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Rated: 13+ · Novel · Horror/Scary · #1972817
Dog bit bat story
"Clearly, I am in the minority in this dispute, but I would ask you to be so gracious to hear me out," the abbot said.

The abbot stood and turned away from the room.

"Our position is...delicate," he began. "We are uncertain of the challenges that confront us."

The abbot turned and looked at Harper.

"Events seem to be focused on someone who is unfamiliar with the situation we normally face...through no fault of his own..."

Harper nodded.

'In contrast, the circumstances, again, through no fault of his own, seem to focus on him. Mr. Harper. We face threats we cannot effective gauge. We require intelligence we lack. To remove Mr. Harper creates a grave risk. Not only to him, but to all we have worked for through centuries. We have created a network that allows what would be a threat to the people who discovered it to become something inconsequential, that does not touch their lives, that they can ignore even in the midst of their everyday live. I know this place is a temporary refuge within the larger effort we maintain. However, to abandon the safety provided here, I think, is reckless. We can draw on resources to secure us and to discover what degree of threat we face. Any other path, I believe, is reckless."

"I believe it is no less reckless to await an enemy with resources we cannot calculate and expect a similar victory," Simeon said. "If this was a ruse to draw the target, as we might say for the moment, is Mr. Harper, it was not sufficient to force panic. Clearly, our enemy realizes that we are drawing on our own resources and building the around us. I have, as has Mr. Cagan, sent word to accomplish our relief. However, if some trap awaits, the idea of springing it amid our mobilization would be foolish at its best, and the confusion entailing would minimize the changes of even a desperate attack. The problem we face is an ability to remain at our full strength. How long will a siege last? Days, weeks, months? Couldn't fixing Mr. Harper in place be the goal of our enemy? On the move, we might have to shift our strategies. If Mr. Harper remains here, we are subject to those of our enemies. We lose the initiative. Mr. Cagan, I think, will attest that such is foolish in conflict."

"What do you think?" Harper said, turning to Cagan.

"I, for myself, am comfortable standing a siege," Cagan murmured.

"Just..." the abbot began and paused.

"A siege can serve more destructive purposes than the immediate circumstances suggest," Cagan said, his voice, rising, echoed through the chamber so that Harper felt a shiver ring through him. "Escape requires capture, and capture is subject to circumstances that the pursuer cannot calculate with certainty. A siege is attrition, and no more in the way of resources can be brought to bear in escape than is gathered in the siege. So I think the moment is right for escape. At least, if we act quickly, we might get ahead of what ever force surrounds us. A hundred beings that might surround us cannot concentrated on any route of escape, today. Tomorrow, a thousand would be more difficult to flee."

"So , we run?" Harper asked. "How fast and how far?"

"Quickly, but not far," Cagan said.

"We can provide cover for your escape," Simeon said.

"So be it," the abbot said, surprising a sigh. "I only wish to do my duty."

Harper smiled at the abbot and said, "I'm still alive, right?"

The abbot managed a slight smile in replay and said, "Yes."

"Duty completed," Harper said. "And honorably. And with my gratitude. But I gotta agree. Let's get clear and figure out what's going on before this goddam mystery falls on us like a ton of lead."


xx


The monastery began to feel like a prison as they awaited nightfall. Harper waited in the gallery, standing, resting, pacing, looking out at the garden as if was representation of freedom beyond the walls of the compound but worrying that emerging into might expose him to the whatever enemies might lurk in the vicinity.

"It's awful to wait," he muttered to no one but himself.

However, his guardian answered.

"We all wait."

"Yeah, and what are we waiting for?" Harper responded.

"To stand beyond all of the walls that confine us," the guardian answered. "To finally stand beyond the walls of time and see the truth of our efforts."

"That's very philosophical. I'm not sure it helps me."

"Maybe someday it might."

"Not today."

Harper proceeded down the gallery, away from his companion. Cagan, Simeon and the abbot had retired to the monastery office. Too confining. Harper paced anxiously. Monks patrolled the compound with bulging weapons underneath cloaks they had assumed. The weather was growing cooler, but Harper would not consider whether the chills that ran along his body arose from the cold or anxiety. Certainly, his desire to flee had urged him. Time, he wished, might be arranged before him so he could leap over the intervening moments to his escape. The afternoon light shifted across the garden the crept across the far wall of the compound. Time go go. His guardian stood beside him, unbidden and unanticipated.

Harper looked up at him and said, "I wish you wouldn't do that."

"Quickly now," the voice emerging from the backlit, hulking form. "We just be ready."

