Southwest Detroit, Michigan
The stillness of the dark house on West Grand Boulevard was interrupted when the pounding started. It awoke Ramon Delgado from a deep slumber as he lay in bed next to his wife Katrina.
“What the hell,” Ramon moaned.
“Someone’s at the door,” Katrina said groggily.
Bam, Bam, Bam. The pounding continued at the front porch of the Delgado home.
“What time is it?” Ramon asked.
“Three a.m.,” replied Katrina looking at the red glowing numbers of the bedside alarm clock. “Answer it; see who it is.”
Ramon pulled off the blanket and sat at the edge of his bed rubbing his eyes. Dressed in pajama bottoms and a t-shirt, he walked out of the bedroom. Katrina, curious, did the same following her husband out to see who would be knocking at an ungodly hour.
Ramon pulled the curtain that covered the small square window at eye level in his front door.
“It’s Frankie,” Ramon told his wife loudly from the living room.
“What does he want?” Katrina hollered back, annoyed. She never cared much for Frankie; always thought he was a strange fellow. However, Ramon and Frankie been friends since high school, long before Katrina fell in love and married her husband.
Ramon opened the door and Frankie stood there looking distraught, soaking wet from the rain.
“Hey Ray, sorry to wake you, man. Can I come in?” Frankie asked.
“Sure, Frankie, step inside. What’s going on? Everything alright?”
Ramon turned on the living room light then went into the bathroom to get Frankie a dry towel.
“Thanks,” Frankie said as the towel was handed to him.
Katrina stood at the threshold of the bedroom down the hall to listen to whatever could have possessed Frankie to wake her and her husband in the middle of the night.
“Have a seat,” said Ramon.
Frankie sat down on the sofa, rubbing his palms in his eyes as he tried to gain his composure.
“I’m sorry about coming by so late. I really don’t mean to bother you, but I need a place to spend the night.” Frankie said.
“Why what happened?” Ramon asked.
“My house caught fire. The whole back of the house is burnt to a crisp.”
“Did you call the fire department?”
“No, I didn’t, the neighbors did. I had to get out of the house while I had the chance and left my phone inside.”
“How did it catch fire?” Ramon asked. “You fall asleep while smoking? I thought you quit?”
Frankie coughed then paused. It took him a second to choose the words.
“No. That’s not it. You remember that stuff I told you about last year? That stuff I’m into?”
“You mean that occult nonsense?”
“Yeah. Well, it has to do with that.”
Katrina remembered Ramon telling her briefly about Frankie emerging himself into dark occultic practices. It was one of the main reasons she didn’t like him. She was strongly opposed to such things. Ramon, however, was different. As an atheist he didn’t believe in a single thing supernatural, divine or demonic. Katrina was never happy with her husband’s beliefs or lack thereof, but she could put up with atheism any day over Black Magic.
Ramon sat back in his chair ready to hear Frankie’s tale.
“Ok, tell me what happened.”
“As you know I’ve been practicing the dark arts for a while now. I’ve been involved in the teachings of Aleister Crowley and other types of magic. When I first got involved, I was told that Satan didn’t exist, that he was merely a product of Christian mythology to scare people. I was told that the Devil was just a symbol, like how Uncle Sam is a symbol for America or Lady Liberty is a symbol for freedom.”
“Yeah, you told me that.”
“Well… the deeper you become involved in those things, you learn he’s not an imaginary character or a symbol. He’s real and he’s the one in charge.”
Ramon laughed. “So, you’re saying the Devil burnt your house down.”
“Sort of but not quite.”
“What happened then? A space heater overheat? Leave an iron on?”
Katrina was taken aback. She stepped away from the bedroom threshold to get closer to the living room so she could hear while staying out of sight.
“We were doing a ritual in my basement. We painted a pentagram on the floor, set candles all over the place and were doing incantations. Then we called on the ascended masters for one of them to appear. High magic, higher than witchcraft, has to be executed exactly as instructed. If one mistake is made the whole thing can backfire in your face. We did something wrong and this thing, this grotesque thing about the size of five-year old appeared. I can’t describe the damned thing. It scampered around, knocked the candles over and started the fire.”
“Stop joking, Frank. Do you really expect me to believe that?” Ramon said mocking him. “Listen, just be honest; you fell asleep in bed with a lit cigarette again. Don’t blame this on something that doesn’t exist.”
“I’m telling the truth, Ramon.”
“Why would the Devil set your house on fire if you’re supposedly so loyal to him?”
“He’s a tough task master. Make one mistake and you pay for it.”
“Sorry, I don’t buy it. I can’t take your story seriously. But if you like you can spend the night here; you can sleep on the couch.”
Katrina had heard enough. She would not have Frankie sleeping in her house after what she just heard. What if something followed him to their home?
She stepped out into the living room, marched toward her husband, and stopped right in front of him.
“Hey, Katrina,” Frankie said. She didn’t respond.
“We have to talk,” Katrina said, gripping Ramon’s arm dragging him to the bedroom. She shut the door.
“Frankie is not sleeping in this house tonight. Not with what he’s involved in. I will not have him spending the night here.” Katrina demanded.
“Hon, Frankie’s a joker. None of that stuff happened. He’s making it all up just to get attention. It’s nothing to be worried about.”
“I’m telling you I don’t want him here. If he comes over every now and then to watch your mixed martial art competitions, I don’t mind. But he will not be sleeping on our sofa.”
“It’s just for tonight, hon. The guy’s house caught fire for crying out loud. Have some sympathy, why don’t you? Frankie is one of my oldest friends and I won’t have him sleeping in the street tonight. He’s spending the night. Okay? But only for tonight. That’s it. I promise. I’ll have him out first thing in the morning which is only hours away.”
Ramon stumbled back out into the hall and into the living room. He had never raised his voice in such a manner before. Katrina went to the bureau in the bedroom, opened the top drawer and pulled out the rosary her grandmother gave her before she passed away. Katrina wasn’t Catholic but her grandma was and the gift from her was special. She sat on the bed and said a prayer.
