By Les Zigomanis
Tuesday morning began so much like every other morning that I couldn’t be sure it was Tuesday.
I got up, turned my computer on, and fixed myself a cup of tea. I plonked myself in the expensive executive chair that looked great when I bought it but was hell on my butt, and opened my mailbox.
I ran a website, RANT101, which offered satirical viewpoints on anything you could imagine — politics, current affairs, sport, you name it. It started as a hobby ten years ago. Then it gained a readership. Then advertising. Then notoriety. Now it had a staff of credible freelancers and hosted enough advertising to pay the bills.
Every morning, I navigated my way through a mess of emails. Hidden amongst the satires (rants, I called them), queries, overtures for penis enlargement, and offers for Vicodin, Valium, and Viagra, I found this:
There’s a question you’ve been asking recently that not enough have, not just in the here and now, but over the last six decades.
The email was signed ETERNIUS.
I usually don’t respond to cryptics. You always get them — somebody promising some miraculous insight, or who just thinks they’re smarter than you.
I sent back the response: “What do you mean?” This was July.
I didn’t get an answer until October:
Beware the fugue.
Great. I had somebody who wanted to play games, who believed too much in Watergate’s Deep Throat, or perhaps the type you see in old shows like The X-Files.
I looked up fugue for clarity, coming up with the following definitions from my Everyday Macquarie:
fugue: 1. Music. a polyphonic composition based upon one, two, or even more themes, which are enunciated by the several voices or parts in turn, subjected to contrapuntal treatment, and gradually built up into a complex form having somewhat distinct divisions or stages of development and a marked climax at the end. 2. Psychol. a period of loss of memory, when the individual disappears from his usual haunts.
Neither definition meant anything to me, and I saw no point in answering Eternius again. I deleted the email, and expected to think nothing more about it.
Of course, nobody ever gets what they expect.
A week later, I received this email:
And so it begins, the forgetfulness, the forgiveness, the optimism for a New Year. The fugue.
I told myself I wouldn’t bite, had cut off similar communications with numerous other crackpots in the past, but I did bite. Elsie was hitting me up for more child support, bills were stacking up, there was competition burgeoning against R101 (which was diminishing our hits and, thus, my revenue), and I was in a mood to engage. I hoped it led to an argument because sometimes, hell, you just want to blast, doesn’t matter who’s the recipient.
I wrote: The fugue?
And you know what? Damned if I didn’t get an answer almost immediately.
How often have we forgiven and forgotten? It’s the cycle, like the Ouroboros.
The Ouroboros is the snake swallowing its own tail, but I didn’t understand the context. What cycle?
My curiosity was piqued.
That night I dreamed I was standing in a basalt chamber. The image of the Ouroboros was embedded in the marble floor in sapphires, rubies, and emeralds, their sparkling dulled in a sheen of blood.
When I awoke, I felt disturbed more than usual. My sleep’s been bad since Elsie took our two-year-old son, Charles, and left, but now I felt on the edge of panic, terrified by something I couldn’t identify.
Over the next month, I didn’t receive any emails, and was kept busy with feedback (not to mention defamation suits) following a rant I posted about corruption in local government. Most would’ve considered it sensational fluff, but it implied names, and sometimes sensationalization highlights truth, however fleetingly.
Phones ran rich with lawyers threatening me, and I had to remove the piece and print a retraction of sorts. It didn’t bother me losing the rant. I’d just had another fifteen minutes not of fame, but of juice — like power to recharge a battery. You need that when you run a website like mine.
One night the phone rang, and I expected it to be another lawyer, but when I answered it, a voice was immediately talking to me about secret societies — talking to me as if its owner was picking up a conversation which had been interrupted.
“Societies within societies have existed since time immemorial,” I was told. The voice was affable, but there was an echo, like it was coming from somewhere cavernous. “They govern the trends that influence our cultures, the policies that make our laws, and the expenditures that affect our economies.
“These are secret groups that have supplied some of our most prestigious and powerful leaders, organizations such as the Freemasons, the Skulls, the Illuminati, the Trilateral Commission, and the New World Order. They are the nuclei of everything we do, see, and hear.
“But for all these sorts of groups the most insidious and dangerous are the Underseers.
“They are Everywhere. And Nowhere.
“Now please don’t call here again.”
I didn’t have time to protest that I hadn’t called as the line went dead.
