Culture Currency is proud to present the conclusion to the Hashtag Barry Saga. This will be the final installment and bring us a thrilling end to Hashtag's journey. We are proud to have served as the platform for this great series and we highly value and appreciate the talent of Dan Diehn. If you need to catch up on the Hashtag Saga, please see the links here to read the whole story before getting to today's conclusion:
“Where are we?” Squeaky gasped. It felt like someone had punched him in the stomach. A second ago he was resting comfortably in bed, well, maybe not comfortably. It was a little unnerving to wake up from a nightmare to find your long lost best friend and his monstrous devil perched near the edge of your bed.
Squeaky was keeled over on a cold hardwood floor. From his vantage point, Hashtag towered over him. Sunlight illuminated Hashtag in radiance. Squeaky stood up and adjusted his glasses. “Wasn’t it the middle of the night a second ago?”
Hashtag looked around, his hands on his hips, unfazed.
“You know,” Hashtag said, “I’m not entirely certain where this is. I’m not usually here for very long.”
Squeaky slowly stood up and looked around. The place had clearly been abandoned for some time. There was no furniture to speak of, half the walls were exposed, wires strewn about the floor. Cobwebs clung to every corner. If it were not, still somewhat inexplicable to Squeaky, the middle of the day, the house would be swallowed up in darkness.
“Yeah, okay, but why are we here? And where’s your dust devil?”
Hashtag laughed loud and hard. “Dust devil!” he gasped, hunched over. “Oh my god, Squeaky, I truly did miss you.” Hashtag wiped a tear from his eye and stood up straight.
Squeaky eyed him suspiciously.
Hashtag turned and began rifling through a bag near the window.
“So, I don’t know exactly where we are,” Hashtag cleared his throat, “but we’re obviously somewhere on the other side of the world. I’ve been coming here between missions to clear my head, so to speak. The Twins don’t know about it.”
Squeaky’s head began to reel as the reality of the situation sank in. He was woozy and had to brace himself on a nearby wall to not fall over. The room spun quickly and he felt nauseous. He let out a long groan.
“Oh shit!’ Hashtag exclaimed as he whipped around to face Squeaky. “I’m sorry. I forgot you’re not used to teleporting like that.” He rushed over to Squeaky to help him sit down with his back leaning against the wall. “Here, let me get you some water.”
“There’s no way there’s running wat--”
But before he could finish, Hashtag whispered something under his breath and disappeared.
Squeaky sighed. He felt like he hadn’t woken up, like he was still crawling his way through those endless hallways. He swore he could hear voices creeping in from somewhere in the house. He felt like he could cry, both equally relieved and horrified to see Hashtag again. Squeaky had actually given up on him, and now, here he was, standing straight and masterfully commanding a gigantic mass of dust, knowing full well that it was a devil. Squeaky had suspicions about what kind of commands Hashtag had been giving and it sent a shiver wiggling down his spine.
The air in front of Squeaky sucked inward and out of the nothing, Hashtag materialized, holding a glass of iced water. He was laughing again.
“Oh man,” he said, “those people did not like that I teleported into their kitchen. They were all, well, actually I’m not sure what language they were speaking but they were yelling! I think someone was getting a weapon. Like that would’ve done anything.”
He handed Squeaky the glass of water. “Feeling any better?” he asked.
Squeaky wasn’t entirely sure but nodded anyway. He cocked his head at Hashtag, uncertain how to ask the question that had been bothering him since just before he found himself here.
“You’re wondering who I’m going to kill,” Hashtag said flatly. “You’re wondering how many people I’ve killed. You’re wondering why I have killed and will kill again. You’re also wondering how I know what you’re thinking right now.”
Squeaky’s eyes widened.
Hashtag smirked and said in a normal tone, “So it turns out that telepathy is one of the perks! I’ve been studying so many different paranormal things, not all of them are always compatible, you know, but some of them are and it is great! My telekinesis game is weak, but we’re working on it.”
Squeaky scowled at him.
