Green gold eyes surveyed
the decrepit building. The wooden structure stood in the middle of a field.
The white paint that at one time covered it was peeling and now closer
to a shade of gray.
"Now tell me again, why
did we agree to this?" Andi looked up at the dark haired woman walking
Jessica rolled her eyes.
The action was hidden behind dark lenses. "I've told you three times
now. We got a tip that this group was doing weird stuff. Something about
Andi's eyes grew wide.
"You mean like that group doing in those poor furry little squirrels
last year?". "I don't think I'll ever forget the sight of those sad
squirrels squiggling around in that pit." She trembled at the thought
and her green eyes became misty.
"The guy wouldn't tell
me what. We're gonna check it out, that's all. You know how most of
these informants are, buncha flakes." Jess' eyes darted around in an
uncharacteristically nervous fashion. Fortunately, they were still unseen
by her partner.
"OK, so we are just going
in to check it out and leave? This place gives me goose bumps just looking
at it." Andi rubbed her arms, accentuating her statement.
to check it out and leave. My informant told me that today is a special
service and 'some big ass shit' is going to happen. I just wanted to
see what he meant by that."
"OK, but you are so going
to owe me after this." Andi elbowed Jess in the side.
Jess took a deep breath.
"Are you ready?"
"I think I'm as ready
as I'll ever be. I kinda feel like my stomach is up in my throat though.
It's kinda weird, wonder why, it's just a church."
"Uh," Jess visibly swallowed,
"did I mention what kind of church it was?"
Andi stopped dead in
her tracks. "Nooooooo, you didn't."
"Oh don't worry about
it, it's nothing. Not a big deal at all." Jess started to move closer
to the front door. "Really," she said innocently with a smile to match
Jess pulled at the heavy
mahogany doors. The brass door handles were worn by the weather, but
it was obvious that underneath the tarnish they were beautifully intricate.
As the door creaked open,
Jess put her hand on Andi's back and almost pushed her inside. Andi
stumbled forward a bit at the shove, glaring behind her at her tall
friend. She took a seat in one of the back pews, patting the space beside
her for Jess to sit.
"Oh Father, we gather
here today to praise your name," boomed the voice from the altar. Both
women jumped at the intensity and volume coming from the speakers.
The man, outfitted in
a black flowing robe, looked in their direction and smiled. He turned
his head and almost imperceptibly nodded to another person dressed identically.
"Father, in your name,
we pray. We know you make all things possible." The others in the congregation
paid rapt attention to each word. In fact, even Andi and Jess were enchanted
by the baritone voice.
"OK," Andi whispered,
"what kind of church has a minister who dresses up like this guy? This
looks like Rosemary's Baby or something." She nodded her head towards
the front. "Check out that altar." There was an assortment of things
on a massive wooden table at the front of the room. What appeared to
be a silver chalice was there along with a sword.
"Shhhhh," Jess hissed,
her finger over Andi's lips.
Clang, clang clang
Andi and Jess looked
at each other, startled, as the priest rang a bell that seemed to appear
out of nowhere. He turned ... slowly and mechanically counter clockwise
as he continued to ring the bell.
Clang, clang, clang
In unison, the congregation
sang in what sounded like another language as the priest concluded ringing
the bell with the ninth chime.
The priest's voice rose
again. "We have those amongst us who are non-believers. Forgive them,
Father, they know not."
Andi was trying very
hard not to fidget in her seat. "This is the last time I am going to
come with you on an assignment, especially on Halloween," she said under
her breath to Jess.
"QUIET!" The priest bellowed,
"for you are the one we have prayed for."
Andi tried to become
one with the pew as the rector looked in her and Jess' direction.
"You who have uttered
in the dark of night that they would sell their soul for the right amount
of power," the man hesitated, then purposefully looked directly at Andi,
"... or money." He stalled, as if he were savoring each word he spoke.
"We are tonight going
to give you the opportunity. We are offering the gratification of all
your desires. Indulgence ... undefiled wisdom can be yours."
"OK, that's it, I'm outta
here." Andi grabbed Jess' hand and tried to stand. Something more powerful
than herself kept them in their seats.
"We offer you kindness
and vengeance, in return, we only ask for your souls. You've both offered
them to our father and now he wishes to collect your debt."
It was Jess' turn to
be spooked. "This is so fucked." The hair on the back of her neck began
to stand. She could sense someone right behind her, but didn't want
to let whoever it was know that she knew they were there.
