Estimated reading time — 15 minutes
There are no more happy endings.
The forest across the canal loomed towards him. The worst ice storm Detroit had seen in a century had done its work well, transforming the entirety of the park into frozen sculptures. The trees seemed to grasp at the air as they swayed in the howling wind. Many of their branches had already broken under the weight, falling heavily onto the icy stream below.
He eyed the forest, standing on the other side of the worn stone bridge, hands buried in his pockets. He’d seen the bridge before in pictures and its utter mundaneness came as something of a surprise. The stones embedded in the concrete were ancient, stripped of the snow that had recently covered them by the wind. Whatever handrails had once guarded the edges of the bridge were gone, long since rusted away. Except for the thick, slushy trail of blood that ran up the center of it, there was absolutely no indication of what he knew was waiting for him on the other side.
He had an idea who the blood on the bridge belonged to. Lucille Gale had been the last of seven young adults who to have disappeared in a month. The first six had been found already, their bodies discovered in various locations along the bank of the Detroit river.
The first of them had his skin completely removed, expertly flayed off. The second was so badly ripped apart that it had taken a week to identify her. The third was found lying in an alleyway with lungs full of water and seaweed, a full hundred meters away from the river.
It wasn’t until a fourth teenager was found with her skeleton missing that his organization took interest. They’d swooped down onto the case overnight, so desperate to get him onto the scene that they’d sent him there via translocation. From the moment he emerged from the Detroit alleyway, shaking off the horror of what he always saw when he translocated, it had been nothing but investigation with the local police and terrified locals.
The FBI got involved when two more children turned up dead (exsanguinated and strangled with their own intestines, respectively) Federal agents were always the most difficult to deal with. They were suspicious of his badge, despite it being completely authentic. They were suspicious of how massive he was, towering over most of them, easily broader than any. They were suspicious of how much he already knew about the case, despite having arrived only a few days before they.
What made them more suspicious then anything was how quickly their bosses told them to shut up and get out of his way. The men who ran the Bureau from their offices in D.C. had no idea who he was, and none of them were interested in finding out. They had all heard the legends from those that had led the Bureau before them. They knew what happened when men like him showed up on the scene of a crime too terrible for words. The problem stopped, and it was better to not ask questions how. Any federal involvement was quickly terminated, and the assigned agents reassigned somewhere else.
They’d remember this case for the rest of their lives. They might one day have colleagues who had similar encounters with men like him, and endlessly discuss what organization he might have represented. Theories ranged from an obscure Homeland Security cell to the CIA Special Operations Group. They would jokingly refer to men like him as ‘The Others,’ ‘Those We Don’t Speak Of,’ ‘The Activity,’ or even as ‘The Men in Black’ if they were feeling sarcastic.
His organization knew all of this. There wasn’t much they didn’t.
The man took a reading. The palm-sized device lit up, whirring as he placed it on the ground. He stepped back, fishing out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter from his pocket. The twin marbles of glass atop the reader spun faster and faster, the silver liquid inside them catching the bright blue light shining from the dozen or so diodes that covered the front and back of the device. After a few frantic seconds the marbles were spinning so fast above the device the man could no longer see them. A moment later the reader gave a frantic shriek. The globes exploded in a puff of powdered glass, the liquid flying through the air but evaporating before it touched the ground.
He sighed and lit his cigarette. “Initial readings suggest an unusually high breach in the Jovlin-Knight Barrier,” he said. “The presence of the remains of Lucille Gale confirms initial assumptions that she did not survive the hosting. Extreme weather patterns indicate the presence of a Midnight-Level Event occurring within the confines of the breach.”
He put his smoke to his lips again. The cherry flared brightly, a tiny speck of light burning defiantly in the darkness. The FBI and the police might not have a clue what the missing teens had in common, but he had known it the moment he had visited the morgue and seen their tortured bodies.
