(written 11/16/2010 - total words 40,153)
Cal sat up and looked around as Oscar parked. He hadn’t seen so many cars outside of Comic Conclave before. There must have been five or six.
The door alarm chirped as they entered the store, the old, musty smell of newsprint, cardboard, and plastic greeting them like an old friend.
Cal saw a problem as he approached the counter.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“Dennis,” the middle aged man behind the counter replied, staring at Angel.
“Where’s Jason?” Cal asked stepping into the man’s line of sight.
“Game night,” Dennis replied, jerking a thumb over his shoulder. “You guys here to play?“
“Sure,” Cal said, leading Angel and Oscar around the counter into the back office.
The back office had a cluttered desk, and five guys sitting around a fold-up card table. They all had papers in front of them. One guy sat apart from the rest and had colorful screens on the table, hiding his papers from the rest. There were colorful dice scattered across the table like jewels.
The guy behind the screens looked at Cal, then over to Jason who was busy writing something down with a pencil.
“What’s this?” Angel whispered.
“D&D,” Oscar said stepping past her to get a better look.
It was like those old westerns where the hero walks into a bar and the everybody stops what they’re doing and looks up at him.
Jason looked at them. Cal noticed that his gaze lingered on Angel.
“You guys want to play?” Jason asked.
“No,” Cal said. “We need to talk. About that stuff we asked you about.”
Jason looked around the table.
“Now?” he asked.
Cal opened his mouth to reply.
“Please,” Angel said. “We need your help.”
The entire attitude of the room changed. Jason excused himself from the table and the other guys seemed all too willing to wait and listen in.
“What did you find out?” Jason asked Cal.
Cal looked at the table of guys looking back at him, well Angel.
“Can we talk a little more privately?” Cal asked.
“What them?” Jason asked looking over his shoulder, then back to Cal. He shrugged and motioned towards his desk. “Let’s talk over there, then.”
Jason turned back to the table.
“You guys go ahead,” he told them. “This won’t take long. I’ll catch up.”
“We’re out in the middle of the woods,” one man complained. “What about Forgstyrr?”
“Uhh,” Jason considered, rubbing his brow. “He drank too much and passed out. Leave him a note and he’ll catch up.”
“Do any of you write dwarvish?” the man behind the screen asked.
The other men shuffled the pages in front of them. One of them rolled a die, looked at the number and smiled.
“I do,” he said.
This seemed to appease the man with the screens.
“Okay,” the man with the screens said to Jason. “But you risk getting eaten by a Worg.”
“Bazrak,” Jason pleaded, “C’mon, I’ll be right back.”
Bazrak stared at Jason.
“Fine,” Jason said. “Do what you need to do. I’ll roll whatever when I get back.”
Jason threw up a hand in frustration and walked to his desk. He had to shimmy around the edge to get behind it, then sat down. He turned on a desk lamp then leaned forward. Bazrak started telling the other men what was happening in the game.
“What did you figure out,” he asked.
“Lots of stuff,” Angel said, her Moleskine already out. She layed it out on the desk and read down the list of agent facts.
Jason was reading down the list in Angel’s Moleskine as she read them off. He pointed at an entry in the notebook.
“What does ‘Death by Shovel’ mean?” He asked, looking up with concern on his face.
Angel smiled and looked at Cal.
“You can kill them by hitting them with a shovel,” she said.
“Whoa,” Jason said holding his hands up. “Did you hurt somebody, guys?”
“He killed one,” Angel said nodding at Cal.
Jason looked at Cal. Cal nodded slightly. He didn’t quite feel the pride that Angel had, especially not now with the crazy look Jason was giving him.
“You hit one of these guys with a shovel?” Jason asked. “Is he okay?”
“He’s dead,” Oscar said flatly.
“Oh, shit. No.” There was panic in Jason’s eyes. “You killed somebody? You killed a federal agent?”
His panic was making his voice loud. The talking and dice rolling behind them quieted down.
“No,” Oscar said. “He killed one of these things. They’re not human, and they’re definitely not federal agents.”
“No, no, no,” Jason murmured, rubbing his face with his hands. “This has gone too far.”
“Federal agents,” Oscar continued. “Or people for that matter, don’t evaporate into ash when you cut their heads off.”
“You cut his head off?” Jason asked, pushing his palms into his eyes. “Oh, God.”
A few of the other guys came over and looked over their shoulders at Angel’s notes.
“Just to be clear,” Jason said, pointing a rigid finger at Cal. “I never said kill anybody. I never said hit anybody with a shovel. I said to go look at things. Y’know take notes.” He pointed at Angel’s notes.
