August 9th, 7:42pm
The camera flicks on to reveal the decrepit, dilapidating, derelict house at the curve of the road. The late summer night is creeping into the clear sky, but the place is utterly shadowed beneath the canopy of trees. Heavy breathing comes from the cameraman as he presses through the ditch and up the slope into the side yard, skirting the DO NOT ENTER sign held up by a length of wire crossing the driveway. He doesn’t sound confident when he remarks, “If anyone finds this if I get hurt here or drop the camera cause I have to run, remember that whatever found here was uncovered by Jeremiah Reed. Also, please return the camera if found.”
Days and nights had blurred into an oblivion of torrential, twisting skies of overcast and eternal twilight for Lyle. As he climbed into his car, he was almost shocked to note that it was just a bit past dawn now. If there were ever an appropriate time to handle this, it would be now. The early morning is the point in time that he had mentally swept Clovis Jung and the Wells Astrological Society after Aaron had called that morning. To face it all down now, to end this slow burn of torture and the further harassment that man was responsible for on the radio waves was perfect in Lyle’s mind.
He started on his way through town, taking it slow to put together a plan in his head. However, the more he looked to the immediate future, the further out he wanted to look. Though he wasn’t about to leave this mess for someone else, every part of Lyle screamed for taking his final drive through his home and then far away. After cracking open this last project, he had forgotten about what he had started it all for, not just obligation to his mentor or family friends, but to get out of the sleepy little town, he had always called home. And though parts of him ache to turn and head west as he came to the intersection onto the interstate, Lyle knew he couldn’t up and leave yet.
No longer forcing himself to move slowly, Lyle cruised onto the back roads and dialed the Wells Astrological Society hotline. He tuned the radio in as well, knowing if he didn’t get through, it would be better to get an idea of what Clovis was about that morning. A busy signal came across the line, but the station wasn’t in the midst of a call. Jung was interviewing someone, and for once, it sounded as though they were in person with him. In a very bassy voice, an older gentleman was going into detail about his book, “And though the pilots struggled against the great Lord, Aztarov would succeed in drawing the entire vessel, and all occupance into his domain. None should have doubted it nor feared it so greatly, as it is in his plan to one day unite us all. The Saints of Oberon have plotted a course for this world. The servants of Aztarov have helped in every way to usher humanity into an age that shall soon be ready for enlightenment. Because of the nature of this, I have worked with my publisher to make this new title, The Saints of Oberon, nearly free of purchase. They, of course, are free for certified members of the church, but there are costs to printing such large volumes of this completed work.”
“That’s all very good, mister Challgren. It’s always good to have more people preaching the truth in this world. Some folks out there, maybe even some of our listeners, don’t have such a clear view of the world and perhaps should pick up a copy of your book. Maybe then, the haze can be lifted from their eyes, and they can see the truth right before them. Now we’re gonna open up the lines for some of our callers. Remember folks, we’ve got best selling author Davis Challgren on today, and if I was you, I’d take this once in a lifetime opportunity to direct any question you might have at the man who has seen the castle of crystal in the depths of night,” Clovis remarked with a lack of his usually smarmy wit.
No sooner than Lyle dialed, the phone the other end was picked up and answered with some muffled voice he couldn’t rightly understand. A second later, he could hear some feedback coming through the radio, and Clovis called out through both the phone and speakers, “Yes, son, you gonna have to turn down the radio first.”
“I ain’t your son, and I don’t know half of what you think you are or what you’re doing, but I’m done with it,” Lyle growled, back after flicking the volume down.
Clovis huffed, humored by this, “So you gonna run away now? Run off to California like you planned before gettin’ my first little treasure trove? I thought the photographs would’ve scared you off, usually works, but then we get those who are more persistent.”
“And those end like the man you killed just the other week. Or did you have one of your underlings do it, like with the box of photos?” he returned in question, not quite sure if he’d get the answers before he reached the address.
Challgren intervened now, “Young mister Palmer, you have hardly scratched the surface of what is going on, and I’d pray you hold your tongue now. In time it will make more sense. With more insight, you will come to understand. Have you even yet cracked the spine of my book? It was sent out the same day as those photos my friend delivered to you. We had high hopes you would have read it before deigning to meet in person.”
