Here is the 2nd MacKenzie story I wrote. I seriously need to reread my own work. I have only the vaguest idea of what happened. I do know I introduce Jason's Jericho Mills character AND give you your first glimpse of Ferrymen, Inc!
Something interesting I found out when pulling up the original document is that this story was a PROMPT story! It was a game 'back in the day' where we were given an item, a problem and an event and had to create the story from it. Below is what I was given.
Items: tire iron, broken wristwatch
Problems: burnt out light bulb, incompetent boss
Events: old friend coming town, job fair
Thanks to the unexpected disappearance of Maudit's Chief of Police and my last case working with him, I had decided to leave Louisiana for the black hills of home. No one came looking for me to answer any difficult questions and I knew they wouldn't. I was a MacKenzie and while that might not mean anything to you, it's a name that can scare the soul out of those who run the world. When I called my parents and told them I was coming home, they immediately put in a few calls to ensure no one would stop me. Also that Chief William's disappearance was put down due to his brutal murder of a young girl and his former best friend, Judge Wesley Marsh.
I still smile when I think about that part. I can be a ruthless bastard when I want to be and when it came to my former boss, incompetent as he may have been, I wanted to be the biggest bastard I could. I threw in a few goodies about sexual proclivities that would make a pervert blush and planted a few bits of evidence before I had left town. Maudit would have something to talk about for at least a decade. They wouldn't know the truth, but then, I seriously doubt they would have understood the truth anyway. A massive scandal dealing with sex, drugs and demon worship is far more palatable for their small minds.
Even though I had gone back north to stay in the town of my birth, I can't say I fully got away from my old job. I became a detective because I knew things others didn't. I knew when a case had a human foe and when it was something far more impressive. I covered up the later or found ways to blame it on the former by carefully framing them. No, I never lost any sleep. You would have lost plenty if I'd been more 'honest'. Besides, it's not like I ever framed a little old church-going grandmother or anything….well, only the once but that's a whole other story.
While I helped my father in his professorial position at the very prestigious, and slightly unsettling, Miskatonic University, whose name you may know but I won't bother telling you more than that for the sake of the college and you, I never got the old Detective Phillip MacKenzie out of my veins. I wanted to get back out and investigate something. I toyed with the idea of joining up with the local police, but doubted they'd take me. My family name was well known in the north and having a 'normal' job would just get me far more attention than I wanted. Instead, my father pulled a few strings and got me a sort of 'security' job on campus.
For nearly a year, I ran around solving a few disappearances and murders, aiding in a few others and generally keeping Miskatonic running on what appeared to be an even keel. I can't say it was boring because you never knew what those crazy kids would be doing or summoning up next. If I had any problems with my new job, it was the same one that sent me away from home the first time. I was lonely. When you have a well known, or rather, infamous name, it's hard to just hang out with the boys and watch the game. I made people uneasy and I can't say I blamed anyone.
Things changed though, the day I heard an old friend was coming to a local job fair Miskatonic allowed to take place in its hallowed halls. I was given the job of ensuring all participants behaved themselves and none of the students went missing. You can recruit the students, but we do ask that you take them off campus and let them write at least an email home telling parents about their new opportunities before ruining their sanity. The university does have an image to uphold.
Channing Howard had been the closest thing I had to a friend when I attended college myself. Being the son of a professor and being the son of a particularly strange professor made me a bit of an outcast. Not that it bothered me much, but it did make the days more bearable when I had met Howard. He was a bit of an oddball himself. When I first met him in the school's libraries, he was already on a fairly dangerous course of study, especially for someone who was clearly gifted with the power of seeing into the spirit world. I managed to tear him away from some questionable tomes and bring him into a few local bars. He made it out of college with sanity intact and I made it through college period. It worked out for both.
When I had checked the roll call for the companies that were to be represented at the job fair, I smirked when I saw Ferrymen, Inc would be represented that year by Channing Howard. I knew the company fairly well. They dealt mostly with raising or putting down spirits. They'll tell you it's far more life or death, but Miskatonic had them on retainer to keep the demons out of the computers. Take that as a statements of fact. I'm not trying to be clever, only honest.
I knew Howard had gone to Ferrymen right out of college. His grades had been modest but his second sight next to none. I knew from our sporadic emails to each other that he had gotten pretty high in the company, being one of their traveling salesmen, as it were. The emails had stopped after he told me he was going even higher than that. Seeing his name on the list made me happy to know my good friend was still among the living, though I questioned if his high status with his company was still intact.
It took some doing before I could actually get to Howard's booth that day. Turns out that a recruiter from a rather big gaming company was actually taking 'screen shots' of several students and basically downloading their souls to make the game play more real. I actually thought the game looked pretty promising, but I had to take the recruiters aside and explain the rules. If they wanted souls, there was a special list of students who could be harvested. Taking souls left and right was bad for business and could lead to allowing a few darker things to inhabit the now emptied bodies. I knew I didn't want that happening…again.
