "Mike's bringing his little brother. Who's gonna take care of him, huh?"
"Well," her mother said, slightly irritated, "Maybe Mike should learn to look after his own siblings."
"Mom, it never hurts to have two sets of eyes."
Her mother stood, silent, her lips pursed.
"Mom," said Vivian in a burst of honesty, "I'm worried about him. Even if I stay, they're still gonna go."
"Oh . . ." her mother rubbed her hands together nervously. "I suppose I can't stop you. Just . . ." her voice trailed off. "Be careful. I can't get that image from the TV out of my head."
Vivian laid her head back down on the couch and closed her eyes as her mother walked back into the kitchen. A strange fatalism gripped her heart– excitement, mixed with apprehension. She knew she had to go. The night was sweetly beckoning, and she knew that the time had come.
A knock sounded at the front door. Vivian leapt up.
"Mom!" she yelled. "I'm going!"
"Okay!" Her mother's voice was nervously optimistic. "Stay safe sweetheart!"
"Hey everyone," she said, smiling as she opened the door. "Good to see you all."
"Hey," said a tall, long-haired blonde boy, grinning slightly. He held the hand of the only other girl in the group in his hand.
"Hey Jerry," said Vivian. She nodded at the girl. "Danica. Mike!" she grinned broadly and embraced the other tall boy. "Great to see you!"
"Great to see you too, kiddo," he said, smiling back. "It's been too long."
"Ha!" she fell back and blushed. "Mike, it's only been a few hours," she said sheepishly, curling her hair in her finger.
He shrugged and smiled again. "Too long, I guess."
"Oh, and Danny!" she laughed and got down on her knees to look the fifth trick-or-treater in the eye. "Mike, you did bring your little brother!"
"Yeah, well..." Mike smiled and shrugged again. "He wanted to come. You two get along, anyways."
"How are you doing, Danny?"
"Good," he muttered, gnawing on his finger stoically. At nine years old, Danny was quiet, even around people he knew.
"Oh, Danny!" laughed Vivian. "Get that finger out of your mouth, it's not sanitary."
"No," he said curtly. "I'm scared."
Mike furrowed his brow. "Having second thoughts, shortstop?"
Mike laughed. "Well, he's a weird one. You know that as well as anyone, Viv. Maybe what was on the TV this evening freaked him. Gross stuff."
"Oh, there's nothing to be afraid of, little Danny," said Vivian sympathetically, cocking her head. "We'll protect you."
Danny resigned himself to his compatriots’ apparent ignorance, folding his arms and pursing his lips in silence. Vivian laughed and stood up. "Well, I suppose we oughta get started."
"Yeah," said Jerry, raising his hand slightly. "We should start on the North side, work our way through and go around the pond."
"Why the pond?"
"Nah, I'm cool with this idea," Mike said mischievously.
"What?" Vivian said confusedly, locking eyes with Mike. He grinned back, his eyes dancing with laughter, and desire.
"Oh my God . . ." she laughed, slightly mortified. "Mike, no."
"Vivian what?" said Danica irritably. "Come on. We're basically grown-ups."
"I'm fourteen!" Vivian hissed, still grinning sheepishly. "That's . . . no. Just no. Mike, NO!" She giggled as she made eye contact again. "I'm serious. Who's gonna take care of Danny?"
Mike's smile vanished. "Oh. Shit. Didn't think of that." He rocked his head back and forth in a moment of brief introspection. "Fine. No walks through the pond tonight."
Danica rolled her eyes. "Puritan Viv strikes again. Maybe you'll find a career at a convent or library someday."
"Be nice," Jerry whispered, a bit too audibly. "It's Halloween."
"Come on," said Mike, trying to bring the spirit of the event back into things. "Let's head toward the south end. That always has the most interesting people, anyways. The weird part of town and all."
"Well," said Danica, still somewhat irritably, "I guess I can agree with that, anyways."
