“What the … happened to her?” I ask staring at Calista, who is dazed and confused — rambling on; “He calls to me.” She is coated in what looks to be blood and all she has on is a bathrobe.
“Anyone wanna fill me in?” Mar clues me in. When she finishes we both turn our attention back to the discussion. Allan is now in charge since our lead investigator has been taken out and both dumb and dumber declined the job. Now what are our odds of getting out of here alive?
“Your house is f**ked!” I say without thinking and then I catch Mr. Utt’s eye. “Pardon my French.” I smile nervously.
“No shit, Sherlock,” Mr. Utt responds.
“Do we have a plan?”
“Yes. The plan is that we all stick together. Lawson, you take care of Calista and make sure she doesn’t wander off. The rest of us will go ahead with the cleansing.”
“Got it,” Lawson says as he begins towing Calista out of the room towards the front door.
Adelaide blocks the exit. “No, you don’t. You have to keep her in here. She’s covered in blood. If the ravens catch a whiff of her they might attack.” He grudgingly listens and brings her back, swearing under his breath. Chicken-shit, I bet the second he got into the van he would have driven off.
“I think we should start the cleansing process,” Allan says noticeably unsure of himself. I’d be too if I were in his shoes. We can all see what befell their last fearless leader. Allan pulls out a container with something that sorta looks like a small hay bundle.
“What’s that?” I ask.
“This is sage, cedar, and sweetgrass. I will light them and let the smoke drive out all negative energy. Who has a lighter?” Gunner pulls one out and hands it over to Allan. Allan is just about to light the bundle when he stops. “What’s that sound?” he asks. Everybody becomes still, listening hard.
“It sounds like —,” Mar begins to say.
Ravens slam into the windows, breaking the glass, letting an endless stream of birds fly in through the broken windows. Like a dense black sheet they cover us. The smell of smoke fills the air as they knock over lanterns. Somehow, over the flapping of the wings, I hear someone howl in pain. I stumble blindly — desperately searching for Mar — not daring to uncover my face in fear that they will go after my eyes. The bird’s long sharp claws dig into the exposed parts of my face and they persist at pecking at my ears. I use one arm to cover my eyes as I swat them away. “F**k off already!” I trip over something. I don’t pick myself up, it’s probably better on the ground where they can only attack my back. I cover my head with my hands and I grit my teeth as the ravens continue to peck at me and claw my back, ripping holes in my shirt.
Seconds pass, then all at once I stop feeling them. The flapping of their wings no longer fills my ears. I look up. They’re gone just as fast as they had come. Most of them anyhow; a dozen or so lay dead on the ground. A red haze illuminates the air caused by the small fires.
I hear a loud moan coming from behind me. I turn to see Lawson leaning against the wall. His hand cradles his badly bleeding eye. I come closer to him leaning in to get a better look. He seems to be missing a small chunk of his left ear, but he doesn’t seem to notice. Gunner comes to his side, pushing me out of the way. “Talk to me, man!” he pleads.
“Dude, I can’t see anything out of my eye,” he groans.
“You’ll be all right, buddy,” Gunner promises.
I stand and scan the room for the others. Mr. Utt, Allan, and Adelaide are stomping out small fires that were started by the lanterns that were knocked over. They all look fine, just a few cuts and scrapes. Gunner’s the only one seriously injured. What did he do to piss them off?
I scan the room for Mar. I don’t see her or Calista.
“Shit, where’s Mar?” I say frantically, catching the attention of Mr. Utt. F**k, not again! Why does it always have to be her?
“Where’s Calista?” Gunner asks Lawson.
“Marimar! Calista!” we all shout. No answer.
“Maybe they took cover in the van?” Gunner suggests.
“Or the birds were a distraction so George could take them!” Mr. Utt says panic stricken. Since the lanterns were destroyed he takes a flashlight to go look for the girls. The rest of us follow his example.
I rush to the front door and carefully crack it open to peer outside. “All of the birds are gone!” I call back to everyone as I open the door and step outside to see if they’re just hiding. Gone, not a single one left.
“Adelaide, take Lawson to the hospital,” Allan directs. Allan rushes Adelaide and Lawson to the suburban and then we regroup by the stairs.
“I think our best bet is that they’re both in the attic where Calista was found earlier,” I say. I’m the first one to reach the steps, followed by Mr. Utt. Halfway up the stairs, we hear a gut wrenching scream coming from downstairs. What could it be doing to her?
“I’m coming, baby!” Mr. Utt shouts. Turning abruptly, his elbow catches Gunner in the nose knocking him into the wall. I push him out of the way and run behind Mr. Utt, my stomach twisting. We make it to the downstairs hall. Where could she be?
“The basement!” I shout.
“Pap —!” her scream is cut short. Did he kill her? Halfway down the hall Allan and Mr. Utt are still ahead of Gunner and me. We try to get there faster by cutting through the dining room, but the table and china closet are blocking the entryway to the breakfast room. We fight our way through to the breakfast room and make it a few seconds after Mr. Utt and Allan. Mr. Utt and Allan have just entered the cellar when the door slams shut behind them. I try turning the door knob, but it won’t budge.
