Forced Perspectives – Snippet 30

One of the girls lifted her hand — Loria opened her mouth in alarm, but before she could say anything the other girl clasped the hand.

And Loria and Harlowe fell to their hands and knees on the deck.

Harlowe could feel that his palms were flat on the fiberglass deck, and he knew that his knuckles were only a foot from his face — but what he saw, as if through heavily tinted sunglasses, was a level view of a decrepit old two-story Victorian house. A man holding a revolver stood on the long, sagging porch while another man dragged a body — a woman in a long robe — down the steps to the dirt. The body left dark, gleaming streaks on the steps.

Harlowe turned his head, but the image stayed central in his vision; he lifted his hands to wave in front of his face, but they didn’t appear in his sight and he felt his forehead strike the cockpit deck. His hip and shoulder hit the deck then, and he rolled over, but there was no shift in what he was seeing.

Then he had to squint against a sudden blue sky and sunlight reflecting off the deck and the chrome ladder. He was lying on the wet deck, but the first thing he did was raise his hands and flex them, and he coughed in relief to see his fingers clearly.

“Fuck,” croaked Loria behind him. He rolled over and sat up. Loria was sitting against the transom gunwale, her head between her knees; the twins still sat on the sink cabinet, though they were no longer holding hands.

“We got that from them,” said one of the twins defensively. “Honest.”

“I think we pushed them a little, crowding in,” added the other.

Loria raised her head and gave Harlowe a haggard stare. “Did you…see that, too?” When he nodded, she went on, “We just saw a woman murdered somewhere.”

“It was,” said Harlowe as he laboriously got to his feet, “a long time ago.”

Loria slowly stood up, bracing herself against the gunwale. “What do you mean? How do you know?” She stared out at the broad sunlit face of the sea, as if to confirm that the vision had ended.

Harlowe just shook his head. How do I know? he thought. Because I recognized the face of the man holding the revolver. Conrad Chronic looked the same in this vision as he did in those old photographs online, and those were taken fifty years ago.

We got that from them, one of the twins had said. Honest. Vickery and Castine were somehow a connection to Chronic’s 1968 egregore, which had failed — spectacularly.

He pulled Loria to the rail and whispered, “I think — no, I’m sure — Vickery and Castine have to be killed too. Along with Ragotskie. All three. Damn.”

His head was only inches from hers, and he was aware of the increased mental vibration that he always experienced when standing very close to another initiate.

“Well don’t tell me,” she said, stepping away from him, “I’m the spiritual type. I’ve never taken anybody’s blood pressure, and I’m not going to start.”

“No, of course not, I don’t mean you. But — yes, get on the radio and tell Taitz.”

She was frowning at him. “I thought you wanted those two. For your IMPs.”

“They’re — no, they’re linked to — something I don’t see how we can incorporate, safely. I can’t take the chance.”

“Is it that old egregore? Those fifty-year-old coloring books?”

“The — dammit, the coloring books are neutral, but Vickery and Castine are apparently…tainted. Get on the radio. I –” He touched his bruised forehead. “I don’t think we should try again with the twins.”

“You’re being impulsive. We’ve spent all this time and effort trying to get Vickery and Castine — and now, if we find them, you just want them killed? You think the twins will do, as your IMPs?”

“The twins have disadvantages too,” Harlowe conceded, “but they’re already initiated — or if that app got closed, we’ll initiate them again to re-open it — and they’re willing participants, and they’re here. Vickery and Castine we’d have to catch, alive, and transport, and initiate. And I think they’re hostile.”

“I can see how they might be, at that.” Loria exhaled through pursed lips in a silent whistle. “Okay.”

She started to turn away toward the cabin, but Harlowe caught her arm, making them both wince. “Wait — for the next forty hours all of us have to be ready for the possibility of violence.” He reached into his coat, where he carried a small .22 revolver in a suede holster; he unclipped the holster and pulled it out, and, facing away from the twins, held it out to Loria. “Keep this with you.”

She looked down at the curved wood-sided grip protruding from the tan suede flap, then up at him. “No.”

“Damn it, it’s for self-defense! If one of these unsecured dramatis personae should kill you, you’d miss the apotheosis — you’d just be plain dead.”

She frowned at the little gun.

“You want to go on to some judgmental afterlife,” Harlowe went on, “or plain oblivion? — or live big, forever, here?”

She sighed and took the gun from his hand and slid it into a pocket of her bulky nylon jacket.


Even as he had helplessly watched the two men drag the woman from the porch in the penumbral dimness, Vickery had been aware of the car bucking and shaking, and the steering wheel jerking powerfully under his gripping hands. Now the car had evidently stopped, and was just rocking from side to side, but though Vickery swiveled his head toward where the windshield and rear-view mirror should have been visible, his vision showed him nothing but the men pulling the woman’s body down the last steps onto the dirt.

When light sprang up again, he was reassured to at least see the dashboard, for nothing showed through the windshield but whirling dust.

“Fuck!” exclaimed Castine. He glanced at her, and she seemed startled at having spoken.

The engine had stalled, and Vickery quickly started it again in case he was still out in the lanes; but in moments the dust blew away, and he saw that they were a dozen yards off the pavement, among sand and dry weeds. The car was at right angles to the highway, pointed out toward the desert.

Vickery just breathed in and out through his open mouth and waited for his heartbeat to slow down.

“Obviously,” said Castine, then paused to clear her throat. “Obviously you saw it too.”

Vickery nodded. “God knows what that did to the suspension. Anyway, how do I dare drive, anymore?” He shook his head, carefully. “We weren’t even touching each other!”

Castine opened her door and stepped out onto the sand. “I think a couple of people were,” she called, “somewhere.” She leaned in. “It’s kind of nice to step out — stretch and smell the breeze — after nearly dying.”

Vickery unclenched his fingers from the steering wheel. “Okay.” He levered open the door and swung his feet out onto the sand. “I was doing better than seventy!” he called.

“So drive slow from now on. We don’t need all that wind from the two missing back windows anyway.”

“We keep going?”

“Sure. You’d rather stay out here?” She got back into the car and pulled the door closed. “That was provoked in us. Just at the beginning of it, I got the impression of two girls, on a boat, holding hands. Did you sense that?”

“I –” Vickery thought about it. In the instant before the vision had eclipsed his view of the highway, there had been a sense of a couple of people — young people — and yes, rocking, though that had been nothing compared to the way the car had begun jumping and slewing a moment later. “A boat, you think.”

“In a marina, maybe? This won’t leave us alone — we’ve got to find a way out of it.”

The engine was running smoothly, and Vickery pulled his feet back into the car and glanced around, wondering how best to get back onto the highway. “Okay. But yeah, I’ll drive slow, and I’ll be ready to stand on the brakes.”