By James LaFleur & Gordon Massie

LaFleur
Massie

All Books by 
LaFleur & Massie: 

 

THE CHAOS PENDULUM—CHAPTER ONE: RIDING OUT THE STORM

“Lionel, you amaze me,” Caesar said as he stared at the crew of misfits moving around the dilapidated inter-island freighter.

“Just calling in a favor,” Galton said.

“I don’t know if I’d call this one a favor, jefe,” Fiero said. “I grew up on boats, and this ain’t no boat. More like an ancient piece of junk.”

“This here’s a fine old crab ship,” Galton said.

Si, jefe, an old crap ship, that’s what I’m saying.”

“Mind your mouth, Fiero. I don’t pay you for your opinion. I know the Lucky Lady looks a bit ragged, but she’ll do just fine.”

“Ragged is an understatement,” Caesar said. “Ruined is more like it.”

“I second that,” Fiero added. “She ain’t lucky and she ain’t no lady. If she’s as rusted inside as she is outside, our adventure is a short one.”

“That’s enough outta the both of you!” Galton snapped. “Captain Labeau is an old friend who I’d trust with my life. If he says she’s rock solid, then she’s rock solid.”

“Rocks don’t float, jefe,” Fiero said.

Caesar stared at the eyesore before them. He had his doubts, but he trusted Galton. “If you take Labeau at his word that this relic won’t sink, that’s good enough for me,” he said.

Galton nodded and turned to Fiero, who shrugged. The argument was settled. Galton’s good humor returned. “You two lizards are probably just scared of the Bermuda Triangle, ain’t ya?”

Caesar and Fiero looked at each other. After what they’d been through, the Bermuda Triangle would be like Candy Land.

“Never mind,” Galton said as he waved his partners away. ”You two ain’t no fun.”

“My crew isn’t any fun either, old man.”

The three turned to see a scraggly graybeard walking toward them with the rolling gait of an old salt.

“Except maybe the ones think our run of successful catches is because of some deepwater Bermuda mojo. But I know the truth. It’s a testament to my skill.” He tugged at the bill of his dirty blue sailor’s cap and flashed a yellow smile.

“If you had any skill, you wouldn’t be piloting this scrapheap!” Galton shot back. “You should take it out to sea and shoot it. It’s so ugly, it makes these Florida docks look like a trailer park.” The two men laughed out loud and hugged each other.

“Good to see you, mate,” Captain Labeau said.

“Same here, you salty dog.”

“So, your girls here don’t believe in Bermuda fairy tales?” Labeau asked as he sized up Caesar and Fiero.

“Nah,” Galton replied. “But they are a couple of fairies.” The two men laughed again, and even Caesar and Fiero had to smile at their well-practiced banter.

“Never mind those old farts, Caesar,” Fiero said. “They’re just jealous because we’re so pretty.”

Caesar faked a smile, but it was hard for him to show much emotion. It was part of the price of becoming an immortal, he supposed, at least until he’d completed his journey and his task. With every passing day, he sank deeper within himself.

“Truth be told, it’s not luck or skill that’s led to my good fortune,” Labeau was saying. “It’s the fear of sea monsters and aliens.”

“How’s that?” Galton asked.

“The Bermuda Triangle is just the result of methane gas underneath the ocean bed. Even the scientists have finally figured that much out. But whether it’s superstition or science, tales of the Triangle mean less competition and more shrimp and crab for me. But enough small talk, all hands on deck!”

Captain Labeau touched his cap again and scurried up the ramp to his boat. Caesar, Lionel, and Fiero followed.

Caesar faltered and held tight to the rope banister, trying to maintain consciousness.

Jefe!” Fiero yelled. “He’s slipping again.”

“Hang on, buddy,” Fiero whispered, but Caesar could no longer hear him.

“Carry him aboard,” Galton ordered. “It’ll take five minutes before he returns from Disney World.”

Galton’s attempt at humor masked his very real concern. He was plagued by the fear that one day Caesar would fail to return from one of his blackouts. Come back to me, son, he thought as Fiero hauled Caesar up the plank.

“Please, not again,” Fiero whispered. “Every time he slips, we end up in the middle of some catastrophe.”

Galton nodded. “This dang Scroll is gonna kill us all if we don’t find it soon. I don’t know how many more fires, floods, and earthquakes we can take.”

Caesar had told Galton that the world would split at its seams if they didn’t find the Scroll. Searching for it had taken them around the world, following Caesar’s hunches and premonitions. They had braved the winds of Mount Washington in New Hampshire and trudged through the desert sands of Egypt but had yet to find the Scroll. Caesar said it wasn’t until he emerged from the top of Mount Kilauea that he finally understood why the old man—the previous Keeper—had left him to find his own way. I had to see the answer through my own eyes—the Scroll lies within the ocean,Caesar proclaimed the day he had emerged from the Hawaiian crater.

