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  • Malorie Nilson

READ THE FIRST TWO CHAPTERS: Swansong Conspiracy by




Weirdness is in their blood.


After a near cataclysmic worldwide event shook the foundations of society and unleashed numerous supernatural hazards onto the Earth, twins Quincy and Lilly just want to lead their lives as normally as possible. However, this proves to be quite difficult. The twins are the heirs of legendary horror writer and occultist W.A. Swansong, who has been declared a prophet now that many of his gruesome creations appear to really exist.


When a mysterious inheritance falls into the twins’ hands, a strange and violent secret organization becomes hell-bent on finding them. Quincy and Lilly are forced to flee their hometown of New Orleans, leading them on a wild, supernatural chase throughout the southern United States. With only a handful of allies and a trapped Fire Vampire named Tim, the twins uncover a great mystery tied to their inheritance, the source of all pandemonium, and even the true origins of mankind.



The Swansong Conspiracy (The Eldritch Twins, #1) by Nick Vossen is out TUESDAY, October 6, 2020!



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Chapter 1


IF THE BRIGHTEST of minds are the most susceptible to madness and gloom, then let it be known that I, for one, am glad that Quincy Swansong has his off days just like the rest of us, living or dead.


Quincy simply couldn’t concentrate in class today. He slumped down at his training table, looked around the lecture hall at the colorful mix of people attending, and sighed. The young man next to him was drawing some kind of horned creature in the corner of his journal, and some girls in front of him giggled through hushed whispers.


The philosophy teacher droned on in the most annoying monotone voice he had ever heard, and the lecture itself consisted of the same grasping-at-straws theories.


“So, in the light of the events from the past three years... the realms of science and philosophy have changed dramatically,” the teacher continued while standing with his back to the class, endlessly writing gibberish on the whiteboard.


Quincy rolled his eyes. Same stuff, different day, he thought.


The student on the other side of Quincy was clicking his pen over and over, the soft ticking of the plastic making a nice distraction from the teacher’s buzzing voice, as well as the slow descent into madness Quincy was feeling by attending the lecture.


He stopped taking down notes for a moment and breathed in, slow and steady.


“With the existence, and now absence, of God, the Almighty Creator, proven... the great philosophical conundrum shifted in its wake.”


Click, Click, Click, Clack.


Quincy shifted uncomfortably in his seat and glanced down at his lecture notes; a drawing of a small bunny with rows of enormous teeth would certainly not help him during the upcoming midterms. He looked over at the drawing of the student next to him. The huge horned rat now gracing the bottom of the paper looked way scarier than Quincy’s scribbles. His drawing was definitely below standard...


Then again, what was even considered standard anymore? Daily life itself wasn’t exactly what it used to be a few years ago. He figured the fact that he was still sitting here taking lectures was a miracle all by itself.


“Therefore, the great philosophical questions in life no longer stem from Why are we here? We know that now; it was to serve God in all His glory. No, the right existential questions would currently fit more into the lines of answering What the hell did we do? and/or How the hell can we get Him back? Now, if you turn to page three hundr—”


The loud buzzing of a bell sounded through the hall.


Both the student next to him and Quincy himself jerked to attention. It was an obnoxious sound, but it did just the trick to snap them out of trance and back into reality.


“For next time, I want you to study chapters five through eight. Afterwards, we will discuss the philosophical and moral consequences of having to choose a new God in favor of our old one. Perhaps we need to be able to sell ourselves as a good and obedient planet to the best possible candidate.”


Quincy yawned and grabbed his bag before straightening the sagging glasses on his nose and leaving a big smudgy fingerprint on them, to his disdain. He made his way towards the door—towards freedom from the dull classroom—and the weekend. It was not like he had many plans, but college had been rough on him these past few days: he had been late a couple of times, and lately he noticed his interests in the subjects at hand started to wane. Thus, he hoped a little relaxation might absolutely do the trick to set his mind at ease.


You see, Quincy was a strapping young lad at twenty-one. He was slightly older than most college students, but it wasn’t his fault that the school systems basically shut down for a couple of years before he could finish his studies and graduate.


Anyways, he dressed and spoke like a refined gentleman, most of the time, and his hair was cut neatly into an executive contour with a dash of pomade that really did the trick to get it as slick as possible. He was not bad-looking by any stretch of the imagination, but his smartness often exceeded his social interaction and banter. Often, but not always.


“Hey, Swansong!”


Quincy stopped at the classroom door and turned around to see one of the stereotypical frat house jocks strolling towards him and braced himself, wondering what kind of stupidity was going to flap out of Todd’s mouth this time.


“Yeah?” he replied, keeping a bored expression on his face.


“Maybe Great Tharon will be our new God. Wuuuuu hooooo, can you imagine?” The meathead nudged his friends to join in on the banter, and one bobbed his head along, giggling like one of those electronic Elmo dolls in the process.


“Look at this nerd. Weirdo!” another one joked.


Quincy took a good look at the tall, ugly jock in front of him. He wanted to go ahead and congratulate the buffoon on remembering one of my—I mean, one of his great-uncle’s stories and to remind him that apparently most of what he had written had turned out to be true. But he decided to let it slide, secretly hoping that something would materialize around the guy sooner or later, making him pee his pants... That would be neat. I should make a note.


But for today, Quincy simply struck where it would hurt—the brain.


“Good one, Todd,” he replied sarcastically. “Say, maybe you could then ask Tharon why you're failing every class.”


Quincy could see Todd’s face getting redder by the second and enjoyed every last bit of it. The disapproving look from their professor broke Todd from the spell, and after the knucklehead tried to come up with a fitting reply for about forty-five seconds, he simply gave up.


Quincy grinned before he turned and marched outside. It was not always the case, not even for him, but he liked it when brains got a one-up over brawn and made a mental note to tell his sister about this later; he was sure she’d love to hear it. Ah... Lilly Swansong, I believe I have never laid eyes (quite literally, I should say) on any young woman fiercer than her. The perfect balance to her twin brother; together, they could move mountains.


***


The view from Lakeshore Drive across Lake Pontchartrain was especially stunning today. Even though taking the bus back to his apartment was usually a lot faster, on days like this Quincy definitely enjoyed walking home. He loved to move along the paved pathways while taking in the nice green stretches of grass to the north of the drive. The ancient oak trees grew tall and wide here, and Quincy appreciated their company.


