Another of the things came out with them.
â€œThere you are!â€ the thing said in English. â€œYou were supposed to bring me food! I was waiting for supper. We were all going to eat together. I was going to tell you â€¦ wondrous things! What happened?â€
â€œWe got chased out,â€ Joell said.
â€œYour followers â€¦ they chased us away,â€ Father Oein said.
The creature laughed.
â€œTheyâ€™re not our followers,â€ it said. â€œWe were here first, yes. They think we work for them.â€
â€œWhat do you do?â€ Father Oein said.
â€œWeâ€™re here for ourselves,â€ the thing whispered.
â€œWhat do they think you do for them?â€ Joseph said, gathering up his courage but not looking at the thing.
â€œGuard, serve â€¦â€ the thing said.
â€œWhy canâ€™t you get the bodies for yourself?â€ Joell asked.
â€œWeâ€™re not supposed to,â€ the thing replied. â€œYou donâ€™t have to bring those. I donâ€™t honestly care but it needs to be rotten and it needs to be delicious â€¦ rotten â€¦ flesh.â€
The thing sniffed at Joell.
â€œYouâ€™re too fresh,â€ it said. â€œAnd skinny.â€
â€œMuch to fresh,â€ Joseph muttered.
The thing looked at him.
â€œWhat are you doing, nosing around up there?â€ it asked. â€œIf I hadnâ€™t been up and about, looking for some game, I wouldnâ€™t even have â€¦ youâ€™re going to get killed. Of course, then Iâ€™ll get you anyway.â€
â€œSo, you donâ€™t want us to get killed?â€ Father Oein muttered.
â€œOh, I donâ€™t care,â€ the thing replied.
Joseph muttered something.
â€œWhat did you say there, little man?â€ the foul thing asked.
Joseph didnâ€™t answer. He backed away without a word.
â€œWe can tell you things and teach you things but we want rotten meat,â€ the thing said again. â€œAnd you did such a sloppy, shabby, sad little job when you were here a few days ago â€¦â€
Joell looked at the rest.
â€œGot all of them up,â€ the thing said. â€œLike swatting a hornetâ€™s nest. Why? Donâ€™t be foolish. Do you know how many of them there are?â€
â€œOf the carnies?â€ Miss Fairfield said.
â€œMany of who?â€ Father Oein said.
The thing gestured back the way they had come.
â€œThere are many,â€ the thing said. â€œBut I talk too much. Payment is required!â€
â€œI think this is the best lead we have,â€ Joell said.
â€œWhat? You want to go dig up a body?â€ Miss Fairfield said.
â€œNo, thereâ€™re standing ones somewhere back in here. By that light thereâ€™s an altar and thereâ€™s justâ”€â€
â€œYes.â€ the thing said. â€œThe altar.â€
â€œâ”€dead people standing around.â€
â€œWhatâ€™s the altar for?â€ Joseph said.
The horrific thing wiped the drool from his face.
â€œExcuse me,â€ it said.
â€œSo, we just have to bring one of those over here?â€ Miss Fairfield said.
â€œYeah,â€ Father Oein said.
â€œWhatâ€™s the altar for?â€ Joseph said.
â€œYes, smash it in the head, break it,â€ the thing said, ignoring Joseph. â€œBring it. I donâ€™t feel like dealing with it. Kill it first and bring it here. And the things I can tell you â€¦â€
It looked them over.
â€œWhat are you doing here anyway?â€ it asked. â€œWhy did you come back to the carnival? I would have thought that you would have been too afraid after seeing us. Of my lovely visage.â€
â€œWhy canâ€™t you go get it yourself?â€ Miss Fairfield said.
â€œBecause then we have to fight it,â€ the thing said. â€œWeâ€™re not supposed to. They say â€˜Donâ€™t kill our zombies anymore because â€¦ it takes so much work.â€™ I say â€˜Fine!â€™â€
â€œSo, the carnies will get mad at us if we take it.â€
â€œWell, if you make a lot of noise and they notice. The last time, one of your friends pretty much walked in and said â€˜Hey! Weâ€™re here! Come and get us!â€™â€
â€œOne of our friends?â€ Bricker said.
â€œOne of you meat bags walking around.â€
â€œThat must have been Milo or Wessen,â€ Joell said.
