The Xeno Manifesto
They weave their way through the trees for a half hour when they notice the woods have gone silent. They stop…there’s not a sound…it’s getting creepy. Then…the snap of branches echo in the eerie silence of the night and suddenly…the sounds of stones falling near them. Something is tossing rocks in their direction. More branches breaking and Bo is barking and going crazy. They turn on their flashlights illuminating the trees and bushes…the sounds of snapping wood continue and they can now see small rocks being thrown in their direction.
“Hey…who’s out there?” Frank yells wishing he had his weapon.
“Maybe we should head back to camp?” Adam asks nervously.
The noise of another branch breaks, a rock falls close to their feet, and Bo yelps at something out in the dark.
“Let’s get out of here.” Frank pushes Adam in the direction of their tent.
They run, almost stumbling along the way; they both lose their flashlights, knocked out of their grasps as they try to dodge trees and small branches whip their faces as they try to find the light of their camp fire. They are closer than they thought and must have been wandering in a circle.
They’re both panting for air when they get there. They look at one another and start laughing.
“Holy cow, that scared the crap out of me,” Adam says between breaths.
Frank hates to admit it, but he’s feeling the same way.
Bo starts barking again and the loud snap of a branch breaking can be heard…the sound is close. A larger stone hits the ground and rolls toward the fire pit. Bo is going nuts, sounds of twigs crunching under footsteps…nearer now.
Then…a figure emerges from the black of the night into the light of their fire.
“So, did you say anything to…this person, first?”
“Yea, man…of course, I said, ‘Hey…dude, you okay…what you doin’ here, man?’…But nothing. We couldn’t make out much ‘cause he was slouched down in the corner and had this floppy hat on with this bitchin sliver band…it was really cool looking band. You know…I saw one like that one once when we were down in Mexico…almost bought it, but the guy wanted too much dinero. More than I could afford man…I mean, I don’t make a lot of cash and I have…expenses. We weren’t doin’ nothing illegal down there. You know…just doin’ tourist stuff…right, babe?
Another nod comes from Silent Willow…surprise, surprise.
“How’d you know it was a man?”
Oin laughs. “The clothes, man. No chic would be wearing those duds…I mean…c’mon. Well…maybe if she was a dike or something…right, babe? You knew a few girls that swung that way…back in the day, didn’t you, babe?” She nods. “Yea…so maybe it wasn’t a dude…my bad.”
Frank sighed. He had quit writing anything down a long time ago; it was too painful.
“And then what happened?”
“So, I crept over to this dude…I mean chic…shit…person. I’m careful-like…‘cause I don’t know what this…person.” Oin smiles because he got the description right. “Is gonna do. Like, wow…what if it’s some psycho killer hiding in the woods. I’ve seen the movies…that stuff is true life…I mean there are some crazy people out there…you know man? People that are…like…you know…drugged out whackos. I mean…they aren’t law abiding citizens like us…right, babe?
Frank has stopped looking at Silent Willow for her response. He just wants this over with.
“So, what did you do next, Oin?”
“Yea, so as I’m getting close…nothing…this…person, is out of it or something. I turned to Willow, right, babe? Like…what should I do? She says lift his hat, right, babe? So, I give it a tug and shit! Man…there’s just a skull! I rush back to Willow and check and see if there like…is some axe murderer that’s going to jump out at us or something. I mean…fuck man…the dude is dead…the chic…shit…you know what I mean. Christ man…we couldn’t stay there. It was still storming a bit but we said…like, no way…we’re outta there and we boogie it back here.”
“And you got back here okay. Why didn’t you just try and call someone?”
“Look man…seriously…yea, maybe I like to…indulge…if you know what I mean, but I’ve been hiking for years. You know…getting one with nature. I’ve been coming here since I was a kid…I know my way around dude plus I know there’s no signal out here…we don’t even take our cells with us.”
“So, you wouldn’t have any problem finding this cave again?”
“Hey man…I pointed it out on the map to the ranger guys…you go where I said by Gobbler’s Knob and it’s there…me…I ain’t going anywhere near that place…no way, Jose.”
Well that was enough for Frank.
Zach brings his hands up to his face and gives his clean shaven face a quick rub like he’s trying to clear his head. He exhales slowly.
