A Handful of Dust
Roxanne Ryder wasted no time following up on the attacker's identity. At the next practice, she asked Calvin to check the police database for any incident that occurred that night. Internally, she wondered just how she could still function so soon after another traumatic incident. She wondered just what drove her onward, but the Gazer provided no insights. She had shared the vague details of her attack with her friends, but none had reported similar incidents.
"Yeah. An off-duty police officer named James Constanzo was killed with his own gun," Calvin replied. "No word on the assailant or motivation."
"Do you have any pictures of him?" she asked.
A picture of a muscular man in a police uniform appeared on the laptop screen, and Roxanne immediately knew that was the shrouded visage that was seared into her memory. The Gazer's finger pointed accusingly from the edge of her vision, although she needed no extra help in confirming this was the man that tried to kill her. "That's him. I'd recognize-"
"Wait," Abigail said, interrupting. "You said there was something odd about his movements. He could have been mind-controlled, or maybe on drugs."
"Hold on. Mind control?"
"Yes, mind control. It's an old, but extremely rare and potent spell. Sometimes, the victim doesn't remember their orders or who gave them, instead thinking of them as some irrational compulsion."
"He's dead, so it's not like we can talk with him," Sanjay added.
"Not exactly true. There is a necromantic ritual we can use to contact the recently deceased, but there is a catch," Abby explained. "One of us needs to act as a temporary host for the spirit."
"I'm not liking where this is going," Roxanne said. "But go on."
"It's like a seance, only it works. We channel a spirit into a living body, and then ask it questions. Afterwards, we dispel the spirit when we're done."
"What if the possessed person has another go at trying to kill Anne?" Calvin asked.
"We'll tie up and restrain the person that undergoes the ritual," Abby replied. "And if they are small and weak, they'll be easier to restrain. Thanks for bringing that up, Calvin. You'll do fine."
"Me and my big mouth."
"Don't worry, Calvin. I'm sure Abigail knows exactly what she's doing," Roxanne said as she patted Calvin on the back. "Don't worry. She's been giving us lessons in avoiding possession, so we'll be fine."
"Sanjay? Aren't you going to do anything?"
"Abby, you've got this, then?" Sanjay asked. "Have fun."
"Oh, you'll be a fine specimen," Abby said with a grin reminiscent of a mischievous child. "I haven't tried being a medium for a very long time, so I'll need some time to prepare."
"Why are you doing this to me?" Calvin asked, moaning. "What if I get possessed?"
"That's why I need time to prepare my exorcisms. Never invoke anything you can't put down," Abby said. "But we can do it tomorrow."
For the remainder of the practice, Roxanne wondered exactly what the ritual would conjure up. She wondered if there was an afterlife that the spirit was pulled from, if the spirit was just an echo of the original person, or if the soul was reformed from the oblivion in which it resided. She did not have an answer to those questions, and decided that she would rather not find out firsthand. Whatever Abby would call forth, she hoped it bring forth valuable insights about their enemy.
Roxanne knew it would not be an answer gained until she returned the following day. Instead, she focused on gathering herself and her thoughts. She meditated to herself in her room, sweeping over the events in the junkies' apartment, the strange house, and the dark alleyway. She felt there was a single, malign influence connecting them. She could see strands weaving themselves into a byzantine tapestry of death and dark magic. Recalling some of the incantations Abby had taught them, the Gazer helped to illuminate each, until a disconcerting thought catapulted itself forward from whatever void of memory had sealed it.
Roxanne imagined herself in the desert, standing before a dark skinned man that could only be Dr. Benjamin Kay. He was dressed in ornate robes and jewelry reminiscent of forgotten antiquity. While she felt some of the environs had a similarly ancient atmosphere, she immediately thought of ancient Egypt for some reason. She recognized no hieroglyphs, nor the gods immortalized in stone eidolons, but she instinctively realized the region as northeast Africa by some unknown geographical intuition.
