Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Lethe: Shadow and Fire

Lethe: Shadow and Fire


In Flames

It hadn’t taken long to place the runes and sigils about the structure, or to secure the engraved chains on the exits. All in all no more than ten minutes had passed since the couple began their task. With a whispered prayer the embers grew from the runes, sigils illuminated their forms and released their secret fires simultaneously upon all four sides of the building with a fury.

“To purge the world, it must be cleansed in the flames” Xander said, as he often did when the flames were in their infancy, beginning their dance in the pools of his deep gray eyes.

 A few minutes passed before the fire raged out of control. The building burned in a beautiful symphony, crackling, and popping, and singing to the witnesses. Cinders danced and flames laughed in glee as the building was engulfed. Once at the peak of the inferno the screams of its occupants were heard, interrupting the pure pleasure Xander and Melanie now experienced. Melanie would often think of the screams not as interruptions, but as applause to the beauty and perfection of their craft.

The building was a simple two story structure of brick and wood, designed in a traditional American Suburban fashion. Slatted wood shutters lined each of the six windows facing the street. Iron bars were mounted to each window in an effort to create a semblance of security. Its wood-shingled roof was a match to the other homes along the street, except the shutters lining the barred window home were slightly less brown than the others on the neighbor’s buildings.  Age has a beautiful and terrifying way of fading nearly everything it touches. Be they roofing shingles or the humanity of a man. But none of times ravages compared to the Purge demanded by The Voice that called them here; the small whisper that guided Xander and Melanie. The voice of their Flame God.

Xander heard it as a boy, in the flames while sitting around a campfire with other lads his age. Ghost stories were being shared late into the night. One boy with a mop of red hair and far too many freckles on his face told a of an aunt’s home, haunted by seven ghosts. A story claiming that these ghost’ were in fact a family murdered by Jack the Ripper after he had left London. Another boy swore on his grandfather’s grave that his dog haunted him at night. While a short chubby boy said he could see dead people behind each of them sitting around the campfire. The rotund boy said it so calmly the others felt a great unease settle among them. They began to look about trying to see if there were in fact ghost standing behind them before his round face burst into laughter. Xander didn’t have a ghost story to share, but he did share the story he heard in the flames that night. It was the first time he had seen anyone burned alive by the flame god. The news reported that a young boy was the only survivor of a sudden and horrible forest fire that started in the night and swept through the camp while they all slept. Xander was only eleven at the time the voice had begun to guide him, but he listened and learned of his true calling, The Purge.

               As the couple walked away, they could feel the heat from the building burning the sacrificed souls hot against their backs. They walked two blocks south to their waiting Jeep Wagoneer. Opening the rear hatch Xander placed the extra chains and padlocks they had brought along into the compartment under the flooring. A space he had custom made to discreetly store the tools and items they might need during a purge. With the chains secured and padlocks placed back in their storage container Xander closed the hatch and joined his wife who now sat in the front seat waiting.

               “I think we should head west and leave Nebraska behind.” Melanie said as Xander started the Jeep.

               “We are done here so I don’t see why not. Have you ever seen Yellowstone?” He asked as they pulled out onto a deserted street.

The sounds of emergency vehicles could be heard as the couple drove west out of Haverton. It would be a long drive but the sun was rising and Xander knew of a nice little place in Cheyenne they could rest at before the last leg of the trip. Melanie scooted over on the bench seat closer to him as he put his arm around her shoulder pulling her into his side. The sun was rising over the western horizon chasing away the shadows of the open high plains of the northern Midwest. 

               Melanie heard the Voice’s call much later; she had heard it after meeting Xander and sometimes thought she heard it because of him. It was their third date, she recalled. Xander said he wanted to give her something special. Indeed what he brought her was something quite special. It was quiet at first, just a small thing. Dancing and licking at the sky held so far above this tiny gift. A lighter engraved with their initials. A simple zippo Melanie could flip open and strike, a reminder that he would always be with her to light the way. It was while holding that small zippo lighter between her fingers that she heard the voice.

                “Purge the world, bathe it in flames.” She began to weep as a pure voice of angelic beauty whispered gently that night.

               It was their fourth date when she had told Xander what she heard in the fire. That she felt a call to obey and do her part. It was then Xander knew he found the love of his life. That night, while the apartment building burned they made love for the first time. Several vagrants screamed and beat on the doors held shut by the engraved chains on the doors, placed there by the couple lost in each other’s arms. Chains with script written on each link in tree sap, a binding held firm by their Flame God, ensuring that no sacrifice would escape. A prayer had been said to enact the binding on the chains, an ancient script some believed were penned by the hand of a god and had the power to remain steadfast through the turmoil of the fire.

               Melanie had followed Xander throughout the Midwest purging. Sometimes it was a single offering that was demanded, a person whom the Flame had chosen to consume. Other times the Flame demanded more, much more. Without fail they trekked through towns, the locals only knew that a happy couple had stopped in their little town. A blind eye seemed to be turned when the couple would pass through, and then they quickly faded from memory of anyone who might have made contact with them. “A gift from their god” Xander would say. They would take what was valuable from the chosen sacrifices as they needed it and still the blinding of their god seemed to blanket them wherever they went.


Hell’s Half Acre

The sun hung high overhead as the couple entered Cheyenne, it had been an eventless drive across Interstate 80 crossing nearly the entire state of Nebraska. It was a relief to see the exit just four miles away. Xander had been here a when he was a boy with his family on a vacation they had taken. As the couple turned off onto highway 180 into town Melanie took on her role of navigator, being extra eyes for Xander as they traveled through the new town. They passed stores and chain hotels along the highway running through town, but chose to turn off onto a side road in favor of finding a smaller place to stretch their legs. Off to the right Melanie sees a small sign “Kountry Kitchen” accompanied by an image of a chicken being held up by a cartoon hand.

“Let’s stop here and get a bite to eat and rest a bit.” Melanie said as she pointed to the sign.

Xander nodded and pulled off into the small lot finding a parking space just outside the eatery. The storefront had been there for some time and had the perfect run down home sense about it. Inside the store pictures lined the wood paneled walls, some were yellowed with age while others along another wall were newer. In each of the photo’s families would be appear happy and always with a plate of food. The photos were obviously of this eatery throughout the last several decades. The couple were just sitting down at a booth with a white and red checkered tablecloth when a young blonde waitress approached the with a cheerleader smile.

“Hi ya’ll, what can I get you to drink? We have Pepsi and sweet tea or Lemonade if you like.” said the young waitress while handing them each a menu.

“Do you have regular tea?” Xander asked

“Course we do. What about you ma’am?” she asked looking at Melanie.

“I’ll have lemonade, thanks.” She replied looking up from her menu.

“I’ll give you two just a minute to look over the menu, but if you want some advice I’d go with the chicken lunch special. It’s my favorite.” The blonde teen said as she headed back to the kitchen.

Looking over the menu Xander came across a passage written along the top “Exodus 20:3. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Something stirred inside Xander, a familiar voice whispered “Heretic!” Feeling a sense of jealousy from his God Xander turned the menu over and placed it face down on the table. Loathing false idols himself rage welled up inside his chest; something must be done he thought. Melanie had just finished reading through the menu when the waitress arrived back at their tableside with their drinks.

“Did ya’ll find something on their?” She asked as she placed a tea in front of Xander and the lemonade in front of Melanie.

Melanie smiled up at the happy youth “Can I get the grilled chicken sandwich?”

“Fries or chips with that?” the waitress asked.

“Oh chips are just fine.” Melanie responded handing her menu over.

“What about you?” the blonde teen asked smiling of Xander.

“I’ll have your lunch special.” He said with a quick courteous smile before handing her his menu still face down.

“Alright, I’ll have that right out for you.” She said carrying their menu’s back behind the counter.

Xander leaned over the table a little saying in a whisper. “We need to purge this place.”

Melanie looked up from her lemonade a surprised by his sudden voice. “Why would we do that?”

“These people are heretics. They have biblical scripture on their menu. We can’t stand for that if He is to be brought back.”

 Xander said speaking of his belief that one day, if enough sacrifices were made their fire god would rise again and return the world to its rightful state by bringing about the final purge. Melanie looked up to see the anger and conviction in his eyes.

“No, I’ve not heard the call and we don’t burn places down unless we both hear the call. I love you, but let’s just enjoy lunch; you are just hungry and keyed up from Nebraska is all.” She said casually as she sipped at her lemonade. 

Unhappy and uncomfortable Xander ate his lunch but recoiled slightly when the waitress presented him their bill. Gratefully, Melanie’s hand reached across the table and took the bill from the young blonde. She looked over the bill as she fished out cash to pay tell the young girl to “Keep the change.” Once outside Xander felt the tension between his shoulders start to dissipate, unaware that he had been so tense he rubbed his shoulders and stretched his arms out wide further relieving the strain in his back. Melanie was already walking down the tiny shopping center looking in windows finally settling on a gift shop a few doors day from the restaurant. The next few hours the couple walked through stores and parks, even a museum. It was their before an exhibit of Native American pottery Melanie felt the peace and joy she knew in the early days of following the Flame God. The images of families about a fire, women with children about the huts pulled at a small empty space in her. She had always wanted children and often hoped that one day her and Xander would finish their God’s bidding and be rewarded by settling down and finally have a few children. A daughter, that’s what she wanted first. A daughter to share secrets with, to watch grow and teach her about life love and what it meant to be a follower of the Flame. Hope for such a thing was a dangerous thing. Melanie knew that there would be no place for children among the fires that were still to come. But, one day perhaps there would be.

It was late afternoon before the couple found themselves at a local Chevron pumping gas and buying a few road snacks and several new bottles of water. The sun had started its westward journey and the couple headed north along Interstate 25 towards Casper two and a half hours away.

               “Where do you suppose we’ll end up love?” Melanie asked sitting next to him while rolling her water bottle’s cap between her fingers.