"Back into the star chamber," Harper muttered.

The shape turned its head quizzically.

"I have an interest in history," Harper said, "even if I'm not sure about wanting to know too much about my own."

When he entered the monastery office, Simeon was gone.

"Where is our buddy?" Harper asked.

"Organizing help for our escape," Cagan said from his chair beside the abbot's desk. The abbot, seated behind the desk, nodded. The window above him was dark.

"When is he due back?" Harper inquired sharply, the bitterness of his voice surprising even him.

"We won't see him," Cagan said. "He is with some of his fellows, assuring we have a safe passage out of here."

"Can he be sure its safe?"

Cagan rose and said, "If he cannot, we are doomed anyway."

"Cheerful," Harper said.

Cagan grinned.

"It's my experience a fight entered with a cheerful manner has a better of a victorious resolution."

"Are you serious?" Harper asked.

Cagan shrugged but he was grinning.

"Let's inflict some difficulties on our enemies and escape ourselves, if we can."

"So, there is a plan," Harper said.

"A better one than just waiting here," Cagan said.

"I wonder," the abbot muttered, then added conversationally. "I'm getting old. I enjoy the security of my walls. That doesn't make me right, I suppose. Well, let's go."

The abbot rose suddenly, and Cagan did as well.

"I can't talk the two of you into staying with an aging abbot, and you might be right to flee. I wish I could do more than get you beyond the neighborhood and say a prayer, but I do hope you will enjoy some greater safety," the abbot said.

"We'll have to see," Cagan responded, embracing the abbot.

The two men separated, and the abbot turned to Harper.

"Ah, what the hell," Harper said and embraced the abbot, who patted his bad lightly once and released him.

"I do feel a sense of responsibility for you," the abbot said to Harper. "And you have grown on me in our brief time together. You always are welcome here. Do not hesitate to return if you wish to do so."

"I won't," Harper said. "But I don't think I will be joining the order."

The abbot smiled and said, "We have had brothers who shared your condition, but not for generations. However, if your heart moves you in our direction..."

Harper chuckled.

"Let's get moving," Cagan said.

Cagan and Harper moved quickly through the door and along the gallery. Harper was not surprised to see his guardian join them, although his attire caused his pause. The large man was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt under a black leather jacket. He looked more like a biker than a monk.

"You going bar hopping?" Harper asked.

"Perhaps," the man said, "but first I'll see you to the subway station."

"We're taking the train?" Harper said to Cagan.

"Not something that our enemies would suspect. We will be in a closed system with security in place and random. Cameras. Undercover police. An attack would be extraordinary risky. And our friends know our route. They will be inconspicuous amid the passengers, making the risk all the greater. Our enemies must realize they will take a part in our escape. Once we are in the system, or ability to move quickly and through the crowds will shield us, but you must stick closely to me. Speed is our advantage, and the fact that they don't know where we are going. We can change direction, backtrack, check if we are being followed..."

"I don't know the subway all that well. I like cabs."

"Too easily followed. Stick close."

The arrived at the monastery gates. Three more monks joined them in street clothes, jackets and jeans, prepared to meld with the neighborhood. Tall men with olive skin and dark eyes that had a flintiness of purpose, even is the faces were masked in indifference.

Without hesitating, they strode through the gate. The little party passed old maple trees that cast shadow through the evening lamplight. The proceeded along the monastery wall. A man stood at the corner, back against a mottled tree trunk. As they approached his slipped way along the sidwalk until he disappeared beyond the far wall. Harper drew a breath.

"One of ours," Cagan said quietly.

"One of our friends?"

"Yes."

They continued past attached row house and the odd, older individual homes. Harper could see the lights of Steinway Street and people moving along it.

"What if they jump us out there?" Harper asked.

"They dare not," Cagan. "These beings live in shadows so deep that we barely know of them. They will not make a spectacle of themselves."

The party turned smartly at the corner and moved up the bright, open street.

"Yeah, but what if they do?"

Cagan shrugged.

"We have to take certain risks."

Harper imagined dark creatures in the shadows of each side street they passed, counting the men around him and calculating the odds.

"How far?" Harper asked.

"Three more blocks."

People passed them, couples hand in hand, old men in hats strolling, groups of young people spilling along the sidewalk. He could see the subway entrance across the street. An odd figure stood beside it. Even at a distance, its pale skin, contrasting with a black coat and hood made his appearance pronounced.

"Kind of obvious, isn't he?" Harper asked.

"He looks like half the artists who have their little colony in the neighborhood. Different, but not so out of place, at least to the people. He's a warning to our enemies. The subway entrance is guarded."

