The Reaper Run


A Novel by Gary L. Morton, released Oct. 2015

118,000 words Horror, action, sci-fi

About: The Reaper Run is horror fiction. Sudden Supernatural Occurrences at a park and psychiatric institution lead to a long night of horror as a group of survivors deal with disaster, evil madmen and a monster from a parallel world.


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Novels free online - Gary L Morton
Cult of the Comet 
The Spells
The Reaper Run
Pinnacle City
Indian Falls (Alien Invasion)
Channeling the Demon
Channeling the Vampire

Story Collections
Vampire Alley
The Rainmaker & Other Tales
Making Monsters
Fabulous Furry World
Walking Dead Man's Blog & Halloween Tales


Part  One: A Door Opens

Part Two: Dreamers

Part Three: Madmen

Part Four: The Long Night

Part Five: The Beast

Part Six: Station Stop

Part Seven: The Reaper

Part Eight: The Plume


Part  One: A Door Opens

 An unusual fan of brilliant beams filtered through pencil-gray clouds. This sunset felt distant. When Bowen looked farther up, colors formed and it reminded him of holy light shining through stained glass. It stung his eyes and he felt like some damned underworld creature come up from the Abyss. He lowered his gaze to the grassy ground, waiting for the spots to clear. When he looked around again, twilight was beginning to fall. In the dark, this huge park area was his playground. It had so many copses and hidden hilly areas, making it wonderful for a maniac's game of hide and seek.

An uneasy feeling came from the huge circle of city structures towering around it. Colossal complexes stood like a great wall to the east, north, and west, but here at the south end, the Jung Memorial Institute formed the most ominous sentinel. The central capped tower and its two smaller connected towers to the left and right loomed high above the tall oaks and tumble of buildings ending at the stone border wall.

Bowen studied the fall of dark ivy on the wall. It fluttered with shadows and gave the impression of shielding those inside from any evil characters that might be lurking in the park. It was usually the other way around as the institute was home to a few unusually violent psychiatric cases from around the nation. At a time when most mental illnesses had firm treatments, society still needed a place for a few dangerous cases that did not respond to ready cures. Most patients were harmless; much of the place was like a country club. One sealed wing held the deranged. They were murders that were kept locked up.

Bowen had been one of them a long time ago. He’d been released with a clean slate that he'd cleansed altogether with a new last name. It seemed truly strange to him to be back by the Jung again. He was like a criminal returning to the scene of the crime or perhaps a child to his childhood home. His original killing ground was here in the West Haven. The police hadn't discovered everything, though they did nail him on some offenses. Now that he was back, the feverish nights, blood and skeletons of yesterday rose in his thoughts.

The planned evening crime here in the park hadn’t been accomplished so he was hanging around. It would be soon because he enjoyed hunting under the shadow of his former home. Fate and a potential victim had lured him here, and he had to be careful because victim number one on his return to this area would soon be discovered. Striking again so soon was not his old pattern, but opportunity had knocked. The victim to be number two on his new kill list, a nurse at the institute, had been originally scheduled as number one. He’d picked up her trail inside the city, stalked her for a time, then another woman presented herself and the opportunity had to been too good to overlook.

That entire earlier thing had been so terribly disappointing. Black luck had him target a surprising victim that could fight, scream and kick like a mule. He ended up doing what he rarely did; finish her at the location. He usually kidnapped the victim and moved her to a safe location for the prolonged kill, and there were many locations in the West Haven. With no one around, he'd done a full job on her on the spot. He hated working in a hurry, it was so unsatisfying, and it led to craving. His hunger had not been satiated. Frustration ruled.

Standing in the shadow of an arrow pine, Bowen popped one more of his yellow capsules and watched a clutch of ten-year-old boys cross the field in the distance. Baseball bat, gloves … their caps bobbed as they ran. Suddenly they turned and were skeletons cavorting and with silly grins, then they vanished, and he shook his head to clear the early hallucinations. The capsules were a psychiatric medication originally prescribed to treat his condition, and as far as he was concerned, the drug had hallucinatory side effects he liked.

