Richard yawned and checked the time. Behind him, Dwight was going back to the liquor cabinet. "I'd go easy on that," Richard said.
The TV: "For the love of God, get a hold of yourself!"
Dwight's hands shook as he put the glass back. "I need to settle my nerves," he said. Thunder and lightning from the television punctuated his words.
"It'll all be over soon," Richard said. "And with nothing to show for it." Dwight looked surprised. Richard rolled his eyes. "I, for one, am not scared of Pierce's witchcraft," he said.
"But you read his thesis—"
"And that's why I'm not scared," Richard said.
"You two have it all arranged, haven't you? You think I'm an idiot, don't you?"
"He's either mad or thinks we are," said Richard. "Either way I'm only here so that there'll be a credible witness to this debacle."
Dwight shook his head. "It's a dangerous night for skeptics," he said.
"Comes with the territory," said Richard. And he laughed.
"Anyone can see with half an eye that there's something wrong. And I've got two eyes. Pretty good ones."
Dwight was about to say more, but a voice from down the hall interrupted them: "It's time." Richard looked out the window; the sun had just gone down. Shrugging, he followed Dwight. The den was empty of all furnishings except a single thick cushion on the floor, a set of framed movie posters on the wall, a police scanner on an end table near the window, and the sensory-deprivation tank, from which Pierce had just emerged, dripping wet. Dwight took up his post at the scanner, pen and notebook ready. Richard leaned on the doorframe, polishing his nails on the breast of his suit.
"Well professor," he said, "Dwight is all worked up about your hocus-pocus routine."
"And you're not, I assume?" Pierce said, fixing his glasses to his face as he toweled himself off.
"Well I expect a fine time watching you make a spectacle of yourself," Richard said. "But that's all I expect."
Pierce gave him a sideways smile. "That's what I like about you Richard: You're a narrow, ignorant, fool. In other words, the ideal witness for this experiment. Once you're convinced, everyone else will have to acknowledge the reality of what's happened."
Pierce sat cross-legged on the cushion. Dwight turned on the police scanner. Richard stifled a yawn. He looked at the posters on the wall. "So these are your 'foci,' are they?"
"Indeed," said Pierce.
"And why these images, exactly?"
"Well, it is Halloween," said Pierce. Richard scoffed again. Pierce ignored him. He closed his eyes. "Are we ready to begin?" he said. Dwight nodded. "Very well. I will begin."
Valerie put her feet up on the table. It was getting dark outside, but it wasn't time to go yet, so she leaned into the phone, flipping between TV channels. "I can still make the party," she said, "I just have to wait until Colin is asleep."
"Colin?" Gavin said.
"My brother. He was supposed to be trick-or-treating tonight but he got grounded, so Mom and Dad said I have to stick around for a few hours to keep an eye on things. It's like being in high school all over again." She rolled her eyes. "I think he's upstairs watching monster movies now." She took the phone away from her ear, looking around, making sure she was really alone, then settled back down. "So what are you wearing?" she said.
"You heard me. You're not in your costume yet, right? So what are you wearing?"
"You really want to hear about it?"
"Nah. I'd rather hear about your big dick."
"It is big, right?" Valerie said. She unbuttoned the front of her pants, sliding a hand down.
"Sure," said Gavin, "it's big. If you want it to be."
"It better be big if you're expecting to get it sucked tonight," she said, running a finger up and down herself.
"Don’t worry, it's a nice thick one," Gavin said. His voice sounded hushed on the other end of the line and she wondered who was around that he didn't want them to hear.
"Oh? I like it thick baby. You'd better not be bullshitting me."
"What do you like to do with this thick dick?" Gavin whispered.
"I'd stick it right up my tight little ass is what I'd do with it." She slid two fingers up and down the length of her slit.
"You like it like that?" he says.
"Baby you know I do." She felt her outer lips begin to swell, and a flush runs over her body.
"You oughta feel my nice big head and thick shaft sliding right between those tight cheeks."
"I don't want you to slide it, I want you to slam it," Valerie said, putting one finger up inside herself and testing the wetness.
"You like it rough?"
"Rough's the only way I know how." She punctuated her comment by shoving two fingers in deep, all the way down to the last knuckle, grunting and jumping a little in her seat as she did. She slid all the way down the couch, splaying her legs.
"You like to think about me sitting up behind you, pounding away on your ass, the sound of my balls slapping against your cheeks as my cock pumps in and out, in and out?"
"Ohhhhh yeah," she moaned.
"Does that make you wet?"
"You have a finger in yourself?"
She complied, placing one fingertip on her tongue. "Tastes good, baby," she said.
"Does my voice make you wet?"
"Always." She began rubbing her clit.
"Does it get you off?"
"In the worst kinda way."
"What gets you off the hardest?"
