Friday, January 21, 2011

Chapter 41

The New Arrival

        “I’m looking for my friends, Mike, Callie, and Edward.” Jon said, “That’s their car parked right over there. Are they here?”
        “Yes, they are,” said Egann, “Come on in.”
        From where they watched and waited, Edward and Ray saw Egann walk in from the hall, followed by Jon. Edward had to suppress a squeal of joy when he saw him.
        “What is it?” asked Ray, “Do you know him?”
        “It’s my friend Jon!” said Edward.
        “Don’t be too happy,” Ray said, “He’s now stuck here too.”
        Edward smiled wide. “Ray, the chances of our getting out of this hell-hole just got a little bit better!”
        “Speaking of chances, there goes Balooda. Let’s go!”

        “Ahh! A neew guest!” Mr. Balooda said, arriving, “Eeegan, who ees our neew friend?”
        “I’m Jonathon Grash,” Jon stepped forward and said, “I’m looking for my friends. I’m told they are here.”
        “Friends?” Balooda asked.
        “Our previous guests.” Egann replied.
        “I see!” Balooda said, and turned to Egann, “Take him to Zedda.”
        “You’re…not taking him?”
        “No need.” Balooda said, “Hee’s nothing special---just another toureest.”
        Balooda turned back and headed for his office.
        Tourist was Balooda’s euphemism for those poor, unfortunate outsiders who still blundered into Murgent, from time to time. The adults would be driven bonkers by Zedda’s still operative insanity spell, and would join the rest of the crazy populace. If there were kids with them, they would end up joining the hotel workforce.
        That was much too fast, Egann thought, If Edward and Ray aren’t out of Balooda’s office with the egg by now, they’re screwed.
        There was nothing for it, but to continue onward.
        He turned to Jon, “Follow me.” he said.

        Ray had stayed near the entrance of the hall as a lookout, while Edward had gone into Balooda’s office to get the egg.
        Edward crouched down low and extended his arm to reach under the desk. He caught the egg with his fingertips, but the egg skidded further away. Edward groaned at his own incompetence, got down on the floor and crawled under the desk, over to the egg, which was now under Balooda’s chair. Edward stretched out his hand and grabbed the egg. He was getting out from under the desk, when Ray came to the door in a panic.
        “He’s coming!” Ray hissed.
        “I’ve got it!” Edward said, getting to his feet.
        “Let’s go!” Ray said, but upon turning saw Balooda’s shadow enter the hall before him.
        In a flash, Ray entered the office, grabbed Edward, and the two slipped behind the wall before Balooda could see them. They now had seconds, before Balooda entered the office.
        “Wadda-we-do? Wadda-we-do?” Ray muttered under his breath, looking around in a panic for a lifeline.
        His eyes fell on the small broom closet, and the two slipped in there right before Balooda stepped in.
        It was dark inside, but in the quick second they had opened the door for ingress, light had spilled in and shown a small empty space with some pails, sponges, and such; tucked neatly aside. There were no actual brooms in the broom closet, thankfully. There was just barely enough room for the both of them.
        They heard Balooda enter the office.
        A small sliver of light from a crack in the wood of the door (probably from when Balooda slammed Mike against it) provided the only illumination in that dark confined space.
        “What now?” Edward whispered.
        “We wait.” Ray whispered back.

        Mike got down to the basement in time to see his body start work on the last magic circle. The final, desperate, and most intense phase of their battle began.
        Despite Mike’s renewed energy, the beast in the box still had the advantage of time.
        And bit by bit, that last circle became less and less.

