The only colour visible in the sky was the blood red sphere of the sun, partially veiled by a darkness which was itself smeared and afflicted by the discs scablike aura.
The whole world felt electric, as if just before a storm, but something also felt unearthly, perhaps even portentous, a strange sentience that cowed the people below and made them look up as if suddenly aware of being watched.
And the light in the apartment swiftly transformed: it became bruised, almost intimidated, by the darkling atmosphere outside.
No one dared speak. It felt as if the silence forbade it.
Danes' words were hardly formed before the sky outside darkened. Collectively, they all moved to the window as if forced there by an unseen power or bidden by an unheard call. As they stared upwards, the sky dimmed, darkening progressively from its clear blue, through various shades of purple to a black that was so rich it cast its black tarnish down onto the earth and gave everything it touched a shadow, a solid, tangible shade that held an aura of emptiness or of infinite nothingness. It was a malleable darkness that seemed to foreshadow the end of all things.
"Let me clarify one thing, Mr Danes." Daniel Ryland once again spoke with authority: it wasn't what he said, but the manner of its delivery, strong, controlled. Assessing and perceptive.
"Harry," said Harry.
"Yes. Harry," repeated Daniel Ryland, and his face changed from inquisitorial to friendly. There may even have been the trace of a smile, but it disappeared quickly as he continued.
"Nothing that we experienced was real? It was just our imagination?"
"Not imagination. Implant." Harry replied. "We didn't make it up. They were experiences implanted by - " he waved a hand, looked up, pointed above him - "Them."
Tisha, Maya and the quiet woman stared incredulously, but there was relief about their faces: relief that this wasn't something evil that tried to possess them.
"I don't suggest they aren't evil." Danes rose excitedly and strode to the window, once again looking haloed and mysteriously magical against the light. "Not Evil as we perceive evil anyway. It's not demonic... magic... it's not Satanic. It's extra-terrestrial."
He turned to look out at the daylight. It seemed to him to have been daylight for so long.
"But what," Maya asked, "do they want? Why are they doing this? Why us?"
The shock of Harry Danes' explanation hit them with cataclysmic force. The silence that followed was a silence of aftermath, of trauma. And of fear. To all intents and purposes everything they believed, everything they had even supposed to be true had been blown apart.
Deep within all of them, they knew it to be true, and that was the horror: there was no denying reality, and this reality had exploded into all of their faces and there were none who didn't feel the pain or suffer the truth.
Their fears bowed before this single terrifying, overwhelming fact.
"When I say universal, I mean Universal," Harry Danes pressed home his point. "Capital U.
"These are not demons, Mister DeStiy, not the occult nor the stuff of superstition. These are intelligent beings, who are testing our knowledge of the physical universe."
"Aliens!" Tisha gasped.
"Almost certainly. Unless they've lived amongst us for centuries, which I very much doubt."
Maya shook her head: "But they've made us experience what we've experienced? Why would they do such a horrible thing?"
At this, Harry Danes rubbed his tired eyes. "No idea," he said. "But I suspect we are going to find out."
"Fibonacci numbers are everywhere! In nature! In art! Architecture! 'Golden numbers' or 'Golden Ratios' they're called." He spoke so fast he had trouble getting his words out distinctly, but they soon understood how the Fibonacci sequence appears everywhere, from the segments of a pine cone, petals of plants, spiral arms of galaxies...
"It's almost a universal constant! And that's the point! Universal! Extra-terrestrials are using the Fibonacci Prime number sequence to prove to us that they're there. Up there! They understand! It's like me pointing out to you I'm here too and I understand how your physical world works."
Realisation had dawned. Whether it came from his own mind or whether an external agency had revealed it to him, Danes couldn't say. For now it didn't matter.
These weren't single numbers anymore. He read them out again as they had become revealed to him:
2, 3, 5, 13, 89, 233
Danes cheeks glowed.
"Do you see? These are Fibonacci numbers! They're communicating a Fibonacci sequence to us! But not only that!" His voice shook:
"These are prime numbers. Fibonacci prime numbers!"
Trembling, he sat down too quickly, almost slipping off the side of his chair. Righting himself, he giggled.
Harry Danes wandered around the apartment as he spoke. And as he spoke, DeStiy's eyes burned with rage, looking even blacker against his now blood red face. The explanation was ludicrous: but somehow logical. Ridiculous, but yet... somehow believable.
Danes spoke of the numbers
2 3 5 1 3 8 9 2 3 3
and how they'd burned into his mind since the ouija had identified them. Always there, visible, whatever was happening to himself or others. Always burned red into his mind, always pulsing in his thoughts when his eyes were closed, just beneath his vision when they weren't.
"And you, Danes, you idiot, thought it wasn't demonic possession!"
DeStiy laughed throatily, a sneer barely suppressed.
"His Dark Disciples know each of us and they know our fears and that's why-" he coughed, strings of grey phlegm waving from his lips, unwiped in his haste to belittle Danes and prove to them once and for all that his Master was behind this - "we've all been tested. And I'm the only one He's seen fit to pass. You fools have failed! Failed!"
