Authors: Mark Wheaton
Tags: #General Fiction
Phil, however, didn’t hear but every third word. He’d focused on the feeling of a nail being driven through his skin. How many stabs would it take to kill him? Could he get away? Could he play dead? Could he fight him? Should he strip off his backpack to move faster? Should he try to strangle Father Billy? Why was Mark taking this lying down? What the
This was supposed to be their escape. Why did he listen to his jackass best friend? They were going to die and there was absolutely, positively nothing they could do about it but wait.
Phil focused on creating a single image in his mind, that of Faith smiling at him, and knew that he wanted it to be the last thing he ever thought of. He started to focus on it, almost as if he was meditating. His eyes began to close, but neither Father Billy nor Mark seemed to notice.
“And that takes us to this morning,” Father Billy said, finishing up. “If you’d kept walking, you would have found the bodies of Shane, his friends and all the others.”
Mark nodded for awhile, processing the information, but then turned back to Father Billy.
“If I was a priest and I felt God had done that to me, I would respond in the exact same way you have,” Mark said with a sigh. “In the greater scheme of things, I think you’re completely justified in your actions.”
Father Billy nodded gently, smiling over at Mark, his first real smile in quite some time. “Thank you.”
“That said, I don’t know if everyone will understand it in the same way,” Mark continued. “You get blinded by worldliness and think only about your life on Earth, not the more important part that comes after.”
Father Billy grunted. “You’re right. It’s true. Phil?”
Phil’s eyes blinked open and he looked over at the pair with rage. He just shook his head, having heard this last part.
“I guess I understand,” Phil began, his voice shaking with anger. “I just don’t know why Mark’s being so full of shit right now.”
Mark turned to him with surprise, seeing tears in Phil’s eyes.
“What do you mean?” Father Billy asked.
,” Phil replied. “So am I. We don’t believe in any of this shit. He won’t say it, but we both think, you’re just a psychopath.”
Father Billy turned his heavy-lidded gaze to Mark. “Is that true?”
“Well, yeah,” Mark said, taking a deep breath before elucidating. “But God didn’t show me a miracle. I’ve never seen a thing on this Earth that’s made me think there’s any kind of God up there in the sky or, more importantly, anything that happens to us after death. To me, there’s no God. When you drive that nail into me, there’s still no God. If I died seventy years from now instead of today, still no God.”
Mark hesitated for a moment, staring at the ground, but then looked back at Father Billy, who looked surprised at his words.
“That’s why it’s pointless for you to kill us,” Mark added, like an afterthought.
Phil snorted. Father Billy did not, but instead, just eyed Mark, waiting for an explanation.
“God asks one thing of us, right? Faith. I don’t have it, Phil doesn’t have it. You kill us and, if you’re right, we’re going straight to Hell anyway no matter who does the deed. We’re not going to see God or see Heaven, it’s Outer Darkness for us.”
Father Billy got to his feet without a word, extracted two of the nails and walked over to Mark, placing them both at his throat, but the boy didn’t flinch. Father Billy tensed, as if he was about to stab the nails right into Mark’s neck.
to know,” Father Billy said, in a beseeching tone. “I
what I saw. I know what I felt. It was real. It wasn’t in my head. It was in front of my face.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Mark replied. “Like I said, I’d need to know, too. But as I said, it wasn’t my miracle. You telling me does nothing to make it more real.”
Father Billy stared at Mark for a long moment, but then, finally, took away the nails.
“If I don’t kill you, would you see
as a miracle?”
Phil turned and looked at Mark, suddenly wondering if their salvation was a possibility.
“Fuck no,” replied Mark, derisively, but Phil could tell his voice was quivering.
This time, Father Billy took the nails away for good and, after a moment, stepped away from the two boys for good.
“The rest have to die,” Father Billy stated, unequivocally.
“Unless God stops you,” Mark offered.
“Yeah, unless God stops me,” Father Billy agreed. “If I let you have the rest of your lives, what I need from you is twenty-four more hours of mine. A full day before you call the police. And, you have to swear to God.
