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Vision
Vision

  By John Sharp

  Copyright 2015 John Ustaszewski

  Editor Elizabeth Wiglesworth

  Thank you for downloading the ebook. You are welcome to share it with friends. This book may be reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in its complete original form. If you enjoyed this book, please return to your favorite ebook retailer to discover other works by this author. Thank you for your support.

  TABLE OF CONTENTS

  Vision

  Preview: Shifter Book I

  Connect with John Sharp

  Vision

  The call came in around midnight and Detective Phillips instantly knew it was bad. They wouldn’t call him at that ungodly hour for anything less than a disaster. One question burned in his mind as he reached for the receiver, his hand trembling. How many bodies was it this time? A second, even grimmer question quickly followed: Could they even tell?

  “Steven here,” Steven Phillips said into the phone, praying it was something less apocalyptic this time. He listened in silence for some time as the man on the other line spoke, his expression growing darker with each word.

  “All right, I’ll be there in twenty,” he said rolling out of bed and gathering his things.

  Hastily putting on clothes from the other day he gave himself a quick cursory glance in the mirror. At thirty years old he could have passed for forty with short, black limp hair and a worn look often seen on combat veterans. His dark eyes were sunken depressions like he had died a long time ago and didn’t have the good sense to lie down. Shaving only two to three times a month, he only had to grab ragged clothes and sleep on benches to find the place he truly felt he belonged. Strangely enough, it was the job that kept him from that final edge. The knowledge that he, and only he, had the balls to do what must be done. Sighing, Steven turned away from the mirror and grabbed his keys.

  It hadn’t always been like this. He was happy once, only six months ago although it felt like several lifetimes. Sometimes he thought that had all been a dream or self-delusion to break up the nightmare of the reality he now lived in. It was bad what happened to Lily. At the time he couldn’t imagine anything worse. Then the drug vision hit the streets and every crime scene was a glimpse into hell. Heading downstairs and getting into his car, Steven wondered if he could even stomach another one so soon.

  Well, the rookie can’t, Steven thought as he pulled up to the curve near a line of police cars. He saw the rookie bent over the nearest garbage can already reduced to dry heaving. Sarah Clifford had joined the force less than a year ago and was already assigned to the vision task force. Fresh out of the academy she had a natural curiosity and permanent caffeine high walking into every case with absolute confidence.

  It’s about time she was knocked down a notch. Ever since she solved a series of unimportant but high profile robberies she was the presses golden girl. Yielding to public opinion, the captain promoted her to working with the DEA on the vision mess. The damn girl couldn’t even legally drink for another two months.

  Ignoring Sarah, Steven got out of the car and into the brisk night air, crossing the police barrier past the onlookers who were coming out like rats to a garbage buffet. It was fairly typical of all the other crime scenes so far. A low income area with a high crime rate and needle tracks on every other arm. The hotel where it occurred was run down, even by Chicago slum standards with filthy windows hiding even filthier deeds. A half lit, red neon sign bathed the ground in a weak, red glow which was further added to by the sirens of the dozen police cars in the parking lot.

  God, please don’t let it be so bad this time, Steven offered as a hopeless prayer. Deep down he already knew it was.

  “Hey, Steven! Over here!” A resonating voice boomed in a Hispanic accent across the parking lot. Turning, Steven saw Carlos Branson waving at him was. Carlos was a short, stocky Mexican that Steven always pictured as a dwarf from a Tolkien book. He had wide shoulders and a blocky frame that, if he was two feet taller, would have guaranteed him a spot in the NFL. Dressed in casual street clothes he had on his ever-present cubs cap to hide his growing bald spot. Steven walked up and gave him a nod, then stared over the man to the open door. Flashes of lights indicated that the team was already busy taking pictures.

  “Hey, Carlos,” Steven said not looking at him. “How many we got this time?”

  “At least a dozen dead, it’s hard to be sure,” Carlos said scratching his black goatee.

  “Like the others then,” Steven asked feeling his bile rise. He was not going to lose it like the damn rookie.

  “Yup,” Carlos said in a heavily accented voice.

  Steven swallowed, trying to brace himself. Over the past few months he could tell how bad a scene was by the amount of accent Carlos had. From the sound of it and Sarah’s vomiting this was going to be bad.

  “Kids?” Steven asked quietly.

  A long pause then Carlos said, “Yeah, at least one, maybe two, hard to tell.”

  God damn it, Steven cursed internally. “Why did you bring the rookie?” He said more to put off going in than he actually cared. “She’ll just get in the way.”

  “Sarah’s smart and has a good eye for detail,” Carlos said shrugging. “Besides, captain’s orders are to keep her involved and in view of the press. She’s good for the station’s image.”

  “There is only one thing she’s good for and that’s…” Steven began.

  “That’s what?” Sarah said sharply, looking pale but approaching the scene regardless. She was tough, Steven had to admit it. You wouldn’t think it by looking at her. Sarah Clifford was the type who could have easily taken a modeling job with blonde hair so pale it was almost white. She had flawless skin the color of pure milk and looked distinctly out of place in the carnage despite her well cut police uniform. Most of the guys on the force had a crush on her even though they were twice her age.

