Roberts looked at his friend in shock. Questions about the astral plane meant he was stumbling down the bramble-ridden path of the occult. Still, coming from Alan it must be important.

“I know enough to not get involved, but since you’re the one asking, I guess we can head down that road a little bit.”

“I’ve been working on a case lately. I can’t really go into … oh forget it. I’m not supposed to go into details, but I know you won’t betray my confidence.”

The minister was suddenly uncomfortable in his chair. His friend was breaking police confidentiality rules here. It must be important. At the same time, he suddenly wished he was somewhere else. That Alan would turn to someone else for such deep advice. Still, he was here, and he cared a great deal for Alan. Uncomfortable or not, he would help him in any way he could.

“We’d been tracking a pair of killers for some time now. Their M.O. was to case another couple, befriend them, case the inside of their house, then attack in a moment of weakness and kidnap the wife, almost always setting the husband up to take the fall. They’d torture and brutally murder her somewhere nearby by far enough away to avoid suspicion. Lastly, they’d make sure they’d chosen a place rigged for demolition so the city would cover their tracks. In reality, almost the perfect crime.

“A short time ago, we caught a break. A local couple was targeted, and the husband had managed to get their finger prints. It was a strange twist in the story, really a lucky break for us. We were able to find the warehouse where they’d killed his wife, too. The demolition had been called off and we had a wealth of forensic information on our hands.

“Well, we set up a sting. We ‘created’ the perfect couple in another town and tried to lure them in. It worked, albeit too well. One of the FBI agents under cover was abducted and ended up being killed during the operation.”

Alan paused at the memory. Roberts could tell he was troubled by it. Though both men knew Alan hadn’t the power to stop or change anything, he still felt responsible for the loss of life. An unavoidable consequence of his vast empathy.

Alan cleared his throat and continued, “this is where it gets weird. We found evidence that the last victim’s husband, the local guy, was at the second crime scene. His prints were everywhere. From any angle I can find, it looks like he’s the one who did it.

“But I know that’s impossible. I left him, in his house, the day we found the bodies …”

“Wait. Bodies?”

“Sorry, I’ll get to that. We found a total of 3 bodies that night. But the weird thing is, even though it looks like this guy was involved, I went straight from his house to the crime scene by helicopter. There is no way possible that he could have beaten me there, committed the crime, and then made it home. I had a unit outside his house – never saw him leave and he was taking a shower within 2 hours of the murders. And they were in a different state!”

Alan stood up and started to pace. This was obviously wearing on his nerves.

“We’ll come back to that. Tell me about the other bodies. I’m guessing one was the FBI ageint?”

Alan slumped down into his chair. “Yeah. We also found a charred corpse in the warehouse that we’ve been able to identify as the original perpetrator. About two blocks away, we found another man, ripped to pieces, in an alley. Trace evidence and finger prints place the local guy at all three crimes. He’s our only lead.”

Alan paused, measuring the minister before continuing, very slowly.

“I got his confession, if you can call it that, last night.”

“But you said it couldn’t be him,” now it was Roberts’ turn to be confused.

Alan smirked. “It can’t. But the evidence says it is. Even he says it is. He says he willed himself to the location. Just thought it and, through some magic of astral projection or somewhat, just appeared at the site. Then he walked through a wall and attacked the man. He says he reached out with his mind and consumed him. Kind of like breathing him in. After that, the other guy took over and they both lost their minds … he killed the FBI agent out of reflex, not desire.

“The guy in the alley … he consumed him, too. To keep the darkness of the other guy’s psyche from taking over.”

“If I didn’t know any better, Alan, I’d say you’re describing some kind of demonic possession. But you and I both know that’s not possible. The church doesn’t think that way anymore and things like that don’t really happen.”

“I hear a ‘but’ coming.”

But, you mentioned the astral plane. Did this guy mention the name ‘Akasha’ by any chance?”

Alan froze. Rick had mentioned Akasha. The fact that Father Roberts knew the same name meant only one thing. Rick had been telling the truth.

“From the look in your eyes, I can tell he did. Akasha, or the Akashic Records as they’re sometimes called, is thought to be the mind of God. The collective knowledge of all human existence. Every thought ever conceived, past present and future. All in one place for anyone with the right level of meditative expertise to peruse.

“Some people claim it’s the seat of human genius. That the likes of Einstein or Copernicus were somehow connected to the Records in a way far stronger than their peers. That their original thoughts and groundbreaking theories were really memories borrowed from men and women living in times yet to come.”

