Monday, 06 July 2009 17:00
- Part Five -
Everything was white. The creature had released William, but he couldn't move. He couldn't feel himself taking in air.
...Are you okay...
His hand hurt, and his neck, but he couldn't look to see his injuries. He couldn't even try.
...Who are you...
... nerick Payne, sir. My son... Oh God, my little boy!
Yes. The child the creature had abducted was Frederick Payne's young son, Daniel. He had trouble saying William's name correctly. He remembered the alley now. There was a door to Frederick's lodging within. It was no wonder he couldn't make it out at first, being cloaked in darkness and buried in snow.
...have to come with us. Help me get William onto the...
The voices only occasionally came into clarity, as though he was struggling to get his head above water.
...take the reins. I have to find it...
... in God's name was that thing? Where did it take...
...like he's coming around. Help him sit up...
William felt hands on his shoulders, and the whiteness gave way to a swirling gray blur.
“Mr. Holliday! Are you okay?”
The voice was much clearer now. It was Frederick's. What is going on? What the hell happened? He could make out other sounds as well. He heard the wagon wheels and hoof beats in the snow, and felt the motion. A sharp pain stabbed at his right hand and he grasped it with his left.
“Daniel.& rdquo; He wasn't even sure why he said the boy's name. His head was swimming in a confused blur of things from both the past and present.
“My boy?” Frederick said. His voice was filled with an odd mix of despair and hope. “Is he okay?”
“Alive.” William's head was clearing. He could see the faint shape of buildings passing by. Sensations were becoming easier to identify, the hard wood of the back of his wagon under his posterior, the soreness in his neck and chest, and the warmth and wetness in his right glove. He pulled the glove from his hand, though he still could not see quite well enough to gauge the severity of the wound on his hand. “Alaster.” He slid the glove back on and tried to squint his vision into focus.
“Who?” Frederick said.
“Me,” said Alaster. “I need you both to be quiet. Frederick, we need to move east now, toward the wharves.”
William looked to Alaster, and although he could not see him clearly, he could tell he was sitting with his head lowered forward. He was back to trying to find the Demon with his compass.
Before long, the cold salt air filled William's nostrils, and actually seemed to help dispel some of the grogginess. “Where are we, Frederick?” He whispered.
“Head of Clark's Wharf,” Frederick replied with equal quiet. “ Well, Hancock's Wharf as it's called lately. I don't see the creature, but the Captain's here, and he looks affright.”
The Captain... George?
Frederick pulled the wagon to a stop and practically leapt to the ground.
“How are you feeling William?” Alaster's words kept William from hearing the conversation that began between Frederick and George. “Can you walk?”
“I believe so... What happened back there?”
“You have a cat's luck.” Alaster, now on the ground himself, grabbed William's arm and helped him down. “The thing was a hair's breadth away from making a meal of your face when one of your panicked horses stomped on your flash torch. Kissed by an angel lad.”
“He apparently had his own fight with the creature. He limped out of the alley in tears as I was trying to calm down the horses.”
William tried to take a step but his legs threatened to give out beneath him.
Alaster collected him in an awkward hug before he fell, and settled him against the wagon. “Gather your wits about you first. I need to secure a boat.”
& ldquo;The black devil is in the water, but I doubt it has gone far. I should have guessed it before.”
“Guessed what?” William was unsure if it was his current condition or Alaster's general tendency to be mysterious that kept him from even picking up a hint of what he was talking about.
“Why we couldn't find it all this time.” Alaster spoke while taking swift steps away from William towards the dock. “The bastard made his lair on one of the harbor islands.”
“It headed straight out there,” George said, “ towards Bird Island.& rdquo;
William had finally gained some composure and joined Alaster, Frederick, and George in the middle of their conversation.
“Do we have a way to cross?” said William.
Alaster nodded. “George has agreed to let us borrow his rowboat.”
“Lets be off then,” said Frederick. His eyes were locked in a fierce, determined stare out into the water. “My boy's out there.”
“I'll be joining ye,” George said. He pulled a poker from it's resting spot on the side of the wheeled stove William had made for him.
“I don' t think that's wise Ol 39; Pop,” said Alaster. “We're going to need to move quickly and—”
“At no age can any of us sprint across water, boy. I can lend my arm to the rowing; been doing it for twice and more years than you've been alive.”
“Very well.” Alaster turned his attention to William. “How about you? Are you reunited with your senses?”
William steeled his resolve. He had faced the Ra'akzu himself, and lived through the encounter. Now he wanted a second chance to fight, only this time... “I'm ready.”
“Four of us then.” Alaster dropped his pack between them and opened it. “Let 39;s prepare.”
It didn't take long for the four men to adopt a rowing rhythm. George was true to his words, he kept up with his younger companions and then some. Even at the strenuous pace, he was the last to show any signs of being winded.
Before they left the dock, Alaster had given them each a flash torch and a flask of oil, and kept one of both for himself. Alaster then reloaded his pistol, and William checked his to make sure it would still fire.
He felt strangely at peace with what they were inevitably going to face, and he felt as though the others were as well. He looked at each man in turn, admiring them as they all lent their strength to the small boat that was carrying them to certain death in a Demon's lair. Not as much as a hint of fear in any of their eyes.
Each man has his own reasons for being ready for this fate...
Alaster has his experience, and his need for redemption.
Frederick would jump into the pits of Hell itself after his son. A single Demon won't make him waver.
I imagine George has little left to fear of this world, even something this otherworldly.
And I... I have been on this monster's trail the longest, and in one year have seen more evil and suffering than should be seen in ten lifetimes. I am ready for this nightmare to be over, to whatever end.
About a mile out to sea, they came upon the small, snow covered, grassy islet that was Bird Island. Alaster and William, being at the bow, were over the side first. William couldn't stifle a gasp when the icy cold water splashed onto his leggings above his boots. They pulled the boat onto shore and then Frederick and George came over behind them. Alaster crouched and motioned for the others to follow suit. He held his crystal compass before him for a few moments before speaking. “It is below ground. A small cave.”
As though being pulled by something unseen, Alaster rose and took bold steps over the twilit ground. William fell in behind, less sure of foot, but ready for anything. George and Frederick seemed similarly steadfast. p>
William stole glances around Alaster when he could, and he noticed a small dot of blackness in the otherwise perfect field of white, growing as they neared the center of the islet.
A hole? William tightened his grip on the pistol, doing his best to ignore the pain in his hand.
Alaster slowed his pace and stopped mere inches from it, and William's guess proved to be true.
They stood for some moments, looking at the opening to the Demon's lair. William allowed some long quelled feelings to resurface, letting a piece of the calm, collected man he was to fade. Alaster would soon need more soldier than scholar from him, and frustration and anger would provide fuel for the battle to come. “Right then. How shall we proceed?”
When Alaster didn't reply, William checked his expression, despite rarely gaining any insight from it in the past. This time however, Alaster's face was easy to read. His mouth was open as if about to speak. His brow was furrowed, and his eyes were darting back and forth. It was as close to a look of confusion as William had ever seen from him.
“What is it?” George said from the rear. William realized he probably had not yet even seen the hole. He motioned for George to stay quiet.
“So many dead...” Alaster was speaking as though out of breath. “How can it have killed so many without anyone noticing before this year?”
William was stunned into silence. It was here before?
“Oh, we're well aware of the death present on this island.” George said.
Alaster spun about and leveled a cold gaze on the old man.
William suddenly remembered a tidbit of local history, and put a hand on Alaster's shoulder. “I didn't think it was of any import to the troubles at hand, or I'd have spoken of it before, I assure you!”
“What are you talking about?” Alaster snapped.
“Bird Island is one of them where rests the bones of pirates.” Frederick's voice sounded distant, but unafraid.
“I was there when they gibbeted William Fly over on Nix's Mate,& rdquo; George added.
Alaster punched one hand into the other. “Such a clever place to hide. That's why I couldn't track them, the old death masked the new.”
“I'm sorry,” said William. “I didn't even think to tell you of such things.”
“It's no fault of yours,” Alaster said. He pulled a candle from his pack and struck a flint a few times until it caught flame. “We didn't have time for you to recite the entire history of Boston to me. We're here now. Let's be done with it.” He lowered the candle to the entrance and everyone could see that it was a shallow depression, with a small tunnel set in its side that descended into the unknown. It was large enough for them to travel crouched and single file. He took three more candles from his pack, and lit them with his own. “Last chance to remove yourself from this madness,” he said to the group as a whole, “I'll go it alone if I must, and won't think ill of anyone. Even you, William.”
William gave him a wry smirk, and took the first candle.
“I've a good bit of family here in Boston,” said George, grabbing the next candle. “My sons have sons of their own, and if these old bones can do something to keep them safe, I'll not be turning back here.”
Frederick's eyes made it plain to see that he had crossed into another world, but some small part of him was present enough to grab the third candle.
Alaster pulled his pistol with his other hand, then reached a foot down to test the bottom of the depression. Apparently satisfied, he lowered the rest of himself down, and ducked into the tunnel.
For all of William's preparedness, a knot nevertheless formed in his throat when it was time to follow Alaster into the lair of their enemy. For the sake of the others, even more raw to the presence of Demons than himself, he tried to compose himself with an air of confidence.
His mind was becoming so full of blackness and blood that he lost all track of time. It could have been hours or mere minutes walking hunched over behind Alaster's candle lit silhouette. In whatever span of time actually passed as the four silent demon hunters navigated the winding and spiraling trail to the Ra'akzu, William had surely envisioned his own death over a hundred times, and with each time, he became more at peace with it.
Alaster wasn't questioned once as he came to forks in the tunnel, even as he chose his path as though well known to him. He paused just once, and only for a moment, when they came to the first signs of evil in the depths of Bird Island.
Alaster stepped over some skeletal remains, and William was pulled from the bedlam of death in his mind, as death presented itself beneath his feet.
Pirate. William paused for a moment himself to glance at the skeleton's grinning, dark gray skull, which had eerily come to rest it's stare so that it would gaze up at any who passed over it. You're lucky you met your end in a better day, sir. I almost envy you. p>
It was not the last corpse they would come to pass, and William found himself morbidly relieved to have something else to occupy his thoughts. Instead of visualizing his own demise, he could now ponder theirs.
The diversion was short lived unfortunately, as the smell of more recent carnage creeped into his nostrils. The tunnel widened to a point where they could stand side by side and rose to well above double their height. Soon thereafter they came upon the remains of the first of the children, its flesh hewn almost completely from gnawed upon bones. Dried blood caked the earth and nearby walls, telling of the voracious nature of the feeding that must have taken place. Half of the child's face was left untouched and locked in a final expression of terror. It was something William remembered Alaster saying the Demons liked to do to despair survivors, and unnerve pursuers.
Frederick gasped aloud and one of his legs trembled. George grabbed him by the pit of his arm for fear of him losing his legs altogether. A flood of emotions assaulted William like a tide churning in his innards, and he doubled over, retching. He recognized the face, though he had never seen it. Somehow he was just aware that these were the remains of Charlie Doak, the boy whose abduction he had so vividly experienced through Alaster's first Soul Walk. He felt like he was vomiting his own soul upon the ground of the cave. His humanity slipping away into the shadows. How can such evil exist?
“This is it,” Alaster shoved his pistol into his belt, took a vial of oil from his pack and cast it a few yards before them where it shattered upon the damp granite floor. “These are the gates to this Demon's little Hades.” He tossed his candle underhand to the small puddle of oil and a plume of fire raced out to fill a flower-like pattern where the oil had settled. He stood before Frederick and George and grasped each man by the shoulder. “I am very disheartened to be burdening you with a most terrible task.” The flickering shadows created by the oil fire behind Alaster gave him a grim aspect. “There is no other way into this chamber, and you must be the guardians of the entrance.”
“I'll not just stay here!” Frederick twisted from both Alaster's and George's grasp. “I'll pull that thing apart with my bare hands if I must, but I have to save my son!”
“And you will save him.” Alaster caught one of Frederick's hands before he was able to charge off deeper into the lair, and twisted his arm behind him. Frederick tried to pull away but, judging from the flinch of pain that crossed his face, thought better of putting too much effort into it. “By helping me trap the beast, you will be giving your son the best possible chance for survival. If you and George were not here, I would be forced to leave William, and go in to lure it out alone. If I can take William with me, then in all likelihood we will be successful in scaring it out, and you and George will be the last barrier between it's world and ours. In any other circumstance I would have no right to ask of you the strength you will need to face this creature, not only for the sake of your son, but for all the sons and daughters whose lives hinge upon your resolve. Trust me Frederick, I am not removing you from the fight, but giving you a pivotal role that I wish I could take upon myself if I were more than but one man.”
Frederick visually struggled with the idea, both physically and mentally, but in the end, the strength of Alaster's words as well as his hands convinced him to accept his place.
“Please save my boy.” Frederick seemed on the verge of falling to his knees. “Please save my Daniel!”
“I will. Or I will die trying.” Alaster took Frederick's hands and held them up so that they clutched the flash torch in a ready position. “Then it will come to you.”
“Don't worry, lad,” said George. “Not a damn thing's leaving this pit that isn't human.”
Alaster gave them both an apologetic look before once again bringing his pistol to bear, along with a flash torch. William mirrored the actions. The two then set off at a cautious pace around the oil fire and deeper into the long chamber.
“How close is it?” William whispered.
“Close enough that the crystal is no longer of any use.” Alaster struck his flash torch to the ground when they had begun to leave the illumination of the oil flame, and the chamber came alight with its brilliant white glow. It was larger than William had thought, easily reaching the height of a three story building at its tallest point, and as wide as any large meeting hall. The length however, was beyond the reach of even the fierce radiance of the flash torch.
Though William was expecting it, he was still sickened to see further remains of savaged children strewn about the chamber like so much discarded offal. He tried to focus on the dark patch of unlit chamber before them, but his eyes were drawn to a faint shimmer amidst a small pile of bones. A familiar shape.
“What is it?” Alaster halted a few feet in front of William.
William bent low to retrieve something metallic from the grisly remnants of one of the Ra'akzu's victims. It was a brass key.
The first boy. Alaster's Soul Walk had been real enough, but to actually hold the key in his hands brought another level of tangibility to the evil he experienced in Charlie Doak's mind. “It's the ghost child's key. This is Simon.”
“So it is.” Alaster resumed his march. & ldquo;Come along.”
The leather strap that Simon had worn around his neck had been torn but still hung from one of the key's decorative loops. William bunched it up and tucked it and the key into his coat pocket, then scrambled to catch up with Alaster.
Finally the end of the chamber could be seen, and there, amidst a pile of fallen rubble leftover from an old cave-in, the entrance to another tunnel was visible.
“Another way out?” William said.
“I don't believe so.” Alaster held his arm out straight, leveling the pistol towards the hole. “I think the Ra'akzu would have used it by now if it were. No, I believe that is where the beast has chosen to make its nest.” p>
William held out his own pistol and readied his flash torch to strike. Despite his rising acceptance of death, and firm resolve in vengeance, all his limbs were shaking visibly. Thankfully, if Alaster had noticed, he made no mention.
Alaster's flash torch began to flicker, and they both hastened their steps. They came to a halt before the tunnel, and Alaster thrust the dying flash torch out in front of him. Inside, some screeching noises and sounds like a stack of wooden bowls being tipped over could be heard. When his eyes adjusted to the brightness in the small confines, William's stomach lurched yet again, the death rattle of his innocence. He discovered the wooden bowls to be the hollowed skulls of the very youngest of the children, being disturbed by a dozen or so small, black, snake- like creatures. Each began hissing and baring its small needle-sharp array of fangs, while trying to conceal itself as wholly as possible beneath the pile of remains.
