This is the sixth installment in the Tower of Sorrow series.
Part One: Yon Black Edifice Hath Called Me
Part Two: First Steps
Part Three: Tight Spaces
Part Four: The Driver
Part Five: Hittin’ The Road
As the car speeds down this deserted stretch of two lane blacktop, the creatures in the background fade into specks. My heart thuds in my ears and the driver has his lips pulled back in a sneering grimace.
“Listen, uh…” I start, unsure of how to address my kidnapper, “mister, I don’t know what happened back there, but – ”
He throws his hand up and waves a solitary finger at me, “Silence human. I’m thinking.” He visibly grits his teeth and his brow furrows deeply. “It just doesn’t make any damn sense,” he says shaking his head. “No one in the history of any world I know has been able to draw Him with such ease.” I pull out my cigarettes and shake the pack at him. “Don’t mind if I do.” He puts the cigarette in his mouth and starts to draw. Instantly the tip begins to burn. He takes a long drag, savoring the feeling of the smoke entering his lungs. “Man, that IS good.”
“So what the fuck even happened back there I mean,” I light my own cigarette, “what were those, things?”
“I told you,” he said pointing his cigarette at me, “there are things out there that you just wouldn’t understand. For example, any idea why those things attacked us or how they even knew where to find us? Do you have any idea what they even were or where they came from?” I just look at him, dumbfounded. “Yeah, I didn’t think so. You have no idea what’s going on. I thought I did, until now.” He takes another long drag and looks at me, “Thanks for the smoke. It’s been decades since I’ve had one. Couldn’t very well go buy them for myself, could I?”
“I suppose not,” I chuckle. “So, where exactly are we going anyway?”
“I already told you! I’m taking you to meet my bosses. They have been expecting you for quite some time and they are very eager to meet you.”
“What? Why? What would they want with me? I’m a technical writer from “Nowhere, Pennsylvania” and frankly, I doubt anyone that you’re associated with would need my skills.”
He bursts into a fit of laughter. “Oh man,” he howls, “you humans and your logic. Your naivety never ceases to amaze me,” he slaps his leg as he laughs. “Listen boy,” he says sternly, “you do have certain skills that interest them, but it ain’t got shit to do with your job.” He holds his hand out, “Name’s Jack.”
I take his hand firmly in mine and give it a shake, “Conner.”
“So Conner,” he raises his eyebrow, “you still didn’t answer my question. What’s your take on what you saw back there?”
I look at him puzzled for a moment trying to gather my thoughts. “Ya know Jack, I don’t know exactly what I think. Something about it all seems familiar. Like, somehow, I’ve seen them before. I remember…bones…” I trail off staring out into the desert.
Jack shifts in his seat, “Bones? What the fuck do you mean bones?”
“Their eyes,” I mumble, “they remind me of bones somehow.” My eyes glaze over and I can feel myself drifting a bit. “I see bones…and a tower…and those things just circling around it in droves. The brittle bones of some small animals turn to dust under my feet. My mind is in a whirlwind. I can’t think straight. I’m being called. Somehow I simultaneously know I should feel fear, but realize that it’s just not there. There is only the call. I walk forward and into the tower and then…then nothing.”
I didn’t realize it while I was drifting but the car had stopped. Jack looks at me with wide eyes. “He-he tried to draw you Conner,” Jack whispers, “he called to you. This is much more serious than I thought. We had no idea that He was actively looking for you. We’ve got to get you inside now!”
“Inside?” I ask still dazed. “We’re already in the car.”
“No,” he says sharply, “in there,” he points through the windshield at a brightly lit building across the street from where we’re parked. I realize now that we are in a city. The streets are somewhat empty except for the night life. The building that Jack is pointing at has a giant neon blue sign depicting a cowboy riding a bucking blue bronco. Below the horse is another neon sign proclaiming the name of the place “The Blue Bronco Bar and Grill.”
I turn my head sharply to face him, “What the fuck are we doing here?”
