Dark Matter

Liftoff

Sand swirled everywhere as the helicopter lifted off. The desert grit engulfed the storage containers scattered about the compound. Little tornados of dust and debris flew, settled briefly and then flew again pelting everything in it’s path from supplies and vehicles to the bodies of the Russian commandos. Through the cloud of dirt Jack saw a figure leap effortlessly to the top of one of the shipping containers, a huge metal box some twelve feet high. The creature was some sort of hybrid of man and wolf. Jack watched it as the helicopter lifted higher and faster. The werewolf crouched as it if it was going to leap and pull the craft from the sky, a task Jack thought impossible even for this creature. Instead it lifted its immense head and howled with supernatural force. The sound cut through the noise and swirling sand and hit Jack with what felt like physical force. He swayed slightly for a brief moment in the doorway of the helicopter.

“What the fuck is that thing?” yelled the waist gunner to Jack’s left. He had almost forgotten the man was there in their desperation to get away. Jack turned to see the gunner sitting behind his M-60 hanging from its sling in the open doorway. He didn’t fire the weapon. Instead he stared at the creature with what Jack could only assume was a mixture of astonishment and fear.

Jack understood that fear.

The helicopter banked and swung right, up and over the camp. Jack turned his head to follow the abomination below them. In turn it swung it’s grotesque head around to follow them. Its bright yellow eyes pierced the cloud of sand as it swirled between them. Jack couldn’t help but feel as though those eyes were staring directly at him, following his every move. The investigator in him wanted to stare back and take in every detail: its inhuman musculature, twisted human features and overall viciousness. He wanted to watch it and remember. But there was something overwhelming in that stare. The evil in those huge yellowy eyes.

He turned his gaze away to the rest of the compound as it spun away below them. Four werewolf bodies lay on the ground beneath them, disappearing amidst the swirling sand. They had appeared at first as Russian Spetnaz. The team quickly learned they were lycanthropes. Now they were dead. Or at least hey appeared dead. But in his time at Hoffman Jack had learned some important things. The first was that supernatural creatures did exist. He had fought the notion for a long time. Years, in fact. But now his reality had been fractured too many times. He knew those things were real. And worse yet, he had also learned that things are rarely what they seemed. Those creatures were probably dead. Hopefully dead.

But one never knew anymore.

Jack did know that they were safely away from whatever danger lay below them. Thankfully, their new contact, “Smith” had been able to call on some former military associates to pull them out of the fire. But as he and the gunner listened to the werewolf’s howl cut though the dust and noise around them he realized that this one was the Alpha. And it wasn’t dead. Worse yet, he had no idea what that meant.

“Seriously, man!” the gunner yelled at him. “What the fuck was that thing?”

Jack slouched back against the doorway of the helicopter. He suddenly felt exhausted. It was as though he had been running for days and just now realized it. His right foot rested on the helicopter’s strut and his left was curled up underneath him as he sat on the floor. The gunner looked pale as he looked at him.

“No fucking clue. I have no idea.”

“You ever see anything like that before, man? That’s the craziest shit I ever seen. And I seen some crazy shit here in Afghanistan.”

“Never,” Jack replied. "Can’t help you with that.’

“Well it’s a good thing we were around to save your civvy asses then cuz you fuckers would have been seriously fucked. That was serious FUBAR.”

He paused and looked back to the gunner. “Thanks for the ride,” he said flatly.

“Yeah, man. If Danielson didn’t call for us to come get you guys out of the shit you’d be nuts in that thing’s turds. Seriously fucked, man. Serious.”

“Who?”

“What?”

Jack shook his head in frustration. He gritted his teeth and tried to resist the urge to grab the gunner and throw him out the door. “Who the hell is Danielson?”

The gunner looked at him in stunned silence for a moment. “Danielson. You don’t know who Danielson is? Jesus fuckin’ Christ, man! He’s the guy who called us? How do you not know who he is? He got on the goddamned helo with ya!”. He laughed and turned his head back into the helicopter. “Hey Danielson, this fucker doesn’t even know who you are!” He turned back to Jack, still laughing. Jerking his thumb back over his shoulder as he yelled, “Danielson is sitting right fuckin’ there, man. Seriously.”

Jack’s looked past the gunner to the rest of his team. Nat was sitting on the floor facing him. She was leaning back against the seat behind her. She appeared to be none the worse for where. She was cradling Sal’s head in her lap. He was lying splayed out on the floor. He was on his back and bleeding from multiple gunshot wounds. Nat was telling him to relax and breath easy. Mya knelt over him with her hands on his chest. Jack watched as Mya’s hands lit up with whatever power it was that helped her heal even the most terrible wounds. Sal looked bad. But as bad as it was Jack knew those wounds weren’t immediately fatal. He had 30 minutes most likely. That was more than enough time for Mya. Sal was definitely in a great deal of pain. But Mya had handled much worse. Nat would help make him comfortable and Mya would save his life.

Jack turned his attention to Dickie who lay across the seat opposite Nat. He was also shot up pretty well. But for whatever reason, Dickie was able to heal at an unnatural pace. If you didn’t cut his head off he was most likely going to survive. It had something to do with nanites he said he had in his blood. Jack didn’t care. He didn’t know what nanites were. But he knew he didn’t like Dickie. No, Dickie wasn’t going to die today. And as much as it pained Jack to admit it, that left him somewhat disappointed.

Jack swung his gaze across the helicopter to “Smith”. Or Danielson, as he was being told by his newfound savior. He sat leaning forward in the seat across from Dickie. Between his sunglasses and “native” beard his face was almost obscured. He seemed to be monitoring Mya’s progress with Sal. Or at least Jack thought so. His face was pointed in the right direction. But as Jack watched him he mindlessly wiped off the knife he carried with a bandana before checking the blade and putting it back in the sheath at his waist. He went back to watching his new teammates on the floor. As Jack watched “Smith” turned his head and looked at Jack. He flashed a half smile and gave Jack an up nod. “You good?”

“Yeah,” Jack said absently. Who was this guy? Hoffman had dropped them in Afghanistan two weeks earlier with no equipment and no instruction other than they had two people to find. The pair were Hoffman operatives that had gone missing. The FBI was somehow involved. Anna was nervous. She told Jack flat out she had a bad feeling about the mission. She almost begged him to be careful. She was scared and he didn’t know exactly why. All he really knew was that they were supposed to meet “Smith” and he was going to get them what they needed and guide them through this backward shit show excuse for a country. Jack wasn’t sure what to think of him. He seemed arrogant and maybe a little bloodthirsty. He also couldn’t escape the feeling that somehow he was going to be sticking around.

Whatever. Jack had endured Dickie. He’d put up with Professor Meister and his complete lack of firearm safety. Good God, he’d made it through working with Luke Sterling for fuck’s sake. How much worse could the new guy be?

“Hey man,” the gunner was barking at him again. Jack snapped out of his own thoughts and looked at him. “Seriously, man. Are you fucking out of it or something? I thought you were gonna fall out there for a second. Dude, you gotta pay attention up here else you’re gonna fall out and hit the sand 500 feet down. Then the desert just fuckin swallows you up and no one will ever find you. Buckle up. man. Seriously.”

He moved over to Jack to help him buckle into the belt harness behind him. “You fuckin’ civvies don’t know shit out here. Seriously.” He leaned across and reached behind Jack to grab the harness. Jack fought the suddenly impulse to grab him and toss him out the door. No one was looking. He could have gotten away with it. He really wanted to quite badly.

