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CHAPTER 35 – Good Plan

The recessed door the little girls and their companions had gone through was still ajar, and Mickey slipped inside with Angie. Where a short hallway intersected another, much longer one, he paused and peeked around the corner. Their quarries were stopped halfway to the end where it intersected another hallway.

Before Mickey could decide how to proceed, sounds of fighting came from beyond the group. Just as the battle came into sight as it moved down the far hallway, Mickey’s prey slipped through a door at the top of a short set of steps. The battle farther on soon went out of sight clashing down its own hallway. Mickey and Angie slinked around the corner and ran to the steps. They opened the unlocked door at the top and entered the backstage area of the auditorium.

As soon as Mickey eased the door closed, shutting out the noises of various battles in the hallways, he heard muffled voices ahead. Walking on the outer edges of his feet, he led Angie to where they could see around a partition and out onto the stage – and there they were.

Light streamed in through a huge hole where the invaders had obliterated the central portion of the roof. Standing on the stage amid the mountain of rubble from the high, partially collapsed ceiling, they were gathered around one of the women who seemed to be having trouble with either her heart or her breath. She was seated on a chair and holding her chest, and the shorter one held her arm in her hands as though taking a pulse.

The girls were right there, just waiting for him to grab them. Hell, maybe even the black one would show up if he waited a couple of minutes. The gods obviously sought to please him. Morgan would probably make him a general if he caught all three of the witches. He couldn’t take the chance of waiting, though; no telling who might show up, instead. The huge space was still free of fighters, but for how long?

He and Angie would have to move quickly to make sure the girls didn’t get away. Probably be best to just knock them out, kill the guy and the women, and then simply carry the girls away. That way they wouldn’t be screaming for help or anything. Yeah, good plan.

Whispering in Angie’s ear, he said, “Both girls alive. Everyone else dies.”

Angie nodded and gripped the short length pipe he had picked up. They burst out, Mickey rushing for the small girl and the man next to her, Angie for the other girl.

Angie’s target was closer. The woman attending her friend rose to meet his approach but flopped to the floor when he smashed the pipe across her head. He smashed the pipe over the other woman’s head, then grabbed the older girl about the neck and slammed her on the side of the head with his cast at the same time. She slumped in his grasp.

“Emmie!” cried the man from several steps away. Then, “Quick, Lila, run!”

But Mickey was too fast. Before she could take more than a couple of steps, he swooped her up with one arm. With his other hand, he plunged a knife into the man’s belly. The entire operation hadn’t taken five seconds, and he had the prizes, both of them.

He resisted the temptation to slice the throat of the girl struggling in his grasp as she cried, “Ronald! Ronald!” He even resisted the temptation to remain long enough to watch the man die. That could take quite a while, though. Mickey knew what damage a knife in the gut could do, especially after the brutal twist he had given it, and of the certainty of eventual death. Short of immediate treatment in a modern trauma center, the guy was doomed. From what he had seen in these past few weeks, it appeared to be quite painful, too. Maybe he could wait for just a few minutes ….

Suddenly, as though a switch had been thrown, Mickey’s arm went numb, like it had gone to sleep from lying on top of it in bed. It had no strength at all. It was just a piece of meat hanging from his shoulder. The girl slipped from his grasp and ran away from him, but it was into a corner formed by blocks of fallen, jagged concrete, splintered furniture and building beams where she could do no more than spin about. She crouched screaming and crying hysterically as he strode toward her.

Angie moved toward her, half carrying the older girl, but Mickey motioned him back. “You just carry that one. I’ll handle this little witch.”

He squatted before her as he massaged his arm, working the feeling back into it and trying to ignore the painful tingling that accompanied its recovery. “I don’t know what you did, you little bitch, but I guess you’re a witch after all. I’m gonna really enjoy watching you burn. Now, come here!”

His backhanded fist dealt her a glancing blow on the side of her head, and she slumped to the floor. He was just standing up with the girl’s limp body when another sound, barely heard even in the insulated silence of the auditorium, sent spasms of chills racing up and down his back.

Angie had apparently heard the sound, too, because his eyes opened to circles and his jaw slackened and dropped as he went rigid. They both turned their heads at the same time to look back towards the left end of the stage, and Mickey didn’t care if the look on his own face showed the same terror that contorted Angie’s. His only concern was the sight of the monstrous devil-dog standing at the top of the steps from the seating area, gazing at them with fire-orange eyes and baring its teeth behind saliva-dripping, red-tinged flews. A low rumble emitted from deep in its throat and chest like distant, approaching thunder.

With slow, deliberate moves, Mickey lowered the girl in his arms to the floor and laid her there with the gentle care of a loving father. He began to back up, although, he knew that the door on that side of the stage was much too far away. He had noticed, however, among several pieces of scenery near the center of the stage, box-like constructions painted to look like distant buildings. A couple had to be at least seven feet tall and looked large enough on the top to hold a man.

The dog stalked onto the stage, its gaze swiveling from him to Angie and the girl in his arms who was beginning to moan and stir back to consciousness. That was fine with Mickey. If it concentrated on Angie, maybe it wouldn’t notice him backing away. But, when Angie looked over at Mickey and saw what Mickey was doing, he dropped the girl, spun and darted for the fake building.

Mickey was surprised at how fast the damned guy could move. When Angie started climbing one handed up the lower pieces to reach the tall one, Mickey jerked out of his terror-frozen stance and ran. The dog started across the room at the same time, and would, no doubt, grab the first one it got to. In Mickey’s world, that had to be Angie.

Angie grabbed the top of the construction with the fingertips of his good hand while trying to grab with the other one partially enclosed in the cast and clawing with his feet to scramble up the wall. Mickey snatched Angie by his belt and the waistband of his pants and yanked him backwards to land flat on his back behind Mickey.

Mickey then scrambled up the make-believe high-rise, propelled by mounting dread as horrible sounds came to him from behind. High pitched shrieks blended with rumbling, growling snatches that ended in quick snapping and wet, crunching sounds. Very soon, he could hear only the dog sounds.

From his isolated perch, Mickey peered back down onto the stage. The beast stood over Angie’s bloody, unmoving body and gazed back at him. Then, ballooning Mickey’s terror to mindless, bladder emptying panic, with slow and deliberate steps, the thing took a step toward him.

Mickey cringed into the center of the fake building’s roof and realized it was not nearly as wide or as tall as he had thought, and the beast with bared teeth came closer. The possibility of doing battle with the animal while armed with only his two knives never even occurred to Mickey – if it actually was an animal and not a demon from hell. He began screaming, waving his hand at the thing, willing the horrible monster to stay back.

Mickey’s darting eyes focused on Angie’s body lying in an unnatural pose of twisted and torn limbs at the center of thick streams of crimson oozing across the floor, his torn face with eyes that stared unseeing at the ceiling. Into Mickey’s mind flashed images of the devil-dog ripping into his men during the backyard fight, how their blood sprayed as the beast shook them by their throats, shaking them like a hound shakes a rabbit

Emitting a constant rumble, the beast stopped only a few feet from Mickey’s perch, close enough for Mickey to smell Angie’s blood coating the gaping maw, almost close enough for him to reach out and touch. Its back end lowered as it went into a crouch, preparing to spring.

Tears streamed down Mickey’s face as terror ripped at every fiber of his violently shaking body, but all he could do was scream … and scream.

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