His menacing toothy smile returns, “Welcome to The Blue Bronco. Come on inside and sit a spell, won’t you?”
“Come on Jack cut the shit!” I holler. “I think you owe me that much.”
He sighs heavily, “Yeah, I suppose I do. Well, like I said, you’re here to meet my superiors. This is their HQ. It’s their safe house in this world. Once you’re inside He won’t be able to see you. At least, I don’t think so. After what I saw earlier, I’m not so sure.”
“Well, I already fell in the damn rabbit hole. I might as well poke around a bit.”
Jack claps me on the back and chuckles a bit. Walking across the street I stare up at the crazy neon blue sign. I can’t help but wonder why I’m here. Why was I chosen? What “skills” could a guy like me possibly have that anyone would want? More importantly, why was I following “Jack” into what could be a trap? Something is nagging in the farthest, darkest corner of my mind, that’s why. For some reason following him feels like the right thing to do despite my anxiety.
Jack opens the door, steps back, and waves his hand, “Ladies first,” he says smirking. I flip him the bird and walk inside. Instantly, I stop and try to understand the scene before me. The entire room is filled with men. They are all over each other dancing, kissing, and groping. This is definitely not what I had in mind. I turn to Jack and my confusion grows deeper. Where once there was this “thing” now stands a regular looking guy in a black fedora and trench coat. “Jack?” He grins widely and nods his head. “What the–“again with that damnable waving finger.
“See that door in the back there?” he asks, pointing across the room. I nod acknowledgement. “Go.”
I shuffle to the door in confusion. He knocks three times, slowly but with intense force. A small rectangular hole towards the top of the door slides open. A pair of vibrant blue eyes comes into view and darts back and forth scanning the room. The person on the other side mutters something unintelligible. Jack answers, “ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.” The eyes disappear, the small opening closes, and the door creeps open.
Inside the room is a large round table with half a dozen old men sitting around it smoking cigars. They seem to be in the middle of a hand of poker and there are some extremely large stacks of money involved. The man wearing the dealer’s visor looks up at Jack and smiles. “Running a little late aren’t you?”
Jack does some odd type of bow and removes his hat. He stands back up holding his hat to his chest and begins to address the old man in that same weird language. The old man waves his hand in a shooing motion. “Come now Jack,” he says still smiling, “please show some courtesy for our guest here, Mr…”
“Jenkins, Conner Jenkins,” I say trying to recreate Jack’s bow. The old man laughs heartily and Jack’s defensive posture relaxes.
“Right,” the old man grins, “Mr. Jenkins. Anyway Jack, you were saying?”
“Well sir,” he clears his throat, “Mr. Jenkins here,” he says jutting a thumb at me, “caused us a bit of a delay.”
“That’s all well and good Jack. I believe we expected that much,” the old man looks around the table and the others nod and grumble agreement. “So then, what was it? You fellas run out of gas or get a flat?”
“Unfortunately, it’s not that simple sir. You see Mr. Jenkins here seems to be very popular. As it turns out, The Collective isn’t the only entity interested in bringing him aboard.”
“Of course not Jack,” the old man guffaws, “with his particular talent I’m not surprised. Though my question to you now Jack, is exactly which of our competitors was so intrigued by our young friend? There aren’t very many of them left you know.”
“It was Him. He came for Conner in the desert. His minions rose from the ground and poured from the sky. The safety of this world has been severely compromised, sir!”
“How could He? Did I not specifically tell you to conceal yourself and Mr. Jenkins here? What the fuck happened Jack? Did you somehow forget how integral he is to our mission? Do you fail to see what’s at stake here? ”
Jack’s voice dropped to just above a whisper, “Conner simply spoke His name sir. I’ve never seen anything like it. He just-”
The old man throws up his hand, his smile now gone. The other men around the table looked directly at me. “Mr. Jenkins,” he said softly, “welcome to The Collective. We have much to discuss.”
Credit to: J. Brown