A couple of nights later, after I picked up mail from my post office box, an elderly, well-dressed man bearing a cane accosted me as I headed back to my car.
“If you fail to find names in history texts, does that mean that those people never existed or that history never recorded them?” he asked.
“Excuse me?” I said.
“The cycle is coming to an end,” the old guy said. “Like the Ouroboros, swallowing itself out of existence. But the record will stand. Perception is reality, and history as perceived by the masses, as remembered by the masses, will remain imprinted in this time, this place. But the cycle will have ended, buried, like seed taking root.”
By now, we’d gotten back to where my car was parked, and my apprehension was tinged by curiosity. I looked at the old man. “Eternius?” I asked.
He took what looked like a business card out of his pocket and put it on the trunk of my car. Then he turned and hurried off into the night.
The card had a ten-digit phone number on it. I rang it. Naturally.
I didn’t expect it to ring — after all, it was a ten-digit number — but the number connected, and it was only then I decided I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. Dread stirred inside me.
I hung up.
A couple of days later the phone ringing woke me. It was Elsie, but she put Charles on.
“Happy birthday, Daddy,” he said.
“Hey, Charlie!” I said, joy rousing me better than anything else could.
I sat up and looked at the picture on the bedside drawer — Elsie, Charles, and me when he turned two. In the three months leading up to that picture being taken, Elsie had complained that me working as a Webmaster wasn’t tenable for a man with a young family. There’d been other stuff, and I’m sure there was another man, but that was icing. A month later she took Charlie and split. A month after that, she started dating a car salesman named Roger. A month later, right around when Roger moved in with Elsie, R101 started paying enough to sustain me and Elsie’s alimony.
“Can we go to the park?” Charlie asked.
Yeah, a lot of hope there was, with how tight Elsie was with visitations.
The phone went dead — probably Charlie screwing around, as he didn’t understand the mechanics of phones and was always fiddling around and disconnecting. I didn’t put the phone down, and when it rang again shortly I answered immediately.
A cool female voice cut me off — just sliced right through me, like I hadn’t been talking. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but we have no listings for,” and now the woman’s voice was replaced by an automated computer voice, “Gilbert Anelzark, Alwyn Vogel, Lyndon Rickabaugh, Hamilton Carmichael, Jacob Tolan, Noble Hastings, Emanuel Verrault.”
The line went dead.
I scribbled the names from memory and looked them up on the Web. I found nothing but your usual net-trash.
The phone rang again, and I thought this time it had to be Charlie, but when I answered, I was greeted by the same voice that had told me about the secret societies. Again, it was like it was coming from somewhere cavernous — I imagined some sonorous chamber, deep in a castle.
“Upon settlement, this place, this time, presented a unique opportunity,” the voice told me. “Throughout history, secret societies have been formed within incumbent societies. That was the natural order. It was an infiltration. Now, beginning with this clean slate, there existed the opportunity of creating external societies upon the foundations of secret societies. Or a secret society. Singular. This presented a clean-sweep of power and influences, a control so concentrated it has corrupted the here and now, and its tendrils infest every walk of life, every staple of society, every thing you know. Yet we do not question, for that would take acknowledgement we refuse to face.”
The line went dead. I’d had enough of being bombarded with obscure references and cryptic information. I dug up the card the old man had given me and dialed it.
The phone rang twice, and then I was greeted by a blast of metallic static — like the sound of a computer signal, the sort you hear when you ring a fax number. I hung up and hit redial, watching the number come up on the phone’s digital display to make sure I’d gotten it right. I had. The phone rang, and I expected the metallic blast again, but now it was answered by somebody with a deep, oily-sounding voice.
“Hey, ah, hi,” I said. “Who am I speaking to?”
“Sossomo.” He pronounced it SOSS-ah-MO. In the background I heard lots of chatter interspersed with the use of cutlery — forks and knives on plates, glasses being set down, that sort of thing.
“Where is this?”
“You don’t know where you’ve called?”
“I know it sounds strange, but an old guy on the street gave me this number—”
“He’s not here.”
“This is where he lives—?”
“He’s not here.”
“You—?” I was going to ask, You know him?
“He’s not here!”
The phone slammed down on the other side.
That night I dreamed of a dinner party being held in a basalt chamber with the Ouroboros on the floor. Attending this party were seven well-dressed men and one hunchback.
