Category Archives: Underlayers: Countermeasures

Something Happens to Everyone Here

Sam Rawling got out of his car, being sure to grab the small notepad from the passenger seat as he did so.  There had been a number of times in the past that he had been so focused on the matter at hand that he had forgotten it, and every single time he had ended up regretting not having notes to refer back to later.  Because of this, he felt a small twinge of pride that he had remembered it this time.  It wasn’t much of a victory, but he would take what he could get.

He had been in town a total of three days, and while it had first appeared quaint, he had already learned to dislike it.  The bed at the motel he was staying at was best described as horrid, and he had yet to find a place that sold a decent cup of coffee.  His partner had also been particularly grouchy for the entirety of the stay.  It had gotten so bad that he had been overjoyed when she had suggested that they work separately for a few hours.

Sam shivered and pulled the collar of his coat up to keep the wind off his neck.  He had hoped to park closer to his destination, but there hadn’t been any available spaces nearby.  Because of this, he was forced to make the two block walk and suffer through the unseasonably cold day.  He snorted.  Just before being sent on this assignment he had been complaining that he missed field work, and now he would have given a lot to be sitting behind his desk in his nice warm office.  He wondered if he was getting soft.

He was pretty sure that he knew the answer to that, and it wasn’t something that he was eager to admit to himself.

Reaching the antique store, he took a quick look up and down the road before going inside.  The warm air of the shop washed over him.  He took a moment to just appreciate not feeling like he was being frozen to death before heading towards the counter.

Watching him approach with a smile on his face was an odd-looking man.  Sam couldn’t exactly pinpoint why he thought the man looked out of the ordinary, as at first glance he was just a normal looking guy wearing an expensive suit.  Still, there was something about him that seemed… off.

“Good afternoon, sir,” the man greeted him.  “How can I help you on this fine day?”

“Not so sure about that ‘fine’ part,” Sam said, sticking his thumb out towards the large front window.

“The weather is a bit off-putting, to be sure, but no reason to let that ruin the entire day.”

“Maybe.”  Sam reached into his coat pocket and pulled out his identification.  “Sam Rawling with the FBI.  I’d like to ask you a few questions.”

“Absolutely.”  The man stuck out his hand and they shook.  “I am Silas Pembrook, the owner of this establishment.  I’m happy to help in any way that I can.”

Sam dug around in his other pocket until he produced a picture.  “Have you seen this woman?”

Pembrook took the picture from him and stared at it for a moment.  “Yes, I have.  She was in the store a few weeks ago.”

“Did she buy something while she was here?”

“Quite the opposite, Agent Rawling.  This… hyena attempted to steal a few items.”

Sam frowned.  “I didn’t see a police report for that.”

“There wasn’t one.”  Pembrook leaned in slightly.  “I’m still fairly new to this town, Agent Rowling.  I didn’t want the first thing to come to mind when someone thought of this store to be associated with theft, even if I was the victim.  I’d rather avoid that if at all possible.  So, no, I didn’t contact the local authorities.”

“You just let her go?”

“After I reclaimed the store property that she tried to take, yes.  May I ask what interest the FBI has in a lowly shoplifter?”

Sam raised an eyebrow.  “It’s possible that she’s involved with a series of killings that took place about three weeks ago.  Her fingerprints were found at a pretty nasty crime scene.  The local police noted that during their investigation there were a few witnesses that saw her running out of your store the same day as the murders, but they hadn’t had time to follow up on those leads yet.”

“Oh my.  I’m sorry, Agent Rowling, but I don’t have any information that would help with that.”

“I figured, but I still needed to check.  Thank you for your time.”

“Of course.  If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to call me or stop back by at any time.”

Sam reluctantly left the warm shop and went back out into the cold day.  He checked his watch and found that it was almost time to meet his partner.  With a heavy sigh he headed back to his car.

Normally he didn’t mind their partnership.  In fact, it was one of the best that he had been a part of since he had joined the Bureau decades earlier.  While they didn’t always see eye to eye, that tended to make them both look at things from different perspectives than they normally would, which in turn led to better case outcomes than might otherwise happen.  Beyond that, they tended to get along on a personal level.  That definitely helped with the long drives and plane rides that were often called for.

She wasn’t her usual self during this particular case, though.  She had been short-tempered and irritable, and any attempt he had made to find out what was wrong had been met with silence.  As much as this change in her personality had annoyed him, it concerned him even more.

“Hey,” a voice said from behind him as unlocked the car door.

Speak of the devil.  Sam turned to find his partner crossing the street and heading towards him.  Agent Jennifer Gates was tall and thin, standing an inch taller than him and in better shape than he had ever been.  Her long blond hair was tied back and was whipping around in the wind.

“Hey yourself,” he answered, walking around the car to open the passenger door for him.  “Have any luck?”

“Nothing,” she told him with a shake of her head.  “You?”

“A whole lot of jack shit.  Cup of coffee sound good?”

“Not as good as an entire pot.”

They got into the car and Sam headed towards a restaurant on the edge of the downtown area that he had seen earlier.  He glanced over at Gates as he drove.  She was staring out the window silently, her hand under her chin and her forehead against the glass.

“I hate this place,” she mumbled.

“Yeah, I’ve been able to tell that just about every single second that we’ve been here,” Sam replied wryly.

She turned towards him.  “I guess I haven’t been very good company on this trip.”

“That would be an understatement.  Ready to tell me why yet?”

“I suppose you deserve to know.  I actually grew up in this town.  Lived her until I was nineteen.”

“Really.  Did Garrison know that before he assigned us here?”

She nodded.  “Yeah, he knew and decided that it wasn’t a conflict of interest.  He thought it might even be useful.  You know how hard it can be sometimes to get people in small towns to cooperate.  Everyone knows everyone and is protective of their community.”

Sam grunted.  “I’ve noticed.  Give me New York or Chicago every time.  So why isn’t this a happy homecoming?”

“Let’s go for a drive.  We can get coffee later.”

Gates directed him through downtown and past the buildings.  Blackwood was a coastal town, and within a few minutes Sam saw the beach and ocean off to their right.  The heavy cloud cover made the waves look gray as they crashed against the sand.  They arrived at a bridge stretching out to a landmass across the water.

“Pull over here,” she instructed him, pointing at a small parking lot in front of the beach.

He did as she said, guiding the car into a space.  His was the only car parked there.  That wasn’t a surprise given the miserable weather.  Still, it was quite the view.

“I’m about to bore you with a history lesson,” she warned him.

“That’s fine,” Sam said with a faint smile.  “It will be a change from all the other ways that you bore me.”

“Remind me to request a new partner when we get back.”  Gates sat back in her seat.  “Way back in the day, fur traders and lumber barons had operations set up further north and into Canada.  This was before this town existed.  Before America existed, for that matter.  All of this was wild terrain, which made moving their goods south to sell almost impossible over land.  Instead, they had to use ships to transport them.”

“I’m with you so far, although I have no idea where you’re going with this.”

“The waters out there aren’t nearly as deep as you would think, at least not until you go past a certain point.  Ships would often catch against rocks and sandbars and be ripped open.  There are a lot of sunken vessels out there, and a lot of them dragged their crews down with them.  Dozens, if not hundreds, of sailors died around here.  Local legend says they called it the Devil’s Reef.”

She pointed off into the distance.  “See that lighthouse way out there?  It’s the first structure ever built here.  It was built to help sailors guide ships into deeper waters.  In the early days a single man would be stationed at it to make sure that the light shined out to passing ships.  It was projected using large lamps.  As they burned, they reflected off the glass windows and made it look like the entire top of the lighthouse was on fire.”

“Huh,” Sam said, scratching his chin.  “Interesting.”

“For a long time Blackwood was prosperous.  The fishing industry in particular boomed, and the docs were filled with fishing boats of all shapes and sizes.  Farms were built further inland to take advantage of the fertile soil.  By the time the twentieth century rolled around, Blackwood was one of the wealthiest communities in the state.  In the early 1940s, a businessman named Frank Elliot visited the town and fell in love with it.  He opened a cannery and made deals to purchase fresh fish and produce for the locals so that he could process and ship it all around the country.  That brought in even more money and success.”

Sam frowned.  The town they were in certainly didn’t have the appearance of being wealthy.  The buildings in the downtown area had looked worse for the wear, and there weren’t many businesses that were still open.  When they had gone to the crime scene where the druggies had been killed, he had noticed that the houses they passed were also in rough shape.  He opened his mouth to ask about it, but she was already continuing before he could.

“Around that same time, a decision was made by the town council to expand Blackwood,” Gates told him.  “That island over there is roughly half the size of the town, and they saw it as the perfect place to continue to build.  They authorized the building of a bridge to connect it with the town proper.  It made sense.  The townspeople were already going over to it for walks and picnics by crossing a long sandbar that pops up during low tide.  With the bridge they were able to cross at any time and bring over vehicles and building materials.  Businesses and homes sprung up on the island.  People started calling it Firefly Island because of how the lights from the buildings looked from across the water at night.”

“So what happened?” Sam finally managed to ask.

“You know the expression that all good things must come to an end?  Well, they did.  On June 18, 1968, a fishing boat returned to the docks just before noon.  It had left at daybreak with a crew of six, but only two people were on it when it came back.  One of the men was unconscious and badly injured, while the other one was ranting and raving incoherently.  When they finally managed to get him to make some semblance of sense, he spoke about decaying bodies pulling themselves up out of the ocean onto the boat and killing the other members of the crew.”

