Part VI – Chapter 40 – War on All Fronts

Brisco finally caught his breath and stood shakily before stuttering to Ellie, “How? What did you…?”

Ellie lifted a machete in the moonlight for Brisco to see. He rolled his eyes before commenting, “Leave it to Pete to bring a machete to a gun fight.”

“I’m actually not sure if Pete brought it or Clive had left it nearby but something about it seemed to give them a scare,” observed Ellie. She held the machete towards Brisco before stating, “Here. You should take it. Sounds like you’ll need all of the weapons in there.”

Brisco lifted his busted hand in response before stating, “Broken hand, remember?”

She tilted her head to the side as though solving a puzzle before cryptically stating, “I think I have a way to still make it work…”

As Brisco felt the drained strength begin to return, Ellie searched the gear bag that Brisco had lugged from the ballroom to the cellar doors and located duct tape. She placed the machete in Brisco’s hand and held up the duct tape for Brisco to see. Willing to try anything, Brisco watched as Ellie wrapped the duct tape around his hand to secure it in place.

“I always wondered what it would be like to have a saw for a hand,” muttered Brisco in sarcasm. He practiced slicing the machete in the air to ensure that it was secure. The movement caused excruciating pain but Brisco figured that the adrenaline of the coming fight would be enough to distract him from the pain. Once he was satisfied with their work, Brisco turned back to Ellie with a sly grin saying, “Now, where were we?”

But before Brisco could move towards Ellie, a voice in the darkness interrupted any emotional moment. “Ready to save the world?”

They turned in the direction of the voice and found Clyde leaning against his wheelbarrow with a bemused smile spread across his face.

“Young lady, if you are ready?” he called.

Ellie nodded and patted Brisco’s arm, which caused him to wince, and she followed Clyde through the double doors. Brisco could hear the drums, bugles, and the marching of an army outside. He could hear the sounds of shotguns and hoped that Viva and Lenore would hold out long enough for him to defeat this Kama-guy. Brisco went back to the gear back to see if there was anything left. He pulled out the rest of the ammunition and the last weapon, a sawed-off shotgun which had the words, “ASH’S BOOMSTICK,” etched into the stalk. He checked the trigger and confirmed that it would easily fire off rounds and reload. Brisco also changed the rounds from salt to regular buck shot, which was pretty difficult to address with one hand. This needed to be a fight to the death and salt rounds only stunned ghosts. It did not stop them. Brisco was determined that this thing would have its head removed, by buckshot or by blade, whichever worked.

After Brisco finished arming himself, he took stock of his arms and decided that he was ready for battle. Brisco had barely glanced up before a dead body lunged out of the darkness at him. It took Brisco off guard as it had sounded like the army was on the other side of the mansion. He shoved the body away and in the process he got a good look at the corpse. Her hair and skin had greyed but the style of the cut was modern and her outfit was that of a household maid. She lunged at him, opening and closing her mouth like a rabid dog attempting to bite him. Brisco kicked her in the knee to get her to stand back from him before taking aim and cutting off her head with the machete.

“Well, you seem warmed up,” Clyde called out.

“Well, if it isn’t Clyde the friendly ghost,” retorted Brisco.

“The army will be here soon enough, so you better follow me to get to the Kandarian.”

Brisco followed Clyde through the double doors. Once they were under the house, he could see roots slithering across the foundation. Brisco was about to step on a passing root when Clyde shoved Brisco back with an icey push.

“Stay away from the roots, vines, trees, and branches. They’re not only sentient but they’re deadly.”

Brisco nodded his head to acknowledge the instruction before asking, “Which way did Ellie go?”

“Stay focused on your mission, Mr. County,” the man said as he continued to move along the border of the house. After a few more moments of silence, Clyde stopped and pointed for Brisco to continue. “Continue down that way. It won’t be long before you walk into his lair. He will be vulnerable once Ellie finishes the counter spell. Once you cut off his head, run like hell. Get out. Don’t go back for anyone.”

“Not really everyone-“ protested Brisco.

“I have given them the same instructions. The last thing that we need is for everyone to get trapped beneath the house because they got lost searching for each other.”

“These aren’t pawns in your little game; these are people! These are people that I care about!” Brisco said thru gritted teeth, trying to keep his voice down while expressing his anger.

“Mr. County, I promise you that Ellie will be fine. There is a different exit close to each person. Once you escape, if you want to check on the others, follow along the outside of the house. That will be the best method to rescue them if they even require help.”

Brisco finally had to agree with the logic of Clyde’s decision. He sighed and pointed his machete directly ahead to confirm with Clyde that it was the correct path. Clyde nodded his head before disappearing.

“Fancy,” Brisco observed of the ghost’s exit. “Very fancy.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Ellie had arrived at the pile of books that Clyde had directed her towards. He had explained that Mrs. Winchester hid books in different parts of the basements and each had been covered with a deceptive jacket to avoid curious eyes. Ellie began to quickly skim through the books. Each book was an antique first edition hidden behind the book jacket of odd yet uninteresting children’s book, just as Clyde had described. Ellie removed each cover until she found the title that the ghost had given her. She began to frantically flip through the book. Unfortunately, each page of the book was written in a language that she could not read or understand.

“Ahem. Could I help?” a voice asked.

Ellie looked up to see a man dressed in what looked like archeological expedition clothes. “Who are you?” she asked in shock.

“My dear, that doesn’t really matter now, does it?” he had a bald spot at the top of his head yet long grey hair extending to his back shoulders. He had a hole where a nose should be which made balancing his glasses a challenge. He gave a nervous laugh under her scrutinous gaze before stating, “I am here to help read the book and find the counter spell.”

“If you can read this, why aren’t you able to reverse the curse?”

“Because I lack the corporeal attribute necessary.”


“In other words,” the man explained as he coughed while dusting off his clothes, “It won’t work if a ghost says the words aloud; it has to be spoken by a human… an alive human.”

“Oh-“ Ellie said dejectedly.

“Open the book, I will help you find the correct page and the correct words. I will help you say the words correctly and you will break the spell.”

“Sounds like a plan, let’s get cracking,” she knelt down on the ground and opened the book in front of her. By doing so, she allowed the archeological ghost to sit beside her.

The ghost scanned through the first page before sighing and balancing his glasses back on his face, “Unfortunately, my dear, it looks like we have many, many pages to review.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Rachel and James had each picked up a stained-glass pane that Mrs. Winchester had described. Each pane was large and awkward to carry but both James and Rachel managed to keep the panes a few inches of the ground as they retraced their steps back to the ballroom. They made it about halfway back before James paused and looked back, “Are you okay to continue the rest of the way back with both of the panes?”

Rachel slowly nodded determined to hide the fear that was rising inside.

James moved back towards her while holding his stained-glass pane before explaining, “I can’t ignore the fact that I can hear the battle that my mom and Sherriff Viva are fighting in the kitchen. I know that I can help them. Meanwhile, it looks like you and Mrs. Winchester should both be fine in the ballroom.”

“James, you don’t have to explain. You should be with your family,” Rachel stated, sounding braver than she felt.

James held his stained-glass pane at the same height as the pane that Rachel was carrying. Rachel carefully let go over her pane just long enough to grab both panes with one hand at time. In the process, her hands were able to briefly brush James’. She felt a momentary flutter but it was clear that James could only feel concern for his mother in the kitchen.

A blood curdling woman’s scream pierced the night and James’ head snapped into the direction of the kitchen. While still looking in that direction, he asked, “Are you sure that you know the way?”

“If I get lost, I’m sure that a spirit guide will redirect me,” she stated. “James go!”

James moved around the panes and behind Rachel. He placed his hand on her waste and for a moment, she had thought he might embrace her good-bye but instead his hand reached down into her apron pocket. He left the salt container with whatever few grains of salt it still had and lifted the bracelet out. For a moment, Rachel debated asking him his plan but then decided to focus her attention on her mission instead. Instead, she whispered, “James you should take the weapons that I have since you are going into a live battle.”

