Valley of Shadows-Chapter Twenty-Eight 

Joshua sat gazing blearily at his laptop screen. He had finished editing his work and sat doing Internet research on sleepwalking. The idea that his friend would spontaneously just start sleepwalking was troubling. Halfway through an online article, Joshua felt a presence. He looked up and was startled to see his friend standing in the darkened doorway.

“Oh hey, I didn’t hear you get up. I was just….you look upset. What’s  wrong? Did you have a bad dream?”

“I don’t want to kill her.”

“You don’t want to kill who?”

“I don’t want to kill her!”

“What are you talking about man?”

Thomas shuffled into the dim light of the livingroom and stood over him.  Joshua took in the open yet unseeing eyes and realized that his friend was sleepwalking. From the looks of his expression, he was having a nightmare.  The growing horror on his face was disconcerting.  Joshua wondered what Thomas was dreaming  about.

In another moment, his friend was brushing past him and staggering toward the front door. Joshua grabbed him by the arm.  Thomas forcefully freed himself, rocking Joshua back on his heels. Joshua sprang forward and caught him as he clumsily rushed for the front door.  Thomas turned and launched a right hook which grazed Joshua’s chin. They grappled with one another until Joshua managed to restrain Thomas with a bear hug.

Out of frustration, Joshua shook Thomas and shouted his name until he awoke.  Thomas came to himself in degrees, gazing at his friend with dawning recognition. He allowed himself to be led over to the couch. They sank down into it side by side breathing heavily. Joshua recovered quickly.  Thomas couldn’t seem to catch his breath.

“Are you okay,” Joshua asked.

“I…think so, just got a little spooked. Those dreams are always so real.  It’s hard to shake them off.”

“Say man, what were you dreaming about? You kept saying that you didn’t want to kill her.”

“I …don’t  remember.”

Joshua could tell his  friend was lying but decided to leave it alone. Thomas would tell him about the dream when he was ready. Joshua guessed that having dreams about killing his own girlfriend had to have been deeply disturbing. Thomas looked miserable.  Joshua talked to fill the awkward silence.

“Before you came in here, I did a little research on sleepwalking. You wouldn’t believe some of the weird websites I stumbled onto.  There were even some about hoodoo.  Can you believe that?”

Joshua started to chuckle and realized that he was the only one.  He glanced over at Thomas and was taken aback by his hopeful expression. Sitting next to him and looking into the wide eyes that seemed larger in the gauntness of his face, Joshua was suddenly worried about his friend.  How many sleepless nights had he endured?

“I’m glad you said that Josh!  It all makes sense now.”

“What makes sense?”

“I thought that I was in love with Nicole because no other woman made me feel the way she did. When we kissed for the first time, it felt like the ground beneath my feet tilted. I felt giddy and slightly dizzy. It caught me off guard, because I didn’t think the date went all that well.  All night, she had acted a little distant and bored.  Another couple of dates and I started to crave that kiss. Every time we went out, I spent the whole evening anticipating that kiss.”

“Well, that doesn’t sound unusual. Maybe you just fell hard for her. She is kind of hot in a bossy, controlling way.”

“That’s what I believed at first too. Then I thought about the weird way that my lips tingled after she kissed me.  I don’t know how else to explain it. I always felt so good when I was kissing her and so miserable when we were apart, but then the misery became so extreme that I had to admit that it wasn’t normal.  It became like…an addiction.  I felt physical pain.”

“Still just sounds like she just got under your skin.  You always did fall head over heels for demanding women.”

“Then how do you explain the nightmares, the sleepwalking, the…voices?”

“You’re hearing voices?  Are you serious?  You’re not are you?  You’re joking right?”

Joshua grinned hopefully.  He didn’t know what else to say.  Thomas was beginning to scare him.  Other than his mother, Thomas was the only constant in his life.  His friend always reassured him.  Now that their roles were reversed, Joshua was failing miserably.  He didn’t want to let his best friend down but he was at a loss for what to say. Thomas put his feet up on the coffee table and Joshua was shocked by the swelling and discoloration in them. Thomas followed his friend’s gaze and nodded as though he could hear his thoughts.

