It’s time for Weird Fiction Monday, when I post stories that I’ve written — both new and old — for the entertainment (hopefully) of my readers! As always, I note that I haven’t done extensive editing of the tales here, so don’t be surprised to find the writing a little rough.
This story is a tribute to a good friend of mine, and the hero of the story is based closely upon his personality and life. If you’re attentive, you can figure out his name from the story! This was the first piece of writing I finished for the New Year!
The Brotherhood of Lightning
When I first looked in the rearview mirror and saw the flashing lights of the police car behind me, I was actually relieved. That may sound strange at first, but you see, I get pulled over a lot. It doesn’t matter what city I’m in, or what vehicle I’m in, or even if it’s a borrowed vehicle; on average, I get stopped by the cops probably once a month. I never get a ticket, though. I’m pulled over for a variety of reasons, but there’s never any grounds to write me up. The best I can explain it? Police find me fascinating.
So when I saw the flashing lights behind me, I was relieved because I could hopefully get some directions from the patrolman after he satisfied his curiosity about me. When the officer got out of his vehicle and unsnapped the holster of his sidearm, however, that relief began to wane, a bit.
But I’m getting ahead of myself – I should tell you a little about me! I sell role-playing games and board games for a living: games of sword-and-sorcery, games of starship battles in deep space, games of survival in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. You might find it surprising that someone could make money selling tabletop games in an era when video games are everywhere, but there’s still a strong contingent of people who prefer to use their imagination to concoct fantastic worlds and colorful characters rather than have others do it for them. A lot of towns throughout the East and Midwest hold small but enthusiastic gaming conventions, and I visit those conventions to sell product – and play some games, as well. I have a white van that I load up front to back with goods and try to empty it at a few cons before I make my way back home to Chicago.
I was on my way to one such convention in the more mountainous areas of West Virginia on this particular trip. It was well after midnight, and it had been raining nonstop – hard – for hours. I was more piloting a submarine than driving a van. Lightning flashed and thunder crashed, and the twisting and turning of the two lane roads ended up leaving me completely turned around. (I actually get lost somewhat regularly; there was one trip where I got lost four different times getting to and from a convention… but that’s another story.) I didn’t have a GPS with me – don’t believe in them – so I was basically driving around looking for some sort of establishment where I could get directions that was still open.
When the police car flashed its lights behind me, the rain was still coming down really hard, so I decided to be polite and stop under a viaduct. I wasn’t polite enough to pull forward to let the patrolman’s cruiser fit under the viaduct, however. He got out of his car, getting a little drenched on the way. I watched his progress in the rearview mirror with some satisfaction. Then he unsnapped his holster and put his hand on his sidearm as he passed into the shelter of the bridge, and that made me really start paying attention. I slowly, slowly, rolled down my window.
“Please step out of your vehicle slowly, sir,” the officer said slowly and clearly, staying well behind my car door. “Keep your hands where I can see them.”
I opened the door carefully, and stepped out with my hands raised. Before I knew it, I was being handcuffed and left propped against the side of the van. The officer – his badge said Officer Moses – asked me some pointed questions about the contents of my vehicle. I gave him permission to inspect the back of the van, which he did with an intensity that surprised me. Finally, he came back, apologized, and uncuffed me.
“Lot of drug trafficking in this area?” I asked, trying to keep my tone light.
“There’s an Amber alert for the area,” Moses replied. “A ten-year-old girl named Margaret was abducted from her home only an hour ago about 30 miles from here.”
“That’s terrible,” I said.
“A white van was spotted leaving the scene,” Moses said. “We’re stopping any we find in the area. There are fears that this has to do with other recent… troubles.”
I didn’t respond, though I knew what he was talking about. Over the past few weeks, a handful of people had been murdered in their homes. There was no known connection between the different victims, but each had had their hearts removed – and taken. The news referred to them as “ritual killings”, but they sounded to my rather jaded ears like something more… and far worse.
Officer Moses wearily continued. “It’s been a long night already. We’ve all been awake way too long but don’t… expect… to… find…”
His voice trailed off as a vehicle drove slowly under the viaduct. It was another white van. In the dim illumination under the bridge, we could faintly see that the passenger and driver were both wearing dark hoods, and gawking at us as we gawked at them.
