October 15th, 2019
So… I’m moving.
And no, I’m not running away scared for my life. I’m past that now. Being scared for my life is something the old Ray would have done, what a normal, sane person would have done. My life is past its expiration date as far as I’m concerned, and if I can trade that for some… arcane knowledge, then so be it. The revelation and enlightenment is well worth the price of admission.
I’m moving because I’m taking the job the Catalytics guys offered me.
Now, it’s not because they waved their wand and revealed they were my fairy godparents, even though that would make more sense. It’s just that—after meeting them—I know I won’t figure out the truth behind 616 without their help. They’ve been at this… well, it definitely seems like they’ve been at this for a long time.
But before I go further, let me explain how everything worked out. I had been waiting anxiously since my call with the mysterious woman, and nobody had bothered to call me or set up a meeting until the day before she had promised. When the guy did call me, it was just to ask me who I was, and from there he said we would meet at a Starbucks.
At a fucking Starbucks.
It’s absurd—it really is—but I must admit that it made me feel more comfortable. I think the idea behind it was to host the initial meeting in a public place so neither of us could make a scene, or so that I wouldn’t get scared about meeting them. In either case it worked, because once I knew we weren’t meeting in a back alley, I stopped thinking like they were trying to kill me. The coffee shop was off of one of the main roads of my town—busy, but not the kind of place people would normally plug in their laptops and stay for hours—and they wouldn’t be able to kill me and get away with it.
Though looking back, I’m sure they could.
I’d actually been to this Starbucks a few times—you end up going everywhere a few times in a town this size—so I went ahead and scouted the area by driving by it three or four times, even ordering something one time just to see if there was anybody watching people going in and out of the door. Nothing seemed too suspicious, so I waited in a nearby parking lot until 11AM, which was the appointed time. When it was about five minutes until then, I parked outside and entered, hoping to find the two men who were supposed to be there.
They weren’t. I panicked for a few moments, going through the motions and getting into line even though I was already wired from the first I had bought an hour ago, but it didn’t seem like the staff recognized me. I think part of that was that I had taken off my hoodie to make myself seem less like a degenerate lunatic, but I think that I just have one of those faces that blend into crowds. The cashier barely even made eye contact as he took my order, my money, and then gave me change I immediately threw into their tip cup. He had already stopped looking at me by that point, but I was fine with that. I just shuffled to the counter where I would eventually pick up a second Red Eye—a coffee with a shot of espresso in it—and just stared at the doorway.
The guy at the counter had to call out my order twice before I realized that I was just staring at the doorway, totally focused on people who weren’t even there yet. I apologized to the guy, but from the look he gave me he must have thought I was crazier than I actually am. He actually backed away once I grabbed my cup, but I can’t really blame him. There’s no way I can explain what’s already happened to me—what’s probably going to happen to me—unless they know my path from the beginning. Unless they know that I didn’t start out mad, crazy and out of mind, I’m sure nobody would even want to listen to what I have to say.
So again, a reason for this diary.
I was cursing myself and how I was so easily prejudiced against when two men finally arrived at the doorway. The fat one, who was black and reminded me of a tootsie roll—his shirt collar looked like the white of the wrapper—he just waited for the taller, skinnier guy to open the door for him. That one almost seemed to be exhausted just from moving around, every one of his movements was labored and drawn-out, but I think he was just slow. Not like his partner, who was fat enough that he warranted a second chin bigger than the first, sweating and wheezing as he wobbled into the coffee shop.
The fat one seemed to have trouble staying in his own skin—seemed like he was wearing a very uncomfortable suit underneath his actual suit—and you could just tell that he was outside his comfort zone in a place that was supposed to inspire comfort. The other one didn’t seem bothered; just seemed to have the demeanor of a tortoise who was as interested in eating leaves as watching the creatures flitting about them.
Yet, somehow, with all of this apparent exhaustion and discomfort, both of them seemed very formidable. I didn’t want to cross either one, or cause one of them to think that it was better off if I couldn’t prattle on about 616 anymore. For a few seconds I considered that these were not the men I was supposed to meet—that they could have been businessmen who just needed a pick-me-up—or they could have been detectives on break and that’s why it felt like they were figures of authority. I felt that if I stepped out of line, that they would either force me back or take me out completely.
