6932 words (27 minute read)

Six

Chloe woke with a start. Her arm had been pinned under her as she dozed, the limb now a numb, dead weight. She lifted her body off of the cot, placing her feet on the dirt floor of her hut. She hugged the blanket around herself against the chill of the mountain air. She rubbed her arm, attempting to coax it back to life. The markings on her skin were beginning to fade. She’d have to get those repainted before the gathering tomorrow night. If she did well in her task tonight, tomorrow could be a celebration in her honor. Mother be praised. She cracked her neck and rose, finding her pants on the floor and tugging them on. She looked at the old, dusty rug that served as a door as she laced up her boots and noted that the halo of light around it was dim. They’d be leaving soon.

She exited the straw shelter with her canteen and stepped into the early evening air. As she drank her water she repeatedly squeezed her hand into a fist, feeling the pins and needles covering the length of her arm as she took in the sights of the village. The huts surrounded a large pit, where the night fire had already been started. The smell of roasted meat met her nostrils and she began to salivate. She’d been too nervous to eat this morning, and the chosen ones would be gone by the time dinner was ready. Chloe hoped her neighbor Sheila would save something for her. Sheila, whose daily task after washing clothes in the stream was to help prepare the meals, was always looking out for her.

Chloe’s daily tasks involved chopping wood and performing little maintenance jobs as needed around Abaddon Temple, but she had been excused from her duties today and allowed to sleep. She had been chosen. An honor not bestowed upon many. There’s no telling who Casey Beckwith will choose to contribute to the Great Work. The man hardly spoke to anyone at all beyond what was necessary. The conventional means of attracting his attention were meaningless. She’d heard the others once say that he doesn’t fully live in this world, whatever that meant. Somehow, he must have seen something in her. Perhaps The Mother herself told him to give her this chance. The thought put a warm feeling in her belly, but she couldn’t help feeling a little scared. Tonight’s work was important. She really needed to piss.

Exiting the outhouse closest to her hut, she made her way back towards the fire where Lee had told them to meet. She slipped back into her olive drab army surplus jacket, a few sizes too big for her small frame and saw that Lee was already there waiting with Pam. The three of them were Acolytes, who lived down here in the village. Their markings were not permanent, painted on every few days. Lee was appointed as a leader of sorts among the others down here, he was being watched closely. Surely tonight was his moment too. Tomorrow, they could both rise to the Sacristy. She could see the trail from here, alight with torches on either side, leading up through the trees and winding around the face of the cliff. Lee and herself could walk that trail tomorrow night, receive their true markings, and finally rest in the arms of The Mother for good.

But not Pam. Chloe didn’t like Pam. By this time tomorrow, they could be sisters, true Children of The Mother and there’d no longer be any animosity between them. By this was today. And Pam made her skin crawl. Shamefully, she hoped Pam would make a mistake. Chloe did not want to be her sister.

Chloe approached the fire, meeting eyes with Lee who smiled slightly at her arrival but looked troubled.

"We don’t have much time, the others are ready to load up. Let’s go," said Lee, motioning for them to follow as he headed in the direction of the Garden House.

"I’ve been ready for an hour," said Pam, "if we were running late we should’ve just left the fluffer behind."

"Fuck off," spat Chloe

She was referring to Chloe’s former life as a production assistant for a porn studio. Fluffers were once employed to blow the actors on set to keep them hard between takes, but today pills mostly made the position obsolete. Chloe had just helped adjust lighting, decorate the set and mop up after. Not that Pam would understand, or care.

"Enough," Lee ordered. "I’m not going to listen to this bullshit all night, so both of you find a way to get along, or shut up."

"Oh relax", Pam giggled in that infuriating tone, "I’m just teasing. God, everyone’s so fuckin’ serious all the time."

Chloe meant to launch some poisonous barb at Pam in response but they had reached the Garden House. Lee stood in the doorway ushering them inside. The hut was dim, a small lantern sat in the corner casting odd shadows on the walls and a middle-aged woman sat cross-legged in the center of the floor, syringe in hand, waiting patiently.

"You first, Chloe," whispered Lee.

