In this installment, our hero finds that even home isn’t safe where the amulet is concerned.
By the time Taylor pulled into his driveway, it was well after supper. Thankfully he’d already told Martha not to hold dinner for him. He hadn’t anticipated being this late, but he didn’t really know when he was going to be back. He blocked in his wife’s car, even though he hadn’t needed to. He exited the Land Rover and the security light turned on, illuminating their walkway. A fierce believer in conservation, Martha had insisted there would be no grass in their yard. Only native plants and rock would grace the property, in addition to some trees. It made the whole place look a little stark, but the austerity suited his mood.
Rather than enter the house proper, he walked to the door into the garage. Like most people he knew, they never actually parked a car in here. He’d made it into a sort of satellite office. There was space here for extra file storage, a few woodworking projects, and items from his travels around the world. Truthfully it was a dumping ground and he and Martha fought over it for years. He heard footsteps from people moving around upstairs. Soundproofing this area was another thing on his to do list. He’d never get around to that now. He walked to his desk and pulled a box of shells out of the drawer. With mechanical motions he loaded both pistols. Rather than taking the gun belt off as was his custom, he just made sure his shirt draped over it again. He wouldn’t be staying long.
He grabbed a half full box containing his most recent notebooks. These were his field notes from the last three years. There was nothing school related in them. He filled the rest of the space with several artifacts he’d collected in his studies. The rocks, pieces of tile, and one statuette all reflected the same tentacled presence he now knew was a threat to his world and his very sanity. The rest of the contents of this space would go up in flame easily enough. He would take care of that before he left.
He walked back out into the warm desert night. The smell of dry earth and some sort of flowering plant came to his nose. There was life here, even in the most barren space. He wanted to make sure nothing from beyond this world would endanger his life, no matter the cost. He put the file box in the back of the land rover. As he closed the door, a shooting pain filled his chest. Heart attack? No, he didn’t think so. There was no arm pain, and the source of it seemed to be the amulet.
“Honey?” Martha’s voice came from the walkway. It quavered a little, but it always had. She had a condition that made her sound like she was constantly on the verge of tears.
“Right here, Martha.” He came out from behind the Land Rover.
“Goodness. I didn’t know who it was who’d pulled up. Is your car okay?” She came into the light. She wore dark blue jeans that hugged her still trim figure and scoop necked white cotton blouse. She looked just as beautiful as the day they’d met. Only her graying blond hair and a few wrinkles gave away her age.
He nodded and smiled a smile he didn’t feel. “It will be. I had to leave it at the school. I think there’s a problem with the alternator. It wouldn’t crank. Samson let me borrow his car. He said he’d take a cab since he lives a lot closer to the office.”
She smiled back at him, but there was something wrong with it. “Good. That was nice of him. How was your outing?”
This was really strange. She never came out of the house when he pulled up. Why would she have even come out to check that it was him? The pain in his chest intensified. Was she one of them? She looked like herself. “It was good. Let’s go inside and talk about it.”
“Before we do, I wanted you to know something.” Her face grew serious. “Wendy’s boyfriend, Jacob, is here.”
Anger flared in him, burning away the pain for a moment. “What? I told him to never darken our door again.” The weight at the small of his back shifted. He was tempted to pull a gun and go shoot the young man. Ever since catching him with their sixteen year old daughter in her bed. He stalked towards Martha.
She held up her hands. “Now, dear…”
“Don’t ‘now, dear’ me. I will go into my own house and have words with him. Then I’ll call the police.”
“Mom!” The shout came from Wendy near the front of the house. “Come here, you need to see. Daddy’s school is on fire!”
A look of horror crossed Martha’s face. “Oh, dear God.” She turned, forgetting about everything else and ran up the walk.
He followed her, knowing the cause. When he made it to the living room, all eyes were on the television. His wife’s, his daughter’s, and his two sons’ couldn’t look away. Interesting enough, the young man was here as well, just as Martha had said. The one who’d pledged eternal love to his daughter more than once. He was looking at the door as Taylor came in.
“Hello Dr. Taylor.” The boy’s voice was level. There was a smile on his lips, but a deadness in his eyes.
Taylor didn’t need to amulet to know that the young man was one of them. “Jacob. How are you?”
Jacob started to stand, but Wendy’s hand clutched his knee. “I’m very well, actually. You’ve had a busy day.”
“Jacob, what are you talking about? We’re trying to watch this.” Wendy, every bit her mother’s daughter from the crown of her beautiful brown hair to the weird way her little toe bent to the inside.
Jacob took her hand off of his knee. “Your dad and I need to have a talk.” He got up and walked around the back of the sectional sofa. Artie and Mike complained of him blocking the view, but he ignored them. “Don’t we Dr. Taylor?”
