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Story 4

 Stephen Patrick

Stephen Patrick lives in the Dallas, TX area. His writing has appeared in The Writer's Post Journal, Aphelion, Dark Recesses Press, Bewildering Stories, and Night Terrors Anthology by Kayelle Press among others. His most recent publication is a story in Road Kill: Texas Horror by Texas Writers, Vol. 1.

When is an armadillo not an armadillo? When it's a demon living in a dilapidated house in rural Texas. Throw in two cops -- one  a supernatural unbeliever -- and an old lady, and you have Protect and Serve.





By Stephen Patrick



     There I was, just before dawn, in the armpit of Texas, when our universe was saved from an angry demon by the bravest cop I’ve ever met. 

It started at 2am, on the graveyard shift, outside Ray’s convenience store. Our black and white was parked outside on the gravel lot.  I had been training with Officer Sanchez for a month, still hoping to get past being called a rookie.  He was so focused on the job that his first name was ‘Officer’, even to his friends, if he had any. He was a tough man, a hardened cop, but he had been clear about asking questions.  “There’s dumb questions and there’s dumb rookies.  When they mix, we get dumb cops.”

Inside Ray’s, Sanchez was sipping coffee and flirting with the clerk at the counter, while I pretended not to notice from my hideaway at the magazine rack.  At least I had the April edition of Ghost Hunter to keep me company.

“You still reading that weird stuff?” Sanchez asked from his perch next to the take-a-penny tray.

I looked down at the bold, glossy pages in my hand.  The bright orange headline read “Are you safe from the other side? What will you do when the demons come?

“Demons, and ghosts, huh?” The words slipped from his mouth like they did not belong.

“What do you think, sir?” I asked, trying to avoid being a dumb rookie or asking a dumb question.  "These are all normal folks who said they saw something hiding in the shadows, just out of view.  What if there is something mucking around with us mortals?”

“Bullshit as far as I’m concerned. I ain’t met nothing yet that I can’t explain.  I’ve got a flashlight to take care of the shadows and there ain't nothing in the Texas Penal Code about demons or ghosts.  Anything coming here from the other side is a problem for Immigration, not two night-shift cops.”

Our police radios chirped. "Unit 122, Burglary in progress at 1865 Route 4, near the trailer park."

     Sanchez tossed his coffee cup into the trash can behind the counter.  "That’s Lucy Scott’s place. Her husband died last summer.


     Lucy Scott’s home was a throwback to when houses were built to last. Thick glass windows, pristine brick siding and a hand-crafted wooden porch complete with white columns across the front that made it a Rockwellian dream of southern living.  Lucy paid several local boys to keep up the place, but their shoddy maintenance only highlighted the fact that she lived alone.

We parked on the street and made our way up the gravel driveway.  As we neared the house, I heard screaming from the back yard.  Behind the house, we found Lucy Scott, dressed in her Sunday best, hoisting a single-barreled shotgun. She pointed the quivering barrel toward her back door and screamed over her shoulder at us.

"It’s in there! And it’s something that's pure evil." The barrel of her shotgun dipped as her bony arms grew tired.  She cradled the stock of the gun under her elbow and gritted her teeth.  "Pure evil, I tells ya." 

We drew our pistols and scanned the back door, looking back at Lucy and then to the door. Sanchez took the lead, focusing his flashlight on the door.  "We’re here now, ma’am.  Put down the shotgun, and tell us what’s going on."

     Without taking her eyes off the back door, she answered. "I was coming home from playing dominoes with my girlfriends Sally Chesterfield, Juliana Shepherd and Diana Duke.  Diana has been a bit down in the dumps about her husband’s new habit of eating pickles at every meal. She thinks he might be cheating on her, but I think he’s just enjoying eating himself some pickles.  Either way, she spent all night talking about it, just blabbing on and on and --"

     “Ma’am,” Sanchez interrupted.  “The door?”

