The Voorteken Entity

My how TIMMY (the former title for a series of episodic--Halloween--flashfiction scenes) has grown. It's now a 7,128-word short story.

The Voorteken Entity - Short Fiction by Dennis Lowery
A millennia-old evil entity inhabits a house. Former owners are murdered, their children disappear. Realtors trying to sell the property—unaware, at first, of the entity—are driven insane or killed. One Realtor, a fallen and disgraced priest, fights back.

Every Picture Tells a Story

Early morning — 5:22 AM (according to the timestamp on the file) — October 29, 2015, while drinking my coffee, I came across a public domain picture that begged to have a scene for Halloween written about it. I wrote the first piece in about 15 minutes and used that image as a flashfiction scene cover. Almost a year later, on October 20, 2016, I revisited it—again with my morning coffee—and wrote the second part. In October 2017, 2018, and 2019, I added to the story. In the Fall of 2020, the story comes to its end.


Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him so he might not deceive the nations any longer until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be released for a little while.
—Revelation 20:1-3
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Prologue

With each step, the walls of the hidden passage became more stained and worn, wooden treads more splintered and scored as they descended to the lair beneath the house. A cold and creeping desolation followed the malevolence that possessed not just the house and its occupants—there had been many—but the soil and stone beneath. It cast off bitter radiation. She—the shell it possessed as if gender mattered—relished the chill and the odor of decay, the final state of things that die. Stopping half-way down, she set the doll—the girl’s when she had lived—at her feet. She heard the new people moving in and looked forward to playing with the boy. It had been such a long time. Though unnatural and eternal, it liked the young. They were such fine vessels.

1313 Fairmont | October 2017

Strange things had happened since Timmy had come home from the hospital after his accident. From the first day, he had been quiet and sat and stared at his mother, Hannah. When she put him to bed, no “Goodnight, Mommy,” came from him as he used to tell her each evening. Then Princess, their cat, went missing in the night. She had been asleep at the foot of his bed and was gone the next morning.

All that day, Timmy stayed in his room, sitting in the middle of his bed, staring at the closet door. At bedtime again, no hug or kiss. Wearing the robe from the hospital, he lay on his back with his head turned so he could watch the closet the contractor had discovered and unsealed during the renovation. “It’s okay, Timmy,” Hannah reassured him, “there’s nothing in there,” she opened its door, “see… nothing to hurt you.” He remained silent, his gaze locked on the closet door. Hannah smoothed the bandage on the back of his head, turned out the light, and shut the bedroom door behind her. At first, Timmy had claimed someone had pushed him down the stairs but had not mentioned it again since coming home. The doctors had monitored him for days before releasing him but said it would take time to recover fully. The concussion had been severe, and she still worried.

* * *

The red numbers projected on the ceiling showed Hannah it was 2:06 AM. Asleep only an hour—it took longer and longer to finally drop off—she woke to the sound of her bedroom door opening.

“Timmy?”

He stood in the doorway, the hall light shining behind him. His eyes empty sockets with an eerie glow, a soft mewling sound came from him. Princess’s body dangled from one hand. Wide awake, she knew that wasn’t her Timmy anymore!

He wasn't my little Timmy anymore... by Dennis Lowery
The image that prompted the story.

~ ~ ~


Herald-Heritage Realty | October 2018

“I’m done.” Elaine leaned the ‘For Sale’ signs against the wall behind her desk. She looked at her partner. “The estate will have to find another Realtor.”

“We need this listing and those old houses, especially if they’re already reno’d, sell.” Carmen had never seen Elaine rattled like this. Even with the ugliest property or most extreme asshole buyer or seller. “It happened again?”

“Yes.” Elaine rubbed her face with the palms of her hands then leaned back in her chair. “They kept hearing it as I took them through the house.” She looked at Carmen. “Finally, one woman literally ran out the door.”

“Like before, you still didn’t hear anything?” Carmen put two folders in her briefcase and rose. She walked over and sat on the corner of Elaine’s desk. Her friend’s face still had that pale, makeup-less look. “Hey, are you okay?”

Elaine looked up. “No. I didn’t hear it when they did. But—” she stopped and rubbed her face again. Shaking her head, she reached for her purse and stood. “I’m going home,” she walked toward the door.

Following, Carmen touched her on the shoulder. “But what?”

