As he put the finishing touches on a particularly fat pumpkin at the kitchen table, Adrian knew that Barret watched on, waiting. He lit a candle and set it inside, giving a yelp as the flame slightly grazed his hand.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
He smiled. "No, I'm mad…mad about you, baby!"
"Always the wise guy!" she said, as he sat the lid
into place and turned the pumpkin her way.
"The artistic wise guy!" he corrected, taking a bow.
She sighed, flicked off the light, and then turned her attention back to her husband's handiwork. Adrian was thirty-two years old, but during the fifteen years they'd been married, not a single year had gone by without him carving a pumpkin on Halloween. Inside the man's body, a happy and vivacious child was alive and well.
And Adrian knew that she wouldn't have it any other way.
He thought that perhaps tonight she felt the joy of a child on Halloween herself, for when her gaze fell on the horrific jack-o-lantern, fully ablaze and flickering madly, her face lit up and she gave him a hearty round of applause. The image bore teeth that were jagged, long, and pointed and set into a wicked grin. Above the teeth were the monstrously huge eyes of a demented killer at play.
"What can I say? You did a great job! This is the
best one you've created yet!" Her eyes narrowed as if she was carefully considering something as she moved in for a closer inspection. "On second thought, it kind of reminds me of your mother."
He grinned. "Funny, I was thinking the same thing about yours."
She just shook her head as she removed several bags
of candy from a paper sack and sat them on the kitchen table.
"But I must say that as trying as your mother can be at times, it's great to have the kids staying with her this Halloween!" Adrian said.
"It is rather nice!" Barret said as she drug a chair
toward the sink so that she could reach the top cabinet. Once she'd flung the cabinet door back, she took a plastic orange bowl down from the top shelf. "For once we can spend a relaxing evening at home instead of having to walk mile after blistering mile."
As she was about to step down, Adrian sneaked behind her and lifted her into his arms. Her squeals rent the air until he firmly set her on her feet. Yet his arms remained tightly, possessively, around her.
"No time for hankie panky," she said, smacking his hands away. "Dusk has fallen and soon the demons
will be here."
He chuckled softly and took the bowl from her. "You're a cruel woman, but you're absolutely right. It's nine o'clock and they'll soon be knocking! Treat or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat! Don't you just love that old rhyme?"
"Not particularly," she said as Adrian returned to the table and emptied a bag of Skittles into the bowl. He was sure to set the unopened bags of chocolate bars aside in hopes that he could lay claim to any candy that remained after the demon barrage pillaged home and hearth.
And indeed, the assault had begun. No sooner had he tossed the empty bag into the wastebasket when the doorbell rang.
"Are you sure it's going to be 'relaxing?' he asked.
"We may be yearning for that 'mile after blistering mile' before the night is over."
"For your sake, I hope it's not too bad. I know how much you're looking forward to Fright Fest on TV tonight."
"You bet your booty I am! Now stand aside, woman, duty calls."
She grinned, shook her head, then moved out of the doorway so that he could lead the way to the hall.
Along the way, they both had to duck under the artificial cobwebs that the kids had strung from wall...to chandelier...to fireplace...to antique settee...to table...to opposite wall, before they'd left to visit Granny. It crossed Adrian's mind that removing the polyester web was doubtlessly going to be a royal pain in the… But he couldn't blame the kids. Halloween was his favorite holiday, and he loved decorating for the ancient holiday just as much as they did. Thus, full-sized plastic skeletons, who were far from anatomically correct, graced chairs and couches, throughout the large Victorian home and cobwebs, big hairy spiders, bouncing bats, and various types of pumpkins, glowing and animated, abounded both indoors and out.
To Adrian, this creepy yet fun atmosphere was what Halloween was all about!
As he flung the door back, he was aware that Barret stood just behind him, bearing the pumpkin, which she intended to place outdoors.
But all thoughts of the pumpkin left him when
he greeted the smiling faces of two adorable tots. One was doubtlessly Darth
Maul, a tiny Darth Maul at that.
