Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Horror/Scary · #1028269
In an asylum for the criminally insane, a young orderly discovers true possession...
Within the deep trench of night, in the rain-soaked town of Ripley, a lone policeman watches the dim yellow streetlights blink three times and then go out. The man looked up and studied the dead lights for a moment with a curious expression, and then heard a sick moan crawl out of the alleyway beside him. Snapping on his flashlight, he turned to investigate.
The beam danced crazily across the walls, then locked upon the face of a young girl leaning against the blackened bricks of Tucker’s Café. Her mouth worked up and down like a fish out of water, while she desperately tried to hold her guts in with both hands as they spilled out of a gaping hole in her stomach. Her expression was one of shock and disbelief. Then she lunged toward him, hands dripping in blood and trailing a meaty coil of intestines behind her.
“Good God!” the policeman yelled. He backed away, choking on his fear and nausea.
She stumbled forward, her body jerking around in the opposite direction as her entrails were brutally yanked. She made a weak, gagging sound as the last of her guts tore free. Completely disemboweled, she collapsed, shuddered as if electrocuted, and then went limp.
The stunned officer watched the hideous trail of her intestines continue to move away like a fleeing snake. Shining his light on the grisly path, he followed it to the back of the alley where he found a large black man wrapping the pinkish-gray bowels in a loop around his arm as if it were nothing more than an electrical cord.
He was crying.
Tony Redden, still half asleep, leaned his exhausted body against the wall as he clocked in for the graveyard shift at the Pickford Mental Institution. The time clock made a heavy click-thud as it punched his card, startling him awake.
Tony realized the strain of working two jobs was finally taking its toll. He felt feverish, and his joints ached as though filled with broken glass, as he succumbed to the weariness.
“You’re getting too old for this, Tony,” he told himself, rubbing at his face with both hands. Releasing a heavy sigh, he reminded himself that he was doing it all for the extra money, for his pregnant wife, Karen, and his five-year-old son, Luke. Sleepily, he trudged down the hallway as though he were walking in a dream. The corridor stretched on forever before him.
“Tony, Tony, Tony!”
It was Charlie Snapp, Tony’s best friend, a bright bush of orange-red hair rushing down the hall to greet him. “Have you heard, Tony? Have you heard?”
“Heard what?” he asked wearily.
“Come on, man, the whole hospital is buzzing with the news. They caught Jack Stone!”
“Hello . . . Earth to Tony. It’s all over the front pages of every newspaper in town!”
“Sorry, I don’t read the papers much. I don’t have the time. This two-job thing is killing me.”
“Welcome to the night shift, buddy.”
“Yeah, I feel like the walking dead. So, who’s this Jack Stone, anyway?”
“Come on, Tony, Jack Stone? He’s the guy who’s been mutilating all those young girls. They finally caught him last night and brought him here!”
“Here?” Tony said in mid-yawn.
“What’s the matter with you? Don’t you ever get any sleep?”
Tony chuckled weakly. “Not really.”
“Look, Tony, you gotta help me out here, okay?” the redhead continued. “I and some of the guys got us a little bet going.” He fell in behind Tony, placed both hands on his back, and pushed him toward an open elevator. “They put him up on the third floor pending a psychiatric evaluation. You gotta see this guy. He’s huge, big as a tree! Now, get up there and find out everything you can about him.”
“All right, already! Let me get my trolley, will you? They won’t let me up there if I’m going in for a quick look-see.”
Charlie backpedaled down the hall. “Okay, cool man, I gotta run. Find out what’s going on, and I’ll meetcha back at the lunchroom. Everybody is dying to hear about this guy. We’re counting on you, Tony.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever.” Tony waved him on.
Time passed, giving itself up by inches when suddenly his stomach dropped to his feet as the elevator lunged to a stop. The doors slid open and Tony rolled his pill cart out onto the third floor.
The third floor was like a prison. Steel bars ran from the floor to the ceiling, blocking the main corridor. Ray Drummond, the security guard, sat by the only gate in or out of the ward.
“Hey, Mister Drummond, how ya doing tonight?” Tony asked, banging his cart into the bars, the pills rattling in their little cups.
The paunchy old guard dropped his Playboy magazine into a small drawer of his desk and slammed it shut, but not before Tony saw the unmistakable glint of a silver flask inside.