Seriously.

The gunner was talking again in his ear this time. “Man, you gotta take this part here and run it around your back like…” Suddenly he stopped and scuttled backwards away from Jack. His eyes were wide and his mouth was open. Jack looked at him with surprise.

“What?”

No response. The gunner just sat back and stared wide eyed at him.

“What?” Jack was angry now. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”

The guy slowly raised a finger and pointed to Jacks’s left side. “Is that a bite mark?”

Jack turned his head quickly and looked down to his left. There was a small pool of blood on the floor behind him. He reached across his body with his right hand but could get it far enough behind him. Frantically he leaned forward and reached up and behind him with his left hand. His body armor was torn. Underneath it he felt his shirt was torn.

And then he felt the blood.

As if to convince himself of what he already knew he pulled his hand forward and looked at it. Blood covered his fingers and palm.

“Shit,” he said aloud.

“Fuckin’ A, man,” the gunner said. Jack looked up at him still holding his hand up where both of them could easily see it.

The gunner just stared and slowly shook his head.

“Seriously,” he said

View
The Night Visitor

Jack’s eyes snapped open as he heard the sound. He glanced quickly to the clock next to the bed to see the time. 1:17 AM. There was no reason for there to be noise coming from the kitchen of his apartment at that time.

He was already moving, as quickly and quietly as a man of his size could move. He snatched the pistol from the nightstand and headed out of the bedroom into the hallway. The small size of the apartment gave him a good view from the doorway of its one bedroom. Down the short hallway he could see almost all of the living room and the opening to the kitchen on the right. He raised the pistol as he heard the distinct sound of the a chair being moved across the floor in the kitchen. As he padded quietly down the hall he quickly scanned the living room ahead of him. A couch, large TV and a heavy bag hanging in the room. Spartan, empty and undisturbed as always. The front door on the left appeared closed and secure as usual. Whomever had entered the apartment was in the kitchen. There was nowhere else left to hid.

With three quick paces he reached the kitchen door and wheeled to his right, snapping the gun up in front of him. A figure sat at the kitchen table on the far side of the space. It had Jack’s laptop open and it was staring intently at the screen. The man’s sunglasses reflected the light from the screen. He had a wide brimmed hat pulled down low in his head and the collar from his long coat was pulled up around his ears. That was when Jack noticed he could see right through the man’s head. Literally in one ear and out the other.

The Hollow Man.

Jack lowered his gun as the creature turned to look at him. “Hello, Agent Cooper,” it said. When it spoke Jack noticed he could see right through it’s mouth to the back of it’s head. It’s face was emotionless, even when it tried to smile. “I don’t understand you humans and your fascination with these electronic gadgets. But then I don’t understand much about humans anyway.”

“Do you have to move your mouth when you talk? It’s distracting seeing through your head.”

The Hollow Man “smiled” again. It’s mouth performed the motions that a human face would make to smile but there was no life in it. It looked even creepier with that empty space between its illusionary teeth.

“I’m sorry,” it said. “I didn’t mean to unnerve you.”

“Yes you did.” Jack ejected the magazine from the gun and placed them both on the counter. It was useless and he didn’t want to stand there in his shorts holding it. It made him feel ridiculous.

“Fair enough. I can’t help but admit that I like human emotions. They are fascinating. I am drawn to them.”

“So Sal tells me.”

“How is Mr. Salvatore? I really must visit him again. I don’t think he likes me.”

“No one likes you. Now why don’t you explain what it is you’re here for and then get the fuck out?”

The Hollow Man rose from the chair and turned to Jack. The chair didn’t move as he passed through it. He moved a few steps toward Jack and tried muster a hurt look on his face. It merely looked like a bad painting the had changed.

“Jack, you wound me.”

“Whatever. Just tell me why you’re here and be done with it. I’m tired and I don’t have time for this shit.”

The Hollow Man took two quick steps to stand within arms reach. Jack reflexively turned slightly readying himself for a fight. A fight he knew he couldn’t win with a creature he couldn’t hurt. He knew it had done that just to startle him and he cursed himself for letting it happen. The Hollow Man was toying with him for some reason. His only chance was to stay as emotionless as possible and not give it anything to work with.

“What’s the human expression? ‘Two for flinching’? I got you, Jack.” It smiled unsettlingly again.

“What do you want?” Jack was trying as hard as he could to sound annoyed and not defensive. Any sign of being intimidated would only encourage the visitor. Too much annoyance and it would be overplaying it. “I’m too tired for this.”

“I know, I know. It’s rude of me to visit you in the middle of the night like this. Isn’t it annoying that you need sleep? You just lay there for all of those hours being totally useless.”

“Sort of like you only all day long”, Jack snapped back.

“Oh, ouch. If I had feelings I imagine that would hurt. You are a quick one, Agent Cooper. I like this witty banter. How about this? Your mother!”

“What?”

“I said, ‘your mother’. I am insulting you. Did I do that right?”

“No”, Jack snapped. “What the fuck is the matter with you?”

The Hollow Man’s face fell into a facsimile of a frown. “I got that wrong? Tell me, when is it right to use that phrase? I find it usually makes people angry.”

Jack exhaled slowly and tried not to get angry. He was only marginally successful. “I’m going to guess you’re not here to learn how kids insult each other on the playground. I’m also going to guess you’re not here to kill or torture me. You could have done that already. You want something. What is it? Because if you’re going to keep going like this I’m going to seriously think about killing myself.”

“That would be something to see”, it smiled at him.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, so you can eat my soul or emotions or whatever the fuck it is you do. Not gonna happen so let’s just get this over with. What do you want/"

The Hollow Man moved into the living room and made a show of sitting down hard on the couch, exhaling loudly. The effect was lost when the couch showed no sign of anything landing in it.

“Agent, we have a mutual problem.”

“You’re gonna have to narrow it down for me.”

“I know about Thorn taking over Hoffman. I know he tortured you and has your team’s loved ones in peril at an undisclosed location.”

jack made a sideways spinning motion with his index finger. “Yeah, we all know this stuff. Get to the point.”

The Hollow Man stared at him in silence for a few seconds. “You really aren’t going to play along, are you?”

“Nope.”

“I would like to help you and your team with this issue.”

“Bullshit. What’s in it for you?”

“Nothing, agent. I simply wish to…”

“Bull. Shit. Get to the point. What do you want in return?”

“Fine”, The Hollow Man said s he made a show of sighing. “Thorn has a ring. It allows him minor mind control over humans. He can speak short, direct commands and they are forced to comply. Nothing complex. But he can make you sneeze or sit. Things like that.”

“Why do you care? You aren’t human. He can’t do anything to you and in the end that’s all your really care about…” Jack’s voice trailed off as he thought. “Holy shit. The ring works on you, doesn’t it?”

The Hollow Man remained silent.

“C’mon, asshole. Fess up. He can make you do stuff with it, can’t he. And either he doesn’t know it or he does and you won’t get near him.”

“I want that ring’, The Hollow Man stated flatly and with a touch of supernatural power in his voice. “Get it for me.”

“And what? You want me to get the ring and do what? Give it to you? So now no one can stop you? Fat chance. If by some chance I did get ahold of it why would I ever dream of giving it to you?”

“Because if you didn’t I would kill everyone you care about. Horribly. And with immense amounts of pain”, The Hollow Man said without hesitation.

