MattDarrow@hotmail.com 4,100 words
THE MAGIC CEILING
The alarm came early in Officer Stan Norris’ shift.
“Code 3 alert. Car 31, proceed to the designated location.”
Code 3 meant someone was intoxicated in public. Stan knew that this could be dangerous because of the arcane abilities of many citizens.
“I read you, headquarters. I’m on my way.”
The engine of Stan’s patrol car growled as he pressed the accelerator to the floor.
Stan activated the siren and emergency lights as he sped along Sunset Boulevard in downtown Los Angeles. He drove a black and white, Crown Victoria sedan. The year was 2650.
Things aren’t the same as they were before the revolution, Stan thought. The street mages changed everything.
Stan saw citizens, in all walks of life, dressed in an avant-garde manner. They strolled along the boulevard in the early afternoon. They turned their heads to the source of Stan’s siren and stood on the sidewalks.
Stan struggled against the “magic ceiling.” This was a slang term for the unfair promotion of workers in the new age that possessed performance-enhancing, magic abilities.
Stan turned a corner and reached the destination marked on his navigation screen, a posh nightclub called Houdini’s. He exited his vehicle and un-strapped his stun gun. The magazine was armed in sets of three charges, one for each of the three primary colors. This enabled Stan to bring down a shielded street mage of any persuasion, red, blue, yellow or any combination thereof.
Dozens of people ran from Houdini’s, screeching in fear. The sound of clattering tables and breaking glass emerged from within. The muscle-bound bouncer at the door gestured for Stan to enter. The bouncer’s nametag said “Mike.”
“We’ve got a real wild one in there today, Officer. We’re glad you got here as soon as you did. Spike is known to be rowdy, but never like this. He drank too many tornados and is summoning pixies and miniature dragons.”
“Thanks for the info, Mike,” Stan replied. “I’ll take care of this.”
Mike patted Stan on the shoulder and pulled back the rope barrier.
Stan held his stun gun with the barrel pointed upward as he entered the main dance floor at Houdini’s. Stan watched in amazement as two winged pixies poured a glass of sherry for a drunken man who sat on one of the tall stools lining the bar. He kept his balance by leaning on the bar with his folded arms.
Mike’s warning was accurate.
Stan spoke just as the leather-jacket-wearing man pressed his filled glass to his lips. “You must be Spike.”
“And what of it?” answered the tough-looking, blond street mage.
“I received a report that someone is disturbing the peace here. Did you summon these pixies and dragons, Spike?”
“Yes,” Spike replied. “They are my friends. I was lonely. Don’t you find them amusing?”
“Yeah, they’re real cute,” said Stan. “I’m afraid they have to go, Spike. Are you going to send them back to their plane of origin or do I have to take you in?”
Stan watched the winged pixies as they formed a rotating halo around their summoner. The petite dragons had discovered a half-full pitcher of beer and took turns dipping their heads in the foamy, alcoholic contents.
Stan looked at the overturned tables and broken glass on the floor.
“What happened to the furniture here, Spike?”
“He got upset and sent them flying when I told him he’d had enough to drink for today,” said the bearded bartender. “My name is Rob.”
“I see, Rob,” answered Stan.
Stan turned his attention back to the inebriated street mage.
“Are you going to pay for this mess, Spike?” asked Stan.
“Sure, why not?” the sorcerer slurred.
Spike pulled a reflective money card from a pocket in his leather jacket and handed it to Rob.
“Thanks, Spike,” said Rob. “You’d better be on your way.”
“Aw, come on, Rob. Let me get one for the road.”
“One for the road … One for the road,” sang the flying pixies.
Stan waved his hand near the dragons. They took no notice of him and continued their process of consuming the beer in the pitcher.
“Sorry, Spike,” answered Rob. “You’ve got to go now.”
“What? I won’t stand for this! I know my rights.”
Spike rose to his feet and backed away from the bar. The frustrated street mage uttered a shielding spell. “Forgex!”
He was covered within a humming, red ethereal force field. He pounded the bar with his fist, “The Sanguine Acolytes will hear of this. I answer to Cthulhu and no one else.”
Stan drew his stun gun and set the magazine to red. He fired a shot at Spike in near point blank range. The red stun bolt penetrated Spike’s makeshift shield and attached its hooks to the blond man’s chest. Spike was overtaken by the forceful electric charge and fell to the floor. The street mage shook in a series of convulsions. His heels beat a staccato rhythm on the beer-stained floor. Stan pressed a button on his stun gun, deactivating the electric charge. The red sphere of energy dissolved.