  “Finding stuff we missed,” Steven said after a brief pause looking into her cool blue eyes.

  Carlos let out a small chuckle, “Good cover.”

  Wanting to distract from his almost uttered lude comment Steven gestured to the scene. “How many had the munchies this time?”

  Carlos’ chuckle became a grimace and Sarah looked longingly at the trashcan again. “Three,” Carlos said.

  “Damn man, why do people take this shit?” Steven asked no one in particular.

  “Because it’s a high like no other, and it’s cheap,” Sarah said, her voice hoarse.

  True enough, Steven thought. Vision, besides being the most additive drug ever, was also the cheapest. Hell, it was cheaper than a pack of cigarettes. Strangely it had yet to spread outside the city and all the suits were pressing for it to stay that way. Deciding he had put things off long enough, Steven headed toward the door with Sarah and Carlos just behind him.

  Yeah, it’s bad, Steven thought, fumbling under his shirt for his small cross. The scene was reminiscent of an explosion at a tomato juice factory. There was more red on the walls and ceiling than the floor, with chucks of sticky gore dangling above them. Taking a step back from the door Steven loosened his tie which was an ugly shade of red he was now regretting. Drawing in a calming breath he fetched a pair of disposable white shoe covers provided by the lab boys. Slipping them on over his loafers he stepped into hell.

  The coppery odor of meat and drying blood assaulted him immediately like being smacked in the face with a raw steak. Luckily the kill was fresh, and had yet to be subjected to the record high temperatures they been experiencing this month. With squishing steps that sucked at his shoe covers Steven made his way past piles of unidentifiable wet meat into the bathroom where photographers were busy
snapping away, apparently indifferent to the death around them. They never seem to have issues like cops do. Steven wondered if it wasn’t the camera, filtering the horror through a cold lens. Entering the bathroom Steven was barely aware of Carlos and Sarah peering in from behind him.

  A loud snap and flash of light made the scene unreal. The blood was thickest in here, coating nearly everything except a single scrawny body atop a mound of human hamburger. From Steven perspective it looked like the person had just collapsed and could rise at any moment. Swinging around to the side where the photographer kept taking loud snapping pictures Steven saw the rest. It was a woman. She would have been pretty if she hadn’t shoved so much human flesh into her mouth that she had choked to death.

  Taking an involuntary step back Steven shuddered, steadying himself with a hand on the counter and resisting the urge to use the nearby crimson toilet. As he pulled his hand away he grimaced at the clean streak on the blood covered counter. Wiping his hand on a cloth that Carlos wordlessly passed to him he bent forward, taking a closer look. Another loud snap and flash calmed him as the familiar routine went forward. He was not going to lose it in front of the rookie.

  “This one had the munchies?” Steven asked unnecessarily to the camera man who was no longer looking at the bodies. Munchies had become a sickly popular acronym for those who OD on vision. It was crudely accurate, given their immediate desire to devour everyone in the vicinity. Steven still remembered that first call with the mother OD’ing and eating her two year old. That had been a bad day. The worst since Lily had died. Jefferson had actually burst out laughing saying loudly to all, ‘Someone really had the munchies!’ It wasn’t funny then, and it’s not funny now but the name stuck.

  “Yup,” the cameraman said, looking through his lens even though he had stopped taking pictures.

  “Where are the others?” Steven asked.

  “They’re zoning,” Sarah said. “Already sent them to the station.”

  Steven barely suppressed a wave of annoyance at Sarah’s actions. Normally he would want to speak to them on the scene, but just like everyone else here he knew it was useless. After the munchies were gone the vision users became docile, no longer interacting with this world. It was like they saw something else altogether.

  “Anything else of special interest?” Steven asked the room at large.

  “No, we have IDs on most and will be contacting the next of kin,” Sarah said looking green. She seemed unable to take her eyes off the woman.

  “Hey!” Came a shout from outside. “We got a witness out here!”

  Seizing this excuse to leave Stevens rushed out, Sarah and Carlos just ahead of him. Still wearing his bloody booties he burst into the parking lot where two uniforms were grilling a young teen. No more than fifteen she had short, dark frizzy hair, copper colored skin, and clothes that Steven at his most generous would describe as revealing.

  “I didn’t do anything wrong,” she protested, pulling away from the men.

  “Where’s Tony? What you pigs do?” She said, stamping her foot for emphasis. Up close Steven thought she might be pretty if she didn’t wear enough make-up for a dozen clowns. Looking into her face he saw the distinct black veins in her eyes, a common symptom of vision use.

  “Who’s the girl?” Sarah asked the policemen.

  “Tiff Ambers,” a uniformed cop said.

  “I’m Detective Phillips,” he told the girl. “This is officer Clifford and Detective Branson. I have a few questions for you.”

  “I’m not answering anything until I get a lawyer,” Tiff said defiantly.

