“I have an army of the dead at my disposal. You have … a schoolgirl and a child barely out of nappies.”
It was much tougher climbing the stairs than going down. Arika was carrying the leather bag, which was bulging with books, papers and weapons, though she handled it as well as most of the fully geared-up fire officers Kane worked with. Dylan, on the other hand, found the going tough, his energy sapped from the long day in an old man’s body, and Kane had to carry him most of the way. His own injuries made it a long and painful climb. If Waite’s body hadn’t been so small and light, he doubted he would have managed it.
They didn’t see the snake-slug thing again. The sound of its pursuit had stopped, and all they could hear was the whining of the thing locked in the cell near the study, which grew steadily fainter the closer they got to the surface.
At last they came to the bend in the staircase and a few steps later emerged into the well, where, after a brief rest, they began their climb to the sub-basement. Arika went up first, followed by Dylan, and then Kane.
Once they were safe in the room, Kane handed Arika the lamp, took hold of the metal plate with both hands, shoved it down with a grunt and watched with satisfaction as it slammed shut. Not content with it self-closing, he jumped on it and kept jumping until he was sure the thing was locked.
Free from the noxious underworld and its horrors, the Necromonicon secured at last, they stood smiling at each other, taking a few moments to savour their success and catch their breath before leaving Wilfred Waite’s farm once and for all.
“Perhaps I’m feeding my pet too much. He doesn’t fit up the stairs.”
Kane whirled around. His brother was standing at the door to the basement, hands on hips, looking down on them. But of course, it wasn’t his brother.
Wilfred nodded at the leather bag at Arika’s feet. “I believe that belongs to me,” he said, holding out his hand.
Kane pointed at his brother’s chest. “And that belongs to my brother. Wanna swap?”
Wilfred chuckled. “I like you, boy. Shame I didn’t take your body.”
“You’re not taking anyone’s body.”
Stepping off the trapdoor, Kane knelt by the bag and pulled out the Necromonicon. He slammed it down on the dirt floor and opened it to the page featuring the seven-pointed star with the piercing eye in its centre.
“Dylan,” he ordered, snapping his fingers. “Here.”
Dylan fell to his knees.
“See that picture?” said Kane, jabbing at it with his finger. “Put your hand on the page and stare at the eyeball and think of being back in your own body.”
Wilfred started down the steps. “Give that to me!” he demanded.
Leaping to his feet, Kane approached him with fists raised. “Just because you have Dylan’s body, doesn’t mean I won’t kick your bony arse across the room.”
Arika went to help Dylan, who was kneeling over the book. “What else does he need to do?”
“I … d-don’t understand,” stuttered Dylan, who was looking every one of his two hundred years.
“The book is the secret to undoing the spell,” explained Kane without turning around. “Focus your attention on the page and the book will do the rest.” He remembered Gilles’ words and said them to Wilfred: “Steal easy; keep hard.”
That was enough for Arika. “Here,” she said, taking Dylan’s thick brown hand and placing it on the page. “Get your body back.”
He frowned down at the book, concentrating hard, his body trembling with the effort.
In an instant, Wilfred’s legs faltered. Throwing up his hands, grabbing handfuls of hair, he screamed, “Get out! This body is mine! You’re not taking it!”
“You’re losing,” Kane taunted, hoping to distract him and help break his hold on Dylan’s body. “You’re going back into your stinking carcass where you belong, and you’re going to die a pathetic loser.”
“Ia! Ia!” cried Wilfred – but if that was the start of a spell, it broke off in a gasp of horror.
With a grunt, Dylan fell face down on the Necromonicon.
Kane swung around and rushed to help him. “Dylan,” he cried, pulling him off the book, hugging his frail body against his chest.
Behind him, his brother said, “Kane.”
Kane peered over his shoulder. Dylan was on his knees, staring at him with scared eyes. His face looked like he was seventeen again. “I can see you,” he said.
Kane glanced down at the old man in his arms, cried, “Yah!” and pushed him away.
Wiping his hands on his shirt, he snatched up the Necromonicon and the bag and went to join his brother.
Dylan, nodding, took hold of his arm and pulled himself to his feet.
“Where were you born?”
His brother frowned at him. “Salters Point.”
Kane hugged him hard with his free arm, then dug his hand in his hair and pressed their foreheads together. “Welcome back, youngster. It’s great to see you.”
Turning to Arika, he said, “We got what we came for. Let’s go.”
Arika was standing over Wilfred with arms crossed, and didn’t move. She had that look in her eye, the one she got when she was hellbent on doing something regardless of the consequences. It was a look Kane had seen a lot in their short acquaintance.
“Not until he answers my question.”