Stan straddled the incapacitated street mage and handcuffed him.
“All right, let’s go Spike. A couple of days in the cooler should dry you out.”
Stan brought Spike to his feet. The disoriented street mage raised his bound hands to his brow.
“Ouch, my head! How many volts are in that thing?”
“Fifty-five thousand,” answered Stan.
Stan took Spike by the arm and guided him toward the exit.
“Just a moment, Stan,” said Spike.
Spike addressed the pixies and dragons. “So long, my friends! I must go and can’t take you with me.”
The street mage gestured toward the small creatures and incanted a dispersal spell. “Aeros!”
Stan watched as the miniature dragons and pixies passed through a small portal to Primordia, their plane of origin. The portal closed upon their passage, leaving the bar strangely quiet.
Stan escorted Spike to the back seat of the patrol car. The street mage got in and Stan closed and locked the door.
Stan heard the wail of the siren of another police cruiser permeate the air. The lights of the arriving police car flashed on the brick walls of a cross street as it turned onto Sunset Boulevard. The siren was turned off and a helmeted officer stepped out of the vehicle. The officer was female and Stan recognized her.
“Hello, Jocelyn. How have you been?”
“Fine, Stan. I hear you’ve got a disturber of the peace on your hands. Do you want me to sedate him?”
Jocelyn Savage took off her helmet and glanced into the rear section of Stan’s car. She had brown hair and a pretty face. Like Captain Bill Mayweather, their supervisor, Jocelyn was a futurist. She was heavily decorated for pre-crimes she prevented from coming to fruition.
“Thanks. I don’t think sedatives are necessary in this situation. I was just about to take Spike here downtown. You’re welcome to follow us if you so wish.”
“Sure, why not. I’ve been thinking. With your marksmanship and my prescience we’d make a good team. We should bring it up with the Captain.”
“I’ll consider it,” replied Stan. “We should get going. Spike mentioned the Sanguine Acolytes and Cthulhu. This faction of devious street mages is growing. I should mention it to the Captain.”
“Good idea. Let’s go,” said Jocelyn.
The two officers got into their vehicles and headed for their headquarters. They drove beyond Sunset Boulevard and reached the district station.
The crowd before the booking counter was large. It contained a variety of misfits with tattoos and body piercings escorted by Los Angeles Police Department officers.
“Hey, man, how long is this gonna take?” asked Spike.
The street mage had recognized several of the prisoners in the mass of people and chatted with them. After more than an hour of waiting Stan and Spike made it to the front of the counter. The sergeant at the computer entered the street mage’s name and data into the system and gestured toward the holding tank. Stan opened the door of the cell and guided Spike inside. Stan closed and locked the door. Captain Mayweather was standing nearby and approached Stan. The Captain was a tall, gray-haired man who spoke with a Southern accent.
“Hi, Stan. Can I have a word with you?”
“Sure, Bill. What’s on your mind?”
“The Sanguine Acolytes and their so-called leader, Cthulhu. Their numbers are growing at a faster rate than we were previously aware. For some unknown reason this area of LA teems with magic forces of a variety of persuasions. Let’s step into my office. We can use the privacy.”
Stan followed the lead of his supervisor and entered Bill’s office. He was surprised to find Jocelyn sitting in one of the chairs of the captain’s office.
“Hi Stan, long time no see,” said Jocelyn.
“Hello, Jocelyn,” Stan answered.
He sat next to her.
Captain Mayweather addressed the two police officers. “As you may have guessed by now I want you two to work together on the streets of Los Angeles. Find out what you can about the Sanguine Acolytes and their hierarchy of adherents.
“I want to have you take this project to task. Both of you are adept officers in the field and have unique methods of securing the peace. We need to find new ways to police the district and bring down those who perpetrate or conspire to perpetrate our laws. Do you have any questions?”
“Yes,” replied Jocelyn. “Will you download files of known members of the Acolytes to our car?”
“Certainly,” answered the Captain. “Take some time to familiarize yourselves with the names and faces of your racketeering suspects. Let’s meet here again in a week’s time. Both of you have my thanks. That is all.”
The two officers shook hands with the Captain and exited from his office.
