#horror #sci-fi #fiction #shortstory
Chapter 01 (Man in prison)
His overwhelming desire for revenge was second only to his despair. How long had he been here? How long had he been staring out of this prison cell? There was no way of knowing. He remembered at one point marking a wall in order to begin counting the days, scratching brown paint with his thumbnail, but that didn’t last very long. As soon as he started marking, they moved him to another cell. This continued daily until he stopped making marks. His captors also had the quite literally maddening practice of psychological torture, sometimes feeding him what felt like every hour for several hours in a row, other times it seemed to be days before they brought him food. But the thing with the lights was the most maddening. At times they would alternate his lighting every five minutes, he was almost certain of this – he counted the seconds as soon as he noticed the pattern. Five minutes of light, five minutes of dark, and then, just like with the food, he went what seemed like days in either complete light or darkness. Some time ago, he had come to the conclusion that whoever they were, they were deliberately trying to drive him to insanity. How long ago he had no idea – it might have been weeks or months, but it was very possible that he had been there for years.
Pretty sure that this wasn’t a traditional prison, he reminded himself to be on the lookout for clues as to where he might be. The dark blue uniforms of the men who brought him food and looked in on him were not helpful. Matching cargo pants and t-shirts, dark sneakers. There were no nametags, no belts, nothing that could help him identify his location. He remembered asking several times where he was and what he was doing there, but the workers did not even acknowledge that he spoke, let alone give him any indications as to where he was and what he was doing there.
He once again scanned his mind, to look for something in his own past to help him remember, but to no avail. Not only had he lost his freedom, but he had lost all of his memory about who he was before his imprisonment. Sometimes he would be rewarded with flashes of scenes he had presumably lived through at some point, but they were so brief, and gone so quickly, he found it impossible to piece anything together. He wondered if he was being drugged.
Scanning his unclothed body for hints that would assist in recollection, he could see that he was very muscular, although not exactly the type of muscles that would show through clothes. He supposed everyone had a six-pack somewhere under their skin, so his own may have just been a symptom of his not eating for long periods. He was strong, however. To his surprise, he was able to do more than two hundred push-ups before he collapsed, and almost that many sit-ups. Somewhere in his past he had earned the knowledge that this was a lot. He wondered why it was the he was able to keep that sort of knowledge, but not personal memories. Continuing the body scan, he found it frustrating there was no mirror. He wasn’t certain this would help refresh his memory, but he thought there might be a chance. In this situation, there was not anything a person wouldn’t try to gain relief from the helplessness of not knowing. He touched his face hoping he could picture it just by an act of will, felt about two days worth of beard, and wondered when and how they were able to shave him. They must be giving him some sort of drug, because he couldn’t recall any shavings.
Emotions were still available, and the two that kept him going were the despair and the need for revenge. Not sure of why these clung to him, because he couldn’t recall why he was sad, or why and to whom he owed revenge. Analyzing his thoughts yet again, he knew that it wasn’t his captors that deserved revenge. Maybe so, and maybe someday, because they were obviously trying to drive him mad. Right now, while he didn’t know who he was, his captors were just a daily annoyance, something to be dealt with as one might deal with a coworker that wouldn’t shut up. No, he felt that his revenge was geared towards one individual, for one horrendous act, and he guessed that his despair was tied to the act as well.
Perhaps he was just insane, or had lost all mental acuity. Maybe they fed him on time, and the lights went off on time, the meals came regularly, and he just couldn’t perceive it. Was there something so wrong with his brain that his perceptions were skewed? This answer didn’t feel right. For a while thought maybe he was created in a laboratory, as a clone or test tube creation, but wouldn’t he then have the mind of an animal? Comforting himself that this was not his situation, he realized that if this were the case, he wouldn’t be aware that these types of experiments existed. He wouldn’t be aware of anything outside of these walls and bars. He quickly scanned his head for some random knowledge from his past. He thought of a lawn mower, then the small engine. The four cycles of intake, compression, ignition, exhaust. At times these little bits of trivia that he could recall were the only things keeping him sane, because they were proof that he had existed elsewhere. He had a life. He had…
A memory flash of a young girl, just into her teens, in a parking lot. Cute girl, except that she had blood all over her face, and she looked terrified. Did he do that to her? No, he was cleaning her face off and hugging her…and it was gone. He wanted pen and paper to be able to record these flashbacks, if that’s what they were. This was the strongest memory he could recall, so he clung to it. He used several mental tricks to remember. He gave the girl a name, and pretended that she was his daughter. Who knew, maybe he was right. He tried to forcibly think about the scenario. Nothing more.