"Follow me," she whispered
to her spouse. With all her might, Jess pulled Andi from her seat. "Let's
The man who was behind
their seats was unprepared for their sudden departure and allowed them
to get an extra step. That was all they needed to get around him, find
the door and run.
Chests heaving with exertion,
neither woman stopped. They both ran as hard and as fast as they could
to their car. Jess pulled out her keyring and activated the remote lock
to the vehicle.
In one swift motion she
had the keys in the ignition and the motor running. Tires squealing
as they got as far away as fast as they could.
"What the hell was that
place, Jess?" Andi blurted out after her breathing returned to normal.
was a satanic church," she said sheepishly. "My informant told me they
were going to have some kind of sacrifice there tonight. A blood sacrifice."
"Well, I don't care if
they do," Andi interrupted. "There is no way I am going back to that
place. And neither are you!"
Ordinarily, the lanky
animal control officer would argue, but tonight wasn't an ordinary night.
"I can't believe you
let me walk in that place and didn't tell me." Andi uttered incredulously.
As every proper Southern girl is taught, she fanned herself with her
hand and then placed it over her heart. Her hand stilled.
I dropped my locket there." She continued to pat her chest as if the
motion would make the missing piece of jewelry reappear.
Her wide-eyed soulmate
stared forward at the road. Afraid of what would come out of her partner's
"That was my great-grandmother
Henrietta's locket. I can't lose it, I just can't!" she declared.
Jess found her voice
and grudgingly muttered about the only thing that would keep her out
of the doghouse for the next month. "Do you want me to go back and get
"Well of course I do,
it was my great-grandmother
you mentioned that. But, honey, those people were acting like they wanted
to do something weird. Can't we go back in the morning?"
Andi rolled her eyes.
"We sure aren't going to go back there tonight. We'll go first thing
The familiar route home
suddenly didn't look as familiar to Andi in her position in the passenger
"Where are you heading?"
the blonde asked.
"The police station?"
the normally self-assured, confident woman questioned hesitantly.
"Why are you driving
there? What did those people really do to us that a cop can fix? Even
if they had done something other than scaring the crap out of us, what
could a cop do? I don't think mace is going to stop the devil."
Jess' eyes were fixed
on the road ahead. "Oh," was all she muttered and the car was silent
Andi slowly turned her
chin. In the eight years she had lived with and loved the woman sitting
beside her, there had never been a time she hadn't had a contingency
plan. One that would work, anyway. Eyeing her partner, she realized
this encounter obviously had shaken Jess far more than she let on.
"So." Jess jumped at
Andi's sudden verbalization.
"Sorry, I was trying
to come up with a plan."
"Have you? Come up with
a plan that is?" Andi queried.
"No, not really. All
I know is that I have seen enough horror films to know not to go home.
I think if we walked in there and there were zombies running around
or we heard an disembodied voice whisper 'get out' I would ..." she
paused, "well, I don't know what I would do."
"OK, then, why don't
we go to Java the Hut?" Andi sat up a little straighter in her seat,
extremely proud that it was she who had come up with an idea first.
Java the Hut was the coffee shop where she and Jess had met all those
years ago. It was one of their favorite places to go. The best thing
about it at that moment was the fact that it was open 24 hours.
Jess chewed on the suggestion
and, not readily having another plan handy, agreed.
"Not a bad idea," Jess
allowed. "In fact," she continued, "a really good idea. They have that
Internet café thing set up now. I can do some research and figure
out just what in the hell we were up against over there."
don't think you want to be using the word hell in vain right now, ok?"
Andi rubbed her arms; the goose bumps were immediately back at the mention
of the underworld, even as harmless as the reference was.
Jess' eyes went back
to the road again.
"Sorry." She said sheepishly,
but a bit more relieved now that she now had someplace to drive to.
Andi and Jess headed
directly to the computers in the back of the café after ordering
their coffee. Both had asked for quadruple shots of espresso in their
lattés since, the way things were going, they were going to need
to stay awake until it was time to go back to the church and look for
Holding the coffee in
one hand, Jess used her other to press the power button on at the first
computer she came to. She started up the browser and began looking at
a variety of terms at the first search engine site that came to mind.
Andi was at her own computer
station. She glanced over at Jess' screen.
"How can you be looking
at that stuff? It's Halloween night, it's dark out, and we don't know
what we've stuck our noses into. You're giving me the willies." She
involuntarily shuddered to underscore the statement.