When I finally got to Howard, I was surprised to notice my friend was different from the last time I saw him. It's easy to blame change on the ravages of time, but this was different. His blondish hair was still thick and wavy. His build was hidden beneath his suit, but I could tell he was in great shape. You had to be to work for Ferrymen, Inc. Running around was par for the course for their agents. The difference was in his still green eyes. They didn't have the same hopefulness they once did. The good-natured gleam had turned into a hard glint. When he looked at you, you immediately felt a shiver in the place your soul resides.
Seeing me, Howard smiled and, for just one second, I could see the old gleam again.
"Phil!" Howard came up to me and embraced me in a hug so tight, air escaped me in a squeak. "I had no idea you were back home!"
I nodded and extracted myself from Howard's grasp, not the least because something about his hug felt incredibly wrong. I'm not talking in a homophobic sense, I'm talking about straight up, something ain't right here wrong.
"Chan, the man." I joked as I tried to inconspicuously wipe the strange feeling from my body. "Still a salesman? Traveling around, peddling your wares?"
Howard smiled but I saw the hollowness in it.
"Got a promotion." He said. "I'm a whole different animal now."
Sometimes I didn't like the sensitivity I had towards tones.
"What animal would that be?" I immediately wished I could step back without seemingly like I was doing it.
Howard shook his head, his mouth something between a hard smile and a deep frown.
"I'm a Broker now." Howard looked away as he said it. I could hear the capitalization in his sentence. "I…well, I'm sort of an all-around Broker, some Acquisitions, but lately have been mostly in Transfers."
A group of students came up to Howard's booth before he could explain more. One was a brown haired boy who was clearly a seer based on his reaction to the jars on the Ferrymen, Inc booth. To most people, the jars looked either empty or filled with colored water. To those who could see spirits and demons, each had something specific to a Ferrymen recruit. I avoided looking at them, especially a large jar off to the right. A small dark green blob floated in it, looking for all the world like an aborted, malformed squid. I knew it was only a spirit of what it was supposed to be, but it reminded me too much of my brother.
"Can we get together later?" Howard asked, clearly wanting to get to the boy before he ran off which wouldn't take too long based on the kid's horrified face. "I'll find you before I pack up today."
I nodded and walked away. I still couldn't shake the feeling of Howard's hug and wanted time to check the archives to learn what Howard's true profession was. I hadn't heard of Brokers, but it sounded a bit too high up the Ferrymen food chain to be finding recruits at a university job fair.
I caught glimpses of Howard throughout the day, but never quite got back to his booth. Several other companies kept me pretty busy with complaints, demands and general rule-breaking. I had to break up a fight between a law firm, banking company, and political party, all arguing over the list of soulless students we had on tap. Another high ranking company who dealt in medical research bemoaned the small number of virgins we had on campus, either male or female. You'd be surprised how useful virgins are in medical and pharmaceutical research, especially their blood.
The last thing I did before the job fair was over was run off an investigative journalist who decided to use the bustle of the fair to break into the student records looking into a strange correlation of the high number of former students who died violently or were in mental institutions. Of course, by 'run off' I do mean 'hit in the head with a rusty tire iron then lock in a special underground cellar of Miskatonic and forget she was there'. That was actually the easiest part of the day.
When I managed to make my way back to the hall, ensuring no traces of the strange black ooze that coated the cellar room was on my clothing (that stuff stains deeper than you think), most people were packing up for the day with students or lists of names in tow. Howard's booth was already cleared away, so I contented myself with making sure everyone and everything left the building. Sometimes unexpected strays are left accidentally or on purpose. I found three electronic bugs and one real one that I had to squish and douse with holy water to ensure it didn't find it's way into the brain of anyone. That little sucker could clear your skull in under five minutes while you sat there and drooled until it was done. One year they became a popular 'drug' on campus, since, when trained properly, they could wipe out bad memories and their slime did create a sort of neural high, so I couldn't really be sure it was a company who left it.
It was darker than usual when I began walking across campus to my rooms because of the clouds gathering overhead. As the head of campus security, I was required to live on campus. I worked what was essentially a 24 hour job. It didn't bother me, because, like I said, there was really nothing for me to do. It also made it easier to be on campus when I did get a cute co-ed to be my 'date' for the night.
Wandering on a college campus at night isn't what it used to be. Everything is well lit and I knew there where guards in several strategic locations. That coupled with the call-boxes and cellphone, no one was ever really in immediate danger. I loved walking the campus at night, feeling the emptiness of it when most students and professors had left to prepare for another day. I was lost in my own thoughts and it took me several more seconds than it should have to realize something was wrong. When I looked around, I saw the lamps around me had gone out. When I looked ahead of me, I saw several more lights blink out. I was basically walking in the dark.