  Pointing to his bloody paper shoe covers Steven was satisfied by her look of fear. “I haven’t been doing the conga on tomatoes, sweetheart. All your friends are hamburger or zoning. Now, tell me what happened.” Sarah and Carlos gave him a careful look but he ignored them. This was the first real witness they had ever had. He wouldn’t let the rules ruin it, like they had for Lily.

  “Man, I don’t know,” the girl said, defeated. “Tony gave me a call a few hours ago. Said he just got back from the road and had some good shit on him.”

  “Road? What’s the road?” Steven asked intently.

  Recoiling slightly Tiff said, “I don’t know man. It’s a place for the hard core users. They say you can only get there by using V man.”

  Not more of that nonsense, Steven thought, irritated. Of the few that would talk about vision they always mentioned seeing things, real things. Utter nonsense of course. One of the most well-known side effects of vision users is vivid hallucinations. Hence its street name.

  “Where’s the road?” Steven said. “Don’t play this weird shit with me.” She was lying, he just knew it. Grabbing her arm he squeezed harder than he should have forcing her gaze down to his bloody shoe covers now more red than white.

  “Your friends are all dead. They ate each other. The same thing will happen to you if you don’t stop. Help me stop this,” Steven pleaded. Sudden pressure on his arm as Sarah gently pulled him off the girl.

  “He’s had a bad day,” she said apologetically to the girl who was now utterly terrified. “Excuse us.”

  Fuming, Steven followed Sarah a short distance away as Carlos soothed the frantic girl.

  “Are you nuts?” Sarah said hotly. “Questioning a juvenile like that after she asked for a lawyer was bad enough. Grabbing her like that you’re lucky if you don’t get suspended.”

  “Listen, rookie,” Steven said darkly. “Not everyone plays by the rules, so sometimes you can’t either.”

  “I know what happened with Lily. Carlos said that…”

  “Stop!” Steven said, flaring in rage. Pointing a trembling finger at her he said, “She died because I followed the rules. Even the bastards who did it didn’t even get arrested. That is where the rules get you. This is the first real witness we have I won’t lose her to the rules.”

  Suddenly a new car pulled up a short distance away from the girl and Captain Edwards stepped out. Steven swore audibly eliciting a look from Sarah. By the book was his motto and he even looked the part, despite the early hour. With an immaculate suit and a movie star hairdo, he was the spitting image of righteous justice. Steven felt any real chance at progress drop near zero. It vanished alltogether at the news van pulling up right behind him. Bastard probably had it follow him here. He loved seeing himself on TV.

  “Sarah,” Edwards called, straightening his suit and facing the reporters spilling on the scene.

  “It’s your movie queue,” Steven said bitterly. Giving him a hurt look she went off, standing with Edwards to face the press. Turning his back to the spotlight crew Steven took the long way around to his car where Carlos was waiting. He must have finished with the girl already.

  “Hey, I’m going to the station and get started on the paperwork. I need the OT,” Carlos said.

  “Fine,” Steven said in a growl.

  “You alright, man?” Carlos said.

  “Why did you have to tell the rookie about Lily?” Steven said bitterly. Sarah had been in another department when the whole affair happened and Steven like one person not looking at him with either pity or accusation on the events that followed.

  A guilty look crossed Carlos’ face as he dropped his gaze, examining his shoes. “You had it rough, man. Worse than anyone else I know. I thought she should know in case you…” Carlos trailed off his face still downcast.

  “In case I what?” Steven asked hotly.

  “Nothing, man,” Carlos said, still not meeting his eyes. “Go home and get some sleep. I’ll see you later.” With that Carlos shuffled off to his own cruiser.

  Getting into his own car, Steven slammed the door shut with explosive force that rattled the door window. Gripping the steering wheel like it had done him a personal grievance, he pulled onto the street. Through the rearview mirror Steven could see Edward’s annoyance at the press’ attention suddenly le
aving him as he peeled out. He would pay for that later he knew, but right now, with his thoughts on Lily, he didn’t care at all. His mood was as black as the surrounding night, and he drove home in record time, desperately hoping the dreams wouldn’t find him. With fresh blood on his mind and all the talk of Lily the chances of that were virtually zero.

  Sure enough the dream came like it always did, replaying every failure he made during that disastrous time. It always started the same with the note made from cut out newspaper letters taped to their front door. BABY KILLER. He knew who it was from. They have been protesting outside the clinic where Lily worked for the past two months. Her work was controversial but she made the best of it, trying to talk potential mothers into keeping their unborn children as much as she could. She would tell them life was precious and if possible they should nurture it instead of aborting it. Many took her advice, but to those outside it didn’t matter. She was a baby killer, violating what they saw as ethics and God’s will. Steven did his best to assure Lily that they were just mad and no real threat. After all, he was a cop, there was no way they would mess with her. His first mistake.

  Even after the vandalism to her car, Steven assured his wife that he would talk with them. Make them see reason, perhaps get a restraining order if he had too. He followed through going to the church colorfully called God’s Wrath, led by a stereotypical hellfire preacher who had more than a few marbles missing. After many assurances by the man that he and his baby killing wife would enjoy eternal torment, Steven gave it up for a lost cause and got a restraining order. It did no good. The violence gradually increased with bricks thrown through their house windows and crude graffiti outside her clinic. Through it all Steven went by the book, doing everything he should have, filing complaints and never abusing his authority as an officer of the law. His second mistake.