Son, I hope you’re right this time, Galton thought. Or it’s game over. 

* * *

Caesar held his breath as he slipped into the void. The blackouts were becoming more frequent, an unwelcome byproduct of his new power. The power was tearing his mind apart and draining his essence. He knew it would kill him if he didn’t find the Scroll soon. As he slipped into oblivion, he prayed the old man would save him from the darkness this time, but his ghostly mentor had rarely visited since Moncada’s death. Most of his blackouts left him alone, staring at the Pendulum. Caesar knew he had to bring the chaos and disorder that had been bottled up for millennia back under control.

“Follow your heart,” were the last words the old man had said to him. Now Caesar’s heart was leading him to the middle of the ocean. I can’t slip, not now, not when we’re so close. He repeated the words inside his head, trying to find his way back to consciousness. He breathed deeply and found tranquility within himself. He reached for the surface to break the chains that held him in limbo. Light returned and he awoke in Fiero’s arms.

He said nothing as the huge man carried him up to the deck of the boat and gently set him down on a side seat along the railing.

“Under three minutes,” Galton said. “You’re getting quicker.”

Labeau was nowhere in sight, but the rest of the crew stared and whispered.

“What’s wrong?” Galton asked the gawking men. “Never seen a man have a seizure before?” The onlookers turned away.

“It’s close, I can feel it,” Caesar said, as he leaned back against the deck railing.

“I’ve heard that before,” Galton said. “I can’t take another wrong guess.”

Caesar said nothing.

“Be back in a minute,” Galton said. “I wanna get this show on the road.” He got up and walked to the bridge.

Caesar sighed and closed his eyes against the bits of sunlight streaming through the clouds.

“You weak from the blackout?” Fiero asked.

“I’m okay,” Caesar replied. “It’s not as bad this time. At least I’m not throwing up.”

“Thank God for that. Last time, you blew chunks on my boots.”

Caesar managed a slight smile. The two men had become close over the past several months, more so than Caesar would have thought possible. Once Caesar had been wary of the man. Now he considered Fiero his best friend.

Galton returned from the bridge. “Captain says ten more minutes and we’ll be on our way. Bermuda Triangle, here we come.” He jumped up, kicked his heals together, and danced a jig.

“Hey, Fred Astaire, how did you convince Labeau to sail us to an imaginary island in the middle of the Triangle?” Fiero asked.

“What island? I told him Caesar was a marine biologist studying the mating patterns of crab and shrimp. He thinks Dr. Guevara here is working on something that will increase the sea life population. Labeau knows a good thing when he hears it. So, Caesar, how long will it take us to reach our destination?”

Caesar shrugged. “I won’t know until we arrive.”

“Can that gut feeling of yours let me know if we should be expecting any stormy weather?” Galton asked.

Caesar got to his feet and walked toward the bow.

“You know, I’m kinda tired of dealing with disasters every time you take a nap.”

At the word “disasters” a couple of deckhands looked up from their work and glanced nervously at each other.

Galton got up to follow Caesar, who was still ignoring him. “All I’m sayin’ is that it’s hurricane season. One more this year, they’ll have to call it Hurricane Zeke.”

The deckhands stared at Galton, then looked around, scanning the horizon as if they were looking for storms or sea monsters. Caesar spun around and advanced on Galton until they were nose to nose. “You better lower your voice, Lionel, you’re spooking the crew,” he whispered through clenched teeth. “All you need to know is if I don’t succeed, we all die. Everything dies. Everything on the planet. Right now, the Pendulum swings in our favor, so calm down and everything will go as planned.” Caesar turned and walked away, knowing it was all a lie.

“Pendulum, schmendulum,” Galton muttered under his breath, as he walked away in the opposite direction.

Caesar was absorbed in his own thoughts. Although Galton may have doubted it, Caesar knew the Chaos Pendulum was real. But how could he explain something that existed between this world and the next, something he saw every time he left his body? Caesar feared every blackout, because he knew his presence in the afterlife was affecting the Pendulum’s swing, like the moon pulling the tide. He stared out at the emptiness of the endless sea.

Galton wandered back to the bridge, wondering why they should be safe this time. Every time Caesar went comatose, their hides were in trouble. He was tired of hearing about the Pendulum. If he ever did see the dang thing, he’d strap some C4 to it and blow it straight to hell.

Galton had been fuming and fussing for the better part of three months, but it was the only way he could relieve the stress of their endless and so far fruitless search. He had no reason to doubt Caesar, especially after all they’d seen together, but enough was enough.

“So, what’s our destination?” Captain Labeau asked as Galton walked into the bridge.

“Just start sailing,” Galton replied. “My boy will let ya know.”

“You’re paying, so I’ll sail in circles if that’s what you want. I can skip two fishing trips and buy my wife a new set of teeth with the money you’re paying,” Labeau said.

