The Lantern Heart

Online Story  |  Audio Thriller  |  More coming soon.

On the remote island of Kodiak, a retired fisherman/hunter wages war with an Ancient Evil that destroys the young and vulnerable. Can he stop the supernatural force, bent on devouring lives, before more are lost?

Listen to the Audio Thriller. Part 1  |  Part 2Part 3  |  Part 4

Part 1: Taken

He drifted across the cave’s threshold. His feet were clad in his timeworn leather hunting boots, laced up to the middle of his shin. They squished in the muck, and he could smell the mud as it spit gas into the air.

The lantern floated, bobbed and shook in front of him. The orange light cast deep shadows on the ground filled with boot tracks and drag marks to which he had grown accustomed to seeing. It cast shadows on the walls caked with mud and bugs. It cast shadows on the ceiling that arched above him.

He was sure the cave had never seen the light of day.

His body shivered as he took each step. No matter how often he had been in the cave, the fear of death still gripped him. But courage is acting in the face of fear, and Jehu had become an expert.

The glass cylinder lantern was wrapped inside a crisscross metal frame. The glass rattled against the metal as he walked. He breathed deep to calm his nerves. The metallic lantern held a mysterious light inside. Jehu didn’t know where the flame came from; he only knew that when it ignited, it was time to go. The flame told him it was time to raid Their newest batch of captives.

He knew the way through the cave and could have traveled it blind. But the light was the power he needed and the comfort he sought. It showed him when to go, where to go and who to set free.

A breeze blew into the cave and cycled back out. Jehu did not smell the odor he feared most, which meant he was alone. He held the lantern out further in front of him. His hand stopped shaking. Knowing They weren’t in the cave calmed his nerves a bit.

His pace quickened. His pliable and sturdy boots held traction with the ground, allowing him to move quickly without falling even as the earth grew more and more slippery the deeper he went into the cave.

He squinted, still unable to see down to the back of the cave, which was, he guessed, a half-mile inside the earth. But he did spot fresh drag marks in the mud in front of him. Two medium-sized humans had been hauled through the cave not long before him.

The thought of the young people kicking and fighting for their lives against an evil they didn’t know existed stoked a fire in him. His heart pounded in his ears. His mind raced, and he wondered what condition they would be in when he reached them.

The sploshing of the wet mud stopped. The ground crunched under Jehu’s feet. The edges of the orange lantern glow showed him the bones on the floor and the bodies in the walls. They were caked in a blue crystal-mud. Some of the dead still had skin on them. They were gray with blue lips, sunken cheeks, mouths hanging open.

He didn’t stop to think about them. He had to get to the new ones. He shuffled his feet as he worked his way down the wall towards the very back of the cave where the newly captured children would be held.

In front of him, he heard a gasp for air. He stepped closer, and the light shown along the floor and crawled up the wall. He could see their shoes, their denim pants, their shirts, and finally, their faces. 

A teenage boy and girl were stuck to the wall. The mud was caked around their heads and shoulders. Their arms, legs and torsos were also encased in dripping, wet gunk. Only their faces and necks were exposed and viewable. Jehu could see that they were twins.

Their eyes were shut. Their breathing told him they were alive. The lantern would confirm it.

He held the light up to their chests. It pulsed in the dark. Immediately, their bodies became transparent and revealed the life beating inside. In the center of their rib cages a throbbing, bright, heart-shaped flame danced and bounced. It matched the shape of the fire in the lantern. The flame bobbed along to the rhythm of their heartbeat.

The two teenagers woke suddenly. Jehu thrust out his free hand to cover the boy’s mouth, which opened to let out a scream.

“Shhh,” Jehu whispered.

Recognition of another human registered in the boy’s eyes. His head was held stiff by the mud and prevented him from looking around. Jehu could see his eyes straining to see his sister, and he choked out a small cry.

“Time for that later,” Jehu whispered.

The knife slid easily between their clothing and the mud. The drying process hadn’t set in yet. In moments, Jehu had them free. 

The siblings dropped to the ground and quickly took each other in their arms. He motioned for them to stand and follow him. They tried but their legs were wobbly, and it was slow going at first.