"When you take your big thick cock and you put it in my—"
But Gavin would never know where he was supposed to put it, because at that moment the sound of screams came down the stairs. Valerie jumped in her seat and, suddenly guilty, fastened her pants, dropped the phone, and ran up the steps two at a time. She burst into Colin's room, dark except for the dull light of the TV. He sat in his pajamas, hugging his knees, staring in white-faced shock.
"What is it?" Valerie said. "What's wrong?"
"The monster!" Colin said. Valerie looked at the TV screen. The speakers blared:
"You look worried, is anything wrong?"
"No, no, forget my foolishness, there's nothing the matter…"
She rounded on her brother.
"Colin, that's not funny," she said. "You scared the shit out of me. If you go screaming your head off over nothing then sometime when you're really hurt—"
"Not there!" Colin said, "Not the monster on the TV, that one!"
He was pointing behind her.
A floorboard creaked. The back of Valerie's neck prickled.
"Henry, I'm afraid, terribly afraid! Something is going to happen, I feel it, I can't get it out of my mind!"
Valerie turned around; in the dark corner of the room, a tall, ungainly shape loomed. It stared at her. She felt herself go pale. She looked at the figure on the TV screen, then, slowly, she turned back to the man in the corner. They were identical: the stitched gray flesh, the brooding eyes, the heavy brow, and those huge hands. Back and forth she looked, back and forth, so many times it seemed she couldn't stop.
And only when the monster took a staggering step forward did she think to scream.
Fletcher's belt was caught; he pulled it as hard as he could but then stopped, reminding himself that the new budget was in and he would have to replace it if broke. Instead he let Margaret do it, her thin fingers untangling the buckle and pushing it aside, then sliding his zipper down and slipping in. She rubbed the outline of his cock through the fabric of his underwear. "How's he doing tonight?" she said, smiling.
"Lonely and unappreciated," said Fletcher. He looked over his shoulder; they were on the back porch and there was not much cover from the yard, but it was dark and the coast was clear. If they were fast enough, there shouldn't be any problems…
"Poor guy," Margaret said, pulling Fletcher's cock out and blowing on it. He jumped and she giggled. "You poor, poor thing, having to work on Halloween and no time for fun?"
"A little time…but we'd better hurry. If I get a call…"
"Don't try to rush a good thing, baby," she said, snaking her tongue along the underside of his shaft. Fletcher put his back against the wall and dragged his fingers through her hair; it was soft, and her mouth was hot, and she kissed her way down one side of him and up the other, stopping to leave pillowy kisses right on the ridge of his head. Now this, he thought, is the life. She teased the tip with her tongue, flicking it, watching it bounce; in the yellow porch light he saw his cock gleam, wet with her saliva. She looked at it with an appraising eye.
"Looks good tonight," she said. "It's making me wet. I'm going to have to go in and change these pants before the party…"
Damn, thought Fletcher, if she wants to fuck we'll be here all night. He grabbed her by the back of the head and, walking the fine line between asking and insisting, pushed her down again. To his relief, she laughed and cooperated. Wrapping her lips around him, she pulled him in one inch at a time, her mouth making wet noises all the way. He saw, distinctly despite the inadequate illumination, a smudge of her lipstick on the blue-black fabric of his pants as she reached the base of him. That could get him in trouble later…but no time to worry about it now, he thought, as the pressure from her sucking mouth was finally giving him that live-wire jolt that ran down the center of his shaft, coiled up around his balls, and then jumped straight up into the pit of his stomach as the pressure began to build up, stoked by the feeling of cherry lip gloss against his naked skin. He started to push with his hips, bucking, fucking her wet, hot mouth; she grunted around him, opening her eyes just long enough to wink and then pursing her lips even tighter, sucking until he was shaking all over and just about to get into the groove of—
The radio crackled: "1042, this is dispatch, come in 1042."
"Fuck!" said Fletcher, so startled that he hit his head against the wall. Skull throbbing, he grabbed the com.
"Dispatch, this is 1042," he said, trying to keep his voice level despite the pain in his head and the still-insistent pressure of Margaret's mouth below.
"1042, I'm getting a really weird report here about…are you okay?"
"Yeah, why?" She was swirling her tongue in that circle thing that he liked, and his breath caught.
"Because your breathing sounds like an obscene caller. Jesus, Fletcher, you're not getting your dick sucked on the clock again, are you?"
"What? No!" He pulled away; Margaret pouted. He zipped up, careful not to catch himself. "It's just a little winded from…look, what's the call?" With one hand he held the com while he made apologetic signals to Margaret with the other "I'll be back, I'll be back later,' he whispered, covering the radio. On his way back to the cruiser he checked to make sure he hadn't left anything behind: belt, keys, badge, and gun. Last month he dropped his pepper spray in her living room and caught hell for losing it.
Fletcher got into the cruiser and started it, pulling onto Lincoln Avenue, listening to the com. He frowned. "Um, can you repeat that, dispatch? What's the complaint?"