As Ray stood, his wide leather gun belt creaked and popped like new leather does when it is stretched. He struggled with it for a moment, trying to pull the strap up around his waist but, when it reached his overhanging gut, it would go no further, and slipped back down again. It wasn’t like Ray had a gun or anything—guns weren’t allowed in the hospital—but he wore his Batman utility belt proudly just the same, like a cop wanna-be, his big metal flashlight hanging down from it. In a pinch, Tony supposed the flashlight would make a pretty handy bludgeon.
“Hey, Tony!” Ray said, speaking in a low, cheery voice. “Boy, am I glad to see you.”
Tony loved the sound of Ray’s voice, all gravel and air, like one of those old blues singers. “What’s up, Ray? Is everything all right?”
“Well, actually, no. Things have been damn strange around here if you wanna know the truth. You know, ever since they brought up the new guy.” He hitched his thumb toward room thirty-three.
“Yeah, he’s the one, but he’s been pretty quiet really. It’s the other ones, it’s like they can sense something’s not quite right.”
Tony watched as Ray fumbled with his keys for a minute, and then unlocked the heavy metal door. “What do you mean, Ray?” Tony asked as he pushed the gate open. It swung inward with a high-pitched scream.
“Well, like the lights blinking on and off for instance, and then all the damn patients yelling and hollering like the Devil himself had been thrown into their cell with ’em.”
“Aw, Ray, you know how these folks get. They tend to be a little wild sometimes.” Tony pushed his cart through, and Ray let the gate slam behind him with a loud clang. It locked automatically.
Ray talked to him through the bars of the gate. “But not like this, Tony. I swear, they were screaming for their lives. Something’s got ’em spooked. They sounded scared, real scared.”
Tony looked down the corridor. “Seems pretty quiet to me.”
“Yeah, well you just wait until those lights start blinking again, and then you’ll see. The whole damn place turns into a regular madhouse.”
They both laughed at the pun, and Ray moved in close to the gate with a sickly kind of smile. “Listen, Tony, I know this is gonna sound weird, but I swear to ya, right when the lights blinked, I saw somebody standing at the far end of the hall, kinda small, like a kid or something.” He stepped back, sipping at his black coffee with an expression of desperate intensity. “Crazy, huh?”
“You drink too much damn coffee, Ray,” Tony laughed. “That crap they serve here will kill ya.” He turned back to his cart. “I've got a ten-minute break coming after I’m through with my rounds and I could use some of that coffee right now. If you get me a cup, we’ll sit and chat for a bit. Okay?”
“You got it, Tony. One black coffee, coming up.”
“Sounds great. Thanks, Ray.”
Tony smiled as he watched the guard waddle off toward the elevator, then turned back to his wobbly-wheeled trolley and rolled it over to number thirty-one.
Tony knocked on the door, slid the small observation window open, and peeked inside.
“What the hell ya want?” the small man barked from inside. “Can’t a fella get some sleep around here?”
“I’m sorry to disturb you, Mister Rodgers, but it’s time for your medication.”
“Oh . . . well, that shit ain’t for me, I’m cured!” he said, and then giggled shrilly.
Tony slowly dropped the two pills into the tray in the door. “You gotta take your meds, Mister Rodgers, or I’ll have to call the orderlies to help you. Understand?”
“Sure, sure, I understand. But I’m telling you, I don’t need ’em anymore. I’m all better.” He crawled out of bed and approached the door, stopped, walked back to the bed again as if he forgot where he was going, and then turned and came back toward the door. He quickly snagged the pills, dropped them into his mouth, as if performing a magic trick, and then chewed them, growling like a wild animal. Through clenched teeth speckled with green pieces of granulated pills, he forced a smile as if he were working to stay calm—struggling to appear normal.
“Tell the fuckin’ doctors I’m all better now,” he grimaced. “Tell them I’m cured. I don’t need to be here anymore. Tell them I want to go home now.” Then he started to cry, not just weeping, but more like the sobbing of a broken man about to die. “Please . . .” he said, shuddering, “tell them . . . tell them for me.” Then he lunged at the door, screaming violently. “Tell them!”
Startled, Tony jumped back, “Okay, I’ll tell them, Mister Rodgers. I promise I’ll tell them for you.” Tony closed the panel, trying to shake the chill out of his spine, and moved his cart down to room thirty-two.
