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22 April 2012 @ 08:36 am
Go Outside [3/11]  


Chapter 03

1974

Dan flinched back to awareness to find he was sprawled in a desolate, desert garden, filled with gnarled trees and huge rocks; curled half beneath a withered rosebush. He sat up, brushing its thorny branches away before they could sink into the thin fabric of his t-shirt.

His new t-shirt. Apparently the same unexplained phenomena that made lemons explode didn’t play well with milk.

To his left, a weathered wall rose up from the scattered stones. To his right, the setting sun hung over the horizon, blood red against the black clouds. Its light knifed through the Joshua trees, creating stripes of charnel light and shadows that twisted over the dry, dusty ground. The air was still, stifling, and he could smell the storms that darkened the horizon; electric and threatening.

It all felt about four horsemen away from the Apocalypse.

“There you are! I was beginning to wonder.”

Livia’s voice out of the stillness made him jump. He turned to look at her – and blinked. She was dressed in a shapeless, off-white robe that covered her from head to toe. She caught his look, and glanced down at herself.

“I know, right? I just…I didn’t really want to be wandering around in street clothes…” She waved a hand at the wall. “Not in there, anyway. Not right now.”

“What’s going on?”

Livia shrugged, the robes swallowing most of the movement.

“I’m not sure. I only arrived an hour ago. But I think Rachel – you remember Rachel? – I think she went into labor this morning. Around dawn.”

Dan glanced at the stormy sky and the clearly setting sun, and winced. Livia nodded.

“That about sums it up.” She pulled at her robe again, almost idly. “I overheard some of them talking; apparently he’s been acting weird all day…”

And the puzzle pieces clicked into place.

“…oh.Um. Look, Livia-”

“What’s happening?” A child’s clear voice interrupted him; it sounded out of place in this wasteland, small words stolen away by the threatening air. He scrambled backwards against the wall and behind the tree, listening as Livia pressed in close.

“Your mother…” Kaplan’s voice, answering, was enough to raise gooseflesh up and down Dan’s spine. “She’s having a little boy, remember?”

“Yes…?” The little voice sounded supremely skeptical. “But I don’t get why she’s sleepy all the time…”

“She’s tired from the baby growing inside her,” said a third voice, another man’s voice – deep and rough, one Dan didn’t recognize. “Once your brother comes, she’ll play with you again.”

The speakers sounded so normal that it was a shock when the group finally came into view around the wall – a quartet of figures, dressed in ivory robes: three men and a child, a little girl.

“But why does Brian have to go away?” The girl asked next. Now that Dan could see her, the apprehension slowly creeping up his spine only grew. She still had the baby fat of a healthy kindergartner, rosy cheeks, a tangle of mouse-brown hair and her father’s storm-green eyes. Her small hand clutched her father’s sleeve as she skip-hopped from paving stone to paving stone beside him.

“So that your brother can come whole and hale into the world,” Kaplan explained as Dan slowly began to ease his way along the wall, further out of sight. The man’s voice was patient, but it held an air of impatience, as if he’d explained this to his daughter  before. “You remember? Your brother is like you. He will be very strong, but he will be born very weak...”

It took a moment for things to process, but when Dan’s brain caught up to the rest of him, he could see that the third and last man walked between the others, his head down and his hands bound behind his back. The bound man, Brian, looked up just in time to meet Dan’s eyes.

Dan had seen him before, in the alley behind the grocery store. Brian had been the one ordered to hold him still. He scrambled backwards but not before Brian made a startled noise. Kaplan’s head snapped towards Dan’s hiding place, thoughts flickering too quickly in his seaside stare.

“Dan, move.” Livia urged, and Dan opened his mouth to protest – he couldn’t leave her here, he had nowhere to run – before he realized Kaplan was too close for him to speak.

“Though maybe…” Kaplan’s voice grew louder, and Dan’s resolve to stay put faltered just a bit. The cult leader’s voice sounded like a wild cat’s purr. Dan slowly pushed himself to his feet, leaning against the stone, gathering himself for a desperate lunge across the garden. “Maybe, little princess, it doesn’t have to be your Brian.”

If I can make it a quarter-mile down the road, I could get to the police, I could –

Kaplan stalked around the corner. Dan sprang into motion – only to be jerked off his feet by Livia’s hand through his collar. He almost turned on her, until he processed the sight of the gun in her hand, its muzzle aimed at his forehead.

“Hello, Daniel...”

So much for him just recognizing me from ’69….

Dan only had a chance to catch Livia’s look of apology from inside her hood before Kaplan fist slammed right into his temple.

Everything went dark.

*

“Dan…”

The voice barely registered through the wild bulls rampaging in his skull. Dan bit back a groan and tried to roll over, only to find out – rather abruptly – that he couldn’t.

“Dan, wake up!”

He managed to get his eyes open. They didn’t quite focus on anything but the dark ceiling above him. He could hear a steady groan in the background, a droning hum that resolved into an almost-Gregorian sounding chant, a wilder voice in rising in descant behind it, but none of the words sank in.