"Sit down, DeStiy!" Ryland ordered.
Danes continued quietly, ignoring DeStiy: "Let me tell you all about numbers..."
Harry Danes began. "Daniel, you, perhaps, would be the best person to summarise what's happened so far."
Ryland was taken aback. He'd expected Danes to provide answers, not simply repeat what they'd all gone through. He held out his palm towards Danes, as if unconsciously redirecting the conversation back to him, but then retracted it. He took a deep breath and in his matter-of-fact way briefly outlined his experience over the previous - how long? No idea....
Sometimes the others briefly interrupted with their own experiences.
"The point is," Harry summarised, "We've all experienced something different, something personally frightening."
In the apartment below there is something akin to calm that surrounds the others. It's a calm of confusion, of unanswered questions, true, but it is not - for the moment - a disturbed or a frightened calm.
It is a calm in which the others are looking to Harry Danes for an explanation, and he is preparing to give it to them.
He has seated them once again around the table. The ouija board stares up at them silently, its as yet unspoken answers reflected as distortions in the curves of the replaced, upturned wine glass.
And Harry Danes smiles again.
Death comes quickly when Death wishes to come quickly. But at this moment, with Tracey's deepest desire to be released from her pain, her overwhelming fear and utter despair, Death ponders.
After all, there is the child to consider.
That small vessel of lifeforce: it has a right to protection, surely? And no one will protect it better than the mother, correct?
And there's the child's father. It would lose its spirit if Tracey were not to continue existing.
Death. Or the Shade of Death, if you will, leaves the apartment as quietly and unnoticed as it entered.
Fucking look! At yourself!
The theatre has burned down. Its rubble and debris removed.
The only thing that gave your stage meaning or purpose - the theatre that surrounded it - has gone. No stalls, no wings.
Its ceiling, an open sky.
Do you understand?
No, of course you don't understand. You have no fucking conception of anything.
Where are you?
Don't say I'm on the stage.
For Christ's sake, the whole damn world knows you're on the fucking stage and you're the only fucking actor on it.
So where, precisely, are you?
Under alien skies.
She struggles weakly to get free but Rick's hold is immovable.
Sweat mixes with tears on her face. Dribbles run hot from his fingers and down her arm: they could be sweat, or blood from his fingers ripping through her flesh.
She tries to inhale but his hold is crushing.
Then comes a fiery pain between her breasts, where Timmy's head jerks backwards and forwards. She can only groan a fragile and pathetic whine as she realises he is eating at the flesh on her chest.
Unable to move she reconciles herself to death and begs it to come quickly.
No point at all.
She buries her face into Rick's chest. Above her own weak, sporadic sobs she hears his heart beating... budumb, budumb, budumb ...its rhythmic incessance soothing.
Timmy's head snuggles in at her own chest.
In her darkness she feels Ricks hands tightly grip her arms. Realising her eyes are tightly shut, she relaxes them, raising her eyebrows to relax the muscles in her forehead.
His arms around her shoulders, his grip tightens around the tops of her arms.
His arms begin to crush her. His fingers squeeze ever more painfully into her flesh.
She feels the grass on her face.
No, not grass. Or earth.
For a second she stops crying, then understands she is back in their apartment.
Rick's strained face leans over her.
Rick then: something about "faint." Tracey /screaming silently inside/ oh for fucks sake I can't go through this again. Help me, sweet Jesus, what's happening?
Then she was holding Timmy's head to her breast as Rick held her head to his chest.
"We have to get out!" Rick said.
Tracey shook her head, tears streaming onto Timmy's hair. There's no way out!
Tracey, we remember, has, in her past, fallen to the ground. Everything that has happened in the recent past has bowed on top of her, through her; the burden of it has been too much to bear and she has buckled, weeping uncontrollably, to the floor. The weight of all that has happened, the crushing confusion she is experiencing, its pain, all contributing to her mental and physical disintegration.
It's as if her body is a building upon which her time has rapidly speeded up. Bit by bit, then swiftly, structural integrity is undermined, then finally destroyed. It has collapsed.
In this nondescript part of this nondescript city time passes according to the perceptions of those who live here.
Passes quickly for the man who almost falls out of the taxi in his haste to get to a job interview. He's late for his interview; but the interviews are running late, so in truth he is early, but he does not know that.
Passes slowly for the lover awaiting his love. It will speed up soon, too soon, all too quickly, when his lover's husband approaches.
And in Daniel Ryland's apartment, time waits.
For Tracey and Rick.
And for Timmy.
DeStiy glared angrily, but either wouldn't or couldn't reply. Tisha watched Harry Danes: he was playing with Enoch DeStiy, she felt sure, but she was also certain he knew something she and the others didn't know. She couldn't help but smile as his eyes caught hers and the soft twinkle they held lightened her mood.
"What're you thinking, Mr Danes?" Ryland was getting exasperated. Too many questions, not enough answers. And Danes had answers.
Harry's smile broadened.
"Two points. Firstly, I think we've been through enough together to dispense with formalities, don't you? Call me Harry.
"Secondly. Well, secondly.... "