Chloe rolled her sleeve up to her bicep and sat directly across from the woman, whose name she hadn’t learned. She held out her pale arm, which had now finally gained its circulation back, and the woman clasped it with rough fingers, setting to work wrapping an elastic tourniquet above the elbow and tapping the veins underneath. Finding a prominent one, the woman slid the needle in at a forty-five-degree angle and depressed the plunger.

Immediately, Chloe felt the Grey Flower bloom inside of her. White hot fire ran up her arm. The strap on her bicep was released and the blaze ran into her torso where it spread, igniting her entire body. Chloe held her arm and moaned a little. This was beauty. She felt the beauty all around and within her. The Acolytes were only permitted to receive a tiny taste of the Flower at gatherings and during important tasks. Not even a higher amount than the Wicked Ones in the outside world received, where the Flower was corrupted with nasty things like heroin and coke.

But even this tiny amount coursing through her body brought her that much closer to the Meadow. If she proved herself tonight, if she would be permitted to join the Children tomorrow, she could have all of it. She could lay in the Meadow forever in the arms of The Mother.

Chloe stood and walked on quivering legs toward the doorway of the hut, once again entering the cold mountain air, almost full dark now and she was gone. The mountain and the forest around her joined together and began to swirl, a circle of nature smelling so sweet, so pure and in the center was Chloe and the fire, the gorgeous fire burning in Her honor, for it was Her who kept them warm and Chloe found herself on her knees in front of it, hands clasped between her breasts as she felt the wave flow through her in a dizzying and exquisite tide, an incredible warmth trailing down her stomach and burning between her thighs and she looked up above the flame and something was there, a lithe shadow, the sensation of a gaze falling on her and the feeling of love, a perfect love, and the shadow raised a sylphlike arm in her direction and

The world came back into focus. The small pedal of the Flower they’d been permitted offered a very short transcendence, a fleeting glimpse into the Meadow, but even a pedal was enough to give her resolve for the task at hand. She was stronger, more agile. Now, Chloe could handle anything. Mother be praised.

She heard an ecstatic moan and saw that Lee and Pam had been kneeling beside her. Lee’s hands were clasped hard and pressed to his mouth as he came back down. She could see Pam’s hard nipples through the thin material of her shirt. Soon, they all stood, began marching towards the village entrance, to the trail that led down where the vehicles were parked.

Even after the crash (if you wanted to use such a vile term for something so sweet) the Flower made them all feel as if they were moving more quickly through time. It felt like only moments had passed from when they left the Garden House to when they arrived at the bottom of the trail, where they found the others grouped together waiting. As Pam slipped her leather jacket back on, Chloe noticed that she too started to feel cold again. It just wore off so quickly.

They reached the trailhead gate, now ajar, and on the dirt lot were a line of vehicles: a van, an old, busted pickup, and two mid-size cars. There were six others here.

There were two girls who were normally on the maintenance crew.

A young guy who was a recent arrival, a foul, bearded creep named Paul who had gained a reputation among the women for his complete inability to keep his hands to himself. He had the eyes of a tweaker, which passed over Chloe and Pam like they were meat. His gaze darted up and down their bodies and Chloe could feel her skin crawl. Even Pam shifted uncomfortably. Chloe was thankful they wouldn’t be in the same car.

He was standing next to a taller man with an impressive mustache, who Chloe recognized as Shawn Howard, the head of security for the village. He never spoke much beyond what was necessary. He was not one of the Children but looked like he was more than capable of handling himself in a fight. The acolytes in the village knew to stay out of his way.

Lee approached him as soon as they passed the gate.

"Everyone ready, Shawn?"

Shawn stood with his arms folded and simply nodded, visually assessing the group before he turned to watch the road, ever vigilant.

The sixth person of the group stepped around from behind the van. As dark as it was with the sunlight gasping its final breath, Chloe could make out the tattoos crawling up the neck and over the hairless scalp, framing the face like vicious-looking claw marks. She couldn’t see this man’s eyes but knew they would be like two soulless pits. They hadn’t been told one of the Children would be here tonight. This made Chloe start to feel nervous again.

Chloe, Lee, and Pam gave the required greeting at the Child’s presence, a short bow of the head. The Child did not react.

