A Logical Progression of Madness

A Logical Progression of Madness | Episode Six: Ghosts and the Hinterlands

Previously:

One final time the cop nodded his assent. Baldwin fired a shot close enough to knock the officer out cold. He winced his way into the old house. The ankle was a mess, if not broken; black, blue and hurting all over. He hobbled back out and shoved a few things into the Blazer, nearly had to hop back around front, uncovered the UN officer and watched for a moment as his wounds began to slowly heal, before his eyes.

“It is a damnably useful trick,” he said to the daylight setting in.

The Blazer roared away into the day.

Now:

Baldwin drove, thinking of the cop. He remembered quite some years ago hearing the phrase, “useful idiot.” The UN Police Force, for the most part, was a global police organization full of nothing but those useful idiots. Each and every one, believing themselves to be on the ‘right’ side of ‘history.’ He found this amusing, as no one but the most secretive or the highest of status, even knew a word of history that had any meaning. Evy could and would call up any event in history one requested. But these were the tales of synthetic sophistry; ever-evolving, fluid and dependent on to whom the words were spoken to, Evy tailored it all to make certain the requesting party felt good about themselves. Her spectacular video and multimedia catered to the facade, each moment cut and spliced perfectly, the images seeming with certainty to back up her claims. And on those screens was the word of the new god of man to any average citizen. One didn’t question Evy’s false history, even if the falsity was known. One simply reveled in the digital abandon of escapism and accepted Evy’s word.

It disgusted Baldwin. He knew he was as well ignorant of real history. But he knew bullshit when he heard and saw it. The stink of it mercifully rendered it impossible for him to swallow whole.

The sun was setting on the horizon that lay before him. He reached down and pulled his left sleeve up slightly, revealing an archaic but still working watch. Few wore them anymore. Few needed them. The average person (to be read: augmented) merely had to think of the time and Evy would provide it to them. He pressed the button on the watch and the holographic screen appeared over his left upturned palm. It read, “No signal.”

Baldwin pumped his right fist into the air and nearly wrecked the Blazer. He was now driving in a place that he could only imagine in his dreams for the last few years, a place free of that incessant whine he’d always known as Evy. She could no longer track him visually. The world could not possibly rebuild everything after the alien ‘invasion’, thus the hinterlands held a promise of privacy for a time. But the price was high. He didn’t care at that moment how high the price was, including death. For Evy could not follow past the grave. Or at least he prayed that she could not.

The sun sank. Baldwin started paying very close attention to the road in front and the shoulder; trouble liked to brew at night in the hinterlands.

****

Three Hours Later

He could see the house but if there were anyone in the house, it was unlikely they could see him. The night sky offered no moon, quite alright with Baldwin. From within the line of trees, he watched the old house from within the Blazer, So far, he’d seen no squatters. After another half hour in the truck, he got out and made his way to the house. When he stepped out onto the dead pine needles, his ears perked up. For a moment, he thought he’d heard something in the forest behind him. After standing for another minute or two, he limped toward the house.

The broken glass of the back doors revealed nothing. The inside was too dark. Before he’d left his home in the city, he’d grabbed a few small, useful conveniences. He pulled out two small discs, walked into the house, and placed the two discs on each side of the hallway. They stuck to the wall and a couple of clicks later, light flooded the hallway. He went through the house checking rooms to make certain there weren’t any surprises. He found a bedroom that wasn’t a disaster and put up several of the light discs. Then, he stretched out onto the bed. Again, he was gone in seconds.

****

When he woke it was pitch black. Baldwin sat up immediately, as he’d left the lights on before falling asleep; he remembered it explicitly. As he scanned the room, the light discs very slowly began to illuminate, from black to a dim, yellow light. Then they jumped far beyond their capacity and went black, permanently. Baldwin reached and picked up the pulse pistol. The back door opened. But there were no footsteps. Only a completely palpable shift in the atmosphere in the house. He’d set his watch next to the bed on the floor and noticed the glow from it. He peeked over the edge of his bed and the watch had a virtual screen up. Static played on the screen like a schizophrenic art display. He’d never seen static on a screen before. He thought he could hear voices from the watch. Then his mind registered that he was hearing those voices in reality as well as from the watch, and the echo was getting worse.

From around the door stepped a hologram. Rather, that’s what Baldwin thought he saw. A hologram of a man slumped and shuffling forward. The hologram stumbled and knocked the tire iron down. At that moment, Baldwin’s heart raced a bit. It wasn’t simply a hologram. Something was very wrong. He made to jump out of the bed but when he shifted, the hologram turned abruptly to face him but, rather than make eye contact, it merely lifted its head enough to let Baldwin know: it knew he was there. He tried to slide one leg out of the bed and the hologram began to whisper, above the voices that seemed to be coming from it and Baldwin couldn’t understand the words.

In a quick motion, he pointed the pulse pistol at the apparition and fired. All hell broke loose. The apparition absorbed the pulse and then somehow redirected it across the entire room. Baldwin was knocked flat back onto his bed and before he could move, the holographic apparition was in his face. It was howling at him in multiple voices, screaming rage at him that he couldn’t understand. He punched out of pure survival instinct, and his hand connected to something. It felt like hitting a cellophane wall; the apparition absorbed the punch and it had little to no effect. He tried to punch again but this time, the holographic apparition let out a howl so forceful that Baldwin withdrew his hands, trying to put them on his ears. The apparition was able to hold his arms down as it screamed into his face, despite that Baldwin’s punch had little effect.

And then came the images. The cacophony of misery inside the apparition tried to find its way into Baldwin himself. He couldn’t recall ever feeling such terror in his life. The holographic apparition sent waves of misery through its hands into Baldwin’s body, trying to make him feel what it felt, endure its own horror and anguish. When it could not, it began trying to invade his mind. The power of the apparition was astounding to him, it was projecting all of its hatred out of itself, working with all its strength to plant those images into his mind. He fought back as hard as he knew how, screaming himself, trying to get away, trying to stay whole without coming apart at the seams.

Baldwin held onto who he was with all of his life. Death might be the price he would have to pay to escape Evy, but he was determined not to end trapped beneath a wailing hologram, a demon that had to be the making of Evy herself.

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