He had to get them moving.

Jehu shined the light on the wall. The siblings stopped and peered into the faceless mask of a lifeless body. The dead boy’s legs were shriveled up, and the tan pants barely hung on his thin hips.

The sister shrieked. The brother jumped. They understood that they had to go now or become like the boy in the wall.

The cave, the woods, the trail—all of it was a blur as they ran.

The three of them reached Jehu’s boat quicker than he expected. They stepped in after him. He pulled the rip line on the 200 horsepower outboard, and the lightweight, sturdy metal hull skipped across the waves into the bay, and then into the open ocean.

Jehu watched the two of them wrap themselves in his thick red and black wool blanket. The kids weren’t the usual prey They took. These were two white kids. They normally only snatched the indigenous children. 

Alarms went off in his mind.

As they sped away, They shrieked from the cave far behind them. Jehu didn’t flinch when the wails came, but the two kids buried themselves deep into the blanket. They had come back for the boy and girl, and Their prey was gone. They were mad, but it was too late for Them – he had reached the open bay, and the three of them were safe.

Making their way toward his house on the cliff, the thought of Them hunting outside their usual areas grew inside his mind. He heard the boy whisper to the girl in some European language. Catching a few of the phrases, Jehu guessed these two were Germans. They must’ve be on vacation with their family. Fortunately for them, they lived far from Kodiak. 

This meant They were expanding Their tastes. 

They were getting greedy.

His heart pounded at this new fear just as his home came into view. It sat on a rocky, isolated island jutting up out of the middle of the bay.

 

Weather-beaten, but cozy, his home faced the main Kodiak Island from which they had just fled. His cabin was nestled on the cliffside of the island and had survived and aged through all the raging winter storms the Arctic had thrown it over the years. 

He had grown up on the main Kodiak Island but had moved to this spot when the Taking’s had exploded. The local children called him the Ammagaruqnik (the hunting Arctic wolf), but he was nothing of the sort. 

He was just a man that wouldn’t stand by and let Them rob families of their loves.

Now that he had proof They were prowling outside Their territory, that meant it was time for it all to end.

Part 2: Jehu

Jehu had grown up with his father and mother, Gwendolyn, on the northern side of the Kodiak Island, removed from the small villages by a thickly wooded patch that Jehu claimed as his playground. Jehu’s father had been a logger by trade.

As a young boy, Jehu learned how to hunt, trap and fish. He had a natural talent for it, and his father leaned on Jehu to provide food for the family at times when he was out working in the wild. 

Jehu never minded the task. It gave him a reason to roam the wooded areas, giving chase to deer and other animals. It gave him a reason to fish the little stream nearby. It taught him the skills that he would need in his war with Them, the Tuurngap.

Every life has a turning point. A moment when nothing will ever be the same. That event happened for Jehu the morning he found his father’s footprints and followed them out to his father’s motionless body.

Jehu had woken at dawn to find his father’s coffee mug on the table and his  chair tossed backward. His father never left his coffee unfinished, yet there it was with the steam still rising from it.

Jehu dressed hurriedly and bounded out the door. He ignored the needle-like raindrops and the thirty-degree temperature as he found his father’s boot tracks. He followed them into the woods.

He discovered his father’s broken body a half-mile from their home. He knew instantaneously his father had died protecting him, his family, his village. In his father’s right hand was a knife, in his left hand was the horn he had used to stave the Tuurngap’s attack all those years ago, and at his feet was the lantern.

The tears stung his eyes. He blinked them away and whispered a prayer, asking for his father’s spirit to find peace on the other side. Though his heart broke, he bent over and took up his father’s knife. On the blade were symbols and petroglyphs, etched into the steal with skill and intricate detail. Jehu couldn’t make out what they said.

The rain poured down. His drenched clothes stuck to his back and arms and legs. A chill ran through his body. His father had saved him twice.

