October Air: Day Trip

“When was this shot, even?” says Tommy. “Look how grainy it is.”

“I don’t know. It looks like shit.” Annie complains. “Chris, why are you making us watch this?”

“Hey, shut up. It’s from like the nineties. We’re lucky it’s even posted.” Chris fumes, silencing them.

The video loads and they were right of course, it didn’t look good. Chris’s phone took better video. Still, it added something. Some atmosphere, maybe? Like watching an old movie where everything is just slightly less clear than it should be; your mind filling it in with shapes and impressions you might not especially like.

Chris had watched the clip of Sloane Weaver’s death already. Not just once but several times. He had lost count. It was hot button shit for UFO people and conspiracy theorists. At first, Chris watched it only because it freaked him out. He was the type of guy who liked being freaked out. He’d look for the weirdest most gruesome stuff he could find and sometimes, when he knew they could handle it, he’d show it to Tommy who of course would bring his girlfriend along. Annie had no stomach for anything scarier than one of those fake videos that end with some zombie jumping out at the camera. She couldn’t even watch horror movies. Chris found her annoying but Tommy was his partner-in-crime and he wouldn’t dream of shooting anything without him.

“Is that her?” Tommy asked.

Chris shushes him. You can’t really make out whatever it was that Lucas Pratt, holding the camera, was saying to poor doomed Sloane. That doesn’t stop Chris from straining his ears to make something out every time, though. He was probably only giving her instruction, letting her know where and how to stand to make the best shot. It’s not like the muffled words were the key to anything.

They watched.

A strange light bathes Sloane from above and behind, cutting out every other detail aside from herself. Lucas moves the camera, trying to find the source of the light. Finds nothing. Sloane begins to make some kind of noise. Some kind of squawking, choking sound. It makes Chris’s skin crawl and he enjoys it. They could see she was breathing faster, the cold Saskatchewan air making every exhalation visible even against all that light. Lucas is speaking to her, probably asking her what is wrong.

They kept watching.

Sloane Weaver goes into convulsions. The zippers on her heavy coat jingle and jangle as she shakes. She remains, improbably, on her feet. Lucas shouts in panic, the specific words still unclear. Probably proximity to the camera but Chris is never sure. Maybe something in the light muffled every sound but hers.

Sloane’s toque falls off her head when it dips forward suddenly and it looks like she’s about to face-plant into the ground. Lucas, and the camera, rushes forward as if too catch her but stops short as her head darts back, her long hair frozen for a moment in the whiteness.

“Here it is,” Chris whispers.

Sloane’s eyes are rolled up into her head, only the whites visible. But everything looks white now; the light has become so strong. Everything except the dark blood surging from her left nostril. More blood than you would believe possible. Like her jugular is between her eyes and not in her neck. It looks black against the light. Sloane is making a sound that is not composed of sound, something more like naked force coming from her mouth. Somehow the camera is picking it up. Lucas begins to scream. Everything goes still.

The light in the video disappears, leaving them in the pitch black of Chris’s room. No one speaks. Chris savors the silence.

“Has to be fake,” Tommy says, right on cue.

“Chris, this shit isn’t funny. Why do you have to be so fucking sick?” Annie slaps him in the arm, making Tommy laugh a bit. Chris isn’t imagining the jagged line of nervousness in that laugh. Tommy always answered fear with doubt and sarcasm.

“It was shot about thirty miles outside of Essen,” Chris tells them. He appreciates the color going out of Annie’s face. He doesn’t mind when Tommy laughs even harder.

“I don’t recognize the girl, but could be anyone’s mom twenty years ago.” he says.

“Nah, Lucas Pratt and Sloane Weaver were from Vancouver.” Chris says. He wants to tell them more, everything he’s learned about this clip and after a couple of nights doing the work in the forums, blogs, and old news links it’s quite a lot. But telling them everything would be no fun.

“She died?” Annie asks.

“Yeah and they blamed him for a while, thinking he poisoned her somehow. They couldn’t get any evidence even after the autopsy, though, so he was let go.” Chris leans back in his chair.

“You said Essen, right?” Tommy says suddenly. Chris wonders if he’s figured it out yet.

“Yeah, you know, little town up North. Have some cousins from there, but they all moved away in the nineties?”

“I remember this!” Tommy exclaims. “There was a whole year or something where they had UFO’s or whatever and people got nosebleeds. I didn’t know anyone ever died from it, though.”

“Yeah, you got it. The Essen Aurora they called it. Bunch of different theories about it. Aliens, rogue scientific experimentation, shit in the water supply. The bad water theory is why my cousins moved to Regina.” Chris says.

“So this actually happened? It’s not fake?” Annie says.

“Totally happened. I read about it for a history class for fuck’s sake. Can’t believe I didn’t get this sooner.” Tommy keeps on. Chris wonders, not for the first time, why he bothered burying that life-affirming spike of fear under skepticism or, now apparently, self-satisfaction at having solved the mystery. He doesn’t say anything, though. Old argument, never went anywhere, no point now. He has other things on his mind.

“So it gets better,” Chris says. Good time to get to the point.

“I don’t think I even want to hear this,” Annie says. But she stays put in Chris’s room. Normally by now she’d be off to make a snack or something, taking any excuse to get away from the boys and their creepy hobby. Well, Chris’s creepy hobby. She probably knew Tommy just shared in now and then to prove he was as brave as Chris. Chris didn’t know why this time was different. Maybe that it’s real? Tommy isn’t the type to pull a prank on her, either. He likes sex too much. Either way, Chris was glad because he needed her for the next part.

“I definitely want to hear this,” Tommy says.

“Well, it turns out that Lucas Pratt lives in Prince Albert. I think we should drive up there and ask him about the video.” Chris says. He watches their faces to see how they’re going to react. Tommy’s face goes from unease to determination in a second, telling Chris that to him it’s another challenge that he has to accept or sacrifice his self-image. Annie is slower to realize that this means she has to come to. She is the only one of the three of them that drives, after all.

“No way,” she says.

Chris let’s Tommy do the work for him.

“Come on, babe.” he says. “It’s like an hour drive; we can go there and back tomorrow after class.”

Chris turns back to his computer as they begin to argue. They leave his room and he watches the clip again. He is pretty sure that Annie is going to give in. This is confirmed later on when, over a beer in the kitchen, Tommy tells him how excited he is to go. Annie is done at noon; they can be in P.A. by one or one-thirty. Home by supper easily, all their curiosity satisfied.

Chris goes to his room, telling Tommy he’s turning in. He watches the video again. Rubs blood from his left nostril. It’s dry in the apartment. Chris knows he should take a walk or open a window but he keeps watching.

Every time he sees that flash of bright white light he feels something he can’t put his finger on. Something very much like understanding. The sky outside his closed window is getting lighter and he just keeps watching.

***

Annie looks around the small room. It’s so utilitarian that it makes her head hurt. Like an old dorm room or what she imagined they gave a priest in a rectory. There are no decorations, no plants or pets or pictures. The three P’s, her mom would have said, needed to make a house into a home.

She’s still mad at Chris for not telling them what this place was. Or more about the man they’d come to see.

On the drive to P.A. all he and her idiot boyfriend could talk about was how cool it was going to be to get some footage of this. They didn’t know what they were going to do with it, of course, but they knew they wanted it.

Lucas Pratt is almost fifty years old. He’s whip-thin but balding, what’s left of his hair gathered in gray clumps above his ears like the wings of some insane bird. It fits, Annie thinks, since the guy is clearly nuts.

“So you haven’t watched the footage in all this time?” Chris is asking him. Pratt looks back at him confused before answering. Tommy is holding the handheld a few feet away; making sure everybody’s nice and in-frame. Annie stays out of the way. She isn’t quite bored but that’s got nothing to do with them and everything to do with that slice of footage Chris had shown them to get them here. It was interesting and even though it was nonsense, Lucas Pratt’s thoughts on the subject were sucking her in as much as any of them.

“No not for nineteen years. After it happened and they determined that I was innocent of Sloane’s death, I watched it all the time.” Pratt said. He wasn’t making eye contact with Chris. His eyes kept drifting around the room as if he didn’t know where he was. Every now and then they’d settle on Annie and she would force herself not to look away.

“Are you afraid to see it again?”

“No not afraid. I don’t need to see it again, you understand?” Pratt says. “I remember every moment and thus every frame of what you’ve seen. I have tried to forget but it won’t let me go.”

“But how did the clip get onto the internet in the first place?” Chris says. “Do you know, Mr. Pratt?”

“Oh there are many copies. They got made before I could have a say in it and now it’s too late to destroy them.” Pratt waves a hand through his answer, impatient with what even Annie agrees is a silly question. Unless Chris suspects that Pratt planted it himself to get some notice. Even Annie could tell within five minutes of meeting the man that it wasn’t the case.

“Why would you want to destroy it? It might count as pretty strong evidence that something extraordinary really did happen in Essen in 1991.” Chris says in his best documentarian voice.

Annie rolls her eyes. Now she’s bored. She wanders away from the modest living room, where Pratt barely has a table to serve them tea. Pratt’s house is a suite in a housing project for low-risk psychotics. There are nurses and doctors everywhere and getting in here in the first place hadn’t been easy. Of course, Chris had it all arranged before they’d ever arrived. He had planned this out for who knows how long, the asshole, and roped them into it only when it was set up. Why Pratt agreed to speak to him was beyond her.

“The bathroom is on the left there,” Pratt calls after her as she moves into the shallow hallway. The walls are a sickly beige that makes her feel physically uncomfortable. She can’t help but reach out to touch them. They are coarse, the paint old and needing replacing. That they have a texture is creepy and she represses a shiver. Behind her, she can hear Pratt muttering about the footage and Sloane Weaver’s privacy.

She finds the bathroom but there’s nothing in it but the toilet. No bath, those are public. At the end of the hall is a closed door. It looks old and is made of real wood, embossed with a masculine pattern of rectangles and hard lines. She touches it.

It opens; must not have been fully closed. She thinks, what’s the harm? Walks inside to take a peek at whatever a man like Pratt might call a bedroom. Bed, dresser, but something else too. There are pictures here, on the walls. Little scraps of paper tacked up in no discernible order over a small writing desk she had missed behind the dresser. Annie steps around to get a better look.

They are pictures of symbols that she doesn’t recognize. Ideograms, she knows, and not really letters like in the English alphabet. They are drawn in colored pencil, as bright as possible, in greens and reds and blues. Maybe they’re meant to be from some ancient Mesopotamian culture. They weren’t Chinese, she knew that much. Hadn’t Chris said something on the way about the lights sometimes appearing as weird shapes in the skies above Essen? Had Lucas Pratt and Sloane Weaver seen things like this the night she died?

Now Annie noticed that not all of the pictures were drawings. Some were black and white photographs that someone had colored onto, but only where the wisps of similar symbols stood out in night skies. One was particularly clear, part of a newspaper clipping. It was poised over a row of pines bordering a snowy field in a totally cloudless gray sky. This one was colored in blue. Something about it made sense to her, but she couldn’t understand why. She stared at it for what seemed like a very long time, feeling like if she only kept looking that it would begin to make sense to her.

A scrawled note was written in on the border of the page. Annie leaned in to read the tiny words.

“It’s rude to go snooping around,” says a voice suddenly.

Annie is halfway out of her skin when she realizes it’s only Tommy.

“You scared me. You asshole!” she shrieks in a hushed voice. She slaps at him but he grabs her and pulls her close.

“Relax, relax. We’re done. You’ve been in here for like an hour, you know?” he says. She doesn’t believe him except that it does feel like a long time… “You’re lucky Pratt isn’t in any state to notice you were ever here, let alone sneaking around his room.”

“Where is he?” she asks.

“Passed out on the couch. Chris got as much out of him as he was going to give anyway. Guess they meds they give out here are serious business.” Tommy talked but Annie was barely listening. Her eyes kept wandering back to the newspaper clipping, the blue symbol in the prairie sky.

He was gently shaking her by the shoulders now. She looks at him dimly and she tries to remember what he’s been saying to her. “Sorry, what?” she says.

“Babe, your nose is bleeding.”

***

“I can’t believe we’re doing this,” Annie says again. Tommy looks at her and checks her nose. It had been bleeding intermittently since they left Pratt’s. He’s a little less worried about her now that it seems to have stopped for good.

“Aren’t you curious?” he asks her. Of course she is. She hadn’t even put up a fight. Even though they all knew how creepy it was that her nose was bleeding. From the left nostril too. Pratt had given her a look that Tommy knew was thick with some meaning but he couldn’t penetrate what it was. He hadn’t thought of much else besides that and Annie’s nose on the drive to Essen.

“We’re here.” Chris interrupts before Annie can answer. There’s so much excitement in his voice that Tommy becomes annoyed. He got that this was a big deal and he wanted to see the spot too, but couldn’t the guy settle down for a minute?

