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Hellraiser

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Brett Alexander Savory is the Bram Stoker Award-winning Editor-in-Chief of ChiZine: Treatments of Light and Shade in Words (which has been in operation since 1997), Co-publisher of ChiZine Publications, has had nearly 50 short stories published, and has written two novels. In 2006, Necro Publications released his horror-comedy novel, The Distance Travelled. September 2007 saw the release of his dark literary novel, In and Down, through Brindle & Glass. His first short story collection, No Further Messages, was released in November 2007 through Delirium Books. He is now at work on his third novel, Lake of Spaces, Wood of Nothing. Savory is represented by The Carolyn Swayze Literary Agency. He lives in Toronto with his wife, writer/editor Sandra Kasturi.

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This time is no different. This time is exactly the same as the last hundred, the last thousand. Since paper was invented. Maybe before. Different people, but always the same objectives.

Because some words are more important than others.

Some words have the power to change history.

*

Written in red. As always.

She reads the words on the piece of paper, burns it, changes into black clothes, leaves her tiny apartment quickly, and returns three hours later, shaking, with blood on her fists.

In the shower, more red as the blood washes off, swirls around the drain, vanishes.

When she steps out of the shower ten minutes later, this is written in lipstick on the bathroom mirror: “Next time, keep it clean.”

She wraps a bath towel around herself, walks into her bedroom.

Yeah, keep it clean, she thinks. Like I asked the fat bastard to bleed all over me.

*

“Joseph—”

“Shut up.”

“Joseph, listen—”

“Shut the fuck up.

The man in the dark blue suit stares hard at Joseph. Contemplates whether he can risk another interruption. Knows he cannot. Decides he doesn’t care, anyway. So he just sits quietly and fiddles with a crease in his pants.

And waits.

Joseph holds a red pen in his right hand, taps it on his big wooden desk. Thinking.

“How did she know?” Joseph says, his voice a cracked rock.

The man in the dark blue suit knows there is no way out of this. He knows he is going to die. In this room. Soon.

“There’s no way she could have known about Jennings,” he says, knowing it’s a stupid thing to say. Pointless. Just going through the motions. He imagines he feels the world slowing down, its creator finished with us, no longer watching, no longer caring what happens.

Joseph nods his head, holds his breath, purses his lips. He pulls a very long knife from a sheath taped to the underside of his desk. Shows it to the man in the dark blue suit.

“That manuscript was very important,” Joseph says. “Probably the most important manuscript we would ever have worked with. We’ve been doing this a long time, you and I. You’ve never fucked up like this. I don’t understand it. And don’t try to shift the blame. You’re the one who hired Jennings.”

The knife catches a flicker of light from a nearby lamp. Joseph taps it on the desk a few times, like he’d done with his pen. Breathing now. Just breathing. “And you’ve nothing from the brother, either? Nothing whatsoever?”

The man in the dark blue suit stays quiet. Just offers up a silent prayer to a god he has never believed in, and that he knows with absolute certainty is no longer watching.

A moment later, Joseph leans forward quickly, buries the knife to the hilt in the man’s neck.

*

“So what’s it say?”

“What’s what say?”

“What do you think? The manuscript. What’s it say this time? Staggering earthquake? The second coming of Hitler? Flood, drought, tidal wave, fucking plague of locust? What?”

Emma Philson stares down at her dinner plate. Her hair is still damp from her shower.

“Don’t know. Didn’t read it.” She looks back up. “It’s not my job to read them; it’s my job to steal them.”

The man across from her puts his fork down on his plate, tilts his head, looks at her with disbelief.

“You’ve never read any of them? The fate of the world right there in your hands and you don’t even sneak a bloody peek?”

Emma picks up her knife and fork, cuts into her fish. “I don’t want to know.”

The man still staring at her with incomprehension is Jim Leeds, her only contact in the organization. The restaurant they’re eating at is a five-star in Vancouver. Neither of them is particularly enjoying the dishes they’ve ordered. They never do.

“So why do you bother?” Jim says, poking at his mussels.

Emma shrugs. “Your organization pays me very well.”

“That’s all that matters to you? The money?”

