This story stems from a strange guest in Shy's home. Maybe writing this was therapeutic? Or maybe her warped imagination is just coming along nicely. Either way - it was a blast writing it with her. SK would be proud! - Sue
Thanks, as always, to BB for the quick beta services. And a definite thanks to Sue for taking up my idea so whole-heartedly and giving it some pretty wild trimmings. Hope y'all enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it with her.--Shy
Out of the blue and into the black. - Neil Young
"Aztec rituals had the tendency to be bloody and gruesome. Explorers and other tribes, such as the Mayans and the Toltec, were shocked to witness the savagery of their rituals. As fascinating as that is, I don't want to focus on the Aztec rituals until later on in the class, right now I want to talk about one god in particular. His name is Mictlantecutli and he is known as the 'lord of the realm of the dead'. I think that's fitting for the approaching holiday, don't you?" Blair gave his students an evil grin and most laughed in return.
"Mictlantecutli was the ruler of Mictlan, the lowest level of the Aztec underworld. Suffice it to say, he's one guy you would hope you never got the honor of meeting." There were a few uncomfortable chuckles from his audience. "His symbolic animals are the spider, owl, and the bat. If you see one of these creatures, chances are you might want to run in the other direction. Mictlantecutli was someone you didn't want to mess with." Blair paused and several students leaned forward in anticipation, expecting something really good and morbid to come next. Blair had to hold off a grin. They weren't too far off if they wanted something strange and grotesque. "Now, you're probably wondering why I would pick this particular god out of all the gods in Aztec mythology." A few curious nods from the audience and Blair plunged on. "There was a very good reason and I'm going to show it to you, right now."
Blair knelt down to pick up his backpack and lifted it gingerly with both hands, careful of the object inside. He knew this was going to get his class. He removed the heavy statuette and placed it on a table to the right of the podium. It was nearly a foot in length and proved to be a pain to carry around. It wasn't beautiful or graceful either. It looked like a grinning skeleton that was sitting with knees drawn up, bony arms resting over them, leaning forward just a bit as if it found something particularly delightful to leer at. The eyes were round and too large for its skull, which made its toothy grin all the more menacing. There were a couple gasps from his audience and even a whistle of appreciation. Blair stepped back, gesturing a la Vanna White to the statuette.
"Everyone, I'd like you to meet Mictlantecutli. Of course, this is just a replica a friend of mine sent me. The real statue was discovered in 1979 by a group of archaeologists in Central America. Ever since then, legend and mystery have followed him. Shortly after his discovery, one of the archaeologists attempted to kill the other members of her party and subsequently committed suicide. It was never proven what provoked her violent behavior, but the timing was suspicious. There weren't a lot of details behind this incident, so unfortunately I can't say a lot about it, but if that's not enough to make you wonder, maybe this other story is. There was a professor at UCLA who requested to borrow the statue for a brief period of time. This happened back in the eighties, but I'm not sure exactly when. He was considered this really mild-mannered nice guy, a very keep-it-together person. Not long after he brought the statue home, strange things started happening. His wife reported to the police that he was seeing things, like bats, owls, and spiders. She even claimed that when he went into these hallucinations he would start bleeding profusely around his eyes, nose, ears, and mouth, though after it was gone there were no visible wounds on his face. The police didn't listen to her claims and three days later she was found dead. Her heart had been cut from her chest. Her husband was also found dead. He committed suicide. After that the statue disappeared and its current whereabouts are unknown."
Silence followed this revelation. Blair fought off a grin. He loved this story.
A hand was raised, and the young man asked, almost suspiciously, "Do you believe these legends?"
"Do I believe them?" Blair repeated. He pursed his lips as if seriously contemplating his answer, then abruptly said, "No." He pointed at the statue. "As fascinating as I consider legends and myths and the world of the mystical, I am purely a man of science. There are a lot of things I can accept. I've seen quite a bit in my travels, but homicidal gods living in stone statues isn't one of them."
The young man nodded, as if relieved to hear this answer. Blair grinned.
"Do you believe the stories, Mr. Kensington?"
The young man flushed, totally unprepared for his own question being redirected his way. "Uh, no. I mean, that's completely ridiculous."
Blair schooled his face. "Yes, sir. It is. But the Aztecs wouldn't have thought so. Which leads me to what I was going to get into next. The Aztec rituals." He paused. The students sat there, staring at him. "Um, this is the point you want to take out some paper and a pen and take notes." The students hurriedly complied and Blair plunged into a full-blown speech on Aztec customs and rituals.
Forty minutes later he dismissed the class. A couple came up to him to ask questions and soon they were gone too, leaving him in the room by himself. Blair knelt down behind the podium, grabbing his stuff he had left there before class, shoving papers and books into one of his backpacks, the other being reserved for the statue. He stood, slinging the first backpack over his shoulder, the other dangling in his hand and looked back toward the desk. The statue was facing him, grinning. Its lifeless eyes stared directly at him, pinning him with its stony glare.
He could've sworn the statue had been facing the front of the class when he had placed it on the desk. He shook his head and laughed to himself. He'd obviously managed to spook himself. After all, he'd been distracted by the two students when everyone else was filing out. He shook off the strange, prickling sensation that sent chills along his arms and back and set down the backpack in his hands so he could ease the statue into it. When his old friend Charlie had sent this to him last week, Blair had wondered what would have possessed his normally practical friend to choose this particular deity. After doing a bit of research, Blair had been delighted--as well as a bit spooked--by the stories behind the actual statue. He decided to use the statue for his class to emphasize the power of the ancient Aztec's beliefs. He was pretty sure it had gotten the point across.
After a brisk walk across campus, Blair opened the door to his small office in Hargrove Hall. He placed his backpack carefully on the floor in front of his cluttered desk and proceeded to pull the piles of papers into some semblance of order. He had promised to have the quiz papers graded and back to the students in his 9:00 class by the end of the week and he knew he was going to have to burn the midnight oil to keep that promise. Placing them into a neat pile on the edge of the desk, he bent down and unzipped his pack, retrieving the statuette from its leather prison. Standing up, he was suddenly assaulted by a wave of dizziness accompanied by a slight buzzing in his ears.
