The following day they had all agreed to meet back up at the Institute to discuss what they had found and what they would do next. Lisa, Martin and Crystal were all there when David and Daniel had finally arrived. David sat down in a chair. The chair wheezed as he did so. He was then the first to talk. “Here is what I am going to do”, he said. “I am going to listen to what you have to say. I will comment only when I need something to be clarified or if I can add information in some way. I am trying guys, I will try to not be cynical and to help where I can”. Lisa handed David a cup of coffee, “That’s fair enough”, she said as she did so. Lisa turned to Martin, “Tell us what you know”, she instructed.
“There is not as much as I would have liked”, Martain said. He opened a file that he had on the desk and started to speak. “Everything about the house was quiet until the eighties. We are not dealing with some Amytiville style house here with multiple events, not at that point anyway”.
“Amytiville was a nonsense”, David added. Martin looks at him with an uncomfortable smile, “I know. I was keeping it as layman as possible”, he said before continuing. “The eighties hit, and Faustus McGovern buys the house, and we know all about Faustus”. Lisa took over as if on cue. “Faustus was thought to be a crank throughout much of his life. It was before our time, obviously, but we have the files and the reports. He started out in the fifties and sixties, peddling his fortune-telling and spiritualism. There is no evidence that he was anything other than a sham, a charlatan. He would play one town and then move on to the next when the place got too hot. Something changed though in the seventies”.
Lisa took a sip from her cup and looked to make sure everyone was listening. “Then he started to get interested in anything and everything supernatural or otherworldly. We have multiple statements and reports that his bookshelves began to grow. He had never shown too much interest before, but now he was becoming quite the bibliophile. He had the fiction, the Wheatly, Lovecraft etcetera, but then his taste focused on the darker and more forgotten works. He dropped from the radar then, confining himself to the house. Many thought he had become a recluse, a lock-in. It was presumed he would die old with the house and be found one day, alone and dead. Then we found out what he was doing, we all learnt that in the nineties”.
“I have the police report”, David said, holding a file aloft.
“Let me know if I miss anything”, Lisa said confidently.
“Faustus are you sure?”, Meredith asked him tepidly. Faustus turned and looked at her. His black hood hung over his shoulders, “Do you doubt me woman?” he asked, not kindly but without raising his voice.
“No, no. You know I don’t”, Meredith replied and sulked away timidly. Faustus ran his fingers over the pages in the old book for one last time. The ripples in the old paper almost like a fingerprint of its own. He read the words in his own head, just as he had read them a thousand times before. He could feel it, taste it in the air. Tonight was the night tonight he would meet his idol; tonight, he would learn all he had ever wanted to know. He lifted his hood over his head and stood up. He took the book from the table, held it under his arm and made his way down to the basement.
He took the steps one be one on his way down, careful not to trip or fall. The girl lay tied and bound just as he had left her. Faustus walked to her and checked the knotting, pulling it hard as her screams were muffled by the gag. “Calm yourself dear”, Faustus said. She had been wandering the streets when they had found her, a vagabond, a wastrel, nothing more important than a rat. “You should be grateful to us”, He said as he sat upon the edge of the well. She had been nothing, and now she was going to be part of something, something magnificent.
“You should be happy, you are now more important then you have ever been”, He said, toying with her. The truth was, unsurprisingly, that he did not give a shite what she thought or what she felt. She was just a helpful object to him, a walking and talking piece of meat, and he liked to play with his food. “I am going to give you some strength to help you with what is to come”, Faustus said. “It won’t take all the pain, but it will take enough”. Faustus used the middle finger on his left hand, pushing the nail into his right palm. He dug deep until the skin broke and then dragged the nail along. He squeezed his hand into a fist and let the blood drip onto the rag in her mouth. Faustus watched as some of the blood crept in at the corners. The blood making its way into her mouth, his and her lives connected. “Now sleep”, Faustus said, and as if she were hypnotised, she did just that.
