Dale Parker sat quietly in the chair beside his brother’s hospital bed, reading through the book he’d come away from the Winger Estate with. It was a leather bound journal, handwritten on yellowed vellum by Lewis Percival Winger himself. Much of the writing inside was in some sort of code, with arcane symbols drawn with an uneven hand, but there were also bits and pieces of prose and poetry, and a lengthy work that was, perhaps, an unpublished novella. While the hospital monitors chirped and beeped, he lost himself in the story that was written within its pages.
The silence was unbearable, like a weight crushing the very breath from his lungs. Solemn and melancholy, Lawrence Weaver had sought to drown the oppressive feelings with a smooth Single Malt, culled from his private stock. The Scotch had been aged as long as he had, fifty years this past March, but the spirits did little to raise his. There was no time for him, no place for him in this world, and none that waited in the hereafter. He had bartered away any chance for happiness in the here and now and squandered any hope of salvation.
“So be it,” he barked, downing his glass and tossing the empty vessel into the vacant hearth of the fireplace. “Who wants to live forever anyway?”
“Certainly not you.”
Weaver rose from his chair with a start. He was in a sealed room; the chamber door barred against entry, yet here stood a figure most unwanted. Draped in a black cloak that billowed about him as if it were a sentient thing, the fiend smiled at his prey’s distress.
“Villain,” Weaver spat. “Your very presence is an affront to me. I command you to be gone, unclean spirit.”
“Your command over me has ended, Lawrence Weaver, as per our agreement. Or have you forgotten? Shall I produce the document to which you signed your name, in blood no less?”
“Damn you and that infernal document, demon. I was a child when I signed away that which I would now cling to with my very last breath.”
“Is that so?”
“I will not go quietly, blackheart!”
“I see. What I have come for is mine already, but if it is a sporting chance that you desire, a false hope that our contract might be nullified, then by all means, we shall see to it.”
“A sporting chance? Yes, that’s it exactly. That’s all I ask. Give me a chance to undo that which I have done. I cannot be made to pay for youthful ignorance and folly.”
“Oh, you’ll pay, Lawrence Weaver, in blood most sweet.”
With a subtle gesture, the figure caused a conflagration to erupt within the confines of the fireplace. It crackled with eldritch energy, fueled by the impossible creature that even now discarded its cloak. Crossing the room, it took down the twin sabers that were displayed above the mantle, tossing one to Weaver and cutting at the air with the blade he retained. It sang with a haunting melody, the cold steel alive in the fiend’s expert grasp.
“Surely you jest, Bifrons of the Tombs,” Weaver winced. “A duel? This is your idea of a sporting chance?”
The figure’s vacant stare cut into the man’s soul as deeply as any blade could. There was no sympathy there, no compassion. Within those black orbs there was naught but the promise of death.
The fiend sprang forward, the saber slicing through the electrified air with a powerful stroke that, had it found its mark, would have surely split Weaver in two. The man had only just raised his weapon, deflecting the blow, but a shockwave raced through his arm, jarring him and shaking him to his very core.
This was it then, Weaver thought, to the death.
It was to the death.
Staggered, Weaver was driven back. With each attack, the man was only just able to defend, but the ferocity of the blows was sheer agony. Never once did he rear his weapon in offense. The tireless assailant rained down on him cruel strike after cruel strike, filling his opponent with a crippling desperation.
With a mind-numbing flourish, the fiend disarmed Weaver, his saber clanging against the stone floor, far out of reach. The tip of the figure’s saber stopped short of a killing stroke, hovering beneath his chin, drawing but a warm stream of blood. The fluid rolled down the cold steel, arcing along the tempered groove and kissing the bronze hilt like a shy lover would, chaste beneath an enchanted moonlit night in a forest of sinister promise.
“Our contract, Lawrence Weaver, has reached its fruition. Your soul is ripe and ready to be served upon my master’s table.”
“Please, grim Bifrons, a bit longer. I beg of you.” Tears rolled down the man’s cheeks. Exhausted, but filled with fear and the crush of desolation, Weaver was less a man, whimpering as a child would.
“You disgust me, Weaver. Did I not keep my end of our bargain? Did I not fulfill my promise to you?”
“But I had no idea that…” His voice broke and his bladder gave way along with his knees. Dropping to the ground, his head bowed low in grim resolution. He was shamed. In his fantasies he had been a brave and honorable man, one who he had always believed would be able to face death with his head raised high, but this was just a fantasy. In the end he was a pathetic wretch, begging for a chance at one more day.
Even as he silently pleaded, he was forced to wonder why he bothered. He was undeserving of life. He had wasted his time on earth, descending into hedonistic debauchery. He had been cruel to nearly everyone who had crossed his path. What would a reprieve from death gain him, but the promise to deliver more misery upon his fellow man? Better to have it end now, in dishonor and shame, than to sink any lower, if that were even possible.
