THE HAPPY VALLEY: THE TWINS

I’m taking a break from the gas station book. I don’t know when my job starts up again  but I have a feeling it will be soon. In the meantime, I wanted to squeeze in as much writing as I could. Here is a chapter from my other story. It is pretty badass.

 

THE HAPPY VALLEY: THE TWINS

Deeds woke up and gurgled and gargled and swallowed hard. She rolled over on her back and looked up at the cracked and mottled ceiling of her room. It was then she became aware of the papers affixed to the damp skin of her face as she slept. The moisture caused the ink to run. She swore and peeled them off. She saw her scribbled scrawl had started to run, it was barely legible anymore. She wondered how much of the ink had gotten on her face, but she made no move to get up and check. She had drooled too. Deeds lay still feeling the floor rock her back to sleep like a lullaby. She barely remembered walking home, did she take the back alleys, she wondered. Or did she wander brazenly singing in the middle of the street. She glanced down at her feet and then past them at the door. She definitely did not remember leaving it wide open.                                     

Her stomach sank and it wasn’t just the alcohol when she realized that someone else was in her room. “Hello?” She choked and groaned and wobbled to her feet. Spending the night drinking had been a bad idea and she knew it while she was doing it. She took full responsibility for her actions as she felt her brain catch up with the rest of her body. She was stiff, beyond dehydrated, painfully hungover, and more than likely still drunk. Deeds ambled to the open front door and shut herself in with the intruder. “Hello?” she repeated and started and twirled at a noise that came from behind.

“Hello!” the voice sounded cheerful as the stranger barreled to her. Deeds ducked at the last minute not wanting a repeat of what happened with Max Grander at the house on Abernathy Avenue. How the mad robed man managed to overpower her so quickly was still a mystery. There was a smack as whoever it was hit the door hard with the palms of their hands to stop them from slamming face first into it. She screamed and returned the favor as she stood up and dug her head and shoulders into the intruder’s rib cage and shoved with all her might, pressing her legs against the door for leverage. As she beat the stranger back, hands gripped the side of her face, fingers clasping fistfuls of damp hair at her temples and the stranger groaned in effort and managed to reroute Deed’s momentum. She deflected harmlessly to the left and fought to find her footing. “Take her alive,” she heard the stranger say, and to her confusion she heard the same voice answer back. “I know I’m not going to kill her. She’s all slimy. I can’t get a good grip.”

Unable to stop herself from falling Deeds tumbled and tripped over a pile of dirty clothes and blankets, she ducked and rolled to deaden the fall and stood up too quickly. She swayed on her feet and gulped for the stranger that stood before her now held a gun. Deeds never saw anything like it before; it was narrow, angular, and made of a brightly polished metal. The sharp barrel was pointed at her face as if it was meant to impale as opposed to firing god knows what at her. “What kind of gun is that?” Deeds was dumbfounded and couldn’t help but ask. She also hoped that the slur in her speech did not betray how bad off she really was. “Just don’t impale me with that thing.”

“She’s dangerous.” Deeds heard the stranger say.

“Who? Me or the gun?” She raised her hands in defeat.

“Yes,” the stranger answered.

“What?” She asked perplexed and shook her from side to side as if trying to free the cobwebs from between her ears. The motion made her head throb even more as her brain attempted to crawl out of her skull. She needed to think of a way out but the intruder had the only exit blocked. She looked over at the blue, green, gold, and black of the stained glass windows in her room. She did not want to break them but she would if she had to.

“She’s distracted. Take her out now!”

“Huh?” she asked as she heard the voice come from behind.

“Huh?” the intruder with the mysterious gun pointed to her head mimicked her confusion.

With her hands still raised she turned slowly to figure out where the other voice came from. That was when her face was met with a fist that sent Deeds sprawling back to the floor.

