I’m Dreaming of… – Part 2

Hello again.  Today we’re finishing off “I’m Dreaming of a White Ancient Fertility Rite of Bag-Hosra.”  If you missed the first part you can read it here.  Also, as always, don’t forget that if you want more from the AS universe you can purchase the Apocalypse Shift novel at Amazon.  Remember that the print edition of Tales From the Apocalypse Shift, complete with a novelette that won’t be on the blog, is coming in 2010, so you may want to check out the novel before the next book is released.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy!

Derek J. Goodman

I’m Dreaming of a White Ancient Fertility Rite of Bag-Hosra – Part 2

     If Caleb and Phil hadn’t been so insistent, Courtney would have just run out into the night searching blindly for any sign of what had happened to Holly.  On further thought that would have been idiotic, and probably would result in Holly vanishing off the face of the planet, but Courtney wasn’t happy either about doing it in a more sensible fashion.  Sensible meant waiting and preparing and putting plans into place and then waiting some more.  Courtney hated it, but she held her tongue.  Caleb and Phil were doing everything they could to help her, and by extension Holly. 

     Caleb made a phone call first, and Courtney paced in the back room (off the clock now, at Caleb’s insistence)while she waited.  Phil explained to her, when he wasn’t doing his nightly duties, that Caleb was talking to the same woman who had found all the Hollys in the neighborhood to start with.  If she could find them before, Caleb was certain she could find them again. 

     “You know,” Phil said to her, “if Wylma can find her, then there’s no reason you have to be the one to go after her.  We could try calling the special police…”

     “Gloria told me they’re slow as hell,” Courtney said.

     “Or there are all kinds of other people that could help.  Most of them probably have more experience than you do with this sort of thing.”

     “Have they headed rescue operations for people being tortured by psychotic turnips?”

     “Probably not, but around here you never can tell.”

     “I have enough experience.”

     “Okay, fine.  You can do it.  But other people can, too.  Why does it have to be you?  Really?”

     “None of your business,” Courtney said, but that was a question that had already crossed her mind.  This had grown personal for her, but she couldn’t say why.  She just felt better knowing she was doing something to help.  Other people might be able to find Holly, and they could probably do it without the possibility of being frightened away by someone’s salad.  But by making herself do this, Courtney felt like her life had some purpose and reason back in it.

     When he wasn’t helping customers, Phil helped her formulate something like a plan.  They kept various weapons and potions and things to help fight anything that might throw a tantrum in the store, but most of those weren’t designed to fight ordinary humans.  Phil gave her some daggers she would be able to easily conceal on herself, although he was uneasy with the possibility of her using them on normal people.  In Courtney’s mind they were nothing of the sort, and she didn’t think she’d have any trouble using deadly force if needed.  They were kidnappers and potential murderers, after all.  She really didn’t care if they were only doing it in the name of their religion. 

     Phil was also able to find a robe for her in back among some boxes of emergency supplies.  The basic idea was that, when they found where the cultists had Holly, Courtney could sneak in as one of them and get her out, hopefully without anyone knowing any wiser.

     “Why does this robe smell like skunk?” Courtney asked.

     “Got it off a former cultist of Bag-Hosra.  They all make themselves smell like that.”

     “But why?”

     “Not a clue.”

     When Caleb finally got a lead on Holly’s location, Courtney left the OneStop through the back door.  She didn’t want anyone seeing her leaving the store in the robe and possibly make the connection that someone out there tonight was not who she said she was.  Phil had given her as much knowledge as he had on the cultists, but it had been a lot to absorb and there was still a lot he didn’t know.  It would be enough, she hoped.

     Caleb’s friend had used the same locating spell as she had before to find Holly, and the young woman had apparently been moving southward towards the center of the Hill before finally coming to a stop.  A few other spells had been able to show that she wasn’t alone, so Courtney had likely been correct.  Someone had taken her. 