“Listen Lawrence Weaver. Do you hear it, there in the distance? The thundering waves call out to me. They call me home. And they are calling to you as well. It’s a haunting song those waves play, enticing me to leave this dance behind and lose myself in its melody, rising up into the dark and tumultuous clouds, perhaps to rain down upon another who is a better man than you. Once long ago, I could taste the essence of you. Your soul was alive and held the promise of a cup filled with a sweet nectar, but here now you are a bitter and vile brew, unworthy of my consumption.”
“You’re… you’re releasing me from our bargain?”
“I have no want of you. I’ll see your soul cast into the fire, unmarked by heaven or hell. You will cease to exist, for there is no sustenance in you, for angel or demon or any of the Host. I despise you and consign you to utter oblivion.”
The fiend’s eyes glassed over. Black orbs gave way to the red hue of the fireplace’s blaze and it was a dragon’s breath that Lawrence Weaver felt upon him.
“The Old Ways are lost. They hold no sway over mortal men.”
The figure’s hands grasped the head of Lawrence Weaver, its eyes burrowing into his flesh. Weaver screamed in agony as all that he was and would ever be was consumed by hellfire.
“Mores the pity.”
And with that the figure was gone, carried away on an ancient wind.
Dale jumped in his seat, startled by his brother’s voice.
“Don’t do that,” he said, sitting up straight and setting the journal aside. His heart was thundering in his chest. Not surprising considering all that had transpired in the past few hours. Dale crossed the room to stand by his brother’s bedside. “How’re you feeling?”
“Fine, and you didn’t answer my question. I know when my brother’s head is wrapped all up in knots.”
Dale picked up the journal and dropped it into Allen’s lap. “It’s some of Winger’s writings. Most of it’s useless, written in some kind of coded language.” Allen flipped through the book. “Some of the sigils seem familiar. Stuff I’ve seen in dad’s library, I think. I’ll investigate more thoroughly once we get out of this place. The rest of it is bits and pieces of stories. One of them’s almost complete, it’s story of a man who had sold his soul and was trying to win it back. I don’t know… I get the feeling it’s important.”
“Well, no sense in getting too caught up in it. Mom told me that Detective Franklin read you the riot act and essentially told us to not butt in where we’re not wanted.”
“Like that’s ever stopped us before.”
“We’ve never stumbled onto something like this before either. This is definitely up dad’s alley. Chasing ghosts is one thing, but this is far beyond anything we’ve ever experienced.”
“I don’t know, Allen. I’m not sure I can let this slide. There’s a young girl in that house that needs help now, not later.”
“Not to mention the fact that she’s smoking hot.”
“That has nothing to do with it. She needs our help.”
“Well that’s just too bad.” The boys turned to see their mother in the doorway, hands on her hips. “Dale Parker, you should be ashamed of yourself. Look at your brother. And on a school night? Really, I don’t know what you were thinking. You’re both lucky to be alive.”
“I know mom, but the Martins’ are in trouble. Big trouble,” Dale said. “Someone’s got to help them.”
Mrs. Parker joined her eldest son at Allen’s bedside, placing her hand on the boy’s forehead while her eyes scolded Dale. “Someone, maybe, but not the two of you. It’s bad enough your father trots off to parts unknown on this foolishness. I’ll be damned if I let you both put yourselves in harm’s way chasing phantoms. I had a talk with Joe and he told me what happened in that house, or more accurately what didn’t happen.”
“What are you talking about?” Allen asked, sitting up with a grimace.
“Detective Franklin thinks we imagined everything that happened in the Winger house,” Dale said. “He says it was some form of hysteria.”
“Hysteria? It sure as heck wasn’t hysteria that beat me half to death. Joe Franklin knows us. It’s not like we’re some potheaded rejects from a Scooby Doo cartoon. Why would he say that?”
“I don’t know, Allen. Maybe he’s under pressure from his bosses, or maybe even Security Forces out of Grissom. Cassidy’s dad is the base commander.”
“Or maybe you boys are in over your heads and he wants to make sure nothing happens to his best friend’s kids?” Evelyn Parker looked worried and tired. The weight of the evening was bearing down on her. Dale watched as her eyes looked over Allen’s battered and bruised body. He was lucky that it wasn’t more serious.
“Or maybe nothing. Man, that ticks me off,” Allen huffed. “We didn’t imagine this. Mrs. Martin was not herself. She was a crazed maniac and impossibly strong. I cleaned her clock good with a brass candlestick. By all rights she should be dead, but she just kept coming like some kind of monster.”
“Allen Parker that will be enough. I can’t hear any more of this. I can’t. This is over. Do you understand me? I won’t hear another word on it. We’re going to pretend that none of this ever happened and when your father gets home, he’ll deal with it. Understood?”
“Yes, mother,” the boys said in unison, each lying through their respective teeth.