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The Night of the Cloud Spectre

The Night of the Cloud Spectre
A Story of the Crow Witch
by Mike Phillips


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Evil passed through the land. In the form of a low hanging cloud, thick and black amid the morning mist, it drifted upon the wind. It was a thing of the ancient world, made to take this spectral form while the sun followed its solitary path across the sky, cursed to wait until the dark of night to take shape and do its dreadful work.

Full of hunger and malice, the cloud spectre hung powerlessly above the Earth, smelling the air, looking for the next likely victim. It fed upon wickedness. Every cruel act was like a bell calling it to come and eat its fill. But for now it had to wait, to watch the doings of its mortal prey, to select the ones it would harvest when the time was ripe.

A feeling of expectation arose in the spectre’s mind. In the depths of its wayward consciousness it felt the coming of a small town, a place where people lived and worked and festered in their isolation. This was a place where bad things could happen. This was a place where it could satisfy its lust for as long as the darkness held.

Across the little town and away the wind blew, and the evil thing in cloud form was swept away. But it would not forget. When the turn of the world and the bluster of the wind were in its favor, it would return.

Through a forest of broad leafed trees, then high into a rocky outcrop it went. All around it was life, the blood of the wild animals calling to be taken. The kill, it knew the horror of the chase and the cry of helplessness as the spark of life was extinguished in what was love between predator and prey. Again the wind blew and it was gone. The feeling, so electric, so thrilling, was gone too.

The mountains grew tall, but not as tall as others the cloud spectre had made its haunts in times so long ago. There was a protected lake in a valley between the peaks that looked a mirror of the heavens. Upon the smooth surface of the water a reflection of the wild sky shined. There were white clouds and the blue of the heavens in the deeper blue of the water. But it would not see itself in this mirror, could not, it knew. For all the seeming form, it was a spirit thing and did not yet exist in the physical world, not now, not until the night fell.

Over a final peak and to the waters of a lake so large as to be an inland sea it drifted. The cloud spectre was glad to be gone, lost amidst the rolling waves. The emptiness was a comfort to its tortured mind.

The night was beginning at last. When the final rays of the sun fell behind the curve of the world, the evil thing gathered. The cloud of its being coalesced, forming a kind of body. The shadows solidified and it tumbled into the water.

Under the light of the stars, the cloud spectre began to return to shore. It was far out, but not too far. The town was rich with victims and it was hungry. There would be time. For now, it would swim.

* * *


“I don’t want to go all by myself,” Jenny Bracco said, pulling her Aunt Genie’s arm, “I’m scared.”

“What’re you afraid of?” Aunt Genie’s new boyfriend Bill said in disgust. “Come on, you’re too big for this.”

“She’s only nine,” Genie said, trying to sooth both her niece and her boyfriend.

Cursing obscurely with slurred words, Bill said, “Why did she have to come anyway? All she’s done is whine the entire time. I thought kids liked camping out.”

Bill had been drinking. He had already had too much. Jenny was old enough to know about that, even though she was nine, almost ten.

“Come on, watch you’re language,” Genie said, putting a finger to her lips. “My sister was in a bind and had to go to work.”

“She could have gotten someone else to do it. What about that neighbor lady?”

“Mrs. Morgan already watched her twice this week. My sister’s scared she might not want to do it anymore. She’s had a hard time finding anyone who’ll take a kid at night during the week.”

“So what, it’s gotta be you?” said Bill, getting angry. “I thought we were gonna party tonight.”

In her sexiest voice, Genie said, “We will, baby, I promise.”

Disgusted with the way her Aunt was looking at her new boyfriend, a man she was beginning to think an even bigger loser than the last one, Jenny stood. Such was the state of her bladder, she was barely able to keep from wetting herself.

“I got to go,” Jenny said anxiously, crossing her legs and starting off toward the restroom in a sort of half walk, half hop. It was a pit toilet, wasn’t even as nice as a port-a-jon, but she was in no condition to be fussy and there was no way she was going to have an accident in front of that jerk Bill.