     Caleb had marked Holly’s location on a map for her, and as Courtney walked briskly in that direction she noticed a distinct change in the buildings around her.  She’d still seen the fancy former mansions at first, but they gave way more and more to apartment buildings, most of them looking kind of run down.  She still saw the festive and disturbing holiday decorations in some doors and windows, but they were far between around here. 

     Courtney had to double check the map against the actual location when she found it.  The apartment building was about three stories and made of red brick.  The bizarre rituals and beliefs had seemed to make more sense when paired with a more decedent architecture, but this place looked completely normal.  It didn’t even seem like it belonged on the Hill.

     Then she looked up and saw a girl in a Japanese school-girl uniform and a boy in a tuxedo and domino mask fly off the roof.  Yep, this place still belonged on the Hill.

     The front door was locked, but Phil had given her a tip how to get around that if she needed.  There was a panel of buttons to buzz each of the apartments off on the left side, and Courtney pressed the first one.  There were a few moments before someone answered through the intercom in a sleepy tone.  “Hello?”

     “I’m here for the ritual,” Courtney said.

     “Oh,” the voice said, suddenly with a note of fear in it.  “Um, sorry, wrong apartment.”  The intercom went silent.  Courtney tried the next apartment.

     “What?” a man’s voice said.

     “I’m here for the ritual.”

     “Bitch, fuck off!”

     Courtney continued going down the list, but most of them didn’t answer.  The mundies in the building were probably asleep, completely unaware that there might be a human sacrifice about to take place right now in the apartment down the hall.  After eleven tries, though, Courtney finally got the answer she’d been looking for.


     “I’m here for the ritual.”

     “Oh!  Well, you better hurry up.  We’ve already served the cheese and crackers and squidnog, but you’re just in time for the sacrifice.”

     The door buzzed, and Courtney opened it.  She wasn’t sure what disturbed her more, that Holly was only moments away from dying or that these people actually drank something called squidnog.

     The button she had pressed had been for apartment 2F.  She made her way up the stairs, moving as quickly as she could manage in the awkward robe, and went to the door.  Before she even knocked she could hear the sounds of voices from inside.  There seemed to be a lot of people, possibly more than she could take down if she had to fight.  But that didn’t seem like too terrible a prospect to her.  She could fight, and she didn’t much care what happened to her in the process.  It just felt good to be doing something for someone.  She really felt like she had a purpose at the moment.

     She knocked at the door.  It opened quickly to give Courtney a whiff of the most wretched odor.  Every single person in this place for some reason smelled like a skunk, and there were a lot of people.  “Oh, hi,” the man who opened the door said.  “Are you Bobbi’s friend she was saying might show up?”

     Courtney did her best not to sound nervous.  Acting had never been a strong suit for her, but she thought she would be okay as long as she kept cool.  “Um, yeah, Bobbi told me to come but as I was on my way I got a flat tire and then there was this giant man-eating piranha plant and it came up to me and was all like, ‘Hey, give me five-fifty,’ and I was like…”  She paused.  Maybe that wasn’t the right way to act.

     The man at the door stared at her, although it was hard for Courtney to see his expression from under his hood, but he stepped aside.  “Well, yeah.  You’ve got to be careful with man-eating plants.  Moochers, all of them.”  Courtney gave him a polite nod and entered, doing her very best not to wretch all over the front of her cloak at the smell.

     Someone handed her a glass and wished her a happy Ancient Fertility Rite of Bag-Hosra.  She took the glass and almost took a drink out of it, then paused when she saw the glass’s contents.  It was a milk-like substance, except there were chunks of what might have been tentacles in it.  They even still seemed to be moving.  She set the glass down on the nearest surface and glanced around the room instead.

