PITCHFORK RED : Quantum Stage II

 

NB: If you are looking for earlier chapters, the ‘Pitchfork Red’ story begins on the  HOME page and continues through PITCHFORK RED: Quantum Stage I page. Thanks for reading!

 

Chapter 10:…AND THE ANGELS SHALL WEEP….

The murky figures of the languid Tabbris and his henchman Forcas moved out onto the landing. The wan light of sunrise was already brightening the pale walls of the narrow stairs in Betsy Tranter’s house. They halted and a glance of agreement passed between them. Their eyes took on a gleam of intense concentration which quickly intensified into an icy, metallic glow. A liquid wave appeared to pass over the scene – distorting it as in an undulating mirror. A flake of cigar ash floated from Tabbris’s sleeve but was arrested in its downward trajectory. Tabbris and Forcas were slipping into another ‘potential reality’. Momentarily the flake stirred again, and continued its fall, now twisting its dreamy way to the ground in slow-motion – time appeared to slow to a treacle torpidity – but not the Dei-men. After a decisive nod of affirmation they stepped lightly down the stairs and into the hall, but to an observer they would have appeared as merely a smudge of black shadow slipping rapidly along the grey wall of the staircase and out through the front door, flung open suddenly as if by a powerful gust of wind. And then… they were gone.

Upstairs, Michael knelt listlessly by the body of his friend, deep in thought. Dan’s blood oozed sluggishly to a standstill, surrounding and lapping against the gun Forcas had thrown down on his way out. The sting of the slap he had received from Tabbris still burned on Michael’s temple and a faint odour of old tobacco smoke hung in the air. ‘What had Tabbris said about Dan? – He was just a man’, but no, he was not just a man, he’d been ‘Dante Freeman’ and that meant something – and not just that he had been a good man with a life ahead of him, no, it was more than that, it literally MEANT something.

The Dei had always been acutely aware of what they considered to be the most useful tool in the cosmos – the tool of communication, and thus the use of language and gesture. They had come to comprehend, many millennia ago, that the most vital resource with which to arm oneself when venturing out into the universe, was the ability to make oneself understood, and to make communication possible. Their first devices were those that facilitated or enabled this, and even long after they themselves had ceased to need to express themselves verbally, when they could do so by thought alone, they continued to employ the linguistic methods they so valued. The first act of language is to name, as all things are named, and as they had moved outwards, they had spread naming clues and codes throughout the universe. The seeds of language. These were signs which helped to indicate a meaning or purpose of an entity or an object. Those acts of naming which had long seemed to be random or coincidental to some, had not been so originally. Michael was sensitive to this, as were all the Dei.

Tabbris himself had long ago been named for his purpose and his ability – he knew this, as he knew that Dan Freeman had been named. Tired of weighing up alternatives, and considering choices – Tabbris was now determined to control them. Michael had been shocked by his perverse insensitivity, and soon he had realised that Tabbris had spoken the truth when he had said that they had been here too long – Tabbris had been too long fixed on their goal, too long desiring the conclusion. The one who had been charged with self-determination, Tabbris had become impatient with their long drawn-out hunt for the Pitchfork and the exile that this had entailed. He’d become accustomed to the pleasures of the body and to the mind-set of the clan of humanity he’d chosen to infiltrate – and he’d been corrupted by lust for power. Thus he had arrogantly chosen to ignore the signs. Egotism created a blindness which led inevitably, to a mistake.

And this had been a mistake. Michael forced his eyes to look down again at the body of his dead friend. Dan’s skin looked grey, contrasting with the vivid tints of his coppery fair hair. A thin film of perspiration gave his face a waxy sheen.  A hand lay motionless in the blood that had pooled beneath his back and leaked out over the highly polished floorboards of Betsy’s spare room. Michael shuddered. He could feel the reverberations of an error – something here was wrong, something was out of joint, in this room, in this town.

It was not simply grief and anger that now gripped him because of the senseless murder of his partner. He had felt things were somehow out of kilter from the moment he had stepped out of the black sedan in front of the Police Station here in Severance Falls. His disquiet had begun as they had driven through the increasingly desolate landscape approaching the town – Dan too had discerned it then, even before Michael had opened his mind and enhanced his perceptions, he had been sensitive to some kind of displacement. This odd ambiance was not the doing of the Pitchfork or the Dei-men, it was not one of the smooth shifts into another ‘potentiality’ they could create, but rather a ‘disconnection’ between the potentialities themselves – some kind of detachment between layers of reality. Severance Falls was a dangerous place – a place ‘askew’ – a place where mistakes might be made.

Michael had sensed a furtive shift in something abstract and intangible when he had first seen Sariel standing across the street, watching them. She had been aware he could see her, but she had not moved – she had waited – waited until he had ‘enlightened’ Dan. Why had she done that? She was a N’geli, and the N’geli were of the Dei too. They were the second guard, those who had been sent to follow the Dei-Men, after the Dei-Men had rejected their mission, when the Dei-Men had fallen prey to the allure of the power that ultimate control would offer them. The N’geli had been sent to ‘bring things into line’ again by following the original plan.

The Dei-men had been entrusted with the capture and the return of the Pitchfork R.E.D scientists. The Dei-scientists who had gone too far in their research – who had gone beyond the study of the ‘Plank level’ of reality. Who had sought to manipulate the fabric of the Unifying Field – underlying layer of ‘thought or intention’ which buckled itself and inexplicably ‘popped’ out the particles that enabled existence. The intention which entangled all existence together and brought it into being.

