Edition 13: The Church of Asag by Cameron Trost
Gary Inglewood has been offered an exciting contract working in rural Queensland, in a small town called Isisford. His family aren’t particularly happy to be uprooted, but at least the locals seem pleased to see them. Nothing much happens in this sleepy little town; except for those events on the religious calendar, of course… SY
Isisford was just what the Inglewood family had expected—a hick-infested hell-hole in the middle of nowhere. Gary had tried to remain optimistic, thinking of it as a close-knit country town a stone’s throw from Longreach—but the stunned look on his face bore witness to his disappointment.
The over-packed station wagon rolled warily along the main street. The Inglewoods had tried to bring all of their earthly possessions with them, but even a spacious car like theirs had its limits.
They passed an art gallery, and its recycled rubbish sculptures—with beer caps for eyes—seemed to watch the family from behind a dirty display window.
Further along, outside the news agency, a haggard farmer observed them as he puffed away at a cigarette. His gaze was inanimate, just like that of the rusty car-parts insect in the gallery display.
The station wagon kept rolling along.
Two women were about to enter an old worker’s cottage that served as the post office, when they stopped in their tracks and turned around. Their attention had been caught by the sound of the only car being driven through town.
The eldest of the pair spoke to the younger, who then stared at the car. She seemed to be trying to see who was inside the moving vehicle.
Then she smiled, and let out what looked like a sigh of relief.
The station wagon stopped in the middle of the road while Gary and Amanda tried to work out which street to take. That was possibly the only advantage of living in a backwater like Isisford; you could sit in the middle of the street and play a game of chess or two without bothering traffic.
“This is the one, honey,” Greg Inglewood reassured his wife. He turned off the main street and into a dead end that held four houses on each side before the bitumen dropped and crumbled into a dry flood plain.
“This is it, kids,” Gary informed them happily as he pulled up outside the Inglewood’s new home. It was there that they would be staying for the next few months. “Just like in the photographs my boss showed me.”
Amanda’s smile was as broad and exaggerated as her husband’s and, like him, she was hoping that it would be contagious. They were staring at Audrey, not at Billy, because she was the one who needed convincing. Her little brother did not mind where he was, as long as he had comics to read and his bicycle to ride.
“It looks fabulous!” Audrey’s eyes opened wide in sarcastic excitement, and she forced her mouth into a gaping smile.
For his part, Gary found the house very charming. A long verandah overlooked a parched lawn and wild flower shrubs. The hammock strung between two ghost gums was begging for him to crawl inside and stretch out after the longest road-trip he had taken since he was at university; Brisbane to nowhere in a day and a half.
“Billy, how about you put your comic book down for a minute?” Gary suggested. “You want to check out the house, don’t you?”
Billy tore his attention away from the radioactive tyrannosaurus skeleton’s nocturnal museum rampage and, pushing himself up as high as he could, peered out the car window.
They all got out and stretched their arms and legs.
“Where are the keys, Gary?”
“I knew I had forgotten something.” He frowned.
“You did not.”
“Dad?” Audrey’s voice sounded worried.
“Calm down, girls.” He laughed. “The property belongs to a local who runs the corner shop. Did you happen to see the shop across from the post office, Mandy?”
“I did. How about I take Billy down there to get the keys and buy some lunch while you two start piling our cherished belongings on the verandah?”
“No problem. Tell him that the key is for Gary—”
“Yeah, I know,” Amanda cut him off. “Gary Inglewood, geologist with the CSIRO.”
He just smiled.
“Are you walking or riding, Billy?” his mum asked, as she put his hat on for him.
He scrunched up his little face and stared at the big blue sky, as though he had been requested to answer an existential conundrum. Amanda always said that he must have inherited that from his father.
Gary opened the boot and removed Billy’s little bike. He knew what his son’s answer would be.
“I think I’ll ride.”
By the time Amanda and Billy had returned to the house, Gary and Audrey had finished unpacking the car.