Rising from her folding chair, Aunt Genie went to Bill and pressed her body against him in a way that Jenny had seen on daytime television. She said suggestively, “When we get back, if you’re good, I’ll take care of you. Just give me a minute to freshen up. Okay?”

Bill laughed greedily and pulled Genie closer to him, so the front of her jeans was in his face. “That sounds good.”

“Then we’ll be right back, baby.” She broke away from the embrace and bent to kiss him long on the lips, making loud smacking sounds that made Jenny want to vomit. “Don’t you go nowheres.”

Jenny made it to the restroom only just in time. As she squatted over the seat, not wanting to touch anything for fear of what sort of mutant diseases might breed and multiply in such an awful, dirty place, Jenny could hear her Aunt outside, humming some old country music tune they had listened to during the ride to the park.

“Jenny, sweetheart, when we get back, Bill and I need a little adult time. Okay? Do you understand? You just sit by the fire and roast some marshmallows and try not to get in the way, okay?”

“How long are we going to stay?” Jenny complained, finishing her business. “I want to go home. I don’t like Bill and he doesn’t like me either.”

“Now you just straighten up, young lady,” Aunt Genie snapped. “You just straighten up and do as you’re told or I’ll make sure your mama puts the strap to you good. You hear that? I don’t want you making no more trouble with Bill. He’s a good man if you would just stop making him mad.”

“What did I do?”

“That kind of attitude is just what I’m talking about. Keep that up and I’ll guarantee there’ll be no TV for you for a month.”

Opening the door, Jenny reluctantly agreed, “Oh all right. I’ll read my book and try not to do anything stupid.”

“Good,” Genie said, palming something in a plastic case and handing over her purse to Jenny, “now hold on to this for me. I’ll be done in a minute.”

When finished, Genie and Jenny went back to the van. Jenny took her place in a folding chair just as far from Bill as she could manage, but she needn’t have bothered. Bill and Aunt Genie were off to the van in moments, laughing and pawing at each other, must be sharing some secret joke Jenny didn’t understand.

The fire was bright enough that Jenny didn’t need to use her flashlight to read, but she did anyway, thinking it fun. In the light of the beam, she opened the book, looking at the wonderful pictures and reading the words that would be her only escape from the nearby laughter, the slow rocking of the van.

It was a story about a wingless fairy named Patrick and his friend Danny. They were trying to save a young fairy from a bad spirit called a Shathowein. Looking at the picture, Jenny felt a chill, like she was being watched by some evil spirit herself. Perhaps the pictures were a little too real.

A crow cawed. Jenny looked up into the trees and saw the bird staring back at her. She watched it for a while, the firelight shining on its black feathers, and wondered aloud, “Why are you crows always bad in stories? I don’t think you’re bad. I think you’re very pretty.”

Sighing, Jenny closed the book. She had to go the restroom again, was regretting the two cans of soda she drank with dinner. She knew she would probably be going all night long. Turning off the flashlight and sticking it into her pocket, she stood. The bird flew off. Jenny called goodbye to the crow, watching it fly off into the night, sad to see her only friend forsake her.

Thinking she might like to read on the beach, she tucked the book under her arm, making the decision to use the bushes rather than to go all the way back across the parking lot to the pit toilets. The park was deserted and there was no way she was going back there again. The smell was beyond grotesque.

Finding a suitable place, Jenny began her business, but was taken by the same feeling she had been bothered by while reading the book. It felt like she was being watched. Or maybe, it was more like being singled out as prey. Finished, she stood and zipped her jeans, seeing a strange figure arise from the lake.

It looked human, but it showed none of the effort that she felt while walking in deep water. The thing was ponderous and slow, but relentless as it moved forward. In the faint light of the stars Jenny couldn’t be sure, but thought that it wore no clothing. She did get a good look at its hands, large with long fingers splayed outward as if ready to grip someone’s throat with a deadly strength.