"Whoa." He placed his left hand on the desk for balance, keeping a firm grip on the statue with his other. The dizziness passed quickly and Blair shook his head to clear it. 'I guess skipping breakfast wasn't such a great idea.' He looked at the digital clock situated on the shelf to his right. 3:30. 'Damn. I guess skipping lunch wasn't very bright either.'
A sudden movement caught his eye and he jumped back as the large, black spider crawled from the backpack and brushed against his hand. The movement startled the arachnid which quickly moved across the desk, down the wall and disappeared behind the filinging cabinet.
"Jeez!" Blair could feel his heart hammering in his chest and forced himself to step forward. He strained his neck, trying to catch a glimpse of the spider over the desk. Nothing. He shook himself, trying to ignore the cold, prickly feeling on the back of his neck. He took a deep breath, and rubbed at his forehead. The strange buzzing in his ears was still present and his stomach was starting to growl in earnest. He placed the statue carefully on the desk and looked around, spotting a small cardboard box on the chair by the bookcase. He grabbed the box and loaded the test papers into it, along with the statue. He then placed the reference books he had picked up yesterday from the library in his backpack.
He took another deep breath and hefted the heavy backpack across his shoulder. He picked up the box and headed out to the parking lot, promising to have a chat with maintenance tomorrow about his small, uninvited quest. Jim was tied up in court for most of the day and was stuck doing paperwork for the rest so Blair had no need to get to the station. He planned on going back to the loft and getting a good start on the test papers before making dinner.
He balanced the box on his knee as he dug the keys out of his pocket and opened the door of the Volvo. Sliding the box into the front seat he tossed his backpack onto the floor and climbed in. He started the car and glanced quickly at the statuette, finding it lying snugly in the box atop the papers. With a weary sigh, he shifted into gear and pulled out of the lot.
The hazy fog hung low, blocking what little sunlight the late afternoon offered. The crisp autumn wind blew the fallen leaves playfully across the road as Blair turned onto Prospect Ave. He had decided to stop at the bagel shop on the corner to get something to snack on while he worked since the peculiar buzzing in his ears hadn't seemed to fade much on the drive home. His stomach grumbled at the thought of food and he glanced ahead, trying to find a parking space somewhere near the shop.
Movement from his right caught his eyes and he glanced quickly in that direction. The next few seconds became a blur. A large, gray shape swooped down toward the Volvo, its wings spread wide, effectively blocking the view of the street. Blair slammed his foot down on the brake, the tires screeching on the pavement. His body pressed forward against the steering wheel as the momentum of the car came to a sudden stop. Suddenly his body was thrown back, his head snapping forcefully as the car lurched forward. The steering wheel spun suddenly in his limp hands. The lurch was accompanied by another squeal of rubber from behind him and the loud crash of metal on metal. The Volvo's forward progress was stopped instantly by the impact with another car that had been parked alongside the curb.
Blair sat for a moment, his eyes closed, his breath coming in gasps as his body slowly registered the lack of momentum. He raised his head from its final position against the steering wheel, wincing as the muscles in his neck protested the movement. He could hear the sounds of horns and people shouting, but the sounds seemed far away. Gingerly, he raised a hand to his forehead where a persistent itch had registered, and was met by a warm wetness. Pulling his hand away, he confirmed the wetness was blood and carefully leaned back against the seat.
A rap on his window startled him into opening his eyes and he tilted his head to see the concerned face of a stranger standing beside his door. The man opened the door and kneeled down next to the anthropologist.
"Are you okay?"
Blair managed a nod, regretting it instantly as the pounding in his head increased.
"Just stay still," the man instructed, placing a hand on Blair's arm. "An ambulance is on the way."
"Was..." Blair's voice came out little more than a rasp and he cleared his throat and tried again. "Was anyone hurt?"
The man glanced back at the other vehicle and shook his head. "No. The lady who rear-ended you seems okay."
Blair breathed a sigh of relief and closed his eyes.
He squinted at the man, who held out a small handkerchief. Blair smiled and took the small piece of cloth, pressing it to the cut on his head. "Thanks, man." He winced slightly as he applied pressure to the wound, feeling gingerly around the cut at the slight swelling.
"Looks like you hit it pretty hard," the man offered. "Bet you're going to have one hell of a headache."
Blair merely nodded in response. The throbbing was accompanied by various aches in his neck and back as well as his chest and arms. He was pretty sure he was okay, but his muscles were going to be stiff and sore for the next few days. He was lucky, considering the fact that he had just been thrown back and forth like a ping pong ball.
Certain he had sustained no serious damage, Blair turned to the passenger side of the car, relieved to see the box still upright on the seat. He blinked a few times to focus his sight on the statue. It was sitting upright in the corner of the box, probably tossed about by the motion of the car. It's large, lifeless eyes were looking directly at him and he gave an involuntary shudder.
"Hey, you sure you're okay?" The man's voice cut through the suddenly loud buzzing in his head and he took a deep breath and leaned back.
"Yeah," he said without much conviction. "I'm fine."
The tow truck was just finishing hoisting the wrecked Volvo when the blue and white Ford pickup pulled up to the accident scene. The traffic flow had resumed as soon as the damaged vehicles had been removed from the street and Jim Ellison parked the truck alongside the opposite curb and hurried across. He looked around, his sight coming to rest on the pale figure sitting in the back of a patrol car. He released a sigh of relief and worked his way over to the car. His path led him by the tow truck and Jim winced at the damage to his partner's vehicle. The back end was crumpled as was the front right fender. From the looks of the car, the frame was still intact so the damage was hopefully only superficial.
He approached the patrol car, nodding to the uniformed officer leaning against the back fender. He noticed Sandburg's backpack and a cardboard box sitting on the curb near the officer's feet. The rear door was open and he kneeled down next to the still form in the back seat.
