- 37 -

27.4K 1.9K 120
                                    

Sander Westerberg climbed the terraced steps to his apartment complex, squinting in the brown sunlight filtering through his tortoiseshell sunglasses. The gardener was out amongst the planters, watering the lavender and narcissus, the fragrance of broken stems piquant beneath the dry heat of the afternoon. He breathed it in, breathed it out.

Sander hummed nonsensical words as he kept moving among the uneven pavers. A uniformed man greeted him with an inclined head, pushing the French doors inward to allow Sander access.

"Good evening, Mr. Westerberg!" he said.

"Any messages?" Sander asked. The doorman shook his head, and so Sander continued his quiet, monotonous chanting as he forewent the elevators in favor of the stairs. He took them two at a time, holding his briefcase and folded jacket to his chest so they wouldn't skim the dirty steps. A name tag fell from the jacket's breast pocket, the neat letters 'Sander Westerberg, Head of Communications,' glittering in the artificial lighting as Sander bent and plucked it from the stairwell's runner. The gem at the pin's head was dull and listless, made useless by a simple rune carved into the tag's back. Out of habit, Sander scratched his nail along the indentations.

The interior of Sander's third-floor apartment was well-furnished but austere. The beige walls were bare of any paintings and no family portraits cluttered the barren mantle. There was a remote and a TV guide on the teak coffee table. A full-length mirror was positioned by the main door, the frame comprised of a simple, unstained oak, and the glass reflected the image of a banal, slightly overweight desk worker with mousy hair and a poorly shaved jaw. Sander shivered, and as he threw the deadbolt on the front door he reached into the collar of his mustard stained button-down and withdrew a large stone threaded upon a leather strap.A symbol very similar to the kind of ancient runes once found in the northern lands of Europe cut through the stone's porous surface, and the rune pulsed and clung to Sander's fingertips with tingling, static vigor.

As Sander removed the stone from about his neck, the reflection in the mirror flickered and was replaced by the image of a younger, taller man with a darker complexion, closely cropped hair, and thin, underfed proportions. His office attire remained the same, much to Sander's consternation. He plucked at his plastic buttons as he slid the sunglasses from his nose with a grunt. The rune still buzzed with potential as it dangled from his loose fist, but that potential quickly faded now that the stone no longer pressed to his skin. Without being fed tidbits of energy from his soul, the rune was ineffectual, and soon the glimmering rune would tarnish and be nothing but an etching upon an ugly rock—at least until Sander chose to recharge it.

The mage dropped his defunct charm and his key on the painted credenza and leaned the weighted briefcase against the wall. Sander started moving through his quiet apartment with his mind set on divesting himself of his repulsive attire and cooking an early dinner. As he walked, he traced a finger along the painted wall above the wainscoting, and the script painted there in clear ink shimmered ultraviolet beneath his wandering touch.

Sander strolled by the archway into his study—and stopped short.

A man lingered at the built-in shelves with a hefty, tattered volume propped open in his splayed hand. He must have heard Sander enter the apartment, but he was not inclined to acknowledge his presence. Sander's mouth was abruptly dry and his palms were slick with perspiration.

"You," he barked as he bunched his quaking hands into rough-knuckled fists. There was only one explanation for this man's presence in Sander's home. "You must be the Klau Killer."

The man shrugged a shoulder before executing an indolent swivel, the book's pages fluttering in his motion. "If that's what they are calling me. Not terribly creative, is it?"

BereftWhere stories live. Discover now