Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Denver Cereal - Chapter One Hundred and Twenty-Five : The entity

CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and TWENTY-FIVE

“You boys didn’t call him anything?” the young detective asked.

“Jude,” Aden said. “We called him St. Jude.”

“This St. Jude,” the older detective paused for effect. “You’d recognize him if you saw him again?”

“I’ve seen him off and on through the years,” Aden said.

“When was the last time?” the older detective asked.

Aden fell silent. He rubbed his forehead then his face.

“Sir?” the younger detective asked.

“Sorry, I’m sure you think I’m stalling,” Aden said. “I got knocked around in prison. I’m mostly all right but sometimes my brain kind of seizes when I’m anxious or upset. St. Jude is not my favorite topic.”

“You have in your records that Mr. Norsen was brutally beaten by his brother,” Samantha said. “Give the man a minute to think.”

“I don’t think time will help,” Aden said. “I don’t know when I saw him last or where. I’m sorry. I never like seeing him. If I saw him yesterday, I’d forget it.”

“Did you see him yesterday?” the older detective asked.

“No. I was at the hospital all day yesterday,” Aden smiled. “That I’m sure of.”

“But you’d recognize him if you saw him again,” the older detective said.

Aden nodded.

“I need you to speak,” the older detective said. “For the record.”

“Yes,” Aden said.

“Would you be willing to go on record with this information?” the younger detective asked.

“Yes,” Aden said.

“Let’s move on,” the older detective said. “Did he ever take you anywhere?”

Aden shook his head then dropped his head into his hands and rubbed his eyes.

“Sorry, I haven’t had a lot of sleep lately and I need to get back to my wife,” Aden said. “You said something about going somewhere?”

The younger detective looked at his partner. The older detective nodded and the younger man left the room.

“You’ve heard that Detective O’Malley found Jeffy before he died,” the older detective said.

“I’m sorry. I haven’t heard anything,” Aden said. “My wife was in and out of the hospital all last week. She had our daughter almost two months early on Friday. I’ve either been at the hospital or taking care of my kids, her siblings…”

“Aden’s been out of the loop, Detective,” Samantha said.

The younger Detective returned with a stack of photographs. He laid out a picture of the large house on the Barn’s property.

“Have you ever seen this house?” the young detective asked.

“May I?” Aden asked.

He picked up the photo to get a closer look.

“Sure, I’ve been there,” Aden said. “I lived there for a while. I moved out around the time I met Nuala. My band used to practice there.”

“Would you mind going there tonight?” the younger detective asked.

“Tonight?” Aden asked. He shifted uncomfortably. Not sure what to say, he repeated, “Tonight?”

“We need to move fast,” the older detective said. “According to the coroner, the serial killer will pick another victim in the new few hours. We think the house plays an integral role in the killer’s rituals.”

“Did you check the crypt?” Aden asked.

“Crypt?” the younger detective said.

“In the basement chapel,” Aden said.

“The killer won’t be able to use the barn…” the older detective started.

“The barn?” Aden’s eyebrows shot up with anxiety.

“What is it, son?” Bob asked.

“The house… that barn… They’re haunted,” Aden stumbled on his words. “Horrifying. Especially at night.”

“But you lived there…” the young detective said.