Did I mention that I have really bizarre luck?
I’m sure you’ve experienced, at least once in your life, the feeling of time slowing down, I mean really slows down, to a crawl. At the sight of the new vehicle, I was experiencing that. In slow motion, I watched Officer Moses turn and begin running towards his patrol car. My head swiveled towards the departing van, and I could see that the passenger side window had been rolled down, even though it was back in the pouring rain. The hooded passenger was leaning out, looking back towards us, and making elaborate motions with his hands and arms in our direction. My head turned back towards Moses…
… and a tremendous lightning bolt crashed down upon his patrol car.
I was blinded, but heard the roar as the gas tank exploded. The combination of the gas and the raw energy of the lightning created a shockwave that threw me backwards and off my feet. I landed pretty hard, and spend a few seconds just catching my breath and recovering my vision.
Right beside me was Officer Moses, even more stunned and obviously blown backwards even further by the force of the explosion. He seemed to have fallen briefly unconscious, but his eyes were coming back to focus as I looked at him. Fortunately, he had not made it all the way back to his car before the bolt struck, or he would have been roasted. His car was less fortunate, though, and was already just a burning hulk, nearly unrecognizable.
I stumbled to my feet and helped Officer Moses to his. He was immediately trying to call dispatch on his personal radio, but the device was dead.
“Goddammit!” he swore, throwing the radio to the ground in frustration.
“Electromagnetic pulse,” I volunteered. “The lightning fried your communicator.”
Moses turned to me. “What about your cell phone?” he demanded. I quickly tried it, but it was dead, too.
Moses didn’t wait; he was already moving to my van. “I’m commandeering your vehicle,” he said, “I need your keys.”
“If it works,” I commented, but I followed him to the van. I climbed into the passenger seat as he leapt into the driver’s, and he snatched the keys from my hands.
The van wheezed a little bit, but started without much trouble. I wasn’t surprised. The cars I drive are, without exception, very used – a friend once told me that if I slammed on the brakes, the wheels would stop and the rest of the car would keep going – but they are also ridiculously reliable, enduring punishment and circumstances that would reduce the newest car to a roadblock.
We wheezed back onto the road, immediately being engulfed in the endless rain. We swerved dangerously onto the shoulder at one point – Officer Moses was still a bit disoriented from the blast – and I gripped the armrest uncomfortably.
“There’s only a handful of turnoffs over the next few miles,” Moses muttered, mostly to himself. “If we can catch up before they leave the main road…”
His words drifted off, leaving me to think about what I’d seen. The hooded figure leaning from the van had made very suggestive gestures, and the lightning had crashed down an instant later. Even someone without my… experience… would pretty quickly make the connection that something outside of normal experience was going on. We were going to have to be very careful, and I was going to have to work hard to make sure that Officer Moses didn’t get him – us – killed.
“Stop, stop – turn here!” I shouted without warning. Moses slammed on the brakes, and the van fishtailed and slid sideways. For a heart-pounding moment I thought we might careen off the road and then off some steep mountain slope hidden in the rain. Instead, we stopped with headlights pointing directly off of the road, and illuminating a narrow dirt track.
“How did you see this?” Moses snapped. I shrugged.
“I spotted the dust rising off the road,” I responded. “Their van must have just gone down the road seconds ago.”
Of course, it was still pouring rain out – there wasn’t any dust anywhere to speak of, but Moses was too stressed to catch the contradiction. So how did I know that the van had gone down that way? I mentioned my bizarre luck, which has taken me into some of the most hairy situations you could imagine, and many situations you can’t. Some folks would think of that luck as a curse, but I can make it work for me – if I follow my instincts, they’ll lead me right to ground zero of the worst scenario. Sometimes, like now, I actually want that to happen.
We started down the dirt path, with Moses finally driving a bit more cautiously. The unfinished road wound through a dense arrangement of trees, and gradually sloped downhill. Then, without warning, the trees parted, and we found ourselves entering an extended clearing.
