The Vault

by Steven Palukaitis

Robert and Curtis Vaughn sipped beers and smoked cigarettes as their childhood friend Terry Huck rambled on about yet another one of his famous get-rich-quick-schemes.

Terry was fresh on the streets after serving a five-year sentence for armed robbery. Since it was his first offense, Terry was released early for his exemplary behavior; free to wreak havoc once again.

He marked his thirty-first birthday behind bars and had accomplished absolutely nothing of relevance in those years. Although Robert and Curtis were in the same boat as Terry professionally, they didn’t share his same affection for crime. They listened with vested interest as he rambled on, “I’m tellin’ you, I saw it myself.”

“You just said your grandma told you about it,” Robert corrected him.

Terry shook his head and said, “Didn’t you two hear a word I said?”

Robert asked, “What did you call it?”

“The Vault,” Terry answered. He looked over to Curtis and added, “There’s got to be thousands in the bitch, too.”

“Shit, man,” Curtis said through a thick cloud of exhaled white carbon monoxide. “If someone like you knows about it, how is it possible there’s any money still left in it?”

Robert kept his mouth shut and waited for Terry to answer; Curtis might as well have asked his question for the two of them. Terry crouched to the ground and motioned for them to follow in an impromptu huddle and whispered as if prying ears were afoot, “Last night I went down there and I saw it for myself.”

“You’re lying.”

“Yeah, bullshit,” Curtis added as he and his brother started to laugh.

Terry stood and kicked at the ground. Talking to these two was like talking to a wall. He reached into his back pocket and removed the only evidence he had; an envelope he had torn the top edge of, the proverbial ace up his sleeve. “Take a look at this then, you losers.” Terry reached inside the envelope and pulled out two twenty-dollar bills. He waved them in front of their eyes and said, “Forty bucks, and that’s just from one of these.” Terry pointed over his shoulder with his thumb and continued, “There are hundreds of these suckers down there just waiting for us.”

“What’s written on the front?” Curtis asked pointing to the name printed on the outside of the envelope.

Terry flipped it around and read it aloud, “Dante Taylor.”

“Who’s Dante Taylor?”

“It’s the sucker whose money I got,” Terry answered. He shrugged his shoulders and asked, “Who gives a shit who he is?”

Curtis, burned one too many times by Terry’s lies, still didn’t buy his story completely. He asked, “How do we know you didn’t just put those twenties in there just to screw with us?”

Terry was three seconds from telling the two of them to take a flying leap, but he kept his cool. He needed them if he and his Grandma’s plan was going to work.

He dug through the layer of ice in the cooler at their feet, grabbed a can of Miller Lite and popped the top. “What would I possibly gain from doing something like that?” Terry put the can to his lips and drained half of it in three heavy gulps before exhaling loudly and continuing, “I’m offering you two morons a lot of money here and you two think I’m fucking with you?”

Curtis and Robert stared at each other for a moment before each shrugged their shoulders. “Fuck it. When do we go?” Robert asked.

Terry flashed his patented shit-eating-grin and answered, “We leave tomorrow night.”

* * * * *

Curtis and Robert rummaged through the gear Terry had supplied each of them as he drove toward their destination. Each bag was packed with a flashlight, extra batteries, rope and a pair of gloves, which Robert pulled out and held up. “What do we need these for?”

Terry looked over at Robert sitting in the passenger seat and joked, “They’re so you don’t feel it when I plant my hand in your ass for asking stupid questions.”

Curtis chuckled nervously from the back seat and asked, “What’s the story with this place?”

Terry looked at him through the rearview mirror and answered, “Grandma said it was called the Vault.”

“Why did people feel the sudden urge to through money into it?” Robert prodded from the passenger seat as he clicked his flashlight quickly on and off to check its brightness.

Terry slowed the car and turned the wheel hard to the right in order to make the tight turn onto a nameless dirt road. The old headlights did their best to penetrate the choking blackness of the single lane road, but they were of little help. There were no houses out this way and since very few cars traveled this route, the city could never justify installing any street lights. As far as the eyes could see, there was a never-ending wall of tall oak trees lining both sides of the road that arched over top of the street to form a natural tunnel. “People around here put money into The Vault to keep their secrets safe.”

“What kind of secrets?” Curtis asked.

“Well, if someone did something fucked up like murder someone, cheat on a husband or wife, or even molest a kid, the Vault would keep their secret, no matter how bad it was, for a price.” Terry leaned closer to the windshield and squinted to concentrate on the dark road. “The bigger the secret, the more money it cost to keep it from getting out.”

