Archive for: September, 2017

Golem Queen by Cleo Holmes

Sep 24 2017 Published by under The WiFiles

Ever since that night I’ve had a million people ask me exactly what happened. I’m not sure why they do, no one ever seems to believe me. I’ve finally given up on telling anyone, but maybe if I write it down someone will find it and understand. So here it is- the first ever written account of the Halloween I lost Malka and possibly my mind.

I always thought she was beautiful, but that night? She was… indescribable. Malka was always more than a little bit of a “Goth princess”. Halloween was her favorite time to really let loose and pull out all of the stops. This Halloween she had gone for less of a punk princess look and decided to be more of a punk queen.

Normally her hair was done up in a cliché scene pouf that changed colors almost weekly. For this occasion though she had died it back to her natural color, a brown so dark most people mistook it for black, just like her amazingly large eyes. Sleek and dark and luscious she had curled it into a ridiculous amount of ringlets and then piled it artfully on top of her head with curls dropping around her face to frame it. The smoky eyed mess of makeup that we were all used to had been replaced with simple eyeliner to make her large dark eyes look even larger. Her lips were painted to match her hair and eyes and she had drawn stitches that curved up her cheeks to create a creepy and whimsical smile no matter if she was smiling or not.

With her plaid skirts and unknown band t-shirts Malka always looked younger than she was, but just like the rest of her “usual” look she discarded these. Combat boots were replaced with platformed purple heels. Continuing up her legs she had tights designed to look like they were stitched together from different pieces of black hosiery. On top of these were ragged black petticoats. She had bought multiple sets and layered them to create an almost cartoon like version of hips. To emphasize the effect even further a skirted purple brocade corset was laced tightly around her waist. Her enhanced hips and even tinier than usual waist both served to make her normally modest bosom look less prepubescent, and more nymph like. Tied around her delicate pale neck with a strip of soft purple velvet was an old and tarnished silver locket. When I asked her about it she laughed and trailed her dark nails across my cheek, “It’s just an old trinket I found in my jewelry box. It completes the look don’t you think?”

It definitely did. I was her current favorite out of our group of friends, but she basked in the adoration of all equally. She had been with each of us at one point or another. She had gone back and forth and repeated favorites sometimes, but mostly she just supplemented herself with fringe followers. I was part of the group from the beginning, all the way since she had moved to town in middle school. She had never chosen me before this school year, but my time had finally come.

Tonight was the first time I was happy she had waited. I was the favorite on her night of queendom. Something no one could take from me. Malka had of course prepared my outfit, nothing near as nice as hers… but I still felt special. My ragged hair was slicked back, and my eyes were lined. My clothes were simple, but complemented hers nicely. A pair of plain dark dress pants and a vintage deep purple button up shirt she had found somewhere. Proving the power Malka had over our group she had forbidden anyone else from wearing anything purple, so it was clear that I was her escort for the evening.

As with most of our group events we were starting the evening at her house and then heading out from there. The group wasn’t entirely sure what all was planned for the night, but we knew we would be with her so no one minded. Looking back? I don’t see why our parents were so OK with it… We got in trouble with her all the time. I guess I should say we got in trouble for her all the time. She always seemed to make it through every scrape with no blame, even though all of our mishaps were always entirely instigated by her. That night wasn’t any different. It actually turned out much worse than usual…

Her parents were out for some sort of charity event, so we were able to do some pre-party work while we waited to find out what else we would be doing. The whole procedure felt a bit like an odd mockery of a Catholic mass. All of the devotees lined up, just waiting. Malka would go to each in turn and make minor adjustments in their costumes and then give her nod of approval. As her current second in command it was my duty to hand out the “body and blood”- this week’s brand of hallucinogens in small wafer form followed by a swig of absinthe. Now I know what you’re thinking, how can my account be worth anything if I was under the influence of who knows what? The truth is that I didn’t partake. I was really hoping that that night would be the night that I would finally get lucky with our lovely queen and I didn’t want to mess it up or not remember it because I wasn’t all there. Not the noblest of motives, but it probably saved my life.

It turned out that our queen didn’t have a firm plan yet, or at least not one she was willing to share with the rest of us yet. There were a few of our regular haunts within walking distance and it was decided that we would be starting with a quick stop in to show off our costumes to our friends and acquaintances. Knowing her the way I thought I did, I assumed that we would end up trying to tag along with some of our older friends to some more exciting college parties. Or possibly even make some new friends and tag along with them if they seemed worthy of Her Majesties presence.

We made it through all of our usual spots with no excitement. Everyone that had something to do had pretty much already filtered away to their own activities. The few people that had been left in the various bars and clubs, the skate park, and the “teen center” were the ones who would be staying in those areas all night.

Our Lady of Fun and Games was getting very clearly frustrated. At that point of the evening I was starting to get pretty nervous. I was positive that if we didn’t find a suitably fun way to spend the evening pretty quick my hopes and dreams of losing my virginity to the girl of my dreams was going to be ruined.

Now remember how I told you I hadn’t taken anything or even had a drink? Keep that in mind while I tell you this next part. I know it sounds crazy, if it didn’t it wouldn’t have taken the last three years to convince all of the doctors as the institute that I wasn’t a danger to myself or others and could be trusted with the crayon I’m using to write this. I was completely sober, and I’m not exaggerating any of it. I wish I was.

When they first showed up I thought that the night was saved, and so did everyone else. They seemed like they would be fun with an edge of danger. There was part of me that wondered if they might be too dangerous, but I didn’t listen to that part. One of the reasons I had never been Chosen was because I was always the one to suggest we look before we leap. I was the wet blanket that usually ruined the fun. Thinking more with my libido than my brain I made up my mind that we had to hang out with these people, if only so we could once again have our benevolent smiling queen back and I could try to get it in with her.

It’s hard to describe them without sounding a little crazy, so bear with me. At first glance they looked completely normal. Just regular people out dressed up for Halloween… but then you realized there was just something a little bit off about them. If I had drank anything I would have chalked what I saw up to imagination and confusion, but like I said before. I was completely sober.

The one that seemed to be in charge was the smallest; he couldn’t have been more than 5’2″ at the most. His head seemed not screwed on right. I don’t mean in metaphorical sense although he was more than a couple of fries short of a happy meal. It was more literal. It seemed like his whole head was screwed on a little bit too much. He didn’t seem able to turn his head at all. To look from left to right he had to move his whole body. His entire face seemed slightly lop sided. The features on the left side were oddly smaller than those on the right side. He was the most normal looking out of the group though. Among the others there were those who seemed to only be able to move at the joints with very little flexibility even there, and then some who were almost too flexible. They seemed to flop more than they actually walked- like rag dolls. The thing that I wished I had noticed then was their eyes. Their eyes were all the same deep dark pools of black of the girl they were so interested in.

I was too caught up in my own plans to realize exactly how interested in Malka they were. Our own little group revolved around her so much it seemed natural for others to do the same. We almost literally ran into them as they came out of an alley in front of us. Thinking back now, their interest was odd. Groups that knew us knew that we were all just extensions of her, but strangers always had to adjust to that way of thinking. They saw her and laughed. Bowing they called her their queen. We all assumed that it was a joke because of her costume, but we came to find that these people didn’t quite understand normal humor.

Their leader didn’t offer a name, but he did offer a “fun time with some different folk”. I could tell that the others in the group were slightly anxious and our Queen was wavering, potentially thinking of refusing their offer. For my own selfish needs I couldn’t afford for her to not have a good time though, so I loudly voiced my opinion that we should go. I wish to God I had actually been drunk instead of just drunk off of the idea of finally getting what I wanted. The night might have ended much differently…

As we walked their leader talked to our Queen casually as if they had known each other for years.

“Well little bubbala, you are certainly farpitzs on this All Hallows Eve.” The rest of us stared wondering what on earth this man was talking about but the lady of the hour just smiled, “It’s been a long time since anyone has called me bubbala… I think my zeyde was the last one who did before he passed away.” We were even more confused now. Still in the frame of mind that I might be considered special I risked a question. “Um… Malka? What are you guys talking about? Those words don’t make any sense.” I knew that there was a good chance that questioning anything she said or did would not just ruin my chances for the night, but could also easily push me out of the favored position. I had a little bit of luck on my side apparently. She was distracted by the strange man and didn’t have the time or energy to be upset at me at all. “It’s Yiddish, silly. My parents don’t practice but my zeyda, my grandfather, taught me some things before he passed away.” None of us really ever remembered that she was Jewish, but this was certainly a reminder and surprise.

They continued talking quietly about various things with the occasional Yiddish phrase thrown in. Our group trailed after Malka like a group of ducklings. We were surrounded by the rest of the odd group who didn’t respond to any of our overtures. Finally we arrived at our destination. It appeared to be an old abandoned warehouse. Looking around I was surprised to see that we had wandered into a part of town that didn’t have a great reputation without noticing. It was this moment where my doubts and hesitations about what I had done solidified into a cold lump of fear in the bottom of my stomach. All I could think was that I had officially messed up big time and now we were all going to have our organs removed and sold on the black market.

The tiny lopsided man led us in through the doors though and we were surprised once again. In this shady section of town, masked by an exterior of commonplace shabbiness, was an incredibly chic and modern club. The clientele seemed to be mostly college age or a little bit older, but scattered throughout were those who could have been in middle school and a few who could have been over 50. A few came and greeted our party, all similar to our escort- dark sparkling eyes and something slightly off about their bodies- but the rest of the club was incredibly varied.

The patrons ranged from tiny little devious looking men in dirty ragged clothes to tall disdainful women with sharp unreal features and clothes that could be only described as “ethereal”. There were also those that seemed very hairy and feral, some incredibly gaunt people with piercing red eyes, and here and there a few people who looked at least slightly normal. It was intimidating and intoxicating all at the same time.

Following Malka’s lead we plunged into the fray, dancing like maniacs to some kind of EDM that you could feel in your rib cage. A couple in our group also followed Malka’s lead in trying various glasses and tubes of different kinds of drinks. I was the only one who didn’t have any. Our Queen’s mood had improved with the new source of excitement and my fear was overcome by new hope that I might still get lucky.

The other patrons ignored us for the most part, but a few came and introduced themselves to Malka, complimenting her costume. Knowing how much Malka disliked jealousy in her favorites I had to contain myself every time it felt like they were attempting to compete with me. The hardest moment was when one of the tall ethereal women came over and kissed my Queen full on the mouth. Malka, of course, laughed delightedly and had no problems. As you might imagine I had problems. Quite a few of them, in fact. Luck was once again with me in this. She saw my face before I could wipe the jealousy off of it. I expected her to be upset at me, but she just laughed.

“It’s just a little Halloween fun! Don’t be upset about something so silly. Here you come kiss me just to prove to everyone that we’re actually together, not just matching clothes.” As always, her kisses were incredibly intoxicating and drove all thoughts of jealousy out of my head. She was right, everyone in here could kiss her, but she would still be mine for at least that moment. Or so I thought then.

I don’t know if it was minutes or hours later, but the fellow who had brought us in came over and had a whispered conversation with Malka. She gestured imperiously to us, her subjects, and we followed. The music was loud and she was walking away but we caught the phrase “…VIP room…”. My fear was back with a vengeance at this point. They had let us have an evening of fun, but now they really were going to take our organs. I knew I couldn’t let Malka go alone, and they’d have more trouble getting all of us at once. Hanging on to this thought I trailed along uncertainly.

As we stepped through the doors into the much quieter room I realized that I was the only one who could be called anything close to sober. The others had all had their “pregame” as well as various drinks throughout the night before the club, but the odd drinks here had done them in entirely. This worried me, I knew you couldn’t exactly trust drunk people in a fight or flight situation.