The moon climbed high into the black sky and the little party made their way through suburbia, slowly collecting their confections. Danny seemed distracted, and Danica kept whispering in Jerry's ear. Only Vivian was truly enthralled that night, her heart seeming to beat with the ebb and flow of the darkness itself, the warm, damp wind pulsating with macabre power. She shivered a little. It felt somehow odd to be enjoying this so much.
"Mike," she whispered. "I love the night, and I hate it. I can't explain it. It's like . . . it would be so beautiful, just to die in this moonlight."
He shook his head, his face splitting into a loving, lopsided grin. "You're a strange one, Viv," he said, catching her by the shoulders, "It's what makes you so . . ." his adolescent mind searched for the right word- "I guess, alluring."
Her heart melted as she stared into his green eyes. "Wow, Mike," she whispered. She felt that she could almost let him kiss her, standing in the moonlight, eyes locked in a fanatical embrace of passion.
Suddenly, her brow furrowed.
"Where'd Danica and Jeremiah go?" she hissed.
"I'm so glad to get away from those phogies," growled Danica. "What a bunch of boring old . . ." her voice trailed off.
"Danica," said Jerry, his eyes scanning the perimeter, "Where are we going?"
"Jerry, I told you!" she snapped. "There's an old church back here that nobody uses. We can go in there and-" she tossed her blood-red curls. "You know."
"Danica, wait!" Jerry said sharply, grabbing her by the hand. "Listen, I don't know if this is such a good idea. I mean, I'm eighteen and you're just fifteen . . ."
"Oh don't flake out on me now!" she snapped. "You're not like Vivian, are you?"
"Danica, I just care about you..."
"Oh you don't care about shit!" Hot tears sprung to Danica's blue eyes. "You told me you loved me!"
"Of course I love you!"
"How can you say that when you won't even–!" She reeled away, choking on her own tears.
"Danica," Jerry said gently, almost nervously, "Listen, I . . ."
"No!" she howled, whirling around. "You listen to me! I've been left cold and alone by every goddamn person on this planet, and I won't be left alone by you!" She jumped forward, grabbing him by the collar, bright, tearful blue eyes staring up into steely grey. "Now," she hissed, "You go and prove to me, right now, that you won't fucking leave me!"
He gently brushed her hand aside. "I ain't doing that, Danica."
She shook with rage, his perceived betrayal permeating every aspect of her being, pulsating through her throat, her legs; her tiny feminine body trembling with hate and despair.
"You . . . !" she screamed. Then she turned and ran, diving into the hedge and tearing off into darkness.
"Danica!" he roared. "Wait!"
"Danica!" yelled Vivian.
"Jerry!" bellowed Mike.
Danny sat in silence, contemplatively gnawing on his finger.
"God," muttered Mike, shaking his head. "Explaining this to Danica's mom is gonna suck."
"Oh!" Vivian sighed. "My mother will never let me out of the house again if we can't find them."
"Why don't we split up," suggested Mike. "You and Danny go west, and I'll go east. We'll meet up here in twenty minutes regardless. Sound good?"
Vivian nodded. "Sounds good. Danny?" she said gently, taking the boy by the hand. "You wanna come with me?" He nodded curtly. "Alright." She smiled back at Mike. "See you soon."
Off they walked, into the darkness, little boy and young woman walking hand in hand as black clouds rolled in and the moonlight slowly faded. Danny began to cry, silent tears rolling down his stone-cold face.
"Oh, what is it?" Vivian said sweetly. "Do you miss Mike?"
"No," he sniffled. He turned to face her, making eye contact for the first time. "You shouldn't have gone out tonight, Vivian."
She furrowed her brow. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"I can't tell you," he choked, trying to force back tears. "They won't let me."
"Oh, Danny," she said, picking him up. "You just had a bad dream, or something. Nothing's gonna happen to me."
His eyes widened, and a look of deep, penetrating horror came over him, his pupils dilating to impossible size, as if little portals to another dimension had opened up behind his retinas. "Yes," he said, whispering in terrified awe. "Yes, it shall!"
