Category Archives: Sons of the Damned

Sons of the Damned, Chapter 26: The Tellekill Two-Step

To say the Director doesn’t trust the intel the Karl-thing gave him would be an understatement, but he’s not fool enough to ignore it either. He sends his suggestions to OS-5 and gets back confirmation within half an hour: triple the compliment of men guarding the circle. Keep a close eye on Church movements. Be ready for everything.

In practice however, this proves to be more difficult to do than say. The Director pours through lists of deployment stations, scouring them for over-staffing, cutting back the ones that might not quite hold the same priority as others. And THEN he has to get the extra men to the Circle and get them briefed on the situation and absorbed into the Mole Rats’ command structure.

The end of reality itself might be on the way, but he is at least determined it’s going to be well-managed.


They’ve been driving for hours now. The sun is up and glaring at them through the windshield.

Vinny can feel the symptoms of sleep deprivation coming on hard now. He hasn’t shut his eyes in over 24 hours, and its getting to him. But he can’t bring himself to do it. Not while the woman sitting next to him is being held hostage by the thing living in his mind. He fights his way through a wash of emotions, guilt, fear, confusion, helplessness and tries to find something he can grab on to, anything to keep his head above water.

“Are you going to kill me?”

Vinny almost jumps in surprise. It’s the first thing the woman has said since he got into the cab. But then his surprise turns to suspicion. “Is this a trick?”


“I mean, is it really you moving your mouth and speaking. Because we’ve already established that the thing inside me can make you say the words it wants.”

“Is it a demon? Like in the Bible?”

“I- don’t know. I’m not much of a Bible guy to tell you the truth. Probably. Anyway, you’re evading the question.”

“No, I’m not. I’m sorry, I mean, I’m just so scared.”

She looks it too. Her makeup has run into streaks and Vincent sees that she’s crying again. Maybe she’d been crying all through the night. That realization hits him in the chest like a punch. He’s been so wrapped up in what all of this means for him, that he’d almost forgotten what his driver had been going through.

“I don’t think he can make me talk like this,” she says. “I mean, he can make me say whatever I want, but he can’t make me look like I mean it.”

“I…I’m sorry,” Vinny says, feeling the weight of guilt pressing down even harder now. “It’s not me. I don’t want this any more than you do. Believe me.”

“You still haven’t answered me. Are you going to kill me?”


But something inside him, maybe the Traveler or maybe the voice of his own self-doubt asks, How can you be sure?

But before he can think on this further the woman continues speaking, her voice halting and choked with something between grief and terror.“I always…always wanted to go to Florida. So I guess…I guess that’s a good thing right?”

Vinny smiles a sad, tired smile. “It’s not like what you see on TV,” he says. “Not where I live anyway. Whenever you see Florida on T.V. it’s either Miami or the Everglades. But most of it’s just boring suburbia and pine forests.”

“You’ve still got the beaches, right?”

“With sand as white as snow.”

“Really? I always thought that was, you know, Photoshopped or something.”

Vinny shakes his head. “They’re the real deal. Though a guy like me doesn’t get down there too often.”

“Imagine what it would be like to live in France.”


“Sorry, you were just talking about how TV shows things, and I was thinking that it must be terrible to be from France and every single time your country shows up on television there’s the Eiffel Tower in the background. I bet the majority of French people haven’t even seen the Eiffel Tower in person. What do you think?”

“I…I don’t know.” Vinny tries to process the fact that he’s having a semi-normal conversation with a woman that the ancient entity living in his head is coercing into driving him across the country and fails rather miserably.

“I’ll do what you ask, you know,” the woman says, breaking his reverie.


“I mean, that thing, whatever it is inside you, he doesn’t have to puppet me anymore. I promise I’ll be…compliant. Whatever you want me to do, I mean anything, you just say the word and I’m there.”

“I’m…not the one in control here. At least not of him,” Vinny says. “I’m…sorry about what he’s done to you.”

“I know, I know, I just thought, you know maybe that he would hear me.”

“Oh. Right.”

“Because…what’s your name?”

“Vinny. Vinny Price.”

“As in Vincent Price? The actor from way back when?”

“Yeah. I mean I’m not the same guy, I’ve just got the same name. But…you could probably have figured that out on your own. What’s your name?”

“Rachael. Rachael Anderson.”

“Rachael’s a nice name.”

“It’s just…I want you to understand where I’m coming from. I want your promise that that thing inside you won’t try to…to push me, or whatever you want to call it, again.”

“I told you before, I’m not really in control here, but-”

“I will die before I go through that again. Do you understand? If I sense that he’s even close to trying to get into my head again, I swear I will take this car off the road at full speed with all of us in it.”

“Rachael, I-”

“I’ve been raped before. I’ve never told anyone about it. Not even my husband. But I’m telling you now, so you’ll understand that I’m dead serious when I say that I would rather go through a hundred of those experiences than to have that thing you’ve got in your skull try to pry it’s way into my mind again.”

Vinny opens his mouth and then shuts it again, completely at a loss for what to say. Until the voice in his head says, [Tell her that if she cooperates, everything will be fine.]

“He…it, whatever it is, says you’ll be fine if you cooperate. For what it’s worth I don’t think he really likes doing things that way. It seems like it’s difficult or something.”

“It may be difficult,” Rachael replied, “but don’t think for a moment that he doesn’t enjoy it.”


On the same road, not more than half a mile behind them, a box truck is being driven by men wearing foil hats.

The one driving points at the dash mounted clock and the other nods and picks up what looks like an overly complicated walky-talky. “Base, this is the Mobile 5, do you copy?”

“I copy Mobile 5,” the handset crackles back. “Any deviation in expected course?”

“Nope. They’re headed your way, straight as an arrow. Assuming they don’t stop to rest, I’d estimate arrival time at sometime tomorrow morning. Ya’ll going to be ready by then?”

“Don’t worry about us, Mobile 5. We’ve got it under control here.”

“Roger that Base. Next call-in at Oh-Nine-hundred. Over and Out”

The man in the driver’s seat turns to his compatriot and says, “What do you think we look like? Couple of guys driving around wearing foil hats.”

“Hey, say what you want to, but if that thing is jiggering around with people’s minds I want no part of it. I’m more worried about the side effects.”

“What’s this stuff called again?”

“Telekill. Feeds off telepathic energy. Blocks psychic readings which is useful and all that, but they say that over time it feeds off your brainwaves. The longer you’re exposed to it the dumber you get. Stuff literally EATS your thoughts.”

“Yeesh. Where do the eggheads dig all this stuff up anyway? I mean, I’m prepared to believe in bigfoot or UFO’s or whatever, but the amount of weirdness I’ve seen since I started work with the Foundation is freaking ridiculous.”

“Dude, who knows? Why is anything the way it is? Sooner or later you got to learn to just take it as it comes, one day at a time.”

“Said the man wearing the thought-eating tinfoil hat.”


As it happens at that moment they aren’t the only ones with Telekill on their minds. Back at Site 14 the Director is waving a sheet of paper in the face of an irate engineer, and saying, “I EXPECT you to do your job, Wilkins.”

Wilkins does not react well to this. “Get one of your D-Class goons to do it,” he yells. “They’re expendable. I’m not. If you want me to build this for you, I’m going to need to see written confirmation with the signatures of every single member of OS-5. Until such time I’m not touching that stuff with a ten foot pole.”

The Director grabs the man by his lapels and pulls him close, his eyes burning into the engineer’s like a laser. Something passes between them, something unspoken, and then the Director says softly this time, “Are you SURE you don’t want to build my little project for me?”

The engineer swallows hard, his eyes suddenly filled with something between terror and confusion. “I’m…I’m sure we can work something out.”

“Good. How long have you been standing there gawping, Dr. Hyde?” the Director asks without turning.

“Er…sorry sir. Not long sir. Only, you’d better be sure about this, sir. OS-5 isn’t going to be happy you went over their heads on the Telekill thing sir.”

“The board moves too slowly in situations like this Hyde,” the Director says, leaning hard on his cane with each step he takes, yet still somehow managing to move in such a way that the younger man finds it hard to keep up. “They’ll forgive me for going over their heads if it saves their necks. Now what do you WANT?”

“Oh, sorry sir, I should have said. “It’s commander Maverick. He says everything’s in place.”

The Director stops suddenly, and Hyde nearly plows into him from behind before coming up short. “Do you ever worry, doctor, that you’re beginning to enjoy your job just a little too much?”

A confused look passes over Hyde face, before he replies, “No sir. Not the first time.”

And with that the Director breaks into laughter that seems to go on for a very long time.

Sons of the Damned, Chapter 25: Deposit and Withdrawal

Somewhere in the streets of a painfully nondescript down, a man with hair that has been spiked out into an oily perversion of a halo strides toward a bank. He walks in, and a middle aged teller halfway down the line turns on the light next to her station and says, “Can I help you?”

The man with the hairy halo, walks up and smiles, lips stretching back to reveal a mouth half-full of rotten teeth. The teller catches a whiff of his breath and forces herself not to recoil.

“I’m here to see the Director. Will you please tell him I’d like to speak with him?”

“I’m sorry sir, but I’m not sure-”

The man with the halo of hair snaps his fingers and something happens in the far recesses of the teller’s brain, and she falls forward dead.

The man turns his attention to the second teller. “Let’s see if you’re more cooperative. I’d like to speak with the Director. Can you tell him-”

Before he can finish the “crack” of a gunshot reverberates through the building, and a splinter edged hole appears in the front of the bank counter.

Again, the man snaps his fingers and again the second teller falls dead. “No I suppose not,” the man says. He looks down at the brown-red splotch spreading through the pants at his right thigh, and decides it probably won’t be fatal. This is good, because he’s grown rather fond of this body. Overhead he sees a camera swivel in his direction. He smiles at it, making sure to show all of his rotting teeth. “You can feel free to send your best men after me if you’d like, but ultimately you’d be wasting your time and their lives. And really. All I want to do is talk.” He leans against the counter and drums his fingers against the wood, his over-long fingernails clacking against the Formica.

The better part of fifteen minutes passes. The man stands there waiting, absolutely still with a wicked gleam in his eyes. At last there is a squeak as a door marked “Cleaning Supplies” opens and the Director steps out. “I understand you want to speak with me?”

“You can tell your guy on the roof across the street to stand down,” the man with the halo hair says. “He won’t get to pull the trigger.”

“If you’re so good you would have been able to stop Mrs. Pennyworth.”

The man waves his hand. “Whatever. I let her shoot me. She would have killed me if I hadn’t messed with her aim a little. Which is really saying something because shooting someone through a quarter inch of solid wood while drawing from the hip is not as easy as it looks in the movies.”


“Why what?”

“Why did you let her shoot you?”

“Oh, right. So you’d know what you’re dealing with. Or something. It took you so long to get here I’ve forgotten. And anyway, is that really the question you wanted to ask me?”

“I thought you wanted to talk to me.”

“Ah yes. You have a problem Director. Or rather, you’re going to.”

“I have lots of problems. And if that was your attempt at a threat, you might want to come back when you’ve polished up a bit.”

