Saturday, February 19, 2011

What's Up? - Article

Hello one and all. I thought I'd take a minute this week and catch you up on what's going on with my various works. I have a lot of different work and endeavors going on for 2011, and I hope all of you will come along for the ride with me.

My novel, "Area 187; Almost Hell" is (finally) in the final editing stages and I hope to have a release date before the end of the month. There is some talk about possibly combining "Area 187; Almost Hell" and it's second part, "Area 187; Almost Home" back into one single book as it was originally conceived. This would make it a rather large book, though, so there are pros and cons to both methods. The book is being published by The Library of the Living Dead Press, with painted cover art by Laura Conkle and edited by Felicia Tiller.

I've been working on an audio anthology containing 6-7 short stories to be released either at the same time as the novel or shortly thereafter. Most of the tales are previously unreleased/unpublished works, and I have a variety of podcasters, authors and other talented people doing the voice acting. These will be full audio drama productions and not just dry readings. They will also be offered as 100% free downloads. Keep watching here for release dates.

I am in the process of putting together another anthology, this one containing all zombie stories and tentatively titled "The Dead Do Tell Tales". This project will mark my first foray into e-book self-publishing. Stick with me and let's see what all this new-fangled e-book stuff is all about.

I recently did my first-ever interview as an author with Fearshop Mike over at Hop on over to Wicked Channel and have a look for yourself.

I've been quite active with genre movie reviews over at Root Rot's Witch's Hat blog. Make sure you pop in and check out my reviews along with all the other reviewers and good stuff Mr. Rot has over there. I'm also a regular audio contributor to The Witch's Hat Blogcast, the audio companion to The Witch's Hat blog, so if you want to hear me whisper sweet nothings in your ears about genre films make sure you give 'em a listen. Oh, and if there's a movie you'd like me to review for the show, make sure you head over to The Witch's Hat forum over at Killer Reviews and let me know what you want to hear.

And finally you can also see my guest movie review for my good friend across the pond, Jonny T, at Jonny's Cult Films. This is another great horror blog with a companion blogcast, and if you like hearing Brits get drunk and rip apart movies then you've found a new home.

Well, that's enough for now. I'll be back next week with more new fiction. So, until then, see ya, kids.

Oh, yeah... just write, damn it.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Spring Break - Fiction

Hello to Constant and Inconstant Reader alike and welcome back to my head. This week's offering is another from the vaults. I did a script treatment of this one a few years ago, and though it didn't go anywhere I certainly hope you enjoy it in its original story form. - Author

Susan sighed and closed her book. Country road rushed past her window, lulling her into a contemplative mood. How did she get roped into this trip? A senior, she had avoided this ritual throughout her university career. But this year, she'd been convinced she could use the experience to fuel her psychology thesis. She could take the names and addresses of those she encountered then come back to them years later to study where they'd gone and what they'd done. The idea seemed plausible, especially while Wendy plied her with cheap wine in their dorm room the week before. Now that they were into the fifth hour and second day of their road trip, Susan was cooling rapidly to the idea. If they would've listened to her when they started out they could have shaved a day off their travel.

Wendy was of no help, either. She and Steve had kept her up till nearly dawn in the bed across the room from her at the motel. Wendy always promised to be quiet when Steve stayed over but she could rarely contain herself, dorm or otherwise. It wasn’t anything overly impressive on Steve’s part, though. Wendy had been that way with everyone that had followed her home before him. Currently, she was curled up in a thick blanket beside her, fast asleep. Susan had always preferred warmer climes, too, but the presence of the blanket in the Georgia heat would have stifled her, even with air conditioning.

Susan stared at the back of Steve’s head for the hundredth time. He and Moose had been discussing nothing but football since they got in the car, at least when Moose was conscious. He’d apparently had a rough night as well if the smell of cheap alcohol was any gauge. Thankfully, Moose had been out like a light for the last seventy miles or so. With Wendy in the same condition and her eyes burning from reading and Steve’s smoking, Susan had lost any refuge from the trip. She sighed and tried to get comfortable, but the small, two–door car left little room even for that.

The scenery was typical deep–south with nothing but large fields and deserted countryside all morning. Wendy had convinced Steve to abandon the interstates in deference to seeing the real countryside. Of course, Wendy had also decided to abandon consciousness. Susan had checked a map before they left, and a quick mental calculation told her they would be a hundred or so miles ahead of where they were now if they'd just taken the interstates.

“You girls okay back there?” Steve asked.

“Wendy’s been asleep since we got in the car. No one back here but me,” Susan said. Steve was the quarterback, and even though Susan wasn’t entertained by sports he was still quite handsome. That she recognized this bothered her, even though she had the mechanisms to explain the attraction through her field. Unlike Wendy, Susan had a plan for her life, one that didn’t involve becoming the trophy wife of the school jock or wherever his unearned degree would take them. She consoled herself that all the lonely nights spent studying would make the rest of her life far better than if she'd spent those same nights as Wendy had done. Susan could wait for personal satisfaction once the professional considerations were met.

“Well, isn’t that just like her? We’re only on these cow tracks because she wanted to.” Steve exhaled sharply and cracked the window to try and vent the smoke. “Moose! Moose! Wake up! You’re supposed to be navigator!” Steve punched the big man’s shoulder and got only a grunt from the lump in the seat beside him for his trouble.

“Wha…” Moose groaned. “Whadda you want?” he said.

“You’re supposed to be the navigator, remember? We’ve got a crossroads coming up; which way?” Steve asked.

Moose shifted his bulk in the seat and dug around for the map on the floorboard. He pulled the wadded–up paper onto his lap and fought with the folds. After several moments of his fumbling, Susan leaned over the front seat and tried to take the map.

“Let me do that, huh?” she said. Moose crumpled the map even more and shot her a dark look over his shoulder.

“Back off!” Moose growled. “I know what I’m doing… been to Fort Lauderdale three times already. I think I can find it again, okay?”

“Fine!” Susan shot back and threw herself into her seat. “Just trying to help.”

“We’ll be fine, Susan,” Steve said as he looked at her in the mirror. “Besides, Moose is right. We’ve done this trip for years. I’m sure we can find it.”

Susan folded her arms and pouted out the window, accompanied by the sounds of crumpling then ripping paper from the front. After another minute Steve stopped the car at the crossroads. Moose scratched his head and looked back and forth from the map to the crossroads and back again.

“Moose? Which way?” Steve asked.

“Oh… uh… that way,” Moose pointed to the left fork and looked at the map again. “Yup. That way.”

“Oh come on… he doesn’t know where we’re going. I doubt you even know where we are,” Susan said.

“Would you quit bitchin’ at us, brainiac?” Moose said, “We know what we’re doing.”

“Oh, of course. I wouldn’t want you to think that this delicate little female would ever even think that she may know something you don’t,” Susan said.

“Huh? Oh, well... yeah,” Moose said in his most authoritative voice, oblivious to her sarcasm. “That’s what I thought. Like I said, Steve… it's that way,” he said, indicating the left fork again. Moose settled into the small bucket seat and leaned his head against the window. He was snoring before Steve put the car in gear.

They drove down the dirt road for miles before Steve adjusted the mirror so he could see Susan. “You’ll have to forgive Moose. He’s not what you’d call… sociable under these circumstances. He’s actually a decent guy once you get to know him.”

Susan looked at the mirror and caught Steve’s stare. He did have nice eyes. “I think I’ll pass on getting to know him. I’ve made it this long without having to make friends with Moose, I think I can make it a little longer,” Susan said. They rode along in silence. Susan opened her book to pick up where she left off but the road had become far too rough to keep the words from jumping around.

“Think we could take it a little easier?” Susan asked.

“Don’t blame me, it’s the road.” He tried to veer around a large hole and succeeded in putting the left front tire into an even deeper one concealed by a clump of field grass that was doing its best to encroach on the roadway. The shock was intense. The book flew from Susan's lap while the whole car first dropped then rose up the other side of the hole. Wendy cried out from underneath the blanket as she fought with it to try and uncover her head from the rude awakening. Moose never flinched. A metallic ripping sound filtered through the car, followed by a drop in the undercarriage towards the offending tire. The car went into a skid and swung about broadside as the frame of the vehicle pushed against the wheel, locking it. After several seconds, Steve was able to bring the car to a stop.

“Shit!” he screamed. “Everyone okay?”

Susan and Steve almost laughed, then did, as Wendy’s muffled screams came from under the blanket. She’d wrapped herself so tightly that she couldn’t free herself. Finally, she managed to get her head out from the blanket in a spill of perfect, naturally–blonde hair. Even the combination of blanket and wreck hadn’t been enough to put even one strand out of place.

“What the hell happened?” Wendy asked as she turned her head wildly. Even now her hair whipped around like a supermodel in a photo shoot. Susan found herself wishing she had a pair of scissors.

“Evil Keneval up there decided to try and jump the ravine,” Susan said.

“Not like I was trying to,” Steve said. He turned his attention to Moose. The man hadn’t moved an inch, oblivious to the action. “Hey, asshole! Wake up!” Steve smacked the big man’s face with the back of his hand several times.

“Whu… huh? We there yet?” Moose asked.

“Oh, Christ…” Steve shot a look at Susan in his mirror to make sure she hadn’t heard him. Of course, she had. She warned them of that before the trip even started. “Sorry, Susie.”

“If you want to apologize, don’t call me that again,” Susan said.

“Whoa… what happened?” Moose asked as he came fully awake and realized they were sideways in the road.

“We hit a hole or something back there, messed up the car I think. Let’s check out the damage,” Steve said. The two young men got out of the car and stretched. Susan waited for Wendy to fully slither out of the blanket before the two of them joined the men. Steve and Moose were already kneeling, trying to look under the car.

“Hey, Steve, doesn’t it look like that metal rod thingy should be attached to that other metal doohickey?” Moose asked as he tried to pass off his words as technical lingo.

“Yeah, genius. That’s probably where it’s supposed to be,” Steve said. He opened the driver’s door and turned the wheel experimentally. The front driver’s side tire didn’t move. “We’re stuck.”

“We wouldn’t be if we had taken the interstate.” Susan grumbled and shot a look at Wendy. “Or if Davy Crocket here would have just admitted he didn’t know where we were.” She didn’t bother looking at the lummox. He wouldn’t have understood, anyway.

“Susan…” Steve started, “this isn’t going to help.”

They stood silently, contemplating the damaged car. “How far from the last service station are we?” Wendy asked.

“Haven’t seen one of those for better than 40 miles. If you’d been awake to see this little slice of Americana you would've known that,” Susan said.

“I was tired, okay? Geez, you don’t have to be such a bitch,” Wendy said.

“Oooh… cat fight!” Moose said. “Steve, you got any pudding?”

“Not now, Moose… you’ll just make it worse. Ladies, come on. Cars break down. I’m sure there’ll be help just up the road. I mean, there has to be something out here. There’s a road, isn’t there? You don’t have a road if it’s not going to go somewhere, do you?” Steve said.

The girls exchanged looks before Susan sighed and walked around to the back of the car. She needed some space right now. They weren’t bad people, she told herself, just not that bright.
“Well. Should we wait here for help or take a chance and start walking?” Steve asked the group.

“I don’t care what you do, but I’m not going anywhere. I’m freezing. Let me know when we’re fixed,” Wendy said as she got back in the car. Within moments, she was fast asleep back in her cocoon.

“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me,” Susan said.

“Wendy… hey, Wendy,” Steve called to her.

“Don’t bother,” Susan said.

“Yeah. Okay, we’ll do both then. Moose, come on. We’re going to head up the road and look for help. You ladies stay here,” Steve said.

“What? You’re going to just leave us out here?” Susan said.

“I’m sure that strong, independent females like you two can take care of yourselves. Just remember, if you hear banjos, run,” Moose said.

“What a funny guy,” Susan mumbled. She came around the car and reached past Steve to remove the keys. “Go on then. If someone does come, we’ll try to remember your names when they get us out of here,” Susan said. She went to the trunk, fumbled around a moment and came out with a can of beer in each hand. “Didn’t I ask you guys to bring water? The only thing in here is beer.”

Water… knew I forgot something. Didn’t have any back at the ‘house. Sorry,” Moose said as he walked back and dug in the cooler. He came out with several cans and tossed two of them to Steve. “Don’t want to get de… dehydroficated.”

“That’s dehydrated, you absolute imbecile,” Susan said.

“Hey! I’m the one majoring in sports medicine. I think I know what I’m talking about, right Steve?” Moose said.

“Yeah Moose. I guess you’d be the expert,” Steve said with a brief smile at Susan. He held one beer under his arm while he opened the other. “Don’t want to get dehydroficated now, do I?”

Susan smiled despite herself and pulled out another beer. At least it was cold. She ran it across her forehead and stared up at the cloudless sky. It wasn’t even noon and the early spring day was already in the eighties. She figured the people at the gas station yesterday were right after all; the only reason Florida didn’t float away was because Georgia sucked. Susan watched until they disappeared behind a rise in the path. She refused to call it a road.

Susan opened her door and retrieved her textbook. There was a small copse of trees several yards off the path with a patch of shade. If she was going to be stuck, she might as well make the best of it. She grabbed two more beers and walked to the spot. Within minutes, she had a tree to her back and was actually able to enjoy her reading. A thin breeze had started, something she wasn’t used to feeling. All in all, it was rather relaxing. She read for a time then slowly fell asleep from a mixture of the reading, the breeze and the quickly-warming beer.

Something woke her. In her daze, she wasn’t sure what it had been. The sun had moved considerably, proving that she had been asleep for at least an hour. She looked back towards the car and had to blink a few times to make sure what she was saw was real. A very large, burly and hairy man had pulled Wendy out of the car, keeping her within the confines of the blanket like a large sack and had the bundle over his shoulder as if she were laundry. Wendy screamed again, the blanket far from sufficient to keep her screams from reaching Susan. Wendy must have thought Moose was playing a joke on her. She kept screaming his name and describing all the vile things she would do to him if he didn’t put her down.

