Tuesday, September 9, 2014
By Daniel Skye
Cyrus inspected the box with a blend of caution and nagging suspicion. His dull hazel eyes perused every corner, every inch, as if he was appraising some rare antique or priceless artifact. He rested his ear against the top of the box and listened carefully.
If it was a bomb, it wasn’t set on a timer. There was no ticking sound that emanated from inside the box. And if it was a bomb like Cyrus suspected it was, it certainly wasn’t delicate. Any type of explosive device sent in a package of this size could easily detonate during the shipping process, even one that’s set on a timer.
The box was a square package, neatly encased in brown wrapping paper and laced with thin twine that was tied off into a little bow at the top.
He examined the postmark. Four days old. There was no name, but the return address was for a P.O. Box in Brooklyn.
Cyrus didn’t know anyone from Brooklyn, not that he could recall. You don’t make many friends in his line of work. He considered for a moment that the box could be a gift from a former client, though he doubted it.
He tapped the side of the box lightly with his fingers, seeing if his touch would stir, shake, or trigger the contents. But the package remained still and lifeless.
He picked it up and rocked it gently, letting the contents shift from side to side. All he heard was the faint clanking of some heavy metallic object.
Just open the damn thing, the voice inside his head dared him.
His fingers twitched with nervous anticipation as he untied the bow and unlaced the twine. He used a letter opener to slice open the packing tape. Impatient, he tore through the wrapping paper in a mad frenzy, like a small child opening presents on Christmas morning.
The cardboard flaps of the box flew open to reveal a metal lockbox. It resembled a safety deposit box. The lockbox was gray, square, and required a key to open. But there was no key to be found inside the package.
Cyrus froze for a second when he caught a glimpse of the sticky white label on the side of the lockbox. It was written in script:
From the estate of William Wexler
That name alarmed Cyrus for a variety of reasons. For starters, William Wexler was deceased. In addition to that fact was the fact that his body was never recovered. And last but not least, Wexler didn’t know Cyrus’s name or where he lived. Nobody did. His house was new. Cyrus–much like a vagrant or a nomad–was frequently changing his locations.
Although William Wexler’s body was never recovered, Cyrus was certain he was dead. He put two hollow point bullets in the back of his skull and buried him under six feet of dirt. Needless to say, he didn’t mark the grave.
It was simply business for Cyrus. He had two rules: No women, no children. They were off limits. Anyone else was fair game.
Wexler’s crime was being a county prosecutor. If he hadn’t been so brazen, if he hadn’t tangled with the wrong people in court, he might still have a pulse. Cyrus got the call from a regular client of his. The client gave him a name and an address, and Cyrus handled the rest.
He had surprised Wexler at his house in the middle of the night. Like Cyrus, William lived alone. There was quite a mess that ensued. But Cyrus came prepared.
He bleached the floors, eliminating the trace of blood and gunpowder residue. And he scrubbed every surface with ammonia. He took all the shell casings of the bullets with him. He made sure to dispose of them, along with his clothes. He left no trace of himself behind.
So how could anyone from Wexler’s estate know him, how could they know where he lives? How did this package find its way to his front door? Wexler couldn’t have sent it himself. He was positive of that. Cyrus wasn’t easily stirred, but the whole situation unnerved him.
Still, he itched to know what was inside. His mind had a myriad number of wild theories. He was past the notion of it being an explosive device. Now he was thinking it could be anything.
He tried using the letter opener to pick the lock, but the tip was too thick to fit. So he opened the top drawer of his desk and riffled through until he found a paperclip.
He unfolded the clip, straightening it out. He jammed it into the center of the lock, twisting and working it around inside. But the lock was stubborn, refusing to budge.
The Beretta in the top desk drawer caught his eye and he considered shooting the damn thing, blasting a giant hole through it. Then he thought better of it, realizing the noise would promptly attract unwanted attention.
This is all a game, isn’t it, William? This is your revenge from beyond the grave, your plot to drive me insane. Well played, Wexler. Well played.
Cyrus took the box and exited his office, stepping into the hallway, where two doors presented themselves. Behind door number one, a linen closet. Behind door number two, a moldy old cellar.
