THERIOPHOBIA: FEAR THE BEAST Part Eighteen
FOUR DAYS AGO: WAXING GIBBOUS MOON
The house had three bedrooms which, for Hank Frye’s needs at this current point in his life, consisted of two bedrooms too many. One of these he’d converted to a library when he’d bought the house the previous year. The other he had yet to decide what to do with. It served as a storeroom for all the boxes he’d never bothered to unpack. To this room he made his way, flipping on the light. Moving as if in a dream, he began to un-stack the cardboard boxes from their towers of diminishing sizes, larger, heavier boxes on the bottom, lighter weight, smaller ones up top. The books were in one of the heavy boxes.
Hank felt sick, but it wasn’t a physical sensation. His mind had shifted, tilted, running out of balance. He couldn’t figure out how to right it, get back his equilibrium, and the mere effort of concentration thereon just served to upset him further. So Hank moved without thought, at least organized thought, knowing why he acted without bothering to articulate the reasons for it.
He found the box of books, the ones he hadn’t wanted on his office shelves. The ones he’d intended to donate to the used book drive at the library yet for some reason had never gotten around to. Maybe because to handle them again would bring to mind unfortunate ideas and thoughts, or conjure up hurtful, disturbing memories. Or, perhaps, without ever acknowledging it, Hank had feared he might need them again someday.
Turns out he did need them, after all.
He ran his finger under the box edge, separating the brown package tape from the cardboard, opening the box. He knelt before the box as if in supplication and began to take out the books, setting them on the carpet beside him, each separate, the titles visible. Malleus Maleficarum by Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger. The Unseen Kingdom by Jacques Toussaint. The Necronomicon of Abdul al-Hazred. Sentinel by Deborah Ashemoore.
One by one he lay them aside. He tried to recall the contents of each, things he had read, snippets of knowledge that he might find useful.
A Modern Translation of the Essays of Paracelsus by the University of California Los Angeles Press.
The Mysteries of the Ancients by Graham Harlan, PhD.
The Holy Bible, King James Version.
Only the ones seeming to contain any real information had Hank bothered to keep. The vast majority of the literature on the subject had not disappointed him, proving to be in compliance with his preconceived opinions of the genre; most of the books claiming to deal with the paranormal contained nothing of real value. Most of the books written about the supernatural were complete bullshit.
Hank selected the Malleus Maleficarum, the “Hammer for Hammering Witches,” flipped through a few pages, then stood with a grunt, his finger holding his place in the book. He left the room, flipping off the lights, leaving the occult library in darkness, arranged on the carpet around the indentation of his knees.
He went down the stairs to the basement, not bothering to flip on the lights this time, descending the steps by feel, by memory. The basement, divided into a smaller anteroom containing the hot water heater and fuse box and a larger, windowless room, had also not factored into Hank’s decision to buy the house. He’d been certain that he had no need for a basement, nor would develop one in the future. He’d converted the larger room into a laundry room in order to get some use from it, though he had regretted that decision on more than one occasion, climbing or descending the stairs with an overloaded basket of clothes or towels or linens.
But now the basement was providing him with an unforeseen service. Now the basement served as the makeshift dungeon, the improvised prison of Lucas Vale.
Lucas sat in a chair against the wall, on the side of the room away from the washing machine and dryer, the table for folding clothes. Since Hank didn’t keep any rope or chains on hand, he’d been lucky discovering a hundred foot hemp clothesline he’d purchased and had never gotten around to hanging. He used this to secure Lucas in the chair. Though thin and narrow it was made strong. Hank used all of it, wrapping it again and again around Lucas’ ankles and wrists, his waist, binding him to the heavy wooden chair. No man could break those bonds, no matter how strong. Still, Hank hoped they’d hold, if it came to it.
Because it wasn’t a man that Hank needed to keep tied up.
So far, Lucas had remained in control, even assisting Hank as the latter had bound him to the chair. Now he looked up as Hank came through the door, an expression on his face that mixed anxiety with a plea of strained hope.
“You find anything?” Lucas asked.
Hank leaned against the washing machine, facing Lucas. He’d kept him locked in the trunk while he drove home, saying it had been to keep him out of sight, in case the police had resumed their vigil outside his house. Now he had Lucas bound hand and foot in the damp basement, a room with no windows that still stank of mildewed mothballs despite being repainted. Treating his friend this way rankled his conscience.
But I have to, Hank reminded himself. I have to.
