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The Charlatan

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The headlights of the police car illuminated the scene. The man lying before her was clearly dead. The woman knelt down, examining the body, being careful not to touch it and contaminate the scene. She pulled a flashlight from her belt. Multiple stab wounds were visible. Judging by the trail of blood leading to the body, odds were that the man had been trying to get away from someone. What surprised her was that nobody had come to finish the job. The man had bled to death.

She examined the body further and instantly recognized the face. Damn it, she thought, not another one. This man had been missing for weeks now. Another phony psychic was dead on her watch. This guy’s name was Bobby Aaron, a con artist masquerading as a psychic. This was not the first one to go missing. Over the last couple of weeks almost all of them were either missing or dead.

The police department had to keep this under wraps because a majority of the town’s income came from people coming to visit these people. She really wanted to smoke right now, but she promised her husband that she would quit. She reached into her pocket, pulling out a package of nicotine gum. She took the wrapper off of one piece and put it into her mouth. This would be a long summer.

Her phone rang. It was her partner, Jim.


“Well, did you find anything out there, Sherry?”

“Yeah. I found a missing person out in the woods.”

“That’s great. We’ll bring him back to the precinct and we can question-”

“He’s dead, Jim.”

“Shit. Another one?”

“Yep.” Sherry stood up and started walking to the car. She sat in the car, pausing for a second. She evaluated the scene one more time. The trail of blood led deep into the forest. She could now see a small creek in the distance.

“So that only leaves Jerry Alexander, Chris Terrance, and that guy Drake Collins. Start looking into each of them, Jim. Once we get homicide down here, I’ll start questioning them about the disappearances.”

“You got it, Sherry. I’ll get back to you when I learn anything.” Sherry started her car and began the long drive back home. Her first stop would be the home of Drake Collins.

To some, Drake Collins was a wise and charismatic man. To others, he was a scheming, manipulative bastard. Both were true, but there was another side to Drake. He was a mentalist, basically a magician, but the key difference is that he told people that his tricks were real. Drake managed to make a living off of this, usually making his money off of people who are either too dumb or disillusioned to call his bluff. You may think this sounds a bit harsh, but the fact of the matter is that even Drake knew that all the supposed “psychics” in this town were con artists. The town, called Warnan, has been a hub for spiritualism since its founding. Every group from radical Christians to full-blown Satanists have made their presence known in the town, much to the dismay of its inhabitants.

Scotch slowly began to drip from Drake’s chin onto his pristine white tie. The TV blared in the room, slightly muffled by the sound of the fans and air-conditioning. The talk show host’s jokes fell upon deaf ears. Drake was preoccupied with other thoughts. The main thought being that his wife was not home yet. Tiffany had always been home before he got back from work. It’s not like she had a job or anything else to do. Drake knew exactly what she was doing. He had suspected for a while now that she was having an affair. His suspicions were confirmed when he glanced out the window, only to see an unfamiliar car drop off his wife. He tightened his grip on the glass, trying to keep himself composed. He put on a smile and opened the door.

“How is my lovely wife doing today?” he said gleefully. His wife looked up at him, mouth slightly open, and quickly looked away.

“It was fine. How was yours?” she responded. She tried avoiding him on her way to the door, only to be blocked by her husband. He met her with his faux smile.

“Wonderful,” he said, almost whispering into her ear. There was a moment of uncomfortable silence. She would only keep eye contact for a few moments, then quickly looking to another direction. Drake picked up on that signal. Jackpot, he thought, he knew she was hiding something now. He walked back into the house, pouring another glass of scotch.

“So, who was that that drove you home?”

“Excuse me?” she replied, slightly surprised.

“I’ve never seen that car before. Was it a friend of yours?”

“Yeah, yeah it was. It was my friend Diane. She saw me walking home from the store and offered to give me a ride.”

“Oh, that’s nice. Did you pick up any milk at the store?”

“Oh, no, I didn’t see it on the list.” He walked over to her, feigning confusion.

“Where are the groceries?” he said. She stopped dead in her tracks, quickly taking in her breath as if it were her last. Tiffany opened her mouth, stumbling for words, trying desperately to get her story straight.

“I-I might have left them in the car.”

“Really? That’s a shame. Well, you might as well call your friend and tell her that she should come back.”

“I can just walk over to her house and get them, she doesn’t live too far away. I’ll be right back.” Drake grabbed her arm as she tried to leave, showing his true intentions now.

“Tiffany, in this life, I only ask of two things from people: honesty and respect. You seem to be lacking both of those today. Now, are you going to tell me what you were doing with that man in the car?” Drake said, his tone becoming angrier.

“What?” Tiffany replied. This had caught her off guard, quickly jerking her hand away from him. She was no longer keeping up the act.

“I know you’ve been having an affair, Tiffany. I’ve known for about a month now. I can tell by the way you’ve been acting around me. You didn’t think I’d catch on sooner or later?”

“You shut your damn mouth, Drake. You have no right to talk to me like that. I found your stash last night. You promised me you were done with that shit. Before Cassie was born, you gave me your word that you would never do that in this house again. You’re pathetic.”

“Oh give me a break. Don’t act like you give a shit about Cassie. I’ve been raising that girl ever since she was born, while you were out there getting drunk and having sex behind my back!”

“I should have never left my family for you, Drake. You’re a loser and that’s all you’ll ever be-“ Jack slapped her across the face. She stumbled back a few steps, falling to the ground, shocked at what her husband had done.