He descended the staircase, holding the box in one hand and gripping the bannister with the other. He yanked a cord that was dangling from the ceiling and a bare light bulb flickered on. The cellar was soundproof. The realtor had assured him of that fact.
In the cellar, Cyrus riffled through box after box, crate after crate, until he found what he was looking for. A stainless steel chainsaw.
It wasn’t electric. It was gasoline powered. Cyrus checked the tank and there was still fuel inside. He yanked the motor cord and the chainsaw roared to life with a furious mechanical growl. The metal teeth of the saw sliced through the lock with ease, like a knife cutting through a warm stick of butter. Sparks spit and flew in every direction, striking Cyrus in the face on several occasions, but none of it seemed to faze him.
The chainsaw came to a stop and he proceeded to open the box with extreme caution. What was inside?
A bomb? A venomous snake? A poisonous spider or deadly scorpion? A toxic agent or chemical? Anthrax?
Nope. Inside, the gray metal box was a harmless tape recorder. Attached was a yellow sticky note that simply read: Play Me
Cyrus pulled the tape recorder from the box and yanked the ceiling cord, plunging the cellar into murky darkness. He ascended the staircase, perplexed, thoughts ricocheting from one part of his mind to another. He had an infinite number of questions, but knew there was no one around to answer them but himself.
He returned to his office and retired back to his pricey mahogany desk. For a brief minute, he hesitated. Then, without warning, his left hand seemed to take on a life of its own. It stretched out in front of him and with a stroke of his index finger, pressed the play button.
The tape recorder clicked on and a familiar voice emanated from the tiny speakers. It was the voice of William Wexler. That unmistakable voice that had begged for its life before Cyrus put that voice to sleep forever with a silenced pistol. The voice was Wexler’s, but it sounded different. The tape was garbled and distorted. Whatever language he spoke, it was not English.
It wasn’t any language that Cyrus could detect or decipher. He spoke seven languages. It helped with his profession.
The language wasn’t English, Spanish, French, or Italian. It wasn’t Russian or German either. And it surely wasn’t his native Greek language.
The words were gibberish to Cyrus. It almost sounded like Latin, but the tape was of such poor quality that Cyrus couldn’t even confirm the notion. William spoke slowly and with awkward pauses, as if he was reciting written passages.
When the tape reached the end and the recorder clicked off, Cyrus felt a chill fall over him. The tiny little hairs on the back of his neck all started to rise as he felt his muscles tightening, locking up. His body became stiff, almost paralyzed in his comfy leather desk chair.
The lights inside the ceiling fixtures all started to dim one by one. Cyrus felt a thunderous rumble as the floor shook beneath his feet. He stared in awe as the white plaster walls began to swell and pulsate.
Stunned, he gazed at one section of the walls. There, a glowing circle had begun to form in the center of the plaster. The glow intensified, burning brighter and hotter. Cyrus could have sworn for a moment that he was staring straight into a blazing sunset.
The extreme glow was blinding, forcing Cyrus to shield his eyes. When he uncovered them, the light was gone. The glow had faded, and the house was dark and dull once again. But he sensed an ominous presence amongst him. Someone, something was in the room with him.
The gun from the top desk drawer found its way into his hand. His index finger tightened around the trigger. With his thumb, he cocked back the hammer.
It lurched forward from the shadows; its skin dried out and discolored like a rotten fruit. An extension cord fastened around its neck into some kind of a makeshift noose. White pulsating maggots leaked out from the hollow sockets that once possessed eyes. The stench of decay was overwhelming, causing Cyrus to gag like a punch to the throat.
Its mouth opened, and a parade of maggots came flooding out and scattered all across the wool carpet. “Do you recall the name Billy Vogel?” it asked dully, barely producing the words. Still, the name was audible to Cyrus. A sharp chill rushed down his spine.
“No,” was his answer.
“You should,” its voice croaked. “You hanged him, snapped his neck like a twig. Then you cut him down and dumped his body in an unmarked grave.”
That was two years ago, Cyrus thought. How could it know? Unless…
“Billy?” he cried. “Is… is that you?”
“In the flesh,” it said, somewhat ironically.