        Egann and Jon stood in front of the door to Zedda’s divination room. Egann made to knock, but the door was opened just then as Alixa shambled out; her face a blank.
        She looked at Egann and Jon. “Another one.” she mumbled, then continued on her way.
        “What’s wrong with her?” Jon asked.
        “You’ll see shortly.” Egann replied.
        They stepped inside.
        Inside were eight kids, still waiting their turn. Callie was working on a girl named Connie. No longer able to just watch, Zedda had taken the next kid in line; a boy named Daniel.
        “CALLIE!” Jon cried out, upon seeing his beloved.
        He ran over to her, but Mr. Blessure stopped him before he could reach her.
        “Callie, it’s ME!!” he yelled, struggling against the unmovable hand at his neck, “Let me go, damn you!”
        Callie did not even look up from her labors. She was so deep into Connie’s memories, his voice did not penetrate.
        That something was wrong with this town was something Jon had realized the minute he had entered Murgent (and the crazy townsfolk wandering around in the night like a horror show was a big hint too); but worse than all that was the realization that something was terribly wrong with Callie as well.
        What the hell was happening here?
        Mr. Blessure brought Jon over to Zedda.
        Egann followed close behind.
        Zedda finished up with Daniel, and shoved him aside. “Is this our new guest?” she asked.
        “Yes.” Egann answered.
        “Why didn’t Mr. Balooda bring him up himself?”
        “Mr. Balooda figured he’s just another tourist.”
        “Oh, but he’s much more than that, isn’t he? I distinctly heard him call out Callie’s name.” Zedda said, “Release him, Mr. Blessure.”
        Mr. Blessure did as commanded.
        “Why are you here?” Zedda asked Jon.
        “I came to find her,” Jon said, “Callie, and my other friends.”
        Callie finished with Connie, and pushed her aside impersonally, not unlike Zedda had just done with Daniel.
        “This should be an interesting reunion then.” Zedda said, “Callie, dear! Someone's here to see you!”
        Callie turned, and at last caught sight of Jon.
All the color drained from her face
        “Callie!” Jon said, and ran to her.
        They embraced.
The hunger tried to cajole Callie once again, but was trodden down under foot by Jon’s voice, Jon’s touch, and Jon’s kiss. Jon’s very presence rendered it small and mute.
“Ah…so it’s the boyfriend.” Zedda muttered.
From where she sat, she could sense the diminution of the hunger that had bound Callie to her up to now; but Zedda was not troubled. She knew of a way to turn the boyfriend’s freeing effect against itself; cleaving the hooks in even deeper.
“I hate breaking up a lovefest,” Zedda said, “But I think it’s time for Callie to return to her new vocation.”
“I’m not returning to anything.” Callie said, “I’m done with this.”
“I’m afraid you are mistaken about that.” Zedda said.
Jon suddenly felt himself forced down into a kneeling position, by an invisible hand that could not be resisted.
“Not only are you returning to your duties,” said Zedda, “Boyfriend here is going to be your next drainee.”
“What? NO!” Callie said.
“If you don’t, I’ll have Mr. Blessure rip his arms and legs right off in front of you. He’ll live, of course, but it won’t be a pleasant sight.”
Zedda let Callie think on that a few seconds.
“Mr. Blessure, if you please---“ Zedda said.
“NO! STOP!” Callie said, “I’ll do it.”
She stepped over to Jon.
“I’m sorry.” she said.
“It’s not your fault.” Jon replied.
“Oh Jon, but it is.” she said, and began.

The battle was over, and Mike had lost.
The last magical circle of containment finally eradicated, the beast released Mike’s body and returned to it’s own; it no longer needed Mike for what was left for it to do.
Mike floated toward his body, and crammed himself into it. It felt weird and cumbersome at first, like a fat suit; but he acclimated to it enough to sit up and scootch himself over to the wall, facing the cage. It would be a long time till anyone came down for him anyway, so he figured he might as well stay and see what the boogey in the box would do once it freed itself.
Though the basement was now in total darkness, he was amazed that he could still see; his spectral vision had not departed with his return to his body. Mike wondered how long that would last.
A sudden metallic clank startled him.
One of the bolts that secured the metal bands to the wooden box had popped off, hitting the wall a few feet above his head, before ricocheting off to the back somewhere.
Mike watched and winced, as other bolts unscrewed themselves, popped off, and hit the wall all around him like shots fired by a blind man; yet not a one hit him.
Why doesn’t it just bust through the box? Mike wondered, It certainly looks big enough to accomplish that.
Whatever the reason, it would soon be free nonetheless.
All Mike could do now was watch and wait.

She was done with him.
At Zedda’s call, Egann helped the zoned out boyfriend up to his feet, and walked him toward the door.
“I’m ready for more.” Callie said, her face unreadable.
Young love dies hard, Zedda thought to herself with self-satisfaction. She nodded her approval, and allowed Callie to continue.
Egann and Jon exited the room.
“I wish I could have warned you,” Egann said, “But I couldn’t risk Zedda finding out.”
“Find…? What…?” Jon mumbled.
“Me and your friend Edward, along with a friend of mine named Ray, are trying to find a way to end this situation.”
“You…friend of Edward?”
“I guess you could say that.”
“Good.” Jon said, straightening up, “I don’t have to act loopy any more, which is a relief. So, where can I find Mike and Ed?”
Egann was caught by surprise. “She didn’t drain you, did she?”
“No.” Jon answered, “She has other plans.”
“What other plans?”
“We’re taking down Zedda tonight.”

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