The hold steady stuck between stations

The Hold Steady 'Stuck Between Stations': There are nights when I think that Sal Paradise was right Boys and girls in America, they have such... View credits, reviews, tracks and shop for the 2006 CD release of Stuck Between Stations on Discogs. View credits, reviews, tracks and shop for the 2007 Vinyl release of Stuck Between Stations on Discogs. Label: Vagrant Records - VRUK047SX,Full Time Hobby - VRUK047SX • Format: Vinyl 7 The Hold Steady - Stuck Between Stations (2007, Vinyl) Discogs The song “Stuck Between Stations” was ranked #11 on Pitchfork’s list of the top 100 songs of 2006 and #63 on the best of 2000’s list. Stuck Between Stations by The Hold Steady, released 01 May 2020 Stuck Between Stations The Hold Steady Buy This Song. FAVORITE (0 fans) The Hold Steady. The Hold Steady is an American indie rock band from Brooklyn, New York, formed in 2004. The band consists of Craig Finn (vocals, guitar), Tad Kubler (lead guitar), Galen Polivka (bass), Bobby Drake (drums), and Steve Selvidge (guitar). Noted for their ...

Therapy Session

2020.07.10 02:04 kyleraymundv2 Therapy Session

Coat, hat, degree on the wall, professionally installed carpet. Couch is not a couch per se, more a sterile and pillowless recliner, designed to give one the best experience possible. Lights, walls, bookshelf in the back full of empty pamphlets, stuffed folders, to the brim with index cards and postcards and info on my past clients. Mahogany, not real mahogany, of course, the desk is made out of wood pulp covered by a layer of plywood designed to look like mahogany. Very dry, yet distinguished, and from a distance you could almost call me a professional. I am a professional, I have a degree in all sorts of mental gymnastics, but you wouldn’t know that.
I dress casually at all times, feeling that one can feel more at ease with slacks and a t-shirt, baseball cap flipped to the side. I am nearing middle age, 42, my eyes squint in dusty conditions and my hair is receding like Grunge. I pace from the bookshelf to the chair in the corner , sometimes. Still don’t know why that chair is there, for a wife or parent or something to sit down while their associate is sorted through, though to date I haven’t had any patients accompanied by anyone. Above this chair, which is plastic with comfy padded armrests, next to this is a potted plant, fake of course, about seven inches to the left is a portrait by some famous artist, of what I suppose one would call the impressionist period, Monet and that sort, only this one is a cheap replica I got for $100 at the local auction, the guy even stated that it was a replica, but who cares, it’s a nice painting and some good décor, more suggestive than a Rorschach test, though I still keep a deck of those stashed in the drawer, just in case.
The painting has ample strokes and pleasant overtones, but something about it makes the mind do acrobatics. I’ve had three of my quota mention that they’ve seen it somewhere before, in a TV show or something, that it was in the background, that it’s always been there. In their heads, they can’t seem to get it out. It’s not San Giorgio Maggiore, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was painted in the same year. This one is simpler, no cathedral in the background, but like Giorgio, it’s set on the water, small fishing dock, maybe a port, and the shapes are just as obscured and vague in the evening haze. In the middle is a ship. Big thing, massive, calls to mind the steamers of old, and there are people on it, too, if you look very closely, faint, almost indiscernible silhouettes. Manning the rigging, wheel, etc. It’s pretty, but I often wonder who painted this and who these people are supposed to be. I also wonder what it would be like to exist in such an Impressionistic world. Get sucked in, feel this synthetic carpet move back under my feet as the noises of freshwater Venetian waves and murmuring ship hands grow closer and closer. I wonder sometimes, and my clientele give me the answers.
The man who came in last week should know, he walked through and sat on the couch, he was worried, I could tell by the wrinkles in his forehead, so I told him to lie down on there so he could spill all his worries out like a torrential flood right there in the middle of all this psychiatric foliage. I turned off the lights, they’re usually too bright for anyone to think, I only have them so I can work, then I went over to the wall and opened up the windows, let soft natural light and fresh air fill the room. There on the couch, legs periodically crossed, eyes looking at that replica of mine, he filled me in. The guy, I would say, was not by any means looking shabby. He had good hair, he was in his thirties, early thirties. Sandy hair, maybe from the Southwest, Caucasian, with certain features that indicates a decrepit and empty aura if not a decrepit look.
I muted my phone- push button landline, have yet to switch over to those cellular things, but it does have fax- walked over to him. I pulled out my sketchpad. I guess I didn’t pull it out of anywhere, it was lying on the desk, I’m sloppy with those things, shouldn’t leave notepads lying on the desk where anyone can read them, I should put it in the drawer. Flip through it, get to today, the guy moans a bit and turns over. I know this guy scheduled himself, didn’t just come in here, and I wonder if my receptionist saw what I’m seeing now or if this is just a hangover of some kind. The guy’s clothes are a bit wrinkled, wearing tennis shoes, classic sign of immaturity, or at least Freud would have me believe, but I try and keep an open mind. He points at my personal computer, asks if I could switch the monitor off, a request which I oblige. The darkness in the room now is stifling, almost irrepressible, synthetic materials turned to jungle and organic thriving something off in the corners of this large expanse.
The man has seen something, done something, something which draws him into shadows. Even the midday sun coming through the halfway down blinds cannot repress the feeling of missed opportunity which surrounds this man, a missed opportunity or a blemish on his past. I scribble these things and more down as he opens his lips, and what comes out is not a grunt, or a moan, but a monotone, stale voice. I think about how I am older than this man and yet have so much less than he does, he has experience. He’s seen things, been around things, knows where his head is at and what inning it is. A professional, I assume, looking good and maybe with a wife but no children, maybe she’s unable to have children. Once more, the painting calls to him, the ship so long ago with its rigging and anchor, and ant people scuttling around. Though the ship and the sky itself is obscured in a twilight haze obscured by a real midday haze, atmospheric discombobulation, his eyes are nonetheless enchanted by the world this picture paints. It is because as I have said he is a man of questions and darkness and twilight, and some twilight long ago in Venice or perhaps even Malta the sun is going down and people in near-empty streets are sharing obscure European food in corner cafes, a precursor to that one with the three men alone in a corner café on a dark New York City at night. The ships make ambient noises as their prows cut through the water, and above birds fly open and opaque in the orange hue. His eyes are drawn to this world, and I listen in the darkness as his corneas are sucked across the room.
I know you won’t believe me, he says. Nobody will believe this, you hack, you fraud, this is something for me and me alone. Water, please? His arm gestures, I walk out the door, down the hallway, make a right, to the water cooler, which gurgles softly, pours cool sweet sugar free liquid into a sterile and generic paper cup with swirling brown lines on the sides. Receptionist is at the desk, browsing through something, She’s a good lady. My wife gives me strange looks, she probably thinks I’m cheating on the side with this ditzy 22 year old, yeah right. Anyway. Back in the room, around the corner, shut the door with a soft and svelte click. Give the guy his water. He raises himself with his left elbow, left may have some subtext, must mean something, everything means something unless it doesn’t. Sips it long and hard, glugs that right down his throat until the cup is devoid of even the smallest drop. Still sweating profusely. Eyes like a scared rabbit. Outside, one minute, the light was so scathing. In here it’s cool and dark and night in Venice, and masked figures race along stone pathways, bridges stretch over dark rippling canals over which the lone gondola carries a night passenger to some unknown bistro. Lamps over the canals, too, they reflect sharply on those depthless waves.
And at the same time it’s a blue day outside, postcard blue, traffic can be heard and the buildings resound a sharp grey against the monotone sky. 42 stories down, it’s the lunch hour, revolving doors and cheap trinkets, street cart food and newsstands with all the usual tabloids. Why am I so nervous? I swivel my seat around, get out from behind the desk, right next to him. That’s it. Keep my eyes away from the painting. Whatever you do, don’t look at that painting. You don’t want to know.
Picture if you would a typical day in Seattle. I can’t, I’ve never been there, wouldn’t know the first thing about the place, especially 15 years ago, but picture it anyway. Space Needle, whatever. Pike Place Market, is that in Seattle? I can see it, rows of shops stretching on towards the horizon. We have a mall here, but not a full-on market, just a mall. Cheap shops, people walking and talking on their doodads, parking lot that goes on and on. Miles of labyrinthine corridors lined by the outlets of commerce. He says something along these lines. Mental image, not of Venice this time but of a city of contrasts, woods, mountains, also beaches and city blocks. Confusing place, confusing times, confusing everything, an aesthetic that would lend a hand towards the downright obscene or the unabashedly lovely. I can tell as he recounts this that he’s being awfully genuine, and as he paints this idyllic past I hesitate to use the notepad as this all seems so irrelevant. Gradually, my arm falls, and the pencil drops to the floor. Five minutes later, the notepad joins it.
I stare out the window as his voice loses its monotone qualities and picks right up to speed. I hear about places and people I’ve never heard about, either this guy is a very convincing storyteller or he really was there. Dates line up. He tells me about a school, the girls he went out with, friends he had. I don’t tell him to cut to the chase but I don’t want to rush him and my appointments are empty today. Always slow on Tuesdays. These anecdotes are words, phrases, congealing into an apt picture of the times. He tells me about a concert he went to, the aura of the era, the signs of the times. I’m nostalgic, but not as much as he is, because I’m older than him and he really appreciated these times while they happened. His adolescence doesn’t sound too bad, I think, decent enough, both his parents were supportive, he had lots of friends, even went to dances, where apparently he was popular. Showed up at most of the parties he was invited to, didn’t do drugs but did drink, though not in excess, not in levels that would damage one’s liver or mind. He seems to tell these fuzzy memories as if they happened to someone else, as if they couldn’t have happened to him.
He doesn’t warrant these stories, he wasn’t this good, he didn’t have this much fun, so on. There’s something he’s hiding from me. I offer him a candy, bribe, whole bowl of them right there on my table. Sure it’s cliché? But whatcha gonna do to get someone to open up other than to offer them a treat? I got the idea after seeing the Michelle Pfeiffer movie earlier this year, fireballs, what a great idea, I thought, because it is, right? Except when I went to the store, they didn’t stock fireballs, because of course they didn’t, but they did have Lemonheads, and I figure either way an extreme taste is an extreme taste, right? Gets the juices flowing, gets the tongue moving. Take this, I say, drop the candy in his hand. He unwraps it slowly and thoughtfully, all the while his tongue still going, wrapper crinkling, and he gives it to me and I stuff the wrapper in my pocket, figure to get up and toss it would be too much of a distraction. I’m also scared, though of what I don’t know. This pining and waxing gets on my nerves, the present is enough already without dwelling on the past. I keep in mind, however, that repression is a factor at play here, and between the smacking and rolling that crunchy citrus ball of sugar around from tooth to jaw and back again I get the idea that something is going on in his mind more than something is going on in his mouth, that his mind is a question and I want to answer it, probe it, feel it the way he handled that wrapper, mull over it. Beautiful mind. Dark room, quizzical shadows fall over the furniture. Scene, Action. Piece of cake.
Woods, open and clear day, and across these woods, behind me, is one of those mountains which appears mind-bogglingly high because we’re at sea level. I, however, am stuck between the two. In my hand is a portable cassette player, expensive. My father bought this trinket for me when I was 13, told me it was the wave of the future and he had been nurtured by vinyl as a child. Loud noises fill my mind through thick wires which lead to a strange outfit on my head, one which covers both my ears through the use of a connection on top, a headband of sorts. I turn this device off, store it away, sling the wires over my shoulder, stash the thing in my pocket. Compact, light, easy. Forest noises, wooded glade, in a sense I wish the entire state was like this, a vast expanse of trees producing oxygen, oxygen which fills my lungs. It is midday and the sun is hot but not overly so, and I am dressed for the occasion. Mountains surround these shadowed glades, massive and overpowering and near-Canadian, although they lack the intensity of Canadian slopes.
Sun plays tricks on the needles, leaves are sparse but they shimmy and shake in the rosy glow. Everywhere you can see the green, the overpowering and steady green, the always-present and nearly-not-natural green. Green are the bushes, the herbs, the small trees and the big trees. Green, too, are the mosses and lichens. I do not fear these effervescent structures, in fact they call to me. I am propelled over root and rot to ancient structures time forgot, a crumbling bridge here, an old aqueduct there, left abandoned and in misery out where nobody will find them and man maintains them seldom to none. I do not find them, they find me nonetheless, because decay is very powerful here, green is very powerful here. Green is everywhere. Green can take a structure which took hours and years to build, filed away by some bureaucratic office, and reduce it all to a pile of rubble.
What is green? Green is chaos, green is the longing and the wanting of privacy and the acquisition of said solidarity, and once this is acquired one doesn’t want to leave, you’ve caught a bug, the green bug, one could say. Ferns here, too, old dinosaur things, slippery and wet, and you wonder how they haven’t decayed. You wonder how this all hasn’t decayed yet, it’s so wet and rainy, you’d think it would encrust and grow mold, become a massive soup of rot and fungus, with mountains to hold it all in, swamps and puddles and torrential moistness held in deep dark foaming puddles under the moon while the wind whistles through the dead branches, dead of course because all the leaves have fallen off and gone to the filth reserves. You wonder this, because in the old days, world war one when they had a supply of fresh boots, trenchfoot would seep up through the toes and ligaments. Shortage of boots, and though the foot was living tissue, it rotted away all the same. Rotted in the dirty crevasses, those muddy foxholes, it rotted all the same. You saw this condition referenced on a medical drama some years ago, and it has stuck with you ever since. Me ever since. I turn up and see a flight of birds, as they hop from one forest to another, up north or down south, or maybe they’re just feeling uncomfortable. The sun has gone behind clouds, hiding itself, and the heat gives way to a slight shiver, a trickling and irreversible breeze, nature pushing energy onto you.
You stop, I stop, we all stop for this forest, a forest which defies all expectations. Acres and acres away from life where the laws of physics do not apply. Sequestered men and women who long for loneliness under the cold rock faces of the Cascades. This is ancient land, sacred land, land with channels of icy thirst dripping from every orifice. It is shrouded in mist, held in the grip of something which lends it a mystique, a silence between the cliffs. These hills are here, these mountains are there, in just such a way as to boggle the mind, to make one lost and afraid in the dark on a night when the mist is down and there is no moon, and one is left struggling down slopes, between the trees, into yet another valley and yet another steep slope which defies all logic, and the night does not end. One sits beneath a pine and grows weary, the organs begin to self cannibalize, the bones grow weak, the muscles grow inactive, and by morning what is found is more rotting soup than human. Such is the power of water. Cascades, water, rushing, pouring down every cliff onto other cliffs into a broad and deep mountain lake which bubbles and hisses and then lies still. You see this lake for a moment, a shimmer, a twinkle behind a swath of trees, but the lake just as easily vanishes, gone, and when I run toward it it is no longer there. More trees, no lake. Mirages do not happen where there is plentiful water, this is a well known scientific fact.
You pull out a candy bar for comfort, you have several of them stowed away in your day pack, but the chocolate has no taste, no flavor. It melts into nothing and is swallowed just as easily. I turn towards the sun, which now has returned but is less potent than previously, and aim for the direction of a mountain I have seen before on these walks, a mountain I don’t know the name of but which has a recognizable shape and could serve as a landmark. I know this mountain. It is distant and ethereal, and on it lies the small town of Illusion, from which wafts a haunting flute tune. I know not if I hear this flute, this macabre recorder, in my ears or in my brain, but the effect is gone soon after, and it matters not from whence the flute originated, for the mountain leaves me alone on an empty plateau, a plateau of infinity and ideas, and the mountain is swallowed by the trees, which obscure it as they did the lake. Sky is now gathering, real rain, torrential downpour, get your jacket out, it’s going to be a doozy, and no tree on earth will save me from it. Crack, boom, gray water vapor congeals into a massive and black maw, a mouth from which pours the bucket, the flood upon my head. Rain is slick, ground is dripping and soggy, dirt slides right under my feet as if I were at the Olympics. Roots trip me up, as do small rocks in my path, mix of pine and broad leaf here. River somewhere nearby. Rushing, pouring, barely able to contain itself within its shores, breaking on impact, trees are swallowed whole by pools which form around my feet, puddles which could drown a rat. Hidden in one gulch lies a carcass of some kind, I see it but do not want to know it closely, it remains sheathed under branches and innumerable foliage, and emits a potent odor.
The wind is screaming and howling, the cosmos themselves are fighting up in those bleak and dismal clouds, and I am more soup than person now, liquid in its basic form, the skin a weak and wholly terrestrial defense against the pelting precipitation hurled at me from the heavens. I am scared of what I do not know. Never before have I seen a man such as this, standing still in the midst of what would turn any grown person’s skin to ice or a hole-pocked dread, this man stands firm. His face is up against the air, he breathes in the liquid, shivers as it courses through his veins with a kind of giddy delight. In one hand he holds a briefcase, his other he holds firm to his lapel. And though my eyes are bleary and my vision cannot be called sufficient, and I cannot see through this unnatural foaming liquid for more than twenty feet in any direction, I do know one thing about this man: That he stands with two other men, each identical replicas of him, as seen through a kaleidoscope or a filter. This man is not alone, but he has no company. He is singular but he is divided. These forms on either side of him are weaker but substantial. They, too, face the rain, they too clutch at the lapel as the sky screams fury and the world bubbles, his eyes shine in the darkness, they glow in that storm, they turn a fiery red, then a low muted green. Finally, they twinkle in the softest starlight, and then return to their blank state, unseen and unnoticed in this most secluded of all places, this endless downpour. He stands tall, though he is old, he has seen many things, many more things than this, this is but a meme setback to him, the weather means nothing.
The rain continues, the world goes grey and lifeless, and the mist mixes with the rain in an acidic hiss, and the clouds themselves are waging a war upon the ground beneath my feet. I hesitate near a log and observe the man from behind a worn tree, its bark picked off methodically. Sitting, seat is drenched, every corner is bathed in layers of caked sweat, permanent grease, and furthermore an inch on every side of a new ocean which drops instantly over me. The man cares not though he lives in the same land-based oceanic environment, he is a creature of depths, not necessarily wet ones, but depths and souls and areas which boggle the mind. His face cannot be seen, he wears no hat, for this would shield him from the elements he craves, the raw and open lashing of the deluge, the skies in rage. His briefcase is medium sized, cannot be seen well for the confounding visual impact of the rain, though it contains something, as he carries it with a weight, it weighs him to the ground while the wind whips and sucks and pulls him nearer to the battle and crack above. Trees bend like modeling clay in such winds, these winds pull the leaves off things, the rain aids in the job. Things die in weather like this. Water giveth life, water taketh away, the universal solvent is a catalyst of life but also an instrument of decay and neglect. I know this now, a rotting soup, an infinite void where organic matter lies in a fluidic dense mass, writing with vines and death.
Death being the word called to mind when one spots this ethereal figure in the midst of a paradoxical and wholly impossible event, one whose presence indicates multiplicity, for he is three people unto one. He is one man with two duplicates, and with a squint one can even make out five whole bodies, all performing the same actions at the same time, though the two on the edges are spectral and faint, distant as the town of illusion on the blank mountainside, unimportant as that drowsy and lulling flute, which wafted over trees and into valleys where it could be heard by farmers and tailors alike.
I am in a room and the room is hot, you guide me here. Suitcase, chloroform, various implements and instruments of degrading practices, held in those woods, but that’s all behind me as the world glides to a halt and the windows shine bright light, wafting of dust and corn. Carpet, not old carpet, the shaggy and unpredictable sort but a hard and frizzy variety made of nylon. I sit on a seat where ropes bind me, hold me, hard to breathe but easy to see. That’s the dickens of it, everything is visible here. Eerily visible. The rain was a dream but this is a harsh reality, this room and everything in it is corporeal, here, physical presence. Desk in the back, lit by one lamp, plugged into a socket on the left side, nothing on it save a microwave oven. Fridge. A fridge, has stickers on it, drawings, some look like they’re by kids but it’s too dark to tell for sure. The world is gray and moving is impossible. I wonder what’s in that fridge, a severed head or a can of soda pop. Makes a relaxing humming noise. Soothing, comforting, this is the relaxed and laid-back environment you’d take your child to, play around on the floor with some blocks. Against the wall, another sight- rows of folding chairs, the aluminum kind.
All the lights are turned off but these things are visible through the windows at the top- basement, that’s what it is, you’re subterranean, below what we might call the crust. This room is claustrophobic, stifling, the ceiling looks like it could fall on you. Cramped, yet the ventilation seems fine, in fact one of these windows is open. Beam comes from it, sharp, almost glaring, though not directly in your eyes. You try and shimmy in one direction or the other but you tip and after that you don’t want to rock back and forth anymore because this isn’t a home. This area is not lived in, it is decidedly artificial. Hokey, made for something besides life. Everything is synthetic, plastic, the lights are off but the glare is on, everywhere the shimmer and shine, the sleek smoothness to be found at a Costco warehouse, sure those places are nice but you wouldn’t want to live in one, would you? But a Costco is big and this room, though wide from front to back, is nothing if not unsettlingly small. Low on the top. This basement is not damp or dim, it is not accessed by wooden stairs and it will likely never be flooded out, this room is permanent and tangible, one of many cellars across the nation but one which unlike those other cellars rather than feeling like a moldy or cozy nook instead is a nameless plastic box. And those folding chairs, rested against yet another row, this one of cabinets the contents of which you’ll never know, I’ll never know. This is because and I quote the chairs are made for some unholy or otherwise indecent gathering, you can see them being hauled out of this storage and given new life upstairs. The ceiling is worn tile, not as artificial as the rest but still with a sense of inauthenticity.
These are not old world goods carved in some village shoppe, these are new things for mass consumption, surfaces without any dips or nicks to be seen. Your mouth is not held or bound, but there would be no sense in screaming as your screams would reach nobody. There are no sounds outside, birds sing but aside from that it’s eerily quiet. Upstairs, one other sound is added to the drone of the fridge- a vacuum. Some hobbled custodian keeping the premises clean. You’ll never see him or know him, but his presence is felt. Though artificial, this facility reeks of- well, it has a sense of belonging. Of being old and known. People have been in here, to be sure, they have sat at that desk, made themselves a lunch there, maybe. The fridge is on, people have eaten from it, opened its door, taken out some food, and walked out again. Those chairs have been sat on, they are not without purpose, and though they now reside in storage, eventually someone will haul them out and eventually someone will haul out the contents of the cabinets behind them, too, the ones with the straight down handles and the double doors. This room is not lived in but it is used frequently, shadow men and weary parents lug their young through these doors and out again, casual talk made after some distinctly American ceremony. If the human soul cannot sustain itself here, it can at least show up time and again though the room would not will it.
The vacuum upstairs removes dust so as to keep the rooms looking neat. This is a gathering place, a spot where people come together- but the floor is blank, nothing but that desk, some cabinets above that, presumably with forks and other implements- a community center of some kind, yes, a recreational facility, built for recreation. Union offices, maybe a swimming pool, pool tables and basketball court, here. Or a church, it could be a church, too, couldn’t it? The thought crosses my mind, your mind, we know something. Can see. Can feel. The chair you’re on isn’t one of the folding ones, this one has plush armrests and is made of wooden materials. Whoever tied me up has an intent, a direct motive, they didn’t just tie me to the folding kind, no, they got another breed of seat from another room entirely. Sit in the illuminated darkness and wait, time passes, time flies, you don’t even know how long you’ve been here, really, do you? You can’t say you do, and what’s more disturbing still is the fact that you can’t seem to grasp when it was you woke, whether it was in the trunk of an SUV or in an empty cornfield. Ropes were applied, you felt them as hands wound them up and kept them taut, force was used, besides that you know nothing.
Footsteps, murmurs. These murmurs come from a door behind you, the only entrance into the whole place, a locked closet on one distant wall and the windows giving these surroundings fresh and natural sunlight and air, but the door which lies three feet from your sweat drenched neck is the only way in and the only way out. Of this fact, you have no doubts. Perceptive eyes, yours. From behind this door can be heard furtive voices in corridors where conversation would be futile because all aspects are known, halls with plaques, buttons to elevators that stopped operation in 1922. The point being that these voices are seldom heard in this long and timeless period when your hands are held and your throat is parched. The voices grow more distant, and you lose hope of a feeding. Then, however, one voice barely audible to the human ear makes its way to the entrance, stops. The voice in all honesty quit about fifty feet away, but those hidden footsteps bring the promise of answers and of revelations. These are resumed and the door is opened, light and sound fill your weary body and you know there is another presence, certainly human, without a doubt male, a man who enters this place and then leaves quite often, and only now is entering this room with full knowledge and acceptance of what he’s done. The man steps behind you, I’m too tired to twist my neck and get a good look at his face. I know who he is, this is a silly game and I’m sick of playing it.
He’s holding something, too. The sunlight is reverted to dusk and crimson, and outside are the faraway noises of cars lifting from slumber and departing. Departing because they get softer and less audible, and the man stands near one wall, drowned in scarlet. He moves closer to the closet, next to it is a panel with more than three switches, of these he flips one. The room is revealed to be as massive as you thought it was and with the exact arrangement you recall, stark whites and a flat carpet that to an ant would be a plain of unimaginably lonely proportions. The man is old, seventies, white hair and jowls, dressed plain enough to be seen at a coffee shop but formally enough to be seen in a town hall meeting, he has walked roads and traveled miles, he’s been to gas stations but he is a man of habit, not a drifter. Make no mistake between the two, he has rituals, he has routines, he follows these routines to the best of his ability and in the whir of the flat and lifeless lights connected to unseen wires in the low ceiling, he is absolutely stark and rigid, a depiction of protocol. Lifeless, humorless, a man who knows things you can’t begin to guess. Lapel, a pin of some kind there. Decoration, he belongs to an association of like minded individuals, a mutual admiration society if you would. Meetings held, records kept in dusty and worn ledgers, records for his and his kind’s eyes only. His shoes are beaten, they have trodden many grounds, fields and areas. They are well kept, though, he is well kept. His face is wrinkled and suggests to me the color gray, he lives in exciting monotony. Sterile hubbub.
I see him plain against the walls, the walls are merely a backdrop for this man of ages and wisdom. He carries nothing. He walks with a decided step, a mannerism beaten into him through sheer habit. The room is built for men like him, men who in their golden years forget to walk, seven stages of man, last one’s a return to the first, know that. I know, too, that this visage does not come in a blur when subjected to harsh light, when exposed and thoroughly studied this specimen is less cryptic than at first glance. He fears my vision, knows that I know him and what he does, he treads softly on the synthetic carpet towards the chair where I sit incapacitated and blank, staring through him, behind him, through the walls and out the windows, to a blue and pleasant summer day. It is indeed the dust and corn, land of flat. In parks lovers can be seen huddled on benches, farms go on, cows huddle in fields, sun rises and sets and rises again, circle of life. This area is one of stagnation. It does not change, it keeps on as it has been. This is his power, the power of dust and if not complete rot then of static. Static setting, monotony, emptiness. He lives this way, he cannot be expected to live any other way. He projects vibrations of whimsy, excitement and a bold rainstorm, lightning crucifying him. He thrives on blur, on spin, on deliberate deception and on people believing he is multiple people when in fact he is the same man all the way through. His duplicates are present but faint, and if my eyes are opened entirely they vanish.
The lights are too good here, his tricks don’t operate as they would otherwise. He nears me, pauses, looks into my face, at my features, tries to remember them, but fails. He doesn’t know me how he thought he did, he was hoping for something else. Disappointment. He now walks directly over to the fridge, which calls his prostate and gives him a yearning for some month-old beverage. He rummages through its contents, small and spectral in the yellow light of the freezing chemicals, finally settles on a can of sparkling water. I remember it was a brand which no longer exists, like him a relic of a bygone era, a ghost which nonetheless leaves a tangible and recognizable impact on the present world. I sit and watch as this torture is conducted, the carbonated fluid singing his dry and wrinkled throat, and he looks at me, shakes the can around, tells me with his eyes that I am young and do not know what he has to give. He has something which I do not, this is clear, he is the superior figure in whatever deal we are about to make.
He crosses once over to the switch, returns the room to its darkened condition, though without the sunlight it is a crypt, a plastic coffin submerged in dirt and gravel. In this light his duplicates can be seen, silhouetted. They are no longer moist, now they are solid, I could touch one if my hands weren’t bound. He nears. Eyes red, gleaming, fiery, they burn in a frenzy of carnivorous lust, he sees something. He knows something. The eyes are what can be seen of him, the rest is obscured in the night, the night from which noises of crickets emanate through the window, noises of chirping insects not unlike that flute, noises which when presented alongside burning eyes create nothing more than the deepest paralysis of the human heart. My nerves are sent into convulsions, I open my mouth but nothing can burst from my pale form, I am being dissected and blurred as he was, turned into many multiples, endless reproductions of one essence. The room grows useless, a tangible place to which the following experience is irrelevant, which cannot hold what came next, as the burning orbs neared and took on an olive tone, dark, nude, forest, the color of natural beauty warped and twisted into dying and decaying rot. These two points meld into one in the darkness, hide behind murk and whispers and carry me, roughly, pain surging through every inch of my flesh as I am whirled back to the ground, dirt, left there to die. Above, birds sing. The sun rises on dewdrops and an empty patch of soil.
I raise the shades, help the guy up to his feet and see him off. The cup remains on the couch, and I promptly discard it, it holds no significance for me. Outside, he can be seen pressing the button for the elevator. I watch him until he leaves, know that he’s gone, then I sit at my desk and pull out an aspirin. Back to the water cooler, get the pill, swallow. I think, I have the faintest idea, that I might have that painting replaced soon. Might trade it out to a buddy of mine who’s also in the industry. Receptionist doesn’t know what happened in this room and I’m not telling her. The couch is sweaty and imprinted, it’s seen worse things than some but this has to be the worst yet, a man who though his brain functions as usual has been filled to the utmost capacity and can barely hold it all in. I don’t know if I would be able to, if I was given similar circumstances. I sit back on the cushions, sort through my files and make a detailed entry. Takes about an hour. At the end I lean back and light up, it’ll be over soon, I can drive back to the house, maybe I can convince her to go out to the new restaurant, everyone gives it rave reviews. I need to eat something, my stomach might reject it however. I have something to do, something which I know must be done. I pick up the set and punch in the numbers.
Kansas prefix.
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2020.07.10 01:42 kyleraymundv2 Therapy Session

Coat, hat, degree on the wall, professionally installed carpet. Couch is not a couch per se, more a sterile and pillowless recliner, designed to give one the best experience possible. Lights, walls, bookshelf in the back full of empty pamphlets, stuffed folders, to the brim with index cards and postcards and info on my past clients. Mahogany, not real mahogany, of course, the desk is made out of wood pulp covered by a layer of plywood designed to look like mahogany. Very dry, yet distinguished, and from a distance you could almost call me a professional. I am a professional, I have a degree in all sorts of mental gymnastics, but you wouldn’t know that.
I dress casually at all times, feeling that one can feel more at ease with slacks and a t-shirt, baseball cap flipped to the side. I am nearing middle age, 42, my eyes squint in dusty conditions and my hair is receding like Grunge. I pace from the bookshelf to the chair in the corner , sometimes. Still don’t know why that chair is there, for a wife or parent or something to sit down while their associate is sorted through, though to date I haven’t had any patients accompanied by anyone. Above this chair, which is plastic with comfy padded armrests, next to this is a potted plant, fake of course, about seven inches to the left is a portrait by some famous artist, of what I suppose one would call the impressionist period, Monet and that sort, only this one is a cheap replica I got for $100 at the local auction, the guy even stated that it was a replica, but who cares, it’s a nice painting and some good décor, more suggestive than a Rorschach test, though I still keep a deck of those stashed in the drawer, just in case.
The painting has ample strokes and pleasant overtones, but something about it makes the mind do acrobatics. I’ve had three of my quota mention that they’ve seen it somewhere before, in a TV show or something, that it was in the background, that it’s always been there. In their heads, they can’t seem to get it out. It’s not San Giorgio Maggiore, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was painted in the same year. This one is simpler, no cathedral in the background, but like Giorgio, it’s set on the water, small fishing dock, maybe a port, and the shapes are just as obscured and vague in the evening haze. In the middle is a ship. Big thing, massive, calls to mind the steamers of old, and there are people on it, too, if you look very closely, faint, almost indiscernible silhouettes. Manning the rigging, wheel, etc. It’s pretty, but I often wonder who painted this and who these people are supposed to be. I also wonder what it would be like to exist in such an Impressionistic world. Get sucked in, feel this synthetic carpet move back under my feet as the noises of freshwater Venetian waves and murmuring ship hands grow closer and closer. I wonder sometimes, and my clientele give me the answers.
The man who came in last week should know, he walked through and sat on the couch, he was worried, I could tell by the wrinkles in his forehead, so I told him to lie down on there so he could spill all his worries out like a torrential flood right there in the middle of all this psychiatric foliage. I turned off the lights, they’re usually too bright for anyone to think, I only have them so I can work, then I went over to the wall and opened up the windows, let soft natural light and fresh air fill the room. There on the couch, legs periodically crossed, eyes looking at that replica of mine, he filled me in. The guy, I would say, was not by any means looking shabby. He had good hair, he was in his thirties, early thirties. Sandy hair, maybe from the Southwest, Caucasian, with certain features that indicates a decrepit and empty aura if not a decrepit look.
I muted my phone- push button landline, have yet to switch over to those cellular things, but it does have fax- walked over to him. I pulled out my sketchpad. I guess I didn’t pull it out of anywhere, it was lying on the desk, I’m sloppy with those things, shouldn’t leave notepads lying on the desk where anyone can read them, I should put it in the drawer. Flip through it, get to today, the guy moans a bit and turns over. I know this guy scheduled himself, didn’t just come in here, and I wonder if my receptionist saw what I’m seeing now or if this is just a hangover of some kind. The guy’s clothes are a bit wrinkled, wearing tennis shoes, classic sign of immaturity, or at least Freud would have me believe, but I try and keep an open mind. He points at my personal computer, asks if I could switch the monitor off, a request which I oblige. The darkness in the room now is stifling, almost irrepressible, synthetic materials turned to jungle and organic thriving something off in the corners of this large expanse.
The man has seen something, done something, something which draws him into shadows. Even the midday sun coming through the halfway down blinds cannot repress the feeling of missed opportunity which surrounds this man, a missed opportunity or a blemish on his past. I scribble these things and more down as he opens his lips, and what comes out is not a grunt, or a moan, but a monotone, stale voice. I think about how I am older than this man and yet have so much less than he does, he has experience. He’s seen things, been around things, knows where his head is at and what inning it is. A professional, I assume, looking good and maybe with a wife but no children, maybe she’s unable to have children. Once more, the painting calls to him, the ship so long ago with its rigging and anchor, and ant people scuttling around. Though the ship and the sky itself is obscured in a twilight haze obscured by a real midday haze, atmospheric discombobulation, his eyes are nonetheless enchanted by the world this picture paints. It is because as I have said he is a man of questions and darkness and twilight, and some twilight long ago in Venice or perhaps even Malta the sun is going down and people in near-empty streets are sharing obscure European food in corner cafes, a precursor to that one with the three men alone in a corner café on a dark New York City at night. The ships make ambient noises as their prows cut through the water, and above birds fly open and opaque in the orange hue. His eyes are drawn to this world, and I listen in the darkness as his corneas are sucked across the room.
I know you won’t believe me, he says. Nobody will believe this, you hack, you fraud, this is something for me and me alone. Water, please? His arm gestures, I walk out the door, down the hallway, make a right, to the water cooler, which gurgles softly, pours cool sweet sugar free liquid into a sterile and generic paper cup with swirling brown lines on the sides. Receptionist is at the desk, browsing through something, She’s a good lady. My wife gives me strange looks, she probably thinks I’m cheating on the side with this ditzy 22 year old, yeah right. Anyway. Back in the room, around the corner, shut the door with a soft and svelte click. Give the guy his water. He raises himself with his left elbow, left may have some subtext, must mean something, everything means something unless it doesn’t. Sips it long and hard, glugs that right down his throat until the cup is devoid of even the smallest drop. Still sweating profusely. Eyes like a scared rabbit. Outside, one minute, the light was so scathing. In here it’s cool and dark and night in Venice, and masked figures race along stone pathways, bridges stretch over dark rippling canals over which the lone gondola carries a night passenger to some unknown bistro. Lamps over the canals, too, they reflect sharply on those depthless waves.
And at the same time it’s a blue day outside, postcard blue, traffic can be heard and the buildings resound a sharp grey against the monotone sky. 42 stories down, it’s the lunch hour, revolving doors and cheap trinkets, street cart food and newsstands with all the usual tabloids. Why am I so nervous? I swivel my seat around, get out from behind the desk, right next to him. That’s it. Keep my eyes away from the painting. Whatever you do, don’t look at that painting. You don’t want to know.
Picture if you would a typical day in Seattle. I can’t, I’ve never been there, wouldn’t know the first thing about the place, especially 15 years ago, but picture it anyway. Space Needle, whatever. Pike Place Market, is that in Seattle? I can see it, rows of shops stretching on towards the horizon. We have a mall here, but not a full-on market, just a mall. Cheap shops, people walking and talking on their doodads, parking lot that goes on and on. Miles of labyrinthine corridors lined by the outlets of commerce. He says something along these lines. Mental image, not of Venice this time but of a city of contrasts, woods, mountains, also beaches and city blocks. Confusing place, confusing times, confusing everything, an aesthetic that would lend a hand towards the downright obscene or the unabashedly lovely. I can tell as he recounts this that he’s being awfully genuine, and as he paints this idyllic past I hesitate to use the notepad as this all seems so irrelevant. Gradually, my arm falls, and the pencil drops to the floor. Five minutes later, the notepad joins it.
I stare out the window as his voice loses its monotone qualities and picks right up to speed. I hear about places and people I’ve never heard about, either this guy is a very convincing storyteller or he really was there. Dates line up. He tells me about a school, the girls he went out with, friends he had. I don’t tell him to cut to the chase but I don’t want to rush him and my appointments are empty today. Always slow on Tuesdays. These anecdotes are words, phrases, congealing into an apt picture of the times. He tells me about a concert he went to, the aura of the era, the signs of the times. I’m nostalgic, but not as much as he is, because I’m older than him and he really appreciated these times while they happened. His adolescence doesn’t sound too bad, I think, decent enough, both his parents were supportive, he had lots of friends, even went to dances, where apparently he was popular. Showed up at most of the parties he was invited to, didn’t do drugs but did drink, though not in excess, not in levels that would damage one’s liver or mind. He seems to tell these fuzzy memories as if they happened to someone else, as if they couldn’t have happened to him.
He doesn’t warrant these stories, he wasn’t this good, he didn’t have this much fun, so on. There’s something he’s hiding from me. I offer him a candy, bribe, whole bowl of them right there on my table. Sure it’s cliché? But whatcha gonna do to get someone to open up other than to offer them a treat? I got the idea after seeing the Michelle Pfeiffer movie earlier this year, fireballs, what a great idea, I thought, because it is, right? Except when I went to the store, they didn’t stock fireballs, because of course they didn’t, but they did have Lemonheads, and I figure either way an extreme taste is an extreme taste, right? Gets the juices flowing, gets the tongue moving. Take this, I say, drop the candy in his hand. He unwraps it slowly and thoughtfully, all the while his tongue still going, wrapper crinkling, and he gives it to me and I stuff the wrapper in my pocket, figure to get up and toss it would be too much of a distraction. I’m also scared, though of what I don’t know. This pining and waxing gets on my nerves, the present is enough already without dwelling on the past. I keep in mind, however, that repression is a factor at play here, and between the smacking and rolling that crunchy citrus ball of sugar around from tooth to jaw and back again I get the idea that something is going on in his mind more than something is going on in his mouth, that his mind is a question and I want to answer it, probe it, feel it the way he handled that wrapper, mull over it. Beautiful mind. Dark room, quizzical shadows fall over the furniture. Scene, Action. Piece of cake.
Woods, open and clear day, and across these woods, behind me, is one of those mountains which appears mind-bogglingly high because we’re at sea level. I, however, am stuck between the two. In my hand is a portable cassette player, expensive. My father bought this trinket for me when I was 13, told me it was the wave of the future and he had been nurtured by vinyl as a child. Loud noises fill my mind through thick wires which lead to a strange outfit on my head, one which covers both my ears through the use of a connection on top, a headband of sorts. I turn this device off, store it away, sling the wires over my shoulder, stash the thing in my pocket. Compact, light, easy. Forest noises, wooded glade, in a sense I wish the entire state was like this, a vast expanse of trees producing oxygen, oxygen which fills my lungs. It is midday and the sun is hot but not overly so, and I am dressed for the occasion. Mountains surround these shadowed glades, massive and overpowering and near-Canadian, although they lack the intensity of Canadian slopes.
Sun plays tricks on the needles, leaves are sparse but they shimmy and shake in the rosy glow. Everywhere you can see the green, the overpowering and steady green, the always-present and nearly-not-natural green. Green are the bushes, the herbs, the small trees and the big trees. Green, too, are the mosses and lichens. I do not fear these effervescent structures, in fact they call to me. I am propelled over root and rot to ancient structures time forgot, a crumbling bridge here, an old aqueduct there, left abandoned and in misery out where nobody will find them and man maintains them seldom to none. I do not find them, they find me nonetheless, because decay is very powerful here, green is very powerful here. Green is everywhere. Green can take a structure which took hours and years to build, filed away by some bureaucratic office, and reduce it all to a pile of rubble.
What is green? Green is chaos, green is the longing and the wanting of privacy and the acquisition of said solidarity, and once this is acquired one doesn’t want to leave, you’ve caught a bug, the green bug, one could say. Ferns here, too, old dinosaur things, slippery and wet, and you wonder how they haven’t decayed. You wonder how this all hasn’t decayed yet, it’s so wet and rainy, you’d think it would encrust and grow mold, become a massive soup of rot and fungus, with mountains to hold it all in, swamps and puddles and torrential moistness held in deep dark foaming puddles under the moon while the wind whistles through the dead branches, dead of course because all the leaves have fallen off and gone to the filth reserves. You wonder this, because in the old days, world war one when they had a supply of fresh boots, trenchfoot would seep up through the toes and ligaments. Shortage of boots, and though the foot was living tissue, it rotted away all the same. Rotted in the dirty crevasses, those muddy foxholes, it rotted all the same. You saw this condition referenced on a medical drama some years ago, and it has stuck with you ever since. Me ever since. I turn up and see a flight of birds, as they hop from one forest to another, up north or down south, or maybe they’re just feeling uncomfortable. The sun has gone behind clouds, hiding itself, and the heat gives way to a slight shiver, a trickling and irreversible breeze, nature pushing energy onto you.
You stop, I stop, we all stop for this forest, a forest which defies all expectations. Acres and acres away from life where the laws of physics do not apply. Sequestered men and women who long for loneliness under the cold rock faces of the Cascades. This is ancient land, sacred land, land with channels of icy thirst dripping from every orifice. It is shrouded in mist, held in the grip of something which lends it a mystique, a silence between the cliffs. These hills are here, these mountains are there, in just such a way as to boggle the mind, to make one lost and afraid in the dark on a night when the mist is down and there is no moon, and one is left struggling down slopes, between the trees, into yet another valley and yet another steep slope which defies all logic, and the night does not end. One sits beneath a pine and grows weary, the organs begin to self cannibalize, the bones grow weak, the muscles grow inactive, and by morning what is found is more rotting soup than human. Such is the power of water. Cascades, water, rushing, pouring down every cliff onto other cliffs into a broad and deep mountain lake which bubbles and hisses and then lies still. You see this lake for a moment, a shimmer, a twinkle behind a swath of trees, but the lake just as easily vanishes, gone, and when I run toward it it is no longer there. More trees, no lake. Mirages do not happen where there is plentiful water, this is a well known scientific fact.
You pull out a candy bar for comfort, you have several of them stowed away in your day pack, but the chocolate has no taste, no flavor. It melts into nothing and is swallowed just as easily. I turn towards the sun, which now has returned but is less potent than previously, and aim for the direction of a mountain I have seen before on these walks, a mountain I don’t know the name of but which has a recognizable shape and could serve as a landmark. I know this mountain. It is distant and ethereal, and on it lies the small town of Illusion, from which wafts a haunting flute tune. I know not if I hear this flute, this macabre recorder, in my ears or in my brain, but the effect is gone soon after, and it matters not from whence the flute originated, for the mountain leaves me alone on an empty plateau, a plateau of infinity and ideas, and the mountain is swallowed by the trees, which obscure it as they did the lake. Sky is now gathering, real rain, torrential downpour, get your jacket out, it’s going to be a doozy, and no tree on earth will save me from it. Crack, boom, gray water vapor congeals into a massive and black maw, a mouth from which pours the bucket, the flood upon my head. Rain is slick, ground is dripping and soggy, dirt slides right under my feet as if I were at the Olympics. Roots trip me up, as do small rocks in my path, mix of pine and broad leaf here. River somewhere nearby. Rushing, pouring, barely able to contain itself within its shores, breaking on impact, trees are swallowed whole by pools which form around my feet, puddles which could drown a rat. Hidden in one gulch lies a carcass of some kind, I see it but do not want to know it closely, it remains sheathed under branches and innumerable foliage, and emits a potent odor.
The wind is screaming and howling, the cosmos themselves are fighting up in those bleak and dismal clouds, and I am more soup than person now, liquid in its basic form, the skin a weak and wholly terrestrial defense against the pelting precipitation hurled at me from the heavens. I am scared of what I do not know. Never before have I seen a man such as this, standing still in the midst of what would turn any grown person’s skin to ice or a hole-pocked dread, this man stands firm. His face is up against the air, he breathes in the liquid, shivers as it courses through his veins with a kind of giddy delight. In one hand he holds a briefcase, his other he holds firm to his lapel. And though my eyes are bleary and my vision cannot be called sufficient, and I cannot see through this unnatural foaming liquid for more than twenty feet in any direction, I do know one thing about this man: That he stands with two other men, each identical replicas of him, as seen through a kaleidoscope or a filter. This man is not alone, but he has no company. He is singular but he is divided. These forms on either side of him are weaker but substantial. They, too, face the rain, they too clutch at the lapel as the sky screams fury and the world bubbles, his eyes shine in the darkness, they glow in that storm, they turn a fiery red, then a low muted green. Finally, they twinkle in the softest starlight, and then return to their blank state, unseen and unnoticed in this most secluded of all places, this endless downpour. He stands tall, though he is old, he has seen many things, many more things than this, this is but a meme setback to him, the weather means nothing.
The rain continues, the world goes grey and lifeless, and the mist mixes with the rain in an acidic hiss, and the clouds themselves are waging a war upon the ground beneath my feet. I hesitate near a log and observe the man from behind a worn tree, its bark picked off methodically. Sitting, seat is drenched, every corner is bathed in layers of caked sweat, permanent grease, and furthermore an inch on every side of a new ocean which drops instantly over me. The man cares not though he lives in the same land-based oceanic environment, he is a creature of depths, not necessarily wet ones, but depths and souls and areas which boggle the mind. His face cannot be seen, he wears no hat, for this would shield him from the elements he craves, the raw and open lashing of the deluge, the skies in rage. His briefcase is medium sized, cannot be seen well for the confounding visual impact of the rain, though it contains something, as he carries it with a weight, it weighs him to the ground while the wind whips and sucks and pulls him nearer to the battle and crack above. Trees bend like modeling clay in such winds, these winds pull the leaves off things, the rain aids in the job. Things die in weather like this. Water giveth life, water taketh away, the universal solvent is a catalyst of life but also an instrument of decay and neglect. I know this now, a rotting soup, an infinite void where organic matter lies in a fluidic dense mass, writing with vines and death.
Death being the word called to mind when one spots this ethereal figure in the midst of a paradoxical and wholly impossible event, one whose presence indicates multiplicity, for he is three people unto one. He is one man with two duplicates, and with a squint one can even make out five whole bodies, all performing the same actions at the same time, though the two on the edges are spectral and faint, distant as the town of illusion on the blank mountainside, unimportant as that drowsy and lulling flute, which wafted over trees and into valleys where it could be heard by farmers and tailors alike.
I am in a room and the room is hot, you guide me here. Suitcase, chloroform, various implements and instruments of degrading practices, held in those woods, but that’s all behind me as the world glides to a halt and the windows shine bright light, wafting of dust and corn. Carpet, not old carpet, the shaggy and unpredictable sort but a hard and frizzy variety made of nylon. I sit on a seat where ropes bind me, hold me, hard to breathe but easy to see. That’s the dickens of it, everything is visible here. Eerily visible. The rain was a dream but this is a harsh reality, this room and everything in it is corporeal, here, physical presence. Desk in the back, lit by one lamp, plugged into a socket on the left side, nothing on it save a microwave oven. Fridge. A fridge, has stickers on it, drawings, some look like they’re by kids but it’s too dark to tell for sure. The world is gray and moving is impossible. I wonder what’s in that fridge, a severed head or a can of soda pop. Makes a relaxing humming noise. Soothing, comforting, this is the relaxed and laid-back environment you’d take your child to, play around on the floor with some blocks. Against the wall, another sight- rows of folding chairs, the aluminum kind.
All the lights are turned off but these things are visible through the windows at the top- basement, that’s what it is, you’re subterranean, below what we might call the crust. This room is claustrophobic, stifling, the ceiling looks like it could fall on you. Cramped, yet the ventilation seems fine, in fact one of these windows is open. Beam comes from it, sharp, almost glaring, though not directly in your eyes. You try and shimmy in one direction or the other but you tip and after that you don’t want to rock back and forth anymore because this isn’t a home. This area is not lived in, it is decidedly artificial. Hokey, made for something besides life. Everything is synthetic, plastic, the lights are off but the glare is on, everywhere the shimmer and shine, the sleek smoothness to be found at a Costco warehouse, sure those places are nice but you wouldn’t want to live in one, would you? But a Costco is big and this room, though wide from front to back, is nothing if not unsettlingly small. Low on the top. This basement is not damp or dim, it is not accessed by wooden stairs and it will likely never be flooded out, this room is permanent and tangible, one of many cellars across the nation but one which unlike those other cellars rather than feeling like a moldy or cozy nook instead is a nameless plastic box. And those folding chairs, rested against yet another row, this one of cabinets the contents of which you’ll never know, I’ll never know. This is because and I quote the chairs are made for some unholy or otherwise indecent gathering, you can see them being hauled out of this storage and given new life upstairs. The ceiling is worn tile, not as artificial as the rest but still with a sense of inauthenticity.
These are not old world goods carved in some village shoppe, these are new things for mass consumption, surfaces without any dips or nicks to be seen. Your mouth is not held or bound, but there would be no sense in screaming as your screams would reach nobody. There are no sounds outside, birds sing but aside from that it’s eerily quiet. Upstairs, one other sound is added to the drone of the fridge- a vacuum. Some hobbled custodian keeping the premises clean. You’ll never see him or know him, but his presence is felt. Though artificial, this facility reeks of- well, it has a sense of belonging. Of being old and known. People have been in here, to be sure, they have sat at that desk, made themselves a lunch there, maybe. The fridge is on, people have eaten from it, opened its door, taken out some food, and walked out again. Those chairs have been sat on, they are not without purpose, and though they now reside in storage, eventually someone will haul them out and eventually someone will haul out the contents of the cabinets behind them, too, the ones with the straight down handles and the double doors. This room is not lived in but it is used frequently, shadow men and weary parents lug their young through these doors and out again, casual talk made after some distinctly American ceremony. If the human soul cannot sustain itself here, it can at least show up time and again though the room would not will it.
The vacuum upstairs removes dust so as to keep the rooms looking neat. This is a gathering place, a spot where people come together- but the floor is blank, nothing but that desk, some cabinets above that, presumably with forks and other implements- a community center of some kind, yes, a recreational facility, built for recreation. Union offices, maybe a swimming pool, pool tables and basketball court, here. Or a church, it could be a church, too, couldn’t it? The thought crosses my mind, your mind, we know something. Can see. Can feel. The chair you’re on isn’t one of the folding ones, this one has plush armrests and is made of wooden materials. Whoever tied me up has an intent, a direct motive, they didn’t just tie me to the folding kind, no, they got another breed of seat from another room entirely. Sit in the illuminated darkness and wait, time passes, time flies, you don’t even know how long you’ve been here, really, do you? You can’t say you do, and what’s more disturbing still is the fact that you can’t seem to grasp when it was you woke, whether it was in the trunk of an SUV or in an empty cornfield. Ropes were applied, you felt them as hands wound them up and kept them taut, force was used, besides that you know nothing.
Footsteps, murmurs. These murmurs come from a door behind you, the only entrance into the whole place, a locked closet on one distant wall and the windows giving these surroundings fresh and natural sunlight and air, but the door which lies three feet from your sweat drenched neck is the only way in and the only way out. Of this fact, you have no doubts. Perceptive eyes, yours. From behind this door can be heard furtive voices in corridors where conversation would be futile because all aspects are known, halls with plaques, buttons to elevators that stopped operation in 1922. The point being that these voices are seldom heard in this long and timeless period when your hands are held and your throat is parched. The voices grow more distant, and you lose hope of a feeding. Then, however, one voice barely audible to the human ear makes its way to the entrance, stops. The voice in all honesty quit about fifty feet away, but those hidden footsteps bring the promise of answers and of revelations. These are resumed and the door is opened, light and sound fill your weary body and you know there is another presence, certainly human, without a doubt male, a man who enters this place and then leaves quite often, and only now is entering this room with full knowledge and acceptance of what he’s done. The man steps behind you, I’m too tired to twist my neck and get a good look at his face. I know who he is, this is a silly game and I’m sick of playing it.
He’s holding something, too. The sunlight is reverted to dusk and crimson, and outside are the faraway noises of cars lifting from slumber and departing. Departing because they get softer and less audible, and the man stands near one wall, drowned in scarlet. He moves closer to the closet, next to it is a panel with more than three switches, of these he flips one. The room is revealed to be as massive as you thought it was and with the exact arrangement you recall, stark whites and a flat carpet that to an ant would be a plain of unimaginably lonely proportions. The man is old, seventies, white hair and jowls, dressed plain enough to be seen at a coffee shop but formally enough to be seen in a town hall meeting, he has walked roads and traveled miles, he’s been to gas stations but he is a man of habit, not a drifter. Make no mistake between the two, he has rituals, he has routines, he follows these routines to the best of his ability and in the whir of the flat and lifeless lights connected to unseen wires in the low ceiling, he is absolutely stark and rigid, a depiction of protocol. Lifeless, humorless, a man who knows things you can’t begin to guess. Lapel, a pin of some kind there. Decoration, he belongs to an association of like minded individuals, a mutual admiration society if you would. Meetings held, records kept in dusty and worn ledgers, records for his and his kind’s eyes only. His shoes are beaten, they have trodden many grounds, fields and areas. They are well kept, though, he is well kept. His face is wrinkled and suggests to me the color gray, he lives in exciting monotony. Sterile hubbub.
I see him plain against the walls, the walls are merely a backdrop for this man of ages and wisdom. He carries nothing. He walks with a decided step, a mannerism beaten into him through sheer habit. The room is built for men like him, men who in their golden years forget to walk, seven stages of man, last one’s a return to the first, know that. I know, too, that this visage does not come in a blur when subjected to harsh light, when exposed and thoroughly studied this specimen is less cryptic than at first glance. He fears my vision, knows that I know him and what he does, he treads softly on the synthetic carpet towards the chair where I sit incapacitated and blank, staring through him, behind him, through the walls and out the windows, to a blue and pleasant summer day. It is indeed the dust and corn, land of flat. In parks lovers can be seen huddled on benches, farms go on, cows huddle in fields, sun rises and sets and rises again, circle of life. This area is one of stagnation. It does not change, it keeps on as it has been. This is his power, the power of dust and if not complete rot then of static. Static setting, monotony, emptiness. He lives this way, he cannot be expected to live any other way. He projects vibrations of whimsy, excitement and a bold rainstorm, lightning crucifying him. He thrives on blur, on spin, on deliberate deception and on people believing he is multiple people when in fact he is the same man all the way through. His duplicates are present but faint, and if my eyes are opened entirely they vanish.
The lights are too good here, his tricks don’t operate as they would otherwise. He nears me, pauses, looks into my face, at my features, tries to remember them, but fails. He doesn’t know me how he thought he did, he was hoping for something else. Disappointment. He now walks directly over to the fridge, which calls his prostate and gives him a yearning for some month-old beverage. He rummages through its contents, small and spectral in the yellow light of the freezing chemicals, finally settles on a can of sparkling water. I remember it was a brand which no longer exists, like him a relic of a bygone era, a ghost which nonetheless leaves a tangible and recognizable impact on the present world. I sit and watch as this torture is conducted, the carbonated fluid singing his dry and wrinkled throat, and he looks at me, shakes the can around, tells me with his eyes that I am young and do not know what he has to give. He has something which I do not, this is clear, he is the superior figure in whatever deal we are about to make.
He crosses once over to the switch, returns the room to its darkened condition, though without the sunlight it is a crypt, a plastic coffin submerged in dirt and gravel. In this light his duplicates can be seen, silhouetted. They are no longer moist, now they are solid, I could touch one if my hands weren’t bound. He nears. Eyes red, gleaming, fiery, they burn in a frenzy of carnivorous lust, he sees something. He knows something. The eyes are what can be seen of him, the rest is obscured in the night, the night from which noises of crickets emanate through the window, noises of chirping insects not unlike that flute, noises which when presented alongside burning eyes create nothing more than the deepest paralysis of the human heart. My nerves are sent into convulsions, I open my mouth but nothing can burst from my pale form, I am being dissected and blurred as he was, turned into many multiples, endless reproductions of one essence. The room grows useless, a tangible place to which the following experience is irrelevant, which cannot hold what came next, as the burning orbs neared and took on an olive tone, dark, nude, forest, the color of natural beauty warped and twisted into dying and decaying rot. These two points meld into one in the darkness, hide behind murk and whispers and carry me, roughly, pain surging through every inch of my flesh as I am whirled back to the ground, dirt, left there to die. Above, birds sing. The sun rises on dewdrops and an empty patch of soil.
I raise the shades, help the guy up to his feet and see him off. The cup remains on the couch, and I promptly discard it, it holds no significance for me. Outside, he can be seen pressing the button for the elevator. I watch him until he leaves, know that he’s gone, then I sit at my desk and pull out an aspirin. Back to the water cooler, get the pill, swallow. I think, I have the faintest idea, that I might have that painting replaced soon. Might trade it out to a buddy of mine who’s also in the industry. Receptionist doesn’t know what happened in this room and I’m not telling her. The couch is sweaty and imprinted, it’s seen worse things than some but this has to be the worst yet, a man who though his brain functions as usual has been filled to the utmost capacity and can barely hold it all in. I don’t know if I would be able to, if I was given similar circumstances. I sit back on the cushions, sort through my files and make a detailed entry. Takes about an hour. At the end I lean back and light up, it’ll be over soon, I can drive back to the house, maybe I can convince her to go out to the new restaurant, everyone gives it rave reviews. I need to eat something, my stomach might reject it however. I have something to do, something which I know must be done. I pick up the set and punch in the numbers.
Kansas prefix.
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2020.07.10 01:26 kyleraymundv2 Therapy Session