"Alright," Lee announced, "By now, everyone should be clear about what is expected, where they are going and who they are going with. Shawn, everyone has their equipment?"

"Yeah," said Shawn, without turning to look at Lee. It was one of only a handful of times he spoke below a shout, which even then was few and far between. Chloe had the accent pegged from somewhere in New England.

"Ok. As for you two" Lee pointed at the two girls from maintenance. "Are you clear on what to do?"

The girls nodded quickly, one of them fidgeting uncontrollably.

"Remember, Beckwith doesn’t want her killed. You’re going to wait at her apartment until she comes out, and then you take her inside. Broken bones are fine, but she MUST be able to speak. Do you remember the message?"

The fidgeting girl nodded and spoke in a small voice "We say ’Tell Darren Ba-"

Lee held up a hand, "Good. You two get going. After, you’re to come straight back here. We have others coming down to deal with the cars."

The girls quickly turned and headed for the last vehicle in the convoy, a rusted-out sedan. Paul made sure to get a good long look at their asses as they departed. The fidgeting girl took the wheel and the car started with a nasty grinding noise and shifted hard out of park as they lurched forward off the dirt lot and onto the pavement, headed south on Angeles Crest towards Tavish.

"How come they get the easy job?" Paul said, "sending a message to that faggot camelfucker. Beckwith could’ve sent me to that bitch’s place."

Pam scoffed.

"Beckwith wants the shit beaten out of her, not for you to give her whatever weird shit’s oozing out of your tiny cock."

Paul smiled.

"Keep talking, sweetness. After tonight, we get made. Blood in. After that, I get all the cunt I want."

Paul moved closer to Pam, tugging his belt and licking his lips.

"And if I get made, and YOU don’t? Well..." Paul cast his slimy gaze down the front of Pam’s body.

Pam shoved him with all of her strength, and Paul let out a short yelp as his back collided with the passenger door of the pickup. A high metallic CLICK pierced the dusk and Pam had a sharp, silver stiletto at the ready in her hand.

"Try it, fucker. I’ll make a necklace out of it."

Paul’s eyes were wet with rage and humiliation.

"You’re gonna regret that, cunt. I’m gonna MAKE you regret that!"

Paul had his fingers around the handle of a Glock, struggling to pull it out of his jacket pocket as he made to lunge at Pam, who to her credit wasn’t backing down. Before Paul could get more than a step, Shawn was on him in a flash, wrapping a thick forearm around Pauls dirty, unshaven throat and hurling him with all his weight back at the driver’s door of the truck. Paul’s body left a dent as he bounced off of the vehicle and fell face first in the dirt. Before Paul could get traction, Shawn placed a massive boot on the back of his neck. Paul began to scramble, legs kicking like a helpless bug.

"AHH FUCK! ALRIGHT! GET THE FUCK OFF ME!"

"Enough!" shouted Lee. "Shawn, let him up."

Shawn locked eyes with Lee for a few moments and seemed to push down harder on Paul’s neck, eliciting a short, pained wail from the man, before finally lifting his boot and stepping back. He reached down and grabbed the back of Paul’s collar, yanking him back up to his feet. His nose was running with snot, and his face paint was smeared across his cheek.

Lee approached Paul as he was tenderly poking at a large cut on his palm. Lee looked Paul in the eyes.

"Do I need to remind you what Beckwith does to fuck-ups?"

Paul scrunched up his face with indignation, but whatever better judgment he possessed took hold and it relaxed. He shook his head.

"Good. Then keep your mouth shut and do what you’re told."

Chloe looked to the Child, who had stood away from the others without motion or sound, watching all that had transpired. He had noticed Chloe looking at him, and even though it was full dark now and the shadows did not permit visibility of his eyes, Chloe could feel them burrowing into her.

"Everyone else," Lee announced. "You know what to do. You know where to meet. You know what happens if you get caught. Mount up."

Pam folded her switchblade and followed Chloe to the van in the front. Shawn went to the car at the rear. Paul opened the driver’s door of the truck and got in. Lee got in the driver’s seat of the van as Chloe crossed to the passenger side. Pam opened the sliding back door and settled inside. Everyone was loaded up and ready to go, but no one moved yet.

