The stillness of the dark house was interrupted when the pounding started. It awoke Ramon 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.
“3:30,” replied Katrina looking at the red glowing numbers of the alarm clock. “Answer it, see who it is.”
Ramon pulled of the blanket and sat at the edge of his bed rubbing his eyes. The annoying knocking got him up easily. 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 away the curtain that covered the small square window of his front door.
“It’s Frankie,” Ramon told his wife.
“What does he want?” Katrina asked, annoyed. She never cared much for Frankie; always thought he was a strange fellow. However, Ramon and Frankie been friends for years, 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 Ramon, sorry to wake you, man. Can I come in?” Frankie asked.
“Sure Frankie, step inside,” Ramon said. “What’s going on? Everything alright?”
Katrina turned on the living room light but went back into the bedroom down the hall and stood at the threshold to listen to whatever could have possessed Frankie to wake her and her husband in the middle of the night.
“Have a seat,” Ramon offered his friend. Frankie sat down on the sofa, 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?”
“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 a while ago? 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 single thing supernatural, divine or demonic. Katrina was never happy with what her husband 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, Michael Aquino, and other types of magic. When I first got involved, I was told that Satan didn’t exist, that he was a product of Christian mythology. 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.”
“What happened then? A space heater over heat? Leave an iron on?”
Katrina was taken aback then she stepped away from the bedroom threshold to walk down the hall closer to the living room to hear better but made sure she couldn’t be seen.
“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. 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 ugly thing about the size of fiver-year old appeared. I can’t describe the damned thing. It scampered around, knocked the candles over and started the fire.”
“You’re kidding me,” Ramon said mocking him. “Listen, Frank, 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 Frank, I don’t buy it. I just 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 Frankie to their home?
She stepped out into the living room and marched toward her husband. “Hi Katrina,” Frankie said.
Katrina didn’t respond and stood in front her husband.
“We have to talk,” Katrina said gripping Ramon’s arm then dragged him to the bedroom and shut the door.
“Frankie is not sleeping in this house tonight. Not with the things 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 just to get attention.”
“I’m telling you I don’t want him here. If he comes over every now and then to watch your professional wrestling, 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 damn 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.”
Ramon stammered out into the hall and back in 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 it the gift from her, it 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 not a word. Ramon got it bed under the covers, “Hon, Frankie will be gone in the morning. I promise.” He turned off the light and they slept.
Two hours later Katrina and Ramon were once again awakened by noises, this time from the living room. The couple simultaneously sprang from the bed and rushed to the living room. Once the light was turned on, they saw Frankie choking, lying on the sofa with both his hands grasping his throat. He was physically struggling with something that couldn’t be seen,
Just before Ramon ran to him, Frankie violently thrust both arms away from himself and loud ka-thunk was heard on the floor. Something invisible that had weight landed on the carpet. Frankie sat up gasping for air.
“What the hell are you doing, Frank?” Ramon screamed.
Frankie coughed. “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” and marched 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, Frankie? This is too much. I just need to know what’s really going on with you…or 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.”
“Then let’s go.”
“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 Frankie. She’d been listening the whole time. But Ramon, stubborn as he was, wanted to know if seeing was believing.
Ramon put on a jacket and he and Frankie got in Ramon’s jeep and took about an hour’s drive outside of Detroit. 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 Jeep and the two men stepped out.
“How do you know where to stop? You’ve been here before?” Ramon asked.
“No, 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.
“This way,” Frankie said as he stepped off the road through brush and trees. Ramon followed, slightly untrusting of his friend of over twenty years. Surly, Frankie wouldn’t do anything to hurt him. Ramon and Frankie treaded through the thick 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. Ramon wasn’t sure what kind, maybe an oak, but the trunk was wide.
“The tree?” Ramon asked.
“Yeah, go on. Walk up to it.”
“He’s standing behind the tree.”
