A Drink and a Smile

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A tale of Clifford Engram, Paranormal Investigator

“Two fingers, Gin, neat.”

I hate Gin. I never drink the stuff unless I am going to talk to a Dweller-in-the-Darkness. They hate it more. I discovered this quite by accident, but I never let it get far from my thoughts when I am about to make a deal with the devil.

The pub he wanted me to meet him in was just shy of a complete dive. You know the place, a redneck bar where everyone is wearing plaid shirts, blue jeans, shit-kicker boots and every third person shaves their head close, wears white tee-shirts and swastika tattoos. A place I wouldn’t normally want to be caught dead in.

Considering my Black face, it’s the kind of place I might only be caught dead in.

There are fifteen people in the place. The bartender called it a slow night when I got here an hour ago. The people seem amiable enough, they drink their drinks, they hit on the waitresses, they flirt with the local girls who are here trying too find someone to spirit them from this one horse town called Desolation, Oklahoma.

Why does he want to meet here, you ask? Something about a nexus of pure evil that runs through this town making it easier for him to manifest. Whatever. The sooner I get out of here the sooner I get back on my case.

I get up from the bar and stretch, noting the quick but covert glances from at least three of the biker types who came in earlier. My cane is propped against the bar, but I don’t actually need it anymore. My injuries were completely recovered. I could move my right hand and left leg easily. I could still feel the enhanced strength in the binding sigils in my right hand and left leg. With them running down my back, my strength was twice what it had been in the past.

If he didn’t get here soon, a fight was liable to break out just because it would improve their evening.

I could see the patterns. They were circling me, sizing me up. Two of them had already walked behind me to see if I would respond to their presence. The third was coordinating two others who were “smoking” out front.

I feigned being overheated and took off my long coat draping it across my seat. No need to get blood on everything I was wearing.

I make eye contact with the barkeep. “Another, and keep ’em coming.”

The gin slid down the bar and down my throat with equal facility. I stretched in preparation. I was looking forward to this.

We were all poised to begin our dance when a woman wearing a skin-tight red dress walked into the bar. She looked and smelled like every sexual dream you’ve ever had. Her movement was fluid, rhythmic, her eyes, green and luminous, lit up even darkest corners of the room. Everyone turned to see her.

Every eye that met hers felt the come hither electrical attraction. Until she got to me. I got nothing. No energy, no electricity. Only the stench of the grave. She walked up to me and kissed me on both cheeks before waiting for me to pull her stool out for her. I obliged, noting her arrival seemed to, at least for a moment defuse what was surely going to be a brawl to remember.

“Scratch.”

“Ingram. Are you going to buy me a drink?” Her voice was a breathy contralto, with a soft country burr. She might have been from around here, but not for a long time.

“You know that’s not my name.” I noticed the intonation on the “i” instead of the “e”.

“I know you don’t like me to use it.” She batted her eyelashes as if to say make me stop.

“Bartender, a gin for the lady. Neat.”

“No need to be rude, Clifford.”

“Tell me what you know and I may find it in my heart to buy you something more palatable.”

“How about that tall one over there, with the swastika on his forehead?

“Once I’m gone. Knock yourself out.”

“Why so hush-hush? You know you can trust me…”

Only as far as I could throw her…

“Nicolas, less flirting, more talking. Or I may forget our arrangement.”

She pouted. A lovely turning out of that luscious lower lip. “In this body, please call me Natasha. As for your inquiry, They’ve been here. They’ve been through town time several times. Each time to take on a small group of renegades and their human flunkies and disappear before sunrise.”

“Renegades?”

“You know all of us are not created equal. Some of us are naturally beautiful, like moi, others of us are gifted with other capabilities. Renegades have a gift for…violence, shall we say. They also have a knack for not following orders, so no one wants to work with them. They are beyond the standard level of violence for my kind, branding themselves renegades from The Cause.”

“Your people are still trying to take over the world? Have you learned nothing from the beat-downs the Agency have delivered on you decade after decade?”

“We are ever hopeful, ever watchful and know you’re all quite mortal. Where you have been diligent, your descendants might not be. Probing the defenses from time to time is how our operatives maintain their edge.”

“And how you get rid of the chaff and undesirables you don’t want or need to be feeding.”

A quick hair flip, she turns and leans in. “You have been quite rude this evening. What’s come over you? We used to be so good together. I remember when you were so friendly a decade or two ago. Now you treat me like a spurned mistress. What could have changed you that much?”

She leans in and sniffs my neckline. “Clifford, is that a woman, a human woman, I smell on you?” Another sniff. I don’t bother to push her away, if she doesn’t want to go, I would have to get supernatural to move her. “Hmmm. I smell nature and plants, she’s older than you. Magical, too. Strong magic. Voudoun, I am guessing. Is that a thigh I smell on your cheek?”

She smiles and leans back into her drink, taking the poison in one strong gulp. “And to think I went out of my way to find something special for you.”

“Where are they, Natasha?”

“They haven’t gone far. They would have come here tonight to deal with this group, but I decided I would handle them myself. They are waiting for you in town. Be careful, Clifford. Demonic cars don’t escape Repossession for long, but while they are free, they raise Hell on Earth. He also has a young man working with him.”

