29 Sep Fire and Brimstone
“Fire and Brimstone”Written by David Feuling Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 15 minutes
August 8th, 1991
The cultists calling themselves “Baal-Daeva’s Truth” had become so efficient at home invasions that neither of Samantha’s parents were able to call the police before they died. The firefighters with Engine 21 were the first emergency responders on the scene, and I was one of them that night. We arrived only after the neighbors called in reports that smoke was pouring out of house’s front windows, and by then it was mostly too late to stop the cultists’ plan. Most of Baal-Daeva’s Truth had already committed suicide to spare themselves from burning alive. We only learned that they had been there when we found their bodies piled in the home’s main foyer.
We called for police as soon as we saw the corpses, but the billowing smoke urged us to continue inside without waiting for backup to arrive. The flames would soon begin to attack the building’s structure, if it hadn’t started to do so already. We had to press our way inside if we were going to contain the still-spreading blaze. Otherwise it would soon threaten more than just this house alone.
I remember being sure of arson as soon as I was inside. The fire had been fed deliberately, and it had been built so that it might easily spread to the neighbors’ homes as well. We moved past the bodies in the foyer in a frenzy to save the building. I remember feeling vulnerable without the police there. I was acutely aware that we firefighters might be attacked by anyone who was still alive in the house.
We heard from the emergency report that a family of three was expected to be inside. “Two parents and an infant,” the dispatcher’s voice on our radios had specified. After the night of the incident, I did some research on the family in that house. I just couldn’t get them out of my head, and so I learned later that the couple had just moved into town to begin raising their child.
We found both parents bound to the heavy, wooden chairs they had bought for the dining room. Even though their bodies were already burning by the time we fought our way into the center of the house, it was plain to see that their hearts had been messily cut out of their chests. Their faces, too, looked to have been mutilated before the fire began. It was then that I realized there was no baby present in the dining room there with the parents. She might still be alive, and so I sent my partner to the second floor while I headed down to the wine cellar by myself.
It was down at the bottom of the cellar’s stairs that I first saw Max Kaefer. The leader of the cultists heard me enter, and he turned to face me with the baby in his arms. Kaefer had eyes like dying coals that were nearly drowned in the wet soot of his face. My fire ax was gripped in my hands, and I would have buried it in his chest had he not held the baby up in front of him. “We’re summoning a demon tonight,” he told me flatly. “It’s mostly done already.” He held the baby up as though he was going to throw it against the ground.
While his arms were still raised, I dropped my ax and tackled Max Kaefer around his midsection. We fell together, but I managed to seize the baby gently from him before he hit the ground. Max rose up to take the child back, but I struck him hard with my fist and he went down again. This time he stayed there, unconscious but not dead. The police would arrive minutes later to collar him, along with the two cultists that were still alive upstairs. My partner did not survive finding those cultists up there first, though. To this day, I wonder why I sent him up there instead of going myself.
The baby had been named Samantha by her parents, and that name was honored and kept when the child passed into foster care. I would have adopted her myself, except that I was entirely unprepared to raise a child at that time. I bought Samantha gifts on her birthday, though, and I visited the foster home on holidays to make the child feel that she still had family. She grew to know my face, and she learned to trust me as the years passed. It was something like fatherly love that I felt for her in return, even though we weren’t truly family to each other.
Max Kaefer went to prison, as did two of his followers who survived that night inside the burning house. They were the ones who killed my partner after I sent him to the second floor. To this day, I wish I had been better prepared to protect baby Samantha. More than that, though, I wish that I had killed Max Kaefer with my ax while I still had the chance.
February 17th, 2001
Her AMBER Alert interrupted the evening news. I recognized Samantha immediately. I searched the internet, investigating the terrible suspicions that were already creeping into my mind. After only a few minutes of research, I confirmed my worst fear. Max Kaefer had been recently released from prison. Kaefer’s few surviving followers from that night claimed full responsibility for the murders and the arson. The only charges that stuck to Kaefer were three counts of aiding and abetting. In the end, Max Kaefer served less than ten years in prison due to “good behavior” while he was inside. He was a free man again, and suddenly I felt sure that I knew where Samantha could be found tonight. I knew who had taken her away.
The burnt-out house was condemned but still standing. Urban blight in the area had left the property in limbo, awaiting a demolition that was now almost a decade overdue. I arrived at the scene of that same ’91 arson just in time to see two figures entering the smashed-down doorway to the main foyer. It looked like a man and a child. I used my cell phone to call the police and report what I was seeing, but I couldn’t just stand around while I was waiting for them to arrive. Samantha might be killed by the time that emergency responders made it to the house, and I did not want to be standing idly outside if my suspicions about Max Kaefer were correct.