As if pent up and let burst, it spilled from Elaine: “I went through the house to make sure it was locked up. Windows down and latched… you know the drill.” Elaine took a deep breath. The kind when you are trying to quell some strong emotion or when you are about to say or do something, you’re not sure of. “When I went down the stairs, at the foot was a small boy.” They had both stepped through the office door, and Elaine watched as Carmen locked it and set the security alarm. “He stared up at me and asked, ‘Are you going to stay?’”

Elaine paused, wondering if she should keep going, then continued. “I looked down right into his eyes, and…” she shuddered. “Then I noticed he held a cat, large yellow eyes in its black face,” she hesitated again. “The cat was looking at me, Carmen. I mean, staring. Something… they… seemed wrong. The boy didn’t move as I stepped off the stairs, so I pushed past him through the entryway to open the door and step outside. When I turned to have him leave so I could lock the door behind me, he was gone. I didn’t want to but went back inside to see if I could find him, but couldn’t. I left again wondering why he was out on the street, wearing a bathrobe, and wandering into houses. And as I locked the door…” she turned to go down the steps to the sidewalk.

Carmen hurried after her, heels clicking on the concrete, “What happened? Elaine, what–”

“Then, from inside the house, I heard the cat’s scream,” left hand on her car door, she turned to Carmen, “and a child laughing.”

~ ~ ~

Herald-Heritage Realty | August 2019

“Hey, did that old listing on Fairmont finally sell while I was gone?”

Carmen looked up at Tony, who had just set on the table his grease-soaked paper bag with two sausage and egg biscuits and hash browns from Martha’s Diner down the block. How can someone eat those every single-frickin’ day? She wondered if he ate them each morning on his periodic ‘getaways,’ wherever or whatever those were. Tony—a self-proclaimed displaced Bronx man—wasn’t one to talk much about his private life or personal doings. He’d never said why he moved here from the city, and she’d not asked more than the once. He was a good agent, but Carmen sure missed Elaine, who was social and so lively and fun. After Elaine’s breakdown—she claimed she kept seeing that boy—Carmen had read how that woman, the owner, had died, and her son had disappeared. So tragic, she shook her head. But she had heard Elaine was resting well at that facility in the Adirondacks. “Not that I know of… why do you ask?” she answered Tony, pulling her papers away from the seeping sack.

“Kinda funny, then.” Tony was already chomping through the first breakfast sandwich. “I drove right by last night on my way home from the station and saw a light on.” He brought out a stack of napkins, peeled one off and wiped his chin.

She shrugged, “It’s been a while since it’s been shown—at least as far as I know, now that it’s an open listing with the bank. But I think they kept the power on, maybe someone showed the property and left a switch on.”

“Yeah,” with another wipe of his chin, Tony stood and pulled his phone out. “That’s what I thought, but something—a feeling—made me pull over and get out. I took this.” He tapped the screen and flicked to find what he wanted her to see. “That’s the third-floor bedroom window that looks over the street.” He slid the phone over to her.

Carmen had pivoted it to face her and stopped, pulled her hand away, wiping her fingers on a napkin. “Who is that?”

~ ~ ~

Herald-Heritage Realty | October 1, 2019

“Okay, here’s what I found out.”

Tony looked up at Sarah then at the slim manila folder in her hand. He moved his listing binder to one side of the table; he couldn’t finish it anyway until the photographer delivered the Carmichael property photos. “So, what you got?”

“I visited the historical society and…” she reached a hand toward the plate of cookies, “can I have one?”

He nodded as she took two and stuffed one in her mouth; orange icing flaked off onto the table.

“Okay… I found out a little about 1313 Fairmont. It’s one of the oldest houses in the state, and the property—the land it sits on—has stories about it back to when only Native Americans lived here.” A wary look came in her eyes, she paused and set the second cookie down uneaten. “But….”

Tony took a too-early-for-them-yet Jack-o’-Lantern cookie for himself and rocked back in his chair, “But what Sarah?”

“Why did Carmen go there that night?”

“What?” The non sequitur only slightly threw him as that question had been on his mind a lot lately.

“I mean, we—she—didn’t have that listing any longer… the bank owns it. Though you’d think someone would’ve bought it by now, it is a prime spot and all. But maybe people know about….”

“Any more buts, Sarah, or can you tell me what you found out?”