“Not a threat. A genuine warning from one friend to another. Although…friend might not be quite the word in this situation. Let’s say…a man with a common interest.”

“And that interest is?”

“Keeping the Church of the Broken God from getting into that circle. And don’t ask me “which circle?” because you know exactly which one I’m talking about.”

“What interest does the Church have in any of this?”

“There is…something trapped in the circle, something very old and very dangerous. Not only that, but it’s getting stronger. And the barrier is getting weaker. Given the right push it could break through. The Church knows this. They believe this thing will help them reassemble the pieces of their so-called deity.”

“And will it? Help them I mean?”


“Then why is this my problem?”

“Because, my dear Director, the world will end.”

“Yes, well, thank you for your time, and now if you’re not going to kill me I really have more important things to attend to.”

“More important than the end of the world?”

“Mr Karl, or whatever your real name is. I deal with the end of the world on a daily basis. I have in my control many entities that could end life as we know it. I’m not about to-”

“No. You misunderstand. I am not talking about the destruction of life. I’m talking about everything. And now you’re thinking, ‘The universe? My goodness, there’s nothing that could pull that off,’ but you’re not seeing it right. When this thing breaks through, IF it breaks through, it will result in the complete unraveling of reality. If your terrifying 682 got loose that would be little more than amusing sport to me and my kind. But this? No one wants this.”

“Assuming I believe you-”

“You don’t, but go on.”

“Assuming I believe you,” the Director repeats, “Why us? Why not take care of this problem yourself? You seem capable enough.”

“My options are limited. It’s true, I have some power, but I can only be in one place at a time. You on the other hand, have vast resources at your disposal. It’s your JOB to save the world. And you’ve gotten very good at it. Now is not the time to take a vacation. Can I trust you to act on this intelligence?”

“You’re the mind reader. You tell me.”

“You’re wondering what my angle is. If I’m playing you. And I am. But I am also telling the truth.”

“The truth,” the Director echoes softly.

“Yes,” Karl replies, and rises to leave.

The Director tries to move and finds his limbs are frozen. Out of the corner of his eye he watches as Karl walks calmly from the room.


Somewhere in a nearby city Vinny is sitting in a Waffle House wolfing down a large order of hash browns “All the Way”, topped with chili and garnished with Ranch dressing from a foil pouch.

He’d thought it would be difficult to find food since he had no money, but with the Traveler lighting the way, the woman working behind the counter took one look at him and demanded that he sit down and take something to eat, money or no.

He eats, shoveling the food into his mouth with a fork, looking over his shoulder between each bite. Each moment he expects Foundation goons to come bursting in to drag him back to his cell, but that doesn’t happen. And the longer it doesn’t happen the more worried Vinny becomes. Because he knows these men are perfectly capable of hunting him down no matter where he hides; in his mind he sees the Director’s smile and he can’t shake the feeling that somehow he’s being played.

He’s full before the food is gone, and he realizes that his months of fasting have shrunk his stomach. He wonders if jumping right into eating solid food after such a long time with nothing is bad for him, but by now it’s too late, so he shrugs it off. He thanks the woman profusely, harboring a gnawing guilt about how the Traveler has used her. He leaves the Waffle House and starts walking, thinking. The wind picks up and bites into his skin. He’s not dressed for this weather, not used to it. He doesn’t need a map to know he’s a long way from home.

Home. He turns the word over and over in his mind and finds it strangely hollow. He tries to find something in his heart that binds him to the place. He thinks of his apartment, all the stuff in it, probably now thrown out or sold at auction. He gets nothing.

His job, the run-down gas station he worked at for years? Nada.

Family? What family? He feels a twinge of something when he thinks of Angie, but even that is hollow, because she’s gone, dead because of him. And Frog…well Frog is all that’s left, and who knows where he’s at?

He sits on a bus bench, resting his back against some lawyer’s phone number, and before long a car pulls up and an old man rolls down the window and asks, “You need a ride sonny?”

The voice is strained, unnatural. It take’s Vincent a moment to realize what’s happening.

“No,” Vincent says. “Thanks.”

A second vehicle rolls up less than a minute later, this time a pickup truck being driven by a woman in a business suit. “Can I take you somewhere?” she asks. Again the strained voice, the panicked look behind the eyes.

Vinny shakes his head. “I’m indwelled by a supernatural being that’s older than human civilization,” he tells her. “He’s messing with your mind. Don’t worry about it.”

“Don’t be such a child Vinny,” the Traveler says with the woman’s voice. “You have to get moving.”

Vincent smiles without humor. “It’s okay,” he says. “I’ll wait.”

“Frog could be getting close to the circle at this very moment,” the woman says.

“Seriously,” Vincent says, “Stop screwing around with her.”

“I could force you to do as I wish,” the woman says, tears leaking from the corners of her eyes now.

Vincent shrugs and folds his arms across his chest. “Go for it,” he says. “No? Nothing? Don’t make me doubt your resolve. Because if you’re-”

And then the woman has a knife in her hand and she’s pressing it to her neck and she says, “Don’t make me do this Vinny. I’d really rather not make you watch anyone else die. But this is important. Think of Frog. Think of the world, overrun with things like Karl, with things like me. Is that what you want?” And she starts to press the knife into her neck.

Vinny throws up his hands, “Whoa, okay, you win. Just…you know, take it easy.”

He opens the door to the truck’s cab and the woman stares straight ahead and puts it in drive.

You don’t have to be so difficult, Vinny, the Traveler whispers in his head as the truck moves forward. I’m not the bad guy in this story.

Vincent scowls. “Coulda fooled me.”

Sons of the Damned, Chapter 24: The Traveler’s Tale

The klaxons sound at exactly 1:37 am, just like Dr. Jenkins had said they would. Vinny is laying in his bed, eyes open in the dark, thinking about nothing and everything. He doesn’t want to do this. He wants to tell Dr. Jenkins that he’s not worth this. He wants to plead with her to change her mind. Too many people have suffered because of him.

Only it’s too late. He had his chance, there in the room, looking down at the ID badge. He could have left it there, walked away, let Dr. Jenkins keep whatever shreds of life she had left.

But he didn’t. Instead he listened to that nagging voice inside, telling him he would never get another chance like this, that this was exactly what he had been waiting for all these months, even if he hadn’t known it.

But before she’d left she had asked a question. One simple question. “How did you know my password Vinny?”

He told her he’d guessed it. From something she’d said. Something about one of her daughter’s names.

“I never told you that name Vincent. I know because even if I was to let down my guard and talk about my family with you, it wouldn’t have given you that. Because neither of my daughters is named Celia. At least none of the daughters I have today. But a few years back I miscarried, about halfway through the pregnancy. A little thing no bigger than the palm of my hand. A girl. We named her Celia. And I know for a fact NEVER told you about her.”

And now the voice tells him to get up and go, to not waste another minute, to run and run and not look back. And still Vinny hesitates. He looks up at the camera and thinks about Norman. “Norman,” he thinks. “That is your name isn’t it? How do I know that? You’re going to get in trouble Norman. You’re going to get demoted, possibly fired. They’re going to pour Drano into your brain, melt away all your memories of this place and dump you in a dead-end job behind a cash register somewhere. You’ll spend your life wondering what could have been, thinking there should have been something more, and not quite knowing why. And all because you were unlucky enough to end up in the same complex as a loser named Vincent Price. Sorry man.”

And then he walks. He wants to run, but something tells him not to, warns him to look calm, unhurried. He swipes Dr. Jenkins card at the sensor on the door, and wonder of wonders, it opens. A couple of men with guns run past, paying no attention to him. Vincent hangs a left heading down the hallway in the opposite direction of the men with the guns. Faintly from behind him he hears a low keening roar that seems to shake him to his bones. Then the rattle of gunfire, muffled by distance, but still harsh and grating in the close space of the hallway.

Then a left, a flight of stairs that Vinny takes two at a time, stepping aside to avoid two men in lab coats, rushing past. The past months’ exercise makes sense now as his legs work to propel him up the stairs, burning with the exertion, his heart beating faster than it has in a long time.

Then he sees it, a small gray hatch set in the wall low to the floor. He hears Jenkins telling him, “You’re going to need to use the maintenance access passage to get past the retinal scanners on level three. It’s a tight fit, but you should be able to fit through.” She’d looked at him then with something like accusation in her eyes and said, “It’s a good thing you lost all that weight.”

He’s in now, and crawling. Even now in his near-emaciated state it’s a tight squeeze. He thinks about his days of hunger, considers the question unasked behind Dr. Jenkins eyes and is terrified to find he does not know the answer.

Then he’s out and up again. Four more flights of stairs, countless running men and women, soldiers screaming into radios, screams of pain and confusion answering them back. There are people dying here tonight. “A distraction” Dr. Jenkins had said. And it meant the lives of men he had never met. He wants to stop, to break down, to tell someone it’s all been a mistake. But he can’t. Something inside him drives him forward, whispers warnings in his ears.

Left, right, another right, stairs, left again. Vinny’s lost track of where he is, and yet somehow understands where he’s supposed to be going. Up ahead an elevator sits, doors open, waiting, for him. By all rights there should be someone standing in his way, some final wrench in the works to make all of this pointless. But there isn’t. He’s home free.

He gets in, pushes the button for ground level. He turns, just as the doors begin to close and sees a man watching him from across the hall with burning eyes. Vinny knows the face. The Director. His picture hangs in the library, and everyone who says his name lowers their voice.

He doesn’t shout out for Vinny to stop, doesn’t run for the open elevator doors. He doesn’t even look surprised. He just stands there, watching. The doors slide shut. And just before they close, Vinny thinks he sees a hint of a smile playing across the Director’s face.

And then…freedom. The elevator doors slide open and he’s facing an alley thick with grime, mired in trash. He steps out and looks behind him. Somehow he isn’t surprised to see that there’s nothing there but a brick wall. He doesn’t try to touch it, because some part of him knows he’d feel rough brick, dirty with dirt and grime. Some part of him. The part that says, You need to get moving, Vincent. Get some food in you, get you thinking straight. There’s still a great deal of work to do.

And then, only then, does Vincent ask the question he should have asked a long time ago.

“Who are you,” he says, his eyes narrowing his jaw clenching, “And what are you doing in my head?”


Talos is in the Super Walmart that seems to be the heart of this town. Everything revolves around it. The roads are arteries, things which exist purely to carry customers from their homes to here. The fluorescent lights burn in his eyes as he walks through the door. An elderly man standing near the entrance nods his way, and says, “Good morning.”

Talos forces a smile back at the man, and takes the shopping cart offered, but does not say anything. This…this is alien to him. He’s spent all the time he can remember fighting unimaginable monsters from beyond the folds of reality, and now…now he finds himself least comfortable in what must be the safest place he has been in years.

He glances back over his shoulder at the old man greeting the customers as they walk in. There’s an air to his carriage that says, “military”. Nothing definite. Maybe the way he stands. Maybe something more elemental, something that only the men who have known true violence can recognize.

Talos wonders if the man is happy.

