December 8

The Manifestation (Part 7)

 

Deitrich was the lucky team member Myers sent out of the booth. The metal door closed behind him as he sidestepped onto the upper platform. Watkins sympathized with Deitrich’s reluctant movements, his back sliding against the wall as he edged close to the stairs, the click of his heels on the metal steps, the frantic gusts of his nervous breaths into the mouthpiece.

Impatient, Meyers poked at the speaker button on the front console: “Bring him out. Fast!”

Carlson shrugged. “Maybe the rest of them can recover the integrity of the ritual.” He didn’t sound too optimistic.

The chaos below was not encouraging. Hooded figures lost their cool confidence when they noticed the ceremony was actually working. A few of them started to scream, their cries so loud Watkins almost worried they’d be audible outside the concrete building.

And what had the commander hoped Deitrich might accomplish? The little guy tried to herd people back into place and restore order, but everyone ignored him. Three sat on the floor and cried like babies. Several ran to the edges of the auditorium; one pressed random numbers into the keypad that locked the exit door. Watkins wondered if they could see more in that darkness than he could from the relative safety of the control room.  Perhaps there was something in the auditorium, in the air itself, that added to their terror.

When Deitrich moved to The Creep’s side, tried to pull him away from the pentagram’s edge, he wouldn’t budge. The highly recommended sorcerer…reduced to a useless, rigid scarecrow.

The Creep shouldn’t have been broken. At least, he wasn’t that morning when they brought him in, when they tested all thirteen “occult specialists” on the Efficiency Abacus, a patented contraption that predicted infection. It looked like a puzzle, complete with sliding levers and spring‑loaded triggers. If you completed a complex series of motions without breaking the device, you were probably “clear.” Probably.

Most likely, The Creep had contracted it today. Right in the middle of the ceremony.

And now the darkness tightened. Threads of black wove themselves together, flattened and glistened like a diver’s wetsuit.

A large leg stretched and tore out of the black casing. It was covered with hair and tapered to a hoof as big as a shoebox.

The darkness shrugged and fell to the ground. A large shape remained standing, an obscene pile that began to stretch its four flabby arms.

Was this, Watkins thought, was this the image of what has gone wrong in the world? It’s a horrible mess, a travesty of creation. It was the size and shape of an obese grizzly bear, its face the strange blues, reds, and grays of a baboon, with obscene, sensual, fish‑like lips. The torso was covered with scabby plates that cracked apart in the rolls of fat. Each muscular arm ended in a domed shell with a slimy black underside, as if the demon wore giant snails instead of gloves.

The horrible scene below seemed distant and unreal. Carlton spoke as if he whispered to a row of friends in a movie theater. “It shouldn’t be able to step outside the pentagram.”

The demon responded in a low, mechanical voice. “True. If the pentagram’s been done correctly.” A wet hoof slimed over the edge of the chalk outline, smeared it outward. “It wasn’t.”

Myers jumped forward, rolled Hilliard’s chair away from the control panel. “Christ, lock it down!” He entered a key‑code and pressed a red button. In response, a geared mechanism began to grind. The metal stairs slid away from the entrance to the observation booth.

Now the demon couldn’t get up to them via the stairs.

“What about Deitrich?” Hilliard asked. He swiveled in his chair, waived his arms in disbelief. “And why isn’t there some weapon power here?”

Meyers ignored him, picked up the phone to call for reinforcements.

“We didn’t expect anything to happen,” Watkins said. “Did you?”

“There’s about 300 people outside,” Meyers said into the telephone.

Watkins looked at the names on his clipboard. If he’d bothered to match all of these names to faces — if he could see their features beneath the hoods, their bodies snapped and crumpled inside their sackcloth robes — he could have crossed out each of their names in turn as they were destroyed.

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[…continued in December 9 entry…]