“You should let the midget drive.” Rob called up to Josh.
Josh looked back through the rearview mirror, “Yeah, no. He’s not anywhere near legal.”
“True,” Rob acquiesced, “but he does drive better than I do.”
“Rob!” Ethan turned around, to glare at him, “I thought we were going to keep that a secret.”
Rob grinned, glancing at Helena, “That was before I decided I was safer with you driving than Josh.”
“Why were you driving?” Josh asked Ethan.
He shrugged, attempting to stretch in the confines of the car for the dozenth time since they’d started for the mountains, “I just made some comment that I could probably drive better than he did and we made a bet.”
Josh’s mouth quirked and he glanced to the backseat, “I see, you’re teaching my son to gamble.”
“It was a really low wager,” Rob said, “I mean, both of us could have gone a lot higher.”
Josh made eye contact through the mirror, “I see what you’re trying to do, and it’s not going to work.”
Ethan looked from one to the other, “You’re trying to do what?” When neither responded, “Seriously, what’s up?”
“Nothing.” Rob said, “Nothing at all.”
Ethan looked doubtful, but he straightened himself in his seat, continuing to stretch as he did. Helena gave a sideway glance at Rob, narrowing her gaze at him.
She leaned closer and whispered, “Lair.”
“He doesn’t need to know that.” he replied in a normal tone, “So, you’re finally awake? You’ve been so out of it this morning I was starting to think Ric kept you awake all night.”
She kept her face rigidly neutral, “Not all night. I just had a little too much to drink. Still have a bit of a hangover.”
Rob looked her over with concern, “Was there some problem I should know about?”
She blinked and smiled, “No. It’s just… a lot has happened in a short period of time. I’m still processing everything.”
Rob returned her smile, “It’ll be alright.” he said, taking her hand and kissing it.
“That chivalry won’t work on me Sir Robin.” She replied.
“Oh, that’s what they all say, milady. That is what they all say.”
Ethan glanced back again grimacing, “Are we going to get there before the teenagers in the back start making out?” he asked.
Josh nodded, “We’re close.”
Close ended up being another twenty minutes, the point where the road slowly became rough before transforming to completely uneven, wild terrain through which Josh wasn’t willing to risk the car.
“It’s not expensive, but it’s supposed to blend in. Large dents and mud don’t blend in.” He explained as they got out.
“I’m fine with this,” Ethan stated, “I’ve been cramped up for the last two hours.”
Josh looked him over, “Probably growing pains. Don’t grow too much, though. I’m not sure if we have the spare room in the car.”
“Ha ha.” Ethan replied humorlessly.
“I’m good too,” Helena added, “I dressed for the mountains.”
“You dressed for not a cocktail party,” Rob countered with a glance of her shoes, “Not exactly mountainwear, my city girl.”
“Like your shoes are so much better,” she returned, “they’re just sneakers, it’s not like you put on boots for this.”
“True,” Rob said placing an arm around her, “But I knew was I was getting into. You don’t. Honestly, these are going to be a miracle compared to what I used to wear in the mountains. Also known as what I wore on a daily basis.”
“Do you need some cheese with that whine?” she asked.
“Please,” Rob replied, “I bit of cheese and crackers would really hit the spot right about now.”
Josh sighed, “Why did I bring all these kids with me?”
“Because you’re nuts.” Ethan replied, “Just like when you adopted me, or married Max, or became a private investigator, or-”
“I get your point,” Josh said, “Don’t make me come over there.”
Ethan shrugged, “Even if I continued, I wouldn’t be making you do anything.”
Josh sighed, shaking his head as started up the remains of the road.
It didn’t take long for them to get into areas which would have been impassible with any vehicle. The trees had grown close enough to the road to obliterate it, and smaller plants had found a new home in the potholes and cracks they’d created.
It grew denser and even checking the GPS seemed useless. The area was supposed to be a gentle open space according to the old map Josh had found, but instead it was a dense brush.
“I see it.” Ethan said suddenly.
“You can?” Josh asked, “Which direction?”
Ethan pointed somewhat diagonal to where they’d been going, “It’s really covered with trees and looks damaged.”
Josh leaned in the direction he pointed straining to see anything, “I can’t see it.”
Helena shivered, “But I can feel it. I can sense where the Gate was opened there.”
Rob began walking towards the direction Ethan had indicated, “Well, you’re going to have to trust that we know where we’re going,” He said as he passed Josh, “‘Cause it’s pretty clear.”
It seemed like this area was dimmer and darker than the rest of the woods, but oddly it seemed more alive, considering what they were heading into.
The wind shifted so they were downwind. Noxious fumes poured from the little cabin they could now clearly see.
It showed the common signs of neglect. The plants around it were overgrown and piles of leaves and needles had pushed against the side of the building. Parts of the structure looked unsafe, where wood had rotted away and a section of wall looked like it had broken free of the nails holding it to the foundation making the entire cabin sag to the east.
No lights were on in the house, but they remained silent as they walked towards it.
