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They rode without speaking, the garbled noise of the cabbie’s radio filling the silence. The map on the divider screen revealed they had reached the edge of Brooklyn. It was sad place. Buildings with boarded-up windows read “No Admittance.” Not a person, not even a car, was in sight. Silas told Hannah this was once the center of a booming steel industry. He was wrong. That was Pittsburgh.
The cab rolled up beside a graffiti-covered wall. Trees reached over it, dropping black leaves onto the sidewalk. From the car they could read the letters above a gate, “Grayfriar Field.”
“Charming,” Hannah said, not wanting to imagine what lied inside the gate. Silas shoved her out of the taxi as he paid the driver. The cabbie was glad to leave. As he sputtered away, Silas and Hannah approached the park gate. He stuck a finger in the keyhole of a padlock.
“How do we get around this?” he said.
Hannah examined the wall. Bricks jutted out at awkward angles. Putting a foot on the bottommost brick, she started to climb. She shouted at Silas to follow her, scrapping her fingernails against the old wall. Out of breath, she reached the top. Swinging her legs out, she searched for a way down. Staring up at her, on the other side of the wall, was Silas. He reached out a hand.
“Lemme help you down.”
“How did you get in?” she asked.
He held up the padlock. “Rusted. Came apart in my hands.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that?”
“I wanted to see if you could make it,” he said. “Great job, Spider-girl.”
Hannah dropped onto Silas, boots first.
“Was that really necessary?” he asked as they got up.
Shaking the leaves from their clothes, they looked around. They were under the shade of gloomy maple trees. Only a glimmer of streetlight made it over the wall. A stone path led from the gate into the heart of the park. They followed it and were quickly swallowed up by darkness.
“Flashlight?” Hannah asked.
“Lost it in the sewers,” Silas said.
“What did you bring?” she asked, poking his bag.
Silas laid a protective hand on it. “I brought the fetish, a few granola bars, and some light reading.”
“You can always use some extra energy,” he said.
“How are we going to see?” she asked.
“I got this.” He pulled out his Zippo and flicked it open. The small flame could only light up his face.
“God, you’re lucky I’m here.” Hannah turned on the LED flashlight on her phone. It lit a small patch in front of them, nothing more.
“Oh, that’s much better,” Silas said.
Guided by Hannah’s light, they explored Grayfriar Field. It was more wilderness than park. Old, ugly trees glowered down at them. They seemed to disapprove of the intruders. Images of the angry trees from the Wizard of Oz came to Silas’s mind. Benches occasionally appeared along the path, covered in weeds. The silence was thick. Nothing crept in the shadows beside them. Even the wind had fallen dead.
“I’d actually like to see this place after a snowfall,” Silas said. “Bet it’s beautiful.”
“I doubt it,” Hannah said. “What are we looking for?”
“Stuff that shouldn’t be in a park,” he said. “Magic circles, bonfires, desecrated tombs.”
“Please be serious,” she said.
He looked over at her. “I am.”
The path curved through the ancient park, gradually sloping downward. It ended at another wall. It was huge, Hannah’s light could only give them a sense of it.
“What do you make of that?” Hannah asked.
Silas ran a hand over the wall. He tsked. “This shouldn’t be here. It’s as if it fell right on top of the path.”
They walked along the wall and found an open doorway. It led to an open-air room sectioned off into stalls. Silas stepped into one of them.
“This is a stable,” he said, coming back with some hay. “Horses. In Brooklyn?” Hannah asked.
“Pretty common, a hundred years ago.” He rubbed the hay between his fingers. It crumbled. “These haven’t been used in a while.”
They left the stable through a door in the rear wall. Rising up before them was the remains of a massive structure. Even with much of it in a tumbled heap, it was three stories high. Passing through an archway they entered a meeting hall. Holes in the ceiling let in starlight.
Silas shook his head. “This doesn’t feel right.”
“I mean this building’s not supposed to be here,” he said.
“Come again?” she asked.
“Just look at it. It’s completely out of place. Do you get me?”
