[Looking for direction in your life? Join the personality cult of the previous chapter.]
So yeah, that was my lowest moment. But this one was sure putting up a heck of a fight for first place.
Jane Doe — I guess I call her that, because I still don’t know her real name — kept pacing up and down the RV like she was waiting for something. Normally around this time I would have opened my big mouth and gotten myself into trouble, but now I just watched.
I was…beaten. Overwhelmed.
I felt empty inside, as if something had come along and sucked out my soul along with most of my internal organs.
She pulled a cocaine-skinny iPhone from her pocket and tapped at the screen with her thumb. Sending a text, checking her email, updating her Pandora preferences?…honestly I’ve not got a clue. Then she put the phone away, and reached into her pocket. She pulled out an object I couldn’t quite see and started fiddling with it, palming it, flipping it over in her fingers.
She looked at me her eyes narrow, her mouth stretched back into a faux grin. And I said the only thing I could think of. “Why?”
“Why anything? Why are you doing this? Why are you and whoever you’re working with dragging me out to this place. Why don’t you just kill me? For the love of God, why don’t you kill me?”
And this is the part were you’d think she would tell me all her evil plans. That’s how it happens in stories. The villain opens up and spills his guts to the hero, tells him all the things he wants to know, because, of course, it won’t matter anyway, since the hero is going to be dead soon. Or something.
But she didn’t. She just kept looking at me, smiling that tight, terrifying grin, her eyes burning with a kind of focused intensity I’ve never seen before.
There’s a reason the villain spills his guts to the hero in the stories. No, I don’t mean it’s because his ego is so big he can’t help but gloat. That’s justification. The reason is because we need reason. Stories need reason. And of all the terrible things that happened to me, the worst of it is this: I still don’t know why.
But in that moment it stopped mattering, because I realized what it was she had in her hands. It was a small specimen jar. And suspended in the strange yellow liquid inside the jar was a human finger.
Of course, you’ve probably guessed who’s finger it was by now. But for me it was a complete shock, seeing it there, strips of flesh trailing from the ragged stump like misshapen tentacles.
“What is THAT?”
Jane Doe didn’t answer. She put the jar on the little table that stuck out from the wall, and went back to the RV’s kitchen area. When she returned she was holding another item, slightly less grotesque, but no less strange. It was an egg. Or at least, it was shaped like an egg. But it was slightly bigger than a normal egg should have been, and it was covered in what looked like purple leather. I guess I’d have to say it most resembled a snake egg. Not that I’ve ever seen one in person, but I’ve seen pictures, and this thing looked for all the world like a purple snake egg.
As I watched, I saw something strange. The egg in her hand, it was moving, pumping and pulsing, like something was writhing just below the surface of the skin. And the way things where going, if it turned out to be something as benign as a snake, I could count myself very lucky.
Jane Doe placed the egg next to the jar with the finger in it. Then she sat down in the chair across the aisle and watched.
I watched too. For a while nothing happened. Then the pulsing throbbing motion became more and more frenetic, until finally there was a tear in the side of the leathery, egg and…something started to emerge.
Something. You’re expecting me to describe it now, and of course you would expect that. But I can’t. I won’t say it was too terrible to describe, though of course it was terrible in its way. But the problem is in the words, in the thoughts. There just aren’t any to describe this thing. What color was it? It wasn’t any color. Not one you’ve ever seen before. What shape was it? I don’t know. And to tell you the truth, I can’t even remember what it looked like.
Oh, I can remember after a fashion. I can remember how I felt looking at something truly and utterly alien, something that my earthbound brain had no thoughts to encompass, no concepts to describe. But therein lies the problem. We talk of aliens and we think of things with green skin and tentacles, or perhaps translucent jellyfish floating along by means of pure psychic power. But somehow we assume it will be something we can understand. We assume that on some level the aliens, whatever they are will be things we can relate to our earthly existence. Maybe they’ll be like bugs, or fish or whatever.
But really, C’thulu? He’s a really giant guy with a squid for a head. Looking at him wouldn’t make you go insane any more than looking at a platypus will make you go insane (and truth be told the platypus is weirder.) Our minds are far more limited than we realize. In our hubris we believe we can imagine all the possible configurations for life. But we can’t. Our brains just aren’t wired for some things.
