This is the 5th installment to the Hyraaq Tobit Series. If you're new to the series, please start the journey at The Demon Tobit of Delphia.



Derrick Meets Lacy

Derrick Reynolds sat at his desk on the 32nd floor of the One Shell Square office building in downtown New Orleans. He turned his gaze towards his window and took in the scene for probably the tenth time today. He had recently been promoted at work, and with his promotion came a new office. He lived his professional life in an almost constant state of surprise, surprise at his amazing good fortune in life.

He had been rescued from Antarctica just about eight months ago this very day. Upon returning home, he spent some time in therapy, telling his story over and over again about the city of Delphia and the monstrous cult that lived there. Of course no one believed him. He made the mistake of mentioning, just once, at the Dakota Science Station, that he had consumed a Valium right before Sergio’s yacht crashed on the icy shores, and ever since then, the verdict had been the same. He had hallucinated that whole thing in a drug induced stupor.

No one took the time to consider that such a low dose of Valium should not have caused a vivid, lucid waking nightmare. They just assumed that he took more than he admitted to, or that he had a bad reaction to it due to the cold environment. No one would even consider that he was remotely telling the truth about the matter.

Sergio’s father, a large man named Hector, had been about the worst. Even after the police stopped questioning Derrick, Hector kept going. He insisted that Derrick must know what happened to his son. Derrick had explained to the stocky Cuban time and time again exactly what happened, and each and every time, Hector came to the same conclusion that the therapists and police did. Derrick was high as a kite when the incident happened and his son must have fallen off the boat and drowned.

Derrick wanted to ask him why he continued to badger him if he was so sure that he knew exactly what happened. However, that would be a cold and callous way to approach a grieving father. Hector just wanted some closure on his son’s disappearance, and Derrick was, as far as the civilized world knew anyway, the last person to see him alive.

The first few months had been terribly rough, and Derrick thought time and time again that he might simply crack. He knew Sergio was still in Delphia, possibly alive. He had been alive and smiling, in fact, when they last saw each other, when Sergio helped him escape the small church that opened into Delphia on one side, and back into the real world on the other. During those first few months, Derrick would ponder long into that night, wondering if his best friend was still alive, wondering if he was being tortured by those cannibalistic fanatics. He also reflected on his savior, a man named Timothy VanBuren, a man who most certainly was dead. Last time Derrick saw him, he was seconds away from being swarmed by a mob of brainwashed cultists.

Therapy had helped a lot though. Derrick’s parents had also been a large support piece for him, spending as much time with him as possible. Alcohol had been a pretty damned good healing tool too. Derrick was young, though, and very resilient. As time went on, as weeks turned into months, he began to feel the healing actually happening, like his mind was being sewn gently back together.

Then one day he just found this confidence that he never knew existed. He started to look at his experience in Delphia in a whole new light. He was a survivor. He had experienced something that most people, hell, everyone he’d met, simply couldn't even believe happened. He had been taken into a place of demons and dark magic, a place that was on no maps. He had been imprisoned, taken into the belly of the beast, and somehow, by the grace of God or some other cosmic babysitter, he had found his way out. He acknowledged one day that he might very well be the only person walking around on earth right now that actually went into Delphia and came back out. He came out whole, and for his experience, he found a strength that he certainly never would have known was in him before. He no longer cared if anyone believed him or not. He knew it happened. He knew that it wasn't a Valium induced dream. He knew exactly what he had seen, experienced and survived.

To Derrick Reynolds, that was all he needed.

The confidence he had found was paying off in dividends as well. He had found a girlfriend shortly after getting back. They had met in the lobby of their therapist’s office and had developed a quick and intense romance. Derrick’s hope that someone else would believe him was strong in her. She had problems of her own that she wasn't afraid to talk openly about, and he hoped that she would see his experience as a bonding utility instead of a make-believe story like everyone else.

As it would turn out, though, even a woman with severe social anxiety that couldn't sleep unless her mother called and sung her a lullaby each night wasn't quite able to accept the story about Delphia. She parroted what everyone else said, that he imagined or dreamed the whole damned experience. Derrick decided that she wasn't quite the woman he thought, and promptly moved on with his life without her.

With his new found self-esteem, though, Derrick had no issues finding women to share his bed with him for a night. He walked about the streets of New Orleans feeling like a champion returning from a test of manhood, a secret test that no one else in the tribe could know of. Delphia was his triumph and his alone, and if no one else wanted to believe him, that was their loss. He would hold on to his victory, his power and his grace within his own mind, and worry not what others thought of it.

He ditched the therapist shortly after, and began to focus on his job. This focus also seemed to pay off. He had not been working in his company for more than a couple months when a promotion came available. Derrick had the credentials, but he wasn't quite sure, with his lack of experience, if this new career goal would even be open to him. However, with his newly empowered attitude and sense of victory, he marched into the interview’s office and left with a hefty promotion and a move upstairs.

“Fuck man, Delphia might be the best thing that ever happened to me,” Derrick mumbled to himself, as he gazed out of his window at the city.

All those people down there, all those who would never breathe the frigid airs of Delphia, experience the hellish ride of a Masking, perhaps they were the victims, victims of ignorance.

Despite all the good vibes though, Derrick’s mind often flew back to his best friend. Alone there, perhaps wondering why Derrick had not returned to save him. There was also Timothy. He had promised Timothy that he would return with the Marines if he had to. Yet that had not happened. The entire world simply refused to believe him. What could he do about it? The only way into Delphia, as Derrick recalled, was for someone to commit ritualistic suicide. Was he supposed to find someone willing to do such a thing, just walk up and casually discuss with them if they’d be willing to blow their own brains out so that he could go into a hidden city and rescue his friends? Of course not, so Derrick continued to carry the torch alone.

“I need a drink,” he said out loud.

“Don’t we all?” replied his co-worker as he walked past Derrick’s office door.

“Want to go out after work?” Derrick asked.

“No, not all of us can be young executives with disposable incomes,” the co-worker replied, and continued walking.

Derrick was well aware that there were employees that felt he was sitting in an undeserved chair. He was in his mid-20s and now earned a salary higher than many of them that had been here for as many years as he had been alive.

“Ain’t been to Delphia, though,” Derrick would whisper in response to their snide remarks.

“Well, fuck ‘em,” he said to himself, and decided he would go grab a drink alone. With his latest successes, Derrick figured he wouldn’t be spending the night by himself anyway. The French Quarter was full of young women just looking for a handsome young business executive to take them home, and Derrick was more than pleased to do so.

His office desk phone rang. It was the receptionist.

“Yes, Marie?” Derrick answered, adding a bit of a sing-song tone to his voice. Marie was a hot commodity around the office, and Derrick had yet to quite pull her under his charms.

“Mr. Reynolds, there is a woman on the phone for you, says her name is Clair Nobles. Do you want me to transfer her to you?”

Derrick looked at his watch and saw that it was just about 5pm, quitting time. If this woman was a potential client or vendor, this conversation could run long, and Derrick was in the mood to saddle up at the local watering hole and find some cheap loving for the night.

“Take a message, Marie, and tell her that I’ll get back with her in the morning.”

“She says it’s very important, that she needs to talk to you now,” Marie replied.

