Ray scrambled from the van with Shane’s gruff ‘bye’ slapping him in the face. He grabbed his things before trailing mud like slug slime all the way into his apartment. Ray dropped the box of beer and the plastic bag on the floor. Then kicking his door shut, stormed into the bathroom. The sounds of rushing water and clothes being ripped off followed.
He stepped into the shower and let the hot water pour down over him as if he was receiving a blessing from God. Sighs and moans escaped him, mingling with the rushing water. Ray washed quickly, scrubbing at his skin as if the mud would never come off. He half drowned himself, before deciding to get out.
Wrapping himself in towels, he stepped out in a bank of mist and went into his bedroom. Turning on the light, he looked at the bed and saw that it was badly sunken in one side. Wondering what to do, he stripped the bed and inspected the mattress. He pressed down, but the springs seemed locked into place.
Swatting grains of stone off the surface, Ray pressed up and down on the mattress a few times. Destressing squeals signalled around him, but the springs wouldn’t ping up. Sighing, he flipped it over and spun it around on the metal framed bed. The other side didn’t look any better. He tried again and this time the springs give away a little bit. Gritting his teeth, he tried harder and got the mattress into something of a normal, if not more bump shape.
‘That thing ruined my bed,’ Ray muttered.
He dressed then threw his clothes into the washer/dryer and made himself a large cup of tea. He put the TV on and watched a car show, noticing all the aches his body was now curling around. During the ad break, he got up and brought the plastic bag over to the sofa. Inside was a mix of bottled water, soft drink cans and snacks. He had snatched it without even thinking as he had gotten out of the van.
Shane had been less eager to hand over the beers and actually, as Ray sat there thinking about, Shane had been really edgy and wanting to leave fast. Probably all that mud and hard work, Ray thought before opening a packet of pork pies and dipping in. He stuffed his face for another few minutes then found an old James Bond movie to watch.
Sprawling out on the sofa, he tried hard not to fall asleep, but it tugged at him too much and soon he was dreaming of falling down a fire filled tunnel. He could feel white hot flames sizzling against his skin and his screams were so deafening they could no longer be heard. He plummeted into a lava pit, burning red and orange oozing around him and swallowing him. He scrambled to get out and to call for help, but the lava filled his mouth and throat and he felt himself burning from the instead out.
Ray awoke in a sweaty heap, almost falling off the sofa. He struggled up and got to his feet. Looking around nothing seemed out of place. He went to the sink, filled a mug with water and drank it down. Feeling better, he saw that his clothes were ready. He opened the door and spent the rest of the day cleaning and tidying. Yet, his mind still spun like a spider making a web and he couldn’t get the devil gargoyle away from him.
As night began fully settling in, Ray turned on all the lights and put the volume of the TV up. His skin was crawling with a creepy feeling and he felt like someone was hanging over his shoulder watching him. He shot a few quick glances around, but he was completely alone. He called for Chinese takeout, hoping the food would settle him. When it arrived, he didn’t feel as hungry and left half of it in the fridge for later.
He went to bed, relaxing across nice clean sheets and telling himself he was being silly. The day had been a strange one, but tomorrow would be fine and normal. Sleep refused to come and he tossed and turned so much that the bed looked as unmade as ever. He gave in at last and spent an hour looking at random crap on the internet via his phone.
Trying to settle again, he rested back on the pillows and thought about the statue. It was out there, resting in the abandoned graveyard with rain dripping off its crudely craved muscles. He imaged it half sinking into the muddy ground and joining the collection of old bones tangled in gnarled tree roots and black earth. Shaking his head and trying to get rid of those thoughts, sleep silent crept up. However, it didn’t give him any rest bite.
The nightmares grew worse and circled around the same things; Hell and the Devil. He couldn’t pull himself away, even though he begged to awake up and towards the end he started to believe that it was real. He was trapped in the fiery inferno forever to be tortured by daemons.
‘It’s my eternal punishment,’ he muttered over and over again through bleeding lips.
The night broke late and the morning light had to struggle through murky blackness. Ray’s alarm went off, the noise cutting through everything and jerking him awake. Scrambling up, he sat in the damp bed and drew deep shaky breaths. He touched himself, gingerly then got up and let his fingers trail across a few other things.
‘I’m still here. It was all nightmares…’
He grabbed his phone and called up Shane, who answered on the fourth ring.
‘Mate, we’ve got to put it back,’ Ray rambled into the phone, ‘we’ve got to find out where it came from and put it back. We’re cursed!’
‘What are you…?’
‘The statue! We need to return it or else….’
‘Who is that?’ a sleepy, female voice echoed down the line.
‘Ray. It’s nothing, Love. I’ll sort it,’ Shane’s voice crackled.
‘Look, we need to…’
‘Calm down, pal. Give me a sec.’