She turned her head and saw James debating if he should take her weapons as it could leave Rachel and Mrs. Winchester without protection. “Really James! I am an excellent shot. Besides, in all of this violence, who’s going to be worried about a widow and an actress?” She forced a laugh to convey courage and he seemed to believe it as he unstrapped the rifle, the bandolier, and the extra gun belt from Rachel and added it to his own load.

“I’m leaving you your gun and a bit of ammunition just in case,” James explained. Rachel nodded and then lifted the panes a bit higher off the floor and awkwardly began walking back towards the ballroom.

After a few steps, Rachel heard James whisper, “Be careful, Rachel!”

She smiled and looked over her shoulder but James had already disappeared towards the kitchen. Rachel rolled her shoulders back, tightened her grip onto the stained-glass window panes, and then moved as quickly as she could with her awkward load.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

James ran in the direction of the kitchen. The shots were occurring in closer succession to each other, drums were beating loudly, and the screams of battle were growing louder. He was barely a room away when an icy figure jumped onto his back. Tiny arms wrapped around his neck and tiny legs about his waist. Clearly, a ghost had decided to take a ride. James stopped and began struggling to throw the passenger off while keeping the weapons close.

“James it’s me!” came a child’s voice.

James paused and finally managed to turn his head to view the passenger and found the eyes of the small child ghost with him. “What the hell are you doing?” demanded James.

“There is a cloud of evil darkness ahead and you won’t make it through without the protection of the bracelet.”

“I’ll forget everything when I do that!”

“But if you don’t put it on, you will be possessed and killed before you make it in anywhere near your family. If it possesses you then you will become the weapon that kills your mother and believe me, the darkness’ #1 enemy right now is Lenore. The bracelet is the only thing that will protect you as it creates a forcefield around you that the darkness cannot penetrate. I cannot even go near the darkness without becoming possessed and I’m not even human anymore!”

“But if I put it back on, how will I remember that I need to protect my mother?”

“Are you the man your father raised?”

Taken aback by the question, James demanded, “What?”

“If you are the man that your father raised, you will run towards danger rather than away from it. Even if the group is filled with people unknown to you.”

James nodded, knowing that his parents had fought their whole lives for the lives and rights of others. This was now his time to prove his character.

James took a deep breath, reached into his pocket, and wrapped the bracelet around his wrist.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Inside the salt circle Viva had long run out of regular bullets so Lenore had him shooting the salt rounds at the darkness to keep it at bay. There were a couple of maids frantically crawling around on their hands and knees to ensure that the circle stayed protected to keep the darkness outside of the circle. Unfortunately, it did not prevent all evil from entering their safe space. Dead and rotting corpses were in various stages of charging at the group and some that seemed merely interested in eating the flesh of others. Some individuals wore the outfits of household staff who had been possessed earlier in the evening by the evil cloud while others wore clothes at least a hundred years out of date. They continued to press in from all sides.

Lenore had taken Viva’s last few ammunition rounds and was holding off many of the potential encroachers through carefully aimed headshots. Many other staff members were working hard to remove the heads of decedents through various kitchen knives. Viva had given the axe from the woodshed to the cook friend of Steve’s and the individual seemed fully capable of wielding the weapon. Viva took another glance around, the bodies of the dead continued to fill into the room. So far, the household staff had only experienced a few small injuries. Unfortunately, those who had been bitten seemed worse than the individuals who had been cut or bruised. In Viva’s experience bite marks were usually a small injury but these bite marks seemed to become almost instantly infected. Those who were bitten had skin that was becoming sickly pale and their eyes were starting to glaze over. They even started to move sluggishly so Viva had to place the injured in the center of the circle so that they could be better protected. Those with severe gashes and concussions refused to be near those where were extremely pale. It was as though they could sense something dying in each of those individuals.

Viva loaded the next couple salt rounds into the shotgun before deciding to do a quick inventory of remaining rounds but found that everything was gone. These were his last two salt rounds. He would have to use them sparingly.

And then it happened, the girl who had been unconscious, possessed by the darkness, gave an eerie scream as she sprang to her feet. She looked more like a rabid animal than human as she sprung onto the back of the large cook. She bit into his neck and blood began to pour down his pressed and white clothes.

“What the hell?” Viva asked as he readied his shot gun.

Another woman screamed in horror as the rest of the bitten individuals were under the control of the possessed kitchen maid. They began to each reach outwards, determined to attack the small band of humans that stood between their central position and the darkness outside.

Just then Viva heard a familiar man’s voice shouting from deep in the darkness, “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot! I’m coming in!”

“Hell no!” shouted Viva. “No one can survive in that darkness without being possessed!”

“It’s James!” exclaimed Lenore. Viva looked over at Lenore to find her struggling to keep her gun from a pale cook who now had black ooze leaking from his lips. “Viva, I know my boy’s voice! Let him in!” she screamed.

Viva turned back to the darkness before shouting, “It’s now or never!”

A figure began running out of the darkness and towards the circle. Viva had barely enough time to recognize James before the young man ran into Viva, knocking him over. Viva took a moment to look up at the young man, from his blue suit and shoes, to the extra shotguns and ammunition, and up to his dark hair thick with sweat from running.

James extended a hand as he helped Viva up, the older sheriff exclaimed, “I’ve never been more happy to see you and your blue suede shoes!”

James handed a bandolier of ammunition instinctively to Viva before pushing past him and towards the center of the circle. With cold efficiency, he blew off the heads of his former colleagues which caused those staff members who were unpossessed to momentarily forget the battle and focus on the man killing their friends.

“That’s Mr. Adams,” a staff member stated to a nearby workman in a hushed tone.

By this time, Lenore had been able to pull her own shotgun away and had just removed the head of her attacker before turning back to see James throw headless bodies outside of the circle. James’ detachment momentarily shocked her but as she saw the bracelet he was wearing, she realized that he had no recollection of these people. To him, the world was simply dark and light. Everyone else was struggling with the thought of having to kill friends that they had worked beside for years; each person wanted to believe that hope for salvation could still come. Would James remember this battle when he removes the bracelet?

James caught Lenore staring and asked, “Can I help with anything ma’am? Do you need more ammunition?”

The lack of recognition hurt Lenore more than she had expected but for the sake of the ongoing battle, she needed to stay disconnected. Lenore nodded her head and as he gave her additional ammunition she stated, “After you finish removing the bodies, please help me on this side of the circle. Most of the army is coming from this side and it would be beneficial to have two marksmen instead of one.”

A couple individuals seemed about to protest but seeing all of the carnage surrounding them, there really was nothing that they could say. There had already been many lives lost by not trusting Lenore and Viva and it seemed that survival was dependent on their judgement. James had reached the last two bodies that needed to be thrown out of the circle and as he went to lift the last body, a voice begin to eerily cackle. Beneath the large cook that James had decapitated, the possessed maid was found alive and on the floor. She looked around at each person in the circle and continued to cackle.

To the shock of all in the circle, the timid and crying maid who had been charged with managing the salt circle picked up the axe that had fallen from the large cook’s hands and rammed it into the back of the cackling possessed maid’s head. The tiny maid lifted the axe back out with some difficulty as dark ooze poured out from the still cackling woman. The maid then adjusted the angle before cutting off the head of the darkness’ spy, the smile frozen on her now dead face. Despite the head rolling outside of the circle, the small maid continued to bring the axe over and over into the body of the now dead individual. After a few minutes, Viva took the axe from the girl and wrapped her in a hug.

“You’ve gone through a trauma, young lady. Just breathe for a minute. You can hug me back if you need to, let me be your teddy bear,” he instructed. Viva really wasn’t sure what he was saying, he just knew that the traumatized girl had snapped and he needed her to calm down for a moment. The rest of the group had moved back to their positions and continued the fight. James threw the final body outside of the circle before moving to stand beside the mother that he didn’t recognize. Lenore and Viva exchanged glances as if to make a silent agreement. The bracelet was not only James’ best defense to survive the night but it would also provide the detachment necessary to survive their supernatural war. The bracelet would not be removed until the fight was over.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Rachel had made it to the ballroom and found that Mrs. Winchester was only half of the way up the ladder. Rachel leaned the stained glass next to each ladder to make replacing the window panes an easier process before looking up at Mrs. Winchester. At Rachel’s incredulous gaze, Mrs. Winchester smiled and pulled out what looked like a hand rolled cigarette. She lit it up and took a deep breath before slowly releasing the cloud of smoke.

