The triumph, Jake felt, from finding the lost city, faded quickly with the slump that took hold of him after Lilly left. He had made a connection with her unlike any he’d ever made with any other woman.He had always felt like he was dancing off beat, when he was with women.
Connections weren’t easy for Jake on any level. He didn’t have a lot of male friends either. Most of what he called friends were really more colleagues than friends. Left his long white cloth covered tables to teach class and interacting with few people in any other way. He only went to social gatherings when Bill dragged him along.
It wasn’t an accident that he was so found of his time with Amy. He felt more comfortable around children than adults. He had more genuine conversations with her than he did with other professors. The conversations with his contemporaries remained mostly academically focused. Something Jake had no trouble participating in, because work was his life and he spent the majority of his energy on it.
With Lilly he had a special honest feeling that made him ache to be with her. He was comfortable. A feeling he was not accustomed to. When she poked fun at him, he laughed and felt good that she knew him well enough to tease him. Instead of constantly trying to think of what to say next, or analyzing what he’d just said, he just chilled and enjoyed her. He’d never been much of a romantic. Women had been fun before, but never more important than his work. Losing her, even if temporarily was definitely taking the catfish out of his Po-Boy.
Without Lilly, he stumbled around as if he was wearing scuba fins and had water in his ears.
To compensate, he let work consume him. He stayed late every night until too exhausted to do little else but go home, grab something to eat and tumble into bed. He did things in a perfunctory manner, not seeing what he was doing. Over the course of an hour, he asked one of the students working in the lab with him, the same question three times. To avoid a fourth time, he went for a walk around the small lake on the campus.
After a number of times around the lake, he realized he’d made no further progress in his thinking than he had walking circles around the lake. Two hours of walking and sitting on the surrounding benches, he found himself sitting where he’d started. Nowhere. Missing Lilly.
Why couldn’t he shake the feeling that she had gone further away than Switzerland? That was plenty far in itself. The way she looked at him when she left, and the suddenness of her departure; coupled with the way things went the night before, it was all just a little to weird. Each time he thought it over, he felt dizzy.
Late in the second day, after she had left, he went back to work on the scrolls. He spent hours picking out common denominators and comparing them to known languages. He tried doing reverse image searches on the internet and found nothing. He worked in the large room, with all the artifacts surrounding him until late into the night. He had a single, swing arm, light glaring down at the table. The room was a maze of shadows and dark shapes, looming hauntingly around him. If he’d been watching a Wes Craven movie, and saw his own scene, he would have shouted “Get out!” at the screen.
He looked at his watch. “One o’clock, damn.” He said as if the late hour were the watch’s fault.
Searching the room, he began to define the shadowy shapes into different ghostly forms, as one lying in a field staring up at the clouds might do, making things and animals out of the shadows. His mind trotted into its own dimensions, floating free. Then it started. The pressure in his forehead, the lightness, as if he could fly right from his seat. His vision blurred when he looked at the copies of the scrolls he had meticulously made. He had done it hoping the act of writing the unknown writing himself would somehow tell him what it meant.
Squinting, he tried to regain focus. The sensation above his eyes became like a gust of wind blowing through him. The wavering scrolls stabilized and he stared at them. It didn’t register at first. He didn’t feel he could trust his own senses, but there it was, as if it had never been written any other way.
Picking up the clip board, he wrote as fast as he could. It was as clear, and easy to read, as an international sign. He wrote it all down so fast, the writing didn’t register. After finishing the last word, he let out a deep sigh. The room started to move, swirling, alive with more than life. He couldn’t support himself any longer. He slumped forward on the desk like a sack of oysters and the intense pressure in his forehead felt like a hole in the universe. He tried to move his arms and they felt as if they were weighed down by plastic bags full of water. He tried to speak and his jaw felt like it was being held in place by 7 Gs worth of gravity.
There was an instant of darkness, then he was moving across the floor. Only his legs weren’t moving, and when he looked down at his feet, they weren’t touching the floor. Worse than that he could see through them. Then nothing of himself was left. His whole being was his vision, though he still felt his form. This form, whatever it was, seemed paralyzed and magnetically draw towards something unseen. His ability to look in different directions, including directly behind, was his only sense of personal control. Though looking behind didn’t slow he progress forward.
