Spring Ceramic DM™: WINNER POSTED! - Page 46
  1. #451
    This gets so much more relaxing when you are done getting your tush stomped by geeks named after Shakespeare characters.

  2. #452
    Quote Originally Posted by RangerWickett
    I look forward to finding out too. I wonder how soon they'll be done.

    Yep. I can just kick back and relax for three days, and come Saturday night, I get to read some fun stories.

    Hey, Piratecat, do you think you'd accept a college class term paper, if I could somehow work in the images? Oh, wait, the paper needs to be 10-15 pages. Foiled again!
    You're just trying to put me off guard by dangling the hope that you are as bewildered as I am.


  3. #453
    Overlord of Chat

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    woot finally caught up

  4. #454
    Writing Fantasy Gumshoe!
    A 1e title so awesome it's not in the book (Lvl 21)

    Piratecat's Avatar

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    A little more than five hours to go!

  5. #455
    Aaarggghhh...as if I needed any more stress. 5 hours. This one's gonna be close.

  6. #456
    Writing Fantasy Gumshoe!
    A 1e title so awesome it's not in the book (Lvl 21)

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    You'll be fine. We judges have faith.

  7. #457
    Clockwork Golem COPPER SUBSCRIBER
    Acolyte (Lvl 2)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Piratecat
    You'll be fine. We judges have faith.
    Indeed we do.

    Of course, it's the kind of faith that involves funky black robes and burning a candle to great Cthulhu, but that's part of the reason we become judges

    For those keeping track - the new home is occupied, and net access secured. The only thing interupting my judgements for the next couple of days will be the pile of marking

  8. #458
    Quote Originally Posted by alsih2o
    This gets so much more relaxing when you are done getting your tush stomped by geeks named after Shakespeare characters.
    Glad I could help.

  9. #459
    Gallant (Lvl 3)

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    I Defended The Walls!

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    mythago vs. drose25

    Like Clockwork

    I write this with a trembling hand, I’m sick and weak from whatever drugs he gave me, I can’t stop shaking and I have to. I have to be able to hold the gun straight. I have to go down and kill Cray and that creature he has locked in the basement. I used to laugh at all those stupid horror stories where the guy writes about some horrible thing but now I’m living in it and I know why they did. Please God don’t let this be the last thing I ever write.

    Cray hated these idiotic, pretentious parties, but they were excellent hunting grounds. He made flirtatious comments to the half-attractive girls who circled him like satellites beaming their NOTICE ME messages to an indifferent Earth, made brief acknowledgements to the other alpha males, their conversation shallow as a pie plate, gave a patronizing grin to girl he’d once slept with, sending her scuttling away as if he’d kicked over a rock and crisped her with daylight. It took him several minutes of playing friend to complete his circuit of the big living room, and then he found Danika.

    He didn’t know her name yet, but it hardly mattered. There might as well have been a factory for girls like her; the names only mattered when you had to address them directly.

    Cray took in the expected: thrift-shop batik print skirt, cheap Jane Iris knockoff jewelry, and a shirt that was a size too tight in the hopes of drawing attention to her generous cleavage. She was a little too heavy to be on the A-list of eligible females at this party, and from her sour face she knew it.

    “What fools these mortals be, to leave such a beautiful gem to sparkle alone,” he said. The girl snapped her head around, sure she was being mocked, then blinked in astonishment when she saw him. Cray knew that he was good-looking and took pains to keep himself that way; his Oxford accent did the rest of the work on American girls. He knew that the escapement behind his ribcage was ticking evenly, but at times like this it was hard not to imagine it speeding up. The hunt had started.

    “I’m sorry, that was rude of me; I was surprised to see such a lovely girl as you without a circle of admirers. I’m Cray.”

    “Danika Szebowski,” she said. She was giving him the same look they all did, surprise and a little suspicion. And hope. He didn’t think it would take long to make this one pliable, fortunately, because he had to get to Oregon in six days and he didn’t have the usual time to condition her. From the adoring-puppy look she was giving him, he didn’t think it would take that long.

    This is unbelievable!!! I thought I wouldn’t even get to make out with anyone at Meiri’s party last Friday and I ended up meeting Cray. He is a true gentleman, he got me home OK when I had too many G&Ts. My roommate Kathy is utterly jealous cuz he is drop dead gorgeous. We had Brunch on Sunday morning, he has this big converted factory loft in SoMa where he does industrial art and design projects. Oh, yeah, he is a Goddess worshipper too! I am skipping class next Friday to spend a long weekend over there with him. He says he would really enjoy my company. (PS he is HOT!!!) “What are you painting?” she asked.

