The Baby was originally intended to be a single short story, however, the lead character proved to have a life of it's own. I thought perhaps I could kill the creature born of all that is bad about humankind in a second story, but my damnable creation simply would not die. The problem proved to have a simple solution. The Baby was being attacked in the wrong way; fighting fire against fire was not the answer. But how could uninitiated men unschooled in the Law of Thelema be expected to know just how to meet the threat of the Baby and defeat it? Clearly, I realized, this situation needed a professional. Someone not only strong and courageous, but also perceptive and intelligent. I decided that there was only one man for the job, one Thelemic initiate who could face the Baby in magical warfare and win the day, and so I called upon this dashing hero, this modest and unassuming man who understood well that the Law of Thelema is the law of Love.
Now make yourself comfortable, above all, keep a good thought and cast aside hate, envy, and similar "negative" emotions that may plague you, and enjoy the final installment of The Baby
It was massive, dark and foreboding, invading and destroying the tranquility that had been maintained for several hours.
The white-robed Thelemic magician, at rest in the dragon asana in the Abbey of Thelema, suddenly opened his grey-blue eyes. It was as if an unexpected current of electricity had passed through his tall, athletic form. His deceptively youthful face, for hours a model of perfect peace, now took on a hard, stern appearance. His facial muscles tightened and the firm jawline, not hidden but accentuated by his neatly trimmed black beard, seemed to become even more firm as his teeth clenched.
The dark-haired man turned his head to one side and called out, not loudly, but with a tone of voice that could carry great distances, penetrating walls.
Immediately a black-robed Neophyte of the Order entered the room. He was a younger man with straight brown hair and a well-muscled body. Frater Paulos was Canadian by birth and by way of his quick response to the magician's call, his stance and manner, he revealed that he had once served in the Canadian armed forces.
"Yes, Frater Keallach?"
"It has begun, my brother ... the thing that I've expected for a long time now. And we are late. Two lives have already been needlessly sacrificed. Others ruined. Millions ... no ... billions of lives are at stake. We mustn't waste another moment."
"I will set the operation in motion at once, sir."
"Good. I only hope it's not too late." Paulos turned on his heel and was about to march out of the meditation room when the magician spoke again. "Oh! And please make sure that Soror Jeanne Anubis makes my 'plane reservation immediately. I'll see Arwen Fae myself before leaving for the States."
"Yes, sir," the former military man answered smartly.
Soror Arwen Fae, along with Frater Paulos, was in charge of the magical operation which had been long planned to counter the events that had already been set in motion.
Frater Keallach, as he was called whenever within the confines of the abbey, now alone in the simple, serene room, gazed upward as if viewing some tremendous force, some impending doom that hovered over the entire world.
"Damn it," he hissed with vehemence. "I'm late. I should have been aware of it sooner. I have underestimated it and lives have been lost because of my stupidity. Well, no more lives will be taken. Now it will have to deal with me."
My name is Dennis Patrick Morgan. Denny to my friends. I used to earn my living in the world as a printer for a major corporation, but now I run a custom car shop. It isn't very glamorous, I'll admit, but the shop is a lifelong dream I've had and it is not all there is to my life. Aside from DM's Custom Car, which enables me to support myself and pay child support to my ex-wife, Janet, who has custody of our son Shawn most of the time, I spend a great deal of my waking hours attending to my friend's business affairs while he is out of town. I do this as a favour and wish no pay for my work, although he has more than once generously offered to compensate me for my efforts. From time to time he disappears from the world, you see, and at those times only I and his secretary know where he is spending his "Great Magical Retirements", as he calls them. The FBI couldn't get us to reveal his exact whereabouts during these times no matter what they threatened, although I know for a fact that if the federal boys ever sought him out it would more than likely be with a plea for assistance rather than a warrant for his arrest. At any rate, while he is gone, attending to the more esoteric aspects of his career, I take care of his house and keep his business affairs in order.
One of my duties while my friend is away is to collect and sort through his mail. I decide what can be ignored, what must be dealt with immediately, and so forth, then I hand over the mail with my recommendations to his secretary, a very able and attractive lady from Taipei, Taiwan named Shou Rong. I would hate to have her job! My friend is constantly in demand as a public speaker and he is also a well known writer on occult subjects with a reputation for supreme logic and reason. And if that were not enough, he has been known to assist the police department as well as the district attorney's office in criminal matters involving religious and cult elements. A major difficulty for Shou Rong is the fact that when my friend is away on one of his retirements, he is not to be disturbed unless it is the direst emergency, and even then it is not always easy to make contact with him. Furthermore, how long he will be away and exactly when he will return is a matter that neither his secretary nor I can usually determine. It must be hell trying to juggle all of his affairs as Shou Rong does with apparent ease.
On a beautiful autumn day in October I collected the mail as usual. The weather was so fine, the brightly coloured leaves so pleasant to see, that I decided to go through the stack of letters, bills and announcements while sitting in the park. One letter in particular caught my eye. The handwriting on the envelope was shaky, as if the writer had been extremely nervous or agitated, although trying hard to control himself. I had seen many such letters in the past from neurotics and psychotics writing to my friend to ask for help because they believed that they were possessed, or that their spouse was possessed, or that the devil, or God, take your pick, had begun communicating with them through the television, and judging from the handwriting on the envelope alone I was prepared to slot this with the looney toones stack. Then I noticed the return address and the name on the envelope. Jack Ross. At first, although it caught my attention, it did not fully register. Then I remembered. Ross was the newspaper reporter who had been shot to death by a woman and the police just before he attempted to murder the woman's baby by setting it on fire. Ross died from multiple bullet wounds and the woman - Richards, I believe was her name - had been driven so hopelessly mad that she was now institutionalized. Mrs. Richards was now nothing more than a vegetable, trapped in a catatonic state. As for the baby, miraculously the police were able to smother the flames almost immediately. Before the gasoline that had been thrown on the baby could burn completely away and seriously damage the baby's flesh, it was rescued and taken to the best hospital burn unit in the entire country which just happens to be in our city. It seemed equally miraculous that the baby apparently suffered no severe shock from the incident and its recovery was very quick and almost perfect. The entire country was relieved by the news reports of the baby's recovery since about a year before this incident Mrs. Richards' first baby was murdered by another madman named Fergeson. This first event had been even bigger news, raising a great public outcry against Tom Fergeson, who never spoke a word in his own defense, and for this man alone the death penalty in this state was temporarily reinstated.
All of this came to me in an instant as I read the name on the envelope. Jack Ross. Obviously, before he was shot to death, he had written and mailed the letter to my friend. Then again, considering my friend's interests ... who knows!
Curious, and since it was part of my job to screen my friend's mail, I slit the heavy brown envelope open and removed the letter. It was a very long letter, sloppily typed upon old fashion copy paper. Having been written by an award winning journalist, I thought that the missive might be amusing so I settled myself on the park bench and began to read it. To quote the letter in full would take too long due to its length, great enough to be made into two short stories - two because the letter told the tales of two men. Basically, however, this is what Ross' letter said.
It began by relating Tom Fergeson's story. It seems that Fergeson, according to Ross, was an average sort of fellow; very stable and down to earth, with a decent job and a wife and two children that he loved very much. Fergeson had no interest in occult matters and in fact thought that most if not all of it was sheer nonsense. Then something happened to him to somewhat alter his opinion. A couple named John and Sue Richards moved into the house next door and immediately upon meeting them, and especially their little ten month old baby, Jonathan, his whole life was turned upside down. When Fergeson's wife invited the new neighbours over for dinner and he found himself momentarily alone with the baby, Fergeson was somehow suddenly thrust into a future during which a mad President murders another high ranking Washington official in the Oval Office of the country's capital and then initiates what will be the ultimate and final war on earth, destroying all life. Upon realizing that the man who will eventually be elected President of the United States is actually the baby named Jonathan Richards, Fergeson suddenly found himself back in the present time, never knowing how it all happened or why, but absolutely convinced that he had to do something about it. He felt that he had to do something to alter the course of history and prevent from happening the future that he had perceived.
The only workable solution to the perceived probem that Tom Fergeson could come up with was murder.
He was convinced that he had to destroy the baby before it could grow up to become the instrument of Armageddon.