There is an allure to the idea of laying down his gun, of one day sitting back with a fat pension and going in to a gravy job to keep himself occupied. But there is something terrifying in it as well.

Because here, in this place of normalcy, Talos can feel the memories clawing at the walls of his mind trying to get in. Some perverse part of him wants to stay, wants to dwell on the darkness he knows exists just beyond the bounds of his memory.

He pushes the thought away, and in so doing realizes he has walked without knowing into the infant department. A young pregnant woman looking at baby clothes gives him a strange look. He wants to smile at her. He wants to talk to her. “Do you know how many times I’ve saved you?” he’ll say. “I didn’t know it was you I was saving, but it was. It was you all along. Always, only you.” And she’ll smile back and say, “I knew you’d come for me.”

Only she doesn’t. She’s gone. And then Talos isn’t quite sure she was ever really there.

He catches the eye of a plump woman straightening the diapers, and she says “Can I help you?”

“Yes,” he replies. “I’m looking for spray paint.”

She points down the aisle and says, “Paint counter’s down that way on your right. Can’t miss it.”

A little later he’s checking out, his buggy full to the brim with spray cans and the skinny kid checking him out says, “Looks like you’re gonna go on the mother of all graffiti binges, dude.”

Talos smiles and says, “Something like that.”

And as he’s driving away, it occurs to him that the Commander could have sent anyone in to get this stuff; probably he could have filled out a requisition form and had it air-dropped in. But he’d sent Talos. He’d sent him into a world he’d nearly forgotten, and it had stirred up the memories he’d been working so hard to forget. And for the first time in a long time, Talos wonders why.


The voice inside says, Don’t be crazy, Vincent. I’m you.

“I’m far beyond the point of being crazy,” Vinny replies. “But I’m certain of one thing. You’re something else. Something…other. You know things I couldn’t possibly know. You urge me to do things I’d never do on my own. I know it. And what’s more I know you know it.”

A bit of a callback?

“Whatever. Just stop lying to me.”

I’ve never lied to you Vincent. Not one time.

“Even then you told me you were me? My memory may be bad, but I’m good enough to remember five seconds ago.”

Even there, I was telling the truth. Or part of it anyway. I AM a part of you. And you of me. We are inextricably linked, you and I.

“You’re one of them,” Vinny says. “The demons, or whatever they are. You’ve been hiding out in my brain this whole time. And I was too dumb to notice.”

Dumb? No Vincent, not at all. And you’re right and wrong at the same time. I am of the same fabric as the creatures you met, but I am not like them. Any more than you are like Jeffery Daumer.

“You’re living in my head,” Vinny argues. No matter how you spin that, it’s pretty damning.”

You really should eat you know. We can continue this conversation at a-

“No. Now. Tell me. Who are you? What are you?”

Very well, said the voice inside. I will do as you ask. The truth. The whole truth.

“And nothing but the truth,” Vinny finished.

Indeed. Though I must warn you this is a story many, many years in the making. Certain…abridgments are unavoidable. So, to start at the beginning…ah, but who can say where the beginning lies? No doubt you’re wondering where a race such as mine might have come from. And you’re right to wonder. But on that subject I can speak no more definitively than you can on your origins. Did you spring into being by chance? Did some greater force guide your creation? Or perhaps things are even more complicated than that. Perhaps reality as you imagine it is a thin shell created by your minds to distract you from the terrible truths of the universe. The answer to these questions, though fascinating to contemplate, is largely irrelevant. You are. That is enough.

My people have existed on this earth alongside your kind for many, many years. There was a time when it was common for our spirits and yours to be bonded from birth. We imparted to you are wisdom, and you imparted to us your bodies, vessels that allowed us to experience the world in a way we could not in our natural state. Some of our historians claim we were responsible from lifting you from your animal nature into something more, your minds growing to accommodate our form. It is interesting speculation, but as I mentioned before it is ONLY speculation.

What is certain is this: for many years my kind and your kind lived in harmony. But over time things began to change. A new sect sprang up in the ranks of my people, a reckless and dangerous group that saw their human hosts as nothing more than vehicles to be driven about at will. They rejected the right of human free will, and rejoiced in driving their hosts to reckless and deadly lengths. Many of your people died.

Those of us who still held to the old ways became concerned. The tribes we inhabited looked out into a world that was tearing itself apart with terror, and the growing fear that the madness would spread to them. We tried to reason with our wayward brethren, make them see the error of their ways, but they would not listen.

The supply of human bodies to possess dwindled at an alarming rate, so much so that our brethren demanded that we give up our hosts to their capricious whims. At this point, the war that had been simmering between the two factions finally came to a boiling point. We fought our brethren wherever we found them, cutting down their hosts, and imprisoning their spirits. They did the same to us. So great was the conflict that our hosts died by the millions until the members of my race left alive began to believe that all human life had been extinguished completely. Darkness fell in those days…it’s impossibly to even describe how the earth was shaken. Some said it was a judgement for our folly. Others…well they didn’t know what to think.

With no bodies left to fight in those of us who were left roamed through the wasteland of our own destruction. I don’t know how much time passed. I only know that eventually the ruin began to fade, the marks of our war absorbed by the earth.

Then, a miracle. One of our kind stumbled upon a group of humans that had somehow survived the war and the ravages that followed unmolested and unscathed. The faction of my people dedicated to living in harmony with your race found the last handful of settlers first. We endeavored to keep their presence hidden from our more violent brethren who had at that point devolved into taking possession of beasts in order to satisfy their lust for power.

“Didn’t they get it?” Vincent asked. “I mean weren’t they smart enough to figure out that they needed to be more careful?”

This might be a good place to point out that your species has not always been so wise with the limited resources allocated to them. But such comparisons are crude, and perhaps miss the point. No doubt they should have realized the folly of their ways, but for one reason and another they did not.

Those of us dedicated to preserving harmony and balance knew something had to be done. The remaining group of humans were a fragile society and there was no way to be completely certain that out more reckless brethren would not stumble upon them in time as we had.

The details of what followed would not be comprehensible to someone who does not see the world as we see it. To make a very complicated concept very simple we devised a plan to imprison the remaining members of our species.

“Couldn’t you just kill them?”

Death does not work the same way for us as it does for you. This is not to say that we are immortal, but…again, the concepts here are beyond the ideas I can use in your mind. Suffice it to say life and death are somewhat harder to define from our perspective.

Imprisonment was by far the better option. But even there there was a catch. The…lets call it “energy” required to make such an action permanent and encompass all of the remaining degenerates was very great. This is not energy as you might think of it, but a kind of spiritual energy. The only way to produce such energy is sacrifice.

“What, you killed a bull or something?”

All the bulls in the world wouldn’t have been enough. A large number of human souls released from their bodily bonds might have sufficed, but obviously that would have defeated our purpose. The only thing valuable enough to sacrifice was ourselves. It was not an easy choice to make. When the deed was done, there would be only one of us left, the single soul left behind to close the door into the prison we were creating, to lock it so that it could never be escaped.

“And that one person…that was you?”


“Only it didn’t work. Karl’s out there. And he’s got help. At least two others that I know of. So what happened?”

The thing inhabiting Karl…how do I describe this? Gender has very little meaning in our realm. Likewise family does not work in the same way as you would comprehend it. Nevertheless, the spirit inhabiting Karl and I had a…bond. He was on the wrong side of the conflict yes, but I believed he was capable of redemption. I believed he could be changed. And…truth be told, I didn’t relish the idea of being alone in the world, the last of my kind, unable to do anything but watch the people I had saved go on with their incredibly short lives.

“So you gave him the inside edge? SERIOUSLY?”

I don’t defend what I did. I can only confess that I did it. I am not perfect, any more than you are perfect Vincent.

“Yeah, but I didn’t help to destroy the world.”


“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Nothing perhaps. In any case, my story is very nearly over. Much of it you can fill in for yourself. Suffice it to say that for a time things went very well for us. We collaborated together in little experiments with the race of men. But then our paths divided. Since then…since then I have heard very little of Karl directly. But I have seen his work. His hand is everywhere in your history shaping its path twisting its purpose.

“To what end?”

To create a civilization strong enough to support the demands of his myriad imprisoned brethren. He wishes to set them loose on your world, and if he succeeds there will be no way of stopping it.

“Wait, so he hasn’t done it yet? Then what about his helpers?”

Remember when I told you of the initial war? Many of his kind were imprisoned in smaller pockets of darkness. The bond would still be very difficult to break, but he has clearly managed to spring some of them in order to aid him in this purpose.

“One more question.”

Where do you fit in?


That is…somewhat more complicated. Suffice it to say that your friend Frog is no ordinary man.

“Tell me about it.”

You misunderstand. It is not that he is merely eccentric. He is not fully human. Even I don’t understand it fully. But the moment his presence was felt in this world things changed. Pinpointing him was difficult, but Karl can be a formidable force when he has his sights set on something. I attempted to hamper his progress by engineering the involvement of the Church of the Broken God, and to some extent I succeeded, but not well enough. I knew it would be a long shot, so I developed a backup plan.


Yes. You are the key to a great many things.

“Yeah, like what?”

Even I cannot see truth of things that clearly. I can only say that I perceived your destiny would be tangled in the destiny of the man you call Frog. I what that means exactly is unclear even to me, and what I do understand is far too complex to explain in a way you could understand.

“You keep saying that. I’m not stupid you know.”

Really? Then tell me: what did the “something” look like?

“You know I can’t-”

Exactly. This is the same.

“I still don’t trust you. You took over my body. You took over who I was. You didn’t even ASK.”

Would you have said yes?

“Of course not!”

Very well. But consider this for a moment. You say you do not trust me. Which is a fine feeling to have. Except…

“Except you’re living in my head. You might be making me feel this way to manipulate me further. I can’t trust…anything.” The realization hits like a blow to the stomach.

Like I said at the beginning Vincent, I’m YOU. I’m not just riding around up here pulling your strings like a puppet. I’ve become a part of who you are, integrated into your very psyche. If you don’t trust me, you don’t trust yourself. You can sit here all night thinking it over, but in the end you’ll always come back to the same conundrum: that your thoughts might be my thoughts, that I might be pushing you, manipulating you as I see fit. Believe me when I say you won’t find any easy answers. So please, do yourself a favor and get something to eat.

“One more question.”

What should you call me?


Names mean little to us. But if you like you may refer to me by my occupation. Call me the Traveler.

Sons of the Damned, Chapter 23: Off the Record

[What with being weighed down by mononucleosis it’s been a while since I posted the previous chapter, but now that I’m (slowly) getting better I hope to have this little saga wrapped up by the end of the year.]

[Interview Log #6945-M 11-17-████]

Jenkins: You’re looking very well lately Vincent.

Vincent: Don’t patronize me. I’ve got a mirror in my room. I know what I look like. The human Hindenburg, deflated on the launch pad.

Jenkins: You know your health is of concern to us here at the Foundation.

Vincent: Right. Because if I die, who have you got to interrogate?

Jenkins: Believe me Vinny, if you died the world would go right on spinning. We would keep doing what we do. Nothing would change. So what’s the point? Is the food here not to your liking?