“What if it wasn’t enough? I mean, was there a price list or something like that?” Robert asked. He had known Terry to be nothing but a worthless liar his entire life, but there was something about the way Terry acted when he told his story that made him curious enough to tag along.

Terry answered, “I doubt there was a guideline, but if it wasn’t enough, the secret would get out and the person would get busted.”

“The worse the deed, the bigger the price, huh?” Curtis asked.

“That’s what Grandma told me.”

“Where the hell are we anyway?” Robert asked, staring out the passenger window. It was difficult to see beyond a one-foot distance from the side window, but he tried anyway to get his bearings.

“It should be right up here, where that old church is,” Terry answered. “You guys remember that place?”

“Where we used to go and smoke when we skipped school?”

“That’s the place.”

“That all seems so long ago.”

Robert laughed and asked, “You think skipping school to smoke weed had anything to do with how our lives turned out?” The three of them howled at Robert’s epiphany.

“That’s all gonna change tonight,” Terry said as he patted Robert’s thigh reassuringly with his hand.

“Man, I haven’t been out here in years. How’d you even find it?” Curtis asked wiping the tears from his eyes.

“Yeah, it’s a lot more overgrown since we’ve been out here, so Grandma drew me a map. I found it last night.”

Curtis turned around and stared through the rear window. He was hit immediately by an overwhelming claustrophobic feeling as the surrounding night swallowed them whole. The taillights were the only source of light; each glowed with a reddish hue as clouds of dry dust billowed up from the rear end of the vehicle. Beyond the four-foot radius of red colored dust, there was nothing but blackness. “Are you guys sure about this?”

“Sure about what? Getting a shitload of money for doing nothing?” Robert asked.

Terry shook his head in disbelief at the thought of Curtis giving up his chance at a lottery’s worth of money because of a childish fear of the dark. “You can stay in the car for all I care. It’ll just mean more money for me and shithead,” he said punching Robert’s shoulder.

“Ow, motherfucker!” Robert yelled as he rubbed his arm. He sized up the much larger Terry and decided not to escalate things further. He turned around to Curtis and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll keep your share of the loot, Little Brother.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

Terry made another right and then a quick left before finally pulling into a clearing that was once the church’s parking lot. As the headlights shined across the busted, charred remains of St. Katherine’s, Terry announced, “We’re here, boys.”

Terry put the car in park and killed the engine, but kept the headlights on. The three of them sat and stared silently at the eerie, charred white walls of St. Katherine’s that still stood. The jagged ruins glowed ominously from the odd combination of Chevrolet headlights and moonlight, adding to the already creepy mood.

Curtis pressed his face to the window—his nose bent a bit at the tip as it rubbed against the glass—and said, “Christ, it’s so dark out there. How the hell are we gonna see where we’re going?”

Terry held his Maglite up for the two of them to see and said, “That’s why we brought these,” tapping the head of the light against his open palm like an Irish cop walking a beat.

Is there anything else out here?” Robert asked as he scanned the dark perimeter of the car with his flashlight.

“Closest thing to us is eight miles back that way,” Terry answered as he motioned with a nod toward the way they’d driven in.

“There’s nobody out here?” Curtis asked.

“That’s what makes this such a great plan. There’s no chance of anyone coming along to stop us from going in.”

“So where is this place? Is there an opening somewhere inside the church?” Robert asked as he stuffed the rope and gloves into his backpack.

“It’s in the woods just behind the church.”

“In the woods?” Curtis asked in a cracked voice.

Terry warned him, “Stop acting like a little bitch.” He winked at Robert and said, “Curtis, check this out.” Terry extinguished the headlights and instantly, everything was swallowed in total darkness, including them. Curtis’ eyes struggled to adjust to the sudden darkness. His heart fluttered wildly in his chest as his brain started to panic from the lack of light. Although he held his flashlight in his hands, he couldn’t think clearly enough to turn it on.

For the first time in a while, Curtis was nervous; and although he’d never admit to it, Big Brother Robert was starting to feel the same nervousness as well.

Curtis stammered, “There’s no fucking way, guys.”

“Shut up,” Terry yelled as he flipped the headlights back on. “I can’t keep them on all night, Curtis; it’ll kill the battery.” He clicked on his flashlight and said, “Just use these from now on.”

“All right.” Curtis turned his on and checked his front pocket to make sure he had the set of back-up batteries just in case he needed them.

