previous: Charmanderchar1692 ch4
The man that stood before me was difficult to read. At roughly 6’3″ he wore a tailored suit, with metallic red tortoise frame glasses. He spoke with a slight accent, hinting at his exotic background; Colombian, Venezuelan or maybe even Puerto Rican. (That was a possibility since he otherwise sounded very much American, possibly from New York.)
Scanning his body; face, neck, and other exposed skin, he looked pretty much the same as he did in the security footage Henry had shown. My eyes had been focused on his shaved head and distinguished facial hair. However, face to face, I could see dozens of metallic scars on his arms, chest, neck and even under his eyes. His unique look reminded me of the Terminator movie series; a robot trying to wear a human costume in order to blend into society.
“Oh, hello, sir.” I reached out my hand, flashing a smile usually reserved for job interviews. “It’s a pleasure.” That was when I saw my hand. “Oh, I’m very sorry.”
I had not had a chance to wash my hands since handling a newborn baby, then skinning and butchering a random rabbit. Needless to say, I looked less than presentable. “I’m Charli.” I started to lower my hand in case the stranger was truly grossed out by my lack of class.
The man chuckled, shaking my hand like a high school guidance counselor who moonlighted as the football coach. “Yes, I think I’ve heard of you, my dear. Aren’t you his new girlfriend?”
“Vice’s girlfriend?” I asked with a nervous giggle. The idea seemed a little presumptuous.
“I assume that’s why you’re holding his keys.”
I looked down at my hand. “Oh yeah, totally.” I smiled as big as I could, twirling the keys like a fidget toy. my eyes glanced towards a nearby antique clock. ‘That can’t be right.’ it was nearly nine in the morning. “Are you here for an appointment?”
“Yes, Vice is expecting me. We have some issues to discuss.” he turned, glancing at the clock. “I’m actually a bit early.”
He seemed nice enough, but I knew better than to ask his name. Instead, I simply straightened my posture, giving my best Christina Hendricks impression as I knocked on the door. “An appointment is here for Mister Vice Paul.”
I could hear furniture being arranged. I assumed this was a side effect of two bodies getting re-dressed.
Soon Alicia appeared, wearing nothing but Vice’s leather jacket and her prosthetic legs, along with a pair of metallic silver panties. Her overall look gave off a ‘futuristic call girl’ vibe. “Mr. Vice will be out in just a moment,” she said, smacking her lips as if she was chewing gum. Her fake ‘Boston-like’ accent reminded me of the DC comics character Harley Quinn. “Can I get you anything?” Alicia batted her eyelashes, posing her lips like a blow-up doll. “Coffee, tea,” she moved closer to him, stroking her fingers along his chest. “Or me?”
The man offered a polite smile and shook his head. ” I’ll just take a seat in the foyer, If it’s all the same to you.”
“Fine by me, mister,” Alicia said, blowing a kiss, just as Vice emerged.
Our master had a noticeable amount of white powder on his nose, but it apparently allowed him to fully express his happy, polite businessman demeanor. “Hey, man, great to see you.” he said shaking his guest’s hand. “You look good.”
“You too.” the taller man cupped Vice’s face, pulling him close for a tender kiss. The men held the expression of love for longer than (I personally) expected.
When their embrace was finally released, the man fell forward slightly, catching his balance by leaning on Vice’s shoulder. “My apologies,” the man said with a chuckle. “Must have been the scotch I had on the ride over.” Vice had clearly siphoned something from the man.
Licking his lips like a vampire who had just fed, Vice rolled his shoulders, stretching his back. “I always look forward to our time together.” Our captor smiled seductively as he kissed the man’s cheek. “Let’s get you to the back.”
Alicia bowed her head, gripping my hand. “Charli and I will head back to the bedroom and await your return.” Alicia then took the keys from my hand, pretending like she had been the one holding them the entire time. “Is that alright, baby?” she asked, licking her lips as she played with Vice’s keyring between two fingers.
