From the Slushpile: The Devil & Klaus Kristiansen (Final Installment)

### \m/ ###

In the end, we dragged the dead into Luke’s tent and then burned them along with the pine forest. If we were fortunate, fire would cleanse the bodies and the crime scene. The lazy local police would write it up as a tragic accident: two druggies passed out, and their untended campfire burned them and the woods to ash. Case closed.

Klaus, Turtle, and I made a pact that night, one sealed with the blood of our friend. We resolved to never talk about it to anyone, even each other. It started as a dream, a nightmare to be honest, and it would end that way. We lived in the waking world after all and things like that didn’t happen here. Denial became our creed, our code.

For a time, it worked. As the years passed, we drifted apart. And like all college friends, we went our separate ways after leaving school.

I finished before both of them and got a job with a private archaeology firm putting my degree and my experience with shovels to use every day. I faced my dark times and moved past them; I enjoyed the woods around me, especially the grainy feel of the wooden handle in my calloused hands. For me, my work experience was cathartic.

Klaus finished his double majors and took a position with a rigidly structured, family-owned corporation that didn’t mesh well with his selfish satanic views and rock ‘n roll lifestyle. After his short-lived, volatile career in the private sector, he retreated from public life too. Instead of partying with friends or playing heavy metal music at local bars, he hid away from the world at his grandmother’s expansive farm in the southern part of the county. The last I’d heard he was delivering pizza to make ends meet.

Turtle, surprisingly enough, went into law enforcement. Or at least as close as they’d let him with bad eyes, bum knees, and a pronounced beer belly. He worked as a radio dispatcher for the county sheriff’s office and would always let me know if someone we knew got robbed, arrested, or even pulled over for that matter. Turtle provided better gossip than my grandmother, beloved family snoop and infamous community busybody.

Since he monitored other people’s communications as part of his job, Turtle avoided relaying anything to me through digital channels such as phones and Facebook. So I’d gotten used to the occasional handwritten letter from him stuffed into the tiny mailbox at the apartment building near my home office. But the overstuffed manila envelope from him took me by surprise. I found its grisly contents even more shocking.

Turtle enclosed a long, rambling letter along with newspaper clippings and what appeared to be photocopies of police files and crime scene photos. The clippings detailed the accidental discovery of human remains. As they are wont to do when replacing or installing a new water line, county workers had dug a trench across a county road that had been paved several years before. Only on this occasion, they had trenched across the femur bones of a local woman who’d gone missing shortly before the road was redone.

The newspaper articles were short on details, but the letter informed me that the police had withheld information until a proper forensic analysis of the body could be conducted. According to the photos and reports, they’d learned that she’d been a victim of a heinous but familiar crime. Her ribs had been cracked open and her heart removed. The county medical examiner called the killing ritualistic, perhaps the work of a Satanist. In his letter, Turtle appealed to me for answers. Did I think it was Luke’s handiwork? Could Klaus have been possessed by it when he killed Luke? Should he talk to the cops?

My blood ran cold as my breathing hitched, almost causing me to toss my lunch. I fought down the growing sense of alarm and the feeling of betrayal. I checked the postmark. It was dated almost a week ago, the newspaper clippings two weeks earlier.

I called Turtle’s cell phone several times but received no answer. Alarm turned to panic and paranoia. Perhaps he was at work. Perhaps he was at work telling his buddies in blue all about a similar murder he’d witnessed once upon a time. Or maybe he was dead already. After all, if this killing had come to light, so could the others. A smart killer threatened with possible exposure wouldn’t leave loose ends. And there were only three living souls who knew the truth about heartless victims in the rolling hills of Bama.

One call to Turtle’s mother confirmed my suspicions. Through the sound of tears and a snot-filled nose, she told me how her baby boy had eaten a big meal, drank most of a bottle of the wine I’d sent him from a winery in Tennessee, and then gone to bed for the last time. She’d found him the next morning. He’d been dead for hours. The paramedics had taken one look at the bloated body surrounded by crumpled pizza boxes, fast food wrappers, and empty beer and wine bottles and called it a cardiac event. The doctors at the for-profit regional medical center had confirmed it without so much as an autopsy. By the time my conversation ended with Turtle’s mom, I’d agreed to be a pallbearer. After all, I had to come home to deal with some unfinished business anyway.