The group of strange people was the only ones in there, which seemed odd to me. The leader came up to Malka and asked “Well bubbala, do you recognize us?” A faint frown crossed her face as she looked at him. “What do you mean? Of course I do, you brought us here this evening, don’t be silly.” He shook his head sadly, “No sweet girl, I mean from before. Please tell me you have at least some memory of your mishpocha. It would break our hearts if you had no clue at all.”

I moved up silently to stand at her side, hoping that nothing serious was about to happen. Malka had her head tilted and her frown was more than faint now. Her hand reached up to grasp the locket around her neck and she seemed to be thinking very hard. “Mishpocha… family?” Her tone was puzzled, but also seemed as if she might be halfway remembering something she had forgotten a long time ago.

“There’s no way! You can’t be!?” She exclaimed in a slightly panicky voice, “That was all make believe, we had to move because of all of that. Mom and Dad thought I was going crazy. You’re lying!” This last part was said in an angry and unbelieving tone.

“What is going on? Malka, I think we should take everyone and leave.” What I thought was a great idea was completely ignored by both the girl I thought of as my queen and the man who was upsetting her. It was as if I wasn’t even there.

“Why is it so hard to believe bubbala? It was your belief so long ago that made us real. Long ago it took so much time and effort to make any sort of golem, and they had no life or true personalities such as we do. Every once in a long while someone like you would come along, though, someone who could give us true life. It took us so long to find you, please don’t leave now. We may have life, but it has no meaning without our Queen.” The way he said Queen left no doubts that he meant it in a much more literal sense than any of our friends ever did. “Even your name means Queen, Malka. You know that you are meant for this, as did your zeyda. He taught you the old ways for a reason. Don’t turn your back on him, and us, again.” The man’s eyes were almost hypnotic, his tone low and calm. I found his argument so compelling that I almost wanted to agree with him myself, but I also found that I couldn’t intrude on this moment.

Maybe I was drunk on Malka, or maybe my lust was more powerful than whatever was going on. I found that my desire to look at Malka and tell her what I, her current favorite, thought about the situation overcame the drowsy pull of the lop-sided man’s words. As soon as I was looking at her face the spell was broken for me. Her face seemed calm and she was very still, but her hand was clasped tightly enough around her locket to turn white. I didn’t know what to do or even if I should do anything until I saw a tear slowly ran down her face.

I had never seen Malka cry, or even seen any evidence that she had the ability to cry. My love as her longtime friend and loyal subject spurred me into anger that anyone would hurt her in any way. I grabbed Malka by the arm and spun her towards me. Shaking her slightly I looked deep into her eyes and called her name. I had to get us out of there. I slid my hand down to hers and started pulling her towards the door, trying to herd our group of friends as well.

I felt her stop and pull against my arm and spun around, worried that I was going to have to fight the people for her. They hadn’t moved- she had stopped all on her own.

“I can’t leave them,” she told me in the gentlest voice I had ever heard come out of her mouth. My jaw dropped “WHAT? What are you talking about Malka? They are crazy we have to leave.”

“No. They’re mishpocha. I MADE them. They love me. I love them.” Her voice now had the same quality as the lopsided man- Low and hypnotic. I pulled at my hand in hers futilely and started to panic. I wasn’t trying to bring her anymore, I was just trying to make her let go of my hand but her grip just kept tightening. Now I swear I was still completely sober still- possibly even more sober thanks to the adrenaline rush- but this is where things get weirder.

Malka’s eyes got even darker and assumed all of the qualities I imagine black holes to have. Inexplicably dark and impossible to escape I couldn’t move my eyes from hers. Her drawn on smile started looking more real. Her face actually split along the seams she had drawn. I screamed louder than I had ever known I could and with all of my strength ripped my hand away from hers. The force was enough to break a few of my fingers. Turning around I found that while I had been transfixed by her eyes the group of odd people had circled around and taken hold of my friends.

I won’t lie, I screamed. At first I didn’t realize it was me; it sounded so high pitched and not at all like any noise I had ever made. More like some kind of computer generated scream than a real one. The people were… absorbing our friends. It was as if all of the life and realness of the people I had known for years was being sucked into the terrifying doll-folks.

I turned away from Malka but her hand shot out and grabbed mine again, crunching the already broken fingers painfully. Her grip was inhumanly tight. Her face was also becoming more inhuman by the second. I struggled, but I got weaker and weaker the longer I started into her eyes. “Don’t you want to stay with me? You know I am loyal in my own way. I wouldn’t forsake any of you. You might not be true mishpocha, but I could make you part of my family. You have always been happy to serve before, so now shouldn’t be any different.” There was something wrong with her logic, but my befuddled brain didn’t know what. Her fingernails had turned claw like and were digging into my skin hard enough that in a deep dark corner of my mind I knew I was bleeding but I couldn’t make myself care anymore. The world turned slowly gray as I gazed into her eyes. That same part of my mind that knew I was bleeding also noted with a clinical detachment that My Malka was no longer the slightly cruel but completely lovable young woman who had run my life for so many years now. She was something out of a video game or nightmare. Everything was getting darker and darker. I was slowly losing consciousness.

The doors suddenly burst open. The woman who had kissed Malka earlier swept in as if she owned the room. Then she saw Malka as she was now. Malka’s life sucking gaze shifted to her and I was able to also turn and see the slight surprise on the sylvan woman’s face. She bowed slightly. “I just thought all of you would like to know the mortal police are on their way here. It might not be advisable to burden yourself with unnecessary baggage.” This last was said with a hand gesture at me and my friends. As the woman bowed herself out Malka’s gaze turned to the lop-sided man. Apparently their relationship was already much deeper than anything I could imagine because she just nodded at him and he bowed and began to organize the other odd people. The black holes that had taken residence where her eyes used to be sucked my gaze back to her face. She tilted her head. “I had really hoped you might come with me. I had planned to keep you as my toy for quite a bit longer. Oh well. There will be others.” She kissed my forehead and I could feel my skin burning. Her hand released mine and I slowly sank to the ground, blackness again descending.

“Don’t forget about me, k?” Her voice was distant and unreal. I tried to tell her I wouldn’t-I couldn’t ever forget her, but I was already gone.

I came to myself weeks later. I had been restrained in a hospital for the entire time apparently raving like a madman. It was another week and a half before I was brought to this place for “the safety of myself and others”. The cops wouldn’t believe me that I hadn’t taken anything. They thought that my friends and I had been experimenting with some new kind of drug. It turns out I was the only one who survived and I had only barely survived.

The worst part about the week and a half before my transfer was when Malka’s parents came. She still hadn’t been found. I told them the same story I had told everyone. Their reaction was different than the cops, doctors, or the parents of the other kids, or my own parents. Malka’s mother had turned white as the sheets I was laying on and her father’s face seemed like it had turned to stone. I had never noticed how much Malka’s eyes were like his but I saw it now. All he said when I was done was “I see.” I never saw them again, and neither did anyone else. Apparently they packed all of their things and left the next day.

Lately I’ve been dreaming of Malka and the lopsided man. I haven’t told anyone yet because I know it will just put me back under 24 hour surveillance. I’m writing this in the hopes that when I’m found dead or missing someone might finally believe me.

Don’t trust the doll people. Don’t trust the doll people. Don’t trust the doll people. Don’t trust the doll people. Don’t trust the doll people. Don’t trust

Bio: Cleo Holmes lives in the southeast desert of New Mexico with her husband and an already out of womb child as well as one still baking. When she isn’t battling scorpions, or chasing down her toddler and his dog, she is attempting to fit in a writing career.

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The Angry Dead By DJ Tyrer

Sep 17 2017 Published by under The WiFiles

My clients almost invariably think that it is difficult to reach the dead, assuming either that the veil is hard to penetrate or that finding a soul involves a search through a vast, empty void. They are wrong, very wrong; I see the dead about me all the time: I would love it if I could draw a curtain shut between them and me and achieve a period of respite from their attention. There are so many of them since the war, still so many seeking rest a decade on, all angry at being killed so young in the mud of Flanders and desperate to speak to the loved ones they left behind.

The problem isn’t contacting the dead, but locating the one I want amongst the clamouring hordes. Back before the war, it was relatively easy: Most of the dead gathered at places that held meaning for them, usually their homes or close to their families; and those that had left something undone or unsaid were easy to make contact with. But, now, they come to me, cluster about me, all demanding my attention, fighting one another to reach me, wanting me to pass on messages, some hoping I know some way back, or else the way to move on. Trying to find the one I want is almost impossible.

As a child, the ghosts had scared me, but I grew to accept them and, even, to enjoy my role as a go-between. But, now, their constant presence leaves me with a perpetual, low-grade headache and after a séance I feel drained and ill. I hate to perform them, now.

“I need to know my husband is at peace,” demands Mrs Franklin, a large and overbearing woman.

It’s a trite question that’s frequently asked. I’m not sure why people think their loves ones want to be dragged out of their eternal rest just to reassure them they’re comfortable. Did they enjoy being woken early when having a lie-in?

But, while it’s trite, it’s also a question I can answer without actually having to locate a ghost. I let my eyes roll back and give a low moan of the sort people seem to find sounds mystical, despite making me think of indigestion. After a suitable pause and a little shuddering, I ‘make contact.’

“He is at rest. He has found peace.”

“Oh, I’m so glad. Tell him, I love him.”

“He knows.”

“Ask him if I should give Tommy money; he wants to buy a Bentley Speed Six,” she adds, conversationally.

I stay silent, pretending to communicate, while trying to ignore the half-missing face of a ghost pressing into mine and screaming for attention, then manage to say, “Your husband says ‘no’; Tommy needs to learn to look after himself, not rely on gifts.”

Mrs Franklin nods, satisfied. With so many of the dead pressing in upon me, I find it disconcerting to see the living superimposed upon them, somehow able to see both, despite the dead seeming every bit as solid.

I stumble out into the cool night air and my constant companions shuffle out after me, joining those kept waiting without.

“Please, go away, leave me alone!” I shout, finding their presence unbearable. If anyone is watching me, they must think I’m mad. But, then, I’m well known across London as an eccentric…

I hail a cab and ride back to my home in Knightsbridge. Even at speed, the dead keep pace, allowing me no respite.

I put a record on and slump into a leather chair and close my eyes. Jazz wails from the gramophone. I don’t like jazz, but it helps drown out the voices, the demands, the wails. With my eyes shut, I can’t see them, not that it ever made any sense to me: I don’t see them with my eyes, I’m sure. Still, I’m grateful for the quirk, glad for the peace, however imperfect.

My telephone rings. A luxury, but a necessary one in my line of work. Reluctantly, I stand and open my eyes and step past the persistent dead to answer it. A job, of course. I call down to the concierge and arrange for him to detain me a cab and, soon, I’m on my way.

“I want to speak to my grandfather,” says the old man with enormous mutton-chop whiskers that haven’t been in fashion for a long time.

My heart seems to sink towards my stomach.

“Your grandfather?”

“Yes, my grandfather. He was killed in the Crimea.”

The Crimea? That puts the death back, what, fifty, sixty, seventy years ago? A long time. He doesn’t appear to be hanging around and those that have been dead so long usually move deeper into the afterlife, down into its ocean-like depths. Always hard work, I dread going there now.

“I need to know he forgives me.”

I’m tempted to lie again, a simple ‘yes’ to give him the peace of mind he desires.

“Forgives what?”

“He’ll know.” He probably does, but that doesn’t help me. Of course, I could lie, but what do I do if he wants details?

I consider refusing, but something about the man’s eyes persuades me. I wonder if there was a falling out or, perhaps, some youthful indiscretion. I can see the desperation to know he is forgiven.