“Have they already made a Pact?” A blood pact would make them only about ten times more dangerous than a lone demon car.

She leaned forward onto the bar, breaking the final bonds with her human host. A pool of inky darkness formed beneath her chair. It undulated barely perceptible to the human eye.

“Yes, but I wouldn’t be too hasty. I think you might be able to turn them, if you’re nice enough. Like you used to be. Now go. I will take care of the riff-raff here.”

“No waitresses, no bartender, I know they’re clean.”

“But they have murder in their hearts.”

I looked at the bartender and his two waitresses. What she said was true. They were capable of murder and considered it on more than one occasion. Working in Desolation, Oklahoma, who wouldn’t? “Thinking of murder and being a murderer are two different things. Do what you want with the rest, but if I come back and find anything but a happy establishment, there will be hell to pay. Got it.”

“Party-pooper.” The inky darkness started to spread.

“What’s wrong with her,” the bartender asked, curious.

I reach into her purse and pull out a roll of cash, nothing but hundreds. I throw it to the barkeep. “Get out and take your girls with you. Don’t come back till sunrise. As a matter of fact, don’t even look back now. OUT!” The waitresses run to the bar and the barkeep grabs a shotgun on the way out. I like a prudent man.

I stand up and put on my jacket. “They’re all yours.”

“Bye, Clifford, come around more often. I miss you.”

I walked past the pool table and the large fellow with the swastika on forehead swung his pool cue with lethal force. I put up my right arm and let my connection to Fenrir loose. The cue shatters into toothpicks, some of which fly back into his face penetrating his flesh deeply. Unpleasantly.

He screamed and jelly from his eyes, along with copious amounts of blood splashed behind his hands. He never saw the spear of darkness that penetrated his upper torso and pinned him to the wall. Spears of darkness whirled around chair legs chasing the rest of the less savory fellows who weren’t quite sure what was happening yet. The more aggressive drew weapons, knives and the poorly cared for things they called guns. One fellow even got off a shot missing due to his terror of the black tendril coming right at him.

I didn’t even have to bother deflecting his bullet. The two from outside rushed in and before I could do anything stepped right into Natasha’s shadows. One fellow, he was a bit quicker on the draw than the other managed to get a cross out his pocket.

Unfortunately for him, he fumbled and dropped it. It landed on the ground and the darkness spread around it without touching it, like a drop of soap in a oily sink of water. Dwellers hate those things.

It was the closest anyone came to a victory tonight. I hope he enjoyed it. Because when Natasha’s done, he’ll wish I had just snapped his neck.

Now I have two problems to contend with in this town. Renegades and a demon car already in Pact mode. Normally I would let them take care of each other but that isn’t possible without a lot of collateral damage. While Desolation is a nexus of unrepentant evil, there are still plenty of good people caught in the crossfire.

That is, besides Natasha and her clan. They’re an evil I can manage.

I’m so glad I stopped dating her.

A Drink and a Smile – Fenrir and Phoenix © Thaddeus Howze 2013, All Rights Reserved

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Come Forth the Rising Tide

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The Apocalypse, already in progress…

“Gabriel’s Horn is the only thing that can drive back the Rising Tide and you let them take it to Hell?” Father Finnegan threw the glass of box wine into the fireplace in disgust. Renwick didn’t flinch and threw the chain holding Jillian Pace onto his desk.

“Is that what they were doing? You didn’t say anything about a damned horn. You said get the girl away from the Tide. She’s here. Bounty’s done, I want my money. I intend to be on a plane by tomorrow morning. You can’t beat the Rising Tide. I barely got away and she had to help.” Looking over at Pace, she smiled a toothy snarling smile indicating her respect for the crazed mercenary’s skills.

“You’ll get your lucre, Renwick, as soon as the so-called Master of the Mystic Arts arrives.” Finnegan sat back down in to his armchair after getting a new glass from his cabinet.

The stink of cheap wine permeated the air as the door opened and a short, disheveled, probably drunken man with a scraggly beard and none-too-fresh breath staggered in. “Anyone call for a Master?” Pace’s eyes rolled back into her head and she slumped back into her chair, hiding her face in the shadows.

Another fellow came in behind the Master. Tall. Quiet, with sharp penetrating eyes. His vision swept the room and locked in on the chair where Jillian Pace, cloaked in darkness, clenched her jaw. The tall man’s predatory smile pissed her off.

Darrin Wells, former master of the mystic arts found his way to the dispenser of box wine and placed his mouth on the spigot, slurped noisily without spilling a drop. When he rose, his facade was gone, replaced by the face of a broken man. “Jillian Pace, you are now the only thing between us and the Rising Tide. They’re past trying to initiate you, they were going to kill you. Are you ready to join us?” An unexpected belch at the end of the statement disrupted any chance he had at sounding ominous.