“Another punishment from her. This started a couple of months ago. I don’t even know what I did wrong that time. All I know is she started giving me the silent treatment that evening. I should have gone home, but I couldn’t stand to leave with her all pissed off so I spent the night. I got up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and felt this burning sensation on the bottom of my feet. When I switched on the bathroom light, I saw all this gray powder all over the soles of my feet. It looked like I had walked through some dust.  Ever since that night, my feet just randomly swell until the skin is painfully tight.”

“What makes you think she had anything to do with it?”

“When I went to bed that night, there was a small rug on the floor next to my side of the bed that I had never seen before. It was gone by the time I got up the next day.”

“Let me guess. You didn’t ask her about that either did you?”

“She still wasn’t talking to me the next day. At the time, I assumed that the rug was just dusty.”

“Your legs don’t look good man. Maybe you should go and see a doctor.”

“I went a month ago, when the pain got so bad that I couldn’t work. The doctor said it looked like neuropathy, but I don’t have diabetes. All he did was prescribe a diuretic and give me something for the pain.”

“Why didn’t you tell me about this before?”

“I figured you wouldn’t believe me. I’m having trouble believing it myself.”

“So what are you…I mean, what are we going to do about it. You gotta do something before your legs and feet get any worse.”

“This is going to sound crazy but I’ve asked around and there’s a woman who may be able to help. She’s what they call a rootworker.”

 

 

 

The Doorkeepers-Chapter Twenty-Eight

Janet opened her eyes and was immediately blinded by the beam of the flashlight. She shielded her eyes and pushed it away. It took a few moments for the spots dancing in front her eyes to fade before she could see Marko and Andrea looking down at her. They were shouting something at her but she couldn’t seem to focus. Janet closed her eyes again and wondered how long she had been out cold.  Her back was beginning to hurt from laying on the hard floor but she wasn’t ready to get up just yet.

She must have been out of it for several minutes, because she no longer felt jittery. Janet felt at peace, the way she always felt when she first awoke in the morning,  before thoughts of all the waiting responsibilities began to weigh on her mind. That tiny restful moment had eluded her since the start of this whole debacle with Andrea had begun. Janet wanted to savor the peace for a moment longer.

Andrea cut her sister’s reverie short with a vicious yank of the arm. Janet suddenly found herself jerked upright into a sitting position. She pulled her arm free before Andrea could tug on it again.  Janet punched her sister in the leg.

“What the f…ow Andrea! Are you trying to rip my arm off? What’s your problem?”

“Well, you wouldn’t get up. We need to get out of here. Take your nap in the car sleeping beauty!”

“Well, excuse the hell out of me! I just got attacked by a…”

“Shadow which jumped through me first. You don’t see me falling out and acting wounded.”

Janet  leaned forward staring at her sister’s mouth. Her breath was suddenly visibly frosty. A chill raced along Janet’s spine, causing her to shiver. She folded her arms for warmth and felt goosebumps standing out on her sleeveless forearms.  Why was it so cold?

“Wait a minute Andrea. Let’s call a time out. Is it me or is it suddenly freezing in here?”

“Hey, you’re right.”

Marko spoke up, “That’s because the witching hour has begun. That’s why the shadow creature attacked. It wanted us to be here for this.”

Andrea balked, “What?  You mean to tell me, that big cat was smart enough to…”

“It’s not really an animal. That’s just a form the spirit took to scare you.”

Janet gaze drifted over to Phillip’s body laying on its side in a patch of moonlight. She had detected movement out of the corner of her eye.  Janet’s eyes widened and she jumped to her feet.  She heard herself say aloud,”Marko, are you sure you killed Phillip?”

“Technically, he was already dead. I just put his body out of commission.  Why?”

