Ink Portals

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Get ready for a whirlwind of helicopter crashes, skydiving with no parachutes, mid-city jewel heists and Japanese killer hornets. The tale follows a group of semi-likeable career criminals possessing mysterious, supernatural powers on a messy adventure that drags them from Paris to California to Japan and back again. An old friend of Jack Remington shows up at the family home with a favor to ask, and things start to go south from there.

Action / Fantasy
Cody Etsebeth
Age Rating:

Chapter 1

How does a completely un-armed inmate simply smash open the wall of his holding cell, and then stroll out into the night?

Kurtis was mulling over this question as he sat watching the dim street lamps from inside a rented van. It was still dark out. The van was parked on a secluded side street, not far from the infamous tavern. Kurtis needed to ambush the octopus before sunrise, before the people of the little French neighborhood woke up and started going about their mundane activities.

Kurtis, however, was not alone in his brooding anticipation. Several other men somberly lined the rows of seats behind him. The team had been assembled and imported from the states at the last minute, all veterans in their early fifties, sporting pedigrees in either military or law enforcement. Kurtis had promised handsome payouts in order to lure them to Paris.

There was silent tension inside the van, with only the hushed breathing of his comrades and the occasional sniff or someone clearing their throat.

Kurtis took out his phone, rubbing his brow beneath his buzz-cut blonde hair. He was looking over a mugshot of a dark haired man with disheveled, shoulder-length hair. The man in the photo held a prison identification plate up to his chest which read: Pierre Daniel Evans. Kurtis found himself annoyed at the fact that the inmate was looking into the camera with what was, no doubt, amusement given his incarcerated state. This is all a game to you, isn't it, Kurtis thought, narrowing his pale blue eyes at the picture.

He swiped the screen to the next photo that showed the inside of Mr. Evan's former holding cell. The bars had been bent open and the cell left abandoned. Only a creased pile of linen sat crumpled, smugly, on the mattress. Kurtis swiped his finger over the screen. The ID board below the next prisoner's bearded chin stated: Jack, Andrew, Remington.

Jack Remington and Pierre Evans, Kurtis mused. The pair had been caught robbing a bank in southern Missouri over a decade ago. They surrendered to police peacefully enough. When officers told them to lay down their weapons they had nothing to lay down; they appeared to be completely unarmed, despite the fact that the safe door had been ripped off from its hinges, and pieces of concrete scattered all over the banks' marble floors. Kurtis knew these two let themselves get arrested that day. They were going about the robbery when the cops crashed the party, they probably shrugged, looking at one another and said: 'Hey let's humor these assholes and let 'em take us in, it's not like we're gonna be in there long anyway. It'll be like a badge of honor, let's go check out what's on the prison lunch menu while we're in town.'

Kurtis swiped to the next image, a photograph of Jack Remington's cell, which had a gaping hole in the wall with a few bricks dangling from around the edges. The whole wall had been knocked out into the prison courtyard from the inside. It was like ol' Jacky boy had somehow smuggled in a goddamned wrecking ball.

The jail house officials were perplexed to say the least, and none of it made the news, of course, that would just be embarrassing for the state officials - and those two freaks knew it. They knew they couldn't be contained, Kurtis thought, and they liked the idea of toying with the authorities.

Kurtis had stared at those mugshots so many times he felt like he lived next door to these men, familiar with every odd wrinkle around the eye and sneer of the lips. But the truth was that Kurtis had never been in the same room with either of them, even after tracking the duo for the better part of a decade. But today, very soon, he would be face to face with at least one of these fabled freaks. That's the reason he had come out all the way to Paris.

Kurtis received the lead just a couple of days ago, from an old Scotland Yard buddy of his who wanted in on the deal. He recalled the rush of excitement, mixed with anxiety, when he looked at the video for the first time. It was footage of a burglary taking place at the Antwerp Diamond Exchange in Belgium. The video showed a burglar tunneling in through the vault floor. The man, dressed up in the typical head-to-toe black burglar outfit, went to work opening rows of safety deposit boxes lining the vault walls. The alarm sounded as soon as the thief stood up and triggered the motion sensors, but it didn't deter the robber from his work.

The heist went down relatively quickly, but the thing about the footage that would shock most people - but not Kurtis - was that the thief in question had eight arms helping him; tentacle-like things coming out of his back like an octopus. It was an eerie sight to behold, eluminated on screen by the green glow of the night vision camera. The dark shapes pried open and slithered into the small gaps around the doors of the deposit boxes, seemingly flattening their girth in order to fit, and from there they manipulated and opened the locks from the inside. The robber managed to empty more than half of the boxes before the police arrived on the scene. The footage showed him disappearing back into the tunnel with plenty of time to spare before the cops got inside. Investigators later traced the source of the tunnel to the city's sewage system, but found nothing that lead to an arrest.