The man, for Jenny could see no characteristics that would mark it as a woman, went straight out of the water toward the campfire. As she got a better look, firelight glowing dully on gray skin, Jenny was suddenly struck by the notion that it wasn’t human at all, that it only was trying to look human in the way a tiger tries to look like grass.

She watched in growing fear as the cloud spectre left the water, but she could do nothing. She was too scared to move, too scared to shout a warning to her Aunt Genie as the spectre lumbered closer to the van. It was like her will had been conquered, like she had fallen under the evil thrall of the Shathowein in her storybook. Soon the evil thing disappeared behind the van, but she was still powerless. A deadly silence fell. The cloud spectre opened the van door and entered.

Touched on the shoulder, Jenny gasped, only now remembering to breathe. A petite woman with black hair was looking at her with the darkest, most penetrating eyes Jenny had ever seen. The woman was wearing a simple but well-made dress of black gingham, long and flowing like the summer dresses Jenny had seen her grandmother wear in old photographs.

The woman said something that Jenny didn’t understand, but she instantly felt cured of whatever the thing from the lake had done to her. The woman then said something Jenny understood: “Have courage, child.” And she did.

“Miss Weigenmeister, it’s you,” said Jenny, looking guiltily down at the book in her hand. “I’m sorry. It’s only two days past due. I’m going to bring it back, honest, just as soon as my mom can drive me to town.”

“Yes, I see,” the librarian replied condescendingly. “I’ll renew it for you first thing in the morning, but you will still be obliged to pay the fine.”

Jenny blushed. “Thank you.” She wiped her nose with the back of her hand.

“Here,” said Miss Weigenmeister kindly, handing Jenny a silk handkerchief, which the girl accepted gratefully. “Now, time is short and we must being going. I think perhaps this creature is attracted by wickedness, but that doesn’t mean that it will pass up other opportunities.”

“But what about Aunt Genie?”

The van door opened and Miss Weigenmeister took Jenny firmly by the hand. The cloud spectre appeared from the far side of the van, walking slowly in the direction of the bush in which they sheltered. It was covered in blood.

“Run! Run with me and don’t let go,” shouted Miss Weigenmeister. “Bless me, if only you could fly, but running will do. Let us go!”

And they were gone. Holding tightly to the librarian’s hand, Jenny felt the pull of the world upon her, trying to press the rules of gravity and speed, but to no avail. They moved in a blur, passing through thick forests, hardly seeming to touch the ground at all as they went. If she wasn’t so frightened by the thought of the wicked creature that followed, Jenny would have cried out with the joy of it.

“What was that?” Jenny said excitedly when they came to a stop.

They were in the driveway of an old, two story farmhouse. There was a scraggly oak tree and a fenced in garden, a gravel road that looked only barely wide enough for two cars to pass. Though she had no idea how far from the park they had come, Jenny felt safe. It was a place where evil could not come.

“Did I scare you?” said Miss Weigenmeister in return. They started toward the house, the gravel crunching under their feet, the stars shining in the night sky so that the faint outline of distant mountains could be seen.

“Scare me? No, that was great! Can we do it again?”

“No, I’m afraid the effort has left me quite fatigued.”

“Can you teach me how to do it?”

Laughing, Miss Weigenmeister said, “We would have to train you up a bit first. It took me some time to learn how, and there are other skills to master first. No, I am sorry, but I don’t think it likely.”

“Oh,” said Jenny, disappointed. “Where are we?”

“At my home,” Miss Weigenmeister replied as they came to the steps. “Come inside. Are you hungry or thirsty?”

“But is that thing still after us?” Jenny asked as she followed, looking nervously over her shoulder as if expecting the cloud spectre to appear at the mailbox.

Opening the door with what looked to Jenny like a genuine skeleton key, Miss Weigenmeister said, “If it could find us, yes, but I think that there are other victims, perhaps, that are closer and more easily had. Let us get inside all the same. We have things to accomplish and time runs short.”