“Oh, no reason other than the fact that he’s moving!”

They turned and stared as black smoke steamed up from the body. Andrea didn’t know what was happening. Whatever it was couldn’t be good. She took a cautious step back and jumped when Marko’s warm hand closed around her arm.

“Don’t step outside the circle of light,” he cautioned.

She was about to ask why when she detected stealthy movement in the darkness around them. Andrea’s mouth was suddenly dry. The smoke rising from Phillip’s body seemed to take on the shape of a man. The trio was still gawking when it shot toward them.  They had no time to react before it streamed into Marko’s open mouth and nostrils. He immediately began to choke and sputter.

Seized by a fit of coughing, Marko almost dropped the flashlight. Andrea took it and held it up over their heads to keep them in the beam of light. She watched her sister standing by impotently and it made her angry.

“Don’t just stand there Janet. Do something before he chokes to death!”

“What am I supposed to do?”

“I don’t know. You’re the seer. I’m just the warrior remember? Is that charm around your neck good for anything?”

“How the hell should I know?  I’m new at this remember?  It didn’t exactly come with an instruction manual.  Let’s not forget your idiot boyfriend Ethan kidnapped me and cut my training short!”

“Don’t say that.  He’s not my boyfriend!”

Marko’s coughing became more ragged and he dropped to his knees, unable to catch his breath.  Andrea was attempting to prop him up with one arm when the shadow panther pounced, knocking her backwards.  The flashlight went skittering across the floor and plunged the three of them into darkness.

The Doorkeepers- Chapter Twenty-Seven

Marko fished his keys out of a jeans pocket and held out a God’s eye keychain on the key ring as the shadow cat lunged at him.  He heard a shout of alarm as it disappeared into the intricate weave of the small charm.  The shadow creature rose up and Marko quickly turned the spirit trap in its direction.

“Sit down, unless you want to join your pet.”

“Let my cat go you…”

“Talk like that will make me burn the spirit trap and then you’ll never get your little sidekick back.”

“What do you want from me?”

“I want to know what I’m walking into here. ”

“I’m not telling you anything!”

The shadow flowed up and outward from its darkened corner, swallowing all light on the porch. Marko could feel the air around him drop several degrees as the shadow began to surround him, pooling on the step around him.  He stepped down quickly, wagging his finger.

“Tsk, tsk, tsk, I thought we were going to play nice.  Now I’m going to have to burn your familiar.  That’s what this shadow cat is to you right?  You’re nothing but the soul of a dead witch who didn’t have sense enough to move on to the underworld.  You’ll be even weaker if I send your partner in crime to hell.”

To underscore his intent, Marko pulled a lighter from his pocket, flicked open the flame and held it dangerously close to the God’s eye.  The blackness suddenly shrank back into the shadow form.  It was Marko’s turn to chuckle.

“That’s better, now where were we?”

“What do you want from me?”

“A little information is all.  Once I make it back out of that cursed house with my friends in tow, I’ll release your friend.  Lie to me, attempt to mislead me or attack and your friend is toast.  I’ll make it my mission to end you as well.  Now, tell me how many people beside my two friends are in the house.”

“I guess you could call him a person.”

“Okay, so one guy?  What else is lurking in there?”

“Nothing you need worry about until the witching hour.”

Marko consulted his watch and discovered that he had half an hour to get the sisters out before the veil between realms thinned enough for other spirits to slip through.  Something evil had happened inside that house.  Marko had no intention of staying long enough to see what demonic forces might return after midnight.  He would have to work fast.

Marko thrust the God’s eye back into his pocket and charged into the house. He paused in the foyer, looking around for a weapon.  He spied a rack of fireplace tools on the living room hearth and grabbed the poker before following the sound of Janet’s screaming.

Marko quickly found the sisters cornered in a back room by the relentless onslaught of a hooded figure which appeared, in the moonlit room to be another shadow creature.  Shouting failed to draw the attacker’s attention.  Marko ran up behind him and pulled back the hood, simultaneously yanking on it.

