It was a plain, brown box, about a foot and a half long and nine inches wide, sealed with clear packing tape and with no return address on the label. Fiona would have been nervous had she not noticed the handwriting on the mailing label, an elegantly curved printed style that was the trademark of Jacob Niles. Using a small worn out letter opener, Fiona neatly sliced through the tape and opened the box.
Inside, there was a small white envelop, sporting a red printed seal with the visage of a crucifix and written in the same printed calligraphy, "To my Dear Cousin, Fiona."
"Yep, it's Twister all right," she thought, using her nail to tear the seal. Inside, she found a much more hastily scrawled letter, which blatantly contrasted with the style on the envelope.
What is in this box may not make sense to you, but it is urgent that you read it over and examine the contents carefully. I will be in town visiting on the fifteenth so that I can go over the information with you. It may seem bizarre that I am asking a paleontologist to do this work, but when you are finished with the contents my reason will become clear. Try and take it easy kid, and don't lose your head.
Your loving Cousin,
Cardinal Jacob Niles
"That's certainly odd," Fiona said aloud. Moving the handkerchief aside, she noticed a much larger manilla envelope. The handwriting on the front of it was even more erratic, with numerous droplets of ink staining the paper, and the writing itself smeared. As she opened it, a small key, likely to a slid out, clattering down onto the table.
For some reason, her fur was beginning to stand on end. She could feel her legs tense, and her hands began to shake. She sensed a primal wrongness with what she as about to remove from inside the envelope. Cautiously, she closed her eyes and removed two sheets of paper. She swallowed hard and opened them.
The first sheet was a photograph of a document written in what first appeared to be Latin. But when read, the text made little sense, almost as if she were reading code without the key. Furthermore, the words themselves were a mess, not making use of the proper conjugations, and often times seeming more Greek or Sumerian than Latin. She noticed ink bleed through near the bottom of the page, and flipping it over, she found a translated text, in Jacob's handwriting, as well as a small memo along the edge that read, "Scaelin, perhaps?"
"The hell is Scaelin?" she asked herself, briefly flipping the page back over to try and make sense of the notation. Shrugging it off, she flipped it over to read.
On the dawn of the twenty-third day, within the last month of the tenth year of the third millennium, it shall come to pass. The Great Dragon will rise from the deep, and he shall meet the kings of the ocean and die among them. The Soldier shall wield the White Flame, and he shall lead his Witness into the darkness below. The Witness shall raise the Nightwalker to slay the Bladed Man and he shall fall to his feet in pain and despair. The Beast shall raise her eye to the sky, and behold a rain of fire and water shall engulf the land; but the Beast will not know her sister, and the world will crumble still.
Her heart began to pound in her chest. Her hands and legs were shaking. Swallowing again, she tried to tell herself that the date was a coincidence, that it had nothing to do with her dream. She had a rational, scientific mind; there was no reason to believe the page. After all, prophecies were the results of a mentally ill or epileptic mind whose hallucinations were misinterpreted by the religious as messages from an imaginary god. She closed her eyes and mumbled words of encouragement to herself. There was no connection.
Though it took her a moment, Fiona managed to gather her senses. She hadn't told anyone the details of the nightmares, though the fact that she had them was well known, even to Jacob. Still, she knew there was something here, something he expected her to see. Reading the document again, she realized why he had sent it.
Great dragon. This is a phrase that would make a paleontologist curious. In the mesozoic, especially the Jurassic and Cretaceous, there were, in fact, dragon-like creatures within the oceans. Perhaps Twister had noticed something odd about this account, and was coming with her for advice? It seemed plausible. After all, there was speculation that the legends of dragons were inspired by the beasts of the age of reptiles.
She set down both pieces of paper and picked up the key. If she wasn't mistaken, the key was to a safety deposit box. After all, the worlds Calusa Shores Bank and the number 74 were engraved into the key. She was familiar with the bank--her father did business there--so it shouldn't be an issue getting them to let her into the vault. Chances are, Twister would have left instructions for them to do so anyway.
"Maybe after lunch," she said, placing the key inside her pocket. She turned her attention to the second sheet of paper. She hadn't noticed before, but the corner was rough and brittle--the feel of a chemically preserved document. Whatever it was, it wasn't a copy. She took another deep breath and pulled it from beneath the prophecy.
Her first reaction was extreme shock, but that quickly gave way to a feeling of pure horror. On the page, a gargantuan lioness with fearsome white eyes stood towering above a cowering man, her protruding red throat and tongue seemingly just as fresh as when it was painted. The lioness had three largely identical heads, the center one mounted close to her bloated, bulging body, the far right one raised higher, with a pair of gigantic canines hanging below the jawline. All three had the same horrifying eyes and vile tongues. Its house-sized paws held sharp, black claws, and its bulging gut seemed to hold not six but eight swollen, red nipples. It was sickening and horrifying on a primal level, like her body and mind had been conditioned to flee at the sight of the towering beast.
Deep within her mind, she knew it was the beast she'd seen in her dreams. There was no way Twister could have known about it: she never divulged the details of her nightmares. She remembered the sounds it made, its hellish howling, and her in mind that howl echoed, its voice growing increasingly louder with each second, until it reached a deafening, blood-curdling scream.
Behind her, the door slammed open. Fiona felt her father's hands grab her and pull her close. She tried to be comforted by his embrace, but the screaming was too much to bear. She beneath it, she could hear him trying to sooth her, but she could only barely make it out words. She gripped her father's shoulder's tight, felt his hand caress her head, and at last she was aware that it was not the creature screaming, but rather her.