“Kill the headlights,” I said, and Moses followed directions without a word. We were facing a large, block of a building, which looked to be an old warehouse. Very old, I would say; the brick of the building looked heavily weathered, and the few windows arranged near the top of the high walls looked to have been boarded up a long time ago. It looked like it had been built in the 1930s, if not a little earlier.
You’re probably wondering how we could see all of this. As soon as we entered the clearing, the rain stopped – like being shut off at a switch – and the full moon shined down upon us from a sky that was cloudless right above. I had told Moses to switch off the headlights because the parking lot of the warehouse – or what passed for one – was filled with perhaps a dozen cars. And one white van. There didn’t seem to be any people outside to notice our arrival, which I considered lucky. If our headlights flashed briefly in the warehouse windows, they were hopefully interpreted as lightning from the storm that still raged outside of this oasis of calm.
Moses drew my van to a stop right at the entrance to the clearing, and turned to me.
“I need you to take the van,” he said, “and go back and get help. There’s a gas station about ten miles further down the road to the right when you get back on the main road. Call this in to the local authorities, and have them send backup as soon as possible.”
I shook my head. “Actually, Officer Moses,” I replied, “I was going to ask you to go back and get help while I handle this.”
“Um, what?” was his answer. My response had so flabbergasted him that he just gaped at me, one hand on the door handle.
“Look, Officer,” I explained. “This clearly isn’t any ordinary abduction. Did the lightning that struck your car seem just a bad coincidence? How about the complete absence of a storm around this location?”
I swept my arm toward the window to emphasize. We really were in the eye of the storm, and the regular flashes of lightning highlighted the giant tube of calm air we were in.
Moses snorted. “So what you think is going on…” he began.
“I’m not sure exactly what’s going on,” I countered, “But it turns out that I have a healthy – or unhealthy – amount of experience in such matters. Whatever is going on, I’ve got a far better chance of sorting it out and rescuing Margaret my way than you do if you go in with your gun drawn.”
Moses hesitated for a moment, but opened the door and got out. “Go get help,” he said to me, drawing his sidearm and moving towards the warehouse.
I sighed. I didn’t think I would convince him, but it had been was worth a try. I got out of the van as well and followed quietly after him.
The cars and the suspect van were clustered around what looked to be a side door of the building. Moses moved towards it, noting my presence but not acknowledging or condemning it. We ended up leaning on either side of the door, which was fashioned of well-rusted metal but looked like it had been carefully maintained. I could see the faint paint tracings of the company name remaining on the door, but not enough remained to be legible.
“Whatever happens,” Moses whispered, “Stay behind me and stay quiet.”
With that, he tried the door handle; it turned easily and quietly. With a quick glance beyond, Moses slipped inside. I grabbed the door as he went and snuck in behind him.
We had entered behind a stack of very modern cardboard boxes. The main floor of the warehouse – which was basically the entire building – was filled with stacks of boxes, illuminated by an array of candles ensconced along the walls. “Contraband”, was my first thought. Perhaps this old building was used for transporting illegal goods? I wasn’t sure.
I didn’t have much time to think about it, however: my attention was drawn to the center of the chamber, where a raised platform had been built out of wood. The structure was perhaps 20 feet on a side, 5 feet tall, with a narrow staircase leading up to it on the side facing us. And on the platform? Thirteen figures were circled around the edge of it, most dressed in dark blue hooded robes, but one figure dressed in a curiously baby blue hooded robe. At the center of the hooded figures, I could make out the abducted young girl Margaret, kneeling with her head sagging forward.
Moses saw her, too, and before I could grab his arm to stop him, he was quietly moving towards the stairs. I held back, peering around the stack of boxes; I needed to know more before stepping in.
“My brothers,” the man in the blue robes said. His voice boomed through the chamber, sounding unnaturally loud. “We come at last to the moment when we will undo the injustice wrought upon our people one hundred and forty-six years ago. The moment in which we will reclaim the land and rights stolen from us.”
There was a general murmur of assent from the gathered dark robes. The young girl did not react at all, and seemed unaware of the proceedings. Moses had reached the base of the stairs and was peering up, his gun before him.