Today, however, he decided to walk straight home instead of continuing onward and taking his favorite detour along Milneburg Lighthouse.


The slight breeze blowing into town lifted his spirits a little bit, but for most of the walk, Quincy was lost in thought. He couldn’t shake the feeling that his life was about to change drastically and wondered again if quitting college was the best idea for him: Do a de-stress from everything and just live for a while. He certainly seemed to like the idea of simply living in the moment with no major responsibilities instead to himself and his sister Lilly. We all want things; not being a featureless mass of aether distortion would be nice, but hey, things happen for a reason.


It was at the intersection of Lark and Marigny that he saw someone approaching him just from the corner of his eye.


“Hey, man. Could you perhaps spare some change?


Maybe a dollar? I want to get me a sandwich or summing. Please help a guy out.”


Quincy sighed, turning to face the battered old man. He was wearing rags, for the most part, and used old dented tin cans as knee protectors. He looked very low on personal hygiene; his beard was long and tangled. He also had the most crooked eyes Quincy had ever seen. On a more peculiar note, his skin was very transparent—literally.


“Look, Old Man Walters...” Quincy shook his head. “We've been over this, man. You are dead. A ghost. Gone. You don't need any money. You've been dead for as long as I can remember.”


The old man looked puzzled, clearly trying to find the right words to reply. Quincy was hopeful that perhaps he had finally gotten through to Walters to leave him alone, when the ghost replied with, “You wanna buy some porno tapes? C'mon, man, I only need a few dollars.”


“Ugh! See, this is what I mean.” Quincy rubbed his forehead. “We don't use tapes anymore. We now have DVDs, and with the Internet, I can't even begin to tell you how redundant tapes are and... Wait, why am I even having this conversation?”


“No tapes then?”


“Move into the light or something, Walters. I'm done here,” Quincy snapped as he doubled his pace to shake off the somehow still horrible-smelling apparition.


A few years ago, Quincy would’ve been absolutely mortified to bump into a real-life ghost in the streets of New Orleans or pretty much anywhere else. Strangely enough though, ghosts are some of the least troublesome things you could encounter nowadays.


Let me start at the beginning...


It all started about three years ago, when, in the deserts of Egypt, a giant obelisk, comparable in size to the Empire State Building in New York, erupted from the ground seemingly overnight. Many experts were baffled and couldn’t possibly find an explanation for this so-called latest Wonder of the World. It was only when the discovery of writing was made upon the face of the obelisk many, many feet up that the world truly went into shock.


The writing upon the obelisk, when translated from such languages as Ancient Sumerian, Latin, Biblical Hebrew, Sanskrit, Old English, and Navajo, revealed that the message on its surface was from God. The message entailed that God, while having enjoyed being our keeper and creator for these past millennia, simply couldn’t handle the responsibilities and damage control expected of Him

anymore.


The message further stated that He, the Almighty God, ruler and creator of the Earth and all of its creatures and marvels, was disappointed and... He was leaving.


Naturally, skeptics and believers alike raved upon hearing the message, and for the first couple of months, it was generally perceived as a giant prank, however unlikely it was to pull off. However, soon all hell started to break loose on Earth, and the general population started to take the Obelisk's message seriously.


You see, the last thing that God warned humanity about was that in His absence, the amalgamation of absolutely everything terrible in this known universe, and others, would probably be either heading for (or waking up on) Earth. Now, imagine mankind's surprise when not only did they find out God really existed... but had abandoned them on the day He revealed Himself.


Oh! And then there was the small footnote about the entire world going down the toilet faster than humanly possible.


It started slow with people reporting feeling uneasy in places they always perceived as comfortable. Then, slowly but surely, reports came in of strange sightings of unknown creatures: ghosts, zombies, and vampires, but also of angels and demons. The scientific world was turned upside down; experts in pretty much every scientific field were baffled because suddenly, every single supernatural creature or beast imaginable was as real as the morning sunrise—it literally shook the world's foundations.


Exactly one year after the discovery of the Obelisk, a war broke out in Egypt. It was not a war of feuding countries, crazy presidents, or malevolent dictators; rather, it was the first war for mankind's survival. The war to delay events of such magnitude that they would border us on the brink of extinction.


From beneath the Valley of the Kings, an old giant entity rose up named “Alghuurl: The Old, Tired, and Hungry,” and crawling from the hot desert sands with him were tens of thousands of crab-like monsters. Alghuurl was a distinctly nasty specimen of Elder Giant, a race of huge stone-like humanoids that presumably went extinct, or at least left the Earth, billions of years before humanity was even considered a thing.


The nations of the world banded together, and a global army was formed to combat the entity. Ultimately it fell, although rumors persist that it was really trapped in a sepa‐ rate reality. You see, there are countless realities swirling around in the void, all of which are created at the exact moment a choice, any choice, is made somewhere along the world. Next to this possibility of limitless versions of our own reality, there are other dimensions entirely. Shadowy, mirror-like verses of our own worlds or vast plains of alienesque gruesomeness simply too horrible to describe. It’s the realm of the departed that’s also very interesting, now...Eh. I seem to have gone into quite a tangent there, haven’t

I? Anyway. So. Thousands died in the fight against Alghuurl, and from the ashes of war two distinct organizations rose to power. The first was the Global Defense Force, GDF, consisting of only the highest ranking, most elite soldiers in the world. They were tasked to respond to any incident with a threat level higher than five in Type 1+ Awakening Events, but more on that later.


The second was a mysterious shadow organization called Haven. To outsiders, they are mostly known as the men in black, or not known at all. Their operations consisted of a more secretive approach, and they were often spotted in places where supernatural occurrences were reaching their peak.


After the Kraken wars, as they were later known, and the arrival of the GDF and Haven organizations, Earth went through what probably could be considered the most eyebrow-raising of changes: Humanity actually accepted their fate and adapted their current state of affairs...Simply put, they went along with their merry lives. The faculties of natural science rejoiced with the coming of uncountable new specimens in flora and fauna, and those delving into the realms of quantum physics really started to pick up the pace on their research after dealing with the one or two Dimensional Shambler incidents. Nasty buggers, but dealing with aggressive native wildlife after opening portals to other worlds is just part of the job description now.


Quincy was snapped out of his daze, where he’d been just staring at his apartment door, by his neighbor, Mrs. Silverstein, who was a terrible old lady with blue frizzly hair, nasty orange skin, just about three teeth left, and she usually sported the worst kind of bad breaths.


