He turned slowly, hoping against hope that the door had just come open on its own accord, because the other possibility was simply too terrifying to entertain. Perhaps it had been a breeze that had done it, coming in through the open window, but he had felt no breeze. It couldn’t be Seymour, because he had gone into the next room, not the one they had just come out of.
“Well, of course there’s no blood,” a voice rasped from the bedroom door. “There’s never any blood when it starts. But just you wait, you stupid boy. There’ll be blood aplenty before too long.”
Raphael tried to scream, but he had forgotten how.
The diseased corpse lurched into the kitchen, leering at him with a horrid grin. Dried blood had crusted about its mouth, nose and eyes, and its body was covered in misshapen lumps, some still oozing. “Six years from now, the Six would come. But the Six won’t come, for you’ll be dead!”
It laughed, exposing a mouthful of worms, and drew closer to him. Raphael made an attempt to stumble away, but his legs gave out and he fell to the floor. The shuffling, dragging footsteps of the corpse followed him, faster than he could crawl away.
“Seymour!” he cried, but his voice was so frail and hoarse that he could hardly hear his own words.
He could hear, however, the corpse’s rattling breathing directly above him.
Raphael tried again, and this time, despite his panic, he must have done something right. “SEYMOUR!”
And then Seymour was there, hurrying to kneel down beside him, stolen goods spilling every which way. “Raif! What happened? What’s the matter?”
Raphael clung desperately to the Aechyed’s clothing with his sweaty hands. “Don’t let it get me, Seymour! Don’t let it get me!”
“What?” Seymour asked. “Don’t let what get you?”
The human boy turned his head. The corpse was gone. “It was comin’ after me,” he explained in a mumble. “But it ain’t there no more.”
“Come on, Raif,” the Aechyed muttered, helping him to his feet. “We need to get you out of this Rezyn-damned house.”
Raphael obeyed, but stopped at the bedroom door. “Do we have to go through there?”
“Yes,” Seymour replied. “It’s the only way out, unless you’re up for climbing down from the window.”
He shook his head and reluctantly let Seymour escort him through the darkened room. The sinister shape had not moved from the bed, but Raphael could have sworn he could hear it laughing quietly as they passed it.
Once they were outside and a fair distance away, the human boy collapsed on a garden wall and began to weep uncontrollably. Seymour stood by awkwardly for a while, clearly trying to pretend that he hadn’t noticed, before finally giving in and sitting down beside him.
“Seymour,” Raphael sobbed. “Can I g-go home now? I don’t feel good. I want…I want to go home!”
“Alright. Do you want me to walk with you?”
The boy nodded vigorously. “Yes. Yes, please.”
They began to trudge along the familiar cobblestone streets towards home. Raphael’s feet felt heavy. The pain in his head and stomach was growing progressively worse, the world was starting to tilt and spin around him, and exhaustion had descended upon him like a leaden cloak.
After about two blocks, he stopped. “I can’t carry all this,” he said, gesturing to his bulging pockets. “It’s weighing me down.”
Upon transferring the artifacts in question into Seymour’s possession, Raphael felt the strength to move on again. This lasted another four blocks.
“What is it?”
“I have to go to the privy.”
Seymour sighed. “In ten minutes, you’ll be home. Can you wait?”
They proceeded onward for another three minutes before Raphael stopped again.
“What?” the Aechyed demanded, exasperated.
“Can you carry me?”
“’Cause people will talk, things’ll get out, and we’ll both be in the gallows by sundown. That’s why not.”
“I really don’t feel good.”
Seymour studied him for a moment, his face growing more and more fearful. Seymour wasn’t stupid. Raphael could tell that he suspected that his illness was more than just a reaction to the ghastly horrors in that house. The Aechyed, however, was doing his best to hide his apprehension. “Yeah,” he agreed. “You don’t look very good, either. Do you want to sit down again?”
Raphael opened his mouth to reply, but he retched instead, falling to his hands and knees as he did so. There he remained for what felt like an eternity, his eyes shut tightly against the punishing sunlight.
He heard Seymour step backwards a pace, and then another.
“Oh, Rezyn…” the Aechyed breathed, horror evident in his voice. “You have it. You have the Blood Plague!”
But Raphael didn’t need Seymour to tell him that. He didn’t even have to look. The coppery taste of blood lingering in his mouth had already proved his worst fears valid. He was dying.
“Seymour,” he pleaded hoarsely, looking up at him with fresh tears in his eyes. “Help me! Please!”
The Aechyed stared back at him as if he was some sort of mutant animal. His face was pale and terrified.
“I’m sorry, Raif,” he whispered eventually, and then he turned his back and fled.