I didn’t bother to unpack my work clothes or equipment as this trip was liable to involve some digging. I hung my black suit above my dress shoes in the backseat of the truck and headed for home. I dreaded going back there, even if only for a little while, so I took my sweet time. Alone with my thoughts, I hardened myself for the task to come.

Rain drizzled on the somber assembly around the grave of my friend. The Turtle’s law enforcement friends and co-workers had come out in force. Pardon the pun. But funerals always help me find the humor in life.

I stared across the thin blue line, an odd euphemism since most of the cops made Turtle look svelte by comparison. Klaus glared back at me. His cold black eyes seemed lifeless, his skin pale as a corpse, a stark contrast to his black-on-black wardrobe. As always, he punctuated his severe gothic punk look with his silvery pentagram pendant. In short, little about him had changed in those years since the bad old days.

I decided on my course of action as the preacher hemmed and hawed about the glory of the Lord or some other such nonsense. Like most ministers in the South, he’d chosen the forum of a funeral to harangue people into attending church rather than celebrating the life and times of our fallen friend.

Typical, I thought. Turtle must be rolling in his coffin. His parents might have found Jesus in their later years, but their gifted gypsy boy had remained an outspoken pagan and amateur psychic as an adult. Of the three of us, I considered him the least likely to set foot in a church and that was saying quite a bit. Klaus adhered to LeVayan Satanism as opposed to theistic Luciferianism, but he was still an ardent anti-Christian. And I’d probably burst into flames by walking through the doors of any church.

After the rainy, gray funeral ended and the army of men in blue dispersed, Klaus approached me. As always, he looked grave and serious. He’d been born and would die a walking stereotype. Too bad the people around him tended to judge a book by its cover, including his friends and family. He looked dejected, lonely, and a shadow of himself.

“We have to talk,” he said, adjusting the waistband of his Victorian dress pants. As he did so, the handle of his pistol became visible. Carrying a concealed weapon at a funeral, I thought. He must be scared, stupid, or serious, deadly serious. I bet on all three.

“There’s nothing to talk about, remember?” I reminded Klaus and turned away.

He grabbed me by the arm, and I locked eyes with him. My gaze bore into his vacant eyes, and he withered like a sunflower deprived of sunshine under its intensity. Klaus let go and stepped away from me.

“For what it’s worth,” he said, “I’m sorry for everything that went wrong back in the day. I wanted to tell Turtle that too. I didn’t think…he was still so young. But I guess we’re not guaranteed any day beyond this one, right?”

“That’s a truer statement for some than it is for others.”

Klaus shivered in his oversized suit and pulled the long-tailed jacket tighter around him. Raising his dark eyes to my own, he tried to smile and failed. He averted his gaze and shuffled his feet. I couldn’t admit to being any more comfortable around him.

“Let’s talk about this indoors,” he said. “I’m freezing my balls off out here.”

“Can’t do it at the moment. I have to visit family while I’m here.”

“How about after I get off work tonight? I’ll be there till around 11 o’clock.”

“Are you still delivering pizzas?”

“Yeah,” he shuffled his feet in the wet grass around the open grave. “It’s hard to find a job around these parts with degrees in psychology and sociology.”

“Imagine that,” I chuckled. “The way I keep work is by staying on the road. Speaking of the road, I need to be hitting it soon. Thanks by the way.”

“Thanks for what? The apology?”

“That and the gift.”

Klaus looked confused. After a moment, he asked, “The gift of friendship?”

“You could say that,” I winked. “It’s something I wouldn’t have without you.”

“Uh, give me a call at work later.” He added, “If you want to, that is.”

I smiled and said, “Neither heaven nor hell could stop me.”

I left Klaus standing in the rain. By the time, I saw him that evening it had ceased. The temperature was hot and muggy as it tended to be in the Deep South. He stepped onto the ill lit porch of the rundown house. One of many foreclosures in the avenues on the eastside of town, I’d taken the real estate sign out of the yard and made it my own for the night. There was one thing left to do here in the Hellmouth and then I could go.

“Ever seen the back of a shovel?” I asked my prey as he stood framed in the pale moonlight. Though I wore the skin of his former friend, I considered him to be one thing, a loose end. He might have brought me into this world, but I was taking him out of it.