Cyrus recalled the name. It was etched in the back of his mind, along with many other names. Billy Vogel was a child molester. The cops finally nailed him after three years, but he got set free on a technicality. Some jackass forgot to sign the search warrant in the proper place and he was let off scot-free.
The cops were a laughing stock. The papers and the news stations ridiculed them mercilessly for fumbling the ball. So a few crooked officers put their money together and hired Cyrus to do their dirty work. Once he heard all the sordid little details, he was delighted to accept the job.
“You can’t be Billy Vogel,” he said, bewildered. “Billy Vogel is dead.”
“Not dead,” Billy corrected him. “Trapped. For two years, my soul has been trapped. Not in purgatory, not in limbo, not even in hell. I’ve been trapped in a place worse than hell. A place beyond description. In the darkness, two years came seem like four lifetimes.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about the dark place,” Billy croaked, and another horde of maggots came pouring from his toothless mouth. “The place where you sent me and the place that you freed me from. I’m back, Cyrus. Allow me to repay the favor.”
Billy moved closer, dragging his feet through the mass of maggots that had formed on the carpet. His hands extended, reaching out towards Cyrus’s throat.
Cyrus squeezed the trigger and a single shot rang through the house. But he only succeeded in shattering an expensive vase.
The ghastly apparition had vanished in the blink of an eye. And so had the vile maggots. Billy Vogel faded as quickly as the glowing circle of light. But a vague stench of rotting flesh was still looming in the air.
* * *
Mason Cornell was a former associate of Cyrus. He was a Satanist who dabbled in the black arts. If anyone could help him make sense of what was happening, it was Mason.
He drove two and a half hours to Mason’s studio to consult with him. Expecting some sort of confrontation, Mason came to the door armed with a silenced pistol. He insisted on patting Cyrus down before he let him enter. All he found was the tape recorder in the side pocket of his leather jacket.
“What’s this?” Mason asked, holding out the recorder.
“It’s why I came to see you,” Cyrus said, his hands trembling, his voice cracking. “I need your help.”
“You sound desperate,” Mason said.
“Maybe I am.”
“You never needed help before. Not even when we were working together. What could you possibly need now?”
“I need you tell me what’s on this tape.” Mason drew back his pistol and waved, granting Cyrus permission to enter.
Mason’s studio hadn’t changed since Cyrus had visited last. He still had the gun rack mounted above his television set. And he still had the hidden cameras disguised as motion detectors. The fridge still had a chain and padlock on it.
Mason was paranoid about being poisoned. When you kill people for a living, you can never rest easy. You start to think the whole world is gunning for you.
Cyrus sat in an empty armchair and observed the full pentagram that was carved deep in the center of the hardwood floor. This place was the site of many bizarre rituals and ceremonies.
Cyrus had partaken in one of these ceremonies at Cornell’s request. He recalled rows of black candles lining every mark of the pentagram. Strangers dressed in black robes with hoods. He had flashes of them all chanting satanic spells, bathing in the crimson blood of animal sacrifices. It wasn’t a pretty scene. And Cyrus had never returned to participate.
“So what’s the big deal with this tape?” Mason asked.
“I can’t understand a word of it,” Cyrus said. “I think it’s in Latin.”
“Where did it come from?” Mason asked.
“That’s not important,” Cyrus snapped. “What’s important is that you speak Latin. I need you to translate.”
“First, you need to take a chill pill,” Mason said. “You’re all edgy. I’ve never seen you like this. You were always so calm, so cool. What’s going on with you these days?”
“I’ve had a rough night,” was all Cyrus could think of.
“Tell me about it,” Mason said, intrigued.
“Do you remember Billy Vogel?”
“Do I ever,” Mason sneered. “Fat bastard who liked to have his way with kids. You did the world a favor when you took out that fat tub of shit.”
“I saw him tonight,” Cyrus said, choking on those few words. “He was standing right in my living room. He was dead, but at the same time, he was very much alive.”
“What did you take?” Mason questioned. “Hallucinogens? Did you take any pills? You try that ‘bath salt’ shit that makes people go bonkers?”