He began to worry that his woman might not show, then a minute off schedule he heard the gate engine creak it open around the narrow bend in the path. The power of the medication was rising now as a slow burn in his head and the boys appeared again in the fiery haze lifting his mind. His acute hearing picked up the lock click as it snapped gently back in place.

Soft sure footsteps followed; the fall of light feet and expensive shoes. He watched as she passed through the coarse shadows of two tall maples, then his vision distorted so that everything whirled out of focus around her. Twenty yards away and he felt like he was miles off staring down a big telescope at her, seeing every detail. As a victim, she fit his preferences perfectly. A nurse and even her casual summer hat was a form of cap similar to her duty hat. A one-piece loose print dress, short enough to reveal lightly tanned legs. Bowen preferred a woman in a dress, and as she walked the loose flutter of it in the breeze hit him with sheer hypnotism. The highlights in her long dirty blond hair had a special bounce that went well with her light step, and he liked the way it swept across her forehead almost like bangs, and then down to big curls at her breasts. Her full lips seemed to be gently smiling, holding back some inner secret. An ivory bracelet highlighted her feminine wrist. The nicely sculpted nose and large brown eyes combined to sadden him as he pictured what he would do to her.

A tear fell from the corner of his eye as he drifted in a dream state. She was far enough off now and his feet began to move, though he had not commanded any such thing. The fiery haze began to rise again as he jogged and he knew that in moments his sadness would melt into the animal lust rising in his belly.

As a stalker, Bowen was brilliant and it was close to an unconscious thing, the way he ran, even over dry duff and twigs without making a crackle. His breathing went on autopilot and he was proud of the talent, though he knew others would probably think of it as the inborn trait of a creep … a man who could run to murder like a ghost to a haunting.

The rising thought of public disapproval nearly brought out an angry exhalation. He forced it back and continued to tail her, his eyes darting about for any others who might be hiding under cover of the long shadows. He felt like he could send out fire, a dragon’s angry breath. The word creep always brought him that emotion. Bowen Greer was not a creep, not in his opinion, though it had always been a name choice others pinned to him. He’d told the doctors long years back that the media portrayal of his actions disturbed him most of all. He was not responsible for his actions. Trauma from the aliens … what they’d done to him during the abduction in his youth forced him to act out. Bowen remembered being tortured and tormented, but he couldn’t remember their faces or even if they had faces. He vaguely remembered something other than faces and a burning light.

The cure he had hated nearly as much as being called a creep. As a patient at Jung Memorial, he’d suddenly realized that the aliens had always been a delusion. Their faces showed as nightmares, a fantasy, but the trauma had been from his mother. A new brain-tap therapy cleared away the false memories. It forced Bowen to admit that he’d been completely insane for many years. In addition, the cure wasn’t something he could just shake out of his head. He’d lived with it and despised it. Then the day came when he tried the new drug, which made everything right. However, it was like street drugs, with an unexpected psychedelic side effect that washed the brain tap clear. The aliens rose again and he saw their nightmare image in memory. Strangely, he didn’t fear them anymore but understood why they had done cruel things … things that he would imitate almost like art. He'd learned to rationalize a dual mind; depending on his state, the aliens were real or not real. Bowen figured that if nothing was certain it didn't matter what he did. Everything was justified in one reality or another.

She was moving on the long curve of the path in the most secluded area of the park. Once around that bend she’d go through open fields and an area of bleachers and stands often used for concerts as the path led into the final stretch leading to a small playground outside the main east exit. The park would be busy in the depression at the exit and there would be cars in the parking lot. On this side of the bend, the path went through a wilderness in miniature. There was dense scrub and a weed garden next to an embankment down to a tiny reed-filled pond. Hilly rises of deep grass and trees made up most of it. There was a fence and a barely perceptible rutted road leading out of a mostly abandoned area with sheds that used to house city vehicles and equipment. The gate had been knocked off and lay bent on the ground. An old tractor tire was embedded in the earth beside it. The pine scrub and sumac just past the road was dense, providing perfect cover.