“Let’s say, Father, for the sake of argument that these Records do exist. And, for the sake of argument, that someone could call knowledge from them at will …”

“Then what this man told you could be true. He could imagine himself in a different location and arrive there suddenly. He could pass through walls. He could consume people’s souls with a thought. He could, essentially, become the embodiment of hell on earth. The right hand of the devil.”

“Or he could do all those things for the glory of God.”

“What are you getting at, Alan?”

“I have trouble accepting that something considered the ‘mind of God’ would be inherently evil. Just because someone chooses to do evil things with it doesn’t make the knowledge evil in itself. It takes dark intentions to corrupt a thing so much.”

“The collective knowledge of all human experience would have our flaws as well as our perfections. We’re made in the image of our Creator, but our kind is given to wrongdoing as easily as righteousness. While it might not be evil in itself, it has the potential to serve the ultimate evil and should be treated as such.”

“I don’t agree with you, but I can’t argue against it yet.”

Father Roberts smiled at Alan’s traditional concession. He’d agree that Roberts’ argument made more sense, for the time being, but indirectly reserved the right of rebuttal.

“OK, for the sake of argument, how do I stop him?”

“There’s only one way to stop the ultimate evil, Alan. Kill it.”

“Father …”

“I know, I know. But I don’t mean you should kill it. That mortal blow is left to God. He is the only one with the power or right to banish evil from this earth. So how do you stop him? We’re back to the moral argument we had years ago. Do the righteous thing now and potentially watch your actions lead to the end of the world? Or do the despicable so that the world will end in righteousness?”

Father Roberts watched the defeat reflect in his friends’ eyes. For the first time, they were both faced with the unthinkable scenario. Their subscription to deontological thought was being put to the test. Let evil live, thus condemning the world to death and despair. Or give oneself over to mort
al sin to vanquish evil and save the world, thus condemning yourself to take evil’s place?

Roberts thought back on his lessons in classical storytelling. Even Shakespeare had it right. Hamlet could kill his Uncle and all involved in the murderous plot, but in the end he had to die as well. By taking the life of the evil one, you became the evil one yourself and likewise had to be damned. It was a catch 22 of epic proportions, one which neither Alan nor Father Roberts was equipped to handle.

“I’ve always accepted there are things in this world that I’m not meant to understand,” Alan’s words yanked Father Roberts back to his office and the situation at hand. “But I refuse to accept that I need to kill Richard in order to save him. But to let him go on living would be to condemn him to a life of sin. I know he’ll kill again, just as much as I know the sun will rise in the morning.”

“I see your dilemma, Alan. But I don’t think I’m qualified to guide you on this one. Unfortunately, I can’t think of anyone who would be. You’re dealing with something far more elemental and natural than anything I’ve ever been taught.

“An hour ago, I never would have imagined we’d be having this conversation. All of these ideas and theories were just that, ideas and theories. Now you’re here saying you have physical evidence proving their possibility. That you have a man willingly testifying to being a vessel for evil so dark it could overtake all of us.

“I honestly don’t know where to go from here. All I can do is pray for the wisdom men like you and I will need to face this dilemma. Only God knows what is right, and you and I can merely try to strive to that level of perfection.”

“Then I see no reason to stray from the course we’ve been taking. It’s not my place to kill him, but I need to bring him in. He’s dangerous, both to others and to himself if this continues.

“Remember, Richard is just as much a victim in this situation as the people he’s killed. I know him. He’s a good man; he just wanted to bring his wife’s murderers to justice.”

“Alan, I can’t say I envy you right now. But everything you and I believe is being called into question. I agree with you that I believe you shouldn’t kill him. Still, I feel deep in my being that it would be the right thing to do.”

“I know you don’t really mean that, Father. Still, I respect that stance and I appreciate that you were willing to share it with me.” Alan stood to leave. “For both our sakes, though, I pray that you’re wrong.”

Father Roberts hoped so, too. And he spent the next several hours deep in prayer to the same affect. Everyone across the street at the boy’s mission wondered where their star volunteer was. No one thought to look in his office. Roberts sat in his chair, begging the Almighty for some sign, some kind of guidance. Above all, he prayed for his friend’s safety while facing what he could only describe as the Beast’s own vessel.

And deep down inside, Father Roberts wished he could go back 17 years and talk his young friend into a different career path. Something safer. Something less entwined with the battle between the light and the darkness. Ultimately, though, he knew no such path existed. This was the one God had chosen for Alan. Albert just wished he had been strong enough to walk with him.

