Weekly Writing Contest

Immortal Contest

Jan 6-11, 2020

Results and what’s next

  • 1.

    Em Handy (4pts)

  • 2.

    Nicholas Ryan (2pt)

First place story
By Em Handy

Round 1 (updated)

The government swore the water wasn’t tainted when the first generation of telepaths were born into the world. Strangely, it only was centered around the United States. Through further research, it seems only those of the same astrological signs could talk to each other leading to new styles of cliques in high school. Neuro doctors confirmed after an adolescent went through puberty, they no longer had that telepathic ability.

Eden sat in a lounge chair near the corner of the science department common room looking through an astrology magazine. She took a peek from her magazine, surveying the room at the students going through their textbooks getting ready for the midterm exam. She smirked, thankful for not having to take the test due to her current grades.

The flatscreen positioned a few feet away from her blared “Breaking News,” from the speakers. The device gained the attention of all the students in the lounge. “The FBI has announced a mandatory press conference to be screened across the country,” said the presenting reporter. “We go live to the acting director from Washington.”

The screen immediately switched to a man standing in a black suit surrounded by microphones and other agents in similar attire. His hair was peppered gray, but he was fairly young.

“Good afternoon. For the past few months, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security have been working on a serial case of terrorism. There have been multiple instances of small attacks that have been kept quiet from the public, but caused no overall harm to the country. A group of twelve called ‘Dodeka’ takes ownership for the attacks. I announce this not to induce panic but to give warning and allow for preparation,” spoke the director.

Eden searched the room for expressions. There was one who stood out; he seemed very annoyed by what the director was saying. He forcefully stood up. “Oh, come on! This is bullshit. There hasn’t been any sign of terrorism since President Angle.” Eden rolled her eyes and went back to the television.

“This group has claimed to still have the telepathic ability past their adolescence. They demanded to be heard or they will do, and I quote ‘worse things than try to leak government secrets or shutting down the power grid,’ end quote. They have also threatened to commit acts of murder of those high in our government chain. I assure you, all government officials have been accounted for and are safe. If anyone has any information on this group or anyone involved, please contact your local officials. Do not engage as they are considered highly dangerous. We will continue to update you as the investigation continues.”

The screen cut off the students began mumbling amongst themselves. The same student from earlier shouts out, “That’s all they’re gonna tell us? Why give in to the so-called terrorists?”

A female student nearby voiced her opinion. “They are trying to keep peace, you moron. They don’t know how bad these people really are.” Eden tried to go back to her magazine, but the discussions changing from the midterm to Dodeka kept distracting her.

Round 2
She left from her spot and left the room to head for the library instead. As soon as she got up to the second floor, it was like a bomb of conversation was unleashed. She was swarmed with discussions of the broadcast. Different groups of people were talking about it along with the librarians themselves. Eden couldn’t believe it. She continued through the shelves towards the back of the floor. There was a wall of beanbags with only one student sitting in the farthest end, hogging the charging stand. She sat only a few bags away from him and started on her magazine again.

“Well, the internet has been blown up with the Dodeka nonsense.” Eden looked up from her magazine. Her eyes darted over to the guy at the charging stand. He wasn’t looking at her at all. She sighed and kept reading.

“Already police have been swarmed with thousands of calls, too.”

She tilted her head, clearing annoyed. “I rather not talk about this if you don’t mind. It’s definitely nonsense.”

The student stared at her confused. “I’m sorry? I didn’t say anything.”

“You just said the internet blew up and the police has thousands of calls.”

“No…. I thought that. No sound came out of my mouth.”

Eden moved to the beanbag next to him and put down the magazine. “How old are you?” She asked, leaning in just slightly as she lowered her voice.

He reclined his position to his right. “Twenty-three.”

“And your Zodiac?”

“Virgo.”

She swallowed and stood up. “I am a Sagittarius, and this never happened.” She briskly walked down the aisle between the shelves, leaving the student and her magazine. She passed the groups in the library and eyed them close. Only a few were talking this time. She focused on one group and heard multiple voices, but all of them were reading something from the same book. No conversation. Lines started to repeat in her head. Eden started panicking as she raced out the library. “What the hell is happening?”