As he readied his gear, Robert’s mind conjured up the torn envelope Terry had shown them the day before. He asked, “So what’s with the name on that envelope you showed us yesterday?” Robert grabbed the flashlight and secured his backpack.

Before answering, Terry popped a cigarette in his mouth and lit it with his Zippo. The interior of the car beamed with the orange glow of flame for a few seconds. “Dante Taylor,” Terry answered through an exhale of thick haze. The way he spoke the name, it sounded as if he’d actually known the man personally.

“Who was Dante Taylor?”

“A real son of a bitch who got exactly what he deserved ten years ago courtesy of these fucking hicks around here.” Terry took another long drag, held it like he was smoking a joint and smiled before exhaling. “Mr. Taylor was even more of a badass than yours truly.”

Christ, here we go again, Robert thought as all three of them exited the car and started toward the glowing ruins of St. Katherine’s. Each powerful flashlight beam stabbed through the darkness like tiny searchlights looking for bombers. All three bobbed up and down with every step across the cold, black landscape. “So, what made him such a badass?” Curtis asked, nervously shifting his eyes from right to left, turning his head as if it were on a swivel as he kept watch for any possible attackers, real or imaginary.

Terry led them toward the burned out part of the church that once served as its rectory. He negotiated the dangerous pitfalls expertly, moving dangerously fast as Robert and Curtis followed closely behind. Terry said, “Grandma told me that Dante Taylor was one of the meanest fuckers she’d ever run across.”

“Really?”

“She said he was pure evil, through and through.” Terry pitched the butt of his cigarette against the wall, bouncing it to the ground in a shower of brilliant orange sparks that rained to the ground with it like a firework. “Dante was a big son of a bitch, too. Grandma said he was six-five, almost three hundred pounds. He walked with a real bad limp he got courtesy of two tours of duty in Vietnam.”

“Another crazy veteran,” Robert concluded.

“He got a little too close to a land mine over there and the blast nearly took his fucking leg clean off. By sheer luck, the surgeons who worked on him managed to save it, but not without a price.” They walked single file toward the edge of the woods as Terry continued with the story, “Dante had a wife, Amy, who he used as a human punching bag almost the entire time they were married. He used to beat on her so bad that sometimes she’d have to stay locked up in the house for a week until her bruises healed.” Terry stopped suddenly and pointed his light at an old well by their feet.

The well was crude in design; built from different size rocks piled three feet high that tapered sharply at the top. It looked more like a stone beehive than a well used for water. Terry didn’t say a word about the well just yet; instead, he continued with his story, “Amy had a breaking point. One night, she reached it.”

“What happened?” Curtis asked as he bent down to touch the stone well.

“Well, no one knows what really happened, but some say she finally decided for herself that enough was enough and mustered up the balls to get rid of him once and for all.”

“She killed him?” Curtis asked in a child-like whisper as he and his brother hung on every word of the story. Whether Terry’s words were bullshit or not, it was an interesting bit of twisted history about their otherwise boring town.

“Well, that’s the rumor. They never did find any evidence that suggested she did.” He paused dramatically like a skilled storyteller before finishing, “It was like Dante Taylor just dropped off the face of the earth or something.” Terry let his words fade before smiling and pointing down to the well by their feet. “And that’s where this comes in.” Their eyes and flashlight beams followed his hand and centered on the tiny opening at the top of the well. “This is the opening to the Vault. This is where every dirty secret in this shit-bird town has been held, for a price, for almost thirty years. This is where Amy dropped her envelope of cash as she whispered her deadly secret ten years ago.”

“This place is a gold mine,” Robert said as he poked his light through the small opening at the top, transfixed by the thought of becoming rich beyond his wildest dreams.

Seeing the well made everything about Terry’s story seem real.

Even though their three beams poked through the top, they revealed nothing inside. “We go in through there?” he asked.

Terry pointed toward a cluster of trees and bushes thirty feet away and said; “The way in is over there. You’d break your neck if you tried to go in that way.”

“I can’t believe you came down here alone,” Curtis said as he scanned the dark woods around them, keeping his eyes open to make sure none of it moved toward them.

“Why wouldn’t I come down here by myself? I’m not a pussy. How else do you think I got that bitch Amy’s envelope?”

“So, forty bucks is all it took to keep Amy’s secret? Seems like a bargain.”

Terry answered, “Dante was a total scumbag, so the Vault didn’t require too much of a payment, I guess. Shit, it probably would have taken even less to keep that one a secret.”

A branch snapped on their right, uncomfortably close to their position.