“What happened to the two survivors?”

“The crazy one was evaluated and eventually sent to a mental institution.  The injured sailor died a few hours after they arrived at the dock.  The town council got wind of what had happened and decided that it could be bad for the town’s reputation if the story got out, so they worked with the police department to cover up the incident.  Too many people had heard about what happened, though, so while the story didn’t really make it out of town, everyone here knows about it.”

“That’s a hell of a local legend.”

Gates shook her head.  “It’s not a legend.  Well, the part about a boat coming into the dock with two out of six sailors on it, anyway.  That actually happened.”

Sam nodded.  “Gotcha.  So it’s one of those things where a story gets blown out of proportion over time.  Unless you’re actually suggesting the living dead crawled out of the ocean and attacked them.”

She didn’t answer.  For a long moment she simply stared out at the water, an unreadable expression on her face.  As he waited for her to continue, a motion near the treeline on the opposite side of the road caught his attention.  He turned just in time to see someone step back into the cover of the brush.  It was so quick that he wasn’t sure that he had actually seen it.  He stared at the spot intently, but nothing else happened.

“Rachel Logan was the daughter of a local minister,” Gates finally said.  On October 27, 1974, she was walking home from a friend’s house when she disappeared.  A lot of people had seen her walking through town, but no one witnessed the moment that she vanished.  The police and a group of volunteers searched all night, but they weren’t able to find her.  It wasn’t until the next morning when the tide had washed out and the sandbar connecting Blackwood and Firefly Island was visible that her body was found in the wet sand.  There were signs of a struggle, and a series of dark bruises around her neck revealed that she had been strangled.”

“Jesus,” Sam muttered, turning his attention back to her.  “How old?”

“She was fifteen.  Over the next two months, seven more killings took place.  Each was ruled death by strangulation.  The police were under heavy pressure to find the killer, but there wasn’t any evidence to go off of.  There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to who the victims were or when killings took place.  The final murder took place on Christmas Eve.  The last victim, an elderly retired veteran named Arnold Varney, was left in on the front steps of the library.  The coroner determined that he hadn’t been killed there.  The body had been put there so that it was on display for everyone to see.”

“Eight strangulations over a two month period in small town Maine.”  He squinted.  “Why haven’t I heard about this before?  That should have been all over the news.”

“The same reason the boat killings weren’t.  I know that you’re from New York, Sam, so you may not understand this, but small towns keep their secrets.”

“That’s a hell of a secret to keep.”

“Yeah, well, it wouldn’t be the last one.  The next spring was one of the most difficult the town had ever been through.  The fishing seemed to dry up.  Day after day the fishing boats would come back nearly empty.  No matter how far out they’d go, they rarely got enough to justify a day’s work.  At the same time, the farmers began to have issues with their crops.  There weren’t any early season frosts or summer pest issues, the typical stuff farmers have to deal with, but for some reason the plantings in the fields simply refused to grow.  They brought in specialists to test the soil.  The results came back saying that there were no issues with the ground itself.  Everyone involved was clueless as to what was happening.

“It got worse each year from there.  Less and less was produced from the town’s two biggest industries.  During the ‘80s a lot of people decided it was time to move on, and the Blackwood’s population began to decline for the first time in the town’s history.  Businesses moved out or shut down entirely.  The last straw for the local economy was when the cannery closed down in August of ‘85.  Everyone knew it was coming.  Without local fish and produce to process, the company had begun to bleed money.  The hours being offered to the employees had gone down each quarter.  The owner tried to find a buyer for the company, but when he couldn’t he was forced to simply close the doors and leave the property to rot.”

Sam turned his head back towards the woods.  He had thought that he’d heard something.  Motioning for Gates to stop speaking, he rolled down his window and listened.  A few moments later he heard it again.

“What is that?” he asked quietly, more to himself than to his partner.

“It sounds like laughing,” Gates answered anyway.

“Kind of, yeah.  It’s a little… off, though.  Must be a weird echo or something.  Anyway, go on with your story.”

“Sure.”  She didn’t seem as certain as he was that the laughing wasn’t anything to worry about.  “As the years passed Blackwood continued to diminish.  You saw all the closed businesses downtown, and I’m sure you’ve noticed the crappy shape everything is in.  There’s just no money to pay for anything.  Firefly Island got it the worst.  There’s nothing there anymore except for some trailer parks and a couple of low income housing blocks.”

“That’s a shame.  It seems like this town got the short end of the stick.”

“There’s more.  On May 27, 1998, just two days before Blackwood’s annual Founder’s Day celebration, Mayor Thomas Blige walked into the police station covered in blood.  The officers initially thought that he had been attacked, and they rushed him over to the town doctor.”

“What had happened to him?”

“Nothing.  The doctor determined that there were no cuts on his body, and the blood wasn’t Blige’s.  He wasn’t responsive to any of the questions the officers asked, so they went to his house to try to figure out what was going on.  The front door was standing wide open when they got there.  They went inside and found Blige’s wife, mother, and dog torn apart and gutted in the living room.  They immediately called it into the station, and the chief of police started grilling the mayor.  He was dazed and seemed completely unaware that he had done anything wrong.  He just repeated that he had only done what the voices had told him to do.”


“It was right around then that the rumors started.”

Sam frowned.  “What rumors?”

Gates didn’t answer immediately.  She stared out her window silently, seemingly lost in her thoughts.  There was another laugh from the direction of the woods, but he was too engrossed in what she was saying to notice.

“Blackwood had fallen a long way in a short amount of time,” she eventually said.  “When that kind of thing happens to a town, the residents start to wonder why.  This has always been a superstitious place, so when you combine that with trying to understand why bad things have happened…  Some people say that it’s some kind of curse, or a dark deal that was made by the town’s early settlers that has come due.  Others say that it’s the spirits of the merchants and sailors that died off the coast in the days before the lighthouse was built.  The thing that everyone agrees with is that the nights seem a bit darker every year, and the fog that comes in is just a bit thicker, and most of all that Blackwood is a forsaken place.”

“A bit dramatic, don’t you think?” Sam asked.

“Maybe,” she replied shortly, not sounding like she believed it.  “The point that I’m trying to make is that the problems in Blackwood didn’t start with these killings.  This has been a bad place for a long time.  I think what we’re seeing here is a symptom and not the cause.”

He looked at her for a long moment.  “None of what you just told me explains why you hate this town so much.  Did something happen to you here, something that ties into this story somehow?”

Gates looked down and didn’t immediately answer.  “Something happens to everyone here.”

Sam thought about what she had said later that evening as he was sitting in his motel room.  She hadn’t gone into any further details about her past experiences in the town, but her demeanor had made it clear that he shouldn’t keep pressing the issue.  There had been a look in her eyes that he knew would stick with him for a long time.  He had seen it before.  It was the look war veterans got in their eyes when they recalled past traumas.

Deciding that he was thirsty, he sighed and got off of the bed.  He was pretty sure that he had seen a vending machine back at the motel office.  He heard a light rain pattering against the windows, so he begrudgingly put on his coat.  It was probably for the best that he wore it anyway.  It concealed the fact that he was wearing his gun, and he had long ago learned that walking into a room with an exposed weapon was a good way to panic people.

The air was cold, even colder than it had been earlier that day.  He shook his head as he closed the motel room door.  Someday he was going to figure out how to get assigned to cases in Hawaii.

He froze as he heard a sound from above him.  It was the same laughter he had heard coming from the woods that afternoon.  Furrowing his brow, he took a few steps back and stared up at the roof.  The laughter stopped, and for a long moment there was only silence.

A figure, black against the black sky, leaped off the roof.  Sam instinctively ducked and spun around.  He was certain that someone had just committed suicide.  No one could have survived a fall from the top of the two story motel.

His breath caught in his throat as he came face to face with the figure standing unharmed in the dark parking lot.

He wasn’t sure what he was looking at.  At its most basic it seemed to be a woman wearing a wooden mask, but that didn’t tell the whole story.  It was impossible to tell where the wood ended and the flesh began.  The mask melded into the skin and moved like it was a real face.  It had a long snout and two rounded ears with points at the tops.  The eyes staring back at him through the sockets were black with pinpoints of red in the center.

The woman’s mouth opened wide, wider than any human jaw could.  It was filled with sharp teeth.  A long black tongue flicked back and forth as saliva slowly dripped out over the sides of her mouth.

As Sam took an involuntary step backwards, he quickly looked over the rest of her.  She was wearing a hooded sweatshirt that had once been gray but was now dark with blood.  The hands that extended out from the sleeves had tufts of hair sprouting from them, and they ended in curved black claws.  Her jeans were ripped in multiple places.  Something seemed off about her legs, and it took him a moment to realize that the kneecap was pushed behind the lower leg instead of in front of it.  The way her legs were jointed reminded him of a dog’s legs.

She stared at him and cackled.

“Ms. Bennington is exactly like I said, isn’t she?” a calm and steady voice inquired from behind him.

Years of doing field work for the FBI helped Sam not jump in surprise, but he still felt a chill run through him.  He glanced over his shoulder and found that the owner of the antique store that he had gone into earlier in the day was standing less than a dozen feet away.  The man was staring at him with a blank expression, an open umbrella in one hand.

“Do you remember what I told you, Agent Rawling?” Alastor Pembrook asked.  “I told you that she is a hyena.  More accurately, that she is Hyena.”

The woman laughed again.  It changed in pitch and tone as she did so, creating an odd almost echo-like effect.