It was possible to manipulate energy, the Dei had been doing that for centuries – they were now barely more than a form of sentient energy themselves. One could manipulate particles on an atomic level, this knowledge had opened up many doors and many possibilities – but to interfere with the Unifying Field itself? The Dei had decided that this was not a province into which it was safe or acceptable, to stray. So the trio of Pitchfork R.E.D scientists had to be held in check. A power which might control the reality of the universe was not one which could be entrusted to them, or anyone else. The Dei passed their judgement and also the sentence: Each of the Pitchfork were made to hold one facet of the information – one held the R, Revolution – the ability to transform and subvert matter, the second held E, Evolution, the ability to influence the development and the path of matter, and the last held D, Dissolution, the ability to destroy matter. They were forced to carry separate sections of the information until it became a burden to them. But along with that burden was the stipulation that their discoveries could never be used. Within each of the Pitchfork scientists was inserted a ‘rogue energy’ implant which, if they came into contact with each other, or even if they came within a certain range of each other – would cause the energy inherent in the particles of their own being to simply be released, to be set free. In other words, if they came together again in an attempt to utilize their knowledge, they would make themselves into contained, yet volatile, atomic bombs. This ensured they were kept forever separated from each other. The knowledge they each contained would remain dormant in isolation, but if brought together again it would simply be vaporised.

But the Pitchfork three had fled, separate, yet tragically linked by their burden of their fragmented knowledge and its consequences. They escaped into the far reaches of the universe – until they found a place where they could hide. Where they could remain separate but where the potential development of technology would allow them to communicate over distances, and where they were able to easily manipulate the energy inherent in evolving matter. They hid in the pliant matter of bodies, because they had to survive, and survive for vast lengths of time. They were waiting, biding their time, waiting for the rare moments when the universe shifted – when it coughed up a momentary rift in its fabric – a tiny split-second within the space-time continuum when they could simultaneously exist together in the same space and time but in alternate potentialities. That is all they would need to bring together their knowledge and to grasp it, to take control. To sink into the Unifying Field and to make it bend to their consciousness – THEIR intentions. To control the fabric of reality itself. To manipulate the past and future fate of all. The Dei-Men were sent out to retrieve them, but over time had wavered in their resolve and had become seduced by the notion that instead of returning the Pitchfork renegades to the Dei, they would take ultimate control for themselves by capturing and subjugating them. The N’geli were then sent as a second failsafe, to stop any of this ever happening, by whatever means necessary…

And so this secret pursuit and conflict had continued for millennia – sending out its minute reverberations into the cosmos. Long fallen civilizations had glimpsed it in whispered, half-comprehended sentences and in fleeting visions, things beyond their primitive understanding – ιστορίες του Άγγελοι και δαίμονες – Historiarum Daemones et Angeli – the stories of Demons and Angels.

The Dei-men and the N’geli – they were of course, the same – only their intentions differed, but it is by intentions and the actions that follow, that all things are defined.

Michael stood up at last. He felt the heaviness, the ungainliness of the body he had inhabited for so long – the creak of bone and joint, the constant ebb and flow of chemicals, the streaming of liquids, the organic pumps and levers and electro-magnetic signals necessary for efficient operation. He felt tired and clumsy and very, very old. He stood over the body of Dan Freeman, in which all of these processes had ceased, and hung his head. One slender, silver tear fell and was suddenly arrested in its descent. A transparent wave appeared to pass over the scene – distorting it as in an undulating mirror…. Then the tear continued on its leisurely way, languidly splashing in slow motion onto Dan’s cold lips – spreading its shining liquidity like a star. Michael was gone.

A blurring image flashed through the bathroom of Betsy’s house, and there was a brief moment which held the sound of running water. Then a shadow flickered along the stairwell and out of the door.

A hazy dawn had risen but there was no freshness in the air – only a dull mist and the odour of damp vegetation. At the door of the Maybury Hotel a dark shape began to take solid form. It passed through, slowed and halted in the hall. All was quiet save for the rhythmic ticking of the stately grandfather clock on the landing above. Michael paused for a moment then raised his gaze to the floors above – he narrowed steely grey eyes and expanded his mind to scan through the space contained within the house. He sensed only the electrical brain waves of sleep, but they had passed out of REM and were already in transition from Delta to Theta, carefully preparing the brain for approaching wakefulness. The Maybury sisters would be stirring soon, Michael had better move fast. He took off his heavy black coat, removed the keys to the black sedan, then hung the coat back up on the peg inside the hall. Best to leave things looking as normal as possible. He glanced around, then turned, closing the front door behind him softly.

Travelling between potentialities, time became malleable, and within what would be perceived as seconds, he had reached the back door of Lilith Turpis’s shop. Tearing down the yellow police tape Dan had stretched across the doorway, Michael entered and strode through to the back room that Lilith had used as her office. He was looking for several things, and he didn’t have much time. First he went to the safe he had checked the night before. It had contained nothing they had needed at the time, but now…. Michael examined the contents again. There was a heap of brown paper envelopes he had seen – each contained around ten thousand dollars in currency. Some of the currency was foreign and dated from a century ago – it was useless. Michael checked to see if Lilith, in her haste to depart, had left any envelopes containing current tender that he could utilize. He found a dozen envelopes of useable cash that he stuffed in the inner pockets of his suit. Under his present circumstances, there was no way he could continue to use his credit cards or his FBI identification.

