THE THIRD RULE
by Nicholas Samuel Stember
It was on the morning after the third woman had been mercilessly butchered, that the remaining members of the Alpha Epsilon Omega sorority sat in silent congregation around their living room. Slowly they gazed at each other, at the soundless television, at the ticking grandfather clock in the corner...anything other than the paramedics bringing the blood soaked body bag down the satiny velvet stairs.
It was Juanita who first broke the silence that followed the departure of the ambulance, university security, and the Massachusetts state police. "We've got to do something," she stated bluntly, feeling more anger than anything else at this point.
"And just what are we supposed to do?" cried Susan as she defensively hugged Bagsters, her over‑stuffed plush lion, to her chest.
"She's right," Cathy agreed as she stood up to bolt the front door. "The windows and doors are locked every night. The police circle this way every half hour. Yet somehow he gets in."
"How do we even know it's a he?" Paula asked nervously as she looked around at her twelve remaining sorority sisters. "No one's even seen the killer. But every night one of us has died, horribly...and that's not all..."
"The lieutenant mentioned that Terry had been molested before she was killed," Susan whimpered softly, like a lost child. "Perhaps the attacker only wanted sex. Maybe if Terry hadn't resisted..." Her voice choked off with a sob as she hugged her stuffed lion even tighter.
"Then what?" Juanita half scoffed. "You think she would be alive?"
"Perhaps," Cathy said as she moved from the door to the large Parisian picture window that half‑covered one of the living room's walls. "We don't know what happened up there."
"They were all raped while being killed," Juanita half shouted. "First Sandi, then Lisa, and now Terry. The only difference is that the killer is becoming more disgustingly sick as each night goes on."
"The police think that we should leave the sorority and go back to the dorms," Cathy commented as she checked the locks on the windows for the third time.
"And be killed there?" Juanita jeered, "the Alpha Epsilon Omega house is the only one being attacked. So there has to be some sicko out there that has it in for us. I think that if we left, then he'd just follow us to where ever we went. Where we can't help each other."
"Help each other?" Paula laughed, her voice tottering on the verge of hysteria. "We can't even help ourselves."
"We just haven't tried yet," Juanita stressed again, determination flashing in her eyes. "If we all stick together, then we can cut this maniac apart."
"You don't know what you're talking about," Paula yelled. "You just think your tough city girl act is going to make a difference here‑‑but it isn't. This isn't some stupid movie where the heroine takes on the bad guy, Juanita. They're dead‑‑and they were real people."
"They were more than that," Juanita snapped back as her eyes stung with the tears that threatened to come loose. "They were my friends... my sisters." She turned her back on the rest and silently leaned against the wall, holding in the sobs that ached to come out...sobs that would show her weakness, something that she had grown up knowing could kill you.
It was by unanimous decision that they agreed to sleep together in the living room that night. Since all three women had been killed while alone in their rooms, it seemed the most sensible defense. Even still, it took until well into the night for the sisters of Alpha Epsilon Omega to finally relax enough to fall asleep on the makeshift beds and couches that were scattered about the large room.
Juanita tossed and turned on her thin mattress under the picture window. Often she was disturbed by the flashing red lights of the university police cruisers that diligently patrolled the area, flashing red lights that reminded her all too much of home. Not that living in the bowels of Newark was horrible, Juanita listlessly considered as she drifted in and out of sleep, but it was a far cry from the sweet lives that her Massachusetts‑bred sisters had experienced. She had been honestly surprised when she, a city girl from Jersey, had been allowed into a sorority that reeked of 'Daddy's Money', a sorority occupied completely by upperclass Massachusetts girls. But her friend and dorm roommate, Sandi, had really pushed for her, and had managed to slip her in. Sandi...her thoughts crumbled as she remembered her first real friend...as those hated tears threatened once again to flow. She turned over and forced the sleep to come.