His sleep was fitful the night he buried his father. His father’s image floated in his mind’s eye. The skin below his eyes and around his ears were glowing white and yellow. The symbols from the knife blade hovered above his father’s head. Jehu wanted to ask him what the symbols meant. He tried to tell his father he missed him. He wanted to thank him for saving him, but the dream faded, and Jehu awoke with no answers and no closure.

Early the next morning, Jehu laid the knife and the lantern in front of his mother who sat upright and rigid in her chair. She flinched at the sight of them. Jehu pointed at the knife, the blade glinting in the light from the kitchen ceiling. He asked her what the symbols meant. She hesitated, then snatched the knife from the table. She hastily gathered the lantern and the horn and rushed to her bedroom, slammed the door, and locked it.

He never saw the objects again while she was alive.

Jehu’s mother didn’t let him stay at home or on the island much past his eighteenth birthday. She was determined to get him away from Them and the calling that claimed her husband’s life. Two days after he turned eighteen, she drove him down to the docks, and he began a job with a fishing company. Three days after that, he was at sea.

For a time, Jehu was skeptical that he could ever fall in love with the ocean, not in the same way he loved the woods. But he soon found a passion for the sea welling up inside him. The rolling waves, the seagulls swarming the boat as the fishermen hauled in the lines, the whales breaching in the distance, the task of mending the old nets—all of it wove an intoxicating spell over Jehu.

The nightmares and symbols and knife and lantern faded from his memory. His father’s death felt like a different life. Jehu forgot the pain he’d felt. The ocean washed it away. He felt lighter and lighter with each sunset.

The sea reshaped him; it formed him in its image. No longer bound to the land, he roamed the open seas where he found substance and meaning. He became a fisherman-hunter. He stayed with the fishing company for thirty years despite the financial hardships, the storms, and the injuries.

Now, the knife sat on Jehu’s table next to his cup of coffee. He used a wet rag to wipe the mud off the blade, and the etched symbols snagged on the cloth as he brushed over it. He still had no idea what they said or meant. 

The lantern hung on the chair he sat in, and the horn…its location was a still a mystery to him.

Watching the German brother and sister warm themselves by the fireplace while they ate chili from wooden bowls, Jehu tried to remember what drove him back to the island of his birth. What made him come back to the land to hunt the ultimate Hunter? What inspired him to save the lives of children?

Then, voices from the past came back to him. Rumors that floated from fisherman to fisherman, from cafe owners to dock workers. Stories of children disappearing began to spread beyond the Kodiak Island, reaching him. When Jehu and his crew would dock in port, he would hear stories of the Takings that were occurring on the island, his island, his home.

The more time passed, the more stories he heard, the more he could no longer ignore what he felt. Feelings that told him he should do something about it. He had no choice. The visions he had at night haunted him in the day while he was charting a fishing course or mending the cages or doing inventory—his father’s sacrifice came back to him over and over again.

Consumed by the need to act, he retired and moved back to the Kodiak Island where he built his house. Then he waited for a sign, any sign, anything pointing him where he needed to go.

He waited. And waited.

To fill his spare time, he built a stairway from his house on the cliff down to the water. He made a little dock so he could launch out and fish on his small fishing boat. He had no idea that it was on that little dock that Jehu would find the lantern.

One morning he climbed the one hundred and twenty stairs down the cliffside to the water. He walked the newly hewn planks and listened to the water sloshing about on either side. He could smell the weatherproofing oil on the wood. The morning fog was thick and blinding. It kept him from seeing more than ten feet into the bay.

Distracted by the unnatural thickness of the mist, he nearly tripped when his foot struck something. He squatted to have a look at the obstacle. It was a lantern, old, and beautifully crafted. The lantern consisted of iron bands wrapped around a glass cylinder. In the middle of the lantern was a spout-like object with etchings on it. An iron loop stuck up proud and strong from the top.

The hunter instinct in him kicked in. Was he being watched? He glanced around. Where did the lantern come from? Who brought it to him? It was familiar to him, but he had never inspected the lantern his father carried, so he couldn’t be sure if it was the same one his father had owned. After a few minutes, he reached his hand out to grab it. As he touched the loop on top—PHETH—a flame appeared in the center.

