Black Heart – Chapter III Part VII
by Steppen Sawicki
They say the more a person curses, the more honest they are. These characters are fucking saints.
He woke hours before sunset, tense and drenched in sweat, but he couldn’t remember what he had been dreaming. His thoughts immediately turned to the events of the previous night, and he threw Howlin’ Wolf on his record player to distract himself. He cooked Eggs Benedict and pancakes and grilled cherry tomatoes and ate a third of it all. He didn’t want to head out early to the synagogue, but he found he couldn’t avoid it. He didn’t want to be alone.
The place was swarming with agents. Skinner and Phan were there again, but so were several other Spotters and Possessed. And Cam was there, his jacket standing out in the crowd.
“How you holding up?” he asked Bryan.
“Well I’m walking and talking,” Bryan responded, thinking again of Gennick. “What’s with the circus?”
“We were just about to head in. We’re all here to observe the inside. We hear some demons just popped up and vanished last night.”
“Something like that.”
“You found it, didn’t you? They didn’t say so, but we all kind of figured.”
“Yeah.” Bryan spoke quietly. He didn’t want everyone there to hear about it. “I can catch its memories sometimes. Hussein sent me to the apartment it wrecked. But I don’t think he expected me to really catch quite so much. It’s like it has a mind and I’m reading it.”
Cam was staring at him, a little disbelieving, a little fearful. “Fuck, man.”
“Just remember it goes both ways.”
Cam looked to the synagogue. The last of the sunshine lit up its stained windows. “It’ll be looking at your mind too.”
Harper was approaching them, so Bryan didn’t respond. She stopped before them and spoke without greeting.
“We’re all heading inside now.”
Inside had been transformed. Office agents milled about checking on cameras and sound recorders and thermal imaging and Geiger counters and all the other old ghost hunting equipment that must have been pulled from storage and dusted off. There were people taking samples of the dust from the podium and people inspecting the pews and windows as if they likewise held some mystery.
And everybody looked at Bryan as he entered.
Bryan Fucking Ivers. Man of the Moment.
If only the floor could open and swallow him up.
“What exactly has everyone been told?” he asked Cam.
“Pretty much what I told you. A ‘disturbance regarding demons.’ But everyone knows you found it. We’re all to possess and watch the show.”
“It’s not a show,” Harper said from behind them.
Cam indicated the cameras and agents and stereos with his hands. “This isn’t a show?”
“Ain’t no fuckin’ show,” came a voice from their left. They looked over to see Skinner regarding them coldly, brows knit. “I was here. I felt it. Felt like every damned demon in the city rushed in and knocked over the building. I don’t see why we aren’t setting up a group capture.”
“Maybe,” Harper snapped “because we aren’t prepared to capture every damned demon in the city.” She mocked the last words, clearly forgetting that Skinner had been on her side of the argument. Her voice was a sheen over rage like Bryan hadn’t heard it before.
“Hey,” Skinner snapped back, “maybe you’re too chickenshit to capture some demons but – ”
“Shut your mouth,” Bryan shouted. “You’re just talking about yourself.”
“You couldn’t handle shit,” Harper put in, though it wasn’t clear who she was talking to.
“Possesseds, separate!” came an order from a Spotter situated by a camera. “You haven’t even been together in here for five minutes!”
They all cursed and Skinner spat but they walked away from each other. Bryan silently raged that Cam had kept his own mouth shut as if he were better than the rest of them, couldn’t or wouldn’t sling mud like the rest of them. Him and Harper both, they acted so high and mighty and –
Something was watching him. Something was whispering these words in his ears.
He spun around, hitting his hand on a pew hard enough to send sparks of pain shooting up his arm, but he barely noticed. He had felt eyes burning into the back of his neck, and had heard a voice like hard iron blowing cold into his ears. But no one was behind him, and the only people looking at him were the ones who had looked when he had spun around like his ass was on fire.
He lowered his head sheepishly, but reached out to the beta. I know that was you, he told it.
It didn’t say anything. It was like it was pretending nothing had happened.
So he thought about what Skinner had said. If they could throw up a net right here when all the demons appeared, wouldn’t that save a lot of trouble? Assuming that demons really did “appear” here. “Point of origin,” Harper had called it. But if they threw up a net, could they keep hold of it? Or would the demons just tumble out into the synagogue, their push outwards halted by the Possesseds themselves? A city’s worth of demons jammed into a single building. With a sizable chuck of Spotters and other agents to snack on.
No, they would have to study it out first, size it up. It was necessary, but damned inefficient. Meanwhile people would die. Tonight, in apartments and houses and shops and offices, people would die.
Bryan’s hand throbbed where he had struck it. He concentrated on the pain, needing it, though it was nothing.
Connors was picking his way from person to person, checking on everyone, rubbing his arms with his palms as if he were cold, scratching at the back of his bald head. Never still. If Bryan didn’t know him better he’d think the man was going to either fly into a rage or start blubbering.
