The quiet woman grinned. She's a pretty child beneath her fear, Maya noted, and a voice inside her said They all are.
Tisha heard it, inside her head. She knew who'd spoken those words and understood the profound sadness that prompted them. She ignored DeStiy's angry panting and looked at Maya.
"Your grandmother, Mrs Reimnitz," she said. "She is with you all the time."
Maya's eyes clouded and she nodded.
"Idiots! Fools! Worship with me! Worship Evil!" DeStiy became incoherent in his anger.
Danes looked directly at DeStiy.
"If you would kindly shut up for two minutes, I could explain."
"You're a bloody fool, Danes!" DeStiy yelled.
Danes looked down at his hands, then:
"Mr DeStiy, thank you for the vote of confidence but - "
DeStiys eyes bulged and white flecked the corners of his mouth.
"A bloody fool! No one denies the Most Evil and lives."
Spit sprayed in an arc in front of DeStiy's reddened face. A string of white dribble ran from the corner of his mouth and began to bulb around the white hairs at his chin.
Danes tapped himself and replied quietly "I appear to be - indeed, yes, I am actually still alive, Mr DeStiy."
Tracey's first instinct once they were outside was to run. But her trembling body couldn't take it, she couldn't leave Timmy, and the state Rick was in he'd couldn't get far.
So she released her grip on him - her teeth bared in pain as her hands freed themselves from their steel grasp - and lowered Timmy to the ground.
Something made her look around at the apartment block. Its uninspiring facade stared mockingly back at her and she turned back to her husband and son.
They weren't there.
Sweet Jesus, no!
Her legs gave way and she wept as she fell.
A closed entrance door.
A few more steps.
Please don't be locked.
But why would it be? Since she'd been here, she'd never known it locked.
Please don't be locked.
The air in this part of the passageway was cooler. Brighter.
She stopped. Rejigged Timmy on her agonised arm and laid her forehead against Rick for a moment. Then she took a deep breath and pulled once more.
Another step backwards and the back of her ankle hit the bottom of the door.
...don't be locked.
She leaned back against the door. Pushed backwards. It gave.
Cold air swirled..
It was hardly more than ten yards to the entrance door now, but every one of them felt like a lifetime.
Rick’s movement had become almost nonexistant. The only way Tracey could get him to move was to pull at his shoulders so that he toppled forward. Only then did unconscious reflex force his legs to come to life and he staggered forward, somehow maintaining his balance.
Breathing heavily, Tracey neared the door. Sweat stung her eyes, the whole of her upper body, every single muscle, screamed and twisted in pain. But despite that she’d get them all out. Somehow.
The closer they got to the entrance door of the apartment block, the slower Rick became. He moved, but he moved as if weighed down or reluctant to leave.
Tracey turned around to face him and pulled him along. Struggling backwards along the passageway, her whole body pained her: she wanted to cry and groaned tiredly as Timmy began to slip from her arm.
“Hold tight, Timmy,” she gasped.
“Hold - tight - Timmy,” Rick repeated in a dead monotone. The words gurgled, sounding chesty and far away.
They passed the closed door of Daniel Ryland’s apartment.
Closer. Slowly, closer to escape.
Tracey tried to take the stairs quickly, but it was difficult. Carrying Timmy and simultaneously trying to pull Rick along was almost impossible. Rick wasn't deliberately resisting, but he was utterly confused. His darting, frightened eyes showed he was only vaguely aware that they were trying to escape this evil building that was somehow inside their heads, causing hallucinations. He moved slowly and ungainly, each step a deliberate exercise in not falling over, in not crumpling in a bewildered mess to the floor.
Effort and fear coated her body in sweat; and, panting, she almost fell the last few stairs.
Rick gasped. Yes, get out, that's what he had to do. He had their coats, and his wallet and pistol. But where would he go? They'd find him, his fingerprints were all over the apartment, and presumably over the dead bodies of his wife and son, too. And yet, thirty years in prison didn't seem so bad. Might even be less.
At his feet, Tracey twitched. So she wasn't dead. He shot her again.
He spoke through his tears: "This can't be real."
The unexpected grip on his arm was tight and unrelenting. Tracey pulled him out of the apartment.
"We've got to leave!"
She spoke as she bent and picked up Timmy, almost throwing him over her shoulder. He giggled.
Tracey's words sounded surprisingly calm, only a slight tremor in her voice giving away her suppressed fear.
Ricky wanted to leave - to take them both and run away - but where to? With what? They couldn't just up and run!
"Now!" ordered Tracey. "Ricky! Get our coats and money and let's go!"
She grabbed her handbag. "Outside. Anywhere! Just to sit and think. Work out what's happening. Now!"
Ricky was moving too slowly.
"Fucking NOW!" she screamed.
And Timmy giggled.
An hour had passed. Tracey looked at the clock on the wall to assure herself that an hour really had passed: yes, it had.
She and Rick sat together: she, confused eyes red, but dry now, breathing restored to normal, hands no longer visibly trembling; he, confused eyes red, a peristaltic fear rippling through his stomach and his chest. A lingering dread made both their mouths dry.
Timmy, comforted and now oblivious to their hidden turmoil, played on the floor.
"What's happening, Ricky?"
Ricky shook his head. It turned into Timmy's head.
