Sunday, October 2, 2016

Out of the Box, Part Three

“So what are we doing?”
            We’d both driven to the building where Miles lived. Rachel was in my car. Shadowy twilight was turning into a cloudy evening.
            “I’m going to commit a possible felony.” I looked up at the windows. I had the keys—a fob for the front door, and the key to his apartment. “I think I saw the pyramid she was talking about. I’ve been calling Miles, but he doesn’t answer. So either he’s not there, or . . .” Maybe he couldn’t control the demon as much as he thought.
            “Ooh, a crime.” She grinned. “Am I coming with you?”
            I sighed. We’d had this argument before. “I’d rather you didn’t. I might get arrested. Or worse. And I might need your help. To bail me out, or . . . whatever.”
            To my surprise, she just nodded. “That makes sense.”
            Miracle of miracles. “Wish me luck.”
            I called the apartment from the front door. No answer. The fob worked fine. When I got to his door I knocked, waited, and knocked again. No answer. So I took out my cell phone.
            “Miles?” I waited, but I didn’t pick up. My hands and voice were shaking.  “It’s me, Tom Jurgen. I’m outside your door. I’m coming in. I’ve got a key.” I gulped. “Please don’t shoot me.”
            I’d have to delete that from his answering machine if he wasn’t there. I hung up and called Rachel. “Okay, I’m going in. Hold on.”
            I slipped the phone into a pocket and stood as far from the door as I could and still slide the key into the lock and turned the doorknob.
            Nothing. Which didn’t mean I was safe. I peered into the apartment, waiting, trying to breathe evenly and not pass out. Crouching a little, ready to turn and flee, I stepped into the apartment, leaving the door open a crack.
            I called his name again. No sign of Miles. One more step. I looked around.
            The pyramid sat on the coffee table in front of the couch.
            The gray metal looked ancient, with intricate scrollwork across its surface. One of its four sides hung open on a pair of hinges. The bottom was lined with red silk.
            It smelled like dead flowers.
            “Tom?” Rachel’s voice was inside my pocket. “Are you there?”
            I put my phone on the table, next to an empty bottle of Jack Daniels. “I think I found the box. But I don’t know—”
            A door banged. I stood up quickly. Miles was standing in front of me, shirtless and barefoot in a pair of dirty sweatpants. His face was red and his hair was a tangled mess, as if he hadn’t showered in days. Sweat ran down his chest.
            “What—what are you doing here?” He gasped for breath.
            At least he wasn’t armed. But I wasn’t either. I’d left my Taser in the car. Committing illegal trespass was bad enough, but getting caught with any kind of a weapon would mean months or years of taking showers with the kind of large smelly men I usually avoided on the street.
Still, Miles was younger than me, and probably stronger and faster. So I talked quickly. “You didn’t answer your phone. Sharon gave me your key.” I pointed. “What’s in that box?”
            Miles stared at the pyramid. “My uncle Jim gave it to me. He died five years ago.” He dropped down onto the couch. “He said only to open it if—if I really wanted to hurt someone.”
            “So have you ever opened it?” I kept my phone out, hoping Rachel could hear.
            Miles ran his hands over his scalp. “I had a manager at work. At another job. He was a grade-A asshole, and one time he made me work all weekend, I mean 48 hours straight, and then he took credit for the whole project.” He looked at me, desperate for me to understand. “I was tired and I was drunk, so I opened the box and said his name. Two hours later he died in a car accident. And then the box closed. Uncle Jim said it would come back and close the door when it finished the job.”
            But the door was open now. Did that mean . . .  “So what happened when Charley slept with Sharon?”
            “He was my best friend!” Miles rolled back and forth on the couch. “And she was my girlfriend! How would you feel?” Miles started pacing around. “You think I could just forgive and forget? I was trying to help him get a job! And then he turns around and screws my girlfriend?”
            “Okay, okay!” I backed away from him. “I get that you were mad at Charley. So what about Sharon? Charley died two months ago. Sharon tried to kill herself today.”
            “That bitch!” His arms thrashed in rage. “She was the one who cheated! I shouldn’t have to beg, should I? But I did, and she wouldn’t listen to me! She never even said she was sorry. And I called her over and over again, every day, for weeks! But she stopped answering me.”