"Other entrances?"

"Not close and more heavily guarded."

"Hope we won't have to wait long for the train."

As the party approached the stairs leading to the underground trains, Harper slowed, looked to his guardian. The reached the stairs.

"Hey," Harper started so say.

The shaggy head nodded, but Harper felt a big hand push him firmly.

"No time for goodbyes," the man said, but he patted Harper's shoulder as they separated. The hooded figure stood back, scanning the street.

"Thanks," Harper muttered over his shoulder as he descended the steps.

Cagan turned with an easy motion as he began down the stairs, saying, "Thank you all."

Harper shuffled down the steps, but Cagan slipped own the stairs with only the balls of his feet touching the step edges. Harper struggled to keep up. A stale smell caught in Harper's nostrils as bright light and concrete filled his view. Ahead, the sound of metal squeezing moving metal resounded.

"Let's move," Cagan urged. "The abbot gave me his Metro card. I swipe, you go. Through the gate and down the far stairs."

Harper reached the subway platform and stared down the black tunnel beyond. Not sign of a train. He began to step down the platform, but a hand on his shoulder restrained him. He turned to Cagan.

"Now we wait," Cagan said, and nodded at a mid-platform camera pointed at them. Harpers pivoted his head looking for pale faces, friends or enemies, but everyone waiting for trains, on his platform and across the four tracks on the far side of the station, seemed fleshy and bored.

"I hate waiting for trains," Harper told Cagan.

"You and everyone else," came the replay.

Harper scanned the station as casually as he could manage. Nothing seemed amiss. The station, he observed, was cleaner and better maintained than he remembered. A lifetime ago, the thought. I lived in New York three years and a lifetime ago. Now, I'm living another life, filled with monsters. And I'm one of them.

"Something's wrong," Harper said.

"I know."

"What do you know? What did you see?"

"Something is nearby, but it's keeping well hidden."

"How?"

Harper guffawed.

"If I knew, I'd go look."

Far away in the corner of the station, a figure stood straight and still, wrapped tightly in a jacked and black cap. Harper looked at Cagan and nodded slightly toward the figure.

"One of ours," Cagan said.

"I'm not sure who I should scare me more, our friends or our enemies."

Cagan laughed, a reaction that surprised Harper.

"We do have scary friends, don't we? And they have scary friends, the two of us included. Don't worry too much. Whatever advantage our enemies have, we have our own. We know the ground, and they have to show themselves eventually. Then we'll see. You can't let your imagination get the best of you before a fight. Focus on what you have to do, and in this case, it's just to have my back, alright."

Cagan tugged at his clothes. He wore a long black coat, a lose shirt that resembled a tunic, equally black, and lose black cotton trousers.

"Couldn't they find anything that would fit you? Come to think of it, the clothes you wore yesterday were hanging off you. You lose weight or something."

"I'm one of those: Take it off, but it back on, take it off, put it back on."

"That's not a healthy lifestyle," Harper muttered, feeling ridiculous for discussing trivia with unfathomable danger surrounding them.

"A little chats good for the nerves," Cagan said, anticipating Harper.

"My nerves are fine," Harper said.

"Then unclench," Cagan said with a faint smile dancing across his face. "People are going to think you're some kind of terrorist."

"Not tonight, anyway," Harper said.

Somewhere down the tunnel, steel wheels screatched along metal tracks. Headlights appeared in the darkness.

"Finally," Harper said.

A train pulled in and the two men slipped through the doors as they parted. A dozen passengers occupied the car. Cagan and Harper took two empty seat together and watched the door close with relief.

"You think were clear?" Harper asked.

"I don't know," Cagan said.

Harper and Cagan settled into their seat. The passengers on the train paid no attention to them. Older women and men sitting with board expressions, some engaged with newspapers. Younger people pressing against and away from each other, attention focused on their smart phones. People music emininating from their electronic devices. Nothing extraordinary, yet Harper felt the hairs on his next stand up and a sleeping part of him stir. His eyes drew him to the window fixed in the door at the car's end. A face regarded him. Black eyes and features he could not describe moment by moment, except to say they were impossible to describe.

"Uh-oh," Harper said.

"I see," Cagan muttered. "Get ready to move."

"I didn't see that get on the train at the station," Harper grumbled.

"Nor did I," Cagan said. "Still, keep still and don't look down at it. Some plot hangs over us."