Jehu stared at the lantern and saw there was no wick inside. There was no gas apparatus providing fuel for the flame. There was no reason the lantern should be lit, but there was a flame, bright and hot. It cut a glowing tear in the fog. An image stirred in his imagination: he was little, laying on the icy lake, and his father stood over him, holding this lantern high, its light breaking the darkness that hung over him.

Jehu watched the light as he squatted before the lantern. Then his eyes began to play tricks on him. He swore the flame morphed and changed. It seemed to take on the shape of a human heart. A beating, throbbing, glowing heart. 

A cry seemed to fill his mind as he rose to his full height. A cry from deep in the island. Someone needed his help. He looked at the lantern and instinctually picked it up. He carried it to his fishing boat, stepped into it, ripped the engine to life, and took off for the main island. It was time to act.

The German twins finished their food, and he snapped out of his memories. The siblings settled on his couch and sat close together. They watched the flames in the fireplace as he washed the bowls and looked out his kitchen window, into the bay that surrounded his home, his mind working over all the places he had searched for his father’s horn, the last item needed to stop Them once and for all.

Part 3: Them

Jehu first heard of Them, or the Tuurngap, at a young age while playing on the frozen ice with the indigenous boys his age. His friends believed the Tuurngap existed. They were terrified of the demon. The kids did all they could to avoid the Tuurngap, which they called “the night hunter.”

Just as the sun started to go down each day, the boys would stop playing—mid-game if they had to—and race home. They would shout while they ran to ward off the Tuurngap. 

Jehu was left standing alone on the ice, watching his friends dash home. He could see their parents grabbing them ten or fifteen feet outside their huts to pull them violently inside.

Unafraid of their “silly” beliefs, Jehu would walk home at his own pace and enjoy the cold night air, the solitude, and the dazzling stars. He thought the fear he saw in the other boys was foolish.

Until he saw the Tuurngap.

#

The night he came face to face with the Tuurngap, he had stayed on the ice longer than usual. He turned in circles and the stars spun above him. Suddenly, a thick black mist appeared over his head. The object emitted a hideous stench. His gut wrenched.

 

He couldn’t discern whether They had arms or legs or even a face. He saw nothing but black smoky-ooze as it undulated in the sky. He felt a stabbing pain in his eyes. He wanted to look away but couldn’t. They had his attention.

Tuurngap.

The words echoed in the wind. It—They—the demon—was just like the boys had said. 

Jehu’s knees knocked together. He muttered a prayer for his parents. He wished they would not grieve too much for him when he was dead.

The demon flew at him and knocked Jehu on his back. He looked up into what should have been a face but found a black hole, infinite in its depth.

It was then that he heard the sound of a horn.

Someone behind him blasted a tune, unlike anything he had ever heard. The music became clear just as Their blackness was upon him, and a glop of inky goo dripped to the ice, burning through the four feet of frozen water. The bright tone was followed by the rapid succession of deep bass notes. Jehu could see the steady flow of music act like daggers cutting into the Tuurngap. Bigger and bigger globs fell and melted the ice all around Jehu.

“Run!” Someone yelled at Jehu. “Run!”

Jehu saw the Tuurngap twirl and writhe above him. They shook so violently, Jehu could see It’s form tearing apart. 

He scrambled to his feet and ran towards the horn blasts.

Slipping, sliding, he kept moving. When he reached the edge of the lake, he looked back. 

The Tuurngap spun faster, faster, faster, and then exploded into a thousand pieces. Acidic poison showered the ice and the center of the lake liquefied under its touch.

The horn went quiet and Jehu fell backward into the snow bank. The crunch of ice told him someone was coming towards him. He rose to greet his savior. He had never been so happy to meet someone in all his life.

Who he found waiting for him shocked him. There, with a horn around his neck, was his father. His father high-stepped it through the snow bank, a lantern—the lantern—in one hand and a knife in the other. He climbed over the snow piles to get to his son.

Jehu was dumbstruck. He looked up at his father whose face was stern. Jehu thought the man’s jaw was permanently set in stone. His father took a quick glance around the area and sheathed his knife. He reached out his calloused hand. Jehu found himself yanked straight up into his father’s iron hug. He held Jehu tight, turned and carried him into the forest.