Ray hopped up and down as he listened to the muffled movements of bedding and doors. Shane came back on the phone with ‘now, what do you want?’
‘We need to return the statue. It won’t leave me alone! I had the worst nightmares last night and before that I felt something was here with me. Don’t you feel it?’
‘Well, I didn’t sleep, but that doesn’t…
‘Stop!’ Ray shouted, ‘we need to do this. Get over here!’
‘And if I don’t?’ Shane’s cold voice answered back.
‘Then you are damned to Hell.’
Ray hung up, tossed his phone away and got dressed. He grabbed something to eat and drink, then picking up the rest of his things, put on his boots. He went to the door and put on a rain mac before hurrying out. He paced the carpark as he waited for Shane to arrive, muttering to himself like a mad man.
A squeal of tires and brakes announced his friend’s arrival and Ray swung open the door and hopped in, before Shane could do anything else.
‘We need to get it and return it. It’s the only way,’ Ray explained.
‘I don’t believe in Hell,’ Shane countered back, ‘I’m doing this for you and you are going to owe me big time, pal.’
Ray nodded, ‘drive then.’
The van screamed as it turned around and shot away. Shane pushed the speed limit all the way to the layby and once there braked suddenly to a stop. They got out and tracked through the woodland, hunched shoulders and shifty eyed. They entered the graveyard and saw the gargoyle lying on its side where they had left it.
‘Should’ve brought something to lift it with,’ Shane muttered.
Ray shook his head and went up to inspect the statue. It had sunk a few inches into the mud, which had only added to its grotesqueness. He rubbed his hands together, the urge not to touch the stone filling him like a balloon.
‘We’ve got to…Got to…Come on,’ he spoke.
He bent down and slid his hands under the statue. The surface was cold, damp and rough, but he tried not to think about it. Ray heard Shane growling then moving to the bottom corners. They counted to three then lifted. There was a loud mud sucking smacking noise and for a few moments they teetered on not being able to move. However, their strength paid off once more and the wet soil let them raise the devil.
Slowly and painfully, they crawled back to the van. Thin tree branches cracking around them and the mud ruts threating to trip them up. They put the statue down close to the van doors and as Shane opened them, Ray took in lungful’s of chilly autumn air. The second lifting was the worse, but once again they got the thing into the van and slammed the doors.
‘Now what?’ Shane asked as they lent against the doors, doubled over.
‘Now, we drive around till we find out where it came from.’
‘I want petrol money,’ Shane stated.
They got back into the van, scrapping and brushing off as much mud as possible. Then for the next two hours they drove around in an icy silence with only the radio to break up the rumbles of the engine. Shane turned down a dead end street, meaning to U-turn but was forced due to a number of parked cars to drive further down.
Ray wiggling in his seat, shooting looks at the houses on both sides. None of them looked different from the other semi-detached ones in this richer, better built area. However, their front gardens were different and as they passed one with a large very red brick wall something popped in Ray’s memory.
‘That house…turn around, I need to see it,’ he called out.
Shane did just that and pulled the van up on the curb. Ray climbed out of the van. He walked up to the wall and saw that it ran up a short front pathway before ending with pillars close to the front door. On each pillar sat a small gargoyle facing off with each other. Ray noticed that the one of the right had a shield and the left one had a sword. He looked to the right, across a neatly flag stoned driveway and saw another pillar ending the wall there.
The pillar was empty.
‘This is it!’ he yelled.
He rushed back to the van and flew open the door, ‘this is it. Come on.’
‘Are you sure?’ Shane shouted back.
‘Yes,’ Ray responded and hit the side of the van as he hurried around back.
Shane got out and joined him to open the van doors.
‘I don’t like this,’ he added, glancing around the street, ‘anyone could see us. What do we say?’
Ray shrugged, ‘we are delivering it. We found it and are returning it. It doesn’t matter.’
‘It doesn’t matter. Just help me put it back.’
After a few seconds of planning, they heaved the statue up again and carried it over to the pillar. Sliding it on there with their muscles pumping and throbbing, they replaced the statue. Letting go, Shane lent over, grapping his knees and squeezing his eyes shut. Ray sink down to the driveway and looked at his hands. He had slight cuts in his palms and his skin was red-grey. He caught his breath then stood up again.
‘Let’s get out of here,’ Shane said in a low voice.
They ambled back to the van and got in.
‘You still sure?’
Ray nodded, ‘yeah. It looks like it fits.’
‘I’ll take your word on it.’
Shane started the engine and made to pull away. As he did so, Ray’s eyes lingered on the gargoyle. Mud was still coating the bottom parts and one side with the wall underneath smeared too. It didn’t seem any worse for wear though. Ray let out the breath he had been holding and prayed it was over with.
They drove off, leaving the devil grinning a mud caked smile.