8 August 1979
Elizabeth had a hell of a day at work, and wanted nothing more than to slip into a more comfortable outfit, pour a drink, and listen to music until she passed out. Henry was still away, and she had just picked up a new record the day before, and she even had tomorrow off. It was shaping up to be a good night, despite everything. She walked into the dark living room, locked the door behind her, and threw her keys in the bowl on the little table nearby.
“You didn’t make yourself easy to find.” That voice. Elizabeth would never forget it as long as she lived. In one movement, she had spun to face it and drawn a pistol she kept under her dress just in case this moment ever came.
“And you still ain’t taking hints, Jeremiah,” she hissed. There was a click, the sound of the lamp, as Jeremiah turned it on. There he was, in the flesh, just sitting in her living room as if he belonged there. Elizabeth corrected her aim, now that she could see his forehead.
“I don’t mean to impose, Liz. But I have some concerns about our boy and thought I should try talking to you about it.” He tapped his fingers on the wound that was still healing across his face. “Where do you think Henry is right now?”
“Ain’t none of your business what I think or know about that boy anymore. You turned killer and ran off.”
“Can’t I show a little concern? For his safety?”
“Not now. Not ever. You had your chance, when I was in court, when we were driven out of my home, when we struggled to pull a life together here! You didn’t give a shit then, and you expect me to believe you give a shit now?”
“Now listen,” Jeremiah started, pressing his hands into the arm rests. Just as he started to push against them to stand, Elizabeth pulled the trigger. It was too high, she hadn’t adjusted properly when he started to lean forward, but it hit bone and left a bloody mess on the wall behind him. Jeremiah slumped back into the seat and grabbed his head, screaming curses.
“Why should I listen to you?”
“Henry did this!” He screamed, pointing at the older wound on his face. “He’s come after me, Liz, and I can’t have that, you hear me? You stupid fucking mortals are picking a fight you can’t win!”
“You bleed like someone who can lose to us mortals.” She cocked the hammer back and leveled the gun at him again. “You run along now, Cain, unless you wanna bleed some more. You lost your home, you got your mark, and don’t you ever forget that you earned it by what you did to your family.” They stared at each other for a long moment, and then Jeremiah growled.
“You’ll regret this.” With that, he vanished.
“No,” she said, “I won’t.”
30 April 2007
The Barzai stood on the altar, looking down at the red spiral carved into the almost perfectly flat stone. It was hard to find a naturally-occurring stone this perfect, but he was deeply proud that they had. In the moonlight especially, it looked magnificent. It would make a fine place to call forth their latest abomination.
Everything had been fine. Preparations were going well, the selected cult members were sanctifying themselves for the ritual, things had been running smoothly. Until he came to check the site and found a fingerprint in the paint.
“Who are you?” he muttered, staring at it. Probably that cabin. The one up at the end of the trail nearby, which someone had said seemed like it had people in it suddenly. The altar was well hidden from the trail, and far enough from the cabin that they didn’t need to worry about anyone noticing them, but yet, someone was here. Touching the spiral. Leaving the smallest little sign of their presence to toy with him. He was furious. He knelt down, hovering his hand over the fingerprint, and began an incantation. The space under his hand started to glow, then his eyes did the same. He focused, willing himself to find the source of the fingerprint, to see them, to know exactly who they were and what they intended.
Instead, he screamed and fell backwards from the altar, clutching his face. He writhed on the ground for a little while, screaming and whimpering, until finally he managed to get himself under control. As he rolled over and rested on his knees and catching his breath, he looked down at his hands. His vision was blurred, but he could see the blood on them, from his eyes.
“What magic is this?” he growled.
“Quite the opposite, I’m afraid,” a voice composed of hundreds of other voices said from behind him. The Barzai jumped to his feet and turned around to face the spirit. He’d recognize that voice anywhere.
“My Lord Buné,” he said, kneeling before the man. Buné was ten feet tall, dressed in a finely-tailored black suit with a serpent scale pattern on it and a brooch of a pair of trees, one broken. The spirit had serpentine eyes and stern features, a pair of horns that each resembled a tangle of thorns growing straight back from his temples, and long black hair. “Will you not be the Great Serpent when we call on you tomorrow?”