“I’m sober,” Cyrus said, certain of the fact. “What I saw was real. And it all has to do with what’s on this tape. Now this is your area of expertise as far as I can tell, so that’s why I came to you.”
“What you’re describing sounds like necromancy to me.”
“Necromancy?” Cyrus asked, unfamiliar with the term.
“Necromancy is the conjuring of dead spirits. It’s a common practice among Satanists.”
“So do you think you can translate?” Cyrus asked.
“I’ll give it a whirl,” Mason said, rewinding the tape and then pressing down the play button. He listened for a few seconds, and then stopped the tape in a panic. “Get out,” he barked at Cyrus.
“What did I do?”
“It’s not what you did; it’s what you brought with you.” He hurled the tape recorder across the room and Cyrus caught it in his hands. “You were right, it’s Latin. And if I’m not mistaken, it’s a curse.”
“Yes, an ancient curse from the sacred book.”
“You mean the bible?”
“No, I’m talking about a tome of pure evil. The Necronomicon; the Book of the Dead. For years, I thought it was just a legend. But when I took a business trip to Rome for one of my clients, I actually stumbled upon a copy of the God forsaken thing. It was in near pristine condition, which is remarkable for its age.”
“So why is this book such a big deal among Satanists?”
“The book is mainly sought after for its various spells and incantations that were written from fifteen different languages. It holds everything from necromancy to voodoo to zombies. But the merchant who sold it to me warned me of this passage. He advised me never to recite it or read it aloud.”
“I don’t understand though, why this particular passage?”
“He said that it carried the ability to open a doorway; a doorway to a dwelling that he called the Dark Place.”
“Now you’re just talking out of your ass,” Cyrus chuckled.
“You might not believe in this shit, but I do. I take it very seriously. Now I want you to leave. And take that fucking recorder with you.”
“I’ll go, but before I do, you have to tell me more.”
“I don’t have to tell you shit.”
“Please,” Cyrus begged. “I need to know more.” The desperation grew rapidly in his voice. If his pride wasn’t at stake, Cyrus would have fell to his knees and groveled at his feet for help. “What is the Dark Place?”
“From what the merchant told me, it sounds like a place worse than hell. He said impure souls can become trapped there after death. Those that do are usually condemned to dwell there for eternity, their bodies stuck in their last agonizing years or moments of death.”
“And the doorway,” Cyrus said, trembling again. “What if you, say, accidently open it? There’s got to be a way to close it, right?”
“Fuck if I know,” Mason shrugged. “I didn’t bother to ask the merchant about that. I’ve never been tempted to try and open the doorway. Like I said, I actually believe in this sort of thing. You didn’t…you played the whole tape, didn’t you? You listened to the whole passage?”
“I didn’t know what it was,” Cyrus cried. “It was a mistake. You have to help me figure out a way to close it. The book, it must have some kind of reserve spell or something.”
“My copy is long gone. I can’t help you anymore. Now leave.”
* * *
Cyrus got home well after midnight. The tape recorder was disposed of, tossed from the window of his car and then crushed under the wheels of his Cadillac.
He twisted the key in the lock and the door swung open, pulled by some invisible force. He reached for the lights, but none seemed to work.
As he entered, he removed his key from the door and made sure to lock it again. Gripping the walls, he felt his way through the foyer until he made his way into the living room. He tried the lights there; no success.
He navigated his way from the dark living room to his office. Beyond the door, he heard a faint groan.
Before his hands could locate the switches, the lights all popped on at once. Standing atop his mahogany desk was a sight so grotesque that it made Cyrus retch.
What little flesh remained was blackened and charred, as if the whole body had been set ablaze.
“Let me guess,” Cyrus said, pinching his nose to block the stench of scorched flesh. “Donnie Redmond, I presume?”
“You presume right,” Donnie said with his vocal cords burnt to a crisp. Listening to his voice was like hearing nails on a chalkboard.
Donnie Redmond was a smalltime thug with a major rap sheet. Breaking and entering, grand theft auto, grand larceny, extortion, and drug possession were all among the charges listed against him. But two charges managed to roll off his back with ease.
