Robert R. McCammon's "Best Friends"

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Kay moved: not running wildly along the corridor, as was her first impulse, because with the elevator gone and the stairwell door surely locked the corridor was just one long dead end. She leaped out of her chair, past the nurse and two emergency staffers to the gurney table; she simply did it because she saw it had to be done, and she'd come to the same recognition of doom as Jack had. "No!" she said, and shoved the gurney forward. Its wheels squeaked as it hurtled toward Mother and Adolf.

But they were much too fast to be caught by those wheels. Mother scuttled to one side and Adolf sprang to the other, and now Frog was squeezing through the inset like a blob of jelly from a tube. The gurney slammed into the door and bounced off.

Adolf made a grating-glass noise that might have been a cackle.

There were no screams, just a long swelling of breath that caught and hung. "Move everyone back," Jack said to Rosalee. She didn't budge. "Get them down the stairs!" he demanded, and finally she made a choked sound of agreement, grasped Margie's arm and began to retreat along the corridor. The others followed, not daring to turn their backs on the creatures. Dave Chambers just stood gaping for a moment, then he too began a stiff-legged retreat.

Frog thrashed in the door's inset, its front legs clawing. The bastard's stuck! Jack realized, but it was little consolation. Mother took a slithery step forward, and Adolf clambered up onto the gurney and squatted there as if in contemplation.

Jack knew there were no weapons on the eighth floor: no knives, no bludgeons, certainly no guns. The most dangerous item up here was probably a toilet plunger, and he doubted that would do much harm to Tim Clausen's best friends. Frog was still trying to get its bulbous buttocks through the opening, Mother was advancing steadily but with caution, and Adolf's eyes ticked back and forth with murderous intent.

"Help us! Please help us!" someone shouted. Jack saw Mrs. Stewart at the nurse's station, the telephone in her hand. "We're on eight! For God's sake, send somebody to help—"

Adolf's muscular legs uncoiled, and the demon jumped over Jack and Kay, hit the floor running and had scampered up onto the nurse's desk before Mrs. Stewart could finish her plea. With one swipe of a claw, Adolf opened the woman's throat. Her vocal chords rattled, and the phone fell from her twitching fingers. Adolf clung to the front of her uniform as Mrs. Stewart writhed in agony, and his razorblade teeth went to work on the ravaged throat.

"GET OFF HER, YOU SHIT!" Rosalee hollered, and whacked Adolf with a broom she'd plucked from a corner. The broom did no damage even though it was swung with a mighty vengeance, but Adolf ceased his chewing and regarded her as if admiring a new steak. Mrs. Stewart crumpled, strangling, and Adolf leaped to the desktop.

"Jack! Look out!" Kay cried; he whirled around as Mother scuttled toward his legs, and without thinking about it he kicked the thing as if going for a field goal. The demon gave a moist grunt and rolled like a tumbleweed against the wall, then immediately righted herself and came at him again. Jack retreated, but the demon was coming on too fast and he saw the wicked glitter of her diamond teeth. She was almost upon him, about to scurry up his left leg.

A chair flew past him, nearly clipping his shoulder, and crashed into Mother. She shrieked, a noise like air escaping a hole in a balloon. Some of her legs were already struggling to shove the chair off and the others pulling her out of Jack's range before he could deliver another kick. Two legs quivered and slid uselessly along the floor, leaving a smear of brown fluid.

"I busted it!" Dave Chambers shouted. "Knocked the shit out of it, didn't I? Doc, move your ass!"

Rosalee swung the broom at Adolf again. The demon caught it, and for a few seconds they pulled it back and forth between them, until Rosalee yanked at it and Adolf let go. She squalled and staggered, falling with a jolt that shook the floor. Adolf tensed to leap upon her.

But the elevator suddenly opened, and a stout middle-aged man in the brown uniform of a security guard stepped off. He wore a badge and holster with a .38 revolver in it, and he stopped dead in his tracks as the demon's head swiveled toward him.