Cagan rose and Harper with him. The two men walked to the car's end and opened the door, stepping through to the tunnel's darkness and clammer. They stepped from car to car. Cagan threw open the heavy door to the next care and they proceeded through quickly. Almost through the next car, they assumed two open seats. Harper glanced down the length of the car. The same face hung in the window.

"And we move again," Cagan said.

They hurried along through the doors and to the next car. Harper resisted an urge to run. Cagan graped his arm.

"I'm alright," Harper murmurred.

"No," Cagan said. "Here."

The two men sat in unoccupied seats. Harper looked up and saw the face in the mirror again. The car was more heavily occupied than the last. Harper hoped the habitation would deter the being that stared through the glass in their direction. Cagan sat still beside him. The far door of the subway car slipped open slowly, as if it was automated. A dark figure moved across the worn floor without motion of its body, as if it floated. Do we fight? Harper wondered, the pit of his stomach sinking. How do we fight?

Harper turned to Cagan, but his companion paid no attention to the figure moving slowly past the seated passengers toward them. Rather, he regarded a small, rumbled man in a seat just a few feet away. The man was still, reading from a small book. Suddenly, the man became rigid then took the little book and put in into the pocket of a black raincoat. He glanced at Harper, then Cagan. His eyes were murky disks on grey orbits that a younger man would have beamed white. The lids of his eyes were swollen red in sockets that time were swollen with age. Folds of skin drooped from his face. He turned away and looked beyond the disinterested passengers to the dark figure slowly making its way toward them. The old man turned toward the figure, rose and grumbled. Harper thought at first it was some groan of fear or confusion, but after a moment, he realized the man was mumbling in Latin.

The figure paused. Slowly, the lights mounted along the juncture of the wall and ceiling took on a grey tone. Behind the being, a darkness descended like a midnight fog across the car and the people who slouched in their seats. Slouched. Wilted. One and in turn another seemed to slowly crumble into themselves as Harper watched. Something wanted to slip from between Harpers lips. His pulse quickened and he felt saliva well against the corners of his mouth. A turmoil arose within him, yet it was something he had never before experienced. From the corner of his eye, he saw Cagan's face draw and grey, but the eye he could see grew flinty, dark, an his forehead creased. The old man toward the creature. His bent frame seemed fragile, yet he straightened as he rose and lifted his right hand so the palm faced the other, and his speech became more distinct. The word. What had he said? Daemon?

Harper felt something electric passed through him. The lights surged with white light passing through the subway car until they blazed as brilliantly as a camera flash lit the chamber. Something screamed. The sound of metal surging past metal. Alike but different. Harper blinked away the glare. The subway car stretched before him, some of the passengers turning their heads in consternation but quickly returning to their distractions.

The dark figure was gone.

The old man returned his his seat with a sigh and turned toward Harper and Cagan. Only then did Harper notice the Roman collar. Harper regarded the man with wide eyes. The old man smiled through withered flesh.

"No not worry, my boys," he said. "That creature has retreated."

The priest's word formed thickly but carried an excited note. The accent was odd. New York with something ancient informing it.

"I..." Harper thought to say something in appreciation but a hundred questions tumbled past his mind, confounding his tongue, and he could do no more than stammer.

The old priest chuckled, only the least grim note betraying itself.

"Thank you, Father," Cagan said.

'You're welcome, certainly," the old priest said. "It was but a shadow of itself, trying to overwhelm the rampart of your minds with doubt. I think your determination will sustain you. I see purposes in your eyes and strength to sustain you. The shadow cannot lodge itself in your souls. The power that binds you is stronger than it is. I know. Do not trouble yourselves with explanations. I can feel the power bound to you. I hope the grace that will free you descends soon. Do you know though, that it is within you? You are not damned, as that creature is damned. Grace provides you with the key that will free you. Your burden is in finding the door it unlocks."

Cagan bowed his head and the priest made the sign of the cross over it. Harper found himself bowing as well and felt rather than saw the gesture repeated. A measure of calm descend upon him. A simple gesture.

"I get off the stop after next," the priest said, matter of factly.

"If you want to come along to our stop, I'd be happy to buy you a drink," Harper said.

"We have a ways to go," Cagan said.

"Then go in peace," the priest replied. "Do not trouble about the shadows, they have no power over the light even if they muddle it for their own pathetic reasons. Light will sustain you, if you embrace it. That ought to be your focus. Let the shadow pass."