According to Ross' letter, Fergeson went through hell from that time on and although he successfully murdered the baby, he had failed to stop it. Sue Richards, when he had met her, was expecting a second child and the day before Fergeson's execution he received a letter from his wife informing him that the second baby had been born, that it had the same brilliant blue eyes as the first baby, and that although it seemed strange to her, in honour of their first child, the Richards were naming the second one Jonathan. This apparently drove Fergeson mad - or more noticeably mad - and from a quiet, beaten man he developed into a raving maniac behind bars.
That is when Jack Ross came into it.
Ross had been interviewing prisoners for a story on correctional institutions when he heard Fergeson screaming in maximum security isolation. He found out who it was that was screaming, smelled a story, bribed the guard into letting him talk with Fergeson, and became the first and only person to whom Fergeson confided his tale. He was desperate. At the outset he was afraid that no one but lunatics who would try to copy him would believe his reason for murdering the Richards' baby, but knowing that all of his efforts had come to naught, that he was unable to do anything else about it, he told Ross the entire story in the hope that either the newspaper reporter would destroy the baby or convince someone else to assume the task before it was too late.
Jack Ross at first thought Fergeson quite mad, although his demeanor seemed rational as he told his story, but curiosity got the better of the reporter and he soon found himself investigating the man's narrative.
Under false pretenses, Ross met Sue Richards and the baby and his reaction was most unusual. He was so upset by the apparently normal child that he ran from the house vomiting all over himself. As had happened to Tom Fergeson before him, Jack Ross' entire life was changed forever and he became convinced that his sole purpose for living had to be the utter destruction of that toddler.
The rest, as they say, is history. Jack Ross attempted to murder the baby, was shot by Mrs. Richards and then by the police officers who had been alerted by neighbours, and his attempt to destroy the innocent child was thwarted. Of course, if one is to believe the late Mr. Ross and Tom Fergeson before him, the baby is anything but innocent.
What I found particularly interesting in all of this was how my friend's name had come into both men's lives. Fergeson mentioned him in passing as the only occultist who ever made any sense, while Ross quoted my friend in great length. The reporter became convinced that the baby was actually the group mind of the entire world, or rather, some twisted and perverse negative aspect of it, created out of hate, prejudice, fear ... a noncorporal entity that became strong enough to seek out physical incarnation through Sue Richards' baby.
If one was to believe both Fergeson and Ross, two very different sort of men who nevertheless seem to have given into the very same hallucination, the baby, although limited by its immature human form, possessed a preternatural intellect that could foresee future events, prepare for them, such as having a second fetus ready for occupation after its first body was destroyed by Fergeson, and that it was able to influence minds to stall for time and force human adults to take the appropriate actions to protect it from harm.
Upon finishing the letter, I shook my head in total disbelief that two apparently normal, intelligent men could go so totally and so violently insane.
I thought that the whole story would at least make for a great horror novel or perhaps even a motion picture. Maybe, I thought with amusement, hometown boy George Romero could produce it. The film could be called Night of the Nasty Baby or perhaps Dawn of the Diapers. That gave me a chuckle. I envisioned a blood-lusting, throat-slashing baby, then remembered that it had already been done and the effect had been far more comical than horrifying. Well, so much for that idea!
I put the letter back into the brown envelope and tossed it on the looney toones stack, thought about it for a moment, changed my mind for some reason, and stuffed the thing into my coat pocket.
It was getting late in the day and I wanted to do a little work on my car before sun down. Tinkering with cars has always been a hobby of mine, long before I made it a business. And if at all possible, I had hoped to get to bed early and rest up for a busy Sunday.
The long twisted hallway was lit by a dim, sickening greenish light and as I walked through it the corridor seemed to go on forever and ever. Finally I came to the end of the hall and the door before me opened of its own accord. Like the hallway, the room was filled with the same dim, sickly light. The only thing I could see was a crib in the centre of the room, apparently the source of the greenish light, and within it I could hear the crying of a baby. Naturally I went forward to investigate.
With a certain amount of apprehension, I approached the crib and peered into it. There was therein the inevitable baby, all pink and cute, with sparkling blue eyes. In the crying baby's face I saw the face of my own son Shawn when he was about a year old and I moved to lift the child and take him into my arms. Unexpectedly, so abruptly it was as if a switch had been turned, the baby stopped crying. The look in its bright blue eyes changed from that of soft infant beauty to one of extreme hardness and malevolence. As I gazed upon the baby in wonder and mounting horror, its flesh shrivelled and blackened. The eyes grew intensely bright. Then the baby opened its mouth wide, very wide, too wide, to reveal a multitude of crooked, foul looking sharp teeth - inhuman fangs - along with a serpent-like tongue. Before I could fall back in horror, it made a terrible sound and leaped for my throat!
I awoke screaming, sweat soaking my pyjamas and bed sheets, and damn if I hadn't wet myself too.
I rubbed my face vigorously with both hands, ran my fingers through my damp dark blond hair, and then dried them on the side of the bed. Getting out of bed, I went downstairs and took a Stroh's from the refrigerator. I gulped the can of beer down in an instant then took another from the 'frige, sipped it and caressed my forehead with the cold damp side of the aluminum can.
Jesus! I thought. That was a hell of a nightmare. And all because of that damn crazy letter from the dead reporter. Holy shit!
The idea of going back to sleep did not appeal to me at all, so I went into the living room and spent the remainder of the night and early morning watching movies on cable, paying very little attention to what was on the screen.
I tried to take my mind off of the nightmare by working on my car as soon as the sun came up, but I couldn't concentrate upon my work. When a tool slipped in my hand, tearing into my flesh, I cursed, threw the tool away from me, and gave up on it.
However I tried to occupy my time and my mind, the images of the dream continued to haunt me and my interest in the letter and the tale that it told began to fester in my mind, growing into an obsession. By evening I was sitting at my dining room table making a list of things I wanted to do on Monday.
1. Visit the city's major newspaper and read over whatever I could find on both the Fergeson and the Ross incidents.
2. Locate and if possible interview both Sue and John Richards.
3. The Baby.
I told myself that once I had done these things, read the obvious insanity in the newspaper articles, discovered the Richards to be ordinary people and the baby to be, well, just a baby, the nightmare would not recur, the obsession would pass and be put to rest, and I could get on with the normal routine of my life.
That is what I told myself. However, there was a part of me that kept asking: What if it is true? What if the ... baby ... is not what it appears to be? What if Fergeson and Ross weren't mad? What if ...?
It was senseless to go on allowing these questions to run on and on in my mind, so I busied myself with my simple plans, going over them again and again, until I fell into an exhausted sleep so deep that no dream could disturb me.
I learned nothing further from the newspaper articles. Ross' long letter had amply told the story of the baby in all of its detail, coloured, of course, by his hallucinatory perception of it. The clippings dealing with the Fergeson story (actually I read the stories on a computer screen) tended to be grossly sensationalistic, primarily written by one Peter Musick, and the imagination was left to go wild. However, upon reading the final piece, also written by Musick, about the Ross incident, I felt certain that it was all just a case of one man getting caught up in another man's madness.
"Did you know Jack?"
I was startled. The woman's voice seemed to come out of nowhere just behind me. Turning sharply, I saw her - blonde, sultry, dressed in dark clothing and black stockings. She was reading the words on the screen over my shoulder.
"Ross? No. I never met the man."
"I've read that story over and over again," she said, gazing at the screen, "and I really can't understand it."
"What's to understand?" She turned away from the screen after I said this, straightened up and looked at me. "Obviously," I continued, "Jack Ross simply got caught up in his story and was carried away by it."
"No. Not Jackie. He got involved in his stories, but he never got that involved. Usually figured that everyone he met was nuts in the first place. And besides ... he loved kids. Coached little league. Last time I threw myself at him," she said wistfully, quietly laughing at herself, "he brushed me off because he had promised his boys a movie."
I looked at this woman and thought: That settles it. Ross must have been nuts! Then, of course, I remembered the opportunities I had turned down because I'd promised the weekend to my son.
"He did try to kill the baby, though. The mother and the police were witnesses."
Internal struggle manifested in the woman's features.
"I know ... but ... oh ...! I don't know! I just know that Jack was not a murderer. Especially a child murderer. And he was about the sanest man I ever knew ... perhaps a little too sane if you ask me."
"Still ..." but before I could finish my sentence, she turned abruptly and walked away. Obviously she was still hurting. I left it alone.
When I strolled out of the newspaper offices I didn't know what to think. After reading the newspaper articles, before the woman had spoken with me, I felt certain that it was just a case of insanity somehow shared by the two men. Then after the blonde spoke to me, well, I just wasn't sure what to think.
