HOWLERS

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the voice in the board...

“So how do you wanna do this, Gail?” asked Olivia from across the motel room where she was putting some food away in the small cabinets above the kitchenette sink. The two had just returned from a trip to the store for breakfast items and a few things for later. Gail sat in a chair by the small table and propped on her elbows.

“This thing isn’t like the ones they mass-produce, so it won’t take both of us to make it work. I’m surprised the F’n thing doesn’t just start working on its own.”

“God, that’s creepy.”

“Yeah, tell me about it,” said Gail absently as she stared at her backpack in the corner where the board lay silently waiting.

Waiting?

Yes, it certainly seemed to be....waiting and listening, knowing what was to transpire in the coming hours. Gail’s gaze was fixed on the backpack, her surroundings falling into a hazy silence as she recalled that night at her house when the board first spoke. Her flesh began to tingle and crawl, her breathing slowed to nothing, and her blood went suddenly ice cold. A hand grasped her shoulder and she gasped as she wheeled around to see Olivia handing her a paper plate of microwave waffles and sausage links, which she almost upset when her hand shot up defensively.

“Oh! Oh shit, sorry!” said Gail, taking the plate and catching her breath, “Guess I’m a little on edge right now.”

“It’s OK, I get it,” Olivia smiled, “I’m trying my best not to just bury my head in a pillow and cry. I can imagine how you must feel right now, especially after that dream. You said it was that Edgar Briggs guy Barnett James told us about, right?”

“Yeah, him and a few hundred other people Elsie Gryder apparently killed or tormented. One more dream like that, and I’ll be bunking with Billy Randall at Adams Institution.”

Olivia took two bottles of orange juice from the mini-fridge and cracked them open, handing one to Gail as she sat on the other side of the table. They ate and drank in silence until both had finished the last of their meals, then Gail collected the plates and empty bottles, insisting when Olivia tried to do it herself.

“You prepared this glorious feast, so I’ll handle the arduous clean-up,” smiled Gail, turning and stepping three feet to the wastebasket.

“Done deal. Well, I guess we should concoct some sort of plan for tonight, huh? We need a battle plan in case something goes wrong.”

Gail was putting on a confident front, diving right into the subject at hand and being the authority figure, just like on the job, only her job never involved the possibility of being dragged kicking and screaming into a supernatural realm, attacked by, shit, who knows, little crawly things with needle-like teeth? Goblins? Demons? Worse? Her ruse was bullet-proof, iron-clad, unshakable and rock-solid...and Olivia saw right through it. She felt the fear Gail was feeling, along with the reluctance and the anxiety, but was determined to help just the same.

“I think I have a good idea,” said Olivia, returning to her laptop and her browsing, “I hide behind the curtains with a bat, and if anything tries to take you, I’ll jump out and whack the shit out of it!”

Gail tried not to smile. No dice.

“I’m serious, Liv. Geez. Alright, how about this: I contact the voice, try to get my answers. If anything goes wrong, you be ready to grab it and toss it outside. That’s about the best thing I can come up with. Why are you looking at me like ‘what the fuck’?” Gail inquired, hands out in mild frustration.

“OK, I’ve been looking up witchboard stuff online, right?”

Olivia reached over onto her bed and retrieved her laptop, handing it to Gail.

“We can’t burn it or break it, otherwise we could release whatever’s in it. It has to be buried, away from the planchette, so we need to have a hole ready right outside the door.”

“Got a jackhammer?”

“What?”

“Pavement.”

“Shit. Although, speaking of, burying it then dumping asphalt in on top of it sounds good. OK, a hole out beyond the edge of the pavement, preferably in the back. Where’s the camping equipment? Still in the trunk?”

Gail nodded, and Olivia went out to retrieve a digging tool of some kind, with which she returned in only a few minutes.

“Hey, wait, Liv. This says a binding ceremony has to be performed first. Doesn’t look hard, but I don’t think we’ll have time for all this shit if something goes south. Hey, I got it! Know how in the movies when something like this is happening, and they get in the car to leave, and something about the supernatural forces or whatever causes the car not to start? We park the car out by the road, away from wherever we do this, keep the keys in hand, and if anything goes bad, we run like hell for the car!”

Gail was actually excited about this plan.