“No,” Hank said. His voice sounded strange in his ears.
“What are we gonna do, Hank?”
Hank shook his head. It felt stuffed with cotton, his brain sodden with ruined milk. “We can’t call Bryce,” he said. “They aren’t prepared, not for something like this. And the police ?” He chuckled, even though he could find nothing funny about the situation.
Lucas looked at him, saying nothing, yet his eyes would not stay silent. They accused, shamed Hank. Help me, they said. You claim to be a Doctor. You claim to be my friend. Help me.
Hank sat the Malleus Maleficarum down on top of the washing machine, open but ignored. He removed his glasses, rubbed his eyes.
“I never told you what happened to me in Florida, did I?” he asked.
“You mean the divorce?”
“No. Although it was a factor in the divorce. Maybe the predominant factor.” Hank took a deep breath, let it out. “I mean about why I lost my job at the hospital in Jacksonville.”
“I thought you resigned,” Lucas said.
“Oh, I did. On a technicality,” Hank said. “But by that point it was the only option.” Hank put his glasses back on. “There was an incident,” he said. “Something happened that I couldn’t explain. Nobody could.”
He continued. “No one blamed me for it or anything, but I became obsessed with figuring it out. Solving the mystery. I just could not accept that there was no explanation for it.” A pause.
“I’d never before been confronted by anything that Science and Reason couldn’t account for,” Hank said. “And I refused to leave it at that. And then at last, when I couldn’t find any answer that satisfied me by looking at it from a rational standpoint, I started looking into the ‘other’ options. That’s when I bought these damn books.” He tapped the Malleus Maleficarum. “But I still couldn’t figure things out. I damn near had a breakdown. I wrecked my marriage, which wasn’t in such great shape to begin with. I lost my professional equilibrium, screwed myself out of my job.”
“You never talked about any of that,” Lucas said.
“No, I didn’t. I didn’t want to. When I came back here, I swore all that was behind me. Somebody else would find a rational explanation, even though I hadn’t. The world still made sense. I put it all behind me. The divorce, the obsession, everything. Or at least I thought I did.”
Hank looked at Lucas. “But now I can’t tell myself the world makes sense anymore, because it doesn’t. And it never will again.”
“Hank? What’s wrong with me?”
Hank chuckled again, bitter, mirthless. “You said it yourself,” he replied. “You’re possessed.”
Lucas didn’t answer.
“I can’t deny what I saw with my own eyes,” Hank said, talking to himself now.
“Think,” Hank said. He tapped himself on the forehead, trying to dislodge something that had become stuck there. “Think, think, think.”
“I never believed. I never did.”
“Hank, what are we going to do?”
“Damned if I know,” Hank said. “I’m not ready to deal with this. I’m not. Neither are the police, or the Doctors up at Bryce. You need a witch doctor. Or a priest.”
“Well, I don’t have either,” Lucas said. “I just have you.”
Hank shook his head. “I’m not ready for this.”
“Like I am?” Lucas said. “This is happening to me, Hank, not to you.”
Hank didn’t answer for a few seconds. “No,” he said. “I think it’s happening to both of us.”
“So what are we going to do about it?” Lucas asked. “You can’t keep me tied up down here forever.”
Hank hesitated, the words reluctant to leave his mouth but too bitter to hold inside. “I guess we don’t have any choice. We’re going to have to fight.”
“Fight what?” Lucas asked.
“I guess we both know, don’t we?” Hank said. “Neither one of us can deny it any longer. We don’t have the option of not believing anymore. We don’t have a choice. We have to believe in it. And we have to fight it.”
“It?” Lucas asked.
“Evil,” Hank answered. “It’s real, and it’s after both of us. All of us. And we have to fight it.” Hank stood. He’d said it. He couldn’t get out of it now. He couldn’t go back. He had no choice now. Maybe he never did.
“We have to fight it, Lucas.”
* * *
WAYNE MILLER is the owner and creative director of EVIL CHEEZ PRODUCTIONS (www.evilcheezproductions.blogspot.com, www.facebook.com/evilcheezproductions), specializing in theatrical performances and haunted attractions. He has written, produced and directed (and occasionally acted in) over a dozen plays, most of them in the Horror and Crime genres. His first novel, THE CONFESSIONS OF SAINT CHRISTOPHER: WEREWOLF, is available for purchase at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/734763
MORTUI VELOCES SUNT!