New Fiction Writing – Fear: The Missing Final Chapter
Editor’s Note: Recent studies into the papers of Horace Hackett found this addition to his novel “Fear.” It was somehow misfiled among miscellaneous research notes in our library archives. As a tribute to this pulp fiction pioneer, it is being republished without correction.
It was a simple enough solution. Of course people had to die. And that was a tough pill to swallow.
Nothing that this former Professor James Lowry of Atworthy College had any trouble with.
Not anymore, that is.
Months of relaxing with rum-spiked drinks on a sunny beach took care of that.
Months of occupying a recliner under a beach umbrella on a deserted Mexican beach.
All at a remote and seldom-visited resort on the coast. Away from murders, deaths, and demons…
It would probably be years before he could forget the sight of his dear Mary and his best friend Tommy as he found them in the basement. He had loved and trusted them so. Weeks of drunken sobbing in solitude had finally drained most of the ready grief away.
As to President Jepson, that didn’t concern him much. Barely knew him and his high-and-mighty ways. Like the fatal wreck of a stranger on the highway, it was sad. But nothing that tugged the heart like those you spent many close years with.
And then there was Old Billy. Another sad one.
The solution had been too simple. But demons like things simple.
That night in the basement was much like the other visions. Old Billy in his police uniform standing like a wax figure, with the Mary’s note in his hand. Tommy nearby her, both lying slashed and hacked amongst the coal.
Three demons had appeared. The two that had been following me, and the “Superior One” they had called.
They looked like they wanted a deal. Or at least I did.
It seems that demons, like the fairies in Neverland, the Norse Gods, and even older ones — all these need approval of their masses, their audience. Demons need fear, they need hatred, they need respect. Or they cease to exist.
My article in the paper just exposed a PR problem they created for themselves. They were losing votes with the world at large. Science was the new god everyone was bowing down to. If you couldn’t prove something existed, then it basically didn’t. Science hated belief and faith.
The demons had a problem and they needed some help.
Of course, the offer didn’t go down like that. They started off with their bluster and their threats. They told me I would die and so on.
Old Billy was pointed to, in his motionless form. “See him, he’s going to turn you in. You’ll get death row. You’ll get the rope or the gas chamber, or the electric chair. He’s going to turn you in, tears in his eyes with a resolute set to his jaw. All those histrionics you humans are so fond of.
“And you? You’ll be in shock the whole time, whenever you aren’t sobbing your eyes out.
“No, of course you didn’t do it. But no one will believe your story. You’ll die a gruesome death. The question is: Do you want a deal?”
Death, or dealing with the Devil? Helluva choice. My soul at risk, regardless.
Their Superior One was clicking his clawed foot on the uneven packed-dirt floor. His arms were folded and his burning eyes told of his growing impatience.
At last I spoke, “So what do I get out of it beyond saving my hide?”
This set them all back. It had been years since someone had bargained with them. By the looks on their faces and how they looked to each other, they were out of practice. Too long they had been satisfied with their “my way or the Death highway” approach.
“I mean, you’ve got to look this over. You guys are obviously upset with what I got published in that paper.” And all this while putting my own concerns on hold. The shock of seeing the two people I loved most in this world dead in front of me helped keep my head steady. Seeing demons was one thing, bargaining with them for my life was another. Bravado was the hole card.
“I could say I’m sorry for offending you, and upsetting your game around town. But obviously, that wouldn’t cut it. And you also know that you won’t get any souls out of this deal, no matter how many you kill.
“Sure, you can go to one of my detractors and get them to say how I was insane in all the papers. They would run great articles about how I committed all these murders and that would discredit everything about me.
“But if that’s what you think, you haven’t thought these things through.”
At that I stopped and let all this sink in.
True, they weren’t getting much out of this deal. No souls they could call their own. At best, they’d be doing damage control and cutting their losses. I’d be killed, but so what? They got more by having the purer criminals die at each other’s hands. Then they’d get them back for more training before they could come back up again.
When the do-gooders died, they either became angels and helped keep people on the straight and narrow, or got a chance to go back down and beat their old record for good deeds.
The demons were on the losing end of this, as long as those do-gooders could reform their clientele. And they’d gradually been losing their regular customers ever since this Science stuff got a foothold.
“I can see you have to think it over. Let’s just let Billy here go and arrest me and we’ll forget about this for awhile.”
The demons looked nervous. The Superior One dropped his folded arms and leaned forward. “Wait. What do you have in mind?”
“Well, I’m worth more to your efforts alive than dead. Because I can get a retraction. Better than that, I can publish an expansion, with a series of articles about how belief in demons is vital. We’ll start with how your crowd used to run the place in primitive societies, and then come right up through history with Christian use of demons to prove that their God exists. I mean, if it wasn’t for you guys, our civilization might not have ever happened.”
Now that was a new thought to them. The two little ones were whispering to each other in front of the Big Guy, which he didn’t appreciate.
“Enough!” The whispering stopped. “I was called up here to straighten out this mess. By our accounts, you’re the one who got yourself into trouble. We’re the one’s who can make sure you believe that you did kill your wife and best friend. We already had you admit to this, and can set up the system to make sure you get a long wait on death row while the press is smearing your name and everyone associated with you! There is no bargain to be done here.”
“Oh, but there is.” I paused here, and had them. My foot started idly tracing a pattern in the coal dust on the floor. Symbols, just symbols. But some of those agitated these demons even more.
The Big Guy put his arms akimbo on his hips. “You are making me impatient.”
I looked up from my tracings and cocked my head. “I’d remind you that patience is a virtue, but that wouldn’t help either of us.”
Steam started literally coming out of his ears in wisps at this.