I say, “I’ll do it.”

This time, the trappings of the séance are less-decoration to gull and misdirect a client, but a necessary step to help me detach my mind from my body and send it down into the darkness in search of a soul. For once, my performance matches with what people imagine about me. Of course, if they knew what I faced, they wouldn’t romanticise it, nor ask me to make the journey.

I sink down through the ocean of years, down into a blackness that must be like that which claimed the Titanic and Lusitania. I sink down, away from my client and his dining room, away from the candles and other accoutrements of my craft, away from the ranks of the restless dead.

I cannot sense the soul I seek, but I can sense it – the ‘it’ that makes me fear the afterlife. I can’t be certain, but I never sensed it before the war. It is formless and angry and, I believe, desires to devour everything; I think that is why it is so difficult to find the spirits of the dead down here.

My theory is that the Great War birthed this horror which lurks like leviathan here in the darkness beyond the grave. I suspect it was born of the rage of all those robbed of life: That would explain why it is filled with what I describe as anger.

The dead demand an absolution they can never have and their rage just grows and grows. One day, perhaps, it will devour all of them. Perhaps, it may even break free to devour us all or, perhaps, it will leak into our world in other ways, bringing death and disaster to rival the horrors that birthed it.

Then, I realise, it’s sensed me.

I begin to flow back up towards my body and I feel the searing force of its anger directed solely at me. Like an ant beneath a spyglass, I feel myself burning. It wants me. It hates me.

Can I escape it?

Around me, I suddenly sense the clustered dead, some reaching out, trying to help me, others screaming at me, unable to grasp anyone’s problems but their own.

It’s close behind me, hungry, angry.

I look around at the fractured faces of the dead, victims of the madness that seized the world, and realise, none can escape their fate.

It’s upon me and I surprise myself as I realise I hate it as much as it hates me.

Life – death – is so unjust.

Ends

 

DJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing and has been widely published in anthologies and magazines around the world, such as Chilling Horror Short Stories (Flame Tree), Snowpocalypse (Black Mirror Press), Steampunk Cthulhu (Chaosium), Tales of the Black Arts (Hazardous Press), Miskatonic Dreams (Alban Lake), and Sorcery & Sanctity: A Homage to Arthur Machen (Hieroglyphics Press), and in addition, has a novella available in paperback and on the Kindle, The Yellow House (Dunhams Manor).

DJ Tyrer’s website is at http://djtyrer.blogspot.co.uk/

The Atlantean Publishing website is at http://atlanteanpublishing.blogspot.co.uk/

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The Convert by Carlos McReynolds

Sep 15 2017 Published by under The WiFiles

It’s not until my fourth trip to the temple that they let me speak to the guy in charge.

“The Grand Magus is ready to see you, Nichi.” The blue-eyed young man who goes by Azoth greets me at the door, his Spanish laced with a heavy Swedish accent.

He waves me into the old warehouse, past the large open area that might have once held lumber or machine parts. An earthy smell permeates the space, red brick walls damp with river moisture. Small groups of cultists in gray tracksuits sit amidst rows of old pews. A few look up, flashing awkward smiles when they recognize me.

At night, they all pack into converted storage rooms, where the aroma of packed humanity lingers. I’ve already taken a look at the sleeping quarters. Nothing there for me, nothing worth the trouble of taking. I know a dead end when I see one.

Since the first days of climbing in through windows, of picking locks, of lifting wallets, I’ve been able to tell an easy mark from a total bust. If there’s a score here, it’s in the big guy’s office.

“It is an honor, you know.” Azoth speaks without breaking his stride, without looking at me. “He does not let many talk to him. You persistence impresses him.”

“I hope I can only live up to it,” I respond. With luck, the Grand Magus is in a chatty mood. I only need ten, maybe fifteen, minutes in the office to plan my next step.

Two rough-looking men in grey robes, one standing on either side, nod to the Swede as we approach. Azoth says some words in an unfamiliar language to them. The guards never shift their gaze to me. They offer no response. Still, one of them opens the door.

An large antique wooden desk dominates the back half of a mostly unremarkable office. No black cloths, no skulls, not even candles. Nothing like what I expected for the self-styled Grand Magus. Oil paintings of abstract figures on the walls. Can’t really say if they’re mystical or just artistic. A few potted plants complete the impression of normalcy.

A small barred window is set high in the wall. I’ve examined it from outside. It will take me less than an hour to silently cut through those bars.

The Grand Magus stands and holds out his hand. We shake. He’s wearing a grey suit–stylish, probably European–with a tie of the same color. His graying hair is neatly trimmed, swept back like he could be on a magazine cover. He looks like an executive for some international bank or manufacturing conglomerate.

“Mr. Lavoisier,” I begin, my tone deferential. “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak with you.”

“I hope you understand our precautions.” His Spanish is good, with merely a shadow of an accent. Word on the street is he’s Belgian. “The Temple of the Dancing Star does not usually accept new members.”

Only chumps who are young or rich, neither of which I am. Still, when I heard a group of Europeans renting an old warehouse, that got me a little curious. Strange foreigners choosing to linger in a working-class Buenos Aires suburb–had to be a reason for that, possibly an opportunity.

I considered letting it go when it turned out to be a religious cult. Fanatics are the wrong kind of gullible. Still, my instincts told me there was more there, to dig deeper. After I bought him a couple drinks, Hoffman the fence told me about the Europeans in track suits selling gold coins around town. There was a score there, I knew, one I didn’t want to pass up.

“I understand, but then I got to know some of your disciples by accident.” I repress a smile at that last word. “Well, I don’t know if ‘accident’ is the right word… Do you believe in destiny?”

“Men often speak of destiny without understanding it.” Lavoisier raises a graying eyebrow. “It’s true that all existence is a curious interweaving of relationships, yet the nature of this web is understood by very few.”

I let my eyes scan the room as I half-listen to his prattle. There’s a small iron door along one of the walls, half hidden by a large fern. Just seeing it, I know. I feel it, a tingling in my fingertips, in my balls. That’s where the score is. It’s a big one, possibly life-changing.

“Of course,” I respond, bringing my attention back to the conversation. “Maybe I shouldn’t have said ‘destiny.’ Still, the possibility that I would have been passing by that corner and was able to intervene when two of your devotees were attacked…” Attacked by a buddy of mine, in exchange for a hundred mangos. “You no doubt see the hidden working of the universe behind it.”

“The majority of mankind lives in almost complete ignorance.” His gaze shifts upwards. “Even the most educated scientists believe the universe began as a solely physical phenomena, this supposed Big Bang.”

“I’ve heard that before.”

Lavoisier shakes his head. “Merely a crude metaphor which falls short of the truth. You see, before the universe came into being, all of existence existed in a union of physical and spiritual energies. Do you know what gods are?”

It’s no surprise he’s talking about gods now. Religion is the oldest con in existence. Father Hernandez never passed up a chance to hit me for taking the Lord’s name in vain, but that didn’t keep him from visiting the house run by Volyniak the pimp.

It’s not as if the the temple’s ugly side is hard to find. It took me less than hour to dig up their misdeeds: Thrown out of Germany, accused of several assaults. Several devotees locked up in France for drug trafficking. Suspected of kidnapping an Arab girl in Portugal, but the authorities didn’t have enough evidence to charge them.

I’ve dealt with rough characters before, worse than these canallas. Once their gold is in my hands, I’ll get so far out of their reach. So many places they’ll never find me. Good luck even getting help from the cops. They have their hands full with the crisis, the streets filling with protesters, men and women beating on pots and pans.

“To tell the truth, I never thought much of it,” I respond.

“The physical-spiritual union, which encompassed all of creation, underwent a sudden and catastrophic change, like an explosion, which separated the energies. After the initial violence, there was a moment in which new forms arose. These forms, which some traditions have called gods, were the Great Old Ones. They were beings of unimaginable power.”

“How fascinating! And these are the gods of your religion?”

“It doesn’t end there.” Lavoisier shoots me a look like I’m some boludo. “The energy unleashed by the initial catastrophe had not spent itself. New waves of destruction fractured the Great Old Ones, dispersing their energies to the edges of existence. When this unfolding had run its course, what was left was the universe we see around us now. The spiritual energy was also dispersed, mixing with the dust of the earth. This separation is only temporary. There will come a day when the cosmic forces realign, creating new patterns of being.”

“You know, I’ve never heard anything like that before.” Perhaps because it’s the biggest load of nonsense I’ve heard in my life. “How did you learn all of this?”

“Would you really like to know more?” The Belgian sounds surprised. Looks like the act has been convincing. Now, I just have to come back at night, cut the bars, get in through the window, open that metal door. That’s all that’s left to do.

“Of course,” trying to use my most sycophantic voice. “I think you have a spiritual instinct like I’ve never seen in any other man. How do you know all this?”

Lavoisier smiles, opens one of the desk drawers, pulling out a small walkie-talkie, probably their makeshift version of an intercom.

“Sofia, could you bring hot tea?” He puts the device back in the drawer. “How did I learn all this? The truth is that this wisdom has been present in the human cultures since the beginnings of civilization. The Temple is little more than the most recent iteration of a tradition which has always existed, one that will never perish. I can’t deny that I’ve had certain oneiric inspirations which have helped me navigate new directions of mysticism.”

This jerk is really insufferable. What a Russian Salad of idiocies he’s laying down.

The door opens and a willowy young blonde enters. She deposits a tray carrying two brown mugs on the desk.

“Okay, Nichi, I think you may be a suitable candidate to learn the revelations of the world to come.” He places one of the mugs on the edge of the desk close to me.

I raise it to my lips, noticing the sharp herbal smell rising from the cup.

“This is a special tea I obtained in Tibet. How do you like it?”

It take a couple of sips. The stuff is more bitter than unsweetened yerba mate.

“It’s quite good. You honor me by offering me something so special.”

“I am curious. How did you come by the name Nichi? Do your friends consider you particularly philosophical?”

Is wonder if he’s playing some game, messing with me? Best to keep humoring him.

“I received the nickname as a kid, because I was ni chico ni grande.” It started when I was just fourteen years old, and my younger brother started to outgrow me. I was the oldest but often mistaken for the middle child.

“So, it comes from you being a normal size?” There’s a sarcastic edge to his voice. He’s busting my balls. I’ve heard that response too many times, hasn’t been funny in years. At least it looks like the Belgian isn’t suspicious.

“Yes, something like that.” It’s time to disappear. I glance at my watch. “I should go. I have an appointment.”

As I try to stand up, the world slides to the left and then up. The last thing I see is the wood of the antique desk.

***

“Our guest is waking up.” It’s Lavoisier’s voice. Everything is dark.

It takes a few tries before my eyes open. I have to blink several of times before a shape emerges: the face of the Grand Magus.

“What’s going on here?” My voice sounds strange, my words slurred.

“You’ll know all of it soon enough.”

The face leaves my sight, leaving me with a series of blurs: beige and brown and dark red. The Grand Magus speaks again, his voice weaker now, as if at a distance. Not Spanish, might be French. Still too weak, I can’t make out what he’s is saying.

The beige blur resolves: figures in track suits, wooden pews, brown tile floor, all framed by red brick walls. I recognize the damp earthen smell from my arrival.

I’m still in the warehouse, in the chapel. I feel strange, exposed. I look down to see my own pink flesh. They’ve stripped me naked.

I try to stand. I have to get out of there.

My arms don’t move.

It might be the drugs. Struggling, I feel the ropes. They’ve tied my wrists to the arms of a heavy wooden chair, my ankles to its legs. A belt around my chest completes the fastenings. I’m not going anywhere.

