Chapter 7

The gunshot rang in my ears. I watched, in slow motion, as the bullet hit Byron and he slid to the floor. The shocked look on his face mirrored mine. This wasn’t supposed to happen to us.

I didn’t feel my body as I flew over the kitchen counter. I didn’t feel it when I collided with the bitch holding the gun. I didn’t feel it when my knuckles hit her jaw. All I heard was my own scream. All I saw was the blood gushing out of Byron’s chest and the glazed, shocked look in his eyes.

The blood spluttering out of his mouth as he struggled to breathe, sharpened my focus. I grabbed the gun which had fallen out of Carol’s hands when I tackled her and crawled over to where Byron lay on the floor. Dropping the weapon next to him, I tried to put pressure on the wound like they did in all the hospital movies. It was the only thing I could think of.

“Stay with me,” I pleaded with him.

“Help,” I screamed. “Somebody, please help us,” I shouted over and over again, hoping that somebody would hear me. The people in the cabin next door had to have heard the gunshot.

“There’s no point,” Jack whispered in my ear. “He’s not going to make it, and nobody can hear you. They’re all gone.”

“You goddamned liar,” I hissed.

“I’m many things, but a liar is not one of them. I warned you about her.”

“This is all your doing.”

“Perhaps, but I did tell you to get rid of him. Once again, you weren’t listening. When I order you to get rid of something, I mean get rid of it. These are the consequences of your inaction.”

Byron stared past me, his mouth moved as though he were trying to say something.

It sounded something like “Who?” I looked over my shoulder in the direction he was staring and saw Jack perched on the arm of the couch, his right leg swinging, staring down at Byron with a look of satisfaction on his face.

*

Carol felt the cold tiles under her body. Her face throbbed where Sarah had punched her. All she could hear was Sarah sobbing and begging the guy to stay with her. How pathetic. It took a few seconds before her memory twitched, and she saw the blood on the floor, slowly making its way towards her, and she understood why Sarah was pleading. He wasn’t dumping Sarah. He was dying because of her.

Scrambling to get her legs out of the way of the blood, she back-peddled and thrust her back against the couch and Jack’s leg.

“Thanks,” he said, looking down at her from his perch. “Couldn’t have done it without you.” He clicked his fingers and disappeared.

Standing up, she realised she had to get out of there. Hoping that Sarah wouldn’t notice, she snuck towards the door. Trying not to make a sound or any sudden movements, she opened the door.

“NO!” She screamed in frustration. Where the mist and the mountains had been on her arrival, there was nothing. Only a dark, empty void. Jack’s laughter seemed to come at her from all angles, and out of the darkness.

*

Michael drove as though possessed. The emergency services personnel on duty had contacted the security at Crystal Springs, who had in turn done a walk-by. The security guard had let them know that there was no sign of anybody in the chalet and no sign of blood or any other foul play. They concluded that Sarah and Byron were still out hiking, but they would keep an eye out. The ranger had also been asked to conduct a search along the trails, just in case.

But Michael didn’t buy it. He knew that what he’d heard was a gunshot. He had no doubts. Something was terribly wrong. What worried him the most was that the security guard had said nobody was in the cabin. If they weren’t in the cabin, then where were they?

Swerving to avoid rear-ending a slow-moving truck, he pulled into oncoming traffic and almost hit a woman in a blue Uno Fire. He pulled in front of the lorry just in time. The woman in the Uno hooted and flipped him off. He’d been close enough to see the look on her face. If his window had been open, he’d probably have heard the names she’d called him.

If he broke all the traffic laws and a few land speed records, he could make it to the resort in half an hour. But then what? Had Carol taken them someplace else? A million different scenarios bumped around in his mind. Each one led to another question.

Gripping the steering wheel so that his knuckles turned white, he put his foot down harder on the accelerator.

*

Lilith might not voyage out into the pits of hell, but she had no problem sending her minions to do her dirty work. It hadn’t taken long for a squad of her henchman to find Bael sobbing in the alley. Hauling him to his feet, they dragged him to the cells beneath Lilith’s citadel.

The smell from the bowels of the inferno had nothing on Lilith’s favourite torture chamber. Bael had only suffered through one of her punishments once before and had sworn he would never find himself in those cells again. And yet there he was once more. He knew his suffering this time would be far worse than anything he’d been through before. He’d not only disobeyed his Queen but had openly second-guessed her, a transgression she could never tolerate or allow to fester within her inner circle. He’d known what he was risking when he’d done it but had felt it was worth it. Now that his limbs were bound to the wrack, he regretted his recklessness.

Lilith stood silent at the edge of his vision. He only caught a glimpse of her red satin gown. She believed that the torture and punishment of her subjects should be done in style. All her torturers and executioners wore tailored suits of the best quality, woven from the hair and flesh of their victims. He wondered if she would flay the flesh from his bones herself or if she’d leave it to a lesser demon. Would his hide be used to make a suit for one of her henchmen?

“Make him scream,” Lilith said as she walked towards the rusted iron door.

At least his hearing was back, he thought.

“Aren’t you going to punish me yourself?” Bael croaked.

“You are no longer worthy of my touch or attention,” she said without a backward glance.

The door clanged shut, and Bael knew that he would be confined within the walls of that ten by four room for many centuries to come, perhaps for all eternity. His life would become a never-ending cycle of blood and pain. For the first time in his entire existence, he wished that there was such a thing as a true death for demons. He hoped for the dark void of oblivion.

The first slice into Bael’s infernal flesh was shallow and slow. His tormentor was getting acquainted with Bael’s body. He would take his time, he had all the time in hell after all. Bael had to admit that the torturer Lilith had chosen knew what he was doing. He probably saw himself as an artist, but he still didn’t have Lilith’s flare with a scalpel. As much as Bael wanted to critique the demon’s style, he knew it ultimately didn’t matter. The result would be the same. Bael would scream for many years to come. His punishment would be unending.