It was less than an hour later when Susan awoke with a start. She had to go to the bathroom, and knew that to try to wait until morning was useless. She slowly got up, trying not to disturb her sleeping sisters, and started toward the bathroom in the next room‑‑when her throat tightened in a knot of fear. The downstairs toilet was clogged up tight, and had been since their last party with their brother fraternity. What slobs those guys were, she laughed hollowly as her shimmering eyes darted toward the stairs that led upstairs. For a moment she seriously considered waking up Cathy, but didn't want to be laughed at for being afraid of going to the bathroom alone. Taking a deep breath, she picked up Bagsters and started up the long, curved stairs.
It wasn't until she was safely inside the bathroom on the second floor hallway that she let out the breath that she had been holding. She quickly sat on the cool porcelain seat, uncontrollably anxious to return to the couch below. Once again she let out a small laugh, realizing how foolishly she was behaving. But the laugh was cut short as the doorknob to the bathroom jiggled slightly. Terror clutched her stomach like a boa around it's prey, and her heart skipped a beat.
"C‑Cathy," her voice trembled, "is‑‑is that you?"
It was then that it hit her, the dank odor that scratched at the dark shadows of her mind. It swirled around her like a clinging mist, entwining and entrapping her in its sickly sweet fragrance. Panic now blinded her as she stood and grabbed the door's glass knob, trying to escape the smell. She was shocked as she felt the intense heat emanating from the handle and quickly let go of it, taking a swift step backwards away from the door...right into his hardened body. Like a top she whirled around, only to look into those blackened pits that could only loosely be called eyes. A cruel sneer curved the corner of the intruders lips, as his roughened hands reached out to her delicate skin. Susan tried to scream, tried to run, but ended up settling for the next best thing...she fainted.
"Where's Susan?" Cathy asked as she came out of the kitchen the following morning.
Juanita sat up wearily and gazed at her waking friends. The couch that Susan had been sleeping on was deserted. "Is she in the kitchen?"
"No," Cathy said as she shook her head. "She isn't downstairs at all."
"Maybe she left," Paula suggested while nervously clutching at her flowered blanket.
"In the middle of the night?" Juanita asked doubtfully. "Without telling anyone?" Then she gazed up at the stairs, and started toward them.
She was quickly followed by Cathy and Paula, all three reaching the stained wooden floor of the upstairs together. A swift glance showed all eight doors to the rooms closed tightly.
"Do you think she's on the third floor?" Paula asked as she looked up the second flight of stairs.
"I don't think so," Juanita stated flatly as her gaze was drawn to the bathroom door. Something jutted out strangely from the doorknob, barely visible in the dim light that filtered through the window at the end of the hallway.
Slowly she moved forward, her eyes never leaving the object pinned to the door, knowing full well what it was long before she was close enough to see it in full light. Feeling her muscles stiffen up, she gazed at the sad blue eyes that hung lifelessly on the torn yellow fabric. Then she knelt down, letting her shaking fingers sift through the polyester stuffing that was scattered in front of the door. The glass doorknob protruded viscously from Bagster's empty stomach, as if someone had forced it through the thick cloth that made up his skin. One of his arms hung loosely by his side, only held on by a few threads, while his legs lay amongst the stuffing on the floor. It was then that Juanita saw the other hand, the human hand that lay on the floor, keeping the door from closing shut as its springs demanded.
She turned back to Cathy and read the fear in her friend's eyes. Then she glanced over at Paula, who was shivering violently. "Paula, why don't you go downstairs and see if you can find one of the campus police?" Her words struck at the terrified young woman like dry leaves against a brick wall. "Paula," she ordered, forcing her friend to look down at her, "we need a cop. Go downstairs and find one."
Paula finally nodded and started back down the hallway...first walking slowly, then running like a deer from a hunter's gun.
