Masked – The Scarab (7)

This story begins with Masked – The Fortress (1).  To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.


A dung beetle. Scarabeus sacer. John had looked at pictures of different beetles on the Internet for what had felt like hours, but when he checked his computer’s corner readout, it really hadn’t taken him long at all to identify the transparent gift from Bloodwater. A classic scarab beetle, of the type that had been sacred to the ancient Egyptians treading civilized sands millennia before John had been born. It rested on his computer desk next to the laptop, unmoving except for an occasional twitch of its antennae.

Now what?

John didn’t understand how the beetle could connect him to a half-naked Amica. “Sacrifice and pain,” he murmured, leaning back in his rolling desk chair, tapping his pen against the desk. It occurred to him that Bloodwater must have known exactly how this process would unfold, but had sent John back to Earth with a vague hint and an even more vague prediction. Figure it out, eh? John felt toyed with. Sacrifice and pain.

Perhaps he should try to feed it. He hadn’t cleaned his mouse cage too recently, and he could see pellets of waste left behind by his three pet mice. The mice huddled together in one of the far corners of the cage, and as he reached in to set the beetle onto the uppermost wire platform, the smallest mouse squealed. Her name was Ruby. She had always been John’s favorite. The beetle scuttled down the plastic tubing that connected the upper platform to the lower one, paused, then used the second colorful tube to get down into the shavings. The mice crawled on top of each other in their fervor to get as far from the beetle as possible. John watched the glittering insect explore the bottom of the cage. It did not eat any of the fecal matter. It circled once around the mouse pile – more squealing from John’s little pets. It made its way back up the tubing and platform system until it reached the exact spot where he had set it down. It waited there.

Sacrifice and pain. Well, his pets’ waste wouldn’t have been a sacrifice that would have caused him much pain. Maybe he had missed the point. What could he give this beetle that would cause him pain to lose? Some part of himself?

A thought occurred to him. He didn’t like it, which probably meant he should go with it. He fished his box cutter out of his back pocket, pushed three notches’ worth of blade out from its end, and wiped the blade down with a facial tissue smeared with hand sanitizer. How to make this not likely to raise questions? Should he choose a spot where he could easily make an excuse about a sharp edge encountered in the course of work, or should he choose a more intimate location where the incision would be less likely to be noticed but if it were noticed would be more difficult to excuse? The darkness of the bedroom in Bloodwater’s vision seemed very forgiving. John chose a section of his rib cage, about halfway between his armpit and his waist. Sucking in air between his teeth, he sliced himself quickly with the box cutter. Deep enough to draw blood, but shallow enough that the bleeding would stop quickly. He put down the box cutter, picked up the beetle, carefully lay down on his bed on his side that was not bleeding, and placed the beetle on top of the wound.


Thank you for reading!  In the next installment, John discovers the true meaning of ‘sacrifice and pain.’

Previous Aum stories include Globe Without Goodbye.

If you are enjoying Masked, please support my writing on Patreon.

Masked – The Offer, continued (6)

This story begins with Masked – The Fortress (1).  To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.


John blinked, dazzled momentarily, but soon came back to himself. “What makes you think I want your power?”

“You want Amica Ferri. In her bed, with love in her eyes, you could escape. My power will give her to you, for a time.”

John flared his nostrils. “You can’t give me another person! Amica…” He trailed off for a moment, and when he continued, his voice shook. “People have free will. She has chosen to be with Sean. Who am I to change her mind for her? Who are you to coerce her?”

Bloodwater sighed. “The protests of a moral man. Laudable, but misguided. Amica wants to be with you as much as you want to be with her. I offer you a way to be together, for a little while, without losing face. She will feel no shame, and you will have a memory of perfect bliss to comfort you in your solitude.”

John sensed guile. “Comfort… or torment? Memories can spur longing and grief.”

Bloodwater leaned back on his cushions, but continued to hold out the beetle, perching preternaturally still, only its antennae moving. “That’s your recent loss taking over your tongue.”

“You leave Carlye out of this!” John snapped.

“I seem to have struck close to the mark,” Bloodwater observed, smiling again. His discolored teeth repulsed John. “Perhaps an image can persuade you where words fail.” He gestured to the cavern wall behind John.