The hunchback was a grossly disfigured man, his face deformed but his hair slicked back like a greaser out of the 50s. He wore a uniform, butler’s attire, and spoke on a gorgeous antique golden phone. From his voice I could tell this was Sossomo. The conversation he was having was the one he had with me — albeit this was his side of it.
I let my attention wander to the other seven men, each of whom bore a glass of champagne, and tried to hear what they were saying. They sounded cheerful enough but their voices were muffled, as if I was hearing them from underwater.
That’s when I looked down and saw a torrent of blood covering the floor. It came up to the shins of the well-dressed men (who didn’t seem to notice it) and rushed toward the far wall, which it seemed to run through. I turned and looked to the opposite wall — the blood was emerging from its base.
Sossomo suddenly shouted, “He’s not here!”
The sound of the phone being slammed awoke me from my dream.
I slept no more that night.
The next day, I found an email from Eternius:
Sacrifices had been made to ensure a nexus of reaction, misery for us, elation for all others.
Besides the obvious strangeness of the sentence, it was the context that intrigued me. Sacrifices had been made … What sort? Was something given up? Or was something literally slain as a sacrifice? And misery for us? Who was us? And who did that make the others?
I typed: What sacrifices? And for what reaction?
I sent the email off, and five minutes later I received a response:
All the world loves a tragedy.
How about a running tragedy?
I wrote back: What sacrifices?
I sent that off, and for the next couple of minutes kept hitting the Send & Receive tab in my mailbox. When the response came, it read:
Sacrifices that consecrated the unholiest of pacts.
I asked: What pact? This time, I barely waited a minute for an answer.
I wrote: What misery? Thirty seconds later:
Now here was something I needed to clarify. Heartbreak for whom? I needed something definite and wrote: Heartbreak for whom?
The email had no sooner left my mailbox than the response came back:
Context itself is disproportionate.
These are examples of the power wielded by the few, the secret, and the wholly corrupt.
For what gain? I wrote back. I was about to send the email, then stopped. Instead of hitting the tab for Send & Receive, a hunch made me hit the Receivetab. I got an answer back — a long answer — although I’d never sent my question.
The history of the world has taught us one thing: present a common cause, a theme, and the people will unite against it — (whether) in anger or in fear or even amusement is irrelevant. It’s the action that is important.
Rally people, not only for the current theme, but in preparation for the future, their malleability sewn, their willingness towed, their minds opened.
Admittedly, though, this act was one of petty maliciousness from these men.
Who? I wrote back, but now I got no response. I loitered on the Net for an hour, waiting, but there were no more emails that night. Ultimately, I shut down my computer and was about to go to bed when I thought I’d call the number again.
The phone was answered immediately, and I recognized the voice as Sossomo. I tried to be wily with my approach.
“Hi, I’m doing research for an article I’m writing,” I said. “I was told … you could help.”
“Help with what?” Sossomo asked.
“What comes to your mind when I say … sacrifice?”
“We have many sacrifices here.”
“Committed by who?”
The receiver delivered a sudden blast of static, and when it abated the line was dead. I tried the number again and again over the next five minutes, but I kept getting a busy signal.
Giving up for the night, I went to bed.
I had a respite from strange phone calls, mysterious emails, and weird dreams for the next fortnight, although it wasn’t a break from problems.
Elsie’s lawyer called me and said she wanted more money. I called Elsie and asked why, given I was paying her plenty, she was working school hours, and that idiot Roger was making more than enough. She screamed at me how I’d never taken care of her properly, and it was my turn to pay or we’d go to court. I tried to reason with her, but she hung up on me.
I sat there mutely, too numb to move for a while. Finally, I got up and started my day.
I tried Sossomo’s number regularly, but it was either busy or those computer screeches blasted me. It just about convinced me that the phenomenon had run its course (as a lot of these things do — that much I know), but I was wrong.
It was about four in the morning and I was sleeping when a voice from the corner of my room woke me. “A pact was made, one which dealt with a very simple ridicule. You have to understand; you can take the simplest, everyday thing and martyr it in a cause to polarize. This pact was consecrated by hideous sacrifice and stamped in rivers of blood.”
The voice was deep and rich, emphasis heavy on the syllables. But I couldn’t see who it belonged to — the corner of my room was pitch black. My hand went to the lamp, poised on the ceramic base. I knew I should hit the switch, but I was also worried what light would reveal. Sometimes, it’s just better not knowing.