    “A landscape,” Cray said. “Lots of trees, sort of a forest theme.” “Not my usual style, but—“

    “No, I mean the color,” she interrupted. “You’re painting the color out. Why did you go to all the trouble to paint it colors and then cover it up?”

    Cray paused. He lay the brush on the edge of the bucket of white paint and pulled off his tank top, using it as a rag to wipe the paint drops from his hands. . He sauntered over where Danika was perched, on the black foam cube that served as a kind of beanbag. He heard her catch her breath and repressed a smirk; he’d known perfectly well what her reaction would be to seeing him like this, bare-chested and sweating from his efforts. She’d slept over every night this week, and he hadn’t touched her. It amused him to see her trying to figure out when he would stop being such a gentleman. Well, she’d find that out soon enough.

    “Sympathetic magic,” he said.

    Her eyes widened. “Really?”

    “Indeed. Don’t you ladies in the, I’m sorry, what was it? Moonsdance Coven? ever do any magic?”

    “Well…yeah,” she said uncertainly. “But it doesn’t work. At least, I don’t think it does—“

    “It works when I do it.” He stretched and yawned delicately. “I think it’s ready. I have to load the panels up for a trip to Oregon tomorrow, and I don’t want them to smear. I’d ask you to come along and help, but no offense intended, I’m afraid you might not be up to the long ride.”

    “I can handle it. Geez, sometimes you act like I’m such a, a kid! I’m going to be nineteen next month.”

    No, I’m afraid you’re not, Cray thought. To her he said “All right, we’d better get to sleep early so that we’re well-rested. Why don’t I sleep on the couch?”


    She was, after all, worn out from the teeth-rattling ride up in his old work truck, but too proud to say anything. Cray was amused; he guessed she’d been expecting to ride up in comfort, in his M3 convertible—as if his equipment would have fit, anyway. She helped him haul the panels out and prop them up against the trees. Cray took off his shatoosh sweater, folded it neatly and left it in the truck cab; he certainly didn’t want to drip paint on it. The clearing—really just a wide place in an old logging road that circled a high ridged hill-- was getting chilly now that the sun had gone down past the tree line. He walked along the line of panels, tilting his head slightly, until the gears were running smoothly and he knew the exact spot to begin.

    “Get the bucket, please, and the long-handled paint roller. Oh, and the roller tray,” he said. Danika obeyed. When she had lugged the five-gallon plastic bucket over, he pried up the lid. It was full of paint the color of a nosebleed.

    “Now what?” she asked.

    “Magic time,” he said, and dipped the roller into the bucket. “Sit back and watch.”

    She did, mystified, as Cray rolled red paint across the top of the landscape where the white paint had so recently dried. He used the roller deftly, using the edge to make feathery swipes in places, rolling long tongues of red in others. By the time he finished, the sun’s light was almost entirely gone. Danika huddled into her UCLA hoodie. Cray guessed she’d never been anywhere this dark in her entire life. Cities always had light bleeding up into the sky, as was proper, but in this hellhole of growing things there was nothing. Even the moon had shriveled up into a dim hangnail.

    Cray sat down next to her on the tailgate of the truck. He pointed somewhere off into the blackness as if he could see through it easily. “Do you know where we are, Danika?

    “Oregon somewhere,” she muttered.

    “Very good. We are, indeed, in Oregon somewhere. More specifically, we are in Clatskanie National Forest, a backwater even by national forestry standards. We are here for two reasons. The first—do you know how mushrooms grow?”

    “The, um, the mushrooms are kinda like flowers. There’s a big fungus under the ground and it pushes up mushrooms, in a circle. That’s where fairy rings come from.”

    “Precisely. Well, you see, mushrooms are not the only things that grow out of the ground like that. You may remember hearing about a giant underground mushroom that spread over hundreds of miles? This is a bit like that, only it’s trees, not mushrooms. The creature pushes up trees.” His lip curled in disgust.

