Horror & Mystery Book Club March 2022 Submissions
THE FREQUENCY TEST
C. I. I. Jones
She passed. Or failed. It depends on your perspective. Trina picked the very thought from his head. She was getting good at that, she knew. And she knew that the giant man didn’t like it. Didn’t like her going into his mind and picking his thoughts. That’s why he made her watch the TV. That was the test she passed. Or failed. But she was good at it, and so as he carried her off, she listened to him think.
The TV test was enough to give Blue what he needed. Blue wasn’t his real name. He worked for all of the big scary acronyms; CIA, FBI, NSA, as well as the more obscure ones, for so long, under so many given names, he had a hard time remembering the name his own mother gave him.
No matter, he thought. This week he was Blue, next week he’d be Tony, and a year from now he’d be Yousef. He was whoever they needed him to be, and this week they needed him to be Blue. And Blue was tasked with tracking down and testing Trina Jenkins. Trina “passed” the TV test, and she met the organization’s criterion to be dispatched.
His current employers hired him to find these people. Most of them were younger – between nine and fifteen. Most didn’t have a clue what was happening. If the kid didn’t know what Blue had planned for them, it made his job easier. Less fight. If they knew what was in store for them, had even a slight idea, things could get difficult. If they knew how to use their capabilities, things could get scary. Blue thought Trina Jenkins had very little idea of what was happening to her. After the TV test was done he threw her over his shoulder like a bag of dirty laundry.
She’d go easy. Like so many before her.
Blue’s current gig had been lengthy and lucrative. He kept a list. Trina could picture it. Blue had a bag with him, a big black one. Buried somewhere deep in that bag was a list of names. More than a few of the murders were covered by big news outlets. A few of his kills were linked together, and the term serial killer was batted around. The first time he heard it, Blue shrugged. There was maybe some validity to the idea. He had a pattern that he followed to a T, and the victims shared enough characteristics to make it feasible. He never got hot under the collar though. He had friends looking out for him, friends in the right places. Most of his kills were eventually pinned on someone else or slipped into the cold case files of local police departments. It was just a job to Blue, but to his employer, it was dire. They were scared. These little freaks could really be a threat. To what? This girl, Trina, looked harmless, Blue thought.
Trina’s feet were tied. Blue didn’t see the point in tying the hands. If she could harness her capabilities, hands wouldn’t be needed anyway. He let her slip off of his shoulder onto the dewy grass.
“Are you going to let me go, please?” she asked. Her voice drifted from her like a feather on a breeze.
“Humph,” Blue grunted. He was shuffling through his canvas bag. “‘Fraid not, missy.”
“Okay,” Trina said, sounding complacent. “Well, what’re we doing out here? Why’d we come here for the TV?”
“Why you want to know?” Blue asked, still rifling through the bag. Trina could feel the frustration eking out of him. He was upset that she didn’t seem scared. She snatched the thought zipping through his mind, that the little brat should be scared out of her wits. He glanced over his shoulder at her. She stared right back at him. Strange. He thought she was too young. Ten years old. Maybe she didn’t get it. If she could see the tools Blue was sifting through in his bag, she might get a little scared. It pissed Blue off when they didn’t get scared. Made him want to draw the whole ordeal out. Trina tried not to make herself see what was in that bag. The list of names was bad enough.
“Just curious, Mr. Bruce. That’s all.”
Mr. Bruce? Bruce. How the hell? It didn’t matter. She was in there, up in his brain. Maybe she knew her capabilities a bit more than he initially thought. She’d certainly got the right marks for dispatch on the TV test. He set it up like he had for any other kid. Empty field, far away from most or any sort of aerial electromagnetic activity. If the TV came on at all, it was something to take note of. Trina brought in a clear picture from the 10 o’clock news. Immediate dispatch. But, Mr. Bruce? He couldn’t remember actually thinking of his birth name.
He turned toward her. “Who’s Mr. Bruce?”
“That’s a silly question,” she giggled. “You are, of course!”
“Quiet,” he whispered. “Not so loud.”
“Okay,” she nodded. “But you told me if I watched the TV with you I could go home. I’m ready to go home now.”
He turned back toward his bag and she could hear his thoughts. Yeah. Go ahead and get in my head if you like. I think I’ll take my time with you.
