Chapter 12 from the Ama audiobook
Jason stood on the doorstep, looking into the house. He watched as Lilith walked along the hallway and through the arch into the living room. He hesitated to follow her, struggling with his desire to get the game over with and save Emily, and a fear of what Lilith might do next.
I could run, he thought. But where to? Into the smoke? This black fog surrounding the house? That ends who knows where? Maybe the street is still there, somewhere beyond?
He turned his head and looked back at the black wall of smoke, its liquid movement rolling against an invisible barrier at the far edge of the garden. He looked up and saw that the same held true for the smoke above. The dense blackness was threatening, but never passing, the boundary of his old home. Where are you going to go? he asked himself. Play her game, get it over with and get out of this place. He stepped into the house.
The air inside had become stale, and he strained to draw breath. Dust hung before his eyes without the faintest movement. His old house had become lost within an atmosphere of sinister gloom. The sparse light fought a losing battle with the shadows. The darkness seemed to be a living thing, enveloping the inner decor and consuming the things he once held dear. Shadowy fingers crept across the photographs of his family and his pictured dreams for the future. The house had died with his wife and daughter.
He walked towards the archway and then froze as he heard the sound of slow, deep, rumbling breaths. The sound came from something in the living room. His body shuddered with each breath he heard. He feared that Lilith had manifested Hobs again, and it waited by her side—Vermis digested and now ready for dessert. Get it over with, Jason told himself. He walked through the archway.
“This is your caretaker.”
Jason’s hands leapt from his sides to steady himself against the wooden frame of the arch. “Jesus! What the hell is that?”
“As I said, this is your caretaker. He’ll take care of the flowers for me.”
Jason prepared himself to run but feared his legs might fail him if he did. The spark to his fear was the nebulous human form now standing next to Lilith. The caretaker, a ghost, stooped its vaporous head against the ceiling, its empty black eyes staring down at him. The ghost gained more substance until Jason could no longer see through it.
“My… caretaker?” Jason said, not looking away from those deathly eyes. His grip on the arch became painful.
“Yes. Isn’t he beautiful?”
The caretaker’s jet-black leathery skin appeared to be covered in scars. Some were mere scratches, while others were deep gouges a foot or more in length. The creature’s mouth opened and became an obscene gaping hole, its lower lip a foot or more distant from its top, with its chin pressing against its muscular chest. It had no teeth, nor a tongue. Its mouth contained nothing but an empty void. The caretaker’s eyes narrowed to mere slits.
“He’s eager to get started. Time to twist your perception of reality even more, Jason. Are you ready?”
“No. I’m not ready. Why are you doing this? Please… I see now. I understand. I did a terrible thing, but it wasn’t me. Not who I was. I killed someone, yes, but I’m no Hitler. I was never a cruel person. Why do I deserve hell for my actions? I want…” He released his grip on the arch and held up his hands, erasing his demand, then continued. “I mean, I’m asking for forgiveness. Isn’t God merciful?”
Lilith laughed. “No, Jason, He’s not. Anyway, back to the point in hand. Zoe would have had another child, in fact, she would have had many. More than you can possibly imagine. But we’ll start with the first line you broke and progress from there.”
“But, she’s dead.”
“Yes. She is. Oh, how I love the confusion that comes before the pain.” Lilith touched the caretaker’s arm and then ran her gentle fingers over its abused skin.
The caretaker let out a fierce cascading roar. Jason fell back through the archway and against the hallway wall. The sound made the air ripple before his eyes. It looked down at Zoe, studying the lifeless body for a moment, and then fell to all fours, its head and gaping mouth hanging over the corpse.
“Oh, Christ, no,” Jason said, reaching out towards his wife’s body.
The caretaker’s head jerked up. It was inches from Jason’s face as it growled once more.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Lilith advised.
Jason withdrew his hand. “What the fuck’s it doing?”
The creature sniffed at the body, its head twisting from side to side as it inhaled. A hypnotic moment passed, before it started a rapid succession of deep breaths. The sound tore at Jason’s ears. Zoe’s flesh became black and flaked away. Within seconds, her body became ash, and the creature continued breathing it in. It took one last, long, deep insufflation and Zoe’s entire body disappeared, consumed by the caretaker. A veil of shock fell over Jason as he stared at the carpet where his wife’s body had lain moments ago. The caretaker’s hands reached out and closed around something that Jason couldn’t see. It stood and turned to face Lilith.
Jason looked on in bewilderment as the caretaker held out the object for Lilith. She inspected the offered hand.
Lilith’s appearance changed in an instant. She radiated with a softness—a glow—that pushed back against the gloom of the room. Her hair also stopped pulsating through an array of colours, settling on a silky shade of dark red.
The caretaker bowed its head. Although towering many feet above Lilith, it seemed to be afraid of her. With awkward movements, it cowed before her.
“No pain.” She put a hand on the creature’s head and caressed it. “Look after my flowers for me.”
“Yes, Mother,” the caretaker replied.
The creature didn’t articulate words from its mouth. The deep, reverberating sound came into Jason’s mind and raked aside all other thoughts. When the caretaker spoke, it was a terrifying rumble of thunder, a sound that entombed Jason’s will.
The caretaker turned and looked at Jason with sharp eyes. It made to walk towards him, both hands still holding something.
“In time.” Lilith’s words instantly stopped the creature’s advance.
It turned and blurred its form, becoming a ghost again, a fluid silhouette which moved, without hindrance, through the front wall of the house. The glass of the front window was bowing but not breaking as it passed through and out into the front garden.
Lilith flashed Jason a smile. “Not one for doors. Do you want to see what he’s going to do with my flower? It’s a glorious thing.”
“Fuck no!” Jason picked himself up as fast as he could and ran down the hallway. He flew into the kitchen, crashing into the door frame as he entered and then knocking over one of the dining table chairs as he raced for the side door. He grabbed the door handle and then stopped to look back at where Emily’s blood should still have been smeared across the floor. Like Zoe, all evidence of Emily’s death had vanished. Jason opened the door and looked into the wall of black smoke swirling a few feet from him. “Oh Christ, Jase,” he said to himself, “you’ve got nothing to lose. Don’t think. Just do it.” He ran into the smoke.