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The Oracle's Journal: Amulets and Awakenings

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Chapter 1: Killers and Caves

6 September 2012, 12:32pm

The Cradle of Humankind, South Africa…

The fall happened instantly. It was so sudden that she was sure Eric didn’t even notice what had taken place until his backside had connected with the very step he had slipped on, and he called out a few choice words; words that entertained the rest of the students, who erupted with laughter. Jen could tell that her little brother was agitated. Not at the laughter, and not even at the fall. Truth be told, he would have laughed too had it been someone else. No, he was upset with the caves.

When he had learned their last stop on the trip was the Cradle of Humankind, the caves, he was genuinely thrilled. Jen wished she could say it was because it was going to be interesting and educational, but any idiot with eyes knew why Eric would have enjoyed the caves: dark, creepy, and perfect to get up to no good. But she could tell by his expression, his demeanour, his inability to say something nice that he couldn’t wait to get out.

With a grumpy guide and nothing to do but listen to history – boring, painful history – she could tell that he was ready to claw his own ears off and Jen wasn’t entirely sure he was wrong. Few students were interested in the tour, all looking bored, all looking disheartened. Where was the adventure? The exotic, unfamiliar sights? At this point, she’d settle for underground human beings. The Cradle of Humankind? She doubted it. Humankind was not this dull.

The cavern was massive, with openings above that had developed over thousands of years, openings that let natural light spill over the area. Still, even with the aid of the sun, the cave would have been dark, but Jen had spotted the electrical lights bordering the walls for extra support; some stable, the whitish-blue light curving around the rocks, others faint, hardly effective, and others flickering which, in the caves, was just plain creepy. But she could tell some kids didn’t mind; in fact, some of them – the horror fanatics and goth girls – enjoyed the creepiness, the only thing that was remotely entertaining to them. Yes, the history buffs and evolution enthusiasts were all smiling so wide it made Jen wonder if there was some type of natural gas-leak, but then she saw the expression on everyone else’s faces and tossed that idea clean out the window.

The sole feature that seemed to call to Eric – and if Jen was being honest, to her as well – was the places they couldn’t go. As they all descended deeper, she noted shadowy openings along the walls, tunnels leading to various parts of the caves. But the group stuck to one path that went down and as Eric moved, being guided deeper into the cave he wanted so desperately to escape, he managed to slip.

“Eric Storm!” the teacher shouted at the fourteen-year-old, her words drowned out by the laughter. “Watch your mouth!”

“Sorry, Mrs. Jackson,” Eric replied as he got up.

Just in time too. In all her sibling love, Jen was about to help him, but heaven-forbid she showed any kind of care. He dodged her the same way someone might dodge a bat swinging for their head and she knew exactly why. She could almost hear him thinking it.

What do you think this is, Kindergarten? School is a warzone. Don’t look weak.

Jen folded her arms and glared at her brother as though he had actually said the words to her. She could tell he was trying not to make eye-contact, knowing a lecture would be coming. But she didn’t walk up to him, and embarrass him. She sighed and shook her head.

“What’s wrong?” Blake, next to Jen, asked.

She swept her blonde locks out of her eyes to get a better view of Blake. Her legs nearly gave way as he flashed her a smile, one that had the same effect every time. Her boyfriend was remarkable, or at least she thought so. It was the tallness. Yes, his height made him better looking, not that it mattered, with his broad shoulders, his confident, near-perfect smile, his swimmer’s body, and his deep brown eyes, the eyes that held warmth, the eyes she had stared into a hundred times…

But now was not the time to ponder on how good looking she felt her boyfriend was. Jen was in a sour mood, and she hated being in a sour mood.

“What is wrong with him?” she asked. “I was just trying to help. It wasn’t like I was about to ask him if I could kiss his booboo.”

“Thank god,” Blake replied, chuckling. “He fell on his ass, so that would be awkward for everyone.”

She huffed. “This isn’t a joke, Blake. He needs to learn to watch his mouth. I mean, one day he’s going to say the wrong thing to the wrong person, and get the rubbish kicked out of him.”

“And when that does happen, you’ll be there to pick up the pieces.”

“That’s what I’m worried about; that he’ll be in pieces.”

“You worry too much,” Blake responded with a grin, taking her hand and following the group.

Jen observed her brother with his friends. There was a huge group of them standing in front of her. Now, Jen loved her younger brother, and she’d never say it out loud, especially not to him, but it dumbfounded her how anyone could take Eric’s nonsense. How they could be his friends baffled her completely. And how some actually tried so hard to be his friend even after he insulted them just physically hurt her, so Jen didn’t like to dwell on that thought too much.