Pace looked at the failed mystic, the danger-averse but efficient bounty hunter, the sex-crazed architect and the priest who sounded the alarm all those years ago and leapt up from her chair toward Wells screaming, “You let my sister die. You promised me she was the Chosen One and that she would be able to turn them back. She’s dead, and now you come to me, second-best, barely worthy of teaching in your opinion and now you want my fucking help? Screw you.” Only Renwick’s quick reflexes kept Wells from getting knocked flat on his backside.

Not done, she turned to the tall man, “Are you finished with me too? I helped you with your designs, you thought it was okay to take advantage of me and then threw me away when you were done. How did your little project work out? Did you tell your clubhouse buddies what you were doing in your spare time?”

“As a matter of fact, I did. And I am the reason you are sitting in this room, instead of dead on the alter of a bunch of crazed and fanatical demons. I enjoyed your…company and you were very helpful. It was the least I could do.” The architect licked his lips staring right into her eyes.

Pace, unflinching, stared back. Renwick, like a dog with a bone, snarled “What does this have to do with my money? I don’t know what those crazed demon-cultist were doing when I left, but there were thirty other people being sacrificed when I made my escape. I know that can’t be good.”

Wells, recovered, staggered to the table and pointed to a series of magical sigils across the map. “This is what they are trying to do. They want to build a gate straight to the door of Hell. It’ll open right in the middle of the city.”

Renwick looked at the map and noticed of the five points, only one was circled. “That’s here, isn’t it?” Finnegan nodded.

“They need this spot and one more to complete their spell. They’ll be coming for this one soon. You, Pace will have to stop them from laying claim to their final location.” The former mystic and Father Finnegan began moving around the room lifting paintings and shoving aside cabinets. Behind them were sigils, old things which made her flesh crawl, something from a time before Man, using a language preceding the Enochian runes used in demon binding.

“We have one more job for you, Renwich, Wells, said. Take her to this address. Your payment has been doubled and already in your account. No complaints. No bitching. Get it done.

Outside the church three vehicles pull up at three different points. Two men get out of each vehicle, stopping only to check the bindings on the three people in the back seats. Slamming the door, each man touches the sides of their vehicle and runes flare causing the cars to burst into flames. The roaring flames disguise the screams of the victims within. The six men step into the center of the triangle of three vehicles. They grab each other hands and are consumed by flames that shoot from each vehicle. When the flame clears, a demon twenty feet tall, with chained manacles and runic symbols etched into its bleeding flesh.

It roared. The walls of the church shake, tiles fly from the roof, doors rattle, windows explode, pre-Enochian symbols flash in response, a bell-like sound reverberates in response to the roar. Surprised, the demon gathers its chains which stretch into its home dimension and crossed the boundary from its world to ours. As the rupture closes, the chains which bound it are severed and it uses them as weapons lashing at the building.

Each strike makes the symbols grow dimmer. Each blow causes more of the church to crumble. Inside, three men, all mystics of one sort or another, make their final peace. The architect takes his pen and tube and heads to the street, drawing symbols in the air that follow him, glowing with his arcane power. Father Finnagan, carries an old wooden cross, a relic blessed three centuries ago with the blood of a saint. His belief coursing through it creates a spiritual shield before the last of the men. The former master of the mystic arts chants and channels the power of ancient gods, redirecting his very life force in sacrifice.

These men have no illusions they can defeat this creature. They only have to hold it long enough.

Renwich looked at the chains holding Jillian Pace, chains which bound her magic. “I can’t make you go. You can’t hurt me with your magic. These three men are about to die for you. Will you do this last thing they asked?” He unlocked the manacles with a simple touch of his hand.

Pace, ran out of the door and down the hall to where what looked like lightning lit the sky outside. Her voice caught in her throat as she saw the demon towering over the three men. They looked so old, so feeble, they were tiny stars trying to glow against a backdrop of towering darkness.

She gathered her power. The Darkness, the Light and the Way, the unique energy she bound together making them more powerful than their individual parts. The demon looked at her. It sensed her as the true threat.

“NO, don’t you dare!” Father Finnagan roared and charged the demon, swinging his cross like a club. Where it struck the demon a star flared and the father, defiant to the end, died. The demon was thrown back and turned its eyes to the remaining two men.

A strong hand grabbed hers. Renwich whispered. “No. If they thought you were ready, you would already be there. They brought you here to give you this.” He handed her a box covered with thaumaturgic circles. “Now, we have to go. Trust their wisdom.”

Renwich gripped her arm, almost holding her up as she watched the two men fight a losing battle. She turned her back and ran with a man she couldn’t forgive for bringing her back to a life she never wanted. As they ran to his car, they could still see the Wells and Reeves holding the demon in thrall, each in their own way.

Wells shouted out as the two of them pulled away. “You can only stop them with sacrifice! Remember that!”

The demon pulled away from the two men and ran toward the car. The architect, Reeves, stopped and drew a sigil on the ground. The archmage took the architect’s tube and revealed runic symbols on the side. He speared the sigil on the ground and both men fell to the ground. The ground where the demon stood lit up, a searchlight speared the heavens.

Tears streaming, Jillian watched as the demon turned to ash. The smell of death was everywhere.

Come Forth, the Rising Tide © Thaddeus Howze 2014. All Rights Reserved