Witch Hunters Dream in Binary Code
The Wild Goose Chase Begins
A cold wind shrieks—she's a phantom trying to possess brick and mortar. I know that piercing wind, how her eyes scrutinize the walls, and how she stalks around my home waiting to snatch her prey. Her giant dark eyes focused on my house, waiting for it to crack. I know she wants to slip through the plaster and swallow me into her gray, decayed mouth. She rattles the trees and hurtles trash down the road. I can hear the tuna cans and beer bottles banging along the pavement. My whole house shakes under her spell.
What does this wind want from me? Where does she come from? Why does she keep stirring?
* * *
The year is 2130. Harrison Gates opens another late 19th-century book. He searches for links to a case he has followed for months. Harrison earned his PhD in British literature and linguistics two years ago. Then the CIA hired him to investigate theoretical gene sequences. Harrison often works late into the night searching for holes in genealogical records. To make matters more complicated, he doesn’t always know who is the ancestor in question. . . or why the CIA tracks particular progeny.
Most nights, Harrison reads through old text messages, yellowed newspapers, coffee-stained letters, and journals with missing pages. He works hard to detect possible hidden affairs and other convoluted schemes. Almost every family tree has a few hidden descendants. (Some apples do travel a long distance from their parent tree. Some apple trees are on cliffs, and the apples tumble down multiple stories.)
Royal bloodlines are the easiest to trace in records. Family trees that only have commoners are difficult to sort, and it's really hard to know what the CIA wants with those. Why spend a plethora of resources to track down regular Joes? Harrison deduces the intelligence community gives him red herrings—maybe it gives him family trees to work on that have no real meaning to obscure from the real task at hand. He has worked on the current family tree puzzle for five months, and it still has critical missing pieces. The other charts took him two weeks to discern.
The lights flicker and buzz. Harrison moves his glasses off the end of his nose to his eyes. He looks to the window. Snow falls abundantly. No souls in sight. The wind howls to her cousins to join her. This particular wind belongs more to the sea than the land.
The agent lives in a historic house in Carter, Massachusetts. Electricians have to maintain 21st-century power lines to keep the street lit. If the power fails during a snowstorm, it could be weeks before the utility company comes to fix the archaic technology.
Harrison stretches back. He takes a moment to rest his eyes. He never dreamed studying Jane Austen, the Brontë Sisters, Charles Dickens, Bram Stoker, and Lewis Carroll would land him a job with the American government, much less the CIA. He imagined he’d work at Oxford, teaching the world’s brightest about the structure of language during the Victorian Era and the literary devices writers used to convey meaning.
Sadly, the pedigree necessary to find people lost in time through linguistic reasoning almost makes Gates loathe literature—he finds himself in polite fits over the different possibilities in war letters or the maddening chicken scratch of late 19th-century doctors. How easy for someone to go down in history as Ava rather than Ada because the only document available was a birth certificate written off speedily by some quack doctor with huge imaginings to remedy common ills with goat organs. Yes! The goat-gland doctor John Romulus Brinkley and his pioneering xenotransplantation of goat testicles into humans was a distinct horror clinic in 1918. . . there wasn’t much to do in Kansas at the time.
(It's also very easy to get off track and go into tangent wormholes when reading constantly about people who lived many moons ago.)
The learned PhD finds the past hysterical. He finds it utterly ridiculous and incomprehensible to imagine the world’s population size before 2070—the year when a mosquito-borne illness killed off 7/8ths of the population. How did humans suffer each other when there were more than 19 billion all squashed together like sardines, all clamoring for food and a place to sleep? The world has strict population rules now. Certain rules have been put in place to prevent plague spread.
From his sprawling library, Harrison pulls out a file: Letters and Newspaper Clippings from the Years 1885-1895. Photography had just come into fruition; people gathered around pianos to play music and sing happy ditties; the theater entertained the wealthy in their top hats and expensive fur coats; bicycling brought distant sweethearts ever closer; people secretively sent roses to convey their deep affections; lawn tennis and volleyball raged in rich estates along with dainty scones and crumpets. Such social people. Such funny, social, and preposterous people.
The social revolution of the 19th-century was profound; before then, most people only had Sundays for leisure time. Not working on Saturday afternoon allowed people to gather, petition, worship God, or deny God. All the fun sordid things which really help fashion a solid revolution.
While flipping through letters, Harrison spots something felicitous: reddish letters in sharp cursive handwriting. It fits the family tree puzzle perfectly. So with this greatly sought-after knowledge, he rewards himself with a hot cup of chamomile and an early bedtime.
Harrison zips through his bathroom rituals but with the utmost care to apply anti-aging ointment to his teeth. Before jumping into bed, he flicks open a large silver locket with a ticking device: it plays persistent noise. The locket helps him fall asleep: it plays slow ocean wave noises on one setting and incessant buzz on another. . . he’ll stay alert for a three-day stretch if he listens to the high-pitched binaural beats. His locket splits into two compartments. The sound machine hides in a compartment behind a picture of his half-sister, Estelle Gates.