Juanita tentatively pushed the door open, the color draining from her face as she viewed what was left of one of the women who had been her friend. Her first thought that surfaced seemed ludicrous, as she realized that Bagsters had gotten off easily. Blood was splattered everywhere as though someone threw a bucket of crimson paint into the small room. The walls, the ceiling, the seat of the toilet...all were inked with the half dried fluid. The bulk of what remained of Susan was laying on her back at a twisted angle. Her long legs were spread impossibly far apart, as if something enormous had been forced between them. One of her bloodied hands lay in the doorway, the nails digging into the hard wood floor in a vain attempt to escape. While the other lay alone in the bathtub, still clutching one of Bagster's arms. It wasn't until that moment that Juanita realized what was missing, and her eyes darted to the toilet...but only long enough to see the wavy strands of matted blonde hair that were coming out of it… blonde hair that Susan would tease and play with for hours before she was satisfied with its exact shape and style. Juanita turned and threw up, heedless of the high pitched scream that came from Cathy. But somewhere from the darkness a chord was struck in Juanita's mind, a resilient thread that reminded her of a code that her family lived by. As she fell to her knees she could remember the bloodied scarf that her brother had tied around his gashed scalp after a confrontation with a rival gang. She had been only ten at the time but she saw it clearly now, as she sank to her knees, holding in the dry heaves that ripped at her throat.
"Roberto," she had cried, "Don't go back out. They'll kill you."
Her tall brother had smiled grimly as he gripped her small shoulders. "You have to understand the way we live here, niña, the code that keeps us alive." He placed a firm hand under her tear streaked face and forced the smile to drain from his lips. "You can never let them see you cry, or they will rip out your heart. Do you understand?" She nodded wearily and sniffled back her tears. "The first and primary rule," he continued, "is that if someone pushes you, then you kick their ass...hard! Otherwise they'll know that they have you, and they'll storm all over you. The second rule is that if you can't do the first rule without getting killed‑‑then you must accept that if you can't beat them, you join them." Her eyes had widened at that, it went against everything that she understood. "And the third rule, niña, is that if you have to resort to rule number two, then play it cool and learn your enemy's weakness...then revert back to rule number one."
Yes, Roberto, Juanita realized as she wiped the bile from her lips, her thoughts returning to the present...we are getting walked all over here, and it's time to kick some ass! She stood up, feeling more sure of herself than she had in days, and reached out to Cathy's sobbing shoulder‑‑when she stopped. There was a smell here, above the stench of dried blood and body fluids, an odor that hit a two year old memory of when she first came to live at the sorority house. She quickly turned back toward the bathroom, and forced herself to inhale the putrid stink. There it was again, that charcoaled whiff of ozone. Without a word she went to Sandi's old room. It remained as it had three days ago, when she had been found dead on her bed, horribly beaten and raped. The only thing gone was the sheets from the bed, which had been taken as evidence by the state police. Then her eyes rested on what she was looking for, but hoped that she wouldn't find. "Oh, Sandi," Juanita groaned as she walked over to the dried candles and metallic trinkets that rested on the bureau. For a moment she stared hollowly at one of the demonic trinkets that Sandi loved, then spun as Cathy entered the room. Her friend's eyes shone like reforged steel above the drying tears on her cheeks.
"I think that you were right all along, Juanita. We have to fight back against this monster."
Juanita nodded silently, glad that at least one of her friends was willing to fight for her life...but now wondered if they had what it would take to defeat what they were really up against.
Despite all pleas from the housemother, the sisters of Alpha Epsilon Omega refused to leave the campus that day. The Dean of Housing had done some emergency shuffling of students, and was making room for them. But they would have to remain in their sorority house for one more night. The police coverage around the house was doubled, and guard dogs were issued.
It wasn't until late that night that the survivors of the sorority began to calm down again, as they listened to Cathy explain how no one was to go anywhere alone. She waved a baseball bat while she talked, demonstrating that it was possible to fight back, that they didn't have to be slaughtered like sheep.
