Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Harvest of Souls, Chapter Two

Not Without My Children

“Mr. Vice President! Madame Vice President! We need to go! Now!”

Richard Deming, Vice President of the United States, shielded his eyes against the sudden blazing light in his elegant Queen Anne bedroom. Secret Service agents were boiling into the room, guns drawn, taking defensive positions with rapid efficiency. He could hear the whine and whir of a landed helicopter keeping its blades spun up. His wife Beth pulled up the blankets to shield her body, squinting against the light. There was no need. The agents weren’t looking at her, but outward toward any possible threat.

“What’s happening?” Richard asked, scrambling out of bed and reaching for his boxers.

“Plane crashes. FAA is reporting six so far. Most near or at major airports, but one went down in Iowa. DoD has declared Washington restricted airspace and they’re scrambling fighters.”

“Shit!” Another goddamn 9/11! Awkwardly stumbling into his boxers, Richard grabbed some sweats from his wife’s bureau drawer and had them in his fists, when he froze. The agents upstairs were still calling the names of his children.

He tossed the sweats to Beth, feeling a mounting sense of worry.

“Are there any planes headed this way? How much time have we got?”

“Sir, one of your detail is also missing. Your evacuation is a top priority.”

“Missing? Who?”


“Leroy? He just left?”

“We found his clothes and weapon in a pile at his post.”

“Why aren’t the children answering?” Beth said worriedly as she squirmed into the sweatshirt.

“I’ll find out,” Richard said, jogging out of the bedroom, a pair of agents automatically forming up on him. He spotted a couple agents in the living room, crouched around what had to be Jenkins’ suit. On impulse, he sprinted over to it and bent down, reaching for the jacket. His hand froze.

The agents had rifled through the abandoned clothes and DragonSkin bulletproof vest, but it was still apparent that the suit had been found still buttoned up. As if Jenkins hand stripped out of it, then took the time to put it all back together again, including the top button of his shirt and his tie, all in place. But that was impossible. The agents patrolled.

“James! Emilie! Aisha!” An agent’s voice from upstairs.

“He won’t be needing this,” Richard said, finishing his reach under the jacket to pull the gun from Jenkins’ shoulder holster. In the back of his mind, Richard knew he looked ridiculous packing a Desert Eagle in his boxers with his paunch hanging out, and that the agents were all better shots than him. But it still felt better to have a gun in his hand. Keeping his finger outside the trigger-guard, he bounded up the stairs. By now Beth had emerged from the bedroom, and turned to run alongside him, her own pair of agents giving cover.

“Get to the helicopter!” he said.

“No!” Richard knew there was no point in arguing with her, especially when she was right. Beth’s blue eyes landed on the gun, and her eyebrow twitched upward with a hint of mischief. “I’ll get the baby.” He flashed her a brief smile, then hurried into James’ bedroom. The boy was nowhere to be found. His closet was already opened. His bed was empty, but the covers weren’t thrown back.

“Emilie! James! Aisha!” he called out sternly, with a creeping fear in his voice. “Now is no time to play hide and--!” He was cut off by his wife’s scream.

Richard turned back and ran to her side, his dutiful agents in tow. Beth stood by the crib, her face pale as death. Richard stepped up beside her, fearing what he would see. It was almost a relief to see the crib empty. No blood, no horribly mutilated child…but the crib wasn’t empty. Beth had pulled back the little quilted blanket. Rickie Junior’s knit cap was there, as were the matching knit booties. Between them was the diaper, still taped closed.

He exchanged a look of baffled horror with Beth. Then he reached in and pulled up the waistband of the diaper, looking inside for something…anything. It wasn’t even soiled. Beth looked over at the baby monitor. Its green LED was lit and cruelly steady, like a treacherous guard saluting crisply in front of a looted treasury.

Richard turned and ran to the next nearest bedroom, Aisha’s. Yanking back her blankets, he found her little nightgown crumpled onto the sheets, one sleeve draped over the stuffed unicorn she never went anywhere without. He reached out to touch the indentation on her pillow where her head should have been with trembling fingers.

“Oh, God, no…” Richard spun and ran back out into the hall. Beth emerged from Emilie’s room, flashing him a look of terror. By unspoken agreement, they ran into James’ room, Richard stalling just long enough to let Beth through the door first. She pulled back the blankets, then turned and threw her arms around her husband, burying her face in his shoulder.

Agents downstairs were still calling the children’s names, but the sounds of systematic ransacking were subsiding as the agents searched the last few possible hiding places.

“Sir…we have to go now.”

Richard whirled on the agent.


The agent consulted his earpiece.

“Sir, we’ve searched the house and the grounds completely.”

“SEARCH AGAIN!” Beth cried.

“Ma’am, we have to get you and your husband to a secure location.”

“Why? I’m just the fucking understudy!” Richard snapped. “If any of our children get away from whoever’s got them, they’re going to try to get here. And by God, their mother and father are going to be here waiting for them.”

“Sir…President Huckabee is missing as well. His entire family…” Richard stared into dark glasses for several pounding heartbeats. The gun in his hand snapped up to point its .50 cal. muzzle in the agent’s face. “Mr. Vice President—“

“The best goddamn security force on the planet,” Richard said in a low, deadly tone. “On the fucking planet! Now, I want you to tell me how in the hell someone can just waltz in here and steal my children out of their beds—out of their goddamn clothes for Christ’s sake!—and not one of you guys hears or sees or does a goddamn thing! What is this, a coup d’ etat? Hell, they even took one of your own guys for bonus points! Do you seriously expect me to believe that shit?”

“Mr. Vice President,” the agent said with a level of calm Richard would have admired under any other circumstances, “We don’t know any more than you do. That’s why we need to get you and Mrs. Deming to a secure location—“

“Secure location? THIS is supposed to be a fucking ‘secure location!’ Here’s the deal: You tell me what. The fuck. You people have done with my children. Or I blow your brains out, and then ask him" Richard said, jerking his head to indicate the detail's second in command, "what the fuck you guys have done WITH OUR CHILDREN!”

“Mr. Vice President, lower your weapon!” another agent said. They were clearly reluctant to make a move against the man they had sworn to protect, but they also had procedures in place for dealing with a charge who became mentally unstable and dangerous.

“You lower your goddamn weapons! Or use them. There’s two things I will not stand for: One is some banana-republic coup d’etat in my country. The other is anyone on this green Earth threatening my family, for any reason, what-so-fucking-ever.”