“Did you ask me to check into it because of what happened to Carmen—I know you went there after the news of her death—and what happened before to the other agent, Elaine?”

Tony wasn’t sure why; he had not known Carmen for long, but the reason didn’t matter. All he knew was the house on Fairmont felt wrong, and only God knew why Carmen went there one evening after he had shown her the picture of the boy in the third-floor window. The next morning, she had been found dead on the ground outside the house at the entrance steps. The third-floor window’s glass had been shattered from the inside as if she’d run and jumped through it. Had to be awful fast to clear the second-floor balcony, he thought, and Carmen wasn’t built for sprinting. But there had been no evidence of anyone else in the house. He had kept that picture on his phone—someone, a boy had been in the house—though a hundred times, his fingers had danced over deleting it before he had changed his mind.

“What else did you learn, Sarah?”

“Okay… okay,” her eyes slid from his to the folder she held. She took a deep breath, “It’s where the Hyde House was built in 1851 on land the Mohican—the indigenous natives who were killed or pushed out for their land—said was forbidden to live upon. And it seems they had a good reason. Jonathan Hyde went crazy and killed his family in that house. Records are sketchy from 1865 to 1909 when it was torn down. The current house was built in 1919 by an immigrant, a former Royal Netherlands Army officer, I can’t pronounce the name, who bought the land, built the house and brought his family from the Netherlands.” Sarah shuffled her notes, “In 1929, his wife and children had not been seen in some time, and he told neighbors they had returned to Europe. In 1939, he left too… presumably for Europe, leaving behind instructions with a local attorney to find a buyer for the house; stipulating it must sell to a family already with children. Not much about it officially after that other than the older—oldest—homeowners around the property say it’s a house they’d rather not have close to theirs. And there’s been other murders.”

Tony sat forward, the front two legs of his chair clicking on the tile floor. “The woman two years ago?”

Sarah pulled a large photo from the folder in her hand. “And when it was occupied last before that in 1943… Quentin and Theresa Collins, married ten years, stabbed to death,” and handed it to him.

The house looked almost the same. Hannah Bennett’s contractor had done a great job restoring the structure to its original design and architecture. She had barely moved in October 2017 when someone had killed her and taken her son Timothy. He shook his head and held the photo to the light. It was a picture of a photo of the property with a note attached to it. “I can’t quite read this,” he squinted.

“The woman at the society wouldn’t let me borrow it—it’s their only scan of a photo from the Greene County Sheriff’s Department archives—not even touch it or re-scan it, so I snapped a pic with my iPhone. The light was a bit off,” Sarah pulled a slip of paper from the folder, “so I wrote what it said.”

Tony took it from her: “October 31, 1943… 1313 Fairmont, case number GCSD-43-9278821. Carl Dulatch must’ve been the homicide detective. This part,” he pointed at her photo, the Fairmont house’s photo and note in it, “is that this?” He ran a finger along the last of her scribble on the piece of paper she’d given him. Sarah nodded, and he read aloud: “Two dead — parents — one missing — daughter, named Susan… eight years old.” He set the paper down on the photo. “So, a girl disappeared in 1943, her parents found murdered and then 74 years later, and another parent is killed in the same house, and their child is gone.”

“Yeah, the last two owners murdered and their only child taken, never found.” Sarah drew out a sheet of paper from the folder, a printout of a property tax sheet: “Some organization—D’Arkane Investments, Ltd.—paid the real estate taxes, acquired the property in a tax sale and owned it from 1947 until 2016 when it was bought by Hannah Bennett.”

Tony shifted in the chair, “And now the bank has a new buyer… a couple moving here from Europe.” He reached for the phone to call Davis at First National. He had to find out if they had any children.

* * *

“I will tell only of the lone tomb in the darkest of the hillside thickets; the deserted tomb of the Hydes, an old and exalted family whose last direct descendant had been laid within its black recesses many decades before my birth.”

1313 Fairmont | Halloween 2019

“Tony, what are we doing here?” Sarah asked. Trick or treaters were already on the street in clusters of two and three children accompanied by at least one adult. They stepped around the 32-foot truck that straddled the sidewalk in front of the house. Two men unloading its contents carried what seemed the last two boxes inside. They came out, slid the ramp back into its receptacle in the rear of the truck, pulled the roll-door down, got in, and drove away patiently as a troop of zombies shuffled out of their way.

