It was a miracle that they made out of the building and into the car park. As they slide the devil gargoyle along the corrugated iron flooring of the van, Ray thought his body was going to burst. They slammed the doors shut and lent against the cold metal, breathing raggedly whilst sweat pooled off them.
‘We did it,’ Shane gasped; he bent over and grabbed his knees.
‘Yeah, just,’ Ray breathed back.
‘I need a shower.’
‘Not before we get rid of this thing.’
‘A drink then, water,’ Shane suggested.
Ray nodded and eyed the sightless windows of the apartment block. He thought he saw a net curtain fluttering back into place. Shaking his head, he patted Shane on the back and said he’d go back up and get them some water.
‘Let’s just go to the shop,’ Shane cut in, ‘we can get some beer too. I think we’re going to need it later.’
‘My wallet’s…’ Ray started and patted himself down.
‘I’ll cover it, but you own me, mate.’
‘Yeah, sure thing. Let’s go.’
Shane walked around and opening the driver’s door got his things. He locked the van behind him and they set off on the few minutes’ walk to a row of six tried looking shops. The small attached buildings sat in a semi-circle of pavement that at one time the council had tried to dress up with benches and flower pots. Now, though the area looked too run down to bother with and it was made even more so by the abandoned bedsits that hung like dead cows above the shop fronts.
Ray and Shane walked past the empty chippy with the closed sign on the door then what had once been a farmer’s market shop but was now white washed and for sale. Passed, Home Helpers, with its’ collection of brightly coloured house and garden cleaning supplies littering the space just outside, to Booze Bonanza. Shane led the way in and a small bell tinkled above his head.
They headed straight for the beer shelves then, arms wrapped two large cardboard boxes, went to the till. Shane paid without a word and they left as quickly as they had entered. After putting the beer into the van, they went to the next shop along which was a small convince shop. As they stepped in, Ray glanced at the next and last shop along; Fat Chu’s Chinese Takeaway.
‘Hey, let’s get a Chinese later. Go nice with the beer,’ Ray called over.
‘Maybe,’ Shane muttered, ‘not sure what time my missus gets off work. Have to see.’
‘All right. What we getting?’
‘More food and water, I’m starving. Those noodles didn’t even touch the sides.’
Ray shook his head and followed Shane around the narrow aisle as he picked up a few snacks, bottled water and soft drinks. Ray grabbed somethings too, thinking it would be useful if they didn’t get food later and he had to return to his place alone.
At the till, a dusty blonde, spotty teenage girl gave them a wary eye then started to scan their things. She sighed deeply and smacked chewing gum against her lip gloss lips. She packed their things in a carry bag and with a monotone voice mumbled the total.
Shane shoved a note at her, fisted his change as she handed that over and with a huffed ‘bye, grabbed the bag and left. Ray tried to shot her grin, but the girl had already turned back to the crappy gossip mag tucked down the counter’s side.
‘What was that about?’ Ray asked as they climbed back into the van.
Shane dumped the bag on the seat between them then dug out a bottle of water. He cracked the lid and took huge gulps. Twisting the top, he handed it to Ray and started up the engine. ‘Nothing. Let’s get this shit taken care of.’
Ray pulled a face, but settled back into the faded, rough chair. He opened the bottle, wiped the top and took a few sips. Afterwards, he looked out of the window and watched the council estate flowing by. Most of the houses were boarded up and those that weren’t looked like they should be. A handful of autumn trees, looking like they’d rather give up and die added nothing to the scene. They sped pass the flat wasteland reminds of an old war airport base, which the council had tried hard to turn into a nature reserve, but then had given up after losing too much money.
The van bounced along, onto the estate edges and around into a patch of woodland. Rain drops pattered the window and letting out a long winded breath, Shane put the wipers on.
‘It’s around here, I think,’ Ray mumbled.
‘Yeah. That layby,’ Shane pointed out then pulled in off the single track road.
Ray looked and saw spiny wind swept trees kept back by a broken wooden fence.
Shane turned off the engine and looked around too. ‘Do you know whereabouts?’
Keeping his face to the window, Ray answered, ‘yep. Its right through there then up a bit. Not far. Not far at all. We’ll be fine.’ He opened the door and got out.
Ray heard Shane do the same and they meet around the back of the van. Shane opened the doors and together they looked in on the statue. Dread filled them both.
‘We’ll just do what we did before and everything will be okay,’ Ray stated, ‘do you want to walk backwards or shall I?’
‘I’ll do it. Grab that end.’
Ray nodded and quickly they got into the same position as before and lifted the gargoyle out. Straining and sweating once more, they carried the monstrous stone into the trees. Ray felt his feet slipping on the soft mud and his back pain spiralling out of control. Shane, holding out a little bit better, tried to rush through the cluster of pointy branches and felt long wicked scraps across his skin. Swearing loudly and muttering a torrent of other things, they hauled the devil into a patch of abandoned headstones.
Dropping the thing down, they fall on other side of it, struggling to breath and hearts racing. Ray submerged in the wet soil, feeling as if it could fix all of his problems. He lay face down then when the pressure on his chest became too much, flopped over and stayed on his back. He shut his eyes against a darkening; tree topped edge sky and let the rain wash over him. He listened to his breathing and was dimly aware that he wasn’t alone.
Exhaustion dragged him into sleep and felt himself spinning down into eternal blackness. He was plagued by nightmares. The devil gargoyle danced around him, fire spurted up and unimaginable pain gripped his beaten body. Ray tried to call out, to run away, but he seemed unable to escape. Finally, he felt strong hands grabbing his shoulders and yanking him up. He tried to fight the hands, but he was shaken too much.
Ray snapped his eyes open and looked up at Shane. His friend was covered in mud and was shouting at him to pull himself together. Ray pressed his hands on top of Shane’s and drew in a ragged couple of breaths.
‘I’m fine. Thanks,’ he slurred.
‘You were screaming like a mad man,’ Shane explained.
‘I was having a nightmare…the devil…’
They both looked over at the toppled statue.
‘I had one too,’ Shane muttered, ‘Let’s get out of here. I’ve had enough of this!’
‘Me too. Me too,’ Ray added as he patted Shane’s hand.
They helped each other up and tried to wipe some of the mud off. It clung to them thickly and in the end they give up and walked back to the van. Behind them, the rain fell heavily on the forgotten gravestones and their new companion.
Safely back in the van, Shane started the engine and turned on the heating. He drove back to Ray’s apartment and both men were silent all the way. However, they couldn’t turn their thoughts away from the nightmares or the task they had just undertaken. Ray shut his eyes and lent against the cold damp window, but he quickly opened them again as he saw the devil looming over him. He shot a look at Shane and saw he was concerning on the road so hard that his knuckles were turning white under all the mud.
To Be Continued…