Despite her earlier fears, Juanita found herself smiling at the newfound determination of her sisters. She had explained to them about the first rule that she had been taught to live by. At first they had laughed out of fear, but now with Cathy's added support they were arming themselves for war. When this predator came back tonight, he was going to find a big change in his sheep.
It was late that night when Paula heard the noise up in the second floor, a soft thump like someone walking on the hard wooden floor above her. She hadn't been able to sleep all night long, and had waited, terrified, for just this sort of thing to happen. She listened for a moment, then the noise came again, more distinct. A lump of fear knotted in her throat as she realized that this could be exactly what they had all been planning for this afternoon. "Cathy?" her strained voice whispered. "Please tell me that you're awake."
"She's not awake," Juanita quietly informed her as she rolled over to face Paula. She read the raw fear in her friend's eyes and gritted her teeth firmly, using that terror to help suppress her own. Slowly she got up, and grabbed the baseball bat, feeling her fingers wrap tightly around the cool wood. "I'm going up there." It was a simple statement of fact, made without bravado or false courage.
"You're not going alone," Paula gasped.
"Then come with me."
Paula's mouth hung open in indecision, as she inwardly balanced her loyalty to a sorority sister versus the fright that gripped her soul. "What makes you think that you can handle him?"
"He's never tangled with a Jersey girl before," she responded with a half laugh. "Now are you coming or not?"
Juanita watched her friend for a moment, realizing that Paula had neither the will nor intention to come with her, then sighed and started upstairs. She was amazed at her own sense of determination as she continued on to the top of the stairs, heedless of just how foolish her actions might have been.
Paula grabbed Cathy's shoulders and shook them violently, forcing the other into painful wakefulness. "Juanita's gone upstairs. We heard a noise and she went up to check it out."
"Alone?" Cathy asked in shock as she rubbed the grainy feeling from her eyes.
Paula nodded as she helped her friend up. Then the two of them quickly ran up the stairs, hoping to catch up to their sorority sister before it was too late.
Although she didn't hear the thumping anymore, Juanita had no doubts of where to look first. When she reached the second floor she headed straight for Sandi’s and her room, unconscious of the blood that was draining from her whitened hand as her grip around the bat grew steadily tighter. She didn't allow herself to pause, as she flung open the door and stepped inside. It was difficult to see, with the only light provided being the steady red pulse through the window, from the police cars that stood a constant vigil outside.
"I know that you're here, Diablo," her quiet voice rang steady, despite the quaking in her heart. "Show yourself, you gutless pig."
The odor hit her suddenly, like charcoal with a whiff of ozone. She glanced at the candles in surprise as they spontaneously lit up, one by one. Then the new smell came to her, a rancid stench that caused her to take a step back...then she felt him behind her. She didn't turn right away, didn't want to provoke what she knew was going to happen anyway. "I knew it was you," her voice held firm, dousing the sudden terror that clawed at her stomach.
The powerful hand that had gripped her shoulder from behind seemed to hesitate, as if unsure of how to deal with the defiance within her words. It was at that moment that Juanita knew she had to turn, had to face the beast or be destroyed like the others. Her firm body pivoted slowly, every muscle working in fluid harmony as if they knew that this was the only moment that had ever mattered. What stood before her, in the eerie red light, was all too close to what she would have immediately dismissed as a child's nightmare. He towered well over seven feet, covered in crimson skin that ran over the smooth muscles of his bared chest. His only clothing was a bone‑linked medallion. He was perfect in his apparition, from the small horns above his slanted eyebrows, to the classic tail that jutted out from behind his fur covered, cloven hoofed legs. Juanita almost wanted to laugh at the vision before her, but then she looked into his eyes...hellishly blackened pits that drained the fire from her heart. The bat fell uselessly from her numbed fingers as his russet lips curled in heated anticipation of his new prey.
It was then that the door opened again, and Paula entered the room. Her face flushed white with panic as she viewed the demon, and she tried to take a step back.