Vincent: It’s okay, I guess.

Jenkins: From the interviews we’ve conducted I’ve noted that you seem to care a great deal about food.

Vincent: It’s not the food. Or maybe it is. Really? It’s the eating. It’s the filling. It doesn’t have to be good food. Gas station burritos, fillet mignon, it’s really all the same in the end. It fills you up. For a little while.

Jenkins: Then why the change?

Vincent: Let me ask you something. You really care about this? I mean really?

Jenkins: Your mental and physical health is my concern, Vincent. Of course I care.

Vincent: No. You don’t. You don’t really care about me. Not beyond what I can do for you. This is all means to an end. You just want to use me to find Frog.

Jenkins: That isn’t true Vinny. We’ve trusted you. Shown you things most people can’t possibly dream of. We didn’t have to do that. We could have erased all that you had learned from your memory. But we didn’t.

Vincent: How do I know you’re telling the truth? If it’s true what you just said, if you really can reach into my mind and pull out whatever unpleasantness you want, how can I know you haven’t done it already? I wouldn’t remember it, now would I?

Jenkins: I…I don’t…you’re just going to have to trust me.

Vincent: That’s what I thought.

Jenkins: Fine. Don’t trust me. But your friend has fallen in with some very bad people, Vincent. Think about that. We aren’t be sure what their interest in him is, but the mere fact that they are interested is cause for concern.

Vincent: You get to refer to whoever these guys are as “bad”? Now that is rich. One of your goons almost killed me.

Jenkins: We’ve been over this Vinny. The man who abducted you was working for us, yes, but only as a sort of contractor. We’re not fond of such measures, but occasionally when there is a developing situation in the field these third party operatives can respond more quickly than our authorized personnel. The man who abducted you has been…dealt with.

Vincent: Dealt with? I’ll be very much surprised if you tell me that that isn’t code for “killed”.

Jenkins: …

Vincent: Right. So again. I’m not buying the moral high ground argument. You people took me prisoner, and without charging me any crime you’ve held me here for going on five weeks now. Now, I’m no lawyer, but I’m pretty sure that’s unconstitutional.

Jenkins: The nature of our work requires that we work…beyond the scope of constitutional law. You’ve seen the files. You should understand that.

Vincent: What I’ve seen is a bunch of researchers who have lost touch with what it means to be human. Tell me doctor, what exactly does it take for someone to get designated as one of your D Class personnel? You only take the worst of society right? The dregs of the prison system. The bottom of the barrel. And you’re right. I’ve read the files. I haven’t counted, but there sure do seem to be a lot of them don’t there? Now maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the world is full of child rapists and ax murderers that you can just yank out of the system and use as human guinea pigs with no one noticing. But maybe not. Maybe when you’re acquisitions team runs low on scumbags they soften up the rules a little bit, pick up a few drug dealers, maybe some kids that got caught up with gangs because it was the only way to make anything of themselves in the world they were born in. Look me in the eye and tell me that never happens doc.

Jenkins: You…I…we’re not here to debate the morality of what goes on in this place. You want believe we’re the bad guys? Fine? You know what? Maybe we are. But you’re going to help us anyway. You’re going to help us because I promise you, your friend IS in trouble. The Church of the Broken God doesn’t mess around. We’ve never taken one of their members alive. Never. If they think your friend has information they want they will extract it with extreme prejudice. That means torture Vincent. Think about that, and tell me you’re not going to help me.


Jenkins: What? What’s wrong?

Vincent: It’s just…he’s just some guy okay? I don’t know how he got tangled up in all of this, but he’s just some crazy kooky mixed up guy. And maybe there are beings out there who can take possession of human bodies, and maybe Frog figured out that they existed by accident, but you have to understand…you need to understand, he’s not mixed up in this. The way you talk about him…it’s like you think he’s a threat, or…or a weapon. And he’s not. He’s just Frog, okay? He wouldn’t hurt a fly, much less put the entire world in danger. I know what kind of outfit you’ve got here, the monsters you’ve got locked up in the basement to keep them from tromping through the playgrounds and devouring the little kiddies, but Frog…he’s not like that okay?

Jenkins: Let me tell you a story Vincent. A few years back I had another patient in my care. A little girl. Her name isn’t important. Actually, you know what? Yes it is. Claire. Claire was her name. Claire was the sweetest kid. She…she used to run through these halls screaming with laughter, and I don’t think there was a single member of the staff here that didn’t love her like their own daughter.

Vincent: I’m guessing you’re coming up on a “but”.

Jenkins: Indeed. “But,” as you say, there was a catch. See little Claire could do things other little girls couldn’t do. Things she didn’t even mean to do sometimes.

Vincent: What’d she start fires or something like that?

Jenkins: [laughter] Do you really think that would be a problem for a facility such as this Mr. Price? Set her up in a room with flame-retardant fabric and a state of the art sprinkler system and she’d be fine.

Vincent: What then?

Jenkins: She could…change things. Like I said, sometimes without even meaning to, she could —and I know this is going to sound absurd, but it’s absolutely true— alter the fundamental nature of reality.

Vincent: How?

Jenkins: If you’re looking for a scientific answer, I’m afraid I can’t help you there. Most of our subjects don’t play by the normal rules of nature of course. But in practice it was quite simple: if she believed a thing, it would come to pass. Now you can imagine what a terrible thing that could be. We don’t think twice of telling children little lies to soften the blow of reality, or perhaps to make life seem more magical to them. But this little girl? You tell her about the tooth fairy? You tell about the Easter Bunny? God forbid, you tell her about Santa Claus? Luckily we caught it early and we tried to control what information entered her head.

Vincent: What about her parents?

Jenkins: That was simple enough. We told her they had died in a fire. Don’t give me that look. If you’d have known these people…it was for the best.

Vincent: Whatever. So what happened to her?

Jenkins: Well, after a while things started to get out of hand. She was changing people’s personalities, not intentionally mind you, but if she didn’t like you, if she somehow got it into her head that you were a bad person, well…

Vincent: Just say it. You killed her didn’t you doc?

Jenkins: No. Not me. In fact, I did all I could to stop that from happening. Because…because I loved her.

Vincent: But she was killed.

Jenkins: [pause] Yes.

Vincent: And what’s the point of telling me all this?

Jenkins: I just told you I loved her. And that was the truth. But the question, the question I lie awake at nights asking myself over and over, is WHY did I love her? Was is because I saw in her the innocence and happiness of youth? Or was it because she believed I would?

Vincent: What’s your point doc? What does any of this, as interesting as it may be have to do with Frog?

Jenkins: My point Vinny, is that in our line of work a thing need not be malicious or evil to be dangerous. You say your friend wouldn’t hurt anyone? I believe you. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t a threat to everyone alive on the planet today.

Vincent: How can that be?

Jenkins: What did you see? In that moment when your hand touched the “something” what did you see?

Vincent: I already told you I don’t remember.

Jenkins: You saw the truth Vinny. You touched the boundary between the world we perceive and the world beyond and you saw…something. Something maybe you can’t put into words. But there all the same sitting inside your head. You know more than you’re telling. So don’t play dumb with me.

Vincent: I just want this to be over. I want things to go back to the way they were.

Jenkins: I want that too Vincent, and I’m sorry, but that just isn’t possible. But you’ve got to do the right thing.

Vincent: And what would you know about the “right thing”?

[End Log]


Jenkins turns off the recorder in front of her, and sighs, rubbing her fingers deep into her temples.

“Why did you switch off the recorder?” Vinny asks, suspicious. “This is a ploy isn’t it? An act to make you think you’re on my side somehow. Well, let me tell you something, because-”

“It’s not an act Vincent,” Dr. Jenkins says, almost snapping the words out.


Jenkins takes her ID badge and tosses it on the table.

Vincent looks down at it and back up at her.

“It’ll grant you Level 3 access to the rest of the facility. Most notably, the exits.”


Jenkins lets out a long breath. “Because you’re right, more or less. We aren’t good. We do the best we can, we do hold back greater evil, but…it’s at the expense of something else. Maybe at the expense of our own humanity.”

“You can’t do this. When they find out-”

“When they find out they’ll probably send me down for D-Class processing. Maybe if I’m lucky they’re wipe out every single one of my memories and set me out to fend for myself in some big city somewhere. One more crazy homeless person? Who’s gonna care?”

“Either way, it’s your life you’re talking about.”

“I don’t have a life. Not any more. I used to. I used to have a wonderful husband and two beautiful daughters. But then I came here. And this place…it changed me. And bit by bit, the knowledge I had gained, the terrible truth I knew came between me and them, driving them farther and farther away. So in a very real sense they can’t take my life Vincent. It’s already gone. Now there’s nothing left but a body and an occupation. You think you’re the only one stumbling through life like a zombie, miserable, purposeless? You’re not. The world is full of people who don’t matter, Vinny. And in this moment, I’m changing that. I’m making a difference. And yeah, it’ll cost me. It’ll cost me a lot. So don’t screw it up.

Sons of the Damned, Chapter 22: Of Morals and Monsters

There are people think that Karl is a hobo. They think this because this is exactly what Karl wants them to think. He dresses in greasy overalls and ratty t-shirts. He avoids showering and general hygiene. Every morning he takes a copious amount of styling gel in his hand teases his hair out into spikes. If you were to ask Karl why he does these things he would smile and tell you that a very old friend once taught him that the surest disguise could be found in the dismissive place men form in their minds for the odd and incomprehensible.

Karl is not a hobo. Karl owns a house. Not a big or a flashy house, to be sure, but Karl is a man of simple needs.

He sits in his house on a rusty metal folding chair at the head of a scuffed up wooden table. Across from him sit a man and a woman, the woman lounging naturally, the man ramrod straight, his mouth tightly drawn into a rictus of effort.

The woman looks over at the stiff-postured man and smiles. “You really never did have the knack for this did you?”

The man works his mouth open, seeming to unhinge the jaw for a moment as if he were a snake about to swallow a frog. Then the words come as if by great effort. “It…isn’t as…easy for…me as it…is for you. They always seem to…fight…so hard.”

“The trick is in not fighting back,” Karl says. “You have yet to understand the truth, that true control can only be found in making your host believe his wants coincide with your own. You have to dig deeper than the surface. You have to get at the heart of his drives, his desires. To truly master the art of possession you must become fully united with your hosts consciousness.”

The woman looks at Karl with something like disdain. “Some of us haven’t been at this for as long as you,” she says.

“Haven’t you now? And how long do you believe I’ve been at this?”

“Long enough to be half a dozen legends on this world. And don’t deny it. I’ve been doing my research.”

“Denial could not be farther from my mind. Even if it weren’t true, better to take the credit. But you can live ten times as long as I have and still be like our friend here if you don’t listen to the wisdom of your elders.”

“Last I heard you had a falling out with yours,” the woman says.

“I disagreed with his philosophy. Not his methods. Which brings us to the matter at hand. If I am indeed as you say, the impetus behind half a dozen human legends, I’m interested what it will take to bring that number up to an even seven.”

“Our brethren…must be…freed.”

