The Last Reincarnation of Steven Kinder by Bernard K. Finnigan

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BERNARD K. FINNIGAN When Halloween Was Green

Quotes from Niccolò Machiavelli, Soren Kierkegaard, Author Unknown, Titus Maccius Platus, and Publius Terentius Afer are all Public Domain.

Editor: Lana Crosskno

THE LAST REINCARNATION OF STEVEN KINDER Copyright © 2019 Bernard K. Finnigan All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, please write to the publisher. This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Published by BHC Press Library of Congress Control Number: 2018948485 ISBN: 978-1-948540-61-2 (Hardcover) ISBN: 978-1-64397-033-2 (Softcover) ISBN: 978-1-64397-034-9 (Ebook) For information, write: BHC Press 885 Penniman #5505 Plymouth, MI 48170 Visit the publisher:

To everyone who helped, both family and friends. Help is good.

The new ruler must determine all the injuries that he will need to inflict. He must inflict them once and for all. — Niccolo Machiavelli —

1 THEY CAME FOR me at night. A squad of muscle men in black jumpsuits smashed open my bedroom door. I thought night vision goggles were fantastic overkill for grabbing a single sleeping man under a pile of ratty blankets. They obviously disagreed as they threw a bag over my head and propelled me out of my apartment. The mask blinded me, but I felt the pain of being hurled into a waiting vehicle, which took off with squealing tires. Someone crushed my face into the floor, daring me to move. I didn’t. I hadn’t survived a wasteland of a life only to now get my skull crushed in a preposterous kidnapping cliché at three in the morning. So, I didn’t yelp. I didn’t scream or demand my rights in a dictionary of vindictive profanity spewed in the face of whatever fruitcake had ruined a perfectly worthless sleep. That would come later. But I did extend my senses—keeping track of what I heard and how long the drive was. I didn’t bother counting left and right turns like some pseudo spy movie, but I did know the vehicle (a van I think) 11

BERNARD K. FINNIGAN drove out of the city. The buzz of civilization fell away as we entered a straightaway and drove for at least two hours. Eventually I fell asleep again. After all it was the middle of the night. The van jolted me awake as it traveled uphill…then down…then up again. Mountains. We were definitely in the mountains. You may think I was entirely too nonchalant about being kidnapped by a pack of paramilitary thugs in the middle of the night. Others might be infuriated or shocked, but I was merely resigned. See, this wasn’t a first-time thing for me. Several years ago, some other paramilitary goons had also broken down my door. They were far more amateurish, but I’ll get into them in a bit. My attention now focused on how the van had taken a hairpin turn and come to a bone-crunching stop. Wherever I was going, I’d arrived. I didn’t have to go to the trouble of climbing to my feet as my new associates grabbed all four of my limbs. My feet never touched the ground as they carried me out of the van and all the way inside a building (warm, oppressive air), down a hall (an echo), and into an elevator which went down several floors (everyone knows what an elevator feels like). With a ping, the doors opened. The hallway clanged like stainless steel. Interesting. My friends carried me through a door into an enclosed room. My knee hit a table’s edge as they pushed me into a seat. Only then did they take the mask off. The room was about as I had predicted: darkgray walls, spartan metal table bolted to the floor, fluorescent lights hidden behind metal grills. On one wall was a mirror that fooled no one about its one-way nature. Everyone who’s ever watched any detective or spy procedural on TV, at any time in their life, has seen an interrogation room exactly like this. It felt so expected that I almost forgot I was the one being interrogated. Almost. I sat alone at the table. During the adventure, no one had actually bothered to handcuff me. I guess they didn’t think I was much of a threat. Even now, two muscle-bound guerrillas stood behind me, 12