“Take the stairs,” Vice said calmly as he forcibly grabbed his keys from her hand. “And lock yourself in the room.”
“Yes, Master Paulie,” she said, flashing him doll eyes. Alicia grabbed my waist dragging me in the opposite direction before Vice could even close the door to his private room.
“Wait, there are stairs here?” I asked in a whisper. That was some valuable info.
“Yeah, but just from the bedroom to the main floor.” Alicia led me to a bookshelf, behind which was a tall painting. The canvas easily moved to the side, like a shower curtain. “Any other questions?”
I had a crap ton of questions but I decided to start with the obvious one. “Where did you get the meth?”
“Vice’s personal stash. he has all kinds of crap in that office,” she said, sliding down a dark tunnel that resembled a trash chute. “He says it helps with the creativity and concentration.”
“Fair enough.” I followed her lead, landing back in the bedroom via another secret curtain. This one was a hand painted movie poster of the 1991 film, Silence of the Lambs. It was actually pretty impressive.
Alicia immediately pulled up a rolling office chair and sat at Vice’s open laptop. Pressing the spacebar resulted in a prompt, demanding a password. “Huh, that’s interesting.”
“What is?” With how close she was to Vice; I was genuinely curious if she already knew his login info.
“Hum,” Alicia said, puffing out her cheeks like a toddler. “What do you think it is?”
“I don’t know, maybe something about cannibalism; blood, baby eater?” I started to look around, feeling the walls for any other hidden spaces.
“Hannibal Lector?” Alicia asked, pointing at the poster. “Nah, that’s too cheesy.”
“Maybe Mads Mikkelsen?”
“The guy from the new Hannibal series,” I said with a shrug. Mads Mikkelsen was actually one of my favorite actors. “I think he’s from Denmark.” Stroking my hand down the wall, my fingers encountered a seam, just below Vice’s side of the bed. The panel was easily opened, inside I found an air pocket concealed within the pattern of the wallpaper. Carefully, I inserted my hand. What ever was inhere was obviously very important to Vice. I was expecting to encounter some kind of puzzle or trap, instead there was a single hardbound diary the size of my hand. What would Vice keep in such a small book? “Property of Annaleigh P?”
“Annaleigh?” Alicia quickly typed the words. “I’m in!”
I had a feeling the name was more than just his password. Opening the manuscript’s pink plastic cover, I found a scrap book made of articles, photos and other memories. Everything was secured to the pages with packing tape, allowing for larger pictures and articles to be folded to fit without much damage.
The first article was about Michael Paul, a Mississippi based preacher who lost his university professor wife to ovarian cancer. He was starting a scholarship foundation in her honor. The photos of the wife were pristine, while images of the preacher had their eyes colored black. One photo of him giving a speech, even had horns and other satanic costume pieces. But even without eyes, there was no doubt Michael was Vice’s father (or maybe an uncle.)
I briefly looked at Alicia who was rapidly typing into the command prompt. “Are you communicating with Henry?”
“My dad?” She paused. Somehow the idea had not occurred to her. “I guess that will be my second goal. Right now, I’m trying to get a view of VP’s office.”
“Oh, okay,” I replied, not really paying attention. I flipped to a new section of the book; a series of articles about a woman named Claire Millette. Much like the preacher’s wife, she was a scholar, a college professor with multiple degrees. According to a clipped article from University of Florida alumni magazine, her professional life’s work was focused on robotics, and kinesiology. She was working with the US military, creating prosthetic limbs that would allow humans to regain control of their damaged nerves and muscle tissue via the use of microelectronic stimuli. The next page was a polaroid picture, signed, ‘For you, VP, Happy Birthday. I’ll always be your Claire-bear.’ The topless image was something a loyal, loving wife would take for her husband.
At first glance I thought she kind of looked like me, but that was just the hair color. The tall red-head with ocean-blue eyes, was a brilliant woman with the face and body of a pageant queen. This made her disappearance all the sadder.
