Louis drove the car as fast as he could. He couldn’t believe he’d actually lost them. Couldn’t believe he’d actually gotten away.
He found his own eyes refused to disobey his desire for them to stop continually checking the rear-view mirror. The old car, which had done a fine job, would run out of gas any mile now, and Louis had as of yet seen any place to pull over and hide himself and the car.
Ahead there was a break in the forest line. Louis slowed down. Sure enough, he could see an old, narrow road through the trees. He exhaled and turned the car into the line of trees.
The forest rose high and thick on each side of the narrow road. Out of nowhere, Louis heard a loud clanking sound. He checked the mirror: a substantial gate had closed behind him. He didn’t remember even seeing a gate when he turned onto the road. For a moment, his nerves nearly overtook him. The gate was big enough that running at it full speed in the car would likely end with a ruined car and no way of escape.
Shake it off, he thought to himself. You avoided the cops. That’s enough for now.
Louis had done a lot of stupid things in his lifetime, thus he knew when he was about to be in danger. A quick, cold feeling in his gut, followed by a short wave of nausea, then a small adrenaline rush as the body prepared for the warning it had just received.
And the further he drove down that dark, narrow road, the more in danger he felt. He nearly stopped and put the car in reverse, only to remember that gate that had closed behind him. Louis prepared himself for the worst.
Then the trees opened into a massive clearing in which sat a multi-story, multi-building old hospital. Louis’ gut sank into him. He pressed in the clutch and slammed on the brakes and put the transmission between gears. The old car idled a deep rumble, the speed of which matched his own, racing heartbeat.
The place was all the rickety stuff of the worst sorts of nightmares. Louis thought the whole situation, more or less, matched his usual luck. He put the car in gear and drove until he’d reached the back of the hospital. He found an alcove within the treeline and drove the car into it until the moonlight no longer reached it.
As he walked toward the old hospital, Louis looked upward, fully expecting something to be looking back down at him. The roof had a pitch to it that would be impossible to adhere to for a human. But Louis had to admit to himself that, already, his mind was imagining inhuman things, so who the hell knew what might be able to hang on up there?
Louis didn’t want to make it obvious he’d gone into the old place. The back door was a double door, very old and peculiar, both with knobs. He didn’t want to so much as knock a speck of dust off the old brass.
He searched through the bushes and shrubbery that had grown up around the building until he found a window suitably broken. One that he could safely crawl into without fear of leaving any fibers on a sharp pane he’d brushed against. Louis wasn’t an intelligent man. But he did have street smarts. One too many nights in jail and one too many times having the wind beat out of him had taught him many a useful trick, most all of them involving little more than stopping, for a split second, to notice things.
He stepped into the old nursery room and froze.
The adrenaline rush beat both the pinch in his gut and the wave of nausea. The old place was bad business, he could feel it down to his own bones. Louis had to force himself to walk forward, so he did just that. He got to the closed door of the dark room and pulled out a rag to open the door. Out he stepped into a very long, very dark hallway.
Louis reached into his pocket. Another useful trick he’d learned was to never be the person who’s just turned down an old road and snuck into an old, likely haunted, hospital without a flashlight. He switced the light on and the old hospital lit up in pale tones.
The walls were a horrible greenish color that rose to the high ceiling above, nearly fifteen feet up, to the very old style slat-paneling. The effect was very dark. Louis didn’t know why he thought it, but the word, ‘lonesome,’ popped into his head. Not a word he had ever remembered using.
Along the hallway at varying points were doors. The sort found in an old mansion, not a hospital. Solid wood doors with clear, crystal knobs affixed to large, brass plates. But what made Louis shiver for a moment was that, on each door, a very large, bolt-style lock had been placed at the tops and bottoms of the doors.
What on earth, Louis thought to himself.
His gut continued to pinch at him, worrying him, trying to tell him something. As best he could tell, Louis thought it was telling him that his life, the situations he’d been put in—and had stupidly put himself into—was the one advantage he might have over whatever danger he’d just stepped into again. The decrepit hospital fairly groaned of old haunts and wounds, tortures, and misdeeds. The night, he suspected, would not be a silent one.