“We tried that,” Cal spoke, breaking his silence. “That thing attacked me and my friends. It had Angel when I hit it. The shovel was the only thing that hurt it.”
“Shovels hurt a lot of things,” Jason said. His panic was morphing into a resigned worry. “Just because you can hurt, kill, a guy with a shovel, doesn’t mean he’s not human.”
“Like Oscar said,” Cal said, growing more resolute, “humans don’t turn into ash when you behead them and,” he fished around in his pocket. “They don’t leave these.”
He tossed the coin down on Jason’s desk. It made a loud clatter when it hit the cheap wood.
Jason reached over and picked up the coin, turning it over in his hands.
“What is this?” Jason asked.
“It was the only thing left of it besides ash,” Cal said.
“A binding?” A question floated from behind them.
Jason looked past Cal.
“What’s a binding,” Angel asked.
“Let’s talk some more first,” Jason said. “Did you find out any more about the lake?”
“We didn’t get that far in our notes,” Angel said picking up her Moleskine and looking at Cal and Oscar.
“It seemed to start at the same time,” Cal said, trying to remember a scene that he’d been trying to forget.
“Angel and I were really close this time,” he continued. “When we were behind the shed, it didn’t seem as strong, but when I stepped into view of it, it was much more powerful.”
“Why did you do that?” Jason asked.
That seemed like a very good question now.
“I don’t know,” Cal said. “Oscar said it was doing weird things. I think it knew we were there.” Cal shrugged. “I just wanted to see what it was.”
“What was it?” Jason asked.
“I don’t know,” Cal said looking down at his hands on Jason’s desk. “I thought it was some kind of lightning last time, but that’s not right.” Cal spoke slowly, trying to remember things correctly. “It’s more like a 3-d shadow, like a green hologram, under the water.”
“A hologram of what?” Jason asked.
“I don’t know,” Cal said. “Like noodles? Maybe tentacles?”
“C’thulu,” someone muttered behind them.
“Flying Spaghetti Monster,” another voice said. That got a few snickers.
“Then I fell in” Cal said. “It was like somebody pulled me into the water.”
The room was silent.
“Then what happened?” Jason said.
Nobody else was talking.
“I went into the water,” Cal said. “It was really deep, and dark. It was like I was in space, just dark with stars.”
Cal felt numb, like he was reciting something he’d said a million times.
“Angel pulled me out,” Cal said, looking at her. “The stars shifted as she did. They had become more like eyes.”
There was some commotion behind him, but Cal didn’t turn around. He hadn’t thought much about the lake, or his dreams.
“I’ve been dreaming about the stars and eyes,” Cal said. “Every night.”
Jason picked up the coin again and stared at it.
“Look,” he said. “I don’t know anything about this stuff.”
“But I do know a lot of stories about this stuff,” he continued, glancing at Angel. “Old and new.”
“How are stories supposed to help us,” Angel said. “These agent things are following us around. They were sitting outside of my house this evening. They’re going to kill us.”
The concern in Jason’s eyes grew.
“Did they follow you here?” he asked.
Angel looked at Oscar.
“I don’t think so,” Oscar said. “At least I didn’t see them.”
Jason looked back and forth between Oscar and Angel.
“It’s not like you’re going to find somebody who can tell you what’s going on,” Jason said. “Stories are all you’re going to get.”
He held up his hands.
Angel crossed her arms and looked at Cal.
“You came to me, remember?” Jason said. “If you’re not interested in what I have to say, then I’d like to get back to my game.”
“No,” Cal said. “Tell us.”
“All stories have some truth in them,” Jason said. “If you take a bunch of similar stories and compare them, you can sometimes find out some kind of message that had a purpose. Sometimes it’s things like don’t go out in the woods at night or you’ll get eaten by a wolf, and sometimes it’s things like beings not of this world can be greatly effected by things of this world.”
He paused and took a breath, rolling the coin over in his hand.
“Earth,” he continued, “is an especially powerful element, metals being a very concentrated form. It can be used to bind them,” he held up the coin, “to do the bidding of others, or to destroy them, as with your shovel.”
“So what are they?” Cal asked.
“Who knows,” Jason said. “Demons, fairies, ghouls, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is how to stop them, and you’ve already figured that out.”
“And what does the lake have to do with this?” Cal asked.
“I don’t know,” Jason said. “There’s definitely something going on there, though.”
“It’s a source,” a voice said behind them.