“It’s my medication,” explained Mrs. Winchester. She smiled and watched the smoke through smiling crinkled eyes. “I figure we’ve got plenty of time before sunrise and a break for pain management would be alright. Besides, stained glass always looks better as the sun rises and you become high.”

Rachel had to agree with the logic and nodded to Mrs. Winchester. While Mrs. Winchester took another puff, Rachel hurriedly ran up the second ladder to begin work on the second window. Rachel had just barely reached the top when she felt the ladder lurch. Rachel’s heart jumped for a moment but laughed at her own clumsiness. After a night of ghosts, darkness, and dead armies, a broken neck due to imbalance seemed almost a blessing. She took a quick glance down to see if the ladder had somehow moved or was unsecure. To her horror, she saw a ghost fiddling with the screws holding the rungs on the ladder together. Feeling her eyes on him, the ghost looked up before giving a sly and toothless grin.

She looked over at Mrs. Winchester and was relieved that the widow had finished her “medication,” and was now continuing the climb up the ladder, humming to herself. Rachel’s relief at the widow’s safety was quickly changed to dismay as Rachel caught sight of another couple of ghosts who were pointing at Mrs. Winchester. It seemed that the duo of apparitions had been lost in their own scheme for the widow and unaware that Rachel had spotted them. In an attempt to gain the various ghosts attention, Rachel screamed as she pulled out her gun and crashed it through the plain window before her. She knocked out the entire glass pain but managed to brush her arm against a glass shard which created a large gash streaming blood down her side. She winced as she realized that she was now recovering from a bullet on one side and a large gash on the other.

“Seven years bad luck!” sang Mrs. Winchester in a low voice before laughing to herself, still oblivious of the pending ghost attack. The widow had finally reached the top of the ladder but instead of immediately removing the glass panes, she seemed focused on her own reflection. “Do you know that we’re all just wrinkles in the fabric of time? Mother Earth is gracious enough to wrap us in her blanket of night sky.” She then began to hum as she slowly began to work on removing the glass, careful to ensure that this one did not break and incur bad luck.

As Mrs. Winchester began to hum louder, Rachel ripped cloth from her petticoat and wrapped the material around her hands. Biting her lower lip to keep her fear of heights in check, Rachel hooked her booted feet on either side of the ladder and moved her hands to each side and slid down the ladder, ignoring the splinters along the way.

She pulled out her pistol and fired at the toothless ghost but the bullet sped through him, leaving the ghost undamaged. He smirked as he watch the bullet pass through his middle before rushing towards Rachel. Scrambling for another plan, she reached into her apron pocket and felt that there was less than a handful of salt left. She threw the bit of salt that she had in an attempt to fend off the ghost long enough to allow her to run back to the séance table and search for any additional salt or weapons from Brisco. Rachel reached the table and began throwing pillows around looking for any additional weapons. She then felt a cold hand grab her shoulder. The hairs on the back of her neck went up and suddenly she was flying backwards across the room. She landed against the pipe organ and the cacophony of dissonant chords bellowed out as she struggled back up. She had barely enough time to process what was happening before she was thrown again, this time she hit the back of her head against the fireplace.

The room was now spinning and her head was aching. Due to the various injuries, it was becoming difficult to stay conscious. She felt an icy hand yank back her hair forcing her to look up at her captor. Of the 3 ghosts that she had seen in the room, she could see that two were content torturing her. One ghost was holding her by her hair while the toothless ghost seemed to be debating how best to inflict damage on Rachel. He made his decision quickly and stuck an icy finger into the still healing gunshot wound. Rachel tried to hold in the scream as she felt the wound reopen. Tears pricked the sides of her eyes and the ghost who held her by her hair kneed her in the stomach. She felt herself being yanked back up by her hair before the toothless ghost hit her bullet wound again. She then felt a kick into her back and she fell onto the floor, collapsing into the fireplace tools. The two ghosts who had been torturing her were now laughing together but it gave Rachel enough time to spot the third ghost. He had slowly begun to rock the ladder back and forth forcing Mrs. Winchester to hold on with arthritic hands.

Mrs. Winchester, while still oblivious, managed to shout over to Rachel, “Is the room shaking or is it just me?”

Desperate to get the ghost away from the widow, Rachel picked up an iron poker and rushed towards the ghost. She swiped the air as hard as she could and the ghost disappeared. Rachel’s shock was evidently less than what the ghost duo were experiencing. Rachel had just enough time to secure Mrs. Winchester’s ladder before they rushed her. She swung the iron poker as though she were swinging a bat to hit an incoming fastball and both ghosts disappeared.

“You’re right of course, back to work!” called Mrs. Winchester from above. Rachel went to inspect the second ladder but found that it laid in pieces. Rachel was about to bring the stained-glass pane up the ladder to Mrs. Winchester but a chill filled the air and both women could see their breath in front of them.

“Ow! That cold chill just made my fingers freeze up!” commented Mrs. Winchester. She blew on her hands and tried to hold them close to her body in order to warm them back up.

As Rachel looked around and held up the iron poker, she realized that there would be a battle in the ballroom after all. It was clear that some of the spirits had aligned with the darkness and would want to take out the spiritual force of the house, Mrs. Winchester. Rachel stood in front of the ladder and squared her shoulders. She lifted the iron poker higher into the air and tightened her grip with both hands. Clearly, this would not be the easy task that all had assumed it would be, especially with the two women only having an iron poker as a weapon.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Ellie sighed in exasperation. Clive had stopped by to briefly check-in with Ellie. He told her that she was tucked away in a corner and that this friendly bespeckled spirit was not only helping her translate but he would shield her from the sights of the various evil roots, darkness, dead army, and so forth that were currently attempting to maim or kill the rest of her party. Clive had only been there for a few minutes before returning to Socrates but Clive’s parting instruction to the deceased archeologist was that she held the key to resolving everything and must be protected. While it was meant to put her at ease, Ellie only felt more pressure. If everything rested on her, then she needed to relieve the curse as soon as possible. Unfortunately, page after page yielded numerous exciting discoveries for her ghostly protector but none that were useful in the present fight.

As she heard commotions and shouts come from under the house, outside the house, and somewhere inside the house, she began to tap her fingers impatiently on the ground.

“My dear, that incessant rapping will do nothing for finding the answ-“ but he stopped midsentence. He motioned for her to flip back and forth between the two pages. “Aha!” he cried in excitement.

“You’ve got it?”

“No, but I just discovered the world’s best chili recipe,” responded the ghost as he rolled his eyes in sarcasm. “Of course, it’s what we’ve been looking for!”

“So, what do we do?” asked Ellie in excitement.

“Repeat these words exactly as I say them, “Klaatu barada nikto.”

“Klaatu-“ Ellie repeated but stopped mid-sentence when she saw the look of horror in her spirit guide. He looked frozen in time before turning an odd shade of green. Ellie couldn’t help but scream as the ghost-turned-statue fell to the ground and shattered into a million pieces.

“Traitor,” hissed unison voices.

Ellie looked up and recognized the attackers as the cloaked figures that had disappeared after she had defended Brisco with the machete. Ellie took a few steps backwards as she cursed herself for giving Brisco the machete. She had assumed that these figures would continue to chase Brisco and that he would need it to fight these spirits and the Kandarian. The figures floated towards her, while Ellie picked up her shotgun. She fired several rounds of salt at the figures. But it did nothing.

In fact, the two figures simply cocked their heads to one side. Like a cat playing with its prey, studying its attempt at escape in mild amusement before obliterating it.

In desperation, Ellie thought of her mission and screamed out, “Klaatu Barbados-“ as she attempted to reload.

But the spirits were too quick. Suddenly they were towering over her as they had done to Brisco earlier in the evening. They began to laugh as Ellie felt her soul being ripped out of her body in a great rushing wind.