Kurtis had gotten close to catching up with them on numerous occasions over the years, but they were an elusive bunch, always hidden away behind shrouds of legend and secrecy.

These guys were using something supernatural - some might even call it voodoo, or black magic - Kurtis didn't fully understand it himself, but one thing was clear; it was essentially a weapon, a weapon that could be taken right through airport security without so much as setting off the metal detectors. And that kind of power wasn't meant for civilians, never mind criminals.

Kurtis's late father, the man who got him started in the family trade, made a very respectable living in the seventies, tracking down and sourcing all sorts of trinkets and oddities from the Asian continents, then selling them on to collectors at a handsome profit.

Kurtis himself had a fondness of Japan in particular. He had traveled there many times with his father in his younger days. They would buy up hand-forged katanas that had been in Japanese families for generations, funding the families who had better use for cash than a historic sword sitting on their mantelpiece. But that was then, long before the internet would make everything available at the click of a button. Since then the market for such goods has become too crowded and flooded with cheap knock-offs.

Kurtis remembered his father's obsession vividly. It all started while on their travels in Japan, as they ventured ever deeper down the rabbit-hole. The father and son started hearing rumours about an old man who lived somewhere up in the mountains, right after they came across a curious piece of artwork in black ink. The art was painted in the likeness of an octopus and had apparently been discarded, or more likely lost by its owner, said to be a young westerner and a member of the infamous Yakuza crime syndicate.

According to the fables, told in hushed backrooms by merchants who would prefer not to be named, the old master was the key to bringing mythical creatures into existence. Intrigued by the idea, Kurtis and his father bribed a Yakuza member to tip them off on a possible sighting of such a creature. They were not disappointed. A few days later, while driving the route supplied by the informant, Kurtis and his father caught a glimpse of a young man, wielding eight arms, as he robbed a cash-in-transit convoy in Tokyo. Soon after the sighting someone in Kurtis's new-found circle of informants let slip the name 'Pierre Evans'. From that point on Kurtis was hooked. He knew this Pierre character could lead him to the old master. Mr. Evans, after all, was a product of the old man's teachings.

But now, sitting inside the rental van, it became painfully obvious to Kurtis that he had become a middle-aged playboy, slowly burning through his inheritance until he would be forced to sell off the family estate where he grew up as a boy. Despite all that, Kurtis still fancied himself a kind of modern Indiana Jones, he was going to uncover the secret these bastards were hiding and cash in on the rights. He would take credit for a breakthrough in weapons technology. His mind raced at the thought of it being militarized; that would translate into millions of dollars. An early retirement was on the cards if he played things just right.

Then Kurtis noticed a small ember in his peripheral vision, glowing then dimming. He peered out at the tavern, there was someone smoking by the window on the second floor with the lights off. He saw the cigarette butt get flicked out and spark on the sidewalk below. Then the light went on, but there was no longer anyone by the window.

The octopus was up there, right there across the street, a mere walking distance away. Kurtis felt the adrenaline tugging at his veins, urging him into action. He reached down into his duffelbag and donned what looked like a SWAT helmet, then secured the strap beneath his chin. He signaled the go-ahead to the team seated behind him. The van's side door slid open and the soles of combat boots rattled off into the night.

-Pierre Evans-

The room on the second floor was quiet, like the inside of a womb incubating something sinister. A chandelier in the center of the ceiling radiated a yellow tinge through dusty light bulbs, outlining dark grey wall panels, decorated with inlays of delicate foliage. Beneath the light-fixture a naked woman lay sprawled out on a Victorian canopy bed with the sheets draped over the curves of her hips. Beside the bed Pierre stood in his underwear, patiently watching her sleep. A tattoo of an octopus, with its tentacles coiled in elegant hoops, took up much of the skin on his back. He sat down, softly depressing the mattress and swept back a lock of hair from her face. His gaze wandered over her breasts and down to the soft curves of her buttocks, partially hidden beneath the covers

"Annabelle?" her name rolled forth in a British accent.

She was breathing deeply, still blissfully undisturbed, in the grip of some dream unbeknown to him. Pierre sat back, admiring her for a moment. Then he looked to the other side of the room to several lines of cocaine, smudged like tiny clumps of snow, unfinished, on a glass coffee table - the spoils of their celebrations. Beside the bed was an empty bottle of champagne, resting in a tub of melting ice. His lover's crimson, velvet dress was draped carelessly over a chair in the corner of the room. Beneath it sat a stack of new shoe boxes, all yet to be opened, piled on top of each other. Their spending spree had lasted almost the entire week.