â€œIunno,â€ the thing replied. â€œWhoâ€™s Milo? Whoâ€™s Wessen?â€
â€œThe people we came with last time.â€
â€œYou all look alike to me. Smell different though. This one brought one of yours. Was it that one?â€
He gestured to the other creature.
â€œIâ€™m not going to tell you right now,â€ Joell said.
â€œYou are in a precarious position already,â€ the thing said, glaring at him. â€œYou have them as up above. Waiting to crush you and sacrifice you. And you have those of us below, who at the snap of my fingers we could have meat in a week or so.â€
It laughed again.
â€œYouâ€™re too skinny though,â€ it said, poking Joell with one obscenely long claw.
It looked at Miss Fairfield.
â€œNow this one â€¦ this one,â€ the things said.
It made little approving grunts.
â€œBut I donâ€™t feel like waiting,â€ it said.
â€œWell â€¦â€ Joell said.
The thing looked over them all but only seemed interesting in Miss Fairfield.
â€œWhy canâ€™t you just take bodies from the cemetery?â€ she asked.
â€œWe have,â€ the thing replied. â€œBut if you want answers, you have to make payment. It is a capitalistic world, you know. It has been since I was up there. Itâ€™s all about gold. Itâ€™s all about the pound. Itâ€™s all about tea.â€
â€œThen why are you down here?â€
â€œBecause I found a better way. Like Clancy did. But Clancy just eats now. Just eats and eats. Doesnâ€™t talk much anymore. But it is what it is.â€
Joseph muttered something.
â€œIf you wish answers, I need payment,â€ the thing said. Then it glared at Joseph. â€œWhat did you say! What? What?â€
Joseph just shook his head.
â€œI think weâ€™re stuck down there,â€ Joell said.
â€œNo, youâ€™re not,â€ the stinking beast said. â€œIâ€™ll take you out.â€
â€œDo you want to do it?â€ Joell said to the others.
â€œBut when I smelled you around the ride when I was up scouting around, I thought â€˜Oh, theyâ€™ve come back with my dinner.â€™ But no! Empty-handed. Empty pockets! Those!â€
He gestured at Joellâ€™s revolver.
â€œThese trinkets,â€ the thing said. â€œAnd nothing. Nothing. I figured you just put it in some kind of sealed container so I wouldnâ€™t smell it and get â€¦ attentive. But you brought me nothing!â€
â€œSo, you depend on the carnies to bring you food?â€ Miss Fairfield said.
â€œNo,â€ the thing replied. â€œWe were here long before them. Weâ€™ll be here long after theyâ€™re gone. Despite their worship. Despite their god. But if food is easy to acquire, weâ€™ll take it.â€
â€œI think if we want to know more about these people, weâ€™re not going to get the kind of info these â€¦ things â€¦ have up top on the surfaceâ”€â€ Joell said.
Then stinking thing walked to the man and put a rubbery arm around his shoulders.
â€œItâ€™s so rude to talk about someone like theyâ€™re not even there!â€ the thing said.
The stench of the beast and its foul, rotten breath was almost overpowering.
â€œExcuse me,â€ Joell said. â€œBut do you have a name I can call you by?â€
â€œOh!â€ the creature said. â€œI havenâ€™t gone by a name in a long time. Gabriel will do, I suppose. Been a long time. Been a long time.â€
â€œThen â€¦ Gabriel â€¦ is going to have more information, I think, than anything we can find up on the surface will about whatâ€™s going on.â€
â€œI wonâ€™t do something if you all agree not to do it, but I think we should do it.â€
Gabriel was licking his lips.
â€œFine!â€ Father Oein said.
â€œOh!â€ Gabriel said.
â€œFine!â€ Father Oein said again.
â€œYou bring me a meal. Iâ€™ll answer your questions. And Iâ€™ll show you the way out. Our way out. If youâ€™re respectful. Look!â€
It said something to the other creature and it ran back into the cave.
â€œWhat language is that?â€ Miss Fairfield said.
â€œOur language,â€ Gabriel said.
The thing might have grinned at her but it was hard to tell due to the shape of its face.
The other thing returned a few moments later and handed off a large, obviously old iron key.