Looking back at the desk, he saw himself lying over the table top. He didn’t try to make sense of it; he was moving too fast to think. Turning back, he realized he was heading straight for the wall. He instinctively tried to raise his arms to protect himself, but there were no arms to raise.
As he started to ascend toward a mirror over the sink, the angle of his being changed slightly. As he was entering the mirror, he felt something that was like rain on his face. Then, “There’s a sign post up ahead.” He didn’t come out on the other side of the wall, but into blackness, spiked by random flashes and swirls of colored lights like stars and galaxies. He knew, he was flying. Through and above what he had no idea. While part of his mind was screaming, the other part was exhilarated. After a moment amazement took over fear and he let himself soar with it.
The blackness gave way to a glow. Orange if he were to put a color to it, but it was too dim to be sure it had color at all. He couldn’t feel his physical mass, yet somehow he felt as if he were there, somewhere. As if the soul had weight and that was all that was left to him. He felt the effects of the energy flowing through him as if they were flowing through a permeable physical body. He also perceived acceleration to a tremendous speed. Suddenly he broke through. He wasn’t sure exactly what he had broken through, but he knew something was different. He could now see grasslands passing below, then mountains and jungle. He went into a blinding dive.
There was a second of darkness and he was standing in a cave. The cave. Not really standing, he was just there, almost as if a fly on the wall. Looking down he saw a man, of Inca ansestory, sitting cross legged between two torches. He was tanned and lean and had the sharp angular features. His headdress was colorful, topped with large plumes of exotic feathers. Jake knew instantly he was priest.
The man rocked slowly, chanting, not in English, though Jake could understand him. What he said made little sense, he kept repeating, “Step on the floor slab and you are mine. I will seal you in with the wall release.” It was at this moment that Jake realized the man’s lips weren’t moving and he was hearing the man’s thoughts.
Another man stepped into the cave. The first didn’t look up or acknowledge him. A flash of anguish and fear shot through Jake like explosive diarrhea. The man had the powerful build of a prize fighter and was strangely dark in appearance. It wasn’t that he was tan, it was as if darkness surrounded him. He was so grave, he seemed to absorb the sparse illumination of the torches, making the cave seem entirely cast in shadow, even in the fire of the torches. He stepped to one side of the floor slab, and walked further into the chamber.
“Did you really think you would fool me so easily Pachacutec?” The man laughed contemptuously. The man he’d called Pachacutec continued to ignore him. “I knew when you agreed to meet me here, you’d be planing some sort of crude trap! Did you think you’d be able to block me from your mind? Did you think your god would protect you and blind my eyes so I wouldn’t see your trap?” Pachacutec didn’t deviate his demeanor in the slightest, he continued as if the second man had never said a thing.
“You make me sick! I leave you to your pitiful light God. I have followed your instructions, and now you must surrender your life to me!” The man laughed a full baritone laugh. He moved carefully over the floor trap. “It is I who will seal you in.” He turned placing his hand upon the wall release and pushed. “Good bye fool!”
The chanting stopped, the one called Pachacutec looked up and smiled. A note of recognition floated across the other’s face as his eyes fell upon his own hand. The slab came down in that same instant and crushed him. The earth shook, and the bottom of the stone glowed red hot. Pachacutec collapsed covering his face with his arms, trying to shield himself from the intense heat and the sparks of molten rock flying up from under the slab. Some of the tiny meteors struck his body and Jake could sense them burning into the man’s flesh. He seemed not to notice or care. He didn’t cry out in any way.
When everything calmed down, he took the lid off a pot sitting to one side of him. He pulled out a paint brush and a small jar. He reached behind him to retrieve some out the animal skins and began to write. The dying breath of the torches gave him light to work by. Their last fleeting gasps of flame, were testament to the faltering supply of oxygen in the cave.
Pachacutec wrote quickly, the heat from the still glowing slab of rock was speeding his life away. Sweat rained from his every pore. He replaced the skins in the pot and crumbled against the back wall of the cave.
Jake felt the pulling again. He was being drawn backwards. Things began to flash by at an unrecognizable speed. There was darkness, absolute blackness, followed by a tremendous sound of rushing water; so loud he could feel it in his ears. Still, he battled to stay, but realized he’d lost.