“Mr. Swansong,” she cheerfully greeted into Quincy’s right ear. “How is your sister, my dear?”


“Gah!” Quincy jerked back upon seeing the leathery old woman. “You startled me, Mrs. Silverstein. Ehm, Lilly is at work. So, probably fine?” Quincy reached for the door behind him.


“I see... well, we have to talk about Mr. Bhering’s faulty doorbell up on fourth...”


“Oh okay, no thanks, bye!” Quincy shut the door behind him, leaving the old lady standing in the hall, still talking.


He shook off his jacket and flung it towards the coat rack. Yikes, he thought. The old lady gave him the creeps, and he’d seen ghosts today. Granted, most souls trapped on Earth could be considered less harmful than a crazy old bat giving him the stink eye, so let’s not be too hard on Quincy.


Checking the contents of the fridge revealed nothing interesting or, at least, edible. Thus, Quincy took the liberty to decide that he and his twin sister, Lilly, whom he shared the apartment with, were going to order out... That is, if the pizza delivery guy was going to be on time. The last time they had ordered pizza, the guy that usually delivers on their block had apparently fallen into a whirling pocket dimension created by a real joker of a Pooka, which resulted in the pizza being delivered the day before it was ordered.


Quincy called and placed their usual order before kicking off his shoes and resting his feet on the living room table. Settled, he picked up the remote control and turned on the news.


***


There was a wall of sound inside the pet shop that was almost unbearable to sit through for any stretch of time, let alone eight hours a day. The constant screeching, barking, meowing, scratching, slurping, and general absence of anything resembling a relaxing atmosphere was oppressive.


Along the left wall were cages full of colorful creatures ranging from simple domestic pets to dangerous-looking slimy things. To the right-hand side of the store was a wall of supplies, carefully placed and priced with care and precision.


It was also the place to be in New Orleans to get exotic pets, and the line of customers often went around the block, just as it did today.


In the back of the store was a small desk and registry; behind it sat a girl. She had semi-long curly hair, pink cheeks, and a fair complexion. Her eyes were as blue as the ocean, and her smile was especially captivating. Still, there seemed to be a lingering darkness about her. She was often distant or dreaming, much to the dismay of customers when they went to check out or ask a question.


Today, she seemed extremely stressed with sweat drip‐ ping off her forehead as she tried to juggle the constant stream of phone calls, as well as the people who had been standing in line.


“Ma'am, you have to listen to what I am saying,” she spoke into the phone, trying not to yell. “Primordial Wurms need to be released in the desert approximately three months before reaching adulthood and...” She bit back a sigh. “Yes? Yes, I know they are cute, ma'am. But... ma'am. Ma'am. Please listen, they have a tendency to eat people. Uh huh...” She rolled her eyes. “No, it doesn't matter if they are raised with love and care... ma'am. Please hold.”


The girl pressed a blinking red button on the telephone device, took a deep breath, then said, “Good afternoon, Nawlin's Exotic Pets, Lilly speaking.”


“Hey, lady!” a man shouted from the row of people. “How about you help us first, huh? We've actually taken the time to come to your store ourselves!”


“In a minute!” Lilly yelled towards the mass of people before putting the phone back to her ear.


“No, sir, we do not sell kittens for feeding purposes. Every cat we sell nowadays will require a comprehensive background check from the potential owner for current or past ownership of Cerberi... Hello? Sir? Damn!” Lilly threw down the phone. “Next in line!”


“Hey there, love, now I'm pretty sure you could help a man out with his... snake problem, can’t you?”


The man that came to stand in front of Lilly was utterly gross; he looked dirty, and his skin was flaking off in more than one spot. Furthermore, his breath could bury a thou‐ sand ghouls back into the ground.


“Sir, please step back. I am very busy and am certainly not in the mood for this kind of crap.” Lilly rolled her eyes and tried looking past the man for the next person in line.


The man's eyes shot to her name tag, and his face twisted into a crooked grin.


“Hmm, Swansong, huh? Perhaps you can sing me something as well, sugar.” The man licked his lips, and drool dripped down towards the register desk.


Lilly shuddered.


“How about... corpse walks into pet store and messes with the wrong girl? You sick freak, get the hell out of the store!”


The man was taken aback but didn’t look like he was about to take no for an answer. With incredible speed, he lunged over the registry and tried to grab Lilly by her collar.


“Listen here, you little shit, that’s no way to treat someone who fought for this country, fought for the entire world! I'm the reason y'all are still alive today. I deserve to be treated with respect,” he hissed.


Something in Lilly snapped. All of the noise coming from the shop was drowned out, from the loud screeching of animals to the commotions of the people in line. With lighting fast and nimble fingers, she grabbed the man's hands and pulled his fingers backwards. There was a loud crack, and the man screamed from the top of his lungs; Lilly held tight.


“Listen up, scumbag. I've seen all the crap the world can throw at me; I was there, too. Nineteen at the time and as fragile as I could be.” She lowered her head and glared. “But I remain unbroken. Do you think you can waltz in here and act like you can do anything just because you survived some tentacled freaks and ten thousand others didn’t? You're a disgrace!”


Some of the other customers were now becoming visible agitated as well; most of them seemed to express disdain for the dirty man and appeared to take Lilly’s side.


The man, burning with pain and anger, went on a rampage through the store. He was running around and yelling, knocking over food trays, empty cages, and even some of the other customers. Eventually, he took a tumble and smacked his head against the cages holding Carnivopods.


There was a crack.


“Oh! Oh no!” Lilly said, realizing then the full extent of what exactly happened. “Uh, don't panic. You there.” She pointed at a rather pale-stricken man with sweat dripping down his balding head. “Call the police, or if this gets worse, see if any GDF troops are on standby. Anyone else... grab a net or something!” she gulped.


It was already too late for a net. The broken cage door creaked open, and the man's unconscious head was swallowed whole by a small gelatinous, octopus-like creature with three rows of razor-sharp, buzz saw-like teeth between its tentacles. He deserved it.


In the ensuing panic that erupted, the mindless noise of the customers and animals kept growing. While customers were running for the exit, Lilly hovered around the cage with a cattle prod, but every time she tried to get close to the creature, a tentacle slapped her away. One time, it even latched around her ankle and made her fall flat on her ass.