“What is that thing? A vampire?” Jenny looked inside, finding a cozy little foyer with a hat stand and a table. Cut flowers were in a porcelain vase. Family portraits lined the walls. She was charmed. It was like no other place she had ever seen, like something out of a fairytale.

“I think not. No, I have the ability to turn the mind powers of a vampire to more friendly purposes. And your Aunt was wearing a gold crucifix, blessed too if I don’t miss my guess.”

“My grandma gave my mom one like that for her confirmation.”

Frowning at the memory as it touched her heart, Miss Weigenmeister cleared her throat and went on, “Though I know it isn’t a vampire, it is a supernatural being of some kind.” Closing her eyes and concentrating, she said, “I am not able to touch it, not like many of the other evil things in the world. I felt something strange today, passing me by as I worked in the garden, but even then I couldn’t fix my mind upon it. When darkness came, I felt something terrible, something that I had never felt before, so I decided to find out what it was.”

Jenny said admiringly, “You sound like you’ve done this before.”

Bidding the young girl inside, Miss Weigenmeister said, “Yes, I have a certain talent for finding troubles like yours. I have been told it is a gift.”

“What do you think?”

“Why don’t we see how this night turns out before I answer that question?” Closing the front door, Miss Weigenmeister proceeded to the sitting room, motioning Jenny to follow.

“Was that you as the crow?” Jenny asked, trying with some difficulty to match the librarian’s quick pace. “I thought I saw something more than a bird.”

“Yes, that was me, and thank you. No one has ever called me pretty before, but you must promise to keep my secret. Will you do me that favor?”

“Yes, I’d be glad to.”

“My thanks. Now, have a seat and I’ll collect a few things that we may need.”

“Need for what?”

“Why to take care of that thing, of course. We can’t let it hurt anyone else.”

“Why don’t we just call the cops?”

“Any police officer would be the next likely victim. You surely realize they aren’t prepared for such an enemy.”

“But what can we do?” Jenny protested.

“Have courage, child,” said Miss Weigenmeister, saying the unintelligible words and putting a hand to the girl’s shoulder as she had done in the bushes. Jenny relaxed and the panic she felt was gone.

“More than you think, perhaps, but that too we will see. Now have a seat, mind, and don’t go poking into any corners while I’m gone. A few of my things are perilous.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Good.”

As Miss Weigenmeister went about the house, collecting what they would need for the inevitable confrontation with the cloud spectre, Jenny sat on the davenport and tried not to let her curiosity get the better of her. Most of the furniture was ordinary, if not outdated, and not very interesting. But there seemed to be a voice, quietly tempting her to look in the bookshelf or the china cabinet. Thankfully, Miss Weigenmeister returned, or else Jenny might not have behaved as well as she had pledged.

“What is that?” Jenny said, pointing and giggling at what looked to be some ancient firearm. The barrel was funnel shaped and inlaid with scrollwork. The stock was carved wood, made to look like a dragon. The thing looked foolish when compared to the modern firearms she was used to seeing.

“This, my dear, is a blunderbuss, and it is all the weapon that I’ve ever needed,” Miss Weigenmeister said, slinging a rather large purse over her shoulder.

“Okay, but seriously, you’re not going to use that, are you? My mom has a shotgun under the bed and a pistol in the closet. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if you borrowed them, since it’s for a good cause and all.”

“Not knowing exactly what it is, my plan is to use the tried and true to dispatch it. In short, a silver bullet will generally do the trick.”

“Wow, where do you get those?”

With a regretful sigh, Miss Weigenmeister explained, “In this case, I melted down a few of my silver pieces. It was from my family set, passed down from one mother to the next for generations. Dessert forks, the lot of them, and though I thought I was going to be able to find more, I haven’t been able to.”

“That’s a shame.”

“Yes, but sometimes these sacrifices have to be made.” Miss Weigenmeister gave her young friend a bow and swept out her hand, saying, “Now, shall we go?”

