Available Darkness: Chapter 18
(Serial and Milk: Available Darkness is a serialized thriller co-written by David Wright and Sean Platt. A new chapter appears here each Friday. If you missed previous chapters, you can read them here.)
“A drink, Jack?” Director Bob Cromwell asked as Baldwin sat down at the bar in his boss’s den.
“”No thanks,” Baldwin said as Bob headed to the garage to grab a fresh bag of ice.
Baldwin’s eyes scanned the home, a monstrous estate on the Occoquan River with custom maple kitchen furnishings, dark granite countertops and appliances that shined with the latest in technological advances. The house looked like something from an architectural magazine, with an asking price somewhere north of $2 million – a bit more than he figured his boss could afford, but you never know what kind of money people have.
While the home was well furnished, it had all the warmth of a museum, the only hints of household personality in eyesight were the few tastefully framed photos on the fireplace mantle of Bob’s wife and college-aged daughter, who were both on a ski trip. Bob, with his wide, owlish face and sharp nose was absent from all but one of the photos, a Christmas portrait from at least six years ago, where Bob wore a rather unflattering green sweater with a reindeer on it. Baldwin held back the urge to laugh.
Bob returned with a bag of ice, poured himself a glass of vodka and sat across from Baldwin at the bar.
“How much do you know about Omega?” Bob got right to the point.
Omega was the group that sat just above Baldwin’s on the agency chart, the squad assigned to cases that Baldwin’s own team was unable to solve. They made sense of the senseless and found natural explanations for supernatural events. Their success rate was said to be 100 percent, though Baldwin had little interaction with them. Hell, he didn’t even know any of the members outside of Commander Mike Matthews, who headed up Baldwin’s unit for nine years prior to his promotion. They rarely saw one another anymore, though, given that both men’s’ jobs kept them on the road for the majority of the year.
“Well, I know they get our leftovers,” Baldwin joked, “but beyond that, not a whole hell of a lot.”
Bob took another long sip, finished off his drink and then poured another before reaching beneath the bar and retrieving a black folder with red text reading “CLASSIFIED” diagonally across the cover. Bob slid the folder across the short distance of the granite counter.
Inside were a stack of maybe a dozen neatly organized black and white photos and a stack of nearly 40 pages of reports. Attached to the inside cover was a single sheet of paper which read, “PROJECT PHOENIX.”
Baldwin picked up the first photo, and took noted of the handwritten date along the bottom right hand border which read, July 14, 1947.
In the photo, a black hooded, but otherwise nude man sat strapped to a large chair similar to the type sometimes used to restrain prisoners. His arms and legs were bound by leather straps and large metal buckles, his flesh was pallid and pocked with gray bruises. Baldwin had trouble making out the man’s age, as he appeared hairless and his genitals were concealed by his closed legs. Behind the man, a gray wall with a black sliding panel which seemed to conceal a long rectangular window.
Baldwin turned to the next photo. A young man with a buzz cut in some sort of unrecognizable military-looking uniform stood behind the man in the chair. The military officer carried no weapons or badges that might indicate his rank or branch of service.
In the next photo, the serviceman had removed the man’s hood. The captive was young, in his mid-twenties, hair wet with sweat (or water) and eyes wide in terror.
Baldwin felt beads of his own sweat begin to slowly blanket his forehead. He flipped to the next photo and saw the officer sliding open the black panel revealing a window behind them. A thick beam of brilliant light poured through the open window, spilling into the room and washing over the back of the strapped man. Though obviously not possible, it appeared that the shaft of light had sent the prisoner into a writhing fit of evident pain, his body arced taut, in attempt to break free of the restraints.
Baldwin gasped, his finger still shaking from the turned picture.
The man was still in the chair, but now consumed in flames. The officer had disappeared from the shot. The following photo was another view of the man on fire. The sequence continued, showing several military and scientist types examining the charred body. The photos closed out with extreme close-ups of the damage of the withered corpse.
“Look familiar?” Bob asked.
The burns looked similar to the victims in the serial murder case he was working, no doubt, but it was hard to tell from appearance alone if the fire shared the same intensity. Then Baldwin saw what he had missed before. Neither the chair or restraints displayed much fire damage at all.
“Christ,” Baldwin said, “what is this?”
“We call them feeders, though some of the agents call them vampires.”
Baldwin tried to digest the cold-cock of new information and figure how the pieces fit into the enigma of his case. He asked if his victims in the case were feeders.
“No,” Bob said, “but they were killed by one. These feeders seem to have the same effect on their hosts as the sun has on them.”
Baldwin cycled through the photos again, then started to rifle through the attached paperwork, none of it written in a language he recognized.
“What is this shit?” he asked.
Bob laughed, “It’s encrypted.”
Baldwin was fairly certain his boss was lying. Suddenly, he remembered something that happened in his department eight years ago to a rookie named Eddie Rienhart. The team decided to haze him by planting a folder with “alien autopsy” photos. They had Eddie pretty convinced, too, for a while. For a moment, he wondered if Bob was having one on him, but that was before he remembered that Bob was a humorless prick.
“They’re quite real, Jack. But I’m afraid you don’t have clearance to know any more.”
Baldwin would have wondered what the hell out loud, but Bob just kept on going.
“Unless we move you to the Omega unit.”
Baldwin didn’t even need to say yes. “I’ll take that drink, now, Bob.”
TO BE CONTINUED…
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