“Davis at First National told me the…” Tony checked the note in his hand, “the Voorteken’s have a young son. I told him about the house’s history… and that maybe he should call and tell them, you know, warn them about it… and he laughed at me. So, –”

Sarah blinked—for a second, the name Tony mentioned bothered her—and cut him off. “So, you’re going to walk up to these people on the day they’re moving in… and tell them…” in the passenger seat, Sarah held her hands out palms up, “what?”

“Something in the house kills people.”

Sarah shook her head, “Let’s just call the cops.”

“I did. They laughed too… then got mad at me when I persisted and went to the sheriff’s office and made a scene.”

“There’s nothing we can do, Tony… not without being treated as crazy.”

“There is something bad in that house, Sarah… I felt it the night I took that picture. And it was stronger when I went there after finding out about Carmen. It’s evil, and I ignored it… I should never have shown that photo to Carmen. She would never have thought to go see if that boy was there.”

“Carmen—bless her soul—maybe she thought that boy, Timothy had returned home. You know she couldn’t resist prying into things… you know what they say about curiosity. Maybe she went to see and walked in on a burglar.”

“That threw her out of a window? Come on, Sarah, that wasn’t what killed her or Timmy Bennett’s cat and then his mother, Hannah. Something inside that house is what killed them….” Tony opened the car door, “and it took Timmy.” He stepped onto the street and came around onto the sidewalk.

Sarah got out fast and went up the steps after him, “Tony…” and caught up with him at the door.

It opened on his third knock. A woman stood there, a bowl of candy in her hands and a flaccid look on her face, makeup not entirely hiding the bruise on her left cheek. A small boy with a solemn expression wearing a red devil costume, forked tail dancing on a wire attached to his upper back, stood behind her. The boy studied him for a moment—gave Sarah a quick glance— touched the woman’s elbow, gave her a slight nod, and turned away. The woman’s muted greeting changed to a question. “Can I help you?”

“I’m sorry, we’re…” Tony’s face whitened, and the words wouldn’t come; his guts churned, and shivers racked him.

“Realtors,” Sarah said and could not think of what else to add and took a step back.

In the silence, the woman replied, “We just moved in….” Her eyes shifted—sliding toward where the boy had gone and back to them—and dilated. She suddenly seemed frightened and started to close the door in their faces.

Tony stepped in, his forward foot blocking the door’s advance. A flash of worry crossed the woman’s face. A large hand reached around her, clamped the door’s edge, and reversed its course.

“Yes… what is it you want?” The rumbling voice came from a big man. Handsome with dark eyes under heavy brows framed by a leonine head of brown hair frosted gray at the temples and swept back.

Tony’s face was slick with sweat despite the autumn breeze swirling as twilight deepened. On the sidewalk, the streetlamp flickered on, then steadied. Tony shuddered, “At one time we had the listing on this house… and… and recently found out some of its history. I don’t think the bank you bought the house from told you, and I thought you should know.”

The man filled the doorway and stared down at Tony, who shakily met his frown. Sarah looked away and began digging in her purse, intent on anything but the awkwardness of the moment.

“Its history… is of interest to me. Come in.” As the man stepped back, Tony realized the guttural accent that tinged his English was German or perhaps Dutch. Something about that and the family’s name teased an old-buried memory. At the seminary, languages had been his top subjects.

* * *

A half an hour later, Tony and Sarah were back outside.

“You can’t expect him—them—to believe us, Tony… the guy even said he came from an old family and country with many stories of ghosts and haunted places.” Sarah headed down the steps toward the car. “The man sounded proud of his family’s creepy heritage.” Glancing over her shoulder, she half-smiled at Tony two steps back, “But the woman took my card and said she’d call me if something happens and they decide to find another home.”

Tony unzipped his jacket; his face was now dry and not as pale. It was warmer out here in the crisp fall air than inside the house. He got in and started the car, turning on headlights as he pulled from the curb and onto the street. The house was still dark though he thought a sputter of light moved behind the curtained windows.