Jen always said he needed to watch his mouth, but in truth, it was more than that. Eric needed to learn respect, not just for others, but for himself. His loud, joking-around, “I don’t care” attitude was surprisingly effective in public. But Jen lived with Eric and had noticed that at home the boy was not as flashy as he was when around people. Maybe it was a call for help. Or maybe it was the company he kept.

Jen sighed. Either way, for peace, she would keep an eye on Eric. What was the worst that could happen?

* * * * * * * * *

6 September 2012, 02:41am

Maxton City, United States of America…

Detective Melissa Holden was nervous.

This was a woman who made detective quicker than most of her male counter-parts. This was a woman who had broken the toughest suspects in interrogation within ten minutes. This was a woman who had taken on seventeen guys in a fire fight at once with nothing more than her wits and a handgun with half a clip, and lived to tell the tale. And this was a woman who had raised three boys alone – possibly her greatest feat yet. And she had done all this with nothing more than her instinct and nerves of steel – for the most part.

Nothing made Detective Melissa Holden nervous.

Which was a concern, because when she walked into this homicide, her heart nearly shot out of her chest.

It wasn’t the blood; she had seen her fair share of that. It wasn’t the brutality, the fact that the victims were missing their hearts. When they had told her that detail, she had shrugged it off like they were telling her what the weather was going to be. It wasn’t the fact that a woman was there, propped up against the wall, her hands nailed together right above her head. It wasn’t even their age, two parents, both thirty-eight, and their girls, one fifteen, and the other twelve.

It was the smell of something burning, it was the bowl of unusual herbs in the middle of the room. It was the fact that the one heart was still there, leaning on the bowl, a pool of blood underneath it. It was the symbol. Three arrows, the ends converged on one point, the arrow heads stretched out, pointing downwards. And in the middle of the arrows, a semi-circle crossing through them. Drawn in the blood of the victims. It was a sign she recognized.

“Chaos.”

Melissa turned to Captain Richard Samuels, one of the few people in the city who would know precisely what this sign meant, what this situation meant.

“Yeah,” Melissa replied in a whisper. “You heard?”

“Everyone’s heard,” Samuels said, his eyes glued to the sign. “A family massacre, especially in this part of town. That’s big news.”

“How big?”

“Well, Dan Rather isn’t sitting outside, but big enough.”

“I met Dan Rather once,” she replied, turning back to the sign, and then looking at the bowl, the herbs floating in the blood. “He was nice. Is it just me or does this seem a little like…”

“A ritual?” the captain finished. He was a big man, slightly older than her, but still staunch and grizzly, not a man you would want to go head-to-head with. But even he looked worried at what he was seeing.

“Yes, but a ritual to what?” Melissa asked. “Or, rather, for what?”

Samuels raised an eyebrow. “Are you asking because you’re hoping I’ll give you a different answer than what you’re thinking?”

“A girl can dream.”

“It looks like the cult.”

“I know, but it’s impossible. The Sons were killed off.”

Samuels made sure they were alone, and then whispered, “Maybe you missed one.”

Melissa twisted, looking Samuels in the eyes. “After what they did, do you really think I missed one?”

The captain held his hands up. “All I’m saying is twelve years ago, that sign was plastered all over the west of the city. And soon after, that hellish creature arrived from nowhere. And we both remember what happened after that.”

“How could I forget?” she replied, her mind flashing back to that day.

The monster, the fighting, the chaos of people evacuating the city. The entire world watched, not sure what was happening, still not sure to this day what was happening. A terrorist attack, they called it. She wanted to laugh every time she heard that. She remembered the argument with her husband, the final decision, the explosion. She remembered crying and screaming as then-detective Samuels pulled her away from the corpses.

She remembered damning the gods.

She also remembered what took place after that. The shoot-outs, the killings. The public called it justice, the police called it revenge, and the liberals called it a massacre. Melissa called it her night job. Nevertheless, that was the past.

“What do we know about the family?” Melissa asked, turning to a cop who was first on the scene as he walked up to them.

“Nothing much,” he replied. “The O’Malleys. The neighbour told me they were a normal, decent family, and from the look of things, it was just the four of them.”

“Neighbour was the one who called it in?”

“Yeah, he heard screams and dialled 9-1-1. We were close enough to run here, so we took the call. You were called when we realised this was not some domestic abuse case.”

“What’s your name, kid?”

“Mark, ma’am. Mark Rogers.”

“And you’re a cop?” Samuels asked.

Mark paused, glancing at his uniform as if confirming that he was dressed in the right clothes. “Yes, sir.”

“Are you old enough to drive at night?”

Mark hesitated. “I… I don’t understand.”