Tabbris’s threats of incrimination and trouble with the police were of little concern to him – he could avoid capture and arrest. He could ‘persuade’ the police to see things as he described them, Tabbris knew this as well as he, so there was an ulterior purpose to Tabbris’s blackmail. He needed time to consider and to think – to put the pieces together. The abberation he’d felt since his arrival in Severance Falls, most strongly at Dan’s death, was part of the conundrum, but he could not afford the time to unravel it right now.  As he scooped out the envelopes a pad of paper fell out of the safe and slapped onto the floor. Michael had noticed it before, but it had appeared to be completely empty. If it had been used to note down something important, the message had been ripped out and taken away – then why keep a blank notepad in the safe? The question had puzzled him then and he’d made a mental note to give the pad a more thorough examination. It might be useful to do that now. He took it aside and placed it onto the desk in the centre of the room.

Slanted morning sunlight shone through the window and hit the pad at an angle, showing up shallow indentations and ridges where something had been written on the previous sheet that had been torn out. Whatever had been written then, had been done in anxiety or excitement and the pressure of the pen or pencil had been more pronounced than usual – leaving an imprint in the papers immediately below. What a stroke of luck! Michael searched the desk and drawers until he found a soft leaded pencil, then rubbed the graphite tip lightly and carefully sidelong along the depressions in the paper. His heart sank as the first few lines appeared – they were obscured – written down then scribbled over, he could make no sense of the words. But below them was a list of numbers, still legible. Either Lilith had not thought to obliterate them, or she had been interrupted. The numbers comprised of a short list followed by another additional list, much longer. Were they related? The first list might be a telephone number, or co-ordinates!? The second list was a long string of single numbers. He stared at the script on the pad. It was odd how each letter of the written words above had been scored through individually. He considered the significance of this detail. Then he understood. The long list of numbers referred to letters in the message above them! Lilith had taken the numbers to refer to the letters in the sentences above, scoring out the letters as they formed the second message! An anagram perhaps? He gasped again, he could barely see it at first, but as he concentrated on the scored out letters of the written sentences he saw that they were Greek.

Tabbris had chastised him for losing the purple-ink message written in ancient Greek – for letting the N’geli take it, but he had not taken into account that Michael had seen it, read it, and translated it for Dan. Michael had made an image of it in his mind. He could recall it word for word, letter for letter. If what had been written on this pad was the same message and Lilith had been decoding it  – he could unravel it also!

“Oh Michael, you know I can’t let you do that…” her voice was soft and lulling as starlight.

Michael had been so absorbed in his perusal of the pad that he had ignored the subtle invasion of an incongruous scent in the dank, mouldy office, perhaps because it floated so lightly, so consolingly permeating the chill with its warmth – the scent of woodland, of earth, of the open sky. He didn’t need to look around to know that Sariel stood behind him. Before he turned to face her, he gently tore away the sheet from the pad and stuffed it inside his belt.

“I want to talk to you N’geli, I have something to ask you, Sariel,” he spoke softly as he turned. Her bright hair was pinned back from her pale, flawless face – her shining, silvery-blue eyes regarded him sadly. She was holding a gun. Michael noticed with a shock, the gun she was pointing at him was his own.

 

 

Chapter 11: TICK TOCK GOES THE CLOCK

“How did you get that?” Michael raised his hands cautiously and nodded towards the gun in Sariel’s hand.

“You left it in the inside pocket of your black coat, along with this,” with her free hand she pulled out Michael’s FBI identification wallet and threw it onto the floor at his feet.

“Best not leave them behind,” she said softly, “You never know when you might need them again,” Sariel smiled, but clearly had no intention of returning his gun.

“I watched you re-entering the Maybury at sunrise,” she continued, “You were alone. Where is Dante Freeman? He’s not in his room,” a glimmer of apprehension passed over her faint smile and she continued to aim the gun at him. Michael regarded her, disconcerted, yet intrigued by the purpose of her question.

“You were in his room last night?” Michael avoided answering directly. She nodded her assent – a flaxen curl bobbed loose from its fastening behind her ear.

“I needed the Greek message you acquired from Betsy Tranter, and…. I wanted to take a closer look at your partner,” she said ingenuously.

“Why? Why did you want to do that?” Michael asked.

“Because…” she paused, choosing her words carefully, “I observed through Lilith’s shop window, that you enabled him to ‘see’ me. I was wondering how much you had altered his perceptions of actuality. Enough, apparently, to sense my presence in his sleep,“ she raised a quizzical eyebrow.

“I opened Dan’s mind – just a little, I helped him on the way, you could say,“ Michael began, “I’m not even sure why I did it, why I wanted him to ‘see’ you, but I made that decision. I think now, that I was wrong…” he looked away from her, feeling a pang of remorse and grief.

Sariel shifted her footing, “Something certainly feels wrong,” she agreed softly, “But it’s not that.” Michael continued to avoid her gaze, his mouth tensing. A degree of pity entered her eyes as she regarded him, but she did not lower the weapon, “Poor Michael Tego,” she sighed, “The warrior-protector, in conflict with himself. Do you feel fulfilled in your purpose? Are you still convinced by the ambitions of those you fell in with? Do you really think that capturing and subjugating the Pitchfork RED holds the answer you are seeking – or have you lost your way, Michael Tego?” she spoke with compassion.

Michael looked up at her, his silver eyes flashing. There was silence for a moment before he spoke, “Tell me N’geli, tell me what is it you think is ‘wrong’. You say you can you feel it too? Something about this place – about Severance Falls? Something…out of joint?” he queried. She looked back at him steadily, but said nothing. He shifted impatiently, wondering how much she could read from him, and how much remained hidden. The Dei were not skilled in dissemblance, they had had no need of it. It was an ability they had learned to imitate through observation of others throughout the millennia of their exile, but it had not come naturally to them, though some had learned it too well.