Seemingly intrigued by his new guest, the beast swiftly reached out with a meaty hand and grabbed the young woman by the throat and lifted her into the air, leaving her legs dangling like an abused marionette.
Juanita shook her head to clear the darkening numbness that had held her mind, and watched as Paula struggled for air. The demon slid his other clawed hand up her friend's leg, his blackened eyes suddenly aflame with desire. We're all going to die, she realized, one by one. We can't fight him, and if we run, he'll only follow. By this time the demon had bent Paula's head back at a terrible angle, while he began digging into his newfound treasure.
"You don't want her," Juanita found herself saying, suddenly realizing what she must do...and loathing every ounce of it.
This drew the beast's attention as he glanced over at Juanita, his eyes still afire with lust. His lips parted, revealing yellowed fangs beneath, glistening with hunger.
"Why enjoy what you have to take by force?" she asked, as she tried to still her body from quivering under his ashen stare.
His eyes shone like ice at high noon, reveling in the gruesome torment that was his pleasure to create...no answer was needed...just as she knew that her fate would soon mirror Paula's.
It was now or never, Juanita realized as she forced herself to take a step forward. "You answer that way because you have never had a woman willingly give herself. A woman who wanted to please you as much as you can please others."
The crimson hand slowly loosened around Paula's gasping throat as he lowered the shaking young woman to her feet...where she promptly collapsed to her knees.
Juanita felt herself breathe a sigh of relief as she realized that Paula was still alive, and free. Of course, she also recognized that her own situation was not improving. But she had started this, and there was only one way for it to end.
The demon took a step towards her, obviously intrigued by this new offer. Yet there was some hesitation in his eyes, the obvious mistrust clear in the harsh curves of his brow.
Juanita read the uncertainty and took strength from it, pouncing on it like a panther "I know your thoughts, Diablo. I am a woman. A woman who you desire, and can have, over and over. But you must first let them go. I will give myself to you freely only if you let them go."
The demon stared in frank disbelief, his massive body trembling in rage over the defiance of this mortal. He lunged forward, grabbing her arm roughly, bruising the tanned skin...his intentions clear.
"But if you take me like this, then you will have to kill me like the others," Juanita retorted while swallowing her fear and outstretching a hand at him. "Or you can have me willingly, time and time again, my only desire to satisfy your desires."
The demon's blackened eyes widened in amazement, tantalized by this new aspect of lust and desire. Slowly his grip released as he took a few steps back. His forked tongue flicked along his dried lips nervously, and quivered with anticipation.
Juanita smiled enticingly, despite her disgust, knowing that to flinch now would condemn her to worse than death. She took a deep breath and stepped forward, never taking her eyes off his. Gone was his hypnotic power, only lust remained in those darkened pits. Slowly she walked to where he stood, fighting back the stench of carrion that encircled him like a protective cocoon. His russet lips stretched hideously across those yellowed fangs in expectation of what she would do.
Juanita laid a hand tentatively on his muscled chest, expecting it to feel like rock. She almost pulled back as she felt its squishy softness, and realized that her hand had rested on a thin layer of larva that covered his upper torso. The tiny creatures wriggled under her touch, squirming over her hand and along her forearm. But still she held firm, bringing her other hand up to his face, to tauntingly trace a line along the rough stubble that covered his jaw. Then she gently pulled his face lower and pressed her lips to his, fighting down the bile that started to rise as she got her first taste of him. His tongue ardently probed into her mouth, filling her with the sickly sweet flavor of meat that had long since turned rotten. The revulsion was overwhelming, and she realized that she had almost fainted. But she held on, bringing her arm around his neck and pulling him firmly against her body, as her other hand slid down to his fur lined crotch, to rest on the massive organ that was rimmed with thorns.