Eden tried focusing on someone else, but this time she couldn’t hear anything. Something was up, and she couldn’t quite figure out why she was able to hear those thoughts. Last time she went to the neuro doctor, there were no signs of her being able to hear anything. Not only that but she was able to hear the thoughts of a Virgo and all the other people in the library. She kept walking down the sidewalk. It didn’t make sense especially not for a 27-year-old.

She entered her dorm room and sank to the floor behind the door. Her roommate poked her head around the corner from the bathroom. “You okay, hon?” Eden watched Liana come out wearing a robe with the school logo embroidered on it. “You normally don’t sink to the floor like that.”

Liana brushed her brown curls and knelt in front of her. “Is it the Dodeka thing?”

Eden wiped the drips of water from Liana’s hair off her leg and shook her head. “No.”

“Then what is it?” She asked. She continued on, but didn’t move her lips this time. “She’s really pale. I really hope nothing bad happened.”

Eden pushed herself against the door and stood up. “If I tell you something important, you promise you won’t tell anyone?”

“You know I got your back.” Liana followed her lead and got to her feet. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know how, but…” She hesitated. “I just read your mind.”

Liana dropped her brush.

Round 3

Liana stared at Eden with a shocked, confused expression. “I don’t believe you.” Eden tried walking closer, but Liana kept the same distance between them. “You can’t tell me this now! Not after all this shit is going down!”

“I swear I didn’t know I could do it until now. Something must’ve triggered it. I haven’t done anything wrong, nor did anything bad happen,” Eden said holding her hands up in defense.

Liana didn’t know what to say. She walked over to her bed and sat down, staring at the floor. Eden could tell there wasn’t anything she could say to make her roommate feel better about this. She didn’t even know what to think. It been too long since she was able to talk to or hear anyone’s thoughts. She moved slowly towards the desk and sat down instead of trying to sit next to Liana. “I swear. You better not be a damn terrorist.”

“I promise you I am not. You’ve known me too long, and I do everything in here for you not to know what I am doing.”

“Then what you think is causing it? If you aren’t one of the twelve, what are you?” Liana asked.

Eden looked on the desk trying to pull out one of the other astrology magazines. “Remember when I told you about that 13th zodiac? What if that is true?”

“The Orphi-something, huh?”

Eden found the magazine and opens up to the article. “Ophiuchus. It’s a constellation between Scorpio and Sagittarius.”

Liana adjusted her robe and leans over to look at the picture Eden was holding up. “So what if it is?”

Eden shrugged and put down the magazine. “It still doesn’t explain why I have telepathy, but it seems I can hear and communicate with any other zodiac.” Liana leans back and taps her foot against the side of the bed. Eden watched her movements carefully and could tell Liana was relaxed just a bit from the little proposition. “Let me try again.”

“What?”

“Try to tell me something. Anything.”

“Okay. Um….” Liana thinks and, to Eden she just stared. After a few seconds, Liana asks, “Well?”

Eden shook her head. “Okay, I don’t get it. I couldn’t hear a thing!” She slams her fist on the desk making Liana jump.

“Could it be from stress?”

Eden stood up and sighed. “No. I don’t have anything to stress about. Now I do, but before I was just reading my magazine.” She looked towards the door and tapped her palm to her forehead. “Which is still in the library with that guy.”

“Guy?” Liana asked.

“Some young—probably sophomore—that I heard his thoughts when he was watching the internet blow up after the broadcast.”

“So everyone really is on this Dodeka kick.” Liana laid back on the bed and stared at the ceiling. Eden looked over to her and widened her eyes as she noticed Liana’s lips not moving while hearing, “I want to see all the conspiracies.”

Eden clapped her hands. “Conspiracies! You thought about conspiracies!” Liana slowly sat up and eyed her a little scared by her enthusiasm. “Something just triggered it. It had to!”

“Calm down. It had to be something to do with that terrorist group then.”

“Please don’t say that,” said Eden. “I don’t want to be connected to that group in anyway.”

Liana sat there in silence for a few moments. “What if it isn’t the people,” she thought.

Eden shifted in her stance. “I can still hear you.”

“Give me a second. I have an idea,” Liana said.

Round 4

Eden watched Liana closely as she scribbled in a notebook of hers for a few minutes. “I clearly don’t know what is going through your mind now, so can you please explain to me what you are doing?”

“Keep your pants on. You know how I have to do my investigations.”

“You are a weird criminal justice major.”