“Don’t you ever talk to me that way ever again. If I told you half of the things I’ve had to do for this family, you’d be shitting your pants. I raised you out of the mud, Tiffany. The only thing that’s waiting for you in that god-forsaken city was a bullet. I sacrificed everything for you. I gave you everything I had. And this is the way you repay me? Talk to me like that again and next time you won’t get up.”

They both stopped, looking over to the staircase, where their daughter was watching them. She was in her pink pajamas, tightly grasping her teddy bear. A tear crawled down her pale cheek. Cassie ran up to her room, slamming the door behind her. Drake took a deep breath, taking in the situation. His wife stood up and wiped the blood from her lips with the back of her hand. She staggered, trying to get balance. Seeing her like this made him instantly regret what he had done.

“Look, Tiffany I didn’t mean to-”

“Drake, I want a divorce.” She walked up the stairs and went into Cassie’s room. He was left there alone to contemplate what to do next. Drake sat on the floor, not even caring there was a chair a few feet away. He couldn’t believe he did that to his daughter. Cassie was the only thing that mattered to him in this life. He’d be damned if he’d let anyone hurt her. The funny thing was that this time it wasn’t someone else who hurt her. It was Drake. He pulled a cigarette out of his pocket, lighting it with hands shaking from rage.

He glanced at the box of crystals in the corner. Since he had bought those damn things, his luck had been pretty shit. They were cheap though. Those idiots in the commune couldn’t get enough of them, so it didn’t matter. He even managed to sell them to the other psychics in town, claiming that they were a special kind that was in high demand. He inhaled, coughing for a few moments. Drake whispered to himself.


A few hours later there was a knock at the door. Drake had assumed that it was a police officer responding to a noise complaint from their fight earlier. He was only partially right. When he opened the door, a short, stocky blonde woman greeted him. Her uniform was clean and pressed. The officer’s name was Detective Sherry Phillips.

“Good morning, sir. Are you Mr. Drake Collins?” the woman said in a professional tone. He smiled, straightening his tie. The woman was quite beautiful. At least he thought so. Drake hoped that she wouldn’t notice the scotch stains.

“Why, yes I am. What can I do for you this fine day, ma’am,” he replied.

“I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions, sir.” Drake’s smile slowly faded.

“Of course, officer. Please, come in.” Drake continued walking to the living room, pouring himself another glass of scotch. He poured another glass. He picked it up and gestured towards the officer.

“No thank you, Mr. Collins. I’m on duty.”

“That’s a shame, this is some of the finest scotch money can buy.” The officer seemed disinterested, so he quickly changed the subject.

“What is it that you came here for? I’m sorry, so impolite of me, what did you say your name was again?”

“Officer Phillips. I’m investigating the disappearance of multiple ‘psychics’. I’m assuming you’ve heard about it?” Drake stopped drinking for a second.

“No, actually I haven’t,” he said.

“Well, as you know, Warnan has a large group of ‘psychics’ who visit the town, yourself included. Over the past couple of weeks, many of them have vanished without a trace. We were wondering if you knew if you had any enemies. Disgruntled clients, fans, groupies, anything you can tell us would be appreciated.”

“I honestly have no idea. I’m only acquainted with a few other psychics. Usually we just meet to discuss our work, but I am quite close friends with Bob Aaron, if that’s any help.”

“You weren’t aware of Mr. Aaron’s disappearance?”

“Bob’s disappeared? I-I just talked to him last week, how can he be gone?”

“What did you talk to him about, Mr. Collins.”

“Mostly just work. We were planning on going out to dinner tomorrow night. We did talk about something else, however. There was a group of attendees at our recent events who we both agreed were very odd. My event started normally. I did a few readings, talked about my abilities, and then took some audience requests.”

“Requests?” Sherry asked.

“Yes, most of the time it’s to talk to a deceased loved one or something along those lines.”

“And you believe that you can talk to the dead?” she asked skeptically.

“Yes, I do believe I have that ability. You see, our life forces aren’t extinguished when we pass on. Matter cannot be created or destroyed. Our essence survives beyond the grave. In this way, I can communicate with the dead.”

“Right. So, what was odd about this group?”

“We couldn’t really put our finger on it, but we agreed that there was something wrong with them. Mostly by the way they spoke. All of them were pretty quiet except for the older man in the group. He was a short man, long gray hair with an unkempt beard. He wore a red headband, if that helps. After the event, he approached me, asking if I do private events. I told him that I’ve done them in the past, mostly in universities. I said if they had the money, I’d be happy to do it. We talked business details and arranged an event on Wednesday around six o’clock.”

“Anything else that you found odd about the group?”

“Well, there was this one woman who struck me as sort of odd. She was young. She looked to be in her 20s, clearly pregnant. The whole time she was holding hands with the older man, who looked old enough to be her father, but from what I could tell they weren’t related. More like husband and wife. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the thing that struck me as sort of odd was her face. Her eyes were blood shot and had bags under them as well. It looked as if she hadn’t slept in days. We both noticed that the others had these features too, but the woman’s were more visible.”

“I see. Well, Mr. Collins, I’ll be on my way. Have a good night.”

“You too,” he said smiling. When she left, Drake took another sip of scotch. His smile had faded. He sat there, admiring his glass. Drake turned the TV off and sat there for a moment in silence. He really thought of himself as pathetic. He’d been at some low places in his life, but this was the lowest of the low. This kept the bills paid, sure, but this was the work of pond scum. This was the work of the lowest of the low. He wasn’t just a con man, he was a con artist, and he enjoyed his craft. That all ended the day he left home.

