Darkness, a pitch black abyss engulfed everything and everyone. It was an eternal maw that sought to devour and rip apart. It was a horrid thing that would drive one mad and leave many a man and woman broken and shattered at the base of its dark desire. It was an all too familiar friend. At the center of the devouring dark sat a man, a light surrounding him but only enough to see perhaps a foot in front of him. He was walking and with each step he met both solid ground and a sickening splash. The ground was just as dark as the void that surrounded him and the air was thick. He could not see past his hand but he knew what lie within that inky tar that sought to eviscerate his very mind. The stench was enough to give it away. The stench of rotting flesh and blood.
Through the stagnant stillness which had tendrils that reached for his sanity he knew all too well the horrors that stood before him. He knew his body from many times in this personal hell. Blasphemous writings wrapped around his arms, his legs, his body, his face. He didn’t need to see them. He felt each and every one writhing upon his skin. Some languages long dead, others yet to be invented, and some never to be discovered by man. Each word was alive and burning, a marker for his sins. Each corpse was a pillar to his damnation, and the corpses numbered in the hundreds. He stopped walking, the blood had now caked onto his feet. As he stood still, naked and alone, the sounds of disturbance rippled across the ocean of blood he stood in. Then the eyes started to appear.
The eyes were numerous, hollow but for the piercing gaze of eternal vengeance and hatred. One by one the materialized into existence and all focused upon him. A few maddening moments of eternity passed, the air thick with malice. Then the bubble of light that fought back the darkness popped. The hands descended upon their prey.
John Finnigan shot up with a start. His chest was heaving and a cold sweat had gathered on his face. Sweat that had clung to his pillow as well. He had been lying in his bed, sleeping not so peacefully. An open window didn’t exactly help his condition as the cold air of late fall hit his naked torso like a piercing knife. He ran a hand through his curly brown hair and gave an exasperated sigh as he pushed himself out of his bed.
His feet came into contact with the cold hardwood floor of his sparse apartment, if it could even be called that. It was a single room with a single bed, dresser, and a stack of old newspapers on one side and what could barely be described as a kitchen on the other with a door leading to a not so clean bathroom. There was no television, just a pair of armchairs with questionable stains, one of which in a condition that could hardly be considered useful, and a bookshelf lined with books that had seen much usage. A phone sat between the two chairs propped up by a single black side table, paint chipping away in generous portions on it.
“You know every time you sleep I have to deal with the mental throwback of it.” An all too grating voice chimed in.
John turned to the source of the noise, the open window which had now been closed. Standing next to it was a man wearing a leather jacket and a pair of sunglasses. His facial features were sharp and he was cleanly shaven. His hair was blonde and obviously well maintained.
“A fine hello to you, Jack.” John grunted. He rubbed his face, the stubble on it scratching at his fingers slightly.
Jack Finnigan, John’s “brother” and roommate. As well as colleague. And on top of that a grade A nuisance. He always sported a smirk on his face that annoyed everyone he talked to.
“I’ll have you know I was in the middle of courting-”
Jack was cut off immediately by a thrown piece of garbage. A full and unopened can of some non-name brand beer. The blonde man caught it in his hand without missing a beat and looked down at it. He shrugged and placed it on the windowsill.
“Testy tonight eh? Alright Johnny boy I’ll not bother asking about it.” His smirk deepened, as did John’s glare. “Besides I know what the dream was about.”
“You should know better than to chase tail on the night’s I’m supposed to sleep.” John grunted. He had made his way to the dresser and had started putting on his clothes. A black tanktop and a pair of jeans.
“Aint I just incorrigible?”
John merely gave another sigh and slipped on a pair of socks. Jack followed behind as he shuffled towards the fridge. After a dream like that who could possibly go back to sleep?
“By the way the phone’s been ringing for the last five minutes or so. You should probably check that out.” Jack chided, he hopped and skipped over to the fridge and began rummaging around.
“Food’s going bad as well, we’ll have to go grocery shopping again.” He continued, he dropped a piece of moldy lunch meat onto the floor with an audible slap.
