by Ryan Mich
The knock at the door told Scott Browning that something was not right about that night. He and his Uncle Wesley never had people knocking at their door. They had been staying at the townhouse for about three weeks now. No one knew about them, nor did they try to associate with anyone. Scott had never supported that order from his uncle but had nevertheless submitted. He had kept him safe for the first sixteen years of Scott’s life, and here Scott was still, alive in the dim living room of their recent Albany, New York, residence, reading from his magazine.
He looked over to the threshold near the entryway by the door. He watched as Wesley came into sight, motioning for him to keep quiet as he approached the door. Scott stood up, brushing his black hair away from his eyes, and inched his way across the room, watching as Wesley pulled out his pistol. Scott reached and pulled out his switchblade from his pocket. He didn’t extend the blade yet; that was only when danger was imminent.
Wesley’s hand slowly moved to the doorknob.
“Who…who is it?” he called.
There was no answer, which was never a good sign. Wesley looked over at Scott, giving him a look of seriousness on his young, forty-year-old face. His brown hair was starting to grey, and the threat of age was poking at his back, but that hadn’t stopped him from doing what he needed doing.
Wesley inched the door open, peeking around and looking at the storm door. Through the glass he could see a woman. She was tall, in her mid–twenties, maybe, with flowing blonde hair that ran halfway down her back. She was dressed in a tight red shirt, brown leather jacket, and loose jeans. Wesley knew this woman. Her name was Theresa Devine.
Wesley sighed a breath of relief as he opened the screen glass door and allowed the woman to walk in. He took a second glance out into the night before shutting the door.
The woman nodded to Sam, who didn’t ease his tension-filled stance as she stared at him with her crystal blue eyes.
“Theresa…what are you doing here?” Wesley said.
“I could ask you the same thing,” said the woman named Theresa. She looked about. “A townhouse? Not exactly your style.”
“I did my best,” Wesley said sternly. “And not that it’s not a pleasure to see you, but why….”
Wesley looked over at his nephew, who stood tensely, looking at the two adults.
“Scott, go to your room,” Wesley said. ‘I’ll be there in a few.”
Scott gave his uncle a look of astonishment.
“You’re fucking kidding me, right?’
“Scott!” Wesley called.
Scott gave a glare at his uncle and ignored the woman as he stomped around them and up the stairs. Wesley waited for the door to Scott’s room to close before he continued.
“OK, Devine,” Wesley said. “What are you doing here? You know about me and if it’s….
Theresa reached into her pocket and pulled out a couple of folded-up papers. She kept her face neutral as she handed them to Wesley, who opened and examined them.
“Your next assignment,” she said.
Wesley’s gaze shifted from its usual calmness to a look of surprised shock. He looked up at Theresa, who sighed, shutting her eyes in misery.
“This is …?” Wesley asked
“I’m sorry,” Wesley called.
“No time to be sorry,” Theresa said. “Just do what you have to do and get out. Lara will be waiting for you.”
She turned and started out of the doorway. Wesley called to her, making her stop and look back.
“It’s good to see ya,” he smiled.
She grinned back before beginning to go off, down the road. How she had gotten there and where she was headed now, Wesley would never know. Instead, he took the pages, read them quickly, and headed upstairs.
Scott grunted, contemplating his uncle for the billionth time. They had been on the road for years, about a year after Scott’s parents died and Wesley was given guardianship. That was ten years ago. Wesley had never talked about their situation. Only that it was serious and that he had made some bad decisions with bad people. Scott had amused himself when he was younger by thinking Wesley was a secret agent or something. Those exciting thoughts had long since escaped his mind, leaving him with annoyance and confusion. These emotions, however, were only intensified when he heard his door open and saw Wesley poke his head in.
“Pack a bag,” he said sternly, the look in his eyes too serious to miss. “In the car…. Ten minutes.”
Although Scott wanted to argue with his uncle, he obeyed the man’s orders, and within ten minutes they were speeding out of town, heading for the highway leading up to Vermont.