God. And you have to know that, if you’re wrong and I’m right, that’s on your soul.”
“I swear to God,” said Mark.
“Swear to god,” whispered Phil, suddenly quaking all over as if from a chill.
“Go,” Father Billy commanded, finally. “God be with you.”
“Well, for what it’s worth, I hope He’s with you,” Mark replied.
Father Billy nodded, and then walked away into the woods.
As soon as the priest had completely disappeared into the trees, Phil began crying hysterically, dropping to the ground as he gritted his teeth and made all kinds of strained, keening sounds. Mark squatted down next to his friend and put his arms around him, hugging him tightly. They sat there for a number of minutes, Phil clinging onto Mark like a drowning man.
Finally, Mark made a move to lift Phil to his feet.
“Let’s go,” he whispered.
Phil nodded and the two boys staggered forward through the trees.
Back at camp, Cindy was overseeing a massive operation. Kids were tearing up floor boards, pieces of porch, columns, shelves, you-name-it, all in the name of creating weapons with which to fight the Devil.
“We have to think of this differently, now,” Cindy announced that morning to the surviving campers who had gathered in the mess hall. “We have to assume that, perhaps, Father Billy was wrong and the man in the woods isn’t the Devil at all, but a man
by the Devil, like David Boss and the others were last night. If that is the case, then maybe we can fight him the same as we fought them.”
She paused a moment to allow the campers to reflect on the fact that, yes, they had done the impossible and successfully fought off the forces of darkness. Or, at least, Ian Hester and his two friends had.
“What we cannot do is to allow our actions to be governed by fear,” she continued. “If we’re too afraid of this man to fight him, then the Devil has already won. If we do fight him, God will surely be on our side.
is the test Father Billy told us about.”
Not all of the increasingly traumatized campers believed her that the murders were the result of possession rather than the Devil himself appearing on Earth, a point particularly countered by Becca Roy.
,” Becca yelled at Cindy. “I
him. I saw him speak. I saw the bodies. He was the Devil. We can’t fight him.”
It became quickly obvious that Becca’s was the minority opinion and she left the group to join Douglas and his prayer circle in the classroom. Cindy had originally gone to Douglas, explaining the situation to him and his acolytes and inviting them to come with her, but he would have none of it and advised the others of his group to not go along with her, either.
“God is the only salvation, here, and we have put ourselves in His hands,” Douglas said, icily. “Not yours.”
Cindy nodded and didn’t try to convince them otherwise. She had secretly hoped that would be their response as she didn’t think fifty people on the road would be anywhere near as manageable as the thirty she had planned for. The only thing that was still troubling her was the absence of Faith and Maia.
Throughout the day, she’d glanced out to the diving platform where the girls had erected their lean-to to keep out of the sun and were, it appeared, happily reading their library books. She’d called out to them a couple of times, but there was no response. She didn’t intend to swim out there, but she also had no idea what she’d tell their parents when she came back without them.
But part of her hoped that, by then, she and her group might’ve killed whoever the man in the woods might be – if there even was one – as easily as Ian had killed David, Peter and Jeffrey the night before. Then, they’d reach civilization and would be able to send back busses for the prayer circle kids as well as the two girls on the diving platform.
Ian, she sighed.
After cleaning herself up the night before in the counselor’s cabin, she’d tracked him and his friends down, singling out her savior. He smelled bad, as if he hadn’t managed to shower over the past forty-eight hours which, she supposed, not many had. He knew why she’d come looking for him and obliged her by following her to the counselor’s cabin where she tore his clothes off and, for lack of a better phrase, “fucked him raw” all night long until they were both dehydrated and soaked in sweat.
She then moved him into the shower and fucked him in there, too.