Ellie struggled to stay standing but as she started to fall, she felt the words stumble out, “Klaatu… Barada…”

The vengeful spirits looked like they were growing to Ellie and the cellar felt like it was going black. She felt the tears starting burn the corners of her eyes as the pain of losing her soul was beyond anything that she had experienced before. They began to laugh at her crumpled body.

She gathered every last bit of her strength and finally muttered the last word, “Nikto.”

As soon as the words were uttered, the ground beneath her began to violently shake. The cloaked figures shrieked in pain but instead of disappearing like they did with the sword, they suddenly erupted in a floating fire.

Ellie sat on the ground and felt the world around begin to normalize. She was still too weak to stand and so she sat in the darkness, taking deep breath, and praying that she said the words correctly. She blacked out but in her dream-like state it felt like she was being rolled away from the world.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Brisco had found the Kandarian at least ten minutes earlier but had hid behind a column to study his opponent. The Kandarian seemed to be about Brisco’s height with long matted hair hanging down his back. There was a small glow emanating from what Brisco assumed was a book on the ground. It gave an eerie light to the area and Brisco could see the Kandarian’s face in the haunting glow. His face looked like it was rotting flesh with a bit of the skull peeking out around the jaw and nose. There was a large gash across the forehead as though it had been cut by a dagger or knife. He had a chain wrapped around his neck as though he had escaped from a Medieval dungeon. His clothes looked like those of an old king in style and could quite possible be authentic as the garments looked to be rotted and aged for several hundred years.

The figure paced in the darkness around the glowing book and he seemed to be shouting. Brisco stopped breathing for a moment to better hear what the being was saying as it was hard to hear over the heartbeat in Brisco’s ears. When Brisco could finally begin to make out the words, it was clear that the Kandarian was providing commands to his undead army outside. To Brisco’s surprise, the being picked up old mirrors from a nearby junk table. The figure than uttered a few sentences in an unknown language before the reflections faded and a grey cloud swirled in its place. In a few moments, the mirrors had changed to eerie windows into various parts of the battle. In a moment, the Kandarian had pulled up the faces of what Brisco assumed were his top generals as their individual commands led charges into various parts of the house. How could they defeat an evil that can see the entire battlefield from a safe distance away? One that can communicate to all parts of his army in an instant and observe their progress live while Brisco and his friends had to have faith that each accomplished their individual mission? Brisco steadied his breathing to better hear the Kandarian and his generals.

“Thank you all for joining the call this evening,” began the Kandarian. The various generals grunted their greetings.

Kandarian cleared his throat before continuing, “Army One, it looks like the smoke force has cleared a path for you. Have you been able to break-through-”

A tumultuous sound broke over the mirrors which drowned out the Kandarian’s conversation with the Army One General.

“Put yourself on mute unless I call on you!” commanded an irritated Kandarian.

A raspy voice responded, “It looks like they have placed salt around the kitchen staff but we have been able to get a spy into the center of their-“

Another crash of sound this time combined with screaming.

“I said put yourselves on mute unless I call on you!” raged the Kandarian. “If I find that you have disobeyed my mute order again, I will have your head and appoint someone else as a general in your stead!”

At that moment, the mirrors all went silent. Brisco peaked around the beam once more and found that all of the mirrors still had figures in various stages of decay standing in front of their individual battle scenes but everything had gone quiet.

“Army Two, have you found the rest of the household yet? Mrs. Winchester might be arthritic and old but she is much too powerful to allow her to live through the night,” continued the Kandarian.

The silence continued. Brisco squinted his eyes to look beyond the Kandarian and it looked like one of the corpse generals was talking but there wasn’t any sound being relayed into the basement.

“You’re on mute,” Kandarian observed through clenched teeth.

The silence remained.

“You’re still on mute…”

“Can you hear me now?” boomed a deep baritone voice.

“Yes, please relay your report.”

“Hello? I said, can you hear me?” continued the low resonating voice.

“We can all hear you!” said Kandarian. If he had eyelids, they would certainly be rolling.

However, the mirror froze and the earth began to shake like a minor earthquake was occurring. Brisco almost lost his footing but quickly rebalanced himself. Brisco leaned his back against the column as he realized that Ellie had completed her mission. Brisco took a deep breath, knowing that this was the moment that he had been waiting for, but before he jumped out of hiding a voice came out of the darkness.

“Haven’t you heard the saying, ‘if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back at you,” Mr. County?”

Brisco slowly peered around the column to see Kandarian with his back towards Brisco but staring into a mirror. It forced Brisco to look past Kandarian and into the mirrors behind the evil figure. At that moment, all of the mirrors had changed from the skeletal generals to the same picture in each mirror. To Brisco’s horror, every mirror was showing Brisco’s own self hiding behind a support beam. Kandarian was watching Brisco.

Brisco would not have the element of surprise on his side.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Socrates had been moving only a few steps at a time, slowly moving through the roots slithering across the once bare, concrete floor. Clive had said that the foundation was a form of concrete but the leaves and dirt brought in by the root system made the underground feel and look more like the underbrush of an ancient forest. Socrates had passed two bodies of men whose faces and hair had turned a disgusting shade of grey. They seemed to cackle into the darkness as though driven mad by the poison injected into their veins. To Socrates relief, they had not noticed him in the darkness but seemed lost in their own insanity.

Socrates was moving towards a lamp that Clive had pointed out, it was swinging several meters away. It seemed almost carefree and happy, despite the sea of dark eel-like vines and roots below it. To Socrates, it seemed to mock him because no matter how many tiny steps that he took, it still felt like the destination was hours away. Socrates attempted to hold onto Clive’s explanation that a direct approach would only bring about a sudden death to Socrates, so any hope at survival would have to be painstakingly slow movements. When Socrates passed another two bodies of men, these men also grey and cackling to themselves, Socrates began to lose hope that he would find Whip alive. These men looked more gruesome that the last pair with the added element of a black goo spilling out over them.

After what felt like an eternity, Socrates was finally close enough to see Whip’s face by the light of the swinging lamp. To his relief Whip still looked human, without any sign of black goo or strange skin. Unfortunately, he was bent like a marionette lying on the ground which meant his friend had at least a couple broken bones. Even at this distance and poor lighting, Whip looked as though he had lost any hope of surviving the evening.

As Socrates paused to weigh his options for a next footstep in the slithering mass of roots, he took the opportunity to study Whip’s location. Whip was pinned to the ground in front of a twisted and evil looking tree. There seemed to be hundreds of roots between the Socrates and Whip, not to mention no way to determine how broken Whip was or the best way to lift him out of danger. To make matters worse, he could not call for Whip’s attention without potentially placing both individuals in danger. Beads of sweat began to slide down Socrates’ nose and he removed his glasses while wiping his face with a handkerchief that had been forgotten in a pocket. Looking at the cloth in his hand, Socrates had an idea. He attempted to silently wave it in the dark, desperately praying that Whip would be able to see it.

Suddenly the ground began to shake and the roots shrieked as though something had frightened them; all vegetation began to hurriedly pull back towards the center as though they needed to protect the tree. In that moment, Socrates had a clearing before him, a direct path to Whip without any roots to deter him. Socrates took the opportunity to run a full speed, or as much speed as he could muster with his aching body, towards Whip in a desperate hope to make up time. Unfortunately, when he finally was within yards of Whip’s feet, everything stopped. There was a noticeable silence in the basement. Socrates halted, aware of the calculating stillness in the air. It felt as though the tree and roots, which had previously been unaware of his presence, had suddenly realized that another human was in the basement. More specifically, that their trap was just about to bring in their first prey. Socrates held his breath and shut his eyes, praying that he would be unseen and unheard by the evil tree before him.

In that moment, Whip could also feel that there had been a change in the atmosphere. He scrunched his abdominal muscles in an attempt to look beyond his toes and was shocked to see Socrates, face scrunched as his eyes were closed.

“Socrates! What the hell are you doing here?” demanded Whip in a hoarse voice.

Socrates waved his hands as if to motion a need for silence but it was too late. Roots had begun sliding back out and in Socrates’ direction. Knowing where Socrates stood, the evil tree seemed to find pleasure in torturing both men by slowly circling around Socrates’ location in an attempt to build terror for the trapped prey. The cackling laughs from the darkness began anew, but with a more targeted evil taunt directed at Socrates and Whip.