“I will, and you will address me as such when that time comes. For now, I am here on business.”
“Of course. What can I do for you?”
“You must know that the people in that cabin nearby are not simple campers, Barzai.”
“I…have noticed. They have found the altar and shielded themselves from me. I was about to work a counter to the shielding.”
“Don’t bother, it won’t work.”
“You are trying to use magic to look upon a closed gate. Attempting stronger magic will only hurt you more.”
“Does that mean…”
“Yes. The Omen is here.”
“Is he alone?”
“No. He brings powerful mages and one other mortal.”
“He will not stand in our way. We will prepare for him and make use of the others.”
“Make it so. But be careful. I will be very displeased if you fail me again.” With that, Buné was gone. The Barzai stood and wiped the blood that remained off his face. His vision was clearer now, almost back to normal. It would have to do. They had much work and very little time to finish it.
18 February 2007
“So wait,” Bob said at this point, setting down his beer, “where does everyone else come in?”
“Like who?” Rick asked. They were sitting in his living room, waiting on Charles, who had slipped out to pick up the pizza. Rick’s beer was nearly empty, and he looked down the bottle as he mentally debated whether to wait for the pizza before grabbing another.
“Like Matteson. You guys are always hanging out with Matteson and he wasn’t even mentioned.”
“Oh, pfft. That’s because we didn’t meet him until eighth grade. He grew up over on the other side of town. But see he knew Tony, I think from scouts or something, and Tony’s mom was in my mom’s book club, so we knew Tony from way back.”
“And then when you all ended up in high school, Tony introduced you.”
“Yeah. And Charles couldn’t stand the guy! He was all ‘this guy’s weird and creepy’ and Tony was like ‘don’t be racist’ and Charles was going ‘weird and creepy isn’t a race’ and I thought it was hilarious.”
“I mean, he is weird and creepy.”
“Of course he is! The dude is like, constantly haunted!”
“So how’d you guys end up with him?” Bob leaned back in his seat and swirled his beer a bit. He always did that. Rick couldn’t figure out why. Before he answered, though, the door opened and in came Charles with dinner.
“You never told your boyfriend why we started hanging out with Matteson?” Rick asked, watching over his shoulder as Charles shut the door with his feet and handed him the pizzas.
“Don’t rush to get up or anything,” Charles said. “And why would I?”
“I don’t know, I thought it was funny.”
“You would.” Charles pulled off his boots and hung his coat on the railing before making his way around and snuggling in close to Bob. “Hold me, I’m cold.” Bob set his beer down, grabbed a slice of pizza, then wrapped his arm around Charles.
“So what happened?” Bob asked. Charles snatched the pizza from Bob, who sighed and grabbed another piece from the box.
“Okay okay, so,” Rick started, leaning forward, “it was coming up on Halloween, right, so we were going to one of those haunted corn mazes over in Ohio, you know the ones. And then we were gonna stay over at Tony’s, so my dad gives me and Charles a ride over and we’re gonna meet Tony and do the maze and then afterward his dad is gonna drive us back to his place. But when we get there, it’s Tony and Matteson. Seems he’d also been invited but we didn’t know.”
“Tony did shit like that,” Charles mumbled through a bite of food.
“Yeah, he does. Anyway, so, we do the maze, but we get a bit lost, and Matteson’s talking to the fucking corn, and Tony had told us about how Matteson saw spirits but we didn’t believe him so we’re kinda making fun of him, but he got the right information and led us through the maze like he knew the way. It was great.”
“Doesn’t sound very funny,” Bob said.
“I’m not there yet. So after that we get McDonald’s and go to Tony’s and after his folks are in bed Tony busts out this Ouija board he’d borrowed from someone at school, his parents would’ve flipped if they knew he had it, so it’d been hiding under the couch. And he and I start doing it, you know, the thing with the questions and it’s moving around and Charles is sitting there with us and he won’t touch it, but Matteson’s just sitting on the other side of the room looking like he’s bored with the idea before it even starts. So we’re talking to this spirit, and Tony’s telling us it must be the ghost of this guy that got murdered in the house in like the thirties, he’d found out about it and that’s why he got the board. And Matteson finally turns to the thin air next to him and goes ‘you know, this would be more plausible if you were at least over there,’ and we just look at him, and Charles goes ‘you’re being weird and creepy again, why do you keep pretending there’s someone there, don’t you know imaginary friends are for kids, you still piss the bed too?’ and on and on like this and Matteson just grumbles and looks back to the empty space and goes ‘can you just do a thing please?’ and then the Ouija board, I promise you, this thing lifts right up into the air! And Charles starts trying to scramble away but the whole board just gets hurled at him, hits him clean in the face!” Rick cracked up, and Bob just stared at him.
