October 24 21:42
Justin stared blankly at his computer screen. A paragraph and a half of English paper leered back at him. He sighed and returned to useless scrutiny of Romeo and Juliet. He had typed four more weary sentences when an all consuming darkness consumed his screen. “What the hell?” he tapped exit hotkeys and swore at the machine. A small flashing green cursor blinked into view on the top left corner of his screen.
“hello serpent” the cursor spoke. Justin, known in hacking circles as “Serpent”, recoiled in surprise and glanced around his messy, clothing-strewn room, as if the culprit might appear. He tried to type a response, but nothing appeared.
“don’t try to respond, just listen” Justin/serpent leaned in towards the screen. “on the night of tricks, enter the steel cabin on eight tolls”
“What?” Justin asked in disbelief. The green words glowed brighter and they swelled until the filled the screen and blinded him. Justin covered his eyes but the there was an explosion of pale green light and Justin awoke with a start.
He was lying back in the chair in front of the computer screen. Everything was perfectly normal…
October 25 11:16
Justin looked at the remainder of his sandwich, lying on the cafeteria table, largely untouched. He never ate much, usually just enough to feel it. He rose from the long table and threw the remnants of his lunch in the trash. He was walking out the door when a long leg tripped him. He fell forward and caught himself heavily on the heel of his hands. Loud laughing resounded in the hall and his head. His wrists hurt against the hard linoleum. A booted foot hit him in the side and he fell on the floor. Justin tried to get to his feet put another swift kick pushed him down again. Serpent braced himself against the floor with his toes and pushed hard, sliding along the slick floor. He spun his body and rolled backwards onto his feet. A skinny boy in prep clothes and oversized urban boots, flanked by a pair of tall white kids in popped polo shirts stood in front of him, stupid grins on their faces. Serpent lunged forward, smashing the skinny kid through the cafeteria door onto his back. One of the tall kids hit him in the chest, and Serpent rolled back, grabbing the offending arm. He spun quickly, throwing the kid into a wall. The remaining kid's eyes widened and threw a sloppy punch which Serpent blocked easily and countered with a knuckle punch to the sternum. The kid gasped, fell to his hands and knees, and was brutally kicked in the face by Serpent's well-worn combat boots. A strong hand suddenly seized his arm and spun him around and handcuffed his wrists together. Serpent tried to struggle but Dean Connolly was an ex-cop, and built like a bull. Serpent stopped after a moment of struggling.
Justin sat up in bed quickly, throwing the covers off the bed. He had been waken by a terrible dream. He had been strapped down to a dentist's chair while something probed his eye. His wrist felt heavy and he glanced at it. A large plastic band was attached to it, blinking incessantly. Connolly had pulled some strings with his cop buddies and the kid's parents had complained, so he was required to wear a tracker at all times. His parent's, accomplished lawyers, had been anxious to please, and then went back to ignoring him. He lay back in bed, looking at the wooden ceiling of the attic room. The red bulb in his tracker illuminated the ceiling, and for a moment, he thought he saw words.
"on the night of tricks, enter the steel cabin on eight tolls"
He sat up again and touched the ceiling with his fingertips. He felt burn marks, and turned the light on. Those enigmatic words loomed out at him for a moment, then shrunk into the woodwork.
"What the hell is going on?" he breathed.
"Check." Justin sighed. He was not an excellent chess player, but he played in spite of it. The short gaunt woman across from him coughed and sipped her tea, despite the steam pouring from it. Her name was Rose Borline, but she let her friends call her Rosie.
"You're slipping, Pent." she crooned. "You must be distracted." She called him Pent, a shortening of Serpent, because she had said his green eyes reminded her of a snake's eyes. Justin had been flattered and kept the name.
He held up his captive wrist in a displaying fashion and she laughed, a raspy beautiful sound. She had been among the first to know of the incident and had offered to testify on his behalf for his character. She treated him like a son and he felt like she was his real mother.
"Lily!" She had a daughter, a shy, attractive woman of thirty-some years, who resembled the yellowing photographs of the young Rosie. She appeared at the doorway, a thin frame with a pleasant, hesitant face. "Did you pick up candy for the children?"
"Yes, ma'am." she replied quietly. "Justin, are you going trick-or-treating?"
He shook his head. "Haven't done it in a couple years, I was just going to hand out candy at home."
Rosie chuckled. "Sounds like a wild time planned for mischief night. Some night of tricks this is."
"What?" Justin leaned forward, green eyes open wide. "Night of tricks?"
Rosie nodded, eyebrows furrowed in confusion. "Yeah, Halloween. Why?"
Justin hadn't told anyone about the message. He had just dismissed it as a recurring dream. "What would you call a steel cabin?"
