An un-edited, first pass written for NaNoWriMo 2014.
"Do you see him, Joshua? Heís got to be in here." Ezra moved nervously forward, the stake held tightly in one hand, the mallet in the other.
"I donít think heís had time to completely transform," Joshua yelled from the other side of the structure. "We broke his left arm so heís crippled. The Lord is on our side."
"The Lord has nothing to do with it," the creature whispered as it crawled from the safety of a shadow and swelled in size, standing tall before Joshua. Joshua stared into the creatureís cold eyes which traced with red blood. Fangs glistened in the lanternís light but it was the lifeless face that transfixed Joshua. The creature snarled as it reached out for Joshua, long talons where fingernails should have been.
"I have him!" The Amish man stepped back and lifted the stake and aimed it toward the heart of the creature of the night. "I banish you—"
"Youíll do no such thing," the creature replied as it grabbed and ripped the puny stake from the manís hand and latched onto Joshuaís wrist. The Amish man dangled from the creatureís fist as it lifted him into air. Joshua struggled to get free.
"Ezra! Daniel! Abram! Somebody! Help me!" Joshua pried and clawed at the creatures fingers which held him securely.
"It will be over quickly," the creature whispered. "I promise you, only a small bite." The face contorted into what only one would consider a smile.
Joshua continued to struggle as the strong creature pulled him closer and moved to the neck, to the vein of intoxicating, pulsating blood. The creatureís mouth opened, the incisors growing and lengthening to pinpoint sharpness. The bloody eyes widening in sweet expectation.
"In the name of all that is holy and the Lord God, I banish you to eternal damnation."
Abram leapt from the hayloft onto the creatureís back, plunging the stake into its heart.
Dropped like a rag doll, Joshua fell to the side into a mound of straw. The creature screamed and pulled Abram from its back in one swift move but it writhed in agony as it burned in the eternal flames of holiness. At the last moment, just as the creature was fully engulfed in flames, it changed. The creature turned back to its human form and a hand reached out, begging. The youthís face softened.
"Iím sorry, father."
Joshua gazed at the young boy, his son, as the lad disappeared in the flames. "I forgive you, Adam."
The glow of the oil lamp cast shadows in the room. Abram felt the sensation. He ignored it and continued to read the Bible as the words comforted him, strengthening him. The feeling grew stronger, darker and without looking up, he glanced to the kitchen doorway. In the other room he could see his wife putting more wood into the stove and his younger children doing their homework at the kitchen table. Benjamin stood to one side of the kitchen door and stared into the living room.
A chill coursed down Abramís back. It was a chill he recognized and one he hoped would pass. He gazed down at the Bible but was once more drawn to watch his son. There was no avoiding the obvious.
"If you wish to speak with me, Benjamin, then come into the room."
Benjamin hesitated then entered and carefully walked across the shiny, wood floor.
"What is on your mind, my son?" Abram closed the Bible and held it on his lap. He looked up at the young man standing before him and gazed into Benjaminís eyes. Abram didnít like what he found there. The oil lampís light reflected what Abram feared.
"I want to test Rumschpringe, Papa." The young boy hung his head and stared at the floor and his boots.
Abram stood, putting the Bible in the rocker and grabbed his sonís shoulders. "Look at me, Benjamin." Abram pointed two fingers at his eyes. "Look here! Directly into my eyes."
Benjamin paused before committing to the command. He stared into his fatherís brown eyes.
"You will soon be seventeen," Abram said, nodding his head. "I have been expecting this, all the while hoping you would not want to do Rumschpringe. Do you not wish to fight the urge?" He stared into Benjaminís eyes and watched the red traces dance in the irises. He knew better and released his grip. "When will you leave?"
"In the morning after chores are finished." Benjamin shrugged his shoulders. "Is that okay?"
"Do you plan to return? To become Amish?"
Benjamin paused and stared at his father. "I do not know. I want to be Amish but now a part of me wants to be something else—Englische, I guess."