All watched the Child. He remained still, like a statue erected on the side of the highway. Finally, with slow, almost graceful strides, he walked to the passenger side of Paul’s truck.

"Oh thank fuck," Chloe muttered. She could hear Pam smirk in the back.

"Maybe he’ll put Paul out of our misery."

"Quiet," said Lee as he started the van, prompting the other driver’s to fire up their vehicles, "Chloe, under your seat. Pam, everything back there?"

"Yeah, cuffs and everything."

"Good," said Lee as he pulled the van off of the dirt turnout and onto Angeles Crest, headed south.

Chloe reached under her seat and pulled up a large nylon drawstring bag. Inside it, were two 9mm Berettas and a small Taurus .38. Chloe stuffed the .38 into her jacket pocket before passing a Beretta to Lee, who took it without looking and tucked it underneath his thigh. She passed the remaining pistol to Pam in the back.

The road out of the mountains was full of twists, turns, and fallen rocks from the cliffs above. The convoy snaked its way through the dark tunnel that would vomit out into the city, propelling them forward into the carnage of their task that night. Chloe tapped her leg repeatedly, the nerves working themselves back up again. She could still feel the tiny tug of the Flower within her, keeping her resolve strong and directed like a cart on a track, as well as sharpening her senses. Taking the flower within you made you feel like a copilot in your own body. You had control, but you weren’t making all the decisions. You had a primal understanding of why these decisions were being made, but that didn’t stop the fear.

Just as this stretch of road had seemed like it had been taking a little too long, they passed beyond the final cliff on the left side of the van and the lights of Tavish and LA beyond exploded into view. The city lights shimmered, and to Chloe’s eyes looked like bioluminescent maggots writhing over a massive corpse. Chloe thought it was a little too close to the truth for comfort.

This stretch of road at the northern end of Tavish was newly paved and curved around what looked like a large powerplant, alight with several large amber lamps. There was an access road running straight through it, which was often used as a hiking trail that led to Bachman Spring Campground, where this night would end. As they passed the powerplant, Chloe felt a strange wave of queasiness. She looked left past Lee’s head. Something about that place made her feel strange, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. The feeling passed as the van rounded the curve and started down the steep downgrade that would take them to Freeway 210.

They reached the on-ramp and rocketed themselves onto the freeway, the convoy fanning out and now each set in their own directions. Chloe lost sight of the others as they reached the junction that would rejoin them with the Glendale Freeway and send them south. The traffic was sparse tonight, just as the dry run had been. The Glendale Freeway Junctioned with infamous 5, a freeway that seemed hellbent on killing more men than cancer, and it was a short stretch of this road that led to 110, and to their goal of reaching the 10 West. They’d approach West Hollywood from the south.

Lee carefully took the van off of the freeway and headed at a slow yet steady pace up La Cienega Boulevard. Chloe watched the faces of the transients huddled on the street corners and wondered how many would find their way to the Temple in the mountains. She thought she could feel the Flower in some of them. She made eye contact with one at a stoplight, and for a moment had this wave of something like kinship, but the moment passed and they continued on.

"Are you guys feeling that? From a few of them?" Pam asked.

"Maybe" replied Chloe.

Lee only grunted.

La Cienega brought them to a left turn onto Holloway Drive, which ended at an intersection to Sunset Boulevard, which they turned left on, passing The Viper Room on the left and Whiskey A Go Go on the right. As they drove by the Roxy, Chloe had that feeling again. She could feel the Flower emanating from the interior of all these places. It was powerful and urgent. It was almost like...

It was almost like Mother was here. All around her. Just like when she took the pedal at the Garden House. It was almost Her scent. A slight, loving caress.

"Mother be praised." Pam murmured from the backseat. Lee and Chloe said nothing, but both understood.

After a particularly long red light, Lee turned the van onto North Doheny, a sharp and sudden contrast from the bustling activity and noise of Sunset behind them, like shutting off a light switch. They turned right on Cinthia Street, and shortly after, stopped at their destination, the Photographer’s house. Chloe, Lee, and Pam took on the highest risk. Cop presence was high here. This would have to be quick. This would have to be quiet.

