She tried calling Evan’s cell five times. It went to his voicemail on each occurrence. Kell even called the Café to see if they had heard from him. The girl that answered the phone told her she hadn’t heard from him, but he wasn’t scheduled to work again until Friday.
“God.” She tossed the phone onto the couch and went to her entertainment cabinet.
Kellerika turned on her system and TV. “You want a war?” She put on her goggles and grabbed the wands. “You’ve got one.”
Once inside Ever Rain, she punch in the code and loaded her saved data from their last attempt.
Loading last save…
Kell stood before the steel trap door that led into the underground tunnels. She took a lantern down off its hook on the wall and sat on the lip of the huge hole, listening. A wicked wind droned in its throat.
An over sharpened sword cannot last long. Scarecrow’s chuckles radiated from deep within the tunnels. Come, child! Roger misses you.
She bent forward. “Let Evan go! This isn’t his fight.”
Kell reached into her pocket. “The matches.” Her eyes turned to the roof. “Thanks, Deke.”
She lit her lantern and dropped into the tunnels and whatever hells they harbored. A pair of yellow eyes floated in the void at the far end of the tunnel. Kellerika had to crawl to fit, setting her light source down and then shuffling to meet it. The worn red lantern illuminated the tunnel’s roots and undulations. Bugs and worms fled from her. Outside this tomb, thunder announced an inbound storm.
“Damn it.” Kell lifted her soaked knee from the subterranean puddle.
As she set her legs on the ground ahead of her, Kell slid down slope into an awaiting pond. Still alight, her lantern sailed over the ripples into a stone.
Kell bobbed closer. “Gotta keep you alive.”
She screamed when the stone it drifted against rolled to face her with its empty eye sockets and teeth. She snagged the lantern and pushed across the pond’s surface. Its light twinkled on the waves for another twenty feet before making landfall.
“Not so bad.”
Something brushed over her left foot. Kell thought it was a root at first, but then it clutched her ankle and pulled. She jerked her leg and scrambled toward the far shore. It pulled her under into the cloudy pool. Roots and skeletons floated past. Some still had decomposed flesh hanging onto their bones by thin threads. A floral patterned dress. Another in a tattered white shirt and red tie. Kellerika reached down and tugged on the bony hand around her ankle. A sunken face with green skin emerged from behind an underwater cloud of dirt and muck. Kell brought her other foot around, taking its head off. The hand released. Water and residue floated between her fingers as she fought her way back to the surface. Each breath stung. Kell inhaled shallow and fast. The lantern had gone out.
“Fuck.” She swam in a circle. “Which way was the other side?”
A stream of bubbles gurgled from someplace deep a few feet away and percolated on the waves.
“Not sticking around it here either way.”
She got her bearings against one of the outer tunnel walls and swam straight ahead. Another hairy skull popped up next to her, as did someone’s missing leg. At last, Kellerika’s hands dug into the soft mud of shallower waters. She forced her haggard body to its knees and crawled forward, hoping she was going in the right direction.
“Please, be the right way.”
Kell forged ahead, hand over hand, until a flicker of light gave her hope. The distant hiss of rain. Then, delicate thunder. She sped up, determined to get out of this hell hole and back above ground.
This hole proved to be a different one. Neither as wide, nor as deep as the entrance back in the barn.
Another surge of lightening lit up a cluster of deciduous treetops overhead. Kell stood up in the hole. She was still a few inches short of the lip. She planted either palm on some firm ground and rubbed them into the earth. Kellerika jumped and tugged at the same time giving her knees enough clearance to gain traction on the lip of the hole.
She rolled onto her back and sprawled out. The rain felt good. A fork of light struck an ancient tree to her left. Part of its boughs ignited in a shower of golden sparks and cracked loose. The burning branch tumbled through the others coming to rest on the forest floor. A small flame struggled against the downpour to stay alive. This got her back on her feet and facing a narrow trail through the underbrush.
Kellerika wove among the briars and bushes deeper into the hollow. Things flapped and fluttered into another sharp streak of light farther ahead.
You didn’t think I’d let you die in that hole, did you?
She ducked under a fallen tree. From the thick blanket of emerald moss on its crown, Kell surmised it had fallen ages ago. “If you want me that bad,” she stepped over huge branch strewn across the trail, “then come out and face me!”
Patience, child. Soon. His time’s almost up.
Kellerika bounded over another tree and ran through a piece of flat land against the sheet of rain. “Evan?” Another tongue of lightening and a thunderous blast. “Leave him alone!”