They each turned and pointed their lights in the direction from where it came quickly, but saw nothing else but an endless sea of twisted, gnarled branches and bushes.

Nothing moved.

After a few seconds, Curtis broke the nerve-racking silence, “Maybe we shouldn’t do this. This feels like we’re robbing a grave or something.”

Robert and Terry’s jaws opened wide as they looked at him incredulously and laughed. “Grave robbing? Are you fucking serious?” Robert asked. “How do you come up with this shit?”

Curtis asked, “Has anyone tried to go down here before?”

Terry said, “If somebody did, they didn’t do too good of a job while they were inside.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because if someone did go down, they sure left a lot of envelopes down there.”

“There’s probably a good reason why no one’s been inside it,” Curtis said quietly.

Terry knew they were wasting time standing there like a bunch of scared girls. If they were going to pull this off, they’d have to get going. “Look, we can stand here and argue all night, or we can go down there and get rich.”

Terry’s eyes locked with Robert’s and prodded him, “What’s it gonna be?”

Robert answered for himself and Curtis, “Let’s make some money, boys.”

Terry said, “Follow me.” The thick tangled woods seemed to reach out and stab at their flesh, pulling at their clothing as they walked until they finally arrived at a clearing where a tiny flag was planted firmly in the ground near its center.

The opening to the Vault was barely noticeable in the daylight and just about invisible at night; it would have been impossible to find if Terry hadn’t marked it the day before with a stick and rag. “This is it,” Terry said as he panned his light across the four-foot gash in the earth he’d covered with some branches from a nearby bush. “Through here is the Vault. And through this opening is our money,” he said pointing to the three of them.

Curtis aimed his beam on the opening and asked, “We go in through here?”

Robert reached over and grabbed a handful of Curtis’ pudgy stomach and said, “Yeah, so suck it in, fat boy.”

* * * * *

Terry was first to make his way through the tiny opening followed closely by Curtis and finally, Robert. Once inside, they each carefully negotiated the narrow, crooked path that took them further into the dark depths of the earth. The jagged walkway angled downward steeply as it went directly to the heart of the Vault. At its end, the narrow footpath opened into a large cavern that was at least a hundred feet high and as wide as a football field. The only light inside came from three flashlights that scoured the area in jerky movements as they acquainted the newcomers to their new dark, underground world.

“Jesus Christ,” Robert said with his head angled toward the ceiling of the cave, visibly impressed with its size. The words he spoke echoed hauntingly throughout the hollow chamber before fading and dying.

Curtis’ mind struggled to calculate the depth of the Vault, but he couldn’t see far enough to find a starting point to measure from. “I still can’t believe this place really exists, and that you weren’t lying your ass off, Terry. How long has it been here?”

Terry was busy undoing the straps on his backpack getting it ready for their haul. “Grandma said it was here when she was a kid.”

That long?” Robert asked, impressed, still staring into its dark vastness.

Curtis pointed his flashlight to the floor at his feet and yelled excitedly, “Check it out, guys.”

Terry and Robert looked where he shined his light and saw what caused his excitement right away: four envelopes, similar to the one Terry showed them yesterday, each half-buried in a mixture of dirt and dust. Curtis picked them up off the ground, using his fingers to brush away the accumulated grime. He started to squeeze them and announced with the excitement of a small child, ‘“There’s four of ’em, and one of them feels pretty thick.”

“Open it,” Robert said in an equally excited tone. It was true!

“Whoa! Whoa! Not yet, Curtis.” Terry jumped to his feet and grabbed Curtis’ wrist to stop him from tearing the first envelope open.

“What are you doing, Ter?” Curtis asked with a confused look on his sweaty, dirt-smeared face.

“Yeah, what’s the deal?” Robert asked.

The look on Terry’s face revealed an unseen level to Terry’s master plan; it would seem that a rather important detail had been purposely omitted from his story. Information Terry felt he had to hold back in order to get them to follow him into the Vault. “This is where the story of the Vault gets a little strange,” he started to explain.

Angered he and his brother might have been conned, Robert pointed his light directly into Terry’s face and asked him, “What the hell’s going on, Terry?”

“Are you saying we can’t take any of these with us?” Curtis asked as he shook the four envelopes. “What’s the point to us even being down here then?”

Terry pushed the tip of Robert’s flashlight away to get its light from his face and answered, “Of course we can take ’em. We just can’t open them while we’re down here.” Terry bent down and grabbed two envelopes by his feet and stuffed them in his backpack to show them it was all right to do so. “Grab as many as you can and get them into your bag, just don’t open any of them until we’re outside.” He stopped and made sure what he said was understood by the both of them, “Do not open them inside the Vault.”