It looked like his light saber was longer than he was, and his cape was even longer still. Doubtlessly, his parents would probably end up carrying both before the night was over.
He chuckled, thinking of his kids and Halloweens past. Maybe Barret had it wrong. Trick-or-treating had always been 'mile-after-blistering-backbreaking-mile.'
The other child wore an outfit that vaguely resembled the grim reaper. The black, hooded costume and scythe were right on the mark, but he'd never imagined the reaper to have green skin and long, black claws. But now that he thought about it, Darth Maul hadn't worn a cape either.
"Trick or treat!" the children yelled in unison.
Adrian smiled and tossed two pieces of candy in each bag. The kids mumbled a hurried "thank you," and rushed off to meet their waiting parents on the sidewalk.
Then Barret claimed his attention as she lugged the pumpkin out to the porch and sat it on a table, nearly tripping over the big black coffin that Adrian had made out of pine a few years ago. After she regained her balance she gave him a sigh. "Don't be too generous with the stash! We have a long night ahead and only five bags of candy."
"Only five bags. Only five bags! How awful!" he teased. "I was hoping I'd at least get a piece or two."
But his lips snapped shut when she pulled him into her arms and did her Southern Belle routine. "Sugah,
you may get your piece, because I'm all the candy you'll evah need."
He gave her a kiss. At first the kiss was
playful, but it quickly grew demanding. It always drove him mad when she talked
like that. But more demons were approaching, and he reluctantly broke away
from her to face two smiling, albeit painted, faces.
"You're both so adorable, and what beautiful red hair you have!" Barret exclaimed as she patted a crop of curly fire engine
colored locks. She was teasing. It was a clown's wig, but the kids simply flashed her a smile as she tossed a piece of candy in each bag.
Adrian, as generous as ever, ordered the clowns to halt as they were about to walk away, and he put an extra piece in each bag for "Mom and Dad," who were patiently waiting with a young one in a stroller. The kids giggled and stalked off with an eye on the house next door.
And Barret and Adrian ventured further into the yard to get a better take on the monster invasion that was surely heading their way. When they saw a rather long and intimidating kid parade making a steady push forward, it was obvious to both that they'd need another bag of candy soon.
"While you deal with the quickly approaching storm, I'm afraid that I must call a retreat." Barret said.
"You're going to abandon me so soon?" he gasped.
"Only for a short while--that is, if you want some popcorn."
"If I want some popcorn? What would Halloween be without popcorn?"
"Then am I to presume that you do want some popcorn?" she teased.
"You're darn right I do…but I want it along with Channel Forty-two's Fright Fest. From the looks of it, that won't be for a while."
"Well, we'll just have to see. Now, have you any last words before the monsters meet up with you?"
"Yes, don't return without at least another bag of candy."
Smiling, she spun and was about to walk away when Adrian ordered her to halt. "Oh, and flick the switch on the stereo. I forgot to turn it on."
"Monster sounds, monster food and popcorn coming up!" she said then disappeared into the house.
A short time later, the sound of rattling chains, thunder, rain, bats, cackling witches, howls, hoots, heart beats, and meows resonated from the house, compliments of the speakers Adrian had cleverly run from the stereo and hid in various strategic places on the porch.
Adrian thoroughly enjoyed himself as he was approached by little furry monsters with huge horns, and he handed out candy…and more candy…and more candy. In a short time, several more Darth Mauls in various sizes, pirates, ballerina's, princesses, demons, and monsters of various other varieties greeted him.
Soon, he was down to a single package of Skittles and hoping that Barret would come to his rescue with another bag of candy. But looking around, he discovered that the street had suddenly grown dark and empty of all movement and noise, save that of the rustling of an errant leaf or two.
In fact, the block was suddenly so dark and quiet that the chilly October air seemed to penetrate him body and soul. Something about the children in their brightly colored clothes had made him feel warm inside.
Now that they were gone, the night seemed cold.