Returning his thoughts to his current situation, he kept trying work it out, but the harder he thought, the further away answers seemed to be. He took a quick assessment of everything he knew about his situation. The revenge, the despair, the prison and torture, the obvious desire on the part of the prison workers to keep him from any sort of knowledge – this didn’t amount to much. And if he was already a captive, why the torture? It’s not as if they were asking him any questions. Was he part of some experiment? He was a detective looking for someone he didn’t know, in a city he’d never been, with no phone, no notebook, and no client. He didn’t feel drugged, but he felt lost. He decided some time ago they weren’t going to break him. For the sake of stability, he developed his own daily routines. When they turned the lights on, he kept his eyes closed, and learned how to get around in the darkness, not opening his eyes again until he knew the lights were off. He also decided to only eat in the dark. He worked out as much as he could, and spent his time devising new exercises to work different muscles. This stability had helped clear his mind enough for him to begin to look for a way out.
Keep learning. Keep trying to understand. Keep thinking about the girl. And escape.
Chapter 02 (Tasha Intro)
“Why do always put your hand on the door before you go through it?”
Tasha pulled her hand off the door. “You’re not supposed to be talking,” she said. “I don’t want anyone to hear us coming until we’re ready to go inside. Okay, stay right here. I’ll go through the door, check it all out. When I determine that it’s safe, I’ll come back and walk you through the door.”
“Same as always,” he said.
“Better that I bore you with the rules again than see you dead or kidnapped.”
Tasha was more abrupt with her client than she wanted to be, but she needed to dodge that question. She was always a bit worried that her answer would sound a little too mystical. She knew better than to make up a random answer on the spot, and had always planned to spend some time thinking of a logical explanation so she could answer her clients with confidence, but just like cleaning under the couch, it was something that she never quite got around too. They say that you don’t really change until it becomes too painful not to change, and she believed the elusive “they” in this instance. So far, she ignored the question and it didn’t come up all that often.
The act of placing her hand on the door, however, was an act that Tasha constantly performed, especially when she was working with a client. She knew it wasn’t magical or mystical, although it was certainly unexplainable. Having never walked into a room, when she felt the door for a few seconds, she more or less understood the layout of a room. She could feel, for instance, if there was a smaller room inside with another door, and she could feel obstacles such as a bar, or tables and their approximate locations. Most importantly, she could feel people. Never who, but where. She couldn’t tell a bad guy from a good guy, but she could tell where people in the room were standing, and this was often an indicator by itself of whether or not the situation was dangerous. Tonight, the feeling wasn’t a good one.
Les Rogers, her client, had gotten himself into a bad situation. He was self-described as “a simple financial advisor who got mixed up with organized crime” and was trying to find a way out. She didn’t know if he was telling the truth or not, but people rarely got mixed up in organized crime without being partially to blame. In her experience, when people described themselves as a simple anything, this was an attempt to sound innocent. And innocent people don’t try to sound innocent. At their first meeting, when he tried to explain further, she stopped him.
“Can you go to the feds, or the organized crime unit? Our city has one, you know.”
“I’d prefer to work this out myself, and not implicate myself in any crime. As it stands, I’m relatively safe. Do you know what these guys would do to me if they found I was talking to the FBI?” Les asked her. “When I came to them, I was just trying to offer a way to-“
“I don’t want to know,” Tasha said. “I don’t need to know. And you don’t want me to know. All I want to know is how dangerous is your position right now. Are they after you?”
“No. I just feel better with some protection, and I want them to know not to mess with me.”
“Les, that’s not why you get a bodyguard. You can’t scare the mob into not messing with you. You’re trying to make a show of strength with two people is going to make you look foolish. You hire a bodyguard so that if bad things go down, you’re protected. If we’re going to do this, you introduce me as your partner, or your secretary, or hell, your mistress. I don’t really care. But if you introduce me as your hired gun, you’ll be provoking them into showing you that they’re not scared. If you really want to prove you’re a badass, you need to find someone else. I would suggest a lot of someones with a lot of guns.”
Les met with this group four times under her protection. He ended up introducing her as his financial assistant. The men were under no illusion that this was true, in fact a couple of them recognized her from some of her other clients. Les was saved only by the fact that he was obviously not making a show of strength. Tasha thought maybe she should start charging double. Tonight was supposed to be just another meeting like the others, but her client seemed especially nervous, unsure of himself, and on edge.