Maybe they saw me casing the place from outside. They could have a contact with the police. If they know who I am…

I take a deep breath. Can’t let myself panic.

Lavoisier returns into view. He’s still decked out in the gray suit, still costumed as an executive.

He goes to a small cart covered with a white cloth. It’s so close, I could reach out and grab it with a free hand, but I have to turn my head to look at it.

“I told you how the spiritual energy of the Great Old Ones was dispersed throughout the physical universe, waiting for the correct catalyst to begin reforming? The energy, you see, has a strong affinity for consciousness, not only human, but that of all sentient beings.”

He takes the white cloth off, like a magician introducing the next act. The cart has two levels. Car batteries, all connected by wires fill up the lower level. The upper has a series of tools: pliers, two hammers, a variety of different-sized knives, three hypodermic needles, an awl, a length of rope, a cattle prod.

It only takes me a moment to understand the purpose of those instruments. I swallow a scream, then make myself breathe deeply. This is not a moment to lose control.

“Lavoisier, che, I don’t know what you’re planning, but none of this is necessary.” I try to sound casual.

The Grand Magus gestures. The two bodyguards stand up from the congregation and come to stand at his side.

“The other connection with this primordial energy is to the stars.” Lavoisier continues. “The astrology you know is but another primitive metaphor for the relationship between the stars and all sentient beings.”

He lifts the cattle prod and hands it to one of the big guys.

“Look, che, I can help you. With anything. I know this city better than anyone.”

Lavoisier says something in French, and the thug shocks me with the cattle prod.

Convulsions rip through my body. Everything goes black for a second. My tongue hurts. I can taste blood from where I’ve bitten it.

“Now, the truth is that the majority of humans don’t have more spiritual energy than a dog or vulture.” Lavoisier lifts up a knife and examines it. He sets it back down. “But there are certain individuals who, for unknown reasons, have an exceptional concentration of this energy. These are known as The Children. The most powerful of them is the Lokakshayakur, whom we have not yet found. Once awakened, The Children will elevate all sentient beings to a greater level of existence.”

I should have gone with my first thought, stayed away. There’s no way to reason with these fanatics.

“Hey, I totally believe you about The Children. I’ll help you find them. Maybe that was the reason I came across you guys.”

Lavoisier raises his hand and makes a fist. One of the large guys grabs me by the throat, cutting off my respiration. My body reacts automatically, panicking, my lungs struggling to draw in air. Fire sweeps through my chest.

The Belgian spits out a word: “Arrêt!”

The force on my throat goes away. I can breath again.

“The Children can be awakened during certain astronomical configurations, but one must know how to read the stars. The same stars, of course, which led us to you.”

I try to talk but it hurts too much. All I can manage is a few groans.

Lavoisier picks up one of the hypodermics.

“We’ve now come to another cosmic alignment. You will help us begin the new phase in humanity’s spiritual evolution.”

I can’t follow what he’s talking about anymore. It hurts too much. I think I might faint.

“The spark of the divine needs the physical organism in order to manifest.” The Belgian holds the hypodermic up, taps it. “The conventions of body and mind serve as a prison or shell, unfortunate limitations confronted by holy men in the East. They developed a series of techniques for mortification of the flesh, in order to transcend that which was not the divine seed. Techniques sadly wasted on mere madmen. Our process is a more advanced form of this mortification, which we’ve developed after some trial and error. You see, we will need to break you completely, body and mind, in order to awaken your true being.”

Their crimes run much deeper than I knew. I feel anger rising within me, stunned by the depths of their cruelty.

“Is this what you do to people? What you did to that Arab girl?”

Lavoisier merely smiles, for once passing up a chance to prattle on.

It’s a nightmare. I struggle against the ropes, feeling the skin of my wrists burn, rubbed raw.

One of the bodyguards grabs my left arm, ties a rubber band above the elbow. Lavoisier finds a vein and sticks the hypodermic into it.

“What are you shooting me up with?”

The Belgian smiles. “Our refinement of the old tools of shamanism, to speed the process along.”

He squeezes the plunger, a yellow liquid passing from the hypodermic into my arm. It doesn’t hurt. Not yet.

“I’m so sorry if I’ve bothered you. If you let me go, I’ll forget all about you. I won’t say anything to anyone.”

“There’s no need to apologize, nowhere to go. This is what we had hoped for from the beginning. It’s why you heard the rumor about gold coins, why we gave you an opportunity to meet us. Please, you needn’t worry. Despite what we’re going to do to you, we will not let you die. Your death would be a tragedy. It would merely displace the cosmic energy without awakening it. We’d have to start all over again, looking for another such as yourself.”

I can feel the tears flowing down my cheeks. My heart might explode. “Don’t do this.”

Lavoisier lifts a finger to my lips.

“Please, that won’t change anything. We know what you are: a thief, a coward, and a liar. None of that matters. Soon you will be divine, transcendent. You don’t know it yet, but you’ve wanted this all along.”

The other bodyguard attaches the wires from the batteries to my bare skin. He hands the leader a small box with more wires trailing off of it.

Lavoisier turns around for a moment, and offers some more words to the congregation. They begin to chant cacophonously in an unknown language.

The Grand Magus faces me again. His fingers hold the red dial in the center of the box. He gives me a quick nod.

The current pulses through my body. My muscles seize up, my teeth rattling in my head. I don’t know how long the pain lasts–perhaps only seconds–but it feels like an eternity.

When it stops, I feel a wetness at my legs. I’ve pissed himself. One of the bodyguards punches my in the stomach. The other grabs a knife and starts slicing down my forearm.

When I starts to scream, the current starts again.

After that, I’m lost in a series of blows, cuts and electrocutions. Sometimes in the pauses, I hear the sound of tools being rearranged. If I get used to the knife or the hits, there will be a pause, a moment of anticipation. Then they turn on the current. The shocks come stronger each time, flames racing through my veins.

I squeeze my eyes shut. I don’t want to see what they’re doing to me. Everything hurts. I feel mangled. I don’t know what they’ve broken. My hands throb with pain.

Then comes one last jolt of electricity, the most painful thing I’ve ever felt, like a fire shooting from the base of my spine to the crown of my head. After that is silence and darkness.

No, not complete silence. My ears pick up a low, rhythmic sound. It starts weak, as if at a distance, but grows stronger.

There is something breathing, in and out, in the darkness.

The sound communicates something I can’t identify, hunger or malevolence or pain. It’s almost more of a growling than respiration, a sinister sibilance. I am alone here in the darkness with some kind of animal, a rabid beast.

No, I realize, there’s no animal. I’m listening to my own breath.

I open my eyes. Lavoisier and his bodyguards have stopped. They stand there, looking at me with an expression of wonder on their faces. I glance at my broken body. cuts and bruises covering my arms and legs. All forgotten when I see what they’ve done to my right hand.

It’s slimy and yellow, almost unrecognizable. The fingers undulate, not under my control, a foreign organism. Like they’ve cut off the hand, attaching a disgusting yellow starfish to the stump. Yellow lines, the same color as the starfish, creep down my forearm, branching like veins. There’s no pain with it, just warmth.

I convulse, try again to break my bonds, but they hold.

Sickly shades of yellow spread through my arm, then it starts to bloat. The bonds strain against my growing flesh.

The breathing echoes in my ears. The same unsettling sound I heard in the darkness. An alien being breathes through my lungs.

I struggle again, hearing the crack of the wood, and stand, feeling the chair fall away beneath me. The perspective is wrong. My torturers are below me. I shouldn’t up be this high.

Screams catch my attention, the reaction of the congregation. Several have stood up, gazing at me, wonder in their eyes. Wonder and fear and awe and despair.

I hear their voices in my head, their thoughts, their animal instincts for survival. I understand now. My fear is gone. I stretch out what was once an arm, now a mass of yellow-green tendrils. I see my true body.

Several cultists scream louder, clutching heads or chests. The fear breaks something in them. I feel their ends, the life going out of them. A small spark escapes, almost invisible, that fragment of energy within each sentient being. The only part of them that is like me, the part of them that longed to awaken me.

This is what they want, the freedom that their animal bodies can’t understand. A few steps and I am among them, grabbing them with viscous appendages, stepping on them like cockroaches, flinging them against the walls. I slaughter them–not out of anger or hunger or to avenge the pathetic body they tortured. This is the sacrament they sought–to join the ultimate, to be destroyed by the divine.

In a moment, it is done. Bodies and parts of bodies surround me.

Gunshots sound out. Three men remain in the chapel. The bodyguards have guns, rifles, assault weapons. I feel the bullets, the hot pinches as they enter my flesh.

It takes one stride to reach them. They fall to pieces in my hands.

Only one remains. The magus stands within a circle of iron set into the floor, shouting and gesturing. His words are strange, esoteric–an ancient language–but I understand their meaning. He hopes to bind, to command me. To hold back the infinite.

One swipe takes his head off.

I look around. Nothing moves. Only death remains in the chapel.

I feel a spasm, a weakness passing through me. It takes me a moment to understand. My strength is leaving. I know, but I can’t say, what is happening. The idiots have awoken me at the wrong time. The stars are not right. The cosmic alignment only allows me a few minutes in this form. It will disappear soon.

One thing remains: the armored door in the office. I can’t remember what it concealed. Whatever it was, it brought me here. I need to see behind it.

In a moment, I’m at the office, breaking through the wooden door, squeezing into the small room. The metal door hidden behind the potted plant looks more fragile than I remember.

I rip it off its hinges, folding it in half, tossing it to the side. I remember the gold I was looking for, cram my head into the small room. There is none in the dim space.

A weak light bulb hangs from the ceiling, casting weak illumination on a cot covered with a mound of blankets. The mound moves. A small face looks out from it, that of a young young girl, maybe seven or eight, with dark hair and big brown eyes. Her mouth opens in a silent scream, the same look of rapture and terror I saw in the faces of the cultists. Something in her breaks. She convulses and begins to fall backwards but never makes it to the floor. Dark fissures open in her face. A viscous and black fluid, like smoke or oil, begins to pour out of the broken flesh, flowing upwards. The body begins to rise, darkening, growing.

Her energy is a not a spark, not like the others. She is a hurricane, greater even than me.

Another wave of weakness sweeps through me. I am falling, reverting, losing consciousness.

Her power continues to grow, her true form unfolding before my eyes. Her dark mass hits the ceiling, breaking through bricks as if it was they were tissue paper.

***

It’s not until after my fourth drink that I bring out the pistol. I set it on the coffee table, pausing before the next step. The low hum of the city fills my ears.

I don’t know why it’s been so hard to get to this step.

Life has only gotten worse since they pulled me out of the rubble of the warehouse. Between my rap sheet and being the only survivor of a massacre, I was the obvious culprit.

They called me terrorist, tried to connect the warehouse explosion to the AMIA bombing or the attacks in the US. They showed me photos of the mangled bodies–the earthly remains of the Temple of the Dancing Star. After a week, the interrogators started working me over.

I pick up the bottle of aguardiente, then set it back down. I’ve had too much already. I can’t be sloppy.

I reach into my pocket for the bullet I’ve carried with me the last few weeks, like a talisman, a reminder I can end it anytime.

They never found the little girl, not even a piece of her. I insisted, but they told me she was a hallucination, a product of the cocktail of drugs they found in my system after digging me up–LSD, ayahuasca, other things I can’t even pronounce.

I don’t believe them. The memory of the girl feels more real than everything that’s come after.

I lasted three days under the harsher interrogations. I knew I should have just taken the rap, confessed to planting a bomb, even if they never found one. I couldn’t lie about it, couldn’t tell them what they wanted to hear.