Eventually, the Carnivopod slowly crept back into its cage and shut it behind it. It even seemed to smirk before going to sleep.


Meanwhile, at the height of all the chaos, Lilly's boss came back from his lunch break and stumbled upon a panicked mob and a twitching man on the floor with his skin half-ripped off his head. Lilly swallowed hard at the look on her boss’s face.


“I can explain everything,” she said through gritted teeth.


At that moment, a giant macaw leapt from its cage above the register and took... well, let’s just say the balding head of Lilly’s boss wasn’t bald anymore.


***


Quincy was half asleep when the apartment door slammed shut. He jumped up and threw a pillow towards it. Blinking, he was relieved to see it was just Lilly coming home after her workday, the pillow landing at her feet.


She smirked.


“Dang, you scared me,” he said, rubbing his eyes. “How was your day?”


Lilly sighed and threw herself onto the couch next to her brother. “Well... next to the usual stress of huge crowds and being understaffed, a guy got his face chewed off by a Carnivopod today. And my boss blamed me for provoking him.” She grunted.


“Oh man, are you okay?” He frowned. “But wait... did you provoke him?”


“He came onto me first!” Lilly shouted. “It was another one of those veterans gone insane. I kinda broke his fingers, but still!”


“Broke his fi—”


“So I probably got fired today,” she cut in, ignoring him.


“Boss isn’t sure yet; he’s understaffed as it is.”


“Damn...”


“The guy's chewed-up face, it was an accident; he did it to himself.” She huffed. “I saw the same stuff he did, and I'm not crazy, am I?”


Quincy chuckled.


“It's okay. These things just tend to happen nowadays; it’s not your fault.”


“Thanks.” She smiled. “How about you then, how was your day?”


“Same old smack, different day,” he reported, twirling a drink coaster around on the table in front of them. “Teacher is a ripe old idiot, and lectures themselves border on mania. I'm thinking about changing majors, start studying at my own pace, maybe even taking a break from everything.”


Lilly straightened.


“Well not everyone is as smart as you. If anything, I think you, of all people, would know what’s best for yourself.” She nudged his shoulder, making him laugh.


Both of them shot to their feet when the doorbell rang. Quincy held up a hand for her to wait and headed over to the door, looking through the peephole to see a big box of pizza.


“Oh yeah. I hope you don't mind, but I ordered some pizza for us. We forgot to do groceries again.”


“There is never a time when pizza is not a good idea,” Lilly answered, overjoyed.


Quincy opened the door and was surprised to see that their regular delivery guy, Tom, was back doing his old rounds again.


“Hey! Good to see you, we thought you'd stop doing this route forever.”


“Well, you'd think that getting trapped by one of those little trickster bastards would do that to a guy, but here I am,” the guy answered sarcastically. “Gotta make a living somehow, eh.”


During their exchange, Quincy saw Lilly had crept towards the door and now took the liberty of taking the pizza out of Tom’s hands as he spoke.


“Thank you, Tom. You’re the best! Bye!” She grinned at them then fluttered back into the room, calling over her shoulder, “Quince, pay the man!”


“She’s in a good mood today, huh?” Tom asked, watching Lilly sink into the couch.


“The pizza was kind of a surprise.”


“Oh, by the way,” Tom started, “I caught your nasty neighbor stealing your mail again while I was downstairs. Here, I managed to snag it for you.”


“Nasty old bag,” Quincy hissed. “Thanks, Tom. That’s really solid of you to do so. Glad you’re back on the route, man.”


“Eh, it’s nothing really. Good customers are worth going the extra mile for,” Tom joked then checked his address book. “Next up is this family on Esplanade, but I always try breaking my record on getting out of there as fast as possible, haha!”


“That bad, huh?” Quincy handed Tom the fee and a generous tip.


“Yup, that bad.” He shoved the money in his jacket pocket and grabbed his helmet. “Gotta go. See ya around, Quince.”


Quincy waved, then shut the door and shuffled back to the couch, plopping down next to his sister. He fumbled with the envelope in his hands, eying the pizza in the meantime.


“Whash daath?” Lilly mumbled with a mouthful of cheese, pointing at the gray envelope.


Quincy shrugged, ripping the top of the letter open and scanning it - Dear Mister and Miss Swansong, blah, blah, blah. Apologies... blah. Accumulation of assets. “Hmm, apparently, it's a letter from a notary office about some kind of inheritance.”


Lilly swallowed her bite of food and looked at him in confusion.


“An inheritance? From who? And why now?”


“No idea... Are you up for finding out? We could go there tomorrow if you'd like?”


“Well, it’s not like I have to go work. The pet store’s kind of closed for... renovation at the moment, so...” She looked mischievous, and he laughed.


“I’m not exactly dying for my next couple of lectures, either,” he admitted before picking up a slice of the pizza. Quincy looked over to see his sister shoving globs of cheese in her mouth and couldn’t help but smile. There wasn’t a stronger person in the world, he thought, than his sister Lilly. For everything they had been through, she had always come back stronger than before.


Over the past few years back, they had to grow up and grow up fast. While Quincy himself had taken on a more solemn route, taking up his studies and diving into books and research, Lilly just transformed, blossomed even, into this happy-go-lucky girl. She could laugh almost anything away and turn any frown into a smile. Even though she had this dark and tragic past, this was her way of dealing with things, and Quincy admired her for it.


Life at the moment, Quincy thought, considering everything... yeah, still pretty good, he decided. I wish things could have been better. Nonetheless, I am proud of you two.


Chapter Two


AGENT REYES STEPPED through the elevator doors with sweat piling upon older sweat, his brow shiny with moisture. His usual slick-back hair was greasy and pointy, and a slight five o’clock shadow stubble adorned his normally clean-shaven face. His right leg and left arm twitched nervously, and his mustache itched in the wind of the built-in fans that were set up all around him. Reyes noticed some of the brown, rusty stains inches off the fan blades and bit back a groan.


The base’s architect had prided himself on the fact that giant metal fans were the way of the future... well, as far as eerie hideouts go in their dystopian, slightly post-apocalyptic-like future. Unfortunately for him, it was what eventually got him killed.


On a hot summer day, he had the misfortune of wanting to set the fan dials to a nice big breeze to keep the base cool—and instead had mistakenly dialed the fans all the way towards the wrong side. Basically, the poor guy got sucked up, literally, and thus the architect got himself remembered by the organization by having his name immortalized on the brand-new safety feature toggle that now adorned the control console.