The heist had gone down a week earlier, without incident, and afterwards they fenced the diamonds with Pierre's usual contacts. For the moment all seemed right with the world, at least along Pierre's normal train of thought. But another part of his mind, the part that watched constantly from the shadows, was skipping around from one thought to the next, indecisive, like a fly on a rotting bowl of fruit. He sensed the thing inside his head growing restless, it was waking, wanting to come out and stretch its legs. This thing inside him was not meant to live in captivity, even though it was already dead.

Pierre hesitated for a moment then decided to let his passenger's urges run free.

A dark viscous liquid seeped into the corners of his eyes, like swirling black clouds rolling in over the whites of his eye balls, engulfing them like a storm sweeping over the surface of a tiny planet. The woman on the bed stirred, sensing a growing presence in the room. The air grew humid, making her breath become heavy and more restrictive.

Pierre shuddered as his thoughts were sucked out from his mind and plunged into a cold unforgiving place, a place where he was gently being tugged along by the current while the ocean churned persistently in his ears. He was inside of a memory; not one of his own making, the chain of events unfolding before him belonged to his passenger. He looked up and saw the silhouettes of men treading water at the surface, lit from above by a full moon. The muffled commotion of screaming and splashing filtered down to him through the fridged water. A shark had slowly started circling the group of doomed sailors above his head. Then Pierre tore his gaze away from the shark, following the broken remnants of a sinking ship. It creaked and snapped past him with torn sails dancing on splintered masts like a water-logged ghost in the eerie moonlight. He pulled back as something floating in the current grazed the side of his face. A tentacle unfurled from the depths and swept aside the offending piece of cloth. It was the remains of a Spanish flag, torn to tatters. A wooden chest tumbled out from a gaping wound along the hull of the ship, spilling out dozens of gold coins. The small circular shapes drifted down in the water end-over-end like blinking fireflies, reflecting small bursts of moonlight on their decent into the abyss.

It's almost over now, Pierre thought. Somewhere in the back of his mind he faintly noticed the weight of his body returning and the soles of his feet taking refuge in the familiar texture of the carpet, savoring the realness of it. The sudden silence of the room was jarring. His senses seemed deprived of everything except the sound of his own breathing and thumping heart. He was still inside a quiet room somewhere in Paris. He had never left.

The whole flashback had lasted no more than a fraction of a second, yet it felt like he had been through an entire nightmare and back. The octopus tattoo was now wriggling and moving around. Pierre could feel it displacing the skin on his back, twitching as the two dimensional artwork came alive, moving its tentacles like snakes slithering smoothly just beneath the skin.

On the bed beside him Annabelle sighed and turned over. She was still half-asleep, but becoming more aware of the salty dampness in the air. Humidity was now permeating from Pierre, leaving a sheen of moisture against the walls and dampening the carpet, it seemed to be seeping into the very fiber of the room.

Pierre watched his lover intently, his eyes two black orbs in the sockets of his pale complexion. The tentacles crawled up over his shoulders, then pulled away from the skin and became fully formed limbs, things so real that their slimy coating reflected the dim light from the chandelier. Tiny blue and pink veins pulsed beneath the creature's wrinkly, semi-translucent skin; each tentacle lined with white, circular suction cups, like rows of fleshy pearls.

Pierre lifted an arm towards the bed and a tentacle mirrored his gesture obediently. He extended an open palm then pulled it back, as if pulling in a rope. The appendage gracefully wrapped around Annabelle's thigh. She let out a shriek of surprise, followed by a fit of giggles. The tentacle pulled her down to the edge of the mattress and lifted her up by one leg while her long hair dragged along over the bed sheets.

"Did you really think I wouldn't notice the cat hairs you tried to clean off the pillows?" Annabelle scolded, regarding him sternly as she hung upside down with her arms crossed. "That bitch was here and you tried to hide it from me, didn't you?"

"It meant nothing, Annie," Pierre said calmly. "I love you."

"If I catch that pussy-cat-whore in this room... I'll," she started but a tentacle shushed her, slipping over her lips and caressing her cheek.

Pierre moved his arms fluidly, like the conductor of an orchestra, making the tentacles coil around Annabelle's hips, then her waist. One slapped her buttocks while another squeezed one of her breasts. The small suction cups lining the underside of each tentacle left little pink love bites as they tugged and pulled at her skin.