I was almost resigned to dying in that jail cell. Instead, they set me loose. No trial, no explanation, just handed me my clothes and pushed me out the door.

Back on the streets of Avellaneda, I let myself believe I’d won. I’d walked out of the warehouse, walked out of the police station. Twenty-six corpses in evidence, and I was free to find new marks.

It didn’t last.

Every day since my release, the world has only grown drearier. There are no big scores, none that matter. No amount of loot that will change what I am, worth no more than a dog or a vulture. The futility of a poor and shabby existence eats away at me.

If what happened in the warehouse was not real, then maybe nothing is.

I open up the pistol and load the bullet in the chamber. I only bought the one. For the price of the other five I’ve bought a few more nights of drunken oblivion. One bullet is all I need.

My thoughts are interrupted by a tapping at the door. Pistol in hand, I open it, expecting a cop or a thug.

Big brown eyes set in the face of a young, dark-haired girl, look up at me. It can’t be possible. She looks like the one from the warehouse, the one they never found.

I raise the gun, pointing it at her face. She doesn’t move. Not even a twitch of fear. Maybe I’m drunker than I realized.

“I understand.” She meets my gaze. Her tone is flat, emotionless. “After a dream about being a god, I woke up next to a river. I hid away in an abandoned boat house, too scared to do anything but wait to die. Every time I slept, I returned to the same dream. It took me three nights to realize the dream was the reality and everything else mere appearance. Three days despite the few years I had dwelt within this flesh. You’ve lived over thirty years, believing this meat is your true self, wearing a name others gave you.“

It’s like a nightmare made flesh and blood. I shake my head. Little girls don’t talk this way.

“I thought you might find me since you had awoken me. You didn’t, so I went to look for you. I thought the prison was a distraction, holding you back. I made them release you. It was easy to get inside their heads, to convince them they had made a mistake. But still, this obstinate flesh rejected the reality of what you might be.”

This can’t be happening. It’s absurd, impossible. It must be another hallucination.

“You tell yourself that, but you know it’s not true.” She talks as if listening to my thoughts. “I’ll help you to discover what you have lost.”

The gun shakes in my hand. All I have to do is squeeze the trigger. One bullet will end the nightmare.

“Do you remember Lavoisier’s guards? What do you think that crude instrument can accomplish?”

She lifts her arm, reaching out for me. The gun thumps to the floor. Her hand feels warm in my grasp.

She guides me outside where the sun already shines from above the surrounding buildings. A low, rhythmic sound fills my ears, the respiration of something powerful and sinister.

The breathing is alien and it is my own.

Bio:
Carlos McReynolds was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, grew up in Miami, Florida, and has lived in Chicago for the last few years, where he works in data mining for fraud detection. His youthful love for Verne and Wells gave way to an interest in the weird with the discover of writers such as Lovecraft, Cortázar and de Maupassant. He can be followed at @erdosign on Twitter.

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Good Fortune By Ben Lareau

Sep 10 2017 Published by under The WiFiles

“Just watch,” Andrew, the head of hospital security said, “It’s not gonna happen ‘cause you’re here. But seriously: the cameras keep flipping out. And the weird thing is, it only happens at certain times during the day.”

“Like when?” Paul asked. He hoped it was now. He didn’t want to have to come back. The camera system had been put in only two weeks ago, and he hated making service calls on things that had just been installed. Nor did he like the idea of sitting in this cramped office; it reeked of stale snack foods, and he was pretty sure that one of the two sluglike, glorified mall cops that worked there recognized him.

“Right ‘bout now, actually,” said Andrew, pointing at the wall of monitors that were themselves sectioned off into a gridwork of small windows, each one revealing a small black-and-white view of some portion of Johnson Memorial Hospital.

“It usually starts with these down here,” he said. In one of the cameras, a car pulled up alongside a curb in a parking lot. The passenger door opened, and then the camera began to sputter, the feed flashing with bars of solid black or creamy white.

“There it goes,” the other, obviously junior, security guy said ruefully. “Just watch: they’ll go, one at a time. Sometimes they cut out, other times there’s just a patch on the screen that’s all wonky.”

Paul glanced at this second officer, who looked back steadily. Still unsure if this was because the guy recognized him from the news, or if that was just how he looked at people, Paul averted his face. The guy’s hospital i.d. badge read “Nick”. Like his boss Andrew, Nick was big and soft. Up until a year ago, back when he’d been a cop, Paul would have looked upon both of them with disdain. But now, here he was performing a valuable customer service for two guys whose workday consisted of sitting around snacking and staring at monitors before going home to watch television.

“How long has it been doing this?” Paul asked Andrew, trying to keep his mind on the task at hand.

“Ever since it was installed.”

“And when you called the helpline, what did they say?”

“They had no idea,” Nick said, rolling his eyes. “They just gave me your number.”

Paul watched the screens. The parking lot feed now looked alright, but another was acting strange: a quarter-sized dot of random static scrolled across the screen. After the dot moved to a corner and disappeared, all was fine for about thirty seconds, then another feed went berserk more in the vein of the parking lot.

“Alright, I’ll start checking the cameras,” Paul said. “I’m going to call you a few times while I’m out: are you going to be here?”

Andrew grunted, which Paul took as a “yes.”

Paul had a small phone-like gadget containing the layout of the entire jobsite: the placement of the cameras, strings of wire that connecting them, and the junction boxes where these lines came together before feeding back to Andrew and Nick’s lair. He went from place to place, checking wiring and running a small diagnostic app on each one that he could reach with the small collapsible step stool he carted along with him. Every camera looked fine.

He called Andrew.

“Are there any cameras not working now?” he asked.

“Uh…yeah. The one on the second floor, near the ICU, in the main hall.” Paul was annoyed. He’d checked that one an hour ago.

“Alright, I’m going to head that way,” Paul said. He began walking quickly. “Let me know if any of the other cameras start acting up.”

“Okay…but the one you’re goin’ for is fine now. Now it’s the one on the same floor by the elevators.”

Paul was already on his way to the elevators, so when he got there, he punched the “up” button.

“How’s the camera now?” he asked Andrew, who was breathing loudly into the phone.

“Still messed up, dude” he said back, sounding bored and a bit annoyed.

The elevator opened, and Paul stepped in after an older woman being pushed on a wheelchair by a much younger man came out. He stepped into the elevator and pressed “2.”

When he got up there, he stepped out and aside, letting a pair of chatty middle-aged ladies in, followed by a small, solemn-looking boy of perhaps ten.

“Second floor elevator camera’s fine now,” Andrew said as the elevator closed behind Paul.

Paul swore, apologized since he was on the phone with a customer, then turned and punched the “down” button on the nearest elevator. Over the phone, he heard Andrew laugh, and then begin eating something dry and crunchy.

“Now it’s the first floor elevator camera,” Andrew said, this time through a mouthful of food. The door in front of Paul opened, and he stepped in, in his haste nearly colliding with an entire crowd of people, all of them sad-looking and obviously together in a single group. By the time he got in and hit the first floor button, he was told through chomps and smacks that the first floor was now working. Paul swore again, and apologized again, while Andrew laughed some more and then shoveled another handful of feed into his mouth without moving the phone.

“You’re gettin’ your exercise today,” Andrew said as Paul stepped out into the first floor. “Now it’s the camera in the main hall that’s freakin’ out.” Paul began walking in that direction; he could in fact see the camera itself—a small, nondescript black half-sphere that stuck out from the ceiling. He began walking toward it swiftly; by the time he reached it, he had nearly caught up to the two ladies and the younger boy, whom earlier he’d assumed was with the ladies, but was not. Paul opened up the small collapsible stepladder he carried with him, and was about to step up on it when Andrew informed him breathily that that camera was now fine, and now the main lobby feeds were malfunctioning.

Paul closed the stool, and began nearly sprinting towards the main lobby. He was halfway there when he realized there was no way he could check those cameras physically; the ceiling was way too high.

“Let me guess,” Paul said. “The lobby cams are now fine.”

“Uh…yep. Now it’s the stairwell to the parking garage that’s bein’ weird.”

Paul bolted for that, not sure if he could reach those cameras or not. When he crashed through the door, he asked Andrew if the cameras were still off.

“Yeah, they’re screwy all right,” he said. “Oh wait, now they’re fine.”

As Andrew heard this, the sound of a closing door echoed up through the stairwell from below. Paul dropped the stool and began pounding down the stairs.

“How’s the parking garage cameras holding up?” he asked as he ran. He wasn’t a cop anymore, but he was still in good shape.

“Well, now some of those are actin’ funny…” he said more, but Paul did not listen. He opened the door that led to the parking garage, and stepped through in time to see the small boy from the elevator climb into the passenger seat of a sporty-looking blue two-door.

“Garage cameras are fine now,” Andrew said. “This is about the time of day it usually stops.”

Paul went back to the security office. Andrew was now gone, but Nick was still around.

“Do you guys have any man-lifts—like for the maintenance guys to change lightbulbs and stuff with?” he asked Nick, who was busy slugging down a long draught of energy drink.

“We have one, but it’s a pain,” Nick said. “Maintenance guys usually use one of those claw-on-a-pole things.”

Paul sighed. It was already three, and he had a lot of things he was formally required by company policy to do when it came to ongoing systemic problems. Even so, he had another idea that itched in the back of his head.

“When those disturbances start—do they always start with the garage cameras?”

“Yeah, pretty much. I mean, sometimes it’s the main door cameras, but most of the time it’s the garage.”

“And do they start when a car pulls up? I mean, is there a car in the frame when it stops working?”

“Uh…I dunno…that’s…that’s an interesting question,” Nick said, though he’d opened up a browser window on one of the monitors and was scrolling through some kind of chat feed. Then he clicked on another tab, and Paul saw a picture of himself come up on the screen. It was part of a news article. The headline read “Police shoot local teen.” Below his own picture Paul saw the photo of seventeen-year-old Michael McAndless, the boy he’d accidentally shot in a dark hallway. Michael had picked the wrong time to come out of his apartment; Paul had been chasing someone involved in an intentional hit-and-run, and came around the corner just as the unlucky Michael stepped out carrying a phone and ball of keys in one hand. In that adrenaline-filled instant, Paul had put two bullets into the kid.

“Hey, man, is that you?” Nick asked. His tone was of slight awe, as though he were meeting a celebrity.

“Nope,” Paul said.

“Aw man, ’cause it looks kinda like you.”

“Not me,” Paul said, glad that he didn’t have to wear a name tag.

Nick looked disappointed.
***
Because he had no choice, Paul came back for several days straight, and seemed to be working two jobs at once. One of them was official: he was running diagnostics on each camera, and checking the wiring, wherever it happened to be. The other job was more like the one he’d had before his unfortunate run-in with Michael McAndless. This began next day, when it became undeniable that the camera malfunctions centered around the boy. The kid climbed out of the blue two-door at the same time as the day before, and the cameras began to fizz out.

Paul knew the company’s systems inside and out, and he also knew the guys who’d done the consultations and planning of where to put the cameras, along with the crew who’d installed them. They rarely made mistakes. When there was an issue, usually it stemmed from a manufacturer error in the cameras, or else the client had tried to screw around with them, or they’d been damaged, accidentally or otherwise. Every camera he checked was fine–until the boy walked past them.

After the second day Paul waited in the parking lot, and when the sporty blue 2-door showed up, he called Andrew and asked about the cameras in the lot. Once the kid got out, they began to fritz. The distortions continued up through the stairwell, and towards the ICU, which was plagued with problems for nearly two hours before the glitches proceeded back to the parking lot, where the blue car waited.