Jason thought for a moment, nodding.
“That could be,” he said. “With the fear spell on the fence and the so-called agent on the lookout at the lake, it would seem that they’re responding to your initial intrusion. They’re protecting it. That’s a good sign it’s important.”
Cal looked over at Oscar. He had his arms crossed and was chewing on the tip of his thumb, frowning down at Jason in concentration.
“What do you mean by source?” Cal asked. “You’re going to have to spell things out a little more for us.”
“To summon these types of beings, you’d need two things,” Jason said, holding up two fingers. “One, a way to contact the beings, and two, a way to bring them across. This lake could be the contact point between here and the other place.”
Cal shifted weight on his legs. He didn’t like the sound of that name, ‘the other place’. That’s exactly how it felt in the lake: not here. Other.
“Somebody might have figured out how to open it,” Jason said. “Or it could just be a naturally occurring weak spot between the worlds.”
“You’re talking about different dimensions?” Oscar asked over his thumb.
“Again,” Jason said. “It doesn’t really matter what you want to call it. I suspect all the different names for these types of things are really just that. Different names for the same thing, but that’s just me.”
“So we shut down the lake and these guys go away?” Cal asked.
“Maybe,” Jason said. “Or maybe they’re already here and they’ll stay.”
“Yeah,” another voice behind piped in. “The coins will keep them here.”
“Right,” Jason said looking down at the coin. “This guy, at least, had an anchor. But,” he put the coin back on the table near Cal’s hands. “Sounds like you don’t need to worry about him any more.”
“How do we shut down the lake?” Oscar asked.
“Sorry to say I don’t know,” Jason said. He looked to the other guys. “Any ideas?”
“How many of these agent things are there?” Angel asked.
“I can’t say,” Jason said. “It’s got to be hard to summon them, so I’m guessing there aren’t many. You’ve encountered three, and that number comes up a lot. If I had to guess I’d say there were only three.”
Cal felt Angel and Oscar looking at him. He picked up the coin and looked at the inscriptions.
“I guess that’s it then,” he said and pushed up off of the desk.
Oscar and Angel both nodded.
“Thanks for your time, Jason,” Cal said. “If we have other questions, can we come back?”
Jason nodded, and they walked towards the door.
“One more thing,” Jason said.
They stopped at the door.
“Actually two,” Jason said. “First, you’ve taken out one of their guys. That means you’ve probably exposed yourself. You said they’re already following you closer. You’ve upped the ante, so be careful. The rules of engagement may have shifted in response. They may be more desperate now, or just pissed.”
Cal nodded. That was one of the things he was worried about.
“And the second,” Cal prompted.
“You communicated with the other side,” Jason said, tilting his chin towards Cal.
A chill ran down Cal’s spine.
“Whatever you connected with now knows about you,” Jason said. “I don’t know what that means for you, but once you touch something like that, it doesn’t forget.”
Cal nodded. Oscar put a hand on his shoulder and guided him out.
* * *
Cal didn’t see the point of crouching down in the back seat again, but he did sit in back with Angel.
“Well that made me feel a whole lot better about things,” Angel said sarcastically.
Cal gave her a weak smile. She reached over and held his hand with a gentle squeeze.
“What did he mean ‘it doesn’t forget’?” Cal asked.
“Don’t give what he said too much credit,” Oscar replied. “Even he admitted, many times, that he didn’t know what he was talking about.”
Cal liked Oscar’s words, but he didn’t really believe them. It sounded like Oscar didn’t either.
“I’m hungry,” Angel said. “Can we go get some food?”
“There’s a burger place over on Center,” Oscar said. “It’s open pretty late, I think.”
“Burgers?” Angel asked looking at Cal.
“I could do burgers,” Cal said looking at Angel.
“Done,” Oscar said.
Cal heard the blinker turn on and the car slowed down.
Angel put her hand on Cal’s cheek and leaned towards him.
“It’s going to be okay,” she said quietly.
She kissed him.
* * *
They sat in Barney’s Burger Barn, devouring their food in silence.
That kiss replayed over and over in Cal’s mind. It was a bright point of happiness that was preventing him from running down the street screaming, but it also made him want to run down the street screaming, only in a different way. If he wasn’t actively fearing for his life, he would be overwhelmed with giddiness. Oscar would be so annoyed.
“So,” Oscar said between bites. “The lake?”
Cal nodded. It made sense to him, for no real logical reason, that the lake was the key.
“Yeah,” he said. “What they said about it being the source made sense. They definitely upped their defense the last time we were there.”