"There's a mummy at the museum," said the voice on the com, obviously struggling to maintain a straight face.
Fletcher rolled his eyes. "Okay, I'll bite: Why does that warrant a call, dispatch?"
"Because they're not supposed to have one," answered the com.
I can't believe I got called away for this bullshit, thought Fletcher. He pulled the cruiser to a stop, yellow headlights washing over the shrubs and trees of the nearby park.
"We got a call from the staff saying an antique sarcophagus and an intact mummy that aren't part of any exhibit and aren't listed in their catalog showed up in one of the galleries while they were closing. And then—now pay attention, this is the important part—as they were trying to figure out what to do about it, the mummy—"
"Got up and walked away?"
"Oh, you've heard this one before?" Dispatch was now clearly losing the straight-face battle. Fletcher rolled his eyes again.
"I'll admit, as far as Halloween pranks go, that's pretty good," he said.
"Yeah, well, they don't think it's funny. They sounded real upset about it when they called. It's right in your neighborhood, so could you just keep an eye out for…well, anything, while you're checking the park?"
Fletcher sighed. "Roger that, dispatch, but everything out here is as quiet as a…" He stopped. "Oh you have got to be fucking kidding me."
Fletcher squinted through the windshield, hoping that what he was seeing was some kind of mirage. But no, there it was as plain as day: an awkward, gangly figure swathed in rotten bandages stumbling across the road right in front of him. He watched the "mummy" shamble and trip over its own feet as it crossed both lanes and traipsed off into the tall grass. He watched it the whole way, at first too dumbstruck to pursue. Please tell me I don't seriously have to do this, Fletcher thought, but even as he did he sighed and thumbed the com again. "Dispatch, this is 1042, I have a suspect in sight that, um, matches the description for the museum break-in."
A pause on the other end. Then: "Repeat that, 1042? Do you mean to say you've found your mummy?"
"Fuck off, dispatch."
Fletcher hung the com up and, reminding himself that a pension was only ten years away, got out of the car. "Hey!" he said. The mummy was still visible but disappearing fast into the trees. "Hey you! You with the…just hold up." The retreating figure stopped. "Police," Fletcher said. "Step out where I can see you, please." The beam of his flashlight bounced between the tree trunks, singling out the suspect. The mummy took pained steps back toward the road. "Hurry it up buddy, we don't have all night."
Now that the suspect was closer Fletcher had to admire the detail on the costume, though the gauze was a bit of a mess after the cross-country trek through the park. The exposed face was particularly startling and he had to check himself to avoid flinching. "That's far enough," he said, trying to keep the light in the suspect's eyes (where the hell were the suspect's eyes?) "Hands where I can see them. Have you been drinking tonight? Have you taken anything?" The suspect kept walking, dragging one leg. "Buddy, I said that's far enough. Hey. Hey, back the fuck off!"
Fletcher grabbed for his gun but the grip slid between his sweaty fingers and the suspect, putting on a sudden burst of speed, leapt forward, wrapping its cold, brittle hands around his throat and squeezing. Fletcher fell back and the mummy pushed him against the side of the car. The flashlight dropped and rolled away, and Fletcher put both hands up to try to break the choke. In the moonlight he saw the brittle flesh stretched tight over the mummy's skull, with those black eyes staring, unblinking, into his. Its jaw moved up and down and a muffled, strained sound like a sob came out. Fletcher struggled, adrenaline spiking even as the pressure on his windpipe made his vision blur.
And then, in a moment, it was over; the mummy dropped Fletcher and took off again, vanishing into the trees. Fletcher hit the asphalt, sucking air into his aching lungs for a few seconds and then struggling back into the car. He grabbed the com with both hands. "Dispatch," he said, his voice hoarse, "dispatch, this is 1042. I'm reporting…look, this is serious, don't laugh when I tell you this…"
Mary fit the key into the old lock with some difficulty; the back door always stuck. She flipped the light switch but the service corridor remained dark. She sighed. This damn place was going to pieces. She fumbled with the flashlight in the service box; it would only take her a minute to retrieve her forgotten purse and leave.
But then she heard it: music. Not a radio, either, it was distinctly the sound of someone playing in the audition room. It sounded like a piano? No, she corrected herself, it was the pipe organ. Curious, she made her way down the hall. The ghost-beam of her flashlight passed over a stack of packing crates, all labeled:
"Property, SF War Memorial Opera House."