A denizen padded over the dead leaves and ground behind her. The creature huffed and grunted as it picked up speed in her direction. Kell took a quick glance over a shoulder. Yellow eyes ducked and wove among the thicket a stone’s throw away. Kell sprinted up a shallow incline and leaped over a narrow brook. The creature picked up its pace to match her. The roof of a shack stuck out in a violent display of nature dead ahead. Kellerika tripped over something in the grass and went down. The animal howled and pounced. A wolf, but too large to be the natural variety. Its forepaws pinned her shoulders to the dirt. Kell wrung its massive neck with her bare hands. The wolf’s jaws snapped at her face. It slung drool everywhere in its attempts to use her head as its chew toy. Her hands searched and dug for anything she could use to defend herself. A fist-sized rock connected with the beast’s skull. It whimpered and lunged at her throat.
“Get,” she bashed it again, “off me!” And again. She situated her feet under the wolf’s belly and kicked. It landed ten feet away and rolled through some saplings. Kell leaped to her feet, defenseless.
“In the name of the Supreme Creator of all things, I sever all ties and tethers to this plane!”
The wolf whined and readied for another charge. She needed a weapon and fast. One irritated growl and it took off. Kell shrieked and threw her rock at its back. The wolf never flinched, bearing down on her with instinctive precision. Here eyes bounced around the immediate area for something, anything. Busted tree, more rocks, some leaves…
The monster sprung into the darkness. Kell took hold of the busted tree and yanked it into the wolf’s path. A yelp. The broken tree had impaled the animal. Blood and fur coated its tip. The creature’s huge paws swatted at the stake in its heart. Kell backed away. Its yelps morphed into cries of torment. Hind legs elongated. Skin replaced fur. Tendons and bones snapped. Another whimper that came out as an inhuman, ‘no’. Its shout receded under more crunching bones. Incisors shrank. Elongated ears returned to normal.
A human hand soaked in clear film reached out for Kell. “Save---her!” The black fur on the man’s back detached and rolled off in the pouring rain. “Find her,” the man coughed out a mouthful of blood, “before she makes a mistake.”
She inched closer to the man as his body sagged over the trunk. “I sever the ties that bound you to this entity.” She let her hands drift over his limp naked corpse. “I release its hold and curse on your eternal soul.”
Scarecrow emerged from the cabin’s front door. “Welcome to my humble abode.” The towering maniac strode into the deluge. “Sorry the place is a bit of a mess.”
Kellerika took a few paces forward. “I sever your ties to this plane, demon.”
His painted eyes smiled behind the makeshift mask. “Why don’t I believe you, Miss Virtanen?” Scarecrow moved back inside. “Come. There’s something you should see.”
“Evan?” She jogged to the doorway. “What have you done to him?”
Lightening danced across the churning sky. The bungalow was empty save some farming tools hanging on its walls and some rustic furniture.
Scarecrow strode past the main room and into a smaller space in the back. “This way.”
The skies rumbled as Kell followed. A series of candles lit the inner room of the cabin. A few rusty tools sat on a far table. A hand drill, a small bone saw, and some knives. Evan had been strung up on a wall bound at all limbs and his throat. Battered and bruised, but alive.
“Knowledge is power.” The killer hovered over Evan’s taped mouth. “At least, that’s what everyone says.”
She wanted to charge him, but common sense held her back. “Let him go.”
The killer took deliberate paces toward her. “I’ll leave that decision up to you.”
“I cut all ties to this plane.” Her eyes remained fixed on his. “I banish you back from whence you came.”
Scarecrow’s form flickered. A looming dark entity drifted in its place. Wisping tendrils of ethereal black. A tall, cloaked figure. “Take a look into his stars, child.” Its words came out as a disembodied hiss. “See for yourself if he’s worth saving.”
One of the being’s arms conjured a swath of space and stars between them. Mesmerized, Kellerika strode closer.
“I can show you what is yet to pass.” The entity manipulated the vision further.
Stars gave way to pillars of flowers. She stood next to Evan in a wedding gown. Elegant pearls and diamonds. A crowd of family and friends huddled together in the congregation. He leaned in and kissed her.
“Such a beautiful moment for you,” the King hissed. Its arm swept the image away and replaced it with another.
Evan and another woman were tangled together in a storage room of some kind.
“He will betray you.” It transformed the vision into another.
She was back in her parent’s house with her baby. Her and her father yelled back and forth. She threw a glass at his head. Her father backhanded her to the floor.
Its hollow voice came again. “Your family will abandon you.”
A final image. In this one, Kellerika sat in her Highlander with a crying infant in the back. The view widened to reveal her sitting behind a building next to a few dumpsters. She got out of the car and put her bawling child in between the smelly containers.
Tears welled in her eyes.
“It’s not your fault.” It swiped the vision from existence. “You will be unfit to mother anything. Poor child.”
Scarecrow fazed back into being. He picked up a long knife and handed it to her. “Is he really worth it?”
She took the blade as the killer tucked her under his wing. They walked to Evan. The boy fought against his bondage and pleaded through the duct tape silencing him.
“His path is set.” Scarecrow stopped beside his victim. “Filth like this doesn’t deserve a full life.”