But now he was here, in a shitty house with a life that he hates. Sort of reminded him of his childhood. He’d remember his dad would sit out on the porch some nights and watch the waves crash onto the shore. He’d come home with a black eye and a bruised lip, but he was always smiling. But that smile would fade away when Drake walked through the door. His father had always been serious around Drake. He was trying to raise him to be a man. He’d always give it to him straight, not coddling him like other parents would. Drake knew from the start that his life would be hard, and that gave him an edge over the other kids.

Over the roar of the fan, he thought he heard a voice. It had whispered something to him. He didn’t hear what it had said, but he knew it was there. He waited a moment, suspecting that it was only his imagination. He looked around the room, not finding anything out of the ordinary. He took another sip of his drink. Just nerves, he thought. It was nothing.

The whisper started to get louder though. This time, he heard what it said. “Drake.” His eyes widened and his pupils dilated. Drake spit the scotch back into his cup and stood up.

“The box, Drake.” The voice was louder now. The voice was familiar, but he didn’t know whom it belonged to. He resisted the urge to ask what box it was referring to. He didn’t want to acknowledge that this thing wasn’t just his imagination.

“The box, Drake.” The disembodied voice had gotten even louder. Drake recognized the voice now. It was his father’s. It sounded as if it was right in his ear.

“What?” Drake asked, stumbling for words in the dark room.

“Open the goddamn box, Drake. The box in the corner of the room.” Drake walked over to the box of crystals, opening it up and pulling one out. His reflection was foggy. He looked deeper into his reflection, seeing his dark hair with grey streaks on the sides.

“Bring this box to the commune, Drake. You’ve always been a disappointment to me. This will be my last request. Don’t mess it up.” He put the box down. Drake was shocked by what just happened. He didn’t know what was going on. Was he going crazy? Drake tightly grasped the crystal in his hand. The fan slowed down, eventually turning itself off. Soon the air conditioning followed. Drake was in the darkness, surrounded by complete silence.

He walked over to the lamp, turning it on. When the light turned on, he looked down at his hand to see a black liquid slowly crawling up his arm. He stared at his arm, as the substance gained more and more ground. Drake ran to the kitchen, turning on the sink. The liquid was passed his elbow now; he couldn’t feel anything below that point anymore. He stuck his hand in the water in an attempt to rinse it off, but it wouldn’t come off. He grabbed a towel and started to scrub away at the substance, but it did nothing. Drake looked around, trying to find a way to stop it, to keep it from spreading.

He grabbed a knife from the kitchen. Drake looked at it for a few moments, contemplating if this is what he should do. There was no time to think, he had to act. Drake began to slice away at his arm, each cut going further and further into his flesh. He screamed in agony. The pain was unbearable. The liquid started to encompass the wound, but he had finally reached bone, at least he thought he had. Drake finally realized that the pain was gone. He hadn’t reached bone. The substance was as hard as a rock. He kept trying to cut, but it was no use.

The liquid crawled up his shoulder, eventually reaching his neck. He started scratching his own neck to rip the thing off, but it kept going, some of it began to crawl up his other arm as well. It reached his chin and started to crawl into his mouth. Before he knew it, he started choking. His lungs just wouldn’t expand. He knelt to the ground, gasping for air. The voice whispered in his ear as darkness began to surround him once more.

“Don’t mess this up.”

Drake woke up gasping for air. He jumped up from his seat, only to realize that nothing was wrong. It was just a dream. Sunlight shone through the blinders. The radio was on, playing one of his favorite songs. The guitar was oddly soothing in this time of distress. Drake covered his face with his hands. What the hell had just happened?

Sherry loved to drive early in the morning. The darkness bowing to the dawn was a reassuring sight. It always let her know that no matter how much darkness she encountered in her work, there would always be a way to stop it. The taste of her gum had faded about twenty minutes ago. She kept chewing though, despite the rubbery taste. The song on the radio was really starting to get on her nerves. Sherry turned off the radio. She could never concentrate when she was listening to music.

She was on her way to a local psychic event. If her hunch was right, those people from the commune would be there. She pulled into the gravel parking lot and parked next to the building. Not many cars were there. Not too surprising for a Monday morning. She got out and spit out her gum.

The room was almost empty. A man stood at the front of the auditorium. The man’s name was Chris Terrence. This guy wasn’t the most popular of psychics in town, so the small audience made sense. It also made sense that this guy would be one of the last to disappear. The others on the list besides Drake were pretty unpopular among the New Age crowd.

“Well, that concludes our seminar. If you would like to speak with me, please feel free to meet me outside and we-” He stopped mid sentence. The man was looking right at her. Sherry gave him a stern look, hoping that he would run. The thrill of the chase was one of the things that made this job worthwhile.

“-Can talk about whatever it is. Thank you again.” Chris kept looking over to her. Sherry stood there in the corner, pulling out another piece of gum and sliding it between her teeth. Looking around the room, she saw a group of five talking to the man. Each looked a little off, many of them with long hair and unkempt beards. It was then that she realized that the woman of the group had a slightly enlarged belly. The woman must be pregnant. She was holding hands with an older man with a red headband. These were the people that Drake had been describing yesterday.

The man in the red headband handed the psychic an envelope. He slid it into his pocket and smiled. He held out his hand for him to shake, but the man in the red headband began to walk away. The psychic tried to act like that didn’t happen and began to walk towards Sherry. Taking a few steps forward, Sherry got ready to meet the man.