“Yes, of course, those poor dark souls, languishing in eternal darkness. How sad.”

The woman’s eyes narrow. “You do not share the pain of our people’s banishment? You do not yearn for their return to power?”

“Yearn…such a strong word wouldn’t you say? And power? Well who’s power is it really?”

“You seek…glory…for yourself.”

“Just because I was on the outs with our old friend doesn’t mean I disagreed with him entirely. They did make quite a mess of this place. Running bodies into the ground, thoughtlessly wasting host after host until there weren’t enough left to go around? And then the war…that thoughtless war. Of course neither of you were here to see it. You should be thankful. It was really quite a mess. Brought the human population down to less than a thousand before our friend stepped in.”

The woman rises with fire in her eyes. “You are dangerously close to speaking blasphemy,” she says. “No matter what debt we may owe you, do not think for a moment we will stand idly by and let our brethren languish in outer darkness.”

“Is that what you think of me?” Karl says. “I’m hurt. Really.”

“Do not…mock…us.”

“No, of course not. Only you’re not the brightest bulbs on the tree are you? You think I couldn’t have pulled you two out of your imprisonment a thousand years ago? You think we couldn’t have run this gambit with the scattered savages that roamed this continent before?”

“You knowingly left us in torment? To what purpose?”

“Because I didn’t want you going off half-cocked before the time was right.”

“Every moment…our brethren…remain in-”

“Yeah, yeah, we get the picture,” Karl says waving his hand dismissively. “But this is what I was talking about. You’ve got no plan, no foresight. No vision. Hate on the guy who got us into this all you want, but like I said, he had a point. We need focus. We need order. We need leadership.”

A cold smile spreads across the woman’s face. “And you think they will listen to you? You think they will take you as their king? You think they will help you will run this world?”

Karl appears to think about what she’s said and then shrugs. “In a word? Yeah.”


The Director watches a video clip of Vincent doing push-ups in his room. He does them slow and deliberate, and he does exactly one hundred and thirty-seven. Then he stops and sits on the bed and when his face comes into view it’s had the outline of spider’s legs drawn on it in thick black magic marker.

“Why?” the Director asks.

Hyde shrugs. “We asked him, and he just smiled and said, ‘That’s why.'”

“You believe he’s being confusing for the sake of being confusing? To what end?”

“I have no idea. Standard profile says he’s pretty normal all things considered, and really there’s a lot to consider. He’s got issues with father figures obviously, possibly a tinge of autism. But still, well I just don’t like the guy.”

“In my experience you like very few people who demand anything more than a cursory investment of your energy Dr. Hyde.”

Hyde shrugs again. “Kinda makes you wonder why I went into psychiatry,” he says.

The Director looks at him with narrow steely eyes and a smile that could slice you open. “No,” he says. “It doesn’t.” He looks back at the monitor. “What does Dr. Jenkins think about this?”

“She’s glad he’s getting exercise, but still worried that he’s not eating anything.”

“His chart show he’s losing weight at an even more accelerated rate than before. You’re telling me this has absolutely no root in his psychological state?”

Hyde shakes his head. “What, you’re thinking anorexia?”

“You’re the psychiatrist, Doctor.”

“Weight loss disorders don’t work like what I’m seeing here. They’re driven by emotion. They’re not rational.”

“You’re saying his behavior is rational?”

“I’m saying it’s not compulsive. He’s not doing this because he can’t help himself. If anything it’s the opposite of that. It’s like a hunger strike. He won’t open up to me about whatever’s going on in his head, but you can tell that whatever this is, it’s calculated. Maybe I’d spring for paranoid delusions. He said something about being a the land of fairies to Dr. Jenkins one time a few weeks back, but honestly I think he was just speaking metaphorically. And now that he’s privy to what we do and how we do it…well maybe he’s got a right to be a little paranoid.”

“We are not monsters, Doctor. We do what we must.”

“If Jenkins were here she’d point out that those two statements are not mutually exclusive.”

The Director waves a hand dismissively. “You know why we do what we do. We’re not moral men. None of us are moral men. We do not worry about how we can live with ourselves. We don’t worry, because we’re too busy worrying about how to keep 682 from breaking loose and destroying whole cities. We’re hunting down an amusement park that shows up overnight in random towns across the country, possibly across the world, and and devours everyone who steps foot inside the maze of mirrors. We’ve got guys working around the clock on reproducing technology that came from diseased and eccentric minds, testing gadgets we can’t have a prayer of understanding fully. We do not have time for introspection. We press forward. Good or bad, we’re moving far too fast to stop. Do you understand that Doctor?”

“Yeah, I understand.”

“Good. Then I’d advise you to keep moving, lest you be swept away. There are dangerous things out there in the world, though none quite as fearful as the one we keep up here,” he says pointing to his balding skull. “Don’t let it get the best of you.”


The books they have in the library here are all fiction. For a while after he’s granted roaming privileges Vinny isn’t fully sure why they have a library here. Most of what the Foundation does, it’s files, it’s records, all of it is digital — though Dr. Jenkins tells him they’ve got hard copies of everything off site somewhere. “You can’t just stick a hard drive in a drawer and leave it for twenty years,” she explains. “The data get corrupted. Even in this day and age, paper…well you can trust paper to be there for a long time.”

Vinny almost asks her why they can’t just keep updating servers over time, but then he remembers the purpose of the place he’s in. If the lights ever went out in Georgia and everywhere else at the same time, the Foundation had contingency plans for what to do.

But the library isn’t like that. It isn’t functional, except for in the way, all libraries are functional. And when he asks Dr. Jenkins about it he expects her to tell him that it’s to control some nexus of supernatural literary power, or perhaps that it contains creatures capable of roaming from book to book, altering the stories as they see fit.

But what she tells him surprises him. The library is there, she says, because it’s a place where people can feel normal. People who come in here dealing with monsters in padded rooms the size of football fields, doing experiments on devices that just might be from the future…all of that wears on the human psyche. The library gives them an anchor, a way to get back to reality, a means of making themselves human again.

After that Vinny stays as far away from the library as possible. Because there’s no way he’s going to let himself feel normal in this place. Instead he reads every bit of information about the Foundation that he can. He pours over the Special Containment Procedures for each of the many many subjects they’ve got locked up or have encountered through the years. SCPs. That’s what the things get called in the end. SCP 682. SCP 298. SCP 813. Just numbers and procedures for making sure they don’t infect the world with their weirdness.

“Do I have an SCP number?” Vincent asked Dr. Hyde once.

Dr. Hyde laughed. “You? You’re not a threat to anyone, kid. They’re call special containment procedures for a reason.”

“The Illustrated Girl doesn’t seem that dangerous. Or the Recorded Man.”

“I’d put my money on them over you in a fight any day,” Dr. Hyde said. “Now stop stalling and tell me what you see in the inkblot, okay?”


The hours and days and weeks pass, and Vinny keeps losing weight. He’s down around 230 pounds now. He’s doing more push-ups too. The skin hangs off of him like a badly fitting suit.

“He looks like something out of a horror movie,” Hyde tells Jenkins one day as they’re eating lunch. “Like the aliens came to earth and made man-suits, but they made them four sizes two big? Like the reverse of that Edgar fella in Men and Black.”

Men in Black is a favourite movie at the Foundation, mostly because the researchers enjoy laughing at how inaccurate it is.

“Everything’s a joke to you isn’t it?”

“Yeah, sure why not?”

“You realize you’ve got the opportunity to actually help someone. For once in your life you can do with your degree what you were supposed to do. What you set out to do. Now what are you? You prep the D Class lambs for the slaughter and you look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself it’s okay because they’re really bad guys and they signed the waivers and they’ve got it coming to them, but in the end…you’re not helping anyone.”

Hyde pops a Doritos into his mouth and crunches. “I think you might be projecting?”

“Maybe I am. But you’re not looking closely enough. This isn’t a hunger strike. It’s not starvation. He’s not trying to commit suicide. He’s…prepping, getting reading for something.”

“You put this in the book?”

“What do you think?”

Hyde shrugs. “No skin off my nose. I mean, it’s not like he’s gonna get outa here any time soon right? Right?”

Jenkins stares ahead at nothing at all and says, “Right.”

Sons of the Damned, Chapter 21: Hobopunk Goes to Church

Somewhere in an unnamed patch of forgotten desert a man walks through the glaring sun. He’s not dressed for the weather. His tattered coat looks far too thick for the sweltering heat, and the skin on his face is starting to peel. But his hair…that’s the thing you notice right off. It’s spiked out in all different directions. His overall aspect falls into a strange grey area somewhere between ‘punk rocker’ and ‘hobo’.

Ahead of him a mountain looms, a cliff face climbing up from the sand filling half the sky. In the cliff face an opening like a mouth, wide and grinning. In the opening a man in a grey suit.

“You people astound me,” the hobopunk says, approaching the man in the suit. “So much imagination and so little sense. Secret desert hideout? Underground base? Do know how many people have one of those? Just rent a conference room or something. It’s be much less trouble.”

The man in grey bristles with indignation. “Your mocking will get you no favors. Our Broken Lord makes his home in the desolate places, in the forgotten corners of the earth. It is there that he lies in ruin. Why should we take on greater glory for ourselves?”

The spike haired man holds up his hands. “Easy there preacher. I’m not here to pick a theological fight. I just want back what’s mine.”

“Why should I trust you? You are a trickster and a schemer. Our prophecies have foretold it.”

“No arguments here, though I would be interested in knowing where those prophecies came from if you held me right down to it.”

“They were spoken by the Spirit of our Lord as he fell. All the faithful know this.”

“Right. Sure. Anyway, here’s why you’re going to do business with me: I’ve got something you want. Trust me as little as you like, but I got the proof right here.” He tosses something to the man in the suit who grabs at it and clutches it in a trembling hand, unable to tear his eyes away. “You…you are not worthy.”

“Sure. Right. Whatever. That’s a little token of good faith. A promise I’m not yanking your chain okay?”

“And in return you wish to have returned to you the man who we have taken?”

Hobopunk shrugs, and a strange glimmer dances in the corners of his eyes. “If it’s not too much trouble.”

“To what end?”

The man with the spiked out hair throws back his head and laughs.

“You find this funny?”

“Hysterical honestly. You gonna go for it or what?”

“I must speak with the council of the elders.”

“Great. Well here’s my card. When you guys get your act together, give me a call here. Just ask for Karl.”

Karl turns and walks a few steps back into the desert, but then he looks back over his shoulder. “You people DO use phones right?”

“We will be in touch,” the man in the suit says.

Karl turns and starts walking again. “Yeah,” he says to himself. “Yeah you will.”


In theory, the Mole Rats are the best. They’ve all been recruited from the most elite fighting forces the world has to offer, equipped with weapons easily a decade beyond what even the most sophisticated regular military units might see. They’re tough, battle hardened, ready to face things that can and have made ordinary soldiers freeze in fear.

In theory.