“Wendy!” Susan screamed as loud as she could as the man threw his bundle down on the path. He pulled back a meaty fist and punched a lump in the bundle. Susan shot up from the tree and screamed again. Sudden pain blossomed from the back of her head. Susan cried out and lost all equilibrium. Dazed, she rolled over and found herself staring up into a grizzled face. Her vision swam as she tried to focus on several blackened teeth in her assailant’s mouth.

“You sure are purty…” he said in a southern drawl. He pulled back his foot and kicked her hard in the temple. The world went black.


Susan woke up and found herself hanging by her arms from a hook set into the ceiling. Her wrists had been bound together and the bonds fastened over the heavy hook above. It was dim, but she could tell the hook was stained by something dark. A gag had been tied around her mouth with a lump of cloth shoved into the hole for good measure. She tried to keep her swollen tongue away from the fabric. There was no telling what tastes awaited there.

Steve had fared worse; battered, bloody, unconscious and hung on another hook a few beams away from her. His hook had been sunk through his back and pointed out his chest. Susan shook her head and saw both Moose and Wendy strapped onto tables near the center of the room. The huge man that had taken Wendy stood over her, fondling her naked, still body. Moose was clearly dead and missing his left arm. Ragged skin stood up on his chest in her nearly–profile view speaking to crude evisceration.

Susan couldn’t believe she'd been so stupid. Getting the gang to cajole her into the trip was bad enough, but to be duped by a few back country rubes? How would she ever live this down? They were going to be in serious trouble if they didn’t get out soon. She tried to flex her hands a few times but found the cord had not only cut into her skin but had robbed her of most of her circulation. The effort produced fresh rivulets of blood that rolled slowly down her forearm.
She played dead when the man turned and approached her, so close now that she could feel his hot, fetid breath. It was all Susan could do to keep from wrinkling her nose when his stink hit her square in the face. Rough hands ran up her outer thighs. Jeans had seemed a bad idea in the heat of the morning but now she was grateful for her unwitting foresight. She didn’t know if she would've been able to keep her composure if she'd had to feel the primate’s bare skin on hers. The sound of old, rusty hinges shrieked through the slaughterhouse and a bright, piercing light shot into the room. Susan had to concentrate just to keep from squinting as the light cut through her eyelids.

Boy! What’d I tell you ‘bout playin’ with them hussies, huh? Are ya’ deaf as well as stupid, Boy?” The voice was almost painful to hear, the howl of an old, toothless woman.

“Sorry, Mawmaw; just seein’ if’n she was still alive.” The man that had hit her alongside the road had had what most would consider a classic slow, southern drawl. This behemoth’s voice was even slower. Susan was sure there was not a small amount of mental retardation in the giant. Typical human genealogy. Make the slowest and dumbest the biggest and the strongest.

“Now that ain’t the way you check them things, Boy!” Susan could hear the old woman’s shuffling gate as she crossed the room. She smelled almost as bad as he did, her odor wafting up from much closer to the floor. A sudden sharp pain in her right thigh made her gasp and cry out. Susan's eyes flashed open to see the hideous old woman grinning toothlessly over a long knitting needle. “That’s how you test ‘em! Looks alive to me!” The old woman stared up at Susan and squinted with a gaze almost as piercing as her needle. The crone kept her gaze for several moments and then stepped away.

“What’s wrong, Mawmaw?” the dullard asked innocently.

“That there is an evil woman, Boy! You mark my words… she’s evil and needs a cleansin’. Won’t be no good for nuthin’ without a right and proper cleansin’. You take her down and bring her up to Pawpaw so’s he can make her proper. I ain’t puttin’ nothin’ in my deep freeze that stinks a’ evil like that hussy,” Mawmaw said.

“Yes Mawmaw,” Boy said.

The old woman backed out of the room quickly and left the door open as she went. Boy grabbed her around the waist and lifted her up and off the hook then dropped her on the filthy, blood–stained floor. Susan hit hard and felt something in her right ankle snap as she rolled over onto her stomach. The gag muffled her pain as she coughed against the rough, alien–tasting cloth. The dullard turned his back on her, confident that she was no threat to him now.

Susan choked back the unaccustomed pain. She hadn’t paid much attention in human physiology class, just well enough to pass her tests with excellent marks, of course. She thought back to her course work, especially the dissection curriculum. Susan struggled to her feet, off balance from her hands being bound before her and the screaming pain from her ankle. She brought her hands up to her face and was able to wrestle the gag away from her mouth just as the big man turned around. She threw herself towards the door and hobbled across the floor at a surprising rate of speed.

Boy stood shocked for a moment then turned and lumbered after her, knowing she wouldn’t get far. Junior was always hanging out in the basement somewhere, especially when there were fresh sinners; fresh female sinners, at any rate. Boy's brother was useless when it came to the men but he knew Junior would be down here somewhere. He'd taken a liking to both the women they'd found out on the old fire road, especially the one now on the table, so much so that he’d rode in the back of the pickup with her all the way back to the house.

Susan cleared the doorway. Her hands were still bound but she could already feel the heat from her shattered ankle coursing up through her leg. The silhouette of a man suddenly blocked out the light and she ran headlong into him. He laughed and grabbed her around the waist, swinging around in large circles to exhaust her momentum and keep her snuggly in his scrawny though muscular arms.

Shit! Where you thinkin’ you goin’ there, girly–girl? Huh? They ain’t no where to go!” Susan recognized the voice from the road. With her hands still bound, Junior lifted her off the ground then threw her down hard. She could almost feel the bruise as it spread across her left hip. “I think you need some of that fight taken out of ya’,” Junior said. He pulled a large knife from his belt and swiped downward, opening a large gash across her left cheek. Susan gasped in pain as the blade separated the delicate flesh then rolled over on the filthy floor and tried to get to her feet, earning a vicious kick to the ribs for her trouble.

The pain and humiliation were unbearable. But without knowing where she was or what she was dealing with, or the condition of her friends, escape simply wasn’t possible. She couldn’t leave without them. They were already going to have enough explaining to do. Besides, she was a psychology major and advanced beyond even the usual high standards of excellence the program demanded. If anyone could talk sense to these rednecks and get them all released, it would be her. Susan had just decided to play along and bide her time when the man rolled her over with his foot and fell on her stomach. Wiry fingers worked at the button on her jeans.

“Yessir… take that fight right out a’ ya’!” Junior howled. “You gonna’ love this girly–girl, yessiree!”

Playing along was one thing, but this kind of abuse was simply uncalled for. Susan understood better than most the depravity some people were capable of, but the mere thought of this man touching even her shoes made her skin crawl with revulsion.

“Get her hands, Boy!” Junior said.

“Junior! Mawmaw said she was evil,” the dullard said. “You know she’ll beat us but good if she comes down here’n sees this.”

“Boy! Just do what I’m’a tellin’ ya’! That old bitty couldn’t get through that thick hide a’ yours if she tried. ‘Sides, you know you want to. You hold her for me an’ I’ll hold her for you,” Junior said.

Susan finally got enough air into her lungs to let out a long, high–pitched shriek. The sound made Junior start and was enough to make him rise up off her gut, granting her enough air to scream again. She drew back her bound hands and swung with all her strength, her fists acting like an axe handle. The blow took him by surprise and he fell off to her right with a grunt. She rolled away from him just as a blast of thunder echoed through the room. Susan focused at the far corner of the room and found the old woman standing at the base of a set of stairs, a smoking shotgun in her palsied hands.

Junior! What in the name of the Good Lord an’ all His works are ya’ doin’? Just can’t a’ keep from the ruttin’, can ya’, ya’ godless little bastard! Christ but I can’t leave you two alone for five minutes, can I?” Mawmaw said.

Susan cringed at the crone's usage of the Lord’s name. Well, she couldn’t expect them to follow the geis she'd placed on the others, now could she? She lay on the floor for a few moments and tried to gather her strength. This was proving to be more difficult than she had thought.

“Boy! I told ya’ to get her and take her up to Pawpaw now, did’n I? Did’n I tell ya’ she was evil and needed a’ cleansin’?” Mamaw said.

“I told Junior, Mawmaw! He wouldn’a listen…” Boy said.

“You little snitch!” Junior hissed under his breath, knowing the old woman couldn’t possibly hear him that far away.

“You never mind that, Boy. You just do what I told ya’ and get her upstairs. Ya’ see? She’s so evil she done gave Junior them impure thoughts, usin' her feminine wiles against ya'!” Mawmaw said.

“Yes, Mawmaw…” both men said in unison like scolded children. The two grabbed her roughly, Junior at her feet and Boy at her head then carried her towards the steps while Junior regaled her with what they were going to do to her.

“Oh, yeah, girly – girl…we gonna’ have some fun with ya’. Soon as Pawpaw’s done with his cleansin’,” Junior said.

“You really don’t want to do this,” Susan said in a voice barely above a whisper. “You could just let us go. We won’t tell anyone. We’re not even from around here.” It was obvious that she was dealing with insanity. If nothing else, she was certainly gaining material for her paper.

“Oh but we do want to do this, girly–girl. You’ll see just how much we do,” Junior said. The indignity was almost too much to bear. But if they were all to escape without further issue, Susan would have to remain calm. She didn’t see how one human could inflict their depravity on another so easily. But discovering the mechanisms behind such behavior was her chosen career path, wasn’t it?

They carried her up the stairs. It was obvious that housekeeping was not on this family’s list of priorities. She was carried through several rooms and finally deposited in what appeared to be a large dining room lit only by dozens of candles placed on the large table and around the room. They threw her down on the threadbare carpet and stepped back.

“Please, listen to me; you don’t have to do this,” Susan said.

“You shut ya’ mouth, hussy!” the old woman’s voice exploded from somewhere in the room. “Ya’ ain’t good even for eatin’ stock lessin’ ya’ git a cleansin’! I’ll not have evil in this house!”

“What do you think you have here now?” Susan asked.

“What did ya’ say? Ya’ callin’ us evil? Pawpaw! Git on out here! We gots one that thinks we’re the evil ones!” Mawmaw said.

“Not evil, really… just sick,” Susan corrected. “Evil would require your torturing, rape and apparently cannibalism had a direct purpose not related to your mental state.” She regretted her clinical analysis almost instantly. The old woman exploded across the room and came into view near her feet. The hag used her cane on her legs several times, screaming with each blow.

Sick now, are we? No, girl, ya’r the one that’s sick… and Pawpaw’s gonna’ cure ya’ of it right quick! Pawpaw!”

You’ve been in tougher scrapes than this,” Susan thought to herself. In actuality, she hadn’t. But it seemed the right thing to say. They were all in big trouble, no doubt about that. The sound of slow, shuffling footsteps cut across the floor. She craned her head and saw a pair of well–worn yet polished black shoes. She let her gaze travel and took in the incredibly tall, gaunt old man. His face was heavily lined and tanned, but he did carry a certain dignity. He held his shaved chin high and peered down at her with watery blue eyes over his hawk–billed nose, a pair of half–spectacles at the tip. A starched, white clerical collar at the base of his sinuous neck completed the picture of a true fire–and–brimstone preacher.

Evil? Did I hear rightly that there’s evil in my own home?” Pawpaw said. The boys took another step back from Susan as the old woman smacked her again with her cane.

“‘Fraid so, Pawpaw. This one’s a’ got th’ evil in her, Christ be praised,” Mawmaw said.

“Please… can you stop using that name like that?” Susan asked politely.

“Don’t speak the name of the Lord before ya’, huh? See Pawpaw? I told ya’ she’s evil. Can’t even stand ta’ hear the good Lord’s name!” Mawmaw said.

“No, it’s not that at all,” Susan said. The cane snaked out and cracked her in the left temple. Pain exploded through her head and she cried out as blood rolled into her eyes.

“You shut up! Ya’ hear me, girl? You shut up!” Mawmaw said.

“Mawmaw, you shouldn’ be goin’ around like that,” Pawpaw said. “Ain’t her fault she’s riddled with Satan’s sin. Ya’ should be more compassionate when dealin’ with the fallen.” Chuckling at his own sarcasm, Pawpaw kneeled down and cupped Susan’s chin in his weathered hand. His eyes were like the old woman’s; piercing and almost hypnotic. He suddenly gasped and let go. Deprived of his support Susan's chin hit the floor and almost made her bite through her tongue while the gash from Junior’s knife cried out in fresh pain. She made a personal vow there and then that if they got out of this she would bone up on her old physiology textbook.

Evil!” Pawpaw cried out as he struggled to his feet and backed away. “Sinner! You’re the bride of the Devil himself! Oh Lord! Why have you brought this vile creature into my home? Have ya’ forsaken us all? We’re only doin’ Your works!” Pawpaw stumbled back against the wall as the boys gave Susan an even wider berth.

“You are all very, very sick. You need help. Please, let me help you before you go too far with this and someone else gets hurt,” Susan managed to say through her pain.

“I know why th’ Lord sent this witch here Pawpaw! He sent her here so’s ya could cleanse the world a’ her evil!” Mawmaw said.

“Just let us go and the ‘evil’ will be gone,” Susan said.

“Evil doesn’t just walk away, child; it has to be destroyed. I’m a’ doin’ this for you as much as for the Lord!” Pawpaw made a motion to the boys, then another as they hesitated to pick the battered girl up from the floor.

“You said she was a’ evil, Pawpaw. What if’n she does somethin’ evil to us?” Boy asked. The fearful quivering of his voice hardly matched his massive body.

“Ah, shut up ya’ blubberin’ fool and git her over to the chair! Ya’ sure didn’t think she was a’ evil when you were tryin’ ta’ fornicate with her downstairs, now did ya’?” Mawmaw said.