Audrey was swinging lazily in the hammock after having her dad evict a spider that had already claimed it as his squat. She had wanted him to kill it, but Gary had explained that it had a role to play in the ecosystem—and was particularly helpful in reducing the fly population.
“How was your first walk to the Isisford corner shop?” Gary asked as he swept dirt and leaves from the five steps that led up to the verandah.
“It was very quiet. Ken, the man at the shop, is a friendly chap, and Billy met one of the local boys.”
“Is that right? Did he want to know where we were from, and what we were doing in town?”
“No,” Amanda frowned. “In fact, he was a little strange. He asked Billy how old he was, and when he told him that he was nearly six, the boy just smiled and walked away whistling.”
“Strange,” Gary agreed. “I’m tired. I think I’ll have a little nap.”
“That’s a good idea. We could all do with some rest, couldn’t we, Billy?”
The little boy nodded his head.
The Inglewood’s nap lasted until nightfall.
Three shadowy forms reached the porch of Isisford’s tiny white church just as the clouds burst.
Stumpy Davidson looked up at the night sky, and a flash of lightning illuminated his time and weatherworn face.
Distant thunder echoed across the surrounding plains.
“The rains ’ave come back at last,” he muttered. His voice was troubled.
Isaac Krump shone the torch on the keyhole while his brother slid the key in.
“That’s the way, Larry, give ’im a good twist.”
The door clicked and swung open. The sound of the torrential downpour was even louder inside. Raindrops were pounding against the church’s corrugated iron roof.
Larry felt around for a switch, flicked it, and the three men were temporarily blinded by the light.
“It doesn’t seem that long ago that we preparing the last conversion.”
“Ten years already,” Stumpy mused. “The older you get, the faster the bloody sand pours through the hourglass.”
“Ten years,” Isaac repeated. “Not to the day, but to the very week all the same. The rains started a little earlier last time, didn’t they?”
The others nodded as they began removing bibles from the pews.
“It sure is a blessing to have this new family in town. How long have they been here?”
“About a month,” Isaac said.
“I haven’t seen them at church,” Larry added, a hint of reproach in his voice.
“No. They’re not god-fearing folk.” Stumpy was now packing the hymnbooks in a pile beside the door.
“So, they still don’t know about the conversion?”
Stumpy shook his head.
“Who is going to tell them before the time comes?” Larry asked.
“That’s none of our concern, Larry. Brother Jacob will take care of that,” Stumpy warned him.
“I know, but how can we be sure they will do what is required of them? What if they refuse?”
The three men stopped working. Nobody spoke—only the rain hammering down overhead filled the silence.
“That hasn’t happened in seventy years,” Stumpy reminded them solemnly. “I can barely remember it, and I’m grateful for that. I was only a kid at the time. Dad was away at war against the Japs, like all the other men of fightin’ age. He never come back, he didn’t. He never seen what happened to Isisford. Even today, I dunno who was the lucky ones—them who come back or them who didn’t.”
“The Inglewoods will do their bit for the community, one way or another.” Isaac pointed at the big wooden cross-screwed to the wall at the far end of the church. “Help me get that down, brother.”
The effect of the previous night’s deluge was immediate. The Inglewood’s lawn, appearing dead since long before their arrival, had thirstily soaked up the liquid godsend and was already turning green. It was a Saturday morning and Gary was sitting on the verandah, sipping a coffee and thinking about his research project. Billy was madly racing around the yard on his bike. He had already come off once and cut his knee on a rusty nail that was sticking out of one of the house’s stumps, but that had not deterred him.
“Good morning,” a voice called from the street. Gary saw a middle-aged couple standing at the wire gate. It seemed that they had been waiting patiently for him to notice them—now they were waiting to be invited in. They were different from the other townsfolk; perhaps they were outsiders. In a town with just over two hundred residents, he thought that he knew every face by now. This man and his wife—they certainly looked like they were married—had more the appearance of university professors than country folk. They had an air of eccentricity about them. In fact, they looked like complete nutcases.