“What the hell is this, Pembrook?” Sam demanded, his hand going towards his gun.

“I really wouldn’t do that,” Pembrook warned.  “If you attempt to draw your weapon, Ms. Bennington will see it as a threat.  She’s quite fast.”

His hand froze.

“Smart man.  You’re one of the few intelligent people that I’ve met since I’ve been back in Blackwood, Agent Rawling.  I could see when we first met that you had your doubts about me.  That sort of insight is a rarity indeed.”

“Thanks for the compliment,” Sam growled sarcastically.

“You misunderstand me.  That wasn’t a compliment.  It was a lament.  I consider what has to happen here a shame.  I’m so close to achieving a goal that I’ve long worked towards, though, and I can’t have you interfering while the final pieces are put into place.”

“If you think that I’m a headache, you should see what happens when an agent goes missing.  If you kill me, this place will be swarming with FBI personnel in just a few days.”

Pembrook nodded once.  “Yes, I’m sure that it would be quite the nuisance, but there won’t be anything for them to find by the time they arrive.  Hyena, please attend to the matter.  Oh, and don’t forget his partner when you’re done.”

Sam went for his gun.  The woman’s laughter became louder, and she was on him before the weapon could clear its holster.  He cried out in pain as the claws on one of her hands slid easily through his clothes and deep into his side.  She shoved him to the ground, and he hit the wet pavement hard.  His vision was already growing dark when her jaws clamped down on his neck and tore at his throat.  His final thought was the words that Gates had spoken to him at the beach.

Something happens to everyone here.

The Addiction

I knew that I was in trouble the moment that I pushed on the door.

I had entered the store less than ten minutes earlier, slipping in quietly as another customer was leaving.  A few more shoppers had come and gone in that time, just like I had hoped.  They had kept the man behind the counter busy with sales and given me plenty of time to locate a few small items that could be slipped into my pockets without anyone noticing.  Once I had procured four or five objects that I was sure that I could sell elsewhere, I had waved pleasantly to the oblivious owner and waltzed right out the way I had come in.

That had been my intention, anyway.  No matter how hard I pushed on it, the door simply wouldn’t budge.

“I took the liberty of locking the door remotely,” the man called over to me from behind the counter.

I gritted my teeth and pressed my forehead against the glass.  He hadn’t been nearly as unaware of my actions as I had thought.  Sighing, I turned to face him.

“I take it that you aren’t much of a connoisseur of antiques,” he continued, his tone neither angry nor gloating as I would have expected.  “In my line of work it is a requirement.  The items that you pocketed are worth twenty, maybe thirty dollars total.  I keep them on hand for individuals that want something that looks fancy but can’t afford the real thing.  The truly expensive items are inside the displays on the other side of the store.”

I wasn’t sure what to say, so I kept my mouth shut.  Years of hard living had taught me that I was liable to make a bad situation worse if I spouted off without thinking things through.

“Do you see this coin?” the man asked, pointing down into the glass case he was standing behind.  “If I walked into this particular store with the aim of stealing something, this is where I would start.”

He motioned for me to come closer.  I hesitated for a moment before slowly walking over to the case.  It wasn’t like I could leave, and besides, it might make it easier for me to convince him to let me go if I played along with his little game.  I looked down at the coin he was indicating.  It was badly damaged, and the corners were bent inward.

“It really isn’t much to look at,” he said as he voiced my unspoken thought.  “Looks can be deceiving, however.  It’s pure silver, and it was minted centuries before any civilization known to man ever dreamed of doing such a thing.  An ancient currency for an ancient civilization.  That alone would make it priceless, but there’s even more to it than that.”

I found myself being drawn in by the man’s words.  His voice had a certain cadence that was almost hypnotic.  I glanced at him when he wasn’t looking.  He was tall and thin, and he was wearing a gray suit with a black tie.

“The society that this coin comes from was class-based,” the man told me.  “The modern world is much the same, of course, but this particular society took things even further.  Each class had different currency issued to them.  Brass for the lower class, iron for the middle class, and gold for the upper class.  Silver was used by members of the priesthood.  They were the only ones given money that bore the image of the god the people worshiped.”

It was difficult to see any of the image imprinted on the coin, but I could just make out a vaguely humanoid shape.  There seemed to be a number of limbs or growths extending from the body.  I resisted the urge to shudder.

“Take my property out of your pockets and put it onto the counter,” he instructed.

I slowly removed the objects in question from my coat and placed them on the glass.  He watched me silently as I did so.  When I had finished, he picked them up and moved them to an empty shelf on the wall behind him.

“Thank you for not insulting me by trying to keep one or two of them hidden,” he said.  “That gives me hope that we can be civilized about this whole thing.  Now then, I am Silas Pembrook.  Your name is…?”

I stared at him but didn’t answer his question.

He sighed.  “Perhaps I was wrong, and we need to get the authorities involved.”

“Chloe,” I blurted out.  “Chloe Bennington.”

“There we are.  Ms. Bennington, I would like to offer you a choice.”

“What kind of choice?” I asked, blinking in surprise.

“The kind of choice that may benefit us both.  Your first option is for me to handle this incident as the petty theft that it is.  I call the police, and you are arrested and charged.  I would imagine that this wouldn’t be your first time in their custody.”

I chewed on the inside of my lip.

“Ah, I see that your time around the local authorities hasn’t been pleasant.  I have to admit that I don’t have a very high opinion of them myself.  Were you arrested for theft?  No,  that’s not right.  You are clearly too clever and careful for that.”

“Apparently not clever or careful enough,” I muttered.

“You’re not being fair to yourself.  You had no way of knowing that you had chosen the absolute worst mark you possibly could have.  Back to your criminal record.  Based on the slight shaking of your hands, your low body weight for your height, and any number of smaller things, I’m going to hazard a guess that you are addicted to crystal methamphetamine.  What a shame.  Your previous arrests must have been related to that.”

I stared at him in shock.  “How could you have possibly-”

“I know how to use my mind to think through things, but that isn’t important right now,” the man interrupted.  “What is important is the second option that I’m about to give you.  I can call the police, or I can give you something in exchange for your promise to never set foot in my store again and you can be on your way.”

Not waiting for my answer, he reached into the display case and removed a small vial.  It was only a few inches tall, and it appeared to be made of real crystal.  A silver liquid filled it up to just below the halfway point.  He set it down gently on the glass and tapped the stopper with the tip of his finger.

“This,” he said with the faintest trace of a smile on his lips, “is what I believe you addicts refer to as the ultimate high.”

I reached out for the vial to examine it closer, but he put his hand over top of it to stop me.

“I came across it at an estate sale that I was in charge of.  That’s where all of the items in the store have come from.  They’re items that I acquired from the families at a discounted rate.  Anyway, the chemist that first created this didn’t give it a proper name, but I’ve heard it referred to as nostalgia in a bottle.  I prefer the other name that it goes by: Remembrance.  When you take it, you relive the best moments from your life.  I don’t mean that you simply recall them.  I mean that it’s like you’re really experiencing them again.  You’re not, of course, but it certainly seems that way when it’s happening.”

He picked up the vial and held it out towards me.

“So, do we have a deal?” he asked.

I nodded.  It was better than the alternative.

“I’m afraid that isn’t good enough.  I need to hear you say it.”

“Okay, yeah,” I said with another nod.  “We have a deal.  I get this, and I never come back.”

“Good.”  He gently put the crystal bottle into the palm of my hand.  “A pleasure doing business with you, my dear.  When you want to use it, put three drops on the tip of your tongue.  No more, no less.  Three drops.  Now run along.”

With a final look at the store owner, I turned and hurried out the door.  I quickened my pace once I was out on the sidewalk, and I was practically running by the time I reached the end of the block.  People on the street were giving me strange looks.  I ignored them.  All that mattered was putting as much distance as I could between me and that damn store.

I turned down an alley and followed it as it wrapped around behind a group of businesses, feeling the small vial that I was clutching tightly.  I didn’t believe that the silvery liquid did what the man had told me it could.  Over the years I had taken a lot of different drugs, and none of them came close to doing what he had described.  It didn’t matter, though.  All that I cared about was that he had let me out of the store without calling the cops.  I couldn’t afford another arrest.

Coming out the other side of the alley, I slowed my pace and walked across the street.  I was outside of the small downtown area now and heading into the more residential sections of the town.  I followed a concrete road down into a trailer park.  Normally this was one of the louder neighborhoods, but at this time of day it was quiet as most of the residents were either at work, asleep before heading to their third shift jobs, or simply passed out from heavy drinking the previous night.  My footsteps were loud in my ears as I walked across the lot to a rundown gray trailer that looked barely habitable.

I opened the door and went inside, expecting to be alone in the trailer.  Instead, I found my boyfriend Jared sitting in a chair in a shirt and boxers, sniffing loudly and rubbing at his nose.  I frowned.  His shift at the grocery store was supposed to have started an hour earlier.  Seeing the expression on my face, he held up a hand and smiled at me crookedly.

“Hey, don’t worry, it’s okay,” he said, his words slightly slurred.  “I’m not late to work.  I told the manager to fuck off.  That job sucked shit, you know?”

“Oh, you’re too good for it, you’re saying?” I asked, rolling my eyes.  “Too good to pay your half of the rent again?”

“Ah, come on, babe, you would have quit too if you knew how bad it was.”

“Yeah, bagging groceries and stocking shelves is fucking rough, right?  Dammit, Jared, I can’t ask my mom for money again.  You need to get out there and find another fucking job.  Like, right the fuck now.”