Sliding open the door panel, he softly called out, “Hello? Miss Grange? I’ve got your medicine, dear.” He quickly turned his head so that she would not see him looking directly at her.
Rosemarie Grange sat on the edge of her bed cradling a doll. As Tony watched from the corner of his eye, she took the doll and shook it harshly, and then threw it under the bed.
She stood calmly, smoothing the wrinkles from her clothes, and walked to the door. “Is it that time already, Tony? I thought it was still day out.”
From over her shoulder, she hollered, “You hear that, Elizabeth? It’s time for bed, so you can just stop that crying!”
She shuffled toward the door, her silver hair in disarray, clumps of it sticking out comically as if she had just seen a ghost. She was only twenty-eight but looked twice that age. Her eyes were as dark as black water and set deeply into her skull against pale and pasty skin. She was frail—weak looking, as though she had never slept a day in her life. As she came forward, she stuck her index finger to her lips, “Shhh,” she whispered. “Let’s keep our voices down, okay, Tony? I’ve just put Elizabeth to bed. She’s been so cranky of late.”
Tony nodded, still not looking at her. “Of course, Miss Grange. Here’s your medicine. It’ll help you sleep.”
A small metal tray was in the center of the door, like a coin drop, covered by a swinging flap. Tony dropped two little green pills inside. They rattled around before settling to the bottom. “You take those, Miss Grange, and then get some rest, okay?”
“Bless you, Tony, bless you. You have no idea how hard it’s been to sleep at night. Especially since you-know-who moved in next door.” She lowered her voice and, looking around, whispered, “We can hear him talking to us in our head, Tony. He’s a bad one, really bad. He tells us all the horrible stuff he’s going to do to us. Terrible things, just terrible. We don’t want his sort around here, oh no. Poor Elizabeth is scared to death. She’s been crying and crying all day.” She turned back and looked at the bed, forgetting everything she had just said. “She’s spoiled, that’s what she is. I told her I would have to punish her if she didn’t keep her eyes closed, but she kept looking at me, staring and staring with those eyes of hers.”
“Do you want me to call the doctor, Miss Grange?”
“No . . . no need, Tony, but you can give him these.” She bent to the door and put something into the tray; it clattered around like a ball dropping onto a roulette wheel. Tony reached in and grabbed two plastic eyeballs, the doll’s eyes.
“Okay, Miss Grange, I’ll be sure to give them to him.”
“Tell him I didn’t want to do it, Tony.” She anxiously glanced next door, afraid of something. “He told me to do it.”
“Okay, Miss Grange, I understand. Now you take your medicine.”
“Oh, bless you, Tony. Why didn’t I have a sweet understanding boy like you? So thoughtful and caring, not like whiny little girls, not like what I got, always looking at me and crying. I feel like I want to do something awful to her, you know, something unpleasant.”
“I’ll be sure to pass that on to the doctor, Miss Grange. Goodnight for now. Try to get some sleep.”
Turning, she shambled back toward the bed. Tony watched her bend down and pull the doll out from underneath. She gripped it by the hair and dangled it in front of her, wagging a finger and scolding. “Oh, no you don’t. Don’t you start crying over those eyes again? I told you what I would do if you kept staring at me.”
Tony looked down at the two shiny eyes cupped in his hand. They looked almost real as if they were staring up at him. He would have to tell the doctor that Miss Grange popped them out again. She had been doing so well, too. This doll had lasted nearly four months. Four years ago, the woman had done the same thing to her real two-year-old daughter, Elizabeth.
Tony sadly closed the panel. She’s never gonna leave here, he thought. Not all the medicine and psychological babble in the world is enough to cure her. Some folks just aren’t right inside, and that’s all there is to it. They belong here.
He moved on down to thirty-three, the new tenant’s cell. He rapped on the door once and slid the small panel back that covered the observation window. Tony nearly let out a scream. Jack Stone stood at the window, smashing his face against the glass, his black skin deeply pitted from old acne scars, and his bugged-out eyes taking in the trolley filled with pills. He looked up and smiled knowingly at Tony.
“You the drug pusher ’round here, boy? Pushing and pushing your cart full of drugs. Are you the Pusher Man? Whatcha got for old Jack, Pusher Man, huh? Whatcha got?”
“Just something to help you sleep, Mister Stone.”