He was looking for something deep in the bag. Trina saw the word, but didn’t know it. A garrote. Blue, or Bruce, was looking for a garrote. He stuffed his arm deep and felt for it. Then the light caught his eye.
Back out in the field the television was on. Worse than that, he could see the silhouette of someone standing in its glow. Flashing hazard lights from a car parked on the side of the distant road blinked off and on. Blue turned toward the girl, his eyes narrowed to vicious slits. It was clear he underestimated the child. She’d somehow called for help. Blue shook his head and looked back toward the silhouette out in the field. An interruption. An intruder. One more fucking body. This one would have to go before the girl. Trina sat in silence, but her lips moved slightly. Help me. Please, help me. She mouthed the words but made no sound.
The good Samaritan’s name was Lowell. But only Trina knew that. Lowell had slammed the brakes of his old beater truck. He was driving back roads, something he hadn’t done in years. A lifetime ago he spent most of his summers in these fields, making a couple dollars doing odd jobs for the farmers. That all changed. He got an office job, a wife; the whole white picket fence thing. The nearby farms were in his past. That night though, a sudden urge hit him to go for a drive. His wife had looked at him funny and he could only shrug and say, “I gotta go!”
The drive was a nice cruise down memory lane. The night was clear. The sky was full of stars. But now he wasn’t driving. He was stopped in the middle of the road. There was a light coming from the middle of one of the fields. Granger’s field, if Lowell wasn’t mistaken. It was a white, wavering light, like a movie projector for an audience that didn’t show up.
“Little bastards,” Lowell grunted as he pulled the truck to the side of the road and yanked the parking brake. He killed the headlights and turned on the hazards. The neighborhood kids pulled this kind of shit. They’d ride their bikes from one of the nearby encroaching suburbs and pull pranks meant to give the farmers a little scare. The farmers were usually good sports about it until sowing season, when their livelihood was at stake. Granger was a good guy, certainly took care of Lowell with an extra buck or two for chores back in the day. And here were the little neighborhood shits, tramping all over Granger’s seeds.
Lowell walked around to the back of the truck and pulled open the tailgate. These kids better be able to take what they dish out, he thought. He opened the black case he kept secured in a corner of the truck bed. The pump shotgun inside was a classic Remington model. He pulled it out, and looked over the field toward the light, still flickering. The sound of the pump action on the gun would have those kids pissing themselves. They’d go running and that would be that.
He took a step onto the field, the flickering light calling him in its direction like a moth to flame. The ominous glow made Lowell turn around. He put a couple shotgun shells in his pocket. He wouldn’t load the thing, of course, but you could never be too safe. He started across the field, none the wiser that no kid waited for him. Just a big ugly man named Blue that had been watching him the whole time.
Blue watched it all through a set of binoculars. He could see the shotgun on the guy’s shoulder, could see the nerves in the guy’s eyes. Hell, he practically knew the guy’s back story – probably out for an evening drive to get away from the wife and kids for a few minutes peace and quiet. Well, the poor bastard made a wrong turn.
He heard the good Samaritan clear his throat as he approached the glowing television. The gruff voice traveled well across the open field. Blue heard him say, “What’re you kids doin’ out here?” No answer.
“You’re parents know what you’re up to?” Lowell tried again.
No answer. Blue could make out his face in the static television glow. It went from nerves to fear. Lowell looked back toward his truck. He could see the red hazards flashing every half-second through the dark. He looked further across the field to the tree line where Blue and Trina were safely hidden. Lowell so no sign of life. He walked closer to the light. The shotgun was no longer an empty threat. It was at the ready, aimed, even though Blue hadn’t seen him load the damn thing.
Blue’s intruder walked into the rays of light from the flickering television like an alien abductee in a 50s sci-fi flick. Blue watched as Lowell examined it, likely freaked out to find the television set out here in the middle of an open field. An old set, the kind you’d expect to have rabbit ears to tune into the right channels.
