ValentineDavis21

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  1. Funny that you say that because through the first half of the book you couldn't stand him.
  2. Someone was shaking him. Skold opened his eyes and sat up. It was Rebecca. “What is it?” He looked around, muscles tight, preparing himself for a fight. “There’s two elves standing at the door,” she said. “They want you.” He frowned. “What for?” She shrugged. “Beats me. They won’t say.” He sighed. “Alright. Tell them I’ll be there in a minute.” She nodded and left the bedroom, her ponytails bouncing around distractedly. Skold looked over at Dom. He was still snoring away, sleeping peacefully. Skold touched his back gently, being careful not to wake him and then got out of bed. He dressed himself and went out into the living room to see what was going on. The two elves were standing in the middle of the room, their arms crossed. He could tell from the suits they wore and the blank expressions on their face that they were King Yaldon’s employees. “King Yaldon seeks your prescence. He wants to speak with you privately.” As if to put further emphasis on the word privately the elf that had spoken glanced at Rebecca, who was watching them nervously from the couch. So now that I am not on trial and have been found innocent he suddenly has the balls to speak with me in private, Skold thought, amused. “When Dom gets up will you tell him that I’ll be back?” Skold asked Rebecca. She nodded again. “Will you be okay?” He smiled at her encouragingly. “I’ll be fine?” He pulled on his long leather jacket and gestured at the door. To the two elves he said, “Shall we?” Not quite a half an hour later Skold was being patted down by King Yaldon’s guards. They cleared him and one of them led him up the staircase to King Yaldon’s door. The guard knocked and a weak, reedy voice said, “Let him in.” The guard opened the door. Beyond the doorway it was almost completely dark except for the weak glow of burning embers in the fire place. Skold stepped through the threshhold. The guard closed the door. The room was dark enough that he could only see King Yaldon’s thin, shadowy outline, the hollow contours of his jaw, the sharp angles of his cheek bones. The fae king now dwelled in neverending darkness. Serves him right, Skold thought. Let him lay in the bed that he has made. “Skold, it has been a long time,” King Yaldon croaked. “An eternity,” Skold said. “What do you want of me? You amaze me with your audacity and your cowardice.” “I do not want to fight. I have come to ask your help.” Skold laughed coldy. He moved gracefully through the shadows, approaching the bed. It brought him great pleasure to see the fae king flinch in fear of him. So it’s true; he really is afraid of me. Skold’s grin spread across the width of his face for a moment before disappearing. “You arrogant bastard,” he said, sitting on the edge of Yaldon’s bed. “You have some balls asking me for favors after you tried to frame me for the incidents in Roc City. Instead, you should be begging for your life.” “Is that a threat?” the king said, trying to sound brave. “You know I don’t make threats. When I say that I am going to kill you, I just do it. I want to kill you. I could just reach over and snap your neck. Nothing would bring me more pleasure. But I’m trying to turn over a new leaf, be a good law abiding citizen.” “If you kill me you won’t make it out of this building alive.” “Are you sure about that? I’ve singlehandedly killed a troll. Your guards would be quite easy to dispatch of in comparison. But I’m not going to kill you. As I said, I’m trying to turn over a new leaf. Trust me, it isn’t easy. What do you want?” “Samhein must be stopped. His plague cannot be unleashed upon the world.” King Yaldon’s voice had dropped to a whisper. “I beg of you. I’ve put a group of warriors together for you to command just like you used to. After all it’s what your good at. There is no other warrior that possesses your renown. I know where Samhein is.” “Where is he?” “Paladin’s castle. He’s rebuilt it. I have satellite pictures of it if you don’t believe me. I can show it to you.” Skold thought about the village of his dreams. The one beneath the mountain. “I believe you. But it’s not my problem. I’m not a warrior anymore. It’s your problem. Your responsibility.” “My illness...” “Fuck your illness. Get off your ass and deal with it or else the whole world is just going to end up like you-worse than you. Everyone will be dead. Have Maeglin lead the charge. He is just as capable.” “No one is more capable than you,” croaked the king. Skold stood up and approached the window. The curtains blocking the sunlight were black. “My father took my cock and balls and you took my memory. And now all of these years later, when there is nothing left of me but flesh, bone, and half a soul, you want me to clean up after you, fight for you.” “I cannot give you your memories back,” King Yaldon croaked. “Not even if I wanted to. Your memories are lost. You will never be whole again. That’s why I didn’t put you death. Because the pain that you’re enduring, right now, as of this moment, is worth than death.” Skold looked over at King Yaldon from over his shoulder. “And what about the pain that you’re feeling at this moment? Locked away in the dark, haunted by hallucinations of me, of the ghosts of all of the victims that died in Paladin’s War? How does it know that years, perhaps centuries from now, your immortal life is going to come to a certain end? When was the last time that you’ve seen the world outside your window, the cool wind, the warmth of the sun on your face?” “I can’t...I can’t remember,” King Yaldon said with a mixture of misery and longing. “I miss it. More often than not I wish that the plague would just take me, just end my suffering.” Skold was surprised by the empathy that King Yaldon’s words evoked in him. He felt pity for him. He felt sorrow. Not long ago he wouldn’t have felt anything. Only cold and numbness. He reached for the curtains. “What are you doing?” King Yaldon demanded, shrinking back against the wall. “I’m doing you a favor,” Skold said softly. “No, don’t-” Sunlight filtered through the room and fell on King Yaldon. He was blocking his arms with his face. His flesh was blacker than coal. Skold sat at the edge of the bed and took King Yaldon’s hand. “You’ll get infected.” The fae king jerked his hand away. Skold took it again. “I will not. That is one of the many stupid paranoias that you have fabricated in your feeble little brain. Put your arm down and look out the window. There are too many beautiful sights in the world to shut yourself away in the darkness. Look. It’s not going to hurt you.” Slowly, cautiously, the king lifted his head and brought his arm down. After so many years of having no exposure to the sunlight it was blinding. It took several moments for his eyes to adjust. But it when did adjust and he could see the grey sky and the endles horizon of white snow and bare brittle tree branches it took his breath away. He looked at Skold, uncertain of what to say. Skold stood up again and moved over to the door. “Isn’t that better? The ghosts only haunt you in the dark. They can’t haunt you during the day.” “Thank you,” King Yaldon said. His voice shook and tears were rolling down his cheeks. “I will do it.” “Do what?” “I will lead your group of warriors as I did against Paladin. But know this: I am not doing it for you, not out of some sentimental sense of duty. I’m doing it for the people that I love. I’m doing it so that children don’t have die before they know what it truly means to be alive. Do you understand?” The fae king nodded silently. With that Skold left the room, closing the door behind him. King Yaldon settled his head back against the pillow, looked out the window framed with sunlight, and let his gaze drift.
  3. Samhein: “Patience, Skold. What I’m about to tell you is information that you will not be able to find in any book. This is something that very few fae today know. Anyway, where was I. Yes, moving on. What I’m trying to say is that just as the mortals are inferior-we elves are the closest to humans genetically-to us we are inferior to our cousins.” Skold: “You’re saying that we come from something else?” For a moment there was the cracke of static and then: “...you hold the proof in your hands. That is the blood of an Atnncei, which in the human tongue means Ancient. Before us they walked the earth, in fact they created it.” Skold: “It was the spirits of Vahalla that created the earth, that created us.” Samhein: “Then who do you think created Vahalla my dear friend? The spirits walked the earth as we once did. They once lived and breathed as you and I are breathing right now. Who do you think created them? Almost everything in this world comes from something, was created by something. But all things come from the Atnnceis. In the end it is them that we should be worshipping, not the spirits of Vahalla.” Skold: “So if the Atnnceis roamed the earth as we once did and they created us then what happened to us.” Another interfering crackle of static and then: “...outside of time and space in the cosmos. I imagine like the spirits of Vahalla they are beings of energy without form. I imagine that like most children do with their parents, we revolted against them, killed them, banished them. There are seven Atnnceis that I know of. Crrtea, Sneodiutc, Cshoa, Iegcnnor, Peecsntail, Gerca, and Ksinsden.” Skold: “How do you know all of this?” Samhein: “How do you think? It was Paladin and I that discovered it, quite by accident of course. We were over in Scotland. I guess you could say we were taking a vacation. It was in the Ben Nevis mountains that we discovered a cave that led deep underground, beneath the mountain into the earth. That was where we found the tomb of Peecsntail. His body lays there even now, somehow preserved. He was quite a gruesome creature as most fae are.” Skold: “Pestilance.” Samhein: “Yes. Paladin and I made sure that the cave was hidden so that no one can ever find it. In your hand you hold a vial of Peecsntail’s blood. It is from that blood that the Black Death comes from. It is that blood that causes terrible mutations much like the ones you saw in Bane’s lair.” Skold shut off the tape recorder. “I think I have given you a sufficient amount of evidence.” Aurora no longer looked composed but frightened. “I always thought that the Atnnceis were myths, stories made up by the ancestors of my ancestors. They’re actually real…” “He was just telling you that to distract you, buy himself time,” Sebastian said, shifting in his seat. “So then you agree that I’m innocent?” Skold said loftily. Sebastian’s cheeks turned a bright shade of red. Before he could admonish Skold a voice said, “Skold is telling you the truth.” Everyone turned to look at the person that had spoken. Annabelle, the seer stood in front of the double doors that led out of the chamber. “I too vouch for Skold.” “What is the meaning of this, seer?” Sebastian spat nastily. “Your kind lie, cheat, and kill more than any species of our race.” “I have seen the future,” Annabelle said steadily. Her voice was ernest, urgent. “I have seen what will happen if Samhein is not stopped from carrying out his plan. I will show you. Everyone join me in a circle and hold hands.” Everyone including the three judges gathered around in a circle formation conjoined hands. When Rebecca tried to join the circle the seer shook her head at her. “Not you, girl. I’m sorry but what we are doing is too dangerous for a human. It would most likely kill you and if it didn’t kill you it would drive you insane.” Rebecca did not argue but stepped back and watched anxiously. “Close your eyes and prepare yourself,” the seer did. Skold obeyed and the moment he did it felt as if his brain was liquifying in his skull, as if his entire body was on fire. Somewhere in the maddening pain that filled his head he heard the seer’s voice as if she was whispering in his ear. The future that I am about to show you is just one of the many futures that I have seen. It is one card in a deck of playing cards. Do you understand? Yes, Skold said. He had spoken with his thoughts, not his mouth. His mouth had not moved. He couldn’t feel his body. Do you believe that there are worst things than Samhein, that Bane? Yes. Samhein is just one battle that you will have to face. There are many battles ahead of you. There will be a lot of pain and a lot of death. But first you must focus on Samhein. In two nights if you do not stop him, what I have shown you will come to pass. I understand. Suddenly he was standing on top of the mountain that had haunted his dreams for the last six centuries. Only instead of the village that he was so accustomed to seeing was his home city, Roc City. He could see the city in its entired, a 3D replica of buildings, and skyscapers and city streets. The streets were full of dead bodies, both human and fae. Men, women, and children. Their skin was grey and reeking of decay. He could smell it from where he stood. In the future his beloved city would be come a grave yard of death. And beyond that he could see the city of New York, of London and Japan. He could see a thousand smaller cities and towns. It was far worse than Paladin’s plague had been. No one would be safe. There would no place to run and hide, no place to wait out the storm. Skold felt frightened, a fright that was so strong that he wanted to cower away from it, to turn around and run. The fear he felt now was far worse than the fear he had felt with Bane. His head felt as if someone had taken an axe and cut it in half like a ripe water melon. He was sure that he was dead or just seconds away from dead. He opened his mouth once and screamed. And then he knew no more. Sometime later he awoke to find Dom sitting on the edge of a bed that he didn’t recognize. He watched the relief wash over Dominyc’s face and realized that the much larger elf had been scared that he might not wake up at all. “Where are we?” Skold asked. “A hotel,” Dominyc rumbled. “It’s a rather nice, expensive hotel. There’s two rooms. Rebecca is in the other room asleep. She crashed. Probably exhausted, the poor girl.” “What happened?” Dom shook his head. “I heard you let out this scream. It the scream of someone dying. And then you just fainted. You were frozen, like a statue. I had to carry you out.” “Did they make a verdict?” “No. But I think the seer made sure that your name was cleared.” Skold sat up. He was still completely dressed. “Did you see what I see? I saw the end of civilization as we know. Everyone dead, animals, mortals, fae. Samhein won’t be able to recreate Paladin’s kingdom because there won’t be anything left to rule.” “I saw it,” Dom said solemnly. “I wish I could unsee it. Everyone I care about was dead. Poor Rebecca, Candestine... and...” His voice wavered for a moment. “You. You were dead too.” He laid his massive head in Skold’s lap. “If you died I would not have any reason to live.” Skold ran his hands through Dom’s coarse hair and ponytail. “Nonsense. You’ve lived twice as long as I have. Compared to you I am nothing but an adolescent. You lived without me before and if it comes down to it you can live without me again.” “No,” Dom rumbled. “Don’t say that. I belong to you. I am yours and yours only. Forever and always.” “And I you,” Skold whispered. “Forever and always.” Dom laughed; it sounded like tires grinding against gravel. “I thought Skold didn’t believe in ridiculous things in love.” “The Skold that told you that was angry, bitter, and lost. He was in more pain then he was willing to admit. He was a fool. Come to bed with me. We have a long couple of days ahead of us.” Dom stood up and undressed and then undressed Skold. Though the bed was a queen size it could barely hold the two of them since Dominyc took up most of the bed. Skold turned out the light and allowed Dom to wrap his arms around him and hug him to his chest. The moment that they closed their eyes the two elves fell asleep.
