“What’s wrong, Marcus? You look absolutely pale, are you frightened?” Victoria asked.
The light from the cellphone I had dropped was reflecting back into my face. Even with its light in my eyes, I could still make out the horrid figure looming before me.
“Did you say… your god?” I stammered. “You worship that thing?” I asked, still unable to peel my eyes from it.
I took a few steps back, losing my balance in the process. I fell back, slamming into the seating hues behind me. A rush of air painfully forced its way out of my mouth. I guess it was true that the wind could literally be knocked out of you. I remained still, feeling a surge of pain from my back.
“Marcus, are you alright?!” Victoria asked, rushing to my side. “Are you hurt?”
Instantly, there was a loud slam from a door behind us flooding the room with bright light.
“What is going on in here?!” an angry voice yelled out.
Victoria popped up. “Nothing, we were doing a little touring when Marcus had a tumble,” she said, addressing the voice.
“Marcus?” the voice responded in surprise. “You brought an outsider into our area of worship?!”
I could hear the voice’s footsteps moving at high pace until halting next to me. My eyes hadn’t completely adjusted to the light yet so all I could see was a partially lit figure, a man at least. It didn’t matter who it was though, they sounded angry regardless. This might have been the real moment I was going to be sent home.
“He fell. I’m not sure if he’s injured himself or not,” Victoria continued.
The man sighed. “He does look pretty banged up. Hey, can you at least move?” he asked, looking down at me.
I hadn’t tried yet, but I attempted to move my arms and then my legs. Despite the lingering pain from my back, nothing appeared to be broken.
“I think I’ll be alright,” I replied weakly. I slowly began to stand, feeling the man help me up.
“Are you sure you’re alright, Marcus?” Victoria asked again.
“He’ll be alright,” the man said, helping me towards the light of the door.
When my eyes eventually adjusted, I could finally make out his face. It was Terrance. After reaching the exit, he shut the door to the room behind us. It felt good to be out of there and back in the coolness of the lobby. Apparently, I had been sweating as well because I could see the large spots across my chest.
“Now, look here. I know you’re our guest and all, but I’m gonna need you to not go exploring around like you did,” he said to me before turning his attention over to Victoria. “As for you, you should be resting. We’re lucky that didn’t happen to you now with that baby. No more exploring, else things like this happen,” he said sharply. It felt like we were both being scolded as if we were his children. “Just remember you’re here for a job,” he said, returning to me. “So if you just stick to that, you’ll be fine. Now you best go and wash up, dinner we’ll be ready soon. Bathroom is at the end of the hall on the left. Just make sure you knock before you enter.”
I nodded weakly, catching Victoria’s apologetic eyes as I turned to leave. I wasn’t even mad at her for what had happened. How could I be? It was my own fault for clumsily falling like I did. I made my way back upstairs and cleaned up. By the time I finished, the time was 6:03 PM. I knew Terrance had told me not to be late, but I didn’t want to be the first one to show up.
I didn’t want to be too late either so I hastily made my way back down, heading through the door on the left in the lobby. Coursing through the hallway, I caught the hint of food in the air. The smell gradually increased the closer I drew to the end. By this time, my stomach was beginning to growl in protest, even my mouth began to water.
There was a pair of double-doors at the end of the hallway. I could see light coming out through its cracks. Behind them, I could make out the murmuring of voices. This was it, I thought. I took a deep breath and pushed open the doors.
The dining room on the other side was big, like fancy big. The vibe I felt reminded me of the formality back in the old days, early 1900s maybe. Several antique looking cabinets stood up against the walls. They had glass doors with the insides filled with priceless looking treasures. Portraits ran along the walls portraying the faces of people, possibly ancestors of the sort, their eyes firmly staring forward as if audience to all around.
In the center of the room, a large table sat filled bountifully of plates with mountains of food and drinks. The other residents of this church could be seen standing around the table chatting amongst themselves. However, their chatting ceased when the doors shut behind me. They all gazed at me silently. All I could feel at that moment was utter awkwardness, not to mention my nervous meter was through the roof.
Finally, one of the women spoke out to me, “Ah, you must be Marcus. Welcome, my dear.”
