Nightmare

Evil Skull
Night fell. Tom and Mr. B sat in Tommy’s apartment, with the lights out, waiting. Tom checked his watch. “Midnight,” he said.

“Do you want something to drink?”

“No.” Tom smacked his lips. He rubbed his eyes. “This salt vapor is killing me. I feel like I’ve got crystals forming on the inside of lungs.”

There were four vaporizers running in the room, one in each corner. They sat, humming, blowing out clouds of steam that vanished inches above the machines. Tom and Mr. B had light sheens of water on them as if they were sweating, even though the air was cool tonight.

A little bundle of four-leafed clover peeked out of Tom’s pocket. Mr. B had one just like it, plus his old policeman’s Bible. Tom closed his eyes and repeated the words to the “prayers” he planned to use against the creature.

The temperature dropped in the room. Buster jumped up onto the bed and stretched out his legs. The little mongrel purred. “Hi Amy,” Tom and Mr. B said. Tom sensed fear. Caring and fear. He brushed at a sensation like silk touching the hair on his legs. A sound like little jingling touched the edge of his imagination. Out of the corner of his eye, Tom could see the salt mist swirl in circles. Buster purred and watched them.

“I think she’s dancing.” Smiles. Yes. He watched the mist swirl some more, opened up his imagination, and could almost see her. Tom snapped his fingers. “Belly dancing! That’s where the bells came from.” He had a sharp image of Buster’s claws. “She’s ready to fight, too. It’s like wrapping a knife in a silk scarf.”

Mr. B smiled. “Atta girl. I always knew you had some Mata Hari in you.” He took a sip of water. He warmed up his whistle on the first verse of “Danny Boy.”

Time passed. Mr. B sat in his chair and kept watching the room. He told Tommy it was like any other stakeout. Tom shook his head. The dude was like bedrock, completely calm and still. Tom sometimes paced, other times picked books off the shelves and re-read the words. Nothing helped.

The city never slept, but sometimes there were nights when you knew that bad things were happening somewhere. A little at a time, that dark feeling started to creep into the room. Tom gulped when he noticed it. He checked over his shoulder. Nothing there, but it made Tom rub his arms. He wanted to feel warm, to feel better. “Can you feel it?” he asked.

Mr. B nodded. “Like watching a drug house after dark. It’s moving.” He blessed himself, closed his eyes and said a prayer.

Tom looked around the room. He opened up his heart for a moment and imagined holding Amy’s hand. Nicely, then with that never letting go ferocity that he’d felt that first night. “Just wanted to let you know,” he whispered. He felt her fingers brush his.

The lights in the hall flickered. Mr. B stood up. He pressed his hand over his heart. “My heart beat… feels like…”

“Footsteps,” Tom said. “Is your breath shallow?”

“Like there’s no air.”

Buster ran to his crate again. The three of them faced the door. The flickering hall lights framed the door. Tom imagined a hand pressing against it. A hand from a thing named Hunger. Nothing but hunger. It recoiled from the salt cloud, then felt seething, oily rage.

The air snapped like a bedsheet. Now a curtain of black, living smoke hung and twisted between them and the door. In Tom’s mind’s eye he saw a wet, living skull shape in the middle of the smoke.

“Jesus,” Tom said.

The wind that was Amy’s breath roared. It met the smoke halfway between them and the two turned into a white and black tornado. In Tom’s mind’s eye, he saw Amy dancing a sword dance. Her fingers raked out where a dancer would have been graceful. Her body twisted and wrestled where it would have moved with music. Bells beaded her dress, ankles and wrists, and they all stung the creature where it tried to touch her.

Mr. B shouted in Latin. He splashed holy water at it. Tom smelled a stench, and saw that the smoke actually got smaller. Mr. B kept throwing.

Tom took a deep breath, and uttered, with the voice of an exorcist, the words from Hamlet, “Angels, and ministers of grace, defend us! Be thou a spirit of health, or goblin damn’d.” The smoke jerked inward like he’d stung it with a whip. Tom kept going. “Bring with thee airs from heaven, or blasts from hell. Be thy intents wicked or charitable. Thou com’st in such a questionable shape…” and shouting, “…that I… will… SPEAK TO THEE!” He threw a handful of salt at it.

Tom never saw what hit him. He heard a bang. It felt like he’d been punched in the face. Light flashed behind his eyes, and he had the wind knocked out of him from the back. Tom choked. He staggered back to his feet; he didn’t even know he’d been knocked down. He’d been thrown ten feet across the room.

A tentacle of smoke struck at Mr. B. There were two, one for each of them. He saw Amy’s ghost getting snapped at by the horror skull in the center of the smoke. He heard Amy cry out inside his mind. The words spilled out of his mouth: “There is real love just as there are real ghosts; every person speaks of it, few persons have seen it.” Amy seemed to grow stronger again.

Mr. B swung his Bible at the limb, still praying. The silver clasp on the outside shone bright. Tom thought it looked brighter than it normally would have in this light.

Another tendril swung at Tom again. He took the hit, and felt a puff of air ooze out of his lungs. “Bloody thou art,” he snarled, from Richard III. “Bloody will be thy end!”

The smoke tendril got inside Mr. B’s guard. It snaked around him, under his legs, over his back, inside his clothes. Mr. B cried out. He brushed at his body like sweeping off bugs. It was getting worse. More black smoke wept back into the cloud, growing from the fear.

“Mr. B! Wally! Whistle!” Tom shouted. He’d forgotten about it.

Mr. B’s glasses fell off his face. He couldn’t stop staring at it. He started to whistle, weakly, but it wasn’t enough. Tom could actually see black smoke sneaking into his nose. Tom gritted his teeth. He had to give it something else to think about. He ran forward and jumped into the cloud. “Come and get me, you son of a bitch! I’m the one you want!”

Evil Skull” is a drawing by Kate VerKuilen.

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