LifeGames Corporation

By Michael Smorenburg All Rights Reserved ©

Thriller / Horror

Chapter 29

The instant he opened his eyes and saw the two women sitting before him, Fernando, the cantankerous and ferocious Bishop of Andalusia, looked away.

“I would be obliged to have these women removed from my chambers,” he said it with disdain and disgust.

As if the brooding lethality of his Special Forces demeanor was steadily being siphoned away into his precursor personality; Roger Daly’s temperament was slowly becoming humanized.

When Nancy and Catherine had entered Roger’s room and Leon had introduced them, Roger had smiled genially, glad for the feminine interruption to an otherwise dull evening of television. He’d chatted easily with them, and slowly a spark of gallantry had crept in, softening him yet further.

Leon had played Craig’s recording to Roger.

Although it had made him agitated, he’d remained adamant that he could not identify the origin of his emotional switch, nor could he say if or when he’d heard the sounds before.

At the sound of the recording Catherine had again found herself overwhelmed by terror, bracing against an impulse to hide.

It had been eight days since her release from the Santa Clara Hospital, eleven glorious days since Ken’s last attack two Sundays past, and during that interim she had recovered her old self, becoming absorbed into both her work and her fully restored relationship with Jacky.

Her hatred for Ken was now without bounds. She’d severed all ties with him and officially withdrawn as advertising and PR consultant to LifeGames.

From what Leon had established through cunning cross-questioning and general observation, it had also been eleven days since Ken had last dreamed of Catherine.

Jacky’s acceptance of Nancy had vastly improved when the trio had dined together.

Catherine’s second intensive blood panel had turned up negative. The only remarkable notation read; ‘abnormally high red corpuscle count’, consistent with increased metabolism due to the nutritional patch.

Similarly, Roger’s panel showed ‘certain impurities’ that eluded identification. All talk about the inquest to take the matter further suddenly evaporated and everybody Leon talked to had developed amnesia to the earlier speculations.

In light of the negative blood panels, a patch would be invaluable if they were to move forward with the suspicions, but that posed a great difficulty; every patch, whether used or unused, was barcoded and tracked to the incinerator.

To this end, the company went to great lengths, even couriering used patches back from around the globe to Head Office where they were checked off the books and committed to the furnace.

But Ken had unwittingly opened a door; Kampala was his headache branch, regularly fouling up administration. Nancy had selected an incomplete inbound consignment, and removed one more used patch from the package already short three items.

She’d kept her illicit actions from Leon; if he was ignorant of the fact, he couldn’t be held guilty by association.

They’d passed the stolen patch on to a friend of Catherine’s who worked at a local university. He’d warned that it would take him some time to establish a result for the analysis.

Where, sliding into hypnosis, Roger had been welcoming to the women at his bedside, his alter-ego personality, Fernando, had only disdain and indignation for them sitting before him as he’d awoken.

After the curtain had been drawn around his bed, with the women beyond it, the Bishop had grudgingly become marginally more cooperative. Their presence within earshot continued to rile him and he grumbled about it, how Leon had insulted him in his deepest sentiments; how dare he give these women an audience without consent... how dare he only mask them by a simple curtain... it was intolerable!

The Bishop veered off into Spanish, making no apology for chauvinistic outrage; “QUE DESGRACIA! PONERME EN LA COMPANIA DE MUJERES!” Did Leon not know that he was a high-ranking official in the church? Did Leon not realize that if respect were not forthcoming, he would impose it!

And then it got worse—The Bishop looked through his window, across the courtyard and into the opposite wing where the flickering movements of a television caught his eye. He pointed it out to Leon and refused to continue their interview until it was removed; the closure of his blinds would not suffice.

With folded arms and pouting lips he fixed his eyes toward the ceiling. Before he would speak another word this “...diabolical evil, this tongue of Satan, had to be entirely cauterized... removed from the building.”

As he waited patiently for hospital staff to remove the offending monitor, Leon realized that it was going to be a trying session.

He hoped that Fernando wouldn’t realize that, just beyond the curtain, stood his very own evil tongue, in the dormant state of being switched off.

Explaining the delay to Nancy and Catherine, Leon had whispered softly. “We could be here all night if he gets wind of the other two hundred sets in the building!”

Returning once more into Fernando’s presence, the quarrelsome pontiff’s aloofness had exaggerated yet further; how dare this man abandon his presence to talk to women… to women—it was downright insolent!

Leon had to grovel in apology.