No questions were asked. No explanations were given. The door to his house opened as they drew near and his father carried him inside. His mother waited with a change of clothes, and Jehu, in a moment, was dressed, warm, safe, and slipping off to sleep in his seal-down bedspread before his mind could catch up with what was happening.

#

He had found the knife the day he returned to the island. It had been discarded among some of the tools his mother had packed and put into storage when Jehu left for the sea.

The lantern showed up on the docks, out of nowhere.

#

As he bundled the German twins and ushered them out of his cabin the following day, he wanted to find the horn. Looking at the latest two shivering children, the time had come to take Them out. He could feel it was time to blow the Tuurngap back to hell.

He sighed and sat down in the back of the boat, pulling the ripcord on the motor. Jehu’s mind drifted as he maneuvered back out over the waters. He had retrieved only a few of the Taken since he had been back. The knife and lantern allowed him to free them from the walls of the cave and the clutches of the Tuurngap.

But They had taken more lives than he saved. The lantern was the tool to show him who had the flame of life still burning. The knife proved to be the only blade able to cut the children free from the walls.

But it wasn’t enough. Neither weapon could defeat the Tuurngap.

He needed the horn.

#

He had found the cave by providence. 

At his local diner one night, he overheard a young girl’s father pleading with the diner’s owner to post images of his missing daughter in the window. While the father hung the approved poster outside the front door, Jehu questioned him. What had happened? When? Where?

The father painted the scene for him: the family had been sitting around a campfire, telling jokes, enjoying one another’s company. The girl sat on her father’s lap, her arms around his neck when out of the blue—PHEET—she was snatched skyward.

The father wept as he showed Jehu the scratches on the side of his neck from his daughter’s fingernails. Jehu asked for the exact location of the Taking. Once he’d written the information down, Jehu set off.

He was going to find her.

Jehu drove out to the campsite, climbed out of his truck, and could almost hear the young girl’s shriek as he circled the fire pit. He was well acquainted with the sound of the Taken. He heard it many nights. He would sit on the edge of the dock under the night sky with the starlights flicking their light on to the water. The sound would echo through the forest and another child would vanish from the surface of this earth.

Now with the knife and lantern, it was time to do something about it.

He circled the fire and looked around for a sign, any sign, as to where They took her. He had never hunted Them, so he had no idea what he was looking for really. His frantic searching got him nowhere. So he stopped. He stood utterly still and turned his face to the sky.

And listened.

All he heard was the sounds of the forest. His body grew calmer and calmer. Then the sounds dropped away and the muffled cry of a girl floated to him.

Instinct took over. He ran blindly towards the sound. He found the mouth of the cave and slowly crept up to the entrance. Reaching the gaping mouth, he lay flat on the ground and put his ear to the dirt. He heard nothing. No footprints were discernible in the mud around him. He propped himself up on his elbows and waited. The cry grew more and more muffled. Just as he moved to stand—WHOOSH—the Tuurngap flew over him and into the night. 

He waited to see if there were more, but nothing happened.

He ran into the cave with no idea of what to expect. The deeper he went, the darker it became, and the brighter the lantern’s light grew.

When he reached the back of the cave, the smell turned from the mildew of a wet cave to the breath-stealing stench of rotting things. The light of the lantern was bright as the sun, but it barely kept the dark at bay. He used it to guide him toward the scarcely audible whimper.

Finally, he spotted the girl. He spoke and tried to learn her name. When she didn’t respond, he used the knife to methodically cut her free from the bluish mud. He managed it all without cutting her. 

Once free, she slumped over his shoulder, and he carried into the clear night air. And back to her father.

She was the first of twenty that he would save over the course of two years.

He lost twice as many.

#

Over time, Jehu learned much about the Tuurngap from people willing to talk about Them.

The Tuurngap were reapers. Their job was to cull the tribes of their weak and sick. The weak and sick children, specifically. In the modern age, no one remembered why the Tuurngap were allowed to do such a thing. They only knew the Tuurngap were rabid and hungry and had been Taking children for centuries.