“I dunno,” muttered Olivia, seeming to turn the idea over in her mind, “I think that might be a little bit....I mean, what if it follows us out there? Then the car isn’t gonna start anyway.”

“Shit. OK, then. I say we drive out to that old church on the edge of town, and do it in that abandoned building right down the way. That way, we can at least run to hallowed ground. I remember this boy from 8th grade telling me that he had this sleepover with a couple of his friends, and they couldn’t get a witchboard to work in his mom’s house ’cause she was so heavily into church and had prayer cloths and all kinds of blessed objects around the house. That’s gonna be our best bet, I think.”

“Sounds good. That’s the plan then, I guess. Are we..um..doing this after dark?” asked Olivia, glancing out the window at the morning sky and hoping the answer was ‘no’.

“Absolutely. Last thing we need is anyone interfering, especially when we don’t know what to expect ourselves. I don’t want any more people getting hurt or killed.”

Gail’s words trailed off, then in a more somber tone, almost a whisper, she added,

“There’s been enough death here.”

After breakfast, they spent the morning compiling a bogus report to send to Joel Reed, using a few shots from the RV campsite and pictures they didn’t send in their first report from Evert Earwood’s farm. Maybe this would buy them the time they needed to do whatever had to be done to end this nightmare. Time lost all meaning as they spent the early and late afternoon researching all they could on witchboards, ghosts, werewolves, anything supernatural they felt might relate, taking an hour or so to have lunch and discuss what they had learned thus far then diving back in. Before they knew it, it was after 6:00 p.m., and the sun was beginning its descent toward the tree line. Olivia was getting herself a beer from the mini-fridge and turned to Gail with a look that suggested she had just had an epiphany.

“You know what? We should get this on video. How many opportunities will we get to document something this phenomenal?”

Gail considered it a moment. If the voice offered something helpful, the video could be used to review whatever advice it gave, just in case they were both too terror-stricken to remember what was said.

“Hm. Yeah, Liv, yeah, that’s a great idea. Of course, if something goes really wrong, that’s your best camera you’re giving up, OK?”

“Well, this may not be my best camera. Don’t get me wrong, it’s top shelf, but not the best I own.”

“Oh, you lying...you said you would bring your best stuff on this job!” said Gail, a look of feigned shock failing as a smile fought against it. Olivia shrugged and smiled back as she went about packing up the necessities to record the impending events. Night was fast approaching, and before they knew it, it was almost time to get things underway. Olivia’s camera bag, Gail’s backpack, several bottles of Blue Glacier spring water, and the willpower to see this thing through were ready to go by 10:12 p.m. Thank God they roll the streets up at 9:00 p.m. in Derby Cross.

The abandoned place Gail and Olivia were planning on using was an old two-story red brick building that sat a stone’s throw away from the city limits sign at the end of Dogwood St., about fifty yards away from Derby Cross Full Gospel Baptist Church. They parked around back, out of the faint moonlight that attempted to intrude among the shadows and entered through a window that had been completely broken out, Gail going in first and hauling in the equipment as Olivia handed over the bags. It smelled musty and damp, and there were unrecognizable stains all over the hardwood floor, which was swollen and buckled in places from wall to wall. Once Olivia was inside, Gail took out her phone and opened her flashlight app. The LED on the back of her phone blazed to life, and she adjusted it down to a lower setting, keeping it low as they scanned the environment for....ah, there they were: a few wooden chairs and some old crates over in a corner. She pointed Olivia in the direction of her find and started toward them. They took the chairs first, moving two of them closer to a door on the same side of the building as the church, then went back for the crate and the equipment.

When Olivia noticed the door was standing open a few inches, she got an idea. She slid a brick into place with her foot between the door jamb and the door to keep it open, and another against the door to keep it lodged against the first brick so it couldn’t swing open and expose them to anyone who might be passing by. That done, she took out her camera and mounted it to a tripod, then set it up to capture the area in which they would be sitting. Between the moonlight flooding in through the tall windows and the streetlights outside, there was sufficient lighting to make at least a decent recording. The audio was more important than the video in this scenario anyway, so she felt confident about the setup as it was.

