Everyone woke in the night at one time or another. Some people screamed in the night and tears could be heard every now and then. It was hard to tell if they were tears of fear or tears for those friends and relatives now lost to the demons – the very ones pursuing them with nothing in mind but to kill and destroy. Lincoln woke when Alexis woke and they whispered for hours. Boston got up when the moon was high and found Roland sitting quietly a short distance from the camp. Captain Decker hardly slept and kept his rifle close. Lockhart found Katie up and they talked for a while. They both needed reassurance. Mingus joined them after a while and stayed up long after they tried to get some rest.
By morning, all nerves were stretched to the limit, and hardly helped when Xiang gathered them for her good-byes. “God willing as we move north the gate will catch up to you before the demons do. They are two days behind, but they move faster than we do. My people rested some when the rain came, but we have five days to go.” She shook her head. She was all but confessing that they would be caught.
“We could slow them down a little,” Captain Decker suggested.
“No!” Xiang shouted. “That is the one thing you must not do. Killing them will just set the demons free to infest others, maybe you. They cannot possess you without your permission, but the lies and temptations can be very persuasive.”
“But, if we can’t kill them –“ Captain Decker did not know what to say. He had to think of options.
“A sleeping gas?” Lieutenant Harper suggested.
“Demons don’t sleep,” Xiang said. “That might just make them act like zombies. Come to think of it, killing them might not stop them either.”
“Great!” Lincoln frowned. “So what do we do?”
“Avoid them,” Lockhart said. “Go out of our way if necessary and wait until they pass.” Boston reached for Lockhart’s hand, and he gave it to her. Touch was something they all needed.
“Yes, avoid them,” Mingus agreed, and he put his hand on his son’s shoulder. Roland looked toward the rising sun. It was pale and wan, though there was hardly a discernable cloud since the rain cleared off. Everyone had been hoping for a bright, sunny day. It would have lifted all of their spirits, but it was not to be.
Unlike the day before, everyone talked as they walked. There was something about hearing a voice, even their own voices that kept them from collapsing in dread of the demons. They spoke about memories and tried to relate the good times. They tried to laugh, but by lunch even the best of times felt strangely ominous and became harder to recall while the wicked and sinful moments of life bombarded them with pain and regrets.
Mingus, Roland, and to a smaller extent Alexis felt the oncoming evil as a palpable fear. Mingus did collapse a couple of times, but Lincoln and Lockhart were right there to lift him and get him walking again. “It can’t be much further,” he kept saying, but they kept walking. Lincoln did his best to let Alexis lean on him. Roland did his best to keep breathing and to keep his feet moving.
Boston squeezed herself between Lockhart and Roland, and held on to one or the other at times for the comfort of their touch. Roland smiled at first when she took his arm, but by afternoon, his expression turned to pity and sorrow. Lockhart’s expression remained stoic throughout, but after lunch there was a moment when he reached out for her hand.
Katie Harper felt the sweat on her brow. There was a chill in the air like it was still early in the spring, but the sweat could not be helped. She was burning, perhaps with a fever, or perhaps, she thought she was getting too close to the lake of fire that waited for the demons in the deepest pit of Hell. She checked and kept checking to be sure Captain Decker’s rifle had the safety on. He did not seem to mind. He did not seem to notice. His eyes simply darted back and forth between the trees and bushes like he expected some terror to jump out at them any minute.
“It can’t be much further,” Mingus droned and shook his senses to keep to his feet.
“Shouldn’t we be looking to sidestep soon?” Boston asked. When Lockhart looked at her with incomprehension on his face, she explained. “To get off to the side and hide until they pass us by.” It took a minute for her words to penetrate.
“Doctor Procter?” Lockhart spoke to the man out front.
“This way,” the Doctor said in a voice that was too sprightly, like he was becoming excited. Lockhart had been watching the man since the beginning and especially since their visit with the Ophir. He came suddenly awake and sharp at the sound of that voice.
“This way,” He said, and turned the group ninety degrees to the Doctor’s prescription. Doctor Procter clearly wanted to object, but as the group turned aside, a thick fog rolled in instantly, or as Alexis later surmised, it suddenly appeared in their midst. No one could see more than a foot ahead, and as they were all in the process of turning aside, some turned too far and some not far enough. It did not take many steps for them to separate.
“Hello?” “Where are you?” “Come toward my voice.” They all spoke, but the fog echoed their words and threw them back at the speaker and made orientation and direction impossible. Instead of finding and getting closer to each other, they walked further apart. Only Lincoln and Alexis held on to each other, and Boston, whose sweaty hand was not about to let go of Lockhart. Then everyone stopped at once. They heard a voice. It was raspy, cold, chilling in a way none of them had ever heard before or hoped to hear again. It was the voice of death. It was the voice of damnation.
“They are here.”