Pete froze in his tracks as the world around him screamed to a halt. The only sound audible was the heavy breathing of the ravenous choir on the church floor. The hairs on the back of his neck stood erect as he placed a hand on his gun as he spun around. He looked back over the edge of the balcony at the ghastly scene.
The congregation all looked up at him, matching their bloody smiles with Father Abraham. Their eyes were empty and black, like a cat’s eye. The corpse that used to be the young man was unrecognizable. Pete thought back to the natural documentaries he had watched, whenever the scavengers and group predators had had their fill of their prey. Pete took a gulp and prayed silently, hoping whatever deity was on duty at the time to give him a hand.
“Come on down, Pete.” Father Abraham said sternly, his voice booming over the labored breathing of the congregants. “Join us for the feast.”
Pete looked back at him, noting the bright white teeth he had that shown around the blood. His mind raced through his viable options at the time. Years of the bottle now taking its toll as he worked through the molasses in his mind. He had to make an exit, and he had to make it fast.
“I don’t think so, pal.” Pete said. He pulled his gun from his waist and trained it on the father. He started backing away towards the open window.
“The sooner you join us, the easier it will be. Embrace the release, Peter. Come down to us.” Out of the corner of his eye Pete saw the shadows of the approaching congregation up the steps to the balcony. He was running out of time.
“Maybe another day, Abraham.” He could feel the pounding of his heart, it pulsated in the sides of his head. He prepared himself to make the leap from the window to the tree. It was the only way out.
“The longer you run Mr. Cross, the longer you hold the guilt of your past. Give up the burden. Come down to us.” The congregants had entered the balcony area and were inching towards him, he pointed the gun at the lead figure, a man with long blonde hair, face bloody. Pete thought of the smiling child in his dream and the locket. He wished to see her again. But not today.
Pete turned away from the approaching congregants and bolted through the open window, hearing the rush of the mob behind him. The second in the air felt like an hour as he flailed towards the outstretched limb. His fingers latched around the branch, the bark scratching the surface of his palm. He felt elated, the hard part was over.
Snap. He looked over at the tree end of the branch and to his horror, saw a fracture begin to appear. His vantage point became lower as the branch began to point towards the ground. Pete tried to make his way towards the trunk to grab on, but it was too late. The branch snapped, and he went hurdling to the ground with a scream.
Upon impact he felt his ankle twist inward, at an angle perpendicular to his leg. He yelped in pain and cradled his foot for a second until his mind brought him back to the situation at hand. He got up and, limping, made his way towards the church parking lot and in the direction of town. As he passed the first row of cars he heard the doors to the church burst open as the congregants funneled out into the lot, giving chase.
I’m really in it now, Pete thought, better move quick. He moved, dragging his bum foot along. Even with the adrenaline coursing through him, there was no way he was putting weight on his ankle. He had to get to his car and get a move on out of town, the more time he spent the less likely it would be he’d survive on their home turf. He made his way to the back of the Inn where his car was parked and put eyes on his ride.
The tires were slashed, and the windshield beaten in. I’ve been a sucker from the start, Pete thought. He could make it work a short distance with no tires, at least enough to put some distance between him and the mob. He put the key in the ignition and turned and was greeted with silence. The car was dead. He had to find an alternate route, or at least a place to call for back up.
He put his left hand on the door handle and it clicked open. As he moved to exit the car he stopped for a moment as he heard something. Breathing, heavy and slow. He looked in the rearview mirror and was greeted with a bloodstained smile he had seen at the church. It blonde from the balcony in his back seat. Pete moved to pull the gun from his belt with his right.