The phone rang.

Harvest of Souls, Chapter One

The Investigators

Sofia couldn’t move. Transfixed on the cool slab like a frog pinned down for dissection, there was only the white noise of the ship, the all-encompassing bright light that hurt her eyes, and the sound of her own panicked breaths.

A face. Pointed chin, high round forehead, ridiculously tiny mouth and nose. Impossibly thin neck, and a slender body with spindly insect limbs. But Sofia hardly noticed those details. The eyes. The eyes. Huge almond-shaped orbs cut from the dark void of space.

Ellen? Jay? Where are you?

They scrutinized her with an utterly impersonal curiosity, missing nothing. Their abyssal gaze tore through her naked flesh to violate her soul. Sofia tried to scream, hurl a stream of blistering curses, cry out ‘What do you want from me?!’ The words stuck in her throat. Her lips couldn’t move, save to tremble.

Ellen! Jay! This is the worst stunt you two have ever pulled! When I get my hands on you I’m gonna tan both your hides!

The eyes raked down Sofia’s body. There was no sexual interest, no personal interest at all. Nonetheless, Sofia struggled against her invisible bonds.

~Are you pregnant?~

The foreign voice inside her head chilled her like an ice-cold drop of mercury trickling down her spine. Somehow she could feel that the creature got the answer it wanted. Its arm reached for a tray beside the table Sofia was lying on. Too-long fingers wrapped around something. An instrument of shiny metal and translucent crystal, vaguely and threateningly phallic, with a cluster of sharp needles at its tip.

The pure black wrap-around eyes did not merely dismiss Sofia’s will, her horror at what was coming, her very being. Such things were so far beneath the creature’s concern that they did not even strike its consciousness. Its teardrop-shaped head turned to her pudenda with clinical detachment as it moved to insert the device—

A bloodcurdling scream. Not just Sofia’s, as she jolted bolt upright in her seat. Her heart hammered as she frantically looked around, taking in the clean, off-white walls of the airliner, the rows of little oval windows on each side, some of them with plastic shields pulled down like closed eyelids. Her thick, wavy black hair bounced off her cheeks as her head spun back and forth.

The reassurance she should have felt seeing the familiar, human contours of the airliner eluded her as she felt a mounting sense of panic spreading through the other passengers.

“Ellen?! Jay?!” a woman cried, hurrying back down the aisle, stooping to look under the seats. “Where are you?! Come here this instant!” she said, her voice cracking with fear.

“Hey, lady, shaddap, some of us are tryin’ to sleep,” a half-mumbled complaint from further back in the aircraft replied.

“Frank?” Mrs. McGillicuddy said, her voice a mix of interrupted sleep and confusion. Her voluminous cloud of too-elaborately-styled hair was dented on one side, no longer ministry-worthy. She was looking at the seat between herself and Sofia, where her husband had been sitting. Sofia’s dark eyes followed hers, and she gasped with a sharp intake of breath.

“What the...? Don’t touch anything,” Sofia said. She reached into her purse to retrieve a terrycloth-wrapped elastic band and pulled her hair back into a ponytail so it would not drape into the “scene” and contaminate the evidence. She turned in her seat so she could bend over for a closer look, careful to avoid sudden moves that might jolt the clothes.

The man’s suit sat in his seat like the shed skin of a snake. Sofia’s throat went dry as she noted the way the pants were scrunched up in the waist and hips. So was what she could see of the shirt in the torso area. Vacuum. And for that matter, the fact that the jacket was only slightly slumped at the collar but otherwise still upright, as if it had been pressed into the seat back hard enough for friction to keep it from collapsing. Fourteen point seven pounds of air pressure per square inch could do that…

Sofia whipped out her iPhone and started taking pictures.

A hefty leather-bound Bible with gilded pages lay in the suit’s lap, turned to the Book of Daniel. The arms of the gray polyester suit-jacket and cheap dress shirt were still aimed toward it, as if they would still be holding the book, if they only had hands.

A little scattering of teeth nested in the crook of the Bible’s pages like a bizarre bookmark. If you change your mind and decide you want to talk, I’ll be here, feasting on the Word. Those were the last words the man had said to her, when she’d claimed a need to sleep as a way to escape a session of evangelism. With a shudder, she examined them more closely. Three of the teeth were joined to a flesh-colored plastic resting plate and metal connectors to attach them to their natural neighbors—a dental bridge. The others turned out to be crowns, and there were a few bits of metal she guessed were fillings.

How could this happen?! No, it couldn’t be them. That was a hypnogogic dream, she thought, putting her abduction experience—and the nightmares it still caused, out of her mind. Whatever this is, it’s happening outside my head…isn’t it?

Sofia bit her lip, and glanced at the airline magazines in the pocket in the back of the seat ahead of hers. She could read the words without difficulty. Apart from the clothes, the little details of reality were stable and continuous. Mrs. McGillicuddy looked on with wide, teary eyes. Her hands occasionally fluttered over the scene as she fought a nearly irresistible urge to grab something of her husband to hold onto.

“Oh God!” the woman in the aisle said, clapping her hands over her mouth as she caught sight of the uninhabited suit, eyes wide with recognition.

“Did you find your children’s clothes in their seats like this?” Sofia asked, looking up from her work.


By now several other passengers were starting to call out for missing loved ones.

“Children…missing?” Mrs. McGillicuddy said. “Oh dear Lord! It’s the Rapture!” Her eyes brimmed with tears as she started to tremble with incipient panic. Sofia set her iPhone down in her lap and took the woman gently by the shoulders.

“We don’t know that yet ma’am. There could be other explanations. We don’t even know that anyplace but this airplane is affected. Besides, if it was the Rapture, you’d have been taken too, wouldn’t you?”

“What else could it be? Oh Lord, I…I…must not have been sincere enough!”

“It could have been anything ma’am. Some kind of secret test like the Philadelphia Experiment, maybe even a natural phenomenon we haven’t encountered before. The Fortean literature is filled with reports of mysterious disappearances.” Sofia was highly skeptical of such things, and had personally investigated and found rational explanations some of the most popular accounts. But right now there was a terrified woman who needed alternatives to the idea that her God had turned his back on her and left her in the crosshairs of his wrath.

Sofia stood up. “Ladies and gentlemen,” she said loudly, stepping into the aisle. “Whatever is happening here, the first thing we need to do is stay calm.”

