The bus was smoking as it stuck precariously out of the front of the building. Inside there was nothing but banging, screaming, and moaning as Brenda Lee sang It’s the End of the World. Outside, twice as many cops, medics, and curious bystanders ran to see what they could do to help. The only person who kept a safe distance, the only one who looked on as if the accident were the herald of Armageddon was Danny Oldham who was leaning against his motel room door. He was the only one who wasn’t surprised to hear the shouts of a dozen rescuers descending into chaos, nor was he surprised to see people running in terror as a strange blue light began to glow. Slowly he walked along the sidewalk until he could see the name written across the side of the bus.
The Magic Machine.
He wondered about the dead dirt bag in the woods who’d been the previous owner, about how many lives that bus had already ruined before meeting its end in the office of the Dixie Motor Inn and what sort of psychic turbulence had ridden with it. He stopped waxing philosophic as the barrage of gunfire erupted into the open door on the rusted yellow side of the chassis.
It was a scene from a nightmare; some low rent B movie destined to terrify children for ages to come. The bodies were skeletal, oozing black and slick as they shambled one by one out of the doors. Most were just corpses, generic looking cadavers ready for an autopsy table in a med school. Others were mutilated, their bodies augmented and operated on to give them horns and extra appendages. These were the victims of the butcher in the house on Steele Road, the corpses that had shared a final slumber with Colleen Myers. And at the front of the ghoulish parade Bêtes Noire. She had altered her body into a more comforting form. She was pale, slender, her hips wide, her breasts firm and her eyes a dark, hypnotic black as she walked purposefully towards the sidewalk. She looked at Danny and smiled.
“Out of my way. The girl belongs to me.”
Danny cracked his knuckles, stretched, and returned the monster’s smile.
“I’ve been dead. I’ve seen your hell. You’re not bringing it here without a fight.”
“Have it your way.”
Danny leaned forward, braced for the charge that never came.
Van Novak saw the creature walking towards the sidewalk and doubled back behind the building. He came around behind Danny in time to see the two talking to each other and fired a shot into the monster’s chest. She staggered backwards, stared at the detective, and let loose with a roar that rattled the windows on every room in the motel. Novak wasted no time emptying the magazine into the Bêtes Noire’s chest and face, slowly pushing her back until she fell over into the swimming pool.
“One down, a dozen more to go.” Novak quipped as he reloaded.
“It’s not that simple, Van.” Danny said. “You can’t kill them. You can only push them out of this world.”
“Well how the hell do we do that?”
“Just follow my lead.”
The two ran back to the pool. The officers were fighting with night sticks and bare hands against the undead horrors that had lurched out of the school bus. There was the occasional splash as one of the monsters was thrown into the deep end and struggled to walk back to the surface. Bêtes Noire was still floating in the water, mockingly docile as her minions carried on the struggle for her. She was singing along with the radio, the song repeating the chorus again and again.
“Don’t they know, it’s the end of the world?” Black Beast asked with a sing song lilt to her voice.
Inside the school bus, a blue flame was blazing, erupting out of the windows and trickling liquid fire into the pool. It was becoming a mirror, a reflection of a world beyond their own in with every burning drop that touched the water’s surface.
“What the hell is happening, Danny?”
“Van,” Danny said, grabbing the small man by the shoulder. “I need your help. I also need for you to trust me.”
“I’ve followed you this far, haven’t I?”
“You guys have got to get all those things into the water with her.” Danny said. “She’s opening a bridge between her world and ours. I don’t have time to explain it all so just listen. I need all those bodies in the drink and then I need that power line dropped in there on top of them. The one going into the office right above the pool. I also need you to get Reedus back in there with Anna and make sure she stays safe.”
“And where are you going?”
“Me? I’m going for a swim.”
With that, Danny walked past the fighting and did his best cannonball onto the imitation woman floating in the pool. He landed in her gut and the two sank to the bottom instantly. She stared at him under the rippling waves in the blue glow and began to change into that sickly, horrifying monster that she truly was. Her face began to rip and tear, blood swirling in the pool. The pores on Danny’s skin opened instinctively and began to absorb the darkness that was surrounding him. The world itself began to shake for him, to flicker into photo negative shades and bend from side to side like the edges of a camera lens. He could see her past, the past of every corpse falling bloodied into the water behind him. Agony ripped through him in waves as a dozen other lives, a dozen other realities became his own all at once. He was submerged in the water, buried alive, standing on the threshold of that dark, unimaginable hell and soaring through the sky all at once. He could feel every moment of every life spinning around him, his mind and soul bleeding out as the darkness churned up into his stomach.
Fight it, Danny, a voice whispered softly in his ear. Fight it before it swallows you whole.
In the midst of the chaos ripping him apart, a familiar face shined through. Alice stood in the water beside Bêtes Noire with her arms reaching for him. He took hold and immediately found himself above the waves. The world was still distorted, rippling in shades of black and blue and white but everything else had subsided. They erupted to the surface.