“Doesn’t mean I want to go back,” Aden said. “Ever.”

~~~~~~~~

Sunday evening — 9:40 P.M.

Seth looked up when Ava came into the room. He instinctively smiled at her. She flushed a little. The Chief of Police cleared his throat.

“Technician Alvin,” he said. “We’re in the middle of…”

“Detective O’Malley asked me to inform him when we’ve finished our analysis of the pendant,” Ava walked toward Seth. “The pendants are similar enough to be made by the same company, but different enough to be made decades apart.”

“So Norsen’s story fits,” Seth’s Captain said.

“Yes sir,” Ava said. “The Jeffy pendant is newer and made out of pewter. It’s stamped made in China. The pewter is consistent with Asian pewter with a higher percentage of tin. Say ninety-seven percent or so. The Norsen pendant also pewter, but was made in the US. The pewter is consistent with European pewter with less tin, say between ninety-two and ninety-four percent. The Jeffy pendant is a little softer, more malleable, and bears a few wear marks. Norsen’s pendant is undamaged after all these years.”

“Different factories, same pendant? Or different pendants?” Seth asked.

“The pendants were made on, if not the same mold, a similar mold,” Ava said. “You can’t see it in this light but there’s a small defect in the mold. A crack or possibly some design flaw. We believe the mold is either exactly the same mold that made the Norsen pendant or a mold made from the original mold.”

“We’re looking at the same company making similar products?” Seth asked.

“Right,” Ava said. “We believe it’s the same company making the same product. They offshored production to China. We looked online and found these pendants with these same steel chains for nine dollars.”

“Cheap pendants,” the head of CBI said. “I wonder how many he bought.”

“We have a person working on that, sir,” Ava said. “We were able to contact the factory in China. They’re sending us information about the company they make these pendants for. We’ll know tomorrow who sells them in Denver.”

“Good work,” Seth said.

Ava blushed in response to his praise.

“We were able to collect DNA from both chains,” Ava said. “It sounds gross but these chains are very hard to clean. They’re collectors of DNA. If we’re lucky, we’ll get DNA from the killer on both chains.”

“You sent that DNA to us?” the head of CBI asked.

“Yes sir,” Ava said.

“I’ll personally expedite this,” the head of CBI said.

Surprised the cash strapped CBI would take on the expense, the men looked at him.

“You have to ask yourself: How did this St. Jude know Norsen was a Gilmore?” the head of CBI said.

“Gary Gilmore was incarcerated eighteen of his last twenty years,” Seth said. “I thought that too.”

“What?” his Captain asked.

“The killer must have met Gary Gilmore, Sr. in prison,” the head of CBI said. “Must have known him well enough to know how volatile he was.”

“The killer’s got to have a record somewhere. CBI has a better chance of finding it than we do,” Seth said.

“If we’re lucky, we’ll have his DNA on file,” the head of CBI said.

“We can only hope,” the Captain said.

“You could find the killer’s DNA on the chain even though Norsen has had his twenty years?” the Police Chief asked.

“Yes, sir,” Ava said. “It’s crazy how little DNA we need to and how much is caught in these chains.”

“That’s disgusting,” the head of CBI said.

“Yes sir,” Ava said. “You’ll never see a forensics person wearing a chain. Too gross, sir.”

“But for our purposes…” Seth looked through the window to Aden. “Looks like we’re going back to the property. Can you get a team of your folks together?”

“Of course,” Ava said.

“Great work,” Seth said.

Ava smiled and left the room.

“Special service?” the Police Chief asked.

“Sir?” Seth asked.

Shaking his head at Seth, the Police Chief turned back to the interview room.

“You’re going out there tonight?” his Captain asked.

“I don’t see anyway around it, sir,” Seth said. “We’re running out of time.”

“Take a team of uniforms,” the Police Chief looked at the head of CBI. “Are you coming too?”

“Of course. We’ll bring a team of forensic people to back you up. I’ll go with you.”

“What are we going to do about these ghosts?” the Captain grinned as if he’d made a joke.

“Good question,” the head of CBI said. “I’ve had more than one experience I’d rather forget.”

“Peabury Mansion?” the Police Chief asked.

“The Peabury. Croke Patterson,” the head of CBI said. “Molly Brown. Every one of those God damned mansions connected to the coal tunnels. They’re all filled with unexplainable phenomena.”

“I’ll make some calls,” Seth said.

“You do that,” the Police Chief said.

“Yes sir,” Seth said.

The men turned their attention back to Aden.

~~~~~~~~

Sunday evening — 11:40 P.M.

“You’re sure they’re coming?” Aden said.

Aden’s anxious voice broke the silence. After a few rudimentary comments, the men spent the entire drive out to the mansion in silence. Seth’s police sedan turned right into the semi-circle drive of the haunted mansion.

“I called,” Seth said.

“God, this place creeps me out,” Aden said. “I don’t want to go in there… I…”

Approaching the front of the mansion, Seth’s headlights fell upon an old silver Mercedes Benz. Jacob was sitting on the hood of the car while Delphie had her head in the trunk.

“Oh thank God,” Aden said.

“My sentiments,” Seth said.

Seth pulled in front of the ancient Mercedes. The trail of police cruisers, forensic vans and other official vehicles parked around them. Before Aden could get out of the car, he heard someone hail Jacob.

“Whatcha doing here, man?” the uniformed police officer asked Jacob.