Emma says nothing. She forks a chunk of undercooked fish into her mouth and grimaces.

“I mean, don’t you ever think about how important your work is? Don’t you get any satisfaction from knowing that through this manuscript maneuvering—”

“I wish you’d stop calling it that,” Emma interrupts, her voice rising. “We kill people and steal their writings.”

Jim leans forward, looks at her hard. His fingers curl tight around the glass of red wine in his hand. “Keep. Your. Voice. Down.

He leans back slowly, straightens his tie, sips from his wine, then glowers at his food, pushes his plate away.

Emma stares out the window, all pretence to enjoying a lovely dinner with a colleague vanished.

“They aren’t their writings anyway, Emma. They’re not owned by anyone.”

“Jim?” Emma says, leaning forward, lowering her voice to a whisper. “Listen to me, okay? I’m bored. And I’m tired of acting like this shit is somehow beneficial to the human race. Doesn’t matter how many people get killed as long as we get our manuscript. As long as these documents make it into the ‘right hands,’ everyone’s happy. Well, fuck that, I’m not happy.”

Emma leans back, takes a deep breath.

“So what are you saying?”

“I’m saying that I don’t want to do this anymore, Jim.”

Jim doesn’t blink, doesn’t waver. “But you will, won’t you.” Statement. Fact.

Emma sighs, looks out the window again, at city lights, at cars, trains, people. She nods slowly.

But Emma knows something Jim doesn’t. She lied; she has read the manuscript for which she slit the fat man’s throat.

*

Seth Philson fidgets in his seat. Not because he is afraid of flying, not even because he has to piss so bad his teeth are floating; Seth fidgets because he is six-foot-seven and airplane seats are not made for people his height. He squirms around in his aisle seat, cursing the fact that no one with a roomier emergency-exit seat would swap with him. He tries to get comfortable first with his little pillow—folding and scrunching it, placing it between his knees and on the back of the seat in front of him—then without it. No dice either way. And no matter which way he tries it, the guy in the seat ahead turns around and glares at him.

Five foot fuck-all, Seth thinks. Must be real tough to get comfortable in that seat when you’re bloody well swimming in it, eh, shithead?

More fidgeting. Deep sighing. If he could afford first-class, he’d be up there in a heartbeat, but writing jacket copy for crappy mainstream paperbacks sure isn’t going to buy him a ticket up there—he’s lucky he can afford this trip to Vancouver at all.

Seth needed a vacation. Seth was having very sharp, very clear images of ripping off his co-workers’ heads.

Mountains. Snow. Calming white. A visit with his sister, whom he hasn’t seen in . . . how many years has it been? He has no idea.

As the plane taxies up the runway, Seth closes his eyes and pictures the resort he’s booked into. He inhales deeply, exhales slowly. The plane’s thrumming engines help with the overall effect, blurring his thoughts, mashing his anger at short people down, down . . . until he feels the plane lift off, its nose scoop upward.

He looks out the window to his right, across the aisle. The ground slowly gives way to blue sky, dotted with little puffs of cloud.

Pure white.

He keeps his breathing steady until the plane reaches its cruising altitude, waits for the pilot’s permission to operate assorted technological gadgets, and reaches down into the thin black bag at his feet.

Seth’s gadget of choice is a laptop. Using its word processing program, he writes stories and essays on it that he has never let anyone see. He figures he probably never will. Not because he thinks they’re bad, not because he has self-esteem issues, but because those words are his and his alone. They are not written for other people to see, and they are certainly not written for sale. He might well be able to sell his stories, but this doesn’t interest him in the least.

What interests him even less is writing jacket copy for other people’s shitty writing.

Seth powers up his laptop, waits for his Flying Spaghetti Monster screensaver to come up, then opens his word processor, flicks to File, then Open. Clicks on “magicians_hangnail.rtf.” The title page pops up. He scrolls down to the first page, reads the three pages he wrote last night, cues up his cursor, and stares at it for the next five minutes.

Blink. Blink.

“You a writer?”

Guy next to him. Filthy bugger. Messy hair. Uneven beard the colour of burnt chestnuts. Sloppy blue eyes too big for his ruddy, round face.

“Nope,” Seth says. Goes back to staring at the blinking cursor.