The man wore a pith hat that looked enormous over his skeletal face with its beady, sunken eyes. It was a face that looked more accustomed to damp, dimly lit monasteries than the vast and sun-drenched Queensland bush. A silk foulard was wrapped around his scrawny neck and long beige socks and sandals covered his stickman legs. He looked like Nick Cave dressed up as Doctor Livingstone for some kind of freakish fancy-dress party.
His wife wore a long exotic gown and was adorned with fantastic golden jewellery that swirled under her ears and slithered along what little bare skin could be seen at the base of her neck.
They both carried books and leaflets in their hands.
Gary suddenly realised that they must have been bible bashers, come to convert him from his Darwin-loving atheist scientist ways.
“Mister Inglewood, I presume.” The man called out in a high-pitched, academic voice.
Doctor Livingstone, I presume. Gary thought, but did not venture the joke.
“Yes, that’s right.”
“We were wondering if we could speak to you. My name is Professor Jacob Fisher. This is my wife, Professor Deirdre Fisher.”
“Nice to meet you,” Gary lied.
Deirdre looked down at the closed gate then stared sternly at Gary. The message could not have been clearer.
“Sorry,” Gary said. “Where are my manners? Please, come in before it starts raining again.”
“Thank you. The powers-that-be certainly did unleash a powerful downfall last night.”
Damn—I left that door wide open for him. Strange that he said “powers-that-be” and not “the Good Lord” though.
“Hello there, young soldier,” Professor Jacob Fisher said as Billy came speeding around a corner. He came to a grinding halt at the visitor’s sandaled feet.
“Hello. That’s a nice hat.”
Gary felt like laughing, but held it in.
“Thank you, I bought it in Kenya…That’s in Africa.”
“Did you hurt your leg?”
“Yeah, I cut in on a nail. It didn’t hurt though.”
“Poor little thing.” Deirdre, who gave the impression of being a rather strict woman despite her almost bohemian dress sense, smiled sympathetically at Billy.
“You are a brave young soldier, aren’t you?”
“That’s good. You need to be brave living here in Isisford,” Professor Jacob Fisher informed him.
“So, you are locals? I haven’t seen you here before.”
They walked ceremoniously up to the verandah, and Gary signalled for them to take a seat.
“That is correct, Mister Inglewood. We have been researching overseas for some time—in the Middle-East. We, like you, are scholars.”
Is that what you call yourselves?
“Biblical scholars, I take it?”
They looked at each other for a moment, as though in silent communication.
“We do dabble in biblical archaeology from time to time. However, our main field of interest is in far more ancient and, dare I say, powerful beliefs than those of the Hebrews.”
Gary was taken aback. He had not been expecting this.
“Yes. They intrigue us above all. Theirs was a great civilisation, and their knowledge of the universe was profound.”
“You want to talk to me about the religious beliefs of the ancient world?” Gary smiled.
Professor Jacob Fisher removed his pith hat and placed it on his lap.
“Yes, we do. Have you been to church recently, Mister Inglewood? Here in Isisford?”
“No, I haven’t. I must admit that I am not a very good Christian. In fact, I am not a Christian at all.”
“You believe only in that which can be measured and explained, in that which obeys the empirical laws of scientific knowledge.”
“Yes, that about sums it up.”
“That is not a problem for the moment. We too seek to understand that which seems beyond comprehension, to clear a path through the fog that lies between our petty minds and the fabric that lines and defines our universe. Do not forget, Mister Inglewood, that men like Da Vinci or Newton did not content themselves to allow previous laws to control their curiosity—their great minds roamed free of such man-made bonds and shackles.”
Gary said nothing, they had his attention—and they knew it.
“We have much to tell you, and now is not the appropriate time. You should know, however, that as of last night the church has been temporarily converted.”
“It has been converted? Is this a practical joke?” Gary stood up and looked out to the street, trying to find the hidden cameras. “How can you convert a church? You can’t just change from worshipping one God to another according to your mood.”
The professors smiled and said simultaneously, “You are more Christian than you think, Mister Inglewood.”
“Tell me,” he continued. “Why do the locals want to convert the church?”
