(December 14, 2010)

As he sat at his desk, Carter stared thoughtfully at the key. He wasn’t sure if it should be a priority. After all, the funeral arrangements still had him busy, but the events of the days prior had brought it to the forefront of his mind.

     He felt foolish, although he knew he shouldn’t. It was completely within reason to assume that Fiona’s nightmares were just that. However, the incident at Dr. Heston’s office was decidedly unnatural, and now he found it difficult to believe that those ordinary nightmares were just the product of his daughter’s subconscious.

     It didn’t help that the deaths were so unlikely. Anne was–by all accounts–not depressed, and the message she had left brought memories of her father’s suicide to Carter’s mind. Furthermore, the accident with the plane was statistically improbable, and it was an extraordinary stroke of bad luck for it to happen so soon after Anne’s death.

     Then there was what happened to Roderigo. Even with his cousin’s illness, it was hard not to believe him. After all, both Yvonne and Steven confirmed most of his story. Any remaining doubt was shattered when Roderigo opted to display his newfound ability by cutting his palm with his pocketknife. For Carter, that wasn’t even necessary; both the White Flame and Nightwalker had been mentioned in that prophecy, which for Carter was one coincidence too many.

     Still, there were too many unanswered questions. The prophecy itself held no answers to its own predictions. Roderigo and Steven would face the Bladed Man, but nothing was said on what would happen. And the mention of a dragon troubled him, as nothing they had encountered so far could give him insight on that passage’s meaning.

     After contemplating all of this, he’d come to the conclusion that the key–which had been previously lost among the madness–could hold an answer or two, or at the least another piece of the puzzle. With enough luck, it could even connect all the dots.

     He looked up up at Roderigo, who sat across from his desk drinking a glass of Diet Blitz. “I’m just going to assume Jacob left instructions to let whoever had the key open the box,” he said. “Otherwise, we’ll have to have Fiona do it, and I’m not sure she’s ready to see what’s in there.” He handed the key to Roderigo.

     “I wouldn’t worry,” Roderigo replied. “He may not have made the connection, but if I know Twist, he was definitely prepared for Fiona passing the buck. You don’t become the first lay cardinal in over a century without some foresight.” Especially when your faith considers your very existence blasphemy, he thought. He looked down at the key for a moment, before setting it on the desk. “Are you sure we should do this right now? There are other things that seem a bit more important, if you don’t mind me saying so.”

     “I agree that it doesn’t seem important,” Carter said, “but it was sent to us for a reason. And thanks to recent events, we might need what’s in that box. Given your… abilities, you seem to be the best person for the job. Should this Blades character somehow make an appearance here, I’d rather whatever is in the safety deposit box not fall into his hands without us knowing what it is.”

     “Makes sense,” Roderigo said. He placed the key in his pocket. “I guess I’ll get going. With any luck I’ll be back soon.”

* * *

The man at the counter led the way. The fact that he seemed so happy while doing so made Roderigo a little nervous. He knew that what awaited him was nothing to be happy about, but chances were that the teller had assumed it was nothing more than the usual expensive piece of jewelry. Roderigo was actually thankful that he couldn’t display his fear.

     There was no reason this man should know anything.

     As Roderigo began to open box, the teller seemed to wait with pride. Roderigo looked away and asked for some privacy. “Let me know when you’re ready to leave,” the man said with a smile, closing the door behind him. Roderigo didn’t respond.

     At first, he was unimpressed. Inside was a simple manila envelope, taped shut with the words
to Fiona
written in black marker. It wasn’t until he opened the package that he understood why it was locked away. Inside was a series of grainy photographs, all staring out at the blackness of the ocean’s abyss. A mechanical arm could be seen in the lower corner, which told him that the pictures were likely taken by a deep sea submersible. But it was what the pictures showed next that turned his stomach.

     The first picture showed a rather strange reptile, almost draconian in appearance, swimming in the distance. As he flipped through the photos, this creature turned toward the submersible and came closer, its gigantic maw widening in with each shot.