THE LAST REINCARNATION OF STEVEN KINDER holding up the wall. No one said a word as the uncomfortable silence dragged, so I finally stretched some muscles and drummed my fingers on the table while staring at myself in the mirror. I looked like hell. Mussed brown hair that hadn’t seen a comb in days. A torn T-shirt covering a tad too-skinny body. I wasn’t ever that tall, but now I was certainly the shortest man in this room and gaunt. My cheekbones poked out from a face that needed at least one thousand more calories a meal. That was my own fault for sticking to the only two food groups I could afford. Mac and cheese. My subpar eating habits had finished off whatever baby fat I used to have, as had sleeping in that rat’s nest of a rented room from which I had just been taken. I also had a few bruises here and there, but I was used to those. I was a scrapper. I never bowed to anyone, and I wasn’t going to start now. I turned away from the mirror and kept drumming my fingers. Finally, the door behind me opened and someone walked around the table. He had brought his own metal chair which clanked on the hard, concrete floor. A portfolio of papers flopped on the table in front of me. The top page had my picture on it. Not my driver’s license or Facebook profile, but a candid shot of me exiting my rat’s nest apartment. Actually “apartment” was too strong a word, as I could afford only a single room in a sublet. But regardless, what had I done to earn my own personal stalker? Maybe my life wasn’t a tear-jerking failure after all. Meanwhile, the owner of the portfolio looked as bland as a bowl of oatmeal. Upper middle age, wearing black suit with white shirt, dinky wimp glasses, and a hairline that may have been receding even as we sat there. A skinny little man that I could probably bench press with one arm and was severely tempted to do so. The novelty of this situation had worn off. If not for the two musclemen behind me, I would have grabbed that little man by his black tie and slammed his 13

BERNARD K. FINNIGAN head against the table. But, again, I didn’t survive so many disasters by being impulsive. I let him make the first move. At first, he didn’t do anything except stare. He even leaned forward, bracing his hands on the table to get a better look to me. Was he looking for something? I didn’t have much on me, and he should have already gotten a great view of my face. Whatever he was looking for he didn’t seem to find it as he leaned back and picked up the first stalker picture. He looked at it, then me, then back to the picture. Enough already. “Yes, that’s me. I’m me. I’m here. You’re here. Get the hell on with it.” He looked up in furrowed brow annoyance. “Steven Arthur Kinder?” He finally spoke. I propped up my elbows to mimic his posture, then leaned forward to look him right in his eyes. “Yeeeeeeessss? That’s me. You’ve obviously gone to a lot a trouble to meet me, so how can I help you this evening? If this is about my delinquent rent or power bill, the check’s in the mail, I swear.” The man didn’t smile. I hadn’t expected him to. Being around as many people as I’ve been, you recognize the humorless grumps when you see one. Humorless grumps get really annoyed when you try to make them laugh. So, I annoyed him. “Gee, did I do something bad?” I asked while grinning like a Cheshire Cat. He still didn’t smile, just looked at my papers and droned with zero inflection. “Your mother was Janine Kinder? Father was Matthew Wyatt Kinder? Both deceased?” “Yes, they’re dead. So what? I’ll thank you not to mention them again.” That got a raised eyebrow. “It simplifies matters if it’s true.” This idiot is talking about my parents. 14

THE LAST REINCARNATION OF STEVEN KINDER “What the hell do you care?!” I finally yelled. “Who do you think I am?” He leaned back for a moment. “Who do you think you are?” “I think I’m Steven Kinder, underemployed schmuck staring at my 30s in a menial job that doesn’t have the security clearance God gave a burger flipper. I haven’t had so much as a parking ticket since the last presidential election because I can’t afford a car. So, I haven’t the foggiest idea who you think I am. Whoever it is, I’m not. Whatever you think I did, I didn’t. I don’t have enough disposable income to even leave this time zone, let alone fly to any dumbass rogue nation to be brainwashed into whatever clandestine nefarious mole you’re hyperventilating about. I’m an American, meaning you’re wasting everyone’s time. Especially your own.” The man listened, then flipped through a few more pages. “And what the hell do you want me to call you anyway?” I glared. “I can say ‘hey you’ all night but that’ll just aggravate you further. So, spill a name or get used to a flurry of disrespectful pronouns.” “Dukane.” Hmm, that was fast. Probably bogus. No matter. Except… “Well, I suppose if you were trying to be sneaky, you wouldn’t have worn a security badge with your name on it.” Dukane reflexively looked down at the lanyard around his neck as I read the badge: “Frederick R. Dukane. Director.” Dukane put the papers down and folded his hands, obviously caught off guard. He probably meant to remove his name tag before coming in here. Frederick Dukane. Why does that name sound familiar? Anywho… “So, Fred, what did I do to warrant the attention of the boss himself? Can you enlighten us all as to why you dragged an American citizen out of bed at o’dark thirty for this little chat? And what the hell you’re going to do when I get out of here? You know how many people will be looking for me? Whatever you’re going to offer to buy me 15

