Wishing he had a skeleton key to lock his door, Micah lay in bed waiting for his parents to return downstairs. The creaking came from the top of the landing, and he flicked on the bedside lamp.
Micah thought of pushing the nightstand in front of it, but decided it wasn’t the best idea in case of a fire since the only escape he had was the window, and the idea of dropping to the ground and possibly breaking his legs didn’t appeal to him.
Instead, he dug through his stuff looking for something that would make noise to wake him in case the door opened while he slept. The old cowbell he’d found a few weeks ago would do nicely. He pulled the lace from one of his shoes, looping it through the eyelet at the top of the bell, careful not to let it ring as he worked.
Satisfied with the knot, he then tied the shoelace around the doorknob. He stared at it for a moment before climbing back into bed. As he reached for the lamp to turn it off, voices came from foyer.
His parents had sent him and Josephine to bed a little earlier than normal because they didn’t want them involved in the business with the demon any more than they needed to be. The whole thing terrified him, especially what he had seen happening with his sister. The thought that she had caused the blackbirds to die came to mind, but he couldn’t fathom how it was possible unless it had already taken her.
He shivered under the bedsheet, though the night was warm and without a breeze. His last thought as he drifted to sleep was wishing that none of it were true, and that he’d awaken in the morning, and everything would be like it was before Josephine had been chased by the demon.
Josephine listened to the quiet words drift from the living room below, able to understand each clearly without having to strain. They were talking about the weather, which seemed a strange topic. Then another pair of voices joined the others, all seeming to speak at once, but still she could hear each clearly as though they stood in the room with her.
An uncomfortable silence filled the house, not even the sound of her own breaths found her ears. Her heart beat faster, like something pivotal was happening, though she didn’t know what.
Tendrils of pitch curled over the edge of her bed, which she didn’t notice as she lay there searching for voices from below. Then it seemed all the sounds of the world came to life as the black fog crept back inside her and the awful grin returned to her.
Her mind exploded with the realization of what was happening, and she tried to scream, but the evil wouldn’t allow a sound to come. At that moment, she understood the strange sounds she’d heard from the woods, it was laughter, maddening, demented, deafening. It filled her head, and she fought to drown it out by hiding in the recesses of her mind, but wherever she fled, it followed.
She wept, hoping her mom and dad heard the sounds from her room and would rush to her aide.
No one came, not even her brother.
Finally, it ended, returning the voices drifting from the living room. Without her control, she sat up, her legs sliding to dangle her feet above the floor, her body shifting to press them into the rug, making her stand.
Her tears dried the moment her hand touched the door, and she was moved onto the landing. Though she was conscious of every gesture made, it wasn’t her controlling the actions of her feet. It wasn’t her telling them to stop when she reached the top of the stairs. It wasn’t her commanding them to step down and pause.
Something cold was in charge, something dark, something malign. And though she tried to fight its efforts, nothing she did kept it from moving her. The muscles of her cheeks ached from the wide stretched smile, and the gauze on her wounded arm dripped crimson on every step.
No one in the living room heard her on the stairs or make her way inside.
None noticed when she hiked up her nightgown, revealing her pale skin beneath. Her mother turned with a smile, greeting her daughter, though it disappeared quickly as Josephine squatted at the threshold, evacuating her bowels.
The laughter only Josephine had heard before erupted into the room. All eyes found her now, sitting in her filth, rubbing it across her legs, the ever-present grin defying them to approach.
“Looks like you forgot to invite me to the party,” the thick, gravelly voice said from Josephine’s mouth. It laughed. “You think you can do what those old cunts did?” Gurgling from the girl’s throat. “I will kill you, and your children!” The din from the girls mouth now was the sound of animals, then gibberish.
Susannah felt light-headed and a gray veil slipped over her, pulling her to the floor. She fought it off, pressing her hand into the back of the sofa she stood behind. Her deep breaths pushing away the threat of losing consciousness.
“Vile beast leave this child!” Michael shouted in Latin, stepping forward, a silver Ankh in his hand. “Be done with this land!”
The laughter drowned out his final words, and cold air blasted from the child’s mouth, causing frost to crystalize in the air. “How cute, you know Latin.”
Josephine slumped forward, and Susannah started toward her, but Michael and Arden gripped her arms before she made a second step. Her terror filled eyes found her husband first, and he shook his head. The worry in his expression caused her to abandon her motherly instincts.
Michael stepped back around the couch to the side table where he’d seen rosary beads when he’d entered the room; he’d left his at home, not thinking they’d have to battle the beast so soon.
“For all that is Holy.” He moved closer to Josephine, without bothering to continue using the old language. “I command thee to leave this child.”
No one moved or made a sound, waiting for a response. The girl’s finger twitched in the feces, and her head raised slowly. The dark eyes glared back at Michael, holding the Crucifix at the end of the beads toward Josephine.
“Leave her now!”
“Oh Michael,” it said quieter. “You are so brave. I admire that.” It chuckled. “But you’re just as stupid and arrogant as Elise had been so many years ago.” The smile on Josephine changed to an impish smirk. “I especially admire how you fantasize about her when you fuck your wife.”
Its raging laugh filled the room.
“Leave her now!” Michael repeated, coming closer, and pressing the cross into her forehead. “I command you, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. You are not welcome here!”
Josephine shrieked, her cry piercing the room.
The room went dark.
Wheezing breaths filled with tears.
The reek of rotted flesh.
Susannah screamed the moment a hand squeezed hers. It was warm, and small. At first, she’d thought that Josephine had stood, and crossed the room, then she realized, even without being able to see his face that Micah had come down the stairs in the darkness. She pulled him into her arms, pressing his face into her stomach.