From the Depths, Risen
At 10:17 am, as Mrs. Joiner’s high pitched, off-key voice rose above the rest of the choir singing “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear,” a tower of flame burst through the Third Avenue Baptist Church, and disappeared as suddenly as it had come.
The choir director Dr. Sorbane was killed instantly, the eruption opening directly beneath his feet filling the church with the scent of charred flesh and burnt hair. Flames shot high in the choir loft as a column of pure fiery destruction burst from the ground through the church roof and into the sky. Pilots flying over Brownsville reported an orange burst that lasted a moment then disappeared.
Choir members screamed. Mrs. Joiner fainted. Pamela Durst, an LPN, ran to the chaos as did Bob Bruns, a volunteer firefighter, and Shane Corley a retired state trooper. Pastor Winkler urged the congregation to remain calm but no one listened.
The flaming column and sudden vaporization of Dr. Sorbane was too hard to ignore. Congregants stumbled over each other trying to escape through the main doors of the sanctuary. Two doors led out from either side of the stage, but little Anna Dineen screamed and tugged on her mother’s hand, pulling her and the rest of the pew to the double doors at the back instead, shoving their way through the exit.
I remained in my seat, transfixed by the scene in front of me. The image of the fiery column ghosted in my vision, but the damage was already done. By the time the church emptied, only a few remained inside; the first responders of the congregation, Pastor Winkler, and a couple of the youth.
Mrs. Joiner lay on the stage, attended to by Pamela. I could see her arms and legs start to move and figured she was ok.
Pastor Winkler slowly crept toward the now gaping three-foot wide hole occupying the center of the stage, Bob and Shane at his side.
“What happened?” Pastor Winkler said. The two men next to him said nothing, all fixated on the glowing hole in the charcoal grey tiled floor. When they tried to get too close, the heat forced them back. Bob tossed a crumpled bulletin toward it and when it neared the circumference of the hole it incinerated.
“Look at that,” Shane said pointing toward the ceiling, “you can see the sky!”
Church was cancelled for the rest of the month, most everyone going across town to the Second Baptist Church of Brownsville for the Christmas season. At our church, workers tried in vain to cover the hole.
At first, our church custodian attempted to cover the hole with a sheet of plywood but he couldn’t get close enough without it starting to smoke. The heat singed his hair. His once-full beard melted and had to be trimmed entirely. All attempts to cover or repair the hole were rebuffed by the intense heat. Nobody was able to get within two feet of the hole—any closer and fabric melted and paper caught on fire.
The incident gained worldwide recognition because of a video first posted online by one of our youth. In no time we started receiving visitors by the hundreds wanting to see the “Entrance to the Underworld.” To capitalize on the new addition to the church, Pastor Winkler requested a guardrail be built around the hole and a chimney be raised above the hole in the roof.
Soon, we couldn’t hold regular services because we had too many gawkers and doomsday fanatics visiting the site. The live feed of he hole broadcast on our church website attracted so many viewers that it crashed our site three times.
A geological team from nearby Southern Illinois University lowered a thermally protected camera into the hole using a nickel based super-alloy chain to inspect what we couldn’t with our own eyes. They were able to lower the camera seven hundred feet before the hole opened into a large flaming cavern with a river of molten lava running through it. The charred cavern walls were illuminated by constant flames bursting from the lava. If anyone needed a physical image of hell, this was it.
They left the camera on and streamed the feed from our website, replacing the former view of the hole in our church.
A viewer near Vatican City noticed it first. In the far upper corner of the video feed, a black shape lurched across the screen toward the lava then vanished.
Then dozens of viewers spotted similar images. One viewer took a still shot, enhanced the image, and declared it was a demon, much to the amusement and derision of the scientific community. However, a couple Jesuit priests from the Vatican secretly contacted Pastor Winkler about visiting our church.
Visitors from all over the world came to our little town to see the spectacle of the hole. No one could look down it without the cameras, but they wanted to be near it, to feel the heat, to have a brush with subterranean demonic creatures. Our church became a beacon for devil worshippers and others interested in the dark side of the supernatural.