Chloe knew what Beckwith did to fuck-ups.

Lee eased up to the curb silently and put the van in park, cutting the engine.

"Get behind the wheel, Chloe," Lee said.

She turned to him. "I’m not going in?"

"No. Me and Pam. You, be ready. We’re in and out, no more than five minutes. After we cut the power, wait a minute, then start the engine. Pam? Grab the bag."

Pam exited and Lee handed Chloe the keys. He removed the Beretta from under his thigh and pulled the slide back a quarter inch, letting it snap back once he saw brass. Chloe scooted over to the driver’s seat after he shut the door.

Chloe was gripping the butt of the .38 in her pocket as she looked up at the Photographer’s house. Only one window on the second floor had a light on in it, the shade drawn. She looked around. The street was quiet. Lee had the bag over his shoulder and Pam led the way up the short six-foot driveway to the garage door. To the right side of it sat a small gate that led into the yard. Pam hoisted herself over the gate and landed like a cat on the other side. Lee passed the bag over and did the same. The two disappeared into the shadows.

Chloe found herself tapping the wheel and her foot in an alternating beat as she watched the second-floor window, snapping her head periodically to the street ahead of her, to her left, and to the mirrors. Nothing. No one.

As she kept watch, she alternated between the fear of getting caught and the low sense of longing in her belly at the consideration of this night being the moment of her ascension. She glanced at her hand, the faded paint that ran over her entire body branched off onto her fingers like tiny, thin spider legs. These markings, a gift from Mother, would be burned into her skin forever. She’d be taken up the trail out of the village, walk up and around the cliff and into the Sacristy, which she had never seen. She’d live there now with Beckwith, and together, She would speak to them. She would show her the world She intends. A loving, Mother Goddess taking the place of an absent Father God. Where He had created His children and abandoned them, She would gather them into Her arms and hold them to Her breast, where they could remain forever. And Chloe would help Her. Chloe would help make it all reality.

"Mother be praised," Chloe said as she glanced in the rearview mirror, catching her eyes, the painted lines framing her face and crossing over high on her forehead.

She returned her gaze straight ahead and saw a car turning onto the street further down. It stopped, headlights pointed directly at the van. Chloe held her breath as it began to edge forward. She looked back up at the Photographer’s house just in time to see the light on the second floor go out. She stuck the keys into the ignition but didn’t crank it. Instead, her hand went to the .38 in her pocket.

The car continued to creep forward towards her. Chloe tapped her leg rapidly against the floor as she slowly tugged the .38 out of her pocket. She heard a loud, dull thump emanating from the house, followed by a surprised yelp. She turned the key in the ignition to run the battery and pressed the button to roll the window down. The car continued to creep towards her.

If this guy heard anything at all...

Chloe had the .38 out of her pocket and in her hand.

Her head darted back and forth between the house, the approaching car, and the pistol in her hand, five brass bullet casings visible in the small gap between the cylinder and the frame.

Just as the car seemed ready to pass the van, it made a wide turn into a neighboring driveway, reversed out, and headed back the way it came at a brisk pace.

When the car reached the end of the street and turned the corner, Chloe fired up the engine, leaving the headlights off.

Just then, the gate next to the garage slammed open with a loud BANG and out of it burst Pam, Beretta pointed to the head of a naked woman with a small bag over her head. The woman’s hands were cuffed behind her back. Pam led her roughly by the arm to the van where she threw open the door and shoved the woman roughly inside, climbing in after her.

Chloe put her foot firmly on the brake and shifted into drive as Lee emerged next, with what must have been the Photographer, also bound and bagged. Lee loaded him into the van and followed him inside. The Photographer was prone on the floor, and Lee hunched over his body, bringing his Beretta up high and slamming it down on the man’s head with a dull thud.

The Photographer lay still. Pam pulled the door shut and Chloe hit the gas.

As Chloe turned onto the street on which the mysterious car had exited, Lee made his way up to the passenger seat and almost collapsed into it, sweat beading on his forehead, chest heaving.

"Fuckers put up a fight, huh?" Pam breathlessly called from the back.

"Keep ’em quiet," Lee responded, before turning to Chloe. "Stay calm, keep it slow. It’s a long way back."