“Shush!” Liana continued her scribbling then got up from her bed and placed it in front of Eden. Eden tilted her head trying to distinguish words from Liana’s handwriting. “Okay, so using what I know about you, and what just happened in the past hour or so, this is what I came up with.”

Eden lifted the notebook closer to her. “You think my hypnotherapy had something to do with this?”

Liana put her hand on Eden’s shoulder and leaned down. “Think about it. You can’t remember the details of the accident you were in, and there is definitely a code word that triggers those memories. What if the therapist, in the midst of helping you, found out you still had your telepathy abilities? He could have given you a code word that limits those abilities.”

“That seems very farfetched, Li,” said Eden as she put down the notebook. She stood up from her desk rubbing her arm.

Her roommate sighed. “Okay, well can you at least try this little experiment with me then? You like experiments.”

Eden rolled her eyes and couldn’t help but smile. “Fine, go ahead.”

Liana rubbed her hands together and crossed her arms excitedly. “Alright then. You can’t talk to me, right?” Eden shook her head. “Good.” Liana picked up her phone from the small nightstand and opened the timer. “When I say a word, try to tell me something telepathically.”

“Whatever you say,” agreed Eden.

“Terrorist.” Liana waited for another voice to appear in her head. Nothing came up. She tapped her chin, thinking of what she said a bit ago. “No…. It couldn’t be terrorist. I said that when you came in. What did I say when you heard me think about conspiracies?”

Eden tried talking to her again, but she could clearly tell that wasn’t the word either. “You said something about everyone being on that kick.”

“That’s it! That has to be the word!”

“Kick?”

Liana slapped her arm but not too hard to sting. “No! It’s Dodeka! Go ahead try to say something.”

Eden sighed and thought, “You really need to put on some clothes.”

Liana jumped up and smiled. She thought, “It really is ‘Dodeka’!” Eden’s eyes widened and she backed up to the wall. Liana’s expression quickly changed realizing that Eden is in some way connected to the terrorist group, even without meaning to. She looked down at her phone and noticed the timer wasn’t going. “Shit. I was gonna see how long the telepathy lasted.”

“It can wait,” Eden mumbled. Liana agreed and walked over to her friend and took her arms. “No. You don’t need to be near me.”

“Eden. Listen to me. Just because your code word is the name of a terrorist group, doesn’t mean anything.”

“You just thought the opposite.” Eden pulled her arms back and turned away.

Liana sighed. “What if we get you back to your hypnotherapist and get him to change the word? You won’t have to worry about being a telepath anymore.”

Eden stood there against the wall for a few moments staring at the carpet and thinking it over to herself. “Okay. Only if you finally put on some clothes.”

Round 5

Eden looked through her contacts in her phone for the doctor she didn’t remember the name of as her and Liana made their way down the sidewalk to Liana’s car. “Anything yet?” she asked.

She shook her head and looked at Liana. “I don’t remember the doctor’s name, and I have multiple listed in my phone.”

Liana pulls out her phone and does a quick internet search. “Two of them come up on the search. Dr. Jerald Maunt and Dr. Elaine Herald. You would think their names would be more different. They work at the same office, Alternative Healing.”

“Alright, we know where we have to go.”

The two get to the car. One inside, Liana puts the address to the office in her GPS and out they go. It was about a twenty minute drive to the office. Eden made it inside the small building attached to others in just a medium-sized shopping center that housed other doctors. The receptionist looked up at her and smiled. “How can I help you?”

“I used to be a patient here, but I am not sure which doctor was mine. Is there anyway you can help me out with that? I have some issues with my hypnosis that is confidential between us.”

“Let me check. What’s the name?” she asked.

“Eden McLane.”

The receptionist types away on the computer. Her expression changed slightly, making Eden worry. “You were under the care of Dr. Franklin Hank. He does not work with us anymore.”

Eden bit her lip nervously, rocking on her heals. She put her hands on the counter. “Please tell me you have an idea where he went. How long has he been gone?”

“He left us several months ago. All I know is Dr. Hank wanted us to forward all of his patient information to his disclosed address.”

“Can I get that address, please?”

“I’m sorry, he did not want it to get out. I’m not sure if he created another practice or not.”

She tapped her foot. “Come on. This is kind of an emergency.”

“An emergency?” came from a voice behind Eden. She looked over to see a man about a foot taller than her with short brown hair wearing a doctor coat. “I’m Dr. Maunt. Can I help you with something?”

