The way was narrower here, forcing the team to proceed single-file. In some places, the walls were plaster, crumbling to expose the bare wire mesh. In other places, there was relatively modern-looking cinderblock. The team’s progress was further impeded by heaps of moldering furniture: chairs, headboards, tables, a writing desk, a piano bench, stacks of rotting timber. Occasionally there would be a window, bricked up from the other side. After they had gone about fifteen feet, they found a gaping hole in the floor, almost the entire width of the hallway.
JD shined his flashlight down into it. They couldn’t see anything. He reached into one of the pockets of his duster and produced a flare.
“They teach you that in the marines?” Murphy asked.
“Nope. Boy Scouts, Mister Murphy.” The Colonel pulled the tab. “Be prepared.” He dropped the flare into the hole where it tumbled end over end, down to a bare dirt floor. “Whaddaya reckon, forty feet?” He shook his head. “Deep enough to kill ya, at any rate. Everybody, watch your step.”
He led the way around the pit, pressing himself against the wall, gingerly testing the floorboards with his boots for loose areas.
After that, they could make out the end of the hallway, and a door.
The Colonel opened it cautiously. His flashlight revealed a corridor even narrower than the one they were in. It turned sharply to the right.
The others followed him in.
“Everybody still with me?” he called over his shoulder. “Murphy-Kate-Doc-Cecil?”
There was a chorus of affirmations.
“Just checkin’. Tighter’n a bull’s ass in fly season in here. Can’t turn around to look for ya. Everybody stay right behind me.”
The flashlights revealed wooden walls here. There were also--
“Colonel, we’ve got doors,” Murphy said.
“After you, sir.”
“All right, then.” The Colonel opened the first door. It led to another corridor full of doors. “Well, shit again.” He shut it.
“Colonel, if I may...?” Murphy pulled a plastic doorstop from one of his jacket pockets.
“You carry doorstops?” Kate asked, incredulous.
“Standard SWAT issue,” he dropped it onto the floor and kicked it firmly under the door.
“Really.” He jiggled the door handle to demonstrate. It wouldn’t budge. “Simple physics. Nobody’s coming through that door. Not easily, anyway.” She looked impressed and he gave her a wry grin. “Don’t applaud, just throw money.”
They continued on.
Kate wrinkled up her nose. “Anybody else smell that? Smells like—”
“Burnt hair,” Cecil finished.
“And burning flesh,” Doug added. “You realize what that means.”
“Eretics,” JD said. “Looks like we’re in the right place.”
“What is wrong with our lifestyle, that the smell of roasted undead means we’re in the right place and-- oh look. Blood,” Murphy pointed his flashlight at the floor.
There wasn’t a lot. But enough.
Murphy knelt down and touched a droplet. “Still sticky.” He shined his flashlight along the floor. There were more splashes further ahead-- larger splashes.
No one said anything as they crept along. They tried two more doors. One led to a room barely bigger than a closet, stacked with wooden crates. The second led to yet another hallway. Murphy secured it with a doorstop.
At last, their flashlights landed on an old black telephone mounted on the wall. The whole section of wall surrounding it was awash in blood. Beneath it, more blood stained the floor.
“Movement,” Cecil said. He raised his gun, but couldn’t fire because everyone else was in front of him. Kate followed where his gun was pointed, swinging her flashlight from the phone to the end of the corridor.
The Colonel threw his hand up to shield his eyes. “Get that damn thing out of my face—”
As he spoke, the phone rang abruptly, piercingly. Kate shrieked, leaping back against the wall.
“Movement!” Cecil shouted.
“I can’t see shit!”
“There it goes—”
“Colonel, down!” Murphy raised his shotgun.
The Colonel dropped to the floor and Murphy fired, but the creature at the end of the hallway was too quick. The shot tore a section of the wall where it disappeared around the corner.
“Fuck,” Murphy pumped the action. “I guess now we know what happened to Rios.”
“Could he still be alive?” Kate asked.
Murphy looked again at the blood stains. “Maybe.”
“They dragged him off!” she cried, pointing to the trail of blood leading down the hall.
“And we’re goin’ after him, Katie. Just hold your horses,” the Colonel picked himself up off the floor, blinking away the rest of the after-glare as best he could. “Nice shootin’, Murphy.”
“Thank you. We’re going after him?”
“We’re sure as shit not leavin’ him behind. Not when he could still be alive.”
Murphy hesitated. “Okay.”
They followed the blood trail. It went around the corner-- the same direction in which the eretic had gone.
More hallway. More doors. More blood.
“It’s on the ceiling,” Kate marveled.
“Major arterial damage,” Murphy said.
The trail led into a doorway on the left. The door had been torn off.
“Cecil, any movement?” the Colonel asked.
“Neg—” Cecil began. “Wait. Yes...very slight. And some heat.”
Kate looked hopefully from Cecil to the Colonel.
“Murphy,” JD said simply. Murphy nodded. The two of them went into the room and checked it.
Fernando Rios was lying on the floor on the right wall. He was on his right side, his back to the wall. His eyes were open.
“Socorro,” he whispered.
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About the Authors
Coyote Kishpaugh has been writing prose and poetry most of his life, and alternately entertains and terrifies his children by telling them stories late at night. Currently, he is pursuing his degree in psychology at Rockhurst University. He lives in Kansas City, KS.
A lifetime resident of Kansas City, MO, Lauren Scharhag is a multi-genre author and poet. In addition to The Order of the Four Sons series, her works include Under Julia, The Ice Dragon, The Winter Prince and West Side Girl & Other Poems. Her work has appeared most recently in A World of Terror anthology, The SNReview, The Rockhurst Review, Infectus, and Glass: A Journal of Poetry. She is the recipient of the Gerard Manley Hopkins Award for poetry and a fellowship from Rockhurst University for fiction. Currently, she is working on Books V-VI of The Order of the Four Sons as well as a new horror trilogy.
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