Rob looked at Josh, and with a small gesture they both split up and circled the house leaving Helena and Ethan alone near the porch.
Rob walked around the right side of the house and nearly missed a step as the ground suddenly dropped into a shallow gully that ran along the back side of the house. He flinched at the sight of it. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t have functional plumbing in the house and this was were they’d get rid of their waste. All of their waste. He looked further down the gully, as it grew somewhat wider, and it was full of remains. Most of them were unrecognizable, but still vile smelling.
“Oh shit,” Josh said coming around from the other side and following Rob’s gaze, “That’s not good.”
“Knew we should have brought Eric.” Rob replied under his breath, “Some of those are recent.”
Josh started counting, but Rob lost interest, looking at the cabin.
“Josh, why is Ethan inside?”
Helena turned away, not going far, but a little further out from the cabin where no trees grew and grass hadn’t encroached. Ethan knew exactly had happened there and he was in no hurry to return to that spot.
That had to be his imagination.
Odd. It didn’t sound like the voice that took control of his body.
I’m not. The voice repeated.
Frowning Ethan walked towards the front door. He didn’t want to risk touching it and getting tetanus or chlamydia or worse from it, so it made a slight push of energy to open the door. It wasn’t even shut all the way.
The porch seemed to crumble away under his feet the moment he stepped on it. He quickly stepped past and inside the dark, musty cabin.
Little light broke through into the cabin, but he’d always had good night vision. Probably too good, now that he thought about it. Even with what little sunlight filtered through the trees he could see most of the room clearly. It helped that the curtains had dissolved into rags and blobs on the windowsill and one of the windows had been shattered at some point.
The house didn’t smell as bad as he’d expected, the source of the odor was something else and somewhere else. While there was the smell of rot, it was overpowered by the scent of blood. Lots of blood.
There was no carpet, for which he was thankful for, but the wood was so weak it felt like there was. He tried to smell what else was under the blood. Faint mildew, rotten food, musk of the unbathed.
Rotting human flesh.
The kitchen was an old style before it had been trashed by years of neglect, but there were signs it had been used recently. Ethan turned to look into the only bedroom and was caught between the need to piss himself and vomit.
Two older men were splayed out, their torsos ripped open and blood gushing out of them. Sitting nearby was a naked bipedal, vaguely human, creature. It absently slid a bony clawed hand into one of the bodies, pulled out something and slurped it down. It looked at him and grinned.
“Oh fuck no.” Ethan said backing away from the scene.
The creature stretched and extricated itself from it’s throne, which appeared to be carved out of one or more long desiccated corpses. Standing, it was no larger then Ethan, though it’s skin tone, alternating with paleness and deep red and black veins made it seem larger and more intimidating. Also it’s mouth, which seemed to be filled with nothing but canines pushed home that this was a predator.
I felt you coming and knew I wouldn’t need my caretakers any longer. It said, grinning, I’ve always wanted to meet you. I never understood why they separated us.
“Maybe because you’re a freak monster?” Ethan replied just as Helena rushed into the room and grabbed him, pulling him back against the wall.
The creature hissed at her intrusion, but before he could approach a doglike beast leapt out of the mirror hanging on the door. It growled and snapped at the creature, who seemed surprised by the introduction.
What is this thing? Brother I need you! Father doesn’t speak to me like he does to you. He said slashing at the beast to keep it away.
“I’m not really on good terms with our father.” Ethan said, as Rob and Josh came in, “Probably wouldn’t help your cause.”
The demon didn’t seem to be listening, but looked at the men with interest, Offerings?
“And that is why you’re stuck here.” Ethan replied.
Rob looked at him, “He’s talking?”
“He’s in my head.” Ethan said, “Can you make it stop?”
Josh shook his head, “Not anytime soon.”
Ethan felt it, a tingle in the back of his brain. He pitched forward out of Helena’s embrace.
“Get out!” he demanded, his voice guttural and demanding. The dog beast suddenly fell back to Helena, clearly nervous about what it had gotten itself into.
Ethan turned to Rob and Josh, “Get out!”
Josh began to move towards him, but Rob grabbed him, “I think this is a family discussion and we shouldn’t be part of it.” he said pulling Josh backwards.
They were barely clear of the cabin when Ethan pounced on his brother and bit into his shoulder. The demon, might have looked scary, but he’d never been attacked or been forced to defend himself. He struggled to get free of Ethan’s grip, clawing at any part of Ethan he could get to, destroying his t-shirt and to a lesser extent his jeans. He couldn’t get the right angle to get to Ethan’s face with him clamped so firmly on his shoulder.
Instead, he flipped Ethan over onto his back and took to the air.
Ethan let go, surprised by the suddenly weightlessness. The demon hadn’t had wings before, but now it did. Without thinking Ethan leapt at it and realized he too had wings – wherever the hell they’d come from he didn’t know.
Fact is, that flying in the house is worse then running in the house. Two four foot tall flyers trying to maneuver in such a tight space wasn’t in the cards. Now they were slamming each other into the walls of the cabin. The few remaining decorations were crashing down around them as they struck back and forth. Finally Ethan aimed for a window and they both crashed into a tree outside.