“Stay calm?! My children are gone! We could all be next!” a man shouted. “And you want me to, what? Just relax and read a book?!”

“We’re flying at about six hundred miles an hour, thirty thousand feet above the ground. Do you think panicking could help?” Sofia said levelly. Emotions played across the man’s face. Fear, anger, helplessness… Tears welled in his eyes, but he gave a little nod.

“Alright, everyone who is missing someone, or sitting near someone who has disappeared, try not to disturb the clothes. We have to treat them like a crime scene. They’re the only clues we have about what happened. I don’t know if there’s a way to bring anybody back or not, but if there is, finding out what happened is the first step.”

Cameron “Buck” Williams sat in First Class, proof-reading his article about genetically-modified algae and bacteria developed by a biotech firm in Israel. His brow furrowed as he tried to make sense out of another one of Dr. Rosensweig’s explanations. All that science crap flew right over Cameron’s head, so he had no idea how to go about editing it.

Leave it raw, let the Gang of Four handle it. The Gang of Four was a team of junior writers and researchers Stanton Bailey had provided him as a personal staff to do the grunt-work.

Screams from the direction of Business Class and Coach broke Buck’s concentration. As far as he could tell, there was nothing wrong with the airplane, not so much as a moment of heavy turbulence. He grabbed his notebook and headed back to have a look, just in case there was a story to be had.

He stood in the doorway of the bulkhead that separated first class from the rest of the aircraft with a quizzical expression, trying to sort out the bizarre scene in front of him. It was like an episode of the Twilight Zone. People were calling names and staring into empty seats as if in panicked search for missing companions, or children. A young woman was leaning over toward the window seat comforting a crying old lady. As the younger woman released the elderly lady’s shoulders and leaned back, Buck caught a glimpse of a suit jacket, shirt and tie laid against the back of the seat, without a man in it. Fear and shock in the eyes of other passengers seemed to rule out a practical joke. But…people don’t disappear from airplanes in flight…

The young woman stood up from her aisle seat and stepped out into the middle. I’d hit that, Buck thought. Definitely. She had dusky skin and a head of thick, shiny black hair somewhat artlessly pulled back into a ponytail. She wore a sleek black leather jumpsuit that flattered her curvaceous figure.

Buck bristled as she started giving orders in a confident voice, telling people not to disturb the “clothes.”

“Excuse me, but who put you in charge?” Buck said. The woman turned striking gray eyes on him. They stood out brilliantly against her mocha complexion, fixing him with a penetrating gaze that made him lower his eyes to her chest.

“My name is Sofia Miranda Teresa de la Garza,” she said melodiously with a hint of a Spanish accent. “I am an astrophysicist and paranormal investigator working with the Center for Inquiry. And I’m not ‘in charge,’ I’m just--”

“A ‘paranormal investigator?’” Buck chuckled. “Seen any ghosts lately? Woo-ooo-OOO-ooooo,” he said, wiggling his fingers in an ooky-spooky gesture. “I’m Cameron Williams, senior writer for Global Weekly. But you can call me Buck,” he added with a lopsided grin. The other passengers didn’t laugh at his joke, staring at him open-mouthed instead. Being an award-winning reporter whose stories frequently graced the cover of the Weekly, Buck was used to the adoring public reactions that came with his fame, but this was almost enough to make him feel uncomfortable.

The woman looked at him incredulously for several seconds.

“As the leading reporter for a major news magazine, I’m much better qualified to lead an investiga—“

“You fatuous, supercilious popinjay! These people’s loved ones have apparently vanished into thin air, and your biggest concern is who’s in charge?!” she said, her eyes flashing like a freshly-drawn sword.

“It should be someone whose idea of ‘investigation’ doesn’t involve collecting blurry pictures of Bigfoot,” Buck said, feeling his neck redden and his pulse surge.

“If you want to investigate, then investigate.” Sofia turned to the willowy blond senior flight attendant who had just emerged from the service room in the rear of the aircraft and stopped in her tracks, trying to process the impossible situation of passengers just vanishing out of their clothes. “Could you please go to the cockpit, check on the status of the flight crew and the plane, and see if the pilots can find out if people have disappeared anywhere else?”

“Oh God! The pilots! What if they’re gone too?” a woman said, her voice rising to a high pitch of mounting horror.

“The plane is flying straight and level,” Sofia said, loudly enough for her voice to carry through the cabin. “We are not in any immediate danger of crashing. The flight crew, flight attendants, and air traffic controllers are fully trained in dealing with the unlikely possibility of a pilotless aircraft.”

Buck doubted the flight attendant could do anything for them if the pilots were gone, but the ‘paranormal investigator’s’ words apparently had their intended effect: staving off, barely, an outburst of unrestrained panic. Buck had to fight down a jolt of anger at himself for feeling fear for his safety, and then relief at the woman’s words.

Our first order of business is to find out what we can about the disappearances,” she added. Buck felt that too, and saw it spread through the passengers. Direction. Purpose. We are not helpless victims. Let’s roll.

The flight attendant snapped out of shell-shock, nodded, and headed toward the cockpit at a brisk pace. Buck took a moment to check her out as she passed, noting that she filled out her skirt rather nicely. He turned his attention back to Sofia. For the briefest moment, he had a thought of her and the flight attendant together. Their luscious lips shyly, hesitantly, yet irresistibly drawn together for a languorous kiss. The flight attendant’s slender fingers reaching for the standing collar of Sofia’s jumpsuit to begin slowly, oh so slowly, unzipping…

In the present, he leaned to get a better view as Sophia crouched to reach under her seat to pull out a briefcase and set it on her seat. Bent over the suitcase, she seemed so completely oblivious to his existence that he might as well have been watching through her bedroom window with binoculars. She snapped back upright in a crisp movement, having retrieved a notebook and pen.

The momentary stirring in Buck’s loins was doused as she started speaking again.

“I’m going to write a set of questions on the first page of this notebook. If you could each write your contact information on a separate page and then answer—“

“Now is not the time to be taking orders from Miss Weekly World News,” Buck said, rewarding his fellow passengers with a conspiratorial smirk. The smirk became a full-blown grin as he turned to Sofia. “Why don’t you go back and see if you can break into the booze while the stewardesses are busy? I know that’s normally reserved for First Class, but we can break the rules just this once. Am I right?” he said, turning to invite the other passengers into his little scheme. “While you’re doing that, I’ll start taking statements.”