The door to the audition room squealed on its hinges. Inside it was black and gloomy except for the light of a few flickering candles (who brought those in here?). Mary saw someone hunched over the organ, shoulders rising and falling with the effort of mad playing, notes wheeling by one after the other in a frenzied storm that swirled around her. The player, whoever he was, took no notice of Mary's entrance. He was, for some reason, wearing a shapeless black cape that obscured his silhouette. Mary stood dazed for a moment, overwhelmed by the music; it was horrifying, but captivating. Minutes passed before she came to herself and realized what was really going on. Working up her courage, she spoke as loudly as she could:
The player stopped, frozen in mid-note. The candles guttered in an anomalous draft. Mary's mouth went dry, but she spoke up again: "Excuse me, whoever you are, but you're not supposed to be here. And that's not your property. I don't want to have to call the police, but if you don't leave immediately—"
The man stood. He ran his fingers over the instrument's keys one last time, caressing them. Then he turned; Mary's breath left her. He was a tall man, and thin, and dressed in what was once probably an elegant tuxedo but was now faded, stained, rotting. His wore silken gloves and his cape hung to his knees, and on his face was a polished white mask with sad, profound eyes behind it. He made a little bow, mock politeness, as he stepped away from the organ. Mary felt a chill, but shook it off.
"Very funny," she said. The intruder said nothing. "Well? Come on, move it. You've had your fun and you're lucky I haven't called the cops yet. Why don’t you—"
She stopped. The stranger was not moving. He still had not blinked. His mask was expressionless, but there was something about his eyes…
She couldn't keep her voice from trembling now: "I'm warning you," she said. "I'm...I'm armed. I'm giving you until the count of three." She swallowed hard around the words. "One…"
The stranger adjusted his gloves.
He smoothed the lines of his cape.
He shook his head.
"Fine," said Mary.
Almost before she knew what she was doing, she reached out and snatched his mask off. The stranger turned away, covering his face with his hands, crying out. Mary backed off, still holding the white mask, mildly horrified at what she'd done. Now she really was ready to run away, but now it was too late, because the stranger turned back around. He looked at her. She saw his face.
Warren sat on his toolbox, leaning against the rear window while Evelyn got on her knees in the truck bed, blonde braid bobbing with the up-and-down motion of her head. She held his stiff cock with one hand and gripped his thigh through the fabric of his jeans with the other, slurping the head wetly, forming her lips into a perfect O and sucking so hard that it made a popping noise whenever she took it out. Behind them, the lights of the entire city were spread out beyond the edge of the cliff.
Evelyn slid the entire length of cock into her mouth, pushing to the opening of her throat, gagging a bit until her muscles relaxed and then beginning the swallowing motion that she knew got Warren off most effectively. He tensed up as she milked him, looking back and forth now and then to make sure the coast was clear; this street was usually empty at night, just a scenic overlook squeezed between two expensive houses in a remote neighborhood, but you never could tell. He thought he caught a flicker of movement on one side, but when he looked again it was gone. Then he was distracted, once again, by Evelyn's mouth as it slid down to the bottom of his shaft; he bit his lip.
Eventually Evelyn broke off, lying back in the truck and pulling Warren down with her. "It's freezing out here," she said, "hurry up and fuck me."
He groaned a little. "Oh come on, just a little more." He gestured to his still-wet dick. She shook her head.
"A little more and you won't last." He glares at her. She puts up her hands. "What? It's true. Come on, sitting there with your feelings hurt isn't getting either of us laid any faster; stick it in."
"Wait," Warren says, "I don't have a condom..."
"I don't give a shit."
"But what if—"
"Quit being a little bitch about it," Evelyn said, reaching around his waist and grabbing his ass with both hands, pulling him down onto her. She wriggled out of her jeans and wrapped her bare legs around him, stretching her arms over her head, grabbing the truck gate for leverage.
"Now," she said, "are you going to be a little bitch, or are you going to be a real man?"
Warren glared at her.
"Show me then," she said, lips curling
He responded by thrusting once, hard, burying half the length of him inside of her. She was amazingly wet and he slid in without resistance, the muscles of her cunt clamping down on him. She gasped, eyes rolling back into her head.
"Good," she said. "Again."
He gave another thrust of his bare cock, pushing the other half in now, sliding up to the base. Her legs squeezed his body. She gripped the gate tighter.
He started to pump her violently, rocking against her body, pushing with all the force that his arched back and squared shoulders could exert.
He held onto her hips, fingers threatening to bruise her flesh. He drew all the way out and penetrated anew with each thrust, grunting like an animal. Her back was soon bruised by rubbing against the metal, but still she panted over and over again: "Harder! Harder! Harder!"
Without thinking, he clamped one hand over her mouth, and with the other he started to choke her; not hard enough to cause real harm, but enough to set the furnace inside of her burning hotter and brighter than it ever had with him before. Evelyn's eyes rolled back in her head and her fingernails scraped metal as her body throbbed. Warren was relentless, pushing and pounding, pouring out exertion, trying, muscles aching, hair dripping with sweat. His cock piston-slammed again and again. Evelyn's pussy was saturated. Her eyes bulged as his fingers twitched on her throat, then relaxed. She couldn't talk now, so she just moaned, and when that was too much trouble, she growled.