“That went well,” said Jocelyn. “I think we’ll make a great team, Stan. What do you think?”
“I agree. I regret that I don’t have magic abilities like you and the Captain. I’m willing to contribute to our undertakings as much as I am able.”
“That’s all that anyone could ask. Let’s go to our car and study the file on the Sanguine Acolytes. I want to get a closer look at the suspects in question.”
The two friends walked to Car 31. Stan opened the door and sat behind the wheel. As soon as he turned the key in the ignition a digital voice said, “New suspect data successfully downloaded from headquarters.”
Jocelyn looked at the computer screen built in the dashboard of the patrol car. There were photos of over a dozen suspected members of the Sanguine Acolytes. Stan recognized Spike’s picture among the group.
“Ah, there’s a familiar face,” he said. “He’ll be seeing the judge in a few hours. I’m sure Spike will think twice before getting so inebriated again.”
Stan drove Car 31 out of the parking structure and onto the street. He turned onto Sunset Boulevard and again saw the mass of wild-looking people that crowded the sidewalks. Many had fluorescent hair styles raised tall with styling gel and blow-driers.
“Stan, I’m getting a bad feeling,” said Jocelyn. “I haven’t felt like this since the riot last year.”
Jocelyn held her head in her hands and moaned, “I fear something terrible is about to happen. We should get to the Chinese Theater as quickly as possible.”
“What is it, Joce, another riot?”
“I’m not sure, Stan,” she answered. “I detect the presence of a mage transformed by arcane sorcery. He’s become a channeler of magic drawn from a dimension parallel to ours. It could be Cthulhu, the so-called leader of the Sanguine Acolytes.”
Stan activated the police radio frequency and spoke into the microphone.
“Headquarters, this is Car 31. I’m here with Officer Savage. She says she senses a potential disturbance at the Chinese Theater.”
“Thanks, Car 31,” replied the dispatcher. “We’re notifying the other officers in your vicinity. Proceed to the theater. They will meet you there.”
“We read you, headquarters,” said Stan. “Over and out.”
Stan activated the siren and emergency lights. The traffic on the street was a web of bottlenecks and collisions. Drivers did what they could to clear the way for the patrol car. Stan wove his vehicle through the mid-town traffic and soon reached the Chinese Theater.
Stan and Jocelyn watched citizens, many of them tourists, run in several directions from the Chinese Theater. A sphere of purple energy, five yards in diameter, rose above the escaping people. Within the translucent barrier hovered a tall, winged humanoid. His head was like that of an octopus, with triangular irises and a set of eight tentacles protruding over his maw. The mage had a pair of leathery wings extending from his back. These he flapped within his spherical shield to rise over the frightened people.
The police officers and civilians in the vicinity heard a telepathic, mind-voice resonate from the mage.
I am Cthulhu. I have awakened from my slumber. It is wise for you creatures to give me homage.
Stan stopped the police car at the side of the street. Jocelyn stepped out of the vehicle and grabbed the crowd-control gun from its place between the two front seats. She noticed that many of the people in the street held their hands to their ears to stop the voice of the hostile mage. Their efforts were in vain.
I claim this structure for my temple. From this point let it be known as the Temple of Cthulhu.
Some of the street mages attempted to thwart the turbulent mage with magic of their own. They unleashed electric bolts of a variety of colors that clung to the purple sphere. Cthulhu shook them off easily.
Jocelyn aimed her shotgun at the chaotic mage and yelled, “Cthulhu, you must stop your disruptive activity.”
Who are you to disturb my arrival to this new age of magic?
“I am Officer Savage. This is your final warning.”
Stan crouched behind his open door and trained his stun gun at the disruptor. He addressed Cthulhu, “Officer Savage is serious, Cthulhu. Refrain from your hostile actions or face the full force of the LAPD!”
The mollusk-headed wizard turned toward the sound of Stan’s voice. And who might you be, creature?
“I am Officer Norris. Officer Savage speaks the truth. Stop your disruptive conjuring before you are taken down.”
Nonesense! replied Cthulhu. This is the dawning of a new age for my Sanguine Acolytes and I. We are the authorities to be reckoned with in this populous flood basin. Your projectile throwers are useless against us.