They lad left at 10:34 a.m. ,and Scott found himself groaning in misery when he looked at the clock on the dashboard showing 1:15 a.m. He grunted and pulled out a cigarette from his bag, cracked the car window, and lit it.
“Hey!” Wesley called. ‘What the hell? I thought we talked about you quitting?”
“We also talked about settling down for once but that isn’t going over too well,” Scott spat.
Wesley sighed, looking at his nephew, whose sneering was aimed out the window. The trees lining the highway were now a large black shadowy mass in the night sky. He let Scott look at them for a few minutes before he spoke.
“Look…,” Wesley said. “I know this life hasn’t been exactly fair to you. I don’t blame you. I’d be pissed too. It’s just there are some bad people in this world. Worse than bad. People almost…”
“Demonic?” Scott frustratingly called.
Wesley was grateful Scott’s head was turned, avoiding him seeing his face turn pale. “Kinda. It’s just very…”
“Complicated,” Scott said, not turning his head. “We’ve had this conversation before. Or should I say lack of a conversation ‘cause every time I ask you for the truth, I never get it. All I know is that you help out other people who keep us safe.”
Wesley knew explaining that his secrecy was for Scott’s safety would do no good. Scott wasn’t in any mood to hear the speech again. Wesley wouldn’t be either if he were in his nephew’s shoes. Scott had been to almost two dozen schools in the past decade and had long since stopped trying to make friends. Wesley grunted guiltily, reached over, grabbed the pack of cigarettes poking out of Scott’s bag, and lit one for himself. He had given them up for almost six months, until now.
“Fuck it,” Wesley whispered to himself. He greedily took a drag and cracked the window on the driver’s side for himself. He allowed his lungs to fill and then empty the smoke before he spoke again. “Look, I’ll make ya a deal. After tonight, I’ll tell ya everything I know. Anything you want to know, I will tell you. No more secrets and…I’ll look into finding a more permanent place. However…you gotta promise me you’ll quit and try to behave yourself a little better.”
Scott looked over at his uncle, the only person he had had for the past ten years. He owed him everything, but at the same time he could be a pain in his ass sometimes, and he in Wesley’s. Hell, they were only men. It’s what they did.
“Deal,” Scott said sternly, mocking Wesley’s tone.
Wesley chuckled, dragging on his cigarette again.
“Not so hard to quit, is it?” Scott grinned.
“It’s not me I’m looking out for,” Wesley said, turning on the windshield wipers as snow started to fall.
A half-hour passed by before the first sign of civilization showed along the cliffside road. It was an old motel on the opposite side of the road. Scott saw the neon sign in the parking lot from half a mile away. As they passed it, despite its quaint look, he felt a heavy sense of foreboding amongst the doorways to the rooms and the office to the side.
He brushed off the feeling and watched as the road inclined, sloping upwards for a quarter of a mile. At the top, Wesley pointed into the distance several miles away, where the distant lights of a town could be seen twinkling.
“There it is,” he said.
Scott looked at a road sign showing nearby destinations and their distances. He judged their own destination by its short distance.
“Iron Hill?” he asked.
“What’s so special about a place like Iron Hill?” Scott asked.
“If there’s one thing you’re gonna learn from your Uncle here, Scott, it’s that in this world things aren’t always what they appear.”
The town was small, a little too small for Scott’s liking. It was nestled into a valley down from the cliffside road the two were driving on. The entrance to the town opened up to reveal a line of shops leading up to a nearby town square where a small grassy area sat in the center. Neighborhood streets and small homes dotted here and there within the streets gave the town a historical look. The houses were a mix of colonial, Tudor, and bungalows that had endured years of renovation and reconstruction.
“Weird place,” Scott admitted as Wesley turned the car and started down a side road, where a classy school could be seen through metal gates surrounding the property. The grounds were heavily thicketed with trees, making a decent look hard to accomplish.