Hannah gave the room a good look. “Not really.”
“It’s old,” Silas said. “Much older than the park around it.”
Across from them was a row of iron-barred windows. Silas ran over and peered through. On the other side was a courtyard. Climbing what was left of some stairs, he reached a second level and tried to get a better look.
“Anything interesting?” Hannah asked.
“I think I can make out a pattern in the flagstones,” he said. “Should give us a clue. If I can only get closer…”
The wall he was leaning on broke and Silas fell into the courtyard. Hannah scrambled up the steps, only making it halfway, and shouted. It was a long minute before she got an answer.
“That hurt,” Silas said.
“Are you alright?”
“I’m gonna be sore in the morning,” he said.
“How do I get over there?” she asked.
“I wouldn’t recommend my method.”
“I’ll look around.”
He heard her climb down the steps and move away. Silas turned his attention to the flagstones.
“There’s definitely something painted on these stones,” he said, taking out his lighter.
Backing against the wall, he tried to take in as much of the floor as he could. Through the cracks and missing pieces, he made out a figure with a skull face. Spiny, featherless wings stretched out from its back.
“I’ve been seeing you a lot, lately,” Silas said. “I think I know what’s going on.” He looked up. “Hannah? Fall down a well?”
He was answered by a scream. Silas shouted her name. He took a step forward, unknowingly avoiding fingers that reached for his neck from behind. Spinning around, he caught the arms of a husk as it lunged for him. It pushed him to the ground. The gray creature sat on top of him, its sticky hands fighting for his throat.
Silas shoved a knee into the husk and rolled out from under it. He ran for the door. The husk caught his foot and he flew sprawled across the room. A wet groan filled the air as the creature pounced. Silas found a heavy stone and swung. The jagged edge caught the side of the husk’s face. It fell back. Silas hit it again. Blood and ooze squirted from its head.
Silas shouted Hannah’s name again as he found a corridor. Turning corner after corner, he got no closer to finding her.
“Are these walls moving, or something?”
He called to Hannah, telling her to get out of the castle and find higher ground. He arrived at an opening. It looked familiar. He was back at the courtyard. Blocking his way was the husk, its face caved in and dripping.
“Well hello, darling,” Silas said.
In two bounds it covered the space between them. Silas was already reaching into his coat. The husk didn’t see the spark of the lighter until it was too late.
Hannah found a crack in the castle wall and tried to squeeze through. A guttural noise echoed up the passage behind her. Something was loping down the corridor, its misshapen shadow dancing against the stone. Taking a breath, she pushed. A hand clamped on her wrist before she was clear of the castle. A crooked face poked through the opening. She smashed her phone into it and it let go. Hannah didn’t wait to see what it would do next.
She avoided the path and hid under the ample brush along the hillside. Trees provided dark, inviting cover. Hannah hugged the dirt as rhythmic panting moved up the path at the bottom of the hill. A few minutes passed before she was willing to move again.
Keeping away from the path, she crawled. She stayed low, her hands and knees growing wet and numb from the cold dirt. She thought about going back to find Silas, but the image of the husk kept her moving upward.
At the top of the hill, the trees thinned. In a clearing were three neat rows of nine stones. On them were words, too faded to read. Hannah knew they were headstones. At the head of the small cemetery, she saw it. It was head and shoulders taller than a man. Perfectly white, almost shining. The familiar beady eyes were enormous orbs of black.
It was a giant statue of the fetish.
It was smiling at her, as it always did. Its smug fixation on her radiated at that size. Hannah felt the statue watching her. She expected it to open its huge mouth and talk. Keeping her eyes on it, she backed toward the other end of the clearing.
A shape jumped out of the darkness. It caught her by the neck. Hannah screamed, but only made a whimper. She clawed at the husk, but it only tightened. It dragged her to the fetish. The earth was vibrating as the statue slid back, uncovering the hole in the ground. Hannah dug her heels into the dirt. She swung her arms. It was useless. She felt herself falling into darkness.