“We convinced them to do so, their faith in the existence of a monotheist and jealous God was not as unshakeable as they pretended.”
Deirdre leaned forward and trapped Gary in her hypnotic gaze. She looked more like a gypsy fortune-teller than a university professor. “One could even say, Mister Inglewood, that the locals are even more open-minded than you; changing their opinions as new evidence introduces new knowledge.”
“So, you convinced the town to temporarily change from one set of beliefs to another by presenting them with some kind of irrefutable proof?”
“Precisely,” Jacob answered. It was as simple as that.
Gary’s lips parted again as more questions formed in his mind. How did you do that? Why is the conversion only temporary? Above all, what is this other God like and how is he worshipped?
“As I said, Mister Inglewood, this is not the appropriate time. We have much to do. We will be in touch we you.”
Without further ado, the professors took their leave. Gary’s first impression of his visitors had been that they were nutcases. The resulting conversion should have confirmed this. However, as they closed the wire gate and walked away, like friends who had just dropped by to chat about the weather, he found himself wondering whether maybe, just maybe, there had been some sense in what they had told him.
Amanda and the children ate their dinner unenthusiastically while Gary recounted the morning’s events. Amanda just shook her head and rolled her eyes with what appeared to be a contradictory combination of disbelief and that doesn’t surprise me one little bit.
“Daddy’s talking, Billy.”
“Can I leave the table?”
She turned her attention to Audrey, reading her daughter’s thoughts.
“You’re not hungry?”
“No, not really.”
Ever since their arrival, Gary had been trying to get his daughter to make an effort to fit in and feel comfortable in Isisford. With the latest turn of events, he knew that any further attempts were futile.
“Sweetie.” She hated being called that, she was nearly twelve years old, but old habits die hard. “Have you heard any talk at school, or at the pool, or anywhere, about the conversion of the church?”
She shook her head.
“No strange talk at all?”
She gave him a nasty look.
“Dad…there’s only strange talk here. But luckily for me nobody has mentioned the church, or conversions, or crazy cults in my presence.”
The iron roof began to sing as rain fell heavily.
“It’s raining again,” Gary mused.
“The rain—that’s what everybody keeps going on about,” Audrey added.
“Well, that’s normal talk, isn’t it?” Amanda said.
“I suppose, but a lot of them have been saying that it will stop in a few days. On Friday afternoon, I heard one of the fathers telling his son that the rain was a lot heavier than it had been ten years ago and that once it stopped there would be a massive plague.”
“What sort of plague?”
“I have no idea. Like I said, there is only strange talk around here.”
Gary gently bit his lower lip, a sign that he was thinking deeply. Then he just shook his head, as though chasing a preposterous thought away.
“It sounds strange to us, but the locals know this land and understand how weather extremities can impact upon it.”
Overhead, the rain intensified.
Gary grabbed a Snickers bar and put it on the counter next to the newspaper, milk, Weetbix, and the loaf of wholegrain bread—it was his self-chosen reward for doing the pre-breakfast grocery run.
Ken looked at his customer’s purchases intensely, as though he were preparing himself for a memory test, then adjusted his glasses and tapped away at his retro cash register.
“Fourteen dollars, please.”
Gary handed him the money.
“Perfect. So, what do you have planned for today?”
“Oh, nothing special. Maybe we’ll go for a drive later on and have a picnic near the river. We often do that on Sundays.”
“That sounds nice, doesn’t it?” He put the shopping into a bag for him, smiling sympathetically. “You need to enjoy these family moments together while you can.”
Gary nodded politely.
“I think that it’s very admirable…”
“Ken!” It was his wife; she had been listening in on their conversation from the backroom.
Ken turned around, startled, almost dropping the loaf of wholegrain. His wife mouthed a warning. Gary could not hear the words, but he could hear the air escaping from between the woman’s panicked lips.
Ken handed the bag to him and smiled, lips firmly closed together.
“Are you going to church this morning?” Gary asked innocently.
He shook his head. It seemed that he was refusing to speak. He reached down and took another Snickers from the chocolates shelf in front of the counter.