BERNARD K. FINNIGAN off, it won’t be enough.” I crossed my arms, trying to look tougher than I was. It obviously didn’t work. Dukane didn’t even shrug. “You’re not being offered anything, Mr. Kinder. No one knows you’re here, and no one will be looking for you. They think you’re dead.” Excuse me? “You were removed before you saw the cleanup crew. We dumped a cadaver of similar size and blood type into your bed, scattered around some flammable drug-making paraphernalia, and then blew it up. You died in a narcotics explosion.” I stared at him, comprehending. “You’re not our first guest, Mr. Kinder,” he continued. “We’ve had a great deal of experience in taking who we want and making sure they stay lost. A great many have entered. None ever leave. Now it’s your turn.” Wait a minute— “There were other people in that building! I only rented the one room!” “Then, in the future, pick your living spaces with greater care.” I jumped over the table with a furious fist that just needed one second to connect— The bodyguards caught me and shoved me back into the chair, hands tight on my shoulders. All I succeeded in doing was ruffling some papers. But seeing Dukane flinch was worth it. Suck on that. Dukane adjusted his tie, then spoke again. “This meeting will be brief, Mr. Kinder. I’m only here to get a look at you and for my staff to check your blood.” “I’m not giving you any blood.” “You already have.” With a shock I suddenly felt a tiny pain that had been trying to get my attention for a while. My right arm had a bandage on the inside of my elbow. Just like where they take blood at the doctor. I was 16

THE LAST REINCARNATION OF STEVEN KINDER a half second away from another explosion of vicious profanity when a buzzz and blaring red light burst into existence. “And that means your blood test is concluded, Mr. Kinder,” Dukane said without moving. “We’re done here.” I moved to jump out of the chair, only to be grabbed by Dukane’s musclemen. I twisted in their grip. “What the hell do you want anyway?” Dukane looked tired. “Why is that always the first thing they ask? That word you used a moment ago, citizen? Are you really? Citizenship doesn’t apply to aliens. And as such, you don’t have any rights. None whatsoever.” The musclemen dragged me toward the door as I yelled at everyone in range. “I’m not an illegal! I was born here!” Dukane finally smiled as the musclemen pulled me out of the room. “Yes, you were, Mr. Kinder. And that’s the problem. You’re a different kind of illegal alien indeed, and that’s precisely what we’re going to stop, no matter how many of you we have to apprehend.” I was about to hurl some profanity in his direction—but the door slammed in my face. My guards now power walked me deep into the labyrinthine depths of wherever I was. Entering another elevator, I dropped at least ten floors and thirty degrees as the temperature sank like a rock. Frost formed out of my breath when the doors opened again. Cold. And primitive. They didn’t bother with the stainless steel down here; the walls were carved right out of the bedrock. Humans were not meant to be this far underground. Lights were nailed into the ceiling with power cords looping along. The guards forced me around a few turns before I ended up in some kind of antechamber. More lights in the ceiling. Medical cabinets everywhere. Patient tables and a doctor holding a really big needle. Oh no you don’t! Squirming against the grips of experienced people abductors proved absolutely futile. I couldn’t fiddle even an inch. That didn’t 17

BERNARD K. FINNIGAN stop me from kicking and flailing. I impacted their shins several times, to no effect. “You’re not sticking me with that!” I screamed. The doctor looked bored as the guards brought me within reach. “The usual?” he asked. “Yes.” My guard finally said something. At least I know he’s human. “Do it fast then,” the doctor replied as he put the needle down on a nearby tray. Huh? The doctor watched my thoughts. “That’s not for you.” He fished around a pocket and pulled out a tiny object. “This is.” Something like an asthma inhaler sprayed point blank in my face. I coughed, then went out like a light.

I WOKE UP being transported again. How much time had passed? Could’ve been five minutes or five days. All I knew was that I was on a gurney being wheeled down one of those endless rock corridors. Somehow, I had changed clothes. The T-shirt and sweatpants that I had been wearing were gone, replaced with a black skinsuit with electrodes glued all over. I tried getting up, but residual grogginess allowed no such thing. My limbs felt like rubber and the very thought of sitting up made me want to heave. I didn’t have long to wait. This particular hallway came to a really quick end at a huge double door that opened with a blast of cold air. We were entering a freezer?! Gloved hands lifted me into a sitting position, allowing me to see a huge room a hundred yards across. The ceiling arced overhead like a dome, frosted over with layers of ice. The only light came from blinking LEDs on rows of man-sized capsules filling the room. Red and green blinkers sliding back and forth, similar to heartbeats. Wait… These weren’t man-sized capsules, they were capsules holding men. I’ve seen these mad scientist clichés in a hundred cheesy B mov18

THE LAST REINCARNATION OF STEVEN KINDER ies and in Star Trek of every decade. Suspended animation. Hundreds of people, frozen solid. And as my guards lifted me off the gurney, I saw an empty one, lid wide open. I knew how this was going to end, but I was powerless as uncaring hands lifted me up and flopped me inside. Too tired, too sleepy, I barely noticed as they plugged the skinsuit’s electrodes to sockets inside the capsule. I couldn’t even lift my hands in a feeble clichéd expression of don’t that always happens in bad movies about this. The guards finished and shut the lid with blasé contempt. SLAM I didn’t bang on the inside. I didn’t have the strength, and the helpless victim pounding fists against the futility of it all would have been entirely too corny anyway. I had my dignity and I’d damn well protect it. Besides, the temperature plummeted faster than an Antarctic winter. All I wanted was to sleep. Yes, sleep. Frost formed on my fingers. My eyes closed.


2 FREEZING INTO A Popsicle isn’t something you would expect to happen after a predictably disappointing day in the unemployment line. But as my bones surrendered to the arctic cold, I could honestly say that I wasn’t surprised in the slightest. Being frozen alive had no other description but “stupid.” You see, “stupid” things happen to me far more frequently than should be statistically possible. I told you, this wasn’t my first abduction, not the first time I had been minding my own business only to be suddenly manhandled out of my home in handcuffs. Stupid things keep happening to me. Take a moment to really understand that. “Stupid” is the perfect word to define my life. I’m not just talking about being abducted by musclemen; I’m talking about being thoroughly skewered out of every job opportunity until I had nothing but a warehouse graveyard shift while holding two university degrees. Once upon a time, I had a lot of promise. Scholarships, 4.0 GPA…but putting on my fifth name tag in three years finally drove home how 20

THE LAST REINCARNATION OF STEVEN KINDER ghastly my life had gone off the rails. I think I’m in my early 30s, but I don’t bother keeping track anymore as I lost any friends or family who might’ve cared a while back. I renew my driver’s license occasionally, not that I can afford a car in my hand-to-mouth existence that’s been thwarted at every turn by ridiculous random chances. So many that I began to index, number, and catalog them away. Unlike a more pragmatic man, my experiences never made me humble. In fact, I’ve been a rip-roaring sore loser. You’ve heard that Cherokee story about having two wolves in your head, a good one and a bad one, and when asked which one has control, you answer, “Whichever one you feed?” I’ve been feeding the bad one. I can’t help it; that wolf shows up more often. For example, last night I started a fight in a bar. On purpose. I went up to the biggest knuckle-dragger I could find and deliberately poured a beer on his shoulder. Why him? Because he radiated a short fuse. He looked like he was mad at the world and everything in it. I know the type instantly when I see them. I’m one of them. Of course, he beat me up, but I got some good licks in. I just needed to get some anger out. The bad wolf demands to be fed. I told you. I’m a scrapper. From my point of view, I’ve had ample provocation. I don’t have a car anymore because the last one I could afford crashed into a telephone pole…because of a flat tire…caused by a No. 2 pencil impaled into the sidewall of the tire. How can that even happen? I’d love to know. Having no car severely limited my job options. In my time I’ve been a floor waxer, janitor, cashier clerk…except did I mention one of my degrees is in engineering? And did I mention in my entire career I’ve been employed as something resembling an “engineer” for maybe six months? That would be the “ample provocation” I’m referring to. I’m talking about stupid things. 21

