Bruce looked around, shining his light down the dark hallways, expecting to find the shadow moving, but he was relieved to see that the darkness inside the house appeared to be free of whatever he had just witnessed. Tamara had rushed through the door so quickly that he hadn’t seen the direction she went. He had to pick, right or left, so he decided to go right. He moved down the hallway at a pace somewhere between crawling and walking, trying to stay quiet, trying to listen for his friends, and trying not to invoke the wrath of whatever creature had taken Kevin.
The hallway was simple, nothing of major note, but Bruce did see two stained glass windows that had ghastly depictions on them. He wished he could see it better, but with only the flashlight, it was hard to take the whole thing in.
After a few minutes of exploration, he reached a spiral stairwell. He went up to the next level, where he found a large and rather empty room. In the room he saw only two things, a pedestal that was holding four ornately cut power crystals, dimly glowing, and skeleton on the ground.
He moved forward, his morbid curiosity getting the best of him. The skeleton was in a relaxed position, like the poor soul might have died in their sleep. Next to them was a leather book, a journal from the looks of it. Bruce picked it up, flipping it open to see pages and pages of handwritten notes. A lot of it looked like garbled nonsense, but then he found passages of legible text.
“I’ve done it.” One entry started. “Finally, I have learned the secrets of the monster in my mind, the darkness that lingers in my soul. I can send this foul creature back. I can save everyone! I can’t save myself. I am dying. If I die, the spirit might break free. The house needs power. I have to keep the lights on. Namiresh must never leave. I keep the Observatory lit all the time now. I keep the control room safe. I’m so tired.”
The darkness that claimed Kevin on the porch… had it been contained here?
Bruce flipped through the journal more, looking for some kind of insight. He turned to the beginning of the journal. Surely it was smart to start there.
“This journal,” it began. “is meant to explain my torment. I have built this fortress to keep a dark creature at bay. I am the jailer of Namiresh, a creature from the dark realm that seeded itself within my mind. I’ve kept it at bay since my youngest days, but now it seeks fresh victims. I built this house atop the power lines that travel the length of this world. The lights are the key…”
Bruce flipped forward several entries.
“I am weakened by Namiresh’s assault on my mind. I have had to lock myself out of the Observatory twice this week. My connection to the creature continues to deepen. I can see their language now. I probe Namiresh for its secrets just as it does to me.”
Bruce frowned. This house had been covered in lights… some kind of protection system that had kept the monster contained, now this room was nothing but darkness and shadow. The entries said something about an Observatory. Bruce had seen an observation room in one of the tall towers.
He pointed his flashlight at the pedestal with the four power crystals. Those were bound to be worth a lot of money back home. He wondered…
He saw a slight shift in the darkness at the edge of the flashlight. He wasn’t sure if it was simply his mind playing tricks on him or not, but he quickly turned, darting back toward the spiral staircase, which appeared to lead up farther to the Observation room. He just hoped he might find something up there that could help him find Tamara and Justice, then make an escape.
Tamara was wishing she had waited for Bruce and Kevin. She knew Justice had gone off to the left of the main hallway, but the longer she looked for him, the less certain she was. There weren’t many rooms in this place, but she couldn’t see anything in the doorways she passed. The floor creaked and groaned as she walked, and she finally stopped, looking back the way she’d come and mentally deciding she would have to head back. She could meet up with her friends and they could look for Justice together. After all, her sister wouldn’t hide from her, so she must have chosen the wrong path.
She took one step back the way she’d come when she heard Justice’s voice. “Tamara.”
“Just a little further.”
“Why are you hiding in here?” she asked. “Come out into the hallway. I can’t see anything.”
“Come down further. Just a little further. I’m hurt, Tamara. Help me.”
She felt her resolve strengthen at his plea for help. He might be delusional with his blood loss. He might be too weak to come to her. She nodded, giving herself the last bit of pep she needed. “I’m coming, Justice.”
She walked, taking larger steps, feeling emboldened, until she reached the end of the hallway and turned to the last room. She opened the door, which groaned in protest. She saw the room was lit with a pale blue light. She looked around to find several candles burning, each of them illuminated with a blue flame. At the back wall, just standing there, was the shadowy figure of Justice. Tamara could only make out her form, none of the details. She took a step toward her, and her shoe slipped on something. She glanced down, unable to really make out what she was sliding on… something slick… thick… she leaned down and touched it, pressing it between her fingers and realizing right away that it was blood.
“Justice,” she said, looking up at her sister. “You’re really hurt. There’s a lot of blood here… and all the blood from the crash. You need help. Why are you hiding in here?”