“Hey buddy,” a bull-necked man with a graying high-and-tight snapped. “You got a reason to keep us from finding out the truth?” Buck turned to him with a quizzical look.

“…Um…What? No…of course not! But who couldn’t use a good stiff drink right about now, eh?” Buck’s smirk faltered into a nervous laugh as the passengers turned their gaze on him. Meeting their eyes, the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. He struggled to grasp why their looks were filled with suspicion and incipient hatred.

Then it hit him. It was like he’d fallen into an episode of The X-Files. His lofty mainstream press credentials, the speed-dial list and Rolodex full of insider contacts any reporter would kill for, the awards and photos with world leaders, celebrities and Fortune 100 CEO’s on the wall in his palatial Manhattan office, his long list of Establishment-friendly articles and op-ed pieces, his casual mockery of Sofia’s fringe ‘credentials’…all extreme liabilities in the topsy-turvy world within the pressurized cabin of this 747.

Here and now, Paranormal Girl would be exactly what the doctor ordered. And Cameron Williams, the Insider’s Insider, would be the closest thing they’d have to a suspect.

Monday, September 28, 2009

James and the Rapture

Where's Phil? James wondered. Doesn't he always turn up when the world goes to hell?

For the world had unquestionably gone to hell. Even the terrible chaos when Sammy was born hadn't been as bad as this - back then, it had only been James's life that started to come apart at the seams. Now, it was everyone else's life.

Sammy toddled across the room to retrieve her giraffe from the settee. Only a couple of days ago, Claire had marvelled how sure-footed she was at just thirteen months; it seemed like a lifetime ago. Sammy's early walking was now the least incredible thing about her.

The world's children had vanished, in an instant and without warning. The television news was full of nothing else, and neither government nor scientists had anything that sounded remotely like an explanation. Everyone under the age of thirteen was mysteriously gone.

Except Sammy.

"Why...?" asked Claire, staring at Sammy as if she expected her to join the rest at any moment.

"No-one knows why everyone else has vanished," James said. "Maybe if we knew that, we'd know why Sammy hasn't."

Claire nodded vaguely - it was the first time in years that she'd been anything less than completely in control. He'd imagined she would be the one to leap into action, handing out brisk advice until everyone was pulling together again, but she was as shell-shocked as anyone else. Maybe the fact that her useless brother still had his daughter was too much for her to take.

"Can you do me a favour?" he asked. "We're nearly out of milk, and there's not a lot else left either."

"I've only got enough for myself," she said. It sounded like an automatic response. "And the shops are ... I won't go for you."

He shook his head. "I was going to ask if you could stay here while I went. I don't think it would be a good idea to take Sammy, do you?" They would probably tear him apart for not suffering what they'd suffered, then tear her apart because they all wanted her so badly. On his own, he could probably fight his way through the crowds like anyone else who hadn't lost children personally.

"No. I suppose not."

"And ... well, I don't suppose you've got any cloth nappies lying around in the loft? Only, buying nappies probably isn't such a good plan either."

That was enough to pull her back to the surface. "Yes, I've got a box somewhere. Get some food, and I'll go and fetch them."

There was no fresh milk: nothing fresh at all. A wild-eyed woman was loading the shop's entire stock of UHT into a bag, and when James tried to take a couple of packets, she turned on him. "Leave them alone. I need them for my baby."

For a second, he thought he'd met someone else who had been mysteriously spared. Then he noticed the carrycot beside her. Tucked up in the blankets, like a parody of a baby, was a cat. "Let me have a couple," he said. "I've got a baby at home too."

"You have?" The hope in her eyes was so terrifying that he mumbled an excuse and ran towards the soup aisle. There was almost nothing left, but he took a few tins of oxtail, which had to be better than nothing, and found a single tin of Sammy's favourite Cream of Mushroom half-buried behind some discarded boxes. The boost that gave his hopes soon vanished when another mad-looking girl tried to grab his packet of milk, crying something that sounded like a child's name. He stuffed everything into his bag and got out, before it could get any worse.

"Someone was here," Claire told him when he got home.

"What do you mean, someone?"

She shrugged. "I don't know. They banged on the door, but I took Sammy upstairs and hid. There are bad people around."

"What else is new?" muttered James. Unhinged parents with nothing left to lose couldn't do any worse than Piconus's cronies had already tried when Sammy was a baby, but it was no use trying to tell Claire that, especially now. "I didn't get much. I hope she'll eat oxtail soup."

"You're hopeless," said Claire, sounding almost like her old self. "I'll fetch the nappies."

Five minutes after she'd gone, someone banged on the door. James weighed up the possibilities: bad people, or Phil? He squinted through the spyhole, and saw the unmistakeable features of Sammy's uncle. Weak with relief, he unlocked the door. "I knew you'd come. You always come when things go to hell."


"I was with the Heart," said Phil. "I didn't even know that anything had happened until I set out into the human world again."

"How could you not notice the children vanishing?"

The look Phil gave him was almost reassuring: one thing, at least, hadn't changed. "Our children, few though they are, have not vanished."

"Why...?" He looked down at Sammy. "I suppose that's why she's safe."

"It seems to be a logical deduction," said Phil. "I explained to you once that Sammy is more elven than human, and this seems to confirm it."

James imagined a whole community full of children, untouched by whatever had taken their human counterparts. "Aren't you worried that your children will vanish as well?"

"Are you worried that adults will begin vanishing?" asked Phil.

"I ... hadn't really thought about it. If I did, I'd probably crack up."

Phil nodded. "Just so."

"But ... Do you think Sammy would be safe now, with your people? The Heart said she was special and everything..."

"She wouldn't be physically harmed," said Phil. "But old taboos take a long time to die. She wouldn't be received with warmth either."

James sighed. "I don't think she'd be safe here at all. Everyone who's lost children - I suppose it's like Melly a million times over."

"It has to be your choice. You are her only living parent."

He could give Sammy to Melly, and not worry that he was handing her over to certain death. In fact, it sounded like things were ticking over just as normal in the elven world, so he would probably be sparing her a lot of pain. Did she know him by now, well enough to miss him, or was it just that he would miss her more than he could bear?

Rather than confront the question, he asked, "So what's caused it?"

"I don't know."

"I know you aren't certain, but you've got some ideas, haven't you?"