Settling his arm around her soft shoulder and giving it a gentle squeeze, he said, “Well, we will know when we need to.  It’s the Flame’s way. The Flame speaks. We obey.”

Xander loved the feeling of her body next to his, it’s one of the reasons they had chosen to keep Xander’s 76 Jeep Wagoneer with its bench front seat instead of something newer that had bucket seats in the front. Even after nearly twenty years they felt drawn to one another like magnets bound by unseen forces. Melanie rested her head on Xander’s shoulder as they entered Casper, Wyoming. Closing her eyes for just a moment to rest from the long day of travel she drifted off to sleep with the weight and warmth of Xander’s arm around her lithe form. She slept right through Casper and when she woke and opened her weary eyes she saw they were in open country again. Along the side of the road just ahead she saw a sign that read “Sand Creek Massacre Trail” emblazoned upon a brown backdrop that matched the cracked rocky high desert around them. 

                “Where are we?” Melanie asked, sitting up a bit to wipe sleep from her eyes. Feeling a twinge of loss at the weight of his love’s head being lifted from his shoulder, Xander said, “We are near the site of one of Wyoming’s most beautiful locations when seen at dusk.” Yawning, she gave a quick stretch and reached for her water bottle, which was nearly empty. Melanie drank back the contents while looking out into the barren empty spaces that offered a nearly unimpeded view in all directions except for the mountains looming in the distant west.

Xander turned off highway 20 into a small parking area surrounded by decaying wooden fencing. Parking the Jeep next to the remnants of a structure that at one time looked like a gazebo set at the edge of the cliff, offering a view out over the barren land. The gazebo now all but decayed and nearly vanished in the harsh landscape, its crumbling façade now a reminder that some areas are better left forgotten.  Xander put the Wagoneer in park and opened his door, “Come on, you should see this before the sun sets.” Not minding the detour in the least, Melanie followed him out to the fence line which wasn’t much more than a short barrier of wooden beams, aged and falling apart at different joints. The old fence did little to prevent access to the area, but it did give the appearance of order in an otherwise chaotic scene of jagged gashes in the land before them.

Light danced across the high desert crags in a place known as Hell’s Half Acre. A place that now lay bathed in the light of a waning Wyoming sun. Light, like flames, licked at and receded from the coming dark in the canyon as the day gave up dominion to the night. There in the gathering dark, things lurked in shadows and holes, things watching the couple with their four hungry eyes. Standing at the edge of the valley, carved by more than just water and time they felt and saw the beauty of Hell before them. As followers of the flame, they could see the fire dance upon the rocks in this place of death, like a ballet played out on stage. Xander and Melanie had traveled across the country following the call of their God. Tonight they basked in the Flame’s wonder as the canyon of vast gnashing rock danced in the last light of the fiery sun. Shadowy figures moved in the coming darkness, creeping closer to the couple as the light receded.  Eyes pale as ghost watched and waited as the couple stood at the opening to Hell’s Half Acre; a place much larger and deeper than its name, a place hungry and insatiable. Death resided here, hunted here, and hungered for more in this place of fire and shadows. Clicking noises could be heard as sinewy fingers grasped rock and soil inching closer to the couple.

“They are watching us, Xander.  We should go soon; before the sun sets.” Melanie said to the rugged man next to her.

Some might mistake him to be her father, with his beard now starting to gray. Though they were both much older than most might think, Xander had taken on a more fatherly appearance in the last few years. Their God had seen fit to bless them with youth which shown more in Melanie who stood next to her husband as he watched and waited for the sun to recede into the distance.

“They won’t bother us, they are here for another. We have much to do still, and they know it.” He said looking down at the love of his life.

Melanie was only a sixteen when they met some twenty years earlier. She was young and beautiful as she danced around the bonfire. It was then that Xander knew that he would be hers until the day he died. It was in the flames of the bonfire she danced about that he heard the calling again, the mission, and his purpose in life. The Flame had guided him to her and the Flame had guided him since. Melanie retained much of her youth to this day, her dark hair and infectious smile had the power to pull him from the depths of any darkness into which he might fall. The weight of their mission often bore heavy on him, but she was a beacon of light in those dark times guiding him back to the light of their God. Xander felt the dark of the canyon creep closer now; only half a finger’s depth remained of the sun. Xander took Melanie’s small hand in his and pulled her toward their Jeep when the voice came. “Lethe” a single word rung in both their ears and they both knew their next destination.


The pale eyes hidden in the shadows watched as the couple left, their hunger paining them. The lights of the Jeep caused the shadows to recoil from the caverns edge in fear and pain. As the Jeep turned back onto highway 20, the shadows watched and waited.  “Another will come, another will be yours to feed upon. We will deal with those who follow the false one soon” a rasping voice whispered to the creatures. The tail lights of the Jeep had barely faded when a new set of headlights could be seen in the east. The creatures stirred and crested the canyon wall as new prey came closer. They would feed this night, for the night was theirs and it had just begun.


Echo’s in Room 105

               Not needing a map to locate Lethe, Xander drove west knowing that his God would guide him at every turn. He felt evil waiting there, felt the town pulsing like a living thing. He felt the evil made manifest and knew that it wouldn’t be long before they reached the town. It was only an hour after the events in the place of fire and shadow at Hell’s Half Acre when he noticed them out in the open planes. Figures darting between boulders and brush, trying to conceal their presence from the couple in the Jeep that now traveled towards a reckoning.  Xander kept a steady gaze on the road, but watched the creatures’ movements in his peripheral’s not wanting to alarm Melanie. 

               They hadn’t driven far when Melanie first noticed them. The shadows in the shape of humans, moving like wisps of smoke between the trees and crags of stone. Darker than the night, but more visible than darkness should be, the shadows matched the speed of the Jeep. Always keeping their distance and careful to stay within the tree line or between boulders, they followed. Here the shadows would manifest with their glowing, milky-white eyes; watching and following. Xander didn’t seem to notice, or he chose to not mention their pursuers, leaving Melanie to wonder if they should continue on to Lethe. Shaking the thought from her mind, she turned to Xander unable to ignore the shadows any longer. “They are following us.” Without a glance he said “I know.”

To the West loomed the Wind River Mountains like a dark curtain blotting out the moon now resting just behind its highest peak, leaving the night darker to embrace the shadows that followed the couple from Hell’s Half Acre. This was not the first time the couple had been followed by something inhuman. Melanie sat next to Xander leaning closer than normal remembering a time when a burning corpse followed them through three states. It seemed to only be visible when others were unaware of its presence. Choosing to haunt Melanie more so than Xander, it followed and lingered just at the corner of her vision; a reminder of the acts she had taken part in. The torched corpse was a homeless drug addict that she had been harassed by, which Xander then immolated as an offering to the Flame. But something went wrong and he did not die.  Instead he vanished before her eyes leaving her to wonder who, or what it was that she set ablaze? The shadows now following them in the ink of this moonless night seemed no less determined to follow than the burned corpse of the homeless man which she had last seen in Nebraska.  

An hour passed and the shadows seemed to have faded away. Melanie, relieved at the seeming reprieve, sat up.  She stretched her thin arms out in front of her and yawned just as the sign “Lethe: Pop. 4302”, along with some numbers spray painted on, came into view.  Just knowing they were finally in the town of the couple’s next mission caused her road weariness to flood in on her.

Yawning, Melanie stretches again.  “I’m ready for bed babe.  Think we can stop at the next motel?”

               “I don’t see why not, I could use a few hours’ sleep myself”, Xander said as he took the next exit.

               A short curved exit led the couple to a worn-down looking, L-shaped motel. Neon flickered the word “Vacancy” under the motel sign in a fading hope those passing by might stop for a warm bed and shelter from the mountains ahead. Xander pulled the Jeep into the parking lot, a worn and weathered patchwork of faded black top with occasional spots of aged red brick peeking through like a window to the past when the roads were bricked and beautiful. Those days of beauty were long gone for this little motel; replaced by the ravages of time that had left paint peeling. No longer performing its function of weather protecting the paint flecked and fell away.  Aged caulking gave up its grip, exposing gaps in windowsills and door frames. The color of the building may have once been a cheerful baby blue, but had now faded into a drab, nearly colorless, gray that had given up its fight to retain any cheery façade.

Xander parked the Jeep in front of the office, he and Melanie walked into the worn building; inside a room covered in warped dark wood paneling, the seams of which were now all too visible, accompanied by this was the stale smell of mildew and pipe tobacco that lingered thick in the air.

“Maybe we should try another place down the road.” Melanie said in a near whisper.

               “Wouldn’t do you any good” a voice clear and gentle from a room just beyond the registration counter declared. “This here is the only motel left for twenty miles.”

Xander smiled as the man passed through the doorway behind the counter. “I’m sure the rooms here are lovely.” Pulling his wallet from his back pocket, Xander displayed his Kansas driver’s license  and handed it over to the fearsomely tall man whose face showed stubble from several days without a razor’s touch.

While Xander paid for the room, Melanie took in the sight of the proprietor. He must have been seven feet tall.  He was hunched over with age and had his thin gray hair combed over to the side. His mouth hung slightly open revealing yellowed teeth.  Melanie also detected a faint smell of rot emanating from the man. Even an overpowering scent of freshly brewed coffee didn’t do much to cover the smell of decay. The man lumbered when he moved, as if he had been sitting years before she and Xander stepped through his door. His clothes were faded and worn with moth holes in them. The man’s attire reminded Melanie more of a corpse buried long ago than a man who ran the town’s only motel.

“Room 105.” the old hunched-over man with the gentle voice said. “Just go left when you leave here. Don’t go past the property though.  I won’t be responsible for anything that happens back there”

“Sure thing, left to 105 and don’t go past the property. Got it.” Xander said as took the large brass key from the counter.

 Nudging Melanie gently, who was now staring at the tall man, Xander looked at her with a weary expression telling her without words that they should get to their room. Melanie, slightly startled, smiled at the old man and without saying another word.  She turned and headed for the door with Xander close behind.