John offered a grunt as he glanced over at the phone on the table. Someone had been calling him? He flipped the phone open, an older thing mostly used for work. On their budget they didn’t have enough money for anything fancy. As the machine flickered to life he saw that someone had indeed called him, and left a voicemail as well.
Even through the mild static of the phone the voice came as curt and quick. “It’s Darius. Down at the office. We have work.”
John pocketed the phone and turned to face Jack, who was still picking around the fridge. Thankfully he wasn’t adding to the current mess on the floor. “It was Darius.”
“Oh I know.” Jack replied casually, he closed the door to the fridge. “He called me a little after he called you.”
“Suppose that explains why you bothered coming back here.” John began rummaging through a pile of clothes that were in desperate need of washing. He tugged out a brown jacket and slipped it over himself, no sense in going out on a night like this without some degree of comfort.
“Told him you were sleeping. He just got annoyed at me.” Jack absently tossed a set of keys towards John, who caught it in a similar fashion.
“Uh-huh, and how long were you talking in circles?”
“Long enough for my date to get bored.” Jack commented, his brows waggled.
John had made his way over to the door now, he glanced over his shoulder at Jack. The look on his face commented that he wasn’t impressed. Slipping on a pair of steel-toed shoes, black and rather stained, he pushed his way through the door. It gave a loud creak on rusty hinges.
John walked quietly through the hall of a rather dirty apartment complex, wood old and in desperate need of maintenance as each step brought more moans from the building. His brow furrowed as he heard the familiar slam of his door, followed by the sounds of dogs barking in the night.
“Two in the morning.” He grunted to Jack, who hurriedly made his way besides his brother.
“Best to get an early start.” Jack replied, the sunglasses hiding an obvious wink as the two made their way through the hall. Swearing followed the two all the way to the staircase, old wood scuffed and splintered over years of misuse.
“You get any details on what we’re doing?”
“Nah. Well probably but I ignored most of what was said.”
The two made it to the bottom of the stairs, jack peeling a piece of wallpaper off of the stair-well wall to reveal a piece of old concrete underneath.
“Of course you did.”
“Hey you were in the middle of your little heart attack inducing night-terror when I got the call. Cut me some slack here.”
“I will when you stop trying to get us thrown out of our apartment.” John muttered under his breath, the two approached the old wooden door leading to the outside. Even from this distance John could feel the cold radiating from it. “I don’t care for being homeless if I can prevent it.”
“You act like it’d be the first time it’s happened to us.” Jack stated, the door swung open rather violently with a large gust of wind. It clattered against the wall followed by more barks and another inward groan from John.
Jack, unphased by the bitter cold, slipped past John and made his way over to an old, fairly beat up, van. The passenger side window was rolled down, though it didn’t roll up anyway. The door only opened from the inside as well so it was a fortunate turn of events, though it was a pain during the winter time when there would occasionally be a foot of snow in the car.
“How much gas do we have?” John asked as he slipped into the driver seat.
“You’re paying for the next tank.” John turned the key to the vehicle, the engine turned twice
then came to life.
“Aw c’mon, that aint fair.” Jack whined as he leaned back in his seat.
“You’re the only one who uses the damn thing outside of work. You’re lucky I don’t make you pay for every tank.”
This was a fairly regular argument that they had. John usually having some grievance with Jack that would continue for the entire drive to their office. The way there was usually taken through the dirty streets of downtown Derring City. It was a fairly large city, not without its share of crime. The office that they were headed to was about a twenty minute drive from their apartment, John insisted that work and home be a good deal away from each other. Indeed the office, a lone building sitting close to the edge of the city, was in much better condition than the filthy apartment the two brothers called home. Though that wasn’t saying much.
The office was a two-floored establishment, a bit rough looking but the kind of roughness that was obtained by time rather than lack of maintenance. It was clean on the outside and featured a sign on the window that said “Finnigan Brothers Paranormal Investigation Service” as well as a phone number right under it. A sign that had gotten them many prank calls and insults thrown at them in the past.
The light was on inside, meaning that Darius was already there and waiting for them. “Bet he’s going to be cross with us.” Jack chortled.