Melissa smirked. “How old are you?”

“Twenty-three last week,” he said.

“Twenty-three? You haven’t been on the job too long, have you?”

“Well, not as long as you, ma’am,” he said, chuckling, and then his face dropped. “Not to say that you’re old, or anything. Because you’re not. You don’t look a day over twenty. Not that I’m hitting on you or anything. Not to say you’re unattractive or anything, it’s just, I have a girlfriend and–”

“This is getting sad,” Samuels interrupted.

“Sorry, sir,” Mark said, flushed.

Melissa chuckled, something she rarely did at work, and Mark grinned innocently. Melissa turned on her heel, walking through the house, Mark following her. Samuels was right behind them. The ritual took place in the living room, but the children were found in the kitchen. The blood spread far and wide, smeared on the cupboards, swept across the floor, dripping from the counters. The one girl was on the floor, the other on the table in the middle of the kitchen. Both had holes in their chests.

“So, this is where he took the hearts out,” Melissa said. “Their deaths weren’t important to the ritual. Just the hearts.”

“Just the girls’ hearts,” Mark corrected. “The parents were killed, but that’s all.”

“So, just the girls,” Melissa said as she followed the trail of blood from the kitchen back to the ritual. “So, he brought the hearts here for the ritual. But why is there only one here? Where’s the other one?”

“He must have taken it with him,” Samuels said.

“Then what was the point of having both hearts?” Melissa replied. “If he just needed one for the ritual, why not target a family with three people?”

“Maybe he likes a choice,” Mark suggested.

“I doubt it,” Melissa answered, staring at the mother.

Her body was caked in blood, the majority of which was on her torso. She had been stabbed multiple times. There were bruises on the side of her head and around her wrists. She was also gagged.

“Where’s the father?” Melissa asked.

“Follow me.”

Melissa followed the young cop to the stairs of the house, moving to the second floor. The parents’ bedroom was at the end of the hallway and that was where they found the father’s body, lying limp on the bed. Even though the lights were on, the lamp next to the bed was shining too, almost illuminating him, displaying his wounds and panicked face as his hand leaned on the bedside table.

Samuels walked past Melissa, examining the body. “Slit throat. He must have attacked the mother first, smashed her head to make sure she stayed down, and the husband woke up, probably switched the lamp on to see what was happening. But it was too late.”

“Yeah,” Melissa agreed as she bent down in the doorway, examining slight traces of blood and fingernails. “He dragged her out of here, but he didn’t do a good job of knocking her out. She had torn out her nails trying to claw away.”

“Why didn’t she just scream?” Mark asked.

“He had already gagged her,” Melissa responded. “The bruises on her wrists suggest she was tightly restrained too. God, do you know how hard you have to be struggling to lose your nails clawing at the floor while bound?”

“She was obviously petrified,” Samuels said.

“Definitely.” Melissa turned back to Mark. “How did he get in?”

“Looks like the front door was forced open,” he responded.

“And they didn’t hear him?” Melissa asked no one in particular.

“Show me the door,” Samuels ordered, soon following the cop out of the room.

Melissa stayed behind, staring at the body and scanning the room. No markings or signs; the death of the father was purely for convenience. So, he walked in silently, came up and killed the father quickly, Melissa thought. Then he bound and gagged the mother before she knew what was happening and dragged her down.

But what about the kids? Melissa wondered. They must have heard the commotion. Then again, if the madman was holding a knife covered in blood at the mother, and the father was nowhere to be found, it may have been enough to control them. But to nail someone to a wall and then kill her and still control the kids… that needed more than two eyes and two hands to handle. Was there a second killer? If so, how did one of the girls get a scream out?

The girls…

“What was their significance?” Melissa asked aloud.

He wanted their hearts but for what purpose? Was there more to the ritual? Was the one going to be used again? He wouldn’t have hidden it in the house, would he? According to Mark, he didn’t have time before the police arrived, anyway. For one of the girls to scream, she would have needed to still be alive. At that point the 9-1-1 call went through. Assuming she was the only living family member, he would have had to kill her, cut out her heart, perform the ritual and then escape without being seen all in the span of… what? Ten minutes? Fifteen, max?

Killing her would take seconds, no doubt about that. Cutting the heart out? Minutes. At least that’s what Melissa assumed, considering that majority of rituals involving organs needed the organs to still be in good condition. Hacking and slashing it out at a speed would have been too risky. And then what did he do with the hearts? Why did he need them? What was their purpose? And why was there only one heart left?

“Ma’am,” Mark said, his soft voice breaking into Melissa’s mind. “Captain Samuels wants to see you.”