“No church this morning,” he explained simply. “Here, give this one to Billy.”
“Thanks, that’s very kind of you.”
“Not at all, neighbour.”
The riverside picnic was not to happen that Sunday. Although it looked as though the rain had stopped for the day, if not for the season, the ground was still soaking wet from the downpour that had hammered the little town all night and well into the early hours of the morning. Gary was also worried that the river might burst its banks all of a sudden. The water was flowing fast as it was, and the flood plain at the end of their street had changed from a dry expanse of dormant grass stems to a muddy lake.
Instead they had lunch on the verandah, listening to the only radio station that could be picked up—and just barely—in the area.
Gary lit the gas barbecue and oiled the grill as Slim Dusty sang Under the Spell of Highway One, accompanied by an orchestra of static.
“Daddy…” Audrey used her little girl voice, the one that she knew would touch a soft spot in her father’s heart.
“We need to talk.”
Gary had heard that one from his wife a few times, but it was the first time his little angel had used it on him.
“What’s wrong? Let me guess, you want to leave Isisford?”
She nodded. “Is it possible?”
Gary sighed as he opened a packet of lamb and rosemary sausages.
“I have to stay here for a while. I have to finish my work. Can’t you hold on just a little longer, sweetie? I promise that I will never ask you to leave the city again if you can just be brave and hold on a little longer.”
“I promise.” He looked her in the eyes and put his hand over his heart, leaving a greasy palm print on his white T-shirt.
“Audrey,” her mother called to her. “Come and help me cut some pineapple. Busy hands calm a worried mind.”
“That was one of granny’s sayings, mum. You stole it.”
“Yes, I did. Now it’s one of mine, and someday it will be one of yours too.”
“Hello, Mister Inglewood.”
It was Professor Fisher, alone this time.
Gary looked at his wife and she nodded in recognition. There was no need to introduce the unwelcome visitor. Amanda could tell that the stranger fit the description that her husband had given her the night before. He was a freakish, skinny man wearing a pith hat and knee high socks.
“I have no intention of disturbing your lunch,” he informed the Inglewoods, as though reading their minds. “I would just like to have a quick word with you, Mister Inglewood.”
Gary put his tongs down and went to the front gate. He exchanged a few words with the professor and then they bid each other farewell and the visitor left as discreetly as he had appeared.
As much as he disliked it, Gary took time off from his research on Monday morning and, after breakfast, walked over to the Isisford church for the first time.
He quickly realised that he was not alone. Many of the town’s inhabitants were heading towards the small wooden building. Its white painted walls and porch shone bright like a beacon on that sunny morning. Gary noticed that there was no white cross standing above the porch, and supposed that it had been removed for the conversion, if indeed there had ever been one at all.
Once he had arrived at the entrance to Isisford’s holy sanctuary, Gary heard a humming sound coming from within. At first, he wondered if the small church housed an enormous beehive, but as he drew closer the humming became clearer, it became human voices.
The church was crowded, almost to capacity; the entire adult population must have been there. They wore glorious scarlet robes that hung down to their feet. They must have been sweating on such a humid morning. Two hundred or so pious worshippers—but whom exactly did they worship?
“Mister Inglewood!” Professor Fisher clasped his hands over those of the newcomer. His robe was the most splendid of them all, adorned with golden trimmings, and a brooch in the shape of an insect of some kind. Gary noted that he had forgotten his pith hat.
“We are glad that you have come.” He looked around at the congregation, making it clear that he was speaking on behalf of all, and indeed all other mouths had ceased to speak, and their undivided attention was focused uncomfortably on Gary and the professor.
“Do you see the splendour of our church…of your church, Mister Inglewood?”
He looked around. It was undeniably splendid. Strangely beautiful tapestries adorned the walls, and golden ornaments hung from the ceiling.
It was also unsettling. Gary had never been a religious man; his atheist father had sent him to the Double Helix young scientists’ club instead of Sunday school. For him, religion and science were incompatible. Obviously, Professor Fisher was not of the same opinion. However, even for an atheist like Gary, the shock of seeing the changes to the church made him feel uneasy. It seemed so profoundly blasphemous.