Reyes, now at the end of the hallway, wiped his forehead, took a deep breath, and knocked softly on the double office doors. Folding his shoulders in on himself, he tried to avoid eye contact with the two bulky men guarding the door. One on each side, they were near identical and wore the exact same all-black suit as Reyes did, wore the same black shades and had the same earpiece. However, something about them seemed off, in Reyes' eyes, but he just couldn't—


“Reyes! Quit moping around and get your ass in here, pronto!” a voice cracked from the intercom outside the door right before an automatic lock opened from within. Reyes flushed and looked away from the identical men, hurrying inside the office, somewhat relieved.


The lighting was abysmal, leaving most of the interior veiled in total darkness save for a small illuminated world map with several glowing red dots over on the right-side wall. In the center of the room, a desk stood drearily. And behind the desk sat a fat man, dressed in all black, with his face obscured by the creeping shadows.


Upon the first time he entered, years ago, Reyes had realized that the problem with the room was not a need for better lighting but the hints of something that swallowed natural light. He never stopped wondering what it was exactly that was wrong with his superior’s office, but he never had the guts to ask either.


A shiver went down his spine; Reyes felt like something icy cold was sitting right beside him, but the other chair was empty.


His superior spoke in a slight off-putting, gravelly voice. “I assume, Agent Reyes, that the letter you were sent to retrieve has been intercepted as planned?”


“Well... uhm...” Reyes floundered, then took a deep breath. “The problem is that my agent, Mrs. Silverstein, she... uh...”


“Out with it, Agent Reyes.” The man glared in displeasure, and Reyes broke out in another round of uncontrollable sweating.


“She failed to retrieve the letter as requested—sorry—as ordered, sir.”


“Hmm, disappointing, Agent Reyes.” The superior tapped his fingers on the desk. “I am afraid that my faith in you has proven to be false. I will have to re-assign the case to one of your peers.”


“No! Hold on! Please,” Reyes stumbled. “The bugs we planted are still active, we can tail them tomorrow when they—”


“You know I don’t like to break away from protocol. But so be it,” the man interrupted. “It's very simple, Agent Reyes. I want you to retrieve the package and return it to me. Do not cause unnecessary harm or backlash—only if every and all negotiations fail... then the Swansong twins must die.” His fingers tapped once on the desk. “Do I make myself clear?”


Agent Reyes swallowed hard.


“Yes, sir.”


In that instant, it was decided that the Swansong twins’ mettle was going to be put to the test.


***


The notary office was a rather beautiful building from the outside to look at. Dated back to the time of the first French colonies, it was remarkably well preserved with its wide arches at the bottom of the building, each sporting widely curved windows on the floor above them. The balcony railings seemed to be made from solid silver and gleamed in the sunlight. The building, as a whole, was a mixed batch of architectural influences; the top half had a much more Gothic feel to it. There were even some gargoyles, a classic staple in Eastern European architecture, looking down from the broken clock tower that loomed at the very top of the building. One of the gargoyles was scratching itself behind the ear like a dog.


Quincy and Lilly quietly admired the stunning building. It was different than most of the Creole and French colonial architecture they were used to. They had passed by a couple of times but never had any reason to go in until now—They were eager to find out what this whole inheritance thing was about. I, for one, am eager for them to finally delve into the true secrets of their mysterious family.


The inside of the office looked like the exact opposite of the building’s exterior. In fact, it had more in common with a doctor’s office than anything else—the walls were adorned with white plaster, and cheap plastic chairs filled an empty waiting room. At least, it appeared empty until Lilly and Quincy turned the corner and found an exceptionally old man asleep in his wheelchair behind a desk.


Upon hearing the twins approach, the receptionist woke up, snorted, and tilted his head downward, looking over his wonky reading glasses at them.


“Please state your name and reason for visiting.”


Seeing the caution sign nearby, Lilly carefully maneuvered over the shining floor tiles towards the desk and caught herself on its edge as she slipped.


“Lilly and Quincy Swansong,” she muttered. “We've received a letter concerning some kind of inheritance, but our parents died years ago. There must have been some mistake.”


“Oh no. No mistakes at all,” the man said but continued to look disinterested. “I'm pretty sure there aren't many Swansongs around anymore. Besides, we've gotten exclusive instructions from your parents to, in the unfortunate event of their premature passing, withhold your inheritance until the day of your twenty-first birthday. Which is—” The man shuffled through his stack of paperwork.


“Which was about three months ago,” Quincy interrupted as he inched towards the reception desk.


“Ah, yes,” the man replied with a shrug. “Do excuse our late tidings. Inheritances and insurances are pretty busy now that people seem to be dying a lot more. All these supernatural causes... Every death needs an investigation, and the paperwork alone...”


“Get to the point, Mister”—Lilly glanced at the man’s nametag—“Bracken... Brackenwha... you know what, never mind.”


He huffed. “Yes, if you would please follow me.”


The receptionist led them to a small room with a table and three chairs. The twins said nothing and meandered behind the receptionist’s squeaky wheelchair. Again, like in the waiting room, the whole atmosphere was clinical and depressing. The room was small and felt stuffy. There was only one very small window in the right-hand corner, and it was taped shut.


The twins sat down and exchanged a look.


“Well, this all feels very normal and totally not strange,” Quincy sarcastically noted.


“I’ve been to funeral homes that were more alive than this place,” Lilly added.


“I forgot you once worked at one.” Quincy smirked. “What happened again?”


“Forget it!” Lilly murmured.


“Oh, come on!”


“Ugh, fine. We kind of forgot to order the tripled-furnished thick mahogany coffins, and the recently deceased kind of bloated up and oozed all out of it because of the humidity in the summer and yeah.”


“You’re forgetting the best part,” Quincy pleaded when she didn’t continue.


“The worst part about it was that the deceased, an old Creole family of snobby Garden District buttheads too stupid to turn the gas off, threatened to sue for personal injury because the world we live in is so crazy right now that dead people can’t just stay dead!”


Quincy couldn’t help but to burst into laughter.


Lilly kind of felt offended at first, but the ridiculousness of the situation made her giggle all the same. I got a mild chuckle out of it, indeed. But you haven’t had a real funeral unless your coffin’s been thrown off a cliff down about two hundred and fifty feet below into the sea.