Sariel remained silent, watching him intently. Michael exhaled wearily, his shoulders slumped – he was so tired. He was almost overwhelmed by the desire to sit and confess everything to the N’geli standing before him. Her demeanor was so forbearing, her tone so tender. This was the strength of the N’geli, a strength forged in empathy and understanding. He wanted to tell her how disillusioned and trapped he felt. How Dan’s death had disrupted his equilibrium and his peace of mind,

Instead, he simply said, “There is something awry in Severance Falls. It’s a place where mistakes can be made,” he paused, but made the decision to continue, “Tabbris and Forcas were here. Forcas shot Dan Freeman. I…I couldn’t save him…..there wasn’t time,” he turned aside, again feeling tense and agitated.

Sariel watched him for a moment, then closed her eyes momentarily, as if assimilating this information. Perhaps he had missed a chance to disarm her then, but he suspected she would have been ready, nevertheless. He could feel the tension still in her body – her acute awareness of his position and emotional state. Her aim with the gun did not waver, so he made no move. Besides, he seemed to have lost the will. Gazing up at him again, she spoke, “Tabbris knew what he was doing,” she declared, “It was no accident.” Michael faced her again, “You’re saying Dan’s death was premeditated? I thought Tabbris acted rashly. He seemed to ignore the significance of Dan’s name,” he said, shaking his head.

“Yes,” she nodded, “Dan was a ‘Freeman’ and what you did by opening his mind made him freer still. What was signified by his name, do you think?” Michael stared back, a thought was becoming clearer in his mind. Sariel nodded again, “Yes Michael, you’re beginning to understand now. Dan was never very good at following orders, was he? But, he could still be influenced by us, by the Dei or N’geli, he was still pliant, until, that is, until you let him ‘see’. When you opened his mind to our presence you began the process of his real freedom – his freedom from our influence. Tabbris sensed this immediately, sensed that Dan was different, that he was no longer ‘pliable’ not controllable.” 

“So Dan had been marked out…” Michael whispered, “Marked out to act in freedom, increasingly immune to our influence – to be a free human agent! And I set him on that course…but Tabbris put a stop to it! So now…What happens now?” his voice tailed away.

Sariel’s expression became stern. Her eyes darkened, “Dante Freeman was necessary to achieve a solution – he had his place in this struggle – he was to become a pivot, or a lever of some sort to bring events to a conclusion, it’s not clear, it was unpredictable. I don’t know what his ultimate purpose might have been, but it was not for us to interfere. Yes Dei-man, you see that mistakes HAVE been made, and they must be put right,” she raised the gun.

“I see!” cried Michael, ignoring her actions in his anxiety, “I was there to enable him and to protect him – I failed. Tabbris made sure to remove that duty from me, didn’t he, for his own ends? Now we are in this conflict eternal, evenly matched, until the Pitchfork are subdued or confined. Aren’t you tired of this Sariel? It has been so long, I can barely remember what it was like before – how things were before the rivalry began. Can you remember?” he looked into her eyes imploringly.

Sariel returned his gaze solemnly. Sighing quietly, she seemed to come to a decision. The scent of mountain air, of warm sun, of soft greenery, floated gently around him. Sariel’s aura. She lowered the gun slowly. Michael observed, as her eyes grew intense – gleaming with limpid pearliness, “I remember…” he heard her whisper.

In the murkiness of the office room their silvery irises gleamed – their eyebeams united, mingling and creating a light of their own – dim at first, a hazy opalescence, growing in power to a lustrous whiteness. Then, in a sudden blaze of light, the gloomy office was gone. They were surrounded by a staggering, yet airy brightness. Michael felt the weight of gravity fall away – he could float, buoyant as a feather. His limbs grew weightless. He could barely make out Sariel’s shape now, as she was almost obscured within the incandescent brilliance that surrounded them – a sparkling, white light which seemed to cling to them playfully and enfold them in its healing embrace. It delicately permeated within and throughout their being, searching out frailty, bathing every cell and atom with its soothing balm – knitting together what was split or ruptured, mending that which was torn, uniting that which was divided, dissolving discomfort and darkness within its glittering benevolence. It was alive in itself, and to restore to wholeness and health was its purpose and its pleasure. It played and sang about them in joyous soundlessness. Then gradually the tingling white light dissipated and left them in a deepening, smoky darkness. They were floating in a silence so profound it hung almost tangibly about them, like a velvet robe. Michael began to observe all around, starry nebulae stretching out glittering arms as they revolved – beckoning to them to join the dance – pirouetting in shimmering finery, skirts of stars billowing out – rotating in silent splendour. Their consciousness expanding into limitless space and distant galaxies – time and silence spread out like an endlessly unfurling blanket. Sariel was no longer a separate entity – he could feel her tangled up with all the threads that made the stuff of the universe, as he was also. Colours oscillated through the spectrum. They were speeding – like bullets of light through the dark – ahead red tail-lights taunted them with their vanishing point. Pronged points of red – jabbing at the darkness – like a pitchfork at their eyes.

“Can’t you remember Michael, can’t you really?” Sariel’s sad voice broke through the overlapping layers of past and future and collapsed them into the present reality, once again. He sensed with disappointment, that he was again in the dingy, dust-covered office in Severance Falls, where reality was out of kilter and mistakes had been made. Mistakes that must be put right. He felt again, flesh hanging upon the boney framework of his body, heavy and clumsy. He staggered slightly to regain his balance as he accustomed himself to the pull of weight and mass. Michael could see Sariel before him now, leaning against the desk, her head lowered and slightly to one side. He could hear her breath coming in short pants. He quickly perceived what had happened and asked, “You gave me some of your energy Sariel. Why did you do that?” She looked up and gave him a melancholy smile, “Because you will need it soon enough, Michael Tego, misguided Dei-man,” and she raised the gun and pulled the trigger in one swift movement.