For the first time in months, he thought about Charlene. He didn't like to think about Charlene. Even after six years, it was just too painful to allow himself to go there.
She had been their first born, Daddy's girl with dishwater blonde hair like his, and dark brown eyes like her mother's. In personality, however, she was
just like him, the playful type who preferred Halloween to Easter, vibrant colors over faded pastels, fun over work, cookies over vegetables and reading a good book over watching TV.
Then she'd gotten leukemia, and she had died less
than a year later.
It simply wasn't fair! They could cure most cases of childhood leukemia nowadays.
But they couldn't cure Charlene.
Oh, why was he thinking about it here? Now? He told himself that it simply wasn't the right time or place.
He sat the bowl on the table and briefly glanced
at the pumpkin, then let out a gasp. He could have sworn that the pumpkin's grin had widened…if only for a moment. Heart racing, he looked away, wondering what had come over him. Yet when he gazed at the pumpkin again, he saw nothing out of the ordinary. It was exactly as it had been when Barret had sat it on the table.
He was just imagining things.
The cold, quiet night was getting the better of him and inspiring his creativity. That was all.
He wasn't one given to flights of fancy. He liked to play and joke around, but was fully capable of differentiating between fantasy and reality. Still, he knew that some folks believed that the veil between this world and the afterlife was broken this one night of the year--that evil spirits roamed the darkened streets searching for new souls…that cackling witches and vampire bats flew through the ominous moon-swept sky, seeking prey.
He didn't believe a bit of it…but it was sure as hell fun to pretend; it made life seem a bit more interesting.
Still, when he suddenly heard the heavy thud of footsteps on the flagstone sidewalk, fear conquered him anew. He looked down the street, hoping to determine the intruder's identity, only to see the silhouette of a man in black shirt and slacks slowly trudging his way up the hill. Adrian was unable to clearly make out the man's features in the darkness and knew only that he had shoulder-length, wavy hair.
Though he told himself he was being foolish, his fear zenithed as the man continued to near the house.
Adrian gaped, hoping the visitor would simply walk on by. But the stranger in black kept
moving toward the house, then he turned on the stairs leading up to it to plow a path in Adrian's direction.
Adrian felt his breath catch. Suddenly, he was too afraid to move. Strange, for he'd never been a coward, not once in his entire life. In fact, he'd served in the
U.S. Army and was a veteran of the Gulf War.
Yet, nothing had shaken him like the presence of this mysterious stranger.
He was about to bolt when the stranger halted his retreat. "Good evening, friend. I'm just spreading the word of God. Trust in Jesus Christ! He'll never let you down!"
The man's eyes were dark and seemed to hold the fanatical intensity of his words. At the same time, they seemed soft and kind. There was nothing about him that should elicit fear other than his sudden and mysterious appearance on Halloween, of all nights. Up close, he was an ordinary man, in every way conceivable, with unremarkable features and a neatly trimmed moustache. In fact, Adrian figured that he was probably a minister out preaching the evils of practicing this
ancient Pagan holiday.
Yet why was his presence "still" so disturbing?
Adrian was about to say something…he wasn't sure what, when the stranger reached into his pocket and removed something white, handing it to Adrian.
Scanning it briefly, Adrian saw that it was some kind of religious pamphlet. Printed on the front in beautiful cursive script was: "Save your soul." As the man watched on, Adrian tucked it into his shirt pocket and thanked him, hoping that the stranger wasn't about to launch into a sermon or request money. He had no cash on him and his credit cards were maxed out.
But as quickly as the man had approached the house, he turned and made his way back to the sidewalk, Adrian staring at his retreating image with fascination.
He didn't know what to make of the strange encounter, and he simply couldn't understand why these religious people went to such lengths to spread the gospel. He was wasting his time and breath with Adrian. Adrian had lost faith in God the day that Charlene had died. A good and loving God could never have done that to her--to them.
Still, he continued to watch the stranger's journey
up the street until Barret returned, claiming his attention.
"One bowl of popcorn for you, and one bag of candy for the little monsters."
Strangely, the scent of popcorn and butter soothed him. It made it seem like everything was right in the world after the scare he'd just had--and after the thoughts of the Charlene had dug his wounds a little deeper.
"Great," he said absently, turning to take the bag of Hershey's, but quickly, his gaze returned to the street in search of the stranger. He didn't know why, but he wanted to see where the man went. It had struck him as odd that the stranger hadn't bothered to stop at the house next door.
But the man in black was no where in sight. And Adrian decided that he must have turned the corner at the end of the street.
"What's the matter?" Barret asked.
"Sorry, I just had a strange encounter with some religious zealot."
"Oh, no!" she exclaimed, rolling her eyes. "Did he want money?"
"No, but he about scared the piss out of me!"
Barret giggled. "Well at least you had your Halloween scare for the night."
His stiff expression melted into a smile. Her voice always had that affect on him. "You're right. And now it looks like it's back to duty. The monsters strike again!" he said, pointing to a new wave of brightly dressed children with flashlights ablaze.
"I knew I should have bought more candy." Barret mumbled.
"Aye, wench. Next year, buy thee ten bags!"
"As you wish, my lord." she replied.
But soon, their conversation drifted into "oohs and ahs" over the tiny begging monsters at their door, and they found themselves busily handing out candy. The four bags went quickly. Until there was only one piece left.
Time seemed to pass quickly as well. When Adrian glanced at his watch, he was amazed to see that it was already nearly eleven o'clock. He'd already missed Ghost,
one of his favorite movies, but if they hurried, they'd catch the beginning of The Blob, a movie that had filled his days and nights with horror when he was a kid. He'd been certain that one day the roly-poly creature would come for him.
They went inside, taking the pumpkin and bowls with them and sitting them on the front room table next to
a big basket of gleaming red apples. Then Adrian popped open a jug of cider and poured them both a glass. But after wolfing down the cider, Barret also prepared some hot chocolate with a touch of cinnamon and dollop of whip cream on top, just the way she liked it. Taking their yummies with them, including a big platter of chocolate cupcakes with orange sprinkles that Barret had made earlier, they snuggled together on the couch, an orange flannel throw across their shoulders to ward off a fall chill.
The movie had started, and they were both thoroughly content and comfortable when they heard a knock at the door.
"Someone's at the door this late?" Barret rebelled.
"Sure. Some of the older kids will walk until they drop. At least I know I used to."
He arose against her protestations. "Don't go!" she begged. "It's too late! Besides, I turned the light off before I came in. They should know not to knock!"
"Then they might give us a trick, hon. I don't want the decorations damaged. Remember the year that someone bashed all of our lights and decorations?"
"But we don't have any candy left!"
"I can give them each an apple. We have a whole bushel."
The knock came again.
"I don't know if modern kids eat apples. I think they're on a steady diet of Nintendo and computer games."
"You may be right, but I'll do my best to appease the monsters," Adrian said, tucking the basket of apples under his arm.
As soon as he neared the front door, another
knock sounded. Adrian opened the door, about to say, "Happy Halloween," but there was no one there.
Thinking he'd just missed the "monster" he went out onto the porch and looked up and down the street. But he saw not a single trick-or-treater.
He went back inside, meeting Barret in the hall. He was about to speak, but paused, noticing that she looked pale. But he decided that perhaps it was just the overly bright Halloween lights that streamed into the hallway through the picture window.
"They knocked three times, but apparently left before I could get the door open. You know how kids are. They all want instant gratification nowadays, and have no patience--!"
His words trailed off, because Barret looked so pale that she might have been
"What is it?" he asked, sitting the apples on a table and grasping her tiny hand in his.
"Haven't you ever heard that the Devil knocks three times?"
He threw back his head and laughed. "Oh, come on, Barret!"
"I'm not joking! Ever since I was a little girl, my Grandma told me that I should never answer the door if someone knocked three times. If you do, you're inviting the beast into your home."