My next stop that Monday was to be the asylum, excuse me, the psychiatric hospital, wherein Sue Richards was kept. After the attempted murder of her second child, having shot Ross herself more than once in an effort to protect her baby, something snapped and the woman lost her sanity, retreating into a comatose state, into a universe unknown to the rest of us.
As I walked from the parking lot to the hospital building my attention was arrested by a solitary, stationary figure in an upper floor window. I stopped and studied the figure. It just sat there. Still as a statue. A woman. The woman. I recognized her as Sue Richards, who had been photographed numerous times, her picture appearing in the newspaper articles I read. Yet was it she? Such a change she had undergone!
I had no difficulty getting in to see Mrs. Richards. I lied. Said I was a relative. And my lie was not even challenged. I got the impression that the nurse didn't really care who I was, that she was just glad that someone, anyone, was visiting Mrs. Richards.
"Sue," the nurse said while opening the door to let me into the room, "you have a visitor. It's your cousin Denny." The woman gave not the slightest sign of life. "Just go over and talk to her," the nurse told me, "and don't be too concerned if she doesn't respond. Ever since they brought her here she either sits there staring at nothing or she lays in bed staring at the ceiling. I've never even seen her eyes closed, not even late at night when I peek in to check on her."
"She's not moved or spoken all this time?" I found that incredible.
"Except sometimes late at night. That's the only time she is not entirely out of it, but that is not unusual in cases of catatonia - phases of stupor alternating with periods of excitement." The nurse looked throughtfully at her charge. Was she unconvinced that the doctors had diagnosed her condition accurately? "She seems to have these nightmares, even though her eyes are wide open and staring the whole time, and she thrashes about in bed screaming and speaking incoherently. Only thing I could ever make out was 'The baby! The baby!'"
I thought about that for a moment.
"The baby? Not my baby?"
The nurse didn't even consider her answer. She was certain of what she had heard. After that I was left in the room alone with Sue Richards and with some discomfort I walked over and sat on the window sill to look into her face as I spoke to her. Her eyes were as wide open as eyes can be and just staring, not blinking. I thought that she might be blind, but when I blocked the sunlight streaming in through the window I noticed her pupils adjust to the change. She could see - but I wondered just what it was she saw.
"Mrs. Richards. Sue?" She did not give the slightest sign of recognition. I noticed that her hair was prematurely grey and thinning. She was very pale, sickly looking - wasted, actually - and the deep lines in her face gave her visage the appearance of being carved in wood. Yet Sue Richards was a relatively young woman.
I wondered if she ever truly slept; if she was ever actually awake.
Perhaps Sue Richards was caught somewhere between sleeping and wakefulness?
"Sue, I lied to the nurse. I am not a relative, but I suppose you already knew that." Nothing. "I wanted to talk with you. I need to talk with you. It's about Jack Ross and Tom Fergeson before him." Did she blink? Had her frozen facial muscles tightened?
"I need to know about the baby."
Sue Richards' sudden and unexpected screamed in my face nearly caused me to fall backwards out of the window. I grabbed the window sill and stared at her in wide-eyed surprise. The nurse came dashing in asking what had happened. I shook my head, so shocked that I was unable to speak.
Sue Richards, on the other hand, apparently had no trouble at all in speaking. Was it just another one of her "nightmares"?
"The baby! The baby!" she screamed. "You're trying to kill the baby! Trying to kill it!"
Very understandable - reliving those tragic moments in her life. The nurse placed her hands upon Mrs. Richards' shoulders and spoke soothinly to her, trying to calm her down, wake her up, or whatever it took to bring her out of it. Then we both stood frozen and stared at her with utter amazement as she continued. Sue Richards' expression altered drastically. Her face became a kind of death mask of sheer evil. A murderous look transformed her haggered visage.
"Kill it! I should have let you kill it. I should have killed it. It should be dead. The baby should be dead!"
As suddenly as she had erupted into her excitedly insane state, Sue Richards lapsed back into her stupor. The nurse and I exchanged bewildered looks, then her professionalism took over and she lifted Mrs. Richards up and walked her to bed. Over her shoulder the nurse said to me, "I think you had better leave now, sir." With an edge of anger: "I hope you got the story you were looking for." I started to explain that I was not the reporter she obviously thought me to be, but saw no use in it. Quietly I left the room.
In the parking lot, gazing up at Sue Richards' room while I sat in my car, I went over the entire incident again and again in my mind. It did not make sense. It simply did not make sense. Why would she want to have her bady killed? Why would she say that she should have killed it? She had saved the baby's life. Why would she now wish it dead? Perhaps she blamed all of the horror she experienced upon the baby, confusing things in her now disordered mind. Perhaps, no, that seemed absurd, yet perhaps, in her present state, she was aware of things she had never been aware of before. Perhaps, as my friend might have explained it, she was trapped between two states or levels of consciousness and she was now constantly aware of certain realities obvious upon some inner level of consciousness that are not obvious upon the physical level?
But what was it that those staring, catatonic eyes saw?
What realization was it that haunted the woman - the mother of the baby?
A cold chill ran up my spine.
I turned the key in the ignition, put the car in gear, and pulled out of the parking lot. I still had to meet Mr. Richards - and the baby - but before that I had an uncontrollable urge to see my son. Perhaps, I thought for no apparent reason, for the last time ...
Janet, who had put on quite a lot of weight since our divorce and her two subsequent marriages, seemed quite glad to let me have Shawn for a few hours. I imagined she had a few things to do, other than what she said she had to do, and so I took my son out for hamburgers, fries and milkshakes. We talked about all kinds of things. You know how kids' thoughts leap from one thing to another. And as usual, I worried some over the fact that he spent too much time with his mother and not enough with me. I thought about what it would be like when he is older. I wondered how life might change if I could be around when he became a teenager. That thought struck me cold. Why shouldn't I be around then? I asked myself.
After a few hours or so I took Shawn home - to his mother's home, not our original house which I still lived in - and as I sat in my car looking at the house, I was surprised to find a tear coursing down my cheek. Now what in the hell was I crying for? What the hell was getting into me?
Again I found myself sitting silently in my car. I pulled over to the curb of Wechselbaig Avenue and although very much desiring to meet Mr. Richards, I was also reluctant to do so. Apprehensive. Frightened?
I thought it odd that he would still live in the house which Jack Ross had invaded, but then again, why not? There was minimal fire damage and probably he simply saw no reason to move again, as he had after the first baby was murdered by Fergeson.
As I sat there I noticed a darkly dressed woman pull into the driveway, driving a station wagon. Girlfriend? No. She was an older woman, a housekeeper of some sort, I gathered. Her arms were full of groceries. She let herself into the house after which I heard some yelling. It was the woman. She was actually berating Mr. Richards, her employer. Something about being "a drunken bum", sitting around drinking himself to death. Did he ever see to the baby's needs? Did he ever once check on the baby? I heard nothing from him.
This, I thought, was going to be worse than I had imagined.
With a heavy sigh, I got out of my car and approached the house. I didn't have a story prepared. Thought I may as well go with the truth and see where that took me. My finger depressed the door buzzer and I had a strong impulse to turn and run from the simple little ordinary looking house. Then the housekeeper opened the door.
She was a stern woman with a stiff manner. Her hair was iron grey and she stood tall and straight, slender and hard looking.
"Hello." I put on a smile and tried to project friendliness. Her stern expression did not alter in the least. "My name is Denny Morgan. I would like very much to speak with Mr. John Richards."
"Are you a reporter?" I began to answer in the negative but she interrupted me by shrugging her shoulders, turning away from me, and saying, "It doesn't matter. Come in, Mr. Morgan. You'll find the drunken slob in the kitchen drowning himself in liquor."
"Thank you," I replied, but she had already gone out of sight and presumably to the baby's room.
I stepped into the house and closed the door behind me.
I found my way to the kitchen and there indeed was John Richards. According to Ross' story and the newspaper articles, he was an official with City Planning who had once had political ambitions. All I saw was a filthy, unshaven drunk sitting at a table upon which stood dirty glasses and bottles of alcohol, mostly empty. The array of bottles was amazing. There were various brands of whiskey, gin, tequila, burbon, even beer bottles displaying the labels of several breweries. It apparently did not seem to matter what he drank so long as it was something that would numb his mind.