There were six of them in the basement now, six and the woman tied and lying on the floor. A six-foot stake had been forced into the ground. Smaller bits of wood had been piled in a triangular shape around its base. Faustus turned to look at one of his black flock and said, “put her on it”. The man did as he was told. Not an utterance of doubt escapes from him. The woman was still asleep, still under the spell that had been weaved. The man grabbed her by the hair and pulled her toward the stake. She wakes instantly and tried to scream, only for the screams to be muffled by the gag that is still in place. She tried to fight back, but with her arms and feet tied tightly, she can do nothing as he dragged her along the earthy floor. She is just a short, slim woman, and this muscular man drags her with ease. He pulled her up and stood her next to the stake. She plays dead for a moment, trying to shake all her weight. A deadweight being harder to manage. The man grabbed her by the neck and pushes her head against the post. She smelt the sweat on his hand as he pushed her neck backwards. He raised his other hand; it was fisted. When it was right in front of her face, he lifted the index finger and waggled it from left to right. He shook his head as he did so. Quick as a flash, he had another piece of rope and had wrapped it around her neck, removing his hand briefly as he did so. He made his way behind her, holding the rope at her neck tight, and tied it. She had no choice now. If she flopped again, the rope would likely strangle her where she stood. The man wrapped one final rope around her waist and tied it tight. She was bound and unable to do anything.
The man left, and then another came over, this time a female. The restrained woman thought she might have a chance with another female. A chance at a reprieve and a chance to be freed. The thought of freedom was soon dashed as she saw only excitement in the woman’s eyes. Her pupils whirled with enthusiasm for the task that she had been given. She had a small bottle and in that container was a black liquid. She poured it all over the wood at the woman’s feet. She then lit it with a match, and the smokeless flames began to grow.
The flames crawled at first, making their way up the wood that had been carefully laid for them. The warmth climbed to just below her feet. She dared not look down. The heat rose along with the flames until they tickled her feet. She could feel the tightening of her skin as the flames took root. These unnatural flames climbed slow. She felt the pain and, gag aside, she wanted to scream out, but she could not. It was like her brain had compartmentalised it, pushed it away to the back of the cupboard. Hidden from her, but still there, ready to emerge. Her skin had hardened with the flames, and now it cracked. She felt every stretch, creak, and snap as it broke. The dress they had put her in caught aflame, and the fire had taken now. Her skin popped as it burnt like the crackling of bamboo on a fire. The pain niggled and nagged like a dull throbbing headache. It was just on the edge of tolerance for her, and she would have broken screaming into the gag had it got worse. Still, she begged for this to be over. The dress was fully aflame, her skin acting as a reverse candle, the fat and muscle acting as a wax substitute for the outside wick. The fire leapt from dress to shoulder and then to her hair. The familiar smell that she had smelt many times now engulfed her nostrils. The hairspray she had used on her hair cheered the flames on until her whole head was immersed in fire. The fluid in her eyes boiled, and then they made a sound like a child popping their cheek.
Suddenly the ropes give, and she falls forward to the ground. The ropes, her dress, and the gag all burnt away to dust in the unnatural smokeless flames. It hurt, and that is what she remembered. It was stupid really, oh hi darling, yes I was burnt at the stake, but do you know what really hurt? It was hitting the ground afterwards. The burnt husk of her remains convulsed on the floor. Writhing like the pictures in a flipbook that were slightly out of sync. The things that were once her ears that had not burnt to a crackling heard the voice that said, “Get the girl”. She felt her arm being grabbed, the skin flaking away, and then she was pulled. Skin pulling from bone, bone slipping from muscle as she was pulled. She lets out a groan as she is dragged. A groan escaped from a mouth that is now as dry as an old tobacco pouch. Nobody heard it, or if they had, they did not acknowledge it.