The answer I sought came a moment later when the shovel blade made contact with an all-too-familiar face. His eyes rolled back into the sunken sockets as he groaned in pain. Unwilling to give my enemy any quarter, I swung again…and again. The shovel rang like a badly forged bell.

KLANG! KLANG! KLANG!

My heart raced; my breathing grew ragged and shallow. I needed to lose weight.

KLANG! KLANG! KLANG!

I didn’t stop until the bloody mess that lay below the blade of the spade was no longer recognizable as the man I’d once called friend. Klaus twitched spastically and tried to reach for the pistol in his belt holster. So I hit him once more for good measure.

Turtle, the facilitator, had been easier, an accident had sufficed. He sent me letters on a regular basis; and I mailed him unique wines and liquors encountered in my travels. When my grandmother, a faster but less reliable source of gossip from the county grapevine, had told me about the body found in a stretch of highway, I knew I had to act. Enough pure nicotine injected through the cork of a wine bottle had done the trick. An overweight smoker having a heart attack seemed as natural to the corner as the majesty of the secluded hilltop where I now stood over the hole I’d dug for Klaus Kristiansen.

On another fateful morning near the Hellmouth, I buried my conduit, the final witness to my unwelcome, unceremonious birth into the world of humankind, deep in the Alabama clay.

But not before I ate his heart.

THE END

This story was written by Jeremy Hicks. It is his original content and cannot be used anywhere else without his expressed written consent. However, this blog may be shared, reblogged, etc. on social media for the purposes of promoting the author, his blog, and his other creative works. 

Any resemblance to persons living or dead, events real or imagined, etc. is entirely intentional. This is a work of fiction but draws on real events and references the real world at times. Any reference, product placement, or pop culture quote is not intended to impinge on any trademark, patent, and/or copyright; rather it is flavor text for the dialogue of characters raised within the context of our pop culture.

 If you don’t like these terms of agreement, go check yourself. You’re complaining about a #FREE story.

From the Slushpile: The Devil & Klaus Kristiansen (Part IV)

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Luke’s family farm stretched along both sides of the rural highway that routed traffic through the north end of our county to the Georgia line. Laden with beer, liquor, and few other party favors, we sought to attract as little attention as possible from the roving county patrols. So we parked in front of one of the cattle gates on an unpaved farm road that led onto their property.

The waxing moon illuminated our awkward climb over the rickety steel gate. Once far enough from the highway, we switched on our flashlights and followed the winding trail through the woods toward the familiar camping site, a mainstay of our freshman and sophomore years. What had been fertile farmland in decades past was now an expanse of rock and red clay covered by an overgrown pine plantation.

Neither Klaus nor Turtle spoke as we moved toward our destination. To my knowledge, they hadn’t spoken to each other since the morning of the incident in Klaus’s apartment. But that hadn’t stopped either of the quarreling friends from using me as a sounding board and occasional go-between.

I hoped Luke would have a rational explanation for his rash decision to return to a state of nature. And if not a sensible reason, at least one fueled by his years of drug abuse rather than the supernatural.

Born and raised in these parts, I took the lead on our silent moonlit stroll. Though my eyelids were heavy, I still took the opportunity to gaze up at the pale beauty shining in the sky above us. My enjoyment was not to last, for one spider web and then another brushed my face, setting me on edge.

My unease turned to alarm when a cry broke the stillness of the night. We stopped walking and panned the beams of our flashlights around to scan our surroundings. Our resolve wavered like a stand of pine trees in the path of a twister. Another scream almost sent us into full flight.

“Is that a woman screaming?” Klaus asked as he backed down the trail.

“Probably a big cat, maybe a panther,” I replied, more concerned about becoming a meal for a hungry hunting cat than anything else.

“That’s reassuring. Glad I’m armed.”

“Armed? What the fuck do you mean you’re armed? I got drugs on me and a record haunting me. That ain’t cool, man!”

“Simmer down, convict,” Klaus quipped, referring to my brief stay in county jail over a possession charge. “I didn’t bring my Glock, so your ass cherry is safe. But I brought this baby.” He opened his leather jacket to reveal a foot long bowie knife. He pulled the blade halfway out of its sheath and gestured to its sheen.

Turtle commented, “I see you dipped it in silver like I said.”

