The sirens are a lot closer as Eben returns to the assembled gunmen, handing the speaker his pistol back. “Can I get a lift?” he asks.
The speaker motions to the car as his companions pile in. Eben follows, wedging himself into the middle seat in back.
“Where’s your bag?”
“Right here” Eben says, patting a noticeably smaller olive-green tote resting on his lap.
“Didn’t… wasn’t it a lot bigger?”
“It’s big enough.”
The driver guns the engine, flooring it past the wreckage-filled intersection before speeding off down the road.
Inside the car, the gunmen pull off their masks. Shaved heads and various facial tattoos are the general theme. The speaker, now driving, looks at Eben in the rearview mirror, says “Hey man, that was awesome, you helping us out back there. Have you been doing this for a while?”
“A few years.”
“Well, thanks for the help. I’m Dre. We’re with the crew out of Ann Arbor. I know they’d love to have a vet working with our office. You gonna be in town for long?”
“Haven’t decided yet.”
They drive in silence for a little while longer. Still smiling, Dre casually asks “Where did you say you’re based out of?”
“Was.” Eben corrects. “In Fort Myers.”
“That’s right. I forgot.” A pause. “So were you around when the accident happened?”
“No, I actually left about a month before.”
“You’re lucky. I heard no one got out of there alive.”
“So I’ve been told.”
The guy still holding the assault rifle - Carl - turns around in the passenger seat. “So when did you first hear about it?” he asks. “I mean, if you’d already left.”
Eben shrugs. “Word travels.”
Carl continues to stare at him.
Dre speaks up. “What Carl means is it just seems like quite a coincidence; you getting out right before everything went to hell down there.”
“I guess somebody’s looking out for me.”
“How old did you say you were?” Carl asks.
“I didn’t. Twenty-three.”
Silence again. Eben can’t help but notice that they’re no longer on the main road. The car’s turned onto a narrow side street running between two abandoned buildings.
“So you left before the disaster in ‘96.” Carl continues. “How long had you been a brother before that?”
“About three years.”
“You’re twenty-three now and you’d been with us for three years by the time you left in nineteen ninety-six?”
“You’re gonna sit there and tell me that you joined up when you were eight? That you escaped the worst purge of this organization to date when you were just eleven?”
The car comes to a stop in a vacant lot, surrounded by derelict industrial structures on all sides. Dre turns to face him, leveling his gun at Eben.
“Not too good at math, are you?” he says. The two guys in the back have drawn theirs as well. One of them grabs Eben’s bag.
"Maybe I was a prodigy" Eben suggests.
“I’m just trying to comprehend the level of stupidity at work here,” Dre continues. “First, you think we’re dumb enough to trust some random jackass who claims to follow the Pact. Second, you actually hop into a car full of freak-haters with guns, because, thirdly; you think we’re convinced that you’re not only a veteran follower, but the only apparent survivor of the Florida disaster.”
“I can see why they let you drive” Eben says.
“It didn’t occur to you that we’d probably just take you somewhere remote and shoot you in the face?”
“Yeah… in hindsight, it does seem kind of risky.”
“You’re parked in a vacant lot with four guys pointing loaded weapons at your head. Risky is an understatement. Now answer me this: how old are you?”
“Quite a bit.”
“How do you know about us?”
“Like I said, through your Florida branch’s activities.”
“You a spy or something?”
“What’s in the bag?”
Eben considers. “When they need to be.”
“Look, I‘d love to stay and banter, but I really should leave before someone gets killed.” To the one holding his bag, Eben says “Could I have that?”
“Micah,” Dre says to the same guy, “Open the bag.”
“Do not open the bag, Micah.” Eben says.
Micah looks at Eben. Then at Dre. Then back at the bag, hesitantly.
Carl curses and snatches it from him.
“I really wouldn’t do what I think you’re about to,” Eben cautions.
“Why not?” Carl sneers.
“Well… it’s difficult to explain. I mean, the English language only has so many ways to express ‘eternal suffering’-”
“Shut up,” Carl says, opening the zipper.
“It’s just that it hasn’t eaten in-”
“You know what your problem is?” Carl says, glaring at him. “You’ve been around for however many centuries that you think the rules don’t apply to you anymore…”
As he speaks, a thin wisp of dark vapor begin to seep out through the partially open bag. It trickles down the side of the green tote and begins to pool on the floor in ever increasing volume. Ranting, Carl is oblivious. Everyone else can’t help but stare.
“Uhm…” Micah says.
“Laws, morals - even death,” Carl continues, “You people don’t give a shit because you think you’ve somehow risen above that…”
“Well guess what, asshole? As soon as I’m done dumping your bag of antiques and whatever out the window, we’re going to kill you and toss your body in the dumpster over there. Then you and the roaches can have a nice, long talk about-”
Carl stops talking. There are a few reasons why.
Could be, he notices the temperature has dropped to slightly above freezing in the span of about five seconds.
Could be, the car is slowly filling with a velvet-like black mist that seems to drain the color of whatever it touches.
More than likely, it’s the huge, pulsing, cyclopean eye ringed with teeth staring up at him from the now open bag.
Everyone else just screams.
An eldritch gale of wild, writhing darkness bursts from the innocuous vessel in a deafening howl; obliterating hope, sanity, and being with its black light.
“Don’t worry about the dread promises of eternal torment,“ Eben shouts from somewhere amidst the swirling maelstrom of unknowable pain. “They just like to scare the new guys with that. Seriously, it’s only about five aeons long. I think they drop you off in Baltimore or someplace after that… But hey, you guys take care.”
A hundred unto a thousand (plus four) cries for merciful death are answered by the sound of a zipper closing.
I hate titles. What the hell would you even call this thing? Oh, well. Last part to follow hopefully before next Friday. Ta for now.