Bowen knew this was the perfect spot and sped up, racing on toward her as a flock of pigeons whirled through a big curve above on their race out of the park to a higher roost somewhere in the twilight. It was like a runner’s high to another beautiful world. In moments, he’d take her down viciously. Then something happened that had never happened to him before. His foot caught on a raised tree root and he went for a tumble. Rolling up he was on his feet, but it was too late. She’d turned and his rush for her was too obvious to miss. She screamed and ran, and even worse, gave a blow on a whistle around her neck.

Bowen stayed in pursuit, with conflicting feelings. The animal rush, sweat and dust on his face said keep on her while another part of him received the charge of fear the thought of being caught in the act brings. The animal won out and became the alien, again lusting for the kill. He dived into her lower back and took her down off the path in the weeds. Turning to her, he was about to lay in with the first strike but he wasn’t able to make it. She was too fast and her whistle connected to a pointed thing that she jabbed right into his neck.

Bowen released a cry of pain and surprise and his hand flew to his gouged flesh. She was already up and fleeing, but not on the path. Disoriented, she was heading up by the fence. Glancing around, he saw no one else so he dashed for her holding one hand to his throat. He grunted with effort because he was going to make this bitch really pay.

Bursting upward with strength, Bowen almost caught her but she slipped along the fence and through some scrub. Heading farther upward, she disappeared in blazing light. Bowen slipped again, grabbed a handful of pine scrub, and pulled himself up. Tinted sunbeams shining through at the end of twilight blinded him and he halted at the top and waited for his vision to clear. That only took a moment, and then he saw her. She was winded, catching her breath and standing between two of the weirdest trees he’d ever seen. They sat on fat gnarled trunks and burst upward in twining branches that rippled with coin-shaped red-gold leaves.

For a moment, the sight spooked him, then he charged for her, and she spun about and ran between the two trees. Bowen followed, now filled with bloodthirsty enthusiasm that rose from the fact that she was doing his job for him by racing into a secluded area. He leaped as he went between the trees and then a frightening feeling struck – he couldn’t see, it all went kick-in-the-head black, and the sense was of plunging over the edge of a cliff.

His came to rest in a bed of soft damp grass. It whipped about his knees as he came to a halt. When he looked around he saw her standing nearby, but the scenery had changed to something so awesome that ferocity drained out of him like water. Bowen forced his eyes back on her and slowly approached, hands loose at his side like a strangler ready to engage. The expression on her face was too determined, her eyes pinched to a squint, and he didn’t like it because he relied on terror. Then he understood why as she suddenly ran straight toward him and ducked past him.

Bowen spun but she pulled away from his grasp. He saw the two shimmering trees and the girl jumping through a fast-closing sky-blue vortex. Then she was gone and a sudden rush of hot wind burst over him. He was holding a bracelet he’d torn from her wrist. He wanted to follow her, keep up the pursuit, but all he saw in front of him was a void. The area was solid black, and a deeper black than any night. Figuring it for a hallucination from the drug, Bowen paced confidently forward then jumped into it. What followed was an experience of agony. Lights appeared everywhere and they were a blaze of piercing stars. He was suddenly adrift in space and freezing cold. Needles of ice penetrated his pores and he opened his mouth to scream. Steaming vomit not sound spewed out, then he was tumbling backward into the grass and all of the air from his lungs wheezed out of his mouth in a strange roar.

The hard tumble had a brutal effect. He sat up, dazed, with mean pains shooting through his arms and shoulders. It was minutes before he looked around. “Damn bitch,” he muttered bitterly.

His muttering stopped with an open mouth. He rubbed dirt off his lips then he slowly got up and turned on his heels as he studied the place. This was more than a hallucinatory blur from the drug. He’d assumed he was pursuing her into an enclosed clearing but this place certainly wasn’t that. Except for the ground under his feet, it wasn’t even Earth ... but a place so bizarre shock set in.

