23:42 Sun 29 Apr 2012
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Caroline gestured, and the two acolytes came forward, hustling Bethany between them. She was gagged and her arms bound behind her, but she tried to struggle anyway, her eyes wide and wild. While they tied her to the slab, Caroline began lighting the candles in sequence, waiting for them to finish and step outside the circle before she lit the final one.

Agent Gastusky reversed fast, too fast, out of the driveway. 20 minutes of sneaking around, 10 minutes of brandishing a gun and threatening, and finally the realization that someone had transposed numbers on the address. Someone along the chain, or him, he couldn’t swear it wasn’t his mistake. He yanked the wheel around and shifted into first, flooring it. The delay likely meant the girl’s death, and if she died he knew he’d have to account for it in his report—and that no-one would likely own up to the address mistake.

The sacrifice was bound, the candles were lit, and Caroline finished the circle of salt. Then she walked to each of the acolytes, kissed their painted masks, and whispered their appointed sacred names in their ears. At the end of the ritual, she would cry out one of those names, and that acolyte would become her priest for the night. She did not know which name; that was to come through revelation.

Gastusky was closer now—assuming this was the right fucking address—and he turned off his lights, then the engine, coasting slowly to a halt before reaching the driveway. The he looked at how ridiculously far back the McMansion was from the road, and rolled his eyes, and turned the car back on. To have a chance of being on time, he had to give up on a perfect approach. The lights were off, but that didn’t mean much, and he was sure his targets would be underground in any case, for “authenticity”.

Caroline could sense Bethany’s fear. She could sense the nervousness, excitement, and arousal of the acolytes. Something would rise tonight, she was certain. The stars were right, the girl was right, she was right. She flung off her robe, to mirror the sacrifice in nakedness, then picked up the scabbard. Clutching it tightly between her thighs, she whispered the sword’s name—a name, she realized with some trepidation, among those she might be compelled to utter after the ritual—and then pulled it free. It glittered in the candlelight, and she let the scabbard drop to the floor.

Gun in hand, Gastusky prowled through the rooms on the ground floor. So far, nothing. So far, a maddeningly typical suburban home. But it couldn’t be another wrong address. He just hadn’t found it yet. On his second time through, he did. The bookcase. They actually had a hidden bookcase door. He got it open, and it took a moment for his eyes to adjust enough to see what was behind it—a stone spiral staircase, descending. This was taking it a little too far, he thought, but started down. A few moments later, he heard the scream.

The first strike was for the pain, a deliberately nonlethal blow. The second was for the blood, and Caroline had to grip the hilt tightly to make sure it didn’t slip for the third strike. The killing strike. Pressure mounted in her head. Excitement rose around a feeling she had never had before. She brought death into the room, a perfect thrust through the heart. All the wounds were perfectly placed. All the words, correctly uttered. All the candles, the lines, the acolytes—perfect. She could feel something.

Gastusky burst in just after the sword bit for the last time. He swore, and they all looked at him, the one on the altar twisting awkwardly to see where the noise came from. The nearest acolyte made a grab for the gun, and took a bullet to the head. Three tried their ceremonial daggers, and he shot each in turn. The last one was fumbling with an ankle holster—probably not part of the ceremonial garb—when Gastusky killed him.

Caroline was mute, shocked, as the acolytes died around her, and she flinched when the man, uncaring, walked into the circle. He grabbed her arm and twisted, making the sword clatter to the ground. He yanked her off the altar to the floor—across the salt!—and put his head to Bethany’s chest, then fingers to her throat. Caroline sat up and looked dazedly at him as he whirled and glared.

“She’s dead. Just a girl, and dead, and for fucking nothing.”

Caroline shook her head. She still felt something. “Not for nothing.”

“No? Then for what? Where’s whatever you hoped to raise? What old fairy tale did you think would violate the laws of physics in appreciation of your little show?”