They fell silent when a tall, but very thin, man in a business suit slithered his way into the room. He held a suitcase in one hand and a shiny golden pen in the other.


“Ah, majestic! The Swansong twins in the flesh. Now, did you two know you are pretty hard to track down?”


“Well...” Quincy started.


“The last in the lineage of the great writer himself!”


“Yeah, but...” Lilly tried.


“Or should I say, the great prophet?” The man chuckled, only stopping after seeing their confusion.


“With all due respect,” Quincy started, then glanced away from the thin man; he had the air of a slimy and disgusting car salesman. “We’re not here to discuss prophecy. I believe you have some sort of package for us?”


“Ahem. Right. Now, let's not dally about. If you could both please sign this form here and here, oh, and here and then finally... there.”


The man guided Lilly and Quincy through the process of making sure that everything was in order and that they were the right inheritors that came to claim the package.


“Your IDs seem in order,” the thin man said with a grin before handing them back.


“What’s this small print here?” Lilly asked then. “Jackson Inc. is not liable for any personal injury or deaths occurring on any of the property owned by aforementioned institution through supernatural interference or sheer force of will stemming from any persons or objects obtained through hereditary means after signing.”


“It means we can’t sue if our inheritance kills us,” Quincy told her.


“Oh. Does that happen a lot?” she wondered aloud.


“Hmm. Not at all that often.” The thin man smiled grimly. “It’s a silly clause, nonetheless, can’t sue when you’re dead, am I right?”


“Right.” Lilly threw him a wide, fake smile and then signed the last of the dotted lines.


Once the papers were taken from the twins, the man opened his suitcase and revealed two envelopes and a silver key. The key seemed old but was still very beautiful: The top half was smelted with markings that were embedded with turquoise, and the bottom half was as sharp and clean as any modern key could be.


Meanwhile, the two envelopes looked worlds apart from each other and the key itself. One was still very white and neat, the writing on the front spelling out their names—Quincy and Lilly. The other envelope was crumpled, yellowed, and seemed to have sustained water damage on at least one occasion. It was definitely a lot older, had different handwriting, and the ink was faded; it was addressed: To the descendants.


“That key is a pretty one, isn't it?”


The man gave a wicked smile, and Lilly shot him an annoyed look. She didn’t like the way he had been acting the entire time, but now that they had their package, she’d like nothing else but for him to leave. Quincy often remarked that Lilly was easy to put her trust in people but only due to the fact that she could spot crooked or bad intentions from a mile away.


“Anyway, I will leave you two to it.” The thin man stood up and backed towards the door as if he had felt and respected Lilly’s wish for him to get out. “Take your time to sift through your letters if you'd like. You may do it here in private, or you can go. But, in case of the latter, please do not forget to notify Mr. Brackenwulf, the receptionist, of your departure so we may clean and lock this room back up.” He paused. “Good day, Mr. Swansong, Miss Swansong.”


After the man left, Lilly and Quincy sat there for a moment simply staring at the two letters in front of them.


“So which one are we going to open first?” Quincy asked. He had put both letters in front of him.


Lilly was fumbling around with the silver key. “Well, obviously, the one addressed directly to us. Right?”


“Obviously?”


“That old one could be from anyone,” Lilly explained.


“But that one”—she pointed to the left letter—“only one person in the world would dot his I’s in that particular way... with an x.”


“Dad.” Quincy realized.


They both took a deep breath as Quincy ripped the envelope open and started reading aloud, his voice quivering slightly:


To our dearest son and daughter,


If this letter reaches you, it means the incredible burden has been placed on you of us having to leave this world before our time and before we could personally hand over the artifact and letter enclosed in this inheritance.


Know that the old letter reveals a terrible truth and secret that you must keep until you can pass it on to your children or until the time has come to act. Although we hope, and pray, that never to be the case.


Whatever happens, never give up.


All of our love,

Emily and Tobias Swansong


Lilly caressed the old, yellowed envelope between her fingertips.


“That's so sad. I mean... it makes me so sad.” Her eyes filled with tears as she looked at Quincy, noticing he was having a hard time dealing with the letter too. She reached for his hand, and together they sat in silence for a little while.


They had lost their parents to a plane crash on the day of their sixteenth birthday. Together, they swore that they would withhold from celebrating their birthdays from that moment on and traditionally saved the day to remember their parents. Emily and Tobias deserved more in life and a better life in general. But whatever troubles they faced, nothing but good can be said about how they had raised their son and daughter.


“I miss them,” Lilly whispered, blinking away tears, her head resting on her brother’s shoulder.


“Me too.” Quincy squeezed his sister’s hand and glanced over the letter once more. “A burden. I wonder what that means.”


“I don’t know,” Lilly answered. She lifted her head and rubbed her eyes. “It’s nice to hear from them nonetheless.”


They both were lost in thought for a while until they heard someone audibly clearing their throat. A lady in a cleaner's outfit was standing in the doorway, looking at them in annoyance. Her hair was a mixture of vague red and bubblegum pink—both hair colors for which the lady was at least thirty years too old to have.


“Y'all done?” she rasped, sending an incredible amount of spit flying out of her mouth. A record, surely, Quincy thought as he admired the lady's feat in slight disgust.


“Actually,” Lilly started, “we still have a letter to read, so...”


“So... Yeah...” he chimed in.


A beat-up vacuum was placed in the door opening, and the cleaning lady leaned against the doorframe, loudly tapping her foot.


“Fine. I can wait.”


Lilly and Quincy shared a quick glance before they stood up in unison.


“We can just, you know, read this outside.” Quincy wove a fake smile onto his face that made his sister laugh.


Lilly held on to the silver key as Quincy made sure to collect all the letters and other documents, then they headed for the door.


“Goodb—”


The cleaning lady scoffed and turned on the loud vacuum cleaner.


The twins came back around to the reception only to find the receptionist, Mr. Brackenwulf, absent. A little sign on the desk read “Will be right back. Do NOT ring the bell.”


Quincy shrugged. “Let’s just leave then.”


Lilly nudged him on their way out of the office.


“So... this old letter seems important, huh?”


“Yeah, we're going to need to read this in a place with a lot more peace and quiet.”


“How about the end of the world?”


The “End of the World” was the loving nickname for an exceptionally tranquil spot near the Mississippi where the river itself and the Industrial Canal met. It was just past noon, so the twins made sure they picked up some lunch at their favorite Bywater bistro before they sat down near a nice spot by the riverside, where they were treated to a great vista stretching out all across the riverbank.