The priest settled into his seat and retrieved his book. He sat quietly reading. Cagan turned to the darkness that slid by past the windows, breathing in a deep regular rhythm. Harper stared down the subway car's length. No one seemed to have noticed the conflict that had played through it, although, farther along the car, the passengers seemed to figit a bit, look up and return to whatever engaged them, as if they had been troubled by an insect and expected its return. A station passed, the subway car doors opening and closing. Then the next approached. The old priest stood, grasping the bar that ran above them.

"My stop" he said, bending over them. "I know it isn't humble to say, but who else can I tell? I feel better than I have in years."

The train stopped and the doors open. The old priest departed with a lively step. As the doors closed, he turned to wave at Harper and Cagan through the windows as the train slipped away.

"Okay, what the fuck was that?" Harper snapped a moment later.

Cagan laughed softly.

"You keep on trying, and, more often than you think, luck finds you."

xx

The train continued on its journey. Cagan sat in the seat the priest had occupied and Harper slipped into the space beside him.

"You got any insight into the last couple of minutes,cuz I wouldn't mind a little explanation."

"Whatever that thing is, it clearly doesn't like priests," Cagan said.

"What now you're developing a sense of humor?"

Cagan smiled and said, "I would not venture to say I understand what happened, except that foul things don't fare well in the presence of those who dedicate themselves to, well, let's say goodness, for lack of a better term. Even in common life, dark intentions rarely withstand the force of generosity on equal terms. In our circumstances, meanness, cruelty, the heart of that awful thing wither in exposure. In our circumstances, the effects of one and the other are more palpable. In any case, I suspect we are safe for the time being and our pursuer confounded. Try to relax awhile. We have a way to go yet."

"So, wait, what made you think..."

"Part of it was an instinct, part experience. We can discuss it later."

"Great," Harper grunted.

Harper sagged with fatigue, but fought to remain awake, time weighted and he surrendered to an urge to sleep. He dozed and started, rolling back into his jacket as the groan and grind of the train's passage slipped into silence.

xx

A blow tumbled Harper out of sleep.

"We're here," Cagan said.

Harper looked around until he caught the station sign.

"We're hiding in Coney Island?" he exclaimed.

"We'll blend right in," Cagan said, smiling.

They proceeded down from the station, past a collage of humanity, smiling, frowning, strolling, staggering, sliding past each other in plain and outrageous garb, singularly, as couples and knots, in a multitude of tone and accent, and slipped past a young woman in a string bikini arguing with a pair of ambulance attendants as she tumbled to the sidewalk and rose again, muttering, "I'm alight...I'm alright..."

"Just let us get you somewhere you can sleep," one of the attendants said. "Just let us get you to the hospital, and you can sleep. Otherwise, the cops are gonna pick you up..."

"Charming," Harper said, looking around him.

Revelers passed, but along the amusement booths, some closed with metal drapes, men leered, women mutters, while others, some standing in witness or conversation, others sprawled on the dirty concrete, lined the sidewalk. The scene was a hodgepodge of human revelry, some towing children to rides, others wrapped in chemical excitement. Everything smelled of waste, food, candy and stale beer. A rat shot out from a pile of garbage on the sidewalk as a passerby stumbled on it, as the rodent hurried into a crack in the concrete.

"Things get more congenial further along," Cagan said.

"I am afraid not," Cagan answered.

At the corner, they turned and crossed the avenue to a towering housing project.

"You're kidding, right?"

"We are going, although you might not believe it, to a safe house."

Cagan and Harper entered the courtyard. From the benches on either side of the walkway, men rose to approach them. Black men wearing scarves and bandanas in white.

"You okay?" Cagan asked.

"I'm feeling very white right now."

"Obviously."

"So what do we do?"

A big man approached. Taller than Cagan. He approached with measured steps. He reached toward Cagan. Harper wondered about his condition and whether he was better off in a worse condition.

The man embraced Cagan, who returned the embrace.

"We missed you, man."

Harper regarded the man's statement and Cagan's familiar smile.

"Been awhile," Cagan said.

"Trouble?" the man asked

"Trouble."

The man nodded to his companions, who began to disperse along the paths in the project.

"This is Harper," Cagan said.

A moment later, Harper found himself in a huge embrace. He smelt incense and cologne.

"Emmanuel," the man said, as he released Harper.

"Hello," Harper said, squeezing back an impulse to...what?

"He one of you?" Emmanuel asked.

"Yes," Cagan said.

"Not like that Charley character?" Emmanuel asked.

"He's not a runner," Cagan said.

"Good," Shateh said. "Don't wanna be lookin' inside and out."

"Are we good for tonight?" Cagan asked.

"Bad trouble?" Emmanuel asked in return.

"Worst kind," Cagan answered.