This had to be a big joke. There was nothing behind that tree but animal crap. Ramon walked toward the tree sure of himself that nothing was behind it but the closer he got the more his heartbeat rose, his temperature too. He began to smell rotten eggs, or more appropriately, sulfur. The tree was maybe just six feet in front of him when Ramon heard a voice, more of a whisper, deep at the same time feminine.
“Stop,” said the voice from behind the large trunk. Ramon did as commanded, unsure if this was really happening.
“What will you give to see my face?”
Ramon paused a moment before he spoke, “What? 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 3:30 a.m.?
Although Ramon could not see fully who stood behind the trunk, he saw something that appeared suddenly from behind it near the ground. Something like a snake. But it wasn’t exactly a snake, it was a long serpent’s tail. Moon light glistened off its many scales as it flipped and turned about. At the end of it was a sharp point, like an arrowhead as shown in traditional drawings.
Ramon, still skeptical, was now sure he wanted to know who stood behind the tree and it was decision time.
“Okay. Me or my firstborn,” Ramon consented to the verbal contract. There was no answer. An obscure figure stepped out from behind the wide trunk and Ramon gazed on its indescribable horror. All went black.
Ramon 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 so 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?” Ramon 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?”
“Yeah. I saw something.”
“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 jeep back to the house. After what Ramon saw, or what he thought he saw, he decided it be better for Frankie 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 and 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 gave the final service. Ramon stood amongst many family members, some of them his, most of them his wife’s. Eleven-year-old, Araceli held on to his hand as her mother Katrina lay in the closed casket soon to be buried with other members of her family buried there already.
“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.
“Right,” Ramon answered reluctantly.
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 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.
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. In the end, the malignant tumor won and now it was just Ramon and Araceli.
In the evening after 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 a 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 open the cardboard envelope. Inside was a smaller white paper envelope.
The return address was in Bourbon Falls, sent by one Samantha Vring. Inside the paper envelope was a handwritten letter with signature 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 put in an appearance.
P.S. I am terribly sorry at the loss of your wife, Katrina. My condolences.
What could have Katrina have left that she didn’t tell him about. Surly Ramon would have remembered if Katrina mentioned a Samantha Vring. Ramon set the letter on the dining room table then sat down on the couch. The Melbourne Mansion, he thought. He’d never heard if it but if it was in Bourbon Falls then perhaps it could be of some importance. The address was on the letter, 2828 Shady Lane.
Was it some kind of bad scam on the day of his wife’s funeral? Ramon decided it was, so he left the letter on the dining room table and went back to the living room to finish watching TV. Ramon could not pay attention to the program, for fifteen minutes he could only think about the odd letter.
Maybe Katrina did leave something to him and Araceli and didn’t tell him about it. Her father was a very well off and successful real estate builder. And even though she and he were not on speaking terms, it is possible that her father left something for 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 his mother-in-law, Teresa, on his cell, although Ramon figured she was no longer his mother-in-law, who lived only six blocks away and was mourning the loss of her daughter. He asked for her to come over to baby sit Araceli. Teresa readily agreed to spend time with her granddaughter, especially in such a trying time. Araceli, peeking out through a cracked bedroom door overheard the phone conversation, walked out of her bedroom and into the living room
“Grandma’s 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 grandma?”
“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 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 grandma. Ramon decided not to mention the letter to Teresa, not just yet until he knew for sure it could be legit. A twenty minutes later Teresa rang the doorbell and Araceli ran out of her bedroom to greet her grandmother. Ramon opened it and Teresa stepped inside.
“Hi Grandma,” Araceli said and hugged her.
“Hi honey,” Teresa said and bent down to kiss Araceli on the cheek.
“Thanks Teresa, 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,” Teresa said, catching him before he closed the door. “Todo esta bien?”
Ramon forced a small smile. “Si. I just need to take drive, get my head together, you know?”
“Sure. I understand.”
Ramon looked over to Araceli on the couch, “Be good.”
Araceli smiled and Ramon took the thirty-minute drive west out to the hoity toity town of Bourbon Falls, sunset would be in a few hours.