He nodded slowly.  “Yeah, I will.  I just had myself a snort snort, though.  Once I come down I swear I’ll go fill out some applications and shit.”

“Sure you will.”

“What’s that you got in your hand?”

I looked down at the vial I was holding.  “It’s this new thing called Get a Fucking Job or Get the Fuck Out.  Heard of it?”

“Nah, seriously, what is that?  Ecstasy?”

I sighed.  “No, shit-for-brains, it’s not ecstasy.  It’s…  A guy gave it to me in town.  Says it’s something called Remembrance.”

“Oh yeah?”  He leaned forward in his chair.  “What’s it do?”

“It’s supposed to make you remember happy memories or something.  I don’t think it really works.  I think the guy was just trying to get rid of me.”

Jared’s expression was hungry.  “Okay, yeah, but what if it does work?  We should try it and find out.  What’s the worst that can happen?”

“You mean besides poison us or fry our brains?  Fry them more, in your case.”  I tossed him the vial.  “Go ahead and try it if you want.  The guy said to put three drops on your tongue.”

I watched as he took out the vial’s stopper.  He stuck out his tongue and, after a brief hesitation, carefully tapped out three drops onto it.  He put back in the stopper and set the bottle down on the chair armrest before reclining back and closing his mouth.

“I don’t feel anything,” Jared said after a moment.  “I guess you were right about him being full of…  Wait.”

Jared’s eyes rolled back in his head slightly as his body relaxed.  A broad smile spread across his face.  I had never seen him like this.  He was normally skittish and high-strung, and even when he was on a heavy dose of downers he didn’t loosen up this much.  Retrieving the vial, I held it between my thumb and index finger.  Had the store owner actually been telling the truth?

There was only one way to find out.  Going further into the trailer, I tossed my coat onto the table and kicked my shoes off.  I laid down on the uncomfortable bed and took the stopper out of the bottle.  Taking a deep breath, I placed three drops of the liquid on my tongue, set the bottle next to the bed, and crossed my arms over my chest.

For a pair of heartbeats nothing happened.  I was just beginning to wonder if the drug hadn’t worked when a loud whooshing sound filled my ears.  The world went black, and I felt a momentary panic as the thought that the drug had blinded me entered my head.  My mind was set at ease as the light quickly returned.

I was no longer laying down, and I wasn’t inside of the trailer.  I was sitting in a wooden box-like structure.  Thin beams of light penetrated through the small gaps in the slats, and I could hear the sound of leaves rustling a few feet above me.  A brown piece of canvas, thin enough for me to see through, was directly in front of me.  I was in the old hunting blind that I had used with my…

I turned my head to face the bearded man sitting next to me.  My father.  I felt a lump form in my throat.  He had died suddenly from a blood clot six years earlier, but there he was, exactly like I remembered him.  He was dressed in that tattered flannel shirt that my mother had hated, and his head was adorned with that ridiculous flapped hat that he insisted on wearing whenever he took me hunting.  I had always suspected that he only wore it because he knew that I thought it was funny.

“There it is,” he said quietly, pointing towards the mesh.

I forced myself to look away from him and at what he was indicating.  Less than fifty feet from the blind was a large deer.  It was a buck, with long antlers extending out and up from the sides of its head.  The animal was sniffing the air.  They were downwind, however.  It wouldn’t be able to pick up their scents.

I remembered this particular day.  It was the day that I had killed my first deer, less than a week before my twelfth birthday.  I hadn’t been sure that I would be able to do it, as I had been conflicted about taking the life of an animal.  I had managed to pull the trigger, and the look on my father’s face had been all the reward that I had needed.  He had been so proud of me that he seemed like he might burst, not because of the kill, but because he had known how much it had meant to me.  It was one of my happiest memories.

The Remembrance had worked just like the store owner had claimed.  Everything seemed so real.  I could feel the soft cloth of my hunting jacket against my skin and the stock of the rifle on the tips of my fingers.  Not only could I see my father, I could actually sense his presence as if he was really there.  It was like nothing that I had ever experienced before.

“Are you ready for this, kiddo?” my father asked.

I picked up the rifle and held it in both arms.  I watched as the deer moved closer to the blind.  It was eating the grass, seemingly satisfied that there was no danger nearby.  I nodded once.

“Yes, Daddy,” I replied with a smile.  “I am.”

I was suddenly back in the trailer.  There was no transition.  One moment I was in the hunting blind with my father, and the next I was back on the lumpy mattress looking up at the metal roof and smelling old cigarette butts.  I quickly rolled over and reached for the vial in a near panic.  I needed to get back into that memory.  I wasn’t ready for it to be over.

The bottle wasn’t where I had left it.  I got out of bed and found that Jared was in the process of sitting back down in his chair with it in his hand.  Hurrying forward, I snatched it from his grasp and wrapped my fingers around it tightly.

“What the fuck, Chloe?” he demanded.

“Stop stealing my shit,” I snapped back.  “I let you have one hit.  That doesn’t mean you can take the rest.”

“Come on.  That shit is fucking fantastic!  It was like I was really hanging out with my friends back before the city tore down the skate park.”

“No.  It’s mine.”

“Yeah, right.”  Jared stood up and took a step towards me.  “And just how did you get it, huh?  You don’t have any money.  What did you do, suck the guy off for it?”

“Fuck you,” I snarled.  “Get the fuck out and don’t come back.”

“Not gonna happen.  Give me the damn bottle, Chloe, or I’m going to take it from you.”

My anger flared.  I didn’t have time for this, and I would be damned if I was going to let this asshole take the Remembrance from me.  Without pausing to think things through, I reached over and grabbed a knife from the counter of the trailer’s kitchenette.  I closed the distance between the two of us and plunged the blade deep into Jared’s stomach.

He stared at me in shock, his mouth moving but no words coming out.  I pulled the knife free and slashed it across his throat.  Blood spurted out from the wound.  He attempted to cover it with his hands, but the thick hot fluid continued to ooze out between his fingers.  Staggering backward, he tripped over his chair and fell onto the trailer floor.  I was on him within seconds, bringing the knife down over and over again into his body.  He stopped moving long before I stopped stabbing.  Finally, my arms shaking from exhaustion, I dropped the weapon and sat back against the wall, panting as I tried to catch my breath.

I looked at the ruined body with detachment.  I didn’t feel remorse for killing Jared.  I didn’t feel much of anything, really.  He had tried to take the Remembrance from me, and I had made sure that he didn’t.  That was all.  A small part of me was telling me that I had just murdered my boyfriend and that should mean something.  I ignored it.  All that mattered was the Remembrance.

I looked at the crystal vial.  There was blood on it, and I used my thumb to wipe it off as best as I could.  Each dose was three drops, and there wasn’t much of the silver liquid left.  I lashed out with my foot and struck the side of Jared’s ruined face.  The worthless prick had cost me one precious trip to the past.  I would have killed him a second time if it had been possible.

I would need more Remembrance after just a few more doses.  There had to be a way to get more of it that didn’t involve going back to the antique store and begging the owner.  I knew every dealer in town.  One of them had to know how to get their hands on it.  I’d ask around later.  For now, though, all I wanted to do was to go back to the memory I had experienced.  Without bothering to move out of the expanding pool of blood, I used three more drops and closed my eyes.

There was the whooshing sound and the blackness again, but when it faded I wasn’t back in the hunting blind with my father.  Instead, I was sitting in the back seat of a car with a boy about seventeen or eighteen years old.  I was wearing a red dress, and my long hair was pulled back into a braid.  The boy’s hand was on the skin of my thigh and was slowly moving upward.

It was the night of my senior prom.  The boy was Brian Keller.  He hadn’t started off the night as my date, but about halfway through the dance we had ditched the people we had come with and snuck off to his car.  I had been carrying a major crush for him since middle school.  It turned out that he had felt the same way; it had all come out during a conversation while their dates had been in the bathroom.

I closed my eyes as his hand reached the top of my thigh.  It wasn’t the memory that I had expected the Remembrance to take me into, but it was a welcome one.

“Come on, Brian,” I heard myself say.  “Make my night.”

The statement had come out without me intending to make it.  It took me a moment to realize that it was because I was reliving a memory.  Things were playing out the same way that they originally had.  Although it didn’t seem that way because everything felt so real, I was just an observer.

The boy smiled hungrily and lifted up my dress to fully expose my lower half.  He carefully pulled off my panties and dropped them on the car floor.  As I gripped the seat, he bent over and put his head between my legs.

I was back in the trailer.  I immediately let out a scream of frustration.  The drug simply wasn’t lasting long enough.  I needed more.

My pants were completely soaked through with blood, so I stood up and stripped them off as I stared at the crystal vial on the floor.  The store owner had told me very specifically to only use three drops.  That clearly wasn’t working.  Whether it was because the drug wasn’t potent enough or because it wasn’t as effective on me because of my past use of other narcotics, I wasn’t being given enough time to see the memories all the way through.

Fuck that guy.  Coming to a decision, I scooped up the vial and sat down in the nearby chair, ignoring the body next to it.  Nodding to myself, I put four drops of the silver liquid on my tongue and listened to the now familiar whooshing noise as things faded to black.

I was standing in the trailer with Jared directly in front of me.  My hand was gripped around the handle of the long kitchen knife, and I pushed it into his stomach before cutting open his throat.  He fell to the ground, and just as I had earlier I got on top of him and began to stab him repeatedly.

“I’m proud of you, kiddo,” a voice said from behind me.