She had a British accent like Victoria’s. She was a woman most likely in her mid-forties. She had dark hair tied neatly in a bun. The dress she wore was similar to that of Victoria’s, but had more red in it.
“I’m Margret. Pleased to meet you,” she said, walking to me.
After shaking my hand, she guided me over to the others around the table. There was four others -- one was a woman she introduced to be Sophia. She was much younger than Margret and probably a few years older than me. The next was Terrance, who I had already met. Then there was another man about the same age as Terrance, his name was Jessie. His voice and Sophia's sounded more like the Reverend portraying a strong country accent. Lastly, she showed me Victoria. I couldn’t hold back my smile when I saw her; she returned one as well. Margret caught sight of this.
“Oh, have you two already met?” she asked, smiling suspiciously.
“Well…” I started, beginning to blush.
“Yes,” Victoria spoke. “I was showing Marcus around earlier, trying to get him familiar with everything for when he starts his work.”
“Oh I see,” Margret replied. “Well come now dear, you sit over here.”
She led me to an empty chair near the end of the table next to her. Everyone else made their way behind their respective chairs too. Victoria stood behind the chair across from my own. I was ready to pull out the chair and sit when I caught sight of her eyes beckoning not to do so. I quickly corrected myself realizing that everyone was still standing as well.
“When the Reverend arrives, we can begin eating soon,” Margaret said. “Please excuse him, he can run a little late sometimes.”
I chuckled a little to myself thinking on Terrance’s words from before. However, it wasn’t long until everyone’s attention turned to the door opposite the end of the table. I hadn’t realized it was there. I was curious to where it led, possibly to the Reverend’s quarters.
The door opened and the Reverend came walking through. He still had his hobbled walk from earlier, his face still pressed with the same toothy grin. When he came through, everyone spoke in unison, “Evening, Reverend!”
His smile grew wider at which he replied, “Evening, everyone.”
He pulled out his chair and sat down, gesturing everyone to join him. We all followed suit. The food before us was truly a sight. There was many dishes flooded gracefully with food: rice dishes, freshly looking vegetables like corn and baked potatoes, sliced breads and even three roasted meats.
A large silver plate was before everyone, rows of forks and knives sat along the opposite sides of the plate. A large champagne glass was postured to everyone’s right side. With that, I noticed the many wine bottles spaced along the table. The food looked simply amazing, I couldn’t wait to eat, but was hesitant to make a move unsure of their manner of etiquette. I decided to follow any and all actions of Victoria. It was probably the reason why she sat across from me.
“Let us bow our heads for prayer,” the Reverend announced.
My eyes glanced over to Victoria. She bowed her head with one eye open, pressing a finger to her lips while looking at me. Then she placed her hands together. I nodded and did so too. From then, the air was silent. I wasn’t sure how much time had elapsed, but it felt long, at least five minutes. I opened one eye to check to see if everyone was still praying.
Everyone including the Reverend still had their eyes shut. I could see all of them mouthing something silently to themselves. Margaret I could see was holding tightly to a charm from her necklace up to her forehead. I could only make out partial amounts of the charm, but I was sure it was the same emblem as the one on the door to the Congregation room.
I also noticed that everyone had a similar ring like Victoria all on their ring finger. The rings each withheld the same emblem engraved within it. This made sense since apparently they were keys to the room itself. I noticed Terrance didn’t have a ring on his finger; instead I saw it hanging from a necklace. When I looked at the Reverend I saw that he had two rings, one was the same as the others, but the second one was different. I could tell the symbol wasn’t the same, but the way his hands were positioned made it so I couldn’t distinctly make it out.
“Amen,” the Reverend finally spoke out.
On command, everyone’s eyes opened.
“Let’s us eat now,” he said, raising his hands out.
Everyone began grabbing at a bowl or a plate, passing it around, filling their plate at their leisure. I was glad it was finally time to eat. I don’t think my stomach could have taken another minute. I could feel my mouth watering even more, but I sat patiently, occasionally glancing over to Victoria for guidance.
“So Marcus, Terrance told me you had quite a tumble today?” the Reverend spoke out.
Hearing his voice gave me a little jolt, snapping me out of whatever hunger trance I was in. “Yes, sir,” I managed to say.