I was never afraid of the dark, not even as a child, even though I knew better than most what lurked in the shadows. Or, more often, what the shadows actually were. In this case, it was my knowledge of shadows that made me uneasy in this unnatural darkness. I could feel it surround me, a heavy moisture that had nothing to do with the coming storm. I stood completely still and listened with a talent deeper than most. I was basically listening to what was there and what wasn't. It didn't take me long to locate the source of the unnatural power.
Behind me, I could hear footsteps running. I could also hear a strange heartbeat that reverberated the air around me. It was heavier than a human heartbeat, more pronounced with bass, pumping something far thicker than human blood. It also beat much slower than any human's. For all the world it sounded like the low and slow beat of a drum in some heavily jungled area.
The air became denser, making me gasp to breathe properly. I could run, I knew that, but something told me not to do that. Something deep within told me to stand my ground, to wait for what was coming for me. I closed my eyes and focused on the lulling sound of the heartbeat. I tried not to sway back and forth to the rhythm but just concentrate on it. It was closer now, I could tell without seeing behind me. It would be on me, the strangeness that wasn't human.
When something touched my shoulder, I finally let the breath I was holding out. I opened my eyes to see the lamps had come back on and the air was thinner, more breathable. Thunder cracked the silence as I turned to see Channing looking back at me.
"Where were you just now?" He smiled at me. "I called your name about ten times but you never answered."
I cocked my head to the side and, with narrowed eyes, stared at my old friend. I pressed my back teeth together to avoid asking questions I knew Channing wouldn't and maybe couldn't answer just yet.
"Lost in thought." I said, returning his strained smile. I shrugged my shoulders as I spoke, mostly in the hopes Channing would take his hand off of me. I could still feel the strangeness from his touch and now that I knew where it came from, I definitely wanted him to let go until I had more information. I wasn't sure if he was…catching or not.
"Are…are you busy tonight?" Channing asked. "I mean….I'm in town for a few more days but will be pretty tied up except for tonight. I wondered if you wanted to go for a drink or dinner."
The internal defenses I had automatically raised went down. Despite what I suspected about Channing and the strangeness he gave off, I recognized something in him all to familiar to myself. Channing was lonely. If he could still have such human emotions, it may not have been too late for him. In any case, I wanted to spend time with someone who also saw me as something human.
"Sure, how about Bethmoora? The still do a mean steak." I gave a much more relaxed smile.
I was relieved to see Channing's eyes light back up.
"That place is still open?" He grinned wide enough for me to loose a little bit of my ease. I couldn't be sure in the dim light, but I would swear Channing had too many teeth.
"God, we practically lived there!" Channing was still talking and I suppressed a shudder before focusing on something other than his mouth.
"I think we're the reason it's still open." I said. "We probably spent enough money in that place to help it open franchises worldwide."
As we walked to our old favorite restaurant bar, I found I was much more at ease with Channing if I didn't look directly at him. We chatted amicably about old times and I pointed out a few newer additions to the old town.
Once in Bethmoora, I found I had to look back at Channing when we sat in our old booth in the back. It was unnerving, but I knew I had to figure out what was going on with him. I assured myself if worse came to worse, I could always dispatch him with great haste. I hated to do that unless I absolutely had to. We were old friends, after all. I was hoping a little thing like a demonic possession wouldn't change that.
After our drinks had come and we had ordered, my detective side could wait no more.
"Chan, tell me a little bit more about your job with Ferrymen." I decided point-blank was the best approach. Failing that, I had a special room at the college I could utilize.
Channing lost his smile and began fiddling with his glass of scotch.
"Not much to tell." He sighed the words out. "You already know about the company, I'm sure."
I leaned in, just as I had done when interrogating a witness or suspect I knew would crack with a little pressure.
"What does a Broker do?" I asked. I made sure to leave no squirm room.
Channing looked around, making sure no one was coming. Seeing as how it was after 7pm on a weeknight, the restaurant was slow. Our waitress was chatting with a coworker on the far side and wouldn't be back to us until our food was ready.
"You do know what Ferrymen does, right?" Channing asked. I knew a stalling tactic when I heard it.
"They specialize in the removal or retrieval of spirits and supernatural entities." I quoted almost straight from the Ferrymen, Inc website. "We have your IT guys on retainer."
Channing nodded and took courage from a gulp of his scotch.
"That's still what I do." Channing said. "Or did. I was a Broker, which meant instead of dealing with the spirits of the dead, I dealt with the souls of the living."
