Chapter 42 of Ama
Derwood stopped walking.
“What’s up, buddy?” Jason asked, looking at the distress contorting his friend’s face. He placed a hand on Derwood’s shoulder and followed his gaze. “What did you see?”
“Please, no!” Derwood yelled. “Don’t hurt them.”
“Who’s he talking to?” Lucia asked. “What does he see?”
“I don’t know.” His friend still looked towards the mountain, but somehow Jason knew that wasn’t what he saw. A sense of dread washed over him.
Derwood backed away from Jason and Lucia, and away from whatever seemed to be advancing on him. “No, I didn’t do it, ye damned witch.” He raised the knife, as if readying himself for battle.
“It’s all right,” Lucia assured him, reaching out to the terrified man’s hand. “Tell us what you saw.” She whipped her hands back to her chest and fell backwards, scrambling away from Derwood. While gasping for breath, she screamed, “It’s her. She’s here. Oh God, she’s here.”
“Lilith?” Jason gripped the baseball bat with both hands. “Shit! I can’t see her.” He stepped forward and stood between Lucia and Derwood.
“I can’t anymore. But… I saw her. There.” Her hand shook as she pointed a few feet in front of Derwood.
“Aye, I be a failure,” Derwood whimpered as a flood of tears fell from his eyes. “I couldn’t do what ye asked… I won’t do ye bidding… He’s me friend… Me… friend.” He held out the hunting knife. “Ye leave them be, or I’ll be gutting ye like the hog thee be,” he yelled as he jabbed the knife forward.
The knife faded from his grip as the shimmering steel turned to dust.
Derwood’s shirt ripped open and his screams fell silent as his chest caved under unseen pressure. His eyes shot wide as strain laid claim to his noble face. Jason and Lucia both gasped as they watched their companion’s heart float out from his open chest.
For a moment Jason thought he saw a woman’s hand holding and squeezing the heart which floated a few feet in front of Derwood. It fell apart into shreds of pale, veined and bloodless gloop. Derwood turned to face his friends, and then his head twisted with a violent motion and came away from the rest of his body. It hung in the air as his body fell to the ground.
Jason lunged forward, swinging the bat above and below the hovering head but hit nothing.
“Do you see me, Jason? No, but you do hear me, don’t you? Like those pathetic voices in your head.”
Jason looked at Derwood’s head as his friend looked back at him. Deep impressions formed like bands across his face. Fingers materialised over the impressions. A slender hand, then an arm, a body, and then long red hair. A moment later, Lilith stood before him, her yellow dress rippling in the wind while she held Derwood’s head like a ball.
“You didn’t have to do that,” Lucia said through her tears as she got to her feet. “Why? He was a good man.”
“A good man?” Lilith sniggered. “Yes, he had his moments of humility, I suppose. Oh, well.” She walked towards Jason with swift and determined steps, passing through his body like a ghost.
Jason spun around and watched as Lilith held Lucia’s face with one gentle, caressing hand. Lucia stood transfixed by fear, looking into the demon’s eyes. She raised her knife, but it became dust in her hand the moment the blade touched the yellow dress. Jason swung the bat, but it too became insubstantial particles on contact and took to the air. Lilith leaned forward and kissed her trembling lips, and then, with no apparent effort, she tore the head from Lucia’s body.
“No!” Jason yelled.
She turned and stared at Jason, holding Lucia’s head with one hand and Derwood’s with the other.
Jason’s legs failed him and he fell to the ground. He mumbled, trying to speak, but no coherent words came from the ruin of his mind.
“I like what you did to those two men. How long do you think their heads will remain below the ground? How long will their minds be locked within the darkness as people walk over them?” Lilith knelt and then plunged her arms into the ground up to her elbows, the sand giving way as if it were water, and planted the two heads deeply. She sat back on her heels and smiled. “How long?”
Jason watched as the wind worked with feverish resolve to cover his friends’ faces with sand.
“I’ve done this to each of you. Lucia and Derwood have both been where you are now, watching as I bury their compatriot’s heads in the ground. Lucia offered to take your place, and so did Derwood. Will you offer your head in place of one of theirs?”
Jason looked at the flat ground between them. He imagined the oppressive darkness below the ground, their covered faces unable to move, speak, or even scream. He tried to imagine the horror of time: the hours, days, years, the millennia. Never knowing if he would ever be released from the sandy grave and brought back into this realm of torment. He imagined having his frightened thoughts for company until his mind echoed with insane murmurings. He thought of Lucia and Derwood, and then he bowed his head and acquiesced. “Yes.”
“Well, well. You’re not such a coward after all.” She applauded with a light clap of her hands. “How wonderful. You’re full of surprises, Jason. But I’m not done with you yet, so they can stay where they are for now.”
“You’ll never let me go, will you?”
“That depends on what you mean.”
“The mountain is a lie; the prize is nothing but a lure to get me to play your horrible game.”
“Oh no, Jason. The mountain is real, and if by prize you mean your old life, or a perfect version of it, then yes, that’s real too. The prize is still there for you to have, but you better get moving.”
“I don’t believe you. If making me suffer is how you get off, you’d better get on with it. Fill your boots, lady, because I’m sitting this one out.”
“Okay, if that’s what you want to do, you sit this one out. But you can’t wait here. I have a special place for the idle.”
“I’m sure you do. Now, fuck off. You’re making my skin crawl and spoiling my peace.”
“That’s the spirit, Jason. That would be quite impressive if it wasn’t for the fear and madness I can hear inside you.”
Jason lay back and closed his eyes. “You still here?”
“Lie still, Jason. Lie quietly. When you open your eyes again, a place of rest will be waiting for you.”