Fifteen minutes later Ramon entered the bedroom and shut the door. Katrina was already in bed but said nothing. Ramon climbed in under the covers.
“Hon, Frankie will be gone in the morning. I promise. It’s nothing to worry about.”
He turned off the light and soon they were asleep.
About an hour later, Katrina and Ramon were once again awakened by noises. The couple sprang from the bed and rushed to the living room. Once the light was turned on, they saw Frankie choking, lying on the sofa on his back with both his hands grasping his throat. He was struggling with something that couldn’t be seen. Frankie violently thrust both arms outward which was followed by loud ka-thunk sound, like something had landed on the floor – something invisible. Frankie sat up gasping for air.
“What the hell are you doing, Frank?” Ramon screamed.
“It was choking me. I couldn’t breathe.”
“Ramon!” Katrina said as she gave him a cold glare which declared “get him out of here” before going back to the bedroom.
“What just happened? What…what fell on the floor?”
“You heard it didn’t you?” Frankie asked.
“I heard something. What the hell’s going on?”
“I told you already.”
“You mean the Devil? This is too much. I just need to know what’s really going on with you. Are you on drugs? Maybe you need to spend the night in a motel.”
“I’m telling you, Ray, I’m not lying, and I can prove it. What if you saw him yourself? With your own eyes? Would you believe me then?”
“The Devil? Ha. Yeah. I’d believe you then.”
“Okay. Then let’s go. Let’s visit the Desolate One.”
“Right now? Where?”
“I’ll show you. We need to take a drive though.”
“Out of the city. In the woods.”
Ramon had never been so intrigued in his life. He knew he heard something land on the floor but didn’t see it. He wanted to see Frankie’s “proof”. He went back into the bedroom and Katrina gave him hell about leaving with his friend. She’d been listening the whole time. But Ramon, stubborn as he was, wanted to know if seeing was believing. He always wanted some kind of proof.
Ramon put on a jacket and he and Frankie got in Ramon’s pickup truck and took about an hour’s drive on I-94 outside of Detroit to Macomb County. The night air was cool and crisp as Frankie gave directions until they entered the country area.
Although Ramon never thought he’d feel such tension about what he always knew were fairy tales, he tried his best to appear indifferent and calm in front of his religious friend.
After many twists and turns through dirt roads, Frankie told Ramon to stop the vehicle at the edge of a wooded area.
“This is good, stop right here.”
Ramon parked the pickup and the two men stepped out of it onto the road.
“How do you know where to stop? You’ve been here before?” Ramon asked.
“Yes, but I’m being instructed. In my head.”
“Sure. Okay, where is he, Linus? When will the Great Pumpkin rise out of the pumpkin patch?” Ramon demanded jokingly, referring to the characters in the classic comic strip, Peanuts.
Frankie scanned the forest, looking deep into its trees.
“This way,” he said as he walked off the road into thick brush and trees. Ramon followed, slightly untrusting of his friend of more than fifteen years. Surely Frankie wouldn’t do anything to hurt him. They treaded through the woods only for a few minutes before Frankie put out his hand signaling to stop.
“Right there,” Frankie said, pointing to a large tree about twenty feet ahead of them. Ramon wasn’t sure what kind, maybe an oak, but it was tall and the trunk was wide.
“The tree?” Ramon asked.
“Yeah, go on. Walk up to it.”
“He’s behind the tree. He’s Waiting.”
This had to be a big joke. There was nothing behind that tree but deer crap. Ramon walked toward the tree sure of himself that nothing was behind it but the closer he got the more his heartbeat quickened. He began to smell rotten eggs, or maybe it was sulfur. The tree was maybe six feet in front of him when Ramon heard a voice, more of a whisper. The voice was deep and strong but at the same time feminine.
“Stop,” said the voice from behind the large trunk. Ramon did as commanded, unsure if it was really happening.
“What will you give…to see my face?”
Ramon paused a moment before he spoke.
“What? Give? What do you want?”
“A covenant, an agreement. My face in return for you or your firstborn child.”
“I don’t have any children.”
Ramon stopped to think. Was this really a prank? Could Frankie have planned this? Could some guy have been waiting behind this tree since three a.m.?
Although Ramon could not see who was behind the trunk, he saw something appear suddenly from behind it near the grass. Something like a snake. But it wasn’t exactly a snake, it was a long serpent-like tail. Moonlight glistened off its many scales as it flipped and turned about. At the end of it was a sharp point, an arrowhead as shown in traditional drawings of the Devil.
Ramon, still skeptical, was now sure he wanted to know who was behind the tree and it was decision time.
“Okay. Fine. Me or my firstborn.”
There was no answer. An obscure figure stepped out from behind the wide trunk and Ramon gazed on its indescribable horror. All went black.
When he opened his eyes, all he could see was the dark gray sky and even darker clouds passing by a full yellow moon.
“Get up,” the voice said. Ramon lay on the grass on his back and turned his head to see Frankie squatting down next to him.
“Get up man, you’re fine.”
Ramon rubbed his red, irritated eyes and sat up.
“So, did you see him?” Frankie asked.
“What? I don’t know, I mean, I don’t know what I saw.”
“Well, what did you see?
“I don’t know. It was weird. I just don’t want to think about it.” Ramon said as he stood up. “My eyes, they’re burning.”
“It shouldn’t last long. You saw him, didn’t you?”
“I saw something. I’m not sure.”
“Tell me, what did he look like?”
“I don’t want to talk about it, I don’t want to remember it. I need to go home. I just need to relax.”
Due to Ramon’s stinging eyes, Frankie drove the truck back to the house in Detroit. After what Ramon saw, or what he thought he saw, he decided it be better for his friend to find someplace else to go for the night. Frankie went on his way agreeably.
Once home, Ramon made sure all the lights were off. He didn’t want Katrina to see the redness around his eyes. He slipped into bed and under the blanket in darkness.
“What happened?” Where’s Frankie?” asked Katrina.
“He’s not here. He found another place to spend the night.”
“Did you see anything?”
“Nothing, I didn’t see anything. Go to sleep.”