The smell of gasoline hit me hard as I entered the house. Accelerant fumes were already heavy in the air. I knew immediately that Max was trying to finish what he started ten years ago. He wanted to burn the house to the ground once and for all. The entry foyer was different now, but it still brought up bad memories. There were no piles of dead bodies here anymore. Instead, there were only fire-damaged floorboards beneath my boots, and countless oily slicks of gasoline zigzagging through the house. I thought immediately of the wine cellar. That is where Kaefer meant to kill Samantha, and that is where he would likely go now.
I moved quickly but carefully from the foyer into the dining room. As I passed through it, I saw that the dining room had changed, too. No longer were the desecrated bodies of Sam’s parents tied to heavy wooden chairs around the table. Instead, this room was empty now. As I squinted in the darkness, I realized that all four walls around me were covered from floor to ceiling with insane ramblings about “Baal-Daeva” and “The Little Girl.” It was then that I realized that Max Kaefer had likely been preparing this place for tonight’s ritual ever since he got out of prison.
I remembered that the cellar door was just beyond where I stood now. As I hurried forward, I did my best to muffle the sound of my footsteps. I did not want to alert Kaefer to my approach. I was also forced to hesitate as I reached the cellar door. It wasn’t clear whether the damaged woodwork reinforcing those stairs could still support my weight. If the stairway collapsed underneath me, I would certainly be too badly injured from the fall to stop Kaefer. Testing the top stair with one foot, I felt it shift gently beneath my boot. The woodwork below me let out a soft creak in response to my weight. I cautiously brought my other foot to bear on that same top step. There were no sounds of anything cracking or splintering below. Taking a deep breath, I began my descent into the cellar.
Moving down the stairs, I found Kaefer standing at the bottom with his back turned to me. Samantha was huddled against a far corner of the cellar, crying and trying to make herself small there. It pained me to see her so afraid, but I was also greatly relieved to find that she was still alive. Sam was hiding her face against her knees, and pressing her eyes closed as she shielded them with the folded crook of her arm. Because she was crying this way, she did not see me come into the cellar. Kaefer also did not notice that I had descended the stairs behind him. He was rambling as though trying to drown out a voice that only he could hear. It was clear that Max Kaefer had lost the last vestiges of his sanity during his time in prison. The man’s deranged mind had plainly continued deteriorating over the ten years since I last saw him. Mixed in with the rambling, Max was telling Samantha that she needed to cooperate with him. He was telling her with anger in his voice that she did not need to be afraid.
“I’m sorry for what happened to your parents, little girl. We were trying to summon Baal-Daeva, and we did summon him! I regret it now.” He began chuckling dryly. “I regret it so much…” He turned his head and seemed to shout to an unseen third party there in the cellar. “Shut up! Shut up! SHUT UP!” It was clear that Max still had not noticed me behind him. Was he talking to the demon? I searched for a weapon and found that there was nothing within my reach.
If it came to a sudden moment of decisive violence, could I really strangle this man with my bare hands? Another strong whiff of gasoline stung my nostrils, and reminded me that the house was already fully staged to transform into an inferno. If Kaefer began reaching into his pocket for some matches or a lighter, then I would only have seconds to neutralize him. Max took a deep breath as though to calm himself, and then continued talking to Samantha.
“Little girl, we really did summon Baal-Daeva! He went into me, and for ten years he’s been living inside my brain. I can’t endure it anymore! Do you understand? That’s why we’re here to reverse the spell tonight. SHUT UP! SHUT UP!” He turned his head again to shout at the invisible third party that he apparently sensed nearby. In his frustration, Kaefer reached into his unkempt hair and brusquely tore a fistful of it out.
“If we finish what we started,” Max said “then Baal-Daeva can go somewhere else! He can go anywhere else…” I could hear in his voice that Kaefer was beginning to cry. The madman’s defenses were lowered, and yet fear of the unknown stayed my hand. I had no way to be sure whether Max was armed with some sort of concealed weapon. If I were to attack at the wrong moment, I might doom both Samantha and myself by letting Kaefer get the upper hand.
Max Kaefer began moving suddenly toward Samantha. She was still huddled there in the corner, trying to hide herself from the reality that was now marching toward her. It was then that I lost all concern for myself. If Max had a knife, then he could try to stick it into me now. I took three careful steps forward, and then I wrapped my fingers around his neck with all the force that I could muster.
Wrenching Kaefer by the back of his neck, I threw him to the ground with all my strength. Max had not sensed me there behind him, and so he was completely unprepared to defend himself. Kaefer barely caught himself from falling flat onto his face as he went down, and in his confusion he remained prostrate against the ground for several seconds before he began moving to collect himself back up.