Where the cross should have been, behind the pulpit, an enormous idol hung from the wall. The son of man had been replaced with a hideous creature whose fangs, leathery wings, and claws, contrasted disturbingly with Christ’s lovingly sorrowful smile.
“It looks like a demon!” Gary had meant it as a thought, but the silence around him and the bemused look on Professor Fisher’s face confirmed his fear that he had spoken aloud.
“I suppose that you are right, Mister Inglewood. This is the Church of Asag, and he was indeed considered by the ancient Mesopotamians to be a ferocious demon, a terrible monster made of rock and magic.”
“What does the pastor think about this?”
“There is no pastor in Inglewood. There has not been one in a very long time. I carry out the religious services with the help of the congregation—our church is one that shuns hierarchy.”
Despite his words, Gary was sure that the professor pulled just about all of the strings in town.
“We convert the church to a house of worship honouring Asag every ten years, as the rainy season hits Isisford.”
Every ten years.
“Is Asag a god of plagues?”
The congregation murmured and Professor Fisher smiled, surprised and pleased by Gary’s intuition.
“How do you know of Asag?”
He decided not to mention Audrey.
“I heard some talk of a plague every ten years.”
Professor Fisher lost his smile and scanned the crowd, as though seeking he who had spoken carelessly.
“These ten year plagues are devastating, Mister Inglewood. You have seen how the land has changed over these past weeks. Land that was once dry and dead is now green and flourishing. It seems wonderful, but the wonder will be short lived. Do you know what will come shortly—very shortly?”
“Locusts?” Gary guessed casually, shrugging his shoulders.
The crowd shuddered.
“Yes, Mister Inglewood – a terrible plague of locusts. Hell on Earth!”
Gary could not understand why the thought of a locust plague caused such dread. Then again, he knew little of such phenomena.
“We have avoided these plagues for many years, Mister Inglewood. You may find it difficult to believe, but the worship of Asag at this time, every ten years, protects us.”
“How do you worship him?”
The congregation was silent, and Gary could feel a heavy tension filling the church.
Professor Fisher told Gary about the ceremony. He explained what would take place—step by step—and he told him that it would need to be performed very soon. He solemnly informed Gary of his family’s great responsibility.
“I understand. If this is what is required, it will be done. Asag will be honoured. I will return home to my family and bring them back here immediately.”
The congregation bowed their heads, as Gary strode respectfully from the Church of Asag.
“Gary, what are you doing?”
“You can ask questions later, just get the car packed as quickly as possible!”
Billy came in from the yard, wondering what all the fuss was about.
“Get all your toys, honey,” Amanda told him, trying to sound calm.
“Are we going home?”
“Yes, get your toys quickly!”
“What about Audrey?”
“We’ll get her from school before we leave.”
“Why are we leaving?”
Amanda looked at her husband, who was stuffing clothes into his suitcase. She had never seen him rattled like this before. All of sudden, the foundations of her rational world began to shake.
“Daddy will explain everything later.”
“Billy!” Gary’s voice thundered, as he tried to zip his bulging suitcase. “Just—get—your—toys!”
Amanda turned on her husband angrily. The tip of her tongue was about to spit out a volley of insults and complaints—like, you don’t have to yell at him like that, he’s already scared stiff and so the hell am I for that matter and just tell me what’s happened, what the hell is going on? But Gary looked at her, and she read his face. He was telling her that she needed to trust him; that she knew that if she did exactly what he told her to, everything would work out in the end.
She hurried to the wardrobe and pulled all of her clothes out, forcing her shaking hands to work as quickly as they could. Billy dragged an armful of toys and comics onto the verandah.
“Billy, get off the verandah! Come inside!”
Amanda came rushing out of the bedroom with as much as she could carry.
“Gary, relax a little, it can’t be that bad…”
“Yes… yes… it bloody well can!”
He saw the fear in her eyes.