She stood before Evan. His watering eyes begged for a mouth that had been gagged with a soiled rag.
“Take it.” Scarecrow lowered his gaze to the knife. “Free yourself from that future.”
The blade raised in her hand, but someone else was driving. “Stop.” Kell struggled to get her lips to function. Her shaking hand turned the dull instrument over. “N-No.”
Scarecrow whispered into her ear. “There are plenty of others more deserving of you. I’ve shown you what this one will do.” The knife drifted up over Evan’s throat. “Hand his soul to me. I’ll make sure it’s long and agonizing.” The killer laughed. “Just the soul of another innocent boy. You can’t save this one either!”
Kell’s eyes darted from the shaking knife to Evan’s widening eyes. His groans intensified as its tip floated under his left ear lobe.
Scarecrow hummed. “One swift stroke, and you clear your slate.”
Her hand turned the flat face of the knife on Evan’s cheek and stroked his skin. “No! I b-banish you in t-the name---”
The killer howled in delight. “Of what?” He moved to the table behind them. “Where is your great creator now?”
The knife flipped over in her hand and lowered to his jugular. “He’s,” Kell wrestled against the entity’s control, “right here!”
She severed the ties at his throat and proceeded to free Evan from his prison. Kellerika ripped the duct tape off his mouth. “Get out!” His eyes suggested a debate. “And, don’t look back.”
As Evan shuffled out the front door, Kell turned to face the demon. “I banish you back to the place from whence you came, dark one.”
Scarecrow met her, a hatchet in his hand. “I’m in the code. You can’t bind me.”
“Try me.” Kell charged him, driving her small knife into his chest up to its hilt.
A sharp pain in her temple followed by a blinding field of black stars. Kellerika stumbled to the floor. When her vision cleared, Scarecrow stood over her, hatchet poised. He jerked her knife free and flung it to the floorboards. As he brought the weapon down, she rolled aside and kicked his kneecap. It didn’t take the killer to the floor, but it brought him closer to her melee range. She pounced to the balls of her feet and swung her other foot around. The strike connected wit his face, snapping the burlap head back.
Kellerika kicked again at his hand. The hatchet bounded across the floor and into an old metal pail along the far wall. “I cut off all tethers and ties to this world.”
A tendril of black smoky substance lunged from Scarecrow’s mouth and whipped Kell out into the living area.
“Foolish girl.” The monster stormed into the room. “A brawl?”
She scurried across the floor as he marched on her. Big hands grabbed her by both shoulders. Scarecrow heaved her off the ground, holding her at eye level.
An ancient rage burned behind his brown eyes. “I love a good bar fight.”
Kell flew across the room and into the wall next to a row of sickles and other field tools. She slumped to the floor out of breath. Both shoulder blades burned. Scarecrow moved fast, grabbing a sickle and swatting it at her neck. Its point got lodged into the wall along with several strands of her hair.
“I banish you fruh---”
A large boot connected with her cheek, sending her head bouncing off the wall. Another shot sent her into a steel-toed haze. Blood oozed. Her whole world listed to one side. Hang on! Fight back.
Kell saw his foot rear back again, but this time she was ready. When the boot flew forward, she snapped her head back and threw an uppercut into the brute’s groin. This dropped him and gave her the opening she needed. Kellerika yanked the sickle’s handle loose and pulled it from the wall. In one swift motion, she sliced a gash in the madman’s neck. Scarecrow rolled onto his side, trying to hold his throat together.
Kell staggered to her feet and backed up toward the front door. “I banish you, demon. Be gone!”
Scarecrow writhed on the floor. His maw unhinged and let loose a primal howl.
“I sever all of your tethers and ties to this dimension!” She readied her curved weapon for another strike.
The murderer twitched and rolled, and then, like a marionette, sprung to his feet. He rushed her, his gory hands outstretched.
“I cast you oww---”
Again, the monster had her in his grasp and three feet off the ground. Her breaths came in short impeded bursts through a restricted windpipe. Scarecrow stomped out into the rain. The demon’s storms intensified high above.
“I cah---” She couldn’t get the rite past the vice around her neck.
A powerful bolt blasted the roof of the cabin. Sparks went off like a roman candle.
Kell swung a sneaker into her attacker’s solo plexus. Scarecrow’s hands relinquished just enough. “In the name of the Supreme C-Creator,” a gasp, “I cast y-you out!” She raked her sickle downward on an arch for his neck. Scarecrow’s head lulled to the left. Kell swung again and again until his head fell to the ground.
A bright flash. Scarecrow’s body lit up in currents of electricity. A grotesque black face sprouted from the killer’s bloody stump. It screamed through rows of uneven and chipped fangs. Blue bolts radiated up his corpse and shot from his neck. Kell’s arms stiffened as the power jumped from his neck into her head.