The receptionist peeked past the window. “She was looking for Dr. Hank.”

“I see. I thought we had all of his patients sent to him already.”

“I haven’t been a patient for a few years,” Eden said.

The male doctor nods and pulls Eden away from the desk. “We can’t give you a physical address, but I can tell you he has a practice on the other side of town. I’m not too sure why he left. He was a great man.” Dr. Maunt pulled out a pad from his coat pocket. “Here.” He scribbled down a note and gave it to Eden. “Someone there can definitely help you find him.” She stared at the small piece of paper in her hand. He heightens the volume in his voice. “I’m sorry we couldn’t help you today.”

Eden nodded and left the office. Her pace quickened until she got into Liana’s car. “He doesn’t work here, but I have a place that can help. We are going to find this doctor.” Liana nodded to Eden and pulled out the parking lot.

Round 6

The girls parallel parked on the side of the road only a block away from the building Eden got the address of. Liana put the car in park and looked at her friend. “What do you think that place is?”

“I’m not sure, but Maunt said someone there can help.”

“This is really sketchy.” No one was on the sidewalks. The light poles on the corner seemed to be worn down and unmaintained. Most of the buildings were rundown besides the two on the corners including the one they had their eyes on. “Let me come with you this time.”

Immediately Eden said, “I don’t need you involved more than you are if things do get bad. I don’t want to risk anything.” Before Liana can say anything, Eden exited the car and beelined towards the building. She swallowed a hard lump in her throat as she entered the small shop.

Trinkets, books, and odd commodities littered the shop’s wooden shelves. To the right was a counter with a glass case that held glass pipes on one side and small jewelry on the other. Eden meandered through the shop, squeezing through two of the aisles. “Can I help you?” Eden jumped not expecting the voice. A young man who seemed to be around her age stood behind her. He leaned against the shelf putting weight on his elbow.

“Yeah, uh, I’m looking for a Dr. Franklin Hank. I was told—”

He puts his hand up and points to the back door. “Go through there and follow the hallway to the stairs. What you need is up there.” He stood up straight and walked back towards the front door. “Next time, close the door all the way.”

Eden watched him before going towards the back. The door creaked open as she walked through. The hallway was dark, but she was still able to see from the windows that lined the walls. She made her way to the stairs and with each step the stairs moaned of moving iron. At the top, a small hallway was occupied by a single door. She stared at the door for a few moments before it swung open. It was an older man who stood in the frame. His hair was a platinum blonde. His glasses didn’t hide the crowfeet and forehead lines on his face. He was decently dressed with a button down shirt and tie. “Zodiac?”

Eden was confused for a moment, but she blinked and responded with, “Sagittarius.”

He tilted his head and examined her up and down. “You are young.”

“I’m looking for a Dr. Hank.”

The man’s eyes flickered with a sign of familiarity when Eden spoke the name. “Hank, huh? He doesn’t stay here. Odd that you want the head of this operation.”

“I just need his help with my hypnotherapy.”

The guy smirked, “Don’t we all. You must have not had contact with the others much, but Hank said he’ll fix us up at the right time. Would you like to come in?”

Eden took a glance at the room behind him. “I’m alright. I was just stopping by to see if Dr. Hank was here.”

He held out his hand. “Well, it was good to meet a fellow member. I’m Taurus.” She hesitantly takes his hand in a firm shake. “We’ll be on the rise now after that announcement.”

“I got to get going.” She left out the shop. At the car, she sat in the passenger seat with ‘stunned’ written on her face.

“So?” Liana asked.

“Drive. Now.”

Second place story
By Nicholas Ryan

Round 1, 2, 3, 4

It was going to be especially cold today, the glimmer of the screen had told him through the hot fog of his pre-dawn coffee. So he put on his long blue buttoned coat and his big black boots, which now crunched to the laces in the morning-bright snow. Under his blue officer’s cap, the wool mitts, muffs and muffler made by his missus froze to his hairy head, wetted by his steaming breath.

He knew every street in the city, and he had been here before, but this part of town had been knocked partway down and built up again so many times that the department’s maps of the “Veintesquinas” brought to mind the cross-sections of human circulatory organs he had studied in school.