So, yeah…Something. The Something started to move toward the jar, though again, it’s difficult to put the precise way it moved into words. I watched as much as I could, but some of it I didn’t see, because this thing? It almost hurt to look at. My brain rebelled. It screamed at me to look away. But some part of me wanted to keep watching. To see what happened.
And what happened was this: the Something engulfed the bottom of the jar wrapping itself around the glass. And then, somehow, it wasn’t outside the jar anymore. It didn’t look like it passed through the glass so much as…well here language gives out again. Enveloped? Interweaved? Undefined? Those aren’t the right words, but maybe they’ll give you a sense of what might have happened.
I had to look away a moment later; the urgent throbbing in my brain had become too much to bear. But after I looked away, something else happened. I won’t say I heard it, or that I even really felt it, but it was something like that. It, whatever it was, filled the RV with a hum. It wasn’t just a sound. It was a part of reality, as if the world itself were pulsing and vibrating. And with the sensation came a sense of anticipation. It’s coming, the sensation seemed to say as it vibrated in the very core of my bones. It’s coming here.
I saw Jane Doe texting on her phone again, looking up and around from time to time anticipating what would happen next.
Something about the urgency of that sound galvanized me out of my lethargic state enough to start seriously thinking about escape. But at that moment Jane Doe looked at me and smiled. “Don’t even think about it lardo. My instructions are to keep you alive. They don’t say in how many pieces.”
I gulped hard, and tried to double down. “You don’t know what I’m capable of, lady.”
She laughed, threw back her head and guffawed, but then the laugh ended in a strange twitch, that spasmed not just through her face, but her whole body. She stood ramrod straight and silent for a moment before she spoke again. This time her face twisted with rage. “You pathetic, small minded, big bodied, meatbag. You haven’t the faintest iota of what you’ve gotten yourself into. You think that just because-”
And then her face twisted into a rictus of pain and she fell to her knees. “HELP ME!!” she screamed. “Please, don’t let her-”
Then, in a flash, the pained face was gone, and the old cold glare of Jane Doe reappeared. “So…persistent you lot.” The words came terse and clipped, once again. “Your friend? The one you call Frog? He could have made all this so much easier. I asked him to come with me ever so nicely.”
“You’re the one,” I said. “It was your office he found that night in city hall.”
“I would even have accepted a compromise. Any specimen would have done,” she said, as if she hadn’t heard me. “A bit of blood perhaps. A few fingernails might have worked in a pinch. But he had to be so dramatic about the whole thing.”
“What did you do?” I asked, a sudden horror dawning on me as I started to understand what she was saying.
“Easier than you’d think to bite off a finger if you’ve got a mind for it,” the woman went on. “Except for all the thrashing around he did afterward. And then he called for you. How cute. Though I must admit we expected you to be there too. Kind of the package deal if you get what I mean. Him coming alone…that made things trickier.”
“You should have been there last week,” I said.
“We were,” she replied. The look of shock must have been evident on her face, because she smiled thinly. “Surprised? All your little antics, for nothing? We could have had the both of you at any moment. But the time wasn’t right. The stars had not aligned. We could not afford for mistakes. So we waited. And you, both of you, came to us, just Karl said you would.”
“Where’s Frog? What did you do with him?”
“Me? I didn’t do anything with him. Well, other than this,” she said, rattling the finger in the jar in front of my face.
“Where is he?” I repeated.
“It doesn’t matter. This matters. Right here, right now. Don’t make it any more difficult than it has to be.”
My mind raced, filling up with a million thoughts, thoughts of Frog and his theory about possession. I believed it now, and more than that I could use it. A plan started to form in my head.
“Can she hear me?” I asked. “The woman, who owns this body? Can she hear me?”
“I own this body!” Jane Doe screamed, suddenly inches from my face. “Me. Do you understand?”
I forced myself to look straight into her eyes. “You have to keep fighting,” I said, hoping whoever or whatever was left in there could understand me. “You can do it. You already did. She’s not all-powerful. You can beat her.”
For a moment Jane Doe swallowed hard and a strange look flickered across her face, but then her old self returned. “It wouldn’t matter if she did. In a moment my need for this meatsack will be complete. The portal will open. The Dark One will awaken!”
