“Dylan is involved with this scary old man who’s promised to teach him magic.”

Main Street never changes, Kane thought as he drove into town. There’s always a few cars around, a couple of trucks, some shoppers, a dog tied to a lamp post, a smattering of people with nothing else to do but sit in the town square watching the world go by. Quorn’s predictability and its lack of drama were great for young families and senior citizens, but for energetic young people like Kane it was like being locked in a prison. Since he was twelve, he’d dreamt of escaping to a big city, and now, at last, he’d reached the age where he could make it happen. And it was going to happen.

But as he pulled up in a parking bay outside the Brandywine Cafe, he felt the sadness of nostalgia weighing him down. He knew that once the house was sold, he and Dylan would be moving on. There was nothing to keep them here – only sad memories and reminders of the tragedies that had befallen them in Quorn. With persistence, he would drag Dylan away from the clutches of Wilfred Waite, and then they would move away, to a place where only good things happened and the drama and surprise in their lives didn’t come from madmen and monsters. It was a comforting thought – so why was he feeling so down?

While he waited for Arika to park, he went two doors down to Quorn Fine Arts and Antiquities. The closed sign was still in the door. He doubted the shop had been opened since the last time he was here (when he broke in, he reminded himself with a smile). Waite was apparently too busy corrupting his brother to spend time making a living.

In the cafe, Kane chose a table in the window. As Arika was taking a seat, he checked her out. She looked about his age – early twenties – with a brown complexion, hazel eyes and dark wavy hair that fell to her shoulders. She was ever alert, her eyes darting around the cafe. He wondered what was going through her mind. Kane had only ever dated local girls, all from Quorn High School, all mired in local family politics and gossip, and Arika seemed as alien to him as the world they were here to discuss.

“Do we order at the counter?” she asked.

He glanced around for Frankie, the waiter. “What would you like?”

“I’ll get it.”

“No, it’s my treat.”

“I can put it on my expense account.”

“I invited you. I’ll pay.”

Arika got out her purse.

“We’ll work out the bill later,” said Kane. He looked over at the counter. “Frankie’s never around when you need him.”

Tapping his foot on the tiled floor, he squeezed his hands together under the table and stared into Arika’s face. He was trying hard to think of something interesting to say. He suspected that once she pumped him for whatever it was he knew, she would be out of here. Possibly even before the coffee arrived.

“When I was at school,” he said, “history was all about kings and queens and Ancient Rome. We never studied monsters and magic.”

Arika was checking out the baked goods. Was she hungry? Perhaps he should ask her if she wanted something to eat.

“Professor Orwell – Simon,” she said, glancing at him, “specialises in cultural history and metaphysics. Most history studies are rote learning, which bores us.”

“I used to be able to recite all the kings and queens without even thinking.”

“Impressive.”

“I don’t think I could do it now, though.”

“Not a skill a fireman needs, hey?”

“No,” he said, being immune to sarcasm.

Her attention had returned to the counter. Where the hell was Frankie? He usually buzzed around the tables like an old blowfly.

“Who’s Professor Orville? Did he send you here?”

“Orwell. Simon Orwell. And yes, he thought the story deserved investigation.” When Kane said nothing, she clasped her hands together on the table and said, “We’re examining ancient legends, how they’re created and perpetuated, and how they influence culture going forward. You’d be surprised by how strong some of these beliefs are, and the lengths some people will go to convince themselves they’re true. It’s one thing for ancient tribes to believe in gods and demons; they didn’t know about science, so everything around them must have felt magical. It’s a whole nother matter for people today to believe in supernatural entities and magical powers.”

“So you’re not here chasing monsters?”

Arika smiled. She had very white teeth. “The thing those people described sounds a lot like one of the old legends some people still think is true, and we’d like to examine what influenced them to interpret their experience in that way.”

Kane’s heartbeat sped up. He was dying to tell Arika what Dylan had told him about that night, but he was scared of what would happen if anyone found out his brother was messing with dead bodies and black magic. He still didn’t believe it himself – not totally. “So you don’t believe some kind of monster appeared out of nowhere and attacked that car?”

“As a researcher I have to keep an open mind.”

“Sounds like you’re saying you maybe do believe it.”

“Perhaps.”