“Good morning, officer. How are you doing today?” Chris said, giving her the same fake smile as Drake. His accent sounded foreign. She couldn’t quite pin where it was from.

“I’m doing pretty good. Yourself?” Sherry said.

“You mean well? But I suppose since you are an officer of the law you’re right in saying that you’re doing good.” He chuckled to himself. “How can I help you?”

“Well, you could start by telling me what you were talking about with those people over there.” Sherry pointed to the people from the commune.

“Oh, them? They’re a group of enlightened individuals who’ve asked me to give a lecture. They already paid in advance.”

“Let me guess. Wednesday morning.”

“Why, yes. May I ask how you knew that?”

“They’ve already approached Drake Collins with the same offer.”

“Collins will be there? I may have to reconsider, then.”

“You have a history with Collins, Mr. Terrence?”

“Yes. I’ve met with the man a few times. He’s a self righteous, drunken con man who has no interest in what we do. He’s a glorified magician, pretending his parlor tricks are reality.”

“And you consider your profession to be more real?”

“Unlike Drake, I don’t try to ‘prove’ that I am a psychic, because I’m not necessarily a psychic. I’m more of what you’d call, an expert. I usually tour the country giving seminars, but times have been tough, so I’ve had to resort to staying in my home town.”

“Has business gone up since the disappearances of the other psychics?”

“No, not really. For some reason, they’re all flocking to Collins. Well, hopefully they’ll change their minds, but I can’t force anyone to do something they don’t want to do.”

“Do you think Drake would have any reason to want the other psychics gone?”

“Besides his business going up, less competition, and more money? Yes, I suppose there is. He hates most of the psychics in Warnan. He’s threatened dozens of us, myself included.”

“What did he threaten you over?”

“First of all, I didn’t buy any of his damn crystals. I’ll be damned if I go down in history as just another snake oil salesman. Not to mention how I reserved the Freeman Theater, his usual spot, on one of his most popular nights. I’ll admit that it was mostly out of spite, but there was also the chance of getting increased business. An opportunity I couldn’t let pass. He threatened me with his usual garbage: ‘Do you know who I am? Do you know what I used to do to people like you?’ Et cetera, et cetera.”

“What did Drake use to do for a living?”

“The rumor is that he worked for the mob, but I’d doubt it. The man has the patience of a toddler. If he really did work for the mob, I’m surprised he’s not dead yet.”

“Thank you for your time, Mr. Terrence. I’ll be sure to keep in touch.”

Sherry looked around the room to see if the people from the commune were still there. They were gone. Sherry began walking out the door when her phone began to ring. It was Jim.

“Sherry, I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that I’ve done some digging into those three you asked me to look into. Terrence is clean. He’s a Pakistani immigrant, moved to this country when he was around twelve. No records of criminal activity other than a bar fight a few years back. Drake, on the other hand, is a mystery. I can’t find anything about him before 1997. The same goes for his wife, too. My guess is that they’ve changed identities. You should probably look into Drake soon. He might be our culprit.”

“And what about Jerry?” she asked.

“That’s the bad news. Jerry Alexander was reported missing last night. Another one is gone.”

“Damn it. Listen, Jim, both Chris and Drake are going to be at the commune tomorrow morning for some kind of event. We should follow them there, maybe we can catch Drake in the act.”

“You got it, Sherry. I’ll meet you at the precinct tomorrow. Still feeling sick.”

“Are you sure you’ll be alright, Jim?”

“Ah, no problem. I’ve gone through worse. I remember back in the war, some buddies and I ate some rotten goat meat and-“ Sherry giggled, cutting him off.

“You’ve already told me that one,” she said.

“I have? Oh, right. See you tomorrow, Sherry.” He hung up. She got behind the wheel of her car and began to drive. The day was still young, but the sky was grey. It looked as if it was about to rain. A storm was coming and Sherry didn’t want to be in the middle of it.

Drake awoke once again from a nightmare. This was hell. He’s seen his flesh begin to slough off in rotten clumps, slowly drowning in the murky ocean, and being dragged to hell by demons. This would not end. Constant paranoia began to cloud his mind. Why was each of these dreams so real?

He could never tell when he had fallen asleep. Everything flowed so seamlessly and naturally that he didn’t even remember falling asleep in the first place. His bottle of scotch sat empty on the table next to him. He’d tried to leave the house to get more, but it’d always end up just being another nightmare. He was in a loop now. No matter what he did he would always just wake up a few minutes later in his chair.

The doorbell rang. Drake paused for a few moments, trying to assess if this was another dream or not. He hesitantly got up and waited for a sign. The doorbell rang again. The radio was still playing. The fan was still roaring. The bottle of scotch was still empty. Someone knocked quickly on the door and rang the doorbell again. Drake walked towards the door, wondering what would be waiting for him at the other side. There was another knock on the door, more urgent this time. The doorbell rang once again. Drake grabbed the door handle and paused for a moment. He closed his eyes and quickly swung open the door. He was ready to meet it head on. He opened his eyes.

A young man in a priest’s attire was standing at his doorstep. Around his neck hung a golden cross. The man seemed worried, giving Drake a look of concern when he had opened the door.

“Are you Drake Collins?” he asked. Drake stared at him, expecting something to happen, but as far as he could tell this was real. Normally, Drake would give the man his coveted fake smile, but he was far too paranoid.

“Yes. Yes I am,” Drake said, only managing to smirk. The priest seemed unnerved by that.

