Straight to Voice Mail
Warning this story may contain horror and is not suitable for young children, small pets, or those with sensitive stomachs.
Straight to voice mail again. “Honey, I’m stuck in traffic and will be home as soon as possible. I love you!” God, I hope she isn’t in labor yet!
Donavan O’keefe pushed the end call button on the steering wheel glanced at the amber light and the gas gauge needle hovering around “E”. Damn, I should have stopped for gas at lunch. The meeting with Penwell overran, and his threats distracted me.
Donavan saw his opportunity and exited out of the heavy bumper-to-bumper traffic. There must be an accident up ahead. Traffic was even backed up on the off-ramp but moving. The sign pointed to a gas station two miles to the right on Definitive Point Road. What kind of name for a road is Definitive Point?
Tired of listening to the GPS nag at him to make a u-turn at the next intersection, Donavan closed the app down on his iPhone. The blasted GPS didn’t do me any good at avoiding this mess. The app told me I was on the quickest route for my destination.
As he drove, Donavan’s mind replayed the events from earlier in the day. Victor Penwell’s angry dead eyes burned a hole through the center of Donavan’s soul.
His boss, the owner of Penwell Extraculators, Victor Penwell’s words etched into the flesh of Donavan’s mind, “O’Keefe, I have told you repeatedly, I hired you as the Purchasing Manager to cut costs and get raw materials to this plant. Our customers have explicit production demands. You don’t want to get on their bad side. You swore to me you were up to the task.”
Victor broke eye contact and looked down at his desk. “Since your wife’s pregnancy, you have become too distracted by everything but what is important for my company. You showed promise when I hired you. But as of recently, you have been a major disappointment.”
Donavan lowered his head as tears formed in his eyes. What you are saying is just not true. You refused to release the purchase orders promptly to get parts ordered. I am your scapegoat.
Mr. Penwell gritted his teeth, “I am giving you one more chance. But next time.” He then motioned with his hand like a knife cutting across his throat.
Donavan sighed and inched toward the door of Penwell’s office, “Thank you for your patience, and I am sorry. With Betsy’s troubled pregnancy and now in her last trimester, I admit my mind has been elsewhere. I won’t let a missed order slip through my fingers again.”
Victor picked up his cell phone then looked toward the door. “Don’t disappoint me again. Now get back to work.”
Donavan left Penwell’s office, relieved to have his job still but fearful for his future. The rumors have it that employees don’t just get fired or quit. They disappear.
“Where the hell am I?” Donavan shook his head, looked at the clock on the dashboard — 666 pm. “No way. I have been driving for an hour on this road. 666 o’clock, the digital clock must be on the blink.” Just then, the car sputtered and stalled, drifting to what little shoulder was on side the road. Several times he turned the key. It turned over but nothing. “I AM OUT OF GAS!”
Donavan got out of the car and looked around. He was out in the middle of nowhere. For what seemed like miles were Cypress trees and swamps on both sides of the road with thick ferns, brush, and ivy of the non and poisonous variety bordering the water’s edge. The cicadas roared like jet engines all around him. The heavy, humid, and hot air caused sweat to break out on him like condensation on a cold glass of ice tea. The swamp water belched gases of rotting decay from the foliage dying, falling to the surface, sinking to the bottom to rest in the dark still waters. Mosquitoes and other buzzing insects orbited around his head, getting in his eyes, ears, nose, and mouth.
Choking on a midge, he coughed. “Have I died and went to hell?”
Donavan reached back in the car and grabbed his cellphone off the holder— no bars, no signal. He tried dialing Betsy anyway. Nothing. He sighed and walked around to the rear of his car. “Well, at least I have a gas can. Now, which direction do I go?”
He reached into the trunk and unburied the can from under his younger brother, Jason’s camping equipment, and pulled it out. “For Crying Outloud!” Jason had used his gas can for a target, and riddled it with bullet holes. A few shotgun pellets rattled around in the can.
Jason had pinned a note on it:
“Sorry bro, I will getcha a new gas can as soon as I get paid. We used it for target practice. I forgot the targets in Dad’s garage. Jillian and I had a blast. Also, thanks for letting me use the car. Oh, I will fill your tank also.”
Fifteen years junior to Donavan, Jason had just turned twenty. Jason and Jillian, his girlfriend, went camping over the weekend and borrowed the car to celebrate.
Donavan looked left then right and saw nothing but swamp for what seemed like miles. His gut told him, “Go right!”
He walked for about three miles. He came to a strip mall around a bend on an oasis of dry ground here in no man’s land. All of the nine rental spaces had signs “Office Space Available” except one. At the very center was a coffee shop called Destiny’s Delight.
Donavan stepped onto the paved parking lot then everything became eerily quiet. The roar of Cicadas ceased. A breeze kicked up and blew debris across the parking lot, then gathered in front of Destiny’s Delight coffee shop. A flickering neon light beamed “Open.” Maybe, the owner knows where I can get gasoline and a can.
With the coffee shop’s windows and the door blackened out, Donavan cupped his eyes and tried to see inside but could see nothing but his reflection from the setting sunlight. He placed his hand on the door handle to open it but paused and shook his head. The name sounds more like one of those seedy massage parlors with unique benefits than a coffee shop.