BERNARD K. FINNIGAN I’m talking about missing a job interview because the company’s own HR contact gave me the wrong address. I’m talking about a fire burning down my apartment…one day after I moved into it. I’m talking about losing a job because a computer “glitch” deleted my name out of the payroll. Stupid things. Completely random and ridiculous. They happen to me over and over again. And I did nothing to deserve it. A long time ago I used to be pleasant. Talkative. I had friends. Not so many anymore. Now I doubted anyone would even realize I had been taken. All I have is my stupendous paranoia. I’m always waiting for the next “gotcha” to drop like the sword of Damocles, and I’m never waiting long. That’s reason numero uno why I wasn’t shocked at being thrown into an ice coffin by the minions of one Fredrick Dukane. These things just happen. Dukane… I know I’ve heard that name before. Where? But this is an old rant. I’ve spent many a night rehearsing it while pretending to sleep. Except this particular rant had been going on for a while… Shouldn’t I be frozen by now? I couldn’t move. My body was definitely frozen into a block of ice…but I wasn’t asleep. My mind rambled on, fully functional even in the middle of this arctic sarcophagus, even if all I could see was the back of my eyes. Until the hallucinations started. Whereas before I saw only cold black, now I could see a warm hazy white. In this blurry dreamland I had a body again. No metal coffin, no underground cave. Looking down, my bare feet touched something like a fluffy cloud. Looking up, I saw…stars. What is this? Taking it all in, I figured I had entered a sensory deprivation hallucination, something my brain generated to either keep me from mad22

THE LAST REINCARNATION OF STEVEN KINDER ness or to accelerate full speed toward it. Some encyclopedic memory reminded me that, when subjected to supreme cold, certain materials became electrical superconductors. Apparently, the human brain was one of those materials. Whatever. I had a good imagination, and these hallucinations were better than staring at the inside of my eyelids, so let them come. Around me the hazy white formed into something solid. Buildings, people…and something from a time long ago. Something I remembered. Disneyland. I love Disneyland. One of a few happy memories I had with my parents. I’m riding Space Mountain. Now I’m riding the original Star Tours. Now the Haunted Mansion, the older Mansion where the Attic Bride is still an animatronic. I insist that we go on everything twice. And we do. Good times. Remember the happy memories. Hold onto them as long as you can. They dim with age. So did this scene. It evaporated like ice under a hot sun (somewhat nonsensical in my current circumstances), leaving me alone in the white again. Maybe another vision will come. I’m probably stuck in this freezer for a good, long time. I wasn’t disappointed. Another image formed soon after the first, solidifying into another time and place: I’m working my first summer job. It’s outdoors, pushing a huge wheeled cart out of a warehouse garage. It takes all my strength to push it up a steep incline. My hands slip and the cart rolls backward. I can’t position my feet fast enough and my left ankle is squished between the cart and a concrete barrier. Ow. It hurts like the blazes, but I’m back on the job in an hour. That’s what I do. There’s now a permanent scar on my ankle. 23

BERNARD K. FINNIGAN The image vanished. Odd I’d remember something almost forgotten. I don’t even notice the scar half the time. Curious. Oh well. What would be next? With all eternity to fill, I wanted the entertainment to continue. It did. The hazy white focused yet again into people and places from long ago. Goody, I couldn’t wait to see what this memory would be. Except… Oh brother. Maybe I liked the blackness better because now the fuzziness formed into one of those memories. One of my stupid things. Damn it, this is exactly what I did not want to see. It forced itself on me anyway. My first job out of college. The application has been filed, accepted, and approved. My contact already called me and is excited to have me work for his company. I get to drive across the country. Takes me three days just to get there. I love every minute. Entering the building, I introduce myself to the front desk. But they have no information on me. I give them the name of my human resources contact…and find out he no longer works there. He quit two days earlier, bugging out with no notice to take another job across country. Ironically, in the same big city that I just left. We likely even passed each other on the freeway. His replacement hasn’t heard of me, has no paperwork on me, has no place for me. No job. Worse, I passed up on other offers to take this one. I don’t go home just yet. There’s nothing there either. ::POP::