Warren became aware of the headlights of a passing car but he ignored it, even though the driver surely must have seen him. He paused only long enough to verify that it was not a police car and, in absence of flashing lights, he went back at it. The hard, hollow thump of their bodies against the metal seemed incredibly loud in the quiet night: thump, thump, thump. Below them the whole city was lit up with partiers, but up here it was just the two of them. Evelyn's hands were all over him now, and her hands slid under his shirt and raked down his back; he imagined the bright red scores standing out against his skin. They ached.
He grabbed her thrashing, wriggling body and held it down again, constricting her into the closest semblance of stillness that she seemed likely to accede to, and then continued with his merciless fucking. She was now raw and bruised, but he paid no attention. Her eyes looked glassy and unfocused. Once the top of her head bounced off of the gate, but she barely seems aware of it. He closed his eyes and narrowed his focus down to the feeling of a hot, flushed, sweaty, pliant body underneath his, and then he began to cum, releasing a steady stream into the confines of her pussy, burying himself in her for the last time while he burst and gushed. Then he collapsed, exhausted, next to her, and for some time neither of them spoke. Eventually she rolled over and flopped an arm across his chest.
“That was...amazing.” Her throat was almost too raw to talk. “I didn’t know you had it in you.”
"Yeah…" was all Warren could say.
"You're…an animal," Evelyn said, giggling and kissing him. He kissed her back, but something caught his eye, distracting him; what was that? He looked up.
"Hey," he said, "I didn't think the moon was full tonight…"
"It's not," said Evelyn, kissing the side of his neck.
"No, it is, look," Warren said, pointing. Evelyn looked up. She frowned.
"That's weird," she said. "I swear it wasn't like that when we drove up here. How could—HEY!" She jumped up, huddling against the truck window. She pointed. A man was staring at them, peering over the truck gate, in fact.
Warren leapt up and pulled his pants on. The stranger still stared. Furious, Warren ran at him, hands balled into fists, but then as the peeping tom stood up Warren stopped, confused; he saw yellow eyes and bared fangs, and a muzzle, and matted black fur. The creature snarled, then howled, then jumped up into the truck bed and crouched down low, growling, foam flecking its lips. Warren backed away a step, but of course, there was no room to run. The creature snarled again. "What the fuck?" Warren said.
The monster jumped up and Evelyn screamed and Warren, without thinking, balled his fists again and took a swing. The creature ducked the blow and grabbed him, and they both fell to the ground, rolling over each other. Warren landed first, the impact driving the air out of him, and he felt claws at his throat, and now he was swinging his fists wildly, blind in the dark, grappling with the monster. They rolled along the ground, the thing’s jaws snapping, and only when Warren felt the stones start to shift underneath them did he realize they were so close to the edge of the cliff—
But it was too late. Evelyn screamed one more time, and the monster howled, but Warren said nothing, silently dropping away, feeling the wind in his hair, feeling weightless for those few seconds. He looked up at the sky, the stars, the moon, even the lights of the city stretched out underneath him, blurred, like an old black and white photograph…
And then nothing else.
Dwight sat at the police scanner, pen moving over pad as the calls overlapped, drowning each other out:
"…disturbance at the War Memorial Opera House, possible hostage situation, send all available units…"
"…attacked by a werewolf. Yes, that's the description she gave: a werewolf. We've got one in the hospital, no sign of the suspect, please proceed with…"
"…breaking and entering, assault and battery, suspect is dressed as the Frankenstein monster…"
"…suspect is fleeing on foot through the park, suspect should be considered highly dangerous, suspect has already assaulted an officer. To repeat, suspect is…"
Dwight looked up, eyes wide, cheeks pale. "It's working!" he said. "My God, it's actually working!"
Richard looked at the scanner, then at Pierce, then at the posters on the wall. "No," he said. "No, no, I don't believe any of this, not for a minute."
"But the calls!" said Dwight.
"Bullshit," said Richard, running his hands through his hair. "It's all fraud. There's no possible way I'll believe he's doing this."
Pierce opened his eyes. He smiled. "Dwight is right," he said. "It's working. With the power of my mind—"
"Bullshit!" Richard said again. "What did you do, Pierce? How did you set it up? How many accomplices do you have? How long did they spend working on those costumes?"
"No costumes, good sir," said Pierce. "The genuine article. It's the tulpa, Richard, it's real! The Tibetans teach us that a focused mind, close to Dzogchen, can channel the energies of the universe and make thought into matter, even into seemingly living beings, and I've proven it, I've proven it tonight! Look at the wall, just look at it!"
Richard looked. The titles on the posters seemed to taunt him: "Frankenstein," "The Mummy," "The Wolf Man," "The Phantom of the Opera," "The Creature from the Black Lagoon."
"Using the power of my mind and these foci, I have projected my thoughts as physical incarnations. I have taken these fictions and, for a few minutes at least, made them into reality! I have proven my theory, to you and to the world, Richard. Why, more than that: I've discovered power unimaginable, the power of a god!" Pierce leapt up, his voice becoming shrill. "Now I know what it feels like to be a god!"