Lyle let the call go silent then, unsure exactly what response would be correct or if even they expected him to have a rebuttal. Just like work and personal relationships, the mail had been another item to slip out of his frame of focus. He knew he hadn’t checked it since the beginning of the whole affair, and now on top of the rest, Lyle wasn’t sure if he had outstanding bills to pay now. With some effort, Lyle diverted his attention back to the road and the phone call. With a tone devoid of anger, in an attempt to suppress fear, Lyle retaliated, “I’m not going to read your cultist manuscript whether you guess right or wrong about me. You, both of you probably, have a lot to answer for. I’ve got a copy of those tapes, every little bit that could be incriminating, cut together and delivered to the local authorities.”
“And it won’t be what it was when it arrives, my boy,” Clovis interrupted, “Even if it were, if Aztarov does not bother to intervene, there are those in the department who are devotees to the Saints of Oberon, and even if it should fail to fall into their hands you have perpetuated the cycle. We can’t spread without you or the radio or any of those tapes. You see, we know you ruined the rest, burnt it in a pit before leaving to find us. What you’ve done, as much as we could call it a cardinal sin against Oberon and Lord Aztarov, is, in fact, a great boon. No longer will we have to saturate someone with several tapes, but a single piece of film.”
“I think that kind of brainwashing works better when its a surprise, don’t you, Jung? You just laid your hands out for anyone listening to this broadcast, now what?” Lyle remarked coolly, not aware of his mistake but glad to find his foe had made a graver one.
Clovis chuckled, and Davis as well as he answered for the host, “We’ve been off the air since a few moments before your call. We could have remained on, but it’s easier for our Lord not to sully his time intervening in mortal affairs. You haven’t the slightest idea just what you’ve stuck your foot in, and now, unfortunately for I’m sure it will weigh on your mind until the last, you have doomed others to this fate you so arrogantly battle off. Do not worry, however, mister Palmer, others will see the light where you saw shadows, and they will come willingly, martyrs and sacrifices to Oberon. We will see you soon.”
The line went dead, and Lyle tossed the phone on his passenger seat. He didn’t need it now, nor the radio which he checked and found that the Astrological Society’s broadcast had been replaced by polka. Dialing down that racket, Lyle began to slow his speed, finally coming up to where he had tracked the address to. The blue marker, faded yet still somewhat reflective, caught his eye, and he cruised down to a lower speed to take a pass at the house first.
As he crept by, Lyle had to search for anything aside from trees in the blooming spring plants. A darker form loomed in the shadows cast by the tall trees and dense willows that filled the property. After another minute, he started making out straight lines that nature would not be any party to. There was a distinct outline of a home and perhaps some other buildings like a shed or garage not connected to the house directly. Moving from a coast to full speed, Lyle got past the house before another vehicle came up not far behind. He carried on for a mile before turning around on a looping road that would deposit him on the same route he had taken away from work so many times before.
This time, as he approached the house, Lyle could make out a rough gravel driveway that looked like more lawn than dirt. As subtle as he could, Lyle swept in on the path, hoping the neighbor, some yards down the road, didn’t notice as he mowed his lawn. There was no desire in Lyle to drag anyone else into this mess. He had jeopardized enough with his cutting of the film and sending it off to the police if Davis could be believed. The Harrises were also at stake, and even one more added to that list hit Lyle’s stomach with a painful needle of guilt.
The car rolled to a stop, the automatic lights flared as they entered the shadowy void surrounding the home. Lyle held still after putting it in park and let the anxiety of the moment wash over him and drizzle freely from his mind. He half expected to see that terror sight of a hollow man flopping about as a two-dimensional character in three-dimensional space. After a moment or two of waiting, finding whatever might lurk nowhere to be found, he tried the radio. Instead of polka or Clovis Jung, this time, the radio was filled with heavy static that flowed up and down in an almost lyrical rhythm. Somewhere in that mess, a broadcast was going, but the words were so indecipherable that it was a mockery of sound, if anything at all.
Unsettled a bit more so to know that there was no radio reception beneath these trees, Lyle checked his phone only to deepen that pit of despair. He could have guessed but was not relieved to find that his phone was without signal of any kind. Huffing, his breath suddenly a freezing clotted cloud moving in his lungs, Lyle was about ready to accept the next step. He knew there was going to be something waiting, and if it were Clovis and Davis, he might have just been okay with whatever dastardly plan they had in store for him. Even if his guts were lying on the porch in five minutes, it was far better than coming directly before a faceless child, a flat man, or those people whose backs were opened like unzippered luggage.