“Why won’t you stay dead?” the Black Beast snarled. One of her arachnid arms jabbed Danny in the stomach, ripping out into his back, narrowly missing his spine. Grabbing it, he pulled himself close to the monster until his body was pressed tight to hers.
“If I go,” he said, coughing blood. “I’m not going alone.”
Van Novak was standing on top of the school bus holding the fire axe from one of the rescue trucks that was in the parking lot. He looked at Danny who nodded to him.
The line sparked as it was severed from the building and landed in the pool. There was a splash, a thunderous pop, and then darkness.
Van Novak sat on top of the school bus for a long time staring at the swimming pool and the electrical line floating like a dead eel among the blackened, mutilated bodies. In particular, he stared at Danny, floating face down; impaled by whatever hellish creature he’d battled. His body was as still and dead as all the others. He looked for a twitch, for some movement that would signal life. There was nothing. Generators were brought in to light the scene. Statements were given by everyone. The owner of the motel screamed in his native language at everyone as he surveyed the damage that had been done. But Van Novak sat alone on top of the bus, wondering if this was really the end.
The radio in room nine of the Dixie Motor Inn was playing an old country song, a slow sort of gospel by the Stanley Brothers as Van Novak sifted through the meager possessions of his departed friend. There was a small foot locker with about a week’s worth of clothes folded neatly inside, a duffel bag, a folder in the night stand drawer with some old black and white photos, and the worn leather ledger sitting on the bathroom counter. Van had wondered about it for years but had never asked. He figured that if it was something he was meant to see, he’d have been shown. Now, confident that his friend had finally achieved that final goal, had “shuffled off this mortal coil” as he used to enjoy saying, Novak decided to look inside the little book that read La Petit Mort in broken gold leaf. The pages were brittle and yellow the way old paper becomes as the decades roll by. Each page was divided into columns, the time kept in Julian calendar dates.
01911931 Gunshot 22 Caliber 2 hours.
Each entry was a date, a cause of death, and the number of hours he spent dead. Some were only minutes. Some were days. Some were seemingly mundane while others were shocking and disturbingly violent. In one afternoon in the late sixties he managed to die eleven times in twelve hours, mostly due to lack of blood from repeatedly being shot with a twelve gauge. There were drug and alcohol overdoses, suicides, accidents, homicides, and even the occasional act of God. Novak sighed and placed the ledger with the photographs and other effects inside the foot locker.
“Angel Band,” Anna Myers said sweetly, looking at the clock radio on the nightstand. “They played it at my grandfather’s funeral. I’m sorry about your friend.”
Danny offered a weak smile.
“Sorry about your mother.”
“I have a new appreciation for her I guess.” she said, sitting down on the edge of the bed. “She was trying to protect me from that thing, same as your friend…”
“Danny.” Novak finished for her.
“So, I assume no one is writing ‘hell spawn’ as the suspect on your report?”
He laughed. “No. This was a rave that got out of hand. Some airborne LSD caused everyone to hallucinate. Bus crashed into the walls, people fell in the pool and the power line came down before they could get out.”
“I guess that will do. So, what happens now?”
“Now, officer Reedus is going to take you home. He’ll stay with you tonight and in the morning you’ll come with him to the station to give a statement. Then, I suppose, life will go back to normal.”
“Normal.” She repeated, almost laughing the word.
Anna leaned over and kissed Novak on the cheek.
“Thank you.” she said.
I remember when I met you, she said sweetly. You looked so nervous. You had two left feet and you still wanted to dance.
There was no one, nothing save for the swirling mass of blackness that was Danny Oldham. His body was cold in a drawer at the local morgue but his mind, the energy that made up his consciousness, his soul was somewhere else, between worlds swirling in that primordial chaos that had given birth to all life.
Do you remember what you said to me the night you asked me to marry you? Alice’s voice was sweet, soft with that lilting drawl that had melted his heart whenever she spoke.
How can my heart go on without you? Danny said. Or was it a thought? He didn’t know. Didn’t care.
And how will tomorrow come if you’re not in my arms to see the sun rise over the hills? I’ll give you this; I never met a more poetic soul.
I’ve missed you, Danny said to her in the darkness.
You’re work isn’t done yet.
But I’m so tired, he argued. How will I go on without you? It’s been so long already.
And it’s just a little bit longer still.
I miss you, Alice.
How can you miss something that never left you?
The room was cold, ice running down his bare back side as he opened his eyes in darkness. Waking up in a morgue vault was nothing new to Danny. This one was large, a walk in freezer. His body was covered in plastic with a piece of string tied around his big toe. The tag would almost certainly read John Doe if Novak had been able to intercede. Sitting straight up, he pulled the tarp from over his body and stepped carefully onto the frigid floor. He groped blindly in the dark until he found the door and then the emergency release inside. He stepped out into the examination room and searched until he found a box in an office with an extra pair of scrubs that he could squeeze into.
“One last dance?” Alice asked from the other side of the examination room.
“Is it really you?”
“As real as I’ve always been, love.”
With trembling arms, Danny reached out and joined Alice in the center of the floor and together, they danced.