Katrina turned on the bedroom lamp on her side of the bed.
“You don’t sound so good.”
The brightness caused Ramon to squint.
“The skin around your eyes, it’s red.” Katrina said. “What happened? Tell me.”
“Nothing happened,” Ramon said and fell right to sleep with the light on.
“I don’t believe you,” Katrina whispered and took the rosary from the end table next to the bed and put it around Ramon’s neck,
Ravensgate, Michigan. Twelve Years Later.
The funeral was held in Elderwood Cemetery in the late afternoon on a breezy Monday. Mourners listened, standing around the white coffin trimmed in gold as the pastor performed the service. Ramon stood amongst many family members, some of them his, most of them his wife’s. Eleven-year-old, Araceli held his hand as her mother Katrina lay in the closed casket, soon to be buried in a plot with other members of her family.
“I miss mommy,” Araceli said, a tear sliding down her cheek.
“I miss her too, sweetheart,” Ramon responded.
“Grandma says mommy’s in heaven with God.”
Ramon remained silent.
“We’ll go to heaven too when we die? And be with mommy?” Araceli asked sincerely.
Ramon didn’t say what he really thought; that Katrina no longer existed. When she died that was it: annihilation of all consciousness and being. And when he and Araceli would die, they too would forever be no more, only to be forgotten as time moved on until the ultimate heat death of the universe. He and Araceli would never see Katrina again or each other. And love, no matter how it felt while alive, was merely a group of chemicals reacting in the brain and in the end didn’t matter. But that was a conversation for another day.
Everything was going well for the Delgado family before Katrina was stricken with lung cancer. Until then, the new executive-level job Ramon was able to snag was working out great. Nex-Tech was pulling a good profit, even during the bad economy which allowed Ramon to buy the new house in Ravensgate, Katrina’s hometown, which was about six hours north of Detroit.
When Araceli was born, that just sealed the deal. But the tumor came only a few years after Araceli, and Katrina fought it hard. It went into remission a few times but ultimately came back and spread. In the end, the malignant tumor won and now it was just Ramon and Araceli.
The evening of the funeral, there was nothing to do but mourn in the comfortable surroundings of home. Araceli stayed in the solitude of her room, the door locked. Ramon stayed on the living room couch watching TV, but not really watching it. The doorbell rang, interrupting an old rerun of The Outer Limits. Ramon got up and looked out the living room window to see who it was. It was a delivery man, kind of late, but Ramon answered the door regardless.
The man held in one hand an 8.5 x 11 cardboard envelope and a rectangular electronic device with a pen attached to it by a cord in the other.
“Hello,” the man said, “Delivery for Ramon Delgado. I just need a signature here.”
He handed the device to Ramon and he signed with the electronic pen on a small screen, accepted the envelope, then closed the door. The envelope had been rushed by the sender. As he walked back to the couch, he ripped it open, only to find a smaller white paper envelope. The return address was in Bourbon Falls, a few towns west of Ravensgate, sent by one Samantha Vring. Inside the paper envelope was a handwritten letter signed at the bottom.
Dear Ramon Delgado,
My apologies for the late arrival of this letter. Your presence is requested over dinner at the Melbourne Mansion, concerning certain assets that have been left to you by your late wife, Katrina Delgado. Dinner will be served 8:00 p.m. tonight, sharp, Friday, June, 7th. It is of vital importance that you appear.
P.S. I am terribly sorry at the loss of your wife, Katrina. My condolences.
What could Katrina have left that she didn’t tell him about. Surely Ramon would have remembered if Katrina mentioned a Samantha Vring. And he’d never heard of the Melbourne Mansion, but if it was in Bourbon Falls then perhaps it could be of some importance. The address on the letter was 2828, Shady Lane.
Or was it some kind of bad scam? He left the letter on the dining room table and went back to the living room to finish watching the episode of The Outer Limits about the alien ants with human faces. Except that he couldn’t pay attention to the show; for fifteen minutes he could only think about was the odd letter. Maybe Katrina did leave something to him and Araceli and didn’t tell him about it. After all, her father was a very successful real estate builder. Even though she and he were not on speaking terms, it is possible that he had left something for his granddaughter Araceli.
What the hell, Ramon thought, maybe it’d be a good idea to drive by, take look at this Melbourne Mansion. He didn’t have to go in, but he wanted to see it. He could easily drive right home afterward.
Ramon called Katrina’s mother, Maria, on his cell, and asked if she would babysit Araceli. Maria, who only lived six blocks away, readily agreed to spend time with her granddaughter, especially in such a trying time. Araceli, peeking out through her cracked bedroom door, overheard the phone conversation and walked out of her bedroom and into the living room.
“Abuela is coming over? Where are you going, daddy?”
“I have to go out, for just a little while.”
“Why can’t you just stay home tonight and spend time with me and abuela?”
“I will. I’ll be back, honey. I’m just going out for a minute. I need to pick up some things from the store for dinner this week. I’ll be doing all of the cooking from now on, so I think I need to be ready.”
“But what if you don’t come back?”
Ramon laughed. “Of course I’ll come back.”
“No buts,” Ramon said. “I’ll be back soon.”
And that was the end of it.
Araceli sat on the couch next to her dad and waited for her grandmother. Ramon decided not to mention the letter to Maria until he knew it was legit. Twenty minutes later, Maria rang the doorbell and Araceli ran jumped off the couch to greet her grandmother. Ramon opened the door and Maria stepped inside.
“Hi Abuela,” Araceli said as she hugged her.
“Hi mija,” Maria said, bending down to kiss Araceli on the cheek.
“Thanks Maria, I really appreciate you coming by. I’m just stepping out for a little bit. I’ll be back in an hour or so.”
Araceli ran back to the sofa in front of the TV and Ramon headed out the front door.
“Ramon,” Maria said, catching him before he closed the door. “Todo esta bien?”
Ramon forced a small smile. “Claro que si. I just need to take a drive, get my head together, you know?”
“Sure. I understand.”
Ramon looked over to Araceli on the couch.