John turned –

Amica stood at the foot of an unfamiliar bed. Bars of moonlight striped her nude chest as she discarded a bra onto the floor of the darkened bedroom. She planted her fists on her hips and as she tilted her head to one side, he saw her lips part for a toothy grin. Her ease, as he stared at the image of her on Bloodwater’s wall, struck his core. The fondness in her eyes allowed him to feel like he had seen her body a hundred times before.

Without looking away from the wall, John reached behind himself toward Bloodwater. “Give me the fucking beetle. How does the thing work?”

“Like everything else in your life, it will require sacrifice and pain,” Bloodwater replied. He stood up, crossed the cavern, and touched his fingers to John’s. The beetle crawled from one hand to the other. “You’ll figure it out.”

John didn’t take his gaze away from the image of half-naked Amica, but Aum fell away from his vision. He realized he was sitting in his darkened kitchen again, and the beetle waved its antennae at him from the table for two.


Thank you for reading!  In the next installment, John attempts to unravel Bloodwater’s cryptic instruction.

Previous Aum stories include Globe Without Goodbye .

If you are enjoying Masked, please support my writing on Patreon.

Masked – The Offer, continued (5)

This story begins with Masked – The Fortress (1).  To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.


“Why me? What did I do…” John trailed off as Bloodwater looked at him expectantly. “I just manage a game store, nobody makes me an offer that’s to my own benefit. Wait, what am I saying? How am I talking to you? This is not normal!”

“Calm down.” Bloodwater had seen enough of John’s life on Earth to know how best to explain Aum to him. “You believe in heaven, right? A realm of the spirit, outside of time?”

“Yes,” John said warily.

“Aum is like heaven. It is a realm of the spirit. It follows laws of the spirit, not physical laws, though some similar principles apply. Beings with strong spiritual power can find themselves here in times of extreme crisis, such as being near death. They discover they have powers here, usually through accident and instinct. Most spiritual powers function automatically, and cannot be affected consciously any more than the spleen or gall bladder in a physical body. A few can be either automatic or conscious, like a physical body’s breath. Very few are controlled entirely consciously. I brought you here consciously.”

John considered this. “How do I know I didn’t just fall asleep at the kitchen table? I was pretty exhausted. Maybe I’m dreaming all of this. I’ve had some pretty vivid dreams in my time.”

“You can believe that for now, if you wish. After you accept my offer, you will return to your world with this.” Bloodwater casually waved the glittering beetle, which in turn waved its antennae. “It will be hard to deny Aum as a reality when confronted with physical evidence in your own hand.”

“You keep talking about the future with such certainty. How do you know what I will and won’t do?”

“Like heaven, Aum is outside of time. I know what you will do because, from this privileged position, I have seen it.”

“You can see the future?”

“From here, it’s not the future. All moments in the physical world exist side by side like panes of colored glass in a cathedral window. Through them shines the light of the spirit.”

“You’ve seen the end of the universe? Like, when it expands too much? The heat death and shit?” John wanted to talk physics but suddenly felt the limits of his knowledge.

Bloodwater’s smile held rue. “Even here, I have limits. The Ianu, I believe, have seen it all. For me, the window has edges, and they frame the story of Life on our shared planet, Earth. I know how Life began on Earth, and I know how it ends.”

“Tell me!”

Bloodwater gazed at John impassively. Light from one of the stalactites caught an insect the size of a pinhead that slowly crawled over his shoulder onto his chest. He did not brush it away. “It ends as it begins: with heat.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“It means that I know you well enough to know that the specifics of the end of Life on Earth do not interest you anywhere near as much as the question of how to navigate your own life. You feel lost, and alone, even when you are with the people you care about and who care about you. That is what you care about: how to find peace in your own short time.”

John swallowed, and thought about the hours he had spent in therapy pouring out frustration. “And you claim to have the answer? How can I trust you?”

“You can trust me because I admit to you that I don’t have that answer. I offer you something else: power.” Bloodwater leaned forward and thrust his open hand with the beetle on its palm toward John. His eyes, the beetle, and the cavern all glittered the same.


Thank you for reading!  In the next installment, John receives an offer he will not refuse.

Previous Aum stories include Globe Without Goodbye.

If you are enjoying Masked, please support my writing on Patreon.

Masked – The Offer, continued (4)

This story begins with Masked – The Fortress (1).  To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.


