[Mysteriousheartland.com] With Primordial’s “Empire Falls” echoing from the speakers of their rusted, dark blue Toyota Corolla, the Fallen raced down the deserted road toward Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site under cover of darkness. Snow flurries trickled from the churning, cloudy sky as the urban landscape suddenly gave way to an open field. The massive silhouette of Monk’s Mound appeared on the horizon. Woodhenge, a reconstructed timber circle marking solstices and equinoxes, stood beyond it along the roadside.
“Where is this place?” Greg asked from the backseat. He clutched his gnarled, wooden cane anxiously. Emmet, a tall and lanky young man, sat beside him, and Aurelia sat in the front passenger seat. Mike, as usual, drove.
“It’s right there,” Mike said, pointing his finger at the earthen mound in the distance. He kept his eyes on the slick road, and tightly gripped the steering wheel.
“What, that?” Greg asked. “That’s it? I’ve seen sled hills bigger than that.”
“It’s an ancient monument,” Mike explained with naked agitation. “It’s a sacred place.”
“It looks like the Kenosha toboggan hill,” Greg said, laughing.
“Are you saying the astral portal is on top the oldest manmade structure in Illinois, and it took you two years to figure that out?” Aurelia asked. She pulled her black coat tighter, since the car’s heater hardly worked.
Emmet grinned. “Boy, I’d hate for the whole search to turn out to be a boneheaded mistake on your part.”
“I’ve got your bone right here,” Mike shot back, but before he could continue, Aurelia pulled a weathered rib bone from a backpack lying on the floor.
“No really, he does!” she exclaimed.
It took a few moments for the quartet to settle down, but as soon as they saw cars already in the parking lot of Monk’s Mound, they sobered.
“Looks like we’re a little late,” Emmet grumbled.
Mike spun the wheel, and the Toyota lurched into the parking lot, driving over a cut chain. In a heartbeat, Mike threw the gear into park and turned off the engine. The Fallen stealthily piled out of the car.
“Just think,” Greg whispered. “Millions of people are asleep in their warm beds getting ready for Christmas. No one but us is awake right now. What a way to celebrate the winter solstice—climbing a wet, snowy hill in the freezing cold!” Greg still wore tattered cargo shorts, despite the weather.
“Bone me,” Mike said, holding out his hand.
Aurelia slapped Big Thunder’s long-lost rib bone into his palm. The already ominous clouds darkened and thunder shook the parking lot.
Step-by-step, the Fallen made their way to the stairs leading to the summit of Monk’s Mound. From that vantage point, it looked like they would have to climb a thousand steps. When they made it to the top, they feared, their rivals could have already opened the astral portal.
“Follow my lead!” Mike shouted under the roaring thunder. He tightened his black, leather trench coat around his waist and began the ascent.
The farther they climbed, the more clearly the four heard voices echoing from the plateau at the top of the mound. Wind whipped the noise down to their ears with the freezing snow, which had turned to icy rain.
Finally, after ten or fifteen minutes, the Fallen reached a few yards from the summit. They stopped and sunk down to avoid detection. Greg peered over the edge and saw Davin, Emily, six zealots, and two Satanists. They formed a hexagram at the plateau’s center.
“I don’t believe it,” Greg cursed. “Why are the zealots and Satanists working together? It doesn’t make any sense! And that bastard Davin… don’t even get me—”
“They are just different sides of the same coin. Get it?” Emmet hissed. His friend looked at him blankly, so he quickly elaborated. “Look, have you ever read the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four? It’s like Big Brother and Emmanuel Goldstein. They are both—”
“No,” Greg blinked, cutting him off. “But it doesn’t matter. We don’t have time to discuss literature. We have to stop them.” He turned towards Mike. “What do we do?” he asked frantically, readying his cane for a fight.
“Nothing—yet,” Mike replied. “We have to wait for them to open the portal.”
“Wait, isn’t that exactly what we don’t want them to do?” Aurelia interjected.