Miss Weigenmeister led Jenny through the house and out the kitchen door. There was a single stall garage out back, with a wide field in the distance. Walking at a brisk pace, they came to the garage door, which Miss Weigenmeister wasted no time in lifting to the top of its track. Inside the garage was an old Volvo, boxy and black and a big disappointment to Jenny.

“What? No broom?” said Jenny.

Opening the car door, Miss Weigenmeister said, “Really, do children get all of their information from the television these days? No one ever travels by broomstick in the real world. Even the thought of it is absurd.”

* * *


The headlights of the old Volvo made a cave of the canopy of tree branches overhanging the road. Jenny felt trapped within the gloom. The trunks of the trees and the thick bushes seemed to meld into one, imprisoning her, giving her nowhere to go should the cloud spectre suddenly appear. Even the occasional low hanging branch did nothing to settle her fears, not knowing what lay beyond the feeble light, deep within the forest. The spectre could be anywhere.

“Courage, child,” said Miss Weigenmeister for a third time, taking Jenny’s hand. Jenny turned to her and smiled, feeling the fear leave her. “They say that soldiers are all afraid before going into battle, but once the fighting starts, once the anticipation is over and there is no longer time for thinking, courage serves us best.”

“I’m not scared,” Jenny said impudently, pulling her hand free. “We’re going to get that thing, give it the what for.”

“Yes, perhaps, when the time comes we will.”

“You bet we will,” Jenny crossed her arms and fixed her gaze upon the windshield and the world outside the car.

For a long while, neither said anything. Fearing the silence would lengthen into terror, Miss Weigenmeister said, “Why don’t you tell me something about that book you’re reading. Did you like it?”

Instead of talking about the book, Jenny said, “How are we going to find that thing? It must be miles away from the park by now. I’m sure it wanted to get out of there after what it did.”

“I think that whatever this creature is, it has little to fear from mortals. Though it may not flee the scene in fear like some common criminal, it is likely to move on, to go in search of more victims.”

“Back to the park then?” Jenny said, swallowing nervously. The thought of seeing the van or the camp made her feel sad in a horrible way.

“That would be a good place to start,” Miss Weigenmeister admitted. “Though I haven’t the ability to touch it, I can see many other things that happen in the world. I’ll try to see the negative, if you understand my meaning.”

“Don’t look for it, but look for what it has done.”

“Your understanding of the situation is quite sufficient.”

“You could change into a crow and try to spot it from the air.”

“If that is the only way, then yes, but I don’t anticipate too much trouble finding it. If I may say so, I do run into these sorts of troubles with very little effort. My guess is that it will make for town. The road from the park to town is, more or less, a straight line. We should spot it easily enough.”

“But people live out there,” Jenny said, a protective rage overcoming her.

“Yes, indeed, but a house is more than four walls and a roof. A house, like a church or a synagogue or a mosque, offers protection from such evils of the world. It has been that way since time began.”

“Like not inviting vampires in.”

“Precisely.”

After many turns through deserted back roads, they finally came to the park. Finding tracks in the gravel at the entrance and the road’s shoulder, they followed.

“I feel it,” Jenny said, shivering. “We’re getting close. Are you sure we shouldn’t call the cops? I see the cell tower. It’s dead at the park but I’d bet there’s signal here.”

“The things young people know about,” Miss Weigenmeister said with an amused laugh, slowing the car and taking the blunderbuss in her lap. “No, I’m certain that involving the police would provide no benefit. Besides, I don’t have a cell phone.”

“What?” said Jenny in disbelief. “Who doesn’t have a cell phone?”

Piqued, Miss Weigenmeister said, “Do you?”

“Well, no, but my mom said I could get one for my birthday next year.”

“No matter. Wait, I think I see it.”

“Where?” said Jenny, straining. Then she saw it, a dark shape walking in the center of the road, gray skin luminous in the headlights.

