See, look at that. Finished that Modern Grammar course, and now I just blasted through writing a chapter in one evening.
Music this time is at least one of my favorite compositions, by my all-time favorite composer. I’m a big fan of John Williams, and it’s clear he took a lot of inspiration from Dvorak.
“Go, now. Forget what you’ve seen, forget what you’ve done, forget everything about this city, forget it even fucking exists,” I heard a voice behind me say.
I didn’t recognize the voice, but I recognized the speaker. Frederick Simmons stood behind me, looking at the crash and at Hannah’s body. His body was scraped, cut, and a gash on his cheek was bleeding. His voice, earlier so suave, light, and invitingly professional, had turned into a deep, threatening growl.
“If you leave now and say nothing, I will let you live.”
“I… Uh… I…”
“Your time for choosing your fate is running out.”
“I need my briefcase.”
“Oh,” he said with a mocking laugh, “That. Well, I’m afraid you will have to count it as the price for your stupidity. You aren’t getting it back.”
As he spoke, I was staring, transfixed, at his cheek. The blood, which had once been flowing freely, clotted and scabbed over, and fresh skin grew in place. The scuffs vanished, all trace of his being in a car crash fell away.
“Let me at least take her body…”
“I said forget everything about this city. That would serve as proof. One last chance…”
As threatening as the man before me was, the internal, guttural fear of my employer was more direct. If I died to this guy, then at least I wouldn’t need to face whatever my employer would do. I stood up, legs visibly shaking.
“Give me my briefcase and I will go,” I said in my best impression of what I thought sounded intimidating and forceful.
His face, placid other than the slightly furrowed eyebrows, melted into a smile.
“Well then, I guess I won’t need to worry about you giving anything away then, either.”
He darted forward at a speed that took me off guard. I stepped back and braced myself for the impact, holding my arms out in front of me as a sort of shield, but the impact never came. The crying tea guy was there between Frederick and I.
“Rennet Bennet!” I yelled. He was facing away from me, but I saw him bring up the back of his hand and wipe across his eyes with it.
“Yeah,” he said, his voice choked, “Get out of here.”
Frederick had broken out of his combatory stance and was standing at ease, an amused look on his face at Rennet Bennet. “Well, this is even more convenient,” he said. His eyes were locked with those of Rennet so I took the opportunity, grabbed hold of Hannah’s arms and began dragging her away to the other side of the car.
On the other side of the wreckage, I began hearing sounds. Sounds I couldn’t entirely explain, combined with the sound of the two of them fighting. I decided to ignore them for now if I could, and looked down at Hannah’s body. Was there anything I could do? I felt for her pulse, but it was nonexistent, her skin already becoming cold and clammy.
I saw the lump in her jacket pocket and pulled out my bag of ketamine, feeling slightly guilty. I put it in my own pocket and felt a syringe. It turns out I had picked up a pack of two syringes in the hospital. Had its own little vial of sterile water and everything. Well, that was nice and convenient for me, I wouldn’t even need to wait the couple minutes it took to get from my nasal cavity to my brain.
I dropped a bit of ketamine into the syringe and filled it with the sterile water, shook it, and squeezed out the bit of air at the top. I rolled up my sleeve, and.
Hesitated. I looked down at Hannah. Was it worth a try? Who knew if it was just a fluke for me. Maybe it was too late, even. She had been dead for a couple minutes already.
Then I remembered the guilt I had felt in taking the bag off her corpse and made up my mind. I rolled up her sleeve, found a vein, and injected the ketamine into her arm.
Then again, it had been a couple hours before I was revived. I picked up her arm, already beginning to stiffen from rigor mortis, and began moving it around, hoping the blood would begin to circulate. I pressed and rubbed the skin around the injection point, hoping to force the blood around. And then I stopped. Who knew if I had even moved it around at all. Maybe blood thickens when you die or something. There wasn’t anything I could really do, now, except wait. And I wasn’t fucking waiting around here any longer. Frederick and Rennet had moved away a little through the forest, and I tried to ignore what was continuing to go on over there.
No, there was one thing I could do now. I pulled out my wallet, dropped a bit of the powder onto the debit card that I was, for all intents and purposes, not legally allowed to use, and formed a couple rough lines on it.
One up one nostril, the second up the other, and it was time to get the fuck out of there. I began running, then slowed and looked back at Hannah’s body. I really should bring her with me, but I doubted that they’d be fighting for much longer and I’d be dead if Frederick came back for me. And she was dead, he probably wouldn’t move her body somewhere else, right?
I didn’t have much choice in the manner. I turned around again and ran.
I had no idea where I was going, but I made it to the dirt road and started running up one direction of it without knowing if it was the way we had come or the way we had been going.
My legs began to get tired, tingly, itchy. I was breathing heavy and a drip of sweat rolled down my forehead and into my eye. My running slowed, I put my hands on my knees and took a short break, then it all suddenly faded. No tiredness. No tingling or itchiness. My breathing was calm. I didn’t feel the pain that had been going through my entire body. I didn’t even really feel my body.
Oh yeah, the ketamine. I guess that kicked in.