“These kids are gettin’ too damn creative,” Lowell grunted. “How the hell is it even on?” There was no noticeable power source to the television. You can make anything wireless if you got the money to spend, Blue thought as he watched Lowell’s confusion grow. Blue thought the whole spectacle was hilarious. After a few minutes Lowell bent down and found the classic knobs. Three total. One for volume, one for channels, and one for power. He flicked the power knob to the left and the light died, leaving him alone in the dark. Blue laughed to himself. The idiot was bound to roll his ankle walking back to his truck without a flashlight.
Lowell took three steps back toward the flashing hazard lights. By the fourth step he was bathed in static glow again, frozen in place. The TV switched back on. He turned to face the white glow, mouth agape, unsure of what to do next. Blue let his eyes fall from his binoculars and glanced back at Trina. He was starting to get nervous about this little girl. She was too good with her little mind tricks.
Blue looked through the binoculars again. The intruder was turning in circles, probably trying to figure out just how the hell the TV had turned on. He watched as Lowell approached the TV and reached out for the knob to turn it off for a second time and leave. Before he could, there was a sound, something coming through the static that even from a distance Blue could hear. A soft voice. A child’s voice.
Blue watched Lowell crouch in front of the TV, dumbfounded. The guy’s initial frustration with some annoying kids pranking the old farmer was giving way to genuine concern.
“Someone please help me!”
It came through the static screen like a bullet. Lowell scrambled away from the television and tripped. He landed on his ass, hard. His eyes didn’t leave the static screen. The sound carried across the field and could be heard by Blue and his hostage, clear as a bell. The girl had signaled him using the television, Blue thought. And now, she was talking through it. Amazing.
Lowell moved from his ass up to his hands and knees. He crawled toward the TV. It was unmistakable now. The TV spoke. Spoke to him. It was begging him for help.
“With what?” he asked. He sounded like a lunatic. He pulled himself up by the chair, it creaked beneath his weight. He looked down now at the TV, then looked back toward his truck where the hazards still blinked, toward the distant farmer’s house, and last, to the tree line, maybe a football field’s length away. The moon was brilliant over top of the trees, almost bright enough to light a direct path across the field toward them.
Blue watched all of this with restrained amazement. He was starting to understand the agency’s resolve to control kids like Trina. He paced over to the girl and crouched in front of her. He whispered, “You know you’ve killed him, right? I can’t let him walk out of this field after what he’s seen.”
Trina did not answer. She went on looking out of the tree line, over to where the television glowed, a look of stern concentration plastered on her face.
Lowell scrambled to his feet and picked up his shotgun. One of the shells fell out of his pocket when he stooped over. He chambered the shell and pulled back the pump, making that antiquated and dreaded sound – CHU-CHA. He leveled the barrel at the static screen.
“Please don’t do that, mister!” The TV voice pleaded. “Please, don’t shoot.”
The gun shook in Lowell’s hand and lowered a few inches. Then it went back up, with more determination. Blue watched on, hoping he’d pull the trigger and walk away.
“No! If you do that, if you leave, he will kill me. He’s going to kill me out here. Please help me. Don’t shoot the TV.” The voice paused. “I’m so scared.”
Lowell lowered the gun. “You kids are getting good at this shit, you know?”
“What shit?” it asked back.
“This prank shit! I can’t believe you boys would bring your little sister out here. Just to harass a poor old farmer. The bastard’s probably half blind by now.”
“This is not a prank. No jokes, I promise!” The voice stopped for a moment, then said. “I’ll try to show you.”
“I’m saving you for last, girl,” Blue whispered. “Just hang tight.” He’d tied her, hands behind her back, and bound her to the trunk of one of the trees. He was thinking of terrible things that made Trina shudder. He kept telling himself that this was collateral damage and that it came with the territory. He didn’t pick up a bigger check for stacking up an additional body. All he got was a worse backache from lugging another stiff around, and more heat and publicity to avoid when two or three bodies were discovered instead of one. The farmer would have a lot of explaining to do. He’d mutter through some interviews on the local news, maybe get questioned by a few law enforcement agencies, and then settle back into his normal day-to-day. It’d be one last strange, good story for the old man to add to his repertoire to tell when he actually made it into town.
Blue had a pistol in his hands. It was loaded. He always kept it loaded. He turned to look at her. “I’ll be back in a moment. But you already knew that.” He looked out across the field. The silhouette of the intruder was still pacing back and forth in the television’s glow. “I’m gonna need you to turn that TV off now,” he added and moved closer toward her. The pistol was aimed at her, not sticking into her, like a threat, but more just there, like an unspoken fact.