“Ravencroft Academy?” Scott said, looking at the entrance sign. “These country folks definitely have some weird names.
He looked at Wesley, whose gaze was not directed at the school but at the wooded area beside it. Scott couldn’t see his face, but his tense position gave Wesley’s fears away.
The snow had already coated the streets and sidewalks of the town with a decent three-inch blanket by the time Wesley pulled the car into a space beside the sidewalk in front of a semi-large office building. Scott waited while Wesley sat for a few moments breathing deeply, allowing the pitter patter of the snow against the car to sound. He then turned to his nephew and spoke in a tone so low and so serious, Scott’s spine shook.
“I need you…,” Wesley said.
“I know, stay in the car and wait for you to get back,” Scott said. “I know the drill.”
“Good man,” Wesley called as he dropped the keys onto one of the cup holders and got out.
The sensations of the place he hoped to never return to hit his person as he climbed out of the car and into the snowy night. The large snowflakes glistened in the light of the electric lampposts along the sidewalk as he started up the road. Scott, meanwhile, nestled down and predicted a long wait.
The night was heavy with winters’ chill, which found its way through the sweatshirt and jeans Wesley wore. The roads were yet to be cleared by snowplows, offering a problem, should he have to leave the town earlier than expected. He pointed his head to the east, hearing a loud
He made his way up the road toward the town’s square, passing small family- owned shops, houses, and an old used bookstore whose porch lights were kept on.
Wesley quickened his pace, not wanting to be spotted by anybody in the town, especially….certain individuals. He reached into his memory and pulled out an old shortcut he had used in previous years to reach the town square.
In between two large buildings was a spacious alleyway, allowing a car to pass through it, if necessary, and allowing the snow from above to graciously fall into the niche. Wesley entered it, grateful that the moon above was almost full, which gave a milky glow to illuminate his walk.
“Just get in and get out,” he whispered to himself, repeating it over and over again.
A nearby payphone, one amongst a series of four within the alleyway, began to ring. Wesley ignored it and continued down the way. He slowed, however, when he heard a second payphone begin to ring, followed by a third, until within a few precious moments, all four were ringing. His spine shook in fear as he crossed over and picked up the first payphone. His hand shook as he lifted the phone off the receiver and listened as all four phones immediately stopped. Signs like this were never good. Nevertheless, he put the phone to his ear.
“Hello,” he said.
“Hello, Wesley,” a female voice responded. The voice didn’t belong to Theresa this time, but to a much older acquaintance of his.
“Lara,” Wesley stated.
“Yes,” Lara’s voice chuckled warmly.
“I’m in Iron Hill,” he stated. “I’m on my way to the Lair. I will be there in a few minutes.”
“Don’t bother. I’m not in Iron Hill,” Lara quickly stated. “And neither should you be. You need to leave the town immediately.”
Wesley’s heart skipped a beat as the memories of running from his former enemies amongst these streets came back, flashing across his eyes.
“Why?” he asked.
“They know you are there,” Lara shrilled.
Wesley’s head popped up from the payphone, and he looked about, expecting to see a half a dozen of them around him already. When he found that he was alone, his chest heaved, in even more fear than if his enemies had been in the alley.
“I took the main road in,” Wesley explained. “I’ve been in the town for a quarter of an hour. How could they know already?”
Lara sighed. “They have known for a while, Wesley.”
Wesley took in a sharp breath, straightening himself up as the terrifying revelation of Lara’s words sunk into him. His heart knew the truth behind what Lara was saying, but his mind still needed to hear it.
Lara sighed again, her voice filled with hurt. “I’m so sorry, Wesley.”
“You bitch,” Wesley quickly snapped. ‘You told them. You knew and you told them.”
“I’m so sorry,” Lara’s voice sounded sympathetic again. “I really am. They found me first this time. You and your side knew the rules and risks when you first contacted me all those years ago. And you said yes. Despite everything, you knew this night would come eventually.”
“Not tonight,” Wesley harshly whispered. “I have my nephew with me tonight.”