* * *

Tony’s House

Tony slept as he had as a child, trapped in the nightmare… imprisoned in a decades-ago time and place:

Grandma—who lived in the city with them—had told Tony stories of her birthplace all his life, even when they seemed to sadden her. Tony was city born and bred, so hearing about life on a mountain was far different from seeing it for the first time. Just outside the edge of the forest, in a small clearing of about a hundred feet, was the rambling—once stately—house where his great-grandparents had lived and died. And beyond that clearing, upslope, at a man-made leveling of the ridge, among the trees was his family’s graveyard. Earlier in the day, his mother had taken him there. Roots from centuries of forest growth had tumbled the markers and cracked granite capstones intended—so he was told—to put to rest and keep there, souls not allowed in the village cemetery far below at the mountain’s base. The engraved stones, effaced by time and the elements, warned of what and who was buried there.

For the people in the valley, the mountain was a place that swallowed moonlight and, at night was full of restless sounds and the scrape of bone on rock that echoed, rolling down to them like the mist that descended into the valley at times when the seasons and weather dictated it shouldn’t exist. No one would step foot on that mountain after sundown. Not since so many—treasure seekers or the merely curious—had never come back down. Tony’s grandmother had long ago left the mountain her family had lived on since 1732. She took with her the stories. One was that his great-grandmother had left an ‘inheritance.’ Grandma did not know what it was, but she had been told they had handed it down for nearly 200 years, and it was the most valuable thing on the mountain. But grandma, no matter how hard times got, had never acted like she wanted to return and find that treasure. When grandma died, he had heard his parents arguing:

“On her deathbed, she said it’s still there!” Tony knew how his father worried, mostly about money; his mother did too, but not like his dad. He still heard his lowered voice and moved closer to peek through the slightly open door of their bedroom. “We have to go see… to find out.”

“How would she know? She left there 72 years ago. It’s a godforsaken place, John, not even the locals, will go there. You’ve heard her stories about it.”

“Maybe just stories twisted or made up by a frightened teen abused for years, who finally escaped.”

“John, she—”

“You have all her paperwork—the estate documents, where the land and everything on it came to her when her mother died. They—those attorneys—found your grandmother to make sure she got legal rights to whatever is there. How bad could they—her family—have been if they went to that kind of effort after she’d left them?” he stopped and looked at her. “I’m in remission, but I know it’s going to come back.” He stepped closer and put a hand on his mother’s shoulder. “I have nothing to leave you, but maybe this,” he held out a sheaf of papers. “It’s your family, and maybe just maybe there’s something of value. Think of Tony.”

“You—we—don’t even know what ‘it,’ this supposed inheritance is!”

His dad prevailed, and they had come. But they had not found anything in the house other than abandoned and untouched belongings and a chest of decades-old moldy leather-bound books written by someone with only the initials HPL remaining on the spine of the covers. One torn passage was clipped to the first book:

Fear had lurked on Tempest Mountain for more than a century. This I learned at once from newspaper accounts of the catastrophe, which first brought the region to the world’s notice. The place is a remote, lonely elevation in that part of the Catskills where Dutch civilization once feebly and transiently penetrated, leaving behind as it receded only a few ruined mansions and a degenerate squatter population inhabiting pitiful hamlets on isolated slopes. Normal beings seldom visited the locality till the state police were formed, and even now, only infrequent troopers patrol it. The fear, however, is an old tradition…

His mother and father had moved on from the chest, but he had picked up the book, and underneath the ragged page scrap had found, yellowed-cellophane taped inside the cover, a flat beaten-metal cross covered in tiny script and symbols. He put it in his pocket to ask his mother about later.

Earlier with the sun still on the mountain, Tony had spotted the little building, a shed he thought, but her mother had said it was of no consequence, where country folk stored yard tools. But as he watched her mother and father’s hopes of finding what they sought fade with the sun, he thought of that little building. Mother had said not to go any further up the mountain, but they should check there, too, shouldn’t they? She and father were arguing again quietly—sitting at a table lighted by the Coleman lantern they had brought—in a way that still pained him to hear, and he slipped outside. Tony wished he had not been so curious, so stubborn. The moon’s brightness dimmed as he walked to the shack. Smothering darkness gathered around him with each step. He reached the shed, wiping sweat from his face, he had been about to go back for the flashlight left behind when a sound—a sibilant moan—turned him, and he opened the door. Compelled to step inside, he stagger-stopped—the tips of his toes on the edge of a pit—and his night-adjusted eyes gazed into the primordial darkness of an abyss. Consciousness ripped away, he tottered and fell.