I turned my head slightly and saw my father standing a few feet behind me.  He placed his hand on my shoulder and squeezed it gently.  I felt myself smile.  His approval meant everything to me.

“Be sure to puncture the lungs,” he instructed me.  “You don’t want it to cry out and alert the other animals.”

I nodded and did as I was told.  Blood bubbled out of Jared’s mouth, but I barely noticed.  I was already covered in his red ichor, and a bit more of it didn’t matter one way or another.  Leaning over him, I watched as he stopped struggling and the light faded from his eyes.

I felt arms wrap around my waist.  I didn’t need to look to know that Brian Keller was behind me; I recognized his touch as he explored my body with his fingers.  A soft moan escaped from my lips as he pushed himself inside of me.  I smiled down at the mangled corpse and matched his rhythm.  The blood and gore smelled intoxicating, and it seemed to excite him and make him more eager than I had ever known him to be.

When my mind returned to the real world, I felt both loved and satisfied.  I was the happiest that I had ever been.

The feeling didn’t last.  Within an hour I began to come down from the emotional and physical high.  I brushed the hair out of my face and wiped the sweat from my forehead.  Four drops had definitely been the way to go, even if it had mixed memories together instead of letting me experience more accurate ones.  I glanced down at Jared’s body.  That same voice that had told me that killing him was wrong was screaming at me that it wasn’t normal to have thoughts of sex while in the same room as his remains.  I once again ignored it.

I picked up the vial of Remembrance and felt my body grow cold.  I had used the last of it, and the bottle was now empty.

“Fuck,” I said in panic.  “Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck!”

I got out of the chair and hurried over to the trailer’s small shower.  I had to go get more, but I knew that I couldn’t go outside covered in blood.  Quickly cleaning myself up, I got out, dried off, and put on clean clothes.  Jared’s blood had soaked into my white shoes, and since those were the only pair that I owned I was forced to fish out a pair of sandals from one of the drawers.  Being careful not to step on the body or the red pools around it, I left the trailer and hurried towards the trailer park exit.

One of the local dealers lived just a few blocks away.  As I dashed up the three steps leading to the old house, I felt around in my coat pocket for my wallet.  I always kept some emergency money on me, money that I had been careful to hide from Jared.  It wasn’t much, but I hoped that it would be enough.  I knocked on the door and waited impatiently for a few seconds before it opened, revealing a tall woman with short hair.

“What?” the woman demanded shortly.

“Yeah, Traci, it’s me, Chloe,” I answered.  “I need to see Doug.”

“Oh, yeah, hey, Chloe.  Doug’s not here.”

“Fuck.  When will he be back?”

“Next Tuesday.  He went to Vegas for his cousin’s wedding or some shit.  You looking to score?”

I nodded.  “Yeah, I’m looking for something specific.”

“Come on in.”  Traci opened the door wider.  “I’m handling things until he gets back.”

I sighed in relief and went into the house.  The door was closed behind me, and I was led into a small living room.  Half a dozen people were seated throughout the room, each of them looking like they were stoned out of their minds.

“Don’t mind them,” Traci told me.  “Some of Doug’s regulars.  They come in, shoot up, and leave a few hours later.  They’re harmless.”

“Okay,” I said.  “Listen, I’m looking for something in particular.  I think it’s new.  It’s called Remembrance.”

“Remembrance?  Never heard of it.  Upper, downer, psychedelic, what?”

“I…  I’m not sure.  You take it, and your best memories come up.”

Traci tapped her lips with her finger.  “Doesn’t ring a bell, but Doug’s got a ton of weird shit stashed away.  Tell you what.  Wait here and I’ll give him a call.  You can pay, right?”


“Then give me a minute.”

She left the room, and I found myself alone with the stoned people.  There was nowhere to sit that wasn’t already occupied, but I doubted that I could have relaxed anyway.  My entire body was shaking.  It didn’t feel like withdrawal.  It was more like I was extremely anxious and impatient.  I took a deep breath and tried to calm myself.

On a long table in front of one of the customers was an open baggie of cocaine.  There was quite a bit of it, and judging by how out of it the guy was there must have been a lot more to start.  He wouldn’t even notice if I went over and did a quick snort of it.  It just didn’t seem all that appealing, however.  A week, hell, a day earlier I would have jumped at the opportunity, but now that I had tried Remembrance I no longer had a taste for lesser drugs.

Next to the cocaine was a razor blade.  It was covered in white powder, proof that it had been used to cut lines for snorting.  I stared at it for a few seconds before grabbing it and sliding it into my pocket.  I wasn’t exactly sure why I did so.  It was just something that I felt that I had to do.  Now that I had the blade a small bit of my anxiety subsided.  I kept my hand in the pocket with it, the metal feeling good against my skin as I rubbed my fingers against it.

Traci came back into the room as she hung up the cellphone she was holding.

“Doug says that there’s no such thing called Remembrance,” she said.  “Not that he knows of, anyway.  He says that maybe it’s a nickname a dealer gave it or something.  From what you say it does, he thinks it might just be an amphetamine.  We’ve got those.”

“It isn’t fucking Adderall,” I replied, more sharply than I intended.  “This was different.  It was like I was actually there.”

Traci shrugged.  “Sorry, hon, I don’t know what to tell you.  Are you sure it wasn’t some cocktail?  Could have been an amphetamine mixed with a psychotropic.”

I took a deep breath to keep down the irritation that was threatening to overtake me.  “It wasn’t a mix.  Look, can I just take a look at what you have to make sure there isn’t any?  I’ll know it if I see it.”

“No can do.  That’s not how this works.  Besides, Doug knows what he’s got and what he don’t got.”  Traci paused.  “Besides, you don’t look so good.  Maybe you should lay off for a few days.”

I couldn’t control myself any further.  I lunged forward and tackled the other woman to the ground.  Traci cried out for just a moment before her head struck the hard floor.  Her eyes looked unfocused as she struggled to draw in a breath.

Having no intention of letting her recover, I pulled the razor blade out of my pocket and cut a deep laceration across Traci’s long neck.  I had never so much as punched another person in my life, but I had now cut the throat of two people in one day.  As I pushed the blade deeper into the windpipe I idly wondered why I wasn’t horrified by that.  I wasn’t experiencing revulsion, but I wasn’t experiencing satisfaction, either.  This was simply an action that I was performing, nothing more and nothing less.

That sense of indifference stayed with me until the moment Traci fell still.  Once that happened, I was shocked as the feelings I had experienced during my last Remembrance trip washed over me.  My nerve endings blazed as I was filled with a loving warmth greater than any I had previously felt and physical satisfaction beyond any orgasm I had ever experienced.  I fell to my knees and cried out with pure joy.  In that moment everything was right with the universe for the very first time.

I don’t know how long it lasted, but the feelings eventually began to fade.  They were replaced by panic as I tried to hold onto the last shreds of the incredible happiness.  It was impossible, though, and I was left feeling empty and hollow.

My head snapped towards the stoners zoning out in the room.  There was no indication that they had registered that anything had happened.  They were so far gone that I could have set them on fire and they wouldn’t have noticed.

I looked down at the razor blade on the floor next to the dead woman’s neck.  Retrieving it, I slowly stood up and moved towards the nearest of the addicts.  It was a rail-thin man with pale skin and countless needle marks along both of his arms.  For the first time I felt a twinge of unease.  This was somehow different than killing either Jared or Traci.  This person was completely defenseless and hadn’t done anything to set me off.

I thought about the incredible high that had consumed me when I killed the drug dealer, though, and suddenly nothing else mattered.

I went down the line of addicts, slitting each throat one at a time.  I would bask in the pleasure the killing brought with it for as long as possible before moving on to the next person.  After the third person the razor became too dull and slick with blood to continue using.  I searched around in the kitchen until I located a sharp butcher knife.

As I turned around to continue with my work, I noticed an object on the counter next to the sink.  I picked the gun up and looked at it curiously.  Using it instead of a knife would certainly make the process easier, but I was hesitant to do so.  I didn’t know if shooting someone would still trigger the post-killing high.  Deciding that it wasn’t worth the risk of losing a potential fix, I set it back down and gripped the knife tightly.

Two hours later, I was standing over the final addict when I saw him begin to stir.  His eyes started to flutter, and he licked his dry lips as he grunted.  Before I could react, he started to try to stand up.  He was much larger than the other people in the room, and if he managed to get his bearings and see what I had done I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to finish the job.  Thinking quickly, I snatched up a nearby vase and smashed it as hard as I could against his temple.  He fell back onto the couch and I managed to slice the blade of the knife across his throat before he recovered.

The sensations that came from the kill were even more intense than the others had been.  I writhed on the floor in pleasure, moaning more than once as it coursed through my body like an electric current.  The man had been the most difficult of the kills so far, and for some reason that made it even more satisfying.

When it finally subsided, I pushed myself up off the floor and took a moment to collect myself.  I was exhausted, and all that I wanted was to go home and pass out.  Now that I was past my craving, though, I was beginning to realize the reality of my situation.  There was a body waiting for me back in my trailer, and there were seven others right in front of me.  I needed to leave before someone else came by to make a purchase, and I couldn’t go back home until I figured out what to do with Jared.

My mind was working through the situation with cold detachment.  I still didn’t feel any hint of guilt or remorse.  In fact, each murder had been easier than the one before it, and at some point I had even stopped seeing them as human.  They were simply what I needed to get my fix.