  4. The two limousines passed through the city of Berlin, heading deeper into the country. The roads were rough was piled snow and ice so the limousines were going at a cautious pace. Skold’s group had been split between the limousines. Skold, Rebecca, and Dom sat in the first; Candestine and Maeglin were in the second. The drivers’ clearly worked for King Yaldon. Skold’s driver’s face was as impassive as a stone statue-he hadn’t said a word since they’d left the airport. He could sense Dom and Rebecca’s anxiety. Skold was not sure why he felt so calm, so confident. Maybe it was because of the fact that he knew he was not the culprit for the troll attack or the outbreak with the abominations that had broke out in the middle of Roc City. He knew that he was only being called to trial because the pathetic King Yaldon had a grudge against him that was powered by his fear of Skold, of what Skold was capable of. And yet as we waste time with this foolish business Samhein is going on with his plans, he thought. It’s time that we had a new king, someone who knows what they are doing instead of shutting themselves in a dark room for centuries on end. In the distance he could see the gawdy exterior of King Yaldon’s war-fort-recently-turned-into-a-manson, the black wrought iron gate that surrounded the property, the golden glow that seeped from the windows. It had been six hundred years since the last time he had stood trial. He remembered the trial but nothing else that had taken place before it. The last memory he had before that was of King Yaldon summoning him to take his father’s place as commander of the king’s army. In that moment, in that other life, Skold wondered if King Yaldon had any inkling of what Skold would become. Did he know that he would later sell his soul to Bane to learn Death Magic? And what had been Skold’s motivation to go to such extremes, to pay such a price? Had it been as valient of an intention as ending the Paladin Wars once and for all or had it been something much more selfish such as overthrowing the king and seizing power as Paladin had attempted to do? Skold did not know, could not remember. If he was being honest with himself he would have leaned towards the latter. Skold was no savior. It wasn’t like him to put himself at risk for anyone else’s well being. At least not until recently, he thought. The iron gate slid open and the elf standing in the guard house waved the two limousines through. The limousines pulled to a stop in front of the house and the driver got out. He came to the back of the car and opened the door. Dom, Rebecca, and Skold climbed out of the car just as Candestine and Maeglin were doing the same. The double doors of the mansion hung open. Two elves stood on either side of the front entrance, armed with assault rifles; they were seemingly oblivious to the unmerciful wind that wailed nastily at them. Already Skold could sense the powerful wards that had been placed around the mansion. They would make it impossible for Dom, Maeglin, Candestine, or he to cast any spells while inside. Skold handed one of the guards his luggage. “Take good care of that please,” he said. “What’s inside is very important to me.” He spread his legs and arms and let one of the guards pat him down. “What’s this?” the guard asked suspicously when he pulled the crystal vial with the plague inside of it out of Skold’s pocket. Skold snatched it from him with a grin. “That’s the evidence that I brought with me for the trial. Careful. It’s extremely potent.” “Who are they?” the guard asked, nodding at the rest of Skold’s group. “They’re with me. They’re here to testify for me should that be nessicary.” “You brought a human with you,” the guard said, glancing at Rebecca in disgust. “She’s a witness who can vouch for me,” Skold retorted, his voice growing cold. “Therefore she has every right to be here. So are we going to get this party started or what?” The guard scowled and led the group to the left, through a pair of double doors, into a massive stone chamber. The chamber was ovalure with a high marble ceiling. There were several windows that showed a view of the property with blue satin curtains that hung from a golden rod. Three elves sat at a long table in high backed chairs that were made of stone. Intricate patterns had been carved into the stone. There were two males and a female. Judging from the satin robes they wore they were considered royalty. All three of them looked eerily familiar but Skold could not place their faces. He frowned. Had they been at the last trial six hundred years ago? The elf sitting at the end of the table had bright red hair and bright green eyes. Since he was sitting at the center Skold could only assume that he had the most authority of the three. Though he looked as a human would look if they were in their thirties, Skold could sense a wisdom about him that could not be measured by age for it was inmeasurable. The female had long blonde hair that went down to her bosom, violet eyes, and high cheek bones, with an attractive slightly upturned nose. Her lips were soft and pink. Skold could smell the perfume she wore; it was an elegent smell but even with his strong sense of smell he could not guess what abstracts were in the perfume. Her face was composed but Skold could see a strong glint of curosity in her eyes that was impossible to miss. She was sitting in the seat on the right. Her perfectly smoothe hand rested on her knuckles. The elf sitting on the left had hair as black as the feather on a raven. His eyes were a dark orange. The moment Skold looked into his eyes he could tell that this elf did not like him. His jaw was clenched and there was a certain set of his lips that only spoke of disapproval. That was okay, the feeling was perfectly mutual. Skold didn’t like him much either. He scanned the three of them from left to right, making sure to show them that he was not afraid, to exert the confidence he felt. “Where is King Yaldon?” His voice echoed around the spacey chamber. “I’m afraid he is not feeling well, as you probably very well know,” said the elf at the center of the table. “So we are ruling in his stead for the trial.” “I see.” Skold couldn’t keep the sneer from spreading across his face from ear to ear. “So the pathetic queen is too scared to come down from his room and face me is he?” “How dare you talk about your king that way!” the raven haired elf snapped/ “He is not my king!” Skold snapped. “He hasn’t been my king since the day he exiled me! I do not answer to him nor to either of you! You three were at my trial, were you not?” Yes, he thought. That is where I recognize them, he thought. “I’m only here to end this foolishness once and for all!” “There is no need to get into a fight,” the red haired elf said calmly. “We only want answer. Tell me Skold, do you remember us?” “Vaguely. My memory isn’t what it used to be,” Skold said sarcastically. “I am Bevlin,” said the red haired elf. He waved at the blonde haired elf. “This is Aurora. And this is Sebastian. Now that we have that out of the way, tell me, who are these group of people that you brought with you? Are they here to testify on your behalf?” “They are.” “You brought some very interesting choices with you,” Sebastian said sarcastically. “Your sister, incapable of obeying the king’s orders, once one of his greatest interrogator and warrior, now an exile just as you are. A human. What is she even doing here? And I have no idea who that big lug is standing next to you. He looks like a cross between a dwarf and an orc, hardly an elf.” Candestine opened her mouth to protest but Lane silenced her with a dangerous look. Don’t you dare, that look said. “Candestine, my sister and I, don’t always see eye to eye,” Skold said to the three judges. “Your king sent her to kill me because of his paranoid delusions. In the end I almost killed her but she was saved and given a second chance. I’m glad that she did. She is my flesh and blood. Rebecca, this human girl that you see is standing before you, is the bravest human being that I ever met. She single handedly killed Bajork and three of his hell hounds. She has been a crucial part of my investigation into the events that have taken place in Roc City recently.” He turned long enough to smile at Rebecca. She smiled back. “She has taught me so much, changed how I view things.” “That is all very touching,” Sebastian said haughtily. “But...” Bevlin spoke over him. He was looking at Dom, eyebrows creased in recognition. “You’re Dominyc aren’t you? You served under King Yaldon’s prodecessor, didn’t you?” “Yes, your honor,” Dom said with a nod. “I served under King Lance for many centuries. It was an honor to serve under him. He was an honorable king. I was grievened when he was killed in battle.” Bevlin nodded in approval. He turned back to Skold. “You know why you are here, do you not?” “I do. Because of your king’s paranoid accusations.” “It is because of your history that you have these accusations pinned on you,” Sebastian said. Skold glanced briefly at Aurora. She had not said a single word. She was still studying him very intently. He looked at Sebastian. “My history, I see. Seeing as certain memories have beeen purged from my concious I can only go by your word. If that’s the case then my actions speak for themselves. I did what needed to be done. I went further than anyone has gone before. It is because of me that the war ended and that we have known six centuries of peace. It is because of me that the human race is not extinct, that their race as replenished. And for my actions what did I get? My memories erased, exiled by your crack pot king. And here I stand again six centuries later.” Sebastian opened his mouth to say something but Skold showed him the palm of his hand. “I am not finished yet. You dragged me all the way here to the countryside of Berlin, I will say what I need to say.” Sebastian said nothing. “Roc City is my home,” Skold said. “I have taken root there and I don’t think I will be leaving anytime soon. That city is my city. I work as a bounty hunter and consult with the Roc City Police Department quite often. You can speak to Sergeant Bryan Reynolds if you don’t believe me. He can tell you in what ways I have worked with his department. “Almost a month ago he called me in the middle of the night to help kill a troll that had somehow gotten into the subway system. A lot casualties were killed: men, women, and children, and quite a few of Reynolds’ squad members will killed. That very evening he asked me to investigate the troll attack for we were both thinking that it was not by coincidence that the troll attacked the people in the subway station. We all know that trolls very rarely leave the mountains in which they reside unless they are coerced. Prior to the incident in Roc City a troll attack has not been seen in such a populated area since the days of Paladin. Other than investigating these events I have no further involvement. I am not the culprit. I do not want to overthrow the king. I want nothing to do with him. Or any other beaurocratic bullshit, But I know who the culprit is.” “Tell us who you think it is,” Aurora said, speaking for the first time since Skold and his group had stepped into the chambers. “Not what I think, what I know. It was Sebastian, Paladin’s advisor and lover. He owns a club called The Harbinger in Roc City under the name Marius. And he was not working alone. He was partnered with Bane.” “The necromancer?” Sebastian scoffed. “That is peposterous. No one has seen or heard of him in over a millenium.” “If that’s true then who do you think taught me Death Magic?” Skold asked, raising an eyebrow. “I was his apprentice and his lover. I made a deal with him. And I broke that deal when I went away to end the war.” “It’s true,” Rebecca spoke up. Her voice was shakey but she continued on all the same. “We’ve all seen him, we fought him. Everything that Skold has said is true.” “I vouch that it is the truth,” Dom boomed, stepping forward. “As do I,” Candestine said, doing the same. “As do I,” Maeglin said. “I wasn’t there for the troll attack and did not take witness of this Bane. But I did see the monstrosities that attacked Roc City just the other night. I’ve never seen anything like them. Not even silver would completely kill them, only full decapitation.” Bevlin looked at him pointedly. “Do you speak the truth, Maeglin?” Maeglin laid a hand over his breast where his heart was and nodded valiantly. “I do,” he said serenely. “How were these monstrosities that you speak of created?” Aurora asked. “He recreated Paladin’s plague, but made a different strain so that it somehow mutates the infected into something else,” Skold replied. “Something that is half human, half fae.” “Your story just becomes more ludicrous the more you talk,” Sebastian said. Skold grinned. “I can prove it.” He reached into the pocket of his trench coat and pulled out the crystal vial. He rolled it down the table to Bevlin. He looked at it with a frown, turned it over a few times and handed it to Aurora. “What is it?” “The original plague. Not the one that Paladin or Samhein made. It a sample of blood extracted from the daemon Peesctnial. Now before you try to contradict me Sebastian and lie to my face I can prove it.” Skold pulled out a tape recorder and wiggled it at him. “I made sure to record our conversation for the benefit of your ears.” He pressed the play button, set the recorder on the table so that everyone could hear it, and listened to the tape roll.
  5. Lane awoke to bright morning sunlight. It was ten o’clock in the morning. He had slept peacefully; it had been the best night’s worth of sleep that he’d had in a while. He had not dreamed about the asylum. He was laying on his side. Angel was still holding him, snoring like an elephant; he not moved once in the night. Lane didn’t want to move, didn’t want to wake his partner up. I could lay like this forever, he thought. He closed his eyes and let his breathing synchronize with the rise and fall of Angel’s stomach, inflating and deflating like a balloon. After a few moments passed Angel stirred. “Hey,” he said. His deep voice was scratchy with sleep. “Are you awake?” “Yeah, I was just lying here for a few minutes, listening to you snore.” Lane rolled over and looked up at Angel. “I love to listen to you snore.” “I love waking up to you in the morning. You’re beautiful.” Angel leaned down and kissed Lane deeply. His breath was hot and his lips were soft. He reached underneath the covers and trailed a hand down Lane’s back, making Lane shiver with pleasure. “Are you trying to turn me on?” Lane asked. “We’ve been so busy lately...I can’t remember the last time we did anything.” Lane pursed his lips, thinking. “Last weekend. Almost a week. We used to do three times a week, maybe more. Today we have to go find Sister Margaret. God knows where’s she’s at.” “Not to sound cruel or anything but I think Sister Margaret can wait a few minutes. The rest of the station is on alert. And I’m due for a day off.” Angel shifted, making the bed shift. He kissed Lane again, this time more persistantly. His hand drifted towards Lane’s butt, his skin pleasantly warm. Lane felt himself grow hard. He reached down and wrapped his fingers around Angel’s fat uncut cock. Angel was hard too. “Alright,” Lane said. “But after this we have to go look for her, okay?” “Whatever you want, babe. Come here.” Angel rested on top of him, being careful not to put his full weight on Lane. His fingers nestled in Lane’s hair, making his scalp tingle with stimulation. His hard on rested on Lane’s bony thigh. I’ve missed this, Lane thought. Oh how I’ve missed this. Us being together, connected as one. Angel reached blindly into the top drawer of the bedside table and grabbed the tube of lube. He uncapped it with his thumb and squirted some onto the tips of his fingers. Lane shifted to the left and spread his legs, eager to feel Angel inside of him. Angel gently worked a finger into him, loosening his hole. Just in the six days since the last time they had made love Lane’s hole had tightened. Even with Angel being gentle and passionate it was uncomfortable at first. That was okay because soon it wouldn’t be. Angel knew what he liked, knew how to work him, knew how to show him pleasure. Angel was the first man who had ever showed Lane such pleasures, the first man who he had been able to trust in giving his heart to without having it broken. Sex was better when you were having it with the person you loved, the person you could never imagine living without. Angel grunted when he slipped into Lane. Lane was still tight, pleasantly tight. It was like sliding into a silky glove. Their hands became entangled, resting on both sides of Lane’s hands. Their kissing became more frantic. Angel started rocking back and forth more rapidly. “Does this feel good baby?” he rumbled. “Am I making you feel good?” “Yes,” Lane crooned, advancing to meet Angels thrust. His fingers traced Angel’s face, his forehead, cheeks and lips. “So good.” He thought: Six days is too long to go without doing this. Too damn long. Angel gasped. “It’s coming. I’m going to come.” “Already?” Angel nodded. He kissed at Lane’s neck, taking the soft flesh gently in between his teeth, making Lane groaned. Lane wrapped his arms and legs around Angel’s large waist as Angel plummeled his prostate with his cock. The chorus of the bed springs filled the bedroom, the legs of the bed tapping against the wooden floor. “I’m going to come,” Angel repeated. “Oh I’m going to come.” “I’m ready, I’m ready. Do it, baby. Do it.” Lane was gritting his teeth with anticipation. Angel let out a roar and exploded into orgasm. He filled Lane’s hole with his seed. It was a sensation that neither man wanted to end, a bliss that should have lasted forever. In the six days that it had been since they’d fucked Angel hadn’t even touched himself. Six days was a long time to let his semen build up, so this time there was a lot of it. When he was spent he rested his head on Lane’s chest, resting on him. His hair was matted with sweat. After a few minutes of them trying to catch their breath, Lane said, “Angel, I can’t feel my toes.” “Sorry.” Angel rolled over onto the sweat-soaked sheets. “Oh that was so great. Let’s not go that long again.” “Agreed.” Somewhere downstairs the door bell rang in rapid succession. Angel sighed. “Who the fuck is that?” “I don’t know. I’ll get it.” Lane quickly put on a T-shirt and shoes and patted down the stairs barefoot. He answered the door. Mara stood on the porch. “I’ve tried calling you all day yesterday and neither one of you answered,” she said heatedly. “Sorry. Angel and I were dealing with a police situation. It was midnight by the time we got home. What’s up?” “Sarah had the baby.” Lane’s eyes widened. “What?” “Yeah.” “But that means he’s two months...” “Premature? Yeah, he weighs four pounds and nine ounces. They have him in an incubator right now. There will be complications but Ted will be okay.” Lane beamed. “You have a son.” Mara’s heated expression turned into a smile. She beamed back. “I know. Sarah and I have a child. Do you want to see him?” Lane stepped back to let her in. “Of course. Let me go get Angel.” Barely able to hold back a scream of delight Lane ran up the stairs as fast as he could.