What he wanted to do, which was run like smoke and oakum from the old place, he could not do because, for once, he had not stopped for a split second to pay attention. He’d simply driven down the old road without even seeing the gate, only to have it trap him.
Now he stood in the old hallway, terrified and trapped. Louis took a moment to settle his nerves, then he took a step forward.
Given his life, he’d learned over the years how to more effectively defend himself with a knife or a gun. He’d learned a couple of moves that usually worked out well for him, so long as he never got cocky.
But Louis just didn’t like trouble in general when it came to fights. If one was started, he’d developed the habit of finishing it as quickly as possible. Thus, he hoped nothing popped up that required him to defend himself. He knew better already; knew that was the reason his own gut was almost screaming at him.
He feared he knew the truth already: that he might have escaped prison for the moment, but not consequences. Louis couldn’t see outside, since there were no windows in the hallway, thus he couldn’t see the black clouds that had covered the moon. Only the thunder alerted him. He nearly jumped out of his skin when it clapped the first time.
Slapped out of his reverie, Louis noticed and odd and unsettling thing: when he turned the light onto one of the doors—any of them—it was as though the photons got sucked into the door itself. The light was dimmer, very noticeably, than light shone on the floor, or the ceiling. He walked toward a door and stopped in front of it, convincing himself to turn his whole body and face the wooden thing.
He marveled as he could barely make out the knob on the door. Or any other feature. The light was, indeed, snuffed all but out. So Louis simply turned away from the door and continued to walk forward. Within him was no interest in opening one of those doors.
Though thankful that no windows meant that no one from the road could see his light, the lack of them made Louis long for any source of light other than the limited battery power of his flashlight. Over an again he checked his peripheral vision to make certain that none of the doors he passed had signs indicating an office or maintenance room. Some place that might have batteries. And maybe a crowbar or something. A Heckler & Koch was tucked neatly into a holster on the back side of his belt, but he only had two clips. One of them already in the pistol. Louis wanted something with substance beyond bullets in his other hand. Something that didn’t run out of anything.
Louis had no idea why his mind continually traveled this dark path. But he’d learned not to question it when he sensed danger. Finally, he caught the glimpse of a sign to his right. He stopped and turned and the light wasn’t swallowed up by the door. The sign read, “Supplies.”
In two minutes he’d found almost everything he needed. Batteries, even an extra flashlight. Some non-perishable food items. Mostly light snack items but sealed tight.
What worried him more than the prospect of old food was the noise the packaging made when forced open. He felt like the entirety of the hospital could hear it when he opened the snack. But no crowbar, nothing worth anything in a fight, other than the spare flashlight he’d picked up, which contained three D-cell batteries. Any combat would still be too close, but at least with that heavy light, would still be actual combat.
Standing in the room, his back to the doorway, gave him chills. It was as though he could feel the hallway calling at him, quietly hissing that he should hurry things up. Four minutes after already having found most of what he needed, Louis walked out of the supply room and shut the door behind him with enough care that the only sound was the faint click of the latch.
For a moment he stood there in the dark. Just listening. Trying not to panic. He knew that his only hope, whatever might be in the old heap, was to stay calm.
He turned and continued down the hospital hallway.
AND SO IT BEGINS
For a time, nothing happened. Louis tried to slow his own heart, sometimes without success. Something loomed. Unseen, as yet still unheard, but near. He wanted to turn on the bigger flashlight, even reached toward his back pocket once to get it, but decided that, true or not, the thought of depending on three D-cell batteries after two A-cells ran out seemed, to him, more comforting. The undercurrent of the silence was what tempted him to do otherwise. The light seemed to have less effect as he walked, and he couldn’t convince himself that the batteries were waning just yet.
Louis didn’t so much believe in ghosts, but he did believe in a kind of wandering evil. Something primal and Primary in nature, that, being forced to wander, lusted for a home of any kind. A soulless, hungry thing; conscious, intelligent, able to lay out multiple strategies, with an intent no more complicated than making humanity’s existence a whole hell of a lot more difficult.
Louis didn’t know anything about science. He figured if he did, though, his idea of things probably made some kind of scientific sense. Patterns just appeared out of nowhere for certain kinds of danger. Common things; things that never ceased to unnerve him no matter how many times he’d encountered danger.