The truth, as is often the case, is somewhat more complicated. Because being chosen for the Mole Rats isn’t like getting recruited for any other job. The requirements are strict, the process rigid and immovable. Without exception these are men who have faced down the worst the world has to offer. They’ve survived things other men could never imagine, seen things that should give them nightmares for the rest of their lives. The Foundation supplies them with customized psychotropic drugs to suppress these dreams, to scrub the worst of their memories, to keep them sane and lift them out of the insatiable pull of depression and despair. With the aide of these drugs the Mole Rats function like a well oiled machine.

In theory.

But some of them don’t take the drugs. The guys at the top try to make sure this kind of insubordination doesn’t happen, but these aren’t the kind of men to be bullied about by suits who have never seen their best friends cut down by enemy fire, or devoured by some insatiable hell beast. They take orders well enough when those orders suit their natures: to fight, to kill, to survive.

But for all of that they are broken. All of them, to a man, shattered souls, debris fields left in the wake of the worst possible storms of life.

Talos, knows this. Knows it better than anyone. He takes the pills, all of them. But in the night as he stands watch outside the camp he can hear the screams of the men waking from the terrors that come with sleep.

The amnesiacs fog the memories of his life before the Foundation almost completely. This isn’t standard. Some of the other guys he’s talked to just have a few years blotted out. He doesn’t know how they do it. Probably has something to do with one of those artifacts. He doesn’t ask questions.

But he does wonder. He does question what must have happened to the people he loved. Did he have a mother? A father? A wife?

He likes to think the answer was no. Of course he did have a mother and father biologically speaking, but he sees his past as a blank slate. He had grown up in an orphanage. A loner, and outsider. And somewhere along the line he had become a soldier and eventually wound up working for the Foundation.

It’s a good story. And like most good stories, it isn’t true. He knows this because if it were true there wouldn’t be any need to block out so many years of his life with the amnesiacs. He knows because once he did stop taking his meds, just for a little while, and the dreams…he still can’t remember them. But he does remember his squad-mates holding him down by the arms and legs, eight men all told fighting to keep his furiously thrashing form on the ground as he screamed and screamed and screamed.

So now he takes the meds. Because it’s better that way. Better not to remember. And the message written across his memories is one he’s seen before in block letters on Foundation documents: [DATA EXPUNGED]

Tonight though…tonight is almost peaceful. He’s wormed his way through caves and marched across the frozen tundra in search of the dangerous things the Foundation faced every day. But here in the forest where the trees reach up toward the stars like dark fingers he can almost imagine what it’s like to be happy.

The thing he’s guarding is strange to be sure, but certainly no more menacing than a hundred other monstrosities he’s seen in his life. A simple circle of darkness seeming to suck up the meager light of the stars and moon. If he had not seen it during the day he could believe it was a hole, a pit spanning a hundred feet, and going down…how far? All the way, Talos thinks. All the way to hell.

But of course there isn’t anything there. Just a circle of blackened forest floor. The eggheads say everything inside that perimeter is rotten, leaves composted into mush at a hundred times the natural rate. Talos has seen it happen. He stood at the edge of the circle and threw a stick in and the thing just…fell apart. In a minute there wasn’t anything left at all. Scuttlebutt was the eggheads tried it with a cat, but exactly what had happened to the cat was a matter of some debate.

A moaning sound reaches his ears, the wind rustling through the treetops, but all the same it makes him tighten his grip on the gun in his hand, just a little. He looks down the row toward the place where he knows Carter is standing. Sometimes there is a tiny glow in the darkness, the burning tip of a cigarette that Carter should really know better than to smoke on guard duty. But now there is only darkness.

Talos is overcome with a sudden urge to call out, to reassure himself that he is not alone out here. Of course he knows he is not alone. There are just under fifty men, sleeping in the camp behind. Any moment now he will hear on of them cry out, awakened from a dream of things that should not be real. But there is nothing. Silence. Except of course, for the sound of the wind moaning in the trees.

But something tickles at the back of Talos’s mind. He looks up. And the tops of the slender pine trees are still as if they were carved out of stone. There is no wind.

But the moaning goes on.


SCP FOUNDATION – Supplemental Document 582: The Church of the Broken God


The Church of the Broken God is a secretive religious organization, dedicated to belief in a deity known to them as “The Broken God” or “Our Shattered Lord.” Due to their secrecy and radical nature very little is known of the Church beyond that they believe it is their task to collect the various “fragments” of their god and reassemble them so that he might bring judgment upon the earth.

The origins of the Church are uncertain, but the organization came to the Foundation’s attention in 1958 when they mounted an attack on Foundation personnel in an attempt to retrieve what they apparently believed to be one of these fragments, known to the Foundation as SCP ███. The attack resulted in ██ casualties to Foundation personal as well as [DATA EXPUNGED].

Since then, the Church of the Broken has shown interest in a number of Foundation artifacts, particularly those with apparent link to unusually advanced Victorian Era technology. This has lead to speculation that the nature of the “broken god” is somehow mechanical in nature, although direct verification of any particular aspect of the Church’s doctrine has proved difficult.

It is still unknown how the church recruits their members or indeed if they recruit, leading some to speculate that members of the Church could be [REDACTED].

To this point, no member of the Church of the Broken God has allowed themselves to be taken alive, therefore if when hostile members of the Church are encountered it is standard policy to [REDACTED].


Vinny looks up from the screen. “You folks don’t screw around,” he says to Jenkins.

“We don’t have that luxury.”

“End justifies the means, eh?”

“When the ends are the continued existence of the human race…yeah.”

Vinny opens his mouth, then shuts it again.


“Almost had a Godwin’s Law moment there,” he says.

“I don’t-”

“Ninteen Fifty-Eight huh? How long has this place been around?”

“The Foundation has been existence since 1604. Or 2007. The details are a bit fuzzy. Apparently time travel will have been involved.”

“Okay. So what I’m hearing is that you guys are the protectors of the world. And this Church of the Broken God outfit…they’re the bad guys or something?”

“I’m not sure I’d say they’re bad. I mean, they’re a cult that wants to reassemble a mechanical deity to bring about the end of the world, but most day’s we’ve got bigger fish to worry about frying.”

“Apparently some of them are actual fish.”

Jenkins smiles.

“And none of this…bothers you?”

“I don’t take your meaning.”

“The Church of the Broken God. Those demon things that Frog tangled with. The…Something that kinda sorta ate his finger. All of that? Apparently, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.”


“The world is full of monstrosities and aberrations and…all kinds of stuff that would make the average person go crazy just from looking at it and you’re okay with that?”

“Well, obviously I wish it wasn’t that way, but-”

“No. No, I’m sorry, but that’s not going to gut it. You don’t get to shrug your shoulders and say, “They don’t think it be like it is, but it do.””

“I don’t-”

“These things, if they were all part of one continuum maybe we have a go for launch here. But this stuff…all this stuff. It doesn’t fit together. The demon things Frog found? And now this “Church” that’s got him. They’re not connected are they?”

“Not that we know of.”

“And that hell-lizard you’ve got stashed in the basement? The immortal sociopath you couldn’t control so you turned into a weapon? The recorded man? It’s all flotsam and jetsam, unrelated bits and pieces. It doesn’t work like that. It can’t work like that. The world…the world is supposed to have order. Something that ties it all together.” Vinny stops speaking finally, and he’s breathing hard.

“I know it’s a lot to take in,” Jenkins says. “But you can’t be worrying about all of that. Now, right now, your friend needs you.”

“What, you want me to help you get him back so you can run experiments on him?”

“We do our best to treat our subjects as humanely as possible. From what I’ve heard it would appear your friend, Frog, he wouldn’t pose an immediate threat to anyone around him. We’d take care of him.”

“Like you’ve taken care of me? Shut in a cage?”

“I don’t know. Honestly I don’t. But you don’t trust me when I say, the Church of the Broken God won’t be treating him well. They can’t abide loose ends. As long as they think he might be of value to them they’ll keep him alive, but after that…well after that all bets are off.”

Sons of the Damned, Chapter 20: How Firm a Foundation

[Feeling lonely? The previous chapter has sent you a friend request on Facebook.]

This is the Foundation. This is the place where nightmares live. This is the prison that binds the worlds’ greatest darkness.

Down in subbasement C we’ve got the old standbys. Like the concrete statue that’s only a statue when you look at it, and when you’re not looking at it, it snaps your neck.

Down the row from him you’ll find 682. The undead, unkillable lizard that hates all life. Hear that thumping sound? Think it’s getting louder? Yeah, he’ll get out eventually, hopefully not before we’ve finished his new digs. Right now they’re building a new containment for him down the bottom of a mine-shaft. The walls are going to be solid carbon steel ten feet thick. Once he’s down there they’re filling in the shaft with concrete. We figure that should hold him for a couple of months at least.

On this level we’ve got some of our more “normal” subjects. In this cell is a surgeon who steals the internal organs from living subjects and implants them into himself to perpetuate eternal life. Yes, without anesthetic. No we don’t know how he does it yet. We’re not even sure if he’s human. We’re studying him to see if we can find a better method to prevent transplant rejection.

This is the room where we keep the canvas where Cassy lives.

What? Oh, she’s a sketch of a girl that happens to be alive. No, she’s not dangerous. Not everything we’ve got here wants to kill us.

Down that hallway we’ve got our low security lockers, places where we store the less-complicated items in our little…collection. My personal favorite is the Recorded Man. His DVDs stay there when they’re not out for testing.

What’s that? No, we don’t store supernatural or memetic SCPs at Site 14. I mean technically the illustrated girl might be supernatural, but…well really that’s a difficult line to draw when you’re in this business. Line to draw? Get it?

Speaking of drawing, if you went down that flight of stairs you’d find a room with nothing in it but a leaking fountain pen. Oh, believe me, I know it sounds silly. You’ve got an undead hell-lizard on your hands, what difference does a leaky pen make? Only this pen, it never stops leaking. And the ink…well as far as we can tell it can perpetuate itself through any liquid indefinitely. You let 682 loose, and he maybe goes on a killing spree, wipes out a town, but in the end he’s just the one lizard. But you get one drop of that ink into the earth’s water supply? Imagine the rivers running ink. The ocean black as pitch out to the far horizon. The end of the world doesn’t look like you think it does.

Why am I telling you all of this? Well, really it’s because I like to talk. I like to see people’s faces when they find out about all this stuff.

What about security? Well, there’s not much to worry about on that score. The last eighteen D Class personnel they brought down here ended up skinning themselves with this ritual knife we found in some mine down in Brazil, screaming about the need to appease the Flayed Lord. You’d be surprised how long you can survive without your skin. One of them lasted almost fifteen minutes.

So not much chance for you to go off blabbing what you’ve seen here to anyone else. Then again, you never know. The guys testing this think they’ve made a breakthrough. It’s possible you’ll survive. Think happy thoughts yes? And whatever happens know that we here at the Foundation are eternally grateful for your contribution. No, don’t struggle. This is your atonement. This is something beautiful. You’re helping to make the world a safer place.

Now please, stop screaming, and come along quietly.


“How did this happen?” the Director asks, and there is a tone of darkness in his voice, of judgment, and impending wrath.

Jenkins swallows hard. “He just…guessed it sir.”

“You revealed too much of yourself.”