Warm air brushed her face. Her mouth tasted like dust. Something scuttled over Hannah’s body. Claws poked questioningly at her skin. She tried to swat the thing away, to discover her arms and legs tied to a table. Before the creature reached her neck, it was shooed away. Someone else was there.
Hannah tried to look around but could see little other than the scarred ceiling and red walls. A fire bloomed to life to her left. A torch bobbed up and down toward her. Slow, shallow breaths broke the silence. A man appeared. His emaciated, ashen face moved close to hers. The nose was shriveled up; only a stump with nostrils. Goggles hid the eyes, but yellow lights danced behind them. A thin mouth parted into a smile.
The gaunt man did nothing as Hannah screamed. He waited until her voice grew hoarse. Sticking his torch into a ring on the wall, he began to examine her. Bony fingers prodded Hannah. He felt the glands at her throat, pressed on her abdomen, even squeezed her thighs and calves. He nodded to himself, crooking an ear as he tapped various parts. Hannah struggled to get free, twisting against the ropes. This did not perturb him. They only cut into her skin.
Seeming satisfied with his examination, the man smiled at her again. A cloud of stale breath hit her. He turned away from the table. Hannah heard him rummaging through heavy, metallic objects.
“Are you… him?”
The man returned to face her. He looked confused.
He grunted and shook his head, returning to his table.
“Who are you, then? One of his minions? What are you doing?”
He said nothing as he returned, his hands full. Tucked into his belt was a long knife. In his hands was a ceramic jar. He removed the cork, releasing a fecal smell. Hannah gagged. He pointed at her mouth and made a drinking motion. She shook her head. The man smiled, pointed at the knife, and moved a finger across his neck. She got the message. He pulled on a surgical mask.
Clamping a hand onto her chin, the doctor tried to pry her mouth open. Hannah clenched her teeth, refusing him. The jar tipped over her mouth. A drop of yellow-green liquid touched her cheek and sizzled. Hannah fought the urge to scream. The man grew impatient. Shoving a finger between her lips, he scraped her gums. For a moment her teeth parted. The jar entered her mouth.
The doctor laughed as the liquid poured in. Hannah held her breath, using her tongue to stop the poison from going down her throat. Removing the jar, the man leaned in close and watched. Hannah spat the liquid into his face. It stuck to his skin, hissing like acid. The doctor screamed as the goggles melted into his eyes. Pulling at his apron, he tried to blot his face. His voice filled the room as he dropped to the floor.
Hannah waited until the man stopped making noise. She lifted her head. Laying across her stomach was the knife. It had been dislodged from his belt when he fell. Twisting her left hand under the ropes, she grabbed it. It cut through the bonds easily. She was about to climb off the table, when the doctor tackled her.
He pinned her down, holding the jar near her head. If he could not get her to drink, he’d crush her skull with it. Closing her eyes, Hannah pushed the knife into his stomach. It felt like cutting into a piece of meat. Things popped and ruptured inside the man as she pulled it through his chest. The doctor dropped the jar and screamed. Hannah rolled off the table as he slumped over. Blood spread out like a shadow under him.
Hannah leaned against the wall. She retched, forcing all of the poison from her mouth. A queasy feeling ran up from her stomach, making her dizzy. It was a long time until it subsided. She searched the room. Carved into the wall were catacomb shelves. They were filled with women’s clothing. Hannah found necklaces, rings, and wallets. She put on her own clothes and looked for a way out.
Hidden in an alcove was a door shut with a bolt. With both hands, she opened it, discovering a murky passage beyond. Using the doctor’s torch for light, she explored the tunnel. It was narrow and descended gradually. Warm air wafted over her. She ran a hand along the wall to the right, the rough surface offering a little assurance. There was no sound, not even an echo from her steps.
Eventually the wall fell away and Hannah found herself in an open space. She took a few steps, sensing something nearby. A row of lampstands bloomed to life. Rising before her was a wall of black stone. Giant faces were carved into it, each frozen in pain and fear. In the center was the largest. It glowered at Hannah with vivid eyes. Its gaping mouth formed a doorway, through which she could see nothing.