  6. The Hardy house sat on top of a tall hill that overlooked Annesville. The house had been around long before Annesville had, or so the story went. The house been in the Hardy family for generations. It just so happened that Lane was the last. When colonists came from the Old War in search of the New the Hardys were outcasts; it was rumored that they were witches, devil worshippers, etc. Usual small town bullshit. It just turned out that the stories were true. The Hardy house was a sturdy Victorian age that had stood the test of time. A year ago it had been dormant for ten years, the windows dark, the inside full of cobwebs and dust. Almost every night Angel would look up at the windows and wonder what it would be like to walk through the house’s dusty rooms, to touch the aging wallpaper. When Lane was released from the hospital he had taken back his familys’ fortune, name and house, and restored it to its glory. And now more often than not Angel stayed over at Lane’s house more than he stayed at his own. Not that he minded. The only problem was that Lane’s mother, who had killed herself when Lane was admitted to Annesville’s local asylum for killing two boys, still “lived” inside of the house. It had taken Angel time to adjust to her shadowy ghost wandering the halls at night but like all of the otherworldly weirdness that surrounded Lane on a daily basis, you got used to it. Lane’s bedroom was a museum of rock band posters for heavy metal bands, badly drawn pictures of skulls, incense, and candles of every color. The room had its own fireplace had did all of the bedrooms in the house. Between the candles and incense mixed with the almost piney scent of firewood, the room had a pleasant smell to it. You could take one look at the room and no that it was Lane’s space. It was’t until they were in his room that Lane looked him fully in the eye. Even then Angel could see that Lane was still anxious, afraid. He sat on the edge of the bed, opened his mouth, about to speak, and then closed it. Angel decided to help him get started. “What happened in there?” “I saw her soul-body,” Lane said. “I saw what he was doing to her, what he’s doing to her right now while we sit here. I’ve never seen anything like it. We thought the night of the Valentines’ Day dance was bad but this is worse.” Angel shivered involuntarily. This was the first time that Lane had mentioned the Valentine’s Day dance in a long time; it was a subject that they avoided talking about. Angel sat on the bed next to him. “Tell me what you saw,” he said gently. “He’s lacerated her, destroyed her faith. Now he’s working on her spirit. He’s controlling her like a parasite. And now that he has a body he’s a lot more dangerous. I tried to fight him but I wasn’t strong enough. Both times that I’ve confronted him I’m simply not strong enough.” Lane shook his head. “But that’s not the worst part. The worst part is that I can’t unsee her. It was just like he’d taken a knife and cut strips of her flesh off. Slow, agonizing torture. He makes Castro look like a kitten in comparison.” “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have yelled at you.” “No, you shouldn’t have. You haven’t seen the things that I’ve seen. Have you seen some awful things, yes and I’m not trying to downplay that. But the things that you can’t see are worse than the things that you can. You haven’t been to the other side, haven’t seen the things that are waiting there. I’ve done my best to describe these things so that you can try to see it but these are things that can’t be described with just words alone.” Lane took his hand. “These things...these things that I have to deal with, it’s a burden that I have to carry on my own. And just like you always do the best that you can to be by side I always do my best to be here, with you. But some days I just can’t cut it just like there are days when you just can’t cut it.” Angel didn’t know what to say. He felt like he needed to say something but he didn’t know if there was anything that could be said. Maybe that wasn’t the point. Maybe the point was just to listen and understand. He had seen the weight that Lane carried on his shoulders due to his gifts; it was a force that neither one of them knew very much about. In the end all he said was, “Okay.” And then: “I shouldn’t have brought you into this. I should have told Mother Mary no. I didn’t want to but when I saw that poor woman like that...” “No.” Lane took his hand gently but firmly, silencing him. “I’m glad that you did. I want to help her and I will do everything within my power to do that. But this is something different than Castro. Something bigger. I just know it. I can feel it. We have to be careful.” Angel nodded. “We will be.” He leaned forward and kissed Lane. “Again I’m sorry.” “I forgive you.” Lane smiled. “I love you.” “I love you too. Are we okay?” “Are you done being an asshole?” “Yes, I’m done being an asshole.” “Then we’re okay.” “Can I stay over tonight?” Lane laid back on the bed and kicked off his shoes carelessly. “Mi casa es su casa.” “Good. I was worried that I was going to have to sleep home alone in my own bed.” Lane smiled teasingly. “You never know. I just might change my mind.” They undressed, throwing the rest of their clothes on the floor. Angel was so tired that he barely had enough energy to reach over and turn the light off. Lane was already asleep with his back facing Angel’s chest. Angel scooted up next to him so that his gut-he actually had a full on beer belly now-was pressing against the small of Lane’s back. He was so close to Lane now that he could smell the conditoner he used in his hair mixed with remnants of the hair mousse he used to spike his hair. Those smells now so familiar and comforting, along with the cool touch of Lane’s skin made Angel feel safe.
  7. “Help me...Please, somebody help...” Somewhere a child was crying, a little boy. Lane snapped awake. He was in Carlos’ room, in his apartment. He could still feel the warmth of Carlos’ skin, hear the sound of him breathing softly, peacefully. Lane glanced at him. Carlos was little more than an outline in the dark; Lane could see him just enough to be able to tell that Carlos hadn’t moved since they’d crawled into bed. Lane glanced at the alarm clock. The red numbers glowed eerily. It was three o’clock in the morning. Lane had only slept for a couple of ours. “Please...Please help...” Lane froze, waiting. Goosebumps broke out along his shoulders. The boy’s voice sounded far away, distant, but just close enough that he was definitely hearing it. Lane rolled over again and shook Carlos. “Carlos?” he whispered. His heart was pounding in his chest. “Carlos, wake up!” But Carlos didn’t wake up, didn’t budge. A cold finger traced its way up Lane’s spine. Something strange was going on, something strange. He didn’t know what it was but he could sense it. Am I dreaming? he thought. But he knew that was stupid. He wasn’t dreaming. Everything felt too vivid. Too real. He was too aware of what was going on around him. He slid out from underneath the covers and climbed out of bed. He looked back at Carlos. Lane’s heart stopped. Lane was still laying in bed, curled up with his back pressed up against Carlos’ chest. His eyes moved beneath his eyelids. “What the fuck?” Lane blurted. His voice had the same echoey quality as the little boy’s. This is weird. I’m definitely dreaming. He listened. He could still hear the little boy. “Hey!” he shouted. “Hey, I’m coming!” The Lane in bed stirred once and went still. Dream-Lane stepped out of Carlos’ room, slipping naturally through the darkness. He unlocked the front door and stepped out into the hallway. He stopped. He was standing in the hallway of his apartment building. Directly before him was Lucinda’s door. He turned once to look over his shoulder. There Carlos’ apartment still remained. Lane couldn’t tell if he was shocked or amazed. It’s only a dream, he thought. Dreams are illogical. And if anything bad happens it’s okay, because you’ll just wake up. So just roll with it. At the end of the hallway, next to the door that led into his apartment, was the door with the brass 9 (The number of the beast...) and standing in front of the little boy that he’d seen at Renard’s house. The boy watched Lane, standing very still. A single tear rolled down his cheek. “Was that you that was crying?” Lane asked. The boy said nothing, just watched. “What’s wrong? Are you hurt?” The boy nodded. “Who?” Lane asked. “Who hurt you?” “Stamper,” the boy said; he couldn’t be more than eight years old. “Stamper hurt me.” Another chill went up Lane’s spine. “Stamper? He’s here? He’s still alive?” The boy nodded again. “He’s more stronger in death than he ever was in life.” Something was pushing at the forefront of Lane’s subconcious, trying to get out. A revelation of sorts. The truth hung on the tip of his tongue, just out of reach. He’s you. He’s you when you were eight years old. He’s you when Stamper took you from the orphanage in Tootulu. In Roc City anything is possible. You know this better than anyone. “He’s coming,” the boy snuffled. “He’s comin’.” Before Lane could ask him what he meant the door with the number of the Beast on it opened of its own accord and a monster stood in the doorway. It was at least mostly hyena. It stood on its hind legs but had the clawed hands of a human. Its snout was part hyena but also had a human quality to it that Lane couldn’t quite explain. Its mouth hung open, saliva dripping onto the floor. It growled hungrily. It wasn’t until Lane looked into his eyes that Lane understood. They were green eyes. They were Stamper’s eyes. This was Stamper. In death this is what he had become. Death had simply revealed his true nature. This was Stamper underneath the flesh. Stamper laughed at Lane; it was part Stamper-laugh part hyena-laugh. Lane started to run towards the little boy but it was already too late. Stamper grabbed a hold of the little boy’s wrist with a single clawed hand and dragged him into the darkness that pulsed from beyond the doorway. The little boy didn’t even scream. It seemed that he already knew what his fate was. Lane skidded to a halt before the doorway. “No!” he screamed. His voice echoed through the black endless oblivion before him. He leaned forward cautiously, hanging onto the wall. There was no light, no bottom, just an endless pit. The door has to lead somewhere, he thought. It’s a portal. That’s the only way Stamper could have gotten through. Wherever it goes that’s where I’m going. I can’t leave that little boy to experience what I experienced. With that he let out a sharp exhale and leapt through the door.
