The Slicer of Souls

Christina held her breath. The noise she had heard was not her imagination. It was real, as real as her trembling hands or the stark look of fear on her little brother's face.

Her mind raced with thoughts of the terrible punishments her parents would no doubt bestow upon her for taking Jordy along on her little adventure. She really didn't want to but when she heard that Luke Dixon was going to be at the house her brain kind of short-circuited and she couldn't think straight. All she wanted was to be there with Luke. And she didn't even care where there was. As long as Luke was around that was all that mattered to her...even if it was in the infamous Melvindale House.

Ferris Melvindale had built the gaudy structure, an odd mixture of different styles, most notably Victorian, way back in the early 20th Century. He was a lumber magnate who had amassed his fortune on the backs of honest men. Rumor had it at the time that the house was indestructible, impervious to the elements, even fire. Melvindale himself boasted of its strength, saying that it would take the Devil Himself to bring it down. He would hire and fire contractors at an alarming rate, claiming that he alone would know all the secrets the house held. His arrogance and eccentricities got the better of him eventually and someone attacked him late one night while he was roaming his property, killing him by slashing his throat from ear to ear. His body was found the next day when yet another group of contractors reported for work.

And so the house remained, nearly finished but empty.

Years passed and the house still stood, a hulking testament to one man's obsession with his own power and ego. No one lived there, no one wanted to; it was a looming derelict from a

bygone era, a time that was stained by the man who built it.

Christine felt her heart flutter in her chest when her and Jordy first caught sight of the house. She had only seen it a few times before (she usually avoided the area altogether), so to actually be walking toward it made her question her own sanity.

But on the other hand, the small group waiting for them near the winding gravel pathway that led to the weed-strewn driveway of the house included Luke Dixon.

His sandy blond hair wavered in the evening breeze.

Christine absentmindedly straightened her flowered sundress (a poor choice for an outfit given the nature of the expedition, but a cute one that she hoped Luke might notice), and brushed aside the hair from her face. She was nervous. The boy she had a huge crush on was standing not more than 50 feet away from her, with the Melvindale House looming behind him. And on top of that, she had her little brother tagging along.

She sighed. How did she get herself into these situations?

Her thoughts drifted back to the sirens they had heard when her and Jordy first left their house. A white and red paramedic truck, along with a pair of patrol cars, blue, white, and red lights flashing from their roofs, raced by them in the opposite direction.

At the time she thought nothing of it, but now in retrospect it somehow pushed its way to the forefront of her mind.

Was it someone she knew?

Standing next to Luke was his friend Jake Auther, a spindly twerp who had eyes for her, and his sister Janet, who Christine knew liked Luke as much as she did; she stood so close to him they were practically touching. Each held a small flashlight, the thin yellow beams of light roaming the surrounding area with every movement they made.

"Glad you guys could make it," Luke called out as Christine and Jordy approached.

Christine wanted to answer but her nervousness, coupled with Janet glued to Luke's side, made her tongue stick to the roof of her mouth.

Jordy nudged his way past his sister. He was anxious to start the adventure. "Yeah, we're here," he said. He looked past the group. "So when do we get to go inside the place?" He could just make out the looming outline of the house on the horizon. "I've heard about the Melvindale House for years and now I'm finally going to go inside!"

Christine pulled her brother back a step. "Easy there, Jordy. This could be dangerous. Mom and Dad would kill me if they knew where we were going."

Luke dislodged himself from Janet's side. "All right then, ladies and gentlemen, let's get going."

The house stood on a small sloping hill, alone in its culmination of styles. Victorian, Gothic revival, Neoclassical, Colonial, all variations were displayed in one degree or another in a loosely- connected montage. There was elaborate spindlework, a steeply-pitched slate shingle roof, turrets, deep- bracketed eaves, and even high arched windows that gave the house an organic touch, as if it possessed eyes.

"Why did we have to come here at night?" Jake asked. His small stature afflicted him with a sharp inferiority complex, a trait that was magnified by a general sense of fear of his surroundings.

"Because, Luke answered quietly, trying not to upset his friend any further. "No one will notice us."

"But there's nobody around. There never is. Everyone stays away from the Melvindale

House."