“Well, my name is Antonio Vasquez. I was wondering if I could talk to you about your ‘healing crystals’.”

“Sure. Sure thing. It’s thirty-five dollars for one, fifty dollars for two. How many did-“

“Mr. Collins, you don’t understand why I’m here, do you?”

“Oh, I see. You can save the lecture. I’ve already gotten it from every other priest in this damn town.” Drake began to close the door, but the priest spoke up before he could.

“How have you been sleeping lately, Mr. Collins?” Drake stopped dead in his tracks.

“How the hell do you know about the nightmares?” Drake’s grip on the door handle tightened.

“I can come in and explain myself if you’d like.” The priest smiled, but his was sincere and reassuring. Drake opened the door, letting Antonio in. He avoided sitting in the chair, nervous that the nightmares would return. Instead, he sat on the couch. The priest walked over to the wooden chair in the corner and sat down. He rested his hands on his lap and took a deep breath.

“I’d like to tell you a story. This is a story from my childhood. Once I get to the end, you will understand why I am here. Until then, please don’t interrupt me or ask questions. I just want you to listen. I grew up in a small village where many of the men were miners. For over one hundred years, our people worked in the coal mines to support their families. Occasionally we would find other things in the mines, but most of the time it would just be coal. When my ancestors had originally started mining, they thought it would be a good thing. They could drink clean water, wear clothes that fit, and even build schools for their children. The coal drew many people to our village.

"As time went on, they wanted more and more coal. Eventually, our people stopped farming, because those men would supply us with food. In a few years, almost every man in the village was in the mines. Luckily, my father never had to work in the mines. He was one of the village's doctors. He was a kind, but stern man. My fondest memory of him was going to church every Sunday. Thinking back on those days reminded me how happy we were. That all changed when I was around ten years old. When the coal started to run out.

"Without the coal, the men who paid for it began to move on. Our people became desperate. Mining had been all we had known for years. Not even the elders of the village could remember a time when we hadn’t worked in the mines. We began to starve. None of us could support ourselves, so we did what we had always done. We mined. We went further and further into the mines to try to save our people. Many of us died in accidents or of hunger.

"Eventually, we found something deep in those mines. We found a cavern filled with beautiful crystals. The men who had discovered the cavern ran through the mines cheering with glee. The rich men began to come back to our village. That night we had a feast to celebrate. The next morning, things began to change. Every man in the mines began to bring the crystals out, spending more and more time in the caverns.

"Each night, we could hear screaming from our neighbors. They told us that they had vivid nightmares. They would hear voices telling them what to do. Some things were small, like bringing an extra pickaxe to work. But some were worse. People found that doing as the voices had told them would ease their nightmares. They knew it sounded insane, but they would do anything to make the nightmares go away. I remember one night my sister and I went to visit my father in the hospital. My mother wanted to bring him his favorite meal because he was working late on his birthday.

"When we got to the clinic, we could hear the screaming even from outside. A man was in there with bandages over his eyes, held down by some of the other doctors. He had clawed his own eyes out. My father asked him why he had done it. The man began crying out that he had done it because the voice had told him to.

"Slowly, the miners began to go mad. Each task the voice gave them became worse and worse. People were dying every night. This took a toll on my father. He had always prided himself in his ability to save most of his patients, but this was insanity.

"A week after they had discovered the cavern, my mother woke me up in the middle of the night. She was carrying my crying sister in one hand and shaking me with the other. She screamed that we had to leave the village. I kept asking her why, but she never answered me. We got into her car and she told me to hold my sister. She was only a child at the time. She couldn’t have been more than three. My mother drove through the streets and I saw why we needed to leave. A great fire was engulfing the village. People were running through the streets like mad men. They had clearly lost their minds. I saw women and children being dragged out of their homes and beaten. My mother kept driving, not stopping to help anyone.

"We eventually drove past my father’s clinic. The fire was visible from blocks away. Even if my father had escaped the fire, the mad men in the streets would have killed him. As we were driving down the street, we were hit by another car. My mother was barely alive, but the man who hit her was coming towards us with a gun. My mother’s last words to me were ‘run’. I did as she asked. I could hear the gunshot from down the street.

"I kept running and never looked back. Eventually, we managed to get out of the village. I walked for days and eventually found a large church, miles from my home. They took us in and raised us. I spent much of my time studying, learning as much as I could. After years of study, I decided that I would dedicate my life to God in honor of my parents. I returned to the village earlier this year. I learned that part of the cavern had collapsed. Whatever evils haunted that mine were gone. But I also learned that some of the crystals remained. A company had come to the village and mined the remaining resources in the cavern, even the crystals. Everyone I once knew was gone. This is a fate that I would not have wished on my worst enemy. To know that your past, your friends and family, were gone. Knowing that there is no going back even if you wanted to.”

The priest paused for a moment. He stared at the ground, reflecting on his past life. Drake sat there in awe. At this moment, he knew that he had to comfort the man.

“I know you asked me not to speak, but I know what you mean, Antonio. I left my past life behind and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t wish that I could go back for a day. To try to make up for what I’ve done. I used to think that I could do whatever I wanted and get away with it. I ended up getting away with it in the end, but the guilt… the guilt never goes away.”

The priest smiled. He got up and put a hand on Drake’s shoulder.

“Thank you my friend.” Antonio walked back to his seat and sat down again. He continued to tell his story.