“Looks like you could use a set yourself,” Galton replied.

Caesar glanced into the bridge and pointed southeast. Labeau stared at him, and then looked at Galton. “Your boy a mind reader or what?”

“Nah, he just has real good hearing.” If you only knew, Galton thought.

“Might get a little tricky in that direction,” Labeau said. “Storm clouds are rolling in from the south.”

“Just do what he says.”

The skipper took the ship out and headed southeast, toward the darkening sky. The land soon disappeared and the sky grew blacker.

“Maybe we should go a bit north and try to pass it,” the captain suggested after an hour.

Out on the deck Caesar shook his head. They continued on their course.

Galton left the bridge to stand with Caesar. “Listen, I’m sorry for earlier, I, uh.…”

“I know.”

Galton wrapped an arm around Caesar. “You sure we headed in the right direction?” Thunder rolled in the distance.

Caesar nodded. “I’ve swum in the fires of a volcano and lived to tell about it. My head is clearer now than it’s been for months.”

“I’m not doubting you, son. If you say you know what you’re doing, then I believe you know what you’re doing. But Labeau and the crew are getting jumpy. Fiero don’t look entirely persuaded, either. And that thing you keep doing to the captain with your eyes is kind of freaking me out.”

“Trust me Lionel, we’re close.”

Before Galton could respond, rain slammed the deck of the Lucky Lady like a ton of buckshot, and lightning streaked the sky. Galton had done his share of sailing, but he’d never seen a storm hit so suddenly. He scampered toward the bridge.

“That’s it, we’re turning back!” the captain yelled over the storm. “I won’t risk my boat and my crew for any amount of money!”

Caesar, standing on the deck and already soaked through, turned toward the bridge and stared at the captain through the rain-lashed window of the pilothouse. He locked eyes with Labeau, who blinked once, turned, walked to the cabin door, and locked himself inside. He continued to sail into the teeth of the storm.

“What in tarnation are you doing?” Galton yelled at the skipper from the deck, but Labeau’s glazed eyes registered nothing. He was in another world.

“He’s hypnotized!” Fiero screamed. The deckhands beat on the windows to rouse their captain, while Fiero aimed kicks at the door. The wind picked up, shrieking like a wounded beast from a madman’s nightmare, and the rain drove against the deck in fresh torrents, forcing the crew to retreat to the engine room below. Galton grabbed the railing to keep from being thrown overboard, while Fiero beat his hands bloody against the door until the glass finally gave way.

Jefe,” he screamed at Galton as he reached in and unlocked the door. But Galton’s eyes were fixed on Caesar. Fiero ran to his boss and pulled him into the bridge as Galton screamed out Caesar’s name. Fiero went back for Caesar and ran into an invisible force field. He bounced away from it and fell to the deck.

“Caesar!” Fiero screamed. “You can’t hang on out here.”

The force field expanded, pushing the big man back until he was compelled to retreat into the bridge. The spell that held the captain had been broken, but it was too late to turn the boat around. The wind slammed into the starboard side, nearly capsizing the vessel.

Caesar turned to face the men huddled inside the bridge. “Trust me,” Caesar whispered. Galton read his lips even as the words sounded in his mind. An overwhelming sense of calm flooded through him. Outside, a spinning pocket of water lay directly ahead of the ship.

“Whirlpool!” yelled the captain.

Caesar began spinning his arms and body wildly round and round, and the watery vortex grew wider and deeper.

“He’s controlling the storm!” Fiero shouted. The boat heeled, and a wave of water fell on them, swallowing the vessel. Caesar disappeared under the crashing wave.

The boat came upright, and they saw Caesar standing on the deck as if he were welded to it. He raised his arm, and the whirlpool spun faster. It seemed as if the entire sea were spinning, and the men watched in horror as the boat was sucked down into the center of the vortex like a barrel going over a waterfall.

The Lucky Lady spun round and round, nearly sideways now, in a dizzying dance. Time seemed to slow. The boat righted itself at the bottom of the whirlpool and seemed to hover for an instant. Then the spinning wall of water crashed down and swallowed her. Galton, Fiero, and Labeau closed their eyes as the water fell. Then there was silence.

Birds chirped in the distance. “Are we dead?” Fiero asked.

Labeau grunted.

Galton opened his eyes and saw that the ship was lying calmly in a small lagoon of a sandy island. “We’re dead all right,” he said. Dozens of men and women dressed in tan robes were staring at the boat from a white-sand beach dotted with palm trees. The three men walked out onto the deck and looked up.

“You seeing what I’m seeing?” Galton asked Fiero as they stared skyward. What looked like a protective bubble of water lay several hundred feet above the ship.

“Sharks and sea turtles?” Fiero asked, as Labeau looked around the lagoon in open-mouthed amazement.

“We’re definitely dead,” the skipper muttered.