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 mansion’s 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 yard, its lawn neatly cut. 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. It was a somber looking three-story home.
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. No one was there
“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 on the floor of the hall from one of the rooms farther down toward the back 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 panel, and an extremely large human-sized crystal chandelier that hung from the ceiling.
“So glad you can make it tonight,” said the striking lady sitting at one end of the oak dining room table wearing a tight black dress. She was beautiful. She had long, black hair, lightly tanned skin, large brown eyes, and a perfect body.
“I’m Samantha Vring, your hostess.” She said.
Ms. Vring stood up and extended her hand out 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.” Ramon 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 and white gloves stepped into the room carrying a silver platter covered by a shiny dome. 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 Opera monster played by Bela Lugosi. Not once did he blink but stared directly ahead like a British royal guard.
Julius walked to the table as Ramon studied his face and realized why Julius’ eyes were wide open, he had no eye lids; they had rotted off. 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 the matted black 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, this time making eye contact. The thing stared 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, he being the guest. As the butler cut the bird with the fork and knife 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 next and then Julius then served 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 then stood against the wood paneled wall next to the doorway, hands at his sides, his head facing Ramon, glaring at him. Ramon looked away and back to 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? Surly you remember, the woods outside Detroit, about a decade ago.”
Samantha stuffed a fork full of Julius tainted duck in her mouth.
Ramon knew exactly what Samantha Vring meant.
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“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 what will be 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 pseudonyms, many guises. He’s more well known in your culture as Lucifer.”
Ramon laughed. “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 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 away from my daughter.” Ramon demanded, looking into Samantha’s alluring eyes.
“It’s too late, we should be at your house shortly,” Samantha said looking at her diamond wristwatch.
Immediately Ramon ran out of the dining room right past Julius and out of the mansion and to his waiting car. Samantha Vring sat back in her chair with a grin and took a sip of wine.
Ramon rushed back home at top speed, running through traffic lights and stop signs, crossing back and forth between street lanes along the way. The drive time was cut in half and made it home in fifteen minutes without a single cop on his tail.
Ramon parked in front of his house and saw the front door wide open. He jumped out of the vehicle, ran up the front steps and into a ransacked living room. Teresa lay on the carpeted floor on her stomach next to the sofa. She was trying get herself off the floor using the couch to prop herself up.
“Teresa!” Ramon said, running to her aid.
“He took her,” Teresa said. “He just left! In the black car! Go after them!”
“Call the police!” Ramon ordered, threw his cell phone on the sofa and ran out onto the porch. The sun began to set as the black Lincoln was the only car driving away from the house on the road, empty fields on either side of it. Ramon quickly jumped into his car in pursuit.
Within minutes Ramon was gaining on the car. The driver of the car could easily see that the dark blue Honda Accord was steadily tailing him. However, he chose not to speed up or out run Ramon.
Soon Ramon was right on the car’s bumper, honking the horn like a mad man. Suddenly from the back seat of the sedan Araceli turned around 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 Araceli’s cries but could see by the movement of her lips, her screaming rather, the word “Daddy!”
“I’m coming, baby,” Ramon said. There was not one vehicle on the long stretch of road behind or in front of them and it was now dark.
Ramon sped up along to the driver’s side of the black sedan. The driver was hunched over, his head and the back of his neck practically touched the ceiling of the car. He was pale white, thin, bald and had to be near 6’ 8”. He wore a black suit and trench coat with the black fedora hat to go with them.
Araceli hopped over to driver’s side of the back seat and put her palms up against the side window.
“Daddy!” Araceli screamed, but again Ramon could not hear her.
The driver of the sedan didn’t turn his head once, keeping his eyes on the road. Ramon honked his horn crazily and rolled down the passenger window from the driver’s door “Pull over!” he shouted.
The tall man rolled down the driver’s window, turned his head to face Ramon for the first time and pointed a black gun out the window at him.