She took the remote for the camera in hand and moved over to the place where Gail was setting up the crate between the chairs, her backpack sitting in one of them. She kept glancing at the backpack apprehensively and tried to focus on arranging things so as to ensure they couldn’t been seen through the large windows or the crack in the propped-open door. Reluctantly, she indicated to Olivia that everything was ready and picked up her backpack, handling it as though it might lurch forward and bite her hand off while she removed the board, placing it on the crate between the chairs. Fishing around inside a moment, she produced the planchette and held it in both hands.

“This is the dangerous part, I think,” she said nervously, looking it over as Olivia took her seat, “Nothing happens until you drop this thing on the board, then wackiness ensues.”

As she sat down, Gail took her first long look at the board since the night it spoke to her. It was no less intimidating than it was then, perhaps even more so under the circumstances. That night at her house, she had no idea what the thing was capable of, and knowing now made it all the more terrifying. Was she actually doing this on purpose? She exhaled slowly, lips pursed, the planchette in her lap. Her hands were clasped anxiously together as she looked up and caught Olivia’s gaze.

“Ready?”

“Yeah, I think so.” She pointed the remote at the camera and pushed the big red button.

“OK, the camera’s recording.”

“Here goes nothing.....”

Gail let the planchette slip from her hands and onto the board. Her spine shot cold electricity throughout her back muscles and made them seize up, causing the usual pain in her body to spike a few notches as adrenaline flooded her system. Her hands were trembling a little as she reached out toward the planchette and settled her fingertips on it. When she spoke, she barely recognized the scared, shaking voice that came from her mouth.

“Are you there? Whoever it was talking to me that night at my house, are you here now?”

The planchette almost skated out from under Gail’s fingers and shot toward the word YES in the lower corner of the board. Both women gasped and tensed up all over.

“God, it’s getting colder in here, Gail,” remarked Olivia in a hushed tone, “That could mean it’s here, right?”

“Not now, Liv, please!”

Gail’s tone was sharper than she meant it to be.

“Sorry, sweetie, I’m just.....I’m..”

I’m terrified and I don’t want to do this, I just want to go home and forget any of this ever happened.

“It’s OK, Gail. Go ahead.”

Stop! Just stop and let’s leave! We can just run away from it, can’t we? You don’t really have to do this, do you?

Outside, a gentle breeze began to stir, slipping into the building from around the rotting windowsills and through places where panes of glass were missing. Olivia looked out one of the windows on the opposite wall and noticed the clear night sky had become suddenly laden with dark clouds. The gentle breeze gathered force and became a strong wind, rattling the loose windows all around them and setting their nerves on edge. While they were looking at the abrupt change in the weather, the board was making changes of its own. The planchette was sliding in a furious figure-eight motion, not making a sound because it was hovering just above the board as the lettering became as liquid, each symbol seeming to pulse and writhe. A dark, fog-like substance rolling out from around its edges finally caught Gail’s attention, who sat and stared at the frantic movement of the planchette, transfixed by its haunted dance and the rising blackness seething out from underneath the board.

Oh God...he’s here.....

Now the planchette was slowing, changing its path, coming to rest over one symbol at a time. As it did so, the symbol inside the hole would fade and shift to become a recognizable letter.

YOU SEEK KNOWLEDGE

“Y-yes, I do. I n-need to know what to do about Elsie Gryder and th...”

Gail swallowed hard.

“....and about this board. I can’t let her have it, but I have no idea how to keep her from it or stop her if she somehow she does get her hands on it. What do we do?”

WHY SHOULD I TELL YOU MONGREL

The planchette shook as though becoming agitated.

“To save lives. To save us, everyone and everything that lives here. How do we beat her, can you please tell us?”

Gail was close to tears. Olivia was close to running.

I SHALL TELL

YOU MUST LISTEN

I MUST COME FORTH

FLEE AND LEARN NAUGHT

As though someone had turned a dial, the black fog thickened and then redirected itself, billowing from the hole in the planchette. Gail and Olivia leaned back in their chairs, wide-eyed with a white-knuckled grip on the edges of the seats. From the black and gray mass of swirling murk a face became visible. Not stark and defined, but vague outlines, traces of features, hints of movement. Then came that foreboding voice that Gail recalled with a deep shudder that would have racked her fibromyalgic body with pain were she not so numb with fear at the moment. All Olivia could do was sit and gawk in abject terror, every muscle fiber and nerve locked down. The faint face in the mass of blackness looked from one woman to the other, seeming to enjoy their reactions to his appearance and palpitating voice.

