At first, I was amazed at how red the pipe turned, but I didn’t feel any heat. I was looking at it closer, trying to identify where the light was coming from.
The burning continued, I heard thousands of voices descend into my mind, drowning out every thought, every emotion except one. I could hear the words, but I couldn’t make them out, but I understood what they were telling me.
I dropped the pipe and stared at it, watching the red glow dissipate. The voices were all gone. I was in a fog, my mind clouded, my thoughts jumbled as I struggled to understand what had just happened.
Decker stepped closer, like a military man who was in formation being called on by his commander for duty.
Of course, Decker had to be in the War between the States. I should have known that.
He used quick yet controlled movement of the lantern to bring it within inches of my hand. His hand traveled precisely in a practiced manner into his pocket where it rested. His eyes flashed wide.
“What have you done with Mr. Stockhelm?”
I narrowed my gaze, wondering what the old crazy fool was talking about. He already knew about Alarbus. Before I had time to wonder much more something else took control of me.
He knows. The voice said.
I felt as though I was removed, placed far away as though I’d become the spectator instead of the actor.
“An obvious trick, old man. Using a pipe packed with sulfurs, shavings of iron and copper.” I heard my voice, but it was not my own. It was deeper and raspier. The words flowed from my mouth as if an actor on stage, though I was unaware of the script. I heard the words coming from my mouth, but they weren’t mine.
“You should consider leaving.” The old man’s body was stiff, his hand deep in his pocket still, the other thrust the lantern the direction I should go.
My focus was directed to Decker, zeroing in on his eyes, making sure he knew we were not about to leave. “Or what?”
Decker stepped closer.
“You must fight Mr. Stockhelm.”
“I can’t,” I said, or I tried to. I could feel my mouth going up and down, but nothing came out. Like a nightmare scream.
I could see my neighbor’s composure, strong, ready, yet reserved. He understood. Then he stopped peering into my eyes, and I knew he was about to address what had control of me.
Decker spoke aloud in what I thought was Latin.
I felt a sudden pressure in my chest, and I clutched the spot with my hand. My hand reached out and smacked the old man across the face.
I was now pushing, driving him against the tunnel wall. My body held him in place.
Decker was strong, but not strong enough to stop my hands from wrapping around his neck. My hands squeezed while I labored to stop my fingers from crushing Decker’s windpipe.
Stop it. I heard its voice, dark, and thick. It carried a menacing tone within it and nearly shattered my will upon hearing. It sent me away, far away, but I was still able to see, able to hear, just not able to do anything. It felt I had been pushed to the back of the theatre, away from the exit.
I could feel my hands tighten once again. I rushed toward the view of Decker outside my body, where I met an invisible shield. It kept me at a shorter distance than before, but I was now able to see my hands working to collapse the old man’s windpipe. Decker began to croak, like a frog who’d lost its voice, his face reddened while his eyes widened. “That’s right. You’re dying. You’re dying, and you can’t stop me.”
It was in that moment I notice decker bringing his arms up high, the lantern’s light blinded me temporarily before I saw his arms come down hard onto my forearms. My hold broke, I felt a hard push where I stumbled backward, the wall caught me.
I was relieved.
“You idiot.” I heard that voice.
Latin words rolled from Decker’s tongue.
I fell, hitting the ground with my knees, rolled to my side and hit the ground with my shoulder. My breath grew short, and I wildly wondered what was happening to me.
Decker stood over me and continued to chant. He pulled something from his pocket. I couldn’t make it out, the image was a small dark blur dangled from a thin rope. I forced my hand to reach out to the object only for my other hand to swat it away. I focused more, and the thing in his hand came into view. It was a cross.
The pain quickened in my chest and I had the sudden urge to defecate. I reached toward him again.
Spit flew from his mouth as he chanted in a loud, boisterous voice.
“Stop or we’ll devour your soul.” The voice reverberated in the theater in my head.
My heart pounded against my chest. We crawled along, pulling with my arms for my legs had grown limp. I could feel him walking with me, calling out with his words, not letting me go. Inch after inch I clawed at the ground, making my way while he continued to rant on.
I felt his boot in the middle of my back, a hard push, and I went down onto my belly.
If only we had a knife.
My body came to an abrupt halt, it lifted my upper body, turned me at the shoulders. I slowly raised my head to look at Mr. Decker.
What was he doing to me?
There was great pressure, like my ribs were about to crack under the mass of a boulder.
Get the knife.
My body turned over onto my back facing Decker. Aches ran over my body, and my muscles grew tight and screamed for mercy as I crab-crawled away.
I could feel it grab hold of me harder. Like a swimmer trying to drown a fellow swimmer to stop themselves from drowning but instead of dragging my body down into the depths of water, it was dragging my soul.
I could see Decker through the slit of my eyes, standing over me, holding that wretched thing. We should have killed him when we had the chance. I crawled backward, dragging my legs. Down the tunnel I went, the dirt grinding into my pants and shirt, my skin cold and clammy. I kept hearing his blasted words, words that fell like daggers over and over, tearing into me. He should be dead. How stupid we were. How very stupid.