Kane pulled a face at Dylan. What was she talking about? the look said. What could possibly be worth staying in this madhouse one minute longer than was absolutely necessary?
“Arika!” he barked. “We got the book. We need to go.”
“Where is he?” she demanded.
Wilfred smirked up at Kane. “You dust mites have no idea who you’re dealing with.”
“Arika! … Arika!” Kane stared daggers at her, but she refused to take her eyes off Wilfred. He in turn acted as if she didn’t exist.
“Come on, Dylan,” Kane said, turning away. “Let’s go. She won’t stay here by herself.” Placing a hand on his brother’s back, he shepherded him towards the stairs.
“That meat sack is mine.”
Kane felt a hot surge of anger, stronger than anything he’d felt since arriving at the farm. He swung around. “Say that again and you’re dead.”
“Kane,” urged Dylan, grabbing his arm, “forget it. He’s trying to get a rise.”
“Where is he?” Arika asked again, kicking Wilfred’s leg.
Wilfred turned his gaze to Dylan. “Don’t fight me, boy. You’re a scared little insect flapping its wings at a near god.”
“I said shut up.”
“There’s no sense resisting. I always win. The mighty immortals are destined to inherit the Earth and all that walk and slither and crawl across its face. What hope do you imbeciles have against the likes of me?”
“I’ll stop you,” said Kane.
Wilfred closed his eyes. “How many times have I heard that from a mealybug with pretensions of grandeur?”
“Kane!” cried Arika.
Kane stared at her. Her eyes were open wide, fixated on something at the top of the steps.
He spun around. A huge white hand with dirty brown fingernails was grasping the edge of the wall.
Behind him, Wilfred said, “I have an army of the dead at my disposal. You have … a schoolgirl and a child barely out of nappies.”
Reaching into his collar, he pulled out a black metal charm that was hanging around his neck by a chain: a five-pointed star with purple stones set along its length.
“Hugo,” he called, “you may enter.”
The hand flexed and a bald head entered the room, followed by a shoulder, a leg and then the rest of Hugo. He was a tall, heavyset, hairless man, quite obviously dead, wearing the same grey pants Kane had seen in the underground chamber. His eyes were milky, his barrel chest chalky and bare. His ribs and arms were pinned with metal bands and studs; his face too: a band extended from his lower jaw over his cheek and up to his bald head, where it was affixed by a large bolt. He was no longer a human being, dead or alive. Wilfred had turned him into a weapon, a mindless thing.
Standing ape-like at the top of the steps, he regarded the room with his blank white eyes.
“Hugo,” said Wilfred, “please get me my book.”
When Hugo’s broad face fixed on them, Kane pulled Dylan towards Arika. Dropping the bag at his feet, he stood in front of them, holding the Necronomicon against his chest. As the hulk lumbered down the steps and stumbled towards them, he felt like a small boy about to pee his pants; but at the same time, part of him was expecting the energy in the book to rise up and protect him, like the Genie in Aladdin’s lamp. He clutched the Necromonicon tighter and thought he sensed a vibration and a growing heat from it. But as Hugo neared and the book grew heavy in his arms, he realised it wasn’t going to offer any protection.
“Brave boy,” Wilfred chuckled at him. “Most cockroaches will run when faced with such danger. The ones that stand in defiance get squashed, unfortunately for them.”
The hulk threw open his arms and lunged at Kane, taking him in a bear hug. Kane lost his grip on the Necromonicon and it slipped between them and slammed to the floor.
Arika ducked in, grabbed it and stepped away.
Wilfred pushed himself to his feet. “If you value your friend’s life, young lady, you will give me my book.”
“Don’t!” yelled Kane as he struggled to free himself from the hulk’s embrace.
“Hugo was a championship boxer,” explained Wilfred, “before his untimely death. When I resurrected him, I took the liberty of making him stronger. At my command he will snap the boy like a twig.”
Dylan, unnoticed, took hold of the back of a large wooden dining chair, raised it in the air, swung it down with the force of gravity and smashed it against the hulk’s back. The chair bounced off and fell with a clatter to the floor.
“I can make Hugo stop,” continued Wilfred, moving towards Arika. “With a word I can spare the boy’s life and you two lovebirds can run off and live happily ever after. Somewhere far away from here. And make babies together to your hearts’ content. Or you can choose to defy me and die together down here like rats. The choice is yours. The book is mine regardless.”
Diving into the black leather bag, Dylan pulled out the cattle prod, raced back to Hugo and stabbed him in the side. This time the hulk grunted in pain and flung Kane to the floor. He turned on Dylan.
“Hugo!” cried Wilfred. “Stop playing games with those boys and retrieve my book!”
Like an automaton, the hulk turned away from Dylan and advanced on Arika.