After what seemed an age, action began across the courtyard in the offending room. Leon watched as confusion and irritation unfolded when the television was turned off, unplugged and carried away. Fingers were pointed at Fernando’s ward across the divide, and hands were raised in askance and heads vigorously shaken in dismay.

All the while, the distinguished cause of the problem sat regally watching proceedings with detached satisfaction. He’d cleansed the world of one more great evil... he’d teach these ignorant heathens a lesson in decorum.

“May we precede, Eminence?” Leon eventually inquired. But nothing would be that simple tonight. All of these disturbances had caused the Bishop to suffer a dreadful thirst and water should be brought.

Naturally, when he called for water, no electric bell could be used. Leon’s attempted use of the button roused too much suspicion. Fernando had a much simpler solution.

The women should be put to work. They should serve him the water; and serve him with all haste; “And please don’t put ice in it—I don’t even want to start trying to explain that!” Leon advised.

The tepid water arrived, and the Bishop satisfied himself that it was acceptable.

After Holy intentions had been assured, matters at hand could proceed.

“You spoke previously, Sire, of foul balms... In my tongue this term arouses much confusion.”

Fernando eyed Leon unblinkingly; this underling was trying his patience, he was unaccustomed to such insistent badgering for answers.

Leon saw the battle glee in his eye, but forged ahead;

“Is this balm a preparation used to bring time into reduction, so as to...”

“Nay,” the pontiff cut him short, “...the balms of which I speak, invite Lucifer into thy heart.” His voice was calm and low, visibly governed into restraint. “By their acceptance comes certain hell-fire and damnation. Savior from this certainty is only possible through devotion to the Good.”

Fernando’s reply begged more questions than it answered.

Beyond the curtain, both women were wide-eyed and attentive.

“May I ask, Sire, whether these balms were imbibed by the very body that you presently occupy? Did the man known in my time as Roger Daly imbibe these balms?”

“The same Evil is always offered to each soul at your black-mass,” Fernando responded, increasing in agitation.

“Yet your soul did not accept this Evil, Sire?” Leon prompted cautiously.

The Bishop detected the impertinence and insult in the man’s question but he decided to overlook it; heathens could not always be expected to know the depths of devotion.

“The balm was offered to my form, but I would never stand idly by as darkness seized its hold.”

Leon couldn’t miss the chastisement that the grave voice conveyed; he reminded himself to re-double his efforts to proceed with caution.

In preparation for the next question he would ask, Nancy had showed Leon how to use his mobile phone as a recorder for today’s session—he had it recording from the breast pocket of his cotton shirt.

This had freed up his ancient reel-to-reel cassette recorder. He’d held it next to the speakers of his computer to record the voice mail with the strange sounds and Craig’s voice that Ken had emailed to him.

“Sire, I have here an instrument. It has a method to make a record of the sounds of the ear, much like writing records the details of the mouth and heart.”

Leon hoped that using a cassette tape recorder rather than a digital one would provide him at least some mechanical mechanism for Fernando to observe turning; it might quell the inevitable accusations of witchcraft and evil that would certainly otherwise be leveled.

For safety’s sake he had rehearsed some qualifiers that could justify the workings of the antiquated device.

“There is a chord that you will see to move. This chord is not unlike that of a violin bow, which releases sounds according to its movement.”

The description seemed to do the trick, Fernando took the recorder from Leon’s hands the moment that it was produced.

“Where is this chord?” He demanded.

When Leon ejected the cassette, Fernando grabbed it and held the clear plastic case up to the light. He flicked it with his nail, then shook it and tapped it on his teeth, trying to establish if the material itself perhaps held the hidden mysteries that were promised.

“It is a fine chord, Sire,” Leon gingerly pointed out the magnetic tape. Then, realizing that the Bishop was about to hook it out and begin unraveling it, he quickly added, “...that may easily be damaged irreparably by touch.”

Instead of touching, Fernando sniffed and shook it more vigorously to hear if it would utter anything in protest, but only a common rattle emitted.

Satisfied that there were no captured souls evident, he handed Leon the two items.

“Let me hear this sound,” he watched suspiciously as cassette and recorder were married again, one into the other

Leon realized that further suspicion of foul play may arise when the spindles began to turn, so, as he clipped the cassette cover into place, he paved the way by explaining more wondrous facts.

“Please do not be alarmed, Eminence. Not unlike a time clock, this instrument uses springs and weights to achieve its movement for sound.”

At the sound, Fernando sat back as far as the bed would let him, and for good measure he crossed himself twice with a mumbled prayer. It was the mechanism that seemed to bother him, not the sound itself, for, as it went on, he moved cautiously forward, listening intently. Strangely, the sound of Craig’s voice did not startle him either as it had done everyone else.

When the recording had finished, he commanded, “Where did you come by such a sound?”

It had been the one question that Leon had not anticipated. Battling not to stumble over his words, Leon carefully formulated his reply;

“This is something that I wish to ask of you, Sire. I believe that this is not a sound common in my world, it appeared within this instrument by unknown means.”

Leon knew it was a floundering explanation, one that courted suspicion, yet inexplicably Fernando remained relaxed and collected to this unsettling event, appearing to possess an insight.

He was perplexed by the Bishop’s unpredictable character; generally overreacting to perfectly innocuous and innocent occurrences, yet ignoring what others found disturbing.

Committed to the explanation, he stumbled on;

“This sound would seem connected to strange occurrences of late, sire. One of the ladies here present has been much troubled in this connection. She seeks to resolve her suffering, it is why I have brought her for an audience.”

Fernando ignored Leon’s allusion to Catherine’s suffering. Indifferently, he continued on his own tack;

“This is the sound of the spirit world, it is associated with the movement through the planes... from your world to the next. The voice is of one who has been seized. I was in attendance at his departing your world. In order to save him his fate I offered absolution, but his deeds of this past existence had been too great and he became overwhelmed by the dark.”

The Bishop spoke as if he were addressing a child, his patience ebbing as he proceeded;

“He did to me confess foul deeds before he was took. And in repentance he resolved to return and make amends in the name of Good. It will serve his justice more peace, yet he will surely burn all the same.”

Leon could see that irrationality was boiling in the cauldron, Fernando’s control of it slipping.

In the hope that the small token would quench the powder keg threatening to ignite, Leon offered more of the water that had earlier been brought.

The Righteous Father quaffed the tumbler to its end.

“Send a woman for more...,” he brazenly instructed.

Leon did his bidding, passing the empty jug to Nancy. She took it and departed in a huff.

Outside of the ward, forced to miss the unfolding intrigue, she hurried past the scullery where she’d previously collected water. A group of passerby’s sensed her mood and stood aside.

“The Bishop can drink water from the Ladies’ toilets,” she told them with satisfaction.

Fernando brooded a while, thinking. Then, at his leisure, he spoke;

“Show me this woman who is troubled.”

Keeping her eyes averted, as Leon had instructed, Catherine dutifully appeared.

On seeing Catherine full in the face for the first time, Fernando sat bolt upright in his bed. “This soul is ancient!” the pontiff moaned, suddenly gracious.

To Catherine the Bishop’s words were not words at all, they were an emotion; an introspective the like of which she had never before experienced, as though a pedigree she didn’t know she had, had suddenly been shoved in her face. The instant cartwheeled her emotions backward through time to another age, another place, a place where she heard the clash of arms and the cheer of crowds.

Catherine had gasped at the sight of Fernando. Coming back to her senses she realized that this was not the same youthful Roger whom she’d recently chatted pleasantries with, nor was it the six year old Roger on his first day at school. As she studied him, she noticed the way he held his face and body, that they seemed entirely altered; a withered old man.

His eyes forced her a half step back, mesmerizing her, cauterizing to the depths of her soul.

At that precise moment, beyond the curtain, Nancy came silently through the door. Hearing the Bishop speak, she froze in her path, hesitating to round the curtain and break the flow of conversation.

“This soul has grown ahead of itself with confidence. A test is failed and the instant to move onward is imminent....”

Fernando’s tone was haunting as he pointed a gnarled accusing finger at Catherine. Fanaticism overtaking him, he began to convulse with intensity, a torrent of warnings belching from his gut.

“Beware... BEWARE...! For the evil is upon you! Take my heed and repent against the power that already possess you. I stand as a pillar at your back but tendrils already have you within their grasp. The Great Goat will have his way with you.”

The old man began to froth from his mouth and Leon leapt in to end the session.

A few minutes later the young and oblivious ex-General, Roger Daly, smiled pleasantly at the distraught pair of women he had just terrified out of their wits.

Among the thoughts cramming through Catherine’s mind was one silly and insignificant fact. Today was Thursday the twelfth.

If, three weeks ago, she had stuck to her original date with Ken, tonight would have been the Big Date.

“At the very least,” she thought, “I’m three weeks better off.”

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