That day the pieces began falling into place. Right after his shift, Fronk was still way too worked up to fully get what exactly had just happened. He flung himself down on the bed to get a few hour’s worth of restless sleep. Later he sipped energy drink in the kitchen and looked through the window at the snow-covered yard. The nation was preparing enthusiastically for the holidays. The authorities though had expressed a great deal of concern about people visiting their families for Christmas and a possible new wave of the virus.
Fronk wasn’t going anywhere. As caffeine slowly bound to his brain’s adenosine receptors and his alertness was restored, he started going over the last night’s events in his mind. Mystic View. The street might indeed have a secret or two. He was determined to return to the scene of the crime. Fronk grinned by himself. His gut was telling him that this Christmas there would likely be fresh salmon and honey baked ham on the menu.
Late in the afternoon, C. J. visited a small barbershop by Beach Boulevard. He lusted for a new look for the evening. He marched across the room and sat in the barber chair, wearing a long black duster coat and combat boots. The owner of the place was an older black woman whom he had always been digging. The woman’s presence radiated some kind of maternal tenderness. C. J. told that he wanted to get cornrows and a reddish ducktail beard. The woman got to work.
After the haircut, C. J. headed for Malibu. It was only a few blocks away and he had anyway already decided to go and check out the club before his shift. The sun was going down and the purple neon lights of Malibu had just been turned on. In the daytime, the two-storey concrete building looked about as vanilla as any other place of business. C. J. entered the club and found it to be nearly empty. He walked to the bar and ordered a Cuba libre.
The sound system boomed out awful ’80s hits as the bright beams of LED lamps swept across the hall. C. J. emptied his drink in a few gulps, then remained lounging absent-mindedly at his table. He had gotten a half-baked idea in his head that this time he had been caught red-handed and thus the roles had been swapped. The hunter had become the hunted. And he wanted to be tracked down. Of course, he might have been very well mistaken but at the moment he could only wait and see.
A man stepped into the club. C. J. glanced across the hall and suddenly broke out in the sweats. A broad-shouldered visitor stood motionless in the lobby. He was wearing a dark brown leather jacket, wide-brimmed bucket hat, and large rectangular sunglasses. A heavy gold chain hung around his neck. There was little doubt about this guy’s identity. Even though C. J. couldn’t see the visitor’s eyes, he was pretty convinced that the guy was looking directly at him. Then the man flashed him a smile and quickly left the club.
There was the sign that C. J. had been yearning for! He jumped up and rushed towards the door. Out on Beach Boulevard, the cars were honking and drunken pedestrians shouted obscenities as usually but Rat King had already vanished from the scene. C. J. shook his head, contented. His instincts had proved to be working as fine as ever. Mystic View… He had found the street.
At the winter solstice, the Inti Raymi or the Feast of the Sun, was celebrated in the ancient Inca Empire. During the nine-day festival, people danced in colorful costumes and offered sacrifices to the Sun God and Earth Mother in order to ensure a succesful harvest season. In the past few years, C. J. had been watching tons of documentaries about religions of the indigenous people and had become quite obsessed with them ever since. He would pick convenient bits and pieces from old traditions and then reused them his way as he was building his very own Valley hideaway.
A crowd had gathered in the temple area. C. J. had ordered the whole town to attend the festivities. He had randomly chosen a bunch of residents, given them red tunics and blue shawls to wear, and placed them standing in the front rows. A couple of villagers were smacking bongo drums lazily on the road. C. J. continued on his way to the Mausoleum and left the residents attired in red and blue staring after him, rather confused. He knelt on the doorstep and then lifted his gaze to meet Village Elder who was resting fast on his chair.
“Hail to the Elder One!” He saluted. “Time has come. Soon the blood of innocent is spilled so that the filthy blood can be spilled too. The crop’s almost ripe for harvest.”
Village Elder’s nonseeing eyes looked somewhere in the direction of the doorway. C. J. stood up.
“Imma go back to the party now. If there’s no sign of me by the end of the week, tell them shylocks that they have right to take my better arm,” he chortled and left the Mausoleum.
He jogged to the other side of the temple. The performers in bright costumes twisted their bodies frantically to the rhythm of the bongo drums as the crowd was watching. C. J. came to the red-walled Wing of the Princesses. He climbed up the stairs to the second floor where he found a lone Princess waiting in her room. He took the Princess with him and led her back to the Temple of the Sun. The Princess lay down on a smooth stone platform in the middle of the room and C. J. tied her wrists and ankles tightly together. She had been chosen for the part already a good while ago when she was just another child leading a simple life in the village. To give your life for the common good was a great honor, at least according to C. J. Now all was set for the sacrifice.
He lit a torch and raised it towards the trapezoidal, southeast-facing window. The distant thumps of the bongos echoed from the yard.
“Your son’s come today to make a humble plea. Please let our rare village thrive for generations to come!” He shouted through the open window and swung the torch wildly.
The straw on the platform was set ablaze. C. J. lifted his fist triumphantly in the air as the flames began licking the Princess’ bare feet and dark, braided hair. He was so absorbed in following the ritual that he didn’t notice the brisk footsteps coming from outside. Moments later, a distinct cough made him flinch violently and drop the torch on the ground.
“Um, am I interrupting something?” A painfully familiar voice came from the temple’s door.
C. J. slowly turned around and felt his face go red as a tomato as he saw Native standing six feet away from him. He found himself struggling to get a word out of his mouth and just mumbled away plain gibberish.
“Didn’t see ya at the change of shift so I had to come looking,” Native told with an infuriating smile on her face.
“Whatcha doin’ anyway?” She asked and looked over C. J.’s shoulder at the sacrificial victim who was squirming in the fire.
C. J. took a moment to get his act together and then showed Native out of the temple.
“Wha… how the hell did you even find here?” He snapped.
“Are you kidding? It’s an open world,” she said. “Just had to search by your name. A bit of trial and error until I found the right one. Low Arkansas…”
She grinned again which made C. J. grind his teeth. Native looked around in the open yard and soon started to jam out with the traditionally attired performers.
“Neat party you’ve got here. What are we celebrating?” She asked.
“Business,” C. J. replied. “Something that even you might get,” he muttered quietly to himself.
Then he signalled Native to follow him to the other side of the temple.
“C’mon, this way. Let’s have a bottle of bub,” he called out.
It was already deep into the night when C. J. barrelled along the highway towards Laguna Beach. He and Native had left Low Arkansas together just a moment ago. Time had really flown down there. And now he was late. C. J. came to Mystic View and pulled over in the end of the road. He hadn’t had time to fully rehearse the latest turn of events for Native but had only vaguely implied that Rat King had found him and was waiting assumedly somewhere on Mystic View.
He ran in his black duster coat past the car marked with the letter Q. The windows of the opposite charcoal-colored bungalow were all pitch-dark. C. J. sprinted around the house and peeked through the windows. There were no signs of any shady activities taking place in the residence, the owners must have been fast asleep. His instincts told him to carry on and he hopped over the fence, landing on the neighbor’s lawn.
The outdoor lamps went on. C. J. thought that he had noticed something odd a bit further away in the backyard. He walked closer with his gaze fixated on what seemed to be a steel coffin laying on the ground. There was a small window on the front but the reflection of the lamp prevented him from seeing what was held inside. C. J. crouched over the coffin and suddenly he felt a chill going down his spine. A pair of dull eyes, open mouth frozen in a grotesque smirk; his very own body lay naked behind the glass.
Then a sharp crack rang out inside his head and the screen started slowly fading to black.