Chloe found the advice ridiculous but trusted his judgment. She eased off the accelerator as Lee began to navigate back to the freeway.

Reversing the journey was a long arduous task. They’d seen two cops on the way back up to the Glendale Freeway and the waves of panic were crashing down on them. The captive woman in the back was lightly sobbing throughout the drive but had begun to plead to them.

"Who are you?" She’d choked out. "Why are you doing this to us?"

As they reached Angeles Crest and pointed themselves back towards the mountains, headed up the steep hill to the powerplant, Pam grabbed the woman roughly by the breast and pressed the barrel of the pistol between her bare thighs.

"Shut the fuck up, bitch," Pam spat. "Unless you want me to have some real fun with you. Mouthy cunts get me wet."

The Photographer had started to stir

"Oh, NOW it’s a real party," Pam growled.

The stench of urine filled the van.

"Jesus fuck," growled Pam. "Now you’re just trying to get me off."

"Shut up," Lee called to the back, before turning to Chloe, "Pull up to the gate."

They’d reached the small trail that ran through the powerplant and stopped at the gate, a large metal bar stretched across the road. Chloe felt the same nauseating feeling radiating from the place as Lee pulled the bolt cutters from the bag and exited the van. If he or Pam felt this same feeling, they didn’t say so.

Outside, Lee pushed the bar outwards until it ran parallel with the trail. He waved Chloe through until the van was clear, then he closed the gate again and hustled back to the van. He climbed back inside, shutting the door. Chloe pressed the accelerator lightly and crept forward.

"Padlock was cut. Everyone else may already be here."

As Chloe eased along the trail through the power plant, the waves of nausea reached their peak. It was so bad she’d felt herself beginning to dry heave. She looked out her window and saw a small dirt parking lot in between the chain link fence. A perfect spot to sit and look out at the city.

Whatever this feeling is, Chloe thought, it’s coming from right there.

As they crept further away from that point, the nausea began to subside.

Chloe carefully eased the van along the trail, Lee helping her navigate around several tight turns and up steep grades as they made their way into the brush, away from the lights and further into the heart of Bachman Spring Campground. A cool, refreshing, exquisite dark had surrounded them. They rounded a corner past some thick brush, and the center of the campground came into view.

A fire was burning, in a large pit near the gazebo. It provided just the right amount of light for what needed to take place here tonight.

A ritual in the dark.

The others were already here, the cars parked to the side of the trail. As they pulled up to the other vehicles and parked, Chloe could see Paul and Shawn next to the gazebo. Paul was holding his Glock on three figures, knelt down in the dirt. Their faces were not covered.

Lee climbed to the back

"Grab her," he said as he opened the door, dragging the Photographer who was now awake out with him.

"Let’s go, sweetness," said Pam to the woman as she did the same.

Chloe cut the engine and got out as well. She joined Lee and Pam on the trail, .38 in hand as they led their captives to join the others.

Lee had a long, canvas bag around his shoulder as he dragged the Photographer along. He dropped it on the ground next to two bags identical to it, then Lee and Pam dragged their prisoners to the ones on the ground, forcing them to their knees, creating a line of five: two other men, one other woman.

Pam removed the bags from their heads and knelt down in front of them.

"Mouths fuckin’ SHUT."

Their captives whimpered but complied.

Crickets were chirping loudly out here.

Lee looked up at Paul.

"Where is....he?" referring to the Child that had gone with him.

"Don’t fuckin’ know," Paul stammered. "I grabbed the guy and then the girl, just like we were supposed to. That...freak...he stayed with the truck both times, didn’t say shit. I did all the fuckin’ work. We were outside the bitch’s house over near Toluca Lake, and just when I got her loaded up, cops pulled around the corner. Then the fucker just attacked! Fuckin’ beat that pig to death right there! Another cop pulls up, and that... fuck... turned and smiled at me. Scariest fuckin’ thing I ever saw, and then he took off!"

"What’d you do?" Lee asked.

"What do you think I did?" Paul raised his arms, " I fuckin’ bailed, man. Cops followed him. I ripped shit back here. What’d you say when we left? About what fuckin’ Beckwith does to fuck-ups? I did what I was told to do! Shawn was here first, and we were waiting for you."