Each of them was psychic. Very, very psychic, and Lucille Gale most of all. He doubted that any of them were fully aware of it. Perhaps they had experienced vivid dreams that later came true, or had wondered whether or not they were at fault for the power outages that followed their every outburst. If left to themselves they would have grown exponentially more powerful, most likely to the point where they would have been targeted and killed by his organization. There were very few like them that managed to make it into adulthood, and none of them managed to die of old age.
Even at their nascent stage, however, they possessed more than enough raw ability to be of use to something on the other side. Something was trying desperately to come through, something that had no place even in a nightmare. The other six teens had proven unsuitable as doorways, but judging from the cataclysmic storm that had engulfed half the county, the man guessed that Lucille Gale would prove more than adequate.
Inhale. He felt the smoke burn a trail down his lungs as he considered his next words. “I still plan on crossing,” he said. “Regardless of what’s fueling the breach, I’ll ensure sufficient distraction or damage to allow Aegis translocation into the target area. Upon loss of communication, I stand by my original recommendation of an immediate kinetic on my last known position.” He paused. “Not that you ever listen to what I have to say.”
His answer was the howling wind, and a voice that spoke directly into his mind. He would have smiled at the response if smiling were something he was capable of. Instead he drew Jovlin’s gun from its holster on his side, the massive revolver fitting snugly into his equally massive hands. He squeezed the rubberized grip, fingers caressing the raised knotwork that adorned the barrel. The man took one last drag on his cigarette, flicking it away as he strode purposely onto the bridge, careful to keep his steps within the trail of Lucille Gale’s remains.
Normally crossing over required a tremendous amount of concentration and no small amount of luck. His repelling tattoos would burn so bad they’d singe his skin, and the tiny nodes lining the center of his brain would overload with static. Wearing an Aegis made it a bit easier, but even the best protection his organization could offer didn’t keep out the visions. He’d been there when Jovlin had died, and it was that memory that was returned to violent life every time he translocated.
This time there were no visions, no screaming ghosts from decades past. He simply stepped out of here and into nowhere, the symbols that were carved onto his flesh flaring briefly beneath his heavy clothing. The ease of the translocation confirmed his worst fears. It took a lot of power to rend such a huge hole in reality. Whatever caused this had been very old and very, very angry. For the first time, he wondered bemusedly if he’d been right to turn down assignment to an Aegis unit.
Regardless, he was relieved to see that the trail of human remains provided him a clear path through what was otherwise a land of absolute madness. Whatever thing had nested and birthed itself in the mind of Lucille Gale had not been kind to her. The thick, black-red smear on the ground led deep into the forest which now towered thousands of feet up into the air. He thought he caught a glimpse of something massive above him, moving in the storm clouds, its barbed coils swaying lazily from the sky. The frost-covered branches of the trees were all screaming with a woman’s voice, weeping and sobbing, crying for a mother and a father and the safety of home. He assumed the voice was Lucille’s.
He started off down the trail, booted feet splashing noisily in gristle that seemed to grow deeper as he walked. Around him the world shifted and rearranged itself at random. The trees exploded, sending ice shards the size of buildings crashing down around him. Something massive fell out of the sky, its leathered wings curling around its dead form, crashing to the earth behind a distant mountain range that abruptly forced itself out of the frozen earth. The wind intensified, and on it he could hear a name being whispered over and over again.
He didn’t recognize the name. He wondered if it was his.
The further he went along the trail, the more twisted reality became. He wondered how deep into the forest he was actually going in the real world. On more than occasion he had traveled for days inside a breach, only to find himself a step or two away from where he had started upon crossing out. Time and distance could have very little meaning in the Veiled World. Mercifully the laws of physics (usually) held sway, but those laws were easily bent or broken depending on what was causing such an awesome disturbance.