The first charge was murder. Donnie had stabbed a man to death in cold blood during a botched liquor store robbery. The man was an undercover cop who was just trying to intervene. Donnie put a stop to that, but he also left behind a witness.
The clerk was the only one who could identify him. But two days before the trial, they found the clerk dead in his garage. He had been sucking on exhaust fumes for hours. His death was declared a suicide and the case was dismissed due to lack of evidence and testimony.
The second offense was rape. After a rowdy night at the bar, Donnie decided to have his way in a dark alley with some unlucky broad. Well, that unlucky broad happened to be the sister of a local drug kingpin who had acquired Cyrus’s services in the past.
He made the call to Cyrus and only had one request. He wanted the man that raped his sister to suffer to his very last breath. Cyrus assured him that he would. And Cyrus was a man who never disappointed his clients.
That night, Donnie Redmond took a bath in kerosene and went up like a raging bonfire. The kerosene seared most of his flesh down to the bone. Cyrus stayed, smoking a cigar, watching and waiting until the flames consumed him and his screams were reduced to dull echoes that faded in the night.
Now Donnie was back, another escapee of the Dark Place. Cyrus put his hand in his jacket, and then gave himself a smack on the head when he realized he was unarmed. The gun was sitting in the top drawer of his desk.
Donnie leapt from the desk, his charred fingernails digging into the side of Cyrus’s face. Cyrus flung him against the wall and dove across his desk, scrambling to get the top drawer open. The hammer was cocked back and Cyrus fired, putting a decent sized hole in the plaster. Once again, he was shooting at nothing.
Donnie was gone, but he could still smell the stink of charred flesh. His hand grazed his cheek and he could feel the warm blood oozing from the deep scratches. Donnie was gone, but the wound was real.
The light bulb popped on in his head. Cyrus knew then and there what had to be done. In the cellar, amongst all the boxes of junk and crates of tools, were two cans of gasoline. More than enough to burn the whole place to the ground.
Cyrus moved like a man possessed. He worked at a furious pace, sprinkling gasoline on the carpets, the curtains, the staircases, and the furniture. He poured the last of the second can around the foyer. Then, in his last desperate act to seal the doorway, he lit a match.
* * *
The firefighters tried valiantly to fight the blaze. But in the end, the fire won the battle and the house was reduced to a pile of rubble and smoldering ash. Cyrus blamed the fire on faulty wiring.
Cyrus wasn’t going to miss the place. The next day, he found himself a new one. He bought new clothes, new furniture, new tools, and of course, a new gun with the serial number filed down to nothing.
The place was top dollar. It had brick walls and a fireplace in the living room. The master bedroom had a walk-in closet that was the size of any average bedroom. There were two bathrooms. The one on the second floor had a built-in Jacuzzi. In the backyard, a swimming pool that was nine feet deep.
The mystery of the tape recorder was something that plagued Cyrus for a while. How did it ever get recorded in the first place? How did a simple prosecutor like Wexler know about the Book of the Dead and the power that it held?
So he poked around and learned that Wexler, among other things, was a Satanist. He also learned that Wexler had once been accused of murdering his first wife, Margret.
He allegedly pushed Margret off a hotel balcony, from the tenth floor. But of course because of his status, it never went to trial. He used his connections to smooth things over and the lack of solid evidence made the whole case crumble before it reached the judge.
I guess we have something in common after all, Cyrus thought.
One night, sitting in his new office, at his new mahogany desk, Cyrus felt the cold air circulating around him. His body froze when the floor started to quake. The lights dimmed and in the center of the brick and mortar, a glowing circle began to take form.
When the brightness dissipated, Cyrus was standing face to face with William Wexler. He looked perfectly healthy. The only thing that Cyrus could see was different about him was the gaping hole in the back of his head, about the size of a grapefruit.
“You tried to get away,” William said. “But there’s one thing I didn’t say on that tape. Once the doorway is open, it never shuts.”
“You win, William. You win.”
Cyrus gained movement in his body again and slid the top drawer open. He dug out his new semi-automatic pistol and thumbed back the hammer. He didn’t fire at Wexler though.
Instead, he opened wide and jammed the barrel between his teeth. He gave the trigger a lone squeeze and ended his nightmare with a single bullet.