He saw that he had unveiled a deformed man. Marko tightened his grip on the hood and pulled Phillip away from the sisters, twisting the hood until the jacket began to strangle him.  Each time he attempted to turn around, Marko tightened his grip and used the poker to prod him in the opposite direction.

Andrea shouted, “What are you doing?  That bastard is trying to kill us!  Stab him while you have the chance!”

Phillip quickly unzipped and slipped out of the jacket.  Marko was momentarily shocked into inaction by the ravaged visage before him.  Growing up, he had heard stories from his grandfather about corpses animated by some malevolent force. In the cynicism of his adolescent years, he dismissed the tales as lame attempts to impress.

Now, Marko was grateful for them because he knew what to do.  He ducked away from a swing of Phillip’s dagger. It was so dark, that he shouted for Janet to toss him the flashlight.  Marko caught it and ran the beam up Phillip’s right arm across his neck and down the left arm.

Andrea let out a frustrated sigh and took matters into her own hands. She grabbed a rickety chair with a rotted out seat and broke it over Phillip’s head.  He turned towards her and Marko finally saw what he was looking for on the man’s left shoulder.  One forceful downward whack of the fireplace poker and the bloodless skin of Phillip’s shoulder flayed off down to his outer elbow.  Phillip looked dispassionately at his damaged arm and laughed bitterly.

“Is that the best you can do?  You should know, I feel no pain.”

Before Marko could reply, Phillip caught him off guard with a sudden lunge. He aimed his dagger at Marko’s heart.  Marko reflexively blocked with his left hand and the blade glanced off of his watch band. 

He thrust his hands against Phillip’s chest and his fingers inadvertently dented the thin, papery skin as he pushed.  Phillip stumbled backwards and Marko had seconds to locate the section of excised skin on the floor with the flashlight beam.

Marko sank the fireplace poker into it and hurriedly lifted it up.  He quickly retrieved the lighter from his pocket and held the flame against the dry piece of skin.  Phillip was charging towards him when the skin began to burn, curling and gradually blackening.  It quickly shriveled up and melted away.  Philip was halted in mid-stride, dropping to the floor like a marionette with cut strings.  Andrea and Janet gasped and simultaneously shouted excitedly.

“How the hell did you do that,” Andrea exclaimed.

“I destroyed his devil’s mark.  Now, let’s get out of here before all hell breaks loose.”

Andrea was closest to the open front door and heard footsteps crossing the wooden porch. She looked over in time to see the doorway fill with darkness which quickly solidified into a shadow panther. Andrea elbowed her sister and said, “Uh guys, we’ve got company.”

Marko groaned and then cleared his throat,”I know this is going to be easier said than done but I’m gonna need you two to stay calm. What you’re looking at is a shadow being. They feed off of negative emotions.”

The beast growled  and began advancing on the sisters. Andrea pushed Janet behind her. They backed away slowly, resisting the urge to run as it broke into a gallop.

“Stand your ground. It can’t do any real harm to you. Remain calm and it’ll leave you alone. It’s just trying to psyche you out. This is not cool. We had a deal. I guess it couldn’t resist all the raw emotion jumping off in here.”

Andrea chuckled mirthlessly, “Well, it’s about to get a real treat. Judging from Janet’s heavy breathing, she’s about to hyperventilate. I think she’s having a panic attack.”

“What?  Is that true Janet? Janet listen,  I know it’s hard not to believe what you see is real but, do you trust me?”

“I…yes, I trust you but, I’m st….still scared.”

The creature growled and leapt at them. Janet screamed and ran down the hall. The shadow panther passed through Andrea in pursuit of her sister. Janet looked over her shoulder as she ran and shrieked, becoming clumsy with fear. She fell and the creature overtook her. Janet’s eyes widened in disbelief as she felt fangs sinking into her neck. Andrea’s shouting sounded muffled as a draining sensation in her head blotted out all other awareness.