Slowly, drunkenly, Richards looked up at me standing in the doorway. His skull apparently too heavy to lift entirely, he looked at me with half-closed eyes, his head shaking slightly from side to side as he tried to hold it up.
"My name is Denny Morgan."
"Yeah? Sssso ... do I know you?"
"No, Mr. Richards, we've never met before."
"Ohhh," he said with a stupid and somehow unfriendly grin upon his face as he sat back in his chair, "are you a reporter then?"
"No. I'm not a reporter."
"Not a reporter!" he grunted. "Then why would you be interested in ssseeing me? Can't be from the city. I no longer work for the city, ya know. Got canned. 'Cused me of drinkin' on the job." He chuckled grimly. "'Course I was!"
"I'm not with the city either, Mr. Richards. I work for a gentleman who received a letter from Jack Ross."
"The newssspaper man?" Richards' eyes momentarily opened wide with surprise then the lids fell back down as if they were too heavy to keep up. "He'sss dead ... izent he?"
"Yes. He is dead. However, before he died, Ross wrote a letter and in that letter he told his version of what happened with Tom Fergeson, himself and ..."
Richards looked slyly up at me as I hesitated.
"... And the baby?"
"Yes. And the baby. Your baby."
"No ... no, no, no," he shook his head drunkenly, "not my baby. No no no, not my baby. It's her baby. Her'sss. Not mine." Then he looked at me as if trying to pierce my mind with his eyes, momentarily focussing very sharply upon me. "Or your baby, Missster ... missster ..."
Yeah. Right. Missster Morgan."
"Why do you say that? Why do you think it might be my baby?"
Richards fell back into the chair, limply, a stupid grin upon his face.
"'Cause, Missster Morgan, it is your baby. It's everybody's baby." He chuckled rudely. "My fuckin' wife is the whore of the world." He leaned forward on the table, his arms pushing aside bottles, one of which fell over on its side. "Comear." He motioned with his hand. "Comear. Come closer. I don't want it to hear." Reluctantly I moved closer to the man. He stank, not only of stale alcohol, but of urine and feces. More than once he had evacuated his bowels right there where he sat and apparently paid it no mind. His filthy hand, nails badly chewed, reached out and took the front of my jacket to pull me closer to him. Although I wanted to, I did not resist. His breath was even worse than the rest of him. "My son's going to be presssident some day. Did you know that, Missster Morgan? Jess like I hoped, little Jonathan's going to be Presssident of the United Ssstates. Ain't that sssomethin'?"
"You're sure of this?" I asked.
"Sure? Sure as hell sssure!" My stomach turned over and I wanted to escape, but I decided to try and hang in there a little longer. "He's going to be presssident, Mr. Morgan, and then ... then ..." His grin widened and took on a malicious twist.
"And then what, Mr. Richards?"
Suddenly he let me go, fell back into his chair, and looked at me grimly.
"And then, Missster Morgan, he's going to bring peace to the world. Final, lasting peezz."
"How's he going ...?"
"I don't wanna talk no more. Go away. Go away!" Richards swept the bottles and glasses off of the table and they crashed to the floor throwing shattered glass everywhere.
I made for the doorway, then, a thought coming to mind, I turned back to him.
"Mr. Richards, do you know why Fergeson and Ross wanted to kill your babies? Did you read anything like the letter I read written by Jack Ross?"
"Babies?" he said questioningly, then sneered. "You mean the baby! No. I never read nothin' but those fuckin' newspapers." Then he looked up at me and smiled sickeningly, smugly. "But I know why they wanted to kill the baby, Mr. Morgan. I know ... I know ..." He waved his grimy finger. He closed his eyes for a long moment. It was as if he was listening to something that I could not hear. Upon reopening his eyes, Richards said, "Why don't you go and see it, Mr. Morgan? It wants to meet you."
"The baby, Missster Morgan. It's waiting for you. Go ahead! Don't be shy." He looked away from me. "You know you have to."
As much as I wanted to leave that house, leave it far behind, I knew that Richards was right. I had to see the baby.
Not butterflies, but bats, mad, rabid bats seemed to fly about in my stomach, and as I moved closer to the door behind which I knew the baby to be I found it more and more difficult to keep my bile from rising. Slowly I pushed the door open. It was a dark grey, overcast day and something in the room's window was tainting the dull light that came through it a sickening green. I remembered the dream I had and hesitated for a moment. Then I saw the crib ... but it was empty.
"Over here, Mr. Morgan."
It was the housekeeper. She was standing to one side of the room, out of my immediate field of vision. I opened the door wider and saw her bathed in the greenish light and holding the baby.
"Well, Mr. Morgan," her voice was sharp, sarcastic, "isn't this really why you came? Here's what you are looking for. The baby."
Perspiration was running down my face as I stood there, despite the fact that the room seemed bone-chilling cold. The housekeeper turned the baby in her arms so that I could see it's face. She turned it and I saw ... I saw ... a baby.
A cute little one year old baby. Remarkably, there seemed almost no sign whatsoever of damange to its little elfin face.
"Amazing, isn't it, Mr. Morgan?"
"The fire. Amazing how it hardly seemed to harm little Jonathan. Of course there is more noticeable scar tissue on his body, but perhaps that's because he covered his face with his arms." She turned one of his forearms over and there was an obvious layer of scar tissue there.
"Pretty good instincts for a baby," I remarked.
"Yes," the woman smiled grimly, "interesting, isn't it?" She turned, walked over to the crib and laid the baby inside. "So what did you expect," she said with her back to me, then turned to face me, "a monster?"
I stammered. "N ... no. Of course not."
Her expression told me that she thought I was lying, but that it didn't matter whether I lied or not.
"I have to get his bottle, Mr. Morgan. Will you excuse me for a moment?"
I wanted to tell her, plead with her, not to leave, then thought it silly of me - and besides, before I could say anything she was out of the room.
Who was she anyway?
Who had hired her?
I reluctantly turned back to the crib and looked at the baby. Its tiny arms and legs moved about with youthful energy as do the arms and legs of most babies. It looked up at me with its bright gem like blue eyes and smiled, little bubbles forming at the corners of its perfectly normal rosebud mouth. It was a baby. A goddamn baby. Nothing more. What the hell had driven Fergeson and Ross to such horrendous deeds?
I moved closer and gazed down at the baby.
Memories of Shawn when he was only a year old flooded my mind and I felt intensely protective towards the baby. I hated Fergeson and Ross for having tried to kill the baby - or rather, for Ross trying to kill this baby and Fergeson succeeding in the murder of the baby's brother. I tried to separate the two babies in my mind, but for some reason they kept getting confused. I kept thinking of the first baby and this second baby as simply the baby.
"Now why in the world," I said to the baby, "would anyone want to hurt a cute little thing like you?"
Unexpectedly the baby's infant smile vanished. There were subtle shifts in the facial muscles and the eyes seemed to grow cold and hard - very hard. I stared at the baby with surprise, fixated, an icy chill running up and down my spine.
"Because they knew," it said with a voice no normal baby could possess; a voice so inhuman, so demonic, that it made my heart leap in my chest and skip several beats. I could contain myself no longer and I vomited in the crib, on the baby, and as I turned and ran from the room I heard that demonic voice saying: "Mmm. Tasty. Very tasty, Mr. Morgan."
There had been no private planes to charter and the first European jet leaving the country headed in the right direction did not leave for several hours after Soror Jeanne Anubis had called to make reservations. To make matters worse, no direct flight was possible and there had been several long stop-overs, the magician forced to change from one plane to another. Finally, however, he was on the last jet that he would have to take and speeding on his way to the city with the dubious honour of being the birthplace of the baby. His city. His hometown. What an incredible quirk of fate, he thought as he laid back in his seat, his eyes closed. That it should finally manifest itself, after all of these years of waiting for it, expecting it, right there in his own hometown while he was away and out of touch. How bloody ironic.
With a start, the magician opened his eyes, his entire body becoming tense. "Denny!" he hissed.
"Excuse me, sir?" the passing stewardess inquired of him. "Did you want something?"
The man looked up at her, concern etched deeply into his face.
"What time do we land?"
"We'll be a little later than planned, sir, due to the hold up in taking off, and the pilot just told me that the airport is fog bound. Hopefully it will lift some before we attempt a landing.
"When will that be?"
The magician's intensity worried the flight attendant.
"Sometime after midnight, sir."
