"Have we got complete containment?" Ria asked into the radio. From the mansion balcony, she saw Johnny down below on the winding road with the van and the other agents, milling like ants who had just retrieved a piece of food. Below that the lights of Los Angeles were beginning to make blurry rips of yellow through the smoggy dusk. The hills were deceptively quiet, but she heard the murmur of voices, the hiss of the highway in the background.

The radio crackled. "Have we ever got complete containment?" Johnny's voice had a smile in it, though, and to hear him being a smartass was a massive relief. "I've got a satchel full of stuff for the book locker. Three people sedated and on their way to rehab, one of them a senator. Even managed to keep the paparazzi distracted while Tay and Sonya crammed him into the van so they wouldn't quote him babbling about -" he lowered his voice - "Hali."

The word hit her like a burst of grey static, like the radio had tuned to some eerie frequency between two pieces of music that crossed and overlapped each other. But it hadn't. His voice was still coming over it.

"Now do we deserve pizza or do we fucking deserve pizza?" he was saying.

"We haven't got complete containment," Ria said softly, almost a whisper into the radio.

It was a song, after all, then: in the back of her mind, the atonal harmonies washed over her like sea waves. Of course. They should have come in with earplugs, she thought numbly, but somehow she couldn't bring herself to regret it. In the lights she saw a vision of the lost city. It felt like the missing piece of childhood memory, the home she'd never known she'd left.

"What? Ria, I didn't hear you."

She fought to the surface. She understood now. The torrent of words, the cadence, the rhythm, the eternal poetry, why no one possessed by this fever dream would give it up. "Upon the shore the cloud-waves break..." she murmured, covering the radio with her hand to protect him, holding this moment to her while she could. After rehab, would she remember?

"Hello? Come in?"

With an effort of will, she let go of the radio and bit out some words. "The music," she said. "The guitarist at the house party."


"Johnny. Were you there?"

"At the house party? No. I got here for cleanup duty. What's wrong?"

"It was the music," she said again. "I - don't trust my words. Put me in the van. I'll try to come willingly."

She sat down on the balcony and stared through the slats of the railing into the fading lights of Carcosa until Johnny's footsteps came up the stair.

If you enjoyed this, find more in Eldritch Skies.

A.J. Luxton