The big man acted as if stung and sheepishly reached down to pick Susan up. She didn’t fight him, couldn’t fight him, as he carried her at arms length and dropped her into a chair at the head of the table. Her body ached and throbbed, but her mind stayed alert and clear. She would get her chance to try and talk some sense into these people. She just had to play into their religious delusions. Susan looked down on the table and saw a huge mixing bowl filled almost to the rim with what could only be blood.

“They told me when they took my church away that I was crazy. You know that, girl?” the old man hissed at her as he grabbed a handful of her hair and yanked her head back till all she could see was his inverted face and the dirty ceiling. “That girl was evil, too. Fornicator! Flaunting God’s law and prostituting herself at truck stops all along the highway. Sold drugs, too, she did.” Susan tried to shift her weight and felt the skin on her scalp scream. “No sense tryin’ ta’ git away, girl. This is for your good, too. ‘Course, you’ll still be made to pay for yer own sins, even those ya’ did while the demons had their way with ya’.” His hand dropped below her vision and she could hear his fingers sloshing around in the bowl in front of her. “But I showed them, didn’t I, Mawmaw? They could take my church, but they couldn’t take my faith or my life in th’ service of the Lord Jesus Christ!”

“Hallelujah!” the old woman cried out. The boys echoed her cry, though much more softly.

“Shoot! Ya’ boys is nothin’ but scaredy–cats, ain’t ya’? The evil’s in her. She can’t go ‘round hurtin’ people, much less the likes a’ you two. Her evil’s what lives inside. It can’t do no harm to ya’,” Mawmaw said.

“Is th’ other girly girl evil too, Mawmaw?” Junior asked.

“We’ll just hav’ ta’ see ‘bout that one, Junior. You just keep yer pants up ‘round any of ‘em. That’s fornication, and I’ll not have it in this house!” She stamped her cane on the wooden floor to emphasize her point.

“Yes ma’am,” both boys said together. They moved closer to the spectacle at the head of the table, their grandmother’s words a soothing balm to their fear.

“Your…your church,” Susan said, her throat pinching the words at the unnatural angle the old preacher held it to. “They took your church. So you had to take your… fight… against evil into the world. Must have been hard on you to lose your church. Probably the only life you knew,” Susan said.

“Just hold yer tongue, missy. I don’t converse with evil, I destroy it,” Pawpaw said.

“But don’t you see? You had a classic delusional reaction to the utter loss of not only your livelihood but the threat to your faith. So you personalized it, made it seem that the church was responsible and somehow in league with the very thing you purport to fight…this is textbook…” Susan started.

“Missy…” Pawpaw growled as he viciously pulled her head back so far her mind threatened to black out. “Apparently, ya’ don’t grasp the gravity of yer situation. After yer cleansin’, you’ll be reborn and clean. Clean enough to eat,” Pawpaw said.

Susan gasped for air until he loosened his hold slightly. “Okay,” Susan gasped, “I understand the feelings of loss and the bitterness you harbor towards the church. I can help you work through that. But I just don’t get the cannibalism aspects…”

“Cannibalism? Cannibals! You thinkin’ we’re a bunch a’ Godless cannibals? A bunch a’ heathens and jigaboos… that’s what you’re a’ thinkin’ we are, girl?” Pawpaw let fly with the back of his hand and nearly knocked out one of her teeth. Susan tasted blood not for the first time that day and tried to keep her wits. She was starting to lose her professional detachment, though; enough to wonder if a career in human psychology was for her.

“The thought had crossed my mind,” Susan said.

“We can’t leave the carcasses a' evil in the ground. Evil grows where ya’ plant it, my granddad used ta’ say, Lord rest his soul,” Pawpaw said. At that, the whole family looked heavenward for a moment. “If ya’ burn ‘em, your just releasin’ their evil to ride the winds and infect other good, God–fearin’ people. No. The only way to truly destroy evil is to cleanse it, then have the good, God–fearin’ people devour ‘em! Evil can’t survive being taken in and devoured by goodness. The body’s a temple to the Good Lord, girl; no evil can survive in a proper temple to the Lord!”

The family called out a grand amen while Susan winced. Using the Lord and Master’s name, either in vain or in decency, could only hurt them all now. It would draw undue attention, if it hadn’t already. If the family kept this up they would all be in some serious trouble. The pain in her ankle was gone now, and her legs felt good as new. Susan's bruised and battered face would take more time, but she was getting used to the body now. How the hell the human race could be so flimsy and live even as long as they did was a completely alien concept to her.

“So you kill evil people, which apparently is anyone but the four of you, and then you participate in cannibalistic rituals infused with a pagan belief structure in service to a Christian… higher being. And you lost your church over just that?” Susan said.

“Enough a’ yer sass! Cleanse ‘er, Pawpaw! I don’t want that evil in my home another second!” Mawmaw said.

“Yes, Mawmaw. I believe it’s time for this one to taste the wrath a’ God almighty!” Pawpaw dipped his right hand in the bowl and pulled her head back to painful extremes again with the left. “A good, pure virgin gave her all to the cause to supply the blood that will be your salvation, girl. Remember her sacrifice as the blood a’ the lamb washes away the evil and sin from ya’!”

Pain like Susan had never experienced before transcended her human body and soaked deep into the core of her being. Virginal blood wasn’t enough for this yokel. He had to bless it, too. If he was insane enough for them to take his church, the least the bastards could have done was remove his ordainment. She gritted her teeth as her skin smoldered and blistered at the touch of the sanctified blood.

Pawpaw had never seen the likes of it. The girl’s skin grew so hot under his thumb that it burned his own. He drew his arm back out of reflex and released her head as he stepped back a pace or two against the wall. The girl’s forehead continued to smoke and blister as Mawmaw and the boys involuntarily backed away from the table.

“By all that’s Holy,” Pawpaw whispered. “Evil! I knew you was possessed by the Devil, girl! I knew it!” He kept his back to the wall, never taking his eyes off the back of the girl’s head. He bumped into a side table and felt blindly until his hand closed on a well–used and stained hammer. She wouldn’t be the first sinner the hammer had brought to righteousness. She wouldn’t be its last, either.

“You don’t… you don't understand... what you’re doing here…” Susan hissed, her voice wracked with pain. “Stop this, stop this now be..before anyone else has to get hurt. Just let us go and… and we’ll pretend like this never happened,” Susan said.

Susan found the strength to raise her head. The blood sacrament had run down into her left eye and had made a ruin of it. Puss and gore ran down her cheek from the still–smoking crater that had been her eye. Pawpaw brought his hammer up high over his head and looked to the heavens. Intense prayer whispered from his thin, cracked lips as he brought the hammer down on the crown of her head with as much force as he could muster.

“Just let us go,” Susan managed to whisper before new pain blasted through her as the heavy–headed hammer fell. She could feel the plates of her skull separate as the tool punched through them and into the soft grey matter beneath. Her head dropped to the table with a hollow thud as her left leg jerked spasmodically in time to her beating heart.

“Ya’ did it, Pawpaw! Lord be praised, ya’ beat down th’ evil!” Mawmaw’s words died away as Susan sat up suddenly, like a marionette on unsure strings. Her remaining eye was closed as she sat and swayed slightly. The mark of the cross continued to smolder on her forehead, adding one more pungent odor to the rest in the house.

“It’s just th’ nerves an’ stuff,” Junior said with a smile. “’Sides, even if it ain’t, she’s cleansed now and all. Come on, Boy, let’s git her downstairs.” Junior walked ahead with newfound bravery towards Susan.

“Now ya’ mind ya’self, Junior. Just’n case she needs another cleansin’. I won’t trust ‘er till she’s good and dead,” Mawmaw said from across the room.

“Oh Mawmaw, look at ‘er. Ain’t no evil left in ‘er!” Junior laughed and grabbed her bound wrists.
Susan’s remaining eye shot open. The strong cord that bound them snapped as she effortlessly spread her hands. Her eye turned red as blood as she grabbed Junior's hand and crushed the bones with relish. Junior screamed as she shoved him into Boy, making both men stumble back.

Evil?” Susan hissed. Her voice had become hollow and cold, accompanied by an unearthly echo that chilled every ounce of marrow in the room. “You know nothing of evil. You are pathetic. You are miserable excuses for life of any sort, even that as lowly as Man,” Susan said.

“Oh God in heaven,” Pawpaw said. He cried out and lashed out with the hammer again and again. After several blows Susan's skull was completely caved in. Blood rushed down her chest as Pawpaw stepped as far away as the walls would let him. Susan’s body had rocked with each blow, but she did not fall. Mawmaw screamed and stumbled back against the wall, her hand clutching at her chest.

“I told ya’ she was the bride a’ Satan hisself!” Mawmaw screamed.

“And you know nothing of the Undermaster,” Susan said. “He is not the marrying kind.” She scanned the room slowly as the bones in her face and skull started to move underneath the skin, seeking out their shattered parts and making them whole. Within moments, her head swelled like a balloon then deflated, leaving it unmarred and untouched save for the deep scar in the form of the cross on her forehead. Susan touched it gingerly as a wisp of errant smoke rose from it. Both her eyes were present again and the color of blood. She could see the shattered bones, muscles and tendons of her body clearly in her mind now, making the task of putting the shell back together far easier.

“I have tried to understand. I have even tried to help you understand the nature of your existence. I have tried to show you that what you hold dear is fallacy. I have failed. I am only glad that my professors are not here to see my failure in what should be a textbook case of human insanity and paranoid delusion. Despite that, I do not wish to hurt you,” Susan said. Her eyes slowly returned to their proper human color as she took a deep breath. “You will be set to your own Pits soon enough, and I might even be amused enough to check in on you from time to time.” Her voice had returned to normal as she craned her neck this way and that, the vertebrae dropping back into their intended places. “Your antics are quite comical, though not original.”

“You… you ain’t real,” Junior said as he nursed his shattered hand.

“There are far worse things in the world than you slack–jawed, pathetic rednecks. I am but one. You have one minute to leave this house and not return till morning. That should give me time to calm my friends and get them to leave. I assure you, they will not be nearly as… understanding as I have been,” Susan said.

“I ain’t leavin’ my home, foul creature a’…” Pawpaw started in a quivering voice.

“Do you realize just how utterly laughable you really are? You don’t, do you? Do you think you people are the only head cases in the world? Do you think the Lord and Master actually speaks to you? He rarely makes an utterance to his own clergy, to kings and queens of men, let alone a miserable collection of inbred homicidal maniacs with delusions of divine right. Go, before this escalates and you call up something you can’t possibly conceive,” Susan said.

The snap of gun barrels turned her attention to Mawmaw as she brought the old scattergun to bear between Susan’s breasts. “Back ta’ hell with ya’!” Mawmaw screamed as she pulled the triggers. The recoil pushed her back against the wall. Susan and her chair flew against the wall behind her, dumping her to the floor.

Susan blinked a few times and struggled to her feet. She put her hands to the hole in her chest and shook her head as if she were dealing with small children. A sudden howl, as cold and dark as a pack of wolves drifted up from the basement. “Too late,” Susan said.

“Oh Jesus Mother a’ Gawd! Pawpaw, let’s git outta’ here!” Junior said.

“Too late,” Susan said again as the hole in her chest healed over. “Moose woke up. You could try to run, but Steve’s pretty quick. He spends a lot of time in human bodies,” Susan said as she picked at a speck of blood under her fingernail. In a burst of fear Pawpaw swung at her head again. Susan raised a finger. The steel head melted in an intense burst of flame, the molten steel pouring onto the preacher’s freshly–polished shoe. Pawpaw screamed and fell against the wall, the pain too intense to bear.

Junior abandoned his brother and ran screaming from the room only to reappear as a flying bodyto crash onto the table. A roar of pure hatred sounded as a humanoid form easily as big as Boy and far thicker stormed in past Mawmaw and to the end of the table. Its eyes were red, glowing with an inner fire as it slammed both fists onto the edge of the table and shattered the thick old oak. Large spikes grew out of its hands and arms and a respectable set of curled horns crowned its head. The face had become almost bovine, missing only a ring through the nose.

“Satan hisself!” Mawmaw hissed from behind it. The shotgun dropped from nerveless fingers. It turned to her and growled low from its throat.

“Really?" the demon said in a conversational tone. "You really think I look like him? Really?” The candor of his speech took Mawmaw off guard. “I always kinda’ thought so, but try telling that to these guys,” Moose said.

Susan rolled her eyes as Steve and Wendy came into the room. They had likewise transformed into their proper demonic selves. If the university didn’t know they were in the mortal world, so many unapproved demons in their true form would surely alert them now. Wendy spied Junior’s body on the dining room table and leaped through the air, landing on her knees and straddling the stunned man’s chin.

“Isn’t this what you wanted, human scum?” Though Wendy's voice possessed the same hollow quality as the rest she still seemed able to make it sultry. “Well then, it’s all yours!” A thick, spiked tentacle shot out from Wendy's crotch and lashed Junior’s face. Everywhere the thing touched caused the skin to boil and flay, exposing the soft meat beneath. Wendy threw back her head in ecstasy. Her perfect bone structure, dainty horns and unmarked skin the hue of sunset made her a sight to behold, horribly beautiful even by human standards.

Boy looked around wildly, his simple mind battered beyond all hope by the presence of the demons and his brother's horrified cries. Boy cried out in sympathy for his brother's pain and charged the table. Steven raised a clawed hand and laughed as a strip of intense flame sprang to life from the tapers across the edge of the table. Boy skidded to a halt and raised his arms in an effort to ward off the flames.

“Guys? Guys!” Susan finally had to scream over the havoc. The demons paused and looked at her. “We’ve got to get out of here. I’m surprised we haven’t been caught already.”

“We’re supposed to let them get away with this?” Wendy asked in a purring voice. The appendage had gashed open Junior’s cheek and latched onto the smooth muscles, feasting from the inside out. All he could do was twitch and jerk even as her lacquered nails dug through his denim cover–alls into his chest.

