Headstrong Wrong

 

(5,511 words)

James McCullen stood in a large, dimly-lit mansion lobby. Dark shadows gave way to impenetrable blackness throughout the expansive space; only a black carpet marking the pathway to a receptionist desk, and the area immediately around it, was illuminated. The young man could feel goose bumps forming on his arms, and a bead of sweet trickle down his forehead, in spite of the room’s coolness, and he could hear no sound at all; not even the wind and rain he left outside. Momentarily, James felt his nerve failing him.

Thoughts of his friend restored James’s nerves. He was willing to die for her; a pretty girl, named Emma. Even now, James’s mind pictured her face perfectly. She had suddenly fallen ill, contracting “the demon’s kiss,” a curse that ordinary doctors couldn’t cure. Rumor had it the curse originated in this foreboding mansion; a doctor specializing in cases like Emma’s was supposedly holed up here. Thus, this is where James found himself. No one had wanted him to come here. He didn’t care what anyone else wanted, though.

“Oh, a visitor. Do come along up here, now,” a creature sitting at the receptionist desk crooned lazily, breaking the otherwise absolute silence that oppressed the room. Its long, hooked nose resembled a bird’s beak, and the pale, vaguely purple flesh covering its face was like a thin mask for its jagged skull. Its welcome was delivered with a smile exposing jagged, dirty teeth below its thin lips. It wore a strange, dark-purple, full-body suit that covered its entire frame-which was too small for its head-and over the body suit it wore a black hooded trench-coat. James thought he saw a long, reptilian tail flicking behind the desk, although more distracting were its eyes, bulging through half opened, thin lids. “Yes, yes, right up to the desk. Very good. What brings you to us tonight, young man?”

“A friend has contracted a curse,” James said sternly. The creature’s eyes narrowed and its smile widened at the news, as if it pleased it. “There’s a doctor in this building who specializes in such cases, and I insist on seeing him.”

“Now, now, boy,” the creature began, its face abruptly contorting into a scowl. “Not just anyone gets to see the doctor. He is a busy man.”

“Look here, weirdo. I’m not just anyone,” James insisted, poking a finger between the creature’s eyes. “I won’t be taking ‘no’ for an answer-”

“I hardly thought you would, young man,” the creature assured James, its smile suddenly back, the finger in its face seemingly going unnoticed. “I did not mean that you wouldn’t be admitted to his presence; rather, that tracking him down will prove a touch difficult. This mansion’s rather large, and can be perplexing to newcomers like yourself. Furthermore, the doctor does not stay put, but moves about the building, wherever his fancy takes him. Truthfully, I’m uncertain as to where he is at this moment.”

“What? Where was he the last place you saw him, then?” James growled. He believed that any moment now, while he stood here, talking to this creature, some lurking thing would reach out of the darkness and grab him, but he didn’t want this creep to know he was feeling uneasy about being here; it would probably use that against him.

“It’s not my place to check on him, boy; it’s my place to answer nosey callers like you,” the creature said, narrowing its eyes again. Momentarily, however, its dirty teeth reappeared with a grin. “As I’m feeling charitable right now, what I’ll do is point you in the direction of one who might know our good doctor’s whereabouts. A large, jovial fellow named Bilfly. You’ll find him by going up the spiral staircase behind me, and taking a right. You will be walking the upper eastern hallway; be careful not to peak through the fourth or fifth doors, as the residents in those rooms may take offense. Bilfly will be behind the seventh door. Tell him Zesar sent you.”

“Whatever. Thanks, I guess-” James muttered as he began walking to the spiral staircase. The creature-apparently named “Zesar”-suddenly grabbed his arm and stared deep into his eyes.

“Take care, boy. Do not insult our residents.”

“Y-yeah, yeah, whatever, let go of me,” the young man managed to mutter after a long pause, pulling away from Zesar. As he ascended the stairs, the creature watched him all the way up, fully bearing its teeth through its smile. James had been warned he might meet unusual persons in this mansion, though the warning didn’t quite prepare him for this “Zesar” creep. Still, it didn’t matter; Emma was waiting for his return. Although if Emma knew he was here, she wouldn’t be happy with him.

#                      #                        #

“So, this book I’m reading…it’s fascinating,” Emma spoke softly from her bed, the color drained from her skin and sweat rolling down her brow. She stared up at the ceiling, almost as though her eyes no longer worked, though that would contradict her claim of reading a book. Even so, her skin sparkled like the stars, and she smelled the way she always had; like a flower. She seemed to James more like an angel than a sick person–though James would prefer not to think of her as an angel just yet. “It’s about a family of monkeys. A young male wants to mate with an attractive female, but the alpha male is much bigger than him.”

