Samuel didn’t know how long he and Michael stood in front of Father Reynolds as the man read from a small Bible and frankly, he didn’t care. He just wanted to leave.
The basement was creepy and cold. He heard a constant dripping of water around him, the squeaks and skittering of rats, and Michael’s whimpers over the old man’s soft recitations.
The entire time, he was worried for James.
The door he’d stopped in front of had creaked open noisily enough, revealing that the alien song they’d been hearing was coming from beyond the now open passage. It’d stopped a few minutes after James had crossed the threshold, the door slamming shut on its own with a resounding crunch that sent shivers down Samuel’s spine. He’d listened to Michael mutter about how a breeze had made it shut (“it must have!”), but even he could see the fear in the other boy’s eyes.
Father Reynolds had merely pulled the Bible from a pocket and cleared his phlegmy throat. “It begins then. Let us remember what John said…”
That’d been ten minutes ago. Ten very long minutes of nothing but bone-chilling silence coming from beyond the decaying door covered in moldering crucifixes. With James had gone the extended vision granted by the candle he carried, something Samuel wished desperately was still there so he could watch the door for any sign of his friend.
The hallway, shrouded in a heavy blanket of darkness, seemed to gaze into Samuel’s eyes as he tried to divine the mysteries lurking out of sight. It leered at the confused boy and taunted his imagination with the horrid fates that may have befallen his friend.
After what felt like an eternity, the alien crooning began again. As if a signal that it could do so, the song punctuated James’s agonized cries as he burst through the rotting door, a stray crucifix flying off to clatter off the hewn stone walls. He spun in place and dropped to his back, scuttling away from something only he could see. His candle rolled out of his grasp as he crawled, eyes wide and streaming tears.
“No!” Michael bellowed, panicked. “Stay away, have mercy!”
He waved his hand in front of him; the shadows stretched out by the flickering candle reflected off a sheen of silver glazed over his fingers. It took a few moments for Samuel to realize what he was looking at.
And from the ragged slash across his panicked friends face, angry and swollen while weeping crimson down the side of his head, Samuel could see where it was all coming from.
James continued to scream, begging for help, as a pallid arm the color of stagnant pond water stretched out from the darkness covering the doorway.
It was covered in scars, ragged and worn from lack of care from the dozens of wounds that had long-since healed over, thick and swollen like the welts the boys got after a “discipline” session, courtesy of one of the nuns and length of wire pulled from a wire hangar found in the hall closet on the first floor.
The fingers were bony, cracking like dry kindling in a freshly lit fireplace. Ragged nails, uneven and chipped into sharp points, hung from the fingertips as the hand stretched out to grasp at the struggling boy, snatching his left ankle in a strong grasp that made the bones in his leg creak in protest.
Samuel didn’t know what to say, what to do, and just stood staring at the scene before him in quiet shock and terror. Michael didn’t seem to know what to do either, Samuel was vaguely aware of Michael’s screams. He couldn’t tear his eyes away, even as a pair of violet eyes flashed beyond the reach of the fluttering candlelight, glowering at James with lazy indifference.
And then Father Reynolds was interposed between Samuel and the eyes, standing over James with a wild cry on his lips and a flask in his arthritic hand.
“Begone!” He shouted, flicking the flask about with a flourish. Water spattered onto the ghastly limb with a horrific sizzle.
The eyes narrowed to blazing slits while an inhuman warble screeched from the shadows; the hand letting go in an instant to retreat into the safety of the dark. James clutched his leg, tears streaming down his cheeks from eyes clenched shut. Father Reynolds stepped over him, seemingly uncaring over the young man’s pain, only to slam the door shut with a grunt.
He turned and barked out; eyes locked on James as he knelt. “Michael! Samuel! Get someone, I don’t care who, and get them down here with the Kit.”
Samuel paled at the order while Michael darted back, racing up the wobbly stairs and onto the landing of the first floor. “Sister Agatha! Sister Sheila! Someone, anyone!”
“Quickly child, come here!” Father Reynolds commanded, waving him over to James. “Help me carry him, I can’t get him!”
Samuel snapped out of it and rushed over, the old priest bending on wobbly knees as best he could to lift James up. Samuel knew how fragile Reynolds was, his bones frail and aching from the cold of the winter gripping the countryside. James clutched his leg, even as Samuel knelt next to him to grab him by the armpits. He looked up at Samuel with watery eyes full of fear and confusion, shivering.
“It’s empty…” James whispered, barely loud enough to be heard over Michael's distant calls from upstairs, thundering footsteps echoing down as he raced through the house in search of a Sister to carry the Kit down.
“Come on,” Samuel said, not bothering to worry about whatever James was whispering, “let’s get you out of here!”
“It’s empty Sammy, it’s fucking empty!” James continued, not fighting as they hauled him until he let out a cry when his ankle refused to hold any weight. “Shit! My leg, what happened to it?”
Samuel looked askance at his friend as he slung the boy’s arm over his shoulders. “Just lean on my buddy, yeah, that’s it. We’re getting you out of here.”
“James my boy, I believe you will need some stitches…” Father Reynolds said as they walked towards the stairs, the old man stoppering the flask to tuck back into his vestments.
“Nasty scar that’ll leave, I wager.”
“It doesn’t matter,” James sighed, closing his eyes as he shivered against Samuel. “Nothing matters… it’s all going to Hell, Father, if things like that exist.”
“Just hush, my boy,” Father Reynolds said, laying a wrinkled hand on his shoulder. “We need to get you upstairs before Sister Agatha finds out wha—”
“What in the blazes happened to young James?” A shrill woman cried from the top of the stairs, a massive black briefcase hanging from her pudgy hand at her side.
“—t happened,” Father Reynolds finished lamely, whisking his hand through his beard as he heaved a weary sigh. “Great, just great…”
“Better you than me, Father,” Samuel muttered as the obese nun waved them up to her, swearing in German as she looked over James.
The young boy, despite the matronly attention of one of the stricter nuns of the order, didn’t seem fazed beyond his continued muttering of something being empty. Even as Samuel was ordered to lay James down on a bench just inside the landing in the entry hall, the traumatized boy continued to mumble.
That, more than anything else, is what worried Samuel. What ever could have shaken James that much was not only a real and very dangerous thing, it was still in the basement.
And if the way Father Reynolds had been talking was any indication, Samuel and Michael might have to pay the thing a visit themselves in the foreseeable future.