Socrates debated running but knew that this was Whip’s only chance and elected to hold his ground. Socrates swung the gun that Brisco had given him in the ballroom and aimed it towards the tree. He took careful aim, attempted to remember what Brisco had taught him, and fired.

To Whip and Socrates frustration, he missed the tree entirely.

In the darkness, two voices began to taunt, “We’re gonna get you! We’re gonna get you!”

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Viva, Lenore, James, and their small group of staff survivors had moved through most of the ammunition resupply when kitchen began to shake. The group looked at each other nervously, unsure what new hell was about to unfold. Instead, the room went still. And then with a terrified and angry shriek, the darkness dissipated up and out of the house. Something, or someone, had finally broken the curse of the dark cloud that had murdered so many staff members before taunting Lenore’s group of survivors.

With the darkness out of the kitchen, the household continued to eye the dead and rotting bodies that had been surrounding the circle. To everyone’s amazement, the undead stood upright, turned on their heels and walked away. This time not as an army in unison but more as individuals moving at the various speeds they had in life. The only similarity is that they were all moving out of the house and away from the mansion. Viva stood at the door to provide cover as several staff members followed the undead. After a few minutes, Viva could only assume that they were heading back towards their final resting places.

“What is darkness afraid of?” asked a woman near James.

“Light,” responded Lenore. She looked around at the staff on the floor and knelt to begin caring for the uninfected injured.

James passed his mother moved towards Viva and was about to follow the undead across town and to their graves but Viva held him back. “Lenore, is it time?”

Lenore looked up and sadly nodded. If she could keep him from the horrors of the night, she would. But it was not her decision and James was not a child. He would need to face the morning with the rest of the survivors. Viva pressed two buttons and released James from the bracelet. As the memories began to flow back through James’ mind, Viva pressed the bracelet into the young man’s hand. “Be sure to keep that item safe,” Viva instructed.

James nodded and pocketed the bracelet. He stumbled to his mother and gave her a long hug. “Shit! Mama! We gotta get back to Mrs. Winchester and Rachel!”

“You go on, son, I’m gonna stay here and help these people get mended. Viva – go with James!” commanded Lenore.

James kissed her cheek before nodding his head in the direction that Viva would need to follow him towards. Just before James was out of the kitchen, he turned back and asked a question his father used to say in dangerous times, “Mama? Your back?”

She smiled as she held up the nearby shotgun, “Oh! I’ll watch it!”

She watched Viva and James leave before the young workman asked, “And what should we do in the meantime?”

“Stay together but follow the undead and ensure that they really leave the grounds,” she instructed. As she turned back towards the injured girl with a large laceration in her side, Lenore heard the sound of the bell. Only it was playing an odd rhythm, almost like it was morse code but more complex.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Pete had moved through a tangle of hallways and back entrances until finally arriving at a door which led to an easy access to the roof. With coaxing from the guide, Pete was finally at the edge of the red bricked sloped roof. He looked at the ghost incredulously before stating, “And why am I going to the top of this tower instead of ringing it from below?”

“That area is being heavily guarded and while I know that you would survive, we don’t have time for you to heal.”

“And if I miss and fall to the ground? Do you think that I’ll have enough time to heal from the broken bones?” demanded Pete.

The ghost shrugged before smiling and stating, “Then don’t miss.”

Pete rolled his eyes before studying the distance between the roof and the wooden structure of the belltower. He took a deep breath before jumping the small distance and grabbing onto one of the wooden planks of the tower. The rest of his body hit the lower wooden planks with a painful thud but Pete shook off the jolt before regaining his footing.

Pete glanced down and found that there was indeed an army of undead below which proved that the ghost had not been lying. However, at the sound of his jump onto the structure the rotting figures below looked up at Pete. As Pete began climbing up, he could see the guards below begin to climb the structure as well. As he continued to climb up wooden plank after plank, he felt and heard the sound of a large flapping wings filled the air. Pete had just enough time to turn and look for the source of the sound before a boney hand hit him square in the jaw. At the shock of the punch, Pete grabbed the plank to keep from falling. That action forced him to glance down at the ground and measure the long distance between himself and the guards below. While they were still quite aways down, any further attacks might enable them to catch up.

“Why am I always the guy in the belltower?” muttered Pete as he regained his footing and studied his attacker. It was the skeletal bugler on the winged boney beast from earlier in the evening. The duo had flown by Pete during the initial attack and looked to be making a large U-turn in an effort to make another pass at Pete.

Pete began to hurriedly move up the rest of the tower. As he climbed, he looked for his ghostly companion but she had disappeared. While irritated at being abandoned, Pete continued to scale the tower and finally made it to the top. He stood squarely in front of the bell and pulled out his piece and its newly acquired companion before taking aim and shooting both pistols towards the flying evil. The shots nicked the bones of both creatures but did not dissuade nor destroy either figure. Pete again looked around for his ghostly companion but she was still nowhere to be found. Pete studied the approaching scout and noticed that it lacked any weapons aside from his own bones and the winged creature. To that end, the skeleton was balanced on his creature with one arm holding a humorous bone as a club. Pete couldn’t see the rest of the skeleton’s arm bones as the duo continued to move towards him. Just as the figure was in reach, the skeleton swung the humorous bone but Pete managed to duck narrowly missing the bugler’s attack.

As the creature continued its path and made way for another turn, the female apparition returned but seemed to be smoking as if she was on fire with hands that looked somehow injured. He looked at her incredulously as she explained, “I tried to bring you a salt container but it wasn’t closed all the way and managed to burn me.”

The two allies helplessly watched the winged creature finish its U-turn and ready itself for another pass before looking down and seeing the undead creatures below move closer to him. Even with the specter’s assistance, Pete was unsure how best to defeat the attack from above and below. But to the ghost’s relief, the house began to move as though experiencing a small earthquake. Pete quickly moved to a bell support beam for safety as the bell absorbed the unwanted shaking and rang out its annoyance at the recent movement. From where Pete stood, he watched the winged creature and its pilot go from a flight of attack to falling helplessly to the ground like a bag of bones. He then looked down to see the decedents move slowly away as if no longer interested in Pete or the mansion itself.

“Ellie has completed the counter-spell,” explained the ghost as a confused Pete watched his attackers disappear.

“After all of this excess risk of injury, remind me again why a ghost can’t ring the bell?” asked a dubious Pete.

“Most of the tasks of the evening need humans to complete them but this one could probably be completed by a ghost. But I couldn’t take that risk and besides, I needed an opportunity to talk with you alone,” she explained.

Pete turned towards her, livid at the unnecessary risks he had just taken for this ghost. Seeing that Pete was about to unload his fury, she held up her hands and stated, “I said probably! We couldn’t risk not having this bell code task completed.

Unable to combat her logic yet still quite furious, he continued through gritted teeth, “This seems an inappropriate time to have an intimate conversation.”

“I’m saving those for another day,” she grinned at him before turning her attention back on the bell to study it.

Pete was immediately stunned, confused, and distracted from his anger. “Is it my imagination or is this ghost flirting with him?”

The moment passed as the ghost gave him the pattern for the bell. The rhythm for ringing the bell was easy to grasp but it took a few tries before Pete could complete it correctly. It was a series of a short rings followed by pauses, something that the ghost called “binary code.” When he entered the correct code, the purple haze began to melt away. There was a light shower in the mist which caused Pete to ask, “Is that purple rain?”

“Seems to be,” agreed the ghost before she turned back to Pete. “Has anyone ever called you a “prince among men?’”

Pete looked at her incredulously, unsure how to respond to the ghost before replying, “Only a prince of thieves. However, in my experience, that level of flattery is usually accompanied by a request.”

When the ghost did not respond or deny Pete’s comment, Pete pressed, “So, what would a ghost want with me?”

“I need you to kill Charles.”

Pete felt like every statement coming from the apparition only increased his fascination but also seemed to be more incredulous than the last. After several moments Pete couldn’t contain his curiosity and asked, “I thought that Livi was yours and his progeny? Why would you want me to kill Livi’s pater?”

