Part 1: Odysseus
“These are Odysseus brand, right?” The old cobbler asked, rubbing a finger over the company’s spear-and-shield emblem, which had been stamped into the shoe’s fine leather. “Italian handiwork. Very nice.”
“You know it?” Niles asked, impressed.
The cobbler nodded. “Of course! I rarely get the chance to work on a pair though.”
“Think you’ll be able to handle it?”
“Oh, for sure. I’ll get ‘em fixed up for ya.”
After putting countless hours into his current case, CIA agent Niles Ishida desperately needed a breath of fresh air. Once he had finally departed from the makeshift base of operation they had set up in a nearby hotel, he figured he would get a few minor tasks done; the first of which was to get his Italian leather loafers cleaned and mended. He had noticed that some of the stitching on them was coming apart, something that, if left alone for too long, would cause the shoes to eventually deteriorate. This had stressed him out to no end.
Luckily, the small city he had been sent to for the case actually had a local cobbler. Simple words could not describe the relief Niles had felt as he spotted the place on his phone’s GPS app.
And he knows about Odysseus, he thought. At least someone in this little trash heap of a town has some culture…
He remembered Mike mocking him for his shoes back at the hotel. “Aren’t you supposed to be a secret agent or something?” the man had joked.
Such a buffoon.
Pushing the memory aside, he handed the shoes over to the cobbler and departed the store. The man said he would call Niles’ cell phone once the job was finished.
With that done, I guess I should find a way to kill some more time, he thought, looking around at the sparse downtown area of the city.
He spied a little pleasant-looking diner called The Hot Spot, and decided to go with that. He wasn’t too hungry, but thought it would be better to eat sooner while he had the time.
Alright then, he thought. I guess it’s lunch time.
Part 2: Little Man
Seated at a comfortable booth next to the window, Niles watched the people walk by as he sipped his cafe au lait and waited for his food to arrive.
Do any of these normal people know even an inkling of what's going on right now? he wondered. Probably not.
He took a slow sip of his coffee. It was still fairly hot, but not enough to burn his tongue. The steaming liquid warmed up his entire body as it went down, a truly welcomed feeling.
It gets cold early in the year around here, he thought. His last job was near Seattle, where the weather was far more mild. Even the air here just felt harsher. He couldn’t wait to leave.
Sadly, I’m stuck here for now.
He took another sip of his coffee. It wasn’t bad… but it wasn’t particularly good either.
“Bzzzzzzt! Bzzzzzzt!” Without warning, his phone began to vibrate on the table in front of him. He peered at the caller ID and was instantly disappointed. He had been waiting for a call from an associate of his since he left the hotel, and so far he hadn’t had any luck. He still answered the phone regardless.
“This is Niles,” he said.
“Hey,” Mrs. Wolf replied. “We got some good news regarding the case.”
“Harlan coughed up the data as soon as Kimura walked into the room. Craziest thing. I guess he was a fan.”
Niles winced, but kept the tone of his voice steady. “I see. That’s good.”
“We’ll be reviewing it tonight,” Wolf continued. “I’ll keep you updated on any findings.”
“Roger that. Thanks.”
Niles set his phone back down after Wolf hung up, his mood having been completely spoiled.
He hadn’t been a fan of Kimura since meeting him. Even before that, if he was honest. Kimura was nothing but a small town cop from the middle of nowhere in Ibaraki Prefecture, yet here he was leading a high-level investigation.
I should have been the one to lead, he thought.
Niles had always been at the top of everything growing up: his classes, sports, music… He’d won every award he possibly could and made a ton of high-ranking connections. He’d lived in both New York and Tokyo, and even attended Tokyo University, yet here he was being upstaged by a random country bumpkin weirdo.
Still, even landing on the team was a pure stroke of luck on Niles’ part. Originally they had wanted Niles because, having been raised by a Japanese father and American mother, he was fluent in both Japanese and English. This proved to be a moot point, as Kimura happened to speak better English than most Americans (much to Niles’ surprise). However, they opted to keep him on the team as a liaison to the CIA.
Originally, Niles hadn’t been sure why the case was so important to the CIA. Just have the FBI take care of it, right? But after learning the truth behind the case, Niles started to get a view of the entire picture, and became delighted at the prospect of finding some kind of supernatural weapon.
Something that could kill you without even touching you, he thought with a tiny smile. Now that’s interesting! Oh, the possibilities...
His daydream was interrupted as a young waitress set a plate of bacon, eggs, and toast in front of him. He continued staring out of the window, failing to even acknowledge the young woman’s presence.
Time to eat.
After the woman was gone, he picked up his fork and broke open one of the eggs, unleashing a torrent of bright yellow goop all over the stack of bacon beside it.
Honestly, had he been given the job a few years ago, he might have doubted the whole “supernatural” angle that Kimura and Wolf had given him. He had always been sceptical regarding that kind of stuff. However, meeting Enoch had changed all of that.
Niles had originally been assigned to track Enoch down and monitor him for the CIA. Enoch Winchester used to be a counterintelligence agent who had embedded himself in a cult in Pennsylvania called “The Seekers.” After spending several months on the project, he ended up disappearing completely. That was until someone ended up spotting him in Virginia.
It only took a week for Niles to find him and the new cult he’d started: the Half Moon Church. However, he wasn’t able to monitor the man for any extended period of time. It turned out that Enoch had been monitoring him instead.
Niles vividly remembered opening his hotel room door and seeing that old man’s craggy face smiling at him.
“Can I come in?” Enoch had asked cheerily.
Niles had expected him to be angry. On the contrary, Enoch seemed to have been expecting him, and was quite enthused to speak with him. They spoke at length that night on all kinds of things: philosophy, science, futurism, psychology, politics… It seemed there was nothing Enoch didn’t know about. He was a well read and well traveled man with a long list of academic achievements. Far from the whacko religious zealot Niles had expected him to be.
The next day, he met Enoch at his house: an impressive renovated farmhouse in the middle of rural Virginia complete with several well-furnished bedrooms and a personal library. They had dinner together, along with many conversations, and the night ended with Niles playing the violin for Enoch, who wept at the beauty of the music.
“I’m gonna be straight with you,” Enoch had told him before he left that night. “I think we met for a reason.”
“What do you mean?” Niles asked, eyebrow raised high.
Enoch’s eyes were almost glowing with passion. “I think you’ve been sent to me by a higher power!”
Niles rejected the notion outright, but after that day it slowly began growing on him. He had always thought of himself as being destined for great things. Doing field work for the CIA didn’t really seem the appropriate level of “great” either. There had to be something more waiting for him out there, and maybe this was it…
He chuckled as he slipped a piece of bacon into his mouth and bit down on it with a “crunch.”
That was three years ago, and by now he was absolutely convinced that Enoch Winchester was right in his assessment. Their meeting was destiny, and so was his assignment to his current case.
Of course, Enoch’s special ability went a long way towards convincing him as well…
He finished his meal, and looked around for the waitress. He had to get out of there and attend to a few other things that afternoon.
Spotting her over by the register near the front door, he reached out a hand and snapped his fingers at her.
“Hey!” he called. “Hey waitress!”
“SKKKKKRCH!” The sound of a chair being scraped against the floor filled the room, prompting Niles to turn his head towards a nearby table. There, a bald burly man in a leather vest was glaring down at him, his eyes fiery hot with pure fury.
“Hey, little man,” the guy began, pointing a finger accusingly at Niles. “That’s my wife you’re snapping at. Why don’t you learn some respect?”
Niles remained calm and brushed a finger against the pistol concealed under his jacket.
“Are you threatening me?” he asked.
“What if I am, little man?!”
“I suggest that you don’t,” Niles told him, face as still as stone. “You must not know who I am.”
“I don’t care who you are, you little bi-”
“Earl!” the waitress called, cutting off the man’s insult. “It’s okay, really! There’s no need to start a fight. I’m fine!”
Earl stared at Niles for another moment, then let out a frustrated huff. “Alright,” he said begrudgingly. “I’m gonna let you go, but only because my beautiful wife said so. But I’m gonna remember your face, little man.”
Niles rolled his eyes. He didn’t want to have to deal with any of the local hicks today. After downing the rest of his coffee in a single gulp, he stood up, slapped a twenty onto the table, and left.
No time for petty squabbles, he thought. I have far more important things to attend to.
It’s destiny, after all…
Part 3: Clouds
Reclining on a park bench, Niles Ishida tilted his head back and stared up at the clouds passing by overhead. Their casual lazy drifting was in complete contrast to Niles’ own hectic life, and it seemed to put him at ease.
Some of us can’t afford to float around aimlessly all day, he thought. Guys like me have schedules.
He adjusted the headset in his ear. “You can hear me right?”
“Sure can,” a gruff voice replied. “You alone right now?”
“Of course. I found a little park. I’m the only one here.”
Enoch Winchester laughed from the other end of the call. “I knew I could count on you. Any update on the case?”
“We’re moving along slowly, but steadily. Managed to get our hands on some valuable data earlier today. I’ll be able to send it over to you later tonight using the program you guys gave me. I assume we’ll find something more concrete soon enough.”
“Really? That’s good!”
“What about on your end? How has BlueBell been progressing?” BlueBell was the name of a special project Enoch had been cooking up with the help of some computer programmers he had recruited. Niles wasn’t privy to all of the details, but he knew it was powerful.
“Oh ho!” Enoch replied excitedly. “Niles, if I told you everything, you’d be gobsmacked! We’ve got hundreds of thousands of devices by now. Probably the biggest project of its kind in the entire world!”
“Excellent. Do you need anything more on my end?”
“Not yet,” Enoch told him. “But I’ll give you a buzz on that burner phone I gave you if I come up with something. Keep it handy, but make sure it doesn’t fall into anyone else’s hands. That’d be real bad news for us.”
“Got it. I’ll be in touch.”
Niles hung up the phone, took the plastic earpiece from his ear, and leaned back once again to stare at the clouds. He wanted just one more quick moment of solace before heading back to the city.
However, his calm expression gave way to visible concern. One of the clouds above him seemed to be forming itself into a familiar shape, one that filled him with a sense of dread.
Is that... a skull?
Part 4: It Hurts
The red earth seemed to extend in all directions indefinitely. Above it, a red sky glowed with an otherworldly ferocity.
Where am I?
Fabi turned around, and suddenly he was on top of a blood red hill that looked over a field of billowing grass. On his right side was Shozo Kimura, who had his head turned away so Fabi couldn’t see his face. On his left was a dark-haired young man, sitting with his knees hugged to his chest and muttering something to himself while crying. The tears rolled down the man’s cheek and soaked into his shirt, creating dark blotches in the fabric.
Fabi listened to try and make out any of the words the young man said, but none of it was intelligible.
“Fabi,” Kimura suddenly said, prompting Fabi to glance back towards him. “You see it too, right?”
Kimura was now facing forward, and Fabi could see that his face from the nose up resembled a skull. It looked as if someone had cut all of the flesh from the inspector’s face and left nothing but clean white bone.
“Kimura,” Fabi blurted out. “Y-your face!”
Kimura nodded. “It hurts,” he replied, before pointing towards the grass-filled valley. “Do you see that too?” he asked again.
Above the field, several long-haired female figures clad in torn-up dresses were floating, their bodies limp as if they were hanging from their necks.
“W-what are those?” Fabi asked.
Kimura simply shook his head.
Horrified, Fabi watched as the ground in the center of the floating women began to rise. Something appeared to be pushing up from under the earth, breaking the grassy field into pieces.
“Something’s coming,” Fabi said, feeling his body start to tingle as fear set in. “It’s coming!”
Out of the ground came a massive white-haired head, its eyes twitching around in different directions wildly and its face gaunt and sickly. Its mouth opened up freakishly wide, and behind the jagged, rotting teeth was a familiar figure. The man was on his knees, looking out at Fabi and Kimura and screaming in pure terror.
Oh God, Fabi thought. Is that… Mike?!
Fabi’s eyes shot open as he was woken up by his phone’s ringtone. He reflexively reached out and grabbed the device from his bed stand to answer it.
“Detective Mendez,” he said, trying to collect his wits.
“Fabi…” The voice on the other end filled him with sudden dread.
“Yes…” Kimura’s voice was more stern and serious than Fabi had ever heard it.
“I need you here at the hotel,” he continued. “Mike is in trouble.”