She was lifted into the air, and she can feel the coolness on the crisp remains of her skin. Just as quickly as she had been lifted, she was then dropped, and she is falling. Falling, but falling too far. Plummeting somewhere that is lower than the ground. Oh God, the well, she thought. God has a sense of humour, maybe? Her leg hits the wall of the well as she falls. She can imagine the voice. “Hey girl, you got it, its the well”. The knee hit first, with the skin and muscle being stripped from it like well-cooked chicken falling from the bone. The leg snapped at the knee, but it somehow still held together. Her flame-grilled body still doing enough to hold on even as she bounced to the other side. Her shoulder took the brunt of the force this time. She tried to grab ahold of the walls to slow her fall. Her fingers just snapped, the skin peeled from them as she tried to grab anything. Then she hit the bottom of the well, a long, deep, dried hole in the ground. So thank you, Lord, she thought, it was all over. Only it wasn’t; she was still alive. Then the well shaft heated. It got hotter and hotter as she lay there. Her skin started to fall from the bone. What was left was being burnt away by the heat. Muscle flaked and burnt in the flameless heat until all that was left was bone.
The six of them circle the well. Faustus holds his book aloft. “And let there be light”, he shouted. “But, with the light comes a darkness, the mother of darkness”.
“Mother of darkenss”, they all chanted together. Faustus pushed the book forwards, holding it over the centre of the well. The book burst into a blue flame, and Faustus held it steady. The blue flame danced up and down his arm but did not seem to leave any damage or burn him. “Let there be light”, he said one more as he dropped the book. The book fell six inches and then hovered above the well. The blue flame moved above it and then shot out in six directions. The acolytes and Faustus scream as the piercing blue blaze rips through them. Their arms raised, and for just a moment, they looked like the dancing wind puppets you see outside some businesses. The flame spikes retreated back into the book, and for a second, everything was still. The book hovered, and the six cultists stood, then they all dropped. Bodies and book defying the gravitational laws as they all hit the ground at the same time. The book has to fall down the well. The bodies just six feet or so to the ground. Oh, you do like your fun and games, Faustus thought as he lay on the floor and looked around the room. He could see his companions, his flock. They were all dead, had died the instant the blue streak had left them. Why was he left alive? He tried to move but found he couldn’t as he could not move anything other than his eyes. His body was paralysed from the tips of his hair to his big pointed toenail. He lay on the floor, and in his head, he screamed.
Lisa talked and had been talking for a while. “Only Faustus’s body was ever found. We guess of the other five or six and the sacrifice after researching what he did”.
“How do you know there was a seventh?” David asked. “I saw nothing in the reports about that”. David looked down through some of the paperwork that he had. “We can’t be sure, of course”, Martin said. “I did the research on this one, and the closer I could find was an old summoning ritual. Six believers, a well and a book are needed along with a sacrifice. The well was never an original feature. It had been added afterwards. That was how I managed to find the correct ritual they were using. What I think it the correct one. I thought they were drawn to the house because of the well, but maybe it is as Crystal said and it was because of this tear”.
“It is”, Crystal said adamantly.
“Maybe, Hell – pardon the pun – probably”, Martin said. “What is important is that we never found two critical things. A good ritual needs a book, and this one did. It also needed a sacrifice. We could find neither”. Martin took a breather for a moment, letting Lisa continue. “So, we sent someone down the well. They found nothing. They said that there was a small tunnel but as a sacrifice is what it is, we saw no point in exploring further”.
“I think that was a mistake”. Daniel said. “I saw something burrowing up from the floor, I think there is something, someone down there”.
“After all this time?” Martin asked.
“Have you ever considered that the sacrifice might be the solution to this?” Crystal interrupted. “Like in old ghost stories, how the spirits cannot pass on until they are all laid to rest? In this one, you still have an undiscovered body, lay that to rest, and it may”. She stopped for a moment. “I am stressing the word may. It may move Faustus on. He is out of the void, he is in our world he has to play by our rules”.
“It feels like a long shot, a shot in the dark”, Daniel said.