    Danika stared at him. “What’s wrong with trees? The Goddess loves—“

    “No. Your Goddess. Your half-baked substitute for a mother figure. My Goddess despises trees.” He jumped lightly off the tailgate of the truck. “There are more things in heaven and earth, naďve little Danika, than are dreamed of in your philosophy. My Goddess is not the soft monkey of your needy infantile fantasies. My Goddess, or as I prefer to call Her, my patron, is the wire-monkey mother of your nightmares. She is steel and glass and hard ceramic. She takes out our worthless jelly and replaces it with springs and gears, cunning wires and delicate levers, and SHE—HATES—TREES!”

    Cray suddenly realized that his face was an inch away from Danika, he was standing over her spraying spittle as she cringed against dirt and crushed dead bugs in the truck bed. Disgusted at his own lack of control, he yanked his undershirt over his head and threw it at her. She whimpered and clutched it like a toddler clinging to a security blanket. Cray ignored her; the sun was down and he had to get the fire started.

    He undid the clasp that pinned his hair up neatly and dropped it into the dirt. The yellow flares, clipped to long chains, were packed neatly under the passenger seat where he had left them. He unwound them, lit the ends, stepped away from the truck and its potentially dangerous gas tank, and began his dance.

    Cray swung his arms as he capered, the bright ends of the flares drawing precise elliptical patterns on the cool chalkboard of the lightless clearing. He dance to the tick below his heart and the tock in the front of his skull, leaping and shuffling in the patterns that scrolled past his vision in letters of molten iron. She was pleased. He could feel the oily steam of Her breath on his neck. His chant was the repetitive stroke of a press rising and slamming down, his hymns in praise of Her the clattering of an electric loom. He danced until his muscles, all too much flesh, gave out and he dropped to his knees in reverence of Her gleaming power.

    Far away there was an explosion that shook the ground. Lashes of angry red fire painted the sky.

    Cray let go of the chains and left the spent flares where they lay. Danika screamed in terror as the sound of the forest fire roared over her. He staggered to the truck. Danika shrank away from him, still screaming. He grabbed her collar and slapped her across the mouth; she fell silent, probably in shock. He wasn’t worried that anyone would hear her, but he was too exhausted to put up with more of her nonsense just at the moment.

    “Get. In,” he hissed. She squeaked and scrambled into the truck’s cab. He swung into the driver’s seat in one smooth motion and had the old Dodge bouncing back down the logging road before she’d gotten herself buckled in.

    “Do you know what day it is?” Cray asked cheerfully. “Or what was happening in the forest? Before we got there, that is.”

    Danika shook her head no.

    “Earth Day!” he shouted. “Haven’t been reading up on the news, have you? Well, it is Earth Day, and it seems a group of environmentalists started a protest to protect some of the Clatskanie National Forest’s oldest trees. Building platforms, sleeping high up, all of them trying to be the next Julia Butterfly Hill. Did I forget to mention that She demands blood sacrifice?”

    He whooped with laughter as Danika frantically rolled down her window and vomited out of the truck. He wondered if she’d finally figured out why he put up with her.


    I’m scared now. Really really scared. I watched the forest burn and light up the whole sky like blood. No, worse, because it wasn’t just the trees burning, not the regular trees. Some of the trees he told me about, the ones growing out of the ground, the fairy ring trees. He slowed the truck down to watch some of them. There was this one little tree, almost like a baby, by itself and the fire was behind it catching up to it, but it couldn’t move cuz it was a tree, and Cray just pointed at it like he thought it was the funniest thing evar. I swear it MOVED, it was like the branches were reaching up to the sky, like it was trying to pull itself out of the ground. It looked like it was screaming. Cray is acting all normal like nothing ever happened but I know he’s crazy. What do I do now, nobody will believe me?!?!

    Cray thought after the great sacrifice of the underground plant that She would be sated, but She grew hungry rather more quickly than he expected. Or perhaps it was just that he found Danika more tiresome than ever, and it was he who was growing impatient. Either way, he doubted She would mind if he started his new plan a bit early.

    He brought Danika’s favorite soft drink--Pocari Sweat--home from shopping early one morning and made sure to drug it well before giving it to her with a friendly smile. When she was sound asleep, Cray stuffed her into the trunk of the BMW. As an afterthought, he threw in her cheap leather backpack, the one where she carried her notebooks and the journal she thought he’d never noticed her scribbling in; it would give her something to do, and perhaps she’d have written something amusing in it by the time he killed her.

    They drove up the coast, to his other workshop, the one high up in the mountains. He thought that the Experiment was probably still alive, and if so, it would definitely be a bit hungry by now.