“You’ve seen the tapes. You’ve seen all the tapes. You know that isn’t true.”

The Director leans over the desk and looks Jenkins in the eye. “You’re right. I have seen the tapes. And I have just one question. How did you pass it to him?”

“I didn’t pass anything sir. Really. You have to believe me.” And there are tears in her eyes. “Please,” she whispers. “I didn’t do it. I know you think I did but…” A sob swallows up the rest of the phrase.

“What then? What am I supposed to think?”

“Maybe…maybe we missed something. Maybe he’s not completely human. Maybe…”

“Doctor we deal with things that aren’t completely human every day. We’re even accustomed to things that aren’t even a little human. But him? This no name, nobody, from a hick town where NASCAR is the biggest sport, and hunting the biggest pastime?”

“It’s possible.”

“You’re right. Half the things we find come from places where no one would ever notice them. They seek that stuff out. But Hyde is right. There’s something going on here that we’re not seeing. How can I be sure you’re not part of it?”

“Because…because it wouldn’t make sense. You think I’m working with him? You think I fed him information?” Jenkins is struggling now, her words coming stronger, a tone of a woman who knows her continued existence could very well hinge on this argument. “You vetted me very thoroughly,” she says. “Your people dug into the deepest corners of my mind and pulled out every possible point of leverage our enemies might have. You dealt with that leverage. I drank from the cup of truth-”

“Is that what they’re calling it now?”

“-I bared my soul to you, to all of the men up at OS-5. All of you signed off on me. And now you’re trying to throw me under the bus because you’ve got a breach you don’t understand?”

“You make a compelling argument, Dr. Jenkins,” the Director says.

“…thank you sir?”

“I have only one further question.”

“Which is?”

When did you change your password?”

“You know when.”

“Yes. But I want to hear it from you.”

“Two months ago sir.”

“Two months ago. And what else happened two months ago Jenkins?”

“That’s when they brought him in,” Jenkins answers.

“Interesting coincidence don’t you think?”

“I would say terrifying.”

“Tomato, tomahto.”

“You…are you going to..?”

“Your employment will continue. For now.”

“Thank you sir. I won’t let you down.”

“Good. Because I’ve got a special assignment for you.”

“And that is?”

“You’re going to debrief Mr. Price on what he saw.”


“Explain it to him. Give him everything he wants to know. Answer all his questions.”

“Are…are you sure that’s wise sir?”

“No. I’m playing a hunch, taking a risk, making a leap of faith.” He sits down in his chair and rests his arms on the desk his hands folded in front of him, looking Jenkins straight in the eye. “Do you believe me?” he asks.

She looks at him, the remnants of her tears still gleaming in the corners of her eyes and shakes her head. “No sir. I think you know exactly what you’re doing.”

“Good. Then off you go.”

“Thank you sir.”

But after she’s gone a strange look crosses the old man’s face. “Such faith,” he mutters under his breath. “I wish I shared it.”


Vinny: So…what happens now?

Jenkins: What do you want to happen?

Vinny: I want to go home. Go back to normal. Turn back the clock.

Jenkins: That’s not how it works. You should be able to figure that out on your own.

Vinny: You people…how can you live with it?

Jenkins: With what?

Vinny: With knowing. With what you do. All the things…the things I saw-”

Jenkins: We’ve got it under control, Vinny. Well, most of it anyway.

Vinny: Last night I heard the klaxons sound down the hall. It’s quiet at night and you can hear better and all I could think was, “Containment Breach.”

Jenkins: Vinny-

Vinny: How many people died?

Jenkins: Is that what you want to know? Really?

Vinny: No. I guess not.

Jenkins: What were you looking for? You guessed my password. I’m still trying to figure that one out. But I’m smart enough to know that was more than idle curiosity at work. What where you looking for?

Vinny: You were at Frog’s trailer.

Jenkins: Not me personally, but the Foundation did send a team there, yes.

Vinny: You cataloged everything right? Like a crime scene? Took it all away for testing or whatever?

Jenkins: Yes.

Vinny: Where are the pictures?

Jenkins: Of the trailer?

Vinny: Yeah. Your guys did take pictures before they started carting everything away right?

Jenkins: I guess. They’re probably still waiting to be properly logged though. There’s a lot of channels that stuff has to go through. Even after two months it might not be up on the mainframe.

Vinny: I want to see. The pictures. I want to see them.


Vinny clicks through the pictures, one after another. “No, no, no,” he mutters to himself. “Where is it?”

“If I knew what you were looking for I could help you find it,” Dr. Jenkins says.

“The bookshelf. The one in the living room. I need that picture. I need to know what it looked like when your guys stormed in.”

“You think your friend left you a message? Some book that was out of place?”

All the books were out of place,” Vinny says, his voice edged with irritation. “Weren’t you listening? When I told you Angie looked at them and said that were out of order? Frog was a big believer in alphabetization. Organization. Reason. That was kind of his thing. I can’t believe I didn’t realize it sooner. The books on the shelf, they weren’t out of order, just not in the order Angie was expecting.”

“Here you go,” Jenkins says, passing the laptop back over to Vinny. “Have at it.”

Vinny takes the laptop and then grabs for a sheet of paper lying on the table and begins writing down letters. “It’s a code, see?” he says. “Frog was all about codes. Little codes, big codes, codes that went twenty layers deep. This one’s pretty simple. Take the first letter of the author’s last name in each of the books on the shelf and you’ve got your message. Devon: D. Owen: O. Nabokov: N. Taylor: T. Et cetera.”

He scribbles for a while longer and then looks up.

“What is it?”

Vincent flips the paper around so that Jenkins can read it. The words on the page spell out. “Don’t follow. Church of the Broken God. Safe. The game is afoot.”

“What,” Vincent asks, “is the Church of the Broken God?”


Author’s Note: Most of the entities mentioned in the opening scene of this chapter have been borrowed from the files of the SCP Foundation. Special Containment Procedures and other information about these entities can be found in the following files:

SCP 505: Ink Stain

SCP 315: The Recorded Man

SCP 085: “Cassy”

SCP 542: The Surgeon

SCP 682: Undead Reptile

Also, I couldn’t figure out a way to work it into the story, but you should also totally check out SCP 426: I Am a Toaster. It is the best.

Sons of the Damned, Chapter 19: The Truth is in Here

[For more information please reference the previous document in this sequence.]

“He’s bluffing,” Dr. Hyde says. He’s sitting in an office that looks far more casual than it has a right too. The furniture doesn’t match. The walls are a soft, warm brown that’s almost covered over with bookshelves stuffed with various bricabrac. The desk he’s sitting in front of is a vast oaken thing that fills much of the room’s available floor space.

The office belongs to the Director. The Director is the highest authority at site 14, reporting directly to OS-5. No one knows his name.

The director looks at Hyde through narrow eyes and says, “Bluffing.”

“Yeah,” Hyde says. It’s obvious he’s edgy, nervous, a wayward student in the thrall of a stern teacher. “Bluffing.”

“He’s not bluffing,” Jenkins argues. She’s more comfortable here, more relaxed. Either she’s not afraid of the Director or she’s doing a better job of keeping it hidden. “We tested the stuff we gave him on a number of Class 4 personnel and none of them held anything back. Some of the stuff, frankly I wouldn’t have minded if they skipped.”

“It doesn’t make sense,” Hyde argues. “The way he described the aftermath of that meeting his friend had with the demon-thing at City Hall? That’s clearly the result of some kind of psychic energy. Our thaumeters went crazy when we visited the site. Brain bombs. Gotta be.”

The Director raises an eyebrow. “Your argument being that these demon entities could not possibly have used brain bombs in this instance?”

“My argument is, why would they? You’re going mano e mano with a guy who you know you can overpower? You don’t toss a psychic grenade at him. It’s overkill. Worse, it’s plain stupid.” He charges ahead, more confident now that he’s getting to his point. “We know who uses that kind of tech,” he says. “If it’s got brass and glass and a hint of magic they’re all over it. Demon things from wherever? Not so much.”

“The Church has no reason that we know of to be interested in this guy,” Jenkins argues. “Now maybe they were there. Maybe. But my money says it was just a coincidence.”

“Coincidence? Can you HEAR yourself? The amount of sense that doesn’t make is staggering. He’s a PLANT. I’m telling you. Or something. He gave us what he thought was the truth but his memories were altered.”

“Equally implausible,” the Director says.

Hyde begins to object. “With all due respect-”

“Jenkins,” the Director says. “Explain to your colleague why it’s implausible.”

“Because…” Jenkins squeezes her eyes shut for a moment, thinking. “Because if you’re going to give someone a cover story it needs to fit the facts? The very fact that this one raises so many warning flags argues against it being a red herring.”

The Director nods almost imperceptibly. “Very good. Has there been any change in his behavior pattern?”

“If by ‘change’ you mean, has he stopped acting weird for no apparent reason then no,” Hyde replies. “We’re holding steady there. I’m telling you-”

“Then thank you for you time,” the Director says rising from his chair. “I believe both of you know the way out.”


Vincent sits at the computer terminal and stares at the blinking cursor on the screen. He’s got the computer’s word processing program open. He’s typed, “All that you love will be carried away,” on the screen 586 times. “All That You Love Will be Carried Away” is Vincent’s favorite Stephen King short story. It’s his belief that short King’s short fiction is the best work he’s ever done.

Back when he was working at the gas station he would read fat Stephen King books during the times when he wasn’t mopping the floor or helping customers. He’s read Everything’s Eventual eleven times and Nightmares and Dreamscapes seven times.

On the next line he types “All that you live will be carried away,” and smiles a little to himself. Once upon a time he found small religious comic book called “This Was Your Life” wherein the main character of the comic dies and is shown a film of all the things he’s done in his life. The point of the comic is that the man has done more bad things than he realizes and is deserving of hell, but all Vincent can think is that if he is ever shown the events of his life played out on a screen in real time he’ll know he’s in hell already.

“Maybe this is hell,” he thinks. “Maybe I died back there in the river and everything since then has been an elaborate hallucination; a bizarre after-life or…something.” He laughs. And then frowns. This isn’t hell. At least he’s relatively sure it isn’t. Hell doesn’t come with helpful staff and doctors trying to tell you you should really take something to eat. But he can’t help but wonder what kind of place would have those kinds of amenities. Not a prison.

In a sense of course he is a prisoner, but it’s clear that this isn’t anyone’s idea of detention. This place…he can’t be sure, but it seems like it’s big. He’s only seen glimpses of the outside hallway, but occasionally there are people walking past. The CCTV camera in the corner makes him think he’s probably not the only one being watched. Sure, old Norman might be looking his way from time to time, but Vincent can’t quite bring himself to believe that he’s sitting alone in a room with a single television watching him. In his mind there are other screens, other rooms. Other people.

How many? In his mind it’s a lot. But why?

These people, whoever they are, seem like they’ve got some purpose, some reason for doing all of this. They didn’t laugh when he told them about the demon things, or the Something that bonded with Frog’s finger, or the black circle in the clearing in the woods. They didn’t ask if he’d been using drugs or if he had a history of mental illness. They asked for more details.