“Awesome, Marie; be sure to annotate that in the message you write down,” he replied with a bit more sarcasm than he may have intended.

He logged off of his computer without checking his end of the day emails. Had he done so, he may have noticed that Clair Nobles had sent him a rather urgent message. However, Derrick was young and headstrong, a survivor and a champion. Champions aren’t always known for their attention to details.

Derrick stopped by his car in the parking garage long enough to toss in his jacket and tie, untuck his shirt from his slacks, and head out to the city streets. Stepping out from his office building and into the bustle of downtown awakened his senses all the more. Being in a higher tax bracket had caused Derrick to become more aware of those around him. He had spent most of his life as a lower middle class kid from Metairie, a suburb that bordered New Orleans. His parents had both been working class folks, always bringing home enough to keep the lights on and food on the table, but Derrick had also never experienced a family vacation to Disney World, nor did he have a car in high school. He had been average most of his life. An average student who possessed an average level of smarts, and, at least according to his last couple of girlfriends, he had been an average lover.

His tastes in arts and entertainment could likely be summed as average as well. A good night for Derrick Reynolds was a Family Guy marathon on the Adult Swim network, followed by a vigorous viewing of internet pornography. His taste in beer was cheap, his tastes in clothing was predictable and his views on the world were largely apathetic.

He had gone to Louisiana State University on student loans, of which he still owed quite heavily. His performance in college had been just slightly above the average but nothing that would put him on a Dean’s List or make him a standout among his peers. His choice of classes and major had been, to say the least, safe. He and Sergio spent many a night either drunk or stoned, and his parent’s greatest ambition for him was just to graduate.

Derrick had certainly never been one to set the world on fire.

However, he was also a good person at the core. While he may have never climbed Mount Everest or traveled to third world countries to feed hungry children, he also, to his knowledge at least, never went out of his way to cause anyone stress or harm. He made friends easily and never bullied anyone that he could remember. His friendly nature made him welcomed in most circles, and his rugged good looks usually made him a hit with the ladies.

Before Delphia, Derrick would have likely wound up as just another faceless American in the corporate greed machine. Just another bean counter in an ocean of marginal workers, but as it has been noted, Delphia changed all of that. Derrick was now a fireball of ambition and good luck, and at the rate he was going, in a decade he might very well be sitting at the top of his industry, no longer a victim of the status quo, but rather a trend setter leading the world into a bright new future.

As far as the here and now was concerned, though, Derrick thought he may have just spotted his future, or at the very least, his immediate future. A sexy redhead was leaning against a mail box just a few feet down the street. Derrick had noticed her almost as soon as he stepped out of his office building. Her deep, almost crimson hair demanded the eye. Her sharp features and bright eyes held on to it, and her body, well, that would lock it up for life with no hope of parole.

Luck or no luck, Derrick placed his odds of spending the night with this angel very low. In his experience, women that looked like her were almost never alone, and certainly never available for some random guy on the street to simply go over and pick up. As he stared around her, trying not to gaze directly at her, he kept waiting for either some meathead guy that looked like he's stumbled out of an Old Navy commercial to come over and join her, or perhaps even a gang of likewise attractive women to rally around her and whisk her off to some cheesy club for a night of dancing and cheap drinks. Neither of those occurrences seemed to be in a big rush to happen, though, as she simply continued to stand there, gazing intently in his direction. He weighed his options in his mind and in the end, decided to play it safe and just head over to his favorite watering hole and try his luck with the girls there. Despite his recent fortune and confidence, he simply wasn’t in the mood to start his night off with a round of rejection.

Derrick turned from her and began to walk down Poydras Street towards South Peters, where he would turn left and head into the French Quarter. There he would work his way to a little spot called Turtle Bay, a dive bar that sold good drinks and amazing pizza. He had a lot of luck with women there, and did not predict tonight being any different. He made it about half a block before he felt two sharp taps to his shoulder.

Turning around, Derrick had to fight to contain a cheesy grin. The cute redhead had approached him.

“So, I was waiting for you to come over and talk to me, but I didn’t have all night for you to find your balls, so, women’s liberation and all, I decided I might as well come over and talk to you,” she stated with no sign of hesitation or embarrassment.

Derrick hoped that he wasn’t blushing, a habit that he still couldn’t kick even with his new and improved station in life, and replied, “Oh yeah, I saw you over there but I figured that you were waiting on friends or something. Plus, like you said, women’s liberation and all, I didn’t want to just come over there and hit on you.”

“Wow, it’s like the ghost of Susan B. Anthony just took over your body, I’ll call the ACLU tomorrow and tell them that I found their next champion of equality,” she responded, smiling but not giggling. Derrick was already enthralled.

Derrick tried to suppress a cheesy laugh, and instead extended his hand. “I’m Derrick Reynolds, nice to meet you.”

“Lacy, and likewise on the meeting. So tell me, Derrick Reynolds, what do you do for fun in this city?”

“Are you from out of town?” he asked.

“Yeah, pretty far out of town, actually.”

Derrick pondered his next words. This girl was intense. She was gorgeous but he could also sense a strength of will within her that was almost intimidating. She was clearly enjoying this banter, and if the game at foot was verbal jousting, Derrick was unsure if he stood a chance.

“So, what brings you to New Orleans?” he asked, settling on what he assumed would be a safe question.

Still with that cold smile, she replied, “Oh, you know, I figured I would get really drunk and show my tits for beads, maybe puke on my shoes and then find some cute guy to have a regretful encounter with.”

Derrick didn’t reply right away. He knew she was baiting him with this line of conversation, just waiting to pounce on him and make him feel stupid.

She broke his silence for him by replying to her own comment. “Kidding, dude. Getting drunk stopped being fun for me after I got old enough to buy alcohol, and I certainly don’t show my girls off to just anyone, especially for cheap plastic beads. As far as the regretful encounter though…well, do you regret this yet?” she asked.

Derrick almost stammered again. She had certainly taken him by surprise. Then he summoned the image of Delphia in his mind, and gave himself a quick mental pep talk.

“You’re Derrick Reynolds; you made it out of Delphia after almost being eaten alive by a mob of fanatics. Are you really going to let this girl, who can’t weigh more than 115 pounds soaking fucking wet rattle your nerves like that?” he thought to himself.

That did the trick too. That surge of self-esteem came over him, and Derrick found his form.

“Regret is for people that make stupid choices, Lacy, and from where I am standing, I certainly don’t see any stupid choices in my near future. Maybe a bit dangerous, but stupid, not a chance.”

Lacy almost broke character on the dangerous comment, how close her little lamb was to actually being right was hilarious to her. However, she had established her lock on this guy and didn’t plan to allow something as minor as a humorous observation to endanger the mission. She had him eating out of the palm of her hand, right where she wanted him.

“Okay then, Derrick Reynolds, take me out for a drink,” she stated, cool grin never leaving her lips. This was going to be easier than she could have ever hoped.

The Think Tank Rolls On

Clair Nobles had been very busy over the last few weeks. She had spent several days with her think tank colleagues, Dr. Christopher Allens and Dr. Janice Batiste. They had, after all, become two of her closest friends concluding the study of the Triassic Journal. They had shared that journey together, and, of course, now shared the combined nightmares of the goat headed men appearing in their dreams and realities.

