Story by Dan Joslyn, Susan Carr and CN Winters
Written by Dan Joslyn, Susan Carr and CN Winters (Additional writing by Zahir al Daoud)
Directed by Dan Joslyn and CN Winters
Produced by CN Winters and Susan Carr
Editing by DragonWriter17
Art Direction by Robert Kidman
Artists – Robert Kidman, Zahir al Daoud, Isis, Mattxxx, and CN Winters
Cover Art by Robert Kidman
Highway – Dusk
The hitchhiker wasn’t tall, but he looked that way because he was thin. Very thin. Brown hair had begun looking like a mane, almost reaching the dirty collar of his colorless shirt. Shirt, pants, and shoes all looked worn. So did he.
Apart from a denim jacket faded from blue to dark gray, the only thing he carried was a guitar case. It too looked beat-up and shabby, but less so than the rest of the man’s effects. Or the man himself.
He lifted his thumb and faced each car passing his way. This wasn’t done with much energy, but by rote. There was some hope it might work, but no expectations. Preference, not belief.
Still, he accepted the offer of a ride when it did come.
The car that pulled up on the side of the highway was a GTO hardtop. Hardly pretty, but sturdy and even sleek in its way. Hitchhikers know better than to hesitate when offered a ride. A total of two seconds was all he needed to open the door, slip inside, and then shut the door behind him.
Less than three seconds later, the hardtop was on its way. "San Francisco, 175 miles" read the sign it passed.
GTO Hardtop – Continuous
"Thanks partner," the hitchhiker said. His voice sounded friendly. Not grateful. Just friendly.
Beside him the driver said nothing at first. Shadows within the car obscured his face, but the hitchhiker could still make out a dark suit. Very dark. Not a speck of color anywhere, but also no dirt. No dust. His hands were pale, though. And old.
"You wouldn’t happen to be headed as far as Frisco, would you?"
For a few moments the driver said nothing. Then "Your name?"
"Is San Francisco your destination?"
"Figured I’d give it a shot. Heard good stuff going on there. Free love. Hippies. Music." The last word had a touch of reverence in it. Just a touch, but real and easy to spot. "Got me a guitar. Thought I’d give it a go."
"You seem rather senior to be what they call a dropout."
"Heh." Charlie the hitchhiker almost laughed, almost sighed. The sound he made was neither, just as it wasn’t a spit. But it had a little bit of each in it. "Truth is, I dropped out a long ways back. Long ways."
"Dropped out of where? And where did you land, I wonder?"
Charlie shrugged. "Name it. Been there. Done that."
For several long minutes the driver said nothing. Neither did Charlie. Miles passed on the highway while the sky darkened, the moon rose, the stars came out. Charlie reached over to turn on the radio. He got nothing but static at first. Fiddling the knob, he found a music station but didn’t stop there. He found another and another, continuing his search along the radio waves. When a particular tune came from the speakers, he stopped and leaned back.
"Doesn't have a point of view / Knows not where he's going to / Isn't he a bit like you and me?"
Teeth flashed in a smile. Charlie even began to nod his head to the song, eyes almost glowing.
"Nowhere Man, please listen / You don't know what you're missing, / Nowhere Man, the world is at your command." He sang along.
"You believe that?" the driver said suddenly.
"The world is at your command?"
Charlie didn’t answer for a moment. From the radio, the song’s lyrics continued. "He's a real Nowhere Man / Sitting in his Nowhere Land / Making all his nowhere plans for nobody."
"I dunno, man. Maybe. Be nice. Be real nice. Even if it ain’t true, maybe I like to pretend, ya know?"
By now Charlie’s eyes had adjusted to the light inside the car. He got a good look at the driver, and he couldn’t help himself. He stared. It wasn’t the white hair or the beard—his ears looked pointed. Like that guy on Star Trek. And something about the skin of his face, around the eyes. It didn’t look like skin. It looked like scales. But that was impossible.
"Charlie," said the driver, his voice suddenly very old but also full of knowledge. "You have a rare set of talents. Ones that can be sensed by—well, someone—from miles away. Stop pretending. The time for nowhere plans is at an end. No more nowhere man. Time to be somewhere. Time for real plans."