They get out of the car. It’s spring and the grass of the field is still wet. Chris immediately goes off with the camera to see if he can find exactly where Lucas Pratt and Sloane Weaver had stood in the snow nineteen years before. Fat chance, Tommy thinks.

Annie loses her footing when she gets out of the car.

“Loose rocks,” Tommy mutters, helping her keep her feet.

“I feel a bit dizzy. Getting a headache maybe.” She says.

He hands her a scarf. It’s a bit chilly and getting dark. Essen was already pretty well shut down for the night when they’d passed through. The gas station attendant had reluctantly told them how to get to the field. Pratt had passed out before Chris could ask him about it, which probably would have given his intentions away. Chris was keeping too much back and it was starting to piss Tommy off more than a little.

“You’re not going to find the spot, man.” He tells Chris, trying to give his simmering irritation an outlet. “Just get some footage of the area so we can get out of here. Annie’s cold.”

But Chris just ignores him. Of course. Annie starts walking out into the field so Tommy follows. He notices the sun beginning to dip behind the trees that ringed the field. It’s going to get dark pretty fast. Tommy wants to slap his face for not bringing a flashlight along but Annie moves quicker to catch up to Chris so he doesn’t go back to the car to see if she has one in there.

Up ahead, Chris stops. “Right here!” he shouts.

“You’re crazy, how the fuck can you tell?” Tommy says, letting out more irritation.

“No, he’s right.” Annie says. “It happened right here.”

She stops too. Tommy let’s her lean into him, suddenly glad for the reassuring feel of her.

“I have an idea,” Chris says. He comes and stands beside them, pointing the camera out into the field. “Annie, go stand there.”

“Oh come the fuck on.” Tommy says.

But Annie doesn’t say a word. She just goes. She’s fascinated, Tommy knows. This is how Annie gets when something sucks her in. It’s the only time she ever shuts up. Usually he’d be a little grateful after spending a whole day between her and Chris. Now, though, he is feeling angry and uncomfortable.

“All right, now all that’s missing is some cosmic light and a bad nosebleed.” Chris jokes.

“This is too morbid,” Tommy pleads. “Give it a rest.”

“Okay, okay.” Chris says. “Just having a little fun with it, you can calm down.”

He hands Tommy the camera, still on. Tommy looks at the battery. Only a few minutes left on it.

“I feel weird,” Annie says. Tommy looks up at her, the camera coming automatically. Her nose is bleeding again. Chris sees it to, cracks a weird grin, and raises his hand to point at her.

Tommy never hears what he was going to say. The sun is finally gone and the field is just black with dark as his eyes adjust. He’s looking through the camera at Annie and Chris, still beside her, when the flash descends from the sky in a spiral that quickly becomes a second field, enveloping and consuming the wet grass Tommy had known.

Annie’s nose is shooting blood and Tommy isn’t even surprised. He can’t hear anything except her choking on her own blood. Then he hears a flapping sound and knows it’s her scarf. But there’s no wind.

He watches with grim detachment as she begins to convulse, as her eyes roll up into her head like Sloane Weaver’s. The detachment strains but doesn’t break as Chris begins to dance the same dance. Before he goes completely, Chris’s eyes betray his own shock.

Then the light is gone and his friends are dead on the grass. Long after the camera’s battery dies, Tommy stares through it and sees the fading image of a symbol in the sky. It’s a blue more blue than water or sky and it would make sense if he could only see it clearer, stare harder, stop it from fading away.

 

-Evan McCoy

Oct 5, 2011

 


Elseworlds: The Story of Raven Who Escaped From Jail

“The Story of Raven Who Escaped From Jail” by Adam Slusar

***

It wasn’t an ordinary knock on the door of Trent Jackson’s apartment, room 301, that woke him from the comfort of his green couch and tobacco-fueled siesta. It was the sound of a sledgehammer, or maybe a wrecking ball. A sound that meant trouble.

“Hold on a minute, alright? Don’t break the door down or anything. Jeezus.”

Trent placed a fresh Du Maurier cigarette in his beak and picked himself up from the couch. He felt stiff. Dressed in a white sleeveless undershirt and brown slacks, he also felt like garbage. But he wasn’t set on making a positive impression for whoever was standing on the other side of the door. It seemed too late for that.

He opened the door very slowly, keeping the little silver chain latched so that he could peek between the three-inch space. No sense in rushing things. He probably wasn’t going to like what this unexpected guest had to say.

“Trent Jackson?” the voice on the other side said. “Or can I call you T.J.?”

“Hi.”

A human with red-hair stood in the doorway. His friend, a big brute with crimson skin who was clearly responsible for the thunderous pounding, stood next to him.

Trent brushed at the back of his neck with his right wing, ruffling up the black feathers. He kept his attention on the red-haired man. As for the big guy, Trent felt like making as little eye contact as possible; he recognized him as oni, a being from the Japanese Elseworld.

“It’s six a.m.,” said Trent.

“Eleven thirty, actually,” the red-head replied. “Broke your watch?”

“You honestly think I can fit a watch around this thing?” Trent extended his black feathered limb towards them. “They don’t make watches in my size.”

“Shame. I’m Clive Kennedy, EISS. This is my partner Suji,” he said with a gesture towards the big guy. “Can we come in?”

Trent looked up at the oni and unlatched the door. He knew the chain wouldn’t hold against a guy like him. Just his luck that he got the one thing silver wouldn’t stop. “Alright,” he said. “Come in. You boys drink coffee?”

“I could use a wake-up call,” Clive said. “How about you, Suji?”

Trent led Clive and Suji into his living room. With its tall mahogany shelves and upturned books, it had the overall appearance of a disorganized bargain bookstore; Trent hadn’t cleaned it in months, and the little old lady he’d hired to clean the place left several weeks ago without prior notice.

The kitchen was in equal disarray. Trent found the coffee pot and poured it into two off-white ceramic cups. He saw Suji, standing like a massive relief in the living room, keeping an eye on Trent with a fiery expression. As Trent re-entered the living room, steaming coffee cups in hand, he noticed that Clive was fixated on the Tlingit woodcuts and totem pole carvings that crookedly hung from the walls.

“I like it, I like it,” Clive remarked as he wagged his finger at one of the carvings. “Dempsey Bob, am I right? They got lots of those out on the West coast. You ever been?”

Trent didn’t reply. He handed Clive his coffee cup. “Dark French roast,” he said, “from McQuarries. They’ve got tea, too, but I prefer this stuff.”

Clive took an indulgent sniff of the warm brew. “So long as it looks and tastes like coffee, right Suji?”

Suji took his cup with reservation.

“You know, you don’t look like much of an art collector to me, T.J.,” Clive continued. “I mean, physically speaking, you look like a humanoid raven. But I think there’s more to you than meets the eye—”

“Alright, Kensey.”

“It’s Kennedy.”

“Kennedy,” Trent parked himself back in the green couch and withdrew a deck of playing cards from his back pocket. “I might be new in town, but I’ve dealt with you EISS guys before. I know the routine. Usually you don’t come knocking unless you figure I did something wrong.”

“We’re only here to ask you some questions, pal. Nothing personal.”

Clive made himself comfortable, sitting himself down in a burgundy armchair directly across from Trent, interlocking his fingers together as though he were hosting The Tonight Show. Suji remained on his feet; though Trent predicted that the oni would remain silent the entire time, he finally did speak up in a deep, pensive tone.

“This one is rather elusive,” Suji said, turning his attention to Clive. “He looks harmless but there is hidden power within.”

“Hang tight,” Kennedy whispered. Trent had sharp ears, figuratively speaking, and heard anyway. “I’ll take it from here, okay? Sniff around the place a bit. See what you can find.”

Kennedy turned his attention back to Trent, removing a tiny coil notebook from his pocket. “Let’s start from the top. What brings you to our city, anyhow? You said you’re new in town, yeah? Why here?”

Trent extended the deck of cards towards Kennedy with his left wing, fanning them out with a feathery, thumb-like appendage. “Pick a card,” he said.

“That doesn’t answer my–”

“Pick a card,” Trent insisted. “Please.”

Kennedy drew one of the cards at random; Eight of Clubs. Before he could accidentally reveal what it was, Trent stopped him. “Don’t show the card,” he said.

“Right.”

Trent instructed Kennedy to slide the card back into the deck face-down. Trent gave it a few extra pats, packing it together nicely so that the chosen card was indistinguishable from the others, and finally slapped the entire deck down on the coffee table and spread in a left-to-right motion. All of the cards were face-down except for one: the Eight of Clubs.

“I can do that trick anywhere. In any city,” Trent explained, “but there are some tricks I can’t do. Tricks that I once knew when I lived in the other world. Much more impressive ones. They’re lost to me now.”

Kennedy wrinkled his brow. His pen stopped scratching against the notepad. “So what are you trying to tell me?”

“I’m telling you that you’re wasting your time on a lousy magician.” Trent stubbed out his cigarette and leaned forward. “Listen Kennedy, tell your friend to quit stalking through my bedroom and take your investigation someplace else, alright? Whatever it is that you think I’ve done, I didn’t do.”

With that, Kennedy reached into his coat pocket and withdrew a small, clear-plastic bag marked with an evidence label. He placed it on the edge of the coffee table.

Within the bag was a single black feather, slick as though it had recently been wet. Though the shade of the feather alone made it impossible to determine what liquid it had come into contact with, the crimson stains within the bag itself were sign enough.

“What’s this?” Trent asked. There was an edge of concern in his tone.

“Thought I’d break it to you gently, but you’re a tough nut to crack so I figure we’ll just cut to the chase. We found Melissa Channing at five-forty a.m. Someone left her in an alleyway on 2nd Avenue. She was bludgeoned to death. Now we’ve found no murder weapon, but we did find this,” he picked up the bag and held it up nice and close for Trent to see the feather inside. “She was clutching it when she died.”

Trent scoffed. “It’s a feather.”

“Look familiar?”

“You can find a feather like that anywhere. A craft store, maybe. Or a dead bird. There’s enough crows and ravens in this town for that, right? Who says it has to be mine?”

“We’re still waiting on DNA test results, but what we do have are eyewitness accounts. They saw you out there last night, T.J. Not many other locals I can think of who match your description. So what exactly were you doing?”

Trent sank back into the couch. He heard Suji re-entering the living room, his knuckles cracking in anticipation of some struggle waiting to happen. Trent was faced with two options now; the first option was the more difficult and unusual of the two, but he was done playing games. He would come clean about the whole thing and cooperate with the people who had continued to make his life miserable. The second option was deception; the one that had been his life, before and after.

“Alright,” Trent said with a long sigh. “Figured it might turn out like this. I, ah, don’t remember a whole lot from last night. I left the bar. Took a shortcut through the alley…” At this point, Trent paused and took a deep breath.

“Continue,” Clive said. “Please.”

“I don’t know how long she’d been there for, but man it looked bad. It looked really fucking bad.” Trent reached for another cigarette, his feathers trembling. “When I saw that she was alive, I reached down to help her up, I guess. She had enough energy to raise her hand, and that was it. I wanted to call for help, but I just… froze.”

Suji paced behind Clive in a semi-circular fashion. “Tell me something, Raven: why is it that we must come knocking on your door to hear of this? There is more that you’re not telling us. If this is the case, the price will be severe. Do you understand?”

“What I understand is that EISS doesn’t take kindly to Elseworlders showing up in the middle of crime scenes,” Trent retorted. “Let’s look at things from your point of view, alright? A mythic, like myself, shows up at the scene of a crime. Are you just gonna let him walk away? They pay guys like you to put guys like me behind bars. Why should I trust any of you?”

Clive shook his head. “You’ve placed yourself at the crime scene, buddy. Regardless of your intentions, you’ve confirmed your involvement in the matter. Furthermore, you refused to report anything to authorities. Doesn’t look very good from where I’m sitting.”

“I had no choice.”

“You really expect us to believe that? A quick phone call could have saved her life, and instead you chose to avoid us for personal reasons. You made your choice.”

Trent felt a shove as Suji instructed him to turn around and cross his wings behind his back. This was followed by the distinctive click of steel cuffs locking into place.

“Handcuffs? Really?” he remarked. “I taught Houdini everything he knew about these things.”

Clive stood up. “Trent Jackson, I’m placing you under arrest for attempted murder. You know your rights, so I’ll save my breath.”

Trent chuckled. “You’re a peach, Kennedy.”

“I’ll take him to the car now,” said Suji.

“Good,” Clive replied as he turned to face the door. “Wouldn’t have been able to stand the sound of his voice much longer. Talks too much.”

***

“Looks like Trent Jackson here has quite the track record,” Danny Dang said to Clive and Suji as he helped himself to a Styrofoam cup of decaf, “Everything from parking tickets to tax evasion and fraud.”