She had made the sacrifice, said the words, performed the ritual. The man had been too late, and something should have happened, it was true. While he was fighting the acolytes, it should have happened, and only Caroline should have been safe to bargain, inside the circle. She had performed the ritual, said the words, made the sacrifice! She stood unsteadily, and the man hit her, knocking her back and again onto the floor. The pain bit into her mind, and he came towards her again, his eyes cold.

She felt rising panic, panic and frustration. She had felt something building, and felt it change when she brought the dagger down. It couldn’t all be suggestion and hope. It couldn’t be, and she felt her mind writhe in rage, and she pushed.

She pushed, and he flew back, landing heavily on the ground, his pistol skittering away from him. She got to one knee and saw him raise his head, and in his eyes she saw first confusion and then fear. She went for the gun.

There was a muffled crunch as his kick caught her in the ribs; he had risen fast, very fast, to prevent her from reaching it. The pain coursed through her as she fell, and he picked up his weapon.

There was a pause, as she tried to deal with the pain and he didn’t move.

“What the fuck was that?”

She looked at him, shook her head. She didn’t know how to answer. He looked around suspiciously, at the ceiling and the walls. He looked back at her.

“I’ve read all the reports. I’ve been to countless tests. It doesn’t work. None of it. Not psychic powers, not witchcraft, not thaumaturgy. It doesn’t work. What did you just do?”

“I followed the ritual.”

“So? You think you’re the first? You think of all the billions alive and dead, you’re the first to follow that particular ritual? It’s been done many times. It never does anything but add one more murder to the world.” He approached her again, and then she heard, “Where am I?”

Startled, she looked at Bethany’s body. Then she looked back at him, and realized he hadn’t heard it. Then a moment later, a scream. A terrible, awful, scream, much worse than when she’d used the sword. Worse, louder, more piercing. She put her hands over her ears, but that didn’t help, it kept going, longer than breath could allow, and he didn’t react at all, just came closer, but she had to make it stop, to shut it out, and she felt the pressure again.

There was a flash, and a thump. Her eyes took some time to clear, and when they did, it was quiet. The man was on the other side of the room again, by the stairs, crumpled but breathing. Bethany was silent. The pressure, the change, that she had felt was gone. Caroline stood up and slowly made her way to the stairs.

Gastusky heard her approach, and when she was near enough he turned over with the gun, still in his hand.

“Safety’s off, trigger’s under my finger. Think you can beat a bullet?”

She stopped, shook her head.

“Once, fluke. Twice, that’s something. You ever done something like that before?”


“No. Nor anyone else I’ve heard of. I told you, I’ve read the reports. I’ve been in the room for some of the tests. There’s no coverup—this shit doesn’t work. If it did, we’d use it ourselves.”

“But something worked tonight.”

“That’s right. But not what you intended. And maybe you can do it again, maybe you can stop this gun from firing and kill me with your mind. But I might get you too, or first. Let’s not try that.”

“What, then?”

“Listen, you kill me and they’ll get you. They’ll hunt you down and put you away. And if you use whatever this is to resist, they’ll still get you, but instead of prison they’ll put you in a lab. They’ll put electrodes in your brain and needles in your heart and when they’re done with that they’ll dissect you to find out what it is.”

“I don’t know what it is.”

“That won’t help. But there’s another way. I’ve been doing this a long time. I know all the rich nuts who’ll pay for something like this. For something real. If we can figure out how to do it again—and no sacrifices next time—they’ll pay. A lot of money, and no electrodes, no dissection.”

“But you came after me, you have to bring me in.”

“I can write you out of it. I can make it just the five dead guys and the girl; we’ll start a fire and I’ll say it started during the struggle and there were just five. And that’s what I’ll do, but then we’re partners.”


“Partners in figuring out what happened down here. If we can—you know what that could bring.”

They walked up the stairs together.

One Response to ““Flickerings””

  1. John Cruz Says:


    Nicely done. I really like the characterization, setting, and overall premise – and the most impressive bit? The economy of words. I’ve gone through it twice – once quickly today, and again now, but with a bit more time – and I like how you were able to set up the location, characters, and premise rather cleanly & neatly.

    Bonus: the nice twist at the end. I didn’t expect that.

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