There was crack as the bullet sliced through the air and a something in his breast burst and broke, a shattering of bone and tissue. The foreign metal projectile shot at high velocity from the primitive earthly firearm had lodged deep where it should not be, in a human body – puncturing, rupturing, fracturing – doing harm. Michael stared open-mouthed as the warm, wet, red stain spread swiftly over his chest – his still hands hanging in mid-air in surprise and a hesitation. He looked up at Sariel in bemusement,

“I am sorry Dei-man, but I must take the notepad you have there, where the co-ordinates are imprinted – I must find Lilith. I have the Antikythera device and once I have her also, the others will reveal themselves. She was the engineer, she devised the Antikythera, the others will seek it. She may already have some idea of where the rift in time-space will occur, but if not, I have a chance yet,” she added. Her eyes were glassy with apprehension and as she watched him stagger backwards, bleeding and confused, she blinked back a film of silvery tears filling her eyes, “That wound won’t stop you for long Michael Tego. I know I am not able to stop you – your energy will reintegrate atoms into molecules soon enough – but I CAN slow you down, and I must slow you down for as long as possible, so….I’m sorry Michael Tego, but.…” she stepped closer to him and raised the gun, “Oh no, please” he muttered, comprehending her intention – “I have to rectify a mistake!” Michael gasped in an urgent whisper before she held the gun up to his temple. He barely had time to hear her reply, “So have I” before she fired it again.

The bullet smacked him in the side of his temple with the sound in his head of a baseball-bat hitting wet sand. He was aware of his panic – of the sting of adrenalin in his veins. But Sariel had aimed, with the precision of a surgeon, at the memory centres housed in his brain, slicing a path of damage and destruction right through them – the most delicate and complex synaptic connections now severed and pulped. The darkness came with a razor-sharp slice of pain and the dull thud of granite, tumbling down. A scent of smoke and hot steel and the tang of oxidized metal in his mouth and then falling – falling into a sticky, black abyss of pitch which glued him into paralysis – and it was over. He fell finally ‘In terram Mortem’.

 

There was only the plaintive, lonely sound of a ticking clock – tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock – which continued ad infinitum. As it marked the passing of seconds, minutes and hours, soft winter sunlight moved in a slow, deliberate sweep across the room – picking out the dark-blue spines of the ledgers on the shelves, then sweeping languidly across the dusty gilt frame surrounding the print of Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ on the far wall. It glinted on the gold case of the clock itself – a carriage clock, standing on a filing cabinet to the right of the picture – tick tock tick tock tick tock… reverberating in the silence of the room. A flash caught the slender second hand as it circled the clock-face. The sunlight slid gradually across the wall, motes of dust circling in its mellowing beam. Now the muted, gold light lit the edge of a wooden door, left swinging open. It crept along the heavy, mahogany desk in the middle of the room, sparkling for a short while over old-fashioned brass pen-holders and an ornate letter opener fashioned in silver to resemble a small, Venetian dagger. It caught the metal edges of a stapler, a pair of scissors and an expensive Parker pen, then moved leisurely onwards, over the edge of the desk where it caught the tips of the highly-polished, black shoes and the weave of the black, cotton socks worn by the man lying in shadow on the floor by the desk. It dappled the pool of blood spread out along the floorboards to his side, making a pattern over the red and rusty-brown liquid. Tick tock tick tock…..Moving ever onwards, the sunglow caught the rectangular silver and gold cufflink fixed into the white shirt-cuff peeking beneath the black sleeve of the outstretched, motionless arm and gave a brief gleam to the neat fingernails curled into his palm. Tick tock tick tock tick tock…..The light in the room was fading now and the shadows were deepening towards the premature close of the short winters day. Soon it would be quite dark. Tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock…. It was soon so dim that one might barely make out the shadow that trembled briefly, then raised itself up by the side of the desk. One might find it hard to recognize that it was the shape of a man sitting up.

The shadow grew upwards, elongating itself above the rim of the desk – the shape of a man standing up. He flattened a sticky, bloodied palm against the surface of the warm wood of the desktop – steadying himself for some seconds, swaying slightly as if drunken or dazed. Then, edging gingerly along the side of the desk, he took a hesitant step or two. His tread was heavy and mechanical, like an automaton. He paused, still holding onto the edge of the escritoire for stability, as if unsure what to do next. Then the dark shape of the man seemed to lower its head as if regarding his recalcitrant feet. It doubled over abruptly, did not fall, but raised itself up again, clutching two objects in one hand, one softly flapping – a leather wallet, the other glowed dull metal along its nozzle. These he attempted to stuff into the outside pocket of his jacket, missing the opening several times before successfully, if ineptly, forcing them in. He raised his head again, and in the dimness, seemed to be looking for a way out of the room. The wooden door still hung open and he made a lunge for the opening, stumbling before catching clumsily onto the door-handle and steadying himself against the doorframe. Tick tock tick tock tick tock… he turned to look at the clock as he stood in the doorway, catching jagged, irregular breaths. The breaths stopped, held in with the effort of moving his legs again – as if they would not respond naturally, but only with his full concentration. Balancing himself against walls and whatever furniture was available, he made his jolting way to the outside, moving like a stiff, wooden puppet fighting against imprisoning strings jerked by a stubborn puppet-master. But there was a purposefulness in his awkward stride – it would get smoother, it would get easier soon and he had to go somewhere…where? First to a vehicle, a shining black vehicle, parked in a side-street nearby – he could sense it waiting for him, engine dormant until he came. He could hear keys jangling in his pocket against the other thing, the metal thing – the weapon. Did the weapon work? How did it work. He stopped for a moment in the outside yard and fumbled in his pocket to take it out and look at it. It was heavy in his hand, and his finger bent naturally around what must be a trigger? He pointed the nozzle upwards towards the empty sky and squeezed it tentatively. An explosive shot rang out, piercing the silence of dusk, ‘good – it was still functional’ he concluded.  Now, he needed to get to the black vehicle – the black ‘sedan’ was ready for him, and then he would begin his pursuit….of something… important.