"I know, I know, but it's just to play it safe. Don't worry so much."

The group approached the house. Luke led the way with Jake and Janet close behind. Jordy and Christine trailed the dozen feet behind them.

"So, Luke," Janet said as they stepped onto the weed-choked driveway, "exactly why are we here?" She knew why she had tagged along: to be close to Luke, but the others? She had no idea.

She twirled her poker-straight black hair between her fingers.

"They say the house was built with blood," Luke replied. He took the first step to the porch gently, testing his weight on the warped plank. "Melvindale hired new contractors all the time, but back then apparently no one noticed what happened to some of the old ones. They were skilled drifters with no family. Loners, men who left no trails in their life. They would have been perfect victims for his plans.

"What plans?" Jake interjected. He found himself standing in the middle of the driveway, tall tufts of brown grass and weeds brushing against his legs from the chilly breeze.

"Something about the house transforming into a kind of throne, a seat of power, if you will."

Janet felt the breath freeze in her chest. "A throne?" she managed to force out. "For what?" Luke took another step, stopping at the edge of the rickety porch. He turned to face his companions. "I'm not sure exactly. Every time I tried to research the subject, the websites crashed. Every single time. First the page would fade, and then simply disappear, like someone using an eraser."

"That's ridiculous," Christine chimed in. She had made her way up to the base step of the porch. "Maybe your computer had a virus."

Luke glared down at her, at this pretty girl he hardly noticed before, and forced a smile. "No,"

he said confidently. "I had it checked out over at Rocky's Computers. There was nothing wrong

with it. And furthermore, I could go on any other site without problems."

"It's almost like Melvindale himself was..." Jordy said

"Erasing anything that would expose his plans," Luke finished.

"That's impossible," Christine said and stomped up the steps past the Luke. She strutted to the front door, and without hesitation, turned the heavily tarnished brass knob. If nothing else, she would show Luke how brave she was. Maybe then he would notice her.

The door was solid oak with brass inlays that were fashioned in the shape of writhing forms resembling people in agony. It stood before her as if it were a living thing.

With a trembling hand she reached forward and twisted handle.

"It's probably locked," Jake said from his relatively safe vantage point on the driveway. "There's no way it'll be..."

The door latch slid into its seat in the side of the door, clicking into place with all the smooth movement of a new mechanism.

Christine stood there, her face pinched into a mixture of fear and confusion that marred her pretty features.

"Good," Luke suddenly announced, coming up behind Christine, "now we're getting somewhere."

The group entered the house, Luke in the lead, Jake at the back. Christine, Jordy, and Janet between them. Each trembled, some with nervousness, others with anxious excitement, but all were unsure to one degree or another of what they were doing.

The foyer was a small expanse that was lit only by the sparse light of the group's flashlights. The floor was an aged mosaic of black and gold rock crystal, churning in every direction to create

an attractive montage of abstract art. A delicate layer of dust diluted its effect, however.

Luke didn't wait, seemingly oblivious to the surprising d├ęcor of the room. He strutted forward, the beam of his flashlight dancing around in front of him. "Come on, people," he said with authority. "We're not getting any younger."

The others dutifully followed, although Jake moved so slowly he lagged behind the group in no time.

"Melvindale definitely had a talent for design," Janet said. She was glancing around with a mixture of awe and nervousness.

The foyer opened up into a cavernous room, the ceiling towering twenty feet above their heads and adorned with a swirling collage of dancing figures and prancing animals, all richly colored by the hand of an anonymous and obviously talented artist. The walls were lined with thick, Romanesque columns, one every ten feet or so, and terminated in stunted recesses set in the ceiling at corresponding intervals. And between the columns were built-in shelves that apparently used to be full of numerous volumes. Now however, they only housed defunct cobwebs long since abandoned by their arachnid creators.

Christine found herself staring at the silhouette of Luke as he ventured farther into the house. Her gaze occasionally wandered to the surrounding fixtures or the layout of the room, but drifted back to the object of her desire.

"You really like him, don't you?" Jordy asked from behind her.

Christine nodded. "Yes, I do, but I don't think he knows I exist." Something caught her eye then. She swung her light over, resting the beam on it. "What is that?"

