By DR. AGONSON
As one lone vanguard falls from the sky, landing upon the balding head of Chance, the heavens above let loose their rivers, raining upon the sloshy ground of an infant spring, an earth barely woken from its long winter slumber. Chance raises his umbrella. Setting the shaft upon his shoulder, he lets the black canvas cover him. The gentle flakes of yesterday’s snow are superseded this evening by the beating storms of Uranus.
He moves his feet, marching in place, to keep from sinking into the mud. His dark leather shoes squish the soft spot of bare ground, mixing the dirt with newly minted trickling streams. Above the far off city, Jupiter throws his fearful bolts, striking the towers of man. The flashing lightening breaks the soft settling of night. After each interruption, the world seems to grow darker to Chance.
He stands as the earth revolves. It seems to be as black as it will get now, the deep blackness of the night, but the storm continues. He wonders how many hours it has been since daylight. Bringing his hands together, Chance feels around his wristwatch until the little knob presents itself to his searching fingertips. Pressing it, the green glow illuminates the shadows, a quarter to twelve. Looking down at the marble marker before him—they make them so small and flat nowadays—Chance recounts the minutes of his Saturday.
It started with the letter. He opened it at breakfast, and, setting his cup in its saucer, let the drink waste away into a lukewarm soup. Could three words hold such potency? Chance read it again, his food untouched, “It is time.” Pulling two twenties from his wallet, he left them on the table. Snatching his umbrella up under his arm, he forgets the hat by the uneaten, but paid for, meal.
Fleeing the corner café, he races the four blocks to his apartment, shoving his fellow man aside like a footballer charging through to the goal. Breathless he pants, waiting by the elevator. The security guard, being bothered to look up from his novel, dog ears a page. The gray-haired man sets the book under the counter and calls down the hall, “Sir.” There is no response. The bell rings, and the artfully engraved doors part. Chance stomps forward, and, coming to the back wall, turns, resting against the handrail. Reaching out with the tip of the umbrella he presses the fourteenth floor button.
The guard returns to page 204 as the doors quietly rumble to a close. His breathing settling now, Chance glances at his watch. Who would he call first? My lawyer, he thinks, but then remembers he could only reach the secretary. Maybe he already knows? Who else might they contact? Would Stein even walk out to his mailbox today? Of course, Stein was only brought in later. Who was left that knew the secret, who else was there so many years ago?
The lights in the elevator go out, and the whistling music disappears. The compartment continues to rise. Clutching at his umbrella, hugging it into his chest, Chance blindly looks around the chamber. The speaker, crackling to life, fills his ears with screaming static. Resting the umbrella hook in the crook of his arm Chance’s trembling hands begin to undo his black tie. Pulling it from his neck he shoves it into a coat pocket while unbuttoning his collar. Reaching under his shirt he pulls out his mother’s rosary.
“Come on then,” he shouts, brandishing his umbrella like a club. “The day’s not over yet.”
With a ding, the doors slide open. Sally stares up at Chance, dropping her schoolbooks. The lights flicker on as Chance exits the elevator. Stepping over a colorful cover depicting the lava flow of a volcano, he tries to smile at the girl. “Carry on,” he huffs, running down the hall.
Stuffing the cross back under his shirt he finds his room. Wrestling his hand under his coat and into his pant’ pocket, Chance pulls out his jingling keys, and starts searching for the short silver one. Finding it, he turns the lock, and jumps through the entryway. Slamming the door shut, he throws the bolt into place. Resting the umbrella in the corner and walking into his living room, Chance begins to retie his tie. Hitting the switch by the archway, Chance sees the answering machine by his phone flashing a red light from the kitchen. Pushing a button, he watches the tape turn.
“…leave a message,” he hears the recording say. There is a drawn out beep. The tone finishes and a professional sounding woman starts talking. It is Stein’s secretary. “This is Sabrina,” the message plays, “I’m Mr. Stein’s secretary, or was.” Chance falls against the counter. “Unfortunately Mr. Stein passed away this morning.”
Finding a chair, he drags it over to himself. “We don’t know what happened, but it looks like—” her voice breaks into a sob. “I’m sorry. They’re saying he was attacked by a dog.” There is silence, except for her hard regular breathing. She sounds like she’s about to break into tears as she says, “He told me, if something were to hap—” she does break into tears. Tapping his foot on the cheap linoleum, Chance waits. “He said he found the place,” she continues drawing in a deep breath.
