Final Solstice - David Sakmyster


7:30 PM, just as the engorged sun bled out over the Laguna Mountains, Senator Robert Aickerman went for a late jog. He left his Sunset Hills estate outside of San Diego, waved to the night guard at the gate, and planned to get a quick lead ahead of the two secret service agents, trailing in a black limo should he need a break, a drink or mainly, should there be an attempt on his life.

He was the last to admit it, because of the drastic change it implied in his life, but it was time. After all, he was now the current front-runner in the Republican race. Forty-percent of the delegates, miles ahead of his flailing, scandal-wracked opponent. Very possibly he would be sitting in the Oval Office this time next year.

Aickerman was nothing if not safety-conscious, but the increased attention had grown tiresome. So bad he couldn’t even read the paper in the shitter alone without having them check every few minutes on his continued safety.

He picked up the pace, determined to reach the bottom of his steep hill and enter the park before the daylight fled for good. Orange vest, blinking lights on the back of his sneakers. He was certainly careful enough. Plus, those headlights at his back, keeping pace.

So intrusive, Aickerman thought. Before he had thrown his tattered hat into the ring, he had enjoyed the solitude of this park, away from the lights of the multi-million dollar homes on the neighboring hills, the sweet scents of sycamores, black sentinels against the night. Some nights he’d be out here all alone with just the bold constellations keeping pace, monitoring his time.

Glancing up, Aickerman could see Venus, or some other planet, but that was all he could make out in the spreading inky dusk that pushed away the meager violet remnants of the day. Ten minutes later, as the sycamores took on almost colossus-like size, humanoid in shape, two new lights, small and crimson, appeared against the night. High up on the hill.

Aickerman wasn’t the only one to notice. Behind him, the headlights flickered, the signal to stop. Cursing, he slowed, panting heavily.

“Senator?” Secret agent Tom Reynolds was standing in front of the car, a film-noir silhouette, just missing the ’40s-era fedora and the cigarette. “Come back a moment, there’s something …”

“Up there on the hill there, I know.” Aickerman scanned the area up there, dotted with brush, speckled with juniper. “I think I see them.” He squinted, trying to get the headlights’ afterimages from his sight. “Sure it’s just kids screwing around.” Like my former opponents, lucky them. At least somebody was having fun. And at least now, with the spotlight removed, they could enjoy their pastimes in private without people snooping in. Without agents following their every move.

“You might want to get in the car, sir.”

Aickerman heard it before he felt it: the wind, picking up, rustling the sycamores, which swayed now, their heavy branches signing out a warning. He looked up, and his frown grew deeper.

“Sir, come this way.…”

It took a few moments to realize what was wrong. Venus—it was gone. And the sky, a different shade of color.

His attention turned back to the crest of the hill, those two flickering lights. Torches? Their holders were just barely discernible. This is what the agents must have seen, without the hindrance of the headlights. Outlines of two figures out of place. They wore cloaks—or dark robes with hoods—and their torches were the lit tips of long sticks.

Aickerman had the sudden flash of a B-movie he had seen as a teenager in a drive-in movie, something about robed priests of darkness, spells and human sacrifices.

He shivered, took a step back toward the car.

“Just to be safe, sir.” Agent Reynolds led him inside as the wind abruptly shifted and drove at them, swirling, and turned to a roar as the sky burst in a searing flash of light—clearly outlining the two robed figures on the hill.

Their torches winked out simultaneously, and the ensuing darkness swept over the world, just as the roar of a sudden storm commenced with pounding thunderclaps and stinging hail.

“Inside!” Reynolds slammed the door shut and slid in, his body protectively leaning toward the senator. They sat cringing as the rock-sized hail hammered the roof and chipped against the windows.

“Jesus, where did that come from?” Aickerman jumped at another explosion of thunder. This time of year, even during an election year, the one constant you could count on was the weather; every day as beautiful