The really exasperating part, however, came when the boy neared the ICU, which apparently was where he always went. Paul wasn’t close enough to the kid to get into the same elevator with him, and so he had to wait for the next one. This elevator then broke down between the first and second floors, leaving Paul and an elderly couple stuck for close to twenty minutes. Once maintenance–and Nick, who mainly stood and watched–had freed them from that particular trap, he was stuck running around the ICU, calling Andrew constantly to see which cameras were glitching out. Andrew for his part was clearly growing exasperated, and Paul worried that it was becoming clear to everyone that what he was doing was outside of his employer’s typical protocol, and didn’t make sense. Still, he spent the better part of an hour wandering around the second floor in search of the boy—so much so that the staff were beginning to question him with increasing coldness. All the while, he did not see the kid at all until the cameras near the elevators began to malfunction, and Paul tailed the boy down to the parking garage as before.

Paul knew it wouldn’t do for him to appear unstable at work. He’d gotten this job by blind luck, when the brother of a friend from the force offered to hire him more or less out of pity. All eyes were on him, he well knew, and if he seemed unstable, or got himself fired from the security company, he was well and truly screwed.

And so the next day Paul did his best to seem professional, running the usual diagnostics and doing the usual tests–all of which he was certain were pointless. However in the afternoon he took out a ladder from maintenance, went out to the parking garage, and propped it below one of the cameras. Then he called Andrew and told him to call him back when the main lobby cameras began to freak out. He spent nearly an hour going through the motions of checking the parking area cameras before Andrew called back. Paul ran towards the door that opened up from the stairwell, and found an alcove to stand in. A few seconds later the blue two-door pulled up to the curb. From his vantage point he saw the kid come out of the stairwell and head for the passenger door. Halfway there, though, the kid stopped, then turned to face Paul directly, as though he knew exactly where he would be. The boy smiled and waved, then got in. Paul stepped out from his spot as the car pulled away; he couldn’t get a clear view of who was driving, both because of the angle, and because the windows were tinted. It drove off in no particular hurry, however, which allowed him to read the car’s plates.

That evening, Paul paid a visit to a license plate lookup website, got a name–Bryce Chadderton–and from that, an address. Then he called in sick. The next morning he got up, went through his usual morning routine, and then headed to the hospital. He parked in the garage, and waited for the blue car. It arrived at the usual time, dropping off its one small passenger, and drove off. Paul followed it.

The blue car threaded its way back through town, with Paul always no more than a block behind. His own car was nondescript enough that he didn’t feel too worried about being picked out. In any case, if the driver of the blue car noticed he was being followed, he gave no sign. Instead, he drove without any purpose that Paul could really see, frequently doubling back and heading, in the end, nowhere in particular—he certainly wasn’t going back to the address connected to his license plate, anyway. Instead, he zigzagged around town, stopping at convenience stores. Paul parked somewhat nearby, and at each one he watched as Chadderton, a young man in large reflective sunglasses, got out, went into the store, then came out ten or so minutes later and drove off.

After a few hours of this, Paul lost the blue car. He was less than a hundred yards behind it, with two other vehicles between them, when his quarry turned into the righthand lane, which was turning-only. Paul tried to get in behind him, but there were three other cars between them now, and the light was red. The blue car darted out just as the cross-traffic’s light turned green, and by the time Paul was able to come around the corner, the blue car was long gone. He was disappointed, but had a pretty good idea when and where he’d be able to find the car again, so he picked up some lunch and went back to the hospital. An hour later, the blue car pulled up once again. The boy came out of the stairwell door and got inside. They left, and Paul followed.

This time they headed straight for the address. The place was pretty upscale, tucked away in the wooded hills outside of town. Paul let them get far ahead of him once he was sure where they were going. The blue car was in the driveway when he passed the house. Paul wound further up the road before pulling off and getting out. He walked back down the hill, and stopped when he drew near the house. Rather than go up to the front door, he circled the place, creeping through woods and brush. All the shades and curtains were drawn. When he came back around to the front of the house, however, he could see that the front door was slightly open.

Paul stood there looking at the thin crack of darkness. It seemed like an invitation, and he recalled the boy turning to smile at him as he made his way to the car. The hell with it, Paul thought. If the cameras don’t get straightened out, I’ll lose the job. If they’re somehow screwing with them, I need to know.

He walked across the driveway, up the front porch steps, and to the door. Through the crack came only silence. When he knocked on the door, it swung partly open, revealing a small rectangle of tile surrounded by a sea of thick pile carpeting. Near the door stood a half-dozen plastic grocery-store bags, their tops tied together as though they were waiting to be taken to the trash. Through the filmy white bags he could see what looked like massive numbers of scratch lotto tickets, with the occasional frozen food or takeout container. A faint smell was in the air—a sulfurous, rotten-egg smell.

“Come on in,” said someone from within the house. It was a boy’s voice. “Please close the door.”

Paul did so, stepping first into a rather nice-looking living room; at the far end he could see a wide opening that led to a kitchen. The light was on in there, and he could see part of a large table, at which the boy sat watching him.

Paul closed the door as requested, and walked into the kitchen. As he stepped in, he saw that there was someone else there, seated at a part of the table that he hadn’t been able to see until he entered the room. It was Chadderton, still wearing large reflective sunglasses.

“Have a seat,” the man said, gesturing towards another chair.

“Who are you people?” Paul asked. “And how are you messing with the cameras?”

“Long story,” Chadderton said. “Let’s just say I’ve been looking forward to this for a while.”

“Actually it’s pretty simple,” said the boy. He sounded bored and annoyed—his tone reminded Paul of Andrew, somehow. “Do you know what symbiosis is?”

“That’s like…parasites and stuff, right?” Paul asked. He hadn’t been in biology class for a very long time, and he wasn’t really seeing the relevance.

“Not exactly,” the kid said. “You are confusing genus and species. For our intents and purposes, it’s where two organisms mutually support and sustain each other.”

“Okaaaay,” Paul said, unclear where this was headed.

“He provides me with assistance, and I in turn help him,” the boy continued. “A 10-year-old child can’t just walk around all the time unaccompanied. It raises questions. And walking takes up a lot of energy, especially with these little legs. He gives me rides, and takes me where I can eat.”

“How are you messing with the cameras?” Paul asked. That was really all he wanted to know. He’d dealt with plenty of crazies when he was on the force, and didn’t have much patience them.

The boy glared at him, and for a moment, Paul felt confused. It was as though his eyes and his brain were disconnected somehow, one of them seeing a boy sitting there, while the other picked up something else, though in the end it was a boy he perceived. He was reminded of a visit to a zoo when he was very young. In one glass case there was a large wooden branch covered in brown vines. But then one of the vines flexed slightly, and six-year-old Paul suddenly saw that they were actually snakes; this shock had driven him to tears, and as Paul now sat looking at the boy, it seemed like the child existed in the very thin membrane between being a vine and being something else. It was beginning to give him a headache.

“My kind do not exhibit traits that can be translated electronically,” the boy said. “It’s a side effect, but a useful one, especially here. It wouldn’t do to have lots of footage of a little boy wandering from room to room in an ICU, would it? People might ask questions.”

“Why do you hang around in the ICU?” Paul asked. His head was getting worse by the second, and he was starting to feel a bit confused. The rotten egg smell seemed to be getting stronger.

“To eat,” the boy said. “Not exactly, but that’s the closest to it that you would understand. And you don’t really have a word for what I consume. I’m forbidden from taking or greatly shortening life, particularly life with potential, but when it comes to those who are destined to perish, there’s more than a bit of gray area, and I can draw what I need without upsetting…anything. And in return for this, I repay my friend”—here he gestured to the man in the sunglasses—“with what you would call luck.”

“So…if you’re so lucky, how was I able to find you?”

The boy chuckled. “It would seem you are misunderstanding the situation. You see, good fortune is hard for anyone to come by, but with my help our friend here has a knack for getting or finding what he wants. It falls in his lap, much of the time almost as if by happenstance. And for quite some time now, it would seem, he’s wanted you.”

Paul turned to the man in the sunglasses, who brought up a small handgun from below the edge of the table. It looked to be no more than a .22, but a gun was a gun. With the other hand, he took off the sunglasses, and Paul recognized him.

It was Nathan McAndless, older brother of the late Michael McAndless.

“Hello officer,” Nathan said. “Can’t say it’s nice to see you, but I’m glad you’re here.”

“Look,” Paul said, his temples throbbing now, “what happened to your brother was an accident, and—”

Nathan slammed the glasses down on the table, shattering them and cutting his hand in the process.

“He’s still dead!” he shouted, not noticing the blood pooling between his fingers. “And you’re…what? A security guy? Still got a job, you’re alive, and the rest of us just have to live every day with him gone. That’s not right.”

“So…you’re going to shoot me?” Paul asked. “How’s that going to fix anything? And how do you think you’re gonna get away with it?” His voice seemed distant, and his mouth somehow thick and slow, so that his words had the slightest edge of slur to them.

Nathan’s free hand tightened into a fist. He squeezed several drops of blood from his injured hand and smiled as though this were pleasing.

“The same way we found you,” the boy said. “With more than a bit of luck. And anyway, this isn’t our house. Mr. Chadderton is on an extended vacation, and in a little while, his slightly ruptured gas line is going to blow when the hot water heater comes on. They’ll find bits of your body, which will be a bit of a head-scratcher, but there’s not going to be any trace of us.”

“So can’t you just…wish me dead?” Paul asked.

“It’s luck, not divine power,” the boy said. “You get what you want, but you have to, as you would say, “roll with it.” There are limitations, and some initiative is required at times.”

“Look,” Paul said, turning to Nathan, “you don’t have to do this. It’s not gonna fix anything. Michael will still be dead, and you’ll have blood on your hands. Believe me, that’s not something you want.”

“The heater will come on in roughly fifteen minutes, Nathan” the boy chimed in. “If you must shoot him, do so soon. And not in the head. Do it in the stomach. I want to feed.”

And so Nathan did.

 

Bio: I’ve knocked around a bit, having lived in Idaho, Massachusetts, Maine, and Utah. Currently though I live in Wyoming with my wife, 4 kids, 5 cats, dog, tortoise, and a revolving cast of fish. To pay the bills and buy animal food, I teach writing at a 2-year college. I’m a longtime fan of the horror genre, and also enjoy running and cooking Indian food. As of now, my children are not allowed to read my stories.

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ELEMENTAL ENCOUNTER By Charles Joseph Albert

Sep 03 2017 Published by under The WiFiles

Eight officers of United Fleet patrolship HR-ICPMS, newly roused from cryogenic suspended animation, stumbled into the elevator pod. The remaining crew stared on, their still-muddled faces reflecting emotions ranging from jealousy to dread. Commander Sipsclar, tall with stern latin features, entered last, and seeing their disarray, gave a quick reassuring salute. That didn’t cheer up the crew as much as the obscene salute that the ship’s CR, a jovial Botswani named M’Nfeco, shot back. The Comm Relayer was adept at body language as well as standard quantum communications.

As the shipside crew went to work sealing the doors, Sipsclar turned around to face his officers in the pod. The doped panic they were struggling to overcome showed all too visibly in their faces. Even Sipsclar was only able to force himself into a semblance of alertness through an extreme effort of self-discipline.

“All right, men,” he said, trying desparately not to slur his words, “you know that this is an historic moment for mankind. You know the seriousness of this encounter.”

He paused and looked around the pod. Judging from the dilated eyes and clammy complexions, his crew realized all TOO well that this was not just another drill.

“Lieutenant Casctiv! Stand at attention!” Sipsclar barked the command with a dry throat. He knew that if their military conditioning would only kick in, then these men would begin to respond properly. And to his relief, they did come alive at his voice. Amid the miasma of his still-awakening consciousness, the irony was not lost on him that his men were more at ease when being yelled at.

