Chapter 41: 1947
Whispering in the dark. Edgar could hear voices. There was movement somewhere, a dark scurry of claws scratching along stone. “Not the death I had planned,” Richard’s voice called from far away. “But a soul is a soul.” Richard laughed. Edgar could feel a tug on his little finger. The pinkie ring he wore there was being stolen. It held the family crest.
“You know I never want to be without that,” he tried to shout. As the oldest it was his right to take it to the grave. “Richard! Leave it alone,” he cried. Richard was laughing. There was someone else in the room. The presence emanated evil. Waves of malice, terror, and sorrow pulsed from the creature. Edgar knew it wasn’t a man. The smell of sulfur burned his nose. Trembling, Edgar turned his head to the blackness. What he saw threatened to throw his mind further into madness. Through dim glowing firelight, horns rose up. Blacker than the darkness that surrounded them, they transitioned into red skin of the pointed head. The head sat atop a huge crimson body that turned furry and goatlike at the waist. Edgar shut his eyes tightly.
“I’m dreaming. I know I am. Please let me wake up. God, please let me wake up,” Edgar cried. His pleas were met with laughter. Richard and the presence were laughing at him. “Please, Richard, help me.” Edgar could see the outline of his brother silhouetted in a doorway. Reaching out, he screamed. “The devil is here. He is here to drag me to hell. I’ve been killed, and I am going to hell! Help me. You said you would always help me!”
The devil was laughing. It was a deep, terrifying sound devoid of all mirth. Edgar knew it was the devil. He could hear the minions scurrying around in the darkness. The deep laughter was growing louder. Finally, a voice filled with menace broke through. There was still shrill cackling all around. “Oh yes, you will go to hell, but I am not here to take you.” The devil laughed again. “Poor Richard has not fulfilled the terms.”
“What do you mean?” Richard shouted from the door. “I delivered a soul within the time required.” Richard took a step back. Light caught his face. It was disfigured, burned, and scarred. He ran a hand over it, crying out. “I delivered a soul!”
“This one is far too damaged. I require a whole soul, an innocent soul.” Dark flame rose, black and deep crimson. “You have given me something that is already mine.”
“I had him killed! I took the trophy. I fulfilled the terms.” Richard’s argument was cut off.
“You have failed me!” the devil roared. “Do you think to trick me? Do you think I shall be merciful?” The laughing was gone, replaced by growls. A sea of hungry eyes flowed out of the flames. Edgar could feel their weight on his bed; their claws scratched and stabbed as they crept over him. He tried to move. He was paralyzed. He tried to call out. Angry blood-covered teeth snapped in his face. Black eyes reflected his terrified features. Red-faced with a long nose and black horns, the minion pushed a long, thin finger tipped with a black claw against Edgar’s lips.
“It’s master’s time to talk,” it hissed.
A tear rolled out of Edgar’s eye. The creature on his chest pulled and pressed his flesh like a cat bedding down. Claws dug into his skin as the full weight of the demon curled up on him. It hissed out words Edgar couldn’t understand.
“Do you think you can dictate the terms once the deal is signed?” The devil continued to roar.
“I did what the contract said,” Richard pleaded. “I have given you a soul.”
“You did not claim this one. You know this is a condemned. This does not fulfill the deal.” The voice lowered. “You may yet be spared.” The horrible laughing returned. “I shall leave this one for my pet. Would you like that, Kerlvin?” the devil cooed. “I will take the murderer.” Edgar felt a rush of hot wind blow across his face. Richard yelled in fright as Lawrence, the man he sent to help Edgar run the mill and to kill him rose up. Now Lawrence was screaming, grabbing, and clawing at Richard, the doorframe, the walls, anything he could. He flew over Edgar into the hand of the devil. Lawrence’s screams ceased in a ball of flame erupting from the beast’s hand.
“I have half of your debt. You will bring me another, and all will be forgiven.” Another wave of heat passed over Edgar. Richard was running a hand over his smooth young features.
“I will.” Richard bowed. The light from the doorway was gone. The flames disappeared. Edgar was left in blackness. The weight and pain of the thing on his chest did not change.
Morning came. Edgar lay in his bed not feeling the hangover he was sure to be fighting later. He rubbed his chest, still feeling the sting of Kerlvin’s claws. He opened his eyes and rubbed them. He rose from the blood-soaked bed. Anger, guilt, loathing, and fear fought for dominance. It was when he was halfway down the hall did he realize his body was still in the bed. His ring was missing. “But it was only a nightmare,” he cried.
Three days he waited, three days until someone finally came to find him. They searched the whole house before finally following the smell. The police took one look at the scene. “Yep, looks like they killed each other,” stated one officer who was covering his lower face to keep the smell at bay.
“Workers at the mill said they had been arguing,” replied another officer. “God, the state of this place. What a dump; not sure if the corpses reek or if it is the house itself.”
“What do you expect from rummy?”
“Guess Carl is off the hook.” The first cop laughed.
“Yeah, whoever killed him at least tried to make it look like an accident.” The first cop shrugged. “Not like this town lost anything with any of these deaths.”
“Are we sure the guy who killed Carl hopped on the first train out of town?”
“Yeah, all covered in blood, the other hobos said. Chattering on and on about a devil taking the soul. The Pittsburgh cops can sort him out.”