Like a magnet clicking into place, his eyes found a wooden sign engraved with words placed high up on the lintel above a wooden door, blue paint curled by the cold. It said, “H-rbarium, Ene–y Mas–ge, & Compu— Rep-ir.” He remembered falling into this same circumstance the last time he had been here. Coming again was like a double-image reaching focus. Just through that little archway there on the left side of the path stood the place he needed to go.

Shifting the warm metal badge under-coat with his cold fingertips just above his heart, Detective Bernard Vasquez mounted the creaking stairs of the courtyard and passed between the wood beams holding up the snowy shingled roof and its dripping beard of icicles.

The shelter of the roofed upper floor offered a blessed respite from the wind. Vasquez took a moment to warm his bare fingertips with a couple quick huffs of hot breath and listen to the wind’s hollow roar as it rushed in from the open sky through every available channel, whipping ice crystals across the cobbles in little whirls. There was a faint buzz beneath the hurried wind, something metallic that he couldn’t quite place, like the waning ring of a tuning fork. It seemed to have its source just beyond the door in front of him. The door bore the number “13” just above the spyhole in little peeling single-digit stickers. He knocked.

The door swung open under his knuckles and the buzzing sound increased. Suspicion softly pulled his hand to his pistol and his shoulder to the door. He opened his eyes wide to catch anything in the periphery as he peered into the gloom. Unseen lights cast in blue-white flickers rivers of candy wrappers, mounds of discarded clothes, a stained mattress in the corner, monumental stacks of old pizza boxes, and odd bits of machinery in various states of deconstruction with their parts about them like crowds of idolaters.

“Is anybody there?” Vasquez said.

“Just us,” said a voice from deeper in. “That you, Uncle?”

He pushed the door the rest of the way open and forced his hand from his holster. As he walked in, cautious to avoid the little mechanical flocks, a chill shot up his straight officer’s spine. That buzzing sound was much louder now, coming from the other room. It was the hum of computers hard at work.

“Where are you? Who’s ‘us’?” called the detective.

“In the other room. I’m just finishing up.”
The apartment in Veintesquinas hadn’t been anything like this last time, when he had helped his nephew move in from the orphanage he went to after the fire. Nor had the lad been so free with his words. Perhaps he was healing. But the room did not support that idea; the detritus about the place seemed to lay where it had fallen when discarded, and the cacophony of rancid smells emanating from some of the damper piles suggested that he was deep in the grasp of a detached depression. The only light came from a barely-glimpsed array of screens blaring muted colors in the other room.

Under the sound of the buzzing Vasquez could hear a rapid clacking, something like many rats on the move across tiled floors. He approached the entrance to the other room, and had to squint as he rounded the corner. Light assaulted his eyes from every part of the room, from the walls and a good bit of the ceiling as well. He heard a little squeaking which he knew immediately for some kind of panicked rodent. The clacking sped up, which Vasquez hadn’t thought possible, and abruptly ceased.

“There! Now to unleash the beast.” A final clack, and the lights right, left, and above winked out, their light taking a good portion of the buzzing with it. Vasquez’s eyes adjusted quickly, and he saw surrounded by dim computer monitors hanging from the walls the silhouette of a boy spinning to face him. Slowly, the colors filtered back into the form before Vasquez. He was taller and his limbs were longer than a year ago, but there was a gauntness to his frame where once there had been boyish softness. Shaggy black hair fell to his shoulders. He wore nothing on his sweat-slicked upper body, and jeans hung loosely about his narrow hips. There was a small, white mouse on his shoulder.
Vasquez realized suddenly how hot it was in there looking at him, and unbuttoned the top of his shirt. The boy watched him, arms resting in his lap.

“It’s been a while, Henry. It’s good to see you,” said Vasquez.

“It has been awhile, uncle Bern. Heard you got shot.”

“It wasn’t that bad. Lydia and Stephan took good care of me.”

“Stephan doing okay in school? He’s, what, seven now?”

“Oh, yeah. Probably he’s gonna be smarter than you.”

Henry’s face didn’t change until the mouse started to climb down from his shoulder.

“Careful, Henry,” Henry said, using his hand like a guard-rail. His eyes remained on his uncle. “Maybe he will be. I learned what I had to learn.”

Vasquez kept silent, remembering the blackened ruin of his brother’s matrimonial home, little soot-smudged Henry wailing in a fireman’s arms. That Henry had named the mouse after himself brought him out of it.

“What brings you to my humble abode?”
“I wanted to check in. What is all this?” He raised his arms wide in a gesture that included everything.