“I learned that a new company had started selling the crystals in America. So I looked though their records to see who had bought them. I found in my research that some of the buyers had ended up dead months, weeks, or even days after purchasing those crystals. I decided that it was my duty to prevent this madness. I convinced the eldest father of the church to allow me to do missionary work in the United States. I set up destinations across America, mostly in major cities that were close to the people who had bought the crystals. I’ve been to many cities and with each new destination I start to lose more and more faith. You see, whenever I visit a new buyer, they’re dead, missing, or insane. You seem to be the first one that I have found that hasn’t gone completely insane. May I ask, how long have you had these crystals?”

“About three months now,” Drake said.

“Remarkable. I am surprised you haven’t felt its full effects by now judging by the amount of crystals you bought. I hope this has convinced you not to sell them, Mr. Collins.”

“Well, I did sell most of them already.”

“What?” Antonio said, standing up from his chair. The young priest’s anger faded quickly, turning into disappointment and despair. Drake could see that he was clenching his fist.

“I already sold about three quarters of them to the commune on the outskirts of the city. After I sold them a few back in April, they kept coming back for more. I sold a couple of other boxes to the other psychics in town. Wait, is that why they’ve all gone missing, because I sold them those boxes?”

“Mr. Collins, do you know what you’ve done? You bought the largest shipment out of any of the buyers. Those people have been exposed to those things for months. My people were exposed for them for about a week. Has there been any news out of the commune lately? Anything important can help.”

“No, nobody goes out there besides the people who live there. They’re pretty much self-sustaining so we don’t see them much in town. I heard a rumor that they were buying a lot of guns from Earl’s shop a while back, but that didn’t make sense until now.”

“Anything else?”

“They invited me to come to the commune tomorrow. Today I started getting dreams telling me to bring the last box with me. The dreams have been getting worse since then.”

“Please, Mr. Collins, whatever you do, do not go to the commune tomorrow. If you go, it will surely mean your death.”

“What am I going to do about the nightmares, then? They keep getting worse and worse and I don’t know what to do.”

“I don’t know. I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t been driven insane by the crystals. I know I’m asking a lot of you, but please, if you bring them the rest of those crystals, you’ll be putting the whole town in danger. It won’t ease your suffering, it’ll only make it-”

“Listen to me. I’ve spent the last few hours of my life in constant fear. I don’t know what’s real and what’s a dream anymore. As far as I know, this is a dream. Please, just- please just leave. I need to think this over.” Antonio walked to the door and gave him his final message.

“Please. Don’t let what happened to my family happen to yours.” With that, the young priest left his home. Drake closed the door behind him. He walked up the stairs and into Cassie’s room. He saw his wife and daughter asleep in the pink and white bed. Sitting down on the edge of the bed, he looked at his daughter’s face.

All he wanted in this life was for her to be happy, for her to succeed where he failed. He didn’t want what happened to Antonio’s family to happen to his own. But the dreams would never leave him if he didn’t bring the box to the commune. The more he thought about it though, the more he realized that he couldn’t lose Cassie. He’d sooner die than lose her. In fact, that was exactly what he was going to do.

For the next five hours, Drake fueled himself on coffee in an attempt to keep himself awake. Drake walked down to the garage and got his shovel. Grabbing the box of crystals, he left them beside his front door. Drake quickly jotted something down on a piece of a paper. He was writing down a bank account number and the pin. Underneath he wrote a note to his wife, hoping she would heed his warning.

“Tiffany, please only take money out of this account to pay the bills and to put Cassie through college. There’s enough in here to support the both of you for the rest of your lives. You know exactly how I got it. I know I am a pathetic piece of shit and if I die tonight, know that no matter how I try to fake it, I love you both. Goodbye for now. –Drake”

Sherry shifted once again in her seat. She hated stakeouts. Jim sat beside her sipping his coffee, black. This early in the morning, anyone would kill for a nice cup of coffee. It was almost dawn now. The beauty of it would hopefully set her at ease. She had been eyeing the car in front of her for a while now. It was a van, the type of van you’d see being used by a landscaping company.

Paint was splattered across the back of the van, but there was no company name or logo on the side. Something about it unnerved her, she didn’t know what, but there was something wrong here. It was a feeling that wouldn’t go away. Her farther had always told her that your first feeling about something was the most pure, and often times the right one. She hoped that he was wrong, because her first feeling after seeing that van was that something big was going to happen, something that she didn’t want to be a part of.

The door of Drake’s house swung open. Sherry saw him carrying a large box with a shovel resting on top of it. The psychic opened his car door and threw the box inside, laying the shovel next to it. He then got in the car and started to drive off. Before Sherry could start the car, she heard the van in front of her start up first. It drove behind Drake at a distance. Her father was right. That van was tailing Drake.

“Shit,” Jim said, quickly putting his coffee in the cup holder. “Who are those guys?”

“I have no idea, but they could be our culprits.” Sherry started the car. She stepped on the pedal and made sure that the van wouldn’t see them. Keeping a good distance between themselves and the van, Sherry followed the two cars in front of her down the highway. She was tense, normally the dawn would calm her down, but the sun hadn’t risen yet. It was still the cruel and unforgiving night, the thing that she had come to associate with evil in her own philosophy. With each passing mile, the number of cars that were around them on the highway started to go down. They were going further and further from Warnan. Eventually, the van pulled into the forest and slowed to a halt. Sherry could now see why the van had stopped. In the distance, she could see Drake, out of his car and digging into the ground. His car’s headlights illuminated him, his white suit almost reflecting its light.