“Is…is that the funny part?” he asked.
“THANK you!” Charles said, rolling his eyes. “I nearly shit myself over that, and he’s been laughing about it for years!”
“Well fine,” Rick said, composing himself. “At any rate, we realized then that there was something going on with Matteson, and I wanted to know what it was, so we started hanging out with him more, and eventually got to encounter some spirits, and that was that.”
“And the best thing to come out of that so far is that I met you.”
“Aww, thanks,” Bob said, “hope that makes it all worth it.”
“You’re adorable, really,” Rick said, standing and dusting himself off, “I’m just taking this chance to get a new beer for completely unrelated reasons.”
“Wasn’t Jackie coming over?” Charles called after him as Rick made his way to the kitchen.
“Yeah! She should be here soon.”
“It’ll be good for you to gawk at something else.”
“You know what, I bet it would.”
19 May 1985
Peter and Abigail Whitman had a hell of a time getting into their first home. The projects they had been in since their wedding kept pace with their attempts to bring in more money, ensuring they could never quite set aside the cash they’d need to move out. Ultimately, Peter had to pick up an extra job and arrange to be paid under the table. It wasn’t legal, admittedly, but they avoided notice long enough to scrape together the bare minimum to secure a house on Sharon’s west hill. It needed some work, and Peter was probably going to have to walk to work for a while, and it only had two bedrooms, one of which would need to be shared between their young son and the child in Abigail’s womb, but it was theirs. That was enough.
They were in the house a month before they managed to have any real conversations with the neighbors, what with the pregnancy and Peter’s hours and all the work involved in moving in and sorting out a plumbing issue that was more of a hassle than they’d been led to believe. It was another week before the couple next door arranged to have a few other neighbors come by the house with food to help the Whitmans acclimate to the place. At this meeting, Abigail was surprised to encounter Janet Pawluk, now Janet Fielding, who had been a good friend in high school before leaving for college and losing touch with basically everyone Abigail knew. She’d recently moved back to the area with her husband and son, who Abigail just had to meet. So it was, the next day, that young Rick Fielding was plopped down in the living room in front of young Charles Whitman to entertain one another while their mothers slipped into the kitchen to catch up. The following Tuesday, the couples got together to play Rummy and the boys, already in their pajamas in case they fell asleep since it was almost eight already, found themselves staring at each other once again, this time in the Fieldings’ den.
And so it went, week after week the couples played cards and the boys were gradually accompanied by younger siblings. And then they were riding bikes together, and playing on the same Little League team, and finally in third grade got assigned the same teacher. And then they were tearing through the neighborhood together, sometimes with a friend from Charles’ church or the kid of someone from Janet’s book club and sometimes with a stray cousin, but always Rick and Charles. Sleepovers and music lessons and little wrestler figurines that seemed to drift from one house to the other without the parents having any idea which kid they actually belonged to. Charles was the first person to know about Rick’s crush on Rebecca Williams, and Rick was the first person to know that Charles might actually be gay, yes, like Elton John, but probably not quite like Elton John, whatever that meant, but that was later.
Because somewhere along the line they realized that West Hill Elementary ended after sixth grade and then they were going to be in the high school, with all those annoying brats from Musser and the stuck up pricks from Case and they didn’t really know what that meant but they did know it involved a whole lot of new people. New people who might like that show Rick laughed at and Charles didn’t, or had similar ideas about music that Charles tried to explain but Rick didn’t really understand. So they made a pact that they were going to be best friends forever, and not let anyone at that high school come between them, and they pricked their hands with safety pins until there was blood and spit on the blood and shared a secret handshake and that made it official. And they saw the little band aids on each others’ hands at school the next day and knew for certain that they really meant it.