“In life, I was called Darc-Oros the Blasphemer, Unholiest of the Unholy, The Right Hand of Lucifer. Where my soul should have been, there was only a blackened hatred for all that was purported as just and good, simply for the sake of hating it. I began schooling myself in dark magic, any discipline for which I could attain instruction. So great was my reputation for mastery of my chosen practice that the most vile of sorcerers sought me out to offer apprenticeship when he heard of my natural ability for the black arts, and I gratefully accepted. His teachings were complex and deeply rooted in the Left Hand Path, and I absorbed all I could, constantly reading, practicing, improving by leaps and bounds. It gave me power, the kind of power that intoxicates, even corrupts as it burrows deeper into one’s being and spreads like infection. Soon I became the instructor, taking others into my home as apprentices. I taught them just enough to ensnare them and make them subservient to me and willing to do as I ordered without hesitation or question so I might draw power from them as they mastered my lessons. Together we were known as the Black Iron Order.

When word spread that my guild was the cause of the suffering that tormented the lands, Holy Mother Church condemned me for my teachings and punished my disciples severely for hearing them. Some were burned at the stake, others had their tongues and eyes carved out, while the fortunate ones were simply beheaded. The church made examples of them, and I vowed a vengeance more terrible than the human mind could fathom. That is why I created the Bahz-Ma’al...the Demon Door....the board you have dared to hold in your mortal hands. I believe it would have been called a witchboard in your tongue, though much more potent than the little game that has evolved from the spirit portals of old. You should know, wench, that my presence is the only reason this board did not engulf you in evil. I knew it would be powerful, even as I leveled the legendary tree from which I meant to make it, but never could I have dreamed what it became.

So powerful was the board that the remainder of the Black Iron Order branded and tattooed my skin with protective talismans and markings that allowed me to use the board unharmed. Anyone else attempting to use my creation would be consumed by it. When it was discovered that I was the one bringing blight and misery upon the clergy, the people came to my temple and set out to burn me alive. I cried out a warning that without me and and my protective adornments, the oracle board would be uncontrollable. It was.......my undoing. The irascible mob swarmed in and overpowered me. As I struggled and screamed, they took my skin, wrapped it around the board, and left me to die on the cold stone of my temple floor. With my dying breath, I invoked a spell that poured my soul into the Bahz-Ma’al even as the townsfolk made their way home with it in their custody. To keep the board’s power in check, my flesh was made into leather, from which a sheath that became known as the Silencer was fashioned.

Through centuries I have waited, intent on release from the board, so that I might carry on with those things I had planned for in the afterlife. Each time the Bahz-Ma’al is discovered and its power revealed, someone always thwarts my bid for release by ridding themselves of it or bonding with it. Still now I long to be freed, but the board must be liberated. That can only be done by destroying whomsoever controls it. Elspeth Gryder is master of the Bahz-Ma’al, even in death. She has bonded with it in ways no other mortal ever has. I must be honest, I almost despise telling you how to end her, for her power is most impressive. Destroy her, and you can close the door to Hell that remains open so long as she is bound to the board. Once her hold on it is shattered, and the board itself hidden away forever away from man’s grasp and that cursed case, I can free myself from this bondage.”

Gail could hardly remember how to speak, but questions within made her burn with enough curiosity to push past the fear. She took in a deep, deep breath and tried to ease into her inquiry.

“How do we do that? She’s so strong, and she’s kind of hard to...well, stab or shoot, or...”

Darc-Oros scowled at Gail, then relaxed his expression, realizing that this could mean his freedom.

“First, you must burn Elspeth’s remains after you consecrate them with holy water. Her spirit form must then be destroyed. Trust in me when I say to you that mankind is in mortal danger so long as she possesses the Bahz-Ma’al.”

“I..um..I thought you didn’t care about...”

“SILENCE!” bellowed Darc-Oros, the black mass of supernatural fog swirling and expanding as the wind blasted against the ragged windows, rattling them violently.

“........sorry......”