Vivian blinked, and shook her head. "Danny, don't worry." She smiled. "I'll let you in on a little secret." She leaned in, nuzzling him on the cheek. "Someone special told me that I should go out tonight. So there's nothing to worry about."
His eyes grew even wider. "Oh . . ." he said, very slowly. "Do. . . THEY . . . talk to you too?"
"Well," Vivian said reflectively, "I suppose, I've always had a voice in my head. It always told me things that would happen in the future, and it was always right."
Danny nodded. "I see."
There was a brief pause.
"You can put me down Vivian," Danny said stoically. "I'm okay now."
Vivian laughed. "Who's in charge here, huh little man?" She lowered him to the ground. "We're gonna turn around soon. Keep an eye out for Jerry and Danica, okay?"
As they strode forward into the night, Vivian glanced at her watch. Six more minutes. "Come on Danny," she said, shaking her head. "Let's head back and meet up with Mike."
Jerry tore through hedges after Danica, briars tearing at his flesh and clothing as he whipped his long, curly blonde hair out of his eyes.
"Danica!" he roared. "Stop this! Now! For your own good!" Sweat pouring down his face, he could barely make out her grey, quivering form, torn clothing fluttering in the moonlight. Then, she was gone. Vanished into the darkness.
"Danica?" he called out hoarsely. There was no reply. The morose midnight wind whispered through the trees. He shivered.
"Shit . . ."
He wanted to call out that he was sorry. But, he realized, he wasn't sorry. At least not for what he had said. "Stupid girl," he muttered angrily. "What am I gonna tell your mother, huh? Jesus, man." Kneeling down on the ground, he could make out a muddy footprint. "I mean, it can't be that hard to find her," he said. "It's not like she was trying to cover her escape." Picking a few thorns out of his forehead, he made his way through the urban forest, angrily kicking aside buckthorn as he went.
"Come on," he muttered, ducking under an oak tree, "How far can she have gone, anyways? Danica!" he barked. "Where are you!? This is silly." He stopped. Before him stood a thick, green hedge, like one around a mansion, and at the base of his feet was a small hole under the branches, with bits of Danica's clothing caught in the twigs. Getting down on his stomach, he forced himself through the hole. The sharp, barbed twigs sliced and tore at his face. He spat. "God, if I didn't love you, girl. . ."
He poked his head out at the other end. Before him stood a small cemetery, illuminated by a single, pale lamppost. Beyond the cemetery lay an old stone church, its thick wooden doors slightly ajar. A dark red light could barely be seen glowing behind the cracked stained glass windows. Jerry pulled himself forward and brushed himself off. "Oh," he growled, shaking his head. "What have you gotten me into, Danica?"
Jogging up to the wooden doors, he placed his hand on the handle and gently pushed. An ancient, rusted groan sounded from the wrought iron hinges. He winced. "Danica?" he whispered. No answer. He silently slipped through the huge wooden doors. A small door that looked as if it led to the main sanctuary arched before him, with a red, smouldering torch hung next to it. To his left, a stone staircase curled down towards the basement.
"Danica!" he barked. "Where the hell are you hiding?"
"Jerry . . . ?" A small, broken voice emanated from the staircase.
"Danica!" he rushed towards the stairs. "I'm coming."
"Jerry!" the voice sounded panicked now. "Don't come to me, Jerry!"
"Danica! Are you alright?"
"Jerry, please . . ."
As he came to bottom of the stairs, he gasped in horror. Towering above him lay a monstrous rusted boiler, pipes running out in all directions. Past the boiler lay a massive open grave filled with twisted, severed limbs and dismembered torsos, decapitated heads staring blankly upwards while they bathed in stinking, rotten blood. Chained before the boiler lay a bloodied, broken Danica, her head hung low in despair. Her arms were chained around a large pipe, her face streaked with dirt, tears and blood. A large pool of blood had collected beneath her, and her right leg was gone, chopped off at the knee.