"It wasn't to her. She swore it was true."
"It's just an old wives' tale." The irritation was beginning to show in his voice.
"And if it's true?"
"For God's sake, Barret, knock it off! You're giving me the creeps! It was probably just an impatient kid on the graze who sensed greener pastures down the street. Take a deep breath, and calm down."
"You're probably right. But--"
"I hate it when someone tells me to take a deep breath."
He chuckled. "So do I! The mood had lifted, but he was still amazed about Barret's reaction. He'd never seen her like this. In fact, he would have bet his life that she was completely superstition free. Friday the thirteenth, walking under ladders, black cats, and the
like, had never seemed to faze her.
Nevertheless, he admitted to himself, if not to her, that her words had put a trace or two of fear in him as well. As a result, he made sure that the door was firmly locked before he turned back to Barret to throw a possessive arm across her shoulders.
"Come on. Lets take ourselves back into the front room where we can while away the rest of the night in comfort. I know you're not a big fan of The Blob,
but Dracula will be on next, starring Bela Lagosi, and I know vampires turn you on. After all, wasn't I wearing my Dracula costume the night we met at
your sister's Halloween party?
She gave him a toothy grin. "Oh, yes. I remember it well, and what a splendid count you were, but I still say your bark was worse than your bite."
"Is that so? Well--"
His lips snapped shut, for as they entered the front room, the sound of breaking glass rent the silence. Barret screamed as plates fell and smashed against the floor in the kitchen. Soon, the glass in the windows exploded, allowing a bitter cold wind to fill the chamber, and the whole room seemed to shake. The TV went off with a fizz…and they were both afraid that the glass would break out of it too
"What in the hell?" said Adrian.
"Was it an earthquake?" Barret asked, horror laced across her face.
"I-I don't know! Earthquakes are rare in Missouri.
If I recall, the last one here was in 1895--"
Again, the words died on his tongue, for he and Barret heard something that thoroughly alarmed them.
"Mommy. Daddy, please help me!"
"Oh my God, there's a kid in trouble!"
Adrian didn't answer. He knew there was no kid in trouble. He returned to the hall, stepping over deadly shards of glass and stood at the bottom of the magnificent stairwell.
The call came again. "Mommy! Daddy! Please…it hurts!"
Barret gasped, then pain creased her face. "That sounds like--"
He grabbed her by the shoulders and forced her to look at him. "Honey, it can't be! You know she's dead!"
They stood there in silence, knowing that
something was going to happen and not knowing what to do but wait for it. All at
once, both of them felt as lost and helpless as a ship listing in the ocean..
"Mommy, Daddy! It hurts! It hurts so bad, Mommy!"
Barret gave a horrified cry. She pushed Adrian aside and hurried up the stairs. He begged her to stop, but she was deaf to his cries. All she heard was the cry of a child long lost. How could a mother not soothe the pain of one she held so dear?
He followed her to the well-lit room at the end of the hall…a room that no one had used since…
Barret stood at the foot of the bed. There was a strange glow in the room that wasn't coming from any light bulb. As he ventured further into the room, he saw the source. Charlene was lying on the bed, a strange spectral glow exuding from her mouth and eyes.
For several minutes, all Adrian could do was stare at her image, trying to commit it to memory. He was both horrified and fascinated at the same time.
Here was his baby. Daddy's girl. Back with them again. Only somehow, rationale intervened, and he knew that it wasn't really Charlene.
It was a trick, a horrible, horrible trick! He didn't know who was responsible, but if he could get his hands around their neck…
"Mommy!" the spectral image cried, holding out her arms. "Mommy!" Then she held her stomach and vomited on the bed. Adrian cried, remembering this scene exactly on the last day of her life...just before she'd slipped away forever.
Barret must have remembered it too. She was about to go to her, and Adrian nearly had to tackle his wife to the ground to prevent her from doing so. He didn't know why or how, but he somehow just knew that the specter meant to do them both harm.