It still wasn’t exactly easy, I wanted to just lay down by the side of the road and wait for the end of the world, but at least running wasn’t as painful any more. I couldn’t tell if I was even exerting myself or not.
The dirt road became a worn concrete, which eventually led onto a concrete road that had been laid sometime this century. I was getting close, to something at least.
I noticed my shirt was entirely soaked with sweat and sticking to my skin, but it didn’t make a difference to me. I wiped my forehead and my hand came back with about half a cup of sweat on it.
And there, a little gas station. That was what I wanted. I wouldn’t have cared if it was a portal to heaven, a gas station was what I wanted right now. Get some iced tea, some snacks, some cigarettes. That was my own little heaven in this instant.
I burst inside, still breathing heavy and dripping with sweat, then calmly recovered and walked over to the refrigerator case. I opened it and stood for a moment in the cool, refreshing blast that issued from it, then grabbed a bottle of Arizona and began scanning over the snacks. I grabbed a little bag of Combos, then went to the cashier and dumped it all on the counter. I looked up at the cigarette options. She eyed me warily, clearly put out by my appearance and, no doubt, smell.
“Uh, a pack of Camel Crushes, I guess. The… blue-green ones? Menthol.”
She didn’t say anything, still eyeing me, but grabbed the pack and set it on the counter, then began ringing up my purchases.
“Eight dollars,” she said. I fished the ten-dollar bill I somehow had managed to keep in my pocket through everything out and handed it to her. The register popped open, she slid in the bill, and handed me two one-dollar bills back.
I took them from her, then looked at them in my hand and looked back up at her. “Fuckin’ seriously?”
Both dollar bills were almost entirely torn in half. The crease in the middle had been worn down so much that they had split. And they were the old style of dollar bills, too.
She shrugged and went back to chewing gum and looking at her magazine.
I stuffed the pieces of paper, which I weren’t even sure remained legal tender, into my pocket, and headed out the door. Mid-way through, I returned to the counter.
She gave me a lackadasical glare, reached under the counter, and tossed a small matchbook to me. “Thanks,” I said, then left.
I packed the cigarettes, pulled off the plastic wrapper, opened the seal, and took out two cigarettes. I flipped one of them around and put it back in the pack – the lucky cigarette – and stuck the other in my mouth. Struck a match to no success, but the second one sparked to life and I lit the cigarette with it. I took a nice, long drag, then pulled it out and popped that weird little sphere in the filter, filled with menthol goodness.
I found my way over to the side of the shop and leaned against it. Once I had burnt through about half of the cig, I cracked open the Arizona, took a long drink off it, and sighed.
Maybe it was just the drugs. Maybe. But at that moment, I felt that everything was… okay. I had pretty much experienced the worst that could happen in this town, right, and I had survived. Even Hannah had survived, maybe. And we had some weird omnipotent protector on our side, and… Some people in a band. They seemed nice enough, but I still didn’t really get what they were doing here.
But everything was good, as good as could be expected. And here I was, smoking and drinking iced tea. Who knew what they had laced the cigarettes and drinks and food with, but I couldn’t really bring myself to care about that. I had been inundated with it enough to meet a god of life or something and come back from the dead, so a little more couldn’t hurt, right? And who was saying it was a bad thing, anyway? The townspeople all seemed fine enough, albeit a bit odd at points. Murderous at other points, too.
What the fuck was this place? They still had the briefcase, I needed to get that back before I left anyway – the urge to get it back was more than life-or-death, it was just instinctual and hardwired into my brain – but I wanted to learn more about this place before then.
Yeah, it definitely was the drugs. This was an awful situation, honestly. There was really just nothing good about this situation. But, even if it was the drugs, the momentary feeling of peace and…
And holy fuck, I had my third eye back. I realized I must have had it for a while, but it had just crept back into my consciousness so gradually that I hadn’t noticed until that moment. That moment when I saw someone appear in the distance, over a hill that I had no true way of seeing through, and start running roughly in my direction.
Third eye or no, my vision was fairly awful, so I couldn’t make out who it was. Was it Frederick? Had he killed Rennet Bennet and was coming back for me?
A red-eyed Rennet Bennet came over the mini “horizon” created by the hill and dashed at an unearthly speed over to where I was, once he saw me. He stopped, with no inertia, right in front of me and his face crinkled up in sorrow.
“He got away,” he said through sobs.
“How? You seem to be, uh, well, kind of…”
“I am. Sort of. But Frederick Simmons is one of the few people who can kill or even injure me. He wounded me enough to keep me down for a few minutes and ran off. I failed. I can’t…”
A fresh wave of tears flowed down his face.
My cigarette was running low, so I stuck another in my mouth, lit it, and handed it to him. He took it hesitantly, took a small drag from it, and coughed. I smiled, though discreetly enough to hopefully not hurt his feelings, but he took another drag without coughing. And another. And another. He just fucking tore through that cigarette.
“It has a little…” I started.
“It has a little thing in the filter that you can pop. Makes it more minty.”
The cigarette was almost finished, but he popped the sphere and burnt it to the filter with three more powerful drags. His eyes were still red, but the tears had dried into little salty streaks and he seemed partially recovered.