“Dan, thank God. We have to get out of here, now.”

His eyes were slowly getting used to the lack-of-light, enough that he could look around the room and actually see things. The room was only a little bigger than a closet, the walls lined with dark wood paneling. His hands were pinned above his head, cuffed tight to a rusting radiator.

Livia hovered over him, expression worried.

“Wha’s goin’ on?” He mumbled, trying to sit up again. The handcuffs around his wrists bit in deeper, as if in protest, and he winced.

“Just listen,” Livia said as she pulled a bobby pin from her hair, ducking to slide the metal into the handcuff’s lock. Dan swallowed the swell of nausea, and tried to obey.

Soon, the counterpoint voice resolved itself into Jeremy Kaplan’s, the wailing, irregular cadence almost hypnotizing.

“And thus,” Jeremy sang or said or cried, reawakening the bulls in Dan’s brain, “Like the lamb provided for Abraham so that he would not slay Isaac, so hath the Lord provided for this fellowship, so that our numbers need not diminish…”

…oh.

Dan sat up again, regardless of the cacophony. “Livia, hurry…”

“What do you think I’m doing?” Livia shot back, fumbling with the cuffs in the semi-dark. “You should have told me he was completely insane or I never would have grabbed you.”

“I didn’t have enough time…” Dan replied, far more muted. Livia’s bark of laughter held no humor in it as the cuffs finally clicked, one wrist falling free. Dan yanked it through the bars of the radiator and pulled himself to his feet.

“Sure, I-”

He never found out what she was going to say, because the door to the room slammed open, and a flood of robed figures swept in. Too many to even consider fighting with. Livia, thinking fast, snagged the now-loose side of the cuffs, offering them to the man in the lead.

Brian.

The big cultist almost looked apologetic as he hauled Dan to his feet, but if he felt any true remorse it certainly didn’t manifest as Dan found himself dragged off his feet and out of the tiny room.

The next time he could see clearly, he was flat on his back, his arms again stretched above him, but this time he could feel all the blood rushing to his head. He was on an inclined table, head-down, and he could no longer see Livia.

There was, however, someone holding both of his hands. He could feel fingers tight around his, and the sensation was disturbing – the gentle brush of skin a dramatic counterpoint to the ache in his head. He tried to lift his head, and caught a glimpse of a bed off to the side. It was surrounded by more robed figures, rushing back and forth, and he suddenly realized what it had to be.

Rachel’s birthing bed.

There was something so horribly wrong about that thought that he can’t help the violent shudder that ran through him, his fingers convulsing around those of his captors. The crowd around the bed parted, for a moment, and Jeremy Kaplan stepped into view, his little girl clinging to one sleeve. Dan swallowed. There was an unholy hunger in the recesses of the other man’s eyes.

“Hello, Daniel.” The cultist said, again, moving calmly. Dan scowled at him as Hannah followed, her big grey-green eyes unafraid. “It’s been a few years…”

For you, maybe.

“No one calls me Daniel. It’s just Dan.”

The words came out a lot braver than he felt. Kaplan just shook his head as he pried his daughters fingers loose from his arm.

“That just makes it more special, Daniel.” He stopped at the head of the table, reaching out to brush his hand over Dan’s forehead. Dan tried to shy away, but he couldn’t move further than the men clutching his hands would let him. Kaplan just cocked his head to the side, watching his eyes like a wildcat watching some small, defenseless animal. It wasn’t a reassuring comparison. When he spoke again, his voice held a strange sort of wonder.

“I saw you before my princess was born, and now you’re here for my prince. Do you believe in coincidence, Daniel? I sure don’t.”

“It’s not what you think, Kaplan, I-”

Kaplan touched two fingers over Dan’s mouth as if in benediction, reaching for something beneath the table. When he straightened back up, he held the knife in his other hand.

“It’s exactly what I think,” he purred back, running the knife blade down Dan’s cheek carefully. “You were provided to us for this very moment. You helped my wife then…” The blade slipped down further; the point shifted inward, slicing through the shoulder of Dan’s shirt. The fabric split, and Dan tried to move away from the keen metal pressed to his skin. “…and you’ll help my wife now.”

Dan didn’t want to ask, but the words came out anyway. “How will I-”

The rest of the sentence disappeared when the knife tore skin; dissolved into a wordless hiss of pain.

*

The hardest part was trying not to scream.

The second hardest was trying not to jerk away. Kaplan seemed content to take his time. All the cuts were shallow and short, but there were a lot of them, and each time the razor-sharp knife seemed to slide a little bit deeper. Dan’s body felt like a mass of pain: his legs from his ankles to his knees, his arms from the elbow down. The sides of his shoulders, the underside of his throat, the center of his chest – they all burned and stung, thin lines, like a road map carved into his flesh.

If he craned his neck – which he didn’t do, because it hurt, a lot – he could see Livia pacing in amongst the chanting cultists, her eyes and her expression growing more and more frantic. He could see her trains of thought: there’s too many of them and what do we do so we travel out of here and what do I do now? and, most importantly, who makes a little girl watch something like this?