“Drown them out, Clair; we are scientists and must push on. All great men and women in our field have battled in this manner - only the monsters change their masks. We must maintain our resolve,” Allens told her frequently.

“Of course, Christopher. I just wonder sometimes if we are not a bit out of our depth with all of this. I mean, cracking the journal, that was almost easy compared to seeing those fiends every time I look around,” Clair responded.

“Stay on course, Clair. Bury your head in your work and you won’t have time to notice them,” Batiste chimed in.

Dr. Allens spoke again, this time standing up first, which Clair already knew meant he intended to deliver some prolific argument. The man was damned unstoppable when he got his head into it. She would have loved to have known him 30 years ago when he was a young, bullheaded man of science that wouldn’t flinch for anything. What she had to work with now was the older and wiser, yet jaded and direct version of the man. Clair didn’t believe in ideals the same way that Janice Batiste did, but she wasn’t sure that Allens’ ultra-pragmatic approach was the right fit all the time either. She supposed she was just lucky to have them both. They really did complement each other perfectly.

Allens began, “Clair, I live my life by my very own homegrown concept, what I like to call, my Theory of Two. It helps me make all of life’s tougher decisions, and I do so in a perfectly scientific manner. With the Theory of Two, I never get lost in the details.”

Janice feigned shock and took a sip of tea. “Oh my, Clair, we are indeed lucky today. Christopher is going to reveal to us his mystical Theory of Two. Someone call the good people over at Scientific Journal and tell them to get a reporter over here right away.”

Allens gave Batiste a mock tired smile. “All great scientific minds must deal with their fair share of doubters, but remember, the world is full of Janice Batistes, yet the world only needs one Einstein, one Tesla or one Edison.”

Clair knew that Batiste and Allens enjoyed this sort of banter, but she was far more interested in finding a way to solve this issue, so she interjected to get matters back on course.

“Doctors, please. Between you two flirting with each other, I’ll have time to write the Clair Nobles Theory of Three. So, if we could, please, Christopher, tell me about your method.” Clair eyed them both, daring them to continue their verbal games.

“Ah, thank you, Clair. So nice to see that at least one of the women in my life is interested in what I have to say. Okay, so, my theory is really simple. Essentially I believe that there are always just two sets of options that we are presented with, and each of those options will create two unique possibilities. By using that as a sort of flow chart, I find that problem solving can be simple and entertaining,” Allens concluded.

“So, how does your theory help us here?” Clair asked.

“Well, Clair, it’s simple really. We have cracked the Triassic Journal and have concluded that in doing so, we have drawn the attention of some rather, well, esoteric forces. We believe that these forces, mystical in nature if they truly are, are somehow based in Antarctica. As impossible as that seems, we cannot ignore our shared nightmares. Couple that with the scientific data based around the age of the Journal itself, and we almost have ourselves a working concept. Of course, I am still not sold on the idea that it is demons or devils. There could be some larger degree of trickery, but since we have nothing to explore or examine in that arena at this time, we have to table those questions for the time being.

“So, going with what we do have, we continue to study and unwind this mystery. We know that Dr. Hart reached out to his friend at the Dakota Science Station and found evidence that a young man, this Derrick Reynolds, was rescued there. We know that he spoke of a hidden city. We have those comparisons. So, with all of that, we are left with two options, as stated in my Theory of Two.

“Our first option is to do nothing. We can continue to live with these nightmares and simply hope that it improves. I think, though, that we, as scientists, would be rather poor in practice if we ignored this and buried our heads in the sand.”

Both Clair Nobles and Janice Batiste nodded in unison at that. Had they intended to ignore this, they would have all gone home by now instead of remaining together and comparing notes day after day.

Allens continued, “So, that leaves us with the other option, to find this Derrick Reynolds and hope he can shed some light on this matter. Judging from Hart’s letters, it would appear that no one believed him. I can understand that. If a young man were to appear at my office blabbering on about demonic cities in Antarctica, I probably wouldn’t believe him either. However, we, as you both know, have recently uncovered evidence that he may be telling the truth, or at least have some degree of usable information.

“Now, following that option, our path becomes rather crystal clear, we have to track him down. Clair, forgive my age on this, but I would assume that you are far more capable of blazing a trail on this social media of ours than either me or Janice, so we will put you at the helm on this little expedition.”

Clair agreed, and the search commenced.

Now, one might think this to be easy, what with all the capabilities of Google and Facebook these days. However, problems became clear early on. First of all, they knew that Derrick was from New Orleans, but they had no way to know if he was still there. They focused their search on Louisiana, and tried to find the right Derrick. There were, though, hundreds of people by the name of Derrick Reynolds in Louisiana; it was a very common name. They focused their search down to New Orleans, which helped, if in fact that was the right Derrick.

There were plenty of Facebook accounts with pictures. The other issues that began to present themselves, though, were that they didn’t know what he looked like. They narrowed their searches to people between the age of 23 and 28, but still there were quite a few options to choose from, and still, the group didn’t know if their Derrick Reynolds was even in New Orleans anymore, or if he even had a Facebook account. Since Dr. Hart had been their contact within the Dakota Science Station, they weren’t really able to tap that resource again. The doctors there had already broken laws in sharing as much information as they did with Hart; they likely wouldn’t do it again with strangers.

“Ugh, this is impossible! How the hell do teenagers figure this crap out so easily!” Clair announced, slamming her fists down on the desk. Allens and Batiste looked up from their notes.

“Oh, Clair, complaining about the youth of America, you are becoming a fine old fogey at a ripe young age,” Batiste joked. “Trying to give Christopher here a run for his money?”

Clair sighed, “What are we supposed to do, Janice, just try and contact every Derrick Reynolds in Louisiana and ask them casually if they ever happened to crash a yacht in Antarctica?”

Allens interjected, “Tell you what, ladies, let’s call it a night. We’ll head home and catch eight hours of slumber and resume again tomorrow. We’re no good to each other exhausted.”

“I hate going to sleep now,” Batiste said grimly. “That’s when I have those damned nightmares.”

“All the reason for us to figure this out, get some degree of closure. Perhaps when we learn more about this, our minds will simply shut those images out. After all, it’s science that sheds the light into the darkness.”

Both Clair and Allens waited for Janice to interject her usual Christian logic into that comment, say something about how God also defeats the dark, but the woman only nodded and sighed.

This actually saddened Clair. She certainly didn’t agree with all of Janice’s archaic theocratic thinking, but she knew that was part of the woman’s self-image; she knew it was something important to her. To see that being snuffed out only hammered in the thought that these nightmares were winning, stripping away at the self-identity of a brilliant thinker. Clair worried that this toll might eventually weigh down on all of them.

“Okay, tomorrow then,” Clair agreed, and the think tank adjured for another night.