Suji folded his hulking arms against his chest. “I imagine his history with the law would account for his inability to communicate with us. But what if there was something he had done that caused him to flee from the West Coast? Does anything come up, Danny-san?”

“Funny you should mention it,” Danny made his way over to his personal computer while Clive and Suji watched from over his shoulders. “I pulled up some articles from over a year ago. Big theft case in Vancouver you might have heard of? There were similar claims about a big bird wandering around the premises.”

“The Sun and Moon trophies?” Clive said. “I remember that case.”

“What most articles failed to mention was that the perp ran off with a few other valuables, too.”

Danny clicked a separate window and brought up another article; distinctive Tlingit woodcuts by artist Dempsey Bob.

“I fuckin’ knew it,” Clive announced with an extended finger towards the monitor. “Those are the ones we saw.”

“Trent made his first recorded appearance in Saskatoon three days after the story made the headlines,” Danny said. “You saw them, Clive?”

Clive nodded. “This might prove he’s a thief, but we can’t prove he’s a killer.

“Trent Jackson had fear in his eyes when he talked about the victim,” Suji interjected. “A kind of fear that the true killer would surely lack. Still, he is certainly hiding something.”

“Only one way to find out,” said Clive.

***

Clive and Suji turned the corner of the long hallway and saw one of the security officers approaching from the cell block. “Your friend doesn’t talk much,” the officer remarked. “He’s all yours, boys. Figured I’d step outside for a minute.”

Clive turned around, his eyes following the guard until he was gone. “Hmm. Must be new.”

When they got the cell, all they found was an empty cot and a few black feathers.

Frantically, Suji pulled the big steel door open as Clive rushed inside, brandishing his sidearm. “Where the fuck are you, Trent?” he hollered. There was a slight echo in the empty room.

He glanced under the cot. Nothing. Quickly he turned to Suji. “Run and grab that security guard, alright?”

As the Oni took off down the hallway, Clive, now fresh out of new places to search, tore the bedsheets off the cot in frustration.

A single playing card, face-up on the mattress. Eight of Clubs.

“T.J,” he remarked, “you tricky fucker.”

 


Elseworlds: Code 12

It was raining but the shadow was unmistakable, spread across a section of sidewalk and trimmed grass. Suji was knelt down beside it, touching it with clawed red fingers. Clive had already given it a once-over. The shadow wasn’t much of a clue. It wouldn’t rub off and it had no texture of its own. Felt like grass or cement or whatever it was spread over. It’s posture and positioning matched their body exactly, though. There was that.

Clive looked over at the stiff. Caucasian male, middle-aged, et cetra. Bland clothing, bland record, and nothing exciting in his wallet either. He was balding, pale, and heavy set. If Clive hadn’t known any better, and there wasn’t a big black chunk of evidence laying beside the vic, he’d have called it a heart attack. Guy’s name was Stu O’Reilly which, being Irish, was something. Still, it didn’t say anything more specific than that. The only other thing that wasn’t utterly boring about the guy was the expression on his face. It was terrified and frozen that way, limbs also contorted in what could only be fear. And also frozen that way. There was no smell coming off the body and O’Reilly’s skin had turned a sickening purple color. Clive had seen worse.

“And?” Suji asked, not looking up.

“Definitely Code 12.” Clive said.

“What’s a Code 12?” asked the uniform. Constable Graham was a veteran and not the kind of guy who liked it when the Elseworlds Immigration and Security Service pushed him or his buddies out of a crime scene. Clive was sure he was a good guy, probably a family man. His red-striped slacks maintained discipline in spite of the rain. Clive just didn’t have it in him to pay extra respect to fancypants cops. Not even back when he’d been one.

“This,” Clive waved an arm at the body and matching shadow, “is a Code 12.”

“Okay. Wise ass.” said Graham.

“A Code 12 is an attack by a spectral Elseworlder, Constable.” Suji said, rising to his feet.

“In this case, your garden variety Irish banshee.” Clive added.

“I’ve never heard of a Code 12. How do you know it’s a banshee?”

“No reason why you would, there probably wasn’t much of a classification system the last time a spectral took someone out in this town.” Clive grinned. “As for how I know what it is, well, call it a guess.”

“A spectral is what, some kinda ghost?” Graham asked, keeping on with the questions as if the answers would give him any more control over this mess. Clive wasn’t unsympathetic but his phone was ringing. He raised a finger to silence the older man and flipped his phone open. He could hear Suji begin to explain that yes, spectrals were some kinda ghost.

He listened to Dr. Danny Dang tell him what he knew. He closed his phone.

“Banshees are known to wail before a man dies, they don’t do much killing of their own as far as the lore goes.” Clive reported. “I could have told you that, though. Some dang expert.”

Clive nodded at Graham who took the hint, but not before gathering himself in as much pride as possible. The good constable stalked off into the rain, back to his squad car and out of this investigation. Good guy, maybe, but good riddance all the same.

“It’s Dr. Dang’s first day. He will surely prove more useful in the future as he settles into his duties.” the oni said
mildly. “As luck would have it, the banshee is a creature known to your ancestors.”

“As luck would have it.” Clive said. An interesting way to put it. He kind of felt like river-dancing but there was still a corpse on the ground and not what he would call an abundance of leads. Besides, Clive Kennedy was too many things for sentimental about his heritage to be one of them.

“I think we must start with the theory that a banshee killed this man,” Suji said, taking them both through what they had learned so far. “The neighbors claim they heard the wail described in the lore and here is the body with no banshee to present an alternative theory.”

“Right but banshees are spectral,” Clive said. “She could be watching us right now waiting to turn us into stains on somebody’s lawn.”

“Not possible,” Suji said. “I’d smell her.”

“There are no banshees registered in the city,” Clive said. “so it’s a real Code 12 and not another spooky story. Jumpy friggin’ uniforms.”

“Spooky stories aren’t their area of expertise,” Suji said.

“Nope. They’re ours. Lucky us.” Clive agreed.

“How are we going to find her?” Suji asked.

“We’ll have to go talk to Hedwig.” Clive said.

Suji groaned and twitched his lips, ever so slightly stricken. It was about as
emotive as the oni ever got. Clive shrugged at him and said, “I’m driving.”

***

“Every time we come in here you’re trying to extort us,” Clive growled. “Do you think you’re the only informant around?”

“Then why do you come to me, eh?” Hedwig said confidently.

He looked ridiculous, as always, with about a thousand pendants on just as many chains hanging over the front of a tacky deathmetal t-shirt. He was stroking one between two long fingers, nails painted tacky black. Clive couldn’t see what it was.

“You are our favorite.” Suji replied, leaning close to Hedwig’s powdered, moon-shaped face.

What goth shit had to do with mythics and the Elseworlds, Clive was sure he didn’t know. All the same, the wanker did seem to know what was going on with new arrivals in the city, especially illegals. At the Integration Center, Hedwig was a big deal. Probably how he came by his info. Clive didn’t like coming down here. Most of the Center’s employees were still caught up in some kind of twisted fantasy about mythics. Half of them thought they could be made mythics themselves. They hung around, picking up the strays and making friends. Every now and then they’d be at the center of this or that mess requiring EISS attention. They gave Clive a fucking headache. They were wannabes, he might have said. Larken would have called them parasites on a delicate cultural exchange. But she’d shudder a little at his interpretation. She couldn’t imagine wanting to be one of them. Clive, on the other hand, could imagine a lot of things. Didn’t mean he liked them.

“We don’t have time for this shit and I’m sure you need to get back to saving the world from Mordor or whatever,” Clive sighed. “We’ve got a body, Wig. Looks like a banshee did it but we won’t know til we ask one and there aren’t any on the Registry.”

“There was a murder?” Hedwig asked, leaning forward and telling Clive everything. The fuck was practically shaking with anticipation and fear. He knew something, of course. Suji would be catching a nice whiff of that about now.

“Yeah, a big scary murder. Let’s try and make sure there isn’t another one, eh?”

“Wow. Do I get a reward for helping you?” Hedwig asked, looking at Suji cautiously. The big oni did not look inclined to be doling out rewards. Clive couldn’t believe the little rat’s nerve either, but controlled his tone.

“Same deal as always.” Clive said. He nudged his partner, who pulled a crisp hundred-dollar bill from a plain money clip. Suji held it out to Hedwig and pulled it back when the informant tried to take it. Clive didn’t miss a beat. “But first we need the next link in whatever chain leads to the perp.”

Hedwig swallowed. “I can give you a place. People there would know more.”

It was Suji’s turn to growl. “You just told us three things by accident that you should have told us for the asking, human.”

“That there is a banshee, definitely.” Clive said, counting off on his fingers. “That you knew about her. What’s the third one, Muscle?”

“That he is not the only one who knows.” Suji’s face was an inch from Hedwig’s suddenly. But the three of them had been through this song and dance. Suji was too honorable to harm Hedwig and the little shit was too afraid of his own shadow to really believe it. Then there was Clive trying to navigate the madness, like all the other madness in his life, and somehow it seemed to work out and they learned what it was they needed to learn.

“I didn’t know there was a murdur!” Hedwig whined. Suji moved away and Clive gave him the money.

“Tell me the place.”

***

It was a flophouse by the airport. Or maybe it was just a squatters’ nest. Clive made a mental note to look into it if necessary. It was always good to have leverage over desperate people, he knew. Otherwise they were too dangerous.

He watched Suji approach the door. It had once sported a window but that had been knocked out and boarded up. It looked abandoned in the dark of night, but that’s the way the people inside usually liked it. The other windows were all boarded up too. Clive traced his flashlight beam across them one more time.

“Smell our banshee?” Clive asked.

“No. She is either well hidden or not here.” Suji replied. His heavy red hand knocked on cheap painted wood.

“Open your door,” Suji called. “EISS.”

For a moment there was nothing, then even Clive could hear the scrambling from the other side. Wordlessly, Clive clicked off his light and circled around the building to cover any rear exits. There were probably illegals inside. Junkies or squatters wouldn’t try to run from them, they had no jurisdiction over that stuff.

“Final warning.” he heard Suji say. Then, “Away from the door and hands where I can see them, I am coming in.”

There was a crash of wood as Suji kicked the door in. What kind of authorization EISS needed to enter a household in this province was still a detail being sorted out. Clive grinned as he watched the back where there was no door but plenty of flimsily covered windows. Good old Muscle. Of course, he wouldn’t have done that if there were clear rules against it. Suji never did anything against the rules. Clive on the other hand…

A board shifted out of position. Clive’s hand went to his sidearm without hesitation. He left the Glock holstered though, pulling a taser in his left hand and his ASP telescoping baton in the other. He debated calling out to whoever was in there.

Nah. Let Suji flush ’em out.

The first one out of the window was small. Clive heard whoever it was give an oooofff when they fell gracelessly four feet to the ground. Dusting off and giving a look back to the window, the dimunitive mythic started sprinting as best it could with its stubby legs. It ran straight into Clive.

“Whoa there little fella,” he said, extending the baton and poking the tip into the mythic’s chest. He holstered the taser beneath his jacket, thinking he didn’t need it.

“Feck ye blind ye!” it said, pushing the baton away with a stubby hand. Clive responded by shining his flashlight into two drunk eyes. It was a clurichaun and, being early evening and already dark, the little guy was drunk as a lord. They were kind of like leprechauns but smaller, dirtier, and drunk all of the time. They were also poor and very few immigrated through the legal channels.

“Trying to run from the EISS is a good way to get thumped.” Clive told him.

Suji came around the other side of the building with a brace of drunk little fairfolk in his hands. Every one of them was two and a half feet of fury and inebriation and as Clive watched, one caught in Suji’s left fist knocked out his fellow in the right with a misplaced jab. Clive could smell them from ten feet away.

“I do not like these creatures,” Suji said mildly, depositing all three that he’d caught in the grass beside Clive’s. “One of them vomited on me.”

The clurichauns laughed as they tried to rouse their friend. They looked for some kind of escape, of course, but they stayed still and acted like they knew they were caught. Clive kept his ASP extended. They were slow even when sober, the buggers, but the extra reach might be useful if he had to clobber them. They began to chatter in their language, one of the hundreds spoken in Mag Mell, the Celtic Elseworld. They sounded like they were speaking Gaelic but Clive only had a smattering. They talked to fast to see if he could understand them anyhow.

“Shut up, children.” Clive told them, waving his baton. “We have questions.”

“Feck yer questions, humie, we dun nothin’ wrong.” their apparent spokesman said, raising a tiny fist defiantly. It was the one from the window. Wisps of reddish hair decorated a liver-spotted head. Clive could smell sour whiskeybreath and it transported him to childhood memories of Dad, Uncle Jack, and all the rest. Great.

“There’s no need for that kind of talk. We never said you did anything wrong and we aren’t here for you anyway. I happen to like you smelly little folk myself, so why don’t you help us and we can all be friends.”