“Yea…I get it. Any chance you can recover the bracelet, so we can send it to our lab and do our own examination?”
“I doubt it…I threw it out and the office gets cleaned every night. Sorry…I had no idea it could be beneficial. I have to ask, was this Horatio person a terrorist or something that the NSA is involved?”
He’s trying to respond as any unsuspecting individual would in this situation, a bit of a cat and mouse game, but he isn’t sure which of them the cat is and which is the mouse.
Zach stares at him for a few seconds, looks over at the other agents then back at him.
“Frank…I go by my gut when it comes to people and my gut likes you. So I’m going to answer your question…normally I wouldn’t give you the time of day as far as details go.”
He stoops towards Frank and in a hushed voice says. “This guy…Mr. H as we refer to him…was working for the government back in the fifties and disappeared with a million bucks. That’s like stealing ten mil today…that’s a huge chunk of change.”
He leans back. “We thought he was dead…killed in a house fire, yet, here…what, decades later, a Deputy Sheriff in Washington State of all places…is running his name and so…here we are.”
His hands rise up in a “Praise the Lord” style of gesture then stands, clasps his hands behind his back, strolls the length of the table, turns and walks back to Frank and peers down.
“So…Frank, being as you found these remains then ran a name that you seem to have pulled out of thin air and immediately take a few days off to run back into the woods…you wouldn’t be sitting on a big pile of money somewhere would you?”
Zach has that same fox in the hen house look again, intently watching him, gauging him…waiting for a response.
Frank locks eyes with Zach and his first thought is…how does Allmass know he was out in the woods?
“If I found a big pile of money…do you think I’d even have come back to work? I was already on leave…I would’ve been out of here.” Frank says.
He continues to stare back at Zach.
Frank feels the barbed probes from the Taser hitting his body.
The pain is unbearable. With every pulse of electricity from the Taser, it feels as if all the muscles in his body are being squeezed tighter and tighter to the point of tearing. He falls to the floor as the pain and a sense of paralysis is affecting his ability to stand. He’s at the mercy of gravity and his head hits the cave floor, hard.
The pain continues like he’s having cramps from head to toe. He can feel his body but can’t control it. There’s a sense of detachment as wave after wave of voltage continues. This is the most pain he’s experienced and screams are involuntarily coming out of his mouth. The thirty seconds of shock waves feels like minutes…then it’s over.
The Muscle relieve him of his gun, drag him to one of the Jeep seats, which is now near the wood table, zip tie his hands behind him and his legs to those of the seat.
There’s no resistance on his part, his body is incapacitated and his mind barely aware.
He sits with his head hanging down. He remembers little and he can’t process anything. He isn’t sure how long he’s sat strapped to this chair. He raises his head; there’s Agent Allmass sitting on the corner of the table…waiting…watching.
The cave is more illuminated as several lanterns are lit now. The light from the lanterns and the cave walls make Zach’s teeth shine even brighter than they were before, almost fluorescent. The Muscle is nowhere to be seen, probably standing behind him out of his line of sight. His head drops back down.
Zach slides off the table and bends low to Frank. One hand lifts Frank’s chin, his other holds a pen flashlight that he shines back and forth across his eyes, checking the pupils.
“Frank…next time you should explore things better.” He tucks away the flashlight.
Still holding Frank’s head upright, he places two fingers on his throat and checks his pulse through the Carotid artery. When he’s satisfied, he lets Frank’s chin fall back on his chest.
“About fifteen hundred feet in the other direction, Mr. H has a nice walk in entrance tucked away in a rock house up there. It makes things so much easier…I guess his map was designed to make you work a bit to get here.” Zach says.
There is sarcasm in his voice, he snickers and stands lightly brushing the palms of his hands together like he’s rubbing off dirt.
“A hundred years from now…all of this, this world…none of it will exist. It’ll be gone…all of it. Sure, as governments, we put on a serious face and try to make it look like we give a shit. The reality of it all is that we don’t…we’re putting band-aids on matters, purposely dragging things out until we are ready to kick things off, and then…fuck them all!”
He stretches his arms above him and places both hands behind his head, gives his upper body a half turn in either direction and, with a big sigh, drops his arms to his side.