Araceli smiled and Ramon took the thirty-minute drive west out to the hoity toity town of Bourbon Falls. Sunset would be coming soon.
The house wasn’t difficult to find. The red brick mansion was indeed luxurious in all aspects and was situated on the small, almost hidden street of Shady Lane. Ramon saw why it was given that name; countless trees aligned the street causing plenty of shadow. It had a more ominous feel then its neighboring streets.
Ramon stopped the car in front of the somber mansion’s black metal gates, still unsure if he was going to drive inside. He looked at his watch: 7:56, right on time. The large front gates opened up, inviting him onto the property.
“Well, they know I’m here,” Ramon said out loud. “What do I have to lose?”
Ramon drove down the long driveway into the large, neatly cut yard. The drive formed a long “u” shape and its bend was at the front of the house. He parked in front of the mansion, stepped out of the car and walked to the front door. Ramon used the brass door knocker to rap on the large white door. The light force from the tap caused the door slowly and silently swing open, revealing the large, beautifully adorned main hall.
“Hello?” Ramon called into the dimly lit house.
“Mr. Delgado… come in, come in,” echoed a feminine voice from someplace in the majestic home.
Ramon stepped in the grand hall, his footsteps echoing, and shut the door behind him. Light poured onto the floor of the hall from one of the rooms toward the rear of the house.
“Down the hall, Mr. Delgado, and make a right into the dining room,” said the woman.
Ramon made his way down the long shadowy hallway and turned right into a large dining area, the wall covered in exquisite wood paneling. A human-sized crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling.
“So glad you can make it tonight,” said the lady sitting at one end of an oak dining room table wearing a tight form-fitting black dress. She was striking with long, black hair, lightly tanned skin, large brown eyes, and a perfect body.
“I’m Samantha Vring, your hostess.”
Ms. Vring stood up and extended her hand toward the chair at the other end of table.
“Please, have a seat. I’m sorry Julius was not able to answer the door. He is attending to duties elsewhere, but he’ll be here soon.”
Ramon forced himself not to stare at her face or her chest.
“I’m here about the letter I received today.” he said as he sat down.
“Of course. We’ll get to that in a moment. Right now, dinner is served.”
A man wearing a black butler’s uniform with two tails hanging from the end of the jacket entered the room carrying a silver platter covered by a shiny dome in his white-gloved hands. He was strange. The skin was a pale blue and deteriorating. The face was gaunt and wide, deep-set eyes were surrounded by dark hallows. He looked something like the old Phantom of the Opera monster played by Lon Chaney. Not once did he blink but stared directly ahead like a British royal guard.
As Julius walked to the table, Ramon studied his face and realized why Julius’ eyes were wide open; he had no eye lids. They had rotted away. When Julius set the platter on the table Ramon saw the gaping hole at the back of his head. Brain matter was visible and dried blood stained his matted brown hair. There’s no damn way he should be walking around with that type of injury, Ramon thought, but said nothing. Instead, he got up to leave.
“Sit down, Mr. Delgado,” Vring said.
Julius turned his head to Ramon instantly, making eye contact and staring right into him, threatening him. Ramon sat down again.
“It’s fine, Julius,” Samantha said.
Julius faced the table and took off the dome of the platter.
“Do you like duck, Mr. Delgado?”
“Sure. Duck would be great.”
Julius served Ramon first. As the butler carved the bird, a piece of decayed flesh fell from his face onto the duck. Julius then placed Ramon’s plate of meat and vegetables in front of him. Samantha was served next and Julius then poured the wine. Samantha took small bites with her knife and fork.
Ramon picked up his fork and moved the food around on his plate but didn’t take a single bite. Julius stepped away from the table and stood against the wood-paneled wall next to the doorway. His hands were at his sides, his head turned toward Ramon, glaring at him. Ramon looked back at Samantha.
“You’re not eating,” Samantha said.
“What’s this all about? What does the letter I received have to do with my wife?” asked Ramon.”
“Nothing. The letter was just to get you here. This is not about your dead wife, Mr. Delgado. It’s about you. You and a deal you made some years ago.”
“How could you forget about the covenant? Surely you remember what happened in the woods outside of Detroit; it was about a decade ago.”
Samantha stuffed a fork full of duck in her mouth.
“I don’t know what you mean,” said Ramon, even though he did. He knew exactly what Samantha Vring meant.
“Don’t play dumb, the tree in the woods, Mr. Delgado. It’s time to collect, a deal’s a deal. So, which will it be?”
“I remember that night, but not all the details. Jog my memory. Which will what be?”
“You or your daughter, Araceli. The agreement, Mr. Delgado, was that you see his face in exchange for your soul or the soul of your first child. In this case your only child.
“Who’s face? I don’t know I saw. It was dark. It could have been anything.”
“Who’s face? It depends on what you call him. He’s worshiped under many names, many guises. He’s more well known in your culture as Lucifer.”
“This is bullshit. I don’t believe any of this. Lucifer doesn’t exist.”
“I don’t care what you believe,” Samantha said sternly. “Ramon, you made a deal. He’d rather have the young virgin girl, but you’ll do. As per the agreement you will decide. Now who will it be? You or your daughter?”
“This is too much,” Ramon said. “I wasted my time coming here. This sick joke is gone too far.”
“Is that a joke?” Samantha Vring said pointing to Julius who still stood against the wall eyeing Ramon. “You saw the back of his head. Make up your mind. Either way the master will have one of you.”
“I choose neither,” Ramon said standing up out of his chair.
“You surprise me, Ramon. I suspected that you’d be the selfless type who would sacrifice your own life for your innocent daughter. But I guess you’re the selfish kind, who doesn’t have the backbone to give of yourself. No matter. Since you’ve tried to back out of your end of the bargain you now give him the right to choose. Guess who it will be?”
“You stay the hell away from my daughter,” demanded Ramon, as he looked into Samantha’s alluring eyes.
“It’s too late. We should be at your house shortly,” Samantha said looking at her diamond wristwatch.
Ramon ran out of the dining room past Julius and out of the mansion to his waiting car. Samantha Vring sat back in her chair with a grin and took a sip of red wine.