Coat, hat, degree on the wall, professionally installed carpet. Couch is not a couch per se, more a sterile and pillowless recliner, designed to give one the best experience possible. Lights, walls, bookshelf in the back full of empty pamphlets, stuffed folders, to the brim with index cards and postcards and info on my past clients. Mahogany, not real mahogany, of course, the desk is made out of wood pulp covered by a layer of plywood designed to look like mahogany. Very dry, yet distinguished, and from a distance you could almost call me a professional. I am a professional, I have a degree in all sorts of mental gymnastics, but you wouldn’t know that.
I dress casually at all times, feeling that one can feel more at ease with slacks and a t-shirt, baseball cap flipped to the side. I am nearing middle age, 42, my eyes squint in dusty conditions and my hair is receding like Grunge. I pace from the bookshelf to the chair in the corner , sometimes. Still don’t know why that chair is there, for a wife or parent or something to sit down while their associate is sorted through, though to date I haven’t had any patients accompanied by anyone. Above this chair, which is plastic with comfy padded armrests, next to this is a potted plant, fake of course, about seven inches to the left is a portrait by some famous artist, of what I suppose one would call the impressionist period, Monet and that sort, only this one is a cheap replica I got for $100 at the local auction, the guy even stated that it was a replica, but who cares, it’s a nice painting and some good décor, more suggestive than a Rorschach test, though I still keep a deck of those stashed in the drawer, just in case.
The painting has ample strokes and pleasant overtones, but something about it makes the mind do acrobatics. I’ve had three of my quota mention that they’ve seen it somewhere before, in a TV show or something, that it was in the background, that it’s always been there. In their heads, they can’t seem to get it out. It’s not San Giorgio Maggiore, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was painted in the same year. This one is simpler, no cathedral in the background, but like Giorgio, it’s set on the water, small fishing dock, maybe a port, and the shapes are just as obscured and vague in the evening haze. In the middle is a ship. Big thing, massive, calls to mind the steamers of old, and there are people on it, too, if you look very closely, faint, almost indiscernible silhouettes. Manning the rigging, wheel, etc. It’s pretty, but I often wonder who painted this and who these people are supposed to be. I also wonder what it would be like to exist in such an Impressionistic world. Get sucked in, feel this synthetic carpet move back under my feet as the noises of freshwater Venetian waves and murmuring ship hands grow closer and closer. I wonder sometimes, and my clientele give me the answers.
The man who came in last week should know, he walked through and sat on the couch, he was worried, I could tell by the wrinkles in his forehead, so I told him to lie down on there so he could spill all his worries out like a torrential flood right there in the middle of all this psychiatric foliage. I turned off the lights, they’re usually too bright for anyone to think, I only have them so I can work, then I went over to the wall and opened up the windows, let soft natural light and fresh air fill the room. There on the couch, legs periodically crossed, eyes looking at that replica of mine, he filled me in. The guy, I would say, was not by any means looking shabby. He had good hair, he was in his thirties, early thirties. Sandy hair, maybe from the Southwest, Caucasian, with certain features that indicates a decrepit and empty aura if not a decrepit look.
I muted my phone- push button landline, have yet to switch over to those cellular things, but it does have fax- walked over to him. I pulled out my sketchpad. I guess I didn’t pull it out of anywhere, it was lying on the desk, I’m sloppy with those things, shouldn’t leave notepads lying on the desk where anyone can read them, I should put it in the drawer. Flip through it, get to today, the guy moans a bit and turns over. I know this guy scheduled himself, didn’t just come in here, and I wonder if my receptionist saw what I’m seeing now or if this is just a hangover of some kind. The guy’s clothes are a bit wrinkled, wearing tennis shoes, classic sign of immaturity, or at least Freud would have me believe, but I try and keep an open mind. He points at my personal computer, asks if I could switch the monitor off, a request which I oblige. The darkness in the room now is stifling, almost irrepressible, synthetic materials turned to jungle and organic thriving something off in the corners of this large expanse.
The man has seen something, done something, something which draws him into shadows. Even the midday sun coming through the halfway down blinds cannot repress the feeling of missed opportunity which surrounds this man, a missed opportunity or a blemish on his past. I scribble these things and more down as he opens his lips, and what comes out is not a grunt, or a moan, but a monotone, stale voice. I think about how I am older than this man and yet have so much less than he does, he has experience. He’s seen things, been around things, knows where his head is at and what inning it is. A professional, I assume, looking good and maybe with a wife but no children, maybe she’s unable to have children. Once more, the painting calls to him, the ship so long ago with its rigging and anchor, and ant people scuttling around. Though the ship and the sky itself is obscured in a twilight haze obscured by a real midday haze, atmospheric discombobulation, his eyes are nonetheless enchanted by the world this picture paints. It is because as I have said he is a man of questions and darkness and twilight, and some twilight long ago in Venice or perhaps even Malta the sun is going down and people in near-empty streets are sharing obscure European food in corner cafes, a precursor to that one with the three men alone in a corner café on a dark New York City at night. The ships make ambient noises as their prows cut through the water, and above birds fly open and opaque in the orange hue. His eyes are drawn to this world, and I listen in the darkness as his corneas are sucked across the room.
I know you won’t believe me, he says. Nobody will believe this, you hack, you fraud, this is something for me and me alone. Water, please? His arm gestures, I walk out the door, down the hallway, make a right, to the water cooler, which gurgles softly, pours cool sweet sugar free liquid into a sterile and generic paper cup with swirling brown lines on the sides. Receptionist is at the desk, browsing through something, She’s a good lady. My wife gives me strange looks, she probably thinks I’m cheating on the side with this ditzy 22 year old, yeah right. Anyway. Back in the room, around the corner, shut the door with a soft and svelte click. Give the guy his water. He raises himself with his left elbow, left may have some subtext, must mean something, everything means something unless it doesn’t. Sips it long and hard, glugs that right down his throat until the cup is devoid of even the smallest drop. Still sweating profusely. Eyes like a scared rabbit. Outside, one minute, the light was so scathing. In here it’s cool and dark and night in Venice, and masked figures race along stone pathways, bridges stretch over dark rippling canals over which the lone gondola carries a night passenger to some unknown bistro. Lamps over the canals, too, they reflect sharply on those depthless waves.
And at the same time it’s a blue day outside, postcard blue, traffic can be heard and the buildings resound a sharp grey against the monotone sky. 42 stories down, it’s the lunch hour, revolving doors and cheap trinkets, street cart food and newsstands with all the usual tabloids. Why am I so nervous? I swivel my seat around, get out from behind the desk, right next to him. That’s it. Keep my eyes away from the painting. Whatever you do, don’t look at that painting. You don’t want to know.
Picture if you would a typical day in Seattle. I can’t, I’ve never been there, wouldn’t know the first thing about the place, especially 15 years ago, but picture it anyway. Space Needle, whatever. Pike Place Market, is that in Seattle? I can see it, rows of shops stretching on towards the horizon. We have a mall here, but not a full-on market, just a mall. Cheap shops, people walking and talking on their doodads, parking lot that goes on and on. Miles of labyrinthine corridors lined by the outlets of commerce. He says something along these lines. Mental image, not of Venice this time but of a city of contrasts, woods, mountains, also beaches and city blocks. Confusing place, confusing times, confusing everything, an aesthetic that would lend a hand towards the downright obscene or the unabashedly lovely. I can tell as he recounts this that he’s being awfully genuine, and as he paints this idyllic past I hesitate to use the notepad as this all seems so irrelevant. Gradually, my arm falls, and the pencil drops to the floor. Five minutes later, the notepad joins it.
I stare out the window as his voice loses its monotone qualities and picks right up to speed. I hear about places and people I’ve never heard about, either this guy is a very convincing storyteller or he really was there. Dates line up. He tells me about a school, the girls he went out with, friends he had. I don’t tell him to cut to the chase but I don’t want to rush him and my appointments are empty today. Always slow on Tuesdays. These anecdotes are words, phrases, congealing into an apt picture of the times. He tells me about a concert he went to, the aura of the era, the signs of the times. I’m nostalgic, but not as much as he is, because I’m older than him and he really appreciated these times while they happened. His adolescence doesn’t sound too bad, I think, decent enough, both his parents were supportive, he had lots of friends, even went to dances, where apparently he was popular. Showed up at most of the parties he was invited to, didn’t do drugs but did drink, though not in excess, not in levels that would damage one’s liver or mind. He seems to tell these fuzzy memories as if they happened to someone else, as if they couldn’t have happened to him.
He doesn’t warrant these stories, he wasn’t this good, he didn’t have this much fun, so on. There’s something he’s hiding from me. I offer him a candy, bribe, whole bowl of them right there on my table. Sure it’s cliché? But whatcha gonna do to get someone to open up other than to offer them a treat? I got the idea after seeing the Michelle Pfeiffer movie earlier this year, fireballs, what a great idea, I thought, because it is, right? Except when I went to the store, they didn’t stock fireballs, because of course they didn’t, but they did have Lemonheads, and I figure either way an extreme taste is an extreme taste, right? Gets the juices flowing, gets the tongue moving. Take this, I say, drop the candy in his hand. He unwraps it slowly and thoughtfully, all the while his tongue still going, wrapper crinkling, and he gives it to me and I stuff the wrapper in my pocket, figure to get up and toss it would be too much of a distraction. I’m also scared, though of what I don’t know. This pining and waxing gets on my nerves, the present is enough already without dwelling on the past. I keep in mind, however, that repression is a factor at play here, and between the smacking and rolling that crunchy citrus ball of sugar around from tooth to jaw and back again I get the idea that something is going on in his mind more than something is going on in his mouth, that his mind is a question and I want to answer it, probe it, feel it the way he handled that wrapper, mull over it. Beautiful mind. Dark room, quizzical shadows fall over the furniture. Scene, Action. Piece of cake.
Woods, open and clear day, and across these woods, behind me, is one of those mountains which appears mind-bogglingly high because we’re at sea level. I, however, am stuck between the two. In my hand is a portable cassette player, expensive. My father bought this trinket for me when I was 13, told me it was the wave of the future and he had been nurtured by vinyl as a child. Loud noises fill my mind through thick wires which lead to a strange outfit on my head, one which covers both my ears through the use of a connection on top, a headband of sorts. I turn this device off, store it away, sling the wires over my shoulder, stash the thing in my pocket. Compact, light, easy. Forest noises, wooded glade, in a sense I wish the entire state was like this, a vast expanse of trees producing oxygen, oxygen which fills my lungs. It is midday and the sun is hot but not overly so, and I am dressed for the occasion. Mountains surround these shadowed glades, massive and overpowering and near-Canadian, although they lack the intensity of Canadian slopes.
Sun plays tricks on the needles, leaves are sparse but they shimmy and shake in the rosy glow. Everywhere you can see the green, the overpowering and steady green, the always-present and nearly-not-natural green. Green are the bushes, the herbs, the small trees and the big trees. Green, too, are the mosses and lichens. I do not fear these effervescent structures, in fact they call to me. I am propelled over root and rot to ancient structures time forgot, a crumbling bridge here, an old aqueduct there, left abandoned and in misery out where nobody will find them and man maintains them seldom to none. I do not find them, they find me nonetheless, because decay is very powerful here, green is very powerful here. Green is everywhere. Green can take a structure which took hours and years to build, filed away by some bureaucratic office, and reduce it all to a pile of rubble.
What is green? Green is chaos, green is the longing and the wanting of privacy and the acquisition of said solidarity, and once this is acquired one doesn’t want to leave, you’ve caught a bug, the green bug, one could say. Ferns here, too, old dinosaur things, slippery and wet, and you wonder how they haven’t decayed. You wonder how this all hasn’t decayed yet, it’s so wet and rainy, you’d think it would encrust and grow mold, become a massive soup of rot and fungus, with mountains to hold it all in, swamps and puddles and torrential moistness held in deep dark foaming puddles under the moon while the wind whistles through the dead branches, dead of course because all the leaves have fallen off and gone to the filth reserves. You wonder this, because in the old days, world war one when they had a supply of fresh boots, trenchfoot would seep up through the toes and ligaments. Shortage of boots, and though the foot was living tissue, it rotted away all the same. Rotted in the dirty crevasses, those muddy foxholes, it rotted all the same. You saw this condition referenced on a medical drama some years ago, and it has stuck with you ever since. Me ever since. I turn up and see a flight of birds, as they hop from one forest to another, up north or down south, or maybe they’re just feeling uncomfortable. The sun has gone behind clouds, hiding itself, and the heat gives way to a slight shiver, a trickling and irreversible breeze, nature pushing energy onto you.
You stop, I stop, we all stop for this forest, a forest which defies all expectations. Acres and acres away from life where the laws of physics do not apply. Sequestered men and women who long for loneliness under the cold rock faces of the Cascades. This is ancient land, sacred land, land with channels of icy thirst dripping from every orifice. It is shrouded in mist, held in the grip of something which lends it a mystique, a silence between the cliffs. These hills are here, these mountains are there, in just such a way as to boggle the mind, to make one lost and afraid in the dark on a night when the mist is down and there is no moon, and one is left struggling down slopes, between the trees, into yet another valley and yet another steep slope which defies all logic, and the night does not end. One sits beneath a pine and grows weary, the organs begin to self cannibalize, the bones grow weak, the muscles grow inactive, and by morning what is found is more rotting soup than human. Such is the power of water. Cascades, water, rushing, pouring down every cliff onto other cliffs into a broad and deep mountain lake which bubbles and hisses and then lies still. You see this lake for a moment, a shimmer, a twinkle behind a swath of trees, but the lake just as easily vanishes, gone, and when I run toward it it is no longer there. More trees, no lake. Mirages do not happen where there is plentiful water, this is a well known scientific fact.
You pull out a candy bar for comfort, you have several of them stowed away in your day pack, but the chocolate has no taste, no flavor. It melts into nothing and is swallowed just as easily. I turn towards the sun, which now has returned but is less potent than previously, and aim for the direction of a mountain I have seen before on these walks, a mountain I don’t know the name of but which has a recognizable shape and could serve as a landmark. I know this mountain. It is distant and ethereal, and on it lies the small town of Illusion, from which wafts a haunting flute tune. I know not if I hear this flute, this macabre recorder, in my ears or in my brain, but the effect is gone soon after, and it matters not from whence the flute originated, for the mountain leaves me alone on an empty plateau, a plateau of infinity and ideas, and the mountain is swallowed by the trees, which obscure it as they did the lake. Sky is now gathering, real rain, torrential downpour, get your jacket out, it’s going to be a doozy, and no tree on earth will save me from it. Crack, boom, gray water vapor congeals into a massive and black maw, a mouth from which pours the bucket, the flood upon my head. Rain is slick, ground is dripping and soggy, dirt slides right under my feet as if I were at the Olympics. Roots trip me up, as do small rocks in my path, mix of pine and broad leaf here. River somewhere nearby. Rushing, pouring, barely able to contain itself within its shores, breaking on impact, trees are swallowed whole by pools which form around my feet, puddles which could drown a rat. Hidden in one gulch lies a carcass of some kind, I see it but do not want to know it closely, it remains sheathed under branches and innumerable foliage, and emits a potent odor.
The wind is screaming and howling, the cosmos themselves are fighting up in those bleak and dismal clouds, and I am more soup than person now, liquid in its basic form, the skin a weak and wholly terrestrial defense against the pelting precipitation hurled at me from the heavens. I am scared of what I do not know. Never before have I seen a man such as this, standing still in the midst of what would turn any grown person’s skin to ice or a hole-pocked dread, this man stands firm. His face is up against the air, he breathes in the liquid, shivers as it courses through his veins with a kind of giddy delight. In one hand he holds a briefcase, his other he holds firm to his lapel. And though my eyes are bleary and my vision cannot be called sufficient, and I cannot see through this unnatural foaming liquid for more than twenty feet in any direction, I do know one thing about this man: That he stands with two other men, each identical replicas of him, as seen through a kaleidoscope or a filter. This man is not alone, but he has no company. He is singular but he is divided. These forms on either side of him are weaker but substantial. They, too, face the rain, they too clutch at the lapel as the sky screams fury and the world bubbles, his eyes shine in the darkness, they glow in that storm, they turn a fiery red, then a low muted green. Finally, they twinkle in the softest starlight, and then return to their blank state, unseen and unnoticed in this most secluded of all places, this endless downpour. He stands tall, though he is old, he has seen many things, many more things than this, this is but a meme setback to him, the weather means nothing.
The rain continues, the world goes grey and lifeless, and the mist mixes with the rain in an acidic hiss, and the clouds themselves are waging a war upon the ground beneath my feet. I hesitate near a log and observe the man from behind a worn tree, its bark picked off methodically. Sitting, seat is drenched, every corner is bathed in layers of caked sweat, permanent grease, and furthermore an inch on every side of a new ocean which drops instantly over me. The man cares not though he lives in the same land-based oceanic environment, he is a creature of depths, not necessarily wet ones, but depths and souls and areas which boggle the mind. His face cannot be seen, he wears no hat, for this would shield him from the elements he craves, the raw and open lashing of the deluge, the skies in rage. His briefcase is medium sized, cannot be seen well for the confounding visual impact of the rain, though it contains something, as he carries it with a weight, it weighs him to the ground while the wind whips and sucks and pulls him nearer to the battle and crack above. Trees bend like modeling clay in such winds, these winds pull the leaves off things, the rain aids in the job. Things die in weather like this. Water giveth life, water taketh away, the universal solvent is a catalyst of life but also an instrument of decay and neglect. I know this now, a rotting soup, an infinite void where organic matter lies in a fluidic dense mass, writing with vines and death.
Death being the word called to mind when one spots this ethereal figure in the midst of a paradoxical and wholly impossible event, one whose presence indicates multiplicity, for he is three people unto one. He is one man with two duplicates, and with a squint one can even make out five whole bodies, all performing the same actions at the same time, though the two on the edges are spectral and faint, distant as the town of illusion on the blank mountainside, unimportant as that drowsy and lulling flute, which wafted over trees and into valleys where it could be heard by farmers and tailors alike.
I am in a room and the room is hot, you guide me here. Suitcase, chloroform, various implements and instruments of degrading practices, held in those woods, but that’s all behind me as the world glides to a halt and the windows shine bright light, wafting of dust and corn. Carpet, not old carpet, the shaggy and unpredictable sort but a hard and frizzy variety made of nylon. I sit on a seat where ropes bind me, hold me, hard to breathe but easy to see. That’s the dickens of it, everything is visible here. Eerily visible. The rain was a dream but this is a harsh reality, this room and everything in it is corporeal, here, physical presence. Desk in the back, lit by one lamp, plugged into a socket on the left side, nothing on it save a microwave oven. Fridge. A fridge, has stickers on it, drawings, some look like they’re by kids but it’s too dark to tell for sure. The world is gray and moving is impossible. I wonder what’s in that fridge, a severed head or a can of soda pop. Makes a relaxing humming noise. Soothing, comforting, this is the relaxed and laid-back environment you’d take your child to, play around on the floor with some blocks. Against the wall, another sight- rows of folding chairs, the aluminum kind.
All the lights are turned off but these things are visible through the windows at the top- basement, that’s what it is, you’re subterranean, below what we might call the crust. This room is claustrophobic, stifling, the ceiling looks like it could fall on you. Cramped, yet the ventilation seems fine, in fact one of these windows is open. Beam comes from it, sharp, almost glaring, though not directly in your eyes. You try and shimmy in one direction or the other but you tip and after that you don’t want to rock back and forth anymore because this isn’t a home. This area is not lived in, it is decidedly artificial. Hokey, made for something besides life. Everything is synthetic, plastic, the lights are off but the glare is on, everywhere the shimmer and shine, the sleek smoothness to be found at a Costco warehouse, sure those places are nice but you wouldn’t want to live in one, would you? But a Costco is big and this room, though wide from front to back, is nothing if not unsettlingly small. Low on the top. This basement is not damp or dim, it is not accessed by wooden stairs and it will likely never be flooded out, this room is permanent and tangible, one of many cellars across the nation but one which unlike those other cellars rather than feeling like a moldy or cozy nook instead is a nameless plastic box. And those folding chairs, rested against yet another row, this one of cabinets the contents of which you’ll never know, I’ll never know. This is because and I quote the chairs are made for some unholy or otherwise indecent gathering, you can see them being hauled out of this storage and given new life upstairs. The ceiling is worn tile, not as artificial as the rest but still with a sense of inauthenticity.
These are not old world goods carved in some village shoppe, these are new things for mass consumption, surfaces without any dips or nicks to be seen. Your mouth is not held or bound, but there would be no sense in screaming as your screams would reach nobody. There are no sounds outside, birds sing but aside from that it’s eerily quiet. Upstairs, one other sound is added to the drone of the fridge- a vacuum. Some hobbled custodian keeping the premises clean. You’ll never see him or know him, but his presence is felt. Though artificial, this facility reeks of- well, it has a sense of belonging. Of being old and known. People have been in here, to be sure, they have sat at that desk, made themselves a lunch there, maybe. The fridge is on, people have eaten from it, opened its door, taken out some food, and walked out again. Those chairs have been sat on, they are not without purpose, and though they now reside in storage, eventually someone will haul them out and eventually someone will haul out the contents of the cabinets behind them, too, the ones with the straight down handles and the double doors. This room is not lived in but it is used frequently, shadow men and weary parents lug their young through these doors and out again, casual talk made after some distinctly American ceremony. If the human soul cannot sustain itself here, it can at least show up time and again though the room would not will it.
The vacuum upstairs removes dust so as to keep the rooms looking neat. This is a gathering place, a spot where people come together- but the floor is blank, nothing but that desk, some cabinets above that, presumably with forks and other implements- a community center of some kind, yes, a recreational facility, built for recreation. Union offices, maybe a swimming pool, pool tables and basketball court, here. Or a church, it could be a church, too, couldn’t it? The thought crosses my mind, your mind, we know something. Can see. Can feel. The chair you’re on isn’t one of the folding ones, this one has plush armrests and is made of wooden materials. Whoever tied me up has an intent, a direct motive, they didn’t just tie me to the folding kind, no, they got another breed of seat from another room entirely. Sit in the illuminated darkness and wait, time passes, time flies, you don’t even know how long you’ve been here, really, do you? You can’t say you do, and what’s more disturbing still is the fact that you can’t seem to grasp when it was you woke, whether it was in the trunk of an SUV or in an empty cornfield. Ropes were applied, you felt them as hands wound them up and kept them taut, force was used, besides that you know nothing.
Footsteps, murmurs. These murmurs come from a door behind you, the only entrance into the whole place, a locked closet on one distant wall and the windows giving these surroundings fresh and natural sunlight and air, but the door which lies three feet from your sweat drenched neck is the only way in and the only way out. Of this fact, you have no doubts. Perceptive eyes, yours. From behind this door can be heard furtive voices in corridors where conversation would be futile because all aspects are known, halls with plaques, buttons to elevators that stopped operation in 1922. The point being that these voices are seldom heard in this long and timeless period when your hands are held and your throat is parched. The voices grow more distant, and you lose hope of a feeding. Then, however, one voice barely audible to the human ear makes its way to the entrance, stops. The voice in all honesty quit about fifty feet away, but those hidden footsteps bring the promise of answers and of revelations. These are resumed and the door is opened, light and sound fill your weary body and you know there is another presence, certainly human, without a doubt male, a man who enters this place and then leaves quite often, and only now is entering this room with full knowledge and acceptance of what he’s done. The man steps behind you, I’m too tired to twist my neck and get a good look at his face. I know who he is, this is a silly game and I’m sick of playing it.
He’s holding something, too. The sunlight is reverted to dusk and crimson, and outside are the faraway noises of cars lifting from slumber and departing. Departing because they get softer and less audible, and the man stands near one wall, drowned in scarlet. He moves closer to the closet, next to it is a panel with more than three switches, of these he flips one. The room is revealed to be as massive as you thought it was and with the exact arrangement you recall, stark whites and a flat carpet that to an ant would be a plain of unimaginably lonely proportions. The man is old, seventies, white hair and jowls, dressed plain enough to be seen at a coffee shop but formally enough to be seen in a town hall meeting, he has walked roads and traveled miles, he’s been to gas stations but he is a man of habit, not a drifter. Make no mistake between the two, he has rituals, he has routines, he follows these routines to the best of his ability and in the whir of the flat and lifeless lights connected to unseen wires in the low ceiling, he is absolutely stark and rigid, a depiction of protocol. Lifeless, humorless, a man who knows things you can’t begin to guess. Lapel, a pin of some kind there. Decoration, he belongs to an association of like minded individuals, a mutual admiration society if you would. Meetings held, records kept in dusty and worn ledgers, records for his and his kind’s eyes only. His shoes are beaten, they have trodden many grounds, fields and areas. They are well kept, though, he is well kept. His face is wrinkled and suggests to me the color gray, he lives in exciting monotony. Sterile hubbub.
I see him plain against the walls, the walls are merely a backdrop for this man of ages and wisdom. He carries nothing. He walks with a decided step, a mannerism beaten into him through sheer habit. The room is built for men like him, men who in their golden years forget to walk, seven stages of man, last one’s a return to the first, know that. I know, too, that this visage does not come in a blur when subjected to harsh light, when exposed and thoroughly studied this specimen is less cryptic than at first glance. He fears my vision, knows that I know him and what he does, he treads softly on the synthetic carpet towards the chair where I sit incapacitated and blank, staring through him, behind him, through the walls and out the windows, to a blue and pleasant summer day. It is indeed the dust and corn, land of flat. In parks lovers can be seen huddled on benches, farms go on, cows huddle in fields, sun rises and sets and rises again, circle of life. This area is one of stagnation. It does not change, it keeps on as it has been. This is his power, the power of dust and if not complete rot then of static. Static setting, monotony, emptiness. He lives this way, he cannot be expected to live any other way. He projects vibrations of whimsy, excitement and a bold rainstorm, lightning crucifying him. He thrives on blur, on spin, on deliberate deception and on people believing he is multiple people when in fact he is the same man all the way through. His duplicates are present but faint, and if my eyes are opened entirely they vanish.
The lights are too good here, his tricks don’t operate as they would otherwise. He nears me, pauses, looks into my face, at my features, tries to remember them, but fails. He doesn’t know me how he thought he did, he was hoping for something else. Disappointment. He now walks directly over to the fridge, which calls his prostate and gives him a yearning for some month-old beverage. He rummages through its contents, small and spectral in the yellow light of the freezing chemicals, finally settles on a can of sparkling water. I remember it was a brand which no longer exists, like him a relic of a bygone era, a ghost which nonetheless leaves a tangible and recognizable impact on the present world. I sit and watch as this torture is conducted, the carbonated fluid singing his dry and wrinkled throat, and he looks at me, shakes the can around, tells me with his eyes that I am young and do not know what he has to give. He has something which I do not, this is clear, he is the superior figure in whatever deal we are about to make.
He crosses once over to the switch, returns the room to its darkened condition, though without the sunlight it is a crypt, a plastic coffin submerged in dirt and gravel. In this light his duplicates can be seen, silhouetted. They are no longer moist, now they are solid, I could touch one if my hands weren’t bound. He nears. Eyes red, gleaming, fiery, they burn in a frenzy of carnivorous lust, he sees something. He knows something. The eyes are what can be seen of him, the rest is obscured in the night, the night from which noises of crickets emanate through the window, noises of chirping insects not unlike that flute, noises which when presented alongside burning eyes create nothing more than the deepest paralysis of the human heart. My nerves are sent into convulsions, I open my mouth but nothing can burst from my pale form, I am being dissected and blurred as he was, turned into many multiples, endless reproductions of one essence. The room grows useless, a tangible place to which the following experience is irrelevant, which cannot hold what came next, as the burning orbs neared and took on an olive tone, dark, nude, forest, the color of natural beauty warped and twisted into dying and decaying rot. These two points meld into one in the darkness, hide behind murk and whispers and carry me, roughly, pain surging through every inch of my flesh as I am whirled back to the ground, dirt, left there to die. Above, birds sing. The sun rises on dewdrops and an empty patch of soil.
I raise the shades, help the guy up to his feet and see him off. The cup remains on the couch, and I promptly discard it, it holds no significance for me. Outside, he can be seen pressing the button for the elevator. I watch him until he leaves, know that he’s gone, then I sit at my desk and pull out an aspirin. Back to the water cooler, get the pill, swallow. I think, I have the faintest idea, that I might have that painting replaced soon. Might trade it out to a buddy of mine who’s also in the industry. Receptionist doesn’t know what happened in this room and I’m not telling her. The couch is sweaty and imprinted, it’s seen worse things than some but this has to be the worst yet, a man who though his brain functions as usual has been filled to the utmost capacity and can barely hold it all in. I don’t know if I would be able to, if I was given similar circumstances. I sit back on the cushions, sort through my files and make a detailed entry. Takes about an hour. At the end I lean back and light up, it’ll be over soon, I can drive back to the house, maybe I can convince her to go out to the new restaurant, everyone gives it rave reviews. I need to eat something, my stomach might reject it however. I have something to do, something which I know must be done. I pick up the set and punch in the numbers.
Kansas prefix.
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submitted by kyleraymundv2 to nosleep [link] [comments]


2020.07.03 05:19 Ralts_Bloodthorne First Contact - TOTAL WAR - 226 (Hesstla)

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Dambree wiped her eyes and glanced down at the baby. She was laying on Dambree's shirt, sucking her thumb, glaring at Dambree with her wide amber eyes. Her ears were held tightly against her head in response to the loud yelling that sounded out inside one's head more than it reached the ears. Dambree swerved around blackened and smoking debris in the road, slowing down. Her eyes and face were beginning to hurt from squinting to see through the darkness.
The glittering curtain had moved away, the firing from guns coming to a stop. There had been the rumble of great engines and it had moved away.
That had made Dambree almost start crying.
It wasn't fair. She was almost there when it had driven away, leaving her on a debris filled dirt road driving a car that was barely held together.
The GPS was out, the navigation system was out, and when Dambree had checked, even the headlights were out. She had no idea where she was going, how fast she was going.
She only knew she needed to keep moving.
Which is why she was weaving between massive chunks of burnt and blackened metal. Some of it was sparking deep inside, a few times she saw dead and dismembered bodies, bipeds, all of them, some of them half-clad in armor.
"Keep your heads down, don't look outside," she ordered her brother and sister.
For once they didn't argue, just shifted so they were laying on the floorboards. They were still whimpering, still frightened from when the Terran had been slorped by the stilter then had somehow taken over part of it and fought itself.
HEAVY METAL INCOMING! roared out and she flinched.
HEAVY METAL IS HERE! roared out right after.
She reached out with one hand, slapping at the radio, and it came on with the high pitched tones of the Civil Defense Authority Emergency Alert System. She flinched but then went back to staring out the broken windshield, weaving between the wreckage.
"...forces are making groundfall and engaging Precursor machines at this time. Terran Defense Forces encourage everyone to seek shelter. Do not approach military units outside of military bases unless you have no other choice. Seek shelter in basement and underground structures. Do not attempt to reach friends of family. Do not attempt to reach any of the Rescue Stations broadcast earlier as they may not be in operation. Clear all roadways. Turn off all lights and electrical devices in the homes by breaker box if possible. Shut down all building reactors. Repeating: Terran forces are making groundfall..."
She slapped it and turned it off in the short distance she had that she could go straight before having to weave around more wreckage. She could see there was parts of fliers littering the road now, the crops on other side were smoking, and she could see at least two of the fliers had shattered glass globes and a tentacle with a half-crushed brain held in the graspers.
I'm not in here with you, you're in here with me! rang out in her memories, along with the hideous laughter the Terran had done as he had begun smashing at the stilter that had sucked out his brain.
Her long ears trembled with fear as she saw that there was a road ahead. So far she had had bad luck on roads. She slowed the car down, the engine whining, and came to a stop. She looked both way, saw nothing but darkness, and tried to figure out which way to go. The dirt road had been windy and twisty and she had no idea which way anything was now.
Left? Right? Just go straight? Ahead the road was narrow, like the one she was on, and vanished into the whufflegrain field. She squinted right. There was light on the horizon. She started to crank the wheel and stopped.
Light didn't mean anything good. Light could be the Terrans fighting the Slorpys or it could be a field on fire, or it could be a town being bombed.
She cranked the wheel left and slowly rolled out onto the larger dirt road. She wished she could see where she was going, where the road led, or where she was going. All she could do was keep driving and hope for the best.
Dambree had rarely left the little suburb she had lived in, going to city with her father once or twice a week didn't count, since he drove and she usually just paid attention to her dataslate. Now he life, and the life of her three younger siblings, literally depended on her figuring out where she was and getting them to a safe place and she had no clue where she was.
The car was starting to beep, steady tones, and a red light was flashing on the shattered display panel. Whatever it was, it was important, but with the display cracked and warped she couldn't tell what the problem actually was.
She turned a corner, going slow, and slammed on the brakes.
Bright streaks were coming from the sky. She could hear the rumbling and threw the car in reverse, backing up, as the streaks got brighter.
The first one hit behind her and her little sister screamed. Dambree threw it in forward and stomped the pedal, spraying dirt from beneath the tires as more impacts slammed against the road behind her, started hitting the fields around her.
She knew she couldn't go backwards, the only way was forward.
An impact hit the road directly behind her, lifting the back end of the electric car up slightly.
Her siblings screamed. Her little sister popped up from behind the seat, wrapping her arms around her neck as more impacts the road in front of her, exploding plumes of fire, smoke, and dirt into the air.
"Watch out!" her sister screamed.
"I KNOW!" Dambree screamed back.
Her little brother jumped over the back seat and into the front bench seat, his eyes wide. He grabbed the baby off the floor, who was screaming in anger at being woken up.
More impacts hit around them and Dambree was almost thrown out the door when a large piece of debris smashed into the ground and whirled off into the grain just a split second before she hit the smoking crater. The car whirred angrily as it cleared the far side of the crater and got airborne, then the springs squealed as the car hit the ground.
"Look out!" her brother yelled, pointing with one hand at the burning holes in the ground.
"I KNOW!" Dambree yelled back, yanking the wheel and narrowly avoiding a chunk of burning metal the size of the car. A tentacle writhed, segmented black metal, the graspers clacking on air even as she ran it over.
"Look!" her sister yelled, pointing into the field.
Dozens of streaks of light were whipping through the air, red and green and amber and purple, from dozens of points in the field. She could faintly hear tearing sounds coming from the field. Above the field were dozens of fliers that were rolling, trying to avoid the streaks of light and failing, trying to block them all with their tentacles and failing.
Do not approach Terran forces engaged in combat, she remembered.
The fliers were exploding. Every time they shined lights down in the field shafts of light reached back up from the field, causing explosions on the fliers surface that quickly tore it apart.
Dambree whined low in her throat and pressed the pedal harder, as if trying to push it through the floorboard would make the car go faster.
She managed to hit the brakes, warned by some sense that seemed to be getting more sensitive, just in time as shapes burst out of the grain. She screamed, throwing the car into reverse, as the shapes bounded out of the grain, across the road, and into the grain on the other side.
They were all black, quadruped robots with bucket-shaped heads. They had guns on their backs and were firing missiles from above their rear legs.
Dambree got that feeling again and slammed the car back into forward, speeding toward where the quadruped robots had crossed and vanished.
More quadruped robots, these ones less blocky, thinner and longer than the first group, more guns on the back, streaming across the road in a fluid group rather than just bounding across.
"Look out for the robots!" her little sister, Truba'an, called out.
"I know!" Dambree yelled back.
One of the fliers spun into the road, two of the sleek looking robots holding tentacles in their robotic jaws and firing the weapons on their backs into the underside of the flier. One braced its feet and Dambree saw, as she whipped the car around them, the ground dent inwards and blue energy flare at the robot's feet. The flier slammed into the ground again and the other sleek robot jumped on it, tearing with huge claws and tearing with heavy jaws full of fangs and sharp conical teeth.
Then they were past and Dambree held on the pedal.
"Why are they doing this?" Truba'an cried out, still holding tight around Dambree's neck.
"I don't know," Dambree coughed, pulling her sister's arms free. "Get in the front seat with your brother and stay down."
Her brother, Elurta, nodded, sliding down with the baby and hiding in the foot well. Her sister moved next to him, hugging him. All three of their faces were tight with fear, their triangular noses and whiskers twitching with fear, their ears pressed to the back of their heads, their mouths closed as they gritted their flat teeth.
She went around a corner, the edge of the car slipping into the grain, which lashed at her through the missing door, and saw steady lights in front of her.
CHARGE AND CARRY the sign said, blinking slowly. The price was blinking as Dambree pressed on the pedal as hard as she could, the little car thumping and bumping over the potholes and the bumps in the road.
It was in a gap in the grain, two other roads connecting to it that vanished into the grain, only one of the paved and glimmering with the induction fields for electric cars. The sign was still on, the interior of the shop lit up, and the charging stations sitting bright and shiny.
She pulled in slowly, coming to a slow stop next to the pump. She reached out and picked up the heavy Terran pistol, feeling the grip shift slightly in her hand as if to mold itself to her fingers.
"Can I have some nibbles?" Truba'an asked.
"Not yet. Let me look inside," Dambree said.
"There might be bad machines inside," her brother Elurta warned.
"I know," she said softly. She got out and moved to the back of the car, grabbing one of the quikcharge plugs as she passed it. She looked around and saw nothing but waving grain, although off in the distance several of the areas of lights from fliers sweeping the grain and streaks of light coming up from the ground in return.
The pump checked the cars onboard chip, not noticing it was cloned, and began pushing power through the cable an into the cars depleted batteries as Dambree ran up and ducked down next to one of the big cryplas windows. She peeked up and saw nothing, not even a shop-bot, then ducked down again. She counted to five, looking down at the pistol in her hand.
She wished she knew how to shoot beyond what she had seen on TV.
Push it against the temple, came up unbidden in her mind. She nodded and looked up again scanning. The rows looked clear, she could kind of see the coolers, and the counter looked empty. She stood up and rushed the door, her bare feet slapping on the plascrete. She busted through, her shoulder flaring with pain and making her cry out, but she was through and into the interior.
The little sensor went 'bing-bong' as she stumbled through the door.
She hurried, looking around the Carry-Out Shop, finding nothing and nobody inside. She checked the aisles twice, wondering where the teller or the shop-bot had gone to. Finally she moved back out and waved to her siblings to come in.
"Can I have some nibbles?" her little sister asked again.
"Yes, Tru, you can," Dambree said. "Both of you can pick up nibbles and sippers. Give me Pulngee."
Her little brother handed her the baby, who squirmed and tried to bite. Dambree pinched her nose to help her learn to curb her biting instinct as she headed over to the rack she had seen.
There. Disposable infant swaddling, artificial milk, a sucky, some stuffies, and a shirt that said "I <3 C&C" on it. She grabbed at it, carrying it back, batting her sister away from trying to grab one of her exposed nipples. She set the baby down, pulled the tab on the milky, and shook it. She felt it warm up in her hand as the nipple popped free. She handed it to the baby, who grabbed it with her two hands and stuck the nipple in her mouth before lifting her feet and putting them on the milky-bottle.
She quickly changed her sister's diaper, throwing the dirty one in the garbage.
"Tru, you watch Punee," Dambree said.
"You don't have a shirt on. Momma's gonna be mad," Tru said, a candy-bar in each hand.
"I know," Dambree said. She began moving stuff over to the back seat and the trunk of the car, hurrying as fast as she could. The car hadn't finished quikcharging and Dambree wondered if Alkree ever kept it fully charged.
The reminder of her boyfriend made her start to snuffle as she kept moving boxes of milky, nibbles, sippers, diapers, and anything else that caught her eyes. She packed the trunk then started putting it in the back seat.
She was behind the counter when she heard it.
The horrible sound of a floater.
"Here! Come here!" she snapped. She was glad that her siblings didn't argue, just ran around the counter and joined her. She slapped a sucky in Punee's mouth.
"Stay quiet," she hissed.
The floater was circling the store slowly. She could hear it making a weird fluttering, spluttering noise as it moved. She looked down at the pistol, seeing the light was red. She pushed it and it went green. The grip seemed suddenly more alive somehow and the pistol felt warmer even it did suddenly feel heavier.
The flitter moved around past the car. She peeked at it and saw it was damaged. Two of the tentacles were hanging down, sparking and trembling, the grasping ends missing. Two of the crysteel globes were damaged, shattered, the thick armor was divoted and cratered, missing in two spots and showing complex machinery and tubes inside. Several of the glass tubes were broken, sparks jumping from the base. It kept tipping on one side and having to fire its rockets to level out again.
It turned, the searchlight sweeping the inside and she ducked back down.
It moved in, Dambree could hear it, and there was a sudden crackling noise. Lightning played around the roof, arcs of electricity flowing to outside, and there was a high pitched squealing noise. She could hear the rockets sputter as it pushed its way into the suddenly dark convience store, the lights exploding in showers of sparks.
Her sister whimpered.
Grids of red light suddenly appeared on the walls, sweeping slowly across, and she knew that it was searching for her. The grid just like the cost-stamp detector in the stores.
There was a quiet hiss of liquid as her little brother wet himself when the grid passed over the counter, shining on the wall.
The sputtering got louder as the flitter roared forward, grabbing the counter with its tentacles and throwing it to the side.
All three screamed, turning around and throwing themselves against the wall. The flitter reared back, as if it was startled, bringing its tentacles up in a defensive movement, knocking the shelves behind it down.
Then it started moving forward, several tentacles with graspers on the end sliding out of the body. It moved forward slowly, clicking the graspers.
YOU BELONG TO ME it whispered.
"EAT A DICK!" Dambree screamed.
It flinched back slightly, holding its tentacles up, then rocked back level, orienting to stare at her with wide lenses. There was a sense of glee as it started moving forward.
Dambree curled over her little sister, looking at her other two siblings. "Close your eyes," she whispered.
They both did.
Glass shattered at the front of the store and Dambree looked up in time to see something crash through the window. Its back was as high as Dambree's armpit, it had four legs ending in huge razor sharp claws, it had a tail, a long narrow head with huge heavy jaws full of spiked teeth, including tusks.
"SIMBA IS HERE!" the newcomer roared.
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submitted by Ralts_Bloodthorne to HFY [link] [comments]


2020.07.01 21:40 Predaplant Aquaman #33: Ionic Bonds

Aquaman #33: Ionic Bonds

<< < [>]
Author: Predaplant
Book: Aquaman
Arc: Breach
Set: 49
With a flash of orange light, Orin cautiously bridged the gap between Earth and Iridia. He had planned this trip for a while; Iridia was one of the planets in his domain, and one with a sentient aquatic population large enough that he considered it one of his main responsibilities. For his first offworld trip, it was an obvious choice.
Getting his bearings, he looked around. He was floating near the seabed, where there was a city extending out as far as the eye could see, an urban sprawl that stretched for miles. He saw in front of him a giant pole extending upwards to the surface. Feeling himself slowly bobbing upwards, Orin tasted the water.
Salty. Even more than the Earth’s oceans, and much more than he was expecting. Deciding to go with the pull of the water, he floated up to check out the surface.
Orin’s head popped up out of the water like a cork. He gazed up at the structure sitting on top of the pole, squinting through the sunlight.
It was a floating island, bobbing through the waves. Dozens of glass structures sat on the top, with an odd quality of reflection about them that made it hard to look at them directly. Swimming over to check them out, Orin quickly closed the distance.
What he couldn’t see from farther away became obvious when he got closer; there was a fence of around ten metres blocking him from simply climbing up out of the water. Orin sank down for a few seconds, then swam upwards quickly. He breached the water with explosive force, jumping easily high enough to get over the fence.
He smacked against something hard with his shoulder when he tried to cross over the fence. It felt like concrete, and he fell back into the water, creating a huge splash.
Shaking himself off, Orin dove back down to the seabed. Obviously those on the surface didn’t want him, so he’d take his chances somewhere else.
∿∿∿∿∿∿∿∿
Reaching the ocean floor by diving in between a couple buildings, Orin started wandering the streets. It wasn’t very busy, despite being the middle of the day. Looking around, he could only spot a couple Iridians. They were yellowish-brown, with a pair of fins running down their backs and legs that were thin and sinewy, with beams of light emitting from their eyes in order to easily see underwater. He landed far enough away from them that he didn’t think he had attracted any attention. To keep it that way, he started swimming.
The buildings were laid out in blocks, each so similar to the next that within a few minutes he had become lost. It didn’t matter anyways; he had nowhere in particular to be. Looking down, he realized that there were coloured markings on the pavement. He guessed that these were how people made their way around. After a few hours, the streets started to fill up as it got darker, with Iridians casting their beams of light downwards as they slowly swam their way home. Without even noticing it, Orin rose higher in the water, trying to keep out of their notice.
Taking a closer look at their backs, he noticed that some of them had broken out in what looked like brown sores, running along the ridges of their fins. He didn’t really want to get too close, but he could see a couple of the Iridians subconsciously scratching at the sores as they swam.
He turned away. What was he even expecting to do for these people? Show up with some flashy new powers and expect that that was what they needed? That their only problem would be a power plant in need of some lightning to kickstart it, or a shortage of ice cubes for their refrigerators? He couldn’t even speak up for them, he had no real power here to get his voice heard, unlike back home in Atlantis.
Suddenly he felt a flash of light hit his side. Squinting into it, it seemed to come from near the seafloor, from an Iridian peering up at him while unlocking their door. He swam away as fast as he could.
∿∿∿∿∿∿∿∿
After swimming what felt like miles, he started to relax. The crowds were thinning; it looked like by this point that most of the Iridians had made their way home. High enough to survey a few blocks at a time, Orin caught a glimpse of a few spots of light clustered together. He decided to check it out.
Landing on top of a nearby building to get a better look, he noticed a group of three Iridians with their eyes close to closed, letting out only a narrow beam of light. They quickly made their way into a building, shutting and locking the door behind them.
Orin checked out the door. The lock was similar to the ones he had grown up with on the surface. Atlantean locks had shifted to being password-based a while back, since any hard-water wielding Atlantean could easily break into a standard surface lock. Orin wasn’t a fan of hard-water manipulation anyways. It required too much finesse and precision for him. He turned the water inside the tumblers to ice, freezing and thawing until he got it just right. The door opened, and he slipped inside.
It was a house, and he had entered the foyer. He could hear murmurs from another room as he closed the door behind him. “But how do we convince him? He hasn’t broken so far, and it isn’t like we have much more to threaten him with.”
“Maybe show him our sores? Or maybe force him to work for his own water, that would show him.” a squeaky voice suggested.
“How would we even get him into the pumping station without being recognized?” the first voice replied. “No, I don’t think it’ll be that simple.”
There was a pause for a few seconds. Then a third voice chimed in with “How long can we keep this up? Legitimately? It isn’t like we have many supplies, that’s kind of the problem.”
Laughing, the first speaker replied. “Wouldn’t it be ironic if he was the one to salt starve? After everything he’s done?”
“Better him than us.” came a murmur.
Moving to the door, Orin unlocked it and started to slip out. Just as he closed the door, he heard “What was that?”
He swam off into the night, leaving nothing but a trail of bubbles for the Iridians to find outside their door.
∿∿∿∿∿∿∿∿
Over the next few days, Orin kept a lookout on the house. He tried to stay unnoticed, staying high and moving around but always keeping it in sight.
He noticed that every night three Iridians would enter the house around the same time, and stay for four to five hours. Considering Iridian days were only around sixteen Earth hours, it was a substantial amount of time. He also noticed they would come in shifts; there were four of them, and one would always stay at the house no matter the time, switching off each day.
He wasn’t able to get much more information about what was going on, however. None of the buildings had windows, so he was barely able to get a glimpse of what was going on. Considering the glass-plated buildings on the surface, that struck him as a bit odd, but he supposed it was a status symbol.
On the day he finally decided to check it out, four days into his stakeout, he slipped into the house shortly after most of the Iridians had gone for the day. Picking the lock, he closed the door softly behind him and paused to breathe a sigh of relief. He hadn’t been noticed.
Moving silently from the foyer, he peeked his head into the room where the Iridians had been talking the previous time he had been in the house. It was a room with a square table, composed of a material that looked similar to Earth wood. He entered the room cautiously. Running his hand along it, Orin found that it was soft, with a texture similar to that of fabric.
“Hands above your head, blubb-er.” he heard behind him.
Raising his hands and turning around, Orin took note of the Iridian behind him. They were short and wide, and were floating up and down as they held out what seemed to be some sort of projectile weapon in their right hand. “You’re going to sit down and you’re going to tell me what’s going on here. I promise I won’t hurt you.”
“How can you say that? You’re probably one of Zwid’s offworlders, aren’t you? I heard he was bringing some in.” Their bobbing grew slower.
Orin shook his head. “I have no clue who this Zwid even is. But I won’t hurt you, I’m just here to help you figure out what’s wrong. Because I think you’re very desperate, otherwise you wouldn’t be in this situation.”
“What do you know?” Orin cleared his throat. “What do you know?” the Iridian shouted.
“Just that there’s some… interrogation? Maybe a hostage? I’m not entirely sure yet.” Orin looked at the Iridian, keeping his face blank. “Why don’t you tell me so I can try to help?”
They held the weapon steady. “You promise you’re not with Zwid? You’re on our side?”
Orin nodded. “I promise I’m not with anyone. As for your side, I’m going to see.”
∿∿∿∿∿∿∿∿
Orin swam down a dark and narrow shaft, the Iridian above him holding the weapon. He emerged in a wide-open basement area. He could see a pillar in the dark, with an Iridian barely visible behind it. “This is your hostage?”
The Iridian behind him nodded. “I know you’re from off-world, so you probably don’t recognize him. But we’ve had to work hard to keep this a secret, I’ll put it that way.”
Looking around the edge of the pillar was an Iridian face that was lost and without hope. “Are you… here to help me?” he asked quizzically.
Orin hesitated. “I’m not sure if I am, but it doesn’t seem likely.”
“Blub you, then. Why do we even invite offworlders here if they fraternize with this sort of scum?” came the response as they turned back around the pillar.
Turning away, Orin faced the one pointing the weapon at him and whispered. “So what’s going on? Who is this?”
“Come back up to the ground level and we’ll talk.” they responded.
As Orin swam up, he really had no clue how this would go. What was happening that was important enough to keep somebody imprisoned over? He reached the main floor, and entered into the room he was in before, floating to a stop next to the table.
The Iridian cleared their throat. “I’m Karlyn Ryardin. If you don’t know much about Iridia, we are a very structured society; the few in power live above the surface with their glass and sell us refiners while the rest of us are stuck down here, working to make our own water. They hoard all the salt, which, I don’t know if you know this if you’re off-world but....”
“You need a lot of it to survive.” he whispered. The sores on their backs suddenly made sense; they were from salt deprivation. “But the water is filled with salt! How do they even manage to keep it away from you? Especially if you’re refining your own water!” Orin burst out in rage.
Karlyn sighed. “Though we keep the water we work for, they steal all the salt so they can sell it back.”
“That guy down there’s the one in charge? I can see why you’re treating him like that, this is inhumane!” Orin swam back and forth, his face contorted with anger.
“Not quite the one in charge, sadly, but he can get us to the ones in charge. That’s Mraz Lerum. He’s the head Protector, they’re the ones who maintain the security and the barriers surrounding the bunkers on the surface. So we get him to give us a way in, we make our way up and we free the salt.” They ruefully smiled. “That simple.”
“He hasn’t cracked yet, though?” Orin asked, his voice unconsciously loud.
Karlyn gestured towards the shaft leading to the basement. “You really think we’d still be keeping him like that if he was? We’d have had the salt an hour, two at most, after we found a way in. It’s simple.”
Orin shook his head. “It’s almost never that simple. You sure they don’t have anything to stop you? Definitely by now they know that Mraz has been taken, right?” He started to slowly bob up and down. “I’m a king myself, I have power. I know that those in power have dozens of failsafes in place to prevent that power from being taken away. Whenever you think you’re close, it just moves farther out of reach.”
Grabbing his arm aggressively, Karlyn stopped his motion. “Then what do you recommend, oh King? We’re blubbed here, and obviously you want to help. So actually help us when we try to do something instead of holding us back, will you?”
Taking a deep breath, Orin thought for a moment. “You’re right. I guess my question is, how do you want me to help you?”
“Just keep us safe. I know Zwid Broan, the one in charge around here, is supposedly bringing in help to find Mraz’s location. People he has connections to, he’s part of some big off-world coalition or something. I can’t remember the name.” Karlyn let go, stretching out their fingers. “But if you can help protect us, it’s probably what we need the most. Use your power, stop us from getting killed or arrested.”
“That I can do.” Pausing, Orin took a second to think. “Do you mean physical power or political power?”
“Hey, whatever sort of power you were talking about, we can use.” Karlyn said. They turned away, heading to an upper level. “Make yourself at home, I assume at this point you know that the rest of the group’s coming back later. We’ll give it another shot at getting Mraz to tell us what we need to know then.”
∿∿∿∿∿∿∿∿
Zwid relaxed as the shuttle touched down, the barrier closing around the top of the ship. He never really enjoyed going offworld and having to wear that silly suit, but sometimes it was necessary.
After all, the universe needed more Iridia, and he was happy to provide.
In this particular circumstance, he needed the rest of the universe. Sure, it was a bit galling, but he had to do what he had to do.
What were connections for if they didn’t come in handy when he needed them most? He definitely needed them now.
The Quintal that maintained order across the Northeast Shelf had broken after losing their head Protector on a routine refinery inspection. Now most of the other Quintal members didn’t feel safe on the Shelf. Which meant their power was less visible, which meant… Zwid shook his head.
They needed to get Mraz back now. His loss could lead to the ruin of everything that he and the rest of the Quintal stood for.
That’s why he was lucky that he knew just the people who could come in and deal with this for him and for the good of Iridia.
∿∿∿∿∿∿∿∿
That evening, after a few quick introductions, Orin and his new allies got down to business. Almost immediately, he was met with a barrage of questions.
“How’re you actually going to help us?”
“Karlyn, why are you even bothering to trust him?”
“Why even bring someone new into this mess?”
Already impatient from yet another day of waiting, Orin lightly shocked the air, lighting up what was beforehand a dimly lit room. Immediately, it was as silent as a calm sea.
“Hey. I’m Orin. I can help, and I want to help. You can trust me because I could have taken Mraz back already if I wanted to. Now, how do you want me to help?” Orin’s voice echoed in the silence of the waters.
He heard someone clear their throat. “Can you do that stuff around Mraz?”
“I’m not that great at being the bad cop, but I can try.” Orin headed towards the shaft to the basement, crackling with electricity as he went.
Descending into the near darkness, the electricity arcing between his hands shone brightly as it conducted through the saline water.
“Mraz Lerum!” he shouted, his voice a bit hoarse. “I know you can tell me what we need.”
“What else are you going to do, offworlder?” came the reply, with a voice as calm as if Mraz had just woken up. “I’ve already been beaten, threatened, deprived of food and salt. I’m not leaving the ones I care about open to an attack, no matter what. So try me.”
Orin’s lightning started to branch out slowly, like the growth of a tree compressed into a time-lapse of a few seconds. One of the tendrils lightly skimmed across Mraz’s skin as he jerked to avoid its touch. “Let me tell you a little something about lightning.”
The main bolt slowly started to grow wider as the branches spread out across the room. Orin continued talking. “It’s only able to move around underwater because of the water’s salt. Where I’m from, there’s less salt if there is here… so forgive me if I slip a little.” He jolted the bolts forward a few inches with a large crack of thunder.
“But really the interesting thing is the salt content in your body. See, I’ve heard that up on the surface you’ve been hoarding the salt. So if you’ve been having too much salt, maybe this will just zap through you.” The tendrils curled around the pillar, nearly brushing Mraz. “You think we could try that out?”
Mraz just sighed. “Whatever you want. Blub this, I haven’t done anything wrong. If you want to hurt me for trying to protect what I care about, then go ahead and blub your soul.” He continued to sit slumped against the pillar. “Maybe I deserve this, I don’t even blubbing know anymore.” he murmured.
Orin paused. Could he really cross this line? He let the lightning dissipate for a moment, to clear his head. But as he did so, without the constant crackling he could hear a crash from the main level, followed by a few shouts.
On guard, he turned around and lit up the room with an arc of electricity. It had gone quiet. He slowly started to move up the shaft.
The lights had gone out on the main level. The lanterns were all smashed, with chunks of the wall missing and most of the furniture pushed out of its original position or destroyed.
Orin saw a weak beam of light, and he swam over to check it out. It was Karlyn, barely struggling to keep their eyes open. Their face was bruised, and they had a gash on their thigh that was bleeding, colouring the area around them a pinkish red. “Over… over there.” they murmured, pointing over Orin’s shoulder. He quickly spun around.
Seeing a couple silhouettes behind him in the darkness with some sort of green light, Orin blasted them with a quick jolt of lightning.
They crumpled to the ground. Quickly swimming over to their side, Orin peered through the darkness before quickly pulling back, shocked.
The two were both Green Lanterns. More than that, he recognized one of them.
“Hal?” Orin whispered incredulously.
∿∿∿∿∿∿∿∿
NEXT TIME:
Orin teams up with the Green Lanterns to take on Zwid Broan and Iridian high society! Coming July 15 in Green Lantern #34!
THEN
Breach starts in earnest! The world of Aquaman will never be the same as Admiral Meddinghouse makes his move against Atlantis. Plus: Garth investigates an impossible occurrence! Coming August 1!
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submitted by Predaplant to DCFU [link] [comments]


2020.07.01 05:14 Icepick1011 You are my Sunshine.