I sat up straighter as my mind raced as to the implications of what my friend had justtold me. I knew all about Pushers and Pullers on the Ferrymen payroll. A Pusher took troublesome spirits stuck in this world and pushed them into the afterlife. Pullers tended to do the opposite and bring spirits and demons into our realm. As far as I knew, Ferrymen dealt only in the dead or supernatural. What Channing had just told me truly would back up his earlier statement of being a whole different animal.
Channing was looking at me, slight guilt in his expression.
"It's necessary!" He argued with the look on my face. "It's no worse than the things people do to themselves."
I nodded, saying nothing but thinking quite a bit.
"I just….I dealt mostly with Transfers." Channing looked down at his empty glass. "That means I would take the souls out of bodies temporarily. Sometimes there was a different soul to put in, but sometimes I inhabited the bodies to…well, to accomplish my mission. I swear I always put them back and, in most cases, they never knew they had left their bodies. It was a peaceful process."
I still held my tongue. Of course I knew the power to move souls about existed but I didn't like the idea it was commercialized for the highest bidder. It made me wonder about free will and all that, especially the democratic process. Okay, I didn't worry too much about politics. Ferrymen Brokers could probably only improve that situation.
"How did you become a Broker?" I really wanted to know how easily it was to get that power and how many people in Ferrymen had it, but I figured one thing at a time.
"Just like every other position in Ferrymen." Channing said, scoffing. "You inherit it."
Channing finally looked me straight in the face and it took a great deal on my part not to flinch. "I did well in the company. So well, that they put me up for special training. When I proved I could handle the moral and emotional rigors of being a Broker, I got the power and title from a Broker who was up for retirement. His own children weren't cut out for the job."
"Then how did you end up finding recruits at a job fair?" I knew the entire night would consist of me asking questions until I got my answers. I still wasn't sure if I had to kill him or not. A lot depended on how straightforward he was with me.
Channing shrugged and waited quietly while the waitress brought us fresh drinks and hot food. I gave her a wink when she leaned down, her cleavage more than a little visible in buttoned shirt, or rather, mostly unbuttoned shirt. She gave me a friendly smile and winked back. Her outfit was so she could get a good tip from us; her wink was because we also knew each other in a more biblical sense. At least, that is, when her as-of-yet-untenured professorial boyfriend was out of town. I slept very well on nights we visited each other.
When she'd gone, I noticed Channing was staring at me oddly. I'd seen that look before and I hated it. It was a haunted look of a person wanting to confess something they felt was deep and dark. Though I did want to Channing to tell me everything, I didn't want him to tell me in that confessional way. When people talk to you like that, they expect you to do something about it. My way of doing something usually dealt with hiding bodies.
"This is a…a temporary position." Channing said. "Until I can be cleared to go back to regular duty."
I let the conversation lull for a moment, taking in the familiar room where Channing and I had spent so many nights back in college. The plain stone and mortar walls and dim lighting were comforting. The restaurant always smelled of warm bread and the booths were comfortable enough to sit for hours chatting or studying. I glanced over at two college aged boys sitting together, books spread between them as they wrote furious notes on something. I made a mental note to check on those two the next day since I was sure no course study would require most of the books they were reading.
The less cynical part of me took in the idyllic scene of two friends getting into mischief together, sharing a bond of familiarity and boyish secrets. I knew the secrets Channing would tell me would be far from boyish and innocent.
"Phil, I don't know what went wrong," Channing said, breaking in on my thoughts, "it was supposed to be a simple in and out job. Just pull the soul out of an archaeologist, get into the museum where his artifacts were held and take one particular item our client wanted. But when I pulled him out and transferred myself….something else was in there…he wasn't alone."
I sat forward again to listen to my agonized friend. This was the part I had been waiting for.
"He was some big shot archaeologist who'd found some major temple or the other in a jungle." Channing sighed. "I don't know where or the exact details. I was just supposed to Transfer him out, go into the museum and take one little statuette. I'd done much harder jobs before."
Channing pushed away his plate, food untouched.
"It was an ugly statue, sort of like the weird little demons in those books you had in your place back in the day." Channing gestured to think of a word. "Those strange little alphabet books that were in some weird language.
"It's when I touched it that I realized something else was in that guy's body." Channing folded his hands in front of his face for a moment and stared off behind me. "When I got what I needed, I brought it to the agent waiting. Got the body back to the guy's house and started to Transfer myself out and him back in. It…it went all wrong…."
He shuddered so hard the silverware on the table clattered. His eyes were dark and I knew it was just his thoughts. I could see a bit of leakage from the thing that was in him. It wanted a better look at me now that the body he possessed was ratting out his presence. I smiled to see the thing inside him quickly duck back in upon taking stock of me.
"Did the esteemed archaeologist fight when you tried to put him back in his own body?" I guessed.
Channing seemed shocked I could understand what he was trying so hard to explain.
"Yes." Channing admitted. "I didn't know the man's soul was so tormented. When I tried the Transfer, he resisted. That's never happened before."