She had never been very good in a fight, despite her stocky stature. Octavia Deeds was ungainly; her center of gravity was off as if she had more joints in her body than she should have. She was also uncoordinated. However there were a couple of things that she was decent at when it came to a confrontation and that was taking a punch and playing dead. That was what she chose to do at the very moment as she laid perfectly still and not breathing as her assailant loomed in closer. She also wasn’t bad with a knife. With luck she found a switchblade in her tumble and tucked it away in her hand. Her cheek stung from the punch as she feigned unconsciousness.  “Is she dead? No. Not dead. She better not be. I mean, she shouldn’t be. I only punched her once and not that hard. You better check and watch out. She has a knife hidden in her hand. I know she has the knife.” Deeds hoped her face did not betray her puzzlement as she heard one voice carry on a full conversation. She felt a boot make contact with her hand and the knife skittered out of her grasp. Her fingers throbbed and she bit her tongue, kept her eyes closed,  and  dared not make a  move to retrieve it as the stranger leaned in closer to see if she was still breathing. Fortunately, Deeds could hold her breath for a long time. “I know it has been a minute. Don’t worry. I’m not worrying. It wasn’t that hard. I swear. It was if she just threw her head right into my fist. This one is an odd one. She’s also intoxicated. I can smell it on her pores. You may have to revive her.”

She felt herself being rolled onto her back, and a head draw close. It was then she brought her legs up and found the stranger’s shoulders on either side of the neck. She opened her eyes, and pain sliced through her temples and down to her neck and shoulders. Her stomach churned from the effort. “Oh Gods,” Octavia Deeds mumbled as she squeezed, “I’m going to throw up.” There was a gurgling noise of a windpipe getting crushed and she closed her eyes with the exertion and to stop the world from spinning out of control around her. Then she felt herself being lifted up off the ground and she tumbled forward as her assailant managed to get their legs back under them and fall bodily backwards, flinging the gun away in the effort.

Deeds lost her bearings, she swore, as the stranger slid from her grip. She groaned and swallowed hard against the bile that threatened to rise. “Not now,” she muttered to her guts. She saw she was closer to the window as she scrambled to her feet and her attacker did the same. To her surprise, the gun was once again pointed in her direction. Seconds before she had seen it sail across the room. There was no way it could have been recovered so soon, she thought as she raised her hands again in defeat. “What are you doing in my house,” she asked her voice was rough.

“Well, we were going to sack it, but it looks as if you already did it for us.”

She sighed and risked a glance around her surroundings; her assailant’s joke was not lost her. What could they possibly be looking for in this mess? Then it dawned on her. “Wait, what? You said we. I’ve only ever seen one of you.” She heard a noise behind her and she turned for a second. “Now,” a voice said and the one with gun fired.

A jolt shot through her and Octavia Deeds crumpled to the floor. She laid there stunned and desperately hoped that there were no profound flesh wounds, not that it mattered, for she realized she could not feel anything at all. It was as if she was still playing dead but for real this time. At least she did not feel sick and she drew little comfort from that notion. Through half closed eyes, she heard her attackers rifling through her room. She could hardly blame them for making her mess even worse. “Check the bag on the bed.” Deeds groaned internally as she realized what they wanted.

“I’m checking the bag.” Her insides cringed when she heard they had found it.

“Where did you get this?” one of the intruders approached her with the relic that Deeds struggled so hard to obtain and held it inches from her face. A string of profanity and questions wound around her mind but she could not form the words. “You’ll have to unfreeze her mouth if you want her to talk.”

“I know,” the other captor sighed, hit a button, pulled the trigger, and shot Deeds in the  face. She closed her eyes tightly and then opened them and realizing with a flood of relief that she could do so. She opened and closed her mouth, cracking her jaw and clacking her teeth. She was disappointed to find that the rest of her body was still very much immobile. But her mouth was enough to get her point across. “Who are you two? What are you doing in my house and what in Gods’ name are you planning on doing with that statue? More importantly, what are you going to do with me?” All of her questions spilled out past her chapped lips.

“Are you done?” Both of them asked simultaneously. “Are there any more questions?”

“Yeah, I have some more,” Deeds couldn’t help it, “what kind of gun is that?” She asked again, “and where can I get one of those?”

“Answer-”

“-our question.”

“Okay fine,” she realized she was powerless. “I got it at a house on Abernathy Avenue. Somehow this crazed guy in a bathrobe and a high grade fever had it in his possession. He called himself a collector and an occultist, a bit of a nut job if you ask me.”

“We are asking you,” they answered, their voice humorless.