“Dr. Halston? Are you all right?”
Jake felt a hand gently shaking his shoulder. Looking up he saw the janitor standing over him. Disoriented and not sure where reality began or ended, he closed his eyes tightly for a few seconds. Then he opened them to see the morning sun shining in through the window.
“Are you all right sir?” Sam was leaning on his broom and his white hair hung over one eye.
Sitting up Jake rubbed his hands over his face. “Yeah I’m fine, I must have fallen asleep while I was working last night.”
“Well, if you’re alright, I’ll be getting back to my work.”
“Have a good morning Sam.” Had he just fallen asleep? An intense dream. Jake looked at the clip board, no. It was real! Everything was still there. He tried to read the scrolls, but they now looked like the same jumble of characters that they always had. He couldn’t decipher a single phrase.
Picking up the clip board, he went to find Bill.
Bill was in his office drinking coffee. He gave Jake a long look. “Boy you look worse than I feel.”
“Didn’t get much sleep last night, I’ve been working on the scrolls and fell asleep in the work room.” Bill nodded and Jake continued. “I did it Bill.” Jake’s excitement reviving him. “Every word, right here.” Bill puzzled his eyes like a dog listening to a high pitched whistle. Jake handed him the clipboard.
“How did you do it?”
“It’s hard to explain Bill, sort of like with the cave thing.” Jake resisted the urge to tell him about his return trip to the cave. Bill moved his eyes across the writing on the clip board.
“Are you sure about this?” His voice bore the truth of the skepticism he felt.
“Yeah, I’m sure. I don’t have any doubts.” Jake said eagerly.
“Or explanation.” he pointed out, looking down at the board to read. “The Four Trials of Apollyon.” He paused, and looked up at Jake.
“One; A man who light escapes, yet is filled with the purest of light, will turn away from that light.” Bill reread the sentence to himself slowly. “What the hell is that suppose to mean?” Bill said, fighting down the irritation that always attacked him when something was beyond his understanding.
“I don’t know, I just know that’s what it says.” Jake said, feeling his excitement being squashed.
“Two; A woman free of lust, pure in heart, will fall willingly into the arms of the son of darkness.” Bill scanned the rest of the page and tossed the clip board down on his desk. “This is pretty nutty stuff you got here, even if it’s the correct translation, it doesn’t really mean anything. Come on Jake, “There will come a time when men will fly as birds…” Deciphered, this stuff is still gibberish. I’ve got stacks of prophecies like this from every culture. Hell just look at the papers by the grocery store check out. More prophecies than a man can read.”
“Airplanes. He could be talking about airplanes. What about the birth of another son? The warning of the world’s damnation?”
“Jake, priests have been singing the song of Armageddon since the beginning of time. It’s how the scare people into behaving.”
“But there is something…”
“Jake, what the hell’s the matter with you? Get a grip!” Bill regained his composure before continuing. “I don’t understand what’s got into you, man. This is just more outdated hocus pocus and you’re treating it as if lightning etched the words in stone before your very eyes.”
Jake suddenly thought of how ridiculous he must certainly sound to Bill. It seized up his voice box. Bill’s face held no discernible expression, he turned his attention to a pencil on his desk. He picked it up and began to tap the eraser against the desk.
“What do you intend to do with your findings?” Bill asked, still playing with the pencil.
“I don’t know, I really hadn’t thought about it.” Jake said uneasily.
“Well I wouldn’t bring them to the University. You can’t come forward with a translation with no Rosetta Stone to back it up. They’ll hand you a rock and tell you to go play hopscotch. Or worse yet, send you out on sick leave with don’t open until Xmas stamped on your ass. You’ll be lucky to teach high school history, if you push this.” Bill let his words hang in the air for a moment. Jake remained silent.
“I think you should bury it,” Bill finally offered. “Unless you can come up with some way to verify the translation of the scrolls. Besides who’s going to care? No one is actually going to believe the Dark One’s son is running around trying to take over the earth. There are too many already trying that in daylight for anyone to care. Look at Xi Jinping and Putin. Look at the billionaire class that’s bought the world. If someone is trying to take over the world for evil, they’re going to have to get in line.”