“All right. Good,” he continued. “Officers of the United Fleet, I will remind you that this is NOT the first human-alien encounter.” He made a significant pause, and then continued. “But that does not mean that we can know what to expect.”

Sipsclar licked his dry lips and all eight of them tried not to think of the unlucky crew of the cargo ship who HAD made the first human-alien encounter. A few months after the opening of the wormhole, the ship and its dessicated crew were found orbiting the planet of the H’Helibeb. But after a State Of Emergency was declared and the entire United Fleet was called in, it turned out that this new species was less warlike than… Ignorant.

Ignorant of carbon-based life-forms, and somewhat heedless in their water collecting. It took no small amount of forbearance on the part of the entire human-colonized solar system to overlook that slight lapse of etiquette on the part of that offending species.

First impressions and faux-pas‘s aside, the H’Helibeb had become a lucrative trading partner for the human colonies, who have since been very profitably reclaiming water from meteor ice in exchange for the H’Helibeb’s curious ability to manufacture black holes.

The other five alien civilizations that human star ships had encountered brought varying other disasters to the unlucky crews involved. As a result, inter-space travel through the new wormhole was now strictly prohibited to all commercial spacecraft except in areas patrolled by the United Fleet. Even at that, the patrol ships were allowed only within a few parsecs of the boundaries of the United Colonies.

Mankind had scaled back its manifest destiny of the stars, at least for the short term.

Sipsclar continued his harangue, striving as much to sharpen his own mind as to waken his men. It had now been twenty-two minutes since they were jarred out of suspended animation by the ship’s proximity sensors.

“As you know, we have done a complete scan of the interior of the alien ship. It’s within acceptable temperature and pressure for supporting human life, but of course you all must remain completely sealed into your suits until the BRKR clears it of bio-agents. All weapons will be at the ready until I give the order. Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir” their replies crackled back feebly.

“I can’t HEAR YOU!”

“YES, SIR!” They shouted back. The instantaneous ratcheting of their spunk made Sipsclar grin. His men! He was proud of them. He couldn’t ask for a finer group of officers to lead. Even if they were going to their deaths.

“Good. Any questions?” He looked around the pod, his face beaming with male bonhomie.

“Yes, Sir!” Korporal Casctiv, a robust Slav, spoke up from the back. “Who will lead the way when the doors open, Sir?”

Sipsclar thought a moment. K Casctiv had a good point. Would it be worse for the troops to lose their leader, should they be greeted by a hostile force? Or worse to abdicate the responsibility of this first contact to a subordinate? Commander Sipsclar decided to err on the side of boldness.

“I’m coming out first. I want you behind me, ready with your weapons. First Officer Cnofne will assume command from the ship if necessary. Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir!” They shouted back this time with outright testosterone, and Sipsclar knew he had them in the state he wanted them.

“Then lower your visors. Contact in twenty-five seconds!”

Sipsclar smiled a confident smile. No matter what the next thirty seconds might bring, he felt confident now. He and his men would meet this situation to the best of their abilities.

He knew that the ship’s proximity sensor had roused the crew because this interstellar… thing… had continued heading for them despite auto-initiated evasive maneuvers. And although the ship’s hailing transmissions went completely unanswered, Ensign CR M’Nfeco was able to tune in to thought processes coming from the alien. This was an unexpected break, because Communications Relayers were not able to “talk” to any of the other five alien species contact thus far. A CR’s purpose was strictly interstellar communication with other human CRs. Since standard light-speed communication can take months or years to reach interstellar distances, patrol ships and colonies all use CRs implanted with quantum telepathy to communicate instantaneously.

When Sipsclar realized why they had been roused from SA, he had the CR contact home base immediately, and within minutes the United Fleet Admiral sent back a reply: “HR-ICPMS is ordered 1) to proceed in contacting the alien species, 2) to transmit all real-time information practicable using the CR, and 3) to collect and transmit full technical data via standard lightspeed communication.” The last command meant that, if the crew were obliterated within the next few minutes, at least some record of this encounter would come drifting back to the United Fleet base, eleven months later.

Despite all of his bravado when required to act, Captain Namgal Sipsclar was a cautious man, and in his view the United Fleet was too trusting with the other alien species. Before getting buddy-buddy with charlie, he preferred to verify their lack of threat to humanity. That is why he left M’Nfeco shipside; in a worst-case scenario the CR might be able to send an instantaneous warning to the United Fleet.

A voice buzzed through his helmet radio. “Sir, Cnofne here. We have radio contact with every member of the party.”

“That’s good. What are you getting on the cam?”

“Well… the sides of the alien’s, uh, landing platform thing have formed an air lock on the elevator pod. CR M’Nfeco is still in contact with the alien, and… what is it, M’Nfeco?”

“Sir, M’Nfeco here. I’m picking up the alien more clearly now. It’s calling itself Tawre, sir. And it’s… inviting you. The thoughts are still hard to decipher, but the feelings are strong… I’m getting clear positive feelings, welcoming feelings coming from it.”

Sipsclar’s heart leapt into his throat but he fought his fears back down. “Okay, M’Nfeco. Maintain whatever contact you can. Commander Cnofne, you remember your orders. Anything happens to us, you will do whatever is necessary to protect the ship.”

“Aye, s-sir.”

Cnofne’s nervousness was audible in his reply. He hated himself for his nervous Germanic temperament, contrasting so noticeably from the icy control of his Catalan commander. But he reigned in his rioting emotions and turned to face his worried ship-bound crew. Of the faces looking back at him, only the CR seemed unruffled. That comforted Cnofne. After all, the CR had the best idea of what was going on within that alien’s mind.

But something looked wrong. The CR was gazing idly into space, a dreamy smile playing on his lips. “M’Nfeco!” Cnofne shouted. “Knock off the daydreaming! Keep that report coming.”

M’Nfeco jerked guiltily to attention, then recommenced his narration, which was being transmitted back to HQ in a steady stream along with scanning data, audio-visual logs, and anything else they could think of. Cnofne stared helplessly through the viewport at the huge brownish blob that was Tawre’s ship. It had attached itself to the shaft and doors of the elevator pod like an enormous wad of chewing gum stuck to a tiny chair.

According to their scanners, there was a tunnel filled with oxygen and nitrogen at one point oh two atmospheres of pressure, connecting the door of the elevator pod to the center of the… the “ship.” No gravity had been established, but that was a lesser consideration. Cnofne glanced at a remote-sensor screen. Nine human forms were now clearly making their way through the tunnel toward the center of the ship. All nine crew members’ transmitters were working clearly, and their dialogue was also being fed into the recorder. Cnofne checked it: every thirty seconds, an update signal beamed off to HQ. It wouldn’t do the crew of HR-ICPMS any good if something went south, but at least mankind’s knowledge would be enriched by the encounter.

Sipsclar was talking to him. “Cnofne! Report!”

“Yes, sir. Nothing to report here, sir. Have you made contact yet?”

“Well, no, we haven’t. There doesn’t seem to be anybody on board at all. M’Nfeco! What’s the damn thing saying to you now?”

A pause. Cnofne looked over at his CR, who was dutifully mumbling into his headset. He shook M’Nfeco’s shoulder and shouted. “M’Nfeco! Report!”

“Uh, right…” M’Nfeco seemed to come back from some place very far away. “Well, it seems to be very curious… about us. It’s also frustrated, which I think is because it can’t seem to understand me very clearly. Evidently our methods of communicating are unintelligible to it.”

“What about this craft? What the hell are we standing in, anyway? It looks like la mierda…” Sipsclar paused, searching for some technical term, and finding none, continued, “like a big blob!”

“Well, sir, I think maybe… it seems the spacecraft itself is… the whatever. The being. Tawre. I don’t know.” A pause of general confusion hung heavily.

“You–you mean we’re INSIDE it? We’re in its GUTS?”

“Well, yeah–yes, sir. But I’m sure you aren’t in any danger.”

“M’Nfeco! ¡Saloperia! We damn well better NOT be in any danger. We’re in the goddamn belly of the beast, and I don’t care to be a goddamned tapa!”

Sipsclar gulped. His hand strayed instinctively to his gun, and so did those of the rest of the contact team. But M’Nfeco reassured them.

“Tawre is not going to do anything bad! It’s very benevolent. But it is extremely curious. It keeps trying to ask me if it can… can merge with you, somehow. I just can’t seem to understand what it wants.”

“MERGE? As in DIGEST US?”

M’Nfeco insisted that there were no such intentions coming from the Tawre. But the unlit amorphous brown tunnel twisting into blackness began to look like a giant intestine, and the contact party lost all desire to proceed. Within moments, they were back at the elevator.

On the bridge once again, they continued trying–without much success–to communicate with Tawre. M’Nfeco could detect only frustration from the alien. The CR was beginning to complain of a headache: the difference in thought patterns appeared to be too large a gap to bridge. The crew of HR-ICPMS seemed to be stuck with no means of learning anything from the creature. It had wanted to encounter them… how? What could be salvaged from this futile contact?

The ship’s external scanners had shown that the creature was a solid mass of proteins, with no recognizable structure or organs. There seemed to be nothing else to learn. But Sipsclar did have one last recourse. His patrol ship had been outfitted with a containment lab and assigned a BioRecherche-KontaminischeRichter. This was a relative luxury for a patrolship, for only a United Fleet officer with the rank of BRKR was allowed to physically expose himself and a crew to new biomatter. This had to be done in the complete containment of a BRKR lab to eliminate risk to the crew.

Sipsclar ordered the BRKR officer down into the Tawre with a mobile analyzer. The CR tried his best to politely request a sample, and the Tawre seemed to understand because an appendage of it began to protrude out of the wall and into the analyzer.

Nicuzn Gageasse, BRKR Officer on board HR-ICPMS, began a series of non-invasive tests. M’Nfeco had gone back with him to make sure everything went smoothly, and Sipsclar watched from the bridge. After almost an hour of measurements, The BRKR returned to the bridge to show his results to Sipsclar, Mnfeco, Cnofne, and Chief Scientist Bahf.

The BRKR began. “I’m not going to be able to tell you how, but I can tell you what. This sample I examined is pure proteins, as we knew from the ship’s scanners. What we didn’t realize earlier is… there’s no DNA in this sample!”

Sipsclar blinked, uncomprehending. “What do you mean, no DNA?”

The BRKR laughed the quiet little manic laugh of a scientist whose fundamental laws had just been shattered, and continued, “Well, in fact, I’m not sure what it means. But I think it means that the Tawre doesn’t have a fixed DNA, the way we do. I don’t think it even uses DNA for the same things we do. For one thing, it’s capable of replicating entire cells it comes into contact with, down to the DNA level. I’ve observed it replicate eight different kinds of fungi and bacteria while I was scanning it. Watch!” He showed them his video data of Tawre forming into cells.

CS Bahf gasped in amazement. “That’s impossible! Nothing can copy entire organisms like that!” he muttered.

“This is what’s really unbelieveable,” the BRKR narrated as they watched a replay, closer up, of a solid chain of Tawre proteins turning, molecule by molecule, into a fungal DNA. “In fact, M’Nfeco thinks this is a hint into how it communicates.”

M’Nfeco looked up from the video at his commanders. “Well, of course, I can’t confirm something this technical with the Tawre. But for what it’s worth, that’s how it works with us CRs. I mean, our telepathic communications are done at the sub-DNA level–in information space.”

Sipsclar and Cnofne stared at the video display, amazed. As soon as the replicated fungus DNA was complete, the Tawre proteins immediately formed into an entire fungal cell, then a spore, which blossomed, reproduced, and died. Then the proteins re-integrated into the rest of the Tawre.