“Then I suggest you hurry,” Lara said. “Because it’s not just your future on the line, it’s his. And you of all people know what kind of future Scott has in store for him.”
Wesley’s thoughts brought him back to that first day. That first day he had picked Scott up at social services, several days after the car accident that killed his parents. He had searched for almost two years before he found an answer. Then Theresa had showed up on his doorstep. She had told him everything, and that conversation still haunted him.
“What do I have to do?” Wesley asked.
A rise in static electricity coupled with a high, rising, buzzing sensation began to echo horrendously amongst the streets of the town. It slipped into Wesley’s head through his eardrums, making every inch of his body want to shake to remove the horrific sensations from him. The phone began to crackle and pop with interference, but Wesley could pick out the one word Lara called before he lost her.
A second later, a deafening pop sharply echoed through the night, extinguishing all the lights and the electricity of Iron Hill and leaving Wesley alone in that alleyway, dark, cold, and alone.
Not seeing any other option, he hung up the phone and started back towards the car. That was when he heard the growls. The low, dark, ominous growls in the distance were all too familiar to Wesley’s ears. He knew those sounds. They were angry; they had killed, and they sensed the presence of a nearby enemy. They knew he was here. He turned and started the other way.
Scott sat upright as the world around him went dark. The streetlights, porch lights, and every other light popped out in a split second, leaving him alone in the darkened car. A spike of fear rose in his chest before settling down again.
“Damn snow,” Scott called, guessing that a few inches of snow could cause a blackout.
He sat there for a few minutes before the boredom of darkness in the car became too much to endure. He grasped the keys in his hand, stepped out of the car onto the sidewalk, lighting up a cigarette as he did. He inhaled his first drag, blowing a thick cloud of smoke into the snowy air. He examined his surroundings. He was on a narrow street, one way from the looks of it. Cars were parked beside the sidewalk in front of their houses. Large, old oaks sat in the front yards of houses, while some greenery had started to take back the cemented sidewalk by pushing grass and small seedling bushes through the cracks and spaces.
He watched the snow fall against the soft glow of the moonlight above. He watched the air blow it around in an unearthly synchronized dance. Even he couldn’t deny that it was interesting to see.
He turned about, hearing what sounded like angry dog growls within the night. He took a step closer to the car, finishing his cigarette quickly, and slid back into the car. He slammed the door shut hard. The force shook the car and popped the glove compartment open, spilling several sheets of paper from it. Scott cursed, gathering them all up as quickly as he possibly could. Wesley would be pissed if he found out the glove compartment had been opened at all. Scott had looked in there once a few years ago, and his uncle had blown a gasket. His face had gone red and he had gotten so angry that Scott was sure he would have a stroke. Ever since that day, Scott had done his best not even look at the glove compartment.
He gathered the papers up, turning them about to get them in the order they had been in. He flipped over one of the pages, his eye catching the sight of a few of the words on it lit by a ray of moonlight shining in from the car window. He was almost sure one of the words had been his name. Scott looked down at the paper, hidden in the shadowy darkness again, contemplating those few inches between the area in front of him illuminated by the moonlight and the glove compartment. With a curiously shaking hand, he moved the papers into the light.
Wesley knew they would be not far behind him. These people were quick and moved better in the darkness. No doubt that’s why they had darkened the town. The dark was their friend, and that friend was very kind. Wesley knew he wouldn’t be able to see them until they were extremely close. He swiftly walked up the road, crossing around the borders of the town square, icy and frozen in the midst of the
snowfall, and headed north. The roads were empty and silent, an even more dangerous scenario. Yet the only thought that ran through Wesley’s mind was Scott, and how he would get back to him.
He tried to think of a plan as he moved away from the open area around the town courthouse and crossed down a tangent road, lined thickly with trees in between historical homes, no doubt original to the town. Wesley’s legs were moving faster than he ever thought they could, and he found himself in a short time up the road, across the street, through a block of houses, and out into the open of a main road. On the other side was a large hill where three large buildings stood. Wesley recalled visiting a museum there when he had visited the down years before. The hill sat beside an adjacent road, on the other side of which was a series of neighborhood streets. They would bring him out to the road where his car was parked. He needed to move quickly.