“Nothing special. More routine scanning, looking for more access points, broken grids, that kind of thing. The wiring around here is so damn messed that it’s like several grids rather than one, and some have their own internal generators. Can’t see those except by the spaces around ‘em. There’s a lot of folk who value privacy here in Twenty. It’d be the perfect place. I’ve got several fractional grids on the radar now, and-” Henry was unconsciously streaming words with a voice cracking from lack of use.

“The perfect place for what?”

“Dodeka. For them to hide out.”

“Why are you interested in Dodeka? What do you know about them?”

“I had a dream, sometime last year. Can’t remember when. June is still alive. I saw her face in the dream. She looked scared.”

“How could she be alive? There were three bodies in the fire, Hijo. And your sister was twenty-two when the fire… Her telepathy would be long gone, even if she had made it out. And what could that possibly have to do with Dodeka?”

“What do you know about Dodeka? Did you know that they reached out to me in person? I would have killed the guy with my hands if he didn’t lock me.”

“Henry, you are a child. You should not be dealing with guys like this. You’re, what, fifteen? How can you talk like that?”

“Sixteen,” Henry said.
“These guys aren’t like your fucking cartoon villains, they’re not even like real gangs. They’re worse. You haven’t seen what people like them do to people like us.”

“I’m nothing like you.” His eyes flashed dangerously. “Why did you come here? I asked you before.” Henry the mouse cowered on his shoulder.

Vasquez rose from the pile of clothes he had been sitting on and turned out his palms in placation.

“I said before, I wanted to check in on you. And,” the detective said rubbing the back of his neck, “I thought maybe you knew something about a case I’ve been looking into.”

“Tell me about the case. Maybe I’ll help you.”

“Alright. The neighborhoods surrounding Veintesquinas have been hit hard by disappearances. Mostly young men and women, up and vanishing from their homes. One woman told me her daughter had been talking with some internet boyfriend before she left, and the chat logs said to meet him at a warehouse on the border of this neighborhood. Foolish girl went, but when my team checked it out there wasn’t a trace. Other times, there’s evidence of a struggle. But all young people, mind you, on both sides of puberty, and all with signs of potent or post-term telepathy. There’s been about twenty disappearances altogether that we think might be related, and all signs say the abductor or abductors live somewhere in this area. I wanted to make sure you were safe, but I know that you’re familiar with this place. Have you heard or seen anything?”

Henry crossed his legs while Vasquez was talking, and a thoughtful look came upon his face. A long silence passed.

“I’ll help you. We’ll have to work together, of course, seeing as we’re working on the same case. And I want you to owe me.” Henry smirked. “But don’t think that I’ll just up and hand the case to you, after all. This is about my sister.”

“I still don’t see how she’s connected to Dodeka, Hijo.”

“Don’t call me that. We’re partners now, and you’ll never be my dad.” Henry pressed his lips together and continued. “The man I met with told me. Not with words. No telepathy actually involves language insofar as communication goes. It’s like images, impressions, lots of sensory information. I saw her when I shook his hand after he introduced himself. He said his name was John Doe, so feel free to look that up in your cop alias search engines. I thought it was my mind just throwing old data up in my face, but after thinking it over, I realized he had put that image there. June in our old house, singing nursery songs to me.”

Vasquez did not understand, so he tried to put his hand on Henry’s shoulder, but he rolled away in his computer chair.

“Nothing personal.” He took the mouse down from his shoulder, who grabbed his thumb with its forepaws and began to sniff. “I think ol’ John presented it as a challenge. To see if I can get her back. Well, they’ll be damn surprised when I do. When we do.” He looked at Vasquez. “I’ve been working on something. Watch this.”

Henry put his smaller version on the table supporting his keyboard and the central monitors, still bright and buzzing away.
“His name is Henry because he was born on the same day as me, about three weeks ago. Still young. Opened his eyes for the first time last week. Pretty cute, huh?”
Little Henry scampered around over the old, dusty keyboard with big raised keys, occasionally stopping to stand on hind legs and sniff the air, looking Big Henry in the eyes.

“He’s pretty cute, yeah. What am I watching? You worked on this mouse?”

“In a way.” Henry flashed a smile, a light coming to his eyes as if from the top of the ocean to its floor. “He’s my assistant. For telepathy.”

“You’ve been talking with a mouse inside its head?”