Phil shook his head gravely. "You think that just because it's incomprehensible to you, I must know all about it. But this is not an elven thing. The only elves it touches are me and Sammy - and it touches both of us indirectly. Whatever it is - and its nature is strange and shadowed - it is a human thing."

"In other words, not your problem. Oh, Jesus Christ. What a mess."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Left Behindfeld, Act III

Left Behindfeld: a comedy about a book about nothing. The following covers the "activity" of Tribulation Force.

“Buck” Williams = Jerry Seinfeld
Rayford Steele = George Costanza
Chloe Steele = Elaine Bennis
Rev. Bruce Barnes = Kramer
Guest starring Christina Hendricks as Hattie Durham
Plus special guest star playing the role of Nicolae Carpathia


[SCENE: A Chinese restaurant. JERRY and GEORGE are already seated.]

GEORGE: They’re almost a half-hour late! Where could they be?

JERRY: I don’t know. I called Elaine and left her a message with the address & the table time.

GEORGE: Are they standing us up? Did you talk to Elaine? What did she find out about Hattie? What did she say to Hattie about me?

JERRY: I haven’t heard from Elaine. Maybe she’s still at home. I’ll go call & see if I can reach her.

JERRY gets up, goes off-screen to the pay phones.

[Cut to: a pulpit on a dias; KRAMER comes into frame from the left, wearing rumpled frock, unshaven. He stumbles as he walks up, catching himself on the pulpit, which nearly tips over. He straightens up, and runs a hand through his horribly wiry hair.]

KRAMER: Uh, hey. Hey everybody…

[Cut back to the restaurant. ELAINE is just getting seated. JERRY walks in from the other side of the screen]

JERRY: Oh good, you made it. I just checked my voice mail to see if you’d called.

GEORGE: Where’s Hattie? Didn’t you two come together?

ELAINE: George, she’s not coming.

GEORGE: You didn’t tell her I would be here, did you?

ELAINE: Well, I wasn’t going use your story about not feeling safe alone with Jerry!

JERRY (to George): You think she’s not safe being alone with me?

ELAINE: Actually, after some of the things she said, I’m not too sure about you.

GEORGE: It was just part of the plan, Jerry. It’s not like you two need my permission to date. Though if anyone had asked, I would have offered my blessing. I’m happy to chaperon…

JERRY: You know you’re perfectly safe with me, don’t you Elaine?

ELAINE: From what Hattie said, I’m starting to think any woman would be safe alone with you…

GEORGE: Why did you ruin my perfect plan? We could have had a nice dinner, talked about Jesus, and shamed her into quitting her new job and breaking up with the Anti-Christ! Now I gotta go think up a new plan!

JERRY (to Elaine): So, still want dinner?


[End Credits music bed playing]

[JERRY is talking on the phone in his apartment]

JERRY: You know, in spite of it all, I think dinner went OK.

[cut to GEORGE sitting on the couch of his own apartment, holding the phone]

GEORGE: What’d you talk about?

JERRY: How much we want to talk to each other, when we could meet to talk again, what kinds of things we might talk about next time.

GEORGE: Then what?

JERRY: Well, I wanted to check my voice mail to make sure I hadn’t missed any calls, and she decided she’d rather go home.

[cut to KRAMER, standing by the door of a church, shaking hands with the parishioners. Nearby, a man in a dark suit stands, watching him.]

OLDER MALE CHURCH PATRON: A very interesting sermon. Do you believe Carpathia is the Anti-Christ?

KRAMER (nervously smiling): Well, now, I never said that, did I?

FEMALE CHURCH PATRON: But you said that the Anti-Christ would be known by certain signs! And Carpathia meets all the signs!

KRAMER (increasingly nervous, looking & smiling at MAN IN DARK SUIT): I’m certainly not naming any names! Not pointing any fingers! The Anti-Christ could be anybody, really.

MALE CHURCH PATRON: But your sermon seemed pretty –

KRAMER: Hey buddy, Scripture is a mysterious thing! Don’t go around trying to put words in the mouth of God!

OTHER CHURCH PATRON: So you’re saying Carpathia is not the Anti-Christ?

KRAMER (flustered): Um, ah, er, God works in mysterious ways. Don’t try to second guess the mind of god! It’s all there in the Book of Revelations! It’s in the Bible people!

[cut to HATTIE walking down the street with someone at night; we can only see him from behind; he is blonde, and wearing a long dark coat. ]

HATTIE: I’m so glad to see you. I’ve had a really bad day. This guy I used to work with is still trying to get in touch with me. When we worked together, all he would talk about was how unhappy he was with his wife. Now, he’s trying to get me to have dinner with him, apparently for Jesus’ sake. He’s really creepy around women in general; he actually got one of his female friends to ask me out for him!

CARPATHIA (still from behind): He’s probably just realized most people never get a second chance, and regretting that he missed his opportunity for happiness. Is he still hanging around that washed-up journalist?

HATTIE: Yeah. They’re probably on the phone right now, talking about Jesus. Still, there’s something really not right about him. He always acts like he’s the most important person in the room. I’m almost worried he’ll try to do something to me for rejecting him.

CARPATHIA turns to HATTIE, revealing guest-star ROBERT REDFORD

CARPATHIA: I wouldn’t worry about it. Guys like that are all talk, no action. (smiles) [FREEZE FRAME, END CREDITS]

Left Behindfeld, Act II, Scene II

Left Behindfeld: a comedy about a book about nothing. The following covers the "activity" of Tribulation Force.

“Buck” Williams = Jerry Seinfeld
Rayford Steele = George Costanza
Chloe Steele = Elaine Bennis
Rev. Bruce Barnes = Kramer
Guest starring Christina Hendricks as Hattie Durham
Plus special guest star playing the role of Nicolae Carpathia

SCENE: JERRY’S apartment. Jerry is eating peanuts and talking with GEORGE.

JERRY: So, any news on the ex-girlfriend?

GEORGE: Hey! We were never physical! It was purely a flirting thing!

JERRY: Do you think it’s a purely professional relationship between those two? The stewardess & the anti-Christ? I hear he’s really handsome.

GEORGE: They’re called flight attendants now. And what’s that supposed to mean?

JERRY: Well, I mean, he’s the Secretary General to the U.N., and he hired a flight attendant to be his personal assistant.

GEORGE: Are you suggesting that there’s something improper going on between the two of them?