     They were in a living room, a decent sized one considering  the premium on space on the crowded Hill, but there wasn’t any typical living room furniture.  Instead there was a large block set on the floor, about one foot high and ten feet by ten feet in length and width.  There were three chains with manacles connected to it, and in the center there was circle drawn with arcane symbols inside.  There seemed to be dried blood on it.  Courtney caught her breath, afraid for a moment that she was too late, before she realized the blood was far too dark.  Possibly it was left over from the year before, but nothing had been killed on it yet tonight.

     Courtney let her hands go inside her robe to rest on the daggers hidden in her belt.  First she needed to find Holly among all this, then she needed to find a way out, but she didn’t quite care for now if she had to kill any of these scumbags in order to make it happen.  Just thinking of what they were planning made Courtney want to slice every one of their necks.  And then maybe go throw up.

     She looked for doors to other rooms, certain that Holly would be somewhere close by.  There were three doors off the living room, one leading to the kitchen, but she could see in there enough to know Holly wasn’t there.  That left the other two, which she assumed had to go to a bathroom and a bedroom.  Both of them were shut.  Keeping one hand on a dagger, Courtney made her way through the people to the nearest door and opened it.  She jerked back at the shriek as the door swung open.

     “Hey, occupied!” a guy inside said.  His mouth was smeared with lipstick, and he wasn’t alone.  A woman had him pinned up against the sink with her body pressed close to him.  With one hand she held something over both their heads.  Courtney only got a brief glimpse of it, but it looked like an old and rotten human toe.

     “Oops.  Uh, sorry,” Courtney said, quickly shutting the door.  She could feel her cheeks warm with embarrassment, but she wasn’t sure if a blush would show anymore given her skin’s new color.  Holly had to be beyond the other door, then.  Before she could go for it, however, someone in the center of the living room spoke up over the chatter of the people.

     “Okay, everyone, this is it,” the speaker said.  “Time to honor Bag-Hosra with this year’s sacrifice!” 

     The group cheered, and Courtney did her best to cheer along with them.  Her chance at getting Holly out of here without too much spectacle was gone.  She was going to have to grab the girl and get out of here, probably killing a whole lot of people along the way. 

     The man who had spoken up went to the bedroom door and placed his hand on the knob.  “Let’s welcome our sacrifice this year with the traditional song!” he said.  Someone in the crowd blew into a pitch pipe, and everyone began singing.  Courtney pulled one of the daggers out as the man opened the door.

     “Deck the halls with bowels of emu, fa la la la la…”

     Courtney paused.  Emu?

     The man went into the bedroom and came back out pulling on a rope.  At the other end an emu squawked, protesting at the rope around its neck, but it came out anyway.

     “Tis the season to be…”  The crowd faltered as no one could think of a word that rhymed with “emu,” but they didn’t let that stop them from going right into the next “fa la la las.”  Courtney looked at the sacrificial spot in the center of the room and suddenly realized why there were only three manacles.  One for each of the emu’s feet, one for its neck.  It had never been intended for human sacrifice at all.

     Courtney moved next to the guy who had let her in the door.  “Excuse me, I don’t understand.  Where’s Holly?”

     The cultist pulled back his hood, and for the first time she saw one of their faces.  He didn’t look like the scary human-killing cultist she had imagined.  He looked old and a little worn.  His eyes had a kind feel to them, but he looked hurt.

     “You’re not really a friend of Bobbi, are you?”

     The smart thing to do would be trying to maintain the charade, but Courtney didn’t think she could.  All of a sudden she felt alone and weak and pointless again.  “No.  I’m just…”

     “You just figured the Bag-Hosrians must be about to do something horrible because that’s what everyone says they do, right?  Well guess what?  Yeah, some Bag-Hosrians may be like that.  Those damned protester out there tonight, I wouldn’t put the whole “bowels of Holly” thing past them.  But you can’t judge all of us based on the actions of a few on the lunatic fringe.  We here are proud that we’re more modern than that.”

     “You’re more modern by sacrificing an emu and using its entrails to decorate your apartment?”