“Yeah,” Klaus answered, “I did it like bluing a gun. Let’s just hope it worked.”

“What do you mean ‘dipped it in silver’?” I asked. “And when did you two start talking to each other again?”

“We haven’t been talking,” Turtle said. “We’ve been emailing. Making plans.”

“Making plans for what exactly?” I asked, my level of alarm rising along with my sense of dread.

“It’s probably nothing, Jay,” Klaus said, returning the knife to its sheath. He used my first name so rarely that I knew that the situation was grave. “But didn’t Boy Scouts teach you to be prepared? Isn’t that your motto: hope for the best; prepare for the worst?”

“Guys, I don’t like where this conversation is going,” I reiterated. “This is not a game; we are not smiting evil. We see where that avenue led us, nowhere fast.”

Another scream from the direction of the firelight shimmering through the trees interrupted any response to my warning. But it reinforced their position. Perhaps this had been an ill-conceived notion. Or could it have been a deliberate manipulation based on their fears, superstitions, and ulterior motives? Had my friends coaxed me here because they thought Luke possessed? Worse yet, could they be right? Was it even possible?

We crept toward the edge of the clearing that contained the camp site, but no further cries assailed us. Instead, a wet sucking sound met my ears that caused me to halt instead of pushing through the wood line.

“Sounds like a wet boot stuck in mud?” Klaus whispered.

Turtle blushed and giggled. “Or something like that.”

Could we be interrupting Luke and one of his dippy hippie girlfriends? I thought. If so, how angry would they be with us for disturbing their nocturnal, arboreal romp?

“What do we do now?” I asked. “Should we let him know we’re here? Don’t know about ya’ll, but I’ve got no interest in seeing hairy man ass by the pale moonlight.”

“You’re in luck then,” Klaus replied. “Luke is pretty hairless.”

I paused in mid step. “And how do you know that?”

“We’ve gone to the gym before,” Klaus explained, “to work out.”

Turtle pantomimed an obscene sexual gesture behind Klaus’s back and caused me to giggle despite the nebulous nature of our situation. The human scarecrow spun around but failed to catch our clownish friend in the act. The frustration and bewilderment on Klaus’s face caused us to share another laugh at his expense.

“Come with me if you want to see your gym buddy,” I said in a horrible mockery of California’s former Governator. I added with a squawking cry, “Get to the clearing!”

Turtle and I were still laughing at my bad impression of Arnold Schwarzenegger when we broke through the pines and into the area cleared for the family campsite. But laughter and mirth died on our lips as we surveyed the shadowy sanguine scene illumed by the flickering campfire. In the coming months, what I saw that awful night would haunt me; I couldn’t laugh or sleep from the time the moon rose until it set. After that punctuated period of insomnia passed, my memories of the silver lady remained forever tarnished by the image of our bloody friend bathed in her light.

Luke crouched over the nude body of a young woman whose chest had been ripped open. Rocking back and forth on his bare feet, he gnawed on the ruined heart clutched in his hands. As my mind reeled, it connected the dots for me. I recognized the similarities between the act of terror playing out before our eyes and the murderous scene from our dreams. The location and victim were different, but the ritualistic nature of the killing was almost identical. Klaus’s darkest dreams had become our new reality.

Luke’s black eyes sought us out across the firelight. He stared at us without blinking for what seemed like an eternity. And then he went back to the hearty meal in his hands.

“What do we do now?” I asked, truly at a loss.

“We do what we came here to do,” Klaus replied.

“And what is that exactly?”

“We end this,” Turtle said. “We send this thing back to where it came from.”

I didn’t like where this was going. “And how do we do that?”

“We kill the host with a sliver of silver in the heart and then burn the body. That should do it.”

“Are you sure, Turtle?”

“Nope.”

“Thanks, thanks a lot, guys.” Not that I meant it. “So what now, brave crusaders?”

Klaus drew his silvered bowie knife and yelled, “We charge!”

In the landscape of his mind’s eye, he saw himself as the shining noble warrior he preferred to play in our Dungeons and Dragons expeditions. But he had less training with a knife than he had experience at stabbing someone in the heart, which was to say zero, to my knowledge.

Perplexed and unarmed, I watched as disaster, born from my friend’s inability to distinguish reality from fantasy, manifested itself before my very eyes.