There was a place, he knew, where physics simply didn’t exist. Even as he walked he could see it, far on the horizon, a thin line of shadow that seemed to swallow up even the darkness. Calling it oblivion wasn’t accurate. There were things in the Nothing, things that made the horrors he dealt with on a regular occasion seem downright pleasant. He’d been to the edge before, watching reality and un-reality disappear into the howling claws of whatever waited for men and demons on the other side of existence.
Men smarter then he surmised that whatever it was had no power to enter or affect the world he sought to protect. He supposed this was true; it was hungry, and would have long since devoured the third dimension had it been capable.
The ground beneath his feet shook, and he suddenly found himself standing in a clearing. The storm-wracked sky was gone, replaced with a peaceful canvas devoid of any light save that of a full moon. The wind stopped abruptly. Snowflakes fell slowly through the air like the inside of a tumbling snow globe. A vast clearing spread out before him, the smeared remains of an overly ambitious psychic a vivid splash of red on the virgin snow.
There was a child in the clearing at the end of the trail. The boy was sobbing, his knees drawn up to his chest. The man approached him slowly. He tentatively took a step off the pathway and into the snow. His feet sunk into reassuring solid ground. The man began circling the boy, trudging through snow that came up to his shins.
“Go away,” the boy sniffled, burying his face in his arms. “Go away! I just want to be left alone.”
The man didn’t say anything. It was better to not talk to them if you could avoid. They’d played the game for eons; any word you spoke could be used against you. Instead he kept circling, trying to see the child’s face. He didn’t understand why this was important, but that was irrelevant. Gut instinct had kept him alive up to that point and he trusted it to take him further.
“Why did you follow me?” The boy screamed, kicking his feet into the ground. “I want to be left alone! Leave me alone!”
The world around them trembled slightly, and the man cursed under his breath. “You aren’t alone,” he answered. He had to buy himself more time. It needed to be tricked into revealing its true self, or it might simply push him back out into reality out of annoyance. “You’re with Lucille. Lucille Gale. Remember?”
Face still buried in his arms, the boy laughed. “Lucille. I remember Lucille. The other ones all ran, but Lucille wasn’t afraid. She stayed. She told me that she wasn’t afraid, that she wanted to help me. She held me so close…” His voice changed in an instant, becoming a tone no human vocal cord could ever hope to produce. “She’s rotting inside me. I cannot be bound. I cannot be harmed. I am eternal.”
“You might be eternal, but your son wasn’t, was he?” The warding tattoos on his skin started to prickle. That was a good sign. It was getting angry. “That’s who you’re pretending to be right now. Your son.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” the boy sniffed, his voice that of a child’s again. “I’m just a little boy. I’m just a little boy, all alone out here in the woods.”
“No, you’re not. Your name is Claude Lachay. You killed your wife and son here, before it was a park. Before there were many people here at all. You started running, and when you couldn’t go anymore you killed a family that tried to help you. You ate them. Do you remember? You ate them, but even that couldn’t keep you from starving. You nearly died from hunger in the wilderness a hundred miles north of here.” The man cocked his head to the side, and decided to push the issue. “You pissed yourself when the wolves came. You screamed for your mother when they started eating you, like you screamed for her every day in Hell.”
The child exploded in a shower of blood. His face landed on the snow next to the man, steam pouring from its eyes sockets and laughing mouth. Where the child once stood was what his organization would call a ‘Class I-IX Paranormal Entity,’ unveiled in all its horrific glory. Its three heads sprouted from between its shoulders, each of them gnashing on a tongue that flickered like a snake. A pair of arms sprouted from between its legs, their fingers ended in leech-like mouths. The skin on its bloated stomach was stretched so far it was nearly transparent. Inside it he could see the tortured face of Lucille Gale, her hands pushing desperately to get out.
The thing that was once Claude Lachay, the first serial killer to walk American soil, thundered with laughter. Its voice echoed around the clearing where it had committed its first crimes nearly three hundred and fifty years prior. “I cannot be bound. I cannot be harmed. I am eternal. I am…God!”