Emmanuel's face grew grim.

"Then you are particularly welcome," he responded. "I'll call the old man."

Emmanuel produced a cell phone and spoke rapidly in a French that confounded Harper's high school understudying of the language.

Emmanuel returned the cell phone to his pocket.

"He'll meet you inside," the man said. "I'll get the sisters together."

"Come on," Cagan said.

They hurried into the building. The doors were heavy metal, impenetrable from their appearance, with an intercom grill besides. As they rushed up a few steps to the building, a harsh ringing sounded and Cagan swept the door open. Inside, within a tiny lobby, a man awaited them, coffee skin contrasting his white pants and shirt hung with a string of brown beads.

"Hurry," the main said, gesturing toward the metal door of an elevator as is slid away.The four men slipped inside.

"This is Dr. Pierre," Cagan said, as the three men brushed passed each other in the tiny metal car.

"I can smell it on you," the man said in accented English, touching the beads.

Harper turned to Cagan.

"We managed to get by it," Cagan said.

The man laughed.

"Fear is the only weapon it has, don't worry. Keep your courage."

"It has allies," Cagan said.

The man grunted.

"It must, feeble as it is. But we should be aware of its machinations. Not here, though. The sisters are singing and perfuming the air. Blind it. Deafen it. Not to worry. Who is this?"

"This is Harper," Cagan said.

The man extended a hand and Harper shook it.

"New I think," the man said.

"Yes," Cagan replied.

"But I'd say alarmed and hard pressed."

The man took Harper's hand again and held it.

"No harm will come to you here," Dr. Pierre said, releasing Harper's hand. "We demand truth from shadows, and they disappear."

The elevator banged to a stop and the door slid open.

"Come on," Pierre said, striding out of the elevator. "I'll will take you to a place you can rest."

Harper expected the smell of old urine and new pungent herbs to meet them as they emerged from the elevator, but instead, the aroma was one of incense. Rather than shouting and blaring music, the halls echoed with quiet chanting.

"The doctor got things ready for you," Emmanuel said to Harper from the doorway of the elevator. "Knew you were coming before you did."

"Thanks," Harper said, choosing not to consider Emmanuel's remark.

"Head back down," Emmanuel said. "Me and mon amis take care of those allies if they show up."

The elevator doors closed and Emmanuel returned to the courtyard.

Dr. Pierre led them into an apartment. Smoke from incense filled the room. Harper regard the braziers. Each had a face on it lid, with smoke eminating holes from round, brass eyes. The faces were contoured in stylized rapture.

"Sit, please," Dr. Pierre said, gesturing to a pair of sofas flanked by lamps embellished with crystals that danced in the light they cast.

"Sure," Harper said, sitting. "But where do we do from here."

"What is you intention?" Dr. Pierre asked.

"A safe house," Cagan replied. "When it is safe to proceed."

"And when will that be?" Harper asked.

"In the daylight," Cagan said.

"Yes," said Dr. Pierre. "That which you pursues you is near."

"Are you sure?" Hagan asked.

Dr. Pierre nodded.

"I'm still getting oriented in all this," Harper said. "I thought this was New York. It's starting to feel like a really dark version of Oz."

To Harper's surprise, Dr. Pierre laughed loudly. So much so that the chanting from the other room paused.

"Oh, keep on sisters, keep on," Dr. Pierre said, gathering himself. "I am sorry. Oh. So, you know you are safe now. I could not laugh so well if you were in danger."

Harper felt his face redden, but he felt relief as well.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I remember, when I was a boy, and I grew up in New York, although I was born in Haiti, what I overheard and saw through cracked doors made me think of Oz. We watched the Wizard of Oz like anyone else, and I wondered, when I saw the smoke of the incense and the chanting prayers, if the Wicked Witch was hovering somewhere beyond my bedroom window."

Harper grinned, impressed with the man's relaxed bearing, which reflected a composure that reminded him of Cagan in an odd way, another lifeline in a tempest.