"Danica!" he gasped, rushing towards her and taking her face in his hands. "Danica, what happened?"
"He–" she choked. "He chopped off my fucking leg, Jerry." She burst into violent tears, burying her face in his shirt. "He took my fucking leg."
"Who?" he whispered, barely able to hold back tears himself. "Who took your leg?"
"Oh no, oh no Jerry." She yanked her face from her shirt. "You have to run Jerry. You can't stay here."
"Can't stay here? Yeah, and I'm taking you with me." He pulled feebly at the chain. "Come on, let's get these off."
"No no Jerry," she hissed, hysterically gasping for breath. "You have to run. Right now. Don't worry about me, Jerry." She tried to force a smile. "I'll be okay." He was standing, pulling furiously at the chain. The stench of death permeated his nostrils, a red haze creeping into his vision as desperately yanked at Danica's bonds, praying silently that by some miracle they might unfasten themselves and clatter to the ground.
Suddenly, a footstep sounded in the darkness. Jerry jerked his head towards the source of the sound.
"Jerry, please," whispered Danica. "Run."
The steps came closer. Jerry dropped the chain, glancing around for some kind of weapon. Something was breathing, the sound of air being forced through a damp, rusted metallic grate . . .
A terrifying figure emerged from the darkness. In his right hand, he held the severed head of his previous victim, a young girl, no older than sixteen. Her hair was soaked in blood, her face frozen in a hideous, undying scream. He slung it by the hair into the grave-pile, a low metallic chuckle sounding from beneath his cruel metal visor, blood oozing from between the grates. Armor was nailed into his body, his pale, naked flesh sickly and gangrenous from the stinking open wounds. Upon his greaves there were two shrieking faces, upon his breastplate a nest of headless serpents was inscribed, and in his right hand he held a rusted, massive, blood-stained sword.
"This isn't!" he bellowed, pointing a warped, blood-encrusted finger at Jerry- "For your eyes!"
Jerry took a step back, his face death-pale.
"Get–" he gasped, trying to find his voice. "Get away from her, you freak!"
The thing stared at him, as if trying to comprehend what he had just said. Then, it laughed.
"Why don't you just run now, little boy?" it gargled. "It would save me so much time."
"Gah!" Jerry clenched his fists in rage and fear. "Why don't you come at me, you freak?"
The thing wasted no time. It charged at Jerry with inhuman speed, drawing back its fist and striking him across the cheek, sending him flying across the room and smashing against the cold rock wall. Blood spattered across the floor. The creature took another step toward him, but something stopped it. It cocked its head, as if listening to some invisible voice. Then, it laughed, incomprehensible misery and cruelty rattling from its throat. Grabbing the pipe Danica was chained to, it crushed the cast-iron alloy in its palm and jerked Danica to her feet.
"No . . ." Jerry moaned. His legs wouldn't respond. His vision was dark and clouded, the horrifying scene before him a fading, blood-red haze. The thing grabbed Danica by the head and lifted her from the ground. Jerry thought he could hear whispers, a snake-like tongue tickling in his ear...
"Kill her, kill her, break him, make him an animal . . ." A million reptilian eyes seemed to flash before his vision. The thing tightened its grip, digging its claws into Danica's skull as she desperately kicked and screamed, blood dribbling down her scalp.
"God," he groaned in agony. He felt like his soul might break in two.
"Jerry," Danica whispered, trying to turn her face towards him. "I love y–"
He slammed his eyes shut. An explosion of collapsing cranium and ejected brain matter sounded in his ears as blood splattered across the room, pouring like an everflowing stream from Danica's crushed skull as her headless body slumped to the ground.
"No," he whispered, eyes still firmly shut. "No."
The thing wasted no time. He could hear it coming for him, metallic feet rattling on the now blood-soaked floor. His fear finally overtaking his pain, he opened his eyes and jumped to his feet; sprinting up the stairs, through the foyer and out in the the black, black night.