  It all came to a climax a week after Lily’s car tires were punctured. Not wanting to park in front of the clinic anymore she had begun walking to work from a nearby parking garage. They must have grabbed her then, walking from her car to work. Steven had no idea she was missing until he got home late that night. She was normally home by five but when Steven walked in at eight the house was cold and empty, just like the feeling that grew in the pit of his stomach. Desperate, he called her cell with no response. A call to the clinic informed him that she never showed up for work that day. Real panic filled him as visions of accidents and worse entered unbidden into his thoughts. Going to the parking lot Lily used, he found her car there, the engine cold. The attendant confirmed that it had been there all day. Fear twisting his insides into tight hard knots, he called the station, trying to find out something. It was then he thought of the church. Steven pleaded with everyone to get a warrant for the God’s Wrath church but they told him he should wait twenty-four hours. If she was still missing then they could get the proper paperwork. Foolishly he agreed. His third and final mistake.

  The night was long. He kept taking furtive glances at Lily’s side of the bed as he tossed and turned, waiting for her to open the door with some amusing story of why she was so late. Perhaps someone had a medical emergency and she had to rush them to a hospital and she lost her phone on the way. Ridiculous, but he clung to the faint hope as the only glimmer of light in a dark universe. Finally he fell asleep after 3am. Less than an hour later a bright radiant orange light flickered on the walls of his bedroom. At first he thought he was having some kind of lucid dream until the screaming started. Bolting out of bed in just his plaid boxers, Steven hastily grabbed his gun and rushed out the front door where his whole world fell apart.

  Lily was there, crudely tied to a hastily constructed cross propped up by a metal wedge. A small pile of burning timber was below her feet the flames licking her white doctor’s uniform traveling higher as it caught ablaze. The acrid smell of burning flesh and black smoke stung his eyes as his wife burned. Her face was a mess of bruises that covered every inch of her exposed flesh that had yet to be subjugated to the flames. Rushing forward he desperately reached for her but the intense heat pushed him back as Lily kept screaming, her skin blackening before his eyes.

  “NOOOO!” He would scream in his dreams waking up drenched in sweat. This night however the dream lingered, replaying everything. Unable to reach Lily, Steven rushed inside, grabbing the large fire extinguisher from the kitchen. It took a long time for him to put the fire out and Lily had stopped screaming after her rich black hair which he had loving fondled just the other day ignited. She hung limp as he wept spraying the fire with suppressing chemicals. Pulling Lily free from her weakened bonds, she left ash marks on him as he lovingly lowered her to the ground. She was charred beyond recognition. Sickly Steven thought of an extremely over burnt marshmallow and like the campfire treat her skin peeled away at his touch. That was how the police found him, cradling his dead wife, her charred skin sticking to him in black patches. Later, what he remembered most of Lily when he was awake wasn’t his wife’s smile or the way she gazed deep into his eyes as they made love. No, he remembered the sticky charred blackness on his clothes and hands when they finally peeled him off her. In the dream this part was especially vivid. Still his dream continued as he thrashed in the covers.

  Now time fast-forwards and Steven was before Captain Edwards angry yelling at the stupid man. He was telling him that several groups could be responsible and they would have trouble getting a warrant. Betrayed by the system he so loved and served he had to watch as days became weeks with no progress. Finally it was concluded that there was insufficient evidence to go forward and no charges were filed. That was the day Steven lost faith in the system. A broken man, each night he sat in his favorite chair in the dark holding a beer in one hand and his service revolver in the other. He would sit there looking at the single bullet on the coffee table. He might have done it if weren’t for the autopsy report he received shortly after. Lily had been pregnant. Her friends said she was keeping it a surprise for him and after she died they didn’t want to push him over the edge that everyone could see him teetering him on. Instead it awoke something dark deep inside him. That was when he knew what he had to do.

  Steven awoke, the anger from his dream still buzzing over him like a disturbed hornets’ nest. Peeling himself from his damp sheets he got to his feet, stumbling into the kitchen. Opening the refrigerator he grabbed a cold beer, downing it with manic gulping. Small trickles traced his jawline, pooling on his chin for a brief moment and swaying with his frantic swallowing and falling to the floor. Crushing the can he threw it away over his shoulder and reached for another, and then another, and another still. A friendly numbness colored Steven’s thoughts, giving him the clarity he needed, just like after Lily’s death. Getting dressed in discrete dark clothes Steven grabbed his gun, going to his car in the predawn light with an idea blossoming in his mind.

  Tiff Ambers was stumbling out of her house, screaming at someone inside before slamming the door shut behind her. She was wearing a white tank top that was stretched to its limits and jean shorts that left nothing to the imagination. Steven watched the drama unfold unseen from his unmarked police car parked a safe distance away. As predicted the spineless twerp Edwards had let the girl go. He never had the stones to do what was needed. Steven did, however. Taking a careful sip from a beer safely nestled between his legs he kept watching. She was itching for a fix of V and was showing all the symptoms last night. Steven knew she couldn’t last much longer. More profanity erupted from her mouth and Steven wondered if her mouth could function as a sewer pipe. Chuckling slightly at his own bad humor he took another sip of beer, silently waiting.