Checkmate. Jack paused. He knew the Hollow Man was right. The wearer would be safe but everyone around him would die. Even if the ring allowed one to control The Hollow Man sooner or later you had to sleep. The it would be out of your control. Worse yet, you couldn’t be in more than one place at a time. He suddenly felt trapped.

“If I take Thorn out and just leave the ring alone then…”

“Then I’ll kill you and everyone you care about, agent. Horribly. And with…”

“Immense amounts of pain. Yeah, I get it, jackass.” Jack ran his hand through his hair and paced around the kitchen. The Hollow Man just sat and stared at him in silence.

He stopped pacing. “Alright, what if I do get you the ring? How do I know you won’t kill everyone anyway?” The exasperation in his voice was apparent and he knew it. He wasn’t hiding any emotions from the creature.

The Hollow Man smiled. “Where is the fun in that? You get me that ring and I promise that I will not harm any of you. Cross my heart and pray for death. Isn’t that what you humans say?”

“No. Goddammit you’re annoying. And don’t be surprised but I’m not willing to take your word for it.”

“I will do you one better, agent. I will even do you one favor. Get me the ring and I will, how do you say it, ’owe you one?”

“Sure you will.”

“I am hurt that you don’t find me trustworthy,” The Hollow Man said in surprisingly good imitation of sarcasm.

“So I get you the ring and you leave us alone until we need you for something? Is that the deal?”

“I didn’t say that I would leave you alone.”

“No, that’s the deal. You get the ring and fuck off until we ask for your help. Then we’re even. Otherwise I put Sal on finding a way to get rid of you for good. There has to be a way to do it.”

“I don’t like the turn this conversation has taken,” it said sounding mildly annoyed.

“Take it or leave it. That’s what I am offering. Otherwise I go right to Thorn and tell him about this meeting.”

The Hollow man stood slowly. Again, the couch didn’t show any sign of him having been sitting there. “You are testing my patience, Jack. You are taking advantage of my good nature.”

“You don’t have any good nature. You’re an evil son of a bitch and I don’t like you. I can’t do anything about it but I’ll be damned if I will participate in it. That’s the deal. If you don’t like it be on your way or end this bullshit right here. But you won’t. You need us. My guess is that Thorn doesn’t know exactly what he’s got and you’re happy with that. We both want that guy to bleed. So as much as I hate to admit it, our goals are the same. I’ll get you your fuckin’ and you hit the road. That’s it.”

The Hollow Man stood in silence for a long moment. Then his joyless smile slowly spread across his face. Jack could see the hole between his teeth.

“Fair enough, Jack. Get me the ring and I won’t interfere with you and your team.”

“Or anyone else. No tricks. You’re completely hands off.”

“Fine. Get the ring and we have a deal.”

“Good. Now get the hell out of my apartment.”

“Fair enough.” The Hollow Man moved to the door, paused and turned back to Jack. “I will wait for your call for help, Jack.” With that he turned abruptly and passed through the door.

Jack waited a moment and then muttered under his breath, “Over my dead body. asshole.”

The Hollow Man leaned his head back through the door. “I heard that.” And he smiled.

That smiled looked remarkably real, Jack thought as a chill ran up his spine

View
The Grant Building part 2
Natalie's Point of View

Jack enters the room and calls out there is something on the floor. Sal steps into the room and I step in next to him acting like a body guard. He does his thing and lighting shoots out of a wall socket and scorches a part of the marks. Sal isn’t sure that did enough and we see some figures coming down from up higher. One chooses me and rakes down my chest, the vest takes the damage. I strike back twice quickly and seems a little shocked. There are some gun shots the thing still seems a little stunned and I slice across it’s mid-section and sever the head as it falls.

Sal and Jack take some shots up at the ones looking down at us. After a second Jack calls out that there are 8 of them up there. They don’t seem to be attacking so we move on. Heading up to the next floor. There is a homeless guy in a closet. Most of his fingers are missing and there is a big gash in his thigh. Looks like a really shitty way to go, but that is why we are here.

We head up another floor and there is a wall made of big picture windows. Danielson fires at the windows and leaves some buck shot embedded in the glass. He says he saw one of the little freaky spy creatures.
Up on the next floor we see one just sort of crawling to us. I whisper for Jack to take a shot and fall into a ready stance in case it charges . Jack fires twice and the little shit is finished. Jack calls out “7” it takes me a second, thinking he is talking about body count, but he is referring to the number left of the ones he saw earlier.

We come across a locked door. Sal asks for the names of the remaining ghosts. I tell him Linda Burg and Jesse Wilks. I start going to pick the lock and the team takes up a defensive posture. We get attacked. I was sure the things would be in the room so it takes me a little longer then I would like to get my shit together. There are gunshots of course and I see one in front of Mia. It is wounded already and not expecting me, I take it’s head in my hand and try to push it through the wall and it falls dead. It seems they are avoiding the sonic device. Mia shuts it off as we search. They are flying up the atrium thing. I think about calling on the blades, but the situation is resolved before I get a chance to manifest them.

We head back to the locked room and I pick the door easily. The door opens and I call out Linda and Jesse’s name again. A woman’s voice from down the hall says she will be there in a minute. We wait a few beats at the door and it seems clear nothing is going to happen. We walk in and look around. It seems like a normal apartment, which is weird in this building. Mia heads down to where the bed room is and I follow. The door is locked and I easily pick this one as well. I open the door and, though covered with a sheet, there is clearly a couple having sex in the room. Mia is clearly excited about this. I just… I don’t even fucking know about her. Sex positive sure, but she is down right perverted to a fairly extreme level. I shut the door and mention it to the rest. Sal says we should look around and motions to the room. I suggest we check around the rest of the place first. Danielson is holding a pan and after a beat a quick flash shows in Sal. He says to set the pan on the table and starts searching again with more purpose and starts making a pile with the pan. Eventually he is happy and lays the pile out in to kinda human-ish forms and has Danielson smash them. The terrible sounds from the bedroom stop. Sal heads to the bedroom and I follow. Just as we reach the door it flies open and a giant beast of a man is in the frame asking if we hid them and to take us to them. He goes to grab Sal and Jack fires… I assume it is the ghost gun because it sounds weird as fuck. Danielson swings the hammer and it is like the thing on the first floor. I finally get a blade out and lunge at the piece of shit. He lands on his back and I have to squat over him instead of straddle him. I punch and see the blade go through his mouth, I expect my knuckles to hit teeth but he dissipates before that. Sal seeks out the anchor for the guy while Danielson keeps it from reforming then destroys them like before. Jack, Sal and I kinda figure out at the same time that who ever set this up had to have been here at some point.

We head up again. We get attacked head up to the eigth floor. I tell the group to stand back and move to see the majority of them. I toss the lighter and will it larger. The fire grows quickly. A few come at me and I back up giving the group the ability to shoot some before they have a chance to get to me. We take care of them easily and move on. In another room we find some tweakers. They ask if it’s safe and Danielson and I escort them to the ground while Sal calls Anna. We get back up and Sal has had time to think and mentions he should be able to summon the little spy creature. We get ready with our guns save for Mia who does whatever she needs for her telekinesis. The thing appears and I am pretty sure my round just went through the hole Jack made, but whatever, the creepy fucker is gone. Hopefully that was the only one. Sal says he got a look at the person watching us through the thing and can describe them later.