Clair drove to her small rental apartment in New York. She still couldn’t see this place as home. It was tiny and she never decorated it. All of her personal items, those comforts, were back at her real home in New Hampshire. She missed Dartmouth, she missed teaching, she missed Dr. Redbay most of all, though. He was her mentor after all, and she really wished that he was here to help guide her. She had called him quite a few times after the press conference. She wanted to tell him about the nightmares, wanted to ask him what to do. But she knew Redbay too well; he was a real subscriber to the concept of sink or swim. She already knew what he would say, he would tell her to figure it out, to conquer the mystery and achieve the goals. Redbay was the only man she knew that would shame Dr. Allens in a contest of pragmatic thinking.

Plus, she didn’t want to seem weak to him. He had trusted her to represent Dartmouth in the think tank. He had put the reputation of his beloved university on her shoulders. Perhaps it was pride that kept her from reaching out to him; perhaps it was the fact that deep down inside, she had a strange schoolgirl crush on the man. She wanted to return to Dartmouth a champion of science, not a beaten young woman asking her elders to rescue her from her own indecision.

From Fear Comes Salvation

She entered her apartment and changed out of her work clothes into her sweats. She fished some leftover Chinese food from her fridge, turned on the television, and spent the rest of the evening trying to think about Antarctica, the Triassic Journal and Derrick Reynolds as little as possible.

Finally she retired to bed. That night she dreamed as usual, only this time, her dreams took her to new places.

Clair was standing on a cobbled street. As is the logic of dreams, she wasn't quite sure she was in fact dreaming; however, she did understand that something was off. Looking to her left and right, she was surrounded by darkness. There was an overwhelming sense of emptiness where she stood. Directly in front of her, though, was a double set of wooden doors. On either side of the doors rested a burning torch. The fire from the torch did nothing to illuminate the area around her, only casting orange light on the doors themselves and a small wooden sign above this entryway.

The Fox's Den

Still being propelled by the explainable yet undeniable logic of the dream, Clair knew, without really knowing, that she needed to enter this building. After all, there was nothing else to really keep her attention out here, so why not explore a bit.

Upon entering Clair found herself in what appeared to be a tavern. It reminded her of something out of an old movie, lit by gas lamps and a roaring fireplace. She caught sight of a bar in the back stocked with numerous bottles of liquor. At first the place appeared empty, until the clanging of bottles caught Clair's attention. A man stood up from behind the bar; apparently he had been ducked down, working out of sight.

He was a young man, handsome in the face with very sharp eyes. "Evening, Miss, welcome to the Fox's Den. Is this your first visit to our establishment?"

"I believe so, yes," Clair responded.

"Ah, perfect. We do so love it when new members join us here. My name is Lance Madison, I oversee operations here."

Clair nodded and smiled, "My name is Clair Nobles. I was out looking for a friend of mine; tell me Lance, do you have a patron here by the name of Derrick Reynolds?"

Lance appeared to think it over. "No ma'am, no such on the registry. However, if you stay here for a while you are apt to meet all sorts."

Clair stood about the bar for a moment longer, when that sudden sense of dread that we sometimes receive in dreams that have not yet evolved into nightmares begins to set in. She began to feel uneasy, but couldn't quite place the reasons why.

Lance Madison removed a cameo from behind his shirt and opened the clasp and showed Clair the image. She saw a lovely woman in what appeared to be a 19th century style photo. To her, it made sense, considering that this entire establishment, including the handsome young bartender, appeared to come from a different time.

"This is Jennifer; I intend to propose to her quite soon. Very exciting times we are living in, wouldn't you agree, Clair?"

Clair, out of courtesy, looked back down at the image. The woman's face had changed, though. What replaced the lovely picture from moments before was now what appeared to be the face of a burnt corpse.

Clair gasped, and that feeling of dread became that much stronger.

"Well, then, let's prepare you something to eat, shall we?" Lance announced, and walked into a back room.

Clair wanted to leave; every impulse in her body demanded that she flee. However, the rules that governed this dream turned nightmare seemed to have other plans for her. She tried to run but it was as though her feet were glued to the floor. The man, Lance, who at first appeared so friendly and warm, had also begun to alter right along with the dream. Clair was suddenly afraid of him, though she couldn't fully understand why.

"Here we are, Miss, the house special," Lance announced, returning with what appeared to be a steel bucket. A red substance sloshed from the bucket each time he took a step.

"What... what is that?" Clair asked as he placed the bucket on the bar in front of her.

"You're in luck, dear, this is a Delphian specialty, shipped all the way from the frozen lands of Antarctica, prepared specially for you. Enjoy!"

Lance dumped the contents of the bucket onto the bar, revealing human limbs, human faces skinned from the skull. Other body parts poured out in what appeared to be an endless supply. Hands, feet, bones, organs and eyes all washed across the bar in a flowing river of blood.

"Hyraaq Tobit wants us to feast, Clair, so feast, feast, FEAST!"

The landscape of the dream was now changing at a rapid pace. Madison was no longer the same young, friendly man she had met at the start. Now he was older, his dark brown hair was faded and receding slightly. His worry lines and crow’s feet deepened on his face. It appeared as though he aged twenty-five years in less than a minute. He was now wearing robes similar to those of a Catholic priest.

The bar had changed as well. No longer were there rows of liquor bottles behind Madison, now there were stain-glass windows that depicted visual horrors that turned Clair's blood cold. One featured a goat headed man skinning a woman alive; however, under her face was a goat skull. Another showed men in hoods standing over a burning city. As her eyes darted from window to window, the depictions became more disturbing, until she was afraid that her mind might overload from the sheer shock that someone could craft such horrors into glass.

The final window was by far the most terrifying. It showed a star burning red in one panel. The next showed people being pushed onto the surface of this star. They were writhing in flames, reaching up to a rescue that simply did not exist. Somehow Clair knew this place was real, that this wasn't just another depiction of hell or some other concept designed to scare people into being obedient. She knew this was somehow different.

Above that star, watching the souls burn and beg, watching their skin melt and bubble, was a being on a black throne. The window did not fully depict this creature, rather leaving it in shadows. However, what she could make out were horns, like that of a goat or a ram.

Behind it floated a castle, even blacker than the throne. Clair realized that the castle she was seeing in this image was indeed the most wicked domain in possibly the entire universe. She didn't understand that logic; she simply knew it to be true.

"Children of Tobit!" Madison announced, causing Clair to jump in terror, "We are gathered here tonight to bring forth the will of our most Holy Savior, The Molder of our Minds, He who sits at the Dawn of Creation, Hyraaq Tobit!"

Clair spun around to see that she was now standing at the altar of a massive cathedral. The pews were all filled with fanatical zealots, all of them hungry to see Madison deliver his sermon, and to witness whatever unholy conclusion occurred at the end of this ritual.

Clair turned back to face Madison, but he was gone. She turned back to the congregation, but saw that the pews were now emptied. The dream still carried on at its own pace, delivering its own horrible revelations as it pleased. Clair was in a state of panic, and began to run towards the two huge wooden doors that she prayed in her mind led to freedom.

"I wouldn't go out there if I were you," a young female voice echoed from behind Clair.

She turned to see a girl of maybe nine or ten years of age standing in the center aisle. Clair began to walk towards her cautiously.

"Hello, Miss Clair, my name is Soka. If we meet in real life, you probably won't be able to talk to me, since I mostly speak Japanese. The nice people here in Delphia, the ones that saved me from Lance Madison, they learned that we can all talk in dreams though."