Relieved that the trip wasn’t a waste of time, Curtis jammed the four envelopes in his bag and resumed his search for more.

Robert, on the other hand, wasn’t as easily appeased with Terry’s answer. “What’s the problem with opening the envelopes down here?” he asked as he started to fill his own bag. “What would happen?”

He had barely moved from a ten-foot radius, and Terry’s backpack was almost half full. He stopped and looked around the floor of the Vault and saw it was still covered in a sea of white and yellow envelopes. At this rate, it would take at least fifty trips for the three of them to make a dent in the bottom of the Vault. “If we open any of the envelopes down here, Grandma said the secret it was paid to keep will take shape and try to stop us.”

Robert stopped collecting envelopes and shoved his open hand hard against Terry’s chest to prevent him from moving away. “Are you saying there’s something down here that’s going to try and stop us from taking this money out of here?”

Terry panicked. Grandma’s plan was starting to spin out of control, so in order to get things back on track, Terry lied, “Grandma’s kind of losing it, dude. Who knows what she actually meant. I think it was her way of ensuring we’d all get an even amount.”

When Grandma had told Terry the story about the Vault, she made sure to warn her favorite grandson about what lived in the Vault before he came down for a look. She’d seen them with much younger eyes after discovering the entryway to the Vault when she was sixteen.

Terry had seen them last night. If it wasn’t for Grandma telling him about them, he would have lost his mind out of fear.

As he stood there conducting damage control, he could feel their cold eyes staring at them from the shadows. They’d been with them, stalking them silently since they entered. What Terry knew and what Robert and Curtis had no idea about was that these things were harmless as long as you played by the rules and didn’t mess with their payments for silence.

Curtis moved on all fours along the floor, mindlessly collecting envelope after envelope at a feverish rate as Terry and Robert talked twenty yards away. He reached for a rather fat-looking envelope wedged between two rocks and saw something that made his gum line tingle.

Curtis brought his flashlight up slowly and stopped it when it shined across a mysterious, dark figure that stared back at him with reflective, cat-like eyes a mere ten feet away.

Curtis slowly stood to his feet keeping his light on the dark figure in front of him as it angled its black head to study Curtis’ movements with silent, hungry interest. “Guys?”

Robert heard his little brother, but paid no attention. He had his eyes on something a bit more important: shadowy things with human-like bodies and the heads of giant cats that moved quickly, effortlessly through the dark behind him and Terry. Each dark figure moved at an almost impossible speed; almost impossible to track if you blinked your eyes.

Robert stood petrified, unable to move. His mouth hung wide open as he watched four vapory, dark figures scurry about, darting back and forth through stalagmites as each moved in for a closer inspection of their uninvited guests. It was only when one of them stopped long enough to stare back at him did Robert get a look at the reflective eyes and black wisps of gaseous vapor that licked upward from their bodies like flames from a black fire.

Terry didn’t have to turn around to see what Robert was looking at. He saw the fear in Robert’s eyes and asked, “They’re right behind me, huh?”

Robert nodded silently as he subconsciously counted the seemingly never-ending pairs of silvery eyes that stared back at the two of them through every dark recess of the Vault. “Hey, guys?” Curtis called out a second time as he slowly made his way toward Robert and Terry, unaware that the thing he was keeping his eyes on had lots and lots of friends.

“What the fuck are they?” Robert whispered.

Terry answered Robert loud enough for Curtis to hear him, too; “Do not open any envelopes. Just be cool and they won’t do anything to us. They can’t do anything to us.”

Robert pulled Terry slowly by the front of his shirt and brought him face-to-face with him and spoke through clenched teeth, “You knew about these things and didn’t say anything?”

Terry gestured with his eyes that he had everything under control and for Robert not to do anything stupid to upset the creatures. “You have to trust me on this one, Robert. They’re harmless as long as you do as I say.” He turned his head to the side and yelled, “You got that bag full yet, Curtis?”

“Forget the bag, man. I want to get out of here.” From the sound of his voice, Curtis was on the verge of tears.

“Nice and easy,” Terry instructed. “And bring that bag with you.”

“Yeah, I got it.”

Robert asked, “How are we gonna get out of here with all of these things around?”