“I thought you just said people who believe in magic are stupid?”

Her smile this time was softer, more genuine. “I was making the point that the burden of proof these days has to be higher because science has more explanations for the unknown, and more methods for testing claims and outliers.”

“Is a dragon an outlier?”

“More like a myth.”

“Isn’t myth another word for fairy tale?”

“I think of it more like an untested assertion. Neither true nor untrue until evidence confirms one way or the other.”

“This so-called dragon isn’t a dead myth, though. It’s something the Barry’s said they saw the other night. Alive.”

“Hence the need for evidence one way or another. Hence my open mind. Just because things are buried in the sands of time, doesn’t mean they couldn’t have existed at some point in history. And if that’s true, what’s to stop them being raised again?”

“Now you’re having me on,” said Kane, wondering how much Arika knew versus what she’d read in books. “You can’t really believe dinosaurs and shit can be resurrected by magic.”

“Who said anything about dinosaurs?”

“Dragons, dinosaurs; it’s all the same thing, isn’t it?”

They were interrupted by Frankie, a yellow-tinged man with limp brown hair and a straggly beard. “Sorry, folks,” he said: “diarrhoea. Musta been the curried fish. Are you eating? Don’t have the curried fish is my recommendation.”

“Just cappuccino, thanks,” said Arika.

“Sure, miss, anything for the lovely lady.” He glanced at Kane. “What about you, Sugar?”

Kane pulled a face at Arika. “Sugar … Kane … get it?”

“I got it.”

“The usual, thanks,” he said to Frankie. Feeling playful, he added, “Hey Frankie, did you ever see Jurassic Park?”

Frankie tapped his pen on his notepad. “U-huh,” he drawled, one corner of his mouth pulled down.

“Did you know it’s real? They’re bringing back T-rex and stuff.”

“No shit,” said Frankie. He paused for a second as if waiting for the punch line, then sauntered off. “As if we don’t have enough old dinosaurs in Quorn.”

At these words, two grey-haired ladies sitting nearby straightened their backs in indignation. As Frankie ground coffee beans, they bent their heads over the table and hissed their disapproval at his joke. Kane watched them, knowing they wouldn’t dare say anything to him. The Brandywine Cafe was the only place in town that served decent coffee, and no one wanted to make an enemy of the owner’s ill-tempered nephew. Not unless you wanted your order to be seasoned with saliva or something worse.

“Okay, Kane,” said Arika, “time to tell me what your brother said about that night.”

As his name passed over her lips, Kane went warm inside. It felt as if someone had turned up the temperature in the cafe by ten degrees. “The creature,” he said, leaning closer: “he called it a Messenger.”

Arika’s mouth fell open. She folded her arms on the table. “He called it a Messenger? How could he know that?”

Kane sat back. He realised that in his first few words he’d already ratted on his brother. “I don’t … Dylan’s just a kid. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

“He just happens to know it was a Messenger?”

“He must have read about them on the net.”

“He said he arrived after the accident, so how could he even suspect a Messenger?”

Kane stared helplessly at her. He needed to protect his brainless brother as much as possible; but what was the point in dancing around the truth? Arika was of no use to him unless he told her at least some of what he knew about Waite’s antics.

“Listen,” he said, resting his elbows on the table: “if I tell you what Dylan told me, you have to swear not to say anything to anyone.”

She was leaning so close now he could feel her breath on his face. There were flecks of green in her hazel eyes and he could see she was wearing contact lenses. He wondered what she looked like in glasses. Concentrate! he admonished himself, turning his head to Frankie at the counter to take his mind off his libido.

Arika’s face was deadly serious. “I can’t promise you that, Kane. It’s my job to find out these things and report them to Simon. It’s the reason I’m here.”

“Then –”

“But what I can promise is that I will keep Dylan’s name out of it if at all possible.”

“If at all possible.” Kane bit his thumb. He had no reason to trust this woman; they’d met less than an hour ago. She could be a plant, like one of those sexy, dangerous Soviet spies who were trained to seduce their targets to learn state secrets. If that were the case, she was doing a great job.

Frankie came back with their drinks and set them down. “Yell if you need anything else,” he said. “I’ll be out back.”