He turned Barret to face him. "It's not our daughter. Do you understand? It's a trick. A horrible, horrible trick!"
He heard a round of raucous laughter.
"Who is it? Who's there?" he screamed.
The wail of the wind was the only reply.
Then all the sudden many diaphanous specters rushed in through the busted windows, their long feathery arms trailing around the horrified couple, the spirits' high-pitched yells and moans nearly deafening.
Adrian pulled Barret to the floor, trying to shield her body with his from the seemingly angry spirits who'd come to terrorize them. But it did little good as toys, clothes, books and pictures flew about the room, in a whirl that seemed to have the strength of ten tornadoes.
The room went black. Then red. The misty bodies disappeared for a second only to reappear in the solid
form of a mortal man, yet many of them had hideously hairy hands and long, sharp claws.
They formed a circle around the terrified couple, chanting in a musical language that was unknown to both. Cold hands clawed at them, forcing the two
apart and clamping irons on their feet and wrists.
A small trunk was brought out and inside, a black velvet covering was drawn back to reveal many long, sharp knives.
The spirits were going to kill them…kill them both, adrian thought.
"Dear God, do something!" Barret screeched.
Adrian was only vaguely aware of a terrified scream. Only after it had ended did he realize that it was his own. For a fiend on either side of him had taken a knife and split his flesh open along his shoulders to the bone in order to insert some strange metal screws attached to which were long chains.
The pain was excruciating, but not more so than the pain he'd felt from seeing Charlene
in her death throes again, and soon, he escaped into blackness a few times only to hear Barett's voice each time he awoke. "Make them stop, Adrian! Please!" When he finally found the strength to open his eyes, he saw that Barret had suffered a similar agony. Now the black chains were firmly in place on both of them, and the Devil's will was their own.
But what was he to do? He was helpless.
Yet the worst was to come; for he heard the most horrible sound yet. It was the sound of locomotive, high winds, and a tornado all wrapped up in one. It was the sound of the Devil's voice, and of his cloven hooves pounding the marble hall outside the bedroom.
The door was thrown back, and he entered. "Don't look at him, Barret. Please, don't look at him! He draws strength from your fear!" Adrian wasn't sure how he knew this,
probably read it in a years ago.
The Devil found their exchange terribly amusing. "Don't look at me! Don't look at me? How dare you presume to know me. But I suspect you do know me, and know me well. I'm everything that has ever been dark in your life. I'm the pain you're feeling now. Oh, yes, I believe you know me well, indeed!"
"What do you want from us?" Adrian screamed.
"Too bad you're all out of candy. And to
think that I'd come here tonight to trick-or-treat. You gave me no treat,
Adrian, so I have no choice but to give you a trick!"
"Get out! Get out of here, and leave us alone!" Adrian yelled, but the beast just laughed in his sinister way, and the two were hauled downstairs via the bloody metal hooks that were attached to their bones, while the Devil personally took the seemingly revived Charlene's hand and led her downstairs.
When the beast saw the pumpkin on the table it threw back its dark head and laughed with wicked delight, holding out one finger and directing the pumpkin to have its fill. "Adrian, I almost forgot to commend you on your work. Excellent. Yes, quite excellent!" Then he turned to the pumpkin, "Come out, come out Mr. Jack. We must find their souls then snatch them away! Come on, Mr. Jack. It's time to play."
The face slowly emerged, reminding Adrian of a bas-relief…then it continued to form and congeal into
something that resembled flesh before it separated from the orange orb with a pop. It moved toward
the image of Charlene first, its razor sharp teeth voraciously nipping at her flesh, her screams of terror piercing the air, followed by Barret's pleas for the Devil to "stop" and for Adrian to "do something." She was in the worst agony imaginable, seeing her beloved daughter tortured.
Adrian had felt the same at first, but reminded himself that this was not his
daughter, but a mere hallucination brought on by "the Devil" who had a bag of
tricks that was larger than Santa's bag of toys.
But more importantly...if there was a Devil....
There had to be a God as well!