"Hey, Chief. How ya doing?" He looked with sympathy at the butterfly bandage above Blair's right eye and the subtle bruising that had begun to spread.
Blair cracked open an eye and glanced at his partner.
"I thought you were in court."
Jim didn't miss the way the younger man kept his head completely still. From the condition of the Volvo, Jim deduced the anthropologist had been hit from behind as well as from the front and he was probably suffering from some form of whiplash.
"I was. I was on my way back to the station when the call came in." He ran a careful eye over his friend, focusing his hearing on Blair's heart rate and respiration. Both were within normal ranges and Jim relaxed a bit knowing his partner was more or less all right. "You want to tell me what happened?" He knew he would get a full report later from the traffic officer in charge, but he wanted to hear Blair's version first.
Jim winced and reached out, brushing a finger over the bandage on his partner's forehead.
"Yeah, I bet that hurts."
Blair rolled his head slightly until he could look Jim in the eye and grinned. "No, man. I said 'owl', not 'ow'."
Jim furrowed his brow in confusion. "Owl," he repeated.
"Yeah, owl." Blair lifted his head, bringing a hand up to rub the back of his neck. "I was blindsided by an owl."
Jim snorted but quickly composed himself at his partner's look of irritation. "An owl?" He tried, but failed to completely hide the amusement in his voice.
Blair merely nodded, his blue eyes challenging. "Yes, Jim. An owl. As in 'who who'."
Jim glanced up at the uniformed officer who met his questioning look with a lopsided grin and a shrug.
"An owl," Jim repeated again. "In downtown Cascade... in broad daylight."
Blair flashed him a look of irritation before closing his eyes and leaning his head back against the seat. "I know it sounds crazy, Jim, but I swear that's what happened. I only saw it for a second, and the fog was pretty heavy, but I swear, man, it was an owl. This huge gray owl just swooped down, I hit the brakes to avoid it and then it was like bumper cars, man."
Jim watched him in silence a moment before directing his eyes back up to the officer. "Did anyone check him out?"
"Paramedics looked him over," the officer responded. "Said he was okay. Probably going to be pretty sore in the morning, though."
Jim nodded and returned his attention back to Blair who was still leaning back against the car seat. He shook his head in amusement. "Only you, Sandburg." He stood up and held his hand out to his partner. "Come on, Chief. Let's get you home."
Jim held the loft's door open as Blair carried in his box of belongings. Jim kept his eye on the younger man and was deducing that other than a slight headache, the younger man seemed fine. However, the keyword here was 'seemed'. He was questioning his friend's sanity at the moment. Owls ... in Cascade ... in broad daylight. He'd said something about it while they rode up in the elevator and all that had gotten him was an irritable "shut up" from Blair. Well, at least Blair was acting like his usual self. Jim allowed himself a small smile at this particular thought. God, he loved the kid. He was even better than TV. Where some people came home after a long day's work to turn on the nightly sitcoms, Jim came home to Sandburg. That was entertainment in itself.
He shut the door and walked into the kitchen. Blair sat his box onto the table as if it were full of precious glass antiques. Jim started going through the cabinets to find something to cook quickly when he was drawn out of his task by the sounds Blair was making. He turned around and watched in amusement as Blair rifled through the box's contents with great care. Jim pointed to the box.
"What are you hiding in there? Gold?"
Blair glanced up, head still tilted towards the box, and smiled sheepishly. "Oh. No. Just this statue that Charlie sent me from Mexico. I'm using it to demonstrate the effect of religious beliefs in ancient civilizations."
"It's really cool. Check this out." Blair hefted out his pride and joy and for a split second Jim thought his heart had frozen in his chest. He literally thought this because the cold felt like it was spreading from his heart, throughout his chest and into his lungs. It was horrid. Whatever it was.
"What is that thing?"
"This is Mictlantecutli. Lord of the Aztec realm of the dead."
Jim watched as Blair set it carefully down on the table, grimacing at the hideousness of the ugly statue. Lord of the Dead, huh? That seemed fitting. The statue wasn't greatly oversized, but not small by a long stretch of the imagination, and definitely looked the part of a Lord of the Dead. It was a skeleton, complete with a grinning skull and a skinny, bony body that was sitting on its skinny, bony butt. Those aspects weren't nearly as creepy as the eyes themselves. If they weren't so huge it wouldn't have bothered him maybe. But they were. They were too big for his head and there were no pupils. They were just large, dead circles. And those pupil-less eyes with that insane grin was enough to give him some seriously disturbing thoughts.
"So, what do you think?" Blair prodded when he realized Jim wasn't saying much of anything. Actually, he wasn't saying anything at all.
"It's...." Jim cleared his throat. How to say this nicely? "I hate it, Chief."
Blair's eyebrows arched. He glanced down at the statue. "Well, I guess I can see why."
Jim frowned. "Are you sure that thing's a replica? It looks kind of authentic to me."
"Oh yeah," Blair hastily assured him. "The original was pretty valuable before it was lost. Plus, there are the myths that go with it."
Jim's frown grew more pronounced as he stared at the skeletal statue. "Myths like what?"
A sudden smile lighted Blair's eager face. Oh boy. He had just tripped the wire. "Well, it's said that when this statue was found back in '79, one of the archeologists who was in on the dig, suddenly went crazy. She tried to kill her teammates, then committed suicide."
Jim arched his eyebrows. He opened his mouth, but Blair cut him off, still rambling on about the statue.
"Then there was this professor at UCLA. He was studying the statue and sort of went off the deep end. He killed his wife with a knife, then he ended up committing suicide, too. After that the statue just disappeared. Nobody really knows what happened to it. But, you don't have to worry about this statue. It's not the real thing. I assure you." Jim could've sworn the kid's eyes were twinkling mischievously. "Charlie must have found it at some souvenier shop and thought it would be a good Halloween joke - although I never would've expected Charlie to go for something like this. But trust me, Jim, we have absolutely nothing to fear from this guy."