But when the fat one turned to smile at me and nodded at his partner, when I saw the taller man look at me with… I don’t know, it seemed like hunger… I knew that these were the men from Catalytics. I took a sip of my coffee, which tasted as awful as a Red Eye usually does, and then walked to one of the corners away from the other patrons. There was just a student with a laptop and a woman in her thirties surrounded by magazines and clippings, so it wasn’t especially hard to avoid them. I walked to the armchair in the corner and waited for the agents to line up in front of the couch opposite me in the little circle. If I had been a little more fearful I would have already been sitting, but I thought that it would be a good idea to last least try for normal, and so I extended my right hand and waited for one of them to take it.
“I’m Ray Corv—vus,” I said, trying to sound authoritative and failing miserably. My throat betrayed me halfway through my last name and forced me to pause. It was already a pretty major loss as far as trying to establish myself, but the fat agent just gave me a wide smile and took hold of my hand, his sweat coating my palm in the process.
“We know, Ray, we know. I’m Fennsler,” he said before nodding to his side and turning to look at the other man, “and this is Baum. We were sent to vet you.”
“To vet me?” I asked, since I had never heard the term before. How strange, that I can remember these conversations word for word days after the fact—with each little change in body language—when I had trouble remembering things just a few weeks ago. But even then, I wouldn’t have forgotten how Baum looked at me when I let go of Fennsler’s hand and turned to him. He didn’t smile, but his eyes did. When I shook Baum’s hand, it almost seemed like his pupils narrowed vertically, ever so slightly, and it gave me the impression of a butcher looking at a young pig.
“We’re here to see if you are who you say you are,” Baum explained quickly, and that look disappeared as soon as he entered the conversation. Letting go after a prolonged handshake, both Baum and Fennsler sat down on the couch and watched me as Baum continued. His way of speaking clashed entirely with how he looked and acted. “We know you have questions, but so do we.”
“And what are you going to ask me?” I said, cradling my coffee between both hands just to feel the warmth. I felt numb all over, especially while these two strange men were analyzing every inch of me. Fennsler sat back on the couch and crossed his legs looking like one of the buttons of his shirt was about to pop off, but Baum mimicked my behavior. I thought at first he was trying to mirror my movements to make me feel comfortable—I had read that people manipulate people like that—but it didn’t… it didn’t feel like that. It felt like he was learning about me, trying out what I was doing to see what it felt like.
Just very odd.
“When did you first learn about 616? Who told you about it?” Fennsler asked through his smile, which seemed genuine and fake at the same time. I turned to look at him, but I could feel Baum staring through me all the while. I thought briefly about caving and looking back at him, but I realized that it would be better to answer Fennsler directly. I didn’t know why, but I felt like it would be a mistake to shift between them like that.
“A few months ago. My boss told me about it as a sort of trivia piece and… well, it just went from there,” I said, wary about revealing too much about myself. I already knew that these people knew far more than that—their boss and their email had put that issue to bed—but still… I didn’t feel like I could trust them. Once Baum leaned forward and tilted his head slightly, I realized that I shouldn’t.
“It went from there? You started seeing it everywhere, correct?” he asked, and I had to restrain myself from rolling my eyes. They knew this already—they had to—and resentment came through in my tone.
“Yeah, you already know this. I started seeing it, started talking about it on my blog, and then I went crazy just documenting it and obsessing over it,” I said, breaking eye contact and looking at the doorway close by. I could have left—I wanted to, at points—but I wasn’t going to leave just because I was annoyed. When I heard Fennsler laughing, I turned back to them in time to see them sharing a look.
“We actually don’t know everything, Ray,” Fennsler replied, taking a sip before sighing loud in fake contentment. “Our employer sent us here to… independently assess your value. People can fake this all the time—we deal with that very often, considering our line of work—and our employer sends us, and people like us, to see if we’re finding a genuine seer, a spy, or a mere enthusiast.”
The way he said enthusiast was strange. It seemed like a lisp affected every little letter, which I didn’t expect from a man like that. These agents were just anachronistic in every way.
“A seer? You think I’m a seer?” I asked, at which point Baum sat back, laying one of his arms across the back of the couch.
“We don’t think you’re anything, yet, though that has more to do with the silence from your end. However,” he said, smiling with his eyes again, “you don’t seem like an enthusiast.”
“What do you mean by that?” I asked, and Fennsler’s entire body shook and rolled with quiet laughter.