Her face darkened. “There’s a lot that you will learn in the near future but suffice it to say, he was never a romantic partner of mine. He was the individual who turned me in; he might as well have signed my death warrant. To make matters worse, he stole my daughter.”

Her revelation was immediately followed by the sound of Lenore shouting. It was as if Pete’s ears had been opened to suddenly hear the commotion occurring around him. The noise startled Pete and he took a moment to glance down below at the courtyard. While he couldn’t clearly see Lenore, her shouts were not out of fear or horror, just stern commands. Feeling relieved that Lenore was safe, Pete looked back up and in the direction of the ghost but she had disappeared. Still angry about the recent attack, irritated by her disappearing act, and slightly overwhelmed by the bombshell confession, Pete hurried to get to the downstairs’ kitchen. He’d check on Lenore and James but if everything was safe, he would grab his bracelet and get the hell out of this mansion filled with odd specters.

Even the “friendly” ghosts seemed to have ulterior motives and Pete preferred to live outside of other people’s motives or plans.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Cat’s out of the bag. I guess we’re onto Plan B, thought Brisco.

He slowly came around his hiding place but stayed at a distance from Kandarian.

“I’d shake your hand but- uh…” Brisco lifted his machete duct taped to his injured hand. He continued to slowly step towards Kandarian while keeping an eye out for slithering roots.

“I appreciate the gesture. And you will pardon me for not immediately greeting you upon your entrance.”

“You wanted me to see your plans for the evening?” Brisco asked while taking his adversary in. How do I remove the head of this monster?

“To show you that resistance is futile. You and the rest of the humans are no match for my armies.” As Kandarian finished speaking, the mirrors changed back to their various parts of the house. Brisco had to admit that several battles did look hopeless. Pete was up in a bell tower with the female ghost fighting the winged creature and its skeletal pilot. Rachel was fighting ghosts in the ballroom with a frail Mrs. Winchester struggling to lift a stained glass up the ladder. Whip was in the basement covered in roots with Socrates nowhere in sight. But the last mirror gave Brisco some hope. The kitchen held Lenore giving instructions to various staff members but it was void of any conflict. In fact, it looked like the undead were moving, albeit slowly, away from the house. When Brisco looked back at Pete and the female ghost, they were no longer fighting creatures but seemed to be ringing the bell.

When the bell finished its odd melody, Brisco pointed with the machete and observed, “It looks like the undead are leaving, you seem to have already lost.”

“That is only part of my army and admittedly, the weakest part. But every army needs pawns, individuals that you can sacrifice to protect your greatest weapons.”

“Such as?” inquired Brisco. At that moment, a mirror changed from the slow pace of an undead individual’s vantage point to an ugly and twisted tree that held Whip captive. Brisco was running out of time to take out Kandarian and potentially open an opportunity for Whip’s rescue.

Instead of a witty comment, all Brisco could think to do was give a yell of anger, frustration, and war. As he yelled, he charged at the Kandarian and shooting his live rounds of ammunition.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Mrs. Winchester had finally made it to the top rung and was in the process of placing in the first stained glass. Rachel was not having the same luck. After winning the first round with the ghosts, Rachel had quickly scraped together any salt that she could find at the bottom of the weapons box and by opening up a couple salt shotgun rounds that she had found. In an effort to protect the widow, she spread what little salt she could gather in a small circle around Mrs. Winchester’s ladder. From that moment on, none of the ghosts could touch Mrs. Winchester. Unfortunately, there was only enough salt to protect Mrs. Winchester and the stained glass that Rachel had leaned against the ladder. There was not enough to protect Rachel and she wanted to be sure to protect Mrs. Winchester when the next batch of ghosts arrived.

Unfortunately, alone and out of salt with only the iron poker as protection meant that Rachel was starting to tire. The iron managed to make the ghosts temporarily disappear but only for a few minutes. To make matters worse, additional ghosts were also joining the fray. It felt like all of the ghosts in the house who still had anger and vengeful intent towards Mrs. Winchester had found their chance to attack. But in being kept from harming the widow due to a salt circle made them more irate and they took it out on the bodyguard, Rachel. Rachel’s wounded shoulder and her lacerated arm were causing such excruciating pain that swinging the iron over and over was increasingly becoming impossible. Her muscles were aching and suddenly she lost her grip of the iron and it fell to the floor with a loud clatter. The ghosts immediately pounced on her vulnerability. A ghost ripped Rachel’s head back by her hair, the force caused Rachel’s eyes to brim with tears in pain. However, it gave Rachel the opportunity to watch the widow place the first stained glass into the pane and begin to slowly move her arthritic body back down the ladder. Rachel breathed a sigh of relief that they had been able to accomplish half of their mission. She took one more breath and closed her eyes, expecting this breath to be her last.

A gunshot fired and she felt her hair released. Rachel opened her eyes and turned to see that James had used a salt round to shoot her captor. Within moments, Viva arrived in the room behind James and the two began to rapidly shoot at the ghosts, finally clearing out the room.

In the moment’s pause, Rachel caught her breath before warning the men, “They won’t be gone long.”

“Where’s Pete, Whip, and Socrates?” asked Viva.

“The good-lookin’ long-haired fellow disappeared,” gushed the widow, still on a high from her medication. “Euripides is off trying to rescue another of your party, the handsome man with the chin is fighting Kandarian, and the other woman has released the spell. After summarizing the various missions, she paused for another round of medication. As she slowly blew out the smoke, she held it up as if to ask James if he wanted some. James simply held up his hand as though to state, “Not at this moment.”

“Socrates working to rescue Whip from the basement?” asked Viva. “Those two don’t have a chance against the evil that I saw down there!” exclaimed Viva as he started for the door.

“Right behind you,” called James but Viva immediately halted upon hearing James.

“No, we have all worked hard to rescue and protect you. I am not about to risk you coming to the basement with me.”

“You need as many hands as possible,” argued James.

We need another hand,” Rachel pleaded. James frowned as he studied her open wounds and realized that Rachel could no longer defend the widow or herself.

“She’s right,” called Mrs. Winchester. She took another inhale of her medication and blew out the smoke before continuing. “It seems that all of the unfriendly vibrations have elected to take advantage of the situation and are determined to not only undermine our mission with the stained-glass windows but to take my life.”

James looked torn between Mrs. Winchester and Viva. It was clear that he did not like the idea of being prevented from joining the more dangerous mission but at the same time, he did not want Mrs. Winchester to be harmed after all that she had done for him.

“But what about you?” pressed James.

“I’m going with him,” stated Pete as he came out from the shadows.

“Hutter, where the hell have you been?” demanded Viva.

“Would you like to discuss events of the evening and compare our various battle stories over a cup of tea or would you like to give Ellie, Socrates, and Whip a better chance of surviving the night?” asked Pete in sarcasm. When Viva reluctantly shrugged in response, Pete continued, “So, that part is settled. What’s next?”

Viva called up to the widow, “Any idea where Whip is located in the basement?”

“Find Clive,” instructed the widow. At that, she finished her medication which not only helped her inflamed joint pain but also managed to calm the extreme anxiety of the evening. She then continued her journey down the ladder.

Armed with the widow’s instructions, Viva handed the axe that he had taken back from the traumatized maid to Pete before the two hurriedly left the ballroom. With James and Rachel left to guard the widow, they kept one eye on Mrs. Winchester while James attempted to stop Rachel’s bleeding wounds.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Ellie woke up to a ringing in her ears. She sat up and noticed that Clive had managed to wheel her out of the cellar in his wheelbarrow. His icy hand held hers in an effort to lift her up and out of the cart. Rachel felt a small pain in her back and looked into the wheelbarrow to see that she had been lying on the dynamite from Miami. Ellie shakily turned around to watch the cellar doors. Socrates, Whip, and Brisco should be coming out any second. But as the minutes passed and as she continued to pace in front of the doors, she could not see anyone coming out. She was so engrossed in the search that she had hardly noticed the bells ringing, the dome disintegrating, or the sun slowly begin to rise. She was only acutely aware of the dead bodies walking haphazardly away from the mansion. But as they seemed more interested in leaving the mansion’s property than attacking anyone, she ignored the undead and refocused on the house.