And he felt like he’d stepped into just that kind of hornet’s nest: the kind where Primary Evil has temporarily taken up residence.
Welcome, Louis thought to himself, to being up against It.
He stopped in his tracks when the sound made its way to his ear: the latch turning on one of the back doors into the hospital. Louis forced himself to walk faster, hoping to make it to a corner no matter how much the thought terrified him. If it was the police, he was done for. If it was something else, he was also likely done for.
After walking about one hundred more feet, Louis stopped again. Up ahead on the left side of the hallway he’d heard another latch click, then the unmistakable sound of the two bolts being pulled back. Then he heard the creaking of the large back door echoing through the hallway.
He walked up to the door that had opened up ahead and on his left, held his breath, and shut it, then slid the bolts back into place as quietly as he possibly could.
To hell with all that, Louis thought. He continued to make his way down the hallway. As he moved away from the door that had opened, he felt no less dread at being watched even more close. In that five or ten seconds that it had taken him to get to the door and shut it, he wondered if maybe something he couldn’t see had walked out.
He shut that out of his mind and finally made his way to a T in the hallway. He took the hallway to the right, moving with fast, quiet steps. Once he almost removed his shoes but decided distant, at that point, was preferable to silent. After a few hundred feet, Louis stopped, turned off his light, and listened.
Somehow the dark was whispering to him. Louis didn’t know how he knew this because the sound wasn’t precisely audible. Yet it was there, barely registering in his mind, but there all the same. The sound of that same back door clicking shut echoed through the hallway again, causing Louis to pick back up his traveling. Moving once again, he picked up his pace.
Though the walls were the same hideous green, the ceiling had dropped to a mere ten or so feet above him, making the new hallway effectively more oppressive. The doors in this hallway were closer together, had bigger bolt locks on them.
But the sound that Louis heard next almost got the best of him: static from a radio of some kind. All he could think was a cop’s radio accidentally going off at the wrong time for the cop, the right time for Louis. It nearly did him in, because he almost ran. Instead he stopped for a split second to think, then continued his quick but quiet pace. After another hundred feet, his peripheral vision picked up a sign. It read, “First Floor Office.”
When he shined the flashlight on the door, the light was normal, not swallowed whole.
He turned the knob slowly, with purpose, until the latch gave, making almost no sound.
Then Louis stepped inside the room, used the same care when shutting the door, and backed away from it very slowly, checking behind him more than once to note that the small office was empty, devoid of almost everything but some old chairs.
As he looked at the door again, Louis noticed it had bolts on the inside. He walked over and slid them locked, taking so much care to be quiet that he almost jumped the gun on himself more than once. He wanted to think but he was petrified. He’d dealt with the police before, but never in this state: never having full-tilt run from the law, accidentally injuring two cops in the process. And the hospital, and whatever Evil had made its home there, seemed to be draining dry all the reserve energy that remained from the chase.
Louis walked over to and sat slowly down into one of the old chairs. The creaks and moans took forever to work out with anything like quiet. He never even knew that he’d fallen asleep as soon as he’d become comfortable.
The banging on the door woke him. And then that sound.
KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK
Louis stood, heart hammering away in his chest, and walked toward the door. The knocks came in sets of five, a few seconds apart. The sound was already trying to get into his head.
He reached the door. Then he whispered, “Who’s there?”
A scratch came from the other side of the door, rending into the wood all the way down to the floor. Louis could hear the wood being torn away on the other side.
“Come closer,” a hiss said.
Louis reluctantly obeyed, having a feeling of such panic and terror that it was almost like horrible, atonal sounds in his mind, everywhere, all at once, a cacophony of insulting and disconcerting noise. He shook his head.
“I am no more nor less than the Thing which you have awakened.”
Louis backed away from the door. The knocking started again, five at a time, rapping and banging his sanity from him in quick fashion. He turned and scanned the room. There was a door on the other side. Louis walked over to the door and turned the knob. When it opened, the moonlight in the center yard of the facility nearly blinded him.
He stepped outside and bathed in the moonlight. But not before he’d shut the door behind him. As odd as the thing was, this door had bolts on the outside. He slid them closed, convinced he could hear whatever Thing he’d woken up howling at him, still as yet on the other side of the other door to the office.