The area he stood in was a vast grass-filled circle. At its edges, a transparent bubble rose to enclose it. The sky outside the bubble was a night sky but brilliant with an awesome array of blazing planets and constellations. At ground, the bubble sealed the perimeter, and five dark arches were embedded in it. The one he’d attempted to leap through was close, and others were spaced around the bubble and were the endpoints of a huge pentagram that blazed like red fire in the grass.

It was all so unsettling Bowen gave his sore head a couple knocks with his palm, and he wondered if perhaps he was unconscious and dreaming. When he was certain it wasn’t so, he released an agonized sigh. He’d been in jails, even in psychiatric confinement. Aliens had taken him once but alien stuff wasn't supposed to be real. Something had happened in his mind because his parents beat him when he was a baby.

He could see no way out other than those dark arches, and after one experience with a sealed arch, he had no plans on attempting to force his way through another one. He had to hope the doorway back would open.


Mike Wilde turned on his front walk and again surveyed the house he’d inherited from his cousin Allan. It was a respectable anomaly, sitting between two tall aging and abandoned structures. A relic perhaps. Then again, this entire street was unusual. Most of the buildings on it were declining, following the pattern of the newer structures that made up the rest of the neighborhood. James Avenue had only a few new buildings and was the only remaining historic street of those that radiated out from the Western Haven mega-complexes. The structures to the right and left of the house were empty and like twins, each rising ten floors with facades of four fluted columns with ornate capitals supporting the front overhangs. One had been a commercial building, the other residential. A building refurbished as lofts was across the road.

At least Allan had kept the house in good repair, which was remarkable considering the place was close to being ancient. It was the oldest house in this area and it had a comfortable weed garden by the patio in the back. Not long ago the land had been worth far more than the house. Allan hadn’t sold because he was a stubborn character and cared little about money. With neighborhood decline came property value decline. It had started in the West Haven mega-complexes. Mike had been away those years and not being around to see the thousands of condominiums, townhouses and other assorted housing modes of the super complexes deteriorate to a slum was a good thing. He’d inspected some of it on returning. He remembered a very long Saturday afternoon walk and staring in amazement at the changes. The best of the combined indoor and outdoor market malls had morphed into warrens that resembled something from the third world. The key difference now was lack of children. Wealthy families left just after the crash and poorer parents eventually gained placement in newer public housing elsewhere. The neighborhood was losing population and the public park areas off the tree-lined streets of upper Indian Lane were now mostly full of bums. Squatters abounded and were always around begging in the streets. There were kids but most were fifteen or older, old enough to be runaways that squatted.

In psychological effect, the vast semi slum radiated out from some hidden and dark center of the West Haven; a rotten core that emanated waves of petty crime and clutter. It gradually softened at the upper levels tagged the Sky Streets. James Avenue had survived mostly intact, except the road itself. It had become a new speedway for the fast bikes and souped vehicles the remaining residents favored. If anything could be said for the engines in those beasts, it would be that their roar helped bury the tasteless music usually emanating from the car interiors. Some improvement was showing lately with a better economy, but not much. Many buildings were pocked with decay … many units wrecked or empty. The Edge Ring or circle of old public housing and factories around the West Haven's edge was the main block to improvement. When a neighborhood's front door is uninviting, no one wants to see the interior.

There were probably a million unique personal stories of sadness and failure in the West Haven. Enough to create gutter dialogue for endless bad television shows. Sanity was to avoid hearing any of those stories and to avoid watching episodes of any that had actually achieved broadcast fame … and thus duck the soul pollution that comes with knowledge of all of those complex trash relationships and their failed outcomes.