“Ellie, that is still a truly ridiculous outfit,” came a familiar sing song taunt. She turned to face Pete before he continued, “You should really change before the sun comes up and the local socialites catch sight of you. We don’t need women wearing pajamas during the day.”

“You!” she exclaimed. “If you hadn’t wandered off, Poole would be safe with Mrs. Winchester instead of trying to rescue Whip!”

“Miss Ellie, I think that you have me confused. I am not the hero type and I have never claimed to be. Additionally, I am still irritated at Poole for taking my bracelet without permission.”

Ellie gave an exasperated sigh and rolled her eyes. “Well, can you at least look in the cellar to see what is taking them so long? Clive won’t let me in.”

“Only because I owe you so much,” replied Pete. After studying her hopeful face he continued, “If it’s a hopeless situation, you know that I am not the martyr type, right?” As the question was more rhetorical than sincere, he turned and called from the direction that he just came from. “C’mon you lagger! Quit dallying!”

Ellie watched as Viva came into view, clearly not pleased about Pete’s name calling nature. When she turned back towards Pete, he was in a low conversation with Clive and loading up on the last of the ammunition and dynamite.

“Well, howdy Clive!” called Viva. “I hear you can help me find Socrates and Whip.”

Clive nodded and motioned for Pete and Viva to follow him back towards the opening that Viva, Whip, and the rest of the crew all had entered through at the evening’s beginning. With Clive no longer keeping Ellie from entering the cellar, she tried to sneak in with them when a cold hand gripped her wrist tightly.

“Ow!” Ellie exclaimed as she looked at her arm but there was no one there. She attempted to free herself but the icy hand began to forcefully pull her away from the basement entrance and back towards the center of the house with Ellie fighting to free herself with every step.

Pete and Viva followed Clive under the house but both stopped short as Clive asked, “Do either of y’all have a lighter?”

“Why the hell would we need-“ began Viva.

“I have one,” interrupted Pete.

“Keep it close,” whispered Clive’s instructions.

Pete nodded acknowledgement before Clive led the two into the darkness. Viva and Pete found abandoned flashlights from the workmen and carefully lifted them to study the darkness. The floor was squiggling as though covered by snakes. To Pete’s surprise, the slithering creatures were actually roots and branches. They seemed to be stretching out looking for its next meal. At the heart of the house, they could make out a lantern swinging in the darkness. But it was still a long way to go.

“Don’t let the roots touch or capture you!” whispered Clive as Pete and Viva began to slowly walk through the basement.

“Because that was my first inclination,” Pete replied in sarcasm. “Jump head first into a sea of evil looking roots that are squiggling around like snakes.”

“Sshh!” commanded Viva as he paused to listen.

Pete held his breath and could hear two voices cackling in the darkness. The two men shined their flashlights in the direction of the voices and found two bodies that were gray with white hair. They each had black goo leaking out of their mouths and ears and roots crawling all over their bodies.

“Result of capture?” asked Pete to which Clive nodded an affirmative reply.

Viva visibly shook before muttering, “I’m all shook up.”

After several painstaking moments of tiptoeing through the maze of branches and roots, Pete and Viva were finally within sight of Socrates. The evil plant had not yet touched the attorney but it had certainly entrapped him in a large circle of roots and branches.

“Socrates!” whispered Viva in a hoarse voice as he tried to wave for the lawyer’s attention.

“Get the hell out of here!” whispered a hoarse and panicked Socrates as he waved his handkerchief towards the exit.

Unfortunately, the whispers were not quiet enough as the branches and roots seemed to realize the presence of the other two men and began to tighten the circle around Socrates to prevent the possibility of rescue for its captives. In response to the lawyer’s predicament, Pete and Viva began shooting root after root and branch after branch as they moved towards Socrates’ position. Viva looked up as a viney branch suddenly rose up and speared Socrates through his back and out his stomach.

“Nooo!” came Whip’s agonized scream. He watched as Socrates eyes bulged in pain as he stared down at the root sticking out of his stomach. It was as though he could not process the wound that he was experiencing.

Pete and Viva were finally able to move past the lantern and found themselves staring up at an ugly and twisted tree. Pete pulled out the axe and began chopping at the branches while Viva continued to fire buck shot rounds into the roots. They could almost see Whip but the roots and branches attempted to block the last few feet towards Whip by layering themselves on top of each other in an attempt to create a boundary. As Pete and Viva continued to slice and shoot at the tangled web before them, the root system screamed whiney inhuman screams as though each of the roots were somehow alive.

“I thought that breaking the spell would have killed these things?” asked Pete confused. “Did I miss something from the ghost’s directions?”

“How would I know?” asked Viva finally cutting through the last branch. He helped Whip sit up but noticed that his leg was broken.

“Kill me!” gasped Whip.

“Don’t be a martyr!” snorted Viva before picking up Whip by his arms and began dragging him backwards towards the entrance. Pete meanwhile continued to chop at roots to get towards Socrates. When Pete finally made it to Socrates, his mouth fell open as he took in the gruesome sight of the attorney. He studied the branch that had run through Socrates’ body, trying to figure out how to pull Socrates out and away from the mess. He was so engrossed that he did not notice Clive who had joined the two men and he jumped when Clive began to speak.

“You saw it didn’t you?” asked Clive.

“Yes,” Socrates replied between coughs of blood.

“Saw what?” demanded Pete.

“The root system. It’s culminating out of the first infected man’s body.” Pete turned around to look at the body Clive and Socrates were discussing. To Pete’s horror, there was an emaciated body that had been underneath Whip. It had so many roots coming out and through from every part of the body that it was almost impossible to tell that it had once been a man’s body.

“What do we do?” asked Socrates.

“Fire is our only hope,” replied Clive.

“I’ve got the dynamite,” offered Pete as he pulled out the sticks that he had packed for the night’s adventures. However, looking at the goal of throwing it at the source of evil and noticing the short fuse, he looked at Clive and asked, “But how do we get the attorney out?”

“I’ll give you a head start,” replied Socrates with a smile as blood dripped down his chin. At Pete’s shocked face, Socrates continued, “I’m not being a hero, I’m just a dead man already, Pete. Plus, someone has to ensure that this evil shrubbery is utterly destroyed.”

Pete handed the dynamite to Socrates in speechless shock. The plan made sense although he didn’t like owing Socrates anything. As Pete tried to find a way to express appreciation, Socrates nodded his head towards the exit and commanded, “Go! Now! I won’t be able to see you so I’ll give you three minutes before I light the dynamite.”

Pete began moving back towards the exit, this time moving faster than when they entered as the amputated roots seemed to be more engrossed in its pain than the intruders. Since Viva was still dragging Whip backwards, it didn’t take long to arrive just behind the two men. But to Pete’s horror, a grey hand reached out of the darkness and grabbed Viva by the ankle. It pulled Viva with such force, that the sheriff was down in a moment. Pete shined his flashlight on the perpetrator and found that the grey hand belonged to what used to be a human. It was one of the bodies that Pete and Viva had passed assuming it was dead as it had already turned grey with black oozing out of its mouth. Seconds later a second body that matched the first crawled out of the darkness and bit into Whip. Pete was horror stricken as the two zombie like creatures began to gnaw away at Viva and Whip. Pete began to move towards the two creatures but Clive appeared out of the darkness and stood in Pete’s way.

“They’re gone,” explained Clive. “If you are going to survive, you have got to leave now!”

Admitting that Clive was correct, Pete jumped over the two bodies and ran towards the exit while shouting over his shoulder, “Light the damn thing now!”

At Pete’s call, Socrates lit the fuse, took aim, and threw it at the corpse buried at the base of the evil tree. The first dynamite fell close to the tree but not the man. Unsure how long before the fuse would run out or how much time before the tree figured out the plan, Socrates quickly threw the next stick of dynamite. When the second one also missed the target, Socrates coughed and wiped the blood from his face. He let go of his frustration in an effort to take one last deep breath and this time the dynamite hit its target perfectly. The first dynamite went off which led to the other sticks also exploding.