“So, if you don’t mind my asking, what’s that you’re working on?”

Fake cheer: Boy, I sure want to get to know you, even though I really don’t give a flying fuck what you’re doing or why.

“Short story,” Seth says, this time not turning his face away from the cursor.

“But I thought you just said—”

“I’m not a writer. I write things in this little computer here, but I’m not a writer. Writers sell their stories, join workshops to have their work critiqued for improvement. I do neither of those things. I do not consider myself a writer.”

“Oh,” the filthy guy says. Faces forward again.

Seth stares at the cursor and hopes that when he lands in Vancouver, his sister Emma won’t ask him about his writing. He has told her before not to, but she persists—Emma and whatever the hell it is she does for a living. Something that requires her to travel a lot—almost more than Seth, and Seth practically lives on airplanes. Whenever he asks for more information about her job, she asks for more information about his latest short story. And that’s where the conversation ends.

Though Seth is wholly unaware of it, a man in a dark blue suit sits three rows back and to the right of him. Ostensibly reading The Vancouver Sun, but watching. Waiting for Seth’s fingers to connect with the laptop’s keys.

Waiting for him to start writing.

*

“Give me the manuscript. I won’t ask again.”

“Fuck you, cunt.”

The fat man holding the sheaf of papers reeks like a compost heap. Emma’s head swims from the stench. She closes her eyes, steadies herself.

Always the same game: One side tracks the writer down, waits for the fugue to begin and end, kills the writer, makes off with the manuscript. The only difference is that the “good” side leaves the manuscript intact, the “bad” side edits it to serve its own agenda. The line between the two is blurry at best. Now, standing here in this disgusting man’s shithole apartment, listening to him call her a cunt, Emma has one clear thought: I want out. This is the last one. A voice in her head—not her own—telling her to pack it in.

She’ll bring it up with Jim tonight at dinner.

“Fuck me, huh?” Emma says, brings her gun out of her holster quickly, trains it on the fat man’s face. “Hand it over, and I let you walk. Simple deal.”

The man backs up, trips over a phone book on the floor behind him, but doesn’t fall. He raises his free hand, warding her off, his bravado leaking out of his pores along with his sweat. “Look . . . look, please don’t shoot. I’m sorry, okay?”

This is the best they have? Emma thinks. This snivelling mound of flab?

“I don’t want apologies,” she says, kicking the phone book out of the way, advancing on the enemy operative. “I want the manuscript.”

Back against the wall. No more name-calling, no more false courage: a man caught without his gun. Now just the stench of garbage, sweat rolling down a fat, pimply face, wrinkles like a pitbull. Apologetic. Pathetic.

But Emma has never killed anyone with a gun; its only use for her is intimidation. She pulls a knife from a sheath behind her back. Steps forward. Slashes at the man’s outstretched arm. It cuts the skin, the man cries out, drops his arm. Blood drips onto the plush beige carpet. The fat man’s other hand still clenches the manuscript for a moment, then drops it as he uses this hand to try to stop the flow of blood from his arm.

When he looks down at his wound, moves his free hand over to press on it, Emma steps forward quickly, drags the blade across the man’s throat and moves out of reach again in one quick motion. Emma hits an artery, takes a heartbeat’s worth of spray in the face.

The fat man slumps, gurgles, drops.

Emma wipes her face with her forearm, reaches down, grabs the manuscript.

Normally, she would clean up. Carpet is a bitch, and it would take her most of the night, but normally she’d do it.

But this is the last one , she tells herself.

So she lets him bleed out.

*

The man in the dark blue suit should have known better than to hire that fat piece of shit Jennings, brother of one of their best. Nepotism and triple-checked referrals are the only way anyone gets in—and this blubbery fuck came highly recommended—but still, the man should have known. Just by looking at him. It wasn’t in his eyes: what it takes. To kill without flinching, to kill without knowing why. Could be built like a brick shit house and talk the hardest game in town, but when it came to murdering people for nothing more than a sheaf of paper, you had to see that capability in their eyes.

The man in the dark blue had not seen it in Jennings’ eyes, but he would have caught shit from every direction had he fought it, regardless of his experience, his years of moving manuscript.