Lee nodded.

"Alright."

Lee looked at the large fire, frowning.

He turned to Shawn.

"Did you light this?"

Shawn shook his head.

There was a brief pause.

They could hear the sound of an airplane above them somewhere, distant, but instead of fading out, it cut off abruptly.

There were no longer any crickets.

Chloe felt strange.

Not the nauseating feeling from before.

Something like dread.

A voice came from the gazebo.

"I’ve seen this before."

Chloe, Lee, Pam, and Paul gasped. Shawn remained silent but whipped around, at the ready. Paul waved his Glock in the direction of the voice.

"In a dream I had. In a desert. Far to the east."

Chloe could see a figure, standing inside the structure on top of the picnic table, turned away from them.

"Saw a lot of men die there."

Lee pushed Paul’s arm, the one leveling the Glock down towards the ground.

"Enough people die in a place, die in a specific way, it...eats....away....at it. Creates...a window."

"Beckwith, hey..." Paul began to say.

"Shut up!" hissed Lee.

"But just a window. Nothing can really come through. For something to come through, it would need help. There needs to be those of us on the other side, those who’ve taken its essence, to..."

No one moved.

No one spoke.

No one breathed.

"To break the window."

Chloe watched as Casey Beckwith slowly turned.

His head was tilted down. His long brown hair, halfway to touching his shoulders, was ragged and messy. For all the mystery, the dark rumors surrounding the man, he looked common enough. Like any regular guy in his late twenties on the street, perhaps a little down on his luck. Just a T-shirt, dirty jeans and old work boots. A little undernourished, and deathly pale, like he hadn’t seen the sunlight in years. Chloe had heard he’d been in the war long ago. He traveled a lot after that. Or drifted. Not much else was known.

It shocked Chloe when she first saw him that he looked so normal. Until you looked at his face.

He mostly kept it hidden, which was easy as he only appeared after dark, under firelight, obscured by twitching shadows. But in the brief glimpses of it that she’d had, it was perpetually streaked with something that looked like dried blood and dirt.

And she could’ve sworn his eyes were completely black. The Children’s eyes appear shadowy, but Chloe felt like that was some sort of illusion. Beckwith’s eyes were blacker than Chloe’s imagination of the darkest pits of Hell.

Beckwith watched his followers for a moment, the feeling of dread snaking its way up Chloe’s spine before he stepped off and landed on the ground, slowly walking towards the prisoners on the ground, who watched all of this silently, paralyzed with sheer terror.

Chloe stood close to the fire but felt cold.

So cold.

Beckwith stepped up to the prisoners and watched for a long time. In the light, Chloe could see Beckwith’s shirt had something printed on it. It was faded but appeared to be a centipede, wrapped around an egg and biting its own tail. The egg had some word, "Y’golonac", etched in the center. Chloe recognized the logo from her former life as a production assistant. The words below confirmed it as the logo for Defiler Productions, a strange porn studio from the valley. They filmed some dark things. Violent, fetish shit. Chloe had been warned to stay away from them. Apparently, the film crews had been known to end up as part of the action. There were rumors of some people that had gone missing.

Beckwith regarded the prisoners for what felt like ages before he looked at Lee and gestured to him with his hand. Lee bowed his head and moved quickly to where the bags had been dropped. Chloe, Pam, Paul, and Shawn joined him.

"Shawn," Lee whispered. "Get back to the gate. Make sure no one gets through. Wait for us there."

Shawn nodded and walked quickly back to where the vehicles were parked.

Lee whispered "This is it. Everybody take one."

They all seemed to draw in a deep breath at the same time as each reached into the bags, and each removed an ax. The prisoners cowering on the ground took no notice. Each eye was fixed on Beckwith. Chloe, Lee, and the others took their places behind them.

Once his followers were in place, Beckwith walked to the older man at the end of the line,

"Politician"

The man whimpered.

Beckwith slowly stepped in front of the woman next in line.

"Reporter"

Beckwith stepped in front of each one, speaking the names that they’d been referred to among the followers.

"Parent"

"Photographer"

"Student"

The girl on the end, who Chloe, Lee, and Pam had captured, began to sob again.