Luke raised his head and shrieked so shrilly that it halted Klaus’s advance. My friend staggered under the assault on his eardrums and equilibrium. As soon as he was off balance, Luke leapt. He sprung into the air and landed close enough to Klaus to force the taller man back a step.

Klaus dropped the knife as he gazed into the soulless eyes of the being inside our friend. He turned to run but never made it. Luke pounced on him like a blood-soaked Tigger and took the lanky man to the ground. Snarling, Luke clawed and snapped at him. Blood from the cannibal on his chest dribbled into Klaus’s mouth. Gagging and retching, he flopped like a fish underneath the lighter but stronger man on top of him.

Turtle rushed forward, but I put discretion before valor. No way was I facing off against some hellish thing with a sack full of beer and munchies. Looking about the campsite, my eyes settled on a shovel at the edge of the clearing. I bolted for it.

Turtle and Klaus wrestled with our possessed friend as I raced to arm myself. They punched, kicked, and elbowed him but nothing seemed to stop the assault. Turtle’s choke hold ended badly when Luke flipped our hefty friend over his shoulder. Luke tore at Klaus with his fingernails and then latched onto his forearm like a vicious pit bull.

Snatching the spade from the edge of the freshly dug latrine, I looked back toward the tussling trio of men I’d called friends before this insanity began a few weeks ago. I realized at that point I was risking my life for people who’d risked it without any concern for my safety.

Turtle had done so with his psychic parlor tricks gone awry. And then Klaus had led me to the woods tonight under false pretenses with his half-assed plan to stake a man possessed by a murderous being from another world, be it one of dreams, spirit, or fire and brimstone. By all rights, I should have fled.

But I didn’t. And when I can’t sleep at night now, I remember that that was my turning point, the moment that I sealed my fate and decided my future. I hefted the shovel like some medieval pole arm and sprinted toward the tussling trio. As I closed on them, I swung with all my might. The shovel blade rang when it made contact with the side of Luke’s head. He landed on the ground beside Klaus but kept fighting. The handle vibrated in my hands but spurred me onward. So I kept swinging.

Luke’s skull gave way before my arms did, but the mangled body kept fighting me long after its face was no longer recognizable as our friend. Finally, Klaus stumbled forward and jammed the silver knife deep into the possessed man’s chest. The effect was instantaneous. Luke seized and then collapsed backward. He lay there unmoving, smoke rising from the wound. I couldn’t tell if it was the flesh smoldering or the silver boiling.

The smoke from the body of our murdered friend rose up around us. It grew so thick, so fast that it obscured Klaus for a moment. The noxious cloud dissipated quickly, and then it was gone. We were left in the clearing with an injured friend, a dead one, and the ravaged body of a total stranger.

### Stay Tuned. The Final Installment is coming soon ###

This story was written by Jeremy Hicks. It is his original content and cannot be used anywhere else without his expressed written consent. However, this blog may be shared, reblogged, etc. on social media for the purposes of promoting the author, his blog, and his other creative works. 

Any resemblance to persons living or dead, events real or imagined, etc. is entirely intentional. This is a work of fiction but draws on real events and references the real world at times. Any reference, product placement, or pop culture quote is not intended to impinge on any trademark, patent, and/or copyright; rather it is flavor text for the dialogue of characters raised within the context of our pop culture.

 If you don’t like these terms of agreement, go check yourself. You’re complaining about a #FREE story.

Also, if I’ve let you read this story in the past, please do not post spoilers in the comments here or on any of my social media.

Thanks!

From the Slushpile: The Devil & Klaus Kristiansen (Part 2)

Author’s Note: I will post all six parts before Halloween weekend. So stay tuned for one helluva horror story.

Part Two

### \m/ ###

As it turned out, the Hell portrayed in Turtle’s dreams looked like the byproduct of a collegiate man-child steeped in pop culture, rock music, and a lot of hallucinogens. AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” blared from the speakers of an unseen jukebox as we strode through the grandiose double doors of the antebellum home turned satanic frat house. Thick tendrils of smoke or fog curled around our feet as we moved through the riotous throng packed into the entry hall.  Over the doors, a tooled wood sign read:  Abandon All Inhibitions Ye Who Enter Here.

Faces of friends and enemies mixed with those of fiends. Together they capered wildly, spastically to the power chords of rock ‘n roll’s finest. I felt overwhelmed, my senses assaulted by the cacophony.