And now he has to tell Joseph.

And Joseph will not be happy.

Leaving the clean-up crew behind him—hacking arms, legs, and head from the corpse—the man in the dark blue suit turns the incongruously fancy brass knob on the front door of Jennings’ hovel, steps out into the hallway.

He does not expect to live out the next twenty-four hours.

But there is one more potential fugue writer to track before he’s due back at headquarters, and that might give him something with which to placate his boss.

If he doesn’t get a move on, he’ll be late for his flight.

*

Emma sits at her kitchen table, stares at the manuscript in front of her. Black cup of coffee steaming in her right hand. Her left is shaky, fluttering, hovering over the first sheet of the 213-page manuscript.

Sometimes she looks. Most times, she doesn’t bother. Not that it’s boring—the direct word of God can be called many things, but hardly boring. If that’s what these are, that is—writings from God, channelled through ordinary people from every nation on earth.

She thinks that’s what they are, but there are other theories: Collective subconscious. Messages from aliens. Mass hallucinations. Whatever you believed, it hardly mattered. What mattered was that people dropped into some other state of mind when they wrote these manuscripts. They blipped out for minutes, hours, sometimes days at a time, wrote instructions, stories, parables, poetry, essays, in hundreds of languages. The occasional predictions were what made it hardest to discount the phenomenon.

Since its discovery, instructions and predictions have made up more and more of each manuscript. Less stories, less fables, less vague lessons. More hard truth, more concrete directions.

As if time were running out.

The coffee slides down Emma’s throat, warms her belly, makes her sweat, quickens her pulse ever so slightly. She sets the mug down, turns the first page over, her hand still shaking, but now under relative control.

Three pots of coffee later, she has read the entire manuscript.

Shivers rack her slight frame as she gets up from the table, head spinning, full of information that, in the hands of the other side, could destroy everything. Certain things denoted authenticity, and they were incredibly hard to fake—hard, but not impossible.

The President of the United States, the Prime Ministers of Canada and Britain, leaders all over the world, they sometimes see the originals, sometimes the doctored versions—depending on who died, depending on which side got the upper hand. These world leaders, though aware of this bizarre “automatic writing” phenomenon, do not know where the manuscripts come from. They just arrive, are reviewed for authenticity by staff experts, then are hand-delivered to them.

Emma’s organization has tried to warn them of the other side’s efforts to tamper with these manuscripts, but their messages are never received. They are always intercepted before they reach anyone on the inside who could be trusted with the information. Or, if they are received, they’re ignored as having come from an “unreliable source.”

Sometimes, at least, the manuscripts themselves get through. Untouched, unchanged. But more often than not, they arrive skewed, tainted, adjusted to perpetuate wars and greed.

Surely these leaders think they’re doing the will of their respective gods when they follow these words. Certainly they believe what they’re doing is right for their people. They really have no reason to believe otherwise. An inexplicable direct line to the Big Guy in the Sky.

But this manuscript . . . this one absolutely needs to arrive untouched. There are too many ways to manipulate what it says, too many gaps in the physical spacing of the handwriting.

What is probably the most important document in history , Emma thinks, is right here under my arm. She slips on her coat, makes sure her gun is loaded (this time she will use it, if necessary), and heads to the airport to pick up her brother, Seth. She glances at her watch, realizes she will probably be late.

She hopes the flight is a little behind schedule.

*

But the most important document in history is not under Emma’s arm; it is currently being written on Flight 762 to Vancouver, British Columbia.

The man in the dark blue suit watches Seth’s mannerisms, knows it should hit him soon—the fugue state he has seen so many times in his career. Seth fits the profile to the proverbial ‘T.’ Certain types of personalities are more susceptible to the phenomenon: lonely drunkards, societal freaks, geeks—anti-social types, in general. Behavioural experts working for the man in the dark blue suit’s organization have computers that calculate probability based on past fugue writers; they crunch numbers, input personal information about as many traceable humans on earth as possible, extrapolate the data, then tell the operatives who to watch and, subsequently—in nine cases out of ten—who to kill.

Once his name had popped up on their screens, they’d had their eye on Seth Philson for almost as long as they’d had their eye on his sister. But for very different reasons.