“Not me.” Suji complained, wiping foul looking goop from his sleeve with a handkerchief.

“But they’re so adorable.” Clive said. One of them was kicking the other, the one he had knocked out, in the ribs. “Look at their little clothes!”

They were definitely illegals. They hadn’t even bothered to find themselves some dolls’ clothes or something. They were all wearing the roughspun attire of the mounds and meadows of their corner of Mag Mell. How they’d managed to get booze was beyond Clive but he had to applaud them their priorities.

“Let us go our way, copper.” said the leader.

“Questions first. Or we’ll send you back to the Huntsman and I’m sure he’d thank us for the gift.” Clive said, layering his voice with a bit of authority this time. That got them. They got very quiet and he could almost see them sobering up just enough to stop screwing around. Their leader eyed Clive cautiously.

“What sort o’ questions?”

Bean Sidhe sort o’ questions,” Clive replied in a spot-on imitation of the clurichauns’ thick accent.

“We don’ know nothin’ ’bout no wailers!” he insisted.

“There aren’t supposed to be any banshees in the city, pal.” Clive said. “It’s you or her. I know which one I’d pick but I’m not sentimental. I guess you Celtic mythics could be better at sticking with your own than the actual Celts.”

The clurichaun looked at his buddies and back at Clive. Turned out he wasn’t that sentimental either.

***

They were separated back at headquarters, two of the little guys in each of the interview rooms. Suji was having a staring contest with his pair. He wouldn’t deign to ask them any questions, letting Clive have all the fun. And it was fun.

He grilled them and threatened them and buddied up with them over his own Irish ancestry. They gave him tidbits, parting from each little piece of the story like their leprechaun cousins would part from gold. They were afraid, more than anything, of going back to Mag Mell. The so-called god Arawn, who everyone called the Huntsman, was having himself some kind of ethnic cleansing, tracking down the “lesser folk” and putting them to work or killing them outright. The clurichauns insisted that none of the Tylwyth Teg were safe. And not gods. And not giants either.

At least that’s what some of the Mag Mell mythics said when they got caught as illegals. The proper immigrants never said boo about Arawn. The clurichauns told Clive all the same shit he’d heard before. The leprechauns bought passage out, kit and carriage with them, by keeping it all covered up. And the Sidhe, the Tuatha De Danannan were all stuck up cunts anyway who thought all of their world well rid of fairies, folk, and giants. Or so spake the clurichauns, leprechauns, and the lesser folk.

But none of this had anything to do with Clive Kennedy’s dead body. He let the clurichauns sputter on and on anyway. They tugged on their thin curly hair, smashed their little fists against the interview table, and shifted on the stacked phonebooks that put them at eye level.  They were sobering up and it pissed them off. Clive could relate but that didn’t mean he was going to go easy on them. The story he had begun to piece together was finally starting to get interesting. If a little disturbing.

“You’re saying the banshee didn’t kill anyone,” Clive said.

“Aye aye, they cannot kill! They’ve less pow’r here than back home, not more, ye great idiot.” said Spoonhair, the leader, who was still doing most of the talking for them. The other one in the room with them was Wicktart, who was feeling sullen and responded to direct questions with a raised middle finger. They had been watching TV in their little corner of Saskatoon, no doubt. Clive could only hope no one had told them about the internet.

“But that doesn’t have to mean they can’t kill, does it?” Clive mused.

Spoonhair answered, “I’m tellin ye that they cannot. At all. Ever. None.” He waved his hands in the air in Clive’s direction for emphasis. “Ye’ve got some other manner o’ nasty, I tell ye fer true!”

“There was a black shadow on the ground near the body. Can you tell me anything about that?”

“What was inky-black an’ stayed where it lay. Uncleaned,” Wicktart intoned suddenly. No middle finger, this time.

“Off with ye,” Spoonhair said, slapping at him. Wicktart ignored him.

“It’s the Huntsman’s foul hounds come fer us all!” Wicktart insisted.

“It’s not!”

“Will you both shut up?” Clive said. “You sound like little Irish Alvin and Theodore at the company Christmas party and it’s giving me a headache.”

“Ignore Wicktart ‘ere, he’s a feckin’ fantasist, he is.” Spoonhair said but there was
something way too friendly and supplicating in his tone. Clive looked at him but didn’t reply.

“I tell ye, it were the Bean Sidhe herself what was murdered!” Wicktart shouted at them both. “The shadow all t’was left o’ her spiritly form! They can’t be killed back in Mag Mell, so them hounds are sent to kill ’em ‘ere!”

“Now I have a migraine,” Clive said to himself. He left the room as the two clurichauns began to argue. When he shut the door, Spoonhair was trying to pull up a heavy yellow phonebook to use as a bludgeon.

Clive had to consider the implications of what they were saying. What if the shadow really was the corpse of a banshee? How could anyone know with spectrals being so rarely given approval to immigrate? There were still too many questions.

***

“The shadow mimiced the position of the man,” Suji reminded him later.

They’d left the office for a bite and a brew. Clive had put away three already while Suji sipped politely at a Guinness. At his size, the oni could probably outdrink a skinny wimp like Clive Kennedy three or four or ten times over. And here he was sipping away like a college girl. It baffled him.

“They were scared, the little guys.” Clive said. “Well the one was, the other one just tried to get him to shut up. Couldn’t be more obvious that something bigger is going on here.”

“You always think something bigger is going on.” Suji pointed out.

“I don’t like it, Muscle. All we have to go on is some otherworldly wailing and a supernatural stain with a side of cryptic rambling from drunk fairies.”

“I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that our quarry, the victim, and those foul little men we caught are all of the Celts in one way or another.” Suji admitted.

“Not too mention yours truly.”

“I didn’t want to be the one to say it. I’m just agreeing that there seems to be a connection at least.”

“Exactly. But blowing scary smoke up their asses only goes so far. Getting them to tell the tale in plain English is the trick.”

“This talk of the Huntsman,” Suji said.

“I have no idea what it’s all about but name-dropping the guy has worked for us before.” Clive shrugged.

“True.”

Clive’s phone started whistling at them. He picked it up. He mouthed Dannyboy to Suji who nodded.

“Detective Kennedy.” said Dr. Dang.

“Just Clive, fella.” he replied. “What’ve you got?”

“It, uh, looks like the victim’s family has an historical connection to the Bean Sidhe.” Danny said. “Some of the older Irish families have their own sort of, uh, interred banshees. At least that’s the mythology.”

“Like guardian angels that scream when someone in the old clan is about to bite it,” Clive said.

“That seems to be the, umm, case. Yes.”

“Which could explain the positioning of the shadow if the clurichauns were riddling some truth. Have you talked to them, Dannyboy?”

“I have. They weren’t very helpful…” Danny began. Clive could just see him sliding his glasses up his nose.

Clive cut him off, “Right. Not for us either, the bastards.”

“…Until I gave them something to, uh, drink.”

“Huh? That actually worked?” Clive couldn’t believe it. “We tried to sober them up!”

“Seems that Clurichauns have a rather, uh, surly disposition when they aren’t plied with spirits,” Danny said. “They’re more agreeable now.”

“Have they told you anything useful then?”

“It wasn’t easy to piece together, they spent a lot of time correcting details and insisting one was getting it wrong only to double-back multiple times when their turn came.” Danny said, sounding as pained as Clive was sure an experience like that would leave anyone. “But finally I managed to learn that they think this Huntsman has sent agents to Earth to make sure what’s going on over there doesn’t reach the wrong ears over here. Apparently a lot of Celtic mythics are being targeted, them included. So the motive is a cover-up of some kind and the means are these “hounds” but none of them know whether you’re actually dealing with some kind of, uh, canine.”

“Well let’s hope we’re not dealing with Black Dogs. I fucking hate Black Dogs.” Clive said. “So they think one of these agent guys offed the banshee and O’Reilly. Guess I won’t need my golf clubs after all.”

“Why would you uh, need golf clubs?”

“Cold iron, Dannyboy.” Clive replied.

“Ah. Well, they seem very paranoid but yes, that’s the idea.” Danny said.

“So I was right and something bigger is going on,” Clive said, giving Suji a triumphant look.

“We need to know how to find this agent,” the oni said.

“Hear that, Doc? Got anything for us on how to find the fucker?”

“Not really, I doubt these clurichauns know–” Clive could hear some kind of scuffling. Then Danny’s muffled voice saying, “Hey! Stop that!”

“Doc? Hey, what’s going on over there?” Clive got to his feet, clenching his phone in his hand. He was a breath away from taking Suji and charging back to headquarters when he heard a vengeful and monstrous belch coming through the speaker.

“Eh eh, is ‘at th’ copper then eh?” slurred Spoonhair.

“What do you want?” he sighed.

“I’ll tell ye wha’ we want, ye feckin’ goon ye!”

And the little bastard told him.

***

Suji was driving, which made Clive extra nervous. But the oni had insisted. He did not want to be the one managing the GPS. It wasn’t like campus was the easiest place to navigate. They had already been turned around once. Now that they knew what they knew, Clive made a mental note to get more familiar with the place.

When they parked outside of the College of Law building, Clive was the
one who called to wake up Bryant, get him up to speed, and secure some back-up. Bryant didn’t like the deal the clurichauns had asked for, fast-tracking illegal mythics to citizenship was a beaurocratic minefield. So Clive called Larken too. Hopefully both of them were stewing in the Moot together, drinking burnt coffee and hating his guts. It was good for them, maybe they’d bond.

The little drunks had told him where they came through from Mag Mell. A secluded little hilltop not too far from where he and his oversized partner were standing. Clive checked his gun and hoped that they weren’t too late.

“It’s a full moon, as Dr. Dang said.” Suji told him. Clive couldn’t distinguish between moonlight and whatever was thrown by of the lamps. Oni were good at night, though, and Suji was exceptional for an oni.

“As soon as the clouds clear a bit, he’ll be good to go. Gotta find him before then…” Clive muttered. “You smell anything?”

Suji shook his head. “I don’t.”

“We need to get you a gun, big guy.” Clive said. Not for the first time.

“You know how I feel about guns,” Suji replied, only half listening.

“Right but what if he runs, they’ll ask you.”

“Quiet.” Suji growled. “I have him.”

And then the oni was off, unsnapping the buttons on his coat to free up his arms for a sprint. Clive followed without another word, and they slipped into the darkness one after the other. This was his favorite part.

It was all he could do to keep up with Suji. They stacked up on a wall, red-skinned Japanese ogre first. The structure was a parking garage, half built into a hillside. Suji put a finger to his lips as if Clive needed to be told to be quiet. He just grinned, unholstered his gun, waited.

Suji went first, wreathed for a moment in a kind of smoke. The stuff coalesced into a thick iron bar, balanced by a huge metal ring on one side, and studded all up the length with dull metallic half-orbs. This was the weapon of an oni, a kanebo. Clive had seen it before and kept meaning to ask Suji where the hell it came from anyway. Not the best time for that now.

He slipped into the parkade where the second level ramp rose out of the hill and dropped down the four feet to ground level. He hoped he hadn’t made much noise. He crossed quickly to a support beam for cover, leaned around it to watch Suji’s back. The oni was cutting around the building, still visible because of the wonky elevation outside. As he opened the door, very delicately, Clive moved again to keep an eye on the poorly lit expanse of concrete between them. There were no cars that night, which was lucky.

Clive stuck his head out of cover just enough for Suji to see him. Two red fingers came up to signal him on. The oni opened his other hand and the kanebo disappeared in another puff of translucent reddish smoke. He began to carefully remove his boots.

Holstering his weapon, Clive made to do the same, but then there was a sound on the concrete that wasn’t them. Leaving his shoes on, Clive pulled again and went for it. He focused on the sound of his quarry’s feet, trying to blot out his own. Thock thock thock, said their shoes. He didn’t have time to wait for Suji, he could see a blurry shape ahead in the dark. Their guy had a head-start and was a fast runner.

Clive closed in but the runner was out of the building, ducking under another ramp. Clive could see cloth fluttering behind him as he dashed up the hill and slipped pack into the parkade on the second level. Not slowed a bit, Clive followed.

On the second level, the perp’s headstart was good enough to put it to a straight footrace, all the way across the floor and up another ramp. Clive had seen that the parkade was only three floors. There wasn’t any place to go after that and besides, this wasn’t the place the that fucking clurichaun had told him about. What was this guy up to?

Clive tucked in and pulled himself up the third floor ramp when he could just make it, trying to cut down some of the distance. He rolled up to his feet and raised his pistol, already visualizing the target that wouldn’t be more than a couple yards ahead, near the safety rail on the street side of the building.

He barely got the gun up to aim when an explosion went off in his head and took everything else with it.

