Tag 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 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 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 16: Box Cutter

[Feeling a little lost? Let the map of the previous chapter guide your way.]

We hadn’t known each other so well back then — this wasn’t far after I’d met him for the first time — and I was going about my shift with the rain pouring down outside, blattering against the windows, the thunder crashing like artillery. I had a book out in front of me, I don’t quite remember which one, and anyway I wasn’t really reading it. My eyes glazed past the words as if they were trying to focus on something just behind the surface of the page.

And then, from somewhere outside I heard a car door slam. I looked up and saw it was Angelique’s car and for a second my heart soared with the prospect of seeing her. But when I saw who was with her it fell long and hard shattering against the cold ground of reality.

It was a guy. Not a guy I knew, but with a face familiar nonetheless because it was movie-star perfect. Perfection is always familiar isn’t it? He and Angie sprinted in through the rain and burst into the shop, both of them soaking wet and laughing as if they had just been told the world’s funniest joke — you know…the one about the time Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson went camping?

They didn’t even acknowledge me; instead they meandered toward the coffee machine still giggling and cavorting. They weren’t just friends. I could tell by the ways his hand rested casually on her shoulder, nothing too overt, but utterly casual. He was used to touching her like this. I watched as his fingers rubbed at the nape of her neck under her coal-black hair and I burned with the rage of jealousy.

Of course it made sense. I’d be a fool to think that a woman as beautiful as this could be unattached, but up until now such an attachment had always been theoretical. I could imagine that perhaps if she did have a boyfriend, things weren’t going so well for them. Maybe he was crazy or possessive. Maybe he was cheating on her. Maybe one night she’d break down and tell me the whole sad story, just the two of us alone in the station, and I’d put my arms around her, and she’d cry on my shoulder.

But now reality was staring me straight in the face, and it was laughing. They both checked out and Angie flashed me one of her shining smiles, that smile that lit up my life, the sweet look I practically lived for, and it was in that moment that I realized that smile was nothing special. She smiled that way at everybody. At the old lady who rang up her groceries as the supermarket, at the bland bank teller, at the fat pathetic slob that worked overnight at the gas station.

The smile was nothing special. I was nothing special. Never would be.

Just after they left my cell buzzed in my pocket. I looked down, recognized Frog’s number and didn’t answer.

And outside the rain came down.


When my shift was over I went home and I ate. I stuffed my face with breakfast burritos until I was sick. But today it didn’t help. Today, filling my stomach did nothing to dull the ache of the void in my soul that I knew I could never fill.

I sat on the edge of my bed for a long time, just staring at the wall. I wish I could tell you I kept thinking about what a sham my life was, but the truth was I couldn’t think about anything. My brain seemed like sludge. I just kept playing the scene of Angelique and her magazine-cover-perfect boyfriend over and over in my mind, each time digging my pit of self loathing a little deeper. After a while more memories started to pile on, bullies at school, the hatred of my father, the complete contempt of my half-sisters and their mother. I sank lower and deeper into my self than I had ever thought possible. And finally I realized the truth:

Things would never get better. I would never start that diet or exercise regimen I had always told myself would help. I would sit here in this tiny apartment for the rest of my life, alone with my video games and my self-pity. I would never make an impact on the world. When I died there would be no evidence that I had ever lived. I was nothing more than a meatbag, destined to live and die and rot, utterly without purpose.

So why wait?

And then there was a box cutter in my hands, and I was sitting on the edge of my bathtub turning the thing over and over looking into the dull gleam of the blade. I couldn’t quite fit the whole of my bulk into the bathtub, but I figured if I positioned myself right I could still keep the blood from getting on the floor.

That was the second-strangest thing I remember about that night: I didn’t want to leave a mess. I didn’t want anyone to be inconvenienced.

But the strangest thing though was this: I didn’t want to die. Not really. I simply couldn’t bear to go on living.

I brought the blade up to my wrist, remembering that someone had told me that you have to cut with the length of the arm rather than across. Why do you suppose someone would share that kind of information? How did the correct methods of committing suicide become harmless trivia?


I grasped the knife and started to push down.