“Oh, no fucking way!” Moose said. “Did you see what this goofy bastard was going to do to us? The freezers are full of parts down there.”

“Need I remind you that we aren’t even supposed to be here? And you know as soon as one of us transformed they could find us. Now the three of you are fully transformed. They can’t ignore that for long,” Susan said.

“But these mortals…” Wendy started.

“Wendy, Susan’s right,” Steve said as the flames died from the table. His own modest horns and long, spiked tail withdrew into his body as his skin returned to the comparatively pale color that so many humans found fashionable. “We could be in a lot of trouble if they find us in the mortal world. We have to go.”

Susan looked at Steve with a new–found respect. Though it was tradition for young demons to sneak into the mortal world during breaks from their university studies, the practice was completely illegal. For those that were born as demons, the authorities often looked the other way so long as they didn’t cause much trouble, arouse the Grey or, worse, the accursed angelic forces. None of them would have been given permission to xcome to the mortal world until they finished their studies and were ready to embark on their careers. Those such as Moose and Wendy would rarely get that chance, anyway. With Moose looking forward to a spot in the Skullball league and Wendy training for her cosmetology degree, they didn’t have much in the way of skills the Undermaster would need. If they were caught here now, Susan and Steve would lose their respective chances of continuing their research and work in human psychology and duplicit international commerce, respectively. For willfully violating the Pact they would never be allowed to leave Hell again if for nothing more than good relations with the Lord and Master and to stay on the right side of the Grey.

“Okay, we’ll leave. But not before we rip these hillbillies apart!” Moose siad. He turned to Mawmaw and grabbed her, his arms elongating before him to cover the distance. The old woman could do nothing in the face of true evil as his huge hands grabbed her shoulders and lifted her off the ground. Moose unhinged his jaw and started to pull her into his waiting maw. Suddenly, the drapes over the large picture window burst into white–hot flame.

“Oh, shit,” Wendy said as she turned to the flames. Her tentacle detached and turned towards the window as well.

“I tried to tell you. Great. Three hundred years at university shot to… well, shot.” Susan said with disgust.

“Okay, let Susan do the talking,” Steve said in a stage whisper. Pawpaw and Boy stayed against the wall, knowing they were powerless to do anything. Even Mawmaw had quieted there in the mouth of the demon and tried to crane her head to see the flaming drapes.

“Me? Why me?” Susan asked.

“You’re the big psych’ major, aren’t you?” Steve said. Susan sighed.

A figure materialized from the smokeless blaze. He strode out of the flames in a perfectly tailored, stark–white suit. His bald skull was covered in extremely tight, smooth skin. If it weren’t for the wicked smile on his face the students would have sworn their Dean of Students was twin to the preacher cowering at the other side of the room.

“I thought he looked familiar,” Steve said.

“It was not intentional I assure you, Mr. Blizbubling,” the Dean said smoothly. His accent was a mixture of middle–European dialects and fit his chosen form well. “I have sported this countenance when forced to travel to the mortal world for nearly a thousand years.”

“It looks good on you. Not many men could pull off double–breasted like that,” Wendy said.

Considering the seriousness of their situation, Susan would have laid even money the first words out of Wendy’s mouth would have been an attempt to shove her nose as far up the administrator’s posterior as possible. She scolded the vixen with her eyes and tried to formulate a good excuse for them.

“That will be enough, Ms. Klinzaakaal. I would ask why the four of you are here, now, in violation of university policy, the student handbook and even the Pact itself. This infraction could still cause a great deal of difficulty at the highest levels,” the Dean said. The four young demons looked around at each other at a complete loss for words. “Mr. Blutokrovisgin, please put the human down. I find it less than dignified to be staring down your throat in mixed company.”

“Yeth, Dean Thithlykthloth,” Moose said, his words fumbling off his tongue and elongated jaw, then “sorry, Dean Sysslyslos.”

“Much better, Mr. Blutokrovisgin,” Dean Sysslyslos said.

“Forgive me, Dean, but with all due respect may we dispense with using our true names around the h..u..m..a..n..s..?” Susan whispered.

“There is no worry they will ever try to summon any of you, Ms. Zulishtakaz. I suspect that none of you will be leaving Hell for any reason, at any time in the lifespan of these humans’ or many others. It was not bad enough that you chose to participate in a rather boorish, childish ritual. No, you had to allow mere humans to best you. This is not going to be a bright mark in your permanent records,” Dean Sysslyslos said. He looked at the humans in the room and tried to suppress his laughter. “I would have thought better of any of you than to get taken by these inbred cretins. You will return with me; now. I am sure your parents will want to know all about your extracurricular exploits. Drunken debauchery among humans is something only the lowest of demons would do. Mr. Blutokrovisgin, Ms. Klinzaakaal, I would expect this kind of lowbrow antic from the two of you. But Mr. Blizbubling, and especially you, Ms. Zulishtakaz, well, I expected far more. I can see now that I was in error. We should perhaps rectify my lapse in judgment.”

“Ah… sir? What about them?” Steven asked, indicating the murderous family cowering in various parts of the room.

“They are none of your concern. However, they are a concern of Professor Ujkwixcaalan. He has been studying them for several years, you see. Actually, to be quite frank he has been using them as a capstone for a long-term study concerning the depths of depravity the human mind is capable of performing when it feels that its actions are just. You all know Professor Ujkwixcaalan, don’t you? Especially you, Ms. Zulishtakaz. After all, he chairs your department. I am sure that he will want to have a long philosophical discussion with you since you seem to know so much about his projects as to interfere with his study,” Dean Sysslyslos said.

Susan swallowed hard and shook her head. Last term, Ujkwixcaalan failed one of her classmates because he neglected to hold a door open for him when his arms were full. The professor also ripped the student's horns off. It took almost three months for them to grow back properly. She shuddered when she thought about what awaited her in her professor’s private office. “Dean?”

”Yes, Ms. Zulishtakaz, Professor Ujkwixcaalan is well aware of your dalliance here. I am sure that he simply cannot wait to compare notes with you.” The Dean looked at the cowering preacher and smiled at him. “You do the Lord’s work here, Pawpaw. Please, continue and spread the glory and light of His name,” Dean Sysslyslos said. The young demons looked perplexed and stared at the gaping humans. “To them, I have feathery wings and a voice as sweet as harp music. You have much to learn; all of you. Come. We go.”

The demons exchanged worried looks then fell in behind their Dean. Wendy and Moose allowed themselves to completely transform and were joined by Steve and Susan. The last transformed themselves as they walked and paid little heed as pieces of the human bodies they had killed then possessed slid off them like rain from a slicker to leave a trail of flesh and bone as they went, like slugs would leave slime trails, from their points in the room to the flaming portal that would lead them back home.

“Dean Sysslyslos, if I may ask a question?” Susan asked quietly as she passed through the flames.

“Certainly, Ms. Zulishtakaz.”

“I know we committed a horrible breach of the rules and the Pact by coming to the mortal world without permission. But if they saw you as angelic and they will continue damning themselves and slaying the innocent in the most depraved ways their small minds can imagine, why would Professor Ujkwixcaalan harbor ill will towards us? His study should be far from ruined and may actually be enhanced by the events we unwillingly, and certainly unknowingly, were forced to participate,” Susan said.

“Dear girl. Dear, sweet, innocent child,” Dean Sysslyslos said in a mocking, sing–song voice that patronized Susan to her core. “You do realize the one constant of your existence, do you not?”

“Yes. We live in a state of being that is solid yet apart from the material world, and that…”

“Ms. Zulishtakaz, a human once said, ‘Brevity is the heart of wit’. I daresay it is also the heart of wisdom as well. Any question you or the others may have as to the severity of your punishment can be answered quite simply,” Dean Sysslyslos said.

“And is the Dean able to impart this wisdom to the next generation, or will we be expected to fumble our way through until we hit upon the answer ourselves?” Susan asked. Her tone betrayed her emotion. She was being unfairly lumped in with the rest, or so she felt. She had never wanted to go on spring break, anyway. She was different than these others; better. She was alone among them, the rose between thorns. She had made a youthful mistake. She felt certain that her future worth to the Undermaster would trump any stupid, youthful diversion she may have had the misfortune to be guiled into.

Dean Sysslyslos stopped dead, almost causing the rest of the line to crash into each other. His human form suddenly fell away in great shreds as his true body and nature grew from the leavings. He towered over them, far larger and more sinister than any demon any of them personally knew. He leaned down and stared into Susan’s eyes and she instantly felt her black blood run like ice through her veins.

“The answer is simple, whelp, and one you would do well to heed and hold in reverence and awe until the day the Undermaster devours you. Hell does not discriminate, Hell does not judge. If you are here, the judging has been done by powers far beyond your simple comprehension, whatever place your pitiful form may occupy in the Undermaster’s plan. In short, you will all be punished, and punished severely, if for nothing more than that one glorious and constant truth in all your wretched, pathetic little lives. Simply put? You are in Hell, aren’t you?”


As always, I am humbled by your readership and grateful for the tiny slice of your life you choose to spend with my words. So, until next time, just write damn it. - Author

Sunday, February 6, 2011

"The Vault" (part II of II) - Fiction

Welcome back both Constant and Casual Reader alike for the second and final part of "The Vault". I hope you enjoy. - Author

Don had nearly covered the entire basement when he heard an unaccustomed string of expletives from his usually reserved comrade. “What now?”

“This… this G.D. thing! I can’t see any reason why we don’t have power. Maybe it was cut from the outside,” Kyber said.

“Doesn’t sound like something the locals would do. It wouldn’t help them. Just look at how they keep this place,” Don said.

“Well, it must be something. All the fuses are good and everything else is here, just no power. Look around for a junction box or something,” Kyber said.

“Kyber, I’ve been looking around for over an hour now. If there was one I would have found it,” Don said.

“Then trace the wires, see where they go,” Kyber said as he shined his light up the panel and onto the ceiling, revealing a thick conduit that ran into the darkness beyond. Don took his cue and brought his own light to bear and the two followed it to various parts of the basement where it spliced off and went into holes that had been drilled into the floor. “I think the electrical system dates back to the thirties in this place,” Kyber noted more to himself than his partner.

“The stuff in here dates back even further than that. And not a rat, cobweb or bit of mold to boot,” Don said.

They continued tracing the various lines and splices until they came to one that ran down a wall behind a large stack of crates. “What about that one?” Don said.

“We’ll have to move the crates to see. It runs down, may be a ground of some sort.” Kyber looked at Don and smiled at the distasteful grimace on his face. “Don’t worry… a little hard work never killed anybody.”

The pair put down their weapons, set their lights on another stack then went to work moving the heavy crates. After several minutes, they had revealed the conduit. Halfway down the wall the conduit was broken, the large grounding wire within savagely ripped from it. Don whistled and got their lights for a closer look.

“Who the hell would have done this? Looks like the thing’s been ripped apart,” Kyber said.

“Crazed Amish?” Don asked.

“They’re a very noble and misunderstood people, Don. Lay off.”

“Sorry. You take this shit way too seriously, man. You need to relax a little, maybe get laid,” Don said. Kyber shot him a look that seemed to dim their lights. “Scratch that. You definitely need to get laid.”

Kyber went back to the control panel and returned with his tools then went to work to reestablish the line. Don watched him for a time but grew bored with the process. Nothing turned Don Moore off like anything having to do with real work. He didn’t see how people could do it. He turned and faced the rest of the floor, idly casting his light around the place.


A sudden hint of motion caught Don’s eye and he turned his light on it as his hand went to the butt of his pistol. He kept the light on the spot for a moment and blinked several times. Obviously, his time in the pitch-black basement had affected his sight. Just as he was about to move the beam away from the spot a man–shaped bulge suddenly appeared in the wall near the floor and slid up to the ceiling from inside the wall.

“What the… Kyber, did you see that?” Don asked.

“See what? I’m doing what we’re supposed to be doing,” Kyber said. He stopped and stood up, stretching his back. “What was it?”

“I… I don’t know… it was like the wall kinda’… bulged out. Like something was in it, moving through it,” Don said.

“Hmph, probably just a rat or your eyes or something. I’ll be done in a minute and then we can leave this spooky basement,” Kyber said, emphasizing the word like Count Chocula would as he returned to his work.

“Haven’t seen a rat the whole time we’ve been here, and if that was the size of the rats around here I won’t be staying long,” Don said. He went back to scanning the walls, moving the light slowly and paying close attention for any sign of movement. There; again, but this time in a different wall.

“Goddamnit, Kyber, there’s something in the wall! I just saw it again!” Don said.

“Post–traumatic stress getting at you, or just afraid of the dark?” Kyber chuckled. “Don’t worry. I’m finished here. Just need to throw the main switch over on the board and see if we’re hot.”

Don turned back to Kyber and found the wall just above him bulge out in the rough shape of a man. “Fuck! Move!” Don shouted as he drew his pistol and fired. Kyber immediately crouched lower as lead slugs grazed chips off the stone wall.

“You crazy bastard! What the hell are you doing…” Kyber started. A massive stone fist erupted from the wall and connected squarely with Kyber’s chin. He flew back several feet and slid across the smooth floor. Don immediately backpedaled and worked his way to the center of the room near Kyber.

“Kyber! Kyber! You okay?” Don asked. A weak grunt was his only answer. Don whipped the flashlight around aimlessly, panicked and watching. He tried the radio and found nothing but static. “Fuck! Kyber, can you get up? Kyber!”

He passed his light over the other mercenary. Kyber’s jaw was shattered and lay open with several of the teeth missing or broken. Blood rolled freely down his chin and onto his chest. He was still conscious, but just barely. Kyber raised one arm weakly, pointing towards the control panel.

“Light…” With only a cursory glance at Kyber, Don leaped over him and made his way to the board. Something erupted out of the stone floor under him, and only a strong sense of self-preservation and nimble feet kept him from getting tangled up in the bucking floor. He got to the panel and threw the switch upward; nothing. “Fuck! Kyber!” Don threw his light onto his friend in time to see two massive, grey arms emerge from the stone floor and wrap around him.