Lockup was the worst place in the world to be. Not because of the nature of the place, but simply because it was boring. They always had the good stuff locked up and there was no easy way to roam the halls and stir up trouble. No matter where she was, Cari always managed to get herself stuck in a private cell – not quite solitary, but solitary enough – within a few hours of being in the building. Something about the other women not wanting to be anywhere close to her.

Then again, she somehow managed to kill a hooker within 15 minutes of entering the holding cell.

The last time she’d been in lockup she’d managed to weasel her way out before being booked. It really hadn’t been that hard. About 5 minutes after they threw her in, she killed one of her cell mates. Everyone was panicked and no one, not even the guards, wanted to come anywhere close. Well, there was that one guard. And that worked out perfectly for Cari.

After being hauled to another cell and hosed down – she was covered head to toe in blood – they left her there for a few hours to cool off. Really, they thought she was on something based on the way she’d been acting. After a few hours, they send the one tough-as-nails guard to check on her; see if she’d sobered up.

The guard was only tough because she was new. She’d been in the building for 2 days and hadn’t had the chance to be jaded by the catch-and-release program exercised by the cash-strapped system. Everyone else had started off hard, too. After a few weeks, though, they all stopped caring. Seeing the same inmates brought in over and over for the same offense and released within a day or so of their arrest was demoralizing. It made them all question whether or not they’d chosen the right career. If a guard didn’t leave after figuring all this out, they went soft.

Most of the frequent inmates were on first-name bases with the guards. They had their usual cells, and had free range of the phone, no one-phone-call limits here. It was more for the sanity of the guards than anything else. Be rough on one inmate and next week have them back with about 10 of their friends to stir up trouble.

But no, there was still one tough guard in the place. Cari knew what her toughness meant; it was a façade raised to impress the other guards. From the way they interacted, Cari could tell she wasn’t well-known among the prison staff yet, which made the situation even better.

When the cop came to check on her, Cari pretended to be catatonic, staring blankly out the small window in the cell as if in a trance. The guard yelled at her once. Then twice. Then she pulled out a nighstick and entered the cell, planning to knock Cari to her senses.

But Cari was prepared. As soon as the guard was close enough, Cari spun around, grabbed her neck, and swung her body in a short half-circle before jerking her head in the opposite direction of her tumbling body.

There wasn’t time to shout. There wasn’t time to fight back. The guard was instantly paralyzed from the ears down, unable to move, unable to speak, unable to even breathe. Cari saw her eyes go wide in a panic as the breath slowly ran from her body. The guard blinked furiously, her eyelids the only muscles over which she still had control, but it did nothing. Actually, it just made Cari smile wider.

Cari quickly stripped the guard down and swapped their clothes. Then she set the guard’s body against the wall in the fetal position, as if she were sleeping. She pulled her own hair back and tucked it neatly inside the guard’s uniform hat.

Her cell had been far enough away she knew no one had seen what had happened. Maybe the lone security camera, but no one watched those anymore in here. When they discovered the body – yes, the guard was merely a body now – later, they might re-run the tape to see what had happened. The new guard had committed a rookie mistake by entering the cell alone. And she’d paid for that mistake.

Cari shut the door to her old cell and sauntered back towards the exit. Before leaving, though, she turned to the large holding cell where she’d killed her cell mate and stared at the other women. They silenced immediately, realizing the one person whom they were afraid of was somehow now wearing a prison uniform.

“Good, now stay quiet!”

Cari banged on the door and it buzzed open politely. The head guard asked about the “new girl in time out” without looking up from her desk.

“No, she’s still out of it. Maybe 2 hours more, then I’ll check

The head guard nodded and kept working on her daily crossword puzzle. Meanwhile, Cari crossed the room, walked through the locker room, and stole a set of car keys from an open locker. She made her way to the garage – everything was marked and labeled with painted arrows on the floor – and used the keys’ wireless entry fob to locate the guard’s car.

A few minutes later had Cari out of the garage and on the road, headed to nowhere in particular. She’d have at least a 2-hour head start before anyone noticed the tough guard missing. Maybe an hour after that before they went to check on the “new girl.” With three hours of open highway, Cari made a bee-line for the state line. And for a new set of more comfortable clothes.