Annabelle reached for the tentacle over her mouth and pulled it away, then sucked on the tip suggestively. She could see her reflection in Pierre's black eyes while he stood over her, grinning. Wood creaked as tentacles coiled around the bed-posts and up over the canopy, lifting the two lovers up in a suspended network of slimy vines, while the appendages caressed Annabelle's body, touching her in places that made her eyes roll back with pleasure. Pierre pulled her in close by her waist and kissed her neck. She arched her back, running her fingers through his hair.

Pierre's face was smothered between her breasts when he sensed the vibrations of muted footsteps coming from the hallway outside the room. He paused, looking towards the door.

"What is it?" Annabelle said, out of breath, still suspended in the tangled hammock.

Pierre held up a finger to his lips and motioned at the door.

"We have company," he whispered.

Annabelle froze, watching the door with a raised eyebrow.

The tentacles unspooled from the bed posts, lowering the two of them, soundlessly, down onto the mattress.

"Get under the bed," Pierre whispered, squeezing her hand, "quickly, Annie."

The door flew open with a splitting crack, so hard the doorknob left a dent in the wall.

Annabelle's naked body was pressed to the floor beneath the bed with baited breath. The doorway was empty. Pierre narrowed his eyes, anticipating movement then a gloved hand appeared in the doorway and tossed a metallic object into the room. It bounced along the floor with a chiming clink and came to rest near one of the bed posts. Annabelle gasped when she saw the canister-like grenade, only inches from her face. A tentacle shot out from Pierre's arm and snatched up the grenade, then quickly flicked it back out into the hallway. A surprised yell came back from outside the door, followed by a loud bang and blinding white light that rattled the chandelier overhead.

Downstairs Arno the bar-keep swore loudly in French as he jolted upright in his bed. He jumped up in a half-drunken haze from the night before, stumbling to the bar where he kept a loaded twelve gauge shotgun strapped to the underside of the counter.

Kurtis was taking cover behind an old wing back chair in the hallway when the flash-bang bounced back, stunning his men that were waiting to storm the room. Kurtis had managed to avoid most the explosion and got to his feet, slightly disoriented. His vision was hazed from the flash as he thumbed his tranquilizer gun, making sure the safety was off. There was coughing and swearing all around him in the hallway as his team slowly regained their vision. Kurtis steadied his rifle on the arm rest of the chair and took aim at the door, breathing in deep to calm his heart rate. He could hear the sound of footsteps nearing the door. Kurtis was fully prepared to shoot the man that came out of that room - only what came out wasn't a man at all.

Suddenly tentacles spilled out from the doorway like water surging into the bowels of a sinking ship. Two mercenaries got pulled into the room on their bellies in a frenzy of scraping fingernails. Screams came from inside the room, not the screams of battle-hardened men, but the screams of terrified little boys. A dull thump rattled the floorboards, then a crack; the snap of a bone breaking, followed by a bloody gargling sound that tapered off into a whimper. The remaining mercenaries crawled backwards on their elbows and heels along the edge of the wall with fear hindering their every movement.

Kurtis jerked with surprise and spun around when a Viking-like battle cry erupted from downstairs, it was Arno, the bar-keep, charging up the steps while clutching his shotgun. He fired the first shot into a mercenary's armored chest plate, knocking him off his feet. The downed soldier swiftly drew a handgun from his holster and fired. The shot hit Arno in the shoulder, sending him tumbling backwards down the stairs. Arno fired off a second shot into the air as he rolled backwards, making plaster rain down from the ceiling. Kurtis heard the barkeep coming to rest at the bottom of the stairs with a painful groan.

The mercenaries regrouped into a tight formation with their weapons trained on the door. Kurtis took point, moving forward stealthily, transferring his weight slowly from his heels to his toes, trying his best to avoid creaks in the floor. He crouched outside the door and slipped one hand into the side-pocket of his backpack. He pulled out a small stick with a mirror affixed to the end and extended it around the corner. Kurtis frowned, trying to focus on the small mirror image. Inside the room he could see three of his men on the floor, their contorted bodies bathed in dark pools of blood. He tilted the mirror upwards slightly and saw a man in his underwear, sitting quite calmly on the side of the bed with his hands resting in his lap.

"If you had only knocked I would have opened the door," Pierre said.

"Fuck you!" Kurtis roared from the hallway. "I know what you are!"

"I doubt that very much," Pierre said, barely raising his voice.

"You're some kind of fucking freak," Kurtis said, looking at the little mirror with his head pressed against the door frame.

"I, my good man," Pierre said, standing up from the bed, "am some kind of fucking god!"