He reached over Pete’s head with wire to wrap around his neck and with a millisecond to spare Pete shot his hand through the wire, separating it from his neck and dropping the gun on the driver’s side floor. The blonde pulled back with all his weight, digging the wire into the side of Pete’s neck and his arm. While not a direct contact Pete felt his airways constrict. He had to think of something, and fast. He couldn’t reach the gun with his left, he frantically looked around. He looked to the cup holder of the door and saw the bottle with the familiar label and familiar fluid. He reached down with his free hand and grabbed the bottle and, while gasping for air, unscrewed it with his free hand. All the years of twisting bottle tops had come in handy. He reached backward and poured the liquor on the blonde, trying to aim at his eyes. To his luck, the fluid found its mark. The strong smell of booze filled the car, but the blonde did not recede his grip. With the lights getting dim and his right wrist numb from the wire, he reached into the breast pocket of his coat. He pulled out his lucky lighter for his cigarettes, sparked it with his index finger, and lit the trail of liquor leading to the blonde.
His attacker was slow to recognize the circumstances had changed, and the flames had already crept up to his neck by the time the heat registered to him. The wire grip released around Pete’s neck and he gasped for air. But, feeling the heat of the flames and the sound from the blonde, made a quick exit from the car as he clicked the lock button on his way out, grabbing his gun.
Pete, ignoring the smell and the sound from his now aflame car, looked at the mob moving towards him with torches alight. Evacuation was no longer an option, the only move now was to hole up and call for help. He urgently limped towards the door of the Inn and pulled the handle and the door rattled against the lock. He was going to have to bust in. He backed up and, using the force of his good foot, threw himself against the door. The old door budged a little but didn’t open. Pete looked back towards the approaching red hoods, 40 yards away, and threw himself into the door again. He backed up and felt the wind blow against the right side of his head. A hatchet had whistled past him and lodged itself in the door. I better get in this time, Pete thought. He backed up and, with all the force he had left, threw himself against the door.
To his relief the door busted open and he fell into the lobby of the Inn. He scrambled to his feet and looked for something to barricade the door. He cried out in pain as he used his last energy reserves to pull the tables from the buffet room to place up against the doors. He surveyed his surroundings. Seeing all the windows, he had to use the phone at the check in desk quickly. He would not be able to hold out here for long.
At that moment, an axe blade burst through the door. He hobbled to the desk and picked up the phone. To his horror, there was nothing. They had cut the phone line. Pete was going to go out fighting. A man burst through the window on his right, near the desk. He ran towards Pete, with a hatchet in hand. Pete, thinking quickly, picked up the heavy, old-school phone and ,with a shot-putting motion, put the phone, receiver and all, into the man’s head. The man’s head met the phone at a dead sprint and he dropped motionless to the ground. Pete vaulted over the desk, careful to land on his right foot, moved to head up the stairs. On the first step he was grabbed from behind and felt a sharp pain in his shoulder. He looked over it to see the handle of a machete protruding from a blade lodged in his right shoulder. He put a strong left into the jaw of the villager and fired into his chest with his gun. He kept moving up the stairs with more villagers piling in the whole time.
Pete fired into the mob until he backed himself into what was previously his room at the Inn and shut the door. He heard the mob chanting outside. He checked his clip. He had 6 shots left.
The mob began to beat on the door as the chants grew louder. Pete fired into the door, shot after shot after shot after shot. He placed his second to last one into the door, keeping the last bullet for himself. The pounding stopped.
Pete froze, finger on the trigger. To his surprise, he felt a light touch on his shoulder. He turned around to see the sparkling blue eyes of his wife, with the empty smile.
“It will be alright honey, just relax.”
Pete felt the prick of a needle in his neck, his eyes became heavy, and he faded into darkness. His last sight was the eyes of his wife.
Pete awoke, in chains, surrounded by the red hoods at the church.
“We’d been expecting you, Pete. It would have been much easier for you just to come down on your own.” Father Abraham beamed down at him.
“That’s not quite my style.” Pete responded.
“Make it easy on your wife. She wanted you here. She wants to join our commune. In return, we ask for an individual they wish to be freed from overwhelming guilt. She told us the story of your daughter and your accident. Do you wish to go on living with this? Or would it not be easier to give in and be set free?”
Pete was tired. He thought of the blur of the last two years, the booze, the self-pity, the guilt. He looked back at Abraham. He looked at his wife, empty eyes staring back.
Perhaps running away is worse than letting go. He closed his eyes and saw his daughter. She reached out for his hand and held it, guiding him towards the light.