     “Get out,” the man said.  “Don’t you ever dare come back, either.”

     The man shoved her out the front door just as the song was coming to an end, and as the door closed Courtney could hear the squawk as a giant bird had things done to it that she didn’t want to imagine.  But she didn’t really care one way or the other about the bird.  All she could think about was that Holly was still out there somewhere, and she had failed her. 

     Courtney collapsed against a wall in the hall and held her head in her hands.  She thought about all the people she had known in her own world that had died.  She had watched some of them die and heard in gruesome detail what had happened to others.  She’d failed them all, and then took the cowardly way out of it all by escaping to another world.  She was weak and a failure, and that was all she could ever be from now on.  Now she had gone and failed Holly, too.  There was no telling where the poor girl had gone…

     Through all the terrible thoughts racing in her head, Courtney tried to force some reason into them.  Maybe she hadn’t failed anyone after all.  After all, unless Caleb’s friend had been mistaken, Holly was definitely somewhere in this building.  And if she wasn’t with any of the cultists, then there was a very good possibility she wasn’t really in danger after all.  Courtney had probably been overreacting this whole time.  That thought made her feel worse for a moment, the idea that everything that had happened to her had rendered her incapable of even thinking straight, but she had to push past it, at least in the moment.  She had to satisfy herself for now about what had actually happened to the young woman.  After that, then she could let her emotions take back over again.

     She stood back up and walked down the hall to the stairs, trying to figure out which apartment Holly might be in.  She could always just knock on every door until she found her, but there had to be an easier way that wouldn’t make sleepy mundies call the police on her.  The question, Courtney realized, was why Holly would be in this building if she hadn’t been dragged here by the cultists.  Maybe she just lived here.  Maybe she had simply gotten tired of waiting at a convenience store when she could be at home in bed.  She thought back to her conversation with the woman, trying to remember if she had mentioned where she lived.  She hadn’t, Courtney realized, not exactly, but she had mentioned something about a boyfriend.  She hadn’t seemed too pleased about him when she talked about him, either.

     Courtney went back down to the building’s front door, propped it open, and went back out to look at the buttons next to the intercom.   Most people had been sleeping.  Some had been women’s voices that clearly weren’t Holly.  One voice, though, a male, had clearly stood out at her.

     Courtney pressed the button and waited for a response.  “What?”

     “Is Holly there?”

     “I don’t know who the fuck you are, bitch, but go the fuck away!”

     “Just answer the question.  Is there a woman named Holly with you?”

     “No, now go the fuck away!”  But faintly, Courtney thought she could hear a woman’s voice calling out her name in the background.  Holly was calling for her help.

     Courtney went back inside, found the right room from the intercom, and kicked the door down.  For the next several minutes she felt like she had a purpose again.

*    *    *

     The OneStop was in the middle of a rush when she came back, but both Caleb and Phil stopped helping the line of customer in front of them to look up at her when she came through the door.

     “Did you find her?” Caleb asked.

     “Yeah, I found her,” Courtney said.  She couldn’t make her voice rise much above a whisper.

     “Did you… I mean was she…”  Phil didn’t finish his sentence, but Courtney knew what he wanted to know.  She thought about how Holly had looked when she had found the woman.  A black eye, bruises on her arms, but no broken bones. 

     “She’s alive,” Courtney said.  Her boyfriend was, too, but only because Holly had screamed at Courtney to stop before she had done anything too drastic.  Holly had explained that she had gone outside for a smoke and found her boyfriend there, begging her to come home.  He’d thought she was gone because she was trying to leave him, having not known anything about Bag-Hosra.  And as soon as they were home he had punished her for going somewhere without his permission.

     Courtney had saved her from any further abuse tonight, but Holly had refused to leave.  She had said Courtney had overreacted, that there was nothing to worry about, that Courtney owed the boyfriend for the repairs to the door. 

     Courtney had gone into that apartment feeling like a heroine and had come out feeling like nothing again.