“Talking to you Frank has been good for me…reminds me of going to confession.”
“Answer my fucking question, you son of a bitch!” Frank shouts.
Zach abruptly appears to not be pleased.
“You…especially you, deserve answers before you move on, but I can only tell you so much.”
He walks in close and draws an automatic from inside his coat.
Frank is squirming in his seat struggling to get up…to get out of his binds. It’s a fruitless battle.
“Frank…normally this is something I would leave for my associates but…if I were in your shoes, I’d want it done by someone I considered a friend…even though…you might disagree with that perception of things right now. Like your grandpa used to say…don’t ever ask anyone to do anything you are not prepared to do yourself.”
With those fateful words, nothing can describe the look on Frank’s face. He stops his struggling and peers up at Zach. Frank’s eyes say it all.
Zach is looking right back…there is no emotion in his cold stare.
Frank knows of no other saying from his grandpa that can provide any words of wisdom for this scenario. He knows this is the end. This isn’t like the movies where the hero, the crusader, the righteous, escaping or an elite force storming in and saving the day. This is the real world, as big a lie as that term actually is.
As Zach pulls the trigger, before the bullet tears through his brain so quickly the pain will not have time to register…before he takes his last breath, Frank’s life doesn’t flash before his eyes.
The only thought racing through his mind is that he has the answer as to why he never did fit into this world. It’s because he didn’t belong here in the first place and…for that revelation, he’ll be paying the ultimate price.
Roman turns to see an array of video monitors behind him, tucked away into an elaborate hand carved cabinet. Surveillance cameras watch every part of the interior and exterior of the place.
I am considering offering you a job as I have a recent vacancy,” He taps more ashes into the ashtray. “It would be a legitimate one…as long as you have no criminal record. I do need to keep up appearances.”
“Offer me a job, just like that? I have a job but…I’m always open to options…and yes, I’m clean.”
The Old Man smiles, “I am considering this because I like what I see and I appreciate a person that is willing to keep their employment options open. What is your name?”
“Russian…I should have known,” the Old Man says with a nod of approval.
“This position requires someone mature one who can handle himself, one that can think and has some common sense…to be my personal driver, nothing more. You drive me where I need to go and back again. Where I go, you go and nothing criminal is expected of you. You do need not to be armed, I have others for that.” He nods towards the Blocks of Wood.
“You would need to wear a suit…look professional and it would pay very well…in cash. Would this be of interest to you?” The Old Man gives him a steely look. “What you say?”
“You have my interest.” Roman replies.
The Old Man nods and one of the Blocks of Wood comes over and hands Roman a pager. “My name is Vadim Stepanov, but those that work for me, call me Bocc.”
Bocc in Russian and boss in English both sound and mean the same thing.
The Old Man turns to the Blocks of Wood. “My men will be checking you out, checking you out good. If I like what they find, you will receive a page with a number to call. If you don’t hear anything in a couple of days, toss the pager and don’t ever come back in here again.”
Roman stands, heads for the door and says “I’ll be waiting for the page…Bocc,” as he looks back and smiles.
A moment after Roman leaves, one of the Blocks of Wood approaches the Old Man. “Bocc…I know it’s not my place but why are you offering a stranger such a position…that’s not like you.”
“Never mind what I do!” Bocc snaps back. “Just do as you’re told and find everything you can on him! Now…the two of you…get out of here and leave me in peace.”
The two Blocks of Wood look at each not sure what to make it of it all and do as they are told.
Bocc turns his attention back to the monitors, watching, as Roman leaves the building.
Bocc has noticed Roman in here before too. The first time he saw him, he had to hold himself back. Roman reminded him so much of his son, his only child lost some twenty years ago. It was as if his boy was reincarnated into an older version…into Roman. The resemblance was uncanny, spooky even. Bocc was thankful his wife passed shortly after the loss of their son from the grief, as her heart would not have taken seeing the image of the person that was just seated across the table from him.
None of his inner circle would have seen the similarities in Roman as none of them have survived long enough to remember him.
And Roman’s actions tonight were so much the same as Bocc’s son would have been, had he been here. They way Roman moved, his tenacity, his grit…all brought back the memories of his dear boy.