“Please, sir,” Trina said with a tremor in her voice. “You don’t need to do this. He can just leave. I can convince him to go. You know I can.”
“Afraid not,” said Blue. “He’s here now. Has to be taken care of.”
Trina searched his face, searched his mind for the truth. Maybe there was something deeper she could pull at to make him stop. But Blue, or Bruce, had spoken truthfully as far as he was concerned. In her kidnapper’s mind, all Trina could see was a blank wall on this matter.
She was only beginning to discover her abilities. She’d started with moving things, like most early developers, then moved into the more frightening stuff. She only dipped into her parents’ thoughts on a handful of occasions. There was darkness there, too. But it was different than Blue’s type of darkness. They used words she couldn’t grasp the full weight of. They thought about each other. And not only nice things. It scared Trina to be in her parents’ brains. But it was nothing like this. Blue’s was a pure darkness.
On the dark plain of her kidnapper’s mind, Trina saw pale, lifeless faces. They were covered in dirt. They were dead. That’s a dark thought she could understand more than the complex thoughts of her parents. It was definite. These little kids Blue was thinking about were all dead. Some of them were buried, some were in rivers. And then there was her face right next to the others. She was one of the dirty ones. But she wasn’t dead yet.
“Okay,” she whispered.
Blue stared at her another moment. A thought came across, loud and clear for Trina. Now you know what you’re dealing with. Read my mind all you want. It makes no difference to me.
The gun was still pointed at her. She only nodded, and the light from the television flickered out. Blue stood, readjusted his stretched polo over his protruding gut, and took a step out of the tree line gripping his pistol.
Blue watched as Lowell moved in the dark, but the clouds began to move and seal out the light of the moon turning Blue’s prey into a shroud of shadow. Lowell smacked the TV set after the signal went out. “Shit,” he whispered. Blue was having a hard time seeing him clearly in the dark but he could hear the voice, and it sounded scared. That was good. Blue wanted the guy to be scared.
The television was off, but Blue knew Trina’s voice wasn’t gone. He could practically hear Trina telling the man to run, run now. He’s coming. Lowell cradled his shotgun. He looked toward his truck. The hazards went on blinking, beckoning him like a lighthouse over troubled seas. Back to safety. He looked toward the distant farmhouse, then the tree line.
Blue was tiptoeing in the direction he knew the TV to be, but stopped in the dark. He heard boots, the kind work a day office types wear on weekends when they feel tough. People like Blue knew that what you actually need is lighter footwear. You can move faster, quieter, especially if you’re trying to sneak up on someone.
But the would-be hero walked right past him. Blue had to keep himself from laughing. He could have reached out and touched Lowell’s arm. The moon was still obscured though, and the man must have been blind as a bat. The only thing that kept Blue from doing him right there was the man’s shotgun. He wondered if he could kill the guy without it going off. If it did go off, he’d have the farmer to take care of, and the farmer’s wife. And four holes in this damn field was too much work. Maybe he could stack ‘em all up somewhere in the house and torch it.
He thought all of this while keeping ten paces behind the man. They were 50 yards from the patch of trees where Trina was tied up. He’d let the man go all the way into the thicket if he could. He’d save himself some energy, wouldn’t have to drag the man’s body so far, just to bury him with the girl.
Blue kept his gun on the man, waiting for a sudden move. If so, he’d end the game, put two in his back and be done with it. Then the dragging would start. After that, the burying. It didn’t come to that though. Lowell made it to the trees without noticing he was being followed. Pretty soon, he’d find the girl, and with Blue seemingly nowhere to be seen, he’d think the girl was saved, that he’d scared the bad guy off. He’d let the two of them have their moment of hope, and then make it quick.
“Are you there? Hello, are you there?” Blue could hear Lowell asking the darkness.
“Please don’t come any further.” Trina sounded stoic for such a young girl. “He’s looking for you. Turn around and go home and forget all about this.”