 

 

Chapter 12: THINGS TO DO WHEN YOU’RE DEAD  

He raised bloodshot eyes to stare up at the darkening, moonless sky above. Leaden clouds scudded across the heavens. On the blackening horizon stars flashed into being, like glints on the edges of razor blades. It hurt his eyes to look at them. He lowered his head and groaned – his flesh felt as if a million steely needles were goading him into movement. But move he must – he was drawn on by some kind of imperative – he needed to get somewhere – but remembering was so difficult – it was like trying to tie together the loose, dangling ends of an unravelled garment, in order to make it wearable again.

His limbs were aching and unresponsive – awkward, bony stilts he moved by sheer force of will and determination. A clammy sweat filmed his face and neck, his head felt heavy and uncentered – a weight pressed uncomfortably inside his chest –the thing thumping painfully inside felt discordant and strained.

He stumbled to a halt, flopping against the side of the black sedan car.  He’d found it at last. The vehicle had not been far, but he was wheezing as if he’d run a marathon, lungs full of fire. After resting for a moment, he slid his numb hand into a pocket. It fell upon the jagged, cold metal of a key, but when he drew it out he stared at it in incomprehension. This was his means of entering the vehicle, but how did it work? He fought to dredge up a memory. A button to press? He felt over the black plastic fob of key ring. A segment gave under pressure from his thumb and a click, a beep of response, and a flash of car sidelights signalled his success. Now, he grasped at the handle on the car door. It took several attempts before he mustered enough strength to heave the heavy door open and to slide into the driver’s seat.

He sat for some minutes, exhausted with the exertion. Lumps in his pockets were making his seated position uncomfortable. He jerked several thick brown envelopes out of his pockets and looking around saw a compartment in the dashboard to his right. Leaning over he pressed nervous fingers around its surface until a door sprang open. He stuffed the envelopes inside, noticing they were filled with printed notes. He then reached into his pocket again and drew out the warm metal weapon he’d fired recently and a leather wallet and tossed them both on the seat next to him.

Able to sit more comfortably, he examined the interior before him. A steering wheel – its use was self-evident, to set a direction, but the pedals below and instruments on the dashboard seemed as unfamiliar and incomprehensible as a foreign language. If only he could remember. How did he make the vehicle start moving? Holding the key in his hand, he turned it over in his fingers. He noticed they were sticky with a drying red liquid, but giving his attention to the key once again he examined it from all sides – it should be inserted into a corresponding slot – that was how it was done – but where? He looked over the panel in front of him – then in the darkness he slid his hand over the leather dashboard and steering wheel stem until it hit a small nub of metal. Here? He tried to lower his head slowly so that his eyes were level with the metal button which contained a jagged slot. The movement made his head throb with sharp shards of pain. He jabbed the key roughly at the opening. His hands were clumsy and numb and the key missed, sliding off the lock and causing a rasping scratch across the neat leatherwork. He took a deep breath and attempted the delicate insertion of the key once again. Moving slowly, he manoevered the steel into the hole. Now what? Buttons to press? Switches to click? He considered again, shutting his eyes with the effort. He must push aside the pain and fatigue and try to relax – he must ‘go with the flow’ – his hand moved automatically to grasp the key, a residual memory surfaced and made him turn it firmly in the lock. The ignition alighted and the engine purred into life.

He now turned his attention to the pedals. Gingerly he placed his foot on one and pressed lightly – a brief roar from the engine but no movement. There must be something more to do. Next to his elbow was a lever, with symbols inscribed alongside. He grasped it and pulled it down next to the first symbol then pressed the pedal again, there was a swift jolt backwards, Good! He could move out into the road now – he pressed the pedal again – clearly this one made the car move. Now the other pedal? He pressed it one carefully with his toes – the car stopped. Very well, he understood the function of the pedals – now to decipher the lever. He pulled it down onto the next symbol and pressed the pedal. The car moved forwards, increasing in speed.

 

He drove off cautiously, along the silent road towards the black horizon. Eastwards. He must head East – every fibre of his battered body told him to do so. An abstract sensation, a magnetic attraction, seemed to pull him there – not him, no, something belonging to someone else was calling him.

What was calling him was too far in front! An aching frustration gripped him – he needed to catch up somehow, he must narrow the distance between himself and whatever was ahead. His vision was blurry and he blinked repeatedly as his eyes teared over from his concentrated stare at the road disappearing under his wheels. ‘Must move forward…must move forward…;’ a compulsion throbbed in his brain. Then, quite suddenly, a transparent wave appeared to pass over the scene – distorting it as in an undulating mirror – the ribbon of dark road rose and tumbled like a wave at sea – the landscape on either side blurred and melded, and the car felt as if it leaped, like a pouncing cat, towards the dark horizon and into the night. Then the scene stabilized and the car was steady again, engine humming resolutely along the dark road. He blinked, because now, ahead of him he saw the red tail-lights glowing, like the eyes of a devil, like coals on a dying fire. He was bemused as to how he had willed this jump ahead in time, but he understood – those tail-light were what he sought. A nausea overcame him and he swayed slightly – whatever had transpired within him to cause the shift, it had also unfortunately, drained the little strength he’d had left. 