Wind blew through the mouths, carrying with it voices. Groans, low and moody, swirled around her. Hannah turned away from the wall. The groans became a chorus. Her torch went out as the wind increased. She was pushed forward, into the black maw.
Silas was mad. Not the least reason was he lost his favorite greatcoat. He left it smoldering in the castle hallway, where a charred husk lay, clutching what remained of it. Also his assistant was missing. Shivering, he hugged the left wall of the corridor until he found a way out. He shouted for Hannah, despite knowing the noise would probably draw more of the creatures. He arrived at a crack in the wall. Sticking out were the feet of a comatose husk, bits of smartphone scattered in the grass around it.
He picked up the shell of the phone and looked it over. Silas had paid enough attention to know it was Hannah’s. Dropping it, he plunged into the park. He searched for footprints in the thick dirt. There were none. At least, none made by Hannah’s size seven boots. Leaving the path, he followed a tell-tale line of crushed weeds up the hill.
Halfway up, he stopped. There was a distant rumble, like thunder rolling in from the sea. But it was coming from beneath him. Suddenly the many hypotheses he had formed about the park was narrowed to one. The ground shook. Silas began to worry. Running the rest of the way, he reached a small clearing at the top of the hill.
Neat, brown headstones gathered in rows. Silas looked over them, wishing he had charcoal and some paper. He tsked when he discovered the statue. A giant symbol of what started it all, glaring at him like a deranged demigod. He wrestled with the competing desires to study the thing or blow it to smithereens. But something more pressing grabbed his attention.
He picked up a branch, he took out his Zippo. Holding it out like a weapon, he set it ablaze. In the trees surrounding the clearing were at least three husks, huddled, waiting. By the time they reached the ground and were bounding toward him, Silas was waving the brand.
The creatures hissed and kept their distance. The sound reminded Silas of cockroaches. One of them took a step forward.
“Don’t try me,” Silas said. “Trust me, I really want to kill you.”
The loose skin of the husk’s mouth pulled back. Broken teeth stuck out at all angles, dripping with black spit. The creature was smiling. It was one of the more hideous things Silas had ever seen. The husk took another step. Its head exploded. Shots filled the clearing and the remaining husks were cut down. A SWAT team stormed the graveyard. Their riot gear and assault rifles glinted against high-powered flashlights.
Silas was on the ground. He had ducked after the first shot. One of the SWAT officers grabbed him by the armpit and pulled him up.
“Nice moves, Black,” the officer said. “You learn that at Oxford?”
“I’m not dead, am I?” Silas said. “Are you gonna remove that mask, Vader, or am I supposed to guess?”
She removed her hood and goggles. Detective Lang smirked at him.
“Aren’t you a little small to be a SWAT?” Silas asked.
“Veteran SWAT, pal,” she said, pumping her chest.
Silas wiped dark blood from his face and hair. “What are you doing here?”
“Hannah texted Detective McClelland with the name of this park,” Lang said. “We tried to call her back, but got nothing. I didn’t take any chances.”
“Evidently,” he said, looking at the small army. “At least we know assault rifles work on them.”
“Do you mind telling me why you didn’t notify us on what you were doing?” the police detective asked.
“We were just looking around,” Silas said. “Didn’t expect trouble.”
“How’d you find this place?” she asked.
“Got a lead at the Golden Saucer.”
“You got in there?” she said. “When were you gonna tell me that?”
“We can argue later,” he said. “Seriously, I’m looking forward to it. But there’s bigger problems.”
“Obviously. Where’s your partner?”
“We got separated,” he said. “I followed her trail to this clearing.”
Lang turned to the SWAT team, who were looking over the dead husks. “Alright, fan out. I want every inch of this park covered. Esposito’s team stays with me.” A portion of them broke off down the hill. One of the officers approached Lang and Silas.
“We’ll find her,” Esposito said. “Ten minutes, tops.”
“Don’t be too sure,” Silas said. “There’s something fishy about this place. It feels… fuzzy.”
“Please make some sense,” Lang said.