"God!" he screamed, his soul swirling dangerously close to oblivion. "God!" Tears and sweat poured down his face, his soul begging to fly, fly away, and become one with the churning black sky.
"Mike?" called out Vivian. The skinny black shape standing on the nearby sidewalk turned to face her. She breathed a sigh of relief. "Did you find anything?"
He shook his head, taking a few steps closer. "No. You?"
She shook her head. "Not a trace."
He ran his fingers through his dark brown hair. "Probably ran off to be alone in some shack." He shook his head. "We'll never find them before morning." Suddenly, he looked at Vivian, his brow furrowing. "Hey, where's Danny?"
"Danny . . . ?" she quickly glanced down to her left, expecting to see the boy standing there, contentedly chewing on his finger. "Oh my God!" She clasped her hands over her mouth in panic. "I– I don't know!"
"You what!" Mike's voice flared up. "Are you telling me . . . !"
"Mike!" she gasped, her eyes wide with panic. "I lost him!"
Mike gritted his teeth with rage. "God!" he snapped, taking an uncontrolled swing at the ground. "I just wanna knock the teeth outta . . . !" he shot a wrathful glance at Vivian. "What a fuckin' moron!" he bellowed, waving an accusatory finger in her direction. Vivian bit her lip. "Some fuckin' woman you are, losing a little boy in the darkness like that!" He stomped his foot impudently.
"Mike," said Vivian angrily, "Get ahold of yourself!"
"Get ahold of myself?!" He was roaring like an animal now. "That's my little brother, you dumb bitc–!"
The insult was more than Vivian could bear. "Mike, stop this, right now!" she barked. Her voice cracked the warm night air like a whip. Rushing forward, she took a clump of his hair in one hand and slapped him three times across the face with the other. "Get ahold of yourself!" she snapped, her eyes shining with ferocity. "This isn't like you!"
The brief moment of pain seemed to bring him back to reality. He stared at her blankly for a few moments, then turned his face to the ground and nodded.
"Yeah," he muttered. "Yeah, alright."
She released him and took a step back. "Okay." Tears welled up in her eyes. "I'm sorry–" she choked– "I'm so sorry I lost Danny, Mike." She wiped her eyes and sniffled. "But carrying on like that isn't gonna help him."
He gritted his teeth again. "Yeah," he nodded. "You ain't wrong." He sighed. "I'm sorry Viv," he said, smiling meekly. "You didn't deserve that. Though I do still think that was pretty absent-minded." He straightened up. "Alright," he said grimly. "Let's find Danny." Vivian stood expectantly, waiting for him to take the lead. "Well?" he said. "Only you know where you went. Let's backtrack."
"Oh," she said, trying to force a smile. "You're right, Mike. Here, we went this way." She pointed down the sidewalk, and they began to trace their way back through the neighborhood.
"Let's see," she muttered, "Yes, I was across from this house when I started to carry him– we can't be far from when I turned around."
"Maybe he was sleepy," mused Mike, "And didn't notice when you turned around."
"Hey, hey, what's that?" Vivian's voice was suddenly filled with concern. In one of the neighborhood lawns lay a small, skinny pale object, spattered with blood. She rushed over to it, picked it up, and let out a small shriek.
"What?" Mike said, instantly at her side. She covered her face in horror and dropped it into his palm. Mike gasped. A severed finger, broken and spattered with blood, lay in his open hand, and on it were the unmistakably tiny bite marks of little Danny.
"Oh my God," he growled. His voice was low and heavy, choked with rage and desperation.
"Mike," groaned Vivian. "What are we gonna do?"
"I think," he muttered, gritting his teeth. "I think it's time to head home and call the police."
The next few minutes were a blur for Vivian. She and Mike rushed to his parent's home, where Mike desperately fumbled out the night's story. Mike's father rushed to the phone, and the police had arrived in minutes. One of them wanted to talk to her, but she just sobbed and pointed at Mike. Finally they walked away. Some stayed and talked to the parents, others drove off and began to fan out through the neighborhood.