The Tuurngap originally appeared in the wintertime. They would roam through the village, looking for those that had been set apart by the people to thin their ranks and make them stronger. Modern-day elders called the practice barbaric. But it had been done and was forever a part of their history.

Things changed hundreds of years before Jehu hunted the Tuurngap, during a particularly bleak hunting season. Their food stock was low. The weather was mild for a winter season. So they set out to find food before the deep chill came. In a freak fishing accident, all of the village men on the Island died. The village was left with all of its elders being women.

As the cold thickened that winter and the weight of having no men left set in, the women elders decided they were done cooperating with the Tuurngap. No more children would be Taken from their ranks. They needed everyone to live and do their best to help the people survive come spring. They hid their children and the Tuurngap disappeared for a time.

But They were not gone for good. A false lull descended on the elders and the families assumed all was well. The Tuurngap returned. And in one day seized dozens of children—some weak, some strong. Two days later, six more children were taken. A day after that, eight more vanished.

Panic seized the village. The elders met and decided to offer a peace treaty. They would return to allowing the winnowing of the sick to happen once a year.

That night, they bound two sickly children, lead them to the center of the frozen lake and waited. The Tuurngap showed up, and the elders pleaded that they spare the people, accept the offering, and come only once a year. The Tuurngap agreed and took the children.

The pact held up for a few years until the Tuurngap demanded two sacrifices a year. Then three. Then four. Then five. Then six.

Finally, the youngest elder, a brave woman with ten children, stood up and marched out onto the ice one night with a lantern, a knife, and a horn. She battled the Tuurngap and won. The Tuurngap vanished, the villages rested, the woman placed the weapons in the hands of the elders and tended to her children until her death at one hundred and five.

Decades passed. The people grew complacent. The memories of the Tuurngap all but faded. Until, one night, an innocent mother left the door to her home open. Her son was lying sick on the floor before the fire and she went next door to get medicine for him. When she was returning to her home, she saw the Tuurngap rush into her home and watched as they dragged him out into the snow and then into the sky. She never saw him again.

The village elders this time called for all children to be shut inside at dusk, the doors and windows to be locked, and the people to be vigilant. No more deals. No more loss.

But with time, people moved in and out of the village. The rules were not passed on and new families saw their children captured. And those children that were overly brave or arrogant challenged the Tuurngap and stayed out at night. They vanished regularly.

#

The German twins ran past an Avis rental car, across a gravel driveway, to the family’s rental cabin and burst through the door. Jehu waited until he heard their parents’ shouting and crying and then laughter at the return of their children. He sat down in his boat, ripped the engine to life, and set out for home again.

The squawk of the Tuurngap in the distant forest hardened Jehu’s iron resolve against Them. He had faced Them a few times, but he couldn’t kill Them. The knife was the tool of freedom. The lantern was the tool of guidance. But the horn was the tool of destruction. He had to find it to end the hunting and to end the horror They had caused for hundreds of families.

Part 4: The End

Jehu woke from a nightmare in a terrible sweat, his  pajama shirt clinging to his back.

In his dream, he’d stood outside his childhood home. His mother appeared at the edge of the woods and walked stiff-legged towards him. She held a red flannel shirt with something wrapped in it. She stopped within arms reach and held the bundle up for him to take. He took the shirt and the object from her. She floated back into the forest, vanishing inch by inch by inch.

Jehu unwrapped the shirt. It was one of his father’s old flannels. Tears stung his eyes. He blinked to clear his vision and could see that she had wrapped his father’s horn in the clothing.

The instrument was a dull gold color. He dropped the shirt, and it vaporized at his feet. He held the horn up to his lips to see if it would sound.

Before he could play the instrument, he shot up in his bed. He was in his room, in his cabin. The pale moonlight came through the shutters and the smell of the dying fire spiked the air.

The horn! He knew where it was.

He dressed quickly, rushed out the door, down the creaking stairs, and across the dock, slick with morning dew. He bounded onto his boat and jetted out into the bay. He aimed the boat northeast and glided over the still waters.

