Churches are supposed to be places where you feel safe. Presumably it has something to do with God watching over you some other religious junk but still their open doors are meant to bring comfort to even the worst of sinners. So you can understand why I was feeling a little cheated when I entered the church that night and felt nothing but dread and anticipation clench my stomach. It was unreasonably hot and as if that wasn’t bad enough the stuffy church cut off what little breeze there was.
“God damn it’s like a freaking sauna in here.” I hissed into the silence. A slight crackling and a tiny squeak later and my partner in crime’s voice sung out from the tiny speaker in my ear.
“You know it’s probably not a good idea to say ‘God damn’ in a church right?” Thomas replied. I rolled my eyes but after realising he couldn’t see the gesture I whispered
“I’m on a hunt and you’re concerned about blasphemy?” Creeping forward further into the church, I scanned my surroundings for signs of movement. It was one of those small old churches which was still using the same wooden benches as the day it was built. In any other setting I might have been able to appreciate its rustic appeal but I was on a hunt which meant my thoughts were slightly preoccupied.
“Hey I’m not interested in going to hell just because you can’t keep a lid on it whilst on holy ground.” Thomas retorted. Snorting softly I scanned the first row of seats. Empty. The mongrel wasn’t due for another few minutes but it never hurt to be too careful.
“Please if there’s anyone less destined for hell it’s you Tom-Tom.” And though my tone was light it was also true. There was no-one nicer than Thomas O’Shay We had been partners for three years and best friends longer since. He was the rainbow to my storm cloud, the flower to my weedkiller. Without Thomas I wouldn’t have any friends, heck I probably wouldn’t even talk to anyone outside my own family. Choking back the sudden emotion that was clogging my throat I spoke again.
“And if you do end up in hell well I’ll be there waiting for you.” It was Thomas’ turn to snort.
“Knowing you, they already have a special corner carved out waiting for your arrival.” My laughter cut through the churches quiet, leaving the eerie silence all the more unnerving upon its return.
Candles flickered softly, fighting against an imaginary wind. What was it about candlelight that made everything so creepy? The candles flickering caused the shadows around it to dance and I studied the movement intensely before determining the shadows were empty. My muscles loosened slightly but were still ready to attack at the slightest movement. Another high pitched squeak.
“You’re on Jackie boy” was the only warning I received before a hulking shape flew through the church doors and crashed to the ground in front of me. It didn’t notice me at first, too focused on - - what I hoped was - a bloody animal carcass between its jaws, granting me some extra time to study it. The writhing mass on the floor was a hideous combination of human and beast. It usually stood on all fours, it’s human like limbs bent at unnatural angles so that they appeared broken. The arms and legs – if you could call them that – were covered in fur and ended in large paw like ends which sprouted wicked looking claws. The rest of its body was covered in the same fur as on its arms and legs except for the head. Its face, however, was truly its most frightening feature. With its aristocratic nose, full lips and slightly upturned eyes its face was undeniably human looking. However the deadness of the eyes and the wild untamed hunger in its features left little doubt that the monster near me wasn’t anything close to human. Mongrels were the definition of choice used by the Institute to describe the creatures.
The fact that they had sent Thomas and I – mere knights in training – to deal with it was an irregularity. Usually you had to be a full-fledged knight in order to be sent out on missions but for the past year or so Thomas and I had been given the orders to go out and deal with them on our own. The first time we were sent out the gossip was crazy and when we came back not only alive, but successful, it got even worse. ‘Dream Team’ they called us and in a way we were like mini celebrities within the Knight community. No, we weren’t signing autographs and avoiding paparazzi but still, whispers followed us wherever we went.
The mongrel let out an awful moaning sound and my grip tightened on my sword, which I had somehow drawn without even noticing. God bless muscle memory. The elaborately carved designs gleamed in the candlelight and for not the first time I wondered why they had even bothered to decorate the swords. Personally I was happy as long as it did its job which was to cut and slice up mongrels. All the fancy patterns seemed a waste of time.
The mongrel moaned again and its messed up body went crazy on top of the carcass. I raised my sword and prepared to chop off its head when one of its clawed hands wrapped around my ankle. With incredible strength it yanked me straight off my feet. I hit the floor hard and I mentally reprimanded myself for being so careless. I was lucky the mongrel was weary from hunting whatever poor animal it was feeding on. Snapping into action I pushed up slightly and swung my sword at the hand clinging to me. It detached from the rest of the body with a satisfying crunch. The mongrel let out an ear-piercing scream but I paid no attention. Jumping to my feet I brought the sword down once more quickly decapitating it. The scream faded to a gurgle before dying finally.