Sure, nothing to fear. The split second of doubt that crossed Blair's face did little to alleviate Jim's initial assessment of the statue. Plus, the the thing was still giving him the creeps. "Could you, ah, still do me a favor?"
Frowning a little, Blair furrowed his brow, looking back up at Jim. "Uh, sure."
"Keep him in your room, will you? The damned thing's giving me the creeps."
Blair raised the statue to his chest. "Watch it, Jim. You're hurting his feelings."
Blair really had hit his head harder than he had thought. "Sorry to hear that, Professor. If you keep him in your room we won't have to worry about my manners. Now will we?"
Blair humphed and headed for his room. "You just don't appreciate fine art."
Jim coughed out a laugh. "Fine art? You call that thing 'fine art'?"
Blair laughed as he stepped into his room and threw over his shoulder, "Now he's starting to cry!"
Jim rolled his eyes. Nah, Blair was fine. And he really was entertaining. God help them all if the kid should ever get any stranger.
Blair tossed about on his bed as he dangled on the edge of sleep. He lay ensconced in darkness that should've been comforting, but only proved to make him uneasy and dizzy with fatigue. It felt like downing too much cough syrup. Plus there was that other sensation. The one of being watched, of a presence that sounded like a faint buzzing. He could feel its eyes on him. Waiting. Watching.
He wanted to sleep. He desperately wanted to fall asleep. He wanted to ignore the buzzing, to ignore the uneasy sensation of staring eyes. He was so tired. Just a few hours was all he asked.
He thought he heard rustling, something skitter across the bedspread - something small with many legs. He heard more skittering and he could feel the weight of whatever it was on the covers, pressing down on him. His eyes flew open as he listened, and felt the tiny legs moving across his body, hundreds of legs running along the blanket.
'I'm just imaging things. That's all.'
But he really didn't think he could be imagining that sound because it was too real, too distinct, and it was getting closer. He could feel it, them, crawling along the bedspread towards his face. He tightened his hands into fists as he listened. He wanted to move, to turn on the light, to prove it was a dream, to prove that nothing was there.
The tiny legs slowed to creep along his heaving chest. His breath came in staccato bursts with his barely controlled fear. He screwed his eyes shut and he told himself this wasn't real. This wasn't happening. He was just imagining things. Whatever they were, whatever the sounds were, they were getting closer. He could feel the pressure of the legs crawling up his chest, too close to his face. Ever closer, with that ghastly whispering sound the blanket made as the legs creeped across it. He was struggling not to hyperventilate. He had to move. He needed to move.
Something crawled up and he felt a light pressure on his face, something furry padding at his chin. He lost it. Blair screamed hoarsely, knocking the thing off his face, throwing off the covers, listening to the plop plop of the small bodies on his bedroom floor. He scrambled for the lamp beside his bed and fumbled to turn it on. Light flooded his room and Blair's eyes widened in horror.
"Chief! Chief, wake up!"
Blair's eyes startled open and he reflexively fought against the grip on his shoulders until the terror of the dream eased and he recognized the calming face floating over him. "Oh God, Jim." He drew a trembling hand over his face, the memory of the prickling legs touching him still vivid in his mind. "There were-" He closed his eyes, willing himself to calm down. It was ridiculous. Pathetic even, but he was having a hard time saying it.
"It's okay, kid. It was just a nightmare. A pretty vicious one by your screams. You called my name and I could've sworn someone was in your bedroom attacking you. I rushed down." Jim patted Blair's shoulder reassuringly. "There was no one here." He squeezed the shoulder and Blair took strength from the gesture. "What was it about?"
Blair shuddered and looked into Jim's calm gaze. Time to fess up. No matter how big of a fool he made himself out to be. "Spiders. My bed was covered in these huge, hairy spiders. They looked like tarantulas, only uglier. One of them..." He faltered and drew a hand to his chin. It had felt so real. "One of them started to crawl on my face. I freaked. It was just ... so real."
He fell silent at the admission, thinking Jim would surely consider him crazy now. Only Jim didn't say anything condescending, nor did he hint that Blair's sanity was in question. "Would you feel better if you slept on the couch tonight?"
Blair didn't ask Jim's reasoning behind the request, but for some reason the idea highly appealed to him. The fringes of the dream still wore heavily on his mind and falling asleep in his own bed so soon after the nightmare didn't look to be likely. He was glad Jim wasn't teasing him over this. He felt ridiculous that a thing like this should be bothering him, after all, they were only spiders; but it had been more than that. It had been a loss of control, it had been a threat of the impossible becoming possible, it had been the surreal becoming reality. It had been a nightmare come to life.
No, ma'am. He didn't want a dose of that again quite so soon, thank you very much.
"Yeah. Couch sounds great." He fell silent for a few brief seconds, then said, "Thanks, man."
"For what?" Jim asked softly.
"For not giving me a hard time about this. I mean, this has to look pretty stupid to you."
Jim shook his head. "Not at all. You had a tough day yesterday. I can certainly understand having some strange dreams." He rose to his full height. "I'll see you in the morning. Okay, Sandburg?"
Blair nodded as he sat up in his bed. He looked around and breathed a sigh of unconscious relief. No spiders. "Yeah. Night, Jim."
His skin tingled. He desperately had to get out of his room. It was suddenly stifling, giving him an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia. He barely even glanced at the statue perched on his dresser. Its presence was making him uncomfortable, though he couldn't explain the dread pervading his previous sense of well being.
Jim had already left the room and not wanting to be left in there alone, Blair yanked the top cover off his bed and grabbed his pillow. He settled onto the couch with the blanket, realizing it wasn't very thick and not providing much warmth.
But he wasn't going back into his bedroom. The spiders might crawl out from under the covers, from under the bed .... He squeezed his eyes shut. Dammit, that was just a dream. It wasn't real. Then why did it feel so real? Why did he still feel those prickling, hairy legs on his face, creeping and the weight of the spiders on his body, crawling? Come to say hello and goodnight. Don't let the bedbugs bite.