A groan of uncontrollable yearning came from the demon as took her in his arms, roughly grabbing at the firm lines of her breasts. His frame shook with the desire that totally entwined him now, and a shard of victory reflected in his darkened pits.
Juanita gently pushed out of his arms, fighting the tears that tried to come now as the utter revulsion of his touch swarmed over her like a rotten burlap sack. Never before had she wanted to cry more than she did at this moment, not even when Roberto had been shot down by a stray bullet while he was working on her first car. "You can never let them see you cry, or they will rip out your heart," her brother's words rang in her mind, like church bells on Sunday. "Do you understand?"
Yes, Roberto, she whispered silently, using his strength to fuel her own, I do understand. "You can have me, demon, as promised. But you must fulfill your half of the bargain as well."
The demon's face exhibited wonder as he marveled at the strength displayed before him, a strength he longed to consume. He glanced furtively at Paula's cowering form, who had been joined by a terrified and speechless Cathy, as a sneer of disgust crossed his lips. Then he turned back to Juanita and nodded his assent.
"And you'll never bother them again."
The demon growled hungrily, and he nodded again.
"Swear to it, demon," she demanded firmly. "You must swear or I will fight you and you will enjoy nothing."
Shock registered in his face, followed by the fear of loosing this new prize. He mockingly placed his hand over where a heart should have been, and growled again.
"Not good enough," she countered, knowing that the demon's word was worthless. "You must swear by something that you value dearly. Swear by the power that allows you to be here, to roam the world of mortals and use them as you wish. Swear by that which gives you your power here."
The demon hissed with annoyance, anxious to resume its pleasure. Grabbing the bone medallion firmly in his clawed hands, he glared at her with renewed lust. Then clutched it in a mock prayer, and nodded his oath through grunts of tantalized exasperation.
Juanita's eyes narrowed as they locked in on the medallion. Now that she studied it, she understood. She had seen it in Sandi's collection only a few days ago...a new prize that her close friend had picked up at some flea market. Then she opened her arms in a gesture of approval, as her own lips curved in a cruel smile, "your promise is accepted."
Juanita flowed effortlessly into the demon's grasp, as her lips met his in seemingly unquenchable passion. She allowed him to lift her to his face, as she dug her fingers erotically into the larva that encased his chest, dragging her fingers down to the smooth bone links. Then she viciously bit his lower lip, forcing her teeth to rip through the soft skin there. An acidic liquid, like rotten lemon juice, squirted into her mouth‑‑as her fingers locked tightly onto the medallion. The demon howled in pain and surprise as he let go of her waist, to pry her from his bleeding lip. As she began to fall back down, she lifted her legs and kicked off his abdomen, forcing herself away from his wretched form.
The demon bellowed in rage and agony as he put a hand to his mouth, to stem the ooze of purple blood. His eyes flashed in daggers of fury, promising a swift but tortuous death.
Juanita rose off the floor, spitting the quivering chunk of dripping meat out of her mouth, then smiled, the demon's blood trickling down her chin. "That is one promise that you will not be able to keep, demon." She slowly held up the abducted medallion for the beast to see, enjoying her own pangs of delight at the look of sudden horror in his black eyes.
The demon grabbed at his chest, hoping that he was mistaken about what he had allowed her to do, and hollered endlessly when he understood that he wasn't. "Woman!" his harsh lips whispered their curse, as the wisps of smoke encircled him. No longer did they protect him like a shield, now they clutched at him like chains dragging him down. Round and round the smoke swirled, dissipating parts of his body as they danced their death waltz, until nothing remained but the smoke...and that too, gradually disappeared.
"Damn straight," Juanita whispered wearily as she slumped back against the bureau, her body aching in ways she had never dreamt possible. She looked over at her friends, who ran over to her as the last of the smoke cleared. No words were spoken as they all embraced, simply grateful of the others' presence. The sounds of the police racing up the stairs pounded in Juanita's ears, as she let out a silent prayer for her brother...and cried.