â€œAh,â€ Gabriel said.
â€œThey buried me,â€ it said. â€œBut I knew a way out.â€
â€œFine,â€ Father Oein said again.
â€œYouâ€™re the priest!â€
â€œOr minister. What are you?â€
The thing sniffed in his general direction.
â€œOne of the Vaticanâ€™s men?â€ the creature muttered.
â€œYes,â€ Father Oein said.
The horror laughed again.
â€œI didnâ€™t recognize you without your collar,â€ the thing said.
â€œSo, we have two yeaâ€™s,â€ Joell said. â€œWhat do the rest of you want to do?â€
â€œFine,â€ Bricker said.
â€œFine,â€ Miss Fairfield said.
â€œAll right, letâ€™s go get him,â€ Joell said.
They left the thing, heading back into the larger chamber.
â€œThey said to go after the head,â€ Father Oein said.
â€œYep,â€ Joell said. â€œI donâ€™t think I want to fire a gun in these caves.â€
He put his revolver away. Joseph took his bayonet from its sheath and mounted it on the end of his rifle. They walked to the place where the things were standing around. Joseph stopped near the cave entrance while the others walked over to the walking dead bodies. Father Oein started to get a strange and terrible feeling about them. He felt like they should be torn to pieces so that they could finally be at rest. His eye twitched.
One of the bodies was that of Jake Wessen. He was obviously dead.
â€œWell,â€ Joell said. â€œGuess we know where that one person who went alone went, that private eye.â€
Joell looked at the others and then walked up to one of the more rotten corpses. He lifted his baseball bat and then looked at Joseph, but couldnâ€™t see him. He spotted him far away with a flashlight, not looking in their direction. Joell looked at the others.
â€œDoes somebody have my back if this goes wrong?â€ he said.
Miss Fairfield took out her .38 revolver. Father Oein crossed himself. Bricker made two fists and nodded.
Joell swung at the thingâ€™s head but caught it a glancing blow on the shoulder, the bat bouncing off and hitting the thing in the head not terribly hard. It suddenly lashed out with a hand, striking Joell in the side of the head and sending him sprawling to the ground. The man was knocked out with a single blow.
Bricker, Miss Fairfield, and Father Oein all tried to treat the manâ€™s terrible blunt wound. Joell came around but was badly injured. Joseph had run over when he saw his cousin go down and was disturbed to see Wessen standing among the other dead men. Joell shook his head and could already feel his face starting to bruise. He hoped he hadnâ€™t lost any fillings. The blow had been the worst heâ€™d ever taken in his life.
Joseph propped Joell up against one of the benches.
â€œWhoâ€™s strong?â€ Father Oein said.
Joell muttered something unintelligibly as Miss Fairfield picked up the baseball bat. She had never played baseball and decided she would try the spell she had learned from Bricker that had been in the Revelations of Glaaki. It had been called the Nyhargo Dirge. She sang briefly in a strange language none of them understood. The words didnâ€™t seem like they were meant to be formed by the human mouth and throat. Then she pointed at a corpse and it fell to the ground in a heap.
Miss Fairfield felt herself weaken but pushed herself to finish the spell, a wave of pain going through her. She didnâ€™t think she got the spell quite right though. Something had been off. Then she turned and ran away in a panic.
â€œWait, you need the body first, before you go,â€ Joell called, slurring his words. â€œI wanna help carry the body.â€
Joseph helped Joell up while Father Oein and Bricker collected the fallen corpse. It stank.
* * *
Miss Fairfield fled. The panic she felt at casting the spell wrong and it working was combating the fear of what would have happened if she had cast the spell correctly. She even knew exactly what word she had gotten wrong, though she wasnâ€™t sure she could say it the way she had just said it ever again. The panic ebbed when she got back to the horrible thing that called itself Gabriel. It was whistling a disturbing-sounding tune and picking something out of its claws.
It looked at her.
â€œYes?â€ it said.
â€œI killed it for you,â€ she said.
â€œWell, bring it here.â€
â€œThatâ€™s what the boys are doing.â€
It went back to picking at its claws, removing something with a satisfied sound and popping it into his mouth. Moments later, the others returned with the corpse. It felt like it was about to fall apart and its belly was bloated. The skin seemed to move across muscle and bone as if it was about to tear.