It wasn't real. He huddled against the back of the couch, clutching the blanket tightly around him for what little security and warmth it offered. He should've gotten a thicker blanket. If it hadn't terrified him so much, so unexplainably. He wouldn't open his eyes because he might see the spiders again, but he didn't want to fall asleep either.
'It was just a dream!' he chided himself. It was just a very real dream; but dreams couldn't hurt you. They were only figments of the imagination. He inhaled deeply, willing himself to calm down. And despite the chills shuddering along his body, he felt the tug of sleep. He latched onto it, reminding himself Jim was just upstairs.
And it was just a dream. Just a figment of the imagination. Nothing to be afraid of.
Jim had fallen into a light slumber, but something kept drawing him to the surface of the waking world. He rolled over and opened his eyes. Something felt wrong. He glanced over the bannister and saw Blair on the couch down below. Poor kid looked like he was freezing to death. He knew better than to tease Blair about it. Something about the dream had really gotten to Sandburg, like it had actually occurred.
He'll probably have a bad case of arachnaphobia for a while, Jim thought sympathetically.
Blair was still shivering, even in his sleep. Despite his weariness, the need to care for his Guide overwhelmed him. He rose from his bed and crept down the stairs. He walked into Blair's bedroom and grabbed the thickest blanket from the bed, marveling over how many blankets Sandburg needed to keep warm. He started to turn to leave when a flicker of movement caught his attention. He stopped and looked at the dresser, where he had seen the movement.
Nothing there, save for the perversely grinning statue. His blood ran cold at the sight of the abominable thing and he could feel his skin break into goose bumps.
'Is what Sandburg has contagious?' Jim wondered, disgusted that such a trivial thing as a foot tall statue could elicit such a strong sense of discomfort in him. He stared at it, trying to grasp what exactly it was about Blair's precious statue that was so despicable. What was so despicable, that is, save for the skeletal body, the too-friendly grin, and the large, dead eyes. Blank eyes, but capable of seeing all. The Lord of the Dead could see into the soul, could see a life ending before the time came. It saw terror in its lifeless gaze because it desired that terror. More than that, it craved it.
A spidery shadow flickered across it, but Jim didn't flinch. He stared into the eyes, seeing something that felt unnatural, that felt living. It was like Mictlantecutli was grinning at him, inviting him to its humble abode, to reside with him forever in the Realm of the Dead.
'You and your Guide,' it whispered, a sound resonating deep inside him like a distant nightmare. He thought he heard chanting, at first hissing sounds that were underrun by a constant buzz and as the lifeless eyes drew him in, the chanting rose and he realized that though he didn't understand the language, he knew the gist of it. He knew what they were saying, the multitude of voices, chanting together, different words overlapping in a dischordant melody.
'Here is our blood offering. Drink of it, Mictlantecutli, and be strong. Praise you, our god. Bless us, give us strength. Give us power.'
And other voices, softer, struggling to be heard over the crescendo, urgent, as if they were trying to give their warning.
Jim ripped himself from the gaze, gasping. Sweat trickled down his forehead, as he struggled for air. He was shaking, unable to will his heart to slow and his head to clear. A rumbling growl jolted him from his growing horror and he spun towards the open French doors, blanket firmly in his grasp. On the couch Blair was sleeping, a panther rested its forepaws on the armrest, its backpaws on the floor. It looked down at Blair tenderly, then up at Jim, yellow eyes glistening in the darkness. The message was clear.
Blair needed him. He needed to keep a grip on himself in order to protect Blair. He walked out of the room, all signs of fear vanquished and he didn't look back at the statue. He laid the blanket over his friend, tucking it tightly around him to ward of the chill. Blair sighed in contentment and sank deeper into his newfound comfort. Jim smiled, feeling his own warm comfort drifting over him at the picture.
He laid down on the other couch, using one of the throwpillows to rest his head on. He ignored any discomforts, his training from his days in Covert Ops kicking into high gear. He fell asleep, but even in slumber kept a steadily vigilance over his Guide.
Jim woke up by eight the next morning, feeling completely exhausted. He dragged himself off the couch, thinking about nothing but how a cup of strong, hot coffee would taste. His different surroundings didn't register in his sleep-fogged brain. He had momentarily forgotten about Sandburg and the episode of last night. That was, he had forgotten until he passed the other couch and the couch moaned. He did a double take and immediately registered Blair's slightly fast heartbeat. In one step he was leaning over the couch's back. Jim reached down and shook Blair lightly on the shoulder closest to him.
"Wake up, Chief. Rise and shine."
Blair's eyelids fluttered, then groggily opened sleepy blue eyes to muzzily peer at Jim. "Mornin' already?" He rolled his head to the right to look out the glass doors to the balcony. The sky was a hazy light blue veiled with gray clouds. "Oh God," he groaned. "I had the worst night. After the spider dream, even when I was out here, these crazy images kept popping into my head."
Jim frowned at his friend's disclosure. Sure the kid didn't always get a lot of sleep, but the only times he'd ever had such bad problems with nightmares was when dealing with a particularly nasty case. Nothing like that had been going on, so what was causing these dreams? The accident yesterday hadn't been that bad... then again, maybe Blair did get knocked on the head harder than he thought. "Maybe you should stay home today, Blair. Do you have to be at the University for anything important today?"
"Not exactly, but don't you think I should go down to the station and help -"
"No. I think you need your rest. I'm sure you can accomplish whatever you need to right here."
"If you're sure -"
"I'm positive. Get some rest. Do some light work. Just take it easy today, okay?"
Blair rubbed his face with his right hand, still not entirely awake. "Um, sure. I guess I can live with that. I need to do some research on that statue anyway."
Jim straightened, resting his hands on the couch's edge. "Then we have a deal?" He looked down at Blair who still looked like he was having problems focusing.
"Sure," Blair mumbled, as if it was more to get Jim to leave him alone, than out of any need to actually acquiesce. "I'll take it easy today. Get some rest. All that good stuff."