Ramon rushed back home at top speed, running through traffic lights and stop signs, weaving in and out of street lanes along the way. The drive time was cut in half, making it home in fifteen minutes without a single cop on his tail.
Ramon parked in front of his house and saw the front door was wide open. He jumped out of the vehicle, ran up the front steps and into a ransacked living room. Maria lay on the carpeted floor on her stomach next to the sofa. She was trying to use the couch to prop herself up.
“Maria!” he said, running to her aid.
“He took her,” Maria said. “He just left! In the black car! Go after them!”
“Call the police!”
Ramon threw his cell phone on the sofa and ran out onto the porch. The sun began to set as the black Lincoln drive away down the road, empty fields on either side. Ramon jumped into his car in pursuit and soon was gaining on the Lincoln. The driver of the car should have easily seen that the dark blue Honda Accord was on his tail, yet he chose not to speed up. Not even as Ramon was right on the car’s bumper, honking the horn like a mad man. From the back seat of the sedan Araceli turned and faced Ramon, her hands pressed against the rear window. Tears streamed down her face and she pounded on the glass. He couldn’t hear her cries but could see the movement of her lips; she was screaming “Daddy!”
“I’m coming, baby,” Ramon yelled.
There was not one other vehicle on the long stretch of road behind or in front of them and it was now dark. Ramon sped up along the driver’s side of the black sedan. The driver was hunched over, his head and the back of his neck practically touching the roof of the car. He was a pale, pasty white, thin, bald. He was freakishly tall. Well over six and a half feet tall, if Ramon had to guess. He wore a black suit and trench coat with a black fedora hat.
Araceli hopped over to driver’s side of the back seat and put her palms up against the side window.
“Daddy!” Araceli screamed again, but Ramon could barely hear her.
The driver of the sedan didn’t turn his head to look at Ramon, keeping his eyes only on the road. Ramon honked his horn crazily as he downed the passenger window from the driver’s side.
“Pull over!” he shouted.
The tall man rolled down the driver’s window, turned his head to face Ramon and pointed a black gun at him.
“Shit!” Ramon said and took his foot off the gas to slow the Honda down seconds before the gun blast. The bullet whizzed past the car’s windshield. The man in black aimed the gun at Ramon. Two more shots were fired, both missing because Ramon had moved back behind the Lincoln. Araceli could be seen in the backseat crying.
Ramon got a good look at the license plate, TJY 628. The plates were from out of state, Virginia.
Without notice, the tail end of the black car swerved away from Ramon to the right, the front end of it swerving to the left and skidded in the road until the whole body of the vehicle became perpendicular to the front end of Ramon’s car. Ramon was headed right into back end of the Lincoln. To avoid a collision and risk slamming into Araceli, Ramon jerked the steering wheel to the right and veered off the road.
The Accord continued fast into a field through high weeds and Ramon slammed on the breaks before almost crashing into the trunk of a spruce tree. He looked out the back windshield; the black sedan was in the middle of the road, Araceli still crying and pounding on the backdoor window. The driver looked at Ramon without expression.
Ramon put the Honda in reverse, revved the engine, stepped on the gas and tried with some trouble to back up the car. The sedan drove away and out of sight.
It was a struggle to get the car through the thick weeds and onto the road but Ramon did so eventually. By then the Lincoln was long gone.
“Son of a bitch!” Ramon screamed, slamming his palms on the steering wheel. He decided to chase the car anyway, but after ten minutes of driving with no sign of the car, Ramon turned back before he ran out of gas and ended up stranded on the highway.
He had failed to save his daughter, his own flesh and blood. All he had was a license plate number to give to the police. He drove home, hoping the cops were there and that he might learn more. Perhaps there was something that Maria could tell him. Ramon would tell the cops about Samantha Vring and the letter, and that would be a lead.
What else could he do? Where else could he go? Who could possibly have more information on what happened that night in the woods?
Ramon rushed to see his old “friend” in Ravensgate. After parking the car, he walked up to the porch and knocked on the door of the halfway house located at the east end of Ravensgate. It was a two-story wooden structure painted yellow, with a large tree to the left and a wide field out back.
Frankie had moved to Ravensgate from Detroit a few years after Ramon. He had done time in jail for his involvement in drugs and other street crime but had kept straight since. He’d been living the halfway house for the past three months; one more month and he’d be a free man.
A short chubby bald man answered the door.
“Hi, can I speak to Frank Garcia?” Ramon asked.
“A friend of his. Ramon.”
“This isn’t visiting hours but hold on a sec,” the man said and closed the door. A few minutes later Frankie opened the door. He was a lot thinner than the last time Ramon saw him a year ago.
“Hey Ramon! What’s been up?” Frankie said with a big smile. “They usually don’t allow visitors this late. Long time no see. Work taking up all your time?”
“Frank, I need to talk to you, it’s important. Walk with me.”
“I can’t. Farthest I go is the porch.”
“Are you on a tether?”
“No. I sign in and out of here when they let me leave. But I’m not allowed to leave the house after curfew. I’m getting my life together and I’m not messing things up. I’ll just stay on the porch.”
Frankie shut the door and the two walked to the edge of porch so no one inside could hear. The man who answered the door pulled away the curtains from inside the main window to keep an eye on Frankie.
“I ain’t going nowhere, Kenny,” Frankie said loudly.
“Araceli’s been kidnapped.” Ramon muttered.
“What? By who?”
“Maybe you can tell me.”
“Me? Why me?”
“Think back, twelve years ago, when your house burned down that night in Detroit and we went into the woods afterward. You took me to that big tree. Remember what happened?”
“Yeah, I remember. What does that have to do with what you’re telling me?”
“That night I was given a choice, me or my first kid. Who was it, Frank? Who did you have waiting behind the tree that night? And don’t tell me the Devil.”
Frankie gathered his thoughts, trying his best to explain.
“That was a place in the woods where we used to do high magic, call on spirits, among other things. Ramon, you wanted to see and I showed you. I regret it now. I was involved in something that I didn’t understand, but I thought I did at the time. The deeper I got into it the more lies I could see. I got out before it got to where I would be stuck forever. But Ramon, I’m telling you, it was who I said it was behind that tree.”
