Chapter 3: The End

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Late one night, an apartment's only occupant sat in his living room, watching TV.

The middle-aged man on the screen looked grave, disapproving even, as if he wanted to make sure anyone watching would take what he was about to say as seriously as he did.

A voice from off-screen broke the silence.

"So then, Professor Hunter, in the 100 years since the arrests and the five years since your book came out, has anything else been discovered about the cult?"

The man on the screen shook his head. "Absolutely nothing."

"But we do know for sure it was a cult, right?" the voice asked.

The professor sighed. "Even after all the research, I honestly don't know. Not to downplay the loss of life, of course, but all records indicate that the murders were, well, ordinary. Absolutely nothing about the crime scenes suggested anything ritualistic. Up until the arrests, both the public and the detectives assumed it was a gang of robbers on some incredibly violent spree. Some people think that to this day. I mean, all the stolen property was found at the killers' hideout. The entire idea of a cult hinges solely on one man, Charles Lanchester.

"We don't even know for sure that was his real name. That's just the name he gave when he and the other four first arrived in town; that would have been about five months before the murders. Anyway, once they were all in custody, Lanchester, by far the youngest of the gang, was the only one who would talk. Even then, he barely admitted to anything, but what he did own up to earned him his own curious place in history."

Professor Hunter read from a copy of his book. "Here it is. 'Our mighty ruler called us from far off. He summoned us to this place, that we might commune with him and pay him tribute.' He said a few more things, but those two sentences are what this entire cult business hinges on. They raised so many questions that this cult is a bigger mystery than the crimes ever were...if there really was a cult."

"You have your doubts?" the voice asked.

The professor shrugged. "The others never admitted to anything. Lanchester might have figured he was done for anyway and decided to either have some fun with the interrogators or create a sense of mystery about himself. I always hope a definitive answer will turn up one day, but we may never know for sure."

"Well, thank you for taking the time to see me, Professor Hunter...and for letting me record this."

"Don't mention it. Feel free to drop in again anytime, Mr. Hicks."

"Oh, just call me Kenneth," the voice said, and the screen went black.

After a few seconds, a new image came up. A different man, an anxious-looking man, appeared on the screen. He was in an otherwise empty room and was looking right at the camera.

"Professor Hunter gave me the last piece of the puzzle," the man said, his voice the same one that had come from off-screen in the earlier footage. "After ten years, I finally have all the answers. I know what happened on Sky Hill that day."

He leaned toward the camera. "Lanchester was telling the truth. He and the other four came to that specific town because, at the time, it was the closest one, to the mountain and to 'our mighty ruler.' God alone knows exactly what it is–how much do we really know about this planet?–but Lanchester and the others knew it was there; somehow, it had communicated to them from far away, and they all obeyed.

"Sky Hill's never been popular, but people have gone up it over the years–since Lanchester and since us–and nothing's ever happened. Now, I know why. Lanchester knew it wanted worship...tribute...but it never ended up getting that tribute. Lanchester and the rest were taken into custody before that could happen."

He paused a moment. "It was the ring," he said. "That's why this all happened. It wasn't some ordinary ring. It wasn't even just a nice ring. It was the type of ring you can only get by going into long-term debt. I could tell that the moment Alan pulled it out. At the time, I was worried Emily would even get mugged for it someday. It had to have been the most expensive piece of jewelry ever brought onto Sky Hill, into its domain.

"We made it angry. I'm convinced it could sense the ring the moment we arrived. I'm convinced it was up there with us at the summit, invisible but still there, watching us. It probably expected Alan to leave the ring there as a gift, and when he didn't...it decided there was only one way to respond to such an insult. I don't know why it didn't just kill us right then and there. Maybe it wanted to toy with us, make us sweat, let us know well ahead of time what was coming."

He paused again, as if needing to collect his thoughts before continuing. "I think it's waiting for me, hoping I'll come back, hoping we all will. Originally, it might have been satisfied with just Alan. He was fifteen feet up when his anchor gave. That was still high enough to kill him, but because he'd gotten that far down and because Emily and Daisy had the rest of us get into position once we were on the ground, we were able to catch him as a group." Upon recalling the experience, he rubbed his shoulder and arm, the memory of the physical pain–of the agony–apparently still very vivid. "Because of us," he went on, "not only did it not get its long-overdue gift, it didn't even get revenge.

"Once we caught Alan, we didn't bother retrieving our ropes or picking up our gear, we just got out of there. We tried telling our story to the nearest authorities, but they thought we were playing a prank, especially after they went up to investigate; when they got there, the trail went up to the summit, just like it always had.

"Sometimes, I wonder if that thing will ever come looking for us...but, no, it has to be confined to Sky Hill somehow. Otherwise, something would have happened by now. That's really why I'm recording all this. There's no way anyone who wasn't there will believe any of it. I'm just doing this so I'll always have something on hand to remind myself that as long as we stay away from Sky Hill, all six of us will be safe." He smiled at the camera, and the screen went black.

An older Kenneth turned off the TV. He then got off the couch and retreated into his bedroom, where he lay in the dark, waiting for what seemed like an eternity to drift into unconsciousness. He gave a long sigh. That video really was the only thing keeping him sane.

It'd been five years since he'd recorded that last footage, fifteen years since Sky Hill, and he still needed reassurance. Even though nothing had happened in all this time, he still regularly found himself up at night, especially on all-too-quiet nights like this, afraid–afraid for his very life; afraid of Sky Hill; afraid of the monster, the demon, the killer that dwelt at its summit, waiting and ready to strike.

The End

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