Hashtag nodded. “Right, the missions, the killing. I don’t want to. I never wanted to.”
“Well if you’re so damn powerful, why didn’t you just stop?” Squeaky hissed.
“You think I haven’t thought about that?” Hashtag nearly yelled and then continued, quieter, “The Twins kill for knowledge and I think I might know more than they do at this point. They want to keep everything to themselves, to control it. If I were to escape, they would send everything they have at me. They might even leave the compound themselves.
“And besides, they would find a replacement. You don’t know how many kids are in that house, how many they’ve kidnapped, forced to perform arcane rituals, blood sacrifices.” Hashtag closed his eye. “I saw them sacrifice a child once, which is bad enough as it is, but the damn thing didn’t even work! It was just another goddamn needless death!”
Hashtag was shaking with anger. Squeaky watched as bit by bit the cobwebs and layers of dust began to float toward him. Clouds blotted out the sunlight. The air temperature plunged.
“Hashtag, snap out of it!” Squeaky yelled.
Hashtag opened his eye and took deep meditative breaths. He turned and walked back toward the bag.
“Hey man,” Squeaky started, “I’m sorry...I’m sorry that all of this happened to you. I don’t and will probably never understand what you’ve been through. I don’t even understand what’s happening right now, but if it means putting an end to this, then I’ll help.” He sighed and asked, “What do you need me to do?”
Hashtag rummaged through the bag and turned slowly, a large rope in one hand and a hood in the other. “Trust me,” he said with a smile.
Squeaky found that even though he could brace for the teleportation this time, it still knocked all of the air out of him. He gasped and clutched his stomach. Hashtag waited nearby patiently, his gaze sweeping back and forth, patrolling the horizon. Once Squeaky was breathing easily, Hashtag bound his arms behind his back. He put on the hood and reassured him that he was better off not being able to see while walking through these woods.
Even without his vision, Squeaky felt uneasy as they traversed the dark road. Lights flashed in front of his eyes and even when he finally closed them, bright shadows danced on the back of his eyelids. It was cold. The walk took forever.
Then he smelled the acrid air of the farm, heard goats bleating, a rooster crowing.
“Don’t say a word,” Hashtag whispered.
Squeaky could sense the world around him tighten as they stepped into the house. They marched through the hallways without hesitation. Squeaky lost track after the third turn, but Hashtag pressed him forward effortlessly until they came to a sudden stop.
“You didn’t need to bring him here,” he heard a voice speak and then another, nearly identical voice, “You could have finished your mission there.”
“I know,” Hashtag replied nonchalantly, “but I thought he would make a good sacrifice, a good buildup to the equinox.”
“The equinox is not for some time yet.”
“Sure,” Hashtag responded, “but it wouldn’t hurt to lay down some decent groundwork in the weeks leading up to it, would it?”
Without realizing anyone had moved, Squeaky felt the presence of someone standing in front of him.
Squeaky winced as the hood was yanked off of his head. Oh great, he thought, this truly is a horror movie. The Twins stood directly in front of him, donning head-to-toe robes, one red, the other blue. Squeaky couldn’t tell them apart. Behind them, a dead goat was sprawled on top of an altar. Organs were spread out in the shape of an arcane symbol. Blood slowly dripped off the edges and onto the ground.
“Excellent,” Hashtag said, turning to look at Squeaky, “tonight it is then.”
Squeaky had no frame of reference for how much time had passed. After the encounter with the Twins, they untied the ropes from his wrists and stuffed him into a small, windowless room and locked the door when they exited. The floor was sticky and smelled putrid. It was pitch black and not wanting to find out what else lurked inside, he remained huddled in the corner.
He wished Hashtag had told him the plan, but Squeaky surmised he might have actually said no if he had known what was going to occur. He hoped that Hashtag really had a plan. He couldn’t make himself think that perhaps Hashtag was actually disingenuous, that he had no intention of killing the Twins, but merely needed him for his sick human sacrifice. As time stretched on, there were moments when Squeaky wished he had never met Hashtag, that he had lived his life lonely and miserable and very much not locked in what he assumed was a holding pen for living sacrifices.