  After demonstrating her knowledge of rude gestures to the woman who came out of the house screaming after her, Tiff took off at a fast trot down the sidewalk, ignoring the wailing woman behind her. Rounding a corner Tiff was out of sight to all except for Steven who kept a safe distance between them, driving slowly. P
ulling a cellphone from her tight jean shorts that should have taken a surgeon to remove, she began talking animatedly and waving her arms about sending her large hoop earrings swinging.

  With a final flourish Tiff hung up, squeezing her phone back into her jean shorts and leaning against a lamp post, waiting. Steven also waited, sure he knew what was about to happen. He watched her like a predator, feeling satisfied at last. He was going to do something about this whole vision mess just like he did after Lily died. Finishing his beer he tossed it into the back seat, grabbing a fresh one from the open case on the passage side floor. Two beers later, a banged up tan car blaring loud music slowly pulled around the corner. The inside was hazy like it had its own smog cloud and it stopped in front of Tiff who didn’t hesitate to hop in. Straightening from his slouched position Steven gave a happy grin and followed the car.

  Carefully keeping his distance Steven followed the car for nearly thirty minutes, his clever smile gradually changing to a confused frown. Something was wrong. They weren’t going to any of the best known drug dens. They’re headed to Gentleville Mental institution, a place for non-violent offenders. It’s where all the zoning vision users go and it includes those in voluntary rehab. Located near some rather steep hills it was a favorite rock climbing area for college students. Going around the facility they took a series of back roads to a rather tall cliff wall. Knowing he could no longer follow discretely Steven pulled off the side of the dirt road watching the car drift out of sight. Swigging the last of his current can of beer he grabbed his gun and unsteadily got out of the car. Jogging down the road it wasn’t long before he heard the music.

  Great, it’s just a damn party, Steven thought bitterly, cursing his luck. They might do some vision and other narcotics but it was hardly the break he was hoping for. He debated about turning back to his car and going home to sleep off his buzz, but something still nagged at him. This was too far out of the way for a party. Even a loud party could be found far closer than this place. Moving carefully through the sparse forest Steven found the gathering.

  At first it was about what he expected, a combination of drugs and sex with deafening music in the background. From his vantage point on a hill he saw an entire scene that fractured his notion of reality. It wasn’t the drugs being freely handed out by a man with red tattoos, dressed in a professional suit with a bored expression on his face. Nor was it the men in dark robes shadowing their features and holding swords at the ready. It was the party goers taking vision and disappearing into it the cliff wall that made his mind scream at what he was seeing.

  He must have drunk too much, this was impossible and suddenly Tiff’s words came back to him in a thunderclap, ‘It’s a place for the hard core users. They say you can only get there by using V man.’ What the hell is going on? Steven demanded into the silence of his thoughts.

  Watching for several more minutes he distinctly saw someone swallow vision, approach the cliff wall, and walk right through it without pause or hesitation. Steeling himself he pulled out his cell phone as he fixated on the wall. Dialing a number without looking he kept watching the party goers disappear into the stony wall. The phone on the other end began to ring and absently he pressed the receiver to his ear.

  “Detective Branson,” Carlos said into his ear.

  “Carlos, it’s Steven,” Steven said in a hushed tone.

  “Damn it, man,” Carlos said, his accent thick. “Where the hell are you? Edwards is pissed about last night and is storming around looking of you. I hope you were in an accident or something. Otherwise he’s-”

  “I don’t care,” Steven said interrupting Carlos’s rant. “Look, I’m just outside Gentleville mental institution and there are a bunch of people taking vision here. I’m going down for a closer look.”

  “Are you mental?” Carlos said, stunned. “You know what could happen-”

  Again Steven interrupted him, the alcohol in his system fueling his bravery. “I need to check on something. Get some cars down here as soon as you can. This is big, very big.”

  “Man, don’t do anything crazy. I’ll get some-” Carlos began but Steven hung up on him, turning off the phone and putting it away as he walked casually toward the party.

  Letting the alcohol in his system have more power over him than it actually did, Steven swayed, dragging his feet as he walked. Trying to act like he just stepped out to relieve himself he strode right up to the ring of cars, to a stoned teen having just taken a dose of vision.

  “Woah,” the teen said as the drug hit his system. Although he was taller than Steven the teen was abnormally thin like he could really use a double cheeseburger. Dressed in emo fashion, he had obviously dyed green hair and black studded leathers, reeking of old vomit and urine. Leaning against the nearest car he had an utterly satisfied look on his face. Taking a joint out from his inner pocket which he kept for just a diversion he handed it to the teen, leaning against the car with him.

  “Wow, thanks man,” the teen said having trouble seizing the offered joint. Looking at his gaunt face Steven saw very black veins in his eyes. Too much more and this one would have the munchies… not like that would stop him.