What? Why are you looking at me like that? You think you know what happens next don’t you? Don’t think I don’t know what’s going on in your head.

“Well he’s sitting here telling me this story, so I know he survives. And he told me that Frog saved his life so his phone is going to ring or maybe there’ll be a knock at the door.”

Well you know what? You’re wrong.

What happened was the blade was so dull from opening boxes that I barely managed to scratch myself. So I had to get up and find a screwdriver so I could open up the box cutter and get to the fresh blade inside. Only there weren’t any screwdrivers because, as I’ve mention before, I’m not really much of a handy-man, so I had to make do with a butter knife instead.

I sat back down at the edge of the bathtub feeling even worse because I couldn’t even get offing myself right. Then there was a knock at the door.

Yes, congratulations; it was Frog.

I almost didn’t answer. But of course you know I did. I left the box cutter on the sink and went to the door. I opened it to find Frog on the other side, standing in the pouring rain and grinning like an idiot.

He looked at me, and I looked back at him, and both of us knew exactly why he was there. But he didn’t say anything. Didn’t mention Angie or her boyfriend or the bleeding scratch on my arm. Instead he just said, “Well I figured it was about time to try out those world-famous made-from-scratch pancakes you’ve told me so much about.”

That’s the kind of friend Frog was. He didn’t judge. He just did what needed to be done. I didn’t fully understand it at the time. But I sure do now.

Sons of the Damned, Chapter 15: Uglier John

[New to the story? Perhaps you should take a moment to stare into the hypnotic flames of the previous chapter.]

I clawed at my seat belt as the water poured into the cab of the truck. It covered my waist in a matter of seconds and crawled steadily up my chest as the truck settled down into the dark water. In my panic it seemed I had forgotten how to use my fingers, and I fumbled desperately with the hasp of the buckle. The water was around my neck when it finally let go, and I floated free.

The truck was almost full now, and there was no way I was going to fit through the window, so I took a deep breath just as the water washed up over my face and pulled at the door handle heaving myself against the inside panel. And somehow, miraculously, the door popped open.

I was about to bale when I looked back and saw Angie, blood trailing from her temple, her hands floating gently in front of her in the rushing waters, eyes open, staring at nothing. I reached over and scrabbled for the latch on her seat belt, managed to get it open, fought to get her arms free from the twisted strap.

Red dots swam in my vision and my lungs burned for air, but then, finally, I got her free. With the last vestige of my strength I wrapped my arms around her and kicked hard for the open door.

What happened next…I’m not sure of. I might have blacked out, or maybe my brain just stopped remembering things for a few seconds. All I can say for sure is that the next thing I knew my head was bobbing above the water and my lungs were filled with sweet sweet oxygen. I sucked up the air in huge gasping gulps, my whole body shaking, not from the cold of the water, but from pure unbounded relief at being alive.

But then I realized Angie was no longer in my arms. I looked toward the shore, but it was empty; I ducked my head underwater, but in the black murk of the river it was impossible to see anything more than a few feet away.

I felt a kind of sudden panic then, my heart racing even faster than it already had. Where was she? Maybe I had been out for longer than I remembered. Maybe she had swum ashore and went for help. But no, that didn’t make sense, because she wouldn’t have just left me behind.

I looked toward the closer bank again, and this time I did see someone. It wasn’t Angie though. It was the woman from the hybrid advancing down the steep river bank. And in her hand I could see the gleam of a handgun.

She stopped at the water’s edge and looked at me, head cocked to one side like a dog listening to a high-pitched noise. Then she pointed the gun in my direction and motioned for me to come to shore.

For a moment I considered trying to swim for the opposite side, but there was a look in her eyes, of something…almost annoyance. And I saw in that look that she would not hesitate to shoot me if I made things any more difficult for her. I kicked for the shore.

It wasn’t long before my feet touched the silty bottom, and I was able to walk. As I left the water return of gravity on my bulk seemed to pull my heart down too.

Angie was gone.

I didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t want to have more blood on my hands, that accusing voice saying, It’s your fault. You failed again. First Frog and now her. You’ve got no one left. You’re alone Vinny. You’ll fail everyone you try to love.