Pulling up my sword once again I waited for the next mongrel to arrive but the church was once again silent. Something was wrong, mongrels always hunted in packs. Where there was one you could be assured there were at least two more waiting in the shadows nearby. Thud. Thud. Thud. My heart raced, beating furiously against my chest. I couldn’t shake the feeling of something being wrong and after another ten seconds and no more mongrel appearances I decided to consult my partner.
“Hey Thomas, what’s going on? Where are the others?” I paused, waiting for the familiar squeak through the earpiece but it never came.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
I tried to focus on my surroundings rather than my growing sense of dread but as each second ticked past, it grew harder and harder to ignore. Finally, when it seemed my heart was going to burst, the familiar squeak broke through the panic and I practically sighed in relief. Then I heard words that chilled me to the bone.
“Jack…help-” I was out the door of the church and running towards him before the last word finished.
Sprinting past buildings, I raced to where Thomas was supposed to be parked in our getaway van, or the Mystery Machine as he liked to call it. Skidding to a halt outside the alleyway where the van was parked, I quickly scanned for movement but there was nothing. Dashing forward I slowed as I reached the van. The side door was open, the inside empty. I was about to call out for Thomas when a scratching sound caught my attention. Creeping around the side of the van to investigate I followed the sound until I reached a lone figure crunched against the van on the ground. My heart stopped beating and my mind filled with white noise.
It was the only thought that broke through the cloud. Leaning against the van Thomas clutched at his stomach where a pool of bright red blood flowed. His face was deathly pale but in one hand he still clutched his sword. Dropping to my knees I scrambled over to him and finally managed to force words through the fear choking my throat.
“Thomas?” He looked up at me, a smile spread across his face, its usual joy tinged with pain.
“Hey Jackie-Boy. Things aren’t looking so good.” He coughed, covering his mouth and pulling his hand to reveal red. Fear clenched my heart so tight I thought I would die on the spot.
“The H-toxin! We have to get you some H-toxin!” I stood up about to storm the van in search of the shots when his soft voice stopped me in my tracks.
“Jack.” He said. That one simple word and I swear I heard my heart break. Heard it crack right down the middle. I didn’t want to turn around because then I would have to acknowledge it, acknowledge what it meant and I didn’t know if I could handle it.
“Jack.” He said again and I didn’t stand a chance. Slowly turning I met his resigned gaze and let my eyes travel down to his outstretched palm in which three empty syringes of H-toxin lay. Three doses of the Institutes miracle drug and he was still bleeding to death right in front of me.
No. No. No. No. No.
I collapsed to my knees again and crawled towards him not even realising I was saying the word out loud. Tears flowed freely down my face and when I looked up into his eyes and I saw that resigned smile, I died a little more.
“Please.” I heard myself hoarsely whisper. “Please don’t leave me.” He took my hand in his and gave it a tight squeeze.
“Afraid I can’t promise you that Jackie-Boy.” He spoke softly but his voice still trembled. He was trying to be brave, his smile still in place.
I sobbed harder, clutching desperately at his hand.
“No. No! It’s not fair! You can’t. No!” I squeezed so hard I’m sure I was crushing his hand but he kept on smiling. Lifting his other hand which now shook from the effort he tapped me lightly on the tip of my nose. A gesture he had done a thousand times before.
“Love you Jackie-Boy.” His skin was even paler now and each breath shallower than the last. I reached up with my own hand and tapped the tip of his nose and spoke the words I was expected to reply with.
“Love you too Tom-Tom.” Somehow, somewhere I found a smile in me. For him. He smiled back even as his eyes filled with tears. Opening his mouth he coughed again and after the hacking subsided, laid his head back against the van. He spoke again, his voice a hoarse whisper.
“I don’t know if I’m going to hell but it looks like I’ll be the one waiting on you.” His mouth twisted into a smile once more and his brown eyes met mine. “Don’t worry though, I’ll save you a seat.” He whispered and then the life drained out of him. His eyes unfocused, the hand holding mine slackened and his breathing stopped.
I stared at his mouth willing air to flow back into his lungs, waiting for him to take his next breath. To straighten up, laugh at me like it was all some elaborate joke and say ‘Fooled you didn’t I Jackie-Boy?’ I would laugh and punch him on the arm and then we would drive back to the Institute chatting and laughing the whole way.
But his next breath never came. His eyes never opened and with the force of a dagger to the heart, I realised Thomas O’Shay was dead.
They prepare you for every eventuality at the Institute. Every possible outcome. But no amount of training could have prepared me for this. For the sheer agony of losing my best friend. Because Thomas O’Shay wasn’t the only thing that died that night. No, he went and took my heart along with him.