“What the hell is going on?” Jim asked. Sherry watched as the man dug further into the earth. His white suit became brown the longer he dug. Eventually the van drove up closer to Drake. He heard it coming and stopped digging. The driver’s door opened and out stepped a man with a gun pointed right at Drake.

The man’s most recognizable piece of clothing was his red headband. He motioned for Drake to come closer and he did. The phony psychic walked closer to the man with the gun. Finally, Drake stopped right in front of the man, getting a good look at his face. His bloodshot eyes were almost completely red at this point. His face was contorted into an unnatural smile, like he was trying to force himself to be happy.

The man with the red headband looked to be on the verge of tears. Before Drake could react, he was repeatedly bashed over the head with the man’s pistol. Another man got out of the car and grabbed Drake’s unconscious body, dragging him into the trunk of the car. The other man jumped into the back with Drake’s limp body, while the man with the red headband got into the driver’s seat. They started up the car and drove away, with Sherry in hot pursuit. At this point, Jim reached for the shotgun mounted on the roof of car, then pumping the beast of a weapon.

They followed the van for about a mile, until they had eventually reached their destination. The commune stood before them. The commune had become a fortress. Smoke rose into the sky from the center of town. The place had become heavily barricaded, but made out of makeshift materials. Pieces of homes were exposed. Its wooden walls were torn down to build the commune’s defenses. The large speakers played soothing music from above the desolated settlement. A scream was heard in the distance, eventually silenced by some unknown force.

“Jesus Christ… what the hell happened here?” Jim asked.

“I-I don’t know,” Sherry replied. She reached into her holster and pulled out her pistol. They sat there for a moment, watching everything unfold. Drake was dragged out of the car and onto the dirt road. The two men stepped out of the car and picked him up. The gate opened, revealing the whole commune. Inside of those massive walls, Sherry and Jim could see a large group of people around a bonfire. Many of them were holding hands. Sherry reached for the radio.

“Dispatch, we need reinforcements down by the commune ASAP. We’ve got a kidnapping in progress and possible homicide.”

A few moments later they heard more screaming from inside the commune. Two men were carrying a woman towards the fire. She screamed and thrashed, trying to break free, but to no avail. The men started to sway her back and forth, building up momentum. The men swung her one more time and threw her into the fire. Her screams became muffled and gurgled. Then once again, there was silence. Jim undid his seatbelt and stuffed some shotgun shells into his pockets.

“Jim, what the hell are you doing?” Sherry said.

“We have to do something, Sherry. We can’t just sit here and let those people be killed.”

“Just let me call for back up, you’re going to escalate the situation further if-“

“Sherry, listen to me. I’m not going to let anyone else die on my watch today. It’ll be a while until back up gets here. Besides, you know me, I think I can take some nut jobs wi-” Sherry heard the shot, but didn’t have enough time to react.

She then heard a thump as Jim’s dead body slammed against the car. She didn’t have much time. She got out of the car and took cover behind the vehicle. Another shot hit the front side of the car. As Sherry tried to get up to return fire, another hail of bullets hit the car. There was nothing she could do now. She pressed her back against the side of the car. Sherry tried to catch her breath, but the adrenaline was getting to her. The gunmen were too far for her to hit. She was a sitting duck.

Drake awoke to the smell of smoke. He opened his eyes, vision still blurry. The outline of a group of people was visible. He kept blinking and eventually his vision had become clear. The headache was still there. The man in the red headband stood before him. Behind him he saw a crowd of people. They were watching him with a sullen look on their faces. The man with the red headband still continued to smile with a twisted sense of glee.

“At first I thought this was a curse,” he said. The man reached into his back pocket, pulling out a crystal.

“For the first few months I thought that this was the worst thing to happen to me. Every day I blamed myself for buying one of these things. Each night my nightmares would get worse, the voices would get louder. The less sleep I got, the more tired I became. Eventually I started to get sick. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, and I thought I was going crazy. Turns out I wasn’t. Looking back at it, I really must confess, it all seems ridiculous. All I had to do to stop the nightmares was to listen to the voice. I asked for my wife to get me more crystals. I said that they actually worked, and as long as she got them, I would be okay. She came back that night with a full box of them.

"I’ll tell you Drake, that night was the best night of sleep I’ve ever had. My wife, on the other hand, started to get worse. Eventually she told me about her nightmares and I told her my secret. All she had to do was listen and everything would be okay. Now, here we are. We all wanted to give you a gift as a token of our gratitude. The voice told me something last night. It told me the answers to every question I’ve ever had, man.

"The things it told me were terrifying, but at the same time beautiful. Every word had me clinging to my seat. One of the most important things that I learned was what happens after death. It’s beautiful, Drake. You become one with everything. Your past life, your worries, your pain, that all melts away. Total enlightenment. Since I know that you’re a spiritual man, I wanted you to be apart of that. Chris has already joined it. Bobby rejected it at first, but like the rest of them, death came to him too.”

The man pointed his gun at Drake. Walking a few feet forward, the man stopped a few feet short of him. Drake stared down the barrel, feeling his heart beating in his chest. He tried to think of something to say, something to get him out of this, but he was lost for words. His normal charismatic self was suppressed by a primal fear. The man knelt down beside him, still smiling. Slowly he lowered his gun. Had he decided not to go through with it? Drake stared into his eyes now. His wrinkled features were now visible. His hair was almost completely white now. This was a man on his last legs.