“Oh dear, are you alright?" Margaret asked. "You didn’t hurt yourself too bad, did you now?"
“No, I’m fine," I answered. "A little sore, but I’ll be alright.”
“That’s good to hear." Sophia added. "Where was this? Wouldn’t want anyone else to do the same now.”
I swallowed a little, not wanting to explain I had been somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be. Somehow, my eyes guided over to where Terrance sat. The glare from them felt unsettling as if his look alone was punishing me.
“He was in the Congregation room,” he said sternly without removing his gaze upon me.
“Say what now?” Jessie replied, joining in. “How did he manage to get in there?”
“He was helped by Victoria,” Terrance answered without hesitation.
The way he said it though, it felt like he was dying to get it off his chest. It was like he was reporting a crime or something expecting a reward. My eyes fell to my plate unable to meet anyone else’s. I was unsure what would happen next at this point.
“Oh dear,” Margaret said softly. “Did you not have a candle on you, Hun?” she asked.
I quickly looked up, surprised at her response.
“Victoria, you took him in there with no proper lighting? It’s no wonder he banged himself up,” she continued.
I couldn’t believe it. Here I thought I was going to hear a mouthful about invading their sanctuary and instead they brushed it off like it was nothing. I glanced over at Terrance, who appeared to be just as surprised by this reaction. Instead, he grumpily turned his attention to his plate unable to look at me in defeat. I looked over at the Reverend and he too seemed unfazed still smiling.
“No, I wasn’t thinking when I did,” Victoria answered. “However, we were doing fine without a candle. It was more from the statue that startled Marcus.”
Margaret and others laughed at this. “Oh, I was dreadfully frightened too when I first saw the thing as a child,” she replied. “It is quite a sight at first, Marcus, but I assure when you learn about Lanius, you grow to truly understand him and what he is.”
I swallowed a little more at this. “And what is he?” I asked, leaning in a bit.
“Now Margaret," the Reverend interrupted, chuckling a bit. "We didn’t bring the young man all the way up here to teach him a sermon. Give the young man a chance to eat.”
“Oh, of course,” Margaret giggled to herself. “Eat up Marcus, we don’t waste anything around here,” she said, passing a bowl of potatoes.
I felt my stomach growl again at the sight of them. I couldn’t believe I had forgotten about my hunger. I thanked her and added it to my plate. I glanced over at Victoria, who gave me a slight nod of approval. I smiled and began receiving the other dishes being passed around.
The rest of the meal went by smoothly. There was chatter amongst everyone; I listened as they went on about their everyday occurrences. It was funny to hear them bicker at each other a few times too. Occasionally, one of them would ask me a question or two about where I was from or what I did. By then though, I didn’t feel nervous anymore.
After dinner, the Reverend dismissed everyone. On the way to my room, Victoria caught up with me.
“Marcus?” she called out. “I just wanted to apologize.”
“For what?” I asked.
“For how Terrance acted in there.”
I chuckled. “It’s fine. I was just happy everyone else didn’t feel the same way.”
“Yes well, Terrance has always been that way. I’m just sorry he tried to call you out like that,” she replied.
“I’m fine,” I said, blushing a little, trying to brush it off. “He did the same to you too,” I joked.
We headed back upstairs, stopping when we arrived at my door.
“Well good night, Marcus. Today was truly a pleasure.”
“Good night,” I replied.
I watched her continue down the hallway, stopping at three doors down. She looked back my way, realizing I was staring. Immediately, I snapped my head towards my door, unlocking it and closing it behind me. I smiled to myself.
I quickly got undressed into some shorts and a tee and sat on my bed. I decided to look for any new messages on my phone. The screen lit up revealing a surprising “no signal” message. Of course, how I could forget. This place was a damn dead zone. I fell back, lying completely on the bed. Before I knew it, I was out.
I awoke suddenly, blinded by light. Apparently, I had forgotten to turn off the lamp on the desk. The last thing I needed was them to complain about wasting their electricity. I slumped over to my feet to turn it off. After doing so, I caught sight of something outside. Below, I could make out my car in the moonlight. I could see that a clump of leaves had been blown over a lot of its roof. However, that’s not what caught my attention. I could see a figure standing next to my car. Even with the moonlight, I still could not make out who it was. It did appear as if the figure was trying to enter into my car.