He was driving fast into the blackness – too fast – headlong into unknown space, like a diver plunging into black water – in over his head. Doggedly chasing those tail-lights hovering in the distance, those red eyes ahead…

His head felt thick and woozy. The stars in the moonless sky above were throbbing – spinning like tops. He blinked. Against his eyelids he could see the starry nebulae stretch out glittering arms – beckoning to him to join the dance. He saw them waltzing in his minds’ eye as he hurled forward into the blackness – pirouetting in their shimmering finery, their skirts of stars billowing out – rotating in silent splendour. His mind expanding – far beyond the single strip of black road into the limitless sky above and distant galaxies – time and silence spread out like an endlessly unfurling blanket, muffling the sounds of the engine roar. Colours oscillated through the spectrum. He was speeding – a bullet of light through the dark…

Was he slipping into unconsciousness? He forced himself into wakefulness, calling on his last reserves of self-discipline – concentrating on the car in front. He gripped the wheel tighter and steadied the cars’ position on the ever-unwinding tarmac of the night-covered road.

A dank, metallic odour filled the interior of the car. The gun lay on the seat next to him, like a living thing, pulsating with shallow warmth in the coldness that pervaded the air. His chest felt slick and sticky. He rubbed bristles on his chin, ‘When did he last shave?’ His fingers left a tacky residue on his face. His hands were stickily adhering to the leather cover of the steering wheel. Not sweat, he was too numb to be perspiring, and the stars shone steely cold. He forced himself to look away from the road and at his hands. They were covered in a viscous, black substance. His white shirt glowing faintly in the reflection from the headlights – except where the black, slimy stuff was clinging to his chest and stomach. The metallic odour was cloying and coated the back of his throat and nostrils. He gagged. Appearing black in this darkness, but its colour red in the light, he realised that he was covered in congealing blood. Whose blood?

                                                     ****************************

 

Michael Tego, thwarted Dei-man, struggling with division within himself, doggedly pursuing the N’geli as she tracks the Pitchfork three – jolts into wakefulness. The wooden post he’d propped himself up against is pressing uncomfortably into his back and his shoulders are aching from his slumped position, seated limply on the sawdust floor of the barn, like a broken doll with legs akimbo. In his pockets the gun and envelopes full of cash are sticking painfully into his hipbone. The smell of hops and barley is in his nostrils. Motes of chaff and sawdust float on sunbeams, which are now penetrating each crack between the planks of the wooden structure. The sun has risen high – he must move on, and quickly. He shakes his head to sober himself into full wakefulness and runs his hand through his hair. His hair is dry now, and the unruly black curls have sprung back. His head feels groggy, but with heavy sleep – no longer with the strain of regenerating the crushed and ruptured brain tissue, with the draining effort of rebuilding the molecules which make up the cells and neurons, with the labour of reconnecting severed synapses and neural networks…..

‘So,’ Michael Tego sniffs, ‘All that congealed blood on my hands, on my chest and hair – that was my own blood,” he yawns and sighs, “I’m not feeling too bad, I guess, considering …..Considering I’ve been dead ….’

Strangely, for a dead man, he is rather hungry – ravenous, in fact. He hauls himself off the floor and dusts himself down from the sawdust clinging to his black trousers and the denim shirt he’s acquired from the hook on the post. He straightens himself stiffly, reaching his hands around and placing them on either side of his back, bending backwards slightly. He stretches the muscles of his shoulders and sides – testing their flexibility and strength – it feels good. He takes the gun out of his pocket and tucks it into the back of his belt again. A memory asserts itself and he runs his finger along the inside of his belt until it catches against a rough piece of folded paper – ‘It’s still there!’ he sighs with relief. Trying to extricate the folded paper undamaged is not quite so easy, as part of it is stuck to the leather of the belt by congealed blood. But the blood has dried to a flaky brittleness and it comes away with a few gentle tugs. He unfolds it, being careful not to tear the corner which has dried stiff with stale blood. Here it is, still safe – the paper that he’d torn out of Lilith Turpis’s notebook. The long list of numbers referring to letters in the Greek message above – most likely some kind of puzzle or anagram. Lilith had taken the numbers to refer to random letters in the sentences, scoring them out as she had deciphered a second message. He folds the paper up again and places it back inside his belt, tucking it in tightly. He’ll have time to look over it when he’s found something to eat. That is his first priority. All expenditure of energy demands to be replaced – requiring the inconvenience of refuelling – and he had expended enough energy to rebuild a man.

His black jacket is still hanging on the nail stuck into the wooden post just as he’d left it. He removes it carefully and shakes it out. It has dried out in the balmy air of the barn from its rinse under the tap and is infused with the scent of barley. He folds it over his arm, and proceeds back to the basin to check whether all the sawdust and cloth has burned away to ashes. Nothing significant left but a few tiny scraps of singed cloth. He turns on the tap and a jet of high-pressure water disposes of the sooty evidence down the drain. Checking around the vicinity, he returns the ‘mirror’ over the basin he’d improvised from the broken saw-blade to the floor and looks to make sure he’s cleared up all he most obvious clues to his presence in the barn. Once satisfied there’s little cause for the owner to be alarmed he moves back towards the barn doors.

He pushes the door open a crack and peers out warily. There is a sharp ‘clank’ as the loose ends of the broken chain swing back with the movement. He recalls disintegrating the metal of the link to gain entry. There’s no-one to be seen in any direction. The road he’d followed towards the barn is empty and steaming slightly in the bright sunlight. The sun is almost overhead. According to his watch it’s eleven forty seven. First on his agenda is to find somewhere where he might get some food.