From the middle of the river, a group of Devilfish stuck out their heads to investigate them. They were not the Devilfish like the majestic Mobula mobular, a near extinct species of eagle ray. These were quite literally hellish fish with great red gills, long pointy teeth, and a fork-tail, hence the name. The Devilfish was first seen along the coast of South Africa, a few months after the appearance of the Obelisk.


A group of night fishermen got the scare of a lifetime when one of their fishing nets contained a glowing red specimen—later discovered to be the evil cousin of the common piranha. The fishermen supposedly watched in horror as the fish ate half of the other fish in the net before burning through the net with flames from a still-unknown origin. After it escaped, it proceeded to swim to a nearby peninsula where sounds of horrid rituals can be heard on some unholy nights.


Luckily for the twins, this particular group of Devilfish didn’t seem too interested in them, so they took their time to eat their lunch before taking the old, yellowed letter out to read. Their own fates were ready to be sealed, their lives forever to be changed.


“It's really crumpled up and folded a million times over,” Quincy said, analyzing the paper in front of him. “Lil, look at this! The letter is from W.A. Swansong himself!”


“Really? That’s just great. So our great-great uncle William has left us a weird ancient key and, according to our parents, some terrible old secret,” Lilly responded sarcastically.


“Somehow, I knew this would all come down to him. I only wish we wouldn't get suckered along every time.”


Rude.


“It is very odd indeed,” Quincy agreed, then frowned.


“Hey, wait, what do you mean, suckered along?”


“Well... people coming up to you to say how they love your ancestor's writing is one thing—even if we have nothing to do with his stories. But it's flattering in a way, and entirely innocent, right?”


“Right.”


“Imagine three years ago when crap hit the fan big time. I was just done with boot camp, and all of a sudden, we get called out to Europe. Turns out all kinds of supernatural stuff is waking up all around the globe, right? Right, you know this. Anyway, as you are well aware, it turns out that our Uncle William didn’t just tell stories, but somehow, he knew certain things, things he wrote about—they exist.”


Only after the worst has happened is when one realizes that some knowledge is better forgotten with the passing eons.


“I know. None of this is new information, sis.”


“So... I was an eighteen-year-old fighting off monsters from a distant time and space, and my last name is Swansong.” Lilly paused to wait for her brother's reaction.


“Oh,” he muttered.


“Yes. The more creepy-crawlies started to appear, the more people seemed to link these events to our dear old uncle. In fact, they started to call him a prophet, as you know, and since he's dead, guess who was the number one spokesperson and apparent know-it-all for all things purple, full of tentacles, and monstrous? Me.”


“I know that fighting these things is in no way the same as studying them on a scientific level,” Quincy started, trying to choose his words carefully, “but know that I experienced the exact same expectation during my years at the university. When people are running around in the dark not knowing what to do, they apparently always try the source closest to the subject at hand. Our uncle wrote about this almost a hundred years before it was made fact that, yes, a lot of the things he wrote about turned out to be true.”


“And we are the last Swansongs,” Lilly finished gloomily.


“So people turn to us for answers even though we have none.”


“Maybe we don't, maybe we do.” Quincy stared at the still-unopened yellow envelope, fiddling with the edges of the worn paper. Maybe he should just get on with it.


“Maybe...” Lilly snatched the yellowed envelope out of her brother's dawdling hands. Good.


“Lilly, no, wait.”


“I can read too, you know! Time to find out what the old geezer came up with.” She chuckled as she unfolded the letter. “Ahem. To the latest descendants of the Swansong family tree...”


Quincy scooted closer to her and looked at the age-old paper in amazement. The ink in the yellowed letter was faded and very hard to read in places. Some of the words became illegible over the course of what seemed like decades, while others, surprisingly so, still remained crisp and clear.


“To the latest descendants of the Swansong family tree,


It is with a certain malevolent strain upon the most intricate parts of my dwindling psyche that I must confide within you, the heirs of my legacy, the burden and responsibility to safe-keep and uphold a duty of secrecy concerning the shining silver key embedded in this inheritance and the terrible truths attached to it.”


“Oh, here we go...” Lilly rolled her eyes.


“What? What's the matter?”


“He really had a way with words, didn't he?” She pointed at the top part of the letter. “Just look at this mess! Whatever happened to something like: ‘It pains me to put you up with this sh—'”


“Okay! Yeah. I see what you mean.” Quincy coughed.


“All these fancy words are pretty, but at the same time, his writing is nearly unintelligible.”


“Right.”


“It made our last name famous though!”


“Yay, and no fortune to speak of except for old, soggy paper.” Lilly pushed the paper into Quincy’s hands. “Here, you read.”


“In a most peculiar case of solecism, I must confer the trepidation that so heavily besets me and intromit this consternation immediately in reckless extravagance to you, the reader of this postmortem.”


Lilly groaned, and Quincy laughed before continuing. Looking at it now, it really was dreadful. Oh, how times can also change for the better.


“I ask you, the descendants, to abjure the inveterate train of thought and understanding of our universe and humanity's place in it as taught to you by your peers and listen to the information trusted upon me by the Great Race; and that you, the reader, will not treat these words with reckless abandon or profligacy now or in the near future.”


Quincy looked up in amazement.


“The Great Race? Does he mean that same Great Race he wrote those early sci-fi stories about in Strange Tales of the Unknown magazine?”


“I’m not surprised at anything anymore,” Lilly replied, turning to watch some seagulls dive into the Mississippi.


“What I am more interested in is when this letter will get to the point.”


“Well, we know one thing for certain, and that is that this is definitely one of W.A.'s letters.”


“Uh-huh.”


“Somewhere in the future, an event will transpire that will unleash a chain of disastrous happenstances leading up towards the sixth extinction of humanity. Forces will rise up in puissance and will act with depredation, hiding in the pusillanimous shadows of the deep bowels of the Earth and beyond. The silver key entrusted upon you will reveal...”


“I can’t make out the rest,” Quincy said, and Lilly cursed.


The rest of the letter was too faded to read properly, and the letters were simply illegible. It was done entirely on purpose. The only other words they could read were “keep the key safe;” “The Shadow Beyond Time and Space” with a whole string of numbers behind it for some reason; and “with utmost regards, W.A. Swansong.”