We make it up to the 9th floor. Jack mentions the ghost gun is warming up. A woman runs down the hall at us, she looks like she has been attacked. I run down the hall determined to get between her and what the fuck ever did that to her. I run by and she tries to grab me, I manage to not get grabbed and as I call out for a medic to look at the lady hoping it will calm her down. Jack and I both skid to a halt as Mia screams “Get this bitch off me” We both wheel around, I take off as Jack raises his gun and fires. This snaps the woman’s head around… like fucking seriously Poltergeist head of an owl shit. Her skin uh… is melting into Mia. It is a whole new kind of nasty shit. I get there and try to figure out a way to get some damage on her. My blade forms as I decide the head is the best spot. The blade strikes her right in the temple and I twist my wrist before pulling out and her skull pops off. She evaporates.

View
The Chair II

“You’re not going to die here, Jack,” Thorn continued. I won’t give you that satisfaction." He moved back to the chair he had been sitting in and sat down. “The thing I couldn’t figure out about you is why you’d have a problem with all of this. You do Hoffmann’s bidding just fine. You don’t have any issues with them. You have no idea what their greater plan or grand designs are. You do the work. You get your check. Fair enough. I am offering you the same thing and still you balk. I’m not asking you do anything you haven’t done before. Just do it for me. Be a good little soldier, Jack.”

There was so much Jack wanted to scream back at him. But his mind was going too fast and he was never good with this kind of banter. Better to just get free of the chair and smash it over Thorn’s head. But he couldn’t. Jack didn’t understand the supernatural. He was still trying to come to grips with it even existing. He knew enough to know that there was some power in this chair that made the pain worse. If Thorn wasn’t going to stop and Jack wasn’t going to give in the only thing left, the only answer he could see, was him dying in this chair. It was only a matter of time.

The door opened and one of Thorn’s men came in. He was wearing some sort of metallic headgear. It looked like a cross between a spaghetti strainer and a football helmet without a mask. He walked over to Thorn and handed him a similar device. Thorn put it on and stood up.

“She’s ready,” the thug said to Thorn.

“Perfect,” Thorn replied. “Let’s get this started.”

Jack turned his head to the right to see the door. His head throbbed and his jaw felt like it was on fire. If it wasn’t broken after all of the abuse it would be a surprise. He tried the leather straps at his wrists again to no avail. He knew it but he had to keep trying. He prepared himself for who was coming through the door.

Just hang on, as long as you can, he thought. No matter what they do you gotta hang on.

He didn’t know who he had imagined coming through the door. But whatever he had pictured, this was not it. A diminutive and frail woman shuffled into the room. She walked as if it caused her pain. Or maybe it was light. Or people. It was obvious to anyone who looked at her that being uncomfortable was part of her daily existence. Thorn’s man ushered her into the room and she winced though he never even touched her. She continued over to Jack and stood above him. She glanced quickly over to Thorn who stood and remained where he was, the device now on his head.

“Are we ready, Haifa?” he asked.

She turned back to Jack and replied, barely above a whisper, “Yes.”

“You know what I want from Mr. Cooper. I have been clear, correct?”

“Yes,” Same whispered, painfully response. It was as if his words hit her like a painful jab in the ribs.

“And we have come to an understanding?” He insisted more than asked.

She closed her eyes. Jack felt a cold sensation in on his forehead. No, in his forehead. It was like a bad version of an ice cream headache.

“Yes,” she said and her eye locked on Jack’s. “I understand.” Her tone became assertive and commanding.

Jack screamed as his head exploded in pain.

She was pushing herself into his mind. It was terrifying. He felt an overwhelming instinct to crush her. He strained against the chair and heard the leather straps creak. The veins in his neck bulged and he tried desparately to break free.

“Jesus,” Thorn’s man said quietly.

“Shut up!” Barked Thorn.

“Both of you be quiet!” Haifa snapped. Her voice exploded inside Jack’s head. “I need silence.” Her tone belied her stature and earlier discomfort. “He will do what I tell him but it takes time. If you distract me I may only end up destroying his mind.”

Jack was terrified. He had never been scared like this. He couldn’t escape and now this…woman as burrowing into his head and there was nothing he could do. For a brief second he considered trying to choke on his tongue. He had to get out of here, one way or another.

“Now be quiet while I bend his will. He is strong, but not nearly strong enough.” Her voice was everywhere in his head. It was too loud. His ears and eyes felt like they would pop, like something was pushing out from the middle of his brain.

He screamed again. Thorn’s man looked away. Thorn just watched and waited.

Deep within the sound of his own screams Jack heard a tiny and insistent voice. It was calm and quiet but somehow pierced the noise with easy. Hearing it felt like cool water pouring onto the fire in his mind.

“Jack,” it said. I need you to keep fighting. But I need you to hear me."

It was a female voice. Motherly, calm and soothing.

“This will be hard for you to understand. I know. It’s awful. But I need you to scream. Don’t stop. Keep fighting. But listen to me.”

He was going insane and he knew it. He wanted Thorn to put a bullet in his head. if he tried, maybe he could escape, take Thorn’s gun and kill himself before his mind was completely gone.

“No, Jack. Don’t do that,” the voice said. “It is me, Haifa. I am here because Thorn made me but I am not doing his bidding. Listen to me. Fight, but listen. I am here to help you. But you need to work with me. The pain you feel, I am doing that to you because I need them to believe that I am taking what they want against your will.”

Jack’s eyes flashed wildly around. He could hear the voice didn’t know where it was coming from. He looked to Haifa. She just stared at him, saying nothing. Thorn’s man looked at the floor, uncomfortable. Thorn just stared at Jack. pain flashed though his head again.

“I am sorry for that,” Haifa said again in his head. You must trust me. Anna sent me to help you. She said this is Hoffmann’s only hope until they can locate your loved ones."

Pain again. Jack screamed.

“I can stop that if you can pretend. You need to listen but you need them to believe your pain. If you can do that…say something.”

“I am going to fucking kill all of you!” he screamed.

“Good, Jack. Good,” she said soothingly. “now we can begin.”

View
The Grant Building
Natalie's Point of View

The next day I find Anna and tell her I am not comfortable with Jack being in the field right now. She agrees, but suggests that in the case of the Grant building the positives of him being there out way the negatives. I want to argue, she didn’t see him in the vision, but from all we know about this mission I think she is right.

Sal does some more research and finds a group of “hunters” that go after the supernatural shit. I would call them idiots, but well that is what I do. They have some sort of list of the shit they have killed. The crawling creatures are referred to as Alleycrawlers. They seem to be careful about their prey and are very stealthy. They are able to cling to walls and ceilings. They are dull black or brown and might have a mix. They are 2-3 feet in length. As for the Upir they have pretty much the same weakness as vampires. They are a little less bothered by light it seems, but might be effective.
I gather a list of items everyone wants and head over the ASAP to visit Max with Danielson. Max asks if I know when my next fight is. He has a group of friends that want to buy a table. I tell him I am not sure but I will let him know as soon as I do.

We get geared up and head out around dusk. We enter from the front door. I am ready to just start clearing the building but Jack mentions just going to the top floor. Danielson mentions that something like that might get us trapped. Sal then mentions that we are supposed to clear innocents from the building. Jack yells out if there is anyone here. I draw the Sig. This bitch is heavy. I call out “William Jones”. There is a loud metallic bang from the restaurant. We head over. The ghost gun starts to glow. There is a figure in a heavy coat at a booth. It doesn’t respond to any of the names. We are all surprised by a loud chattering of teeth behind us. There is a large… fucked up looking creature behind us wearing the same coat as the figure. It takes a swipe at Danielson with some sort of weird arm or tail thing. It seems to land a blow but there is a… magic reaction from Sal’s protection deal. I take aim, not sure if a bullet will do anything and call out for Danielson to use the cold iron warhammer. He swipes and it looks like the path of the weapon has cleared the… mist? That makes up the creature. It topples over and starts to quickly pull itself back together. There is a gunshot, not sure from where. Danielson swings again using it like one of those strength testing carnival deals. It spreads out and seems at first to disappear, but we notice it is heading to the body. Jack heads to it and it looks like he is going to pistol whip it, but thinks different of it and shoots. That appears to be enough.