Shakily, he opened the door and set one foot down on the partially graveled path. With the air of this place invading his otherwise sealed vehicle, Lyle could detect a wretched scent that could be best placed as a mix of molding fruit and scorched hair. There was a wrongness to it all, an atmosphere now pervaded Lyle’s whole world in the same way a funeral home or church cascades an ambiance unlike any other when visiting there alone. It was overwhelming. As he stood, Lyle felt a head rush come over him. Standing beside the car now, he could see more, feel more of this isolated piece of earth.
The shacks all around the home were falling in on themselves and were at a point of dereliction that they were beyond access. Across the lawn was scattered a plethora of litter that had clearly been blown in from the road. Not far from a rounded-off patch that remained mostly gravel, a copperish, furry form lay. Lyle didn’t need to proceed. Further, he could see flies busy around the corpse and knew the pelt well enough to acknowledge it was a red fox. Turning his attention to the house, Lyle’s skin crawled at the sight of motion in the uppermost floor. The attic window was dark, but something inside had seen him, seen that Lyle had seen it, and fled. There was the faint consoling virtue that no matter where these two were in the house, the basement was off-limits. The thaw had pushed the nearby lake further up the shore and the backlot, from where Lyle stood, looked like the water was about to overtake all but the front porch.
Lyle was about to proceed further when a splashing sound activated his every sense of self-preservation; however, when it came again, he relaxed somewhat. Not far from a basement window, a fish had jumped and fallen again. It was as this fish breached and fell that Lyle realized just how quiet the property was. His engine had stopped ticking a few moments prior, the cars on the road made no noise if any passed, even the neighbor’s riding mower couldn’t be detected. All that could be heard beneath the copse were the fish, the flies, Lyle’s pulse, and a quiet clattering within the house.
Finally, as it all set in on him, the oppressive atmosphere, the uncanny qualities of the space, and the tremendously unwelcoming aura hanging all around, Lyle reconsidered his next action. He gripped the car door and was about to leave when the entrance to the house flung wide. There was no hesitation now. Lyle threw himself in the seat and had the engine going before his door was closed. The car was thrown in reverse, and his foot on the pedal; Lyle didn’t bother with his belt now.
He glanced up a second as his trunk was beginning to touch sunlight, expecting any sort of monstrosity from the tapes. No faceless family was chasing after like some zombified masses in a horror movie. That slippery and twisting form of flat man was not whisking its way towards the car, nor were the unzip bodies from the basement. For all of a second, what he faced was beyond anything Lyle had thought to see or ever knew. It was like a blot of ink thrown onto a completed canvas, disrupting a picturesque landscape, a tumor in an otherwise healthy organ, a void of space in all matter that had neither end nor beginning. It did not end in flat edges or angles or even natural curves. Every end of it was simultaneously absorbed into the ether without a clear break while going on forever in every direction in the same way a monument is a whole image from afar but is dull slabs of material up close.
It shot forward but almost seemed like it had always been right at the front bumper, ready to crush the car like a monster truck during a stadium show. Lyle jerked the wheel, and daylight poured over him, a slight relief if only it stopped the progression of this anomalous thing. He felt the back tires come free and shrieked in terror, wondering if this thing had caught him and was dragging him back onto the property. Instead, he felt the rest of the car topple and saw the weeds and wet soil of the ditch racing up to kiss the hood of the vehicle.
Everything went black for a moment upon impact, and then there was faint light through the passenger side back window. Lyle was groggy, fading in and out of awareness, but caught a sight he hadn’t known could ever be so calming. The neighbor stood on the lip of the ditch, phone in hand with a panic-stricken face. Somehow, this relief was enough for Lyle, even if it didn’t mean he was safe or would be pulled out of the wreck to get medical help. He was calm and numbed, knowing he was not alone in seeing this sight. Lyle closed his eyes, slowly, gradually accepting what had happened and ready for whatever would come. He hadn’t expected it, and it may have been the last thing he would have desired. The radio burbled and spat with static before Clovis Jung’s voice came over the speakers, “And the Saints of Oberon will look down on this young man, a martyr for a cause that does not have cause in this world any longer, and they shall shun him for his ignorance.”