  “Yeah, no problem, man,” Steven said, allowing his words to slur. It wasn’t hard, he was fairly drunk already. Lighting the joint for the teen he let him take several puffs before taking it back and taking some himself. Steven was never really into drugs, but he had done some on occasion. He handed it back to the teen who took deep drags, looking very mellow.

  “What’s going on over there?” Steven said gesturing to the cliff wall and acting like the vanishing act was completely normal.

  Giggling, the teen nearly collapsed onto the soft springy ground and was only held in place by Steven’s quick grab. “Yeah, they are going to see the blue man,” the teen said, still giggling slightly.

  Blue man? An odd name but it didn’t’ matter. “What for, man?” Steven said making his voice mellow like the teen’s.

  “Oh, you know,” the teen said, his eyes beginning to close

  “Hey, stay with me,” Steven said cursing under his breath. “You want some water?”

  “No man, I’m cool,” the teen said then opened his eyes. “Can you get me some more V? They tattoo man won’t give me more. Said I’m too close to the change. He don’t know shit, man. I’ll be fine…”

  Change? That must mean the munchies. Stevens thought.

  “Tell me what they do in there and how to get in,” Steven said, gesturing to the cliff wall. He suddenly lowered his voice as a heavily drugged couple stumbled by hopping into the back of a pickup truck. Clothes were thrown out shortly after along with unsavory sounds as the truck rocked back and forth.

  “The blue man gives out instructions to spread V around,” the teen slurred slumping to the ground despite Steven’s support. His words now were very faint. “Take some V and go on in.” His head suddenly fell onto his chest as a thin line of drool leaked out of his mouth. Swallowing hard Steven let the teen go, allowing him to slump to the ground. Walking unsteadily toward the man with the red tattoo, he passed groups of party goers but fixated on a briefcase full of the distinctive yellow crystals.

  Steven wasn’t afraid to take vision. He has done several hard drugs in his life while undercover. It was the wall that bothered him. It could be some type of optical illusion giving those taking vision, who would be already suggestive, a feeling of mystical belonging. It wouldn’t surprise him. Intellectually it made sense, yet Steven thought it was wrong. It didn’t feel right. It was too elaborate.

  Stumbling right up to the man Steven said, “Hey man, can I get some V?” He asked ensuring that his alcohol-laced breath hit the man. With a disgusted look the tattoo man wordlessly handed over a single dose of vision. “Thanks, man,” Steven said slinking away, being sure to stay away from the robed figures, those swords weren’t just for show.

  Examining the
crystal he was reminded of the first time he saw it. A hard, transparent yellow crystal it looked like lemonade frozen in motion. Oval in shape it was the size of a bottle cap and glittered in the light as he held up to the bright sky. A dark flash as the light caught an imperfection and Steven swore he saw something inside, trapped beneath the surface. But on closer inspection he must have imagined it. Nearby one of the party goers was regarding him closely, probably wondering why he was examining the drug instead of having super happy fun time.

  Screw it, Steven thought, swallowing it whole like he saw the others do. The effect was nearly instantaneous. Everything ceased to matter. A blissful nothingness and a sourceless euphoria overcame Steven. The job, Edwards, and even Lily were no longer important. Only this time and this feeling existed.

  No wonder this drug is so popular, Steven thought even as the world changed around him. The human world filled with cars, loud music and even people became distant and unreal, like shadows barely exiting here in this world. Before him, he saw a vast empty desert wasteland with strange beetles the size of garbage cans crawling around and digging in the sand. Instead of being alarmed by this he found himself giggling as the bugs went to work and actually laughing out loud as a huge, black fish-like mouth emerged from the sand, surrounding the oblivious bug and swallowing it along with a bunch of sand. It let out a burp, sending sand shooting twenty feet into the air before slumbering below the surface once more. Steven laughed along with everyone else in the area also using vision.

  “That was awesome!” One of the human shadows said from around him.

  “Yeah!” Steven said, still laughing. Turning around he saw the cliff wall which was no longer just an impassable barrier. Instead there was a cave opening where the human shadows drifted in. Feeling utterly relaxed Steven joined them, swaying from both the vision’s euphoria and the alcohol still in his system. Leaning against the cliff wall before the opening he saw his hand was no longer the solid pink flesh he had come to expect. Instead it was incorporeal like it didn’t exist here. Panic flooded him, burning away the pleasure for a moment before the euphoria came rushing back. Closing his eyes he breathed deeply, letting himself relax. Opening his eyes he still saw the desert world around him hadn’t changed, but he reminded himself that vision brought on incredible hallucinations. That must be what’s happening now. Moving forward he entered the cliff opening determined to see what was beyond. The first thing he noticed were the distant voices. They were more real and present than his own, as if they belonged here, while he was an unwelcome guest. A short distance beyond the entrance there was a wide chamber with a chair of stone in the center on a platform several feet above everyone.