Not long after the immense crowds kept arriving, Pastor Winkler approached me. “Jim, I need more security around here. You’re out of a job. You’re a big fella. Would you consider leading our team?”
I was hired on to be head of security for our church. We had so many people clamor to see the fiery hole that we held daily tours. Pastor Winkler didn’t charge admission, but did suggest a donation from visitors to help fund our expenses. We’d never had as much money in our little church coffers as we did then.
Every Wednesday evening and Sunday morning, Pastor Winkler held a service in the church filled with visitors. They wanted to experience a true “fire and brimstone” sermon complete with real flames and a direct connection to hell. What was left of our congregation soon started attending Second Baptist Church or stopped going altogether. A large contingent considered the hole a sign of God’s wrath, an indicator of end times.
Pastor Winkler worked himself up to a lather, screaming and scolding the worshippers for being sinners and heathens, pointing to the hole as evidence of God’s displeasure with us. Sweat poured down his gaunt face, his bible raised high in the air as he repeated verses from Revelation. Then as he was about to close the sermon, it rose behind him.
A large, black, arm-like appendage emerged from the flaming cavity. A woman screamed, pointing behind Pastor Winkler.
“What in the world,” he said as he turned to see the arm rise higher.
Attached to the arm was a wing like an angel but black and shimmering. Then another arm worked its way out of the hole. With long bony claws perched to either side of the hole, the thing pushed down, raising itself up and out.
The creature’s head slowly rose from the flaming hole, long and narrow with blood red eyes and jagged yellow teeth. It was human-like but its features were elongated and more pronounced. It had large ears that came to a point at the top.
Pastor Winkler ran down the aisle, his bible flung carelessly to the crowd. Others followed, screaming and clawing each other to get to the doors faster.
“Stay calm and please leave in an orderly manner,” I called out as loud as I could. My voice barely carried over the hysteria engulfing the scared worshippers.
The creature had pulled itself entirely out of the hole and now stood close to eight feet in height, hunched over on thick goat-like legs. It scanned the sanctuary with those menacing red eyes, saliva dripping from its mouth. It opened its arms as if to stretch and spread its wings wide. The display of the black beast above the fiery hole sent shivers down my spine.
“Dear God, please no. Please no!” I cried over and over. God’s judgment, his wrath, stood feet away from me, stinking of sulphur and blood. With arms outstretched, it screeched a horrible, deathly sound. One of the stained glass windows near the front of the sanctuary blew out. An older man with a cane was trampled as the crowd tried desperately to flee. I couldn’t reach him.
“Stop! Don’t hurt him! What are you people doing?” I screamed.
He cried for help but in the frantic chaos, he was left behind. Blood pooled around the man, his cane shattered underfoot.
I stood my ground, unsure of what I could do to the thing. It stepped down from the stage, leaving its fiery confines and began thrashing at those in the back of the crowd trying to flee. Its long talons slashed through shirts and flesh with ease. I had no weapon so I began throwing nearby hymnals at it, which only served to piss it off. It swatted away the cream colored books as if they were gnats.
Then I noticed another creature, about half the size of the first beast, pull itself out of the hole followed by two more similar in size. Unlike the monster before them, they were deep red, almost blood-like. Their eyes were bright yellow balls of evil. They were wingless abominations, their taught skin revealing the musculature underneath. They had long beak-like noses and cawed like a murder of angry crows. They hopped around the stage, tossing chairs and throwing whatever their long bony fingers could grab.
Most of the worshippers had escaped or were injured from the rush of people fleeing the sanctuary. I heard groaning and wailing from those left behind. The three impish creatures rushed at the injured, clawing into their flesh, spraying blood all over the pews.
I crouched behind a pew near the back, hoping to remain hidden from the monstrosities now desecrating the sanctuary. I knew then that the hole we’d been amazed at, the hole we were famous for, the flaming furnace gaping from our choir stage was a portal to the underworld, a hole to hell. Without the ability to close it, we were at the mercy of those subterranean beasts, hopeless to stop their onslaught.
How foolish we were to not heed the warning from those dedicated watchers who time and time again told of strange creatures on the video feed.