“Sorry,” he tried to calm himself. “Believe me, Mandy. It’s bad. Just shove your stuff into the car.”
Billy was staring at his father, and started to cry.
“Be brave, Billy. Have you got all your toys?”
Gary hauled his suitcase outside but ran into his wife as she rushed up onto the verandah.
“Gary,” she whispered. “What happened at the church?”
He looked over her shoulder and saw why she had been trying to get inside so urgently.
The inhabitants of Isisford were swarming along the street. They formed a stream of robed fanatics with Professor Fisher leading them.
“Gary, you’re planning on leaving are you?” The professor called out.
He opened the garden gate and approached the house. The others stayed outside, surrounding the station wagon, the Inglewood family’s only means of salvation.
Gary slammed the front door closed; but he knew that it was nothing more than a futile symbol of resistance.
Professor Fisher’s voice sounded distant, even though he was already on the verandah. “You lied to us, Mister Inglewood. You pretended to understand, but I could sense that you were just trying to buy time. Worst of all, you have insulted Asag’s holy name!”
“Go away, Fisher.”
“Mister Inglewood, the youngest must be sacrificed.”
Amanda shuddered. “Did he say sacrificed?”
Gary nodded. “Sacrificed to Asag.”
“Sacrificed—to—Asag,” she repeated, and would have laughed; but she knew that nobody was joking. “What has that got to do with us?”
“Everything!” Gary informed her. “Billy is the youngest person in town.”
Billy was standing behind his parents, crying with confusion more than fear.
“We have to call the police!”
Gary shook his head. “They won’t have far to come, they’re probably outside right now, blue uniforms replaced with a long, scarlet robes.”
“Open the door, Mister Inglewood. Ken doesn’t want us to damage the house any more than necessary.”
“Leave us alone!” Amanda screamed, as her maternal instinct kicked in.
“Be reasonable, Amanda,” Professor Fisher said soothingly. The sound of her name sent a shiver slithering up her spine. “We have Audrey, of course.”
“Don’t you dare!” Gary was about two seconds away from opening the door, but his wife stilled his hand. Her fury had not yet smothered her reason.
“We have to get Audrey!”
“I know, but just slow down a little. If we go out there, it’ll all be over. We can’t save Audrey if we get ourselves captured. It’s not Audrey they want, it’s B…” She stopped short, Billy was listening. “We have the upper hand.”
Gary nodded and drew in a deep breath, trying to control his rage. His wife was right, despite her fear and anger she had managed to keep a relatively cool head.
“You’re right, honey. But we can’t stay in here forever.”
A window shattered and shards sprayed into the house.
Billy’s sobbing gave way to shrieks of pure terror.
There was no more time for contemplation. The townsfolk were about to storm the house.
Gary ran into the kitchen and grabbed a handful of carving knives. He had never killed before, and was unsure that he would be capable of doing so now, but he figured that he would soon find out.
Scarlet robes pressed against the jagged opening that had been a window moments earlier.
“Don’t be selfish!” They were saying. “Think about what’s best for the community!”
Gary slashed out, a knife in each hand, but the townsfolk jumped back just in time.
“You’re just making it harder for yourself, Gary. Asag’s demands must be obeyed. Who are you to refuse him?” Professor Fisher’s voice came from somewhere on the verandah.
The figures closed in on the window once more. Familiar faces that had once been friendly were now frozen with determination. They were not hostile, not even nervous—they were simply the faces of men and women concentrated on doing their duty. It was terrifying.
Gary’s knives slashed out again and the assailants stepped back, their frozen faces melting for a brief moment in time. Then they hesitated, preparing themselves for another attempt at getting through the window.
The blast of a shotgun rang out. There was no telling where it had been aimed.
“Who did that?” Professor Fisher shouted angrily. “Put that away, fool! The boy must be sacrificed to Asag. He is useless if you kill him first!”
Amanda put her trembling lips to her husband’s ear, as he considered stabbing at the maniacs who were coming towards the window again.
“Maybe we can sneak out the back,” she whispered.
The idea was so ridiculously simple.
“It might just work,” Gary admitted.