The regrets began to flood back. He thought about his failed marriage, his past life, but the thing that scared him the most was not being able to see his daughter grow up. If this was the end, he might as well go out with a bang. Drake reached behind him and felt a rock. He grabbed it, getting ready to strike the man, but before he could he heard the gun go off right into his gut. He didn’t feel it at first; it took a while for his body to actually register what had happened. The bullet had sliced through his body and went into the ground. He sat there confused at what had happened. The pain eventually arrived, but there was one thing that surprised him. Drake couldn’t feel his legs.

Sherry sat pinned against her vehicle. It had been around twenty minutes since had made the call, but they still weren’t here. She had only managed to fire a few shots. None of them hit a target. She peaked over the car one more time. Two men were talking towards her car. One was carrying a piece of plywood and the other a gun. There were more on top of the gate. If she shot these guys, they would start firing at her again. She waited, trying to think of what to do, but there was nothing she could do. If she ran, she’d be shot in the back. If she fought back, she’d be killed instantly. Just then she got an idea. Silently, she got onto her stomach and crawled under the vehicle. She heard their footsteps approaching the car.

She saw their feet walking slowly to her last position. Her heart beat hard in her chest. Her breathing became rapid and short. They stopped when they reached the back of the car because they realized that she wasn’t there. Sherry knew that she only had one shot. They’d realize that she was under he car soon, so she did what she had to do. Sherry aimed her gun at their feet, squeezing the trigger. The first one went down, dropping his make shift club on the ground and grabbing his heel. The other hobbled for a few feet and fell to the ground. Sherry squeezed the trigger again, only to hear a sound that shook her to the core: click.

The man shot back at her while on the ground. The first shot grazing Sherry’s left temple, the other hitting her right in the shoulder. Luckily the other four missed. He reached into his pocket, loading more bullets into his gun. Sherry tried to reload, but her arm wouldn’t move. The pain was too much. She put the gun down, trying to reach for a clip on her belt with her other hand, but it was just out of her reach. The man loaded one bullet into the gun and shot again, just missing her by a few inches. He got another bullet and crammed it into his gun. This time he was actually aiming. Sherry reached and reached, but she just couldn’t get it. She could hear him pull the hammer of his gun, getting ready to fire. This time he wouldn’t miss. Blood seeped out of her shoulder and onto the ground. A puddle formed beneath her.

Just then she heard even more gunfire. It wasn’t coming from the gate, though. It was coming from in front of her. The man turned his gun behind him and fired his last bullet. A hail of bullets ended the man’s life. Sherry crawled out from underneath the car to see what had happened. Back up had arrived. More importantly, the sun was beginning to rise.

Drake Collins awoke to a familiar sight. Antonio sat across from him reading. He looked around, trying to grasp his situation. The hospital gown that he was wearing gave it away. Beside him, he heard a beep. It must have been monitoring his heart. Drake tried to sit up, trying pushing himself up with his legs, but they wouldn’t move. The beeps became faster now. No matter how hard he tried he couldn’t move anything below his waist. He tried to speak up, but only managed to groan. Antonio looked up from his book and rushed to his side. His presence was comforting, at least as comforting as it could be in this situation. Sherry entered through the doorway, her arm in a sling.

“Are you alright, my friend?” Antonio said, trying to help him up.

“Ye…yeah. I’m fine. Thanks. Where’s my family?”

“They left to get something to eat. They said they’d be back later.” Drake smiled, this time a genuine one. It was the first real one in a long time. There was silence for a moment. Antonio looked at Sherry and she finally decided to speak up.

“Look, Drake, we have to tell you something. This is going to be hard to digest. We got you to the hospital as fast as we could, but that bullet severed your spinal chord. You’re going to be paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of your life.”

Drake sat there trying to comprehend what he had been told. He tried to process it, but it was just so surreal. It’s like it wasn’t really happening. Drake tried his best to move his legs but he couldn’t. He began to cry. Antonio tried to comfort him, but Drake shook him off. The realization of being stuck in a wheelchair for the rest of his life finally hit him like a ton of bricks. Once again, Sherry interrupted, breaking the silence.

“Before I go I have a few questions to ask you. Mr. Vasquez, would you mind leaving the room?”

“Of course, officer,” Antonio replied. Before he walked out of the room, he waved goodbye to Drake. This would be the last time they would see each other again. Sherry sat down next to him. The officer pulled out a pen and paper and started to ask her questions.

“Why would they kidnap you? Can you think of any reason as to why they’d do this?”

Drake sat there for a moment, unsure of what to say. Could he really tell her what happened? It all sounded crazy to him, and he’d experienced it. He realized that he had to do one of the things that he did best: lie.

“To be honest, officer, I really have no idea. They just invited me there for an event and before I knew it, I ended up here.”

“I understand, Mr. Collins. I can see that you’re still fairly shaken up about this. I’ll come back another time and we can get this sorted out.” The officer got up and began to walk towards the door. Before she left, she turned around to face Drake.

“Oh, and by the way, someone left you that while you were out.”

Drake noticed a small box sitting beside him. He tried to ask her who had left it, but she was already gone. He tore though the wrapping paper and opened the box. Inside sat a small, purple crystal. Drake stared at it for a moment, wondering if this was all a dream. He heard a whisper in his left ear. The voice was his father’s. This time he didn’t pay attention to the voice though. He was concentrating on the open window beside him, contemplating what to do next. He has far too tired to think about that now. All he needed to do now was sleep.

Written by The Damn Batman 
Content is available under CC BY-SA

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