“If these walls could speak,” he said to aloud and then really hoped that they couldn’t.
It felt longer than a day. He was sore and hungry beginning to hope that he really was still lying in bed, sleeping, that this was just some sort of extended nightmare.
“Wake up!” he yelled and slapped himself across the face. His glasses went flying across the room. “Shit,” he muttered under his breath and began to crawl on all fours, hands patting the wet floor in front of him. He began to cry, soft whimpers at first until his sobs crescendoed into a wail.
He recoiled from the light as the door swung open and used that small moment to locate his glasses and sweep them onto his face. The lenses were stained with blood. He looked at the doorway to see Hashtag, hands on his hips.
“Let’s go,” he said calmly.
Squeaky didn’t realize how much dread had settled into the pit of his stomach until he stood and hobbled into the next room. The altar and goat were gone. In the middle of the room was a giant symbol scrawled in chalk. Hashtag directed him to stand in the middle while he bound his hands behind his back again.
Squeaky stared out at the growing crowd. It wasn’t just the Twins, but there was a woman with missing fingers, and kids everywhere. They sat at the edges of the room with anticipation wetting their eyes.
The Twins nodded and Hashtag stood in front of Squeaky holding up a long, curved knife.
“Oh god,” Squeaky whimpered.
Hashtag intoned loudly in a language Squeaky did not understand. Motes of dust mottled with blood and flesh began to whirl behind Hashtag. From somewhere distant, thunder rattled the walls. The eyes of the crowd grew wide as the hairs on their arms raised while goosebumps ran down their skin. Squeaky could see his breath and feel the warmth of liquid running down his leg.
The devil towered over everyone. When Hashtag turned, it turned. When Hashtag held up the knife again for everyone to see, it, too, held up its makeshift hands. And when Hashtag turned and lunged toward the Twins, it lunged even faster. Before they could snap their fingers, it was already on them.
Screams echoed as a panic spread throughout the room. Some children tried summon without success. Others tried to run but there was no longer a door to exit. Hashtag twisted his fingers and his devil twisted its fingers. Flower raised her disfigured hand to her open mouth, chin dropped to her chest. Spurts of blood sprayed across the air as Hashtag’s devil plucked out the Twins eyeballs and imbued them with perfect fear. They dropped to their lifeless knees and fell over. Hashtag turned and the dust turned with him. He raised a finger to his lips and silence fell upon the crowd.
He turned to Flower and said, “The others are in your charge now. Do not repeat the Twins’ mistakes.” He spit on their corpses, walked to where Squeaky stood shaking, touched his arm, and disappeared.
Hashtag crouched by Squeaky as he gasped for air, crying, and laughing.
“I thought,” Squeaky tried to say, “I thought you were…I didn’t know what you were…”
Hashtag patted him on the shoulder. “Dude, you’re my best friend. You’ll always be my best friend. I wouldn’t let anything happen to you if I could help it.”
Squeaky let out an exasperated sigh and glanced around his surroundings. “Where are we?”
Hashtag stood up and put his hand on his gigantic forehead, shielding the sun from his eye. “I have no idea. I just asked it to send us somewhere safe.”
They stood on top of a large hill. Green grass flowed all around them, waving in the warm breeze. The sun was high in the sky and clouds passed by languidly. The colors here were more vibrant than either of them could remember. Mountains cropped up in the distance and the aroma of salty water sprayed into their nostrils. Below them, a small town hunkered in a valley.
“Think they have any ice cream?” Hashtag gestured toward the village.
“Now you’re talking!” Squeaky brightened. “Oh my god, I am so hungry I would even eat vanilla.”
“Be honest,” Hashtag retorted, “you’d eat anything.”
“Mostly anything!” Squeaky admitted.
They both let out deep laughs and set off for the town below, Squeaky striding beside Hashtag, specks of dust trailing behind him in the wind.
by Dan Diehn (@diedan)