The first round fired through Jovlin’s gun put an end to such boastful nonsense. Lachay roared as the round tore a fist-sized hole through the center of one of its heads. It clapped a massive hand to its face, reeling in agony. The man fired again and again, moving towards it at a flat-out run. While the danger of being forced out of the breach was over, he now faced the equally real threat of death at the target’s hands. Jovlin’s revolver was a powerful weapon against the denizens of the Veil, and the fact that it had already proved ineffective told him everything he needed to know.
He’d never survive a direct fight. Lachay had dragged itself out of the pit, and the mindless hate that allowed such perseverance had twisted it something wholly inhuman. Every heaving breath it took was the scream of a dying man; every guttural curse was the wheeze of lungs filling with bloody clots. It was a lord of death now, a corpse god, the grave incarnate.
The only way to finish this was to destabilize the breach enough to allow armored translocation. The only way to destabilize the breach was to kill the soul that was fueling it.
Each of the bullets he fired found their mark. By the time he had reached the target the man had already reloaded. He fired at point blank range, aiming at Lachay’s bloated stomach. A massive, scaled hand moved to intercept the rounds. The same hand struck him hard, tossing him through the air. He fired as he flipped head over heels, managing to keep the target at bay as he rolled on the ground. It was on him by the time he righted himself, choking as its tongues whipped towards his torso and legs.
He thought about evading, considered his options, and calmly decided against it. The barbs bit into his flesh and tensed, digging into his skin. He grunted, pain dampeners flooding his system. The venom hit him a second later. He vomited, body shuddering in the throes of a seizure as the poison reached his brain. The receptors in his skull were shrieking, fighting off both the toxins and the terrifying psychic power Lachay was unleashing through his unwilling host. He caught brief glimpses of the monster’s past; the last, confused looks on the faces of the Chippewa family he had butchered, the taste of human flesh in his mouth, the awful, maddening climb out of the bottom of torment back into the world of the living.
The man felt the barbs tense, followed by a violent jerking on his left leg. He looked down in time to see it come clean off, ripped away at the knee, disappearing down Lachay’s gullet.
He saw his leg floating inside Lachay’s bloated stomach as he fired into it again and again. Distracted, the target had no chance to defend itself. Its immense stomach popped like a blister, spewing digestive juices over the frozen earth. It dropped him as it stumbled backwards, yelping, its hands clapped over its stomach. Between its massive fingers, the half-digested form of Lucille Gale spilled out. She writhed in the snow, screaming through a mouth that had fused shut.
Lachay reached for her desperately, but it was already too late. The man fired a single shot. The high-caliber shell blew her head clean off.
The clearing was completely still for a moment. Then there was an earth shattering roar that sounded all too familiar to him. The breach shuddered and tilted. The whole world sloped at a downward angle, making Lachay stumble and fall. Both monster and man went tumbling head over heels towards the edge of the forest. The man’s fevered mind screamed at him to make sure he landed on the bridge. At the last second he reached out, his hand slapping down into the trail of blood, arresting his fall as he held tight to his only line back to reality.
There was another roar, and Nothingness came howling up towards them. The world below him almost completely vanished, the trees and the mountain ranges swallowed up by a mouth made up of nightmares. The power of Lucille Gale, wielded ruthlessly by Lachay, had been the only thing that had kept the breach open. With her death, the thin barrier between the Veiled World and what lay beyond came crashing down.
He saw Lachay land in the trees below. The monster leapt back into the clearing, scrabbling to find purchase in the snow. The man calmly fired his remaining rounds into the target, watching as each bullet hit home. With one last howl, the monster lost its grip and fell down into darkness.
The man didn’t have any time to feel satisfied. The breach was collapsing, shaking apart at the seams. Like a rising tide the Void came up to greet him, laughing and screaming. He could make up indistinct shapes as it came on; shapes that reminded him of Jovlin, the smell of her hair and the sound of her voice when she told him
I’ll love you until the day I die
and the look on her face when she fell, when she let go, when she LET GO! LET GO! LET GO!
