There is a universe- nay, a multiverse of difference between Serwood and New Cantor. For one, New Cantor is much larger- it has a proper downtown, with skyscrapers and everything. And while it is just as twisted as Serwood- this whole section of the world is headed south, it seems- it is twisted in an entirely different way than our backwoods college town. In many ways, it is far more dangerous. I love it.
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We stood there, on the corner of Fourth and Main, cast into stark white reality by the midday sun. Myself, Sarah, Alex; three creatures caught somewhere between birth and death (the only two options I knew of, at the time). My assistants had circles under their eyes. They had been up late, talking. They looked a bit dazed.
I don't remember feeling anything at all, other than a sense of being on the cusp of some definitive action, somewhere between the person I had been before Sarah Walden, and the person I would be after Gideon. Does that make any sense? I don't care.
Rearing up before us was the shiny, ultrasteel monolith of an office building in which Gideon had his offices. Twenty-four stories; Gideon had the 18th floor. I do not know what the other 23 floors are for, and I don't really expect to find out. Probably something completely uninteresting and not related in any way to my work. Probably.
I opened the left door, and ushered my assistants inside. Immediately, we were hit by the artificial air-conditioned sterile cool of the lobby interior. That, plus the dim, indirect lighting that characterizes so many pointless rooms all over the world, was sufficient to wipe the moment in the sun from my mind. I had no time to mourn for it, but instead walked past the receptionist's desk with nary a glance in his direction. He, for his part, did not attempt to impede me; the piggy little bastard knew better. We stepped into the elevator.
"Alright, both of you, listen to me," I said. "You've come this far with me, which is good, but Gideon is another animal altogether. I do not know what he will do or say to you, and I have no control over the situation. I would appreciate that you remember that." There, I thought. That should put the fear of Gid into them.
Slowly, the elevator ascended, floor numbers blinking onto the overhead screen, then dissapearing.
"What if we refused?" said Alex. "Would you come after us, hunt us down?"
I turned around, meeting his eyes. "I wouldn't, no."
"But me no buts, keed. This is our floor." The doors slid open.
I had no idea what to expect Gideon. His offices are ersatz things, changing according to his whims or needs. I know that, if all the partitions were removed, it would be one giant room, stretching from one set of windows to the other...to the other, to the other, with only the elevator to spoil the effect. I have no idea why, but the concept is a frightening one, and I was relieved to find that we were not greeted by such a room.
Rather, it looked as though an antiques shop had vomited somewhere on the premesis. Dark, polished wood glinted in the soft yellow light. The light itself emanated from fluted glass lamps set into the wall, one on each side of the doorway. Ahead lay a small living area, adorned with a couch of such immense size and age, I marvelled that it could have been transported anywhere without falling apart. There was also a large coffee table in somewhat better condition, a glass cabinet containing several pieces of fine china (apparently ordered direct from the 18th century), and a doorway. The doorway spoke.
"This way, please," it said. I did as directed. I could not help, however, but hear the whispers of my assistants as they reluctantly followed suit.
"How'd the doorway do that?"
"Acoustics, most likely."
"Shh! Not now, Alex."
Through the second doorway was a library- it was my week for encountering libraries- of the type almost extinct in these dim plastic days. Bookshelves stretched from about two feet off the floor, all the way to the ceiling. They were, of course, done in the same dark wood as the rest of the room. Below the bookshelves were small cabinets that my hands already itched to open. They ringed the room, hemming us in on three sides- and I wouldn't have been surprised to see the door slam shut behind us, were we not standing in its' way.
"Please, come in," said the voice again, and my gaze centered on the man in the high-backed leather chair (also ancient). It was Gideon, of course, looking resplendent and somehow proper in all black. Black dress shirt, narrow black tie, black dress pants...and a pair of tennis shoes, also black. This should have been ridiculous- I am absolutely certain that if I had worn such an outfit, I would've looked like a complete flaming moron, but such was not the case.
I have never been able to determine Gideon's age. I am certain that he is older than twenty, and I am almost certain that he is younger than sixty, but after that all guesses become cloudy. I did notice on this particular day, however, that his hair- which is thinning in front and long in the back- had developed a few streaks of gray somewhere along the line. I wondered at this, but decided not to comment, given the situation.