“But Bill…” when Jake heard himself try to argue the point, he realized Bill was right. He was the only one saying this is what the scrolls translated to, he couldn’t prove a word of it. And it didn’t really sound like anything more than a simple myth. One that had countless incarnations in every culture. So who would care anyway.
“Bill,” Jake said trying to grasp at something to say.
“Bury it.” Bill saw Jake’s distress and relaxed. “Not completely, just until you have some kind of verification.”
“There’s more Bill.”
After an uncomfortable pause, Jake related the story of his flight the previous night. Bill looked at him for a long time before speaking.
“Jake, I want you to take some time off.” Bill said, sounding a bit sorrowful.
“What? You think I’ve cracked?” Jake asked, nervous.
“No. I just think you’ve logged in too many hours, and you gotten all caught up in these scrolls. You think about them twenty-four-seven and it’s not healthy. That’s got to be upsetting your equilibrium.” Bill paused and leaned back in his chair. “I’m not passing judgment on anything until I can say for sure. After what happened in Peru, I don’t know what is real and what isn’t. If you told me a man could burst into flames from picking up a finger bone… I don’t think I could believe that either, if I hadn’t been there.” Bill took a deep breath.
“I still have trouble believing that, even though I saw the evidence, because I didn’t see it happen with my own eyes. Even if I had I still probably think I was halucinating. Either way, you’re worn out and you need some time off. This things seems to be centered around you. None of the new age stuff was happening to you, before all this started. Maybe if you let go of it, these cosmic forces will tell you what you need to know.”
Jake cupped his face between his palms and let what Bill said sink in. “Okay, Bill, I’ll take some time off. I have been kind of obsessive lately.”
“I want the scrolls, the translation, and any other records you’ve kept.” When Jake started to object, Bill cut him off. “I don’t want you working at home instead of here. There’s nothing here you can’t remember anyway.”
There was no protest Jake could make. If he brought his notes home he would just sit up all night staring at them. He turned everything over to Bill and Bill locked it away. Jake accepted the drink Bill poured him.
“So, now that your boss is forcing you on holiday, what are you going to do?”
“Nothing really, I’ll spend some time with Amy and look up some people I haven’t seen for a while. I should pay John Franklin a visit.”
“When do you want to go?”
“To tell you the truth Bill, I’d like to spend some time working on other things we found before I go. That would help me to clear my mind of the scrolls more than anything. If I go off the way I am now, they’ll be the only thing on my mind.”
“That makes sense. You do what you want to, just give me a couple of days notice before you go to see, John.”
On the way home, Jake felt the peace that comes with resolution. He had solved the puzzle, he was sure of that. He didn’t know what the hell it all meant, but he was satisfied he found the truth. Now, he could go through the other artifacts without his mind being clouded by the scrolls.
After a weekend with Amy and a few nights of sleep he was eager to get at it. The vacation plans kept getting pushed further and further into the future and for that unfortunate twist of fate, he could only wonder how things might have been different.
Sitting across the street, Michael stared at the man he had been tasked with bringing to his father, not thinking of any plan in particular, just feeling the man. He had a new sense of direction, the waiting was finally over. He was no longer killing time and training for some unknown. Now, the excitement of the moment filled him with energy and his silly depression was a forgotten foe.
“He must come voluntarily, I can’t force him, but I wonder, can I lie?”
“Have you ever lied to manipulate someone before?” The voice came from no where and if anyone passed by, the words wouldn’t have reached their ears. Michael didn’t have to see him to recognize that annoying voice.
Michael spun around, he saw no one. “I repeat the question, have you on any previous occasion lied to manipulate some one?” Chad spoke with a bored vocal fry that was like a Parmesan cheese grater on Michael’s spinal cord. He thought it was women of Chad’s age that spoke that way and it sounded twice as annoying coming from a man.
Returning his gaze to the street, Michael shifted on the bench uncomfortably. “Where are you?” Michael felt a brush of warmth and was startled by Chad suddenly sitting beside him on the bench. He looked basically the same except this time his gray t-shirt said Woke, in white letters. His his over-sized yarn beanie hung off the back of his head. Michael could tell from the bump at the top that he did have a man bun and he was struck by the sudden urge to smack Chad in the back of the head.