  8. Lane was the type of person that when angry, was unable to think things throughs. Rationale became nonexistent. This was one of his many negative personality traits. And as he chased after Julie, his adopted sister, he did not think about the potiental danger that he was putting himself in. All he could think about was what he wanted: to grab a hold of her and demand why her and Stamper were in Roc City, why they were fucking with him after all these years, what they wanted. Julie was running too and surprising quick for someone in high heels, her black squirt swishing behind her. She veered left, disappearing into an alley. Lane stopped, just long enough to take in a breath, and staggered after her just in time to see her take a left from the alley. He broke into a jog. I need to do some serious cardio, he thought, get into shape. At the end of the alley, across the street, was a magnificant Catholic church. Julie was running down the cement path that led up to the double wooden doors. She ran through run of the doors, slamming it shut behind her. Lane had a painful stitch in his side. He looked both ways before crossing the street. A few feet away a sprinkler came on, spraying the church’s perfectly mown lawn with water. Lane had to duck out of the way to keep from getting splashed. The heels of his Converse scraped softly as he made his way up the four stone steps that led up to the double doors of the church. The inside of the church was dimly lit and silent. The only light came from lit candles that glowed within gold brackets. Julie was kneeling before the alter, her head bent in prayer, her long blonde hair shadowing her face. A tormented Jesus Christ hung from his cross; he looked down at her mournfully. Lane did not hurry to reach her side. He knew what she was doing: She wasn’t trying to escape them, just find a place where the two of them could talk without anyone else getting involved. He watched her for a few minutes before speaking. “Are you praying for God’s mercy? Praying that he doesn’t condemn you soul? I don’t think there’s enough grace for you in heaven. Or Stamper for that matter.” Julie raised her head and smirked at him. “He’s not in heaven or hell but in between. Nor is he finished with you.” “What do you want, Julie?” She stood up. “Just wanting to check up on my young brother. It’s been, what, seven years since you left us?” “I didn’t just leave you, I fucking ran and never looked back.” “Why, so that we couldn’t find you? If you didn’t want us to find you you should have moved further away? Of course Daddy and I did a lot of traveling before we decided to check on you. We traveled around the world. But you weren’t hard to find.” Her voice turned venomous. “It’s because of you he’s dead. After you left he was never the same. He was alway...so depressed. Not even being on the road could cheer him up.” “You fucking bitch,” Lane said. “You’re so full of shit. He lived the rest of his days in torment, did he? Good. I hope that he ends up going to hell, and when he does I hope he gets sodomized the way that you and he sodomized me.” “Don’t you talk about Daddy about that way.” Julie rose to her face, her eyes burning with rage. Her fists were clenched. “He wasn’t my father,” Lane said softly. His face softened. “What he did to me, what he made you do, a father, a real father wouldn’t do that. He was a pedophile, a rapist. He fucked my life up in ways that I will never be able to heal from. It’s good that he’s dead. It means that he can’t rape anymore children.” She snarled and clawed him across the face with his nails. It happened so fast that Lane hadn’t seen it coming. Her nails were long and sharp. When he looked up there were five scratch marks across his right cheek. They were already starting to bleed. He laughed. “Really? Is that all you got? I didn’t realize that you were a fucking pussy cat?” Julie grabbed an empty candle bracket and charged towards him, shrieking like a banshee. Lane took a few steps back but it was too late. Julie was too fast. She swung the candle bracket hammered him across the head with it. Lane fell to the floor. Julie straddled him, dropped the candle bracket. Lane groaned. A nasty gash had opened in the front of his forehead; blood was flowing from the gash. Julie stood up and laughed. “Oh, it’s been so long since we’ve done this,” she said, pulling down her black panties. “I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed this, sitting on your face while you were unable to struggle. You’re the best pussy licker I know.” Lane groaned, semi unconcious. Everything was blurry. Her words were so distant that he could not make them out. Julie squatted, spread her legs, and sat on his face. Lane made a struggled sound that was cut short. She grabbed his hair and shoved his face into between her legs, blocking out the sound of his scream. She rode his face, suffocating him. She bit her lip, eyes closed in estacy. Lane was choking on the smell of her vagina. Black panic enveloped him as he tried to shove her off, but she was too strong. “Freeze!” Carlos shouted. He stood three pews away and was pointing his state-issued 9. mm at her. Julie immediately dropped to the ground, pinning Lane to the ground. She grabbed the candle bracket on the floor and raised it above her head. Lane, who was closer to unconcious than concious, just looked at her, dazed, struggling to catch his breath. Carlos came around the side of the pews just in time and fired his sidearm once, being careful not to hit Lane by accident. The back of Julie’s head exploded outward. Her blood splattered on Lane’s face. Lane coughed and shoved her lifeless body off of him. Carlos knelt to the floor and checked Julie’s pulse. There was no pulse. She was one hundred percent dead. He turned to Lane. “Are you okay?” Lane was alive but he wasn’t okay. He clung to Carlos like a frightened child clinging onto an adult. All Carlos could do was hold him as he shook and sobbed. It felt as if Lane was about to come a part like a Lego set. There was only one time that Carlos had seen him react like this and that was after Lane had been raped by Ted Shumuchar. When Lane was calm enough to sit on his own Carlos phoned for back up. He helped Lane to his feet. They walked out of the church and sat on the steps, listening to the sound of the approaching sirens. The gash on Lane’s forehead was deep enough that he had to go to the hospital and get stitches; he was still to shocked to put up a fight. It was past midnight when Carlos and he left the apartment. Carlos had already decided that Lane was going to stay at his apartment, for tonight at least. They ride home was silent. Carlos couldn’t help but glance over at Lane every few seconds. Since the incident at the church Lane had been so distant almost to the point of being unreachable. It was of course understandable after the events of today. Still, it worried Carlos. From the way that his skinny, tattooed arms were folded in on themselves and the blank expression on his face, it was obvious that Lane had closed in on himself both physically and mentally. Once Carlos parked the car Lane took off his seat belt, got out of the car, and made his way towards the apartment building without saying a word. Carlos followed close behind but did not try to carole him. He knew that Lane would talk to him when he was ready to. He’d known Lane long enough to know that Lane hated appearing vulnerable. It was his way to come to terms on his own, at least at first. When they were inside Lane turned to him, speaking for the first time since the church. “I wanna take a shower.” For a moment it looked as if he was about to come apart again. He paused long enough to seize control of himself again. “I just feel...filthy...and I want to wash it off. But I don’t want to take one alone. I keep feeling like I’m just going to fall apart. Will you take one with me and keep me from coming apart?” Carlos knew that this was Lane’s way of crying for help. Despite the circumstances he couldn’t help but cherish this moment. It felt special, like they had reached new heights in their relationship. He had to fight to keep himself from smiling. He nodded. “Sure.” “You don’t think I’m being stupid, do you?” Lane chuckled miserably. “I feel stupid.” Carlos went to him and gently cupped his face in both hands. “You’re not stupid. You’re not, do you hear me? You’re not weak. I’m here. I’m here whenever you need me and I’m not going anywhere, understand?” Lane pursed his lips and looked away. “Okay. I understand.” Carlos’ bathroom was hardly big enough for the two of them to fit inside of it. They stripped out of their clothes and stepped into the tub. Carlos lathered up a rag until it was all soapy and gently washed Lane’s arm pits, chest, belly button, in between his legs, feet, and in between his toes. When he was finished with Lane’s front Lane turned around and let Carlos do the same with his back, in between his shoulder blades, and butt. As Carlos worked the rag in between Lane’s ass cheeks Lane became arroused. His cock hardened. He reached behind him and looped an arm around Carlos’ neck so that his arm pit was exposed. “I want you inside me,” he whispered. The naked need in his voice immediately arroused Carlos so that the engorged head of his cock was pressing against Lane’s tail bone. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea...Just relax.” “I just got raped by a woman. She made me eat her pussy? Do you know what that’s like for a gay man?” Lane’s tone had gone back to sounding sardonic. Carlos smiled. He’s back to his normal self, he thought. “Are you sure?” he whispered in Lane’s ear. “I mean don’t get me wrong, I want to, I really, really want to, but we don’t have to...” Lane replied by spreading his legs slightly. His head fell back against Carlos’ chest. His eyes were closed, his face was relaxed. There’s no stopping myself now, Carlos thought. He looped an arm around Lane’s bony chest and pressed Lane against him. They kissed deeply as Carlos’ fingers slid gently into Lane’s tight hole. They continued to make out as Carlos continued to work Lane’s hole, at first with one finger and then with two. “Do it,” Lane crooned. “I want you inside of me.” Carlos pressed Lane firmly against the shower wall and slid his cock slowly into Lane’s hole. The feeling of his soft, silky, tight hole, was exquisite, and it was all Carlos could do to keep from pounding the shit out of him. He forced himself to go slowly at first, thrusting in and out of Lane. Lane’s head fell forward, his hair hanging before his face. When Lane was completely relaxed Carlos picked up the pace, the head of his cock brushing up against Lane’s prostrate. With each thrust Lane’s mind drifted farther and farther from the days previous events. Carlos was pleasuring him, showing him affection. Lane had never felt as safe with anyone as he did Carlos or as naked. The love that he felt building in the center of his being for the detective was driving him insane. “Carlos,” he whispered, rocking back into the thrusts. “I love you. I love you so much.” Carlos kissed him. “I love you too. So fucking much. I’m getting close, so close.” Crying out he exploded. The bliss was trickling out of him and flowing into Lane. A second later Lane cries of pleasure mixed with his. Their lips pressed together, their tongues danced and swirled with one another. By the time that they toweled off and crawled into bed Lane was so tired that he could barely keep his eyes open. Carlos turned out the lamp and nestled next to Lane, holding him. His touch made Lane feel warm and safe. Julie and Stamper are dead, he thought. They can’t hurt me anymore. Then he closed his eyes and went to sleep.
  9. “So this door,” Carlos said slowly. “It’s like a portal?” “I don’t know,” Lane mumbled as he bit into an egg roll. He finished chewing, swallowed. They were sitting on Lane’s couch, eating their dinner. “Maybe. I assume it has to lead to somewhere.” “And you can’t open it?” “Yeah. It’s very frustrating.” Carlos shrugged. “Not to sound like a party pooper or anything but if this is anything like what we dealt with three months ago then maybe it’s a good thing that you can’t get it open. Maybe it’s not supposed to be opened in the first place.” “You could be right. But that’s not the feeling that I’m getting. I’ve lived in this building for four years and up until I came back from San Diego that door has never shown up once. Something’s up. But enought about the door. How was work?” “It was okay.” “Throw any murderers in jail today?” “No, just a husband who beat the shit out of his wife.” “Well maybe someone will be the shit out of him when he goes to jail.” “That’s not going to happen. The wife bailed him out.” “What?” Lane tossed his egg roll down looking disgusted. “That’s stupid.” “That’s how abusive relationships work,” Carlos said. “The world is fool of them. Men beat the shit out of their wives, give them a black eye, throw them down the stairs, yatta-yatta-yatta, and the wife saves their ass because they don’t have the brains to stick up for themselves.” “Yeah it’s called Stolkholm Syndrome,” Lane said with a snort. Carlos looked at him pointedly. “So what happened yesterday? It’s not like you to not answer your phone.” Lane looked away and immediately felt ashamed. Carlos wasn’t stupid nor did he miss much. He knew that Lane was hiding some. Of course he did, he was a homicide detective for Christ’s sakes. He thought of the advice that Madame Sophia had given him: ...he’s still here with you. He hasn’t left your side. That’s saying a lot about someone who knows very little about you. It means that he’s willing to get to know you a lot more, both the good and the bad. Cherish that. Have faith in him. “Stamper found me again,” he said. “He’s here in Roc City.” From the confusion on Carlos’ face it wasn’t quite sinking in just yet. “Stamper…? He’s here?” “Yep.” “Has he been harassing you? Did you call the police?” “No. There’s no point. Apparently he tried to kill himself and now he’s in a coma.” “Fuck,” Carlos said. He took Lane’s hand. His grip was firm but gentle, warm and comforting. “Why didn’t you call me? You didn’t have to deal with that on your own.” Lane shook his head. “I know why I didn’t call you. I guess I just don’t like looking vulnerable. I like thinking that I can handle things on my own, take care of myself, never need nothing from nobody kind of deal. You know?” “But you can’t handle everything on your own.” “Why not? I’ve been on my own my whole life. That’s always how I’ve dealt with things.” “You’re not alone now.” Carlos ran his fingers through Lane’s hair. Lane closed his eyes as his scalp tingled at Carlos’ touch; his jaw unclenched. “And it’s not fair that you’ve had to endure so much on your own. You don’t have to deal with this on my own.” “Carlos, I am so afraid.” Lane closed his eyes, trying to hold back the tears that threatened to overwhelm him. “The thought of him being here, of being so close to him...He did it just so that he could fuck with me...I know that sounds crazy but that’s just the kind of shit that he would do.” Carlos leaned forward and was about to kiss Lane when Lane’s phone rang. Lane cursed. “Hang on, just a second. Hello?” “Lane...” The voice that crackled into his ear was dry, raspy, almost unintelligable. But even then Lane would have recognized the voice from anywhere. He felt all of the blood drain out of his face. “My time is on Earth is coming to an end, Lane,” Stamper said. “But don’t think that I’m done with you yet. I will be more powerful in death than I could be in life.” Then the line went dead. His cell phone slipped from his fingers and fell to the floor. Lane was vaguely aware that Carlos was calling his name but his voice was distant, echoey. “Lane? Lane? Who was that on the phone?” “Stamper,” he murmered. “It was Stamper. He called me. I guess he woke up from his coma.” “That’s it.” Carlos took Lane’s hand, stood up, and gave Lane’s arm a small tug. “Come on. We’re going to the hospital to end this.” “I don’t want to...” “Yes, c’mon. We’re going to end this shit one way or another.” One side of the hospital was completely blocked off by cop cars and yellow tape. Officers were trying to wave off the gathering crowd. Renard was standing among the crowd. “Hang on just a second,” Carlos told Lane. He ducked underneath the yellow tape and waved his badge around. He waved at Renard and she came over to him. “What’s going on?” She pointed at the dead man laying facedown in the middle of the sidewalk; he was surrounded by a large puddle of blood and sheets of fallen glass that twinkled like diamonds. The man’s white hospital gown was splattered with blood and his arms legs twisted in disturbing awkward directions. “It’s Robert Stamper,” Carlos said. “You know him?” “No, but Lane has. We were just on our way to see him. What happened?” “Apparently he just woke up from his coma and decided to take a swandive from a sixth floor window.” Carlos waved at Lane. Lane ducked underneath the yellow tape. His face, already pale, became even paler when he saw Stamper’s body. “Oh my God,” he said. He turned and willed himself not to vomit as his stomach gave a painful lurch. A moment passed before he was able to face the body again. “He just called me on the phone. We were having lunch when he made the call. The number was coming from his hospital room.” “We’re going to want record of that,” Renard said. “Here.” Lane handed her his cell phone. “Look for yourself.” She went through the list of numbers and called it. “Can I hang onto this for a little while?” Lane nodded shakily. “I don’t care. Keep it for as long as you need to.” Renard pointed at Stamper’s dead corpse. “How do you know him?” “He adopted me.” She cocked her head. “I didn’t know you were adopted.” “I never knew my parents. I grew up in a orphanage in Tootulu.” “That’s just outside of Roc City.” Lane nodded. “He took custody of me when I was eight.” “What happened between you two?” “I guess you could say I emancipated myself when I was fifteen. He wasn’t a very good guardian.” “You want to elaborate on that?” Renard asked briskly. Lane glowered at her. “Why are you looking at me like that, like this is somehow my fault? You’re making me feet like a suspect?” “I’m not.” Renard held up her hands. “I’m just trying to get information here.” Lane wasn’t ready to let it go. “You want to know why I ran away from him and went to Roc City? Alright, I’ll tell you. He raped me almost every night for eight years. Him and his daughter Julie. Sometimes they would even tag team me.” Renard immediately looked ashamed of herself. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t know...” But Lane wasn’t listening. He was looking at something else, looking past her at someone in the crowd. A tall woman with blonde hair and a few years older than he, was standing in the crowd, watching them. If it wasn’t for the horizontal scar on her cheek he would not have recognized her. “Julie,” he said. “Lane, what…?” Carlos started. The woman turned around and started to walk away quickly. Before Carlos could finish the question, Lane what is it, Lane was pushing his way through the crowd and running after her.