“Shyte. It's not in there.” Alaster spun and put his back to the tunnel. “Alright William, strike your torch and they'll be blinded. Use your knife. I'll guard and wait for the beast to come to their aid.”
William holstered his pistol, and drew his blade.
Alaster's torch finally failed, and an explosion of rubble burst toward him, launching him into the air. As he came flying overhead, one of his boots caught William in the temple.
William saw a flash, and thought he heard a pistol shot. The next thing he saw was the ceiling of the cave cast in the brilliant white light of his flash torch. He had fallen onto his back. Whether he had accidentally struck the torch as he fell, or Alaster had picked it up and used it, he wasn't certain, but Alaster was holding it now as well as one of his long daggers. He and the demon were squared off and unmoving. When William got his legs under him and rose to his feet, he could see why. The creature had Frederick's boy, Daniel, by the throat with one of its tentacles. In the bright light, the creature looked gray, and sickly. It's skin was pocked, and cracked, and it appeared to be having trouble breathing.
“William, take this.” Alaster handed him the torch, then drew his other dagger. He took a step towards the creature, but it started to constrict and Daniel started to choke. “Do you still have your knife?”
William found the blade nearby, and scooped it up. “I do now.& rdquo;
“Do what I told you. Whatever happens to me, none of those things can be allowed to mature. Go NOW!”
William's shaking had ceased, and his stomach was an empty pit, devoid of feeling. He ducked into the nest, keeping his torch before him, and began to stab into the pile of bones and skulls. A craze came over him, something deep and archaic. He began to scream and stab wildly. Have I summoned this? Or is it instinct? Whatever its source, it was only that primitive part of himself that could manage this grim work without risk to his sanity. William didn't stop until he could see no more movement, and no longer heard the anguished screeches of the dying demonlings, which withered and smoked as they perished. More than once, one of the Ra'akzu's young bit into his hand in a futile attempt to defend itself, but William was no longer a man of this time, he had become a feral warrior from a darker age where man and demon were a common enemy. And pain was as much a part of warriors of this age as their blood and bones. When his task was complete, William backed out of the nest to join his fellow warrior against their greater enemy.
He found Alaster and the demon locked and rolling upon the ground in a deadly embrace. The creature had pierced Alaster's side with one of its tentacles and was thrashing it about violently within him. Alaster as well, had his arm thrust into the Ra'akzu's maw up to his elbow, and it was making a gurgling sound as smoke and black, sticky blood spurted out between its yellow teeth.
A cry issued forth from William that felt like fire from his lungs. He took a running leap onto the creature' s back and brought knife and torch raining down upon it in a flurry of blows. It felt as though he could batter down walls of stone if they kept him from destroying this monster. Each strike from the torch sizzled the demon's skin, and each stab from his knife released a stream of its dark blood.
He felt the creature gain some footing and lift itself up, and Alaster fell back in a heap. William could only assume that his friend had finally succumbed to his wounds and released his grip on his knife, still lodged in the beast's throat.
The Ra'akzu turned all of its tentacles on William, pulled him off its back, then slammed him to the ground. William screamed at the demon, cursing it in a stream of unintelligible words. Its tongue shot from its mouth into William's, but the action appeared to cause it incredible pain and it couldn't force it further into him.
Alaster's dagger. William remembered his pistol, and took the opportunity to draw it, placed the barrel against the creature's tongue, and fired. The bullet and light severed the tongue, shooting a spurt of the demon's rotten tasting blood into William's throat. He pulled the severed piece of flesh from his mouth and choked.
He heard the cries of George and Frederick, and saw the light from their torches adding their brilliance to his.
The Ra'akzu had had enough, and it hobbled its bleeding form awkwardly to the nest. It moved as though blinded and dazed, but once inside, it thrust its tentacles into the low ceiling and pulled the entrance down. More than just the entrance to the nest came crashing down and then men had to scramble to get out of the way of some potentially life crushing rock. George helped William pull a moaning Alaster to safety, while Frederick grabbed up his son, who was either dead or unconscious, William couldn't tell.
An ear-numbing scream came from within the nest, and William knew the beast had just become aware of his handiwork. The cave ceiling began to creak and groan, and the men began to move to the other side of the cave as fast as they could manage. All dropped their torches so they could more easily carry their burdens, but the going was painfully slow and they were only halfway when the last of the flash torches began to flicker. They finally reached the dying oil flame when they heard the cave come rumbling down behind them.
Sunday, 05 July 2009 17:00
- Part Four -
Tuesday, December the 20th, 1763 ~ Sunrise is almost upon us, which means I will be able to sleep soon. We have become nocturnal creatures, so that we may be active during the same hours as our enemy. It has been three weeks since my last entry. I sincerely apologize for the lapse to any who may some day come to read these journals. Alaster has kept us working at a feverish pace, leaving me little time for anything but running his many errands. I must say, I am thankful for it. I feel I have achieved more these past few weeks with Alaster, than I had the previous several months while I was alone. The things the Irishman knows about the hidden evils of the world are at once both nincredible, and terrifying. He tells me the creature is in fact an actual demon! Spawned in the darkest corners of hell, the thing is called a Ra'akzu—a shadow fiend, and Alaster knows what it desires. I did not understand the finer points of what he described, but he told me it is something within the bodily makeup of a human child—something that is still growing—that the Ra'akzu feeds upon. He said this element does not exist in the young of any other mammal, nor anywhere else in nature for that matter, but that the scent can be duplicated. Thrice we lured the beast close to our trap using that scent, but it continues to elude us. Incredibly, it can move in darkness without leaving so much as a trace of its passing, even through closed doors and windows, so long as a shadow passes beneath the door or through the glass. If there is light however, it must open them and tread upon the ground leaving tracks like the rest of us.
Sadly, there have been four more children lost since Charlie Doak, and the citizens of Boston have begun to panic. Many of the wealthy now keep their children with them at night. Alaster says this is the only reason the disappearances aren't tenfold the present number. I told Alaster how strange it was that the creature has stayed so long, and taken so many from one place, which is unlike its usual behavior. He believes it has chosen Boston to be it's “nest,” and that likely, somewhere in a deep, dark place, it is now feeding young of its own. The thought of such a thing troubles me greatly.
After every child that goes missing, Alaster “Soul Walks” their deaths, seeing what they saw, trying to gather as much information about this particular Ra'akzu as he can. I have not joined him in a Soul Walk since I did so accidentally the first time, but he nhas told me that in every occurrence, he sees the ghostly blue child—Simon. Like the first time, Simon tries to comfort the victims as they die, and points out their windows at some unknown thing before vanishing. Alaster has dismissed the ghost as irrelevant, but I am going to dedicate some of what little spare time I have to finding out more about the boy. As far as what he is pointing at—I have a theory, but I shall need a map, and a few more details to
“What are you doing?” Alaster asked, leaning over William's shoulder.
William flinched and reflexively slammed his journal shut.
“Oh, you startled me, sir!” William attempted to change the subject, sensing he might be in trouble. “Have you found a suitable residence for our new trap?”
“Yes, it's all taken care of.” Alaster eyed the cover of the journal. “I would have thought by now, William, that you would have deduced the dangers of penning our activities. These are simply not things that should be readily available to thieves, or the common, curious cat.”
“Ah, but they're not!” William felt a spark of excitement at the prospect of showing off his favorite invention. He snapped a hinged lock in place on the cover, securing the journal.
& ldquo;That's nothing new. I could have it open in seconds.” Alaster scoffed.
“That would be disastrous, I assure you.” William pulled another journal from a desk drawer, similarly locked, and set it before Alaster. “This was to be my next journal, but I suppose I can spare it, I have many others. Go ahead then, open it.” William scooted his chair back a couple of feet.
Regarding William through narrow slits in his eyes, Alaster began to cross his arms, or so William thought. The Irishman instead pulled a pair of foot-long daggers from beneath his cloak. He carefully placed the tip of each blade beneath the part of the hinge that was screwed to the cover of the journal. “Well, knowing that this is some kind of a trap, I won't be trying to pick the lock. I'll be removing it altogether.” He frowned. “You must always assume that someone...” He pressed one of the daggers so that it held the book firmly in place, and slammed his fist down upon the other, popping the hinge screws from the cover. “...has you figured out.”
William pursed his lips, trying to appear disappointed, but in reality, he was pinching away a smile. Alaster flipped the now useless hinge over with the tip of his dagger, and when the lock fell away, the journal erupted in a flash of brilliant white light.
“Pog mo thoin!” Alaster cried. When the light died, there was nothing left of the journal but a pile of ash.
William laughed out loud at the look of amazement on Alaster's face—it was one he hadn't yet seen. “Oh, don't feel too bad. Even if you had the key, the result would be the same, unless you know the secret method to unlocking it—a sequence more complicated than a simple twist.”
“That's some trick.” Alaster scooped up some of the ash with a dagger blade and inspected it.
“The trick is in the compound, my own recipe. It burns even if completely submerged in water, but won't ignite by a normal flame. If the lock is removed from the cover by any means other than my secret method, it will release an element that, when mixed with my compound, produces the wonderful effect you've just witnessed.”
“Very interesting.” Alaster blew the ash from his dagger, and returned them both to their hiding places beneath his cloak. “You have me convinced. Carry on.”
William beamed as Alaster made for the lounge, but a sharp knocking at the door interrupted his moment of triumph. Alaster veered away from the lounge without missing a step, and pulled open the door.
Outside was a young man that William had seen before—a constable's son. He was bent over, with one hand upon the door frame, and huffing like an exhausted puppy. “Good morning, sirs... I have... come to fetch you to...”
“Catch your breath lad,” said Alaster. “Has there been another abduction?”
“No... the villain was fought off... injured... there's blood!”
William and Alaster exchanged a quick, intense look.
“Where, lad?” asked Alaster. He lit two oil lanterns and handed one to William. The boy already carried one of his own.
“Close by... It's the malt house... on Purchase Street.”
“I know the place,” said William. “We won't need the wagon.”
William grabbed his long coat, and Alaster, his thick, black cloak, and the three were off, scrambling down the main hall of the boarding house, and out into the cold, twilit morning. It didn't take long for them to realize why the strong, healthy lad had been so winded. Snow was falling gently, but in large, clumpy flakes. It had been doing so throughout the night, so there was a knee high blanket of fresh powder covering everything within range of their lantern light, making the short trek quite arduous.
By the time they reached the dilapidated mansion that was the Purchase Street Brewery on the edge of the harbor, William and Alaster were just as exhausted as their young guide. The door opened as they approached, and a stout, square jawed man ushered them in. The three stomped the snow from their boots before stepping into the entrance hall. It was quite warm inside as a fire was blazing in the main hall's large hearth, so they removed their over-clothes and hung them on a coat rack.
The man, Constable John Ayers, was as evenly composed as ever, and calmly watched while Alaster's and William's eyes darted about the hall, searching for signs of the creature's passing.
“A moment, sirs,” John said, standing before them before the two could move further into the mansion. “You are spoken highly of, William, by people whom I greatly trust, so I have honored your request to ask no questions with regards to the manner in which you conduct your investigation. Not knowing you personally, I have nevertheless vouched for your character to any who inquire.”
“And I thank you for that, Constable,” said William. “Your gracious acceptance of my—”
“I have also allowed you to include another, even less known individual, with no protest.” John's tone made it clear that he thought William owed him one.
“We have come far in our pursuit of the malefactor thanks only to your sufferance, Constable,” Alaster said. “What can we do for you in return?”
“The man who owns this manor, Samuel, is a close friend of mine.” John glanced at a portrait of a proud and well dressed family hanging above the mantelpiece, but quickly averted his gaze, as though the gesture was unintentional. “His family is like my own, and I do not want any scandal attached to his name. I know stranger things are happening here than just a rash of kidnappings. Whatever strangeness you may discover here, keep it to yourselves, and do not speak of the incident to any outside of those present.”
“You have my word, John.” William extended his hand, and John accepted it.
“Well then, follow me.” John led them up a grand staircase to the second floor and down a long hallway. “Samuel, like most fathers of late, insists the entire family sleep in the same room, despite having more than enough chambers for them all twice and again.” He lifted a brass key from his pocket and unlocked a door in the middle of the hallway. “This is where Samuel's family was sleeping; his wife, son, and daughter. He was at the end of the hall, at work in his study so as not to disturb them. He heard them screaming and rushed back to their aid. He came through the door and saw his wife and son trying desperately to keep his daughter, Hannah, from being pulled away from them by... something.”
John walked to the window, where the ragged edges of broken glass glistened with black, sticky liquid in the light of their lanterns. “Sam described the thing to me. On that, I'll hope you two have heard similar stories by now, and won't require me to repeat it.”
Alaster nodded. “What happened then?”
“Sam was certain he was facing something that climbed out from the bowels of Hell, but he rushed the thing anyways with only his lantern to bear. As much as he loves his family, I'm sure he was swinging it like the Flaming Sword of Michael itself. Must have made an impression at any rate, as the thing released Hannah and jumped through the window. Sam didn't bother to pursue it, and instead gathered up his loved ones and brought them to me. I sent for a few of my most trusted to search the grounds, and my son to fetch the two of you. My men are down there still. Blood trail disappears into the water.” He gazed out into the snow, where lantern lights drifted lazily about by the harbor nearby. “I'll join them now, unless you need me for anything else.”
“You've been most helpful, Constable. Thank you,” said William.
John was already on his way out.
Alaster lifted his lantern close to the window, and with his other hand, lifted something from a sharp, jutting shard of glass, trailing a string of black blood behind it.
“Oh, you black devil.” An intense look twisted Alaster's features—the look of a man within sight of his vengeance. “A vial, please.”
“What is it?” William produced the small vessel from his shoulder bag and pulled the stopper free.
“Skin.” Alaster placed the slimy piece of black flesh into the vial, and William replaced the stopper. “We have him now. There is no time to waste.”
...I have a theory, but I shall need a map, and a few more details to
My last entry was cut short by a most exciting interruption. The constable's son arrived to alert us of a thwarted abduction at the home of a local malster. The beast was fought off, and left a piece of its skin upon a shard of broken glass while making its escape. Alaster says it was just what he needed to make a form of 'compass' that will lead us to it.
He asked me to make something as well. The thought came to him when he saw the device I use to protect my journals. I am to make special 'flash torches' using my compound, of which I had enough to make only six. They are drying as I write. Creating our new implements has taken most of the day, and we are tired, but the creature's skin will only be useful for so long, so we must rest in small doses.
Finishing my earlier entry, I believe my theory about Simon is sound. I have since obtained a detailed map of Boston today thanks to George submitting to the errand, and discovered that every time the ghost child points, it is in a different direction. I traced a line for each direction, and they all intersect at a point on Salem Street, right next to a cobbler's shop. It is an interesting coincidence, as George had brought me to that very spot when we were looking for Simon's hovel. We had found no abandoned house there, and certainly not one in disrepair, but it merits further looking into, when I have more time. For now, the sun has completed its journey overhead during our labors, and the sky now darkens. Nevertheless, very soon, we shall become the hunters.
“Go left here,” Alaster said, his eyes closed and his brow furrowed in concentration. William pulled the left rein and led the horses down Hanover Street. He frowned. They had been down this way already.
Hunters indeed, of the most elusive wild goose. Thankfully, the snow had abated, and it was a crisp, clear night. Earlier, they had been pleased to see that a bright, full moon would assist them with their efforts. Little had come of it however, and it now seemed as though they were chasing their own tails. The excitement from the early hours of the chase had subsided, and William was left with only exhaustion and frustration.