“Probably with you.” John grunted, he cut the engine to the van and hopped out of the vehicle. He made his way to the front door, it was glass and featuring little in the way of security other than a single deadbolt lock. He went in first, not wanting to bother with Jack’s usual method of entering as boisterously as possible to every establishment they went to.
The inside of the building was clean, almost to the point of being obsessive. First impressions were key to keeping customers in their business. There was a black pseudo leather couch with a coffee table to the left and to the right a metal desk with a computer that was almost as dated as the building itself. The floor was white tile, easier to clean that way, and every paper and magazine that happened to be in the building was organized into neat little stacks.
Sitting behind the desk was a rather large man with dark skin and more square facial features. He wore a suit, clean, pressed, and fitted and probably very expensive. He also wore a pair of sunglasses similar to that of Jack’s. He had no hair to speak of, not just on his head but his eyebrows as well, and he sported a look of pure annoyance.
Sitting on the couch was a younger looking man sporting trendier clothes. His hair was styled and maintained and his eyes were a crystal blue. He wasn’t particularly tall and had little in the way of mass to him. He seemed to be in a good deal better mood than the other.
“Darius.” John nodded to the larger one. He didn’t say anything in response. “Richard.” He continued down the line, the younger man giving a small wave from his position.
Without so much as a greeting the larger of the two muttered “You’re late.”
“Sorry, this one decided he would rather have me sleep than help out.” John nodded to Jack who sported an all too smug smile on his face.
“Figures. Well anyway now that you’re here we can get started.”
John raised his brow. It wasn’t often that any of them were this eager to get to work.
“What’s the job?” He asked.
“Missing persons case. Four women around college age went missing over the course of two weeks.” Darius replied, he reached into his suit pocket and began digging for something.
“Sounds like a job for the police.” John grunted, moving closer to the desk as he kept an eye on his companion.
“I’d say the same. But there’s a bit more to it.” Darius continued, seemingly unperturbed at the comment.
Darius’ hand left his pocket and in his hand was a folded piece of paper, a photo from the looks of it. “The police have gotten involved but they don’t appear to have any idea as to where any of the girls are.” He passed the paper over to John who took it slowly. He didn’t like where Darius was leading this.
John flipped open the photo, it was a picture of a goat’s skull surrounded by a circle of thorns, a single rose hovering between the goat’s eyes. The image appeared to be scrawled on a wall with charcoal.
“Leaves a couple of possibilities.” John muttered, he rubbed his temples and gave an audible sigh.
Darius nodded as he re-crossed his arms. “I can think of three. Either it’s a couple of college kids going way too far, cultists or…”
“A witch coven.” Jack chimed in, plucking the photo out of John’s hand. “Y’know one of the black magic ones.”
“You seem confident about that.” John stated, he diverted his attention back to Jack.
“We could make it a bet.”
“With you? No.” John grunted in response. He turned back to Darius who seemed particularly unamused.
“Who is the client and when are we expected?” John continued as if nothing had happened.
“We’re meeting the dean of the physics department of the Price State University in Tennessee.” Darius started, he began making his way to a coat rack. Taking a particularly expensive looking black coat from it and slipping it on he continued. “And we’re to get there by tomorrow.”
Now it was Richard’s turn to react, having been quiet for most of the meeting. “What?! That’s like a ten hour drive!” He shot forward on his chair to look at his friends with wide eyes.
“I’d have to agree.” John stated, he had to admit he was surprised at the time frame. “That’s incredibly short notice, Darius.”
“You say that as if we’ve got a choice on the matter.” The big man replied, his brow raised slowly.
“A bit of forewarning next time man.” Richard sighed as he placed his head in his hands. “Do we even have the supplies we need?”
“The equipment’s in the van.” John replied, looking back over to the beat up old vehicle.
“Though I don’t know how long it’ll hold up over long distances.”
“Good enough.” Darius stated. “You’re driving.”
“Aw, not little old me?” Jack said in mock offense. He slid up next to Darius and wrapped an arm around his shoulder.
“I’d rather not have to buy another van for you two.” Darius stated, his cold demeanor shifting to annoyance again rather quickly. “John drives.”
“Fine.” Jack sighed. “But I get to pick the radio.”