We head back out and Sal mentions closing the elevator. We go to the first one and Danielson looks in. The doors spring into action and looks like it is going to close hard on his head. Jack grabs for him but misses. I catch him by the belt and haul him back in time. We go to the next elevator and there is man in there. I call out William Jones and he responds. He can hear me but not see me. I tell him we got the doors open and to follow my voice. He gets to the open doors for us but looks like a damn mime pressing on the open space. He tells me to quit joking around. I jump in, kinda scared the doors will slam shut. I make it in and try to reach up to the trap door. Jack jumps in and offers help. I get up and open the door. I tell William that we got the trap door open. He walks over and tries to make it up but can’t. He asks about getting a rope down and I tell him we are working on it. He also asks for someone to contact his wife. I tell him the foreman is doing it. We struggle to think of how to get him out and finally need to give up. I tell him we contacted his wife and she says she hope he is safe and looks forward to him coming home.

We head up to the next floor. We are in a room and I notice some wriggling under the floor. I call out they are under the carpet and stab one. The carpet bursts with some fucking number of these Alley Crawlers. I sort of… I don’t know forget my shit. I drop the main gauche, only holding the punch dagger thanks to the brass knuckle handles and grab the nearest and start ripping it apart. I finally get my shit together and chuck the one I am holding and grab my main gauche. That is just in fucking time too. I deflect one and another comes at me. I am pretty sure he is just stuck in the vest. Shots are fired and more of the inside of these goddamn things wind up on me. I take out a few more and they start going for the rest of the team in the door way. At least I kept the fuckers busy for a little while. They seem to flock to Sal and I make it in time to finish the last one.

Clearing rooms we notice a weird creature.. Like one big eye little creepy fucker. It’s in a window and takes off really quickly after being noticed. We keep moving, no point not too. We come across a room missing lots of the ceiling and appears to be infested with the Impir fuckers. The team is gathered and I let them I am tossing a UV grenade.

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The Chair

There was blood on the floor, A lot of blood. Jack didn’t know how much. But he knew it was all his. He struggled for air as strong hands held him down. He didn’t want to scream but years of evolution of the human race sometimes override what a person wants. Right now Jack wanted air. He screamed, muffled by the thick plastic sheet held tightly across his face. No matter how hard he struggled against the three men and his restraints he couldn’t move, let alone get loose. His mind raced. His heart pounded. His chest heaved uncontrollably and to no avail. An eternity passed.

But he knew he wasn’t going to die. Why would the plan change now? This had been going on for…how long? It felt like days. The small part of his rational mind left still working told him it was most likely the better part of a day. Torture tended to warp the mind as well as the body. Jack knew his body would last longer than his mind.

Just then the plastic came off. His lungs fought frantically to grab air. The room spun again as he tried frantically to put together any scraps of a plan. But there was no point. He might as well be on the moon. The only people who knew where he was were his Hoffmann team and they were also…detained.

He opened his eyes and tried again. Same dark room in the Hoffmann house basement. Built for keeping arcane and dangerous things away from prying eyes, supernatural and mundane. Same three thugs as before.

Same chair.

The only consolation he had were the bruises he had inflicted on them as they strapped him down. It was woefully inadequate.

“We can do this forever, Jack,” the voice came from across the room. Knowing you we will probably have to. Just keep in mind that we can. It doesn’t get old and you’ll tire much faster than we will."

That fucking voice. Jack had never wanted to hurt someone as badly as he wanted to hurt Thorn. He wanted to strangle him. Underwater. While he punched him into oblivion. He didn’t want to kill him. Well, yes he did. Truth be told he probably couldn’t stop himself if he had the chance. But more than anything he wanted Thorn to hurt. If he knew that could happen he’d gladly stay in this chair until he died. But that wasn’t going to happen. Most likely he would hold out as long as they could and then he would either die or…something.

What Thorn wanted was to take over Hoffmann. Somehow he had managed to surprise Anna and had been lying in wait for them at the house. They had been cornered and captured. In Jack’s case he had been tased twice. Normally that would only mean biding their time to create a plan and get out and away. But Thorn had seen to that, too. He had kidnapped people close to all of them. If they didn’t comply then those loved ones would be harmed. Who knows where he had them. He was smart. You had to give them that. Escape only meant a death sentence for a loved one.

The perfect trap.

“Why do you fight, Jack?” Thorn continued. “You can’t win. I know that never stops you. You don’t ever think like that. The odds don’t matter to Jack Cooper. Superman always fights to the end.”

Jack was staring at the ceiling as he gasped for breath. Thorn’s face came in to view and he strained against the straps holding him down. He wanted to smash that face out the back of Thorn’s head. Thorn noticed and looked amused.

“I have to hand it to you, Jack. You certainly can fight. You’re not going to win, though. You’re the soldier at the Alamo. You can put up a resistance but in the end you can’t win. But unlike those men he needlessly lost their lives you will not be remembered as a hero. You see, no one will know. If you do what I want your friends will see you as weaker than they thought. If you don’t…well then, they’ll just know you’re dead.”

Jack let that all sink in. There had to be a way to beat Thorn. Something, somewhere had to go his way. But he knew Thorn was right. There was no way to win. So this is where he was going to die. In this dark basement strapped to a chair, fighting until he gave out. That was all he had and he began to steel himself for it.

“Letting you die would certainly inspire your team. I am not sure how or to what. I have taken careful measures to make sure they will comply. You can understand that, right Jack?” He laughed to himself. “Look who I am talking to. Thinking was never your strong suit. Suffice it to say I have taken great pains to outmaneuver you all. So I won’t take any chances. You dying is a wild card I can’t allow, regardless of the outcome.”

He leaned in close to Jack, inches from his face. Jack gritted his teeth and growled. His jaw exploded in pain again from the strain. Thorn smiled, bemused.

“That’s got to be difficult. You really want to hurt me don’t you? So close and yet so far. No, Jack. You’re not going to die here. You’re going to live. And you’re going to do what I want or innocent people will have very bad things happen to them. I don’t want to kill you. I am not going to break you. I am going to empty you and fill you with a new purpose. You are a weapon. I will use your skills to their full extent.”

There it was. That’s where Thorn had messed up. He wanted Jack alive. That’s where Jack would beat him. He would take the punishment as long as he could. Now it was a matter of limiting the casualties.

“You can try,” Jack growled back.

Again Thorn smiled. He straightened himself and looked to his men.

“Bring her in,” he said. Then he looked to Jack. “It’s much easier than you think, Jack. I know you’ll hold out as long as you can. It doesn’t matter who I say I will harm or kill. You will ride that ship to the bottom of the ocean. You will convince yourself that somehow you are winning. Even if I tell you I’ll kill your whole team. Oh, I’ve thought about it. But you’ll see that as a win. The Big Bad Wolf didn’t get you to do his bidding. You took the weapons out of his hands.”

He began to slow clap.