    Cray was acting really sweet and normal for days, I was starting to think maybe I imagined the whole thing with the forest fire. He didn’t say anything and I didn’t ask. And then I started having nightmares about him. Like one where we were having sex (I feel so embarrassed writing this!) and I looked down and he was dripping motor oil, and then one where his head was a giant clock with his face on the front and he put it on the table next to me to watch me while I was sleeping. I think maybe that one was true because he does watch me all the time, even when he thinks I don’t notice. I went downstairs one morning while he was in the shower and there were drops of white paint on the floor. So I know it was real. I snuck into his room to get my backpack and his alarm clock went off, and I thought for a minute it had his face just like in my dream, and then I screamed and he came running out in a towel. So stupid!!! I could have gotten out. Maybe he really was watching me from the clock the whole time. OMG, now I’m going crazy too.

    Cray slid the black covering away from the closet where the Experiment lived. As soon as it saw him it started howling and climbing its narrow cage, climbing the walls that were just a bit too cramped for it. When it started pounding on the Plexiglas front wall of its cage, Danika finally stirred. Cray wished she’d had the decency to do it earlier, before he’d had to haul her down the stairs. At least she’d lost a bit of that extra weight while she’d been with him.

    He braced himself for her to start screaming like a ninny again, but fortunately she just stared. Cray thought she might be reaching that point they did sometimes, where they just went away inside, having finally given up. That was when he knew it was time to hand them over to Her.

    “Who are those guys?”

    “What, not who,” he corrected. “They were a gay couple I picked up down in San Francisco. Now they’re an experiment, not an entirely successful one, I’m afraid. I was attempting to create a sort of fused being, an android that I could use as a guard dog. Have you ever read the Paratwa books? No? Pity; let’s just say that at times, two heads can be better than one. Come upstairs before it hurts itself.”

    “Did you make a blood sacrifice too?” Danika asked. “To keep it alive.”

    “Not yet.”

    She really did panic then, annoyingly, apparently not having gone quite all the way into herself. Cray had to actually break a sweat to subdue her, and she got in a kick that would have buckled him if he’d been purely flesh. She bolted up the stairs, and he had to chase her all the way into the first-floor study. She crawled into the space under his desk and bit him when he tried to haul her out. He considered getting the Sig Sauer out of his desk drawer and shooting her somewhere nonvital, but decided it wasn’t worth the effort; the Experiment was howling loud enough that he could hear it all the way upstairs.

    “Why don’t you sit under there for a while, and write some pithy last words in that stupid diary of yours,” he said. “Don’t bother trying to get out; the doors are electronically locked, and if you look out these lovely French windows, you’ll see that we’re quite high up on a rocky cliff. Nowhere to go, you stupid bint. I’m going to get the Experiment some water, and then you’re going to pay me back for all those nights I wasted listening to your stupid prattle.” He stalked out and slammed the door behind him, cursing himself for his irregular behavior, his inability to keep his temper. Now, he reminded himself, was not the time to blow a gasket.

    He’s down there somewhere with that poor thing he sewed together out of a couple of guys who were here before me. I think it’s taking him a while because he keeps stomping around and cursing. I was going to write a goodbye here in case my sister or somebody ever found my journal and then my pen was dried up, and I looked in his desk drawer for another one and I found a gun. I figured out how to check it and it was loaded and everything. I don’t know why he left it here, maybe he forgot or something? but I have a gun now. I’ve never shot a gun before. It’s really heavy.

    I write this with a trembling hand….

  10. #460

    drose25 v. Mythago

    Simon hummed a few bars of nonsense softly under his breath as he leaned up against one of the many glass cases in the room that ensconced a veritable treasure trove of fine jewelry. He'd been in this establishment entirely too many times recently, the clasp on the Bulgari watch his father had given him one Christmas refusing to stay shut. Simon was beginning to wonder if it was the watch or the jeweler, as many times as the portly man who ran this place had worked on it.

    He was picking it up again today and he'd made it clear earlier on the telephone that this would be his last visit. Simon just hoped they had taken it to heart and fixed it properly for a change. An innocuous winkle came from the door behind him and Simon turned his head to inspect the new arrival. He couldn't help but notice the curious shimmering around some of the jewel cases as he did. Magic of some sort. Probably there to make the merchant's wares look all that more appealing. He couldn't help but grin to himself. Even in the best of places people resorted to the same old tricks.