Don screamed like he’d never screamed before as Kyber’s nearly unconscious body was actually pulled into the floor beneath him as if he were in quicksand, leaving only his shoulders and his feet sticking out. It would almost have been comical for Don if he didn’t think he’d be next. The stone around Kyber’s body seemed to quiver and reflected the light back at Moore in an odd way. Suddenly, the quivering stone returned to its natural form. Kyber was roused from his unconsciousness as the floor solidified, turning the parts of his body submerged in it to stone. Heart and lungs changed to granite in the blink of an eye, and he gasped only once before death came for him.


“What the… oh God… what the hell …what the fuck…” Don grabbed the switch and worked it up and down like a madman while trying to keep his flashlight sweeping across floor at the same time. He spared a look at the control panel and found other switches similar to the main but smaller. Several of them were in the off position. He left the main power switch in position and started to throw the smaller switches. A shriek cut the still air in the basement and his bladder threatened to let go. He shined his light in the direction and found a massive, man–shaped creature bearing down on him from across the room. He screamed again but continued to work the switches as it covered the distance between them in heartbeats. Don hit the last switch and could almost feel the electricity course through the basement.

Ancient light bulbs suddenly came to life with several blowing out from the unaccustomed power but enough held to give him a clear picture of the thing. It was shaped like a man but stood easily seven feet tall. It was bigger than any body builder he had ever seen and had grey, almost scaly skin covered in small horns, with two large ones that curled up and away like a ram’s from its forehead. Large, dead eyes that seemed to lack any real sign of life fixed on him. What worried Don the most was the incredibly large mouth full of jagged stone teeth and claws nearly a foot long that stuck out from each finger and toe. He raised his pistol and fired, knowing it would do no good. Don closed his eyes and continued to fire, emptying the weapon in seconds. He remained there for several moments, clinging to one of the electrical mounting poles before he realized that he was still alive.


Don opened his eyes ever so slowly and regarded the stone gargoyle before him. A taloned hand extended towards him, the tips of the claws mere inches from his face. The thing was nothing more than a stone statue now. He exhaled then gently let go of the pole and backed away. The electric light in the basement wasn’t bright by any means, but bright enough for him to make out its details. He could even see where his bullets had chipped tiny slivers of stone away from it. Don took a minute to breathe and make sure his heart was still in its proper place before daring to step closer.

He took his flashlight and gingerly tapped the outstretched claws. The sharp rapping sound of metal on stone made him jump, but the gargoyle reacted as all good gargoyles should and didn’t move. Don moved a little closer and dared to tap first the hand, then further up the arm. He chuckled nervously and backed away from it, moving around it slowly. Once he cleared it he made a dead run for the stairs and didn’t look back. There was no hope for Kyber. He only hoped it wouldn’t be the same for the rest of them.


Several soft footlights along the altar platform came to life just as Warrant, Kevin and Manny with Moe’s lifeless body in tow came into the sanctuary. Jack immediately rushed to his downed friend and roughly pushed Kevin away. Manny and Jack laid Moe’s body down while Warrant flew through the room barking orders to the twins.

“Get those big fucking guns up, god damnit! I want one to the front and one to the rear. If anything moves that isn’t one of us, rip it apart!” Warrant said. The brothers stepped–to and hoisted their cannons, waiting for the next thing to move in their sights.

“What the hell did this?” Jack asked as he examined the wound in his friend’s chest. “My God, it goes clear through! Manny, what the hell happened up there?”

“Somebody hit him.” Manny said. His eyes were glassy, like a man looking at something far away. “You remember when we all went to Tijuana last spring… Moe took up with that hoochie and her old man came in…”

“Yeah I remember, Manny. That was a good time,” Jack said.

Warrant overheard them and came back. Jack looked up and nodded slightly. “Get it together, Manny. He’s dead. Let it go. You got one minute to get his head on straight, Jack.” Warrant cautioned. “We can’t take this right now.” He stalked away from them and went to the base of the altar. “DeSade, Gina, report!” Warrant barked into the microphone. The radio had gone dead, not even giving him the satisfaction of static. Only a small hum came from his earbob. “Kyber! Moore! Report!” Again, nothing.“God Damnit! What the hell is going on around here?”

The sudden sounding of a “hup!” from Jim Browning caused all to move as one, turning in his line of sight with weapons brought to bear. The big gun opened up with a deafening chatter accompanied by the metallic singing of spent shell casings as they cascaded to the floor. A body screamed out and sailed in a dive across the main entryway to the sanctuary and slid across the glassy marble floor.

Fuck! Stop shooting at me!” Don screamed from behind a pew that had just started to be eaten away by the heavy slugs. “Damn it! Knock it off!” he screamed again. Warrant ordered the guns to quiet and called out across the sanctuary.

“Moore! Is that you?” Warrant asked.

“For the present, if you can keep the trigger–twins off the damn juice!” he spat back and crawled to his feet.

“Power’s up, at least that’s something,” Warrant growled. “Where’s Kyber?”

“Dead. Something got him in the basement,” Don said.

Something? What do you mean something?” Warrant asked.

“I think you’d better come and see. I wouldn’t believe me, either. Besides, I’m not going back down there alone,” Don said.

Warrant stood for a moment and wondered when the exact moment occurred that he lost any control over this situation. “Jim, Bob… you two stay up here and watch the room. Nothing in or out unless it’s us, and watch what you’re opening up on. Manny? Manny!” The shocked merc’ looked up at him only slightly more lucid than he had been before. “Look alive, soldier. You stay here and coordinate fire if these two have to chatter. Don’t fuck up, soldier. Jack, you’re with Kevin, Moore and me. First, the basement, then outside to see what the hell is going on. Moore, you better be straight with me or so help me…”

“I might lie about women and money, Henry, but never my life,” Don said. His use of the familiar gave the commander pause. The two had been working together for years, and if there was one thing the sneaky little bastard that was Don Moore loved more than money was his own skin. Warrant nodded at him and walked past, the rest in tow.

The place looked different in the artificial light. Though there were noticeable gaps where the ancient appliances or bulbs couldn’t handle the years, enough had come back up to lend an almost solemn light to the place. In short, it had started to look like an actual church. Some of the glory lights had come back and showed several paintings and other artwork in a more pleasing light. The electricity would make cataloging easier. If they could figure out who was trying to kill them, at least.

They threaded through several hallways until they came to a cramped service corridor and followed it to the basement stairs. Warrant looked to Moore at the end of the line and nodded. Don swallowed hard and nodded back, his pistol clutched in his hand like a security blanket.

“Should have brought one of the Brownings with us…” Don muttered as they started to descend. Warrant took a few steps then leaped for the bottom. He hit the floor as gently as he could and rolled, coming up in a crouch that allowed him to keep the stairs at his back and still make a grand sweep of the room. After several moments, he gave the “all clear” signal and the rest stormed down the steps and took up defensive positions around them to keep their escape route open.

“Clear front!” Warrant barked.

“Clear flanks!” Moore and Jack chimed in.

“Steps secured!” Kevin answered, though not as strong as the rest. The fear was plain in his voice as he kept his eyes on the stairwell. Not being able to turn and see the room bred a small terror in him.

Warrant almost laughed when he saw Kyber’s body sticking out of the floor. It was the last sight he thought he would see down here. He instantly wished he’d debriefed Don more thoroughly. The gargoyle statue sat several feet behind Kyber, its back to them. “Moore! What the hell happened down here?”

Don went into a quick explanation of the events, punctuated by several “I know you’re not going to believe this's” and “I swear to Christ’s”.

“Bullshit,” Warrant said when Don stopped talking.

“Didn’t I make it clear that I was not fuckin’ lyin’ about this? Goddamnit! Look at Kyber! That kind of shit doesn’t happen when you’re just walking down the street! Look at the floor around him! It’s solid! It’s not broken up or anything. How do you think he got that way?” Don asked.
Warrant gave the signal and the group moved as one. Kevin stepped off the stairs but remained where he could look up the well. The group kept their interval and moved across the floor. They broke only to pass over Kyber’s partially–entombed body and reformed within a few feet of the statue.

“You say this thing was coming at you until the lights came up?” Warrant asked.

“Sir–yes–fucking–sir!” Don said.

“Watch your tone, soldier,” Warrant said through clenched teeth. The last thing he needed now was a smart-ass.

“It was in the walls first, punched him right from inside the wall, I swear to Christ,” Moore said, not caring if anyone was really listening to him or not. “Almost blasted his jaw off. I ran for the lights and it came up through the floor and sucked Kyber down in. It came for me, but as soon as the lights came up it turned into, well… that.”

“Fan out!” Warrant ordered. “Until I figure out what kind of bullshit this is keep an eye on the walls and floor for any movement, no matter how minor. Moore, take Kevin’s position. Kid, get your ass over here.” Don gratefully exchanged places with the young soldier while Kevin joined Warrant near the statue. “All right, kid. Use that big chess–club brain of yours. What the hell is going on here?”

Kevin and Warrant stepped slowly around the statue and studied the front for several moments. “For fear of stating the obvious, sir, it’s a gargoyle,” Kevin said.

“You don’t say?” The sarcasm literally dripped from Warrant’s tongue. “Pray tell, then, what the fuck is it doing down here? How could it do this… if it even did?”

Kevin kept studying the statue, seemingly oblivious to the warnings from Moore. “It’s the same type of stone used for most of the walls and floors of the church. Most likely, it came from the roof outside,” Kevin said.

“Not possible, soldier. Come up with something a little less Star Trek, would you?” Warrant said.
“With all due respect, sir, if you believe that this thing wasn’t sitting right here when Moore and Kyber came down then it doesn’t really leave room for any other possibilities,” Kevin said. He didn’t think that Warrant would catch his Vulcan–like delivery stemming from Warrant’s Trek reference. With his private joke safely tucked away, Kevin dared put a hand on the statue then shoved at it. The gargoyle wouldn’t budge. “There’s no way that the two of them could have moved this thing anywhere.”

Warrant looked back at Kyber’s body and spared a hand to rub his eyes in frustration. “So I’m supposed to believe that a gargoyle is responsible for killing Kyber and Moe, as well as all the rest that have come through here? Unacceptable,” Warrant said. He toed several of the empty shell casings left from Don’s ineffectual attack. “Moore! These your leavings?”

“I hope so. If not, that means they’ve got pistols, too, and that just wouldn’t be fair on a cosmic scale,” Don said.

“Cut the wise cracks and shape up,” Warrant warned him. The story was completely unbelievable, but the current condition of Kyber’s body was enough to make even him admit that there was something completely contrary to rational thought happening in the god–forsaken church. “Fuck; alright. Let’s suppose, just suppose, that we’re dealing with something not entirely… human. Now what?”

“Sir?” Kevin spoke up. “If you’re willing to allow that what is going on may not be entirely… human,” Kevin waited for the commander’s answer. Warrant’s moods could be volatile, and whether the old mercenary realized it or not the stress was starting to play out in his voice.

“I’m open to suggestions,” Warrant finally relented.

“According to folklore, gargoyles served as more than just downspouts and decorations, especially in the middle–European and Slavic cultures. They were also guardians that were supposed to ward off evil spirits and protect the place they’d had been made part of. When Christianity spread, the Church found it easier to get their converts to patronize the church by giving in to some of their local customs. The gargoyles were an easy one, and they quickly became part of grand architecture. You know, letting the designer hide a lot of the functions of a building like gutters and conduits for pulley chains, that sort of thing. But they all look evil, or at least malicious, by design. The custom would try to, well, out-evil evil, by making faces and bodies that would scare off real evil spirits.” Kevin paused for several moments to allow his monologue to sink in.

“And this means what exactly to us? If this thing is actually alive, does it consider us evil spirits? And if it does, why the hell isn’t it trying to make us part of the church like it did to Kyber? More importantly, why the hell am I even considering this shit?” Warrant said.

“Maybe it does consider us evil,” Kevin said. He hoped Warrant’s last question was more rhetorical in nature.

“Or maybe,” Jack added quietly, “maybe it’s protecting something. Like you said, a guardian.”

“Like whatever may be in the missing vault,” Warrant finished for him. “Would have to be something pretty valuable to have guards like that, wouldn’t you think?” The question wasn’t to anyone in particular but to the group at large. If his unit thought they were dealing with something that could come out of the walls after them, he would have to lay it on heavy and appeal to their greed to keep them in line and on course. Warrant still couldn’t believe that they were facing something other–worldly. There had to be a reasonable explanation, he just hadn’t thought of it yet. He’d been around the world several times over and had seen things that almost defied explanation. Almost. When Warrant found such a thing he made it his personal mission to first find out what it truly was and then how to exploit it to his own means. He would treat the Corduva Church no differently. “That still leaves the question of why this thing isn’t trying to tear us new assholes at this very minute.”

“Gargoyles are made of stone, and legends say in the light of day they will be just that; stone. Maybe once the lights came up they were a workable substitute for daylight. The thing would’ve only been dealing with their flashlights before the house lights came up, maybe the flashlights weren’t enough light to affect them? Allowing, of course, that they are real gargoyles,” Kevin said.

The group was quiet for several moments before Warrant relaxed his posture slightly. “Kevin, go back to the stairs. Moore, go up and get one of the twins down here, I don’t care which one. Just make sure he brings a .50 with him.”

“You want me to go back to the sanctuary alone?” Don asked.

“Yes, soldier. Go,” Warrant said.

Don glared at him for a moment then broke and went up the stairs two at a time.
Warrant looked around him. Virtually every wall and floor in the church was made of stone; slabs, cut pieces, even cobble and mortar in some areas. Nearly everything but the doors and windows were made of stone. Even most of the furniture was hewn and carved. That much stone over, under and around them would certainly play hell with the radios and would also explain why he hadn’t heard the sporadic episodes of gunfire that had happened in various parts of the church throughout the evening. Along with that, if the living gargoyle could move through stone, it would only make sense to have as much of the building made of the stuff as possible.