“Because you don’t want to be here, Ray!” he said, shaking his head before settling his gaze back on me. “You aren’t acting like a man who wants to know the truth behind 616 or to be part of the team that cracks it.”
“You act like a man who needs to be part of it,” Baum added, and at once it seemed like his eyes were devouring my soul. “What you have is not a gift or fantastic destiny. The way you’re talking to us, it’s a burden. A responsibility. If you are a spy, you’re a good one, because you’re making us chase you. It’s a good way to manipulate people without letting them know.”
“I’m not manipulating you,” I said with a sneer, forgetting there was coffee in my hands. Otherwise I would have thrown it at them. “All I’ve done so far is answer your questions—which you aren’t even very good at asking—and I’m starting to get pissed off about it. I mean, where do you come off accusing me of being a spy? I didn’t even talk to you guys; I just followed the number and then some bastard found out who I was and hacked into my personal information.”
“We didn’t hack into your brain, Ray, or your life,” Baum replied, and I had to turn back to him just to see if he was fucking with me. He just looked at me as if he was explaining something out of a textbook. It wasn’t an opinion, it wasn’t even something he believed; it was just plain, rote fact. Once he saw my reaction, he chuckled and continued. “How much of what we said to you in the email happened in your real life?”
“How much?” I repeated, trying to stall. They were both looking over my face, waiting for some hint of betrayal or lying, but I was just trying to think up some plausible explanation for it all. Instead, I gave up and went along with their investigation. “All of it. Whoever wrote that email must have been spying on me. They knew things they shouldn’t have.”
“Like what, Ray?” Fennsler asked, and at this point I had already stopped fighting them.
“Like how I had seen it three times in the word count of the post I had written the day before, or how I had read something about Catalytics, finished putting up the connection on my board and looked at the clock just in time to see it turn 6:16. The only way anybody would have known that was if there were cameras in my house,” I said, looking down at the still-scalding coffee held between my hands. “They knew that I had seen a license plate with it just as I got onto the highway, and another was in front of me on the exit I took at the end of the drive.”
“Is that it? It seems flimsy,” Baum commented, a little too dry for my taste, and so I turned back to him in my frustration.
“Flimsy? Flimsy is what you call it when a number follows me every step of my day? Flimsy is what you call it when I see hints of something deeper and darker in every aspect of my life?” I asked, my hands shaking so much that my coffee sloshed around and burning caffeine fell all over my fingers, even if I didn’t care enough to notice. “That wasn’t the end. The email even mentioned what I see in my dreams.”
“What you see in your dreams?” Baum asked, leaning forward. Fennsler even sat up and draped a hand over his knee, watching me as I gave them more and more information I had wanted to keep to myself.
“Yeah, what I see in my dreams. I see all kinds of fucked up creatures, all kinds of monsters; I see Hell in all its infernal fucking glory,” I railed off, not even bothering to care what I sounded like when a woman walked into the Starbucks and gave us a weird look. It was only a momentary distraction before Baum stared at her and caused her to leave. Only after he turned back to me did I know I should continue. With a deep breath filled with defiance, I stared at the tall man. “I see demons, and someone you work for gave them names.”
“That sounds a little more interesting,” Fennsler said, scratching the end of his nose before scrunching it up and looking at me. “Did you look these names up afterward?”
“I didn’t have to,” I said, causing both of the men to stare me dead in the eye. I made sure to turn to each of them so they would trust me. “I had already heard of them by reading snippets of the Ars Goetia. They looked very much like their descriptions, once your boss gave me the right clues.”
“You don’t think that’s just suggestion, Ray?” Fennsler asked, using one of his stubby, fat fingers to swirl his coffee. I thought it was gross, but that was obviously in line with Fennsler’s behavior. Still, he kept smiling. “You could have just made it all up in your head, this perception, and then this person we work for was able to get you to just make the connection. Sounds like a good theory to me. How about you, Baum?”
“Sounds pretty reasonable,” he commented, and this time it was my turn to change up everything on them. With a light chuckle of my own, I drank down a hot gulp of acidic coffee and looked back at them.
“Yeah, I could see that,” I said, so bitter about it that my sarcasm was evident, but I just shrugged and sighed before continuing. “Except that I had been seeing these figures for weeks before I had even learned their names, and your boss just goes and outs them without any sort of clue.”