“Are you kidding me?” Quincy rolled his eyes. “We were on the brink of discovering something new... and that’s it?” He paused. “But at least we know that William did foretell God’s abandonment and the emergence of supernatural beings.”


“Let's not take it that far just yet. I want to know how this key fits into all of this and why we have it.” Lilly inspected the silver key closely. “I mean, this letter says nothing. It might as well be a great coincidence and the ramblings of a dying man desperate to send his descendants towards the

same sodding path of depression and darkness as he went under.” She waved her head to the final lines quite rudely again. “And this? ‘The Shadow Beyond Time and Space?’ Two thousand sixty-one, four thousand eight hundred eighty-six? What does that even mean; it's useless!”


“What do you suppose we do now then?” Quincy folded the letter and placed it back into its envelope.


“Absolutely nothing,” Lilly replied with determination. “We honor the wishes of our parents and keep a hold of this key. That's it.” She crossed her arms. “The last few years have been an absolute burden on both of us while all wewant to do is try to lead a life that is as normal as possible in this crazy world. Let's try to keep that up, okay?”


Quincy took a good look around him. The End of the World was peaceful and pretty, a place that made you believe that the world was not entirely shot to hell yet, and if the goal was trying to live a normal life, then the End of the World was a good place to start.


He hugged his sister. “Let’s spend the rest of the afternoon living a normal, boring life picnicking along the waterway, okay?”


One of the Devilfish leapt out of the water, spit fire at—and roasted—a sparrow in mid-flight, and dove back down into the Mississippi.


“And let’s try to ignore the occasional weirdness leaping out of the water as well.”


Lilly laughed.


“What if we just burn the letter? W.A. Swansong’s one, I mean,” Quincy suggested a few minutes later.


“Ooh. Defiant. Rebellious even. Especially for you, Quince. We can’t though,” she pointed at the bottom of their parent’s letter. “Mom and Dad specifically told us to keep it. So even though I’d like nothing else than to turn this thing into a bonfire, a little voice is telling me to keep a close hold on this ugly piece of paper and this key.”


Quincy simply nodded. “Let’s take the detour back home and tuck these things away. Somewhere safe and secret. A promise to Mom and Dad.”


Near the waterline, a black car of a redacted manufacturer rolled slowly along the pavement, scanning the shoreline. Inside was a young but confident man dressed in a full black suit. Behind his sunglasses, he could stake out the entire northern waterline of the Mississippi while occasionally glancing at the picture displayed on his dashboard.


He noticed two solemn-looking figures wandering off back into the streets of the Bywater district and pulled out a round-looking walkie-talkie, pressing the button on its right side.


“Agent Reyes, come in. This is Agent Preston reporting. Over.”


The walkie-talkie buzzed in anticipation. There was a thunderstorm brewing over New Orleans, and Agent Preston was convinced the electromagnetic particles in the air were screwing up his walkie-talkie, even as advanced as it was.


Khuuurrr krrrrr bzzzzz...


Silence.


“This is Agent Reyes. Go ahead, Agent Preston. Over.”


“Agent Reyes. I have eyes on the bogey. Position is confirmed. Over.”


A loud sigh came from the walkie-talkie. “You're not sitting in a fighter jet, Agent Preston. I assume by your colorful expressions that you have located the Swansong twins? Over.”


“Affirmative, Agent Reyes. Don't worry. They'll be dealt with in no time. Over.”


“Do not cause unnecessary harm, Agent Preston. If the twins don’t have to be liquidated, don't do it. Over.”


“Aww, come on, Agent Reyes. Why not? I've been trained for this. I—”


“That is an order, Agent Preston. Over.”


In the meantime, the thunderstorm heading for New Orleans had arrived. Thick blots of rain started to splash against the windshield. Agent Preston, while meticulously having rolled the car back towards the residential areas, could hear the static discharge exploding over the walkie-talkie.


“Trigger-happy buffoon.” Krrrr zzzzbzzzzz khrrzz.


“What’s that, Agent Reyes?” Preston responded. “I did not quite make that out. Over.”


After fumbling with the frequencies for a little bit, Agent Preston managed to get back onto the right channel, without too much interference.


“The chickens have entered the coop, Agent Reyes. Shall I proceed with the necessary arrangements? Over.” He sloughed into his seat, making sure he didn’t look suspicious in his unmarked shadow-government vehicle.


“The coop? What the hell are you... oh, you mean their apartment? Damn movies and stuff ruining everything, and no, by the way. I ordered Agent Silverstein to try one last advance at the twins. If the crazy old bat fails me again, I will give you the heads-up. Over.”


Fine. I'll stake out the building in the meantime. Over and out.”


Agent Preston sat back with a growl, rolling down his window to let some of the cool air in. He glanced at his walkie-talkie before lighting up a cigarette and angling himself to watch the front door of the apartment building he sat diagonal from.


“You know what, Agent Reyes,” he mumbled to himself, “I may take orders from you now, but once I've retrieved this package, I'm sure the tables will turn.”


He reached into the glove compartment and pulled out his faithful Glock 22 and gave it a fast checkup. After he made sure the gun was loaded and ready to go, he smiled as he tucked the firearm beneath his jacket.



Nick Vossen was raised on blockbuster films from the 80s and 90s as well as fantasy and sci-fi novels, comics and games. No matter the medium, his love for storytelling grew ever larger. Having always had a fascination with the fantastical and weird, he quickly grew fond of authors such as Terry Pratchett, H.P. Lovecraft, Neil Gaiman and many more. During the winter of 2017 Nick released an anthology of short, weird fiction entitled The Fissures Between Worlds, which delves into the strange places on Earth where time does not flow as it should. It was received quite favourably, and so Nick’s desire to tell more stories grew. He has since been privileged to appear in several other anthologies, magazines and short story compilations and has quite a few projects still in the works. His biggest fascinations and inspirations are old forgotten woodlands, the deepest depths of the oceans and the unsettling, uncanniness of retro futurism.


Nick graduated in Media- and Culture studies at Utrecht University in The Netherlands. He is currently working as a freelance creative writer and author. He also frequently works on projects in the Dutch indie-film industry, putting his talents to use in art-direction, set-dressing and of course screenwriting. His first novel, The Swansong Conspiracy (book 1 of the Eldritch Twins series) is set to be released at the end of 2020 by Parliament House Press. The book will offer a unique blend of coming-of-age comedy, supernatural horror and mystery.

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