Alaster clutched a small crystal sphere hanging from his neck by a silver chain. It was about the size of a plum, and contained the monster's skin suspended within it. William hadn't seen how Alaster had achieved that little feat, as he was busy making his flash torches, but it was an interesting contraption nonetheless. When Alaster held it and closed his eyes, he seemed to be seeing things in his mind, and he would direct William whenever he thought something was suspicious.
“Damn it.” Alaster started moving his head around, as though the feeble motion would help him discern the direction of his quarry. “Talk to me, William.& rdquo;
“We're on Hanover Street, again, as you just instructed—” William said harshly, but he was cut off before he could really vent.
“Not about the chase. Something else, a story perhaps. It will help.”
“A story?” William said, aggravated at the absurdity of the request. “Why? What would that have to do with anything?”
“It knows we're after it. It can feel when it's being pursued. That is why we're always two steps behind.”
“ Wonderful. And how exactly will a story help?”
“I'm too focused. And so are you. Our thoughts are like your flash torches. The creature can see us coming a mile away. By telling me a story, you may dim that light enough for us to get close.”
William looked to the sky, wide-eyed and mouth opened. “Then why the hell haven't I been telling stories all night?!”
“I've only just figured it out.”
William fought the urge to punch him out of the wagon. “Do you mean to tell me you've never actually caught one of these things before?”
“Of course I have.” Alaster abandoned the unseen pursuit in his mind, opened his eyes, and looked straight into William's. “Many times. But I've always worked as part of a large and skilled team; half a dozen or more Soulseekers, and at the very least, a score of Lightbearers to surround and trap it. In my previous encounters with Ra'akzu, we have always had the advantage in both numbers and experience. Well, it seems the tables have turned quite perfectly. The cunning of this particular demon, and the ease with which it has eluded us, is proof that it is very old, which makes it all the more dangerous. Now, tragically, all it has to overcome is a mere two-man team comprised of you, a man on his first ever mission into the unknown, with a bad habit of questioning orders, and myself, a leader who got his entire team killed the only other time he led one.”
A lump caught in William' s throat. Alaster had even taken his frustration from him, leaving him only his weariness. “Your whole team... killed?”
“To the last man, which presently sits beside you.”
William's heart gained a heaviness as it sank within his chest. He couldn't understand why the Order had sent a man who could be such a risk.
“After my deplorable debut,” Alaster said, “I continued to disgrace myself by running away from the Order and becoming a pathetic sot, swimming in whatever spirits I could find. My little break didn't last long however. The Order isn't easily fled, even for its biggest failures.”
A sudden realization burst forth from William's haze of confusion. “They sent you to die. They expected you to fail and be killed by whatever you might find here.”
Alaster tilted his head slightly down and closed his eyes. “Half true.”
“The Order is at times very unforgiving, as you must have surmised, judging by the tone of your guess. However they would never wish for the death or failure of a brother. It is true I have come to a point with them where they have knowingly placed me in danger, but it was in the hopes that such an extreme would save me from myself. They knew I needed to make a choice. I was either going to succumb to self pity and drown in a bottle, or face the odds one last time and live or die by my skill. But they could not have known the enemy would be an elder Ra'akzu, a considerable feat even for a large and well prepared team.”
“So... it's hopeless.”
“Not hopeless.” Alaster inhaled deeply and seemed to find a place of peace in his thoughts. “Just very, very unlikely.”
“Why didn't you tell me any of this before?”
“And take the wind out of your sails before we even left the dock?” Alaster said. “I had hoped it would only be necessary for one of us to know the ridiculous odds we were facing—for morale's sake—but it appears the only way to get what I ask for, is to explain in great detail the history behind every request I make.”
William felt like kicking himself. Damned fool, you did it again. Alaster was right, and he wished he could unlearn what he had just been told. He felt lower than he had ever been, body and spirit. “I apologize... you are right of course. I shouldn't have questioned. I was just... I'm sorry.”
“Try to forget about it for now. If we live past tonight, there will be ample time for reprimands.”
William chuckled despite the circumstances.
“And anyways, there has been an unexpected benefit to our little discussion.”
“Really?” William searched Alaster's expression for a hint, but his face only showed the hard lines of renewed determination.
“Yes. The arrogant devil saw our lights dimming and mistakenly believed we were moving away from it. It is now desperately seeking prey, and paying us little attention.” Alaster's eyes opened wide and his gaze fell on a dark alley to the right of the wagon. “We have our opportunity. It was there, only moments ago.”
William's grip tightened on the reins, but Alaster grasped his hands and kept him from pulling back. “No, keep going. Ride round to the next street and meet me at the other side of this alley. Have a torch and pistol at the ready. If you hear anything odd at all, light the torch. But be careful what you shoot at.”
Alaster took two torches from William's pack and hopped over the side of the wagon. When he landed, he was brandishing a pistol before him. “Hurry, William!” He only mouthed the words, then turned, and slowly moved into the darkness of the alley.
William gave a quick whip with the reins, and his percherons were off at a trot. He rounded one corner, and then another. As he approached the opposite end of the alley, he found that the place struck him as familiar. He pulled his horses to a halt before the alley entrance and removed a torch from his pack.
Why do I know this place? The horses were agitated; snorting and staring intensely at the alleyway. I know the feeling. He tied them off to a support beam of an awning nearby. He then slid his pistol from his belt and lifted a torch from his pack. Courage William. He pushed his fear down deep, took a deep breath, and prepared to face the living nightmare that was hiding somewhere before him.
He took a few cautious steps into the shadows, unable to soften the crunching of the snow beneath his boots. He stopped when he realized there was no noise at all in the alley. He wanted to call out to Alaster, but buried the thought quickly, instead standing still and trying to adjust his eyes to the darkness. It was so quiet that he was beginning to hear the echoes of his recent talk with Alaster as they replayed in his thoughts. The cold had made his nose run, but he staved off the urge to sniffle. A dog barked in the distance, and something moved in front of him. It made no noise, but he felt it nonetheless.
“NOW!” Alaster screamed from further down the alley. A brilliant light exploded from there like a bolt of lightning, but the alley stayed illuminated as though thrust into daylight. William could see the black silhouette of the creature before him, it's monstrous, tentacled form wreathed in the light from Alaster's torch. It was much closer to him than Alaster was, and the dread William had buried erupted from the depths of his stomach like a geyser through soft ground. He made some unintelligible sound when the creature arched its back and released an ear- splitting cry towards the heavens. William raised his own torch, but before he could smash it against the alley wall to release his compound, the Ra'akzu sprung forward and slammed into him, knocking him back to the entrance of the alley. The horses reared their heads back in surprise when he landed. He could hear Alaster running but the Irishman wouldn't get there in time before the demon would be upon him. He had dropped both the torch and pistol in the impact, and while he could not see where the torch had gone, he spied the pistol out of the corner of his eye, it's metal barrel gleaming in Alaster's approaching torchlight. The creature leapt over three heights of a man into the air and descended straight at William. He rolled towards the pistol and out of the demon's way just as it landed, plunging two of its tentacles into the snow where he had been with such force that William could hear the earth below break apart as though struck with a shovel. William grabbed up the pistol, spun onto his back, and took aim with a quickness that surprised even himself. But then he saw a young boy's face in the body of the creature, terrified and pale in the moonlight. It was a face he knew, and he couldn't shoot. The demon seemed to understand the weapon William held, and stood its ground, snarling, its horrible misshapen teeth appearing in the blackness of its body.
“W-Willum!” The boy cried.
The demon took a swipe at William, knocking the pistol from his hand, and wrapped another tentacle around his throat. The feeling of terror he now felt was all too familiar.
William saw the horses trying to pull away in their panic, and heard Alaster yelling something, but the sound was too muffled for him to make it out. A pistol shot was fired, but the creature was not deterred. It opened its maw and came at William's face, and as it was only inches from tearing into him, another light exploded into the night, followed by another cry from the creature. Both were so close this time that William was blinded and deafened at once.
Tuesday, 05 May 2009 00:00
- Part Three -
Sunday, November the 27th, 1763 ~ Alaster Daughtry arrived in the port of Boston in the pre-dawn hours of this morning, aboard a ship sailing from Ireland. I met him at the dock on a tip from good Mr. Frederick Payne, and I must say, my first impression of the Order's agent has been quite dissatisfying. The first thing he asked of me was not information regarding the disappearances, but for some local spirits, making sure to cite his displeasure of the watered down rum he received during his travels. Soon after consuming the remainder of my brandy, and “politely” pointing nout its faults, he took to sleeping upon the lounge.
It is afternoon now. I managed some rest myself, but sleep is a fragile thing for me in these times, and I am still very much exhausted. I intend to wake Alaster after I procure a much belated breakfast for us from the dining room. They have just finished with dinner, but George knew to set some aside for us. I am filled with an odd blend of hope and dread for what this day may bring.
The sun had begun its descent unseen, somewhere above the gray murk of the clouds that spanned unbroken from one horizon to the other. William had let the fire go out, hoping the chill would aid him in inspiring Alaster to motion. He stood over the sleeping Irishman, who was posed on the lounge as though prepared for a wake—on his back, with arms and legs perfectly straight.
“Mr. Daughtry, sir?” said William.
Alaster's eyes opened upon the utterance of his name. They were already cast in William's direction, and very much alert. “All is well?” he said.
“Y-yes.” William was taken aback. He had quite expected to be spending the next few minutes attempting to rouse the man from a stupor. “There is samp and molasses ready on the table. Beer and cider as well.”
“No need to tempt further.” Alaster rose with equally unexpected soundness. p>
The two sat across from each other at William's small table, and both gathered healthy servings onto their plates from a large bowl. William found himself envying Alaster's vivacity during the meal.
“So,” Alaster began, between enthusiastic spoonfuls, “five children missing from the colonies altogether, three of them right here in Boston. Is this correct?”
William tried to blink away the astonishment he felt widening his eyes. “Yes, it is. How did you—?”
“Most disheartening,” he said. “I can see why you risked contacting us.”
Alaster paused just as he was about to lift another spoonful. Instead, he left it on the plate, and wiped his mouth with a napkin. “Tell me, William, how much do you know about my Order?”
“Not much, I'm afraid.” William fidgeted with his spoon. Where is this leading?
“Let's start with how you knew who to contact.”
“Well... I was informed that a certain group existed that dealt with matters of a possibly... supernatural nature.”
“By a party that wishes to remain anonymous.”
“Clergy.” Alaster shook his head. “Unbelievable.”
William kept quiet, in case this was a ruse to trick him into confirming a suspicion. In truth, it had been a member of the Anglican Church who gave him a contact in Europe to be used as a last resort. He didn't want to get anyone in trouble.
“Well, let's finish our meal,” said Alaster. “Then, I'll ask that you guide me to the site of the most recent abduction.”
They finished eating without saying another word.
“Ho, now!” William called to his horses, pulling them to a stop beside a large home, perched precariously near the edge of the Mill Pond.
A well dressed but haggard-looking man burst out of the door, and skipped down his porch steps toward their wagon. His eyes were red-rimmed with dark circles beneath, his clothes were wrinkled, and his dark hair was matted. “Have you heard anything, Mr. Holliday?”
William wished there was anything he could say besides “no,” but he felt it was important to be honest. “I'm afraid not, Mr. Doak.” The hopeful glimmer left the man's eyes and William felt the weight of his shortcomings crash down upon him. “I have brought a colleague, however.” He gestured toward Alaster. “Mr. Daughtry here, may be able to bring evidence to light that the constables and I have missed.”
The man crumpled down on the bottom step and hung his head, as though his deflating hopes were the very air within him. William and Alaster descended from the wagon. “You're welcome to search again.” he said. “Room hasn't been touched. We haven't yet gained the will to...”
William put a hand on Mr. Doak's shoulder on his way up the steps.
Once inside, William led Alaster to two doors opposite each other at the end of a small hallway. “Mr. and Mrs. Doak sleep in the room on the left. And this is young Charlie Doak's room.” He opened the door to the right, and stood aside to allow Alaster to enter first.
Alaster stepped lightly, as though trying to be quiet, and came to the foot of the bed. William stood at the doorway and watched him as he first observed the blankets and bedsheets, flecked with reddish-brown spots of dried blood, then the nightstand, upon which rested the bulbous remains of a melted candle, and finally the window. “Mr. Holliday?” he said. “Has anything at all been disturbed in this room between the time the parents discovered their child missing, and the present?”
William searched the room and his mind simultaneously, and they matched until his eyes fell upon the window. “Yes. They must have closed the window and latched it. The mother said it was open when she came to wake him for breakfast.”
“Is this unusual in your experience with these disappearances? An open window, I mean. ”
William felt a chill touch his spine. How does he know these things? It was unusual. In fact it was the first time. “Yes. The previous four abductions were most puzzling, as the windows were closed and latched upon discovery.”
“Is there anything else you noticed this time, that wasn't typical of the others?”
“That candle was still alight when she came in.” William pointed to the nightstand. “Charlie is horridly afraid of the dark, to the point of mania, and will often leave one burning, especially after he wakes from a nightmare. No other time was there light in a room during an abduction.”
“Very thorough gathering of detail, Mr. Holliday. I am curious... have all the abductions occurred in the homes of the affluent?”
“In the colonies, yes,” said William “Among the Indians, it only stopped when they started keeping the children between the adults. I assume it is for the same reason less wealthy households are spared.”
“Because the children and parents sleep together.” Alaster nodded. He then hunched over and inspected the floor, step by step, as he made his way to the window. There, he removed a glove and ran his forefinger across the sill, then brought it close to his face. He tilted his head back and looked down his nose at the dirtied finger as he rubbed it against his thumb. “Mr. Holliday, I must ask you to stand outside, and close the door.”
“ Why? Have you found some& mdash;?”
“Do not let the parents within, regardless of any unnerving things you may hear.”
Great, just when I want answers the most, I will be left with an even bigger mystery.
Not wanting to build a tension between them, William did as instructed. He stood in the hall with his back to the door, left to wonder what strange things Alaster could possibly be doing on the other side.
Soft steps could be heard, and some mumbling, but little else. William placed his ear close to the door, and tried to quiet his breathing. The more he strained to listen, the less he could hear. Then all became quiet for a few agonizing, long minutes.
Mr. Doak passed by with a tray of food for his wife, who was bedridden with worry in the other room. Embarrassed, William explained that Alaster worked better by himself when doing his inspections. He seemed disinterested, and shut the door behind him, leaving William alone in the hallway again.
This is ridiculous. Me, a college educated man, set outside like a mischievous pet. He doesn't need me to guard the door. We could have simply locked it from the inside. What could he believe would be too much for my eyes? I've been tracking this villain halfway across the New World, through wilderness so savage it would have the Irishman weeping from the mere sight of it. Does he think I could not remain quiet and still while he conducts his craft? I hid in the mud as Pontiac's cavalry passed within a hair's breadth of trampling me beneath its hooves. 'Unnerving things' the man says. Indeed! p>
William heard Charlie's mother whimper, and he immediately felt ashamed at the unimportance of his own troubles. He found himself thankful in that moment that he did not have any children of his own. It was bad enough suffering the loss of another's. How many more crying mothers would he hear before the nightmare was over?
No... not a crying mother. William put his ear flat against the door. There was quiet, then a child pleaded “Please, no!” in a choked and terrified voice. William gasped, and nearly every muscle in his body spasmed in unison. He opened the door and burst into the room. Alaster was on the bed beneath the stained blankets. He was writhing about, his face locked in an expression of pain. His eyes were shut tightly, and his breathing was coming erratically through clenched teeth. He was grasping at his neck, trying to pull away something that William could not see.
“Alaster?” William rushed to his side, and tried to help him remove whatever was at his throat.