â€œHey!â€ Joell called drunkenly, his head hurting. â€œItâ€™s my boy, Gabriel. Smells like the dead. I like you. Howâ€™s it going? Those guys â€¦ they have good muscles.â€
The thing that called itself Gabriel grabbed Joell by the chin and turned his head. It examined the terrible bruise on the side of his face. Then it laughed.
â€œWell, that didnâ€™t go well,â€ it said.
â€œNope!â€ Joell said.
Father Oein had picked up Joellâ€™s baseball bat before they had come back.
Gabriel started salivating and laughed as he looked at the corpse.
â€œYeah!â€ it said. â€œAll right. Bring it in. Bring it in. Câ€™mon. We can talk in here.â€
He led them into the cave with a strange giggle and called ahead. When they entered, they found at least a half dozen more of the things in the stinking cave. Bones littered and place. A fat creature in the back took out a rotten, dirty, disgusting handkerchief and tied it around its neck with a great flourish. Then it rubbed its hands together in anticipation, laughing.
â€œThatâ€™s him,â€ Gabriel said.
â€œI can tell he eats,â€ Joel slurred. â€œHe likes to eat.â€
â€œRight here!â€ Gabriel said. â€œRight here!â€
They dropped the corpse amidst the terrible creatures and backed away as they tore into it. The stench in the room became almost overwhelming. Surprisingly, no one got sick. They ate the rotten corpse with relish, none of the actual people in the room watching and all of them trying to ignore the terrible rending and meaty eating noises.
â€œGibbets for me,â€ Gabriel said. â€œGibbets.â€
It tore into the belly of the dead man and drew forth meat, ripping off some of the ribs as well. It sat down between the living and the dead.
â€œThey are worshippers of â€¦ thank you, by the way,â€ it said. â€œWorshippers of Shudde Mâ€™ell.â€
Brickerâ€™s mouth fell open. He had heard of that somewhere. It was a god or perhaps just the greatest of creatures called the chthonians, great burrowers beneath that resembled the statuette Miss Edington had purchased. The things were huge, however. He guessed they were the size of a bus or larger. They were very, very dangerous. The tentacle in the House of Freaks was probably from a small one of the things.
â€œSo, what are the zombies for?â€ Miss Fairfield asked. â€œThe undead.â€
â€œOh, part of their rituals,â€ Gabriel said, chewing. â€œAnd to protect. But theyâ€™re too stupid to understand. If someone came down and started to accost their little â€¦ their little ritual area, then they would probably defend it. To kill. They would kill. Theyâ€™re hard to kill. Very hard to kill. How did you kill? I heard some singing.â€
None of them said anything.
â€œWas it you?â€ the thing asked Miss Fairfield.
It turned to Bricker.
â€œWas it you?â€ it said.
It turned to Joell.
â€œWas it â€¦ it wasnâ€™t you!â€ it said.
â€œNot me,â€ Joell said.
â€œWho was singing? Who was casting? Someone cast a spell.â€
It finally turned to Miss Fairfield.
â€œIt was you,â€ it said. â€œIt was a womanâ€™s voice. Youâ€™re a woman, arenâ€™t you?â€
She just looked at the thing.
â€œAll right,â€ it finally said. â€œItâ€™s been a while.â€
Then it laughed again.
â€œThey worship,â€ it went on. â€œTheir sacrifices are on the â€¦ full moon. The full moon.â€
â€œThe full moon,â€ Joell muttered.
â€œThatâ€™s when they meet at the Moon Pool. Thatâ€™s why they call it that. And they worship. And sometimes they summon Shudde Mâ€™ell. There are a couple of chthonians around here, you know. Good luck with that.â€
It laughed again.
â€œWhat else do you wish to know?â€ it said. â€œThis tasty morsel has bought you whatever you wish to know. About anything you wish to know. Likeâ”€â€
â€œDo they take the people?â€ Joell muttered. â€œDo they abduct? Or is that you?â€
â€œWe donâ€™t want live bodies. We only want dead bodies.â€
â€œSo â€¦ theyâ€™re the ones doing it.â€
â€œThey snatch. They takeâ”€â€
â€œWho all is part of them?â€ Joseph said.
