The Stepping Stone Cycle

An episodic series of cosmic horror novellas by the acclaimed author of The Bridge Chronicles

“What is your name?”

“We’ve gone over this about a hundred times, Martin. Do we have to do it again?”

The look on Dr. Martin Dyer’s face was that of a disapproving school teacher, a scold lying just behind the disappointed scowl. “You know just as well as I do how these exercises work. We have to go over it until I’m satisfied that you are able to do for yourself well enough to be released.”

“Fine,” he said with a resigned sigh. “You’re right. I’m just itching to get out of here so I can find Sarah.” The disapproving glare over the edge of Dyer’s glasses again, his too bushy eyebrows wriggling caterpillars of stern discipline. “My name is Jack Carter. I’m 38 years old.”

“And what is your profession?”

“When I’m not a guest of this fine establishment, I am a forensic psychologist specializing in federal felony murder cases.”

Dyer nodded while jotting a few notes on the pad placed precariously on his knee as he sat cross-legged in an overstuffed leather chair the color of fertilized soil. A stray thought occurred to Jack that he’d always considered Dyer’s diagnostic posture a little effeminate. The full, skinny beard that covered Dyer’s chin from sideburns to moustache didn’t dispel the impression either.

“Do you remember your last case? Tell me about it.”

Images flooded Jack’s mind, images of a prisoner in an interrogation room screaming in joy at his descriptions of the brutal savagery he’d inflicted on thirteen women. Photographs of the carnage had been splayed out on the table in front of Jack like a corpse, turning his stomach while simultaneously fascinating the psychologist in him. The ritualistic adornments of the killings had been precise and particular, and the minute the perp had seen the images, he’d wound himself into a beatific fervor.

“His name was Howard Phillips. He was the usual quiet, loner type. All the neighbors barely noticed him, said he was the nicest guy if just a little shy. They didn’t think anything of it until the stench started to permeate the building. They found pieces of seven prostitutes in his apartment in various states of decay and preservation and another six laid out in ritual posture at various storage units he rented. He had the typical delusions of a religious megalomaniac along with signs of schizophrenic hallucinations. Really the only thing remarkable about it was the resolution.”

The bloody resolution had weighed heavily on his mind. The man had stabbed himself in a ritual fashion right in front of Jack’s eyes with the pen Jack had carelessly left on the table between them. The inquest had found that Jack couldn’t be blamed for the man’s death but he remembered that it had shaken him. Now, almost two years later, Jack’s memories of the event were vivid but detached from all emotional impact. He watched pictures of the man’s death in his mind with all the empathy of a man watching an assembly line produce widgets.

“Did this resolution affect you?”

“At the time, I remember being extremely upset about it.”

“And now?”

First Stone

Books by Gary A. Ballard

Under the Amoral Bridge  The Know Circuit  if [tribe] =  The Long and the Short Swords Reclamation  Tales from the Bridge Chronicles First Stone The Metal Black - Episode 2 of The Stepping Stone Cycle - Cosmic Horror Drowned

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