“Shit!” Ramon said and took his foot off the gas pedal to slow the Honda down seconds before the gun blast. The bullet whizzed past the car’s windshield missing. The man in black aimed the gun toward Ramon. Two more shots were fired, both missed because Ramon moved back behind the car. 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 the car swerving to the left skidding in the street 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 car. To avoid a head on collision and risk slamming into Araceli, Ramon jerked the steering wheel to the right and veered off the road.
The Accord continued down a shallow slope fast then Ramon slammed on the breaks right before almost crashing into the trunk of a spruce. He looked out the back windshield; the black sedan stood in the middle of the road, Araceli still crying and pounding on the backdoor window. The driver looked at Ramon in his eyes and made not a single expression.
Ramon put the car in reverse, revved the engine, stepped on the gas and tried to back up the shallow slope. The sedan drove away and out of sight.
Ramon struggled to get the car up the hill backward and onto the road but did so eventually. By then the other car was long gone.
“Son of a bitch!” Ramon screamed, slamming his palms on the steering wheel and chased after the car anyway. After about ten minutes of driving with the car nowhere in sight, Ramon decided to turn back before he ran out of gas and ended up stranded on the highway.
He failed in saving his daughter, his own flesh and blood. All he had was a license plate number to give to the police. He turned around and drove home, hopefully the cops were there and maybe he would learn more. Perhaps there was something that Teresa could tell him. Ramon would tell the cops about Samantha Vring and the letter, there would be a lead.
What else could he do? Where else could he go? Who could possibly have more information on Samantha Vring and that night in the woods?
Ramon rushed to see his old “friend”. He drove east for fifteen minutes and finally parked. He walked up to the porch and knocked on the door of the halfway house that was just at the edge of Ravensgate. It was a two-story wooden house painted yellow, a large tree was to the left and a wide field in back.
Frankie had moved to Ravensgate from Detroit a few years after Ramon. He had previously been put in jail for his involvement in drugs and other street crimes but had kept straight since. He’d been living the halfway house for the past six months and in three more months he’d be a free man. A short chubby man answered the door.
“Hi, can I speak to Frankie Garcia?” Ramon aske
“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. Working taking up all your time?”
“Reg, 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 at the front steps so no one inside could hear. The man who answered the door pulled away the curtains from inside the main window but kept 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 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?”
“I was given a choice, me or my first kid.”
Who was it, Reg? Who did you have waiting behind that 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. 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 individuals; it’s made with human blood that contains adrenochrome.”
“Long story. I’ll explain later.”
“The house is near Harlan Ridge?” Ramon asked.
“Yeah, the only one near there. Big and ugly.”
Obviously Samantha Vring wouldn’t take Araceli to the mansion in Bourbon Falls, Ramon just came from there. The black sedan Ramon encountered on the road was heading for Harlan’s Ridge in fact; it might be smart to check it out. 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. Only moments later Frankie stepped back out with a thick black book with a leather strap and latch on it. It was a leather-bound Bible.
“Here take it,” Frankie said.
“What for? I don’t read that thing,” replied 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.”
Ramon took the large New King James translation and began to open the latch of the leather book cover.
“Don’t do that. Open it in the car away from here. And don’t open it in front of anyone.” Frankie said and went back inside.
Ramon left the halfway house and on the way to Harlan’s Ridge, Ramon put the Bible in his lap. With one hand on the wheel he unlatched the book with the other and opened it. The Bible had been hallowed out and inside was a .38 revolver.
The large two-story wooden house sat among a myriad of dark trees by the wood’s edge. It was painted dark grey but looked black as it sat in front of a large bright moon. Ramon parked his car off road nearby which was almost invisible in the dark and when covered by large brush. Ramon grabbed the gun, got out and crept amongst the bushes and trees, edging toward the clearing in front of the house.