â€œThey all look alike to me,â€ it replied. â€œThereâ€™s a few. Thereâ€™s quite a few of them though.â€
â€œDo you know if they all live up there in the houses?â€ Joell asked.
â€œNone of them live down here,â€ it replied.
â€œOkay. Can you â€¦ do you know which house connects? How do we get in here if not â€¦â€
â€œThere are several ways up. You found one! We showed it to you!â€
It flung a rib bone at Joell. The bloody, rotten piece bounced off the manâ€™s chest.
â€œAw,â€ Joell said, disgusted. â€œYou can keep it, sir.â€
â€œThereâ€™s nothing left,â€ Gabriel said. â€œI donâ€™t like marrow.â€
â€œAll right. Thatâ€™s a fine thing. I donâ€™t like it either.â€
The thing reached back and groped in the corpse like a kid with his hand in the cookie jar. It pulled out a piece of meat.
â€œOh yeah!â€ it said. â€œLiver!â€
â€œAre you demons?â€ Father Oein asked.
It laughed loudly at that.
â€œNo,â€ he said. â€œNo no no no no.â€
â€œI was wondering that too,â€ Joell said. â€œIf you had to call yourself something â€¦â€
â€œThe ghÅ«l â€¦ is what the Arabians call us,â€ it said.
â€œI believe the translation to English is ghouls. Thatâ€™s all. We live forever, you know. Thereâ€™s no aging amongst our kind. I can teach you. I can teach you. There is great power amongst the ghouls.â€
â€œNo, I canâ€™t,â€ Father Oein said.
â€œYou can learn the truth! Aside from your cross and your virgin and your dead man.â€
â€œYou know Iâ€™m kind of about redistribution of power, you see what Iâ€™m saying?â€ Joell said. â€œSo, I think your thing is good but Iâ€™m going to take a breather on it. Iâ€™m going to take a rain check.â€
â€œUp to you,â€ the ghoul said. â€œBecause there are things and places we can go that mankind has not yet â€¦ understood the ways.â€
â€œThe Dreamlands?â€ Miss Fairfield said.
â€œThis one knows,â€ Gabriel said, pointing at her.
â€œHey! I been there!â€ Joell said. â€œWe all went. Me and him. He was there!â€
He pointed at Bricker.
â€œWe can go there any time we want,â€ the ghoul said.
â€œHm,â€ Joell said. â€œUh-huh. Who is that boy â€¦ whatâ€™s his name? Nyarlet-hotep. Nyarl-hotel?â€
â€œYou have met him?â€ the ghoul said with a laugh. â€œYes!â€
â€œHe wasnâ€™t quite nice, though.â€
â€œBest not to speak his name.â€
â€œI didnâ€™t say it.â€
â€œThey worship down here. Theyâ€™ve been here 20 years or so. They found the place. They found us. We worked out a â€¦ contract. They think we work for them. We work for us.â€
â€œWhat do they do for you?â€
â€œSometimes we participate in their ceremonies. It is amusing.â€
â€œWhatâ€™s your goal?â€ Father Oein said.
â€œHmm,â€ Gabriel said, thinking. â€œTo eat. To survive. What is your goal?â€
â€œIt was to find a little boy,â€ Joseph said. â€œI donâ€™t know any more.â€
â€œI fight for the survival of the â€¦ workmanâ€™s class,â€ Joell muttered.
â€œAh, youâ€™re an anarchist,â€ the ghoul said.
â€œNo!â€ Joell replied. â€œI mean â€¦ I just â€¦â€
â€œI think youâ€™ve been out of the political spectrum a little bit.â€
â€œOh yes. For 200 years.â€
â€œYeah, so itâ€™s not just them boys anymore. I donâ€™t dislike â€¦ stuff. I just donâ€™t think a few people â€¦ itâ€™s â€¦ my brainâ€™s not working quite right.â€
â€œYes, I noticed.â€
â€œIâ€™ll explain it later.â€
â€œHas there been a boy?â€ Father Oein asked.