“Wow, can you believe that guy heard me?” Melanie said as she took the room key from Xander’s hand.

               “He must have hearing aids in or something to have picked up what you said like that.  I barely heard what you said before he was responding.” Xander said as he opened the trunk of the Jeep up and pulled out their suit cases.

Dark clouds blotting out the stars lay overhead heavy with rain, threatening to release their pent up store upon the couple as they walked to their motel room. Melanie inserted the key into the lock of room 105, the old stiff lock took a few jiggles and twists before it gave way with a creaking mechanical noise of an ill used machine in need of oil.  Pushing on the faded sea green door she was met with a musty smell. Not strong enough to make a person wince, but enough that it was unavoidable.  The neon lights from the motel sign shined in through the now open door and large window revealing a small portion of the dark room. Melanie catches sight of an aging oak dresser with a tube TV resting atop it and a corner of a bedspread neatly made up on a mattress. Feeling along the wall with her hand she patted and slid her hand until she found a switch. “Click” a lamp on the far side of the room illuminated the small room. A queen size bed lay covered in a bedspread from a bygone era that matched the shag carpet and tube powered television adorned with its original UHF channel knobs and wire antenna.

“Babe, are we going in?” Xander asked from behind her as he shifted the weight of their bags in his arms. 

            Melanie shook her head and walked in a few steps trying to take in the sight before her. Xander stopped dead in his tracks and stared at the room. Unlike the exterior of the motel, room 105 was clean and well cared for; even if the furniture and TV were outdated.

           “It seems like it could have been really nice at one time.  Look!  There’s a fish tank that’s half the size of the wall.” Melanie exclaimed as she walked over to the tank.  She peered in at the life just beyond the glass. Inside the tank swam dozens of tiny fish.  Excitedly swimming about the large tank was a multi-colored assortment of aquatic life on display, many of which she had never seen before.    

               Xander set two of their travel bags down on the small table just in front of the window. He then placed the third atop the dresser and unzipped it knowing that Melanie would want to put her clothes away, neat and tidy. According to her, “home is where you store your clothes and if you are home, you are safe.”  He always thought it was a silly notion, but her sometimes silly innocence was one of the reason he loved her so fiercely. Xander went back to the Jeep to lock it up when he stopped short to look around, curious as to why the proprietor would give such strict warning about wandering past the buildings. Darkness engulfed most of the area around the parking lot, but toward the far end of the motel he saw the building shimmer and shift, as if morphing shapes of gelatinous ichor were attempting to take form. Quickly rubbing his eyes Xander looked again towards the end of the motel, the shimmering and morphing ichor had vanished leaving the question unanswered as to what lay beyond the building.  Xander blinked a few more times just to be sure that the scene hadn’t changed. Thinking that he was more exhausted than he previously thought he scolded himself for letting his imagination get the better of him. He locked the Jeep then headed back inside to see Melanie neatly folding her clothes and placing them meticulously in the dresser drawers.

                “I’m beat babe, I’m so tired I’m starting to see things. Are you about ready for a few hours’ sleep?” Xander asked.

                “Yeah, What kind of things?” asked as she turned to look at him. A fine mess he was, still dressed in the same shirt from two days earlier. He looked exhausted and it worried her.

“Nothing, just my eyes playing tricks on me I think.” He said as dismissively as he could, not wanting to her to worry. Xander didn’t tell her of the shifting form he saw outside in the darkness whose image now floated in his mind as vivid as it had been outside in the night.

Melanie smiled weakly at him. “I’m just about done here. Go ahead and use the bathroom, I’ll be right behind you.” Melanie said as she folded a shirt and placed it in the second drawer of the dresser.

               Xander made his way to the small restroom to find it tiled in a baby blue and white checked pattern. The bathroom smelled faintly of cleaning agents and bleach. The smell started to fade the longer he stood there, before long he no longer detected the sterile smell. He set his toiletry bag down and started the shower.  Clanging and groaning came muffled through the walls for a few seconds causing him wondered if the pipes had ruptured.  The water came out as a slow dribble at first, then a spurt and a cough, followed by a steady flow of crystal clear water raining into the tub basin below. Pulling the knob above the spigot engaged the shower head which also coughed and groaned. Giving the shower head a questioning look, he undressed and stepped into the shower.  Finding the temperature far hotter than he had expected, he adjusted the valves until the scalding water turned into relaxing warmth and settled into washing while the heat helped him put the moving ichor in the shadows out of his mind.   

               Melanie finished with the last of her clothes placing them in neat tidy piles inside the old oak dresser. Glancing up at the aged TV, she sees a reflection in the screen of a tall dark man just outside the window.  She let out a gasp and turned to see the charred corpse of the homeless man that had vanished when they immolated him. The corpse itself isn’t what kept her attention or caused her the fear now upon her. The shadow of a faceless man behind the burned corpse loomed ominously.  The burned man then moved his lidless gaze from Melanie to the tall boding figure behind him and vanished.  

               Melanie could sense the being outside her window was one to be feared; one to neither be trifled with nor allowed to know you are aware of him and afraid.  She quickly returned her attention to the now empty suitcase atop the dresser. Feeling the gaze from outside window lift she braves a glance at the TV hoping to see the reflection of the tall man gone. The small TV screen reflected only the image of the Jeep in the darkness. Turning from her suitcase Melanie moved to the window, closed and locked it then drew the curtains shut.  She quickly locked the deadbolt and slid the chain into place on the door before she realized she had been holding her breath. Catching her breath she tried to compose herself shaking off the fear she felt crawling across her skin. She took her toiletry bag from the dresser where she had set it next to her suitcase and entered the bathroom where Xander now hummed happily; completely unaware of the events that Melanie had just witnessed. She had seen many things in her time serving The Flame.  Men who were more monster than man writhing in agony as they were purged, buildings burned to the ground, spirits of the recently departed, and even the shadows from Hell’s Half Acre that had followed them through the night. However, none of those things brought with them the sense of dread and fear the tall slender man she had just seen caused.  Even her constant companion of the burned corpse didn’t leave her in fear as much as this creature did. She was certain it was a creature because no human could evoke such fear by simply being present. 

               Xander heard his love walk into the bathroom, he rinsed the shampoo from his hair and face. He stuck his head out, “Wanna join me while the water is still warm?” he asked.

                Still shaken from the events outside the motel window, Melanie said “I think I want an actual bath.  Go ahead and finish up.”

                “Ok, I’m done anyway. Can you hand me a towel?”

               Melanie took a towel from the rack behind her and passed it to Xander. He dried himself, stepped out of the tub, and leaned close to Melanie and kissed her on the cheek as she fussed with things hidden in her toiletry bag.

               Xander finished toweling off and walked naked out to his suitcase.  He was glad to see the curtains had been drawn shut. He hadn’t thought about modesty until he stepped out into the motel room, smiling “She thinks of everything.” He said quietly to himself.  Fumbling through his suitcase he pulled a pair of shorts out and slid into them. He looked at the night stand finding it bereft of a remote for the TV.  The TV had dials and knobs; including the standard thirteen channel dial and the UFH dial.  This was a far cry from the modern technology found in the televisions today.  Xander pulled the power knob on the TV, an old familiar “Thwumb” sound buzzed. Then twisting the dial with a resounding “twick” sound with each channel he changed until finally settling on a news station out of Cheyenne, he lay down on the bed to wait for Melanie to finish her bath.   

               Melanie let the water fill the tub with steaming water before adding a few salts and scents she had brought with her, a gift from Xander from their last anniversary. Once she was settled into the water, the warmth and scents of the salts soothed her worried mind. The sound of the TV from the living room echoed into the bathroom. Wishing she had closed the door completely, she sunk under the water and into silence. The events outside the window still played in her mind.  There under the water images began to plague her; images that were far beyond what she saw outside the window. Drowning, choking, and gasping for air. Images of a woman struggling to break water, to breathe precious air; panic was all that she found.  Pushing herself out of the water and taking a quick breath she gripped the sides of the tub, Melanie now felt more shaken than before. “Something isn’t right with this place” she thought. Melanie stood up and felt the warmth of the water fleeing the length of her naked body being replaced by icy cold air. Shivering, she pulled the drain on the tub then reached for the towel on the rack next to the sink and began to quickly dry herself off. A heavy breath came from just behind Melanie’s left ear along with the scent of dead wood.  She twisted her head to the side quickly, but she saw nothing.  Its tone was that of a man and the scent was now clearly in the air, pressing in close to her as if it were about to kiss her.

               The bitter air still clung to her as she wrapped the towel around herself.  Melanie moved into the main room and found Xander lightly snoring away. Her movements woke him and he made an appreciative moan at the sight of his wife in only a towel. “You look divine, love.” he said, as she was looking back toward the bathroom.  The cold bitter air seemed to be drafting from inside there along with the scent of dead wood.  A quick look back toward Xander with a flicker of a smile she moved to the bed wanting to be near his warmth hoping it was just her imagination that sparked the fear she now felt. Melanie felt better with him awake and near. The memories of the drowning woman and the faceless man seemed to fade when she left the bathroom. Walking over to the dresser she pulled an oversized T-shirt from the second drawer along with panties from the first. She removed the towel and slid into the tee. Melanie was reaching for her panties when Xander’s voice came from behind her

“Why don’t you leave those off and come here.” in a slightly commanding tone.

“I’m really tired baby, maybe after I get some sleep I will make it up to you.” Melanie replied.

Looking shocked at the allegation from her Xander playfully said “I thought nothing of the sort, I merely wanted to cuddle.”

 Finishing dressing, Melanie climbed into bed them curls up tightly next to Xander. Regardless of the disturbing things she had just been through, her exhaustion from traveling for days quickly brought dreamless sleep.


Making Good

               Xander woke a few hours later to the sound of shattering glass and flooding water splashing against his face and exposed arms. Wiping his face he looked toward the large aquarium in the wall. Still intact, the fish swam about, oblivious to the sound that shook Xander awake. Next to him, Melanie stirred, having only heard the sound of someone rustling in the bed.