  Dozens of human shadows were gathered around and even through their translucence Steven could see many were unsteady on their feet. The shadows giggled, pointing to a large face protruding from the wall. It was massive, easily as big as Steven himself. It appeared to be some type of carving which Steven immediately dismissed as large stony eyes swiveled back and forth tracking the nearest human shadow. More giggling, as one of the shadowy humans approached the face, reaching outward to touch those stony lips. Laughter exploded from all those around as a mouth stretching all the way across that face opened wide, revealing large blocky teeth along the entire length. Suddenly a black tongue resembling a massive python whipped out, wrapping around the nearest shadow and pulling it inside. The shadow man didn’t resist, he just laughed as the teeth snapped shut. A crunching noise filled the air like a dog gnawing on a cluster of chicken bones and although Steven couldn’t see it he caught a whiff of blood. After struggling briefly the shadow figure went limp, disappearing entirely inside that large mouth. As the face’s cheeks puckered to obscene proportions laughter boiled over from all around. Steven also felt it: the drug making everything seem unreal and funny. But he held onto his senses, telling himself this was all a vivid hallucination. He kept on believing that until the men appeared, it was then that Steven knew how foolish he had truly been.

  Steven’s blood went cold when he saw the men, if you could call them that. They were around ten feet tall, resembling aliens from a horror movie. Nude and sexless they had long, stick-like limbs and huge bulbous heads the size of watermelons. Having large, black eyes and tiny mouths they sent a shiver down his spine, especially when the nearest casually skewered the face in the wall with a long barbed spear. The face let out an ear shattering howl and Steven, like all the shadow people around him clutched his ears. Receding back into the wall it left a big blotch of red behind. Unconcerned by this event the tall men moved forward, making room for two others. One was similar to the tall men but its eyes burned with a deep red, like the pupils were on fire. The other was so different that Steven was taken aback. He was small, just slightly beneath Steven’s own height. Yet somehow he towered over all, even the giants around him. Around him all the shadowy humans knelt like groveling peasants, pressing their foreheads to the ground. Steven felt it too, the need to kneel before this strange man. He had light blue skin and leafy green hair and the figure of a slender, graceful divine elf. Perhaps it was the how the figure was armored in light that gave the impression of such divinity. Symbols of light glowed fiercely on the gray scales of his armor that flawlessly overlapped like snake skin, fitting his slender form perfectly.

  “The blue man…” Steven breathed so softly that no one could hear. This was wrong! This was all wrong! Something like this shouldn’t be happening. Not now, not ever. Was this a hallucination brought on by vision? Steven didn’t know and right now he didn’t care. Fear washed through him at all the impossible events he was seeing. But his fear quickly turned to anger.

  “This can’t be real!” Steven bellowed into the chamber, drawing his gun and firing at the blue man. Loud explosions rocked the chamber with each squeeze of the trigger which were amplified by the confined space. The blue man turned to regard Steven with a bemused smile on his face. Steven fired again. Nothing happened. The gun went off yet the blue man wasn’t touched by it. Chips flaked on the wall behind him yet the bullets seemed to pass right through him without touching him. Snarling Steven ejected his empty clip, reaching for a new one as the blue man spoke into the brief silence.

  “Hold him,” the blue man said in an elegant, regal tone. The shadowy humans surged around Steven with a religious zealotry usually reserved for suicide bombers. Spinning Steven slammed a fresh clip home, shooting two shadowy figures that staggered and fell to the ground while the blue man laughed at the spectacle. Then they were upon him, feeling very solid while looking like a strong breeze might blow them away. Steven managed to shoot one more in the groin before the gun was taken from him and he was forced to his knees before the blue man.

  “Vigorous isn’t he?” The blue man said, approaching Steven with the tall man who had the burning eyes.

  “Certainly,” the other man said, his voice like razors.

  “He might be one of the human law enforcers,” the blue man said regarding Steven closely. “That might complicate things. We are still far away from critical mass. I wonder how much he knows.”

  “There is one way to be certain,” the man with the burning eyes said. “I shall take him. I grow bored in this world and shall revel in a new play area.”

  “A harsh punishment,” the blue man said, looking almost sadly at Steven. “If you do so then your fate will be your own.”

  A harsh chuckle came from the tall man, his eyes suddenly burning brighter. “You think if I am lost in that other world our agreement is null? You shall certainly pay the price we agreed upon when the time comes and you have all you desire.” Then with a rather evil look he added, “Or if you fail, you have to pay regardless.”

  The blue man paled slightly at his words but nodded all the same. “Do what you will.”

  Grinning a truly wicked grin the tall man suddenly shuddered, his entire body rippling and contort
ing as a reddish mist leaked from its over large eyes and tiny mouth. It was like the blood was vaporizing inside of him and collecting outside his body. The shadowy onlookers laughed, unaware that this was real and not some hallucination. Steven struggled, unsure of what was about to happen but knowing that nothing good could come from it. With a final surge the last of the red mist left the tall man who crumbled lifeless to the ground, withered beyond recognition. What was left would have been best described as a mummified corpse that, as Steven watched, collapsed in upon itself. Standing next to the blue man appeared a dark red silhouette that had the feeling of pure evil about it. Thinking of his cross still around his neck Steven prayed for protection from this hell sent apparition.