“I can’t believe you buy that bullshit. You just said you saw lies.”
“Yes, lies. But they are mixed with truth. The spirit world is real, Ramon.”
“Who is Samantha Vring?”
“I haven’t heard that name in years. It’s not her real name. No one knows her real name. How did you learn of her?”
“She’s involved in Araceli’s kidnapping. Who is she?”
“Oh shit. She’ not someone you want mess with. She’s very high level in occult circles and a business woman. She owns a big house over near Harlan’s Ridge.”
“What about the Melbourne Mansion in Bourbon Falls. Does she own that house too?
“Never heard of it.”
“What kind of business is she into?”
“Wine, the expensive kind. But some of the wine is specifically made for certain elite individuals. It’s made with human blood that contains adrenochrome, which is produced by adrenaline.”
“Long story. I’ll explain later.”
“Vring’s house is near Harlan Ridge?” Ramon asked.
“Yeah, the only one near there on Dunwich Road. Big and ugly.”
Obviously Samantha Vring wouldn’t take Araceli to the mansion in Bourbon Falls because Ramon just come from there. But the black sedan Ramon encountered on the road was heading for Harlan’s Ridge. Frankie gave Ramon explicit directions on how to find the house near the woods.
“Wish I could go with you but I’m on lockdown,” Frankie said. “Ramon, I’m sorry I came over that night my house caught fire.”
Ramon said nothing.
“Don’t leave just yet, I have to give you something. It’s the least I can do,” Frankie said and quickly ran inside.
Moments later, Frankie stepped back out with a thick leather-bound black Bible that had a leather strap and latch on it. “Here take it.”
“What for? I don’t read that thing,” said Ramon.
“That’s exactly why I have it, because most people don’t read it or bother to open it. But it’s important you take it. Trust me.”
Ramon took the large New King James translation and began to open the latch.
“Don’t do that”, said Frankie. “Open it in the car away from here. And don’t open it in front of anyone.”
Ramon left the halfway house. On the way to Harlan’s Ridge, he put the Bible on the passenger seat next to him. With one hand on the wheel, he unlatched the book with the other and opened it. The Bible had been hallowed out; inside was a loaded .38 revolver.
The large two-story wooden house on Dunwich Road sat among a patch of dark trees by the wood’s edge. It was painted dark blue but looked pitch black as it sat in front of a large bright moon. Ramon parked his car off road nearby which made it almost invisible in the dark when covered by large brush. Ramon grabbed the gun from inside the hollow Bible, got out and crept through the bushes and trees, edging toward the clearing in front of the house.
The tall, thin, odd-looking driver, still wearing his black trench and fedora, stood behind the black Lincoln parked out front. Ramon’s earlier assessment of him was dead on; he had to be at least 6”8’. The driver was holding something he had taken out of the trunk of the Lincoln. He closed the trunk and walked up the steps onto the porch.
Ramon followed. It was dark out by now. There was a light on in a window on the second floor of the house, but the front door was wide open and no light came from within. As Ramon’s eyes adjusted to the dark he saw that what the driver was holding in both arms appeared to be a rolled-up carpet.
“Araceli?” Ramon said under his breath. The man stopped and turned his head in Ramon’s direction, but just then a voice came from inside the house, the speech inaudible, capturing the tall man’s attention. Ramon’s heart rate shot up and silently lowered further toward the ground. Ducking through the doorway, the man carried the rolled-up carpet into the house and shut the door.
Ramon had left his cell phone at his house with Araceli’s grandmother and couldn’t contact the police or anyone else. It was all up to him. He had to get in there as soon as possible; it was his only opportunity to get Araceli back- hopefully alive.
He squeezed the grip of the snub-nosed gun before stepping out from behind the bushes, keeping low as he crept up to the black car, hiding behind it. All was clear. Ramon went on to the porch to try the door, but it was locked and so were the windows. He scanned the house for another way in.
Ramon made it safely to the left side of the house without being seen, as far as he knew. Four basement windows aligned the brick bottom of the house and were covered from inside with some type of dark cloth.
No light at all came from the basement. Ramon looked around and found a rock the size of a tennis ball. He struck the window, just enough to crack it without making a loud noise. With continuous light strikes, the window fell apart piece by piece. After carefully removing sharp shards from the window frame and tossing them aside, Ramon pulled away the black, reached inside the window, unlatched and opened it.
Carefully, silently, he slid through the window into the shadowy basement. Steel shelving units aligned the brick wall on the right on top of which sat small wooden boxes. Scattered throughout the room were many large, five-foot tall wooden crates positioned side by side. What, or who, was inside of them? Ramon took a closer look; they were all nailed shut.
A closed door, the only one in the room was on at the back of the house. Ramon moved toward it as the moonlight outside from the broken window gave him some lucidity in the otherwise pitch-dark room.
Ramon put his ear up to the door. Not a sound on the other side so he slowly opened it. The hinges squeaked. Ramon paused in fear that someone would hear it. All was silent so he opened the door a little more with another squeak leaving just enough space for him to squeeze through.
He stepped into a small, dingy stairwell that led upstairs. Ramon gripped the gun tight, silently making his way up the steps to the first floor. He peeked out from the door at the top into a shadowy cluttered kitchen. He paused and listened to see if he could hear anyone talking or moving. Silence.After walking through the kitchen, he stepped into a hallway. The entire first floor was dark. As he tiptoed toward the front of the house, Ramon heard something in the room on his right as he passed: thump.
Araceli? The man in black? Ramon paused, holding the gun ready to fire at any threat as he opened the door. He looked inside, seeing more boxes and crates in the darkness. Ramon entered but did not search for a light switch in fear of bringing attention to himself. His heartbeat increased with every step. The thump occurred again behind him. Ramon spun around, the gun pointed in front of him. A large grey opossum with a long thick tail nonchalantly ambled across the floor, undaunted by Ramon’s presence.