Today Mike wasn’t strolling into the rough areas. He turned west on the street and headed in the direction of the setting sun, which formed a strong blaze above distant structures. The late summer was still quite warm and his clothes were casual. Years ago, before he’d joined the military and left, designer suits were his standard outfit. Now he dressed down like the area, but without sinking to the bottom like some of the others. His blue T-shirt had ‘Ain’t from Around Here’ splashed on the front in a bleeding font … but like others wearing similar items, he unfortunately was from around here. He’d bought it at Slim Jimms, which was a local outlet with a street shack. His jeans were from around here too, but anyone with a buck had high-styled jeans. They were guys only as women didn’t wear jeans much anymore. It was the same with his shoes. The trend was for high quality shoes rather than cheap import trash. Problem was you couldn’t take the shoes off or someone would steal them.

There was a breeze and Mike liked the feel of actually having hair to blow in the gusts. His hair had been cut short for a long time. Such a cut didn’t work in these parts. White with a strong build and short haircut meant being labeled as a member of the armed neo Nazi subculture that existed in the city, and surprisingly, had pockets in this completely multicultural area. Either that or the short cut would indicate that he just got out jail, and people would be casually asking him where he did time while he ate a burger over by Wellington’s Fountain.

The longer curls saved Mike a lot of grief and sometimes he wore old-style tinted glasses to soften his features. His right eye was good, his left eye a bit off. One contact would suffice. He kept putting off laser eye surgery. People often told him his gaze was haunted, his general appearance hungry even though he carried a full build. Scaring people in the better parts of town with accidental piercing glances wasn’t on the agenda, and with his history, it was better to mollify people who knew him by his reputation only.

Dust blew up from the dry street and knocked some loose wrappers around the scarred benches of the tiny parkette he was passing. He saw two crusty old men look up from the brown-bagged bottle they were sharing by the trunk of a silver maple. The red on their lips told him the beverage was a wine tincture, laced with one of the newer happy elixirs … potent stuff if you wanted to get smiley drunk. Sometimes the winos were found with grins on their faces after drinking themselves to death, having seen pleasant things in the delirium that killed them.

A young couple standing by a whale-size lump-of-bronze sculpture broke their conversation and stared. Mike looked away but he’d seen her tablet rise. He knew she was recording him as he passed. Too many people remembered him … not from the old days, but because he’d been in the news recently. A protection job on the wealthier side of town. That job went sour; his client killed in a shootout near the Esplanade Concert Hall. Mike had seen death coming and notified police. The detective he spoke to thought he was crazy when he told him he knew a shooter would appear because he'd had a premonition. They staked it out with a couple officers anyway.

Those cops were dead, so were Mike’s client, his client’s banker and two pedestrians. A sniper failed on his mission when Mike appeared behind him at his window perch a few floors up in a closed TDG bank branch. But he hadn't foreseen everything as a second shooter showed down on the street.

Mike burst out from a stairwell door to see the banker get chest-banged by heavy slugs. One of the cops and a pedestrian were already dead nearby and the shooter was moving in for the kill on his client. The rest happened like an evil dream. A panicked man dashing from behind a parking kiosk bumped him. Mike’s shot went wild and winged the hood of a Honda; the assassin returned a blast that killed a pedestrian as Mike ducked into an alleyway. The shooter swept up a fourteen-year-old boy and put a gun to his head. Mike had a possible shot but held it for fear of killing the kid. At that moment his client ran from the car he'd been cowering behind and he didn't escape because the gun flashed away from the kid’s head and did its paid business.

The shooter hit the other cop, backed off to the entrance of a Dolce clothing store, tossed the kid aside and fled. Two police cars screamed in on the scene and Mike ended up dropping his weapon to avoid being shot.

The scene of death was too bizarre to explain and the shooters had taken out street cameras. Homicide, the police chief, news media, his client’s family … no one was happy. Homicide spent a long time hammering at Mike. He sat through browbeating sessions with five different detectives. They didn’t buy into any premonition stuff and were certain he knew more than he was saying. The client’s family felt that choosing to let their family member die in order to spare a kid was negligence.