***

When Clive woke up, it was to paramedics. They checked the back of his head to see if he needed stitches. Suji stood nearby, being concerned but not looking it. Clive had known the big lug long enough to know when he wanted to say something. Didn’t happen often.

“What. Happened.” he muttered, not giving his partner a choice.

“You gave chase, I found you a few seconds later but didn’t stop. I followed our quarry down from the building to the ring of wildflowers and was too late to stop him.”

“So he got away. Fuck.”

“Bryant-sama is not pleased.” Suji said, shame dripping from his voice like the blood from the gash on Clive’s head. They wore failure in their different ways.

Clive swore up and down for a good minute, waving the parademics away from him. He was sitting upright on the the curb outside the parkade. They hadn’t even put him in the ambulance, the bastards. He felt the back of his head gingerly and winced. What the fuck had he been hit with? Probably the same chunk of iron used on the basnhee. Great, just great. He probably had ectoplasm smushed into the wound or something equally gross. Fucking hell.

“What, Suji?” he barked, seeing that his partner still had more to tell him.

“The killer was human, Clive.” Suji told him.

“And what, he crossed back into Mag Mell through the Gateway? You watched this happen?” Clive tried getting to his feet but fell back on his ass, dizzy. He couldn’t believe it. Suji had to be wrong.

“I saw it, he stood amid the flowers and spoke a language I do not know and I smelled blood. Then, nothing.”

“Humans aren’t supposed to be able to cross over, Suji.”

“No,” Suji said.

Then he just stood there, doing his statue thing. Watching Clive to see what
he’d do next. Paperwork. Lot’s and lot’s of horrible, horrible paperwork. That’s what he was going to do next. Then he’d catch a reaming from Bryant who would somehow make it like he’d magiced the murdering bastard back to the Elseworlds himself. But it was the paperwork Clive really feared.

Or at least that’s what he told himself. He tried to shake the dizziness out of his head. Tried not to think of the implications of human agents flipping in and out to kill people for some tyrant from another dimension.

He had that shitty, prickly feeling that this wasn’t over.

-Evan McCoy

September 4, 2011


Eden: Eyes

I know she’s going to go a little crazy when she finally wakes up. Wakes up and sees me.

The city is full of monsters and horrible wonders. And people who no longer look like people. I’ve found that I still have the capacity to shock them even in such an environment. I broke every mirror and every other reflective surface when I took up residence here. It seems I also shock myself.

I don’t know why I scooped her up from the concrete except that I found her in what I regarded as my territory. No one bothered me here, and those that passed through generally figured out that they should do so quickly. Out there they called me Frankenstein or worse.

But when the girl does wake up, she doesn’t scream or recoil. She only watches me with wide eyes. I can see every tiny fleck of colour in her iris. The canvas of brown mixed with infusions of pale green, swallowed up like tiny hilltops in a forest. I like her eyes, they remind me of something. Something I have half-forgotten.

“Don’t be afraid,” I tell her. She can’t be older than ten or eleven. She is very skinny  and dressed in rags but her teeth, her hair, and her fingernails are all cleaner than mine.

“Where is Colette?” she asks softly.

“I only found you, you were hurt here.” I say, touching a part of my head. A part that’s still flesh and blood. “I had to give you a bandage, see?”

She touches the wrapping gingerly but doesn’t wince. There’s a tiny blossom of rust-colored dried blood where the gash is healing. I can count the fibers of the bandage and tell her how many were painted by her pain. I’m counting them anyway, but it seems like sharing that information would be disconcerting for her so I keep it to myself.

“Thank you,” she says absently as if for my silence.

She’s in shock. That is the only explanation for how calm she is. She can see me fully, I haven’t bothered to throw a scarf over the left side of my face. The cold metal and colder cluster of lenses, red and all different sizes. Like an arachnid, I always thought.

I keep an eye on hers, but she doesn’t seem to be in shock after all. Perhaps she has been traumatized and this calm is a defense mechanism. I can relate if that’s the truth of it.

“Who is Colette?” I ask.

“My sister. She was with me, before…” She looks down. “Before.” For a moment, it looks like the girl is going to cry. I want to panic. A head wound I can handle but I would not know how to comfort a young girl in distress. I banish a horrifying image of trying to hug her close with my unfeeling left arm. The fantasy is accompanied by ghost sounds. Ghost sounds in the machine.

“We can talk about what happened to you later,” I say. “What is your name?”

“Lindsey.” she replies, and again grows calm. “Do you have a name, mister?”

That was an odd way to phrase the question. I take a moment before I respond. “I used to have one but I don’t remember it,” I tell her. “Sometimes people give me names.”

“Like what?”

“Mister Metal, Bugface, Machine Man, Frankenstein… and others too.”

“Those aren’t very good. I don’t like them.”

“I don’t like them much either,” I say. I smile. This is a surprise. I have never smiled before. Have I? I don’t remember but my face is doing it anyway. And the word for what it’s doing comes unbidden but unmistakable. I smile.

“Do you have one that you do like?”

“Only one that I learned from a book, but it’s an unusual word. No one calls me by it.”

“I can if you want. What is it?”

“Pariah.”

***

There’s this dream I have sometimes. In the dream, there’s a little boy who grows up in a natural place of summer greens and autumn browns. There are fields. There are fields and animals and sunlight. The corrugated metal, the broken cement, the shattered windows of glass and steel ruins superimpose over that image. It is like a snowglobe breaking.

Jason, the little boy, is stupid but happy. He plays in the fields until he is big enough to work. When he does good, he is not beaten by Father. When he does bad, he can’t stop himself from howling even though it only makes Father angrier.

One day, Others come from him. They don’t smell like the land and they are very clean. He doesn’t like them and hides from them, runs away and hides, but they always find him. Then they take him away. They tell him he’s going to a magical place where the trees are made of silver and sunlight. He calms down. They tell him they are taking him to where he belongs.

The fields fade in time, not much time at all for the boy was never good at remembering. By the time they do, he lives in a White Place beneath one of those silvery castles the clean Others had told him about. The White Place is even cleaner than they are and there are all kinds of funny machines and computers that talk. They give Jason tests to do and no one beats him or scolds him if he gets things wrong. But he does not like the shots. Does not like the shots or the cartoon animals that only want to play the same games.

Soon, the tests are easier and the cartoon animals are boring. Soon the Others have names and faces that he can remember, but he is never close to anyone. They give him computers and complex problems and he solves them all, which is fun by itself. He doesn’t need a reward but they give him a girl to play with and then take her away when he is done.

Then Jason doesn’t want the girls anymore. They are afraid of him, even though they don’t act like it. He is too big, bigger than everybody else. Bigger and clumsier but smarter too.

The boy stops being a boy and becomes a man. More than that, he understands that he has a name. His name is Jason Stoddard. His name is Experiment.

***

I bring Lindsey some soup that I have made from soy beans and carrots. She wrinkles her nose but she is too hungry to refuse. She asks me if it came from a can and I shake my head. After she finishes, I show her the garden where I grow my food. It sprouts up from the broken floorboards of the church. I broke them myself when I first came here. But hadn’t I always been here?

“When are you gonna help me find Colette?” she asks suddenly.

I look down at her, and she is watching my face. I don’t want to know which parts she is looking at more. I can see that she can’t decide which eye to look into. I wait for her to choose between the several made from fiber optics and carbon polymer or the one that’s composed of nerves, muscle, and gelatin. The one that has a color other than red, but I don’t remember what. The little girl doesn’t choose, she shifts her own little earthy eyes between all of mine as if they were moving around my face. It is only that I have five eyes in all, at this distance there is no need to adjust focus and there is no movement or sound from the motivators.

Why does this little girl expect my help? Because I have already helped her.

“Where did you last see her?” I ask.

She looks away. Remembering. “We were looking for food in an old place but all we found were black beans that tasted awful.”

“Coffee beans.” I say and then I conjure a partition in a corner of my neural net to sort through all the coffee shops within
walking distance from the church. There are several. Some of them I know have been converted by squatters. Most are abandoned. One is not. There are two others I didn’t know about. So that is where I will have to start.

I wonder if I am helping Lindsey because she doesn’t act afraid of me. Does that mean I would have been inclined to help other people if they hadn’t run, hid, or called me names? The ones that weren’t after what precious little I had. The ones I had to teach stern lessons to or make examples of. The ones I killed.

There is so little of me left that understands where the rest fits in.

“I know where I can start to look for her,” I tell Lindsey. She tugs at my arm, pulling my blanket off my shoulders. Underneath, I am more frightening than even my face suggests. This oddly pleasant interlude with the little girl, the first human contact I have ever had outside of my dreams, is about to end. About to end with screams and the patter of paniced feet. I want to reach out a hand, but which hand? Reach it out to her so that she won’t run.

But Lindsey doesn’t run. She pokes my left arm. I can’t feel it in the normal sense, but it tells me it has been touched. The information is detached in a way that sensation in my right arm is not. The only comparison I can make is that it’s like how water feels through a plastic bag. But how do I know what that feels like?

“What is it made out of?” she asks, still touching my arm. “It’s so shiny.”

“It’s an alloy that I made,” I say. “It doesn’t have a name.”

“Is it metal?”

“Yes, it is composed of metals and a few other materials I was able to synthesize.”

She doesn’t understand me. I am not being very technical but then again, she is a child. She is curious, but she doesn’t know the right questions to ask. Forgetting about her sister for the moment, she inspects the cold arm. She splays out my fingers and feels for every joint, she listens close as I rotate the joints, hearing the mechanism articulate. I suppress shudder after shudder. I do not like others to see these parts of me but they are difficult to hide. Difficult to hide and difficult to forget. But I wish that I could.

***

The Experiment eventually ends, leaving only Stoddard.

The dream changes shape, twists, collapses. Maybe it becomes a new dream, or maybe it is part of one continuous nightmare that only pretends, sometimes, to be beautiful. When the dream changes, I try to hang on to the boy who was only beginning to see the bars on the cage. I try to hang on, I try I try I try, but I can’t. The boy always slips away and is replaced by Stoddard.

He leaves the skyscraper that houses the lab where he was made. It belongs to a pharmacorp called HUC. I can see their
coprorate logo in my head as if Stoddard is painting a picture through the dream. It is a lightbulb with the words Human Uplift Corporation written into three lines of radiance. The laboratory belongs to them but the man does not. Jason

Stoddard is a success story and many people want his time, to know that story. He tells it until he gets tired of it and then he goes away from them all. He goes back to the farm where he came from as a boy.

The new technology has changed it from what he remembers. He expected this. He has read about technology and has learned to see it as an inexorable wave. Everything on the farm is automated, but the dream makes the machines nightmarish. They are twisted into strange shapes that people are not meant to see. So unlike the shining automata of the city. The lights and sounds of augmented reality streams cutting through metamaterials like river water.

There is no need for people on the farm. His family is gone. Father. Mother. Siblings he can barely remember. But where have they gone? He looks for them but can’t find them. Can’t leave the farm. Stoddard runs in circles among the spiders’ legs of the harvesters, their skeletal frames block out the sun.

And then it’s like he can fly up toward that sun and look down on an earth ravaged by harvesters. Only the shining cities stand apart, the ones that aren’t broken by all the sicknesses that ail human beings. Some of the land is torn up by machines long forgotten, meant to take in wood and water and minerals to feed the cities. The cities that are breaking down like the machines they have forgotten.

Stoddard watches them burst open like boils, one by one. Stoddard watches, so I must watch.

***

I am shaking my head at Lindsey. She wants to come with me to look for her sister. We do not know what is out there. Reasoning with her doesn’t do me much good. She is stubborn and unafraid. A dangerous combination in a world like the one she has been left with, but something about it is… I feel a stirring. An emotional response I do not comprehend.

“I’m coming,” she repeats herself. She crosses her tiny arms over her chest and stares up at my face again. How is a ten year old girl staring me down? Am I not the Metal Man of the Grove? The one they whisper about in the high buildings, looking down at my garden in envy but too afraid to take from me. Or ask from me. “I’ll just follow you if you don’t let me, Pariah. You won’t be hard to follow. Too noisy.”

She’s right of course.

“Then come here,” I say.

I pick her up with my left arm and show her a place where the plate covers my shoulder endoprosthesis. The scapular plate has a handle where a panel opens into the circuitry. It is locked. Voice activated. No concern she’ll tear it off so I let her use it. I am a big man and she fits on my back easily, the weight of her is nothing. She digs her feet into place and wraps her free hand around  my trapezius. The one on the right. Organic muscle fibers, not synthetic. More responsive to her touch, not as likely she’ll lose her grip.

My sensorium picks up the haptic analog on my left side and the real contact on the right. It is not a conflict. I had to enhance the amount of sense data my brain can process. It still feels like a conflict. I try to forget about it.

I carry Lindsey out of the church.