“Had to drive,” Jacob nodded toward Delphie. Delphie gave the young man a wave. “I couldn’t really let her come out all this way by herself.”

“Friend?” the police officer asked.

“Dad’s girlfriend,” Jacob said.

“Is she really… you know,” the police officer said.

Jacob nodded. The officer shrugged his shoulders and nodded.

“Aden!” Jacob hugged Aden. “Do you know Aden Norsen? He doesn’t play hockey but he’s a good guy anyway.”

“Nice to meet you,” the police officer said.

Aden hugged Delphie ‘hello.’ Delphie searched his face then hugged him again. She turned back to the trunk to retrieve a large canvas bag. She slung the bag over her shoulder.

“What’s going to happen?” Jacob asked.

“The psychic is supposed to go in with Norsen. Check out this crypt,” the police officer said. “You can just wait out here if you want.”

“I can’t let her go into an old house by herself,” Jacob said.

“Jacob can’t resist an old house,” Delphie laughed. “He loves to buy them for nothing then restore them to their original glory.”

Jacob shrugged his shoulders as if he was caught.

“You’ll stay with me,” Aden leaned close to say.

“With Delphie,” Jacob said.

Aden nodded. His eyes expressed his anxiety. Jacob smiled and slapped his back.

“We’ve done this before,” Jacob said in a low tone.

“What do we know about the house?” Seth asked.

“The real estate listing says it’s a little more than ten thousand square feet. But, in my experience these old places are larger then advertised,” Jacob said. “Three floors plus a basement. Five doors to the outside.”

“It has about thirty rooms including the basement,” Aden said.

“Forensics?” Seth asked.

“We found evidence of people living here, Detective O’Malley,” the CBI Agent in Charge said. “But nothing that relates to the killer.”

“There’s a basement,” Ava’s superior officer said. “Creepy but clean.”

“Who has the key?” Jacob asked.

A police officer came forward with a key. At the head of an uncomfortable parade, Aden, Seth, Jacob and Delphie approached the front door. The uniformed police officers followed behind them. The Agent in Charge for the CBI forensics stepped forward to pull their tape off the door.

“We need to…” the Agent in Charge of CBI forensics started.

“Why don’t you let us deal with this first?” Seth asked. “We’ll get you when we’re ready to look at the property.”

Clearly relieved, the Agent in Charge nodded to Seth.

“I need a couple uniforms…” Seth said. A man and woman wove their way through the crowd of agents to the front.

“Gretel! Jeff!” Delphie said. “I didn’t know you were here.”

“Sir, we’d like to support Delphie,” Jeff said.

Embarrassed, the officer’s hands instinctively went to his belt.

“Friend?” Seth asked.

“She saved my sister’s life,” Gretel said. “Told her she had cancer when no one knew what was wrong with her. Helped Jeff find a house he could afford.”

She looked at her partner.

“What?” Gretel said. “I’m not the least embarrassed. I’d follow Delphie into a fire. A big, spooky house is nothing.”

Jeff looked around at all the people watching then nodded. Delphie smiled and led the way to the front door. Seth unlocked the door and opened it. Jacob, Delphie, Aden, Seth and the two uniformed police officers stepped into the entryway. The door slowly creaked closed then shut with a bang.  Aden flicked a switch behind him. A dim light shone from the overhead bulb.

“The powers always been on,” Aden said. “Power and gas. Weird because the building is basically abandoned.”

“Can’t easily turn it off,” Seth said.

“Gas and electricity would have come with a posh house like this,” Jacob said. “There’s no shut off?”

Seth shook his head.

“I need you to…” Seth turned to Jacob.

Jacob turned around so that his face was right in front of Seth’s.

“This is what’s going to happen,” Jacob said in a low voice. “Delphie and I are going to collect the spirits into the central room. We need to be left alone. No matter what you hear, or think you hear, stay here. There is an entity in this building that will do anything to lure you into its power. Do not give it the chance. Delphie?”

Delphie pulled a round container of sea salt out of her large bag. She poured a large circle of salt around them. From her bag, she retrieved four plastic bags filled with salt.

“This is salt.” Delphie gave a bag of salt to each of them. “Spirits can’t easily move over salt and don’t like it. Use your salt if you need it. It should keep you safe.”

“If you hear or see something, check it out with the others,” Jacob said.

“Hear something?” Seth asked.