"How do you know my name, Soka?" Clair asked when she was finally close enough to talk at a low tone.

"Miss Clair, we all know about you. We know about you, and Mister Derrick Reynolds and all the others that are going to help us."

"I don't understand," Clair responded.

"I know. It's okay, Miss Clair, none of us understood at first. Now, we don't have much time, so please listen. You need to find Derrick Reynolds soon. We think that he may be in danger. A very bad lady is after him, and if she finds him, she will kill him."

Clair spoke, "Yes, we are trying very hard to find him, but it's not that easy. All we have is a name; we don't know where to even start. Besides that he used to live in New Orleans."

Soka replied, showing the agitation that is always humorous when displayed on the face of small children trying to make a point that they feel should be easy for an adult to understand. "You have to find one shell, and I think a square. That's where you'll find the right Derrick."

"What, I... I don't understand, one shell and a square..."

"That's all I know, but the nice people told me that you're really smart, that you'll be able to figure that clue out."

"Okay," Clair replied, "I will do my best, I promise."

"You have to do it quickly, Clair, before the bad lady finds him. Also, my friend Timothy VanBuren... he knew Derrick. They met; they were friends too. Tell Derrick that when you find him. If he doesn't believe you, tell him that you know friends of Timothy VanBuren..."

Before Clair or Soka could continue, a sudden burst of cold air filled the room. Clair looked up and saw a woman lying on the altar in a mock seductive pose. She was wearing a goat mask.

"That's the baddest of all the bad ladies, Miss Clair; that's the scariest one of all. We have to go now, we have to wake up now or she'll find out where me and my friends are hiding!"

The woman on the altar raised up the goat mask, revealing an attractive young face with very short brown hair. She swung her legs off of the altar and began to walk towards Clair and Soka.

"Telling more of your little stories again, are you, Soka?" the woman asked as she briskly approached.

"Clair Nobles, let me save you a lot of time and energy. Your pal Derrick down in New Orleans is already fucked, perhaps literally and figuratively if Lacy is feeling frisky. Either way, this little bullshit mission you're on has failed. You're fucked, he's fucked, hell, everyone is fucked. It's a whole goddamned orgy going on around here. You're too late, girly. Go home and hope I don’t decide to wait for you under your bed tonight!"

Soka stepped between them, "She's lying, Clair; they haven't hurt Derrick yet. There is still time. Please, please, remember, one shell and a square; you have to remember that!"

Suddenly Soka and the mystery woman vanished, leaving Clair alone. The entire dream began to take on that melting feeling. She knew she could awaken if she applied as much will as she could to it. She had to escape this nightmare.

Clair sat up with a harsh gasp. She darted her eyes from side to side, quickly reaching over for the lamp switch. She was in her bedroom. She was awake. She sat up with the intention to walk to the sink and get a glass of water and try and clear her head of the horrible dream. Suddenly, though, she realized that was the worst thing she could do, she had to hold on to it.

Quickly fishing in her nightstand for a writing tablet and an ink pen, Clair began to write down everything she could recall from her nightmare.

Little Japanese girl named Soka.

One shell and a square.

Timothy VanBuren.

The Moments of Eureka

Clair didn't sleep the rest of that night, but rather sat behind her computer trying to piece together some degree of usable information. At about six that morning, she finally put the pieces together.

She was tempted to scream "Eureka!" at this discovery. She settled instead for a quick cheer and a broad smile that remained locked on her face as she walked into the think tank office that morning. Both Allens and Batiste noticed her look of victory as she entered.

"Dr. Allens, I do believe that Dr. Nobles here has made a discovery," Janice announced.

"I do believe I have!" she replied, and allowed her joy to spill out to her friends.

By lunchtime that day, the think tank had an impressive amount of data collected, as well as several theories they felt were worth exploring. For starters, Clair had solved the clues given to her in the dream, and the group felt confident that they’d found the right Derrick Reynolds.

“The little girl kept telling me, one shell and a square,” Clair explained. “At first I thought it was gibberish, until I Googled that along with New Orleans. Turns out that there is an office building there called One Shell Square. After a bit more digging, I found their corporate website where they were congratulating recent promotions. Turns out that our friend Derrick is an executive there, recently promoted.”

Clair had tacked a picture of Derrick from the website to the corkboard in their office. Based on his appearance, he was probably in his mid-twenties, just the right age for being a recent graduate who just might have gone on a celebratory boat ride.

“Are we sure, though, Clair? I mean, I don’t want to be a doubter here, but can we assume we have found the right man simply based on clues you received in a dream? All of our dreams as of late have been rather… murky, for lack of a better term,” Batiste asked.

“Or worse, what if this is some sort of trap?” Allens added.

“Trust me; I have considered that all morning. This new dream, though, had new elements. It was very different than what I’ve been experiencing. Usually, these nightmares concerning the goat heads are just that, dreams where I am being chased or threatened, but this one, it felt…organic,” Clair replied.

Janice Batiste took the floor and approached the white board that was now cluttered with notes and ideas. “So, Clair, for the sake of hypothesizing, let us make some risky assumptions. Let’s say that there is a city down there in Antarctica, this Delphia, as it was called. According to the doctors at the Dakota Science Station, Derrick said there was an evil cult there essentially holding people captive. From the way you describe the little girl in your dream, from the comments you say she made, it would almost appear that some sort of resistance has formed there. That’s the impression I gathered anyway.”

Allens took his turn at the white board next. “I agree with Janice, it is only natural that like-minded people would gather together and try to reach out for help, if in fact they are being held there by force. And if there really are methods there where people can be reached out to in dreams, it would make sense that those methods could work both ways. In other words, if some nefarious forces were using the dreams to torment or intimidate us, then it is likewise feasible that a resistance group could use those same methods to try and assist us.”

Clair spoke again, “Well, according to the little girl, Derrick Reynolds is in grave danger. So, with time being of the essence, we need to make a move now.”

“Are we sure we have the right Derrick, though?” Batiste asked.

“Yes,” Clair responded. “After I found his name on the corporate website, I kept digging. He had a corporate email, which I was able to pair with his LinkedIn account. His LinkedIn account had a link to his Facebook. While his Facebook was set to private, he had a few photos set for public view.”

“In English, Clair; some of us here don’t speak Microsoft,” Allens said without humor.

Clair jumped on her computer and pulled up Derrick’s Facebook. Scrolling quickly through the few available pictures, she found the one she wanted. It was taken at a dock in Biloxi, Mississippi. It showed Derrick and another man tagged as Sergio standing in front of a fancy private yacht. The caption below the picture read,

Taking this bitch down to South America, time for hookers, blow and a truck load of tacos!

“There are too many similarities here to ignore, doctors. We have more than enough evidence to make an educated assessment, don’t you agree?” Clair asked.

Batiste sighed, “Hookers, blow and tacos huh? This is the guy that’s supposed to help us come to terms with our nightmares?”

Hunting with Fear

Clair went to work on contacting Derrick right away.