I kept pushing, not knowing what kind of time I had left. “You almost lost control a second time there. Whoever that woman you’ve got locked away in her own head is, she’s a fighter. Ugly John didn’t have that kind of problem. Now maybe that’s because the man he possessed had a weaker mind than most and really didn’t put up much of a fight. But maybe it’s because you’re not really very good at this. Maybe you’re weak where he was strong. Maybe you’re slow where he was fast. Maybe you’re the one who’s soft and puny and pathetic.”
A cloud of rage came over Jane Doe’s face, and she started to snarl something in response, but then in an instant the look flashed into one of fear and desperation.
Suddenly she was off of me, and yanking open drawers in the kitchen of the RV, and then there was a knife in her hand, and before I could understand what was happening, she was ramming the blade into her stomach, and there was blood everywhere. She looked into my face and said, “Thank you.”
Then the rage returned and Jane Doe screamed, “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?” She tried to lurch toward me with the knife, but her legs wouldn’t support her, and she went sprawling on the floor, blood pouring from the gash in her stomach like a river. In another minute she was dead.
It took a moment for the truth about what had just happened to sink in. I wanted to curl up in a ball and weep. I wanted to take the knife and join the woman on the floor in the peace of death. I wanted it to be OVER. But the buzzing still rattled my being, the sense of imminence digging at my very core forcing me into action.
I managed to get the knife off the floor and cut the tape that bound my hands and feet. The buzzing had reached an intensity that was almost overwhelming. The character of the buzzing humming sensation had changed now, and though I still can’t describe it in specifics it seemed to me that it was almost angry. And somehow I knew what I had to do.
I grabbed for the jar. The moment my fingers touched it something like an electric shock shot up my arm. I screamed out in pain and surprise, but in that brief moment while I held the jar with Frog’s finger in it I was overwhelmed by a sensation of…peace; a feeling that everything would be fine, that all of this was playing out according to some greater plan.
Then I let the jar fly and it shattered against the far wall of the RV. When it broke there was a pop like the sound of a light bulb giving out, and the Something and Frog’s finger vanished into nothing, leaving just the broken glass and the yellow fluid behind.
The buzzing sensation disappeared, but it was replaced by another sound, a real sound that you could hear with your ears. It was the thumping drum-roll of helicopter blades overhead. My first thought was that this was a rescue, someone come to save me from this terrible mixed up mess and take me back to my safe and normal life. But then sanity kicked in, and I realized I couldn’t dare hope for my luck to turn around so completely.
I stumbled for the back of the RV, pushing open the door to the darkened bedroom, and looking for somewhere to hide. But instead I found myself at a dead end.
Then the RV rocked, and I heard the clatter of boots coming up the steps. I sat down with my back to the door and prayed they wouldn’t find me.
But they did. They found me; blindfolded me; brought me here.
I’ve told you all of this before, but you wouldn’t believe it. Maybe you still don’t. Whatever.
It was the truth. All of it.
I wish to god it was a lie.
The woman sitting across from Vincent pushes her glasses a little further up her nose and smiles. It’s a kind smile, true and genuine.
He looks back with an empty expression, dead and drained of feeling. “Are we done here?” he asks.
“Yes, I believe we are,” the woman replies. “I appreciate you sharing your story with me Vincent. I know it wasn’t easy for you.”
“Would you believe me if I told you things aren’t nearly as dark as you believe?”
She raises her eyebrows and then shruggs. She stands from her chair and exits the room. Outside a man in a lab coat with streaks of grey in his hair is waiting for her.
“Took you long enough,” he says.
“It takes as long as it takes,” she replies.
“Whatever. Just seems like he got awfully discursive there. We probably didn’t need that much detail.”
The woman pushes her glasses up into her honey-colored hair and looks into the man’s eyes her own expression suddenly very serious. “We asked for a truth serum,” she said. “294 has never failed us before. Maybe the problem isn’t with the stuff. Maybe the problem is in our understanding of truth.”
The man shrugs. “Maybe.”
They walk in silence for a few moments. Then the woman speaks. “Hyde?”
“The director isn’t going to be happy.”
“Demon things on the loose, a dimensional portal to a Dark Prison, and whoever this Frog character is out there doing his own thing?”
“Well, when you put it that way…”
“Just another day in paradise,” Hyde finishes.
[TO BE CONTINUED]