Danny Oldham was waiting at a booth at the back of the diner, as alive and healthy as he had been the morning before. Van Novak could barely believe his eyes as he sat down across from his friend. They waited in an awkward silence for some time, Danny staring into his reflection in the cup of black coffee steaming in his hands. Van stared at his old friend as if he was dining with a ghost. After a few minutes, he handed a duffel bag across the table and leaned back in his seat in the booth.
“There’s your clothes.” Van said, astonished.
“Thanks.” Danny said with a grin. “Been feeling like a damn mental patient in these scrubs.”
“Rest of your stuff’s at my place.” Van said. “I thought you were dead, you know. I mean, they got you all the way to the morgue this time.”
“Eh, it’s not the first time I’ve woken up in a freezer.”
“Still, I was scared. I thought you’d finally bought it. For good this time.”
“We’re neither of us that lucky.”
They fell silent again for a moment.
“So, what happened last night?” Van asked.
Danny sighed and looked down into his coffee cup as if the answer were swirling in the darkness.
“She…It, was opening a door between its reality and ours. It used the bodies that were buried out on Steele Road as a diversion and the pool as a conduit. Like a mirror or a puddle, it needed something conductive, a medium to push the matter through.”
“Okay, that almost makes sense but how did we stop it?”
“It was focusing all its energy on opening the door. Spread itself too thin, though. Between the fight with me out in the woods and all the puppeteer work with the corpses, it was too weak to take a hit. When that power line hit the water, it disrupted the frequency. She burned up like a bad breaker and all her energy dissipated out into the water with the rest of the juice. Like blowing a fuse, really.”
Novak nodded. “And the bodies?”
“There’s no problem.” Danny said. “I’m alive and Bêtes Noire is taken care of and there is a perfectly reasonable explanation that I’m sure you’ve come up with to handle the rest.”
“Airborne LSD.” Novak said. “We were all tripping balls. Suspect who dumped the bodies in the water made it out without being identified. Reedus is helping Anna prepare a similar statement. Most of the medics and patrolmen on scene are already on board with it. So, what now?”
Danny finished off his coffee.
“Now, you go back to being a cop and I go back to being some guy. It’s not complicated at all, really.”
“How, I mean, when you’ve seen what we’ve seen in the last week? I’ve seen some crazy shit since I’ve known you. Never seen anyone die, I mean, really die, and get back up a few hours later like it was nothing but all this in the last few days… it’s hard to swallow.”
“You need a vacation.” Danny said.
“And you need to see a shrink.” Novak retorted.
They laughed for a minute and then looked at each other.
“I think I may take off for a while.” Danny said. “Go up to the Smokies and camp.”
Novak raised an apologetic hand as he reached into his jacket and pulled out his cell phone. He read the message and started to shake his head.
“Bad news?” Danny asked.
“Anna Myers never showed up to give her statement.” Novak said. “And no one’s seen Reedus since he took her home.”
“Let’s get going.”
The door to Anna Myers’ apartment was standing open when Danny and Novak came up to the stairs. There was a trail of blood leading from the landing to the pavement and an odor that both men had smelled too many times in their lives. It was the sick perfume of the butcher shop, of copper and open bowel and sickness that overpowered them as they stood at the base of the stairs. Novak pulled his pistol from the holster on his left hip, leaned down and grabbed the revolver off his ankle. He handed the backup gun to Danny who followed him cautiously up the stairs and into the living room. The walls were smeared in blood and bile, great gobs of maroon and black splattered across canvases and walls. Most were just grotesque smatterings wiped across the wall in hand prints but the canvas still on its easel was something different entirely. It was a very lifelike portrait of a woman’s face. Half of it was the sweet, smiling face of Anna Myers. The other was a terrible, eviscerated creature with gore coated fangs spinning inside the circle of its maw.
“That’s not good.” Novak muttered.
The two quickly moved down the narrow hall and stopped by the closed bedroom door. Novak made a counting motion with his hands from three to one. At one, Danny kicked the door open and Novak raced in. The room was covered in more blood, more gore, and the mostly skeletal remains of officer Reedus. There were also parts of a disturbingly familiar black and white dog scattered around the room.