Pierce was taller but Richard stood on his toes to look him in the eye. "I don't believe it," he said. "I don't know how you've faked this, but I know you have."
"Do you still doubt me, Richard?" Pierce's smile grew more manic. "Or do I see fear in your eyes? Do I hear it in your voice? Do you know, deep down, that no matter how much you object, no matter how stubborn you may be, that I'm speaking the truth, that this is a power you cannot comprehend, much less oppose?"
Pierce stared at Richard; Richard flinched.
Dwight turned the volume up on the scanner: "All units, all units, please converge on our position, repeat, all units, converge—"
"Listen to me, Pierce," Richard said, wiping the sweat from his brow. "I'm not saying I believe you, I'm not saying any of this is true. But…if this really is your power, if you really can conjure these creatures out of thin air, then for God's sake, send them away. If you made them, then unmake them, now, before any more people get hurt!"
Pierce shook his head. "Do you believe, Richard? Yes or no?"
"Damn it, we don’t have time for this!"
"Yes or no?"
"YES OR NO?"
"Yes, yes, damn it, I believe you, I believe everything, I believe, I believe, now stop it, please, just stop it!"
Richard was red-faced, panting, weeping, wounded.
Pierce snapped his fingers and the scanner turned off. The television in the next room went silent as well; the house was peaceful.
"I'm actually impressed, Richard," Pierce said. "It can't be an easy thing, having to swallow your pride to save lives."
Richard said nothing. Dwight looked back and forth between both men, but remained silent as well. "How do you feel?" Pierce said.
Richard was shaking. "What the hell does it matter?"
Pierce grinned. Then he gestured to Dwight, and he began collecting up the equipment.
"I hate to be rude and run you off," Pierce said, putting his arm around Richard's shoulder and guiding him toward the door, "but I have to document these results right away. You understand, or course. Here, let us show you out." Pierce stopped for a moment to get his coat. "Rest assured, I won't hold a grudge, Richard," he was saying. "In fact, I'd be willing to let you do your own parallel, independent study. You are, in your own way, uniquely qualified now." Richard said nothing.
They went outside, moving through the garden, past the empty swimming pool and toward the driveway. Richard looked like a beaten-down dog; his feet shuffled under his body. Pierce was bright and smiling, talking loudly about the new avenues of thought and the new golden age of consciousness that his full findings would bring about once published. Richard licked his lips.
"Is it over? Did you…unmake them?" he said,
"Pierce…you hurt people tonight. You might have gotten them killed."
Pierce shrugged. "You can't change the world without a few mediocre people getting caught up in the works. Omelets, broken eggs, all that. Besides, anyone who died tonight, I'll just recreate them in the morning." He saw Richard’s horrified expression and Pierce began to laugh, long and loud and shrill.
He kept laughing until he was interrupted by Dwight as he cried out, pointing. Richard spun around, but whatever Dwight had seen seemed to be gone. Pierce appeared unperturbed. "Dwight, what is it?" Richard said. "What did you see?"
"Over there, behind the trellis," Dwight said, his voice labored. "It was—it was—" But he couldn't say it. Richard rounded on Pierce, who was smiling again.
"What did you do?" he asked.
"I had to see one for myself," Pierce said. "And I had to make sure you saw one. I know you'd try to back away from what you said earlier unless you saw one for yourself."
Richard's blood went cold. "Pierce," he said again, "what have you done?"
Pierce drew a gun from his coat pocket, then a second one, which he handed to Richard. Richard stared at it like he didn't know what it was. "You'll want that, trust me," Pierce said.
A noise made all three men turn toward the pool. Something was moving, just on the other side, something in the dark. Richard squinted. "What is it?" he said. "Which one…?" His voice trailed off. Pierce shrugged.
"Oh, which one do you think, Richard? Which one was always my favorite? Did I ever tell you that? Ever since I was a kid, I've always—"
Dwight screamed again as an unspeakable figure emerged from the gloom. He collapsed, hands over his head, crying as the thing came at them. Richard's mouth went dry and his knees shook. Pierce stared, entranced.
"It had to be this one," he said. "It was my favorite. I had to see…"
The monster stumbled toward them, unsteady on its flippered feet. Its scaly hide was dark and wet, and its eyes goggled; Richard could see the gill flaps throbbing on either side of its neck. It was a clumsy beast on land, but the way its limbs moved testified to the horrible strength in its body. It came forward with one awful claw extended, its webbed fingers grasping as its lipless mouth moved up and down in a meaningless, gurgling cry. Richard's hands were so slick with sweat that he nearly dropped his gun. Dwight was weeping. Pierce appeared enraptured. "My God," he said, "it's beautiful!"
"It's monstrous," Richard said, his voice tight. "Send it away, Pierce, unmake it. You've made your point."
"Not yet," Pierce said, walking toward it. "I want to get closer. I want to really see it."