That sickening—almost muscle memory—sinking vertigo or maybe the wind-rattle against his window of the tree limb he kept forgetting to trim, brought him out of the nightmare. The after-midnight hours, the time before the alarm clock went off, had always been his most troubled. The time when he could not escape what had happened. The morning on the mountain, he had awakened as dawn crept over the ridge to find his parents dead beside him. His father, hands still gripping his forearms, had pulled him—by the drag marks, something had not wanted to let him go—from the shed. Someone or something had killed him and his mother. In shock, he had somehow made it to the valley, and the small town’s sheriff had found him staggering in the middle of the main street. He had babbled his story, and his parent’s bodies were brought—reluctantly by two deputies and the local doctor who acted as the county Medical Examiner—from the mountain. A day later, a nun from their parish had come to bring him home, and the church had taken him in. The coroner had ruled his parents had died from massive heart attacks. None of the authorities there wanted to pursue it further. But he knew something had come from that pit and killed his parents… and something had somehow saved him.

He had returned to the city, believing what the nun’s said in his school. That Satan was real, and evil was not just the ill-doing of humans to serve their own purpose or to satisfy their own perversions. A malevolent entity opposing God had been present and active throughout the millennia of human existence. He had seen its presence in the abyss, and his fervor for religion and faith to combat it grew throughout high school and college as he finished his degree in philosophy. It burgeoned the four years of his theological studies in seminary, then a year as a transitionary deacon, and in the parish, they had assigned him. But he soon learned of church politics and hypocrisy that diminished his trust in the men that serve God. And for God to allow them to exist… and persist weakened his faith even as he rose within the diocese. Then… when it happened… and the girl whose soul he had tried to save… died… and so did his faith. He remembered what he saw in that abyss within the mountain, so long ago, and knew Abaddon—written of in the Book of Revelation—existed, could not be beaten, and left the church.

Knowing unfettered—dreamless—sleep would not return, he sat up. On his desk, in the moonlight, was the packet he had retrieved from the old trunk he kept in the basement wrapped in its 9-square folded white linen. He had been scared enough by what happened at 1313 Fairmont to take it out when he got home but had not opened. He was frightened he would and then still feel nothing from it, an emptiness almost as cold as whatever malevolence now possessed that house. His cellphone rang, he bleary-eyed the caller ID, and pressed the green icon to accept. “Sarah?”

“Tony… Katharine Voorteken just called me. Something is in their house and has taken her son, just like you warned them. She’s called 911.”

“Why did she call you?

“She’s scared and doesn’t know anyone. I remembered something from my notes about the house’s history. The builder from 1919… his name was Voorteken, her husband must be related and I think he beats her. I’m going to sit with her,” Sarah hesitated, “will you go with me?”

He dreaded the answer, he must give her, “Yes.”

“It is necessary, for the peace and safety of mankind, that some of earth’s dark, dead corners and unplumbed depths be let alone; lest sleeping abnormalities wake to resurgent life and blasphemously surviving nightmares squirm and splash out of their black lairs to newer and wider conquests.”

* * *

“What’s that?” Sarah pointed at the bundle he gripped—white-knuckled—in his lap as Tony put his seatbelt on. He didn’t reply but mumble-repeated a litany under his breath. “What are you saying?” she asked.

“It’s Latin.” He didn’t speak again, and fifteen minutes later, they pulled up to the house. No police around and not a light on.

1313 Fairmont | November 1, 2019

“Stay here,” Tony told Sara, “and wear this,” he handed her a flat metal cross on a silver chain. The street lamp at the foot of the steps wavered as he opened the car door and stepped up on the sidewalk.

Sarah got out of the driver’s side. “I’m coming with you.”

“No, you’re not.”

The front door burst open, and Katharine Voorteken took a few steps toward them and called, “It’s my son… I need both of you, please….”

“Where are the police; did you call them?” Sarah asked, but the woman had turned back into the house, leaving the door open.

Tony—still carrying the linen-wrapped packet—turned to Sarah. “Stay out here.”

She shook her head and glared at him, “I’m going with you… it sounds like she found her son.”

He pointed at the cross that dangled from her hand. “Put that on and inside your shirt over your heart.”

Sarah slipped it over her head, into her blouse, and followed him.