  “That’s better,” the red form said. “It was getting rather cramped in there. You should have let me take another instead of waiting for so long.”

  “The Hivetung already resent that I gave you one of their number,” the blue man said. “Any more and I might lose their support.”

  “Nonsense,” the red shadowy figure said. “They now serve Melephos as you do. They would no sooner betray you than the devourer.” At the name Melephos a shudder took the blue man and he had a haunted look about him. Steven knew the look all too well. He saw it every day in the mirror.

  “Send me to his world,” the red shadowy figured said. Sighing the blue man stepped forward, placing a single hand into the insubstantial cloud. For a brief instant the form flickered and Steven lost sight of it until he felt it entering him. A fierce burning in his eyes, ears and nose like someone was determined to shove small hot coals into his face. Pure, blinding white agony took hold as Steven’s eyes ruptured, imploding inward with the force of a black hole. A second later his ears gave way, collapsing and the mass laughing all around him became indistinct. Dropping to his knees Steven was overwhelmed by the shear intensity of the violation. It was an act of brutal intimacy far beyond mere rape. Steven was violated not just of his body but his mind. Before him all his memories were shown to the invader and discarded, deemed worthless. Lily’s smiling face was erased like a photo that had faded after decades of long sun exposure. Steven could no longer remember what she even looked like. The invading force lingered on the painful memories the most, growing stronger with each one. It took particular pleasure at what Steven did when he took the law into his own hands, replaying it in his mind as a final highlight reel.

  Steven was outside the church that cold impartial night a week after Captain Edwards closed Lily’s case. Steven had been drinking a lot since then. He’d never been a heavy drinker before, only ever sipping champagne at social gatherings with Lily. After what happened though, alcohol was his only hope for releif from the pain and rage burning his soul… but the fire blazed on, unquenched. It only fueled the anger he felt toward the system for betraying him after he had worked so hard to uphold it. And for what? For Lily’s killers to walk away free? He knew it was them and he would make them pay. Sometimes if the system is broken then you have to take the law into your own hands. He never understood that before, but he did now. Taking a final swig from his beer, Steven pulled the mask over his face and exited the car.

  It had been easy to set everything up, that’s how Steven knew he was doing the right thing. He got the gun from a junkie he let get away by accidently mis-filing the paperwork… so easy. He lifted a car from an apartment complex full of scumbags so deplorable that they would never even file a complaint. The gloves and black clothes he got from a local store, paying cash and being sure to never look at the camera nestled in the corner. It was all so easy to set up. Sure some guys on the force might suspect him but no one would really care. This was justice. Getting out of the car Steven slung the shotgun over one shoulder and hefted the gas can with the other.

  It was late yet the most feverous zealots were still inside for a special late night prayer session celebrating the closure of the local abortion clinic. No doubt they were congratulating themselves for doing God’s work.

  Well I’m going to do that also, Steven thought holding his cross briefly just outside the church’s front doors. Putting his cross away Steven hefted the gas can, readying himself. The church was small, nothing more than a large house really with a set of double doors up front and a single one in the back which he had already chained shut from the outside. Thoroughly dowsing the front doors with gas, Steven set the nearly empty can atop the stoop, backing away several steps before pulling out the flare. With a malicious grin he lit the fuse, tossing it atop the steps. With a whoosh the stairs and door ignited. In gleeful anticipation Steven ran to the side of the building where large, glass windows depicted people praying. It was an image that Steven was sure those inside would soon adopt more fervently than ever before.

  Predictably the singing and sounds of celebration ceased as the illumination of the fire reached those in the congregation. Screams and shrill cries of fire rang out, followed by shoved and panic filled cries as everyone filed to the back. Distantly over the sounds of those gathered inside Steven could hear the rattling of chains as the back door strained, holding fast. The fire was spreading fast now, licking the roof and entering the inside. The cries were now filled with panic as black smoke filled the sky and the church alike.

  Suddenly a chair burst from a nearby window sending rainbow colored shards littering the grass beneath. A distinct figure could be seen rising through that window the outline shown clearly with a bright orange background. Steven didn’t know if it was a man or woman, he just knew that whoever it was had killed Lily. That was enough for him. Aiming the gun he pulled the trigger and the figure’s head simply disappeared in a roar of thunder. A moment later the lifeless figure collapsed and another took its place before joining the first, headless as well. A third figure took a shot to the chest, propelling it backwards and no more came out. He only heard terrified wailing and shortly thereafter silence as the guilty inside burned just as Lily had. A distant squeal of sirens told Steven his time was up, but he had done what he came here to do.

  What delightful creatures you are, the invader said to Steven as the memory finished playing. Perhaps there is something of the Corrupter inside you after all.

  Who are you? Steven thought but the effort to think was too much and pain made the question dissolve in his head. But the voice apparently heard the cry anyway.

  It does not matter to you, not anymore, the invader said as it ate the last of what was Steven Phillips.

  As his mind burned away he had time for one last thought, Oh Lily, what have I done? With a final agonizing push his mind eroded like soft soil under an ocean tide and Steven’s mind was gone, replaced by something much darker…

 
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