That didn’t mean that I wasn’t worried, however.  Where there were bodies, there would be the police.  Maybe they would attribute the carnage I had caused to an insane junkie or a rival drug dealer.  It was also possible that they would perform a full and thorough investigation and that they would find evidence that I had been there.  If that happened they would want to question me at the very least, and that could lead them to Jared’s body.

The prospect of being arrested for multiple homicides was bad enough, but what worried me most was that whatever was causing me to have such powerful reactions would eventually wear off.  I knew absolutely nothing about the Remembrance I had taken, not even how long it would remain in my system.  If there was one thing that I knew after years of using a wide variety of drugs, however, it was that the ride eventually stopped no matter how good the stuff was.  I needed more Remembrance, and unfortunately there was only one place where I might be able to find some.  I had to return to the store I had gotten it from.

I was once again covered in blood, and this time I wasn’t at home to be able to get changed.  I looked over at Traci’s body.  Not into my own clothes, anyway.  Quickly stripping down to my underwear, I washed the blood off my hands and face before digging around in the kitchen cabinets until I found a box of garbage bags.  I packed my bloody garments into one of the bags and carried it over my shoulder as I searched the house for Traci’s room.  I found it on the second floor.  When I opened the closet I was relieved to see both shirts and pants hanging from the rack.  The hooded sweatshirt and jeans that I chose were a few sizes too big, but they would have to do.

Now that I was dressed, I left the house through the back door.  I emerged into a weed-filled yard that obviously hadn’t been tended to in quite a while.  I made sure that none of the neighbors were watching before I threw the trash bag over the far side fence and climbed over after it.  Retrieving the bag, I hurried down the block, hoping that I would go unnoticed until I reached my destination.

I managed to make it to the small grocery store that stood at the edge of downtown.  I had approached it from the rear, and I was able to cross the distance to a blue dumpster without incident.  It was roughly half full, which was perfect for my needs.  I tossed the garbage bag inside and moved a few of the other items around to cover it.  I nodded to myself.  Just another piece of trash.

The sun was setting in the distance.  Hoping that the antique store wasn’t already closed, I walked down the sidewalk, the hood from my sweatshirt pulled up over my head.  A number of people passed me going in the opposite direction without so much as glancing at me.  Each time I thought about how incredible it would feel to kill them right then and there.

I reached the antique store and stopped at the door.  The sign was still displaying Open, and I knew that I needed to go inside.  The problem was that I had been banned from doing so earlier that same day.  I blinked.  Had it really been less than a day since I had gotten my hands on Remembrance?  It seemed impossible.

I jumped slightly as the store door opened.  The owner was standing directly in front of me, his expression unreadable as he looked down at me.  I took an involuntary step backwards.  There was something about the guy that intimidated me.  I hated feeling that way.  Nobody intimidated me, and yet he did with just a look.

“Come in,” Pembrook said, stepping aside to allow me to pass.

I hesitated before crossing through the doorway.  He closed the door behind me and changed the Open sign to Closed.  Taking a large key out of his pocket, he locked the door and flipped off the switch to the right of the frame.  The lights in the front of the store turned off, casting a gloom over the items on display.

“I see that you went against my instructions and took more than three drops,” he observed dryly.  “If there’s one thing that you can count on an addict to do, it’s to always want more.”

“I need more Remembrance,” I said, ignoring the thinly-veiled insult.  “I can pay.”

“It doesn’t matter if you have money or not.  There isn’t any to be had.  I gave you my only bottle.”

“You have to know where to get more.”

He raised an eyebrow.  “You’re assuming that there’s more out there to be procured.  Remembrance is one of the rarest substances in the world.”

I felt a twinge of panic.  “What about the person you said made it?  The chemist or whatever?  Can they make you more?”

The store owner didn’t answer immediately.  Instead, he slowly walked to the other side of the store and retrieved something from a high shelf.  Whatever it was, it was wrapped in soft black cloth and was about the size of his forearm.

“Remembrance isn’t a typical drug,” Pembrook told me as he came back over.  “It’s quite… parasitic in nature.  As I said, there isn’t any more.  The only way to trigger the effects now is through the… other method that, judging by the blood on the tips of your hair, you’ve already discovered.”

I regarded him in surprise, my mouth moving but no words coming out as I reached up with one hand to touch my hair.

“There’s a very good reason that I told you to only use three drops,” the man continued.  “Doing so causes you to experience old happy memories with vivid clarity, but it also doesn’t cause a permanent change in you.  The effects, while quite strong, are temporary.”

“But when I took four drops…”  I trailed off.

“You’ve caught on.  Good.  Four drops in one dose changes you.  It rewrites you, makes you into someone else, something else.”

“Am…”  I swallowed hard.  “Am I going to die?”

He waited a moment before answering.  “Not as long as you either continue on your little killing spree or take a very specific antidote, which I just happen to have on hand.  Tell me, did you kill your first victim before or after you had taken the four drop dose?”

“Before,” I replied automatically, immediately realizing what I had admitted to.  “Wait, fuck, I mean-”

“Before,” he repeated, ignoring my feeble backpedaling.  “After a normal dose, correct?  It’s very rare for someone to be that compatible.  The euphoria you experience after killing must be indescribable.”

Not trusting myself to speak, I didn’t answer.

“I gave you a choice earlier today,” Pembrook said.  “Now I’m giving you another one.  I can give you the antidote that I mentioned.  It’s still soon enough for it to reverse what’s happening to you.  You’ll be able to continue living without killing, although you’ll no longer be able to achieve the, shall we say, pleasure you have experienced today, either.”

No!” I practically screamed.  “No, I can’t do that.  I…  I need it.”

The man grinned broadly.  “I know that you do.  That’s why I believe you’ll jump at the second option I have for you.”

He handed me the object that he was holding.  I took it from him in confusion, not sure what he was getting at.  I slowly unwrapped the cloth and found that inside was a wooden mask.  It was intricately carved, and the wood was smooth to the touch.  It had two ears and a snout with sharp teeth extending from it.

“It doesn’t look like much, does it?  Looks can be deceiving, however.  With it, you’ll become a true predator, a killer that lives her life in blood and ecstacy.  I can show you how.”

“What will it cost me?” I asked, feeling a sudden stab of fear.  “Are… are you the devil?  Will this cost me my soul?”

“The devil?  Oh, no, my dear, I’m something much different than that.  And you’ve already given up your soul today of your own free will.  I want something else.”  The man’s smile turned vicious.  “So tell me, Ms. Bennington, are you ready to make a deal?”

Of Wolf and Owl

When Nathan Meyer’s mother passed away, it wasn’t much of a shock.

She and his father had been in their early forties when they had him, and he was pushing the same age now.  In other words, she hadn’t been young anymore.  Like everyone her age she had had a number of health issues, although she had been surprisingly mobile and active until the end.  The signs were there that the end was near, though, even if he hadn’t wanted to see them.

He supposed what made her passing so difficult to process was that it had happened almost instantly.  His father had suffered from Alzheimer’s for years before he had died.  Day after day, the man had deteriorated until there hadn’t been anything left of the man that had helped raise him.

It hadn’t been like that for his mother.  She had gone to bed one night and simply hadn’t woken up the next morning.  Nathan was grateful that she hadn’t suffered, of course, but a more selfish part of him wished that there had been time to properly say goodbye.

Putting aside personal sentiment, the one thing that no one is really prepared for when it comes to the passing of a parent is the amount of work that needs to be done by the surviving family.  Nathan was an only child, so all of that work fell on his shoulders.  His mother’s lawyer had been able to handle a good portion of it, but there was still a lot of paperwork that needed to be taken care of, not to mention the necessary labor of packing up a person’s entire life into boxes.

He and his wife Bethany discussed things the day after they received the news, and they decided that the easiest way to handle things would be for him to take a week off of work so that they could concentrate on getting things taken care of.  He was grateful that she would be with him during the process, but he hadn’t expected her to offer.  Their relationship had been on the rocks for quite some time.  Neither of them had done anything to harm the relationship, at least not intentionally.  It was one of those things where people just start to drift apart.  He wasn’t sure why, and he couldn’t point to an exact moment when everything had changed.  It had just sort of happened.

They still cared about each other, though, and she knew how much his mother had meant to him.  On a rather appropriately cold and rainy Saturday morning, they packed their suitcases into the trunk of their car and began the ten hour drive from their home to his parents’ old farmhouse.

Most of the trip was spent in silence.  It wasn’t an uncomfortable silence, or if it was it wasn’t enough that Nathan noticed.  They just didn’t have anything to say to one another.

Despite them traveling through three different states, the rain didn’t stop.  If anything it came down harder the longer that they drove.  The downpour caused some delays, and between that and stopping for meals the sun had set and night had fallen by the time they arrived at the long gravel driveway leading to the farmhouse.

They had decided to stay at the house while they were in town.  Not only would it save them the cost of a hotel, it also made packing more convenient.  He used the spare key his mother had given him decades earlier and they went inside.  Since it was late, they called it a night and went to bed.  Bethany took the spare bedroom while he slept in the same room that he had almost every night until he was eighteen.

Nathan woke up early the next morning, over an hour before the sun would rise.  That hadn’t been the plan.  In fact, with as long as the previous day’s drive had been, he would have preferred to sleep in.  Unfortunately that wasn’t how his body worked.  He was so programmed to get up at a certain time during the work week that he automatically woke up around that time even without an alarm.  He’d learned that it was best to just get up rather than to try in vain to fall back asleep.  Being careful not to wake up Bethany, he left his old room and went downstairs to the kitchen.