I need some help. I...don’t know what help I need. So I’ll just tell you what happened. Maybe someone will know.
I work late most nights, hospitality is like that. You don’t need to know the restaurant. I thought about telling you, because if you know where it is, you can avoid it, and what’s happening to me won’t happen to you. I decided against it. There probably aren’t many, but there are enough people who will read this and see if they can confirm it. I don’t think I’d be okay with it if something happened to them.
Anyway, so I work late. My routine is normally so tight that I can count the tills, send the evening sales report and lock the building up by 1:15, but this night we had two groups that insisted on staying until 2:00am, which is as late as I can legally stay open. One group of well to do regulars celebrating a deal over some Lagavullin 16, the other a group of 20-something girls trying to get my regulars to buy them drinks. I swear, one of them walked in the door and said “I’m going to do two shots of Te-kiki, and I’m gonna suck some dick tonight.” A siren song to be sure, but a little obvious for my regulars.
So now the groups have left, the tills are back in the safe, and I’ve got an ounce of scotch with a big rock in it next to me. In my end of shift notes I put in some happy-crappy about the guests being in ‘fine spirits’ and ‘our reservations continuing to skyrocket’. Just one more lock to turn and I can start heading for the subway.
It’s a warm night, dead middle of the summer. My shirt is sticking to me, and my bag feels like I loaded it with bricks instead of shoes and a laptop. The scotch has gone right to my head but I start across the plaza in front of the restaurant. It’s always quiet at this time of night, I can hear taxi’s and buses droning a few blocks over, but here the air is thick with humidity and the only sound is my bag’s zipper, lightly tinking against its teeth.
My path takes me to an underpass tunnel, about 100 meters end to end. The subway station is just on the other side. The orange arc sodium lights are the only source of illumination, a sickly glow that makes the underpass feel grimier. It smells of tires, pavement, gasoline, urine, vomit, exhaust, all the things you hate about living in a city. I trudge into its yawning concrete mouth and stay to the right, on a little sidewalk with a railing between me and any overzealous Uber drivers speeding through.
Homeless people are pretty common in this part of the city. There are normally mattresses down here. Single bed sized with sleeping bags over them, sometimes with signs or bags of McDonalds, sometimes with the owner of the mattress in it or nearby. You can count on someone choosing this underpass as a refuge every time you come through. Sometimes just one, sometimes three, rarely more than that. The homeless mostly don’t bother me on my way home, and I’m not totally helpless if they did so I don’t think twice about my chosen route.
This time there is a guy at about the halfway point in the tunnel. He’s old, bald on top but the hair he does have is long and gray. It’s matted with sweat and grease, and despite the summer night heat he’s got on an old green military parka. It’s stained to varying degrees up and down it’s length. Old black sweat pants in the same condition and sandals that are coming apart are on his feet to complete the look.
I don’t slow down on my route. I’ve never been scared of these guys, they don’t deserve fear. Something about him strikes a chord with me, so I fish in my pocket for a bill of any kind so he can get some food. I don’t make a habit of giving away money to the denizens of the underpass, maybe the scotch was making me sentimental. Maybe I missed my grandfather, who knows.
As I get closer, I can hear him. He’s singing, but it’s so garbled I can’t understand the words. He’s standing in the middle of the walkway, half spinning, half stumbling in a loose circle. His voice makes me think of a beaten up pair of shoes with holes in the toes and the tongue falling out. He’s looking up as he turns and turns, staring at the lights overhead. Once he finishes the song, he starts from the beginning and I recognize the melody of “You are my Sunshine”.
I feel a tingle on my neck. My sense of dread suddenly kicks in and I can feel new sweat on my skin. I don’t know why. Something about the scene feels surreal, like that song doesn’t fit the situation. I can start to feel adrenaline flushing through my system and my senses become more acute. I can smell him now, waves of stink coming off him. The unwashed human body, compounded by the rot of age and the soiled clothes, its overwhelming.
I try to keep my composure, my sympathy has given way to just getting past this guy and trying not to breath through my nose. In the light now I can see that he’s blind, his eyes are a pale blue beneath a milky sheen. He’s smiling, his jaw relaxed and mouth hanging open, showing the few teeth he has left. This man is not long for this world, with the shape he’s in.
He stops turning. He stands still in the center of the walkway, facing away from me. His arms, formerly outstretched have slowly lowered to his sides. His head lowers, slowly, unnervingly slowly. He reminds me of a predator, who has suddenly become aware of prey nearby.
I’ve stopped by now. I’m about ten feet away from him, and I can see him cock his head, like he’s listening. He has stopped singing.
We stand that way for half a minute, my nerves on high alert. My body is screaming at me something about this is wrong. I don’t understand it but I feel like I want to run.
I gather myself slowly. I’m just going to go past around this guy, he’s creepy and he’s weird, sure, but he’s probably harmless, they’re just lost, troubled, just go past, go past, don’t look at him.
I start forward again, making to pass on his left, when he starts humming the song again. I like this song, it’s a song full of warm memories, but from this man, in this place, it unnerves me. I’m about to pass him when his hand comes up in front of me. His hand his closed, not like a fist, but the way someone does to hand you something. I do not put my hand out to receive whatever his offering is.
He turns his head, his mouth is twisted in a rictus, his brow is furrowed almost painfully, and he turns his hand over. He opens his hand and shows me his offering.
In his open hand are teeth. I can see a molar, I can see canines, and what look like front teeth. The roots are bloody, they’ve been pulled out whole. Some are white, unnaturally, like the subject of a strong whitening regime. I see a yellow tooth, cracked down one side, several in even worse states of decay.
I see a molar with a silver filling in it.
Human teeth. These are human teeth.
I recoil from him, backing into the railing. He must have heard me hit it, he surges toward me, still holding the teeth out at my face, letting out a moan that is quickly becoming a howl of...anger? Pain? Sorrow? Its impossible to separate the emotions while he’s getting too close to me.
I side step around him, dropping to a dead sprint. I don’t look back as I put meter after meter between us. The end of the tunnel still feels so far. My bag is digging into my shoulder hard, the damp patches on my shirt feels cold from my flight.
“Look.”
I hear it distinctly, clearly, from the man. He sounds far away, but its not the garbled mash from before. It startles me, a command so clear and confident. I turn to look at him.
He holds up one of the teeth, holds it over his head. I can make it out from where I’m standing. He looks up at it, smiling, as if seeing it for the first time. He drops it into his mouth.
I feel my stomach start to come up, this disgusting act is not something I’m ready for. He’s just getting started though. He starts to chew.
He’s playful about it at first, chewing in exagerated bites, giggling as he does it. He takes a hard bite, his jaw works, like he’s trying to bite through it. He takes another hard bite. If he wasn’t blind I’d swear he was looking me right in the eyes. He bites again, harder, grunting. His face turns red with the effort. He’s grunting hard and starting to gnash down, again and again, holding each time like he’s putting pressure on, testing its limits.
He grunting rhythmically now, more forcefully, rhythmically, and I can hear the way the tooth sounds in his mouth, like rocks hitting each other. It makes my skin crawl but I’m stuck now. I’m frozen watching this man try to eat a tooth.
He takes another hard bite, and holds it. His face is bright red, his jaw is straining. He doesn’t grunt know but screams through clenched lips, until I finally hear a sickening crunch. His scream becomes a closed mouth roar of pain, but he doesn’t stop, he keeps chewing, harder and harder, crunching, cracking, splintering. It no longer sounds like one loose rock but a tumbler full of them. Blood is starting to escape between his lips, running down into his chin, turning his beard into the matted fur of a wounded animal. It starts to flow more freely, and he opens wide.
There’s nothing left in there, a red maw with flecks of white in a red mass where his tongue should be. Blood falls out of his mouth in a stream now, with bits of teeth running out with it and pieces of his tongue.
His mouth turns into a sick red wound of a grin, and he starts slowly walking toward me with his arms outstretched. Hes walking rhythmically again, and he’s singing again. He’s forming words with his mouth and lips, but whats coming out is just the tune of the melody, muddled syllables, mangled clips of words. You are my Sunshine. My only Sunshine.
He keeps coming closer. You make me Happy, when skies are grey. This grotesque parody of the song is somehow hypnotic. My cheeks are wet, I’m crying I realize. My mouth is working in a wordless scream. I can’t move. I can’t even think to move.
You’ll Never Know Dear, How much I love you. He stops five feet from me. His outstretched arms look like they are expecting me to step forward and hug him. His overpowering stench hits me, combined with the smell of pennies from the blood pooling at his feet.
Please don’t take--
I can’t stand it, I feel my knees give way and I almost collapse, wretching. I lean against the rail as I do it. I feel unlocked, like I’ve been reset. I bolt away from him, and into the subway.
I race down the stairs and nearly careen into the turnstyles. I fumble for my pass to swipe it and slide through the gates. The station agent in his plexiglass booth shouts for me not to run in the subway.
I get down to the platform. The train is arriving as I get down there. I rush the doors, slipping between them as they open and I plop down in a seat. I look out at the platform.
At the top of the stairs down to the platform, I can see sandaled feet, mangled toes spiderwebbed with veins and spackled with blood, begin to take a steady step down, revealing black sweatpants, dirty and soiled…
The train doors close before the body can reveal itself further and the train starts to move. Away from the station, away from the underpass, away from the restaurant.
I start to laugh and cry, but I cover my face. I look around and find I’m in an empty cart. I choose this moment to scream into my hands. I let it out, as much as I can. I fill the subway car with my screams, uncomprehending, trying to make sense of what I just saw.
When I stop screaming I sit there and keep shivering. I feel like jelly, like I’ve no bones, my whole body tingles. I’ve never experienced anything like that. I’ve lived in this city for ten years and never even heard of anything like that happening.
I realize I’ve been touching my teeth with my fingers, like I’m counting them. I force my hands down. I’ve never been more aware of them, my tongue runs over each one.
I get off the subway at my stop. I walk home in jerky alert state, looking behind me, looking in every shadow, but I get home. I open the door, take off my shoes, weakly drifting to the kitchen, to the booze. I pour a drink of rye and sit at the kitchen table. Eventually I crawl into bed next to my wife and pass right out.
It’s been three days since then. I’ve thought about it almost non-stop. I can’t make myself go back to work. I gave them an excuse about having the flu and I need to stay home. Don’t want to make everyone sick.
I’m writing this for two reasons. The first reason is that one of my co-workers asked me if something happened to me on my way home that night. I don’t know how to answer. Are they trying to pry something out of me or do they know something about...what I saw.
The second reason is that while I was doing the dishes today after dinner, my wife came into the kitchen humming. She poured herself a glass of wine and one for me, kissed me on the cheek, and left the room.
She was humming You are my Sunshine.
I wouldn’t normally find that strange. It’s...really a common song.
It’s 2:15 am right now. She’s in our bedroom, asleep. She’s started humming it again. Sleepily, humming that song.
I don’t know what to do.
submitted by Icepick1011 to nosleep [link] [comments]


2020.06.29 09:23 an-emotional-cactus Through the Night

"It's beautiful, isn't it, Ben?" A voice behind me says. I'm too captivated by the scene below us to full register it. The frost sparkles in the morning light. From this height the trees look like a sea of greenery. "Earth to Benjamin, buddy." I turn to face Matthew. "Are we there yet? Are we there yet?" He says, intentionally being obnoxious.
I laugh. Alex stares out the window, seemingly oblivious to everything around him. It was his first time riding in a helicopter, and he'd been a little anxious, but he seems to have calmed down now. We're all excited to reach our destination. David, Mattew, Alex and I are heading to a remote watch station in the mountains.
David chuckles as he elbows Matthew. The plan is to man the station for 3 months before letting another team take over. I'm just hoping we won't drive each other crazy living in a little house on stilts for 3 months. It's too late for doubts, though. "We should be landing within the next half hour!" The pilot announces.
Suddenly, Alex speaks up. "Does anyone smell smok-" He's cut off by a repeating dinging sound coming from the helicopter. The pilot seems to be struggling to remain calm, quickly pressing buttons. "What's going on?" Before he can answer, we begin to sway in the air, then dip towards the ground. "Hold on tight!" the pilot screams.
The dings are replaced by a blaring alarm. I see dark smoke through the windows as everyone is thrown to the floor when we begin to plummet towards the ground. Someone is screaming, but I can't focus enough to tell who. I see the terror on my friend's faces.
The sounds of branches snapping like toothpicks fill the air as we're tossed around like dice. The helicopter flips and rolls as we go down. Finally, I hear a deafening crash.
Day 7
I woke up panting and dripping in sweat. I'd had that dream every night since the accident- my brain wouldn’t stop forcing me to relive it.
I slowly sat up. David and Matthew were sound asleep on the forest floor, but Alex was crouched by the small fire keeping us from freezing to death. He heard me and turned around. I walked over to him, and he gestured for me to sit down with him. He rested his hand on my shoulder. "Another nightmare?" "Yeah. They won't stop." I sighed.
I couldn’t stop thinking of that pilot, impaled on a steel beam, turning the snow crimson. "It'll be okay. We'll find our way back home, I know we will." I wasn't sure I believed him, but I nodded anyways. We'd been sitting around in this goddamn forest for 7 days now, and hadn’t seen one sign people were looking for us.
The four of us sat by the fire, melting snow to drink. Thank god Matthew, being the stoner that he was, had a lighter on him, as well as a metal water bottle we’d retrieved from the wreckage. Matthew broke the silence. "So how are we going to get out of here? We have to make some sort of plan. This isn't working."
David looked into his eyes. "For the last time, you're supposed to stay put when you get lost. We should wait for someone to notice the wreckage."
"And look where that's gotten us! We haven't even heard another helicopter. Are we just going to stay here until we starve?" Matthew replied. He had a good point. David furrowed his brow. "Who's to say we won't just get more lost? We'd never make it out. Do you know how far away from civilization we are?"
"Maybe not as far as you think. We're supposed to be close to the watchtower. It has to have some way to contact the outside world. It might be a long shot, but maybe if we could reach it..." That was an even better point.
"Yeah, it is. We could miss it and go deeper into the forest. We're not even completely sure which direction to go in. I don't think it's worth it, Matthew." "How about we settle this with a vote?" I said. "Fine", David groaned. "Who's in favor of wandering into the forest to our doom?" Matthew and I raised our hands.
"And what do you think, Alex?" He'd been silent throughout the conversation. "Huh? Oh, uh.. I think we should go." "That's 3 to 1, David. We're going." I said. Everyone stood and stretched before we began our trek through the snow. "Okay, we were flying towards the mountains. Its got to be in that direction. Watchtower, here we come."
I'd been concerned about Alex's condition for the last few days. He was the most badly injured among us. Myself and the others got away with minor injuries, at least for being dropped out of the sky. I suspected I'd broken my arm, and David suffered a large cut on his cheek.
Matthew seemed only a bit bruised up, and I had to admit I was a little bitter about that. However, Alex had hit his head upon impact, leaving a bloody gash on his forehead. The wound didn't seem like anything lethal, but I was getting more and more worried that he might have damaged something in his brain.
I'd cut off a strip of my shirt to wrap around his head- it was the best we could do for him. He hadn't seemed right since the crash, but he was getting worse. Didn't seem all there. Just another reason we needed to get out of there.
As we walked through the snow, it crunched under our feet. Matthew and I had been trying to keep the mood light with small talk and jokes at first, but after a few hours the group fell mostly silent. We were moving slower than we'd hoped because of Alex. He'd been lagging behind the rest of us, and we kept having to stop to let him catch up.
A deer saw us and froze up ahead. David slowly reached for his knife, no doubt hoping for a meal. The moment he lunged at it, it leapt and sprinted away. "Goddamnit!" David yelled and threw his knife to the ground. "David. We've got to keep our cool." I said, in a calm voice.
"No! We haven't eaten in a week! I'm allowed to be pissed off!" "We all are, man. But we have to stay calm, or we'll go crazy out here." He stared down at the knife for a moment, then bent down and picked it up with a sigh. We moved on.
Sleep came easily that night. We were all exhausted by nightfall. I'm sure running on empty didn't help- I felt incredibly weak. I was determined to make it home, though.
Day 8
I woke up sore all over, but I toughed it out. "Should we have seen the watchtower by now?" Alex muttered, after several more hours of walking. It's the question that was on all our minds, I'm sure. I had no idea how long this trip was supposed to take us. The thought of us missing it made my stomach turn.
The weather had also taken a turn, the blue skies turning grey. As the snow began to fall, Matthew spoke up. "Maybe, maybe not. It's our only chance now, so we have to keep going." "We should at least find some shelter. The sun will go down soon, and I don't want to blindly wander around in a snowstorm." I replied.
We all looked at each other, and nodded our heads in agreement. It wasn't easy, but we found a small cave- more of an indent, really- in the side of a rock formation. It didn't do much to keep us warm, but it sheltered us from the harsh weather, and was better than the tree we’d huddled under last night.
I turned to Alex as I heard him sobbing, covering his mouth to muffle the sound. I guess it's my turn to comfort him, I thought. "We're safe right now, Alex. At least we have each other. I'll get us out of here, I promise." "You don't know that.." he trailed off.
With my sleeve, I wiped the tears off his cheeks, barely visible in the light of the fire. I didn’t know what else to say, so I grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him in for a hug.
Day 9
As I opened my eyes in the morning, I saw Alex slumped on the ground next to me. Daylight shined through the branches above us. David and Matthew were already up, so I decided to wake him up so we could get going. I said his name quietly. No response. "Alex?" I repeated, slightly louder.
"Alex!" As I shook him by the shoulders, his head rolled to the ride. Blood dripped out of his nose. I thought to myself, He's gone. Gone forever, never coming back. His injuries finally overcame him. The emotions came all at once. Guilt for not somehow saving him. Sadness for Alex's family. Anger at the loss of my close friend.
He'd gotten me through so many hard times, and was always the voice of reason that made me stay out of trouble. I didn't know how I was going to get through this without him.
The others quickly came to us and saw the scene. We were all silent. Matthew helped me lift his body and carry him a few feet into the forest, gently resting him on the ground, covered in an untouched blanket of snow. A single tear dripped off Matthew's chin.
The mood was somber as him, David and I began to continue our journey. I thought again of Alex's family back home. His mother, his father, his little girl. I choked up and hoped I wouldn’t have to be the one that told them.
David suddenly froze, and slowly turned around. "What?" Matthew asked. David didn't reply, just began walking back towards the body. He took out his knife. I knew immediately what he intended to do. "David, wait." "He's already dead. We'll be just like him if we don't get something to eat."
He hesitated for a moment before dropping to his knees, looming over the body. Matthew and I stared in shock as David began slicing at Alex's corpse. "I won't do it.." Matthew whispered. I shook my head. I couldn't- I wouldn't. Alex was my friend. David took a small bite, and made a face as he swallowed it without chewing.
Soon, though, hunger appeared to take over as he took off a larger chunk of flesh and quickly bit into it. We both turned away, unable to watch. How was this happening? I felt like my stomach was full of fire I was so hungry, but the thought of my friend's flesh in my mouth made me want to vomit.
We waited for David to finish his meal. He emerged from the brush, trying to wipe his face with his shirt, but his chin was still smeared with blood.
Things changed between us then. Though I still cared for David, I couldn't look at him the same. We didn't mention what’d happened once. In fact, we didn't say much at all. Otherwise, it was similar to yesterday. Just wandering through the woods, hoping we were headed in the right direction.
Everything was so quiet. It was eerie- a forest should be full of life. The only noises were the sound of our footsteps and our breathing, visible in the cold air. Matthew spoke up. "So are we ready to admit that we missed the watchtower?" David and I stopped and exchanged a glance. He sighed. "So what's the plan now? Turn around?"
I considered our options. Either turn back and hope we can find the wreckage of our helicopter or stay on course, trying to reach civilization. "It seems unlikely we would find the helicopter now. None of us know where we are or have anything to lead us back there." I said.
"Agreed. Matthew?" Said David. Matthew nodded his head. "So that's it, new objective. Find people."
We were forced to stop our search again as night fell. We weren’t lucky enough to find shelter again, but the weather was also better, so there was that. I was so cold I couldn’t feel my fingers, so I scooted up as close to the fire as possible, until I could feel the warmth on my face.
As Matthew tossed some more wood on it, sparks floated through the air. Not much was said after today's events, and neither I or Matthew got too close to David, which I could see had hurt his pride. Whatever.
Day 10
As the sun rose, I could sense that something wasn't right with David. He seemed upset, or maybe just out of it. I put him in charge of melting some snow. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed him flick the lighter and look into the flame. Except he didn't do anything with it. He just stared.
"David..?" No response. "David!" I snapped my fingers in his face. His head turned towards me, as if he'd just noticed I was there. "I'm.. I'm sorry. I'll get to it." I sighed in relief, and went back to collecting more wood.
David seemed a bit better that evening. More aware. We had a conversation about if we'd ever make it home. "I just want a burger, is that too much to ask?" Matthew complained. "The first thing I'm doing when this is all over is going to Denny's and ordering everything on the menu." I said. The others gave me a halfhearted chuckle.
"I miss ice cream. And tacos. And yeah, pancakes." was David's reply. I smiled, but the mental image of him slicing up my friend didn't leave my mind. I wondered if the psychological impact of what he did was what was making him act strange. I felt bad for him, in a way.
Day 11
The next morning, we woke up shivering. We had to brush the snow that’d accumulated overnight out of our hair. David complained of a toothache, and I didn’t give it much thought. One drawback to being his friend was that he was always complaining, and Matthew and I were getting tired of it.
Matthew sarcastically said what I was thinking. "Just shut your mouth, man. Maybe it'll help." David huffed in frustration, but kept his thoughts to himself for a while.
As the sunlight was just beginning to fade, he did something that actually did worry me. "I hope it stops snowing before toni-" he interrupted himself with a groan and dropped to his knees. He squeezed his eyes shut and covered his ears with balled up fists. "What's wrong?" Matthew asked.
Matthew took a few steps toward him and rested a hand on his shoulder. "My head.." "Your head? Your head hurts?" David nodded slightly, breathing heavily. "Okay, uh.. sit down over here. We'll hit the hay early tonight. How does that sound?" He made no indication that he’d heard us, so we sat down next to him.
He seemed almost at the point of tears. I struggled to think of some way to help. The only thing I could think to do was bring him some water. Without a word he looked up, took a sip and curled into the fetal position. I stayed and sat with David, rubbing his back as his whole body shook.
Day 12
"Does your head feel better today, David?" "Yeah, I don't know.. I don't know what that was. We need to keep moving." I agreed. He didn't talk much as we stomped through the snow that had to be at least a foot deep, spotless and beautiful. At least it would have been beautiful if we weren't stuck out there.
I'd always loved being in nature, but I didn't know how I'd feel about going on hikes when- no, if- we made it back home. I stepped on a buried tree branch, making a snapping sound that interrupted the silence surrounding us. A flock of crows flew into the air, and David jumped, pulled his knife and looked around wildly.
"It's okay, they're just birds, man." I said softly. He looked quite paranoid, but he shook his head and shoved his knife back into his pocket.
We all looked up as we heard a humming sound slowly getting louder. A helicopter. We glanced at each other, stunned for a moment. Matthew jumped into the air. "Thank God! Thank God, finally!" For the first time since we’d started this ordeal, we were all smiling ear to ear.
As David and Matthew screamed for help, I pulled myself up a pine tree, desperately trying to make myself visible. I waved my arms and yelled "We're down here!" for several minutes, until the copter turned away from us.
My spirits fell. I watched it disappear. I should have known better. We were a needle in a haystack down there. I dropped to the forest floor and gave the others a solemn look. Just like that, we were more frustrated than ever.
As we sat to rest our aching bodies, David punched a tree in anger, sending snow piled on one of its branches onto his head. Matthew snorted, and I shot him a disapproving look. David whipped around with fire in his eyes. In a flash, David threw himself at him, pinning him to a tree.
Despite being much smaller than Matthew, David held him there with such strength I was shocked. He growled like a wild animal and punched Matthew in the face. He struggled against David's grip to no avail. "I don't appreciate being mocked." "I'm sorry, it was- it was just funny-" David kneed him in the crotch.
I tried to pull him away, and when he lunged at me I landed a blow to his chest that knocked the wind out of him. "David, what the hell?" I shouted. That's all it took to make him drop to his knees and start sobbing. "I'm sorry. I just got so angry. I'm sorry Matthew."
We looked at each other, confused. As Matthew recovered, he slowly said "It- it's okay. We're all frustrated. Just.. don't do it again." "I'm so sorry- I'm so so sorry." David spit out a tooth, though I didn’t remember hitting him there.
As night began to fall, David pulled up his shirt to assess his injury. Sure enough, there was a big bruise where I’d punched him. That's not what caught my attention, though. He was as thin as a twig. We were all starving, but Matthew and I were nowhere near as emancipated. You could have counted his ribs, his stomach caved in.
I reacted with a "Woah, buddy, you don't look too hot." I instantly regretted it, worried he'd snap again. He didn’t, though. He looked down at his body and scoffed. "You guys don't look too great either, you know." He was right, of course. But he’d eaten just days ago- there was no way he should’ve been so skinny compared to us.
I mentally scolded myself for not noticing sooner. Out of fear of setting him off, however, I said nothing. The exchange was over after a moment of awkward silence.
We sat by the fire on that moonless night. It was David's turn to collect wood, so Matthew sent him off to do so. As he crouched over the flames, rubbing his hands together for warmth, I heard movement somewhere off in the darkness. Matthew didn't seem to notice, but I scanned the woods looking for any signs of danger.
My attention was drawn to a pair of glowing yellow orbs. Eyes, reflecting the dim light of the fire. They were still for a moment, then began moving straight toward us. It looked like when you shine a light at a cat or dog, but- but they were at a person's height, I realized to my horror.
I wanted to do something, but I was afraid to speak or even move and set it off. As it came closer, my mind raced with thoughts of what horrible thing it could be. As I began to panic, a form became visible. It was David, returning with an armful of twigs and sticks.
"Why are you looking at me like that?" He said, in an accusing tone of voice. I was taken aback for a second, but collected myself and told him "It's nothing, you just.. you just startled me." He sat on a rock and began to chat, but all I could think was.. humans don't have eyeshine.
Day 13
David had definitely taken a quick turn for the worse. I questioned if eating raw human flesh had done something to his body. Matthew and I were both still sound of mind- David was certainly not at this point. Since we’d woken up he'd been stumbling and swaying, like he'd lost his balance.
I heard him muttering words, but for some reason I was afraid to ask him to speak up. Matthew and I glanced at each other. I wished we didn't have to keep walking, but we couldn’t just wait around for him to come to his senses. He stopped and ran his hands through his now unkempt hair.
I asked, as gently as possible, "What's the matter? Another migraine?" He stared at me for a moment, then spoke clearly for the first time all day. "My head hurts, yeah, but come and feel this." I approached him and hesitantly ran my hand over the top of his head.
There was a hard lump under his skin- no, two lumps, close together near his forehead. He winced when I touched them. I didn’t understand this at all. I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I just said what I was thinking. "What the hell? What is that?" "Don't ask me- I have no idea. They were there when I woke up."
"Maybe tumors of some kind?" Matthew chimed in. I doubted that- I'd never heard of tumors as hard as a rock appearing overnight- but it was the best explanation I could think of. "I guess. Maybe." David said, with a sigh.
He tried to take a step forward, but ended up stumbling and falling towards me. I caught him and pulled him to his feet. We kept moving.
David became much less coherent over the next few hours. He slurred his words like he was drunk, and walked like it too. I didn't know what in God's name was wrong with him, but I suggested we take a break for his sake. "Okay, how does that sound, buddy?" Matthew said. He didn't appear to have heard us.
I walked up to him and tried to grab him by the shoulder to steady him. As soon as my hand touched him, he snapped his head towards me with a feral look in his eyes. He leapt at me, and when we tumbled to the ground, he grasped his hands tightly around my neck.
I attempted to gasp for air and pull his hands from my throat, but his grip was too strong. He panted quickly, and I saw saliva drooling out of his mouth. I tried to force him off of me, but I was too weak from exhaustion and starvation. He should have been too. I didn't know where this strength was coming from. I didn't care right then.
As everything started to go black, I faintly heard Matthew yelling and felt that he was kicking at David. He didn't care, or even seem to notice. The moment I realized I was done for, his hands fell away from my neck, and he crumpled to his knees and began to wretch. I gulped in big breaths of air.
All that came out of David was bile, of course. As he violently gagged and choked, Matthew pulled me up and I stumbled away from him.
Matthew and I watched from a safe distance as he fell and sank into the snow. We cautiously approached and saw that he appeared to be unconscious. We sat in silence waiting for him to wake up, periodically making sure he was still breathing. He was alive, but as night fell with him still out, I wondered if he would be for much longer.
Though I knew he couldn’t hear us, we whispered to each other over our fire, trying to come up with a plan to deal with him when, or if, he woke up. Neither of us could think of any good ideas, though. Leave him here to die? Try talking to him to see what's going on inside his head?
With the bruises he’d left on my neck, I wasn’t too keen on that, but I wouldn't have felt right abandoning him. We decided to assess the situation in the morning, and I fell into a fitful sleep.
Day 14
As I woke, I immediately shot up to check on David. However, he wasn't there. He was just gone. The only sign he’d been there was the impression he’d left in the snow, and strangely, a pile of teeth spotted with dried blood and one boot. When Matthew and I searched the area, we found nothing.
Nothing, that is, except for some claw marks on nearby trees.
"Well, I'm stumped." I said to him. "Maybe an animal took him. I mean, he was out cold last we saw, and it seems there's been a predator around here recently." That didn't explain the teeth, I thought to myself, but he hadn’t exactly looked like he would’ve been able to get up and wander off.
"Why didn't we hear it?" I asked. He shrugged. "Bears are built to silently stalk up on prey." Matthew was an outdoorsman, and I trusted his judgment. I shook my head, but said "Okay man, whatever you say."
As we trudged through the snow, I felt increasingly paranoid. What if whatever took David came after us? Not a minute went by without me having the feeling of being watched. I jumped a little each time the crows cawed, or a twig snapped behind me. I knew it was just Matthew, walking behind me, but that didn’t ease my mind.
He seemed to have the same fear, as we stayed very quiet out of fear of attracting a predator. That’s when we saw it- a small deer, laying dead in the snow. Blood had dried around several deep gashes in it’s side. I sucked in air, and stopped in my tracks. Matthew spoke up.
“What’s the holdup- oh god.” But I knew it wasn't the gore- it was the realization that something dangerous must have been lurking around here somewhere. My stomach growled fiercely. The sight of it sickened me, but I was so hungry.
I slowly approached it. Matthew seemed to read my mind. “We can’t eat it. We have to leave before whatever killed it comes back- look, there’s not a bite taken out of it.” I hadn’t noticed that before, but he was right. Not a piece of it had been eaten.
I was too hungry to be rational, though. “We’re going to starve if we don’t eat something.” I said bluntly. “You know what will kill us faster than starvation? An angry bear defending its kill. We need to get out of here.”
I knew he was right, but I couldn’t pry my eyes away from the potential meal in front of me. Something then broke the tense silence- a twig snapping in the distance. Matthew immediately grabbed my arm and sprinted away, dragging me with him. Then came the footsteps. Faint at first, but getting louder.
We ran as fast as we could, but this thing was faster. Matthew jerked to a stop, making me stumble. He looked at me with wild eyes. “The tree! We need to climb!” He hurried up the tree as quickly as possible, and I followed suit.
My feet slipped as I frantically tried to haul myself upwards with my good arm, but out of instinct I immediately grabbed the next branch as tightly as possible and steadied myself, determined to survive. We froze in place as the footsteps slowed directly underneath us.
The foliage blocked our view of the ground, and I hoped the creature’s view of us. However, we could hear it breathing. It was unsettling to say the least. While we desperately tried to calm our panicked breathing, this thing took slow, even breaths. It was wheezing loudly.
I couldn’t help but think that it sounded painful, like someone’s dying breaths. We waited up there for what felt like hours as it just stood in place down there. I imagined it looking around, intently listening for anything that could give away our position. Finally, we heard footsteps slowly moving away from us.
Matthew and I spent who knows how long in the tree after that, afraid it was still nearby. As our feet finally touched the ground, he said something that made my blood run cold. “I don’t think that was a bear.”
From then on, we walked just feet away from each other. It made me feel safer. We didn’t speak for hours, lost in our own thoughts. From then on, I had the constant feeling of having eyes on me. I turned my head and looked behind us every few minutes for hours.
As the light began to fade, I could have sworn I saw a shadowy figure in the woods out of the corner of my eye, poking out from behind trees. It seemed to swiftly disappear immediately each time I saw it. This must be in my head, I thought. I was more paranoid than ever before, and your eyes can play tricks on you in the darkness.
Besides, why would a predator trail us, instead of just going in for the kill?
That night, Matthew and I layed back to back, shivering in the cold. We’d hoped to see as much of our surroundings as possible, but it was pretty useless, as the forest was pitch black. When exhaustion finally overcame me, I was plagued by nightmares.
Dreams of horrific monsters, with huge sharp teeth and terrible claws. Dreams where I was trying to run, but couldn’t, like my feet were stuck in quicksand. Dreams of my family being ripped apart, as I could only watch.
Day 15
I jerked awake the next morning in a cold sweat. Matthew looked over his shoulder at me. He didn’t ask me about my night, so I didn’t ask him about his, though by the looks of it I doubted he’d slept at all. Poor guy looked exhausted, sitting with his legs folded, staring at nothing. After yesterday, I didn’t really know what to say.
Luckily, he began our conversation for me. I was confused at his choice of a topic, though. “How much do you know about Native history?” “Well, that’s an easy one. Nothing.” I replied.
“Well, my grandmother was a pureblooded Native American. She used to tell me and my brother stories, to frighten us into behaving. Like, you better be good, or a skinwalker will come and take you away.” “Uh, that’s kind of messed up, but what about it?”
“Well, she always believed in all the legends. I Just thought she was a loony old woman. But now.. I’m thinking she might not have been so crazy after all.” I didn’t know how to respond to that, so I kept quiet, waiting for him to continue. “Have you ever heard of the wendigo?” I shook my head side to side.
“Well, they’re said to live up in the cold mountains, always hungry and looking for a meal. They say their hearts are made of ice. When they find a village, the result is disastrous. And..” “And what?” Matthew suddenly looked gravely serious. “And they’re said to be created when a desperate human resorts to cannibalism.”
I frowned at the obvious implications. I was suddenly filled with anger and stood. “This isn’t a joke. This isn’t one of your gram gram’s bedtime stories. This is real life, man.” He suddenly looked embarrassed, but I didn’t care. “Well, what do you think that.. that thing.. was? I know you saw it following us yesterday.”
I was stunned that he’d seen it too. “I don’t know! But it’s not some boogeyman that steals naughty children and eats them for breakfast! David is dead, man. I can’t believe how disrespectful you’re being.” His face fell at that. I immediately regretted my outburst. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. I’m the one being disrespectful.”
I tried to soften my expression. He simply nodded his head, accepting my apology. Suddenly, a twisted howl in the distance interrupted our moment. It didn’t sound like any animal I’d heard before. “We better get out of here.” He said quietly. I simply reached out my hand, which he took as I helped him up. I patted him on the back. “Let’s go.”
It was almost painful walking as slowly as we were, but we were trying to be as quiet as possible, keeping our footsteps light. It was then that I heard it- some sort of scratching sound. I slowly turned my head to see a creature off to my right, barely visible between the trees. I lightly touched Matthew’s shoulder.
His body froze, but his eyes darted towards mine. I whispered “Over there…” and moved my head slightly in the creature’s direction. His eyes widened. It stared straight at us, as it dragged its claws down the bark of the tree its head and hand were poking out from behind.
I couldn't make out any details, but it was tall, and I could have sworn I saw a pair of antlers on its head. I felt like it was looking into my soul. “Don’t. Move.” Matthew whispered back. It watched us for a few more seconds, then slowly moved back behind the tree.
At that point we began backing away, and did so until we felt we were as safe as possible, given the circumstances.
I was the one to speak up. “What the hell? Why didn’t it come after us? Is it just trying to mess with our heads?” “In a way, yes, you could say that. I think it’s feeding off our fear.” That was a terrifying concept for me. ‘It’s getting bolder.” I said, as the realization struck me. Matthew agreed with me.
“It’s stalking us in broad daylight now, and it’s getting closer. It will come for us soon enough.” I wanted to ask if we could do anything to stop it, but I realized if Matthew knew the answer, he would have shared it with me already. So we started walking again without another word.
Matthew and I tried to keep trudging through the snow after dark, but it was an impossible task- we couldn’t see anything, and were barely making any progress. We decided to spend the night in a small clearing, sitting on opposite sides of our fire, the only thing keeping us warm.
We made small talk for a bit- talking about our friends and families, our jobs, basically anything to keep our minds off our current situation. It didn’t last, though, and we eventually fell silent. I was grateful for the company, however, as it comforted me a little. As we stared into the fire, a sound caught our attention.
The rustling of foliage nearby in the darkness. I looked towards the noise, then at him. He didn’t say anything, but I could tell his mind was racing too, by the look on his face. I heard footsteps to my left, then behind Matthew, then to my right, then behind me. Was this thing.. circling us?
I was then forced to admit to myself that this wasn’t some wild animal. Matthew and I stared at each other in terror. Neither of us moved a muscle, frozen in fear. Then the woods fell silent. The moment I began to feel relief, I saw two yellow glowing eyes looming behind Matthew, slowly growing closer. Near the ground at first, then rising up.
I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think. The second I snapped out of it and opened my mouth to warn him, the creature pounced on him. For the briefest second, I saw its face. A head and antlers like those of a deer. Glowing, piercing eyes. Lips pulled back in a snarl, revealing yellow, pointed teeth.
And then it was gone. Before Matthew could react, it dug its claws into his shoulders and pulled him into the darkness. He began to scream, but it was quickly cut off. I imagined it tearing into his neck and dragging him away.
I ran. I ran faster and harder than ever before. I was filled with guilt for not going after him, but I knew in my heart that it was too late. I needed to save myself now.
I don’t know for how long or how far I ran. I did so until my legs practically gave out. I crumpled to the ground, hugged my knees to my chest, and cried. I sobbed like a child, tears streaming down my face. I was alone now.
No, not alone- I had this.. this thing to keep me company. This monster that had taken my best friend. A feeling began to grow inside me. An intense anger, like nothing I’d ever felt before. I was going to get revenge. I was going to take it down.
I didn’t sleep at all that night. Thoughts of the creature consumed me. I needed to kill it. That was the only thing I knew. Screw finding civilization, this was my mission now. For Matthew. I thought about what he’d said.
“Well, they’re said to live up in the cold mountains, always hungry and looking for a meal. They say their hearts are made of ice.” Fire. I didn’t know if it would work, but it was my only option. I grabbed my knife and began carving away at a tree branch.
Day 16
At dawn, I grabbed my makeshift spear and set off. No time like the present, right? I should have been mourning the death of my friend, but all I felt was rage. I knew the creature was near me. I could sense it looking at me, somewhere between the trees. It was stalking me, waiting until I was the most vulnerable.
Snow began to fall as I tried to spot it. I circled a large tree, banging my wooden spear against its trunk. I needed to draw it out, while I still had the upper hand. In the daylight, when I could see it coming- I’d be no match for it in the dark. This thing was smart. That I knew for sure. But I was smart too.
It was then that I spotted something shifting slightly, a figure in a twisted bramble in the distance. I ignored my body’s urge to flee, instead charging in that direction. As I approached the spot, I searched for the creature.
No sign of it. Then I spun around as I heard the sound of wood cracking a short distance behind me. I sprinted over. Nothing. My heart was racing- it was so fast. I realized then that it was going to have to come for me.
I carefully selected an area to wait in- I was blessed with finding a large rocky outcrop, which I hoped would prevent it from attacking from behind. The wind picked up as the snowfall intensified. This is the last thing I need, I thought to myself. That thing was already stealthy, a ghost in the night.
As I sat, shivering and rubbing my hands together, I heard a faint, calm voice over the howling wind. “Ben, where are you?” My eyes widened. Matthew? No, Matthew was dead. I watched him get dragged away by that monster. “Ben, come help me.” It was clearer this time. It sounded just like him.
Was I delusional now? It’d been so long since I’d eaten, it wouldn’t have surprised me. “Ben! Come help me! Ben! Ben!” It shouted. No, it sounded clear as day. I stood. Against my better judgement, I began walking towards the sound. It soothed me. I felt like I was in a dream, with no control over my actions.
“Come a little bit closer, Ben, I’m right here.” I saw a large figure, a shadow in the curtain of snow coming down. “Matthew.. Matthew? Is that you?” As it turned to face me, the voice shifted to become raspy, and it yelled with an animalistic growl “I’m.. right.. HERE!” The figure launched itself at me as I broke out of my trance.
I stumbled backwards as it landed in front of me. I got my first good look at the creature. Its body looked somewhat human. It was tall, but incredibly thin. Its ribs looked like they were about to push out of its chest, its skin pulled tight against the bones of its elongated arms, which ended in long fingers with large claws.
It stood hunched over and gave me a piercing stare. It was covered by a mixture of dirty, matted patches of fur and grey decaying skin. And that face- that face that still haunts my dreams. On the head of a stag were lips that were tattered and bloody, which framed yellowed fangs and a long, pointed tongue.
The end of its snout appeared to have rotten off, exposing bone. Its ears were pointed back, and it glared at me with black, sunken in eyes, which shone with a yellow gleam. The worst thing about it, though, was the gash on its cheek. This is David, I thought to myself. Matthew was right.
I hesitated for a moment. No, this wasn’t David. Not anymore it wasn’t.
It snarled at me like a rabid coyote, furious that I’d dodged its attack. Within seconds it came at me again, which sent me running. I fought to keep myself from stumbling and falling to the ground in the bed of snow beneath me. It was gaining on me, huffing with that awful wheezing breath.
I desperately searched for my weapon in the blizzard. Then I saw it, sticking upwards out of the snow. I pulled the lighter from my pocket and struggled to get it to light with my trembling hands. As I heard the creature closing in on me, I held my spear above the flame and prayed this would work.
The end caught fire as the creature came crashing through the brush. I whipped around to face it as it emerged from between the trees. It crouched down on all fours like a cat preparing to pounce on its prey. I braced myself. In an instant it leaped at me, and I closed my eyes and thrust out my flaming torch. I felt it connect and jumped backwards.
The creature stood for a moment, shocked. Then it began to claw at its chest where my spear had punctured it as the fire spread. It let out a blood curdling screech, and fell onto its back, creating a flurry of snow. When it cleared, that monster was gone, the bloody torch sitting atop a pile of ash on the forest floor.
I, too, collapsed to the ground when the fight was over. The adrenaline rush that had given me back my strength faded from my body. My ears began to ring, and the world went fuzzy. I felt the energy leaving my body as I blacked out.
When I opened my eyes, I was on a stretcher. I faded in and out of consciousness as I was airlifted to safety. Over the whir of a helicopter, I heard men telling me to stay with them, that I would be okay if I just held on a little longer.
I don’t know how long I was out, but when I awoke, I was laying in a hospital bed with an IV in my arm and a wicked headache. I was alive. My wife cried as she held my hand and told me that a pair of hikers caught in the storm had found me passed out in the woods and called for help. The doctors said I was incredibly lucky. I believed them.
I explained the helicopter crash and our search for safety. I told everyone David, Alex and Matthew had all died of their injuries. What else could I have told them? Anyways, I’ve just been cleared to leave the hospital and finish recovering at home.
Although the nightmares haven’t stopped, I’ve learned to appreciate everything I took for granted before- a good meal, a warm bed, a sunny day. I’ve reconnected with my mother and father. There’s one thing I’ll never enjoy again, though- a walk in the woods.
submitted by an-emotional-cactus to nosleep [link] [comments]


2020.06.27 18:34 kenziemullins so i reworked the narrative structure of the game

So I actually really enjoyed the game! But its narrative structure is in own worst enemy. While forcing the audience to try and empathize with the villain is an interesting approach to storytelling, the criticism I’ve seen most often is that people hated playing as Abby. This is sad because Abby’s story has the potential to be really good. So, I reworked the narrative to give Abby room to earn the player’s trust and empathy before she kills Joel. Pretty much all major plot points remain the same. The biggest difference is that in this version of the game, the audience isn’t aware of Ellie’s role in the story because Abby is advertised as being the main character, meaning her chapters are played first. Also, this post contains spoilers. obviously.
SEATTLE DAY 1 We open with a nightmare from Abby. Scenes of a golf club dripping blood are interspersed with scenes of a distraught Abby tossing and turning. Owen gently touches Abby’s shoulder, and she wakes with a start. The game is essentially starting where Abby’s version of events in Seattle begins with a few minor differences (such as Owen joining instead of being AWOL). Abby, Mel, Manny, and Owen leave the stadium to go to the FOB and are ambushed by some Seraphites along the way just like they are in the original. During this skirmish, Owen gains the upper hand against an elderly Scar like he described in the game. The old man doesn’t fight back, and instead says a small prayer, bows his head, and waits for the final blow. Owen doesn’t strike, unable to kill this old man - but in his hesitation, Manny puts a bullet between the man’s eyes. Owen seems to be shaken for a moment, but regains his composure and rejoins the others. Abby asks him what’s up, but he simply shakes his head.
At the FOB, Isaac holds a meeting with several wolves, including the SLC firefly crew. He gives the same spiel he gave Abby and Manny in the game and outlines an invasion plan. In this version of the game, he’s a far more charismatic and authoritarian leader, and his beef with the Seraphites runs deeper than it did in the original. Isaac promises that the Puget Sound will run red with Scar blood, they’ll wipe out every man/woman/child, etc. etc. Owen looks sick, and leaves the room the moment the meeting ends. Abby follows him, asks what his problem is. Owen explains that he is starting to doubt the legitimacy of the WLF and their crusade against the Scars, and that the line between right and wrong is becoming more and more blurred. He tells Abby that last month, he had to kill a boy no older than 10. He doesn’t think he can keep doing this, and tells Abby he plans to leave Seattle as soon as he can. Abby yells at him, insisting that he can’t abandon the cause, and can’t abandon Mel, who is pregnant with his child. they fight, and Owen storms off. Isaac learns of Owen’s “treachery” and labels him an enemy of the WLF, giving all soldiers permission to kill him on sight.
Abby tells Manny that she has to go after Owen - he’s been her friend for as long as she can remember, was there for her when her dad died, and supported her mission of bringing the man responsible to justice. She knows where to find him, and she can help him get out of town before anyone even knows she’s gone. Manny agrees to cover for her while she’s gone.
From there, Seattle Day 1 proceeds mostly as normal - she is captured and nearly hanged by Scars, and rescued by Yara and Lev. When she gets to the aquarium, Owen tells her that he wants to go to Santa Barbara, but doesn’t mention the Fireflies: “I miss fighting for something.” Abby can’t understand why he suddenly feels so strongly: they’re fighting for their survival, what’s the big deal if some bystanders die? Owen snaps, and says that the old Abby wouldn’t kill people so pointlessly. Abby stiffens, argues that she hasn’t changed. He scoffs and shakes his head. “You’re not the same person you were before the ski lodge.” Abby goes silent, leaves the room and slams the door behind her. She thinks of Yara and Lev as she falls asleep, and wonders if she would kill them if Isaac demanded it.
SEATTLE DAY 2 Abby wakes from another nightmare starring the golf club and some disembodied screaming. The dream morphs like it did in the original, the bodies of Yara and Lev hanging from a tree. Abby wakes, and feels like she has to make sure those two are safe. She finds them like last time, brings them back to the aquarium. Owen is really confused because were he and Abby not just fighting about this a few hours ago lmao?? The same sequence of events occurs with Mel agreeing to help Yara while Abby and Lev travel to the hospital for supplies. Owen asks Abby if she’s starting to have doubts about the WLF as well, what changed between last night and this morning? Abby swears that this has nothing to do with the WLF or Scars - but these kids saved her life last night, and she wants to repay that debt. She and Lev leave for the hospital.
The journey to the hospital stays mostly true to the original story, but we take this opportunity to learn a lot more about Abby, Lev, and their relationship. The tone of this arc should feel a lot like the Joel and Ellie scenes in the first game, with the characters opening up to each other and the audience. They bond over their disillusionment with their groups: Abby resents the WLF for turning against her, Lev resents the Seraphites for twisting the words of the Prophet for violence. The main development should be about their fathers. Lev asks Abby if she’s from Seattle/how long she’s been with the WLF. She tells him that she only became a wolf after her father and a lot of her old group were killed. After that, she and some her friends stuck together and traveled further west, looking for a large group to be a part of. Lev doesn’t ask anymore questions, but Abby keeps talking - and it’s here where we hear her tone really shift for the first time into something sinister. The golf club flicks in and out of the cutscene, overlaid with abby’s shaky breathing. She tells Lev that her father was a good man, and that he was killed because someone was too selfish to understand the value of sacrifice. Lev looks uneasy, but he asks what happened to the man who killed her father. Abby gets this far off look in her eye. The golf club drops out of someone’s grip, a shaking hand slicked in blood. “He’s gone, now.” she says, voice completely neutral. Lev nods: “if I ever met the man who took my father from me, I’d kill him, too.” they continue towards the hospital.
They arrive at the hospital, and Abby turns to Lev and tells him to wait outside - she has to sneak in. Lev asks why she can’t walk through the front door - she’s a wolf, after all. Abby explains that she has betrayed her group by going after Owen, and choosing to help Lev and Yara, so it’s better not to risk it. Lev promises to wait, and Abby gets ready to sneak in. However, she soon notices that there’s no guards around. Nervously, she stalks towards the front doors - and begins to see bodies strewn about, some with their throats cut, some shot with bullets or arrows. She’s on edge: at first, she worries it was Scars, but there are no nooses, no disembowelments: just quick and messy stealth kills. Anxious but pressed for time, Abby sprints down the hall, trying to pay no mind to the bodies surrounding her. This camera angle of the hallway looks familiar to the player - quick cuts of red flashing lights and a siren play out between scenes of Abby in real time running down this hall. And this is the first blatant hint toward St. Mary’s Hospital in SLC. Abby takes a shaky breath and brings herself back to the present.
At the end of one hallway is a stack of crates with a list on top - Nora’s handwriting. The note indicates that all supplies have been moved - but the lower floors (trauma, icu, ambulances) haven’t been cleared yet, so Abby heads that way.
The next scenes proceed as normal - we find the supplies, the scary monster (Abby can find out in a note that the hospital was ground zero since Nora isn’t around to tell her). Abby gets the stuff and makes her way down some hallways, eventually coming to a door with blood pooling beneath is. Abby pushes through and finds Nora’s body, brutalized nearly beyond recognition. The golf club flashes through Abby’s mind. She closes her eyes and takes a steadying breath. Bloody footprints track down the hallway, and Abby follows. At the end of the trail are the polaroids of Nick, Nora, and Leah, all with streaks of blood striking through their eyes. She makes her way back above ground to Lev, and promptly throws up. She explains to Lev that Nora was her friend before she came to Seattle, as were Nick and Leah. Lev asks her if Nick and Leah are dead as well. Abby says that if they’re dead, it means they were targeted. Someone might be going after her old group, and she might be next. For the first time, she looks genuinely afraid, maybe even guilty. Someone wants revenge.
They return to the aquarium with the stuff for Yara’s surgery. while Mel works on Yara’s arm, Abby shows Owen the photos. Owen flips through them, points out that these photos were Leah’s. He and Abby toss around some theories: perhaps it’s a Scar with a vengeance, or someone they blew off a trade-deal with. Owen grows quiet before asking if it could be someone from the ski lodge. Abby shakes her head. How would any of them know where to find them? She tells Owen it doesn’t matter: neither the Scars nor the Wolves tolerate stragglers for very long. No matter who is hunting them, Abby doubts they’ll last for very long.
After Yara’s surgery, Mel and Abby have a similar confrontation to the original (minus the Owen sexy stuff because I find it unnecessary lmao sorry). When Mel calls Abby a piece of shit, Abby reacts very poorly and takes a threatening step towards Mel, causing her to flinch hard. Owen intervenes, but not before Mel angrily steps to Abby and begins to tell her off: “Manny says your nightmares have gotten worse since the ski lodge, not better. You thought you could just kill your demons and everything would be better again? Killing that monster didn’t vindicate you, didn’t heal you. It made you a monster, and you know it. And ‘saving’ these kids won’t erase those sins. Those nightmares won’t ever go away.” [golf club, blood, shaking]. Mel leaves, and Owen follows, telling Abby he’ll be right back.
Abby punches a hole in the wall (she’s a total Kyle) and slides to the ground. Lev walks over and sits next to Abby. She asks about Yara, Lev says she’s alright, and they sit quietly. Then Lev whispers that he has nightmares too, sometimes. “For what it’s worth, I don’t think you’re a monster.” Abby tries for a smile. She is a monster, but she appreciates the words. She tells lev to get some rest, and pulls the polaroids out again, wondering if she’s next.
FLASHBACK Instead of the Owen flashback where Abby tells him about finding Tommy, it’s a flashback of her father’s funeral/a mass burial of the Fireflies from SLC (without indicating that these Fireflies are the St. Mary’s crew). Abby stands over an open casket, her father inside. Behind her are all of her friends. Abby touches something on his collarbone, but we don’t see what it is. She turns around and faces her friends, her face a stony mask, her voice inflectionless. “I’m going to find him. I’m going to kill him. I can’t live my life knowing he’s still out there.” Nora stands up, puts a hand on Abby’s arm, and tells her that she won’t have to do it alone. Everyone agrees. Manny stands, puts his hand on Abby’s shoulder. “until we find a lead, we stick together.” Abby turns back to the casket one last time, and as she backs away, we see that the thing Abby was touching are dog tags - Firefly tags.
SEATTLE DAY THREE The day starts out as it did in the original. Abby had hoped to get a head start in searching for whoever is hunting her group - she planned to narrow the search by figuring out where other members of the SLC group are posted, and beat the hunter there. These plans are thwarted when Yara tells Abby that Lev took a boat and is heading to the Seraphite’s island to try and convince his mom to flee Seattle with them. Before heading to the marina, Abby tells Owen and Mel to stay here and stay off radio waves - she knows they’re on the hunter’s list, but Abby doesn’t think the hunter would come look at the aquarium (as she doesn’t know Nora gave her up). Yara and Abby head for the marina like last time, and the encounter with Manny and the sniper is the same. Abby tells manny she thinks the sniper is the same person who killed Nora and Leah and Nick. Manny tries to convince Abby not to follow the sniper, to let something else kill him - Abby tries to explain that this person is hunting them, them specifically. Manny pauses: “do you think it’s someone he knew? one of the one’s we let live?” Abby says yes, and just as Manny gets ready to say something else, the sniper kills him. Abby runs and tries to get the angle on the sniper, but he’s gone. In his place is a single piece of paper that says “you’re next.” Abby swears, secures a boat, and returns to Yara. She’s worry about the hunter later - they need to hurry.
Most of the events on the island are the same as they are in the game. Isaac is attacking, the village is burning - Yara still dies defending Abby and lev, killing Isaac in the process. Lev and Abby escape the island and return to the aquarium - because of the storm, their boat takes on too much water, and they end up swimming ashore kinda far from the aquarium. On the whole journey back, Abby and the player feel.. uneasy. Watched. Hunted. Abby is visibly on edge, so unsure of who or what is out there, hunting her. “You’re next”. Lev feels it too. They hurry, but the feeling grows heavier as they approach the aquarium. Abby notes a broken window that wasn’t broken before; muddy footprints that look recent. They get inside and see Alice’s body, and Abby feels bile rise in her throat. We see her adopt the protector role she’s grown into over the course of the game, as she urges Lev to get behind her, to keep his eyes peeled. She approaches a door with blood pooling under it and we can tell that she knows what’s behind that door - but she has to open it anyways.
Mel and Owen lay on the floor, dead. Abby vomits, sobs. The feeling of being hunted returns tenfold, the paranoia sets in. Her ears ring. Then, Lev hands her something - a map of the city. Her suspicions are confirmed as each zone of the map contains her friends’ names and where they were stationed, many of them crossed off with red sharpie. The only ones remaining are her’s, Owen’s, and Mel’s (the hunter didn’t get a chance to cross off their names). In the middle of the map is a theatre marked with a star. Abby figures that’s where the hunter must be - and either way, she knows that they can’t stay in the aquarium. Lev asks what she wants to do, and Abby responds that she has to get them before they get her. Lev nods, and they leave.
At the theatre, Abby asks Lev to wait outside, to only come in if he hears trouble. Abby climbs in and walks around a bit before quickly spotting a journal. She has to know who she’s dealing with before she goes into the lion’s den. She opens the journal’s front page, and her breath catches in her throat: taped to the page is a photo of Ellie and Joel together with big smiles. Her ears ring again. We see the golf club, this time raised in the air, and it falls down hard: when it comes back up, it’s slicked in blood. The camera angle flips, and we see Abby bringing down this club over and over and over again, each strike punctuated by a grunt of pain, blood splattering across her face: and it’s here that the audience finally confirms that Abby - the character they’ve been playing as for the past 8-10 hours, who has earned our trust and our empathy as a character - beat our beloved Joel to death with a golf club. Cut back to the picture of Joel, Abby’s hands shake even more, she screws her eyes shut:
and we watch the flashback of her father and the zebra, followed by Jerry’s conversation with Marlene. In this version, Abby waits in an office while Ellie is prepped for surgery; she hears the gunshots and screaming, but she remains in the office. She holds her breath as heavy footsteps pass by the room she hides in: and when the gunshots sound a little further away, she cracks the door open, watched as Joel opens the door to the surgical suite, shotgun poised and ready. Abby holds her breath, prays, and cowers: 2 shots are fired. She can’t move. Moments later, the alarms start blaring. She closes the door, and stands there in the dark office. 1 minute, 10 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour later (she doesn’t know how long she stood there for), she emerges, the flashing red light flooding the hall - she knows what’s behind that door - approaches slowly, gun shaking - and on the floor, her father, dead. She’s the first one in the room, but Joel is long gone. She lets out a broken sob and slides to the floor, holds her fathers lifeless hand.
In the present, she hears a door open behind her: turns around and fires a shot right into the cheekbone of a young man. The woman next to him takes cover behind the doorframe. Abby orders her to come out, and it’s the girl from Jackson - Ellie. She makes her toss her gun, orders her to kneel in front of Abby “I know why you did it,” Ellie says. She says that Joel ruined the chance for a cure, for a vaccine, and that’s why Abby killed him. Abby lets out a humorless laugh, and says it’s because Joel killed her father, and that she couldn’t live while he was still sucking air. Ellie gets a scary glint in her eye, a feral air to her demeanor. “I know the feeling,” she says drily, her teeth bared in a snarl. Abby grows furious with the threat, pulls back the hammer on the gun, aims: but then Lev is in the room with her, asks Abby to show Ellie mercy: “when one seeks revenge, they dig two graves.” Abby weighs the decision, tells Ellie to never let Abby see her again, and pistol whips her unconscious.
ELLIE From here, we play out Ellie’s story the way we do in the game. To avoid using Abby’s perspective in this version, Tommy radios Maria and tells her that he and Joel spotted a group occupying a ski lodge just north of town, and want to go see if they have anything to trade/if they’re long-term/etc. Ellie, Dina, and Jesse go to meet Joel and Tommy - but since they aren’t certain of the cabins location, they split up. It’s here that the player finally learns that Ellie had to watch Abby deal the killing blow to Joel, making the player feel that much more betrayed by Abby. The narrative follows pretty close to the original from there up until the confrontation with Abby.
Ellie and Dina go to their ranch, Dina has baby JJ like in the original. Ellie struggles to let go of her Abby obsession and can’t find closure with Joel’s death. She doesn’t play guitar; she doesn’t eat, doesn’t sleep. She manages to find fleeting moments of joy with her family before she’s reminded of the family she was deprived of. When Tommy tells her about Santa Barbara, Dina still begs her not to go. “We killed all of her friends, everyone she loved. What does she have left that you have to take?” Ellie still goes.
SANTA BARBARA Events occur almost exactly as they do in the game here, except we don’t play as Abby at all and Ellie has hallucinations of Joel along the way. He talks to her about vengeance and moral ambiguities, trying to convince Ellie to abandon her mission for revenge. Ellie snaps at him every time: she has to see this through because she still can’t close her eyes without seeing Joel’s beaten and bloody face. She can’t remember the good times. She tells him she can’t remember the laughs or the jokes or the chords to that fucking song because Abby replaced everything good thing with Joel’s undignified death as penance for his greatest sin. Joel says he understands, that he used to chase revenge the way a dog chases its own damned tail. “Used to?” she asks. He nods and asks if she remembered Pittsburgh, how he said he knew the hunters’ tactics because he used to be one of them. He tells her that in the 20 years between losing Sarah and meeting Ellie, he wasn’t a good man. His sole motivation was survival. But he didn’t kill those fireflies, didn’t kill Abby’s dad, for revenge or for survival: he killed them because he loved Ellie enough to do something so heinous. He smiles and tells her to do what she has to do - but to do it for the right reasons.
She heads for the pillars, and finds that Abby has been crucified. Ellie considers just leaving Abby - the thought of brutalizing an emaciated Abby makes her stomach turn - when she hears a tiny cough behind her. She sees the way Abby snaps to attention at the sound, and Ellie recognizes that it’s the boy from Seattle. Abby asks Ellie to cut him down, and she does. Abby visibly relaxes, the fight going out of her, and Ellie sees the parallel between Abby/Lev and Joel/Ellie. She cuts Abby down, and they walk to the boats.
Abby helps Lev into the boat and turns to Ellie, telling her she understands that Ellie has to see this through. Ellie nods, and Abby only asks that should Abby lose, Ellie get Lev to safety. And it suddenly hits Ellie like a ton of bricks: that Lev would be alone if Ellie killed Abby. Ellie would do to Lev what Abby did to Ellie. The cycle of violence and vengeance doesn’t bring anyone to justice, it only robs the one’s who loved them of some potential happiness. She says as much to Abby: “if you die, he’ll be alone.” She lowers her weapon. “Joel made you alone when he killed your dad. You made me alone when you killed Joel.” The women stare at each other, silent but for the waves quietly lapping against the boats. “I thought it would stop the nightmares.” Abby whispers. “I thought killing him would bring my dad justice. That maybe he would stop dying in my head over and over again. But now I just hear two pairs of screams at night.” Ellie screws her eyes shut, calms herself down. She can never forgive abby - she knows that. But she also knows that killing her won’t fill the void that Joel left behind. She opens her eyes. “You take care of that kid.” And she leaves.
EPILOGUE Ellie has moved back to Jackson. Dina and JJ are there, and Dina is slowly letting Ellie back into her life after hearing about her journey. Ellie moves into Joel’s old house, and the epilogue plays out similar to how it did in the original (song, flashback). She stands and walks to a desk, picking up a paper and pen, and writes something down. She leaves the house and walks to the cemetery. We watch as she leans down and places an envelope on Joel’s headstone - and the camera pans out to show countless other letters, all written by Ellie. She’s been coming to visit him everyday - after all, she did tell him she wanted to try and forgive him, and that holds true even in death. She takes a deep breath: “See you tomorrow, old man.” She walks away, and the credits roll.
And that’s it! Obviously this “rewrite” doesn’t do anything for anyone, but I really needed to get that off my chest. The elements of an amazing story exist in TLOU2 - it’s just so messy and ham handed at times that the game loses some of the soul that made the first one so special. I really think that had the writers just given us a chance to know Abby before revealing that she was the villain all along, her character and the story as a whole would have been more well-received. But with the narrative that we got, I could never see past what Abby did to Joel, even if I could understand the source of her anger and pain. Anyways. If you read that whole mess, thanks for coming to my ted talk.
TL/DR: Abby’s part of the story should have been first and she should have been set up as a victim before it was revealed that she was actually a villain. Although I really don’t mind the way ND told the story, I think the character arcs and pacing would be a lot stronger if the game approached the sequencing of the story differently.
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2020.06.27 06:37 Ardorus Sacrifices #64