I trudged up onto the shore, water pouring off me, feeling more beaten than I have ever felt before. The woman from the hybrid regarded me with that same curious stare and then motioned with the gun for me to walk ahead of her up the embankment. I climbed up through the tall grass that grew on the river bank grasping for hand holds on protruding tree roots, my waterlogged shoes slipping against the slope. When I reached the top I glanced back at the woman with the gun and saw that she walked strangely upright, as if the sharp incline of the river bank were no more difficult to climb than a simple set of stairs.

At the top of the bank the slope leveled out, and here I could see the path of destruction the truck had made as it left the road. Bits of earth were torn up, small saplings snapped in half, tools from the truck bed scattered across the forest floor.

And there was something else from the bed of the truck. John lay there on the ground, limbs twisted, bones splintered and poking through his skin. His arms were still bound by the seat belt but no longer behind his back; instead his shoulders had somehow popped out of socket and his arms had been twisted out and up until they raised above his head. He looked like a doll that had been tossed into a corner and forgotten. And he was still alive.

As I walked past I could see his eyes following mine, his mouth, barely open, making little whimpering sounds. I didn’t realize I’d stopped until I felt the cold circle of the gun barrel pressed into my back. So I kept walking.

I’d like to say my heart was torn by what I saw, but the truth is I was beyond feeling. There was nothing inside me. Just a great hulking void that threatened to swallow everything I was.

Then I heard the gunshot. I looked back and saw that John lay still, his right eye punched out through the back of his skull. The woman stared at me with a hard look that answered none of the questions I knew must be in my own eyes, and so, in the end I kept walking.

[IMAGE REDACTED BY ORDER OF OS-5] (Seriously people, we see more than enough gruesome stuff as it is, there’s no need to be needlessly gratuitous here. -Dr. Hyde)

When we got to her car she didn’t even tie me up. She just made me sit in the seat next to her as she drove back to the RV. Maybe she thought she could handle any disturbance I might try to make, but I think that probably somehow she sensed the truth: that I was beaten. Mentally, emotionally, physically. At that moment I think I would have marched into my own grave without the slightest compunction. Nothing mattered any more.

It wasn’t just that Angie was gone- No, I corrected, Say it. Dead. She’s dead. Dead and floating downstream food for the fish. Everything that’s left of her now is pictures and memories. But no, that wasn’t all of it. It was…well all of it. Everything I had done in my life had been a failure. The things I tried to fix ended up broken worse than before. I was beyond wondering if my life would be remembered. I wanted to be forgotten. If this was the best I had to offer the world, failure after failure, letting down everyone who dared to get close to me, at the very least I could pray for obscurity.

I thought of my father, screaming at me, telling me how worthless I was, and the only thing I could think was, He was right. He was right all along. No wonder he hated me. I never deserved to live. And the worst part was I knew this. Some part of me always knew it. I tried to cover it up; with video games, with jokes, with eating. But none of that stuff could plug the void in my soul, the tiny ever-present certainty that I was wholly and completely worthless.

But now I heard its voice as clearly as any other. Now there was no more covering it up. Now I saw it like I never had before.

Except…that isn’t true. Because I had seen it before. Once.

Once, there had been a night when I saw the truth of what I was, and what I always would be, a night when I had believed that no life could be more empty and worthless than mine.

The night Frog saved my life.

Sons of the Damned, Chapter 14: Blackwater River

[New to the story? Let the barbed tentacles of the previous chapter insert themselves directly through your ears and into your brain.]

And lying in the back of Ugly John’s truck on my way to who knows where, I couldn’t help but think that I deserved this. I had broken Frog’s trust, betrayed our friendship, and now I was paying for it.

It was at least half an hour of bumping and jolting down those rough dirt roads before the truck finally came to a stop. Ugly John opened the tailgate and slashed the ties on our legs with an old pocket knife. “Up and at ’em, you two.”

I groaned and tried to sit up, but that ain’t as easy as it sounds when your arms are tied behind your back. Eventually I settled on squirming out like an inch-worm. When I got my feet on the ground I saw that there was a battered old RV parked up the road from where we were. It looked to my eyes like the one Walt and Jesse use in that show Breaking Bad? You watch that? Good show.