“What is it?” She asked.

               “Nothing, a dream I guess.” Xander said not wholly convinced what he heard was a dream.

Melanie pushed herself up into a sitting position, leaning against the headboard she stretched causing her T-shirt to rise and expose her stomach which uttered a distinct noise, “Grrrrrrr”.

“I’m starving.” She said “Let’s go find something to eat in town. I think I saw a flyer for a donut shop in the office when that creepy guy was talking to you.”

Brushing off the sounds of breaking glass that Xander could still hear echoing, he smiled at the creature next to him. “Sounds lovely; almost as lovely as you with that amazing bed head you are sporting.” he said with playful sarcasm dripping from the last few words.

A pillow flew into Xander’s face, and before he could get the pillow pulled back from his face Melanie was at the dresser pulling out jeans and a fresh shirt. Admiring her bare legs, Xander watched as she searched through the dresser. Still in love with the lithe form Melanie kept after all these years he got out of bed and moved behind her as she bent over to step into her jeans causing her T-shirt to ride up exposing her panty-clad bottom. Xander put his hands around her waist and pulled her into himself. A bit surprised, Melanie smiled knowing he wanted to make good on the promise she made to him. She decided to play coy and continued to try to pull her jeans on, but Xander would have none of it and he pushed her jeans back down. He used one foot to push the jeans to the ground keeping her feet in place. His hands roamed about her stomach and upper thighs before sliding further up caressing her breasts. Melanie let out a moan as his strong hands explored her.  She had lost her hold on her jeans and now had one hand stretched behind her running her fingers along his scarred side. A scar she remembered all too well was earned protecting her from a group of men looking to have more than just a friendly conversation with her at a bar several years back. She loved his gentle hands on her while the image of that night played in her memory.  He was her lover, her savior.  This strong man was a gentle giant to her.

Xander’s lips were at her neck nipping and ear whispering. Melanie let out a heavy breath as she felt his hardness behind her as his hands cupped her breasts. She moved a hand down to the waist band in his shorts and slid her small fingers towards promised pleasure. As he pressed against the dresser, Melanie felt a hand slide down her back and tug at her panties pulling them to the side. Her hand still inside his shorts, she pulled at them releasing her prize.  As she leaned over the dresser, she felt him begin to move inside her as she moaned.  


Donuts and Dead Things

A short time later, Melanie was holding Xander’s hand as they drove through the brick-lined street of downtown Lethe. Melanie took in the sights of the old buildings which reminded her faintly of a pleasant television show she watched as a child.  Melanie could see that at one time this place had been a place of joy and peace. Families enjoying a quiet life nestled among the mountains in relative safety.  The buildings, now worn with age and decay, were mere ghosts of what they had once been. Falling victim to the ravages of time and poor maintenance the buildings now served as a reminder that times have grown darker, that evil abounded everywhere, even in safe places hidden in the shadows of mountains.

“Would you look at that” Xander said pointing to a turn-about in the middle of an intersection.

Standing proudly in the center of the neatly manicured turnabout was an old water well. Flower of red and blue surrounded it while heavy looking black cast iron benches sat neatly between short curbed flower beds that were laid about on the small circular lawn. The wood shingled roof looked to have just been renovated along with the bright white paint that covered the pillars holding it aloft. A wooden bucket attached to a rope hung from the center bar ready to make it’s decent into the depth. The old well in its pristine condition stood in contrast to the run-down, abandoned stores that sat adjacent to it. Cars were parked on both sides of the street, some in front of businesses that were still open; the majority of the vehicles were parked in front of the stately looking Brison & Son’s Bank. A building that paid homage to Greek architecture of days gone by was adorned with four wide stone columns running the length of the building which rose four stories; a full story taller than those surrounding it. Oddly, images of a great battle between gargoyles and dragons had been carved into wall behind the columns in great detail. Atop each of the columns rested one of the grotesque gargoyles leaning out over the edge of the building, wings outstretched and fangs bared. A sight that brought a chill to the couple as they both gazed upon a building that seemed so out of place in a small town like this.  

               Winter hadn’t yet begun to show its teeth in Lethe. With the warm sun shining, Xander and Melanie had their windows down as they drove through town. As they passed the well the scent of donuts wafted through the cab of the Jeep. Following his nose Xander turned down a side street and a block later the couple found a tiny store with a chalk board sign sitting on the sidewalk advertising Ham and Cheese Croissant’s. Pulling the Jeep into a parking space Xander and Melanie entered the store to find fresh donuts still dripping frosting and glazes behind the glass case, a register sitting to one side of the counter and four tables arranged in the small store front. Each of the tables had only one chair and no table had a chair on the same side as another. Aside from the tables and chairs the store was vacant, neither soul nor sound could be seen or heard. The only sound was a buzzing noise from the down hall. The lighting was minimal, only a small incandescent glowing bulb could be seen down a hallway marked with a sign “Restroom” along with an arrow pointing down the dim hallway. The storefront was lit by a single halogen light flickering on and off.  Melanie and Xander stood by the glass case for a minute waiting to see if anyone would walk out of the back room. Donut fryers could be seen through the open doorway to the back room but no motion or life moved beyond the doors threshold. The store was simply empty.  

               “What the hell, where is everyone?” Xander said agitated as he stretched over the counter trying to look into the back room through the open doorway to the kitchen.

               “We could just leave some money on the counter and get them ourselves.” Melanie suggested. As she spoke the last word Xander was headed behind the counter. “Wait! What are you doing?”

               Xander walked behind the glass case filled with pastries and through the open doorway and into the heart of the pastry shop. Melanie quickly followed him, trying to catch up to his sudden movement but ran into his solid back where he stopped dead in his tracks. Side stepping around Xander she now saw what brought him to a sudden stop. Lying on the floor was the decaying body of an old woman. Gray hair matted and covered in dirt and dust, cobwebs clung to her decaying face and scalp. The body had been forcefully folded in half at the waist and now lay in a grotesquely flattened form. Strangely, cradled between the upper and lower halves of her body lay a frying rack of fresh dough smashed and smeared into her green patterned dress. The body was in late stages of decomposition giving the flesh a gray tone and had sunk in to the bone showing signs of dehydration. Oddly, no smell of death or rot could be detected by either of them. Only the sickly sweet scent of fresh donuts drifted about them, which despite the scene caused Melanie’s stomach to growl with hunger. Walking over to the fryer Xander could feel the heat coming from the pools of fresh cooking oil.

“Someone’s been here and knows about this.” He said looking back towards the broken decaying corpse.

Melanie looked away from the broken body lying at her feet towards Xander who held a hand out high above the oil. “Why would someone keep making donuts if she is lying here dead? It doesn’t make sense.”

“I don’t know, but I’d bet they would be the kind of person who wouldn’t take kindly to strangers discovering this.” Xander said as he pulled his hand back to from the heat and wiping away the perspiration that had started to form on his palm.

“Xander, how is there fresh dough on the rack if she has been like this for a long time?” Melanie asked looking back to the woman in the green patterned dress.

From outside the sound of a vehicle pulling up drew both of their attention away from the fryer.

“Out front, quick.” Melanie said in a harsh whisper. The couple moved silently back through the door to the storefront. Stopping behind the case Melanie bent over at the waist opened the donut case and reached a hand inside. Xander tried to get past her but she moved her hips and kept him behind her as she fumbled through the donut case.  Xander could see a young teenage boy come from around the blue pickup that had just pulled up and was now walking towards the open door to the store. Realizing they didn’t have time to get all the way to the lobby Xander understood what Melanie was attempting to do.

“What the fuck do you think you are doing back there?!” Came the voice of the lanky teen as he came to a stop just inside the door. Melanie stood up with two donuts in her hand asking “Babe did you want the chocolate… Oh hi there darling. Do you work here?” She asked in a southern drawl.

“Yeah, what the fuck do you think you are doing back there?” He asked again taking two steps closer. Xander tensed slightly ready to lunge at the boy if need be to protect Melanie.

“Oh, you see we were starving and no one was here. We waited a good, what five minutes?” She said turning to Xander who stood staring down the boy across the cabinet from them. “Yeah, at least.” He said without taking his eyes off the young man.

“It’s all my fault really.” Melanie said “You see I was simply dying for a donut after I smelled them down at the well on Main Street. I talked my hubby into letting me get a couple donuts for a late breakfast, but when we pulled up no one was here. I thought we would eat here while we waited for someone to pay, and if no one showed up I was going to just leave the money on the counter. I thought five would cover the cost, at least I hope it would cover the cost. So I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you or anything hun.” She said her accent dripping with sweet innocence.

“Did you take anything else? You didn’t go in the back did you? I can’t be held responsible if you get hurt back there you know. That’s breaking and entering.” The young man said as he stood stiffly before them fist clinched.

“Why would we go back there? The donuts are right here in the case.” Xander said calmly.

The teen relaxed a bit then said “Ok, just come out from back there and I’ll get your donuts.”

Melanie held up the chocolate and glazed donut she already had in her hand showing the young man. “I will take both of these.” She said smiling and walked around to a table by the store’s front door. Xander followed keeping his eyes on the young man who was now looking from the couple towards the back room where the body lay folded in half. “Uh, that will be $2.13.” he said trying to compose himself now that he stood behind the counter.

Xander pulled out his wallet and fished a $5.00 out. “I would also like two cups of coffee.” He said dryly still watching the boy’s every move with a predator’s caution.

The young man walked to the end of the counter and picked up the coffee pot and filled two cups with steaming dark liquid and put lids on them. Xander laid the five dollar bill on the counter and as the boy set the coffee down Xander had his hands on them picking them up and turning for the door which Melanie was already walking out towards the Jeep.

The young man left the money on the counter as he came from around the counter towards the stores front to watch the couple climb into their Wagoneer and drive away. He quickly turned around headed for the back room; to his surprise and relief the room remained exactly as he had left it. A wave of relief swept over him as he closed his eyes. When he opened them he was greeted by the warm eyes of his grandmother in her green patterned dress preparing another batch of donuts for the fryer.