"October thirty-first," he said more to himself than to anyone else. "Samhain. It's toying with me."
"Pardon me, sir?"
The magician looked back up at the woman.
"Nothing. It doesn't matter. Listen, I know that this really can't make much difference to the pilot with all of his concerns, but could you please tell him that I must get into the city as soon as possible?"
"Yes, sir. I'll tell him that, but I'm sure he is already trying his best, sir." The flight attendant left his side and before moving out of sight she encountered the other stewardess on duty. Quietly they exchanged a few words, the other woman glancing briefly in the magician's direction. He could not hear what they were saying, but he was perfectly able to read the one woman's lips: "What's he going to do if he finds out that we may have to land at another airport?"
G. M. Kelly dropped back into his plush seat and closed his eyes in frustration.
Morgan could hardly see anything. The air was filled with a choking fine black ash. Here and there he glimpsed bits of twisted metal and toppled walls. The heat was unbearable and his clothes were soaking wet. His lips were parched. His eyes sore. His throat painfully constricted.
There was movement ahead. Something alive in the darkness. Something moving just ahead of him. Morgan squinted his eyes as if it would improve his vision, enable him to pierce the dark ash that filled the air. He moved a little closer, calling out to whomever it was who moved just before him. No answer. Not a sound. Not at first. Then he heard it. A tiny gurgling sound. A cute little soft sound. It was a baby. No. It was the baby. He hesitated.
"Why don't you go and see it, Mr. Morgan?" The voice in the darkness startled him. Morgan took a few steps back and turned in its direction. "It wants to meet you." Morgan was horrified to see John Richards sitting there, in the rubble, a broken whiskey bottle in his hand ... its hand. What there was left of the man could hardly have been classified as human. The thing was hardly more than a mummified skeleton, its flesh charred black, dried and clinging tightly to its skeletal frame and deteriorating, shrunken muscles. "It's waiting for you, Missster Morgan. Don't keep it waiting." The thing inclined its skull like head in Morgan's direction. "You know you have to, Mr. Morgan."
Denny Morgan backed away from the horror that could not possibly exist yet nevertheless existed. In the dark, choking air he bumped into something and jerked back away from it in fear.
There sat Sue Richards, or what was left of her, putrid flesh oozing off of her, revealing bleeding muscles and white bone. Slowly, deliberately she turned her staring eyes in his direction and screamed. Morgan stepped backwards and fell. He sat in the filth and rubble gazing up at the thing that was once human, his knuckles stuffed into his mouth to keep himself from screaming.
"It should be dead, Mr. Morgan. It should be dead. I should have killed it. I should have killed that abomination while it was still in my womb. I should have cut it out." The thing produced a large butcher knife from the ragged folds of its garment. "I should have cut it out of my womb!" And the thing that was once Sue Richards thrust the knife into its own abdomen and ripped upward, its putrid, steaming guts spilling out on the ground at the man's feet. Morgan screamed at the horror of it and in the distance he could hear: "Go ahead, Mr. Morgan. It's waiting for you. Go to it. You know you have to."
Morgan jumped to his feet, the horrid caricature of Sue Richards, its intestines hanging out of it, spilling on the filthy ground, and the living remains of John Richards laughing maniacally. He ran from both creatures and dashed blindly into the darkness. Tripping over rubble, Morgan suddenly went down on his face, a jagged piece of metal, jutting up from the ground, tearing through his cheek. At first he did not notice the pain as the wind had been knocked out of him, then the searing, burning sensation filled his entire being and he put his hand up to his cheek and felt the warm sticky blood ooze through his fingers.
"Does it hurt, Mr. Morgan?"
He instantly recognized that horrible demonic voice. It was the baby. He looked up and before him stood the baby. It was charred and horribly twisted, but it was the baby. The eyes proved that. Those brilliant eyes that seemed to be made out of cold fire.
"Should I kiss it and make it all better, Mr. Morgan?"
The man backed away from the baby, unable to rise, too weak from fear to gather enough energy.
"Stay away from me!" Morgan cried out. "Stay away!"
The baby threw its little head back and laughed, laughed insanely, inhumanly. It spread its arms out and made itself more erect. As it did so the baby seemed to grow right before Morgan's eyes. It grew until it stood nearly six feet tall. It had the form of a man now. Once, it seemed, a distinguished man, a cultured man, a man of substance and power. Now, however, it was but the rotting corpse of a man. A living, hideous insult to humanity, its flesh flaking from it, puss oozing from the stinking, blackened flesh through cracks in hard, parched skin.
"Tell me, Mr. Morgan, which way do you like me best?"
"I'd like you dead!" Morgan said.
The thing laughed.
"Of course you would, Mr. Morgan. And I'm sure you will do everything in your power to get what you want." It bent down and waved its skeletal finger at Morgan as if scolding a child. "But that's very naughty of you, Mr. Morgan. Very naughty of you indeed." The thing straightened up. "After all, Mr. Morgan, I'm just a little baby. A defenseless little baby. You wouldn't want to hurt a little baby, would you, Mr. Morgan?"
"I'd like to hack you into little pieces, burn those pieces to a fine powder, and spread that powder to the four corners of the world to be trampled under man's feet."
"Very nicely put, Mr. Morgan!" the thing laughed. "Very nicely put indeed. But of course we know, don't we, that will never happen. We know, don't we, Mr. Morgan, that I will win ... that you will die ... that there can really be no other outcome."
Denny Morgan said nothing. He merely glared up at the thing with pure hate and loathing in his eyes.
As the creature stood before him, a large worm began to work itself out from behind one of its eyes. It plucked the worm out of its skull and popped it into its ulcerated mouth. "Mmm. Tasty. Very tasty, Mr. Morgan." It cocked its head to one side. "Would you like to try some, Mr. Morgan?" and the thing suddenly vomited up all manner of stinking filth on the man.
Morgan awoke screaming, rubbing dreamed vomit that crawled with disgusting living things off of his face. After a while he took notice of his surroundings, his bedroom, and quieted down. For the rest of the night he laid in his bed - but did not sleep.
The baby had to die. But could he kill it? Should he kill it? Perhaps there was a better way. Fergeson and Ross had already tried to kill the baby and failed miserably.
After sunrise, Morgan determined, he would make a long distance call. The Abbey of Thelema did not have telephones, but there was a man in the small village just twenty miles from the abbey who would take emergency messages to his friend. If there was a way to destroy that thing his friend would know what it was.
And if he did not know a way to destory it, if there was nothing he could do, then Morgan was determined to kill the thing himself - any way he could.
"Yes, sir? Can I help you?"
"A car, Miss. I need a car."
The pretty young woman behind the rent-a-car counter smiled charmingly at the dark-haired man with the neatly trimmed beard.
"And what is your destination? Will you be returning the vehicle here or would you prefer to leave it at one of our offices elsewhere?"
He gave his destination to the woman and told her he would be leaving it in that city.
"My! That's going to be a long drive. Have you insurance, sir?"
"Yes, I have bloody insurance! Here!" He tossed his billfold to the lady, the black leather straining to contain the magician's driver's licence, registration, insurance cards, credit cards and much more. "Just hurry, Miss. Please. This is quite literally a matter of life or death."
"Yes, sir. Of course, sir." She became terse. A matter of life or death was no reason not to be charmingly polite.
"Miss," she looked up at the magician and his blue-grey eyes were soft and apologetic, "I'm sorry, but I am in a great hurry and as corny as it sounds, it is a matter of life or death."
Her smile returned.
"I'll hurry things along as quickly as I can, Mr. ..." she gazed down at his driver's licence, "Mr. Kelly."
"Thank you. Thank you very much. I'd appreciate that."
The man turned, leaning his back against the counter. He noticed the clock on the wall and checked his own modest silver tone wrist watch. In five hours it would be midnight. Halloween midnight. He was running out of time. His friend was running out of time.
The world was running out of time ...
Morgan called the villager, but was told that it was no use going to the abbey to give "Master Kelly" a message as he saw him with his very own eyes, as he put it, leaving the country on an airplane. In fact, he went with him to the airport so that he could take care of Kelly's automobile afterwards. No, he had no idea where Kelly was going. He only knew that he was in a hurry and had taken only a small carry on bag with him.
"Damn!" Morgan exclaimed upon returning the telephone receiver to its cradle. "I guess I haven't any choice then."
