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Dagon's Kiss

by Jack LaFountain

     “I told you. I fell down the stairs.”

     “What stairs? We found you in a ditch. Look, we can’t help you if you’re not going to tell us what happened,” Officer Hughes said.

     “Good,” Peter said with a sneer. “Go away.”

     Officer Hughes shrugged and turned to leave. He and his partner, Phil Erwin, had spent the last half hour in the Emergency Room questioning the battered man on the gurney. Peter Tipton wasn’t talking, and the cops weren’t happy.

     “No, wait,” Peter called after them.

     “Yes?” Hughes called back into the room.   

      “On your way out, tell them to give me back my clothes.”

     Peter tried to laugh, but it hurt too bad. He put a hand to his battered middle to splint the pain.

     “Suit yourself,” Hughes said, unamused. “C’mon, Phil.”

     As officers passed the nurse’s station, Hughes spotted the nurse taking care of Peter. Kellie Cook was hard to miss. She had deep brown eyes, a soft pleasing smile and bright purple hair.

     “We’re leaving,” Hughes told her. He jerked his thumb in Tipton’s direction. “Stubborn jackass.”

     Kellie glanced from Hughes to Erwin. Erwin’s wife, Rita, was the night shift charge nurse. The two were huddled near the ambulance bay doors in a hushed conversation.

     “Stubborn or scared?” Kellie asked.

     “Who knows?” Hughes said with a sigh. “Either way, we’re out of here.”

     After the officers were gone Kellie went to check on her patient. He was bruised, hurting, and steadfastly refused to tell Kelli what had happened to him. She didn’t need a story from him to know what happened. The story was written on his bruised and battered body.

     “Are they gone?” Peter asked when she came into the room.

     “The cops? Yeah, they’re gone,” Kellie answered. “They were ticked off that you wouldn’t cooperate.”

     “I bet they were, especially Erwin,” he said with a twisted smile. “Give the devil his due but remember what he is. That’s what dear old dad always said.”

     “What are you talking about?” Kelli asked. “Are you saying they did this to you?”

     “Naw, not exactly. But they know who did.”

     “Why do you say that?”

     “Because, while I was supposed to be unconscious, I got a look at the ambulance run report. Those two called the ambulance.”

     “If they found you, their names would be on the report.”

     “So, they arrived out of nowhere. There was no one around to report it. They knew where to find me.”

     “I don’t believe it,” Kellie said.

     “I’m not asking you to,” Peter shot back.

     His words cut deep. Kelli recoiled from the blow in the silent almost imperceptible way nurses do. The anger in his eyes told her it was not the pain talking. He meant his words to hurt.

     “Look,” Peter started again, regret creeping into his voice. “What I want, what I need is for you to help me get out of here.”

     “I can’t do that,” Kellie protested.

     “Can’t or won’t?” Peter asked.

     “What’s the difference?”

     “The difference is between ability and desire.”

     “I need to make a phone call,” Kellie said. She was back a short time later and pointed at the catheter in his arm. “Give me your arm.”

     She removed the IV, applied a dressing and got his clothes. She helped him dress before having him climb back onto the bed. She covered him with a sheet and stuffed the tubing underneath him.

     “Be still and keep quiet,” she told him.

     She kicked off the brakes, grabbed the head of the bed, and pushed him from the room. Rita met them in the hall.

     “Where are you taking him?” she demanded.

     Kellie took a deep breath and managed to answer in a level, controlled voice. “Dr. Ramaldi wants a CT of his head.”

     It wasn’t exactly a lie. Kellie planned to write the order in Peter’s chart as soon as she got back. The bruises and swelling on his face were justification enough and she knew the doctor would sign the order.

     “Okay, but drop him down there and get back,” Rita told her. “Two more just came through the doors.”

     Kellie pushed Peter through a maze of corridors to radiology.

     “Wait here,” she said and disappeared inside an office. Kellie was back moments later. “Okay we have to hurry. Follow me.”

     Peter was amazed how fast the chubby little nurse could walk. She led him through a second maze and Peter began to fall behind.