It was even darker here in the thatch of trees. The leaves sealed off what little light there was left from the moon or the distant streetlights. Blue had a penlight in his pocket. He reached for it with his free hand. He still kept a few paces behind his new target. At least, he was pretty sure Lowell was only a few paces ahead. It was too damn dark to be positive. He would wait until he was in the same spot he’d left the girl to turn the light on. Who knew how fast the intruder could turn on him with that shotgun?
“Just call out to me and I’ll come untie you. You’re safe now.” Lowell shouted. He must be right in front of him, Blue thought.
“I’m over here, Lowell” Trina answered. “Please come quick. We need to leave. He’ll be back soon.” Now Trina sounded like she was right in front of Blue. Less than ten feet away even. He heard shuffling in the leaves and overgrowth. It sounded like the man was already untying her. Give it a second Blue, wait for the right moment.
Blue took another step in the direction where he left Trina. Where he was sure the intruder was untying his next victim. He raised the gun and the light, pulled a deep, slow breath, and clicked the light on.
The plan was to turn the light on and fire, no hesitation, just shoot. But what he saw when he turned the light on stopped him cold. In the white beam from Blue’s penlight, there was no man. It was just him and little Trina Jenkins there in the small tree covering, the same as it was before. Almost the same. The girl was no longer tied up now. Instead of fear in her eyes and quivering lips, she had on a grin and her eyes were set, determined.
Blue looked back toward the road, scanning the length of pavement for the blinking hazard lights. They weren’t there anymore. They’d never been there, he realized as a lightning bolt of terror ripped down his spine. He looked back toward the smiling girl. His brain told him to pull the trigger. Pull it as many times as he possibly could, but his finger was frozen. He never came across any of them like this. Mind reading and object manipulation, Blue had seen. Sometimes he’d seen it in targets even younger than Trina Jenkins. But projection, detailed projection of this degree, never. She had imprinted a man in Blue’s brain that never existed. Went as far to give the man a name, Lowell. This man Lowell even had a history that Blue could understand. A man named Lowell completely fabricated and imprinted on Blue’s conscious mind. All done by this magnificent child.
“Remarkable,” was the last thing Blue ever said. Trina twitched her head to the left. Blue’s gun dropped to the dirt. She reached her hand out toward Blue. He stepped forward and took the garrote wire she held for him. He thought about the gun, thought about picking it up and unloading it into the little girl. Instead, his legs moved against his will. They walked despite his efforts to stand still. His feet dragged him to a nearby tree, wire still in hand. He reached one handle of the garrote around a low hanging branch and created a loop. He thought about all those faces that Trina saw floating around in his memory, and all the incriminating papers detailing his crimes just a few feet away from him, somewhere in his canvas bag. The old farmer would find him out here before too long. Or maybe one of his grandkids would come out here, looking for a place to play. And then the authorities would find that canvas bag, and the sensitive documents in that canvas bag. Then a few of those big acronym organizations would be hard at work to make sure that Blue, or whatever his name was, never existed.
Trina picked up the flashlight that Blue had dropped. Another twitch of her head and Blue’s neck was in the noose fashioned from the garrote, and the wire tightened into the fat of Blue’s throat. She let the light shine up into Blue’s dying face. “Mr. Blue, you’re turning blue,” she said without a hint of irony.
Lowell stepped from the shadows as Trina turned away from the dying man. He stopped to watch Blue as the light flickered in and out of the killer’s eyes, then joined Trina as she walked back toward the road. In her mind she said thank you to Mr. Lowell, he didn’t answer. They came to Lowell’s truck and he opened the door and sat in the driver’s seat. He smiled at Trina then closed the door, and like the words from the last page of a story book, disappeared from the road, and from Trina’s conscious.
She began to think about what Mr. Blue may look like tomorrow morning, tongue bulging out of his mouth, eyes nearly popping from his skull. She didn’t like this though, so she thought about her parents and hoped they weren’t scared. She thought of herself, lying in bed, safe and warm. She knew her parents saw the same thing. She made sure of it. That would do for now, until she made the long walk back home, and really was fast asleep.
About the Author
C. I. I. Jones has been writing horror and crime stories for about a decade with a few publications in magazines and anthologies. He has a website and one book of short stories available on amazon. His first published novel is scheduled to be out sometime in late 2022.
Amazon: Egg Man: And Other Tales