a mob surrounding a flame they're coming for you

They’re Coming For You – A Novelette (Part 12)

The church still reeked. I covered my mouth and nose with a handkerchief to stifle the smell. It didn’t do much good. When I went to the boiler room, I noticed a metal ladder attached to a wall and climbed it through a small hole that led to a hatch. The lever proved difficult to turn but eventually it budged and the hatch opened with a slight squeal.

The sound of crying was the first thing I could hear when I reached the attic. It was large like Nathan said, wooden and unfinished. It could have been a solid storage area but no way to actually move anything up there with such a small entrance. The crying came from the end of the room in the darkest corner. I couldn’t see the person.

“Hello?” I said, after closing the hatch. “Mary? Quentin? It’s Pastor Jonathan.” When they didn’t respond, I kept talking. “It’s okay. I’m not here to hurt you. I want to help. I want to see how you’re doing. You see, my family-”

“Stop, don’t come any closer,” Mary said, her voice sounding like she gargled sand.

I stopped, my feet skidding on the wood panels. “Mary, oh thank God, you’re alive. Listen, I need to ask you a few questions. I need to get to the bottom of all of this.”

“Where did everyone go?” she asked, sounding sad. “No one has come for some time. The last person we spoke to was Nathan and he hasn’t come for a few days. Is our house still on fire?” she said.

“Yes.”

“Oh God,” she wailed. “Tom is still in there, isn’t he? We shouldn’t be here. We should be there with him.”

“Listen, Mary, I need to talk to you about that night. I need to know about what they said, what they wanted. Anything will help. I just need to know something, anything.” Feeling bold, I took a step further and another and another until she released a ghastly hissing sound.

Stop! Don’t come any closer. I just want you to leave us,” she said. “Just go.”

“I’ll go if you tell me,” I said, feeling awful for making such an ultimatum but I needed information. I had to find leverage.

“It all happened so fast,” she said in a whine. “Tom apparently said something at a dinner party we attended and the next day everything downspiraled. They accused him of being hateful and an oppressor and a bigot. When they came, they surrounded our house and hurled insults at him and mocked him, cursing him for being born. He tried to apologize, but they didn’t care. They didn’t want an apology. They wanted retribution. The kids and I were able to get to the car in time and drive away but Tom wasn’t so lucky. The last I saw, they punched him in the mouth while calling him monster and motherfucker and dipshit. They slung every curse in the book. While we drove away, we saw them surround the house in their dark cloaks before the house erupted in flames. And that was it. That was it.”

“What did he say at the party, Mary?” I whispered, fearing her response.

“That’s the thing, Jonathan. We don’t know. I’ve spent this entire time trying to think of what he might have said, but I can’t think of it. They make accusations. But it doesn’t matter if it’s true. They believe what they want to believe and they seek out vengeance regardless.”

“There’s no way to satisfy them?” I asked.

“Only when you’ve been broken down and punished and even then…they make you suffer.”

“They must see reason? They must see…”

Her deep laughter sprinkled and echoed through the room, giving me gooseflesh. It was shrill and sharp and unforgiving. She said nothing after. The laughter was enough. At this point, her mad laughter should have disturbed and scared me enough to make me run for my life. Yet, for some reason beyond me, I held my position. Not only that, I took a step forward. I wanted to see with my own eyes if what Bartholomew said was true. If they had been in worse shape than before.

“Mary,” I said, “I want to help you. Maybe I can do something. Perhaps I could bring you some first aid or food. What do you need?”

“You said you’d leave when I told you what happened. Be a man of your word, Pastor. Go.”

“At least allow me to pray for you.”

“You can do that,” she spat, “some other place. God does not dwell here. He hides his face…”

“Mary, you must listen…” I said, racing over, refusing to abide. When I drew near and my pupils focused and the light pierced through the darkness, I saw them at last and I truly wish I hadn’t. I wish I had listened. Oh, if I would have listened!

They huddled in a dark corner. Mary held her children tight as they shivered and shook like dying leaves on an old branch. Her right hand touched Quentin’s cheek and I saw his big eye staring at me, scared. The flesh on her arm was gone, revealing only rotten muscle and bone. A little bit of flesh clung at the shoulder but it too looked like it might slide off at any moment. Her face had holes in it, like moldy swiss cheese, and only a few clumps of hair clung to her scalp. The flesh around her eyes was no more, creating craters for her large eyes to look at me with an intensity that shook me to the core.

It wasn’t clean. Far from it. Blood and puss oozed from their bodies and flesh, dripping down and pooling around them. They were living decay, like cadavers with beating hearts. Heaps of flesh lay folded like scraps of old leather.

I held back the vomit rushing up my esophagus. It burned, forcing out a gag. I covered my nose but tried to hang on. My heart ached for them. With legs like jelly, I fell to my knees. My mouth hung agape, unsure of what to do or what to say. I wanted revenge. I wanted to kill whoever did this to them. For once, in that horrific moment, death and violence entered my thoughts like a dark, yet welcome traveler. I wanted blood. I knew I shouldn’t, but I wanted it nevertheless.

She wailed at the sight of me. “No, no, nooooooo! Leave us!” Her voice echoed and boomed, consuming the attic.

I closed my eyes, interlinked my hands, and lay prostrate. I prayed aloud. “Lord, a grave injust…” I started.

“No!” she barked, blood gushing out of her mouth. In an instant, she released her grasp of Quentin and rose. I opened my eyes and looked, seeing her fully. Her legs were all bone with scraps of muscle flapping with her shaky movements. How she could stand, I don’t know.

“If you don’t leave, I will kill you,” she said, her jawbone on the left side fully visible. The menacing grin on her face after she said it looked like she took pleasure in the thought. When she took a couple more steps, a malevolence flashed in her eyes.

Realizing she meant it, I got to my feet and ran. She chased me. I reached the hatch door when I heard a loud screech and a loud thud. She cried out in pain, “My legs! Oh my legs! Jonathan, they’ve…they…broke off.”

I froze. I didn’t know what to do. What could I do to help her? I had no powers. I had nothing to offer her. Then, I wondered, perhaps it’s a ruse? A nasty trick to make me come back and help.

In the dark, her voice became sweet. “If I could just touch the train of your cloak, I would be made well,” she said. “All I need is to touch you.”

I frowned and felt an awful dread all over my body. I’d made up my mind. “I’m sorry, Mary,” was all I said before closing the hatch shut. The seal killed her scream.

 

End of Part 12

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