"I need to know what
we're up against. I might have many skills, but fighting Beelzebub is
not one of them." She took another sip of the hot beverage and went
back to the web page she had found.
Hours passed by while
Jess scribbled notes and went to page after page. Andi busied herself
by finding the homepage of her favorite soap opera and tracing the history
of Pine Valley back to 1970.
Jess was engrossed in
some website that kept playing George Harrison's song, My Sweet Lord.
It was very disconcerting to Andi, hearing that song and knowing what
kind of page it was on. Since they were both using their own AOL accounts
and she had already memorized the names of each of Erika's husbands,
Andi decided to send an instant message to the love of her life.
Andi watched Jess smile
as she received the simple message. She responded to the message. Their
easy banter back and forth on the computer program made the earlier
events seem far away and somewhat surreal. Both women appeared to be
far more relaxed than they had been when they arrived several hours
Jess was going back and
forth between her research and answering Andi's messages. Since Andi
had run out of sites to check, she was busily bombarding Jess with increasingly
racy correspondence. The content of the messages had succeeded in directing
Jess' attention to them over the exploration she was doing.
After a bit, the messages
tapered off. Andi's thoughts wandered back to a night she abruptly awoke,
sweat drenched, after a dream. She had been worrying about their finances.
She mumbled to herself that night, "I'd sell my soul to get out of debt."
The next thing she remembered was a deep male voice answering her plea,
"Dear God," Andi thought
to herself, "what did I do?" Her face paled at the memory; a sudden
chill pierced the air.
The hair on the back
of Jess' neck stood on end, reminding her of her task. She turned to
look at the blonde, she could tell her partner also felt the difference
in the room. Andi straightened her back and jerked her hands from her
keyboard. Jess looked at the screen seeing Andi's movement away from
her machine. It was then she noticed the screen was totally black.
She turned back to her
computer. Hers had also gone black but with one difference. The keyboard
began to type on its own accord. The clacking of the keys seemed magnified
in the quiet room as 'Join Me' was written one stroke at a time and
positioned directly in the middle of the screen.
Without a word, both
women quickly leapt from their respective seats and ran back to the
safe haven of their car. The sound of the store clerk yelling after
them for payment of their many coffee drinks and computer time became
one with the background noise as they drove further and further away.
?" Jess finally
was able to regain her voice.
"Yes." Andi responded,
not needing to hear the question and not wanting to give voice to yet
another thing to which there was no explanation.
"Do you still
"I have to; it's my great-grandmother's
locket." Again, Andi was able to answer without Jess finishing her sentence.
"OK" was the simple reply.
The women drove for about
an hour. They traveled in a rather aimless fashion, though Jess did
try and drive by as many churches as she could manage. It never hurt
to be on the safe side.
Finally the sun began
to peek up over the horizon. Vivid shades of pink and blue streaked
the sky as the bright orange ball of light made its way higher and higher
into the morning sky.
The dawn was refreshing,
allowing each of the women to relax a bit once again -- because everyone
knows the really bad stuff only happens at night.
Within what seemed like
only a few moments, the sun was high in the sky. As it moved higher,
the lump in Jess' throat moved lower, finally coming to rest where it
was now, a big ball of dread in the pit of her stomach.
The night's activities,
while causing several anxiety-induced adrenaline rushes, had left the
"No time like the present,"
Jess proclaimed wearily.
With a heavy sigh, Andi
agreed. "You're right, let's get it over with." After a quick U-turn
the women were on their way back to the church.
The return trip took
about an hour, due to the unconscious effort on Jess' part to put as
much room as possible between her and the nefarious building. When she
started to recognize their surroundings as being close to their destination,
Jess pulled the car over to the curb and stopped.
"Are you ready for this?"
She hesitated. "Really ready?"
Andi pondered the question.
She closed her eyes, not knowing what could be next. "Yes," she whispered
and audibly swallowed, "I'm ready." She quickly added, "No matter what
happens in there, just know that I love you with all my heart. Always
have, always will." The love and sadness on her face was the very definition
"I love you too. And
I'll just be happy when this is over. Trust me when I say I don't think
I'll be calling this informant back." Jess reached for Andi's hand.
Turning in her seat, she faced Andi and took in the sight of the woman
she loved. Several heartbeats expired before Andi looked up with bloodshot
eyes, making the green even more vibrant.