Channing waved his hands, gesturing to show his frustration.
"In the end, I had to get out of there." Channing gulped his scotch again, his voice no longer quiet. "His body died without anything in it. That's not supposed to happen either. Not with a Transfer. Never with a Transfer."
I waited for Channing to continue. I knew what he would tell me next, but I had to hear it from his own lips.
"It was after I Transferred back into my own body that I realized I wasn't alone." Channing said. "The thing that had been in the archaeologist, it followed me. It's still in me.
"Oh, God, Phil, the dreams! They don't stop and I can't understand them!" Channing grabbed my hand. "I think I'm going mad!"
Though I wanted nothing more than to get Channing's hand off me, I let him clutch it. I could feel the odd pulse from under his skin. The demon soul was taking over at a rather quick pace. My biggest concern now was the answer to one question had been bugging me since I first realized Channing was possessed.
"If Ferrymen knows you're possessed, and I assume they do, " I said, "Why in the hell are they letting you walk around at all if you have scary soul-snatching powers?"
Channing nodded and let go of my hands. I looked around the room in time to see eyes dart away from us. I knew what they were probably thinking and I didn't really care. Like I said before, I let people believe what they can handle, since the truth is much harder to swallow.
"They know." He said sadly. "But they can't remove the demon. They can't even identify it. They tried to Transfer me out of my own body but it won't allow it. It's like I'm glued in my skin."
Channing sat back and ran a hand through his hair.
"But they can't get rid of me because I don't have children yet." Channing said. "Once you've inherited a position at Ferrymen, you can't pass it along again until your bloodline is continued. Even if they killed me, my spirit would stay alive by the sheer force of the Ferrymen contract."
"All they can do is keep me under watch." Channing scanned the room. "I know I'm always being watched, but I don't know by whom. As long as I don't do anything stupid, they promised to let me do small supervised jobs and not to lock me up again. I can't stand being locked up because the thing makes the dream worse when I'm in small spaces and…people's souls go missing."
This was my turn to sigh. Channing gave me a questioning look.
"It's all this soul-snatching business!" I was beyond frustrated. "I mean, I work for a college. Do you have any idea how much time I waste trying to pick out the soulless students from those who are simply drunk, high, or overworked? We can't have soulless beings walking around here. Too many cases of possession!"
The sound of Channing laughing made me frown deeper.
"You're so worried about you, you, you, but do you ever think about how much work people like you cause me?"
Channing wiped a tear from his eye. I noticed it was slightly gray instead of clear.
"You always could cheer me up." Channing said. "Thanks, Phil, I needed that."
"I didn't." I crossed my arms over my chest. "When did you say you're leaving again?"
"Two days from now." Channing lost his smile. "I'm actually here to see a professor at Miskatonic about my…condition. The job fair idea was my sneaky way to get me here…well, your father's idea anyway."
For the first time that night, I was truly surprised.
"Dad got you here?" I asked, wondering why the sneaky old bastard hadn't told me. He knew Channing and I were friends and he saw me practically every day and for Sunday dinner, yet he hadn't told me about this at all.
"He thinks one of his colleagues might able to help me." Channing said. "It's a long shot, but if anyone can figure this out, your dad said Professor Thurston might be able to. I'm to meet him first thing tomorrow morning."
I stood up, snatching the check from the table before Channing could.
"Then you should probably get some sleep." I said. "Where are you staying?"
Channing took my cue to stand too.
"Hotel not far from here." He said, looking down at his wristwatch. "Or, at least, I think I am…I missed check-in."
I left Channing to make a phone call while I paid the check. When I came back, Channing was grinning rather sheepishly.
"I…uh…did miss check in and they gave my room away." He said. "Anyway I could stay with you for the night?"
I sighed again but nodded my head. In reality, it made my life easier. I was already planning on staking Channing out for the night. If he were right in my own apartment, it would save me a trip out in the storm that was blowing.
When we got to Channing's car, we were both soaked. I loved storms but knowing I couldn't fall into my usual deep sleep during one peeved me a little. Still, it beat waiting in my car all night.
In my apartment, I showed Channing where he could clean up and sleep, leaving him to his own devices without discussing much with him. There were still questions I had, but none that I knew he could answer. Instead I had a shower, changed into some dry clothes and then called my father. Despite the late hour, I knew he'd be awake. The man slept about four hours a night with no ill effects. It was a sort of family trait I never thought to question.
"Phillip!" He greeted me warmly. "You're up rather late. Any trouble at the university?"
I laid back on the pillows, closing my eyes.
"Not yet, but then, I guess that depends on what happens with my guest tonight." I was purposely being vague.
My dad made a tsking noise that made me smile.