A patch of wall, no bigger than a man's fist, contrasted sharply with the surrounding wall, so much so that it managed to catch her attention.

Red. A bright red splotch layered on the plaster between bookshelves that reflected the light

like something which literally screamed danger: blood.

"Oh my God," Christine breathed. "Is that what it looks like? Is that what I think it is?"

Jordy followed his sister's gaze, but before he could respond, Luke interjected: "It is. It is blood."

Janet gasped. Jake fumbled for words.

Christine stared.

"That's right, people," Luke continued as he slowly made his way toward the area in question. "It's blood. Melvindale used it to mix his mortar. He used the bodies of his victims to build the house." He craned his head back and then from side to side, the beam from his flashlight dancing on the walls, ceiling, and floor.

A short pause followed, magnifying the group's breathing in the suddenly claustrophobic interior of the house.

"No, no he didn't," Jake finally said, breaking the uneasy silence. "How could he have gotten away with that? Someone would have reported him. He would have been locked away."

"He was rich and powerful," Luke retorted. "So much so that people looked the other way. Plus, as I said before, the contractors he hired were loners, people who wouldn't be missed, for the most part. They would vanish one after the other and nobody would know anything about it."

Christine glared at Luke as he spoke. The shadows on his face gave him an exaggerated look of mystery, and she couldn't help but feel he was hiding something, not telling them everything he knew.

Luke waited for nearly a minute before he spoke again. He wanted to relish the unease the others were feeling. It gave him a sense of power that was intoxicating.

"There is something, or should I say, someone, else in the story I haven't told you about." He continued, clicking his flashlight off, a crude but effective way to heighten the tension of the situation. "Gia."

"Gia?" Janet and Jake asked in unison.

"Yes, Gia. Gia Melvindale, Ferris's sister. She was an immigrant from Ireland, near Dublin. When Ferris, her younger brother, had made his fortune he sent for her to join him. She accepted, most likely eager to escape the strife in her native land at the time, and arrived on his doorstep just when he had started construction of the house. She played an integral, although behind-the-scenes, if you will, part in the design and building process. She proved invaluable to her brother when dealing with the financial aspects of the home, interjecting her instinctual talents and opinions when needed." He paused, gauging his captive audience's attention. "Some say she also dabbled in the occult and was at least partly responsible for the missing contractors."

The only sound was the heavy heartbeats in the room. None stirred. No one spoke.

Luke, satisfied that his revelation had the desired effect, continued. "They worked together, two peas in a pod, to build the house lacquered with the blood of innocents." He clicked his flashlight back on, letting the beam lazily roam over the decorative trim framing the walls. "Some say that they tortured their victims before killing them to extract their pain.

I suppose it was a way of satisfying the demands of the house, or at least that's what the locals believed."

Christine had heard enough. For years she had wondered about the Melvindale House, as had every other kid in town, but now that she was standing in it, she didn't feel the same interest to uncover its dark secrets. "I'd like to go home now," she said with as much conviction as she could muster. "I don't like this place." She was worried about what Luke would think of her but that

didn't matter. Staying alive long enough to see the sunrise, did.

Janet and Jake ignored her and walked away, their flashlights bobbing up and down as they moved. "Come on," they said simultaneously, "There's a lot of this place still to see."

Luke nodded, his silky hair framing his attractive but unnerving grin.

He motioned for Jordy to follow.

Christine found herself standing in the room, alone with her fears and surrounded by the unsettling knowledge that bits and pieces of Melvindale's workers were most likely scattered nearby. Blood, fingers, bones, skin, who knew what he had incorporated into the structure of the house.

Just the thought of it made her sick to her stomach.

Eventually though, she had to follow the others. She couldn't just stay where she was. Being alone at night in the Melvindale House was simply not an option.

"We're going to go upstairs now," Luke called back to his followers. He was standing at the foot of the winding staircase with a leering grin on his shadowed face. "I would bet that's where the good stuff is."

Christine felt a pang of doubt roll across her gut, blending with the lingering hunger that already resided there; she hadn't eaten for hours and cursed herself for not grabbing a sandwich before her and Jordy left their house.

"Good stuff? What good stuff?" she asked, avoiding looking at her brother for fear of annoying him with her doubts.