THE LAST REINCARNATION OF STEVEN KINDER I HATE that memory. Of course, it would rear its ugly head in here, where I couldn’t avoid it. That idiot must’ve known he was leaving the company even when he invited me over. So why invite me at all? I told you. Stupid. Eventually the memory faded. Thank God. So, what would be next? My first-grade class? My first tax form? Whatever. Anything was better than nothing, and sure enough the mist parted to form the next image. What appeared before me now was… Was… I don’t remember this. Out there in hazy dreamland, almost at the edge of my vision, stood a blurry figure. Whereas my previous memories dazzled bright and clear, this one remained stubbornly hazy. It was obviously a person of some kind, but I couldn’t make out any detail except a vague humanoid form. A pale, white, faceless, fuzzy humanoid. What in… I strained to see more and even walked toward it…until I realized the humanoid was already walking toward me. It covered the distance far too quickly, but I still couldn’t make out any detail. Even when other humanoids appeared around it. Spinning, I saw myself surrounded by indistinct ghosts closing in from all directions. That drove it home. This isn’t a dream. No, it wasn’t. I instinctively backed away from the figures, but there was nowhere to go. Like a dog trapped on a short leash they closed the noose around me. Even this close they still had no detail, just maddeningly faceless humanoids. I squeezed my eyes shut as they reached for me with misty arms. In one more second, they would have me—

PFFFFFSHSHSHSHSSSH My sarcophagus opened. 25

BERNARD K. FINNIGAN My frozen body awakened. I couldn’t open my eyes, but my first question was: who’s picking me up? My sluggish senses wouldn’t respond, so I drifted back into a cold sleep…

HOT! My body flared to life under soothing liquid heat. It penetrated my cold bones and thawed me from the inside out. A hot tub. Perhaps there exists a more technical medical term for such a device, but being immersed up to my neck in luxurious steaming water, I didn’t care. To my joy I could finally open my eyes, my first sight being a woman in hospital scrubs drenching me with a shower head. Bright lights blared down on me inside the big tub of bubbling water. Another nurse stepped forward, lifting each of my arms in turn, making sure the hot water got everywhere. My fingers wiggled and I could even move my head, seeing myself in a small room lined with medical implements. And one of Dukane’s musclemen. An elder fifty-something with slightly thinning hair and hazel eyes, built for trouble. He stood in the room with a piercing gaze, judging the nurses’ performance. They obviously didn’t appreciate his presence. “This subject isn’t on any release schedule.” “He is now,” the man replied. “Finish and don’t ask questions.” “Agent Prehler, you have no paperwork—” “I am the paperwork. I can buy and sell the clearance of anyone else on this floor. Do you want me to exercise that clearance on you?” That shut them up. This “Prehler” had a commanding alpha presence. The nurses put away the shower head and lifted me out of the hot tub, placing me onto a gurney. They placed some fluffy towels in my hands as Prehler gestured for them to vacate the room. Now.


THE LAST REINCARNATION OF STEVEN KINDER “This stays off your log,” he spoke in fact and in threat. The nurses nodded in understanding as they peeled off their rubber gloves and headed out the door. That left me alone with “Prehler.” He walked around my gurney, staring at me. “Sit up. If it hurts, do it anyway.” After that adventure in the ice coffin, I’d get off this gurney if I had to rip off three layers of frozen skin to do it. Testing muscles, I sat up. There was some soreness but no pain. Let it ever be said that hot tubs can cure anything. Almost anything, as when I tried to speak, I found my tongue still laying as a cold mass. I reached a shaking hand to grab a bottle of water from a counter and emptied it in one pull, throat muscles ached all the way down. When I was done, Prehler handed me another. “You’ll need a lot more. You’re severely dehydrated.” Yes. I was. Guzzling the second bottle made Prehler nod with approval. “Drink it all. But don’t talk or you’ll hurt yourself.” Now he tells me. “So, Mr. Kinder, you can’t move, so just listen. Today’s your lucky day. You’re getting out of here. You have no idea how few guests get to hear that.” Yes, that was good news. But I hoped Prehler could do most of the heavy lifting. I tried stepping off the gurney and immediately sat back down with warbling equilibrium. On top of that, my eyes were still blurry. At least I think they were. Focusing on the room and the medical equipment was easy enough, but when I looked at Prehler my eyes goofed out entirely. Prehler glowed. What the hell? My brain still couldn’t do more than fits or starts, but no mistake, he glowed. A smooth golden aura outlined his entire form, like muted neon. I thought this might be a leftover hallucination from the coffin, 27