“Chill Boomer. Let’s not get physical.”
Michael gritted his teeth. Could he read his mind, or had he just felt Michael’s anger. His beard was somehow more scraggly than Michael remembered.
“You know they make scissors and electric beard trimmers.”
“Consumerism is dead, bro.” Chad looked at the old man across the street.
“So I got the cliff notes, but what real purpose do you serve?” Michael said trying to keep chad from getting under his skin.
“I am, what you might call your rule book. Pops can’t be bothered with your every question. Well actually he’s not allow to answer your questions, or help you directly.” Chad pulled out his phone and started scrolling through twitter.
“You want to give that thing a rest?” Michael said pointing at the phone, feeling his irritation rising.
“Chill, Boomer. I can multitask.”
“Stop, calling me that. From what I understand you over 3000 years old.”
“Previous shell, man. Got to stay up with the times.” He put his phone in his front pocket. Michael studied him and realized from ink showing at the edges of his clothes that he had a great many tattoos.
“So is all that ink a holdover from your days as a Philistine?” Michael said, trying to divert his own attention from the way this punk affected him.
Chad shook his head. “Have you even looked a person under 40 lately?”
Michael sighed and closed his eyes for a moment. Chad took his phone out and started scrolling again, suddenly paused and laughed. That was when Michael realized there was something more irritating that his voice.
“So what is your purpose?” Michael asked looking back across the street, thinking maybe Chad would bother him as much if he didn’t look at him.
“Hopefully I can keep you from making any fatal mistakes. I’m not allowed to interfere directly, volunteer information, or intervene in any way, while you’re directly interacting with a trial, unless I following a specific instruction from you. And…” Chad feel silent and read something on his feed, then started scrolling again. “Should you actually make it to the fourth trial, my hands are really tied.”
“Doesn’t really sound like you can do me a whole lot of good.”
“Well, if you won’t be needing me.” Chad stood up.
“Answer my question.” Michael said, trying to keep his irritation from showing in his speech.
Chad turned in Michael’s direction, but continued looking at his phone. “You haven’t answered mine.”
Michael thought for a minute. “Of course I’ve lied to manipulate people.”
“And what lies work the best?”
Michael thought about it. “Ones that are mostly true.”
“What the hell does fleek mean?” Michael asked, his eyes squinting from confusion.
Chad rolled his eyes. “Nobody knows what fleek means. It just is.” Chad looked up at the sky and raised his hands like a picture of Jesus. “But if you make a promise, you got to keep it.”
“Why would I do that?” Michael was doing his best to ignore Chad’s antics.
“Say your trial puts a condition on you for some reason and you agree to move things along. Can’t break a deal, you have to fulfill any commitments, or you lose. Also you can’t lie them about the danger of something.”
“What does that mean?”
“Hmm. Like, and this is an exaggerated example, you can’t tell them walking off a cliff isn’t going to hurt. You’d have to convince them that walking off the cliff will be worth the trip.”
Michael nodded. “So, what else do I have to be careful of?”
“Hmm. Question’s a little vague. I’m not sure if can really just start listing things. You don’t want to run afoul of the law and fail because you are behind bars. All these trials have a time factor, though the fourth you get the most time.”
“What’s the fourth trial?”
Chad shook his finger. “N’n’n’no” Chad smiled. “I’m not burning for you. Can’t tell you anything like that, that’s like asking a genie for unlimited wishes.”
Michael sighed and looked across the street again. “What if I need your help to do something?”
“What do you mean?”
“Get me something, or, I don’t know play a role.”
“Hmm. That’s a good one. I guess as long as I’m acting directly at your direction that would be allowed. As far as getting you stuff, that depends on what it is.”
Michael nodded. “What, exactly, ah, are you?”
“Me?” Chad asked pulling a thick joint from inside his flannel shirt pocket, the end seemed to light as he touched it to his lips. He took a deep puff from it and blew it tauntingly in Michael’s direction. “I am a messenger of the dark side.” He unsympathetically absorbed Michael’s dull expression. “A Demon! Would be the christian interpretation.” He leaned closer, blowing more smoke at Michael, and said quietly. “The stuff legends are made of.” He laughed at the intent look on Michael’s face.