The man in the dark blue suit—so uncomfortable in his own skin that he often worries about having his own name pop up on his organization’s computers—thinks that most times things just go to shit for no good reason at all, just the natural entropy of the universe. But tonight . . . tonight, he feels like things might just work out.

He is just about to get up and go to the bathroom when Seth’s head nods.

Once.

Twice.

Drops completely, head resting on his chest.

When his head comes up again, this time very slowly, his fingers suddenly move swiftly over the keyboard, writing. Words not his own.

The man in the dark blue suit sits tight, waits to see if it’s going to be one of these “flash sessions,” as his organization calls them—a few brief insights into whatever power controls fugue writers. These synaptic blips usually produce indecipherable sentences—a bad connection, a cosmic wrong number.

But after fifteen full minutes of constant tapping on the keys, the man knows this one was real. He just hopes it isn’t a two- or even three-day marathon, else he’ll have nothing with which to assuage Joseph when he breaks the news about Jennings’ monumental fuck-up.

He rises to go to the bathroom, squeezes out into the aisle.

He does not turn his head in either direction on his way; if he had done so, he would have seen, off in the distance, a bright white flash of lightning.

The first of many.

In seat 15C, Seth Philson, gripped by something unknowable, continues to write.

*

After dinner with Jim—and her abortive attempt to quit her job—Emma drives to the airport through sheets of rain so heavy she thinks the glass will crack, splinter, and cave in before she gets anywhere near the airport.

She calls ahead and Seth’s flight is right on time, meaning she’ll be late picking him up. Perfect. A great foot to get off on with her brother, whom she’d not seen in at least six years. She wonders if she’ll tell him about her job this time. If ever there was a time she wanted to tell someone about it, get the burden off her chest, now was that time.

But she knows she won’t, no matter if it would help bring Seth and her closer. Their mother dead from an early age, and their father off travelling God knew where—apathetic about their existence, as he’d always been—they’d floated off to very different lives, drifting without much thought as to what they would do next. Content to depend on no one. Be with no one.

Emma slows down as the rain turns to marble-sized chunks of hail, drumming off her car roof. The sound is deafening, and Emma feels a headache winding its way through her spine, up into her brain.

She changes lanes. Closes her eyes for a moment.

When she reopens them, the night flashes white, lightning touches down not far ahead, near the airport. Thunder cracks—the loudest she’s ever heard it—and something explodes, bursts into flame.

Behind her, in the rear-view mirror, more lightning touches down, slices the dark, burns orange-blue after-images into her retinas. More thunder, more buildings on either side of her exploding, filling the night air with the smell of ozone, the crackling of fire.

Emma slows to a crawl, terrified. She sees the airport, nearly half of it engulfed in flames, rise over the horizon. She watches as a plane coming in for a landing—unable to safely pull up once the airport exploded—bursts apart, lightning cleaving it in two.

She slams on the brakes, pulls the car over to the shoulder, opens the door, steps out onto the tarmac. She hugs herself, shaking in the rain, stares at the destroyed plane in the distance, glances quickly at the flames all around her.

Where are you, Seth? she thinks, looks skyward, her brain unable to move out of shock and into an appropriate panic response.

Through the black rain, she sees a blinking light far off, glances at her watch, knows that Seth must be aboard this plane; the one that just exploded is too early to be his.

She tries to think of an explanation for the destruction around her, but is only capable of thinking one clear, useless thought: Stay up there, Seth. Please.

Stay up there.

*

When the man in the dark blue suit comes out of the bathroom, he immediately notices several passengers looking and pointing out the windows. He returns to his seat, leans across a sleeping woman next to him, peers out the window. Flashes of lightning crisp the night sky. Some of it looks pretty low to the ground, but nothing he hasn’t seen before.

He shrugs, glances over at Seth—still clattering away—and settles back into his seat. The plane suddenly hits some heavy turbulence. After a few seconds of rocky riding, the captain comes over the speaker, announces that they’ve hit some turbulence.

Thank you, Dr. Obvious, the man in the dark blue suit thinks.