A Cemetery Dance

               Xander and Melanie drove away from the donut shop not daring to drink the coffee or taste the donuts they just purchased. The fear of what might be tainting the donuts was enough to cause Melanie to forget her hunger. Heading west away from Main Street the Jeep traveled along the pot hole filled street. A few block away Melanie tossed the donuts out the window feeling slightly guilty for littering but not daring to keep the donuts. Xander likewise tossed out the coffee and looked over to see his wife drenching her hands and wrist in the liquid sanitizer then rubbing them thoroughly enough to make a surgeon proud.

               “You ok?” He asked

               “Yeah, but what the hell is going on there?” She said still rubbing the sanitizer about her hands profusely.

Xander was quiet a moment contemplating what everything he had seen could mean. “I don’t know, but what I do know is that we’re here for a good reason. The town is evil.”  

Melanie finished rubbing her hands with sanitizer attempting to wipe away any trace of the donuts she had touched. “Do you think we should purge the donut shop? I’ve never burned a donut shop before.”

               “I don’t know yet, but I have a feeling we have our work cut out for us here.” Xander said gravely.

They drove further west and paved road gave way to gravel and dirt. A few miles down, the road came to a dead end but turned off into a cemetery. Just past the roads end was a river filled to its banks, threatening to flood over into the surrounding land and wash away the cemetery that lay just a short distance from the river’s edge. Xander pulled the Jeep off the road parking near the cemetery entrance, turning the engine off Xander opened his door and stepped out. Melanie followed him into the open air, a scent of rot and decay was strong and grew worse as they walked towards the brimming river.

               “God’s it stinks. The river must be stirring up all kinds of dead things being this full.” Melanie said as they walked closer.

The sound of rushing water and crashing debris was constant. It reminded her of standing near a hydro dam as a child throwing rocks into the wakes with her friends trying to see if the rocks would float away. Of course they never did, but the river had churned up rock and wood alike, to her amazement were now floating and tumbling in the wakes seemingly weightless. Melanie could see all sorts of things being pushed down stream, tires, trees, and dead animals could all be seen tossed around like toys in a child’s hands. Stopping short of the river the couple turn towards the cemetery which lay guarded by heavy rod iron fence and stone walls covered in vines. Trees grew throughout the cemetery providing shade and privacy for the dead. This would serve as a good place to stop and contemplate what to do about the donut shop with the dead body and all of the strange things they had both seen the night before.

They walked along the stone and iron fence until they reached the entrance. Carved into the stone pillar at the entrance were the words “Rest Haven 1846”. A simple worn road running some distance into the cemetery lay before the couple which they headed down. Walking the worn road that served funeral processions for more than a hundred years Xander felt a familiar pull beckoning him further into the home of the departed. Oddly the walls around the cemetery seemed to block out much of the noise from the rivers rushing torrent. Melanie felt uneasy about such places; the dead deserved their privacy and felt like an outsider entering uninvited into their home. Along each side of the road were graves of all shapes and sizes. Many headstones were old enough to have had their script worn away by time leaving nearly blank stone markers for headstones. Further in, nestled under rows of towering maple trees were several rows mausoleums made of marble, granite and steel. Adorning the crypts were runes and markings that neither of them could read. The images etched and carved into each crypt were clear enough though to ensure that anyone who ventured this close understood the symbols were meant for some real purpose. Melanie thought she could feel a power emanating from the walls, like static building up around her, threatening to shock her at any moment as she drew near to the crypts.  Xander reached out and placed his hand against the iron walls of one crypt that boasted the image of a large flared nosed bull with vicious curved horns above the sealed doorway. Quickly he pulled his hand away as he stared at the walls.

               “It’s vibrating.” He said.

               “What do you mean it’s vibrating?’ Melanie asked as she leaned out to put her hand on it. Xander snatched her hand away before it touched the surface of the crypt and held on to her to keep her from making contact with it.

               “Something’s inside and we shouldn’t disturb it. Do you trust me?” He asked.

“Of course.” Melanie responded surprised and concerned that he still held her by her wrist.

“I don’t think we want to bother this, thing, while it’s sleeping.” He said.

“Thwboom!!” the walls of the crypt shook as Xander and Melanie fell back startled. Seconds ticked away then “Thwboom!” Again the walls shook and the ground quaked knocking Melanie to the ground.

“Run!” Xander said as he helped Melanie up from the ground and pulled her down the path towards the Jeep. “THWABMMMMM!” “THWABMMMM!” Faster the pounding came. The couple ran. “THWABMMMMMM!..... THWABMMMMMM!........ THWABMMMMMM!” The sound of their beating hearts and pounding feet filled the air heard between each crash from inside the iron crypt. Reaching the Jeep Xander starts the engine and shifts into drive. Pushing hard on the gas the Jeep began throwing dirt and gravel behind them in the wake of their flight from the beating sounds of the crypt “THWABMMMMMM!...... THWABMMMMMM!…… THWABMMMMMM!” followed by a screaming screeching noise, like the sound of heavy iron being bent and torn apart.

Looking over at the speedometer Melanie saw the needle accelerating, rapidly approaching its top speed of 85mph. They bounced along the road as the crashing sounds from the crypt faded, unlike their fear they could both now taste like bile in their mouths.

“We should leave; just get our things at the motel and leave.” Melanie said as the cemetery faded into the distance.

“You know we can’t, we are here for a reason. This area is evil, it needs to be purged.” Chancing a glance at her while the Jeep flew down the dirt and gravel road Xander said. “We need to purge the entire town.”

Sitting on the motel bed Melanie could still hear the pounding from the crypt. “This town isn’t right Xander, we shouldn’t be here. I know we’ve always followed the Flame wherever it guided us, but this place isn’t like the others. I don’t think we can purge it, there is simply too much here. I mean we don’t even know what that was in the cemetery, not to mention the eight foot tall man with no face I saw last night outside the window!”

               “What man last night?” Xander said looking up to the curtain covered window. “You didn’t say anything about a man last night.”

               “No, I didn’t want to worry you. I saw the burned ghost

 again then behind him was the man without a face. I just thought I was really tired and after what we saw in Hell’s Half Acre… I don’t know. This place is too much for just us. We can’t do this alone.”

               “If not us, who? We are the only ones who can do this.” Xander let out a sigh “Ok, let’s just drive through town and see if anyone is normal, if they are then we will take a step back and figure out what to do.”

               “A step back? No, we need to leave Xander!” Melanie nearly shouted. “This place is fucked up and you know it. This town feels like a grave, you feel it too I know you do. We can’t just step back, if we stay….”

“If we stay we will beat this, we have made it through everything else right? No one has ever got to you have they?”

“No, they got to you.” She said placing her hand on Xander’s scarred side. “I don’t want this to end us. Whatever broke that woman, whoever that man was and whatever was beating the walls trying to escape that crypt is far beyond what we’ve seen before.”

“You’re right” Xander said. “We haven’t faced this before. But, the Flame won’t give us more than we can handle right? We have followed the Flame without fail and we’ve always come out alive. Let’s just see what’s in town then we can decide. If you still feel this strongly about leaving, we will.”

“You promise?” Melanie said as she wrapped her arms around him pulling him tight against her. She could hear his heart beating in his chest, strong and steady. She knew she would follow him into hell, even if it killed them both. He was her rock, and she needed him.

“I Promise, we drive through and see what the town is like and then decide if we stay or leave.”


Lost In Oblivion

It was well past noon by the time Xander and Melanie were back in the Jeep driving back down Main Street and passing the Well at the turnabout. A few blocks down they could see a building shining in the afternoon sun.  As they approached, they saw the neon sign “Oblivion Cafe” proudly displayed above the stainless steel building that looked as if it belonged in the movie Grease.

               “Feel like a bite to eat?” Xander asked, turning his head slightly towards his dark haired partner.

                “God, yes. I’m starving. But do you think it’s a good idea after what we saw at the donut shop?” she said. 

               “There are people here and they have to eat, some of this place has to have something edible right?” Xander replied with a slight smile trying to reassure Melanie that things would be ok.

As they approached the A slight sadness crept over Melanie’s face as they pulled into a parking spot on the far side of the building.

                “What’s the matter, hun?” Xander asked.

               Smiling and shaking her head gently, Melanie said, “It’s nothing, just reminds me of something.”  It reminded her of a time when she had visited her mother working in a cafe much like this one when a group of men held the cafe hostage for three hours.  The men tormented everyone in the café and fatally shot her mother before finally surrendering to the police. With her mother gone she was left to be raised by her absent father who preferred to spend his time on the road in his truck crisscrossing the country. It was during one of those long absences of her father she met Xander, the man now squeezing her hand. She hadn’t seen him since that day all those years ago, but wondered from time to time if he was still alive and where his road had taken him. Xander pulled her gently towards his side of the Jeep and they headed for the diner’s door. 

               The couple entered the diner sending the chime above the door into a flurry of noise. A couple of customers looked their direction but quickly returned to their meals paying them no mind.

                “Let’s sit in a booth by the window” Melanie suggested wanting a clear view of the town that lay just outside. Xander followed as she took the lead; winding her way through the diner and past a mother and daughter who carried on in hushed whispers.

                Looking about as they waited for someone to take their order, Xander noted the mother and daughter, and the man sitting alone at the chrome wrapped diner bar with his book lying out and open, writing casually with a pen in one hand while drinking coffee from the other.  Just out of sight Xander could hear the sounds of people working in the kitchen. Pots clanging, fires sizzling meats and water running at a furious pace.  He also took notice of the two exits; one through the kitchen and one that served as the diner’s front door.  Xander memorized the layout of the diner, keeping track of tables, chairs, entrance and egress, restrooms, glass cups and ceramic plates. Anything that could be useful in a fight he committed to memory, just in case things here turn out worse than they had in the donut shop earlier.