Clair Nobles was brilliant; no one could deny that. She was very beautiful, another fact that simply could not be denied. She was also young, and this fact had, if anything else, served her mostly well. Unlike her fellow think tank members, she was willing to take greater chances, willing to charge head-on into situations where her colleagues might otherwise hesitate. This made her often develop a degree of tunnel vision that her older, wiser counterparts might have been able to see through. For this reason, Clair never noticed that she was being followed over the last week.

She didn’t notice that certain items in her small apartment weren’t right where she had left them. She didn’t notice those small details that perhaps someone with a bit less of a bullheaded mentality would have.

Perhaps Clair can’t be blamed completely, though. Items within the work-space that the think tank shared had been altered a bit as well. Items that were moved just slightly, to say, place a small camera or microphone in an indiscreet location. Allens and Batiste had also been quite enthralled by their studies. While the two senior researchers might have been hesitant to admit it, they had already agreed that Clair was their unofficial leader. She was sharp and bold, two great attributes of a winner. Clair was their champion here, and as has been said before, champions are not always known for their attention to detail.

Thanks to this complacency, Clair’s apartment, as well as the think tank study hall, were all rigged with cameras and microphones. Two unseen visitors, digital intruders one might say, had been listening to almost everything they had discussed and discovered.

However crafty these mysterious stalkers might like to think themselves, they had also been too slow in making a move. Perhaps they were a bit impressed with the group’s progress. Perhaps it was just a matter of simple human curiosity preventing them from shutting down the entire operation as they had originally intended. They knew that this think tank was impressive; they had after all deciphered the language of Dawning and made headway in a study that the rest of the world would never even know existed.

Their original plan had been to stop the think tank’s progress right here in New York. Muddle the group up enough to shut down the whole thing. However, as they all knew now, Clair had found out the identity of the real Derrick Reynolds. The two stalkers had done their best to stop that as well, but somehow, someway, Clair Nobles had gotten enough information to track him down. Now it was only a matter of time before they all came together and brought even greater awareness to Delphia.

Their hands had been forced now, and more drastic measures would be needed. Clearly Clair was not going to stop until she reached some degree of satisfaction in this matter. She was playing a far too dangerous game, regardless of how high her IQ may be. The time for waiting and watching had ended.

The two men watched as Clair, Allens and Batiste left their office. It was around lunch time, so it made perfect sense. According to what they’d observed over the last week, the group was quite fond of a little café several blocks away, so it was safe to assume they were heading that way.

“We must move fast. Once we get out of the car, we hit the door, hit the office and do what we have to do in there,” whispered the first man.

The second man nodded.

During the official days of the think tank, this office had been bustling with activity. There were researchers and historians crawling all over the place. There had been a receptionist to take calls, food had been catered in to them and the halls echoed with the exciting sounds of life and learning.

However, once the press conference had concluded and the Triassic Journal had been whisked away to be stored and put on display in some museum or another, the entire life of the office changed. The funding that each of the doctor’s schools had poured into this went away. In fact, Clair and her friends were renting this place out of pocket now, which meant that a lot of cutbacks had come in. For one, it was just the three of them. No more receptionist, no more food runners, no more assistance from other researchers.

This worked out just too well for the two men who were now going to work feverishly on the locked glass doors. There was a moment of struggle, fine motor skills being put to the ultimate test, and then a satisfying pop as the locks slid over and access was granted.

“Destroy everything,” the lead man whispered to his accomplice.

The two men worked quickly, smashing laptops, shredding notes and scattering as much research material to all four corners of the room. They made sure that nothing would be usable after they left.

“Okay, give me the container,” whispered the lead man again.

A large Tupperware container was presented, filled with a dark crimson liquid. Human blood.

Moving as quickly as possible without being overly sloppy, the lead man used a small paint brush and wrote a message out on the wall with the blood.

“Agents of Delphia see all, know all and punish all. Turn back now, lest you face the wrath of Tobit.”

With the small amount of blood remaining, the man wrote:

“Hail Delphia, Hail Tobit”

“We’re done, let’s go!” barked the lead man, and like thieves in the night, they were gone as quickly as they had arrived.

The two men returned to the basement of a nearby abandoned building to resume their operations. The adjusted their listening devices and waited for Clair and her companions to return.

"Do you think they'll get the message?" asked one of the men.

His partner replied, "I hope. There is a step 2 to this that I certainly hope we do not have to indulge in. It will be ugly and I am hoping that this will do the trick."

They both sat in silence for some time; their shared mission was enough to keep their minds occupied. Idle chatter was really not necessary.

"What do you think the odds are that this will work? They seem damned determined to see this through. Do you believe that trashing their office and writing threats on their wall will be enough?"

The other man looked over towards the locked chest in the corner of their makeshift hideout. He knew what was contained within would be a last resort. He was hoping through hope that the common sense of the research scientist in that building would kick in. He was hoping that they would weigh the risk against the payoff and see that it made far more sense to simply turn and run. The two men were aware of their plans to meet up with Derrick Reynolds. They knew that should these forces come together, balances would shift. Powers might be awakened that otherwise would be content to remain dormant.

Delphia was a delicate flower, to say the least. It existed, and would likely continue to for all of time. Its impact on the world at large, generally speaking, was minimal. Sure, people were lost there from time to time, but if one were to crunch the numbers, they would see that these few losses were a much easier pill to swallow than the all-out hell that could be released. What Clair Nobles was doing was essentially poking a very large, very dangerous hornet's nest with a stick. So far, the hornets really only came out one or two at a time, and only stung once in a while. Should she keep poking though, more likely than not, the entire damn colony would swarm out to protect itself.

"I think this will work, I really do. These are smart people, people with lives and careers. When they walk in and see their nightmares come to life, I do believe that common sense will win the day. Let Clair go home and live her life. She is young and has a career ahead of her that will rival a lot of the greats."

The other man was about to reply, something sarcastic about not becoming too emotionally attached to the target, when voices began to emit from their speakers. Clair and company had returned.

At first, only muffled chatter came through. Neither of the eavesdroppers could make anything out. However, as the voices grew louder, they knew it was only a matter of time before the discovery was made.

"... so lunch was especially bland today, Janice. I do believe that they are getting tired of our business." The voice of Dr. Allens from another room.

"Christopher Allens, I think you are the only man I've ever met that could somehow turn a lovely little meal into an attack on your character...." Reply from Dr. Batiste.

"I don't care what they think of us, bread that soft and warm is worth a little... OH FUCK!" Clair Nobles, growing alarmed.

"Language, Clair," echoed the matronly voice of Batiste.

"No, get in here, look at this!" Clair screamed.

"My God, are we really seeing this?" The voice of Allens.

"No, no, no, this is like the nightmares, but coming true!" A panicked Batiste.

"Calm yourself, Janice; we've experienced this before in the waking world, just not this intense. Do not allow yourself to be alarmed, we must remain calm," answers Allens.

"The data, we must preserve the data. Quickly, check the computers and the drives, secure any paper notes." The voice of Clair again, sounding stern, her leadership emerging.

The two men hear rustling for several minutes along with stressed voices mumbling. The occasional expletive can be heard.

"The laptops are trashed, someone busted them up and did some real damage to the hard drives," Allens calls across the room.

"Same with paper notes, all shredded up," Clair answers.