The critter looked up at Ramon then disappeared behind a large crate similar to the ones in the basement. He stepped up to it; the lid crookedly lay on top, not sealed shut. He removed the loose lid from the top, leaning it against the crate on the floor. Inside were unrecognizable metal pieces and parts that looked like they belonged to machinery, along with thin rubber hoses. Ramon checked other crates and boxes; more metal parts. He searched the entire room, but Araceli was nowhere to be seen.
Ramon quietly left the room continuing on the first floor of the dusty house through what looked like would be the dining room, the barrel of the .38 pointed at the ceiling. The house didn’t look lived in at all. Not much furniture adorned the place, just objects similar to what he saw in the basement. He made his way through more boxes, crates, shelving units. There were dirty empty wine bottles on some of the shelves and wine bottle racks against the left wall of what would be the living room.
Ramon stopped to look inside an open wooden box that sat on a steel table. The inside was separated into twelve square holes with a bottle of wine in each. He reached in and pulled out a bottle. The label read “Cloven Hoof Wine Company” with a drawing of a satyr underneath the title.
The sound of footsteps echoed on the second floor above – it was heels. Ramon silently put the bottle back in the box, ducked behind a large crate out of view and gazed up the stairs. The dim light from above allowed him to see a slender female figure walk by wearing a long black trench coat, the belt tied at the waist. It was Samantha Vring, followed by the weird looking man carrying the rolled-up carpet.
Gun in hand, Ramon silently made his way upstairs, making sure to step on the far side of each stair near the banister in order to prevent creaking. When he reached the top, he paused and saw Vring and her assistant in a room which gave the only light in the house. Ramon kept low, staying close to the wall as he crept toward the open doorway.
Samantha and the man stood in front of a large oblong object covered in a white sheet, which she removed revealing something that resembled an ambulance stretcher. It had four wheels on the bottom and a flat, metallic bed-like surface with white rags on top of it.
Followed by her assistant, Vring rolled the gurney to the far end of the room, then left it next to another large object against the wall that measured roughly six-feet high and was covered in a black tarp. She pulled off the tarp and dropped it on the floor, revealing a strange-looking machine that resembled something out of an old fifties sci-fi or horror movie. Two long and thin yellow hoses were connected to it, like the hoses Ramon had seen in the other room. But there was something even more strange; portions of the machine looked organic, with wet and slick green amphibian skin.
Vring flipped a switch on the side of the device and a red light at the top turned on. The fleshy parts of the machine heaving as if alive and breathing. Samantha grabbed the two thin hoses that were inserted in the face of the machine, which had a needle on the end of each.
The tall man set the carpet on the flat surface of the metallic bed and unrolled it, revealing an unconscious Araceli.
Surrounded by darkness, arms folded behind his head, Frankie lay in bed staring up at the ceiling. Guilt consumed him. He was responsible for what had happened with Araceli. He was the one who brought Ramon to the tree in the woods more than a decade ago.
Finally, Frankie jumped out of bed. He peered out his window onto Dexter Drive from his bedroom on the second floor. All was calm outside. He opened his bedroom door looking down the dark hallway to see the outline of dim blue light around another door at the end. Pete was still awake watching TV. Pete was also a “guest” of the half-way house and did maintenance. Chores and other duties were a part of living there. Frankie walked down the hall and knocked on Pete’s door.
“Yeah?” Peter answered.
“It’s Frankie, open up.”
The door opened. Frankie could see a Bruce Lee flick on Pete’s 20-inch TV. The classic Enter the Dragon.
“What?” Pete asked.
“Help me out, I need a favor.”
“Yeah? What kind?”
“I need to get out for tonight.”
“What? For what?”
“It’s an emergency.”
“Sorry, dude. Can’t help you. I get away with a lot of stuff around here, but I don’t have the keys to the front door or the alarm code.”
“I know. It’s okay. I just need some tools from the basement and to get into the attic.”
Frankie handed Pete a full pack of cigarettes and a twenty-dollar bill. That’s all it took for Pete to go downstairs into the basement. He had the keys. He grabbed a small toolbox then went back upstairs to the second floor and unlocked the attic door to let Frankie up.
“Here, just take the keys so they’re not left behind. If you get caught, you took them while I was asleep. I had no part in this, Frank. None.”
“Part in what?” said Frankie as he took the toolbox and keys, shut the attic door and walked up the steps.
The attic was used for nothing more than storage and Frankie made his way to the window at the back of the attic which was nailed shut. With a hammer he pulled the nails out of the frame as quietly as he could and set the nails on the ledge. He lifted the window, put a screwdriver in his back pocket, then climbed onto the slanted roof of the back porch. From there, he easily climbed onto one of the white columns, slid down to the banister of the porch then jumped onto solid ground.
The car belonging to Kenny Reynolds, one of the staff who worked overnight, was parked in the small area in the back of the house. Car theft was one of Frankie’s specialties he had given up before going straight. He jammed the small flathead screwdriver into the driver’s side door keyhole and turned it hard, breaking the pins and turning the chamber. The door opened and he sat in the driver’s seat. He then stuck the screwdriver into the ignition, popped it out, then turned the brass piece shaped like a triangle, starting the motor.
“Move away from her!” Ramon demanded as he stepped into the room, aiming the gun at Samantha, “Both of you! Now!”
Samantha turned around to face Ramon with a dry smirk.
“Mr. Delgado. I’m surprised to see you. Here to rescue your daughter?”
“I said step away!” Ramon said, extending the gun further.
“Mr. Delgado, you shouldn’t have come here. A deal’s and deal.”
“What is this? The machine you use to drain little kids of their blood to put in your wine?”
“Wine and other things. Transfusions. Life is in the blood, Ramon. Especially the blood of the youth.”
“You’re sick“Every day you breathe you go downhill, each day closer to weakness, disease, old age and death. But there is a way to go back uphill. Imagine if your aging blood was replaced with new young hemoglobin, delivering fresh precious oxygen and other important agents to your body. How much more youthful you would feel? How much longer would you live? Eternal life is not far away, Ramon. Join me in a glass of wine.”
