Unsleepingby Martha Taylor, soulcake[at]bellsouth.net
It was enough to make Jim doubt heliocentric astronomy itself. The ground under his feet was unmoving, unyielding, a platform of earth and rock rooted in the deep places of the universe itself. Jim had been straining and fighting and pushing as hard as he could ever since he realized Blair was gone, and not a pebble had shifted. Not one stone had turned. Yet every time Jim looked out a window or stepped under the open sky, he found the sun had been flying across the heavens, thieving away the minutes and hours he could never get back again. That Blair would never get back again.
It was after four o'clock before Jim even had a student list for Blair's anthro survey, and that, at least, should have been easy. But Beebee had already left for the afternoon, and no one else in the department office seemed to know how to access those particular records. They were probably on Blair's computer, but the laptop was at home, Jim didn't know the password to get into the PC in his office, and the network administrator was out. It had finally taken a trip to the registrar's office, and even then they would only release the names and home addresses to Suzanne Tamaki. Good enough, but everything was taking too damned long, and actually having the list was only a start. The only name on it Jim recognized was Seth Lamb, and Suzanne's people had been trying to find him since this morning. Just like they had been trying to find Ross's erstwhile roommate Eddie, with an equal lack of success.
That was the way everything was going. The investigation was accomplishing nothing except proving to other people what Jim already knew. The drops of blood on the first level of the parking garage weren't Sandburg's, and Jim had told Suzanne so as soon as they found them, hardly noticing the startled, disbelieving look she gave him. But the teardrops which had fallen to the pavement a short distance away were Blair's. Jim probably would have told Suzanne about them, too, except that for long moments, he hadn't been able to speak at all. When Blair's scent had reached him through all the other smells in the garage, oil and gasoline, exhaust fumes, stale cigarette smoke and equally stale beer, he had knelt and placed his hand flat on the cement, and felt the tiny crystalline salts from dried teardrops prickling his palm.
Sandburg had fought hard, hurt his attackers, even disarmed them, but they had taken him in the end.
"Jim, what is it?"
What the hell good were his senses anyway? All they told him was that Blair had suffered. They didn't tell him how to find Blair or how to help him. He might as well have been deaf, dumb and blind for all the good his senses were doing him when he really needed them.
"Jim?" Suzanne asked again.
He shrugged painfully and stood up. "We should have all these beer cans gathered up," he said, indicating them with a nod of his head. "I want them all dusted for prints."
"Mr. Sandburg? How are you feeling?"
How nice of her to ask. Blair turned his face blindly toward Monica's voice. He was doing pretty well, all things considered. They hadn't gagged him, and they hadn't strung him up from the shower fixtures, so things could have been worse. On the other hand, he was cold, and the floor under his back was dirty and hard, and his hands, which had been pulled up behind his head and shackled to something unyielding, probably the plumbing under the sink, though with the blindfold over his face he couldn't be sure, had gone to sleep some time ago. "Let me out of here," he said, and was dimly surprised to hear how his voice rasped.
"You're shivering," Monica answered, and touched the side of his face. The brush of her fingertips reminded him of that filthy, bloody paintbrush, and he flinched violently.
"Easy," she said. "I'm not going to hurt you."
Could have fooled me, he thought, his heart thundering in his chest. He was still pretty skittish, but he was doing better. He'd calmed down considerably during the few past hours, lying alone in the bathroom. It had all gotten to be just a little too much, that was all. Blood loss, shock and stress, the works. It was no wonder he had lost it there for a little while. He was back in control, though. He wasn't really a tiny bit relieved, way deep down, that they'd left him blindfolded. He wasn't really afraid of what he would see when they took the blindfold off again. It had all been just a little too much, OK? Anyone could see that.
"Just hold on a minute," Monica told him, like there was somewhere else he might go. "I'll be right back."
He heard her footsteps crossing the tile floor, the squeak of the hinges, and then he was alone once more. How long had he been here? He had no idea anymore. It was probably late afternoon by now, but he had nothing to base that on. There had been a long period after the last time they left him that he had hardly been rational. He remembered, to his shame, begging and pleading with his captors, but he could no longer remember what favor he had been so desperate they grant. In fact, he couldn't think of a damn thing they could possibly give him he would want, save for his freedom. He would take that himself, later if not sooner by this point, but it wasn't something he would ever be beholden to these cruel, idiot children for.