Beyond that there really wasn’t much out here to see but trees, trees and more trees. At least that’s what I thought at first. But as Ugly John barked at us to move toward the RV, I noticed something strange about the patch of trees just off the road from where we were.

There was a circular clearing there; and when I say circular I don’t mean roughly roundish, I mean it looked like someone had staked a string to the ground, traced out a fifty foot radius, and said, No trees here. Got it? and all the trees had just decided that that was maybe not a great place for them to grow.

But even then, I might not have noticed it, but for what was inside the circle. Because the ground was flat and black like a burned pancake. And there was something else, something beyond seeing, something I can’t quite describe. That space, the circle between the trees was…bulging. That’s the only word I can think of for it. It was something I felt so strongly I almost could see it.

I wanted to stand there and stare, as if by staring I might decipher the meaning of that place, but John grunted and hit me in the back with the but of his gun. “Stop gawking and get moving.”

We climbed up into the Winnebago and John made us sit on a couch that was mostly holes. He rested the barrel of the rifle on the back of an old wooden chair and pulled out a cell phone with his free hand. He dialed a number with his free hand and when whoever it was answered he said, “Come out to the Circle as quick as you can. You’re going to want to see this.”

He snapped the phone shut, and sat down, straddling the chair. “You know we’ve been looking for you,” he said, nodding in my direction. “Couldn’t catch the first scent of where you were. And then, outa nowhere you stroll into our hands.” He chuckled to himself as if this were immensely funny, and lowered the gun to the floor.

I wanted to ask him why he wanted to find me so badly, but with the tape over my mouth all I could do was wonder.

I was about to try to make myself as comfortable as possible on the couch when suddenly I felt movement at my side. Almost before I could register what had happened Angie had jumped to her feet and lashed out with a wicked-looking kick that connected with Ugly John’s face, snapping his head back into the kitchen counter behind him.
He screamed out in pain and reached for the gun, but Angie kicked it away from him. He tried to lunge for the place it had fallen, but by this time I had finally gotten in sync with what was happening and tried to get up and help Angie.

Unfortunately I misjudged my first step and found myself teetering off balance. With my hands behind my back I couldn’t catch myself, so instead I aimed my fall at Ugly John, my torso slamming down on top of his. I heard the wind go out of his lungs with an OOF.

Meanwhile Angie had kicked the gun even further toward the front of the RV and while John struggled to get out from under me she sat at the front passenger seat and reached down to pass her zip-tied hands down over her legs. When she had her hands in front of her, she ripped the duct tape from her mouth, and then snatched up the rifle and trained it on Ugly John’s head.

Ugly John just kept yelping over and over, “Get him offa me, Get him offa me,” which turned out to be fairly difficult given the narrow confines of the RV and the fact that my hands were still tied behind my back. When I was up Angie made John sit on the couch while I tried to replicate her maneuver with the zip-ties myself.

When she had done it it had looked easy, a smooth fluid motion taking up no more than a few seconds, but when I tried it it took substantially longer. It took more than a minute of squirming and squeezing my arms down and over my legs before I finally got my hands in front of me.

“Go back to his truck,” she told me. “Cut yourself free and then find something to tie him up with. Hurry.”

I hurried.

Cutting through the zip-tie turned out to be pretty simple. I had seen an old hacksaw in the back of the truck, and I managed to hold that between my knees and cut through the plastic tie with the blade. Getting something to tie John up with was trickier. A quick search of the truck bed revealed no rope or tape or anything else we could use to keep him contained, but a flash of inspiration and a few swipes of the hacksaw later and I had a good length of nylon seat belt material from the passenger side of the truck.
Angie seemed impatient, as I tied John up. Once he was secured I went through his pockets and took his cell phone, a big folding pocket knife and some keys which I jangled and said, “Alright, let’s get this show on the road.” Only when I sat in the driver’s seat of the RV none of the keys would fit the ignition.

“Hurry it up,” Angie called from the back of the RV.

“No dice,” I called back and explained the situation.