               Melanie eyed Xander, letting him finish the routine she knows has saved them more than once. As he finished setting things to memory he always took a long pause closing his eyes, reviewing his mental assessment of the room. Melanie quietly waited and when Xander opened his eyes again she looked away from his eye up over his shoulder letting him know that someone was coming.

               A woman in her 50’s came from the kitchen with a smile on her face as she approached the couple, bringing with her the heavy scent of perfume that nearly choked Xander. Looking up at the portly woman he couldn’t help but notice the large inflamed red scar running along the left side of her head. In contrast to her mangled ear and scarred head she was the image of a waitress from the fifties. Yellow cream colored dress with wide white trim along the edges of her sleeves played host to multiple pockets, each filled with items needed to service a diner’s patrons. Having seen many terrible things in his life of purging, the woman’s scarred visage was little more than a minor distraction for him. The woman smiled, stretching her puffy pink scar tissue and said, “What can I get you two to drink?”

                “Iced tea for me.” Xander said. Melanie followed with, “Water and lemon please.”

                “My name is Sandra, and I’ll get those drinks right out while you look over the menu.  I’d suggest the chicken fried steak; it’s my favorite!” The portly woman exclaimed, placing a musical emphasis on the last word as she handed them each a menu then walked towards the chrome wrapped bar shining at brightly as the day it was first installed.

While Melanie scanned the menu, Xander was busy observing the diner. A diner name Oblivion seemed fitting for this town. The purge would happen, but Xander could feel the pull of the Flame telling him this isn’t the place. That the real oblivion would start elsewhere.

                “I think we should drive around town after this. It feels like there is something close by that we need to see.” he said to Melanie, who still had her head buried in the menu attempting to persuade her grumbling stomach to be reasonable.

                Looking up, Melanie only heard part of what her husband had said. “I’m sorry love, what were you saying?”

                “I think we need to drive around; see what’s nearby.”

Shifting slightly in her booth Melanie placed the menu in front of her on the table. “I love you, you know that. I will follow you anywhere, but please listen to me. We should just leave before something happens to us.”

               “I feel it, somewhere north east of here. I will know it when I see it and I promise you will feel the same as me when we find what we are meant to see.”

Melanie didn’t argue, she had come to trust Xander’s sense in these matters. Though her sense of dread and fear did not diminish in the slightest knowing that Xander was determined to push further into the mouth of hell. A hell she promised she would follow him into no matter the consequence.  

The bell chimed above the diner’s door. Being pulled from her reverie she watched as a slightly pudgy man walk in wearing a tweed jacket showing signs of age and over use in the frayed edges of the cuffs and seams. The man paused only briefly before heading for the diner’s bar sliding his round frame between the bar and the stool, his fraying jacket now hung off his back and now partially covered the stool.

               “What are you thinking of getting?” Xander asked looking over the top of his menu towards his wife.

                “I think I’m getting the Caesar salad, I don’t really want anything fried right now.” She said still trying to convince her aching empty stomach to yield its cries for food that might be somehow tainted like the donut shop.

                “Hmm, I thought you were starving?” He said drawing out the word starving in a slight playful mockery of her earlier comment.

                “Maybe I am, and I’m just trying to stay healthy. I might have two salads mister!” Melanie poked back at him.

Sandra came back to their table with their drinks, setting each down then opened her order pad.

               “Ya’ll ready to order?” She asked in her western accent.

               “I’ll have the Caesar Salad with chicken.” Melanie said placing her menu to the side near Sandra and her writing pad.

                “I think I will go with the meatloaf, is it brown gravy that comes on it?” Xander asked, though not caring truly if it was brown, white or ketchup. He could eat just about anything by this point and be happy.

                “Oh it’s our special homemade brown gravy; we make it from scratch every day. You’ll love it, everyone always does.” She said while forcefully carving their order into the pad with her ink pen smiling that painful smile of stretched scar tissue along the side of her face and head.

“I’ll get those orders in and have it right up for you two.” Sandra said as she flipped her order pad shut and stuffed it back into her apron. She then took the menu from the table that Melanie laid down and the one offered to her by Xander who held his out like a pamphlet being passed out during a Sunday morning mass at a local church.

 The diner buzzed with activity, a mother and daughter chatted in a booth while the man in the tweed sat happily looking at the memorabilia on the wall seemingly content. In the kitchen the sounds of a flat iron stove grilling food could be heard. The smells of French fries and milk shakes wafted through the diner leaving each customer wanting more than they had one their plates.

Through the swinging doors of the kitchen came Sandra and her overpowering perfume that somehow even drowned out the smell of the French fries that sat on customer’s plates.

“Here you go, meatloaf for you young man; and a salad for your lovely wife.” Sandra said placing the meals in front of the couple. “Need anything else?” She asked. Xander and Melanie both shook their heads no, picked up their forks and started in on a meal that was just as good as any home cooked meal either had ever had. Neither said another word until their plates were cleaned and napkins were being used to wipe away the excess from their faces.

                Outside a truck rumbled by distracting Melanie from her plate, looking over at Xander who was wiping around his mouth getting the last of the gravy off of him. She laughed a bit at the scene in front of her as Xander wiped everywhere except the spot of gravy that somehow landed on his nose. “Come here.” She said with a bit of a giggle. “What? Did I miss something?” Xander asked returning the napkin to his face continuing to miss the spot of gravy. Melanie leaned across the table with her napkin in hand and wiped off his nose which earned her a sheepish smile from the big man followed by a thank you kiss as he leaned towards her. To their surprise the ticket was on the table without Sandra ever coming back. Xander reached in his pocket and produced a twenty which included a decent tip for their meal. The couple then exited the diner hand in hand like young lovers on a vacation seemingly forgetting the events from earlier for the moment.

               Once back in the Wagoneer they were both struck by the oddity that they had forgotten the booming of the crypts, the shifting ichor outside the motel or the faceless man that stared down Melanie. Something wasn’t right, and they both felt it now. The diner left them lethargic and content to forget the troubles they’ve faced, content to forget why they were drawn to this place to begin with. With a resurgence of fear, Melanie knew then that their quest was not something they could run from. The urgency to find the source of the evil here was now more prevalent than ever. Without a word passed between the couple they knew they were in agreement at last that something powerful was here and it was playing with everyone in the town. The residents may not even be aware of the manipulation that was taking place, just as Xander realized that neither He nor Melanie had any idea when they stopped caring about the evil hiding here while they ate their lunch. Something dark hid in the shadows of this town, something hungry and familiar.



Melanie drove north away from the diner and into the residential area of Lethe, allowing Xander to close his eyes and feel the pull of their god towards the center of power. The Jeep bounced and jostled about the pitted Wyoming road causing Xander to squeeze his eyes shut harder in concentration, listening to the small calling of fire and purity.

                “Turn left here” Xander said without opening his eyes. Melanie turned down a gravel road with old dilapidated houses along one side of the road, along the other side lay overgrown railroad tracks that look to have been abandoned decades earlier. The old iron track lay slightly warped and rusted but still sturdy enough to bare a train should the need arise she thought as she drove in silence waiting for Xander’s next instruction. Further down the gravel road the houses ended as a warehouse complex began. She came to a stop expecting Xander to tell her to turn one direction or another. Instead the man remained silent, quietly listening. Hesitating, Melanie starts to turn the wheel to the left to continue along the road when Xander opens his eyes

 “No, go straight. There is something in these warehouses we are meant to see.”  He said coldly.

               A complex of perhaps a dozen large brick warehouses lay ahead of her and Xander. Signs old and faded now hung loosely from bolts rusting away with age. The old railroad tracks ran to the east of the complex but close enough that some of the warehouses could have easily off loaded materials onto the trains that passed through here. Nature had taken over the old complex; grass stood overgrown in nearly every area. Trees grew where roads once were paved; rusted equipment lay untouched and abandoned. Deteriorating metal components sit on what once were their pallets, now nothing more than splinters and rot. As she drove slowly between the buildings and around the now sprouting trees it looked as if the workers simply stopped one day mid shift and abandoned their jobs never to return. They passed four maybe five buildings before Xander opened his eyes “Stop, this is the place.” Melanie pulled the Jeep to the side of the remaining road and turned off the engine. A feeling of anxious dread started to creep into her again as it had in the motel bathroom the night before. “Steady girl” she thought to herself as she opened the door following Xander to whatever may lie ahead.

               As Xander exited the Jeep he could hear the sounds coming from the river nearby. A strong steady sound of running water could be heard in the distance, interrupted now and again by the sound of something large crashing into a solid object. Having not looked over any map he quickly realized that the river must skirt the western side of Lethe. The sun dipped low to the west hanging just above the ridge of the mountains. Darkness would soon fall leaving them to the mercy of the night.  Xander wanted to use as much daylight as he could to search for the thing that pulled him here, the one thing his Flame god wanted him to see.  

               The door to warehouse seven was collapsed inward, old and splintered the door failed to keep anyone or anything out. Muddy animal prints could be seen atop the fallen door, prints leading both in and trailing out of the building. With a cautious step he entered through the old brick entryway of the building. Inside the space lay wide open, its old iron support beams stood defiant of time holding onto their chains and pulley’s dipping low from their rafters at different points. The floor was covered in dirt from time and lack of care, but was clearly a cement floor with well worn grooves in what must have served as main pathways for some heavy industrial equipment used long ago. Xander turned back to the entrance where Melanie hovered cautiously.

“Come on in, it’s clear.” He said waving her into the building.

               Melanie could feel the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end as she entered the building. The wide open floor and hanging chains gave her a chill that she could not suppress causing her to shiver slightly.

“Hey you ok babe?” Xander asked looking at her with concern.

               “Yeah, but this place isn’t right. It feels like something doesn’t want us here. Do you feel it?”

                “That’s why we came. Something is here and the Flame wants us to see it. I think it will lead us to the source of all this madness.”

                Melanie crossed her arms “Ok, but let’s get out of here before it gets dark. We don’t know what’s out here.” She said as she followed Xander deeper into the abandoned warehouse.