Standing over Max Kaefer, I raised my leg and then brought my boot down hard against the back of his head. I stomped again, this time driving my boot into the exposed curve of spine at the back of his neck. I put my full weight into each strike that I delivered to the downed man. I kicked him hard three more times before I stopped to check whether or not Max was even still breathing. He wasn’t. It was at this point that I noticed the bladed weapon that Kaefer had been holding. It was a serrated knife with a keenly honed edge, and it must have been palmed tightly in Max’s right hand when he first started walking toward Sam.
Samantha finally uncovered her face, sensing perhaps that something important had just happened. Sam looked up to see me standing there in front of her, and she recognized my face immediately. Despite her gladness to be saved, I could tell that her terror had not subsided. Samantha had previously only known me as a source of gifts and kindness. Now instead, she saw me looming over the broken body of a man that I had just killed. I saw her eyes change to reflect something frightening and cold. It was a look unlike any expression that I had ever seen on Samantha’s face before.
We waited outside for the police together, and when they arrived I did my best to explain everything that had happened. For the most part, it felt like a relatively happy ending to an otherwise completely terrifying evening. Samantha had undeniably been changed by something, though. The way that her eyes turned cold and harsh that night never went away, either. Anytime that I visited Sam after the events of that night, her eyes invariably held that same expression of strange detachment. Her personality became pitiless in ways that it had never been before. Was Samantha badly traumatized by what she had been through that night?
…Or, was it something else?
I’m not a superstitious man, but I think something strange must have happened when Max Kaefer died. I remember checking his pulse while we were still down there in the wine cellar. I made sure that there was no shadow of a heartbeat for me to find on any of his pulse points. When the EMTs arrived, they naturally did their best to resuscitate Max anyway. Maybe they were successful in forcing his heart to beat a few more times before they moved him to the ambulance. That’s the only rational explanation I have for what I saw at the end of that night.
Kaefer’s eyes opened as they were carting him off, and his head turned almost imperceptibly on his badly broken neck to stare directly at me. They had put Max’s body on a stretcher, and then brought him out through the front door while I was still talking to the police. The dead man’s eyes tracked me that whole time, adjusting their angle as the paramedics passed me on their way to the ambulance.
Was there really a demon inside Max Kaefer? He said that the ritual was meant to cast the demon out of his brain, and to send it “anywhere else.” If Baal-Daeva is real, then were did it go? Could it have gone into Samantha? It feels crazy even to think about, but her eyes are just so fiercely cold now. Even if there’s a demon inside that child, I love her like one of my own. I will protect her forever.
God damn you, Max Kaefer. Burn in Hell.
August 8th, 2011
Samantha left foster care as soon as she turned eighteen. She never managed to find a permanent family to adopt her. In a few cases, she was almost taken in by a family, but her behavior always caused the prospective parents to reconsider before the papers were signed. Apparently, this was usually because Samantha spoke earnestly during adoption interviews about the demon living inside of her. I haven’t run into her since she aged out of the foster care program. Sam must have changed her name and moved away, because I never see her around town, or hear from her at all.
I’m retired now. I don’t fight fires anymore, and I never ended up with a family of my own. They say that time makes fools of us all, and I guess I’ve become a prime example of that old adage being true. I’m just a lonely old man now, and like most lonely old men, I often think of the people I helped a long time ago. I tear myself apart sometimes, wondering about why nobody else seems to remember me like I remember them. It seems like after all the times I visited Samantha in foster care, that she would have at least thought to check in on me now. Or she could have easily written me a letter, but she never has. I’ve only seen Sam once since she turned eighteen, and I honestly wish that I hadn’t.
I was enjoying a walk one evening when I saw her. It had been twenty years to the day since that terrible evening when her parents were killed, but she was saved. I remembered smelling coarse smoke in the air before I noticed her there. Something nearby was burning. It was then that I recognized her. Samantha was hurrying down the sidewalk in the opposite direction as I had been walking. She was pacing quickly toward me with a broad, bright smile across her face. Her eyes were still empty and cold despite the grin on her face. She seemed alertly cruel and strangely detached from reality, in that same distinctive way which I remembered from her last years in foster care.
In my gladness to see her, I momentarily forgot that the smell of smoke wafting over the wind was beginning to choke me. I held out my arms for a hug and yelled, “Sam!” She continued hustling forward with empty eyes and a detached smile, as though she had not heard me. As she got closer, she avoided me standing there on the sidewalk, and brushed past me like she didn’t know me at all. “Samantha!” I called after her, standing there with my empty arms still extended. I was truly heartbroken to think that she somehow did not know my face after everything we had been through. Without a word, Sam continued around the corner and was gone.
I continued walking in the same direction I had been going before. I felt dazed by my sudden encounter with Samantha, and didn’t know what to make of it. I realized suddenly that the acrid smell of smoke was growing more powerful as I moved in the direction from whence Samantha had appeared. As I moved forward I could see the flames. A house was burning, and there was a commotion of lights from parked emergency vehicles outside. I drew closer. The police had secured the perimeter, and they would not let me approach any nearer than where I had approached to stand. “Go home pal,” said the officer blocking my path. He held a flat palm to my chest. “We’re doing our best here already, and I doubt you’re prepared to lend a hand.”