Terry gave Robert that famous shit-eating grin he’d hated ever since they’d first met and said, “They’re the reason we can’t open the envelopes down here.” Curtis sidled up to them and dropped his bag at Terry’s feet. Terry calmly bent over and grabbed it in the same hand he held his. “If we break their rules, those dark bastards there become the secrets the Vault’s been paid to keep.”

“So, can I assume you have a plan for us to get out of here in one piece?” Robert asked.

Terry reached behind his back with his free hand and revealed a shiny .45 automatic he had tucked away in the small of his back and held it at waist level to cover the two of them. “You’re gonna shoot ’em?” Curtis asked with his eyes glued to the weapon pointed directly at him and Robert.

It was at that moment when Robert had his moment of clarity and realized he and his brother had just been sucker-punched once again by Terry Huck.

It seemed there were now three things in life that were certain: death, taxes and when the chips were down, you could never trust a lying asshole named Terry Huck.

Robert answered his brother as his eyes stared ahead at Terry with burning hatred, “No, genius, our friend here is gonna rip us off and take the cash for himself.”

Curtis’ eyes widened as his mouth opened to form a giant O. “You said if we took their money, they’d try and stop us.”

“Another small detail Grandma told me about that I kept from you two idiots.” He hugged the bags of cash against his chest like a father hugging his child and said, “Think of it as a supernatural loophole of sorts.”

Robert’s fists clenched into two tight balls at his side and said, “Terry, you piece of shit.”

“Grandma said if I was to keep the money I took from the Vault, I’d have to make a sufficient offering to it. Once I did that, I could take the cash without fear of retribution. Since this here’s a shitload of cash,” he raised the three bags to show them, “I’m sacrificing you two losers to make sure it’s more than enough to cover my withdrawal.”

“What about the envelope you grabbed last night? What did you sacrifice for that one?” Curtis asked, coming to the realization that he and his brother were living out the last moments of a wasted life.

Before Terry could answer Curtis, Robert made a quick move, but was stopped almost as quickly as he’d made it when Terry jammed the silver barrel of the .45 between his eyes.

“Not so fast, hero.”

“You’re fucking dead when I see your worthless ass again,” Robert promised.

“You’ll never see my worthless ass again, Bobby-boy,” Terry said as he backed slowly toward the path that led to the exit of the Vault. Terry looked behind Robert and Curtis as he moved and saw even more dark figures step out from the shadows and drop from the jagged ceiling above as they moved in to surround them.

There were hundreds of them now. Hundreds of deadly little secrets come to life.

Before he rounded the corner, Terry patted the backpacks and yelled, “Thanks for your help, boys.”

He turned away just as a high-pitched yelp filled his ears as the first wave of dark secrets descended on Curtis. Robert remained silent. The last thing he wanted was to give Terry the satisfaction of hearing him scream as they tore his now-blubbering brother to ribbons with their sharp claws and shiny black teeth. A warm mist of slick wetness shot against Robert’s face and arms as the Vault’s secrets made short work of Curtis.

A few seconds later, Robert became just another bloody chapter in the Vault’s deadly history.

* * * * *

Terry drove at breakneck speeds along the narrow dirt road, putting as much distance between himself and the soulless things that slaughtered Robert and Curtis in the Vault under St. Katherine’s Church.

The well-travelled tires of the Chevy GTO were barely able to keep hold as the car’s back end slalomed through the twists and turns of the dirt road on his way back toward Grandma. He took his eyes from the road only to look at the three bags of money that sat on the seat next to him to reassure him that this was all real. He couldn’t wait to show Grandma just how well her plan had worked.

They were rich.

What about the envelope you grabbed last night? Curtis’s voice echoed in his head as he drove. What did you sacrifice for that one?

He eased off the gas a bit as his mind raced to think. What about it?

He would have to ask Grandma when he got to her house. Grandma had all the answers.

In just under twenty minutes, about the time it would take Terry to drive to Grandma’s house, he would learn, much to his horror, that Grandma’s days of advice and storytelling were officially at an end; stopped brutally by the hands of a mammoth six-foot-five, two hundred-eighty pound beast that made short work of her when he appeared in her house from nowhere.

This horrific demon sat patiently in Grandma’s darkened living room waiting for Terry to arrive to make him pay dearly for violating the Vault’s simple rule: you pay for what you take.

His bare, inhuman hands had removed Grandma’s gray-haired head from her shoulders with no more effort than it took a farmer to shuck an ear of corn: Dante was prepared to do the same thing to Terry when he met him. Terry, the man who’d released his wife Amy’s dark secret late last night.

His mysterious disappearance ten years ago was officially over. Dante Taylor had come home.

 

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