    The newcomer caught Simon's gaze and nodded politely. Simon nodded very politely back. The man coming through the doorway was so hulkingly massive as to seem unreal. Simon took an unconscious step back. He was pretty fit himself, he liked to think, but this gentleman had arms the size of Simon's legs. Something else was unusual about the man...or rather something he carried. Simon tried to narrow the sensation down but couldn't. There was only a strong aura of magic radiating from a tiny box in his hand.

    A well-heeled saleswoman intercepted the man before Simon could open his mouth to speak. He was curious about whatever it was the gentleman carried.

    "Good afternoon," the woman said lithely. "Is there something I can help you with today?"

    Simon tried not to laugh as she batted her eyelids at the hulk before her. He hadn't expected to find such a caricature anywhere in the real world.

    "Yes, thank you," the other man replied as he extended the box and opened it. "I need to see about getting this fixed. It seems to have lost a stone."

    The saleswoman cooed as she pulled out a silver-colored bracelet of some sort encrusted with bluish stones. "This is very pretty," she went on as she peered into the box. "Do you still have the stone or do you need it replaced?"

    "I'm afraid it's lost," the man replied.

    "Well, you'll need to speak with the jeweler then...let him look at the others and see if he thinks he can find a replacement that will blend. If I might ask you to wait a moment I'll fetch him from the back..."

    The saleswoman looked to the man for approval before disappearing into the back of the store. Simon walked over to the stranger, his curiosity making him uncharacteristically bold.

    "I couldn't help but notice," he began speaking to the other man, "what a fine piece of jewelry you have there. Do you mind if I look at it? My mother might enjoy something like that for her birthday..."

    The stranger more grunted his approval than spoke it as he moved the box toward Simon. A moment's worth of concentration brought a familiar shimmer to the bracelet as he reached to pick it up. It was definitely unusual, he thought to himself. He had never seen such an aura coming from a mundane object such as that. Simon had to stifle a gasp as his fingers grasped the cold metal. Without even concentrating foreign images came flashing into his mind.

    He saw the bracelet on a hand, a creamy pale feminine hand as it trickled its way down a man's cheek. He could feel a day's worth of bearded growth tickle the skin. It wasn't the same man that was before him now, however, though this man was certainly fit as well. Simon couldn't really make out a face, or even much of a form, but he could feel the way the man's vitality seemed to pump in the air. The hand fell to the neck of a silken shirt and toyed with an obstinate button there. Simon could sense a hunger welling up within the bracelet's wearer, a cold passion she was straining hard to reign in. The bracelet touched the man's chest and Simon gasped slightly, dropping the bracelet back into the box.

    The newcomer’s eyebrows raised slightly and then dropped almost as quickly.

    "My," Simon stammered out, "that's quite a specimen." A terror had trembled rapidly through him as the bracelet touched the man in the vision. Or rather the terror had been trembling through the man in the images. It was a sentient terror, ripe with anticipation and fear, longing and loathing all at once. Whatever he had feared he knew it was coming. Simon didn't want to see any more. Not here in front of strangers. Magical or mundane, Simon had been able to sense impressions from items and his surroundings as long as he could remember. He wasn’t sure if it was a blessing or a curse.

    "Thanks," the newcomer grumbled.

    "Where'd you find a bracelet that like?" Simon asked.

    "It's my boss's," he replied disinterested. "She asked me to bring it down today."

    Simon looked up with renewed curiosity at the hulk before him. He would have never expected the man had a woman for a boss.

    "Really?” Simon was about to ask another question but the sales lady had returned with the jeweler.

    “Ah, how can I help you?” the portly jeweler inquired as he led the newcomer and the bracelet aside.

    Simon’s curiosity remained piqued and he glanced subtly in the direction of the jeweler and the stranger as he examined the repaired watch the sales lady finally brought from the back. They had yet to finish their business by the time Simon had paid for the latest repair and departed.

    A quick cab ride had taken him home to the estate with its view overlooking the lake and the hills. Simon sat in an overstuffed leather chair, his feet propped up on the ottoman. A steaming cup of oolong tea rested delicately in its matching china saucer on the small end table next to him. The day was beginning to shift into night and he sat comfortably in the conservatory, watching the sunset consume the sky with a billowing blaze wafting up from the horizon. It illuminated an old and barren oak tree which had long lost its leaves, silhouetting an ebony skeleton against the incandescent sky. [Pic1] It had been, Simon was told, a hanging tree in the wilder days of the west. It still looked strong, despite weathering countless storms and infinite seasons.