“I used to be a firefighter,” I answered honestly. “But you’re right. I’m too old to help anyone now.” I pressed the officer for more information. “Please,” I said, “Just tell me that everyone inside the house made it out ok.” Before the officer could respond, wild screaming pierced through the clamor and chaos of the fire. It came from the top level of the burning house. I gasped in disbelief. It was horrifying to realize that someone alive remained inside that inferno, and they were still trapped up on the second floor despite so much emergency response on the scene.
“There’s people still inside!” I cried out. “Why the hell aren’t they getting near the windows? They could try to jump down! The firefighters would catch them. Or at least they could get some fresh air from outside while they’re waiting for emergency responders to reach them!”
“We think someone must have tied up the family inside before they set the fire,” the officer answered me matter-of-factly. His eyes cracked open slightly wider as he realized that he had probably said too much. “Now get lost,” he ordered. “We’re doing our best to get them out.” Another fit of strangled wailing rang out from the house’s second floor, and then faded into the crackling sounds of the fire.
“It was arson then,” I said to myself. “More demonic rituals…” Taking one last helpless glimpse back toward the inferno, I turned around and went home.
Back inside my own house, I locked the door behind me and then moved immediately to sit on my couch. I needed a moment to process everything that I had just seen. I didn’t turn on any of the lights in my living room, and I left the television in front of me blank and inactive as well. I held the TV remote in my hand, but I hesitated to turn the television on. The was a cocoon of darkness and silence wrapped around me in this instant, and I could feel it shielding me from the horrifying realities that were just outside this impermanent bubble of isolation.
My dread urged me to turn on the TV and start watching the news, but I didn’t. I knew that I would regret learning anything more about this latest, horrible case of arson in my neighborhood. A terrible realization arrived suddenly, and it sent a new shudder of repulsion through my body. I realized that watching the news might also help me to understand the details of why Samantha was here in town tonight. She had been missing until she appeared suddenly tonight: the anniversary of her parents’ deaths. More than that, she had returned only to be seen hurrying away from the scene of a deadly arson.
Samantha knew me for most of her whole life. She always recognized me right away, but tonight she didn’t seem to know who I was at all. It just didn’t make any sense to me, unless… A grim thought came suddenly into my mind. I remembered the way that Sam’s eyes had changed on the night that I killed Max Kaefer. Was it Baal-Daeva that crossed my path tonight? Could it really have been a demon that was looking through Samantha’s eyes as she marched past me with that smile on her face? I called Sam’s name twice as she walked away, and there had been no response at all. The woman that I had watched grow up for so many years truly didn’t seem to know her own name anymore. Or if she did know it, then it no longer meant anything important to her.
Max Kaefer had been tortured to insanity by the demon, but in all the years since I first saw the change in Sam’s eyes, she didn’t seem to feel tortured by anything. During those last visits I made to the foster home before she turned eighteen and skipped town, Samantha only seemed more and more ruthless. She had turned into something effortlessly sinister. I think that Samantha truly doesn’t mind Baal-Daeva’s presence inside of her. Maybe she’s simply more receptive to demonic things than Max Kaefer ever managed to be.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that Sam must like having Baal-Daeva in her life. If she didn’t like the demon so much, then she surely would have turned to me at least once, and asked me for help in making it go away. She never, ever mentioned it to me. Whenever I would visit, I saw in Samantha only a dark confidence that was steadily and silently growing. She allowed herself to sink into a deep ruthlessness of spirit, and she would not acknowledge to me that the transformation was happening. I turn the TV’s remote over in my hand as I think about the possibilities. Sam had been smiling so brightly as she walked past me. She was happy as she fled the scene of that burning house with those victims still bound inside… I take a deep breath. I’ve finally made my decision. I stand up from my chair to toss the remote down where I had been sitting.
I’ve already lost the closest thing that I’ve ever had to a daughter, and I refuse to suffer anymore because of what that damned Max Kaefer brought into Sam’s life. Even if Samantha decides that she wants to keep killing, and drifting from town to town with Baal-Daeva inside her head, then I could never try to stop her. I already promised myself long ago that I would protect Samantha. That means that I can’t hunt her down or turn her in, even if she’s still out there sowing chaos and hurting innocent people.
I won’t turn on the news tonight, or tomorrow night for that matter. I’ll plug my ears when I hear a radio, and I won’t read the papers for at least a week. In fact, I might never read them again. I don’t want to learn about what Samantha’s done tonight, and I refuse to think about what she might do next.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableDavid Feuling Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A