"You will not understand this. You will never know the purpose you serve this night. Know that it was not Fate that brought you here."

Beckwith had turned his back but turned around to face them again.

Chloe felt the Flower within her. That sense of no longer being in control of herself had intensified. Far stronger than she had ever felt before. Like she was a puppet on a string.

"Fate."

He spread his arms wide.

Chloe felt a brilliant and insidious energy flowing through her, making her strong but filling her with a painfully cold feeling in her veins.

"Destiny."

He smiled. Chloe was afraid when he smiled.

"Your sacrifice tonight will ensure that these things don’t exist anymore."

Beckwith Raised a pale arm above his head, and gracefully brought it down, fingers pointed out at his followers behind the doomed souls on the ground, who raised their axes high above their heads.

And began to hack away.

Chloe felt the sharp tremors of impact running up her arms as bloodcurdling screams pierced her eardrums.

Blood. So much blood. It felt like each swing opened up a white-hot fountain of it, drenching every inch of her.

All of them continued to swing. Limbs fell away and bones snapped and heads were smashed.

Even after the last of the horrific cries of pain were silenced, they did not stop. This was what She wanted.

Chloe caught a brief glimpse of Beckwith...

"the other" came a whisper.

Chloe caught a brief glimpse of The Other as she was in mid-swing. He was a shadow, a dark abyss cut into the fabric of Time in the shape of a man and then it wasn’t a man and then it was and then it wasn’t and the only thing that remained was the eyes the obscene eyes in colors she did not think possible which drilled into her and she realized that because of this moment and the moments to come, Time would no longer matter and those eyes would always be there watching her from the moment she was born to the moment she died and

Chloe and the others stopped swinging. All were out of breath and soaked with blood and gore.

Chloe felt a brief rush of terror as she looked up at Beckwith, but saw that he appeared as he had before. He was still looking at her. What she could see of his scab-colored face gave a sense of someone unexpectedly impressed.

Beckwith nodded slightly and slowly moved to the fire, staring at it, back to his followers.

He gestured with his hand.

"Display them."

It took some time, but Chloe, Lee, Pam, and Paul had finished piling every last piece of the bodies on the picnic table in the gazebo.

Once the task was done, the four followers stood, waiting for their master to speak. He stared into the fire for a long time.

"Return home."

Knowing better than to question him further, Chloe and the others started towards the remaining vehicles. None had remembered even hearing Shawn take the car back to the gate.

"Just one more thing."

All stopped dead in their tracks and quickly turned to give their attention to Beckwith, who raised a beckoning finger.

"Paul."

Paul jumped at the sound of his name, gripped with fear. Shaking. He looked to Lee. Then to Chloe. Then, finally locking eyes with Pam, who he had treated crudely hours before with disgusting intent. All of that was gone. Paul was now a man looking for someone to save him.

None did.

Paul slowly walked to his master’s side, awaiting whatever would come, eyes wet and lips quivering.

Beckwith turned to Paul, slowly bringing a pale hand up to Paul’s face, lightly trailing a finger along the painted markings on his cheek. He did this for a while, and to Chloe, it almost appeared to be a loving gesture, like how someone would treat an old and ailing pet.

Beckwith seemed to whisper something in Paul’s ear.

He then grasped Paul’s face with both hands and began to tear it apart.

Paul let out a high-pitched squeal as he tried to fall, but Beckwith was bent over holding Paul’s body off of the ground by his jaw. Beckwith put his boot on Paul’s chest and pulled hard.

There was a meaty sounding rip followed by a SNAP as Paul’s jaw came free. Beckwith tossed it over his shoulder and went back at Paul’s face which was now producing weak, sickly sounding gurgling noises. Beckwith drove his fists deep within the open chasm of Paul’s throat and the noise ceased. Paul’s body tremored slightly, then remained still.

Beckwith stared for a long time, then walked towards the three that remained. He stopped at Pam, briefly running a hand over her face.

"Add him to the others."

Beckwith continued on into the darkness until he was out of sight.

Pam stared after him, wide-eyed.

Chloe began to hear the crickets again.

"Mother be praised", she whispered.

Next Chapter: Seven