Half a dozen patrol cars rolled into the area around the theater. Cthulhu flapped his wings forcefully. His shield of purple energy rose above the rooftops of the bustling metropolis. The anthropomorphic sorcerer gestured downward, sending two red coils of electricity around a pair of tall palm trees. The coils gripped the trunks of the two trees and ripped them from the ground. The trees were launched into the air then plummeted to the street, crushing a pair of patrol cars and the officers inside.
Stan, Jocelyn and the surviving officers opened fire on Cthulhu. The bullets and shot were deflected by Cthulhu’s powerful barrier. Cthulhu used his supernatural reflexes to grab Stan’s stun bolt. The electricity from the charge sparkled as it traveled up the large humanoid’s right arm. It covered his body with arcs.
Cthulhu laughed and extended his tentacles over his maw. He spoke in mind-voice to the humans below.
Ah, how refreshing that is. Since my era of dominance over the Hittites I have not felt such a charge.
Stan looked down at his stun gun. To his dismay its screen indicated that the battery was drained. Stan dropped the obsolete weapon and drew close to Jocelyn. “We should fall back from this offensive. Our weapons have no destructive effect against this monster.”
“I agree, Stan. We should prevent any more casualties in this conflict.”
Jocelyn opened the trunk of their patrol car and withdrew a megaphone. She addressed the crowd of onlookers and street mages.
“Depart immediately from this area, citizens. Your lives are in imminent danger.”
The people that remained in the area turned and ran upon Jocelyn’s order.
Stan’s communicator beeped as it received an incoming call.
“This is Stan,” he said into the microphone.
“Stan, this is Captain Mayweather. I’ve been watching the scenario through the cameras on our cars. I order you to disperse. This sorcerer is the worst yet. Contact me again once you and the other officers have secured a one-mile perimeter around the Chinese Theater. Over and out.”
“Yes, sir,” said Stan. “Did you hear our order, Joce?”
“Yes,” she answered. Jocelyn spoke into her communicator, “All right, people. Please disperse from the area. It is no longer safe. I repeat, disperse from the area.”
Jocelyn grew strangely pale and sat down quickly in the patrol car. Stan and the surviving officers shifted their patrol cars into reverse. They turned and drove to the mile perimeter where they blocked the streets and ignited signal flares at the intersections.
Stan guided the masses of people as they ran from the flaring purple lights that expanded to surround the entire Chinese Theater. Many of the citizens spoke into communicators, describing the events taking place and taking pictures with their micro-cameras.
“Jocelyn, are you okay?” asked Stan.
“I’m all right, I just felt drained for a moment,” she replied.
“Do you think this perpetrator is the same Cthulhu that Spike mentioned?” Stan queried.
“It’s a strong possibility, partner. My prescience is highly active today. This section of Los Angeles is still in danger. I perceive a special focus of malevolence toward us magic users. I have heard mention of borrowers. These are sorcerers that drain the arcane energy of those who would resist their intentions. If Cthulu is such a borrower we are in for a serious conflict.”
Captain Mayweather arrived at the perimeter and walked over to Stan and Jocelyn. “I overheard your conversation. Your presumptions are accurate. Several of our mage-police have fallen to a draining force emanating from the maverick mage, Cthulhu. This entity possesses a great degree of energy. I advise you to stay here, Jocelyn. Your prescient abilities may be tapped by Cthulhu and used against us.”
“I take your advice seriously, Bill,” she replied. “I will remain here, in the perimeter. Perhaps we can have Stan conduct reconnaissance on our behalf. Are you willing to observe and possibly contend with Cthulhu, Stan? There are several other non-magic-using officers that can form a Special Weapons And Tactics team. What do you think?”
“I’ll do my best, Sir,” Stan answered. “When do we begin?”
“As soon as you officers fill the armored transport vehicle.”
Stan grouped together with a dozen other officers that had not been changed by the magical revolution. They donned dark blue, bulletproof vests and helmets. Stan and the others took high-velocity assault rifles from the gun rack. A pair of the officers sported stinger missile launchers. Stan forced himself to breathe deeply as he and his comrades crowded into the personnel carrier. Jocelyn and Captain Mayweather gave the thumbs-up sign and closed the rear door. The driver stepped on the accelerator and the vehicle headed into the abandoned area cordoned off by the police.
Stan soon saw the purple spheres generated by Cthulhu. They had grown in size and thickness since the initial conflict with the LAPD. The vehicle rolled to a stop about five hundred yards from the Chinese Theater.