“Do you have anything better?” Crystal quickly replied.
David sat and watched them, taking this all in, and finally, he spoke. “I can tell you a few things you have missed”, David said. “The first is something you could not possibly have known. That is unless you had someone leak police files, and if you did, I’d want to know who. Faustus did not die straight away.
“What?” Daniel asked, shocked.
“He did not die for some time. Faustus died of starvation and dehydration. It took a while”.
“You didn’t think that odd?” Lisa asked.
“Sure, but we are policemen. No one was reported missing. There was no sign of foul play. We went down the well too and found nothing of interest. It was all weird, it all made little sense, but you can only go where the evidence leads. In this case, the evidence leads nowhere. Technically the case is still open. A few officers took an interest when you burnt down the house”. David nodded in Daniels direction. “The second thing I am surprised you missed”, David said. This time he smiled, “Have you ever looked at the house from above?” One by one, they shook their heads. “Well”, David said and held out a photograph. They each looked at it with a blank expression on their faces. “If you look. You have the road and then one that intersects it. The intersecting roads are both culdesacs. It is not too much of a stretch to see”. David handed them a second photo, this time with a red marker drawn on it. He had drawn a line straight down the main road and up the house’s driveway stopping at the front door. He had then drawn another line along the intersecting road that began and ended in a culdesac. It was a crucifix. “The well would be like the dot above the letter ‘i'”, he said.
“How did we miss this?” Lisa asked, angry at herself more than anything. “I want to get a look in that well”, Daniel said.
“That might be tricky”, Martin added. “There are remains of a burnt house above it”.
“How much will it cost to clear?”, Daniel said. Lisa just looked resigned and loaded up the Institutes accounts program.
None of them noticed the cloud floating just below the window, and why should they have? Would you? It could not hear what they were saying. It was wary of this group. Something deep within warned it that they were a danger. It needed to know why. What danger could they possibly pose? These tiny insignificant ants. It had seen the void, and it had seen what lay beyond this world. It had spoken to the Goddess of Darkness herself, so why? Why did it feel afraid?
David was outside having a cigarette when Daniel left the office. Had he been waiting for me? Daniel thought. As if to answer the question, David wandered over, “Just the man I was waiting for”, he said. “I did some digging, and I think it is for your ears only. I don’t think it relates too much to what you’re dealing with”. Daniel looked at the Policeman, not really interested in all truth. “What is it?” he asked politely. David reads people well, and he could see that Daniel had other things on his mind, so he got straight to the point. “The house was sold shortly after that”, Daniels interested peaked. “It was sold to a man via a private auction. Nothing ever really became public, and it was all kept very hush-hush”. David extended the ‘sh’ on the final ‘hush’. You’d be surprised at what a little pushing and a police identification can do”.
Daniel thought that he would not have been at all surprised. Still, he let David continue. “Stephen Johnson bought the house”. The cloud rippled above at the mention of the name. Had they been looking upwards, they would have seen a glimmer like oil floating atop of water. It did not last long, but it was a reaction none the less. “My Father”, Daniel said. “Yes”, he added in a dejected manner. “I never knew him”, he added. Johnson, Johnson! The cloud thought. It had learnt enough, and it dived at the two men. If this man was the son of Johnson, then it would take him here and now. It flew down, but then it stopped. Not through choice, it had still wanted to attack and consume them. It was held back from doing so by an unseen force. It was like an invisible boundary that had been placed around the men. It tried again and just smashed into nothing. A female voice rattled through it, commanding it to stop. “He bought the house though and left it to you”, David said. The two men were completely unaware of the cloud that had tried to infect them. “Why do you think he did that?” David asked. Daniel said that he did not know. He really thought that he did know. There was a feeling in his gut that had been rolling around down there for a few days. A jumbled mess of ideas about everything else, but this one felt right. This one gave him that feeling he got when he looked at a word and instantly told his mind that it was spelt corrected. “He wants me to end it”, Daniel said.