To Eden and Hailey…my little beacons of light
My sunshine eternal
I was back. Surrounded by darkness, two blurry forms crouched before an open safe, hidden behind a large, hinged bookcase. They breathed heavy, working at a feverish pace to find what they had searched for the past months. One of the men froze, and all movement stopped. He leaned further into the safe, using both hands to pull out a thick, leather bound book.
“That’s it. Dear God, that’s it,” Jack whispered.
Every corner of the room held a warning. Lit only by the moonlight filtering through the blinds of a single window, antique swords and axes hung on the walls, bordering hand-painted landscapes of war and death. The air was stale, lacking human lungs to circulate it.
I had been there many times before, but my hands still trembled, knowing the panic would begin soon. It was coming, but I couldn’t stop it. It would play over and over like I was stuck in time, in a bad dream — or in Hell.
Jack’s fingers ran over the branded seal in the center, and looked to his friend.
“Are you sure you want to do this, Jack?”
“Are you sure it’s her, Gabe?” Jack replied. Gabe nodded slowly, and then Jack continued with a sigh, “Then you know the answer.”
Hearing what Jack’s human ears couldn’t, Gabe’s head jerked to the side. “It’s too late,” he said, his eyes twitching back and forth as he listened. “They’re here.”
They shoved the documents, artifacts and jewels back into the safe, and the fair-haired man effortlessly pressed the heavy bookcase flat against the wall in an attempt to conceal any evidence of their presence.
“Don’t worry about that now, Gabe! Let’s go!” Jack growled.
“I’m trying to buy us some time!”
Their shadows glided over the wooden floor as the men fled the room, and I stepped aside, watching them in silence, knowing their fate.
Gabe ran ahead, gun in hand, accustomed to Jack falling behind. He waited at the end of the hall for his friend, calculating a way out.
“The roof,” I whispered in his ear. “You always use the roof.”
A large, warm hand reached out, and Jack was pushed against the wall.
“What are you…?” Jack began.
Gabe lifted his finger to his mouth, and then pointed to the upper floor. Jack nodded quickly, pushing his tired body from the wall. They bolted down a corridor, tightly rounded a corner, and then launched themselves up the stairs. Both men took two steps at a time, their hands gripping the banister to pull themselves along with each leap.
“The roof!” Gabe called as many voices echoed below them, none of them human.
Jack’s eyes widened when a terrifying shriek came from below. His stride grew longer as he streaked through another door, climbing a second stairway. He heaved a breath of relief. The narrow walls of crumbling concrete meant the roof was just a few steps away.
Already at the top of the stairway, Gabe shouldered through an outer door, and ran across the roof to the edge. He looked down, four stories to the road below, and then at his friend. “We’ve still got two minutes, Jack. Are you sure?”
“Do I look ambivalent to you?” he shouted, tightly grasping the book to his chest. “I have to find a way to stop it!”
I frowned. In the past, I had begged my father to leave the book behind. Dozens of trips to this place taught me that Jack and Gabe’s plight would replay exactly the same. Each time I attempted to change the outcome, it just made the end harder to watch.
Gabe sighed in submission, and then jerked his head to the north, gauging the distance of their escape. “Then it begins.”
The shrieking grew louder, and Jack closed his eyes. “I have to save her,” he said in a low, grieved voice.
Jack’s body jerked forward. His tie slapped against his neck, and the wind howled past his ears as he flew through the night sky. It seemed as if the second he had taken flight, he had landed on another roof, four building away. Jack lurched forward with the sudden stop, bending at the waist, making a loud grunting noise as the air was forced from him with the sudden impact. Gabe released him, then.
“I’ll never get used to that,” Jack smiled, smoothing out his jacket and tie.
“I could have let you take the fire escape, Brother, but with those beasts on your tail, only parts of you would have made it to the street,” Gabe said with a smirk. His grin quickly faded when he looked up. “They are drawn to it. We need more distance.”
Jack nodded. A door identical to the one they had escaped from was a few yards away. He yanked open the door, and then Gabe followed him down the stairs. After three flights, Jack slowed his pace, and his chest heaved.
“Come on!” Gabe growled.
“I’m coming!” Jack snapped, taking another deep breath before descending the last two flights.
Just as their exit came into view, the shrieking and snarling grew louder. Jack looked over his shoulder and saw that Gabe had stayed behind, his firearm held closely to his face.
“We’re not going to make it. They’re too close.” Gabe breathed.
“GABRIEL!” An animalistic hiss cried above them. It was one voice, but it was also many.
Gabe cocked his gun and narrowed his eyes. “Go, Jack. I’ll hold them off.”
“If you want to save your daughter, then go!” Gabe yelled.
Jack clutched the book to his chest and made his way outside. He burst from the door, and then grasped his knees, unable to catch his breath. He leaned against the door and lifted his face to the heavens, closing his eyes.
“God help me,” he whispered.
The shrieking stopped momentarily before piercing the air again.
For the first time, Jack looked into my eyes. He was afraid, something I'd never seen before. It felt strange at first, as though he shouldn’t have been able to see me. I watched a familiar look of resolve paint his face. “I’m going to save you, Nina.”
As if he’d never spoken to me, Jack's eyes darted in every direction to determine the best route of escape.
Just as he had made his decision to flee, the wood splintered behind him, and dozens of long, clawed hands exploded through the door. Jack’s eyes widened in terror as demons grabbed at his chest, his legs, his neck, and face. The sharp nails shredded his shirt, and sunk into his skin; blood spilling from his open wounds.
“Nina!” he screamed. His flesh ripped under the pressure of the long talons grating across it.
His arms and legs were thrust forward, and then his body bent in half and disappeared, sucked into the hell that awaited him inside.
“Daddy!” I screamed into the darkness.
Hands held my outreached arms and I slapped them away. “No! NO! Daddy!” I wailed, trying to get away. I wasn’t strong enough.