  10. Skold and Dom in the middle of packing for the flight to Berlin when Skold heard a knock at the door. It was Rebecca. Her hair was a mess of blonde tangles and their were dark circles under her eyes but she was smiling. Before Skold could greet her properly she threw herself at him and embraced him in a bear hug. “You have no idea how much I missed you.” “Thank you.” Skold patted her back awkwardly. He couldn’t help but smile. “I missed you too. When did you get back?” “Just now. Can I come in? I’ve got a lot to tell you.” “Yes, but just for a few minutes. Dom and I have a flight to catch in...” He looked at his watch. “...two hours.” “What? Where are you guys going?” “Berlin.” “What the fuck for?” “The fae king has summoned to stand trial.” “Why? You haven’t done anything wrong.” “Apparently he thinks I have.” Rebecca snorted in disgust. “But that’s bullshit. He can’t do that. He doesn’t have any evidence.” Skold smiled sadly. “He doesn’t have to, Rebecca. He’s the king. He can do whatever he wants. I don’t have a choice. How was your trip?” Rebecca’s face darkened. “Bajork found me Skold. He tortured someone that I care about, almost killed him. Twig came to warn me. If he hadn’t gotten there when he did me and Melanie would probably be dead.” Skold took her arm and led her gently over to the couch. They sat down. He looked at her, concerned. “What happened? Tell me everything. Did he hurt you? Where is he?” “He’s dead,” she said softly. “I killed him.” He raised an eyebrow, unable to hide his suprise. “You killed him?” She nodded. “Skold I can’t believe it. He’s dead. He’s really dead. But I feel...different. I feel strange. I look at myself in the mirror and I don’t know who I am anymore. I’m not the same girl anymore that I knew.” “No, you’re not. You’re a warrior now. You’ve seen and done things that you didn’t think yourself capable of. And once you draw blood like that, once you learn how easy it is to kill someone and that you are capable of it, you never forget it. Do you understand me?” “I think so. I can’t go back to what I was doing before. When I killed Bajork I felt a rush. Almost like euphoria, you know?” “I do,” Skold said. “Very well.” “Will I ever know peace ever again? Will I ever be able to stop looking over my shoulder?” “That I’ve been asking of myself as well,” Skold said. “When I find out, if I find out, I will let you know.” “I want to go with you to Berlin.” “You can’t. It’s too dangerous. You have put yourself in the middle of harm’s way one time too many. Fae politics is not for a mortal’s eyes or ears.” Rebecca shook her head stubbornly. “I don’t care. I’m going anyway. Even if that means I have to go with just the clothes on my back.” “I suppose I could always make you not go,” Skold said with a smirk. She smirked back. “You know I’ll put up a fight-even though I know that you’d kick my ass.” “I know that you would fight me. You’ve grown very feisty over the last few weeks.” Rebecca’s face turned dead serious. “I want to go with you Skold, to support you. You’ve done so much for me. You’re my friend, even if you don’t consider us to be. And I’d walk through Hell and back for my friends.” “We are friends.” Skold took her hand. “You can come if that’s what you wish. But this will not be like any of the other times. I will not be able to protect you. Do you understand?” She nodded. “I do.” Dom came into the living room. “Maeglin just called. We have to go.” “There’s one more thing I want to grab before we go,” Skold said. Maeglin’s private jet was waiting for them in the runway when Skold, Dom, and Rebecca arrived. Candestine had already arrived with a suitcase. Two elves dressed in steward uniforms loaded everyone’s luggage onto the plane for them. “It is a nine hour flight from here to Berlin,” Maeglin explained as the group boarded the plane. “The moment that we land we will be transported to the king’s mansion where your trial is being held, Skold. There will be an opportunity in which all of us will be able to testify. So now will be the time to think about what you all want to say. Until then enjoy the refreshments. Anything that you want the stewards can get. There is also a full bathroom in the back of the plane.” “I call dibs on the shower,” said Rebecca. She disappeared into the back of the plane. Dominyc buckled in the seat across from Skold. “When was the last time you ate something?” he asked in his booming voice. “I can’t remember,” Skold said. “Two or three days at least.” “You should take advantage of the down time and eat something-and prepare our testimony while we’re at it.” Skold smiled and pulled out the crystal vial from the pocket of his leather trench coat. Then he leaned forward and kissed Dom on the lips. “I have everything that I need.” “How can you not be nervous? Yaldon is insane and he has it out for you? What if he convicts you? Last time he erased your memories and exiled you? What if he decided to kill you this time?” Skold’s smile never left his face; his confidence did not falter in the face of Dom’s doubt. “He won’t. Because if he does I will tear his head from his shoulders with my bare hands.” For the past decade all of Samhein’s funds had been going into having Paladin’s castle restored. For seven centuries the ruins had stood watch over a small Romanian village, slowly decaying. But now it was almost done; a few more years and Paladin’s castle would be restored to its former glory. Samhein’s room was at the top of the South tower. It was in this room where Paladin had slept, ate, and fucked. Even now he could sense Paladin’s presence in the room, as if he had never fully left. The room was large but sparsely furnitured with a wooden wardrobe and a wooden chest at the end of his four poster bed. To his right was a large bookshelf, to the left a wooden riding desk. He stood before the crystal window. The castle stood on top of a mountain. Down below he could see the small Romanian village. It was mostly a farming community with a population of nine hundred and eight. It had one traffic light in the middle of what would be considered the town square. The roofs of the one and two story houses shimmered under the silver light of the half crescent moon. The town would probably be closed down in the morning, for a strong blizzard had blown through the night before. All of the mortals and their little children were sleeping, wrapped peacefully in their blankets. Warm. Safe. Comfortable and dreaming. Unaware that before the sun rose their new lives would begin. It’s almost poetic, he thought, amused. It’s ironic, even, the way that history has a way of repeating itself. No matter how many years passes or the new ground-breaking technology that is invented, the world never truly changes. He remembered the day that Paladin had been defeated, remembered it as if it had just happened yesterday. He remembered how the village, this very village, had been flattened, the villagers laying dead in the snow, slaughtered like the helpless cattle they were; he remembered how the snow had been splattered with their blood, red streaking the snow like something out of an abstract painting. He remembered how Skold had appeared on the horizon after years of everyone thinking he was dead, leading his army of the undead. Even then Samhein had known that the war was over, that Paladin had lost. By the time Samhein had found Paladin it was already too late. Paladin was already dead, his head laying next to his body, the castle burning down around them. And Skold was gone. He remembered falling on his knees and holding Paladin’s head in his hands, his hands covered in blood, crying tears. The tears had been hot and he had felt real angquish, like his heart was about to give out on him. Like he no longer had the will to live. Paladin had been everything to him and Skold had taken him away from him. “This war is for you, Paladin, my love,” Samhein whispered, looking up at the moon. “And this time we will not be defeated.” He grabbed a candle holder and lit the wick with a softly whispered spell; the flame immediately sprung into life. Even though the palace had electric he could not quite get over the nostalgic pleasure that using a candle gave him. At the end of the red carpeted corridor was a long spiral staircase. The walls were made of stone. The doorways on both sides of him were made of wood were tall with high stone archways and steel door knobs. The inside of the castle was cold, drafty. Samhein wore a long crimson robe that swept the floor behind him. The journey to the basement was long. He had to climb down seven floors to get down to get to the dungeons which had been converted into a labratory. It was here that three dozen of Aethyx’s best scientest toiled endlessly, doing what they did best. Several scientist dressed in hazmat suits stood around a black crystalline lab coats; they each held a wooden clipboard and pencils, scribbling down results. One of them turned in Samhein’s direction, as if sensing his presence the moment that he entered the labratory. “Sir, I am pleased to form you that they are ready.” Samhein was pleasantly surprised. “Already?” “Yes. We found that hitting them with radiation makes the process go much faster. It’s remarkable.” “Indeed.” Samhein ran a hand over the top of the cocoon lovingly. “When do you want us to wake them?” Samhein cocked his head to the side, thinking silently for a moment. “Now,” he said. “Do it now. Tonight Paladin’s dream begins once again.”
  11. Lane put the groceries away and went around lighting the candles and incense; then he closed the curtains so that the living room was almost completely dark. Lucinda sat at the kitchen table her face aglow in the orangle glow that danced in the dark. She kept glancing into the candles of the room as if searching for some malevolent spirit. “It’s okay,” Lane reassured. “I have to do this. Something about it being dark helps making contact easier.” “How much do you charge?” “Usually I charge sixty straight up but I’m not going to charge you.” Her eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Why?” “Because I think this is a special circumstance.” Lucinda took a deep breath and let her shoulder relax. “What do I do?” “Do you have a picture of Wally that you keep in your wallet? It will help if I know what he looks like.” “I always keep a picture of him in my wallet.” She pulled her wallet out of her purse and slid a small wallet-sized photo out of its sleeve. She slid it across the table to him. Lane took a second it to study it. The picture showed Wally and Lucinda standing next to each other, their arms around each other. Both of them were smiling. Wally had been a round faced, heavy set man and balding. But there was a twinkle in his eyes and a brightness to a smile that could not be missed. With Lucinda it was impossible to glance up at her once from the picture. Though they had the same face the woman sitting before Lane and the woman in the picture were two completely different people. The woman in the picture was radiant, her hair darker, her face not so severe. She was smiling. She looked like she was living in heaven on earth. Lane put the picture down. He couldn’t bare to look at the picture anymore. It was too intimate, it revealed too much about Lucinda. It also helped him understand her a little more. This newfound knowlege changed everything, how he looked at her. It was like pieces of an intricate puzzle coming together to form a picture. Suddenly a thought came into his head, uninvited: She wants to die. She wants to die so that she can be with him. She loved him so much. Lucinda was scrutinizing him hard. “Is something wrong?” He smiled. “No. I was just thinking that he looked like a nice man.” To his surprise she smiled. “He was. He was the most beautiful kind hearted man. He was God’s gift to the world. I always felt like I never deserved him but I got him anyway, you know.” Lane thought of Carlos. “I think I do.” “Once you find a love like that and that love dies you won’t find anything else like it. It’s nonreplacable. The world becomes a very lonely place.” Lane thought, All this time we’ve had this feud between us and it turns out that we can relate more than we thought. Why do people have to be so fucking complicated? “Give me your hands,” he said. “No matter what happens don’t let go, okay?” She nodded and took his hands. Her hands were rough, as coarse as sandpaper, but pleasantly warm. Her grip was gentle and steady. “Before we start I have to ask you one more time: Are you sure you want to do this? What we are doing isn’t exactly the safest thing in the world. There’s always a chance that if we do make contact that it could be with a malevolent spirit that could be pretending to be Wally. Are you understanding me?” She nodded. “I’m sure. And I understand?” Okay, he thought. The third time’s the charm. “Let’s begin,” he said. He took another deep breath and emptied his mind and body of all thought and tension. He let his mind reach out through the room, taking in the smoky smell of the candles and incense. The darkness behind his eyelids was thick, inpenetrable. He continued to reach out further with his mind, beyond the walls of his apartment, of the building, of the world of the living and into the hidden world of the dead. He conjured Wally’s face into his mind. “Wally,” he said. “Wally, are you out there? Can you hear me?” His voice echoed through the darkness. He was overcome by the sensation that he was floating, floating through a dark portal that led to another place. He was no longer just in his apartment but in two places at once. Someone was coming. He could feel it. Suddenly everything was cold and he was shivering. His teeth chattered together. He could hear the sound of footsteps. Someone was running. Someone… Lane gasped as he felt a spirit enter his body. The sensation was very unpleasant: It was like having someone pour a bucket of ice-cold water on him; it sucked the breath out of his body, made it impossible to breathe. He was on autopilot. Whoever had taken over his body was in control. When he looked up his eyes were no longer blue but brown. They were the color of Wally’s eyes, and when he spoke he used Wally’s voice. “Lucinda...” Her eyes widened and her mouth hung open. Something like a gasp came out but the sound was very forced as if it was scraping along the insides of her throat. Finally she said, “Wally? Is it you? Is it really you?” “Yes.” Wally used Lane’s hand to grip her hand just a little tighter. “Yes, it’s me Lucinda.” Tears trailed down her cheek. “Oh Wally. It’s so good to hear your voice. You have no idea how much I have missed you, how lonely I’ve been...” “Lucinda you must listen to me very carefully,” Wally said urgently. “I do not have much time. Other spirits will try to come into this body if I don’t hurry. You must stay away from the door.” Lucinda frowned in confusion. “The door…?” “The door with the number of the Beast. Whatever you do don’t open it, don’t go inside.” “What? Why? Where does it go? Willy, please, I don’t understand.” He smiled sadly. “I’m sorry, Lucinda. I have to go. I love you.” Lane’s head jerked back as the spirit left him. Warmth was spreading through his body again, chasing away the cold. His eyes had gone back to their normal color of blue. He gasped, sucking in air like a drowning man who has just reached the surface of the ocean. Lucinda stood up her face completely deadpan. She pushed in her chair and turned without saying a word. She left without saying anything. No fuck you or go to hell or may God save your soul. Shit, Lane thought. And here I thought we were finally starting to become friends. Lane leaned against the wall. “So you don’t see it?” he asked, annoyed. “No, I can’t say that I do.” Madame Sophia looked at him, frowned. “What am I looking for again?” Lane scowled. “Weren’t you listening to anything I said.” Madame Sophia’s lips turned up slightly at the corners. “You tend to mumble a lot when you talk.” Lane glowered at her. “Can we be serious here? Weren’t you just telling me the other day that there was darkness surrounding me or something like that?” He pointed at the wall. “At least twice now I have seen a door there. It looks like all of the other doors in this hallway but it isn’t. It has a brass 9 on it which is weird because the doors only go up to number 6. Lucinda says that she has seen it too. Only now I can’t get her to come out of her apartment without shouting Bible verses at me through the door because she’s too scared of me to say it to my face.” The smirk never left Madame Sophia’s face. “I have to tell you Lane, you sure do have a way with women?” “Yeah. I guess we know why I’m gay. That’s a start. Now if we could just figure out the door. So you’re not picking up anything with your extrasensory perception?” She frowned. “No.” “I know it sounds like I’m just crazy, and if it turns out that I am you can be the one ot take me to the funny farm, but it’s weird, pun totally intended. Sometimes the door is there and sometimes it’s not. It seems to appear randomly. And I keep seeing this little boy and he looks really familiar.” “Little boy?” “Yes.” “Is he a spirit?” “I think so. I seem to be the only one that can see him?” “Has he said anything?” “No.” “Have you asked him what he wants?” Lane shook his head. Madame Sophia looked amused. “Why not?” “Because up until now I’ve been trying to avoid whatever weird shit I can. I’ve been clean for over a month now, I don’t want to break that streak now. Naturally the weird shit finds me whether I want it to or not. I swear this city is fucking with me again.” “Has Lucinda seen the boy?” “No. She’s seeing something else. And what she said she’s seeing is a hell of a lot scarier than what I am so I’m not going to take the time to describe it.” “Has Carlos seen the door?” Again Lane shook his head. “I don’t think anyone else has either. Maybe me and Lucinda are both nuts and