BERNARD K. FINNIGAN except the nurses had no such glow and I’d gotten a good look at both, and that wasn’t the half of it. I glowed too. My hands, arms, and feet all had the same golden aura as Prehler. Did they slip me some bootleg medication when I was out? Screw it. I wanted out of this funhouse. Prehler took my head in a meaty hand to make sure he had my attention. “I know you can’t move worth a damn, so just sit down and shut up. Be glad you got out at all. You were already in a hair too long.” Too long? It was barely ten minutes. I wonder… “How…long…” escaped my mouth like dead breath from a ragged horse. Prehler scowled. “I said don’t talk. But if it keeps you quiet, twenty-two days.” TWENTY-TWO DAYS? Three weeks in that ice box? There was no time to process that before Prehler gave me some green scrubs. “Change,” he said. I did. Painfully. He then directed me to lay flat and pulled a hospital sheet over me. “Don’t talk. Don’t move. You’re a new Incarn who died during processing. Happens often enough so they won’t ask questions. IF you play dead.” A new “Incarn?” But I submitted. The sheet covered me up, and Prehler pushed the gurney out of the room. After a sharp right, we moved at a quick clip down the hall. The sheet covered my eyes, but I could still mark progress by the passing of the lights above. And by Prehler’s weirdo aura. We passed a person walking the other direction who thankfully didn’t stop to question us. They didn’t have an aura. What’s going on with my eyes? No answer presented itself, so I concentrated on making out any detail I could of this underground prison. When I was brought in, twenty-two days ago, I was too busy to notice every corridor had stenciled numbers on the ceiling. In fact, everything had a number— the doors, the intersections, even the occasional window. I wanted to 28

THE LAST REINCARNATION OF STEVEN KINDER examine that closer, except Prehler turned on a dime and pushed me through some double doors into another deep freeze. I almost yelped but his hand went over my mouth. “Do not breathe for the next twenty seconds.” Underneath the blanket all I wore were the hospital greens. The cold made short work of those, penetrating my skin with icy needles. “DON’T move,” he shouted in a whisper, his eyes on a window in the door, watching something outside. He’s waiting for someone to pass. He didn’t want them to see me. It wasn’t obvious why he abandoned his charade of a dead body at the first sign of trouble. I didn’t have an answer, but I recognized this hall as something similar to whatever room held my icebox prison. Turning my head slightly I saw a door that looked exactly like the one they put me in. Next to it, I saw another one. And another and another and another. I couldn’t see the end of the hallway as it disappeared into a forced perspective pinpoint far in the distance, but I counted dozens of doors, presumably with hundreds of iceboxes behind each one. And this was only one hallway. The complex had the size to hide several more. How many have these lunatics kidnapped? Who the hell are these people? My quick temper started to rise—until Prehler took his hand off my mouth and pushed my gurney back into the warm hallway. We moved down the corridor, but Prehler kept looking back over his shoulder. After passing a guard armed with an assault rifle, Prehler manhandled me into a bank of elevators for what I guessed was a long ride back to the surface. Right before the door closed, another man rushed into the elevator with us. I held my breath as I examined him through the sheet. Like Dukane, this man had an ID badge. This is a very regimented operation. These people have a well-oiled machine with the money to back it up.


