The closer we came to our goal, the more I prayed we wouldn’t be too late to save Jan and Hannah. I knew that I would only be able to achieve their release if we all stayed focused and believed. For a man who had never really considered God’s existence before, leaning towards the atheist point of view in fact, it seemed ironic that I should be in this position. If my wife and child weren’t about to be slaughtered in the name of the Devil, I’m not sure I could have continued. Efram had said – let’s do it, but I decided a pep talk would be in order before we entered the ‘lion’s den’.
“When we get up there, we stay close together, understand?”
They both nodded.
“No matter what we witness, we are there serving God and preventing Drake releasing The Lord of the Underworld. We will all feel like turning around and dashing back down this tunnel, I realise that. So far, I have not been the strongest member of our trio.......”
“I think over the past hour or so, you’ve made amends for that,” said Peter. “If anything, it was me.......”
“You have been incredible, Peter,” I told him. “And so, have you, Efram. All I am saying is, together we are stronger.” I put my arms around them. “Are you ready for the final battle?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” said Efram.
Peter nodded, swallowing hard. I wondered if my eyes mirrored his fear.
I began the climb, my legs feeling like lead, my stomach turning somersaults. I prayed to a God I’d never given a thought to before we moved to Chanter’s Hide. For that, I felt a deep sense of remorse and guilt. I wasn’t that full of my own importance not to realise that I was just a tool, someone in the right place at the right time. For the time being, God’s will and mine were the same – to prevent untold evil being unleashed into this world. He was using me, and I was using him to save Jan and Charlie, it was as simple as that.
The darkness began to lift, and I knew we weren’t far away from Drake’s abominable temple. With the silvery glow came the stink of corruption. I had never thought about it before but, evil does reek. Nevertheless, I took in a deep breath. We rounded the final bend and the sound of debauchery was added to the mix. The fetid air was filled with chants and cries, increasing in intensity and expectation. The last fifty yards felt like we were dragging ourselves through a swamp. I don’t know if that was our trepidation or some spell Drake had cast. I suspected the former. I reached behind me.
“Hold my hand, Efram. Peter, hold your Dad’s hand. When we’re in that hellhole, don’t let go. Whatever happens, don’t let go.”
I took the final steps and lead us to the gates of hell.
It was a sea of blood red robes. The ‘Hiders’ were out in force. They were chanting and swaying, their glazed eyes fixed on their leader. Drake was in a black robe, with red symbols, inverted crosses, and pentagrams. On his head was a horned mask. Shona was beside him, swaying along with the others, her robe hanging loosely around her biceps, showing most of her breasts, her nipples hard against the velvet. In her hands was a black cushion, a silver ceremonial dagger resting on its surface. Jan and Hannah lay on the makeshift altar, covered by a red, satin sheet. I thanked God for small mercies, although. I knew it wouldn’t be long before the sheet was thrown off. They appeared to be asleep. Again, I thanked God. At the front of the group was Hannah’s husband, Nick. He moved along with the rest of the villagers, his mouth forming the weird phrases being chanted. It was obviously Latin but, apart from that, I didn’t have a clue what was being said. Nick’s eyes were not glued to the vicar, like the rest. His attention was on his wife and unborn child. He must have known what was about to happen and, by the look on his face, was dreading it. The poor chap had no chance of stopping the slaughter and, I’m sure, if he had tried, the rest of them would have ripped him limb from limb.
Efram and Peter followed me out of the tunnel, and we stood side by side watching Drake play to his crowd. He was in raptures, a pop idol on a stadium stage. If this ritual weren’t so deadly serious, it would be laughable. Behind him the night air seemed to shimmer and every so often I caught a faint glimpse of a terrifying figure. The huge head of a goat, horns glistening with blood, steam pouring from savage nostrils, was atop the body of a massive male, its semi erect member swinging between its legs.
“The Goat of Mendes,” I whispered. “The devil himself.”
I could feel Efram and Peter shaking as they squeezed my hands.
“We must be strong,” I said.
It was at that moment that Drake, enjoying the adoration, looked around his congregation and spotted us.
“Ah, we have guests.” He waved a hand in our direction.
The crowd turned and wailed like banshees. They were about to move towards us.
“Leave them, my children. They will have a good view from there.” He turned his attention back to us. “I must thank you, Ben, for bringing your wife and child to Chanter’s Hide. It enabled me to bring the true Lord’s re-emergence forward. Now, you can watch as they give their pitiful lives to assist in his rising. I believe your friends are wishing they’d changed allegiance.”
Efram’s grip tightened and I squeezed back.
“Go to hell,” he said, through gritted teeth.
Peter took a step forward, looked to the sky and spoke in tongues. That is the only way I can describe it, I’m afraid. Drake tried to hide his concern but failed. He threw back the sheet covering Jan and Hannah and I gasped.
Both were naked, as I expected. Their bodies, in the full bloom of motherhood, were daubed in blood. For a split second, I thought we were too late, then, I saw the lamb’s carcass at the side of the altar, its throat cut, the last of its life force merging with the dried blood of its predecessors. Drake looked at me, beckoning Shona forward. She used the cushion as an accessory for her ‘whore’s’ dance. She pulled open her robe until her breasts were exposed. She moved her free hand downwards, thrusting her hips forward. Drake bent down and kissed her savagely, squeezing her breast with one hand and placing his other over hers as it slipped between her legs. All the time, his eyes never left mine. His smile widened as my disgust became more apparent. He pushed his ‘bitch’ to one side, grabbing the dagger from the cushion as she slid to the floor, reaching for his erection.
Efram and I glared at him. I could hear Efram grinding his teeth and, suddenly, realised I was doing the same. Peter was stock still, speaking softly in a language that was alien to me. It sounded Arabic or Yiddish. I couldn’t help thinking that if this were a novel, the author would know exactly what was being said and in which tongue. Reality, in this case, did not mirror fiction.
Drake started to caress my wife’s pregnant belly and I nearly lost it. The hurt, confusion, humiliation and anger raged through me. I bit my tongue, feeling the blood in my mouth.
“God, how much longer?”
Efram moved his hand from mine and thrust his arm around my waist. “I feel him,” he said. “We’ll know when it’s time.”
Drake raised the dagger in the air and my eyes were fixed on the blade. I could see the tiny, dried blood stains, the scratches where the knife had hit bone.
“Are we his children?” Drake screamed.
His ‘flock’ gave him an almighty ‘Yes’.
Drake brought the knife down and my heart nearly burst from my chest. I saw the blood spurt over Jan and Hannah as the blade slashed Shona’s throat. The surprise in her eyes quickly turned to realisation as her hands reached feebly to stem the flow. She was in the throes of death as Drake lifted his foot and kicked her to the ground.
“You see, Ben, we all have to make sacrifices. I’ve made mine. Are you ready to make yours?”
The ‘Hiders’ turned to us, their bloodlust ignited, their faces eager. I had never felt so much disgust.
“Have you forgotten the face of God?” I said.
I saw Nick’s face. It was filled with fear but, now held a little hope. I could feel the air prickling around me. I looked back at Drake.
“Sacrifice is a necessity.”
He lifted the knife again.
The atmosphere grew heavy and sulphurous, the night a commotion of emotion. Drake’s followers became agitated. The vicar paused, the knife above his head. I could feel God’s light burning into my soul, and I rejoiced.
Peter moved forward, arms outstretched, his hands shimmering.
At first, I was fearful of his breaking our trinity, but soon realised that we were now, all three, God’s willing disciples. I let the light shine through my eyes into Drake’s, watching as his uncertainty turned into panic. He let the hand holding the knife drop to his side. He wheeled around and grabbed Nick by the throat.
“My Lord needs more power,” I heard him mutter. The knife came up and sliced through Nick’s jugular vein, spraying more blood over Jan and Hannah.
The image behind Drake intensified, the face beneath the horns, scarred and heinous, a vision of true evil. The devil was a gossamer wing away from invading our world. The vicar hacked and yanked until he held Nick’s severed head in his hand. His expression was manic. He hurled the head towards us.
“Behold the true Lord,” he cried, lifting the knife above Jan’s belly. I saw Charlie’s foot push against the skin before all Heaven broke loose.
Peter grabbed his Father’s hand. Efram was still digging his nails into mine.
“See your God and never forget his face,” we said in unison, allowing His power to flow through us. Drake’s Satanic temple was filled with a brilliance, a light so intense it burned the blood-stained rocks. The ‘Hiders’ cowered, falling to the ground in fear.
The three of us faced Drake and his ‘Lord’. The Goat of Mendes twitched and squirmed, before fading. Drake, himself, was trying to bring the knife down and continue his obscene, sacrificial ceremony. His arm appeared to be frozen in mid-air.
He screamed as the light enveloped him, the flesh melting from his bones, the bones crumbling to dust. I screamed in righteous exhilaration. He was dead.
God’s will had been done, His light withdrew from the tired rock, leaving it cleansed.
I ran over to Jan and Hannah, feeling a mixture of relief and despair. I threw the sheet back over both of them and hugged them. They were still in a drug induced sleep.
I looked at the shaking forms on the ground. Efram and Peter joined me.
“Do you now know your God?” I asked them.
It was Joe, the landlord of the ‘Duck and Pheasant’ who raised his head.
“Thank you,” he said. “We have lived in fear for so long. He had ........power. He could make us do whatever he wanted.”
“Spineless bunch of buggers,” Efram said, under his breath.
“We envied your courage,” said Sam Templeton. He looked back at me. “And your uncle Ted, too. When you arrived, we were hoping for a knight in shining armour. I guess our hopes became reality.”