I tried to focus my eyes better, but it still didn’t help. I wanted to blame it on my tiredness but my mind instantly thought about Terrance. Perhaps that jerk was still sore about dinner. He could’ve been trying to sabotage my car or something. I ran for my door, ripping it open and racing down the hall to the stairs.
When I reached the lobby, I stopped. The entire lobby was dark. In the air, I could smell a hint of something burning like candles. I noticed a thin line of light coming from the Congregation room’s double-doors. Completely forgetting about my car, I made my way to the doors. I could hear the slight murmur of voices from inside the closer I got.
I pressed my ear up against the door to get a better listen, but I still couldn’t make out what the voices were saying. I could hear one voice speak out-loud. When it did, the other voices would speak in unison in the same rhythm. It was clear that they were repeating the message of the lead one. The tone and manner they spoke sent a chill down my spine. It was clear this was the church conducting their worship upon whatever that horrid image was I had seen earlier. I didn’t understand how they could worship such a thing, but then I didn’t know how any religion could worship anything as they did.
I decided to let them be and made my way back upstairs. They didn’t seem like bad people so how could I judge them based on what their religion was; Victoria was a good example of that. When I entered my room, I glanced out the window one last time expecting to still see something below. However, nothing was there. I shrugged it off; it was possible that there never was. I slipped into my bed and fell asleep again.
The next day, I was awoken by knocking at my door. I was surprised to find it to be Terrance. He apparently was ready for me to begin my work as soon as possible. When I checked my phone, the time read: 6:30 AM. He was a real jerk for this. I didn’t even wake up this early for my job back at home, but I bit my tongue and told him I would be ready in ten minutes.
After getting ready, he led me to the room where he had placed all of my equipment. The room had several old computers inside, like late 90s old. I hope they didn't have their hopes too high for the best performance on these dinosaurs. Nonetheless, I had a job to do. I immediately began setting up my equipment. I was even lucky to have company the whole time, Terrance saw to that. Seriously, what was this guy's problem? Eventually though as the time went by, even he got bored and left me to myself. I was too happy when this happened.
The day went by fairly quick once I really got into my work. Of course, when the meal times came around I attended them. A few times out the day, Victoria came by to check on me. She would force me to take a break by walking around with her, which I didn’t mind at all. Days continued to pass as I worked, each one becoming more routine.
Throughout these days, I found myself spending more time with Victoria. I always looked forward to those break times I had with her. We would walk around just talking and laughing, most of the time we did so outside. I never thought I would meet someone like her in a place like this. It made each day more doable. It was almost like our friendship was becoming more. I didn’t mind if it didn’t, but if it did, that was even better.
There was something that bothered me though. Every time we were together, it felt as if someone or something was watching us. I couldn’t shake the feeling, even when I looked around, only to find nothing. I wanted to think nothing of it until one particular evening. After dinner, I came back to my room to find that someone had gone through my stuff. I hadn’t transported any of my clothes from my bags to the dresser, feeling too lazy to do so. One of my bags had a Velcro strap to accompany the zipper for reinforcement. I knew I always kept the Velcro fastened, I was rather type-A about it. However, the Velcro was clearly unfastened and hanging.
The first thought that ran through my mind was Terrance’s doing, but I had no proof. It was possible that I was just looking for someone to blame. I never did confirm who it was by my car, if there really was someone. So I couldn’t prove if that had been Terrance at all. I decided to look through the bag to be sure nothing was missing. I went through to find that everything was still there. I could tell my things were moved around a bit, but other than that, nothing. Clearly whatever the culprit was looking for, they didn’t find it.
I couldn’t lie. I was angry that someone had gone through my things. Was it really Terrance’s doing? Was he really that annoyed at an event that occurred many days ago? Maybe I should confront him, I thought. No, the last thing I wanted to do was start accusing people, which never looked good. I’ll let it slide, just this once, I thought. I got into my pajamas and collapsed onto the bed. When I did so, I felt a sharp pain on the back of my head; it felt like I had hit something hard. I felt around the pillow. Instead of the usual fluffiness of it, I felt a hard texture.