They came to a stop some fifty feet from the cloud spectre. Leaving the car running, Miss Weigenmeister set the brake and popped open the door. Taking the blunderbuss with her, she stepped onto the pavement and proceeded to the front of the car. She was standing just a few steps away from the front tire, hoping the headlights would hide her from view, but she knew the undead were not ruled by the limitations of human sight.

Miss Weigenmeister shouted a challenge, but the silent form did not turn round to look at her, just continued on its way as if it were unaware that it were being pursued, or perhaps it was unconcerned. She shouted again, this time using words of power in command. Slowly, what might have been painfully, the cloud spectre turned toward her.

Its face was misshapen, hardly human at all. It had bulbous eyes and a long, crooked nose. Its ears stuck out too far from its head. Now that she had a good look, Miss Weigenmeister would have said this thing was not of the undead, that which was once human, but something else entirely. The cloud spectre made a sort of smile which seemed meant to hold scorn, but the smile looked to the librarian more like the gaping maw of some bottom feeding fish, born in the deep darkness of the ocean. Stretching out its arms, it began toward her.

Raising the blunderbuss to her shoulder, Miss Weigenmeister cocked the hammer and took aim. She pulled the trigger and the flint sparked, igniting the powder in the pan with a flash, but the gun did not fire. Something had gone amiss.

Hurrying, she lowered the blunderbuss to her thigh and pulled back the hammer. After clearing the pan with her thumb, she took a small horn from her purse, thinking to prime the pan once again for another try.

Her enemy did not wait. The cloud spectre came closer and closer, each step slow and deliberate, but relentless. The distance between them shortened to forty feet and then thirty as the Miss Weigenmeister fumbled with the gun.

The car door slammed shut. The engine revved, shrill and piercing as the clutch popped and the tires squealed. The old Volvo shot forward, close enough to Miss Weigenmeister to blow her skirts with the rush of air.

Jenny hit the cloud spectre with the front bumper, sending it sprawling onto the pavement, first the front and then the rear tire rolling over the body with a satisfying thump. Only after the second bump did Jenny take her foot from the accelerator, coming to a stop and turning in the seat to have a look at what she had accomplished.

The false man was stretched out on the pavement. For a few moments it did not move. But then it rolled over and put two hands upon the road, seemingly little harmed but for having been run down. It pushed its torso up, rose to its knees, and stood.

A deep tire tread, steaming with gray smoke, flattened and marred the thing’s body from its groin all the way to its head. Venting more of the gray smoke, the man-thing’s chest inflated like a balloon, returning to its previous form, if not noticeably diminished from what it had been before.

The car engine revved. Bucking under an inexpert hand, the Volvo rolled backward, running the cloud spectre over once again. Coming to a stop, Jenny opened the car door and shouted, “Get in.”

Breathless, Miss Weigenmeister said, “Young lady, if you think that I would condone, no less encourage, an underage and unlicensed driver to operate any sort of motor vehicle in the public right of way, no matter the present circumstances, you are sadly and most definitely mistaken.”

Frowning, Jenny unbuckled the seatbelt and slid over. Handing Jenny the useless weapon, Miss Weigenmeister sat in the driver’s seat and shut the door. By the time they had fastened their safety belts, the cloud spectre was coming toward them. Hitting the gas, Miss Weigenmeister ran the creature over for a third time, missing it with the tire, the rake of powerful fingers upon the undercarriage desperate and foreboding.

They had not made their escape. After only traveling a few hundred yards, the car engine began to sputter and then quit altogether. “It seems we have a problem,” Miss Weigenmeister said as she pumped the accelerator and turned the key, the starter motor cranking but the engine failing to turn over.

“Don’t look at me,” said Jenny, “it was working fine.”

“Yes, that is most humorous. Pardon me for the moment if I fail to laugh.”

“I smell gas,” Jenny said. “You think he could have done something?”

“I don’t know.”

“You think he’s following us?”

“I’m certain we aren’t on the top of its social register.”

“Hey, I think you made a joke.”