"Pierce, what are you doing? Pierce, don't!"
Richard raised his gun but Pierce was already too far ahead of him, already blocking his shot. The creature was beside the dry pool now, hunkered on its haunches, its claws scrabbling at the ground. Pierce seemed like a man in a dream. "I just want to touch it," he said. "I want to know that it's really real…" He kept his gun trained with one hand, but with his other he reached out, fingers almost brushing that wet, scaly hide…
"Professor, no!" Dwight screamed, but it was too late; as Pierce reached out the creature jumped up and landed a clubbing blow to the side of his head. For a moment Pierce teetered and then, as if in slow motion, he fell, disappearing over the side of the pool and landing with a sickening thump a second later.
The monster turned then, and before Richard realized what he was doing the gun was raised and he was squeezing the trigger again and again. He watched the bullets tear through the monster, watched blood sprinkle the ground, heard the thing cry out, and then he saw it fall. He heard the click of the empty chambers as he continued to squeeze the trigger over and over, and only when Dwight took the gun from his hand did he stop. Richard realized he wasn't breathing and sucked air in with a gasp.
Dwight approached the fallen monster; it didn’t stir. Then he dared to look into the pool. Richard found his voice: "Is he all right? Should we call…?”
Dwight shook his head, tears in his eyes. "His neck…" he said, and the rest was a sob.
Richard felt sick. He sat down, head in his hands. "My God," he said. "Dwight, what are we going to do?"
Dwight said nothing. Richard was about to repeat the question, but then he stopped. He frowned. He crawled on his hands and knees toward the body of the monster; its horrible eyes were still open and staring at nothing. Richard squinted at the corpse. "No. No, it's impossible…" he said.
"What's wrong?" said Dwight.
In answer, Richard reached out. He grabbed the sides of the creature's head. He pulled. The mask came off. Underneath was the still, unseeing face of a dead man, blood about his mouth and nose.
Richard threw up.
He didn't realized he'd blacked out until he found that Dwight had picked him up and was shaking him, trying to bring him back to his senses. "Richard, Richard! Come on, Richard. Listen to me: You didn't know, you couldn’t have known."
"The police…" Richard managed to say.
"I've called them already," said Dwight. "They'll be here soon. Can you hear me?"
"Yes…" said Richard, dazed.
"When they get here we'll show them the professor and the…other one. And then we'll—"
But he stopped. He was staring again. Richard looked and then nearly fainted once more; the body with the monster costume on was gone. Though the man, whoever he was, had been shot six times at close range, and though there was still a gallon of blood spread on the cement giving witness to his mortal wounds, the dead man had vanished entirely. A ghost in the night.
Five years later:
It was a quiet night. The bar was mostly empty. Richard had been here for an hour now, drinking scotch and waiting for Dwight. When he finally showed, Richard thought he looked good for a man just out of prison, and he was so loaded by this point that he even said as much. "Well, you look like shit," Dwight said, ordering a scotch for himself. Richard laughed.
They drank in silence for a moment. Dwight had a thick manila envelope tucked under one arm, but Richard was in no hurry to ask him about it. "So how's freedom treating you?" he said after a while.
"Well enough," said Dwight.
Richard shifted on his stool. "I never thanked you for…"
"Taking the rap?"
"Yes," Richard said, looking down.
"No need," said Dwight. "If I had listened to you in the first place, none of this would have happened."
Richard held his breath. He knew what was coming.
"And for that matter," Dwight continued, "haven't you ever wondered what really did happen that Halloween night?"
"Honestly?" said Richard. "No. I try not to think about it. Besides, what's to wonder? Pierce was a fraud. The body proved that."
"But where did it go?" Dwight said. He was leaning in very close now, much too close for Richard to feel comfortable. "And the others, if they were all fakes, all accomplices, where did they go? Why were none of them apprehended? And who were they all? You can't explain that, Richard."
Richard shrugged. "I don't have to," he said.
"But I know, Richard, I know!" Dwight said. His eyes all but glowed with his enthusiasm. "I figured it out, you see, and that's why I wanted to talk to you."
"Whatever the truth is," Richard said around a mouthful of scotch, "I'm not that interested."
"Now wait a minute," said Dwight, "just look at this." He pulled a few pages out of the envelope. "Did you ever watch 'The Creature from the Black Lagoon'?"
Richard still didn't take the pages. "No," he said, "and I hardly mean to now."
"Well, a man named Ben Chapman played the monster in that movie, and he died in 2008. This is him," Dwight pointed to the papers. "Look, Richard, just look."
Richard turned the pages over. There was a copy of a black and white photograph, a close-up of a man's face. Richard went pale. Dwight chuckled.
"Now tell me that isn't the man you shot that night. Tell me that isn't the face you saw when you took that mask off. I'd know it anywhere, and I wager you would too."
Richard nodded. "What in the hell does it mean?" he said.