John found himself standing in a cavern three times bigger than the apartment he shared with his roommates. The stalactites that had somehow formed around sources of pale blue light glittered, and dazzled his eyes. If John had been more fantastically inclined, he might have believed the cavern had been formed out of diamond. But diamonds didn’t work that way… right?

An elderly man dressed like a medieval monk reclined on pale cushions arranged on a ledge before John’s disbelieving eyes. The man’s face held condescension, and his hand held a large beetle that glittered like the stalactites. When he spoke, his lips did not move. John placed the accent reverberating in his mind as German. “When you get over the initial shock, you will have many questions. Allow me to assure you that there is no rush. Time will not pass for your body on Earth while your mind is here in Aum. Ask whatever you need to ask.”

John felt something scuttle against his foot. Looking down, more insects made from the same material as the cavern crisscrossed the floor. One centipede looked eight inches long. John did not especially fear insects, but their motion here distracted him. “How are you speaking in my mind?”

“The magic of Aum takes many shapes. One of them is telepathy. The longer you would stay here, the easier you would find it to speak mind-to-mind, without language impeding you.”

“You said… your name is Bloodwater?”

“Indeed.” Bloodwater smiled with yellow teeth.

“Are you evil? Nobody normal has a creepy name like that.”

Bloodwater cocked his head, taking the question seriously. “I chose that name because many, many breaths ago, I tried to cut my hand on something sharp here in Aum. I just felt curious about what might happen. I felt pressure, but no pain, and when I split my skin, what came out was clear and thin like water, not red or viscous. The sight took my breath away.”

John examined what he could see of Bloodwater’s hands for a significant scar, and saw only the marks of age.

Bloodwater finished the story. “When I wanted the wound to close, it closed, and the clear liquid that had came out simply disappeared. Like much of the magic of Aum, all it required was an act of will.”

“What is happening? One minute I was sitting in the kitchen, and now… What is going on?”

“I am making you an offer.”


Thank you for reading!  Coming up next week:  John continues to learn about Aum and the scryer.

Previous Aum stories include Globe Without Goodbye.

If you are enjoying Masked, please support my writing on Patreon.

Masked – The Offer (3)

This story begins with Masked – The Fortress (1).  To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.


By the time John got home to the apartment, his roommates had already retired to bed or night-owl video stream bingeing. He turned on the light in the kitchenette, ran cold water over a small dish towel and pressed it to his aching head. The sharp pain in his left temple seemed unlikely to abate. He made a sandwich from cold cuts and opened a can of soda. He sat at the table and thumbed through the mail Rich or Ed had brought in. Tiredness prevented him from throwing out the auto sales adverts or the previous tenant’s bills. He turned out the light and ate in darkness, his weak hand pressing the cloth to his forehead.

Considering how long they had been together, John would have thought he deserved more out of the breakup from Carlye than a voicemail left while he stalled at work with a flashlight. She thought she could do better with someone who lived in the area. A team member had caught her eye at some point in the long hours and now her time with John was done. Sewn up. Done deal. He had hoped so highly for their future. Tears tugged from behind his eyes as he sat in the kitchen chair, and he let them out slowly. He had cried too many times in his life to pretend male invulnerability, but neither did he need to make a sound and raise questions from Ed or Rich. More likely Ed.

Three bites from finishing, as he considered fumbling in the dark for a chip bag, he heard a male voice. It rumbled, and he could not locate a direction for it. “You are not going mad, John. You will trust me when I tell you I am contacting you from another plane of existence.”

Fight, flight or freeze? John felt his body lock up and his breathing became shallow. Where had that voice come from? Who had spoken to him, and how?

“I can hear your thoughts, John. There is no need for you to speak aloud. I am contacting you from Aum, a place of the spirit outside of your existence. I am speaking to you in your mind. My name is Bloodwater, and I am going to bring you to me now. I have a proposition for you that I know you will accept.”

Before John could think through the blind panic to coherent refusal, Bloodwater snared John’s consciousness through the barrier of manifestation and brought his mind to the world between worlds. John’s body wouldn’t even have time to slump over before his mind would return with a diamond companion.


Thank you for reading!  Coming up next week:  A little knowledge about Aum is a dangerous thing.

Previous Aum stories include Globe Without Goodbye .

If you are enjoying Masked, please support my writing on Patreon.