There was never any telling with Sandburg, but because he didn't want to push the kid anymore (and he knew it wouldn't do any good anyway) he let it lie. "Good. If everything goes smoothly today I should be in around six, maybe a little later or earlier, depending on circumstances. If you need anything, call me."
Blair nodded, batting a hand at Jim, shooing him away. "Yeah, yeah," he muttered, "gotcha. Home at six. Call in case of emergency. Anything else, honey? Would you like dinner on the table, too?"
Jim glared at him, though it was wasted because Blair had closed his eyes again. "Smart ass," he growled.
Blair chuckled sleepily and threw the blanket over his head, huddling deeper into its soft warmth. Jim walked into the kitchen and heard the soft retort while pulling out a mug from the cupboard. "I learned from the best."
Jim fidgeted in the cold hard bench, ignoring the look of irritation he received from Captain Simon Banks. They had been waiting for over three hours for the defense attorney to cross examine and he was beginning to get more than a little antsy. The hard bench was starting to put his backside to sleep and, he had to admit, he had more than a few uncomfortable thoughts about what had transpired last night.
He couldn't explain the feelings of loathing and fear he had experienced when in the presence of that damn statue. It was just a piece of rock, right? Then why did he feel like it's presence in the loft was a direct threat to his partner? Why did he get the urge to throw the thing against the wall and watch it shatter into a million pieces?
A low growl caught his attention and he turned to see the panther sitting near the closed oak doors. The panther sat, its tail twitching, its luminescent eyes pinning Jim with their intensity. He knew it was a message. Protect the Guide.
A sharp jab in his side brought his attention back to the proceedings and Jim glanced at the D.A. who was impatiently motioning him forward. He stood, sneaking another glance toward the doors, but the panther was nowhere in sight.
"Detective Ellison," the judge's voice held a hint of reprimand. "Would you kindly take the stand?"
Jim smiled sheepishly at the judge. "I'm sorry, Your Honor." He moved to the front of the courtroom and took his seat on the witness stand.
Blair opened the door of the refrigerator, leaning one arm against the top and staring into the frosty abyss. After a few moments of indecision, he decided on a sandwich and pulled out the deli meat and Miracle Whip. His head was beginning to ache again, but he couldn't tell if it was from the accident or a result of the constant buzzing in his ears. The sound was really starting to get to him. Maybe he just needed food. Or sleep. Or both. He turned back to the counter and placed the items on the surface before turning back to the bread box. He frowned as he opened the box and pulled the nearly empty bread bag from the wooden box. Great - nothing left but the ends.
He shook his head and sighed. Maybe he should call Jim and have him stop at the store. He laughed suddenly as the image of Brown giving Jim the message popped into his head. "Oh, Jim, Blair called and said you're out of bread and milk, honey. Could you stop on the way home?" Remembering their conversation this morning, he figured the flak might almost be worth it. Nah. He was still feeling a bit queasy and didn't need a ticked off Sentinel to deal with. Jim wouldn't be home for a while yet which gave Blair plenty of time to finish up his research on Mictlantecutli. He'd managed to get some pretty good stuff from a few sites on the internet. The disappearance of the statue intrigued him and he found himself wondering if it had somehow been destroyed all those years ago. He had brought his replica out onto the dining room table, reminding himself to have it safely stowed back in his room by the time Jim came home. He couldn't help but chuckle over the Sentinel's reaction to the ugly little statue and, he had to admit, it was ugly.
He tossed the bread on the counter and turned to grab a knife out of the drawer when movement caught the corner of his eye. He directed his attention into the darkened living room and froze. The incessant rain that had pounded the area all day had refused to break, keeping the loft bathed in an ominous gloom. Although the slight shadows blurred the image, he could make out the shape of a large owl sitting calmly on the back of the loveseat. The owl sat completely still, staring at him with large, yellow eyes.
Blair swallowed hard and tried to remember how to breathe. What the.... How could an owl be in the loft? Blair took a tentative step forward, keeping the counter between him and the large bird. The owl didn't move. It sat calmly on the loveseat, its attention never wavering. It was completely still. Almost like a ... statue.
Blair laughed suddenly, feeling the tension flow from his body like water down a drain. Of course it was a statue. It was just some twisted joke Jim's warped mind decided to play on him. Owls in broad daylight, in downtown Cascade. Ha ha, funny, Jim.
Blair ran a hand over his face and took a deep shaking breath. Very funny, Ellison. Scare the anthropologist to death. Nice try. He pushed off the counter and began to make his way into the living room when he noticed the owl's head turning with his movement. The large, round eyes blinked and Blair jumped back.
No, no, no, no, no.... There was no way an owl could get into the loft. No way. He squeezed his eyes shut and backed up until his progress was stopped by the living room wall. He took another deep breath and cracked an eye open.
"This is not real, this is not happening...." Blair slowly inched sideways, his eyes locked onto the glowing orbs of the owl.
A slight weight on his leg brought his attention down and he gave a low scream as he noticed the large, furry, black spider slowly moving up his jeans.
"Oh, God!" Blair slapped at his leg, succeeding in knocking the spider onto the floor. Without hesitation he brought his sneakered foot down hard on the arachnid, grimacing as the white guts exploded across the wood flooring.
The owl's voice was accompanied by the now familiar buzzing in his ears. The buzzing hadn't let up much from yesterday and was growing louder, almost becoming a harsh whisper. He held both hands up to his ears in an attempt to stop the rising pitch of the sounds.
Blair squeezed his eyes shut and backed up toward the balcony door. This is not happening. This is not happening! The whispering buzz seemed to mock his assumption, with a sound that a laughing serpent might make.
A loud bang from behind made him jump again and he spun around to find a small dark object hovering just outside the glass doors. Faint light shone between the heavy, dark clouds, casting an eerie light on the balcony and Blair could just discern the small bat from the shadows as it rammed the doors again.