The temperature dropped with each step, and frost rimmed the doorjamb. Their breath billowed before them as they crossed the threshold. A freezing fist gripped Tony’s chest as he went further into the room; he needed air and a rime of ice crystals formed on the edges of his lips as he mouth-breathed in great gulps. Behind him, he heard Sarah gasp as she came through the door. He faced the fireplace, full of blue flames spilling out, and before it, a splayed body—arms and legs spread Vitruvian Man-like—on the floor in a slow-boil pool of blood that seemed to fuel the fire that lapped it.

Cruel stiletto-nailed fingers caressed then sliced into the flesh between his shoulders. The skin split and agony entered the incision, burned, and spun him around. The naked boy—covered in blood—pulled back a long-taloned hand. The scarlet coating almost matched his costume from earlier. Over his shoulder, a prong-tipped tail—no longer tethered by wire—danced and arced to stroke the V-pointed chin before it settled to drape around neck and chest.

“I brought them to you, Damon, as you wished,” the woman quivered with hunger and the desire to not end up as her husband.

“Yes… mother, you did well…” head canted to one side, the boy darted a side-eyed glance at the flayed body in front of the fireplace. “I need a new father. This one—his lineage-laced lifeblood—was exquisite,” his lips curled and parted, revealing tips of fangs that grew longer as the smile broadened. “His ancestor—a century ago—freed and fed me, and this new vessel, his child, is far stronger than the others. But I need more. I’m hungry,” he twitched a clawed hand at his mother then pointed at Sarah.

Tony couldn’t move as he watched the woman beside Sarah raise the black-bladed filleting knife. Its length cast glints from the lurid cobalt flames now reaching from the hearth like tendrils or tentacles to spread over the room. The boy nodded, and she drew the knife twice down both of Sarah’s cheeks, cutting through plump flesh to strike bone. With the tip, she peeled it back as blood poured down Sarah’s neck from the flaps of skin. Locked in a rictus of fear, only Sarah’s eyes moved. They rolled back to a red-vein-shot white with the unfocused jerk-snap jitters of an animal trapped and smelling death.

Tony shifted back to the boy who stood close in front of him, nostrils flared, lips pursed that spread—the tip of tongue swept—as if tasting the air around him.

“But not him….” the boy’s sniff became a snarl… “he’s tainted.” The fierce scowl moved to the rectangle of cloth in his prey’s hands.

Tony felt the slightest loosening of the force that held him. His hands unwrapped the bundle, the Purificator, the linen towel used at Mass dropped to the floor. The black leather of the book was scarred and scored; its edges singed. Trembling fingers pulled out a sheet of parchment with several lines of writing upon it, and he felt the cold inch away from his heart. He had uttered the words only once—defying his bishop’s decision, denying the exorcism—and he… not the words… had failed and a girl had died. Waning confidence had weakened his belief in the power of faith and the word of God. So, he had not saved the girl from the seizures he knew were manifested by her possession. But for Sarah, semi-protected as she now was, he must believe in the words and in himself to drive off Abaddon’s vessel:

Sancte Michael Archangele, defende nos in proelio; contra nequitiam et insidias diaboli esto praesidium. Imperet illi Deus, supplices deprecamur: tuque, Princeps militiae caelestis, Satanam aliosque spiritus malignos, qui ad perditionem animarum pervagantur in mundo, divina virtute, in infernum detrude.” Tony’s voice, speaking Latin, lost its soft cadence. The words were sharp-edged and sonorous. He repeated them in English, he needed Sarah to understand and take strength from them: “Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle, be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil; may God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, cast into Hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl through the world seeking the ruin of souls.” He shot a look at Sarah, “exorcismus in satanam et angelos apostaticos; it’s an exorcism against Satan and the apostate—fallen—angels.” He prayed harder as Sarah shook free of the woman as she made another cut, nearly severing her carotid artery.

The demon-boy sneered, “Fallen priest, you think words will work when the Seven Daggers of Megiddo failed?” The taloned fingers tore his chest open. “This is just another feeding to strengthen me… the time of the great harvest is yet to come. But it is soon.”

“Princeps militiae caelestis, Satanam aliosque spiritus malignos, qui ad perditionem animarum pervagantur in mundo, divina virtute, in infernum detrude.” Daggers of bone pierced Tony’s heart, and he—as it took his soul—felt the power that had been within as it surged from him.