â€œTheyâ€™ve taken some captives,â€ the ghoul said. â€œTheyâ€™re somewhere in these caves. I donâ€™t know where. Theyâ€™re not here. Theyâ€™re not by the niche where your friend found my fellows.â€
â€œBut you havenâ€™t had any boys?â€
â€œNo. No. Nope. We dig up. Like all of our kind. Underneath the coffins. In order to get the choice morsels. Though you poison then against us now. Some. We find our ways around that.â€
â€œHow?â€ Bricker said.
â€œFormaldehyde?â€ Miss Fairfield said.
â€œThey donâ€™t like formaldehyde,â€ Joseph said.
â€œThatâ€™s emblem â€¦ emblem,â€ Joell said.
â€œItâ€™s quite rude of you,â€ the ghoul said. â€œYou know, we are the natural order. We remove the dead once theyâ€™re dead and we make use of them. But for some reason, you pump them full of chemicals now. Makes them less appetizing.â€
â€œI donâ€™t think a bunch of people up there quite get it,â€ Joell said. â€œBecause until we shared this heart to heart about whatâ€™s going on, I didnâ€™t know anything about â€¦â€
â€œWell, now you know, itâ€™d be best to keep your mouth shut. They wonâ€™t believe you anyway.â€
â€œSo, you can take us to the Dreamlands?â€ Miss Fairfield said.
â€œHmmm,â€ the ghoul said. â€œMaybe. It depends on how you wish to go there. We can take you physically to the Dreamlands. The more of us that you are, the easier it is. As a matter of fact, if you are us, you can go whenever you wish.â€
â€œUh â€¦ nah,â€ Father Oein said.
â€œOh, itâ€™s quite spectacular!â€ the ghoul said.
â€œNo. No no no.â€
â€œFair enough â€¦ priest. I care not, one way or the other.â€
â€œWell, Iâ€™m good. I donâ€™t know about you all.â€
â€œIâ€™m really good,â€ Joell said.
â€œYou thought we were demons?â€ it said. â€œReally?â€
It laughed again.
â€œYour bible â€¦ is a book filled with the most ridiculous â€¦ cult â€¦ babblings,â€ it said. â€œYou realize none of itâ€™s true, donâ€™t you?â€
â€œWell, I wouldnâ€™t go so far as to say that,â€ Father Oein said.
â€œI could find someone who can tell you what really happened back then.â€
â€œOh â€¦ we are ageless. We donâ€™t ever die. We live forever.â€
â€œYou know a lot,â€ Joell said. â€œWhat school did you go to?â€
â€œIt was a school in New England,â€ the ghoul said. â€œIt was one of the first colleges in America.â€
â€œThatâ€™s pretty nice.â€
â€œI donâ€™t know what they call it now.â€
â€œHow come you can talk?â€ Father Oein said. â€œThe rest of them donâ€™t.â€
â€œIâ€™m younger,â€ the ghoul said. â€œMuch younger than the rest.â€
â€œTwo hundred years â€¦â€
â€œYes. Yes, I was â€¦ I was seeking â€¦ seeking â€¦ seeking knowledge. Very, very esoteric knowledge. And â€¦ and I found - I stumbled upon the ghouls and they allowed me to join them. And I found that this existence is simple. Itâ€™s easy. Itâ€™s almost black and white. You eat. You live. Forever. As opposed to all the gray areas that I had in my mind before: all the politics and religion and all the â€¦ the things that make life complex. Thereâ€™s none of that down here. Thereâ€™s just food. Knowledge. Thought. Conversation. Itâ€™s a good life. Itâ€™s a good life, priest.â€
It nodded and took a big bite of the rotten liver. They felt their stomachs turn.
â€œHey, just a â€¦ just a â€¦ hypothetical question here between the two of us,â€ Joell said drunkenly. â€œIf you didnâ€™t like those boys down here making those rituals and stuff, would you â€¦ consider helping us if we didnâ€™t like â€˜em either.â€
â€œIf we didnâ€™t want them here, they would not be here,â€ the ghoul said. â€œBut we do not care.â€
â€œSo, what is it? You donâ€™t care. Or you like them.â€
â€œDidnâ€™t I just say we donâ€™t care?â€
â€œYeah, you donâ€™t care. It took me a moment.â€
â€œCould we get that key?â€ Joseph said.
â€œYeah, you said there was a way out?â€ Father Oein said.
