“I’m telling you,” Martha Hetherington said in a hurried whisper, “I’ve got it down there. It’s been thrashing around since earlier this mornin’.”
Her eyes darted back and forth. There were splashes of red on her blouse.
James and Pat were very alarmed. Pat clutched a shotgun and James carefully angled an old hunting rifle toward the wooden floor. James wanted to be able to shoot the old woman as soon as he was certain that she had just violently murdered her family.
She must have saved her husband for last. James and Pat had been delivering hay when the two men heard a man screaming from the house.
Martha held a bloodstained ax in her hand. Her entire kitchen was bloodstained. Blood filled a few of the clawed grooves in the wood by her feet.
“Don’t’cha hear it?” Martha asked frantically. “I trapped it down there this mornin’ right after it snatched Lawrence. He fired his bird gun right into it and it grabbed him! Dragged him down into the basement when I came ‘round the corner.”
Martha turned and made a motion with her hand to show how she slammed the lock across the basement door earlier.
“So, the demon is down there now?” Pat asked. “It’s locked in?”
“We always keep the basement door to outside locked,” Martha grinned.
James wanted to shoot Martha. He wanted to shoot her and get this over with before she axed him or Pat.
Martha had her episodes before but this was unreal.
Unfortunately, Pat was gullible and hanging on every word.
“I’ll open the door nice and slow,” she said, “and you boys have those guns up nice and high. It jumps like it’s on springs.”
This demon had apparently emerged the previous evening from a dead heifer on the isolated Hetherington farm. Whatever this was had gone on to terrorize the family, killing each member—sans Martha—in the course of the last twelve hours or so.
There was a shuffle in the basement. A subsequent sound announced a tumbling basket or two.
“The thing is in my clean laundry!” Martha gasped.
James saw tears well up in Martha’s eyes for the first time.
“It’ll be smearing blood all over Ella Jo’s weddin’ dress. And I had it all ready to go.”
Pat had really liked Ella Jo, despite the fact she was marrying another man. James knew this was why
Pat had grabbed his shotgun and charged up from the barn at the first sign of trouble in the house. The Hetheringtons were always a rough bunch.
James was also fairly sure there was a chunk of Ella Jo on the kitchen floor.
There was another sound. A distinct clash.
“Sounds like it’s hittin’ the furnace,” Martha whimpered.
James wanted to turn and run for his truck now. Martha insisted that this demon had cut the phone and power lines. If he and Pat could get to the truck, he could be to a telephone in five minutes.
He sighed. He remembered Lawrence might still be alive down in the basement. Martha would have finished the poor old man off before help arrived.
“Okay,” James replied. “When I wink, I want you to stand out of the way, reach over, unlock the door, and push it open.”
Martha nodded. The two men raised their firearms.
Martha stepped aside, holding the ax in her right hand. James winked and Martha reached across the door with her free hand and slowly pulled the lock back. Her hand became shaky as she twisted the doorknob and then elbowed the door open.
There was some light in the basement. James suspected there was an oil lamp burning down there somewhere.
James motioned with the barrel of his rifle to Martha.
“You first,” he whispered.
There was no way he was letting this old buzzard behind he or Pat going down the steps.
“All I got is this here,” she said, holding out the ax.
There was a fainter shuffling sound in the basement now.
James felt his toes curl. This sound was one not meant to be heard. Something was trying to be quiet.
“If this thing pounces, I want a clear shot before it’s on me,” James said.
Martha relented and stepped through the doorway. She carefully took the first step down. James and Pat followed.
Each step creaked badly. There was no being quiet.
Two oil lamps that hung from the ceiling near the steps created long shadows across the basement floor. Once all three had reached the bottom, Martha went directly to Lawrence’s body.
Old Lawrence was face-up on the floor. James could see in the dim light that there were a handful of bloody slashes running down his body. These rips had practically disrobed the old man. Lawrence’s bird gun was on the floor near him. James could just make out its faint metallic shine in one of those long shadows.
James froze. He couldn’t risk letting Martha get her hands on that gun. She was crouched over Lawrence’s body. James wanted to grab the bird gun without rousing her attention.
His steps made no sound. There was no sound except a faint dripping that James had just noticed.
“Hear that?” Pat asked in a hushed tone.
James turned slowly. Pat had made it to the opposite side of the basement, near the furnace and washing machine. There were toppled laundry baskets, just as Martha had feared.
Pat was leaning in near the washer and holding out a hand. He was feeling for the drip.
“It’s blood,” Pat murmured. “It’s drippin’ from the laundry chute.”
The basement door slammed shut. The lock fired across its bracket.
There were distinct thuds above James. Something very fast was running up the stairs to the second floor.
James and Pat’s eyes met just as Martha fired the bird gun into her own forehead.
Just then, two cloven hooves popped out of the laundry chute.