“I used to hear the sound of a child crying,” Aden shivered. “I looked and looked and looked… Every night for months. I never found her.”

“But…” Gretel said.

“Gretel, they will need you the most,” Delphie gave the woman a bright smile. “Just like everything else in life, men and women rarely see or hear the same thing.”

“If Gretel doesn’t hear what you hear, see what you see, it’s not happening,” Jacob said. “Aden, you have some experience with this thing. Use it to help the others. But stay here.”

“We should go,” Delphie said. “It’s…”

Jacob’s head jerked down the hall. Running forward, they heard him say, “I fucking hate this…”

“Stay here. Stick together. It can’t get to you if you’re together,” Delphie said. She gave them a smile and a nod, and then ran after Jacob.

Aden watched his friend, Jacob Marlowe, run into the dark house. Delphie followed close behind. For a moment, he could see Jacob in the dim light. There was a burst of bright light and then total darkness.

Aden flicked the switch behind them.

Nothing.

Instinctively, Aden, Seth, Gretel and Jeff shifted closer to each other. In the darkness, they waited.

~~~~~~~~

Monday early morning — 12:07 A.M.

Running toward a wisp of a dark shadow, Jacob heard his mother’s voice in his head.

“There are creatures in this world that are dark. Not dark like dark chocolate or simply black in color. Their very essence is the deep darkness. They draw energy and light from the living and the dead. They use this energy to control the living and the dead,” Celia’s voice said. “They quest for control and power. Some human beings have a tiny portion of this energy – dictators, Stalin, Mengele, Hitler, Mao, even Delphie’s tormentor, Johansen. This creature is the raw source of their… perversion.”

The shadow threw a surge of dark energy at Jacob. Every light in the building came on. With a pop, the power went off.

“Remember how I told you that you’d never see one of these creatures?” Celia’s voice asked. “I was wrong. This creature is worse than anything I’ve ever seen or heard of. It’s like something out of legend. You must protect yourselves very carefully.”

“Delphie?” Jacob asked.

“I heard her,” Delphie said.

“He’s going to want to get a hold of you, Jacob,” Celia said. “If he controls you, he controls all of your power and capacity. Do not give him the chance. Even the tiniest piece of his energy can infiltrate you and you will be under his control forever.”

“She’s right,” Delphie said.

Jacob and Delphie stayed in one place until their eyes adjusted. The entity appeared then disappeared.

The apparition of a young girl stood where the entity had been. The child wore a clean Victorian nightshirt. She coughed into her hand.

“Child, why are you here?” Delphie asked.

The child shook her head and pointed to what looked like a black belt around her midsection.

“The entity binds her here,” Jacob said.

With his words, ten children of various ages appeared. They were wearing the same clothing and had similar coughs. The trapped souls of these children stared at them with hollow eyes. Each child pointed to the black thread around their midsection.

“Jacob,” Delphie pointed.

Like a silent movie, the apparition of four women flickered in front of them. Their spirits were too entwined in the entity to appear in full form. One woman held a screaming baby in her arms. Shocked at the sight, Delphie took a step back.

“How…?” Delphie asked.

“I’ll try…” Using his mind, Jacob attempted to remove the thread from one of the children. When his mind touched the black thread, he felt a jolt of dark power. He flew backward, hit the opposite wall and landed in a heap.

“Jacob!” Delphie ran to his side.

“I’m all right,” Jacob groaned and came up to his knees. “Try the salt water.”

Delphie took a spray bottle out of her bag. She sprayed the salt water in the direction of the thread. The apparition screamed as if she was burning. A woman spirit came forward to comfort the child.

“Earth?” Jacob asked.

Delphie took out a container of dirt from the Holy site of El Santuario de Chimayo. Reaching forward, she dusted the black thread with the holy dirt.

Nothing. The evil black belts squeezed tighter and the children began to cry.

“Earth, water, salt, and mineral. The forces of nature,” Delphie began listing the elements. “I brought these flowers but I don’t think they’ll help.”

She held up a couple dozen white Shasta daisies.

“Fire. Maybe electricity,” Jacob said. “Give me the fanny pack. I’ll take on the entity. You free the spirits.”

“No,” Delphie and Celia said at the same time.

“It’s the only thing that will work,” Jacob said. “If I get its full attention, it should let go. They won’t realize they’re free at first. You must help them.”

“I can’t make a tear to the other side,” Delphie said.

“You won’t have to,” Jacob took the fanny pack from her. He strapped it around his middle. “We’ll clean up together. You’re the spirit shepherd. Bring them into the central room. Make sure to ask them if there are other spirits in this house.”

Delphie nodded.

“Don’t forget to protect yourself,” Jacob said.

“I grew up around evil like this,” Delphie said. “I was like these spirits before Celia and Delbert, your grandfather, saved me.”

“I know,” Jacob said.

“You’ll be very careful?” Delphie asked. Her worry was etched all over her face.

Jacob clutched Delphie to him. Stepping back, they shared a look. He nodded and ran toward the darkness. Delphie looked at the spirits surrounding her.

“Come with me,” Delphie said.

As if she was a first grade teacher herding her class, Delphie encouraged the spirits down the hall and into the large great room at the center of the home.