She slammed her hand down on the table and said something very unladylike, followed by, “There’s got to be a key around here somewhere.”

John laughed. “Even if you could find the key, this thing hasn’t run in years,” he said.

“What about the truck?” I asked.

“We’ll stick out like a sore thumb in that smurf-colored hunk of junk,” Angie retorted.

“This thing isn’t exactly low profile either,” I pointed out. “And I don’t know if you noticed or not, but the tires on this thing look about dry-rotted out. He’s telling the truth about it not running. Now come on, we’re losing time here.”

Angie seemed to consider my words for a moment. Then she turned to Ugly John and pressed the end of the gun’s barrel into his neck hard. “Who’s coming?” she demanded. “How long till they get here?”

John just laughed. “You know I got cancer right?”

“And I should care why?”

“This body’s not going to be good for much longer anyway. You pull that trigger and I start looking for a new shell a little earlier is all.”

“Look, we shouldn’t be wasting time like this,” I said. “ The longer this guy babbles on about reincarnation or whatever the longer it’s gonna take us to get out of here.”

Angie glared down at him for several long and tense seconds, before she finally pulled the barrel away from his neck. “Fine,” she said, “Have it your way.

We didn’t want to take the risk of untying his feet, but it turned out this wasn’t too much of a problem, because when we got our arms under his shoulders it turned out Ugly John was surprisingly light. You couldn’t really tell it to look at him, but the old guy was painfully thin. I’m talking Christian Bale in The Machinist thin. My whole hand closed easily over his upper arm, and between the two of us we had no trouble dragging him back to the truck.

We tossed him in the back, and I’ll admit, in spite of everything, I felt the thrill of poetic justice coursing through my veins as I climbed into the driver’s seat and cranked the big truck to life. Angie slammed the tailgate closed and clambered up beside me, glancing back through the back window.

I put the truck in gear and lurched through a jerky three-point turn, before pointing the truck’s wide nose at the long stretch of dirt road ahead of us and putting the pedal down. The diesel engine roared like a demon and the truck accelerated down the bumpy track. I glanced back in the rear view mirror and caught sight of the strange circular clearing once more before it disappeared around a bend.

Then I looked over at Angie. “I could seriously murder burger right now. Like one of those triple-decker monsters they sell at Hardy’s?”

“Yeah, well, don’t count your chickens before they’re eggs. We’re not out of the woods yet.”

I laughed, and she gave me a strange look.

“Its funny because its true figuratively and…literally.”

Angie didn’t answer.

So I shut my mouth. But my brain kept going at a million miles a minute. And what it was thinking was this: This isn’t what I expected. She’s not what I expected. It wasn’t even the unexpected fury I had seen in her eyes, the sudden certainly that she was fully willing to pull the trigger of that rifle and kill a helpless old man in cold blood. It was…everything. I had made up this version of her in my head, but the real thing turned out to be nothing like that. There was no…what was the word? Rapport. Connection. Harmony.

Of course the logical part of my brain told me it was stupid to think that way at a time like this. These were extenuating circumstances, more extreme than anything most people would ever go through in their lives. But then a little voice spoke up and said, Yes, but don’t you think that you’re far more likely to see what she’s really made of under these circumstances?

I didn’t like to think like this. After all, I’d been in love with this girl for more than a year. And the voice answered, Sure. ‘Love.’ You mean like half the male population of the country ‘loves’ Kim Kardashian?

No. Not like that. I wasn’t that shallow. Angie was different. She was special.

Except, in the end, I couldn’t even convince myself of that. I don’t guess there’s much point in trying to convince you.

I might have brooded about the situation more, but there was another thought that demanded my attention. Because I couldn’t get out of my head what John had said to Angie back in the RV. About how his body was just a shell. It made me think of what Frog had said about the Invasion of the Body Snatchers, how convinced he had been that Karl wasn’t really Karl, that he had been inhabited, possessed by some other intelligence. And now, thinking of the look in John’s eyes when Angie had pressed the gun against his neck, the utter lack of fear reflected there, it made me wonder.