    The floor creaked almost imperceptibly behind him. He had company. Simon’s hand went out slowly to the table by his side and retrieved the hot cup of tea.

    “May I help you?” he inquired as he finished a sip of the warm tea, his head still admiring the sunset before him instead of the intruder behind.

    There was a sudden scuffing noise. A footstep braking suddenly. Or was there more than one? Ah, he thought to himself, his visitor hadn’t expected to be noticed first. He’d caught him, or them, off guard.

    Arpad glanced at his partner, Viktor. Viktor was a rather skinny man with short, but curly red hair. Viktor didn’t look like much, but Arpad knew Viktor could kill a man with little more than a stare. Arpad had seen it. Not that Arpad himself was a limp noodle. No, Arpad was actually the bulkier of the two. Only he hadn’t been around as long. This game was still new to him.

    Viktor shot him a questioning gaze. Neither of them had expected this. The man in the chair had not moved, only blonde locks of hair were visible above the wrinkled leather. “Simon St. John,” the man said more than asked, though his tone clearly indicated he expected an answer.

    Simon set the cup down with hurried, but deliberate motion. The voice was strange and carried itself on a thick Bavarian accent. He stood and turned to face the new arrivals. Two men in brown jumpsuits were at the door to his conservatory. Two very strange men with something wild lingering in the recesses of their eyes.

    “As I said before,” Simon said precisely to mask his concern, “how may I help you?”

    Arpad grinned. “Told ya we’d find him here. Ivan got the address from the jeweler before he expired.”

    Viktor nodded. “Ivan rarely lead us wrong.”

    “You will come with us, to see Dr. Sasha,” Arpad continued, words marred by accent.

    “Dr. who?” Simon inquired as he looked at the pair somewhat bewildered. This was most unexpected and, truth be told, a little frightening. Something about the pasty skin on this pair was just not normal.

    “No, not Dr. Hu, Dr. Sasha,” Arpad repeated with frustration as he pulled out a silenced gun and trained it on Simon. Viktor reacted by pulling out his own pair of handcuffs and a blindfold.

    “We can do this the easy way, or the hard way,” Viktor smiled.

    Simon shivered. Something faintly wicked emanated from the pair. Viktor didn’t wait for an answer. Within moments he and Arpad had Simon on the floor and quickly restrained. Blinded and restrained. Moments later something damp and pungent covered his noise. Simon’s mind went black.

    A metallic ringing sound interrupted Simon’s blissful sleep and it was quickly followed with by a vise-like headache that gripped his mind and wrenched agony into it. He lifted a groggy eye and turned towards the sound. A mechanical alarm clock was vibrating and chattering noisily on the nightstand, a diligent hammer constantly striking two bells. Simon reached over and smacked it silent, gasping with huge breaths for air as another image entered his mind. [Pic 4]

    The face of man with wild eyes, almost like those of his kidnappers, stared out as he struggled to wrest his arms free. A woman approached with dark hair and pale skin that flowed like cream. She smiled and the man’s eyes widened further, his heart racing in his chest. Simon tried to drop the clock but his hands seemed frozen. The woman approached again. He could feel the man’s horror, twinged with longing, as she drew closer. And then it was over.

    The firm hand of a man standing over his bed had pulled the clock from his grasp. He wore a white jacket and looked rather like a doctor except for the curiously dreadlocked hair.

    “Good evening,” the man said, again with a thick Bavarian accent. “It is so good of you to wake. I am Jan. Come,” he said motioning for Simon to get up. “Follow me.”

    The man led Simon down sterile halls, passing the occasional nurse who, like Jan, had dreadlocked hair until they reached an enclosed yard. “Welcome to the Institute for the Very Very Nervous,” Jan said. The yard stretched into forever and was surrounded by a white stucco wall of biblical proportions. Jan continued to walk and Simon followed. Several straightjacketed people wandered about the yard in the setting sun.

    Jan motioned to a man painting a mural on one of the walls. [Pic 2] “What do you think? Peaceful, no? It soothes the patients, like a sort of visual happy hour before we pump them full of Xanax and pump out something else.” Jan grinned. “We’ve had fewer deaths since we began painting.”

    “Why am I here?” Simon asked, head still splitting. It was getting dark.

    Jan laughed. “People like you know too much,” he answered. “We can’t have you running around on the streets.”