~~~~~~~~

Monday early morning — 12:07 A.M.

Aden heard a child cry. Seth shifted uncomfortably next to him. The policewoman Gretel stared at her partner, Jeff, whose head was shaking from side to side.

“What do you hear?” Aden asked. “I hear a child crying. It sounds like Noelle. She’s calling for me to save her.”

“I see my best friend from high school,” Jeff said. “Can you see him? He’s right here.”

“Your best friend shot himself.” Gretel made an index finger gun and put it in her mouth. “You know that.”

Gretel punched his shoulder. Jeff’s entire body jerked. He turned to look at her.

“Thanks,” Jeff said.

“Detective O’Malley?” Gretel asked. “What’s going on?”

“I see my partner,” Seth said. “I know he’s not real but… It’s such a relief to see him. Just to look into his face.”

“I felt like that,” Jeff said. “Your partner’s dead?”

“Lung cancer,” Seth said. “Eight years ago.”

“Oh my God,” Gretel said.

Gretel spun in place. She was about to take off when Aden grabbed her around the middle and lifted her off the ground. Her legs kicked as she fought against Aden. She let out a string of curses and struggled to get her weapon. Her partner took her handgun from her belt.

“It’s not there,” Aden said. “It’s not real.”

Gretel’s entire body seemed to take an enormous breath of air. She slumped in his arms.

“I’m going to set you down,” Aden said.

The moment her feet hit the ground, she tried to take off. Her partner, Jeff, pulled out his taser gun and tased her. She screamed and fell to the ground just inside the salt circle. Seth knelt down next to her.

“What is it?” Seth asked. “What did you see?”

“My twin,” she whispered. “Angie’s being tortured by the rapist who killed her. I have to save her.”

Jeff sat down next to her.

“The rapist is in Colorado State Pen,” Jeff said. “We’ve been there.”

“It’s using your love for Angie against you,” Seth said. “Think Gretel think. What would Angie do? What would she say?”

“What would Angie say?” Jeff repeated.

Gretel nodded her head. Aden held his hand out and pulled her to her feet.

“Angie was stronger than I was,” Gretel said. “Tougher. She always used to tell me not to be afraid. That’s what she’d said when everything was happening. That’s what she’d say today. Thanks.”

“Sir?” Jeff turned to Seth. “You seem unaffected.”

“I’ve done a lot more drugs than you have,” Seth said. “I know this feeling.”

“Me too,” Aden said.

“This feeling, sir?” Gretel asked.

“Reality separating from what I’m experiencing,” Aden said.

“Here we go again,” Jeff said.

