The Willie Button Series



The Evening Friend


by

Albert J. Manachino


It seemed to Willie that for the hundredth time he stood in front of a door, seeking shelter. Frequently, from the elements; more frequently from the night. The sun, just beginning to set, reminded him of his need. Shifting the weight of the blue canvas bag from one hand to the other, he approached the farmhouse wearily. Sometimes he was admitted, other times he was not. It really made no difference to him though he appreciated a kindly gesture. He had spent nights in barns, haystacks, doorways or simply under trees. Of late, the canvas bag, with its dreadful contents, seemed inordinately heavy. Willie was tired. Even earthbound spirits become tired and discouraged.

His eyes swept the panorama. A barn lurked in the background. Farm equipment was scattered about in an attitude of abandonment. There was no sign of life, either human or animal, that is, domesticated animal. Crows scolded one another in occasional trees. But, not too closely to the house. Nothing grew there. Not a blade of grass, not a flower or a weed. The house occupied the center of a circle that was so barren it reminded Willie of a lunar waste. He felt troubled.

There was no immediate response to his knocks. "No one at home," he spoke to himself. And then added, "Strange, someone is always about on a farm."

After the fourth knock, he heard a dragging sound. Willie listened intently. There was a scratching from within and the doorknob trembled slightly. Somebody is very ill, he thought.

Willie turned the knob and tried to push the door inward. It opened a crack and stopped as it met an obstruction. Something blocked the way — a body.

Through the opening, a portion of a denim-clad figure could be seen on the floor.

"Hello," he called, "are you ill?" A sigh responded. "Can you move just a little so that I can get in?" No response whatever.

Still carrying the canvas bag, he began a circuit to the rear of the house. Open windows beckoned to him but he ignored them for the probability of an unlocked rear entrance. His experience was that open windows indicated open doors.

The back door was not only unlocked, it was ajar.

"Hello," he yelled inside. No response. The man lying on the floor must be the only occupant.

Willie entered. It was, as he knew it would be, the kitchen. Silently, he worked his way to the front of the house, still fearful his knocks and calls had been unheard by someone hard of hearing. He did not wish to be mistaken as an intruder. There was no one.

Willie stifled a gasp of horror. There was life in the front room. Flies that emitted an eerie light as they swarmed over the feet of an unconscious man. Or rather, where the feet should have been for his legs terminated at the ankles. A sour smell came from the two stumps.

Infection, he thought.

Willie set the blue canvas bag down and beat at the flies with his hat. They rose in an angry roar and, scattered. The figure stirred, an arm moved.

"Water … Water," it pleaded.

Willie dropped his hat and dashed back into the kitchen. This one was fairly modern as far as farm kitchens went. Faucets had replaced the hand pump at the sink. He found a basin and a drinking glass. Frantically, he filled them. Grabbing a couple of not too clean hand towels, he threw them over his shoulder. Basin in hand and glass in the other, he hurried back. The flies had not yet had time to settle on their victim again.

Passing an arm around the shoulders of the semi-conscious man, Willie helped him up into a sitting position. His efforts were rewarded with a groan.

"Drink this," he held the glass to the man's lips.

A sip was accepted and then, another. "The evening friend," he babbled. "Help me. Get me out of this house."

Delirium, Willie diagnosed and then aloud, "In a moment." He dipped a towel into the basin and ran it over the man's face.

"Now!" the man screamed, grabbing Willie with a strength that was surprising considering his condition. "Get me out before sunset."

Willie struggled to free himself. "All right. All right," he spoke soothingly. "I'll drag you out onto the veranda. Do you think you can stand it?"

"Yes… yes… For God's sake… I'll stand anything. Both of us have got to get out before the sun sets."

Willie looked about. Electricity had not, as yet, been included among the modernizations. There was a kerosene lamp on the table. He rolled the man gently to one side and opened the door wide. Placing a hand under each of the injured man's shoulders, he attempted to move him.

The victim was of slight physique and he presented no problem till they reached the doorway. Willie passed through but his companion was brought up abruptly as if a sheet of thick glass had rolled between them. He tugged futilely.

"You've practiced magic, haven't you?" Willie spoke accusingly.

"No. Not I. It was my two brothers, Fred and Crawford. They found a secret room with a lot of old books in it. We weren't the first owners of this farm … or even the second or third. They read one of the books and raised the evening friend. Then, they couldn't make it go back."

"What happened to your brothers?"

"It ate them. Bit by bit, a little every night. Now, it's after me. We couldn't leave."