"What about thumb drives, or data at home?" Allens asks her.

"I have some stuff at home, but the bulk of the information is... was here," Clair, sounding forlorn.

"External hard drives, thumb drives, come on, how much do we still have?" Allens demanded.

"We have all of the Triassic Journal research backed up on our college share drives, so all of that is safe. It seems that we have lost the majority of our own personal research," Clair replies, sounding on the verge of either tears or rage.

"Then we've lost nothing!" Allens announces.

"Dr. Allens, how can you be so cavalier?" The voice of Batiste.

"I am not cavalier, Janice; I am simply being realistic. We already know where and how to contact Derrick Reynolds. We don't need an office or computers for that. This nonsense written on the wall in what appears to be...." a few moments pass with no talking, "....blood, yes, I do believe that is blood. But so what? We have been dealing with these little haunted house tactics for weeks now. Who here is scared? Who here wants to run home. We are scientists; we do not run from challenges. We do not hide from the darkness; we shine a BIG FUCKING LIGHT right into the heart of that darkness until there is no darkness left. THAT is what we do! Whoever attempted this little diversion was too little too late. The time to be afraid has passed. We are beyond that. The point to turn back came and went the moment that we all went on national television and revealed our findings to the entire scientific world!"

"Maybe even before that," the voice of Clair, "I think the second we all agreed to take part in the study. It's like, something marked us."

"Enough is enough, then," Allens began. "Clearly we are done here. So, remember my Theory of Two. It's quite simple what we do from this point. Our lab has been vandalized, our research has been destroyed, and our very sense of reality has been threatened. Now, gather around. I am going to write out our next move, we read it, and we go. I am not sure if these beings have the ability to hear our words, but when they can invade our dreams, anything seems possible. If they can read our very thoughts, then they will know anything we try to do regardless of how hard we work to be secretive. This is my proposal, if anyone objects, speak now. Otherwise, we move forward tonight."

The two men listened for any hint or clue. Clair and her pals were being as quiet as church mice, though, and their little plan to write things down caused new problems.

"...okay... so... our homes.. pack." that was all that came through the speakers. However, it was enough to give the two men an idea of their next move.

The two men turned their gaze towards the trunk in the corner of the room.

"I really don't want to do that; it seems, vulgar," stated one of the men.

"The time for such sensibilities has passed. We make our move tonight. Clair Nobles will not meet Derrick Reynolds, we shall see to that."

Standing Against Terror

At her apartment Clair powered down her laptop and stuffed it into her small suitcase. She threw enough clothes in for a few days. Her hands were shaking as she was trying to remember any other possible items that she would need to bring with her.

After she and the others had found their office vandalized, Allens had quickly organized the group into action. There was little time; all three of them knew that. Clair was also very worried for Derrick, as her dream suggested, he was in grave danger. This latest attack on her and her friends proved that could be quite the case. If they were bold enough to break into a New York City office in broad daylight, she was afraid to think of what they might choose to do in the cover of darkness.

Allens’s letter had calmed her, though. It contained the sort of rule and order that she needed right now. She looked at it in her hand and felt a degree of comfort in just knowing that someone else was aware and experiencing all of this too. Had she been going through this alone, she thought she may have gone insane from it all.

“Go home and pack. Get tickets to New Orleans. Do not attempt to get the same flights or times. Once we all arrive, we will make contact there. If we are being followed, this will at least force them to focus on multiple moving pieces instead of one easy target. Try and reach Derrick by phone if possible, tell him to be on his guard, but help is on the way.”

Allens’s instructions had been simple and direct, and that was exactly what Clair needed. She knew that at this moment, Allens and Batiste were both getting their plane tickets and packing their bags. She wouldn’t feel truly safe again though until she saw that they were both alright.

She attempted to call Derrick’s office, but only got his receptionist. At first the woman, Marie, sounded as though she were going to be some use. She stated that she thought he was still in his office, and Clair took that as a good sign. All she needed was a few moments of his time after all. However, after several rings, it went to voicemail.

“Derrick, my name is Clair Nobles. It is very important that I speak with you immediately. I am a friend of Timothy VanBuren. I know that may sound insane to you, but, well, let’s just say that we need to speak very soon. You should also be careful; there may be some people after you. A woman more than likely, although I can’t remember the name right now. Just know that this has to do with your yacht trip. Please, call me immediately!”

Clair had concluded the message with her return number. She then sat down and wrote an email to Derrick’s corporate email handle provided on his company’s website. The email expressed the same concerns and left the same contact information for Clair. She hoped those messages reached him in time, before whomever, or whatever, was hunting him found its prey.

With her bags packed, Clair brought her suitcase out and set it down next to her front door. She gave everything one more think-over, a dangerous choice when time was such an essence, but she couldn’t simply turn off being a scientist. She remembered her shower bag; of course, she would need her toothbrush and other bathroom essentials. She trotted back to her tiny bathroom and grabbed the bag, only to step back out into her living room to the sound of her front door gently closing.

Standing in her living room, in the harsh light of the eighty watt bulb, was a goat masked cultist. This time there was no midnight visit in the shroud of darkness, not nightmares of cryptic threats and shadowy fears. This time it was right there in the brightly lit waking world. Clair gasped.

“Who… who are you?” she asked, her voice cracking from fear.

It said nothing, but took several steps forward.

“I’ll call the police!” Clair shouted at the silent stalker, hoping that a lifetime of that threat bearing some weight would work here. It responded by taking another step.

Clair frantically pawed at her pocket for her cell phone. The damn phone had a rubber Otter Box and was always hard to pry out of her jeans. She took another step backwards, into her open kitchen area, while trying to free the phone. Her logical mind told her she was wasting her time. There was no way that creature was going to simply stand there while she went through the steps of unlocking her screen, pulling up her keypad and then inputting 9-1-1. She had to think of something else, and quickly. Abandoning the phone idea for the moment, she darted her eyes back and forth. She thought she saw a possible grain of salvation in her sink, just maybe.

The cultist though had apparently seen enough, and was now advancing towards her.

Clearing her mind, Clair pulled up her logical side again. If years of schooling and hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt couldn’t save her now, then what had it all been for? As the creature closed in on her, she reflected on Allens’ Theory of Two, his little critical thinking device that he was so damned proud of.

Clair thought to herself, “Okay, this thing is here. It won’t speak and it apparently isn’t afraid of the idea of me calling the cops. The cops would never get here in time anyway, so they aren’t even in the equation. I have two choices here, to fight or run. If I run, I can only go back into my bedroom and lock the door. This thing already got past the deadbolt on my front door, so the idea of my little bedroom lock keeping it out is ridiculous, so take that out of the equation. That only leaves one option, to fight.”

The creature was now pushing itself through the living room and into the kitchen. Clair however, was amazed at how calm she was at this second. It was as if Allens’ little theory had become her mantra. She kept going.

“Okay, so if I try to fight it with my bare hands, I will likely lose. I am not trained in martial arts or anything, and it’s wearing that stupid mask, and for all I know, a damned cup. So, bare hands are out of the equation. That only leaves…”

Clair’s mantra was cut off as the creature moved upon her.

