Every day, Virgil comes home to an empty house.
The pictures hanging in the hall after the foyer don't slow him down the way they used to. His eyes still dart to the ones in which the woman is alone, but he doesn't spare a glance towards any of the moments she shares with the other man, the one that looks like him a decade younger, smiling in ignorant contentment. In ten years he hasn't been able to bring himself to box up these memories, no matter how increasingly uncomfortable his refusal to move on has made the few friends who still force themselves to visit, but at least he doesn't think of them as his memories anymore. He's not the man in those pictures anymore.
He drops his rumpled jacket and laptop bag onto an armchair as he wends his way through the living room, loosening his tie with his other hand. It's the only use that chair gets anymore, given how infrequently guests are entertained here. The living room overall looks more like an upscale furniture showroom than any place lived in, thanks primarily to the attention to detail the weekly maid lavishes on the room just to pass the back half of her shift after she tends to the few areas of the house Virgil actually uses. Though he was rarely home when Rosa was working to thank her for it, he appreciated the attention paid to the room where the urn and burial flag resided.
In the den that serves as his home office, he pours himself two fingers of Scotch at the bar cabinet along one wall, and carries the glass with him to his desk. He's not feeling driven to drink, not out to drown a sorrow or ease any particular pain, it's just a routine he keeps with almost superstitious reliability. He has papers to review, the first batch of the semester, a simple essay assignment designed to assess what beliefs and biases his instruction will be attempting to surmount this year. The glass of whisky is there for the moments when he'll need the comforting burn of the alcohol to distract him from the most exceptionally ill-conceived elucidations his students have to offer.
Virgil fishes a thumbdrive out of his pocket and slots it into his keyboard's USB port as his computer spins up out of hibernation. Two paragraphs into the first assignment, he stops to reread something, sighs, then pulls off his wireframe glasses and tosses them onto the desk. "...I'm going to need the bottle."
He stands, and that's when he hears church bells chime in his living room. He goes stock still, immediately troubled. It's been years since his phone made that sound. He almost didn't bother to set the special ringtone when he upgraded to a new model in April. He'd hoped they were done with him, but he'd set it nevertheless because he knew they never would be.
After retrieving the phone from his jacket, he returns to his desk to open the message. As he expected, a file is attached. A looping animation of a candle-flame fluttering in the wind. He transfers the image wirelessly to his desktop and opens a drawer to pull out a sheet of thin tracing paper. He makes a few folds in it to guide his strokes, and sketches out an intricate pattern of curves from memory, using the creases he's made as references. When he's finished, he checks his phone for the timestamp of the message. At either end of each of the lines he's drawn, he then scrawls a symbol.
Virgil opens the file with an image editing program, then uses a piece of tape to affix his drawing to the monitor. He resizes the image to match the borders of an area defined by his first folds, then starts to advance the animation, frame by frame. Every few, the flickering flame's edge lines up perfectly with one of the lines drawn on his paper overlay. Every time it does, he checks the frame number and jots a letter down on another sheet of paper.
Samantha Bove BC
Rachel Cooke VA
Daniel Cruz MT
James Holloway OR
Alice Sullivan CA
Sara Vincayd PA
His eyes go increasingly, incredulously wide as the frame counter continues to climb, moving through the flame's carefully spliced-together flickers at high speed once he's fallen into the rhythm of decoding. After the second name, he doesn't exhale until he's reached the sign-off. "Six. SIX?" he blurts, in the vague direction of his phone. He doesn't bother to encode a message to actually request confirmation, as that would be a waste of the next cipher. Unprecedented as the number might be, M was never wrong.
Virgil left his desk and moved to the bookshelves that covered the back wall of the den. His fingers ran along the leather spines of the old classics he kept here, a fond, familiar touch, almost as if he were apologizing to them for the deception they were a necessary part of. He found the two he sought on different shelves, exchanged Alighieri with Melville, and the subtle change in the weights of both shelves completed a precise pressure circuit. He felt the floorboards gently rumble under his feet.
Virgil pocketed the list of names, tore the paper off his monitor and set it on fire with a lighter he found in one of his desk drawers. While the paper rapidly disintegrated in the trash can next to the desk, he pocketed the lighter, figuring this would be as good a time as any to start smoking again. He headed to the kitchen, down into the basement, and found the one door the maid's key wouldn't open.
((Welcome to Seers! You're all dead.))
((Check your character's link above for an idea of the circumstances!))
((Virgil's intro (and page manips) ran longer than I planned, I'll set the scene for your first bout of CI in my next post, up in an hour or two Friday. THX 4 PATIENCE))