“And what kind of clue would she have needed, Ray? You’re saying that you didn’t talk about them on your blog, or on that pathetic 616 forum?” Fennsler asked, still smiling, and at this point I knew it was all a show. He wasn’t nearly as friendly as he was trying to seem, and I knew that I would always need to be wary around him. Even then I knew that this would be an issue that would not go away. Even then—at my angriest and most scared—I knew that I would be working for, or with, these people.
“No, Fennsler, I did not talk about any of this on the forum. And I didn’t mention to anyone what these demons were doing,” I said, chewing on my cheek just a little bit to force myself stubborn. “I didn’t mention it when Lucifer was teaching a group of men to fight, or when I saw a centaur arranging scrolls in a library, or when I saw a giant man with horns drinking an endless bottle of wine.”
“You didn’t?” Baum asked, and I shook my head before responding.
“No, I didn’t. But your boss did,” I said, catching both of them off-guard. Immediately, Fennsler sat forward, obvious no matter how much he was trying to manipulate me, but Baum just sat back and drank his coffee. He never broke eye contact with me, and I recognized it was because he believed me, so I continued. “She told me their names, what they had been doing in my dreams. The email was a little bit less specific, but the conversation we had was very enlightening.”
“Too bad the boss didn’t tell you who she was. I bet that would have been appreciated,” Baum replied, and I actually had to laugh. Considering how much madness was already in my life, it was nice to hear someone else observing the absurdity.
“Yeah, it would have. Maybe one day she’ll tell me,” I said, and Baum smiled with his eyes again. I would have much rather the conversation had been between us, but Fennsler cleared his throat and wiped the sweat from his brow with a handkerchief that was a bit too nice for the occasion. The act itself was enough to interrupt us, but he was pesky enough to reenter the conversation, too.
“She said Lucifer was there? How long have you been seeing the Devil, Ray? Why should we believe you when you say you saw the Devil? I mean—Baum and I, we’re reasonable guys—but I can’t believe just anybody when they say they saw a man with horns and a red leotard in their dreams,” Fennsler said, turning and nudging Baum with an elbow, but I could tell that the other man did not appreciate it. In a twisted way, I felt like I was saving him when I cleared my throat and forced Fennsler to look at me.
“I haven’t been seeing him for very long, but no, there was no pitchfork, Fennsler. This man seemed made of light, almost leaking from his skin, and he was wearing a loose… skirt, almost. Seemed like a nice guy, even if I had to assume he was the Devil,” I said, thinking that would be the end of it, but Baum sniffed and caused me to look back at him.
“Why do you think he was the Devil? Because of 616?” he asked, and suddenly I realized that the two weren’t exactly connected. 616… it didn’t feel like the devil in my dreams. He seemed… hopeful, kind; someone you would want to know. 616, on the other hand, as much as it leads me and guides me, it feels… not sinister, but not good. Just like any number, it’s cold and… it’s just there. It’s a fact, it’s a date, it’s a time, it’s an amount; it’s… like a resource. I knew then that I wasn’t seeing the Devil in my dreams because of 616, or as a direct result.
I was seeing Lucifer because it was a step on my way to figuring out what 616 really is.
“He’s just… I just know,” I muttered, looking at the bubbles and swirling little irregularities in the surface of my coffee. When I lifted my head to look back at Fennsler and Baum, it felt like I was in a deposition. “And no, the 616 isn’t because of him. It’s a… side-effect.”
“So you see Hell as a side-effect for your little crush on a number, Ray?” Fennsler asked, and I was really starting to get annoyed with him. At least with Baum I knew where I stood; I knew that he was here to analyze and observe me. Angrily, I turned back to Fennsler and almost growled.
“I think it just means that I’m on the right path,” I said, my tone much colder than the air outside the Starbucks. I could see that it affected Fennsler—the smile faltered for just a moment—but I stopped paying attention to him once I saw movement to my right. Baum had taken another gulp of his coffee, and I watched as he finished the rest. It hadn’t been the kind of drink that you chug like that, so I was unable to stop staring as he put down the cup and then started digging around in his pockets. Once he retrieved his wallet, he pulled out a card and then offered it to me.
“I think so, too, Ray. Take this, call the number and tell them I sent you. They’ll be able to handle your moving expenses and the transition up to Grand Rapids,” Baum explained, yawning once he was finished. When he sat back to look at Fennsler, it seemed like they were getting ready to leave, but I wasn’t going to have that.