"I'll tell you what it means," said Dwight. "It means that the professor's experiment worked even better than he intended." Dwight ordered another and waited until the bartender had gone to talk again. He leaned in and whispered. "The tulpa worked. The professor was able to take his thoughts and make them into matter, just like he theorized. But his mistake was in using the movies as his focus; he didn't summon real monsters that night, he summoned real actors, the actors who played the roles in those old movies!"
Richard took a moment to absorb this. "So the werewolf who attacked that young couple wasn't really a werewolf, he was…?"
"Lon Chaney Jr. I'd bet my life. And the masked man at the opera house was Lon Chaney Sr. See this man?" He pointed to another picture. "Tom Tyler. He played superheroes and cowboys in action serials, but he also played a mummy in the 1940 movie 'The Mummy's Hand,' one of the professor's favorites. I bet he was the mummy in the park. And the intruder dressed as Frankenstein's monster? None other than Boris Karloff."
"Now wait a minute," Richard said, "that doesn't make any sense. Why would this Tyler fellow attack a policeman?"
"Well just think what it must have been like for these…people." He stumbled over the word. "Imagine you're Tom Tyler, or at least, you're a psychic manifestation that thinks, for all the world, that you're Tom Tyler. You suddenly find yourself in a strange, frightening place with no idea how you got there, and it's dark, and for some bizarre reason you're dressed as a mummy. Tyler died in 1954, imagine what these buildings, these cars, these people would look like to him if they all just appeared out of nowhere. He was probably half out of his mind, or maybe fully out of it, when that cop tried to arrest him."
Dwight was getting more excited as he talked. His voice went up an octave: "Think about being Lon Chaney Sr. for a moment. All of a sudden, with no clue as to why, you're in a strange place, and you're dressed as the Phantom of the Opera, and there's a pipe organ in front of you; what else would you do but sit down and play it? What could seem more natural?"
"But this Chapman fellow killed the professor. Why?"
"The professor was pointing a gun at him, remember? And how did Chapman kill him? By pushing him into a pool! I bet he didn't realize that there was no water in it. It was dark, he couldn't see through his mask, and he thought he was defending himself. He was even trying to talk, remember? But we couldn't understand him.
"None of these creatures—no, these men—realized what was going on or what they were doing. Is it any wonder that poor, confused, frightened Lon Chaney Jr. and Boris Karloff panicked during those brief, terrifying reincarnations? Is it any wonder that they snapped? And by the time any of them might have come to their senses…"
"It was over," Richard said. "Pierce uncreated them."
Dwight laughed longer and louder than Richard would have liked. Richard took another round in the hopes that it would clear his head. "It's a crazy idea," he said.
"But you must admit, it's the only explanation that accounts for everything," said Dwight. "And think what it means! The professor, what a genius! His experiment worked even better than he'd hoped."
"Yes, a genius," said Richard. "But mad."
"Well, who isn't a little mad?" said Dwight, grinning. "But I have to tell you, there is one thing that bothers me about all this..."
"Richard, let me ask you, have you been thinking a lot about that night?"
"How could I not?"
"And about the professor, and about those movies?"
"As little as I can, but more than I'd like," said Richard. He almost spilled the glass when Dwight seized his wrist as hard as he could.
"Don't!" said Dwight.
"Don't what? Drink my scotch? Hard thing to say after all you've told me."
"No, I mean, don't think about it. Don't think about that night, and for the love of man, stop thinking about those movies." Dwight's eyes were wide as he talked. "A genie has been let out of the bottle here, one neither of us can control. Now that we know the secret, our thoughts could be dangerous. Whatever you do, don't think about it. I'm afraid of what will happen if we do. The reach and the scope of this power is infinite. Next time, if we're not careful, we might have real monsters on our hands."
Richard finished his drink. "You realize that the more you say that the harder it'll be for me not to think about it?"
"I know," said Dwight, standing and putting money on the bar. "It's the same way with me. Truth be told, I think it's already too late. But I thought the least I could do was warn you. For old time's sake. Be seeing you, Richard. Look after yourself. I think we all need it."
Dwight tipped his hat to Richard and walked out. Richard watched him go. He shook his head. "Damn crazy story," he said to himself. "Damn crazy. Don't believe a word of it, though."
He paid his half of the tab. As he stood he swayed drunkenly to one side, knocking over a wineglass, spilling its contents onto the man on the next stool. "Christ, I'm sorry!" he said. He grabbed a handful of napkins.
"Quite all right," said the stranger.
Richard began blotting the liquid soaking the man's dark clothes. "I'm a damn oaf when I drink," he said. "I hope that wasn't yours? Here, let me pay for it. I just hope I haven't ruined your—" Richard stopped and squinted through the alcoholic haze. "Your, um, cape?"
The stranger took his cape away from Richard, then stood, face to face with him. His bloodless lips curled back in a smile. Richard felt his heart stop.