As Ramon got closer, he noticed a light on in a window on the second floor and the front door open revealing nothing but darkness inside. The black sedan was parked in front and the tall, odd-looking driver, still wearing his black trench and fedora, stood behind the trunk. Ramon’s earlier assessment of him was dead on; he had to be at least 6”8’.
The driver had taken something out, closed the trunk and walked up the steps onto the porch. As he entered the house, Ramon’s eyes adjusted and saw that he held something rolled up in carpet in both arms.
“Araceli?” Ramon said under his breath, without realizing it. The man stopped and turned his head in Ramon’s direction. Ramon’s heart rate shot up and silently he ducked down even further toward the ground.
A voice came from within the house through the open door, the speech inaudible, capturing the man’s attention. Ducking beneath the threshold, the man carried the rolled-up carpet into the house and shut the door.
Ramon left his cell phone at his house with Araceli’s grandmother and couldn’t contact anyone. It was up to him. Ramon had to get in there as soon as possible, his only opportunity to get Araceli back, and hopefully alive.
He gripped the snub-nosed pistol with both hands, left the bushes, keeping low and crept up to the black car, hiding behind it. All was clear. Ramon went on to the porch to try the door, it was locked and so were the windows. He scanned the house for another way in. The basement.
Ramon kept low, making 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 huge crash. 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 cloth which turned out to be a blanket, 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 far-right on which sat small boxes. Occupying space throughout the room were many large, five-feet 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 the far-left wall 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 dark 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, not a single light on. 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. On the floor, a large grey opossum with a long thick tail nonchalantly ambled across the floor, unfettered by Ramon’s presence.
The critter looked up a Ramon then disappeared behind a large crate about five-feet tall, like 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 pieces. He searched the entire room, Araceli nowhere present.
Ramon quietly left the room continuing on the first floor of the dusty house, 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 like in the basement. He made his way through the boxes, crates, shelving units. There were dirty empty wine bottles on some of the shelves and wine bottle racks against the far-left of what would be the living room.
Ramon stopped to look inside an opened a 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 picture of a satyr underneath the title.
The sound of footsteps echoed on the second floor: heels. Ramon silently put the bottle back in the box, ducked behind a large crate out of view and gazed up the stairs. Some light up there 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 and following her the weird looking man carrying the rolled-up carpet.
Gripping the gun tightly, 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, creeping in the hall against the wall up to the doorway.
The Samantha and the man walked up to a large oblong object covered in a white sheet which she removed revealing something of an ambulance stretcher. It had four wheels on the bottom and a flat, metallic bed-like surface.
Samantha the gurney to the far end of the room and the man in black followed. She stopped and left the wheeled table next to another large object about six-feet high against the wall covered in a black tarp. She pulled it off revealing a strange-looking machine, dropping the tarp on the floor next to it.
The contraption resembled something out of an old fifties sci-fi or horror movie. Two long, thin yellow hoses were connected to it, like the hoses Ramon saw in the other room. But there was something even more weird about it. Portions of the machine looked biological: wet, slick dark green amphibian skin.
The woman flipped a switch on the side of the device and a red light at the top turned on. The thing began to move, 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, unrolled it revealing an unconscious Araceli.
Surrounded in darkness, arms folded behind his head, Frankie lie in bed staring up at the ceiling. Guilt consumed him. He was responsible for what happened with Ramon and Araceli. He was the one who brought Ramon to the tree in the woods over a decade ago.
Frankie jumped out of bed and peered out the bedroom window onto King Drive from the second floor. He opened his bedroom door looking into the dark hall to see the outline of dim blue light around another door across from his.
Peter was still awake watching TV. Pete was also a “guest” of the half-way house and did the maintenance around the place. Chores and other duties were a part of living there. Frankie walked across 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 pack of cigarettes and twenty dollars. That’s all it took for Pete to go downstairs into the basement, he had the keys. He grabbed a small toolbox and took the keys to open the attic door on the second floor.
Pete unlocked the door to the attic to let Frankie up.