"Please tell me you're not calling me right before you have sex with some teenage student." He sounded disapproving, which I always found funny considering what he did to some of the teenage students. It's not what you think and, yes, my mother knows and fully supports it.
"No, actually, this guest hasn't been a student at Miskatonic for quite some time." I let the silence drag out, knowing my father was waiting for an explanation.
"I ran into Channing Howard today." I said nonchalantly. "Happened across him at the job fair."
"Oh, really!" My father's voice was clearly guilty. "How nice for you to meet up with your old friend!"
"Cut the crap, dad. Chan told me you put him up to coming." I said. "Said you're having him meet with Thurston tomorrow."
Silence on the other end.
"You could have told me." I said after a moment.
"I didn't want to in case…." My dad let the comment hang in the air.
We both knew why he hadn't told me. He knew that if Thurston couldn't help and if the possession was as bad as he assumed, Channing would probably have to be killed. At least, Channing's soul would be killed off. His body would be left for the demon to take over and go about his merry way of distraction. My family was all for allowing other realm beings to cavort here in this plane. It just depended from which realm they hailed.
"Thurston can't help him." I said, resigned. "I know what it is. No, I know who it is, or rather, I know the shade of who it is. And I know the reason it picked Chan to inhabit."
"Do we need to….?" I kept in a sigh. My father was actually pretty bad at not finishing his sentences. I think it's because he spends more time with ancient and forbidden knowledge that he can't speak instead of actually talking to regular humans.
"I will let you know tomorrow." I said. "I need a bit of time to see if the sliver of Nodens that is inside Chan will be on our side or not. Could be useful, could be dangerous to the cause."
In the silence I knew my father was nodding. His other bad habit was making nonverbal gestures on the phone.
"I prefer to call him Pan." My father said. Without knowing our conversation, you would have thought it was a non sequitur.
"And mom likes Kokopelii, but whatever we call it, it's basically the same." I said, not mentioning that my favorite reincarnation of the old god was Merlin.
We hung up and I continued to lay back on my soft pillows, taking micro naps but not allowing myself to fall into the deep slumber I so loved. I wanted to dream of the ancient city with it's impossible angles, but I had work to do.
Instead, I thought of how in the holy hell my old friend could have been possessed by one of the more unpredictable Elder Gods. What I had seen gleaming from his eyes was not the full god, but a small sliver of his soul. Even such a small token was incredibly powerful. The only problem I now had was to figure out how to deal with the information. Nodens was a hunter at heart, often going after 'evil creatures' for fun. To this day, I cannot tell if he just likes to hunt the other gods and their offspring or if he really does like humans.
The problem we had with Channing was, if the Nodens sliver was out to save mankind, Chan would have to go. The ritual killing would be messy and extremely painful and prolonged for Chan and I wanted to avoid that. He already told me that he couldn't simply be locked away due to his annoying powers of popping into people's bodies while the Elder God probably ate the souls.
My family had worked too hard ensuring that, when the stars were right, those who slept would rise to rule again. Those Chan would only be a slight annoyance, it was one annoyance too many. After all, I had family in the Dreamlands who I was not keen to see killed off any time soon.
I'm not sure how long I laid in bed, but I knew it was 3 am when I heard movement from the guest room. I stood up, still fully dressed, expecting this to happen. I grabbed a dark green leather cloak from where I placed it on the edge of my bed and put it on. I could feel the fabric move about in strange, yet familiar motions. With the cloak, even if the Nodens/Chan hybrid looked directly at me, he wouldn't see me. The being the skin had come from had a wonderful habit of existing between realms. Once I put on the cloak, I could exist everywhere and nowhere at once. Nodens/Chan only existed in this realm when he was awake…I hoped.
Into the rain again, but I managed to stay completely dry since the between realms didn't have rain. Nodens/Chan managed to stay dry by the simple fact that the rain fell around him, not on him. I didn't want to understand the power behind the moving gray film that enveloped him from the weather.
I didn't know where we were going. From what Chan had told me, he didn't need his physical form to cause damage. Why we were out in a major thunderstorm, I hadn't the slightest clue.
It wasn't until we had passed the dining hall that I figured out where Nodens/Chan was heading. I gripped the dagger at my side. It wouldn't kill Nodens/Chan, but one stab through the heart would at least trap the pair inside Chan's body until I could gather others.
Nodens/Chan stopped in front of the Miskatonic library and looked up. The university library was open all night, but you had to have a pass to get in after 9 pm. Nodens/Chan walked right up the front steps and through the doors. I don't mean he walked up, opened the door and went through, I mean he went through the glass doorways as if they weren't there.
I cursed myself for not realizing it sooner. The reason Nodens/Channing wasn't wet and the reason he could pass through solid objects was because I was seeing a shade. Chan's body was still back in my apartment. The film covering Chan should have warned me but I didn't have too much experience with Elder God possessed souls walking about in public.