"What are you talking about, Pent?" Rosie asked, half expecting a punchline. "Like a train?" Justin's eyes got huge.
"That would be eight o'clock." Lily spoke. "Like a grandfather clock."
"What is all this about, Pent?" Rosie leaned forward, supporting her gaunt grizzled frame on her elbows. 'Some kind of riddle?"
"Yeah... Something like that." Serpent took a deep breath, and let it out into a sigh. "Or a test..."
Serpent took a deep breath and slowly let it out. He was sitting on the train, with a ticket gripped in his hand. His long knife was pushing against his back, making him uncomfortable but secure. A group of giggling grammar school kids in costumes bumped past him and continued on unaware. A tall bulky man in a black suit yawned and leaned against the chair across the aisle from him.
Serpent looked around again, almost expecting to see a sign or someone waving. What he saw was a girl, a little older than himself, staring at him through dark sunglasses. She smiled, which was an unusual thing for him to see someone doing at him.
She rose and walked toward him. She stopped at his seat and looked at the seat across from him, facing him. He motioned and she sat. Her calm, graceful motions reminded him of a cat, and so did her sparkling green eyes when she pulled off her glasses.
"Serpent." She purred. He nodded, and leaned forward. "I'm Kat." He smiled, thinking of the comparison.
"What is all this about?" He asked, and casually placed his hand on the knife. In the time it took him to gasp, she had whipped out a silver device, pointed it at his face and shot it. He froze and a shiver ran up his spine and his eyes went numb. Something silvery and sharp flashed around his eyes and whipped towards the device. A pair of gray steel worms quivered against the device. Serpent jumped back against the seat and pointed the knife at Kat.
"What the hell was that?" He breathed heavily, his knife not wavering from her face. "What did you do to me?"
She sighed and held a worm between her thumb and forefinger. Squeezing gently she snapped it in half, dropping it to the floor.
"It's a bug, you can keep the other one as a souvenir." She laughed and gave him the other one. "Now go with me."
A scream erupted from the car behind Serpent and he rose and spun, gripping the knife firmly. Kat pinched his arm nerve and he dropped it, but the tall bulky man in a suit caught it and spun it to hold by the tip.
He whipped it past the stunned face of Serpent into a man in a blood-red suit with a large handgun. The man pulled it out and was shot in the head by Kat's Beretta. Two more identically dressed men ran out of the same door and were shot down. Serpent looked at the large handgun, wishing he could have it and it blinked into his hand. He did a double take and then quickly shot randomly at the door, the pistol barking in his thin hands.
A strong hand grabbed his jacket and he heard glass shattering. The tall man threw him out the window of the train into the lake below. As he fell, he saw two more shapes fall behind him, both firing rapidly until the train erupted in a fiery blast.
Serpent rolled onto his stomach and coughed, spitting up what felt like half the river. He got on his hands and knees, still retching, his dark hair dripping in front of him. A strong hand rubbed his back and he started breathing easier. "Just breathe," a deep calm voice rumbled in his head.
He rolled slowly onto his back again, and sat up and saw both his saviors, sitting in front of him, armed to the teeth. The man introduced himself as Attis. Kat smiled at him and unzipped a bag in front of her. She pulled out a black mean-looking shotgun with a drum clipped onto the feed. then she gave him a vest with a pistol and clips for both weapons. He pulled it on, wishing it was a little warmer out, and shivered in the cold. Then she gave him a long black coat which insulated him against the cold wind. They motioned and he got up and ran with them, a thousand questions buzzing through his head.
A siren started up behind them, startling the group. Kat spun, firing two automatic pistols at the noise and lights. Attis shoved Serpent hard, pushing him into an alley under cover. Gunfire echoed down the street until it stopped, and the only sound was the siren, until Kat shot it.
"Come on." Attis motioned. Serpent stopped and drew his knife, which had been rescued by Attis prior to exiting the train. He pulled up his pant leg and sawed at the tracker until it fell. Then he threw it into the cop car and put it in drive. He then took a dead cop and lay it on the pedal, watching his location drive away erratically until it struck a building and collapsed upon itself.
"Good move kid," Attis said, and they started running again. They all ran to a lonely phone booth beside a library. Attis stepped up first, and shimmered for a moment, then dissappeared. Kat took out a syringe and jabbed it into his arm. Everything blinked green for a moment, then blacked out for a second. Then it was white, then back to green again. Then all the shapes came flying at him and everything stopped went black.
patients is a virtue
Serpent woke up, his back braced against a hards surface running the entire length of his body. His chest, legs, and arms were dotted in long needles. His mind exploded with panic, but his limbs refused to move. He gave up trying to ask questions, as his mouth had failed him as well. Serpent resigned his fate to the white light, and rested.