For a few brief moments, Louis felt a sense of relief. As though he’d perhaps escaped whatever he’d wakened. But he soon realized that the center yard of the hospital was enclosed by the building itself. The old place was like a self-contained town. As he walked around the building in the yard and shined his light into the few windows that existed, he understood this. Kitchens, a massive laundry room, other facilities needed to maintain the entire place without outside help or interference.
Now he had no choice other than to find a door and go back into the miserable place, so that he could maybe find his way out. If need be, he’d determined that he’d walk to the gate and step through it if necessary. And it seemed damned necessary to him as he fought away more panic.
A sound crept into his ears. A humming sound, almost like wings. But large wings beating very quickly. Louis’ mind knew that it wasn’t a bird. The sound was more insect than avian. He stood still and listened, turning off the flashlight for a moment. In the moonlight, he could see that there was something flying around the yard. More than one something.
The shape was peculiar but familiar, and indeed insect-like. When the volume of the sound increased tenfold, Louis nearly ran as he realized the buzzing sound was coming from right behind him.
He whirled and pulled out the large flashlight and clicked it on, sweeping it left and right until the shape registered: something like a giant wasp, or a hornet, hovered in front of him, the warm air from the wings beating moving his hair and shirt collar. The thing had two orange-colored bulbs for eyes with a single, black dot in them, which moved in different directions. Immediately Louis noticed that every shift in his body, every shake of the flashlight, registered in a slight maneuver from the damnable thing.
There was no mouth on the head. That was on the abdomen: a sideways slit mawing open, full of rows of teeth, and a stinger at the end of that abdomen, as long as a big nail.
This time, Louis did scream when it lunged toward him pointing the stinger at him. He swung the flashlight as hard as he could and the thing fell. He used his right boot to crush its head and it fairly screamed like some kind of banshee from the blow, finally growing silent and dying.
Louis shook all over. What shook him into moving was the same sound. He ran across the center yard, found a door, and opened it, trying very much but failing to close that door without much sound.
The echo traveled down the giant hallway that he stepped into, and Louis tried to keep himself from losing hope.
Louis continued down the hall. He’d turned his small flashlight on when entering, and put the larger one into his back pocket again.
He felt it more now, that presence his gut kept warning him about. Whatever ‘thing’ that he’d woken up, if that hadn’t all been a wacky hallucination in a panicked moment.
But Louis knew better than that, too.
That giant wasp-thing had been no hallucination. He swore that some kind of poison had been in its blood, and had sank into his boot. Because that foot seemed to be paining him slightly, but with increasing levels as he walked. Louis made a mental note to himself that upon opening another door that led into that yard, close that door post-haste.
Behind him there came a hissing whisper.
Despite himself, Louis whirled. Nothing stood behind him, but his peripheral vision caught shadow moving. He whirled again, this time to his left, and saw a shadow on the wall. Nothing was casting that shadow. It stood in the false light of the bulb, stone-still. Louis realized his hand holding the light was shaking. Then the whisper again, behind him.
“I was having the most wondrous and horrible dream. And you woke me.”
Louis’ mind thought about spitting out an apology, but he knew his body wouldn’t comply anyway.
“Now, I’m afraid, due consequences are upon you, son. You see, the only thing that ever wakes me up is a black heart such as your own.”
And then the shadow merely walked out of the beam of Louis’ light. He remained frozen for several seconds. His own mind was revolting, trying to tear down all the barriers he’d built carefully around it, wanting to panic, to run, to do anything but stop and think for a split-second. It didn’t matter anyway, because he wasn’t given time to think. Up ahead and to his left, the two exterior door bolts made a loud, metallic slap as they were flung open by something. Something not registering in Louis’ flashlight beam.
The door creaked and opened slightly. Louis didn’t even bother trying to slow his own heart down. The poor thing was off to the races without his permission. He walked forward one slow step at a time, dreading any second what might come through the door. His own imagination had run wild on him. He couldn’t help but think that it was getting some help, because Louis couldn’t ever remember his own imagination being so creative.
He reached the door and the crack between it and the frame was no more than an inch, opening only slightly the ink-black darkness inside the room. Louis shuddered. He thought about merely pulling the door shut again. As he reached for the knob to close the door like he had before, he heard the hissing whisper, beckoning him into the room. To his own surprise, he couldn’t stop himself.