     Ain't you got ears, boy?  I’m telling a story.  When I come home, the screen door was open.  Not a lot, just a little.  Maybe like an inch or less. I heard something rustling inside."

     "Did you see anything unusual?" I asked, my eyes still locked on the dark opening at the door. "Today?  Maybe earlier?" 

     "I found armadillo tracks around my crepe myrtles the other day...."

     Sanchez lowered his gun.  "We're not here to police the 'dillos.  You called us for a break-in.   Did someone break into your home or not?"

     "I’m getting there, boy!  I pulled the door open and heard this infernal racket, like a cat trapped in a sack full of bees. I screamed and something scampered across the floor.  It moved under the couch, under my dining room table, and then back out the door.  I grabbed the shotgun from the closet, but when I got outside, it couldn’t see it no more. It wasn’t invisible or nothing, I just stepped outside and it was gone.”

     "Sounds like an animal snuck in," Sanchez answered as he holstered his pistol.

“I know what it was.” Lucy lowered the shotgun and leaned it against the door frame.  She reached into her purse and handed Sanchez an empty bag of Cheetohs. “I found these under my couch. I haven’t had snacks in the house since my Don died last summer.  Worse, when I peeked inside, the box with Don’s ashes was knocked over in his favorite chair.  On the wall behind it, the crucifix was hanging upside down.”

“Cheetohs and an upside-down crucifix?” I asked as I holstered my weapon and stepped to Sanchez’ side. 

“That’s what I said!  My Don loved Cheetohs."

     Sanchez whispered to me. “She just a scared old woman."

     "I am not scared," she screamed.  "I called you two donut-eaters to find out if my husband has come back to haunt me. I could barely deal with Don when he was alive, let alone after he's dead." She stepped in front of me, her ragged lips pulled back over yellow teeth that were chomping just below my chin.  “So what are you gonna do about it, rookie?”

     Sanchez ran his hand over his head. “Ma’am, we are officers of the law.  We deal with folks that break the law.  If you think your deceased husband is coming back from the dead, that’s not illegal. There's not much we can do to help you."

     "Didn't you swear to protect and serve?” she continued chewing on me.  “Can't you at least make sure my dead husband's not sitting in my living room?”


     Sanchez went first. We had our guns drawn, mostly for show, but I wanted to prove I knew how to search for bad guys.  We searched Lucy’s house room-by-room, looking for intruders, ghosts and a rogue armadillo. The beam of my flashlight found every dark, shadowy corner of her house as I did my best to put on a show for her and my training officer.

     The house was sterile and lifeless. The furniture was wrapped in thick plastic, and everything appeared glued into place as if any change would destroy the facades Lucy had built up in her life. 

We found an ornate box in the living room, upside down in a well-worn easy chair. Sanchez tapped my shoulder and pointed at the box.  “Must be Don.”

I reached for it, but before I could pick it up, Sanchez grabbed my hand.

     “Demon or not, I don’t think she wants you to spill Don’s ashes all over her clean house.”

     Sanchez slid his hand under the box, scooped it up from the chair and set it on the coffee table. 

Above the chair, a crucifix hung upside down, held up by one nail. Sanchez tried to re-hang it on the vacant nail above it, but the wooden statue would not hold. Instead he pulled it free and tucked it under his shoulder.  “Ashes and crosses, but no signs of a break-in.  Definitely nothing missing.  Not much we can do here.”

“What about my demon husband?” screamed Lucy from the doorway. “What if he’s come back?”

Sanchez took a deep breath. “Ma’am if your husband is a demon and has come back through from another plane of existence, that’s more suited for men in another line of work.”

“Do what you do!” she screamed. “Protect and serve! It’s on the side of your car!”

Sanchez handed me the crucifix.  “You’re the one interested in demons, rookie.  What do you want to do now? Anything in your magazines give any tips?”

A buzzing sound drew our attention to the walls. It swelled until the terrible clatter rattled the windows. Every window in the house creaked in protest and then cracked from the strain. Spider-webs spread across each pane and smoke began to seep through cracks in the roof.  The doors bowed outward like an inflated balloon. 