He was crying now. “I would have taken her back. Really! But I couldn’t let her talk to you.
            So Miles had sent the demon after Sharon. But she was still alive. And free now. So maybe it had limits. Even demons had rules. At least the few I’d had to deal with.
            “So where is it now?”
            His head drooped. After a long, ragged breath, he tapped his chest. “Here.”
            Oh god. “Why?”
            “It doesn’t want to go back. Uncle Jim said it was hard to control, and the more you let it out, the stronger it gets.” Miles was gasping.
            “So let’s get out of here.” I reached for the box. “You should see a doctor. And I know an ex-priest who does exorcisms—”
            “No!” He lurched up. “I can’t leave! Get out of here!” He staggered from the room. “Just leave me alone!”
I wasn’t sure who he was talking to—me or the demon. And for a moment, yeah, I didn’t really care what happened to Miles. Charley was dead, his parents were devastated, and Sharon could have died. All I wanted was to dash out the door and leave Miles to his fate.
But I was at least partly responsible for what almost happened to Sharon.
Could I lock the demon back up so it couldn’t harm anyone else? I stared at the pyramid, trying to think of an answer. Maybe Rachel knew someone—
            Oh hell. Rachel. My cellphone was still sitting on the table, and Rachel was listening. “Hey! Are you there? Stay out of—”
“Too late.” Rachel was inside the door, panting. “I had to push every damn button until someone believed I was a UPS driver.” She kicked the door shut and looked around. “Where’d he go?”
Damn it. I couldn’t run away now—I didn’t want Rachel to think I was a coward. “I don’t know. Somewhere close. Be careful.”
            The apartment wasn’t that big. His kitchen was empty and the bathroom door was open, which left the bedroom. The door was shut.
            I knocked. “Miles!”
            “Go away!” His throat was hoarse. “Just get out of here!”
            “Are you going to kick it in?” Rachel smirked at me.
The door looked hard and solid. I’m a P.I. in my forties, not the Terminator. So I just tried the doorknob.
            In his rush and terror, Miles had forgotten to lock it. I turned the knob and pushed, but Miles pushed back. I grunted, leaning forward with my shoulder. Rachel helped.
            Miles stumbled back as we shoved the door open.
“Stay back!” He held a long hunting knife with a serrated edge on one side of the sharp blade. “Stay away from me!”
“Okay, okay!” That was definitely what I wanted, too. I stepped in front of Rachel and held up my hands out. “Why don’t you put the knife down? We can talk—”
            “I can’t take it anymore!” He scooted to the far side of the bed. “It’s in my head! I can’t shut him out!”
            “We can help you.” I didn’t really know how, except to get him to a hospital. I held out my hand. “The knife, Miles. You don’t want to do this.”
            “I have to . . .” Miles jabbed his throat with the tip of the blade. A drop of blood spilled down his chest.
            I took a step. “No, you don’t. Don’t listen to it.” Another step. Hands wide, not threatening. “You don’t have to listen to it.”
            “You don’t understand.” He took a breath. “I can’t keep it out anymore—”
            Rachel screamed.
            I might have screamed too. I turned away when the blood spurted from his throat, then somehow forced himself to run over to Miles on the floor, one hand still on the knife’s handle as he rolled back and forth, moaning and bleeding.
            I pulled a tangled sheet from the bed and tried to press it over the wound, déjà vu flooding my mind for a moment. It was the second time today I’d tried to save someone from a knife and gotten blood over my hands and clothes, but this time I wasn’t going to save anyone. Miles was already choking, and I wasn’t sure I should even try to pull the knife out. The serrated edge would probably just make things worse.
            He stared up at me, tears in his eyes. His lips trembled as if he was trying to speak, but his mouth was filled with blood.
            In the end I backed away, helpless and sick. Nothing I could do would help Miles now.
            I turned around, reaching for my phone. “Rachel? Are you—”
            Rachel was on the floor, curled up in an almost fetal position, shaking like a child. She managed to look up and stare at my eyes.
            “Who are you?” Her words were a whisper. “I don’t know you.”
            Oh god. Not Rachel. No.
            She screamed again, rocking back and forth on her heels. “Get out, get out, get out!” She clutched her hair.