"Does this existence you find yourself in, does it seem like an illusion. A jest, and someone will let you in on the joke at any minute. Yes. It seems as such to me at times, and I've lived it for many years. Illusion. The Buddha said all life is an illusion. I wouldn't dare challenge his wisdom. All life might be those parts of the illusion we embrace and those we ignore. Think of it. All belief rests upon the tale we hope is true. But, if life is an illusion, it's a illusion that won't let us decide what we want of it and what we don't. It imposes. For an honest man, belief isn't enough. We better stay flexible, it seems. Mystery. How do we go about our everyday lives, earn our bread, but our children to sleep, if we cannot tell what lies outside of those beliefs that comfort us. If people could not ignore those mysteries, how could they raise their crops and and hammer out their tools? How could we bring forth the necessities of life haunted by mysteries? How does a boy sleep in an apartment many stories above the ground thinking a witch might be hovering at his window? We say our beliefs anticipate the chaos that distract our minds. We appoint those who deal with the mysteries. My parents told me their were not witches until I was old enough to be indoctrinated into mysteries.Your indoctrination has not been as gentle as mine was. Mine was accomplished in stages. Still, I wonder if it is all an illusion that I might pause and sweep away like a little mist. Me. And I am a doctor of those mysteries.A long time ago, we worked the fields and came together at the fire and danced away thy mysteries in the darkness. We appointed one or more of our people to dance at the edge of the life as proof that they mysteries could be held at bay. But we don't life at the edge of the wilderness anymore. Streetlights and traffic keep the mysteries from imposing themselves to much upon us. Too many faces all nodding in reassurance. Too much light for fear to manifest itself and call the mysteries upon us. We have rely on so many, and we fear those among us who don't concern themselves with mysteries as much as preying upon us. The mysteries are hard pressed to impose themselves, for good or ill. Still, they find their way in. Clinging to the shadows. The shadows outside the streetlights. The shadows in our mind. They lurk in the dark alley and the back room where we don't often go. Maybe a deeper illusion in the illusion that we exist at all. Ha."

Harper regarded Dr. Pierre with a turn of his head and a quickening of breath.

"So, if I imagine that I'm free..." he said.

"Oh, if it were that easy. The illusion imposes itself. And, what's frightening is, the illusion might be real enough."

"Now you're arguing in circles," Harper said with some sudden annoyance.

"I'm not arguing anything," Dr. Pierre said. "If you dream of pain, don't you feel pain? We must accept our condition. You want to know if terrors have substance, the ones that pursue you, the ones that haunt you. Yes. To you. No matter what, we must accept that the condition of our mind is our reality, and yours has been brutal. We can have our philosophies and our practicalities. And now they merge into the reality you are experiencing. So, yes, the mysteries permiate the city, and people on their way to the subway ignore them as habit and preference while people like me live with them and the dangers they create. We are not at the edge of the campfire dancing. We are amidst the people, pursuing the mysteries from shadow to shadow and protecting those who need us, even if they don't know they do."

"And what about people who want to escape it all?"

"Oh, would they could. You have been drawn into the mysteries. You have a new geography to negotiate, one imposed on that which you knew. You are here for a reason..."

"Whatever that mystery is," Cagan interjected suddenly. "But can you get us out of this way intact""

Dr. Pierre paused, regarding Cagan, then said suddenly, "Philosophy! I'm too fond of it. Let's be practical..."

"Wait," Harper said, "What do you mean I'm here for a reason...?"

"Philosophy," Dr. Pierre said. "Mystery. Should I chant with my sisters?"

Harper's face flushed with anger.

"Let's concentrate on how we're going to get out of here in the morning," Harper said.

"There are a hundred ways out of these buildings, and your shadow cannot anticipate them all. It is weak by day, although not powerless."

"Wait a second..." Harper interrupted.

"Sister Michelle," Dr. Pierre called.

Harper felt himself grow angrier, and the darkness within stirred. Then the door to the apartment opened with a thud and Harper rose with a snarl.

Emmanuel strode into the apartment.

"I think I would like Mr. Cagan to come downstairs," he said.

"Hey, wait a second," Harper said. Then he felt a pull on his hand. Harper turned abruptly, but paused. A girl held his hand. She was perhaps 10 or 11 years old. He dark eyes seemed fathomless, and her skin shone like a night sky shot with the last crimson of sunset. Harper drew a breath.

"This is my sister," Dr. Pierre said. "My blood sister, Michelle. She will take you to somewhere you can rest while Mr. Cagan advises friend Emmanuel."

"You can come with me," Michelle said, in a sweet, mellifluous voice.

"I...I..." Harper stammered. "Of course."

"She is a comforting soul," Dr. Pierre said. "She will attend you while Mr. Cagan attends Mr. Emmanuel."

"Sure," Harper said, allowing himself to be lead by the hand.

"I'll be right back," Cagan said, following Emmanuel out of the room.

"Do you see, nothing to fear here," Dr. Pierre said. "I must attend the sisters for a moment, then I will see if there is anything you need."