"Please, sit," he said, motioning to the smaller chairs set up before him. Like clockwork, we walked around to them, sat down. I knew what was happening to the others, in a vague sort of way, as I had visited Gideon in this manner before. There was something he could do- I still don't know what, exactly- to mesmerize you, pull you into whatever world he'd created for himself. Though I knew this was happening, I still felt off-balance and nervous watching it happen. I looked over at Sarah and Alex. Both were wearing dazed expressions- Sarah marginally less so than the young photographer, but all the same...
I knew how she felt. This was never easy.
"I am certain," said Gideon, "that Blake has told you something of the situation you are now in?"
"Yes," said Sarah. "A very small something."
"I see. Let me clarify, then. The purpose of the organization I am now running is to keep a sort of tenebrous web over events that are, as you have witnessed, rapidly spiralling out of control. Many years ago, while living in New Cantor, I began to see the strangeness buried here, quite close to the surface. You most likely did, too, if you spent your childhood in such a town. I became obsessed with it, and in the end, dedicated my life to understanding it. Something is happening, Sarah Walden. Whatever it is, whatever is happening, it is changing everything. I have, with the help of Blake and others, managed to contain it here, keep it away from the eyes of the world, but I have no idea how long I can continue to do this. Do you understand?"
"Yes," said Sarah. "I...think I do."
"Good. I can see why Blake would want you to be a part our organization." Did Sarah blush? Just a little bit?
"I meant to ask you about that, Mr. Gideon," she said. "Do we have any choice in this? It might just be Blake's methods of doing things, but it FEELS a little like we're being herded into working for you. Alex especially." She cast a worried look his direction.
"In answer to your questions: Yes, you most certainly have a choice. I wanted your assistance because you are an intelligent, capable person whose eyes remain open, and that is a rarity in this world. Alex has been brought along because it would be unsafe not to inform him of the events taking place, given what he knows. Neither of you is here under duress, though it may have briefly seemed that way." Gideon's eyes flicked over to me for a second, then back. "If you choose not to work with myself or Blake, there will be no repercussions. None that come from us. Does that suit you?"
"Yes. Sorry." Sarah looked uncertain for a moment. "Could you tell me more about the phenomena you keep mentioning?"
Gideon leaned back in his chair. "Which aspect? There are many."
"Hmm...um, do you know anything about a skull that's shaped...sort of...oh, I don't know what you'd call it. Blake and I found one a couple of nights ago."
Fuck me, i thought, she really DOES remember everything.
"That," Gideon said, "was the skull of one Jeremiah Thompson, a very dangerous man, and a werewolf."
"Oh. What happened to him?"
"Harmon Blake happened to him."
Sarah looked at me.
"Would you like to know, perhaps, how you will be compensated for your help?"
"With funds enough to pay for apartment, amenities, and so forth. I believe there are some college scholarships which could be swung as well." Gideon smiled, not unkindly. "Something of a bribe, you could say."
There was a moment of silence.
"All right," Sarah said. "I want the job. When do I start?"
"Immediately. Continue with your research, both with Blake and on your own. Bear in mind that, if something desperate should happen, you can be summoned at any time to assist. Now go home. Get some sleep." Gideon crossed his arms, leaned back in his chair, and smiled a very small smile. "And be careful."
The elevator plummeted toward the ground. I turned, faced my assistants. "That," I said, "was that. I want both of you to go home. Get some sleep, but do not let your guards down. Gideon was right, now is the time to be careful. Do not forget it." The elevator doors slid open. I stepped out. "I'll see you tonight," I said. "In about twelve hours. Now if you'll excuse me, there are some matters I need to attend to..."
I strode into the lobby, past the receptionist, and out of the ugly glass double-doors. The crisp cold white of the noonday sun fell on my face and I turned it up gladly, smiling. And that moment is crystallized in my memory, for it is the last time I can remember being happy, content, or even confident that I would be alive come nightfall. In that moment, I was the epitome of everything that calls itself Harmon Blake, alive and free and stepping out on the streets again.
And it was all worth it.
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.