“Tonight,” continued blue robe, “The Brotherhood of Lightning will at last fulfill its purpose. We have worked long and hard for this moment, suffered many indignities, and given up much to achieve our ends. With this final offering, we will call upon Fulguri to crush our enemies and shatter the unlawful occupation forced upon us.”
The collected dark robes gave a more enthusiastic grumble of approval. Moses had climbed partly up the stairs, and now had a clear view of the group. From the folds of his clothing, blue robe drew a long-bladed dagger, and held it over his head.
That was the trigger for Officer Moses.
“Police! Everybody freeze!” he shouted, standing up. The group of figures whirled around at the sound, coming face-to-barrel with Moses’ handgun.
“Hands up! Step back to the edge of the platform!” Moses ordered, and the group of men slowly complied. Moses stepped towards them, keeping his gun trained on the center of mass of them, which happened to be blue robe himself.
“This isn’t what you think it is, officer,” blue robe said, and Moses turned his attention to him.
“Drop the knife,” Moses said, and blue robe did so. It clattered noisily on the platform floor.
“Now what?” he then said.
“I need all of you to get on your knees,” Moses said, and he motioned with his gun towards the crowd…
… and lightning shot from blue robes’ raised palms, striking down Moses. His gun fired once, harmlessly, into the air, and then he had crumpled to the platform. Blue robe motioned to a follower, who stepped over and took the gun out of Moses’ senseless hands. Another pair of dark robes hoisted Moses to an upright position by his arms. Blue robe then turned in my direction and, with a casual motion, threw off his hood.
He was an old, chubby, white guy with gray hair and bushy eyebrows. Was that what you were expecting? I guess I hadn’t known what to expect.
He couldn’t possibly see me in the dim candle-lit chamber, but he seemed to be looking at me nevertheless. Another of his associates handed him his knife again, a long, wickedly curved blade, and he stepped over to where Moses sagged in his followers’ arms.
“The officer is alive,” he called out, “only stunned. But if you fail to show yourself immediately, I will gut him before your eyes.”
I sighed. There wasn’t much else for me to do but show myself.
“Hi,” I said, stepping out from the shelter of the boxes and waving. I made my way slowly over towards the platform, with the ominous crowd watching.
“Come up here – carefully,” said chubby white guy blue robe.
I sheepishly did what he asked. Within moments, I was standing before him on the platform, my fingertips tucked in my jeans pockets.
Blue robe looked somewhat confused, as did the rest of the contingent of old white guys. Now that I was up on the platform, I could see that the entire group consisted of “good ole boys” from Southern states. I could also see that the young girl was kneeling in the middle of a pentagram that had been traced onto the wooden floor with chalk, or something like it. At each corner of the pentagram, a bloody human heart had been placed. That explained a lot to me, the least of which was showing that this group was responsible for the recent murders in the area.
“Who are you?” blue robe asked, and I smiled at the genuine confusion in his voice. Most people who see me for the first time don’t think much of me. I’m tall and thin – so thin, in fact, that the Army tried and failed to fatten me up for enlistment – and this combined with my glasses makes me look quite unthreatening. I typically have a bit of five o’clock shadow, thanks to long days on the road without shaving, which combined with my constantly worn leather fedora makes me look kind of scruffy. As long as you have confidence in yourself, however, being perpetually underestimated can be an advantage.
“Erik Smyth,” I replied to blue robe, acting as if that was explanation enough.
“When my men said that they had been seen by a few people on the road, blue robe said, “I assumed it was a few police officers. Why are you here, with this patrolman?”
I shrugged. “Well, for two reasons. One, I want to ask you a question. Two, I want to tell you two very important things. May I ask my question?”
Blue robe folded his arms, and nodded; clearly, I had piqued his curiosity.
“Well, I see you’ve traced out a pentagram there. With the human hearts and the proposed sacrifice, that suggests you’re summoning one of the outer beings. My question, then, is: Why? What do you hope to gain by this summoning?”
Blue robes’ bushy white eyebrows raised.
“You seem somewhat familiar with the arts of power, Mr. Smyth,” he said, and I shrugged again. I tried to make no sudden moves, as a dark robe was pointing Moses’ pistol at me. Blue robe continued.