“Um, monkeys? Why are you reading about monkeys?” James asked, confusedly.

“Wait until you hear the best part,” Emma said with as much excitement as she could muster, ignoring James’s question. Deciding to humor her, James held his question and waited to hear what happened to Emma’s monkey. However, an awkward length of time passed, and Emma still had not said anything. James was about to break the silence, when Emma concluded, “The alpha male tore that idiot monkey limb from limb. Usually, the younger male is just chased away from the family, but this alpha male was especially vicious.”

“That’s…sad?” James was unsure of how to respond to this revelation.

“Y’know what else is sad?” Emma asked, turning to look at him now, her eyes apparently working. “I know an idiot young monkey who is about to do basically the same thing, and I really wish he wouldn’t.”

“What…are you talking about?” James asked, having an idea of what she was getting at.

“Don’t go, idiot monkey,” Emma said testily. “That is what I’m saying. I will never forgive you if you do. If you don’t get ripped limb from limb and somehow come back, that is. That place is dangerous, and everyone knows it.”

“I-I don’t-” James tried to lie to her, but realized it was pointless. “Look. I gotta do it. No one else is gonna do it! Who’s gonna do it, if it isn’t me?!”

“How about no one?” Emma shrugged under her covers. “It’s a really dumb thing to do. That’s why no one else is volunteering to do it.”

“But you-”

“I’m never leaving this bed again, James,” Emma said sternly, though with a slight falter. “Forget about me. Go live your life. Meet a pretty girl. Have babies. Do all the things you thought you would do with me.”

“Wh…what? I didn’t, it wasn’t, geez.” James muttered dumbly, feeling his cheeks flush red.

“I know,” Emma stated simply, a knowing smirk appearing on her face. This was too much for James; he could no longer look her in the eye, instead studying the dusty wooden floor beneath them. “Silly boy. Anyway, I’m getting tired, now. Would you please put out my candle before you leave?”

“Of-of course, okay,” James muttered as he awkwardly stood up and walked over to the candle on Emma’s table. After a sigh, he put the candle out. “Rest well, Emma.”

“Take care, James,” Emma said as she waved a weak goodbye at her friend. James walked out the door, not looking back at the pretty girl again.

#                      #                        #

The spiral staircase had led up to a balcony that overlooked the lobby. A stern statue of a robed, bearded man stood at the center of a wall parallel to the balcony, glaring at James with harsh disapproval. It seemed the statue was questioning the young man’s intrusion. What business did this fool have in his home? How might he deem himself worthy to step foot on these grounds? He didn’t belong here, so he had best be quick about his business and get out. After a long moment, it occurred to James that he had been staring at this statue for an unreasonable length of time. Quickly, he moved to the hallway on his left, doing his best to avoid eye contact with it.

The hallway was darker than the lobby had been, barely lit by a smattering of torches on the walls. It seemed to stretch on in perpetuity, the doors far removed from one another. Nothing else seemed to exist besides this hallway; it was firmly encased in its own existence. As had been the case with the lobby below, a complete silence oppressed this place. Dust was not visible, but James could certainly smell the particles floating in the air.

Slowly, James advanced, examining the hallway to the tiniest detail as he went, looking for hands to reach out and grab him. On his right, the first door stood open. Within, sitting in a rocking chair with his face half-obscured by a dark hood, there was a man. He sat perpendicular to the door, so James saw his profile; another remarkably long nose. This man was just sitting there, rocking in his chair, staring intently at his wall with wide, angry eyes. He didn’t seem to notice James, and before he did, the young man quickly pressed on.

As James moved further down the hallway, the darkness closed in even more. From the corner of his eyes, now and again, he thought he saw shapes drifting around him, just outside the light. Now and again, he thought he heard a faint moan, but he could not make out where it was coming from. In time, these specters drifting in the shadows seemed to grow bolder, and James thought he caught glimpses of some transparent cloth they wore, trailing behind them. At times, the young man thought he even saw their faces in the darkness; sad, mournful faces, their eyes obscured by the shadows beneath their brows. The moaning became like whispers, though James could not make out what was being said.