The demon broke free of Ethan’s grip, but was dazzled by the light. Ethan leapt onto it’s back and grabbed hold of the wings at their base. With a sharp tug, they cracked, before snapping off completely.
The demon screamed a wailing, awful tone as black sludge it apparently used as blood poured out of the wounds. Very quickly the stumps retracted into the demon’s back as he struggled to escape Ethan.
“That’s enough.” Rob said. “You’ve made your point.”
Ethan froze, then slowly straighten up over the demon’s body, looking down at the struggling creature beneath him. He was in control. Still in control, even though his father had tried to use him. Sure, he’d fought with a demon and had sprouted wings, but he’d done it himself.
He looked up at Rob, “You were wrong about the wings.”
“I told you I was bullshitting.” He replied, “Now step off the demon and we’ll send it back to whence it came.”
“How?” Ethan asked, climbing off the demon’s back.
“We have a Gatekeeper with us.” he said simply.
He roughly grabbed the demon off the ground and carried it by the scruff of it’s neck back in the direction Helena had investigated before.
Brother! I need you! They are going to kill me! The demon begged, I need you to come with me to Father. He won’t accept me without you.
“Not my problem,” Ethan muttered to himself. Josh had come to him and was trying to hug him without touching his wings.
“How do you feel?” he asked.
“I have wings.” Ethan replied.
Josh frowned, “So… light as a feather?”
Ethan tried not to laugh, instead stretched his right wing around so he could look at it, “I don’t have feathers.” he noted. It was covered in fine black hair. The bones, muscles and skin holding it together seems far too light to be able to hold his weight, but it had. Now that he thought about it, the muscles in his back where the wings came out here sore, and strained. He tried to lay them back, in a more relaxed position, but it felt weird.
“What are my wings doing right now?” He asked. Josh turned him around as they heard a screech from further afield.
“Uh, they seem to be retracting into your back.” He answered.
“How? Where am I keeping them?” Ethan demanded.
“Not sure.” Josh said tracing the parts of his back that felt very off, “They’re just squishing in somehow.”
A little more certain, Ethan continued the motion and suddenly he was once again, wingless. No that wasn’t right. He could feel them. He had felt them all morning and the past two weeks. He just hadn’t known they were there. He thought they were a back spasm.
“So what do you think is next?” He asked Josh, “Horns? A tail?”
Josh took him and hugged him close, “Don’t worry about it. Whatever it is, we’ll take care of it.”
“That thing was my brother.” Ethan said, “I know it was.”
“Sort of,” Rob said returning with Helena, “That thing was much more like your demonic father than you. It couldn’t survive here. That’s why it was getting fed by it’s servants.”
Helena nodded, kicking the remains of a wing with her foot. It broke up into dust almost immediately, “The body broke apart as soon as the Gate opened. It’s formless wherever it is now..”
“But it was my brother.” Ethan asserted, “I know it was. I could feel it.”
“Yeah, but your intention to kill it was pretty wise. It wanted the same thing as your father.” Rob said, wiping some dark blood on his jeans.
“To possess me?”
“It wasn’t born with a body, but you were and you’d be able to withstand the negative side effects of having something like that inside you.” Rob looked over the house, “Likely, it was going to work with you for a time and then it was planning on taking charge. It was an entirely spiritual entity, and after you’d let it in willingly you wouldn’t have had a chance.”
Ethan felt himself starting to cry, “Why… why does everything want my body?”
Rob shrugged, “Cause you got wings, obviously. Who doesn’t want wings?” He picked Ethan up and started carrying him back into the woods.
“What? I can walk.”
“No, you can’t, You look like you’re about to keel over dead.” Rob said, “Rest.”
“Anything useful?” Rob asked as he returned to the cabin.
“Nothing” Josh said, “Just garbage and keys to a vehicle I don’t see anywhere.”
“I assume you called it in.” Rob said, “Mr. Goody Two-shoes.”
Josh nodded, “Of course. Need someone to come down here and identify those bodies. I don’t want to subject your brother to that.”
Rob rolled his eyes, “Fine, but I don’t bring him out sometimes he’ll never socialize and will die a virgin. You know, not counting Alessa. Because, lets face it, no one should count Alessa.”
Helena coughed, “I think I saw Ethan’s father over by the Gate. Or at least what’s left of him.”
Josh grimaced, “Does that mean we’re going to find…” he choked slightly.
“What?” Rob asked.
“That mound it was sitting on.” Josh said, as the horror of realization dawned across his expression, “That was the bedroom. Where..” he couldn’t continue. He bent over and vomited.
Rob turned back to the house. “Fuck.”
As if to accent his statement, the sagging wall dropped off entirely. With a crash, The rest of the cabin followed suit, quickly falling in on itself. The rotting wood broke apart and within a minute, the quiet cabin which had housed an iniquitous cancer for over a decade was gone.