Time to Read:
A slight drizzle had begun to fall, and Officer Dalrymple could feel the cold rain drops on his face and hear the sprinkling on his hoodie. Everyone was heading home. Everyone, except Mr. Lee and Bertha. The old dog had sat quietly, ignoring his every command.
“Bertha, c’mon girl. Time to go on home.” He whistled and yanked on the leash, but she didn’t budge. Her gaze was frozen on the edge of the woods. Officer Dalrymple squinted his eyes to see what was out there, and he barely made out a shadowy figure standing close to the tree line. Bertha dashed toward the silhouette and sat down right beside it. The creature, wearing the paddy hat, was slender, nude, and was menacing to look at, even though it had no face. Officer Dalrymple watched as it bent over and stroked the bloodhound. Bertha had a new master. Her previous owner, Mr. Lee, was walking backwards, quietly. If what Travis had said was true, Mr. Lee, a game hunter in his retirement, was in deep trouble.
The douen turned its head toward the veteran, and the sound of a Ringwraith, shattered the stillness of the night. The same sound, they had earlier mistakenly assumed was an Elk. It did not matter, for it had the same effect on Officer Dalrymple. This time, however, he could feel the warm urine trickle down the inside of his right leg. The Douen pointed at Mr. Lee and leapt from its stationary position toward him. The old man turned to run, and Officer Dalrymple fired off two rounds from his service firearm. A second bounding stride, with its arms preparing to swing the weapon, and it was atop him.
Mr. Lee managed a scream as the creature pummeled him with body blows. Officer Dalrymple fired off several more rounds, catching the creature dead center, but it had no effect. Powerless to save Mr. Lee, it was time to run. He looked long enough to see the douen deliver the final crushing blow to the skull of the old man. In the tranquility of the night, the sound of a skull being crushed was akin to a tree limb being snapped. Mr. Lee’s arms fell limp by his side.
There was a flash of lightning, then the power surged, and the lights went out. A solemn darkness suddenly fell upon the neighborhood, as the moon was hid behind a canopy of clouds. The rains were finally here.
Officer Dalrymple felt fear for the first time. His job always carried a degree of risk, but this was a step into the unknown. He scrambled up the wooden steps to the porch and ran into the front door. It was locked.
“Mrs. Kathy.” He yelled. She had locked it from the inside. Her and Travis, huddled together watching him. Fear needed no words.
“Open the door. Please?” He screamed.
Travis held her back as she reached to open the door. He glared at Officer Dalrymple, then shook his head.
He felt it. Like a trickle of cold water, streaming down the middle of his back. His teeth chattered, as though he was caught in a blizzard. He swallowed hard but there was no saliva. There was a presence, a deathly presence stealthily closing in on him.
He kicked at the front door, but it never budged.
“Travis…please. Open the damn door!” He banged and screamed, aware of what was next. At least, Mr. Lee died fighting, he thought to himself. He would die fighting.
Another flash of lightning, and he saw the reflection of the Douen in the windowpane. Mrs. Kathy placed her fingers to her lips. What good would it do him now, to remain silent?
He screamed, a desperate attempt to harness fear into courage; Rage into strength, for what was about to be a losing battle. He turned to face the creature.
A blank face, like an undisturbed canvas. It was almost serene, except for the blood that was splattered across its head. The paddy-hat dipped low, and it tipped the rim upward with the blood-stained tree branch. It was emaciated and had the smoothest skin. Its feet were facing the other direction; small, tiny feet like those of a child. Officer Dalrymple considered for a moment what his death would feel like. He prayed it would be sudden, but Mr. Lee had kicked and screamed as though he was being boiled in hot oil. Alice had undoubtedly suffered the same fate. The thought caused him to shudder.
He would have let Mrs. Kathy down anyway. It wouldn’t be the first mother he would have watched grow old with the burden of misplaced expectancy and false hope. Once they go missing, they are seldom found. She would live with her nightmare, just as he had learned to live with his.
There was a foreboding presence which attended the creature. Just as fear needed no words; menace had no need for a face. The weight of evil was enough to make a grown man accept his fate, for nothing is more poignant than the moment at which time greets eternity.
“Where is Alice? They say you don’t hurt children.”
The creature came closer, and Officer Dalrymple could hear the laughter and mischief, which accompanies the sound of recess at any kindergarten. It was all around him. Then he heard the distinct voice of Alice. But where was she? This was a cruel joke.
“What are you waiting for?” Officer Dalrymple shouted, spittle spewing from his mouth like a rabid dog.
The creature understood him, for it shifted its head toward Mrs. Kathy and Travis. Then the door opened. Mrs. Kathy walked past him as though he didn’t exist.
“Alice!” She squealed with delight and raced toward the child.
Then, Travis came closer. He stood, framed within the doorway, and the creature bowed. It stayed low, as Travis walked out the door and stood on the porch watching Mrs. Kathy and Alice embrace each other.
Officer Dalrymple was confused. Why was evil bowing to his best friend? Why did this murderous, child slaughtering, spawn of the devil, yield to Travis?
Travis turned around. Gone was the chatty, witty, and annoying friend. What stood in front of Officer Dalrymple was pure evil.
“Travis?” Officer Dalrymple slumped to his knees.”
“You made a promise to me Daly. You never came back.” The voice was an old flame, a childhood sweetheart he had long betrayed, but the face wasn’t. Mama Perez was never the same after her daughter went missing. Julie… her name was Julie.
“I’m sorry bro.” Officer Dalrymple sobbed.
Mrs. Kathy walked inside cradling Alice. She never stopped to acknowledge Officer Dalrymple. Then the door closed. He could hear her sobbing behind the door. There was a muffled apology as she kept screaming, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” repeatedly.
“What has she done?” He asked Travis.
“What any mother would have done in her shoes. She made a deal to save the life of her child.” The demon sat down on the porch beside him.
“Will it be quick, Travis?” Officer Dalrymple asked.
“Your friend Travis asked me those same words yesterday as he overdosed.”
Officer Dalrymple nodded. Travis had been missing for two days before he turned up last night to help with the search for Alice, but everyone just assumed he was back in rehab. It felt good to hear truth spoken.
“Julie’s mother; I offered her the same deal on her death bed, which I presented to Kathy. You know what she said after I told her the truth about you and her daughter?”
Officer Dalrymple didn’t care. Hope deferred makes the heart sick. He had done the old lady a favor by telling her that Julie had ran away. He was the only one who knew the truth.
“She said, Tommy Dalrymple is a good boy. He deserves a second chance.” The demon mimicked the voice of Mama Perez.
“You finished?” Officer Dalrymple asked.
“She was a good woman. Just like Mrs. Kathy here, I think she knew in her heart that Julie’s disappearance had something to do with you.” He transformed into Travis the vagabond.
“Are you finished?”
“Yip. But you and I will be having many, many conversations for a long time.” Travis got up. A menacing laughter was his goodbye. The devil had come to play after all. This was all fun for him.
As he walked past the body of Mr. Lee, he whistled for Bertha. Then, the douen screamed that soul curdling wail and raised his weapon.
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