As he tiptoed past, the second and third doors were closed, though he could hear indecipherable muttering coming from behind the third door. The fourth door was closed, but the fifth was open. Heavy breathing could be heard from within. It took a great deal of restraint to not glance inside the room, but after what seemed longer than a few seconds, James was past that fifth door.

Still, the specters floated around him, and he thought he could make out some words they whispered, here and there: mostly, he heard “no.” As he wasn’t sure what they were objecting to—and if it was to his rescuing his friend, he would not have it, regardless—James tried to keep this out of his mind. Soon past the sixth door without incident, James found himself outside the seventh door, where this “Bilfly” supposedly resided. After a long pause, with a gulp, James knocked on the door.

“Oh hi! Come on in, okay?” a deep, happy voice spoke from behind the door. Blinking away his momentary surprise, James opened the door. Waiting there to greet him was a large, fat, yellow, furry gut. A cord held a pair of brown, baggy shorts around the bottom of the gut—perhaps there was a waist, there—and yellow, furry legs and feet protruded beneath, holding the mass up. Looking up, James saw what he assumed to be a head. It didn’t have a face, though; brown tufts surrounded a dark hole where the face should be, shaped like pedals on a flower. When the voice spoke again, the entire hole moved; it was a mouth, apparently. It was smiling. “What can I do for ya, little guy?”

“Hi, Bilfly? Zesar sent me up here to see you,” James explained, nervously. “I have a friend who’s sick, and I need to talk to the doctor. Zesar said you might know where he is.”

“Oh, that Zesar. He’s a character,” Bilfly laughed. Then, scratching its head, it added, “I’m tryin’ ta think, now. Where was that old man off to last time? Hum. He likes to move to different parts of the building, ya know? Somethin’ about ‘getting better readings,’ or ‘a clearer communication channel.’ Y’know. Doctor-y stuff.”

“Uh, yeah, sure,” James responded to this thing’s incomprehensive mutterings. Then, both Bilfly and he stood in the doorway for a long moment. “So, do you know where the doctor is, or not?” James demanded. A pang of fear shot up his back immediately after, as he considered what he was mouthing off at.

“Y’know, I think he’s downstairs today. Yeah, that he is.” Bilfly’s head jerked up and down. “He’s down there below us, in the eastern lab, I think. You’ll need the key to get in there. Zesar’s got it.”

“Okay, thanks Bilfly,” James muttered as he turned to leave.

“Hold your horses, guy,” Bilfly said, and James stopped and turned back around to face it. The large, furry creature handed him a small bag, the bottom of which was damp. “Ya need ta give this to ol’ Zesar. He needs it.”

“Okay,” James said hesitantly, looking down at the bag in his hand. Had Zesar sent him up here to run an errand for him? Could he have sent him straight away to the doctor, without putting him through this nonsense? It didn’t matter, he just needed to get to the doctor and get out of there. “Uh, take care, Bilfly.”

“Nice meeting ya, little guy!” Bilfly’s hole smiled.

With that, James swiftly began walking back down the hallway towards the lobby, much quicker than before. He was almost at the fifth door when he remembered what Zesar told him. Letting out a quiet gasp, he stopped dead in his tracks, and tiptoed past the door. It was closed now, however. Relieved, James pressed on–and accidently looked right at the pale ghoul standing inside the fourth door.

Momentarily, the ugly thing looked as shocked as he was–and then its very angry face filled his field of vision. In that instant, he could see every wrinkle, every scar, every blemish on its unnaturally white face. The worst part was the eyes, or the lack thereof. It let out a blood-curdling shriek, and James fell backward onto his butt, crying out as well, though the creature drowned him completely out.

Scrambling to his feet, James made a run for the lobby, though he could feel the ghastly creature’s chilling presence right behind him. An ice-cold hand grabbed his shoulder and, with an unnatural strength, threw him backwards onto the hallway floor. It hovered over him now, staring down with its eyeless sockets at him menacingly, its teeth bared in an enraged snarl. Slowly, its face lowered down above his, and its pale, boney hand reached out at him, when out of nowhere, a yellow blur smashed into it.

“Get outta here, okay?!” Bilfly shouted as it held the ghoul down with one hand. It writhed and snarled at Bilfly like an angry dog, biting its arm in several different places. However, it could not get free. “Ya got Zesar’s bag still? Good. Get goin’!” James caught a glimpse of Bilfly clubbing the ghoul on the top of the head with its large, yellow fist as he ran past. Down the hallway, a purple figure was flying towards him. Its purple, bony face looked very angry as its eyes bulged out at him.