“Before we go in, is there anything you need to tell me? Anything different happen at all? Is this meeting more important?” she asked him.
“It was a different guy that called me to set this meeting up. Not my usual contact. I asked, he said that’s not really my concern, he was taking over the project, and I was to meet with him from now on. I tried to reach my usual guy on the phone, but his line is disconnected. I’m sure it’s all going to be business as usual, but it’s making me a little jumpy.”
Tasha put her hand on the door one more time. Three men at a table straight ahead, sitting down I think – on man leaning against the wall twelve feet to my left as soon as I walk in. She glanced down the stairwell. Fifteen stairs, foyer jogs to the right, glass door to the outside. Her jeep parked about a block to the west. She knocked. Instinctively, she knew that one of the men at the table stood up to answer the door. As she waited, she felt for the man leaning against the wall. Something wasn’t right. In her mind, she pictured the guy who was leaning against the wall. At her knock, he had moved to about six feet away from door and dropped into a crouch. The door opened. A man in a suit answered the door, with a grin, which quickly fell into surprise as he saw Tasha instead of Les. He glanced to his right, presumably looking at the crouching man, who was supposed catch the newcomers unaware.
She turned to Les. “Run to the bottom of the stairs. Wait for me, we’ll go out the door together. Now.”
Les jumped down the stairs two or three at a time, as Tasha looked at the man in the doorway. He reached inside his suit coat to draw his gun, a moment she was waiting for. Tasha understood the difference between winning a fight and survival, and as soon as the man went for his gun, she knew that he meant business. Fortunately, people who relied too much on the power of guns didn’t understand strategy, only power. As soon as his hand went inside his jacket, she grabbed the wrist of his gun hand and pushed it towards him so that he couldn’t draw. Simultaneously, she dug her fingers into his eye sockets just at the top of his nose, grabbing the entire bone, the upper bridge of his nose, from behind. She spun him outside the door, slamming him up against the hallway wall. He tried to reach out and swing at her, but she just squeezed the bone harder, the pain causing his arms to lock up and straighten out at his sides. With her free hand she reached for his gun, and drew it. She spun the man back around and threw him into the room he came from.
She leaned in, and fired two shots at the floor in front of the crouching man. The men at table were standing up and drawing their guns. She slammed the door, waited one second, and fired two more shots at the door. She specifically aimed for a sweet spot in between the man on the floor and the men at the table, hoping to hit nobody, but making them think twice before opening the door. At the bottom of the stairs, she fired two more shots at the wall to the right of the door once again hoping to warn them off without killing anyone. The men were hesitant now, but it wouldn’t last long. She grabbed Les by the arm and shoved him out the door, running to her jeep, dragging him behind and yelling for him to try to keep up. A minute later, they were on the road, and Tasha’s plan was to get out of the city and let things cool off before coming back.
“Do you have a place to sleep?” she asked.
“I can get a hotel,” he said.
“Don’t pay with a credit card, or they’ll be able to find you. They probably own the hotel, or at least own some employees who can rat you out. I have a safehouse, if you want to stay there.”
“No, I’ll take care of this.”
“You ready to go to the feds?”
“I just might. I don’t even know what that was all about.” He looked hesitant.
“Just sleep in the safehouse. It’s guarded by people I trust, and I can rest knowing that you’ll be safe. But call the FBI as soon as you get there. I have a contact, I’ll give you his number. Call him, leave a message. You two can work this out.” As she spelled this out for him, she knew it was a waste of time. He wasn’t going to talk to any law enforcement agency. In too deep, she thought.
“Thanks again for your help.”
Some people just can’t stay away from trouble, Tasha thought. Her mind returned to the gunman she incapacitated an hour ago. She always felt just a little bad hurting someone like that. But the gunman played his card, drew on her and forced her into action, so he brought it upon himself. The human body is resilient, he would probably not lose his eyesight. He would be in horrible pain, however, for the next few weeks. Especially if he had to sneeze. Although she was wearing gloves, she was disgusted with the thought of shoving her fingers into his eye sockets. A nice hot shower sounds really, really good right now, she thought.
She dropped off her client, and went home to take that shower.
Chapter 03 (Lincoln Intro)
“Seven of hearts?” Lincoln guessed.
“Nope,” said the attractive brunette.