“This was a pact borne initially from jealousy and bitterness, and one exercised to test the extent of power wielded by a group you have been told were known as the Underseers,” the voice went on. “But life and death is a cycle. You may sow the seeds of discord but ultimately, inevitably, the harvest shall return to reclaim you and your own. Everything has its price.”
I snapped on the lamp, expecting to find somebody in the corner of the room. Instead, my entire bedroom was gone. It was dusk; the sky looked like it was bleeding; the sun was a simmering orange as it set. A bitter wind blew through my clothes, and I hugged my arms to myself in an effort to warm myself. My bed had been relocated to the brink of a precipice. Below, the torrent of the foaming ocean crashed into the base of the cliff, each wave resounding like a thunderclap.
As if mesmerized, I stumbled out of bed. To my right a number of people were digging with picks — or trying to, as the terrain was rocky, and they were having trouble breaking through the ground
One of the people was Sossomo, the others the seven men I’d seen in the basalt chamber. They were still dressed now as they had been the first time I’d encountered them, and they cursed as their picks struck the stony ground, elicited sparks, and jarred in their hands.
Sossomo paused from his exertions to look at me, then at his workers, then back at me. “Lucky seven,” he said.
“Is it really lucky?” I asked.
“Things develop lives of their own, and what lives has influence.”
One of the men suddenly broke from the group and bolted for the cliff, throwing himself over the edge. He plummeted into a jagged outcropping of rocks far below, his body broken, battered, and punctured. Then the ocean crashed against the base of the cliff and washed away the corpse.
I turned back to Sossomo and found him grinning hideously at me. “And what dies,” he went on, seemingly oblivious to what had just occurred, “leaves an imprint forever. An echo.” His grin broadened. “Would you like to join us?” he asked. “Eight is a number of Power … or it can be.”
“Eight?” I asked. “Don’t you mean …” I was going to compensate for the man who’d flung himself from the cliff. My voice trailed off. I saw now that that man was back with the group and trying to dig. I frowned, turned to Sossomo, who was still grinning.
“Memories are like pimples,” Sossomo told me with a cackle. “Some times they break the surface. But don’t worry; they don’t last forever.”
I looked at the digging — foundations, it appeared, or at least an attempt at them. The only one who’d made any headway was Sossomo.
Sossomo smirked and got back to his digging.
I awoke, back in my bedroom. Sunlight streamed through the window and I buried my head under my pillow, trying to get away from it. There’d been plenty of mornings I’d spent in bed — particularly after Elsie had gone. Sleep became my refuge. My escape. Now, though, it felt like my condemnation.
Getting out of bed, I switched on my computer. While it booted up, I rang the number from the card I’d been given. “Who are you?” I asked when someone answered. “Where do you come from?” I got no answer, though. Instead, the person on the other end hung up.
The next several times I called back, the number was busy again, and on the last couple of occasions I got the recorded operator’s message telling me that the line had been disconnected. Then nothing. It simply didn’t work in any form. That was it for dialing that number — I’ve tried it several times since, but all to no avail.
When I eventually got around to checking my email, I found one from Eternius:
We have a nature to be reborn one way or another, physically or psychologically.
Everything is reborn one way or another.
Similarly, you cannot bury things forever. Eventually, they will rediscover their way to the surface, like moles burrowing toward the sunlight. When that occurs, we need to take heed and remember.
Sadly, unfortunately, recollection and the registration of thoughts, ideas, and events within the mind to become lifelong memories and signposts in the road are two different matters entirely.
Some will never remember.
Some will choose to forget.
And those who do recall …
Well, none choose to.
Not entirely, anyway.
This email was the last I received from Eternius, but things weren’t over just yet.
For the rest of the day, prank phone calls plagued me. Whenever I answered, computer screeching blasted me, then cackles of laughter. The only note of interest — before I disconnected the phone, and you better believe I was worried it’d still ring — was that the laughter dimmed with each call.
When I went to bed, I slept uneasily and was finally awakened by that deep voice telling me, “Wake up. Wake up.”
I did so easily — I’d been sleeping that poorly — but as I sat upright I found my bed was now in the basalt chamber. The bed rocked and creaked as the torrent of blood that raged through the chamber buffeted it violently.
Above me, suspended by fish hooks from the ceiling were the seven men I’d seen previously — the party of men responsible for my prank phone calls and whose names were Gilbert Anelzark, Alwyn Vogel, Lyndon Rickabaugh, Hamilton Carmichael, Jacob Tolan, Noble Hastings, and Emanuel Verrault.