Danny wasted no time. He knelt by the bed and placed both hands out over the congealing gore. In seconds, two red cyclones had formed coming to him from the foot of the bed and the floor where the dog was. His pale skin flushed red, the scars on his body rippling and his eyes glassed over. He staggered back against a dresser and took a deep, shuddering breath.
“What’d you see, Danny?”
“No time,” he answered, breathless. “Look for yourself.”
The blood cyclones began to spin up from the ground and bed and into Danny’s right hand; twisting and snaking, alive and angry the stream passed through his left palm and began to burrow into Novak’s eyes. The detective began to scream, throwing his gun to the ground and clutching his face. He clawed helplessly at his face, pulling at the funnels spinning into his skull. Suddenly, the entire world had taken on a painful shade of black that quickly flashed white and became a photo negative in his mind.
The world was strange, swirling in black and white and blue and silver and mashed into thin lines around dark shapes. There was a man, a woman, and a dog walking outside the motel. The woman was fawning over the animal. She let it ride in the back seat of the car. They drove up city streets, around corners, into the parking lot and to the back of the apartment complex. The man opened her door, a true southern gentleman, and walked her to her apartment. She smiled, her teeth shining in the strange shades of the vision. She opened the door and invited him inside. The dog ran ahead first. A feeling of disquiet filled the air. Something wasn’t right. She led the man into her bedroom, her clothes falling to the floor at her feet as he entered. She pulled away his shirt, his vest, his belt. She pushed him over onto the bed and straddled his body.
“Are you ready?” she asked, her voice warped, unearthly as she spoke.
Behind her, the dogs face exploded, ripped in two like a piece of beef split by a cleaver. The bones and skin folded out in a flower and a long, black tongue slithered out. It coiled around the woman’s ankle, worked itself up along her calf and thigh until it penetrated deep inside her. She smiled at the sensation and began to laugh. Her eyes were glowing. Her jaw began to crack, dislocate as her teeth sharpened into points and began spinning violently in circles inside her mouth.
“I’ve waited so long for this moment.” she growled.
The man tried to move but the woman’s knees had become spears that dug into his guts and held him in place. Her face split open the same way as the dog’s had, the skull spreading up while the flesh spread down to reveal a second body underneath made of a hard, black shell with a long neck and circular saw teeth that spun inside the ever growing mouth. Her hands were already around his throat, choking the life from his eyes as she began to devour him.
Van Novak ran into the hall and collapsed against the wall. He struggled to get up, to move but couldn’t. He leaned over and began to wretch into the stained Berber. Red and black and bits of breakfast mingling into the tapestry of human filth as he tried to keep some sort of composure and failed miserably at it.
“You’re going to be okay, Van.” Danny said, kneeling beside him. “The first time is always the worst.”
Trembling, Novak looked up and scowled at Danny.
“I’ve never felt that much pain in my life.” he growled. “How do you stand it?”
“I do it because I have to.” he said, helping his friend from the floor.
“Jesus.” Novak coughed. “I can’t imagine. So where is she?”
“I couldn’t see that far.” Danny said. “But I know who summoned the Black Beast and who arranged all those murders.”
“Let me guess, Anna Myers?”
“From Denise to mommy dearest and everyone in between. The whole family was involved in the rituals all the way back to her great grandfather.”
“Wish I could tell you.” Danny said. “That’s not the worst part though.”
“It gets worse than this?”
“Yeah. With her gone in a new meat suit, it could be another ten years before we see her again. The next move belongs to whatever is inside Anna.”
“Screw that,” Novak coughed. “I’m reissuing that BOLO. We’re finishing this thing now.”
“Good luck.” Danny said. He wanted to warn him. She’ll run. She’ll bury herself so deep you’ll never be able to dig her up again. And even if you did, what are you going to do with her?
Danny walked into the living room and stared at the self-portrait on the easel again. Novak fumbled for his phone and called in to the station to report the crime scene.
Danny found himself marveling at the tendrils on the inhuman side of the face. He followed them along the wall until he found a hole that she had punched before leaving. There was a pair of earphones dangling from it. Carefully, he pulled them until the mp3 player they were attached to was free. It was holding on a song. He placed the buds in his ears and pressed play.
A bittersweet Vera Lynn sang We’ll Meet Again.
“Yes, we will.” Danny whispered.