Apparently, on a hot summer day in July, twenty-five years ago, Claire-bear had gone out on a boat for a work-related event and never came back. Later that week, her butchered remains were found washed up on the beach. Her head was found nearly a mile away from her torso, and her left hand (and with it her wedding ring) had never been recovered.
Claire left behind her husband Vincent Michael Paulson and their two-year-old daughter Annaleigh Milette-Paulson. I already guessed he had a daughter named Annaleigh, but to see the next few pages dedicated to a sweet little girl: it nearly broke me. There were pictures from birthday parties, graduations, even prom. The next page was an obituary written by her daddy.
‘My dearest baby, I hope that within your short years on this earth you knew just how much you meant to me. Your love made life worth living again. I don’t know why God chose to take you from me the way he did. I can only assume you have a spot waiting for you in heaven, right by your Mama’s side.’
I slammed the book shut, choking back tears. I should have put the book back where I found it, but there was more. My hands were trembling, I didn’t want to turn the page. ‘Please be something positive. Don’t be an article about her murder.’ No such luck.
“Annaleigh Renee Paulson, age nineteen was brutally raped and left for dead outside the University of California campus.” I quickly closed the book, putting it back in its space. “Why does he hold on to such pain?”
I turned to see Alicia focused on the screen. “Nothing. What did you find?”
“I got a feed.” She had found her way into the security camera network and was focused on what exactly was happening between Vice and his client.
Despite the feed being in black and white, I could see the figures clearly. The man was pinned to the wall, but he wasn’t tied up. “Can you zoom in on his shoulder?”
“Sure.” Alicia typed in coordinates, repositioning the view. The man was connected to the wall via a series of cords coming from his back and neck. The whole setup looked a bit like a crucifixion. “He’s like a human sacrifice.”
Alicia immediately started typing again. “I’m going to zoom back out now,” she said with a tone of seriousness. She wasn’t at all nervous, she was working from a plan.
“Okay.” I took a seat by Alicia’s side for a closer look. “Can we try to make contact with your dad now?”
“In a second,” she said placing her arm between myself and the keyboard. “I want to see what Vice is up to.”
“Um, okay.” I had no intention of taking control of the laptop without her permission, so her aggression was a little disturbing.
I lifted my hand to the screen, hovering an inch above the surface (to avoid fingerprints.) I made sure to not block Alicia’s view, since she seem to be laser focused on Vice’s actions. ‘Henry, can you hear me?’
The crucified patient suddenly looked straight at the camera. Thankfully Vice was too busy working to notice. The muscular man tilted his head like a doll, blinking once then twice.
“Is that morse code?” I asked.
Alicia glanced at what I was doing, both my hand motions combined with the man’s eyes. “No, I think morse code has more pauses. This seems like binary; ones and zeros, off and on. Is he talking to you?”
“I’m not sure.” I lifted my hand to the screen, concentrating with all my focus.
With every turn of my wrist, the man’s neck turned. It was like I was controlling a puppet. Was this Henry attempting to make contact? It had to be.
Out of the corner of my eye I could see that Vice prepped a series of injections. He started on the patient’s chest, working his way down his abs. The last injection went in just above the hip. The constellation of marks resulted in a glowing map. Next, Vice picked up his small welding unit that looked remarkably like a tattoo gun.
He was creating (or perhaps upgrading) a board embedded in the patent’s side. Alicia nodded, and turned away from the screen. “So, what’s with your name?”
“What do you mean; Charlotte, Charli?” I asked, taken aback by her change of tone.
“The whole 1692 part of your channel name. I get Charmander; it’s a cute little Pokémon and its catch phrase sounds like he’s trying to say ‘charlotte,’ right?”
I forced a laugh. “Wow, you really are a fan.”
“No, it’s just that cringey and predictable.” She picked up a round red pillow from the seat of the chair and threw it at my head. “Pokeball go!”
“Funny.” I grabbed the pillow holding it comfortably to my chest.
“But seriously-1692; that’s a reference to the Salem Witch trials, right? You a fan of witches or something?”
“No, just a wannabe goth who believes in paranormal shit,” I said with a shrug. “Witches, Slenderman, whatever.
Alicia scoffed. “Why do I think you’re lying?
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“What if I told you that I think you’re descended from accusers?”
“I’d say you’re full of shit.”
“I don’t know, you kind of remind me of those little children who sent entire neighborhoods to the gallows.”
“And now you’re mixing up American and European history.”
“I am Canadian.”
“As am I.”
“Yeah, well, even I know that the laws and rules of the American witch trials were influenced by the church sponsored carnage of Europe.”
“Yeah, well, I just like witches,” I said shooting her a coy smirk. “Sabrina, the sisters of Charmed…” Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the screen. Vice was putting away his tool. I leaned in close, hoping to catch a glimpse of the final results.
Why was he so concerned with immortality when everyone he ever loved was already dead? If it was me, with a loving partner and a child waiting for me in heaven, I would be tempted to punch my own ticket. Not that I had much to live for currently.
My brain, a mass of true crime knowledge, suddenly decided to remind me of the murder of Sylvia Likens; the long, drawn out sadistic torture that the young girl endured. She was mutilated, starved, beaten and burned. Her Hell ended only when her body simply gave up. Similarly, thanks to Vice’s removal and subsequent devouring of my sexual organs, I would never be able to have children. With the massive scar on my stomach, I would never get married. (Maybe.) Unlike the murdered teen I, at least didn’t have the word slut carved into my abdomen.
Did Vice believe that suicides went to Hell? Personally, that was the only thing keeping me from doing it. If I wasn’t a total coward, I could easily gut myself with any number of sharp objects that decorated the room. Maybe Vice believed that he was more valuable alive, to continue his twisted version of his wife’s work? Or did he know the identity of the people responsible for the deaths of his loved ones? That was very possible. Of course, there was another possible answer; Vice just wanted to play God.
I considered asking Alicia about the notebook, when suddenly the camera feed went black. There was a message box prompting the choice of: ‘Cancel’ or ‘OK.’ Without much hesitation she clicked ‘OK.’
“Why did you do that?”
Alicia shrugged, with a look of indifference to the situation. “It’s Vice’s laptop, what’s the worst that could happen?”
As soon as the words left her lips the feed popped back to life. The patient was laying on the floor, with Vice kneeling over him. It took a moment for me to realize what was happening; Vice was performing CPR.
“Huh,” Alicia muttered, typing a little more. “Something must have overloaded the network.”
“What happens now?” I asked, since Alicia was still disturbingly calm.
“The same thing the happened to me; Vice is going to dump the body into a cell, and see what materializes. Your robot eye can detect heat signatures, right?”
“I guess so.” I’d almost forgot about that. Similar to the first time, I glanced around, focusing my energy but I couldn’t see anything from inside the room. This was either because of the nature of the walls (some sort of anti-wi-fi material) or the fact that Henry was no longer helping me. The second option made me want to vomit. “It’s not working. Must be something about the room.”
Alicia still seemed unconcerned. “Vice should be down here soon. I’ll keep him distracted while you sneak up a floor.”
“Sounds good,” I said with fake confidence.
“See if you can find where the new guy landed.”
“That’s the plan.” There was a very real chance the man was still alive, if that was the case I needed to know if he was a prisoner or some kind of Terminator-Hulk monster. “What should we do until then?”
“I was planning on getting some sleep.”
“Pretend to be asleep, yeah sounds good.” I reclined in bed by Alicia’s side. Was this how Sylvia Likens felt, sleeping alone in the basement as she suffered? I closed my eyes and soon my mind found actual sleep.
I awoke to the bed moving. I assumed they were having sex (which was the last thing I wanted to be present for.) I cautiously slipped out of bed, if caught I could easily claim to be going to the bathroom.
I made it a point to look briefly in Alicia’s direction locking eyes with her, as if to say goodbye. When I got a nod, I made my way back through the movie poster. Diving into the darkness, I felt like Alice in Wonderland; there was no up or down, only big and small, my voice existing in my own head.