Willie sighed. "Those that play with fire…"  He made the injured man as comfortable as possible and then lit the kerosene lamp. A glance outside revealed the sun had almost set. A few dim rays of orange still lighted the countryside.

The man turned to Willie. There was a note of resignation in his voice. He won't let you take me. He wants me for himself."

"Who won't let me take you? Who wants you for himself?"

"The evening friend. It came out of a book. Fred opened the book and spoke a few words and it was there."

Willie speculated. Whatever it was, exerted an influence that prevented flight.

"Did you try exorcism?"

"Yes. Neither Fred nor Crawford knew how to exorcise so they sent for a priest. It didn't work. Nothing works. We tried everything. We even tried to set the house on fire."

"The kerosene lamp is burning," Willie pointed out.

"Strike a match to a curtain. Go ahead, try it. It won't burn."

Willie declined the invitation. He busied himself rolling up the dungaree legs. The sight of the raw, draining stumps made him sick. The man continued to talk.

"It loves us. It wants us to become a part of it. It's something from hell. The words love and friend don't mean the same thing to it as they do to us."

"Where can I find some disinfectant?" Willie interrupted.

"In the kitchen but don't leave me now. It'll be coming down those stairs any minute.

The last feeble rays of the sun extinguished themselves. Willie rose and started for the kitchen. Again the man seized him.

"No…no…please! It won't matter. There's nothing you can do. Stay with me. I'm afraid…I'm afraid."

"All right," Willie sat again. The blue canvas bag was near to hand. It wouldn't permit him to venture very far in any respect.

The man continued his narrative while Willie's eyes were frozen on the stairs. "It's something devilish, something allied to Satan. Maybe a minor demon. All it will obey is something more evil than itself. It isn't used to existing on this plane and it's getting weaker but its religious zeal, its fanaticism, hasn't diminished one bit. I think it's a sort of missionary, you know, the kind churches used to send away to Africa and Asia to make converts. Only, it's from hell. It hasn't been able to extend its influence more than a couple of hundred feet beyond the house. That's why it's eating us – so that it'll become strong." His voice faltered and he screamed. "There! There! It's coming."

Willie was reminded of the sour, draining stench, only magnified many, many times. Then he saw it.

The thing flowed down the stairs and spread across the floor like a stain. The injured man screamed again. It paused upon reaching Willie, as if scenting fresh prey. Then it reared up like a giant roll of black wallpaper. The iridescent flies returned, their buzzing blended together into an obscene roar of triumph.

"They're a part of him." Instinctively, Willie knew it was masculine. Alien thoughts formed in his mind. "Let me be your friend," it wheedled. "I'll love you and we shall all become one with Satan." Willie was nauseated. The flies hovered expectantly like jackals waiting for a lion's kill. "Come, let me love you. Let me be your friend." Over and over again. "Enter me willingly and we shall all become one with Satan." The injured man breathed hoarsely, he tried to speak…or scream. The drone of the flies seemed to blend with the sound of his breathing.

Willie asked it, "Are you a believer of Satan the one true god?"

The response was eager. "Oh, I am! I am! There is no god but Satan." The religious ecstasy was almost unbearable.

"Then, will you kiss and embrace his bible if I lay it before you?"

"I will kiss and embrace the bible of my Lord. Place it before me. Let me adore it — quickly.

Willie reached into the blue canvas bag as he had so many times previously and brought forth the dark bible, the bible written in Satan's own hand. It exuded the atmosphere of evil he had so long ago accustomed himself to. Tonight it seemed stronger as if attempting to break free from the confines of its pages. Willie laid the book upon the floor.

The evening friend was ecstatic. "Oh my Master, my sweet Lord." It flowed to the Satanic bible. Willie stepped back. "Oh, my precious creator." The book opened of its own accord. There was a moment of reverential silence while it appeared to caress the pages. Then a scream tore at Willie s brain. A scream of agony and disbelief.

It fled past Willie, through the open doorway, into the night. The flies vanished with it. Willie sighed again. "Another of the creatures that worship the devil without knowing what it is they are worshipping."

He picked up the bible and returned it to its bag. "This time it appears to have performed a good deed."

"The evening friend won't last very long out there," spoke the victim. "The walls kept it from dissipating."

Willie had almost forgotten him. "So much the better." He knelt to examine the legs. "I scarcely think it will be missed."

******

- To Be Continued -

Copyright by
Albert J. Manachino

Illustration
Copyright by
Kevin D. Duncan

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