"You could follow in your elder sisterís footsteps—Rebeccah was baptized, joined the church and became a member of the community." Abram cocked an eye at his son. "Trust me, Benjamin, the feeling will go away by doing that." He leaned back and grabbed the Bible. "Testing the Englische world will only make returning to the Amish life that much harder." He gazed at Benjamin. "That is, if you want to come back."
"I considered what Rebeccah did." Benjamin shrugged his shoulders. "But I feel the urge strongly and know I must now test Rumschpringe and seek my destiny in the Englische world."
Abram glanced back at Benjamin just in time to see the young manís eyes glitter and glow red with the prospect of Rumschpringe. He sighed. "I now see you must do this, Benjamin." He placed a firm hand on his sonís left shoulder. "Go with my blessing, leave when you feel you must." He felt the burn in his palm. "Go with Godís grace and may He protect you in your trial. Remember, there is peace in the Amish life. We will accept you with open arms."
+ + +
Benjamin dropped his left shoulder to let his fatherís hand slip off. The hand was hot and burned his skin through the blue shirt. Benjamin wanted to run, to escape but controlled himself. He stared at his father who once more sat in the rocker. Benjamin turned and walked from the room without saying another word and slowly climbed the stairs to his room.
Papa knows. There is no reason for me to stay any longer. I will leave during the night.
Benjamin stared at the items on his bed: two shirts, two pants, suspenders and some undergarments. He glanced at the Bible on his dresser. A cold, invisible hand ensnared his spine. He trembled as he reached for it. The heat emanating from the book forced him to pull his hand back.
The Bishopís words screamed in his mind, taunting him, warning him.
You must take the Bible on Rumschpringe! It will be your shield.
Benjamin grabbed the book and tossed it into the small suitcase, his fingers burned. He quickly covered the Bible with his clothes, piling them on top to hide the item of contention. He set the suitcase behind the door to hide it from the others.
+ + +
The sound of his three younger brothers sleeping lulled him and he almost fell asleep as he lay on his bed, waiting, passing time. Heíd heard his parents close their bedroom door. The moon was waning and its cold, blue light cast moving shadows as the wind blew the bare branches of the tree just outside the bedroom window.
Benjamin marveled at his sight which had improved mores in the dark than in the light. In fact, he found the bright light of the sun to be an irritation. Now in the darkness, he felt comfortable and studied the simple room where he and his brothers slept. Four beds, two dressers and a chest.
Jeremiah, his youngest brother of seven, quietly mumbled in his sleep then turned in his bed. Hiram, his fifteen year old brother, seemed to acknowledge the small boyís action.
Benjamin saw the smile on Hiram's face and he figured he was dreaming about hunting in the back woods of the farm. Benjamin sat and eased out of his bed. The springs creaked their pain. Hiram frowned. Benjamin froze and waited.
The stairs were trickier as Benjamin eased his way down them. He tried to remember which ones creaked louder than the others. Too many years of running up and down without paying attention now took their toll as his memory failed and steps moaned with his weight.
+ + +
Abram sat in his rocker and watched the dark figure move cautiously through the kitchen. He knew Benjamin said he would stay but also knew the urge would cause him to leave in the dark of night. It didnít surprise him. It was the way of the creature. He had prayed his son would find the strength to fight the urge and return to the flock, beat the evil and become one with God. Abram shook his head; he knew the Englische would be more than willing to feed Benjaminís urges. The kitchen door to the outside world closed. Abram sighed and stood in preparation of joining his wife in bed. He stood at the bedroom door and glanced back at the kitchen door Benjamin had escaped through.
Fight, my son. Do not let your blood boil to mingle with another. Be strong and return to us.
Benjamin sauntered the street, unsure where to go but he knew heíd have to find a place to stay. Ahead he saw the old neon sign for Becker Arms and the word Vacancy dimly glowing below it. The wind blew and a mixture of scents assaulted him as leaves and assorted trash danced along the curbs and buildings. The late fall clouds and hazy sky threatened foul weather. He gazed at the brown brick structure for a few seconds before pushing the dingy glass door open and entering. A gust of wind followed him into the lobby.