Harper allowed Michelle to lead him from the room through a doorway draped with strips of cloth. As he pushed them aside, he smelled a perfume like jasmine and rose and the being inside fell into abeyance.

The little room held a twin bed along a wall with a draped window and three small stools. Michele seated herself on one, facing Harper. He squatted on another, and fidgeted, looking at knees that bent too high

"I'm sorry," Michele said. "This is my room. Not for adults so much."

Harper smiled.

"I'll be alright," Harper said.

Michele began to say something, but she bowed her head instead.

"You okay?" Harper asked.

Michele looked up.

"Are you okay?" she asked, in the sweetest tone she could manage. Harper smiled.

"I'm okay," he said.

"Even though..." she began and stopped.

"I...I'm okay," Harper said, swallowing, and looking at the door.

"Sometimes, when the spirit takes me, I wonder..." she said.

"What?"

"The spirits can reach me. Not now. Oh, I shouldn't have said like that. But...I know. I know the spirits. I know the one that's inside you."

Harper cleared his throat.

"I wouldn't worry about it," Harper said.

"I'm worried about you," she said with a serious, deliberately wide-eyed expression.

"Oh, don't worry..."

"The spirits come when I ask them. Dr. Pierre teaches me. They took over, sometimes, when I was little, when I was asleep, after my daddy was killed. Dr. Pierre said they would take advantage of me, because I loved my father so much. I used to see my father before they came, but it was a trick. My father was far away, with his family. Dr. Pierre taught me to say, 'i know who you are.' They ran away. The truth will make them run away, he said. But you aren't so lucky..."

"I..."

"You don't have to lie. I know the spirit that is asleep inside you. I know the spirit that is inside Mr. Cagan. He's my friend. Since before I can remember. He visits me when he isn't too busy. He takes me to the amusement park. When I was little, it was so busy, and not everyone was nice, but they were nice when I was with Mr. Cagan. Even nicer when I was with the doctor or Emanuel. I...they understood that the spirit was inside him, although they didn't know how. And they didn't know he wouldn't let it out. But they didn't know how they knew. They just...let us go by. The really bad ones went first. Until I understood the spirits, I didn't understand why. Now I can call them, and I can ask the good ones to come. I wish I could ask my father, but he is far away. He visited me once, really, when I understood, and he told me to be a good girl and listen to Dr. Pierre, and he would wait for me. But he said, even the good ones, I shouldn't listen to them too much. I should listen to what they said and tell them to go, after. The ones that try to stay, they want to be alive again. My father told me, and Dr. Pierre told me. But, your spirit, you can't make it go way, and it takes you. I wish I could teach you how to keep it away, but I don't know how..."

Michele sobbed. Harper put his hand on her shoulder and smiled, pushing back a little so she had to look in his face.

"My...spirit. My spirit is something I have to learn to live with," Harper said.

"Like Mr. Cagan," she said. "He told me it takes a long time."

"I guess that's true," Harper said.

"It can't be like it was," Michele said.

"What do you mean?"

"When I was little, I used to play in the park with the other kids, I mean, not the ones I know now, just the kids who showed up on the park."

"What do you mean?"

"I could play with anyone. We played on the monkey bars, and my dad pushed me on the swing. Then the spirits...I would just stop. Dr. Pierre helped me. I have kids to play with now. If they just stop, listening...no one gets scared..."

Michele stopped speaking and a shadow appeared over Harper's shoulder.

He started.

"Don't do that!" he yelped.

Cagan stood over him, and Michele smiled.

"He's so big, you don't expect him to be so quiet," Michele said, smiling.

Cagan reached down and gatherer Michele up in his arms.

"You get some sleep," Cagan said. "We have to talk with your new friend here."

Cagan put Michele down, and she rushed to embrace Harper, who smiled before he could think about anything else to do.

"Don't worry that it all seems weird," he whispered in Harper's ear. "I got used to it, too."

Harper hugged her for a moment an released her, rising from the stool.

"Thanks," he said, running his hand through her hair for a moment. "I...That make me feel better."

Michele rose and then slipped into her bed, saying to Cagan.

"See I helped."

Cagan pulled back the covers on Michele's bed.

"You always do," he said, as he folded the overs onto the girl.

Cagan and Harper slipped through the door, folding the strips of cloth away, and both said, "Good night."

Michele smiled, happiness radiating from her.

"What the fuck is she doing here?" Harper asked. "What is she doing in this fucked up place!?!"

Cagan's face turned grim and he muttered, "Saving her own soul, you fuckin' asshole."

Harper paused at the adamance of the expression.

"Come on," Cagan said.
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