“Yes, I am capable of some wit.” Opening the car door, Miss Weigenmeister said, “We should be on our way. It may move quickly when agitated.”

“Is this gun of yours any good? Should I bring it?”

“There’s a good thought, and don’t forget your book. That’s public property and a privilege that you obviously undervalue. In ancient times men killed and died for books. Now, I will admit that men are in general foolish creatures, but that does little to negate the emphasis that I place upon the matter.”

“Okay, okay, I’ve got it,” said Jenny as she stuck the book under her arm. “Let’s get out of here.”

“Yes, the new day will soon be dawning, which may or may not be our salvation, but we have to survive until then.”

* * *


The road was bordered by a thick forest. Not yet seeing the cloud spectre in pursuit, they made their way in amongst the trees, hoping that it would come after them so that others would be safe, taking a winding path through the underbrush both to confuse and to delay what followed.

“I know a place we can go,” Jenny said as they emerged upon the edge of a hay field. It was newly mowed and the sweet smell of cut grass gave them strength. “It should be safe and it’s not too far away.”

“Then let us go. I need to find a place to have a look at this thing,” Miss Weigenmeister said, meaning the blunderbuss.

Coming over the rise of a little hill, they saw the town in the distance. The street lights were still bright in the fading darkness, the shadow images of the old buildings looking like piano keys. There was a dirt road at the far end of the field, with half a dozen houses and a commercial building or two in a cluster.

A dog began barking. The noise woke other dogs, and they too began to warn their sleeping masters of the coming danger, loud and fierce. Looking over her shoulder, Jenny saw the cloud spectre standing at the little rise of a hill they had just come from.

“Quick,” Jenny said, starting to run, “here it comes.”

Taking each other by the hand, they crossed the remaining distance to the road, coming to the first of the commercial buildings. It was the Finnish Hall, a cinderblock structure with a cedar roof and few windows. Jenny led them at a jog to a formidable steel door with a single, rectangular window.

Pulling at the handle, Miss Weigenmeister said desperately, “It’s locked. We’ll never get in. We’ll have to find something else. Let’s go. I don’t see what protection a public building will offer us against that thing anyway.”

“You’ll see,” Jenny said, jumping at the top of the door and trying to set her fingers into the groove above as if looking for something. “My grandpa used to take me here all the time. There’s a key somewhere.”

Standing on her toes to feel above the doorframe, Miss Weigenmeister’s eyes brightened as she found a key. She inserted the key into the lock, turned it, but was unable to open the door. “It’s stuck.”

“Here he comes!” said Jenny, pushing Miss Weigenmeister aside and jiggling the handle. “It’s tricky sometimes. You got to work it.”

The door came open. They hurried inside as the cloud spectre lumbered across the parking lot toward them. They had only just made it inside and locked the door as it arrived. Carefully it tested the handle, but found the door immovable. Wasting no time, the cloud spectre punched its hand through the small window, reaching over the broken glass to feel for the knob.

Jenny screamed. Taking the library book in both hands, she frantically beat the spectre’s arm, driving it deeper and deeper onto the broken glass. Before she realized what was happening, the hand fell to the ground.

The hand was utterly different from a human’s hand with skin, muscle and bone. It was solid, like a manikin’s hand. It soon became misshapen, melting. Seeing the hand turn to rot, Jenny screamed and wretched as she backed away in fright. The hand withered, turning to gray vapor, and was gone. All that remained was the pungent stench of sulfur clinging to the air.

Seizing Jenny’s hand, Miss Weigenmeister said, “We need to escape from this place. Is there a back door?”

“I can do better than that.” Wiping her mouth with the sleeve of her jacket, Jenny felt the fear and nausea leave her. She was now a brave girl who had faced a most terrible monster and had dealt it a grievous injury. Her heart swelling within her, Jenny sprinted down a wide hall, dashing through the open door of the first room she came to.