As the beasts, demons I figured, feasted on the injured and dead, I saw movement from the doors. What fool could possibly be trying to enter this church of carnage?
I looked to the creatures and back to the doors knowing whoever it was had little chance of stopping them. Then I saw a flash of black at the door, and two priests were crouching beside me behind the pew. Their collars shone like blazing beacons from their flowing robes.
“What the—“ One of them held a finger to his lips and I clamped my mouth shut.
“How many are left? Of the demons I mean. How many?” he whispered with an accent I couldn’t quite place. Italian? French maybe?
“There’s four of them. The giant black one and three smaller red ones.”
“Are you sure there aren’t any more?”
“Not that I saw. All of them crawled out of the hole,” I said pointing toward the stage. He nodded.
“Good. Stay here. We can take care of them. Here, hold this. If they attack, use it.” He shoved a black dagger into my hands, which I almost dropped.
“How can this help?” The possibility of avoiding their talon strikes while trying to get close enough with the blade to injure them seemed remote.
“It’s blessed. It’s been baptized in holy water. It will work, I promise.”
I turned the handle back to him.
“This is useless. Holy water means nothing.”
He shoved my hand back. “No! Take it. You’ll need the protection if they come for you.”
I kept the dagger.
He rolled away and crawled back toward the demons. I could see them talking but they were too far away and too quiet to hear.
One of the small red demons shrieked and stared where the two of them were. The others left their feast of the dead and followed its lead, blood dripping from their mouths. They alerted the black demon and all of them sniffed the air.
One of the red demons broke from the rest and moved in my direction, never taking its eyes off of where the two priests hid. I shook as it neared, its back facing me. I could smell the blood wafting off of it, the scent of iron thick in my nostrils. It stepped closer until it was in the aisle feet away from me. The other demons moved slowly toward the priests.
Fear flooded me, but I couldn’t sit idle. If these were demons from the underworld, I wasn’t going to let them roam my world.
I leapt at the demon and slammed the dagger deep into its back, puncturing where I supposed a heart would be if demons had hearts. It howled as the blade plunged into its body. Its flesh sizzled and smoked where the blade touched it. Long spindly arms flailed, trying to remove the blade and rid itself of my presence. I pulled the blade and struck again, trying to pierce its skull but missed and sliced its neck instead. It swung an arm knocking me back against the wall, forcing my breath from my lungs.
The other demons turned to see the cause of distress. The priests used the distraction to their advantage. They rushed the smaller red demons, throwing small clear objects at them. When they broke, glass shattered and water splashed on their dark red skin. Their skin smoked and hissed as what I supposed was holy water seared their flesh. Then the priests whirled and spun, slicing one of the red demons and avoiding its frantic claws.
The larger demon stood back, howling and flexing its enormous wings. A large gush of wind blew past me.
I readied my dagger as the demon I struck lunged at me. It clawed my left shoulder and I screamed. It felt like red-hot blades tearing through my skin.
I dropped my dagger. The demon struck again and I felt its scalding talons dig deeper in my muscle. My free hand flailed looking for the dagger. I felt something rigid and grasped the handle, swinging it wildly at the demon. I nicked its arm and the wound sizzled. The demon howled and jumped back as though my strike mortally wounded it.
I crawled toward the cowering demon. It clutched its arm where I struck, pushing itself away from me, its golden eyes staring at the dagger.
My mind was set. One of us was going to die here.
Behind it, the priests were locked in a struggle with the remaining demons, the large black one forcing the smaller red demon toward the priests. The one that spoke to me, that gave me the blessed weapon, stood tall and swung a sword at the red demon. It dodged his attack and pounced on him, shredding his face with its razor-like claws.
“No! Brother Alfonso!” the other priest cried. Alfonso raised his arms in a futile attempt to stymie the attack. The demon’s wild frenzy went unabated and soon Alfonso’s blood coated its face. The priest fell to the floor, dead.
The other priest threw small clear vials at the demon, the glass bursting and unleashing a splash of holy water, forcing it to relent. It fell over a pew and the priest slammed his blade into its skull, pinning it to the pew. The demon screamed then went silent.