Springing to his feet, Kane ran at him and threw himself on his back, propelling him to the ground. Without really exerting himself, the dead boxer rolled over, and suddenly Kane found himself underneath what felt like a ton of flesh. A pair of gargantuan hands clamped around his throat.
“Now,” said Wilfred, “once again: give me the book or I will order Hugo to squeeze until the boy’s eyes pop from their sockets.”
Dylan, staring at Wilfred, touched Arika’s arm. “The charm,” he said close to her ear. “Around Waite’s neck. I think it’s controlling the thing.”
Arika’s eyes flew to the five-pointed charm. A smile flitted across her face, she gave a nod, and without a word raised the Necromonicon and stepped towards Wilfred holding out the book like an offering.
“The slattern shows sense at last.”
As Wilfred went to take the book, Arika let go and it thudded to the floor.
“Clumsy clot,” he spat, and bent to retrieve it.
As the charm dangled on its chain, she reached out and ripped it away.
“Smash it!” yelled Dylan. “Smash it!”
But Arika was once again staring angrily at Wilfred. “Tell me what happened to my father.”
“Give me that!” he demanded, swiping unsuccessfully at the charm.
Dylan, abandoning Arika, raced back to Hugo and stabbed him hard in the back with the cattle prod. This time he swiped at it like he’d been stung by a mosquito. One huge hand remained clamped on Kane’s throat.
“Smash it!” Dylan yelled again as he jabbed Hugo in the head over and over again with the cattle prod. “Arika! What are you doing?”
Wilfred sneered at her. “Destroy the charm and I guarantee the outcome will not be a pleasant one. The walls of this residence will come tumbling down on all of us. You would not want that to happen.”
Arika glanced worriedly at Kane, who was tugging at Hugo’s wrists, struggling to keep the giant hands from crushing his throat. Dylan now had an arm wrapped around the hulk’s throat and was pulling with all his might.
“If that’s true, you may as well tell me what happened to my father. If I’m about to die anyway, what’s the point in playing games?”
“Playing games is my specialty,” returned Wilfred.
Her face ablaze with frustration and rage, Arika glanced again at Kane, glared at Wilfred, dropped the charm on the floor and stamped on it with the heel of her shoe. It made a loud crunching noise and purple liquid bubbled out. Grinding the charm into the floor, she stepped back and watched as the purple bubbles popped, turned clear, and faded away.
“You stupid bint!” yelled Wilfred, backing away. “Do you realise what you’ve done?”
Hugo did. Whining like a puppy, he released his hands from Kane’s neck, brushed off Dylan and hauled himself to his feet. For a few seconds he peered around the room with shoulders slumped and arms hanging, as if he’d awoken from a nightmare and was trying to regain his sense of reality, then turned his head to Wilfred and opened his mouth in recognition. Raising his arms, making guttural noises that seemed to vibrate from his barrel chest, he staggered after him.
Arika rushed to Kane’s side.
“Thanks … I think,” he said from the corner of his mouth as she and Dylan helped him to his feet.
She didn’t look at him or say anything. She seemed guilty and angry at the same time.
Behind them, Hugo caught up to Wilfred, put both hands around his throat and lifted him off the floor. While Wilfred gurgled, flapped his arms and kicked his legs, Hugo stared into his face and grunted incomprehensibly, as if trying to tell him something.
“Hey!” yelled Kane.
When Hugo ignored him, he ran at him, jumped on his back and hooked his arm in a stranglehold around his tree-trunk neck. He squeezed with all his strength, jerking his arm back to force a reaction, but Hugo’s only interest was in watching Wilfred as the final breaths gurgled from his throat.
Releasing his arm, Kane slid off the hulk’s back and scanned the room for a weapon. The first thing he spotted was the axe handle poking from the bag, and he realised with a sinking feeling that if wanted to save Wilfred’s life he had no other option. Going to the bag, pulling out the axe, distracting his conscience by thinking only of the success of their rescue mission, he went back to Hugo, raised the axe above his head and buried the blade deep in the dead man’s back.
Hugo turned his head in surprise. Tossing Wilfred away, he arched his back and tried to reach the axe with both hands. When this failed, he flew into a rage, spinning in a circle, smashing furniture, raising clouds of dust.
“Out!” yelled Kane, scooping up the bag and the Necromonicon and pushing the others before him.
They ran up the steps. At the door to the basement, Kane stopped and turned for a last look at the destruction below. Though he’d managed to dislodge the axe from his back, Hugo was still spinning around, grabbing at the wound in his back, destroying everything he fell against. Wilfred was lying where Hugo had thrown him, his black-rimmed eyes open and staring lifelessly at the ceiling. As Kane watched in horror, the ancient body began turning a nauseous shade of green.