LET GO AND FALL!
The man looked up into glowing blue eyes. The Aegis was only a few feet above him, standing with its steel feet planted firmly in the bridge. The dying light of the breach cast strange shadows over its black armor and menacing weapon arrays. It reached out to him, its fingers strangely slender for such a massive construct.
“We haven’t much time, sir,”it said. “Please take my hand to initiate translocation.”
Hauser didn’t hesitate. He holstered his pistol in a single fluid motion and reached for its hand. Half a dozen ports on the Aegis’ back popped open with a pneumatic hiss. The construct’s translocation generator came online, emitting brilliant white light as it drank in the otherworldly energy of the breach
“Translocation imminent,” it intoned. “Brace for impact.”
Hauser looked down. Nothingness looked back at him, smiling. Reaching.
“Brace for impact. Brace for impact. Brace-“
He hit the snowy ground so hard it drove the air out of his lungs. He gasped, rolling onto his side. The wind that had been howling moments before seemed to calm by the moment. Soon it had disappeared entirely, the snow it had been driving left to tumble lazily to the earth. The entire world seemed to have become still and silent.
His eyes were drawn to the cigarette he had flicked away before entering the breach. It was inches away from him, still burning. He’d been gone only seconds in the real world. He reached for it with a trembling hand, the cherry flaring brightly as he inhaled. It was almost too damp to smoke, but he’d never tasted anything better.
The Aegis was already working on his leg. Hauser felt a brief twinge of pain as it spread anti-septic paste over his wound, spraying it from a small retractable hose attached to its hip. The paste quickly turned to a murky red gel as it stopped the bleeding. In a few seconds Hauser’s entire leg went numb, and he could feel the pain dampening drugs in his system start to recede.
It turned to look at him, the center eye of its forehead turning a bright green as it scanned his vital signs. I apologize,” it said. “I arrived as soon as translocation became possible. I had hoped to get there in time to assist you with the entity, and prevent such damage from occurring.”
Hauser managed a weak laugh. “Killing the psychic was the only way to make translocation possible, and this…” He waved his hand at his stump. “This was the only way to get close enough for a clean shot. I’m still glad you came. If it had finished me off, someone would have needed to finish the job.” Hauser paused, squinting up at the construct’s expressionless face. “Who is that in there?”
The Aegis gave a metallic laugh as its visor slid back. A female face stared back at him, pale and young and covered in scars. “You might not remember me, Agent Hauser,” she said, her voice soft and lilting. “I was in training for the Aegis program when you were sent on your last assignment.”
“I remember you. I was there when you were initiated and picked your name. Bellona. Agent Bellona.” He took another drag on his cigarette, staring up at the stars. She’d had fewer scars then. “Damned pretentious name, if you ask me.”
He heard the sound of her visor slide shut as a response. “Recovery units are en route,” she said in the sexless voice of a machine. “They will be here within the minute. Since he is certain your receivers have almost certainly shut down as a result of your psychic trauma, Agent Dolos has asked me to extend congratulations to you on his behalf.” Bellona cocked her head to the side, and Hauser could sense her smile even behind the impassive face mask.“He also says he would never have authorized the kinectic strike, even if we’d lost track of you within the breach. He said he will always give you a chance to find your way out.”
Now it was Hauser’s turn to laugh. “He wouldn’t say that if he had seen what was in there. One of these days, something is going to come through and we’ll have to blow the breach to kingdom come. One of these days, I’ll be right.” He leaned his head back into the freezing snow, letting it cool his head. The static from the destroyed receptors inside his skull was giving him a pounding headache. Taking one last inhale, he tossed the smoke away from him for good.
It landed solidly on the grisly path Hauser had taken into nothingness. Drowned in blood, surrounded by darkness, the light of the cigarette quickly faded and died.
Credit To – IlluminatiExposed