Suddenly, Mike was standing over her. She smiled weakly. He picked her up and carried into some back room, gently rocking her like a child as moonlight gently streamed in from a nearby window.
"Mike," she whispered. "I'm scared."
He placed his chin on her head. "I know."
There was a long pause.
"I didn't," she whispered tearfully, "I didn't think– things like this could actually happen, you know? Like, in real life."
He nodded. "I know what you mean."
"Mike?" she whispered. "Can you hold my hand?"
How long they sat like that, in the darkness, Vivian could not tell.
"Mike?" she whispered.
"I think–" she stopped for a second. "I think I'm in love with you." She felt a shiver run through his body. He stopped, took her head in his hands. She smiled faintly, eyes-half open, staring into his blazing green.
"Kiss me," she whispered. He came close. As his lips neared hers, she could see the window clearly, moonlight streaming down. Beneath it stood a vast, dark figure, armored with rusted pauldrons, blood streaming down his pallid, sickly body. Dark figures emanated from his ghastly form, dissected worms wriggled beneath his gangrenous feet, and in his hands he held a massive, rusted sword.
"Mike," she whispered, her voice dripping with fear. "Mike, look behind you."
He drew back. "What?"
The thing pounced. The window shattered instantly, the howling darkness rushing into the room with tornadic power as ravens called and serpents slithered out from beneath his armor, the room instantly permeated with the sickly scent of death and decay. Vivian screamed. Mike turned to face it, but the thing threw him aside. It wanted her. She scrambled to the opposite end of the room, still screaming, showered in glass and blood. Mike leapt to his feet, grabbed a nearby chair and smashed it across the creature's back, then leapt on it and put it in a headlock, wrestling it to the ground.
"Vivian!" he roared. "Run!"
Shrieking, she flattened her body up against the opposite wall. Mike pulled a knife from his pocket and drove it into the thing's neck. It roared, rearing up and standing on its two legs, hurtling Mike to the ground with a ferocious shake of its head. Tearing the knife from its throat, it again turned to Vivian.
"Go away!" she screamed hoarsely. "Go away, you goddamn monster!"
It straightened up, as if seeing her for the first time. Then, a brief snort sounded from beneath its bloody visor.
"Come," it said ominously.
"What?" gasped Vivian.
The thing leapt for Mike, grabbing him by the head. "Mike!" she shrieked.
"Come," it said, almost commandingly. "Follow me!"
"Vivian!" Mike reached out desperately. Then it leapt through the broken window and was gone, as quickly as it came.
"Mike!" Vivian raced to the windowsill, but it was no use. The thing had vanished. She collapsed onto the floor, sobbing uncontrollably.
"Oh my God," she moaned. "Mike!" She continued to sob. "Mike!" Her body shook with agony. She buried her face in her hands and screamed, long and hard, her muffled cries echoing through the lonely black room.
"God!" she gasped, removing her face from her hands, "Why? Why me?" She placed her head on the windowsill, staring out into the black night. "Why am I the one who has to be left alone in the end?"
There was no answer. The night was silent.
Suddenly, Vivian stood up. Turning around, she walked to the other side of the room and grabbed the discarded knife. It was soaked in sickening, black blood. The fetid liquid running down her wrist made her feel weak, but the weapon in her hand felt good and strong. She bit her lip. Folding the knife shut, she shoved it in her pocket and walked back to the window. Placing her hands on the upper frame, she tested its sturdiness. Then, she swung out through the broken glass and landed softly on her feet in the moonlight-bathed back garden. Quickly shooting a glance over her shoulder, she made her way down into the urban forest, following the trail of footprints and blood.