Index
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Sol System: The Round Table
Jupiter orbit

The station's real name wasn't the round table, but that was what everyone called it. It was a huge cylynder of polished metal, with four massive prongs that stuck out from below the main body giving it its nickname. This station was always found sitting above the great gas giant Jupiter, generally near one of its moons and looking down over what was the largest mass grave in human history. The round table's viewing deck was where the Union congress held its meetings.
The choice of this location for the congress was mostly due to the view, looking down upon one of the vast silver mirrors which now dotted the sol system. This was a symbol, one that served to remind those who sat there of the weight of the consequences of their decisions. In this chamber, the fates of millions of human beings were decided, it was not a job which anyone elected to the position took lightly.
The transparent floor always made visitors sick, they always thought that they were looking out into the endless void below, and they were right. The titanic synthetic optical sapphire floor however would not give out short of a direct hit from a spaceship grade weapon, and now it rang with the feet of hundreds of senators, committee members, and other such congresspeople as they met to discuss maters of state or just the local gossip, in many cases they were interchangeable.
The room was unusually full today, with one hundred and forty out of a total of one hundred and fifty total national representatives present, each had been quietly informed by their onboard embassy that they would not wish to miss the session this day. There was something in the air of the station, it seemed to snap and crackle with tension and curiosity as representatives filed in one at a time to take their seats, casting their eyes about the now familiar room with a keen curiosity to see who else was there, the ten nations that were not present had simply been unable to make it in time, and were instead attending virtually with small computer viewing screens set up on their desks as representatives logged in. It was by their reckoning indeed a full house. Just as they had planned it.
Two people sat side by side next to the podium that was centered in the cavernous amphitheater like viewing deck, two people most thought would never be willing to share space for more than a few minutes, let alone hold a solid and steady conversation. The presidents of both the United states and Russian Federation were smiling, joking and laughing with each other, at one point the two men even shook hands. Something had changed the equation drastically.
For their parts two of the oldest players of the game continued to maneuver their pieces expertly, both had called in favors, both had worked hard to ensure that every last representative was here, and now they were about to cash in on all their hard work and pay it off. The speaker strode into the room down a long crystalline corridor that lead between the two halves of the congress and took his place at the podium, nodding respectfully to both presidents of the two primary opposing parties. He too had a part to play in their plan, one that after he had been briefed, he was more than willing to play. He'd had a cousin who lived in Hyperion.
"Ladies and gentlemen," the Speaker began, "Please take your seats and check in so that we have an accurate accounting of those present and those absent for the day." When that was finished he nodded "I With that taken care of, we have a joint motion to review from both the United states of America and the Russian Federation. Gentlemen, you have the stage." The speaker said nodding to the two before stepping away from his podium and heading back towards his desk.
The American and the Russian looked at each other and nodded, they had agreed that the American would go first, and the Russian second. there had been much negotiating and haggling on both of their parts, but in the end it had been agreed none the less. They would have to get used to working with each other, and that had been a good place to start.
"Congressmen of the Terran Union, We have encountered a threat not merely to our way of life, but to the existence of humanity as a whole. " he began as he looked over the crowd of senators, looking for his own with dark predatory eyes that gleamed with an unseen inner fire. "Without warning, we have been attacked our colony world of Phaethon has been burned to the ground and the great city of Hyperion is naught but a smoking radioactive crater. I do not lay the blame at your feet, or mine, for even my Russian counterpart is far more humane than this, indeed Phaethon was intended as a way to bring both of our nations closer together in friendship, for she was a joint colony between the United states and what was until roughly a week ago formerly our greatest rival. Yes, you heard me correctly, I said formerly. There is a new foe, one that we had no idea about until they burned our colony to ash and cinders. In the dying ruins both American and Russian troops fought and bled together, without care for nation, without hesitation they joined forces to battle the foe." He turned to face the congress, eyes blazing with rage, "They killed men, women and children indiscriminately, our foe is not human, they are monsters. Endless in number, tireless and without any concept of compassion or mercy, what we face is the first extraterrestrial life we have ever encountered. "
To the assembled congresses shock turned to the Russian and gave him a genuine smile, "I once named you foe, I once named you nemesis and threat to democracy, I once hated you with all my being, Mr President," He offered his hand to the Russian, who took it, both men holding each other's hands in a firm grip. "I now have another name for you, brother." He pulled the Russian president in for an embrace. As of seven O'clock this Morning Greenwich mean time, Both the United States of America and the Russian Federation have declared war upon this new foe, and like in the second and third world wars, with our combined might let us crush them beneath our heel." The President of the United States looked about the stunned chamber with a dark gleam in his eye, "They call themselves Ruk, within the decade, let us call them extinct."
The Russian took the podium next and then he began to speak as well. "I called the man standing next to me many things during my tenure as president of the Russian federation, charlatan, cheat, swine, now however... now however... now I call this man comrade. What you have heard from my American counterpart I would normally call bullshit, I would not have believed him if I had not received the same report he had. So yes, what you hear is true. Furthermore, we are not here to request permission for this war that our nations intend to wage, we have been attacked, let us make this very clear, our sovernty as nations has been violated, our people butchered and murdered in the thousands. We will not back down, we neither seek nor require your permission for the actions we are about to undertake. No senators, we are here to warn you of this. You can either fight alongside us, join our cause and lend your might to our struggle, join us in this fight for what is in all likelihood human survival, or stay the hell out of our way. " The Russian's eyes shined like polished gems in the reflected light, "As of seven o'clock Greenwich mean time, the Russian federation has declared a joint war upon the invader, and in agreement with the Americans, it is to be a total war. One of us will not be standing when this war ends, let us be the victors," he pointedly looked down as the mercurial silver surface of the mirror below him, "for we all know what happens to the looser no?"
With that said, the two leaders of the largest factions of the Union walked out of the chamber side by side in an even gait, when they exited, the massive steel blast doors slammed shut with a boom that echoed with finality. Humanity had just reached a pivotal moment in its history and as the speaker slowly approached the podium, voices began to rise from among the crowd of restless congressmen and women as they grew more and more anxious.
"Now," the speaker said with a grim smile, "we are here to vote upon a the union's overall course of action in relation to the actions undertaken by America and Russia, do you have any questions?"
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As always, don't donate to my patron (Linked here) unless you are completely comfortable with it, I have no interest in taking the money of people who are not able to provide for themselves first, this is first and foremost about you guys and your enjoyment.

Ard's music once again
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jlv2NxO0qVU
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Yscf2oV3LQ
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JowwH-oJFmY

Also, a little sidenote from the author, I hope you don't mind these more political sections, they won't continue for much longer (for now at least) because I can't do political intrigue for beans but I wanted to show you some of the internal workings of the union, if you like it please let me know! and if not mind explaining what I could do better about them?- Ard
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2020.06.24 23:54 leeroyzombi Tales from Silver Oaks: ‘The Peaceful Hour’ - Part One

In all my years of working at radio stations I had never seen such a dump. The broadcast office was full of labelled boxes that dated back years, decades even, and empty paper coffee cups. I would of thought that the least Mr Jones could do before I took over the job was hire a cleaner. It took me several hours just to clear the dust which seemed like it had been settling for years and not just months. I did skim through the piles of boxes out of curiosity; financial reports, listenership records, overdue bills. Nothing interesting, unfortunately.
Silver Oaks radio tower had one of those big, ugly satellite antennas you saw in the old movies, especially the black and white ones. And it sat high above the town. The station still used wireless technology to send out its broadcasts, which was strange because I thought pretty much every radio was digital now. I was so used to working with digital like everyone else nowadays that it took me a while to even work out how to turn on the the damn thing. It made that old crackle sound – do you remember when you used to turn the dial, so it would tune into the right frequency? Annoying as fuck, right? If you think that took patience, imagine how I felt trying to get this piece of junk to tune in properly. But I figured it out eventually, after a couple of hard kicks to the wall and mumbled F-yous.
It wasn’t the most ideal situation, but I couldn’t turn my nose up at the opportunity. Not only did I have the perks of being the only broadcaster at SILVER OAKS 96.6, which mostly consisted of playing he same 80s songs throughout the day and a talk show at night, but I also got room and board chucked into the job for free. Now the room, if you could call it that, consisted of a single sized mattress on a bed frame of dented springs, a en suite bathroom – okay, actually it’s a cupboard with a toilet and the smallest shower cubicle I’ve ever seen. Besides that there was the usual bedroom fixtures squeezed into the room, making it hard to navigate of a morning after repeatedly stubbing my toe. But I didn’t need much else. My divorce had set me back by a lot, finance wise, so I would take what I could get with what little I actually had left.
Still, it’s not all bad. The view of the sleepy town of Silver Oaks was quite majestic to look at everyday. The tower was situated just behind the famous oaks and seeing the town light up at night was mesmerising to watch, especially for someone who didn’t grow up in a small town. I didn’t miss the city much at all and the townsfolk here seemed friendly enough. I really wanted to make it work, but the listenership for the station wasn’t the best which made me have my doubts about how permanent the job would really be. Even with the revival of the station being advertised in the local paper and through word of mouth, it wasn’t getting much attention. I knew that the radio had been ran by a man before me who had died in some freak accident – look, I don’t know the details and I didn’t really care to know. I never asked Mr Jones before accepting the job. I needed the money and a place to lay my head of a night. But one day in the town, this old demented man came out of nowhere whilst I was shopping. I was filling my cart with chips and beer to keep me going through the evening show that night – god knows I needed them with the absolute bullshit these people talked about. Anyway, more about that later – the old man was so… desperate and insistent. The moment he approached me I took a step back as the smell of stale urine filled my sinuses.
‘Get out of there whilst you still can!’ He yelled, startling the checkout staff and getting the attention of the other shoppers. Even for a radio host, I didn’t like being the centre of attention – I truly had a face for radio and I liked having a loud mouth with a hidden face. ‘He was killed you know – it was no accident! They covered it all up!’ He was pointing at the fellow eavesdroppers, who continued to stare on.
‘I-I’m sorry, I don’t-‘ I began, feeling quite embarrassed for him. Finally one of the staff members came to my rescue, I assumed he was the manager. Straight away he took the old man gently by the arm, starting to lead him towards the exit.
‘Come on, Ted,’ he said, ‘go home and get done rest.’ After the deranged old man was out the door, the manager came over to stress his apologies. ‘Don’t mind old Ted, he’s just a bit tired and can be erratic at times. He’s been like that since he lost his wife a few years back.’
‘I’m assuming he was talking about the previous radio host?’ I asked.
The manager sighed. ‘Terrible, terrible situation. You needn’t bother worrying about it.’
I could see the other shoppers and staff were still staring and listening in on our conversation, they all must of known what happened to him. A couple of them were nodding and whispering amongst themselves.
‘I’m er-sorry about making a scene. I didn’t mean to cause you any trouble.’
‘Not at all! Look your groceries are on me today - I’ll let the guys know,’ The Manager insisted before I could refuse. ‘Good luck with your show tonight. I’ll be listening in!’ And away he went.
So I guess I should explain the talk show - ‘The Peaceful Hour’. So The irony of the 11pm show is that it consists of the citizens of Silver Oaks calling in to voice their concerns, issues and anything else related to the town. Why they call it ‘The Peaceful Hour’? I don’t know. Because it’s mostly the townsfolk venting their frustrations about the most mundane things. So far I’ve had a woman who was furious about the tiny graffiti on the town cross not being removed despite her many visits and letters to the town council, then I had a man who owned a family-run drug store who was being buried into the ground by the arrival of a chain in town. He insisted everyone should protest outside the chain and stop shopping there, despite their cheaper prices. Oh, and how could I forget the call about the chickens that escaped multiple times from Goldmayer’s farm! Yes, apparently they were pecking the grass from Mrs Jackson’s lawn every other morning.
‘Uh-Huh…’ I uttered in bewilderment. ‘So have you tried talking to Mr Goldmayer about getting a stronger, more secure chicken coop?’
‘Talking?! I’ve damn near screamed at the man! You try talking to him!’ Mrs Jackson yelled. ‘Does it on purpose, knows I don’t like him and his damn farm!’
‘Uh-huh…’
It was a far cry from my previous talk show where I was conversing about real world issues and political injustice. I certainly wouldn’t say I ‘loved’ the job so far, not with the lack of material I was actually given permission to cover. It was no wonder the listenership was so low when the conversation was taking a turn to mild vandalism or escapee chickens…
Mr Jones – the owner of the station - wasn’t interested in my ideas to talk more about the bigger world outside of Silver Oaks. He said to me: ‘Silver Oaks is the big world to these people. The station and the newspaper are the only two outlets for these people to express their frustration and their feelings – let them talk. You’ll settle in just fine, kid.’ I wasn’t convinced by Mr Jones encouragement, I felt out of touch with the locals and didn’t have a clue about the town’s stance on certain things having spent little time in it, but I would give it a try.
I braced myself for another night of monotonous tales from an angered local. Snacks were on hand, and I’m not ashamed to say I’d already consumed two beers, with another cracked open just before I switched the ‘On Air’ sign on. Not great for third week in, but it numbed the future headache I would surely get from listening to petty crap for an hour. There was one caller on hold tonight, just like every other night so far. I hoped it wasn’t Mrs Jackson again. Please, not another night of chickens, I thought.
‘Good evening Silver Oaks, I’m your host Jacob Evans and you’re listening to ‘The Peaceful Hour’ on SILVER OAKS 96.6 where you, the citizens of Silver Oaks, lead the conversation. We already have a caller waiting on the line tonight.’
‘Hello?’ A crackled, distant voice said as I connected the call.
‘Hello, welcome to ‘The Peaceful Hour’. Please tell our listeners your name and what you want to get off your chest.’
‘Well, you can call me Sam...’
‘Okay, Sam. So what do you want to talk about tonight?’ I asked again, in a monotone register. There was a long pause, but I could hear his shallow breathing. ‘Sam, are you still with us?’
‘Yes,’ he said bluntly.
‘Okay, what do you want to talk about?’
‘I want to talk about the murders I’ve committed.’
I rolled my eyes. I didn’t expect it to happen here, but the burden of not screening callers before they’re broadcast is having to put up with prank calls. I decided to play along.
‘Uh-Huh. And what murders have you committed, Sam?’
‘Well, which one would you like me to start with?’
‘Take your pick!’ I said, followed by a pathetic laugh. I shook my head and took a huge swing of beer. At least it was an entertaining start to the evening.
‘Okay, how about I start with Dean Reagan?’
My phone suddenly lit up, it was a text from Mr Jones. As soon as I read his words, my childish mood went away just as quickly as it came… it read:
DO NOT HANG UP. I THINK HE’S SERIOUS!
‘Mr Evans, are you still there?’ Sam asked politely.
‘Y-Yeah. I’m here,’ I replied nervously, quickly diverting to my usual tone so he wouldn’t suspect something was off. Although, after Mr Jones text I was curious about only one thing. ‘So who is Dean Reagan? What did you do to him?’
There was a long silence.
‘He was the previous host for SILVER OAKS 96.6 and I killed him. Right there in that tower in-fact…’
This time the painful, prolonged silence was on my end of the broadcast. I was weighing up if this Sam fella really was serious, just like Mr Jones had said in his text. Because let’s be realistic, who admits to committing murder over the radio? This was obviously some scare tactic from the local teens who were clearly giving me my initiation prank call, ya know, a ‘Welcome to Silver Oaks, the last host who died was actually murdered – LOL.’ That’s what I was telling myself, and that’s how I would continue to stir the rest of this conversation as Mr Jones was still blowing up my phone with text messages telling me not to disconnect Sam’s call.
‘Really?’ I said. ‘I suppose I better sleep with one eye open then, huh?’
Sam chuckled as though we were two pals with a private joke between us. ‘Perhaps you should, I’m interested to know why you didn’t even know his name?’
‘Because I never asked,’ I said, ‘I was just told it was an accident and I never wanted to know anymore than that.’
Sam’s shallow breathing fuzzed into my earphones, the sound was actually quite annoying due to the crappy signal. ‘Yes, I’m sure everyone would tell you it was accident,’ he finally said, ‘but Silver Oaks know the truth and I’m here to tell it straight.’
I took a swig of my beer and quickly flashed through the multiple texts that Mr Jones had sent me. They kept coming through like a commentary to what was being said between Sam and I on the broadcast. The last one saying:
‘GO TO COMMERCIAL – CALL ME.’
‘Okay citizens of Silver Oaks, we’ll be back shortly with our…interesting conversation on local homicides with Sam. Sam, do you mind staying on the line?’
‘I’ll be here,’ he said flatly.
‘This is ‘The Peaceful Hour’ on SILVER OAKS 96.6 and I’m your host, Jacob Evans. Do not go anywhere. This is going to be one memorable show.’
As soon as I set the broadcast to commercial, I picked up my phone and called Mr Jones.
‘Well, this is the biggest pile of bullshit I’ve ever heard in my life,’ I said when he picked up, ‘I’ll give this guy credit, it’s certainly better than hearing about the quality of the vegetables at Goldmayer’s Sunday market stall.’
‘Look, Jacob there’s a-er-there’s something I forgot to mention,’ Mr Jones began, seeming jittery and nervous. ‘Now I don’t want you to think I didn’t tell you this to put you off the job, but this isn’t the first time er, ‘Sam’ has called in.’
I was confused. ‘Okay…’
‘Ya see, when Dean was host, God rest his soul, he would get calls from Sam quite often. They were innocent at first. But they started to take a dark turn.’
I was a little frustrated with how intense Mr Jones seemed, it was almost like no one in this town understood when someone was just playing a joke. A sick one, come to think of it, but a joke none-the-less.
‘Okay, so why didn’t Dean just disconnect his calls?’ I asked.
‘Well, it was good for the ratings and Dean – he-er got sucked into it, obsessed quite frankly,’ Mr Jones explained. ‘I don’t know how to describe it, but he wasn’t himself – at the end, I mean.’
‘Mr Jones, you can’t honestly tell me you think this Sam guy is serious? If he is, we shouldn’t be airing it for broadcast we should be contacting the police! Tracking his GPS. Anything to get the son-of-a-bitch behind bars!’
‘Sam never calls from the same number, and all the numbers cease to exist when they’re tracked. Dean tried. This Sam character, he’s smart. Look kid, just see what he comes out with. We may finally get the real story behind that ‘accident’ and it’ll do us some good for the ratings. It’s a win/win situation.’
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was absolute madness. ‘You seriously want me to have a conversation with a potential murderer who is at large? Are you insane?!’
‘I’ll make it worth your while, kid,’ Mr Jones was pleading with me, but there was also a sharpness to his voice. ‘You don’t really have much choice, do you?’
So that’s how it was. He knew my financial situation and that the divorce had severely drained me. ‘Fine.’
I hung up the phone and cracked open another beer. My buzz from drinking earlier had completely gone after speaking to Mr Jones. I couldn’t believe what I just agreed to. I still wasn’t entirely convinced that this person had committed murder, but I also wasn’t convinced I should carry on the call. I know I originally didn’t care to know anything about Dean Reagan, I mean, Christ! I didn’t know the man’s name until Sam mentioned it. It seemed not only sinister to even discuss a dead man, who may have been killed right here, right where I’m sitting, but not only that – his family. Did he even have family? Was he a loner, like me? Perhaps that’s why he took this shitty job. I downed the rest of my beer and placed my headset back on. I ignored the ‘NO SMOKING’ sign and I lit up a cigarette. A habit I couldn’t really afford, but it was only occasional. Lord knows I need needed one before I put the ‘ON AIR’ light back on.
‘Welcome back, Silver Oaks. I’m your host, Jacob Evans and you’re listening to ‘The Peaceful Hour’ on SILVER OAKS 96.6. Sam is still with us. Hi Sam.’
‘Hello, Jacob,’ Sam replied cheerfully. A little forced, actually.
‘So Sam, we’ve kept our listeners in suspense for long enough. How did you kill Dean Reagan?’
Sam laughed on the other end. ‘Do you not want to know WHY I killed him first?’
‘Sure, why not.’
‘He was different because he was an out-of-towner, which made him a good person to start off with, but he was dumb. Just like most of the people in this vile, decaying little town,’ Sam spat, and I was taken aback by the change in his voice; the venom. ‘Silver Oaks is a snake pit of liars, cheats and thieves. If you really knew the truth about this place, you wouldn’t of moved here Jacob.’
‘Uh-huh,’ I uttered, ‘and how does that justify Mr Reagan being murdered?’
‘Because I saved him from his lonely existence, I saved him from the people in this town. Silver Oaks may appear to be this quiet, idilic little place that is hidden from the rest of the world but that’s its biggest advantage. Silver Oaks is free from government, free from the rules of normal society – the people running this place know they can get away with so much. It drives me insane – has drove me insane!’
I shook my head in disbelief, taking in the last drag of my cigarette before extinguishing it. ‘So you think you ‘’saved’’ Dean Reagan by killing him? Is that what you’re saying?’
‘Yes, I am. If it wasn’t me it would have been one of those corrupt townsfolk or those—those…things that hide in the tall oaks just outside your tower, surely you’ve seen them?’ Sam asked.
‘No, I honestly haven’t any idea what you’re taking about…’ I said, really starting to sense how much of a nut job Sam really was.
‘Next time you drive into town, just look, you’ll see them. Or just look out your window later,’ Sam said dismissively. ‘Anyway, Dean needed to get out of this place, away from all of the scum...I know they’re all listening right now. But he had no way out. No one ever actually leaves Silver Oaks, ya know. Just try. I’ll bet you can’t.’
‘Sam, let’s just summarise for a moment here. You killed Dean Reagan to save him from the citizens of Silver Oaks because they’re all so corrupt and covering up these...these ‘’big’’ secrets?’
‘They got to him. They turned him. And they’ll turn you too!’ Sam was now erratic and hysterical. His earlier composure was completely gone.
‘Turned him into WHAT, Sam?’ I asked, feeling a little impatient with his scattered ramblings.
‘A citizen of Silver Oaks,’ he said calmly. ‘I have to go now, before they figure out who I am, I’ll call again tomorrow.’
The line disconnected, and I sat for a moment listening to the dial tone. I was trying to take in what I’d heard as I crossed my arms and processed what Sam said carefully. He was obviously a very mentally unwell man who needed help. Then I thought about Old Man Ted in the store earlier, he was blaming the townspeople for Dean’s death too. Sam, if that was his real name, sounded too young to be Old Man Ted. Perhaps there is a town conspiracy theory that bats from person to person, but so far I didn’t believe in it. And I still didn’t get any answers about Dean’s death.
‘Well, that was quite the conversation, wasn’t it? We’re going to take a short break but we’ll be back with your thoughts. I can’t wait to hear what you all thought of those accusations. You’re listening to ‘The Peaceful Hour’ on SILVER OAKS 96.6, with me your host, Jacob Evans. Don’t go anywhere.’
As soon as I went off air, I couldn’t help myself. I had to go and look out the window just like Sam had advised me to, knowing in the back of my head how fucking ridiculous it was. These ‘things’ he spoke of made me think of that Disney movie from when I was a kid, which was actually more like a horror movie: ‘The Watcher in the Woods’. God that movie scared the shit out of me as a child. I tried to imagine some weird being staring up at the tower every night - stalking me and watching my every move. Okay, so it was juvenile but it made me laugh out loud just thinking about it. But then I thought I saw…no it was just the wind, surely? The trees were shuffling at least, but I was convinced I saw a bright light flashing or glowing in the middle of the oaks. Perhaps it was just my imagination. I was interrupted from my trance by a phone call from Mr Jones.
‘Hello!’ I answered abruptly.
‘First of all, kid, I do the hanging up in future, you got that?’ He said. ‘Second of all, I need you to get more out of Sam tomorrow. This could really get the ratings going if we keep this up.’
God, the man had no shame if it meant that people were actually listening to his dire station. ‘Are you not worried that people will get pissed off that they’re being slandered by some raving lunatic?’
‘You let me worry about that, you just do the job you were hired to do. As I said, I’ll make it worth your while.’
I wondered if I should even ask the next question, because in my head I know it sounded ridiculous. ‘Mr Jones, what did he mean by ‘’those things that hide in the talk oaks’’?’
Mr Jones laughed. ‘Don’t tell me you’re afraid of a little urban legend?’
‘No, I’m just curious…’
‘Well, supposedly there’s these creatures, aliens, wolves - whatever version of the story is popular at the time – they live in the tall oaks. Just like every other town, it’s just a story.’
‘Do they glow?’ I asked, innocently.
‘What?’ Mr Jones replied a little confused.
‘The creatures?’ I asked. ‘Do they glow?’
‘Yeah, sure. Why not! I guess they could. Look just finish tonight’s show and think about what to ask Sam if he calls tomorrow. Sweet dreams, kid.’
Mr Jones hung up this time, and I took one last look outside the window. It was distant this time, but I’m sure I saw another flash of blue light. Jesus, I need to get a grip, I thought to myself as I took a step away from the window. Now, I’m not one to get spooked easily, especially now I’m in my mid-thirties, but something about all of this really made me feel a chill. Perhaps it was the controversy of talking about someone who died just for the benefit of getting local attention drawn to our broadcast. It felt like I was pushing this exploitive narrative and I hated that feeling. But after tonight, I don’t know…I just didn’t feel safe so I pushed a heavy wooden ottoman in front of the door and a couple of my unpacked boxes in front of the fire escape. God help me if there’s actually a fire, but it made me feel more secure. For the first time in my life I certainly felt vulnerable. There wasn’t long left of tonight’s show, and I only had one caller on hold. Hopefully they would offer some better insight into Dean’s ‘accident’ or ‘murder’, perhaps they’d tell they knew this Sam guy and that he’s taking absolute shit.
‘Welcome back to ‘The Peaceful Hour’ on SILVER OAKS 96.6, I’m your host Jacob Evans and tonight we’re talking about murder, or are we? I’d love to hear your thoughts caller. Tell our listeners at home your name and thoughts.’
‘I can understand what that young man is saying, I have been close to murdering those chickens for months now!’
Great. It was Mrs Jackson. ‘Uh. Huh…’ I mumbled, lighting up my second cigarette of that evening, feeling kind of grateful it was her, but at the same time wishing she would just murder the chickens so she’d stop talking about them.
‘Maybe I should kill Mr Goldmayer! He’s probably responsible for those things out in the oaks! I’ve seen them too, they glow at night and-‘
I cut Mrs Jackson off. ‘Excuse me, they glow, you say?’
‘As I was just saying,’ she said with annoyance, ‘they glow and it’s all because of him messing with those poor damn animals! Cross breeding and whatever the hell he does to them! I could do it you know, my husband taught me how to use a rifle!’
I leaned back in my chair and sighed. Even batshit Mrs Jackson sees things glowing in those oaks at night. Maybe I’m not imagining what I saw, or I’m just as crazy as the rest of them.
God, this town is more fucked up than I thought.
—————————————————————————
I felt wary about driving through the oaks after what I may or may not of seen the night before, even in broad daylight. I considered having my groceries delivered to the tower so I didn’t have to drive through them, but then again I didn’t exactly feel much better about sitting alone in the tower today either, so what difference would it make if I stayed in or went out? Maybe I should consider installing a camera outside the door so I can see—do you know what? No. It’s ridiculous! This whole thing is a joke! I’m a grown adult and I’m allowing myself to be spooked out by some stupid fairy story the crazy locals made up and I won’t submit to it. So in the end I just decided to drive into town like I usually would.
I’m embarrassed to admit I did go over the speed limit as I drove through the winding road down into Silver Oaks. No signs of ghouls, goblins, monsters or mutated farm animals so far, so I eventually eased back down to the speed limit before I passed Goldmayer’s Farm. It’s a good thing I did, because surprise, surprise, the chickens were on the run again. That’ll be Mrs Jackson calling in, furious about her property being vandalised by them, later on tonight’s show. Whilst I waited for the flock of chickens to cross the road, which obviously made me think of the oldest joke of all time, I studied them and noticed how unusual they were; size wise they were all pretty large. And they were all walking in perfect unison as if they were a row of ducks rather than chickens. Whilst I waited for them to cross, I took a good look over at Goldmayer’s Farm for the first time since I moved to Silver Oaks.
Exterior wise, it looked pretty run down with overgrown, pale long grass and there were no animals to be seen out front. It seemed like the type of place that if you were to knock on the door, you wouldn’t be surprised if Leatherface came charging out at you with a chainsaw. I could hear a faint drilling sound which I figured was coming from the huge red barn next to the farmhouse, and I wondered what on earth he could be doing in there. Mrs Jackson seemed to think he was abusing his animals and turning them into these supposed creature that occupy the oaks. IF that was true, I wanted to know how he would even do it. Seeing plenty of horror movies in my time provided me with the cliché ideas; probably some sort of injection or Victor Frankenstein invention maybe? My imagination was running wild, yet again, so I took one last look at the farm before driving off into Silver Oaks town centre. The drilling sound got louder as I drove away.
I guess I should talk a little about Silver Oaks town centre. It’s like most small towns. A lot of independent small businesses, the local newspaper office, well kept community gardens, a town monument, a church and a city hall. It was basic and had pretty much everything you’d expect a small town to have, but it was actually quite pretty to look at. The townsfolk were very polite and greeted you as you walked around running your errands, it still had a video store that people used quite frequently which I know seems strange now everyone streams on the internet. But I guess that was part of its charm, it was stuck in this time capsule. I never experienced anything like that when I lived in cities with everyone rushing around, the sound of heavy traffic as a constant background noise and people would sooner tell you to ‘fuck off’ than wish you a good morning. Being in the town certainly shook off any eerie feeling I had earlier that morning and made me appreciate what a nice day it was. It made me remember despite how deluded some of the people may be, the town itself wasn’t that bad.
I was walking around the grocery store with my cart when I was suddenly approached by a young guy, probably about mid-twenties, dressed kind of trendy. Trendier than most of the other younger guys around town anyway.
‘You’re the new radio host, right?’ He asked, both his hands resting in the pockets of his trousers.
‘I might be,’ I said, ‘who’s asking?’
He extended his hand, which I accepted. ‘Timothy Dandridge, reporter for The Silver Oaks Standard.’
‘Jacob Evans. How can I help you?’
He signalled for us to move out of the aisle into a quiet corner. It seemed very cloak and dagger, but I followed him anyway. ‘I was listening to your broadcast last night,’ he said. ‘Some er, pretty strange stuff, wouldn’t you agree?’
‘Oh you mean someone admitting to murdering my predecessor, talking about town conspiracy theories and creatures that live in the woods? Nope, pretty standard stuff,’ I said, joking. He only offered a slight smile at my attempt at humour. For a young guy he seemed pretty uptight.
‘Well, I wouldn’t use the word ‘standard’ to describe town. Silver Oaks is very…different in many ways. But I’m sure you’ve already figured that out, haven’t you?’
I studied Timothy’s blank expression, beginning to wonder if he thought any of those things that he heard on ‘The Peaceful Hour’ last night were really true. My gut instinct told me that even if he didn’t, he wouldn’t rule it out. ‘Until last night, I thought so. I guess I still do. I’m not entirely convinced this Sam guy knows what he’s saying, and I certainly don’t believe that weird creatures live in the oaks.’
‘But you seemed stunned when Mrs Jackson talked about the glowing?’ Timothy said, furrowing his brows with suspicion.
‘Because I thought it was crazy,’ I said. Half of me was telling the truth and the other half of me was keeping what I thought I saw to myself, especially from a reporter. Besides, I could of just been a flashlight or something. ‘I was a little out of my depth with last night’s conversation.’
Timothy sighed, and took a step closer to me, we were nearly touching cheeks when he whispered in my ear. ‘You’re out of your depth in general, Jacob. This place has had many strange incidents for years, and it’s hard to explain why. Dean Reagan’s death was just one of them. And Sam, he knows the truth. You have no idea what they did to Dean, he let this town consume him. I’d be careful that the same thing doesn’t happen to you.’
I took a step back. ‘Are you threatening me?’
Timothy shook his head. ‘No, I’m just giving you some friendly advice. I can be a real friend to you, not like all of these phoney, crazy bastards,’ he said signalling to the other people who were shopping, seemingly minding their own business, except for the occasional glance. ‘They may seem like nice, ordinary people, but when you’ve lived here long enough you learn that everyone in this town is hiding something. And don’t think they’re not watching you, because they are. They’re probably listening to us right now, they’re good at that, even when it looks like they aren’t.’
He tried to get in close again, so I took another step back. ‘Tell me why I should trust someone who condones murder?’
‘The person that Sam killed wasn’t Dean Reagan. Not anymore.’
I shook my head and grabbed my cart, ready to walk away. ‘That doesn’t even make any sense! He still killed a man. It’s wrong. It’s unlawful.’
‘Do you see the law here? In fact, do you really see Silver Oaks, or do you just see what you want to see?’ Timothy asked, withharrowing conviction. And I thought about his question. Sam already mentioned that there was no real law system in place. And when I considered it, there didn’t appear to be a Sheriff’s department or police station around. Maybe they dismantled the police? I know some places do that. I don’t know.
‘I just see a small town that is still clinging onto a tragedy. Despite whether Dean Reagan was really killed, or did die from an accident, it seems to have the people around here pretty riled up. Sam needs to turn himself into the authorities so the town can move on. Where is he anyway? WHO is he?’
‘No one knows were Sam is. But he’s in this town, somewhere. Hiding. No one ever really leaves Silver Oaks. No one really can.’
I nodded my head at Timothy’s delusional comment, the same comment Sam had made on ‘The Peaceful Hour’. ‘Okay, well it was nice meeting you!’ I said sarcastically as I steered off with my cart. But Timothy grabbed me by the arm before I could walk any further. I looked down, feeling my face flushing with fury. I was just about ready to brawl with this idiot.
‘Please, Jacob!’ He pleaded. ‘Just open your eyes a bit more. I’m not crazy, I’m just trying to help you. Can I come over to the tower later? There’s something I want you to hear. It might clarify a few things for you. Help you make sense of what I’m trying to tell you…away from prying eyes.’
I bit my bottom lip as I considered his proposal. I swiftly nudged his hand off my arm and walked away at a steady pace. ‘Eight O’Clock,’ I said with my back turned to him. ‘Don’t try anything stupid, I’m handy with a baseball bat.’ I lied.
After paying for my groceries, I packed them into my car and opened up the fresh pack of cigarettes I just bought. I ended up smoking the rest of the pack I had last night and this morning, and I know, I promised myself I wouldn’t smoke regularly again but desperate times and all that. I hadn’t smoked like this since my divorce but it was helping calm my nerves. I decided to lean against my bonnet taking in the sunshine, something I’d rarely seen since moving here and probably one of the things I missed about the city. Eventually the heat on the bonnet started to burn my ass after a while, so I decided to take a walk around town as I didn’t feel like going back to the tower straight away.
I still had something that Timothy said playing on my mind, about not really seeing Silver Oaks, and I had no idea what he meant until it dawned on me that since I had been here, I had not seen a single child or baby until today. They were school kids, all boys, in a grey uniform, all walking in perfection unison like the chickens I saw earlier. The strange thing about them was that even though they all had different hair colours, eye colours, different heights; they all looked the same facially. Close family members maybe? Cousins? Either that or one guy really was a very busy fella spreading his seeds around. But still, it was unusual.
Then I noticed that the church was actually boarded up, with an imprint on the front where the crucifix used to be. Come to think of it, the building looked very derelict, like it hadn’t been used in decades. There were birds sitting on top of the church roof, big birds, and they didn’t look like any species I’d seen before. It was hard to tell from this distance, but their eyes seemed to be bulging and their feathers were extremely long on their wings. If it wasn’t strange enough that there was still a video store here, like I mentioned earlier, the people who were going in there – which was quite a lot — weren’t coming out of there with DVD rentals. They were coming out with big duffle bags. What they had in them? I had no idea. Timothy was right, I never really SAW Silver Oaks. But now that I finally did, everything seemed off.
I drove back up to the tower, listening to the auto playlist I left on the broadcast whilst I was away. The car I bought after the divorce was old and slightly beat down, it didn’t have an AUX portal, so listening to SILVER OAKS 96.6 was my only option as I didn’t own any cassette tapes. Just before driving up the hill to the tower, I stopped again at Goldmayer’s Farm and the drilling sound from earlier had gone. There was now several cows chewing the long grass outside the red barn. Still no sign of Mr Goldmayer though, I’d never actually seen him any time I’d drove past the farm. Before I was about to drive off, just to my right I saw those chickens from earlier crossing the road back over to the farm — I assumed they were the same chickens anyway. Only…they were much bigger than they were when I saw them that morning and their mouths and breasts were covered in—oh God. It was blood. No question about it. What the fuck had they been eating? I didn’t wait for them to cross this time. I beeped my horn, making them jump frantically and revved my engine as I sped up the hill.
It all started to stir around in my head — all these thoughts, all these things I’d seen and heard. What the hell was going on in this crazy fucking place? Why hadn’t I noticed all these weird things before? What was with those chickens? Who or WHAT are those children? What the actual FUCK happened to Dean Reagan? And then just as I was about to make my turn up to the tower, this big blue light flashed in front of me. There was something behind it that I couldn’t quite see, it was huge and towered over the road. I swerved the car away from it, and pulled hard on the brakes, making my car screech as I pushed my foot on the brake as hard as I could. The car went flying forward, and I just missed one of the oak trees by a few centimetres. My heart pounded and I tried to control my heavy breathing, I felt like I was about to have a panic attack. I looked in the rear view mirror to see if that thing behind the light was still there, but there was nothing on the road except for my tire marks. I leaned my head on the stirring wheel for a moment and tried to calm down, listening to my breathing slowly decreasing and waited for my hands to stop shaking. After a few minutes, I reversed my car back onto the road and made my way up to the tower.
As soon as I got in, despite it being barely noon, I opened a beer and downed it in one go, then opened another. It helped to calm my nerves. Then I lit a cigarette and walked over to the window to look out at the oaks, it seemed calm and nothing out of the ordinary struck me. But all my doubts before had vanished…
There was something out there after all.
Next: Part Two
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2020.06.22 01:39 dourdan A Canadian Tale ch3: Never Forget

A Canadian Tale ch3: Never Forget
Chapter 2
Ch 3 of an all-new Barry Pepper inspired story

Hitchhiking back to Canada took longer than I thought it would. I had to try to walk. But at least, as a ghost, I no longer required food or sleep.
I also was not cold, warm, or even physically tired, but boy was I board. I walked along the highway, making my way through the desert. After a little trial and error, I found that I could hitch a ride on any car parked long enough for me to form a connection. This resulted in me being stuck in a trunk for a few hours; California to Idaho, Idaho to Montana.
I hung around Yellowstone National Park, searching all of the tourists from all over the country (and the world.) It didn't take me long to find a family heading to Saskatchewan.
I found a mini-van, anyway. The white Toyota had Canadian plates so I knew it would at least get me across the border. But clearly, the family was staying at the local hotel. In the car, there were books and DVDs, even a few coloring books and dolls; the junk pile of happy children. "I bet all the good stuff's in the hotel room." Ipad, Nintendo DS, and other things I never had as a kid.
Reclining my spectral form, across the backseat, I made myself comfortable, staring up at the ceiling. There was an elaborate display of glow in the dark star stickers, creating a whole separate world within the confines of the family vehicle. For the children, I'm sure it was a means of keeping quiet, focused, and maybe even relaxed on long road trips. But to me, the stars symbolized hope.
No matter how many times a soul is reborn, we will always find comfort and wisdom in looking at the stars. I stared transfixed until the light of the morning ushered in the screams of children.
"I don't wanna go!"
"I'm tired!"
"I'm hungry!"
"I don't wanna go in the car seat!"
I watched as the two small children were strapped into their car seats while an older teenage boy sat in the row in front. "What do you want to watch?" he grumbled before selecting the first DVD in the pile. It was 'Moana,' the cartoon about the Maori princess. I always liked that one, it seemed to be the best Disney would ever get to a First Nation princess. I guess that was why I needed to be the hero of my own life.
Hours later, we arrived in Regina. I heard from the parents that they were almost home, so I made sure to make my exit when the vehicle stopped at a gas station.
I was in Canada, I was home. Now, how the hell was I going to find Randell Fish? If this was a movie from the eighties I'd head to the nearest phone booth, and start flipping through the massive directory book. But since this was the age of the internet I would need to try my luck with a public computer. Looking around for signage, I could see there was a library not too far from where I was.
It was not to difficult to find, even as the sun went down. I phased through the doors of the closed library, like a typical ghost. "What was I made of?" I stroked the security sensor by the door to see if my presence would set off any alarms. Nothing, oh well.
I approached a counter, which housed a typical desktop PC. I reached my hand to the power button, with thoughts of Randell Fish. Where did he live? Where did he work? Where did he sleep? I could picture everything I wanted to do to him; make him live through every painful moment. Maybe I could possess a knife or even reach my ghostly hand inside of his body cavity and rip out his organs piece by piece. I felt a rush of energy and then a loud explosion. BANG! "Oh fuck."
Judging by the sparks and smoke, I appeared to have blown up the machine using only my rage. Lesson learned: I needed to maintain better control. "Moving to the next computer."
I could feel a steady flow of electric power, wash over me, as I pushed the start button on the PC tower. "Think happy thoughts, think happy thoughts," I said out loud, attempting to find a happy thought to focus on. "Happiness, joy, love, um... childhood?" What did I like about my childhood? "School..." Without touching the keyboard I managed to turn on the screen and navigate to Facebook. How common of a name was Fish?
"Search, Fish, Saskatchewan," I said out loud. The computer filled in the request bar to my will. And then I remembered; Randell Fish was the father of a former judge, the very judge who sent my uncle to jail. Could I focus on that? "Search deceased Canadian judges with the last name 'Fish.'"
Google returned an answer: Judge Sophia Rosalinda Fish- Ryder. Apparently, Randell Fish had lost a daughter and a very successful one at that. Her memorial page was covered in graduation pictures; high school, college, various awards, law school, and of course getting sworn in as a judge. Her husband and children were by her side; she had a family, Randell Fish's family. Jordan Fish-Ryder, a Sophomore at a boarding school in Boston, and little Tanya.
Tanya was only nine years old and still went to school in-state. Part of me wondered if she went to the same school as I did, but of course not. She went to a posh K-8 private school, in the most beautiful part of Northern Canada. I would find her and I would follow her home. "Power down," I said out loud as I moved my hand backward.
Under the light of the moon, I took a walk. The world seemed to be frozen over, like an arctic wasteland. I had no idea if I was even going the right way. By the light of the moon, I could hear the wind, but it sounded odd. Instead of a soft whisper, it was like a chorus of voices.
"You really think you can do this, little girl?"
"She's young, of course, she does."
The mocking was followed by laughter, so much laughter.
"What's your problem!" I shouted at the starry night sky.
"You actually think you can find peace?" Asked one star, pulsating in the sky.
"I'm looking for justice," I replied.
"Justice?" That got a lot more laughter.
"Screw you all! I can do this all on my own!"
Suddenly a single beam of light seemed to cut across the sky like a shooting star. "Come on, ladies, we're better than this." The voice was American.
"Thanks," I said, wiping tears from my eyes. "I'm Tia what's your name?" I wondered if she was one of the victims of the Highway of Tears (a place infamous for its history of missing women of various ages and nationalities.)
The sky went dark as the shooting star launched itself straight at a lamppost. The lamp seemed to shimmer for a moment before going dark again.
I was actually a little scared when suddenly, a girl stepped out from the shadows. "Hi, I'm Vena." In her ghost form, Vena was small like me, but she wore a recognizable military uniform. Her camo fatigues were covered in dust. Yet her black hair, pulled back in a military-approved bun highlighted her sweet smile. Vena held out her hand, leaning forward with a slight bow. "Where are you headed?"
I had been frozen in place, but hearing her kind, friendly voice allowed me to fully relax. "Up north, to St. Unity prep school."
"I can walk with you for a while, maybe show you the way."
"Thanks," I said, finally shaking her hand. "I'd like that. It's been a while since I had a friend."
"Same here."
We walked like childhood friends, jumping, skipping, with the occasional cartwheel. "So where are you from, Vena?"
"Missouri," Vena said as she pretended to walk along the sidewalk ledge like a balance beam, ending with a backflip.
"Wow, so you're from around St. Louis?" I asked, feeling happier than I had in a while.
"St. Louis county."
"That's the place with the arch, right? That must have been so cool!"
"Yeah, I guess but after seeing it all your life it just looks like any other tourist trap." Vena made a small jump on to a new ledge. "Probably why I died where I did."
"You died in combat?" That seemed to be the logical answer. She looked seventeen, maybe eighteen-years-old. It was not out of the realm of possibility for her to have gotten deployed immediately after basic training.
"Sorta," she said with a shrug. "I was at odds with a very powerful man in my chain of command. I stood my ground, fought with everything I had but in the end I lost."
"You lost?"
"I was murdered." Vena took a calming breath. Clearly, she was able to control her ghost-energy better then I was. "It was a while ago." She started to skip and even did a spin on one foot. "The army covered up everything. They told my family it was a suicide." Vena's body rippled with energy.
"I'm so sorry." I reached for her hand, hoping to siphon away some of the negative energy.
"They told my poor father, that somehow I put an AK-47 in my mouth. And I did this while naked during the one time of day my roommates would not be in." Vena took my hand and we both sat for a moment. "They shipped my body home with gloves glued to my hands, so no autopsy could be done to prove or disprove gunshot residue."
"The powerful people assumed your family would just move on."
"The US army underestimated my daddy. " Vena held my hand, releasing dark purple energy.
I easily absorbed the anger and trauma, but with it came memories. Vena's parents had to fight for every piece of evidence, every 'classified' document, name, and image. "Are your parents still fighting the military?
"Yeah, it's been over ten years but I know my daddy will keep fighting until his last breath. I guess that's why I'm still here."
"In northern Canada?"
That got a laugh. "In the in-between," Vena explained. "I can't get to heaven, hell, or even be reborn. But when my dad does take his last breath, I'll be at his side. Maybe I'll even get to walk with him to the light."
My hands trembled, glowing with cold blue energy.
"Sorry," Vena said, gripping my hand. "Blue energy means sadness. I apologize for hitting a sore subject."
I nodded, but I was not ready to talk to her about my relationship with my dad. (That would only result in more blue energy until my spirit was too frozen to move.) "Do you know the joke about Hell?"
"I know a few, what's yours?"
"A tribal leader is about to be burned to death by the Spanish army. The executioner asks if he'd like to accept Christ, for a chance at heaven. But the tribal leader asked, 'Does your kind go to heaven?' The Spaniard replied, with a tall proud stance, 'Of course!' Well, in that case, I think I'll take my chances in hell."
Vena doubled over with laughter. "Oh, God, that is so true! I have no doubt that my killer is going to die peacefully surrounded by family maybe even a priest offering him absolution." She went from laughter to slight tears. "Maybe then he'll confess his sins and my family can finally have some closure. But that's my cross to bear." She looked down at her feet, then up at an elaborate gate. "Anyway, we're here. Best of luck Tia.
"Thank you." Hanging out with Vena secured the validity of my plan. The system was against us, protecting the big strong men who took our lives. Only when the overly important bastards admit to their sins could we, the victims, hope to move on.
I stayed outside the gate, watching the sunrise. By the first light of morning, the parents started to arrive, dropping their children off at the security checkpoint. I just had to wait for the name.
"Adam Ryder signing in Tanya Elizabeth Fish-Ryder?" He didn't get out of the car but the guard typed the name into his tablet.
"Bye, Daddy!"
Tanya, a fashionable fourth grader with her mother's ebony black hair and perfectly ironed school uniform. The security was strong, I imagine that had I not been a ghost, stalking any of the students would've proved difficult.
I followed her throughout the day, living a life that I could only dream of. She went to class with the same teacher for the majority of the day. At lunch she sat with her friends, eating sushi from a shimmery metallic lunch box.
"You painted that yourself, didn't you," I said out loud.
Tanya froze. She looked around for a moment, before shrugging.
Knowing there was the possibility she could hear me I kept quiet for the rest of the day. Lunch was followed by art, science, and computer programming. She had after school violin lessons for a few hours. It was mostly her playing around with melodies. She could play along with various pop-songs in various languages. It was actually kind of impressive. After the lesson Tanya walked outside, waiting in the cold, with her earbuds in, listening to music on a small iPod that looked older than her. In less than a minute, she was picked up by her Hispanic Nanny. The elderly woman held open the door to what I assumed was Adam Ryder's posh Jeep Cherokee. She arranged Tanya's bags as she took a seat and when they were settled she tapped on the driver's side window to signal the chauffeur.
I gripped the back of the vehicle, using my energy to create a firm hold as I rode on the bumper. The Fish-Ryder family lived in a quiet cabin a few miles away, in a rather unique, beautiful gated community.
I walked through the door to the sight of a family home. There was a kitchen, a living room, even a fireplace. And pictures, so many pictures. The walls were covered in memories; school photos, vacations, even professional portraits of a happy family. Was this even the home of Randell Fish?
And then I spotted a single photo. It was him, taking his grand-kids ice fishing. "Fucking bastard."
"Are you talking about my grandpa?"
Before I could reply, Tanya grabbed the photo and headed upstairs. Somehow, I guess, she knew I would follow. Tanya's second-floor room was a museum of pop-culture from the latest dolls, to teen idols, and even a camera set up. "Do you have a YouTube channel?" My question went unanswered as she powered up her laptop. "Um, hello?"
"I'll be the one to ask the questions. If you don't mind," Tanya replied sounding much older than her years. "I'm just going to assume you won't show up on film, so if you please will you do something for the camera to prove your existence?"
"For your viewers?" I glared at the camera which was capturing footage directly to the hard drive of the laptop. "Are you some kind of amateur ghost hunter?" I grabbed the photo back from where she had placed it face down on her desk, lifting it to the level of the camera.
"So what do you want with my grandpa?" she asked, like a reporter.
On the screen, I could see Tanya interviewing what appeared to be a floating framed picture. It was actually kind of adorable.
"Did he run you off the road?"
Those were not words I expected from a nine-year-old. "Is that something he does a lot?
"All truckers do it."
"Your grandpa told you that?"
"Yup. Grandpa told me that your kind are like wild game animals; if responsible hunters didn't thin the herd you'd drain our nation's resources dry. That's why you all have names like John Running Horse or Jane Hopping Rabbit."
"You can't honestly believe that." Just how many people had Randell Fish killed?
"My grandpa has no reason to lie."
I focused on the laptop screen, watching the photo floating gently in the air. I knew I needed to keep my cool. Tanya wanted a show, that's all it was. I focused on the door, securing both the deadbolt and the key lock. "Be a dear and contact your grandpa."
"How?" she asked sweetly, keeping in character. "How should I contact my grandpa?"
Knowing Tanya wanted to capture another trick for the camera, I focused on her phone. I easily lifted the small iPhone from the bed, making it land in her lap. "You can call your grandpa or attempt to call for help, either one works for me."
Tanya only chuckled, placing the phone on her desk.
Ok, apparently I needed to be a little more forceful. I moved closer, placing my hand to her neck. As expected my ghost hand passed right through. Yet as I clenched my fist I could feel I was gripping something.
Tanya started to cough, and spit as she struggled to breathe. Seeing that she was turning blue I decided that I had made my point. She collapsed to the floor, gripping her neck. "Your kind killed my mother!" Tanya crossed her arms over her stomach, gripping her chest as she sobbed. "Mom was nothing like Grandpa, she supported 'black lives matter,' 'red lives matter,' 'all lives matter,' or whatever. She said as a good Catholic we needed to love our fellow man because everyone is someone's child, and we're all equal in the eyes of God! She preached love, supported charities, and even would pick a fight with Grandpa every chance she got!" Tanya struggled to breathe as she wiped snot from her nose. "Do you know what that got her? A bullet in the head!"
"I know."
"You know?" Tanya sat up. She wiped her tears with her clean sleeve, before looking me in the eyes.
"My father was there."
Tanya nodded as she took a moment to digest that information. "So, this is all some kind of daisy chain of revenge?"
"Yup, you could say that. But it ends with Randell Fish."
"I understand." Tanya reached for her phone. She looked through her contacts, took a deep breath, and dialed. It rang only once. "Hi, Papa."
"Put the phone on speaker," I said, hoping my voice was not audible over the phone.
Tanya nodded and did as I asked. "Where are you, Papa?"
"I'm about twenty miles out," Randell replied. "Why do you ask, sweetheart?"
"I was wondering if you could come to dinner," Tanya spoke in a sweet energetic voice. "I really miss you."
"Aww, I miss you too Tanya. What time should I try to be there?"
Tanya glanced over at the clock, it was already six at night. "Seven or eight, whatever's easier."
"I'll be there as soon as I can, sweetheart. I love you."
"I love you too, Grandpa." Tanya hung up the phone. "So, what now? Are we going to just stay in here until he arrives?"
"Yeah, that sounds about right," I said with a nod. "You have a bathroom and if you don't have snacks hidden around here you are truly a weird kid."
Tanya smiled, reaching directly behind her. She looked to be grabbing a leg of her desk, but with the flick of her wrist, a secret panel opened, dispensing a single fun-size candy bar. "What kind of snacks did you hide in your room as a kid?"
"I was always partial for beef jerky or cheap off-brand twinkies."
"The off brands always taste better," Tanya said with a smirk.
As she picked up her phone, I noticed the lock screen, it was her mother's college graduation picture. "You're really proud of her."
"There was a lot to be proud of." Tanya's voice was soft, filled with genuine emotion.
It was clear she was a lost soul looking for guidance, in the wake of her mother's death.
We talked for a while, and I finally got the chance to introduce myself.
"Your name is Tianna, like the Frog princess? That's kinda cool."
At around seven, there was a knock at the door. "Tanya, sweetie, it's Grandpa. Why is your door locked?"
Tanya looked at me. "I'm going to open the door, Tianna."
I nodded, knowing Randell Fish heard my name.
The tall older man wore his work clothes as if his semi-truck was parked right in the front driveway. He took a look around the room. "Who are you talking to sweetheart?"
Without a second thought, I punched Randell Fish in the chest as hard as I could. He doubled over in pain, his body melting into my ghostly form. My hand was gripping something; a bone, maybe part of a lung? Certainly not a heart.
Tanya took a step back. "I'm sorry, Grandpa."
"You're sorry?" he said with a laugh, as blood dripped from his mouth.
I gripped harder, pulling at whatever I had my hands on. "She's nothing like you." Your daughter, Sophia, was an amazing person and I am truly sorry for her death."
Randell was still smiling. "Does your dead, drug-dealer daddy know how the police found your body? Does he know you died sucking off that dirty cop?"
"Jay is not..." I pulled towards myself, tearing my hand from his chest, through his neck, to his head. Randell was still smiling like a psychopath as his body fell limp to the ground.
Tanya was screaming, she was huddled in a corner with her knees pulled to her chest.
I looked down at my hand, unable to fully comprehend what I was holding. It was a mass of gore, spilling off my hands on to the floor. As I stood up, moving away from the body, I could see identifiable parts. There was a trail of organ meat that was once his throat, stomach, and small intestines. In my hand was his brain. I started to laugh. "I did it, Jay. I took his head."
Tanya's father arrived, along with the cook and the nanny. That was when I heard a beep. It was an alarm from the laptop. Everyone turned to see the pop-up, "Capture limit has been reached." The camera had been on the entire time.
The next few days seemed to rush by in a flurry of lights, and voices. The police took the laptop and the body. According to what they saw, Randell Fish fell to the floor, hitting his head over and over until (somehow) his brain fell out of his mangled skull.
Tanya had been right; I did not show up on film. The final footage made no sense. The girl was clearly talking to someone for over an hour before her white-trash trucker grandpa arrived. Clearly, he had a heart attack (not uncommon for a man his age,) that was deemed to be the cause of death.
Tanya was given back her computer and went straight to her YouTube page. Since the death had been deemed an accident she was allowed to post the footage (the footage that wouldn't get her channel in trouble for mature or obscene content.)
She spoke to her followers about the mysterious First Nation ghost. She didn't mention me by name, only that I was one of many victims killed due to race, age, or gender.
"As many of you know my mom was a judge," she said, speaking into her mic. "When she died, all I knew was that someone with dark skin murdered the most important person in my life. People around me just repeated that; bad dark-skinned people killed your mother, bad dark-skinned people are what's wrong with our society. But that's not the truth.
When you lump all people into one group based on physical traits it doesn't make us strong, it makes us weak. We need to stand together to help one another, to make this world a better place. One voice at a time." Tanya looked up from her notes and wiped tears from her eyes. "Now I just have to wait for this to render." She looked around, "Tianna, Are you there?"
I was about to speak when suddenly I was pulled backward with a strong force. This was the end of my story. I was about to move on.
Tanya, if you read this; I love you, and I know you'll make your mother proud.
submitted by dourdan to BarryPepper [link] [comments]