I kept my cloak on and followed Nodens/Chan the best I could. I knew now it wouldn't protect me from the Elder God's gaze, but at least it would help me avoid any questions from the living.
Once in the library, I knew right where Nodens/Chan was heading. Deep down just about every building on campus was a cellar and usually many underground channels leading to all sorts of dark places. A few of the places I couldn't go, even with my half-brother's protection on me. I just hoped Nodens/Chan didn't try to enter any of those places. I couldn't be responsible for the war that might start between the Elder God and the other Ones who lived about the town.
I knew a shortcut and found myself in the cellar before Nodens/Chan. I hid in a special recess, dark and protected, and waited. It wasn't long before the gray-filmed Nodens/Chan entered and went straight for a very special room. A room I was afraid he would try to enter.
Though Chan had a small soul of what would have probably been an Elemental offspring in a jar, here at Miskatonic, we had an entire nursery full of all sorts of Young Ones. It was where my half-brother was raised before he was old enough to survive the Other Realm by himself. I spent many happy hours in that nursery playing with all manner of creatures you wouldn't find in a normal daycare center. I can promise it taught me to respect diversity in all its forms.
I removed my hood and quickly followed Nodens/Chan into the room, no longer caring if I was seen. I couldn't let the Elder God kill the helpless beings that I knew would grow to take over the world.
To my immense surprise, Nodens/Chan did not immediately start killing the little creatures that stirred at his presence. He walked around, quietly taking in the sight of the strange Young Ones. None seemed worried about the Elder God hunter being there. I held up a hand to warn off the mothers and protectors of the Young Ones. I learned early on not to start a fight unless you had to.
One small being, his shape almost too incomprehensible for the mind to take in, waddled up to Nodens/Chan. It reached several small tentacles up. Though I don't understand how it happened, Nodens/Chan reached down and picked up the Young One. The Young One gurgled as Nodens/Chan chanted something in the Old Tongue before placing the Young One gently on the ground. Giving one final look around, Nodens/Chan turned towards me.
"You fear me, oh brother of the Dreamlands." He said in a voice older than imagination and spoke in a language older than that. I briefly caught a glimpse of Nodens' true form before he snapped back into Chan's shape.
"You do have a reputation amongst my kind as a hunter for sport." I replied in the same Old Tongue, though I could already feel the words burning my own tongue and mouth.
The Elder God gave what I assumed was a laugh.
"In the past, I did." He admitted. "Though now I grow tired of hunting down the weaklings that are left. I need strong blood to hunt, but the humans are culling and weakening the bloodline.
"Here," Nodens/Chan waved a hand at the Young Ones around him, "Is the future of my kind. One eon I will hunt these strong blooded Children again, but not yet."
Nodens/Chan looked around him almost affectionately.
"I need my stock to grow in number and power." He said. "Until that day, I will commit myself to hunting down all those who would stop the rising of the Others. I will hunt down all those who would produce inferior offspring and taint the blood with their weakness. Until that day, your cause and my own are joined inasmuch as it be possible."
Though I couldn't say I liked the idea that Nodens was simply allowing the destruction of humankind to resupply his hunting stock, I was relieved I would not have to kill my old friend.
"I will grant this human my powers." Nodens/Chan said. "For I like him and one day he will bear a son who will bear a son, who will bear a son. This ensures I will reside in a powerful body until the day my hunting can continue. Until then, I will join with your cause and hunt those you wish to hunt. It will not be a challenge, but it will be good work until the stars allow the Powerful Ones to rise."
I nodded but said nothing. I didn't like speaking in the Old Tongue unless necessary. The way my head was pounding, I was hoping his repetitive speech would soon be over as well.
"This is good work." Nodens/Chan said, gesturing towards the Young Ones. "I will allow it just as I will allow my presence to be always with you."
With that, Nodens/Chan vanished. I couldn't help but smirk when I realized the only reason he'd taken any visible form was so I'd follow him. He knew from the outset I could be a formidable foe, and had decided on a preemptive strike. He lured me to the nursery to show his powers. I knew this was going to be an interesting turn of events for me, especially since I believed the Elder God when he said, in so many words, that he and Chan were going to be a permanent fixture in my life.
The next morning, a very hung-over looking Chan plopped down at my kitchen table. To say he looked like hell was an understatement. I don't know when Nodens had dragged him back to his own body, but when I had made it back to my apartment, Chan was still sleeping there, completely soulless.
"Morning, Sunshine." I said as I poured Chan a cup of coffee. I offered sugar but Chan waved it away and clutched the mug for dear life.
"Do you know what I did last night?" Chan asked, part hopeful.
I shook my head.
"Not for all of it." I said, "though I was with you for about an hour before you vanished on me."