“That in itself makes me willing to grant you your request; there isn’t anything you can do to stop it, anyway.”
“I am Elias Coldridge,” blue robe said, giving a little bow with a flourish. He swept his arms towards his collaborators. “We are the Brotherhood of Lightning; descendants of those who fought in the War of Northern Aggression in defense of our rights. When the cities of the South fell to the Union soldiers, and all hope seemed lost, our ancestors made a vow: to reclaim our freedom by any means necessary.”
Blue robe paced around the pentagram he had drawn. The young girl Margaret seemed unaware of what was going on around her, probably for the best.
Blue robe – I mean Elias – continued, “Family folklore states that, when my first relatives came to the New World and struck out into the wilds in search of their fortune, they encountered a race of not quite human beings living on the peaks of storm-swept mountains. By trading Old World luxuries with these primitives, my kin bartered for the knowledge to harness, control, and project lightning. They used this power to protect themselves and earn their fortune, always keeping their abilities secret – until the War.”
Elias stretched his hands to the ceiling, and blue bolts of electricity arced upwards from them. He was a showman, there was no denying it.
“When the War began turning against the Confederacy, my family decided to share their long-kept secret with others, in hopes of turning the tide. It became clear, though, that it would not be enough. Lightning bolts were useful, but could hardly compete against artillery.”
He came and stood right before me. I smiled casually at him.
“But there were other options. My family had heard legends that the power of lightning had originally been granted to the savages by the supreme being they worshipped. Alas, by the time of the founding of the Brotherhood those people were long gone. We began to search the world, to see if others knew of this being.”
“I wonder what unfortunate accident happened to them,” I commented, but he ignored me and continued.
“My grandfather,” Blue robe continued, “Finally found the key to solving our problems, in the forgotten crypt of a priest who had worked with the Incas of South America before they were exterminated. The priest’s notes hinted at an outer god, living beyond our dimensions of space and time, that could be called into service with the proper rituals and the proper price.”
“What we then needed were the ritual, and the price. My father found the ritual, dredged from a tome buried in the rare books of the Vatican library. It was up to me to determine what price was required – five hearts of the enemies that wronged me to set the target, and…”
He motioned to the young girl.
“… someone of exceptional innocence and purity as a gift to the being Fulguri itself.”
“So who were the five enemies that you killed?” I asked. I was buying as much time as I could, to think.
“Descendants of those who fought and destroyed the true South. Relatives of General Grant, of General Sherman, of Doubleday, McClellan, and Meade. They were all distant relatives, but they were all conveniently located in this area – and the depth of connection was irrelevant.”
“So,” he said, taking the ceremonial dagger from his colleague again and stepping to the pentagram, “It is time to call Fulguri, the Outer God of Lightning. We will make our offering to him, and he will crush the government of the so-called United States of America. From the ashes, a new Southern Confederacy will rise.”
I tried to remain calm as he swept the dagger down. I knew he was not striking the girl, however, but instead dragged the blade along the chalk line of the pentagram. The chalk – or whatever it was – caught fire and slowly spread; within seconds the entire pentagram was a gentle blue flame.
“Now,” said Elias, “You’ve asked your question; you said you had some comments to make?”
He was talking in a defiant tone, pretty much daring me to speak. I had no problem with it, and was less intimidated than he probably thought.
“Well, I said, stepping forward, “The first thing I want to tell you is that your plan can’t possibly succeed.”
Blue robe’s face took on a painful smirk. “Oh, really?”
“Really,” I said. “As you guessed, I have some passing acquaintance with the ritual you’re considering, and the type of outer being you’re trying to summon. You could say I’m a natural magnet for trouble, especially of the supernatural kind. Oh, you’ll definitely succeed in summoning your outer being, and it will definitely kill a lot of people. But here’s the thing.”
I looked around the group to make sure that I had everyone’s attention. I also noted that Moses was more or less back with us, but he was being securely held by two rather burly men; he wouldn’t be able to provide any help. I continued.