Kane waited until he was gone and then said to Arika in a low voice, “Dylan is involved with this scary old man who’s promised to teach him magic.”

She brought her cappuccino to her lips. Kane could see she was edgy with excitement, though she was trying hard not to show it. “Go on,” she urged, taking a sip.

“The dude’s name is Wilfred Waite and he says he’s two hundred years old, and according to Dylan he’s looking for a sorcerer’s apprentice or some shit like that.”

“Was it Wilfred Waite who called up the Messenger?”

“That’s what Dylan said.”

“Was he there when it happened?”

“No,” lied Kane. “He was on the road, driving down to the farm, and saw the accident. Waite told him what the thing was.”

“Kane, if that thing really was a Messenger, then I can tell you: Dylan is mixed up in something worse than you could ever imagine.”

“What do you mean?”

“It takes a ton of bad magic to raise a Messenger. But that’s not the worst of it. A Messenger has one reason for existence: to kill everything in sight. Anyone who raises a Messenger is doing it to commit murder.”

Kane’s mouth went dry. Lifting his cup, he took a long drink. The coffee didn’t make any difference. His mouth still felt like cardboard and his mind was still refusing to believe what Arika had just told him. Dropping his cup on the saucer with a clang, he said, “That’s insane. Dylan’s not a killer. He would never do anything like that.”

“Maybe he didn’t know what Waite was up to.”

“Of course he didn’t know.” Even as he said the words, he knew he was fooling himself as well as Arika. Dylan’s reaction to the news stories; his response to the demands he stay away from Waite: he knew. He may have stopped the thing from killing anything other than a few animals, but he knew all too well what it was. And where was Dylan now? At the farmhouse. With Waite. And what was he doing there? Who knew what new horrors they were summoning from the bloated bodies of dead men?

“Tell me more about this Messenger thing,” he said to Arika.

“What did Dylan tell you about it?”

“Tell me what you know first.”

She held his gaze until he looked away. He thought she would wait for him to speak first, but then she said, “The purpose of a Messenger is to clear the land of all life.”

“Where did it come from?”

She ran her finger along the rim of her cup. “It was summoned. From … another dimension.”

He sputtered a laugh. “You can’t be serious.”

She took a drink, nodding at him.

“How is that even possible?”

“No one knows. The spell is supposed to be in a book called the Necromonicon. But hardly anyone alive has seen a viable copy, so we don’t know for sure.”

“Waite has it.”

She sucked in breath.

“Waite has the Necrowhatsit.”

“Necromonicon,” said Arika.

“Dylan said it’s a book of magic spells. He said Waite can raise the dead and he’s after some kind of cosmic knowledge.”

Arika stared past him. “Which is why he raised the Messenger.”

“I don’t get it. If a Messenger only lives to kill, why did Waite summon it?”

“That’s not all it does. It’s called a Messenger because it precedes the appearance of a god.”

“A god? Now you’re kidding me!”

“Not a god from a human religion. One from other dimensions of reality.”

“Is it …? – I don’t even know how to respond to that.”

“The Messenger is the herald of Yog-Sothoth, a deity that sits across dimensions and … controls traffic, so to speak.”

“Assuming this Yog-dog-god thing really does exist, what would Waite want from something like that?”

“Yog-Sothoth guards the gate between the dimensions and – so the story goes – sees everything. People who summon him usually want knowledge … and power.”

Kane stared at her, feeling curiously weightless.

“Some of his followers believe Yog-Sothoth will reveal to them how to break the seal between the dimensions so they bleed into one another.”

Now his stomach was churning – flopping and gurgling. He placed his hands on it to calm it down. “He could be trying to destroy the world?”

“More likely change it.”

“Into what?”

“Into a place where he has power over billions of lives.”

“That’s madness.”

“You wouldn’t believe some of the things people have done in the name of these gods.”

These gods? There’s more than one?”

“A pantheon. If the gate is broken, they could all come flooding in.”

Kane shook his head till it hurt. “So the Necro-thingumyjig is some kind of key?”

“You could say that. Are you sure Wilfred Waite has it?”

“I’m not sure about anything.”

“How about murderous dragons from another dimension?”

“Y’know …” He placed his hands on his head. “No, I’m not even sure about that.”

Read Chapter 19: Confronting

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