An Unexpected Guest
by Frank Cavallo
Snow piled up outside the
window. All Edgar could see was a sea of white. It was as if a Higher Power were erasing all the details from the Earth; clearing
things to start again.
"Purity, my friend. Like the
cloaks of angels upon our foul, sick world," Reverend Lewis said.
Edgar heard him, but he didn’t
respond. It wasn’t that he didn’t agree. He did. That was why he had taken up residence in the Retreat House in
the first place. But sometimes, he liked to enjoy the mundane for its own sake. The beauty of new-fallen snow. The serenity
of it. Must be just like heaven, he figured.
"It doesn’t appear likely
to let up any time soon," the Reverend continued. "I’ll fetch some wood from the shed. Almost time for dinner."
How much longer the storm
was likely to go on was anybody’s guess. If they had a radio they might know, but the Reverend didn’t allow them.
The less exposure to that mass-media filth, the less chance there was of polluting the mind.
Edgar had learned to live
without comforts like that. It was all part of the plan, the new Edgar Reynolds. No more drugs, no more sex, no more of that
screeching guitar music. His was a life of holiness now. Devoted to the Truth, to cleansing his spirit of the impurities of
a lifetime—and to helping others do the same.
As the Reverend waded out
through the blizzard, Edgar set about his evening tasks. Opening the refrigerator, he pushed past a jar of pickles and some
marmalade. He moved the tapioca from the church social and the two severed hands in clear plastic containers resting next
to last night’s vegetable soup. Finally he found the blue ceramic bowl with the foil cover.
He could hear some stirring
down below as he unfastened the lock to the cellar door. There might have been a squeal too, but that could just have been
from the rodents. Hard as they tried, it was simply impossible to keep the mice out of the basement in the winter.
There was only the harsh light
from a single incandescent bulb to illuminate the whole of the basement. It was already on when Edgar opened the door and
started down the steps. Most of the place was obscured in dim, dusty shadows, far too large for the tiny lamp to reach every
"How are we faring children?"
There was no response, but
he hadn’t expected one. Given the situation, speech was not a luxury his charges currently enjoyed.
There were four of them. There
had been five until a few days ago, but Melissa had not been willing to accept the Truth, despite repeated admonishment. Of
the others, three were women and the fourth was a young man. Lenny. He was the star pupil. His cage was the biggest in the
come across him at the bus station six months back, a runaway from a foster home. His new name would be Peter, after he’d
given himself over to the Truth. Edgar had already sewed the name in purple felt on his white re-birth shroud. Now all that
remained was for Lenny to come around. He was close, closer than the three whores in the chicken-wire pens next to him.
One by one, Edgar went around
to each, dropping oatmeal into their dirty bowls. Just as he was finishing, the Reverend came down the stairs. A few white
flakes still clung to his beard.
"Feast my children. Settle
the hunger in your bellies and soon I will settle the hunger in your hearts," he announced.
Just then, a noise intruded
from upstairs. Quite unexpectedly, it was a knock on the door. Edgar’s heart pounded. Sweat beaded up on his forehead.
But the Reverend remained calm.
"See after that, will you
Edgar?" he asked. "I’ll clean up down here."
His face was so certain, so
confident, that Edgar felt himself imbued with a sense of calm just looking at the man. He obeyed without question. He never
saw the licentious glint that sparkled in the Reverend’s eye as he left. And he never heard the slight gasp as the preacher
put his hand into one of the cages.
Edgar peered out through the
peephole before opening the door. A young, pretty woman stood shivering on the other side.
"How can I be of service to
you, Miss?" he said, as he opened the door wide enough for her to come in. The wind was howling.
She stepped up from the porch
into the doorway. Slight of build, her hair was blonde and tied back in a messy ponytail.
"My name’s Lilith,"
she began. She was barely holding her teeth from chattering as she spoke.
"Edgar," he replied.
"Nice to meet you," she continued.
"I hate to do this, really, but my car broke down just..."