I turned back toward the doors, but there was nowhere to go. No moon, no stars shined in the night sky. The mist covered the parking lot like a blanket. The strange orange hue of the street lights obscured all but the house and its adjacent grounds.

“What the hell, Turtle?” Klaus demanded, seizing our friend by the collar of his faded Wolverine tee and wresting my attention from the dreamscape outside the house.

“Exactly!” Turtle answered. “What version of hell is this? Mine? Or one of yours? Because I didn’t have this nightmare until after I’d met both of you. And each of you is in the dream. But whose hell is this? Because you’re both there every time it happens.”

“Every time what happens?” I inquired, my sense of dread growing.

“You’ll see.” Turtle’s mercurial smile made me want to smash his remaining teeth out of his skull. “There’s still time yet. Until then enjoy the party.”

The Turtle danced, if you could call it that, his way through the crowd of raucous revelers. Klaus and I stuck close to our friend unsure what would happen if we became separated in his deranged dreamscape. A thousand vices and temptations surrounded us at every turn. I saw the things we normally enjoyed, but also mirrors piled high with white powder, stripped and ready pain-sluts of the barely legal variety, and a hundred other deviances ranging from the laughable to the unforgiveable.

Either Turtle the Video Game Virgin knew how to party harder than anyone had suspected or he’d tapped into some primal part of our brains…but which one of us. Perhaps he’d perceived repressed kinks, vices, and other socially unacceptable behaviors present in one or even both of us.  That possibility disturbed me, but little of what I saw scared the hell out of me. I did have a slight problem with the horned thing corn-holing our school mascot over the side of a sofa. And the sight of a sadistic bastard licking blood from the blade he’d used to slice spirals into the tender flesh of a pretty co-ed sickened me to the core.

Surely, none of this could be real. Even if it was a collective dream, some twisted, hedonistic manifestation of the universal unconsciousness, it was still a dream. I comforted myself with that fiction, ignorant of how wrong I was about our situation.

Turtle glanced behind him to make sure we were close on his heels and then mounted the grand staircase that dominated the entrance hallway to the mansion. A throng of partiers clustered on the winding stairs enjoying a wide array of pleasures. As I passed a diminutive woman bent over the sturdy railing, one of the two men penetrating her stopped long enough to ask me to join their public perversion.

Blushing crimson, I declined and hurried after Klaus and Turtle. As a virginal teenager, I felt overwhelmed by the sensational sins being committed all around me. My brain ached inside my skull, and my manhood throbbed in the confines of my jeans. I retreated inside myself as I tried to deal with all of the conflicting emotions in between.

Was this place hell? Or was it Turtle’s version of a wet dream? Or worse yet, one of mine or Klaus’s somnolent fantasies?

Although everything I’d seen at the party appeared deviant when compared to conventional social mores of the day, little of it seemed dangerous. Unless our creator considered anything visceral and enjoyable to be a sin. And I didn’t subscribe to that narrow-minded, puritanical view then…or now for that matter. I’d yet to see anything nefarious, much less hellish…unless one counted the pounding, repetitive electronica that had replaced legends of hard rock and heavy metal to become our new soundtrack.

The festivities on the second floor felt more like a rave than the festivities enjoyed by the Goth/Metal crowd on the ground level of the unnamed fraternity house. So in my mind, the party became annoying instead of more infernal, despite the horned humanoids twirling glow-sticks about their scaly bodies. If you’ve seen one dancing Sleestak with a glow-stick, you’ve seen them all. And raving demons were not my idea of hell; they were my idea of a bad pun.

“This has to be the lamest layer of all the hells in the multiverse,” I commented.

“Agreed,” Klaus seconded. “Hard drugs, kinky sex, and canned music doesn’t make it hell. It makes it a college party. The textbook definition of one as a matter of fact. I’ve seen scarier stuff at a Senate hearing on CSPAN.”

Klaus and I chuckled, but Turtle didn’t appear amused. Instead he looked at us as if we were stupid. But we weren’t; we were ignorant, cocky know-it-alls, like so many narcissistic nineteen-year-old nerds. In fact, without our narcissistic, nerdy traits, Klaus and I would have become enemies long before the events to come made it so.