“I’ve almost found you; a little more patience and this perpetual snowstorm will end,” Harrison says to the locket. He slips under his red checkered quilt and drifts into a dreamland of decadent ice cream parlors and Monet pastels.
* * *
12 hours later, Harrison drives to a remote location in Massachusetts to find a cloud designer by the name of Octavia Branfield. Cloud designers create electronic illusions to set up meet points for CIA information exchanges. Octavia is a computer genius: she finds agents and squeezes them into something like a genie’s bottle. It’s difficult to find cloud designers, but Harrison has a hunch she hides in a certain place to inspire her idiosyncratic illusions.
Octavia leans into a tree overlooking a railroad. She has neon purple hair and word tattoos everywhere. She notices a few yards away a short man with red hair. He wears suspenders, a plaid shirt, black pants, a fancy white coat, and red boots. Harrison waves to her. He approaches. She remembers him.
“You’re breaking protocol by tracking me, Mr. Gates,” Octavia says with bright pink gum hanging out her mouth.
Harrison taps the locket in his pants pocket.
“I apologize. I noted the unusual train noises and long corridors with wheels in your last simulation. I presumed you fancy a particular style. This conveniently is the closest train graveyard to my house,” he says.
“Some arrogance befits the occasion, quoths the raven,” says Octavia with a shrug. . . then she rolls her eyes. “You protest too much. You clearly intended to bump into me,” she says with her hands on her hips and her elbows pointed out.
Harrison smiles. It's a devilish smile. One you'd use before breaking all your grandmother's plates.
“Listen, I have some important findings on Family Tree 40093218. I really could use your help. You’re the only cloud designer I know who connects agents to the dragon den illusion,” he says.
Harrison watches Octavia as she slips her ID card into her front jacket pocket. She scowls at him.
“You want to see the heads of the CIA? They don’t like unexpected visitors. Plus, what you're asking me to do takes advantage of my privileges to connect to their secret den, you know, all willy-nilly."
Harrison considers this. He stares off into the distance. Steady snow covers the train graveyard. The exterior paint jobs now but glimpses of color. Old subways from New York City end up here, retired together like a nursing home center. Harrison wonders if the old subways chitchat when no one watches them. Maybe they discuss what the strange humans once did when they stormed into their long, metallic caterpillar bodies.
Octavia grips Harrison’s hand.
“I’m sorry, does this place overwhelm you? Most people don’t visit human cemeteries anymore; the similarity of this setting could inspire some rather pesky existential quandary,” she says.
“No. Just collecting my thoughts. Sometimes I wonder if everything is an illusion. It’s easy to question settings when your job requires visits to fake locations fueled by hyper computer simulations."
Harrison unfolds the paper with the family tree to show Octavia. “We know the CIA tracks down the most violent people in the world, and I’ve just discovered a doozy”—he traces a line from the top of the family tree to a feminine name at the bottom—“If this person isn’t stopped soon the ramifications could be irreversible—and to thousands of lives... thousands if we’re lucky, because it could be tens of thousands,” he says while pointing at the paper.
Octavia scans the paper. The chart reminds her of lengthy computer codes. “I knew they were concerned about this particular family tree. I didn’t know someone so violent could exist in this age,” she says.
“Yes, and I’m certain the descendant is on the move. Please, you must trust me, Octavia. I must see Mr. Casper and Mr. Rainey."
“I’m not a mercenary working for a bribe."
“Octavia, this person likely knows about our project. She’ll soon come for anyone connected to the intelligence agency. Your daughters are unsafe. We can’t waste time,” Harrison holds her arm. “Do you understand the danger here? This woman is liable to slowly and meticulously skin alive her victims, slit agents’ throats, and harvest your daughters' organs, tying the remains up on flag poles to declare her territory."
Unfamiliar with violence, since the world is on tight surveillance and the global government nips any violence in the bud, Octavia pukes. Only very select people are trained by the CIA to process violence. And people aren't supposed to misbehave nor have the means to misbehave, so how could this descendant be so powerful?
The cloud designer places her left hand over Harrison’s eyes. A metallic object emerges from her palm shielding his eyes from the portal’s bright light. With her right hand, she draws a circle around him—green stones on her knuckles glow. Everything blurs. White steam gathers. They torpedo through a glass tunnel surrounded by water. A large gold ring circles them, inching closer and closer until it swallows them into a pinhole.
Harrison and Octavia appear in an elevator. It dings as it goes up each floor. The top floor light on the elevator panel glows. They both are overwhelmed and start coughing. Water spews out Harrison’s mouth. He grabs Octavia’s shoulder and pulls on her jacket. Another ding of the elevator. Octavia holds her stomach and crouches as she coughs.
“I apologize. I didn’t have enough time to plan a smooth tunnel,” she says.
Harrison waves his hand, brushing off her apology. He coughs deep from his core. They reach the top floor.