* * *

November 2, 2019 | Greene County Courier | Abigail Winston

The Death House in Our Town

Just over two years ago, we reported on the death of 36-year-old Hannah Bennett and the disappearance of her then 10-yr-old son, Timothy. The single mother and her child had just moved into their newly renovated property at 1313 Fairmont. That murder and disappearance remain unsolved. Barely two months, ago we reported on the death of a local Realtor, Carmen Munoz, at that same house. Considered a suicide, though an investigation by both the sheriff’s office and this newspaper failed to find reasons or signs Ms. Munoz was suicidal, that death remains an unsolved mystery too. And now—in the early hours of yesterday morning—again at 1313 Fairmont, yet more tragedy and more deaths. Two men and a woman: Bram and Katherine Voorteken recently moved from Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and local Realtor, Anthony Pugnidio. A second woman–also a Realtor–Sarah Beecham was wounded and is in critical condition at a local hospital. Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Sergeant Amy Dulatch told us a press conference with Sheriff Taylor will be forthcoming this week, but currently, they have no comment other than the release of the victim’s names. In a related note, the Catholic church has requested–and received–Anthony Pugnidio’s body before an autopsy and has refused to answer any questions regarding their interest in his death.

* * *

Epilogue

“Man rules now where They ruled once; They shall soon rule where man rules now. After summer is winter, and after winter summer. They wait patient and potent, for here shall They reign again.”

Autumn 2020

The maroon Kia Sorrento passed the house, stopped, and backed up angled to park at the curb. The driver got out and walked around to underneath the flickering streetlamp at the edge of the yard. He pointed at the faded For Sale Bank Repo sign, near the steps from the street to door. “There’s a phone number.” He pulled his phone out and took a picture of it and the house.

“You think it’s still for sale?” the woman in the car—window rolled down—sounded like she hoped it wasn’t.

“It’d be great for us… looks like plenty of room. Bet we could get it cheap.” He took another picture of the house and got in the car. “New job… new town,” he softly stroked his wife’s swollen belly, “we can’t live in a hotel… we need a home.”

“Mommy,” the girl in the back seat, pulled to slacken her shoulder belt so she could lean forward.

“Yes, honey.”

“Do you think they like to play?”

“Who, Anna?” the women—uncomfortable, with twins on the way—shifted the seatbelt around and scanned the area around the car.

“That kid,” the girl pointed up at the house, “in the window.”

* * *

Our Lady of Mercy Hospital

The woman with the appalling facial and throat scars—who had been in a coma for nearly a year—opened her eyes. The nurse who had just adjusted the IV in her arm dropped her pen and took a step back. The woman tried to speak but only managed a dry-throated croak. The nurse pressed the call button and picked up a small bottle of water on the table, twisted the cap off, and brought it to her lips. She weakly nodded her thanks and spotted the black-metal cross that hung short-chained from the right rail of her hospital bed. Its engraved symbols and writing cut deep revealed a shining metal that glinted in the sunlight shafting in from the window. She tried to speak again, and the nurse leaned down.

“I’m going to kill it,” Sarah rasped.

# # #

The finale will come in the Halloween 2020 installment.

NOTE FROM DENNIS

Voorteken is the Dutch word for ‘omen.’ Tiny elements—nuanced references or mentions—in this story are an homage to the 1976 movie, The Omen.

About Abaddon: both a place of destruction and an angel of the abyss. In the Hebrew Bible, Abaddon is used to refer to a bottomless pit, often appearing alongside the place שְׁאוֹל (Sheol), meaning the realm of the dead. Everyone, including the angels, demons, and corporeal entities, feared him. Abaddon is also said to have a prominent role in the Last Judgment, as the one who will take the souls.

On 29 September 1985, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote to Catholic Ordinaries, recalling the need to maintain the canonical norm that exorcisms are to be performed only by select priests who have been authorized by the local Ordinary, and that it is, therefore, illicit for other Catholics to use the formula of exorcism against Satan and the fallen angels, extracted from the one published by order of Pope Leo XIII, still less to use the integral text of this exorcism.

The Seven Daggers of Megiddo are fictional weapons crafted from the metal of a comet that struck near Megiddo—in Israel—3,000 years ago, believed capable of killing the Anti-Christ.

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