“What are you two planning on doing with it?” She added an extra emphasis on their number now that she knew for a fact that there were multiples of them. For all she knew there might even be a third lurking around somewhere and she hoped that wasn’t the case. “If you want it that bad, take it please. All I ask is that you destroy it. Hell, I was planning on doing it myself once I figured out how. Just take the whole bag; I’m done with that place.”

“What happened at Abernathy Avenue?”

“Something bad has opened up in the cellar. Mushrooms started growing, madness inducing spores from another world.” She did not want to go into any more details. “Look, are you finished? It is obvious you two already know what I’m talking about; otherwise you wouldn’t have broken into my house to steal that thing. You have it, it is yours, just please, please, unfreeze me and let me go. I’ll leave town and go far away. You can burn this place down and everything with it, I’m done with all of this too. All I ask is that you destroy that statue.”

“Oh we are,” they said simultaneously.

“But we’re not letting you leave,” the one with the gun added.

Octavia Deeds could not feel her heart sinking as she heard their words but she knew it did. “But why not?” she asked in earnest this time. “I swear I am not going to cause any more trouble. I’m done with that too.”

“Oh, what you are going to do is of no worry to us.”

“It is what you did do that is a cause for concern.”

To Deeds that sounded like a threat and she wondered what it was they were talking about. “Oh,” she added more to herself once she realized what it was. It did not look good. “So you’re not going to let me go.”

“How very astute,” the one with the gun added with the sharp looking barrel aimed on her face.

“It’s about what happened at the canal isn’t?”

“So you do remember?”

“How can I forget? I-I-“

“There was a lot of death that day, and we believe you were responsible for it.”

Deeds swore aloud for she knew she was screwed.

“You were spotted in the town that morning covered in blood.”

“And later that evening you were seen harassing a Spiritualist at the town hall event. After words, you followed her to the hotel bar. Witnesses say your conversation was heated. You were forcing her to do something.”

“I left empty handed.”

“That doesn’t explain the fact that Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge hasn’t been seen since. She cancelled the rest of her tour has gone missing in Knowlton’s Corner. We know you had something to do with her disappearance.”

“That doesn’t look good on your part.” The twins added together.

Deeds still tried to wrap her bedraggled head around the fact that they weren’t just twins but multiples of the exact same person. Their mannerisms and dress were out of place; clearly they weren’t from around here. And that gun, she added, that beautiful and terrifying gun… there was no way she was going to survive. Though she did hear them say as they fought that she had to be kept alive. Deeds wondered what her captors were planning to do to her. “I assure you Evelyn Lavinia Bainbridge is safe,” she added in a last ditch effort to clear her name of at least that. She had hoped Ms. Bainbridge was long gone by now.  “She’s a Spiritualist, I asked for help in dealing with that damned house. There is a ghost there too, or a soul that has been separated from his body. He goes by Bracken. From what I encountered with him he seems like an okay guy. I guess she agreed to help him out. She chose to stay at Abernathy Avenue. I bet you that is where she is.  She is a Spiritualist, after all, a piercer of the veil and all of that.”

“That doesn’t explain the death toll.”

“I don’t suppose it does,” Deeds tried to find a way to explain what had happened to her that morning, but she couldn’t get it out. “Just kill me already and get it over with.”

“So you do admit guilt.”

“Yes, no, I – don’t know. I can’t explain it.”

“Try.” They said together.

“It was me, but it wasn’t. Something came out of the basement. The mad robed man must have summoned it or something. Next thing I knew this black water had filled my lungs, combining with what I already had in me. Together it took over my body. “

“Elaborate.”

“It comes from a primeval sea deep underground; every time I fall asleep I drown in it. I know this sounds crazy but I didn’t mean to do it, I wasn’t in control. You have to believe me.”

“Oh we believe you, to a point. Clearly, you are in control of your own body, now, and poorly at that.”

The one with the gun trained on her added, “otherwise we would not have been able to incapacitate you.”

They shared a moment of certain smugness between them that Deeds loathed. But the only thing worse than her current situation was the looming hangover so she kept her mouth shut on that one. It was nice not to feel pain. “I served my purpose, it was done with me. I coughed it up on the water’s edge.”

“Where is it now, this Black Water?”