He hadn’t been sexually experienced in the slightest, admitting the following morning that he’d been a virgin aside from a couple of blowjobs from an equally inexperienced girlfriend the previous school year, but Cindy hadn’t minded because she’d been in charge from minute one and she’d enjoyed every physical second of it. She’d been so close to death, so close to what she figured might be even worse (rape by someone possessed by a demon – what if she’d gotten pregnant?!), that she just wanted to feel alive and knew this would fill the bill.
And the best thing was, it wasn’t even awkward around the camp the next morning. Everyone knew what she’d done, that Ian had been little more than a willing participant, but rather than feel embarrassed, Cindy only felt emboldened in her new leadership role. She’d never felt so good as she did that morning.
Ian had tried to talk to her when she’d run into him the next morning, even give her a kiss, but she was already past him, which he soon realized. She was nice about it, but it was, after all, only a fuck.
“If there’s an actual physical confrontation, some of you simply won’t be able to stab another living human being and that’s okay,” Cindy announced, recalling Whit’s less-than-heroic defense of her the night before. “But this is
a human being anymore and never will be again. If he attacks and you just manage to keep him at bay until one of the older campers can get there, that’s as good.”
As she was saying it, she thought to herself that she must sound out of her mind, like she was living in a world of dream logic. She had set three o’clock as the departure time, partly because she felt it would give them more than enough time to get to the highway, but also, if it failed miserably and they were routed, she thought that it wouldn’t be a bad thing to have darkness on their side in order to make it back to the campsite.
She checked in with her campers who were filling the broken vehicle with water, food and weapons and saw that everything was running smoothly.
“All right,” she said. “Make sure everybody’s together. We’re just about ready to go.”
Excited, the campers fanned out to announce to the others that they were leaving for real this time. Cindy, however, had one more stop.
She made her way to Cabin 4 and slipped inside, covering her nose with her shirt, though that did little to keep out the stench of the many corpses lying on the bunks as well as the floor within. She headed straight for Whit’s body, which she discovered midway through the room on a bunk, covered with a bed sheet. She pulled it back and looked down at his rigid, sallow corpse. She thought he looked more like a mannequin than anything that so recently was inhabited by a soul and all she saw was his fragility.
All morning, she’d been surprising herself with how much angrier she was at him than David or her other attackers. They had an excuse, they’d been
. Whit had been content to stand by and let her die. What was his excuse? Being a spineless weasel? It was a feeling of utter betrayal.
But now he was on the slab and she was the last counselor standing. Fuck. Him.
“I’m glad you’re dead,” she said to the body.
She stared at him for a moment longer, but then reached down and undid his fly, tugging down his pants to expose his flaccid, useless penis. Realizing that that didn’t have enough of the effect she was looking for, she pulled his pants all the way down to his ankles and throwing the sheet aside. That’s how she wanted him to be found, as humiliated in death as he was going to let her be in the last moments of her life.
Now satisfied, she turned and walked out of the corpse cabin, gently closing the door behind her.
At the moment Cindy’s group took to the road, Faith was in the midst of plowing through the third book of her fantasy series, having been able to finish Book 2 that morning under her and Maia’s lean-to. She’d been right, the authoress making the ending completely unfulfilling in order to force the reader to read on and though Faith was a little disappointed, she turned right around and began hungrily devouring the next book.
Upon seeing the campers gathering to leave, carrying few belonging and eschewing water and food primarily for the wooden weapons they’d been fashioning throughout the morning, Faith suddenly felt a pang of panic. She looked over to Maia who seemed to be feeling the same way, staring intently on the retreating group as if they might be the last people to ever see them alive.
“Should we be going with them?” Faith asked, her voice rising sharply.
“I don’t know,” Maia replied, sounding like she meant it.
“What do you mean, ‘you don’t know?’” Faith said, the hairs on the back of her neck rising. “If they make it out, that leaves us all alone with whoever it is out there.”
Maia thought about this, staring out at the weapons carried by the group, but then finally shook her head.
“We decided the way to survive was to rely on each other
and I still think that’s what has kept us alive this long,” she said. “As much as I wish this was over and we could just get out of here as one big collective, I simply don’t think that’s true.”