My GPS runs on a pirated signal. I am a walking relay, grasping for whatever gets bounced  around these buildings, each one designed to soak up satellite internet like flowers catching the sun. Only some things are still accessible, even to me. One of them is the GPS and it lets me know where I need to be.

The coffee shop where she last saw Colette is dark inside. There are spilled beans on the cracked linoleum. It is utterly silent except for the mechanical noises, some inaudible to human ears, that my prostheses make. Whirring, grinding, clicking noises. They will give me away if there is anyone here. I am not afraid. I am calculating.

When it comes, the ambush is clumsy.

“Hold on,” I tell Lindsey. “Tight.”

I can feel her respond in both channels of my sensorium, like overlapping notes of music.

I rest all my weight on my left leg, the one made just like my left arm. I tell it to turn me on the left pelvic joint and I spin like a top, but not too fast, to meet the rush of limbs and crude weapons. I hold up my arm, the first weapon makes tiny clanging sounds as they bounce off the metal. I grab for one of our attackers. I pick him up by the torn shirt, fingers digging into flesh to maintain my grip, while he bangs away. I mute the sensorium even though I don’t need to. I release a few thousand volts of electricity I have stored for situations like this one. I release the electricity and release him, he flies back into the gloom where one of my eyes picks him up, keeps on him to make sure he doesn’t get up.

The next one has a gun. I do not like guns. It’s a shotgun, sawed down and meant for close range. I plant my palm over the barrel as he squeezes the trigger. The slug tickles harmlessly and then I pull the gun away and crush it. Crush it and then throw it at the
man who tried to use it on me. The force of the impact takes him off his feet. I assign another eye to him and deal with the last of the ambushers.

This one goes for my leg with a fireaxe. The axe catches on space between plates and severs something. I immediately go down to my knee. The sensorium awakens, pinging the neural net with emergency alerts. It is annoying but I did design it this way. I designed it this way for a reason.

The next blow comes down on my neck, bare inches from where Lindsey’s hand is still clinging to my scapular plate. The head of the axe skips left off the synthetic trapezius but could just have easily skipped to the right and taken off my head. And maybe Lindsey’s right hand on the other side. I don’t know which makes me angrier, but I know that I am angry now.

“Get down,” I tell her as I deflect the third blow with my arm.

I reroute power from the damaged muscle group to the redundant set and I rise to my full height. I look down on the man with the axe. His hair and beard are matted and coarse. He bares his teeth at me and they are broken, dirty things. I kick out straight with my left leg, the sensorium tells me that the give detected by the boot section is the dirty man’s ribcage shattering. He will die in a few minutes, so I waste no eyes on him.

I pick Lindsey up again, balancing her upright from the crook of my left arm. Her hand is on my neck. It is warm.

“Where is the other girl?” I ask the attacker I tasered. A partitioned auditory block picks up the last ragged breaths of the axe-wielder and the steady unconcious breathing of the shotgun-wielder. Only this one is left in a position to speak.

He gasps. Says something in a pidgin-English it takes me less than a second to decipher. It is nonsense anyway. Nonsense and more ugly names for me, the ugly creature. I lean my arm back so Lindsey can’t see without looking. I plant my left foot on the attacker’s chest and let some of the weight sink in.

I ask him again.

***

In a last desperate attempt to regain control of the dream, I pull back from the man I’m dreaming of and the horrors he envisions. The need for control goes further, pulling me to a fantasy of planning. Planning that is both meticulous and reactionary, a potent combination.

Stoddard is poisoned by that impartially destructive force he has learned to hate and fear. He pictures it as a throbbing metallic shape. It is geometrically precise, its only imperfections are coiled, living wires which snake around here and there, some disconnected and flailing madly in the emptiness of his vision. The wires are like veins and he wants to tear them out to kill the heart. This is his enemy.

Stoddard’s plan is beautiful in its simplicity, but he does not arrive at it all at once. I dream the pieces, see little shards of causality glitter in the wide patches of nothing where memory should be. In the end there is only the bomb. Not a bomb meant to kill or maim, but an engine of purification to wipe clean one vestige of an implacable edifice.

He goes back to the city. The bomb goes with him, swaddled like an infant in the garb of his designs. The harvesters and the creeping tech do not interest him. The people have flocked to the sprawl, leaving the machines behind like the misbegotten children he knew them to be. But still, to destroy them would merely disrupt. Disrupt and not derail.

He is undetectable. They are not prepared for what he will do. Biding time and doing the correct research provides him with a target. The target is a monument that doubles as a transmitter for a signal. The signal carries the images and sounds that make up the interface of augmented reality in New Plymouth, the shining city of the future. With it, the people here have been made to forget the rolling hills, the green trees, the deep ocean and the machines they have unleashed to perhaps remember it for them. He does not think they will.

His control is impeccable. He waits until the final moment to release his manifesto online, where everyone can see why he has destroyed this thing. Destroyed this thing but left all innocents, its victims, unharmed.

But this control is just an illusion. He is not infallible and misses enough to miss it all. In the end, the bomb is an engine of destruction after all. The precious ideology he has cultivated is shattered with his body.

Jason Stoddard dies. He lives only in my dreams.

***

Lindsey dismounts and runs to the bundle on the floor. I give them privacy and look around. The basement of the cafe is emptied out. Now it is something else. Something else and much more horrific. It has not seen use in a time but I can see the stains on the floor and walls.

“Colette? It’s me.” Lindsey is saying to the bundle. It stirs. A little girl sits up. Her coal colored skin tells me she is only Lindsey’s sister in spirit. It makes no difference. Lindsey folds her in a fierce embrace. I can only stand by and watch.

“Lindsey?” Colette sounds frightened. Uncertain. Her hair has been shaved, leaving only a coarse black stubble. I count every hair, extrapolate images of what she would look like before it was cut. I know that these attackers had done this. I even know why.

I will never tell these girls.

“Of course it’s me. Of course it’s me.” Lindsey is saying.

“But who is that man?” Colette asks her.

Lindsey looks up at me and for the first time I see uncertainty. Something about it makes me smile again. Am I trying to be reassuring? I wonder how anyone, least of all a pair of little girls attacked by savages, could derive comfort from my face. Even stamped with a smile.

“This is Mister Pariah,” Lindsey says, and turns back to Colette. “He’s a superhero.”

“A superhero?” Colette asks. She looks at me shyly.

“That’s right. He’s made of metal and shitkicks people who mess with him. He got those guys

that took you, Colette. I saw, I was there. He did get them.”

“Why did he help us?” The dark girl is not convinced to trust me. I can’t blame her.

Why did I help them? Maybe Stoddard would have known.

I watch her brown eyes widen as she looks more closely at me. She can see me and is afraid. She is not like Lindsey. I want to recoil from her fear but somehow I don’t. I watch her eyes, which are glittering obsidian. Glittering obsidian that I had kept those men from turning dull. I go to her, kneel as best I can on my damaged leg. I look at her eyes. She chooses my natural eye, which I remember is blue. She is trying to keep her attention off of the part of my face that is given over to technology and maybe she can even see the living wires as I still do in my dreams. Maybe she hates what she sees, like Stoddard did. I wait for her to say or do  something to acknowledge that I am here to help and not harm. She does nothing.

I push myself back up and begin to walk away. Before I can get to the stairs leading back up into the light, I feel hands in both channels of my sensorium. I feel the little girls’ hands try to fill my own as they pull me gently up and away.

Like overlapping notes of music.

-Evan McCoy

August 29, 2011

(Illustration by Adam Slusar)


Eden: Last Remaining Light

“Last Remaining Light” by Adam Slusar

Oh-dark-thirty. The only sound I can hear is the spinning blades of the K-82 overhead, drowning out any and all other sound within the area. Pressed flat beneath its black underbelly with my arms outstretched, dangling two inches above the cement landing pad by a taut cable clip from my belt, I feel like a fly pinned to a massive ceiling fan. And in order for me to get to where I am undetected, two men had to die; all I could say to them was buena suerte en el infierno. It was either them or me.

I wait in silence. Five minutes later, something inaudible is spoken by two approaching businessmen in expensive, identical white suits, illuminated by the glow of walkway lamps as they advance towards the helicopter. With a closer look from my hiding spot, I notice that they’re identical; Caucasian, blonde and wearing thick-rimmed glasses.

And then the legs of the chopper rise from the landing pad, carrying me along with it.

***

               “How’s the book, honey?”

                I kiss her cheek before collapsing backwards into the cloudy duvet, releasing my breath as the linen sheets wrap me in a cool embrace. I feel the contrast of my thigh brushing hers beneath the covers; mine thick and rough hers, smooth and slender. With the reassurance of having Penny beside me, sharing in small-talk and gentle motions, I think to myself, in this room, I can forget about the job.

                Penny taps the book jacket on the tip of my nose with a playful gesture as I lay down. She smiles.

               “You never read Gatsby, John?”

                “Nah. What’s a Gatsby?”

                “The Great Gatsby? F. Scott Fitzgerald?”

                “Uh-huh.”

                She giggles. “It’s a classic, you know. This is my third time reading it. I’m reading one of my favorite parts. Gatsby is this very rich man, and he’s looking out to the lighthouse across the sea. Very poetic.”

                “Poetic,” I say with a long sigh. “Maybe I’ll read that book one day.”

                Penny leans down from her sitting position and we kiss for what feels like hours. Our lips part; she is now lying flat beside me, twirling her fingers against my chest like a tiny ballerina. “Mi querido,” she says. “You work so hard, you poor thing.”

                She runs her fingers through my hair, and all I can bring myself to do is look into her emerald eyes and smile. And then I fall sound asleep.

***

Twenty minutes of waiting have come and gone. I flick my thumb against a tiny switch on my belt, and then I feel myself drop. I’m no longer a fly, but a spider hanging from a long thread, keeping my eyes on the glowing white tower as I dangle upside-down from the cable. It feels surreal, and very disorienting. Back in my SWAT days, I could never get away with this.

My fight will be from the top-down of Jiyu Tower, winding through various corridors in a figure-eight pattern. On the top floor, there are six well-armed sentries. I know this because I did my homework from an adjacent building. They carry AK-47s. Typical. I’m packing a G36 assault rifle, a silencer on the barrel and an M203 on the pickadilly for good measure. If anyone gets close, there’s the Ithaca clipped to my back. Not so typical.

Once the helicopter gets close enough, hanging me well over the wide lip of the rooftop, I press another switch with my thumb and feel yet another drop. The cable unclips from my belt and I watch it dangle in the night for a second as I drop.

I spin my arms in wide circles as I plummet towards the rooftop of Jiyu Tower. Next, I feel a hard crunch. I collapse against a corrugated rooftop above the main stairwell, the back of my thick armor bracing the fall, and then I tuck and roll. My heavy boots make contact with the ground. I stand rigid and press my back against the nearest wall, out of sight, as the chopper slowly descends to the helipad.

This is when I reach for my rifle.

***

                “Kimmy, look!” Penny exclaims. “It’s your daddy!”

                Our six-year-old daughter, Kimberly, is sitting on Penny’s lap with a plastic cup of orange juice as Penny points to the color photo in the Plymouth Gazette; I’m staring back at them from page three, dressed in my SWAT fatigues with my buddy Rick Ronson on the left, our faces looking hard-set and determined behind protective goggles. They snapped it as we hauled Carlo Bianchi out from his Clancy Street safe-house, along with two hundred kilos of high grade cocaine. The headline reads: BIANCHI CARTEL BUST: NP SWAT Leads Successful Raid. She is too young to understand what it all means.

                “Mama?” she asks. “Why is daddy wearing that hat?”

                “That’s my helmet, little lady,” I reply from the kitchen as I spread butter on a fresh piece of toast. “It keeps me safe. Like when you’re riding your bike.”

                “Yeah but… where’s your bike then, daddy?”

                I smile, turning off one of the stovetop dials. “It’s not a bike helmet, sweetie. Daddy wears it to protect himself from other things.”

                “Oh. Like things that fall on your head?”

                “Sure.”

                I enter the dining room carrying two different plates; omelets in my left hand and a stack of toast in my right. Kimberly spills her juice cup on the newspaper as I enter. Her expression of shock – followed by her high-pitched exclamation of oopsie-daisy – is too adorable for words.

                “Kimmy,” Penny says in her sweetly-disarming tone, “what are we supposed to do when we make a mess?”

                “We clean up after ourselves?”

                “That’s my girl. You run and get some paper towels, okay?”

                She slides from Penny’s lap and darts into the kitchen like a lightning bolt, nearly knocking the hot food from my hands. I turn to Penny with a chuckle.

                “What a trooper,” I say.

                “Just like her daddy,” she says.

***

Twin One is crawling on all fours once the bullet slices through his left leg, the crisp white pants blossoming red. His pistol falls two feet in front of him; naturally, he moves towards it, leaving a thin trail of blood while Twin Two heads to the stairwell with caution. This action also alerts the pilot of the helicopter, who leaps from the cockpit with a puny .38 in hand.