“Not quite. I’ve only been listening. Human thoughts are shaped very differently from the thoughts of mice, if they can be called thoughts. Not only do humans drape their thoughts with language, they’ve also got a lot more power behind them. I’ve yet to see whether he might understand me. His parents didn’t.” Henry’s eyes flicked to the floor, and then back to his smaller copy. “Let’s see together whether he’ll understand.” His eyes grew sharp, focused on the mouse, whose whiskers twitched.

Vasquez watched Henry sitting there. It was the first time he had seen him since the move-in, and this obsession with his sister had done him little good. Experimenting with mice, now. But Vasquez didn’t want to break his concentration, and stayed silent.

The little mouse stared up at them, working with his front teeth a little grain of something held between his paws. And then it stopped, still as an image, and the crumb fell away from his little fingers. The tiny eyes widened until a ring of white showed around the black, and widened further. The paws shook, and the tail stood out straight behind it quivering, and then the mouse leapt and fell back down onto the table defecating, spine struck straight, little jaw agape and the tail quivering.

“Stop! You’re hurting it!” Vasquez snatched it up and cradled little Henry in his big, callused hands.

“It’s too late. I already sent the thought. Guess we don’t outgrow our parents by much.”

“How could you knowingly do something like this to your own pet?”

“He’s not my pet. He’s my assistant. And now he’s no longer capable of his duties. I have to scale up that same idea to get June back. Your little pea-shooter won’t work on them. When you’re tired of holding him, throw him in that bin there.”

Vasquez held the little guy in his hands a while longer, looking at Henry with a new lens. When had he gotten like this? Had he always been this way?

“What happened to you, Henry?”

“You know damn well what happened. It’s too late to start caring.”

Henry, turned again to his computer work and wiping his nose, cursed in bewilderment at what was coming up on his screens. All the progress bars on the scans he was running, some which had reached completion, were being replaced at accelerating speeds with little error boxes stating, “Scan failed! Error unknown,” and filling the room with error notification soundbytes. Suddenly the screens still lit went dark.

“What just happened?” asked Vasquez in the full darkness.

“Something very bad. They found me.”

The one central screen lit up again. On it was a three dimensional model rotating slowly in place. Vasquez wasn’t sure, but it looked like a twelve-sided die somebody might use for tabletop roleplaying games. On each face was an image of a comically exaggerated bird, far too fat to be able to fly and with an absurdly large beak. The birds were grinning at them. It took him a second to realize, but it was the dodo bird from an old cartoon he used to watch as a kid.

“A dodo? What the hell?”

“Dodeka. How did they find me?”

“There’ll be time for that later. If you’re right, we have to get out of here.”

Round 5

Bernard Vasquez leaned against a splintering wooden support beam in the shadow of the little square courtyard’s stairway, dark blue collar turned up to protect himself and the precious guttering ember of his cigarette from the hungry wind. A dark coal of something he couldn’t quite unravel smouldered in the pit of his stomach. Anger. Guilt, certainly. But the detective had never known fear before.

Not five minutes ago he had been standing with Henry in the low green gloom of that rotating graphic, on each of the twelve faces the extinct birds smiling with human teeth. Henry was scrambling between the several computer towers tucked away in corners and nearly hidden by the masses of wire-packets (as neat as the little mechanical piles, Vasquez noted), slamming open disk trays for their contents and harvesting flash drives like a greedy squirrel snatching up its winter hoard.

Vasquez had been tapping his foot, arms crossed, tempted to grab the kid, the damned little mouse-torturer, by the scruff and drag him out. Henry could start again back at the city’s police station. He didn’t realize how much valuable information was stored here. But they had to go, and right now. The detective reached out with his sun-dark, hairy arm, thick fingers spread to clasp. Henry sensed his hand, though, and turned his shoulder from his uncle, twin pinpricks of light burning in the shadowed eyes of his profile.

“Don’t touch–”

Vasquez saw those twin lights doused like a sailing ship’s forelamps caught by a sudden wave. Turning fully towards his uncle, Henry’s widening eyes flicked up from Vasquez’s face to a couple inches above his head. Vasquez turned to look, darted around, twisted with all the instinctual force of his considerable training, and realized that only his eyes had moved. He pulled his eyes around until the optic nerve was taut. His hand stood frozen before him, still reaching for Henry. The very expression on his own face, furrowed brows and lips, was anchored into place.