“This… Fulguri, whatever it is, is still one of the minor outer beings. It’s powerful enough to resist ordinary weapons and tactics, but there are techniques that can be used to defeat it. There are people out there, much more knowledgeable than me, who will be able to bring it down. In the end, you’ll have killed a lot of people, but the United States will still be standing. It will be a pointless effort.”
I glanced around again; the Brotherhood looked a little uncomfortable, even blue robe himself.
“My second observation,” I continued, “Is that you’re reacting to the injustices inflicted on the South by the North during the Civil War. I get it, I really do – I’m originally from Texas. But do you really want to stoop down to their level? Isn’t the whole point of this that you are supposed to be better than them?”
I paused for effect.
“Also, do you really want your new nation to be born in blood and slaughter? What sort of heritage will you be leaving for your own descendants? How can your nation survive with that weight upon it?”
Now, I can tell you that I’m generally a very darn good talker. One of my life’s philosophies is that, given the right words and an attentive audience, a person can talk his way into or out of any situation imaginable. In this case, though, I didn’t really know my audience, and blue robe Elias knew them too well. He laughed, and shook off any doubts that I might have instilled in his followers.
“Like the so-called United States? When Sherman burned and butchered his way South towards Savannah, did he permanently cripple the nation? When he razed Atlanta to the ground, did he leave a dark stain on history? How many people talk about the massacre of the savage natives that claimed these lands as their own when we moved in? No, Mr. Smyth, blood and sacrifice is the only way to found a strong nation. And speaking of sacrifice, it is time.”
Elias passed the dagger to the man guarding me, who held it against the front of my neck as he stood behind me. Two men continued to hold Moses, one of them holding his own gun against him. The circle of dark robes, including the ones holding us, spread out to the edges of the platform, facing inward. Old blue robe went and stood just outside the gently burning pentagram, and began to speak.
I can’t repeat the words he spoke, even if I wanted to. He was talking in a tongue older than humanity, and not meant to be spoken by human voices. His voice resonated through the warehouse, and as he built up to a crescendo, the candles of the chamber seemed to darken.
They were, in fact, fading. The ceiling and walls of the chamber were fading into nothing, and behind them lay the vastness of an infinite, nearly black, extra-dimensional space. Blue robe had opened a portal to the home of the being he was summoning – and it was answering the call.
There were stars in the extra-dimensional space, and their faint light was rapidly being blotted out by the approach of the massive being. The entity itself had a faint glow, allowing those of us on the warehouse platform to see its form; that view made me understand why the Brotherhood had named it “Fulguri”. I have a physics friend – that’s a story in itself for another time – and he once showed me a fulgurite, loosely known as “petrified lightning”. When lightning strikes a beach or any particularly sandy area, it can penetrate the ground and fuse the silicon into solid stone; this rough gray stone has endless branches, like a lightning bolt or a tree limb. Well, Fulguri was a monstrous, titanic, living fulgurite. Endless arms stretched forwards towards us, with thinner arms branching from them and thinner arms branching from them; the source of these arms was lost in the forest of them and the dark vastness of space. There were eyes, however, thousands of them: they all looked like those round plasma lamps you can buy at novelty stores, with purplish lightning streaking out from their centers. I could sense those eyes turning upon us.
“Our offering to you is here, Fulguri!” cried blue robe, his voice now sounding muffled against the vastness of the space around us. “We give you a sacrifice of unimpeachable purity in exchange for doing our bidding!”
A dozen of Fulguri’s arms swarmed towards our platform and the girl in the pentagram.
If you’ve ever had a large object, like a car or truck, speed towards you, you know that your instinctive reaction is to back away – this instinct is even stronger when the object speeding towards you is an extra-dimensional horror like Fulguri. As it approached, even the hardened cultists on the platform instinctively took a step backwards.
I took two steps back.
Bumping into the dark robe behind me, I overbalanced him. As he began to topple backwards off of the platform, his arms reflexively swung outwards, moving the knife away from my neck. I didn’t wait for him to fall.
As Fulguri’s arms reached towards the girl, I rushed forward. I faintly heard Elias yelling, “No!” off to the side, but I ignored him. A moment before Fulguri grasped its prey, I charged into the pentagram, pushing the girl outside of it – and taking her place.