BERNARD K. FINNIGAN Oddly enough, my engineering degree also had an observation, deducing how much power those freezers must be eating. The kilowatt hours for one room alone must be— DING The elevator opened and the man walked off to the right. Prehler watched him leave…then took a left down a dim corridor. It looked like no one came down this way very often. Indeed, they didn’t. We passed a sign that read “Disposal Facility.” Despite Prehler’s seeming intent to get me out of here, my stomach quivered. I had nothing to base his word on and no idea why he even went to all this trouble. He might be throwing out the garbage even now— Don’t be a sissy. If they wanted you dead, all they had to do was turn off whatever life support kept you going in that freezer. Rounding a corner, Prehler stopped with a lurch that almost hurled me off the gurney. He leaned in to speak softly. “That was the easy part. Now to change vehicles. Don’t move until I get back.” He vanished, gone with a whisper as if he’d taken lessons from the Dark Knight himself. I now lay totally alone in an empty corridor under a hospital sheet. That didn’t encourage me. Worse, looking slightly to my right, I saw another gurney with another sheet covering a…something. I probably didn’t want to know what it was. Fortunately, being in the frozen box gave me ample experience in darkness. So, for the first time in twenty-two days I had time to think this situation over. Mentally, I ticked off the points: One: I’ve been kidnapped by people who apparently make a fulltime occupation out of it. Question, why in God’s name? Two: They have a gargantuan underground lair where they’ve secreted away hundreds of kidnapped victims, kept alive as frozen icicles. Question, why not just kill them? 30

THE LAST REINCARNATION OF STEVEN KINDER Three: They justified this by calling me an “illegal alien.” Except I was born here…and Dukane said that was exactly the problem. Question, is that why everyone else was taken as well? Four: What was that word Prehler used? Incarn? It’s short for something, obviously. I had to find out what. Five: I heard footsteps. Footsteps? Prehler’s back already. Fine, I had run out of questions and just wanted to get the hell out of here. That was until my gotcha sensation kicked in. Wait, didn’t Prehler go in the OTHER direction? Yes, he had. Step… Step. I couldn’t see who approached. All I could hear were the footsteps. Step… Step. Haunting footsteps, just like every bad horror movie. Getting closer. Risking movement, I slightly turned my head to the source. In the dark a saw an approaching figure. Couldn’t see who it was. But I could see its aura. Purple. A thick nauseating purple, revealing someone short and thin. My stomach curled from some subconscious revulsion which only worsened when the form stopped. It had seen me. No, it saw my aura. Step…step…step. It quickened its pace toward me, its purple glow making it impossible to miss the change in body language. It obviously knew I was here, so I heaved the blanket off and sat up, feeling woozy but hoping some desperate adrenaline would give me some strength. Whatever this was, I didn’t want to be trapped under a sheet when it got here. Steeling myself, I stood up on wobbly legs and faced this, whatever it was, directly. The aura reacted the moment I moved. It changed shape. No longer outlining a small thin man, it now grew into something at least ten feet tall undulating like a snake. 31

BERNARD K. FINNIGAN What. The. HELL? Whatever this was, human it was not. I pushed the gurney away and tried running for it but didn’t make it three steps before my rubbery legs tripped over themselves. That was it; it had me. The purple aura spread its demonic form in a mocking embrace to grab me— Prehler smacked it away. At least I assumed the golden aura was Prehler. I could see nothing but outlines and silhouettes, but I could make out Prehler throwing rapid punches. The purple flared as its head smashed into the wall with a crunch, then dimmed as it collapsed to the floor. Its aura shrank back down to normal size. Prehler stepped over its unconscious form to hit a light switch, blinding me. What in God’s name was on the floor? As big as that outline was, it must have been six feet wide and four hundred pounds! Finally, my eyes cleared, and I peered over to see it… A thin scrawny balding man with glasses, mid-fifties, one hundred fifty pounds tops, sprawled over the linoleum in a black suit ensemble that seemed to be the uniform around here. I stared at the man, then at Prehler. “That’s why we don’t want anyone knowing we’re leaving,” he said, kicking the form and tossing me some respectable clothes. I thankfully discarded the hospital scrubs and threw on what he offered, a black jumpsuit with multiple pockets. Merely a shorter and skinnier version of Prehler’s kidnap-people-at-midnight ensemble. I zipped up as fast as I could, but the body on the floor still held my attention. “That’s not…human,” I fumbled, grasping for information as Prehler handed me a pair of thick army boots, which I laced up with numb fingers. He only grunted a reply. “Is anyone?” 32

ABOUT THE AUTHOR BERNARD K. FINNIGAN is fascinated by Celtic lore and is the author of the fan favorite When Halloween Was Green. When not writing, he enjoys amateur filmmaking and building his own horror movie costumes. He resides in Idaho where he is known for rewarding trick or treaters with full-sized candy bars. He’s currently working on his next Steven Kinder novel.