     “Hey, slow down,” he called. “I’m seriously injured here.”

     “And I’m seriously in trouble if we get caught. Move it, Hopalong.”

     Kellie led him to a freight entrance. She propped open the door but blocked his escape. Her eyes met Peter’s.

     “I’m going to ask one question,” she said. “You lie to me and you’re on your own. Do you know Phil and Rita Erwin…uh…socially?”

     Peter searched for a serviceable lie, but her face said she already knew the answer. He settled on the truth. “Yes,” he said.

     “See that long narrow house two blocks down there on the right?” she asked, poining out into the dark. Peter nodded.

     “They can help.” Kellie held up a hand to silence Peter’s protest. “I know what you’re involved in and what happens to those who try and get out. The people who live in that house can help. It’s up to you…desire and ability, remember?”

     “Yeah, I remember.”

    “Choose which it’s going to be,” she said and closed the door behind him.

     Peter heard the lock click behind him.

     I’m free…well sort of.

     Did the nurse really know? How could she? He shrugged and started to walk. By the time he reached the house she pointed out, his ribs were screaming for him to stop.

     “What the hell?” he told himself and jumped a bit at his ragged voice.

     Peter walked up to the “house” and did a quick about face. The house was a church. Peter stood outside on the steps kicking himself for being so gullible. Before he could summon the strength to walk away, the door opened and a short, fat man with salt and pepper hair stuck his head outside.

     “Come in, Peter.”

     Peter Tipton, to his own great surprise, went inside. It was the first time he had set foot inside a church in twenty years. Peter’s father had been the pastor of a string of run down churches just like this one. When he left home, he swore he’d never set foot in another one, but here he was walking down the aisle. The preacher ushered him into a tiny office. The walls were lined with books and the only light was a lamp on the desk. The preacher motioned for him to sit.

     “No mystery,” the preacher explained. Kelli called and said you were coming. Kelli is my daughter. I’m Enos Cook.”

     Peter took the hand extended to him. The family resemblance was apparent as the little man leaned into the light. The resemblance ended just above the eyebrows.

     “Her hair kind of throws people off,” Cook said. “It doesn’t exactly scream preacher’s kid.”

     “So, what did Kellie tell you about me?” Peter asked.

     “Only that you were beaten, left in a ditch, afraid to stay in the hospital, and unwilling to talk to the police. I can fill in the rest.”

     “Is that so?”

     “Unfortunately, you’re not this town’s Lone Ranger.”

     “How comforting,” Peter said.

     “It can be.”

     “Okay, I’ve come this far, dazzle me.”

     “As you wish,” Cook said with a shrug. “A year or so ago you met a couple about your age. Nice people. Seemed to have it all. At least they had what you wanted. Money, drugs, sex, maybe all of it. It doesn’t matter. You had the want, and they had the hook.

     “They introduced you to their friends and shared your story of how life was unfair and cruel. They invited you to join their little group where no one would judge you. Once you were in, they set the hook and offered an endless supply of the bait. You took it. You didn’t see, or more to the point, didn’t care that hidden inside was something else.

     “They asked for some token of your loyalty. Something a little more illegal than ‘bad’, but something you could go to jail for. After giving in, they wanted more. They had you. There was an initiation ceremony. What did you do, Peter?”

     Rev. Cook waved a hand and shook his head.

     “It doesn’t matter,” he said. “I don’t want to know. The leader was so pleased, he kissed you. Right about there.”

     Cook prodded Peter’s chest with a pudgy finger. Peter recoiled as a bolt of white-hot pain shot through him. Peter’s hands flew to protect his chest.

     “Open your shirt and take a look, Peter. Go ahead.”

     Peter gingerly lifted his shirt over his bruised ribs wincing with the effort. He looked down at the yellow pulsing boils floating on angry red skin.

     “What hell is that?” Peter asked. “That wasn’t there before.”

     “Horizontal parentheses around a pentagram,” Cook said. “That’s Dagon’s kiss, his brand, if you like. You remember Dagon, don’t you, Peter? That quaint fishy fellow you met tonight. He planted one on you, before your friends beat you and tossed you out on Point Road. How did I do?”