“Abandon Delphia…” the creature whispered to her as it closed in. Its voice though; it sounded harsh, harsh but forced, like someone trying to mask themselves.

It also appeared to be hesitating. Clair wasn’t sure if this was all part of the creature’s game or something, but here it was, standing right before her, lodging its threats, but making no move. What was it waiting for? Clair decided not to wait and find out, and instead grabbed the knife that she eyed before in her sink. She was expecting the creature to bat it from her hand or pounce her to the floor. However, it appeared almost shocked at her boldness, as though it were expecting fear and conformity from her and nothing else and simply wasn’t prepared to deal with this.

Clair held the knife towards the creature, and was pleasantly surprised when it almost appeared to flinch back. “Get the fuck out of my way!” she snapped at the cultist, jabbing the knife in its direction.

It didn’t move, neither in defense or attack. It seemed almost... confused. Clair was starting to understand; it had come here with a plan, and now its plan was falling apart. It had bet all of its chips that fear would allow it to have its way with her, and now that fear wasn’t working, it had no Plan B.

For just a moment, Clair was tempted to power play this whole situation. Order it to remove its mask, call the police and celebrate this fool’s failure. However, another idea popped into her mind. If she did all of that, called the cops, had it arrested, well, that would take more time. Time that Derrick Reynolds, time that perhaps those fighting back in Delphia, simply didn’t have. The office vandalism, this unsure, inept cultist with no backup plans- it all seemed more like a stall tactic than an actual attack on their lives. As much as Clair wanted to unmask this idiot and show that she was no terrified little girl, she also had a mission to complete, and people counting on her.

She continued to hold the knife out, directing it towards the cultist. She moved towards it as she circled towards her front door. For just a moment, when they were at their closest, she could hear it breathing. It breathed that raspy breath of concern and panic. She wondered just who and what was under that goat mask, but didn’t allow herself time to dwell. Once she was cleared from the kitchen, she grabbed her suitcase and was out the door. As far as she was concerned, it could keep the apartment, she was pretty sure she was done with the New York phase of this project anyway.

On the street, she quickly hailed a cab and made her way to the airport. She never noticed that small car that had been following her home almost every night. The one parked across the street that she passed in her cab at this very moment.

A man was sitting alone in that car, wondering what the hell went wrong in the apartment. His partner should have scared her right into submission, yet there she was, on her way to the airport to fly to New Orleans.

“We failed,” the man mumbled to himself. “Now she’s heading to the airport. There won’t be another chance to scare her out of this.”

A few moments later, his partner came out of the apartment building, walking towards the car at a brisk pace. He had the robes rolled up with the mask inside. He tossed them into the backseat and climbed in.

The man behind the driver’s seat shot him a hot glance, “Trevor, what the fuck went wrong in there?”

“I couldn’t hurt her, Gregory; she’s a woman. What did you want me to do, beat her up?”

“No, brother, you were supposed to scare her into submission. Keep her there until she missed her damned flight; throw a monkey wrench into this whole damned operation.”

“She drew a bloody knife on me! What was I going to do, then, let her stab me, or fight her for it? This was a rotten plan from the start. We should have just spoken to them, not try all this fear garbage.”

“Well, Trevor, I guess you’re in luck then. Get on your phone and book us a flight to New Orleans. We’re going to have to try this a different way now. Remember, we do this to spare them the ordeals that were passed on to us. Never lose sight of the fact that we are trying to help these people!”

Trevor sighed, removed his cell phone and began the process of booking a flight. The Leary brothers were going to New Orleans.

Lacy Charms Derrick

Down in New Orleans itself, the sun had set some time ago and the humid night that was typical of this city was in full swing. All over town, both the young and not so young were out on the streets or piled into bars and clubs, hoping to find someone to share company with as the damp night turned into morning.

Two of those people currently sat in the Turtle Bay bar together. Derrick Reynolds and Lacy Suzino had spent the evening getting to know each other. As far as Derrick could tell, things were going fantastic. This gorgeous redhead with the dagger sharp wit and sardonic sense of humor was all over him. She laughed at all of his jokes, listened to his stories of growing up in the city, finishing college and taking a trip around South America.

As Derrick stared into her razor sharp green eyes, he found himself at an impasse of sorts. He had his own Theory of Two to consider. He was at the part of his story where he normally shifted to a lie. He and Sergio out on their boat, sailing from port to port, drinking and having a blast with no worries in the world.

Typically he would conclude this story there, just some post grad antics to let the ladies know he was a man of the world. However, with Lacy, he felt something deeper. She certainly seemed open minded, and he really wanted to tell someone the whole story, really go into detail about Delphia, the cult and all of the other strange events that he encountered.

He knew that this would go one of two ways. She would either scoff at the whole story, seeing it as nothing more than just a fantasy tale made up for barroom conversation, or perhaps, just maybe, she would listen and Derrick could finally be honest with someone that wasn’t a therapist or a police detective.

Using the Theory of Two without even knowing it, Derrick concluded that if she indeed scoffed, he could just turn it into one big joke. Perhaps he could even say it was an idea of a story that he was working on, The Devil Tobit of Antarctica, yeah, that seemed like a good name, and that would work too. There would be nothing lost and he could just carry on his night with her.

However, should she believe him, well, as he said before, he could finally find some degree of vent for this whole thing. Who knows, maybe this was where the real healing began, with the ears of a stranger. Taking down a large sip of his drink, Derrick decided to go for it.

He told his story, as best he could under slightly drunken conditions, and waited for her to respond.

“So, Derrick, you’re telling me that you and your pal Sergio shipwrecked on Antarctica, and you stumbled into a lost city?” she asked, eyebrows raised.

“Yes, they called it Delphia, and it was fully populated. There was this cult there and they did some insane rituals. I escaped because someone that was already there helped me. Had he not showed up, I would probably still be sitting there, a full time resident of Delphia.”

“Crazy shit in this world,” she answered, taking a drag of her cigarette.

“You think I’m crazy don’t you?” Derrick asked.

“You might be crazy, Derrick, but I know what I most certainly am,” she answered, and pulled Derrick into towards him.

“What is that?” he asked, locking eyes with her, their foreheads touching, their lips nearly together.

“Horny,” she answered with an impish giggle. She stood and took him by the hand. “Let’s go back to my hotel room. You can tell me all about Delphia over breakfast in the morning.”

Derrick allowed her to lead him out of the bar and back towards the high rise hotel building. In his mind he was walking towards another great conquest, another notch in his belt.

The fact that he was holding hands with the very personification of his own doom never crossed his mind. He was a champion after all, and as has been said time and time again, attention to detail was not his strong suit. Had it been, he might have noticed his phone’s notification that he had received an email marked with high importance. Perhaps he may have even noticed that television in the bar that reported on two dead bodies found in the French Quarter this very day. He may have noticed that witnesses described a slender woman in her twenties, wearing black boots seen in the area of both murders. However, he noticed none of that. His eyes were on the prize.

Sadly, and to his misfortune, so were Lacy’s, and unlike Derrick, Lacy’s prize had already sprung the trap and was just waiting for the hunter, or in this case, huntress, to mount his head on her wall.


Written by K. Banning Kellum
Content is available under CC BY-SA

Published May 17th, 2015

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