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Moretti report on Jack Cooper

Wove, twoo wove…

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The Jack Revelation
Natalie's Point of View

After Sal has one of his.. Meetings. We all gather and start discussing the Grant Building again. We just sort of rehash what we already knew, making sure we understood what crazy occult truths Sal was getting at before when Sal and I hear some cars on the gravel. We both get up, Sal mentions he heard cars pulling up. I see Hancock, Franks and Pierce get out of their truck and head up while two get out of the other truck and start looking around. I mention that to the group. Anna gets up and greets the agents at the door before they have chance to make their presence known. Hanckock enters and starts barking fucking orders. I really don’t like this asshole, but I take a seat anyway. I don’t want to make Anna’s job more stressful.

Hancock notices we are not all there and Anna tells him Jack is unconscious from the fight. The agents are not surprised by this, makes sense as Wu would have told them. Pierce seems to like the idea of waking up Jack with adrenaline as Anna said would be the only way to get him at the group. Hancock is pissed that we didn’t contact him. I ask him why it was unreasonable to assume Wu’s report was enough. I really don’t know, but I am kinda… no really fucking pissed at the thought he doesn’t respect Wu as a professional. I really don’t want to make Anna’s day shitty, so I keep quiet. Hancock says some more shit, be available, stay in the cites… blah blah fucking blah. They are going to search the compound and confiscate “class 3 weapons” and esoteric items. I worry a little about Sal’s shit, but unless they are taking me… well let’s not think about it. I ask if they would start in the gym, because I want to use it. They seem to not care and I head out to the gym. Mia and Danielson go with me. I spar with Danielson a little and give Mia some basic starting lessons. I ask the big gorilla if he wants to play and he says “I don’t play”. I respond with “Ah like Agent Cooper then” After about 3 hours they leave. We gather back again and Sal goes more into the situation with Cassidy. She was under some sort of complete influence. We all agree the building mission is a trap. There are two different types of creatures, Upirs (physical damage is best bet) the other is a 2-3 foot insect. Eight legs like a spider but a mosquito type head. There will also be “lost souls”. They will be bound to something similar to the warding stones, but those would act like binding or summing objects.

Danielson is going to do research and as Sal is not available I look over his shoulder looking for any occult stuff. It was designed in the 30s and has been abandoned in the 80s. He finds some blueprints. There have been multiple deaths on site. Natural and other wise. William Jones died during construction. Linda Burg and Jesse Wilks shot buy Linda’s estranged husband Norman Burg. Various drug overdoses and suicide. There was a suspect for a serial killer. Eugene Lynd. He was only suspected and no one knew he lived there until he passed away while living elsewhere. It is believed he killed a lot of women, generally prostitutes. I suggest to Danielson we gather the names of women missing from the area at the time. I ask why we don’t just burn down the building. Anna mentions there might be innocents in there. Homeless or urban explores and others that hadn’t been attacked yet. Sal says it wouldn’t solve the spirit issue and could make it more difficult or impossible to get to the spots and neutralize. And Mia adds that there may be evidence in there as to who exactly is behind the attacks. All good enough on their own for me.

Jack heads down and we fill him in on what has been happening. After that talk turns to eating. Wade heads down and asks if someone mentioned food. We all decide to head out, Applebee’s is mentioned. Not a place I would choose, but whatever, the team is back together and we have something to do. I am disappointed that Anna won’t make it, but I can’t imagine the paperwork and bullshit she has pilling up right now.

We get to the restaurant and order. After a bit there is a commotion. A table of some bros is being loud and one of them actually clotheslines Trevor the waiter. Trevor gets up and goes to get them some beer. They are being a bit loud and swearing a bit. A family leaves in what seems to be a bit of a hurry and I don’t blame them. Trevor notices and excuses himself and goes over. He apologizes to them and they leave. Jack gets up and maneuvers the waiter a bit to be standing in front of me. I am just confused until Jack bolts for the table of ass holes. I roll my eyes. Ask Trevor politely to move as I wonder if this will make TMZ or some other paparazzi bullshit parade. I focus back on the situation as a meaty thud from Jack’s fist makes contact with one ass hats face. I smirk, I can’t help it. This might be a shit storm, but he is doing exactly what I wanted to. My main intent is just make sure Jack doesn’t get surprised by anything. It isn’t long before some idiot grabs a mug and attacks Jack. I work past one douche nozzle and tackle the mug wielding one over the half wall thing and we land on the other side. I go to land a punch but I have no idea how to account for a fucking wall in the way and miss. One of his friends tries to attack me and I roll off the guy as his buddy lands on him. They start getting up and I look at them both and say “You can leave now before the police get here” They don’t hear or don’t give a shit. I notice one get dazed, must be Sal’s magic, I lay into the other one landing a decent three blow combo. His friend heads around the corner. I hear Danielson yell there is a gun. And next thing I know I hear a sickening crack. I know that sound. It is a really fucking bad sound. I hop the half wall and see what I feared. One of the pieces of shit is crumpled on the ground. I drop to check and sure as shit he is in bad shape, on his way to dying. I get him stabilized. There is more commotion, I think one of the fuckers is trying to attack me until Danielson intervenes. I hear a gun shot. Jesus. Fucking. Christ. The guy that went behind the wall. That was so careless of me to not at least call him out to the group. I yell out “Everyone fucking stop, this guy is dying”. I continue to work, I trust this team… well not Jack. Fuck. I don’t trust Jack. What the actual fuck. I see the gun goes flying. I yell, more pleading then commanding, for Sal to grab the gun, and Danielson to keep an eye on the guy. I go tackle the now unarmed gunman and reach down and grab his junk and twist. I don’t get too far before he passes out but I am pretty sure he hears me when I growl “Hope you feel like man now bitch”. I turn at the sounds of more goddamn fists hitting flesh. Jack has.. I don’t know… gone berserk like those dwarves in the fantasy stuff Wu likes. I round the corner as Jack is yelling asking where the other guy is. This is not Jack. This is not right… “GO HOME JACK” I scream. I want to.. I don’t know.. Shake him.. Cry… I don’t know… Shit… fucking shitty fuck.

I come to from a vision in the back seat as we pull up to the restaurant. It takes me a moment or two to collect myself. I am actually shaking a little. I ask Jack to go for a walk. I am prepared to have to talk him into it, but he just says ok. I start telling him the vision. I don’t leave anything out. He just listens, so calmly and he looks… scared. Shit. What the fuck does it mean when Jack fucking Cooper is scared? I am sure I am going to lose it and cry, but I hold it together. I focus on sending a text to the Sal telling him to keep an eye on a table of douche bags. I am trying to remember some descriptions to add, but he comes back with a message saying he is on it. They did do a great job of sticking out. There is a bit of silence and I see the couple with the kid from the vision walking up. I go over to them, not sure what I am going to say, but before I can think I am calmly explaining that there is a group inside getting really rowdy and swearing. The parents look flustered at first, unsure what to make of some strange woman walking up and telling them this. The kid catches my eye and I smile warmly. No fucking clue where that came from, usually it takes a bit of effort not to sneer like some Disney villain at kids, but the smile seems to set them at ease. One of the parents, I forget which now, suggests going to get some fast food instead and the kid cheers and they walk off back to their car.