“You insulted a resident,” Zesar hissed as it arrived next to James, glaring down at him angrily.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, holy shit!” James babbled. He offered the bag he was carrying, as if in atonement. “Here, I have this, it’s from Bilfly!”

“Get downstairs,” Zesar growled as it snatched the bag out of James’s hand. Swiftly, James followed the command, arriving back at the balcony with the angry statue–who looked even more disapproving after James created such a ruckus–and then rushing down the spiral staircase, back at Zesar’s desk. The purple creature was not back yet. James assumed it was helping Bilfly get the ghoul back under control.

Again, James began to hear the faint, mournful whispers from the shadows. He still could not quite understand them, but he got the sense that they were questioning his motives. Why was he here? Why had he come to this place? Everyone had told him it was a bad idea; even Emma had told him not to come here. Furthermore, why was he still here? Some seemingly undead creature had almost done who-knows-what to him, up there in that hallway. Zesar was obviously upset with him. He could slip out now, when it was busy, and go home. No one would begrudge him for doing so. No one knew he was here, as it was; he had not told anyone what he was doing.

He knew damn well where he was, James countered the whispers. He remembered why, too, and no amount of contradiction or well-reasoned argument would lead him astray from his goal. It did not matter what it took; if he had to sacrifice himself, he would save his friend. However, the whispers continued to question him. They noted that Emma had told him she would never forgive him if he did this. She did not want him to do this. Why was he doing this? Was it for her, or was it for him?

With these new suggestions, James tried to ignore the whispers, but he found he could not. As he was about to begin yelling at the whispers to shut up, Zesar appeared at the top of the stairs. For a moment, the creature did not move, but simply glared down at its young guest. After the moment passed, however, the creature began floating down the steps, its grin returned to its face.

“You had an unfortunate meeting with one of our more sensitive residents, didn’t you, young man?” Zesar asked. “I tried to warn you, but these things happen, I’m afraid. Thank you for the delivery, as well.” The creature removed the bag from within its trench coat and pulled its contents out; it was a brain. Pulling down its hood, the creature proceeded to devour the brain, its sharp, jagged teeth making short work of the meal. Once finished, it rested its smile back on James. “So I take it Bilfly told you what you needed to know?”

“Yes, he-I mean sh-I mean it told me that the doctor is in the eastern lab,” James said, confusedly. “It also said you have the key to the eastern lab, so I’ll be needing that from you.”

“Bilfly told you that? What a silly creature,” Zesar laughed. “I can’t give you the key. You will have to ask the Sentry permission.”

“The sentry?”

“Yes,” Zesar crooned, his smile deepening. “You will find him in the northern hallway, behind me. He’ll be at the far end, but don’t worry; there’s no residents down that way, heh heh.”

“Why don’t you just cut to the chase and give me the damn key?” James demanded. He immediately regretted the tone he had chosen, as his host got right up in his face again, its bulging eyes nearly touching his own. Its tail also wrapped itself around his body, holding him in place.

“Because that’s not how we do things here, boy,” Zesar growled. “If you don’t like it, I suggest you leave, because we’re not going to change for you. Make such demands again, and I won’t be so understanding. Understood?”

“Y-yes,” James stammered.

“Then get going,” the creature backed off, still glaring at James. “Don’t come back until you’ve talked to the Sentry. Tell him Zesar sent you.” James took off towards the opening behind Zesar’s desk, not looking back this time to see if the creature was watching him. He could feel its eyes on his back, regardless.

Only a few yards in, the northern hallway was pitch black. Why was this “Sentry” back here, anyway? Should it not be upstairs, patrolling the hallways that these horrible “residents” resided in? Or maybe it would have served the mansion better patrolling the outer perimeters of the mansion? How was it doing its job, hanging around in a pitch-black hallway like this? Regardless, James was just stalling now, and needed to push forward, so he did.

Thankfully, there were no whispering specters in here. Just black, and that was it. No smell, no sound, nothing but oppressive darkness. Though he tried to walk straight forward, James kept on bumping against the wall. Eventually, he decided to put out his hand and feel his way forward. Evidently, this wall was made of large stone bricks, standing out from the rest of the oak wood building. There was also a layer of slime coating it, either from condensation, or something else, knowing the residents. The texture and thickness was more than enough to cause a gag reflex. How James had not felt it upon bumping into the wall multiple times before was beyond him, but maybe he just got lucky.

