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The Secret of El Arenque Rojo, Chapter 8: Burn Out

by Jason Hinklin-Lauderdale

Every page in the Woot 2012 Calendar includes a QR code that, when scanned after each month begins, takes you to a new chapter in The Secret of El Arenque Rojo. In Chapter 1, video store owner Roy Odom found a box of mysterious VHS tapes. In Chapter 2, he started to notice some odd coincidences and symbols in the movies on the tapes. He sought the help of an unusual film professor in Chapter 3; discovered that the implications were bigger than he'd ever imagined in Chapter 4; and had a disquieting dream before being betrayed by a confederate in Chapter 5. The turncoat had a change of heart in Chapter 6... but learned in Chapter 7 that even considering betrayal has its price. We continue our story now with Chapter 8...

As Drake drove off into the night watching the motel burn in his rearview mirror, he worried that he might be suffering from a lack of imagination.

He’d missed an opportunity with the video store, Drake decided. He could’ve had some fun with that one. No one had been around to see him break in. The place had been empty other than the old unwanted video tapes and a few torn promotional posters. He’d had all the time in the world to rig up something real nice if he’d wanted to, like that “microwave a can of spray-paint in a room full of gas” trick he’d seen in a movie a while back, the kind of thing a guy could walk away from in slow motion as he lit a cigarette just before the blast. That would’ve been neato torpedo...

But it had been so late at night when he’d done the job, and he hadn’t been sleeping well lately, anyway. He’d barely been able to keep his eyes open pouring the accelerant. And besides, an explosion would’ve just ended up leading to unwanted questions. At least the insurance check would keep the store owner happy. And if the cops happened to find and detain their number one arson subject, one Mr. Roy Odom, until he could get to him, he wouldn’t exactly complain.

The university film lab had been infinitely trickier, but that was his own fault. Drake’s strict no-killing rule meant he needed the place entirely empty before lighting any matches. A lot of guys in his line of work thought he was crazy for holding back, but Drake felt it was important to have certain standards. For him, ruining lives seemed so much more evil than just taking them. Little things like imagining the faces of the students whose projects had literally melted away gave him a tingle. Plus, after finally luring out the night janitor, he really didn’t feel like planning some big fancy burn.

A can of gas, a disposable lighter, and a half hour later, Drake barely noticed the sound of sirens heading toward the blaze as he stood in an all-night drug store, wondering if sleeping pills would make him too groggy to work in the morning.

He’d put almost no thought at all into Professor Duke’s flat. A headache that had crept up on him that afternoon had put him in mood foul enough to make him just chuck a Molotov cocktail through the window and call it a day. He knew the tapes his bosses wanted weren’t in there, and they’d already clued him in on where they might be headed next, so why waste time?

Only they weren’t at the motel where the intercepted phone calls Duke had been making were coming from and, man, was that annoying, especially with the girl genius’s incredibly convenient army of luchadores just milling about in the parking lot for hours. Who can think of a creative way of setting things on fire under conditions like these? he asked himself. He tried in vain to get some rest as he waited for the masked men to leave, then just torched the whole thing, stopping only to knock on the door of the office and warn the old man who ran the place that he might want to grab some stuff and go.

Drake rubbed his eyes as he drove down the darkened highway. Maybe it wasn’t lack of imagination that plagued him. Maybe it was exhaustion. How long had it been since he’d slept? Five days? Six? He shook the thought off and tried focusing on the road ahead. How was he supposed to sleep knowing what was coming? Who could rest knowing the fate of the world was now in the hands of a slacker loser, a brace-faced know-it-all, and an old film buff?

His phone sprang to life on the seat beside him. “The studio,” the notification read. “Get the tapes.”

He knew to get the tapes. He couldn’t wait to get the stupid tapes and put this business behind him for, well, as long as world had left, he guessed. Afterward, maybe he’d finally be able to catch some Zs.