"Ah!" Blair bolted for the front door and fumbled with the lock. The increasing volume of the mocking whispers and buzzing in his head was beginning to drown out his own thoughts and he frantically grabbed for the knob and yanked the door open. A dark shape swooped down from the ceiling and pulled at his hair. He screamed and batted at his head, feeling the small warm body dislodge itself and flutter back down the hallway. Dark spots were crawling across the floor of the landing, their hairy legs stretching and moving slowly in his direction.
Quickly he slammed the door and threw the deadbolt. He leaned his forehead against it, suddenly aware of the racing of his heart and the ragged cadence of his breathing. The whispers chuckled, underscored by an ancient lanuage, sounding frightenly like a ritual chant.
"Just calm down!" He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to catch his breath, trying to ignore the hissing, buzzing sounds haunting him and the creatures attacking the loft. His home.
Blair spun around, his eyes locking on the large bird which now sat on the edge of the couch.
"No." Blair took a deep breath through his nose and held it for a moment as he forced himself away from the door and backed into the kitchen. "You are not real. None of this is real."
He continued backward until he ran into the counter. He fumbled his hand behind him, finally finding the handle to the silverware drawer. Without taking his eyes from the owl, he slowly opened the drawer and felt around for a knife or anything he could use as a weapon. Something moved across his hand and he quickly jumped away, throwing the spider onto the floor.
His wide, desperate eyes were pulled back to the owl, which now perched on the edge of the table.
"Wh-who." Another bang from the balcony door accompanied the owl's voice and Blair jumped, backing up until his back was against the cold refrigerator. A sudden wetness on his lip registered and he lifted a hand to his face. He pulled the hand away, the bright red of the blood shattering what remained of his composure.
He lurched forward, grabbing a large butcher knife from the drawer, and moved drunkenly toward the table. The owl continued to stare. Bats pounded against the doors. Spiders crawled across the floor. And the whispers hit a crescendo in his head.
Jim pulled the truck into a space in front of the 852 Prospect and slowly dragged himself from the cab. The hours of waiting in court had taken its toll. He had never figured out why he could chase a criminal on foot for five blocks and feel energized, but sitting still all day in court made him feel like he'd just been run over by a garbage truck. He hadn't been able to get the vision of the panther out of his head. It was almost as if it was warning him that whatever he had been sensing last night in the loft was still there - and still a danger to his guide. After he had given his testimony, the judge had called a recess for the day and Jim's only desire had been to go home and check on Blair.
He knew he was probably overreacting. Blair had been fine this morning. He had no idea why he was letting that statue get to him. Blair had assured him it was only a copy. The myths were nothing more than ghost stories. But he still couldn't shake the feeling there was something terribly wrong.
He rubbed a hand over his face and sighed. Maybe he just needed to take a shower, have a good dinner and make sure his partner was okay - not exactly in that order.
Maybe he'd order a pizza. He doubted if Sandburg had even thought about dinner yet - the kid probably still had his nose stuck in one of those damn research books. Jim shivered at the thought of Blair's current object of research, the image of the grotesque statue flashing briefly across his mind's eye.
The scream startled him out of his lethargy. He bolted through the front door of the building, taking the stairs three at a time. He focused his hearing on the apartment on the third floor, urging his legs to move faster at the sound of the heart beating wildly out of control. Turning the knob, he threw a shoulder against the door, only to be met with firm resistance.
The sheer terror in the scream made his heart squeeze in fear and he backed up quickly, and kicked viciously at the door. "Blair!" On the second kick, the wood splintered and the third caused the heavy door to wrench free of its hold. The door swung open and Jim rushed into the loft, stopping suddenly as the emptiness of the room registered on his brain.
"Blair?" he called. He could still hear the ragged breathing and racing heartbeat coming from the small downstairs bedroom and Jim stepped slowly toward it. He placed his hand on the handle of his gun, but didn't draw the weapon. There were no other heartbeats inside the loft. There was just one. And it was scaring the hell out of him.
"Blair? It's me, buddy. Jim. Everything's okay-"
He made it to the bedroom doorway and his voice betrayed him. The scene before him caused his breath to catch in his throat. Blair was huddled in the corner between the dresser and the desk. His knees were pulled up to his chest and his hands were pressed against the sides of his head. His eyes were squeezed shut and his face was pinched in an expression of pain. But what scared Jim the most was the blood.
Lines of crimson trailed down the young man's face from his nose and mouth. The corners of his eyes were also stained pink as the blood mixed with the salty tears which squeezed from beneath the tightly closed lids.
Jim swallowed hard and took a tentative step forward. "Blair? Chief, can you hear me?"
Blair's eyes shot open and he stared up at Jim. There was no recognition in the dark blue orbs, just abject terror.
"Chief?" Jim took another step forward but stopped as the huddled figure before him pulled himself into an even tighter ball.
Blair was shivering, his body trembling from something more than the temperature. He opened his mouth, his voice low and strained. "Make. It. Stop."
Jim had no idea what he was supposed to stop.
"Make what stop?" he asked, carefully taking another step toward his partner.
"Can't you hear it?" Blair looked at him again, his eyes bright with pain. "I can't make it stop! Make. It. Stop!"
Jim managed one more step forward before the young man flew at him from the floor. The force of the impact sent them both back through the doorway into the dining room. A primal scream forced its way from Blair's throat as he grabbed the knife lying on the floor by the table and slashed at Jim. The Sentinel threw up an arm to ward off the blow and managed to avoid the knife as it swung down with incredible force. He grabbed Blair's arm and twisted it, forcing the smaller man to drop the knife.
"Blair! Calm down! It's me! It's Jim!" He turned the young man around and managed to grab both of the flailing arms as Blair continued to scream and kick. 'God, he's strong!' Jim wrapped both arms around his partner's chest and squeezed, effectively pinning the smaller man against him.
"Noooo!" Blair kicked out, his leg connecting with the dining room table.
Jim watched as the grotesque statue slowly slid to the edge of the table and toppled over, tumbling down and coming to an abrupt halt as it broke into pieces on the floor.