After fumbling through the darkness for about ten minutes, a red sphere of light flashed into existence in front of James. It did not illuminate anything else around it; it was simply there. As James pondered the light, a deep, earthy voice rumbled, sending vibrations down the hallway.

“Who walks the northern hall?”

“My name is James McCullen,” the young man responded.

“James McCullen,” the voice said, as the red orb flickered for a moment. “You do not reside in this mansion?”

“Uh, no?” James responded hesitantly.

“You do not reside in this mansion,” the voice said. “Should I kill you?”

“Err-no?” James said, confusedly. “I don’t reside here, but I have business here. My friend is sick, and I am trying to find the doctor who lives in this mansion. I was told that the doctor was in the eastern laboratory, and that I needed the Sentry’s permission to use the key to open it. Oh, and Zesar sent me. So, are you the Sentry?”

“I am,” the voice responded, the red orb again flickering. “You request permission to use the key to enter the eastern lab. What will you do then? Will you harm the doctor? Should I kill you?”

“N-no, you really shouldn’t,” James quickly responded, ineffectually holding up his hand in the darkness to halt the Sentry’s line of thought. “I want to meet with the doctor so he can give me a cure for my friend, sick with the Demon’s Kiss.”

“You will not harm the doctor,” the Sentry said. “You wish to talk to him. You wish to find a cure for your friend. Why should the doctor help you with this? Do you know the doctor? Should I kill you?”

“No!” James held both hands up now. “I don’t know the doctor, I have no connection with the doctor, there is no reason the doctor should help me, but I love–I really need to save my friend. She’s an amazing person. She doesn’t deserve to die like this. I’d take her place if I could, what’s more.”

“You would die for your friend,” the Sentry said. “She is important to you. Why would the doctor care about this? Why would you bother the doctor with this? Why do you not deserve death right now?” The red orb grew brighter and more saturated in red.

“No, c’mon!” James cried in panic. “I could–I would appeal to his humanity. He’s got humanity, right? That’s a thing, isn’t it?”

“He feels sympathy,” the Sentry spoke. “You make this assertion of someone you do not know.  That calls into question everything else you said. How am I to trust you? What reason do I have not to kill you?”

“Look. Look, I’ve been helping the residents,” James stammered. He was starting to wonder if he should run back down the hallway, hoping for the best in the dark. “Yeah! I delivered a brain to Zesar from Bilfly just a little while ago! Ask ‘em!”

“You made a delivery,” the Sentry said. “You helped the residents. This is meant to indicate your trustworthiness. I do not see how this follows. However, here you still stand, even as I’ve questioned whether I should kill you, multiple times. You are brave, and foolish. You are no match for anyone who resides in this mansion, thus are no threat. You have my permission. May your soul be granted mercy.”

“Uh, thanks, sir,” James muttered awkwardly. He was about to turn and leave, but then remembered that Zesar wanted something from the Sentry. “Uh, do you have anything for Zesar?”

“The bag is at your feet,” the Sentry said, as the red orb blinked out of existence. James bent down, reaching his hands around, and sure enough, there was a small bag, very similar to the one Bilfly had given him (at least as far as he could tell, in this darkness). Having retrieved the bag, James turned and went back down the pitch-black hallway, again feeling his way along the slimy wall. Eventually, he saw the dim light of the lobby flickering in the distance once again, and made directly for it. As he neared the lobby, Zesar was standing there, staring at him, grinning its thin-lipped, dirty-toothed grin.

“Ah, so you’ve been granted permission,” Zesar said, licking its thin lips. Without hesitation, it grabbed the bag from James’s hand, pulled out the brain inside of it, and destroyed it in seconds. It then turned back to its desk and began searching through its drawers. “I will get you the key, just a moment now. Ah yes, here it is. E Lab 003. Take care of this key, young man!”

“Yeah, yeah, it’ll get back to you,” James said as he snatched the key out of Zesar’s hand. Zesar’s eyes narrowed, but its smile grew wider. “Over there, right?”

“Yes, straight down the lower eastern hallway, you will find the lab,” Zesar said with a nod towards the hallway. “This must be exciting for you; you finally get to meet the doctor.”

“Sure is,” James acknowledged bluntly. He started hurrying towards the hallway, when the specters in the darkness made their presence known again, by wailing. Zesar’s smile contorted into a snarl, and it looked around at the deep shadows disapprovingly.