"Just up the road there?"
Edgar finished her thought for her, motioning for her to come in fully from the cold. He closed the door behind her. "Well,
I’d let you use the phone, but we don’t have one. The Revered doesn’t believe in them," he continued.
"Reverend Lewis. This is his
house. I just stay here. I help with the ministry."
He seemed impressed with himself.
"That’s too bad. I was
really hoping to call for some help."
"Wouldn’t make much
difference, tell you the truth. No one’s gonna come out in this storm. Best off you stay here till things blow over."
Lilith shook her head. She
"I couldn’t. They say
this storm could go on for another day yet. I couldn’t impose on you like that."
This time it was Edgar’s
turn to smile.
"No imposition at all. Trust
me. We love guests around here. In fact, we just happen to have room for one more."
"One more?" Lilith questioned.
"Reverend Lewis is a great
teacher. He taught me everything I know," Edgar said, almost like a child. "He’ll show you so much."
Her expression would have
made it clear to almost any other person that she had no idea what he was talking about. But Edgar didn’t pick up on
"He’s being kind. I
merely steered him in the right direction. Edgar found the Truth all on his own," the preacher said, appearing from out of
"The truth?" she stammered.
"Lilith, right? Are you from
church-going folk?" the Reverend continued, without benefit of an introduction. He stepped between Lilith and the door, looking
casual, though his movements were very deliberate.
"You must be the Reverend,"
"A personal relationship with
your creator is important, probably the most important thing. More than money, status, anything material," Edgar offered,
again proud of himself for having something to contribute.
"I used to be very close to
him. But we had something of a falling out many years ago," she answered, taking off her coat.
"Well, I’d be honored
if you’d allow me to lend a hand in mending that divide," the Reverend said. "In fact, I would consider it my pleasure."
"He’s very good at that,
the Reverend is," Edgar interjected. "Never seen someone so good at bringing people to the Truth."
"Yes, so I gather," she replied,
yawning. "Maybe tomorrow? Right now I’d like nothing more than to get out of these cold, wet clothes. You understand,
I don’t mean to be rude."
"Not at all," the Reverend
replied. "Edgar, please show the lady to the guest room. I’m certain we’ll all be more amenable to discussion
in the morning."
Edgar did as he was told,
dutifully as always. He led her up the winding staircase to the second floor, to a small room that had no windows, but did
offer exquisite wood paneling all along the walls. She was openly grateful for the cup of steaming hot tea he brought her
a few minutes later, as she was settling in.
She passed out quite rapidly
after that, just as he knew she would. Then, the light turned off, he exited and closed the door behind him. From his pocket
he took the key ring, found the right one and turned it once in the lock. Then he made sure that the door was shut tight by
flipping the deadbolt. It had been installed on the outside of the room, rather than the inside, for just such a purpose.
Whiteout conditions still
reigned as the six o’clock hour dawned. The sun wasn’t visible at all through the gray clouds and the driving
snow-gusts, but it had clearly returned to drive back the darkness of the night.
It was deathly quiet.
Edgar was already up and at
work in the cellar. His back to the door as he opened one of the cages, he neither saw nor heard his newest guest slip down
the stairs behind him. Lilith eased herself back into the shadows, just far enough to keep her out of view.
Lenny was sitting upright
in his pen, having just devoured a new batch of oatmeal. A blank stare lay across his face. If he had ever once known thoughts
and feelings, the time spent in Reverend Lewis’s care had driven them both from his head.
On the far side of the basement,
two of the caged girls lay motionless while Edgar dragged the third out of her prison. He hauled the nearly lifeless waif
to the side of the steps, to the doorway of the Conversion Room. There was a step up, and he had to lift the girl fully to
get her in. He forced the prisoner to lay face-down on the stone platform at the center of the spartan chamber. Her limbs
were languid and she offered no resistance when he pulled each one outward to fasten them down in the leather restraints.