This is why he made his proposal. He needs to keep Roman close regardless of the potential consequences.
Roman looks desperate.
“C’mon man, a dying man’s wish…not that you owe me anything but…hell, your hands will be clean.” Roman says.
Brown Suit Guy looks back at the others and bobs his head side to side as if to say maybe.
“Why?” Brown Suit Guy asks.
“He put out a hit on my cousin ‘cause he thought he was part of the crew that took out his boy…we were close, like brothers. It’s pay back.”
One of the Italians from the back comes up and Brown Suit Guy goes back to the other two. They huddle for a conference, a minute later the Brown Suit Guy returns with a gun in hand.
”Sure,” He as he looks back at the other guys. “You’ve got one shot and I’m gonna have my piece pointed at your head…in case you get brave.”
He flips out a blade and cuts the ties binding Roman.
Roman stands, flexing his hands open and close to get the circulation going. He keeps his head down and lets his eyes glance up briefly when Brown Suit Guy comes near, his gun is pointed at Roman’s head, his other hand holds another pistol that is extended out to him.
Roman keeps his gaze on the floor. The Italians may think this is a sign of guilt, for what he’s about to do, but they’re mistaken. Roman walks over and raises the gun and his eyes to Bocc. The Old Man inhales deeply, mutters a couple words and crosses himself…but not for the reason the Italians thinks. He pulls the trigger and the hammer falls on an empty chamber as he expects. He drops his head, letting the gun hit the floor and turns toward the Italians. He hears laughter coming from the group.
Brown Suit Guy is chuckling. “Shit man, you were serious. But, really, the last thing we want is the Old Man dead. We just need to…convince him to give up some business and let it come our way.”
Brown Suit Guy saunters up and aims at Roman’s head.
Roman looks up and Brown Suit Guy rears back, “What the fuck?!”
That’s the hesitation Roman is waiting for. He slightly turns his head as his right hand strikes and grabs the barrel of the gun and with an open hand blow, his left hand hits the back of the wrist of Brown Suit Guy’s gun hand.
The resulting action releases the gun from Brown Suit Guy’s grip while breaking his trigger finger. Brown Suit Guy screams in pain. Roman already has the gun in his hand and shoots him in the forehead. He fires three more rapid rounds dropping the other three, each hit in the forehead. He strolls over and puts another round in their skulls before ambling back to put another in the head of Brown Suit Guy. It’s only taken seconds. It’s that simple.
He’s intent on killing these two. He doesn’t want to worry about retribution from them; he has enough things to look over his shoulder about.
She calls out his name and grabs his arm. “Stop…please.”
He turns and she sees the darkness in his eyes. She has witnessed the savagery in his actions.
Her intervention causes him to pause, to step back and take a breath. He sees the look in her eyes, the fear. He’s suddenly aware that the fear he sees in her…is of him.
He grabs her and holds her, to calm her, to show her he’s the man she knows…not some beast. After a few moments, he feels her relax in his arms and she wraps herself around him. She squeezes tightly. They remain like that for what seems like forever. She looks up into his clear grey eyes and says, “Let’s go home.”
She takes his hand and leads him away from the carnage. She passionately accepts him that night and, for him, everything changes.
Their romance blossoms and it’s genuine. She accepts him as he is. He does not offer any explanations and she never asks for any. They didn’t hide their relationship nor flaunt it either, but kept it low key and away from work.
She is devoted to him, as he is to her. Her favorite past-time is cooking and she spoils him with many of her traditional homemade meals, in her little kitchen, set up just right for her. She’ll not permit them to live together and prefers her little place, so that’s where they spend their time.
They talk marriage, a ceremony in Honduras where her family is. He’s never met them nor has she told them about him. It’s going to be a surprise.
He has business out of town first; this trip is scheduled for two weeks. It’s a sensitive matter for the Old Man, and it’s going to take time to do the job right. As far as she knows, it’s legitimate company business.
He doesn’t communicate with her while he’s away, she never questions it, it’s for her own safety. For the first time in his life he’s concerned about someone other than himself. After fourteen days away, he’s anxious to get home, to have her back in his arms.
He walks into the apartment that night and she isn’t home. Her place is empty; only her furnishings remain.