The telephone rang, scaring Morgan out of his wits. Quickly, hoping it was his friend, his hand shot out and he grabbed the receiver and answered, "Hello?"
"I'm waiting for you, Mr. Morgan." The demonic voice was unmistakable. The man's eyes grew very wide. Perspiration beaded on his forehead and he felt a prickly sensation at the back of his neck. "I'm waiting."
Morgan slammed the receiver down, abruptly hanging up on the baby.
The housekeeper removed the telephone from the baby's face and gently set it back in place. The baby, sitting in its crib, turned its tiny head very purposely, almost mechanically, quite unlike an infant. With its hard malevolent eyes, it looked up at the woman and an evil grin split its face, a grin far too wide for the smile of a baby. The housekeeper smiled back at the infant, and her smile was just as cold and inhuman as the baby's.
"Oh, you are such a sly little baby, aren't you?"
"Yes," the thing agreed, "I am".
Knives. Gasoline. Forget it! Denny put the 12-guage shotgun into its carrying case and briskly walked to his car with it. Sue Richards was not going to be around to stop him as she had stopped Ross. He seriously doubted that John Richards would get in his way, and if he did, Morgan was certain he would be so drunk that he would not pose much of a threat to him.
The housekeeper? He was not sure. He was not sure about her at all. Morgan had checked into who had hired her, from what agency she might have come, and after an exhausting investigation he discovered that she had simply shown up at the Richards' door one day after Ross' death; after Sue Richards had been institutionalized. Who was she? Where did she come from? Why did she go to the Richards' house? No one seemed to know. No one seemed to care. Apparently she was very protective and took excellent care of the baby, so anyone interested was quickly satisfied.
Except for John Richards, that is. He did not like the woman from the beginning, but he was a beaten man. She easily controlled him. Some people said that half the reason he had let himself go was to disgust the woman, that he could in no other way get back at her for her shabby treatment of him. Others said that while this was probably true, they had heard the housekeeper scolding Richards frequently and then soon after, stepping out the back door to deposit the garbage, smiling and singing to herself. These people suspected that the housekeeper, whoever she was, rather enjoyed watching John Richards deteriorate, drink himself to death, and sit about in his own filth.
The housekeeper might be a problem, Morgan thought, but the shotgun had two barrels and he had plenty of shells in his coat pocket.
There was an explosive sound and Kelly nearly lost control of the car. He struggled with the wheel and finally brought the rented Ford to a stop, just grazing the guardrails with the passenger side of the automobile.
"Damn it!" he cursed, getting out of the Ford to see the blow out. "Bloody damn it!"
Checking the trunk he was relieved to discover that at least the rent-a-car company had enough foresight to provide him with a jack and a good spare. However, changing the tire would take time ...
... and he was running out of time ... fast!
"Hey! Hey, you sour faced bitch! Where the hell are you? Taking care of precious again? Isss that where you are?" John Richards came out of the kitchen holding a half empty whiskey bottle by the neck. He tripped and fell. "Fuck! Fucking goddamn sonuvabitch'n floor!" He got back up on his feet and clung to the wall as if it were the railing of a storm-tossed ship. "Hey, you graveyard cheerleader! Where the fuck are you? Why the fuck did you cut the goddamn 'phone lines? I gotta order more booze. Hey! Hey! I'm talkin' to you, you ssstinkin' old ssscum bag!"
John Richards held onto the door jamb and slowly pushed the nursery door open.
"Well hi there, little Jonathan ... my dear little son." Richards' voice hardened. "You miserable little bastard you."
The baby only sat in the crib staring at the man, its blue eyes hard and sinister.
"Whassamatter? Cat got your tongue? I've heard you talk before. Lovely voice for a baby. I've even heard you talkin' in my head. Yesss ... I have ... you know I have. So how come you won't talk to your daddy, you evil little bastard?"
"Go to hell, daddy," the thing said.
"Why you ...!"
Without warning, the housekeeper, growling like an angry lioness protecting her cub, grabbed the man from behind and dragged him out of the nursery. Richards was slammed against the far wall and dazed.
"Stay away from him!" she screamed, collecting the front of his shirt in her two claw like hands and repeatedly slamming his back and the back of his head against the wall with a strength that hardly seemed appropriate for a woman, especially one of her apparent age. "You stay away from him or I will kill you," she shrieked, her face nearly touching his, spittle flying as she spoke.
Richards was too dazed to reply and when she released him he slumped to the floor.
The housekeeper took a hold of the man's wrists, her grip like steel vices that caused the man to yelp in pain, and she dragged him back to the kitchen as if he weighed no more than a doll. There she left him laying, stunned and in pain, on the floor. Immediately, she returned to the baby.
"Is he on his way?"
"Yes," the baby answered.
"And the other one?"
"Are you sure you want to do this?" the housekeeper asked.
"But this time ..."
"This time I have you," the demonic voice replied, "and I'm sure you can take care of Mr. Morgan."
"But the other one ...?"
"The magician?" The baby's face was twisted by an inhuman grin. "I must deal with him. He's the only thing standing between me and my destiny. The only person who can possibly interfer with my plans."
"He knows what you are," the housekeeper said, obviously concerned. "He understand your nature."
"And I his."
The drive to Wechselbaig Avenue was a wild one and more than once Denny Morgan nearly wrecked his classic Impala. Eventually he brought the car to a screeching halt nearly two feet away from the curb. He shot out of the vehicle, neglecting to close the door of his mechanical pride and joy after removing the shotgun from its case and covering the distance from the street to the Richards' house in great hurried strides. It was dark and he did not care who saw him. Before anyone could do anything it was his plan to have it all over with, to make certain that the accursed baby was quite dead.
Long distance telephone calls had been made, cablegrams and telegrams had been sent out to numerous places all over the world, and at the very same time, in practically every major city and town on the planet, the very same thing was taking place. Men and women, of all ages, all walks of life, dressed in hoodless white robes, entered a room, a temple. Within the vermillion circle of art inscribed with sacred names of emerald green which seemed alive and writhing - names such as Hadit, Nuit, Ra-Hoor-Khuit and Therion - the people stood, taking one another's hand. In the centre of each circle there was a Tau cross composed of ten squares, each a different colour of the sephira of the qabalistic Tree of Life, and in the centre of each cross, the very centre of the circle itself, a double-cubed alter stood, a lamp suspeneded from the ceiling above it. Each room was lit only by this lamp and the seven candles placed around the outside of each circle - seven green candles in holders the shape of seven-pointed stars.
The men and women concentrated upon the ever-burning lamp, the eternal light, their heads raised, and they began their repetitive chant within the consecrated circle of art. At first the chant was barely audible, a slow, low drone that went on with a vibratory quality that was felt in the body of each person who participated in this worldwide ritual.
"Amor e a lei, amor sob vontade."
"Amore e' la legge, amore sottomesso ala volonta'."
"Liebe ist das gesetz, liebe unter willen."
"Amor es la ley, amor sometido a la voluntad."
Liefde is de wet, liefde volgens wil."
All over the world, in hidden temples, modest and magnificent, at exactly the same time, Thelemites stood within their magick circles and ceaselessly uttered the chant that gradually picked up in speed and volume. As it continued, the words blended and became more of a musical tone than a string of words. And with each cycle the power increased until it could be felt by everyone as an electrical charge not only within their very bodies, but filling the air around them. Each and every Thelemic temple became a storehouse of energy, a battery whose charge was growing with a geometric progression.
Every temple was filled with it. A sweet scent seemed to permeate the air surrounding the ritualists, and yet no incense burned in any of the sanctuaries. A gentle breeze wafted through the inner sanctum at each location, but every window and every door was secured and tight. The robed men and women all around the world continued their chant and as they chanted they felt lighter, as if gravity itself would soon be defied, and indeed their bare feet did exert less and less pressure on the floor as they uttered their mantra.
All over the world, upon every continent, in every major city and various small towns, villages and hamlets, men and women, robed in white, robed in Light, had gathered together within their circles of art to join hands, join forces, to focus upon one goal, their eyes focused upon the Eternal Light.
And at the Abbey of Thelema, in a circle, Frater Paulos stood with Jeanne Anubis on one side of him and Arwen Fae on the other, their hands clasped, concentrating upon the flame of the lamp suspended above the altar, giving voice to the mantra which not only set the standard for the Law of Thelema, but defined the means by which that Law might literally save the world.
