"Monsters, Gareth?" That word didn't register with me. When I thought of monsters, I thought of Godzilla. I thought of big lizard type creatures that devoured men, women, children and anything else it could find to eat. I'm sure that's not what Gareth meant, but I had to ask.
"Yes, monsters. Vampires, Werwolves, Demons, you know."
"Oh." I hesitated for a second and continued, "No, I don't believe in monsters. I do believe in evil in whatever guise it presents itself. Why? Why did you ask me if I believed in monsters?"
The lights came back on and when I looked Gareth had turned his back on me again and was digging around under the counter behind the bar. He stood back up and turned, looking around the bar to see if anyone else was watching and holding something tight against his stomach. His hand covered whatever it was and I couldn't see it.
Gareth laid it on the bar, flat, face down and leaned toward me to whisper, "I took his picture, it's picture." He straightened back up and looked around the bar, again. It was obvious to me that he was very nervous about showing this picture or even talking about it. Nervous is probably not the right word. Gareth was scared. Very scared.
I thumbed the picture up by a corner and leaned forward, tilting my head to the side and trying to see the thing without picking it up like I normally would. That didn't work. It was still too dark. Instead, I pulled the pic to the edge of the bar and like a gambler holding his cards close to his chest, pulled it up and tight against my chest. I glanced down and my heart stopped.
It was the preacher, but it wasn't. He was dressed like the preacher, hat pulled down over his face, long black coat reaching down to his knees, but there the resemblence ended. Red eyes gleamed from under the brim of the hat and he was smiling. No, not smiling but a semblance of a smile that showed all of his front teeth. Teeth that were long and sharp and there appeared to be something, saliva I guess, dripping from the points of those fangs.
I closed my eyes, pulling the picture hard against my shirt. I don't know how long I sat there like that. One minute, two minutes. Maybe longer. Maybe much longer because when I opened my eyes the bar had emptied.
I looked around, disbelieving but, seeing is believing and I saw an empty bar. Where just a few minutes ago...was it a few minutes?...the bar was full. Now, there was only me and Gareth.
Gareth hadn't moved from where he was standing when I first looked at the picture. The bar towel was still hanging from his hands, clasped in front of his belt. He was still looking at me in the same pose but now his face was deathly pale, his eyes locked on something behind me.
The barstool seat was the kind that revolved and I slowly turned the seat to see what Gareth was staring at with such a look of horror. I was strangely calm. I thought I knew that it would be the preacher. I knew it so I was prepared for it. I think.
"Gareth, you've been such a naughty boy," the preacher breathed. He stepped forward, closer to me, but his attention was completely on Gareth. It was as if I wasn't even there. Not once had the preacher made eye contact with me or acknowledged, in any way, my presence.
"I...don't....," Gareth began to whimper.
"Tsk, tsk, are we frightened Gar...hmmm? Are we scared of the boogie man? Oh, surely not the big, tough, afraid of nothing, Gareth. The saviour of those children from the fire? Hmmmm...."
The preacher was now standing right next to me, but his gaze was concentrated on Gareth. I was frozen to my seat. I felt like I was watching a horror film. I couldn't move to help Gareth. I couldn't speak. I was a spectator and only a spectator in this developing scene of horror. I glanced at Gareth and saw tears running down his cheeks. His entire was body was shivering. Gareth was absolutely scared to death and I could well understand that!
"Gareth, you've comitted a mortal sin, you know. And you know what the wages of sin are, don't you?"
"Please....ple.....I only have the one picture....I....."
The preacher reached across the bar and grabbed Gareth by the throat. With one hand he lifted and pulled him across the bar and held him dangling several inches above the floor.
I saw his red eyes blazing, now. His teeth, his fangs were yellow and long. He pulled Gareth to him and bit a huge chunk of flesh out of his cheek!
I screamed, I think. Gareth certainly did. A blood curdling scream that almost instantly withered away to a moan and plea at the same time. The flesh of Gareth's cheek hung half in and half out of the preacher's mouth. The blood dripping from it was dark red, almost black and it ran in rivulets across the preacher's chin to drip on his white shirt and the floor.
The preacher looked at me, then. He spit out Gareth's cheek. His eyes communicated evil incarnate and I heard his voice in the back of my mind saying, "Watch, Peter. See what happens to those that sin against me. See what's in store for you all come Halloween."
The preacher turned back to Gareth and with the speed of striking viper, latched his teeth on Gareth's throat. He shook his head like a dog, playing tug of war with a rope in the hands of his master. He growled, he hissed and he pulled damned near all of Gareth's throat out.
The blood flew and spurted and ran everywhere. I saw huge gouts moving slow motion through the air to splash down on the bar, the floor and me. The preacher chewed and swallowed Gareth's throat. He turned and smiled at me, his face, his shirt, his hands slimed in blood and pieces of flesh.
"Leave the picture on the bar as you leave, Peter. I'll be seeing you again, soon."