     “You did real well, Reverend.”

     “Then, make it Enos.”

     “Okay, Enos. What happens next?”

     “Most people in your position crawl back to Dagon. The beating was meant to teach you subjection and your true place in Dagon‘s kingdom. I don’t know what you did to incur their wrath, maybe nothing at all, but the message is clear enough.”

     “And if I refuse to play along?”

     “They crush you without a second thought.”

     “Especially if they find you here,” a voice said from the doorway.

     “Kelli!” Enos said. “Is it that late already?”

     “It is and you’re not even ready,” she answered.

     “Instant in season and out, you know that,” Enos said with a smile and hug for his daughter.

     “Excuse, me, but what happens if they find me here?” Peter asked.

     “Depends,” Kellie answered. “On whether you go crawling back or put up a fight. If you submit, they’ll do something drastic to make sure you won’t come here again, but you’ll live.”

     “Drastic, huh? What if I fight?”

     “They’ll cut their losses and just kill you.”

     “Oh, lovely.”

     “You have three options,” the preacher explained. “You can keep running. You can take your punishment, or you can fight.”

     “Door number one is sounding real good.”

     “They’ll find you; they always do. They have been beaten before,” said the preacher.

     “By you?” Peter asked.

     “No, by God,” Kellie said. “It almost turned my hair black when he rescued me.”

     “Kelli and I will help you. But you’re the one who will have to fight them,” Enos added.

     “I don’t know what to say.”

     Enos cocked his head towards the church sanctuary. “Time’s about up. If you’re going to run, do it now,” Enos said.

     “Not this time. I think I’ll stay.”

     “Then, follow me,” Enos said.

     The fat, little preacher led Peter into the sanctuary and sat on the altar.

     “What now?” Peter asked.

     Enos nodded toward the front door. Phil Erwin didn’t bother to knock. He opened the door and marched down the center aisle.

     “Well, Peter, I’m surprised to find you here. Now, why don’t you just come along with me?”

     “Is he under arrest, officer?” Enos asked.

     “No, I’m just going to take him home.”

     “I think I’ll stay,” Peter said. “You’ll take me home, won’t you, Reverend?”

     “Of course.”

     “Peter, be reasonable,” Phil said. “Don’t drag these people into your troubles.”

     “You’ve already gotten Kellie in enough trouble tonight,” Rita Erwin spoke from the door.

     Rita leaned outside and spoke. Ten men filed into the church and faced the little group at the altar. Each of the men wore a long blue robe and carried a gaff. Peter’s eyes grew wide, and a cold fear gripped him.

     “Peter, we really must insist you come along before someone gets seriously hurt,” Phil said.

     “Get out,” Enos demanded.

     A robed figure stepped forward and hurled his weapon at Enos. The rusty gaff hit the preacher in the chest and pinned him to the pulpit. A pink froth bubbled from the preacher’s mouth when he tried to speak. His life flowed from him, saturating the pastor’s shirt and pooling on the altar.

     “See what you’ve done, Peter. Perhaps you’d like to turn the other cheek and let us deal with the daughter as well?” Rita said.

     Two robed men dragged Kellie into the sanctuary and laid her bound and gagged on the altar while a third held a gaff at her heart.

     “No. This is between you and me.”

     “Oh, no, Peter. It’s between you and the Master,” Phil Erwin growled.

     The cop rounded on Peter with incredible speed and punched him in the chest. Peter collapsed beneath the tidal wave of pain. Erwin’s foot fell across Peter’s throat, cutting off his gasps and pinning him to the floor. Rita reached down and ripped his shirt open. The circle closed around Peter who writhed in agony. The boils on his chest pulsated and grew. Pain exploded in his chest. The boils ruptured in a thick, yellow goo that dribbled to the floor. A figure slithered from the coagulating mass.

     “Hail, Dagon,” cried the worshipers.