When the arm landed on his shoulder, Louis let out a little yelp and whirled, swinging his fist as he turned. The man ducked, backed up, and held up his hands.
“Don’t go in there. Trust me on this,” the man said. Louis noticed he was at least sixty, likely closing in on seventy. He was dressed in a flannel shirt, untucked, jeans and boots. He had a massive pistol in a holster on his right, and a shotgun slung onto his back with a leather strap. Louis stopped himself and waited on the man to speak again.
“In there is a path to the thing in here. The thing you woke up, son. Is it speaking to you yet?”
“I’m none too soon, then. We’ve got to get out of here.”
The man didn’t finish the thought, but Louis’ mind did for him: And we don’t have much time.
Before either of them could react, however, something grabbed Louis’ shoulder and dragged him into the dark room. The door slammed. Louis could hear the older man beating on the door. He thought the man was saying something, but the sound was muffled. He found himself swallowed into darkness.
The universe swirled, Louis dragged along with it; stretched him and pulled Louis away from all the things he’d known as reality.
He stood in an old alley from his home city. It was a large one, a typical Big American City. Like so many in those kinds of places, he’d grown up in a poor home; he’d had to find and forage for himself far too many times to count. Louis did his best, had done his best, to erase so many of those memories. Sometimes he did things now he didn’t so much like. But back then, he just hadn’t cared. He’d thought, at that time, he had been given the right to be a savage by birth. Into poverty, into the inner city—whatever he’d become had been the result of society, not his own bad decision making.
As he’d gotten older, more specifically, as he’d had his ass kicked more than a few times over the years, he’d come to realize that, at some point, a man has to learn to take care of himself. That man had to grow up and accept that societal influence was merely one symptom of a larger problem. One that could really only ever be recognized and, maybe, resolved, through age and experience.
As he stood in the alley in his mind, or wherever he was, Louis realized something, something deep in the recesses of his mind. That mind could not present the full data yet, but his gut told him to simply hang on for dear life, and his mind would give him a clue as to what he was about to face.
Louis looked above him, beyond the buildings into the night sky. Two moons. Surely this was some kind of dream.
“The two moons are not real, Lou’. They are merely symbolic of your predicament!”
Louis looked and, at the end of the alley, stood a shadow. A very tall shadow. One that spoke with the voice of a wisened, old man. As though it pretended to have known all. And the thing had called him, ‘Lou’, and Louis hated that name.
“The hell are you going on about, shadow?”
The shadow laughed at Louis’ question. It laughed for so long that Louis reached around to his back to pull out his pistol. But it wasn’t there.
“Oh, oh now! You were going to shoot me, were you?”
Louis didn’t respond. He merely stood and waited for the arrogant thing to do what it wanted most to do: talk. The shadow actually straightened itself, picking up on his mental state.
“Very well,” the shadow said, “for you see, the double moons are two things, and two things only, Louis: one is the light of Creation, that horrible, awful thing called ‘Goodness,’ and the second moon is the light of Illumination; wisdom, knowledge, and the ability to conquer the former.”
Louis merely stood. He raised his left eyebrow. The shadow again laughed, long and irritating was the sound to Louis’ ears.
“Just what the hell are you yapping about,” Louis asked.
“Well, merely to say,” the shadow replied, “that perhaps, once in a while, you should take note of which source of light that you are following.”
“Light is light,” Louis said, laughing.
“Perhaps.” And then the shadow was gone.
And then Louis found himself standing again in the dark room he’d been pulled into. At first, he nearly panicked, unable to see anything in the darkness. But slowly, surely, his eyes picked up the faint light coming from beneath the doorway that led to the hall.
Across the room, in the corner, close to the door, was a shadow. Only this one was exhibiting a posture that Louis knew to be far less friendly that whatever had spoken in the old-timer voice in the imaginary alley.
Louis felt all around his pants for a light. He found the small one in the wrong pocket: he never put that light in his left pocket. But for whatever reason this time he had, and so he pulled it out and shined the torch at the shadow in the corner.
He then used his other hand to cover his mouth so that the scream was not allowed to be loosed from his lips.