Every time someone asked him what he did for a living, Lincoln would say, “I’m not a 40-hour week type of guy.” His ex-wife could attest. She left him because her future security was important, and Lincoln was only interested in living a life less ordinary. There were high points – when Lincoln made money, he made a lot of it. He began as a musician, but later on was also drawn to the allure of being a magician – “not a children’s magician, I don’t do kids parties,” he always made sure to say. After booking two large magic shows a year, usually at a college, and subtracting travel expenses, his hourly wage was similar to that of a CEO in a major software company. “Over thirty million dollars a year if I worked a forty hour work week, with an emphasis on if,” he often said.
“Are you sure it wasn’t the seven?” Lincoln said as he scanned through his deck of cards.
“I’m sure,” she said.
Writing also fell into Lincoln’s arsenal of talents when a long time friend needed an investigate reporter for the newspaper he edited. Lincoln thought he may have found his calling with this one, but he only wrote for a year before online media overcame the struggling newspaper. This didn’t stop his writing – he would make little chunks of money here and there writing for blogs and magazines. He found the real money in writing was in college. He offered to write a paper for an acquaintance, somehow got an A, and word got around. His little network of students grew into a larger network and now, except for summer vacation, he always had something to write.
A benefit to writing hundreds of papers for post-graduate and doctoral students was Lincoln had the knowledge equivalent to a few different PhDs. He was also learning how to research better and better with every assignment. During the course of the last several years, he read more than ten thousand academic peer-reviewed journal articles and books. He felt that if his goal was to live a life less ordinary, he was remarkably succeeding. Not quite a master of his trades, he nonetheless worked hard to become at least above average in everything he did. He always knew of and studied others that were masters in their fields, to whom he could never compare. But he also knew that those masters had others they looked up to, and this cycle continued upwards. Lincoln was just happy to be a part of the process.
Magic, music, and writing. That is how Lincoln Reid organized his life. He realized that there were so many other components in his life that he couldn’t put into these categorize. “How do you really categorize a life?” he once wrote. “How can you take all of the essence of a person – their history, thoughts, actions, philosophies, possessions, creations, and more and bundle them up in a neat little package to show the whole world? You can’t, is the answer.” He knew this to be true from experience. As long as he could remember, he archived everything. Although his life was relatively free from possessions other than those tools that he needed to accomplish all of his projects, in his brain he was a hoarder. He wanted to keep everything that had to do with experiences, accomplishments, thoughts, and everything else that he could classify as personal “data” and he wanted to keep them instantly available for easy access. He used a number of online applications as tools to accomplish this. Here he had a list of every book he ever read, every goal he ever had, scanned every journal entry and uploaded those to his cloud storage accounts. He was, in short, a mental packrat that was always trying to organize his mind. This constant attempt to keep everything in its place made him feel at times as if he was going insane.
“What was the card you picked, then?” Lincoln asked
“You want me to tell you? You’re the magician, you’re supposed to figure it out,” she said.
“Work with me here,” he smiled. “I’ve already failed, I just want to know what you picked now.”
“The jack of spades,” she said.
“You couldn’t have picked the jack. It’s not in the deck,” Lincoln said as he spread the cards out on her table. He slowly reached into his front pocket and pulled out the jack, and turned it around so that everyone at the table could see. The diners applauded him.
“How did you do that?” another at the table asked him.
Ignoring the question, Lincoln said, “I keep another in here too.” He reached into his front pocket again, pulled out another jack of spades (in reality it was the same Jack). He did this two more times, pulling the Jack out of his back pocket, and pulling it out of the brunettes purse. When he worked the bar scene he would unzip his pants and pull a card out, or reach into a woman’s cleavage and come out with the card. Tonight, he was working a family restaurant and keeping it clean.
He took four cards off the top of the deck and showed them to his spectators one card at a time. They were all the jack of spades. “I’m sorry. I was lying to you.” He turned over the four cards again and they were changed. All were low number cards now – no jacks. “Like I said before, I keep the jack of spades in my pocket.” Lincoln reached into his front pocket again and pulled out the jack.
Everyone at the table applauded. He thrived on applause but he didn’t live or die by it. There were those that were less impressed with his magic, and some that were even offended by it. Those that thought that he was trying to fool them, and they were right but it was in no way malicious. It was supposed to be entertainment, just watch and enjoy. Still, those that felt threatened or just wanted to mess with him, he had a talent for reading pretty quickly and he generally just steered away from those tables unless they requested him via one of the servers, in which case he had to go.