What they would do next was another matter. They would have to find Audrey without being caught by the brainwashed townsfolk. It was worth a try.
“We’ll have to move quickly. Ready?”
Gary picked Billy up—being careful not to cut him with the knives—and the Inglewoods made a run for the back door. Amanda swung it open with the strength that a mother is capable of mustering when her little one is under threat.
Bright sunlight stunned them, and for a dreadful, sightless moment Gary and Amanda expected to feel desperate hands grasping at their hysterical son. Gary was ready to slash at them with his knives. These people with whom he had been speaking on civil terms, from whom he had bought groceries and petrol and, worst of all, with whom he had shared a beer…and now he was prepared to cut them up, one by one.
Their eyes soon adjusted to the bright light, but instead of finding a mob of fanatics blocking their path, they found the mortified face of one little girl.
“Audrey! How did…Never mind, we have to go.” Gary’s head turned from side to side like that of a hare spooked by a hungry fox. Within seconds, a flood of religious nuts would be swamping them from both sides of the house.
“Dad, they’ve gone.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s all over. They’ve all left. They let me go and ran away.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Neither do I. They’ve just gone.”
Gary listened. He could no longer hear Professor Fisher’s crazed voice, or the sound of breaking glass, or footsteps on the verandah. There was only silence, except for a strange, distant humming.
Then he noticed something else, but could not quite put his finger on it—but his wife could.
“The light,” she said. “The sun has disappeared!”
The humming was growing louder.
Then the horrible noise was all around them.
Gary dropped his knives and passed Billy to Amanda, almost dropping him too. He fumbled in his pockets, but his hands were shaking.
Audrey screamed. Her shrill voice was almost as loud as the ominous humming that was increasing in intensity with every passing second. It was Asag humming, Gary imagined. The ancient demon was deafening them with his sadistic tune.
The darkness kept growing.
Gary pulled his car keys out, and they jangled silently.
“Get in the car now!”
They ran around to the street, to where just moments before the townsfolk had been gathered, preparing to force their way into the house and seize the innocent child whose blood was to be shed for the greater good.
As the Inglewoods got into the car and slammed the doors behind them, the dark cloud that had been rolling over Isisford hit.
A hailstorm of locusts pounded against the car. The insects slid down the windscreen and windows, scratching hopelessly at the smooth glass. There were so many that the Inglewoods could barely distinguish the world beyond the car.
Audrey started to cry and checked nervously that all of the windows were tightly closed. Billy, on the other hand, had calmed down and was watching the onslaught with amazed amusement.
“Can you drive through this, honey?” Amanda asked hopefully. She was eager to get far away from Isisford as quickly as possible.
Gary turned the key in the ignition, and pumped the accelerator. He was shocked by what had happened, and a nagging question began to taunt his scientific mind. Is this Asag? He flicked the windscreen wipers on and sent a squadron of ravenous locusts catapulting off the car.
The scene that lay before the Inglewoods was appalling. Audrey’s sobbing grew louder as she caught sight of the street swarming with insects. The inhabitants of Isisford had vanished, giving way to the seething mass of locusts.
Gary smiled uneasily as he put some music on. He wanted to drown out the nauseating sound that he knew would be caused by rubber crushing thousands of exoskeletons.
The car lurched forwards, its windscreen wipers slashing like sabres. A trail of mangled insect shell and slime followed the Inglewoods as they left the abandoned town to its fate.
“Sit back and enjoy the ride, folks. Nothing—not even Asag—is going to stop us from getting back to Brisbane.”
Cameron Trost concocts strange and mysterious tales that explore the absurdities and peculiarities of society and the human mind. His short fiction has been published in magazines and anthologies such as Midnight Echo, Eclecticism, Fear: A Modern Anthology of Horror and Terror, and Zero Plus Seven. Many of these stories can be found in his début collection, Hoffman’s Creeper and Other Disturbing Tales.
Cameron lives in Brisbane and is the QLD community leader of the Australian Horror Writers’ Association and a member of the Queensland Writers’ Centre.