Once Twin Two gets close enough to the door of the stairwell, popping it open and inspecting the dark, empty interior with gun drawn, I dart over to Twin One. He’s within reach of his own discarded weapon by this time.

I firmly place my foot on his pistol, a SIG-Sauer, as the pilot takes aim. A single bullet kicks at my armor, skipping off the left shoulder-pad and probably ruining the green eye I painted on it too.  I cut him down with my G36 before he can take another shot. The 5.56mm ammunition travels through him, peppering the door of the helicopter before he finally sinks down in a bloody heap.

And then Twin Two pivots towards me, his own SIG aimed at me, just as one of my flashbang grenades rolls to his feet. There is a majestic explosion of sparks and smoke as he desperately fires twice; the first round misses me by a long shot, and the second round goes into the floor once he becomes more disoriented. He takes a step back, trying to escape from the blinding white fury, and misses the top step of the stairwell. He pitches backwards; all I can hear is a tumbling noise, followed by a muffled thump once he hits the bottom landing. Adios.

I reach down and pick up the pistol beneath my boot, ejecting both the magazine and the chambered top-round. The empty weapon drops in front of Twin One while I place the magazine – and extra round – in a secure pouch on my uniform.

When he looks up, the first thing he sees is the bright green glow of my eyepiece.

“Sentinel,” he says through heavy breathing.

***

                 After four straight hours of beatings from unruly rioters, your head starts to feel like it’s been stuck inside a kick drum. Sitting across from me in the armored van, Rick Ronson is dabbing a white cloth to his perspiring brow.

                “Never seen anything like this,” he mutters. “Goddamn.”

                “Heard that,” I say.

                I extend my fist towards him. He pounds it.

                “Be proud of yourself, Ricky,” I reply. “There’s a light at the end of this tunnel. We can already see it.”

                He chuckles. “Hard to see any light through all those smoke grenades and armored cars. City is a goddamned zoo.”

                Before I have a chance to reply, my radio crackles.

                “Alpha Team, do you copy? Over.”

                I place the radio to my mouth. “Roger that, H.Q. This is Alpha Team leader. What’s the situation? Over.”

                No response. I hit the button once more.

                “H.Q.? You read me H.Q.? What’s the situation? Over.”

                “Some ten-year celebration, hey Diaz?” Ronson says.

                When I hear about the Mainline, I burst out through the back doors of the SWAT van like a wrecking ball. Ronson is following close behind me, trying to make sense of everything. It’s now 17:16; Penny leaves work at seventeen sharp. From there, it’s a five minute walk to pick up Kimberly from school.

                 Every day, they take the Mainline home at 17:10.

                 I’m sprinting as fast as I can in my heavy SWAT armor. I reach for my cellphone and dial Penny. No response. I try again. Again.

                 It takes me less than two minutes to approach the nearest train terminal. As I round the street corner, I’m greeted by a taxi set on fire and through the licks of flame I can see Charlie Team and the New Plymouth police officers swarming the area like hornets; their faces wrapped in protective gas masks as they push everyone to stay clear of the area. Working my way around the taxi, I charge towards the Mainline, where one of the trains has pulled to a stop within the mouth of the tunnel.

                “Everyone stand back! Stand back! We won’t ask again…”

                Through the window of the train, I can see the driver; his head slumped forward against the controls.

                One of the officers from Charlie approaches me, his face unrecognizable through the mask. “We’ve just got reports of two more trains filled with the same chemical agent—”

                “Let me through! Please!”

                “Don’t do it! If you get on that train—”

                “Get out of my fucking way!”

                “Diaz! Listen to me!” I can feel Ronson’s hands against my shoulders, pulling me away from the SWAT officer as I thrash like a madman. Hot tears stream down my face.

                “Let me save them!” I plead. “Anything! I’ll do anything! For the love of God!”

                Ronson wraps his arms tight around my bulky frame as we collapse onto the asphalt. I stare up at the sky, blinded, and wail at the grey clouds until I start to go numb.

***

Three days ago I met Walker, a computer technician who set up the security for the tower. He’s one of the thousands who ignored the evacuation of New Plymouth. He never said why he stayed, and I never asked.

Walker told me where to find the shutdown unit for the alarms; this was my first stop before proceeding with my mission. Any triggered alarms would cause the sentries to double, making my target that much harder to get to.

Walker lied to me.

I discover this when I kick open the “security room door”, only to find a discarded mop and bucket, some soaps and detergents, and several spare rolls of paper towel. I have no idea what motivated him to do this. But, in a city without law enforcement, you tend to make fewer friends than enemies.

And then I hear the click-clicking of automatic weapons.

I turn around to find two sentries with AKs pointed straight at me. They shout phrases in Japanese. Something like who are you? What are you doing? My Japanese isn’t great.

This is where I pull the Ithaca off my back, rotating it in a quick semi-circle, and take out the guy on the left with one loud burst. I dive sideways – sliding into the leftmost room – followed by a fury of AK rounds that manage to chew at my armor without killing me; the shock-resistant weave is powerful, but hardly indestructible. It wasn’t meant to withstand sustained fire.

The second guy enters the doorway, weapon up and ready. As soon as I see the first glimpse of a perforated muzzle through the door, I lash out and tear the weapon from his grasp. He shouts. In a split second, I ram the stock of the AK up into his nose and he goes down and I’m already moving.

Inevitably, the alarm begins wailing. Soon the hallways are flooded with spinning red lights. I hear more shouting; incoming footsteps beneath me as I take cover behind a desk, my left hand wrapping around a smoke grenade, working my thumb into the pin.

Next, I hear the ding of an opening elevator door, followed by an onslaught of sudden coughing. Peering carefully into the hallway, I see a crisscrossing of bright red lasers through the smoky buildup. More Japanese phrases, and then silence.

Three well-armored sentries enter the room where I’m hiding from the far doorway. They’re carrying XM29 rifles.

I rise from cover, the G36 in hand, and fire off a single three-round burst. The first sentry drops like a bowling pin, while the other two launch a medley of rounds in my direction before taking cover. Bullets ricochet off the desk; shooting up splinters and cracking into the surrounding windows.

I turn around. Through the door where I came in, two more armed sentries move to my position, the laser sights nearly blinding me.

With no time to concentrate my fire, I bring the G36 towards my lap and, in a sitting position, empty the grenade launcher in their direction before they have a chance to pull the trigger. I feel the heat of the crimson explosion through the balaclava that protects my face, followed by the chorus of breaking glass as it shatters all around me like rainfall.

I sling the rifle and pull out my shotgun again. More bullets spray towards me from the other end of the side room; two more rounds chip at my armor, one of which creates a long tear down the chestplate about as long as my index finger. I feel a sharp sting. At this point, there is only so much more it can take.

Another flashbang deploys. I shield my eyes.

I pull my arm away from my face and find the two remaining sentries twisting and turning in confusion, trying to locate my last position. I point without aiming and the Ithaca does its thing.

And then, as I’m ready to exit the side-room, I’m confronted by two more in the main hallway; they open fire once they see a sliver of me coming around the corner, and I pull back behind the wall just in the nick of time. One of the bullets slices my left arm in the space between plates.

Staying as low to the ground as possible, I somersault through the doorway and level my shotgun once I’m in position. Blam – the one on the right flies back a good three feet before falling to the carpet on his bloodstained back. The second guy, standing to the left, catches a bit of scatter in his shoulder and jerks back with a sudden motion.

Aside from the G36 and the Ithaca, I keep my third weapon – a thirty-inch Expandable Police Baton – in a pouch on my left hip. I remove it in a fluid motion and strike my opponent across the left temple with a crack strong enough to break granite. He buckles over.

I take a few deep breaths and survey the damage done; at the far end of the hall, where I made my entrance, there’s a chasm of billowing smoke and fire where the grenade made contact. Red sirens holler through the wreckage. A far cry from my initial plan, but I’m still standing.

Bleeding, but still standing.

***

The final stage of my assault. Boss Kyoto , otherwise known as Tosa Inu, the Fighting Dog, is the only thing standing between me and victory.

He is enormous; six-foot-three, three hundred and ten pounds. A professional sumo from Japan, disqualified after killing one of his opponents, Kyoto became involved with the Yakuza as a muscle and worked his way to the top. Then he decided to set up shop in New Plymouth, the Venice of America, headquartering at the top floor of Jiyu Tower, the highest skyscraper in the city.

My city.

***

I enter through a large set of double doors and find myself in a Zen garden, with the usual flowing rock fountains and bonsai trees, and a small red bridge arching overtop a thin creek. Globular yellow lanterns hang from the ceiling, and through the foliage I can spot the triangular rooftop of a gazebo.

From out of nowhere, I hear a booming voice.

“You have caused me a lot of damage, John. Yesss,” the deep voice purrs over the intercom, “I know exactly who you are, John Diaz. You call yourself the Sentinel. The Last Remaining Light. But you, John, are like a candle. And we both know what happens when a candle burns for too long.”

Boss Kyoto. Theatrical fucker.

I keep my G36 up and ready, crossing the red bridge with extra caution. In the movies, these things are usually rigged as some sort of death-trap. So once my foot touches the other side of the bridge, I breathe a sigh of relief.

“It’s a shame you chose not to spare the Mahler twins,” Boss Kyoto continues. “They were like family to me. We were about to sign a peaceful negotiation between us. Instead, you make it look as though I’m the one responsible for their deaths. Then you kill my own men. You have shamed me.”

I’m hidden behind a collection of thick foliage; Boss Kyoto is right across from me, stuffed haphazardly into his ill-fitting suit, a samurai bun perched high on his head. He appears gung-ho, smoking a cigarette while standing behind a heavy machine gun on a rotating turret. The gun is trained on the stone path ahead, waiting for my arrival.

“Talk to me, John,” he says into a microphone. “Tell me why I should spare your life.”

I don’t talk; I act.

With the gas-powered P2 Portable Zipline in my left hand, I aim on instinct, shooting twin cords to opposite sides of the room. One of the chords whistles mere inches over the Boss’s head and catches his attention. Moving like a sloth, he tries to rotate the machine gun towards me.

Gravity does the rest. I allow the cable to support my weight, picking my feet up off the ground and sliding towards my target. Boss Kyoto, his chubby hand pulling back on the action of the machine gun, takes aim.

My boots crash into him, causing the turret to tilt up at the rooftop and discharge a handful of rounds at several overhanging lanterns. They explode into brilliant sparks. Kyoto keels onto his back like a dog that lost the fight as I drop to my feet, baton in hand.

For such a big guy, he pulls himself up rather quickly. I feel an impact, like a bullet train, to the ribcage. Boss Kyoto launches me several feet back, causing me to crash backwards into a thick collection of flowers and branches that break apart in my path. I drop the baton as I fly back. If not for the armor, such a powerful kick would have shattered bones.

Kyoto is slowly making a break towards a back corridor. He vanishes around the corner. I find the energy to pick myself up off the ground, and pursue. And as I round the corner, entering the faux bookshelf, I slam full-force into a set of twin doors. Kyoto is standing on the other side, looking through the glass window with a sly expression.

He approaches, mere inches away from my face, and taps at his gold wristwatch.

“By tomorrow,” he says, “everyone in this city will know that John Diaz is the Sentinel. And the city will eat him alive.”

Thunder rumbles beneath my feet as Boss Kyoto waves sayonara with an extended palm. The room lifts towards the sky as I desperately work my fingers in-between the twin doors; they refuse to budge. Through the windows, I look up and see the massive circular exhaust vents as the room continues to rise higher and higher. It’s some kind of escape pod built into the tower. Impressive, but at the same time also disconcerting. I won’t let him get away.

Finally, after much struggling, I find a way to push the heavy doors apart. They stay apart. From there, I clamber up a series of exposed grey pipes back onto the rooftop, keeping my eye on the rising room as it begins to float sideways.

Without second thought, I whip out my rifle. I load the grenade launcher.

I flip up the sight and take careful aim; the trajectory needs to be just right. On first glance, a target like this one might seem easy enough, but one wrong move and I could lob the grenade somewhere it doesn’t belong.

I take a deep breath, slowly count to three in my head, and keep my target in sight until the right moment approaches.

Three seconds later, I pull the trigger. Three seconds later, the floating room transforms into a bright orb of blinding flames and smoldering debris. The fiery embrace of the sudden heat wave is soothing on my lips; the only part of my face that remains uncovered. I can’t pull my eyes away.

***

Reports of strange explosions at the top of Jiyu Tower go online the next day, meaning someone on the mainland is still keeping an eye on things. Other new reports include stories about guns going off in the industrial district and hysterical claims about men who can fly. Nothing surprises me anymore.