I forced myself forward, closer to the wretched demon I’d struck with the dagger. It pushed itself to a pew and couldn’t move further. It was stuck. Its large yellow eyes looked fearful when I lunged at it with the dagger. I narrowly missed its leg. It thrashed, trying to kick the dagger away from me. Something struck it from the side and I felt water splash on me. I turned to see the priest toss another vial at the demon and it sizzled on its skin when it burst. I used the distraction and plunged the dagger into its arm forcing it to cry out in pain. I pulled the blade free and struck again, this time in the forehead. When I did, the blade pierced its skull and mangled whatever brain it had. Its yellow eyes turned milky white and it slumped to the floor.
When I turned back to the priest to thank him, he’d already engaged the larger demon. He tossed a couple vials at the demon who covered its body with its enormous wings. If the holy water stung, it didn’t show it. The demon slowly progressed across the sanctuary toward the killer of its minions.
Flames shot out of the hole on the stage, momentarily stealing my attention. The black demon flew across the sanctuary until it slammed into the priest. To his credit, the priest didn’t let go of his sword, but the demon left him no room to maneuver. Another blast of flame from the hole and fear gripped me. What if more came through the hole? How many beasts were down there ready to devour the living?
The black demon pinned the priest to the wall, though unable to strike him. It snapped at the priest but seemed unwilling to touch his face. The priest’s head looked to be covered in water.
I considered leaving the church then. I had no skill or training like the priests and yet one of them lay mangled and dead already. How could I do any better? I got lucky with the red demon.
But something kept me there. I had to try.
I crept among the pews, staying low hoping to avoid notice. I came to the center aisle and hesitated, planning my crossing carefully. I was about to leap across when the doors opened and sheriff’s deputies stormed inside, guns drawn, and shouting.
The demon’s gaze turned on them, freezing all three deputies in a trance. Finally, one of them shot her gun, the bullet striking the demon in the body. It flinched but didn’t otherwise react. The deputy fired again. Still nothing. The other two joined in, their previous pause overcome. Bullets riddled the demon, it shrugged off the attack, unharmed.
I covered my ears to the gunshots. Inside the church, the sound echoed all around. When they paused, noticing their weapons had no effect on the demon, I scurried across the aisle and forced myself dangerously close to the black demon.
I could feel heat radiating from it. Sulphur and death emanated from the demon like a deadly rose. Light seemed to bend around the thing. It held the priest to the wall, its long ebony-clawed hand circling his throat. The priest struggled, but I noticed his efforts waning. I had to act fast.
One of the deputies finally saw me and opened his mouth to speak when I shook my head to silence him.
With each step closer, my heart raced wildly. Blood rushed through my ears deafening me. I felt a sense of onen with my surroundings. The time was now.
I held the dagger in front of me like a talisman. Blessed and baptized in holy water, it was my only source of protection from the demon.
As I drew closer, a strange shape appeared on the demon’s wings. Faces floated in and out of view as though trapped inside. Silent, screaming faces called to me. Hands beat on an unseen force. Their hollow faces frozen in an eternal mask of horror.
I cried out in horror despite myself. The demon spun, its dark crimson eyes fixed on mine. I froze, expecting death.
The deputies began shooting at it again, distracting it momentarily. When it turned its head toward them, I lunged with the dagger.
I struck its leg. The blessed dagger caused its skin to smoke and pop. It howled and swung an arm at me that barely missed. I struck again, this time clipping its wing. When I did, the screams of a thousand wailing souls erupted. The maddening, hurtful, sickening sound overwhelmed me. The demon’s cry of pain failed to drown out the tortured souls now crying for release.
The demon let go of the priest who crumpled to the floor, gasping.
More shots from the deputies forced the demon to cover its face. The bullets now seemed to make an impact on the demon.
I struck again, catching the demon in its lower back. Black blood oozed from the smoking wound, coating my dagger. A few drops fell on my hand, peeling the flesh back in hissing ulcers.
