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Aberrant: 2011 - Hapless Halloween [Complete]


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Hapless Halloween

{October 31st - November 1st , 2009}

Church and Sanchez walked through the burned out ground. The ground sloped gently off to the north. The place would have been nice … before the fires and all the dead bodies. The two detectives weren’t alone. There were several Sheriff’s Deputies on hand. It was technically their jurisdiction, but these days cases were as much who had the capacity as jurisdiction. There were also a handful of onlookers, mostly people who had come up into the foothills to camp, or escape the grind in the city.

The people here had died in one of three ways. There had been an explosion. Something had gone off in the center of these people’s camp. There had fire. Not only had the explosion set off a series of fires, but there had been a large bonfire in center of the camp before the explosion. Then there had been the gunshot wounds. This ruled out any form of accident as someone had not only shot some of the victims as they fled, several of the wounded were also executed.

Church knelt over one of the victims. With a gloved hand he took a necklace off one of the gunshot victims – a young girl in her early twenties or late teens. It was a silver chain with a copper symbol.

“Sanchez, do you recognized this?”

He held it up for his partner to see.

“Crap,” she ground out. “It’s a pentagram. That most likely means this was some sort of pagan meeting.” Sanchez looked down at the corpse closest to her with renewed distaste.

Church looked at the symbol once more then back to Sanchez.

“Is there a problem?”

Sanchez shrugged. “It wouldn’t be the first time I figured a murder was good riddance to street trash. I hate this heathen filth with their fake faith and lying ways.”

She looked at Church and saw the concern in his eyes. “I can still do my job”, she added. “Don’t worry about that. Just don’t expect me to have much sympathy for the victims. They’re roasting in hell now.”

Her partner shrugged. As Church figured it, her personal beliefs were her own. As long as she could do the job, he would get by.

A few minutes later, Church had begun to piece together what had happened, or at least some of it.

“Eleven of the victims had been standing very close to bonfire when the explosion happened. The explosion was caused by a propane tank, valve open, had been tossed into the fire. Since none of those eleven looked like Olympic hurlers that meant one of those victims also threw the tank … suicide.”

“Still, not all the eleven were dead though. That’s when number twelve opened up on the runners. Finally she comes back for the wounded and then,” he sighs, “she takes a bullet in the brain right here,” he adds kneeling beside the body and pointing out the wound.

“That means were missing somebody.”

“That makes sense,” Sanchez says. “Wicca covens usually have thirteen members and I’m betting we’re missing the high priestess. Let’s find the bitch and put her away for life.”

Church bit his lower lip before saying, “I would like a motive of some kind.”

“How about ‘she’s a crazy, apocalyptic crackpot who planned a little human sacrifice up here in the hills?’ Who really cares?”

Church didn’t look convinced.

Questioning the civilians didn’t help matters much. The first group that had happened on the scene was a group of Christian aid workers taking a Retreat up above the city for some religious solace. They were mostly young men and women from elsewhere who had come to the city to help out in the crisis.

“Did you recognize them as pagans?” Sanchez asked the lead councilor.

Some of his companions looked shocked and revolted.

“We were just offering Christian charity to people in need,” the man responded calmly. “It doesn’t matter that they were confused, lost souls.”

Sanchez nodded in agreement. Church broke into the conversation.

“You didn’t let any of the people die, did you?”

The man gazed at the detective with sad eyes.

“No. That would have been wrong. They were the misguided ones. We know God’s Laws. Thou shall not kill. That means we also can’t just let people die either. The two we found alive when we got here were both bleeding badly. Our first aid training wasn’t enough.”

Church nodded.

“Did you see anyone leaving the scene?” he inquired.

Several of the aid workers shook their heads.

“We were over that ridge,” their leader motioned. “I must have taken us five minutes to get here in the dark … even with the flames.”

Church looked off into the night sky. It would be dawn in a few hours, but there still wasn’t enough light coming from the city to provide enough light to see just were the councilor was pointing toward. His best guess as to how far it was away was just that – a guess.

A few more questions followed, but they didn’t provide much more information. Crime Scene showed up finally and it was time for the detectives to leave. There were leads to run down like the identity of the victims and such. Had they known each other outside of their religious lives? Who was the priestess and were had she gone to? There didn’t seem to be many good answers forthcoming.