"Hey, man—I don’t know what you’re on, but that’s cool, okay?"
"The glove compartment, Charlie."
"The glove compartment. Open it. See what is there. Do it."
Charlie looked before him, at the latch of the glove compartment. He also glanced back at the driver, whose eyes for a moment seemed red in the reflected dashboard light.
"Just open it? Like that?"
The driver nodded.
"First thing’s first, man. Who’re you to start with?"
"My name is Varthrim."
"It is, actually."
"What kinda name is that? French?"
He considered this. "Never heard of no Narok-land."
"We aren’t a land. We are, or were, a people. I am the last of my kind. The very last. Peoples rise and fall, Charlie. Some call it the karmic wheel, or evolution, or simply entropy. Call it what you want. Rise and fall, ebb and flow. But for anyone to rise, someone else must fall. My people once reigned over much of this land mass. We forced our slaves to build cities for us in the desert. We tortured them as a form of music, basking in their screams as your kind sometimes listens to birds. Serene that our power was everlasting, we grew careless. In time, our slaves rebelled, took the world from us. Called us ‘demons’ as if that explained away our majesty. Human animals bred like cockroaches, and we blamed each other for their rebellion. War followed war, until we dwindled and your kind took over."
"Dude, whatever it is you’re on—ya got any more?"
The drive looked at Charlie. No mistaking this time. Those eyes were red as blood. Not bloodshot, but genuinely red. When he spoke, fangs glistened from his mouth.
"Heed my revelation, human animal. My time is past. Your time is now, but not forever." Varthrim’s voice sounded more weary than seemed possible. "Fear and death and pain are the companions of time. They have chosen you to be the fifth of their number."
"Like…" Charlie swallowed. "The Four Horsemen?"
"Exactly so, Charlie."
Reaching up to touch his head, Charlie blinked. "There’s music. Where’s that music coming from?"
"Open the glove compartment and see. It wants you to."
Slowly, Charlie reached forward to the latch. Fingers grasped the latch and turned it. The compartment fell open, revealing what looked like a crystal, but black. More than black. Dark. As if it were a shadow given substance.
"That is what I said," Varthrim breathed, "the first time I saw it. Fool that I was. Fool that you are."
Charlie Manson didn’t hear him. He only had eyes and ears for the dark thing in front of him, for the visions that seemed to swim in and out of his mind, searing his soul with pain, glorious pain, and the sweet fear it brought.
"Yeah…yeah…I get it…yeah…"
He didn’t even seem to notice he was crying.
Watchers Council – Media Room – Afternoon
Andrew sat at the desk before the large flat-screen monitor. Behind him, on the couch, were Shannon and Skye, with Marsha perched on the vampire’s shoulder. The three were watching a movie on the plasma television.
On the monitor, Tracey appeared on the web cam. She was making kissy faces at Andrew, who blushed every time she did.
"So what did you do last night?" she asked.
"Well, Jeff and I did the ritual, and then Skye, Shannon, and I started a Pacino movie marathon, and they’re still at it. Say hi to Tracey, guys," he called over his shoulder.
"Hi Tracey!" Shannon called. Skye waved a hand above her head without looking away from the screen, and Marsha made a small "erp" sound.
"They’re starting to drive me nuts," Andrew whispered at the webcam.
"Hoo-Ah!" Skye exclaimed.
"You’re out of order," Shannon retorted.
"No, you’re out of order!" Skye shot back.
"See what I mean?" Andrew sighed.
Tracey laughed and said, "Just chill and let them have their fun."
"So, when’s your flight?" Andrew asked.
"My flight?" Tracey’s face became still.
"Yeah, for New Year’s Eve," Andrew bounced in his seat.
"Um," Tracey hedged. "I can’t come. I don’t have enough money for a ticket."
"Tracey!" Andrew cried. "I told you I’d pay for it. Why didn’t you…?"
"Andy, I can’t keep taking money from you," she interrupted. "All my savings are for school and living expenses. Without the part-time job I had in Cleveland, there’s just nothing left over."
"I kill a communist for fun, but for a green card, I gonna carve him up real nice!" Shannon sneered.
"Hoo-Ah!" Skye replied.