Tracey's scream abruptly stopped when Rick's face returned.
Timmy's face, tear-stained, close to hers. She watched his eyes, his mouth - both moving. She took in the trembling of her hands and legs. She saw Rick rising groggily from the settee, leaning towards her, then his hands around her head.
Timmy's mouth moving again: "Mummy fall."
Rick's words, from a million miles away, but getting closer, becoming clearer: "something something faint? Did you faint? How'd you feel?"
She tried to speak but her mouth was too dry. Her eyes shot to the wall. Nothing there.
She gripped Timmy, pulled his head to her breast and sobbed uncontrollably.
Tracey had time for only one image to burn itself into her mind before shock overwhelmed her, her vision blackened, and she collapsed unconscious to the floor.
Rick's bloodied hands held a dripping hammer.
And one leftover nail.
He wore a smile. Islands of blood spattered his face and chest.
Behind him, nailed to the wall, the dead body of her son.
The nails through his palms tore his flesh and displaced bone to a succulent and crackling accompaniment as the weight of his body pulled itself away from the wall.
Tracey was unconscious when it hit the floor.
It was as if someone had slapped her across the face, the shock and the pain stunned her into stupefied inaction. The door hadn't hit her, but her cheek stung and her ears rang with the force of the blow that never was. Tears veiled her vision and she tasted blood inside her mouth.
Eyes wide and mouth agape she stared blankly at the slammed door. Behind her, Rick moaned. And from behind her, too, Timmy's voice:
"Don't go in there."
Fear clenched her stomach. Her eyes closed for a second. She opened them and turned to face her son.
To the backdrop of television cartoons, Timmy's occasional giggling and Tracey's soothing tones, Rick eventually fell asleep on the settee. She draped a jacket over him and stood quietly staring in concern at his lined face.
Timmy called "Mummy!"
Rick looked so tired. Her hand stretched out and touched his hair gently, so as not to wake him. Older, tired and -
Again, this time from the bedroom: "Mummy!"
It shook her out of her reverie, she hadn't seen Timmy move from his chair in front of the tv.
She stepped towards the open bedroom door.
It slammed in her face.
Centre-stage, she spoke loudly, enunciated clearly.
“They said the screams of the trapped were heard over the roar of the flame and the crashing of burning timber. They said the first thing the throng outside smelled was the smoke. They said the taste of hot air and the aroma of burning flesh mixed in their salivating mouths, succulent spittle of the accumulated agonies which forced many to vomit at the realisation of the meaty taste their mouths savoured.”
She stopped talking and her head slumped to her chest.
The silence grew in texture, solidifying, slowly encroaching, like the darkness.
Harry Danes pursed his lips.
"Not demons," he said, his head shaking. He smiled. "I'm sorry, Mr DeStiy, but not the undead either."
Enoch DeStiy glared: this fool of a meddler couldn't possibly comprehend the power of The Unforgiven One -
"Forgive me, Mr DeStiy," Harry Danes didn't look directly at Enoch DeStiy but his words still shattered his glare and replaced it with a look of abject confusion. "Forgive me, but I do understand the power of the Unforgiven. Only too well do I understand it. But we are not dealing with that here. Oh no. Not that at all."
Tracey held him, rocked him gently. "Tell me," she whispered, and Rick's words spilled again.
“That weirdo Danes, making us do a séance. The heat! The place was on fire!" He looked across the room, reassuring himself Timmy was alright. "Fire in the room. We escaped. The passageway. Like ice! What I don’t understand is how it was so cold. And for so long.” His eyes pleaded with hers for answers. “So cold, we could have died. We should have died.”
“What I don’t understand,” Tracey said “Is that you’ve only been gone out of our apartment for ten minutes.”
Tracey held Rick tightly to her as he slowly gained control of his sobbing. Telling her everything he’d experienced since he’d last seen her, and trying to explain it quietly so as not to upset Timmy, took its toll. His eyes were red and puffy, lines etched his face and his lips look somehow thinner: these things, Tracey noticed, made him look ten years older. As he lay in her arms he seemed strangely weak, in a way insubstantial compared to the Rick she was used to. He felt somehow unreal, like a hologram.
This was just her imagination, surely?
DeStiy spoke first, his words falling unanswered amongst cold teacups and silence.
"The demons are waiting. Demons! Or the evil that inhabits this place. I don't know which." He coughed hard, his face reddening, veins standing out on his forehead like claw marks. "Yesyesyes! I admit! I don't know which. Demons. Dead. Undead. He hasn't seen fit to tell me yet. Not yet." His eyes lit up. "You see, He hasn't rejected me. It's a test, you see. And I've passed! I still believe! In Him, in His infernal power. And- yes!- He tested me! He still believes! In me!"
Inside was calm stillness. The sun flooded the room with light and, contradicting the winter temperatures outside, infused a gentle warmth. Maya had stopped trembling, Harry smiled again, and colour had returned to all their faces. Their eyes had, for the moment at least, lost that frightened, furtive look.
Outside, afternoon traffic buzzed through crisp, clear air. People shopped, walked home or wandered: singly, hand-holding couples, small groups. Workers peered out of office windows; taxis hailed and delivered. Somewhere a dog barked.
Icicles melted. Drip by silent drip.
The sky was unblemished. Blue; like an ever-watchful eye, unblinking.