Grady Dellaneaux strode up the pebbled walk leading to his half million-dollar home. He pulled his coat collar close around his neck, trying in vain to protect himself against the frigid mist carried in on a dense fog.
“Stupid weather!” he exclaimed.
The weather wasn’t what ate at Grady. In fact, he liked bad weather. It always lifted his spirits. What devoured his emotions this evening was the news he’d been delivered.
“I’m sorry, Grady, but we’ve had one too many complaints from our clients,” Mikale Frandlong, the owner of Frandlong and Associates CPAs said.
Frandlong held a sandwich in one hand and the phone receiver in the other while he delivered the crushing news.
“I expect you to be gone by the end of the day.”
Grady turned to leave—no run—from Frandlong’s office.
“And, Grady, you may want to get an attorney. Arthur Longdon is threatening a lawsuit. Seems he thinks you skimmed quite a bit of his money last quarter.”
Grady turned and looked Frandlong in the eye. “Nonsense! I told him as much when he accused me yesterday.”
Grady narrowed his eyes and shook his head. “See where being loyal got me? I knew better! Ten years down the tubes. Thrown out without a second thought. Just like the wrapper on old Frandlong’s sandwich.”
Grady smirked. If old Frandlong only knew how much I have taken in ten years. I slipped up with Longdon. I’ll take care of him tomorrow.
“You are condemned to hell, Graduate Dellaneaux.”
Grady spun on his heel and squinted into the dense fog. No one there. The sickening-sweet, Southern voice of his long-dead grandmother continued to echo through Grady’s brain.
He grabbed his head with both hands and whispered vehemently, “Shut up, old biddy. I tried it your way. Look where your morals got me! I’m doing it my way now, thank you very much!”
A familiar and cold terror tore at his stomach and whispered into his mind, What if the voices are back?
“I won’t allow it!” Grady answered.
Rubbing his temples, Grady recited under his breath, “You aren’t real, you aren’t real, you aren’t real,” until the pressure in his head subsided.
Grady let out a slow breath and continued up the short flight of steps. He inserted the housekey into the bright brass dead bolt glistening in the pale-white streetlight.
“I’ve been waiting for you.”
Grady tensed, gripped the key between his index finger and thumb and slowly removed it from the lock. He turned, holding the key waist high and squinted at the dark figure in the shadows of his white-columned porch.
“It’s you,” Grady growled. He dropped his hand to his side. “What are you doing here at this time of night? You scared the ghost right out of me.”
A tall, lean man stepped into the light. Donald Renphrow held out a manila envelope.
“You left instructions to have this package delivered post haste. If the instructions were wrong I’ll leave, and you can come by and get it when the shop opens.”
“No, no! I’ll take it now.” Grady reached out greedily.
The visitor stood motionless.
Grady’s mouth tightened. He forced his voice to be calm. “I really have a lot to do tomorrow, and it is late. Please give me the package.”
After what seemed an eternity to Grady, Donald Renphrow held the package toward him.
Grady seized it. “Thank you,” he mumbled, hurried into the house and shut the door. He listened for Renphrow to leave.
The entry clock ticked loudly in the otherwise silent house. Grady strained to hear above the clock’s noise.
The sound of heavy boots going down the steps, then steadily growing more and more faint was music to Grady’s ears.
Grady double-checked the lock, placed his keys in their gold tray on the foyer table and hurried over the marbled entry to his personal study. He peered to either side to ensure he was alone, walked in, closed and locked the door.
He ripped open the package and smiled as he pulled out a leather-bound book. Reported to be 200 years old, the book showed signs of having been a deep crimson in its early days but now was splotched by black, like new blood mixed with old. He set aside a note and a small round ampule filled with amber liquid.
“The Book of Fallen Angels,” he whispered and gently stroked the worn leather as if it were a newfound love.
After several minutes he remembered the note, picked it up and read:
Congratulations. As you know, you were the top bidder for this book. I commend your determination. It is rumored that whoever owns this book has unlimited access to the powers of Lucifer and his army of fallen angels. With this text, you begin a journey from which there can be no return. It does not come without price. The liquid accompanying this note is the catalyst for the change you must make if you hope to understand and access the powers of this book….
