"Please let me out," Daniel said.
The coin, which was no longer a coin, but a metal tumor in his chest, said nothing, but pulsed warmly against him.
Around him was nothing but darkness. Nothing but nothing, he thought. And there in the darkness, he floated-- unless perhaps he was falling and didn't notice. He had fallen into this place, hadn't he? Maybe he still was. Maybe he'd fall forever, spend the rest of his life falling farther and farther away from anything that might be real until he died of old age or starvation, alone in the dark with this thing on his chest.
He choked on a sob.
"Please let me out," he said.
No, came the response.
It wasn't really a word, and there was nobody around to speak it if it had been. But all the same, he heard it clearly inside his head, more clearly than if the speaker had said it right in his ear. Each word the thing said came bursting through his mind with a full array of colors and feelings. And right now, the response seemed worried.
“Please,” he said again, letting his voice fall into the muffling darkness. “Please let me out.”
Daniel imagined the word being spoken by an anxious child. He clenched his jaw hard enough to make his teeth creak.
“We have to leave," he said, struggling not to yell. "If I stay in here, I'll die.”
No! shouted the presence in his head.
There was a sudden tightness in his chest, in his abdomen, around his back. Daniel coughed and gasped, and the tightness eased slightly. It took Daniel a moment to realize that the thing on his chest was hugging him.
“Why?” he said. “Why can't I go?”
They'll hurt you!
Images of that stranger at the motel filled his mind, and with them came a powerful fear-- fear that wasn't his.
Oh, he'd been afraid too, through the haze of liquor, but he'd been more scared of the monster-dog the man had conjured up. Monsters are real was definitely a freak out he was overdue to have, once things calmed down. If things calmed down. But the thing in his head had been afraid of the man. Daniel saw him now, not looking like he had in the motel bathroom, but as what he guessed the coin-thing had seen; a dark and bleeding figure, rotting and burning beneath skin that looked like cheap paper.
He closed his eyes against the vision, trying to drive it away. The creature sensed his discomfort and stopped-- and he had sensed it sensing his discomfort.
His head hurt.
"You shot Jason. Why? Why did you shoot him?"
He didn't want to ask the question. He hadn't planned on it, not now, but fought inside him like a chained dog, and he couldn't keep it in any longer.
"Why did you kill my friend?"
He was going to hurt you!
“No he wasn't!” Daniel snarled. “He wouldn't!”
Yes he was! He hurt lots of people!
“So have I! But he wouldn't've hurt me!”
He was going to sell me without you.
And suddenly, images bombarded his mind. Odd angles of Jason, as though Daniel were looking up at him. As though Daniel were the coin in Jason's hand. He tried to turn around to see where they were, but he couldn’t. All he saw was the underside of Jason’s chin and part of his face. Somewhere above him, someone was talking.
“You have the Heirodach?” said a voice. Daniel didn’t recognize it.
The vision blurred as Jason lifted the coin. Right here, he said. The world spun, again and again, and the feeling of it was strong enough to make him nauseous. Jason was flipping the coin.
"Stop," snapped the figure. "Why isn't it contained?"
“It is,” said Jason. He rattled the coin; it was inside some kind of small, plastic protector only a little bigger than itself. "Came in this."
Daniel could see, now; Jason was talking to a mirror. They were back at the motel, and Jason was talking to the dresser mirror. Rather than showing his reflection, the mirror held the image on another man, someone Daniel had never seen before.
“I must ask you to handle it more securely, for your own benefit if nothing else. The being inside--”
“Yeah, yeah, I got it.” The world rushed forward, then all Daniel could see was the ceiling. Based on the mountains of white blanket at the edges of his vision, he guessed that Jason had thrown him onto the bed.
“So, I hate being crass, but just a reminder that we’ve agreed on fifty thousand,” Jason said.
"My employer said it was 25k per capita.”
“Don’t worry about it,” said Jason. “Hey, Damien said you guys didn’t like loose ends, right?”
There was a short pause.
“That is correct.”
“He also said that thing's gonna need to eat when it wakes up. That true?”
“Based on our research, that is correct.”
“Well, how valuable is that kinda service to you?”
“I would need to confer with my employer before making any decision. I will get back to you.”
“Take your time, take your time. It’s not like we can go far.”
Then, the conversation apparently over, Jason came into view. He walked past the bed, went to his bag, and reached inside. At first, Daniel thought he was getting a pack of cigarettes; Jason was a rampant smoker. But then, instead brought out a different box. He removed, cut, and lit a cigar, one of the fancy ones Daniel had gotten him not long ago for his birthday. He hadn’t known Jason had brought any on the trip.
Then the vision vanished, disappearing like dissipating smoke.
Daniel stared ahead at the nothing around him.
“Jason knew those guys,” he said, feeling light headed. “Jason knew about all this magic bullshit?”
The voice said nothing, but gave an affirmative.
"Shut up," he found himself saying quietly. He didn’t know why, he didn’t feel himself saying it. It was like someone else was doing it. "Shut up. Shut up!"
His voice grew louder until he was screaming the words, and he kept screaming, and he didn’t know who he was screaming to.
It was true. He knew it was. It didn't matter that the thing in his head had shown it to him-- it could have been lying, it could have made it up, made him hallucinate so he'd believe it.
No, he knew it was true because he knew Jason, and he knew that Jason only smoked cigars before a capital-J-Job.
The creature in his head tried to keep to itself. He could feel it trying to hold itself away from him, like a hefty person trying not to sit too close in a small plane, but waves of concern and worry were still oozing out.
"Why me?" Daniel said eventually. “Why didn’t you go inside his head?”
Why didn’t you let him kill me?
The creature gave no answer.
They floated in silence for a long while. Absently, he toughed his chest where the coin had been, and found there was nothing there; the tumor-like lumps were gone. The thing had melded completely into his chest.
"We can't stay in here forever," he said eventually. "We have to leave."
"I've got a safe house," he said. "No fucking wizards or whatever will find us there, not if we're fast and careful. Then we can talk about this-- this bullshit, okay? But I can't do it in here. I need to get out, or I'm gonna go nuts."
He felt the creature thinking it over, torn between wanting to believe him, wanting to be out in the world it had been sealed away from, and wanting to stay safe.
In the end, it relented. The space in front of him opened up like a window, letting light pour into the darkness, only to be consumed. Outside, he saw long, green grass, snowy mountains in the distance, and a forest of pine trees.
"Where is that?" he said.
Outside! came the cheerful thought. Outside, outside, outside!
And he stepped outside.