Luke took a step toward her. "Why, valuables, of course. What did you think I was talking about?"

He doesn't like you. He only wants to steal stuff from here. He's just a thief, nothing more.

Then Luke turned and strutted up the stairs, motioning for the others to follow him.

Outside the house, something stirred beneath the carpet of fallen leaves, rustling the desiccated droppings as a cool night breeze rolled over the landscape.

"Mistress Melvindale," Luke said with a hint of satisfaction in his voice. "It was supposedly painted by the Devil Himself as a housewarming gift to the twisted siblings."

Christine, with Jordy so close behind her that they touched, studied the portrait. It was remarkable, a stunning representation of Gia Melvindale that caused the viewer, if they looked long and deep enough, to recoil from the deep-seated hatred and evil that resided in her eyes.

"She frightens me," Jake said from behind Luke. He and his sister were standing a few steps from the top of the staircase. Each felt the need to be close to Luke for some reason they didn't fully understand. "There's something in her eyes that..."

"No," Luke interrupted. "Not in the eyes, but behind them. Something behind the eyes that freezes the blood." He turned toward Christine, a wry smile slipping over his face. "Don't you agree?"

At that moment Christine realized that she did not in fact care for Luke Dixon. Regardless of his good looks, his soft wavy hair, his winning smile or solid build, she simply did not like him anymore.

But he did have a point. The portrait of Gia Melvindale did capture an underlying sense of evil that at first glance didn't seem to be there.

She didn't answer.

The group continued with their exploration of the house, Luke in the lead, focused on the

possibility of finding potential valuables, Jacob and Janet close on his heels, and Jordy and Christine lagging a dozen or so steps behind, obviously hesitant about being caught up in the whole adventure.

Cold moonlight tried its best to seep in through every window it could but seemed stifled somehow by the house itself. Darkness prevailed in every nook and cranny, and even the yellow beams from the investigator's flashlights had a difficult time penetrating the gloom.

Christine rested a hand on her brother's shoulder, pulling him back a step. "I think we should try to leave," she whispered into his ear. "I don't trust Luke or the others."

As if hearing their concerns, Luke suddenly spun around and pushed past Janet and Jake, coming to within inches of Jordy and glaring at Christine over her brother's shoulder. "You guys scared?" he snarled, the dimming beam of his flashlight magnifying his expression. "Because if you are, you can both leave now if you want." He looked around, up and down, from side to side, and back at the frightened siblings again. "But I'd better warn you that the house might not let you leave."

"What do you mean the house won't let us leave?" Jordy retorted with as much volume as he could muster. His anger equaled his fear. If he and his sister wanted to leave, then they would leave, and nothing was going to stop them, including the house itself.

Luke stifled a chuckle and merely glanced around, his eyes widening in recognition. "When I started to build this house, people thought I was crazy, but I ignored them and poured my soul into it...literally. With each drop of blood its strength increased. With every life it devoured it came closer to achieving its ultimate destiny."

Christine felt sick to her stomach. How could Luke talk like that? How could the boy she liked so much say things like that? What was wrong with him?

She stepped in front of Jordy.

Luke seemed amused. "I'm not your friend Luke Dixon. I dispatched him shortly before you arrived."

Christine stared at Luke, and after his revelation, noticed how his eyes had narrowed into near-vertical slits, becoming elliptical, like a cat's.

Every word he spoke stabbed at her sanity.

Suddenly, she saw someone standing behind Luke, no, two people, she saw two people standing behind him. They begin to twist and writhe as if they were softening, melting into each other, and in a few seconds their forms merged into one sinuous shape, a shadowed figure that swept back and forth with light movements, side to side, as if dancing to some unheard melody.

And then the figure flowed over to a nearby wall, a stark sheet of peeling and mildewed plaster that seemed to serve no purpose other than to separate the occupants of the room from any type of escape.

Blood-red arms slipped out of the wall and embraced the figure, and in the span of a heart's beat, pulled it into the wall.

"They were never here. Janet and Jake, the siblings you never liked, the girl you vied with for the affection of Luke, they never set foot in this house, in my house."

A flashback suddenly reared up in Christine's mind.