He reached his hand out to hold Gretel’s hand. Gretel took Seth’s hand. Seth took Aden’s hand and Aden took Jeff’s hand. Standing in a circle, they prepared for the next assault.

~~~~~~~~

Monday early morning — 1:07 A.M.

The entity fell upon him the moment he stepped away from Delphie. Unwilling to do battle so close to Delphie, Jacob continued running down the hallway. The entity jumped ahead to entrap him in darkness. Jacob slowed, surged to the left then took off down the hallway to his right. He ran along the back of the mansion.

Like a dark jelly fish, the entity seemed to pulse around him. At one moment, it was overhead. The next moment, he could see it in front of him. Once or twice, he passed it in the hallway.

With each passing moment, the entity grew in size and power. Jacob ran past the back entrance to the great room. Spinning in place, he ran toward the entity. The entity was unprepared for his change of direction. He ran right through it. At the corner of the house, he pushed open a door to the kitchen. Ancient and filthy, but tile lined and contained, he would fight the entity here.

At the doorway, the entity grabbed him by the shoulders. The darkness lifted him into the air and hurled him toward the tile floor. With his hand out, Jacob used his skill to slow his momentum. Back on the ground, he made it into the kitchen.

The entity followed.

At the corner of the room next to the gas stove, Jacob turned to assess the creature. The entity vibrated and floated up and down. Thousands of tiny string like strands came off its body and into the world. Even as the entity drew into itself, evil power pushed out through those tendrils. If the spirits were ever to be free, Jacob had to cut these tendrils.

Jacob removed a small propane torch from his fanny pack. Turning on the gas, he lit the torch and moved toward the entity. He aimed the flame toward the thin tendrils of dark power.

The creature absorbed the hot blue flame and seemed to grow in size.

Jacob flicked off the gas. He retreated to a tight tile lined corner next to the stove.

His mind whirled. The entity absorbed all energetic intervention. Salt didn’t affect it. Sage smoke blew right through it. Blessed earth had no impact. He opened four vials of holy water and set them on the stove. He tossed the water in the entity’s direction. Like the smoke and salt, the water went right through it.

The creature laughed at his efforts and a low choking sound vibrated through the walls. He was not the first human being this entity had conquered. This was not the first time someone had attempted to destroy this darkness.

Standing with his back to the wall, he watched the creature condense into a nightmarish form. Almost serpent, not quite human, the black smoke entity settled in front of him. Pulsing tendrils of power and control came off its torso. Jacob took ear plugs from the fanny pack and stuck them in his ears.

“Try it now,” Celia said.

As if he was hitting a racket ball, Jacob hit a vial of holy water with the palm of his hand. The open vial spun across the room flinging water. The holy water dropped on top of it before the creature could disperse. Through the ear plugs, he heard the entity let out a high pitched screech.

“Salt!” Celia coached.

Jacob threw a handful of sea salt on the entity. For a fraction of a second, the pulsing tendrils retreated.

The creature flashed solid with power. Out of the corner of his eye, Jacob saw the spirits of three elderly men appear into the kitchen. The tramps’ spirits showed the marks where a black tendril had been before Delphie had freed them. Enraged, the spirits moved toward the entity. Other spirits appeared.

Trapped between the enraged spirits and Jacob, the entity attempted to return to its vapor form. Jacob doused it with handfuls of salt and the rest of the holy water. The creature screeched. It rushed the spirits but in its weakened state, it was pushed back into the room.  Stepping away from the wall, Jacob moved toward the center of the room.

“NO!” Celia screamed.

In a flash, the entity consumed Jacob.

~~~~~~~~

Monday early morning — 1:17 A.M.

Aden ran as fast as his legs would carry him. They’d barreled down from Brighton at over one hundred miles an hour with Jeff’s police cruisers lights wailing. Even with the luxury of a police escort, he might be out of time.

Sandy had spiked a fever and was…

He wouldn’t allow his mind to complete the thought. He just had to get there. He ran though the Emergency Room and into the ICU. He passed a stunned looking Tanesha. Heather wept silently in a chair in front of her bed. Jill hovered close.

Sandy’s mouth was open for the tube that went into her lungs. Her lungs rose and fell with the pressure of the machine. Her long hair was still in the cockeyed braid that Noelle had given her. Her eyes were closed.

She looked so peaceful and so very dead.

He grabbed her hand and almost immediately let go. Her hand was cold. Outside of the machine that kept her heart beating, his Sandy was dead.

“Oh Sandy,” Aden whispered. He fell to his knees by her bed. His face pressed against the blue sheets of her hospital bed. His hands went around her body.

“I’m very sorry sir,” a doctor with a thick Indian accent said. “We did everything we could do.”

“How could this happen?” Seth asked.

“Her fever increased, sir,” the doctor said. “Her kidneys shut down. After that, it was only a matter of time. Her brain, well, baked from the heat. She held on as long as she possibly could. I believe she was waiting for you. But…”

The doctor shook his head and stuffed his hands in his white medical jacket.

“We waited to remove her from life support,” the doctor said. “We figured you might want to take the time to attend to this matter.”

“What did you say?” Seth asked.

“We don’t expect her child to survive,” the doctor said.