News media didn’t know what to make of it. The upshot was that people were dead and a live scapegoat was preferable to dead bodies. It couldn’t be the shooter because he’d escaped. The sniper Mike had knocked unconscious also escaped. Mike avoided charges because witnesses cleared him, and the kid was grateful to be alive. An inquiry concluded that Mike set up a violent situation that police should not have walked into without deeper investigation. There was no easy legal punishment available. By law, Mike had reported that a crime would occur.

The judge overseeing the case was a sour old man and he did not like the idea of Mike being cleared, so he used his imagination and came up with psychiatric observation. Mike’s initial police report detailed a premonition. In the judge’s view, it meant Mike could not separate fantasy from reality. He had somehow gained evidence that a crime would occur, yet erroneously believed he obtained the information in an impossible way.

Four stripped Chevys suddenly roared up the street, Mike halted and watched them pass, then turned and continued his walk into the sunset, thinking it really was a walk into the sunset of his life. He grinned as it occurred to him that people who did recognize him probably thought he’d escaped from psychiatric custody. The truth was he hadn’t checked in yet as his lawyer had created delays. He was on his way to check out the place now, a look from the outside. He hadn’t been by the Jung Memorial Institute in a long time. He’d hung out in Western Woods Park next to it in his teen years.

This end of the street was lined with fast food joints that Mike didn’t favor. He decided to grab something at Gill's Street Diner at the corner of Neville Lane and then follow it down and eat in the park. Two big rough-shaven men glared at him as he walked up the three wide steps and his response was to use his hand to fan away their irritating cigarette smoke. The place was about half full. Odors of burgers and Coney fries dominated, though the place had a large menu. The grungy decor was built into a dining area of painted brick walls and pillars and Mike followed the most beat-up area of the wooden floor to the takeout area.

Two undercover cops he knew, Joe Kennedy and Casey Slinger, were standing under the big bronze drop spotlights at the front of the counter. Both men were over six feet in height and wearing jeans with suit jackets of the new summer fabrics. The jackets, cut broad at the shoulders, undoubtedly hid under-shoulder guns. Slinger’s jeans were flared at the bottom, Joe’s were straight legged. They both wore expensive shoes of dark brown leather; the type that pass as dress shoes and yet have grip for running. Casey’s hair was long and unruly, Joe’s neatly trimmed. In effect, Mike felt that they looked too much like partners and that would be a giveaway. Partners but not brothers because Casey’s hair was reddish and his face pale and freckled, while Joe was olive tanned with dark hair.

Casey nodded then took a bite of a Hawaiian burger nearly too thick to chomp on. Mike ordered a fruit salad and looked around the place. Much bustle, but the fare on most of the tables was more sophisticated than what folks at the takeout ordered. Beer trumped wine here, marking the joint as a place for the proletariat, and that was about all there was in this neighbourhood, though some people with money remained up in the sky streets.

Joe Kennedy tapped him on the shoulder. He had bloodshot eyes. “Aren’t you supposed to be in the gorilla house? Or do they let you guys roam the streets now?”

“I haven’t checked in yet. Interview with a doctor tomorrow. Then they decide whether I stay in or get out-patient time.”

“Doesn’t sound so bad,” Casey said, talking with his mouth half full. “You better watch what you say or they’ll put a brain tap on you. Keep quiet about what you’re seeing in that crystal ball of yours.”

“What I’m seeing is a demotion. Looks like I’m not the only one that got knocked down.”

“Yeah,” Joe said. “Figured it out, did you. Guess it wasn’t hard. We wouldn’t be working this neighbourhood if our stars were rising in the department. One step lower and we'll be taking money under the table for private protection jobs like you used to do.”

“This is where you’re needed, but the people don’t like cops in this neighbourhood. Me, they don’t bother, because they think I’m a fuck-up and it makes them happy.”

“You don’t look messed up, Mike,” Casey said. “What’s with you anyway? After all that stress and media attention, you should look ten years older. Instead you look smooth.”

Joe snickered. “Maybe it’s the health food. No other guy comes in here and orders a fruit salad.”