The morning mist kissed his face and soaked his hair. His mind was clear and focused for the first time in a long time. Everything seemed so plain to him now. His mother had hidden the horn and it was still there in the charred remains of his childhood.

His boat slid easily onto the shallow and rocky beach of the main island, Kodiak. He ran into the woods and didn’t stop until he reached the place their cabin once stood. 

A fire had destroyed it while he was at sea. His mother had died the winter before. Park rangers said the trees around the home had been dead for some time. All it took was a thunderstorm to spark a fire and—POOF—it was all gone.

He stood where the front door had been and took it all in. The house was nothing but heaps of black soot.

He closed his eyes and saw the house as it once was and in his mind. In his imagination, he found the area where his mother’s room had been.

He walked through the mounds of flaky ash that were once tables and chairs. He stepped into what should have been his parent’s room and moved to the blackened iron frame of their bed.

He knelt down and moved the frame aside. He spotted a small door in the floor. He flipped the latch, wrenched the heavy door open, and lifted up a red flannel shirt. The brass horn was inside. The clothing and horn smelled of earth and fire.

He turned the horn over and over in his hands. It was tarnished by dust and smoke and time. He lifted it to his lips and blew into the mouthpiece. Dust and dirt and a moth flew out of the end.

He thanked his mother for hiding this precious instrument and blew into the horn a second time. The sound grew stronger with each blast of his breath.

As he headed out into the bay, making his way to the other side of the island, his heart ached. He missed his parents, but he wasn’t ready to meet them “on the other side,” as his mother had called it. For the time being, he pushed them from his thoughts.

He had what he needed to fight a real war with the Tuurngap. The horn was tucked under his arm, the knife was in his belt, and the lantern in the hull of the boat.

 

#

Deep in the damp cave, the Tuurngap wrapped another child in their grimy clay mixture. They made a small incision on the boy’s neck and a tiny trickle of blood blotched the boy’s shirt. They were about to feed when They felt the music on the wind. 

They recognized the horn and knew what the music would do to Them.

They left the boy in the wall and amassed outside the cave. Collecting Their rage into one massive force, They rushed out of the forest, over the waters and towards Jehu’s house.

In the Tuurngap’s blind hatred, They passed over Jehu as his boat swung around the cove. He shivered as They moved over him. He lowered his head and drove the boat hard towards his target.

The Tuurngap reached his cabin quickly. The fire in the home burned brightly, and They circled the dwelling, looking for an opening, any opening. All the Tuurngap needed was a crack in the window, a break in the walls, an open door, anything that would allow them access. The Tuurngap could not enter a home without someone giving them an opening.

Around and around They searched but found no way into the cabin. They paused outside the front door and decided that if They couldn’t get in, They would drive him out. Their ear-splitting wails would do the job. This move had worked on Jehu’s father. 

The Tuurngap took up Their spot outside the front window and wailed the thick, razor-like, grating sound.

At the mouth of the cave, Jehu could hear the anger. He didn’t have much time. Jehu took a deep breath, held up the glowing lantern, and ran into the cave.

When he reached the back of the cave, he found one boy alive and two girls beyond his help. He cut the boy free, dropped to his knee, and the boy’s motionless body slumped over his shoulder. Jehu rose and jogged toward the entrance of the cave.

Across the water, the Tuurngap stopped the attack and searched the house. They rushed around and around the dwelling. There was no sign of life. They spun and looked toward the dock. The boat was gone.

Collecting Themselves again, the Tuurngap rushed toward the cave, whisking over Jehu’s boat and down the path. Their flight came to a violent stop when the lantern’s light blinded Them. The Tuurngap howled and twirled around like a tornado.

 They spun skyward, over the trees. 

Jehu readied himself. The spirit arched upward and then crashed down on Jehu. He dropped the lantern and let the black mass knock him down into a thicket.

He rose, and They bowled him over again. And again. And once more.

The boy shook himself out of his daze and realized that he was not in a cave, tacked to the wall, having the blood slurped from his neck by a hideous smelling angel of death. Instead, he was in a shrub, the cold night air brushing against his cheek. It took him a minute to realize he was watching a black, smoldering column slam a man into the ground over and over again.