I turned toward Lucy “Is that Don? Please tell me that’s not Don!”

“It’s not Don.” answered Sanchez, grabbing Lucy and moving to the door. “Probably a sinkhole or maybe an earthquake. We need to get outside, before this place comes down.”

“Don’t let Don come back,” screamed Lucy as she pulled away from Sanchez. “I worked too hard to get rid of him.”

Suddenly, the doors and windows exploded into a spray of shimmering shards of glass and splintered wood.  Before a single bit could fall to the ground, everything stopped, hovering in the air.  A red shaft of light cut through the clouds, bathing the house in crimson.  Inside the house, a deep rumbling seemed to come from all the walls at once.   Like two mountains grinding against each other, a voice boomed.  “The hour has come. The gateway is open.”

I drew my pistol, trying to find something to shoot at through the debris floating around us.

Sanchez brushed away a piece of wood floating in front of him. “Something tells me a pistol ain’t gonna do us much good against this.”

In the center of the living room, on the coffee table, Don’s box was open. Smoke and energy flowed from it like an open spigot.

“I warned him,” screamed Lucy.  “All that black magic stuff.  He spent three years carving that silly little box.  Did some sorta ceremony with his own blood.”

“A blood ritual?” I asked.

“He fell in love with those weird books.  Never even gave me a second glance.”

The house hiccupped and bowed inwards, the shrapnel moving closer to us, jagged glass and sharp shafts of wood, quivering like anxious lions waiting to pounce.  Sanchez touched a large piece of glass.  The edge bit into his fingertip and drew blood.

I grabbed Lucy by the arm. “Is there a counter-spell, an incantation?  Where are his magic books?”

A voice boomed from the walls.  “Foolish mortals, you dared to unleash the awesome power of the --”

Before the voice could finish, Sanchez leaned over the coffee table and flipped the lid shut.  His finger smeared over the lock, spreading a single drop of his own blood over the latch. As the box closed, the smoke and energy collapsed back into it. The floating shrapnel collapsed to the floor, each glass piece shattering on contact.  Sanchez sealed the latch with his thumb.

     Lucy pulled away from me and raced toward Sanchez.  “You did it.  You stopped my Don.”

     Sanchez wiped another drop of blood from his finger onto his uniform pants.  “Ma’am, there’s nothing more for us to do here.  Looks like an armadillo snuck into your home.  Please be more careful in the future, and don’t leave food laying around.”  Sanchez brushed the glass and splinters from his uniform and walked out the front door.

     I followed Sanchez to the car, grabbing the radio from my belt.  “What do we do now?” I asked.  “Call in an expert, a detective, the lieutenant, a priest? Maybe the Texas Rangers or I.C.E? This is big. I’m not even sure what sort of report to write. What do we even say?  The guys are never gonna believe this.”

Sanchez sucked at his cut finger and took his seat behind the wheel.  “There’s no crime here, just a lonely woman.”  Ain’t nothing to write up. Put us back into service.  Someone else’ll need us for a real problem.”

    I re-holstered my radio and flipped through my glossy magazines, scanning the ads for ghost hunters or some phone number to call. “Is there even a group that looks into these? I mean, you undid a blood ritual. You sealed it with your own blood. You think it was Don?  Or maybe a demon? Maybe it was Lucifer himself disguised as Don?”

     Sanchez shifted the car into drive and pulled away from Lucy’s house.

     “So, we stare down a demon and just drive away?” I asked. “Where are we going?”

“Unless someone else calls 911, or we pass a drunk or a stolen car, I am going back to Ray’s. I’m gonna get me a new cup of coffee and talk to Sheila.”

“But, the demon?”

“This ain’t no rocket science,” answered Sanchez.  “There ain’t no law being broken. People call the police to solve their problems and we did. It doesn’t matter if that box is her husband’s ashes or a portal to Hell. If an open box is causing her problems, we close it. That’s what we do.”




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