The fire ripped through Reynold’s corpse and the tree before moving along the branches and roots. It enveloped the bodies of the zombies and our heroes. The force of the explosions forced Pete to fall to the ground, only a few yards from the exit.

Before everything went black, Pete wondered, “Will I die from the explosion fire or the house collapsing on top of me?”

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Brisco’s flurry of bullets in Kandarian’s direction only managed to stun the evil opponent. After only a few moments, Kandarian lifted his hand and a root came springing from the ground and wrapped around Brisco’s ankles. Bored by the display, Kandarian turned his back to Brisco to study his mirrors as though he could no longer be bothered by a pestering fly.

Brisco used the machete to hack away at the roots, which screamed in protest. Unfortunately, he was only able to move a couple more steps before another set lassoed his legs which pulled him to the ground. Irritated by the newly formed pattern of capture, Brisco lifted the shotgun and rapidly refilled the barrel. Within a matter of moments, he took aim and fired. The bullet only grazed the Kandarian’s head but it did manage to take out one of the mirrors. Before his opponent could take reciprocate, Brisco fired again. This time, he blew out the second mirror. Kandarian gave out an eerie guttural scream, something truly unnatural and blood curdling.

“I’ve got news for you, Kandy- you ain’t leading anyone but Jack and Shit. And guess what? Jack just left town!”

“Alright, County! You have my attention! Let’s play!” At Kandarian’s words the roots sank away from Brisco’s feet enabling him to get his footing. Brisco aimed his gun at Kandarian’s head but the shotgun merely clicked.

“Out of bullets, County?” mocked Kandarian.

Brisco merely swung the gun to the ground before raising his machete bound hand and his free fist. The two circled each other, eyeing each other for vulnerabilities. As Brisco continued around the room, he felt the glass crunch beneath his boots.

“Aren’t you going to ask about my evil plan?” hissed Kandarian before he lunged towards Brisco.

“Hadn’t planned on it,” commented Brisco as he sliced off Kandarian’s hand. The adversary howled in irritation before picking it up from the ground and reattaching it. As Brisco watched in fascination, he continued, “In my experience, all evil plans end the same. Use evil means to conquer the world and then rule it for as long as possible. It gets to be routine after the first one or two.”

Kandarian did not reply but brandished a sword from his tattered clothes and gave Brisco a bone chilling sneer.

“Where were you hiding that thing?” asked Brisco.

“My pockets are bigger on the inside,” retorted Kandarian.

“Very fancy.”

At that moment, Kandarian stepped forward and swung his sword towards Brisco’s head. Brisco had just enough time to duck and attempt a lunge at Kandarian. Unfortunately, he missed and only managed to slice at his adversary’s cloak. Brisco continued to circle Kandarian before attempting to cut his opponent down, again he missed but not before Kandarian kicked Brisco’s injured hand.

The pain from the broken hand went shooting up Brisco’s arm. He grimaced in pain as he doubled over to shield his hand from pain. The machete briefly rested on the ground as Brisco moved his eyes between his opponent and the excruciating limb.

Kandarian laughed maniacally while musing, “It’s truly not a fair fight with your injury. It’s too easy, I could beat you with one hand behind my back.”

“Why don’t you?” came Brisco’s gruff retort.

“I never play fair,” commented Kandarian before he swung at Brisco, managing to wound him. Brisco winced in pain but found a glimmer of hope as it looked like Kandorian left himself open when he lunged. Brisco had to look for it the next time he struck.

“Sounds about right. You need an army to fight your battles while you stay hidden and safe down here in the basement,” goaded Brisco. The comment hit its mark as his foe’s face darkened and so Brisco continued, “In fact, you are so out of date that you wouldn’t last one minute without your various weapons of darkness and evil.”

The irate enemy swung again with everything that he had which gave Brisco the opportunity he needed. Brisco leaned backwards out of the way while grabbing Kandarian’s arm as it passed. Brisco quickly brought his knee up with such force that Kandarian was forced to drop the sword. Brisco then swung back around and chopped off Kandarian’s sword fighting arm before Brisco ran head-first toward the confused Kandarian’s mid-section which knocked the foe to the ground. Kandarian was laying on his back but before he could sit back up, Brisco stomped his right foot down on the heaving chest of the rotting evil man.

With Kandarian pinned beneath Brisco’s boot, Brisco held the sword inches away from Kandarian’s head before saying, “Yo- he bitch! Hail to the King!” And with those words chopped off the head, leaving the lifeless body limp on the ground.

Brisco took a deep breath but was granted little time to relish the victory. A child ghost materialized next to Brisco and grabbed his hand to lead him towards the nearest exit.

“The entire basement is about to catch fire,” the boy explained. Brisco ran with the apparition and came to an old back entrance. The wood had rotted shut and Brisco had to kick at it a few times before he could get the door to begrudgingly swing open. Brisco had barely stepped outside when an explosion knocked Brisco to the ground.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

The sun was just starting to peak over the horizon when Rachel finished placing the second window pane. It had been tedious watching Mrs. Winchester climb back down each rung of the ladder but as soon as she was down and James confirmed that she was safe inside the salt circle, Rachel grabbed the second stained glass and ran up the ladder.

Rachel had just barely placed the window in its designated spot when she felt the ladder swing backwards. She screamed and looked down to see that an evil spirit had managed to shove the ladder in the opposite direction of the wall and she was about to fall backwards. She looked towards James but found that he was laying on the ground with a sword pointed at his neck by a nasty looking ghost. Rachel tightly shut her eyes and braced for the impact that would surely break bones. Only instead of a painful crash, she felt a tremor from below her feet. If she had to guess it might have been a distant explosion.

She kept her eyes shut and held her breath waiting to feel the wind swish by as the ladder fell, but it did not happen. She opened an eye and looked down but couldn’t see the ghost. She carefully opened both eyes to get a better view and noticed that the ghost had vanished and she was balancing straight up in the center of the room. She glanced at James and noticed that his ghost had also disappeared. With years of training from her mother, Rachel expertly leaned forward to swing the ladder back against the wall. The stained glass trembled slightly as it was not secure in its place but at least it was up.

Rachel looked through the glass and noticed that the sun was beginning to creep up from the horizon. She scrambled back down the ladder to join Mrs. Winchester and James as the watched the sun climb the sky and to shine through the words, “WIDE UNCLASP THE TABLES OF THEIR THOUGHTS” read the pane on the left while the one on the right read, “THESE SAME THOUGHTS PEOPLE THIS LITTLE WORLD.”

“What does it mean?” asked a worn out James.

Mrs. Winchester grinned mischievously before stating, “I have no idea but wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was a portal to another universe?”

“Additionally, if it wards off darkness, why wasn’t it put up earlier?” asked a breathless Rachel.

“I was mistaken,” came the female voice. The group turned to see the female ghost in her familiar nightgown pulling an angry Ellie. “It is not to ward off evil but a spell to wake up the town.”

“Wake up the town?” inquired Rachel.

“Those outside of the dome have been in a deep sleep through this entire experience. The sun touching this stained glass will wake them up but also continue to filter their reality. They will never see or experience supernatural outside of this house. They will remain blissfully unaware and live their lives without complications of paranormal.”

“Will you finally let go of me?” demanded Ellie of the ghost. The apparition obeyed by releasing Ellie’s hand. As Ellie opened and closed her hand in an attempt to warm it and restore feeling to her fingers. After a few moments, Ellie was filled with curiosity and asked, “Why weren’t Pete, Brisco, or I in a ‘deep slumber?’ Why were we able to see what was happening at the mansion and to help our friends inside the dome?”

“Am I expected to know all of the answers?” asked the ghost indignantly.

“Yes!” exclaimed a frustrated Ellie.

“Maybe it was your outfit. Maybe it caused too much shock for the sandman to risk getting near you without having a heart attack,” she retorted and then disappeared.

“You young people,” laughed Mrs. Winchester. “I never understand your humor.” At that she turned towards Ellie before adding, “She is right, though. You do look pretty lax in your dress. I mean I dig it but the world may not be ready for it just yet.”

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