Jack asks if I would go with him to a bar nearby. Even if I didn’t want to be there for him as a friend, I sure as shit am not going to leave him alone. I have seen some brutal shit happen with fists, even been responsible for some it, but those two in the vision… it was like an animal attack or something. I shiver remembering the vision that had me seeing through the eyes of a werewolf. Savage and powerful. Animalistic. I manage to say “sure” to his question. Not exactly in a happy tone, but at least it seems more neutral then the shaking tremble little girl I feel like now. Oh god, that is it exactly. Jack is still here of course, but I haven’t felt this helpless since the policeman explained to me that my parents where… I shake it off. Again using a text to focus myself. I let the group know we won’t be joining. They should stay and enjoy and I tell them where Jack and I are going. I really don’t want them to follow, I don’t think Jack will be open with the rest of the group around. Maybe Sal, but I really don’t want him to shut down about whatever the fuck he needs to say.

We get to the bar and Jack orders a drink. It’s only the second time I have ever seen him with alcohol. This really isn’t good. Fuck. He starts telling me how he can’t sleep, he is seeing visions. His body is exhausted, but his mind won’t let him sleep. I ask if he has tried sleeping pills or melatonin. I ask if he was seeing the therapist still. He said yes. I ask if Anna knew, she hadn’t mentioned anything, but I don’t tell her everything about Wu either. She does. That is a small relief. I struggle to find a way to ask, I know this is not a subject to take lightly, but I ask if he has considered asking the telepath Hafia help. I think I see a few emotions pass across his face, but he replies something about how he will look into that.

I don’t know if I was still in a haze because of the vision or maybe it was just that my mind was racing with concern, fear, and shock, but this whole conversation holds more like a dream then a memory for me. I am worried, scared… no I am fucking terrified. Jack was.. Well kinda like Superman… at least for me. Things got to him, but he shook it off. Usually making some sort of smart ass remark. Nothing, even the growing amount of “weird shit” in our lives really seemed to make a dent in him. Was it all just being bottled up and now going to fucking explode? I don’t know. I feel so god damn helpless. I don’t fucking know what to do.

What I do know though is that I don’t want Jack in the field right now. I have to make that clear to Anna. I think she will understand, but shit, what if she doesn’t? I don’t want him to go through all the pain and regret he would have if something like that vision actually happened. I know it could break him, shit it nearly broke me in the vision… I am scared. So fucking scared… I just want to run a nice hot shower, curl up in the tub and cry for a while.

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Unhinged V

Anna reversed her grip on the SIG and extended it Jack. He grabbed it as he ran by.

“Who is in the house?” he barked as he ran by grabbing the gun.

“Wade. He was sleeping upstairs.” As Jack flew toward the house she wanted to yell after him. “Be careful, Jack,” she said to herself. Who was she kidding. He was never careful.

She took off after him.

Jack breathed heavily as he ran toward the house. He was fast, even for a guy his size. But he felt like he was on a treadmill. The house didn’t seem to get much closer. Was he dreaming? No. His body hurt too much for him to be sleeping. He clumsily wiped blood from his left eye as he ran. His hand was still a mess and all he managed to do was smear it farther down his face. He checked the SIG to see if the safety was off and noticed two teeth stuck into the skin of his knuckles.

Gaining the stairs of the house he took them three at a time. Two more steps and he was through the old screen door and running upstairs. There was cursing and a crash coming from Wade’s room at the top of the stairs.

“I’ll kill you!”

He ran up the first flight of stairs.

“Like you killed me!”

He made the turn at the landing and sprinted to the top. He heard the screen door bang open and he knew Anna was running in behind him.

“You can keep saying that but I ain’t fixin’ to die!” Wade’s voice came from the room.

Jack go to the doorway and stopped to quickly take in the scene. Wade and the creature were locked Greco style in the middle of the room. The monster was similar to Jack’s in appearance with a few different details. A old, broken arrow shaft was sticking out of it’s back. It smelled strongly of swamp and sulfur. It had Wade’s large hunting knife plunged hilt deep into it’s collar bone. If it were alive that would have meant it had about thirty seconds left to live.

But it wasn’t alive.

Worse yet, it was bigger than Wade. And just like Jack’s attacker it was persistent with no regard for it’s own well being. As the two struggled Jack saw Wade’s left foot, the back one supporting his weight, slide a little on the wood floor and hit the edge of the area rug. The beast pushed on and Wade’s base gave out. The two toppled over with Wade on the bottom. As he fell back his left upper arm hit the edge of a low dresser. Four hundred pounds of weight was too much for a bone that size to take. It gave with a loud, wet snapping sound. Wade screamed in agony but held on with his good arm. The two fell the rest of the way to the floor, tipping over the dresser and knocking several items off of the shelf above it.

Jack raised the gun and fired once. The bullet struck the creature right behind it’s right ear. It passed clean through it’s head and into the opposite wall taking some of the skull’s contents with it. The beast let up on it’s grip on Wade and turned to face Jack, kneeling astride Wade’s chest.

“I’ll…”

Two more bullets slammed into it’s skull and it toppled off to Wade’s right and onto the floor.

Jack looked to Wade. As he lay on the floor it was obvious that his upper arm was horribly broken. It had a bend where it should be straight. Nothing sticking out of the skin, but definitely broken.

Anna burst in to the room. She knew when she heard gunshots that Jack would be fine. But she was now more worried that they had reached Wade in time. He had been sleeping off a night out with Mia and there was no telling if he had seen the creature coming.

She looked quickly to Jack. She’d never seen him so wrung out. He was pushed beyond his limits and his body would give out soon. He looked at her like she was wasn’t there and staggered back, slumping against the doorway.

Jack was ok. Check. She looked to Wade who was red faced and gritting his teeth. Jesus, his arm was badly broken. She rushed over to him to help him up.

Wade looked up at Anna, and smiled despite the pain. “I’m much obliged for the assistance. I reckon I need some medical attention. Grandad’s salve ain’t gonna fix this wound.”

Anna lifted the creature’s legs off of Wade. She helped him get to his feet as he stifled a scream. That had to hurt more than she could imagine but Wade wasn’t going to holler about it in front of a lady. As she got him upright six more shots rang out. They both jumped as Jack put the rounds into the body on the floor. It didn’t move.

“Jesus, Jack!” She said, annoyed. “What the hell?”

He looked at her, dropped the gun to the floor and walked out of the room.

She got Wade over to the bed and sat him down. Again, he grimaced but didn’t make a sound.

“Stay here. I’ll be right back,” and she bolted for the door. As she cleared the doorway she saw Jack standing at the top of the stairs. He was facing her and leaning heavily with his left hand on the top of the railing.

“Jack?”

His eyes panned across the floor and up to her at the sound of her voice. He looked up at her. There were cuts on his face and upper body. The left side of his face was covered in blood and something black was matted in his hair. The lower half of his t shirt hung open and torn apart. There was blood dripping from somewhere behind him onto the floor between his feet. The look on his face made her wonder if he even knew who she was.

“What you said earlier,” his voice was barely above a whisper.

Her mind flew. What the hell was he talking about?

“We’re good,” he whispered. ‘Same page. We’re good."

“Jack…”

“I gotta sit down,” he swayed and slowly sank down. She didn’t know if he meant to sit down on the steps or use an imaginary chair. But before she could get to him his hand slipped from the railing and he slumped back and slide headfirst down the stairs. He came to a stop at the landing on his back with his feet up, unconscious.

She ran down to him. Her mind went in a million different directions. Where was Mia? Is he dead? How badly was he hurt? Where the fuck was Mia?! Were the more of those things coming?