Anyway, so it must be getting on in the day. Jim was sure to have figured out he was missing by now. He'd probably be busting through that door just any minute, and then the only thing Blair would have to worry about was how he was ever going to live this down. He could just imagine the conversation with his TA supervisor. Right, Lu-Ann, I had noticed I wasn't really establishing much of a rapport with this particular section of 101. No, no, you're right. Kidnapping and black magic certainly indicate there were probably some shortcomings with my pedagogy, I admit that.
He laughed to himself, and it turned into a sob before he could choke it back.
Footsteps were coming down the hall again, heavier ones. Despite himself, Blair began to tremble. He couldn't help it. Every time they promised not to hurt him, it was even worse than the time before. He curled onto his side, drawing his knees up. Hopeless, useless. It didn't protect anything, not even his modesty, but he curled into himself all the same, shaking so hard his teeth began to chatter. The door swung open, rusted hinges screaming. "I don't see the point," Tom complained mildly.
Susan had come down, too. "Monica's right," she said. "He's been on that floor for hours. It won't do any good if he's too stiff to walk."
"The dude broke his ankle." That was Eddie's voice. "Not really like he's gonna be walking anywhere, is it?"
"You know what I mean," Susan said. The footsteps crossed the floor to him, and someone laid a hand on his side. Blair flinched from the touch. "You're right," Susan said. "He's cold as ice. Should we get Seth? You think it could be shock?"
"Just 'cause he can steal needles doesn't mean Seth's a doctor. Anyway, Mr. Sandburg's just cold because it's cold on the floor." Count on Eddie to take the matter-of-fact view. Someone fumbled with the clips and D-rings on his wrist cuffs, and Blair's hands suddenly fell free. "You know if you try anything, we'll have to clobber you, right, Mr. Sandburg?" Eddie said, and then two sets of hands grasped his upper arms and hauled him a short distance across the floor, probably out from under the sink, then dragged him upright. His ankle ached fiercely, the pain dull and still unendurable.
Blair sagged against them, seeing flashes of light behind his closed lids. He was afraid he was about to be sick or faint. "Wait," he groaned. "Wait. Where are you taking me?"
"Geez, we're trying to do you a favor," Tom said. They shifted him between themselves, and Blair felt the roughness of someone else's wool sweater against his chest.
"God, watch it," Susan snapped. Blair was pushed back, the grip on his upper arms adjusting to hold him, and someone's hand touched his collar bone.
"It didn't smear," Tom said. "Chill, it's all gonna work out."
Blair's feet dragged across the dirty floor. He heard the hinges squeaking, then felt the bump of a tile or marble door jamb. He turned his head fruitlessly, eyes wide open behind his blindfold. He could see a little bit if he looked straight down along the side of his nose under the cloth, but there was nothing to see but the wooden floor, his own partially shaved chest, and the writing daubed there in blood and ash. He groaned, sickened all over again and thrashed violently, suddenly and irrationally determined to wrench himself free.
Eddie hissed "Shit!" and Blair was slammed hard against the paneled wall. Someone clamped a hand around his throat.
"Stop it. Stop it right now, or I will get Seth to take care of you." Susan's voice was low and ugly, her face so close to his he could smell wintergreen on her breath. "He'd probably enjoy it. You wanna try him and see?"
The hand at his throat tightened for a moment, and then let go. His head dropped, and while he panted for breath, they dragged him a short distance further and around a tight corner. Instead of the staircase he expected, his bare feet were pulled over another door jamb, this one wooden. He smelled dirty laundry, beer and cold pizza. There was a rug on the floor, badly in need of vacuuming. Tom's bedroom.
"Get him around, get him around like this," Eddie directed in slightly breathless grunts. They turned him and pushed him back. A mattress hit the back of his knees and he sat down hard on the edge of the bed. Before he could react, someone lifted his legs and swung them around while someone else pushed his shoulders to the mattress. He struck out blindly, but his hands were caught again easily and pulled above his head. He heard the click of the damnable rings and fasteners, and found himself chained to the headboard. He thrashed uselessly, panting in rage. "God," Susan said mildly. "You know we could have just left you in the bathroom."
"Let me go," Blair gasped. "Let me out of here."
No one answered that. They held his legs so he couldn't kick, and fastened his ankles to the foot of the bed. Blair felt the mattress yield as they stood up again.
"I'll turn on the space heater," Tom said. "I guess that should help some."
A space heater in this firetrap, Blair thought. And they were leaving him chained to the bed. Here he'd been freaking out over their Aleister Crowley games, when what he really should have been worried about was being trapped in a burning building. "Don't," he whispered, breathing hard. "Please, this is so stupid."
"For the last time, we're doing this for you." Eddie snorted. "You know you just can't help some people?"
Now that it was much too late, it was no particular surprise when Serena finally called to let Jim know the gun in the garage was registered to Eddie's father. When he and Blair had talked to Eddie yesterday, Jim just hadn't been able to see how a not-particularly-bright kid sloppily wolfing down a burger could really have anything to do with medieval necromancers.
Blair had seen it, though.
"Thanks, Serena," was all he said. "Can you transfer me to Simon?"
"What did they find?" Suzanne asked. They were walking to another dormitory in Jim's dogged, and so far largely futile quest to interview every student in Blair's class. That damned bunch of sheep. Sitting there staring at Sandburg yesterday while he struggled to make sense of Ross Malitz's death. Jim should have known. The clues were all there. He should have known.
The sun was just setting and the sky was pale and clear. It was as beautiful as the night Jim had shot Ross to death in the library. "The gun is registered to Eddie Barringer's father," he said.
"Oh." Suzanne stopped dead. Jim just kept walking, and after a moment she ran to catch up. "Jim, this changes everything."
Jim didn't ask her what she meant, because he already knew. The only thing that had really changed was that at last she finally believed him.
"Jim." Simon's voice on the phone sounded tired. "Any word?"
"Serena told you about the registration on the gun?"
"She told me. I've already contacted a friend of mine with the SFPD. They're going to send someone out to interview the Barringers."
Good procedure. Fine for tying up loose ends, but Jim didn't believe for one minute it would bring them any closer to finding Sandburg. "Simon, I want to talk to Ross's parents."
"It's totally out of the question, Jim, you know that."
The sun was setting. The trees were black against the sky. There was no time for arguing with Simon. There was no time for any of this. "Then you talk to them. Get them to tell you exactly why he transferred to Rainier his sophomore year. I want to know if Ross ever mentioned David Lash to them. What did Ross say about his history teacher Peter Nagle? Did Sandburg's name ever come up? Have they ever met Ross's roommate? What did they think about him? Don't tell them about the gun registration yet. Just see what they tell you."
"Hold on, Jim. Whoa, hold on. I know you're concerned about Sandburg, we all are, but these people lost their son two days ago. I'm not going to browbeat them over this. I'm sure they don't know anything about it."
"Excuse me, sir, but I don't know that at all. What if they hold Sandburg responsible for their son's death? What if they're looking for revenge?"
Silence. Then, "I just can't believe that."
Jim didn't particularly believe it either, but he sure wasn't getting anywhere by taking people at face value. "Someone has to talk to them, sir."
"Jim," Simon complained, "I've met these people. I spent nearly two hours with them yesterday. They're gracious, gentle, heartsick individuals, believe me. They're grieving for their son, not out dreaming up wild revenge plots."
"Then at least ask them about Eddie. Maybe they know something that can help us find him. Some place they used to hang out together, anything. Simon, give me a break here. It's been eight hours since anyone's seen Sandburg."
"I'm a policeman, too, Jim. You don't have to tell me how to do my job." Simon's voice was gentle, though. It was an apology, not a rebuke. "I'll talk to them."
His ankle was hurting badly after so much flailing around, and Tom's bed linens smelled like dirty laundry -- like a guy's dirty laundry -- but the bed was softer than the bathroom floor had been, and the noisy little space heater warmed up the room quickly. As the chill began to fade, Blair decided he didn't care if the whole place did burn down as long as he didn't have to be cold anymore. He closed his eyes under the blindfold, and before he realized what was happening, he had slipped away, back to the frozen lake in the forest he had seen once before.
The skater was still there, turning slow circles by the light of a crescent moon. Venus glowed in the sky above the horns of the moon, and the skater's blades rasped across the ice, back and forth, back and forth, a sound as steady and regular as a woodsman sharpening his axe. Blair remembered there had been something odd about the trees the last time he was here, something he could not quite make out, and he looked at their silhouette against the night sky. It must be near dawn, because there were no other stars at all. A high breeze Blair could not feel on the shore moved the tops of the trees gently, and there was something strange about the silent forest. The only sound was the rasp of the skater's blades. The high, attenuated tops of the great trees could almost be the spires of an impossible city, and the lake might have been a bottomless black tarn.
Once that dark fancy had taken hold in his mind, the forest disappeared altogether, and the city which had taken its place filled him with dread. Its turrets were darker than the sky overhead, and the position of Venus and the moon which had seemed so beautiful while the skater turned peaceful revolutions on a forest lake was full of sinister significance now. The skater was gone, but the blades were still rasping, one-two, one-two, back and forth, steady and inexorable and sure. It was one blade, being carefully honed and sharpened by someone very close at hand. Someone Blair knew, though he had never met the woman. "It's not enough," he whispered to her, and in his dream his voice carried for miles. He heard it echoing back from the obsidian towers on the other side of the black tarn. "You can cut off their arms and their legs and it still won't be enough. They'll just keep coming back all the same."
He was wrenched from sleep by the sound of tapping, and a voice quietly calling his name. "Blair? Are you in there? Blair?"
He opened his eyes wide, and for long, breathless moments, couldn't remember where he was and why he couldn't see. He tried to wipe his eyes, and only when he found his arms pinned behind his head did he realize where he was. He thrashed his head from side to side, trying to dislodge the blindfold. "Yes!" he called back, half-whispering. "It's me, I'm in here. Who is it?"
"It's Peter Nagle. Are you all right?"
Oh my god. Blair lay still, breathing hard. "No," he called back at last. "No, I'm not all right. You've got to get me out of here."
He heard Nagle try the knob, then rattle the door in its frame. "It's locked," he said. "I can't get in."
"OK," Blair said. "OK, just stay calm. Get out of here, get to a phone and call the Cascade PD. Ask to speak to Jim Ellison. Tell him where I am, tell him I'm OK, but he's got to --"
"Blair, Blair, hold on, be quiet and listen to me. I'm not going to call the police."
Blair yanked violently on his shackled hands, accomplishing nothing but hurting himself. "What are you talking about? Dr. Nagle, you've got to get out of here. You've got to go for help."
"For the last time, be quiet. If they hear you yelling this will all be over."
Blair made himself hush. "I'm listening," he stage-whispered back to Nagle. "What the hell is going on here?"
"You've got to calm down. These kids don't mean you any harm, but if you keep this up, someone's going to get hurt."
Blair 's mouth worked soundlessly, too flabbergasted to form words as Nagle explained, "I know they've probably taken it a little too far, but you've got to understand, they lost a good friend just two days ago. This is their way of dealing with grief."
"Dr. Nagle --" It all came out in a rush. "For chrissakes, Dr. Nagle, have you lost your mind? I don't know what you think you're doing, but you've got to get out of here and call Jim before it's too late." He thrashed again, pulling hard enough at his arms to make the metal frame creak. "Dammit, Nagle, are you listening to me? They've got me chained to a bed in here -- do you think that's rational? Do you think that's any way to deal with grief?"
"Blair!" A short, harsh bark of sound. "I want to help you but I can't do anything if you won't cooperate."
"Cooperate? With what? I'm hurt, I'm scared, I'm mad, and the only thing I'm going to cooperate in is filing charges against all of you if you don't help me get out of here."
The silence stretched on so long Blair began to fear he had left. "Dr. Nagle?" he called at last. "Professor?"
"This isn't up for debate," he said. "You can either listen to me, or I'll go. There's no time for anything else."
Blair swallowed. "All right," he managed to say. "I'm listening."
"This house has a special tradition. I suppose you already know that."
"It's the Bollingen house," Blair said. "I know."
"Ah, I thought you might have figured it out already. Seventy-five years ago, Brigit Stuttgart strangled her employer to death in this very house. The night of May First. Walpurgisnacht."
Two possibilities, Blair thought. There were two possibilities here. Either he was already dead, and this was hell, or else he had gone stark, raving mad, because there was no way he could really be chained naked to a bed listening to Professor Peter Nagle tell him ghost stories. He'd lived through some pretty crazy things in his life, especially since he'd met Jim, but surely this was the limit. "Professor," he said quietly, keeping his voice nice and calm, "I know the story. I read your article. Now please --"
"Did you know the very oldest forms of religious expression known to man hold that the ordinary, everyday world is just a flimsy illusion? Nothing but a bubble of make-believe sanity adrift upon a sea of chaos. But you're an anthropologist, Blair. I don't need to tell you this."
Just humor the man. Tell him what he wants to hear, and maybe you can convince him to get his butt to a phone and call Jim. "Shamanism. I know. It's a world view common to shamanistic religious practices. It isn't usually described quite so pessimistically, though."
"That's because primitive shamans today have lost the true knowledge, corrupted it with the use of psychotropics. They aren't crossing the border into the real universe at all when they eat peyote or drink ayahuasca. They're just juicing the synapses. The real heart of creation is far darker and far more difficult to reach."
"I've read Huysmans' translation of Kulten," Blair said, feeling his way with care. "You mean crossing over to see the Old Ones. The dark uber-gods who created reality. Who are reality."
"President Bollingen worked for years, and he might have made it across if his housekeeper hadn't lost her nerve. But because of his years of patient effort, the barriers are a little thinner here. A little more permeable. Makes this an interesting place to be, don't you think? Rainier is teetering on the edge of an infinite, unknowable chasm. Quite a legacy Bollingen left his school, isn't it?"
Yeah, no kidding. Hopes were fading fast that he would be able to convince this nutcase to call Jim. Nagle was as bad off as the kids who had grabbed him. Even worse, in a way, because Blair still wasn't sure if Nagle really believed any of this himself or was just enjoying the story. "Professor, Huysmans says everyone who ever tried to see the Old Ones went mad or died. Did you ever think maybe Brigit knew what she was doing?"
Nagle chuckled. "Perhaps she did. Bollingen was a very old man, after all. He might not have been strong enough to survive even if he did make it. Ever since, though, a dedicated few have kept the faith and passed the word along, watching for someone who could make the journey. Imagine how we felt when David Lash found you before we did."
"Goddamn you," Blair exploded, "Goddamn you, you're just another fucking headcase yourself." He was fighting, yanking at his hands again and again, trying to kick despite the pain in his ankle. "Do you hear me, Nagle? You're just as crazy as all the rest of them."
"I'm sorry, Blair," he said. His voice was moving away from the door. "I thought it would be easier for you if you understood."
"I don't understand!" Blair screamed after him. "There's nothing here to understand. Damn you, Nagle, don't leave me here!"
Nothing. Blair collapsed back on the bed, panting. Oh, god. Oh, god help him, he'd only thought he was in deep before. He'd had no idea how far gone they really were.
He tried to calm down, tried to get his breathing under control. He wasn't going to panic again. Look on the bright side. After all, he knew a lot more now, right? More than he'd really ever wanted to, OK, but maybe there was something here he could use. He should marshal his facts, try to see what he had. Fact: Nagle was out of his head. Great. He was making real progress now. So what was their plan? At the witching hour they would stand Blair up in the middle of a pentagram, kill a chicken and then wait for the Old Ones to show? As a way of saying goodbye to poor old Ross, who'd been looking forward to this so much.
The door slammed open with a crash so violent for instant Blair thought it was Jim arriving like the cavalry. But then Seth said, "Dr. Nagle says you're a little upset," and Blair closed his eyes under the blindfold. "He thought maybe this would help you relax."
"Get away from me." Blair's voice was raw from screaming after Nagle.
"Don't flip out, man, this is good wine." The mattress gave under Seth's weight. His hand reached under the back of Blair's head and lifted it, and Blair smelled the harsh, grape smell of cheap wine. "Well, not great wine," he admitted. "Don't make this any harder on yourself. You just need to drink enough to relax."
Blair clenched his jaw and tried to turn his face away.
"Look," Seth said with sinister calm. "I'd rather do this the easy way, but it's up to you. You don't have to absorb alcohol through the stomach lining to get the benefits, right?" He tapped Blair's hip with the side of the bottle. "That's what I've heard, anyway. It'd be interesting to find out if it's true."
Blair felt as though his bones had turned to water. Seth would do it, too. He didn't doubt that for one minute. It was too easy to imagine that bland, almost-interested smile Seth had worn day after day in the front row of Blair's class. Bright blue eyes, short blonde hair in tight little curls against his scalp, a tennis-player's tan on his face. The heart of a true sadist beating under his Eddie Bauer sweater. Oh yeah, the kid was gonna be a hell of a doctor some day.
"What's -- what's the point of washing me out," he whispered, struggling for the strength to speak at all, "If you're just gonna turn around and poison me with bad wine?"
"Don't worry about it. Wine's sacred."
"You're funny, Mr. Sandburg." He lifted Blair's head again and put the lip of the bottle to his mouth. "Now drink up."
The broken end of the screw cap cut Blair's lower lip as he drank.
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