â€œI can show you the way out,â€ the ghoul said.
â€œHow?â€ Father Oein said.
â€œI can show you. But there is a condition on the way out.â€
â€œYou do not bring anyone else in through that way.â€
â€œNo one comes in the way you show us out.â€
â€œBut can weâ”€?â€ Joell said.
â€œEspecially not your constables,â€ the ghoul said. â€œAnd your army. And others who might oppose the delicate balance of our lives.â€
â€œSo, just us?â€ Father Oein said. â€œJust â€¦ the five of us.â€
â€œBut we could go back in and out?â€ Joell said.
â€œYes,â€ the ghoul said. â€œIâ€™ll take your word, even to your god, priest. If you give it.â€
â€œWhat about others that have already seen you that were with us before?â€ Joseph said.
The ghoul shrugged and it looked like its head might fall off.
â€œMeh,â€ he said. â€œMeh.â€
â€œWhatâ€™s that mean?â€ Father Oein said. â€œMeh. Meh.â€
â€œI donâ€™t care,â€ the ghoul said.
â€œI think he means he doesnâ€™t care,â€ Joell said. â€œI think he meansâ”€â€
â€œSo, they can come with us?â€ Father Oein said.
â€œDo not bring down men with guns that would try to do anything to us,â€ the ghoul said. â€œBe advised, though we have the same shape as you, we are much more resilient.â€
Father Oein sighed and the ghoul finished eating up the liver.
â€œYeah, I would love to go,â€ the priest said.
The ghoul laughed.
â€œIâ€™ll show you the way,â€ it said.
It stood up. The way the thing moved, how itâ€™s bones didnâ€™t seem solid enough to hold it up and how they moved in such a fashion under its skin, was repellent. Hideous.
â€œIf thatâ€™s all you wish to know,â€ it said. â€œIs that all you wish to know?â€
â€œDo you all have any more questions for the delightful Mr. Gabe?â€ Joell asked.
â€œI donâ€™t like nicknames.â€
â€œOh, Iâ€™m sorry. Gabriel.â€
â€œWhat are your names?â€
â€œIâ€™m Jo Jo,â€ Joell said.
â€œIâ€™m Jo Jo,â€ Joseph said.
â€œItâ€™s confusing, I know.â€
â€œNeither one sounds like a name,â€ the ghoul said. â€œWhat is your surname â€¦ jo jo?â€
â€œJohns Son,â€ Joell said.
â€œJohnson. And you â€¦ the lady?â€
â€œEvelyn Fairfield,â€ she said.
It looked at Bricker.
â€œNigel Bricker,â€ he said.
It looked at the priest.
â€œOein McConnell,â€ he said.
It looked at Joseph.
â€œJohnson,â€ he said.
â€œItâ€™s confusing, I know,â€ Joell said.
â€œFair enough,â€ the ghoul said.
It walked out of the cave and led them past the brazier.
â€œNow, if we wanted to stop the rituals that these followers of â€¦ what was it, Shudde Mâ€™ell?â€ Bricker said.
â€œShudde Mâ€™ell,â€ the ghoul said.
â€œFrom performing, how would we go about doing that?â€
â€œKill them all.â€
â€œThatâ€™s the only way?â€
â€œThat sounds like â€¦ thatâ€™s difficult,â€ Joell said.
â€œHow else would you stop the ritual of a cult?â€ the ghoul said.
â€œI see your point,â€ Bricker said.
â€œTake their sacrifices.â€
â€œThat will stop the one ritual,â€ Joseph said.
â€œIt will just stop the one,â€ the ghoul said.
â€œAll right,â€ Bricker said.
The thing led them along the wall past the ritual area and into another smaller cave entrance. It took them into a tunnel that broke to the left and right. They noticed small, man-sized burrows about two or three feet in diameter.
â€œThese are your food holes!â€ Joell blurted out. â€œArenâ€™t they?â€
â€œYou are very observant,â€ the ghoul said. â€œYou should join us! Stay with us! Stay! Stay.â€
â€œNah, Iâ€™ve got people who need me.â€
â€œFair enough. If you ever change your mind â€¦ youâ€™ll know where to come.â€
â€œIâ€™ll call you up. Give you a holler.â€
The ghoul led them to the left where a set of steep stone stairs went upwards perhaps 30 feet. At the top, the ghoul pushed against the stone ceiling. It pivoted up and the steps climbed into what appeared to be a black basalt mausoleum. Stone coffins sat around the room but the ghoul ignored them and went to an iron door where he inserted the key. It pulled the door open.