In a high-pitched voice, Jack mimicked him, “Just something to help you sleep, Mister Stone. What are you, boy, some kinda pansy-ass?”
Tony lifted the little flap on the door and dropped the pills into the tray. “Goodnight, Mister Stone, pleasant dreams.”
Jack Stone grabbed the pills, stepped back, and studied them as if they were rat turds. He was a big man, almost seven feet, with a barrel of a chest, and arms like tree branches. In a sudden rage, he threw the pills at the door. “I ain’t taking this crap, boy! I was raised around stronger stuff ’an this and I never gave in, never let it take me. Drugs are bad for ya . . . makes ya crazy. I never took any drugs my whole life. Never! And here I am in a hospital that’s supposed to help people out, and what’s the first thing they give me? Drugs! Drugs put your mind to sleep and that’s when they come. When you’re so damn tired you can’t fight ’em. That’s when they come! That’s when they make you do things you don’t want to do. Bad things.”
Jack looked around as if he thought there was someone in the room with him. Twisting his face unnaturally, he said, “The Grays, that’s who. Those big-eyed demons from hell.”
Tony smiled. “What ya mean . . . like aliens or something?”
“Oh, you think it’s a joke, huh? You’ll see. Giving them another name doesn’t change what they are, boy.” Jack placed his hands on either side of his head and wiggled his fingers around. “Oh, look at the cute little aliens from outer space. La . . . di . . . da . . . ” He did a stupid little dance while he said it, hopping from one foot to the other, then stood rigid, looking up with a bitter half-smile. “You don’t know squat, boy! When they come there ain’t nothing you can do about it. They aren’t human, and they aren’t aliens. They’re pure evil, demons!”
“You’re not the first one to say he was possessed by demons, you know.”
“You think ol’ Jack is crazy, huh? You’ll see. They’ll be along soon enough. This place won’t keep ’em out. Nothing can. Then we’re all gonna die. Die like pigs.”
“That’s great. Well, goodnight, Mister Stone.” Tony slowly closed the panel.
From behind the thick door, he could still hear the Stone yell, “We’re all gonna die!”
Wordlessly, Tony turned away and shuffled down the hall. It was going to be a long night.
Later, during his lunch break, Tony sat in the cafeteria listening to all the talk about Jack Stone. “I heard he’s a cannibal. He cuts out his victim’s hearts, and then eats ’em.”
“Yeah, well, I hope they hang the bastard, his type doesn’t deserve to live.”
Tony said nothing. He was thinking about what Jack had said—about the demons taking over his tired mind. Tony was tired, so damn tired. He wanted to lie down right there on the cement floor and go to sleep.
“What do you think, Redden? Is ol’ Jack gonna swing for this, or get off on some type of psychological bull-crap?”
Tony fell from his daydream. “What do I think? I think . . . ”
The lights blinked three times, and then went out.
“What the fuck . . . ?” red-haired Charlie said, and then all hell broke loose.
Everyone started hollering, and chairs crashed to the floor as employees rushed to exit the room.
In the ensuing panic, Tony sat calmly and waited for people to get out of the way. After several minutes, he heard someone call out to evacuate the building. Tony thought of Mr. Drummond then, all alone, up there on the third floor with no power. If Ray wanted out, he would have to take the stairs. Tony wondered if the fat old man could make it. Ray was already spooked and just might need some help.
Tony didn’t like the dark, hated it since he was a little kid, but he sighed heavily, slid his chair back, and stood. Feeling carefully along the wall, he inched his way out of the break room and down the hallway until he found the door to the stairwell. He opened it and slipped inside, blindly grabbing for the steel guide rail. Slowly, he started up the steps in pitch black.
As he rounded the last flight of stairs to the third floor, he heard Ray Drummond scream.
Tony froze, listened, and fumbled blindly for the door handle. When his hand fell upon it, adrenalin pumping, he threw it open. It slammed against the wall with a bang, startling him. Sticking his head through the doorway he called out, “Mister Drummond? Ray? Are you in here? It’s me, Tony.”
He shored up his leaking courage and, staying close to the wall, edged his way inside to the third floor.
The darkness hung thick and heavy, pushing against Tony’s skin. He noticed with each step he took, it felt as though he were struggling through water, and his body felt numb as if it were asleep. The sensation strengthened and felt like the repelling forces created between two opposing magnets, pushing and sliding away from each other. Tony leaned against the dark, his skin crawling with a million ants and his hair standing on end.