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One of the truest signs that the city was coming back to life was the re-opening of the coffee house down the street from the precinct. The selection was still sparse, but the coffee was hot, the pastries were fresh, and the place was always busy. Church and Sanchez occupied the booth after a rather long day of little sleep and grinding effort. Still, they could put the case in the win column.

They found the missing woman in an abandoned department store. A scavenger had found the body and righteously called it in. It looked like a suicide, but Church wasn’t convinced. There was a note and that, along with her prejudice, was enough for Sanchez. Two things bothered Church. First was the angle of the gunshot wound to the woman’s face. The second was the existence of a second gunshot in a wall nearby. Front its angle, it was like the woman had tried to shoot herself in the side of the head, but flinched at the last moment, missing.

Church’s theory was that she had been working with, under duress, with another party and that person had tried to force her suicide. When that failed, he, or she, had put a pistol in her mouth and pulled the trigger. What he couldn’t tie together was the whys. Why had the first killer thrown the propane in the bonfire, killing herself? Why had the second opened up on the survivors with an automatic weapon (showing premeditation)? Why had the priestess killed the gunwoman, and then either been killed, or killed herself?

His biggest problem that in the back of his mind, were the Power dwelt, he knew the answer. Someone had broken these people the same way he had broken that gang-banger. They had unleashed their own power on these too human minds and made them do horrible things … just like he knew he could do horrible things with his power. The belief that superhuman power was involved was binding though. He couldn’t talk it over with anyone, including Sanchez, without risking his own secret. All he could do was privately grind this over and over in his mind.

“Not happy?” Sanchez joked. “You can’t be happy putting closed on this folder?”

“My gut tells me were missing something on this, Sanchez.”

Sanchez could tell he had more to say so she pulled on her coffee instead of telling him what he could do with his ‘gut’.

“I think those people were coerced somehow into doing what they did. We may not know the dynamics of this coven, but that doesn’t mean we should assume that two, or three, of them had it out for the rest.”

“The priestess brainwashed the two cultists to kill the rest,” Sanchez interjected. “She killed the remaining one out of some sick desire and killed herself because she knew she’d be caught.”

“Then we should have found some evidence she was a crazy. She came across as non-mainstream, but hardly fanatical. It doesn’t add up. Hell, beyond being a vocal pagan, she was a pillar of the community.”

“Maybe the Christians on the hillside had something to do with it? They came down, found the Wicca in a Samhain ritual then killed them in a fit of religious fervor?”

Church grimaced.

“They kidnapped the priestess, showed her the error of her ways and in a fit of moral redemption, the lying bitch committed suicide.”

“You just want the woman to have committed suicide,” Church countered. “I want to know why she died and the answers don’t add up.”

Sanchez looked across the table to her rookie partner.

“Church, you are a miserable driver, a half-assed shot, but a first rate detective. What you don’t understand is that there are cases we need to pour our hearts into and ones we must let pass by with a best effort. This case is one of the latter. The loose ends have been tied up. There are a dozen more cases waiting for us. Let – It – Go.”

Church didn’t want to let it go. There were aching questions left unanswered and he wanted to know. There was a sense that someone was getting away with something abominable … and they would get away with it because nobody cared. Church drank his coffee in silence.

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Church walked up the stairs to his apartment. His brown jacket was thrown over one arm and his shirt was rumpled from long over-use. His tie was new but also showing all the signs of hanging around his neck for the past 24 hours. Thick soled dark brown shoes covered his feet that were weary, sweaty, and cramped. Only the bag of takeout Chinese gave any signs of vibrancy to the detective’s sketchy appearance.

The apartment complex had been ‘certified’ by the building inspectors only about a week ago, but that was more of an insurance consideration than any clear comfort for the inhabitants. The clean bill of health meant the management wouldn’t be getting any insurance settlement. It also meant that the remaining tenants would still have a place to sleep as they worked trying to keep the city alive. One hundred units with only a third occupied – it was still a sad state of affairs.