The rational part of my mind insisted that it didn’t really mean anything. It certainly wasn’t a good reason to run off thinking Frog had been right about this. Because there was a kind of implicit understanding that if Frog had been right about that, maybe he had been right about other things. I couldn’t accept that. Because if I did it would mean revisiting my assumptions, restating the axioms from which grew the framework of my sanity.

So instead my brain cast about for alternate explanations, rational ways to explain the weirdness I had witnessed in the last few days.

You’re probably rolling your eyes now. Maybe you’ve guessed this all along. “Of course,” you said, “The skeptic with the friend making wildly improbable predictions always turns out to be wrong.”

Well aren’t you clever? But as it so happens it’s a little different being inside the story than looking at it from your end. We like these stories where the nutjob turns out to be right because he’s the outsider, and secretly deep down, we all think we’re outsiders, brilliant but misunderstood prophets, ignored by a blind and overly rational world.

But the truth is you’re not unique; you’re not special; and you wouldn’t have been any more likely to believe Frog’s hogwash than I was, so lets just cut the clever self-aware B.S. shall we?

My thoughts were interrupted by a fork in the road. It stopped and tried to decide which way to turn. I looked over at Angie. “Any ideas?”

She didn’t answer. Instead she wrenched the door open with a squeak and jumped out. She crouched down, examining one road, and then the other, and then jumped back in the cab. “That way,” she said, pointing left.

“Um…not that I don’t trust you, but…how do you know?”

“The tracks,” she said. “Fresh that way. Nobody’s driven that other road for at least two days. Now put it in drive, and let’s get out of here.”

“What would I do without you?”

She considered for a moment then answered, “I was going to say you would have gotten caught by whoever it was at the trailer, but then I remembered you would have already been mugged and left for dead by those guys on the road. So…not much.”

Her words stung, hard. “Look I’m sorry I got you into this,” I said.

“You didn’t get me into this,” she argued. “I came along of my own free will. I got me into this. And I can get me out.”

I turned away from her and looked at the road, too ashamed of myself to say anything.
After a long silence she added, “Look, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have taken this out on you. It’s just…its been such a long day. And I’m still not sure how it will end.”

“It’s fine. I get it.”

She put a hand on my shoulder. “No, you don’t. It’s not-” but then her fingers tightened and she said, “What’s that?”

I turned and looked up ahead to see another car coming our way up around one of the bends in the road. It was one of those funky looking hybrid cars with the oversized backside, an uncommon enough sight on the street of our little hicktown, but here in the woods it looked positively alien. The car ahead of us slowed, as if considering what to make of us.

“That’s them,” Angie breathed. “That’s whoever was on the other end of that call.” She looked over at me and asked, “Why are you slowing down?”

“I don’t want to hit them.”

“Whoever it is is with him,” Angie replied jerking her thumb toward the back of the truck. “Odds are good they’re not coming for a friendly chat.”

The distance between us and the hybrid was closing fast now. I got close enough to see the driver of the car, a woman with dark hair, her eyes widening in surprise when she saw us in the cab of the truck.

A moment later the hybrid’s brakes slammed on and the car skidded to a halt. By then there wasn’t more than fifty feet between us, and I had started to slow down to avoid running the smaller car over when the front tires of the car kicked into reverse spewing dirt out in front of it and propelling the car backwards in the direction it had come.

“Do NOT let her get away,” Angie growled.

I punched the accelerator and the gap between us and the hybrid started to shrink, but then, just as I thought we would easily close in on it, the woman in the hybrid jammed the brakes again, turning her wheel hard left, and the car skidded around till it was almost facing the opposite direction. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Angie doing something with John’s confiscated cell phone, but I was too busy trying to catch up with the woman in the hybrid to take much notice.

Even with the gas pedal pressed fully to the floor the heavy truck seemed slow to respond, and I could tell the smaller car was gaining ground, cutting corners far faster than we could in the bulky truck, accelerating until it was almost out of our sight. I was ready to give up the chase as hopeless, but then the gap started to close again. I tried to figure out what had happened. Was the hybrid having engine problems?

One hundred feet, fifty feet twenty feet. We were right on the hybrid’s bumper when Angie screamed, “LOOK OUT!”