Something rolled busily across the floor—heavy, and made of metal. Tony caught his breath, his eyes burning with the strain of staring into the dark. Amid his terror, he heard footsteps softly pad across the floor. “Who’s there?” The steps rushed down the hall, sounding like a barefoot child. “Ray, is that you?” A pause. “Anybody?”
With the emptiness of the hallway looming in front of him, Tony had to bravely cross it to get to Ray’s desk. He moved forward through the strange magnetic force like a sailor crossing the deck of a ship amid a storm. As he drew near, he bumped the metal chair, scraping it across the floor with a grinding howl. Tony cringed. Then, feeling his way around the desk, he worked toward the gate.
His breathing was loud and filled with panic, his mouth as dry as sawdust. Wetting his tongue, he moved and stumbled against something lying on the floor.
Tony’s heart stopped. Bending down, he felt a shoe, a leg, and then his hands fell upon the fat stomach of Ray Drummond.
“Ray? My God, Ray! Are you all right?”
The guard had fallen by the gate, propping it open. Tony checked for a pulse, and his hand came away warm and slick with a familiar smell to it, strong and pungent, like blood. He could feel it all over the floor now—wet and sticky. As he edged closer, he slipped in it and kicked Ray’s flashlight which rolled and crashed into the security gate, and then blinked on.
Drummond’s face lit up. His eyes stared at Tony in a glazed look of horror and death. His skull was crushed in on one side, pieces of pulpy brain mixed with shattered chunks of hair and scalp.
Directly behind Tony, something softly scratched the floor. Instinctively, he grabbed the flashlight, still slick and warm with Ray’s blood. He panned it around.
With his mind roaring, he stood, stepped over Ray’s body, and entered the ward. The beam of the flashlight cut through the heavy dark in front of him like a sword and then performed a diabolical dance across the floor and walls. He thought immediately of Miss Grange.
Rushing to number thirty-two, Tony slid the observation window open. “Miss Grange, are you okay?”
He lifted the flashlight to the small window.
A pale white foot stuck out from beneath the bed. It moved slightly, as though something was pulling her further under.
“Miss Grange, can you hear me? It’s Tony!”
Using his pass key, he unlocked the door, threw it open, and rushed to the woman’s bedside.
Bending down, he shined the light under the bed. “Miss Grange?”
When he caught sight of her face, he whimpered a sound, his voice gripped in absolute terror. Where her eyes used to be, two gaping holes now stared back at him, the bloody sockets empty and crudely gouged out. Startled, Tony fell back, dropping the flashlight. It exploded with the impact, batteries rolling across the floor and leaving him in the pitch dark.
On his hands and knees, he scrambled blindly for the parts. He heard something then, like a raspy chuckle, coming from under the bed. He slid back, bumping into one of the batteries. Quickly, he snatched it up and loaded it into the flashlight like a shotgun shell. He couldn’t find the other one and decided it must have rolled under the bed. He inched forward, waving his hand blindly in front of him.
“Did ya lose something, Pusher Man?” a voice said from beneath the bed. It sounded squashed and phlegmy. “Here ya go, Pusher Man, I wouldn’t want you to miss this.”
Tony gasped in horror as the battery noisily rolled toward him and bumped against his foot. He quickly slammed it into the flashlight with deft fingers and screwed the top back on. He held it out in front of him like a gun and pushed the button. The room lit up.
Cautiously, he looked under the bed.
Miss Grange wasn’t moving, but sitting on her chest was the doll, Elizabeth, her plastic hands and arms thick with blood. Tony reached a trembling hand toward the doll. It spun around hissing like a startled cat, its blood-covered eyes blazing with hatred.
Tony gasped for air, his breath catching in his throat.
The doll stared up at him, looking at him through Miss Grange’s gouged-out eyes. They had been crudely smashed into the holes of the doll’s plastic face like two bloody grapes.
Elizabeth snarled with wicked malice, turned back, and continued to savagely shred Miss Grange’s face. Tony could hear the wet slap of its little hands as it dug into her cheeks and mouth.
Backing out of the cell in terror and loathing, he heard the sound of bare feet running down the hall. He spun around and shined the light at the door. It was slowly closing.