The trail wasn't difficult to follow. Blood lay spattered across the rough bark and jagged twigs, while bits of torn clothing testified to the continued presence of the creature's victim. Vivian noted a snapped branch covered in three inches of blood and winced. The stench was unmistakable too– the thing's wounds had to be incredibly infected. Vivian tried her best not to picture the thing dragging Mike and Danny to their doom, but the image of the vile creature dragging Mike through the broken window like a rag doll wouldn't stop flashing through her mind, stabbing at her heart like a knife.
"Oh God," she muttered, ducking under an oak tree. "I hope I'm not too late. Shit! What's that?" A thick hedge rose up before her, but the creature had gone around– she could tell by the stains of blood. Following the trail, she came to a rusted iron gate, and hoisted herself up over the top. Barely pausing to take stock of her surroundings, she rushed through the cemetery and up towards the church, pushing open the heavy wooden door as quickly as she could.
As she ran into the foyer, the retinal gateway tore open before her eyes. Blood poured down her chest, staining her shirt red crimson and reality twisting before her, funneling the image of the church down, down into the gushing blood. A bloody knife was in her hand. A voice echoed through her head. You shall die tonight.
"You told me to go out tonight," she whispered, shocked.
There was no answer. The gateway dissipated as quickly as it had materialized.
"Hello?" she called out. "Mike? Danny?" Her voice echoed through the foyer. There was no answer. For a brief moment, she paused. In front of her stood a small door leading into the sanctuary. To her left, a claustrophobic flight of stairs curled down into the basement. She poked her head into the sanctuary. Nothing.
"Guess I'll try my luck with the stairs," she muttered.
Down, down she went, into the guts of the ancient building. As she grew closer to the bottom, the foul stench grew, and a red haze clouded her vision- a sense of blood, shrieks, disembodied moans of agony, and the whispers of ten thousand creeping things that lurked in the darkness- hissing, twisting, breeding like a plague of demonic cockroaches.
"Shut up," she hissed.
She reached the bottom. Before her stood a towering machine: a rusted, ancient boiler, at least twenty-six feet tall with angry, twisting pipes running out in all directions. Behind it sat the grave- the defiled corpses of a thousand children, writhing, screaming, their immaterial voices piercing her brain for all eternity. She wanted to sob, and then she wanted to hate. For before her sat the chained form of Mike, his arms shackled cruelly to the pipes, limbs twisted into the position of the crucified Christ, a metal guard fastened cruelly over his mouth, so that he could not speak. Blood dribbled down his cheeks. At his feet lay Danny, his eyes open, staring, and dead.
"Mike . . . Danny!" she screamed. She rushed over to Danny and picked him up off the floor. His body lay cold and limp in her arms. "What did you do to him!" she shrieked into the darkness. "What did you do to him!?"
Out from the dark stepped the creature, his form black and imposing. The bloody sword lay in his hands, and serpents writhed across his body, hissing, whispering, nipping at his slowly necrotizing flesh.
"As you can see," the thing growled, its breathing heavy and labored, "The boy's soul could simply not bear the agony. It has fled his body, to be united with the eternal dark."
"Liar!" she shrieked, pointing a hate-filled finger at the creature. "Liar, liar liar! I know you have him somewhere! Bring him back, I command you, BRING HIM BACK!"
The creature stared at her. "For a price, Vivian. For a price."
"Name your fucking price!"
The words hung in the air like damp spiderweb. For the things that lurked in the dark called out to her, and the shrieking serpents burst forth from the man's old decrepit form, their mouths wide and dripping with venom, the worms crawling out from his gangrenous feet, calling, calling out to her: "JOIN US!"
"You want me!" she screamed, pulling out the knife. "You want me! Fucking have me!" The knife tore through her throat, her precious life-blood gushing forth onto the cold stone floor like a sparkling red waterfall. For a second, Vivian thought she could hear Mike screaming, somewhere outside of her vision, and then, darkness.
Vivian arose. Her body lay crumpled beneath her, bathing in her own warm red blood. The serpents leapt for her, but she reached forward. For somewhere in that great ball of madness, she knew, lay the soul of Danny. She could feel it, pulsating, breathing, reaching out to her, begging to be rescued. She tried to imagine him gnawing on his finger, thinking, contemplating, perceiving the mysteries of the night sky.
