They Called Into Darkness
by K.R. Hager
part 1 of 2
“Freck,” I gasp as I slump against the wall, the rough-hewn rocks slimy as snot against my back. The darkness is total, like being swallowed by a foul-breathed creature. There’s nothing else to say but, “Holy freck.”
I hear Whitacker sit down next to me, his armor clanking in the void. He puts an arm around my shoulder as though that’s going to make this situation better. Well, it kind of does. At least I’m not alone.
“How’s your leg?” he asks. I’ve been kicking like a psychiatric inmate against the door for the past fifteen minutes, my wild yells and the muted thuds of my boots against the wood the only sounds inside this monster-gullet dark world I’ve found.
“I can’t feel it from the knee down,” I admit. “But I won’t complain about that. I’m sure once I can feel it, I’ll whine about how much it hurts. You know, you’d think a five hundred year-old door would be the least of my problems, wouldn’t you?”
Good ol’ pragmatic Whitacker says, “What if you tried kicking where the lock is?”
I’m thinking I’ve got nothing to lose at this point, so I stand up again and find my cell phone in my back pocket. I had brought it not realizing that the network in the United States isn’t compatible with the one in Germany. Frecking technological age. But I’ll give my cell phone this: it’s making a wonderful little nightlight.
I’ve done no real exploring of the dank prison yet. I’m saying it’s to conserve the phone battery, but I know darned well that sometimes the shroud of darkness is better than the haze of artificial light. Now I hold up the phone and sweep it across the room to find the door. I want to go on record that I don’t scream. But there’s this horrible feeling in my chest rising into my throat like a scream that might spew forth with all the awesome magnitude of Vesuvius.
In the sharp blue light of my phone, I see a man. His mouth is gaping wide open and a dark stain like blood is spilled all down the front of his collared shirt, trickling from his mouth. The light reflects off what moisture is left in his vacant eyes and it looks like he is trying to warn us against a horrible fate bounding down upon us. A piece of wood juts from his chest.
I stumble back against Whitacker, who draws his sword and steps in front of me in one motion.
“My giddy aunt,” he breathes. “Looks like we found the supposed psychic.”
“‘My giddy aunt’?” I repeat. “We’re face-to-corpse with a dead man and you bust out with ‘my giddy aunt’? What sort of manly exclamation is that?”
I cannot see Whitacker, but I know that he is turning to face me and I know the look of righteous indignation that is seared on his face.
“When you’re a thirteenth-century knight with a longsword, ‘manly’ is whatever in the world you choose it to be,” he says and his voice has a wounded tone to it. He doesn’t much like if I disparage his courage. Not that I should talk. I’ll readily admit that for every ounce that Whitacker is brave, I’m twice as much a coward.
I guess that’s why I invented Whitacker, because if I’m going to be afraid of everything, I might as well have an imaginary friend who isn’t.
“So,” I begin, “do you think he saw it coming?”
It’s not really all that funny, but it makes Whitacker laugh and I tentatively join in. This is also what got us into this predicament in the first place: not the dead psychic, the laughing. My husband Riley’s family has discovered the new age. All of a sudden, my world became dawning of Aquarius and Mercury rising in Uranus.
I tend to think everybody has to believe their own thing, but sometimes I wish they would politely leave me out of it. His family is the reason I found myself sitting in a German castle watching as Michael the professional psychic “contacted” the spirit world.
Riley’s sister-in-law found Michael and his psychic historical tours through some website and persuaded us that we should go see Europe as a family. I’ll admit that I’m selfish and had always thought a visit to Europe would be just Riley and me. And Whitacker, but nobody else can see him. By the time we landed in Germany, I wished I could have used my brother-in-law Trevor’s excuse and said I couldn’t get the time off from work.
Everybody assured me from day one that I wouldn’t need to be involved in any seances. So I was not pleased to find myself sitting across from Michael as he roared out in a guttural voice, “This is Heinrich! I have come through from the other side.” Sitting there amid Riley’s immediate family, I was the only one laughing. At that point, Michael — or was it Heinrich? — asked me to leave the room.
But I should speak nicely about Michael because he’s the fellow pinned to the stone wall with a piece of wood. So I go back to the door and investigate it. To my relief, I find that it is not five hundred years old. I’m not sure how old it is, but no dungeon planner would have put the hinges on the inside. I’d give my spleen for a knife right now as I try to finagle the hinges.
“Uh, Michael had a folding knife, didn’t he?” my friend suggests.
“Whit, I am not going through a dead man’s pockets,” I say. “Not happening.”
“Well how long do you intend to stay in here? And what if that thing that put us in here is out there after Riley?”
“You can’t see me, but I’m glaring at you,” I say. I might be the most cowardly person alive, but I know two things: I love my husband and I don’t want to be in a room with a bloody corpse. I inch over towards Michael, shining the light so it isn’t on his face. I shudder like fever and start going through pockets. I’m close enough that there’s already a putrescent smell exuding from the body. I hate my life right now. I hate that I let my husband bribe me to come on this trip with promises about seeing museums. So far, I have stuck my hand in a dead man’s pants pocket but I have not seen a single museum.
Mostly I hate myself for not refusing to go. I don’t know why I always think “compromise” is synonymous with “capitulate.” I guess I shouldn’t have napped through those mandatory premarital counseling classes. But I digress. So now I’m in a sixteenth-century German estate, feeling around a dead man’s pants. Freck. Wait. Thank God. I find a multi-tool. There’s even a screwdriver. I start to work on the door.
“Do we have a plan for when we get out of here?” Whitacker asks.
“This isn’t something we can fight, Whit. I think in the movies, this is the time when the smart people leave and call a priest,” I say as I unscrew one hinge. Only one more. I bet if I’d been kicking from the other side, I could have caved this door in a long time ago. But if wishes were horses, beggars would eat equine burgers.
He concedes, “Fair enough.” Then he kneels down next to me as I work on the last hinge. His face looks even more pale in the blue phone light. I’m terrified to peeing by that corpse, but I’m well aware that Whitacker is dead. Don’t ask me why a small child creates an imaginary friend that’s a dead and bloody knight, but I did. My parents should have taken me to a crayon-and-construction-paper session with a psychiatrist.
I get the last hinge disassembled and give the door another kick. It slams to the ground with a shuddering bang that echoes back at me down mold-slick corridors.
“That,” I say rather proudly, “was quite gratifying.”
“Yes, yes, well done. Let’s mosey along now, shall we?” he says and gently shoves me between the shoulders out into the dim light of the corridor. We start up a slippery flight of stairs and Whitacker grabs my arm to keep me from falling on my face.
There is a heavy dragging noise whispering behind us. Please, not rats.
Whitacker screams. I freeze. What can make a dead Templar knight scream? Probably not rats.
“Run!” he yells, and I do. But of course, I have to look back. There in the doorway stands Michael’s corpse, and in contracting movements like a drunken marionette, it begins lurching forwards, limbs moving in directions limbs shouldn’t move.
“This is Heinrich. I am through from the other side,” the corpse whispers into the darkness.
The stonework is like grease beneath my feet, but my friend is dragging me along so I manage to keep my footing. Behind me I hear Michael-Heinrich laughing and babbling, “Ich bin der Hund der Hölle.” Next to me, Whitacker keeps saying, “Pater Noster, qui es in caelis, sanctificetur Nomen Tuum,” with a fervor I hadn’t known he had.
We reach the top of the stairs and go charging through the corridor. There is laughter bleating out all around us as if the walls themselves are mocking us. A gray mist coalesces at the end of the corridor, the moonlight refracting through it, light shimmering on shadow.
Copyright © 2011 by K.R. Hager