Just then the smaller car swerved hard to the right and I looked up and saw what I had been missing by focusing on the fleeing car’s bumper. Up head of us, the trees dropped away and the road curved right to avoid the dark waters of the river that ran through this forest.

I hit the brakes and tried to turn. The truck started to respond, but not enough.

When the wheels hit the edge of the raised edge of the clay road the world turned itself upside down.

Earth and sky tumbled like clothes in a laundromat washer.

A crash. Then a splash.

An icy shock: the black water of the river rushing in through the window.

Sons of the Damned, Chapter 13: [No File Attached]

[Not up to speed with what’s going on? Soak yourself in the lukewarm bath water of the previous chapter.]

In case you were wondering, calling officer Brown “Dad” wasn’t a term of affection. It was a reminder. Just like he liked to remind me what a worthless sack of trash I was, I liked to remind him that the half of the DNA in this worthless sack of trash belonged to him.

“You think this is funny?” he shouted, marching me away from the Jeep toward the darkened form of a squad car parked further down the dock.

“Honestly my sense of humor has always been a little off,” I said, trying to keep my tone glib while I scrambled to put the pieces together in my head. I could only guess of course, but what I guessed was that dad had been the one that put in the call that had sent the other officers running. And if it had been him, I could be pretty certain it wasn’t because he was looking out for me. It was because he wanted me all to himself.

He shoved me into the back seat of his squad car, and I saw that Frog was already there, hands cuffed behind his back, his head resting against the seat in front of him. His face and arms were scratched and bleeding from falling into the broken glass and the rough bushes, and his shirt was pretty badly ripped on one side. Officer Brown slammed the door, locking me and Frog in together.

I took a deep breath and tried to assess our situation. I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to tell Frog it would all be okay, that somehow we would get ourselves out of this mess, but I couldn’t bring myself to lie to him, not now.

So instead I said, “You were right. I should have let you bring the grappling hook.”

Frog didn’t say anything. He didn’t even look at me. He just sat there, hunched forward in the darkness.

“Frog? You okay man?”

“What do you care?”

The soft-spoken words carried more weight than I know how to express just writing them down, but it cut deep into me.

“Look, it’s not like that,” I started, but Frog cut me off.

“What is it like, EXACTLY Vinny? You think I’m crazy? You think I’m wrong in the head? Maybe everyone would be safer if I was locked up like my mom!”

“You know that’s not what I think,” I insisted. “But you also know I don’t buy into your conspiracy theories.”

“Right. You tolerate me as long as I’ve got some crazy story to tell or scheme to plan, because you’re bored. You’re a bored fat LOSER Vinny! But in the back of your mind you’re thinking, ‘I may not have it so good in life, but at least I don’t have a screw loose like this Frog character!’” He was screaming now.

“It’s not-”

“Why did you come tonight? WHY!?”

“Because I wanted to keep you from getting into trouble.”

“You wanted to protect me,” Frog corrected. “You don’t think I can take care of myself. You think I need a handler, or…or, a babysitter. Look me in the face and tell me that’s not what you think!”

I couldn’t do it. So instead I looked down at my feet and said, “I’m sorry.”

Neither of us said anything after that, and the longer the silence stretched on the deeper the knife of guilt dug into my heart. Your fault, your fault, your fault, the voice inside me repeated until I was nearly sick with guilt. But another thought fought for a place in my mind. It said, Forget about whose fault it is, we can worry about that stuff later. Right now you need to figure out what your dad is planning and how to get out of it.

That made me snap back into some sense of reality. Where was he anyway? And what was his angle here? He wasn’t going to take us in or he would have done it already. Which meant he had something more…personal planned.

I thought about all the times he’d beat me just because he felt like it. Back then it had been easy to hide it. There were plenty of places he could hit me where the bruises wouldn’t show. But that was then and this was now. I was an adult now. He probably knew that if he tried something like that again I would fight back, at least call the police. And who do you think they’ll believe? That nagging voice in my head asked.

But even if they didn’t believe me, if Frog backed up my story there’d at least be trouble. He’d look bad. They might cover for him, but they wouldn’t be happy about it. Which meant if he was smart he would let us go without roughing us up. Not that my dad had ever won any awards for being smart.