The ambulance! The police cars! They must have been for Luke!

An oily grin slid across Luke's face. "That's correct, Christine," he drawled in a tone reminiscent of Count Dracula: seductive and yet underlined with unfathomable evil. "Those emergency vehicles were for Luke, due to the situation that I orchestrated."

It was then that Christine suddenly realized that Jordy wasn't standing behind her. A sixth

sense invaded her mind, alerting her to the fact that she was now alone with Luke, or whatever was masquerading around as him.

Christine was too afraid to move. She fully realized that if she tried to flee she wouldn't get very far. She was trapped in a haunted house with Ferris Melvindale himself and all the poor souls he had murdered while building the place.

While she stared at Luke she became aware of movement around her. The walls in the hallway, the doors, the ceiling, even the long-unused light fixtures that dangled in the dank air of the corridor began to move with unnatural life. Flowing ripples undulated in the plaster, cracking the time-stained material and sending tiny plumes of mildew-tainted dust into the air. A threadbare carpet runner that stretched along the floor slid from side to side as if it were a flattened snake struggling for purchase. And ornate Crown molding, once a fine decorative touch, separated from its seat and swayed in a menacing fashion.

"The house is doing my bidding," Luke said quietly. His face contorted, becoming more feral, although only slightly; the features of the handsome boy with sandy blond hair still remained for the most part. "Its purpose is close at hand and I only need one more piece to complete its destiny...to complete my destiny."

Christine was crippled by the disappearance of her brother but bolstered by her will to survive. She had her eyes glued on Luke but kept her mouth shut.

Luke smiled, a grin so wide the edges of his mouth nearly touched his ears...literally, and raised his arms above his head in an obscene gesture of power. "I need my beloved sister now. I need her presence to complete the house's purpose."

"Which is?" Christine blurted out before she could stop herself.

Luke laughed, a howling bellow that shook the dim corridor. "Why to be a throne,

of course, a seat worthy for the beast to sit in."

Christine felt a hard lump form in her gut and set up camp there. "The beast?" she managed to croak. She had attended church enough in her life to know who, or what, that was.

Luke let the smile slip from his face. "The Devil? Of course not, my dear. I am referring to That Which Existed Before Existence, The Slicer of Souls, The Obsidian One, Enveloper, Po'qqtl, Seer of Gaadr, whatever you want to call it. It doesn't really matter. The point is that its throne will be ready for it when the time is right."

"You're insane."

Luke smiled yet again, amused at Christine's defiance. "Your opinion of me is of no consequence." As he spoke he was stepping toward her, deliberately taking slow steps that were intended to unnerve. "But I tire of these games. She is near."

The last sentence, three simple words said in a tone that literally oozed confidence and arrogance, crept into Christine's ears like warm mud: suffocating and absolute in its ability to snuff out everything else.

"Who? Who is near?" she asked, trying to ignore the possibility that she feared: The Slicer of Souls, That Which Existed Before Existence, etc.

Again, Luke seemed to read her mind. "No, Christine, I do not refer to that. I am talking about the missing piece in my grand scheme, the one who I need to complete my destiny, to complete Earth's destiny." He closed his eyes and began mumbling under his breath, guttural, raspy gibberish that chilled the very air it touched.

The room went dark, the remaining wisps of feeble light being extinguished in a scant few seconds, and all Christine could do was stand there like a terrified and confused little girl. She knew deep down in her soul that she could not run away; she could never leave. She was destined

to be here, tonight, in the house, the portal, that Ferris Melvindale had built so long ago. It was fate, and she found herself surrendering to its implications.

Christine could feel Luke's presence nearby. She couldn't see him but could hear his breathing: a shallow, labored effort that was painful and difficult to listen to. She also became aware of a strange sensation beginning to overtake her. She resisted but could only hold out for so long. It started in her head and spread downward, snaking throughout her trembling body like water seeking lower ground. She felt feverish, lethargic, nauseous. Despite being in darkness she could see images, hazy, ethereal pictures of her past drifting by like photographs in a dream.

"Hello," the disembodied voice called out from nearby, the darkness cloaking its source. "I have been waiting for you."