Sossomo approached from the far corner, wading through the torrent. His hideous face was twisted into a caricature of amusement, and he lifted his hand up out of the deluge of blood to reveal he was bearing a huge machete.
“Why me?” I asked.
His mouth twisted into a snarl, and with his free hand he caressed my chin. His fingers were deformed and thick, and his skin was hard, like the calluses you might get on your feet.
“Because what’s empty,” he said, “opens itself to be filled.”
He swung the machete, but swiveled it just as I thought it’d be impaled in my forehead. A lock from my hair was cut, and fell into the torrent of blood. My focus remained on that flashing blade, which continued its arc as Sossomo lopped off the foot of one of the suspended men — Anelzark, I think it was. The river of blood bubbled around the area where the foot fell in, as if beneath the surface something — or some things — feasted on the morsel. I thought of my lock of hair in there and felt myself touched, as if damned.
Anelzark, suspended by fish hooks in each nostril — screamed, hitting a note so piercing it reverberated in the very stones of the chamber itself. Sossomo pitched the machete into Anelzark’s back, embedding it there for easy retrieval later. Anelzark’s screams intensified, and he writhed in indescribable agony, but he remained conscious.
Sossomo turned abruptly, and smiled, although it did nothing to lighten his expression. His look was sadistic, one of manic glee, and I felt I had to say something, anything, to break the silence between us.
“What … what did they do wrong?” I asked.
“YOU KNOW WHAT THEY DID WRONG!” Sossomo said, grabbing me by the shoulders and shaking me vigorously. “You know what. You know when. You know why!’
“That’s why they’re … they’re …”
Sossomo uttered a smug little chuckle, and given the gleam in his eyes, the cast of his face, it suddenly seemed jovial.
“It wasn’t the motive; it wasn’t the reason; it wasn’t even the plunder of the rewards,” Sossomo said. Then, the entire chamber shaking with each word, he hollered like a petulant child, “IT … WAS … THE … SACRIFICE!”
And finally I understood — the river of blood in the chamber, it wasn’t from these men. Sossomo seemed to recognize the understanding in me. He nodded, as if in acknowledgement of my comprehension, and his ever-present grin turned into a smirk.
“Everything costs, man,” he said.
A knocking at the door roused me. A shaft of sunlight streamed through my bedroom curtains. I blinked, shielded my eyes, then dove for refuge under my pillow. My head felt cluttered, the way it does after a big night of drinking.
The knocking continued.
I trudged out of bed, put on a bathrobe, and answered the door. More sunlight flooded in, blinded me, and I held a hand up to block it. My visitor was just a silhouette, a shadowy wraith, and I gaped, thinking it must be one of the seven men coming to collect me.
It was Elsie. Her face was hard, her eyes unblinking, but I could still see the winsomeness that had first attracted me to her. She held up a folded piece of paper, which she used to point at the fringe of my hair. I pulled at my fringe, only to find a lock missing.
“You look terrible,” she said.
“I wanted to give you this myself.” She thrust the folded paper forward.
It was a summons. I sighed, lifted my gaze to Elsie. She must’ve expected I’d be antagonistic in response, but I had nothing but emptiness. It all seemed so futile and purposeless, another endless cycle.
“Okay, thanks,” I said. I started to swing the door closed, but she thrust her foot forward to stop me.
“You okay?” she asked.
And there, for an instant, was the concern of the woman who’d once loved me, her face softening.
“Want a cup of coffee?” I asked.
Her eyes narrowed, but she nodded. I led her into the kitchen where I put the kettle on, wondering what to tell her, how I’d tell her.
You’d think something so extraordinary would stay with you forever, but already I felt as if it was fading. Some things you aren’t meant to remember. It’s not just that the human mind has its own automatic mechanism for blocking these things out, or repressing them, but there are other things out there that don’t want you to remember. And sometimes societies, normal everyday societies, like to forget — as a whole. It’s their way of dealing with things. Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re gone.
Really, it’s just like Sossomo told me.
Everything costs, man.
Les Zigomanis is a freelance writer/editor based in Melbourne, Australia. He’s had short stories and articles published in a bunch of places, both in print and online, and also had a couple of screenplays optioned. When he has time, he works on yet another novel (this one being the one — he promises it’ll be!) and blogs on his website about his football team, movies, and a bunch of random stuff. Follow him on Twitter @LesZig.