“If we are to save him, we must act now. We may already be too late.”
“Fool that I was not to have seen this sooner. Now I understand why he refused further treatment.”
“What shall we need?”
We scrambled out, into the heart of the night. The changes to the place had been unnerving, even beneath the sun, but now the darkness swallowed almost everything. Beyond the dim, yellow ring of our lantern light what glimpses I caught were distorted, nightmarish visions.
Against the faint horizon, trees turned and twisted though I felt no wind. The grass, long and wild, clutched at our feet and legs as though to slow our progress. Even the lifeline of light from the house behind us was seen as through smoked glass. It faded with each step and with each diminishing increment hope evaporated and fear grew.
Ahead, the family graveyard crawled slowly into view. The rusted, iron spikes of the fence permitted us to enter but as we passed they seemed to vow to hold us in forever. The gravestones, dark with age and mold, leaned as though disturbed from below. At last, the mausoleum stood before us. Its silence bespoke the keeping of unearthly secrets, its darkness nothing less than the promise of death.
It was impossible to speak, we progressed by some primal pattern known instinctively but mercifully discarded in everyday life. We simply moved, daring not to think, for to do so would force us to ponder the horror that lay ahead. As we forced the door, its sound was the groaning of a wound.
We paused only a moment making ready and sharing a look at each other. Then we stormed the darkness. The Reverend held the lantern and the crucifix, as the doctor and I searched for and found the refuge of the monster. The doctor kept the stake in hand, and I the mallet, as we forced the heavy lid.
As the hollow inched wider, my mind began to slip into panic. What horrid visions teased from the darkness in my mind. Would we find her whole and free of corruption? Or would a horrid corpse leap up and tear us to pieces with grave-honed claws? Of all the nightmares that flashed before me, none were so terrible as what we really saw.
Within, there was nothing, neither body nor bones.
Only too late did we realize that if she was not here then surely she must be…
One of us wailed and we tore back through the night. From the tomb and the field of the dead, through the serpent grass and toward the mocking lights. I had not run so fast or feared so much since I was a child.
The halls were longer, the stairs were taller and steeper. Every form and feature mocked my eyes, the house gave no more comfort than the tomb. Hence, I knew beforehand what we would find. As we tore into the bedroom, our hideous quest was done.
He lay still and quiet, looking up with open eyes. His face now free of his earthly burden, it wore a smile of utter and absolute peace. Numbly, I understood this was what he wanted, that the love he so cherished meant more to him than his life, than his soul itself. Perhaps he was right and we three fools were but villains whose failure was just.
We stood, silent and stunned, unable to ponder what dreadful things should be done. And then I heard, or thought I heard, as from a great distance, the happy laughter of Annabelle.
by Joe Stanley