            I tried to grab her arms. She shoved me away. “Get off of me!”
            “Rachel, come on.” I wondered if she could hear me. Damn it, this was all my fault. I shouldn’t have let her—
She punched me in the chest. Hard. I fell back, gasping as she crawled away.
No. I managed to push up to my feet as she stumbled toward the living room. I tackled her by the knees in the doorway, and she kicked my face.
Fortunately she was wearing her Nike running shoes and not her boots. My cheek throbbed, but at least she missed my eye. She slithered out of her arms and ran for the front door. My knees ached as I stood up and followed. I didn’t know what I could do. At least she wasn’t heading to the kitchen for a knife.
“Rachel, stop!” I put as much energy into my voice as I could summon, and it must have worked, because she hesitated, her hand on the knob.
What was she going to do? Run out into the street to get hit by a bus? Or just disappear? I didn’t know what the demon wanted. I only knew that they wanted to be free. So I didn’t know what would happen if I lost sight of Rachel.
            Rachel stared at me, her hazelnut eyes almost black. “Leave me alone,” she ordered in a voice that shuddered and shook. “I don’t know you.”
            “I’m Tom! Tom Jurgen! I live downstairs! I’m your—” Somehow I didn’t think “sort-of boyfriend” would get through to her. “I love you!”
            Rachel blinked. “Wh—what?”
            I’d stopped her. For a moment. Now what?
            I looked at the table, where the pyramid sat. If I could lure it back . . .
            But I had no idea how to do it. It wasn’t a genie from a magic bottle. I couldn’t make a wish. But maybe . . .
            Oh, this was a bad idea. But I didn’t have any good ideas left. And whatever happened, I couldn’t leave the demon inside Rachel.
            So I picked up the pyramid and hurled it to the floor.
            Instantly a cold wind pushed down on my shoulders, as if someone had turned on a gigantic ceiling fan. It grew stronger as I stomped the pyramid under both feet.
             The wind rushed faster, scattering newspapers and whipping up clouds of dust like Dorothy’s cyclone. I kneeled down and started pounding it with my bare fists.
            Which didn’t work so well. It was metal, after all. So I picked it up, my fingers bleeding, and slammed it against the wall, over and over, until one of the hinges broke. I could barely stand up as the wind swirled over me, and my feet hurt, but I kept swinging the box as hard as I could until the door finally snapped off.
            The pyramid flew through the air. I lunged after it, sliding on my stomach. I clawed the red silk inside ripped it. I had to bite the fabric to start a tear. It tasted like blood. I spit bits of silk out of my mouth.
            Then the pyramid exploded. Shards of metal stung my face. I dropped flat, hands over my eyes as the wind stormed around me.
I looked for Rachel. She lay on the floor, her arms wrapped over her head and neck as the air churned around us. It was hot as a desert sandstorm, then cold as a blizzard.
            “Get out of here!” I shouted. “Go away and leave us alone!”
            A roar of wind answered me—or maybe ignored me. The apartment seemed to spin under my hands and knees. I gasped for air. Okay, this is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but a . . .
Suddenly the apartment was silent.
Papers and dust fluttered to the floor. I sat up, amazed that I could breathe again.
            Rachel was stretched out on the floor next to the door, her fingers twitching. Breathing hard.
            “Rachel? Rach?” I crawled toward her. “Come on, are you okay?” I pressed a finger to her neck. Strong pulse. I reached for my cellphone. “Just a minute—”
            “You asshole.” Her eyelids fluttered.
I set the phone down and helped her sit up. “Are you okay?”
            “I feel—well, like the world’s worst hangover.” She rubbed her head. “Oh god, did Miles—did he really . . .”
            “Yeah.” I couldn’t save him. “Sorry.”
            She looked ready to puke in my lap. “That was, you know, horrible. I’ve never felt like that. Oh, hell!” She reached up to run a hand over the fresh bruise rising on my face. “Wait—did I do that?”
            “Sort of.” I reached for my phone again. “I have to call 911 now. So remember—we were just checking on Miles, and he went crazy. That’s how I got hit, and how the pyramid got destroyed. It was all kind of a blur. Okay?”
            “Yeah. That’s about right.” Rachel shivered. “Hey, wait—what was that you said? That made it go away?”