"I don't know either." Chan said. "I do know I want this to stop. I want to stop dreaming of that horrid place. I pray Thurston can help me."
It was a bit early for me to be shattering hopes, but I doubted it would help Chan if I let the false hope drag out too long. He needed to know as soon as possible so he could start the grieving process.
"Thurston can't help you at all." I said. "I was with you last night. I know who has possessed you and I also know the only way to get rid of him would be through a rather messy ritual that I doubt you'd like at all."
The shock on Chan's face quickly gave way to hopelessness.
"Yeah, you're basically going to be possessed your entire life." I said. "However, there is good news!"
Chan didn't bother looking up. I didn't blame him. Instead, I sat next to him, picked up a piece of toast and munched thoughtfully. I could wait if he could. It didn't take all that long.
"You said something about good new?" Chan asked in a voice that was nearly frightened to learn what good could come from demon possession.
I nodded and finished my bite of toast before washing it down with a sip of coffee.
"I've already spoken to my parents and they're going to finance a new operation I've been toying with for sometime." I said. "All I really needed was a partner and now I have one!"
Channing was obviously confused. I was hoping Nodens would have let him remember some of the previous night's conversation. It was really going to suck if I had to recount every time Nodens took over.
"Chan, we're going to be private investigators of the supernatural." I beamed at my friend. "You and I…and your little tag-along will travel out to those who can pay our fees or to cases that interest us and sort out the rabble from the royals.
"Granted, there's so much you need to learn about…well, everything," I said. "but you're at Miskatonic University. If ever there were a place and a people to speed up your learning into the Other Realm, it's here."
Chan continued to just stare.
"Any questions?" I asked.
"I'm always going to be possessed?" Chan asked.
I nodded and munched another bite of toast.
"It's not so bad, Chan." I said. "Plenty of people go through their entire lives possessed and it never bothers them. You'll be just fine…as long as you wear this."
I handed Chan a black box which he took with shaking hands. Inside he pulled out a silver wristwatch with strange symbols where the numbers should have been. For a second, I saw the darkness peak out of his eyes again.
"What is it?" Chan asked in a voice slightly deeper than the one he normally used. Nodens voice was leaking through.
"Nothing bad." I assured Nodens and Chan. "It's simply a small charm allowing you, Chan, to not deal with some of the negative aspects of possession. From now on, your little tag-along will have to get permission to whisk you out of your body. Your dreams will also stop. I find that to be a downside, but you seem to want it so badly.
"You know, quite a few people have killed for a glimpse into the Other Realms." I shook my head. "To each his own, I guess."
Chan quickly replaced his watch with the one I had given him, though I could see he had to fight a little bit to do it. Nodens wouldn't like the restrictions, but it was the only way I could ensure the Elder God actually stayed on my side.
Chan looked at the watch then put it to his ear.
"I think it's broken." He said.
I shook my head.
"Nope, not broken." I said. "It just doesn't tell the time. Don't worry about that right now. It'll help protect you and also be helpful in our new enterprise.
"You know, we're going to be a great team." I said to the both of them, toasting with my coffee. "We're going to get rid of a lot of supernatural riffraff. It's going to be fun!"
Chan shook his head, but I could tell he already felt better. The sigils on his new watch would help him feel more in control of himself, which is what I needed if we were going to go up against some really nasty creatures. It would also help us figure out who and what we were dealing with.
"Ferrymen won't let me go." Chan said. "I'm still technically their property."
I waved the comment off.
"We've already called your higher offices and explained the details." I said. "You are still a Ferrymen employee but are on full time loan with me."
Channing frowned but shrugged his shoulders. I had to sigh. He was really ruining my happy mood. After all, it wasn't every day you were about to start on a great adventure doing what you loved. Most people never got the chance to follow their dreams.
"What's your problem now?" I put my mug down a bit harder than necessary.
"You said we're going to be supernatural detectives?" He asked.
"There's no such thing!" Chan said. "The closest thing to that would be working for Ferrymen. Other than that, there are no private investigators who specialize in the supernatural because you simply can't make a living off of the unknown."
"That's not entirely true." I countered. "There's a guy working in Louisiana….Millburn or Mills, something like that. Anyway, he's a remote viewer who deals with all kinds of cases, supernatural and the more mundane."
Chan was about to argue something, but I cut him off.
"Besides, we're going to be more of a specialist firm." I said. "We'll take other cases, of course, but we're going to deal mostly with Elder Gods, Old Ones, and their offspring."
The confusion on Channing's face was enough to bring back my happy mood. I knew he was in for a proper schooling, the kind he narrowly avoided his first time at Miskatonic University.
"Trust me, Chan." I gave my best untrustworthy smile. "It's going to be fun."
My lofty dreams of being a famous & brilliant writer were literally smacked out of my head. Now I plan to fill the void with copious amounts of subpar writing!