“There is no reason to think it can’t clone a humanoid.” CS Bahf observed.

“It might be a way for us to communicate with it,” Sipsclar mused.

The BRKR broke in, alarmed. “Are you going to suggest that we let it clone one of US?! There could be serious risks in allowing that,” he said, severely. “It may provide the thing with some very compromising data about humans. We still don’t know what Tawre’s intentions are.”

“That is, if we do not choose to believe the CR’s assurances,” Sipsclar said dryly. “However, we have no reason to disbelieve that information.”

M’Nfeco looked at Sipsclar, alarmed. Sipsclar said, “What is it, M’Nfeco? Why does that remark trouble you?”

“Well, sir… I hesitate to point this out, but… this communication… well, it isn’t like chatting with other humans. I really have no way to tell if Tawre is lying.”

Cnofne mirrored M’Nfeco’s alarmed look. As the implications sunk in, all eyes turned to Sipsclar, waiting to see what he would decide. His dark and inscrutable features betrayed no outward signs as he contemplated various scenarios. When at last he spoke, it was with a convincing authority.

“Well, men, our orders are to gather all information we can pertaining to our encounter here. It’s obvious we have not gathered much information on this Tawre yet. It seems to me that if we were to allow it to replicate our DNA, to clone one of us, then we might be more able communicate with it, to obtain more data on its origin and its nature.”

Cnofne looked horrified. “But what if it uses that information against us! What if we betray the entire human civilization by giving it our DNA!”

Sipsclar did not look at him as he replied. “I think if Tawre’s intentions were hostile, it would be able to do with us as it pleased. Our little patrol ship is no match for that mass of proteins in an aggressive state. And besides, we’re still transmitting the information back to base as we collect it, so our fleet will be alerted if it becomes aggressive.”

Cnofne was unappeased. “What about the wormhole? If it learns about that, it might get to the United Colonies even before our transmissions do!”

Sipsclar’s brow furrowed in irritation. There didn’t seem to be any way a blob of proteins could manipulate the machinery operating the wormhole, but they really had no way of knowing what the Tawre was capable of. Or whether there were other Tawres waiting for this one to come back, possibly to plan some invasion.

“Well, I guess the bottom line is that if the Tawre were hostile, we wouldn’t even be debating this point. I want the CR to contact HQ and propose this course of action.”

Cnofne seemed satisfied. “Yes, I suppose humans will probably better off finding out about it here and now, instead of back home within the boundaries of the United Colonies.”

This proved to be exactly the sentiments of the United Fleet headquarters.

Within ten minutes, Sipsclar and M’Nfeco were back down to the interior of the Tawre. M’Nfeco pressed the glove-release button on his right arm, exposing one bare hand. His dark brown skin looked, oddly, the same color as the Tawre. M’Nfeco reached over and touched the side of the tunnel with his index finger. Sipsclar was reminded of the mythological Michaelangelo fresco in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The wall quivered uncertainly.

“It’s all right. It’s all right!” M’Nfeco muttered audibly in response to a bashful questioning he sensed.

And then, even as they watched, the wall of the tunnel appeared to give birth to a clone of M’Nfeco, which instantly grew and aged until it stopped somewhere between twenty and twenty-five years old. But not just a clone of M’Nfeco… it was a perfected M’Nfeco. At the height of his youth, with smooth unblemished skin and the muscles of an African deity. And, of course, completely naked. He towered in front of them majestically, blinking in the light, making inarticulate vocal noises.

Sipsclar glanced over coolly at the new being. “That’s quite a build you had in your youth, M’Nfeco.” The rest of the crew, watching from the ship’s viewers, giggled. M’Nfeco giggled as well. “Well, Sir, uh… I don’t think I ever looked like THAT.”

The Tawre M’Nfeco’s hands began to explore his own body, and arrested electrically on his groin. Sipsclar was mortified. “¡Hé, là!” he shouted. “Knock that off! Make him stop, M’Nfeco.”

M’Nfeco stifled a giggle. Then, to their amazement the Tawre M’Nfeco repeated Sipsclar. ” ay la nok zat off make im stop minfayko i will not tolurate zis disrespek.”

No one expected the M’Nfeco doppleganger to learn speech so quickly. Sipsclar and M’Nfeco just stared, agape.

“no tolurate zis… not tolerate THIS.” The Tawre M’Nfeco’s tongue was obviously relishing his speech abilities. His hands were still relishing other abilities of a more physical nature. M’Nfeco and Sipsclar continued to stare, completely at loss for words. To make matters worse, the Tawre M’Nfeco was now fully aroused.

M’Nfeco finally snapped out of his astonishment and asked the Tawre M’Nfeco to desist its self-stimuation. It was able to tap into M’Nfeco’s own language abilities, learning to speak even as they stood there.

“oh i sawree not mean to ufend.” He smiled the instinctual grin of a pack mammal backing down in face of its leader’s authority, but then his hands strayed instinctively back to his organ. Sipsclar’s face clearly showed his displeasure. M’Nfeco was so afraid of bursting out laughing that he was fairly paralyzed.

The Tawre M’Nfeco looked up, completely unselfconsciously. “oh, this bothers but organ is making much demand on my awareness… no, i mean on my ssssentral nervoussss system. Central nervous system.” He repeated himself with obvious satisfaction. “this is curious to me because you see even though I now have body information yess yesss very nice i do not understand mind information… Hardware, no software.”

Sipsclar calmed down. “Well, I suppose we could continue, but we will require you to cover yourself. We will not continue with you indulging in such… behavior.”

The Tawre M’Nfeco looked puzzled. “Well, now, see, here, that bes–that is what I talk. About. Here is aspects of human behavior that must has much significance to you. And something here that I crave to know more. About. Why I cannot have this sex. And with your crew would be help.”

Sipsclar frowned, striving to maintain as much diplomacy as he could muster in light of the request. “Sex with the crew is quite out of the question.”

The Tawre M’Nfeco was adamant. “Yes-yes! You not understanding, this is exactly what I need is to understand human behaviors. And say, this sexy-sex cootchie-cootchie is very nice isn’t it?”

Captain Sipsclar wondered how much of the Tawre M’Nfeco’s request was coming from his quest for scientific learning and how much of it was the result of being trapped in a horny twenty-two year old male body. Then Cnofne blurted, “Well, why don’t you turn into a WOMAN! Then we’d be happy to fill you in. Hell, the whole crew would teach you about sex!”

The Tawre M’Nfeco smiled again. “Well, I would be too happy. Where can I find woman DNA? We become many woman, make many sex. Sex for everybody!”

At those words, pandemonium burst out on the ship.

Sipsclar slapped his forehead—he should have seen this coming: after over a year in space, any crew would go berserk when given this kind of offer. Even though this highly disciplined crew spent 99% of the time in cryogenic Suspended Animation, they were not immune to biological urges.

Their situation was aggravated by the unimaginatively bureaucratic minds of the United Fleet administration, who decreed that there must be no distractions such as sex for on board. Patrol ships were all staffed with sexually incompatible people, and in the case of HR-ICPMS, this meant male heterosexuals. Further, since SA slows down time but does not stop it, the Commander knew that now that the possibility of sex had been raised, his crew was going to ache until something happened. Sipsclar prayed it wouldn’t degenerate to mutiny… or worse.

But how could the reluctantly chaste crew find any sample of a woman’s DNA to give to the Tawre? They sprang into action, making comically frantic attempts, Cnofne was digging through data files, Casctiv was looking for a memento in his luggage of some girl back home. M’Nfeco was projecting images to the Tawre M’Nfeco showing the physiological differences between man and woman, but since the Tawre replicated not by description but by contact with the DNA, this seemed to be a doomed effort.

The BRKR was shouting over M’Nfeco’s shoulder to the Tawre M’Nfeco that if he would just take his XY chromosomes and just convert one of them to an XX chromosome, he would have the DNA for a woman. But this also seemed to be beyond the abilities of the Tawre M’Nfeco to grasp.

Several officers stormed the ship’s lab computer and tried to find a file on human DNA. The problem was, even if they found anything, none of them knew how they could relay the electronic data into the organic Tawre.

Captain Namgal Sipsclar looked on impotently from the bridge viewscreen as his crew grew more frenzied. He knew that prolonged journeys through space were dangerous for this reason. He envied the officers and crew of the commercial spaceships who were not segregated by gender or sexual orientation, who never got this desperate.

Sipsclar was preparing to gas his crew into unconsciousness, and was hoping he wouldn’t be impeded in the endeavor by the Tawre, when CS Bahf appeared from the doors of the elevator pod with a gigantic grin on his face. He turned to look back at the elevator camera.

“Good news, Captain! I’ve found an actual specimen of female DNA!” Silence filled the tunnel and ship as everyone stopped talking and strove to hear the CS speak. “It’s from the exterior of the uniform belonging to SB Teixe!”

The crew in the tunnel burst into applause. Shouts and questions were all hurled simultaneously.

“Silence!” Sipsclar shouted with all the authority he could muster. “We will have order, or I’ll give the damn thing my wool beret and see to it you don’t get anything but sheep!” That broke everyone up, and their laughter calmed them down a bit

“Mr. Bahf… how did you happen to come upon a female tissue sample on a ship entirely populated by males?”

CS Bahf grinned widely. “Well, sir, I happened to notice that the Senior Boatswain was in a rather…uh… prolonged embrace with his girlfriend, just as he was boarding. I knew where to look, I guess.”

A lusty cheer went up from the crew. Teixe’s beautiful girlfriend, Osir P. Taugh, TL, their Technical Liaison at HQ, was the object of much admiration. Captain Sipsclar waited for the cheers to die down before issuing his next command. “Well, Mr. Bahf… proceed!” The crew cheered even louder.

As the 34 crewmembers discreetly slipped off, each with his own private Tawre Osir, Sipsclar toyed with the idea of just returning to the ship and waiting their mad orgy out. After all, he was a fifty-two year old man, firmly in control of his libido. You don’t get to be a Captain in the United Fleet for indulging in hedonist fantasies.

Though, even if one of the incredibly seductive Tawre Osirs didn’t come seek him out, Sipsclar was already leaning toward the necessity being “one of the guys” on this one. And, at first, as Sipsclar sat and talked to the Tawre Osir, he had feared that having sex with her would be in some odd way just a meaningless bodily function, like with a sex droid. But in fact the woman sitting across from him was a real person. She was courteous, sensitive to his feelings, and made it quite clear that she wanted him very badly.

The last coherent thought Sipsclar had was that each Tawre Osir, even though only a temporary formation of cloned human DNA, and maybe precisely because of her temporary human existence, was desperate to live as completely as possible.

Two months later, the space vessel HR-ICPMS, emptied of its crew, its biological food stores, its sewage recycling system, and every last strand of biological tissue on board, was boarded and brought home by another vessel of the terrestrial fleet. The on-board cameras, all still functional, had dutifully recorded the final days of the crew and their encounter with the Tawre. There in plain sight was the fact of all of the crew members cavorting with the shipload of naked Osirs, and then, to all appearances, willingly merging into one biological mass with each human portion of that creature—they seemed to be willingly—joyfully, even—abandoning their ship, their duty, their very lives. Some enterprising member of the fleet made a bootleg copy from the records, which became the most popular documentary of the decade.

And, though the Tawre itself was never seen again, it nevertheless inspired billions of humans across the galaxy to expire into the same, immortal, oblivion.

 

Bio: I am a physicist and writer living in San Jose, CA. My work has appeared in Chicago Literati, 300 Days of Sun, the Literary Hatchet, the Abstract Jam, and Here Comes Everyone.

 

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