The casual manner in which Dr. Kay banished her from that strange villa was disconcerting to Roxanne. She did not know how she was brought there nor why, but she figured it was nothing good. She could not recall the exact words she and Dr. Kay exchanged, but it resulted in her expulsion from the unconscious world of dreams and return to the waking world. She recalled visions of simoom rising above the starkness of a vast desert, and awoke still feeling the heat of a nonexistent sun upon her skin.
Roxanne wondered how the timeless sands of the forgotten desert interacted with her own heritage. What she did not expect, however, was to awaken in a cold sweat that night with the Gazer standing at the foot of her bed. As if obeying unwritten instructions, she returned to her meditative state and found herself smelling the briny air of a coastal town. A historic, but disused main street ran parallel to the beach, as storefronts from the previous century decayed before them. A breeze blew discarded paper and litter down the street, providing the only movement she saw. Nonetheless, she heard voices echo from a nearby alleyway.
Roxanne thought she saw Benjamin Kay heading down an alleyway where the voices were coming from, so she naturally followed with her kukri drawn. She could not see the speakers, but she immediately recognized one of the speakers as Abby.
"What were you thinking, looking through Dad's collection like that?" came an angrily, accusing voice. "Your meddling prevented him from doing his business!"
"I did what I had to," said Abby with an uncharacteristic stoic tone. "His business would've hurt my friends."
"You selfishness bitch! You had a duty to your family!"
"Not anymore. Now, get out of my way, Lisa, or I'll shoot. If you or any of your chickenshit friends try to follow me, I'll shoot them, too."
"You fool! Do you think they'll accept you if they know what you are? Get back here!"
A gunshot rang out, and Roxanne say a shadow that looked disconcertingly like Abby flit across the mouth of the alleyway. The smell of spent gunpowder filled the air, followed by Lisa's screaming. What had transpired, and over what causes, was something she felt Abby would mind recalling. Everyone had their own demons, but she wondered if it was best to confront them now, before this evil sorcerer did.
Roxanne finished the train of thought when she found herself in a darkened jungle. She heard exotic birds and insects calling at her from within the darkened foliage. While she shivered, she remembered the sweltering humidity of the tropics as if she had actually been there. She saw darkened shapes pass against distant lights in the jungle as the light of a full and gibbous moon filtered through the canopy. Somewhere in the darkness two golden orbs flashed at her.
"Contact!" shouted a man in an accent similar to Sanjay's. She saw a line of soldiers wielding high-tech rifles, young men no older than her. While darkness swaddled their faces, she could see the terrified visage of a boyish Sanjay as he grasped his rifle. The riflemen dropped into firing position, and a fusillade of gunfire illuminated the jungle in irregular, staccato bursts.
In the insane strobe of gunfire, Roxanne saw flashes of a grotesque stone statue of Mesoamerican design. Something shifted atop the statue, causing the gunners to redirect their rifle fire towards the top. Rust dark stains trickled down the sides of the timeworn sculpture, and a mangled body that had once been human tumbled from the top. The younger Sanjay's face filled with an unfamiliar look of terror, as something briefly darkened the canopy above them.
Roxanne gasped slightly as she saw Calvin typing on his laptop. He was entering a line of code into a command prompt, grinning with each line. His mouth opened with delighted surprise as he realized whatever he had tried had worked. He began to rifle haphazardly through a directory with "Police" somewhere in the directory name.
Roxanne saw Calvin's exasperation turn to horror and disgust as he began looking over some of the pictures he saw. The look on his face turned to anger, and he began to copy over files relating to a particular case. While Roxanne did not know what happened next, she could think of dozens of things an irate hacker could accomplish with incriminating data from a police database. She was sure a mind like Calvin's could consider far more than she could imagine.
A familiar presence seemed to shadow each moment of the vision as she tried to turn it. It was as though someone else had spied upon her friends' most formative moments and personal secrets. As she recalled the name of her nemesis, she invoked him by name.
"Dr. Kay, your ass is mine," she said.
The presence seem to flee after that, and she found a renewed sense of purpose. The hunt was on.