Donavan opened the door and looked around. It was nothing special. It had a few tables, some pictures on the wall that seemed vaguely familiar, and a coffee bar in the center. A man stood at an espresso machine with his back to Donavan. Donavan could hear the hiss of the steamy hot water passing through the espresso grind.
The man turned to Donavan. Smiling, the salt and pepper bearded man spoke, “Four shots, a little heavy cream, and two pumps of Sugar-free Cinnamon Dolce just like you like it. Oh, and a little something to open your path to the awakening.”
Donavan’s jaw dropped open, “How did you know? Never mind. Thank you. I could use something with more of a bite, but this will have to do.”
The man leaned on the bar and smiled, watching Donavan sip the drink.
A smile formed, “This is good, but how did you know what I like?
A sparkle raced across the man’s dull grey eyes, “Donavan, I know quite a bit more about you than you could know.”
Donavan paused in mid-drink, “How do you know my name.” Donavan began scanning the bar for a hidden camera, “This is not one of those reality TV shows where they prank you?”
The man laughed, “I assure you nothing like that. My name is Bartholomew Pitt. You can call me Bart. I am the proprietor here.” Bart winked at Donavan, “My coven is Penwell Extraculator’s largest account.”
Donavan turned serious, “What did you just say? Penwell does not deal in coffee products. I came in here to find out where I could buy gas for my car down the road and get home to my extremely pregnant wife. She is due anytime with our first child. Do you have a gas can I can buy or borrow? Oh, and do you know where the nearest gas station is?”
Bart reached across the bar and placed his hand on Donavan’s hand. “I should have worded it a little differently. Donavan, you are in extreme danger. Victor Penwell called us for an intervention for your LIFE. He believes you need a rude awakening. He is fond of you. Victor has been a good supplier for centuries. So, I thought I would indulge him.”
Donavan backed away from the bar and began to stumble. This drink must be messing with me. Danger? Centuries? Penwell loathes me. What is happening to me?
Donavan shook his head. His vision began to blur then everything went black.
With a throbbing headache, Donavan slowly opened his eyes. Several moments passed before his vision cleared. He was in what looked like a medieval dungeon. The red light cast across the cold stone. He couldn’t see the man just outside his periphery but recognized Victor Penwell’s voice, “Donavan, I am going to set you free. Right here and now is where your freedom begins. Look to your left.”
Victor placed his hands on the side of Donavan’s head and forcibly turned it to the left. Donavan’s eyes widened to see the corpse of an infant with its throat cut lying face up in a basin filled with blood. The basin formed the hands of a brass statue. The statue’s demonic face stared down at Donavan with a devilish smile.
A sobbing woman kneeled facedown at the foot of the altar crying for her infant.
Laughing, Bartholomew Pitt came into view next to the statue. Pitt turned and pointed toward the idol. “I want to introduce you to your child. Donavan, I am life and death to you. I am the Warlock Supreme and high priest for the coven of the Brotherhood of Rom. The Brotherhood of Rom predates the Egyptian Dynasties. Victor and I graciously removed your distractions and offered them to our god, Rom. Now you can focus on your job.”
Donavan screamed, “NOOOO!”
“Hold still! Mr. O’keefe. You might have sustained a severe head and neck injury.”
Struggling, Donavan opened his eyes. He was no longer in the dungeon but on a gurney traveling down a hospital corridor.
With his head immobilized by a neck brace and his body strapped down, Donavan could only watch the bright fluorescent lights pass overhead as they moved down the hall.
The nurse pushing him glanced down, “You are finally conscious.”
The back of Donavan’s head throbbed from the moment he regained consciousness. “What happened? Where’s Betsy, and did anyone find the corpse of our baby?”
The nurse spoke, “You are at Our Lady of Victory Hospital. Betsy and your newborn little girl are fine and healthy. We are headed to Radiology to get X-rays and a CAT Scan. You sustained quite a blow to your head.”
Donavan exhaled sharply, “Was I in a car accident or something? The last thing I remember was a dungeon, warlocks, and human sacrifice. It was terrifying and real.”
The nurse chuckled, “Sorry for laughing. No accident, and we don’t have dungeons at this hospital. While doing the Lamaze breathing exercises with Miss Betsy, you hyperventilated then passed out. You smacked your head in the fall.”
“I am starting to remember now. How long was I out? I had one hell of a lucid dream.” I must quit micro-dosing psychedelic mushrooms.
The nurse smiled, “Ah, about ten minutes. Just long enough for your healthy new baby girl, Breanna, to come into the world.”
Donavan frowned a little, “I missed the best part.”
“The good news is your wife and baby are fine. As soon as we get you checked out, you three can share a room.”
Despite his throbbing head, Donavan smiled, “A healthy baby girl — I am truly blessed.”
Donavan’s forehead wrinkled, Now, who the hell is Victor Penwell or Bartholomew Pitt?
Over the intercom, Donavan heard, “Doctor Victor Penwell, please meet Doctor Batholomew Pitt in Radiology.”