“Rachel?” Aden looked up from the bed. “But…”

“Too much infection for such a tiny baby to survive,” the doctor said. “She hasn’t succumbed yet, but we expect her to do so within the hour.”

“No,” Aden sobbed. “How can that be possible? She was doing really well.”

“Take your time here, sir,” the doctor with the Indian accent said. “When you’re ready, we’ll turn off the machine.”

“Seth?” Aden looked up at Sandy’s only real family.

“Oh God,” Seth’s eyes seeped with tears. “I… I don’t know how… Oh God, Sandy.”

“Sandy what? What’s happening?” Gretel asked. “What’s going on?”

“What’s wrong with you?” Jeff pushed Gretel away from Aden and Seth. “Have a little compassion!”

“I have compassion. What I don’t have is any idea what’s going on,” Gretel said.

“Sir?” the doctor asked.

Aden looked at Seth. Seth nodded. Aden nodded. The nurse began turning off the machines. The heart rate monitor screamed. Overwhelmed with grief, Aden clutched at Sandy’s lifeless body and wept.

“Aden,” Seth said.

Seth put his hand on Aden’s back. A nurse came in with the still, lifeless form of Rachel Ann. Seth helped Aden to standing.

The nurse set his baby girl in his arms. Her tiny face was blue from lack of oxygen. Otherwise she was perfect. This small child, the baby he thought was a boy, was conceived by accident on a fun trip to Mexico after a visit to an ancient fertility shrine. She’d fought her way to be born. She’d fought her way to survive even one day. She was gaining weight. She was getting better.

But it was all too much for her to endure. Like his Sandy, his soul mate, the love of his life, she was dead. His heart broke into a million pieces. He could hardly take a breath. He leaned down to nuzzle Rachel’s face.

“This isn’t happening,” Aden whispered. “This can’t be happening.”

“That’s what I’m saying,” Gretel said.

Aden kissed Rachel’s face. He laid her next to his beloved Sandy’s body.

“Seth?” Aden asked. “How did we get here?”

“Jeff’s cruiser,” Seth said.

“How did we get out of the mansion?” Aden asked. “Only Jake could get us out of there. Where’s Jacob?”

He bent down to kiss Sandy’s face. With his eyes closed, he whispered, ‘I love you.’

“Jacob’s in the mansion,” Seth said.

“What are you talking about?” Gretel asked. “We’re still in the mansion!”

“We’re still in the mansion,” Seth said.

“We’re in the mansion,” Jeff said.

Aden stroked Rachel’s cheek and kissed Sandy’s forehead. Closing his eyes, he breathed in.

“I’m still in the mansion,” Aden said.

When he opened his eyes, he was standing in the salt circle in the haunted mansion in Brighten.

“God,” Jeff whispered. “That was so real. How did you…?”

“I don’t know,” Aden said. “It was like a whisper in my brain. ‘This isn’t happening.’ That’s what it said. ‘This isn’t happening.’ But… I could see it, smell it, even taste that hospital… whatever.”

“Horrifying,” Seth said. “This thing is willing to take our love and pervert it. My Sandy’s not dead?”

“No way to know. Our phones are out. We won’t know until we leave here,” Aden said. “But one thing’s for sure, I’m no psychic.”

“I’m no psychic,” Seth said. “That’s for sure. Jeff?”

“Me neither,” Jeff said.

“It can take our memory, our thoughts, our love and make it into something horrible” Seth said. “Quickly, before it starts again…”

Seth held out his hands. Gretel and Aden took his hands. Jeff completed the circle.

“We did this before and…” Jeff said.

“If I leave here tomorrow…” Aden began singing Leonard Skynard’s Freebird. “Sing. It helped me all those years ago.”

“Will you still remember me?” Jeff joined Aden.

“Music,” Seth said. “Occupies the mind and senses. Good thinking.”

“For I must be traveling on now…” Gretel, Jeff and Aden sang.

“But…” Seth started.

“Sing!” Aden commanded.

“There’s too many places I’ve got to see…” Seth joined in.