“The fruit salad is a psychological thing. In the Special Forces, I was in the Gobi desert for a long time. We were sand fleas watching movements in and out of a hidden terrorist base. We used to talk about food and drinks and I said that in any mirage I saw, fruit trees were there. I wanted to pick a fruit salad. Now when I eat one I feel good like I’ve realized my dream.”

“Jeez,” Joe said. “What a downer when you wake from that dream and see the West Haven, where the fruit went sour.”

“So that's where your visions came from,” Casey said. “Too much time under that desert sun.”

Mike grinned and stepped away from the counter. “I don't have visions much any more. Maybe there's nothing to see here. I'm out for a look at hard reality today, that beautiful place around the corner, the Jung Memorial Institute.”

“Ha, your new digs,” Casey said as Mike walked away. “They call it the Jungle, because half the people in there are ape-shit crazy.”

Mike took the less busy side street down to the Jung rather than the main avenue. The buildings were heavy, battered … towering stone cliffs with imprinted windows and entries so understated as to be almost hidden in the late afternoon. The shadows were already here on this lane even though there was sunlight falling elsewhere and high above. Traffic went by noisily on the potholed road and litter was a permanent decoration in the gutters. Some local youth lurked by an alley mouth across the street. They were all vagrant kids anywhere near the West Haven. A group of old men passed him on their way up from the park. They carried a game table, the oldest man dragging up the rear with an improperly fitted prosthetic leg that forced him to shuffle. Some slim female forms were silhouetted behind the tinted glass at the front of a fashion display that fronted a huge sweatshop. A rub parlor was hidden behind the next set of red-painted doors.

At the end of the street, a finger of Western Woods Park reached around, laying a buffer of tall trees and trimmed grass at the front of the Jung Institute's wall. Crossing the road and stopping, Mike stared over at the institute. It remained unchanged and to his eyes looked like an evil place. He didn’t know the exact term for its design mode but he would call it modern medieval. At least the older front section looked that way. The imposing towers and outer wall brooded in the impending dark. This was an oppressive pile of slabs poured of the heaviest mixes of concrete and stone and even the large mosaic courtyard leading up to the front entrance seemed to be of crushing weight. The institute vehicles lining the front were charcoal gray and from some netherworld of black and white.

Mike had no plans on being held there so he would definitely play the doctors and keep any episodes hidden. In a place like that, he wouldn’t need any. The dark visions and nightmares of those patients locked away in the maximum-security tower were already enough of a burden for the place. His own visions were mostly suppressed now and he had nothing to add that the antiseptic interior wouldn’t quickly extinguish. Standing under a willow tree, Mike watched some staff exiting. There would probably be only a skeleton crew on after dark, he figured, and the way the staff hurried out didn’t create good thoughts of what might be inside. Some of the orderlies bore a close resemblance to goons or the sort of people that would do that job because they enjoyed using hands-on force. A few left with uniforms on and the doctor-look of the uniforms didn't hide the bulging muscles of the men wearing them.

He strolled through the front finger of the park, and then went down a chip path to a fragrant wooded area, following the institute rubble-stone wall some distance. Teens had a baseball and soccer area close to the street that he bypassed as he went into a hidden arbor he knew of from previous visits. It was like a tiny clearing with a stone bench, an almost invisible piece of the path leading into it from scrub. Relaxing on the bench, he slowly ate his fruit salad while listening to the birds and watching the chipmunks dart about. He read a few items on his phone, then leaned back and in moments found himself dozing off.

He didn’t know how long he dozed, maybe only a few minutes. Black wings flashed in his mind and he saw two strange gnarled trees, another damn useless premonition. He woke and waited, and then he heard a woman scream. It was desperate but choked off. Rising, he placed the direction. The sound of a whistle followed.