Fulguri grabbed me with a pair of appendages. I felt my hair stand on end; the being’s endless electric potential was partly being drawn through my body. Without further ado, I was lifted off the platform and into the space between dimensions. I was drawn deeper, deeper into the cold of the nameless void, and brought before a hundred of Fulguri’s impassionate eyes.
Faced with this sanity and faith-shattering horror, I did the only thing I could: I grinned.
“Not what you were expecting?” I asked the outer being.
Have you ever seen a young child open a Christmas present and find a new pair of socks in the box? In spite of being a cosmic horror, Fulguri reacted pretty much the same way. I felt myself flicked over its… well… its shoulder, I guess, and ended up plummeting down back to the main warehouse floor. I expected a really hard landing, but the cardboard boxes I crashed down upon gave way like they were filled with pillows. (Turns out they were filled with pillows. The Brotherhood had stocked the building with food and supplies to survive the anticipated apocalypse, and I ended up on a pallet stacked with bedding. That crazy luck of mine, again!)
I quickly rolled myself to a sitting position. Blue robe was waving his arms in the direction of Fulguri, who had turned his countless series of eyes upon him.
“No,” said Elias, “That wasn’t the promised sacrifice! There’s been a mistake…”
He didn’t get to finish his argument. A battery of lightning bolts erupted from Fulguri’s eyes, all converging upon blue robe. His body shuddered for a couple of seconds, and then ruptured wetly, like a water balloon bursting. His robe drifted down to cover the pile of slush that had been his remains.
For a moment, nobody moved. Then the remaining members of the Brotherhood of Lightning panicked, and began a stampede down the staircase and out of the warehouse. They were fleeing Fulguri, but they needn’t have bothered: the being, and the extra-dimensional space he came from, were quickly fading from view, being replaced by the more mundane walls and ceiling of the warehouse.
Officer Moses was picking up his gun as I reascended the platform.
“What, what happened?” he asked.
“Simple,” I said, going over to check on the girl Margaret. She looked to be sleeping peacefully, and had probably been drugged by the Brotherhood. Lucky for her; she would probably suffer no more ill effects than some unfortunate bad dreams in years to come.
“The Brotherhood had promised Fulguri a worthy sacrifice of exceeding purity,” I continued. “The spell being cast, I couldn’t remove the girl from the summoning circle, but I could replace her with a very unacceptable offering – me.”
Moses had come over to attend to the girl himself now.
“How did you know what to do?” he asked me. I smiled at him.
“Heck, I’m a gamer,” I responded. “I’ve encountered weirder people, places and things, both in reality and in fiction, than most people can imagine.”
“How… how am I supposed to explain all this?” he asked, though he was more wondering aloud than asking a question.
“Well,” I replied, “You’ve got a dozen suspects in the murders and kidnapping who just fled the scene. You’ve got a nice set of culprits to chase after now.”
“But how do I explain that?” Moses protested, pointing at the puddle that had been Elias, “And that?” pointing at the ceiling where Fulguri had been. “People will think we’re insane – we’ll be locked up for sure.”
“I can help you with that,” I offered. “You see if you can find a phone somewhere in this place, and I’ll think of a suitable story we can tell the backup you call in. I’ll give you the basics; just leave it to me to fill in the details when we’re debriefed.”
By the time I was done, and we had told our story, we weren’t locked up for psychiatric observation. In fact, Officer Moses had been promoted – and I was given a commendation for bravery by the state.
What? That seems unlikely? I told you I could talk!
I’ve been wanting to write a tribute to my good friend Eric for some time; after I thought about it, I realized that he is such a great character, both in his personality and his life, that he would work well as the protagonist of his own series of supernatural adventure stories! I hope he enjoys this take on him; I actually have other stories in mind that will incorporate more of the “gaming gang” from years past, if this one is deemed entertaining.
The inspiration for the plot came from a news story a year ago or so about the West Virginia legislature passing a law to honor the Confederacy: it always seems quite strange to me to praise those people who tried to destroy the “united” part of the United States! Once I put together this news story with the idea of writing about Eric, the entire structure of the tale came together within a few hours.