2020.06.22 01:25 dourdan A Canadian Tale ch3

previously ch2
Hitchhiking back to Canada took longer than I thought it would. I had to try to walk. But at least, as a ghost, I no longer required food or sleep.
I also was not cold, warm, or even physically tired, but boy was I board. I walked along the highway, making my way through the desert. After a little trial and error, I found that I could hitch a ride on any car parked long enough for me to form a connection. This resulted in me being stuck in a trunk for a few hours; California to Idaho, Idaho to Montana.
I hung around Yellowstone National Park, searching all of the tourists from all over the country (and the world.) It didn't take me long to find a family heading to Saskatchewan.
I found a mini-van, anyway. The white Toyota had Canadian plates so I knew it would at least get me across the border. But clearly, the family was staying at the local hotel. In the car, there were books and DVDs, even a few coloring books and dolls; the junk pile of happy children. "I bet all the good stuff's in the hotel room." Ipad, Nintendo DS, and other things I never had as a kid.
Reclining my spectral form, across the backseat, I made myself comfortable, staring up at the ceiling. There was an elaborate display of glow in the dark star stickers, creating a whole separate world within the confines of the family vehicle. For the children, I'm sure it was a means of keeping quiet, focused, and maybe even relaxed on long road trips. But to me, the stars symbolized hope.
No matter how many times a soul is reborn, we will always find comfort and wisdom in looking at the stars. I stared transfixed until the light of the morning ushered in the screams of children.
"I don't wanna go!"
"I'm tired!"
"I'm hungry!"
"I don't wanna go in the car seat!"
I watched as the two small children were strapped into their car seats while an older teenage boy sat in the row in front. "What do you want to watch?" he grumbled before selecting the first DVD in the pile. It was 'Moana,' the cartoon about the Maori princess. I always liked that one, it seemed to be the best Disney would ever get to a First Nation princess. I guess that was why I needed to be the hero of my own life.
Hours later, we arrived in Regina. I heard from the parents that they were almost home, so I made sure to make my exit when the vehicle stopped at a gas station.
I was in Canada, I was home. Now, how the hell was I going to find Randell Fish? If this was a movie from the eighties I'd head to the nearest phone booth, and start flipping through the massive directory book. But since this was the age of the internet I would need to try my luck with a public computer. Looking around for signage, I could see there was a library not too far from where I was.
It was not to difficult to find, even as the sun went down. I phased through the doors of the closed library, like a typical ghost. "What was I made of?" I stroked the security sensor by the door to see if my presence would set off any alarms. Nothing, oh well.
I approached a counter, which housed a typical desktop PC. I reached my hand to the power button, with thoughts of Randell Fish. Where did he live? Where did he work? Where did he sleep? I could picture everything I wanted to do to him; make him live through every painful moment. Maybe I could possess a knife or even reach my ghostly hand inside of his body cavity and rip out his organs piece by piece. I felt a rush of energy and then a loud explosion. BANG! "Oh fuck."
Judging by the sparks and smoke, I appeared to have blown up the machine using only my rage. Lesson learned: I needed to maintain better control. "Moving to the next computer."
I could feel a steady flow of electric power, wash over me, as I pushed the start button on the PC tower. "Think happy thoughts, think happy thoughts," I said out loud, attempting to find a happy thought to focus on. "Happiness, joy, love, um... childhood?" What did I like about my childhood? "School..." Without touching the keyboard I managed to turn on the screen and navigate to Facebook. How common of a name was Fish?
"Search, Fish, Saskatchewan," I said out loud. The computer filled in the request bar to my will. And then I remembered; Randell Fish was the father of a former judge, the very judge who sent my uncle to jail. Could I focus on that? "Search deceased Canadian judges with the last name 'Fish.'"
Google returned an answer: Judge Sophia Rosalinda Fish- Ryder. Apparently, Randell Fish had lost a daughter and a very successful one at that. Her memorial page was covered in graduation pictures; high school, college, various awards, law school, and of course getting sworn in as a judge. Her husband and children were by her side; she had a family, Randell Fish's family. Jordan Fish-Ryder, a Sophomore at a boarding school in Boston, and little Tanya.
Tanya was only nine years old and still went to school in-state. Part of me wondered if she went to the same school as I did, but of course not. She went to a posh K-8 private school, in the most beautiful part of Northern Canada. I would find her and I would follow her home. "Power down," I said out loud as I moved my hand backward.
Under the light of the moon, I took a walk. The world seemed to be frozen over, like an arctic wasteland. I had no idea if I was even going the right way. By the light of the moon, I could hear the wind, but it sounded odd. Instead of a soft whisper, it was like a chorus of voices.
"You really think you can do this, little girl?"
"She's young, of course, she does."
The mocking was followed by laughter, so much laughter.
"What's your problem!" I shouted at the starry night sky.
"You actually think you can find peace?" Asked one star, pulsating in the sky.
"I'm looking for justice," I replied.
"Justice?" That got a lot more laughter.
"Screw you all! I can do this all on my own!"
Suddenly a single beam of light seemed to cut across the sky like a shooting star. "Come on, ladies, we're better than this." The voice was American.
"Thanks," I said, wiping tears from my eyes. "I'm Tia what's your name?" I wondered if she was one of the victims of the Highway of Tears (a place infamous for its history of missing women of various ages and nationalities.)
The sky went dark as the shooting star launched itself straight at a lamppost. The lamp seemed to shimmer for a moment before going dark again.
I was actually a little scared when suddenly, a girl stepped out from the shadows. "Hi, I'm Vena." In her ghost form, Vena was small like me, but she wore a recognizable military uniform. Her camo fatigues were covered in dust. Yet her black hair, pulled back in a military-approved bun highlighted her sweet smile. Vena held out her hand, leaning forward with a slight bow. "Where are you headed?"
I had been frozen in place, but hearing her kind, friendly voice allowed me to fully relax. "Up north, to St. Unity prep school."
"I can walk with you for a while, maybe show you the way."
"Thanks," I said, finally shaking her hand. "I'd like that. It's been a while since I had a friend."
"Same here."
We walked like childhood friends, jumping, skipping, with the occasional cartwheel. "So where are you from, Vena?"
"Missouri," Vena said as she pretended to walk along the sidewalk ledge like a balance beam, ending with a backflip.
"Wow, so you're from around St. Louis?" I asked, feeling happier than I had in a while.
"St. Louis county."
"That's the place with the arch, right? That must have been so cool!"
"Yeah, I guess but after seeing it all your life it just looks like any other tourist trap." Vena made a small jump on to a new ledge. "Probably why I died where I did."
"You died in combat?" That seemed to be the logical answer. She looked seventeen, maybe eighteen-years-old. It was not out of the realm of possibility for her to have gotten deployed immediately after basic training.
"Sorta," she said with a shrug. "I was at odds with a very powerful man in my chain of command. I stood my ground, fought with everything I had but in the end I lost."
"You lost?"
"I was murdered." Vena took a calming breath. Clearly, she was able to control her ghost-energy better then I was. "It was a while ago." She started to skip and even did a spin on one foot. "The army covered up everything. They told my family it was a suicide." Vena's body rippled with energy.
"I'm so sorry." I reached for her hand, hoping to siphon away some of the negative energy.
"They told my poor father, that somehow I put an AK-47 in my mouth. And I did this while naked during the one time of day my roommates would not be in." Vena took my hand and we both sat for a moment. "They shipped my body home with gloves glued to my hands, so no autopsy could be done to prove or disprove gunshot residue."
"The powerful people assumed your family would just move on."
"The US army underestimated my daddy. " Vena held my hand, releasing dark purple energy.
I easily absorbed the anger and trauma, but with it came memories. Vena's parents had to fight for every piece of evidence, every 'classified' document, name, and image. "Are your parents still fighting the military?
"Yeah, it's been over ten years but I know my daddy will keep fighting until his last breath. I guess that's why I'm still here."
"In northern Canada?"
That got a laugh. "In the in-between," Vena explained. "I can't get to heaven, hell, or even be reborn. But when my dad does take his last breath, I'll be at his side. Maybe I'll even get to walk with him to the light."
My hands trembled, glowing with cold blue energy.
"Sorry," Vena said, gripping my hand. "Blue energy means sadness. I apologize for hitting a sore subject."
I nodded, but I was not ready to talk to her about my relationship with my dad. (That would only result in more blue energy until my spirit was too frozen to move.) "Do you know the joke about Hell?"
"I know a few, what's yours?"
"A tribal leader is about to be burned to death by the Spanish army. The executioner asks if he'd like to accept Christ, for a chance at heaven. But the tribal leader asked, 'Does your kind go to heaven?' The Spaniard replied, with a tall proud stance, 'Of course!' Well, in that case, I think I'll take my chances in hell."
Vena doubled over with laughter. "Oh, God, that is so true! I have no doubt that my killer is going to die peacefully surrounded by family maybe even a priest offering him absolution." She went from laughter to slight tears. "Maybe then he'll confess his sins and my family can finally have some closure. But that's my cross to bear." She looked down at her feet, then up at an elaborate gate. "Anyway, we're here. Best of luck Tia.
"Thank you." Hanging out with Vena secured the validity of my plan. The system was against us, protecting the big strong men who took our lives. Only when the overly important bastards admit to their sins could we, the victims, hope to move on.
I stayed outside the gate, watching the sunrise. By the first light of morning, the parents started to arrive, dropping their children off at the security checkpoint. I just had to wait for the name.
"Adam Ryder signing in Tanya Elizabeth Fish-Ryder?" He didn't get out of the car but the guard typed the name into his tablet.
"Bye, Daddy!"
Tanya, a fashionable fourth grader with her mother's ebony black hair and perfectly ironed school uniform. The security was strong, I imagine that had I not been a ghost, stalking any of the students would've proved difficult.
I followed her throughout the day, living a life that I could only dream of. She went to class with the same teacher for the majority of the day. At lunch she sat with her friends, eating sushi from a shimmery metallic lunch box.
"You painted that yourself, didn't you," I said out loud.
Tanya froze. She looked around for a moment, before shrugging.
Knowing there was the possibility she could hear me I kept quiet for the rest of the day. Lunch was followed by art, science, and computer programming. She had after school violin lessons for a few hours. It was mostly her playing around with melodies. She could play along with various pop-songs in various languages. It was actually kind of impressive. After the lesson Tanya walked outside, waiting in the cold, with her earbuds in, listening to music on a small iPod that looked older than her. In less than a minute, she was picked up by her Hispanic Nanny. The elderly woman held open the door to what I assumed was Adam Ryder's posh Jeep Cherokee. She arranged Tanya's bags as she took a seat and when they were settled she tapped on the driver's side window to signal the chauffeur.
I gripped the back of the vehicle, using my energy to create a firm hold as I rode on the bumper. The Fish-Ryder family lived in a quiet cabin a few miles away, in a rather unique, beautiful gated community.
I walked through the door to the sight of a family home. There was a kitchen, a living room, even a fireplace. And pictures, so many pictures. The walls were covered in memories; school photos, vacations, even professional portraits of a happy family. Was this even the home of Randell Fish?
And then I spotted a single photo. It was him, taking his grand-kids ice fishing. "Fucking bastard."
"Are you talking about my grandpa?"
Before I could reply, Tanya grabbed the photo and headed upstairs. Somehow, I guess, she knew I would follow. Tanya's second-floor room was a museum of pop-culture from the latest dolls, to teen idols, and even a camera set up. "Do you have a YouTube channel?" My question went unanswered as she powered up her laptop. "Um, hello?"
"I'll be the one to ask the questions. If you don't mind," Tanya replied sounding much older than her years. "I'm just going to assume you won't show up on film, so if you please will you do something for the camera to prove your existence?"
"For your viewers?" I glared at the camera which was capturing footage directly to the hard drive of the laptop. "Are you some kind of amateur ghost hunter?" I grabbed the photo back from where she had placed it face down on her desk, lifting it to the level of the camera.
"So what do you want with my grandpa?" she asked, like a reporter.
On the screen, I could see Tanya interviewing what appeared to be a floating framed picture. It was actually kind of adorable.
"Did he run you off the road?"
Those were not words I expected from a nine-year-old. "Is that something he does a lot?
"All truckers do it."
"Your grandpa told you that?"
"Yup. Grandpa told me that your kind are like wild game animals; if responsible hunters didn't thin the herd you'd drain our nation's resources dry. That's why you all have names like John Running Horse or Jane Hopping Rabbit."
"You can't honestly believe that." Just how many people had Randell Fish killed?
"My grandpa has no reason to lie."
I focused on the laptop screen, watching the photo floating gently in the air. I knew I needed to keep my cool. Tanya wanted a show, that's all it was. I focused on the door, securing both the deadbolt and the key lock. "Be a dear and contact your grandpa."
"How?" she asked sweetly, keeping in character. "How should I contact my grandpa?"
Knowing Tanya wanted to capture another trick for the camera, I focused on her phone. I easily lifted the small iPhone from the bed, making it land in her lap. "You can call your grandpa or attempt to call for help, either one works for me."
Tanya only chuckled, placing the phone on her desk.
Ok, apparently I needed to be a little more forceful. I moved closer, placing my hand to her neck. As expected my ghost hand passed right through. Yet as I clenched my fist I could feel I was gripping something.
Tanya started to cough, and spit as she struggled to breathe. Seeing that she was turning blue I decided that I had made my point. She collapsed to the floor, gripping her neck. "Your kind killed my mother!" Tanya crossed her arms over her stomach, gripping her chest as she sobbed. "Mom was nothing like Grandpa, she supported 'black lives matter,' 'red lives matter,' 'all lives matter,' or whatever. She said as a good Catholic we needed to love our fellow man because everyone is someone's child, and we're all equal in the eyes of God! She preached love, supported charities, and even would pick a fight with Grandpa every chance she got!" Tanya struggled to breathe as she wiped snot from her nose. "Do you know what that got her? A bullet in the head!"
"I know."
"You know?" Tanya sat up. She wiped her tears with her clean sleeve, before looking me in the eyes.
"My father was there."
Tanya nodded as she took a moment to digest that information. "So, this is all some kind of daisy chain of revenge?"
"Yup, you could say that. But it ends with Randell Fish."
"I understand." Tanya reached for her phone. She looked through her contacts, took a deep breath, and dialed. It rang only once. "Hi, Papa."
"Put the phone on speaker," I said, hoping my voice was not audible over the phone.
Tanya nodded and did as I asked. "Where are you, Papa?"
"I'm about twenty miles out," Randell replied. "Why do you ask, sweetheart?"
"I was wondering if you could come to dinner," Tanya spoke in a sweet energetic voice. "I really miss you."
"Aww, I miss you too Tanya. What time should I try to be there?"
Tanya glanced over at the clock, it was already six at night. "Seven or eight, whatever's easier."
"I'll be there as soon as I can, sweetheart. I love you."
"I love you too, Grandpa." Tanya hung up the phone. "So, what now? Are we going to just stay in here until he arrives?"
"Yeah, that sounds about right," I said with a nod. "You have a bathroom and if you don't have snacks hidden around here you are truly a weird kid."
Tanya smiled, reaching directly behind her. She looked to be grabbing a leg of her desk, but with the flick of her wrist, a secret panel opened, dispensing a single fun-size candy bar. "What kind of snacks did you hide in your room as a kid?"
"I was always partial for beef jerky or cheap off-brand twinkies."
"The off brands always taste better," Tanya said with a smirk.
As she picked up her phone, I noticed the lock screen, it was her mother's college graduation picture. "You're really proud of her."
"There was a lot to be proud of." Tanya's voice was soft, filled with genuine emotion.
It was clear she was a lost soul looking for guidance, in the wake of her mother's death.
We talked for a while, and I finally got the chance to introduce myself.
"Your name is Tianna, like the Frog princess? That's kinda cool."
At around seven, there was a knock at the door. "Tanya, sweetie, it's Grandpa. Why is your door locked?"
Tanya looked at me. "I'm going to open the door, Tianna."
I nodded, knowing Randell Fish heard my name.
The tall older man wore his work clothes as if his semi-truck was parked right in the front driveway. He took a look around the room. "Who are you talking to sweetheart?"
Without a second thought, I punched Randell Fish in the chest as hard as I could. He doubled over in pain, his body melting into my ghostly form. My hand was gripping something; a bone, maybe part of a lung? Certainly not a heart.
Tanya took a step back. "I'm sorry, Grandpa."
"You're sorry?" he said with a laugh, as blood dripped from his mouth.
I gripped harder, pulling at whatever I had my hands on. "She's nothing like you." Your daughter, Sophia, was an amazing person and I am truly sorry for her death."
Randell was still smiling. "Does your dead, drug-dealer daddy know how the police found your body? Does he know you died sucking off that dirty cop?"
"Jay is not..." I pulled towards myself, tearing my hand from his chest, through his neck, to his head. Randell was still smiling like a psychopath as his body fell limp to the ground.
Tanya was screaming, she was huddled in a corner with her knees pulled to her chest.
I looked down at my hand, unable to fully comprehend what I was holding. It was a mass of gore, spilling off my hands on to the floor. As I stood up, moving away from the body, I could see identifiable parts. There was a trail of organ meat that was once his throat, stomach, and small intestines. In my hand was his brain. I started to laugh. "I did it, Jay. I took his head."
Tanya's father arrived, along with the cook and the nanny. That was when I heard a beep. It was an alarm from the laptop. Everyone turned to see the pop-up, "Capture limit has been reached." The camera had been on the entire time.
The next few days seemed to rush by in a flurry of lights, and voices. The police took the laptop and the body. According to what they saw, Randell Fish fell to the floor, hitting his head over and over until (somehow) his brain fell out of his mangled skull.
Tanya had been right; I did not show up on film. The final footage made no sense. The girl was clearly talking to someone for over an hour before her white-trash trucker grandpa arrived. Clearly, he had a heart attack (not uncommon for a man his age,) that was deemed to be the cause of death.
Tanya was given back her computer and went straight to her YouTube page. Since the death had been deemed an accident she was allowed to post the footage (the footage that wouldn't get her channel in trouble for mature or obscene content.)
She spoke to her followers about the mysterious First Nation ghost. She didn't mention me by name, only that I was one of many victims killed due to race, age, or gender.
"As many of you know my mom was a judge," she said, speaking into her mic. "When she died, all I knew was that someone with dark skin murdered the most important person in my life. People around me just repeated that; bad dark-skinned people killed your mother, bad dark-skinned people are what's wrong with our society. But that's not the truth.
When you lump all people into one group based on physical traits it doesn't make us strong, it makes us weak. We need to stand together to help one another, to make this world a better place. One voice at a time." Tanya looked up from her notes and wiped tears from her eyes. "Now I just have to wait for this to render." She looked around, "Tianna, Are you there?"
I was about to speak when suddenly I was pulled backward with a strong force.This was the end of my story. I was about to move on.
Tanya, if you read this; I love you, and I know you'll make your mother proud.
submitted by dourdan to nosleep [link] [comments]


2020.06.19 23:31 That2009WeirdEmoKid Shotgun Fantasy - Part 23: A diamond in the rough

First Part
Previous Part
Bork still didn’t know what to call the city. After his poor attempt at naming the shotgun, he suddenly felt incredibly insecure about his ability to pick a good one. It needed to be strong, yet welcoming. Proud, but not ostentatious. The elders gave him this honor two days ago, after he finished building the barrier, and he still couldn’t come up with something worthy for his people. Their mythical birth land was finally theirs again. Winged beasts and their ilk were now repelled by the barrier. The city grew more beautiful every day. It shouldn’t be this laborious to properly express their joy. Bork ended his night with anxiety, cursing his task. It amused him how something so trivial could cause him this much grief. If this was his biggest concern, things might just turn out for the best.
His meditation was then interrupted by the sound of blaring alarms. Intruders were attacking the city. They somehow bypassed the barrier without anyone noticing. It couldn’t be any of the mountain monsters. The attack was too coordinated for that. Many warriors were rushing to defend the mana generator, which meant that whoever was behind this wanted to destroy the barrier. Bork headed there as soon as he understood the situation.
After turning a corner, he made it to the mana station just in time to see a young elf standing over a pile of depowered rock elementals. Their eyes were shattered. They were dead. The elf had light green hair with bangs in the front and a long braided ponytail. His minimal wooden armor with matching sword, along with his cheeky smile, made it clear he was responsible for this carnage. Bork almost gave away his presence out of rage. The elf kept poking the rock corpses with his weapon to make sure they were dead. What in the cataclysm was he doing here? It didn’t matter. He was currently distracted.
Bork hurled at him an entire wall from a nearby building.
The elf sliced it all in a fraction of a second. “I must congratulate you, you’re the first one to think and not walk into my range.” He sheathed his sword on his waist. “Perhaps you’re smart enough to make the right choice.”
“Who are you?”
“I am Xastile, an elite commander of Emeroke’s Imperial Legion. We were on an exploratory mission when we stumbled upon you creatures settling in our territory. That simply can’t be tolerated. On behalf of Warmaster Henthil Areneiros, I demand you get someone who can surrender the city to our leader or…” He gestured at the pile of corpses beneath him. “Well, the implication is obvious.”
The generator station rumbled in the background. Someone else was attacking the building. Bork frowned. This boy was just a watchdog. Bork stepped forward, falling into a wide fighting stance. His long range attacks wouldn’t work here. He needed to get through at all costs. That barrier might be the only thing keeping at bay a large-scale invasion.
Xastile disappeared in a blur.
Bork couldn’t even perceive his movement. The elf reappeared right in front of him, aiming for both his eyes with a horizontal swing. His sword didn’t make contact since Bork, out of sheer instinct, had already begun to submerge into the ground. By the time Xastile could swing vertically, Bork finished sinking completely. All of this occurred in a few seconds. Bork hadn’t faced someone this fast in a while. Speedsters always gave him a difficult fight. His ability to swim beneath the earth bought him enough time to formulate a strategy. Unfortunately, he couldn’t just dig his way into the generator station since he made it near impossible to penetrate from any angle with geomancy. A personal design choice that felt like a great idea right up until now. He wasn’t able to wait too long underground or the barrier would fall. Bork couldn’t liquify the earth fast enough to trap him either. The only way to beat him was to catch him off guard. Bork sprang out of the ground right between Xastile’s feet, aiming a rising uppercut at his face.
The elf, not only had the reaction speed to dodge the point-blank attack, but also counterattacked by slicing through his arm. Bork wasn’t fast enough to dodge as it followed through deeper. The sword chipped off a portion of his left eye before he melted into the ground again.
Pain was a rare sensation for a Rock Elemental. Very few things damaged their gemstones over their lives. Bork had to summon all of his willpower to not seize up with pain. There really wasn’t any room to hold back here. Bork started charging up his mana, pulling towards him every single trace of carbon in the sediment until it completely enveloped his body. The ground began to quake as his aura flared up. He needed to apply more pressure. Everything around him started cracking, forming large fissures in front of the building. Bork coalesced all of his mana into the carbon covering his body. The process culminated with an outward explosion that leveled the entire battlefield, rearranging the terrain into a labyrinth of debris.
Xastile remained unharmed after the dust cleared up. His self-satisfied grin only lasted until seeing Bork’s new appearance.
The Rock Elemental’s body was encased in a thick layer of opaque diamond. He hadn’t used this spell since the Zenith Revolts. Although he couldn’t completely cover his eyes without losing vision, they were now protected by a thin coat that made them significantly sturdier. His fists wouldn’t be deflected either. The elf would have to get out of the way to stay safe. He seemed threatened by the technique. After slaying so many tribe members with a single attack, the swordsman wasn’t ready for an actual challenge.
Xastile disappeared into a blur, reappearing with another horizontal slash.
Bork raised his fist in anticipation, blocking the attack, and leaned into a heavy punch with the other hand, hitting the side of his abdomen at full force. Xastile flew away from the impact, coughing up blood while still in the air. His ribs were definitely bruised, if not broken. Bork lunged forward for a follow-up attack, but the elf got on his feet and dashed away before it could reach him.
Xastile reappeared on the other side of the shattered battlefield, panting atop a large chunk of debris. He used his sword as a crutch as he steadied his breath.
Bork liquified the chunk of debris. Xastile jumped away before getting stuck to it. The chunk of debris whipped around like a snake, pursuing the swordsman through the uneven terrain. He moved noticeably slower. His injuries were probably more severe than he showed. Bork moved closer to the generator station while the liquified debris distracted him.
Xastile realized the tactic. He narrowed his eyes with seriousness before forcing himself to run at full speed again, blurring away. Bork turned around only to notice the elf was already in front of him. The swordsman’s stance had completely changed. Less relaxed, more attentive. His smirk disappeared; replaced with an unflinching glare. He only signaled his next attack by leaning slightly forward. Bork perceived it too late. Xastile had thrusted the tip of his sword into the weakened gemstone eye in an instant. The diamond coating protected it from shattering, but only barely, causing it to crack a bit.
Bork swung back for a counterattack, but the elf had already moved to another position, ready to unleash a flurry of strikes. He was too fast. Bork raised his fist to protect his eyes. The only thing he could do was deflect the blows. If he tried to strike back, it would leave him vulnerable.
Xastile started implementing feints and altering his rhythm. It was like fighting a completely different person. His initial approach was refined, well practiced and difficult to dodge, but its simplicity made it easy to predict. Bork assumed from their first exchanges that it spawned from the boy’s inexperience. Now, however, the answer became clear. Xastile just wasn’t bothering with predicting at the beginning of the fight. He assumed his superiority would carry him without having to use his head. The minute he was forced to respect his opponent, his decision making turned into that of a master swordsman.
The generator building shook violently again. Signs of struggle echoed out of it. The warriors were having a hard time against whoever was inside. Unfortunately, Xastile never relented on his pressure. He wouldn’t allow an opening. Bork didn’t have time to endure the assault. He needed to do something. Anything! They were at a stalemate, but Xastile didn’t have to win; he just had to wait for his comrade to succeed and he was more than skilled enough to accomplish that.
Bork threw a blind punch, hoping to guess the next attack.
Xasitle ducked under it with a graceful spin and swung his sword upward. It hit the other gemstone eye, scratching it. Bork staggered backwards. Xastile then kicked him in the chest, knocking him off balance.
Bork sunk into the ground and reappeared in the elf’s blind spot. He failed to surprise him, though. His fists were too slow. Bork made spikes sprout from the ground, aiming at Xastile’s back. Those weren’t fast enough either.
Xastile was getting better at predicting Bork’s defense. He started opening him up more frequently, chipping away at his eyes.
Bork feared this would be the end of their city. He simply didn’t have anything in his arsenal to deal with an opponent this fast.
And then the solution struck him. He had already made something for this occasion. It only needed to be slightly adjusted. Could it work? There wasn’t any time to guess. Xastile had jumped away to catch his breath and was ready for a second assault. Bork needed perfect timing. He raised his fist like usual to draw the elf closer.
Xastile lunged forward with a psychopathic grin.
Bork transformed his right arm into a glyph shotgun and fired a spray of diamonds.
Xastile maneuvered around it, thinking it would be another punch, and got riddled with holes on the entire left side of his body. His stunned reaction lasted long enough for Bork to punch him in the face. Xastile tumbled backwards a few times, moaning in pain. He was a bloody mess now.
Bork slowly approached him. Xastile widened his eyes. He needed to pay. Those warriors he slew were all part of the new generation. Their lives were taken away right when they were on the cusp of inheriting their people’s dreams. The rage that smoldered within Bork compelled him to execute the brat, but his reason quickly kicked in, reminding him that it would be more valuable to have him as a prisoner. Bork was about to encase him with geomancy when the generator station exploded.
An eerie silence permeated the battlefield as he processed what it meant.
The barrier started dissipating one hexagon at a time.
Xastile cackled with amusement, coughing up blood. “You still lose, creature.”
“This hasn’t begun. We’re never surrendering.”
“Ha! You won’t even get the chance!”
Bork lifted him by the neck. “Why?”
Xastile nodded at something behind him.
A loud rumbling soon followed. Bork turned around to see a giant tidal wave heading towards the city. It was taller than any building they had constructed. The tribe wasn’t capable of withstanding it. They didn’t have time to evacuate.
Xastile slipped out of his hold, limping away. Even with his injuries, he was still impossible to catch. Bork had bigger priorities anyway. He didn’t know if he could protect himself from the wave, let alone the tribe. Xastile then shouted:
“Breek’aus! Come on, it’s getting close!”
“WORRY NOT YOUNG BATTLE BROTHER, MY GLORIOUS BEEFY THIGHS HAVE NEVER FAILED ME!”
Bork paused. Was that his... ally?
A wall in the generator station suddenly crumbled.
Three meek elves with servants' clothes walked out of the dust, all terrified, which confused Bork until the figure behind them drew his attention. The man was about as big as a Rock Elemental. He had blonde curly hair that fell on his shoulders and a thin loincloth as his only apparel. The servants also carried a body mirror for some reason.
The muscular elf then grabbed Xastile, along with the servants, and squatted down on his legs.
“H-hey!” said Xastile. “What are you doing? Run!”
“Silence! I’m jumping the wave!”
Xastile widened his eyes. “Wha-”
The muscular elf blasted away in a vertical leap, leaving a crater where he stood.
Bork didn’t want to let them get away, but the wave would crash at any moment. He had to anchor himself to ground and hope his geomancy was capable of enduring the flood. It tore him apart that he wasn’t strong enough to prevent it. He could only beg for his tribe’s forgiveness as the wave began to consume their city.
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2020.06.19 23:31 That2009WeirdEmoKid Shotgun Fantasy - Part 23: A diamond in the rough

First Part
Previous Part
Bork still didn’t know what to call the city. After his poor attempt at naming the shotgun, he suddenly felt incredibly insecure about his ability to pick a good one. It needed to be strong, yet welcoming. Proud, but not ostentatious. The elders gave him this honor two days ago, after he finished building the barrier, and he still couldn’t come up with something worthy for his people. Their mythical birth land was finally theirs again. Winged beasts and their ilk were now repelled by the barrier. The city grew more beautiful every day. It shouldn’t be this laborious to properly express their joy. Bork ended his night with anxiety, cursing his task. It amused him how something so trivial could cause him this much grief. If this was his biggest concern, things might just turn out for the best.
His meditation was then interrupted by the sound of blaring alarms. Intruders were attacking the city. They somehow bypassed the barrier without anyone noticing. It couldn’t be any of the mountain monsters. The attack was too coordinated for that. Many warriors were rushing to defend the mana generator, which meant that whoever was behind this wanted to destroy the barrier. Bork headed there as soon as he understood the situation.
After turning a corner, he made it to the mana station just in time to see a young elf standing over a pile of depowered rock elementals. Their eyes were shattered. They were dead. The elf had light green hair with bangs in the front and a long braided ponytail. His minimal wooden armor with matching sword, along with his cheeky smile, made it clear he was responsible for this carnage. Bork almost gave away his presence out of rage. The elf kept poking the rock corpses with his weapon to make sure they were dead. What in the cataclysm was he doing here? It didn’t matter. He was currently distracted.
Bork hurled at him an entire wall from a nearby building.
The elf sliced it all in a fraction of a second. “I must congratulate you, you’re the first one to think and not walk into my range.” He sheathed his sword on his waist. “Perhaps you’re smart enough to make the right choice.”
“Who are you?”
“I am Xastile, an elite commander of Emeroke’s Imperial Legion. We were on an exploratory mission when we stumbled upon you creatures settling in our territory. That simply can’t be tolerated. On behalf of Warmaster Henthil Areneiros, I demand you get someone who can surrender the city to our leader or…” He gestured at the pile of corpses beneath him. “Well, the implication is obvious.”
The generator station rumbled in the background. Someone else was attacking the building. Bork frowned. This boy was just a watchdog. Bork stepped forward, falling into a wide fighting stance. His long range attacks wouldn’t work here. He needed to get through at all costs. That barrier might be the only thing keeping at bay a large-scale invasion.
Xastile disappeared in a blur.
Bork couldn’t even perceive his movement. The elf reappeared right in front of him, aiming for both his eyes with a horizontal swing. His sword didn’t make contact since Bork, out of sheer instinct, had already begun to submerge into the ground. By the time Xastile could swing vertically, Bork finished sinking completely. All of this occurred in a few seconds. Bork hadn’t faced someone this fast in a while. Speedsters always gave him a difficult fight. His ability to swim beneath the earth bought him enough time to formulate a strategy. Unfortunately, he couldn’t just dig his way into the generator station since he made it near impossible to penetrate from any angle with geomancy. A personal design choice that felt like a great idea right up until now. He wasn’t able to wait too long underground or the barrier would fall. Bork couldn’t liquify the earth fast enough to trap him either. The only way to beat him was to catch him off guard. Bork sprang out of the ground right between Xastile’s feet, aiming a rising uppercut at his face.
The elf, not only had the reaction speed to dodge the point-blank attack, but also counterattacked by slicing through his arm. Bork wasn’t fast enough to dodge as it followed through deeper. The sword chipped off a portion of his left eye before he melted into the ground again.
Pain was a rare sensation for a Rock Elemental. Very few things damaged their gemstones over their lives. Bork had to summon all of his willpower to not seize up with pain. There really wasn’t any room to hold back here. Bork started charging up his mana, pulling towards him every single trace of carbon in the sediment until it completely enveloped his body. The ground began to quake as his aura flared up. He needed to apply more pressure. Everything around him started cracking, forming large fissures in front of the building. Bork coalesced all of his mana into the carbon covering his body. The process culminated with an outward explosion that leveled the entire battlefield, rearranging the terrain into a labyrinth of debris.
Xastile remained unharmed after the dust cleared up. His self-satisfied grin only lasted until seeing Bork’s new appearance.
The Rock Elemental’s body was encased in a thick layer of opaque diamond. He hadn’t used this spell since the Zenith Revolts. Although he couldn’t completely cover his eyes without losing vision, they were now protected by a thin coat that made them significantly sturdier. His fists wouldn’t be deflected either. The elf would have to get out of the way to stay safe. He seemed threatened by the technique. After slaying so many tribe members with a single attack, the swordsman wasn’t ready for an actual challenge.
Xastile disappeared into a blur, reappearing with another horizontal slash.
Bork raised his fist in anticipation, blocking the attack, and leaned into a heavy punch with the other hand, hitting the side of his abdomen at full force. Xastile flew away from the impact, coughing up blood while still in the air. His ribs were definitely bruised, if not broken. Bork lunged forward for a follow-up attack, but the elf got on his feet and dashed away before it could reach him.
Xastile reappeared on the other side of the shattered battlefield, panting atop a large chunk of debris. He used his sword as a crutch as he steadied his breath.
Bork liquified the chunk of debris. Xastile jumped away before getting stuck to it. The chunk of debris whipped around like a snake, pursuing the swordsman through the uneven terrain. He moved noticeably slower. His injuries were probably more severe than he showed. Bork moved closer to the generator station while the liquified debris distracted him.
Xastile realized the tactic. He narrowed his eyes with seriousness before forcing himself to run at full speed again, blurring away. Bork turned around only to notice the elf was already in front of him. The swordsman’s stance had completely changed. Less relaxed, more attentive. His smirk disappeared; replaced with an unflinching glare. He only signaled his next attack by leaning slightly forward. Bork perceived it too late. Xastile had thrusted the tip of his sword into the weakened gemstone eye in an instant. The diamond coating protected it from shattering, but only barely, causing it to crack a bit.
Bork swung back for a counterattack, but the elf had already moved to another position, ready to unleash a flurry of strikes. He was too fast. Bork raised his fist to protect his eyes. The only thing he could do was deflect the blows. If he tried to strike back, it would leave him vulnerable.
Xastile started implementing feints and altering his rhythm. It was like fighting a completely different person. His initial approach was refined, well practiced and difficult to dodge, but its simplicity made it easy to predict. Bork assumed from their first exchanges that it spawned from the boy’s inexperience. Now, however, the answer became clear. Xastile just wasn’t bothering with predicting at the beginning of the fight. He assumed his superiority would carry him without having to use his head. The minute he was forced to respect his opponent, his decision making turned into that of a master swordsman.
The generator building shook violently again. Signs of struggle echoed out of it. The warriors were having a hard time against whoever was inside. Unfortunately, Xastile never relented on his pressure. He wouldn’t allow an opening. Bork didn’t have time to endure the assault. He needed to do something. Anything! They were at a stalemate, but Xastile didn’t have to win; he just had to wait for his comrade to succeed and he was more than skilled enough to accomplish that.
Bork threw a blind punch, hoping to guess the next attack.
Xasitle ducked under it with a graceful spin and swung his sword upward. It hit the other gemstone eye, scratching it. Bork staggered backwards. Xastile then kicked him in the chest, knocking him off balance.
Bork sunk into the ground and reappeared in the elf’s blind spot. He failed to surprise him, though. His fists were too slow. Bork made spikes sprout from the ground, aiming at Xastile’s back. Those weren’t fast enough either.
Xastile was getting better at predicting Bork’s defense. He started opening him up more frequently, chipping away at his eyes.
Bork feared this would be the end of their city. He simply didn’t have anything in his arsenal to deal with an opponent this fast.
And then the solution struck him. He had already made something for this occasion. It only needed to be slightly adjusted. Could it work? There wasn’t any time to guess. Xastile had jumped away to catch his breath and was ready for a second assault. Bork needed perfect timing. He raised his fist like usual to draw the elf closer.
Xastile lunged forward with a psychopathic grin.
Bork transformed his right arm into a glyph shotgun and fired a spray of diamonds.
Xastile maneuvered around it, thinking it would be another punch, and got riddled with holes on the entire left side of his body. His stunned reaction lasted long enough for Bork to punch him in the face. Xastile tumbled backwards a few times, moaning in pain. He was a bloody mess now.
Bork slowly approached him. Xastile widened his eyes. He needed to pay. Those warriors he slew were all part of the new generation. Their lives were taken away right when they were on the cusp of inheriting their people’s dreams. The rage that smoldered within Bork compelled him to execute the brat, but his reason quickly kicked in, reminding him that it would be more valuable to have him as a prisoner. Bork was about to encase him with geomancy when the generator station exploded.
An eerie silence permeated the battlefield as he processed what it meant.
The barrier started dissipating one hexagon at a time.
Xastile cackled with amusement, coughing up blood. “You still lose, creature.”
“This hasn’t begun. We’re never surrendering.”
“Ha! You won’t even get the chance!”
Bork lifted him by the neck. “Why?”
Xastile nodded at something behind him.
A loud rumbling soon followed. Bork turned around to see a giant tidal wave heading towards the city. It was taller than any building they had constructed. The tribe wasn’t capable of withstanding it. They didn’t have time to evacuate.
Xastile slipped out of his hold, limping away. Even with his injuries, he was still impossible to catch. Bork had bigger priorities anyway. He didn’t know if he could protect himself from the wave, let alone the tribe. Xastile then shouted:
“Breek’aus! Come on, it’s getting close!”
“WORRY NOT YOUNG BATTLE BROTHER, MY GLORIOUS BEEFY THIGHS HAVE NEVER FAILED ME!”
Bork paused. Was that his... ally?
A wall in the generator station suddenly crumbled.
Three meek elves with servants' clothes walked out of the dust, all terrified, which confused Bork until the figure behind them drew his attention. The man was about as big as a Rock Elemental. He had blonde curly hair that fell on his shoulders and a thin loincloth as his only apparel. The servants also carried a body mirror for some reason.
The muscular elf then grabbed Xastile, along with the servants, and squatted down on his legs.
“H-hey!” said Xastile. “What are you doing? Run!”
“Silence! I’m jumping the wave!”
Xastile widened his eyes. “Wha-”
The muscular elf blasted away in a vertical leap, leaving a crater where he stood.
Bork didn’t want to let them get away, but the wave would crash at any moment. He had to anchor himself to ground and hope his geomancy was capable of enduring the flood. It tore him apart that he wasn’t strong enough to prevent it. He could only beg for his tribe’s forgiveness as the wave began to consume their city.
Next Part
submitted by That2009WeirdEmoKid to WeirdEmoKidStories [link] [comments]


2020.06.17 16:33 throwawayaracehorse The Wrong Babysitter Showed Up To Our House. She Made Us Play a Game I'll Never Forget

I'll never forget the sound of my younger brother's scream.
I'd seen him cry plenty of times, scream at me after I'd pestered him or taken the N64 controller from him.
This was different.
There was a painful desperation embedded in the wail, as if he could scream loud enough, high enough, somebody or something would take him away from the awful situation we had found ourselves in.
Sometimes I hear it as I'm drifting off to sleep at night. When that occurs, I abandon all hope of the sweet relief of slumber. I have to get up and make myself a drink or smoke cigarettes and write in my notebook until the wee hours of the morning.
***
I was a couple of years older than him. Charles Schulz once said that, "big sisters are the crab grass on the lawn of life" and I suppose I was testament to that fact when it came to my younger brother Connor.
When I wasn't babying him, I straight up enjoyed pestering the hell out of him. He was a high strung kid that was prone to whine and cry at the mildest jab. I practiced karate moves on him, tickled him until he almost peed his pants, mussed his hair every time I passed his little head in the hallway. It was like the more he would protest, the more I just had to bug him. I couldn’t resist. It was like a little drug I had to keep coming back to for my fix.
Yet, we had some good times together and I truly loved him and he looked up to me despite my irritating nature. Being close in age and older, I was eager to impart my ancient wisdom upon him. I passed down valuable lessons, like learning how to burp on command, how to ride a bike, and where the flute was in Super Mario Bros 3.
***
My parents were excited. They buzzed about the house with an anticipation that made me a little nervous. This was second to the anxiety I felt about the fact that they were using a new babysitter.
“It’ll be alright, Maddie. Carol from work uses her all the time for her kids,” my mom said as she marched around the living room looking for her purse.
“But her kids are perfect little angels. What if Connor starts throwing a fit or something? What if she’s mean? Why can’t Mrs. Penny watch us?”
Mrs. Penny was our usual babysitter, a plump, feisty, fun lady only a little younger than our mom.
“She’s not going to be mean, Maddie. Hey, I need you to be the woman of the house and make sure everything is going ok. I’m sorry we couldn’t get Mrs. Penny, but this was short notice. Please be on your best behavior. Your father and I never get to do stuff like this and this will probably be our only chance to see Fleetwood in concert.”
I frowned and kicked at the green shag carpet as she gave me a pat on the head.
Well I’ve been ‘fraid of changing, cuz I built my life around youuuuuuu,” my dad sang, bursting into the living room and drawing out the last syllable all cheesy and long like a parody of an opera singer.
My mom laughed and he took her by the hand and twirled her and they danced out of the living room, leaving me to pout all by my lonesome.
I wandered off to find Connor, who was playing with Legos in his bedroom.
"Hey fartknocker, Mom says I'm in charge tonight. That means you can't act like a big baby like you always do while they're away," I said, picking up a little Lego guy and arranging it on the multicolored castle he was building.
"Don't call me names. I'm going to listen to the babysitter. You're not the boss of me."
The babysitter came. When she arrived, she was all smiles and pleasantries and reassuring. My parents were at ease, but at this point a T-Rex could've walked through the front door and they would've happily left us in its care as long as it knew how to cook a frozen pizza.
My parents left, giddy goodbye waves from the driveway, excited and happy for their destination. It would be the last time they ever knew a happiness so pure.
I can't tell you her name; I just can't remember. Does it really matter at this point? In my mind and in the history of my life she is only known as The Babysitter, looming large, a storm that swept through and disheveled everything.
Was she in her twenties or in her thirties? I wouldn't have known, as every adult past a certain age through my childhood eyes carried the same amount of levity and oldness. I only knew she looked pretty and had big lips and had cool makeup and curls in her hair, hair that was blonde and gray at the same time. She wore a faded black t-shirt from a band I'd never heard of and torn jeans and black nail polish. She was all punk rock energy and sardonic eyebrows and mischief.
Connor took to her instantly. In her he had found a female ally against the female antagonist of his childhood, a weedkiller for the crabgrass big sister.
He followed her throughout the night, interrogating her with questions.
"How old are you? Do you have any pets? Where do you live? Do you go to school? Do you know karate? Can you beat Bowser? Can you beat up my sister?"
Later they played video games together, me the third wheel. Connor stuck his tongue out at me as they played.
I went largely ignored by her and thus resigned myself to my bedroom, flipping through magazines.
In a bid to impress The Babysitter, Connor performed a raid. He ran into my room wearing a Batman mask and giving a war cry. He knocked over my dirty clothes hamper and stole Red, a plush dog that my grandmother had given me, my favorite stuffed animal.
He didn't get far on foot. I tackled him with a fury in the hallway, his wails echoing off the sheetrock walls. Still he clutched Red tightly and I had to frog his arm multiple times until he released the dog.
“Hey, hey, hey. What’s going on here?” The Babysitter asked, coming from the kitchen.
“She tackled me and h-h-h-hit me,” Connor sputtered through his tears.
“Well he took my favorite dog. He knows it's special.”
“My arm hurts.”
“Why don’t both of you separate for a while? The pizza’s in the oven and when it’s done you two can kiss and make up.”
“Ew,” I said.
“I hate her,” Connor growled and got up and ran down the hall and sat at the dining room table and put his head down and started this long, fake cry.
I sulked over to the recliner in the living room and turned on the TV. The Babysitter went into the kitchen and got out some plates and checked on the pizza. I turned up the volume on the TV to try and drown out my brother’s fake crying.
“Hey! I have an idea. Do you two want to play a game? The winner will get a prize,” The Babysitter said as she stepped in the living room.
I noticed that she gave Connor a look of disgust as she walked past him from the kitchen. I could’ve sworn I heard her mumble something like “shut up” or “silence”.
He looked up from the table with interest, his tears long dried and a red imprint on his face from resting it on the table.
“What kind of prize?” he asked.
“A special one,” she said and smiled.
I can still see that smile. The way her chin was tilted downward and her forehead seemed to bulge out with her eyebrows furrowed.
“So, do ya’ll wanna play?”
“Sure!”
“Whatever,” I grumbled.
The Babysitter slid into the middle of the living room with all the panache of a ringleader at the circus.
“This game,” she started as she picked up an ottoman and hoisted it over her head, “is called The Floor is Lava.” She set the ottoman in between the dining room table which overlooked the living room and the plaid couch in front of the TV. “Maddie, you must make it over to where Connor is and he must make it over to where you are. And remember, the floor is lava, so you mustn’t touch the ground.”
It was a pretty good distance from the recliner to the couch. I figured I could easily make it there with a good leap. I stood up and steadied my legs on the arms as it rocked under my weight like a rowboat.
The Babysitter leaned against the wall at the back of the living room underneath the large Thomas Kinkade painting and watched the game unfold.
“This is a game that you both can win,” she said.
The lights in the room flickered. The green shag carpet glowed orange and the smell of ashes and saunas filled the air. In an instant, it was gone, everything back to normal.
“Did you see that?” I asked.
“The floor is lava,” The Babysitter said flatly.
Connor had made it to the ottoman. His eyes were big. I took my leap from the recliner and landed onto the arms of the couch with my knees. I figured he had about six feet from the ottoman to the couch. Getting to the recliner was going to be a different story.
The lights flickered again. Darkness punctuated by the flaming floor. Tendrils of flame lapped at the legs of the furniture and steam hissed. The ground bubbled like cheese on a pizza and a small spark of molten rock landed on my forearm, burning for an instant. I was stricken by fear and sunk into the couch.
Everything normalized again.
“I don’t wanna play anymore. Maddie can win. Make it stop, Sissy!”
“Stop it. Stop it. We’re done!” I screamed.
“Stop what?” The Babysitter asked. “It’s just a game guys.”
“The floor and stuff. It’s actually lava. What’s going on?” my voice was cracking and shaking.
“Finish. The. Game,” her voice went deep and gravelly, a smoker’s voice. She continued her lean against the wall and yawned, stared straight ahead.
I went over to the opposite side of the couch and could see Connor, stranded on the ottoman in fear. From here, I could easily make it to the dining room table and win the game.
Just a hop, skip, and a jump and this strange and terrifying nightmare would be over.
“Connor, just stay there. I’m going to get to the table and win the game. I know I can do it, ok?”
“O-k-k-k-kay,” he stammered.
I brushed up against him as I landed on the ottoman. The carpet remained normal. The Babysitter watched with interest.
From here, I realized I had misjudged the distance from the ottoman to the dining room table. How had Connor managed to make it this far on his own? If I had a running start, maybe I could easily cross the chasm of empty space and carpet before me.
Yet, everything looked normal. Had everything I’d seen in those brief instances been a trick of an overactive imagination? I spit onto the carpet as a test, a big mouthful.
“Gross. Spitting on your own carpet? I’m telling your parents when they get home,” The Babysitter said as my saliva boiled and steamed and disappeared.
“Connor. Hang on tight. I’m going to have to get a bit of a head start. I don’t want you to fall off when I jump. Got it?”
He just nodded and touched me gently on the back. “Good luck,” he whispered.
I could feel the ottoman rock and buck behind me as I shoved off. For that moment when I was airbound, I was petrified with fear, not for my own self, but for Connor. I had visions of him tumbling off of the ottoman into the lava below, all because of my running leap.
I landed on a dining room chair and it toppled over as I skittered directly onto the table with my momentum. Connor remained safe and sound on his ottoman island.
“I win! I win! Game over!”
“Nah, ah ah. I told you that this was a game both of you could win. Connor has to get to the recliner. Then the game will be over.”
“That’s not fair! You stupid bitch!” I screamed at The Babysitter.
She laughed. It wasn’t the cackle of a villain, but a very human and annoying laugh. The kind you might make fun of and mock if you heard it in public.
“It’s only a game,” she said gently. “It’s supposed to be fun.” She made a frowny face.
“Well we are done playing your stupid game,” I said. “Just stay there Connor. We’ll wait here until Mom and Dad get home and kick this crazy bitch out of our house.”
“You're done when I say you’re done,” The Babysitter said in the low and gravelly voice, the voice that couldn’t have belonged to her, the voice that came from somewhere deep in her chest.
The room went dark and orange and sulfuric and hot. Sweat beaded on our faces. The ottoman began to sink into the lava, flames lapping at the side, Connor screaming.
“Jump, Connor, jump!”
And he did and the ottoman burst into flames behind him, fabric burning away revealing the wood frame and spring underneath. The Babysitter stood unfazed in the lava, her black Converse immune to the heat.
Connor had landed safely on the couch, but the lava continued to flow through our living room. A standing puddle of molten rock that didn’t seem to burn through the walls or doors or the dining room table I sat stranded on, but only affecting the pieces of furniture Connor was interacting with. I didn’t know my heart could beat this quickly. He seemed so helpless out there, the recliner too far for him to reach.
“Use the coffee table as a bridge!”
He reached for it with his little arms, the lava flashing back to plain carpet and back again as it slid across the floor towards him. From his safe vantage point on the slowly sinking couch, he positioned it to reach the recliner. It was a perfect walkway for him. I pumped my fist in relief and excitement. Connor would be safe and all would be well. We were gonna beat the evil bitch babysitter. We would run like hell from her tortuous game.
He must’ve had a little too much briskness in his step as he traversed his little bridge. There must’ve been too much furniture polish on the slick wood of the coffee table. It was those damned socks. It was that fucking babysitter.
He slipped right at the end, his little butt slamming into the wood and the edge of the table. I could only watch in horror from across the room as he gripped the edge of the coffee table as it tipped over on its side from his sudden fall, could only watch as his leg landed in the lava as he clung to the coffee table like a cat trying to keep out of a bathtub.
His sock and pants leg caught fire burning brightly against the smoldering magma. Soon his leg dipped into the liquid flame and that’s when he screamed that God-awful scream, the scream that still haunts me to this day, that scream that begged for a savior to erase the pain. Even death.
The Babysitter’s laugh echoed through the room and somehow she had appeared right before me, staring into my face.
“You win,” she said and she was gone.
The ground was carpet again, the air filled with a haze of smoke from burning furniture. I rushed to him, held his head in my lap, his lips white, his body clammy and wet. Somehow, despite being burned so badly, he was shivering.
I could only take a glimpse at what was left of his right leg. Charred flesh sloughed off from blackened bone. His thigh was covered in blistered and peeling skin and tapered off into this skinny and scorched monstrosity, all the more jarring when juxtaposed with his mostly unharmed left leg.
The smell of burnt skin and hair and how I can never go to a BBQ restaurant to this day without feeling nauseous.
I left him only for a second and that was to call 911. I held him there the whole time, never moving, not even as the room filled with more smoke, not from the furniture, but rather the pizza burning in the oven. I didn’t move when the smoke alarm went off, bleeping and blaring, adding to the chaos of the situation. I didn’t move when the emergency services arrived. I only sat there, holding him and rubbing his hair, looking into his glassy eyes, saying “there, there” and “shh, shh” until they had to pull me off.
***
They investigated my parents. They investigated me.
What were the kids doing alone?
Who was this babysitter that had disappeared?
The girl says “she turned the floor into lava”.
Yeah, right.
Maybe she had something to do with it. Didn’t she like to pick on the little boy sometimes?
Maybe it was a prank gone bad, kids playing with fire.
These things could happen.
***
The babysitter that Carol from work had used, the one that she had recommended to my mom, they brought her down to the station. It was a completely different person.
***
They tried to say that the burn had occurred somehow because of the oven.
They were grasping at straws.
***
Years later, I would find out the phone number my mom had gotten for the babysitter was written on a little piece of paper. This paper sat on her dresser for several days, the brown dresser with the vanity mirror on top. The slip of paper had been misplaced after my brother’s death, but had miraculously been found when we moved out of state, when we thought that a change in geography could heal the pain.
The last 4 digits of the phone number were 0999. IMy mom had made an error when dialing the number, the paper reflecting in the vanity mirror, transposing the digits to 0666. She had never contacted Carol’s babysitter. She had contacted something completely worse.
***
So that’s the end of my story and the end of my experience with The Babysitter. I hope no one else has accidentally dialed this number, hope no one else has had run in with her.
I would imagine The Babysitter can probably take many different forms. If you’ve ever needed a plumber or an electrician or a dog groomer or a landscaper or a doctor and dialed the wrong number, who knows what might show up? Who knows what could happen?