     “Do you guys need me to punch back in?” she asked.

     “Um, no, don’t worry about it,” Phil said.  “You look like you’ve had enough for your first night.  Assuming that it is your first night and not your last?”

     “I don’t know,” Courtney said.  “Do either of you guys have a cigarette?”

     “Neither of us smoke,” Caleb said, “But I think someone on the first shift left a pack sitting next to the ordering computer.  You could probably grab one without getting in too much trouble.  And there’s an envelope for you back there, too.  Someone came in and left it for you.”

     Courtney grabbed a cigarette and the envelope, but she didn’t care what it was and made no attempt to open it.  Caleb said she could smoke in the back room if she wanted, but Courtney took it out the back door instead.  She wanted to be alone right now, and if either of them had a spare moment when not helping customers they might come in back and ask her questions.  She didn’t have any answers right now.

     The back of the store was in an alley with a dumpster next to the door.  Courtney leaned against the dumpster and lit the cigarette with a lighter Gloria had also left behind, coughing at the first smoke to enter her lungs.  She’d smoked a little in college, which had looked bad for someone in pre-med, so she’d quit.  She would have taken it up again during the war, but cigarettes had been in short supply when she’d been in hiding.  Now apparently it looked like she was starting again.  It calmed her nerves slightly, but nowhere near what she would have liked.

     The shakes began halfway through the cigarette.  She eventually flicked the rest of the cigarette aside and slid down to a sitting position against the dumpster, not wanting to fight the feelings taking over her body.  At least she wasn’t feeling all those emotions of worthlessness and cowardice and panic right now.  Instead she just felt numb.  That wasn’t so bad.  That was a hell of a lot better than the other options.

     “It won’t,” somebody said from down the alley.  The voice was high pitched and scratchy, like a mouse that had its larynx scrubbed out like a toilet brush.  “Stop, that is.  These feelings you have?  At least not for a while.”

     Courtney looked in the direction of the voice.  She didn’t see anyone, but that didn’t mean anything.  Whatever was talking to her wasn’t human.

     “And who exactly would you be?” Courtney asked the air.

     “I’ve been watching you all night,” the voice said.  “I’m not the only one, of course.  You’ll speak to the other one soon enough, but I figured I should introduce myself while I’m around, since you’ve been hearing about me all night.”

     There was only one thing she’d been hearing about all night that she hadn’t seen, but she didn’t think it was something she wanted to see at all.  “If you’re about to show yourself,” she said, “I’d rather you didn’t.  I’m not exactly in the mood to meet some sort of tentacled Great Old One.”

     “It’s Elder God for me, actually, and I’m not one of the tentacled ones.  I’m… stranger than that, I guess you could say.”

     The air at the end of the alley shimmered.  Matter rearranged itself, and something took solid form.  Courtney had to blink several times to make sure she wasn’t just seeing things.  At least a few of the things she had seen and heard tonight finally made sense, in an incredibly bizarre way. 

     A skunk floated in the air, a dead skunk with its back to the ground and its legs pointed straight up in the air.  The tail stuck straight out towards her and was flattened underneath as though something held it in the air, even though it was two feet off the ground.  Another several feet over the skunk there was a dark but small storm cloud.  Snow fell from the cloud in impressive sheets, but it all vanished before it hit the dead skunk.

     “I guess that would make you Bag-Hosra?” Courtney asked.

     “That’s correct.  You humans, you always assume that when the tales say we take forms beyond your understanding, that must mean we’re all gibbering tentacled horrors.  Most of us are just… well, what you would consider odd.”

     “Don’t you have some fertility celebrations to attend or something?” Courtney asked.  “I’m sure all your followers would be much happier to see you than I am.”

     “Maybe they would be, but they don’t really want to see me.  They just want to justify all their pomp and circumstance.  It would send the wrong message if I showed myself to them.  They would take it as me accepting this all, when really I believe they’re all just a little bit batty.”