In the horrifying dark, they belted out Freebird at the top of their lungs.

~~~~~~~~

Monday early morning — 1:27 A.M.

Like a thick blanket, the dark descended around Jacob. Everything light extinguished from his world. The horror and perversion of a thousand malevolent voices penetrated his mind. He collapsed to his knees.

Every horror flashed through his mind. Loving memory twisted with hate. Jill’s kind face contorted with hate when she looked at him. Before his eyes, precious Katy was hit by a bus. Her body was dragged for a block before the bus wheels stopped on her head. Valerie refused to even look at a ‘loser like him’. His mother despised the man he’d become. Delphie laughed at him behind his back.

His worst fear had come true.

He was alone and unloved. He couldn’t protect the ones he loved most. He’d lost everything that mattered to him. His mind spun awful tale after horrifying tale.

Rage boiled in his blood. How could this happen? How could they do this to him? How could they betray him like this? His shoulders collapsed forward in defeat.

He would have to die. They would have to die. Death was the only option, the only release from this tremendous pain.

Out of habit more than anything else, his right hand touched the tungsten wedding band Jill had slipped on his hand.

“We give you this ring as a symbol of our love for you,” Jill and Katy’s voice broke through the dark cloud. “As it circles your finger, let it always remind you of our eternal love, surrounding and enfolding you day and night.”

The entity’s dark pressure increased around him.

“Katy and I are here,” He heard Jill’s voice.

“Jill,” he whispered. “Katy.”

“Mom, Steve, Candy and Meg are here to help. We’re sending healing love to you. Val and Mike are on their way to get you. I know you can hear me.”

“And Daddy?” Katy’s voice was clear as a bell. “Don’t forget.”

“Salt then blue fire,” Jill said.

“NOW!” Jacob heard a chorus of voices – Jill’s, her brothers’ and sisters’, her mother’s clear Russian accent, Celia’s voice, as well as the voices of the long forgotten dead.

Deep inside the entity, Jacob threw a handful of salt. Because the creature wasn’t in its diffuse form, the salt burned the entity from the inside. It screamed with rage. Moving quickly, Jacob’s fingers flew in practiced motion to light the propane torch. The blue flame began to finish what the salt had started.

Recoiling from around Jacob, the creature let out a bone chilling screech. It pulled all of its darkness with it itself, then expanded again. Jacob met it with another handful of salt and the torch. The creature recoiled.

It condensed into the serpent, human form.

Spinning in place, the entity ran from the kitchen. Jacob followed in pursuit. Tiny broken tendrils flew behind the creature. The creature flew through the Mansion’s back wall into the dark night. Jacob crashed through the back door.

He followed the entity across the dry land and up the hill toward the large pole barn. The entity flew around the barn to an open area behind the barn’s entrance.  It gave Jacob one last look before seeping into the earth.

Jacob skid to a stop. The apparition of an ancient shaman appeared before him.

“Go back. Send the others home,” the shaman said.

“But…”

“We will stand guard,” the shaman said.

A host of twenty shaman apparitions appeared around him. With a nod, Jacob turned and ran back toward the house. From his vantage point on the hill, he saw Valerie’s aged Mustang turn into the driveway. Valerie and Mike were here. He ran into the house and down the hallway. Sliding open the doors to the great room, he had to laugh.

Delphie was standing in the middle of a sea of apparitions. The ghosts were talking all at once. Hearing the doors, Delphie turned toward him.

“It’s time,” she said.

He nodded and opened a spirit door. Like the afternoon sun on a gorgeous summer day, a glorious golden light filled the room. Seeing loved ones who had been waiting all these years, the spirits flew toward the other side. The room began to clear. When the last of the children had retreated, one of the mothers came to thank them.

“We’ve been trapped here since getting sick,” she said. “Bless you for rescuing us.”

With a soft smile, she followed her children. Delphie positively beamed.

“It feels really good to help them,” Delphie said.

“Yeah,” Jacob nodded.

The seam began to slowly close.

“Shall we…?” Delphie started.

Delphie turned toward the door then stopped walking. A male and a female apparition floated near the door. They looked like they were teenagers. They were wearing bellbottoms and long hair of the 1970s.

“If you hurry, you can still…” Jacob said.

“We need to talk to Gary,” the girl said.

“Who?” Jacob asked.

“Aden,” Delphie said.

“Aden?” Jacob asked.

“He lived here,” the boy said. “We know him. We…”

“You’re the lovers,” Delphie gasped. “Jacob, this is the couple from under the Castle.”

“We need to talk to Gary,” the girl repeated.

“Why?” Jacob asked.

“He will know,” the boy said.

“He will know,” the girl said.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

~~~~~~~~

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