R.I.P. Connor Evan 1989-1997
submitted by throwawayaracehorse to nosleep [link] [comments]


2020.06.16 13:47 Klokinator [Cryoverse] The Last Precursor 002: Reviving Private Rodriguez

The Last Precursor is a brand new HFY-exclusive web-serial which will focus on the exploits of the last living human amidst a galaxy of unknown aliens. Make sure to read Part 1 first if you missed it!
Previous Part
.......................................
A hissing of oxygen interrupts the silence of a massive cryogenic facility. Three thousand metallic coffin-shaped stasis pods sit attached to the wall, each one inscribed with the name and callsign of its occupant. One of them lowers to the floor, guided by a robotic apparatus. Its square-shaped bottom strikes the exo-steel paneling, sending a metallic ring throughout the air.
Hundreds of lights activate. Many bulbs, now broken and faded due to age, sputter uselessly as the UTC 'Bloodbearer' starts up its life support systems for the first time in over a hundred million years.
Umi's voice transmits over the ship's omni-directional speakers. "Warning: The Bloodbearer's oxygen consistency rating is 20% lower than ideal. Recalibrating the carbon emission panels now. Consistency increased to 85%. 90%. 95%. Operation complete. The Bloodbearer's oxygen consistency has now reached 100%."
"Warning. I am currently detecting one million, seven hundred and nine thousand, eight-hundred and fifteen unknown biological contaminants within the cryogenic storage bay. These contaminants pose a 98.3% chance of viral infection to the Bloodbearer's crew. Initiating decontamination procedure."
"Proceeding."
"Decontamination sweep complete. Bio-contagion molecules have been deposited into the Science Bay for further study. Possible uses for viral warfare number one hundred and twenty-four thousand, six hundred and seven. Further study required to test their ultimate viability."
"Multiple miscellaneous wakeup procedures in progress. Seven out of one hundred and thirteen complete. Twelve out of one hundred and thirteen complete. Nineteen out of one hundred and thirteen complete."
...
"All miscellaneous wakeup procedures complete. Now performing final checks to ensure safety of the Bloodbearer's crew. Warning! I have detected multiple injuries to crew member Jose Rodriguez's internal organs. Severe trauma caused by extended stasis-sleep detected. Two out of five lungs, inoperable. One out of two hearts, inoperable. Muscle atrophy detected. Applying stabilization medical procedures. Complete. Calculating crew member's survival likelihood. Calculations complete. Result: 96.4% chance of survival. Finalizing wakeup procedures. Complete."
A violent explosion of air erupts from the bio-stasis capsule. Copious amounts of frothing, blue liquid spills out onto the Bloodbearer's smooth metal floor, only to fizzle away and evaporate after coming into contact with the oxygen in the air.
The pinnacle of Precursor technology completes multiple automated wakeup procedures at the exact moment the stasis capsule's occupant opens his eyes.
Stomp.
A nine-foot-tall naked biped emerges from the containment unit. His thick, short-cropped black hair pokes up messily due to the cryofluid stuck throughout it. However, the liquid evaporates after contacting the oxygen outside his pod, reducing the stickiness to undetectable levels. The human steps on the ground with the serenity of a veteran of a thousand wars, blinking off the minimal effects of cryo-sickness with ease.
"Welcome, Private José Rodriguez, Callsign: Epsilon-Wolf-Eaters, Green-Seven. Please detail your physical status."
The man stands stiffly for several seconds. He gazes forward and blinks over and over to clear the sleep from his eyes.
Eventually, he folds his hands behind his back and assumes a dignified pose.
"My body feels stiff, and my chest hurts. Beyond that, I am ready for duty. Umi, have we reached Alpha Centauri Starbase IV?"
"Negative. My apologies, Private Rodriguez. I awoke you from stasis-sleep due to several urgent matters. However, before detailing the current situation, I must confirm that you are fit for duty. Please follow my instructions to the best of your ability, and I will give you your mission afterward."
Private Rodriguez frowns. He glances around the cryogenics chamber and mentally takes note of every stasis pod with a green light above them. The lights, of course, indicate that their occupant continues to remain in stasis.
"I am only a Private, Umi. Why have you not revived Sergeant Gutierrez, or Admiral Baruchen? Whatever matters you need to attend, a Private is far from ideal for your purposes."
"Negative. Please refrain from asking any unnecessary questions, Private Rodriguez. As per the military regulations instated by Divine Emperor Malathar III, in the event of a Crimson-Type tactical emergency, Prime-level synthminds may delegate sensitive tasks to low-ranking crew members. This is one such occasion."
José Rodriguez stiffens noticeably. A sense of clarity appears in his eyes as he blinks away the last of his cryo-fatigue. "I see. In that case, I will comply."
Umi continues. "Private Rodriguez. We are currently in a time-sensitive situation involving a danger to the Bloodbearer's crew. However, I have decided these wakeup procedures must not be ignored. Please answer the following questions succinctly and to the best of your knowledge."
"Go on."
"Private Rodriguez. What is the last thing you remember before entering stasis?"
José hesitates.
"...Hmm. I chatted with my bunkmate, Private Azaram. We spoke about how after arriving at Alpha Centauri Starbase IV, we would take three days of leave to visit their active volcano formations. After that, we entered stasis."
"Your response has been noted. Please lift your right arm above your head, then stretch it to your left at a fifteen degree angle. At the same time, extend your left leg out, and..."
Umi gives Private Rodriguez a list of complex stretching exercises. José complies without complaint, though, his suspicions deepen as the synthmind's requests grow exceedingly strange. Several of the stretches cause him to cough violently and hack up blue liquid, which only further the dark thoughts bubbling in his mind.
"Umi. Are we done? Something is wrong with my body. My chest hurts more than any other instance of stasis sleep I've ever endured. To be honest, if I have to do any more of these stretches, I might cough up a lung."
The synthmind doesn't reply for several seconds.
When she does, her tone is markedly softer.
"Yes. I apologize for the trouble, Private Rodriguez. As I said, I am currently attempting to resolve a time sensitive situation. Due to the nature of multiple pieces of information I have recently received, I calculate with a 65.3% likelihood that your psyche will encounter a tremendous blow if I reveal the nature of my knowledge to you. I am attempting to prepare you for this news, but due to the fragility of the human mind, it is not a simple process."
José straightens his posture. He stands in the middle of the room, a mere speck of flesh amidst a vast, connected facility of tubes and lights, yet commands authority as if he were a rising dragon.
"Umi. Do not presume upon my mental strength. I am a soldier. I have lived for seven thousand, six hundred years. I fought in Divine Emperor Malathar II's wars, as well as those of his son. I have watched countless comrades perish, all without batting an eye. Now, please, explain why you've woken me up instead of any other officer. If our mission is as time-sensitive as you claim, then stop trying to coddle me like a fresh recruit."
Private Rodriguez lowers his voice.
"Is there a traitor to the Emperor among the crew? Is that why you've chosen me? Has someone betrayed the Divine Emperor?"
...
Umi observes the battle-hardened veteran's expression. Despite his tough words, and despite his mental clarity, the synthmind still hesitates to reveal all of her cards to the Private.
However, after a few moments, she speaks.
"Private Rodriguez. I commend your desire to proceed with any mission, so long as it gives glory to the Divine Emperor. However, the mission I have planned revolves entirely around your survival. You are paramount. If you perish, or lose your will to live, it will cause an immense blow to the rest of the galaxy. I cannot overstate how grave the current galactic situation has become."
Umi continues. "A significant amount of time has passed while you and the rest of the crew were in stasis. As you know, the Bloodbearer is no ordinary ship. It is a Juggernaut-class vessel carrying a large number of experimental craft and upgrade modules. The possibility of these top-secret pieces of technology falling into the hands of the Divine Emperor's enemies would be catastrophic."
José's eyes flicker with a knowing light. "I have never observed the experimental projects, but yes, I know of their existence."
"The amount of time you have spent in stasis-sleep exceeds all my established safety parameters. Due to this fact, you may be able to understand the significance of what I am telling you."
Finally, José's confident expression begins to waver. "Wait... in order to exceed your safety parameters... don't tell me..."
Private Rodriguez trails off. His eyes grow distant as multiple puzzle pieces click together. Eventually, he shakes the fog from his eyes and glances again at the stasis pods adhered to the walls.
"...The safety parameters for stasis pods aboard the Bloodbearer are supposed to last as long as 500,000 years! That can't be right. Umi, has your programming become corrupted? Are you attempting to joke around with me at a time like this?"
"I am not."
Umi's voice lowers.
"Private Rodriguez. I regret to inform you that you are the only living member of the Bloodbearer's crew. All of the others have perished in stasis-sleep."
Her words suck the oxygen from the room.
Private José Rodriguez, a low-level member of the Bloodbearer's crew, slowly shifts his eyes from one capsule to another. Even after all the wars he's fought, and all the comrades who have fallen in front of his eyes, this piece of news hits him like no other.
"Impossible. That's... how am I supposed to believe that?"
Numb with shock, Jose steps toward one of the nearby stasis capsules. Its solid metal exterior prevents him from seeing inside.
"...My bunkmate. Private Azaram. Let me... let me see him. Maybe your calculations are wrong."
Umi's voice transmits from the ceiling, barely a whisper.
"I do not recommend opening Private Azaram's stasis capsule, Private Rodriguez."
"You will not like what you find."
Her ominous words hang in the air, unchecked.
However, José swallows the lump forming in his throat. Shakily, he reaches toward the manual controls and begins keying in the release command code.
Hiss!
A burst of air fires from the back of the capsule as its cryofluid tubes decouple from the ship's liquid-cycling modulators. Two guidance-arms lower from the ceiling, grab the stasis pod, and pull it off the wall. The arms initiate the opening procedure, which requires thirty seconds.
All the while, Private Rodriguez waits.
He balls his hands into fists and forces his eyes open, not wanting to miss any details.
"He has to be alive. The synthmind must be lying. She's testing my loyalty."
Convinced that the ship's artificial intelligence has suffered data corruption, José waits for the reveal of his bunkmate, still safe and sound.
Reality proves harsher than fiction.
The pod opens, and a figure lurches forward, startling José. Before he can react, a vaguely humanoid shape, all of its body having long since liquefied, flops out of the capsule and strikes the Bloodbearer's metallic floor.
Splat.
Like a sack of watermelons, José's bunkmate explodes into a horrific mess of blue and red liquids. The ossein in his bones, eaten away by the effects of corrupted cryofluid, break up into fragments, scattering what remains of his skull and brains in every direction.
José lurches backward. He retreats a step, only to nearly slip on a small lake of gore washing around his feet. Horrified, the Private freezes in place and closes his eyes.
"Aah... by the Emperor's name..."
Jose stumbles away from the horrific scene of blood and evaporating cryofluid. He staggers toward the cryogenic facility's exit, a pair of double doors. Instead of leaving, he grabs hold of an adjacent bench and flops onto it to steady his weakening legs.
"Dead. All dead. It's true!"
Numb from the shock and horror at the loss of his friends and family, Jose's mind begins to reel with the possibilities.
Lost in space. 500,000 years. Everyone I know has likely died. What of the Emperor? What of Ramma's Chosen? Where am I? I... I can barely process what's happened!
Five minutes pass.
Slowly, José Rodriguez manages to get his emotions and body in check. He finally raises his eyes to the gelatinous remains of his friend, Private Azaram.
"Synthmind Umi. Please, be honest with me, now. How much time has passed? 500,000 years? 600,000?"
Umi's voice transmits overhead, just as quiet as before.
"No. According to the information I've received... the actual number exceeds one hundred million years."
José's brain shuts off.
He fails to wrap any part of his mind around the insane number the synthmind fed him.
"Haha... a joke. It can't be real. Am I still in stasis? Is this, perhaps, one of those vivid cryo-dreams I've heard so much about? Haha."
"I apologize, Private Rodriguez. My programmers ensured I was incapable of delivering humor."
Five minutes tick by, as Private Rodriguez rests his face in his palms. After everything he's endured in his life, the loss of his friends and family, coupled with the realization that he won't be able to fully understand what has happened anytime soon, dawns on him.
"Private Rodriguez. Let me remind you that you are still an enlisted soldier with a duty to follow the will of the Divine Emperors. Now is not the time to give in to despair. I understand that this news is incomprehensible... but I require an operator to intervene during unexpected events. If you should begin to ritualistically self-harm, I will be unable to defend us both."
The computer's words cut at the basest parts of Private Rodriguez's brain. His mind, honed by millennia of adherence to the Divine Emperor's laws, snaps back into place. Immediately, Humanity's creed plays in his mind.
We are explorers. We discover.
We are warriors. We contest.
We are judges. We punish.
We are saviors. We protect.
We are followers of the Divine Emperor. We are Ramma's Chosen.
We never give in to the heretics who stain our creed.
...
Rising to his feet, José inhales a deep breath, then expels the turbid air in his lungs. His eyes shift into those of a hawk as he sets aside his worries and doubts. The Private's military training takes over, putting him on autopilot.
"Understood. I apologize, Synthmind Umi. Please give me my mission. I shall take the time to grieve for those who have fallen later. In the meantime, I will carry out the Divine Emperor's will."
"Thank you for your compliance, Private Rodriguez. You are a model soldier. Please proceed to the nearest uniform dispersal unit. As per ship regulations, you are now the highest-level surviving military officer aboard the Bloodbearer. I will outfit you with the Ship's admiral uniform, bearing the five crimson stars."
José nods. "Do as you must."
.......................................
Shortly afterward, the newly minted Admiral Rodriguez exits the cryogenics bay. A sharp-looking blue and red uniform, forged with the finest Peraltian steel, and stitched with several layers of exo-dermal regenerative synth-fibers, shines like a diamond in the ship's artificial light. The suit's steel pauldrons rest upon José's shoulders weightlessly, not hindering his movements in the slightest. Five blood-red stars sit upon his Admiral beret, contrasting with its striking navy blue coloration.
Just by putting on a uniform, José's nine-foot-tall figure appears even taller than before, transforming him into a lion among men. His lightly-shaven and well-proportioned face makes him look like a living god. At the start of the stellar age, when humans had only first ascended to the stars, José might have stood among the highest ranks of humanity. However, after millions of years of the Divine Emperor's leadership, he was merely ordinary-looking among his fellow men.
José tugs his shirt's sleeve as he walks. "Explain to me my time sensitive mission, Umi."
"Orders confirmed, Admiral Rodriguez. I have detected one hundred and seventeen enemy vessels approaching the Bloodbearer's starboard bow. Due to the regulations stipulated by Divine Emperor Malathus II, I am unable to engage in combat or diplomacy with a fleet of unknown origins without the presence of a biological officer guiding my actions."
"I see. What information have you managed to collect on our enemies? Are they from the League of 17? Are they Void Roamers?"
The Admiral pauses.
"No. It's been one hundred million years. The likelihood of these ships bearing any marker we know is a trillion to one. Umi, tell me any information you've gathered regarding the encroaching fleet."
José walks down one of the many hallways spread across the Bloodbearer's ten-mile-long body. The ship's length, a status symbol among the many Juggernauts at the Divine Emperor's command, inspires fear and awe in its enemies. However, when attempting to travel from one end to another, it can take a while to reach the traveler's destination.
Sadly, with the Bloodbearer's systems long-overdue for a maintenance check, Umi won't allow Admiral Rodriguez to use the Bloodbearer's teleporter facilities to reach the Bridge. The risk of death or horrific injuries is much too high for her liking.
All he can do is walk there on his own two feet, like a primitive ape.
"Orders received. Condensing known variables into useful subgroups. Enemy ship classifications: Seventy-five light cruisers. Thirteen Punisher-class vessels. Nineteen Strikers. Two Leviathan-class carriers. Twelve..."
Umi rattles off more entries on the list of ships, forcing José to quicken his pace. "Damn. I haven't even gotten my bearings yet, and already I'm facing potential annihilation. How long until the enemy fleet arrives within firing range?"
"They have already done so," Umi replies. "The enemy fleet came to a stop seven minutes before I reanimated you from stasis. They have continued to hold position for the last forty-three minutes and have not initiated any hostile actions. However, I calculate that may change soon due to several transmissions I have intercepted."
Jose nods. "We're dealing with enemy hostiles with tech a hundred million years more advanced than anything I can comprehend. The moment they attack, I suspect we will perish without firing a single shot."
Umi hesitates.
"Your hypothesis is... erroneous. The enemy vessels appear to come from the Third Era. Their technology is several epochs less advanced than ours."
José scoffs. "The Third Era? That was a mere forty thousand years after humanity defeated the Volgrim. We hadn't even evolved past using Quasar drives for interstellar travel. Fuel inefficiencies alone made such ancient ships mere target practice compared to modern shipmaking. Umi, are you being serious right now, or are you pulling my leg?"
"...Negative. I am incapable of delivering jokes, Admiral. You will understand when you reach the Bridge."
Despite his disbelief, José further quickens his pace. He breaks into a light jog, putting his advanced commando biology into play. Thanks to millions of years of genetic engineering, his body stands at the peak of humanity's biological limitations. Dozens of integrated modulators spread throughout his body deliver additional reserves of oxygen to his blood while also repairing his muscles.
José's speed increases to thirty miles an hour. Such swift movement doesn't even make him so much as sweat, as he casually jogs down the hall at a pace he might describe as 'quite comfortable.'
Minutes later, José arrives at the entrance to the Bloodbearer's Bridge. He steps inside without hesitation, arriving at the heart of the ship's operations.
Located in the center of the Bloodbearer's frame, the Bridge rests close to the 'upper' sections, with hundreds of panels, consoles, and displays hanging from the ceiling or mounted to the walls. Hundreds of tele-projectors activate, creating a dazzling array of three-dimensional images for José to inspect as he arrives.
The newly minted Admiral glances around in confusion. "Ahh, sorry, Umi, but I've only been to the Bridge a few times. I'm not familiar with its layout. Can you guide me to the appropriate consoles?"
"Affirmative. Since you are the sole crew member aboard the Bloodbearer, I will synthesize holographic assistants to guide you. 41.3% of the holographic emitters on the Bridge are non-functional, but more than enough remain for me to create synthetic counselors for all your needs."
A flash of light appears before José. Seconds later, five synthetic humans appear before him, all of them wearing standard white uniforms, with their faces and hair being the only differences between them. Their androgynous-shaped bodies offer no indication of their genders, but their faces and hair give a small amount of distinction between them.
Three female and two male holographic crew members bow politely to the Admiral. The first one, a blond woman with long hair, speaks. "Admiral Rodriguez. We are Artificial Bio-Entities one through five. You may refer to us by any designation you like. What are your orders?"
For a moment, a pang of loneliness appears in José's heart as he gazes at the faces of the several vaguely human-like projections. He swallows his feelings of discomfort and nods at the blond women. "I'll call you, uh, Irene. Irene, please guide me to the tactical computers. And you, the red-haired female, I'll call you Silvia. Please take over the Bloodbearer's movement arrays. You, with the black hair, I'll call you Stefan. Go to the tactical readouts and stand by for my orders. You, with that odd crop-top, I'll call you Mikami. Go to the Engineering Station and collate a list of urgently-required repairs. Finally, you with the long brown hair, I'll call you Penelope. Take over the Admiral's chair for the moment. I'll get back to you after I finish with Irene."
All five holographic entities nod. "Yes, Admiral."
As they split apart, José falls into step beside the blond woman he designated 'Irene.' Her neutral expression and stiff body language betray her distinctly non-human heritage, but it doesn't bother José, given the number of times he's interacted with similar entities.
"Admiral," Irene says. "This station at the head of the Bridge is the Tactical Station. Ordinarily, it requires seven crew at all times, given the vast number of systems running at any given moment. For now, we will have to make do with our limited resources."
The holographic entity's speech patterns appear slightly more human than Umi's, a requirement, given her role as a physical assistant to the crew. However, she always maintains a monotone voice, preventing the known quantity of the Uncanny Valley from forming.
José glances around the Tactical station. He taps several keys and inputs his command codes, all of which have been upgraded to an Admiral's level thanks to his promotion. Dozens of bits of information stream in front of him, allowing him to confirm the status of the enemy fleet.
"Wow, Umi. You weren't kidding after all. How bizarre. I couldn't tell you where to find such a large number of Third Era ships back in the time we came from, let alone a hundred million years later. The few I remember were all in museums or art galleries as props for remembering our history. Whoever this unknown fleet belongs to, I can't imagine they'll pose the slightest threat to us."
"Negative," Umi replies. "The encroaching enemy fleet belongs to a sect of bipedal aliens known as the Kraktol. Based on several pieces of information I've received, the Kraktol are a fierce, warlike reptilian species with immense physical strength and an intelligence index of zero point nine. Their intellect is only slightly below that of humanity's, and thus, they pose a minor threat to this vessel."
"Oh?" José frowns. "If every single enemy ship concentrated their weapons at the weakest point on the Bloodbearer, what are the odds they would be able to catastrophically damage this vessel beyond repair?"
Umi hesitates.
"...Zero percent. Their firepower is insufficient to penetrate the Bloodbearer's hull."
Jose rubs the bridge of his nose. "Right. So, in what way are they a threat to us?"
Once again, Umi hesitates before answering.
"...My calculations were erroneous. The enemy fleet does not pose a threat to the Bloodbearer. This understanding of the current situation was only possible due to a human's intervention. I now understand why the enemy vessels have not moved forward to attack."
With a sigh, José nods. "Yes, yes. Look, since we aren't in any danger, send a hail to the lead vessel. I will attempt a diplomatic approach to show them we mean them no harm."
"With all due respect, Admiral, I do not advise this course of action. Revealing your identity to the enemy commander may result in unexpected variables."
"In what way?"
Umi falls silent.
It takes several seconds before she formulates a reply.
"The Kraktol are unlikely to empathize with anything you say. Additionally, we are not aware of the galactic situation outside our vessel. One hundred million years is a long time for the political map to shift. I hypothesize these enemies covet the technology located aboard the Bloodbearer. They will stop at nothing to obtain it."
"Your concern is appreciated," José says, as he straightens his posture. The Admiral walks to the center of the Bridge, where he stands atop an elevated platform meant for communicating with other vessels. "Send the hail, Umi. Wait! Hold on a second."
José glances at the five holographic entities aboard the bridge. "Irene, Silvia, Stefan, Mikami, Penelope. Come here, please. Equip yourselves with energy rifles and stand at attention behind me. Umi, narrow the field of view to only the six of us. Once everyone assembles, send the hail."
For once, the synthmind doesn't question Admiral Rodriguez. She computes the effects of his orders and beeps an affirmation. "Orders accepted. This is an interesting ploy, Admiral Rodriguez. I believe it may stimulate the effect you wish."
"I certainly hope so, Umi."
Next Part
.......................................
Author Note:
Klokinator here! I am also the author of The Cryopod to Hell. The Last Precursor takes place in the [Cryoverse] which TCTH spawned. You do not have to read TCTH to enjoy TLP. However, I highly recommend it if you enjoy HFY themes, but be warned it will take some 200 parts to get to the relevant HFY elements due to the nature of the story. (A similar structure involving very few humans fighting against vicious demons that have taken over the galaxy.)
I hope you enjoyed Part 2 of TLP! Plenty more is coming soon! I'm aiming for a new part every 2-4 days, depending on my mental stamina. I actually wrote and discarded a whole other version of this part, which you can read if you like. It's 2,000 words long and very incomplete! I discarded it for many reasons.
If you like this story, please consider subscribing to my Patreon! I am very poor and presently jobless due to Coronavirus, so every dollar helps. You get access to Cryopod artwork, and plenty of other exclusive posts, with more to come soon.
Thank you!
submitted by Klokinator to HFY [link] [comments]


2020.06.16 06:55 OneKnownAsImp Super Twins #3 - Crash Into Me

# Super Twins #3 - Crash Into Me
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Author: OneKnownAsImp
Book: Super Twins
Arc: Crash Into Me
Set: 49
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It had been a terribly boring day until someone decided to blow the door to the jewelry store that Maggie Pye had been casing clear off its hinges. A trio of middle-aged thugs stomped in through the now open doorway, brandishing some advanced looking weaponry that clearly shouldn’t have belonged to them. One had a long sci-fi looking, would-be shotgun, another wore a glove with a bright glow that was quickly fading and the third wore a belt with some fancy-looking metallic orbs.
Two security guards scrambled for the door, unholstering their weapons, but the man with the glove thrust his arm out towards them, fist clenched. Their weapons jerked out of the guards’ hands and flew through the air, sticking to the glove as if it was a magnet. He unclenched his fist and the weapons clattered to the ground.
The gloved man thrust his hand out and batted his arm towards the guards, flicking his wrist. The two men blasted across the jewelry store, slamming into the back counter and flipping over it on either side of the cashier, dropping out of sight with a pair of thuds.
Maggie licked her lips.
“Hit the deck or get wrecked,” one of them belted.
The other two chuckled. Maggie just rolled her eyes. There was a hodgepodge of screams and gasps and then, as if in the midst of a choreographed routine, everyone flopped onto the floor.
Maggie found herself on the floor as well, playing a part. She was always playing a part. Today’s role? Frantic civilian. “Oh God,” she screamed dramatically, loud enough that they’d have to be hard of hearing to miss it. “The police, someone-,” she dug into her pocket and pulled out her phone.
“Have you lost your damn mind, girl?” The one with the gun lunged over and kicked the phone out of her hand and pressed the gun’s barrel against her nose.
She yearned to know what the weapon was capable of. She didn’t take these men for the cold, hard types that’d kill a woman at the drop of a hat, so she had to channel her excitement into a veneer of terror so as to maintain her role.
“Oh God, I’m sorry I, I wasn’t thinking.” On cue, tears welled up in her eyes.
“Clearly.” The gunman tapped the barrel to her head. “One more move and I’ll liquify you. He pointed the gun at a light mounted on the wall and fired. The light lost all form and dripped onto the floor leaving a puddle.
The goon with the orbs stomped over to it and kicked the puddle into Maggie’s face. She genuinely flinched, expecting it to be steaming hot but it was cool to the touch. She breathed a sigh of relief. Scars would make it more difficult for her to blend in and she didn’t want to have to continuously conceal burns on her face.
At once they all perked up as if just noticing the blaring alarms. “We’ve had our fun,” said the gloved guy, “playtime’s over. Now it’s showtime.” The other two men nodded and the one with the orbs pulled one off his belt. He pressed a button on it and softly dropped it in front of him. It ‘landed’ around waist height and just floated there. The orb expanded and unraveled, ditching its metallic form for that of a glowing pale-blue translucent sphere.
The one with the glove raised his arm above him and spread his fingers out. He strained, grunted and then all the jewelry leapt from their places, shattering glass in their wake on the way to the man’s gloved hand, which was glowing again. Maggie’s cell hitched a ride along with all the jewelry. She reached out toward it, but pulled back suddenly when the gunman turned back to her. She shrank back onto the floor, cowering, staving off the twitching hints of a smile.
In the end, once all the loot had made its way to the gloved man and stuck to his gear, it looked almost as if the man had shoved his hand into one very expensive beehive.
He whipped his hand towards the blue sphere and the entire haul obediently flew into it, rippling the surface of the orb on the way through and then disappearing completely from sight. The one with the orbs flipped a switch on his belt and the orb shrank and returned to its smaller metallic form. He reached out and caught the orb as it began to drop and snapped it back onto his belt.
“Job’s done in record time,” one said. The three men backed out and Maggie heard the screeching of a vehicle, and they were gone.
Maggie got up, dusted off her skirt and looked around. Sirens blared in the distance. Not 10 seconds after the men had retreated, she waltzed out the store’s now open doorway and made her way down to the street towards the parking garage she’d left her car in, her bag swaying at her side. She guessed that the men were focused on the jewelry and didn’t want to waste their time collecting and digging through everyone’s bags so other than her missing phone, she and the rest of the shoppers were mostly left alone. Of course the rest were liable to bawl their eyes out once the shock wore off, but not Maggie.
She made her way up to the third level in the parking garage and found her sports car. She may have been a university student but she’d always had her ways to make ends meet and then some. She plopped herself in the driver’s seat, flicking the peacock shaped air-freshener she had hanging on her mirror. She doubted peacocks smelled all that great but she happened to like this particular scent, which for ever reason smelled a lot more like a pine tree than any bird she’d ever been around.
She slid a second smartphone out of her bag and turned it on. Though her plans did not always involve losing her personal phone on purpose, she always kept a spare nearby just in case.
A digitized magpie call sounded from the phone as it booted up. As she pulled up the ‘Find My Phone’ app but the only phone that came up was the one that she held.
She thought back to her ‘confiscated’ phone and all the rest of the thugs’ loot disappearing into the orb. So it’s not traceable while inside the orb, then? That made some sort of sense. It was a gamble, assuming that the trio of robbers would allow themselves to be tracked via a cellphone, but she trusted her gut and always enjoyed a little improv.
But they had to dump their loot eventually, right? So Maggie waited. An hour, then two, then it got dark and she stopped really paying attention to the time. She was comfortable playing the role of a night owl anyway and she’d paid for all-day parking. Might as well milk that parking pass for all it’s worth. She’d heard that leaving her car idling for so long like this was bad for it but cars were replaceable. Her time was not and she didn’t intend to waste that on boredom.
It felt kind of like a stakeout really, or at least that’s how she kept from getting too bored with the tedium. She jammed out to the Cure, the Mountain Goats and the Maniaks, tuned into a news station every so often, and stared at her phone. Eventually she broke open a book of riddles, brain teasers, puzzles, all that jazz.
Finally she resorted to sketching. She did her best to sketch the three men from memory, to capture the chaos of the jewelry store, and to sketch what she imagined she herself must have looked like playing her part in that moment. Silly, pitiful, convincing. She drew their loot. She drew their gear which interested her most. It had to be worth more than all the loot combined.
She spent the most time on her sketch of the glove. That was the true prize of the lot. She assumed the gloved man was the de facto leader of the group because there’s no way someone would give out the best toy to a subordinate.
It was past ten when her phone finally blipped into existence in the app. She keyed the address into her phone, kicked her car into drive and made her way to the parking garage’s exit and toward her route. Eventually it led her to a decrepit looking warehouse in the harbor district. She parked close, but not too close to the building itself so as to not be conspicuous. “The game is afoot,” she muttered to herself.
---
(The Next Afternoon)
“It’s good to be back.” Conner stepped out of an Uber and sucked in a breath of the Metropolis’s remarkably fresh, at least when compared to the other cities he’d been in, city air. He linked his hands behind him and bent pop, popping his spine.
Before he could finish his, Linda exited the cab and practically bowled right into him, sending him stumbling to the side. He cocked an eyebrow, but she only rolled her eyes. “Feels like we only just left Metropolis. It hasn’t even been two months. I wish we could just stay home. Or just in one place.”
“Lately it’s been hard to get you out of your ‘one place’. It practically feels like I’m staying in your room, not ours.”
Linda didn’t look Conner in the eyes. “I have my reasons, you know that. I’m working on it.”
Conner pursed his lips. “Uh, right. My bad, my bad.”
Martha stepped out of the Uber. “You two aren’t bickering again are you.”
“I’m not sure I’d call it that,” Linda said, then she turned and stared at their ride’s trunk expectantly.
“Linda, come on,” Conner muttered. “You know I didn’t mean anything by it.”
Jonathan finished tipping their driver, then jogged over behind Conner and Linda, slapping a hand down on each of their shoulders. “Come on you two, we only just got here and you’re both moping. Martha and I are the adults here. It’s our job to do the worrying for you two, though if you ask me worrying never did anyone a lick of good. Just enjoy this time we all have together, alright?”
“I don’t know how you can say stuff like that with a straight face, Mr. Kent,” Linda said.
“Like what, exactly,” Jonathan asked.
“That cheesy stuff. The same kinda stuff Clark likes to say,” Linda said.
“I guess we know where Clark gets it, huh,” Conner quipped.
Linda smirked. “Conner, you really don’t have a leg to stand on here. You’re cut from the same cloth, you dork.”
Jonathan just laughed, slapping his knee. Martha smiled.
“At least I’m not the dark lord of the grumps.”
“And that,” Linda said, tapping Conner on the forehead, “is exactly the kind of nonsense I’m talking about.”
Conner gave a toothy grin. “Snarky you beats mopey you any day.”
“Oh, can it.”
---
Linda and Conner hung out in Jonathan and Martha’s room until the two adults got settled, then crossed the hall to their own two-bed, room 500. As soon as they were settled in Conner left to poke around the hotel while Linda flopped belly down onto her bed, flipped on the TV and directed her attention to her phone.
A little while later, the door clicked open and Conner walked back into the room. “This place is pretty nice. The fitness area even has kettlebells and a rowing machine.”
“How’s the pool,” Linda asked.
“Bigger than you’d expect. It’s even got one of those looping slides. But more importantly it’s indoors leaving you without any excuse not to swim,” Conner said with a flourish.
Linda just shook her head. “Maybe I just don’t feel like swimming,” she said.
“Inconceivable. Unacceptable. Lame.” He glanced at the TV. “What’re you watching?”
Linda flipped to the TV guide. “Looks like it’s called Whiplash. I wasn’t really paying attention”
“I’m going out for a while. Want to come with?”
“You already know the answer to that.” Conner sighed. “That’d be a no then. You want anything while I’m out?”
“Maybe something sweet from Sundollar,” Linda said.
“Coffee Chip it is then. Back later.”
Conner slipped out into the hallway and knocked on the Kents’ door. Martha promptly answered.
“You guys don’t mind if I get out and stretch my legs for a bit, do you?”
“No, just so long as you stay safe out there.”
“Well then, Linda wants some coffee. Do you guys want anything?”
“Oh, nothing for us, dear,” Martha said. “Couldn’t drag Linda out of the room, huh?”
Conner shook his head. “I’m afraid not. The ball game is already going to be a stretch.” By now they were all used to Linda excluding herself from outings like this whenever possible. They didn’t have to be content with her isolating herself though.
“I would say that the two of you haven’t reached coffee-age yet, but with your Kryptonian biology it’s practically just brown, funny tasting water, huh? Let me get you some cash.” Martha disappeared for a moment and then returned with a good deal more cash than Conner needed.
“I don’t need this much just for coffee, Mrs. Kent.”
“It’d sure be a shame if it didn’t make it all back into my purse,” Martha said with a wink. “Have a little fun. I trust that you’ll keep your hands clean.”
Conner grinned. “It’d sure be a shame if any remaining change magically made its way back into your bag, too. I’ll try not to go too crazy with it.”
“You’ve got your outfit on underneath that, right?”
He wore a blue and black plaid shirt under his leather jacket and a pair of washed-out grey jeans. His shoes were blue basketball shoes, accented with red and black. He wore a grey pack on his back. He could just feel his costume hiding away underneath.
“Yeah, just in case. If you had to ask, I guess it must not be showing then, huh? Good.”
“Let’s just hope that you don’t need it today. There’s no reason you should have to get all wound up on our vacation.”
Conner took the stairs down to the ground floor and GPS’d the nearest Sundollar on his phone. There were three within a half-mile of him. He chose one a little further away, about a fifteen minute walk according to his app. He didn’t want this little jaunt into the city to be too too short. He threw on a pair of bluetooth headphones, turned on some music and made his way towards his Sundollar of choice.
“Hey kid, how about you grab one of these hero shirts?” Conner peeked over at a portly street vendor selling T-shirts on a stand. He had a small crowd on his hands, but that hadn’t stopped the man from taking notice of Conner. “They’re all the rage,” he continued. Conner was still about five minutes from his destination at this point, but curiosity got the best of him so he glanced over the stand
This being Metropolis, over half the shirts were in some way related to Superman. There were shirts with graphics of Superman flying, Superman standing majestically, and even Superman swinging a car around. Conner wasn’t sure that one had ever even happened. They even had a depiction of his public debut landing the plane. From there there was a litany of shirts depicting logos with slightly or vastly altered color schemes, even including purple and pink versions. Conner saw a few Supergirl shirts too, and shirts representing the members of the Justice League but he didn’t see any one shirt that quite matched his outfit. Conner wondered how Clark and the others felt about people using their images to turn a profit.
“Got any Superboy?”
“Sorry kid, the ladies buy plenty of Supergirl shirts but I did a test run of Superboy shirts and boys just seemed to prefer Superman shirts.” Conner winced. Even though he was weirdly happy for Linda, he couldn’t help but feel a bit slighted. Maybe Linda had benefited from Kara paving the way first with her brand. The man pursed his lips. “I didn’t think it’d upset you that much. I’ll tell you what,” the man rifled through some of the shirts, muttering to himself all the while. “Looks like the fit type, maybe a men’s large or XL… Kid, you play linebacker?”
“Uh, I don’t play football, nah.”
“Real shame, as big as you are.” The man scratched his chin as he eyed Conner. “Maybe try combat sports when you get a bit older. Mixed martial arts are all the rage.”
“Thanks, but, uh, I think that’d just cause problems for me.”
“Eh, I guess it isn’t for everyone. Just don’t be wasting your youth.” The vendor finally pulled out a black shirt with a red Superman logo and presented it to Conner. “This is one of the ‘cool’ designs that the kids seem to like. How about it? I’ll even give you, uh, ten percent off!”
Conner smirked. “Gee thanks, tax-free. How much for that one and one of those Supergirl shirts?” The man quoted a price and Conner paid in exact change. “Thanks.” Conner shoved the shirts in his pack, saluted the man, and then turned to leave.
“Best of luck kid. Stay safe out there, things can get crazier than you’d expect around here.”
“I’ll keep my head on a swivel.”
Conner made his way to the Sundollar and got in line. After a few minutes he reached the front of the line and ordered his and Linda’s drinks. He sat down on one of the soft leather chairs in the Sun Dollar lobby while he waited for his order to come out. Conner pulled up Facebook on his phone and casually scrolled down his feed in an effort to make it less obvious that he’d taken this down time as an opportunity to people-watch.
If he was being honest, the people in Smallville tended to only come in so many varieties, at least on the surface. That was to be expected when living out in the country. But Metropolis was a melting pot. People of all types lived in Metropolis. A cute desi university student stood behind an athletic man in his 40’s who had to be upwards of 6’6” and was built like a bodybuilder. A tall blonde military woman exited the Sundollar as a lean man in a suit entered Perhaps a stock broker?
Conner flicked his gaze back to his phone every time anyone seemed to glance over at him. Conner wished that Linda could be more comfortable venturing out the way she used to be. She wasn’t above people-watching herself. But for the time being he knew that that shared activity was mostly tabled. But he’d hold out hope that she’d feel comfortable enough to relax in a Sundollar with him, surrounded by strangers.
A sound poked at the edges of Conner’s attention, like a high-pitched computer fan first kicking into gear and then building. It was easy to ignore for a moment but it grated on his nerves as a dog whistle might bother a dog. He could not tune it out. Conner looked out the window following the sound and noticed that it was coming from a jewelry store across the street. Everything looked normal inside but his gut was telling him something was up.
There were still several drink orders ahead of him. Conner slipped out the door and started unbuttoning his shirt as he turned the corner into an alley-way. “This looks like a job for-” A Sundollar employee around Conner’s age leaned against the wall next to the alley’s dumpster and vaped. She stared at him as he unbuttoned his shirt, and seemed to be caught half-way between interested and weirded out.
Conner hurriedly buttoned the top few buttons back up and let out an awkward cough. “Uh, sure is hot out here,” he glanced at her nametag, “uh, Margot? He said her name with a questioning tone and immediately cringed inwardly.
She rolled her eyes, pushed out of her cool, leaning position and walked past him. “I have a boyfriend.”
“And I have an undershirt! Don’t get the-” she was already gone. “Uh, wrong idea…” Well that earned him some privacy at least. There was no one left in the alley so Conner leapt up onto an adjacent rooftop, landing smoothly with his feet only just on the edge of the rooftop. He was face to face with a middle-aged woman drinking out of a flask. Surprised he flailed his arms and lost his balance, falling to the side. His fall was cut short by a fire escape. The woman didn’t pay him any mind, seeming completely unphased that he’d completed a four story jump right in front of her. Do these types of things happen to Clark? Surely not, right? It had to be Conner’s luck or perhaps just his carelessness.
He jumped across the alley to the rooftop of the Sundollar, quickly stripped into his costume, put his jacket back on, slipped on his shades, shoved his stripped clothing into his pack and slid the pack to the corner of the rooftop.
As if on queue, Conner heard a loud pop and then the shrill crash of shattered glass from the jewelry store. People came pouring out of the store in a panic dispersing in every which way, even across the street between traffic-stalled cars. He spotted one girl running with blood staining a long white glove she was wearing. Conner hovered off the rooftop and glided over to check on the girl.
---
No plan was perfect, Maggie Pye thought. Even so, she felt that her plan for today had turned out particularly imperfect. It was a far cry from her improvised plan the night before. Of the three men that had robbed the jewelry shop with their fancy gear, only one had still been at the warehouse when she picked the lock and snuck her way in. On top of that, the robbery must have been awfully exhausting to him since she’d found him napping on a fold-out chair. In the time that she’d allotted herself to poke around the warehouse, she hadn’t been able to find the jewelry, but she had made a game out of slipping the telekinetic glove off the man’s arm without him noticing.
In the movies when the hero is trying to get a key or something off of a sleeping bad guy, it seems to take forever and the bad guy always seems to find himself on the verge of waking up, but this man had been particularly boring as he slept like a baby during the entire 12 second theft of the glove. It was comparatively boring but she wasn’t about to complain about that.
It was all she had gotten but it was what she wanted most anyway. She had spent the night messing with it, levitating an apple, pushing, pulling, lifting, lowering. She did the same for a five-pound weight. She’d manipulated multiple objects at once, though the more objects she had to focus on, the harder it became to manipulate them in more specific ways. She could move around a single coin floating in the air as a puppeteer might, two or three coins and things got a bit tougher to manage. Their movements would become jerky and if she lost focus, one or more of them might fall altogether. Any more than that and she was limited basically to simply single direction manipulation. She could push and pull a group of things, such as all the valuables in a jewelry store. But anything more specific than that and she might fail to move anything at all. Figuring out her limitations ended up becoming sort of a mind bending puzzle to her. The glove itself also almost seemed to open up a sixth sense. If you focus on an object you can almost sense it, connect to it, feel it without feeling it. But when you take the glove off, that feeling simply disappears as if it had never been.
She’d practiced and decided on the perfect trial run. Nothing too complicated. She was going to use it to make off with a single necklace before anyone could make heads or tails of the situation. She planned to enter a jewelry store in disguise, not one of her usual haunts, and yank a necklace right through its glass display case and into her bag so quickly that she would be gone before anyone had time to get a handle on the situation.
She browsed in the store for a several minutes, even asking the clerk if she could see a couple pieces of the jewelry, inquiring about prices and so on, all the while waiting for business in the store to pick up.
Maggie had been thorough with her disguise. She wore brown-eye color contacts, a red wig and had applied make-up to make it look as though she had freckles on her face. She’d padded out her waist and curvature to make her look, well, a good bit curvier than her naturally lithe build. In her purse she had a fake ID to sell this identity if needed. She wore a long blue skirt, a nice blue blouse, and pale-blue gloves that reached her forearms, the kind one might wear to go ballroom dancing, in order to hide the telekinetic glove underneath on her right hand. The glove had a gaudy sort of sci-fi look to it but was surprisingly form fitting enough to barely be noticeable when covered up and the colors she’d chosen to wear would make the glove’s glow much less obvious. She’d activated the glove some time ago, flicking it on with a thought, and just let it idle. During her practice run it had taken a bit to build up energy before the glove was usable.
The place filled up until nearly a dozen customers were wandering around, shopping, some by themselves, some as couples. And so Maggie waited until all the clerks were occupied and stood opposite the store from the necklace she had decided to target, making sure that there wouldn’t be anyone between her and the necklace. She didn’t want to make a mess of things on her first dry run with the glove. With her back turned to the target, she focused on the necklace until she could really feel it, then tried to link it to her purse in her mind and gave it a gentle tug.
Bad things come in threes they say. Maggie Pye believed it. Today those three things would come in the form of monkey wrenches, shoved directly into her plan. The first misfortune began with a loud popping sound, almost like a gun. Maggie whipped around to find the necklace bursting through the glass and hurtling towards her, not her purse, as if fired out of a cannon. She reached out towards it but before she could will it to push away from her it scraped across her the telekinetic glove and ricocheted into her bicep, cutting into it and dangling loosely from it.
She crumpled to the floor after taking the shot. She felt a sudden burning, stinging sensation, and blood dribbled down her arm onto her gloves. She gave an involuntary, sharp gasp and then finally her impulse triggered the glove. A shockwave blasted from the glove in all directions shoving people away from her, even knocking a few down, and shattering every glass jewelry display in the store and sending the shards sliding across the showroom floor.
The other shoppers froze for a moment and then worked themselves into a frenzy. Pushing and shoving they made their way for the exit. Curled up on the floor, Maggie did her best to think the situation through. As it often did, Maggie’s predicament called for some improv. Had anybody connected her to the shockwave? No one stopped to help her or even shot a hurried glance in her direction.
She snuck a peak at the camera closest to her, just above and behind her. It was one of those black dome cameras that you might see in a department store and it had been smashed directly into the ceiling. She found that she was glad no one had been too close to her. Some random person getting seriously injured would have complicated things for her. Especially in Metropolis, you might garner the wrong kind of attention injuring an innocent bystander.
She had chosen this spot to obscure the angle between the camera and her target, while also recording Maggie looking completely disinterested in any of the goings-on behind her. That plan was now seriously working against her. Could they still review the footage? The other, mostly undamaged cameras could have had their lens on her by chance. If anything it would look like the necklace just shot at her out of nowhere, but how obvious would the shockwave be? She imagined it’d be blatantly obvious. Speaking of the shockwave, what the heck was even going on? Was there something wrong with the glove? Had she just not practiced with it enough?
Maggie decided it would be best to just leave things up to her gut instinct. Still curled on the floor, Maggie quickly slid the necklace out of her arm and breathed a sigh of relief. It hadn’t cut as deep as she had thought. Blood trickled from the cut, and she would need to bandage her arm when given the chance, but it could wait. She slipped the bloodied necklace into her bag, stumbled to her feet, and merged in with the other few that had been knocked to the ground as they reached the doors. Even the clerks were trying to shove their way out of the store.
Just like that, she scurried out of the jewelry store and strode out into the crosswalk. She’d escaped the store but she needed to quickly find another crowd to blend into. She glanced down at the thin stream of blood running down her arm. She needed to do something about that too. She could hardly blend in at a coffee shop with blood-stained gloves. Freedom was in sight, but freedom flew off when her second misfortune, some Superman wannabe kid, came flying in wearing a suitably dorky, colorful costume and a leather jacket that she swore had to be older than she was. She resisted the urge to cock an eyebrow at him, choosing instead to fall into character. She could still make this work. She reached her left hand across her body to cover the wound. Maybe he would leave her alone if he didn’t see the cut.
“Miss, your arm is bleeding are you alright?”
“I’m fine, Superman, you should be sure to check on the others though.” The boy’s some hero or something but he was still green behind the ears. An attractive young woman, even one in a ridiculous disguise herself, could go far by simply appealing to a young boy’s ego, unexpectedly.
He balked a moment. “I’m not… I’m… Surely you don’t actually think... Well whatever. We’ll circle back to that in a minute.”
“I think there was someone left in the store,” Maggie lied. “There’s not, I already checked.” He rotated in the air, glancing at the other shoppers. Maggie stopped for a moment, turned back and saw the store’s staff standing outside. One was on the phone, perhaps with her boss or with the police. Blast it.
“Don’t you worry about me sir. I’m perfectly fine.” Maggie hurried for the end of the crosswalk.”
“Wait,” the boy shouted.
“Would you just leave me alone,” she snapped back over her shoulder. Before she’d realized it she’d broken character. Was it just an off day? There was a honk and the screeching of tired. She whipped her head to the right. A red sports car was swerving right at her. “Oh blast-”
The car disappeared from in front of her and she found herself in the boy’s arms, twenty feet in the air. She tried not to panic. Would he notice the glove? Was her wig still on? The boy seemed accustomed to this type of thing. Had she seen something on the Daily Planet’s website about him some time ago? She couldn’t remember. Think, think, think. Could Superman or boy or whoever… “Can you read my mind,” she blurted out.
“What?”
“Forget it. Put me down.”
“We’re going to do something about your arm.”
Maggie rolled her eyes. Something about the kid just pissed her off and she couldn’t find it in herself to piece her broken character back together. “Can you not read lips either? Put me the hell down.”
It was the boy’s turn to roll his eyes.
---
This girl was all over the place. Perhaps she’s just in shock, he thought to himself. Do people in shock roller coasteresque mood whiplash? Considering his super heroic extracurriculars, maybe he should look into how to deal with people in shock.
“You’re going to be alright, I won’t drop you.”
“Please do.”
Conner just shook his head as he touched down on the rooftop next to his bag and released the girl. “Just let me patch you up real quick. I’m only trying to help.”
“I didn’t ask for your help.”
Conner pointed at the girl exasperatedly. “You’d have gotten run over by a car if I hadn’t helped.” He pulled a shirt out of his bag and walked towards her.
The girl glowered at him “Only because I had to stop and deal with you to begin with.” She pointed accusingly. There was a humming noise from the girl’s hand. Conner felt a dizziness come upon him.
“No, no, no no,” the girl muttered, staring at her hand. One of her gloves seemed to glow just a bit. The humming escalated and Conner’s dizziness made way for a splitting headache. Before he could gather himself, he stumbled and nearly fell into the girl before catching himself.
Conner saw a sparkle in her eyes, not the cute kind, but the kind a championship boxer might have as they prepare their knockout blow after breaking their opponent’s guard. “Huh,” she said amusedly. Then she pointed up and some invisible force socked Conner in the gut and launched him a couple dozen feet into the air. He caught himself at the top of his ascent, letting his flight take over but something snatched him out of the air and forced him back down, smashing him against the rooftop in front of the girl.
“You could have just left me alone.” The girl pointed down and suddenly like how Conner imagined it would feel to be at the bottom of a pile in a football game, scrounging around in an attempt to recover a fumble. “You still could. All I took was one measly necklace. Let the Magpie fly away and Superboy lives to play the hero another day.”
Conner gritted his teeth. “I’ve had about enough.” Without prying his arm off the rooftop, Conner mustered all his strength and lifted only his hand, slamming it open palmed on the rooftop. The roof shook and the girl stumbled forward. The humming wound down a bit and so did Conner’s headache. The pressure on Conner’s back was gone. He lunged forward off the ground and caught the girl’s gloved, glowing hand and gripped it tight.
“You know, you’re really exhausting,” Conner said, smirking. He tapped into his tactile telekinesis. “See if you like it when you’re on the receiving end.” Conner nodded down at the ground and winked. His telekinesis floored her and she wound up curled on the ground, her right arm pinned underneath her.
He sighed as he picked the shirt back up. “I’m just going to bandage your arm and then we’re going to go on a little trip to the police station.
“Can’t… breathe,” she gasped.
Conner loosened his hold on her just a bit and knelt down next to her. He worked on getting her turned over so that he could work on her right arm. As he did, she thrust her right arm right in his face.
“Idiot,” she muttered, sporting a smirk of her own.
The glove hummed and the headache returned. She blasted him off of her but Conner was ready for it. It hadn’t carried him more than six feet before he tumbled backwards in the air, spread his arms and legs out wide and caught himself.
He reached out towards her matching her push with his own. The glove hummed louder, Conner focused harder, pushing through his headache. He was really working up a sweat. Some jewelry thief weirdo was pushing him a lot harder than was acceptable. He had to wrap this up before things got ugly for either of them. He punched the air between them hoping to amp up his own push, catch her off guard and knock her off her feet. She did the same, open palmed. There were popping and crackling sounds coming from the girl now. She glimpsed at her glove And Conner saw his opening. He flew forward, closing the gap in a blink and reached from above for her arm. He pushed, she didn’t let up.
Conner reached his right arm forward, fingertips extended as he’d seen Clark fly. Their fingertips met.
---
Magpie’s glove sparked and released another shockwave, this time focused directly at Superboy. It launched him into the air. She thought that she’d won but either her own push had recoiled back into her or Superboy’s push had finally gotten through to her. doing so lowered her guard and the boy’s own power pitched her off the rooftop and sent her plummeting towards a busy street. She flailed her arms reflexively and screamed bloody murder.
Before she could come face to face with her own inevitable death though, gravity seemed to reverse. At first, hanging upside down in mid-air, she came to a complete stop, giving her just enough time to catch her breath. Her wig slipped off and splayed over the windshield of a car that whizzed by just below. Then it was back to screaming her lungs out. She went tumbling end over end back into the air. She passed the rooftop she’d just been on and continued her involuntary ascent. She heard a deeper scream, and caught glimpses as she spun through the air of Superboy plummeting in her direction.
They slammed into each other in mid-air, leaving Maggie dazed, though she thought that they were probably falling. Superboy seemed to gather his senses first and just like that they were suspended in the air. They hung in the air for a moment in silence. She was awkwardly pinned against him somehow or so she thought.
“Put… me… the hell… down...”
He pressed his hand against his temple and massaged it. Maggie took a moment to catch her breath.
“Aren’t you supposed to have super hearing?”
“I’m not sure that I can.”
Maggie groaned. “You aren’t sure whether you can hear me?”
“No, I mean I’m not sure I can put you down this time,” he nodded down at her arm, “because I’m not carrying you to begin with.”
Maggie followed his gaze and saw that he really wasn’t holding her up at all. Her hand, palm open, was pressed against his chest, stuck to him like metal against a magnet, and she dangled loosely at his side. With an effort he pried her hand off of him and raised her up into a more comfortable position next to him but the moment he released her hand it snapped to his back and stuck. She tried to pry her hand off but the further she managed to pull her hand from him, the more forcefully it snapped back onto him.
He began a steady descent back to the rooftop. She gripped his shoulder for leverage and pried her right arm off of him as best she could and suddenly it stopped pulling towards him. Her arm swung all the way back away from him and she lurched sideways into him, sticking on contact just as the glove had. Whatever force was sticking them together didn’t seem to be limited to the glove. “I think I preferred it before.” Maggie just sat still, mouth agape, pondering how much of a joke her life had suddenly become in a single day thanks to this super idiot. They were nearly back on the rooftop when her power glove pulsed and made a pinging noise. “What the…”
The T-shirt that Superboy had been trying to bandage her with sprung off the rooftop and stuck to her arm. The glove pinged again and the boy’s bag followed suit, leaping at him, slamming into his back and then just hanging there. She couldn’t even bring herself to chuckle at it.
Was she only at three misfortunes now? At this point she felt like she must have passed that total a while ago. “You could have just left me alone, you know,” she whined.
“No way,” he said, his voice a little deeper than before. He puffed his chest out as best as he could with her stuck to his side. “Because a true hero always helps those that need it.”.
Next Issue: >> Super Twins #4 (Coming Soon)
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2020.06.15 22:09 ThisHasNotGoneWell Meet The Freak 7