     The god of the Philistines towered over Peter, strong ventral fins supporting his upright form. His fishlike body glimmered with iridescent scales that tapered away into a powerful tail. Atop the marine monstrosity sat the muscular arms and head of a man. Dagon’s cartilaginous lips worked with his rhythmic breathing. His eyes were large liquid pools of yellow and green that swirled in dark fire. Peter crawled to his feet. Boils now covered his body. Every movement brought fresh pain. Dagon’s body whipsawed and Peter was lifted off the floor. He stared into the eyes of the angry demon.

     “You know what God said about Abel, don’t you?” the disembodied voice of Enos Cook said.

     The preacher remained nailed to the pulpit. His lips and extremities still wore the dull, blue gray pallor of the dead, but golden light engulfed his body. Only his face and lips moved.

     “Let me help you. It goes like this: ‘God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.’.” Cook’s voice rumbled with muted thunder that reverberated through the church.

     Dagon’s worshippers slowly retreated toward the door.

     “Stand still, you craven cowards,” Dagon’s voice boomed with equal force. “No need to fear this worm’s little tricks. We will take what we came for.”

     “I think not,” said Cook.

     “He’s mine!” screamed Dagon.

     Cook’s eyes looked up to Peter.

     “Are you his, Peter?” asked Cook.

     “No,” came Peter’s answer.

     Dagon’s laughter filled the room. “That’s not what you said when I brought an angel to your bed. I distinctly remember you screaming my name at the supreme moment.” Dagon laughed again. “You can have it all again and more. Give up this foolishness and a band of wanton beauties shall comfort you.”

     “Dagon doesn’t take ‘No’ for an answer,” Rita hissed.

     “She’s right, you know,” Dagon said. “Refuse and you and Kellie will join the animated preacher as altar kabobs.”

     “Peter,” called Cook. “You need to think about this. Remember what your father used to say: ‘Give the devil his due.’.”

     “Sound advice,” proclaimed Dagon. “Kneel before me, Peter.”

     “That’s not all of it,” Peter spoke up. “He said give the devil his due but remember what he is.”

     “And what is he, Peter?” Cook asked.

     “He’s a liar.”

     The golden glow around Cook grew brighter. An aurora danced along the ceiling and wound down the walls of the church. Voices flowed along the rivers of light singing and speaking in strange languages. Dagon’s minions fell prostrate as the light filled room. Dagon dodged a ribbon of swirling light. The demon’s confidence in his power retreated from his eyes.

Peter screamed.

     The church filled with a rush of sound. The sound swelled and thundered like an approaching locomotive pushing the air before it. The doors and windows exploded outward unable to contain the power that surged into the room and buffeted the walls. Caught up in the cyclone, pews left their moorings and hymnals danced through the air. Peter fell to the floor catching hold of the altar to keep from being swept away. Dagon was pummeled by the contents of the church; battered, the demon lost his hold on the earth and vanished on the whirlwind.

     All that remained when Peter opened his eyes was a solitary altar and a frightened girl with purple hair. Peter loosed her bonds and Kellie fell into his arms. Peter flinched in anticipation of pain. There was none. Only a soft embrace. His arms were free of boils. His heart was free of fear.

     “What happened,” he asked.

     “The demon was cast to his own place,” Kellie said. “You’re free.”

     “Just like that?”

     “What? Not dramatic enough for you?”

     “No, that’s not what I meant. I mean is he gone forever?”

     “Peter, dear, you’re free, but Dagon’s not gone at all. He has been on earth since he was cast from Heaven. He will continue to be as he has always been.”

     “What a lovely picture.” Peter winched. “But, what about your father?”

     “He saw this was going to happen,” Kellie said. “Helping you was his choice. Don’t feel sorry for him, he has the reward he was promised. The offer to stay and fight still stands.”

     “I can’t,” he said.

     “Can’t or won’t,” Kelli countered with a smile. “The church needs a seasoned fighter.”

     “Ah, I’m not complaining mind you, but are you going to turn loose of me?”

     “Only if you make me,” Kellie smiled.

     “Good,” Peter said and held her tighter. “I’m staying.”

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