He slips out of the door and, keeping a wary lookout, makes his way around the side of the barn. A few chickens scratching around in the yard flap away in surprise as he jogs around the back of the building. Not far away, in the grassy yard beyond, is a little wooden outhouse, larger than a shed, but smaller than a cabin. Next to it is a small, boxy structure. He makes a run towards it, keeping low, so as not to attract attention. Squatting beneath the small window of the outhouse, he risks a peek inside. It looks empty of any living inhabitants, but it has what looks like a cupboard against the opposite wall and he can see an electric kettle on a counter nearby! He stands up and walks around to the door. There is a discoloured old brass doorknob and keyhole above, but when he tries it, the knob turns easily and the door swings open – it doesn’t appear to have been locked for some time.

The single room is filled with a sunny silence. There is a small sack of grain in the corner and a square, formica-covered table in the middle of the room with two simple chairs. On the table is an old-fashioned transistor radio and a folded newspaper. Michael closes the door softly and strides over to examine the paper. It’s dated only a day or two ago, he thinks – he’s lost track of time. He drapes his jacket over a chair-back, then moves across to inspect the contents of the cupboard on the wall. It’s empty, save for a jar of instant coffee, a small bag of sugar and some powdered milk. He exhales a deep sigh of disappointment – this place really doesn’t afford much in the way of sustenance. Next to the electric kettle is an old stainless steel spoon but, he looks around in consternation – there doesn’t appear to be a basin or tap anywhere with which to fill the kettle with water. Perhaps there’s a tap outside? As he considers this possibility, the soft clucking and scratching of the hens in the yard outside becomes apparent, and he smiles – ‘What a hopeless townie he’s become! Of course, where there are chickens there ought to be eggs!’

A moment later and he’s outside in the sunshine surrounded by chattering hens hoping for a meal of grain and seeds – the low boxy structure is a hen-coop! He chuckles to himself. Shedding downy feathers he emerges from the coop a few minutes later, clutching five speckled brown eggs, but in the cabin there is no apparent means of cooking them. He places them on the counter and regards them thoughtfully, ‘agitating their molecules with his mind would simply expend more energy than he can spare right now, so there’s nothing else for it but to eat them raw’. He breaks all the eggs into the empty coffee mug, then reaches up and takes down the powered milk – a few grams of that would be useful, and lastly spoons four heaped teaspoons of sugar into the mixture. Some vigorous whisking with the spoon turns it into the consistency of porridge, but his stomach is beginning to growl insistently, and he takes a large gulp. ‘Not bad’ it tastes rather like a slimy, eggy custard. He finishes it off in another three gulps, then decides that some coffee would be helpful.

He risks a quick visit back into the barn to fill the kettle with water from the basin inside, and once back inside the seclusion of the cabin he seats himself at the little table while it boils. There seems to be no sign of visitors for the time being, and besides, he can surely trust his ‘intuition’ to warn him if anyone approaches. Carefully he reaches inside his belt and pulls out the folded paper, smoothing it flat against the table top. Michael studies it closely as the kettle begins to steam and bubble. Yes, it looks like a repetition of the Greek message he’d been given by Betsy Tranter – poor Betsy Tranter… Michael pushes away the disturbing memories surfacing about the events of his recent past, and buries the rising emotions of anger and indignation – these are pointless distractions to the task in hand, and he must concentrate – he must decipher the messages on the scrap of messy paper if he is to make any further progress.

Having found the stub of a pencil and with a milky, sugary coffee to sustain him, he scans the words scribbled over the paper, picking out enough letters to make sure he has the correct impression. Is it the previous message? But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.”

The first set of numbers: He begins to pick out letters from the message which seem to be random – an anagram?

O L F E R O S E D E R – Michael works through several permutations, but it doesn’t take long to work out the instruction:

Free Dolores’ That would certainly make sense, as Tabbris had informed him, the Dei-men had captured that particular member of the Pitchfork three. But this would mean he and Sariel had been wrong about this message – it was not a message meant for Lilith – It was more likely a message she had been coding to send out! But to whom? Presumably the third member of their group? Perhaps the second, longer set of numbers would hold a clue?

Deciphering this set of numbers and letters is a much tougher proposition. More than a simple anagram, there are permutations in the coding. The sun had dipped low, another mug of sugary egg mixture had been consumed and three more mugs of coffee drunk, before Michael sits back in his chair and regards the result of his labours. The second message apparently reads:

‘On the appointed date we must merge where the Severance shall Fall’

Once again, the clue had been before him all the time. It had been in the name…

To be continued…..

Comments
  1. Once again the edge of my seat is being sat upon. Can’t wait to find out what happens next – nicely done!

  2. Whew! Now I’m all caught up and ready for more. Love the angle you are taking on this!

  3. spookyspeed says:

    Oh my…

    Loving this! Sorry I am late to read and review (again). This is becoming more complex and exciting with each chapter. Great writing.

  4. spookyspeed says:

    Such fabulous descriptive writing. I absolutely love it.

    Sorry I am late to read and review, but I aways get here in the end. Haha, looking forward to more.

  5. spookyspeed says:

    I see. We have now caught up on the back story, I had actually (temporarily) forgotten we were in a back story, but that is only because I am reading this a chapter at a time with a break inbetween each one. If I read this as a completed story, of course it wouldn’t seem like that. So all that happened in a week, and now we are moving on with the real time story following on from Chapter One.

    Excellent, I can’t wait!

  6. spookyspeed says:

    Correction, following on from Chapter 2.

  7. It’s very straightforward to find out any topic on net as compared to textbooks, as
    I found this paragraph at this website.

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