The blue flames on the candles started to burn brighter, growing larger, lighting the room more and fully revealing Justice to her. She stifled a scream. Her sister’s legs were coated in black blood, one of her arms was mangled and lifeless. Her chest had a deep laceration that exposed muscle and bone. Her face was masked in total darkness, like a shadow that couldn’t be moved.
“Let me in,” Justice’s voice spoke. Cold. Dead.
“Who… what are you?!” she asked, her voice trembling as she started to step backward.
“I am death.”
The shadow unwrapped itself from Justice’s head, and as it did so, her sister’s corpse collapsed to the ground. This creature… this hideous monster had used her dead sibling like a puppet just to draw her here! She turned to run, but before she could get into the hallway, she felt icy tendrils wrap around her legs, pulling them out from beneath her. She tumbled forward, her face hitting the ground with an explosion of pain. She screamed in terror as the tendrils began to pull her back into the room. She reached out, grabbing the door frame and holding on with all her might.
“Do not resist,” the darkness spoke to her, no longer through Justice, but instead as a sinister sound that echoed within her very mind. “Let me in. Let me control.”
She held fast, writhing against the monstrosity that lashed around the blue flames that lit the walls. Her legs felt like they had been doused in ice water, and the sensation spread up her body as the tendrils crawled higher, taking hold of her hands and wrenching her grip free.
“No!” she shouted. “HELP ME!”
Her grip failed, she was pulled inside the room, and the door slammed shut behind her.
From the Observatory, Bruce could see most of the mansion grounds. There were wires hanging all around, running across the roof of the house to what looked like a variety of spot lights and other pieces of equipment. While Bruce had done some basic work with electrical circuitry in his day, this whole setup was bordering on insanity. It made sense, in the context that the poor man who lived here had dedicated his life to containing a monster made of darkness. The workmanship was questionable, done at speed and with only basic planning, but it wasn’t hard to figure out what he had done, and where the failing had occurred.
The lightning storm from the other night, the one that had drawn the group out this way, had damaged the cabling from one of the main lines. It wouldn’t be hard to fix, but it would take a few minutes. Thankfully, the supplies were here, kept ready by the owner in case they needed to make rapid repairs. He started working, stripping the appropriate material and digging out a pair of wire cutters that he could use to splice in an undamaged section.
He had just started his work when he heard Tamara scream.
He jumped up, ready to rush to her side, and then stopped short. The monster… the man’s journal said it had to be contained at all costs. If it lured him away now, he might not finish his work. He waited, hoping to hear more from Tamara, but the only sound that followed was a final shout, and a door slamming somewhere far below the staircase.
He worked faster, trying to get the splices in place as quickly as possible. He ignored doing it properly. If he got it working and knew that the monster wasn’t going to escape, he could try to make something better, something more permanent.
The last splice came together.
He bound the exposed wire for some basic protection, then stepped over to the breaker box and started resetting the switches. He saw lights coming on outside, computers whirring up in the Observatory, and he had a fleeting moment of hope.
He stopped. Tamara’s voice was unmistakable, but it was different, like Justice’s had been when they saw her at the front door of this place. He flipped another switch on the breaker box. He had five left.
“Bruce. Stop. You don’t know the truth.”
“I know enough,” Bruce said, turning on another breaker.
“Stop,” her voice changed, mixed with something far more sinister. He flipped one more breaker, then turned to face his friend. She stood at the top of the stairs, looking at him with her entire face coated in darkness. Her arms were bruised… her fingernails were cracked and broken.
Bruce flipped another breaker.
Tamara, or at least her body, lurched forward.
He wrestled against her assault, but she was strong, even stronger than she had been before, and that was already more than enough to beat Bruce in a fist fight when things were normal. She pummeled him in the head a few times, knocking him on his back and hissing at him as he struggled to force her back.
He knew he was going to lose this fight.
He rolled to the right, hitting another breaker.
Tamara’s body contorted, and black tendrils slid out from under her skin, like shadows emerging from an object when the light hit it. Bruce grabbed his flashlight, pointing it directly at Tamara.
The darkness retreated, and his friend screamed, her voice returning to normal for a moment, but then the creature swept back over her, taking control once more. Just as Bruce flipped the last breaker, a floodlight above them erupted with a magnificent glow that vaporized the inky black tendrils that had taken hold of Bruce. Tamara writhed, but the monster fought the shining light. Tamara pulled her camping knife and lunged at Bruce again.
He grabbed her arm before she could stab him, twisting with all his might against her superior strength. “Stop this!” he shouted. “Let her go!”
“She’s mine,” she spoke. “I will have her!”