"Can I get a room?" he asked as he approached the front desk.
"For how long?" The man behind the counter looked up from the newspaper he was reading. He was unshaven with unruly brown hair, wore a stained t-shirt and had bleary eyes. He sniffed loudly with a casual wipe of the back of his hand across his nose. "You need it for an hour? A night? A week?"
Benjamin frowned momentarily. "A week," he responded and took in the dreary atmosphere of the lobby. The aged and faded art nouveau walls were cracked and needed plaster repairs and a good coat of paint.
"Thatíll be fifty dollars." The man folded up the newspaper and eyed him a little closer. "I can give you a room on the third floor with the regulars who live here."
"Thank you," Benjamin said and cautiously offered the cash.
The desk man grabbed the bills and passed him a key dangling from a green plastic oval with Becker Arms printed in faded white. "The rules are simple. No cooking in the room. No loud music. Donít break the furniture. No overnight guests." He paused and eyed Benjamin a little closer. "You donít look old enough to drink but if you bring alcohol in, I didnít see you. Understood?"
"Take the stairs to the third floor." The man nodded to the staircase to their right. "Room three-twelve. Turn left at the top of the stairs, third door on the right."
Benjamin started for the stairs.
"Oh, the rooms get cleaned on Mondays and Fridays with fresh linens. Overhead light is just inside the door."
Benjamin nodded and trudged up the stairs towards the third floor. He unlocked the door and it slowly creaked open on its hinges. He felt around, found the switch and flipped it.
The room was washed in cold, bright light. Things skittered to the safety of shadows. A bright bulb dangled from the ceiling in the center of the room. He closed the door and stared at the roomís contents: a bed, a dresser, a nightstand with a lamp, a stuffed chair and a braided rug. The wood floor was in drastic need of a good polish and it appeared most of the flat surfaces needed a proper dusting. One tall window with yellow-aged lace curtains looked out at the building next door, across an alley.
Benjamin sat on the edge of the chenille draped bed. The ancient springs groaned their discomfort. He bounced for lack of anything else to do and listened to the springs squeak and squeal under him.
A loud thumping on the wall was followed by a gruff voice. "Knock it off! You want to do that, go do it on the second floor!"
Best be about putting my things away and then finding me a job and a meal.
+ + +
Benjamin stared at the ĎHelp Wantedí sign in the window of the Walnut Street Bar and Grill. Hesitantly, he pushed the metal bar on the heavy glass door. His nose was immediately assaulted with the heavy smell of dried beer and stale chili. Along the one wall was a row of booths, approximately a tow dozen tables filled the open area and the bar ran the length of the building. A TV flashed in the dimly lighted room.
"Just how old are you?" the bartender asked, he had on elbow on the bar and kept an eye on the television.
"Iíll be seventeen tomorrow, sir." Benjamin removed his hat and held it tightly. "Youíre looking for help. Iím real good at cleaning. Always kept my fatherís barn."
"I was about to tell you that youíre too young to drink, but since youíre looking for a job." He eyed Benjamin for a couple of seconds. "Hey, Reggie! You wanna tend bar?" the man yelled to the dark colored man sweeping the floor. "This here kid is looking for a job and claims he can clean a barn." He looked about tavern. "This dump is about as close to a barn as heíll ever get in this town."
"Is you offering me a bar tending job, Bob?" Reggie leaned on the broom. "Do I gets paid more?"
Bob squinted at Reggie then looked to Benjamin. "Tell you both what Iíll do. Reggie, you finish sweeping this floor and then work behind the bar, cleaning the glasses and Iíll teach you how to temd a bar." He glanced at Benjamin. "And you… you hang your hat out in the kitchen, find the mop and bucket and start cleaning the kitchen."
"Thank you, sir," Benjamin said.
Bob grabbed the towel from his shoulder and picked up a glass. "Donít call me sir. My name is Bob. If you can clean as good as you claim, youíll have a steady job." He nodded toward the kitchen. "Get going."
Benjamin started to push the door to the kitchen open.
"Hey, kid! Whatís your name?"