Christine opened her mouth and was shocked to hear her own voice. It sounded different, deeper somehow, more sophisticated, more mature, like a noblewoman from another era.

"And I have been waiting as well, my dear brother."

A deep, all-consuming shock jolted Christine. She couldn't control her voice. She was a prisoner in her own body, a marionette subject to some thing's control. All she could do was stand in the darkness and be used for some diabolical purpose beyond her comprehension.

She sensed someone moving closer.

"Come now, dear sister, the house has fed and the throne has already begun to take form."

Christine felt herself nod and reach forward until her hand grasped another: Luke's, or more accurately: Ferris Melvindale's. They then walked toward the staircase, still shrouded in pitch darkness, and down the warped but ornate steps to the lower level of the house.

"Where is it?" Christine heard herself ask.

"Do not let the darkness shield your eyes from what is transpiring, dear sister. The house

is completing the throne as we speak. I feel it is nearly finished."

They stepped through the black veil as a person would a moderately heavy wind: with some resistance but nothing more than a minor hindrance, and were blinded by a brilliant light that cut through the blackness.

A chair was situated dead center in the room, towering well above their heads. It glittered like the treasures in Tutankhamen's tomb when Howard Carter's flashlight beam first exposed them after centuries of darkness.

Slick with a glistening sheen of blood, the liquid diminished the overall grandeur of the seat a bit but failed miserably to dilute its horrific, otherworldly magnificence or intended purpose.

"The time is near," Ferris Melvindale breathed. He no longer bore any resemblance to, nor sounded like Luke Dixon. "We must prostrate our miserable bodies to That Which Existed Before Existence."

Gia Melvindale nodded in the gloom. She also did not retain any aspect of her host: a teenage girl named Christine who was protective of her younger brother and harbored a crush on Luke Dixon.

At that instant a gaping slit appeared in the ceiling of the room and rapidly spread like glass cracking. An oily haze seeped through the fissure then, drifting throughout the chamber and blotting out just enough light to obscure the sinuous form descending toward the throne.

"The Slicer of Souls is upon us!" Ferris cried out in triumph. He embraced Gia, the siblings rocking back and forth in each other's arms.

A black tendril, only slightly darker than its surroundings, snaked its way toward the pair. It hesitated just above their heads, gently feathering their hair as a stylist would a prized

customer.

Ferris and Gia tilted their heads back in blissful resignation.

A quick snap, lightning fast and yet as graceful and efficient as a shark sluicing through cold waters in search of prey, cut the heads off with one swift stroke. The great being then lowered itself onto its throne, allowing its rancid bulk to flow into the jagged contours of the chair. It was satisfied with its new surroundings, causing what resembled a faint smile to crease its evil visage. The grin added a layered dimension to its already unsettling expression. It would pause for a brief spell, just long enough to adapt to the stifling atmosphere it found itself in, and then set its plans in motion.

But first it needed to bring the temperature down to its liking.

A minor gesture from a flailing tentacle and the room was instantly plunged into a frost- encrusted state.

Sated for the time being, the Slicer of Souls then extended the newly-formed appendage and scooped up the remains of the hapless servants who had brought about its entrance into the world. It detected a residual trace of humanity in one (the female) but proceeded to slide the corpses into its mass without hesitation.

And then the creature, the Obsidian One, That Which Existed Before Existence, began to dream, sending its nightmarish visions across space and time to corrupt the slumber of Earth's inhabitants and, unbeknownst to them, fatten them up for the kill.

Alyssa opened her eyes. Even though her bedroom was dark she still tried to focus on something, anything to assure her that the terrible images she had seen were nothing more than a bad dream.

She sat up in bed, shivering from a chill. Her mind raced in many directions, each as pointless as the other. She didn't understand why her room was so dark; the moon was not suspended in the night sky, nor were there any stars; it was a blank slate, void of anything.

But, and the thought both surprised and frightened her, she liked it that way. She couldn't understand why, but she did. She liked it dark and cold. The fact that just a short while earlier it had been a warm outside, so much so that she slept with the window open and her covers off, was not lost on her. And furthermore, she felt an irresistible desire to crawl out the window and lose herself in the darkness.

"I'm coming, my Lord," she heard herself say and stepped out of her bed.