“What the hell am I thinking?” Warrant admonished himself. Living things didn’t move through stone. But, they could move through tunnels cut in the stone, within the walls and floors. “Scooby–doo strikes again,” he whispered to himself. He could only think that the excitement and the condition of Kyber’s body had distracted him from the obvious explanation from the start. The stone around his body was a minor irritant to his logic, nothing more. Warrant took a deep breath and felt much more in control.

“Reporting as ordered, Boss.” Jim Browning announced as he came down the stairs. He had to turn sideways so that he and his weapon could make it.

“I want you to reduce this statue to tiny, tiny bits,” Warrant ordered.

Jim shrugged and leveled the barrel at the statue. The rest covered their ears as the big gun started up, spewing huge chunks of lead through the air to crash against the gargoyle. The gunner started at the head and concentrated his fire on the very top then methodically worked his way down until large chunks of it fell to the floor. Most of the unit had to hit the floor and cover their heads for fear of ricochet or flying stone chips. Gun smoke like fog soon filled the room. Browning kept his rate of fire for as long as he could before quieting the big gun before the barrel got too hot.

When the smoke cleared a bit, Warrant approached the statue to check out the gunner’s handiwork. The head and shoulders of the statue had been torn away bit by bit until they lay in hundreds of small chunks and slivers dusting the floor. The left arm was missing from the elbow down and the right had been sheared off by concentrated fire at the shoulder. The remaining torso and legs of the statue were complete save for several large chunks that had been blasted from it. The body of the thing was far too thick to be destroyed with the tools at hand.

Warrant stood on his toes and peered at the stump where the neck should have been; nothing but stone. He shook his head and turned back to Moore. “Well, I don’t think it’ll be moving around anymore. You? No? Good. Manny, you and Moore head back to the sanctuary. Jack, Jim, you’re with me. We need to check on DeSade and Gina. Move!” The unit hit the stairs and split up into their groups as soon as they got out of the service corridor.

Warrant hadn’t realized just how cool the air in the church was until he stepped out into the humid night. They crept out the door and down the stairs to the courtyard, watching for any movement that might draw their fire. The three fanned out slightly and went around the eastern side of the church. No one used a light and instead relied on the weak streetlamps. They’d been in darker climes before and Jack and Jim were seasoned professionals, men Warrant was proud to have at his back. A little darkness wouldn’t faze them.

They moved soundlessly around the perimeter of the eastern side and turned to cover the northern face. Warrant halted them with an upraised fist and crouched down as soon as he saw a sliver of dim light at the bottom of the stairs. He moved forward slowly and low to the ground, the other two falling in behind in single file. Warrant trusted his men to keep an eye behind and to their unguarded flank and kept his ahead, zeroing in not on what he knew could only be a discarded flashlight but into the void around it. This side of the building was noticeably darker than the front or eastern faces, a fact he kept first and foremost in his mind. Warrant shut out Don’s voice reminding him that the thing kept coming and seemed to stop only when the light was strong enough to turn it to stone.

Warrant put himself against the exterior of the stair box and used it as cover while the rest of the men caught up. He made a series of motions to them then slipped up and over the edge and onto the top step. A foot turned at an unnatural angle lay near the step. Warrant leaned down and pulled a small LED flashlight, hoping that its neutral, soft glow wouldn’t attract as much attention as a normal white light would. The blue–tinted glow cast DeSade’s remaining eye in a flat and most unflattering light as it stared past Warrant into nothingness. If he hadn’t been his commander for more than two years, Warrant might not have even been able to recognize him. DeSade’s face had been almost completely destroyed with what could only be claw marks in what was left of his head. The smooth stone floor beneath the body had allowed the blood to run out and spread in a pattern far wider than he would have expected, the life’s blood reflecting almost black in the blue light. He switched off his light and slid back down a few steps, the other two men in defensive positions facing away from him and watching his back.

“DeSade’s dead,” Warrant whispered as quietly as he could. “Keep your eyes open. Gina’s still unaccounted for.”

They continued on without a sound but didn’t get far before Warrant stopped them at the base of one of the gargoyles set into the courtyard. He risked standing and used his LED to examine the face. It was identical to the one that he had seen demolished in the church basement; nearly identical, anyway. The expression on the face was different though no more handsome. “Got you, you little bastard,” he mumbled. “Let’s see what else you little beaners can do.”

The trio moved on across the courtyard like a snake in an uneven style to avoid patterns. Warrant reached the western corner and cast an uneasy glance around the side. Though still dim, the light was considerably greater on this face of the building from the town lights off to the west. Warrant had always followed the old adage, though, and knew that whatever helped you see your enemy often helped them see you.

They moved around the corner and went a few feet before an odd wind tousled their hair and beat against their backs. A moment later a very human scream pierced the night and made Warrant and Jack spin on their heels with weapons ready. They found nothing but night behind them. Night… where Jim Browning should have been. Warrant left Jack facing rearward and pivoted back in the direction they had been heading, then back again in a sweeping motion. Something warm hit his forehead and ran down his face. There wasn’t a mercenary alive that didn’t know the salty smell and rolling viscosity of blood on their faces. In a burst of inspiration he shoved Jack violently, sending him stumbling several feet as Jim’s massive rifle hit the ground right where he had been crouching just a moment ago.

Warrant fell onto his back and turned his muzzle skyward in time to see a dim but huge winged figure nearly fifteen feet above them. A large lump hung limp from one of the thing’s arms, raining blood and gore down onto the brick courtyard below. The winged thing let out a shriek that made Browning’s death knell pale in comparison and buried its short muzzle into the dead mercenary’s chest, ripping out chunks of flesh and muscle


and feasting on the remains as it beat its great wings to stay aloft.

“Open fire!” Warrant screamed as he pulled the trigger on his weapon. Jack followed suit and the night was broken by the sulphorous, dazzling glare of their dual muzzle flashes. Tracer rounds lit up the night as the gargoyle was raked by dozens of slugs. It pitched and veered for a moment before going into a dive towards the mercenaries. “Break!” Warrant called out, rolling back towards the church wall. Jack threw himself farther back and rolled around the corner of the building, using the massive stone structure as cover. By the time the pair got their bearings, the beast had disappeared again.

“The fuckin’ thing’s airborne! It could have gone anywhere!” Jack called out.

Warrant flattened himself against the wall and kept an eye on the sky. The light worked against him now and was throwing a soft glare in his eyes, taking away his night vision. He held his machine gun tight against his chest with the muzzle pointing up, waiting for any sign of the creature.

“I’m going for the .50! Cover me!” Jack called out from the corner.

“No! You don’t know where the damn thing is…” Warrant said. Jack burst from the shelter of the corner and threw himself at the big gun. Warrant stepped out and scanned the sky intently, waiting for the monster to appear above them. Jack got to the rifle and grabbed it, but it refused to move. He tugged at it for a moment before he realized that a large, stone hand has holding the barrel flush with the ground. There was no creature, only a hand that seemed to sprout from the stone courtyard.

“What the…” Jack muttered.

“Jack! It’s a trap!” Warrant’s warning came too late as the beast’s other hand flew up from the bricks, the razor–sharp claws impaling the mercenary from the abdomen up into his chest cavity. Jack made to scream but only produced a gout of thick crimson that rolled down his chin and bathed his chest. The monstrous hand suddenly twisted, and even Warrant had to flinch as he imagined the absolute destruction the claws were doing inside Jack’s body.

The creature continued to rise up from the bricks until it stood at its full height, easily dwarfing Warrant. It shook Jack’s corpse off its claws and hissed as the body slid onto the bricks, the blood seeping between them.


It dropped the Browning and glared at Warrant displaying its gore–stained, stone fangs. Warrant kept the wall to his right and started to fire at the thing as he backed along the wall. The bullets slammed into it and sent slivers of stone flying, but still the gargoyle kept coming.
Warrant continued to fire bursts at the gargoyle as it advanced. He knew it was toying with him. With its long legs and reach, not to mention its wings and its obvious ability to move through rock itself, it could be on him in a heartbeat. This wasn’t an animal or even a human they were dealing with. He accepted, at least temporarily, that it was just that; an it. A deadly it.

The gargoyle leaned forward and shrieked, the sound so powerful and cutting that he could almost feel its ferocity wash across his face. It was close enough now that he could smell the blood on its breath. Warrant’s machine gun was of no use so he let it hang on its sling and increased his pace. One broken brick or misstep and the thing would be on top of him. If he could make it to the corner, he could buy a second of free movement, maybe even make it to the door. Warrant gave up hope that the men inside would have heard their battle. If the stone was too thick to hear such sounds inside, he doubted they would carry from the outside. He kept backpedaling, waiting for either the thing to pounce or the corner of the building to materialize behind him.

The gargoyle was intelligent, even if it wasn’t much one for conversation. It sensed its victim’s apprehension, could smell the adrenaline pumping through its tiny heart.


Nothing living, dead or otherwise knew the church as well as it did, and it knew exactly where the corner was and what the human intended to do. It had killed dozens of humans over the course of the years, and it was always the same. Humans were so predictable, so absolutely soft. If not for the Pact, it knew the mortal world would fall easy prey. The gargoyle leaned forward slightly and tensed its powerful legs, ready to pounce just when the human thought it would gain salvation.

Warrant could almost sense the corner coming up behind him. He blinked and realized that the gargoyle was ready to strike. It crouched, and Warrant knew that in less than a second it would have him on the ground beneath its crushing weight. Suddenly, thunder sounded in the night. The beast was backlit in staccato fashion as the big .50 caliber opened up from behind. The gargoyle spun and roared at the gunner, attempting to swat away the slugs like they were mosquitoes even as it started moving towards the shooter.

“Down!” a voice screamed over the roaring of the heavy machine gun. The word was the single best Warrant had heard in a long time. He dropped to his chest instantly as Bob Browning’s rifle opened up from behind him opposite the other gunner. Battered front and rear by .50 slugs, the gargoyle roared and pitched back and forth between them, finally taking to the air with a massive down draft from its stone wings. Both guns quieted as Warrant got to his feet and rushed back towards Jack. He couldn’t see how the man had lived through the attack, let alone had the energy to pick up the heavy machine gun. But he didn’t find the gun in Jack’s hands. His body was where the thing had left it.

Gina stood over him, the big smoking rifle in her hands and blood caked to her face. She swayed slightly under the weight of the weapon and her injuries but was at least coherent enough to tell friend from foe. Warrant pried the weapon away from her fingers and shined a flashlight over the rest of her body to check for injuries, taking care not to hit her eyes and rob her of her night sight.

“You’re going to be okay. Let’s get back inside. Can you walk?” Warrant asked.

She nodded weakly and stumbled forward, too proud to ask for help from her commander. Warrant readied the big gun and trotted along behind her, constantly scanning the surroundings for the gargoyle. They regrouped and moved to the front of the church quickly until Gina stopped them and pointed up to the upper reaches of the church’s wall. “More… than one…” Gina gasped.

“We know. One’s in the basement. We took care of it,” Warrant said.

“Four…” Gina whispered, causing a fresh trickle of blood to roll down her shattered lip. Warrant’s eyes went wide as he followed her trembling hand and looked up at the wall. He took his light and shined it up into the night, then passed it along the uppermost floor. Each corner had a small alcove that was obviously built to house something large; something that wasn’t there now.

“Nobody’s home… fuck!” Warrant said. They ran past the mute gargoyle guardians at the foot of the front stairs and burst through the front doors. Don waited inside for them then barred the door with a heavy, oaken beam once they passed.

“Sanctuary, now!” Warrant ordered. “Bob, help Gina get in there. See what you can do for her.”

“Boss… Jim?” the big man asked, nodding to the gun in his hands. Warrant gave him a look that answered all questions.

“He went down fighting like hell.” Warrant said.

Bob nodded solemnly and leaned down so that Gina could brace her battered body against his. In the electric light of the foyer, Warrant could only guess at what strength was keeping Gina alive, let alone conscious. Her face was covered in caked and drying blood, but he could see enough to know that it would never be the same.

The rest of the unit filed past him and into the sanctuary. Warrant glanced back at the door and almost expected them to burst apart and spew gargoyles into the church. But then, they wouldn’t have to, would they? They could just come out of the walls after them.
Warrant charged into the sanctuary, rejoined his unit took a headcount. Five were dead, and Gina could still be before the night was through. Manny could easily turn into a liability at any time. What was he left with? A cowardly thief and a kid that only needed to shave once a week. If it wasn’t for Bob Browning, the Scooby–Doo bunch really would be better equipped for this mystery.

“We have to get out of here,” Don said in a low voice.

“That’s enough, soldier.” Warrant said without looking at him.

“Soldier? If you haven’t noticed, commander,” Don said, letting the rank drip from his tongue like poison, “we’re just a little bit fucked here. We’re hiding. Don’t give me bullshit that we’re ‘regrouping’. We’re fuckin’ hiding! But those things can just come out of the fuckin’ walls and floors whenever they want. So we’re holed up in a place that they can just pop the fuck in any time they want!”

“I said that was enough!” Warrant barked, his hand straying to his sidearm.

“Oh! What are you going to do, Henry? You gonna’ shoot me? If you ain’t noticed it yet, Sparky, we’re all gonna’ die anyway! I’d rather be shot than get crushed or chewed up by one of those god–damn things!” Don said.

“Keep talking and you may just get what you want.” Warrant’s voice washed through the room like ice water. The rest sensed the tension and gripped their weapons or looked around at anything but either of them.

“Fuck you. I’m out of here. Shoot me in the back then,” Don said.

“You walk out that door, Don, and I’ll be the last of your worries. Just ask Gina,” Warrant said.
Don chanced a look at the woman and sighed heavily. “Okay, then. So what’s the fuckin’ plan, oh great and fearless leader?” Don asked.