The cloud spectre put its other hand through the broken window, showing no concern over the loss of the first. Finding no opposition, it reached down and took hold of the knob, turning it with the same careful deliberation it showed walking. The lock clicked, the door swung open, and it was inside.

“Here it comes!” Jenny shouted from the doorway of the room she and Miss Weigenmeister had taken refuge in.

They had turned on the light, but being able to see the spectre better caused her no comfort. Just the opposite, as Jenny watched the vacant features, the lumbering gate, and felt the horrid intent of the thing approaching her, her courage failed. Her blood froze just as it had on the beach. She was again powerless and held in its thrall.

Entering the room, Miss Weigenmeister’s mouth turned in a mischievous grin. Now she understood why the girl had taken them here. This was a place of safety beyond all others, except perhaps the loving embrace of the hereafter. Not sparing a moment, she began work on the blunderbuss, clearing the chamber of the wadding, silver balls, and powder. All she could think to do was try again. Silver has a power over evil, undead or not, and she hoped the same would hold true for the creature that pursued them now.

The cloud spectre walked toward Jenny, its awful mouth agape, its bulbous eyes lit with malice and contempt. Each step toward her was like a wave upon the ocean, strong and irresistible, coming closer and closer as she felt herself go mad with the desire to run. But she could not run. She could not resist.

Satisfied with the results of the cleaning, Miss Weigenmeister retrieved the small powder horn from her purse, packing the salvo tightly into the barrel. Cocking back the hammer, she raised the weapon and took aim in what she knew to be the general direction of the door. What she saw filled her with dread.

Jenny stood blocking the doorway, as still as a stone. The cloud spectre was in the hallway beyond, a few paces from where the young girl stood. Its arms were outstretched and its mouth hung open hungrily. She was in its power, but Miss Weigenmeister would not give her up so easily. Using the enchantments of her voice to invest the word with command, she shouted, “Ready!”

Spinning around like she had been struck, Jenny realized what was happening and dove to the floor. The cloud spectre continued on its relentless path untroubled. It tried to take a step into room, but found that it could not. Some force kept it from entering.

“See, I told you he couldn’t get in here,” Jenny shouted triumphantly.

Dismayed, the cloud spectre looked uncomprehendingly at the interior of the room, unable to grasp the reason why it had been refused entry, knowing no law of the ancient world that could have stopped it. Then it looked up to see the image of an enemy against which it had no power.

This was a holy place. In a time not long ago, the room had been meticulously cleaned and given a fresh coat of paint. Thick, scarlet curtains hung upon the walls. Pictures told the life and trials of a single man from long ago.

At the far end of the room was a simple table covered with a white cloth. There was an ornately carved box standing against the wall. The old church Jenny had attended since birth was finally being remodeled. The Finnish Hall had become the temporary home of its congregation.

Finding Jenny safe upon her utterance of the command, Miss Weigenmeister took aim and pulled the trigger. But even as she did so, the sun began working its daily miracle, bringing light and heat to the dying world. Though none of the still feeble rays shined within the walls of the improvised church or fell upon the spectre, the power of the sun could not be denied. The silver balls flew through the air, but struck uselessly against the far wall. The cloud spectre had become gray mist once again. For another day it was cursed to watch and wait, to drift upon the wind in search of victims.

* * *


Mike Phillips is the author of Reign of the Nightmare Prince available in bookstores, online booksellers, Kindle and Nook. He has published several short stories both in print and online, including ParABnormal Digest, Sinister Tales, Dark Horizons and many others. He is best known for his Crow Witch and Patrick Donegal series. Please visit Mike at mikephillipsfantasy.com.

Mike grew up on a small farm in West Michigan. Each year during summer vacation, his father turned off what was affectionately referred to as the “Idiot Box”. This meant that when not tending sheep, mending fences, gardening, building furniture, chopping wood, or just goofing off, Mike’s summers were spent reading. In memory of all the wonderful stories and things he didn’t understand at the time, Mike hopes that through his writing he can share this gift with others.

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