Concern coloring his chiseled face, Turtle told us, “Dreams, like anything, exist according to certain rules. And one of those is the interconnectedness of all things, all places, all times. Dreams are the nexuses, the cruxes upon which the entire fabric of creation is built.

“After all, what are we but a collective realization of a universal dream. Somewhere, someplace, sometime, everything around us was dreamed into being by someone or something. As surely as we see this dream now, our creator pictured the dream that became our waking universe in its mind’s eye.

“And if dreams can show us a version of heaven that a sleeper can craft into reality upon awakening, a nightmare can become a living hell. That’s what I’m about to show you, the difference between dreams and nightmares, between heaven and hell.”

We turned down another corridor, and the scene around us shifted for the third time. As we entered this wing of the house, the furniture and the décor took on a style incongruent with the rest of the interior. I turned to pass my observation on to Klaus, but he’d fallen behind. In fact, he stood transfixed, his hollow eyes riveted on the lone door at the end of the long hallway.

“Are you okay?” I asked, knowing the answer already. My friend had grown as pale as a Hollywood vampire. Tears touched the corners of his eyes, a sight none of us had seen before…or since.

“But it can’t be,” Klaus muttered.

“What can’t it be?” Turtle inquired, joining us in the middle of the empty hall.

“I’ve seen this before,” Klaus replied. “All of it. I didn’t remember until I saw that door. That damn door and the horror that lurks beyond it have haunted me for years. But it can’t be. It’s just a dream.”

“Yes,” Turtle said, tapping Klaus in the center of his forehead. “It’s all here. Or we’re all there rather. Thanks to a little family tradition passed down through my mom’s side of the family. My gypsy blood produces a fair number of psychics, mediums, touch telepaths, and empaths.”

“And here I thought gypsies were alcoholics and kleptomaniacs,” Klaus joked.

“You forgot con artists,” I added, knowing in my heart what Turtle said to be true. But I wasn’t ready to accept it then. It took the unnatural shocks that came after for me to accept the paranormal as my new norm.

“I never thought I’d live long enough to admit it,” Klaus said, wiping his eyes, “but Turtle might be right. I’ve seen this house before; I’ve opened that door before. Countless times. And it never ends well.”

“What do you mean it doesn’t end well?” I asked, dreading the response.

Locking eyes with me, Klaus pleaded, “I wanna go home now. I don’t wanna live through this nightmare again. This might not be your idea of hell, but there’s a devil behind that door. A devil and a dead girl.”

“A dead girl?” I asked, bewildered by Klaus’s revelation. Glancing at my other friend, I saw that Turtle appeared calm, cool, and collected, the exact opposite of his waking demeanor.

“Well, she’s not dead yet…” Turtle said, “…not this go round anyway.”

A shrill squeal pierced the door, echoing down the hall. The cry of a damsel in distress, even a dream one, called out to my primal, protective nature. I charged the door while Klaus beat feet toward the stairs. Turtle lingered in between, unsure who to follow.

The locked door didn’t stop me long. Throwing my considerable girth against it, I overpowered the frame itself. As it separated from the wall with a sickening CRACK, I backed away and kicked outward. My big boot finished the work my sore shoulder started. The defeated door hung ajar from its ruined frame, orange light spilling into the hall from around its seams.

Shadows flitted in and out of the light in the room beyond the door. Throwing caution to an ill wind, I rushed through the doorway and into a blood-splattered bedroom. The room’s white interior had turned to crimson thanks to its two maddening occupants.

A shadowy figure perched on the center of a brass canopy bed; in its sizeable paws, the beast held the still beating heart of its victim, the nearly dead girl. The angel in alabaster lay sprawled on the mattress, wearing the remnants of a lacy summer dress. In the wan light cast by the street lights, her auburn curls took on the same shade as the gory fluids oozing from her savaged bosom. Only one perfect pale breast remained intact; its twin destroyed when the devil had ripped out her heart. The dying girl whimpered as yet unaware of her own demise. When her emerald eyes locked on her stolen heart, she wept a final tear.

*** Part 3 Coming Soon ***

This story was written by Jeremy Hicks. It is his original content and cannot be used anywhere else without his expressed written consent. However, this blog may be shared, reblogged, etc. on social media for the purposes of promoting the author, his blog, and his other creative works. 

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