Warrant made a mental note to have a long discussion about discipline and unit cohesion with Moore in the morning. Provided they were all still around in the morning, of course. “I just need to think for a minute.” Warrant walked across the front of the room and went to one of the large stained–glass windows set into the masonry. He lit a cigarette and was quiet for several moments, the sound of his fingers rapping against the butt of his pistol the only sound to be heard in the sanctuary.

Manny sat and stared around the room then stood up in a panic. “Where’s Jack?”

“He’s dead,” Don offered. “Just like Kyber and DeSade and Moe and Jim. Anybody else see a pattern developing, here?”

“No. Jack was just here,” Manny said.

“And now he’s fucking gone, okay? Gone. Deal.” Moore lit a cigarette and leaned back against one of the pews with his eyes closed. “And G.I. -ucking-Joe over there is going to tell us how it is that we won’t be joining him. Right, generalissimo?”

“I’ve had about enough of this shit,” Warrant growled. He spun and drew his pistol on Moore.

The thief’s eyes went wide as his hand strayed to the butt of his own pistol jammed in his waistband. Warrant was a lot of things in Don’s eyes, but if nothing else he was predictable; predictable enough for Don to know that if he so much as flinched in the next few moments Warrant would think nothing of gunning him down where he sat.

“Wait!” Kevin spoke up. He was shaking slightly, but his voice seemed stronger than it had since the start of all the excitement. “Everybody, please, just hold on a minute. Commander, we’re going to need every body we have. Don, we’ve got one badly injured and another one that has about two fingernails left to hold on to reality. You’re really not helping,” Kevin said. He waited for a moment, half–expecting either one of them or perhaps both to turn their pistols on him. Surprisingly enough, Warrant nodded slightly at Don and slowly lowered his weapon. Moore returned the favor and let his hand fall away from his own. Warrant holstered his pistol and took a long drag from his cigarette. On one hand, he needed to backhand him for getting in the way of discipline. But on the other, he was glad to see the kid develop some backbone.

“The kid’s right,” Bob Browning spoke up, a rare occurrence from the usually quiet man. He’d picked up his brother’s weapon from where Warrant had dropped it and held one of the guns in each arm. “Question is, what do we do about it?”

Warrant stared at Kevin with an expectant look. “Okay brainiac, you got our attention. What’re you going to bring to the table?”

Kevin swallowed hard. Everyone capable of looking was doing so and in his direction. “Well, what do we know about the gargoyles already?” Kevin saw Warrant roll his eyes and stare back out the window at the mention of the legendary beasts. “Or whatever they are.”

“They can fly, they can come out of the walls and floors, they slice, they dice and they make thousands of fuckin’ Julienne fries. Christ! Can we just go, please?” Don said.

“We don’t have anything that can kill them. We put maybe a hundred rounds of .50 into the one outside and it just flew out of range,” Bob countered.

“Seemed to do a pretty good job on the one downstairs, though,” Warrant mused. “So, what’s different?”

The room went quiet for a few moments. A soft pattering of rain had developed on the stained glass window as Warrant looked on.

“Light,” Don suddenly said, breaking the quiet and making more than one man jump. “The light; don’t you get it? Downstairs, the thing came after me until the lights went up.”

“What the hell does light have to do…” Warrant started.

“Wait a minute, er, sorry commander,” Kevin corrected himself. “But Don may have a point.”

Kevin got up from the pew and paced around the front of the room. “We saw it downstairs. We can only believe that what Don said happened down there did, in fact, happen. The one outside proves that. But why is the one downstairs not coming after us? Why was Jim able to break it up with the .50? Why aren’t they just coming in here right now and killing us?”

“What about the rest that have been through here over the years, then?” Warrant asked.

“That one I know,” Don added. “We found the problem with the electric downstairs. One of the main lines had been severed. Ripped apart, actually, and hid behind a bunch of crates. I’d bet your life that those things ripped the line out to make sure that the lights couldn’t come up.”

“You just now thought to bring this up?” Warrant growled.

“Hadn’t come up in conversation before, general. Been a little busy trying to save my ass. Sorry,” Don said.

“Okay… let’s say that all this bullshit is real. Let’s say we’re facing… gargoyles. All things being equal, they won’t be able to come into a lit–up room or they’ll turn to stone, right? Is that why we aren’t squaring off in here right now?” Warrant asked.

“Allowing for all that, it seems the only explanation,” Kevin answered. “But I’m no scholar on this stuff. I’m only guessing,” he cautioned.

“Then our objective is to keep the power on and stay in the lit areas until morning. Then, we take a sledgehammer to every gargoyle we find in the light of day. Simple.” Warrant beamed a genuine smile. Finally, some control. “Bob, you and Don go downstairs and post on the electrical panel. Make sure that nothing happens to it. Kevin and I will relieve you in a few hours.”

“Downstairs? Oh, hell no! I’m not going back down there for love or money!” Don said.

“Don, would you do it for your life?” Warrant countered. The steel in his eyes matched his voice as he stared him down. “We’re down too many for you to get squeamish. Besides, I can’t vouch for your safety if I’m left in a room with you for any length of time right now.”

“Oh, fuck me. Gargoyles outside, lunatic inside. What the hell did I do to deserve this?” Don gathered up his gear and nodded to Bob. “Let’s go before Commander Cody over there gets an itchy finger,” Don said. Bob simply nodded and stood. The pain of his brother’s death was evident in his eyes. But like Warrant, he was a professional. There would be time to grieve when the sun came up.

“Bob, we’ll look for him tomorrow. You can even have the privilege of chunkin’ up the first one we pull down,” Warrant said. It was the only real solace he could offer. Bob nodded again and followed Don out of the room then Warrant turned his attention to Manny. The merc’ just sat on the floor, staring at his friend’s body. Someone had pulled down a small tapestry from one of the walls and had covered Moe’s body. “Manny? Manny! You in there?”

“Huh? Yeah Boss. Me and Moe were just talkin’ about what we were gonna’ do with the money from this gig. Nothing personal Boss, but we’ve been thinkin’, well, Jack too, that we would retire. You know, maybe get a little ranch or something. Gentleman ranchers… yeah, that would be a nice way to live. Don’t you think, Boss?” Manny said.

“Yeah Manny. I might even join you on that deal. Why don’t you get… why don’t you two get some rest now, might need you to pull a turn at sentry later,” Warrant said. Kevin stood by, witnessing the exchange. He’d known Warrant the better part of a year, and he didn’t think the man was capable of compassion. Kevin shook his head a few times to clear the image and went to check on Gina.

“You’re right Boss. I am pretty tired. I was trying to wait for Jack, though,” Manny said.

“Jack’s on sentry right now, Manny,” Warrant said.

“Okay.” The mercenary stretched out beside Moe’s body and threw an arm over his eyes. “Think we could turn down the lights a little, Boss?”

“No. Sorry,” Warrant said.

“s’okay,” Manny said sleepily. “I won’t be awake much longer, anyway. That Moe, though, he can sleep through anything.” Manny lay flat for a moment, then curled up into a fetal position and used his forearm for a pillow. Warrant sighed and walked away, the weight of a commander squarely on his shoulders. Kevin met him halfway across the room.

“Gina’s still conscious. I don’t know how she’s doing it, though,” Kevin said.

“Probably because she knows she’s either in shock or isn’t far from it. Falling asleep now would be the same thing as slitting her throat. She’s a pro. Not likely that she’s going to go down without a fight.” Warrant pushed past Kevin and kneeled down beside her. “How you doing?” Gina opened her mouth to speak and grimaced through a fresh pang of agony. “Ssshhh. Don’t worry about it. I’d offer you some reds, but I don’t think you could swallow them,” Warrant said.
Gina looked up at him and smiled through her eyes. She flexed her fingers several times, giving Warrant a glimpse of the meat of her palms. She’d been digging her fingernails into her hands, letting the fresh pain keep her from sinking into death’s sleep.

“Just hang on till morning, girl. There’s got to be a medicine man in this town somewhere. We’ll find him and get you patched up. I’ll personally pay for whatever work you may need after that. Can’t be seen running around with a lady that looks like a gargoyle hit her, now can I?” Warrant said. Gina brought her hand up and weakly slapped his knee. “Now that’s the Gina I know. You cold? A blanket or something?” Warrant asked. She shook her head and adjusted her body slightly to a more comfortable posture. Then, she pointed to her empty holster and looked at him expectantly. Warrant put a hand on the butt of his pistol and paused, reluctant to give up his personal sidearm.

“Here.” Kevin offered his own pistol to her butt–first. “It’s not like I’m going to be using it much, anyway.” She nodded her thanks and pulled the slide back just enough to make sure there was a round in the chamber. The two men stood up and walked away to the far corner of the room.

“That was your only weapon, soldier,” Warrant said.

“I’m not a soldier. Neither is anybody else here. Hit me, shoot me, whatever, but it’s the truth,” Kevin said. He waited a moment for the fist that should come for his chin. After a few moments, he realized the assault wasn’t coming after all. “This military shit works fine for your everyday bit. But we’re not dealing with that here. Nobody’s used to shooting things that don’t fall down and die. Everybody will work together a lot better if you can just ease off on the structure a bit and recognize that this isn’t your standard job.”

“That structure is what has kept all your asses alive so far, kid. Discipline is needed in this situation more than a lot of others I’ve seen. We do it my way, we do it by the numbers, we all live,” Warrant said as he started walking away, then stopped. He leaned close to Kevin’s ear and said in barely a whisper, “I can understand that you’re young, and scared. And I respect the fact you had the guts to say what you did. Now, you’ll have to respect the fact that if I even so much as think you’re going to speak to me again in that manner or will disobey my harsh discipline and structure, I will be forced to rip off your fucking head and shit down your neck. Are we clear, soldier?” Warrant waited for a moment then placed an open hand to the left side of Kevin’s face. “A response in the affirmative is not an option, son.” Warrant said. Kevin nodded his head weakly and looked away from Warrant’s piercing gaze. “Good. I’ll make a man out of you yet.” He slapped Kevin’s face lightly, though there was no trace of playfulness in the gesture. It was a solid connection, one that told Kevin that he was on as thin ice with Warrant as the rest of them were with the gargoyles.


Don paced back and forth where the steps met the basement floor. He wasn’t budging anywhere that he couldn’t stick out his foot and feel the stairs underneath. Bob sat on a crate nearby and stared past the demolished gargoyle, past the electrical panel and back in time, remembering his brother.

Don pulled out a cigarette and lit it slowly, carefully and totally contrary to his near frenetic pacing. “Bob, I’m real sorry about Jim. He was a really nice guy. You don’t find that much in this business,” Don said.

Bob nodded absently and continued playing his own home movies. But in the back of his mind, in the darkest spaces, he was harboring something even darker; vengeance. Pure, sweet, simple vengeance. Bob almost wished one of them would burst through the wall now. He was ready for it. He would show it what a Browning boy could really do.

“Bob? You in there?” Don asked. Again, Bob nodded. Don Moore had not gotten this far in life by aggravating large men with even larger guns, so he let it go at that. He continued pacing and smoking, doing both with equal fervor. “So what do you think of all this, huh? This is some fucked–up shit here. ‘Become a mercenary, see the world, make lots of money, get bitch–slapped by a gargoyle’; wasn’t in my fuckin’ brochure, let me tell you. I think after this gig I’m gonna’ go live in south Florida and be a gigolo or something. Screwin’ rich, 80–year–old women has got to be more conducive to a long and healthy life than this shit.” He paused for a moment and watched for Bob’s reaction. Nothing, not even a nod. “Right. I’ll shut up now,” Don said.
Don sat down dejectedly and crushed his cigarette out on the wooden step. Good old wood. At least you could trust it not to spit gargoyles at you. At least he hoped he could. If nothing else, he could say that he had a real reason now to never set foot in a church again.

They sat in silence for awhile, broken only by the light, incessant tapping of Moore’s left foot. Bob didn’t seem to notice, but after a time Don even started to annoy himself. He pulled off his small pack, rummaged around for a moment and came up with a personal compact disc player and headphones. He put them on and touched the power button. Nothing. He tapped it a few times and waited expectantly for the light to come on. Still nothing. He sighed and pulled the headphones off. Just his luck. He could be killed at any moment by crazed stone gargoyles and he couldn’t even listen to a little Garth Brooks. Don looked around and spied an electrical outlet on a nearby wall. “Well, there. What do we have here?” Don said. Bob shot him a look and started to bring his weapon to bear. “Whoa there, easy tiger. Nothing important,” Don said. Bob went back to staring at the past.

Don got up and went across the room, giving a wide berth to both Kyber and the gargoyle’s remains scattered across the floor. He picked up Kyber’s discarded toolkit and returned to his perch on the steps. Don was no Kyber, but he was an American, by God. A little American ingenuity could go a long way. He found a length of tightly–bound electrical cord in the bag and played with several different adapters until he found one to fit his player. He spliced them together and plugged it in to his music machine. The other end of the cord he stripped to expose the bare wires and looked around the bag for a plug. After a few minutes of looking, he put the bag down on the steps and stared at the bare wire ends. Don brightened after a moment and got up, spooling the wire behind him and went to the wall socket.

“No reason why this shouldn’t work,” Don mumbled to himself, careful not to spike Bob’s attention. He kneeled down and spread the two wires apart, then gently shoved them into the outlet until they stopped. He looked back on the steps and saw the green power indicator alive and staring back at him. “At least something’s going right,” Don mumbled and went back to the stairs. He sat down and put on his headphones just as a thin, airy buzzing noise filled the room and echoed off the stone walls and floor. Sparks leaped out from the wall outlet, the elderly fixture unable to handle Don’s MacGyver–like skill. The lights in the basement flickered for a moment then died. “Oh, fuck me…” Don pulled off the headphones again and put everything down on the steps.