They did not know air could smell that good. It was like perfume on the wind. It was so fresh after being in that terrible pit for only an hour or so that they all breathed it in deeply. It was like heaven.
â€œNow remember, you will keep our secrets or we will find you,â€ the thing said. â€œBecause we can easily find any of you if we so desire.â€
â€œIf we can come back this way, donâ€™t we need a key?â€ Father Oein said.
â€œKnock,â€ the ghoul said. â€œKnock loudly.â€
â€œBut I donâ€™t want those other boys to hear it,â€ Joell said.
â€œThey donâ€™t come this way. This is our way.â€
They exited the mausoleum to find themselves in what they guessed was Swan Point Cemetery.
â€œThere you are,â€ the ghoul said. â€œEnjoy.â€
Joell suggested someone who wasnâ€™t seeing double should get the name on the mausoleum. It was Whipple. The ghoul laughed and looked at the name on the mausoleum.
â€œThat was my name too,â€ it whispered to them.
â€œGabriel Whipple,â€ Joseph said.
The creature crept back into the crypt, gave them a last look, and winked. Joell winked back.
â€œIf you ever want us, go to basements and call,â€ it said.
The door closed and the lock clicked shut. They could hear the grinding of stone from within.
â€œI donâ€™t have a basement,â€ Joell muttered.
â€œYou donâ€™t need to call,â€ Joseph said.
They could see the wall between the cemetery and the carnival and even the shadows of the roller coaster. They saw the river nearby as well.
â€œHey boys, this is fun and all, but I might need to see a doctor,â€ Joell said.
â€œGet that guy a doctor,â€ Father Oein said.
* * *
Miss Fairfield took Joell to the Rhode Island Hospital that night and a doctor looked at the terrible bruise on his head. He gave them a prescription for the pain and bound up the wound as best he could. He recommended the man return in a week. It cost her about $50 for the treatment. The sedatives actually helped him to finally sleep.
* * *
On Monday, May 21, 1928, Bricker, Miss Fairfield, and Father Oein researched Gabriel Whipple the entirety of the day. Miss Fairfield and Father Oein learned he had been one of the earliest settlers of Providence in the late 17th century. It was said he came from Salem Massachusetts in 1692, just before the Salem Witch Trials. He was a loner who was related to other Whipples in town. He was rich, a philanthropist who gave a lot of money to the town. It noted he was friends with Joseph Curwen, a man said to be of less than savory reputation.
Whipple disappeared in 1705 and was declared dead in 1715. His house and his belongings were divided up amongst his surviving relatives. The house no longer existed as it had fallen into ruins and destroyed. It had actually been in what was now Pawtucket. The mausoleum was put up by his family.
Miss Fairfield remembered the creature claimed he had gone to the first college in America. Brown University had been founded in 1764 and was originally called Rhode Island College. That didnâ€™t fit the timeline for Gabriel Whipple. However, a little research did reveal the first college in America was Harvard, founded in 1636.
* * *
Joseph Johnson went to see his psychologist that day.
* * *
Joell visited the Providence Journal late in the day to talk to Miss Fairfield. He wanted to pay her back for the money sheâ€™d spent on him at the hospital.
â€œThank you,â€ he said. â€œI was in bad shape. Hereâ€™s the money I owe you.â€
â€œYou donâ€™t owe me anything,â€ she said.
â€œIâ€™m not going to â€¦ nope. It doesnâ€™t work like that.â€
â€œOh honey, just take her out to lunch or something,â€ the secretary at the front desk told him.
â€œI â€¦ I mean â€¦ Iâ€™m not going to be in debt to you,â€ he said, taking her out of earshot of the secretary. â€œIâ€™m going to pay you back.â€
â€œIt was my idea to take you to the hospital and to pay for it,â€ Miss Fairfield said.
â€œAre you sure? One hundred percent.â€
â€œYes. Go buy yourself a new coat.â€