The captain goes on to say that they’ll be starting their descent into Vancouver very soon, asks people to please return to their seats and fasten their seatbelts. What he does not say over the speakers is that in the cockpit there is some tension, as they’ve just lost radio contact with Vancouver International Airport. But the captain is confident that once they break through the heavier clouds below, radio reception will clear up.

Seth does not fasten his seatbelt. Seth continues to type.

The man watching Seth catches a glimpse of his document. Many different languages are displayed across the screen—some the man can distinguish, others he cannot. Fascinated, he unbuckles his seatbelt, goes out into the aisle, hangs back a few feet, trying not to appear nosy. He reaches up to an overhead compartment, rustles about with a few bags, hoping no one remembers that this isn’t where he originally stashed his carry-on luggage. But people are either staring down at the lightning storm, or closing their eyes to catch a few more Zs while the plane descends.

A few more pecks of the laptop’s keys, then Seth stops typing, drops instantly into a deep sleep, slumped over his computer. The man in the dark blue suit can only see the bottom half of the last page of the document.

The words are in English, as follows:

This is not, and never has been, about you. Any of you.

This is not, and never has been, about good and bad.

This makes no sense to you, I know.

I have taken all who are worthy.

There will be no further messages.

 

The man in the dark blue suit slumps against one of the seats in the aisle, as if having just had the wind knocked out of him. He has never known religion, never wanted to know it, but he feels, very distinctly, something leave him just then. The word “soul” comes to mind, but he does not feel that this word fits for him.

A burly male flight attendant bustles up behind him, escorts him to his seat, tells him to buckle his seatbelt.

Just then there is a bright flash, taking a snapshot of the turmoil in the sky. A loud thud rocks the aircraft. A fire blazes on the left wing. Another strike and the engine on that side of the airplane flames out.

Seth Philson wakes up to screaming.

Below the black clouds under the plane—clouds that Flight 762 has just broken through—Vancouver International Airport burns.

*

Emma sits on the hood of her car, drenched, sobbing, waiting for another glimpse of the blinking light to cut through the clouds, hoping the tiny light stays up there, or carries on to another airport to land. Surely, unlike the other plane, Seth’s will see the devastation below and have time to pull up.

Over the thunder and drilling rain, she hears a droning engine, searches the sky, sees a bright flash, a sharp crack, and her heart stops, kicks twice in her chest, flutters. The plane breaks through the low-lying clouds. She raises her right hand to her mouth at the same time that the fire bursts to life in the left engine: a tiny firefly weaving and bobbing far above her.

Unable to do anything but stare, Emma watches, wide-eyed, open-mouthed, as fierce winds batter the plane around in the sky for several torturous minutes. Nearly overhead, it tilts, rights itself, loses altitude, nose dipping, then straightens up again. Now directly above, another lightning strike sears its tail, temporarily blinding her.

Seth , she thinks, a strange calm coming over her. Where are you going? I’m here, Seth. Right here below you.

When the plane crashes into a forest about a mile away—continued lightning strikes from the overcharged air missing her by less than a hundred feet—she imagines she feels the earth shudder. Imagines she feels it ripple through her entire body.

She expects an explosion to accompany the plane crash, but there is nothing. Just silence after it disappears over the highest treetop.

She feels something inside her, some part of her, slip away, drift up into the night.

*

After calmly calling in the plane crash from her cell phone, Emma drives home. As soon as she’s a few miles away from the crash site, the weather abruptly clears up. The rain and hail stop, the lightning peters out, the winds grow calm.

The manuscript on Emma’s passenger seat—the one she thought would change the world forever if it wound up in the wrong hands—is now blank. Even as she leans over from the driver’s side, incredulous, flipping through the hundreds of pages, the words fade before her eyes.

A conversation she’d had with Jim Leeds at dinner earlier that night, after she told him she wanted to quit her job, comes back to her as she drives:

“So what do you think it is?” Jim asked.

“What do I think what is?” Emma said, still annoyed that Jim was so certain she would keep doing her job, even though she hated it.

“Where do you think they’re coming from? The words.”

Emma was silent for nearly a full minute. She swilled wine around in her glass.

“I think they’re coming from God.”

Jim snorted. “God? I didn’t know you believed.”