“Here just take the keys so they’re not left behind. If you get caught, you took them. I had no part in this, Frank. None.” Pete said.
“Part in what?” Frankie responded as he took the toolbox and shut attic door.
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 easily lifted the window, put a screwdriver in his back pocket, climbed onto the back roof of the house.
From there he climbed down onto the slanted roof of the back porch. He easily climbed onto one of the white columns and 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 back of the house. Car theft was one of Frankie’s specialties he gave up before going straight. He jammed a 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 got inside. 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 facing 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.”
“You’re sick. 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. Every day you live you go downhill but there is a way to go back up. Imagine if your aging blood was replaced with new young hemoglobin delivering fresh precious oxygen 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 said as he aimed the gun toward Samantha’s head. “Can drinking kids’ blood stop a bullet to your brain?”
Ms. Vring waved a hand in a shooing fashion at the tall man dressed in black who stepped away from Ramon’s daughter. Samantha stepped back in the other direction leaving ample room for Ramon to reach the unconscious Araceli who lie on the steel bed. Ramon walked up to her, gun ready to fire in case Samantha or the man made a move. He lifted her up off the gurney 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 pulled the trigger and the bullet entered the man’s chest. He stopped in his tracks, absorbed the lead and continued forward.
Another shot from Ramon’s gun, this time to the forehead. The man paused again tilting his head backward from the blast. He continued toward Ramon after he refocused. 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.
The tall man clutched Ramon’s throat and squeezed. Ramon shrieked, letting go of Araceli, back on the stretcher.
“Mr. Whittington, make him watch,” Samantha Vring said as she retrieved two tourniquets from a small table next to the strange machine. She tied each one around 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 end of each tube into the vein beneath each bicep. The punctures in Araceli’s arms caused her wake up. She screamed as Samantha held her down, wrapping white tape around her arms holding the tubes in place.
Araceli saw her father being choked. “Daddy!” she cried as Mr. Whittington’s fingers dug deeper into Ramon’s throat. He felt as if his esophagus was going to collapse. Mr. Whittington forced Ramon’s head to turn so that he could look at his daughter.
“No!” Ramon tried to scream in a barely audible gurgle.
Samantha flipped on another switch on the breathing machine and blood began to be drawn from Araceli’s arms and into plastic bags.
“Stop!” Frankie said holding the gun that he gave Ramon earlier.
Squinting her eyes, Ms. Vring looked at Frankie. “Franco, an even greater surprise. The years have not been kind to you.”“Put him down, Whittington!” Frankie ordered, gun pointed at Samantha. Mr. Whittington let go of Ramon’s throat as he fell on the floor coughing and gagging.
“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 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, Franco. You’ve caught us trying to pull a fast one. You’re right. The covenant isn’t binding, and the girl legally belongs to her father. Mr. Delgado, she’s all yours.” Samantha said, stepping away from Araceli.
Mr. Whittington took the opportunity to lunge at Frankie while his attention was on Samantha. 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, unwrapped the tape and took the needles out of her arms. “Honey, come with me, let’s go.
“She’s yours, Ramon,” said Samantha Vring. “But not without cost.”
Mr. Whittington’s body and face changed, distorted, something which cannot be described. A pointed-tipped tail swished back and forth just as it did that night from behind the tree. The thing stared deeply into Araceli’s eyes and gave a large, wide grin. Araceli was transfixed, but only for a second before releasing a loud scream and passing out at the sight of the horror.
Frankie began to get up as the monstrosity then towered above him. With an instantaneous 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 thing.
“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 vehicle.
The police didn’t find anything 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. The tall man must have taken it when he kid-knapped 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. No evidence that even duck was cooked in its kitchen. Police could not find the existence of a 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 since the day that thing gazed into her eyes.
Ramon walked into Araceli’s bedroom. He sat down on the edge of the bed next to his daughter and kissed her forehead.
“Honey, I know you can hear me. I just want you to know I’ve been praying now. I’m praying for you.”
Copyright © Abel Ramirez