Stan saw that a large portion of theatergoers, numbering over a thousand, had become trapped within the building. They now lumbered around the structure with pallid skin and eyes that rolled white under the influence of the evil magic. The captured citizens were directed by iridescent beams of magic exuded from the gesticulating arms of red-cloaked mages.
“Those magic users must be the Sanguine Acolytes,” said Stan.
Stan realized that the people trapped in the Chinese Theater had become zombies from Cthulhu’s magic. They walked aimlessly with their arms extended before them. Stan heard their cries, which were a monotone sound, “Aah.”
Stan and the other SWAT officers exited the personnel carrier and pushed their way through the crowd of zombies. The purple lights of Cthulhu’s magic surrounded the building. The evil, anthropomorphic mage had made his way into the theater.
Stan’s team of officers opened the central doors and carefully deployed their forces into the building. Cthulhu hovered over the center stage with a dozen of his Sanguine Acolytes standing in stasis before him. Violet light ran from each of the foreheads of the mages to the sphere which protected Cthulhu.
“Cthulhu, this is the LAPD,” yelled Stan. “You are ordered to stop your conjuring. Consider yourself under arrest.”
Ha! How amusing! You clearly have no grasp of the magnitude of the power that stands before you. My Acolytes, eliminate these inferior meddlers.
The Sanguine Acolytes turned from the energy beams that coiled to their foreheads. The red-cloaked mages gestured at the mass of zombies in the theater. The enchanted civilians marched toward the group of officers. Before the pallid thralls reached the police the officers fired weighted, metallic nets over the crowd. Stan and his companions activated electric charges from batteries they carried. The shocked zombies fell in a broad swath before the Sanguine Acolytes. This gave Stan and his comrades the opportunity to fire their magic-piercing ammunition at the Cthulhu and his evil mages.
The anthropomorphic mage was unaffected. His acolytes fell to the high-charged projectiles. They shook involuntarily on the floor of the theater, then, laid still. Stan used an electronic device to quickly clamp plastic cuffs around the wrists of the comatose zombies and mages.
Cthulhu tore the electronic leads from his chest and issued a draining beam at Stan. The policeman, who was not a mage, stood unaffected. Stan continued his process of securing the zombies and suspects.
Argh! This is intolerable! Cthulhu yelled. You creatures have no idea who you’re dealing with. I call on you, Father of Darkness, to grant me the power to bring your wishes to fulfillment. Nyarlhothep!
Stan watched in awe as green beams of light emerged from a spiraling portal that opened before the stage of the theater. The gateway continued to unfurl until it was ten yards wide. A pair of gargantuan gnarled hands reached through from the starry space on the other side. They captured Cthulhu in a vice-like grip. The tentacled arch-mage was pulled into the dark dimension despite his struggle to resist.
Ours is the realm of repose and dream, My Son.
A resonating mind-voice boomed in the heads of Stan and the other people present.
You have toyed with these mortals long enough. Join me in the sleep of ages. When our time is near we will know it. Humans we leave you for now. Beware that your magic abilities have grown. The time draws near for the return of Cthulhu and I. We are watching you.
“Likewise, Nyarlhothep,” Stan yelled. “If you attempt to disturb this civilization you will be held to answer for your misdeeds.”
So be it, answered the disembodied mind-voice. Until then, goodbye, Mortal.
The green-rimmed portal shrank and then vanished entirely. Stan’s fellow officers finished arresting the last of the Sanguine Acolytes. They escorted the perpetrators to a gathering of paddy wagons. Stan saw Jocelyn and Captain Mayweather among the reinforcements that hurried to the theater at the disappearance of Cthulhu’s purple spheres.
“Stan, what happened?” asked Jocelyn.
“Cthulhu was unable to stop us from rescuing the zombie civilians and stopping the Sanguine Acolytes. Nevertheless all of us should remain watchful. Cthulhu was taken to a magical dimension by a stronger entity called Nyarlhothep. The magic of Los Angeles is growing day by day. Let’s get some rest. I’ve seen enough action for today.”
“Go ahead, Stan,” chuckled the Captain. “Take the week off, if you want. You and the other officers did a great service to the people of this city. You have our thanks. It seems that not all of us were meant to be magic users.”
The three friends made their way back to the secured perimeter and their patrol cars.
(END OF LINE)