Someone had replaced the inside stuffing with something else. I reached inside pulling the object out. It was a thick, old leathery book. I brought it to the lamp on the desk to see it better. The cover looked hand-stitched to the spine. In the light, I could see a symbol engraved across in gold. The symbol was the same as the one I had been seeing around. My hands began to tremble at the sight of this. How did the book get there? Who put it there and why?
I was hesitant, but I slowly opened it; it gave off peculiar scent, smelling of wet leaves and old tree bark. The pages were filled with written text in black ink. I couldn’t comprehend the words. They were written in some strange language. It didn’t even look like a language that should’ve existed. I continued to turn the pages though, seeing the text flood each one. A few pages in, I came across a picture. It was a decent ink-drawn picture with limited details.
The picture depicted what looked to be a star. Around the star stood several figures looking like people, one appearing slightly bigger than the others. I turned the page to find more text. I continued turning until finally, I came across another picture. This one showed one of the human-like figures standing on what looked like a pedestal. The other human- like beings stood around the main one.
Again, I flipped until I came across the next picture. This picture showed the star from before. It looked bigger but with squiggle marks shooting away from it. The human-like beings appeared to be cowering in fear kneeling down at the star, even the big one.
The picture after, depicted the human-like beings falling from the sky, their faces drawn in fear. The one after, showed them drawn in a dark place, their faces twisted in despair. It then showed the human-like figures begin to change into hideous deformed-like creatures. They had teeth and horns protruding out different parts of their bodies. The biggest one, looked even worse than the rest with eyes drawn angrily with sparks coming from its fang-filled mouth.
These images were really disturbing. I wanted to stop, but my hands kept turning the pages. The next one showed one of the hideous beings stray from the others, it was smaller compared to them. The creature came across a man in the next one. It appeared to reveal a swirl looking symbol to the man. The man appeared to walk through the swirl. When he did, the creature followed. A small child stood in front of the man in the next one; it was weird, but the two looked similar somehow.
The creature appeared to possess the child’s body, when it did, the man fell to the ground, presumably dead. Now in the child’s body, the child grew up. As it did, it showed the creature leave the man’s body, depicting it underground, possibly sleeping. The man was seen surrounded by many people with others joining. Eventually like before, it showed the creature awaken next to the man showing him another swirl. Again, the man walked through the swirl with the creature following, appearing in front of a child. Once again, it possessed the child and the man died.
The images repeated. Each time as they did, I noticed the creature’s size growing bigger. Finally, I skipped further into the book to see where they led. The images revealed something different this time. Now, it showed the man with a woman, the creature standing behind her. When I flipped where the next image would appear, I found its page stuck tightly together to another. I tried to part them, but a tear began to form threatening to ruin both pages altogether. I decided to skip it and move on to the next image. My heart dropped, when I did.
This time the image showed the woman pregnant among the group of people from before. The images later went to show the woman in labor giving birth. The man appeared to have delivered the baby. However, it looked like no ordinary child. It was depicted to have large black eyes with long teeth. Horns poked out in many directions of the child with its legs and arms disproportionate to each other. The man was holding the child in the air, almost like he was glorifying it.
At that moment, I couldn't take anymore and slammed the book shut, tossing it to the other side of the room. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest, my arms and face sweaty. I shook my head in disbelief. There was no way, I thought. What the hell was all of that even about?
After seeing those images, I couldn’t sleep for most of the night. All I could see was the horrid inked images of that creature. When I thought of that woman depicted to being pregnant, I couldn't help but think of Victoria. There was no way it could have been her, could it? A lot of women can be pregnant. It was just a coincidence, it had to be.
The next day, I worked sluggishly from the lack of sleep. At breakfast, I made no eye-contact with Victoria or did I talk to anyone else. If they asked, I simply blamed it on a headache or tiredness. While working, I pleaded to myself, hoping Victoria would not come by as she usually did. Yet despite my internal pleads, she came.
“Marcus, are you feeling any better?” she asked, entering the room.
I didn’t respond; I didn’t even look up.