And then the voice came again. And this time it said, What if he’s not afraid of who you’ll tell? What if he knows you won’t be telling anyone anything after tonight?

No. He wouldn’t. Would he? I thought back to the expression on his face as he’d spun me around to put the handcuffs on me, his features frozen in a rictus of rage. I didn’t want to believe it, but it was all that made sense. And then I heard footsteps.

This is crazy, I thought. This is really really crazy. I mean sure he’s a bad guy, but he’d never go that far.

But part of me suspected he would have done it a long time ago if he’d been able to get away with it. All the time he’d been away? He’d been preparing, maybe scoping out a good spot to dump the bodies, maybe laying out plastic somewhere so our blood wouldn’t be left for forensics to find.

And the footsteps drew closer. I couldn’t hear that well though the door of the squad car, but the booming of boots on the dock was hard to miss, and the thought came to me that he wanted me to hear, wanted me to know he was coming. And then the footsteps stopped and I heard the sound of voices. It wasn’t a loud sound, not shouts and curses hurled in the night, but the quiet muffled sound of normal conversation. My father was talking to someone, a man I thought, whose voice sounded strangely familiar. I twisted my head to try to see, but because of how my hands were bound behind me I couldn’t quite manage to get them in my line of sight.

Then the conversation stopped and the footsteps resumed, quieter this time, less threatening. My door was yanked open and my father stood there looking angry, but also a little confused.

“Out,” he barked in a voice that didn’t quite sound his own. And when I was slow in responding he repeated, “OUT!” and I wondered if I had imagined the variance.
As soon as I was out he twisted me around and unlocked the handcuffs. “Get out of here,” he said.

“What about-”

“I SAID get out of here, do you understand me? If I even so much as suspect you’ve been hanging around this nut again you know I can make things go very badly for you. Don’t tempt me.”

My mind was awash with fear and confusion. I had a hundred questions and didn’t dare ask any of them. I stumbled away in the direction of Frog’s Jeep, but about halfway there I realized I didn’t have the keys and anyway even if I did, I couldn’t just take it. So instead I started walking.

I looked back at the squad car a couple of times, and saw my dad open the back door and talk to Frog. I couldn’t hear the words, but it was then that I realized I had no idea where the man my dad had been talking to had gone. I stopped for a moment and surveyed the dock, but there was no one else to be seen. From across the parking lot my father screamed, “Keep walking, Price!” and so I did.

It was a long way to go, but I started, putting one foot in front of the other in a kind of daze. Nothing seemed to make sense right then. I had thought sure my dad would do more than just give me a warning, and his sudden change of behavior after he’d talked to whoever it was on the dock felt like it should be significant in some why, but I couldn’t figure it out. Actually in that moment I didn’t want to figure it out. My heart felt like it was tearing itself apart inside my chest. I kept thinking about what Frog had said, the hurt in his voice and the accusation in his eyes. It weighed down on me like a burden, like a literal weight had been placed on my shoulders. Part of me almost wanted to cry but it hurt too much even for that. I felt like there was a rock lodged somewhere deep inside my gut.

I’m not sure how long I walked, but I remember I was trudging past the gaudy yellow of the Church’s Chicken sign glowing in the night when Frog’s Jeep roared past me. At first it looked like he wasn’t going to stop, but then I saw the flash of brake lights and the Jeep skidded to the stop on the shoulder several hundred feet up. I picked up my pace and trotted up to the Jeep. I pulled the door open and climbed in. Frog didn’t even look at me.

“What did he say?” I asked.

No answer. Instead Frog punched the accelerator, making the Jeep lurch forward and slamming my neck back into the seat.

For the rest of the ride we didn’t speak. I wanted to say something, anything. I wanted to say, “I’m sorry.” But the look in Frog’s eyes, that burning driven…broken look, told me it wouldn’t do any good. I had gone too far to find my way back with words alone.

He dropped me off at my apartment and then he burned out of there his tires cutting twin ruts in the gravel parking lot.

But when I climbed out of the Jeep, just before he punched it, I would swear I saw the glint of tears in his eyes.