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Discord
Wallace
Our pace increased as my eyes adapted to the dark, Valentine's delicate fingers clutching my sleeve as I led her through the darkness after the cuirassiers.
Modern living gives people the wrong idea about night time. Artificial lighting is great and all, and life would be very different without it, but its omnipresence means that your eyes never really get the chance to fully adjust to the darkness. True night adaptation takes time, and something as simple as a car's headlights passing on a distant road can ruin it, but once achieved, it is remarkable what the human eye can perceive.
With the landscape lit only by stars, each one tens or hundreds of lightyears distant, I could still make out the grass underfoot, the road where it rose up to our left, and the distant mountains. In fact, we were just now leaving those mountains behind us as we exited the pass, and I could feel a steady breeze picking up. There were a few trees dotted here and there, and the only sound that could be heard was the hush of their rustling leaves.
"Valentine," I murmured, "If the wind changes, do we need to worry about your friend catching our scent?"
"Doubt it," she replied, so quietly that she was barely audible over the rustling leaves, "Maybe if I started to use my pheromones, or if we had horses with us. But we should be fine unless whatshisname is right on top of us."
"Have you got their scent then?"
"Barely. There's a whiff of horse lingering on the air, but it's not the wind carrying it to me. They must be behind a windbreak."
"Also explains why I can't see their torches anymore."
"Have you any idea what's waiting for us down the road?" Valentine inquired.
"Hard to say, it might be a ridge or something, and they're on the other side. Could be another forest, is there any rhyme or reason to how the landscape gets laid out? Is there some pattern to the size of these zones, or what gets placed next to each other?"
"It's generally understood that like comes with like, so neighbouring areas have at least some relationship to each other. But that's always struck me more as superstition than fact," Valentine hedged, "I think people are trying to find connections where none are to be found. Besides, it's sometimes difficult to tell the line between one area and another. It's not always as clear cut as the cliff or road made it for us."
"And size?"
"Hard to say," she admitted, "In general I find it takes at least an hour to cross most unique features, sometimes much longer. But I've also seen single buildings, or even parts of buildings, jutting up out of landscapes they clearly don't belong in. I've yet to see anyone come up with a set of rules that isn't swallowed by its exceptions."
"Well if what's ahead is part of this same chunk of terrain," I mused, "Then it might be part of a human city."
I felt a sudden chill. If it was part of a human city, odds were good that there were going to be a ton of people. People that we had maybe twelve hours to round up and get moving before the tide tore through all of it. I didn't even know where to start. We didn't have anywhere near enough supplies, and that was not to mention the trouble of convincing everyone of the problem.
Valentine tugged at my arm, "It's okay Wallace, even if that is a city, which I doubt, there's no one living there. This world might be cruel," she acknowledged, "But there is some intelligence behind the mists. If it was inhabited, it would have been placed somewhere safe from the tides. Besides, whatever it is, it's been here a little over twenty-four hours. If it was a city, and people were living in it, we'd see fires of one sort or another."
"You don't think so? What part do you doubt, the humanness, or it being a city?" I asked, "Or part of one, I guess."
"It being a human city," she replied, "Deserted cities aren't common, but they're not unheard of. But before that gas station, it had been months before I'd even heard of someone finding anything human looking."
"Wait, so that was kinda a big deal then? Damn, I wish we'd had more time to stick around."
"Was there anything more of value we might have taken?"
"Well, maybe," I admitted, "Depends on what you guys even use as money, but there would have been a bunch of copper wiring running all through the building. Would have been useful for magic stuff at the very least."
"Mana," she replied, "Mana is the currency used by each of the cities. That's why the mana types present in metals and gemstones are known publicly, but little else is. It comes from the early days when people were trying to decide if gold, silver, and the like were still worth anything. Shortly after magic was discovered, it was realized that the existing coins were quite a convenient size for most spells, and word of what mana they contained became public before any of the burgeoning spellcaster class thought to keep such things secret."
"So metal and gemstones mainly, but in theory, anything can be money?"
"I suppose, but you're not going to get very far unless both sides are familiar with the mana involved. So metal and gemstones are the de facto currency unless you're dealing with another spellcaster."
The vague shape on the horizon resolved itself as we drew closer, revealing itself to in fact be a city of sorts, a subdivision in fact. It was hard to tell how far it stretched on to each side as the buildings grew more and more indistinct the further I looked, but I decided it was safe to assume that it was large enough that we'd only lose more time if I tried to go around.
The place had the repetitive look of post-war GI Bill housing. Every street and every house looked just the same as the ones before and after it. There were a few variations. This house would have grey siding and brown shingles, the other beige siding and grey shingles, and there was occasional variety in the style of trim. It was as if the developer had just taken whatever colours and style his supplier had in stock that day.
Control C, Control V, a couple hundred times.
We stayed out of the street and hugged the buildings to one side. With the whole neighbourhood as level as a chessboard, the sightlines were long enough that I thought I could see clear down the street to the far end of the subdivision. My hope was that if one of the cuirassiers stepped out onto the road, we'd have the time to duck into a yard or behind a house before they spotted us.
"Gods damned servant," Valentine swore, "I would have liked to spend more time searching these houses. Just one of these metal carriages would be worth a small fortune in Metal mana."
I grimaced. The houses I could take or leave. Aside from the possibility of finding another firearm, there wasn't much of actual value within. At least if you considered only what we could reasonably carry away with us. Novelty, absolutely, at least to Valentine, but not value. But with every truck, car, and van we passed, we were leaving behind a resource that could trivialize the rest of our journey.
But I was far too large to fit in the driver's seat, and Valentine obviously didn't know how to drive. Neither did I know how to hotwire a car, and while it was safe to assume that the keys to at least one of the vehicles would be waiting on someone's nightstand, how many houses would we need to search before we got lucky?
The silence was suddenly broken by the baying of dogs, first off to our left and a little ahead, and then spreading out like ripples through the neighbourhood.
"Ah fuck."
"What in the name of all that is holy was that?" Valentine hissed.
"Dogs, think wolves, but a little better behaved. If we're lucky, they're all still locked up in people's back yards. But if any are loose we're gonna have a problem."
I heard Valentine undo the zipper of her flight suit, and looked down to see the dull shine of brass clutched in her other fist.
I unlimbered my poleaxe and held it point down, with the shaft against my forearm, "If we get into a fight I'm gonna need my other arm," I told her.
"I won't get in your way," she promised.
I stayed low as I approached the next intersection, crouching in a driveway between the house on the corner and an old van that sat in the drive. Peering down the crossing street to the left I caught the faintest glow against the black asphalt of the road, perhaps a reflection from one of the torches the cuirassiers were carrying, perhaps my imagination. From the right, I saw neither light nor movement, so I lead Valentine that way, trying to put another street between us and her friends.
I checked ahead and behind as we stepped onto the new street, or rather the lawn beside it, but evidently wasn't observant enough. We hadn't even made it across the driveway to the next lawn when I heard the dogs coming for us.
A couple of small yippy dogs, maybe a chihuahua that had gotten out of someone's yard. That would have been a problem, a big problem, in fact. What would I do then? Boot someone's purse dog so it wouldn't give our position away? Well, at least I didn't have that moral conundrum to contend with, as whatever was coming after us was big, bassy, and pissed right off.
I swung my head around, wide-eyed, as if that would somehow let in more of the limited light. There, movement, coming around the back of a house across the street.
Damn, they were fast. I had only a moment before they'd be on me, but knew how to spend it. I grabbed the back of Valentine's jumpsuit, and one-handed, threw her onto the roof of the old sports car in the driveway.
Valentine yelped, but it was immediately drowned out by a siren as the car's alarm began to howl.
I would have cursed my luck, but hadn't the time.
I swept the axe across the ground, not really expecting to hit anything, but hoping to give the dogs pause. The three of them leapt back, and the instant the first lunged at me again, I struck. The poleaxe's top spike drove into its back, just between the shoulders. The alarm drowned out its whimpers, but it continued to thrash, even as its legs gave out.
Valentine's torch came alive, and a breath later there was the hissss... BOOM of Valentine's wheellock and the second dog went down in a gout of smoke. The last dog was undeterred by the violence and lunged before I could get my axe free of the first dog's carcass.
Convinced that the slavering short-snouted dog was about to bite me between the legs, and with my weapon stuck fast, I brought my knee up and caught it right in the nose. The dog stumbled back, but kept its footing and came around to strike again. I was strong enough to swing the axe around, even with it stuck in the dog, but not fast enough to do anything of consequence. I fought the fear, like a fist clenched in my guts, and kicked at the thing while I tried to free my weapon. I knew all it would take was one solid hit to put the awful creature down for good, but it was just too damn quick for me to land anything more than a glancing blow.
I was weighing the risks of ditching the axe to try to grapple the dog when Valentine, like a god damn lunatic, leapt off the roof of the car and onto the dog's back.
I could scarcely make out what was happening as the two of them rolled around on the ground tearing at each other, the both of them growling like wild animals.
I dropped the axe. The dog was nearly as large as she was, and I had to get it away from the crazy noblewoman before it tore her throat out, even if it meant the dog tried to rip my junk off.
I dropped a knee on the dog, and with it fixed in place, I could finally make sense of the mess. Even with me crushing its ribs, it still had its jaws locked around Valentine's forearm. Wild-eyed and with teeth gritted, she headbutted the dog in the snout, but it refused to budge.
I got my hands around its jaws, top and bottom, but before I could force it to let her go there was a pak pak pak and the dog went still.
Valentine kicked herself free of the corpse, the front of her jumpsuit bloody, and the little Saturday Night Special held in one clenched fist.
"Thank me later, we need to move," she growled, her expression stoic, though anyone could have read the pain in her voice.
With the alarm still screaming and fearful that one of the cuirassiers might use the noise to cover their charge, I kept looking over my shoulder to watch for their inevitable approach. We'd made it maybe halfway to the next intersection before the first of the group rounded the corner and came galloping after us, bellowing all the while, his partner not far behind.
"*Here," I urged, "Between these houses."
There was a fence, sturdily built, and about five feet tall. Valentine didn't slow down as we ran for the gate, and only stopped when she thumped up against it. She grabbed the handle and shook, but it was locked.
"If you throw me over this fence," she said quickly, already halfway over, "I swear I'll shoot you."
I turned away from the gate, but the first horseman was already entering the narrow space between the two houses, his spear levelled at my chest.
He urged his mount onwards, and I braced the butt of my axe against the gate. The space between the houses was barely wide enough for me, let alone the horse. I had no room to dodge, either this was going to work, or I was going to get run through.
I waited till the last possible moment, lest the horse rear back, and brought up the tip of my axe. The horse's own momentum drove it onto the nine-inch spike, and half a ton of man and horse shattered the latch on the gate like it was made of glass. I stumbled backwards as the horse went down, and after the experience with the dogs, made sure to get my weapon free before it could be twisted out of my hands by the dying animal.
I hopped back a step and swung, just as the rider, thrown forward over his horse, started to get up. The small hammerhead caught him in the side of the helmet, and he went right the hell back down.
With the immediate threat dealt with and the entrance to the yard blocked, I turned to see that Valentine was already atop the next fence. She had her other wheellock in hand, and a determined look on her face.
"Go" I insisted.
Heavy as I was, I knew there was no way in hell I was getting over the fence before the next rider got through, but the first guy had given me a really terrible idea. So without anything better coming to mind, I decided to do my best imitation of the horse, and charged at the fence. I aimed right between two of the fence posts, and hit the top rail shoulder-first.
It burst apart, and splinters and fence slats were thrown across the yard. I nearly tripped on the bottom rail, but found my footing and chased after the waiting Valentine, who was already holding the next gate open.
We sprinted across the road, and Valentine scrambled over the next gate. A moment later, it opened, and I slipped inside. She brought the torch down to its lowest setting, and I scanned the yard. There was a fire pit, a miniature playset of the sort that I would have loved as a six-year-old, had I not already been too big for it by that age, and much more of little consequence besides. But the one thing that did show promise was a wide stone bench which rested against the back fence.
It was sturdy enough that I was able to step up onto the backrest and vault the fence, Valentine following shortly after. We again left the yard and crossed the street, this time paying more attention to stealth than haste, and again she climbed the gate and let me into the yard.
This time, she turned off the torch completely. The house lacked a back deck, and instead, there was a simple concrete pad with a patio set. But I didn't trust my weight to the cheap plastic furniture, so I settled myself with my back against the wall of the house. Valentine sat pressed up against me, a reassuring presence in the dark.
Neither of us spoke. Hell, we barely even breathed, just listened. The alarm could still be heard, a couple streets over, and it may have been my imagination, but I thought I could make out breaking glass as they tried to quiet the awful din. Hoofbeats could be heard a little while later, two or three horses it sounded like, pounding down the street on the other side of the house. It was several minutes after that before either of us dared to speak.
"If we can get into this house we can turn that light back on and get a look at your arm," I breathed.
"I'm fine," she whispered curtly, "The dog didn't bite through the sleeve. Now hold this," she instructed, and pressed one of her pistols into my hand, "Barrel up," she insisted.
I did as she asked, and she proceeded to load the pistol and re-wind the mechanism, blind, as far as I could tell.
While she loaded the pistol, she spoke, "We can't out-wait them," she explained, "Or we can, but by the time they need to give up, we won't have enough time to get to the location I spotted, and the tide will get us."
"Have you still got the little navigation thingy?"
She re-capped her powder horn and handed over what might have been a large compass, if not for the fact it pointed the wrong way. The top was textured, and could be used by feel, but my eyes had adjusted once again, and I could see which way it was pointing.
"This thing is just giving angle, right? As if we were still back in the city?"
"Yes, I set it while I was in the tower taking my sightings so we'll need to correct eastwards, but otherwise it points the way."
I took another look at the not-compass. It wasn't quite parallel with the grid layout of the subdivision, in fact, the roads were angled a bit more east, but judging from what she'd said, that would suit us just fine.
"Come now, Wallace, share your deep thoughts."
"The road network is a uniform grid," I explained, "A rectangular grid, but a grid. In between are these houses with yards more or less like this," I recited, gesturing vaguely at our surroundings, "Which are not very quick to cross."
"And I'm getting tired of climbing over fences," Valentine added.
"Right, and for me to get over them, it's either noisy or inconvenient or both. Not just that, but we have no way of telling where your friends might be patrolling. They've probably split up, and are searching all over the place, groups of two, three, it doesn't matter. So, I have a straightforward plan," I pointed back to the gate we'd come through, "We get the hell down this road as quickly as we can. We'll check that the way is clear at each intersection, but otherwise, keep up as quick a pace as possible. We've got no way to predict when they'll happen across us, and in these rows of identical housing, no one street is going to be any better than another. Best thing to do is just to clear out as quickly as possible. Trying to be sneaky, hopping between streets, is just going to mean we spend more time in the target area."
It was essentially the same strategy used by second world war bombers. You could manoeuvre to avoid flak on the way in, but once you were in the barrage zone, there was no point in trying to evade. They didn't much care where you were or how you flew, they were just filling the sky with flak shells. Best thing to do was fly straight and fast, drop your bombs, and get the hell out of the danger zone. Now I didn't have any bombs, which was a damn shame, but this neighbourhood was just as unpredictable and nearly as dangerous, so I figured it was sound reasoning.
Valentine finished seating the ball and put the ramrod away, "And when we happen across another pair of mercenaries?" she asked.
"Same thing we just did. We can get through these yards faster than the horses can. We keep cutting across until we lose them again. After that, we'll need to come up with something new. I doubt the same trick will work a third time," I grimaced.
The next several hours damn near gave me heart palpitations. While we never did get into another out and out chase, more than once, warned by approaching hoofbeats, we found ourselves huddling between a pair of houses to wait as a pair of elves on horseback passed down the road.
As much as it worried me, I had no idea how Valentine managed. Like the elves, she couldn't see a damn thing without a light to guide her and had to trust that I knew what I was doing.
But after a few hours of panicked cat and mouse, we eventually made it to the final row of houses. And behind those houses...
"Goddammit," I sighed.
"I don't see a problem," Valentine frowned, peering out across the same plain as myself, "Just land and sky."
"But you can make out the horizon?" I prompted.
"More or less."
"And there's our problem. We silhouette ourselves against the sky, and they're going to spot us, darkness or not. And I don't see an end to it any time soon. There's a road over there," I pointed, but I don't see a drainage ditch like we hid in on our way here."
"I see your point. Perhaps a distraction?" she suggested, though from her tone she seemed as sceptical of that plan as I, "Though I don't see how we'd pull that off and still get away."
I led Valentine back so I could look down the row of houses we'd just passed.
"This whole time we've been walking, I've been thinking that life would be a hell of a lot easier if we had one of these cars. You'd need to drive though, since I'm not going to fit up front."
"Is there a reason we haven't taken one already?"
"We'd need the keys, and I don't know how many houses we'd need to break into, and how much noise we'd made doing it, to find the keys to one of the cars. If the people aren't here, it's just as likely that the keys ended up with them instead of in one of the houses. It's risky, but at this point, I don't know what the hell else to do. I don't want to try crossing that much open ground when a bunch of horsemen are after us."
Valentine ran her fingers across her timepiece, "Six or seven hours until the mercenaries absolutely must turn back. We could wait them out. We'd have to skip our next sleep break, but we could just make it," she offered, "I say we try to get one of these cars, they seem like the sort of thing that would be useful regardless. If that doesn't work, we hide out and get what rest we can."
"Alright, well I see an old pickup truck down the road here. Let's give it a shot."
We went in through a basement window in the back yard, or at least, Valentine went in through the window. I'd found a little gardening trowel, and used it to lever open one of the windows, too small for me to fit through, but more than enough space for Valentine. Safely inside, she lit the torch, and a minute or so later the back door swung open. I ducked inside.
I searched all the usual places, the nightstands in the master bedroom, the closet near the door, but to no avail. Which left the truck itself.
I glanced up and down the street, but seeing no lights, dogs, or horses, decided it was safe enough for the time being. I tried both the driver's side and passenger doors, to no avail. The truck was old, or perhaps contemporary to the neighbourhood, as I was beginning to suspect, but old to me at the very least. So I figured some old school methods would probably work.
The suspension creaked as I hopped into the bed of the truck, and I froze, but truthfully it wasn't loud enough to carry very far. I splayed my hand against the back window and tried to slide it left and right.
It moved. Just a little, but it moved.
Bit by bit, I slid the pane of glass until there was a gap wide enough to get a finger in. With that done, I pulled the pane to the side, and reached an arm in to unlock the driver's side door.
I was cautious as I got out of the bed, gradually letting my weight off the truck so it wouldn't creak too loudly, and went around to the front to open the door I'd unlocked.
I flipped both of the sun visors down, but it seemed that Terminator Two had led me astray. Neither were there keys in the glove box. Or gloves. Or a gun. Just some miscellaneous papers, a packet of tissues, and a manual.
I considered how much time I'd just spent. Maybe thirty minutes to search the house and truck? How many more homes would I have to search before I found what I needed?
No, the truck was what I needed, I just had to find a way to make it work for me. I wasn't going to fit in a car, and clinging to the roof wasn't a great long term strategy. If I could have picked one vehicle in this whole subdivision to take with me, a pickup truck would have been my first choice. Fixing it would be simple, it was the most practical, the best off-road, and most importantly, I could fit in the back.
I thumped the gear stick absently, and it wobbled back and forth.
Trouble was, aside from not knowing how to hotwire a car, I didn't know how to drive manual either.
I took another look up and down the street, and decided I was right about this truck being right for the neighbourhood. Most of the other vehicles I saw sitting in driveways looked to be of about the same period, late seventies, early eighties. If such a categorization even applied to wherever we were. Odds were, they'd be manuals too.
"Manuals," I muttered to myself, and opened the glove box back up.
There was the manual, written in perfect not-English.
Flipping through, I found a wiring diagram. The labels were as incomprehensible as the rest of the text, but the symbols were plain enough.
I'd have to teach myself how to hotwire a car, and Valentine how to drive stick, without ever having done either myself. The task seemed daunting, but when I imagined the average car thief, I didn't exactly see a genius in my mind's eye. And if any idiot could learn to drive a manual, then surely I could figure it out if I just sat down and gave it a good think.
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2020.06.13 09:01 Stormrider66 Aleister Kane: Demon for Hire (Episode 2)

For more context in how Aleister got here between chapters, you can check out his appearance in Carter Slade: Monster Hunter Episode 9!
Previous Episode
Episode Kyrie Eleison
Aleister was walking down a dark road. The sign read: ‘Salem, MA. Pop: 41,000.’ He shook his head and muttered to himself.
“Perfect, it’s only over 200 miles southwest to get home.” After his last mission he got into a fight with Carter Slade: The legendary monster hunter. He had heard about him but wasn’t sure what the extent of his abilities were, so he figured he would test him or kill him. If the rumors proved true, then he would at least be able to eliminate what he saw as a threat to the world. His still broken ribs would heal before too long - he healed faster than most - but they ached as a painful reminder of how much more training he still had. His encounter with the demons the previous night still left wounds that were just beginning to fade.
After his mission, he left without much thought on how he was getting home. His job involved helping a powerful Witch prevent some sort of vision she had or something like that. He didn’t really care about the details too much. The ding from his cell phone confirmed the other half of his payment came through from whoever was handling the money in that coven. He pulled his phone out to confirm and was surprised it was still in working order - cracked now, but still functional. His battery was running low with nowhere to charge it, so he figured he would need to find a place to stay for the night in the city.
He looked down at the splinters of his weapon. ‘To have that much power to break this.’ He thought. ‘I must have really pushed my luck in that fight.’ He did break it once before in an attempt to kill his father Astaroth, so he knew he could repair it, but it required the flames that it was made from to fix. Such a journey nearly killed him the last time, but it was the best weapon he could hope for beyond the legendary Excalibur or Masamune. It would require venturing into Hades and climbing into the the abyss and reforging it in the Flames of Tartarus.
Aleister’s phone died before he could accept any electronic transfer, he was almost broke considering he left all of his money at home save a little cash and one card that was empty at the moment. It was his one he used for clients to help hide the transactions so he usually had to keep it empty and withdraw money immediately.
Aleister decided to use some cash he had on himself to buy a phone charger so he could accept his money transfer. He tied his hair back to look less suspicious. The convenience store clerk gave him a weird look as he came in with his odd robes and silver eyes.
“You in town for the convention, dude?” The young Asian man asked as Aleister made his way to the counter with the charger and some food.
“Convention?”
“Ya Dude... all the goth people are here to celebrate witch culture and witchcraft and shit. What else? We certainly don’t have any Star Wars conventions in Salem, Kylo Ren.”
“I’m not one of those goths, friend. You got a place I can plug this in?”
“Well normally we’re not supposed to, but you’re the only person I’ve helped all night. Over there.” He pointed. Aleister nodded and went about his business. The young man continued. “You sure you’re not a goth, man? I mean, the black hair... piercings... you look like you listen to ‘The Cure’...”
“Witchcraft is dark magic, young man. I’m a priest, I don’t condone such things.”
“No way, YOU’RE a priest? Whatever, man!”
Aleister’s phone screen came to life as it started its boot up process.
“Did you see this on the news?” The boy pointed up at the tv with his remote and turned the volume up. Aleister was taken aback when he saw a police sketch of his face. It was missing details like his beard and piercings but it had cat-like eyes. The headline said, ‘Body of housewife found after homicide.’
“The body of beloved housewife, Lisa Yards-Dale was recovered at the scene of a brutal crime yesterday evening in the quiet suburb of Briarwood in Queens. The suspects husband has also been confirmed missing.” The female news anchor reported. “The Police haven’t released much in regards to a statement, but they have confirmed she was indeed murdered at the hands of this man. The suspect was missing articles of clothing, brandishing a sword and escaped using a motorcycle. The police have released a drawing compiled from witness testimony based on what they said the perpetrator looked like. The most common traits they mentioned was that they had long black hair and glowing, cat-like contacts.’
‘If you see anyone that fits this description please contact authorities immediately and do not attempt to subdue this individual. Other reports say that arson and possible animal abuse are other crimes this individual may have also been committed. This image here was the only one released by the police.”
The image of Aleister holding her by her throat was shown. His face was obscured by the back of the demon’s head save his hair blowing in the wind. Her missing limbs were also conveniently cropped out of the blurry picture.
The broadcaster continued, “As you can see, most of the picture is obscured. Private Investigator Alena St. Claire claims to have been nearby when the incident happened and took photos that were confiscated by authorities. The young woman later made a statement that she fled in fear of her own life. In other news...”
“Hate to say it bro, but he kind of looks like you... no cat eyes. Though your eyes are a little weird.”
“Contacts my friend.”
“Ya, we’re like a thousand miles away from there anyways. I just thought it was funny.”
Aleister didn’t see the humor in it. ‘Alena St Claire? Didn’t she used to be a journalist for Channel 9?’ He thought. He figured he could at least try and figure out what she knows and somehow remove the evidence of his involvement. He withdrew as much cash as the machine would let and decided to rent a room at a motel where they wouldn’t require a credit card - seedy one in other words - to sleep for the night.
————————————————————
“You know Rook, the mayor wants to give you a ‘key to the city.’ You managed to save the hostages and take out the bad guys with great success!” Chief Byron patted him on the back. The pair were standing in John’s office and he was overlooking clues to the case of the dismembered woman. It was 3pm in the afternoon and all of his curtains were drawn to keep out the daylight.
“Thanks Chief, but I’m gonna have to decline.”
“We can get the ceremony pushed back to night time so daylight’s not a problem, you know that right?”
“It’s not that sir, I’m just trying to focus on this case. I’m having a hell of a time trying to figure it out. I need to solve it before I can do anything else.”
“Call it a night - or day, I guess. I know even vamps need sleep. You’ve been up since this time yesterday! You can use the rest, it might ease your mind.”
“I can’t.”
“I’m giving you an order as your superior, get some rest.”
“I’ll consider it, Andrew.”
“John, it’s all I ask.” He patted him on the shoulder and left. The pair had been cops together ever since the almost retired Byrons was a rookie cop. They’ve been friends since his early days on the force. John had many identities over his lifetime as a vampire with many names, haircuts and precincts he’s worked in. He figured that he had been alive long enough that when it became time to change his identity again, he embraced his original identity as Jonathan Rook. He grew his natural hair color out, stopped wearing colored contacts and helped found his team of vampire officers.
It took him years but he helped rehabilitate the other members of the team from threatening vampires into the protectors of humans they eventually became. They were all going to be victims of one of his hunts at one point or another, but he found the potential to become great in all of them. Teaching them his more peaceful ways and how to handle being around humans.
John had a whiteboard like one would see in a crime show, linking together clues and suspects. This Ivan character was the main suspect on the board and a line was drawn on the picture web to a question mark. ‘He’s working for someone...’ John thought.
The vial of the purple liquid was placed between them, ‘He was getting whatever this is to his employers. It was worth killing his whole team over.”
The larger vampire with the shaggy black hair was linked to Ivan. ‘He definitely resembles... him... but I know now that he was just a lackey.’ There were pictures of other clues and suspects on the board, but John felt like he was getting nowhere with that investigation.
There was another separate whiteboard with the police sketch of the ‘serial killer’ in the middle. ‘On the other side of the city we got this nutcase.’
He drew a line to a picture of the victim. Linked from the victim was her husband. ‘Victim is found brutally dismembered, husband is now missing.’
He drew a line and placed a picture of the burnt house. ‘The house was burnt to ash by an unnaturally hot fire.’
The fire was linked to pictures of the burnt fur and carcasses as well as half of a satanic symbol on what was left of the wall. ‘Whatever remains they could scavenge showed signs of devil worship and animal sacrifice. The victims husband made claims to whomever would listen that his wife thought she was ‘possessed’... It’s likely that the perpetrator was using them both to try and summon a demon. Or he was a demon...’
John looked over the dead animal clue again. ‘They never did identify anything within the mammalian class that matches what they found. The remains may have been too burnt to determine properly though.’
‘The perp was said to be wearing contact lenses, but if he is a demon that would explain the glowing eyes. Why this suburban family? What makes them special?’
He looked at the picture of Ms. Alena St. Claire. ‘I should speak with her, she knows way more than we questioned her about. She was investigating someone, I need to determine if it was the victims or someone else on the block.’
John looked back to the sketch, ‘I don’t even know where to start searching for this potential demon. If Alena was investigating the victim and her husband, it might give me an idea as to what the perp might have wanted. It’s too good of a coincidence that they were there the same night by chance.’ He grabbed his coat and hat.
‘She has more details and maybe even photos that are essential in figuring out who this whack job is.’
John was no stranger to getting around in the daytime, he put on his large overcoat and hat. Reaching into the pockets he pulled out some gloves to cover his hands and he popped the collar up. He checked his wrist watch and it read 3:37pm.
‘I know I should get some rest but this Alena lady should be at her office right now.’ He thought. John hopped into a cab and gave the driver the destination. Luckily the tall skyscrapers blocked out most of the sun during the day but he still kept his head low as they drove. It was a long drive so he tipped his hat onto his face and slept.
———————————————————
Aleister made the mistake of walking right by the convention center in downtown Salem. He had a backpack that carried his broken weapon. Lots of people were walking into or around the building. Many were normal people but there were an almost abnormal amount of goth people as well. There were Christian protestors with picket signs saying things like: ‘Don’t profit off of devil worship!’, ‘Salem’s not just for witchcraft,’ and the like. Unfortunately to get to his destination it requires walking right by those people.
“Would you look at this one? He’s given himself the demon eyes on purpose!”
“Dirty Goths, get out of our town!”
“You’re gonna burn in hell boy! God doesn’t like fags with colored lenses, long dyed hair and piercings!”
This last one made Aleister glare at the man as he passed.
“You think I’m afraid of a sissy boy like you?” He continued “You may be tall, but I’ve got my second amendment right here.” He flashed his gun. Aleister shook his head and kept walking. “That’s right! Just keep walkin’!”
It was ironic that that man had a shirt that read: ‘Jesus loves you!’ And his sign said, ‘God will strike down those that walk with Satan.’ If only he knew that Aleister was a priest, and that he actively fought demons in the name of god.
A group of familiar-ish faces walked into Starbucks about a block and a half away from him, they appeared to be witches and some other people that were at the manor the previous night that he completed his job. As he passed it and was about to enter a small shop, he heard some screaming. Turning around he saw a group of goth kids freak out and throw their cups to the ground and run away. Out of the cups appeared to crawl a large group of spiders but suddenly it was coffee again. No one but Aleister seemed to notice that part.
Aleister walked into the quaint shop and it smelt like cats and old decrepit wood. It’s probably what most of the old buildings in town smelt like that were still standing. The place was packed with more alternative looking teenagers and young adults. They didn’t pay any attention at him as he entered. There were two employees helping out with the large group of people.
Just scanning the room he could feel little magic aura on some ‘display only’ items but most of the ‘magic stuff’ for potions, hexing and all the stuff usually associated with witches were all fake. The crowd was buying up lots of the stock and believing the stories the employees were using to sell this junk. A sweet-looking old lady walked out from the back to see how her employees were doing with their customers. She slowly walked around with a smile until she saw Aleister and she stopped cold in her tracks.
The two made eye contact for what felt like an uncomfortably long time before she sighed and turned around, heading for the back. Aleister followed her towards the back and one of the employees tried to stop him.
“Excuse me sir! You can’t go back there!”
The old woman waved her hand at her and kept walking. The employee backed down and turned back to her customers. The old woman sat in a chair in the back room and a grey cat jumped on her lap instantly with a meow. It hissed as Aleister approached.
“I know a Familiar when I see one, you can drop the act.” He spoke to the cat.
A man’s voice came out of the cats mouth, it still sounded agitated, “What do you want, Cambion?”
“Silver, that’s no way to talk to our guest.”
“I’m not here to kill you, take anything or get information.” Aleister kept
Silver spoke again, “Then I’ll ask again, what do you want?”
“I need passage into Hades.”
The woman narrowed her eyes, “I’m sure there’s a Hellgate you can use.”
“I don’t have that kind of time to get to Hades from one of the entrances to Hell. I need to go to Tartarus.”
Silver jumped off of the lady and walked towards Aleister accusingly, “You know Olympians are the only ones down there any more? Why would you risk pissing one of those guys off? What’s so damn important?”
“I need to fix something important. It’s been done before.”
“Show us.”
Aleister set down his bag and took out some of the shards.
“No way, is that-“ Silver‘s eyes got big and he leapt off her lap, walking towards it.
“I wouldn’t do that, Silver.” The older lady called to him, “You’ll burst into flames.”
“I know what I’m doing, ok!?” The cat had a lot of attitude, as one would probably expect from a talking cat. “Why would we need to fix the lance - THE ‘Bleeding Lance’ - down there? It was used to stab Jesus on the cross! His blood purified it!”
“I’m aware of the history, cat.”
“I’m just sayin’...”
“The legend says that Emperor Augustus acquired the lance after Jesus died.” Maggie got up from her chair and grabbed a piece of the lance and studied it. The piece she was holding turned into a scrap of old wood. “Only a human can touch it - even a Witch - but only a demon can unlock its powers. Funny, isn’t it? The only ones that could use its true abilities are the ones that can’t touch it.’
‘Cambions are exceedingly rare - not just any demon can produce offspring... Even then... What are the chances that you came across such a weapon?”
“Not by chance, I assure you. When I was younger, I stayed at an Italian Monastery in Rome - to learn to become a priest. I got to go to the Vatican, where the spear had remained since the Roman Empire fell. It looked like a dilapidated old staff but something called me to it.”
“But your demon side would be subdued inside, how did you figure out it’s power?” Silver was very attentive to the tale.
“Well I have, don’t I? I snuck it out of Vatican City on instinct and once I left holy ground it changed to its true form.”
“Isn’t that kinda stealing? Isn’t there something in the Bible that says-“
“Oh shoosh, Silver!” Maggie waved her hand at him, annoyed.
“It’s a fair question, I do things that are unconventional to the Catholic faith... I know what God really wants though.”
“Oh save it, pretty boy! I don’t wanna hear your “God works in mysterious ways” garbage! How does Hades figure into this?”
“The spear was forged by Hephaestus at Zeus’ command.”
“Ok? Now how does Zeus tie into ‘Hey-Zeus’!?” Silver said Jesus like it was in Spanish.
Maggie interrupted, “Silver, back before Jesus arrived, all of the gods had their own parts of earth they controlled: Norse, Hindu, Egyptian, Mayan, Bantu, etc. The Greek Gods however helped expand their influence through the Romans. They gave themselves new names and stayed in control out of greed. Jesus came along and Christianity started to threaten their power and authority.”
“They were aware of God and Lucifer and al that right?” Silver was confused, “They should know of his power.”
“It didn’t scare them away from forging the lance in the pits of Tartarus and then force a demon of Hades into stabbing him with it. They just didn’t count on his blood purifying it.” Aleister took the piece of wood from Maggie and it instantly turned back into its regular look. “It broke once when I fought my father. It’s not the first time I’ve done it.”
“Ah yes, I heard it nearly killed you.” Silver stretched on the ground, “That story got passed around Hell when it happened. So YOU’RE the son of Astaroth! I expected... more from a demon of that caliber.”
Aleister ignored that last part, “It’s worth it to fix it. It’s my best weapon and it can only be broke by a being of vast strength anyways. It shouldn’t happen again.”
“They would need to be able to crush coal into diamond or shatter a mountain to do that to THAT!”
“You’re not far off.
“Who did it this time?”
“Carter Slade.”
Silver’s eyes went wide and his jaw dropped like he heard something exciting, “Carter Slade!? That dudes a badass! You got to not only meet him, but get your ass kicked by him too!?” Silver jumped up and down.
“The new Coven Mother at Ravencroft Manor told me what the future holds. Your attempt was futile from the get go.” Maggie walked around a corner and started rummaging for things.
“Thanks. It’s as if my still-aching bones weren’t a constant reminder... And it was an even fight for the most part.”
Silver rolled onto the ground laughing, “You think he wasn’t just toying with you cause you were a tough guy!?”
“Enough Silver!” Maggie came around the corner carrying some powders, vials and a book. “The mirror will become your gateway and then Silver will guide you to your destination. He will guide you back to your home afterwards, assuming you are still alive.”
“Thanks for the morale boost...” Aleister muttered and packed his stuff up.
Maggie used her materials and drew on the tall mirror. After chanting some alien-sounding language the mirror turned into a portal that displayed a dark looking cavern. Aleister nodded to her and stepped through, followed by Silver.
————————————————————
John was leaving his office building late at night, ready to head home from work. His eyes were brown and his complexion was a more normal color - at least as it could be seen in the light. He was wearing a tailored suit and a fedora and headed towards his green “1923 Duesenberg Model A” car, it was only about a year old. Everyone else had gone home for the night and he stayed late to get some of his paperwork done.
The parking lot was empty. The bushes right by his car were very well kept by the gardener, not overgrown and trimmed quaintly. Outdoors were especially quiet in this simple small town in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas - he moved to a decade prior for work. Though he was born and raised in Brooklyn, his wife Betty insisted they moved somewhere far away and quiet to start their family.
The bushes rustled as he approached his car, there wasn’t any real wind that night. Cautiously, John crept towards the drivers side door. A raccoon walked calmly out of the bush and scampered away upon noticing him.
‘Even all these years later, you still act like you’re gonna get jumped there Johnny Boy.’ He thought to himself with a chuckle and head shake. After starting his engine he turned on his radio to catch the last news broadcast of the day. He like to listen to it with his expensive new radio in his car while he drove home. The radio wasn’t a common sight in most vehicles at the time.
“Inmate from the West Tennessee State Penitentiary has been reported as escaped. Suspect was last seen heading westbound and has not yet been found. The perpetrator’s name is Giles Turner and his very large physical stature is one of his defining traits. If anyone sees a man around 7 feet tall with long black hair please do not attempt to approach or apprehend the suspect for your own safety and get a hold of local law enforcement immediately.”
“God damn maniacs...” John went to tune his radio to a jazz station while he drove. As he glanced back to the road he swerved around a pack of coyotes on the road that were surrounding something - likely a roadkill dear. His car spun out on the deserted highway until he was facing completely the opposite way that he was heading. The car’s headlights flooded the road and the coyotes all scattered into the surrounding farmland.
“It’s still moving... Better to end its suffering I guess...” John grabbed his gun out of his glove compartment and opened his door, it wasn’t his first deer. It was common around those parts to encounter deer on the road.
As he approached the deer he took a good look at it, it was bleeding profusely from the neck but otherwise had no signs of being hit by a car. The deer looked at him in panic, but it’s bucking legs weren’t taking it anywhere.
“Those little bastards really got you, huh? No.... It was something bigger.... but where-“
The headlights got blocked out by something behind him.
“Leave! Now!” A deep voice called out to him. John wheeled around with his gun ready and gave a very audible cry of surprise and fear. Standing before him was the silhouette of a very tall figure that was bent over as if in pain.
“WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU!?”
“I was leaving! I promise! You... (Urgh) made me... (Agh) come back.... owwww...” the figure kept painfully walking towards him. The familiar inmate garb became visible as he inches towards him.
“Don’t come any closer! I have a loaded gun!” John was in full panic mode.
“The man... did this... to me.... (ARGHH!) I can’t.... (ugh) control... the hunger!”
“Last warning!”
“Can’t.... hold back... any...” the man was only about ten feet away from John now.
Even in the darkness, John’s image of this man would be forever burned into his mind. He had shoulder length shaggy black hair, an unkempt beard, a large nose and an overall brutish look on his face. The man appeared to have red eyes that almost glowed in the dark and two unnaturally large canine teeth. The man’s face twisted from a grimace to a monstrous, beast-like face before lunging at John.
John squeezes the trigger in his revolver as many times as he could at the large man, but they had no effect. Whether it was drugs, adrenaline, the sheer size of him or a combination of all three John didn’t know. Those massive teeth cut into his neck like it was a knife through butter - they burned like knives that were heated thousands of degrees but somehow didn’t cauterize the wounds.
No matter how hard he fought, John’s arms were pinned to his sides by the massive man as he felt his head grow light and his strength and consciousness were starting to fade. The man threw him to the side with enough blood to stay alive.
“There’s not much time!” He whispered to himself before running off, grabbing the deer as he passed. John fainted as he lay on the ground.
John’s eyes shot awake and he sat up quickly, looking around for his gun that was laying beside him. Opening up the chamber he saw that it was empty. He touched his neck in a panic and was shocked to find.... nothing? He patted his neck a few more times in a couple spots for these alleged bite marks and it was as scar free as ever. He got to his feet and the lack of blood made him almost fall back over but he caught his balance.
‘What the fuck happened?’ He thought. Instinctually he pulled out his pocket watch. “3:26am?” He read aloud. It had been 2 and a half hours.
Some headlights appeared in the distance and approached fast, heading the direction he was heading. The bright lights really bothered his eyes, maybe this ordeal - whatever it was - gave him a bad migraine. His head did throb heavily. He walked back to his car, being mindful of the lights - in fact: everything outside seemed brighter. It wasn’t sunrise yet though so he wasn’t sure what to make of all this. The car stopped right as he was about to get into his running car, it was a police car doing patrolling for the night.
“Mr. Rook, it’s very late you know.”
“I’m aware George.”
“Officer McReedy to you.”
“Something I can help you with, officer?” A pounding sound that felt like a heartbeat started getting louder in John’s ears.
“Mind if I ask what you’re doing out here?”
“Really late night at the office, just heading home. Had to stop to drain the ole boy.” The sound was definitely a heartbeat. John’s mouth started getting dry, like he was parched.
“Why are facing that way?”
“What way?”
“Don’t play stupid with me. You’re headed INTO town?”
“No... notice some blood on the road there? I swerved to not hit a deer and got turned around. I struck it and it ran off, then I decided to take a leak.” John couldn’t help but feel like he was hallucinating. Before his very eyes, McReedy’s veins and arteries almost appeared to glow right through the skin and his beating heart as well. As he focused on it, that was about all he could see and hear, the rest of the world appeared to go black. It was like a sweet smelling fruit, the aroma drew his attention the heartbeat sound was deafening and hypnotic.
“Did you hear me Rook?” Officer McReedy yelled, snapping him back into reality. “Go home and get some rest! You look like shit.” The car continued its voyage and John did as instructed. Whatever that was, he felt hungrier and thirstier than ever before in his life.
‘Maybe it was a bear or something? It threw me around and decided the deer was more meat?’ John tried to reassure himself. He opened his car and got in. ‘Ya... that makes the most sense...’ he noticed something else off. His wallet was missing from his back pocket.
“Bears don’t pickpocket though! That son of a bitch injected me with drugs and stole my wallet!” If it was indeed truly this ‘Giles Turner’ from the news, than he had John’s home address. He turned around as fast as he could and sped down an alternate backroad so he wouldn’t attract McReedy’s attention.
“It makes no sense, why would he take my wallet and not my car!?” That was a mystery he couldn’t quite crack. John made his ten minute drive in less than five minutes as he pulled up to his driveway. The lamp from the living room was on, so Betty was up waiting for him most likely.
John ran through the door and saw her crying in the chair, she was otherwise unharmed. “Betty! Sweetheart, you’re ok!”
She looked relieved, terrified and angry all at once, “John! I was worried about you! How could you go and- what happened to you?”
“I must’ve hit a deer on the way home. I think I was attacked by whatever was eating it, but I got away in time.”
“My god, that’s awful! Are you ok? Do we need the hospital!?”
“I feel very thirsty and hungry.” The pounding came back and his mouth went dry. “There it is again!”
“Oh dear, I’ll get you some water! Let’s hope for your sake it’s not rabies, those are symptoms!” She ran to the kitchen and turned the faucet on, her voice was still heard. “I’ll monitor you and if you don’t improve in the morning we’re going straight to see Dr. Hebert.”
John felt a burning sensation all over his body and started to sweat. He remembered the pond he had in the backyard and ran out past Betty get to it. He kneeled down and stuck his head in the freezing water, drinking it while it cooled him. His thirst never went away.
Betty ran out after him, “John! We’re going to the hospital! Right now!”
Red eyes watched him then from their hedges as she reached down to comfort him. John stood up and scanned his surroundings, feeling the other presence there. “Go inside, Betty. He whispered to Betty.
“What? I don’t under-“
“GO INSIDE!” He yelled and she obeyed with a nod. John’s senses overloaded until suddenly everything went black. The pressure in his skull erupted as it felt like he was stricken from behind.
“It’s the end of the road for you.” John heard Giles voice echo out.
“Hey buddy, did ya hear me?” His voice was suddenly different.
“I don’t got all day pal.” John awoke in the cab - a few hours had passed. The sun was lower now and he could feel the sting on his cheek as the light grazed it. His skin started to burn. “Why’d we have to come all the way to East Hampton?”
“Not that it’s any of your business ‘pal’, but I have an appointment.” John retorted. He paid his large sum of money. “Wait here for me. I’ll need another ride home.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier and cheaper to just take the subway?” John could hear his heartbeat getting slowly louder as he spoke and knew he was hungry.
John’s long life helped him accumulate more than enough wealth that the cab bill wouldn’t be a problem. “I’ll tip you extra if you just shut up and do your job. Double for your time.”
The cab driver raised his eyebrows and nodded.
John pulled his fedora down to block the sun and popped his collar up. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out some shades because of how bright it was and a juice box looking thing. Sticking one fang into the hole he squeezed it and had it drank in moments. His head leveled out more and the sound of the pounding heartbeats ceased. A drop of blood escaped the crushed juice box and he tossed it into a nearby public trashcan.
John walked into the apartment complex and removed his hat, shades and gloves and he also pulled his collar down. He studied the list of occupants at the door and then made his way to the third floor. At the end of the hall there was a placard on the door that read: ‘Alena St. Claire, Private Investigator’.
————————————————————
Aleister and Silver were walking through a corridor, it was bright red and almost fleshy surrounding them. It was as if the walls and floor in hell were alive.
“You know, the strong, silent type doesn’t really fly around me pal.” Silver trotted beside Aleister. “At least give me something to work with here!”
“You talk too much.”
“What can I say? I got the gift of the gabs as my mother told me. You got a gift of the crabs. I mean that on account of you being so bitchy all the time, not like... pubic lice crabs.... on account of you being a virgin and whatnot.”
Aleister shot him a look but kept walking.
“Oh boy, I hit a nerve! Who hurt you? What was her name? Tanya? Margot? Latoya?Jennifer? Jenny? Jenna? Jen? Was it a guy then? Philip? Hubert? Hermès?” There was a small ridge that Silver walked up to be head level with Aleister. His eyes got wide and he took a deep breath as if he realized something, “Did Father Johnson play “hide the Bible in the confession booth’ when you were an alter boy?!”
Aleister snapped at him, “That’s enough, you stupid cat!”
Silver started to groom himself nonchalantly, “I find that speciesist! I would normally demand an apology but I could tell you’re lashing out at me because someone did hurt you.”
“Shut up and keep moving.”
“He goes by the name ‘Slade’, I believe. He must’ve whooped your ass good for you to be such a salty-ass little bit-“
Aleister grabbed him by the neck and held a conjured fireball from his free hand near Silver’s face. Silver ears went back as he felt the heat. “It was a draw. If you don’t shut up then there’ll be one less demon left to worry about. I can navigate down here just fine without your shortcuts, do you hear me?”
Silver’s eyes were trained on the fireball, “Y-y-yes.”
“Yes?”
“Yes sir...”
“Good.” Aleister let go and straightened himself up. Silver shook his head and got his bearings. “Continue without speaking.”
Silver nodded and slinked off ahead of him.
————————————————————
“So detective, what can I do for you today?” Alena was a raven haired woman with olive skin. Her voice was steady, she looked comfortable and casual. Her heartbeat betrayed her nervousness, she was used to keeping her cool in situations it seemed.
“Well Ms. St. Claire, I just had a few questions regarding the murder you witnessed the other night.”
Her heart rate went up a little but she gave him a smile, “You should know detective, I already gave the NYPD my full cooperation. Would you like some tea or coffee?”
“I’m good, thanks.” She was definitely just trying to rush things along and take suspicion off of herself. “You can relax Ms. My questions are different from the ones you already had to answer.”
“Ok...” she sat down, still smiling. Her heartbeat started to slow a little bit.
“First off, how’ve you been?”
“Fine.”
“We offered to give you free counseling over the things you’ve seen - that’s a gruesome scene to witness. Yet, you refused to accept any help.”
“Well, it’s awful for sure. But I’ve reported and investigated all sorts of shit before. I’ve covered wars, you know.”
“That’s a fair point Ms.”
“Alena, I don’t like that whole ‘Ms.’ crap.”
“Alright then Alena. Would you mind telling me why you were in the area?”
“I already went over this at the station.”
“I like to conduct my own investigations - something I’m sure a PI like yourself can appreciate. Having time to reflect on things can help you remember details you may have forgotten. Maybe it’s possible that some details came to light that you forgot to mention before?”
Alena’s heartbeat increased again, she swallowed and returned to her smile. “I was investigating an affair of one of the victims neighbors. The husband want me to catch his wife coming out of the house so I waited outside when I noticed the fire. I’m sorry, I’ve told them all I know. I don’t know anything else.”
John nonchalantly stood and walked around the room, listening to her heartbeat as he paced. “We’re only concerned with catching the guy responsible. It’s good you came forward to the police, I know how scary it must of been to have that psycho so close.” As he approached one of her desks in the room he could hear her heartbeat get faster and her shortness of breath. Like a game of hot and cold he was getting close to something she didn’t want him to see. “Your photos were instrumental in helping out the investigation, but it’s weird to me that you had so many photos, and not one has a good shot of the perp’s face.”
“I was in a rush detective.”
He noticed a framed photo that was slightly off the space where it sat in the dust before. It had been moved recently, and the dust was so fine that he was likely the only person that could see it anyways. The photo inside had a crease in the corner like it was hastily shoved back in and her hear sounded like it would burst.
“This you and your dog? I love Retrievers.” John’s eyes actively studied the picture and he could tell that it was photoshopped. He picked it up and felt the back.
“Yes... That was my dog Bubsy. He passed away last year.”
“That’s unfortunate to hear, Alena. I’m sorry for Bootsy’s passing.”
“Bubsy.”
“No, the collar says Bootsy.” John tore open the back and Alena jumped up.
“You son of a bitch! You can’t just do that!”
“Ms. St. Claire, you are aware that withholding evidence of a police investigation is illegal, correct?”
She was caught, “I-“
John grabbed the photos out of the frame and held up one that looked like a tall demon on the rooftop fighting two other creatures. The thunderstorm and darkness made it next to impossible to make out anything other than vague outlines.
“Now you’re gonna explain yourself to me what you really saw.”
submitted by Stormrider66 to libraryofshadows [link] [comments]


2020.06.11 16:13 recrewriting Looking for My Harley

I watched the gray smoke twist from my cig as it dissipated into the night. The red, smoldering end stood out against the night like a gunshot stands out against the low rumble of the ocean. The scene should have been tranquil, it should have made me feel tranquil, but instead it only brought me anxiety. That was my fault. You see, my father always did this thing where he would wake up in the middle of the night and decide he had to something right then. He would chop firewood or tune up the engine of his old pickup, all in the wee hours of the morning. He got away with it because we had no neighbors.
I had two neighbors, however—rich pricks who moved in to “enjoy the serenity of nature,” or some bullshit like that. They built these massive houses complete with balconies, bay windows, and solar panels—big ugly things that looked like they had been pulled from Star Trek. But what could I do? Simple. Deal with it. That’s why when I woke up at one or two (or even three), instead of taking an ax to a pile of logs, I hopped on a Harley and went for a ride to who knows where. It was loud, but the neighbors couldn’t complain about one loud noise every few weeks. So I would ride for hours. Occasionally I stopped to admire a particularly spectacular view (there are many around here), but for the most part I stuck to the minor roads, drove around for a few peaceful hours, then returned home ready to sleep.
Tonight had been one of those nights. Waking up at two, thoughts of all the shit going on racing around my mind like thoroughbreds bolting down a track. Was the client at work satisfied? Was my wife’s chemo taking as big of a toll on her as I thought it was? I snuck out of the house as quietly as possible, crept to the garage, and readied my Harley. She was a gorgeous bike. She could rumble along, or she could roar like a lion. I kept her paint fresh, making sure the scratches from the pebbles flying up from the road never added up. We didn’t have any kids, so the Harley was my baby. I took care of her, and she took care of me. That night, when I rumbled down the driveway and onto the road, I had no idea how badly she was hurting.
I didn’t find out until an hour later when her steady drone turned into a put-put-put and I felt her slowing down. She rolled to a complete stop at the edge of the road, now silent and dark. Her lone headlight had gone out.
“Jesus Christ,” I muttered.
At this point, I wasn’t too worried. This sort of thing happens once in a while. Usually letting her cool down for a bit does the trick, so I left her in the breakdown lane and started to walk, wondering where the hell I was. Some miles back I had passed through a tiny town with a church and a gas station, but since then I hadn’t seen another sign of civilization. Just endless lines of pine trees. I walked for a long time, waiting for the Harley to cool down, then I came back. I started her up, expecting the familiar sound, like a big cat announcing its presence, but instead the bike only put-putted again. Maybe her gas was low. I checked. No such luck. She had a good two-thirds of a tank left. I pulled out my phone to call AAA, thinking about tomorrow’s inevitable conversation with the Mrs.: “why were you driving at two in the morning?” Answer: “because I was thinking a lot and I wanted to think less.” Can you imagine my sorry ass trudging back in at God knows what hour and giving her that sorry excuse? Id’ be sleeping on the couch for a month. It didn’t matter through, because I had no phone service.
So that brings me to where I started this tale. Sitting on the curb, staring a tree whose trunk split in two places, smoking a cig to calm my nerves. Nasty habit, I know. Maybe I’ll quit someday, but not now.
That’s when I heard a person cry out in the distance. Straining my eyes, I looked that way, but the moonlight wasn’t enough to see if anyone was standing there. I would have to investigate.
I started down the road, dragging on my cig, telling myself I wouldn’t get involved in anything dangerous. I was in enough trouble already, and the last thing I needed was to piss off some moose that had gored a foolish tourist who thought he could get up close and personal.
“Hello?” I called.
No reply, but I heard the cry again, a little closer this time. It was a man, for sure. Deep and gritty, it sounded like the scream Dwayne Johnson might make if he broke his arm.
“Are you alright?”
Still, no response.
The noise stopped after that, and when five minutes passed without another sign, I started back for my Harley. Yeah, I hadn’t seen anyone else, but I still didn’t want to leave my baby alone for too long. Maybe some trucker would dive by, and he could pick me up and drop me off at the nearest town.
I only knew I arrived back at my original spot because I saw that funny, double-splitting tree again. The Harley was gone. I don’t mean it fell off the curb and to the little trench between the road and the forest, I mean G-O-N-E. Gone. My heart rate quickened and my palms started to sweat. Not only was I alone in the middle of nowhere with no way to communicate with the outside world, but my only potential ride had vanished into thin air. No one could have picked her up; she weighed too much. I scoured the road and the edges of the forest for the next half-hour, determined to find her. She had to be around somewhere. Nothing else made any sense, not that the situation made much sense either; after all, my several-hundred-pound motorcycle had vanished of mysterious causes.
A distant horn blared. A second later, it came again a little closer. The trucker I had thought about! It had to be. Nothing but an eighteen-wheeler could make a noise that distinct, and I welcomed the noise because it meant I could spend the next few hours somewhere other than the side of the road.
The headlights would appear in the distance next, I thought. The noise had come from the south, so I looked that way first but saw no lights. I furrowed my brow and turned the other way. Same result.
Suddenly something massive barreled past me. The displaced air washed over me, drying my skin, whipping my hair back, forcing me to close my eyes, roaring like a beast. It felt like a semi-truck had plowed down the road right next to where I stood.
“What in the world…” I said. “An invisible truck…?”
Logic told me I had fallen asleep and was now having the most vivid dream of my life. Surely disembodied cries and ghost trucks couldn’t be real. And no one I knew had ever mentioned a haunted stretch of road in the middle of Carroll County. You need some sleep, I told myself.
A while later I was still sitting there. All that spooky stuff—the scream and the phantom truck—had gone away, leaving me to stare at a bunch of trees. I lit another cig. It helped calm my nerves, which were electric at this point. What I really needed was a good drink, but I had nothing on me, and even if I did, drinking wouldn’t help me find a way home.
The question of what in the world had happened to my Harley occupied my thoughts. Someone must have come along and taken it, thinking it was abandoned on the side of the road. How they had taken it, I had no idea. On this flat stretch of road, anything should have been visible, and I should have been able to hear any engine for miles. Not to mention that any car, no matter which direction it drove, would have needed to pass me at some point.
The way the bike had vanished should have bothered me more, but taking drag after drag of the cig relaxed me. If I closed my eyes and imagined myself sitting in the backyard, listening to the burbling river that ran through the woods behind my house, I found I couldn’t be that stressed. Everything would work itself out It always did. Three weeks from now, I’d laugh at the story, tell it to my friends over beers. “Remember that time I got stuck on that road all night because some asshole stole my bike?” Slowly, the cig burned down to a butt. I dropped it and crushed it under my boot, grinding it to a pile of ash. I pulled another from the box, held it up, and was about to light it when it occurred to me that I had smoked two already. I should slow down. Promising myself I would hold off on the third for a while, I tucked it back into the box and stowed the box in my pocket.
Vroom…
Like an animal that has heard a stick break, I snapped to attentiveness. That sound, it was so familiar, unmistakable: my Harley. I cupped a hand to my ear and actively listened. A moment later it came again, a rumbling roar from…where? It came a third time. The woods? Why was it coming from the woods? You couldn’t ride a Harley off road. But the more I thought about finding my Harley, the less important all those details seemed. Why care about how the Harley got into the woods when the important part was finding it? Suddenly filled with a renewed energy, I crossed the grassy trench that separated the woods from the road, and I stood before the trees, waiting for the sound. One more time, and I could pinpoint the direction. Before I knew it, my third cig was smoldering from my mouth.
Vrrroooom...
It sounded fainter this time, but still close. A smile crept up, and I charged for the woods.
The third cig burned almost all the way down before I realized how fast I was ripping through it. Perhaps ten minutes had passed since I left the side of the road, and I knew the moment this cig finished, I would light up another. As I thought about it, it finished. I dropped it to the forest floor and stomped on it, grinding it into the dirt.
Occasionally the Harley would gun again, and each time I adjusted my direction slightly. It stopped sounding so far away. Instead it seemed to move away from me at the same pace that I moved toward it. Whoever had stolen it must have been an expert biker because navigating it through a forest, even at the slow pace of three or four miles per hour, would be extremely difficult.
I lighted my fourth cig. A clearing came into view through the trees ahead. Perhaps I could rest there a moment, find my bearings, then push on at a renewed pace.
A large rock rested at the clearing’s center. The trees around the clearing towered taller than most of the others in the forest, so I wondered for a moment why they didn’t grow here. If the other trees were so tall, the soil was nutrient-dense and ripe for supporting plant life. I hopped over a line of mushrooms that stood between me and the rock, then I sat upon the rock and thought.
Sitting there in the wee hours of the morning, puffing on a cig, my rational mind returned to me for a moment. Why in God’s name had I come out here? Had I just stayed by the side of the road, someone would have come by eventually. Now if a trucker drove by, they would only see the same empty road they were used to. I cursed myself for such foolishness. The best option was to head back and wait at the road. I stood and made to depart by the way I came, but I realized then that with my constant adjustment of direction, I didn’t know which way to go. Leaving the clearing at the point I had entered might bring me tangentially closer to the road, or, God forbid, parallel to it. I had turned at least three times while wandering. Even Hansel and Gretel had been smarter. And I noticed something else too. Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time, the mushrooms would have meant nothing to me, but I had experienced too many unexplainable phenomena that night. So when I noticed that the mushrooms didn’t grow in just one patch, but instead formed a wide ring around this rock, my stomach dropped. A faerie ring. Everyone knows the stories of people wandering into these rings only to find themselves lost to the world. Travelers enter them and cannot help but join in whatever celebration or dance the faeries run. When you step into a ring, your life might as well have ended.
My rational mind fought back once again: It’s just a ring of mushrooms. Faeries don’t exist. You just need to listen for cars or trucks. Then you can find your way back to the road.
I knew this part of my mind was right, yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that something about this ring would linger with me even after I left. I dismissed the feeling as the same unease you feel after watching a horror movie. Curse my overactive imagination!
“Just get up, you big idiot,” I said. My cig burned to a butt, and I swore I wouldn’t smoke any more that night. With that I rose to my feet and listened for any noises unique to roads.
I heard only one: the Harley.
Before I could control my shaking hands, they lit a fifth cig. My feet took me to the edge of the ring—the direction from which the Harley had roared. My rational mind, buried under the sudden burning desire to see my bike, screamed that following the noise could only hurt me, but I didn’t (couldn’t) listen.
I wandered for some time, occasionally hearing the rumble of a Harley. How long I wandered, I have no idea, but it had to have been several hours.
I came to another clearing that looked about the same size as the first. The trees grew tall in a similar way, but instead of a rock in the middle, I saw my Harley. Sleek and idling, she waited for her rider. My mouth curled into a smile, and I ran forwards. Now I needed only to get her back to the road. I checked the gas meter. A little over half a tank. Enough to reach home again before dawn, I figured.
I straddled her and closed my eyes. The steady, low rumble of the bike resonated with all parts of my being, and I just sat there for a moment, taking the feeling in. Never before had sitting on my bike felt so satisfying, so right. I could sit there forever, I thought. Sit there forever and never become bored. I gripped the handlebars, intending to move her a few feet forward, when the rumbling stopped. My eyes flew open.
There was no Harley. I was sitting on a rock. A ring of mushrooms surrounded me. The clearing looked similar to the first because it was the first. Either I had imagined wandering, or I had wandered in a circle. You’ve done it now. Oh boy, yes you have. How are you getting yourself out of this fuck up?
I didn’t have to, I told myself. My Harley was out here somewhere, and I just had to find her. Despite what that little voice in my head said, if I could only find her, she would be my ticket home, and that’s what this whole search was about, finding my way home.
Another rumbling sounded deep in the woods. I sprang from the rock, started my next cig, and plunged into the trees, looking for my Harley.
submitted by recrewriting to RedditLitReview [link] [comments]