“Marcus?” she said. “Are you alright?” she asked again.
My silence caused her to press on.
“What’s wrong? Why are you ignoring me?” she asked, I could hear a hint of annoyance in her voice.
Still I gave her no answer. What could I say? All I could think about was…
“Fine!” she yelled, and proceeded to leave the room.
“Where did you get that child from?” I asked her without looking up.
I could hear footsteps come to a halt.
“What?” she asked, confused.
“Who’s the father of your child?” I rephrased.
“Is that what this is all about?” she asked.
I stood up finally facing her. It was direct, but I had to know. My face along with my silence must’ve said it all for her. I could see the look of confusion in her eyes.
“Why does it matter?” she asked, harshly.
“I need to know,” I stated firmly. I wanted it to be from her boyfriend or even her deadbeat husband, any of these were better than what I was thinking.
She just stared at me, with her mouth open as if trying to find the words to speak. Tears formed in her eyes. They were gazing at me angrily and with sadness simultaneously. She shook her head softly never taking her eyes from mine. Finally, she spoke, “You stay away from me, Marcus. Stay away and never come near or speak to me again.”
She stormed out leaving me dumbfounded. My plan had back-fired. I wanted to call out to her, to stop her and apologize, but again I was at a loss for words. Like an idiot, I just stood there and let my head fall down in grief.
As the day continued on, Victoria never returned to see me while I worked. At mealtime, she never made eye-contact with me either, keeping her eyes focused on her plate. I felt horrible for what I did. I had no right to put her on the spot like that. I cursed at myself.
After dinner, I attempted to talk her as she was leaving for her room. She ignored me though when I did. I don’t know why I thought knocking on her door would be any better. All I received upon it opening was having it immediately shut in my face. I sighed, truly feeling utter regret and made my way back to my room.
When I did, I sat on my bed, staring off into space. I wished I had never found that damn book, then everything between her and I would have been normal. I missed seeing her already: her smile, hearing her laugh, just being around her. I let my hand slide to my pillow to check for the book only to find it missing. Stunned, I poured out the pillow’s contents finding only feathers and cotton. I was sure I had put it back after I left each time. Was somebody messing with me?
I angrily began searching for the book everywhere. I checked my suitcases, tossing clothes around as I did. I checked the dressers, under the bed and even behind the desk. Where was it? My eyes met the window when I came from under the desk. When I looked down, I saw the same figure as before, standing next to my car. This time it appeared be looking up at me.
Anger filled me. I assumed it was Terrance again. This was a bad time for him to be messing with me. I raced out of my room and downstairs. I ran around to the side of the building to where my car was. The moonlight was stronger than ever, illuminating my way as I did. When I reached my car, no one was in sight.
I had finally reached my boiling point. “You picked the wrong day to f**k with me!” I yelled out. “Come on out, now! If not, leave me the hell alone!”
My voice echoed into the air, before dying in the wind. The building gave off one of its unsettling moans. The leaves from the trees in the distance shook, rattling against their branches in the wind. There was no one out here. Feeling my mind grow at ease and realizing how much of a fool I looked, I started to make my way back.
However, my nerves froze when I heard the snapping of a twig behind me. My heart began beating fast. I slowly turned around to see a figure gradually rising from behind my car. The figure was wearing a cloak with a hood over its head. In the light, I could see pieces of twigs and leaves sticking out of its cloak.
I opened my mouth to scream, but the figure quickly darted over to me, covering my mouth with its hand. It shushed me softly. The voice was clearly of a woman’s. She slowly removed her hand from my mouth and made her way to the back of the building. Before disappearing behind it, she gestured me to follow her.
I didn’t want to, but my legs began moving on their own in her direction. When I reached the other side, I saw her remove the hood from her head. The moonlight lit her face. She was an elderly looking woman possibly in her early fifties. She had ragged black hair mixed with gray strands that ran untamed. Her face was pressed with wrinkles with dry patches of dirt randomly displayed across. The scent from her was rank, but familiar; it smelled of wet leaves and old tree bark.
“Did you see it?” she whispered, her voice was crackly and rasp. “You saw it in the book, right? You have to help me. You have to help me save my daughter.”
Written by Vngel W