The priest regained his strength and sliced the demon’s stomach with his sword, spilling decayed intestines on the church floor. The demon thrashed wildly, striking at anything in its path. It knocked me back, flying over the pews to land awkwardly on my side. My dagger flew across the aisle.
The demon staggered toward the hole, toward its sanctuary.
“No, we must stop it,” the priest said with a French accent. “If it gets to the portal, it will live. Stop it before its too late!”
I fell to the floor and crawled toward my dagger, the only weapon I had to hurt the thing.
I grabbed the dagger just as the demon lurched up the first step of the stage, rocking as though about to fall. I stood, the pain in my side blinding me.
The deputies shouted but I had no idea what they said. They crept closer to the demon forming a perimeter around all of us. The priest had run along the side aisle toward the stage.
I watched the demon take another tentative step and I ran, each footfall sending a shock of pain coursing through my body.
Reaching the demon before the priest, I slammed the dagger hard into its back, penetrating its screaming wing and sinking in the wretched flesh underneath. I pulled the dagger out and continued plunging the blade in its back, furious and wild. Black blood sprayed across my face eating away at my flesh.
The priest joined me, slicing at the demon with his sword, cutting into its shoulder and hacking at its neck.
I have no idea how long we attacked it before it fell forward onto the stage.
“Quickly now, we must remove the head,” the priest said.
The priest swung his sword hard on its neck, the blade biting into the black flesh. He sliced back and forth, black blood coating the sword. An awful stench of decay from the wound made me want to vomit. I held a hand to my mouth holding back the sensation.
“Stay with me! Just a moment longer…” the priest’s forehead glistened with sweat. The demon twitched beneath us, spasms forcing me to clamp down harder. The deputies joined me, holding down the demon with all our strength. Its wings screamed at us, the unholy wails of the damned. Then with a final harsh cut, the priest removed its head.
The sounds of the souls on its wings died down, their eternal madness and imprisonment soon to be over.
“Now, hurry before any others join it!” The priest grabbed the demon’s head and tossed it toward the hole. As it was about to fall in, it erupted in flames. Red, orange and yellow engulfed the black head incinerating it instantly.
The ashes fell to the hole and in a brilliant flash of energy as though lightning struck, the hole closed.
Underneath me, the body convulsed.
“Almost done,” the priest said. He pulled a bottle of water from beneath his cloak. “Now to finish,” he said, his French accent out of place inside our small town church.
He unscrewed the cap and poured the contents on the body. Smoke rose from the black wings as though tossing water onto a hot fire. The wailing and moaning increased in intensity. I closed my eyes as he continued pouring, praying in Latin as he did so.
When he was finished, he stood. “You can let go now,” he said.
We released our grip and backed away several feet as the black body writhed and shimmered, smoking and releasing a pungent stench into the church. Within moments, it formed into a sticky black pool, staining the carpet in the sanctuary.
“What, what, what was all this? What happened? Why--” My questions streamed from me now that the danger was over.
“Demons. The portal allowed them to escape their subterranean lair. We’d been monitoring the video feed. Once His Holiness understood what it was, we were sent to stop them. We’ve been preparing for this moment quite a while now, hidden and waiting.”
He sat back in a pew and closed his eyes breathing heavy.
“So many more,” he said, “there’s so many more lurking, ready to strike at God’s people.” He opened his eyes and turned to me.
“You did well my son. All of you did. We need more fighters. Would you consider joining our ranks?”
“Me?” I said. The deputies ignored him, backing away from the scene as if unsure what they witnessed.
“I’m not a priest. I’m not even Catholic!”
“That doesn’t matter. You can join our force. A great war is coming. We need soldiers ready for what’s next.”
I crumpled into a pew, closed my eyes and prayed, this hell on Earth only just beginning.
Soon holes emerged on every continent. His Holiness directed a massive effort to close them all.
I’d taken a squad to Brazil after reports of an opening in the jungle south of Rio. The five priests I led into that humid jungle prayed the entire hike in. We saw the flaming opening a mile away and then we saw the tall black winged creature.
“It’s time gentlemen,” I said.
“Ready your weapons. Evil awaits us.”
The priests yelled a battle cry as I led the charge through the jungle toward our next hellish foe.