“My concern is not the well-being of mankind, but my own ends, my own agenda. Only if I am released from this prison can I move beyond the confines of its power and join others like myself who have shunned crossing into the next realm in favor of remaining earth-bound and gathering more knowledge as nomadic spirits. Those who follow the Left Hand Path still walk this earth, and there is still much to teach and to learn. Elspeth will never allow me to go free so long as she desires what the Bahz-Ma’al brings her. She keeps over it a protective enchantment. It will not break, burn, nor even age so long as she exists on one plane or another. When you are ready to confront her, bring out the board and call upon me. I will be more than pleased to assist with her demise. In the interim, I suggest that after you destroy her body, you search her home for the Silencer. It will mute the board and she will no longer be able to connect to you or the werewolf spirits through its power.”

Darc-Oros’s face turned toward a window, then back to Gail, his voice lower and admonitory.

“She comes, girl. The board is calling to her even now. Once I am gone, separate the planchette from the board, and do not let them touch again until the time is right. The side door of the church is unlocked; huddle inside and she will bypass you so long as you remain on hallowed ground and she cannot sense the board. Go, go now!”

With a sound like a heavy exhalation amplified to eleven, the twisting black fog disappeared. For the briefest fraction of a second, Gail and Olivia sat and looked at each other. As if given a secret cue, they bolted in perfect sync from the chairs, Olivia snatching up her camera bag in one hand and the camera in the other as Gail tossed the planchette into her backpack and tucked the board under her arm. They hit the door running, making their way to the church in seconds. Upon finding the unlocked side door, they dove in, slammed it behind them, and sat up against it, panting heavily. Gail’s entire body was now screaming with pain, her heart trying its best to burst from her chest as she caught her breath.

Should’ve doubled the Pericodin.....at least one and a half...

“Did you get all that?”

Olivia looked at Gail with one eyebrow raised.

“How the fuck should I know?”

“Oh, yeah, sorry. You hear anything?”

They both listened, looking all around. The wind was still blowing hard, but that was the only sound other than their furious heartbeats.

“How long should we wait here?” asked Olivia, now calm enough to stop clenching her camera and tripod to her chest and lay them aside.

“No clue. She could be out there waiting it out for all we know. Looks like we’re here ’til morning.”

“Damn it,” said Olivia through clenched teeth, “I knew I should’ve brought my laptop too. If we’re gonna chance a breaking and entering charge, we might as well be entertained. Shit. Well, let’s at least see what we got with the camera.”

Olivia pulled her camera up onto her lap, still attached to the tripod, and turned it over to see it was still on, and still recording. She stopped it, set the legs for the lowest height and stood it up inches away from where she and Gail sat. The screen flickered with a bright bluish-white snow, then an image of them with faint scanlines running up and down the screen came into view. There was Gail, placing the planchette onto the board, then the scanlines worsened and cleared in turn as the whole scene played out. The moments when Darc-Oros seemed angered, the bluish-white snow would burst forth across the screen then fade down to the scanlines again. Most importantly, his instructions were clear through the electronic interference, which Gail commented on as being incredibly fortunate, because some supernatural occurrences were known to rapidly drain a camera’s battery. They almost laughed at the part where they leapt from the chairs and grabbed up their belongings. Next was a blurred sequence as the camera was being swung while they ran, then entering the church, right up until they decided to watch the video. It was a little unnerving, knowing the camera had been running the whole time and they were able to see everything that transpired between contacting the spirit and what they were doing just a few minutes ago. Olivia turned the camera off and removed it from the tripod, putting them both back into her bag.

“OK, we’re safe in here for the night. Tomorrow, we have to get back to Gryder’s Cove without anyone knowing. Where are we gonna get holy water, though? The closest Catholic church is in Crow’s Rest.”

“Maybe there’s an alternative. I’ll look it up once we’re back at the motel. I’m gonna try to get some sleep,” Olivia said, stretching and yawning, “I’m too worn out from all of this to think right now, and we’ll have to get up before all the shops in town open up.”

“Good point, chick. I’ll set an alarm for 4:00. I hope these pews are padded.”

They were relieved to find thick, red velvet covered padding in each extra-wide pew. They each chose one and were soon fast asleep. Maybe it was being in the church and knowing she was safe from Elsie’s torment, maybe it was the utter exhaustion from the night’s events, but Gail slept soundly and her dreams were sweeter (and more sane) than they had been in years.

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