The guard gasped, "What in the name of everlovin' Jesus is—"

Adolf jumped. Cleared Rosalee, who screamed and scurried away on her hands and knees, and plunged his claws into the man's chest. The talons ripped through the shirt, and the demon flailed at the man like a living chainsaw. Most of his chest was a wet, gaping cavity within the seven or eight seconds it took for Adolf to finish with him, and the guard toppled forward onto his face. His legs remained inside the elevator, and the doors kept thumping against them, opening and trying to close again.

Adolf perched on the dead man's back, licking his talons. His gaze found Rosalee, who had crawled about ten feet away, and she knew she was next.

"Hey, freak!" Dave bellowed. He had another chair, was thrusting it at Adolf like a lion tamer. The demon's eyes fixed on him, and a terrible grin flickered across its mouth. "Come on, prick!" He stepped between Adolf and Rosalee, a sheen of sweat shining on his face; his own smile was maniacal. "Rosalee, you'd best get off your butt now. Best get those people down the stairs." His voice was calm: the voice of someone who has chosen suicide. "Doc, you and the lady haul your asses and get off the ward!"

Rosalee stood up. Adolf hissed at her, and Dave feinted with the chair to get the thing's attention again. Jack and Kay moved past him, as Mother slowly advanced along the corridor, dragging her broken legs. "I know you, don't I?" Dave asked the male demon. "Sure I do. I've seen you at night, when I try to sleep. Oh,.you're a sly little bastard, aren't you? You get in my head when I'm dreamin', and you make me crazy. That's why I'm here—because of you."

Adolf swiped at the chair, left three furrows across one of the wooden legs.

"You want to jump, huh? Want to get those hands on ol' Dave's neck? Except you know I won't go lightly. I'll knock your eyeballs out, friend." Dave glanced quickly to his right; about twenty feet away, Rosalee had slipped her key into the stairwell's door and was unlocking it. "Hurry!" he said, then cut his gaze down the other direction. The spider with the marble-white face of a woman and barbed-wire hair was creeping inexorably up on him. The third demon was still struggling to get free of the door, and was just about to pop its butt loose.

Adolf sprang forward. Dave planted his legs and swung the chair. But Adolf drew back at the last second, and the chair's legs hit empty air.

"Maybe I can't kill you," Dave said, "but I'll break your bones—or whatever's holdin' you together. Maybe that makes you think a little bit, huh?"

Rosalee was getting the patients, the two emergency staffers and Mrs. Marion through the door into the stairwell. Jack hesitated, watching Dave as Mother slowly advanced on him. "Dave!" he shouted. "We'll keep the door open for you! Come on!"

Dave laughed harshly. "You're nuttier'n a Christmas fruitcake, Doc," he answered. "You want these things runnin' all through the hospital? Man, I'm not even that crazy! You get through that door and make sure it's locked."

Kay gripped Jack's arm. Everyone had gone down the stairwell except her and Rosalee. She pulled at him. "We've got to get downstairs ... got to call the police ..." Her eyelids were fluttering, and Jack recognized that deep shock was finally settling in. He wanted to go, because in all his life no one had ever accused him of being a hero—but the sight of a mental patient wielding a chair against two demons from Hell would not let him descend the stairs. It would be easy to give up Dave Chambers; what was the measure of the man's life, anyway? But Jack could not leave him alone up here, though his brain screamed for escape and he knew Dave was a heartbeat away from being torn to shreds. After they finished with Dave, they would find a way down to the next floor where they could go from room to room. If they were going to be stopped, it had to be here and now.

"Take her," Jack said to Rosalee. "Lock the door behind you."

"No! Dr. Shannon, you can't—"

"Do what I said." His voice cracked, and he felt his courage leaking out. "If they get off this floor ..." He let the thought remain unspoken.

Rosalee hesitated—but only for a few seconds, because she saw his mind was made up. She said, "Come on, miss. Lean on me, now." She helped Kay down the stairs, and then the door swung shut in Jack's face. Rosalee turned her key on the other side, and the lock engaged with a small click of finality.

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Copyright © 1987 by Robert R. McCammon. All rights reserved. This story originally appeared in the anthology Night Visions IV, first published in 1987 by Dark Harvest. Reprinted with permission of the author.
© 2018 Robert McCammon Last updated 8-MAR-2018 12:38:16.30 Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha