Interlude 1 – Ammon

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The boy in the dark blue ski cap that failed to entirely contain the nest of wild blond hair stood in the candy aisle of the convenience store. Nail-chewed fingers ran carefully along the brightly colored wrappings as he hemmed and hawed over his choices. Occasionally, the boy consulted the crumpled dollar bills clutched tightly in his other hand as though checking to ensure that more had not spontaneously appeared to spare him from being forced to choose between his treasured treats.

Faced with the reality that magic money wasn’t about to manifest itself, the boy finally chose a single candy bar. Turning on his heel, he walked to the cooler section where the sodas were kept. A man in a hooded raincoat turned away from his own intense perusal of beverages long enough to give the boy a long, penetrating stare. He said nothing, content to simply glower menacingly.

Paying him no attention, the boy took the time to collect a bottle of orange soda from the cooler in the back before proceeding to the counter where a girl barely out of her teens watched him curiously.

“Hey, it’s kind of late. Do your parents know you’re out here?” The girl, whose nametag read Denise, asked in the uncertain tone of those who aren’t entirely sure that they’re properly treading the line between paying just enough attention to something wrong and actively being busybodies.

“Yes, ma’am,” the fresh-faced boy, who couldn’t have looked older than eleven, answered promptly and politely. After setting his chosen purchases on the counter, he lifted a hand to point out into the parking lot, where an old sedan sat bathed in shadows. “They didn’t want to come in. It’s been a long drive.”

Glancing toward the car, Denise paused before shrugging as she picked up the candy and soda. Running them past the scanner, she asked, “Family moving or something? That’ll be two ninety-three.”

Brightening at the question, the boy piped enthusiastically, “Gonna visit my sister!” Face shining with excitement at his own words, he laid the three dollar bills from his hand to the counter.

“She in college or something?” The girl asked him while casually slipping the three bills into the register. The machine spat out a receipt as she added, “You need a bag for these?”

Before the boy could answer either question, he was interrupted by a shout from behind him. “Hey, bitch!” The man in the raincoat stood there, hand clutching a small revolver. “How about you pay attention to a real customer, huh? Let’s start with emptying that register into a bag and go from there.”

Eyes wide with sudden terror, Denise immediately began to comply. “Okay, okay. Look, see? Money in the bag, no one’s touching anything wrong, just hold on. We’ve got money right here, you can have it. Just don’t hurt anyone? It’s just you, me, and the kid here. No one’s gonna stop you. Take the money and go.” Voice shaking, the girl dropped all of the register’s cash into the small sack and held it out.

“You get it, kid.” The raincoat-man demanded, jerking the gun toward the boy briefly. “Bring it here.”

Obediently, the boy accepted the bag of money from the petrified clerk and carried it over to where the man was waiting. It was snatched from his hand quickly, and perused briefly before the man smiled in satisfaction. “Pleasure doing business with you, bitch.” He turned then and started for the door at a run.

Denise had just breathed out a sigh of relief as the man reached the exit. However, just before he would have passed out of their lives forever, the boy spoke up. “Hey, wait a second, Mister.”

Spinning on his heel, the man with the gun stared back at the boy. “What the hell do you want?”

Smiling pleasantly, the boy replied simply, “My name is Ammon.”

Both thief and clerk stared at the boy in joint disbelief. The man with the gun worked his mouth a couple times, taken so far aback that he forgot to be angry for a few seconds. “Good… for you?” Finally, his emotions caught up. “What the fuck, you wanna get shot, you stupid little shit?!”

“No,” Ammon answered honestly. Then he turned to point. “You didn’t take her money though. What if she has a lot of it? It’s better if you take that money too.”

“Wha—hey!” Denise blurted, her eyes wide. “What the hell—I don’t have that much money.”

“No… no, the kid’s right.” The man nodded slowly, abandoning the door to return to where the counter was. “Come on, empty your pockets. Empty ’em now, you little bitch. You holding out on me, huh?!”

“Here, here!” The girl scrambled to pull a wallet form her front pocket. “See? Two dollars and some change. That’s it, that’s all I’ve got, okay?” She quickly tossed the bills down. “Take it, just go, please.”

Snatching the bills off the counter, the man shoved them into a pocket while sneering angrily. “Watch your mouth, bitch. I’ll go when I’m good and ready, not when you fucking tell me to.”

“Cunt,” the boy piped up from where he was standing with a voice that would almost have sounded helpful if it wasn’t for the actual words that he was speaking. “You should call her cunt, not bitch. Bitch isn’t that bad. Cunt probably makes her feel worse. It’s better if you use that one instead. That sounds more like what a real bad guy should say.”

Eyes bulging a bit, the girl blurted, “What the hell do you think–”

“Shut it, cunt!” the man bellowed. “Shut your fucking face before I put a couple new holes in it.”

Looking from the man to the confused and frightened clerk, Ammon spoke again. “You should hit her. It’s more interesting if you hit her.” After pausing briefly, he added, “With your fist, not the gun.”

Denise tried to jerk away, but the man’s fist caught her across the face. With a cry, she fell backwards into the wall behind her where the cigarette packs were stacked. Several fell as she jostled the shelves, bouncing off the counter and to the floor while the girl cried out. “Stop it, what’re you doing?!”

“Maybe… maybe that’s enough.” The man decided, breathing out. “Just stay there, I’ll leave and–”

“No,” Ammon interrupted. “You should hit her again. No, kick her. Kick her in the stomach. Hard.”

The poor girl barely had time to protest that time before the man had crossed behind the counter. Winding up his foot, he lashed out hard enough to knock the air from her lungs, the scream that tried to come fading into a sharp, pathetic little wheeze under the force of the harsh kick.

Smiling, the boy walked around the counter. He stood there, motionless for a second before squatting down onto one knee. Slowly, he reached out to brush a finger against the girl’s cheek, catching a tear of confusion, pain, and fear that had fallen there. Gazing at the damp spot on his finger with a look of open wonder and curiosity, he nodded before straightening. “You should do it again.”

“No, stop it, just sto–” The girl had gained enough air to protest weakly.

Whumph! The man’s foot hit her hard once more, turning her words into a squeal once more.

“Again.”

“N-no, plea–”

Whumph!

“Again.”

“Plea–”

Whumph!

******

A short time later, the girl had been beaten so thoroughly that it would have been difficult for even close friends to recognize her. Her consciousness faded in and out, and she had long since stopped protesting. She simply laid there and cried, each harsh blow reminding her of her helplessness.

Advising the man who had been a simple robber to stand aside, Ammon knelt there and touched the girl’s face. She flinched from the contact, a whine filling her ruined throat.

“Shhh,” the boy consoled her. “See, we’re done. That was interesting. I had fun, but I’m bored of that game now. So it’s over.” He brushed his fingers over the girl’s bloodied and bruised cheeks, moving up to her swollen eyes. Under his touch, the flesh mended, the swelling went down, and the girl’s face rapidly returned to normal. “It’s time to play a new game. You get to win this one.”

“Wha… what…” Recognizing that the pain was fading, Denise opened her eyes. Seeing the boy there, she flinched backward. A whine of fear, of terror at the very sight of the boy, rose from her.

Smiling pleasantly, the boy spoke as politely as ever. “My name is Ammon. You should stand up.”

Truthfully, the boy had no idea what kind of thoughts went through the minds of his toys the moment he spoke those four words of introduction. In this case, as in all others, the outward effects were obvious. Upon hearing the statement of his name, the girl’s whine halted instantly. She fell silent, then obeyed the rest of his words, slowly rising to her feet as though it had been her own idea. Her fear most likely remained, buried deep in the girl’s mind. Yet the words Ammon spoke after deliberately introducing himself to her were as impossible for Denise to deny or resist as the physical laws of the universe.

He wondered if she was one of the ones who still held onto her own thoughts, her own personality. Some were like that. Their opinions, fears, thoughts, everything simply locked away inside their own mind, incapable of resisting or even affecting their own body, prisoners to his whim. Others were more like empty vessels once his power took hold of them. They gave no resistance, and seemed not to react at all to the things he made them do. It was a discrepancy that aroused his curiosity, and he would figure out what caused the difference someday. It would just take more experimenting.

After standing, the slightly glazed look left the clerk’s eyes and she tried to throw herself at the door, scrambling in open desperation to escape the hell that the store had rapidly become.

“You should stop,” Ammon spoke quickly, before the girl could get further than a few steps. Instantly, she halted, though a whine of confusion at her own actions crept out of her.

Turning to the man, Ammon held his hand out. “You should give me your gun.” Without complaint, as though it had been his own idea, the man passed the weapon over. He was one of the empty ones, one who barely reacted to anything the boy told him to do.

Taking it, the boy walked over and extended the gun to her. “You should take this and shoot him in the back.” he informed her while settling the weapon into her palm. “Use every bullet. See? I told you you get to win.” To the man, who was already reacting, he said, “You should stop and turn around.”

Both moved as though the boy’s words had been their own choices, their own thoughts. The man turned to face the coolers, standing passively while the clerk raised the revolver. The gun shook slightly in her hand, but she took very careful aim. While the boy watched eagerly, curiosity painted on his face, the girl pulled the trigger. The gun bucked in her hand, and the man screamed as the first bullet hit him. The deafening sound returned as the second shot was fired, then another, and another. By the end, the man’s ruined body lay in a pool of his own blood mixed with the various liquids pouring from the shattered drink coolers, and Denise held an empty revolver.

“There’s no more bullets, you should drop the gun.” The boy’s calm voice instructed, and the weapon bounced off the floor a second later. Smiling, Ammon walked to where the dead man had fallen and reached down. His hands patted a bit until he found a wallet, from which the boy produced a credit card. With that in hand, he started for the exit while addressing Denise. “You should come with me. This part’s gonna be really interesting.” On his way out, the boy’s hand snagged a package of duct tape.

Without looking back, he walked through the door. The girl trailed after him, mumbling to herself about how right he was and how very interesting all of this happened to be. Rather than sounding confident about that, however, the girl’s voice was confused. She was clearly trying to convince herself, and remained uncertain about why she was following his instructions. Uncertain, yet incapable of true resistance. Her mind was clouded, overwhelmed by the power that broke down her own thoughts and opinion, supplanting them with his words of instruction.

Bypassing the waiting car, Ammon walked to the gas pumps in the middle of the lot. The girl followed after him, still trying to explain to herself why she was doing what he said. The logic went around in circles, and she hardly seemed to notice. Her mind fought and struggled against his control, that inner personality trying so hard to break free. Yet she continued, trailing after the boy right to the pumps themselves. “What… why am I… why are we…” She tried to get answers from him, but the words wouldn’t come. She couldn’t force a full question, let alone anything resembling a denial, past his control.

Humming to himself, the young, innocent-looking boy pushed the borrowed credit card into the slot. After taking the nozzle from its stand, he pressed the button to select the fuel grade, then turned to face the girl. “Okay, you should sit down right there. You like sitting right now.” He pointed to the ground in front of the pump.

Slowly, the girl sat, eyes glazed over. “I like sitting right now,” she echoed a bit mindlessly.

Humming to himself, the boy carefully pushed the gasoline nozzle close to the girl’s face. “Now you should open,” he instructed. Once her mouth was open, he inserted the gas nozzle. “Right, now hold it with both hands, okay?” He waited until she put both hands on the nozzle to hold it in place.

While Denise sat holding the gas nozzle, Ammon took a moment to extract the duct tape from the package. Whistling an off-key tune, the little boy proceeded to carefully and deliberately use the entire roll, duct taping the nozzle first to the girl’s hands, then around the back of her head to keep it in place. Finally, he put even more tape around the nozzle itself, securing it carefully to the girl’s mouth so that it couldn’t be spat out. By the time he was done, the tape covered every part of her mouth that the nozzle itself didn’t touch. She couldn’t have escaped even without the strength of his ‘suggestions.’ She was trapped there, incapable of avoiding what was coming.

“Okay,” Ammon announced. “You should sit right there and not try to go anywhere, but I’m done with you now.”

Those words, the statement that he was done with her, made the girl blink twice. Her head rolled back, and then she straightened with a sudden look of terror. She screamed a denial, a plea, but the words didn’t escape the tape that covered her mouth. She struggled, trying in vain to yank the nozzle free, but it wouldn’t budge. The tape held fast against her efforts.

“Watch this,” Ammon waited until the girl’s frantic, horrified eyes were on him, then reached down to the nozzle. Grasping the handle, he found the trigger and pressed it. A muffled scream from the girl was interrupted by a violent choking sound as gasoline was pumped straight through the nozzle and down her throat.

Stepping back, the boy watched for a moment. The girl struggled, twisting and screaming in muffled, trapped terror while she continued to choke on the gasoline being pumped into her. Tears of shock and denial flooded her face as she sobbed brokenly, desperate for help that would never come.

He watched until she stopped struggling, until the still-pumping gasoline had done its job, drowning the girl. Then the boy turned on his heel and walked away. His dirty sneakers crossed the parking lot until he reached the station once more. Humming, he went inside long enough to retrieve his candy bar and the bottle of orange soda before returning to the lot. Barely sparing a glance toward the crumpled form in the middle of the gas pumps, he walked to the waiting car and opened the back door.

“Okay, I’m back!” The boy announced while hopping in.

In the front seat, the elderly woman, the latest in a long line of oh-so-helpful people who had agreed to give the boy a lift, shook as though forcing herself out of a horrible dream. “Y-you killed… they’re dead…. they’re dead…”

Sighing, the boy leaned forward and repeated his mantra. “My name is Ammon.  We should go now. It’s pretty late.”

The woman’s shaking stopped as the power of his introduction reaffirmed its hold. “We should go now,” she repeated. “It’s pretty late.”

As the car pulled out of the lot, leaving both bodies behind, Ammon took a long swig of his orange soda. Then he relaxed, sagging back in the seat with a contented smile. “Coming to see you, sis,” he said to himself. “We’re gonna have so much fun.”

He meant what he said. It would be fun. After all, it was a special occasion. It wasn’t every day that someone found out that their mother had had another child with a different man. Meeting a long-lost sibling was clearly the kind of situation that called for a cross-country road trip. Even if that trip was to a place as boring as Wyoming. And even if it meant ignoring the specific orders of his father, a man he generally obeyed.

He just hoped that Felicity Chambers turned out to be as interesting as he hoped she was.

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49 comments

  1. For anyone wondering why the name of the chapter in the web address is Theodore, it’s because the original saved draft used that name until I remembered that I already used the name Theodore once in the first chapter in reference to one of Flick’s co-workers, so to avoid confusion I changed it at the last minute.

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  2. Well then. Learning that you have a half-brother serial killer is really bad news. Of course, not as bad as him going to see your father… which will probably end very badly for said father.

    Frankly I’m not even sure Ammon is human… or if he is, whether he’s a rouge heretical that killed a monster with suggestion powers.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. It’s possible his father had similar powers and used them on Flick’s mother, thus explaining her sudden behavior, but I hope it’s not the case. She seemed interesting, and have her be under mind-control all this time is a bit disappointing.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. If this is the kid, I don’t want to imagine what the dad is like. Doesn’t paint Flick’s mom in a good light either but I guess there could be some special circumstances…maybe.

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  5. “A short time later, the girl had been beaten so thoroughly that it would have been difficult for even close friends to recognize her. Her consciousness faded in and out, and she had long since stopped protesting. She simply laid there and cried, each harsh blow reminding her of her helplessness.

    Advising the man who had been a simple robber to stand aside, Ammon knelt there and touched the girl’s face. She flinched from the contact, a whine filling her ruined throat.”
    Me: So, it looks like Ammon finds satisfaction in others suffering.

    “Humming to himself, the boy carefully pushed the gasoline nozzle close to the girl’s face. “Now you should open,” he instructed. Once her mouth was open, he inserted the gas nozzle. “Right, now hold it with both hands, okay?” He waited until she put both hands on the nozzle to hold it in place.”
    Me: o_O I know where this is going, and I wish I didn’t.

    So, Ammon has learned of Flick’s existence. I am wanting to know how, who told him? Anyway, the abilities he has exhibited, as well as the mindset accompanying them, are rather disturbing to me.

    A rather sobering Interlude.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Yup, I figured the lack of the expected fire came off as worse, somehow. Burning someone to death is kind of cliche. Making them choke to death on gasoline? Different.

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  6. Well. That was horrifying. I’m going to go ahead and erase everything I just read that wasn’t immediatrly plot relevant from my mind now. I guess I’m just glad this was only the second most horrifying thing I’ve ever read taking place at a roadside stop.

    So Flick’s mom was either kidnapped or is pure evil. I’m guessing the answer is whichever will cause our heroine the most distress. Probably kidnapped. Flick is used to hating her mom. Finding out that her disappearance was not her fault and then struggling to let go of a deeply held grudge that has no real basis would be a lot more difficult than just continuing to hate her.

    I’m also guessing that Flick’s mom (was she ever named?) is the parent descended from the cowardly ancestor, and that her bloodline’s Stranger encounter made her a target of whoever Ammon’s dad is the same way Flick was considered a potential student of the Academy. So I think this little monster is half Stranger and half Heretic, maybe part of a particularly evil eugenics program.

    Jesus Christ do I hope I’m wrong.

    Anyway, in the hopes of distracting myself, Cerulean, I’ve been meaning to ask where the inspiration for the Strangers come from. They give off vibes of the Silence from Doctor Who, only crossed with every mythology ever.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Anyway, in the hopes of distracting myself, Cerulean, I’ve been meaning to ask where the inspiration for the Strangers come from. They give off vibes of the Silence from Doctor Who, only crossed with every mythology ever.”

      A couple things, really. The Silence is one, as is the mist thing from the Percy Jackson series that prevents mortals from noticing supernatural events. It’s a fairly common trope in series involving supernatural events taking place in a mundane world with any kind of masquerade going on, I believe.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. On the one hand, I am, because I’m hoping by the time it happens, Flick is powerful enough to actually fight him (maybe with Avalon’s help because BEST BUDDIES BONDING MOMENT AMIRITE!?).

        On the other hand, no, not really, because I’m not sure if she will be.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. So, what are the odds of Flick’s mom being anything other than a baseline normal? I ask because depending on Stranger genetics, Ammon’s power is either inherited strictly from his (I’m assuming) magical father, in which case Magic + Human = Magic.

    Or Flick’s mom has some sort of magical abilities as well. Then we get Magic + Magic = Magic, and Magic + Human = ???. Flick would fall squarely into the ??? category, which makes determining how that pairing functions an inherently important aspect of the story.

    Also, you’re mind is a dark and wicked place, Cerulean. Kudos.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Well, this was one disturbing chapter.

    Ammon is one sick, sadistic piece of work- if he ended up on Earth Bet, not sure if the S9’d offer him a job or kill him as too dangerous to have around him.

    And having him be Flick’s half-sister is quite the twist, and raises some questions about what happened to her mother- was she a Stranger, did she get ‘possessed’ (if that’s possible), or did some Stranger think that she’d be fun to play with & pulled a Heartbreaker or otherwise used the sort of mind-control powers Ammon displayed on her. Plus, is Flick’s mom still alive (and if she is, whether she’s anything more than an empty shell or otherwise irretrievably broken) or if she’s dead by now (which, given what we’ve seen of Ammon’s powers, might be have been a mercy depending on how it happened.)

    It’ll be interesting to see how Flick reacts whenever she finds out that not only were Strangers responsible for her mother leaving, which had a profound effect on her, but also that she has one for a half-brother.

    Incidentally, wondering if the facts that Flick’s mother was somehow compromised by a Stranger & that she has a Stranger for a half-brother was what made the Crossroads faculty reluctant to offer her admission to the school?

    Oh, and Ammon’s taking a road trip to Jackson Hole to look up his half-sister? That does not bode well for Flick’s father….

    Liked by 2 people

  9. …god-fucking-dammit Ceru. I made it through most of Worm without getting squicked out more than than two or three times. GG’s fate sticks out as one I remember.

    Well. I’m squicked out by your very first interlude. Grats. And also morbidly considering how much backpressure would be necessary to trigger the full-tank cutoff and whether that would stop her from being drowned and oh god I was just about to sleep. 😦

    I’ll take mood-whiplash and brain bleach for 1000, Alec.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. “The gun shook slightly in her hand, but she took careful very aim.”
    Think you mean ‘very careful aim’ there.
    I’ll be catching up with current over the next few days. Love your work over with Atonement and Intrepid and loving your work here with an original creation.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Very creepy. Hopefully his abilities will only work in humans. Or at least be less effective against Hereticals.
    Also, very uncommon way to use gasoline to kill someone. I wonder what the police will think happened here. The boys fingerprints are all over the tape after all.

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  12. Shit, I really loved the story till now….

    This chapter is giving me such a strong feeling to stop it…

    A) What happened to her mother? Most likely she didn’t want to leave and Ammons father is somehow involved. And if this is the case she is already a decade with him… I just get sick when I think about it.

    B) Ammon will only find her father… I don’t want to think about it.

    C) Why was her acceptence 50/50?!?! This is really fishy…. because if it was because of her personality it wouldn’t be so balanced. At least that’s what I think.

    The most is I never liked things that involve mental manipulation…

    I will think about it. (But if I do continue reading I will most likely be disappointed) It wouldn’t be because your novel is bad in any way. I just can’t stand this kind of development.

    Thanks for the story till now.

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  13. Great chapter. Unless I’m mistaken this is our first real look at a Stranger, and it does a great job of selling the horror and danger of them. The flashback to the orc-things in Flick’s ancestral memories felt very high fantasy and didn’t really fit into the current world, and the monsters there were immediately shown up by a Heretic making them look rather weak. Ammon is a much more chilling and believable introduction to the danger of this world.

    Now as for Arc 1 as a whole: I’m pretty sold on the series so far. I love the setting mostly, even if I haven’t seen much of it yet. Generally I have a hard time believing in these Masquerade type settings, as it is always hard to buy that no one has noticed all the supernatural stuff going on. This setting fixes this problem with the Stranger’s mind-altering abilities make it plausible, and it solves the second issue that these setting’s usually have: that the “wizards” of the story come off as asshole because they won’t share their knowledge with the rest of the world. These ones actually have a good reason not too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Glad you like the explanation of the whole ‘Bystander-Effect.’ And believe me, that gets a whole lot more… involved in the story later on. 🙂

      And yes, Ammon is pretty damn creepy.

      Like

    1. Just going to add that I’m really enjoying this story so far. I’m looking forward to catching up.

      But yeah, as someone who’s read Worm and Twig, this still horrified me.

      Liked by 1 person

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