               High above wind weaved its way through the broken windows. Chains clinked and rattled about the couple, though deeper into the warehouse no other sounds could be heard. The rushing torrent of the nearby river was somehow silenced by the building. Even with the front door collapsed leaving it wide open and the broken windows high on the walls the silence held and refused to relinquish its hold. Xander led them deeper into the shadows of the old warehouse through clinking chains and the faint smell of something metallic. Melanie could see an office towards the back of the main section of the warehouse, seated on the second floor with an old iron staircase that spiraled down to the main floor. As she looked away movement from the shadows of the office caught her eye, she reached out a grasping hand for Xander.

Xander walked briskly towards the back of the building, feeling a magnetism that he could not ignore he was compelled deeper into the darkness of warehouse seven. Shadows moved in the darkness around him now, echoing hissing sounds reverberated off the walls around him. The darkness was palpable about him, yet he still pressed on through the mostly empty building. Flashes of steel beams crushing his head against the concrete floor flooded his mind, causing him to move cautiously through the support columns that ran floor to ceiling. Unable to ignore the psychic magnetism pulling him deeper into the bowels of the building Xander pushed forward hoping that he could see enough to make it through the darkness to discover what evil must lie at the heart of this building.  As he pressed on he sensed it, before he could see it. The heart of the building was still beating, calling to him to come closer and know the truth.

Xander came to a doorway where shadows gave way to soft glowing orange light from somewhere inside the room. Cautiously he drew himself close to the wall just to the side of the doorway not knowing what was on the other side of the opening. Pressing himself against the old dusty wall Xander crouched low and peaked around the corner. There in the middle of a room was a smelting pot still glowing from the churning molten metals inside. A soft “thrum, thrum, thrum” sound could be heard steady from the billows feeding the fires below the smelter. Xander could see no one about the room and the light emitted from the molten pot illuminated more than enough to see each of the corners revealing not a single soul in the room except him and Melanie.

‘Oh god’ he thought realizing that she was no longer with him.

“Melanie!” Xander gasped as he felt his feet leave the floor and cold steel wrap tightly encasing him in a cocoon of chains.

Empty, Melanie’s hand found nothing but empty space where Xander should have been. Quickly she looked to where he had been just moments earlier but found only darkness. Looking back at the elevated office she sees a tall thin man dressed in black with a bowler hat standing in the doorway, it stoops low and walks inside the office without the slightest acknowledgement of her. Every nerve in her body flared to life screaming for her to escape this place. “Xander!” she whispered hoping he could hear her. Without any response she moved deeper into the shadows where Xander had seemed curious about. Knowing she wasn’t alone any longer Melanie moved through the shadows as quickly and quietly as she could. Not knowing the layout of the building, fear of running into a low hanging chain or a support beam kept her arms out in front of her. She hoped beyond hope to avoid any undue noise being made by her quick decent into the shadows and escape without the thin man noticing her. Seconds passed without incident then a gasping cry echoed through the empty building “Melanie!” cried the voice of Xander. Fear drove her as much as panic, she ran towards the echoes of Xander’s gasping voice to find a room illuminated by waning daylight, there in the middle of the room sat an old smelting furnace that hadn’t seen use since the building was in full operation decades earlier. Rattling sounds of chains came from above, looking up into darkness Melanie sees something fall and land hard on the floor. A single shoe belonging on a left foot lay motionless before her feet. With horror filled realization that it is one of Xander’s shoes she chokes back a scream. She looks back towards the shadows above to see only darkness and begins to tremble as she cups her mouth with her shaking hands. Without warning a hand presses hard on her shoulder and another encase her hand now covering her own mouth.


               Spinning about Melanie saw the immolated man who released her without struggle, then wordlessly put a badly burned finger to his bloody lips and exposed teeth where fire had burned away the flesh. The gesture asking for her to be silent was easy enough for her to understand, the immolated man then motioned for her to follow him with a charred wave of a burned hand. Despite the horrid burns covering his body the man’s eyes were sharp and clear, full of pleading and fear. When she failed to move he placed a hand on her arm and started to pull. The pressure from his blackened hand left no doubt in Melanie’s mind he meant her no harm, but his eyes belied a great fear he now held. The chard man looked up to the chains above then returns his eyes to meet hers and shakes his head slowly. He slowly turns and walks back towards the exit leading her away from the cold dirty unused smelting furnace without looking back. Understanding the intent in his shaking head Melanie knew then that Xander was lost, and to stay any longer would likely lead her to her own doom. Passing through shadow after shadow Melanie realized soon that her charred escort was no longer with her. She continued on through the warehouse until she saw the open front entrance and broke into a run. Chains rattled and wind hissed like a viper about to strike leaving no doubt in her that the gaze of the tall man in the bowler hat was now upon her as she fled the building in terror. She hadn’t seen the tall thin man in the black suit again, but somehow knew he was watching. She dashed through the broken door as curdling laughter erupted from inside the warehouse, booming its way out of the front door as the shadows moved like liquid filling the doorway to warehouse seven. Swirling and churning like a vortex at sea the shadows formed a barrier blocking all view of the interior from where Melanie just fled. Like a dam bursting the shadowy vapor began to spill into the open fading sunlight like a heavy fog of death.

As Melanie ran for the Jeep she pulled the keys from her pocket. She threw open the door and rammed the key into the ignition praying that the Jeep would start. Holding the key forward the engine turned over once, twice then fired roaring to life. Not waiting for the shadows to fall upon the Jeep she slammed the vehicle into reverse giving the old Jeep as much gas as she could and pulled away from the building just as the fog of shadow nearly met the front of her Jeep. Turning the Jeep around shifting to drive she drove for the exit as quickly as she could, dodging trees and equipment that seemed to have increased in numbers since she first drove in. She slammed on the breaks as she saw it hanging from the sign above the entrance. A lifeless and headless body bound and hung like a cocoon in chains that cut deep into its flesh. Exposed at the bottom of the chains she could see feet. The left foot  lay bare missing a boot to match the one now upon the right foot, a boot that fell near her in the warehouse. Covering her mouth she chocked as tears welled up blurring her vision.

Melanie looked around quickly for another exit but the walls and fencing that encircled the complex seemed immune to the passage of time and not a single gap could be seen. A tap on her window pulled a scream from her frayed nerves. The tall thin man in the bowler hat stood outside her window bending load showing featureless mass of twisting flesh contorted in rage at the window as he pulled back a gloved hand about to strike the glass window. A heavy foot pressed down upon hers and the Jeep lurched forward away from the man in the bowler hat crashing into the chained body cracking the windshield and leaving a trail of blood and bits of flesh over the Jeep. Still screaming Melanie felt a wet warm hand cover her mouth and the smell of burned flesh filled her nostrils. The immolated man held his foot atop hers and his other hand bound her wrist to the steering wheel forcing her to drive away from the warehouse and leaving her love to the ravages of the faceless thin man.

Twilight was fast approaching as Melanie raced along the side roads trying to recall her way to her motel. Not knowing what to do next she wanted to find someplace safe to hide. “Xander would know what to do” she thought as tears began to fall again as she began to sob at the images playing out in her mind of his chained body hanging from the sign over the entrance of the warehouse district. The immolated man no longer sat next to her, a mere phantom that appeared like a savior and vanished without a trace not once, but twice now. Strangely she found herself wishing his specter were still with her.


Darkness had fallen over the Lethe Motel as a dark sinewy figure climbed the glowing neon sign. A round object grasped in one of its four arms, its pale eyes searching for each and every hand hold to reach the top of the sign. The creature stopped suddenly at the glowing letter O and wormed into the center of the letter. Producing a metal spike the dark creature slams it down into the metal creating a spike upon which the shadow creature aimed the round shaped mass over the spike. Gently, the creature places the object onto the spike impaling it, to ensure it would stay in place and not fall off due to any mountain wind that might kick up. Its job completed the pale eyed creature scurried down the sign and back into the woods from where it came.  Xander opened his eyes looking down from where he now sat unable to move or speak to see the parking lot of the Lethe Motel and a clear view of Room 105.


In Fields of Misery

Trees lined the road as Melanie pushed the Jeep frantically away from the warehouse district. The land about her was unfamiliar and hauntingly dark, realizing she must have taken a wrong turn at some point in her flight from the thin man. Stopping the Jeep she sat at an intersection she did not recognize, night was nearly upon her filling the Wyoming lands with shadows both menacing and moving. Not knowing which way to go and with no one to guide her, Melanie put the Jeep in park and wept. Xander was gone and with him her purpose for being here. She never heard the flame like he had, she had no idea how or where to begin purging the monsters of Lethe. They had been sent here by the Flame to complete what needed to be done in furthering His return. Xander had guided her, protected her, but now he was gone; taken by the faceless monster in the warehouse, the same terror inducing monstrous demon that lurked outside her motel room the night before. A motel she now had no idea how to reach in a town she wanted to flee. Tears streamed down her cheeks until she had no more to cry, then the sound of a river could be heard. The town when it was settled here would have been close to the river or right on it. So if she could follow the river she could get back to town and reach the motel she would figure out what to do. She looked about trying to locate any source of light that might indicate where the town might be but found none. Unsure of how far she had driven she reached over to the glove box and turned the knob releasing the hatch. She fished her hand about in the small cubby and found a map she had pilfered from a store in Cheyenne. She pulled the map from its protective pouch and unfolded it. Melanie quickly found what she was looking for; the index of street names was located on the bottom right of the map on the back side of the map. If she could find her intersection she could work her way back to town. This was one skill that she had developed over years riding passenger with Xander and knew she could manage no matter how unnerved she was. Looking out of the passenger window of the Jeep she could see that the old road sign held only one name, Kelner Rd. The other street plate was missing, this would make things difficult for her, but she at least now had a starting point. She turned on the cab light and started searching through the index.