Harrison steps onto a dark red carpet. He places his hand on a black wall. Golden chandeliers glimmer above him. At the opposite end of the room, Mr. Casper and Mr. Rainey eat a feast. Servers bring out tater tot casserole, pesto chicken pasta, a bed of zucchini, sliced up strawberries, and a giant lobster.
Mr. Rainey stands, his face red with anger.
“Mrs. Branfield, explain this blunder now,” he says.
Harrison races toward the buffet.
“I have to tell you something before it's too late,” he says.
Mr. Casper lifts up a lobster leg and points it at Harrison.
“A message? Couldn’t you have just sent an email?
“An email? No, I’ve discovered the family tree secret. I believe one descendant will go rouge soon. Possibly even attempt a large-scale terror attack,” Harrison says.
Mr. Rainey pats his sweaty forehead with a napkin.
“Do you realize the jeopardy the mainframe is in from this unscheduled meet? It compromises everything when cloud designers bring people here whenever they feel like it. We’ll have to temporarily suspend and reprimand Octavia, who is in the elite class! And what is the purpose of this security breach?” He says with spit flying everywhere.
Harrison steps close enough to the bosses to see the entirety of their lunch plates. It's gluttony to the extreme.
“While studying last night, I came across a copy of the letter ‘From Hell.’ A very bizarre London epistle posted in 1888. It was posted along with half a human kidney. The writer of that letter claimed to be Jack the Ripper. To this day no one knows the man’s exact identity. I believe the central gene the CIA is researching pertains to this serial killer. I’m certain we’re tracking down possible heirs. Researchers say the tendency toward murder is passed down the gene pool, and in a pristine, functioning utopia—this heir can do a lot of damage,” Harrison says.
Mr. Casper forgets the giant lobster leg in his hand and drops it. Mr. Rainey turns pale. He looks like he might faint.
Harrison continues. “What I’m saying is Jack the Ripper wasn’t just a serial killer, but a lothario who raped, seized, and impregnated scores of women after he went off the radar from the Whitechapel murders. One of his descendants is an incredible threat.”
Mr. Rainey mulls on these words.
“Now the family tree to Jack the Ripper is incredibly complex. We’re uncertain how many women gave birth to his children,” he says.
“Exactly,” Harrison says. He whips out his silver locket. He pushes the top to play a high frequency. It messes with the computer system that stabilizes the dragon den simulation.
Mr. Rainey and Mr. Casper cover their ears and moan. Octavia reaches for Harrison’s locket, but he lifts it over her head.
Octavia screams. “What have you done?”
Everything shakes violently. Images scramble.
“3... 2... 1...,” Harrison says calmly. He drops to one knee. His pant legs now covered in snow.
There’s no sign of Mr. Rainey, Mr. Casper, or Octavia. It’s a barren tundra—besides a tall abandoned factory tower a short distance away. Harrison shakes his hand over empty space; an image of a man in a denim jacket appears midair.
“Did you catch everything, Sir Isaac?” Harrison says.
The holographic man gives him a sour look.
“Yes, we were watching the whole time. You know your house and person are bugged for surveillance, right? And that Miss Abernathy has been dictating everything?” He says.
“Of course. I just wanted to make sure they said on record that Jack the Ripper was the target before I used the hacking device on the dragon den illusion. I surmised last night if it was the legendary serial killer’s family line, then the dragon den likely overlapped with a real location, where I expect we’ll find one of the girls they fear the most,” Harrison says.
Sir Isaac leans back in his chair. “Mr. Gates, it will take 30 minutes for them to descramble the bug and another 30 minutes before they send teams to your location. Quickly go through the tower and stop wasting time with me,” he says.
Once inside the factory building, Harrison comes across a giant steel bird. Its eyes peer into his soul. He takes an ID card he swiped off Octavia’s jacket, from when they were in the elevator, and he places it in a machine. The bird opens, revealing a cryogenic tube. A girl is in the cold waters, her blonde hair floating around her. She wears a white dress, the kind all cryogenic bodies wear. The nameplate at the bottom of the tube reads: Marigold Arthur, descendant 2041X of Jack the Ripper ancestor possibility III.
Harrison presses a button. It begins the process to release the 12-year-old girl. Air shrieks as it escapes out a gadget on the tube. Marigold’s eyes don’t open, but Harrison feels the girl’s soul look deeply into him. Her soul reborn after years of inactivity. She's no longer a phantom shrieking outside a home. She's no longer in the black dreamscape.
For the past century, the CIA has kidnapped children descended from murderers to prevent violence. Since the agency no longer commits killings, it suspends the children in secret cryogenic chambers. Marigold is the first child released in the witch hunt crisis of 2130, a crisis fueled by a hysteria to reduce all possibilities ending in death.
And so it begins. A hunt to find and rescue Harrison's half-sister, Estelle Gates.
About the Creator
Freelance writer. Undergrad in Digital Film and Mass Media. Master's in English Creative Writing. Spent six years working as a journalist. Owns one dog and two cats.
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