JERRY: He’s the anti-Christ, I don’t think it’s possible for him to have proper relationships.

GEORGE: It does kind of bother me that they might be sleeping with each other.

JERRY: Oh, if he's the spawn of Satan, I doubt there's much sleeping.

GEORGE: So what do you think I should do? Should I tell her he's the fourth horseman? You know, so she can save her soul, and break up with him?

JERRY: Hmmm, I dunno. What if she really likes him? I mean, this guy gives her a job, treats her nice, and frankly, her last boyfriend was you…

GEORGE: You don't think that if I told her about this anti-Christ business, that she would rat me out to him? You know, tell him that I know what he is.

JERRY: It's a definite possibility.

GEORGE: Oh man. He’s the head of the U.N.; he could probably have me killed or tortured or locked up!

JERRY: What’s this about dinner with Elaine?

GEORGE: Oh yeah, I sort-of told her you wanted to have dinner with her. But I guess she feels uncomfortable being alone around you, so I suggested she bring Hattie along, and then I’d show up after you all arrived to make it a four-some! That way, I can talk to her about her satanic boss, and she won’t be expecting it!

JERRY: That sounds like a perfectly well-thought out plan. I’ll call for reservations. (walks over to the phone & starts dialing)

KRAMER bursts through the door, lit cigar in hand, unshaven, shirt un-tucked and rumpled.

JERRY: Oh hey Kramer. How’s the sermon coming?

KRAMER: Bad, Jerry. I think this Andes guy is having me watched!

GEORGE (to Kramer): Carpathia?

KRAMER: I don’t know what do to, Jerry. I can’t keep silent, not when I know the truth! But I can’t warn people he’s the anti-Christ, or Mr. Alps will have me rubbed out.

JERRY (to George): Yeah, Carpathia. (into phone) No, not you. Yes, for four. Six-o-clock. OK (Hangs up the phone)

KRAMER: Hey, what was that I heard about a foursome just before I came in? You do know that sort of thing is, ah, un-godly? (tilts head and makes clicking noise)

JERRY: Not like that. We’re just having dinner with Elaine and George’s ex-girlfriend.

GEORGE: She’s not my ex-girlfriend. She’s working for the Anti-Christ!

JERRY: And we think she might also be dating the Anti-Christ.

KRAMER: Whoa! Dating your boss? Now that’s a serious no-no! I don’t remember this one, George. What’d she look like?

GEORGE: Here. Her picture’s in the paper because she’s working for you-know-who… (snorts derisively)

KRAMER looks at the paper, does a double-take.

KRAMER: Giggity! You were getting with that, George?

GEORGE (annoyed): It was never a physical thing!

KRAMER (grinning): Too bad! If you’re going to pay the penance, you might as well enjoy the sin! That’s what I say!

JERRY: And you’re a minister!

KRAMER (gesturing with his lit cigar): But not a very good one!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Left Behindfeld, Act II, Scene I

Left Behindfeld: a comedy about a book about nothing. The following covers the "activity" of Tribulation Force.

“Buck” Williams = Jerry Seinfeld
Rayford Steele = George Costanza
Chloe Steele = Elaine Bennis
Rev. Bruce Barnes = Kramer
Guest starring Christina Hendricks as Hattie Durham
Plus special guest star playing the role of Nicolae Carpathia

SCENE: busy coffee shop. KRAMER is standing in line with several other patrons.

Another customer approaches KRAMER

PATRON: Thank you, Kramer, for warning us about the Anti-Christ.

A MAN IN BLACK overhears this, and looks over at KRAMER. KRAMER notices the MAN IN BLACK, and is startled.

An older couple approaches KRAMER

OLDER MAN: Kramer, with all of the strange things happening lately, I can’t tell you how much of a comfort your sermons have been for me.
KRAMER (nervously): Well, I don’t know about that. I just try to speak the gospel, and offer comfort. The book’s the same as it’s always been!

OLDER WOMAN: Yes, but now, with the disappearances, and the treaty with Israel...

KRAMER: Nope! I’m just reading the Gospels! Same as I did last week, and last year!

The MAN IN BLACK stares at KRAMER, and gets up as a young woman approaches KRAMER.

YOUNG WOMAN: Reverend, I just wanted to say-

KRAMER (frightened): No, no, you’ve got me confused with someone else. Whatever you think I said I didn’t say, and even if I said it I didn’t mean it because it wasn’t true and you couldn’t prove I said it anyway.

KRAMER bolts for the door.


Left Behindfeld, Act I, Scene III

Left Behindfeld: a comedy about a book about nothing. The following covers the "activity" of Tribulation Force.

“Buck” Williams = Jerry Seinfeld
Rayford Steele = George Costanza
Chloe Steele = Elaine Bennis
Rev. Bruce Barnes = Kramer
Guest starring Christina Hendricks as Hattie Durham
Plus special guest star playing the role of Nicolae Carpathia

[SCENE: GEORGE and ELAINE are sitting in a car, driving through downtown Chicago]

GEORGE: So, uh, what’s going on between you & Jerry?

ELAINE: What? I dunno. He seems nice. He does call me an awful lot though.

GEORGE: Yeah, me too. I think he just likes the phone.

ELAINE: Who likes the phone?

GEORGE: He does, apparently.

ELAINE: I mean, if it’s for someone out-of-town, I can see using the phone to chat. Or if it’s late at night and you can’t meet in person, I can see using the phone.

GEORGE: He’s called me late at night when he couldn’t sleep.

ELAINE: (pause)

GEORGE: He just wanted to talk about the Bible. It was a Biblical chat! Nothing more! Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

ELAINE: Aaanyways, why would you call to talk to someone who lives in the same city as you? Just seems kind of weird to me.

GEORGE: Then don’t see him. Don’t talk to him.

ELAINE: On the other hand, he does have that sort of “older man/father figure” thing going for him. And you seem to think he’s OK.

GEORGE: Did you know Hattie Durham was in town?

ELAINE: Your ex-girlfriend? No, why?

GEORGE: She’s not my ex-girlfriend, nothing physical ever happened. I heard she got a new job with the U.N., and I wanted to make sure everything was OK with her. You know, how she’s getting along with the new boss, if she likes New York, if she’s seeing anyone…

ELAINE: You want to call her up and ask her THAT?

GEORGE: Actually, we sort of parted on not-so-great terms, so I was kind of hoping that… you would call her. You know, woman-to-woman.