“Thank you all,” he smiled. “I have to get to the other tables, but thank you for watching. Enjoy your meal.” One guy thanked him again and handed him a twenty dollar bill as a tip. “Oh, I couldn’t take that kind of money from you,” Lincoln said as he took the bill and shoved it in his pocket. He put his hand on the man’s shoulder, looked him in the eyes, and said, “Thank you, I mean that.” Lincoln wore a little button on his shirt when he was performing that said DON’T TIP ME UNLESS YOU’RE A MILLIONAIRE which pretty much guaranteed that he would be tipped something at every table that enjoyed him. His mentor had told him that he would never have to ask for tips if there is a constant reminder that it is socially acceptable to tip a magician.
As Lincoln left the table, he analyzed what he had done right and wrong at the table. His super trick hadn’t worked, which was okay. The last trick that he had done at the table was what was called an “out”. When a magician messes up a trick, he needs to have another trick to fall back on to make sure he can keep the show going, and keep it entertaining. Had the original trick worked he wouldn’t have needed the out, and the folks at the table would have seemingly witnessed a miracle. And possibly a real one, Lincoln thought to himself. What he could do wasn’t exactly natural, but it wasn’t exactly impressive either. It did, however, lend itself well to a working magician.
Seven years ago, at the age of 29, he became obsessed with magic tricks. He poured money and time into this new “hobby” as his ex-wife called it. “Only a little boy wants to be a magician,” she had said to him, “Get a real job.” For Lincoln, it wasn’t a hobby or career. It was a necessity. Humans need to truly and deeply explore their own individual potential. So just as he did with music and writing, he took this new potential as far as he was able in a short period of time, and then continued to study at least weekly to stay abreast of the current trends in magic. After a year he began booking paid gigs for magic, and it was during the paid gigs when he found this skill that he (to himself) referred to as “his anomaly”.
As he put together his first magic routine, he used something that he had seen one of his magical heroes, Aldo Colombini, perform. In effect, he placed a random playing card on the table and asked someone to name any card. Once they named a card, he revealed the card on the table. Most of the time it was not the card the spectator named. So he picked the card up, and tore it into pieces, and introduced himself. Spectators would chuckle at this, and the show would begin.
Lincoln began his routine at restaurants in this way. Statistically, one out of every fifty-two performances of this effect should be correct. But it doesn’t work out that way in reality. First, there were the people he thought of as the “Queen and Ace Society”. In general they named the queen of hearts of hearts or the ace of spades. And then there are other cards that seem to be guessed at more often than others. The seven of hearts and the three of spades were two popularly named playing cards. The statistics aren’t perfect. Lincoln’s intuition grew stronger as he performed over the last several years, and now more than ninety-seven percent of the time he chose one that the spectator named.
As far as superpowers go, this one is pretty weak, he consistent reminded himself. In addition, there was always the question of what to do those rare times he was incorrect. He could use the original out of tearing up the card, but he devised several entertaining outs of his own, enjoyed by both the spectators and himself. He never worried about being wrong, never worried about messing up any of his magic effects, because he had developed a series of outs that would work.
For every situation he got himself into, Lincoln Reid always had an out.
Chapter 04 (Tasha Dream)
Chapter 05 (Lincoln, Gig, Dream)
Setting up our equipment before a gig, and tearing down afterwords – this is what we get paid for, Lincoln thought for just about the thousandth time. All of that playing music in the middle, that is for free. He really didn’t like this part. He drove to the nightclubs all fired up to play his keyboards and sing, and once he got there, setting up the band equipment took the wind right out of his sails. Fortunately, Jack Daniels and Yuengling were there to pick him right back up. At least for a little bit.
Lincoln had learned years ago that when it came to drinking and playing music, there was a bell curve in effect. As he drank, he relaxed enough to let his muscle memory take over, and you got better. Solos sounded more relaxed, grooves came perfectly on the backbeat, and everything was loose and fun. At the top of the bell resided one of the best feelings Lincoln knew. Nirvana. Sloping down the curve, though, things got sloppy and started to fall apart. Lincoln remembered many times when his fellow bandmates stared at him during a song with looks on their faces that shouted, “Link! What the hell are you doing?” At this point of the night he would always shrug and start drinking water. Afterwords, he smiled and told his band, “That’s why we put the easy songs in the last set.” The problem with the bell curve was finding the sweet spot, since it was different every night. Often he had to drink too much to discover that he just passed his destination.
There was another reason that Lincoln