“Hey, you didn’t answer any of my questions! Just who are you guys? What does Catalytics want with 616, or me for that matter?” I rattled off, standing up when they did, but neither seemed too willing to stop and wait for me.
“We never said we were going to answer your questions, Ray,” Fennsler said, sniffing his coffee before making a face and then throwing it away in the nearby trashcan. I was surprised at that, but I was almost back to being furious when Baum turned to me and breathed out deeply.
“Trust us, Ray, this is the path. You’re not a spy, you’re not an enthusiast, so that makes you the other one. People like you have a very significant role to play in what we’re trying to do,” he explained, stepping closer until he could put a large hand on my shoulders. “And don’t think of it like this is something that Catalytics wants.”
“Why shouldn’t I?” I asked, all indignant about it, but this time Fennsler sidled up to me and unnerved me by whispering into my ear.
“Because it’s something we want, and Catalytics doesn't own us,” he said, snickering as he stood by the door and waited for his partner. “Baum, if you please.”
“Of course,” he replied before stepping past the fat man and pushing the door open, allowing Fennsler to waddle past the threshold and into the cold air. As he was about to leave I was still stammering—frustrated, befuddled and confused—and Baum could see it. He held the door open for a moment longer, considering his words, but then he turned back to me and said “Just call the number and get the move set up, Ray. It’ll all be explained once you get there.”
“And what if I don’t want to go?” I asked just before the door closed, and I was surprised to see that Baum pulled it back open to reply to me.
“We both know it’s not about what you want,” he said, this time leaving for good, and I was left in a suburban Starbucks with two awkward baristas and three normal, white people to stare at me.
The thing is… he’s right. It’s not about what I want. It’s about what I have to do, and I knew before I even went over there that this was the next step. Even if it kills me—even though it doesn’t look like that right now—even if it kills me… this is the purpose I was prepared for.
I called the number that night. I really didn’t even have to think it over, and it was shocking to me how fast it all went. A nice, young woman responded on the other end, and she asked me who was calling and what it was about. I told her my name, told her about Baum, and I didn’t even have to explain it. She told me to hold on for a few moments—I thought she was just getting ready to explain the forms and the bureaucratic circus I would have to go through in order to take this job—but it was already over. When she got back from hold, she had already set up accommodations for me in a hotel, my flight and a cab from the airport.
She had even taken care of my mortgage and utility payments for my current address for a two-month period. I thought that was absurd—told her that I didn’t want to use whatever advance they had given me on something that ridiculous—but apparently it was just a signing bonuswhich was even more ridiculous because I hadn’t signed jack shit. I was about to get huffy with her, but she just said: “We’re just taking care of you, Ray. Trying to make sure you’re comfortable with joining the team.”
I asked her what she was talking about, and she seemed rather confused by the question. I told her that I had not signed up to be part of a team—that I think I may have called the wrong number—but she fought me on that. Even laughed, because apparently I was being the silly one. She said that since Baum had recruited me, I had to be part of his team. I asked what team it was out of curiosity, but her response sank right into my bones.
She said I was going to be part of Team Zodiac.
She didn’t say anything more about it; said she might lose her job for that, but she said that part was probably safe. I told her that I agreed—even though I knew she had already told me more than she was supposed to—and I let her finish up her questions. It was over quickly, and she hung up right before promising that my plane tickets would arrive by email in the next few hours(they did), and then wishing me a pleasant day.
I didn’t know how I was supposed to be accomplishing that, however. It just didn’t seem possible to have a normal or pleasant day after talking to Fennsler and Baum. After what they had told me I had no idea what I was getting into—what sort of sinister or demonic implications came with each of their statements—but I did have a clue, now. Baum kept saying that I might be a seer, implied that the Devil was not what I was seeing when I saw 616. From what I could tell, it seemed like Baum and Fennsler are looking for something, and now that I’ve been recruited into a team, I feel like I know what’s coming.
Because while Zodiac could refer to all kinds of mythologies and daily horoscope predictions, it just makes me think of the Zodiac killer from the 60’s.
It made me think of his codes, and how he had wanted people to break them.
END OF ENTRY
Finally getting to have some dialogue with Baum and Fennsler! Things are really gonna pick up now and read more like a book, and the final entry for Act 1 is right here!