               Outside the Jeep pale eyes watched as first a small light illuminated from below the jeeps passenger side window followed by it being extinguished. Soon after the first light then a brighter light illuminated the woman inside. Pale eyes glowed softly in the night as moonlight reflected the hunger in each of their four eyes. They had run swiftly to keep up with her as she fled, through fields and trees leaping shadow to shadow just as they had done in their pursuit of the couple from Hell’s Half Acre. Master had warned them to not lose sight of her. Their Bowler hat wearing master instructed them to help her return to Lethe as he yet had plans that lay unfinished for her. One small figure scurried across the ground on its six appendages searching the fields near the intersection. Others joined in the frantic quest to find what was now lost. Thirty feet behind the Vehicle they found it lying nearly covered in dirt and mud with two bullet holes in it. It mattered little to the pale eyed creatures; their only care was to return it atop the pole that held another sign like it.

Reaching up to the light Melanie pushed the switch to turn it off submerging herself into darkness again. She had found Kelner Road; it ran along the northern side about five miles outside of town. The only problem was that it ran three counties. Vainly wishing the other street sign was still there she glanced back at the road sign “But how?” She said to herself without realizing she spoke. The sound of her own voice caused her to jump slightly in her seat, steadying herself she looked again out the window to see a sign and could make out most of the name regardless of the holes in the green plate “Razner”. Looking around in all directions she knew the sign hadn’t been there moments earlier, and the same feeling of dread she felt in the warehouse crept into her again. Then she saw them, multiple pale eyes all scurrying about the field just outside the Jeep. Melanie felt her skin crawl with fear and disgust, panicking she shifts the Jeep into gear and drives, hoping to find a safer place to figure out how to return to town.

Another mile or so down the road Melanie stopped the Wagoneer. Hoping to have put some distance between her and whatever the pale eyed creatures were in the brush that made her skin crawl. She quickly turned on the cab light, looked to each of the doors seeing the passenger side unlocked. Not knowing if it made any difference she reached over and forced the lock into place hoping that it added a small pit of protection to her dangerous world. She picked up the map which she had tossed aside in her flight from the intersection of Kelner and Razner. Again she began to search for the intersection along the grid where the index indicated those roads would intersect. It took her no more than a minute to locate the intersection, to her relief she was closer to town than she had thought. If she turned around she could be back in town in ten minutes or so. Though looking at the map it would take her within half a mile of the warehouse and the monster that took Xander.

“Xander” she thought as tears began to well up again, but these tears quickly transformed from agony to tears of rage.

“I’ll Burn it all down” Melanie whispered to herself. “The motel, the diner, the warehouse and donut shop. I will burn you all.”

Then he was there, sitting in her passenger seat. The man she immolated, the burned ghost that had helped her escape from the warehouse.

“You helped me, why would you do that after what I did?” She asked the charred man beside her.

A burned and blistered hand pressed down upon the map lying between them for a brief moment then he lifted it. There upon the map written in blood “A father’s love”. Melanie looked down to see what was written when a wet hand caressed her face. Looking again into the crystal clear eye she saw her father’s eyes. Drawing her hands to her cover her mouth as her lips trembled.

“I didn’t know, I’m sorry, I didn’t know.” She said through sobs of understanding.

Her father looks back to the map and places his charred index finger on Lethe and it begins to burn a hole in the map.

“Yes, we will burn it down. Then I’ll make it right somehow, I’ll find a way to make what we did right daddy.”

A single tear fell from the crystalline eye of her father, who turned his gaze away from Melanie and towards Lethe. Melanie put the Jeep in gear and drove towards Lethe and the motel where she would begin the purge

               The Jeep hurtled down the road back towards the warehouse. Dread and fear plagued her, images of Xander’s chained body hanging flashed in her memory like lightning bolts blinding her from nearly all else. Shaking her head Melanie pushed the Jeep on towards Lethe and the motel with only one rage filled thought “I will burn this town to ashes.”


Best Lain Planes

               Ten minutes later Melanie pulled in front of Room 105 at the motel on the outskirts of town. Thunder rolled from the west, the sounds of storms coming rang out like a war drum as she exited the vehicle. The neon signs flickered and buzzed as she fished the motel room key out of the cup holder in the jeep. Miraculously it hadn’t been lost in the hectic escape from the warehouse. Stepping out of the Jeep she stood for the first time on her own legs since seeing Xander’s hanging body in chains. Her knees felt weak, she steadied herself by holding the door before forcing her body to respond. “Come on, just get in and pack up. It’s what he would want me to do.” Melanie whispered to herself. She recalled a time when Xander had been determined for them both to be prepared for something like this. He had created an escape plan, a route out if something should ever happen while they were working. Melanie found a tiny smile come to one corner of her mouth for the briefest of moments.

“You always found a way to protect me. Even now.” Melanie thought as she opened the motel door.

Room 105 lay in total darkness and shadow, both things she now feared. Feeling along the wall Melanie’s fingers found the light switch and reflexively toggled the switch. Light illuminated the room which she feared held some horror for her but found only the bed she had shared with Xander, the dresser with her clothes still in them and the scent of him in the air. She reached the bed and felt herself sink into it, her hands finding her face as she rubbed her weary eyes.

                “Think Melanie.” She said to herself. “What would Xander do? He’d go after whatever had... had killed me.” Trying to reverse her roll with Xander she found herself at a loss. Not sure what it was she had seen or how to even find it without going back to that place or what to do if she did find it. Die there? Kill it somehow? Quickly realizing that the map in the Jeep would be an invaluable tool in accomplishing the task that lie ahead she returned to the Wagoneer and retrieved the rumpled and slightly burned map. Melanie laid the map out on the bed seeing the town of Lethe before her. There were only two main roads. The one to the warehouses and the highway ramp, then she knew how to keep anyone from escaping. She would bring down the overpass and destroy the ramps trapping everyone inside the town. If she worked quickly she could set enough sigils and runes throughout town to ignite the town at nearly the same moment the highway collapsed. It would take time and work, but time is all she had now.

               Melanie poured over the map locating key structures to ignite to ensure that the maximum damage could be achieved with the least about of work. If she planned it right, she could burn the town down in the matter of minutes. The old magic and the power of the Flame thrummed inside her alive and hungry.  She felt a sudden pain in her abdomen and realized she hadn’t used a restroom in far too long. She moved to the bathroom to relieve herself leaving the bathroom door open in her haste to reach the toilet.

               Outside the motel the storm had started to roll in, lightning now crisscrossed the sky. Illuminating the motel and the round object now staked to the interior of the O in the sign. The head of Xander sat motionless his open eyes reflecting the night sky with each flash of lightning knowing his bride is now unprotected and vulnerable to the faceless man that had cursed him to bear witness to the horrors of Lethe.

               Inside room 105 Melanie sat on the toilet grateful for the relief she now felt. She rubbed her hands over her face and felt the dirt left on her from the warehouse and the dried tears she had cried for Xander. She stood and looked in the mirror as she pulled her pants up to see the image of a ragged shell of who she had been that morning. Melanie reached down turning the faucet on and splashed water onto her face trying to clean herself up a bit. After she wiped the water away from her face with a towel she had grabbed from the rack next to the sink she again looked into the mirror to see hundreds of pale glowing eyes looking back at her. Thunder crashed shaking the motel then the lights went out plunging her into darkness.

Lightning illuminated the parking lot before Xander, he watched as he saw the Tall Thin Man appear in one of the flashes. The smell of ozone filled the air as the shadows about the parking lot coalesced into the sinewy shadow figures with their four pale eyes and four arms and short two legs. Crawling about their master they scurry about looking in windows and cars. There were four other cars in the parking lot now besides the Jeep including an Oldsmobile. With another flash of light and crash of thunder the Thin Man looks into the room next to Melanie’s then moves on to room 105. Terror gripped Xander’s mind knowing he was incapable of doing anything to save her. With open eyes and lulling mouth Xander’s bodiless head watched as the shadow creatures melted to mist and slide like smoke under the doorway to room 105.

Whipping her head about in total darkness Melanie felt her heart start to pound, threatening to beat out of her chest. A shake and a rattle of plastic behind her caused her to turn her head towards the noise while her hands sought blindly for the door. Outside another clap of thunder crashed followed by a flash of light, illuminated in that brief flash was the shape of something standing before Melanie in the bathtub. The shower curtain then shook and rattled then wrapped itself around her pinning her arms to her sides. She felt cold firm sinewy hands roam her wrapped body then lift her. Through the plastic Melanie could see the Pale eyes from the Hell’s Half Acre all about the bathroom. Suddenly Melanie found herself falling back into the tub with a merciless impact to her tightly wrapped body. She heard the sound of the bathtub’s faucet turning on and the rush of water pushing its way through the pipes then a blast of water rushed out of the shower head and into the open top of the shower curtain drenching her face. Shaking her head back and forth in an attempt to gasp for air Melanie could feel the plastic wrapping tighter about her body and neck holding her head in place. Water began to rise around her face “No, please no, not like this.” She whispered as the water reached her lips spilling into her mouth.

               Lightning flashes and the Tall then man could be seen outside Room 106 bent low looking in at a man preparing for bed. This was not the one the Tall man in the bowler hat sought, but this one deserved to join the River. A welcomed distraction while it waited for his pets to deal with the woman in room 105.

               Water rained down upon Melanie, filling the shower liner wrapped about her causing her to choke on what spilled into her mouth. She shook violently trying to move away from the falling water to no avail. She held her breath out of a vain hope that somehow she would survive. Her lungs burned as she thrashed about the bathtub unable to escape. Sparks began to ignite her vision, darkness all about then she breathed in. Water filled her lungs and she choked, spasms shook her as she tried hopelessly to escape. A crash came from the bedroom as darkness took Melanie. Empty space filled her as she felt the waters of Lethe take her down. Then strangely a kiss, soft and slow caressed her lips. Pain then wracked her chest momentarily. Then the soft lips again enclosed hers like a lover. Searing pain again in her chest, when suddenly…. Air. “Breathe lady, just breathe.” came the voice of an angle through the darkness.

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