"I don’t care about that, Trace," he said. "I have a good job and plenty of money, and what’s mine is yours…we’re in this together, baby."
"I know, Andy, but I just don’t feel right taking your money," she said. "And after all the gifts you sent for Yule, a plane ticket on top of that would be just too much."
Andrew sighed. "Look, Tracey…I love you. I care about you and me and us, but I don’t care about money. School is important…you have to be there. My job is important…I have to be here, but money is not important. There’s more to life, the universe…everything than that. Like forty-two, for instance. Anyway, it’s not something that should keep us apart."
"I know," Tracey sighed. "I’m sorry, I just kept putting it off, and now it’s too late. I doubt there are any flights left."
"I’ll find something," Andrew promised.
"Attica! Attica!" Shannon and Skye began to chant. Marsha, startled, jumped off Skye’s shoulder. She circled around a moment as she scolded the chanting pair and then flew out of the room.
"I’ll steal the jet if I have to, but I’ll figure out a way for us to be together on New Year’s," Andrew said, ignoring the commotion going on behind him. "I promise you, baby."
Tracey smiled and uncharacteristically began to tear up. "I love you, Andy Wells."
"I love you, too, Tracey Hausser," he replied.
"Make her an offer she can’t refuse, Andrew!" Shannon called over.
"Listen, I’ve got to go," Tracey said. "I’m meeting Roger for coffee before the seminar tonight. I’ll call you later, okay?"
"What?" Andrew said, confused. "Who’s Roger?"
"One of my professors," she said. "He’s helping me with my thesis."
"Your advisor is a woman," he pointed out.
"Yeah, Dr. Fuller," Tracey answered. "But Roger’s got a few game credits under his belt, so he’s helping me with the realities of game design, not what’s in the textbooks. He’s been a big help."
"What?" Andrew asked. "Who is this guy? What’s going on?"
"Nothing, Andy," she said. "Look, I gotta go. Catch ya later. Bye Skye, bye Shannon." Tracey waved at the screen and then cut the connection.
"Wait, Tracey," Andrew hit a few keys trying to regain the connection. "Who’s this Roger guy?" Finally, he banged his hands down on the keyboard, and the monitor went blank.
"Hoo-Ah!" Skye concluded.
New Mexico Desert – Night
The winter night was briskly cold, and the stars glittered brightly in the clear sky. A battered RV was parked alongside a gravel trail. A pair of PVC lawn chairs sat next to a folding vinyl card table. On top of the table was a flickering Coleman lantern.
From within the camper, clanging noises could be heard. The RV tilted on rusty springs, and then a large male demon emerged from the door. He barely fit through the door and had to turn sideways to exit due to the horny carapace covering his back. His dark, leathery skin was reptilian, but dry, and his face pinched forward to a large, overhanging snout, completing the look of a bipedal tortoise. He was carrying a tray filled with bowls, utensils, and bottles of condiments.
"Karolyn," he called over his shoulder. "Hurry up, will ya? I’m hungry!"
"All right, all right already! Jeez, what’s your rush?" The female demon followed her husband out the door. She was carrying a large slow cooker, which she set on the table and then attached the plug to an outlet on the RV. "There, that’ll keep it warm while we eat," she said. "My! It is nippy tonight, isn’t it, Bill?"
"It is," he replied, setting the table and then sitting down. "But it’s a fine night." He spooned some of the stew into each of the bowls and unfolded a napkin on his lap. He tasted the stew and closed his eyes in appreciation. "Yum, that’s the best turkey vulture stew you’ve made in a long time, dear."
"Thank you, hon," Karolyn replied, digging into her own stew.
After a few minutes of quiet eating, Bill put his spoon down and looked around.
"What’s wrong?" Karolyn asked.
Bill shrugged his large shoulders. "I don’t know…something’s not right."
Karolyn listened for a moment. "I don’t hear anything."
"That’s just it," he said. "It’s too quiet. There’s usually some noise around here."
Bill stood up and took a few steps away from the camper. Suddenly, from over the RV, a blinding white light illuminated the area around the camper in a wide circle. Bill held up his arms to cover his eyes while Karolyn cried out in alarm.
"Bill! What is it?"
"Whoa!" the demon said, looking up into the sky.
End of Teaser
To Act One