“This isn’t your run-of-the-mill haunted park,” he said. “Another dimension is pushing through it into ours. Happy?”
“There’s a castle down there. Centuries old. It leaked through from another place and time.”
“Explain better,” Lang said. “So that normal people can understand.”
Silas put his hands together as he searched for the right words.
“There is a way of crossing vast distances of space by butting one end up to another. Imagine folding the sides of a map together, so that California and New York were touching. You could just step from one side to the other.”
“That’s what you think’s going on here?” the police detective asked.
“Sort of,” he said. “You can do the same thing with two periods of time. Or two dimensions. Someone’s done it here and Hannah has been taken over to the other side.”
“That’s hard to swallow,” Lang said.
“Look around you, detective,” Silas said. “Nothing about this case has been easy to swallow. But it gets worse.”
“I’m not surprised.”
“Few people know how to properly bridge two dimensions together. I know of only one who could do it safely; he runs a nice antiques shop. If you don’t know how to do it right, both sides crash into each other like ships in a storm. The bridge, so to speak, it splintering. Other dimensions are breaking through.”
“What does that mean?” Lang asked.
“This park is an unstable portal across time and space,” Silas said. “If it isn’t closed, it might suck the whole city through.”
“To the other side?” she said.
“Or somewhere in between, or nowhere at all. I don’t want to find out, really.”
“Then we gotta haul ass out of here,” Officer Esposito said.
“Not without Hannah,” Silas said. “And not without dealing with Daragon once and for all.”
The ground moaned like a whale. It shook, shifting the headstones and knocking the cops off balance. Lang was the first to recover.
“Where is he?” she asked.
“Where he’s been all along, on the other side,” Silas said.
“How do we get to him and close this thing?”
“The portal entrance must be nearby,” he said. “Hannah was in this clearing before I lost her tracks.”
“What would it look like?” Lang asked.
“I’m hoping something obvious,” he said. “Like a big hole.” The SWAT looked around, dubiously expecting to see a door floating in the air.
“My money’s on the big guy here.” The private detective pointed at the statue.
Lang took a step toward it. “I’ve seen that before. The doll we took from your apartment.”
“Made by the same psychopath. It’s a marker to the other dimension. We just have to move it.”
Lang barked at her officers. “Boys, you know what to do.”
A trio of large, imposing SWAT rushed the statue. Silas dove out of the way as their combined strength, and crowbars, rocked the stone back and forth. In no time it was on the ground in pieces. Beneath it was the opening. Silas peered inside as the cops joined him.
“Great, more sewer diving,” Lang said.
“No,” Silas said. “It doesn’t go down, just looks that way.”
Lang turned back to her team. “Radio McClelland. I want everyone but us to pull out of the park. If Black’s right, nobody’s safe here. Keep the surrounding blocks cordoned off. Esposito and I will lead the team inside.”
She looked at Silas. “Okay, what do we do?”
“You’re asking me?” He turned to face the half-dozen officers. They were staring at him. Their faces were calm, almost resolute. It was as if they trusted him. That was new.
“We go in,” he said. “Rescue Hannah, and the other victims. We blow up Daragon and close this bridge.”
“You’re not going down there like that,” Lang said. “Get him a vest.”
“And a coat,” he said. “I feel like you should have gotten me one by now. Also, I’ll need something else.”
“You’re not getting a gun,” she said.
“Just let me see your supplies.”
A large canvas bag was brought over. Silas searched it, finding a Maglite, which he stuck into his satchel. His eyes lit up as he found another piece of equipment.
“Oh, no,” Lang said. “You’re not getting a flare gun.”
“It’s very important I have this,” Silas said, “and some refills.”
“Are you ready?” she asked, her impatience boiling at the surface.
The ground lurched again. Silas, Lang and the SWAT team walked over to the portal.
“Ladies first?” Silas said.
The police detective put a hand on his shoulder. “I’ll be right behind you.”
He smirked as he pointed his light into the hole. Black steps dropped down endlessly.
“Alright everybody, hold onto your butts.”