need to be locked away.” Madame Sophia looked back at the wall. “I don’t think so. I think that because of her faith Lucinda is a lot more open to the things that she cannot see, which in turn makes her more susceptible to supernatural forces.” “Or there’s that.” Lane sighed and looked uncomfortable. “There’s something else but I don’t want to talk about it out here. Do you have a few more minutes?” “Given my sudden inability to paint it seems that all I have is time. Sure.” They went back into Lane’s apartment. For the rare occasions that Madame Sophia came to his apartment, Lane always made sure to buy stuff to make tea. Madame Sophia was not at all a coffee person. He put a lot of surgar in it just the way he knew she liked it and handed her the steaming coffee cup before joining her at the kitchen table. Madame Sophia sipped at it cautiously. Her eyes widenend in surprise. “Hmmm. This is very good. You’ve gotten better at this. So what is it that you wanted to talk to me about?” Lane immediately grew tense. His jaw clenched and his eyes became dead serious. “I know I’ve never told you about him with words but I assumed I never had to. You know about Stamper don’t you?” Madame Sophia cleared her throat; her expression also darkened at the sound of the name. “I know enough without you having to say a word.” “He’s in town.” She leaned forward, hands stapled together. “What does he want?” “I don’t know. He’s in a coma or so the doctor said. But I don’t think it’s just any coma. He’s up to something. And maybe I’m just being paranoid but it probably has something to do with that door. Or at least they’re connected somehow.” Lane paused for a moment. “I ran away from him and Julie when I was fifteen. That was seven years ago. I came here and I never looked back. Up until he sent the photo to me three months ago, and I know it was him, up until now, he made no sign of wanting anything to do with me, and now all of the sudden he breaks the silence. I can only imagine what he wants.” “I don’t like it,” Madame Sophia said. That makes two of us, Lane thought. “Have you told Carlos yet?” “You know I haven’t and you know why.” Madame Sophia gave him a small, sad, knowing smile. “We are both the same in the fact that we’ve experienced very little love in our life. And so when we do find someone that we feel we’re meant to be with, that we want to hold onto forever, we’re scared of pushing them away. I understand your fear, Lane. I feared it once myself.” Her expression turned even graver and Lane thought he even saw a tear or two make its way down her cheek. Can I give you some advice?” “Some advice would be really good right now.” “When you love someone, truly love someone, then that is a risk you have to plan on taking. You have to have enough faith in that person to hope that they won’t run away when they tell you the truth. In the three months since you’ve known him Carlos has seen a lot. His world has been turned upside down in some ways. But he’s still here with you. He hasn’t left your side. That’s saying a lot about someone who knows very little about you. It means that he’s willing to get to know you a lot more, both the good and the bad. Cherish that. Have faith in him. You don’t have to tell him now. Just take time to think it over.” Lane nodded. “I will.” Madame Sophia finished the rest of her tea and stood up. She said that she was going to go home and take a nap. She surprised him by hugging him before she left. “If you need to talk again, about anything, don’t hesitate to call me.” It was not long after she left that an idea sprung into Lane’s mind like a flashing light bulb; how he hadn’t thought about it before was beyond him, it was so obvious. Thanks to a psychic that Madame Sophia had introduced to him three months ago named Kenny LaBeau who owned a jazz club called The Blue Shaman. Kenny had told Lane that anyone born with psychic abilities had certain special properties in their blood, like binding spirits to a building. What if that included hidden objects? Lane grabbed a steak knife from the drawer and pricked his finger with it hard enough to draw blood. I hope I’m not going to regret this later and have to get a Tetnus shot, he thought. That would not be fun. He left his apartment without bothering to close the door and went to the wall at the end of the hallway. He pressed his bleeding thumb to it and smeared the blood around in a circular motion. When he was finished he stepped back and waited. A second later the door took shape, seeming to almost seep out of the walls before solidifying. Lane couldn’t help but smile. If he’d only thought of this while Madame Sophia was here. He felt like a kid who has just discovered a passageway that led to some magical far away land. He reached for the door knob and tried to turn it. “For fuck’s sake!” Lane exclaimed, slamming his hand against the door hard enough to sting. “You’ve got to be kidding me?” There was no lock, only a key hole, like one of the old fashioned ones for a skeleton key. Lane didn’t have a key but he had other things he could try. Back in the apartment he grabbed the hammer and the drill. The door was still there as if waiting for him out of curosity, as if it wanted to see what he would do. That was okay. Lane was determined. He would find out what was going on one way or another. He knelt down and started with the drill, trying to pull out the screws that fastened the knob to the door. The nails didn’t even budge, not once. Lane tried this stubbornly for an hour, the drill buzzing and rattling. “Alright, then. There has to be some way to get you open without the key. Doors are meant to be opened.” He stood up, raised the hammer above his head. His forehead was covered in a shiny sheen of sweat. “Last resort.” “Lane?” Lane whirled around with the hammer still raised over his head. Carlos stood just a few yards away holding two greasy bags of takeout. Lane chuckled and hid the hammer behind his back even though he knew Carlos had already seen it. “Hey, babe. How are you?” “You haven’t been answering my calls. I’ve tried calling you a dozen times.” “Really? Sorry, I’ve been so busy the last couple of days that I haven’t had time to look at my phone.” “Uh-huh.” Carlos bridged the distance between them. He shifted one bag to the other hand so that he was gripping both bags with one hand, and reached behind Lane to take his hammer. “What were you about to do with this hammer?” Lane hooked a thumb over his shoulder. “Trying to open that fucking door.” Carlos frowned. “What door?” “You don’t see it?” “All I see is a wall with a bunch of drill holes in it.” Lane looked back at the wall and cursed. The door was gone. “It’s a long story. Is that fried dumplings I smell?” “Your favorite.” Carlos handed him one of the greasy bags. “I got chicken teriyaki and fried rice too.” “Now I remember why I love you so much.” Lane kissed him on the cheek and led Carlos into the apartment. He peeked one last time to make sure that the door wasn’t there. It wasn’t. It was like a cruel magic trick.
  12. “Mr. Hardy? Mr. Hardy? Hello?” Lane ended the call with a stab of his finger. His arm fell at his side, limp. The phone slipped from his fingers and fell on top of his foot. He hardly noticed or felt the pain. He stumbled towards the sofa and dropped into it. He couldn’t breathe; his heart was doing a doubletake. He’s here. He’s here in Roc City. The son of a bitch found me. He thought back to the picture that had come in the mail three months ago. That had been at the worst time, when so much was happening: The murder of Charlie Weathers and the mystery of the evil his friends and he had unleashed, trying to keep them and himself alive. All the while his addiction to narcotics had been in full swing. Just when it seemed like things couldn’t get any more fucked up the picture had come in the mail with no address on it but his. He could only assume that Stamper had sent it, or even Jennifer. She was a full grown woman now. She was certainly capable of finding where he lived. Lane had forgotten all about the incident until now. Sending the photo had been a trick, a way to fuck up his day. Or a warning. Lane’s entire body shook with violent tremors. His hand shook so bad that it took several attempts to reach into his pocket. His fingers went to wrap around the top of a prescription bottle but of course there wasn’t one. He’d gone to rehab to fight his addiction and his dealer was rotting away in prison after drugging and raping Lane. But now he felt even more vulnerable. His drug of choice had always been Klonopin. He could imagine snapping his head back and letting the pill drop into his mouth with a slide of the hand, the chalky taste of the blue pill as he swallowed them dry. If need be he could take two or three of them. Except he couldn’t. He stretched out on the couch, drawed his knees up towards his stomach, hugged himself, and waited for the storm to pass. For obvious reasons Lane hated hospitals; that went for yards and graveyards as well. Lane had always been a magnet for the dead for as long as he could remember. A hospital was like a train station in which spirits passed through all of the time. Some souls were lost, unsure of where to go, in need of guidance. Other hung in the middle, somewhere in between the realm of the living and the dead. Others were coming into the world for the first time, coming from whatever place that came before life. Dr. Ken Chang was not much taller than Lane. The shirt sleeves of his white dress shirt were rolled up slightly. He looked to be in his early to mid thirties. Half formed spectres beckoned at Lane, trying to get his attention but he ignored them and built a psychic wall so that he could focus completely on what Dr, Chang was saying. “He came in sometime early late last night. We had to wheel him into the intensive care unit immediately. His heart was failing due to blood loss. When we got him on the table he was dead. Luckily we were able to resuscitate him.” “What was the cause of the blood loss?” “He tried to kill himself. He sliced his wrists open and may have succeeded in doing so. It’s the strangest thing. When I came in for my shift this morning he was awake and he asked for you. I left for no more than a few minutes and when I came back...Well it will be easier if I just show you.” Chang led Lane into the room at the end of the hallway. At first Lane couldn’t recognize the man lying in the bed. The stranger laying in the bed was attached to a ventilator. A long white tube trailed from his mouth. Lane knew that it was pumping air into his airways and it was the only thing that was possibly keeping Stamper alive, but something about the tube disturbed Lane greatly; it looked like a torture device. Another tube went through his right nostril. The ventilator hissed, pumping oxygen into Stamper’s lungs. With each pump Stamper’s chest rose and fell, inflating and deflating like a balloon. The man in the bed was not human; he was more machine than anything. But then when has Stamper ever been human? Lane thought. It had been seven almost eight years since the last time that Lane had seen Stamper face to face. The years that had passed since the night that Lane, as a young fifteen year old boy, had left the horror show that was Stamper’s house, had not been kind to Stamper. To Lane it always seemed that people grew heavier as they got older. Their skin started to sag, their jaw and chin starting to droop. It was a premortem preview of what happened after someone died. But Stamper had seemed to got thinner. His face was gaunt, showing the sharp line of his cheekbones. The skin seemed to barely stretch over his skull. “He’s in a coma,” Lane said. “Yes. But how we don’t know? We’ve done numerous MRI scans to see what the cause might be. When we resuscitated him we transferred blood into him and he was stable. The results that came back from the MRI showed no signs of there being a stroke, hemorrhaging or any of the typical causes of a seizure.” Chang shook his head. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” “And he hasn’t woken up at all?” “No.” “Where’s his daughter?” Lane asked. “Excuse me?” “His daughter,” Lane snapped, his voice rising slightly. “He has a daughter. Julie. Is she around? Does she know anything about this?” “Yes. She was the one who called 911. She was here earlier. She left just a minute or two before you showed up.” Just a minute or two? Lane thought. Which means that if I had shown up or a minute or two sooner we would have bumped into each other at some point? Whew, talk about perfect timing. The thought of seeing Julie made him shiver. He could only imagine the various ways that would have played out, none of them good. “I have to go,” Lane said. He couldn’t be here. Not for another second longer. “Don’t you want to visit with him?” Chang said. His almond shaped eyes grew wide. If it wasn’t for the circumstances they were under Lane would have found it comical. “No. I have things I have to do.” Chang nodded. “I’ll call you if there’s any updates.” “Please don’t,” Lane said. “Call his daughter, not me.” Carlos had been debating for the last half an hour on whether or not he should call Lane. He wanted to, wanted to hear his voice. It was better than just sitting here in the silence of his apartment and twiddling his thumbs. It was a quarter before ten and he was starting to get sleepy. He recognized that what he was feeling was infactuation. It was always like that in the beginning of a relationship. You couldn’t stand to be apart and you couldn’t keep your hands off each other. Even though he knew this, could identify it, Carlos felt ridiculous. In a few months he would be thirty-nine and in another year, forty. He had given up trying to keep the grey hair at bay. But there was something about Lane that made Carlos feel like he was going through puberty for the second time. It wasn’t just the sex. It had never just been the sex, though Lane knew how to work him like no one else. It was everything else too. Sometimes Carlos had to wonder if Lane was an angel. A tattooed, gothic angel. Where the debate was stemming from was that he didn’t want to smother Lane. Lane was fresh out of a rehab facility and Carlos didn’t know a damned thing about freshly recovered drug addicts. You think I would since I’m a cop. He sighed. Fuck it, what was wrong with calling Lane and wishing him good night? He pressed Lane’s name on his contact log and waited. The line went straight to Lane’s voicemail, which meant that Lane had his phone off. Carlos couldn’t help but feel disappointed. “Hey,” he said. “I was just sitting here thinking about you. I’m getting ready to head to bed and just wanted to wish you a good night. Call me in the morning. I love you.” He ended the call, turned the light out and went to bed for the night. Lane stepped through the doorway that led into the stairway with his two bags of groceries and almost walked into Lucinda. “Should we add ‘roadblock’ to the list of things that make you the biggest pain in the ass?” he asked with a scowl. Lucinda did not answer, did not turn, did not even seem to have heard him. She was rooted to the spot staring at something ahead of her. Then she looked at him and said, “That door wasn’t there before.” She pointed with her fat short little index finger and Lane followed with his eyes. Sure enough there was the door with the brass 9. “You can see it?” he asked. She nodded silently. Her eyes were very wide. Her face was pale and she was shaking. Her eyes were full of tears. “What’s wrong?” “Nine.” Her voice was hardly a whisper. “The number of the Beast. I’ve seen him.” “Seen him? Seen who?” “My husband Willy.” “Wait, I thought Willy was dead.” “He is. But the thing I’ve been seeing isn’t Willy. It has his face but the body and hooves and horns of a goat. It walks on two feet. Sometimes I hear him walking up and down the hallway, those hooves clopping away, calling my name. Part of me wants to go to him so bad but I know that I can’t because that’s not Willy.” She burst into tears and buried her face in her hands. Her shoulders shook. Lane stared at her wide eyed, unsure of what to do. In no way shape or form did he like Lucinda. He didn’t hate her but he didn’t like her. She was a pain in the ass and she was the worst neighbor. More often than not he just wanted to take her Bible and knock some sense into her. But in that moment he felt sorry for her. These weren’t just any kind of tears. They were tears of distress and fear and grief all mingled into one. He did the only thing that he could of to do, set his groceries on the ground and hugged her. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry you had to see that.” She did not shrink away from his touch but seemed to step into his embrace. “Am I just going crazy from old age? What is it?” “I don’t know. But you’re not going crazy. I see the door too.” She sniffed and stepped back. She wiped at her eyes. “You do?” “Yes, I do.” “I never thought that I would ask you this but I want to speak to my husband. I know...” Lucinda wiped at her nose with her hankerchief. “I know that it’s a sin. In Leviticus 19:31 it says ‘Do not turn to mediums or necromancers; do not seek them out, and so make yourself unclean by them; I am the Lord your God.’ And I know that in asking you I may never be forgiven on my Judgement Day. But I need to speak with him. I need to make sure that he didn’t go to Hell and become that thing.” Lucinda’s face softened. “Will you do that? Will you let me speak with him? I’ll pay you of course.” “If it goes against your beliefs then you shouldn’t,” Lane said. “I know that you think I’m an instrument of Satan or whatever, and maybe I am, but I’m not trying to convert you or whatever.” “I’m willing to accept the consequences,” Lucinda said with more certainly. And then softly, “Lord, please forgive me.” Lane pulled out his keys. “Alright, come with me.”