ELAINE: Why should I do that?

GEORGE: Well, maybe if there was a certain journalistic-type you were interested in, I could arrange a date. (GEORGE claps his hands in excitement) That’s perfect! A double-date! You tell her you want to meet with Jerry, but that you need a, ah, what’s the female term for a wingman?

ELAINE: Wingman?

GEORGE: Nevermind. Just tell her you don’t want to meet him alone, so ask if she’ll have dinner with you.

ELAINE: You’re not going to be there, are you?

GEORGE: It’s perfect! It’s foolproof!

ELAINE: Oh, there’s proof of a fool around here somewhere…


Monday, September 21, 2009

Left Behindfeld, Act I, Scene II

Left Behindfeld: a comedy about a book about nothing. The following covers the "activity" of Tribulation Force from pages 60-74

“Buck” Williams = Jerry Seinfeld
Rayford Steele = George Costanza
Chloe Steele = Elaine Bennis
Rev. Bruce Barnes = Kramer
Guest starring Christina Hendricks as Hattie Durham
Plus special guest star playing the role of Nicolae Carpathia

[SCENE: JERRY’S apartment. JERRY is talking on the phone, finishing a conversation. He hangs up, then immediately dials his voice mail.]

JERRY: No messages on voice mail. No one called while I was on the phone. Good. I’m all caught up on messages.

KRAMER bolts through the door, into the room, looking confused and disheveled.

JERRY: Oh, hi Kramer! Glad you could stop by. You seem a little agitated.

KRAMER begins pacing back and forth, head & hands twitching.

KRAMER: I’ve been reading the Book of Revelations, Jerry. Bad stuff, man. Really bad stuff. The End Times are upon us, and it’s NOT good news!

JERRY: OK, calm down. What have you found out?

KRAMER: Well, for starters, that Montana guy?

JERRY: Carpathia?

KRAMER: Yeah, him. I think he’s the Anti-Christ!

JERRY: Of course he’s the Anti-Christ. I told you that. I saw him murder someone, brainwash everyone else in the room, and divide up control of the world to his ten lieutenants.

KRAMER: Yeah, right. At that meeting you were never at, for that story that you never published! Well never mind that. The stuff in this book, it’s out there Jerry. Really trippy stuff! And I think it points right at Mr. Appalachia!

JERRY: Carpathia.

KRAMER: Whatever. Anyway, I gotta work on my sermon. The people have got to be told, Jerry. The people must be told!

JERRY: Don’t you read the paper, Kramer? Carpathia is the head of the U.N. now.


JERRY: The U. (pause) N. You know what that stands for?


JERRY: The United Nations. Look, we have a President of the United States, and he’s one of the most powerful men in the world. This guy is basically the president of the United Nations, and a nation is a lot more powerful than a state!

KRAMER (worried & confused): So what are you saying, Jerry?

JERRY: I’m saying the U.S. is a nation with a president, and the United Nations has the US as one of its nations. So the Secretary General of the U.N. is like the President of Presidents, the King of –

KRAMER: Hey, watch it now!

JERRY: I’m just saying you might want to be careful about calling him names, because if you’re right, he’s not only really powerful, but pretty evil too. You know, like the “hiring goons to take you out” kind of evil.

KRAMER (shocked and nervous): Really? You think so?

JERRY: Oh I think so!

KRAMER (sounding choked): But I’ve already started telling people he’s the Anti-Christ!

JERRY: Well, you should stop telling people. Heck, you should try to figure out a way to un-tell people if you can.

KRAMER (looking panicked): I gotta go!

KRAMER bolts out the door, slamming it behind him. JERRY looks mildly amused, walks over to the couch, picks up the phone and starts dialing.

JERRY: Hey Elaine! You going to church on Sunday? Hmm… hey, have you seen my new apartment yet?


Left Behindfeld, Act I, Scene I

Left Behindfeld: a comedy about a book about nothing. The following covers the "activity" of Tribulation Force from pages 60-74

“Buck” Williams = Jerry Seinfeld
Rayford Steele = George Costanza
Chloe Steele = Elaine Bennis
Rev. Bruce Barnes = Kramer
Guest starring Christina Hendricks as Hattie Durham
Plus special guest star playing the role of Nicolae Carpathia

[SCENE: New York Chicaco street sidewalk. GEORGE and JERRY are walking along the sidewalk.]

JERRY: So, did you see the see the newspaper item about your old girlfriend?

GEORGE: My what? Jerry, you know I married my high school sweetheart. True, she vanished in the Event, but I haven’t had any other girlfriends.

JERRY: What about the stewardess you always hung around with? You know, the one you were always flirting with?

GEORGE: Oh yeah, Hattie. She was something, wasn’t she? Too bad it never went anywhere.

JERRY: Yeah, why didn’t it go anywhere?

GEORGE: I’m a married man, Jerry! I have principles!

JERRY: Principles like constantly flirting with a subordinate at work and stringing her along with stories of how unhappy your marriage is?

GEORGE: (glares at JERRY) (pauses) So what was this newspaper item about?

JERRY: Oh, so you remember how I introduced her to that Nicolai Carpathia guy? Turns out, not only is he now Secretary General of the U.N., but that he really needed a good personal assistant. Guess who he hired?

GEORGE: No way! I remember hearing about him getting that job. Wait, weren’t you supposed to cover that story?

JERRY: I did cover the story, remember? He shot the guy who was helping him, and then covered it all up!

GEORGE (sarcasticly): Oh that’s right. Big cover-up. That only you know about. Which is why you’re reading about the news instead of writing about it now.

JERRY: Ha ha ha. Very funny. Anyway, I just though you should know your ex-girlfriend is working for the Anti-Christ, and they’re both in town for some conference.

GEORGE: Hmm... hey! I’m going down to Kramer’s church for services Sunday. You gonna be there?

JERRY: I dunno. I’ve got to get home to check my messages, and I’m meeting with Kramer in a few hours. Will Elaine be there?


Monday, September 14, 2009

Foven meets Nicolae, Part 2

I walked into Nicolae's office, ignoring the sweet-smelling woman who ran after me, shouting something I didn't understand. "What have you done with Mellio?" I asked.

He spoke a sentence or two in six unfamiliar languages before finally coming out with some fluid, unaccented Hembrai. "My dear Foven. I understand how distressed you are, but I have done nothing with your young friend."