When I finally reached the studio floor, I pressed my hand to the nearest wall, searching for any kind of signal. I could see flickers of an illuminated map, but nothing as strong or clear as before. I couldn’t even recall how many heat signatures I’d observed previously. I felt lost, but then I realized that Alicia’s cell was currently unoccupied (or at least it shouldn’t be.) I looked in the direction of where I had once seen her pregnant legless form.
What I saw now was very different. There was a large humanoid shape; clearly a man resting comfortably on his back, as if asleep. Something was odd; the color was inverted, as if the man was a shadow emanating a ring of heat. ‘What did that even mean?’ Was he dead, alive, on fire? Or was he transmitting a signal? I had no key and would likely get lost in the lower levels of the dungeon, but I had to check it out for my own sanity.
I just had to hope and pray for two things. First was that Alicia had Vice under enough of a spell (or a lot of drugs) to send him to sleep for the rest of the night. I assumed, if our captor knew what I was doing, I was as good as dead (or cut into pieces and kept alive for fresh meat.) Secondly, but most important, I needed my eye to keep working long enough to guide me to where I needed to be.
I recognized the area in front of me as Alicia’s former cell.
I could make out footprints in the gravel encrusted dirt floor. Whichever way the man’s body entered the room, it was not through the main door.
I placed my hand on the cold metal door, expecting to be greeted by rust or caked on dirt, but the surface was oddly clean. Holding my fingers apart like an antenna, I could feel soft, soothing vibrations.
‘Sir, if you can hear me; my thoughts, my truth. I beg of you to give me a sign.’ Silence. ‘A pattern shift, a stronger signal, anything you can manage.’ Anything to prove I wasn’t wasting my time talking to a glorified radiator. More silence. ‘Or not.’
The man was probably dead; his corpse being consumed for energy. Soon an actual killer robot would emerge and I would likely be his first victim. I was ready to turn and attempt the grim process of retracing my steps back to the safety of Vice’s bed, when I noticed the figure move.
The man sat up, holding his weight on his arms like a normal human (as opposed to sitting up like a zombie.) The vibrations abruptly stopped. I could hear footsteps, followed by the stroke of his hand, searching in the darkness. He was on the other side of the door. I swallowed hard, struggling to breathe. “Hello?”
“Charlotte,” he said in a pain-stricken cough.
I didn’t want to reply. The chance that this was Henry was one in a million, and I couldn’t let my heart feel that pain. Whoever this was, he was just going to lie to me, gain my trust. Maybe he’d even make me smile one last time.
“Charlotte, it’s me.”
“How do you know?” I asked with a squeak. “This could easily be Vice or one of his other projects.” There was a moment of silence as he contemplated my question. I knew I just gave myself away by speaking that last part at full volume.
“I choose to believe it’s you. Charlotte is the person I want, the person I trust. If that is not the case, then I’ll just pray for mercy from a non-existent God.”
I cupped my hand to my mouth, trying in vain to hold back tears. I needed to think of a question that only Henry could answer. Nope, drawing a blank. I would have to settle for a question that would determine if he was a friend or foe. “What do you hope happens to your grandchild?” It was an open-ended question that anyone could offer a response to.
“I want her to live a life of happiness. I want her to find a passion that will bring her joy, even if it’s not something that you can make a living off of. Anything that will give her heart a reason to shine. That’s all I ever wanted for Alicia.”
“And yet you don’t pray to hear her voice?”
“I’ve always been ashamed. I know we can’t turn back time. All we have is the future, until we don’t. While I would be open to reuniting with my daughter, I know that it’s not something I deserve.”
“Let’s say I’m Charlotte and you’re Henry, what should we do?”
“There’s something happening to this body. Soon I’ll be able to send Vice to where he belongs.” I felt a sense of peace, and then he said the second part. “And he can reunite with that whore of a wife.”
“Claire Millette worked for the government, laying the groundwork, which Vice has chosen to continue.”
“But who do you think she practiced on?”
next: Charmanderchar1692 ch6