“You people are disgusting. I’m taking my daughter; now move away from her.” Ramon aimed the gun toward Samantha’s head. “Can drinking kids’ blood stop a bullet to your brain?”Ms. Vring waved her hand in a shooing fashion at the tall man dressed in black who then stepped away from Ramon’s daughter. Samantha stepped back in the other direction leaving ample room for Ramon to reach the unconscious Araceli who lay on her back on the steel stretcher. Ramon walked up to her, gun at the ready. He lifted her up off the stretcher the best he could with his free arm.
Samantha gave a nod to the tall man and without a word he nonchalantly walked toward Ramon who was still lifting Araceli. Ramon pointed the gun and shot him in the chest. He stopped briefly, absorbed the lead, then continued forward. Ramon fired another shot, this time to the forehead. The man paused again, his head tilting backward from the blast. He refocused then continued toward Ramon without even blinking. Ramon swung the gun toward Samantha Vring.
“Tell him to get back!” Ramon threatened.
The man grabbed Ramon’s gun hand and squeezed, breaking the small bones in his wrist. The gun fell and Samantha Vring kicked it away across the smooth floor.
“The girl is ours. You agreed to the terms when you entered the covenant,” Samantha said as she turned and glared at the tall man. “Mr. Whittington, make him watch.”
The tall man clutched the back of Ramon’s neck and squeezed with inhuman strength. Ramon shrieked, letting go of Araceli, who fell back onto the stretcher. Mr. Whittington stepped away from the stretcher, taking Ramon with him and making room for Vring as he forced Ramon’s head to turn so that he had no choice but to look at his daughter.
Samantha Vring retrieved two tourniquets from a small table next to the machine. She tied one around each of Araceli’s lower biceps. She then took the two thin tubes that were connected to the machine and approached Araceli. She inserted the needle on the end of each tube into the vein beneath each bicep. The punctures in Araceli’s arms caused her to awaken. She screamed as Samantha held her down, wrapping white tape around her arms holding the tubes in place.
Araceli saw her father as Mr. Whittington’s fingers dug deeper into Ramon’s neck. He felt as if his spine would snap.
“Daddy!” she cried.
“No!” Ramon tried to scream in a barely audible gurgle.
Samantha flipped another switch on the breathing machine and blood began to be drawn from Araceli’s arms and into plastic bags.
“Stop!” Frankie yelled, holding the .38 that he had given Ramon earlier.
Samantha turned and squinted her eyes.
“Frank, an even greater surprise. The years have not been kind to you.”
“Put him down, Whittington!” Frankie ordered, the gun pointed at Samantha. Mr. Whittington let go of Ramon’s neck as he fell to the floor in pain.
“Let her go, Samantha! Now!
“I will not. Delgado entered the deal willingly, agreeing to the terms. The child is ours.”
“The covenant is not binding, Samantha, and you know it. It was performed illegally. Araceli legally belongs to her father.”
“Illegally you say. Care to explain?”
“The deal was that Ramon see the face of the Devil in return for either himself or his firstborn child.”
“Yes, and the master kept his end of the bargain.”
“No, he didn’t. You and I both know that he doesn’t present himself to just anybody. Not even his loyal followers. That only happens on the exclusive celebration for the elite and even that’s not a sure thing. I wasn’t aware of this fact when I asked Ramon if he wanted to see him. We know prideful, swell-headed Lucifer would never appear to a nobody like Ray. So what Ramon saw was something else behind the tree that night but not Satan himself.”
Samantha Vring smirked.
“Well, you’ve figured it out. You’ve caught us trying to pull a fast one. You’re right, Frank. The covenant isn’t binding, and the girl legally belongs to her father. Mr. Delgado, she’s all yours.”
As Samantha stepped away from Araceli, Mr. Whittington lunged at Frankie.
Frankie unloaded four shots on the man that rang throughout the room, but again to no effect. With one swift blow by Mr. Whittington to Frankie’s head, Frankie landed on the hardwood floor.
Araceli screamed and began crying. Ramon got up from the floor, rushed to his daughter, unwrapped the tape and took the needles out of her arms. Blood spilled from her veins onto the stretcher. Ramon took white rags from the stretcher and them around Araceli’s lower biceps to stop the bleeding.
“Honey, come with me, let’s go.”
“She’s yours, Ramon,” said Samantha Vring. “But not without cost.”
Mr. Whittington’s body and face began to change, distorted into something indescribable. A pointed-tipped tail swished back and forth just as it did that night in the woods from behind the tree. The monstrosity stared deeply into Araceli’s eyes and gave a large, wide grin. Araceli was transfixed for a second before releasing a loud scream and passing out.
Frankie began to get up as the creature towered above him. With a slash of its misshapen claw to Frankie’s throat, blood spilled on the floor as Frankie lay there dead.
Ramon picked up Araceli and carried her in both arms as he ran downstairs. Samantha did nothing to stop him, nor did the creature.
“Thank you, Frankie”, Ramon said to himself as he made his way through the dark, grimy house toward the front door. He opened it and headed for his car.
The police found nothing in the old house near Harlan’s Ridge pertaining to Ramon’s story. Frankies’ body was nowhere to be found. The witness testimony of Araceli’s grandmother aided his case, but Samantha Vring’s letter was gone. Ramon figured the tall man must have taken it when he kidknapped Araceli.
It turned out that no one lived in the Melbourne Mansion. It was owned by the bank and had been empty and on the market for quite some time. There was no evidence that any meal had been prepared in its kitchen. Police could not find the existence of any woman named Samantha Vring who owned the Cloven Hoof Wine Company. The investigation is still pending.
Two weeks later, Araceli sat on the edge of her bed, staring blankly out of her bedroom window. The redness around her eyes was finally beginning to heal but she wasn’t. She was safe, back with her father, but she was no longer the vibrant little girl she once was. She hadn’t spoken a word since the day the creature gazed into her eyes.
Ramon sat down on the edge of the bed next to his daughter. He kissed her forehead.
“Honey, I know you can hear me. I just want you to know that I’ve been praying now. And I’m praying for you.”