  13. Many people spoke at the candle vigil. One of them was Father Harmony Chestire. Other than the his black cloak with the white collar he looked like a hippy to Renard. And with a name like Harmony she was sure that his parents were. And if he has a sister her name is probably Star, she thought. Renard had no idea that she was correct. Father Harmony spoke his piece about the love and mercy of God and expressed anguish that he didn’t understand why people did the violent acts that they did; he said that now was the time for everyone to stand up against violence and stand for justice. His words were heartfelt but cliched and they brought out the cynic in Renard. Honey, you don’t understand, she thought. Everyday I try to make the world a better place. Everyday I try to bring justice and closure to the lives of people, to protect them. And in the end everyday is a failure. Because there’s just too much evil in the world. And it doesn’t matter how much you pray, how many countless hours trying to take down evil because it’s always going to be there. Evil is immortal. After his speech he stopped at the front of each pew and lit the person sitting in at the end’s candle. That person would turn the person sitting next to them and touch the tip of their candle to the other. While the oregon played a solemn tune most people closed their eyes and prayed. Renard was shocked to see that Anne was one of them. She had never seen Anne pray before. After the vigil was over everyone met in the fellowship hall for cookies and lemonade. “Do you want me to get you some cookies and lemonade?” Renard said. “Yeah,” Anne said distractedly. She was staring at something. “Just a sec and I’ll be right back.” “Okay, sweetie.” Getting in line Renard watched as Anne got up from the table and walked over to Father Harmony. He smiled at the sight of her and they hugged like they were the best of chums. Their conversation was still going on when Renard sat back down with the cookies and lemonade. “Thanks honey,” Anne said when she joined Renard again. “Do you know him?” Renard asked, nodding at Harmony. “Yes. He’s my pastor.” “You’re pastor,” Renard blurted. Several crumbs flew from her mouth. Anne chuckled. “Yeah. Why is that so shocking?” “Because in all of the years that I have known you’ve never gone to church. Not even on Easter or Christmas.” “Yes. I started going a month ago.” “A month ago. Why didn’t you tell me?” “Well, firstly because you’ve been so busy lately and secondly because I didn’t want you to laugh at me.” Renard felt as if she had been slapped across the face. “Anne, why would I laugh at you?” Anne looked uncomfortable. “Because I know how you are about church. You despise church.” “Anne, you’re my partner, my lover. I would never ever laugh at you about anything. But I thought that we would never keep secrets from each other, that we’d tell each other what was going on in our lives.” “Renard, I don’t even see you anymore,” Anne said. “When you come home I’m already in bed and when I get up you’re already gone. I respect your job. I love that you do what you do. You know that. But most of the times I’m at home, alone, with nothing to do and no one to talk to. So I started to going to church and reading the Bible because I need some meaning in my life. And you know what, God and this church has kept me plenty of company while you were gone.” Renard merely gawked at her, too shocked to be able to speak. Her heart had turned into an anchor. She sensed that this conversation was spiraling in a direction that she did not want it to go into. Finally she was able to speak. “What else? What else haven’t you told me? What other secrets are you hiding?” A shadow fell over Anne’s face. “How can you say that? It’s not a secret it’s a life decision that I’ve made and it’s pretty important. So if you’re going to mock it, save your breath! And as far as secrets I’m sure that there’s a few of your own that you’ve kept for me so don’t you dare act like your Miss Perfect!” She got up from her chair so fast that it almost fell backward. “Where are you going?” “I’m going out to the car and waiting for you,” Anne said venomously. “Don’t be too long much longer.” “Are you okay?” Carlos said, looking away from the TV screen at Lane. They were a Daphne Duchonovy film and eating popcorn. For the last twenty minutes Lane had been lost and thought, not paying attention to the movie. “Yeah,” Lane said, flashing Carlos a smile that felt a little too crooked. “Why wouldn’t I be?” “I don’t know.” Carlos reached for the remote and paused the film. He entwined his fingers through Lane’s fingers. He had the large bowl of popcorn sitting in his lap. “I just have a lot on my mind.” “You want to talk about it?” “Nah. We’re watching a movie, trying to enjoy the night and I don’t want to spoil it.” “Don’t do that,” Carlos said. “Don’t do what?” “Try to push aside because you think it’s going to ruin the night. I want to hear whatever you have to say, whether it’s good or bad. For the sake of getting it off your chest. Your well being matters to me.” Lane flashed him a nervous smile, blushing. That smile quickly turned into a frown. He looked at the TV his face growing very still and thoughtful. “I went to see Madame Sophia today. The visit went well at first. But in the end she said that she had a dream that I was in danger and that trouble’s coming.” “Did she say what it was?” “No. She looked really shook up though.” “And do you believe her?” “I know that she wouldn't make it up. She’s every bit as much as a psychic as I am and when it comes to shit like that I take it very seriously. So yeah, I believe her.” “So what are you thinking?” “I’m thinking that I need more time,” Lane said. “I need more time to work on getting my life together. I need more time to explore what’s going on between you and I because I still don’t know what it is.” “Well I was kind of hoping that you would be my boyfriend,” Carlos said. “I know. We discussed that before I left for San Diego.” “I also remember telling you that no matter what I would stand by your side no matter what. And when I said that I meant it. So if something’s coming know that you don’t have to face it on your own.” “I love you,” Lane said, squeezing Carlos’ hand. “I love you so much.” “I love you too.” A crafty smile crossed Lane’s lips. He removed the bag of popcorn from Carlos’ lap and set it on the coffee table. He unzipped Carlos’ fly and pulled down the waistband to Carlos’ underwear down. He grabbed his penis and gave it a squeeze. Immediately Carlos’ dick hardened. Lane’s head disappeared into Carlos’ lap as he took the whole pulsing thing in his mouth. Carlos groaned as Lane worked his magic. He gripped Lane’s hair and moaned letting his head fall back into the sofa. Lane made slurping sounds his head bobbing up and down faster and faster. Carlos started to thrust into Lane’s mouth, the pressure in his cock already starting to build. The head of his cock kept going deep into Lane’s throat and not once did Lane slow down. Carlos cursed as his dick exploded. Lane swallowed all of Carlos’ cum as if it was milk, humming pleasure. Lane flashed him another mischievous grin as he straightened up. “God,” Carlos said, panting. “I’m out of breath.” “I love the taste of your come,” Lane said. He picked up the remote. “Back to the movie shall we?” Later that night Lane was awoken by the sound of his ringtone: Slipknot’s Dead Memories. He was entangled in Carlos’ arms. He reached for his cell phone. His mind was clouded with sleep. “Hello?” he croaked. Static crackled. He could hear someone breathing. A woman. “Can I help you?” More static. More breathing. And then the line went dead. “Fuck.” Lane threw the phone back on the table and settled back into the bed. Carlos stirred. “Who was that?” “I don’t know,” Lane said. “ The person didn’t say, they just hung up. Wrong number I guess.” The next day Lane went to his first N.A meeting at Father Harmony’s church. Father Harmony stood in the parking lot smoking a cigarette. When he saw Lane walking towards him he beamed. “Lane Hardy! It’s good to see you again!” “You remember me?” Lane said. “Of course I remember you. I was worried that I scared you off after not seeing you for a month.” “I took your suggestion and went to San Diego.” “So you got through the program then?” “All twenty-eight days of it. I plan to keep going.” “That’s great!” “So the meeting is here right?” “Yes. It’s in the fellowship hall You’re thirty minutes early.” “Well I’ll wait in there, then.” “There’s coffee and doughnuts. Feel free to help yourself. By the way did you bring that conflict that you told me about to rest?” Lane’s face turned very serious. “I did. I suffered and watched others suffer but it’s done with.” “I’d ask you to elaborate just to satisfy my own curiosity but I doubt it’s something that you want to talk about so I’ll leave it alone. Will you do me a favor while you’re in the fellowship hall and get out all of the closet and set them up.” “Sure.” As instructed Lane found the foldable chairs in the closet. He pulled them out and set them around the white topped tables which were set together in a square. At the front of the room was a plate with yeast doughnuts on it. Lane grabbed a small styrofoam cup and filled it with freshly brewed coffee. With a plastic spoon he stirred several packets of sweetener and sugar into it. Just as he was sitting down his cell phone began to vibrate. It was Carlos. “How are you?” Carlos said when Lane answered. “Hey, what’s up?” “Nothing much. I wanted to see what you were doing today.” “Not much. Why?” “Renard just texted me and asked if you and I would like to have dinner at her place..” “Sure. I’m at an N.A meeting. I should be done within the next hour or a half so.” “Great. Call me when you get out and I’ll pick you up.” “Will do.” A few minutes later people started to show up. They were all polite and introduced themselves to Lane. Lane was polite but made no move to socialize with them. Instead he watched everyone else interact. Everyone seemed to know each other by name, hugging and clapping each other on the back. Father Harmony started the meeting exactly on time, opening with a prayer. Begrudgingly but without comment Lane held hands with the two people sitting on other side while everyone closed their eyes and bowed their heads. Father Harmony went through the Prayer of Serenity which Lane was already familiar with and the rules such as confidentiality and showing everyone in the group respect when they were speaking. Then it was time for introductions and sharing. As Lane was the new person he was granted the honor of going first. He kept it simple: “My name’s Lane and I am a newly recovered addict.” And of course out of politeness everyone clapped. Some people kept it simple, saying pretty much the same thing. Others talked about their week and their struggles and their victories. The hour passed quickly. Father Harmony closed the meeting with another prayer and everyone worked together folding the chairs back up. To Lane the meeting was just like the group sessions back at the rehab facility in San Diego. Carlos was waiting for him in the parking lot, leaning against his car. He wore a blue polo and black jeans. The polo showed his well muscled arms. Carlos kissed him. “How was the meeting?” “Good. It was a piece of cake.” It was just as surprising to see Renard in a yellow blouse and faded blue jeans and no makeup. Lane had only been to her duplex once and then it had been under much different circumstances. Upon opening the door she pulled him into a bear hug and kissed him on the cheek. “Welcome back!” I’m just getting all kinds of hugs, Lane thought, patting her on the back with a nervous chuckle. “Hey Renard. Long time no see.” Renard led them into the living room. Anne came in from the kitchen and kissed both men on the cheeks and offered them drinks. “The food will be done in half an hour,” she said as she handed them a cold glass of iced tea. “I hope you boys are hungry.” The four of them sat in the living talking and conversing. Periodically Anne got up to check on the food. Renard and Carlos started to talk about work, a conversation that Lane had no particular interest in. He took the opportunity to look around the house. There was a lot of positive energy floating around in the house. A lot of happy memories, a lot of love. It made Lane think of warm sunlight and softened butter. From what he could see of the place so far the house was immaculately. It was clear that Anne stayed at home and maintained the house and Renard was the breadwinner. It was interesting to see that this dynamic existed within gay couples as well as straight. Within the relationship the couple played different roles. Sometimes one was the top while the other was the bottom and one stayed home to keep the house up. But this wasn’t always the case. Sometimes both parties worked. Glancing at Carlos, Lane wondered what role he himself played in the relationship. Or was it too early to tell? Or did they even have a role? Needing something else to put his focus on, Lane walked into the kitchen and said to Anne, “Save me.” “Let me guess, they’re talking about work.” “Yep. And I have nothing of value that I can contribute to the conversation.” “You and me both.” Anne slid a tray of Hawaiian Sweet Rolls into the oven and straightened up. She wiped her hands on the front of her apron. “When it comes to them and work it’s an A-B conversation and you can just see your way out of it.” Lane glanced at the stove. All of the burners were currently being used. “Is there anything that I can do to help? You look like you have your hands full.” “Sure. There’s a strainer in the cabinet underneath of the sink. Can you drain the potatoes for me, put them in a large bowl and mash them for me? The potato masher’s in the third drawer to your left.” Lane went about the task of mashing the potatoes, holding the large bowl with one hand and stabbing at the potatoes with the other. There was something pleasing about the task. Once the task was complete he washed his hands, feeling proud of himself. Once everything else was done he carried the plates and silverware out to the table. Carlos and Renard were still deep in conversation when Lane and Anne sat down at the end of the table. “Alright enough chat about work,” Renard said, folding her napkin in her lap. “Let’s eat.” They passed the various dished around the table. There was so much to choose from that Lane could not fit everything on his plate. He made sure to grab a helping of deviled eggs and mashed potatoes. Everything tasted delicious. He made a mental note to come by for dinner at Renard’s more often. “How were things in San Diego?” Renard asked Lane. “It was good.” He told Renard and Anne about the month he spent in San Diego. Just talking about it made his insides grow warm with pride. It was the first time that he had accomplished something major, the first time that he had taken a step in the right direction. He knew it wouldn’t be all sunshine and roses. There would be many struggles ahead and the possibility of relapse was always a threat. And yet for the first time in his life Lane truly believed in himself. “How did things go without me around to solve your cases for you?” Lane asked. “Did you miss me while I was gone?” “We managed,” Renard replied; her tone was equally as teasing. “But I will admit that things were not as interesting with you not around...” Lane only vaguely heard the rest of what she was saying. The sudden feeling that he was being watched came over him. He looked past Renards and there, standing in the yard of the neighbor’s house, was the boy that he had seen in the apartment building. The boy with the raven black hair and those intense blue eyes. He looked at Lane with those eyes, sucking Lane into them. Lane could feel something scratching at his mind. The boy looked so familiar. He knew that he’d seen him somewhere before. No one else seemed to notice that he was there which begged the question of what he was and what he wanted. Lane suspected he knew the first answer, that the boy was a spirit, but he did not know the second. He was sure that he would find out soon enough. The dead always had a way of communicating with him, if not through words then through other means. It was his way to always let them come to him when he was not providing his services as a medium. He had more than enough on his plate without actively seeking them out. “Lane, would you like some more tea?” Anne’s voice brought him to attention. He smiled at her with an odd guilty feeling in the pit of his stomach. “Yes please.” “I’ll be right back. Feel free to help yourself to seconds. You’re as thin as a bird, all skin and bones.” Lane chuckled and looked back at the place where the boy had been standing. But of course the boy was gone. With a sudden loss of appetite Lane knew that he would not be helping himself to seconds. It was only fair that since Anne had done all of the cooking that Renard do the dishes. Having Lane and Carlos over for dinner had been a pleasant surprise. It was the first time that she had seen them outside of police business. This time there had not been a dead body around. Not only that, but it was amusing to see Lane and Carlos together. They were an odd couple. One could not be different than the other and that was without the considerable age difference. Yet there was something about the two of them together, the way they acted and looked around each other, that made Renard think that it would work. Remember how you and Anne used to look at each other that way? a sickly honey-sweet voice whispered in the back of her mind. How you used to have that bright little twinkle in your eyes? Not anymore. Those days are over. She finished rinsing and putting the dishes in the dish drainer and wiped her hands with the dish towel. “It was nice having them over,” she called, her voice drifting into the living room. When Anne did not answer she frowned. She’d just seen Anne go into the living room; she could hear the chatter of the TV and had figured that Anne was watching one of her sitcoms like Friends or King of the Hill. Renard dried her hands off with a paper towel and went into the living room. The rocking chair, Anne’s walking chair was empty. It was not Friends or King of the Hill that was on but Seinfeld. Anne was standing out on the porch. She strolled past the window. Even though her hair had significant strands of grey in it her hair still had a gold sheen to it. That was one of the first things that Renard had noticed about Anne was her hair. She was talking on the cell phone and she was laughing. Renard could not hear her voice but she knew Anne’s laughter well. There was always a high, musical quality that could lift someone’s spirit from the lowest depths. She turned, not aware that Renard was watching her. Renard could see her eyes, her beautiful blue eyes. There was something in them, a brightness, a sparkle that Renard had not seen in some time. Who are you talking to? Renard thought. Who are you talking to that you don’t want me to know about? She was being completely ridiculous she knew. Paranoid. She was getting older she told herself. She’d been working too hard, was running exhaust fumes. Hell, she had been running on exhaust fumes for years. It was getting to her. She needed a vacation. And yet she couldn’t shake the feeling of paranoia, of fear, of guilt. But most of the times I’m at home, alone, with nothing to do and no one to talk to. So I started to going to church and reading the Bible because I need some meaning in my life. And you know what, God and this church has kept me plenty of company while you were gone. Renard sat down on Anne's chair. Her knees were starting to ache. Maybe she was just talking to one of her new church buddies, making plans to go out for coffee or lunch or something. What was wrong with that? It was perfectly normal, perfectly healthy for Anne to have a social life outside of Renard. Then why do you resent her? Lane did the daily task of stopping off at the mailbox. There was nothing in there, no bills or ads. That has to be a first, he thought. He glanced in the direction where the magical door had been. It wasn’t there and neither was the little boy. Strange. But things were strange things were always happening in Roc City and there wasn’t always a logical explanation for it. Lane had learned long ago to take things at face value. His favorite phrase was Shit happens. The truth didn’t get any more simple than that. The get together at Renard’s had drained Lane as great as it had been. Interacting with more than one person always did. Fortunately Carlos seemed to get that without having to be told. He was not overly clingy which relieved Lane. After spending a month in San Diego and the events that had occurred prior to that Lane was discombobulated. It was going to take time for him to get back on his feet. One thing he needed to focus on was getting back to his business, draw in some clients, get some income flowing into the house again. He opened the fridge and was about to reach into the fridge for a cold can of Pepsi when his cell phone rang. “Lane Hardy?” a man’s voice said when he answered it. “Yes.” “This is Dr. Ken Chang from Roc City Hospital?” Lane frowned. Why would someone from the hospital be calling me? “Okay.” “I’m calling you because your father is in the hospital.” “My father? I don’t have a father, sorry. There must be some sort of mistake.” “I mean your last legal guardian, sorry. Robert Stamper? He requested you. Usually I don’t make house calls like this but I suspect that he doesn’t have much time left.”