He can’t reach her by cell. He goes to her work and one of the staff breaks down in tears when she sees him. Roman is told she was killed almost two week ago…shot on the street, walking home from work.
He feels his legs go weak; he has to sit. He can’t believe what he’s hearing.
“Welcome brothers and sisters…halleluiah and praise the Lord,” the preacher’s voice echoes through the room.
He’s an old-time preacher, with an old school flare for teaching the gospel. He’s an elderly, stoic looking man; tall, lean with a full head of silver hair. He’s wearing a black suit and tie with a white shirt loosened at the collar and he’s pacing the stage behind his pulpit. It’s another night at another tent revival, spreading the word of God.
“Do you believe?” he shouts, his arms rising up to the heavens. “Do you believe in Jesus Christ, our Savior?”
He’s waiting for that glorious response of Amen from the crowd, but it’s more of a murmur.
“Do you believe…in your salvation…in Jesus Christ? Do you…believe he will redeem your soul? Do you…believe…my brothers and sisters? Tell me! Shout back at the Lord that you believe…halleluiah!”
With that, a roaring response of, “I believe…Amen,” comes back from the congregation.
He’s beaming. He excels at working a crowd, at getting them enthused about their Christian faith and he’ll have his way with them tonight. He’ll sway them and they’ll revel in celebration in the word of Jesus Christ.
“Brothers and sisters…you have to believe,” he says in a low hiss of a voice.
“You have to believe!” He points out to all those in attendance.
“You have to believe,” he repeats, hammering his fist down towards the floor as he walks back and forth across the stage.
“Because…because, the devil…the devil is always, always among us…looking for the weak in faith!”
“He has demons…demons I say and they are here…here among us, among the living!”
He stands behind his pulpit hammering his fist on the wood top as he emphasizes every phrase.
“These demons look like us.” He hammers the podium. “These demons live with us.” He pounds down on the top of it.
These demons walk with us (pounding). These demons move among our children (pounding). These demons will turn our children (pounding). Demons (pounding)…demons (pounding)…These demons will reveal themselves to our children (pounding)…To have them sin (pounding)…They will reveal their true darkness to them (pounding)…Reveal themselves with their eyes (pounding)…Their black, soulless eyes (pounding), (pounding), (pounding).
Zachariah opens his eyes. He’s lying in bed.
He’s dreaming of his daddy’s sermons again. He can still hear his fist pounding. His head begins to clear and he realizes that he still hears it.
Frank gets a couple blocks from Zach’s hotel before he has wait at a crosswalk for the walk signal. He’s armed, so jay walking is not an option. The last thing he needs is an exuberant cop stopping him.
His head is a tussled mess, almost drowning with all Zach told him and his crazy proposal. He still thinks Zach’s a bit screwed up in the head over how he manipulated him, the fucking asshole. He still doesn’t trust him but he has to play along to find out what he’s really up to.
He’s standing among a group of pedestrians, waiting for the okay to cross when a black Lexus SUV pulls up to the crosswalk. Behind the wheel…is Stogie Man with his trademark cigar still clenched between his teeth…no fucking way!
Stogie Man looks over, staring directly at him, even though Frank is in the middle of the crowd and gives him a nod and a smile. Impossible! How is he able to recognize him; he doesn’t recognize himself from his time at Mt. Rainier.
The light turns green and he briskly walks across, his head down, keeping himself buried among the others crossing. He reaches the other side and quickly looks back to see Stogie Man still watching him. He changes his route to the apartment constantly checking to see if he’s followed but spots no one. Fucking paranoia, he lies to himself, even though he knows his instincts are right. He writes it off as coincidence, he has too much other shit to deal with.
Seeing Stogie Man spooked him and when he gets home, he scans himself in the mirror. Maybe he should he try changing his appearance? Hell with it. This look is better than anything else he can come up with short term.
Frank is undecided about the legitimacy of Zach’s disclosures, still wanting to refute it all and his crazy proposal.
He tries to sit and relax. It lasts all of fifteen minutes.
He finds an old phone book and looks up the number for the Ritz-Carlton.
“I’d like to leave a message for Mr. Allmass in room eight-forty. The message is…I’m in.”