Bruce cursed, then knocked the blade away. It fell down the spiral stairwell, which was still dark below. Tamara delivered a few good hits, then knocked Bruce back. He tripped over one of the wires and stumbled down the spiral staircase as well. Tamara jumped down after him, but when she landed on the last step, he was waiting.
He threw himself forward with all his might, and sunk the blade that he’d just retrieved deep into her chest. She stood there for a moment, shocked, and then the creature retreated, releasing her and sliding into the darkness.
Tamara fell into Bruce’s arms. He dared not pull the knife free. He knew that would only make things worse. He didn’t know what to do. She was dying. Oh no, what had he done?!
“It needs a host,” she said, struggling to speak. “It can’t live long without one. Slipping away in our reality… the house is its prison… warn others… I saw so much…”
“Justice?” Bruce asked.
She winced from the pain of her wounds, but then shook her head. “Gone.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Go, Bruce. Escape. Warn them.”
“I can’t leave you.”
“I won’t let it have me again,” she said. “Go.”
She reached up, grabbed firmly on the hilt of the knife in her chest, and pulled it free as hard as she could. Her body arched violently, and blood oozed from the wound. Her eyes dilated, and she was gone.
Bruce set her body down, then grabbed the knife and rushed down the main hallway. He saw a switch and hit it, illuminating his path with a multitude of bulbs that were clearly meant to limit the creature’s movement. He heard it creeping through the interior wallspace as he ran, and he forced himself to ignore the growing pain from his ankle, pushing himself to go faster than he had all night.
He reached the door and swung it open. The entire courtyard was bathed in light, a straight shot into the dark clearing beyond. The sun would be coming up soon, though Bruce wasn’t sure if that would be of any help or not.
He took one step onto the porch, and the creature lashed out from the dark hole where Kevin had been taken. The tendrils burned away as they lashed out, unable to strike Bruce as he rushed by. In a final strike, the creature burst through the wooden planks with a wave of dark tendrils, but Bruce leapt from the edge of the porch, falling down hard in the courtyard. His leg exploded in pain, and he knew he had just broken something.
It didn’t matter. He rolled onto his back, looking up at the house, now absolutely decked out with lights that were flooding every doorway, window, and every inch of ground around the home. He forced himself to stand, then turned his back on this nightmare and started making his way into the clearing beyond.
He looked over his shoulder, watching as a dark shadow whipped around inside the house, in every corner of the place that wasn’t lit by the lights that had been installed to keep it at bay. Bruce couldn’t help but think of how close it had come to escaping… how close he had come to dying.
He thought of his friends. They were all gone.
He forced the sudden wave of emotion down. There was no time for that. He had a mission now. He had a purpose. He would get back to town, warn the others about this mansion, about the monster within, and they’d know what to do.
He’d be a hero. All of his friends would be heroes.
He took a few steps forward, approaching the treeline of the woods, when he suddenly froze in place. Ahead of him, just at the edge of the trees, a massive shape started to emerge. His body began to shake involuntarily, worried for the briefest of moments that the monster of shadows had escaped the house, and all their sacrifices had been undone.
Instead, as the form reached the pale light of the mansion’s defenses, Bruce saw rows of teeth, the massive head of the monster that he had seen back at the campsite. George. The first monster they had faced in this nightmare.
The creature’s yellow eyes shimmered ever so slightly as it tilted its head, sizing him up.
He couldn’t run.
The monster started forward, gaining speed, and Bruce closed his eyes.
“Son of a—”
George snapped Bruce in its jaws, and a flash of lightning illuminated the creature as it looked toward the brightly lit house, then turned and headed back into the trees.
Later that morning, Earl Smith, the friendliest mechanic at the Outer Limits Campground was checking over his selection of camper vehicles. He was new here, and he liked to make sure his customers wouldn’t have any issues with the vehicles they rented. After all, he needed to make sure they all met the standards of the William Everett Camping Company. He counted them, all the vehicles, until he realized it looked like one was missing. Feeling a little anxious, he marched up to his supervisor.
“Are we supposed to have eleven vehicles? I’m counting ten,” he informed his boss, looking at the lot.
The lot manager looked out at the parked campers and smiled. “Ah yeah, that’s probably William Everett for you. He shows up and takes these things without asking from time to time. He brings them back, or sometimes he replaces them with something else. He probably just favored number eight.”
“Oh that makes sense,” Earl said, scratching his chin.
“No one is going to steal a camper way out here,” the manager added. “Nothing to worry about.”
“Fair enough,” Earl said. “I’ll get to work on cleaning a few that had marks on them. It’ll be a busy week.”
The lot manager nodded happily, and the two went back to their normal duties, none the wiser of the theft that had occurred, or the monster that lurked in the unknown….