For a second, he wondered how he could have forgotten that?
"Barret, ignore it. It's just as illusion. It's not Charlene!"
Barret did as he bade, and the Devil tired of
this game. As a result, Charlene vanished instantly. But the Devil and his
minions were not about to leave them in peace. Adrian knew that. They each had a
knife in hand. They were ready to take up butchery practice again.
Somehow, he knew that they'd keep cutting into their flesh until the pain and
terror had consumed him and Barret fully, body and soul.
Oh why couldn't he have listened to Barret? Why'd he have to answer the door? But it was too late for that now. There was no way out of this.
No way at all!
His shirt was sliced open and a bit of flesh just beneath it. As a result, something fell to the floor. His vision was bleary due to tears and pain, and soon, he fell to the floor on his knees, only to recognize the pamphlet he'd been given by the man in black earlier.
Blood covered much of it, making it difficult to discern…but he saw one line clearly--'command all evil to leave in the name of Jesus Christ!'
The line touched something inside, and he looked the Devil in the eyes with newfound strength.
Seeing the pamphlet on the floor, the Devil gave off a terrified yelp that made the house shake, but Adrian continued. "I command you to leave in the name of Jesus Christ."
There was a horrified scream from the Devil's minions and at once, they all began to fade to gray, then to white, before they vanished.
The Devil was last. "Oh well, I can't win them all, but it's certainly fun to try!" Before he faded, he reached into bowl on the table that contained the very last piece of candy. "I guess it's treat after all,"
he said before he disappeared.
Adrian crawled over to Barret who lie in a pool of blood on the floor, hoping to give her some kind of comfort, but the blood dried before his very eyes, and her wounds healed
instantly as did his. The broken glass and other damage magically disappeared as well--and everything appeared to be back to normal. Just as it had been before the Devil had come calling.
A minute later, Adrian sat on the floor, wondering if it had all just been a hallucination.
He held Barret in his arms and said: "It was all just an illusion…just some horrible illusion! There must have been something in the cider…or in the popcorn…something--I'm not really sure what it was, but I never want it to happen again!"
Barret held on to him tightly. "Please. Let's don't talk about it. Let's don't even think about it. I want to go sit down on the couch and pretend that nothing happened here tonight. It's almost one o'clock, Adrian. We might still catch a good horror movie. Isn't the Hell House on next?"
"After what we just went through, I'd much prefer Lassie!"
Barret said nothing, merely made a futile attempt at a smile and clasped his hand.
Their moment of peace was disrupted when the phone rang. Adrian arose on weak legs to answer it. "Adrian," the caller said in a voice that was strangely soothing, "we just wanted to let you know that you passed the test. A guide will pick you and your wife up shortly."
"What? A guide? I'm sorry, but you must have the wrong number!"
"No, this is the right number!"
"Who is this--?"
But the words died on his tongue. He knew. He'd always known, but hadn't wanted to accept it. The important thing was that they'd made it. Or rather he'd made it. Their souls were safe from the Devil's grip forevermore…but they hadn't survived.
He looked down at the floor to see their bloody and lifeless bodies, and he remembered everything clearly. The gaping hole in their heads was damage that had been inflicted not by the Devil or his minions, at least directly, but by Adrian's own magnum 357.
Something had happened to him. He'd gone crazy after Charlene had died, falling into the worst depression, he'd ever experienced in his life. He'd even thought that Barret was having an affair. He'd come home early one day to see an acquaintance leaving the house, and he'd gotten his gun and he'd killed her. Then he'd killed himself.
Only she hadn't been having an affair. He realized that now, just as he realized how much she truly loved him. She'd even forgiven him that terrible mistake. She'd loved him enough to stay with him here, in a hell of his own making, though she could have moved on.
Since then, they'd been stuck in some kind of limbo until he could prove his faith to Barret…and his faith in God.
Well now, he'd passed the test. Now they'd both move on.
He held Barret's hand as he spoke to the person on the other end of the line. "We'll be waiting on the front porch."