So you’ve heard about The Crimson Pact (TCP), but you want to learn a little more about it before you take the plunge? No problem, but hurry. The demons are out there. My story in TCP2, “The Merging,” is a direct continuation from my flash fiction piece in The Crimson Pact volume 1, “The Transition.”
This story was a true labor of love. A friend of mine shared some feedback he had gotten on a story he was writing for the anthology. In essence, he was supposed to make the story darker. I thought I was going to get a leg up by infusing a little extra darkness into my story. That backfired in a big way.
As Paul (*the editor) and I were slaving through the rewrites (bless him), he came back and told me that I had taken the story WAY too far, and that I was making the process harder on myself than I had to. Of course, he was right. But, while I was figuring that out, I was thrown off for a while, and I struggled to come up with a new ending. I thought I had come up with an action-packed, super dark finish that connected my two stories really well. It turns out that I had a lesson to learn, and a lot of work ahead of me.
The demon in my story was originally akin to an evil spirit, passing in and out of certain bodies within my rule system. By the time Paul and I got done with the rewrites, the story had gone in a very different direction. I wont give it away. You’ll have to read the story for that. However, I have included the first section of “The Merging” below. Leave me a comment and let me know what you think! Hopefully you’ll go out and pick up the book. There are a lot of awesome stories to enjoy. I hope you find mine to be one of them.
by Justin Swapp
“Let’s start over.” The uniformed man sighed as he lifted a leg over the edge of the worn table in front of me, and sat down, rocking it off balance. The old telephone sitting on the other side jerked slightly, giving off a muted ring. Apparently he was as heavy as his Spanish accent. The officer’s badge read Gómez, and after wiping his forehead in one pronounced motion, I could tell that he wasn’t very happy. Gómez, the reflective glass on the wall, and the only door’s foggy window made the room feel like it was shrinking in on me. “Now, tell me precisely what happened,” he continued.
I didn’t know what he was talking about, so I just shrugged.
Tapping a finger on the table, he continued, “Okay, tell me your name.”
I was sure I knew that one. I opened my mouth to answer. Nothing came out but the sound of an embarrassed swallow. I didn’t feel right, like I had taken a blow to the head, or eaten something really rotten. Maybe it was the intended effect of the room, of the questions.
“What was that?” Gómez asked. I mumbled something, not sure what. I couldn’t understand why I was unable to recall my name like normal. I had to really think about it for some time. That was disconcerting.
“Sloan,” I said finally, as though I had just remembered where I had put my car keys. “Sloan Boyle.” I even nodded, just to reassure myself. Gómez seemed a little shocked by my reaction, but he scribbled something down in his interview notebook just the same.
I had no memory of how I had come to this disturbing police station, with its peeling green walls, and smells of alcohol and vomit, much less why I would be here. I was a simple college student on a semester abroad in Spain learning the language, and just trying to get by. I hadn’t done anything wrong. Had I?
“Don’t be embarrassed,” Gómez said, trying to sound more understanding, but tapping his pen on his leg just the same. “It is common for people who have been traumatized to forget things.”
“Traumatized?” I said, swallowing hard. Okay, I couldn’t remember a few things, but that sounded—clinical.
“Several witnesses identified you with the deceased,” Gómez said, scanning a finger across his notebook, ending with a poignant tap, “just moments before he died. Did you—?”
“You mean Brock?” Once the name escaped my mouth something uneasy moved in the pit of my stomach. I knew I had said something wrong, I just wasn’t sure what. Gómez stood up, and looked at me, his countenance changed, like I had just confessed to a murder.
Then an uncomfortable thought occurred to me. I had remembered Brock’s name faster than my own.
My eyes must’ve glazed over for a moment as the most horrible scene of my life shot through my mind like a nail gun to the head. I sat at a café, dumbfounded, as I watched a stranger that I had just met walk into the middle of the street and just stand there. Our brief interaction had been odd, and very confusing. As he stood in the street, he made no attempt at safety or self-preservation. He merely looked back at me, and smiled, just as a white van laid him out all over the street.
The change in Gómez’s tone brought me back to the smelly holding room. It went from bad, to worse.
“How did you know his name?” he asked, folding his arms and straightening up.
“Hey, I’m sorry,” I said quickly, raising my hands, “I must have been mistaken.”
“No mistake,” Gómez said. His voiced seemed lower, more precise somehow. “I need to know what Brock told you in the café. Did he give you anything?”
I thought about it a minute. He hadn’t really told me anything, but he had given me . . . something. What was it again? For some reason, I couldn’t quite remember.
“Tell me!” he said sharply as he slapped a hand on the table echoing a reminder of the small size of the room.
I reeled back, not understanding the sudden hostility toward me. “I want to call a lawyer,” I said, “or the Embassy. Someone. My father won’t want to hear that I have been held wrongfully. He works for the U.S. Military.” I paused, not knowing that last bit until it came out of my mouth.