“Okay, thank you,” Melissa said, walking toward the door. She stopped and stared at the blood on the light switch. “Mark, were these lights on when you got here?”

“Yeah, why?”

Melissa examined the master bedroom again. Closets, drawers, windows, a bed, dressing table and more cupboards and then… a door. A bathroom, the door closed. The ritual, the dead woman nailed to the wall as a sacrifice… Melissa had remembered hearing something about this, years ago: twelve years, to be exact. What was it that her husband had said?

Everything about them changes. They become stronger and faster, but it takes from minutes to hours for them to reach full strength, depending on how they came to be. So, they have to hide. Plus, they’re easy to spot. They have that stupid purple glow.

“What if he didn’t leave the other heart on purpose?” Melissa whispered to herself, turning to Mark. “What if you interrupted him?”

“So, what?” he whispered back.

“Did you check the entire house?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“Including the bathroom?”

“I checked it myself…” he trailed off.

“What?”

“I left the door open,” he mumbled.

Melissa slowly drew her gun. “If you go through that much trouble for two hearts, you want those two hearts. Especially if you know that if you wait for a little while, you could take on whoever stands in your way.”

Melissa switched the lights off, darkness almost taking the entire room, except for the small night light. But it was dark enough to support what Melissa thought, dark enough for the proof to shine through. There it was, clear as day… the purple glow from underneath the bathroom door. Melissa had caught the killer, and judging by the screech that came from behind the door, he had figured that much as well.

“Run, now!” Melissa screamed, firing two shots at the door which burst into pieces as the glowing creature rammed through it.

It screeched again when a bullet pierced its flesh, but it kept moving. Oil black skin with a purple glow, long legs and long arms, toes and fingers shaped like spikes and just as sharp. With a wave of its hand, the creature swept Melissa out of the way, sending her crashing into the dressing table.

Mark, the young cop, the one with the kind voice, and happy grin, the one who made his superior laugh, was frozen solid. In fact, the only time he had moved after drawing his pistol was when the creature’s spiky fingers were plunged into his body. The creature raised the cop off the ground as he tried to scream. But he couldn’t, and even if he could, his scream would have been swallowed by the shriek that escaped the creature’s mouth as it opened wider, drool escaping to the floor. Its bladed teeth moved for the human flesh, but another shot rang out and the creature dropped to the floor as the bullet lodged itself into its knee.

Mark hit the floor too, blood now pouring from his wounds as the creature turned its attention to Melissa and screeched once more. But she was up, and she didn’t care what it sounded like. She fired off another shot, and another, but it dodged the bullets and burst through the window. By the time Samuels and the others made it upstairs, the creature had disappeared.

Melissa moved for the drawers and pulled them out, grabbing the thickest thing she could find. She leaped toward the young man, screaming for someone to call an ambulance as she set a thick jersey on the wounds, applying pressure. The blood continued to pour. There were four wounds that went through his entire body, and they were too far apart for one jersey.

“What…” Blood erupted from Mark’s mouth as he tried to speak.

“No, don’t speak, don’t speak,” Melissa said, blood seeping through the jersey, covering her hands, and a pool forming underneath him, hitting her knees. “Where the hell is that ambulance?”

“Mel…” Samuels tried to step in.

“Don’t even! We can save him!”

“What was that thing?” Mark finally managed to ask.

Melissa didn’t get the chance to answer. His last word carried his last breath.

“God, damn it!” she shouted, moving into a wall where she sat, back propped up, staring at his body. She put the bottom of her hands to her forehead. She wanted to bury her face in her hands, but the blood would have gotten everywhere. “Damn it…”

Samuels bent down next to Melissa. “I heard the screech. Was it…”

Melissa nodded, sniffling, trying to keep the tears back. “A chaos possession.”

“Then he was gone the second he was attacked,” Samuels whispered.

Melissa didn’t respond. She knew he was right, she knew how deadly these things were, but it didn’t make her feel any better. She stared at Mark. His face seared itself into her mind. His eyes were no longer hopeful, but filled with fear, even in death. Then her own eyes travelled next to him, to where the creature was standing, to where the creature bled. Black blood. Next to it, red blood. But it was droplets, not from Mark. Melissa stood up, Samuels following her to the drops.

“Blood?” Samuels queried.

Melissa shook her head. “Drool.”

Samuels eyes met hers. “Since when do they drool blood?”

“They don’t,” she answered. “They drool like humans drool. The only way it drools blood is if it had blood in its mouth already.”

“Did it bite the kid?” Samuels asked, turning to the dead cop.

“Not that kid,” Melissa answered, putting it together. “The younger kid. I know what it’s doing with the hearts; it’s eating them.”

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