At exactly the same time, hundreds of people came together, of all races, of every possible temperment. They came together in love, for the sake of love, to fearlessly and without condition give love to the world around them by directing it through one man.
The tire changed, Kelly was on his way again, yet just within the city limits the automobile bucked. There was a sputtering, a backfire, and suddenly the engine died.
The magician felt the presence of the baby.
Then there was another presence. A strong, very human presence - and a sweet scent filled the interior of the late model Ford. Suddenly the engine sputtered once more and came back to life. The magician smiled, putting his foot down on the accelerator.
"You never let me down, Frater Paulos," he uttered aloud as he drove on.
"What's wrong?" The housekeeper, the baby's guardian, noticed the expression on the thing's face change.
"I don't know," it hissed. "There's something going on that I don't understand. Something interferring."
"It's the damn magician!" the woman spat.
"The other one's here," the baby whispered. The woman moved quickly, taking up the position she had earlier planned upon. With a crash, the front door was kicked in. Morgan quickly entered the house, the shotgut in his hand. He checked the kitchen and saw Richards therein, on the floor, his head moving slowly from side to side, eyes closed. He would be no problem. Immediately, Morgan made for the baby's room. Fergeson had hesitated. Ross had hesitated. And both men were now dead - but the baby still lived. He was determined not to make the same mistake.
With his foot, Morgan kicked in the nursery door. He saw the baby standing up in the crib and glaring at him, making no effort to deceive him.
"I've been waiting for you," it said.
Morgan pulled back the hammers, touched the triggers, but before he could squeeze, the baby's guardian, screaming like a banshee, seemed to come out of nowhere. Morgan turned in her direction and automatically squeezed both triggers. There was a double blast that pummelled his eardrums. It roared in the small room and half of the woman's face and head were blown away, blown into bloody fragments.
Still she came on screaming!
Her hands locked around Morgan's throat. Long, sharp fingernails dug into his flesh, drawing blood. Shocked, Morgan let the shotgun fall to the floor instead of using it as a weapon. Desperately, half mad with shock and fear, he reached for her thin wrists and tried to pry free her hands from his throat, but it was like trying to remove securely anchored steel cables.
Half of her head blown away, blood pouring down her side, running down her arms and onto Morgan, her brain shattered and spilling out over the destroyed cranium, the woman still clung to life, screaming, choking the life out of the man.
Morgan could not think. He was sinking fast. He was blacking out. Any moment he would be unconscious, and with her last reserves of insane strength, the baby's guardian would strangle the magician's assistant to death.
"You filthy devil's bitch!"
Morgan heard the slurred words just before the pressure on his throat let up. He fell to the floor in a stupor, only vaguely aware of what was going on around him. It was John Richards. He had regained some presence of mind and finding the housekeeper at Morgan's throat he grabbed her from behind and pulled the woman off of him. Weakly, Morgan watched as they struggled in the far corner of the room, then he turned his attention to the baby as it stood in its crib watching on. Despite the infant body and face, there was nothing sweet, nothing innocent, nothing human about the expression on the baby's face. It was enjoying the spectacle, the bloodshed, the violence, the madness. It was thriving on it. Then with a very purposeful attitude, the baby turned to look down at Morgan, still sprawled on the floor.
"Are you going to just sit there?" the thing asked. "I had rather expected more of you, Mr. Morgan. Don't you know that I want you angry? That I want you to come after me? Are you going to disappoint me and just sit there? I need your power, Mr. Morgan. I crave your sacrifice." The baby looked heavenward for a moment in mock disappointment. "How disappointing. How very disappointing. But at least they are putting on a good show, don't you think?" The baby gestured to the struggling mad woman who by all rights should be dead and the drunk that had sired it. "Delightful. Positively delightful! And the shotgun blast was a very nice touch, Mr. Morgan. I really must commend you for that. Very nice indeed ... and soooo tasty, don't you think?"
Morgan was stunned, bewildered, shocked. Everything simply went crazy and he had completely lost control, could not even regain his feet when he tried. He glanced at the floor a few feet away form him and there was the 12-guage. In his pocket were the spare shells.
The baby followed the man's eyes.
"Very good, Mr. Morgan. You remembered the gun. How intelligent of you. Better hurry, though. By now I'm sure the neighbours have called the police. Don't waste any more time. Hurry up, Mr. Morgan!"
Denny reached for the gun, felt suddenly dizzy and fell on his face. With little strength, he reached out, his fingertips just barely touching the wooden stock. Painfully he drew the shotgun closer to him. He was only vaguely aware of the thud as Richards' head was slammed against the floor. He hardly noticed the groan that escaped Richards' throat and the silence that followed. His hand grasped the 12-guage in a firm grip and he began to draw it towards him, then suddenly the gun would not budge.
Morgan raised his eyes and there stood the baby's guardian, her foot resting firmly on the weapon, a lunatic grin stretched across what was left of her face, her one good eye glaring insanely at him. Incredibly she was still alive. It was crazy. Impossible!
"My servants are very loyal, Mr. Morgan. Very loyal and very strong."
Denny gazed up at the baby. Weakly, fighting to maintain consciousness, he asked, "What are you?"
"What am I, Mr. Morgan? Why, I thought you knew. You and your kind have waited for me, yearned for me for a very long time. You once thought that Napoleon was me, that Adolph Hitler was me, but you were wrong. They were my children. They were my brothers. They were of me, as were others, but I am the true Antichrist, Mr. Morgan, the real Beast."
"You are a lie! You may be a man-made prophesy come true, the realization of their cherished fears, but you are not that which you claim to be!"
"Interpretations," the thing shrugged, "what does it matter? It's the beginning of the end, Mr. Morgan - the end of the world - and there is nothing, no one who can stop it."
All heads suddenly turned in the direction of the door. There stood a tall, slender, wide-shouldered man with dark hair and a closely trimmed beard. There stood the magician, Denny Morgan's friend, G. M. Kelly.
The woman screamed and ran for him, clawed hands outstretched. The magician raised his right hand, palm outward, and although he did not touch the harridan she was knocked off her feet and clear across the room to slam so hard against the far wall that she cracked the plaster. The housekeeper, the baby's guardian, looked up one last time, first at the magician and then beseechingly at the baby. After a few seconds, the light went out of her eyes, they glazed over, and the woman's head dropped to her chest, her brain sloshing forward, threatening to fall into her lap.
"Damn you!" the baby screamed. "Damn you!"
The magician stood his ground, apparently unruffled.
"How dare you kill an agent of the Antichrist!"
"You are a lie. You are not the Antichrist - the Beast. You are a lie composed of all the world's lies, the hate and fear, pride, envy and jealousy. You are nothing but the murderous and insane thoughts that men and women entertain, that they fixate upon. You are the ignorance," the magician continued, "of a society which fails to understand the true nature of the Antichrist, the Christlike One, the Beast whose number is the number of mankind, not the devil or anything of the kind. The number of man. You are the prejudice and bigotry, avarice and selfishness." The magician looked sadly at the thing before him that had trapped itself in an infant's body. "You are nothing but the worst of humankind that has been cast off for thousands of years. Æons. A mere collection of human waste."
"I shall show you what I am, magician! I shall show you!"
"In that body! Whatever power you have, it is barely enough to make that infant body speak as it does. You have some influence over the minds of those around you, it is true, but you have no influence over me."
Somewhere in the house a clock chimed twelve times. Midnight.
"Haven't I, magician? Have I no power over your mind ... Master Keallach?" The baby leaned over the wooden bars of the crib and grinned insanely. "Trick or treat!"
The nursery evaporated around the magician and the baby, and Kelly found himself in a dark place, filled with rubble. The air was thick with choking black dust and ash. Twisted metal and fallen walls were all around him. On the ground, in the filth at his feet, his friend Denny Morgan lay, barely conscious. The corpse of the baby's guardian was in relatively the same position it had been in the nursery, and he could see the unconscious form of John Richards some distance off.
"Have I no power over you?"
The baby stood before the magician and as it spoke, its size and bulk increased until it assumed its future form as a man, but horribly mutilated by intense heat and radiation.
"And look over there, Master Keallach." The thing pointed to the left and the darkness took on an illumination. Kelly could see a window, a third floor window in an institution. In that window he saw a woman, a haggered woman simply staring out of the window.
"Watch, magician. Watch and see what kind of power I can wield in whatever physical form I assume."
The woman rose from her chair and began climbing out the window with the obvious intention of jumping.