     Roderigo stopped halfway through. He didn’t know what he was looking at, but it definitely wasn’t something he’d seen before. If he had to guess, he would have said the creature was at least the size of a whale. What the hell is this? The creature seemed nothing like any beast he was familiar with. Whatever it was, he wouldn’t want to meet it on a pleasure cruise. He placed the pictures back in the envelope, and called out for the teller.

* * *

“I’m with you on this,” Carter said. “I’ve seen something similar, but I don’t know where. There is a possible explanation, but it’s a bit out of my field.”

     “And what’s that?” Roderigo asked. He was nervously tapping his finger on the desk, his eyes staring down at the pictures that Carter was shuffling around.

     “Well, around 80 million years ago there was a group of reptiles called mosasaurs,” Carter said. “They were distantly related to modern monitor lizards. But like all large reptiles of the time, they died out with the dinosaurs.”

     “I think we can safely assume this is not a mosasaur,” Roderigo said. “Logic’s not my strong suit these days, but I’d think it would have to surface regularly. There’s no way they’d be unknown to science.”

     “I agree. The same argument has been used to disprove the Loch Ness Monster and similar creatures; sightings of those beasts are too rare to be evidence of a breeding population. But the biggest is its size: if I’m not wrong on the scale, I’d say this creature is at least thirty meters long. There is not a single aquatic reptile that has ever approached that length.” He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “Again, this isn’t my field. Fiona could probably give more insight.”

     It was now clear why this was sent to Fiona; as a paleontologist, she’d be better suited than her father to identify the creature.

     “Should I show them to her?” Roderigo asked. “I mean, considering what’s happened….”

     “I would,” Carter replied, “but ease her into it if you can. She’s got enough stress right now.” Carter handed the pictures back to him.

     Roderigo stepped out of the door and turned toward the living room. Fiona was lounging in front of the TV, a cherry soda in one hand and the remote in the other. He took a seat next to her on the couch, and casually passed the photos to her.
She set her cola down on the table and said, “I take it this is what Twister sent me.”

     “We think it could be a mosasaur or something.”

     “You’re joking.” She took a long look at the first photo, before switching to the next. After shuffling through a few of them, she sat forward, her face now filled with a mixture of intrigue and anxiety. “I can see why. Its has the head and tail of one, but it’s got the body of an ichthyosaur. I’d say they’re fakes, but if they are they’re very convincing. I assume Dad said most of this already.”

     “Yeah. I have to wonder how Twister got his hands on it.”

     “I’m wondering the same thing,” Fiona said. “Pics like these would go viral in an instant. He must have gotten them from the source.” She flipped through the last few pages, frowning. “Way too big to be a mosasaur, definitely too big for an ichthyosaur or pliosaur. Was the sub manned?”

     “No clue. We have the pics, but nothing else.”

     “Let’s hope it wasn’t. That would be a nasty way to go.”

     Roderigo sat in silent agreement for a moment. “So do you have any idea of what it is?”

     “This isn’t anything I’ve seen before,” Fiona said. “It’s very similar to a few Cretaceous animals, but I doubt it’s one of them. This thing has to be at least the size of a blue whale, and it’s definitely a predator. There’s no way the ocean could support this animal, especially not these days.”

     “So you think it’s a fake.”

     Fiona shook her heard. “All I’m saying is that it shouldn’t exist. I can’t really explain it, and I think it’s a good idea to find out as much about it as possible.”

     “And report it to the government of course,” Roderigo said.

     “And tell them what? That a sea monster ate a submarine? They’d laugh you out of Washington. Not to mention that we don’t know when or where this happened. It could’ve been twenty years ago in the Indian Ocean, or two weeks ago off the coast of Scotland.” She placed her cheek in her hand, passing the photos back to him. “Twist will be here in a few days,” she said. “We’ll find out what we need to do then.”

     “I suppose you’re right.” Then again, Jacob Niles was in a position of responsibility; him taking time off to come back to Calusa Shores couldn’t be a good sign. Well, Roderigo thought, at least he can shed some light on the situation.

     Roderigo gazed out toward the apartment above the garage. Through the blinds of one window, he could see Steven’s silhouette posing with the Nightwalker. In the window next to it, he could see Yvonne practicing her aim. He was hesitant to tell them about the creature. Then again, he thought, they’ve seen quite a bit already, and they’ve been fine so far.

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