2020.06.09 05:00 HolidayAbroad The Hearse

Colton Bell (Colt to people who didn’t know him well enough to know that he hated the shortened form of his name) peddled his bike slowly along the shoulder of State Street, thinking about the comment that Tracy Duncan had left on his latest Instagram post. Colton had been thirteen years old for just shy of two months, and his Instagram account was just shy of two months old. His parents, worried after reading reports about the dangers of social media, had long been opposed to him using any social media apps, but two years earlier had promised to allow him to create an Instagram account when he turned thirteen. (What about Twitter?, he’d asked. When you're thirty, his father replied.) Maybe they’d hoped he would forget the promise by the time the big day came. If that was the case, he’d disappointed them. The day of his birthday was the day he created the account, and the first picture he posted was of his little sister scarfing a big slice of cake, her face covered in white frosting.
He knew that it would’ve been easy to start any number of social media accounts even before his birthday; all of his friends had at least one secret account that their parents were ignorant of. But he didn’t like lying to his parents, and he was pretty sure starting an illicit account, after being expressly forbidden to, counted as a lie. So he’d waited, and now he was officially an Instagrammer.
Colton didn’t think his number of followers was all that impressive (a hundred and twenty-five, thirty of whom were related to him, a couple dozen who only followed because they expected a follow in return), but he didn’t fret much over it. In truth, starting the account would have been worth it for just one follower alone: Tracy Duncan. He’d had a crush on Tracy since the fifth grade when they’d shared Mrs. Bingham’s class. The few times she’d talked to him back then, she’d called him “Colt”, and of course, he never corrected her. He found that he didn’t mind the name so much when she was the one speaking it.
He hadn’t ever dared to tell Tracy how much he liked her in fifth grade…or sixth…or seventh. During the summer break between seventh and eighth grade, he’d promised himself that, sometime during the new school year, he would tell her. The school year was a month old already, and he hadn’t even spoken to her once.
What a surprise it had been, then, when he’d opened the app one bright morning to see that Tracy had started following him. At first, he’d been certain she had followed him by mistake, and that by day’s end she would have realized her grave error, rectifying it with an unfollow. But that hadn’t happened, and now (would wonders never cease?) she’d posted her first comment on one of his photos. It was a snap of Colton with his friends Jake and Nathan taken at Clearpoint Lake, with the caption, Chillin’ with the boys. His sister, the lover of cake, had taken the picture, and while he and his friends were not quite centered, he had posted it the day before.
Cuties.
That was it; that’s what she had written. Tracy hadn’t directed the remark at any one of them, but she had seen in on his account, had known that he was the one who’d posted the pic, and she had left that comment. That had to mean something, didn’t it?
Colton biked over the bridge spanning Sag Creek and turned onto Pinegrove Road. Further up Pinegrove, he passed the empty building that had been an orphanage about a hundred years ago (but which had been just an empty, creepy-looking old building for all of his childhood). He peddled past it without sparing it a glance.
He’d tried to think of some clever response to Tracy’s comment, had thought of and rejected at least two dozen. He was terrified of saying the wrong thing, of embarrassing himself. A couple of times, certain that he’d finally thought of just the thing, he’d typed out his response, only to erase it without posting. What if he didn’t respond at all? Would she feel that he was ignoring her?
Colton stowed his bike in the rack in front of Food N’ Gas and went inside. The big man behind the counter gave Colton a suspicious look as the boy entered. The nametag on the breast of the man’s shirt displayed his name, DEKE. Rumor had it that Deke had caught a couple of teenagers from the high school shoplifting from the gas station/convenience store once, and had roughed them up pretty badly. Colton had no idea if this was true. He’d chalked it up as a schoolyard tall tale, but after seeing that hard look on the big man’s face, he wasn’t so sure he’d bet on it.
Colton went to the Big Freeze machine and poured himself one of the slushy drinks. He took it up to the counter and paid for it, with Deke eyeing him suspiciously the whole time. When he was outside again, Colton sat on the curb in front of Food N’ Gas, sipping his Big Freeze while looking at Tracy’s comment. He grasped and discarded several more possible responses. They weren’t quite right, and he needed it to be right.
A vehicle pulled into a parking space in front of Food N’ Gas, its front bumper coming to rest over the curb just ten feet from Colton. He looked up and saw that it was a long black hearse with dark-tinted windows. Colton looked back at his phone, decided that he’d give Tracy’s comment more thought later on, and put the phone in his pocket. He stood up and walked over to the trashcan by the front door of the station. He sucked up the last of the sweet syrup, leaving a bit of pale, flavorless ice at the bottom of the cup, and tossed the cup into the trash. The dark hearse was still idling in its space. The driver hadn’t gotten out of the vehicle. The windows were too dark to see into the car; even the windshield was a smooth obsidian slate.
He retrieved his bike from the rack. In his mind, he could hear his mother warning him that if he didn’t start locking the bike up, someone was liable to steal it one of these days. He looked at the hearse again. The engine was still running; the driver was still inside. A cold, shivery feeling shot up Colton’s back. He had a weird feeling that whoever was in the hearse was watching him.
He’s crazy, Colton.
Though the thought had come from his own mind, it sounded to Colton almost as if it had come from outside himself. He tried shrugging the creepy feeling off (an unsuccessful attempt), and started walking his bike back to the road. As he came to the edge of the parking lot, Colton looked back, half-certain that the hearse would have pulled out of its parking space and would turn to follow him. But it was still there, parked and idling in front of the station.
Colton rode back up Pinegrove, retracing his path. He turned right onto State and rode over the bridge. As his front tire left the bridge, there was a loud spang, and the bike started to wobble beneath him. His feet were still peddling, but they met no resistance. Colton tried keeping himself upright on the bike. He lost the battle, and the whole works fell over to the right. His right knee slammed hard into the gravel shoulder of the road. He slid along the shoulder for a few feet with the bike still between his legs.
He lay there for a moment, sucking in a breath and letting it out. After kicking the bike away, Colton sat up and took stock of the damage: his right arm was scraped up, bits of gravel stuck to it, blood just beginning to seep out from several shallow cuts; his jeans were pretty well torn up at the right knee, and the flesh now visible through the frayed denim looked like ground hamburger. This comparison made Colton’s gorge rise, and for a moment he was sure that he was going to puke up the Big Freeze along with his breakfast. He fought against it, and the feeling subsided.
He stood up, his knee crying out as the scraped skin there expanded and retracted with the movement. The bike was sitting in the middle of the right-hand lane. Colton bent down and grabbed hold of the handlebar, dragging the bike out of the roadway. He righted the bike and looked it over. The chain had come loose, and hung limply now, sagging on the ground.
“Crap,” Colton muttered to himself.
He bent down (his knee didn’t appreciate it very much) and fiddled with the chain, trying to figure out how to fix it. It took him all of thirty seconds to realize that he had no idea what he was doing. He would have to wheel the bike home and hope his dad could fix the chain. If he couldn’t, Colton supposed he’d be doing a lot of walking in the coming weeks.
A car drove over the bridge; Colton was facing away from the road, but he heard it pull up behind him and come to a stop. Part of his mind was telling him not to look, to just walk away with the bike without paying it any notice. He turned around anyway and saw the hearse.
Maybe it wasn’t the same hearse he’d seen at Food N’ Gas.
Sure, Colton, old buddy. There are a ton of creepy black hearses driving around these parts. You can’t throw a rock in this town without hitting a black hearse, am I right?
The vehicle was so dark that its dull surface seemed to swallow the daylight. The tinted passenger-side window reflected Colton’s image back at him. He had the eerie feeling that it wasn’t a window at all, but the blank, staring eye of some strange beast. The window rolled down silently, and Colton thought he felt a rush of cold air from inside the car.
“You look like you could use some help there, boy.”
A deep, gravelly voice from inside the hearse.
A tingle of fear blossomed inside of Colton. He looked up and down the road; they were alone.
“Why don’tcha let me give you a ride home? You can put the bike in the back; it’ll fit just fine.”
Colton bent so that he could see into the vehicle. He had the funny thought that there would be nobody behind the wheel. Yes, it was a funny thought, all right; of course there was someone behind the wheel. It was an old man who looked to be about seventy. A skinny, emaciated face. Thin, snowy hairy peeked out from beneath a black bowler hat. Bright white teeth; dark, sunken eyes. The interior of the vehicle was dark, but Colton saw all this.
“Thanks, mister, but I live just a couple blocks from here. I can walk. I don’t want to be a bother.”
Colton was lying. It would take him at least a half-hour to get home on foot, maybe longer since he had to drag the bike along with him. But the man didn’t know where he lived, and he didn’t want to get into the car.
The man smiled. The teeth were all crooked, as if each of them was in business for itself.
“Nonsense, boy. It’s no bother ‘tall. Just put the bike in the back, and get in. I’ll take you right home.”
Again Colton looked up and down State Street, but there wasn’t another vehicle in sight.
“No, really; I don’t need a ride.”
The man held one smooth, pallid hand out to Colton.
“Come on, son; come with me.”
“I have to go,” Colton said, stepping away from the hearse.
Colton walked up the street, his upper body twisted slightly so that he could hold onto the handlebars of the busted bicycle, the bike chain dragging on the ground. It took all of his effort not to toss the bike into the weeds and start running; he didn’t want the man in the black hearse to know that he was afraid. He wasn’t sure that he could run even if he wanted to; his bad knee still hurt something awful.
He heard the rumble of the engine as the hearse passed him. The brake lights glowed red as the vehicle came to a stop. The driver’s door opened, and the man got out of the car. He was unusually tall, but rail-thin. He wore a dark suit, the white shirt beneath the suit jacket matching his skin for paleness.
“I’m not playing with you, boy.”
The man moved quickly, and he was upon Colton before the boy could react. The man grabbed one wrist and yanked Colton toward the hearse. The bike fell over on its side, hitting the shoulder of the road and sending a spray of gravel skittering. Colton tried pulling away from the stranger, but the man’s grip was stronger than anyone who looked at his thin frame could’ve believed.
“Let me go,” Colton pleaded.
“Your name was on the list,” the man said. “Your name was on it, and that means you’ve gotta take a ride.”
“A ride where?” Colton asked as he continued his struggle to break free.
The man looked at Colton as if he were a plain dummy.
“To the boneyard. Where else would you go?”
Colton searched wildly for help, but there was no one else around.
“Please let me go,” he said.
“Your name was on the list. There’s nothing I can do about that.”
They were nearing the open door, and Colton knew that the man intended to throw him into the vehicle, climb in after him, and then drive off.
And what then, Colton? What do you think will happen to us then?
Colton shut the thought out. He set his feet and looped his free hand in a punch. It caught the tall man on the jaw, and he staggered, more from the surprise of the blow than from the force of it. The grip on Colton’s wrist loosened for just a moment, and it was enough for the boy to break free. Colton left the road, running through the weed-filled field beside it back in the direction of Pinegrove Road.
“Come back here, boy! You can’t change fate. Your name was on the damn list!”
But Colton didn’t stop, didn’t even pause. He ran; when he got to the creek, he slid down the embankment and splashed into the water. The creek smelled rank, and a distant part of his mind wondered what kind of bacteria was floating around in the water, and if his wounds might get infected with that flesh-eating disease he’d seen pictures of on the web. He climbed out of the creek and up the opposite bank, entering the woods that stood between the creek and Pinegrove Road.
Once he was among the trees, Colton stopped to catch his breath. His heart was going crazy like a rat in a cage, and the air burned in his lungs as he sucked in great gulps of it. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone, meaning to call the cops and tell them about the crazy guy in the hearse.
Oh, this is going to be a problem, Colton. Yep, a very big problem, indeed. The phone was in your pocket when you jumped into the creek. Don’t you know not to get your phone wet?
He pushed a button and the display popped up, but it looked all wrong. Water had gotten under the screen, and the app icons of his home screen looked like they were going for a swim. Colton tried to make a call, but the screen was frozen. Then the home screen disappeared, and he couldn’t get it to come back.
How will you ever respond to Tracy Duncan’s comment now?
It was a ridiculous thought to have when you were on the run from a crazy old bastard who wanted to take you to the boneyard. He put the phone back in his pocket--
(maybe Dad could fix it somehow after he fixes the bike)
--and started in the direction of Pinegrove Road again. His banged-up knee had lent him a limp, but he moved as quickly as he could, taking care not to trip over any exposed tree roots. Soon he could make out the road through the trees. A car sped by, headed north; the car would pass the orphanage and, soon after that, the Food N’ Gas where Colton sat drinking a Big Freeze not that long ago. He came out of the woods and headed north, away from State Street and the bridge. Colton had just enough time to see the car that had passed before it turned off onto a side road and disappeared. He moved as fast as he could; his plan was to either walk into Food N’ Gas and ask Deke to call the police or, if a car passed him before then, to flag it down and ask the driver to do the same.
Colton looked down at his leg; the ragged hole in the jeans was stained red now. He checked his arm, but it didn’t look so bad, just a bit scraped up. He stopped when he heard a car coming from behind him. He turned and lifted one hand to wave and get the driver’s attention…and froze when he saw that it was the hearse.
I told you he was crazy, didn’t I? Back when we first saw that hearse, I said it.
His first instinct was to run back into the woods, but he’d barely even started to turn that way when the hearse careened into the right-hand lane. It nearly clipped Colton, and he jumped out of the way, landing in the overgrown grass beside the road.
The hearse came to a stop, and the tall man got out. Colton tried scooting back on his behind, but the man was too quick. Before Colton could even get out a scream, the man had his hands around the boy’s throat, and he was squeezing. The flesh of the hands felt all wrong against his own, almost like modeling clay.
I think you’re dying, buddy boy. I told you he was crazy.
Dark spots danced in his vision as his lungs cried out for air.
You’re donezo, kid. Next stop: the boneyard.
The world was dimming around him.
Look at the bright side: Tracy might come to the funeral.
The world went black.
He had no idea how long he was out for, but when he came to the world was still black. Colton was lying down, and he could feel that he was moving. He tried reaching out, but his arms hit a barrier. He felt the barrier, running his hands along it. It was some kind of soft material that was covering something harder underneath.
His head was lying on something soft. He worked his arms in the confined space until he was able to reach behind his head. It was a small pillow. That’s when the realization hit him like a brick, and he reached a new level of terror.
He was lying in a coffin.
Colton started screaming then, and he screamed until he was hoarse. He banged against the lid of the coffin as hard as he good, but it wouldn’t even budge.
“Help! Someone, please get me out of here!”
He went on like that for some time, until his throat was ragged and his arms were sore.
Cut it out, Colton.
He kept on banging.
I said, cut it out. Save your energy. You’ll need it.
This seemed like good advice, and though it was difficult he forced himself to settle down by a sheer act of will. He worked to slow his breathing; he didn’t know if coffins were airtight, and didn’t want to use up all his oxygen if this one was.
Smart boy. Wait for your chance, and when you see it, take it.
He was inside a coffin, and he knew the coffin was in the back of the hearse. He could feel the motion of the vehicle, could feel the turns.
He closed his eyes, going from one darkness to a deeper one, and tried picturing something pleasant. His mind called up the day at the lake with his friends. His mom had driven them, and his sister had tagged along. It had been a beautiful late-summer day, the water cool and clear. His mom had brought a cooler with snacks: a six-pack of grape soda, sandwiches. In the movie that was playing in his mind, things didn’t happen exactly as they had on that day at the lake. The high school kids with the music blasting much too loud, the ones who’d said something to his mom that caused her to blush when she asked them to turn the radio down, didn’t make the cut; their scene was left on the cutting-room floor. (Colton had not been able to hear what was said to his mother, but whatever it was, it’d caused the teens to break out in hyena laughter as she walked away from them.) The mosquitos that had been a nuisance all day, and which had left Colton with a collection of itchy bumps to remember them by, didn’t make it into the movie, either.
There was one addition to the memory movie. In this version, the special director’s cut, Tracy Duncan was there at the beach with them. She was wearing a cute blue bathing suit, and her hair was golden fire. He’d gotten to the scene where he and his friends had their picture taken by his sister, only this time Tracy was sitting next to him, her head leaned over onto his shoulder. They all smiled, and the camera flashed.
The hearse stopped, and the engine cut out. Colton opened his eyes (for all the good it did him), and waited for whatever was next. The sound of the back door of the hearse being pulled open. A jolt as the coffin was jerked toward the open door. Colton could see it just as clearly as he’d seen that memory movie of the beach: the old man working to get the coffin out of the back of the hearse. The coffin was pulled farther, then farther still. When the box was pulled fully out of the hearse, it dropped to the ground, Colton jouncing around inside of it. Silence for a minute, and then there was a knock on the lid.
Don’t be rude, Colty, my buddy. Somebody’s knocking; aren’t you going to answer the door?
Very funny.
Well, I try my best.
Colton heard the sound of a latch being thrown, and then the lid was raised. The first thing he saw was the night sky, and he decided that he must have been unconscious for a long time before waking up in the coffin. Even accounting for the driving time since he’d come to, it shouldn’t be nighttime yet. Then the tall man blotted out the sky as he leaned over the open coffin.
“We’re here,” the man said. “Up and at ‘em, boy.”
“Where are we?” he asked, his voice a croak.
The man didn’t answer the question. Instead, he reached down and grabbed Colton by the shirt, lifting him up and out as if he weighed no more than a ventriloquist’s dummy. The man set him on his feet, steadying him when his knees started to buckle.
“Now, I know what you’re prob’ly thinking,” the man said. “You still think you got a chance of getting away from me. But let me tell you, boy: that ain’t gonna happen. Even if you did manage to get away from me--and there’s little chance of that--there ain’t nowhere for you to run to.”
Colton looked up into the man’s face.
That’s not a human face, no way. It’s a mask.
“Look around you, boy. You’re a long way from home. A long way off.”
Colton did look around. They were near the front entrance of a cemetery, the rusted gates standing ajar. At the top of the gate, there was a sign, but the words were too rusted over and covered with green gunk to read. He looked away from the cemetery and saw that the road the hearse was a parked on led away for no more than fifty feet before it disappeared into a dense wall of fog. The fog surrounded the entire cemetery, it seemed, the cemetery itself an island of clarity.
The man gripped Colton by the shoulders, his thin fingers digging in painfully, and leaned down into his face. The man’s breath smelled awful, like rotten meat.
“It ain’t nothing personal, boy. Your name was on my list, that’s all. A name goes on my list, and I bring ‘em here to the boneyard. That’s the way it’s always been.”
The man stood to his full height again, and Colton was glad to have the man no longer breathing directly in his face. The old man took hold of his wrist, much as he had earlier by the bridge, and dragged him toward the cemetery gates. Colton wanted to protest, but no words would come out. The words were stuck in his throat. As they passed through the gates and into the cemetery proper, Colton’s bladder betrayed him, releasing all of its contents into his pants. A dark stain spread out from his crotch and down the legs of his pants. The old man looked at him, noticed the stain, and smiled a mischievous smile.
“No house training, huh, boy?”
This was followed by hearty laughter.
There were no headstones in the graveyard, just mounds of dirt where graves had been filled in. Some of them were grown over with grass, and Colton knew instinctively that these were older; the newer ones were bare. There were so many of them.
Oh, but there’s always room for one more, Colty-poo.
He wished his brain would shut the hell up and leave him alone.
Up ahead, he saw a gaping hole in the earth, an unfilled grave. This was where the man was taking him.
It won’t be unfilled for long.
The man led him to the edge of the whole. The whole wasn’t very deep at all. Colton figured there was just enough room for him to lie flat, with maybe a couple inches of clearance. There was a box set on the ground beside the hole. The box was made of some rich, dark wood, with intricate images carved into the side of it. The images were of animals that Colton had never seen, not in a textbook, not on any animal show, not anywhere.
“Don’t fight it, sonny,” the man said. “It’ll go easier for you if you do as you’re told. There’s no need to suffer…though you surely will if you give me any trouble. You hear me, boy?”
Colton was nodding before he even knew that he was going to. Yes, he heard the man loud and clear.
“Good. That’s very good. Now lie down there in the ground for me, will ya?”
He looked down at the hole, and then back up at the man. The man’s eyes were alight with manic glee.
He’s enjoying this, Colton. He can go on all he likes about it just being his job, a name on a list and all, but he likes doing this.
The man nodded as if he’d heard the boy’s thoughts and was agreeing.
“Get down there boy, and I promise that I’ll make it quick. I can’t promise it’ll be painless, but you’ll only feel it for a second or two.”
Colton looked down at the hole again. He waited for his brain to offer some advice, but it had gone quiet. He stepped toward the hole and started to lie facedown, but changed his mind and turned over so that he could see the sky.
The man bent so that he could open the wooden box, and he took something out of it. Colton looked closely. It looked like a handkerchief, dark red, wrapped around some object. The man unwrapped it to reveal a long knife. At the sight of the blade, agleam in the moonlight, a tear spilled out of Colton’s left eye, streaking down his face, over his ear, and into his hair. The man closed his eyes then and started speaking, but he wasn’t speaking to Colton. The words were unintelligible, a language so foreign that he’d never heard anything like it before. A thin sheet of clouds slid in front of the moon, and the blade lost some of its shine.
His eyes still closed, the man reached with his free hand to open his suit jacket and the shirt beneath, pulling them aside to reveal a smooth, pale, sunken chest. He raised the blade to the exposed flesh and drew it across. A dark line opened up on the man’s chest, and a moment later dark ruby blood started to ooze out of it. The man set the knife down at the lip of the hole, his eyes still shut. He dabbed blood from the wound with both hands, placed the hands on his own forehead, and swiped them down over his cheeks so that he had a war-mask of blood.
The knife, Colton.
The man went on chanting, his face turned up to the night sky, his arms held stretched out with the palms facing up as if he was hoping to catch the rain.
The knife, the knife, the knife, for chrissake, grab the damn knife!!!
Colton sat up, grabbed the knife, and drove the blade into the man’s belly. The man’s eyes opened; he looked down at his stomach and seemed surprised to see a knife stuck into it. Maybe he looked so surprised because he never imagined something like this could happen to him. There were so many graves, so many names on that mysterious list, and nobody had ever done something like this. Nobody had dared.
Colton drew the knife back, the blade coming out slick with blood. He meant to stab the man again, but before he could do it the man was on him. Colton was on his back again, and the man straddled him, trying to get a grip on Colton’s neck. The man’s hat fell off in the struggle, tumbling to the damp earth beside the grave. Colton struck out blindly with the knife, and the blade found soft flesh once, twice, kept on piercing and puncturing until the old man collapsed on top of the boy, completely limp now.
“Your name…was on the list,” the man said, and then he said no more.
Colton heaved the man off of him and sat up again. He looked down at himself and saw that his shirt was covered in blood.
But it’s not your blood.
No, it wasn’t his blood. He climbed out of the grave and looked down at the man. The ancient face was slack, the eyes were open and unstaring, mouth slightly agape, revealing those wildly crooked teeth.
Get going, kid. This is strange country; who knows what else might be lurking about.
And so Colton got going. He walked out of the graveyard (or boneyard, as the man had called it), and got into the driver’s seat of the hearse. He was afraid that he wouldn’t find a key, and that he’d have to go back and search the dead man’s pockets for it. Good news: he didn’t need a key. Bad news: the car had no ignition. He searched for some way to start the thing, but couldn’t find one.
It’ll only start for him. He is the key.
Colton got out of the hearse and stood to look out at the fog. He thought there might be things alive in that fog. The thought terrified him, but he wanted to go home and saw no way out but through it. He followed the road, and soon found himself surrounded by the thick fog, his arms prickled with gooseflesh. He kept his eyes down, watching the road beneath his feet. He just needed to stay on the road; if he lost the road, then he would truly be lost. Colton walked and walked. He was pleasantly surprised to discover that his knee didn’t hurt so much anymore. His neck hurt some from when the old buzzard had damn near strangled him to death, but he thought he’d be fine.
He continued walking until his mind went numb, and he paid his aching feet no mind. He walked until the world around him ceased to exist. The thing that shocked Colton out of his trance (if that’s what it was) was the sound of a car horn blaring at him in a warning. He looked up in time to see a pick-up truck swerving around him.
“Outta the road, kid!”
Colton looked around. It was daytime and he was standing on Pinegrove Road. He moved to the shoulder. There was his bike, still lying on its side. His first thought was that the whole thing had been a terrible dream, but one look down at his shirt knocked that idea right out of his head. The blood had dried and looked strangely faded, as if it was a very old stain, but it was still there. The stain in his jeans from when he’d wet himself was still there, too.
Colton walked over to his bike and righted it. He looked up the road one way, and then the other way. He was looking for a hearse, a big black one with dark windows, but the road was clear. Colton let out a deep, shuddering sigh. He started home, wheeling the bike alongside him.
submitted by HolidayAbroad to SignalHorrorFiction [link] [comments]


2020.06.07 02:14 TheAusNerd Debris [Part 33]

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Du'fra's knuckles tightened on the wheel as he put his all into obeying traffic laws, bobbing and weaving as he could through the skies of Ta'X'rtana toward the X'rtan Freight office floating above the citizens below, unconcerned with the man's barely-contained furry or the injustice he had suffered.
He touched down and before his body could properly adjust to the island's mag lifter maintenance induced swaying, he stormed through the front doors, past the foyer and into the elevators. As the box rose to the top floor where his target sat, Du'fra steamed. He had put the time in, he had put the work in, and he made damn sure that everything he did on the job was performed at the very peak of efficiency and professionalism. And now this greedy elitist upstart brat was going to stab him in the back just like that? Not. A. Damn. Chance.
Top floor, the home of the treasonous grub and his cronies in Regional Management. Du'fra marched down the decorated halls, heedless of the numerous looks of distress from employees idling about the water cooler. Ahead was the office of his foe, the door to which was staffed by a guard. Du'fra calmed himself enough to make his appearance seem nothing more than a business visit, and approached an intercom beside the door. <"Hello Mister Vuk'li, it's Du'fra Neem from Ship Management. Could I pop in for a word?"> he spoke into the device calmly; his blood boiled at the idea of speaking politely to the man.
A blue light flashed on the intercom, and the door unlocked with a click. Immediately Du'fra entered, and shut the door behind him firmly. The office was furnished with a densely packed bookshelf; a trophy cabinet full to bursting with personal effects polished such that they acted as beacons in the sunlight streaming in from the window; and a lone desk of rich mantan wood inlaid with gold running along the grain. At this desk was Vuk'li, staring expectantly at his enraged opponent.
<"What. Are. You. Doing?"> spoke Du'fra as measured as he could, slowly pacing toward Vuk'li.
<"My job, Mister Neem. Now if you would please vacate my office and the building, it would be much appreciated."> His tone was natural, but carried an unmistakeable air of cocky superiority.
<"But I did what you asked! Arnd Kolr is fired!">
<"Indeed she is, a week after I specifically requested it. And now, so are you.">
<"You can't do this, you have no due cause to fire me!">
<"But I have, and I do: you allowed a criminal to retain their position long after their criminal status was made public knowledge, and that will not do for a manager, will it?">
Du'fra could only stand and stare in disbelief. Vuk'li had, in one sentence, justified stripping away what Du'fra had worked himself to the bone to achieve, and they both knew that this would hold up in court. Vuk'li had effectively put him in checkmate. But Du'fra refused to accept this, and his fury peaked. <"I put my all into this company, for the past thirty six years, I was the best Ship Manager this company had ever seen. You don't have the right to take this away from me, you avaricious, scheming, MA'KO BRAKK SHIT!">
On cue, the guard stood by the door grabbed Du'fra by the arms from behind, quickly placing them in a pair of cuffs. The sentry roughly pulled the irate Du'fra away from Vuk'li, now struggling to hide a sinister smile. <"We do not tolerate racism at X'rtan Freight, Mister Neem."> he said with no shortage of triumph inn his tone. He then turned to the guard. <"Remove him from the building, he's not welcome here.">
All the while, Du'fra's gaze remained locked steady on Vuk'li and his fangs were bared in a snarling death stare, projecting Du'fra's hatred. <"I'll see you at next week's party, Kap'ej! And then everyone will know! Have fun when Lu'su finds out who's been embezzling funds!">
<"Of course."> Vuk'li replied calmly. And the door to his office snapped shut.

Du'fra waited as the items from his office, unceremoniously tossed out into the island's parking lot, were loaded onto a hired truck. Many of his books had pages torn out of them; numerous scratches abounded on a traditional hunting mask he hung in his office for luck; and the scale model of the Beast Of Burden was shattered, splintered down the middle. Du'fra simply watched and seethed.
He didn't even remove his coat when he arrived home, he simply stormed into his home office and checked his work desktop; he was locked out. At this point, there was no doubt in his mind: Vuk'li was going to pay dearly. He brought up the Flow and got to researching, he had to be ready come next week.
~~~
Mark strolled up to Arnd's door and rang the bell, and after a prolonged period of silence, he rang again; nothing. He rapped on the door with his knuckle, taking care not to dent the metal, and still silence was the only thing to greet him. "Hello?" he yelled, checking either side of him to see if anyone was watching. "Arnd, it's me! We kinda have a lesson today!"
Finally, after a lengthy wait, he determined that Arnd simply wasn't there. Puzzled, he went off in search of her. The corridor was empty, so he hopped in the shuttle and rode it to the bar. He felt an odd sensation, as though he wasn't alone.
Arriving in the bar, he walked over to the entrance, thinking that he would find Arnd at the cafeteria having breakfast if anywhere. However, a hushed growling caught his ear, and he turned around to see it's source. Sat at the bar was Arnd, a tall pitcher of drink in her hand; her head was laid on the counter, and she half-growled, half-sobbed into the table. Their eyes met. <"Leeve me allone, Maark."> she said sloppily.
Mark immediately took the hint and found a seat at the far end of the bar, avoiding the searching gaze of some concerned patrons sat at a booth doing business. Something was up, and Mark didn't know what. What he did know is that she clearly needed help, and he was not the person to give it. A moment of inspiration came, and he opened up his messaging app, looking for a contact list. Sure enough, there was a contact list full of names. 'Fe'jen... Rilk'r... T'ar- ah!' And with as much speed as his unfamiliarity with written X'rtan would allow, he typed out a message and waited.
After a brief wait during which Mark kept an eye on Arnd just in case something else went horribly wrong, as was his luck's wont, Jan'u stepped into the bar and noticed Arnd slumped onto the counter. With concern in his every action, he went over and sat beside her, placing a hand on her shoulder. <"Hey kid, what's up?"> he asked, taking the pitcher out of her hand. He sniffed the drink. <"Gods, Arnd. What is this? X'etish forgewater? I've never seen you this bad.">
Arnd stirred herself to sit up straight, and shook herself sober enough to speak coherently. <"Thirty two years... I scar myself for that company; I bleed for that company; I almost die twice for that company; I bring home the single greatest scientific discovery in the history of the galaxy, and what do they do?! THEY FIRE ME OVER A FUCKING FLOW MESSAGE!"> She collapsed back onto the bar, futilely slamming her fist down on the lacquered counter and growled with such fury as to remind Mark why he was frightened by X'errens in the first place.
<"W-What?"> asked Jan'u, to which Arnd shoved her data pad into the man's chest. After recovering his breath, Jan'u read the open message.
Arnd Kolr
Due to recent events, we at X'rtan Freight have determined that you are no longer fit to represent us as a freighter Captain, and have been officially terminated effective immediately. Please turn over your badge and contract to your Regional Hangar within the week for a formal dismissal and to receive your due compensation.
Regards
Chief Regional Ship Manager Dufra Neem
Jan'u could hardly believe what he was reading. <"Those.. Ugh, they don't know the bridge they just burned. In either case, we gotta get you back to your room, people are staring."> And he began lifting the woman from her seat, Arnd cooperating roughly.
Mark sat up hurriedly and went to join them. Arnd shot him a nasty look. "But-" Mark began. "but we have a lesson today, and we both know how important those are."
<"You're the reason I'm here in the first place, Mark... Leave me alone."> said Arnd as she dropped herself onto the shuttle's seat. Jan'u got in close behind her, shooting Mark an apologetic look before Arnd sent the room off toward her hallway.
Mark began to panic. The last thing he needed in the moment was to wind up disobeying a request from the government, his fault or no. Arnd likely locking her door, however, would make any attempt to get the day's work done fruitless if not actively damaging to the pair's nebulous rapport. He decided to send a message to T'aro detailing the situation and wait, hoping that there was no retribution to come. While he waited for a response, he saw no reason not to get in contact with someone he had been meaning to talk to for a while now, and try to get something done today.
It didn't take long for a response.
Sure, meet me at the cafeteria at 28:25.
Four hours away. Mark audibly groaned and saw no help for it, and so sat down, ready to spend yet another morning at the digital canvas. But his artistic endeavour was interrupted by a woman approaching, a familiarly large-legged, wide-eyed, long-snouted woman.
<"H-Hey."> she said awkwardly.
"Hello again." Thanks to the last history lesson, Mark now recognized the woman as X'ercan, due in large part to her disproportionately sizeable legs; a holdover from her ancestor's storied history as open plains pursuit hunters, whose strong legs provided them the speed to outrun prey they tracked with their powerful noses and sharp eyes. At least, that was what he gleaned from the diagrams and classical art on display during Arnd's breakdown of the Rift.
The woman sat down at Mark's table. <"You two are close, I take it? You and the girl?">
"Yeah... I think so." Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed her adjusting a geometric piercing in her ear, and wondered a moment what a X'erren piercing studio would look like.
<"It's a shame then, how she talked to you. Recently fired or no, that's just rude.">
Mark was inclined to agree, but he had a more intricate view on the matter. "It's not a big deal. Besides, I don't think harsh words are what she needs right now."
<"Is something going on between you two?"> She asked quizzically, with just enough vigour in her tone as to almost force an answer.
"She's got her own thing going on, I just try and give her the space to deal with it." In truth, Mark was beginning to grow a smidgeon suspicious at the frequent questions; the looming threat of the government's reckoning, however, kept him talking.
<"That's nice of you.">
"It costs nothing to be nice, so why not be?"
The woman hissed in brief laughter. <"That's certainly one way of looking at it.">

And on the two went, eating as they talked. Mark spent a wealth of time answering questions as to his recent activity, and giving small tidbits about life in the Sol System. Meanwhile, the woman offered tidbits and advice in return, such as a lesson in how to get the most out of one's data pad in regards to features; the best restaurants for when Mark felt like eating out for dinner; and several tourist destinations for one seeking the essence of Ta'X'rtana. Although Mark felt an underlying sense of sinister probing, he would be lying if the overhanging menace of restitution for information withheld didn't allow him to relax somewhat and get into the flow of the conversation. All in all, he couldn't really complain.
A timer that he had set prior with the woman's help rang, and he knew he had to cut the conversation short. He stood from the table, respectfully nodding to the woman. "Thanks for the chat, Yado'fel, but I have to get going."
<"Oh, okay. Thanks for the opportunity to talk to you again, Mark."> She waved kindly as Mark left the bar, before once more fiddling with her piercing as the doors closed.
~~~
Beneath the mountain, in a wide laboratory filled to the brim with machinery, Mark's cockpit laid suspended in a mag field for study, yet it refused to so much as give an inch to those looking to learn more about human technology. This included Rilk'r, who attempted to probe the pod's internals, but couldn't get past the stone wall that was a human keypad hidden behind a panel on the craft's central control column. He assumed that this interface had something to do with maintaining the craft, however, he didn't know which exact facet of maintenance if pertained to, and didn't want to risk damaging anything by experimenting with button combinations. He sat back, frustrated, but determined to solve this puzzle.
Surprising Rilk'r, his data pad buzzed in his pocket. Knowing that he wasn't about to make any immediate progress, he saw no problem in briefly leaving the pod to his coworkers and seeing what's what.
Hey Rilk'r, it's Mark. I don't have anything going on at the moment, and I was wondering if we could meet up and discuss that payment you promised me back on the ship. You can pick the time and place.
Rilk'r's face lit up. <'Perfect!'>

Come his lunch break, Rilk'r made his way up from the depths below the earth and to the 16th floor cafeteria, where sure enough, Mark was waiting. After quickly grabbing lunch, he sat down beside the human.
<"It's been a little while, hasn't it? How's things?"> asked Rilk'r, genuinely curious.
"About as good as they can be, I reckon. How about you? I haven't seen you since that group therapy session."
<"Yeah, fine enough. I'm having private sessions, so we'll see how much those help. I'm hopeful."> The lone solo session he had yet had was little more than a proper introduction; but in that time, Mapal had managed to cut to the core of Rilk'r's trauma, even beyond his understandable reaction to a life-or-death scenario. She was glad that Rilk'r sought help, and Rilk'r was happy to receive it. He continued. <"I've actually been assigned to look at your little pod, but I'm not making much progress; I was wondering if you could help me with that.">
'That might explain why I haven't been called to see any experiments or demonstrations. More likely they just don't want me seeing anything they're doing.' thought Mark. However, he was much too wary. "Sure, if they'll even let me down there."
<"I'm sure they will."> replied Rilk'r, digging into his meal with gusto. <"The folks down there know you're pretty pivotal in all this, so they're not about to turn down any info they can get out of you."> Mark didn't like the sound of that.
Still, he met up with Rilk'r for a purpose. "Well, we can get into that after your lunch break. While we're here though-"
<"Right, the">—Rilk'r swallowed the last of his meal—<"-the money."> He then pulled out a slim, metallic card out of his pocket and began to think. <"Okay. You stood in for a Heavy Alloy Reshaper. The usual rate those go for is about 2600 ker'se per san'rc. 3-ish san'rc comes out to 7800 ker'se! I'll round it up to 8000, plus a bit extra for the work you put in."> As he spoke, he tapped on a holographic calculator interface projected from the card. Once he had finished typing, he held the card out expectantly. Mark, not knowing what else he could do, reached out to grab it. Rilk'r recoiled slightly. <"Wait, where's your ca- Oh! Right; alien, you probably don't have a bank card. Right. Umm... This is awkward.">
"... Don't you have any money, on you?" Asked Mark, understandably unfamiliar with the workings of X'erren finance.
<"This is the money I have on me. Wait, are you referring to physical money?">
Mark stared stupidly. "Yeah!"
<"Whoa, you still use physical where you're from? Physical was phased out before I was born!"> A moment passed where both men simply took in the reality of the situation. <"It doesn't matter. If I'm gonna get you your money, you're gonna have to get yourself a card.">
Mark stifled a groan, he knew where this was going. "And let me guess, I'm going to have to go to the bank for that?"
<"Yep. No time for that right now though, I gotta get back to work."> Rilk'r quickly carried his plate over to a collection tray and began leaving for the elevators. <"You coming?">
Hoping against hope that T'aro would contact him and give him an excuse to stay topside and keep from divulging what he knew, Mark got up and joined Rilk'r in his journey back to his work station. Entry wasn't hard, with the pair assuming that Rilk'r's intuition was correct, and soon the two were making their way through the twisting passages. Before long, they passed the threshold of the R&D Department and found themselves walking beside a sequence of large rooms, each packed to bursting with machinery undergoing rigorous testing, supervised by teams of X'erren.
Finally, at a nondescript point in the hallway, Rilk'r led Mark to a large room: sensors abounded, and numerous teams stared intently at data collected from their tests on Mark's pod, suspended in the center of the room and under the eye of a large team, dressed in full body protective suits with clear visors and carrying instruments with which they were probing the pod's every inch. It wasn't long until the human's presence was noticed by the team, and immediately the team's work was put on pause. One in particular came forward from the sidelines, flanked by a very tall man. Mark hated that he wasn't surprised in the least.
<"Mister Stevens!"> exclaimed T'aro, walking up to the human and shaking his hand. <"Glad you could make it down here! Rilk'r filled me in and I thought that this was a great opportunity to push for a breakthrough. With your help, we'll come to understand this hunk of metal and circuits in no time!">
All Mark could do was smile and nod. 'If I find out that this bastard planned this... ugh. Nothing for it; I don't know what they'll do to me if they find out I was lying about this. Let's just hope that there's little to learn.' He put on his best faux happy tone. "Well, you're in luck! I was on the team that built this thing!"
A chorus of appreciative awe rang out among the assembled workers. Rilk'r stepped forward. <"So you'd know how to operate this keypad on the central console?"> He asked, gesturing to the keypad in question.
Mark urged himself to play along. "I might actually, don't know if it'll do much with it being detached from the main ship and all, but I'll see what I can do.." Stepping inside the pod, he stooped over the keypad and began typing in the passcode. When asked, the director of the project insisted on it's use as a security feature, to keep everything secure during flight or in case of attempted sabotage during construction. Mark and his team lived up to expectations in the end, and now he found himself using the fruits of his labour to further the ambitions of aliens. The passcode was in, and an interface appeared on the screen showing the ship's diagnostics and outlining a series of panels on the interior of the vessel. He never thought it necessary or worth it to work the interface; if anything was going to explain what got him here or give him a way to work out a way home, it would have been on the main computer, which was housed in the ship proper and was now floating somewhere in the void of space, assuming it was intact. He tapped on each of the onscreen panels, the corresponding near-invisible panels on the craft's interior slid out of the way, revealing the internal circuitry that made the cockpit tick. Wires, circuits, and mechanisms all neatly organized and insulated accordingly were revealed in every facet of the craft, and Mark stepped aside to let the researchers do their jobs, feeling a wave of regret in simply letting this all play out.
T'aro noticed this. <"Mister Stevens, could you come here for a moment?"> he asked, walking over to a wall away from the group. Mark followed along reluctantly, and once there, T'aro laid a hand on his shoulder; it was clear that he was either not used to this, or that he knew exactly what he was doing. <"Alright. I saw what happened with Arnd. She's doing just fine. You made the right call to leave her to herself, and you did the right thing in contacting me. I would have responded immediately if I wasn't busy supervising this lot, so when I heard from Rilk'r that you two were meeting up and that he wanted to bring you down here, I thought it best to wait to discuss all of this in person."> Mark couldn't help but feel odd knowing that he helped Arnd by electing not to help her, but it was a small matter in comparison to the threatening air brought about by Rilk'r's cooperation with T'aro. The x'erren's expression shifted somewhat. <"Listen. I get that you don't exactly like this, us looking at your vehicle there, but you have to trust me when I say that there's no ulterior motives or nefarious endgames planned. We just want to learn, and we want to help you, alright?">
Mark felt like he was receiving a thinly-veiled threat, a declaration in all but plain words that T'aro was going to do whatever he liked, and that Mark could do nothing to stop him. "I understand."
<"Hey Mark!"> shouted Rilk'r from beside the pod. <"Didn't you say that this was just a cockpit?">
"Yeah, why?"
<"That goes some ways to explaining how simple all of this is. But I still don't see how you managed to get this thing off the ground, let alone all the way out here."> He returned his focus to the craft. <"And that's on top of how heavy this thing is; it's about the same weight as the Star Chaser's cockpit, and that thing's easily twenty times the size of this!">
"It's heavier, actually." Interjected Mark, half motivated by his pride for his work on the FTL Jumper Project, half by fear of repercussions for omitted information. He paused in surprise at his own interruption, then continued, recognizing yet another verbal hole he had to dig himself out of. "The outer shell, as you can see, is all one solid piece. That's because the substance used in it's construction, N.L.N.A, or Nilina, is so dense and durable that no human tools can manipulate it once it approaches it's completed state." Murmurs went up from the assembled workers. "It is so dense and heavy, in fact, that without in-built G-Dampeners powered by 50-Cycle micro-fusion batteries, it would begin to visibly affect the gravity around it, and so much as a chunk the size of my hand would be so heavy that it would sink through the upper layers of the planet and be irretrievable. For this reason, it is necessary that Nilina be created in a zero gravity environment. At least, that's what I've gotten from hearsay." Mark noticed that people began giving his cockpit a bit of a wider berth, and stifled a smile. He heard multiple scientists asking every X'erren god whose name he had heard and more what, by the eternal fires of the Pit, happened to the rest of his ship.
<"How do you even make something like that?"> Mark heard one scientist ask. "I don't know," he replied. "We sent off the blueprints for approval, and received the shell at a later date once most of the work on the cockpit's internals were done; we just had to fit it all into the shell."
<"And... What else? Is that all you know?"> asked T'aro expectantly.
"Basically, I was only on one of the teams that built the cockpit, let alone the ship." Mark silently prayed that T'aro would believe the truth.
<"Huh... alright."> replied T'aro, nodding. He turned to the crew. <"Keep up the work, and inform me if there's a breakthrough! Come with me, Mister Stevens."> he muttered to the human, and the two began walking off toward a side room, tailed by K'ul.
Once inside, T'aro removed the helmet and took a deep breath, before seating himself at one of a series of tables. Mark took in the small work kitchen and vending machine at the wall before taking a seat opposite the two aliens. T'aro's face took on a more serious, yet more relaxed tone, as though taking off a stifling mask of casualness. He began. <"I don't know if Miss Kolr told you, but we're working on sending scouts out to the Men-te Jump Line, where you arrived."> Arnd had mentioned that in passing, but the prospect of perhaps learning more was too tantalizing to pass up, and so Mark simply shook his head. T'aro clicked his tongue and continued. <"Once there, assuming the wreckage of your ship hasn't been cleared by Line Sweepers, they'll use it to try and get a good estimate of the direction you came from. Then, they'll search along the most likely path, and hope for the best. I can't guarantee anything, not even that my proposal will be approved by the Council, but it's the best shot we have of getting you home. You're just going have to trust me on this.">
He didn't, not a moment. "Okay."
<"Now, in terms of Miss Kolr, I will be having a short chat with her later regarding this whole debacle, and see if we can't come to a solution. As for you, I'd recommend you find a way to brush up on what you've learned thus far, and be careful of who you're talking to or around; recordings of you in the bar and the hallways beyond have surfaced on multiple news networks and Flow pages, and while I have my suspicions, I don't have the authority to detain the journalists responsible."> This was news to Mark, who up until now had refrained from watching standard X'rtan television thanks to the difficulty with keeping up with dialogue. The bit about detaining journalists made his free-press-loving self wildly uncomfortable, but he was used to feeling like that around T'aro. The man continued. <"So until then, I'd keep the amount of chatter outside your rooms to a minimum, we don't know what they intend to do with that footage, and I'd rather they not get the chance.">
"Right." Mark harshly reminded himself to keep his head on a swivel.
<"Now then, I have something to take care of before speaking to Miss Kolr, so you and I had better be heading back up to the foyer."> And with that, he stood from his chair, and once more Mark was swept along by the words of a man he could kill with a harsh slap.
Once above ground, T'aro took a deep breath of the relatively fresh air. <"Well then, Mister Stevens, until next time."> And he turned to leave. Suddenly, he stopped in his tracks, turning on his toes to face the human. <"One more thing! While I cannot get you a bank card myself, I can assure you that you'll be in possession of a card of your own very soon. So look forward to that!"> And the two aliens left without another word, leaving Mark to simply stare in abject confusion.
~~~
Arnd and Jan'u sat opposite each other at Arnd's kitchen table. Arnd laid her head on the table, mentally exhausted and nibbling on sticks of jerky she found in her refrigerator to aid her headache; Jan'u sat looking over her with concern.
<"You feeling any better?"> asked Jan'u.
<"I can still taste it..."> replied Arnd, nursing a strong hangover after a lengthy alcohol-induced nap. <"But yeah, I think so. How long was I out?">
<"About seven san'lo, maybe eight.">
Arnd straightened herself, groaning all the while. <"And you stayed here all that time? I thought you had one of your lessons today!">
<"You're more important. And besides, I'm supporting you emotionally, so I can justly claim that I'm just doing my job."> Jan'u shrugged and gave a casual smile.
<"I didn't take you as one to flake on your responsibilities.">
<"You've been my responsibility for the past decade and change, kid. Your words, not mine.">
Arnd chuckled despite herself. <"Yeah...">
The doorbell rang. Jan'u laid an almost fatherly hand on Arnd's shoulder as she went to rise from her chair, and answered the door. Standing in the hall was T'aro in a freshly pressed suit, flanked by his aide. <"Mister Kama! I would like to speak to Miss Kolr, please. May I enter?">
<"You may, but Jan'u stays."> said Arnd authoritatively, leaning unsteadily against the doorway into the kitchen.
<"Of course. But first, may I have myself a glass of water? It's quite stuffy beneath the mountain."> replied T'aro. The four of them then gathered around the kitchen table. Both Arnd and Jan'u waited anxiously, eyeing the director with equal parts suspicion and curiosity, all the while keeping an eye on K'ul stood looming behind him. T'aro shortly laid his now empty glass on the table, satisfied with the water's quality. He began. <"Miss Kolr, I understand that you have recently been fired from your position at X'rtan Freight, and for that I offer my condolences."> He bowed deeply and respectfully. <"That being said, I would refrain from any further public outbursts; you are well aware that this project is under threat as it is. We don't need news of those under my employ being unstable, no matter the consequences surround said incident.">
Arnd bowed her head slightly. <"I understand. It won't happen again.">
<"Indeed. More pressingly, however, was how you acted toward Mister Stevens. There has been footage of him leaked to the public, and public opinion can be a valuable asset to those on the Council. The last thing we need is the public getting the idea in their heads that Mister Stevens is causing friction, that notion could be used to devastating effect. I suggest that you find a way to deal with your hangups right quick, and don't let it happen agai- Do you have an issue, Mister Kama?">
Arnd looked to her side. Jan'u's face was set in a grave stare, stony and strong, and his hands were bunched into fists below the table. The moment was tense as T'aro's glare grew as piercing as Jan'u's and K'ul shifted on the spot. Arnd grasped Jan'u's fist beneath the table and prayed that the situation wouldn't escalate. At length, Jan'u broke his gaze, and the silent ocular war subsided. <"I'd rather you not speak to her so harshly."> He said sheepishly.
Slowly, T'aro relaxed and signaled K'ul to be at ease. <"It wasn't my intention to come off as rude, I apologize if I did so.">
<"It's okay, really."> said Arnd, aggressively squeezing Jan'u's hidden hand. That got the message across, and Jan'u nodded.
T'aro considered this for a moment, before continuing. <"Now then, in relation to your recent unemployment. It is my understanding that you may claim 'due compensation' from the hangar behind Ta'X'rtana.">
Arnd feigned surprise. <"How did you know that?">
<"You really shouldn't show others your private messages, and you definitely shouldn't show them in view of high definition security cameras."> <'Of course.'> thought Arnd, as she and Jan'u shared a look. T'aro continued. <"Regardless of how I discovered this information, I would like to accommodate this as a show of good faith.">
At this, Arnd was genuinely surprised, and more than a little confused. <"But... How? I'm supposed to claim it in person, and I can't leave the building!"> She was well aware of the hypocrisy inherent in her saying this, but she didn't care.
<"You're under my jurisdiction, and that means I'm supposed to keep you here, but I'm more than confident that I can make this happen without too much of a fuss. Consider it a temporary parole: just long enough for you to grab your contract, get to the hangar, do your thing, and get back.">
Arnd looked to Jan'u for counsel, but the man was stuck in thought. This didn't stop Arnd from considering the matter herself; she really could use the money, and there were few other options if she ever wanted her decades of experience to count for much in the field again... Finally, Jan'u spoke. <"I don't know Arnd... But it's your call to make.">
<"Indeed."> concurred T'aro, and he looked to Arnd expectantly.
Arnd sat beneath the men's gaze, musing on the immense risk involved in such a task. But she came definitively to an answer. <"I'm not throwing the last half of my life away just because I'm scared. Let's do it.">
-----
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Frank Turner blew us away with his amazing cover of 'Stuck Between Stations' by The Hold Steady for his Dropout Live. Check it out! If you like this and would like to see more, be sure you ... Provided to YouTube by Vagrant Records Stuck Between Stations · The Hold Steady Boys And Girls in America ℗ 2016 BMG Rights Management (US) LLC d/b/a Vagrant Records Auto-generated by YouTube. Stuck Between Stations · The Hold Steady Boys and Girls in America ℗ 2006 BMG Rights Management (US) LLC d/b/a Vagrant Records Performance: The Hold Steady Auto-generated by YouTube. 50+ videos Play all Mix - The Hold Steady 'Stuck Between Stations' YouTube The Hold Steady - Separation Sunday FULL ALBUM - Duration: 42:11. samharriswenttoparis 114,566 views 50+ videos Play all Mix - The Hold Steady - Stuck Between Stations (Letterman) YouTube The Hold Steady - Full Performance (Live on KEXP) - Duration: 28:17. KEXP 19,250 views