Then he turned to the stone-hearth
at the rear, where a half-dozen iron pokers were resting amid crackling coals. He lifted them one after the other, studying
the ends to see which one glowed the brightest red, which one would be the first for his business.
Edgar was about to position
the first poker behind the fettered girl, when the door swung open with a rush of cool air. It was the Reverend. In the shadowed
corner, Lilith melted even further back into the dim, still looking on, silent and still. Unseen.
"She’s gone!" the Reverend
Reverend Lewis was furious.
As he led Edgar up the stairs amid a storm of curses, he harangued him about every possible failing. Not enough sedative in
the tea. Not securing the lock on the guest bedroom. Not double checking in the morning.
Though Edgar had done
all of those things exactly as he’d been taught, he knew better than to protest his innocence, but he did make every
effort to reassure his mentor. He knew how much worse the Reverend could be with his temper raised.
"We’ll get her, Reverend.
Never you worry. She won’t get far," Edgar said.
"She certainly won’t,"
the Reverend echoed.
She wasn’t anywhere
in the Retreat House, which was obviously impossible. They’d searched every single room, top to bottom, every closet,
every alcove and every crawl space. There were no footprints in the snow outside—but there was no trace of her within.
Finally, after tearing the
entire house apart, to no avail, Edgar made a suggestion.
"Reverend, we haven’t
looked down in the cellar."
It didn’t seem logical.
After all, they had left from the cellar, and there was only one way in or out. But they both knew it was the only
place in the house they hadn’t actually checked.
No sooner had they shuffled
down the stairs than Edgar’s supposition proved correct. Lilith was standing at the end of the basement, examining with
great care the cages where the women languished. She didn’t even seem to notice the two of them as they approached.
The Reverend Lewis made sure
to remedy that in short order. She turned her head to see them nearing in the dark of the basement shadows. She swore out
loud. She was cornered. There was nowhere left to run, and all of them knew it.
But then the Reverend did
something Edgar didn’t expect. He pulled a pistol out of his coat, and he pointed it at Lilith.
"Reverend, what are you doing?"
Edgar questioned, astonished at the very sight of the snub-nosed thirty-eight.
"Stay quiet Edgar," he commanded.
"This one’s too much trouble. She’s not fit for the Truth. We can’t help her. This is the only solution."
His arm extended, Reverend
Lewis cocked the hammer back and lined up his sight with Lilith’s chest.
The girl didn’t appear
frightened. Even staring down the barrel of a gun, in a makeshift dungeon of horrors, she looked almost amused. Edgar felt
his knees go weak when he looked at her. There was something in her eyes.
"You really don’t need
that Reverend. Trust me," Lilith said. "I’m all done here. I’ve seen what I came to see. Just put the gun down
and I’ll be gone from here forever."
"I’m sorry honey. I
can’t allow that. I know you probably wouldn’t make it far in the storm, but we can’t take the chance. The
work we do here is too important to risk you bringing outside attention to it."
Oddly, unexpectedly, that
only made Lilith smile.
"Exactly," she agreed. "That
is exactly right. And if you let me leave, I promise your work will go on undisturbed for years to come. But only if you trust
me, and you let me leave here now."
The Reverend wasn’t
"I’m sorry," he said.
"I just can’t do that."
He squeezed the trigger. The
first round missed, ringing off of the shovel on the wall behind her and ricocheting against the concrete floor.
But the second round hit her
dead-on, square in the chest. In the close quarters, the smoke from the discharge hung in the air between them. The third
and the fourth bullets hit her in the shoulder and the throat. More smoke clouded the basement. The fifth missed again. He
was having trouble seeing her. He tried to shift his aim. The sixth and final shot drilled her in the forehead.
For a moment there was a dead
calm in the basement. The smoke blinded them. The smell of burnt powder singed their nostrils and burned their eyes. All feel
When the smoke began to fade
some moments later, Edgar edged closer to where Lilith had been. When he got within a few feet, he stopped. And he screamed.