Chance stands up, nearly shouting, “Where?” Grabbing a pencil and paper he writes down the directions. Before he leaves, he plays the message once more. Sighing, he throws the tape into the wastebasket. Striking a match, Chance watches it burn between his fingers a moment, the orange flame reflecting in his eyes. He lets it drop. With the bit of lighter fluid he’d already poured, the basket erupts into a miniature inferno.
Sticking his umbrella crosswise through the top of a satchel, Chance releases the bolt, opens the door, flips off the last switch, and heads toward the elevator. Swinging the shoulder strap over his head, he jogs along the hall. The glowing down arrow dies as the bell once again tolls. Chance glances at his watch as the doors slide open.
The soft green light now shows that it is five to twelve, and the rain quietly finishes its furious assault in an apologetic trickling. Down by the roadside the streetlamps bring some light this far up the hill. It is enough to see the rising mists all around. Two minutes to twelve. He hears the wet sounding splash of footsteps and the plopping suction of feet rising from the mud. One minute to twelve. Three silhouettes step out of the fog. Glancing at his watch once more, he sees that it is Sunday.
“Where is it?” an airy voice asks.
“Did you kill Stein?” Chance questions.
“Stein?” the soft voice of the female queries.
“Part of the deal, was that you not kill us,” Chance reminds them.
“Stein not make deal—” the first one starts.
“He was working for me!” Chance shouts. “He was working for you!”
“I did not kill Stein,” the third one, a deep voice, declares. “And they would not without my command.”
“Your Eminence,” Chance says, straitening up.
“Where is it, Chance?” the voice continues.
Pulling out a flashlight, Chance depresses the switch. Pointing to the tombstone with the beam he steps to the side. The third creature waves his hand. Coming forward, the lean shadowy figure, the first speaker, kneels in the squishy mud. Wiping the dirt and grime from the epitaph he runs his fingers over the strange writing. Settling on a circle with a line dissecting it, one of the many indiscernible figures engraved there, the stranger excitedly jumps to his feet.
“This is the one,” he says.
Chance hands the flashlight to the creature. Pulling out a cigarette from behind his ear and grabbing it in between his lips, he ignites his lighter. After three long drags at the flame, he puts the fire starter away. Reaching out for the torch he says, “I’m glad this is over.” The third one chuckles, and raises his hand. At that signal, the small slender one, the female voice, stepping back, disappears into the fog.
“Why did you ask us about Stein?” the third one questions.
Blowing out a bit of smoke, Chance replies, “He died this morning.” Rolling the cigarette under his thumb he adds, “Mauled by a dog.”
“Dog?” the first voice asks.
Turning his flashlight on the creature, Chance rejoins, “You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”
The scarred face, snarling at the light, turns its red eyes towards its master. Chance recognizes the face. The bloodless cheeks haven’t aged in the twenty years since they last saw each other. Throwing his cigarette into a dirty puddle, Chance lowers the beam onto the grave once more. It had been a long journey.
A sharp pain pierces his side. He clutches at his liver, and feels the wet sticky blood pouring over his hands. Collapsing to his knees, Chance looks up at the raven haired woman licking her bloody dagger. Gasping, Chance tries to run, but the scarred faced monster grabs his collar, and throws him on top of the tombstone. Rolling over, he grins at the third speaker, still standing in the fog.
“Where are the others, Chance?”
“I suppose they’re somewhere not being stabbed,” he spits.
“Do they think they can hide?” the shadow asks. “Do they think I will forget, and just leave them alone?”
Rolling onto his elbow, Chance answers, “That did seem to be part of the deal.” Looking down at his watch, he pushes the little knob. The green light shows it to be three minutes into the day. Chance falls back, his wondering gaze searching through the cloudy heaven. The light mist tickles his face. Coughing a little, he closes his eyes. The cool mud soaks into his back as his life pours out his side, its bleeding tails rolling like crimson rivers, filling the etchings of the tombstone.
His Eminence snaps his fingers, and the scarred faced lackey undoes his own jacket, laying it on the ground before the marble slab. Kneeling before this marker, the bald pale creature begins to read the engraving. The flashlight lies sinking in the mud, its beam shining through the wakening grass, casting thin shadows over the writing. To each side of the bent figure, the raven haired woman and scared-face creature stand, flanking their master.
“My love,” His Eminence whispers. “You’ve been sleeping too long. The night is waiting for you.”
As the last character on that stone fills with Chance’s blood, the ground begins shaking. The bald figure rolls onto his feet, and the three creatures begin backing away, the earth opening up beneath them. Chance groans, his arm desperately pulling at his collar. The flashlight is eaten up by the expanding hole, its pale light emanating upward, revealing the wisps of hot smoke trailing into the sky. Crawling on his elbows, Chance, sliding over the tombstone, falls headlong into the grave.