They believed him. And that made him think that they had seen this kind of thing before. “A regular X-files kind of operation,” he thinks. Only in the X-files, it was just the two agents working on digging up the weirdness right? Not a whole facility devoted to it. How much weirdness in the world is there? How many people like him are being mined for information. How many monsters and ghosts and…who knows what are being tracked by these people?

“Frog would flip his lid if he could see this place,” Vinny thinks.

Frog. Remembering his friend sends a bitter twinge through his gut. And then the voice of conscience says, “Frog wouldn’t just sit here wondering would he. He’d have a plan. He’d find out.”

A plan.

Vinny has never been good with plans. He supposes he could just ask Dr. Jenkins. Maybe he’d even get a response. “But,” he thinks, “Could I trust her to tell the truth.” And then another thought: “Frog wouldn’t.”

So WWFD? Get the lay of the land for starters. Vinny closes out the word processor and starts digging around on the computer terminal. He’s got fairly limited access here. Can’t even open up any kind of file explorer. He tries accessing the hard drive through the internet browser and hits a wall there too.

Stymied he looks for something else, anything else. After all, the terminal has to connect with some bigger network, so there’s got to be a portal to that functionality somewhere. For a moment he feels a twinge of fear at the prospect of getting caught, but then he thinks, “And what can they do to me if they DO catch me? In for a penny, in for a pound.”

After a bit of digging he finds what he’s looking for. A dialogue box pops up asking for a password. “Well what did you think dummy?” he asks himself. “They were going to roll out the red carpet for you?”

And then the question comes again: “What would Frog do?”

Frog would try to figure out what the password was. Frog would try to deduce what each of the researchers would choose based on what he knew about them. But then, Frog believed he was a genius.

“What could it hurt? You’re already sitting here.”

So Vinny pretends he’s a genius. The only two people he knows anything at all about here are Dr. Jenkins and Dr. Hyde and what he knows about them isn’t much. Mostly they want to know about him. Want to know about Frog. But sometimes they’ll let things slip. Vinny knows that Jenkins has kids. At least two. Knows that at least one is a girl. What was her name?

Hyde? Well Hyde’s a bachelor. The kind of guy who tells himself he’s staying away from commitment to hide from the truth that no woman would want to spend the rest of her life with him anyway. “I feel ya buddy,” Vinny thinks. Still, not much to go on there. So back to Jenkins.

You’re a woman like that, you have a daughter what do you name her? Vinny tries to imagine himself as a woman picking out baby names. It is the hardest thing he’s ever done. But after a while something comes into his brain. “Celia.”

He laughs a little. Yeah. Right.

But then it’s there again, insistent, nagging, almost a whisper in his mind. “Celia.”

“It’s not Celia,” he thinks. “And even if that is her daughter’s name you think they’d let her use it as a password? Probably it’s a string of completely random letters and numbers. Place like this, security up to here, yeah, it’s not gonna be that easy.”


So Vinny thinks, “Fine. Just so you’ll shut up,” and types in C-E-L-I-A. The computer blinks for a moment.

Incorrect Password. 2 Attempts Remaining.

See? It couldn’t be that simple. Place like this, they’re going to require uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, probably a special character or two in their passwords.

Special characters. The idea sticks in his head. You’ve got to come up with a weird password, doesn’t mean it’s got to be complete nonsense right? He tries: Celi@.

Incorrect Password. 1 Attempt Remaining.

But now he’s on a roll, because he remembers Dr. Jenkins saying something about her daughter being seven years old. Vinny does the math, figures that means she must have been born in either 2004 or 2005. And assuming the system requires that passwords be at least eight characters long…

He types, Celi@2005. Takes a deep breath. Closes his eyes. Hits “Enter”.

And when he opens his eyes again, he’s through.

For a moment he just sits there staring at the computer screen his mouth hanging open, his eyes wide, unbelieving. “No,” he thinks. “That did not just happen. That did not just work. No WAY was it that easy.”

But then another thought comes. “Time to think about how improbable it is later. Right now you need to get to work. You know what you’re looking for.”

And he does know. But he doesn’t know how to find it. Not at first.

And instead he finds the rest of it. The rest of them.

All those monitors he figures Norman is watching. Only it’s not just Norman. Can’t be. There are hundreds, thousands of entries here. Instructions for containment. Descriptions of things drawn straight from the pit of a monster’s nightmare. The end of the world, now available in a wide array of terrifying flavors.

He doesn’t know how long he reads. He skips from one file to another, his eyes flickering over the screen. Not everything is here. Dr. Jenkin’s security clearance must be limited because there are sections that are blacked out, the spoilers of the damned, [REDACTED] and [DATA EXPUNGED] popping up over and over leaving him to imagine the horrors beyond the void of his knowledge.

At some point he thinks, “No. This is all a joke. It’s made up. It has to be. Something like this…All of this…it can’t be real.

But he doesn’t believe it. He keeps reading. And maybe it’s hours or days later, but at some point he leans back, rubs his eyes…

And realizes he’s not alone in the room.

Sons of the Damned, Chapter 18: Of Clockwork and Chaos

[In the dark? Let the light of the previous chapter illumine your path.]

Vinny lies in his bed and stares at the ceiling. He breathes slowly, measuring out the air flowing through his nostrils, in and out, in and out.

In the corner of the room a light blinks on a CCTV camera. Vinny thinks about the guy on the other end of the camera. “Are you as bored as I am?” he thinks. “Are you wishing you were looking at anything else right now? Maybe you should pick up that novel you’ve got lying there. No, of course you’re not supposed to bring reading material in to work, but you and me we know how the rules are don’t we? Even in a place like this people get away with a lot they technically shouldn’t. Or maybe you’d like to lay back and take a long nap. Dream. Dream for me. Mine haven’t been so nice lately.”

In his mind, the guy watching the camera is a dumpy middle-aged guy with thinning hair and a couple of kids at home. His marriage has lost some of its spark, but he’s trying to work it out. Today he’s planning on buying his wife a bouquet of flowers, nothing too expensive, maybe some daisies or something. And that night when the kids have been put to bed he’ll try to get something started, but his wife will have a headache so they’ll watch reruns of The West Wing instead.

Vinny has a lot of time to think these things.

Dr. Hyde is worried about him. Vinny has seen it in his eyes. For that matter the doctor came right out and said as much. “I’m worried about you Vinny. You need to eat.”

“I don’t need to eat,” Vinny had replied. “Have you seen me? The last thing in the world I need to do is EAT.”

“It’s not healthy,” Dr. Hyde had said.

And Vinny replied, “Ketosis can keep me going for a good while longer, doc. When that runs out…well we’ll worry about that when it gets here.”

Vinny knows about ketosis because he looked it up on the computer terminal in his room. It’s got very limited access of course, no chance of sending out an email for help or anything like that. Not that it would matter much if he did. “Help, I’m being held in an underground base by a paramilitary organization,” might get 4chan’s attention for a day or two, but with no other evidence, and no clue what his actual location was, it would pan out like every other crackpot story on the internet.

“Sorry I doubted you John Titor,” Vinny thinks.

So he lies on the bed, stiff as a board, arms straight be his sides and focuses on his breathing.

This is all part of the plan. Or rather, it’s part of the plan to make them think he has a plan, make them think he’s got something he’s not giving them. He’s seen it in the one doctor’s eyes. Hyde, he says his name is, thought Vinny’s not sure if he believes it. He’s not sure he believes much of anything anymore. You work for a super-secret paramilitary outfit you don’t give the prisoners your real name do you? No of course not. Unless…

It’s the “unless” that’s got Vinny worried. Because there’s that little nagging voice the back of his head telling him, “If you’re not any good to these people they won’t waste their time with you. They’ll kill you if they think you’ve given them all you know. They don’t care about you. No one is looking for you. You’re only chance is to make them think you’re something more than what you are.”

So Vinny lays there and breathes. He tries to keep his eyes from flicking over to the clock on the wall too often.

The clock ticks. He remembers that once upon a time his mother had a pocket watch and he could hold it up to his ear and hear the ticking, a light fast clicking sound like the heartbeat of a mechanical mouse. It was beautiful. But the clock on the wall doesn’t sound like that. It ticks loud and slow, one second at a time, and there is a grating quality to each tick as if the second hand were a skeletal finger being dragged bit by bit across the pitted surface of an old record.

But sometimes the clock doesn’t tick. No warning, no reason, no pattern. He’ll be laying there listening to it tick tacking away and out of the blue there will be silence. He’s tried counting the space between the silences. Sometimes the clock will go for hours without missing a tick, Vinny counting in his head up past 3600 seconds. Passing an hour by counting the seconds between missed ticks is the worst torture imaginable and he’s inflicting it on himself.

He lets himself look over at the clock. It’s almost time. The second hand rounds the face, once twice, three times…

And then at exactly 11:23 AM he sits bolt upright in bed.

Vinny imagines the balding guy in the control room nearly spitting out his coffee with surprise. He doesn’t let himself smile though, not yet. Instead he turns and stands, mechanically, zombie-like, and walks over toward the corner.

“How long do you think you can keep this up Vincent?” Dr. Hyde had asked him during their last session.

“What is it that’s happening inside of you?” Dr. Jenkins asked the day before that. “We want to help you.”

Vinny stands with his nose pressed into the corner away from the camera, hands clasped behind his back. Jenkins is the nicer one. She acts like she cares. Maybe it’s just an act. Maybe it’s true. He can’t tell. Either way he likes her better because she’s pretty in that reserved unpretentious way some middle-aged women affect. He knows this is shallow, but he’s beyond caring at this point.

How long do you think you can keep this up, the little voice of conscience asks. Not thinking of quitting now are you?

No. No he’s not thinking of quitting. He can keep this up forever. Or at least until he dies. By his calculations he’s got a good couple of months left before his body runs out of fat to burn. Maybe more. He hasn’t eaten a thing since his breakfast with Angie. He knows how these stories go. When the elves take you to their magical otherworld the one thing you should never NEVER do is eat the food. It was hard at first. But not as hard as he thought it might be.

It occurs to him that he’s spent his whole life leading up to this moment, eating and eating until he was an engorged mass of fat. He’d always thought he was trying to fill some void. Now he knows the truth. He was prepping, like a bear gorging itself before the hibernation.

Is he crazy? He thinks he might be. Just a little.

But if he is, crazy feels better than sane. Having a plan that isn’t a plan is what he’s best at. Going through the motions of action without purpose…that’s been his whole life. And at least now he knows it’s not just him. It’s everyone. Everywhere. The world is made of madness.

He measures his breath in and out, in and out. And somewhere out of nowhere in the back of his mind he remembers something Angie said, what seems like a lifetime ago. “The books on these shelves, they’re out of order,” and somewhere inside of him something clicks into place. He smiles a smiles a wide, toothy smile.

Maybe madness is sanity from a different perspective. Maybe order can hide in the folds of chaos. Maybe he has a plan after all.

And somewhere behind him the clock misses a tick.

Sons of the Damned, Chapter 17: Finger in a Jar

[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 what?”

“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.