The little girl had, so far, watched the whole thing from the side of the table, her eyes much older than her five-year-old face. Her serene expression was almost frightening, when he could see it. Every now and then, he thought he could see a flicker in her stare, a tiny shiver in her stance.

Who knows how often she’s had to see something like this?

The police records said there had been sixteen or seventeen bodies buried in the back gardens, killed over the six years between Jeremy buying the land and…well, tonight. Hannah had to have seen at least one of the murders.

The thought of his son, forced to watch a complete stranger slaughtered in this situation made his stomach clench, and he let his head fall back to the metal surface of the table, let the words escape from his mouth.

“Hannah….little one….” The knife traced down his shin, splitting the skin in a burst of fire-hot pain that glowed red behind his eyelids. Dan gasped; Kaplan just chuckled, low and malevolent in his throat.

“I have a l-little boy,” Dan added, pulling against the fingers threaded through his. “C-can I tell you? Will you listen?” Big grey-green eyes flickered to Kaplan; Jeremy didn’t say anything one way or the other, so Dan went on. “He’s a l-little older than y-you, h-he’s eight…”

“That’s three years older,” Hannah said matter-of-factly. Dan chuckled weakly, more startled than anything.

“Y-yeah, that’s right. So h-he’s in school. And s-sometimes, s-sometimes at school his, his…his friends…” Heat lanced down his arm, and his fingers went numb under the sensation. The next words came out rushed together and shuddery. “His f-friends try t-to get him to do things h-he’s not supposed to do. S-sometimes h-he chooses to go along and do the b-bad things, and s-sometimes he ch-chooses not t-to, b-but…”

Kaplan had gone still for a moment. Dan’s eyes flickered up toward him to find the cult-leader looking at him, as impassive as if Dan was a bug. Hannah stood still, next to him, but she seemed to be listening and her eyes were less certain than they had been before. Jeremy twitched the knife a little deeper into Dan’s arm, and his daughter bit down on her lip, deep in thought as Dan choked back a whine.

 “Hannah,” he resumed, voice shaking, thick with the screams he was desperately trying to hold back, “He c-chooses. T-this doesn’t h-have to be you. It doesn’t ever h-have t-to be you. You can choo-”

And then the knife was in his mouth, the coppery tang of his own blood thick and nauseating. The flat of the blade pressed against the corners of his lips, and if he shifted even the tiniest bit he could feel the serrated edge pressing down; a hard, painful promise touching the surface of his tongue. He swallowed, and his heartbeat in the hollow of his throat flared, wild and fierce, a feral sensation exacerbated by the voice hissing in his ear.

“I think that’s enough, Daniel. I have no problem with letting your drown in your own blood. “

He could hear his own heartbeat in his skull, throbbing in time with every single slice and gash and cut, the blood drying in flakes on the still-intact skin. He could feel bruises on his forehead from where Jeremy had clocked him, but the pain was a secondary sensation under all the rest.

“There’s a reason for this, you know…” Jeremy’s voice was a low growl, his breath brushing against Dan’s skin. “A reason and a ritual, and it has a fixed end.”

“Daddy-”

The knife blade withdrew, slowly, the metal warm against his lips. He tried to lick them, felt the ache return as a hand was placed over his eyes; warm and calloused and almost gentle as fingertips caressed his sweat-and-blood slicked temple. He swallowed again against the pain, sucking in a harsh breath as the hand tipped his head back.

“I’ll be done in a minute, baby,” Kaplan’s words were ghost-soft; soothing and fatherly – and then he raised his voice. “The Star King waits in mortal form to be freed, to be cut free from his earthly chains…”

The rest of the followers, the ring around the table, fell silent at the words. Dan shifted his head against the hand holding him down, teeth sunk deep in his lip, straining to listen, to hear anything other than the cultist’s mad-lion roar.

“We show today, as one, our faithfulness to our coming King.”

“Please, please don’t, please…” The words came out against his will, and they hurt almost as much as everything else did. He didn’t even know who he was begging – Kaplan, to stop? Rachel, to wake up and do something? Livia, who he couldn’t see and couldn’t hear but who he knew was here? Or….the ones who put him here in the first place, jerked his chain, led him ‘round and ‘round in circles to fix everyone’s lives while his own flashed before his eyes on the inside of a madman’s palm.

“Please what?” Jeremy hissed, soft and smooth as his fingers tightened, the hand with the knife tracing lazy curlicues across Dan’s chest. Dan couldn’t hold back the ragged little gasp, for all he tried.

“Pl-please…d-don’t…don’t make her w-watch this.” He sucked in another breath, praying that his instincts were correct, that he’d been sent to help Hannah and not someone else, hoping that she was listening. ”D-don’t do this t-to your d-daughter.”

“I’m not doing anything to my daughter. I’m doing this for her.” The fire-edged steel lifted from his skin, the hand pressing his head down even harder against the polished wood of the table. He could feel Kaplan moving, knew the knife was being raised, heard Hannah’s voice again –


“Daddy! No-

Lights flashed behind his eyelids and everything went silent.



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