“What a lot of hooey,” Grady snorted. He threw the note aside and stared straight ahead like a stubborn child refusing his broccoli. His brow furrowed in thought.
What if the note is true? What if I can only access the book’s power by drinking this stuff?
He picked up the vial and held it to the desk lamp. He tipped it backwards, then forward, contemplating the oily brown liquid as it coated the sides before melting into itself. He removed the stopper and inhaled cautiously; an unknown but pleasant odor.
“What could it hurt?” he asked. He returned to the note.
…It will be unpleasant and probably painful. You must be and stay alone during the process. It could take several hours for the transformation to be complete…
Grady Dellaneaux did not care about physical pain. Being a small and thin child, he was a favorite whipping post for school bullies and others in his youth.
He could not, however, tolerate waiting. Grady opened the right-hand drawer of his office desk and pulled out a syringe.
He stared at the needle left from his grandmother’s last days when her only pain relief came from frequent morphine injections.
“I knew this would come in handy someday.” He opened the hypodermic and the vial. His ears throbbed with his rising heartbeat.
He placed the thin spike in the amber liquid and watched the fluid slowly rise up the plunger. When it was full, he pushed the stopper until a small amount squirted from the tip. He rolled up his left sleeve and inserted the needle into his vein. He waited.
His skin tingled. His throat went dry. Excited, Grady jumped up and rushed to the mirror in the foyer. A slight built, balding man stared back.
His reflection revealed a slate gray tone to his skin and a navy-blue hue creeping around his lips.
His quickening pulse slowed and bounded at the same time. Grady felt power with every beat. The room began to spin and his arms and legs went numb. Grady Dellaneaux fell to the floor, welcoming whatever would come next.
He lay there listening to the entry clock chime one, then two, looking forward to the next stage of his transformation.
Grady smiled. “I will finally have my revenge and my reward.”
“You will have your reward alright. You are condemned to hell, Graduate Dellaneaux.”
The sickening-sweet, Southern voice was no longer in his head.
Grady rolled his eyes toward the voice.
His grandmother looked down on him, eyes blazing with judgment, wagging her finger in his face.
“You were hell, old woman,” he mumbled.
“You made your own life horrible!”
As he watched in horror, her foot lowered to his chest, twisting and crushing it like an old cigarette butt. The pain radiated to every joint in his body.
Mercifully, Grady went numb again; a powerful calm overtook him. He smiled triumphantly at his grandmother.
“You can’t hurt me anymore. I am more powerful than you now.”
“It is not I who you should be concerned with.” Grandmother Dellaneaux pointed to the ceiling.
Grady looked up.
A triangle of three large, scaled beings crawled above him. Their bloated arms, legs and torsos reminded Grady of marshmallows. Their swollen bodies shimmered with an iridescent grey light, keeping them slightly out of focus. Long, anteater snouts protruded from small, malformed heads. Their mouths were open in a permanent O. The leader inhaled.
The air left the room. Grady gasped in short, fast breaths seeking any oxygen he could.
“You see, when you bought the Book of Fallen Angels, you sealed your fate. Did you truly believe you could summon demons and subject them to your will?”
“No, Graduate, others have not. Your need for power and wealth made you easy prey for a great deception.”
“You are as crazy in death as in life, old woman.”
She ignored him and continued, “It is a risk to obtain a prize sought after by those even more evil than you. This book will be back on the market in a few days. Donald Renphrow will see to it. You always did trust the wrong people. Mr. Renphrow knew you’d do anything to achieve complete power. It was easy for him to dupe you into poisoning yourself.”
“Do I? You’re the one talking to a ghost.”
The large, pale beings catapulted off the ceiling and joined Grady’s grandmother.
“These are your fate. You now serve those you sought to control.”
Without warning, the calm numbness gave way to a roaring wave of pain. Grady’s whole being shouted for relief. It did not come.
He opened his mouth in a silent scream. Grady arched his back, lifted his arms and called forth his body’s remaining strength. He reached for his grandmother’s throat.
She stayed just out of range, watching in amusement, her eyes pulling him to her until there was nothing else in Grady’s line of sight.
The demons moved in on Grady.
“You are dead, Graduate Dellaneaux,” were the last words Grady Dellaneaux ever heard.