It was a surreal feeling being back in his childhood home.  His parents had purchased the farmhouse years before he had been born, so he had never known another home until he had gone off to college.  Almost everything was exactly as it had been back then.  There were a few new pictures on the wall, but beyond that, things were the same as he remembered them.

He glanced over his shoulder at the closed door to his mother’s room as he descended the wooden stairs.  It shouldn’t have been a surprise that so little had changed.  During his father’s mental decline, she hadn’t had time for anything except for taking care of him.  Something of her went with him when he had died, and she hadn’t had a desire to change things after he had gone.

Nathan realized that there was one big difference between when he had been a kid and now.  The feeling of the house had changed.  It felt empty.  All of the furniture and possessions were there, but his parents weren’t.  It was like he was walking through a hollow shell of a memory.

He spent the early hours of the morning going through boxes of files that his mother’s lawyer had gathered together.  These were records from the past year, everything from grocery receipts to stock records.  His parents had never been rich, but they had been smart with their savings and investments so that they could be comfortable in their retirement.  The side effect of that was that it left a long papertrail to go through to make sure that all their business was concluded.

In the final box was an invoice from a local pest control company.  According to the notes, there had been a wasp nest inside the wall connecting the backyard to the kitchen.  He smiled slightly.  His mother had hated hiring contractors to take care of things around the house.  Over the years she had learned everything from basic plumbing to repairing concrete from a series of home improvement books she had purchased.  They had been the ones advertised on the old Bob Vila commercials that had aired constantly on television during his childhood.

He heard a noise from the guest bedroom upstairs.  Bethany was awake.  He put the lid back on the box and tried to mentally ready himself for the long day ahead of him.

It ended up being harder than he thought it would be.  Nathan managed to get through most of the morning, but he broke down a bit at the funeral home as they were making arrangements for his mother’s service.  One minute he was giving the funeral director a list of notes they had prepared, and the next tears were running down his face as he struggled to speak.  Intellectually he knew that it wasn’t a big deal and that no one thought less of him.  He still left the building feeling embarrassed, looking down at the pavement as the continuing rain pattered against his umbrella.

The next stop was at the lawyer’s office, where he signed a small stack of papers that was put in front of him.  He wasn’t sure exactly what he was signing, but Bethany was a paralegal and after reading through them she assured him that they were all standard documents.  From there they went to the florist to place an order for the funeral service, and since the local newspaper was just a few doors down they took care of submitting the obituary.

They ran several more errands.  Everything started to blur together for Nathan.  He just wanted to be done with things for the day.  He was physically and mentally exhausted.

He was relieved when they finally arrived back at the farmhouse that evening.  Bethany retrieved the mail from the mailbox while he went inside and sat down on the couch.  Pulling off his soaked shoes, he closed his eyes and leaned back against the soft cushions.  He was vaguely aware of her coming inside and heading up the stairs to her room, but he was too tired to say anything.

Despite how tired he was, he felt like he had gotten through the worst of it.  The next day would be more physically taxing as they began the packing process, but he preferred that to the mental toll the current day had taken.  He sighed as he started drifting off.

Bethany called his name from up in the bedroom.  He opened his eyes and frowned.  Something had to be wrong.  Most of their evenings over the past three to four months had been spent in different rooms in the same house, quietly going about their own lives while interacting as little as possible.

Nathan forced himself to get off the couch and went up the stairs to see what was going on.  Bethany was sitting on the bed, her legs crossed under her and an open brown package in her lap.  A few unopened letters were piled neatly off to one side.

“Take a look at these,” she said before he could ask her why she had called for him.

She opened the flaps of the box further.  He moved closer and sat down on the bed beside her.  Inside the box were two similar but distinct objects.  They appeared to be some kind of masks, not plastic but instead carved from wood.  He reached in and took one of them out to examine it more closely.

The mask he was holding did weight much, and the dark wood was rough to the touch.  It was roughly triangular, with the top being the widest and the rest growing more narrow as it drew closer to the bottom.  Two pointed ears adorned the crown, and a pair of long teeth protruded from the base.  Two eye holes had been cut into it, their teardrop shapes giving the face a sense of anger and intensity.  It was the stylized face of a wolf.

He turned the mask over and examined the back.  Two leather straps were attached to it.  Each had a buckle that would allow the wearer to attach it tightly to their head so it wouldn’t slip off.

Bethany held up the second mask.  It was carved in the shape of an owl’s face.  The wood was much lighter in color than the wolf mask, and the long beak and high brow had obviously been carved with great care.

“This was in today’s mail,” she told him.  “The return address is just a name. S. Pembrook.”

“S. Pembrook,” I repeated.  “I don’t recognize the name.  It’s probably the person who sold them to Mom.”

“Your mother must have ordered them before she…”  Bethany broke off the sentence.  “Um, sorry, that was…”

“No, it’s okay.  I know you wouldn’t…”  He took a deep breath.  “Was there a packing slip or something?”

“No, nothing.”  There was a long moment of silence before she spoke again.  “I think the rain finally stopped.”

Nathan looked out the nearby window.  She was right; the seemingly endless downpour had finally ceased.  He turned his attention back to her and found that she was looking away from him and chewing on her bottom lip.  She only did that when she was feeling uncomfortable.

He turned his eyes towards the floor.  They had been madly in love with each other since the first night that they had met in college.  How had they gotten to the point where they didn’t feel comfortable just being in the same room with one another?

“Hey, would you do me a favor?” he asked as an idea came to him.  “Would you come downstairs with me?”

“What?” Bethany asked as she blinked in confusion.  “Why?”

“There’s something that I want to show you.  Please?”

“Um, yeah, sure.”

She followed him down the stairs and into the kitchen.  He slid the large glass down open and led her out onto the brick patio in the backyard.  It was growing dark, but the clouds had parted and the last remaining rays of the setting sun colored the sky a deep purple.  The nearest neighbors were over a mile away, and the property was surrounded on three sides by woods.  He led her over to the middle of the backyard and stopped.

“What are we doing, Nathan?” Bethany asked, folding her arms against her chest.  “I’m tired, and tomorrow’s going to be another long day.”

“I know, but this is worth it,” he assured her.  “Close your eyes.”

“I don’t think-”

“Just trust me.  Close your eyes and take a deep breath.”

She hesitated, but she did as he asked.  Her expression immediately changed.  She had been born and raised in New York City, and she hadn’t spent much time outside of cities in general.  This was the first time she had ever experienced the fresh scent of pine trees and ozone after a heavy rain.  He watched as she inhaled the clean air deep into her lungs.

“Oh,” she said in a voice barely above a whisper.  “Oh my.  That’s fantastic.”

“Isn’t it?” he agreed.  “I’ve always loved that smell.  I used to sit on this old porch swing we had for hours after it rained, just breathing the air and listening to the crickets.”

“Well, you’re right, this is definitely worth it.”

She opened her eyes and looked at him, and for the briefest of moments it was like they were how they used to be.  That moment was quickly over, however, and the smile slid from her face.  They stood there awkwardly for a couple of minutes.

“You brought the mask with you,” Nathan said, more to end the silence than out of any real need to say it.

She lifted the owl mask she was carrying and looked at it in confusion.

“I didn’t even realize I was still holding it,” she admitted.  “You brought yours, too.”

It was his turn to be surprised.  Clenched in his hand was the wooden wolf mask.  In his hurry to bring her outside he must have forgotten to put it back in the box.

“They’re… odd, aren’t they?” she asked as she carefully examined every inch of her mask.

“They certainly look strange,” he agreed.

“No.  I mean, yes, they do, but that’s not what I meant.  What I meant was…  I don’t know how to put this into words.  You don’t feel it?”

Nathan watched her as she fell silent.  Her eyes never left the mask, and he got the distinct feeling that she hadn’t stopped talking because she had fully finished conveying her thoughts.  It was more like she had forgotten that he was standing there and that they had been conversing.  Her full attention was on the owl mask in her hands.

He looked down at the mask he was holding.  He didn’t say anything, but he thought that he knew what she had meant.  The mask felt strange in his grip.  He ran his fingers over the wood.  It was unblemished.  It had been lovingly worked and sanded until it was completely smooth to the touch.

There was something else there, though.  He couldn’t see it.  He couldn’t feel it, either.  Not exactly.  It was more like he sensed it, or that he instinctively knew that something unseen was present.  Despite all evidence to the contrary, there was no doubt in his mind that the wooden mask was covered in coarse fur.

He didn’t know that he was putting the mask up to his face until the wood was already pressing against his skin.  The leather straps slid over the back of his head and fit him perfectly, like they had been set just for him.  His hands fell to his side, and he looked over at Bethany just in time to see her own mask being put into place.

He closed his eyes, and when he opened them again everything had changed.

The world around him was no longer dim with the coming night.  Everything was vibrant and sharp despite the shadows.  He felt as if he was seeing the world for the first time.

HIs nostrils were filled with the smells of the yard and woods.  The pine scent that he remembered so well from his childhood was heightened, intense but welcoming as it seemed to beckon him towards the trees.  He could smell the wet grass under his feet, and he could tell by the odor on the wind that more rain would fall soon.

There was another smell, one that was stronger than all others.  It pulled at him and demanded his attention.  He returned his gaze to Bethany.  She stared back at him in silence, her head tilted to one side and her eyes unreadable through the holes in the mask.  He could see every pour in the wood, every tiny imperfection in the grain.  He could smell the unseen feathers covering her.

She was Owl, and she was glorious.