He blinked and realized the Thing that had taken him from his father’s shoulders earlier that night attacked an old man on the ground.

The boy wanted to run. He tried to bolt into the woods and find his parents. But an object in his hands kept him still: a horn, dented, worn, and dirty. For some unknown reason, he put it to his lips and blew into it. And Jehu heard the music.

Jehu reached out and grabbed the lantern that had fallen to the ground. He rose to his feet, and, while the black column spun upwards, he held the lantern up, letting the light blaze skyward. The Tuurngap stopped attacking him.

He ran to the boy, smiled at him, took up the horn and the knife, and handed the lantern to the boy.

The Tuurngap rushed Jehu. He raised the knife and dropped to his knees. The blade sliced into the underbelly of the Tuurngap as They flowed over his head. The demon caterwauled and split in two. When They did, the voices of a thousand children spilled out. The sound drove the boy to the ground. He lay in a ball and covered his ears.

“Get up!” Jehu called. “I need you!”

The boy sat up. Jehu handed him the knife. He told the boy to shine the lantern and use the knife if he needed it. Then Jehu moved to the middle of a small clearing and held the horn tight. He felt a slight tremor in his left hand. This was his moment.

The two halves of the Tuurngap spun in the air and headed towards Jehu from opposite sides.

Jehu said a quiet prayer.

The boy cried.

The Tuurngap raced just above the ground. The two halves collided, enveloping Jehu in their midst.

The horn was on Jehu’s lips. When the dark wrapped him up, he played his father’s song. The Tuurngap hadn’t heard the tune since the night they tried to take Jehu. Fear shot through Them.

Jehu couldn’t see anything. He could hear the notes of the horn far away, somewhere, but the howls of the Tuurngap and the weeping of stolen lives drowned all sound out. The stench of death gagged him.

For the briefest moment, Jehu felt desperation: maybe the tools wouldn’t work; maybe he was playing the wrong song.

He kept blowing, and gradually, the sounds of the horn grew louder and louder, and the sounds of the dead faded away.

The boy held the lantern high and the knife out in front of him, although every fiber in his being said to run as fast as he could go.

A shudder coursed through the massive spirit. The notes sliced their way into the spirit’s form. With each note, the Tuurngap shook.

The boy could hear the voices of those Taken before him, those whose lives ended far too early. It made the boy mad, and he pushed forward.

The Tuurngap saw him and spun to attack, but the light repelled them.

Inside the mass, Jehu continued playing. Long. Loud. Fierce.

 

The closer the boy got, the more the Tuurngap shook. The boy noticed pieces of the black mass falling away, dropping off in ribbons, hitting the forest floor and melting away.

Note after note, the Tuurngap shrunk, but it refused to stop. Their thoughts were bent on destruction, and They would not turn back from that.

In one last effort, It compressed Itself around Jehu’s body. He felt the tightening and knew it was then or never. He blew hard and long on the horn. Barroom! Baroom! Baroom!

Everything paused. Then, a rip. A crippling shriek. The notes cut and obliterated the Tuurngap’s essence.

Silence. Jehu emerged from inside the Tuurngap. He stood with the boy and watched the Tuurngap compress again. Then it exploded, erupting into a ball of flaming ink, shot skyward and catapulted over the water.

Jehu and the boy stood and watched quietly. The night air was still. The stars sparkled in the heavens.

They had lived.

They had won.

The Tuurngap was gone.

#

Water lapped at the wooden posts as the morning sun rose in the distance. His hot cup of coffee in hand, Jehu rocked in a chair on the end of his dock, running his free hand through the thick white fog.

#

The boy sat next to his mother as his father drove them down the freeway, speeding away from the woods and the evil he had faced and helped defeat–for the time being.

#

The German siblings drifted off to sleep, both were unsure if the last forty-eight hours had been a soul-sucking nightmare or not.

#

The boys and girls Jehu had saved over the years felt a twinge of peace for the first time since being Taken. Their spirits told them all was well in the world again.