            Oops. “Well, I broke up the pyramid. That set it free.”
            “No, you dummy. You said . . .” She lifted an arm to punch me, but then she let it drop. “It doesn’t matter.”
            “Right.” I hit 911.
            Rachel put a hand on my knee. “Don’t make a big deal about this, but . . . yeah.” She coughed, “Oh, god, I hope I don’t throw up.”
            I nodded. “Yeah. Thanks. —Yeah, hello? There’s been a suicide here, a man is dead. You need to send an ambulance to . . .”
Rachel sipped her tea. “I wanted ginger.”
            “It’s mint. You were out.”
            We were up in her apartment, after spending several hours telling different police officers how Miles had given us permission to enter his apartment—although we had a key from his worried ex-girlfriend—only to rant about demons and then try to kill us before slitting his own throat. It was a simple story that didn’t make them have to work too hard. Even Sharon’s story fit most of the pieces, and if it had matched too closely, the detectives would have been skeptical enough to start asking more questions. As it was, the cops had just one dead body to deal with, and it was obviously a suicide. They could probably decide we were all crazy without having to charge us with anything.
            So in the end they let us go.
            Rachel put her cup down. “Thanks. Are you okay? I didn’t mean to . . . I mean, it wasn’t me, but still—”
            “It wasn’t that bad.” Actually, my chest still hurt from her punch, but I didn’t want to admit it. At least the bruise on my cheek didn’t keep me from opening and closing my eyes. “I need your help.” I opened my laptop.
            “Oh. Skype?” She started hitting keys as I called the Gundersons on my cellphone.
            We connected, and I told them the whole story. Leslie flinched when I told her about Charley and Sharon, and Todd turned away and wiped his eyes when I described the knife Miles had used to kill himself.
Leslie sighed when I finished. “I am sorry about Miles. We met him once. He seemed like a nice boy.”
            Except for the whole sending-a-demon-to-make-people-kill-themselves thing? But that felt like the wrong thing to say. “I wish I could have saved him.”
            “Well . . .” Leslie stared at the screen. “Who’s that next to you?”
            “Oh, she’s my . . . my associate.” I shifted the laptop. “Rachel. She was a big help in this case.”
            “Hi!” Rachel raised a hand. “Drinking tea!”
            “Send us your bill.” Todd Gunderson seemed to enjoy watching Rachel sip from her mug, and I couldn’t blame him. “And thank you. This . . . it helps.”
            I knew nothing would really help a family that had lost a child, but I couldn’t think of anything more to say or do. “I appreciate your time. And I’m sorry for your loss.”
            The screen went blank.
            “So . . .” I closed the laptop. “Dinner? Should I order out? Or just experiment with whatever you have in the fridge?”
            “Just let me rest.” She set her mug down and sank back on the sofa. “Being possessed by a demon is exhausting, you know?”
            “Whatever you want.” I patted her arm. “Glad you’re okay.”
            “Hey, wait a minute.” Rachel sat up. “What happened to the demon? Oh . . .” She groaned and rubbed her head. “What did you do?”
            “I couldn’t think of any way to force it back inside the box.” I shrugged. “So I thought maybe if the pyramid couldn’t hold it, the demon wouldn’t be chained to it.” I shook my head. “I guess it worked. It let you go.”
            Now it was free. And whatever harm it caused in the future was at least partially because of me.
But it wasn’t controlling Rachel anymore. I could live with that.
“You idiot. “ Rachel squeezed my hand. “I could feel it inside my head. It was angry, like a—a rat caught in a trap. Nowhere to go. Then you said—what you said. And it went away.”
Well, it was true. “Yeah. It was the only thing I could think of.”
            Rachel sighed. “Thanks.” She sipped more tea. “This is okay, I guess.”
            “Do you want anything else?”
            Rachel set the mug down. “Just stay here for a while. You can order something. I’m probably going to fall asleep.”
I nodded. “I’m right here.”
            “Mmm.” Rachel closed her eyes. “Yeah. Me too.”

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1 comment:

  1. Whoa. I might never date again. Mr. Cute Young IT Professional has a pet demon for personal vendettas? Really? Dating just got creepier, thank-you-very-much. However, Tom came through with the right words. Rock on, Tom - and yes, Rachel heard what you said.