“Greg, remember when you didn’t want Emily around, because the Satanists were using her to get to us through Davin?” Mike asked rhetorically. “And remember when I said that worked both ways?”
“Yeah, but—” Greg protested.
From the top of the mound, the voice of Anneliese, middle-aged matriarch of the zealots, rang out in low, clear decibels. She stretched her hands high into the air. “O caput mortuum impero tibi per vivium Serpentem. Kerub impero tibi per Adam. Aquila impero tibi per alas Tauri. Serpens impero tibi per Angelum et Leonem.”
The man at the head of the human hexagram added, “I conjure thee Shax, in the name of Bileth and Beliall, their power and retribution and to their virtues and powers. I charge thee Shax, that thou shalt not take leave from thy constraints, nor alter thy bodily image to deceive, nor any power shalt thou have of our bodies or souls, earthly or ghostly, but to be obedient to me and to my conjuring.”
At that, the entire group began to speak in tongues—releasing a chorus of nonsensical phrases that spewed forth from their deep, trance-like state. In the sky above, the clouds slowly began to spin in a circle.
“All of you have officially lost your minds,” Emmet trembled. “We should get off this hill before lightning strikes us. This has gone far enough.”
“Wait!” Mike yelled and reached out to restrain his friend, but as Emmet turned to retreat down the stairs, a fissure appeared in the clouds and a bolt of lightning struck the ground inches away. The explosion threw Emmet onto the side of the mound, and he rolled to a stop on a terrace midway to the bottom.
The crack in the clouds widened and electromagnetic energy lit up the top of Monk’s Mound. “Now seems like a damn good time to do something!” Greg exclaimed as fingers of lightning crackled across the midnight sky.
“We have to close the portal—forever!” Mike shouted over the whipping wind and stinging, icy hail. He turned the rib bone in his hand to get a more balanced grip.
“What?” Greg asked with astonishment. “We came all this way and now that we found the portal you want to destroy it?”
“We don’t have a choice,” Mike argued. “Once the zealots and Satanists control the portal, it’s over. The world will plunge into darkness. There will be no freedom or individuality; only slavery, conformity, and ignorance.” He stood up, cupped his hands around his mouth, and shouted, “Davin, do it now!”
Near the middle of the hexagram formation, Davin sprang into action. Mike’s sudden appearance momentarily distracted Anneliese, so she was unprepared for the blow that came at her from behind. Davin lunged and knocked her down with the brunt of his shoulder.
At the same moment, Mike hurled Big Thunder’s rib bone into the fissure in the clouds. Davin barely got to his feet—slipping and sliding on the icy grass—before a great roar pierced the air and lighting touched down in every direction.
Mike grabbed Aurelia and Greg and jumped off the side of the hill. They landed with a sickening thud, but their momentum carried them down the slope before lightning could strike them.
The others were not so lucky. The searing heat scorched everyone atop the mound. Davin, who rolled several yards away, narrowly escaped. As the swirling clouds lurched to a halt and began to dissipate, he crawled over to Emily, but her lifeless eyes told him that he was too late. He limped down the stairs, angry but relieved to be alive.
When Davin reached the bottom of the hill, he joined the other members of the Fallen a few yards from the parking lot. Aurelia and Greg carried Emmet, who was still unconscious, to the car.
“The news media will probably report this as some kind of tragic accident,” Aurelia growled. “Probably use it as an excuse for a lecture on weather safety.”
“It was a tragedy,” Mike said as he reached the door of the dark blue Toyota. “Eons ago, the ancients hid this portal as a gateway to the secrets of the universe. Instead of using it for knowledge, it was destroyed by ignorance.”
“Maybe there are more portals out there,” Davin suggested. “All I know is that it’s great to be back. I almost started to miss you guys.”
As the Fallen drove away, Mike looked in the rearview mirror and saw black smoke slowly twist into the night sky from the top of Monk’s Mound.
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