Owl turned her head towards the woods.  Yes, she was right, of course.  Now was the time for the hunt.  They had done this hundreds, thousands of times before.  It was ritual as much as it was survival.  As one, they turned and raced off across the yard.  His steps were loud in his ears as his feet pounded against the turf.  Owl’s movements, as always, were silent as she glided through the air like a spirit moving through the darkness.

They broke through the treeline and continued into the woods.  There were no paths to follow, but they didn’t need any.  Wolf quickly picked up the scent of another animal, and he turned to pursue it.  He felt the soft change in the air as Owl adjusted to stay with him.  He plunged through the brush eagerly, using both his arms and his legs to propel himself forward.  Within moments they came to a small clearing, and in the middle of it was the animal they had been seeking.

The young deer didn’t realize they were there until it was too late.  Wolf lifted it off of its feet and slammed it down hard on the dirt.  It let out a high pitched squeal.  The noise was cut off abruptly as he bit into its throat.  Hot blood spilled into his mouth as his teeth dug in deep.  The taste was intoxicating and made him want to prolong the kill as much as possible to savor it.

Wolf was merciful, however.  It was in his nature to hunt, but he was a predator, not a simple killer driven by disgusting needs.  He twisted his head to one side sharply and tore out the deer’s throat.  It thrashed around for a few moments before lying still.

Owl descended from the thick tree branch she had been perched on and was once again at his side.  She did not usually participate in the kill.  She was perfectly capable of bringing down prey when she needed to, but Wolf with his teeth and claws was better equipped to end the hunt most of the time.  It was a role he took seriously.

Together they feasted on the kill.  Wolf watched Owl as she gracefully tore bits from the carcass and devoured them.  He could be stealthy and fast, but her movements flowed like water from a silent stream.  They were the perfect compliment to each other, his power and viciousness on the ground matching with her intellect and stealth in the air.

She finished eating and turned to him.  Her demeanor had changed.  With her hunger satisfied, she was now looking to him to fulfill a different kind of desire.  Wolf felt a burning sensation within himself.  They came together in the clearing, the scent of the kill still fresh in the air as the man and wolf met the woman and owl.

Hours later, in the darkest and quietest part of the night, they began their short journey back to their den.  They moved at a leisurely pace rather than the frenzied rush they had been in during the hunt.  Wolf looked up at his mate and felt at peace.  When she looked down to return his gaze he saw the happiness and contentment in her own eyes.

The look suddenly changed, and she set down on a nearby branch.  He came to a stop and watched her carefully, his ears listening carefully for any sound.  She had detected something that he had not, something that she had deemed to be a possible threat.  After a few moments her eyes narrowed and she stared into the darkness downwind from their position.  He slowly backed into a nearby patch of thick foliage and waited.

A minute passed, then two.  Wolf still couldn’t tell what had made Owl nervous, but he had no doubt that something was out there.  She was never wrong about such things.

A twig snapped somewhere in the distance.  He bared his teeth but remained silent.  The wind was blowing in the wrong direction, and he wasn’t able to pick up the scent of the interloper.  There was another sound, this time one that repeated and drew closer to them.  It was the sound of dry leaves being crushed under foot.  There was something wrong with the sound.  Whatever was approaching didn’t walk with the gait of any animal he knew.

The rustling in the brush stopped, and there was only silence.

Wolf was uneasy.  He wasn’t able to smell the animal’s scent, but it was possible that it could detect his.

His thoughts were interrupted when the intruder stepped into view.  It was unlike anything he had ever seen.  It was vaguely shaped like a cow, but its head was more like an anteater’s and a pair of bone protrusions ran from its neck all the way to the tip of its long thick tail.  Its flesh was black and scaley.

They had two options.  They could withdraw and leave the creature to its business.  It was unnatural, and its mere presence caused Wolf’s skin to crawl.  Perhaps it was best to simply leave it alone and wait for it to leave their territory.

Even before he felt Owl’s change in temperament, Wolf knew that they would instead be going with the other option.  This… thing should not be here.  They did not know that it would leave, and they would not be safe unless it did.  It was better to confront it here and now instead of risking it finding their den.

Owl had not participated in the killing of the deer.  This was a different situation, however.  This territory belonged to both of them, and it was both of their duties to protect it.  She silently glided down from the tree and, before the strange animal knew what was happening to it, sank her talon-like fingers into the creature’s eyes.

It screamed in pain and surprise.  In some ways it reminded Wolf of the young deer.  He emerged from the brush and slowly circled the intruder.  As Owl raked her fingers down the face, Wolf focused on the lower body and tore into the flesh just behind the front legs.  He then ripped open the left flank, followed by cutting the tendon in the back of the left rear leg.  Each slash was surgical, designed to cause the maximum amount of agony and damage while trying to hobble the creature.

It stumbled back, and Wolf saw his opening.  Owl pushed away from the beast as he leapt forward and sank his teeth into its throat.  The animal thrashed and tried to throw him off, but his jaws were locked in place.  Digging his claws into the turf, he pulled back and twisted his head hard to the side.  The creature collapsed to the ground as its throat was torn out.

He had no time to bask in the kill, however, as a second of the creatures emerged from behind the trees.  Wolf took a step back and bared his teeth, the first animal’s oddly dark and thick blood dripping from his jowls.  They didn’t have the advantage of surprise this time.  This would be much more dangerous.

The creature made a noise that Wolf had never heard before, an angry cry that sounded almost metallic as it rang out.  He winced and lowered his head.  The sound was incredibly painful to his strong hearing.

With him pinned in place, the creature took another step towards him.  As it did so, its head began to split open down the middle.  It was unlike anything Wolf had ever seen.  Each of the two halves had rows of teeth that were covered in small spines.  It was like a terrible mouth that opened vertically instead of horizontally.

Wolf’s instincts were screaming at him.  The cry the creature was making was affecting him, making him unable to fight or run.  It had to be a hunting technique to make it easier for it to kill prey.  Knowing what was happening didn’t mean that he could do anything about it, however.  It reached him and towered over him as its mouth opened even wider.

It was Owl, beautiful and cunning Owl, that came to his rescue.  With a shriek filled with rage, she swooped in and dug her claws into one of the mouth flaps.  The creature growled and moved its head back and forth in an effort to force her away.

As it did so, the noise it was emitting stopped.  Wolf had control of his body once more.  Snarling, he followed Owl’s lead and sank his fangs into the other side of the mouth.  Caught between the two of them, the strange animal didn’t seem to know what to do.  It bucked around and rapidly shook its head, but they were relentless.

Wolf finally heard the sound he had been waiting for: an almost imperceptible tearing coming from the back of the creature’s throat.  With all of his strength, he flung his body backwards with his teeth still gripping the flesh.  There was a moment of silence before the creature’s body lost the fight and the mouth split further than it was supposed to, ripping the fullness of its head in half.  It thrashed for a moment before falling still and crumpling onto the turf.

For a long time Wolf stood on the cool dirt with his eyes closed, panting in exhaustion as he waited for his heartbeat to return to normal.  His breathing finally slowed and he opened his eyes again.  Owl was closely examining the corpse of the second creature they had killed, her head tilting from one side to the other.  Sensing that he was watching her, she turned away from it and came over to him, lovingly placing her cheek against his. 

Caring, protective Owl.

Leaving the bodies of the intruders behind, they continued towards the den.  They would leave the bodies for the animals and insects in the woods.  As they shriveled and decayed it would serve as a warning to others that would seek to enter their territory.  Any that would do so without their approval would meet the same fate.

They reached the treeline and returned to the farmhouse’s backyard.  Without a word they removed their masks as they walked across the soft grass.  Nathan immediately noticed the change in his senses: the night was darker, the scents were less intense, and it was so quiet that it felt like the world had been muted.  Even without the heightened awareness he could still smell the combination of sweat and blood coming from his clothes.

“I’m not sure what happened,” he said.

“What’s happening,” Bethany corrected him.  “You feel it, don’t you?  It’s still happening.”

“Yes.  What do you think it is?”

She shook her head.  “I don’t know.  I don’t care.  All that matters is that we were apart, and now we are one.  You are my Wolf.”

He looked at her intently.  “And you are my Owl.  You’re right. That’s all that matters.”

“Tomorrow we’ll pack up your mother’s belongings, and the day after we’ll celebrate her life and return her to the earth.  We’ll need to make arrangements for our things to be brought here as well.  I feel like this is where we belong.”

“It is.  This is our den and our territory.”  Nathan’s thoughts went to the creatures’ bodies in the woods.  “It’s ours.”

“This place will never be yours,” a voice said from behind them.

They turned in surprise towards the speaker.  There hadn’t been anyone there moments earlier, but now there was a man standing a few yards away.  He was dressed in a black suit, and his hands were in his pockets.  Somehow he managed to appear both out of place and as if he belonged there.

“Those creatures will continue to invade your property,” the man continued.  “They’ll only stop when things much worse than them start to arrive.  That’s the nature of Bleeds; unless they’re closed, they start to fester as the rot grows.”

“Who are you?” Bethany demanded as she slowly raised her mask towards her face.

“There’s no need for that, madam.  You’re in no danger from me.  My name is Silas Pembrook.”

“Pembrook…” Nathan said slowly.  “You’re the one that sent these masks.

“Very good, Mr. Meyer.  Why don’t we all step inside and I’ll make us some tea?  It will take some time for me to explain why I’m here, so we might as well get comfortable.  After all, you’re very much going to want to hear what I have to say.”