Taylor shook his head and moved his right hand slowly back to one of the pistols. “I’m not sure we do.” None of his family had eyes for what was going on literally behind their backs. Something had their brains switched off. He knew what that something was. “I could just shoot you now.”
“Daddy, you won’t be shooting anyone.” Wendy’s voice was distant. Her beautiful brown eyes hadn’t so much as twitched in their direction.
“You have them. What can I do to make you let them go? To let me and my whole family go on with our lives?” Taylor didn’t want to sound like he was begging, but he was.
“It’s too late. You’ve been chosen. There’s no escaping your fate.”
Taylor drew the pistol and pointed it between the boy’s eyes. Those dead eyes. “I can put it off for a bit. I can just shoot you and move on.”
“Shooting him won’t end it, dad.” Artie’s voice came from the sofa. It was as flat and affectless as Jacob’s.
“No, it wouldn’t.” Jacob held out his hand. “He has all of us in his sway. Won’t you just accept that and give me the amulet? Then we can get on with opening the gateway and letting him cross over.”
Taylor took a step back. Uncertainty filled him. He lowered the gun. He couldn’t kill his family. As much as he’d said he wanted to kill Jacob for deflowering his daughter, even he didn’t deserve a bullet to the head. They hadn’t done anything. “I can’t let that happen. Don’t you see? This is for the best.” He started to pull the trigger. Then something stopped him. If he did this then he’d be seen as some kind of psycho on a shooting spree. No one would listen to anything he had to say. It couldn’t go down like this.
He circled around Taylor, keeping his gun out. “You’d like me to shoot you. Then I’d get arrested and go to jail and you’d have me all to myself.”
“You think you understand, but you don’t. We need you free. We need your mind free. You have to be clear to serve his will. You also need to be free. If you’re caged or killed then there won’t be any way of using you.”
“Is that so?” He put his pistol to his own temple. “So if I pull the trigger and end my life this is all over?”
Jacob laughed. It was a wet sound, like someone with stage four lung cancer might make, their alveoli choked with blood and blackened flesh. “Hardly. Then we’ll just choose one of your handsome boys.” He shrugged. “Your choice. You or the boys? I’ll even let you chose which one.”
That wasn’t really a choice, was it? He knew based on what the thing had told him that some degree of free will was necessary. It already had his boys and his daughter and his wife. He was the only one here who was free. “I’ll find a way to beat you.” His gun barked and the flesh and bone that made up Jacob’s knee exploded.
The boy had sense enough to scream in pain.
“Why did you shoot him?” Martha’s voice was a little more animated. She still sounded drugged, her speech slurred.
“He’s a monster. He has one inside him, anyway.” Taylor rubbed the hot barrel against his forehead. “I don’t know what to do.” But he’d already decided. He’d leave his family alive. He’d run into the night. Head for the border and try and find a solution there. He’d made some friends on his last dig. They could put him up while he figured things out. No one would need to know. He had his passport and enough cash in his wallet to get there. He would just need to get on the road now before things heated up anymore.
He holstered his weapon and took Martha by the arms. “I’m sorry. I need to leave for a while. You stay here and keep the family safe. The police will be here soon.” The gunshot would have been heard by the neighbors and the police would be en route. “I love you.”
Martha smiled sadly. “I love you, too.”
He turned and kissed each of his children. They seemed to be coming out of whatever stupor they were in. He hugged Wendy. “I’m so sorry I won’t be here when you need me most.”
“It’s okay daddy. You’ll join us soon.”
He shook his head. Then he remembered he should probably take a few changes of clothes. He ran to the bedroom and began grabbing underwear and shorts and stuffing them in an overnight bag. When the screaming started, he ran back out into the living room. He was too late.
Martha stood over the bodies of her children, butcher knife in one hand. “I love you, my darling.” She plunged the knife into her stomach again and again.
Taylor ran to his wife. Of course he was too late. She’d be dead in minutes and was already going into shock. Sobs racked his body. A distant part of him told him it was better this way. They were free and he would be able to do his work without worrying about them. And if the worst came to pass, they wouldn’t see the world as it would become.
He stood. There was no time to spend even a few minutes with her until she passed. The police would be here literally any minute. Ignorant of the blood staining his clothes, he grabbed the bag and ran outside. He found himself behind the wheel and on the road to Mexico before he knew it. He’d need to stop somewhere before the night was up and change clothes. Now that he was re-entering his right mind, he could smell the blood of his family on his shirt. He cried as he drove, sobs threatening to send him onto the median. If he didn’t pull himself together, he’d lose and the world would be lost with him.