“Ivers, you okay?” he asked as if Bryan had bulletholes in him.
“Fine,” Bryan answered.
“Good. Good. You’re not possessing here. Ah.” He held up a hand to shut Bryan up. “There’s a reason. We want to see if you can catch anything from the gamma. If you were possessed, that demon would interfere with what you could gather. Understood?”
“Yeah,” Bryan agreed sullenly. But what Connors said made sense. “Though I didn’t gather anything last night.”
“You did though, once you were inside. This dust. You’re right; it reeks of death. You’ll find something else tonight too I bet.”
Bryan frowned at him. “I’m not sure I like you so positive.”
Connors sniffed and scratched at his cheek. “I don’t want to treat you different, Ivers. But I have to. You’ve got certain things to do here.”
Before Bryan could respond, Connors clapped him on the back and stalked off to a Spotter next in his line of sight.
Different. That’s what he was now. Different.
“You okay, man?” Cam asked, suddenly beside him.
Did everyone have to ask him that?
“Christ,” Bryan barked, “leave me alone. Nothing’s wrong with me.”
“I was just asking,” Cam said, his face souring.
“Fine! Maybe there is something wrong with you!” Cam stalked off, fuming. He bumped into another Possessed on the way and the two had to be separated by Connors.
Great fucking idea, Bryan thought. Let’s put half the Possessed in Chicago in a forty foot space. He noticed Harper and Andrade both checking him out and wanted to scream. Everyone was watching him. Everyone was studying him. He was like some little experiment, no longer a person. The Possessed with a gamma.
“Okay, everyone settle.” Connors jumped up onto the platform and caught everyone’s attention. The chatter and tantrums died away. “Sun’s about to go down. We’re going to take turns possessing in teams of three until we see something. Whether you’re currently possessed or not, watch and concentrate. I want silence.”
He jumped back down quickly and began assembling teams, as if he didn’t like being up there. Bryan realized people had been avoiding that area, due to either the dust or something else.
Cries of pain sounded as the first Possessed group set up, breaking and tearing totems. Bryan huffed a sharp breath. Not him. He didn’t get to possess. The Spotters cast curious glances at him, noticing he wasn’t possessing or standing in any team. He was separate. He wasn’t a part of any team.
Then they were all watching the front of the synagogue, silent and waiting. Bryan and the others from last night were in the middle of the space, close enough to get a good view but far enough away to indicate that they knew what was going down. Except for Phan, who was all the way in the back, at the building’s entrance, as if to say he wanted nothing to do with any of this. Bryan realized the guy had been suspiciously taciturn for Phan, who would normally be bouncing off the walls greeting everyone.
The light through the colored windows dimmed, baby to ocean blue, pink to crimson, orange to ochre. Agents stared, readied cameras, held their breath.
The sun set. The sky blackened. Spotters and other agents started chatting quietly to pass the time, but any Possessed that spoke was silenced by Connors.
After thirty minutes, the teams switched off, the second team possessing and the first taking a break. After another thirty minutes, the third team took over. Then the first again.
At 10:30, people started grumbling in disappointment. They had been expecting a near-sunset occurrence like had been reported last night, and instead they were standing around for hours. The eyes of the teams not currently possessed started wandering, and at one point Cam found Bryan’s eyes, and they shrugged at each other, their spat already forgotten.
At 11:20, it happened.
Bryan saw nothing. But he felt a wave of chilled air, stale and empty so that he had the sensation of suffocating in it. And with it came the scent of death. Not the smell of rot, but of absolute death, the absence of life, life long gone eras ago. He had the powerful feeling that he knew these sensations, had drifted among them. He had been there, in…
He grasped at it, but it fell away from him, like a dream. Like a nightmare. One he needed to remember, even if he didn’t want to.
He stretched his mind out to whoever might be listening. Where is that?
There was no answer. He shouldn’t have expected one.
Harper was there, looking at him with genuine concern, her brows knitted behind her glasses. She didn’t ask him if he was okay, but it was in her expression.
He wiped at his face, and his hands came away wet. He had been crying.
“Sorry,” he said, not sure what he was apologizing for but needing to say something.
Everyone around them was chattering excitedly, asking each other what they saw, checking equipment, getting into little fights.
“Did you see anything?” he asked Harper. “Were you possessing?”
“I was, but it’s hard to say.” She looked back up at the platform. “There was a sliver, some sort of rift of nothing, of no aura, no lifeglow. I’d swear the demons were thrust out of it, but it happened so fast, and then they were pushed out around us.”
Bryan hadn’t even noticed the explosive force of the demons being pushed into the city. He had been so focused on that land. But he had gotten nothing for it.
“We don’t get to hunt tonight, do we?” he asked Harper.
She looked at him quizzically, but only said “No. We have to write reports on what we saw here. But other than that we’re not doing much.”
He nodded. “Want to go get a drink?”
She frowned, conflicted. But after studying him a moment longer she said “Okay.”