    “What do you mean people like me?”

    Jan never answered. The hulking man from the jeweler’s had arrived and Jan clammed up. Simon couldn’t tell if it was out of respect or fear.

    “Sasha wants to see him,” he said.

    “Of course, of course Ivan,” Jan stammered a reply. “I’ll take him right away.”

    Jan took Simon’s arm and started to steer him back towards the main building as the last of the sun’s rays dipped below the horizon. They had almost reached the door when it was swung open by two shirtless men, again with dreadlocks in their hair. A tall, pale woman stepped out, raven hair flowing down one side of her neck and resting on her breast. She wore a very smart red dress and, Simon panicked, a very familiar silver bracelet on one hand. Several more shirtless attendants followed her.

    “Ah,” Jan stammered obsequiously, “Dr. Sasha, what a pleasure.”

    “Is this the one who sees? Your orders were to bring him to me as soon as he awoke,” Sasha replied coldly.

    Jan took a step back but the two nearest attendants grabbed his arms and kept him from moving further.

    “I’m sorry, I thought I should him his new home first and I didn’t want to disturb you before sunset,” Jan bumbled an apology.

    Sasha walked up to Jan and stepped in towards him. “You thought?”

    “Yes…I’m sorry.”

    She leaned in further and whispered something into Jan’s ear. His mouth dropped slightly but didn’t have time to fall far as Sasha’s mouth plunged onto his neck.

    Simon’s eyes bugged out of their sockets as Jan went weak in the knees. He bolted past the occupied attendants and through the door before the others realized what had happened. White hallways led this way and that and Simon ran as hard as he could ignoring the ghostly visions that seemed to float by. His legs pumped underneath him as his heart tore through his chest. Simon slowed to make an awkward corner turn and caught sight of the captors from his house.

    “HEY!” Arpad yelled. “What you think you do?!”

    Viktor didn’t waste any time yelling. He just took off after Simon.

    Where was he going? Simon ran down another hallway and made another sharp turn, following the blue line on the floor. God only knew where it went, but blue was his favorite color. He ignored the other lines on the floor as they darted about here and there.

    Blue, unfortunately betrayed him. Simon ran into a dead-end. The hallway ended with a picture window overlooking the yard. He turned to retrace his steps but Arpad and Viktor had turned the corner and now stared directly at him, grinning evilly. Simon looked up. Nothing. Simon looked down and relief washed over him. A hatch.

    He jumped down it and found himself in another hallway, his legs taking off underneath him without waiting.

    Viktor jumped down first and paused to see where Simon had headed. Arpad jumped down without looking. [Pic 3]

    “Get the hell off!” Viktor exclaimed as Arpad’s foot landed on his shoulder. “What do you think you’re doing?”

    “Sorry,” Arpad apologized, another foot hitting the wall in an effort to stabilize himself.

    Simon continued to run, ignoring the commotion behind him. The properly painted hallway soon turned into a concrete passage that led to a garage. Simon stumbled down a brief flight of stairs, his chest heaving as he looked about. Several cars lined one wall and Simon tried their doors as he stumbled through the room. All locked. He bolted through another door and his mind sighed with relief as the cool night air hit him.

    Simon took in long, deep breaths as he started to run across the grassy ground. He turned to look behind him and as he did, his toe caught something, sending him tumbling to the ground. Simon felt something cold strike his head as the stars above suddenly went dim.

    After managing to shove Arpad off, Viktor and him continued their chase through the halls and garage. Viktor had actually laughed when they found Simon out cold, his head on the landscape stone.

    Simon came to slowly once more, his head pounding even more if that were possible. This time, fresh outdoor air filled his nostrils instead of the medicinally sterile indoor air. He blinked and looked up. He was lying on his back. Several of the dreadlocked attendants were dancing around him, twirling giant sparkling batons that left trails of light behind them. [Pic 5] Somewhere past his sight the sound of dull chanting rang through the air.

    Jan stood at his feet, looking paler than he had earlier, no trace of smile on his face. Simon tried to move but his arms and legs were bound outspread. He pulled harder but the rope merely cut into his flesh.

    “What?” he asked plaintively.

    Jan ignored him, but a woman’s face leaned over. A pale woman with raven hair that fell down her face and tickled his.

    “Tell me what you see,” she said seductively as well-manicured hand reached out and pressed against his cheek.

    Simon screamed as the death of thousands washed across his soul.

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