"It's going to be okay," Carter said, holding her close. "It's going to be okay.
"No," she thought. "It really wasn't."
* * *
He was too stuffed to drive. Instead, Steven Somers lounged in the back seat, his left arm slumped over the cooler while his right clutched a worn out paperback book. A small stain of barbecue sauce could be seen on the collar of his Hawaiian shirt but otherwise he was meticulous, clean shaven, and neat. His blond hair was tapered on the sides with the top textured in thick spikes, and he wore faded jeans and a pair of dark brown work boots.
Steven looked up at the driver seat, where his uncle Roderigo who seemed more subdued. His auburn hair was cut at a medium length, parted on the left with shag-like bangs that fell across his right eye. Though his face seemed to be permanently stern, Steven knew his uncle was happy. There did seem to be a slight glean in his otherwise blank expression, especially when his eyes fell on his wife.
Yvonne seemed tired. Her head rested against the window, as if she was about to doze off. Though it wasn't visible, Steven could imagine a look of contentment on Roderigo's face, a small smile that only those closest to him knew was there, a smile that emerged with he gazed upon Yvonne's flawless dark bronze skin, or the peaceful look on her face as she began to sleep.
Steven knew that the inability to show emotions was a trait that pained Roderigo. A disorganized schizophrenic, his uncle learned long ago that while medication could stop the voices and untangle his mind, they could not return the expressions he once had. Rather, he would have to suffer a lifetime of blunted affect, something that he would never fully be able to accept.
Roderigo was thankful that his version of the illness did not come with paranoia, as well as the fact that he was not a victim of the rare and crippling catatonic type. Despite this, it hurt him badly that some of his childhood friends abandoned him out of a misinformed fear that he may become violent, so badly in fact that he once drowned himself in rum to eliminate the pain. Even so, his family never abandoned him, and Carter in particular was very supportive.
Most of his bad days were gone thanks to his little blue and white messiah. No longer did internal voices mock and threaten him. No longer was his speech garbled and his thoughts incoherent. He had managed to quit drinking before it became a serious problem, though a little injection of Thorazine did a good bit of the damage for it. Sure, he was impotent--antipsychotics had a tendency to do that--and even though his ability to express his emotions had never returned, he could accept these handicaps and be glad to live in reality.
"We're coming up on the Grandview Triangle, Rod," Steven said. "Make sure you follow the signs, this place is a gigantic clusterfuck."
Sure enough, Roderigo saw it--a gigantic mess of interconnecting bridges and overpasses. He sighed. "MoDot really knows how to fuck up a highway, don't they?"
"Yup." They heard Yvonne chuckle, though her eyes remained closed.
"So anyway, what are you reading?"
"Oh this," Steven said, waiving the paperback book in front of the rear view mirror. "Just some alien abduction book I picked up in Independence."
"You don't believe in that stuff, do you?" Yvonne asked.
"Fuck no. There's too many plausible explanations. A vivid dream or a waking hallucination can explain an abduction experience. Hell, I'm willing to bet two thirds of them are influenced by booze, weed and meth. I mean, I once met a guy who claimed that one-hundred foot tall alien mice abducted him and made him run though mazes. When I asked the guy how often this happened, he just looked at me and said, "Every time I get high." It's no wonder, since you're more likely to see an alien abduction victim in Hicksville where there's nothing to do."
Yvonne laughed. "So what happened to this guy?"
"Oh, he's currently in a halfway house somewhere on Prospect. They don't let him leave."
"Traffic's backed up," Roderigo said. Steven and Yvonne looked out at the road: nothing but cars as far as they could see.
"That sucks," Yvonne said.
"Welcome to Kansas City. Some moron doesn't air his tire right, gets on the Triangle, where you can go from Interstate to Parking Lot in the blink of a an eye. You should see it at rush hour--"
"What?" Steven gazed at Roderigo, whose head was tilted as if he were listening to something outside. At first, the orchestra of car horns and engines drowned it out, but then Steven began to hear it too--a low moaning noise, just barely audible, but slowly becoming strong enough for him to feel it in his bones. Steven quickly reached for the door handle, but Roderigo locked it.
Roderigo looked back and said, "Stay in the car."
Ignoring him, Steven opened flipped the lock and kicked open the door, setting his foot down on the asphalt. Looking down, he could see a tiny crack begin to form parallel to his foot. Steven looked up and said, "This is... not good."
"Steven, please get back in the car," Roderigo pleaded.
Steven shook his head and then he bolted toward the nearest end of the bridge.
"I'll get him," Yvonne said. She grabbed her purse and flung the door open, running toward him. It took her less than a second to reach him--he wasn't moving. Rather, he stood there, staring at his feet.
"You know, it's times like this where I want to bitchslap myself," he said. She reached out to grab his hand, when she felt a sharp tremor in the ground. "I think... standing still would be a good idea," Steven said. "I'm pretty sure that was our support collapsing."
The bridge seemed to moan. Tiny cracks began to spread across the asphalt and slowly widen. There was a loud creaking as the bridge began to sway, and from behind them they could hear hundred of people screaming, throwing their doors open and entering the street in full panic. In front of them, the left side of the bridge was beginning to to dip, and then a large chunk of the road beside them crumbled away.
Steven was terrified. His legs shook, his body screaming for him to flee, but he knew moving would be a mistake. He felt someone grab his hand. It was Roderigo--he'd strapped his belt to the concrete railing, and was holding Yvonne next to him. Steven grabbed Roderigo's arm, and threw himself at him, collapsing at his feet. Then, slowly, the bridge began to slide, and Steven closed his eyes and braced for the impact.