“She’s not in here!” Mr. Utt shouts. Just then, we hear a loud bang upstairs over our heads. Damn, another diversion. “Go and find them, we’ll be all right.”
We head out of the kitchen, creeping slowly down the halls ensuring we don’t run blindly into another trap. I can feel him watching us, lurking somewhere in the shadows; just waiting to take us out. I listen carefully for any sounds indicating another attack. As we walk further on, a door slams behind us causing us to jump. We flash the lights around but there is nobody there.
“Do you think they got out?” Gunner asks.
“I don’t think that’s them,” I say.
We increase our pace, flashing the light this way and that. We hurry up the stairs.
“I think the attic is this way,” I say leading to a hall I haven’t been to.
“Keep going,” Gunner directs. “The stairs are past the parent’s room. It’s where we found Calista. Also, I set up cameras and motion sensors there this afternoon, but nothing is working right.”
As we go down the hall the temperature begins to decline. I can see my breath in front of me. We make a turn and head down another hallway. As we are still walking my flashlight dims, then goes out.
“No, no, no!” I say. I stop and bang on my dead flashlight in a sad attempt to turn the light back on. “Come on,” I plead with it. “Damn, the batteries died,” I inform Gunner. I stick it in my pocket. I’ll use it as a weapon if needed, “Piece of shit.”
“Look on the —”
“If you say ‘look on the bright side’, I swear I’ll pop your ass.”
We walk in silence.
“What was that?” I say jumping back.
“What?” Gunner asks as he waves around his flashlight.
“I thought I saw a shadow run past me.”
“Like that,” he scoffs pointing to my shadow.
“No, dumbass, it was the size of a child’s.”
“You’re just seeing shit.”
We start up walking again.
As I am walking, something in the corner of my eye catches my attention. I stop to look. A shiver runs down my spine. On the wall there are three shadows. I spin around. There is nobody behind me, but the shadow says differently.
“Gunner,” I choke out.
“What?” he asks annoyed, turning to look at me. I point at the wall. He lets out a gasp as he gapes at the shadow. He looks back at me and then back at the wall. As we stand there dumbfounded, our only working flashlight begins to dim until it turns completely off leaving us in complete darkness. Gunner’s desperately banging on it, chanting, “Come on baby, come on baby.” It pays off. The light turns back on, but the shadow disappears.
“F**k. Where’d it go?” he shouts. He franticly flashes the light around but there still is no sign of the shadow. Without saying anything, we take off running. The light bouncing around the walls creates a strobe light effect making it hard to see where we are. Somehow I manage to see the attic stairs coming into view. Abruptly, the light goes out again. I stop in my tracks to adjust my eyes. I turn around to face Gunner, but he’s not behind me. I can’t even hear him panting.
“Gunner?” Dead silence. “Gunner?” Again no answer. You got to be f**king kidding me. I start retracing our steps. I trip over a flashlight on the floor. I pick it up. That’s not good. In the distance I hear a weird noise. I repeatedly tap the flashlight against my palm, directing it towards the sounds. The light flashes on exposing Gunners legs kicking in the air frantically a few feet off the ground. My eyes are drawn upwards to the horrifying sight of Gunner dangling from what looks to be an invisible noose around his neck. His face is red, his eyes show utter panic, and his lips are beginning to turn blue. I know I have to do something fast, but how do I cut him down from an invisible noose?
“Hold on, I’ll get you down!” I promise. What to do? What to do? I circle around him, that’s when I notice again on the wall there is a third figure. Mine, Gunner’s, and George’s shadow hovering over Gunner. His hands are around Gunner’s throat. Gunner desperately claws at the invisible hands, but it does no good. His face begins to turn blue and his lips are purple. If I don’t stop the attack, he’s going to die before my eyes. Ideas begin to race through my mind. One sticks. After years of attending Sunday school and being drilled prayers and passages, one prayer in particular comes to mind. I have a fifty/fifty chance of it working, or pissing George off even more. But it’s all I got, Gunner’s on the brink of unconsciousness. I begin to recite The Lord’s Prayer.
“Our Father, who art in heaven.”
“Shut up!” I hear him growl at me. But I keep going.
“Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come.” It’s working, the shadow is beginning to shrink. “Thy will be done. On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our —”, suddenly he releases Gunner’s throat and he drops to the ground unconscious. I continue, “— daily bread —”, I feel hands around my throat closing my airway. Now he’s pissed. I keep calm and mouth the rest of the words. And forgive those who trespass against us.
“Shut up!” George is beginning to loosen his grip.
And lead us not into temptation. He lets go of my throat. I catch my breath and keep going. “But deliver us from evil. For thine is thy kingdom, and the power, and the glory.” I begin to go faster as I’m about to finish up. “For ever and ever. Amen.”
I pick up the flashlight and search around the room, but there’s no sign of his presence. The temperature in the room is beginning to rise. The prayer worked! Why didn’t I think about that before?
“You stay here,” I address Gunner as he’s beginning to come to. He nods in approval, not even having the energy to speak. I take one last look at him. I feel guilty about leaving him here in his condition, but I have no choice. I have to go save the girl I love.