  14. “Sterling?” Angel barked into the radio. “Have you seen any signs of Sister Margaret yet?” The radio crackled with static but Sterling’s voice was clear enough. “No. Not a sign.” Angel cursed. How hard can it be to find a woman without a stitch of clothing on in a town of this size? he thought. He was making his twelvth lap through the town, his eyes scanning the streets. It was well past midnight and the streets were empty. His eyes burned. He was tired and irritated. Lane was not helping at all. For the past three hours he’d been in a semi catatonic state, staring pointlessly out the window, his eyes distant. Angel had been with Lane long enough to know that when Lane was like this to take it as a bad sign-and it scared Angel. He didn’t know what had happened in the room when Lane was alone with Sister Margaret and Lane wasn’t answering his questions. He wasn’t even here. He was somewhere else, in a place that was only inhabited by his thoughts and not much else. Usually Angel waited a few minutes to give Lane time and space before trying to bring him out of it. And Angel was usually good at bring Lane out of his stupor. But this time Lane was in deep and Angel did not have the patience or the time that it took to do it the right way. “Lane,” Angel said. When Lane did not turn or show any sign of having heard Lane he raised his voice to a shout before he realized he was doing so. “Laneeeeeee!” Lane jumped so high in his seat that the top of his head touched the ceiling. His eyes bulged out of his head and his mouth hung open in a silent O of shock. Several strands of his raven-black hair stood on end from where his head had touched the ceiling. The expression would have been comical if Angel wasn’t feeling sick to his stomach with guilt: He had never raised his voice to Lane in frustration or anger before. “Help me,” Angel said. His voice was tight and his brow was furrowed. He hated how desperate he sounded. “Don’t just sit there, help me find her.” “I don’t know where she’s at!” Lane shouted back. Spit flew from his mouth and hit Angel’s forhead. Lane’s eyes had narrowed down to slit that was equal parts fear, hurt and anger. The hurt and the anger was directed at Angel. “I can’t feel her!” “Fuck!” Angel slammed his knuckles against the steering wheel hard enough to hurt. His foot stomped on the brake and the truck to an abrupt stop hard enough to throw Lane forwards in his seat. If Lane had not been wearing his seat belt he would have been flung face first into the dashboard; the results would have been disastorous. They were directly in the middle of Jackson street, a quiet residential house populated by cozy little single story one and two bedroom homes; each lawn was in the perfect shape of a stamp, perfectly manicured. Somewhere a small dog, some sort of ankle biter, yapped. The truck was vibrating around them, a three ton beast of steel, glass, and diesel fuel. “I’m sorry, Lane.” Angel’s voice was weak with shame. He reached over to caress Lane’s face, wishing that he could take the last two minutes back, hell, the last four hours. But it was too late, the damage was done. Angel feared that it couldn’t be undone, at least not for a while. Lane’s eyes flashed with anger; the thick heavy bruise-like ring of eyeliner that he had around each eye made it brighter, impossible to ignore. His jaw was clenched, his lips darwing into a scowl. “Fuck you.” He shoved the door open and hopped out of the truck. All Angel could do was stare stupidly at him for a few seconds. Was Lane so mad at him that he really meant to walk home? You’ve done it, Angel told himself. You just screwed up big time. Lane made it a few paces and then he stopped and turned around, glancing back uncertainly at the truck. The direct light from the headlights made his face glow. Angel could sense the thought playing out in his head, see it in his body; the way he clenched his hands and then unclenched him and kept glancing back at the truck and then the other way. Should I get back in the truck or should I make my point and walk the other way? Angel waited, letting him take the time to decide; Angel would make a decision based off of Lane’s choice afterwards. Either way he would find some way to fix it, to make things okay again. He couldn’t stand to see Lane hurting especially when he was the one who had caused it. A minute later, maybe two, Lane made his decision. He took a deep breath, his shoulder relaxing. The anger slid back but a certain firmness, no assertiveness took its place. The year that he had spent in weekly therapy sessions with Diane had done wonders with Lane; in a short amount of time he had made insurmountable progress. Lane climbed back into the truck and snapped his seat belt back on. He didn’t say a word. “Lane...” Angel started to say. “Shut up,” Lane said. He did not look Angel but back out the window possibly at one of the houses. His tone was a warning, as dangerous and serrated as the blade of a knife. “Take me home. We’ll talk about it later. Until then I can’t do anything more to help you tonight. I’m sorry, I’ve done all that I can.” Which esentially meant, I’m burnt out. I’ll try again later. Angel aknowleged this silenty, accepted it. He radioed Sterling. “Sterling, let’s call it a night. We’ll try again first thing tomorrow. Do me a favor and pass it on to the rest of the squad, will ya?” “Rodger that.” Angel couldn’t be sure but Sterling sounded relieved. With that Angel put the truck back in gear and headed in the direction of Lane’s house.
  15. Annabelle’s paid two thousand a month to live in a single large room that contained both the bedroom area and the kitchen. A single door led into the bathroom. For two thousand a month Annabelle could have owned a middle class sized house in Annesville but such was the price of living in the golden streets of California. She was in a sour mood after her encounter with Christoph. Just the thought of him touching her made her shiver. If she hadn’t ruined her modeling carreer before then she certainly had now by kicking him in the balls. Still she didn’t feel ashamed for doing it, not one bit. Maybe it would stop him from trying to force himself on another girl the next time. She showered and brushed her teeth vigorously afterwards, anything that might help her forget the feeling of Christoph’s tongue sliding its way into her mouth. She went to bed without eating dinner-the thought of eating made her nauseous. She fell asleep with a fan humming in her ear and the night life of the city sounding outside her window. In her sleep she dreamed that she was back in Annesville; it was the night of the Valentine’s Day dance. In the dream events played out differently than they had in reality: She had accepted Andre’s offer to go to the dance with him. In the dream she wore a beautiful dark green dress and he wore a tuxedo. Lucinda was alive. The dance was beautiful. Everything was perfect. No one had died yet. Somewhere a bell began to chime, like when the clock strikes midnight and the dream flicered once. Everything was different. Annabelle and Andre were dancing but now they were covered in blood and everyone laid on the ground dead. They spiraled around like lovers in a musical, the gown of her dress flowing behind her. The floor was slick with blood underneath her feet and there was a perfectly round bullet hole in between Andre’s eyes. It was at when the bell chimed a second time that Annabelle awoke, lying on her side. She could still hear the echoing of her bell ringing as if it had followed her from the dream world into the waking world. She sat up. Her forehead was damp with cold sweat. She reached for the lamp, fumbling through the dark. She reached a little too far and ended up knocking the lamp onto the floor with her forearm. “Shit,” she said, and chuckled despite herself. In her head Annabelle could hear Lucinda telling her what a potty mouth she had. Something deep inside of her gave a pulsing ache. It was in moments like this when she missed Lucinda the most. She was always so overdramatic, Annabelle thought. You could never take her seriously. She turned the lamp on and set it back on the table. She closed her eyes her head bent towards her lap. She tried to will herself to relax, to go back to sleep, but images kept flashing through her head. She dreamed of the Valentine’s Day dance often. Most of the times it was the same dream. In the dream she always tried to save Lucinda just like she had tried to save her in real life; and in the dream she failed to save her just like she failed to save her in real life. Other nights she dreamed that she was being crucified upside down and having her throat slit open with a knife. Just because you’re in Los Angeles now does not mean that you can just not deal with what happened in Annesville, a voice stated matter of factly in the back of her mind. “Annabelle...Annabelle help me...” This voice, this voice was real, it was not like the voice in her head. She spun around and let out a scream. Lucinda was standing in the corner of the room, wearing the red dress that she had worn to the Valentine’s Day dance. The very dress that she had died in. A flap of skin from the top over her forehead hung over one eye showing blood and bone. The other eyes bulged out maddeningly, trained on Annabelle. “No,” Annabelle uttered. She stood up and took a step back. She could feel another scream building up, wanting to come out. “You’re not there. I’m still dreaming...” Lucinda took a step towards her. One of her shoe was gone. The foot was bare and covered in blood; someone had cut off all of her toes on that foot. With each step she took that flap of flesh shook. “Please Annabelle,” she said. “You must go back to Annesville...” “No!” Annabelle screamed back in fear and defiance. “I don’t want to go back!” “Yes.” Lucinda moved at a lopsided lurch, coming closer and closer. She was halfway around the bed. “It’s where you belong. You must help me. You must go to Lane Hardy. You don’t understand. I’m in Hell...” Annabelle couldn’t move. She was frozen in place. She could no longer breathe or scream. All she could do was stare in silent terror. Lucinda had her cornered now. She grabbed Annabelle’s wrists. Her hands were dead and cold and strong like ice. They fingers were like clamps and they dug tighter and tighter until it hurt. The whole time Lucinda’s eye just kept bulging. “...and they do things to me there...Awful things…They inflict the worst pain, pain unlike anything you can imagine. It’s so cold there and there’s no time...It just goes on forever and ever...” “Please Grandma,” Annabelle said, trying to pull herself from Lucinda’s grip. “You’re hurting me.” “Go to Lane,” Lucinda said. “Help me...Help your grandmother...HELP ME!” Lucinda started thrashing Annabelle against the wall so hard that Annabelle’s neck flopped back and forth, her head banging against the wall. The whole time she kept screaming, “HELP ME….HELP ME....HELP MEEEEEE!” The next thing Annabelle knew she was laying on the floor, choking on her own sobs. At some point her legs had given out underneath of her. Her head ached. Darkness threatened to overwhelmed her. Her wrists throbbed with pain. She raised her arms and shielded her head with her hands, ready for Lucinda’s blows to start raining down on the back of her head. It didn’t happen. Annabelle raised her head, afraid. Lucinda was gone. Annabelle didn’t know how long she stay crouched on the floor. She was afraid to stand up, afraid that Lucinda would appear again and finish bashing Annabelle’s head in. Again nothing it happened. Annabelle sat up and listened to the thunderous drumming of her own heart, the rushing of her blood. I’m going crazy, she thought. Either that or I’m still dreaming. But she knew that neither of those explanations were the truth. She’d had seen too much to be able to herself, to convince herself that there was a logical explanation. Lucinda had come to her to leave a message. Lucinda needed her to go back to Annesville, to see Lane. Lane Hardy, the medium, the one person she knew of that was capable of communicating with the dead. Lucinda was in Hell. Lucinda was being tortured. She was in eternal pain. Lucinda shouldn’t have been there. She might have been a bigot and one of the most annoying people in the world but she had been utterly devoted to God. Sickeningly so. Something was wrong, totally wrong. Annabelle looked down at her wrists. They were five finger shaped bruises on each wrists in the exact place where Lucinda had grabbed her. Annabelle watched as the bruises turned from dark green to black within seconds before her eyes.