He raced out onto the road and across the street. A lengthy stone wall, waist high, provided a balcony where onlookers could look out over the luscious green hill where many town events no doubt took place.
The growls were closer now. They knew he knew about them and that he was running. They would be even angrier now and that only made them faster. With an effort, Wesley reached into his pocket and pulled out a small walkie-talkie. He raised the antenna and pressed the button, calling the opposite device and hoping Scott had left it on.
Scott’s mind was a blaze of terror and confusion. He couldn’t begin to piece together what he had just read. And more importantly, he couldn’t begin to think about the photos. The night was dark and the moonlight was not perfect, but it had revealed enough. One of the sheets carried a series of small printed photos. They were of men, ordinary men whom anyone would pass on the street. Only in these photos, they were crouched over bodies, bleeding and broken bodies. The men’s bodies were twisted into pretzel-like shapes, and their faces were smiling in joy as if they were enjoying the disfigurement of their bodies. The photos all portrayed gruesome and terrifying scenarios. But what Scott noticed the most were not their actions but their eyes. A normal individual’s eye carried an iris and a pupil and shades of grey, blue, brown, or green. In these eyes, there was nothing, nothing but voids of pure blackness. Their eyes were black and sinister, and their faces showed vibes of vicious joy.
“Uncle Wesley…who are you?” he whispered to himself.
A whirling sound came from inside the car, the backseat. Scott jumped, letting out a cry of fear before he realized it was his walkie-talkie, which he kept in the back. He and his uncle had bought them a few years ago and promised to only use them in…extreme circumstances.
Scott snatched the device and tuned the channel dial until the static-stricken voice of his uncle came through clearly.
“Scott? Scott, please pick up”
Scott heard his uncle’s voice, but now it sounded like a stranger’s.
‘Uncle Wesley?” Scott asked.
“Scott!” Wesley said thankfully as he ran down the road and into another wide neighborhood street. ‘Oh, thank god. Listen to me; you need to listen very carefully. I’m in a little trouble, and I need you to promise me something.’
“Uncle Wesley, I need…”
“No,” Wesley argued. “You need to promise. If I’m not back there in ten minutes, I need you to go. I don’t care where for now just go and get the hell out of Iron Hill. There’s money in the glove compartment. And more.”
“Uncle…” Scott tried.
“No, Scott. I’m sorry, there’s no time,” Wesley said. “I need to tell you something. All these years, I’ve been telling you that there are some bad people out in the world. Badder than bad, and they were the ones I dealt with before. Well…let’s just say they aren’t exactly people.”
Scott didn’t argue but felt his heart in his throat and chest beat ferociously out of fear.
“There are demons in the world, Scott. True hellish demons. They take people over and possess their bodies. And, trust me, I know how crazy that sounds, but it’s true. They know about me and they know about you. They are coming for me and no doubt they are coming for you. If I do not come back, go to the address marked on the back of those papers. If I do not make it back in time, please know….
Scott listened as he Uncle’s voice stopped, but his breathing kept going, in gasps.
“Uncle Wesley?” he called through a hysterical voice. “Uncle Wesley!”
The static sounds of the walkie-talkie continued for a few moments until Wesley’s stern tones came over through the speaker.
The figure was tall and broad. It was shrouded in black and standing at the other end of the block, staring at Wesley. Wesley, however, couldn’t make out any distinctive features until the figure’s eyes opened. The only way he knew they had opened was the ominous yellow glow that came from them. They were filled with anger, bloodlust, and rage. But above all, they were filled with victory.
Wesley stood there, silently allowing the figure to watch him and letting his chest fall when he saw other figures, human-shaped figures come out from the shadows of the yards and houses around. But Wesley knew they weren’t human. He also knew the truth about what would happen next. So he simply pressed the walkie-talkie button again and spoke softly.