As soon as he touched his hands, William's perspective altered. The ground gave way beneath him, and he somersaulted until gravity was at his back. It became night and he was lying on the bed. Something cold and clammy was wrapped tightly around his neck, choking the life out of him. A flood of panic filled every inch of his body. It was not only his own—he could feel Charlie Doak's, and Alaster's as well. They all shared the boy's mind and body, trying desperately to fend off a shadowy creature that was killing them.
A flickering candle provided some light, but his vision was fading, at times becoming blurred. He could make out a dark and inhuman shape that loomed above him, and had him pinned beneath. It felt as though a snake were curled around his neck, drawing tighter with every attempted breath. What little air he managed to pull in carried the stench of stale rotten flesh... old death.
Suffocating helplessness filled the thoughts of all three victims. The boy's mind screamed for his mother and father. William could feel strands of sanity tearing apart, though he could not tell who they belonged to.
Misshapen yellow teeth appeared in the shadow, and parted to reveal a long, glistening, black tongue that angled it's way toward his face. With a violent thrust, it straightened and shot into his mouth, breaking teeth, and splitting his tongue before continuing down his throat. The pain was drowned beneath a wave of terror as William felt his insides being torn and sucked away while the tongue thrashed about within him.
God, what is happening?! Father! Please help me! You black devil bastard! William didn't know which thoughts were his own. He was no longer able to fight, and his body went limp.
Flashes of light sparked as his mind slipped, and just then, William glimpsed a young boy standing by the window, shrouded in a glowing blue haze. He didn't see the boy's lips moving, but another voice entered his mind. I'm sorry I couldn't warn you. But it's okay now, you don't need to fear anymore, Charlie. I'll protect you. You can come with me, where there is always light. The boy's clothes were in tatters and he was barefoot and dirty. His face was impassive, but his eyes were full of sadness. He looked familiar to William, but it was a fleeting thought in a terrified mind that was losing consciousness.
The boy pointed out the window, and began to fade. The last thing William saw was a large brass key hanging around the boy's neck from a piece of twine. Then his own life left him.
“William!” Alaster's voice sounded hollow, as though spoken from the far end of a tunnel. William tried to move through it, toward him. Alaster kept calling, and every time, he sounded closer, his voice more full. “William! Come back William!”
William heard a loud slap, accompanied by a sharp sting on his cheek, jolting him awake. He was lying on his back, on the floor beside the bed. Alaster was on his knees, leaning over him. William's lungs were burning, and he felt like he had just emerged from some deep, dark sea, and that Alaster had somehow saved him from drowning. He struggled to rise, sucking in air with loud gasps.
Alaster pulled him by his shoulders to a sitting position, and rubbed his back with rough, quick strokes.
“What... in God's loving name...?” The words tickled William's raw throat, making him cough.
“Easy, you damned fool.” Alaster slapped his back. “Why did you not listen to me? I told you that you might hear strange things. You should have stayed outside the door, like I asked.”
“I heard a child... fearful,” said William. “How could that be? And when I touched your hands...”
“I suppose I shall have to be more elaborate with my instructions.” Alaster kept his voice low, but with a sharp edge. “Can you imagine what would have happened if the mother had come into the room and witnessed my soul walk? Or God forbid, touched me, and saw her child dying through his own eyes?”
“I am sorry... truly.” William looked down at his shaking hands, then pressed them hard against his stomach. “What I saw... what happened... I did not think such things were possible.” He raised his eyes to Alaster's face and saw a scowl there, but it softened as he continued. “That... thing. That is what I have been pursuing all this time? For the love of Christ, what if I had caught up to it?”
His skin crawled as the creature flashed in his mind, candlelight dancing on its slick, black tongue. Dizziness overcame him and he leaned forward, placing both hands on the floor in an attempt to steady the spinning sensation.
“Alright, alright. Settle yourself, Mr. Holliday.” Alaster rose and stood by the open door, leaning out to listen. He then closed it gently, set himself down at the edge of the bed, and gave a long sigh. “I know you don't think highly of me yet, William.” William opened his mouth to protest, but Alaster quieted him with a raised hand. “But you must believe that there are reasons for everything I say. If I suggest a path, it is because I have walked such a path before. I don't have the luxury of earning your trust the old fashioned way, we simply don't have time. You must give it, or we must walk separately. So, do I have your word that you will trust my direction in the future?”
William's mind was still reeling from the ordeal, but he tried to focus on Alaster's words, and managed a feeble nod.
“Good.” Alaster removed a small, but full black pouch from his cloak, and tossed it to William.
William swiped at it, but caught only air, and it fell to his lap. “What's this?” William said, picking it up. It felt like it was full of sand.
“Salt and gunpowder, mostly.” Alaster laid back on the bed, and entwined his hands behind his head. “Sprinkle it on the floor, between the bed and the window.”
This is a test. Not yet fully trusting the soundness of his limbs, William cautiously lifted himself from the floor, and unstrung the pouch. He didn't speak until he had already started to do as Alaster requested, so as not to seem suspicious. “What is this for?”
“This black devil will not be caught with reckless haste. So, foreknowing our time together may be extensive, you must learn to operate as one of the Order if we are to be compatible. The first and most important rule is to obtain ironclad proof that what you are hunting is real.”
“Haven't we done that already? I was there with you, inside the boy's mind—I felt everything.”
“I obtained proof for myself, this is true,” said Alaster. “However, there are those more skilled than I that could create such a vision, and place it among the thoughts of inexperienced minds such as yours. While I know that this isn't the case at present, you must rule out that possibility for yourself.”
“But aren't I supposed to be placing my complete trust in you?”
Alaster's lip curled, but his smile lacked merriment. “I do hate to contradict myself so early in our partnership, but that rule comes before all others—even before placing trust in fellow Brothers.”
William shook out the last bit from the pouch and observed the mess he created. “Well then, if you don't mind my asking, what exactly is this supposed to garner proof of?”
“Strike a flint to it, and see for yourself.”
William found his tinderbox and held it close to the edge of the powder. He scraped the striker against the flint and, even though he was expecting it, he was startled when the spark ignited a burst of yellow flame. Here and there, small plumes of blue twirled and swayed as the powder beneath them bubbled and hissed. The flame dwindled, and William noticed that the still sizzling areas of blue formed distinct shapes. When the fire died completely, the scorched outlines were well defined, and they were unlike anything he had ever seen. They had the shape of a large man's foot, but the heel, and tip of each toe, ended in long points. My God, what is this creature?
Alaster remained unmoving on the bed, staring at the ceiling. “ What do you see?”
“Footprints. The damn thing's footprints.” Amidst the smell of burnt gunpowder, William thought he detected the slightest hint of rotten flesh. A sudden wave of nausea came over him, and he unlatched and opened the window to breath some fresh air. “I don't believe this... I mean, yes, I do believe it, but... how unbelievable.”
Alaster rolled off the bed and proceeded to swipe his boot across the sooty footprints, smearing them unrecognizable. “Come. Let's return to the boarding house. We are finished here.”
The clopping of hoof beats, along with the steady wooden grind of the wagon wheels against the cobbled streets of north Boston, helped to distract William from the chaos in his mind. He watched people walking about, on their way to whatever daily business they had become accustomed. He envied their obliviousness to the inhuman murderer that lurked among them, plotting it's next kill. William and Alaster rode the wagon in silence until about halfway along their return to the boarding house.
“Now that I know for certain what we are dealing with,” Alaster began abruptly, “there are certain preparations I can tend to that you need not participate in. I want you to take some time to rest and come to terms with the events of this day.”
“I'm okay, really. I want to be a part of everything.”
“There will be time to show you later,” Alaster said. “You will be much more useful to me if you are of sound mind and body. I do want to discuss one thing however...”
“The ghost—the blue lad with the key about his neck. Charlie recognized him, and I sensed that you did as well, but the vision ended before I could see either of your thoughts clearly. Did you know him?”
“Yes, well... I'd heard of him. That was the first time I'd actually seen him. I had initially come to Boston when I heard of the disappearance of a boy named Benjamin Holcott. However, George, the old soup vendor you met this morning, told me another boy had gone missing before him.”
“You think the ghost was this boy?” Alaster said.
“Tell me everything you know about him.”
“Well, George described him as a somewhat feral orphan, named Simon. Strange lad, by his account. Never talked, and numerous times was caught trying to steal the oddest things—bricks and planks of wood and the like from newly raised houses. Never valuables, though—he wasn't a pickpocket. George told me he used to stop by the boarding house after meals to beg for food. One day, he didn't show up for the scraps from breakfast, and George& mdash;kind hearted old man that he is—sought out to bring the food to Simon instead, thinking perhaps he was sick. He said he slept in an old, broken down, abandoned house on Salem street, but he didn't find him there. Only fresh blood stains amid dirty old blankets. Now I've been up and down Salem street countless times, as well as every adjacent stretch of road in the area, but I could find no such residence. I even took George with me once to point it out, and we both searched to no avail. Even still, George was positive of what he saw. The constables dismissed the account, and eventually, so did I. But after...” William nodded his head back in the direction of the Doaks house. “...after that, I have to believe that the evidence George found was indeed genuine. His description of the boy matches perfectly what we just saw in that ghost, even down to that key he was wearing.”
“Hmm.& rdquo; Alaster frowned. William guessed it wasn't the revelation he was hoping for.
“I wonder what he was pointing at?” William mused.
“I don't know,” said Alaster. “The dead do odd things.”
to be continued...
Tuesday, 05 May 2009 00:00
- Part Two -
Colin was in the dark—a perfectly complete pitch blackness. What the hell happened? There was silence except for his own breathing and movements. There had been some kind of explosion, then he was on his back on a cold, hard surface.
He was dazed and shivering, but forced himself to his feet. The still air was freezing.
“Is anyone there?” He said feebly. There was no echo. If there were walls or a ceiling, they were very far away. “Please, someone?”
He pulled his cell phone from his coat pocket, but no light could be seen when he flipped it open. The buttons made no noise as he pressed them. He tried the night glow button on his watch, but that was useless as well.
Keeping his hands in front of him, he slid his feet across the ground, making his way step by step through the darkness.
“Colin?” The voice was Jack's. It was coming from Colin's right, but the bartender could not be seen.
“Yes, I'm here!” Colin answered. “Where are we?”
“Colin, I'm going to be straight with you now.” Colin got the feeling Jack was talking him back from the edge of a nrooftop. & ldquo;You need to listen to me, okay?”
“Yeah, sure.” Colin's jaw trembled from the cold.
“There is a terrible anger in this place, and you don't want it turned on you,” said Jack. “Now, it chose to let you and your friends in. In my experience that's either a really good thing, or really bad.”
Why the hell is he talking about it like it's alive? “Oh yeah? What happens if it's really bad?”
“Well, then it just wants to let you in so it can trap and kill you.”
Colin gasped despite his disbelief. He thought the old lunatic might have it in his mind to kill nhim.
“Honestly though,” Jack continued, “this place doesn't usually waste any time, so I don't think that's the case. No offense buddy, but you'd be an easy kill. That leads me to believe this time it's a good thing—meaning it likes you. However... that can change. Things can go south pretty easily if you keep behaving like you have been. What's happened to you so far is just a love tap. You've pulled the proverbial cat's tail.”
Hell with it. I'll go along and see if I can get out of here. “Okay... what do I do?”
“Alright, just walk towards my voice, very slowly.”
Colin did so and soon, a dull glow could be seen, a blurred vision. As he walked, each step brought it more into focus. First the outline of the bar, then Jack's form behind it. This has got to be the worst trip I've ever had.
“That's good,” said Jack. “Come and have a seat.”
Jack and the bar were completely in focus by the time Colin reached the closest stool. Nothing else was visible, not the door, the window, the floor, or even the wall of novelties that was supposed to be behind Jack. The silent bar was empty, except for the two of them.
“What's going on?” Colin whispered. His breath formed a mist. He rubbed his hands together.
“Well, you're in a place I like to call the penalty box.” Jack took a small bowl of peanuts and placed them on the bar. “You're being watched pretty closely now...”
“Watched? By who?”
“...but it's possible to get back,” said Jack, ignoring the question.
“Stay calm, for one.”
“I don't see how I'm supposed to stay calm, when I just got sucked into some freezing black hole in the middle of North End.”
A deep growl rolled through the darkness and shook the stools and glasses on the bar. Colin stiffened. When it subsided, he started to turn his head to see what had made the noise, which seemed to have originated behind him.
“No,” Jack admonished. “You don't want to see that.”
“What? I don't want to see what?”
Jack crossed his arms, and paused for a moment.
“Wrath,” he said finally. “A pure rage. You thought your little werewolf dream was bad? The things you see after witnessing visible fury could put you in a straitjacket. I'm not talking about just seeing an angry face. I'm saying it... manifests. In here, you can see it taking shape, and trust me, you don't want to.”
“You seem to be okay.& rdquo;
Jack smiled. “I guess you could say I'm not your average barkeep.”
Colin swallowed. “Well, then what's next?”
“You're in a bar, order a drink. We have to get things back to normal.”
Normal he says. Well, I guess I'll see where this takes me.
Colin closed his eyes and shook his head slightly, having trouble making a decision.
“Um... m-martini, just like you made it before. That was good.”
“Perfect.” As Jack was preparing it, the temperature rose noticeably. Colin could no longer see his breath.
Something else caught his eye, however. He looked to the stool at his left and squinted. A blurry part of the darkness was lingering there as though a shadow was being cast from an unseen source of light. It seemed to have substance as well—a dark cloud of smoke resisting dissipation. He reached out to touch it, but pulled his hand back quickly as a mouthful of sharp, misshapen teeth appeared, floating in the shadow's upper body. The 'mouth' didn't open, rather it was like a wild dog baring its fangs at Colin for coming too close.
“Oh, don't mind that,” said Jack, placing a napkin and martini in front of Colin. “It's not allowed to bite.”
“What in the... is that the. .. wrath?& rdquo; Colin shot his eyes straight forward. Am I going insane?
“No,” Jack chuckled. “It's one of the very few that survived it. And it's going to be here for a long, long time.”
Colin took a sip with a shaky hand, and his eyes opened wide. He stared down into the martini glass, looking for signs of dissolving powder or discoloration in the liquid.
Jack shook his head. “I promise you, Colin. I didn't lace your drink, now or before.”
I give up. Colin's shoulders slumped. “Can you help me get out of here, Jack?”
“Well, there's good news and bad news about that.& rdquo; Jack placed his hands on the bar. “The bad news is, it's not something I can do for you. My hands are tied. The good news is, it's relatively simple—all you have to do is apologize.”
“That's it. But the trick is, you have to mean it. If you don't, this place will know, and you'll be stuck in here until it decides to let you apologize again. Unfortunately, that can be any amount of time. I have never been able to guess how long it was for anyone.”
“I think my apology would be genuine... I think.”
“Well, let her rip then, and good luck.”
Colin closed his eyes, and breathed long and deep. This ought to be interesting.
“Colin!” He felt Tom grab him by the shoulders. “Where'd you come from?”
Colin looked around, the bar had returned completely. It was not quite the dramatic teleportation he had been expecting. Tom and Amy were both standing nearby, although they looked shocked to see him. The other patrons were seated at their tables and stools, and back to ignoring them.
Jack clapped softly. “ Well done, Colin. ”
“Oh, thank God.” Colin stood up. “Let's get the hell out of here.”
“Not just yet,” said Jack.
Colin stared at him for a second, then nodded and pulled out his wallet. Don't want to piss off the bar again. “Of course, what do I owe you for the drink?”
“Never mind that. That one's on the house.” Jack pointed at the window, still covered in the black, tar-like substance. “As long as that window is like so, no one's leaving. It should only be a short while, a few hours maybe.”
A couple of the other patrons grumbled at those words, but still kept to themselves, not even looking at the trio.
Colin opened his mouth to protest, but held his tongue, and slumped down on his stool instead. Tom and Amy sat down beside him.
Squirming in his seat, Colin related what he had seen to his friends. They waited until he was finished before saying anything themselves.
“After that explosion, or whatever it was,” said Amy, “it looked like you just vanished into the wall. We tried to find out what was going on, but then Jack disappeared too, and no one else would talk to us. We were scared to try the door, after what happened to you.”
“Then poof!” Added Tom. “Here you both are again. I don't know what the hell to make of this place.”
“Hell span> just might be it,” said Colin. The lights flickered, causing him to flinch. “No offense,” he added towards the ceiling, his head sinking between his shoulders. He put a hand over his eyes. “What is happening to me? Am I on drugs or not?”
“Hey you're not alone in this, buddy.” Tom gave him a friendly nudge with his elbow. “We're all seeing shit. Something really weird is going on here.”
Jack snickered. He tried to cover it up with a convincing cough, but Colin caught it.
“Did you guys see the shadow monster sitting over there? No.” Colin pointed to the other side of Amy, where he had seen the thing, and she nearly spun off her stool to check. “You guys didn't get sucked into a black hole. Something is going on with me in particular.”
“You're half right,” said Jack. “Because the visions affected you so strongly, you may have a little more of the gift than your friends here. However, what just happened to you in the penalty box has nothing to do with that. Anyone who acts up gets that treatment.”
“Penalty box?” Asked Tom.
“That's what he calls the place where the shrooms turned on me,” said Colin.
“Long story,” said Jack. “But hey, I guess you guys might just have the time for it.”
Oh God, here we go. “You promise there's nothing mind altering in these?” Colin asked, lifting up his glass.
“ Well... ah.” Jack scratched his cheek.
Colin shook his hands at him. “Besides alcohol, of course.”
Jack nodded “I swear.”
“Alright then... fuck it,” said Colin. “Keep the drinks coming, and I'm all ears.”
“In that case, I think I have just the drinks for the occasion.” Jack popped the tops off of three frosty Samuel Adams Boston Ale bottles. “Now, this is an older tale, mind you, but I think it'll give you the best impression of this building's nature.” He set the bottles in front of them so they could see the logo, which included a likeness of the famous Boston Founding Father. “I came upon this story while I was trying to research this place's origins—no easy feat. As you might have guessed by now, it chooses when it would like to be seen, and by whom, so it doesn't show up on any city plans or records. Now, I have access to archives that some might consider to be more or less...apocryphal. But it's there that I found the journal of a man named William Holliday. In it, he described what had to be this place in colonial times, and I have evidence to back it up.” He reached down behind the bar, and gently lifted a long wooden box with a hinged lid. It was about the size of a travel humidor. “There are some stories that lay hidden in the shadows of history, my young attorneys. Tonight, well, this morning, we're going to go into that shadow, and take ourselves a little peek...”
Thursday, October the 6th, 1763 ~ I see no end to this nightmare. I mistakenly believed that the elusive miscreant I have been pursuing had lost its taste for Indian prey. But I see now that powerful superstitions, which span many tribes, were the effective element. The peaceful among them believed that some ancient spirit of vengeance plagued their land, in retribution for the bloodshed being caused by the rebel, Pontiac. However the simple, preemptive measure of sleeping with the children nestled between the adults seems to have frustrated the villain, driving the troubles eastward to the colonies where they presently occur.
Yes... sadly another child has gone missing—Benjamin Holcott, a boy of eight from Boston, Massachusetts. Once again, only the absence of the boy, and ominously blood-stained bedsheets, are proof of the atrocity. The abduction occurred in the deadest of night, from the boy's own bedchamber. The parents, asleep in an adjacent room, were affected by no noise sufficient to rouse them. As before, no sign of forced entry could be detected, despite a well secured home. The windows remained latched, and the doors locked. Benjamin has become the third child to vanish by this fashion in the colonies—always among the opulent, where the children are separately accommodated at night.
All efforts to root out the malefactor have produced only frustration. The constables in Boston have enlisted my aid, with the condition that the cooperative remains unofficial and secret. Such was not the case with the disappearances in Kingston and Springfield, where they regarded me and my investigative efforts at best with indifference, at worst with mistrust. Unfortunately I have produced little result in either case—I am no closer to a discovery at present than I was those many months ago, when this all began. em>
It greatly taxes what little remains of my endurance to pen these words. Committing my failures to history is soul-numbing misery. In desperation, I have dispatched a request to the mysterious Order for help, as this enemy is well beyond my ability.
From his perch on the uncovered wagon, William Holliday gazed out at the moonlit harbor, watching the fog roll in off the water and glide gently across the docks like translucent, windswept curtains. His companion, Frederick, blew warm air into his cupped hands, then held them to his stomach as he rocked in his seat. The haunting beauty of the scene had a more somnolent effect on William. More than once, he awoke with a start from a drowsy tilt.
“There, Mr. Holliday!” Frederick thrust a dirt-stained finger out towards a large shape taking form in the harbor. “Just as I said. Porters working that sloop yonder said they overtook the ship you was looking for, The Promise, by a matter of hours. Now here she comes.”
It was true enough. A lumbering three masted schooner drifted into view, easing her way towards an empty dock.
William's mouth gaped in a massive yawn, then he shook his head, trying to free some of the weight from his eyelids. He produced some coins from his belt pouch and pushed them into Frederick's hand. “ Well done, Frederick.” Sleepiness thickened his voice. “ That will be all.”
“Most generous, Mr. Holliday. My family thanks you!” Frederick tipped his hat, hopped down from the wagon, and bounded off into the street. William cautiously lowered himself, and tied off the horses. He then began his short journey down to the dock beside the arriving ship. William didn't bother worrying if the approaching vessel was indeed The Promise. Frederick was a poor man, but in all their dealings so far, an honest one.
William's slow, swaying gait drew him across the creaking dock boards. The roiling fog floating past gave the illusion that he was moving faster than he was, and he felt as though he were wandering into a dream. He narrowly escaped injury when a coil of heavy mooring rope passed before his eyes and slapped hard onto the wood at his feet, causing him to jump.
“Look lively down there!” a man called from the ship.
Not knowing what else to do, William simply waved at him, then moved aside as other men on the dock secured the lines.
He squinted at the ship's name plate, shrouded in mist. It was an old boat, but the crew had pride enough to keep “The Promise” in bright, new paint. William thought it was a fitting name, seeing as it carried the promise the Order had made to him in a letter received only three days past. It detailed the Order's intent to send one of their number to ascertain the degree of the threat he had informed them of.
William was too exhausted to spare any energy for excitement. After over a month without incident, the last week alone had seen two more Boston children vanish, and he had slept very little in that time. Still, he wanted to make a good impression and vowed to himself to be there when the Order's representative took his first steps in New England.
“Eve'nin, Mr. Holliday.” A coarse voice spoke from amidst a row of large crates nearby. It belonged to an elderly man William knew as the cook from the boarding house where he stayed. Most called him Captain, because he continued to wear seafarer's clothing, though it had been many years since his days in a ship's galley.
William preferred to call him by his given name. “Good evening to you, George.” He came closer until he could see him clearly and smiled at the wiry old man. George, wearing his familiar dark blue peacoat, was set up in a small space between the crates, seated beside a portable wheeled stove of William's own design and fabrication. “I see you're making quick use of the... well, I guess I never did decide on a name for it.”
“Nor'd I,” said George. “Been a great help, though. Come, fire's on. It's warm here.”
William accepted the offer. It seemed like it would be some minutes before The Promise was ready to disembark it's passengers.
“Have some soup?” George offered.
“You know? I think I shall.” William set himself on a crate next to the stove. A flame was crackling within, and the soothing warmth made his tired eyes flutter. No. It won't do to appear drowsy before the Order's man! He took a sharp intake of breath, letting the crisp, cool air revive him, if only for a moment. “On second thought, you warm me enough, inside and out, and I might fall right off this dock.”
“Well, let's see what can be done about that.” George ladled some soup from a large iron pot into a small black cup. “'Twill bring you back to life, sir. Sure as salvation.”
“Oh, I forgot.” William felt his empty belt pouch. “I gave the last of my specie to Frederick. Can I owe you?”
“Nonsense.” George grasped William's hand and nestled the cup in it. “Consider it a small repayment, for working this contraption up for an old man in need.”
In truth, William had been thankful for the distraction. With the lack of evidence leaving him little to investigate, it had been driving him mad having nothing to do. Creating the portable stove had given him a much needed feeling of accomplishment.
Surprisingly to William, the soup did actually have a rejuvenating effect. By the time the crew had finished tying up, and set a ramp to the gangway, he felt more energetic than he had in weeks.
“You do realize that this is an Irish vessel,” William said. “If you added beer to your offering, you're like to get more business.”
“I thought about that, sir,” said George. He took William's empty vessel. “But most Irish fresh off the boat only have but one cup. What then will I do with all this soup?”
The two leaned back and laughed toward the sky. William admired George. He was such a simple and happy old man—always quick to smile. William had been mired for so long in the boggy wake of a child-killer who left no evidence of himself, that the sound felt foreign to his lips. He hadn't realized how much he missed his own humor.
It seemed every time a smile lit his face these days, a dark cloud wasn't far behind. I should never have started this. I'm no constable. I don't even know what I'd do if I ever did manage to corner the villain. But I can't stop now.
As passengers began to descend, William positioned himself out of the way at the end of the ramp. Most of the passing men were accompanied by their families. He suspected none of those were from the Order. Every time he spied a solitary traveler however, he called out for his guest. “Mr. Daughtry? I'm looking for Mr. Alaster Daughtry?”
“Aye, I'm Daughtry,” said one man with a thick Irish accent. His face was obscured beneath the hood of a black cloak, which concealed the rest of his body as well. “Are you William Holliday?”
“I am.” William held out a hand as the man approached.
Just what you'd expect from the Order—dark... mysterious... his musings were interrupted by the the rank stench of liquor and bile exuding from the man ...and drunk?
Alaster stumbled over the last step onto the dock, but caught himself and straightened. “Pardon me.” He took William's hand. “Have to get my land-legs back.”
“Of course.” William tried to keep his expression neutral until he could assess the man further. “Welcome to Boston, sir.”
Alaster pulled his hood back, and set his eyes past William, seemingly having trouble focusing. He had graying hair, with an unkempt beard, framing sunken cheeks and blistered lips. “Ahh, that's soup I smell isn't it?” he said in George's direction. George was filling the cups of other passengers with steaming liquid. “I'm near gut-foundered. There came a point where I could simply no longer stomach bland porridge, salted meats, and sea biscuits any further.”
“Please.” William gestured him toward the stove. Inwardly, his mood was darkening. What kind of man had the Order sent him?
When it came to Alaster's turn, George took the Irishman's cup, but turned down the coin he offered. “Keep your money, sir. Any friend of Mr. Holliday eats free by my fire.”
Alaster returned the coin to its home, somewhere in his cloak. “Very kind, Ol' Pop.”
The walk back to William's wagon was in awkward silence, broken up by the occasional slurping of soup. When Alaster's cup was empty, William fumbled around his scattered thoughts for something to say. There were so many questions earlier, but he could recall none of them.
Something new came to mind as they reached the wagon. “It will be light soon. Have you slept well enough to begin the day, or will you be requiring more rest?& rdquo;
“Well, I fell prey to a somewhat childish impulse when I heard we were approaching port. I stayed awake on deck to catch my first glimpse of the New World at a distance. Wasted effort really, being night with fog as thick as that soup. In truth, I could use a day's recuperation.”
“Very well, sir.” William whipped the reins, urging his black and gray Percherons to a trot. Relief and disappointment pulled him in different directions when considering the Order's ambassador. He hadn't really known what to expect, but it certainly wasn't the man seated next to him.
Tuesday, 24 March 2009 00:00
- Part One -
Amy held a stack of papers to her chest as she slunk through the empty corridors of city hall. This part of the building was unfamiliar to her. It was a maze of warped passageways that turned abruptly or trailed off at odd angles. The clicking from the heels of her black pumps echoed louder than it seemed they should. She stopped at each open door and peered inside to ask if anyone was there. Every room was silent and dark and there was never a response. None of the light switches worked. She decided to stay in the hallway, where at least there was a steady amber glow.
She heard a another set of footsteps coming closer. “Hello?” Amy called. She nswiveled on her toes, trying to gauge a direction, then set off toward her best guess, angling her way down a winding hall. When she came around the last bend, she saw a man in a dark suit entering an elevator. As he turned around to press the button for his floor, she saw that it was... “Tom!” A wave of relief came over her and she quickened her pace. Finally, she could get to a floor she recognized.
Tom clasped his hands together behind his back and tilted his head forward. The doors began to close.
“Tom, hold the elevator!” Amy sprinted the last few steps and just managed to get her hand in to push one of the safety bumpers before they came together. The doors halted, then opened. “Hey, why didn't you—” Amy stopped when she noticed Tom was no longer inside.
“Tom?” He wasn't hiding next to the electric panels, and none of the ceiling boards appeared to have been disturbed.
Amy sighed and pressed her destination, lighting up the “2nd floor” button. It wasn't like Tom to ignore her like that.
The doors slid together with a clunk, and the elevator jerked into a slow rumbling decline.
She glanced at her reflection in the mirror-like interior, to check her makeup. But discovered that her face appeared distorted and fuzzy.
“How... odd.” Something didn't seem right here, she always checked herself in this elevator. She lightly stroked the reflective surface with her fingers, and the rough, bumpy feel didn't match it's smooth appearance.
“Is this real?” Amy pinned the papers to her side with an elbow and pinched the back of her hand. She felt the pressure, but no matter how hard she squeezed, there was no pain.
A wave of lucid thoughts flooded into her mind until she felt awake. How did I get here? How did Tom disappear like that? What are these papers? What's with the reflection?
I must be sleeping. The thought of being so cognizant in a dream this realistic stirred some excitement within her.
Amy stared at her face again, with renewed clarity. It remained crooked and deformed, while everything else was reflected normally. She traced a finger along her cheek, trying to feel the distortions, but felt nothing odd. “Weeeird.”
She thumbed through the papers she was carrying, and recognized them as copies of the documents that had gotten wet during the storm.
That's right, Amy started to remember some pieces from earlier in the dream, Colin sent me to the copy room. It was on the same floor as Colin's office, so she couldn't remember why she had gotten lost on an unfamiliar floor, or why it had been so difficult to find the elevator. Stranger things have happened in dreams, I suppose.
The elevator jolted to a stop, accompanied by a “ding”. The doors began to open and the shriek of metal scraping against metal stabbed at her eardrums. Amy pinched her eyes shut and pressed the palms of her hands against her ears until it was over, accidentally crumpling some of the papers.
Geesh, why did I dream that? There was now a single door before her, at the end of a long, dark hallway. She recognized the door as Colin's, but it shouldn't have been at the end of a hallway like this. She stepped out of the elevator and this time, her shoes made no sound. She tapped on the floor, first lightly, then harder until she was stomping—there was no sound at all. I have such a weird brain. She had tried to say it out loud, but there was no sound to her voice.
Amy gave up and started to close the distance to the door. She could have sworn she saw something shimmer in the blackness of the walls around her, but when she thought about reaching out to touch them, she felt a twinge of fear raise the little hairs on the back of her neck. She got the odd sensation that something was waiting for her to make a mistake. When she reached the door and tried the knob, it was locked. The fear traveled down through her chest and into her stomach. She didn't want to look behind her, she knew something was there. She banged on the door, but heard only her pounding heart.
Please Colin, open the door!
“Come in,” said Colin.
Amy tried the knob again, and this time, it turned. She slipped inside and closed the door behind her just as the dark presence reached it. She backed up a few steps, feeling a kind of weight pressing against the door, emanating past it. The danger was past now, she felt safe.
“What's up Amy?” Colin asked.
Amy turned on her heel. Colin was hunched in his chair in front of a stack of law books, and leaning over a particularly thick volume on criminal trial advocacy. His corner office at city hall was moderately sized, but so filled with extra file cabinets and stacked, multi colored crates of papers, that it was always cramped inside.
“Um, the copies you wanted.” Happy that she was making noise again, she smiled and held up the papers, even though he wasn't looking. She craned her neck to the side, trying to see his face, hoping his wasn't as twisted as her reflection.
“Creepy story, wasn't it?” Amy asked, trying to get him to look at her.
“He seemed to believe it too,” she continued. “I wonder how much of it was true.”
Colin grunted again.
Amy noted his indifference, but continued talking just to hear a voice. “Do you think he really was crazy, or was he just yanking our chain?”
“No, I don't think he was crazy.” Colin folded a corner of the page he was on and closed the book, then lifted a hand to his face. She guessed he was squeezing the bridge of his nose—something he did often when he was annoyed.
“How come?” she said.
“Well, why do you think he told you guys that story?” He spun around in his seat. She was relieved to see that he appeared normal.
Amy tilted her head to the side. “I...don't know.” She decided to have a little fun, and sidled over to his desk, leaning up against it and giving him an inappropriately warm smile. She always thought Colin was adorable, even though he could be an arrogant ass at times. She never seriously considered fooling around on Tom in real life, but what could it hurt in a dream?
Colin frowned. “You must have some idea.”
“I really don't,” she said. She leaned close to him, bringing her chest to within inches of his face as she set the copies down on an empty space at the other side of the desk.
“Well, give it more than a half second of thought and see what you come up with.”
His indifference was killing the mood. She never had to work very hard to get the attention she wanted. Some steamy dream this is going to be. Still, it could be fun just having a conversation. “I honestly don't know what he was thinking, telling us that story. I mean, he said something about hoping we'd keep you from becoming like that Renley guy, but—”
Colin snapped his fingers and pointed at her. “Bingo! Unfortunately, he's a little late.”
“What do you mean?”
Colin rose from his seat and pulled a torn red bow tie from his pants pocket, holding it up before her.
“Hey, isn't that—?” Amy cut herself short when Colin grimaced. “Are you okay?”
Colin twisted away from her, trembling. She put a hand on his shoulder. “You know,” his voice was shaking, “I always wondered what had happened to my father. If he was like me or not.”
Uh oh. Amy 39;s stomach felt like it was doing a cartwheel. This could easily become a nightmare. She pushed herself off the desk and backed away.
“Then, we come to find out some old bartender killed him back in the 70's.”
“You're telling me... wait a second,” said Amy. Her quickness with numbers was one of the reasons Colin wanted her to join his team. “There's no way. Renley couldn't have been your father.”
“Oh? And why is that?” His voice was back to normal. She could see a grin on the corner of his mouth.
“You were born in the 80's.” Relief lifted Amy's lips into a smile. “You messing with me?”
“Yeah, I am.” Colin tucked the bow tie into his pocket, then abruptly bounded around Amy to come between her and the door. “But you know, if I wasn't, it stands to reason that I might have been lying about my age all along.” He lunged towards her, and jutted out his lower jaw. “Aaooooo!”
“Knock it off.” Amy playfully punched him on the shoulder, although she felt that tickle on the back of her neck again.
“If you insist.” Colin backed up to the door and locked it. “If you'd rather I get... seeerious.” He leered up and down at her.
She knew that look, it was the response she had hoped for a moment ago, but it was unwelcome now. “Don't be a jerk.”
“Don 39;t be a jerk.& rdquo; Colin whined like an annoying child, mocking her. He turned the deadbolt.
“Quit being weird, I mean it.” Amy took an uneasy step towards the phone. And who am I going to call, the nightmare police? I just need to wake up.
Colin covered his mouth with a hand in mock fear and shook his knees. Wake up... wake up. He then slid the chain lock and sighed, sliding his tongue salaciously across his upper lip. Please just wake up... now!
He took a step towards her, then crouched like a cat about to pounce when she picked the whole phone up and pulled the cord free from the wall.
She held it before her. “Colin, if you don't...”
Colin 39;s movement was a blur. In a fraction of a second, he was in front of her, a hand firmly around her throat. His irises were white, and his grin displayed rows of fangs, filling his salivating mouth.
The world went black, and Colin released his grasp. Amy was on her back, and she sat up and screamed into the darkness. She kicked and punched, but nothing connected. Once she realized she was in her bed, she sat still. Her breathing was heavy and her heart raced, but she managed to fumble around on her nightstand until she found the lamp and tapped it a couple of times, bathing the room in soft light.
“Hello?” She looked around. The door was closed. The only sound was the steady hum of her baseboard heater. p>
She felt her sheets, and they were soaked with sweat, as was her shirt—one of Tom's old Red Sox tees.
“Holy crap.” She picked up her cell phone and looked at the time. It was 2:15am. She hit redial and hopped out of bed. It didn't even ring once.
“Amy?” Tom said. He sounded wide awake.
“I'm sorry for calling so late, hon.”
“Oh my God.”
“Me too.” Tom sounded concerned. “I was just about to call you. Colin went back to the bar. He thinks something weird is going on.”
“I don't know. I was going to go meet him there, I'm worried about him.”
“Swing by and pick me up.” She couldn't help but feel strange about seeing Colin after the nightmare, but it would be okay if Tom was with her.
“That was the most realistic, creepy nightmare I've ever had,” Amy said, as she slid into Tom's dark blue sedan. “I woke up and thought I was still there, like the lights had gone out and I had fallen down or something.& rdquo;
“I know what you mean,” said Tom. “While I was on the computer, I fell asleep in my chair. When the nightmare ended, it was like I... teleported back, not like I had actually woken up.”
“Did you dream that Colin was a werewolf too?”
Tom laughed hesitantly. “Actually, I kind of dreamt that you were the werewolf.”
“Me?!” Amy sat with her back to the window. “I am so not the wolfy type.”
“Yeah, you're more like a werefox. You want to hear something messed up?” Tom flashed a crooked smile. “I looked up David Baker's file just for fun, and he was checked into Danvers in '73, after neighbors constantly complained about him screaming that he was being hunted by werewolves.”
“Shut up!” Amy put her hands on her cheeks. “I'm staying at your place for a while.”
“I haven't had a real nightmare since I was a kid,” said Tom. “But at least you were in it. It was actually kinda hot, until you started scratching me.”
Amy giggled. “Oh, it was that kind of nightmare.”
“Yep.” Tom placed a hand on Amy's knee and pinched a little. Amy jerked like someone had thrown a lit firecracker in her lap. Tom knew all her ticklish spots.
“Stop!” She grabbed his hand. “You know I hate that. So what did Colin have to say?”
“Well, he had a rough time sleeping also. He sounded pretty freaked out. I think he had it worse than us. Anyway, he said he was going back to Jack's Place to 'have a word' with the bartender.”
“Have a word?” Amy suddenly felt exhausted. When Colin needed to “have a word,” it usually meant his temper was on its way out the door. “Oh no.”
“Yep,” said Tom. “The shit is on the way to the fan.”
Tom gradually pushed down on the accelerator as the skies cleared. The dying storm had only sprinkles to offer by the time they reached the oldest neighborhood in Boston.
When they finally neared the place where they had gotten caught in the weather earlier that evening, they saw Colin's black Porsche Boxster parked partly up on the curb. Colin was walking on the sidewalk, quickly moving from building to building, looking at the signs.
Tom pulled up behind the Porsche as Colin made his way back towards them.
Amy rolled down her window. “Colin, what's going on?” Just seeing him melted away any fear she had. She was unsure how, but the contrast between nightmare Colin and real Colin was immediately evident.
Colin stopped next to them, and looked up at the unlit, unmoving, candy striped barber's poles next to the Boston Barber Co. sign.
“Wasn't it right here, next to the barber shop?”
Tom and Amy got out of the car, and all three glanced up and down the block. The closest thing to a bar were a couple of Italian restaurants, long closed for the night, but there was no Jack's Place. The streetlights were on, but no light shone through any window. The sidewalks were empty.
“Weird,” said Tom. “What's that?” he pointed at a small manila envelope in Colin's hand
“Contact info he can make use of as I'm suing his ass. I was hoping he'd still be around, cleaning up after closing the bar or something.” Colin looked at the buildings right next to the barber shop again. & ldquo;This is ridiculous. It was right here.”
“You're going to sue?” Amy leaned into Tom, prompting him to put his arms around her.
“If I can't get him arrested first.”
“For telling a scary story?” Tom gave Colin a sidelong glance.
“It wasn't that scary. Not scary enough for me to be hallucinating like I ate a bag of shrooms for lunch. He put something in our drinks, had to have.”
“Damn.” Tom put a hand through his hair. “I hadn't thought of that. But you don't think it might just be all of us stressing on the case, though? We've been through hell this week and...”
“I ran half naked down twelve flights of stairs, being chased by a half-wolf, half-Renley thing with giant bloody holes in his chest. When I got to the bottom of my building, I ran full-bore into Ted, my doorman, knocking him over and breaking his wrist. I started crying and screaming for him to save me from the undead werewolf-lawyer, which had vanished by then, of course. Then I took the liberty of puking and getting dizzy and falling in it. The damn bartender put something in our drinks.”
Colin went back to his search, without waiting for a response. Amy mouthed “wow” silently at Tom when Colin wasn't looking. She decided against telling her own story just then, thinking Colin might take it poorly for some reason. And she would never tell either of them she had been flirting with the idea of making a pass at Colin.
Suddenly, a neon “open” sign flickered on in a window. Above the doorway of the building was an old style wooden hanging sign that read “Jack's Place Pub & Tavern”.
The three exchanged a variety of looks... It was right beside the barber shop.
Colin strode to the door and pulled it open, with Tom and Amy close behind.
“Now Colin,” Tom began. “Keep cool and don't say anything you might...”
“Alright, you sick son of a bitch!” Colin shouted, upon seeing Jack at his place behind the bar. Tom threw up his hands. “I know what you did, and there's an officer on the way here right now.”
The few other patrons all stood up. Tom put a hand on Amy's shoulder and moved in front of her.
Jack's face was expressionless, or his mustache was hiding it. He didn't move or say anything.
“Why did you do it?” Colin walked up to the bar and stood right in front of him. “To make your stories a little more fun? Get your kicks?”
One of the patrons closest to Colin, a large man with a clean-shaved head and tattooed arms, turned and walked to the far end of the bar. Many of the others were stepping back as well.
“You should probably calm down, Colin, ” said Jack. “I'll listen to whatever you have to say.”
“You're damn right you will.” Colin slapped the envelope on the bar. “You're in a good bit of trouble, sir.”
“What is it you think I've done?” Jack left the envelope untouched.
“You drugged us you dumb bastard!”
The lights in the bar flickered and the jukebox began sorting through its vinyl singles.
Jack frowned. “What exactly makes you think that?”
“Strange things have been happening to all of us,” said Tom. His tone wasn't angry like Colin's. “Amy and I had very vivid nightmares, like real life. Colin has been hallucinating, and became sick. We think it may be because of something we drank here.”
“All three of you, huh?” Jack shook his head. “Well, that's... unexpected.”
Amy flinched. What does that mean?
“What's that supposed to mean?” Colin snapped, mirroring Amy's thoughts.
“You're seeing visions. Always happens to those who have a little bit of the gift when they first open their eyes. But three of you together? That's... new.”
“I'm not listening to this horse shit.” Colin turned his back to him.
Amy caught some flashing lights out of the corner of her eye. “Hey, I think the officer is here,” she said, looking out the window.
“Outstanding.” Colin moved beside Amy and had a look.
A police cruiser had pulled up behind Colin's and Tom's cars, and an officer was walking and shining a flashlight in the alleyways.
Colin tapped the window, but the officer didn't seem to notice.
The jukebox started playing a song with a catchy piano rhythm. Old 60's soul. Jack perked up at the sound, and he held onto the bar, as though expecting an impact. This didn't go unnoticed by Tom or Amy.
“Hey!” Colin shouted. The officer started to walk past the bar. Colin tried the door, but it wouldn't open. He shouted again and began slapping the window with his palm. The officer kept walking.
The music got louder, matching Colin's volume. The other patrons that had gathered at the back corner of the bar started mumbling to each other, and those who couldn't find a seat, crouched next to the ones who did.
“Tom,” said Jack. “You really need to settle him down, and fast.”
Amy grabbed his hand for comfort. Tom bit his lip and frowned.
Colin tried the door again, this time trying to force it open by putting all his weight behind his shoulder. It wouldn't budge.
Amy looked out the window. The officer had his hand on his shoulder mic and was walking past the bar again.
“Hey! In here!” Colin shouted. He began banging on the window with the bottom of his fist. “What in the hell?”
Colin grabbed a nearby stool.
The floor groaned like an old wooden ship at sea. The other patrons ducked their heads at the sound.
“Wait, Colin!” Tom said, but Colin wasn 39;t listening. He lifted the heavy hardwood stool and rested it on his shoulder while he positioned himself. Then he wound back and swung, bellowing under the strain. The stool slammed into the window, shattering into shards and splinters. The glass remained intact.
The song skipped and then started playing slowly, making it sound deep and monstrous. Lights flickered, then shifted rapidly between bright and dim, causing the disorienting effect of a strobe. Black liquid creeped over the outside of the window from all corners, ignoring gravity as it coalesced to the middle. The last thing they saw was the officer walking towards his car before the outside was obscured completely.
The groaning in the floor became louder.
“Oh boy.” Jack ducked behind the bar.
Something pulsed next to Colin, a single great burst sending him flying, and knocking Tom and Amy to the floor. As Colin collided with a wall, he disappeared into it. Ripples formed like water at his point of impact. There was no damage, and after the ripples settled, Colin was gone.
The noises in the floor stopped and the lights went back to normal. The jukebox became quiet.
After a few seconds, Jack peeked over the bar. “Well, shit.”
Wednesday, 11 March 2009 00:00
I remember the first time I saw Renley's picture on the front page of the Globe. He and the “Wolf” had been trading headlines for some time. One week it was Renley Dumont, the sharp tongued prosecutor with no regard for standard court tact, getting found in contempt yet again. The next, it was the latest kill by the bloodthirsty “Wolf of Hyde Park”, so named because of the neighborhood where the killer liked to dispose of the savagely slain victims. There was no clear connection to be made by the average reader at that point, but I knew something was amiss. I didn't know it then, but the day I finally met Renley in person, would be the day I discovered the truth. For Boston, it was a scorcher, one of the rare days that got over 90 degrees, and Renley had just finished fighting a fire namong the press...
“Once again, I do not advocate going above the law, even if it is ineffectual at times.” Renley adjusted a pair of coke bottle glasses which rested upon his hawkish nose and magnified his eyes ridiculously. “The statement I made yesterday was a temporary error in judgment. The laws we have in place are there for a reason, they serve us more often than not. The occasional individual that slips through the cracks is no reason to demolish the entire structure.”
The lack of conviction in his voice was obvious. I knew, along with probably everyone else gathered, that he was simply covering his ass, nothing more.
“So you think today's judgment was one of those occasions?” A reporter said, thrusting a microphone ntowards him. p>
“It's not for me to make that judgment. The jury found for the defendant, Mr. Simms, and I accept that.”
“But you believe they found in error?” Another reporter shouted. It was a silly question. He was just fishing for an angry response.
“I'm the prosecutor. Are you really going to ask me that? The jury is made up of human beings, so it is susceptible to error. We can only hope to honor justice more times than we fail. Thank you very much.”
Renley ignored the rest of the questions as he made his way through the press gang, to a cab waiting for him on the curb.
He did a double take when he sat down and found me already seated within.
“Who are you?” Renley made it sound like an accusation.
“Allen Derby,” I said, holding out my hand. “I was told I could interview for the assistant's job personally.”
Renley quickly nodded his head. He held his own hand up, not to shake, but to stop me from talking.
“Yeah, now I remember. You're the young hotshot from Iowa or wherever. I hope you realize, Allen, that whatever favor you cashed in will only get you so far. I don't let just anyone join my team. I don't care who you know.”
“I am confident I will be a—”
“Save it. Words only count in court, kid.” He clicked open his briefcase and npulled out some choice papers. “Have you been following this trial?”
“Well then, you must be at least partially aware of what we're up against. These mob men have a lot of money, and they can buy some pretty convincing friends.”
He wasn't physically impressive, his small frame and angular features coupled with pale skin and greasy black hair, made him appear frail and sickly. His quick, precise movements told another story, however. The more I watched him, the more I realized that he had an uncanny awareness of the world around him, regardless of where he was looking. The thick lenses of his glasses must have hampered his peripheral vision. Nevertheless, he was never caught off balance by a sharp turn from the driver, even when his head was buried in files. There was something nelse, too. He possessed a rare natural confidence and determination that was hard to miss and always present in the way he moved and spoke. I couldn't help but admire the strange little man.
I decided to push my luck. “In my three years with the Des Moines County attorney's office, I had a ninety percent conviction—”
“I don't care about your resume either,” Renley interrupted. “Right now, you have a clean slate. Don't screw up and you'll be fine. Honestly though, I don't expect you to make it through the weekend.”
Renley triumphantly lifted a piece of notepaper with a bunch of scribbled writing nand numbers. He told the cab driver to stop at the corner. “Wait here.” He got out and secured himself inside a phone booth. Me and the driver looked at each other, not knowing who he was talking to. We settled back, silently agreeing he meant both of us.
Whoever was on the receiving end of Renley's call was getting verbally brutalized. His face reddened and caused his features to appear almost demonic, hinting at the depths of the man's temper. I thought it was amusing that he dressed like a used car salesman; with a pink shirt and red bow tie peeking out of a cheap light brown suit that didn't fit quite right. A pissed off used car salesman. Was there ever such a thing?
He turned his back to the cab, and I took the opportunity to thumb through the day's court papers in his unlocked briefcase, just in case he decided to ask me some surprise questions later.
I slid the papers back while pretending to stretch, as he ended his phone call and made his way back to the car. When he got in, I saw veins bulging on his forehead and I could only assume he was calculating someone's murder as his eyes furiously studied the back of the driver's seat. I decided not to ask what was wrong.
Not much was said the rest of the way to Renley's office, except when he corrected the cab driver's choice of course with some very colorful language.
His building had an unimpressive, graffiti riddled sign with barely visible “Dumont & Baker, LLP” written in bright new paint about halfway down in the middle of other, more faded business names. His office was likewise less than imposing. There was a single large desk in the main room that shared space with opposing chairs. They were surrounded by mismatched drawers and bookshelves overflowing with files and documents like a jungle canopy of multicolored paper leaves. Renley hung his coat and sat down. Across from him was a portly man I knew was David Baker, a defense attorney with a patchy reputation. From what I had heard, Renley and David had been friends for years, and apparently were now going into business together. He had a red, splotchy face that was locked in a frown. It didn't seem overly warm in the small office, but he had large, dark sweat stains on his shirt around his armpits.
I looked elsewhere, trying to erase my first impression of Renley's partner up close. I was not introduced, nor was I offered a seat.
“We'll be working here?” I asked, trying not to sound disappointed.
“I know it' s not city hall,” Renley replied, & ldquo;but it's where I'm going to be from now on. Today was my last day working for the state. Why? Is there a problem?”
I shook my head.
“You're early,” said David.
“There was someone at the courthouse I didn't want to bump into,” said Renley. “You want your usual, Dave?” He started to jot down some notes on a piece of paper.
David held up a thick thumb but didn't look up from the book he held.
Renley thrust the paper an inch from my face. “Get it right, and I'll move you on to something more important.”
The note read “O'Halloran& #39;s Deli& rdquo; and had orders for lunch. We had passed the place a couple of blocks back. I wasted no time in showing off my attentiveness by quickly nodding and taking my leave.
The short walk to O'Halloran's was uneventful, except that I knew I was being followed, but it was okay, this was all part of the plan. Renley didn't know it, but he had actually helped by sending me on this little novice mission.
As I stood in line at the deli, I went over the order, while at the same time keeping close tabs on the movements of the man sneaking towards me from behind.
Pastrami on Rye, extra meat, no condiments
Just ask for an O'Halloran's Special with the works
on a sourdough roll and lots of mustard
Get yourself something too and don't forget the receipt
“He called his informant, Jason Twombly.” The male voice behind me was quiet, little more than a whisper. But I knew it was directed at me. There was a good amount of chatter in the crowded deli, and I was the only one that had any chance of hearing it.
“Twombly... wasn't he supposed to have died?” I replied with similar volume. I didn't turn around.
“Yes, how did you know that?”
“I peeked in his briefcase while he was in the phone booth. What did he call him for?”
“Apparently Renley had told Twombly to leave town, but he spotted him outside the courthouse, the one place he did not want him anywhere near. From what could be heard, Twombly was saying he wanted money. Here's his phone number and address.”
I felt the slightest brush against me near my jacket pocket.
“Well, I think I have everything I need then.” I said.
“Good, be careful. We'll be close.” The man then moved away and exited the deli altogether.
I felt a surge of adrenaline. Apparently plans had changed. I was just supposed to be gathering information, but they only said “We'll be close” when they knew things might get really ugly. That could very well happen, I had all the evidence I needed to confront Renley now and get the truth out of him. I had to be careful, otherwise all the hard work that had gone into getting me hired without suspicion would be worthless. Renley had to be caught completely by surprise if he was going to give up what he knew about the Wolf killings. A torrent of excitement rushed through me, but I had to calm my mind down enough to place my order correctly when I finally reached the counter. Afterward, it was all I could do to keep from sprinting like a man on fire to Renley's building.
By the time I was back in his office, I had mostly regained my composure. Renley and David were working diligently, poring over law books and case papers, and writing and typing notes. The office had an air of studious desperation.
Renley nodded his approval of the sandwiches, and sent me to work separating and filing a stack of papers. If he noticed anything different about me, he hid it well.
After a couple of hours, David stretched and pushed himself out of his seat. “I'm going to call it a night.” He didn't even glance in my direction. “See you in the morning.”
The thought that Renley went through his assistants so quickly that his friend didn't even care to acknowledge my existence wasn't comforting. As far as I knew, no real effort had been put into keeping track of what happened to them. I tried not to let the thought plant roots of fear.
Renley waved a hand dismissively.
I waited until the big man's heavy footsteps down the stairs could no longer be heard, and then I leaned my hip against a desk near Renley. “Mr. Dumont?”
“Renley will do just fine, and I'm busy.” He didn't so much as slow a single keystroke on his typewriter.
“I apologize, but it's sort of important.”
“More important than our next case? Need I remind you that if I don't get a lot of uninterrupted time in on my work, then I don't win cases, and if I don't win cases, then I can't pay you.”
“I understand, but I think you'll agree, once you hear what I have to say.& rdquo;
Renley sighed and spun in his chair to give me a bored look. I could almost feel the skepticism.
The adrenaline returned. I took a deep breath, because there was no going back from here. If we were right about Renley, it wasn't likely to be a pleasant experience getting him to spill what he knew.
“So, Renley,” I took a seat by a chair close to the door, “why did you tell Jason Twombly to leave town?”
“What?” Renley seemed to be genuinely surprised. That was good.
“Jason Twombly, he would have been your star witness. Why did you tell him to—”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Sharpness edged his words. “Jason Twombly is dead.”
“Yes! Otherwise I would have put that bastard John Simms away for life.”
“Isn't death really what you were after?” My own words came as a shock. I knew I had to be aggressive, but it almost seemed like an attack.
“I couldn't have gotten the death sentence, with or without Twombly's testimony. Now why are you—”
“And that wasn't going to fly.” It was my turn to interrupt. “You decided to take matters into your own hands, isn't that true?”
“Look, you snot-nosed little shit,” Renley angrily stood at this point, and I rose with him. “Go check the coroner's report. Jason Twom—”
“The coroner? You mean your partner David Baker's nephew? I'm sure his report can be slightly... elastic, when it suits your needs.” My confidence was building. It was exhilarating to be getting the upper hand. The many hours I spent studying every aspect of Renley's activities were paying off. I wasn't going to let him out of this easily. If I could just get him to confess something, anything. This is what I was here for.
“I don't know who the hell you think you are, but I want you out of this office, NOW.” Renley's face was as red as when he had been yelling at Jason Twombly in the phone booth. The veins in his forehead looked like they were about to burst. His intense, magnified eyes were promising I would receive more than words if I didn't listen, but I had to continue.
“People are dead because of you Renley. Not Twombly, but many others.”
“Are you out of your mind?” Renley took a step toward me, and I knew this wasn't going to end pleasantly. Most people, guilty or not, would have taken a step back when accused of being involved in murder, even if just out of shock. There was a bit of a beast in Renley, and it was a fierce one.
“Why don't we give Mr. Twombly a call?” I matched Renley by taking a step towards him as well. “Or better yet, why not drop by for a visit?” I reached into my pocket and pulled the note I had received at the deli. “I believe he's staying at the Marigold Hotel isn't he, room 213?”
Then something unexpected happened. All the anger disappeared from Renley's expression. From one breath to the next, his face became a mask. I kept still, I didn't want to give him any hint as to my next move. I could sense the tension building in the silence between us, but Renley was the first to break it.
“Who are you?” He said evenly.
Something was wrong. He was acting strangely. Why wasn't he arguing and trying to get out of it? Where was his fear of being caught? My gut told me to try something else. I pulled an amulet hanging from a silver chain around my neck under my shirt collar, and held it up.
Renley's lip curled in disgust and his shoulders slumped slightly. He couldn't hide it. He recognized the symbol on my amulet and he knew who I was working for. More importantly, I now knew the connection between Renley and the Wolf.
“Damn. Good Martini!”
No one had noticed Colin sit down at the bar. Even Jack jumped a little when he was roused out of his memories. Tom slid Colin's gold card over to him, but kept most of his attention on Jack.
“So what was the symbol he saw on the amulet?” Tom drummed the bar with his fingers impatiently.
“Was it a cross?” Amy offered.
Jack tugged on a silver chain around his neck until a worn, circular black amulet with a red diamond shaped symbol in the middle could be seen. Tom and Amy looked at each other, but there was no recognition.
“I'll get to what this is later,” said Jack, tucking the amulet back into his shirt. “Should I continue?”
“Don't mind me.” Colin said. He turned back to his drink.
“Please.” Tom and Amy said together.
“I wondered if you guys would ever come after me.” It was eerie how calm Renley& #39;s voice was now. He removed his glasses, placed them on the table, then kneaded his eyes with his knuckles like a man waking from sleep.
“Glad to be the one to give you some closure on that.” Some disturbing thoughts were taking shape in my head. I knew things had suddenly become very dangerous for me, but I tried not to look at the door. So far, he didn't seem to know I wasn't here to take him out. He had to keep thinking that, or I was a dead man. I clenched every muscle that threatened to tremble.
“So, Allen Derby,” said Renley. “You going to tell me your real name?”
“Jack,” I said. “And despite our discussion here, I'm actually an admirer of yours. I do however, have a job to do.”
“ Been itching to get your claws bloody, eh?” Renley arched his back in a stretch.
“Interesting choice of words, counselor.”
“So, what was it that drew your attention?” He seemed only half interested in the reply. He held his hands together, fingers entwined, then stretched them out so his knuckles would crack. It seemed like he was readying for a fight.
This wasn't good at all. I needed to buy as much time as possible, so I kept talking. “For a long time, we had no idea where to start looking. Then we noticed that nearly all the victims found in Hyde Park had won a case with a technicality, loophole, or some other kind of mysteriously lucky break. Still, all the criminals had different arresting officers, different lawyers, different judges. We dug a little deeper, and noticed that the only thing that was changing was an increase in victims, and an increase of lost cases when you led the prosecution. You got greedy, you began losing cases on purpose, even ones you could have easily won, like today's. You told Twombly to disappear because his testimony would have put John Simms away for a very long time, and you got mad when he nearly blew his cover by showing up at court. Instead, you wanted to lose so you could take care of Simms your own way, by tearing him to pieces on the street.”
I was thinking on my feet. A minute ago I didn't think Renley was the Wolf. I simply thought he knew who the killer was, and maybe even have been working with him. I don't think anyone would have suspected this ungainly little man of being capable of the Wolf's ferocity.
“Son of a bitch deserves it. ” A chill went up my spine as Renley smiled for the first time. “I could have landed Simms behind bars for the rest of his years with the evidence I had, but he has committed far worse crimes. Did you know about Los Angeles? Before he climbed the ladder to homicide, he was helping run a slave brothel there. You'd put a knife in him yourself if you knew how young some of the girls were.”
“What about your own past?” I almost stuttered. My eyes, ignoring my better sense, began to dart around the room in search of a weapon. “There was a time when the two of you would have been hitting the pub together to celebrate after a night's action.”
“You're talking about a different person, Jack. That was a long time ago. As for Simms, the old me would have sliced him open too.” p>
There are times in your life when you can actually feel the blood draining from your face. The moment Renley said sliced him open was one of mine. “Don't take this personally. Like I told you, I'm a fan. I doubt anyone would shed a tear for the last few dozen people you've killed. However, that's not the point here, or why I have to take you down.” Even though my life depended on him believing I was a fellow predator, the hollow words became increasingly hard to force out.
“What is it then?” he asked.
“You've got that taste for blood again. What happens when you run out of serious criminals? Will you start killing people for littering? Should the Brotherhood just wait until innocents start showing up on the body count?”
“I can move to another city. The world will never see the end of crime, let alone America. I could even go back to Europe. You don't have to make this mistake.”
“I know what happened in Europe. That's one reason I can't risk letting you go. I know how difficult you are to uproot once you've become familiar with your hunting grounds. Your kind is too territorial.”
“Is that a dog joke?” Renley's voice was underlined with a menacing growl. His irises faded to milky white, and the muscles of his face were flexing so rapidly it was as if his very skin was boiling. My lungs froze. I couldn't draw in a breath to speak further. My efforts to keep from shaking finally failed.
“You, and your self righteous Order, believe yourselves to be so damn high and mighty.” His voice became deeper and more inhuman with every word. I almost fainted as his face contorted. His cheekbones jutted out, and his nose twisted and turned black. The sound of flesh tearing and tendons snapping could be heard all over his body. He came closer to me until I could feel the warmth of his breath on my face. “I'd wager your kind has killed more than mine, Jack.” His muscles thickened and bulged and black hair began to grow until every inch of exposed skin was completely covered. He tore away the red bow tie that was now too small for his neck, and removed his suit jacket.
I couldn't move. I wanted desperately to bolt from the room, to run into the street and call for help, but I would be dead the instant I turned my back. I would not be able to outrun what Renley was becoming. Then again, not much was keeping me alive now face to face except for his curiosity, and that wasn't going to last forever.
“You want to kill me for killing murderers?” Renley bared his teeth, which were now a row of long, sharp fangs. “What gives you the right to choose who lives and dies, and not me?” His elongating, dog-like head was lower than his shoulders, yet he was still taller than before. I hadn't noticed when, but his socks and shoes had fallen off, and he now stood upon black paws. His legs bent backward at the knee. Long, sharp, dark yellow claws grew from his fingertips.
“Your masters preach about the natural order of things, yet you stand by and watch while your own kind consumes the world and vomits sewage upon it.”
I could find nothing human remaining in Renley's face. The monstrous evolution was complete.
“Your ways encourage weakness, and burden the strong.” He grasped my throat with a rough, padded hand. His claws dug into the back of my neck as he held me at arm's length. “Why should I bend to your flawed laws, and ignore my own nature? What makes you better?”
My throat was so constricted, I couldn't say anything even if I wanted to. I could feel my Adam's apple trembling as I tried to swallow. Renley noticed it too, and I knew the end was close when his eyes passed over my jugular. The Wolf's victims were all killed by horrible wounds to the neck, the rest of the brutality came afterward.
“We were here first,” a familiar voice said from the doorway behind me.
An instant later, there was a gunshot, and Renley fell to the floor, writhing in pain. He growled and clutched at a bleeding wound in his chest.
I desperately sucked in air, and felt the damage on my neck with shaking hands.
A man came through the doorway and stood beside me, aiming a shining, silvery Colt Peacemaker at the prone beast. It was my shadow, the man who followed me earlier. He had been watching my back my entire life.
Renley looked up at his killer and snarled defiantly with his last breaths.
“Damn shame Renley and the Wolf are one and the same,” the man said through a thick, gray handlebar mustache, “I kind of liked the weird little guy.”
“M-me too.” My voice was little more than a squeak.
“Hah. You did good, boy.” He knelt next to Renley, placed the revolver close to his chest wound, and shot him again. The snarling ceased, and the beast twitched a few times before becoming still. “It's not easy to get them to stand still in that form, but that's all the proof a Brother needs to justify shooting them. Speaking of which, I guess you'll be needing one of these from now on.”
He tossed a revolver up and, although I fumbled it for a second, I managed to catch it. He liked to do that; something a little dangerous to keep my head in the game. I could imagine the look on my face was anything but focused.
“Dad, I was scared stiff.” My hands were bloody from touching my wounds. “I may not be cut out for the Order. I thought I might be, but I don't know if I can do this.”
“Son, you handled yourself like a pro, believe me.” p>
“You bet. You stood your ground when things started to get hairy.” He chuckled at himself. “I didn't. Hell, my first time, I just threw my britches away afterwards. There was no point in trying to clean them.”
I looked down at Renley and shook my head.
“This is what you do in the big leagues, boy,” he said. “Sneak in, get em to show their naughty side, and take em out.”
What had happened was starting to sink in. This was only the beginning.
“I tell you what.” My father dropped a broad arm around my shoulder, and nudged me towards the door. “Just be glad your first werewolf wasn't a female. I'm not even going to begin to tell you why.”
“My father and I took a little vacation after that.” Jack took a last look at the torn red bow tie on the wall, then started to refill everyone's drinks. “The Order handled the body and took care of the other details. Renley Dumont and the Wolf of Hyde Park just faded from memory.”
Tom and Amy both had their hands together at their open mouths, as if frozen in prayer. Their expressions didn't change until a few moments later, when it became obvious Jack was finished with the tale.
Jack's grin could be seen even under his thick mustache. “You're not going to tell me you don't believe my story, are you Colin?”
“No, I am not,” said Colin. “That would be like stating that I thought you were serious, which would be crazy, and I wouldn't want to offend.”
Amy scolded Colin with narrowed eyes.
“I have to admit,” said Tom, “you had me going up until the whole werewolf thing. I've actually heard of David Baker before. He wound up at a nuthouse if I recall correctly.”
Jack nodded somberly. “Yep, poor guy. It happens.”
Tom and Amy thanked Jack for the story and the drinks. Colin requested he call them a cab.
When they were about to leave, Amy turned back at the door, and looked at the wall of novelties. “Does each of these little things come with a spooky story?”
“They sure do. If it's not one of mine, then it's a story I've heard enough to tell myself.”
Amy flashed a smile. “Maybe we'll be back some time to hear another one.”
“I look forward to it.”
Wednesday, 12 November 2008 00:00
It was before the Great War. All the tall buildings were still standing, the sun was so bright you couldn't look at it, and there was green and blue everywhere; the sky, the trees, the ocean. God, it was beautiful. I was a bartender back then, if you can believe it. "Ol' Happy Jack" they used to call me. And it was true. For a long time, things were good.
I remember the night everything changed. It wasn't so clear at first, but deep down I knew something "different" was about to happen. When those three showed up out of the blue, well, I just should have known the clock was ticking...
The wind gusted, and the heavy oak door to Jack's Place nflew open, startling everyone in the bar, except the bartender himself. Jack was an older man, graying where his hair remained, but still able-bodied. His mouth was almost completely hidden beneath a thick, salt and pepper mustache. The kind worn by Wyatt Earp in the old gunslinger days.
He observed three newcomers as they stumbled in from the elements, but didn't pause as he wiped down the top of an antique, mahogany bar. A storm had descended upon Boston with a fury during the evening rush, and those unfortunate enough to be caught pedestrian were scurrying to safety and comfort.
The first one inside was Colin—a clean-shaved, good looking young man with what could only be salon styled blond hair. He was clutching a mess of soaking wet papers and a briefcase that wouldn't stay shut. His two companions, a man and woman in their mid-thirties named Tom and Amy, were close behind with similar handfuls.
When the clamorous wind and rain was finally muted by the closed door, the deep, sorrowful rumble of Johnny Cash could be heard playing on a 40's style, round top jukebox.
The bar's three most recent patrons looked quite out of place; their expensive designer business attire clashed with more modest surroundings. The trio picked a table and set down the soggy documents. Once their hands were free, they unwrapped themselves from their rain-soaked leather and taffeta trench coats, and hung them next to the native flannel and oilcloth.
Jack straightened as the irate owner of the defective briefcase walked briskly to the bar and leaned slightly towards him.
“Hey, my man,” Colin spoke politely, but didn't look Jack in the eyes. & ldquo;I don't suppose I could bother you for a couple of dry towels?”
Jack nodded and lifted a small stack of neatly folded, white washcloths from next to the sink, and placed them on the bar. Thinking Colin looked familiar, Jack was about to start up a conversation, but without a thank you, he snatched them up and returned to his companions, and they began meticulously dab-drying and sorting the papers into piles.
Their activities received the occasional curious glance, but were otherwise ignored by everyone except Jack. He kept his eyes trained on their table, squinting and studying them as he resumed his efforts to bring the bar to a polished shine.
“I can't believe this damn week,” said Colin. “Like we needed any more crappy luck.”
& ldquo;Don't sweat it, Boss," Tom returned. "That's what copies are for." He was older and less handsome than Colin, but a taller, more imposing figure. He skillfully combed out the moisture from his black hair and neatly trimmed short mustache and goatee.
“Yes, but collecting them is going to waste another day.” Colin crumpled a ruined document in disgust, and threw it at the table where it bounced onto the floor. “We're short on time as it is.”
Tom picked it up, and shoved it in his pants pocket.
“What if I help Tom tomorrow?” Amy began. “Just one day, we could cover twice as much ground, and be back in time to help you with the—”
“No,” Colin interrupted, grabbing her hand. “ I need you with me at the office tomorrow. We're going to get a lot of calls after today's ass-handing, and I need to be able to focus if we're going to find a way back into this damn case.”
Jack nodded to himself as he eavesdropped on their conversation. I knew you looked familiar, he thought. He recognized them now as part of the prosecution team in the high profile South Shore Strangler case that was all over the news.
Amy—an attractive, slender brunette—pouted and looked apologetically over to Tom, who just smiled and shrugged.
Colin noticed the exchange and rolled his eyes. “I promise Amy, as soon as this trial is over, you guys can take a vacation and do whatever pointless, nasty things you do together as much as you want.”
“Pointless and nasty?” Tom chuckled. “What, so now you don't like women?”
“My career requires total focus right now,” Colin replied. “I can't afford that kind of distraction.”
“You're wasting your youth, buddy.” Tom shook his head. “Okay, I realize you're shooting for legendary status at city hall right now, but are you going to wait until you need the little blue pill before you let yourself enjoy the benefits?”
“There's more to life than booty, buddy.” Colin held his hands up at Amy, who had raised her eyebrows. “No offense.”
“Geesh, how could I take offense to being called 39;pointless, nasty booty'?” Amy said in mock indignation.
Colin closed his eyes and took a dramatically exhausted breath. “Whatever. I'm going to hit the head. One of you order drinks. I'll have a martini.” He pulled his wallet out and slapped a gold card on the table.
“How do you want it?” Tom asked.
“Doesn't matter,” Colin didn't look back. “They probably only make it one way here anyways.”
Tom flinched and glanced at the bar. Jack pretended not to hear. Tom seated himself in front of Jack and waited. Colin was out of earshot before he apologized. “Sorry about my friend. He's really a good guy, it's just been a rough week.”
“I can imagine,” said Jack. His bass-filled, gravelly voice was used to much louder conversations. “You guys really took it in the tush today after your own witness decided to lose it.”
Tom choked on whatever words he was about to say next, and coughed.
“News sometimes makes it to old TVs too,” Jack said as he aimed a thumb up at a dusty screen, silently playing a black and white football game. “What can I get for you?”
“Um... right. Well, I'll take two of whatever you have on draft, and a martini.”
“How'd you like that?”
“I uh...” Tom scratched behind his ear. “However you normally make them here is fine.” p>
“Everyone likes them different,” Jack placed a spotless martini glass on the bar. “I think I know his type though.”
As Jack prepared the drink, he stepped aside to give Tom a clear view of the museum of trinkets that covered the wall behind him. Many were keepsakes and heirlooms from Jack's own family, like a polished, silver-handled flintlock pistol, and a beautiful Indian chief's headdress adorned with eagle feathers, artfully set opposite a black cowboy hat and lariat. He grinned at Tom's thoughtful expression when he looked at the more trivial items, like a pinwheel missing one of its curls, and what appeared to be a broken broom handle with an ominous red stain on the sharp edge. Jack had seen it enough times times that he knew which look would cross a person's face when their eyes passed over a certain part of the wall, and he could almost always guess which item someone was looking at.
When Tom looked down, his lips puckered for a whistle. The bar top itself was an exhibit of world currency, with both paper and coin money from across the globe arrayed beneath a hard, resin coating in painstakingly accurate regional placement. “This is wonderful.” Tom brushed a hand across the coins of the Orient in admiration. “Who did this?”
“First owner. Long, long time ago.” Jack set three drinks on the bar. “That's seven dollars even.”
Tom's eyes opened wide. “That's it? Awesome.” He handed over Colin's gold card.
Jack fumbled with his card machine, causing some error beeps. Eventually he stopped trying to get it to work, and started scratching his chin.
“I didn't realize it would be so inexpensive. I can use cash instead, if you like.” Tom offered.
“No, no,” he said, waving Tom off. “I better learn how to use this thing in case this happens again. Sorry, been a while since we've gotten anyone in here but the cash-paying regulars.”
Jack resumed his efforts, and after a minute, the machine whirred a receipt up for him to tear off. Tom double checked it, then tucked it in his wallet.
Amy snuck up behind Tom, wrapped her arm around his shoulder, and kissed him on the cheek. “What's up big guy?”
“Not much.” He wiggled a finger at the wall. “Take a look at all this stuff.& rdquo;
Amy perused the scenery. “Wow, this is beautiful.”
Tom gulped back a mouthful of chilled beer. “Oh yeah, I needed that. Thanks, uh...”
“Jack. It's my place.”
“Thanks, Jack. So you said your TV gets the news, any chance I could catch the evening edition?”
“Sure, Patriots aren't playing today anyways.”
Jack reached up and twisted a circular channel knob on the front, turning up the volume. Right on time, a reporter was talking about the day's court fiasco under the heading “SOUTH SHORE STRANGLER TO BE ACQUITTED?”
A little black and white Colin could be seen pushing his way through a hungry mob of flashing cameras, angrily responding to every question being thrown at him. There was one that the news station seemed to be focusing on as they replayed it a number of times. In response to a possible mistrial and acquittal, Colin replied, “I think Judge Hayes is smart enough to realize the defense is desperate to find a loophole, because they know Derek Mansfield is guilty of murdering those five residents of Boston's South Shore. They aren't even trying to put together a real case anymore! If by some disgusting perversion of our legal system, he is acquitted because of today's events, I fully applaud any civilian vigilante efforts to bring him to justice, because the law will have proven its utter futility.”
“Oh, Colin.” Tom swayed in his seat, as though on the verge of passing out. “It sounds even worse on TV.& rdquo;
“He's going to catch hell for this one.” Amy, visibly less troubled, cheerfully tipped her beer to her lips.
“I really like your friend!” Jack grinned, and thumped the bar with a heavy hand. “He reminds me of ol' Renley Dumont.”
“Who?” Tom and Amy said together.
“Renley Dumont. He was a prosecutor here in Boston that became pretty popular in the early seventies, partly thanks to his saying stuff like that.” Jack pointed at the TV as they replayed the worst part yet again. “Really fun to watch, and he sure went after the bad guys, just like Colin.”
“How did he keep from getting in trouble?” Asked Tom.
& ldquo;Didn't. They put a bullet in him.& rdquo;
Tom's jaw slackened.
“They?” Amy made herself comfortable on her stool. She set her elbows on the bar, and rested her chin on entwined fingers.
“Never caught the guy.” Jack gazed over at a vacant corner of the bar as he continued. “As it turns out, Renley had a dark side, darker than most. He didn't have quite the record Colin is working on. He lost just as many cases as he won. But the crooks he didn't send to prison had a habit of turning up dead. Let's just say Renley's nightlife was... not dismissible.”
“Why I haven't heard of this before?” asked Tom. “Something like that should have made national news.”
“So you'd think,” said Jack. “But his story is mostly buried and forgotten now. As it stands, only a handful of people outside of myself know what really happened to Renley Dumont.”
“I thought you said you didn't know who shot him.” Amy said.
“I said they never caught the guy.” Jack winked at her. He then grabbed a nearby broom and began to sweep his area.
Tom waited for a few moments, but when Jack made no signs of continuing, he pursued. “Oh come on, you can't leave it like that!”
“Really,” Amy added. “I won't be able to sleep now until I know who shot him.”
“You might have more trouble sleeping if I did tell you, sweetheart.” Jack leaned over the bar close to them, and spoke quietly. “You sure you want to hear this story?”
“After that set up, I have to hear it.” Tom gripped the edge of the bar, like a kid on a roller coaster about to make the first wild descent.
Jack considered it for a moment, but came to a decision quickly. Well, here we go again.
“Okay, just so long as you know, this is one of those stories that can change a person. The world can become a different place. But I meant what I said about Colin reminding me of Renley. I see that same look in his eye. Maybe if I tell you this story, you can help make sure your friend doesn't walk down that road.”
Tom and Amy nodded solemnly. They hadn't noticed, but the other patrons of Jack's Place had become quiet, and there was no longer music playing from the jukebox.
Jack set down his broom, and scanned back and forth across the wall of treasures. Finally, he reached his arm out and chose a torn red bow tie to hold for a moment between his thumb and forefinger. Well, sure haven't thought about you in a while, Renley... “It was 1973, right here in Boston.” Jack turned back to his audience. “I was twenty years old. A killer the papers had been calling the Wolf was stalking the streets at night, and putting the fear of God into the hearts of criminals throughout the city...”