Laughing to himself, His Eminence calls, “There’s a snack for you, my dove.”
The light, shifting in the hole, swings, its beam first shining up into the sky, and then flying down back into the grave. And with the descent, a horrible screaming shatters the smiling face of the bald creature. Before anyone can move the flashlight swings again, this time its silver metal cover just reaching over the lip of the hole, like a dime glinting on the floor. Crashing down, another scream breaks the night. His Eminence, rushing forward, is in time to see the final blow.
Lying by the coffin, his hand steading the crucifix over the heart of the fair vampire maiden, Chance swings the torch one last time, driving the wooden cross deep within her breast. Her face, animate a moment, contorts, her writhing body stilling, her limbs barely twitching, die. Beside the dame, her tongue hanging out of her gapping mouth, Chance crumbles. The prayer beads, still strung across his neck, twists his head upward, his open mouth grinning sardonically at his murderers. The faces stare up from the grave at His Eminence.
There are no words to say. The two lackeys look to each other and their master. Then the female, screaming, flies backward into the night. A baying howl triumphs in the unseen darkness, her pleading wails dying instantly. The scarred faced creature, trembling, touches the marks on his cheek. Twisting his head from side to side, he searches the blackness and fog surrounding them.
Spying a pair of red eyes, glowing like embers of fire, the scarred faced creature shouts, “Hellhound!”
Flying, he races down the hill, leaping over graves like an Olympic champion navigating hurdles. Bounding after him a great shadow, something akin to thick smoke surrounding a furious blazing fire compressed into the shape of a dog, runs. Glancing over his shoulder, he shouts at the flaming tongues jumping from its snarling snout.
With one swipe of its paw he is thrown into the sky. Twisting in the air, he descends. Peering downward, he spies the end of his course, the gapping maw of the hellhound opened to the fires of torment. The screams die, falling into that pit. From the grave, His Eminence, hearing the howling, knows his servant is taken.
Challenging that deathly grimace, the vampire lord grabs Chance by the throat. “Do you think you can escape me this way?” The limp head falls forward and then back as if nodding. Tearing the flesh from his own wrist, the vampire’s black blood starts pouring out like lumpy rotten milk. Holding the wound over Chance, he showers the bile over the dead man’s mouth. Above, the hellhound snarls. Snapping its jaws like an alligator into the hole, it plucks the devilish bald creature from the grave, and throws him onto the cold mud.
Landing on his back, His Eminence laughs, gazing after his cruel deed. Then, turning his head toward the brute above him, screams in terror. In one gulp he is silenced, and the shadowy form dissipates, like soot carried away in the breeze.
Up the hillside, hiding in the woods, Lora Lee paces behind Chad. Standing like a statue, he holds his binoculars, peering dumbfounded at the scene. However, Lora Lee is far from a loss of words. Chad realizes she’s been talking since he stopped her from running down the moment Chance lit is cigarette. Taking a second, he catches her mid-sentence.
“…he’s your best friend, I can’t believe you right now.”
Turning towards her, he sees Lora Lee’s soft poncho fluttering in her wake. Letting the binoculars dangle in front of his chest he starts marching towards the graveyard. For a moment, her constant complaints fade away in the distance, but soon they follow after. Thinking back, he keeps in mind what Chance had told him, “Don’t get yourself killed. Remember Fred, these monsters are ruthless. We’re not out of the woods yet.”
Exiting the canopy of fir trees the pair approach the wrought iron fence. Following along its perimeter, they come to the gate. The chain lies cut on a mound of grass. With a shove the squealing hinges turn, letting the two in. Lora Lee is quiet now, and carefully picks her steps through the mud.
“You said there was a giant dog?” she whispers. Chad doesn’t answer. Pulling at his sleeve, she asks again.
“Shhh! Listen,” he says, pointing out toward the grave.
Stopping, she takes a moment. In the soft whisperings of the night, she hears it, a heavy panting sound, like a man groaning under a burden. Lora Lee starts to run.
“He’s alive,” she shouts.
Coming to the head of the open grave, she sees the truth. Sitting with his back against a wall of earth, a bloody crucifix dangling from his neck, Chance holds his hands up, shielding his eyes from the flashlight’s brilliance. Beside him there is an open coffin full of dust.
“Chance,” she gasps.
He looks up to her, his colorless face contorted into a grimace of sorts, the eyes flashing a devilish red. Following behind her, Chad looks down. Leaping into the hole, his binoculars held tight against his chest, he picks up the flashlight and switches it off.
Listen to my beautiful voice: