Original broadcasted 10/09/07
Smoking Salon – Dusk
Men moving in the room could barely be heard, as the carpet was thick and heavy. Elaborate panels of dark, polished wood lined each wall. Heads of animals adorned those walls, along with coats of arms. Although the lights were electric, they’d been designed to look like candelabra.
A fat man with a monocle slurped his cognac. “A common street punk. Nothing but a rabble-rouser.” He muttered the words into his glass.
Beside him, an older man with a large white mustache nodded. “But we have no choice. He has been Chosen.” The capital letter was audible.
The fat man looked ready to spit. “But why him?”
“You would rather have that honor yourself?”
At those words, the man froze. The mustached man was close enough that he could see his companion hide a shudder.
“Just so. Thank the gods for even tiny favors, my friend. This cup passed from our lips. Be grateful. I am.”
The overweight man finished his cognac in a single gulp. He gestured to a servant for another. Smoothly, a bottle was brought. He tried to pour it, but his hand trembled. A servant then poured it for him, and moved away so quickly that it was as if he vanished. The fat man lifted the glass to his lips, then stopped.
At the far end of the room, another servant was escorting someone. Both the portly man and his elder companion stared at the brown overcoat, the piercing blue eyes, the tiny mustache that reminded one of Charlie Chaplin. It was the only thing about this man that seemed at all comical. Even though the servant was visibly showing him where to go, the man in the brown coat moved as if this were his home, his castle, his personal fortress. Every set of eyes in the room was fixed upon him, and he managed to ignore that fact while acknowledging it at the same instant.
“Poor devil,” the old man with the large white mustache said beneath his breath.
Office – Moments Later
The room was very poorly lit. Enough to make out tapestries hanging from the walls, tapestries depicting the torments of hell. Following a knock on the door, a hand at a desk turned a dial. Above, a chandelier began to glow. Now the room became fully visible. So did the desk, the high-backed chair behind it, the table at one end with a chest resting upon it.
“Enter,” said the owner of the hand at the desk.
When the door opened, only one figure entered. A servant closed the door behind him. The man in the brown coat looked around and saw the only other occupant. He did a take. He was not a man surprised often.
The other occupant stood. He wore a black suit that resembled a uniform. He was also clearly not human. His eyes were red. His skin included scales. His ears were pointed. And as he spoke, fangs became visible.
“I am Varthrim, Herr Wolf. Or would you prefer to use your true name?”
Herr Wolf hesitated. “On balance, I would prefer Wolf. An alias can be useful.”
“Oh, I understand.” Varthrim walked from behind the desk and approached his guest. “Just as I understand the reason for this particular nom-de-guerre. Wotan, walking abroad among mortals, yes? A subtle hint at ambition, but clear, if one knows how to look upon it.”
“And this.” Herr Wolf gestured at Varthrim’s appearance. “Speaking of aliases.”
Varthrim said nothing at first. He simply approached Wolf, until less than five inches lay between their faces. “Look as closely as you like,” he said, voice low. “This is real. I am what I appear to be. Some of your associates have tried to tell you, insisted there are mysteries and powers of which you barely dream, but which can be used in your quest. They were right. Oh, the details weren’t there, but the essence. Yes. Look at me, Herr Wolf. Look at me, and dream what my existence may represent.”
The man in the brown coat swallowed. “This group…”
With a snort, Varthrim waved a hand. “The Thule Society has glimpsed at what is possible, dipped their toes into the ocean. In short, they are tools.”
“And I…I am to be a tool?”
“Perhaps. Or perhaps your will is strong enough to command, rather than be commanded. Eh?”
“By whom? You?”
“Oh, no. Make no mistake, Herr Wolf. I am a mere slave. The test is now whether you will be a slave…or a master.”
At these words, Herr Wolf’s blue eyes almost glowed. He grew still, but with the stillness of a taut bowstring. The barest hint of a smile hovered on his lips, below the small square mustache.
Varthrim nodded. He gestured with one arm to the table at the far end of the room, the table with the chest. “Within,” said Varthrim, “is a source of power older than the human race. Distilled by magicks and fate into that which exceeds every other talisman. The Holy Grail, the Spear of Longinus, the Ring of the Niebelungs themselves are but echoes of this great mystery.”
Wolf began to walk towards the chest. “It offers itself to me?”
“It offers itself to all. Open the chest, and see what you can do with it.”
“I think…” he said.
“I hear something.”
“Your last chance, Herr Wolf. Your very last chance – open the chest and your fate, for good or ill, is set. It will master you, or you shall master it.”
“Germany reborn. Cleansed. We can be a proud and glorious people once more, as we were before the Romans came.” Wolf’s voice trembled with passion. “This has been a dark age, an age of machines, but no honor, of survival, but nothing that could be called life. Wars of death, but no glory. Battles of destruction, but no heroes. We could lead the way back to what the human race should be!”
“A beautiful vision.” Varthrim nodded. “What are you willing to do to make this dream come true?”
Herr Wolf took a deep breath, then pushed open the chest. Within, upon a pillow of white silk, lay the Loathestone.
“But it is nothing but…” Wolf’s next words gagged. His eyes blinked, then bulged. He tried to form words. Rigid, he tried to move his arms to shut the chest. And failed.
“I warned you,” Varthrim said, his voice equal parts tender and sad. “I am its slave, Herr Wolf. And now, you too will be slave to the Loathestone. Awash in our own darkness, enough light kept flickering to know what we are, what we are doing, but too weak to stop ourselves.”
After a few more moments, the man who called himself Wolf fell to the floor, trembling. He’d begun foaming at the mouth. Varthrim knelt beside him. “Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky ones,” he said to the writhing man. “Perhaps you’ll go mad, or be used up soon enough to be allowed to commit suicide. We can hope for that. I still hope for it.”
Wolf’s mouth moved, but no words came out. His unblinking eyes seemed to see horrors without end.
Fade to Black
House – Present Day
A bright orange utility knife cut through the packing tape, and the upper leaves of the cardboard box peeled back to reveal a neatly folded set of pale green towels.
“Linen closet,” a young, attractive woman said from behind him. “I think it’s just down that hallway.”
A middle-aged man reached into the box, lifting the towels from its confines, and passed them to the younger woman.
“Since you know where it is, and all.” He offered a small smile as she turned and practically skipped to a nearby doorway.
He walked over to another box, labeled “Books” in black marker, and cut it open. He walked past the muted television, where the day’s news was playing, and lifted the books onto the bookshelf next to it.
Hallway – Same Time
The woman’s body was silhouetted in the doorway as she rested the stack of towels against her chest and felt around with her free hand to find the light switch.
She flinched, her features scrunching as the hallway was promptly flooded with light. The brass light fixtures high on the wall cast a flickering, bright light on the molded wooden walls around her. The floorboards under her feet creaked slightly as she stepped.
Quickly, her eyes darted back and forth between the narrow walls. With a sharp intake of breath, she spun around suddenly, her wide eyes searching the hallway behind her.
“Honey?” she called out.
“Yeah, sweetheart?” the voice called back from the living room.
Her eyes again scanned the area behind her. “Nothing,” she said finally. She shook her head sharply and made her way down the creaky hallway to the linen closet, where she deposited the towels in the closet and quickly fled.
Living Room – Same Time
“You okay?” he asked from the living room as she reappeared.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” she replied. “Just a new house, I guess.”
He stepped aside, gesturing at the filled bookcase. “Ta-daaa,” he announced. “Starting to feel like home already, isn’t it?”
She smiled back at him, then glanced over at the television. “Hey…isn’t that…?” she asked, letting the rest of the sentence hang as she walked up to the large screen.
The man looked down at the image on the screen, where a reporter was asking someone a question at a press conference. He watched for a few moments longer.
“Yeah,” he finally replied.
“You know, one of these days, you really should call,” she added tentatively.
He shrugged. “Why get in the way?”
“Now you’re just making excuses,” she replied. She took a step towards the television. A shower of sparks erupted from the back of the set. The duo automatically leapt back from the television, raising their hands defensively.
“Jeez, that TV’s been acting up ever since we moved in,” he murmured.
“Is it plugged in right?” She glanced behind the set.
“I’m pretty sure it –” his statement was punctuated by a sharp thwack, followed promptly by a softer, heavier thud. The woman straightened to find her husband lying on the ground, his limbs spread. A hardcover copy of War and Peace lay on the ground between his outstretched legs, and the beginning of a large bruise was already visible on his forehead.
“Hon, what –?”
She was cut off by a copy of Bertil Hille’s Ion Channels of Excitable Membranes, 3rd edition, which leapt from the bookshelf, striking her in the back of her head. She dropped to one knee, her palm rubbing her head as the voluminous text fell to the carpet next to her.
Both large texts sprang open, still resting on the floor, and the pages began tearing themselves free of their respective spines, showering down upon them in expensive and scholarly confetti.
“What’s going on?” she demanded. The man lay unconscious, unable to respond.
End of Teaser