     “Batty?” Courtney asked.  She was feeling a little like that herself, talking to a floating dead skunk and storm cloud, but she would be lying if she said she wasn’t a little intrigued.  “You actually think you’re followers are batty?”

     “Oh please.  Do you really think perfectly sane folk would willingly make themselves smell like a skunk?  With my own powers, which really aren’t quite as godlike as you would think but close enough, what do think is one of the first things I ever did?  I got rid of my own stench, that’s what.”

     “But all the stuff they do, they want to please you.  It’s all to make you happy, isn’t it?”

     “Aw hell no.  It’s to make themselves feel like they’re doing something important.  All the decorating, the sacrifices whether emu or human, the robes, I really couldn’t care less.  They just pretend that I care so they can say how pleased I am with them.”

     “And you’re not?”

     “I couldn’t care less, really.  They’re not really the kind of people I would hang around with if I had my choice.  I mean, would you?  They worship a freaking dead skunk.  Not exactly a character trait anyone would value highly.”

     “Not even the dead skunk in question?” Courtney asked.

     “Especially not the dead skunk in question.”

     “Man, this place is just weird,” Courtney said.

     “Says the half-plant woman from an alternate reality.”

     Courtney scowled at the cloud.  She figured that was the closest she was going to manage to making eye contact.  “So if you don’t think any of them are worthy enough then why suddenly show yourself to me?”

     “Because tonight I think you’re the one who needs me the most,” it said.  “I’m not really a god, more of a spirit, but do you know what I’m a spirit of?”

     Courtney shrugged.

     “It’s in the name of my holiday,” it said.  “Ancient Fertility Rite.  Fertility.  Growth.  Change.  New beginnings.”

     “New beginnings,” Courtney said.  “Maybe I don’t want new beginnings.”

     “Tough noogies,” the dead skunk said.  “Everyone gets a new beginning at some point whether they want one or not.  You feel guilt about surviving what happened to you.  You’re psyche is damaged by everything you saw and did.  All of that is in the past, though, and you’ve got the future ahead of you.”

     “That’s it?” Courtney asked.  “You just say something I could have read in a greeting card and that’s supposed to make me feel better?”

     “Who said I was here to make you feel better?  Nothing can fix the damage done to you, except maybe time, but even that’s not certain.  I am simply here to tell you what you really need to know.  And that is simply that there is a place for you.  Even the new damaged you.  You will have worth, even if you will often doubt it.  You have a role to play.”

     Courtney looked down at her hands folded in her lap.  She wasn’t sure what to say to that.  She’d had plenty of people try to help her through things in the past.  They had always said things like “It will get better,” or “There’s a reason for everything.”  Sometimes she had believed it, but more often she had thought those were just empty platitudes.

     It was nice to finally have someone tell her the cold hard truth, even if that someone was a dead skunk.

     She looked back up at Bag-Hosra, but the skunk was gone.  The cloud still remained for the moment, spilling the occasional snowflake on the ground, but it was fading, too.  She thought about thanking it, but that would just be weird.

     When it was gone she finally remembered she had the envelope in her hands.  She opened it and read the letter inside:

     I’ve been watching you tonight.  I know what you are capable of and what kind of things you need.  I also think you can do way better than the OneStop Mart for a job.  Perhaps you should give me a call.

     There was no name at the bottom of the note, just an attached business card with a phone number and a large letter Q.  New beginnings indeed. 

     She went back inside to tell Caleb and Phil that she really was quitting.  She also thought she might need to use the phone.

The End (For Now)

(c) 2010 Derek J. Goodman


2 Responses to “I’m Dreaming of… – Part 2”

  1. 1 Jax
    January 4, 2010 at 2:04 am

    “…wasn’t been happy either,” “kidnappers and potential murders”

    Somehow, neither sound quite right. 😉

    And remind me to never sip squidnog!

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