I think he expected me to be impressed that he knew my name, and who Mellio was. I wasn't: Onis Reeve could probably have done the same. "If you didn't take him, you know who did," I said, also in Hembrai.

"My dear Foven, if I knew who had taken the children, do you really think I would keep it to myself?" Andaroi this time, as smooth and accentless as his Hembrai. Again, I had the feeling I was supposed to be impressed, but the Guild is full of mages who can do that.

I answered in Andaroi, just to show him he couldn't outdo me. "Yes. You are a deceiver."

"A deceiver? You wound me. I want only to lead the people of the world through this terrible time and into peace."

"That might be what you want." I couldn't keep up the Andaroi, so I switched to Arinese. "But that's not what's going to happen. I know someone just like you - he's full of the best intentions, and somehow all he ends up with is a bucket of warm piss."

"You are speaking of the healer Dasil," he said, in perfect Arinese. "It's quite understandable that you distrust him, but he has your best interests in his heart - just as I do."

That unnerved me. How did he know I was thinking of Dasil? Had he checked me out so thoroughly, or could he somehow sense my thoughts? Either possibility could be terrifying, but having come this far, I couldn't let him see my fear. "Dasil's concern for my best interests always seems to make me feel more wretched, and I have the feeling yours may work out the same way."

"My poor Foven." His voice brimmed over with pity that sounded all too genuine. "Open your heart and trust a little."

"I've read about you," I said. "The Final Era book. It lays out exactly what you're going to do. What you've already done."

"Lies." He took a couple of steps towards me, and I had to back away. "Lies, spread by misguided fools. I'd like to help them all to see the error of their ways, but life is just too short."

He reminded me more and more of Dasil with every word. Something about the aching pity in his voice, and the way he tried to wriggle out of everything. "If it's all lies, what's the truth? What's your real agenda?"

"I already told you, my friend. Bring the people of the world through this terrible time and into peace."

It was a dangerous thing to want, even if he was telling the truth. I knew my history - rulers started out trying for peace, and ended up compromising themselves into oblivion. And the way he was going about it - persuading the rest of the world to join with him and give up their most powerful weapons - could only end in disaster. "You know you're bound to fail," I said. "And I didn't come here to argue about that. Tell me where Mellio is."

"Foven." His voice had a hard edge now, no more of that bleeding pity. This was the point where Dasil would have shoved me towards the refectory or poured something down my throat, but Nicolae could do much worse. "You do not wish to oppose me. It is not wise."

He was right, of course. But since I caught the pox, my life has been one long series of things I didn't wish to do and still did. As for wisdom, I'd long ago decided that was the province of whole mages.

"My only agenda is to bring peace." His voice seemed to drill into my mind. "Your presence here is a wasteful distraction."

Dasil could have come out with the same thing, nearly word for word. And, just as I'd lost my temper with Dasil so many times, I lost it now with Nicolae. "Now listen, you pissing little idiot. Last year, I saw a dragon - an actual fire-breathing dragon. The man who summoned it wanted me to drink its blood and live forever, and I told him to piss in his kecks. Do you think I'm going to let you fool with my mind?"

"Fool with your mind?" The pity was back, like an unwanted touch that made my skin crawl. "My dear Foven, I would never do such a thing."

"You would. You just did. Do you think I can't feel magic being worked, just because I can't read glyphs any more? I'm blind, you fool, not stupid."

"All I want to do is bring peace-" he started again, this time in Hembrai.

That was when I realised there was no getting any sense from him. I hit him the hardest blow I could manage with my staff, and left.

Foven meets Nicolae

Waking up and finding Mellio gone was almost worse than waking up from the pox. Even as I first came out of sleep, I knew I was alone in the room; it went beyond the absence of his breathing into a definite sense that he was gone. I didn't think for a moment that he was at the privy or gone early to the refectory.

What I did think was that Dasil had taken him. Our truce had been holding fairly well for a month or so, but he was quite capable of moving Mellio into a different room to help me take whatever step he thought I should be taking next. And however much Mellio and I complained, neither of us had any right of appeal.

I lay for a while, trying to work out the best way to confront Dasil, but none of the outraged phrases that came to my mind ever made it to my mouth. While I was waiting for him to come in, I heard the most terrible sound from outside. Screams, cries, names called in desperation, swallowed up as more and more parents woke to discover their children gone.

The first few days were terrible. Parents stormed the Guild, insisting that the Masters had to find their children. No matter how many times Previs Corvus explained that they were doing all they could, they kept coming. I think they must have been doing the same thing to the sheriff's office, because Faric Faber threatened to put the city under martial law if they didn't disperse.

The Guild itself was less affected than the rest of the city: research mages don't usually have children. Some, like Noen, had had nephews and neices, and a handful of the students had had brothers young enough to be among the vanished, but Mellio was the only disappearance from within our walls. All the same, it changed us. Anything that didn't have a direct chance of finding the children was pushed to one side, and huge working groups formed to try different methods of searching. Algen, Tilf and Falla, of course, were at the heart of one of them, running the highest powered viewing spells there had ever been.

And I was on the outside. Oh, Dasil put me to work folding sheets and carrying teas for the mages who cracked under the strain, but there was nothing useful I could do towards finding Mellio and the others. I could only sit and listen to whole men doing their part, and simmer in the bitterness I thought Mellio had helped me banish.

But maybe I had banished it. I wasn't willing to accept, as I once had, that the situation was hopeless. I couldn't help by reading the glyphs, but I'd learned another way to take action. I could search for answers in my own way - I'd done it once, and I could do it again. So I asked Onis Reeve to find out what he could, and I kept my own ears open in the refectory, and between us we put a few pieces together.

There was never any direct evidence - it was even worse than the dragons. But this Nicolae Carpathia kept cropping up on the edges of conversations, until I wasn't ready to believe it was a coincidence. If he hadn't taken the children himself, he knew who had.

Wallen Ross's old assistant found the only piece of real evidence among Wallen's private books. It was a strange thing, an Andaroi translation of something from across the other ocean, and even worse written than that ridiculous Ersh book Mellio and I struggled with. It was about the "Final Era" - their idea of how the world was going to end. It began with the children vanishing into air; after that, a charismatic leader emerged who would bring war and chaos. They even named the leader: Nicolae.

The moment we'd finished reading, I asked Onis to find me a passage across the ocean.