Suddenly, Blair went limp in his arms and he nearly toppled over himself with the sudden extra weight. Gently, he lay his friend down on the hard surface and ran a quick check with his senses. To his relief, he found Blair's heartbeat and respiration slowing. He quickly grabbed a dishtowel from the kitchen and wetted one end before moving back to his prone partner. He dabbed at the blood on the now peaceful face, surprised to find no cuts or abrasions marring the skin.
A low moan was followed by a fluttering of lashes and two very tired, very confused-looking eyes were suddenly peering up at him.
"Jim?" Blair's voice was scratchy and he had to swallow a few times to clear his throat. His eyes drifted from Jim's face to the ceiling to the surrounding area, his face relaying his confusion.
"What happened? Why am I on the floor?"
Jim helped him sit up and leaned back on his heels. "You don't remember?"
"Remember what?" Blair ran a shaky hand through his hair and breathed deeply. "The last thing I remember was heading into the kitchen to make a sandwich. Then I woke up here."
Jim frowned. He placed a hand beneath his friend's chin and gently pulled his face around to check his eyes. They both looked clear and even.
"I don't know, Chief. Maybe you hit your head a little harder than you thought yesterday." He watched as Blair's hand went absently to the cut on his forehead. "Maybe we should take you to the hospital and get you checked out."
Blair shook his head. "No, man. I'm okay." He grabbed for the edge of the table and pulled himself up. Jim rose with him, ready to lend a steadying hand if necessary. "I'm just a little wiped." He leaned heavily on the table and Jim wrapped a firm hand around his arm. Blair managed a small smile and pushed off of the table, and leaned into his friend's support. "That's weird," he mumbled.
"What?" Jim leaned over to get a better look at his face and he waved him off.
"Nothing, man. It's just that I've had this weird buzzing in my head since yesterday and now it's gone." He shook his head and frowned. "It kind of seems like something's missing now. I guess I was getting used to it, huh?"
"That doesn't sound like something you'd want to get used to, Junior," Jim chided. "Let's get you to bed before you pass out again." He pulled the grad student away from the table, his foot kicking a small piece of the broken statue. Both men watched as the piece of stone skittered across the floor, finally coming to rest near another, larger piece.
"Sorry, about that, Chief. It fell while... "
"It's okay, Jim." Blair smiled. "It probably fell off the table when I passed out, right?" Jim nodded. It was close enough. If Blair had no memory of what had just happened, he was not going to fill in the blanks.
"It's okay," Blair repeated. "It's not like it is the real thing. I'm sure I can use a picture from one of my reference books for class."
"Right." Jim breathed a sigh of relief as he directed the younger man to his room. For some reason, the thought of that statue, broken into little pieces, sent a strange feeling of satisfaction through his body. He would clean up the mess as soon as he was sure Blair was okay and happily toss the remains of the figure into the dumpster where it belonged.
Jim had left Blair inside the loft, asleep. His Guide had been worn out and rightfully so. Even though he was making a short trip downstairs to toss the ruined statue into the dumpster, he kept his hearing tuned in to his friend. He wasn't going to drop his guard when it came to Blair anytime soon. Not after seeing all the blood trickling down his Guide's face and listening to the pleas to just make it stop. And that look, the wild terror in his eyes, as if he had seen something so horrible that it defied all logic. Jim wasn't going to push Blair on it. He didn't want the kid remembering. Honestly, he didn't really want to even know what exactly had happened. It was just one of those things best left alone. And alone was precisely where they were going to leave it. Let the vermin have this piece of garbage. It had cost him and his friend enough pain in only one night and day to last the rest of the year.
He had scooped it into a black plastic bag, brushing up the shards and chunks of stone, careful that he left no trace of it in the loft. He didn't want any reminders. Not for Blair and not for himself. He clenched the bag in his fist as he opened the lid of the dumpster, then tossed it in.
'Rest in pieces,' he thought grimly. It felt strange that he should think that it was the statue that had caused all these problems, that had caused Blair to momentarily go insane, that had caused that inexplicable chill to rush through him. But he wasn't foolish. He'd dealt with the paranormal before and wasn't about to turn his back on it. This statue was directly responsible for their grief. It belonged in the garbage.
He released the lid and it came down with a dull clang. He clenched his jaw at the finality of the sound. No one messed with his Guide. Not even blood-thirsty spirits. He nodded to himself, resolved that it was over and he and Sandburg were safe now, that nothing would harm his friend anymore. He turned away and walked back to the building to check on Blair.
The bum hobbled towards the dumpster, hunger churning his stomach. Dawn was approaching and he used the first rays of light to his advantage. He opened the lid and peered inside. He swatted at the flies buzzing over the garbage inside. Didn't look like there was much of anything. His eyes fell upon a black plastic bag. This looked interesting. He grasped it in one hand, holding the dumpster's lid open with the other. Whatever was inside was heavy and caused the bag to sag in his grip. He heaved it out of the dumpster and released the lid so he could take a look at the contents.
He opened the bag and peered inside. His breath caught and he nearly dropped the bag. Good God, but that thing was horrid. He settled it onto the ground and reached in, removing the statue. It looked like a skeleton with too-large eyes and a leering grin. He was ready to put it back in the dumpster, strangely disturbed by its presence, when logic prevailed. He could sell this thing. Yeah. He could sell it for probably a good amount of money too.
He grinned at the prospect of a quick buck and hefted the large, unscathed statue under his arm and stepped out onto the sidewalk. A whispering, harsh and indistinct, caught his attention and he turned around to see who was making the noises. He twisted his lips to the side as he realized that there wasn't a soul out yet. Must've been his imagination. Ignoring, the cold chills that ran down his spine he headed for the pawn shop. It'd be opening soon. He rubbed at his temple with his free hand. A strange buzzing was growing stronger in his head. He'd have to eat soon, too. His thoughts centered on money, a meal, and the peculiar buzzing, he never felt the legs crawling up the back of his tattered jacket as the spider crept towards his head.
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