“Like from the Bible?” Michael asked, feeling his irritation rising again.
“One way to put it, if you buy into all that crap. As you can imagine I have no love for the people behind all that.” Chad looked at Michael as if he should understand.
“Oh…” Michael said nodding. “Philistine.”
“Yeah, victims of the original Trolls.” Chad took a deep puff from his joint and offered it to Michael. Michael shook his head and looked down at the pavement.
“Well If you don’t have any more questions, I have a soul burning in the oven.”
Michael looked up sharply at Chad and Chad burst out laughing. “Just pulling your thread, man. Only the Christians do that kind of thing.” Another hit.
“Remember, think before you strike. You don’t want to get burned by this fire!” Chad vanished slowly waving his hands like a Scooby-Doo ghost. His annoying laughter bellowing forth out from the nothingness after he left. Life had its small pleasures when you were a supernatural being.
Michael gazed in the direction Chad had been, a plan was beginning to form. He turned in the direction of his trial and smiled. “Yes, I know just the thing, and I think, I’m in just the right neighborhood to get what I need.” Michael rose from the bench, first he wanted to rent a car to get around in. He also needed some armament.
The car he chose was a full size black Cadillac like the one he drove around DC. After picking it up, he cruised the neighborhood looking for a likely person who could get what he needed. It wasn’t the sort of area he frequented and the pressure of the Glock 19, in the waistband holster over his hip, gave him confidence. He had it on his left side for a cross-draw.
It didn’t take long for someone to approach him. Michael heard a rap on his window, while he was stopped at a light. He looked up and saw a black man in faded jeans and an old sleeveless tee shirt.
Michael casually took his finger, found the window switch, and rolled the passenger window down. He leaned across the seat to take a better look at the man. He was mid-twenties and well muscled. Michael could see the veins in his arms were extended and healthy. He noticed prison tats on his forearms.
“Hey my man, this is the third time you’ve been round the block. I know you ain’t sight seein’ and you sure as hell ain’t looking for a new place to live. So tell me brother, with the wheels so fine, what is it I can help you find?”
Looking at the man’s face, Michael only saw his own reflection staring back at him from the man’s mirrored aviator sunglasses. “I’m looking for the hard stuff.”
“Look here man, you don’t look like no junky. What you need is some crack brother. I got all you can smoke in a day, a week, or a year! It’s oh so fine, it’s like falling in love and you can put it down any time you like. Try it brother. It’s better than something that just puts you to sleep.”
“I’m not looking for a fix, I have a client with some heavy needs.”
“Say man, you ain’t a narc, are you? Because if you is, you ain’t gonna be alive long around here my man.”
“No. I’m just looking to fill a need. If you can’t help me, I’ll just keep going.”
“Cool your jets my white brother. I can help you out, but I’ll have to make a phone call. This shit’s gonna be high priced. You carrying a heavy roll, brother?”
“Don’t worry about that, just make sure it’s good. My man doesn’t like to be disappointed. He’s a heavy hitter. Letting him down can cost you your life. Comprendo?”
“It’s cool brother, it’s cool. But if he’s such a heavy hitter why doesn’t he have a source.”
“Not your business.” Michael said firmly. The man studied Michael for a moment.
“Okay. You just be back on this corner in a hour, my man. How much do you want?”
“You just get me what you can. I’d rather not have to come out again tomorrow.”
“Cool man, I like your style. One hour.” The man said, stepping back from the car. He watched the dark tinted window go up, and Michael drive off. “Oh yeah, my fine feathered pigeon, the Gods have smiled on me today!” He said excitedly, then took out his phone out of his front pocket and made a call.
“James, it’s Reggie. Man it’s pay day. Shut up man and just listen! Some funky assed white dude just rolled up looking for junk. He got so much money he don’t know what to do with it. Shut up man, I know that! Check this out, he’s alone man. No, he told me some jive story about his employer, being some kind of gangster, but I know this dude’s alone. Yeah that’s it man, he’s comin’ back in an hour. I’m going to take him to the warehouse. You be there. Yeah my man, we going to be partying in a brand new Cadillac!”