"Join us!" they screamed, writhing all about her. "Join us!"
"You are just as we are!"
"Filthy thing, evil thing, ugly thing!"
"Vile little whore!"
"Danny!" she screamed. "Danny, come out of there! Danny, I've come to rescue you!"
"You can't, you can't, you can't have him!" they hissed. "He is one of us, one of us now!"
"He is filthy!
"Shut up!" Vivian roared. "I know Danny and I love Danny! He's beautiful and smart lovely and he isn't anything like you goddamn things!"
As she reached the center, she could perceive the cradle of creation, the shining light of budding perversity. Upon the altar lay the decapitated body of Danny, and the blood flowed forth, feeding the creatures that lurked within. The trees grew tall and vile, the fruit bursting with blood and flesh, shrieking in agony as the creatures devoured it.
"Hail, hail!" they cried out mockingly.
"Shut up!" she ordered. "I've come to rescue him."
"You?" they laughed. "What is a little girl like you gonna do?"
"That isn't for you!" she declared, pointing at the body. "It was never yours!"
Then the things grew strangely silent, shrinking back to the shadows, bitterly envious of the rightful owner. "I love you Danny!" she called out, throwing herself on the body. "I love you!"
Vivian awoke, choking on her own blood. Her hands went to her throat, and she almost panicked. She had lost an impossible amount of blood– if she wasn't taken to a hospital soon, she would die. She could see Danny scrambling to his feet, desperately yanking on Mike's chains. Before her lay the bent form of the tortured creature, its hands balled up into fists, slamming again and again with ferocious desperation into the stone floor.
"You!" it howled, pointing a shaking finger at Vivian. "You drove them away from me! I can no longer hear their voices! I can no longer hear their voices!" He crawled toward Vivian on his hands and knees, his humongous, metallic form barely sustainable under his fading strength. "I'll kill you!" he choked. "I'll kill you!" His hands clasped around her throat. Vivian smiled faintly, and prepared for the end.
Suddenly, a bright red axe was hurtling through the air, lodging in the thing's cranium and sending him gurgling to the floor. Two strong hands jerked on its wooden handle, and just at the edge of Vivian's fading vision, she could see faint strands of curly blonde.
Jerry jerked the axe from the creature's skull. Then, he brought it down, again, and again, and again. Limbs flew off as the creature gurgled and shrieked in agony, blood spurting left and right as Jerry hacked again, and again and again, until finally, the head rolled off, a blackened, purple tongue lolling grotesquely out of its dribbling mouth.
"That's for Danica," he growled, kicking the dismembered corpse. "You bastard!"
Vivian sighed. Jerry rushed over to Mike, breaking his chains with the axe and wrestling with the mask for a few seconds before they both managed to yank it off. Mike flew to Vivian's side, nearly tripping over himself in the process.
"Viv!" he gasped, tears welling up in his eyes. "Viv . . . I'm . . . I'm . . ."
"Don't say anything Mike," she murmured, smiling softly. "Everything's okay."
Jerry walked over, holding Danny by the hand. "Mike, grab her legs," he ordered, releasing Danny's hand. "I'll grab her under the armpits. We've gotta get her to a hospital."
Mike nodded, desperately fighting back tears. "Right," he choked.
Vivian turned her head to Danny. "Am I gonna be okay?" she murmured, almost sleepily.
He shook his head. "I don't know."
Mike raised his hand. "One thing. Before anything else . . . happens . . . to you, Viv," he stammered out, a tear running down his cheek. Kneeling over her, he bent down and kissed her gently on the lips.
"I love, you kiddo."
"I love you too, Mike," she whispered, her voice almost indiscernible.
"Grab her legs," said Jerry. His voice sounded almost infinitely distant. She wondered for a brief second how long it would be before she awoke. Then, darkness fell.