"I'm so sorry I got us
into this. Even if we didn't need to go back and get your locket, I
think we'd still be here trying to figure out what went on last night.
Don't blame yourself for anything." Jess grabbed Andi's chin to force
eye contact. "I'm serious, this isn't your fault." The dark-haired woman
then reached over and gave the other woman a peck on the tip of her
nose. The action was received with a quick but sincere smile.
The animal control officer
steeled herself and turned back into the driving position. With a quick
flip of her wrist, she started the car.
"What's wrong?" Andi
reached over and turned the key into the off position.
"I was just thinking
that maybe it isn't a good idea to drive up to the church. Maybe we
should walk. That way no one sees our car?"
"Well, I think it really
doesn't matter. I mean, I don't know if Satan is like God or not and
can see everything, but I figure if Santa Claus can, then the devil
probably can too."
Andi unbuckled her seat
belt and pushed the door open.
"We aren't going to go
over that whole 'is Santa real or not' argument again are we?" Jess
asked as she mirrored Andi's movements.
Jess waited as Andi walked
around the car.
"What's wrong?" The blonde
queried her tall partner.
"I was thinking."
"I could tell; that's
the only time you chew on the inside of your cheek."
"I do not."
I was thinking perhaps it isn't a good idea for us to go there unarmed."
"What? You think we should
go get some holy water or something?"
"Very funny. No I don't
think that, but maybe we should take something with us, just in case."
Andi reached inside the car and took the keys out of the ignition. Opening
the trunk with one of the keys on the ring, she rummaged around to see
what would be of use.
Under the blankets, her
hands felt something solid and metal. Pulling out the object with one
hand, she closed the trunk with the other.
"There, now I feel a
teensy bit better," as she showed Andi the rust-speckled tire iron that
had been yanked from its home.
Now armed, the women
began their trek of a few blocks back to the single scariest place they
had ever been in their lives.
As they neared the place
where the ritual had taken place hours before, Jess pulled out a piece
of paper from her back pocket. "I thought I could find it without the
address but maybe not. I thought it was right here and all I see is
Andi took the piece of
paper and read exactly what was written on the paper. Jess slowed to
look at the house numbers.
"Well this is the block
and this house is 9412, the next house is 9506. The address is 9424.
I don't get it, we didn't have any problems finding it before. It was
here plain as day. Now all I see is an empty plot where the church should
The women turned to look
at one another.
"Jess, you don't think
"No, impossible. Something
must be mucked up."
"I'm sure this is where
we parked last time." Jess shielded her eyes from the morning sun. "I
still don't see a church," she exclaimed, squinting just in case it
was there and she couldn't see the huge wooden building.
" Maybe there is something
"Something we are missing?"
Jess mumbled under her breath. "I don't think we could have misplaced
a church, for heaven's sake." She quickly covered her mouth. "Uh sorry,
God, I don't want to piss you off right now." Crossing herself as she
had seen others do, she felt much better. After all she had been in
a Catholic church once in her life. When she was three.
Andi stood in the middle
of the empty field. It appeared to be overgrown without any kind of
maintenance in several years. Close to one of the fences dividing it
from a house there was a grove of trees and blackberry bushes. That
was the only thing other than grass in the field.
Jess was mystified. "Do
you think that Chinese food we had the other day had something in it
and we had a joint hallucination or something? There is no church here,
and it looks like there never was."
Andi was equally bewildered.
"You're right, honey, it doesn't look like anything has ever been here.
Let's get back to the car and try again. We must have gotten the street
wrong or something." Andi turned to go back to the car. Her ankle twisted
in a rut in the grass before she completed the rotation, causing her
to fall forward onto the ground. It wasn't enough to hurt her, just
sufficient for her to lose her balance.
Jess stepped toward her,
hand outstretched to help her up when she caught sight of something
out of the corner of her eye. Andi, seeing the intrigued look on Jess'
face, followed the woman's gaze.
At once, both women recognized
the glittering object. In the very next heartbeat, both women felt the
small hairs on the back of their neck rise for at least the tenth time
since the beginning of the whole ordeal.
Andi was closer. She
reached out for Great-grandmother Henrietta's locket with one hand,
and the other pushed her up. She made a mad dash for the car in a repeat
of the previous evening, Jess directly behind her.
In their haste, they
failed to notice how they were being watched from the thicket at the
back of the field. Or the faint smell of sulfur as the figure disappeared
into the undergrowth. The words he spoke hung stagnant in the air, "next