As she got to the land she checked Jack’s pulse at his neck. Strong and fast. Thank God. Then she looked him over for broken bones, not touching him in case he couldn’t be moved. Satisfied that he was not permanently injured she checked him for wounds. His right wrist was badly sprained or broken as it was already twice it’s normal size. He had slashes all over his body. Were those teeth wedged in his left knuckles? With great effort she rolled him slightly to his left and checked his back. Those wounds may need stitches. What struck her most was how peaceful his face looked. He was completely worn out. He wouldn’t be waking up anytime soon. She smiled even as she started to cry with relief. At least for a little bit he would get some sleep.

“That thing made a hell of a mess up here,” Wade said from the top of the steps.

Anna turned to look at Wade, annoyed at his weak attempt at humor.

He saw the look on her face and smiled. “Aw, don’t you go worryin’ on him too hard, Miss Anna. He’s one tough son of a bitch.”

She smiled weakly back at him. He was trying to reassure her and she appreciated it, even if the delivery was off.

“I reckon he’s gonna be there for a while though. I ain’t gonna be much help moving him.”

Anna laughed through her tears. “Let’s get you some help, Wade.” She stood and looked up at him. “That arm of yours is a mess.”

“Much obliged,” he said as he tipped an imaginary hat to her.

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Unhinged IV

“Jack? Are you alright?”

Someone was talking to him. Someone far away. And underwater. At least it sounded that way.

“Are you, what do the kids say these days, “punking” me? I didn’t even hit you that hard."

Jack looked up at the ceiling. A hazy figure was coming in to view over him. A familiar voice. God, he hurt all over.

“Jack? Oh come now. This is silly. My confidence is just fine. You don’t have to play along.”

Who the hell was that? He squinted against the lights of the gym. Had he been unconscious? He felt like he was coming to from being knocked out. Was he? It had been a long time since that had happened but yeah, this is kind of what it felt like.

“Really, Jack?”

Who the fuck was talking to him? Dammit, just shut the hell up.

He was laying flat on his back and his whole body hurt. No, not just hurt. He was in pain. Stuff was torn, pulled, broken. His brain was racing trying to figure out where he was hurt and how badly. Where was he? How did he get here? What the hell was going on.

“You have to get up, Jack.”

Who…Sal? Why the hell was Sal talking to him? “What,” he said, bewildered

“You have to keep fighting, Jack. You always tell me that when we’re training. ‘Stay up, get up or they kill you’. You never shut up about it. If you lay down and give up they kill you, remember?”

“What?”

“Training, Jack. You keep saying it during training. It’s like you’re a maniac. Keep fighting or you die.”

“Yeah’” he said weakly, still punch drunk. “Did you hit me with something? How the fuck did you knock me out?”

“Get up or die, Jack. You never stop. Get up, or die. Jack. Get up. GET UP!”

He looked up at Sal, the familiar face coming in to focus. What are you talking about. Give me a second. What the hell is going on."

“Jack, get up or I’ll kill you.”

“What the fuck, Sal?”

GET UP OR…”

The image of Sal standing above him morphed and shifted and something heavy fell on him and grabbed at his throat. It press down on his neck with a frenzied strength. “I’LL KILL YOU,” it screamed manically. “LIKE YOU KILLED ME!”. It’s claws torn into the flesh on his neck. How much did this thing weigh? It reeked of rot and dirt and worse. Something wet and sticky fell out of it’s skull and hit Jack in the face.

“Ha ha ha, I knew it.” Someone was laughing at him. Someone close. Jack reached up at the abomination’s face with his left hand. His right hand still didn’t work like it should. He grabbed it it’s throat to crush it.

“Yeah, that’s not gonna help,” the voice came again. “It can’t breath so you can’t kill it.”

Who the hell was that? Another familiar voice. Jack’s vision was blurry, tunneling on him. He couldn’t breath and he was going to black out soon.

He looked around frantically trying to find anything that would help. He saw Dickie sitting on a bench nearby, leaning forward and casually eating an apple. He took a bite and half chewed it. “I always knew you’d go out like a bitch. Pussy.”

Something inside Jack snapped. He reached across his chest to grab the left elbow of the monster with his left hand.

“You die! like I died!” it yelled. He noticed it’s face, which he had previously mashed in beyond recognition was fully healed. Or as healed as an resurrected corpse could be.

Jack pulled with everything he had. Elbows don’t bend far on an opposite direction. They are a particularly fragile joint and most people protect them poorly. They were great for compliance holds. They also made great opportunities for submissions as he recalled Natalie saying. Not near as strong as knees which were designed to hold a body up. Elbows were not knees.

At first the elbow bent a little. Any human being would scream in agony in this position. But the monster kept pushing. So Jack kept pulling. It bent a little more. Jack grunted. His breath was leaving him. All he could see was his hand on a slippery, rotting elbow. He mustered everything he had and let out a gurgled scream.

SNAP! The body tumbled off him, it’s useless left arm failing to help it get up. Jack coughed an gasped. He couldn’t pass out. Gotta stay awake. Stay awake and stay alive. Get up or die.

So he did. He struggled to his feet and the room swayed as wildly as the heavy bag had. He had to focus.

Stay up. Stay alive. The monster staggered to it’s feet.

“Round Three,” said Dickie, gleefully chewing the apple.

Jack took a huge breath. The hardest breath he had ever managed in his life. Blood or maybe some sort of unthinkable ooze ran into his left eye. He steadied himself for one Herculean swing.

“All or nothing, baby!” Dickie shouted

It charged him again and Jack swung. With everything he had. He felt the elbow come up through the floor, through his hips are he turned them, through his torso as it turned violently and finally out through his left elbow as he swung it around like a whip. He was off balance, horribly exposed to a counter punch, though none was coming. If he missed he was down.

He didn’t.

The elbow caught the monster fully on the left side of it’s head. Alive or dead, simple physics dictated that there had to be a reaction when two bodies collided like that. And just like the perfect swing of a bat when you get the ball right on the sweet spot, Jack didn’t feel a thing. The beast jerked to it’s left and staggered. It fell hard on to it’s broken left arm. But again, it struggled tirelessly to regain it’s feet.

DOWN GOES FRAZIER! DOWN GOES FRAZIER!” Dickie yelled.

Jack staggered over to the monster as it tried to get up. He breathed hard and blood poured into his eye. Something in Jack moved him. He felt like an observer in the whole scene. His brain was silent. He was acting on instinct and adrenaline. Staggered to the monster as it struggled on it’s one good arm. He kicked the arm out from under it and it fell face down on the gym floor.

“Oh! Nice move, Champ!” Hollered Dickie, jumping up, bits of apple flying from his mouth.

Jack stepped over to the beast and stomped on it’s head.

“Shut.” Stomp

“The fuck” Stomp.

“Up”. Stomp.

“Dickie” STOMP.

The monster’s head came apart like a ripe watermelon.

“Jack?” Anna said from the doorway.

He spun around to look at her. Was it really her? Was she real? She stood there with her Sig in her hand. Is this another trick? Is someone here to kill me? Is this how I’m going to die? His mind raced.

“Jack, she said in an obviously worried tone. “Why are you saying ‘Dickie’?”

She looked scared, almost terrified. Why? The bad guy was dead. Then it hit him. He only knew how he felt. But if he looked anything like he felt it had to be horrible.

“Nothing. Never mind. I will explain later. I’m ok. I’m going to be ok.”

Then came a scream from the house. And a crash.

Anna turned to look quickly and then turned back to Jack.

“Give me the Sig,” he said as he ran to her.

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