“Shut up!” Zesar shouted, apparently at the specters. The voices did not comply, and Zesar began shouting at the top of his lungs at them. James left it that way, roaring at the shadows. He would not be turning back now. Though the whole world had been against his meeting this doctor, he did not care. He was tired of everyone and everything getting in his way. He was doing this, whether they liked it or not. Threats, warnings, and common sense be damned. He knew they all thought he was stupid. He knew they all thought he was a stubborn ass. Well, they could all go to hell, and he didn’t care if he got there first or not, so long as he saved his friend in the process.

When James arrived at the eastern laboratory’s doors–huge, double doors, with angry dragon’s faces for door knobs–they were standing wide open. Clearly, James had not needed the key, and he wondered if that purple weirdo Zesar knew this was the case. Regardless, James was now cautiously stepping through the big double doors, into another large, dark room. The darkness here was as complete as it had been in the northern hallway—perhaps more so, if that was possible—and not a sound could be heard from within. James looked around for a moment, trying to pick some activity out within the pitch black, or some indication that anyone was in there. After a long moment, James’s anticipation got the best of his patience, and he called out into the room.

“Hey! Doctor…doctor…such and such?” James’s voice echoed throughout the room. Suddenly, a mechanical snap sounded in the darkness, and a bright yellow light beamed down onto the center of the room. At the center of the beam was an old man in black robes. His gray brow hung over his eyes, completely obscuring them, and a long beard hung nearly to his feet, seemingly the cause of the pronounced hunch in his back. Tufts of hair stuck out over both ears, on his otherwise bald, wrinkly, blemished head. He looked barely more human than Zesar or Bilfly did.

“Have you come to make a deal?” The old man asked in a raspy, dusty voice; James imagined he saw small clouds of dust exit his mouth when he spoke, even.

“A deal?” James asked, confusedly.

“A deal,” the old man said, simply. “The Sentry told me about you. I could hear your progress throughout my mansion, regardless. My residents have enjoyed your presence.”

“So…you know why I’m here?” James asked, cautiously. “What’s the deal, then?”

“A life for a life,” the old man explained. “Life can be restored to one who is fading, but the essence of another must be withdrawn.”

“So…so you need to drain my life force in order to save my friend? How will you get it to her?” James asked, a heavy feeling of dread suddenly weighing him down.

“I have my ways,” the old man responded. “It will get where it needs to go. Are you willing?” For the first time since making his decision to come here, James’s determination completely failed him. He stood there for a long moment, staring down at his feet, suddenly unable to look at this old man. “Well? What say you, young man?”

“Yeah. I’ll do it,” James responded, finally. Suddenly, the light filled the entire room. A large, metal contraption with various appendages behind the old man—something like a spider—began gyrating and letting off steam. A long appendage with a claw on the end reached across the room and picked James up around his waist. The compression of the claw around his body was unexpectedly painful, and James let out a yelp. As the claw carried him back to the machine, another appendage with a hand came down beside the old man, and he sat down on it. The two of them were placed on body-length metal tables, and leather straps grew up around them, holding them in place. “Wait a minute, why are you-?” Before he could finish his thought, an appendage with a needle on the end stabbed James on the arm, and again, he let out a yelp. The doctor smiled at him from across the way.

“I thank you for your generous donation, young man,” the old man said. “My residents also thank you. Not a drop will go to waste.” Realization of this old man’s true intentions struck James like a harsh slap in the face.

“What the hell?! This isn’t what I agreed to! You were supposed to save my friend, you old bastard!” James objected, trying to struggle free of his straps, but they were too tight. “Let me go, damn it! This was not part of the deal!”

“But it was,” the old man said. “You simply misunderstood. I would advise you not to rush into such deals that you don’t understand in the future, but, well, you won’t be dealing with such things anymore, will you?”

“Hooray! The little guy is gonna be with us forever!” Bilfly said, standing just inside the door. Next to it floated Zesar, licking its lips through its horrible grin.

“No. Let me go,” James pleaded, but he was already beginning to feel the life drain out of him. His skin stretched tightly across his bones, and no muscle remained on his body to accommodate his struggling against the straps. They were gone, as was the liquid in his body. He tried to speak once more, but he was too weak. As his sight failed, he saw the specters spinning around him, their mournful faces looking upon him with pity. They had tried to warn him—everyone had tried to warn him—but he wouldn’t listen. He was an idiot monkey, like Emma called him; his death would do nothing for her. Soon, his dry husk of a body could no longer hold his spirit inside, and he flew off to join with the specters, mourning their loss for eternity.