“Thanks. I forgot about tobacco.”
“No problem. You want some tea?” I said, handing him the can.
He took a sip and looked at me in surprise. “It’s so sweet!”
“Yeah, it’s… Iced tea.”
“Not salty at all!”
I had already drank about half of the can, but he finished it off. I hadn’t really intended to give the rest to him, but, well, it seemed to cheer him up at least. With one effortless motion he compacted the can into a small aluminum ball and tossed it toward a nearby trash can. It wasn’t going to make it, but at the last moment it defied gravity and found its way into the opening.
“Thanks. And I’m sorry. Again.” The corners of his mouth drooped and it seemed like he was about to cry again. I patted his back.
“No problem, man. That guy seems like no joke.”
“You have no idea.”
There was a moment of silence, broken by Rennet sighing and saying, “Well, there’s a lot of stuff I need to do. I shouldn’t have even taken this much of a break. But… Thanks. What’s your name? I don’t think I asked last time.”
“Lawrence Cantor. Hope it goes well. Whatever it is you need to be doing.”
“I doubt it will.”
Before he had even quite finished the sentence, he vanished, the final words only coming in a sort of phantasmal, ghostly whisper.
Maybe it was just the drugs. But no, my can was gone and there was a cigarette missing. What the fuck.
I went back in the gas station and grabbed another can of Arizona, plopped it on the counter, and pulled out one of the dollar bills. In my pocket, it had torn in half. Both of them had, in fact. I handed two halves to her with an attempt at a friendly smile, but she continued with her glare and said that she couldn’t take damaged currency.
I returned the can, went back over to her and asked how to get to Main Street. She gave me a few brusque instructions that lacked any detail or congruity, and I headed outside and tried to follow them, after taking another cigarette and couple bumps of ketamine.
Frederick smiled. Years upon years of work, manipulation, twisting people’s minds and actions. And it had succeeded.
Of course the coming of the “Son of God” would ruffle a few people’s feathers, but that wasn’t enough for Frederick. He needed the majority to hate him. Despise him, want him dead.
It wasn’t a simple as it often was. Most of them were just normal people, relatively at least. Easy to kill without bringing much suspicion onto himself. But this, no, this was much to big for a simple slash-and-stab. He’d have to crucify him, literally or not.
As it happened, it did happen literally. Sure, planning and working ahead for years, decades, was a bit more expensive time-wise, but Frederick had plenty of that. More than enough. And this kind of thing was right up his alley. He had killed enough of them simply enough for now, he wanted some intrigue, a puzzle for him to create and then put together.
Become an advisor to Pontius Pilate and make him tired of the squabbles of the Jewish people. Make him complacent. That was simple enough. Pontius Pilate had already been growing to feel that way, and it was easy to just push him over completely into that state. Make him not care if the Jews freed a mass murderer while sentencing a man, whom he himself knew to be innocent, to death.
Then, become a Pharisee. And a Sadducee as well, that couldn’t hurt. They were already likely to dislike anyone who branded himself to be the Son of God anyway, but he had to make them want to take action. It wouldn’t be enough to ignore him, to dismiss him as a madman. He needed them to want him dead.
Then, a bit of a more difficult task. He needed to change the minds of the people. In these desperate, trying times, he knew they would latch onto anyone they could view as a savior. Those who listened to and respected the Pharisees and Sadducees would be swayed easier, but how to change the minds of the people at large?
He would spread a feeling of inequality. Why would their savior only help some cripples, some blind men, some lepers? Why wasn’t he helping them all? Even if they still believed and followed him, that seed of resentment would grow into a plant of hatred, later.
Then, the easiest task. Becoming a disciple.
Frederick knew that this “Jesus” knew. But perhaps he had grown so entrenched in the character he played, the delusions and pseudo-mystical things he said, that he had begun to believe them. Maybe he truly believed that he would come back to life.
But there was no coming back to life for him, not when Frederick – that is, Judas – was going to be there.
A supposed “betrayal”, sell his whereabouts to the Romans, get a little cash that might come in handy later on, and become a Roman soldier. Frederick was there at the crucifixion. Frederick hammered in the nails in his hands and feet. Frederick stared into his eyes as Jesus realized the truth.
And then Jesus chickened out. He played dead. Nice fucking try. Frederick shoved a spear into his side. A fountain of blood, mixed with water oddly enough, and then he was truly dead. One more off Frederick’s list.
But before he moved onto the next one… Perhaps a bit of fun? One nice last little jest that he’d have that would, no doubt, fool millions upon millions of people for millenia.
He got into that tomb. He looked similar enough to Jesus to be passable. He had won Jesus’s robes during the crucifixion in a little gambling group he had started among the soldiers, and put those on. A bit longer hair, a beard, make himself look decently holy, and he would arise again on the third day.
People were so happy to see him that they didn’t look too closely. Except that one motherfucker, Thomas. The cynic. But Frederick could make holes in his hands that would last a little while, at least, and that seemed to decide it for Thomas. He apologized, and they lived their happy few days together before Frederick vanished into “heaven”. That is, he blended back into the crowd, transformed, created a new character and life for himself, and began the hunt for the next on his list.