It’s Wednesday and you know what that means! You luck little Totinos Pizza Rolls are getting another dose of my dark fantasy/horror short story Is It Not Midnight?
If you haven’t been reading along so far. You can catch up here:
Winslow looked at the white linen tunics he and Frankel wore. They bunched about the knee and looked a little like something Ebenezer Scrooge might have worn on Christmas Eve. Winslow suspected he and his partner would not make the most intimidating opponents if they were seen in these sacrificial night gowns. Pants are underrated, he thought. Reality was slipping away from him. The voices in the Altar Room rose to a world-ending shriek. His pulse quickened. Frankel increased his pace. Both men sensed the time was short if they were to save Alisha.
As they moved along the side of the passage, the light grew brighter. And then they saw them. Two black forms stood motionless under two globular light fixtures on either side of a darkened doorway. The two mannish figures were hooded with identical white masks. Winslow and Frankel were about twenty feet away from them. The curvature of the wall hid them partially. In between them, a metal gurney rested against the hall. Winslow had seen plenty of those in hospitals. In his mind’s eye, he saw Alisha’s unconscious body strapped to it like countless others before her, waiting their grisly end in the next room. Winslow silently willed Zoltan to hurry up with whatever he had planned.
Frankel turned to Winslow with a look of exasperation and shrugged his shoulders in the universal gesture for “so now what do we do?” Winslow returned a shrug of his own, and they resumed their watch. If they tried to take the guards on their own, they might bring a whole room full of black hooded fanatics down on their heads. But if Zoltan were captured or killed they were Alisha’s only shot at survival.
Plastered against the wall, Frankel inched closer to the hooded figures standing guard. Both men crouched low to the ground, hoping the gurney would conceal them from the black hooded guards’ notice. They crept closer until they reached the metal gurney. It had leather restraints. Frankel placed his hands on top of the metal device and pulled his bulk up to peek at the sentries. This was a mistake.
As Frankel’s weight was brought to bear on on the foot of the gurney, the wheels on the opposite end lifted up in a see-saw motion and slammed back to the ground in with a loud metal clang. The noise was deafening in the quiet of the hallway. Winslow and Frankel froze in place. The two white masks turned in unison and walked toward them in slow motion. Each figure had a wicked black baton in its hand.
As they marched over Frankel put his hands up, remained crouched next to the gurney, and began to talk. The words tumbled over each other in an effort to get out of his mouth before the beatings could begin.
“Hey look you guys you don’t need to do this. I can play ball. You could just send us on our merry way and we wouldn’t say anything to anybody. You guys can keep doing whatever it is you do and we can keep on living! It’s win-win!”
As Frankel rambled in this fashion, the black hooded figures closed in on their victims. They stood over the two men. Winslow figured they must look pretty pathetic huddled on the ground with their backs against a wall.
“Listen, if it it were up to me I’d convert to whatever this is! You guys seem super cool! It’s just my wife she’s a dyed in the wool Catholic and she’d roast my ass if I told her I was gonna join a doomsday cult!”
Frankel was still crouched and babbling. The figure closest to him held its baton out away from its body and angled toward the floor. The frozen, expressionless mask cocked sideways as it considered its prey. It reminded Winslow of an exotic bird in that moment. Then it raised the weapon above its head, preparing to strike.
In that instant, Frankel moved faster than Winslow had ever seen his bulky partner move before. Coiled like a spring, Frankel rocketed up from the floor, fist clenched, before his opponent could begin the downward motion of its attack. Frankel’s meaty fist connected with the right side of the figure’s head. His opponent’s arms dropped to its sides and its body went down like a stack of luggage.
Winslow pressed their advantage and leapt at his opponent. As they slammed into the opposite wall, Winslow heard a satisfying grunt of pain escape from the mask. At least they’re human, he though. Then came the retaliation. Winslow felt the baton whip across his back and leave a bright stripe of pain. He pushed off against his opponent’s chest and backed himself out of range. As the two men circled each other, Winslow’s mind was racing. This was taking too long, and Alisha was waiting.
Then came the trumpet. It was a long, single note that echoed from altar room. It was tinney and had a raspberry-like quality that suggested the sound did not emanate from well trained lips. Winslow and his opponent both stopped their dance to listen. Winslow assumed this was a part of whatever unholy rites went on within the altar room, but the guard looked just as bewildered as he. Zoltan’s signal! It must be, he thought.
Just then, the metal gurney collided with the guard’s lower body at high speed. Taking advantage of the lull in the action, Frankel had gotten a running start and orchestrated the painful hit. The guard’s body formed a backward letter “C” before tumbling wordlessly to the stone floor.
While the the guard writhed in pain on the ground, Frankel retrieved one of the batons and dispatched h with a swift blow to the head. The white mask was knocked askew and revealed a pink face with a blond beard.
“It’s that shit head from the soup kitchen who kept talking about astral planes!” Frankel exclaimed.
The trumpet sounded again.
“That’s the signal. Let’s go!” said Winslow. He scooped up the other baton as he led the way to the entrance.
The two men made their way through the dark passage and came into the Altar Room lit with many candles. The crowd of hooded figures had their backs to Frankel and Winslow. Their attention was occupied by whatever distraction Zoltan had conceived. In a surreal way, it reminded Winslow of fights in the schoolyard of his youth. Everyone loves a good rumble, he thought. He adjusted his grip on the baton as Frankel crept into further into the room ahead of him.