Deed’s wanted to shrug but she was still paralyzed from the neck down. “Wreaking havoc and eating worlds, floating downstream to the open ocean for all I know. Killing as it goes. Wait, if you believe me, why aren’t you letting me go? It is not like I intended to eat so much. As I said before it was beyond my control.”

“Would you do it again if given the chance?”

The question took Octavia Deeds for a loop. She bit her bottom lip and closed her eyes, her facial expression betraying her words. She didn’t want to have to answer them, for they would know it was lie. Her captors stood shoulder to shoulder looking down at her immobilized form and crossed their arms. Their movements and mannerisms were in sync. The twins, no, she corrected herself for they really were duplicates of the same person, waited for an answer. “I’m pretty sure you know the answer to that,” Deeds replied. “But more than anything, that amount of whatever it was that I had in me- I was terrified the entire time.”

“Terrified that you enjoyed it? The question is-“

“-do you have remorse for what you have done?” The other one finished the question.

“What?! I told you, it wasn’t me. I was powerless.”

“Still, do you have remorse?” They said together.

She paused for a second hoping her silence did not imply culpability. Then guilt sank in through the cracks of her protestations. “Oh,” she said, it was all she could offer them as an answer.

“Good.”

Deeds exhaled in relief that her reply was deemed decent enough. She felt as if she passed some sort of test . She really did feel awful about that. “Look, I can barely handle what I have already. If I could purge even that from me I would. Do you think I want to be like this? I drown in this shit in my sleep. Every. Single. Time. As a result I don’t get a lot of sleep and They are always there with me.” She did not bother to elaborate as to what They she was referring to. Deeds had an idea that her interrogators knew. She didn’t want to go into the subject of the Timeless Ones anyway. “What are you two?” she decided to turn the inquisition around. “Are you twins, duplicates, two of the same one of another? Where do you even come from? More importantly, how the hell do you know so much about me?!” Then part of her answers dawned on her. “Ohhh.”

The twins waited for her to finish the thought. Their expression was impassive and betrayed nothing.

“You don’t come from around here, not this world anyway, some other one, adjacent. Just like that hole in the basement on Abernathy Avenue. I bet you two just stepped right out of it like you owned the place. Did you come from that house too?! Don’t tell me you two are you two responsible for all of this?!” Her voice pitched up a notch as she tried to squeeze out as many questions as she could. She noticed the one with the gun currently had it pointed at her mouth giving her the universal signal to shut up. “What are you planning to do to with me? I heard you talking among yourselves that you had to keep me alive. Let me just say the situation has gone beyond my control, I tried to stop it. I’ve only ever been trying to help, you have to believe me.”

“That is why we have to keep you alive.”

“Regretfully,” one added and received a look from the other one.

“That wasn’t nice.”

Deeds frowned, “yeah, that hurt.” She paused gathering her thoughts. “I see now,” she nodded, “the spores are spreading and with it more mushrooms are growing. Madness has already subsumed Knowlton’s Corner. You need my help in stopping it.”

“As we said before, that is why we have to keep you alive.”

“Regretfully.”

The one with the gun pressed a button, pulled a trigger, and shot her in the face.

Deeds groaned. She realized she had somehow curled herself up on her side into a tight ball on the floor. She clenched her eyes closed for a minute and hugged her head as the earth spun under her. Then she unfurled her body. A flood of relief swept through her as she realized she had control over her limbs once more. She could almost cry because of it, until she realized that with all sensation returning, so did a profound hangover. She opened her eyes to see the twins standing over her. She chose not to make a move against them, for it looked as if there were four of them now. She prayed that wasn’t the case. She closed one eye and there were only two of them again.

“Whatever you do, do not under any circumstance come in contact with the Black Water. Do you hear me?”

“Yes,” Deeds nodded for she had no intention to.

“Do not leave town,” the other one said. She had to frown at that request. Mentally, she was packing her bags and already out the door. Setting everything on fire upon her dramatic exit was looking like a splendid idea.

“We will know. We are watching you. We will be in touch.” They finished each other’s sentences. The gun was holstered and they stepped away from her.

“Are you some sort of inter-dimensional parole officers or something?” Deeds called after them and groaned from the exertion of raising her voice. Her throat burned like hell from all of that talking.

“Something like that.” She heard them say as she as stared after them in wonder as they walked shoulder to shoulder out the door.

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