Tentacles erupted from Pierre's arms and grabbed a hold of the bed posts. He flung the entire bed at the doorway while Annabelle lay on the floor, covering her head with her arms. The crash made Kurtis and his men jump back from the door. The only way into the room was now blocked by a barricade of broken wood and tangled bed sheets. Pierre scooped Annabelle up from the floor, covering her face with one hand as he vaulted at the window. Tentacles latched onto the sides of the window frame, catapulting both of them out of the building in a shower of broken glass to the street below.

Kurtis was pushing up against the bed blocking his entrance when he heard a crash and the sound of a car alarm.

"Outside!" Kurtis shouted, turning to sprint down the hallway. "Cut them off, they're outside the building!"

Tentacles gracefully lowered Pierre and Annabelle down from a street lamp to the sidewalk below. He set her down beside him, admiring her naked body for a fleeting moment and making her blush. She covered her chest with her arms in a mock-modest manner. Pierre tore his eyes away from her and glanced up and down the empty street, there were no mercenaries in sight, yet. The sun was rising in the distance, casting the first rays of light over the rooftops. Pierre sent up a tentacle to the broken window on the second floor and tore a curtain off its rail. He draped it around Annabelle in a makeshift dress and tied a fat oversized knot behind her back. She smiled when she spotted her ridiculous reflection in a car window and gave him an amused nod of approval.

"Je t'aime," Pierre said, stepping back to admire his handy-work, he leaned in and planted a kiss on her lips.

"This is hardly the time for - watch out!" Annabelle shrieked. She pulled Pierre down by his arm as a tranquilizer dart whistled past them, barely missing Pierre's face.

Kurtis swore as he chambered another dart into his gun. Mercenaries were now advancing towards them from both ends of the narrow street. Pierre grabbed Annabelle's hand and ran with her, ducking in behind a row of parked cars.

"This way!" Pierre said, leading her to a manhole cover. Tentacles coiled out from his arms and pried open the heavy steel lid.

"We're going down there?" Annabelle said anxiously.

"You are my dear," Pierre said. "Yours truly is going to stay behind and fight off these pricks, like the utter bad-ass that you know and love."

"No," she said, shaking her head. "You can't leave me down there alone."

"I will find you again, Annie. I promise," he said.

While in mid-conversation a tentacle slithered out from Pierre's shoulder and seized him by his neck, squeezing down hard as he staggered back, clawing at it with his fingernails and fighting for breath.

"What's going on?" Annabelle cried, shrinking back from him. "Why is it attacking you?"

"Goddammit!" Pierre hissed through his teeth. "Not now you stupid cunt of a squid!"

Pierre could feel himself losing control. He felt the ink seeping into his mind, staining the folds of his brain with dark blotches of madness. A sharp jab in his chest knocked him backwards against a parked car. The attacking tentacle released his neck and withered back into his skin.

"No!" Annabelle shrieked, lunging towards him. Kurtis grabbed her from behind. She kicked and screamed, wriggling in the fabric of her curtain dress.

Pierre looked at Annabelle in the grip of a stupid daze. He slumped down, feeling the cobble stones graze his knees. His head rolled forward and he saw the white fletching of the tranquilizer dart rippling in the breeze; the tip was buried in the skin of his chest.

Pierre watched helplessly, paralyzed, as two men cable-tied Annabelle's hands behind her back and gagged her with a cloth.

Kurtis bent down over Pierre and slapped him across the face with the hard knuckles of an armored glove.

"A god, you said?" Kurtis laughed. "Let's see some miracles, then."

Pierre felt himself beginning to slip out of consciousness. He could still hear Annabelle's cries as she was taken away. Kurtis slapped him again, harder this time, he tasted blood.

"Stay with me now," Kurtis said, holding Pierre's slack-faced jaw. "You're going to take me to the old man who turned you into this thing, you understand? When you wake up you're going to get on a fucking plane, and I'll have people watching you every step of the way. Needless to say, if you don't come to the party, the girl dies. So I guess it all depends on how much you care about her."

The sound of shuffling boots on the cobble stones and Annabelle's squirming faded away as darkness closed in and Pierre lost consciousness.

Strangely, the last thing Pierre remembered as he drifted off to sleep was a memory of Annabelle in bed next to him, teaching him how to swear in French.

Betty, the resident cook at The Thieves' Guild, had come in for work that morning to find Pierre unconscious and Arno bleeding from a bullet wound in his shoulder. Pierre woke up some time later to Arno biting down on a leather place mat while Betty dug the bullet out with a fillet knife. She cleaned the wound with some Vodka from the bar.

writing here…

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Shaun M: Well written story. The climax of her kidnapping was a bit jarring and I thought it was a nightmare at first. But overall enjoyed the story.

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