It was the only thing he could
think to do. The Reverend turned to him, and shouted at him to shut him up, but he wouldn’t.
"Quiet, you stupid imbecile!"
the Reverend yelled.
He was still holding his arm
outward with the gun extended. The barrel was smoking. Through the haze he could see only Edgar, and not Lilith.
Edgar’s face was frozen
in a terrified, almost comical look. He just kept wailing, and staring ahead without blinking.
Finally, he stopped. The smoke
cleared a little more, and the Reverend Lewis turned to Lilith. Immediately he began to realize why his protégé had become
Lilith was still standing.
He couldn’t make out any detail of her yet, but it was clear that her figure remained upright and still.
Reverend Lewis stated, as though he fully expected that his words would be enough to rectify the discrepancy.
"I shot you. I killed you."
The smoke continued to dissipate,
spreading out through the dank chamber and thinning itself despite the poor circulation.
The Reverend finally cleared
his eyes enough to discern color, and then details. He too, very nearly screamed like Edgar.
What was standing there was
not Lilith. It wasn’t even human. It was in the shape of a person, but within its body there was nothing but a void,
a black and featureless chasm. The voice that spoke to them however, was very much that of the stray girl they had taken in
the night before.
"This is my fault," she said.
"I should have been quicker. I spent too much time admiring your work. A few more moments and I would have been gone. Still
though, I did warn you. You should have just let me go. I was almost done."
"Done with what?" Edgar managed.
He was still quivering. He had already wet his pants.
"The reason I visited you
here in the first place. I was just going to observe you. I had no intention of interfering."
Though it was dark in the
cellar, the single bulb still providing the only illumination, a new light began to form around the shape of Lilith. It was
like fire, but without heat. Tongues of silky, blood-red flame grew up around her.
Her girlish, innocent voice
faded away. The next words spoken were those of the enemy revealed. The deep chords echoed within themselves as though spoken
in a cavern.
"You two have been doing some
inspired work here lately, and my superiors have taken quite an interest in your progress. They thought it might be enlightening
for one of us to pay you a personal visit, to make sure you were living up to our standards."
"I don’t understand,"
Reverend Lewis said.
"I was afraid you might not.
Which is why I tried to be as unobtrusive as possible," she answered. "I had no wish to interfere. But now you’ve ruined
it. Now it’s too late."
Neither of them understood.
"The tragic thing is, you
two had so much potential," she continued.
"Potential?" the Reverend
"You two were precious. So
innocent. So pure. That was what made you so wonderful, and why we had so much hope for you. Rarely has plain, old-fashioned
depravity expressed itself so fully as it did with the two of you. And that’s no easy feat, given how savage you humans
generally are to one another."
It dawned on Edgar that the
Beast was referring to them in the past tense. That didn’t sound right.
"But I can’t leave you
here now, not knowing what you know. You’d be liable to repent, realizing eternal damnation was waiting for you. And
I can’t have that, can I?" she said "Don’t worry, it’s not at all what you’re thinking. No endless
torture, no fire and brimstone—as long as you do what you’re told, that is. Pandaemonium doesn’t suffer
"Actually Edgar, you might
run into some trouble in that department.
"And you Reverend? You’ve
got nothing to worry about. We love clergy down where you’re headed. You’re going to make lots of new friends."
Though inhuman, the tone of
her voice told him that she was being terribly, cruelly facetious. He didn’t have much longer to consider it.
Their bodies burned up in
the fire that consumed the Retreat House, a fire whose cause the authorities were never able to fully ascertain. But their
souls were long gone by that time, gone to someplace far worse than the little hell they had constructed in the cellar.
It was just exactly the last
place either of them ever thought they would end up.
© Frank Cavallo 2012
Frank Cavallo’s first novel "The Lucifer Messiah" was published by Medallion Press. His short fiction
has appeared on "Another Realm" and he has two short stories appearing in upcoming "Warhammer" anthologies from Black Library.
He is a criminal defense attorney in Cleveland, Ohio.
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