I should have known. Friday the 13th, a full moon, the solstice coming up, the wind coming from the south, and a damn cricket hiding under the dryer, chirping all friggin' night. That damn chirping just kept getting louder and louder. I turned up the TV to keep the sound out of my head but the walls are thin here and George next door started pounding on the wall again. I turned the tube off and tried to find another way to keep the sound from driving me nuts.
When the clock stopped at two minutes before midnight, I really should have known. Something strange was about to happen.
Strange things happen to me often enough anyway, but that night all the forces in the universe were combining in a strange witch's brew and I was the meat. I shouldn't have been so surprised.
That clock, it was a loud ticker. Smack! Smack! Smack! it counted off the seconds. I hated the damn thing, but I'd never got round to replacing it. I could even hear it over the cricket. Smack! Smack! Smack! But then it stopped. It never slowed, never lost a second, until the moment it simply quit. Smack! then nothing. The cricket stopped right then as well, and silence echoed through my apartment. Nothing should have surprised me after that, but there's just no preparing for something like what happened that night.
The clock had stopped, but I didn't need it to tell me when midnight rolled 'round. The power went out in the whole damn neighborhood and at that moment the cricket started chirping again. Only I knew then that it wasn't really a cricket. It was starting to make sense why I'd never been able to catch the little bastard, even when I got down on all fours with the flashlight. It was the kind of cricket that flashlights will never shine on. It was a Hell-Cricket, an insect from the fiery pits, chirping in the apocalypse. It looked like it was up to me to stop it.
The flashlight had got a little bit smashed when I couldn't catch the fiend the first time, and I banged my shin on the coffee table as I made my way through the darkness to the kitchen. I scrounged up a candle from the junk drawer and found some matches. After a couple of tries I got the thing lit. This was the sort of light I needed to catch the spawn of Hell. They don't have electricity down there, but they have fire. They've got plenty of that, believe you me. Fire is what they know. You can't hurt them with fire, they swim in the stuff, but it's the light of fire they can see, and it's the light of fire that sees them.
I stood with my single candle in the darkness and wondered what to do next. I didn't have much time; Mars was going into retrograde in just a few minutes. That had to be what he was waiting for. I figured I had about eleven minutes and six seconds from midnight until the final chirp. I had already lost the better part of two minutes fumbling around.
I needed a weapon. A hell-cricket would just laugh at Raid, they probably use it like ketchup down there, plus I didn't like having dangerous chemicals around the place. I had a nice Colt .45, a chrome-plated beauty, but the little bastard would be quick, I knew. I tried to remember if crickets could fly. Grasshoppers could, and crickets were pretty similar overall. The shotgun was a better choice. 12-gauge, pump action, magazine already full. I stopped off at the fridge to grab another beer before they all got warm and then headed for the bedroom to get the gun. Even with the candle I knocked my other shin on the coffee table.
With my beer in one hand it was awkward carrying the candle and the shotgun in the other. Almost as an afterthought I set the beer down long enough to wedge the pistol into my belt and fill my pockets with shotgun shells and spare clips. If the cricket managed to open up a portal to the underworld I was going to need all the firepower I could get. I was as ready I was ever going to be. I could hear the spawn of the Dark One chirping away in the laundry room.
Walking slowly I chugged the last of the beer as I walked through the kitchen. I thought about getting another, but I was going to need both hands free in the coming battle. I put the empty down and moved the candle to my left hand.
As quietly as I moved, the hell-cricket heard me coming. He stopped chirping as I crossed the threshold, the light of my candle dancing and casting eerie shadows on the walls. "You better be frightened, spawn of Hell," I said softly. Just like that he started chirping again. I smiled. Pride would be his downfall.
Keeping the gun pointed in the direction of the chirping I got down on all fours and held the candle as low to the floor as I could. All I saw under there was inky blackness. Different tactics were called for. As quietly as I could I climbed up on the washing machine, freezing every time the hell-cricket fell silent. As I maneuvered I felt the seconds tick past; I would have to act soon or it would be too late. I set the candle behind me on the water heater and prepared myself for battle.
I took two deep breaths and kicked the dryer over. It fell with a thunderous crash, echoing in that small space. There on the floor, frozen in a moment of surprise, was a dark shape an inch long. It leapt away just as I opened fire. The flash of the shotgun lit the room three times as I tracked the cricket. I'm pretty good at working the pump action on that beauty, let me tell you, and that night I had never been faster. The roar of the blasts deafened me, but that didn't matter; he wasn't going to be doing any more chirping anyway. Not until the final call that signaled the apocalypse, in about two minute's time.
The first shot crashed into the floorboards, the second finished the job, opening a gaping hole into the apartment below mine. I guessed that the hell-cricket might make a break for the hole and escape, so I put the next shot right between the hole and where he had landed. He was smarter than that, though. He headed away from the blast, right at me, and dove under the washer. I wasn't sure what hellish powers he possessed, but I didn't like having him right under me that way, not at all. I jumped back over to the fallen dryer but the back of those things is just flimsy masonite and one of my feet went straight through. Something in there cut my big toe, but I ignored the pain as I flung myself onto the floor and rolled to point the shotgun in the direction of the washer.
Somewhere I thought I heard shouting but it was hard to tell with the ringing in my ears. Just in case reinforcements had arrived I hollered "In here! Bring shotguns! Bring holy water!" I couldn't hear if there was a reply; I thought I saw motion under the washer and I opened fire. This was no time to be hesitant, no time to stop and think. The blast tore away part of the washer, leaving the rest teetering, and there underneath was the hell-cricket, looking right at me, waving his little antennae. Before I could work the shotgun he was gone again, leaping away from me, looking for shelter under the water heater. I laughed as I continued my barrage. The third shot punched a ragged hole in the heater, causing the candle flame to wobble crazily as a torrent of scalding water gushed forth.
I jumped up to escape getting burned by the water. It was lucky for me there was a hole in the floor for the water to drain through, or my feet might have been cooked. As it was they got burned pretty bad on the bottoms but not enough to stop me. That cricket, though, wasn't going to be a happy little demon under that flow. Just like Noah's flood, the righteous would be saved while the sinners were swept away. I should have thought to shoot the water heater right off the bat. It would have saved a lot of trouble in the long run; I could have done it more carefully, without hitting the gas line.
I saw the broken line before I smelled the gas. I took one look at the candle still burning on top of the heater and I knew it was time to get the heck out of there. The cops were just arriving when I dashed outside. They're always there just a little too late, have you noticed that?
I must have looked like a demon from hell myself as I came down the stairs on my injured feet, shouting about gas and explosions and the fires of Hell. They pointed their guns at me and told me to get on the ground, which was fine with me because at that moment my apartment exploded. I felt the heat of the blast and then glass and bits of wood were flying past me. I put my hands over my head and hoped that people would be able to get out of the other apartments in time. It turned out most of them had left the building already, alerted to the danger by my shouting.
I would have preferred to have seen the dead carcass of the hell-cricket, just to be sure it was gone, but it wouldn't have mattered much anyway. They lost their opportunity and it will be a long time before factors converge that way again. When they do, I'll be ready.
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