“I love you, Scott,” he whispered.
He dropped the walkie-talkie into the snow and called out to the head figure.
The night had been long, and seemed to have been filled with the decay of night for longer than it actually was as the citizens of Iron Hill were stirred from their beds by the rays of sunlight rising over the horizon and poking their way through their villagers’ windows. Some groaned and grunted as their spouses, mothers, significant others, or annoying alarm clock calls awoke them.
Kids would be cheering when the radio announcements cancelled school for the day because of the considerable snowfall during the night before. Shops opened up for their morning rushes. Kids would be getting hot chocolates before going out to sled in the snow. People would be rushing for cups of coffee, allowing the morning to be much more bearable than their usual work days. Plowmen would sigh as they pondered their strategy for the snow. The town would be in an uproar of morning activity so that no one would even remember the sounds of screams and ripping flesh, let alone notice a few drops of blood in the snow where the previous night’s events had taken place. No one nearby would remember the squealing of tires on the road as a car sped out of their town, making them momentarily rise from their sleep. No one would remember all that, and those dark figures made sure no one would ever find their prey’s body.
The head figure slipped his hood over his head and called to his men, smiling in their gazes of joy emanating from the black voids of their eyes. He waved, dismissing them from his sight. They obeyed and scurried off.
The figure named Manfred strolled across the town, admiring the place of infamy amongst his kind. He smiled, hopeful that the future would reveal its past history again. He had a feeling it would. The town was peaceful and quiet, but the sensations that Manfred felt were evil. He could only marvel at what power kept that evil at bay.
He skidded down a back road and went to the local train station. He looked at the clock on the wall as he walked in. It was 6:15 a.m. He was right on time. The ringing of one of the payphones only confirmed it.
He was glad the place was empty, as it would allow him to speak freely. He picked up the ringing payphone and listened to the familiar voice.
“Did you kill him?” a male voice asked. “Is he dead?”
“He is,” Manfred said, sliding his hood off and showing his young and masculine face to the empty room. He looked about through watchful brown eyes and kept his fit and tall form in check as to not draw attention to any possible people who might enter. “However, the boy is not, Vincent.”
“We will have the boy in time,” the voice belonging to a man named Vincent assured. “He is young and foolish and he will die in time. But for now, you have done well. And the file of Miss Windsor is yours.”
Manfred grinned in utter pleasure. “Thank you. I will be by to pick it up in a few days. And afterwards…”
“Your…association with us will be terminated of course,” Vincent called warmly.
“It has been a pleasure, sir,” Manfred called.
“Same here, Mr. Blackwell,” Vincent called before hanging up.
He waited in the station for an hour before the ticket booth opened up. He was still the only one in the station at that time. He walked over to the ticket booth with pride and looked at the young woman behind the counter. He winked at her and her face instantly blushed.
“May I help you, sir?’ she cooed flirtatiously.
“One ticket to San Francisco, please,” he said again.
Theresa Devine poured herself a large cup of coffee from the freshly brewed pot she had recently made. She reached over to grasp the sugar from the counter in the kitchen of her apartment. Once her coffee was satisfactory, she sipped it, admiring the comforting feeling her first cup of the day gave her.
She flipped her long blonde hair and headed out of the kitchen, through the spacious living room, and down the hall toward her room. She stopped, however, when she heard a loud knock at her door. She turned and walked to her doorway. She looked through the peephole before quickly opening the door to reveal the tear-stricken, exhausted, and terror-plastered face of Scott. In his hands he held a few folded papers.
Theresa frowned sympathetically, allowing him in.
“Come in,” she said. As she watched Scott enter her apartment and sit down, her heart fell again. Not only had she lost a friend tonight but now she was forced to tell this young man the horrors that he faced, that despite anything and everything his Uncle had told him…it wasn’t over. For Scott and herself, it was just the beginning.