"They call me Benjamin." He smiled at Bob.
"Bennie, it is. Get busy." Bob turned and slid his hand along the bar, wiping it with the damp cloth he had.
Benjamin stood inside the swinging door and stared at the mess. Everything seemed coated in grease. To his left he saw the mop standing in a bucket of dirty water.
Bet thatís cold, Benjamin thought as he picked up the bucket and dumped the contents in the sink. The gray water swirled in the cruddy porcelain sink until only sludge oozed from the bucket. This is not anything like a barn. He glanced about the room. I can clean it. Easy.
The swinging door opened abruptly and Reggie strolled in.
"I always listen to blues music to make the job easier." He reached up and turned on a radio. "You likes the blues, yes?" The radio blared a sorrowful blues song. "Datís Missy Maelyn Horn and sheís got da bestest voice in all da city." Reggie closed his eyes and hummed along with the music. "Voice of an angel, she got it."
Benjamin filled the bucket with hot water and squirted a good flow of soap into it. Music was the last thing on his mind since heíd never listen to it while cleaning the barn back home.
Suddenly a scent overcame him and he felt light-headed.
"Sum-bitch!" Reggie yelled. "Damned near cuts my fingers off."
Benjamin glanced at Reggie and saw the blood flowing from his hand. "You okay?" His eyes widened and the scent overwhelmed him. His tongue played along the edge of his teeth.
"Iís fine," Reggie said, his voice quivering. "Bobís got dem bandie things under da bar." He already had the hand wrapped in a towel and was headed for the door. "Youís can throw that bloody sammich away. Iís ainít eating nuffing covered in blood."
Benjamin nodded as he ambled over to the counter where Reggie had started to make himself a sandwich. A couple of drops of blood splattered the sandwich, another couple were on the counter. He felt a pang of pain in his gums and softly massaged his mouth. Mesmerized, he stared at the sandwich, contemplating what to do. Finally he reached over and grabbed the trashcan and shoved the sandwich into it.
He left the trashcan there and moved to the corner and started to mop the area, scrubbing in an attempt to remove as much of the grease from the black and white checkered floor. His eyes flicked to gaze at the trash can. Why?
Thirty-five minutes later the kitchenís alley door opened and a heavy set woman waddled in.
"Who the hell are—" She stared at the shiny, clean floor and the polished counters. "What happened here?"
Benjamin hung the two soup ladles up. "My name is Benjamin and Bob told me to clean the kitchen."
"Sure, kid," the woman said. "Clean it up and Iíll come in and mess it all up again. No reason to clean."
Bob strode in from the bar. "I see the two of you have met."
"Not really," the woman said. "Iím Liz and this is my kitchen. What the hell is he doing in it?"
Bob put an arm around Lizís shoulders. "Liz, honey, I got you an apprentice. He…" Bob noticed the kitchen and its new, clean appearance. "Holy shit, he really can clean." He let go of Liz and slowly turned to take in all of the kitchen. "Your fatherís barn must be a real show piece." He nodded approvingly then stepped quickly over to the lad. "Bennie-boy!" He put an arm around Benjaminís shoulders and pull him in for a side-by-side hug. "Damn, boy! You do good work. Keep this up and youíve got a job for life." Bob headed back out to the bar. As his hand slammed open the swinging door, he lifted his voice. "Reggie! Why couldnít you clean like that?"
"You may have suckered in the boss," Liz said while hanging her coat and purse on a hook. "But you havenít pulled the wool over my eyes, yet." She walked down the aisle, her finger tracing along the counter for grease. "It does look clean, but…"
Benjamin smiled. "It is not that big of room, Miss Liz. I clean my fatherís barn and it is much larger."
"Miss Liz." She paused and grimaced in thought. "I like that name… Miss Liz. Keep calling me that, Bennie."
"My name is Benjamin."
Liz approached him and ruffled his hair. "No, youíre Bennie, now." She grabbed a big wooden spoon. "Thatís your name here. As Reggie would say: Now I gots ta busy myself ." She smiled at Benjamin. "Time to make up a fresh batch of chili."