Rushing to block it, he quietly stepped out into the hallway and looked around, but no one was there.
The door to room thirty-three stood open. Tony crept toward it.
Shining his light inside, he saw Jack Stone. He sat huddled on the floor with his knees pulled into his chest, crying and shivering like a frightened child. Slowly, he looked up into the prodding beam of light. “They’re here,” he said, his voice broken and wavering. He covered his head with his large arms as if to hide.
Again there was the padding of small feet. Tony stepped back out into the hall and shined his light, playing it across the far end of the corridor. Something was there. It hid in the shadows just out of the light’s reach. Before he took another step, he sensed something was about to happen.
A small creature stepped out of the darkness, cocked its funny-shaped head, and stared at Tony curiously. He could see its big glistening eyes. They locked on him and held him. Unable to move, Tony watched helplessly as the creature approached.
It was the size of a child, no more than four or five feet tall. Its arms and legs were thin like a spider’s legs, it's head too big for its thin neck, its eyes so large that they swallowed Tony up inside. It was hairless, missing a nose, and had a thin angry slit for a mouth. The huge dark eyes held him. Tony could not turn away.
Another one approached from the side. It touched Tony’s temple with something and his body went numb, the flashlight dropping from his hand with a thud and clatter.
The beam of the flashlight pointed into room thirty-three. Tony felt compelled to look inside.
Two of the creatures stood over Jack Stone as he lay naked on the floor. One crouched by his forehead, gently stroking it with an open hand, while the other held a small rod, glowing with blue light. He rubbed it around Stone’s crotch, pulling away his genitals, and then he stepped back.
Tony was reminded of the countless cattle mutilations that had gone on across the country but were never solved.
Jack struggled wildly, his body moving like a demented puppet. He stared up at Tony, flailing with the effort to resist them, pleading and moaning like a kid having a bad dream. Tears flowed from his eyes as he gurgled and wept, spittle bubbling from his lips.
The creature with the blue light moved forward and quickly ran the beam around the black man’s skull. The other one lifted away the top half of his head and set it aside. Stone’s legs thrashed against the floor as they pulled out his brain, then suddenly he stopped struggling and lay still.
Someone was whispering, a flat monotone voice inside Tony’s head. He could feel the malice in it, the hate. “We want his brain,” the being beside him said. “He ruined the guards, so we will take him instead.” Tony turned and stared transfixed into the creature’s giant eyes. The other two joined him, each carrying a gory piece of Jack Stone’s body.
“Lay down,” the voice demanded.
Tony had to obey—had no will of his own.
He stretched out on the floor, his body beginning to shake uncontrollably. The creatures moved over him.
The pressing darkness smashed him to the floor like a mountain.
When the lights came on, Tony was lying on his back in the middle of the corridor.
There was a voice, a bushel of red hair, Charlie Snapp. “Tony, are you all right?” he asked with a worried expression.
“What?” Tony sat up as if waking from a dream. He looked around—the creatures were gone. “Yeah . . .yeah, I think so.” He struggled to his feet on unsteady legs, the dream still with him. Quickly, he ran his hands over his body, checking for missing parts.
“Holy crap, Tony, what the hell happened?”
Assured that he was uninjured, Tony said, “I . . . I don’t remember. I must have blacked out.”
“Jesus, man, the cell doors have all been opened and the patients are dead—mutilated!”
Tony shivered with a fever.
“Shit, man, you don’t look so good.” Charlie led him toward the elevator. “Come on, I’m gonna get you out of here before the police show up.”
Much later, back home and after a long sleep, Tony awoke with a feeling something wasn't quite right. The little lamp next to his bed lit up the familiar surroundings of his bedroom and he sighed with welcomed relief. His body still shook with chills, his joints ached, and his mind was a blur of terrifying images. Shivering, Tony slipped deeper into the bed, pulling the covers up around his chin like a frightened child.
There was laughter and barking coming from downstairs. It was Luke, his son, playing with their dog, Bosley. There was a wonderful aroma of food cooking, and Tony knew that Karen, his pregnant wife, was preparing his favorite dish. It was as if everything were back to normal again.
But it wasn’t.
Tony couldn’t shake the feeling that something bad was going to happen, a growing dread within him that the nightmare wasn’t over, a gripping fear that his family was in terrible danger.
His eyes went to the bedside lamp. It blinked three times and went out.