His steps seemed silent on the asphalt. Not a clap or scuffle. He was unseen. His feet fell on the pavement that teetered on the edge of a rutty ditch slope meeting the night’s dark hand. It engulfed the street’s fringe in solitude. Street lights’ angle met the road leaving the grassy, sloping boundary untouched. Cars shot past pulling a tailwind that rocked him toward the dark blackness. The blowing northern air that followed this man into town was frigid.
The man felt the police presence as the car’s light shined from behind him. The car slowed to a stop, blue lights flashed. The man stopped abruptly without turning toward the light. His long hair blowing wild on the northern wind. The man was extremely large.
The policeman emerged from the car. “Excuse me sir,” he demanded the man’s attention with a bright flashlight. “Can you step to the front of my car, please.” The policeman’s question was more of an issued order. The man waited. Finally, turning to the officer, he seemed to the policeman to be chanting something with closed eyes. “Sir! Step to my car please!” The man answered, “I am the light in the darkness.” He said this with a wild crooked smile, eyes wide now, “I am the Angel of Mercy.” He stretched out his arms, “Come and receive my blessing!” The officer thought to himself it was going to be one of those nights, and it wasn’t even a full moon. “Sir, I’m not here for your blessing I’m asking you to step toward my car.” The man began to assail the asphalt with slow steps toward the gleaming lights of the patrol car, his eyes wild, but focusing on the officer. A sinkhole began to open in the young officer’s stomach. Nervousness ate away confidence. The man’s eyes had a blackness that seemed to eat itself. His eyes were black holes on the surface of his pale face, sucking the darkness from the sides of the road. The lights of the patrol car seemed to dim under the weight of this man’s eyes. The officer began to pat the man down. He asked the man to take his hands from his pockets. The man complied with one smooth motion and a bone-handled dagger. He sank the knife’s icy, frigid blade into the officer’s round fleshy belly. The knife splayed the officer’s belly wide into several open whelps. The man was repeating over and over, “Let the Lord lift you up in my mercy. God forgives you, my child.” The color drained from the officer, his eyes sullen and distant. The life ebbed away on vagrant words. The officer sank to the asphalt. Blood poured in a Red Sea.
Arnie awoke to the safety of his warm bedroom from a disturbing nightmare. As he awoke the details of the dream slipped away, but it involved the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Only in his dream, he knew them personally as trusted members of his church: the pastor, music director and two faithful deacons. They slew him and everything in their path ruthlessly and without forethought or remorse. It was just a dream, he reassured himself.
He opened the door to get the paper off the front step. The weather this October day was perfect. Cold and overcast. His church was sponsoring a haunted house this year in the old stone house off the highway. It was going to be epic. Everyone in the church was getting involved and he was to be the last act, the last room in the house before exiting through the long twisting corridor. He was a going to be hanging by a noose against a desolate country backdrop. The staging area would be squared in by an old flimsy log fence. The wind begins to blow and his head is ripped off by the force of the wind. At that time, the strobe will begin to flash and he will be tossed about by the wind’s force grabbing at the crowd, headless. In the small room, he’d be mere inches from the crowd. It was going to be righteous.
He sat with coffee at the table and the front page finally caught his attention. A deputy had been slain on the highway, just a few miles from the old stone house. He didn’t recognize the officer, but what a tragedy. He left three children and wife. The authorities were not releasing any details at this time. The phone rang.
“Hey, Arnie. It’s Hazel.”
“Oh, hi, Hazel. Are you at the stone house yet? We’ve got to get this thing set up soon.”
“Yeah, I’m the only one here right now. I’ll open up and get the power on. We have some last minute things to do to the third and fourth rooms, then get everyone dressed. I may need to go to the costume store and refit one of the girls.”
“Well, do what you need to and I’ll be there later this afternoon.”
Hazel clicked her cell phone closed. There was a cold gust of wind as she got out of her jeep. She parked at the trail’s end that led behind the old house. The stones seemed to draw in and devour the little light that the surrounding trees let pass. This gave Hazel a sinking feeling in her stomach. She was alone with the ghosts of this nineteenth century marvel of architecture. The entire house was stone. The walls, floors and ceilings were all cold rock that seemed to absorb the little warmth and light from the overcast day. She entered the stone breeze way. The back door was ajar.
When Arnie arrived, the place was lit and people were everywhere. He was running very late. A line had formed outside the entrance. Tickets were being sold. He pulled to the rear of the structure. He went inside the house to their operations room. Lucy was there fitting one of the guys into a black body stocking and ghoulish white mask to mimic the villains in the movie “Scream”. “So are we ready to go?” Arnie asked. “I just need to get in my suit and we can open the doors.”
Lucy answered, “Yeah, Jake here is the last one we have to get into costume. Everyone else is set up and ready to go. Get your stuff on and we’ll attach your head when you get on the rope. Oh yeah . . . and tell Hazel when you see her thanks for leaving everything for me to do. Apparently she and someone else came to open up and then she took off with them to Heaven knows where!”
Arnie took on a confused look. “That’s weird. She called from here earlier today. She was the first one here and didn’t mention anyone being with her.”
“Well, her jeep is here, but she isn’t. So, you do the math,” she sounded quite perturbed.
The night ebbed away on the screams of teens and adults alike. The haunted house was a success. Arnie gave his eerie, terrifying performance. Several of the people who had ventured through waited to talk and congratulate the performers of the night on their scary creations.
As Arnie exited the long empty corridor, he reached the pale lights they had set up at the exit. He recognized one of the teens from church. She was so excited. “Wow, Arnie! That was awesome! Your room was so scary. And that last room before the final long corridor, those dead people looked so real!” Another teen and his parent agreed, that was the most terrifying room.
Arnie was confused. “What are you talking about? My room was our last room. There were no others after.”
“The room with all the dead people sitting around the walls. The room with the one candle burning in the middle of the floor. The dirty, haggard looking guy in the middle chanting! Brilliant!” she exclaimed.
“Lucy?” Arnie said looking around. He was utterly confused. He wasn’t aware of an extra room. A sinking feeling opened in his stomach. He was daunted. He went into the operations room. It was vacant.
The corridor seemed much darker than it had just a few minutes ago. He trudged toward the darkness, feet scuffling on stone. It was muffled. He wasn’t aware of any sound. Arnie turned the corner and saw the room. It had a small arm of an entry way that opened onto a larger body. A large square room. There was little light from the candle in the middle of the room, half blocked by a large body. The body had its arms stretched out, head up and it was chanting inaudibly. The candle light grew brighter as Arnie’s eyes adjusted and they were met by a row of dead, bloody human carcasses lining the wall in front of the chanting, extremely large, wild-haired man. There in the looming candle light was Hazel. A look of terrible surprise on her face. As was Lucy, her mid section had been brutally dissected. There were several more bodies lining the walls around, some Arnie recognized as being in line for admittance to the haunted house earlier that evening.
The man rose to his feet. The sinkhole in Arnie’s stomach began to eat itself and he began to wretch. Dry heave. The man turned and spoke a soft whisper that seemed to boom against the stone walls. “Come, my child, and receive my blessing,” the man advanced. Arnie was frozen. The man began to repeat, “Let the Lord lift you up in my mercy. God forgives you, my child.” The candle light glinted from the blade of a huge, bloody dagger. The man swung. Arnie was in shock. The blade pierced him once, then several times. His body convulsed. Arnie’s life ebbed from his chest under the strikes of the bloody dagger. His consciousness was absorbed by the large man’s black eyes. Arnie sank to the stone floor. “Amen,” the man whispered.