I switch off the monitor and, still feeling stiff from last night’s activities, haul myself over to the bed. I recline against a rigid mattress, transfixed by the stark metal ceiling. Living in a giant red shipping crate is enough to make you want to reevaluate your life, but when you lose your family, you try to distance yourself from things like furniture, interior décor, home-cooked meals and suburban living. You need somewhere quiet. Somewhere where you can reflect on those memories in isolation, and where you can find the courage to pull yourself out of bed and concentrate on the task at hand. I’ve gone back to my old place only twice since the Eden Protocol took effect; I go there when I need to remind myself why I’m doing this.

Penny’s copy of Gatsby sits on a wooden table to the right of my bed. It’s not written for someone like me in mind, what with all the rich people and their empty lives, but I can still appreciate what Penny meant when she used the word poetic.

And before I fall sleep, I still think about that tiny little light in the distance; alone and distinct in the encroaching darkness…


That Long Road Home

This is our first script we’re putting up, hopefully not the last. This isn’t the story our last post promised, but hopefully it’ll tide you over. Enjoy!

That Long Road Home
By
Justin Daenckaert

ACT ONE

EXT. CITY – MORNING
A wide shot of a bustling city. Traffic is steady, the skies
are clear, it looks like a happy day.
A bright light appears in the sky, quickly growing. In a
fraction of a second it explodes over the city, blanketing
the entire screen in blinding light. The camera pans out…
INT. FARMHOUSE – LIVING ROOM – MORNING
…to reveal that the image is part of a news program on a
television set, with the caption “PHOENIX ATTACKED” and a
ticker running. JOCELYN, a young attractive woman, is
standing in front of the set. DANIEL, a dashing young man
and Jocelyn’s fiancee, enters the room in a paramilitary
uniform, smartphone in hand and a duffel over his shoulder.
She turns to him, and her eyes widen as she understands. She
crosses the room and takes the phone, reading the message.
She gives the phone back to him.

JOCELYN
You’re supposed to be flying a
desk.

DANIEL
There’s not much demand for theory
now.

BEAT.

JOCELYN
How long will you be gone?

DANIEL
They might post me to the
Bellerephon, I probably wouldn’t be
gone for more than two years.

JOCELYN
You won’t be in the Reserve fleet,
Daniel. You’re far too brilliant
for that.

DANIEL
Then I’ll probably be on the
Perseus, or maybe the Heracles…

JOCELYN
the Heracles was hit too. Split in
half in her berth.

DANIEL
That leaves the Perseus then.

JOCELYN
It’s just getting ready to sail.

DANIEL
I know.

JOCELYN
How long will you be gone?

DANIEL
I don’t know.

JOCELYN
When do you leave?

DANIEL
One hour.

Jocelyn sits down. She looks at the Claddagh ring on her
right ring finger. When Daniel sees this he looks at his
own.

JOCELYN
We were supposed to get engaged.

DANIEL
I still want to.

JOCELYN
You could decline the assignment.

DANIEL
They need the best.

JOCELYN
There’s a hundred other strategic
planning officers in the fleet, one
of them can do it, why do you need
to-

DANIEL
Jocelyn. A city is burning.

She stops, close to tears. Daniel approaches Jocelyn and
kneels in front of her.

DANIEL
Will you wait for me?

JOCELYN
You won’t want me when you come
back.

DANIEL
How can you say that?

He takes her hand and runs his fingers through hers, their
rings together.

DANIEL
I’ll always want you.

EXT. FARMHOUSE – DAY
The wind is picking up. Daniel and Jocelyn are standing on
the porch, Jocelyn leaning on Daniel.

DANIEL
We’ll probably be running silent
once we hit the halfway point, but
I’ll still write to you. Our tender
will be able to get the letters
back to you.

JOCELYN
I’ll write too.
(BEAT)
I love you.

DANIEL
I love you too.

They kiss, slowly. A shrill roar starts up. They break apart
and look up as a spaceship hovers overheard, lowering into a
nearby field. Daniel turns back to Jocelyn.

DANIEL
Will you wait for me?

JOCELYN
Yes.

He turns and heads towards the ship.

END ACT ONE

ACT TWO

INT. FARMHOUSE – LIVING ROOM – DAY
From the perspective of a webcam above the television,
Jocelyn leans forward, wiping the lens. She moves back, then
steps to the side in an attempt to center herself. She
clasps her hands nervously, then looks into the camera.

JOCELYN
Daniel? Hi.
(sigh)
They told me you’ll only be able to
receive a message every five
months, so I should keep things
short. So, ummm… They announced
plans to rebuild Phoenix last week,
but I guess they’ll be sending you
news feeds, won’t they…
(BEAT.)
This is stupid.

She walks away, and paces just in view of the camera, then
returns and sits down, pulling something out of her back
pocket. It is a (tab? strip?) and it is flashing pink. She
doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t need to. She smiles, and a
tear rolls down her cheek.

JOCELYN
I wish you were here.

INT. PERSEUS
“TRANSMISSION ENDED” plays across one of the many screens
around Daniel’s workstation. He is sitting in the main
control center of the ship. Another crewman, HAMILTON, sits
down in the station beside him.

HAMILTON
You’ve been watching that vid every
day for three months, MacLeod.

DANIEL
Last one that came in before we
went to silent running.

HAMILTON
Didn’t we have another mail day
before we went quiet?

Daniel hits a few buttons, and an ultrasound of a fetus
appears on the screen.

DANIEL
Just the picture. Not much else she
could say that isn’t here.

BEAT. Daniel isn’t quite composed as he touches the screen
lightly.

HAMILTON
Hey. You’re here for their sake.

DANIEL
I know. That doesn’t change
anything.

HAMILTON
You’re right. It doesn’t.

The camera pans away from the two men as Daniel runs a hand
through his hair, then hits a few buttons and gets back to
work.
INT. FARMHOUSE – KITCHEN – DAY
CLOSE SHOT on coffee pouring into a cup. Jocelyn sets the
pot down and runs a hand through her hair, tucking it behind
her ear. She’s older than when we last saw her. She takes a
slow sip, looking out the window wistfully. In the distance
the sound of a school bus braking can be heard. She turns, a
smile growing.
INT. FARMHOUSE – LIVING ROOM – DAY
The webcam view again. Jocelyn sits beside her son, SAM,
already ten years old. Jocelyn tries to engage Sam, but he
seems totally disinterested.

JOCELYN
This was Sam’s first trip
off-world.

SAM
It wasn’t really different from
orbit.

JOCELYN
Tell your father about New Halifax.

SAM
The sky was weird… but I guess
it’s not finished yet.

JOCELYN
Uncle Mark took you on a tour of
the terraforming project, didn’t
he? Tell your father about it.

SAM
He’s seen a cooker before.

There’s an awkward silence for a moment.

SAM
Mark said I have your eyes.
Everybody says that.
(BEAT)
Everybody says you’re dead too.
Ewan McAvoy asked mom to last
year’s Christmas dance but she said
no. Everybody feels sorry for us.

Jocelyn reaches over to hug Sam, but after a moment he
pushes up and runs off. Tears are in Jocelyn’s eyes as she
turns back to the camera.

JOCELYN
(quietly)
I haven’t given up on you.

END ACT TWO

ACT THREE

EXT. SPACE
The Perseus flies over a rocky grey moon, its engines cold.
Over the (vertical) horizon the distant blue home world
comes into view. The planet is unmistakable. Earth. Against
this backdrop a flurry of gunfire and missiles tear past the
camera towards the ship.
INT. PERSEUS
Crewmembers grab hold of their consoles as the ship sakes.
The ship’s CAPTAIN steadies himself, glaring at the
readouts.

CAPTAIN
Hamilton, where the hell are Five
and Seven?

HAMILTON
Drone Seven took a hit to her fuel
tank, she’s stuck in her orbit.
Telemetry from Three says Five got
a bit to close to a nuke, comms are
down but she’s still fighting.

CAPTAIN
We’re going to lose our flank in
the next twenty minutes if this
keeps up. MacLeod, we need to
launch the payload now.

DANIEL
Sir, from this orbit they’ll
overshoot the shipyards by nearly
twenty miles.

CAPTAIN
You’re the tactical officer here,
Lieutenant. What are our other
options?

Daniel looks at the board. We don’t have to understand much
of the map to know that there are too many red blips.

DANIEL
There aren’t any. We’ve got to go
higher.

CAPTAIN
We’re risking a laser sat strike as
it is.

DANIEL
Only way they’ll make it.

CAPTAIN
Damnit. Here goes nothing.

EXT. SPACE
The Perseus’ engines light up as it lifts away from the
camera.
INT. PERSEUS

DANIEL
Trajectory set.

CAPTAIN
Missiles away.

EXT. SPACE
The Perseus launches a volley of missiles towards a series
of lights on the moon’s surface as a red light impacts the
ship.
INT. PERSEUS
Reaction shot as the ship shakes and shudders. Hamilton is
thrown from his station. Daniel jumps from his station to
help him. As he pulls him up we see that Hamilton’s head is
smeared with blood.

DANIEL (V.O.)
We’re three quarters of the way to
Earth now, so I don’t know if this
is ever going to get back to you.

INT. PERSEUS
Earlier. Daniel is making a video.

DANIEL (CONT.)
Being out here gives a guy a lot of
time to think… think about life
back home, and the way things are
out here. I guess it’s been almost
ten years for you and our baby, but
for us it feels like time is
standing still.
(BEAT.)
I’ll never be there for him, when
my son really needs his father. Or
when his mother needs her husband.
If you stopped waiting for me I
almost wouldn’t blame you.
(BEAT.)
Every second I’m up here I’m
thinking of you. Whatever else is
going on back home, I just want you
to know that.

INT. FARMHOUSE – KITCHEN – DAY
CLOSE SHOT on cream pouring into a cup of coffee. A spoon
stirs it, then is pulled out. Jocelyn stares out the window,
an older woman. She takes a slow sip, then sets the cup
down.
EXT. FARMHOUSE – DAY
LOW SHOT on an old truck braking hard in front of the house.
The driver’s door swings open and a pair of boots pound
towards the house and in through the door. After a minute,
They run back out with a woman’s pair of feet close behind.
The truck pulls away.
EXT. TRUCK – ROAD
Jocelyn sits in the passenger seat while a man drives.
Jocelyn reads a message on her phone.

MAN
You still haven’t said anything.
Are you okay?

JOCELYN
I – yes. Sorry. I’m just thinking.

EXT. AIRSTRIP – DAY
The truck stops and the man and Jocelyn get out. Some
vehicles are already there, others are still arriving. A
dozen people are scattered around, looking up. With a whine
and a roar, a spaceship like the one that took Daniel all
those years ago appears and slowly touches down. The doors
open and young men and women in uniforms with duffel bags
come out. They spot their families and after a moment head
to them, others standing back, still looking. Daniel finally
emerges, and Jocelyn starts towards him. He recognizes her
in a moment and runs to her. Jocelyn fidgets and he stops
before embracing her. She clasps her hands.

JOCELYN
You haven’t changed.

DANIEL
Space always changes you. It’s been
a long war.

JOCELYN
Longer for me.

DANIEL
Longer for you.

BEAT.

JOCELYN
Daniel, this is Sam. Sam, this is
your father.

Like most sons, Sam is taller than his father. They are
almost the same age. Sam’s eyes are wide as he finally takes
in the man who’s been light-years away his entire life. At
his mother’s words, he shakes out of it and offers his hand.
Daniel grips him in a hug instead.

DANIEL
I’ve watched your letters a hundred
times. I’m so sorry I couldn’t
respond.

ADULT SAM
Mom made sure we made one every
five months.

DANIEL
She’s like that. I’m glad I could
watch you grow up. I’m very proud
of you, Sam.

Sam smiles with a tear in his eyes. Daniel releases him,
clapping him on the arm. He turns to Jocelyn, takes her into
his arms.

DANIEL
I’m glad you waited for me.

JOCELYN
I love you. What else could I do?

Their hands find each other. Daniel runs his fingers through
hers. Their rings press together.

DANIEL
I love you too.

JOCELYN
(turning away)
I’m old.

Daniel tilts her face back to his.

DANIEL
You’re beautiful.

She trembles. He kisses her. She kisses back.

FADE OUT.

END ACT THREE

THE END


Wah Wah Wah! Our First Delay!

For anyone checking to see if we had something new posted today, sorry but it looks like Tales from Bridge City is experiencing its first delay. This just means it’ll take us until sometime tomorrow to post a story. Doing these on Sunday was always abritrary and we reserve the right to change our release day in the future (of course) but for now we have committed to Sundays.

Don’t worry, this failure will not go unpunished. Heads will roll, backs will break, and the howls of the condemned will ring out across the internets. And when all the due blood is spilled and the proper lessons doled out, you will have your next story.

I’ve read it. It’s a superhero story. SPOILERS!

-Evan