I continued, “Look, you can’t bluff your way out of this. Your own superiors are going to tell you that this was a waste of time. And it’s all going to go on your record with them about how you had to clean up another fiasco you could have prevented. Of course, they have long memories…
“You could have fixed this to start with, when I was down at that Mexico dig, by giving me some real proof that demons and spirits existed — or at least put some serious doubt in my mind. The devil only knows what distracted you guys all this time. I suppose you were over getting the natives to play nookie-nookie with each other instead of keeping your eye on the ball. You should have known this was going to happen.”
The two smaller demons looked downcast, their heads bowed and shoulders drooped. The Big Guy was looking out in to space. In a human, that would mean he was trying to figure out a lie to tell his boss, one that wasn’t obvious.
Now it was time to move in for the kill. “Here’s the deal. I’ve got a writer friend who will write this all up as a fiction story. You put a bug in his editor’s ear and some of his friends to make it go over like it’s his ‘best work ever’ — rave reviews and all that. The next thing we do is to thoroughly wreck this life of mine and make me disappear — not literally, just arrange for me to go on another dig — and then someone starts to tie that fiction story in to the real-life story it was based on…”
This got their attention. They were looking at me like I was offering them a frosted dish of real ice cream with cookies in it. (And that was a big deal where they came from.)
“Of course, it’s going to be a lot of work. But you have a chance here to set up a ‘real-life’ horror story that you can get eons of mileages out of, if you do it right.”
By this time, they were muttering among themselves.
“…and it’s not like I’m getting off scott-free. I lose this comfy life and can never come back here again.” (Here I sighed for dramatic effect, like I really wanted this life of trimming lawns, going to church socials, and teaching bored students from boring texts.)
The Big Guy jumped at this, “And you’ll be tormented again, like we just put you through if you do!”
“And you’ll be reminded of the hell waiting for you with all that sand you’ll be digging through…”
I nodded again, feigning a downcast look as if they had me.
They muttered among themselves a bit more, as this brightened their outlook. They might even have my soul out of this deal, plus the promotion they could earn by getting all this worked up as a modern-day real haunted house scene.
I interrupted their evil plotting, “A couple of details, we have to work out: One, the dig is near a beach in a resort town. All expenses paid for life. Two, a fake ID and all that. Three, you have to really wreck my reputation.”
The first two had them leary. But when they thought it over, it seemed to make perfect sense. They would only have to keep me tempted the rest of my life and in torture of never returning. The Fake IDs were in their line of work, at least somewhat, and certainly reputation-wrecking was easy.
“But what you are you going to get out of this besides your life?”
“Well, that’s obvious. I get to dig up more stuff about demons and ship these to whoever you have in Academia who would publish papers for you about how you guys really run things and always have. Of course, that’s a lot of hard work, so I’ll need the resort to relax occasionally. We humans aren’t as tough as you guys are.”
And they smiled ghoulishly at that, all broken teeth and bad breath. Stood up straighter, proud of their work.
“You get the trinkets and damning evidence. Bury it where I can find it. I dig it up and ship it wherever you want. You cover my costs and leave me alone to drown my sorrows. Oh, and one last thing, you have to cover this up so its a mystery. Maybe Tommy and Mary were actually having an affair, and Old Billy here found a murder-suicide. Or maybe the house burns down strangely without affecting anything else, like it was cursed or something. I’ll leave that up to you.”
They were nodding along with me as I told them this. All good sales technique.
“OK, do we have a deal?”
“We might have to run this upstairs…”
“Oh well, if you guys can’t approve this, then maybe this shock is wearing off and I’m starting to feel remorse and grief coming on…”
“OK, OK, OK!” The Big One raised his hand, scratched it and drew blood, then stuck it out for me to shake.
I picked up a splinter, drew my own blood in a line along my palm. Then grabbed his hand.
– – – –
The next thing I remembered was waking up in a recliner here on the beach. The table at my elbow held a paper from that small university town I’d lived in all my life. Underneath, a manilla envelope and a small package. Beyond them, a beer was sweating in the umbrella shade.
The envelope held a stack of US greenbacks and a matching amount of Mexican pesos. In the package was a brand new copy of my friend’s published book, inscribed on the fly-leaf “Couldn’t have done it without you. Thanks for the story-idea. Horace.”
Picking up the paper, it was some story about the college being in mourning about the death of the new college president, who had a stroke and died alone in his office. On an inside page was an account of they mysterious house-fire which took out the ancestral Lowry home. It apparently collapsed in on itself without harming any of the neighbor’s homes. The house burned suddenly, according to the fire department, and was all coals by the time they arrived. None of the grass or roses were touched. And the vines which had climbed up the chimney were still green, even though the stones had toppled into the foundation.
Old Billy was found unconscious on the sidewalk in front of the house, and told of only remembering being in the basement to discover Mary and Tommy in an apparent murder-suicide with a note in her hand. Jim Lowry’s remains had not been found, but the house would be excavated once it had cooled. The coal-fired boiler was suspected as the cause.
I reached into my jacket’s inside pocket and found my passport and birth certificate, both dutifully aged. Also a contract with a major east-coast university to forward all recovered artifacts to them from my well-and-piping excavation business. Of course, the new name was similar enough to my old one to remember easily.
A shadow crossed my sight as a body moved to cover the sun, bowing under my umbrella. A serving tray with a fresh beer was being held by a curvaceous hostess. “Is everything alright, Senor? Can I help you in any way?”
Tracing her beautiful collar bones to shoulder and back down to her hands showed no ring. Moving my eyes up to her face, I got a surprise. If Mary had a twin, this would be her.
Shaking my head no, I asked if she had time to talk for awhile.
She put down the tray, pulled up another recliner into the shade. “My shift was just over, Senor. What would you like to talk about?”
Maybe these demons had the right approach after all.
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Also published on Medium.