“Which means,” Angel said. “That it’s going to be worse next time.”
“That’s a good point,” Cal said. Another good, logical point that he didn’t like at all.
“Not necessarily,” Oscar said. “They’re a man down now. Maybe that means they don’t have as many resources.”
“That’s also a good point,” Cal said. He liked that one much better. “Though we’re just guessing.”
“Everybody’s guessing,” Oscar said over a bite of burger. “That’s all Jason was doing. Why can’t we do it too?”
Angel was reading through their notes.
“So what do we need to do close the dimensional rift, or whatever?” Cal asked.
Oscar chewed on a french fry.
“Let’s just think of it as a lake,” Angel said, looking up from her notes. “None of us have experience with dimensional rifts, or anything like that. Nobody does. There’s no way we could even guess how to deal with it. A lake is something we can work with.”
“Okay,” said Cal. “How do we kill a lake?”
“Oscar,” Angel said. “Your dad’s a lawyer right?”
“Do you guys have a pool?” she asked.
“What does being a lawyer have to do with having a pool?” Oscar asked.
“Yeah,” Cal said. “They have a pool.”
“Chlorine kills pond scum,” Angel said. “Maybe it’ll work on demonic pond scum from another dimension?”
“The lake is way bigger than our pool,” Oscar said.
“But it’s much shallower,” Angel said.
“No,” Cal said with a shiver. “The lake is really deep.”
“It’s not,” Angel said. “I think that was something else.”
“What do you mean?” Cal asked. “I fell in it, I know.”
“Cal, I pulled you out, remember?” Angel asked. “It wasn’t even deep enough for you to completely go under.”
Cal looked at Angel. Another good point.
“Yeah, Cal,” Oscar said. “I think she’s right. There are little grass things growing all around in it. I don’t think those grow in deep water.”
Cal nodded. He couldn’t reconcile the concept of the lake being shallow. It felt like it went on forever, like an entire universe was under its surface.
“Maybe it’s close to the same volume,” Oscar said, chewing on another french fry.
“You guys have the chemicals?” Angel asked.
“Yeah,” Oscar said. “I’ll bring the instructions to school on Monday.”
“So that’s our plan?” Cal asked.
“It’s a start,” Angel said writing in her Moelskine. “You have any other ideas?”
“No,” Cal said.
“Crap,” Oscar said looking at his watch. “We need to go. I need to get home soon.”
* * *
“What if they’re still outside of your house?” Oscar asked.
“I don’t know,” Angel said. I guess we just sneak in through the back?”
“And hope they’re only there to watch us,” Cal said.
“What I don’t understand is-” Angel didn’t get a chance to finish.
Bright lights came in through the passenger side and the car jerked and changed direction with a loud clap. Cal ducked reflexively, but his shoulder strap held him back. Glass shattered into little beads and sprayed across his face. Somebody was screaming. The car spun in circles, then jerked violently to a stop.
The sound of a car speeding off, then silence.
A curse from the front seat.
Cal looked over at Angel who was sitting still with a dazed look on her face. He reached out and touched her shoulder.
“You okay?” he asked.
She just nodded.
Oscar cursed from the driver’s seat.
“I’m supposed to be heading home from work,” he said. “I’m so screwed.”
He repeated that last sentence to himself over and over.
Cal’s head hurt. He tried to open the door, but it wouldn’t move. Looking out through the smashed out window, he saw trees and a guardrail. Even if the door wasn’t totally smashed in, it would have been pinned closed.
“Angel,” he said. “We have to go out your side.”
She looked at him.
“Angel,” he put a hand on her shoulder. “You have to open your door and get out.”
She nodded and got out of the car. As Cal slid across the seat, he glanced in the front of the car. The passenger side door was dented in, and a thick tree branch was stuck into the seat. If he’d been sitting there he would be dead.
Cal pulled himself out of the car. Things were already starting to hurt.
Oscar was looking at the wreckage.
“You guys need to get out of here,” he said.
“What?” Cal asked. “No, we can’t leave you here.”
“No,” Oscar said. “Get out of here. It was a hit and run. No witnesses. Get out of here and I’ll tell my parents I was just driving home from work. If you guys are in the car, we’re all screwed.”
Cal looked at Angel. She seemed to be coming back to her old self.
“He’s right,” she said. “We should get out of here.”
Cal looked back to Oscar.
“You gonna be okay?” he asked Oscar.
“Yeah,” Oscar said. “Just get out of here.”
Cal and Angel jogged across the street and started back to her house.