A loud knock came at the door.
Gómez stepped outside the room for a moment leaving me to watch the silhouettes through the door’s foggy glass. The voices were too quiet to make out precisely, but the conversation was definitely heated. I even heard a foot stomp on the ground just before Gómez re-entered the room straightening his uniform.
“One call,” he said. For clarity, he added his middle finger, shown carefully in front of his torso, his back to the reflective glass. Then, he slid the old phone across the table in front of me, knocking the receiver off the hook.
My mind felt cloudy, and I didn’t know whom to call. Home? The University? My safest bet was probably the U.S. Embassy, but I didn’t know the number.
“Got a phone book?” I asked. He embellished a sigh, and left the room shaking his head.
Then, I heard something. It wasn’t Gómez, or anyone outside the door like before. It was closer, and real, but how could that be? I was alone. I scanned the room, but saw nothing, no one, not even the faint shadows behind the reflective mirror on the wall.
My head jerked to one side, spasming as if I had been shocked, and then, just as unexpectedly, it relaxed. Next, as if it had already been there before, a phone number appeared in my mind as readily as if it had been my own birth date. On one level, I didn’t recognize it at all, but I knew it somehow, and I was sure I had to dial it. Something akin to instinct came alive in me. It just felt right.
I picked up the receiver and spun the numbers into the phone.
After one ring, someone picked up.
“Where have you been?” asked a low, scratchy voice before I could even say ‘hello.’ “We’ve been waiting for you.”
“Sorry,” it pained me to say, “but I think I dialed the wrong—”
“Listen, Brock,” the voice said, “we’re out of time. Where are you?”
I couldn’t believe I called that number. “Look, sir, I’m at a police station, and the only Brock that I know is apparently . . . dead.”
“Well now, you and I both know that’s not true,” the voice said.
I had to hang up. I wasted my one call on some weird whim that left me questioning my sanity, and I wasn’t going to waste any more time.
The door opened, and Gómez returned, his eyes instantly zeroing in on the phone in my hand. “You lied to me,” he said as he flopped a phone book down on the table. “You didn’t need this. Who did you call?”
“I . . .” I felt like I had just failed the most important test of my life. I had just wasted my one phone call on an impulse—on a complete stranger. I was out of options. “I’m not sure. Some guy.”
The silhouette crossed the frosted glass, and pounded at the door again, louder this time. Gómez stepped out begrudgingly. Shadowy arms flailed as they yelled at each other.
“But Capitán, how is that possible?” Gómez asked in Spanish. I couldn’t make out everything they said. “It’s not right,” Gómez continued, “This goes against protocol.”
I felt uncomfortable, listening to them argue on and on, knowing that somehow I was at the root of it all. Then the shape of a taller man wearing a cap appeared next to the others. It seemed out of place, and unnerved me.
Gómez returned sometime later, breathing heavy, not bothering to compose himself. Contempt plagued his face.
“Get up,” he said. “You’ve apparently outlived your usefulness.”
What did he mean? I had heard about the corruption that ran through foreign law enforcement, but not seen it first-hand. Would they deport me? Maybe they tortured prisoners here? Did Spain still torture people? My heart raced.
He yanked me out of the room by the arm, swearing under his breath in Spanish. I had learned that much. I could hear the hum of electricity as he led me into a dark hallway. The lights flickered off and on, until he finally delivered me to the front office.
“Here.” Gómez shoved me toward a tall black man standing in the office, his dark overcoat still wet from the rain outside. Though his build was slight, he caught me easily. He stood me upright again without a word, his face stoic. The cap he wore bore the golden letters FBI. This man must have been the other silhouette from the interrogation room.
“What’s going on?” I asked Gómez. “What’s the FBI doing in Spain?”
“Capitán?” said Gómez, turning to a beefy man typing something into an old computer behind the front desk. “You could escalate this. We could wait.”
“I told you, cabrón, when he called, he checked out.” The captain gave Gómez a nasty look over the monitor. “Now, go get your paperwork done.” He finished what he was typing with one accentuated punch of a key, and left the room.
The black man nodded dutifully, then he grabbed me and hauled me outside. Gómez ran behind us to the station door just as we reached a long, jet-black car. The wipers whirred in the night and the headlights reflected beads of light off the streams of rain.
“Who do you think you are? This is my case,” Gómez said, squinting, and waving a dripping fist in the air. “You can’t just show up and take custody of whoever you want, whenever you want.”
Initially, the black man didn’t respond. He opened the back door, and shoved me into the vehicle, and closed the door. Next, I heard a thunderous crack, and I shot up in the back seat. Through the tinted window I beheld the black man, his stiff arm extended, holding a smoking gun. He stared down the iron sights, his expression blank, and unchanged at the motionless Gómez.
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