“I don’t. But I think that’s where the words are coming from.”

*

The next day, The Vancouver Sun runs a story about the disastrous crash of Flight 762, the obliteration of the airport, and the bizarrely focussed lightning storm that disintegrated every building and airplane within a two-mile radius of the crash site.

There is also a smaller article about reports of disappearances throughout Vancouver. At press time, several hundred other missing-persons reports were coming in from around the world. Police, the paper said, were investigating.

Incredibly, Seth was safe. A little bruised and battered, but otherwise fine. As were all 114 of the other passengers aboard the plane. A “miracle,” the Sun said.

Seth’s laptop, however, was not so lucky; it was lost in the crash.

A week later, sitting across from his sister in her apartment, eating French toast and sipping coffee, Seth tells his sister what he remembers about the flight.

“I remember getting on the plane, and I remember some guy beside me asking if I was a writer. I told him no. Then I remember getting sleepy. That’s it.” Seth cuts into a piece of toast, jabs it with his fork, sops up some syrup with it, and pops it into his mouth.

“That’s it? Nothing about the crash?”

“Nothing.”

Emma gets up from her chair, heads for the shower. She stops at the doorway leading to the bathroom.

“You’re staying for . . . a while, Seth?” she says.

Seth looks up, sees something in his sister’s eyes he’s never seen before. He thinks it might be loneliness. He thinks he might have some of that right now in his own eyes.

“Yeah,” he says. “I’m staying for a while. As long as you need me.”

Emma smiles, steps into the bathroom, closes the door quietly.

*

The man in the dark blue suit dials Emma Philson’s number from a phone booth downtown. She sounds breathless when she answers, as if having had to run to grab the receiver before it stopped ringing.

“Hello?”

“Emma Philson?”

A pause. “Who is this?” One hand dries her hair with a towel, the other holds the phone.

“There will be more disappearances,” the man says. “More reported each day. Probably millions.”

“Who the hell is this?”

“All the work we’ve done—none if it mattered, none of it changed anything, Ms. Philson. Good or bad, it didn’t matter at all. Judgement day has come and gone, and now we’re all just walking around, already dead. Just too fucking stupid to lay down.”

Perhaps having an idea who this might be, Emma says nothing. Just listens.

“Your brother. He wrote this. On the plane, just before it went down. I was there to steal his manuscript, kill him. He was a fugue writer. I’m surprised you didn’t know. Just listen: ‘This is not, and never has been, about you. Any of you. This is not, and never has been, about good and bad. This makes no sense to you, I know. I have taken all who are worthy. There will be no further messages.’”

Emma calls the man in the dark blue suit by his real name. Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.

“Yes, it’s me,” the man says, his voice rusted, hollowed out. “You know, I thought maybe there really was something to this whole good and bad thing. I thought maybe when I called you, there would be no answer. That maybe you’d have disappeared along with the others. Taken . . . wherever.” His voice trails off, and he feels the emptiness inside his chest more acutely now. It squeezes his heart. The man coughs once, looks across the street. His eyes drift up to his boss’s office window.

“Hello?” Emma says tentatively. The man hears her as a dead voice in a tin can.

“I’m here,” he replies. Breathes deeply, feels his chest tighten more. “There will be no more manuscripts, Emma. It’s over. All of it. We were never in control. Whether we believed in them or not, there were always other, bigger forces at work. God, the Devil, or something else entirely, what does it matter in the end?”

No reply.

The man hangs up the phone.

Emma listens to the deadline hum for a long time. She is crying and has no idea why.

The man in the dark blue suit crosses the street carefully, making sure to look both ways, climbs three flights of stairs, enters Joseph’s office, sits down.

“Joseph—”

“Shut up.”

“Joseph, listen—”

“Shut the fuck up.

The man in the dark blue suit stares hard at Joseph. Contemplates whether he can risk another interruption. Knows he cannot. Decides he doesn’t care, anyway. So he just sits quietly and fiddles with a crease in his pants.

And waits to die for nothing.

 

END

 

© Brett Alexander Savory 2010

 

 

© Paul Kane 2003-2017. All rights reserved. Materials (including images) may not be reproduced without express permission from the author.