Yes, the last time everything had gone well for her. She’d been picked up for picking a tourist’s pocket outside a casino in Atlantic City. It was a busy police station, and it had been easy to intimidate the other temporary inmates and force her way through early release. This time, though, she had been picked up for grand theft auto in a far more bureaucratic police district. Everything was done by the book and there were no lackadaisical guards.

From what Cari could tell, they were all tough guards. There were no first names uttered, not by the inmates or by the guards. There was no newer guard the rest of the group didn’t know. Even though Cari had set things up the same way – killing a hooker to get placed in a semi-private room – she doubted she could pull off the same stunt this time around.

Just her luck, when the guards came to check on her, they were three deep. She tried the same trick anyway. Stare at the wall, catatonic. She even added a small stream of drool to complete the illusion.

“Cover me,” she heard one of the guards say. Cari waited until she could feel the guard’s breath on the back of her neck before spinning.

She grabbed the guard’s neck and started her half circle turn, then the world went black as one of the other guards clocked her in the temple with a nightstick.

As Cari lay numb on the floor of her cell she realized that, this time, she might be in real trouble. The guards locked her cell again and started the formal booking process. They didn’t need mug shots to get this wacko out of their system and into a larger prison. The larger facility would have real solitary confinement cells. Maybe that would take the fight out of her.

As they started processing the strange woman’s finger prints, though, they hit an FBI red flag. Their computers all went crazy and started flashing a red “Call this number immediately” message. Frustrated and distracted, the head guard keyed the number and waited for the call.

Twenty minutes later, Alan’s phone rang. It was the FBI task force that had been assigned to his case – now a multi-state case over which he had not even courtesy jurisdiction. Still, the FBI was nice enough to keep him in the loop.

He keyed the Bluetooth in his car and listened intently to the message on the other side. Then he slammed on his brakes and pulled his car to the side of the road while switching from his Bluetooth to the actual phone speaker and microphone.

“You found her where?

Rick was still watching football when Alan pulled up and walked in unannounced. He knew why Alan had come back, though deep down he wished he hadn’t.

“You’re here for one of three reasons. You believe me and are here to arrest me. You believe me and are here to kill me. Or you don’t believe me and the guys in white coats will be following you in a minute. Well … I don’t hear any other footsteps, and you aren’t carrying your gun. Do you want the cuffs in front or behind.”

“I’m not here to arrest you, Rick. But I do believe you. I can’t explain why I believe you, but for whatever reason you’re doing this, you have to stop!”

“You know as well as I do that I can’t stop, Alan. If I stop, he’ll win.”

“And if you don’t stop, you’ll become him and he’ll still win.”

“But not for a long time. The longer I keep going, the more lives I’ll save …”

“By taking lives? I don’t care what your reasons are. It’s never right to take a life, even if taking that one life means saving two. It doesn’t matter. Life isn’t yours for the taking.”

“Alan, I know you didn’t come here to spark up a moral debate with me. We both know neither of us will give up our position. So what brings you today?”

Alan stared at the man he’d once called a friend; the monster he’d once called a man. He tried to measure Rick with his eyes, realizing for the first time how much larger and more intimidating he’d become over the past few months. Whether Alan told him or not, he knew that Rick would eventually figure out that they had Cari. And he knew that Rick would try to get to her.

So he built his lie. A lie based enough in truth that it would appear as the same. A lie so small it might give Alan just enough time to keep Rick from discovering the truth.

“We found Cari. She’s in custody. She’s in general population at a correctional facility in central Oregon.”

“General population? She’s a killer, Alan. You can’t leave her around groups of people like that.”

“So are you, Rick. What would you have me do? Throw both of you in the hole for life?”

“That wouldn’t stop me,” Rick said and for the first time Alan saw the real depth of the darkness behind his eyes. It was consuming, maddening. “But it might slow her down.”

“I only came by to give you closure. We caught the other person responsible for your wife’s death. It’s finished now, so let it go. Eventually, when I can prove what you did without turning to the mystical mumbo-jumbo that makes it make sense, I’ll be back for you, too.”

“I mean this, I really do. Good luck with that. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to make sense of it all, but the way I described it to you the other day is the best I can do. I know what I am now, and I know what I have to do to keep IT from getting back out. What happened to your agent was an accident, but it will happen again if I can’t keep IT under control. You and I both know what that means, so either kill me and stop me, or stay out of my way.”

Alan knew that he wouldn’t take either side of that argument. He couldn’t kill Rick in cold blood. But at the same time, he refused to stay out of his way. Somehow, he would stop this man from killing. He just didn’t know how he’d do it. Yet …