“Hello, Henry.”

Every hair on the back of Vasquez’ neck stood, the skin underneath bunched up. The new voice was smooth, deep, and abyssal cold. He could feel it vibrate across his back, could feel the vile pressure of the unseen man’s breath. It was as if the new voice was speaking right by Vasquez’s ear.

“It is impolite to talk about others when they are not present, young man.”

“You! You damned ghou–”

Henry’s upturned face froze, his lips stuck in a perfect ‘O’ as if he were angrily blowing out a candle. His eyes, wide but shadowed by his down-wrenched brows, flicked back and forth between his uncle and the Form looming behind and above him.

“You were right to guess that my little hint was a challenge, Henry.”

Vasquez could hear its smile creaking open.

“I wanted you to show me what you could do on your own, what with all the potential locked up inside that skull of yours. But now it is time for shaping. You are a tool whose purpose will soon be nigh.”

Sudden movement pulled Vasquez’s eyes to the left as a long, thin arm, rice paper skin in the low green light, came over Vasquez’s shoulder. The tendons and the veins stood out pulsing along the forearm, on the back of the unfurling hand, the fingers long and delicate, a cordial spider extending pale limbs. It clasped Henry by the shoulder. Tears escaped from his eyes, horrified under the furious mask. And then all was dark.

Vasquez woke alone, face-down in the filth of apartment thirteen.

“I need a fucking cigarette.”

Round 6

The flakes of snow sank through the quiet air in nearly straight lines from the whiteout surrounding Vasquez. The storm had moved in force while he was unconscious. And now, he burned away unpuffed the full length of several cigarettes, trudging along a wide cobbled lane. The last four hours ran through his aching head again and again.

There were no signs anywhere of Henry’s flash drives or CDs. Even the ones the kid hadn’t managed to grab had been taken along with him. There was no direct way to track him now. He had scoured the courtyard for footprints before the snow had begun to fall in earnest, but with a snowstorm like this one, there was no chance in hell of following a trail. And there were no fucking tracks, anyway. The skin of his head felt tight enough to rupture under its own tension or crack the skull underneath.

The detective had a hunch, though. The department’s maps suggested that the only part of Veintesquinas which had dodged the frenzy of urban renewal was underground. Condemned subway tunnels ran through this part of the city. Due to bureaucrats in the pocket of a corrupt Governor from thirty years ago, contractors started construction on the subways before the city geologists had even submitted their viability analysis. Turned out that a major fault line ran almost parallel with the north-south tunnel and its construction had to be shut down to avoid catastrophic collapse. Other contractors filled the tunnels with cleverly engineered supports, and the tunnels were never disturbed again. Like Henry said, it would be the perfect place to hide.

A fuzzy crackling sound broke the snowy silence, startling him from his reverie. His hip radio!

“–quez, Vasquez, do you read–” The voice sounded immeasurably distant.

“I read you. Our psychic was abducted by… by a member of Dodeka.”

“Was there a –refight? –you wounded?”

“I couldn’t even draw my gun. I don’t think I’m wounded. These fuckers don’t use guns.”

“–at is your locatio–? Will send–reinforcements. –not engage! Wait for–”

Vasquez’ eyes scouted the surrounding corners for signs, happened upon two rusted corner signs topped with growing bills of snow.

“I’m on the corner of Darle & Cortes. Do you copy? Darle & Cortes, heading north to subway access.”

The radio growled static in his hand. Vasquez repeated himself, waited. Nothing but more static. God, his head hurt. Soon the static faded away too, his eyes searching the opaque veil of snow before him.

A vaguely triangular shadow appeared in Vasquez’ path north at the edge of the whiteout, taller than any of the snowy junkers at rest on the street. For a moment, the dark silhouette came into focus. It was the shape of a man in black robes atop a deathly still black horse. It was not from within the shadows of the hood that the whistling voice came, but from within Vasquez’ own head.

“You are already too late. Henry was lost to you the moment fire began in the home you refused to visit. Our First is shaping him as I send this message. But the First does not understand either that all hope of control was lost when He set that fire. The boy’s father was Our only chance, now ash. Turn back. You will not survive what is to come.”

Vasquez drew his pistol and fired twice into the shadow before him, but it melted away as dark fog on the wind. The sound of his pistol shots echoed hollowly in the emptiness.

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