"No!" the magician cried out. And then, in a deep, resonant voice that seemed to reverberate in the air around them, startling the thing before him, the magician cried, "Stop her! She's going to jump!" The thing looked first at the magician in shocked surprise, then back towards the illuminated vision and it could see a door opening in the room, a nurse rushing to the woman and pulling her from the window, preventing her, preventing Susan Richards, from jumping to her death."
"Damn it! Damn you!" the thing cursed, turning his attention once more to the magician. "Fuck her then! Who cares! She's hopelessly mad anyway. Her life is ruined."
"She's trapped between two planes of being. I can bring her back," the magician said with confidence.
The thing glared at the man before him.
"That doesn't matter either," it hissed, "because now I am going to destroy you, magician. That's what I wanted all along. You, Master Keallach!"
Wanting to ask if the thing was going to talk him to death, the man held his tongue and said nothing. His stance was relaxed. His expression calm.
"Well, magician! Have you nothing to say? Look at me. Look at me! Don't you find me repulsive? Do I not turn your stomach? Think about it, man, am I not a thing to loathe, to hate, with all of your heart!"
Kelly said nothing.
"Don't you hunger for my death, mortal! Are you not filled with the desire to kill and destroy!" it roared.
"No," Frater Keallach answered simply, calmly.
"I will kill you," the thing said through gritted teeth, brittle teeth that split and broke. "I will place my rotting hands about your mortal neck and squeeze until blood pours from your eyes, your ears, your mouth!"
The image the baby called up filled Kelly's mind, but he thrust it from him.
"With that body?" Kelly replied with amusement.
"This body is strong enough to do the job," the thing hissed.
"It is an illusion ... a rotting, weak illusion. On this level of consciousness it is no better, no stronger than your physical body, your infant form upon the material level ... the weak, defenseless mortal body you stupidly imprisoned yourself in."
"You are incredibly stupid," the magician declared, "partly composed out of human stupidity. You sought mortal incarnation to invade our world, and in doing so you condemned yourself to a prison of flesh that cannot possibly mature and grow in strength over night. You sought to invade and destroy the physical world from the physical plane, and that was a grave error." The magician chuckled. "You were already in a better position to destroy the world before you sought physical incarnation! You were destroying the world before you took possession of the human fetus!" The thing was bewildered. "When you sought physical incarnation, you made yourself vulnerable, accessable, and now I can do what I must do. Before ... before, I could not touch you. I could not hold you. You were ... phantasmal ... everywhere, but out of my reach." The master magician shook his head. "You stupid, stupid, poor stupid creature."
The thing threw its head back and roared so loud that the very ground seemed to shake. It threw its clawed, decaying hands up to the sides of its head, its splitting, pain-filled head, and screamed, howled in agony because it realized that the magician was right.
Abruptly, the thing fell silent. With a gleam in its icy blue eyes it looked at the magician.
"Then kill me, why don't you? Take my physical body, this form, this illusion, and crush it in your arms. You know that beneath this mirage I am encased, trapped in an infant, mortal form. Destroy me if you want. Vent your full anger, your hatred, your vengeance on me and crush me in your arms, magician!"
Kelly moved forward.
"I will take you into my arms," and the magician embraced the living corpse. "I will hold you close to my heart," at first the look in the thing's eyes was triumphant, then that look changed as it began to perceive a sweet scent in the ash-choked air, a kind of musical chant barely audible filling the atmosphere around it. "I will embrace you, my brother, my child," its expression grew fearful and it began to struggle, uselessly, in the magician's embrace, "but I will not crush you. I will hold you tightly," the magician vowed, "and I will love you, for above all creatures on earth you most of all need that love which is the antithesis of your being. I do not wish to harm you. I wish only to love you. To give freely of myself in pure brotherhood, for after all, I am as much your parent as anyone else on earth. For a time I too hated and feared. Being my child," the man crooned, "how could I feel anything but love for you?"
The thing howled in the magician's embrace. It struggled, but in vain, for its strength was only that of a mortal baby and the magician was a full grown man with a mature human body of great strength. So great was the magician's strength, his inner strength more so than his physical strength, that he held the thing firmly but carefully so as not to harm it, as one might pick up a butterfly in ones hand.
"Leave me alone! Let me go!" The thing howled and its howl shattered brick walls. Twisted girders began to melt away. The very ash filled air began to dissolve and in moments they were back upon the physical plane of consciousness, in the nursery, and within the magician's arms was the baby - soft, pink and defenseless. Gently, yet firmly, the man held the baby, lovingly cradling it in his arms, then suddenly it went limp. Its tiny head rolled to one side and the bright blue eyes looked up and into the magician's eyes.
"I was a fool," the baby said, its demonic voice very weak. "I tried to be the horror that men feared throughout the centuries. I attempted to fulfill mankind's worst nightmares. I took a child's form to do it and I drew you to me, magician, little realizing that you are the child of that which I sought to imitate, that which humanity fears out of ignorance, which I in my ignorance, my inheritance from mankind, misunderstood. What now, magician? What now?"
"Now humanity can start over again. The slate is wiped clean after all of these centuries. It can begin again, and perhaps this time there will be little from which something like you can be drawn."
"Why did you not sacrifice yourself?" it asked in limp bewilderment.
The magician shook his head sadly.
"The human ignorance you inherited again. How could I save anything if I sacrificed myself? That was never the best way to accomplish anything. Martyrdom is the last act of a fool. The longer one lives, the more on can accomplish in the world."
"I hate you, mortal," the baby said, its hideous voice barely audible.
"I know," Kelly replied sadly. "You can do nothing else, and that was your doom."
The bright blue eyes dulled, a glaze slipped over them, then the baby's head fell limp to one side and its tiny infant heart stopped beating.
"Is it ... is it ... ?"
The magician did not look to his friend who had asked the question.
"Yes. It's ... dead."
Only after the baby breathed its last breath did the men hear the sirens that had been approaching the house for some time now. In the corner of the room John Richards groaned and tried to sit up. Police, revolvers levelled at the tall man holding the corpse of the baby, poured into the room and commanded the magician to put the baby down.
"It's all right, officers. It's all right. I'm the father. He didn't hurt the baby." The policemen looked bewildered. Glancing around at the dishevelled room, their eyes came upon the corpse of the housekeeper. John Richards noticed that and lied. "It was her, officers. She killed my baby and these two men tried to prevent it." Denny Morgan was bewildered. Kelly suppressed a smile. Quick thinking, Mr. Richards. Quick thinking indeed.
A young officer gently took the baby's lifeless body from the magician's arms.
"But he's ..."
"Dead," said Richards. "Yes. I know. We were too late."
"I'm sorry, sir," the officer in charge replied. "I know about the difficulties you have had in the past." Richards said nothing. The policeman looked about, grimmaced at the sight of the corpse, looked sadly at the body of the infant, then back to the three men who were now standing together, Morgan and Richards supporting one another. "I will, of course, need to take statements from each of you."
"We understand," answered Kelly, "but there really isn't much to tell."
"I tried to stop the woman from killing my baby," Richards said.
"But was knocked unconscious," Morgan continued, "and that's when I came in, having investigated this woman's past, I feared that something like this might happen. I had no idea that she had already smothered the child when I shot her in the course of a struggle."
"And I was really too late to do anything," the magician offered, a twinkle in his eyes.
"Yeah, well ..." the officer began.
"Sir!" the police officer holding the body of the baby cried out.
All eyes turned towards him, fear showing on Richards' and Morgan's faces.
"I think I'm going to be sick." The three men breathed a collective sigh of relief and the officer in charge ordered another cop to take the tiny body and cover it in the crib until the ambulance arrived.
The three men stepped outside into the fresh air while the police busied themselves inside. Kelly took a deep breath and gazed up at the stars twinkling in the night sky.
"Do you think they believed us?" Morgan asked.
"They believed us," Kelly replied. "Mr. Richards here did some very quick thinking."
"They had to believe me," Richards remarked. "They would never believe the truth!"
Morgan and Kelly looked at John Richards.
"Do you think," he asked the two men, "that it's all over? Can it happen again?"
"It can happen again," Kelly calmly responded, much to the horror of the other two men. "Perhaps. In another five million years." And the magician smiled, returning his gaze to the stars above.
In the distance, somewhere in the neighbourhood, disturbed by the gunshot and sirens, a baby cried. A very lovely, very human baby.