The hallway was dark. Only one of the lights was working and it was way late as usual. Church got to the door before he realized someone was standing only a little way down the hall. He turned to face the stranger, one hand falling to his pistol.

“You lost?” he asked.

“Not anymore,” the stranger, a woman, responded. “I was looking for your domicile, Officer Church.”

She wouldn’t step out of the shadows so that he could bet a good look at her.

‘Windbreaker – blue or black,’ he made a mental note, ‘blue jeans, new looking, with curly, shoulder length hair – blonde or more likely light brown.’

“It’s Detective Church now.”

“Yes … detective. I had heard that. Why did they promote you? Oh, never mind. It’s not important. Meeting you again is what’s important.”

Church shook his head minutely. “I can’t say I remember meeting you, Miss.”

The woman laughed, but it sounded hallow and empty of real emotion.

“I’ll give you a hint. We met in the Park on the first night of the quake.”

“Your not the woman that I … oh … you’re him,” he seethed the last of words.

“Yes, I’m him,” he said then paused. “I think we both lucked out during the quake. We’ve both spent the last few months getting a handle on just what happened to us, am I right?”

“How are you doing … whatever you are doing? Is it a trick of the mind?” Church was stalling for time.

“Trick of the mind? Perhaps, but not the kind you must be thinking, but again, not important right now. Maybe we can discuss what we’ve learned about ourselves later.”

Church resisted the urge to reach out with his mind to figure out what was going on. He was afraid, but not sure why.

“I came here to make two offers to you. What I want is for you to join with me in remaking this city. We can create a new from of order and stability. We can bring order out of the chaos. Detective Church, we can decide what is, and isn’t, in the Los Angeles that is to be. Follow me and seize the future.”

“And the second offer?”

“The second offer … well, I know your secret and I can kill the people you care about. If you aren’t smart enough to help me, know that I can destroy you. Stay out of my way.”

Church’s mind had been racing over the possibilities, his chances, and what the man was saying.

“I can’t do that,” Church said with clarity of purpose. “You expose me, you expose yourself. I think you’ve done some pretty horrible things already and when I can prove it, I’m bringing you to justice.”

There was that hauntingly hollow laugh again.

“You don’t even know who I am,” she sniggered.

“And that’s how you want to keep it. You know what is going to happen to you if people figure out what you are doing. You,” it made sense to him now, “know that your power isn’t always enough. That’s why you came here and that’s why you haven’t tried to destroy me already.”

The stranger remained silent for a moment. Apparently he didn’t like being outthought.

“It really unnerved you when she refused to kill herself, didn’t it?”

That brought the stranger up short and a nervous twitch betrayed her/his discomfort.

“Why?” Church asked

There was another long pause, but already the stranger had regained their composure.

“Because I could. Because I can do it, I can get away with it,” it seethed, “and you can’t catch me.”

“I didn’t know I was hunting you, not until tonight.”

“You still can’t touch me.”

“What makes you think you can get away now?” Church said. His hand resting on his pistol tightened.

“Who says I’m really here?”

Church didn’t know, so he decided to check. The power welled up and lashed into the woman’s mind. The overwhelming part of the psyche was shielded from his probe, but there was a smaller, submerged part that was screaming in for help. It was lost in fear and despair. He managed to get a name from her before he was abruptly cut off.

You don’t have the strength to back up your bold actions, Detective Church. She’s under my control … my total control.

Leave her mind!

No. I will take my leave now, but I assure you I’ll be back.

What could he do?

The body - the woman was a victim. He couldn’t take out his gun and force her to stay. Who knows what would happen to her then. It wasn’t like he had cause to arrest her legally … and that would still lead to his certain exposure. No way came to him to save the girl and defeat him, his new enemy. In a day that had left him feeling powerless, in a week and a month that had been more of the same, Church felt like a man trying to swim in quicksand. There were no good choices. There was no one he could turn to for answers, or to make things right.

What could he do?

The woman left, led away by the will of the stranger. Church was afraid to lock his power with him. Not out of any fear for his own mind, but afraid for what the Power might do if he warred with the stranger for control of her already over-taxed psyche. So, he held himself back and watched them, the two people in one, leave. He went inside his small apartment and poured himself a drink … then another. He had a lot to think about.

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