“What did you do, Don?” Bob asked quietly, a flashlight beam already emitting from his seat.

“Okay, so I’m not Bob Villa, all right? Probably just a fuse. I’ll check. We found extras.” Don pulled out his flashlight and walked towards the electrical panel. “You’ve got my back, right?”

“Yes,” Bob answered.

“Right.” Don went around the gargoyle once again and shined his light on the electrical panel. It was all Greek to him. “Think maybe you could give me a hand over here?” He saw Bob’s flashlight move around for a moment and heard the belted cartridges clink against the receiver of his machine gun as he walked across the room. Bob leaned his weapon against the panel support and added his light to Don’s while they opened various panels and boxes looking for the culprit fuse. After more than a minute of looking, Don spied one of the old glass fuses with a blackened copper element leering at him. “There you are. Found it, Bob. Hand me one of those fuses there.” Fresh fuse in hand, Don put his fingers on the blown fuse to remove it and yanked them back with a yelp. He dropped the fresh fuse in the momentary shock and sucked on his fingers.

“Hot?” Bob asked.

“Oh, no, not at all. Everybody knows that glass is a piss–poor conductor of heat,” Don said. He grabbed his flashlight and started scanning the floor for the dropped fuse. He only hoped the glass casing around it hadn’t broken in the fall. Don scanned the floor closely and caught a glint of light reflected back at him. The fuse had rolled up against a large chunk of the demolished gargoyle’s head. He went to it and hesitated a moment as the sightless eye stared up at him. As Don reached for it, he paused for a moment with fingers extended. Did the eye just blink? No, couldn’t have. A sound like tires on a gravel road suddenly started around the room. “Oh shit… this can’t be good. Bob!”

The two mercenaries trained their beams on the remains of the stone killer. The pieces were moving, their rough edges scraping across the stone floor. Large chunks and small slivers slid across the floor at various speeds and directions. As pieces were drug nearer the rest by unseen forces, small slivers and large bits grafted together in their original order and way, rapidly reforming the beast in the sculptor’s intended image. The pair backed away from the regenerating gargoyle and put the electrical panel to their backs. Neither did so much as draw a weapon as they watched the spectacle of their impending deaths form on the floor before them.

ohfuckohfuckohfuck…” Don babbled softly. The assembled pieces rose off the floor and attached to the torso in their proper places until finally the head spun up from the floor and sat itself back on the thing’s stumpy neck. The large eyes blinked several times as the creature’s skin took on a lighter grey color. It flexed its fingers and arms a few times, then glared at the mercenaries and let out a long, low hiss.

“Bob,” Don whispered, “get the .50…” The gargoyle was obviously possessed of the same perfect sight as his kin. It had already been cut to pieces by the weapon before, and it certainly wouldn’t permit the same thing to happen twice. It half–shrieked, half–roared and shot out a hand to catch the big man’s arm in a fist nearly as large as his head. It squeezed its fingers and hissed as muscle and bone crushed together in its grip. Bob’s scream galvanized Don to action. He darted to his right and went in a dead run for the stairs as the thing tried to grab him in its other hand. Don could feel the claws as they grazed his shoulder though he didn’t let the pain stop his feet. There was nothing he could do for Bob now except die with him, and he didn’t like anyone that much. He wasn’t about to sacrifice his life for the sake of unit cohesion. Don crossed the room and made the top of the stairs without feeling a single tread along the way.


Warrant had just finished taking stock of their remaining weapons and ammunition when the lights overhead suddenly surged then died in a bright flash. Several of the old bulbs couldn’t handle the surge of power and burst apart, showering the sanctuary with tiny slivers of glass.

“This can’t be a good sign,” Kevin muttered from somewhere in the darkened sanctuary. Only a soft glow made it through the heavy, colored windows. They both turned their flashlights on as Warrant went to wake up Manny and Kevin went to sit with Gina.

“Kevin, you with her?” Warrant asked.

“Yeah,” his voice quavered slightly as he avoided shining the light directly into Gina’s face. Kevin felt her neck and found a surprisingly strong pulse. Her hand shot up and closed around his wrist. “Sorry, just checking,” Kevin whispered.

“Stay there, we’re coming,” Warrant called out from the darkness. Kevin watched his flashlight play over Manny and the tapestry that covered Moe.

“Just where the hell would we go?” Kevin mumbled. He heard Manny and Warrant arguing about bringing Moe with them. Warrant finally told Manny that Moe was going to take point and keep watch over a nearby side door. Mollified, Manny and Warrant slipped over to Kevin and Gina. They heard Moore calling out and brought their lights to bear on the main entryway into the sanctuary.

Don’t shoot!” Don called out as he slid through the entryway. He followed their lights and threw himself down breathlessly beside them.

“What happened down there?” Warrant asked.

“I don’t know, the power just cut out. Kyber said that could happen with the building being so old and all,” he lied. No point in making the situation worse by playing the blame game.

“Hell of a time. We still have hours before dawn,” Warrant said.

“Now do we get the hell out of here?” Don asked. “We can come back in the morning with sledgehammers… hell, a jackhammer if you want, and turn ‘em to dust. Besides, I don’t think I’m the only one here that could use a drink.”

“Guess you left Bob to die down there, huh?” Warrant asked.

“He was dead before I left,” Don lied again. “I am a human being too, you know?”

“No. I don’t know that. Okay, we need to travel before these things realize the lights aren’t on and somebody is home,” Warrant said.

“Let me go get Moe,” Manny said.

“Moe’s rear guard, Manny. He’ll be okay. Trust me. He knows what he’s doing,” Warrant said, ignoring the dark look Kevin threw his way.

“Too late…” Gina croaked. The beam of her light caught a large lump moving just underneath the surface of the stone floor, like muscles under skin.

“Does it know where we are?” Don whispered.

“Does it matter?” Warrant said.

The lump moved towards Moe’s body. As it neared, it started to rise like a submarine breaking the surface. The gargoyle paid no attention to their flashlights and lifted Moe’s lifeless body by both ankles. Manny issued a stark battle cry and burst up from the floor at a dead run, his machine gun chattering all the way. The others could see the bullets strike the gargoyle but the slugs did little more than leave angry, red welts and an even angrier gargoyle.

The gargoyle turned its head and roared. After a few more steps Manny’s weapon went dry. He dropped the empty gun as he ran and threw himself into the air, meaning to ram the gargoyle with his own body. But as Manny went airborne the thing swung Moe’s body around in a wide arc and intercepted the flying mercenary. The sound of bones snapping echoed across the sanctuary as Manny went down hard. He didn’t get back up.

The gargoyle stared into the flashlight beams for a moment then turned its head away. From out in the hall they could hear a heavy, steady tread coming for them. “That would be the one from downstairs. I’m outta’ here,” Don said. He pulled his pistol and plastered himself against the wall at the edge of the entryway, hoping that he would escape the gargoyle’s notice for a few precious moments after it walked into the room.

Warrant cursed under his breath at Moore and leveled his weapon at the traitorous thief. In the tension, no one had noticed the footsteps had stopped. Just as Warrant was ready to kill his own man the wall behind him bulged inward, pushing Moore away from it. The gargoyle slipped out of the wall as if he were walking through rice paper. The stone behind him rippled for a moment after his passing then returned to its smooth, unmarred state.

“Move!” Warrant screamed and waved his light in the direction of the stained glass windows on the other side of the room. Kevin and Warrant helped Gina to her feet and lagged back with her to keep her from falling. A third gargoyle dropped from the ceiling and came to earth where the group had been standing a scant few seconds before. As the group made the wall the three gargoyles slowly advanced from their points in the room. They didn’t need to hurry; their prey wasn’t going anywhere.

Warrant reached up to the shoulder–height sill of the nearest window and pounded it with his fist. The glass barely shook in its lead moorings. He raised his machine gun awkwardly over his head and pointed the muzzle at the glass then pulled the trigger, barely able to keep it down as the gun bucked and jumped in his unsteady grip. He could hear the glass crackle and break, but when he looked up at it there were few true holes through it. Gina and Don gauged their distance from the gargoyles, then followed Warrant’s example with their handguns, aiming for the areas that were pocked and cracked from Warrant’s attack. Several large pieces of the glass broke away, but not nearly enough to allow a body to pass.

“It’s weak now,” Warrant yelled.

“Not weak enough,” Don returned as he slammed a fresh magazine home. Gina grabbed the thief and rummaged around in his pack as the gargoyles neared and pulled out two grenades.

“Gina! No! They’re too close!” Warrant screamed. “You’ll get us, too!”**
The woman paid him no heed and pulled both pins then reached up over her head and placed the grenades on the deep window sill before dropping to the stone floor with her arms laced over her head.

“Oh fuck me,” Don cried out and threw himself down as Kevin and Warrant figured out her intent. The four crowded as close to the stone wall as they could just as the gargoyles came within arms reach. Suddenly, the world went to hell.


Both grenades went off at the same time. The sheltering stone kept the worst of the fallout from the four mercenaries while completely destroying the two–story–tall window. Thick, sharp shards of glass and chunks of stone blew out in all directions. The explosion caught the three gargoyles off–guard, the intense flash of light causing them to shrink away and throw their arms up over their faces.


Even before the smoke cleared, Warrant was rousing his people. He sent Kevin onto the sill and handed Gina up to him then reached down to Moore and discovered a long, jagged shard of blue–tinted glass had pierced the back of his skull to exit where his nose should have been. Warrant accepted Kevin’s hand–up just as the gargoyles regained their senses and had started for them again. The claws of the lead gargoyle sank almost up to their length in the stone beneath the window just as Warrant’s legs cleared the sill. The mercenaries jumped from the window ledge to land on the debris in the courtyard below.


The trio wasted no time and didn’t bother to look back as they helped each other run across the courtyard towards town. Just ahead, they could see the fourth gargoyle in the dim light. It lay on the ground, shaking its head and trying to get to its knees. Warrant assumed that it had been in the air when the blast hit, and the resulting shockwave and flying debris had given it something to think about.


Had it not been for the blast, Warrant figured the gargoyle would’ve crashed through the window and been on top of them while the rest closed in for the kill. As a group they skirted around the gargoyle just as it got to its feet and kept running. They could hear the thing behind them, and it was gaining ground fast. If it would have flown, it could have easily caught up with them and rained death on them from above. Warrant only hoped it was still too stunned to think clearly enough for that.

The mercenaries hit the edge of the courtyard and stumbled over a knee–high decorative stone wall made nearly invisible in the darkness and landed in tangles of arms and legs, sliding on the rain–slicked grass beyond the courtyard. Warrant drew his pistol and aimed it back towards the church, expecting to see their pursuer standing over him. Instead, the gargoyle stood on the opposite side of the low stone wall and hissed at them. He could hear the others flying in on their wings of stone. These, too, alit on the opposite side of the wall. The four creatures regarded the mercenaries almost indifferently and alternated between hissing and low growling.


Warrant risked a look to the side and saw Gina in his same posture. Kevin had already got up on his haunches and had pulled a small disposable camera from his pack. He touched off the shutter and the resulting flash caused the creatures to take a step back and hiss.

“They can’t go past the wall,” Kevin said. Warrant holstered his pistol slowly and regarded the quartet of monsters just a few yards away then reached down to help Gina to her feet. She swayed slightly and stared intently at the gargoyles. It was like looking into a different world. Gina raised her weapon and fired several rounds into one of the things. It rocked back a few inches and hissed at her but wouldn’t budge past the wall. After a few moments the gargoyles spread their wings and vaulted into the air, pitch silhouettes in the ebon night sky.

“Drink,” Warrant said. It wasn’t a question or a request. They turned their backs on the Corduva Church and walked away, knowing without speaking that they would return. Next time, they would know their own weaknesses as well as those of the gargoyles. Next time, they would find the vault.







The gargoyles flew straight into the western wall of the Corduva Church and emerged within the sanctuary. They regarded the damage to their charge for a moment then separated. They entered the walls and coursed through their sheltering stone. Everywhere they passed, stone and mortar were returned to their previous condition. Chips and slivers from the humans’ weapons were instantly healed and the shattered stone sill was repaired in moments. The glass had been made by the hand of man, nothing to be done for it. The pews of wood that had been damaged by the humans’ fearful fire were removed and taken to the basement. The bodies of the humans that remained provided a blood feast for the creatures and left each corpse drained of the stuff. They had no real need to eat, but that made it no less sweet.

They left the broken and battered dead in a neat row before the altar and entered the walls as one. They slipped through the stone as easily as they cut through the air and emerged in the hallway of the fourth floor. Reverently, gently, the largest of them brushed a stone finger against the corner of the tapestry that the weak human had dared to touch, correcting the nap of the felt so that it returned to its perfect state. The four stood and regarded the tapestry for several moments, their thoughts and words communicated through the very stone under their feet for all to share.







The gargoyles each placed a hand on the tapestry before melding with the stone at their feet and coursing through the walls of the church to the roof. Two of them grabbed a large slab of loose stone that sat there and brought it back through the walls to the sanctuary. They lifted it into place and melded with the stone. The slab stretched and changed, filling the space of the shattered window and grafting with the stone window box. When they emerged, it appeared that there had never been a window in the spot, only smooth stone. The rest of the cleanup would be accomplished by the faithful in the morning. They would come. The wood had been removed from the door. They would come. They would provide life to the church again. They would make sure that any that came in search of the gate would be hard pressed to enter so easily. But the one with the eyes of steel… that one would return if no other.



They melded with the stone once more and slipped up through the levels of the church, each emerging in their respective alcoves at the four corners on the fourth floor. They took up their eternal positions and made ready to rest just as the light of the new day touched the spires of the Corduva Church.





Thanks again for spending some time with me, and I hope you enjoyed "The Vault" parts I and II. I appreciate your readership, and I hope you stop back again for more free fiction from my twisty little mind. So, until next time, just write damn it. - Author