At work I decided to try to flex my mental muscle, the ones I had been practicing most of the night. I decided to turn the powers to my work. The ideas came quicker, I typed at double my normal speed and I could guess what people needed and wanted. My output was increasing so I occasionally slowed down and practiced. I tried to move things with my mind, guess what office-mates would do next and other silly things
Carol came in just after lunch for a briefing on a project. She stayed for a chat after it was finished.
“I heard you’re having more girlfriend problems,” she said. “In fact, I heard it was much worse, that she threatened to shoot you.”
“Don’t worry, she won’t come here,” I said.
“Oh, I’m not worried about that,” she said. “She’d never get past the guards if she did stop by. No, I’m worried about you. You can’t live here, though I’d like for you to if it’d keep you safe.”
“Thanks Carol,” I said. “I don’t feel worried at all. I can’t explain it, but I know she won’t do anything to me.” I shrugged my shoulders. “Maybe just a hunch, but, well, try not to worry about me.”
She laughed. “You do have a funny way of showing stress,” she said. “I think your productivity is even better than it was last week. At lunch I told Mr. Saunders that I think you should replace Tom when he retires in a couple of weeks. I think you’d shine there.”
She got up. “Anyway,” she said, “I’ll be off tomorrow, so if I don’t see you later, have a great weekend.”
“Hey, you too,” I said.
My cell phone rang just after Carol left. I was feeling pretty good so I stuck my hand out and let it come to me.
“Hello,” I said.
“You shouldn’t do things like that where people can see you,” Stan said.
“What, how did you know I did anything?” I asked.
“You’re just learning,” Stan said. “I’ve got quite a few years on you. Anyway, I want to tell you that we need to talk soon, but my calendar has filled up. A couple of multibillion dollar deals just happened at the same time and I’m needed to straighten out the mess.”
“Wow, I guess bad timing,” I said.
“Bad timing nothing,” he said. “This is not coincidence. There are forces out there working against us. Just remember that as you get cocky with your new found powers. Moving a phone? Something just moved GE and Citibank against us.”
“Uhm, yeah, and just what is this force working against us?” I asked.
“Look, I’ll take a break at 7:30 tonight and we’ll do a 5 minute video conference. I’ll make sure we have privacy on my end. You do the same on yours. And rip those stupid barriers down and start over from scratch. You can’t patch a wall made of shit and expect it to hold. Start over.”
“OK, I’ll do that,” I said.
“Talk to you. 7:30 sharp,” Stan said. “We will only have a few minutes.”
I concentrated on work the rest of the day. The promotion sounded great. I had rocketed my way up the food chain for the first few years I had been with my company, but suddenly hit a brick wall. I could tell people were disappointed in me, but I couldn’t figure it out. I now realized Bethy had my brain so hamstrung that I wasn’t able to function at work as well as I should have. Now with all obstacles out of my path, I could see hitting the top without a problem.
On the way home I drove by feel. I tried not to go any faster than usual or take any unnecessary risks, but I often moved when it felt right and then looked. I was always right. I felt that the car flowed more efficiently than ever. Even in the inevitable backup on 128 I was able to be in the moving lane at all times.
Once home I ripped down all of the useless barriers. I flushed the house with the flames of the sun then put a very simple but strong barrier around it. I cleared all of the barriers out of my mind except my special bunker. I set up new barriers and recreated a better version of what I thought of as my “secret reach weapon”, that is, an unblockable path out of my mind that I could use to reach for outside powers. I swept the house again and erected a new barrier less than a nanometer inside of the one I had erected earlier, one that was much stronger, much more durable. I did the same thing in my mind.
I grabbed a quick snack then went into my little office I had made from the third bedroom. I flushed it, just to be sure, then built a strong barrier around it.
Feeling safe I turned on the computer. I paid close attention and made sure it was secure.
At 7:29:45 I received an e-mail with a link. I clicked on the link, went through a short login process and was in. Stan filled most of the screen with a small box of me in the upper right corner.
“Much better,” Stan said. “Not great, but better.”
“Well, thanks,” I said. “And what is this important meeting all about?”
“This isn’t a joke, it’s something that has been building for almost a century and a half,” Stan said. “Please take it seriously. The memory of the Halley Branch reaches back into the 1720s. Its power, which was great to begin with, has been multiplied many times. In other words, this is evil that has been 300 years in the making. Do I have your attention yet?”
“Uhm, I, uhm, yeah, I guess so,” I said.
“Here is another way to look at it,” Stan said. “Miles wanted to concentrate power in a place so anyone who went there could soak it in. The Halley Branch wanted to concentrate power in a person and so be a little less democratic about it.”
“I’m still not sure…,” I said.
“I know you’re not,” he said. “But you don’t have much time to become sure. It’s going to happen soon. What he did to you last night? If he is in his domain, in the mausoleum, his power is a hundred fold. He has centuries of experience. And you? You do have power and you know how to harness even greater power, yet you have, what, two weeks of experience? We are talking a two week old house cat against a full grown Bengal Tiger.”
“Some pep talk,” I said.
“You don’t need a pep talk, you need to think,” he said. “I can feel him. He has set the trap and is about to let it play out. I can’t tell you when it will happen, but it should be obvious. Look at a calendar.”
“Why can’t you tell me?” I asked.
“I told you, he has touched us all,” Stan said. “For the most part I escaped, but I didn’t escape unscathed. I spent most of the first half of my life trying to figure out what in the hell happened to me. Science didn’t help so I became a philosopher. Once I knew, I concentrated on being a success so I can have the resources to… yeah, maybe I’ll tell you someday. Just listen. Don’t trust my brother. Not at all. Don’t trust any of the Hawkins branch for they’ve been tainted too. Just don’t, not even her. There is good all around, but he corrupts it and uses it for his own purposes. And though he doesn’t really lie, he is never telling you the whole truth. Never. Do not, I repeat, don’t get into any deal with him. It won’t turn out as you think. And remember, there will be no witnesses, no matter what he says. Despite promises to the contrary, no one gets out alive.”
“Sounds like The Benjamin I know,” I said.
“Benjamin? Is that the limit of your imagination? I think he’s won already,” Stan said. I realized he used almost the exact words Benjamin, or whatever I should call him, had used at Winnie’s house.
“Uhm, not Benjamin, then who?” I asked.
“I fucking already told you, weren’t you listening?” Stan said. “Sorry, but you need to wake up. Shit, they’re knocking at the door. I think I went on too long. I can’t be there to help. Sorry, I wish I could. Be careful.”
The screen went blank. I had just a plain, empty video conference window with a dialog asking if I wanted to close it. I clicked OK and was back at the desktop.
I put up another barrier around the guest bedroom, flushed it with fire, and then went to bed. I fell into a deep sleep. I vaguely remember dreams of corpses trying to drag my into crypts, but it looked more like a Hollywood set, not the real Hawkins Mausoleum or the Halley Crypt.
The alarm rang for almost 5 minutes before I turned it off. I did not feel rested. The bruises from Wednesday night were aching. I was sore and stiff. I looked at my phone to see the weather. Another hot humid day. And then I saw the little moon symbol.
I realized that Saturday, August 29, was a full moon. Is that what Stan was talking about when he told me to look at a calendar?
It was Friday August 28, so I had one day to prepare for Armageddon, or at least my personal version of it. My confidence from Thursday was gone, replaced with a deep ache and a lot of little pains.
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