Mike had to run up a rise on a narrow trail. Brush whipped him and he spooked birds and squirrels. At the top, he found some open meadow, calculated that the sound had come from the distant line of trees, and ran through the deep grass. He heard some crashing in the brush ahead so he picked up his pace. Dizziness now rose and the effect of the twilight blurred his vision to a slow spin of distortion. Something visionary was affecting him, yet he was still running. It usually happened when he was at rest. He knew the type. Not a real vision but a mandala where everything would suddenly spin and he’d see a huge picture. This time it was a picture of a shadowy world and things so weird he couldn’t grasp the meaning of any of them. He knew it was a bad omen and likely something more. The darkness coalesced into a huge form; that of a large animal that seemed like smoke and radiant darkness. It stood between the two squat gnarled trees he'd seen in the premonition.

Spokes turned in a wheel and vanished as he tumbled to the ground.

Mike rose to his knees. Ahead there was another blinding flash and it was not a vision. A woman tumbled out of it as if she’d arrived from another world. She rolled in the duff and then only the after-flash burned on his retinas. The darkness at the end of twilight slowly replaced it, but something remained. The two gnarled trees he'd been seeing were still there and the woman was lying between them on the lumpy ground.

Mike walked over and looked around but he saw no one other than the woman. His eyes fell on one of the trees. The golden vines flowing up in rushes from the fat knotted trunk distracted him. He knew of no such species of tree. He went back to the woman, felt her forehead and pulse. She appeared okay and he hoped she’d only fainted and not taken a stroke. Slow movements of her right arm and some muttering as she sat up confirmed her condition. She shrank away when she saw Mike then relaxed when his features came clear.

Mike helped her up. “What happened here?” he asked.

“A man chased me. I ran up this rise, saw those funny trees and after I ran past them I’m not sure what happened. It didn’t seem real. I mean the place I ran into and got out of … was like being flung somewhere far away.”

Mike wasn't sure what she was talking about. “Whoever he was, he’s not around now. I didn’t see anyone.”

“I left him in there. I don’t think he can get out.”

They were standing between the two trees. She was looking beyond them. Mike wondered what she meant. He clicked on his phone light and flashed it around the area. The two of them stepped through into a cleared circular area. It seemed to have been cleared by fire. The grass and weeds were scorched to stubble. Pines and deciduous trees formed a circular wall of darkness.

“It wasn’t like this before,” she said.

“It is odd. No one is here now. Maybe we should get out of here before we are ambushed. I know a couple of undercover cops that work this neighborhood. I’ll call them and get them to look around. What’s your name?”

“Breanne Marzo.”

“I’m Mike Wilde. You live around here?”

“Yes, I’m in this neighborhood.”

Lights poked about in the deepening darkness below. They heard anxious voices, people beating through the bushes.

“They heard that whistle of yours. Let’s go down and get out of here.”


The two undercover cops loitered in Gunning Quadrangle, an acre of commercial and public buildings through the tunnel just inside the central Haven. Joe Kennedy sat on a sculpted metal bench next to a shoulder-height flower planter, the burst of blooms hiding his head as he looked through it and up at the public front of a club. His red-headed partner Casey was to the north sitting on the patio of Tiger Tom’s Sports Bar, and he was currently holding his sensitive nose as an obese patron had puked across the table next to him. Casey had ignored the scene of the patron blaming the food before being bounced. In his mind, the man's violent spew was a perfect snapshot of the neighborhood, containing every size, color, and gross flavor of the vile.

At mid level with a surround of towering buildings, the Gunning like other parts of the West Haven had the appearance of a deep pit in the center of a group of scrapers. The 444 Club was a drug-dealer joint and almost hidden by design. An area of fixed stone benches and tables was at its front and a tall wall painted over with a cityscape mural was behind them. Part of the mural was the entry door and unless it was opening or closing most people passing didn’t notice it. The giveaway would be the blaring music evening to late night. The exits or other access points were at the back leading into stretches of cramped enclosed alleys that even armed undercover cops preferred to avoid.

They’d spent many days staking out this place, recording the arrival and departure times of a few individuals that got by on a single first or last name of the type popular in prison. The idea was to gather a picture of exactly when the bigger supplies for the local drug market moved through. Some action was taking place. One of the players was a person of interest, an overweight thug with a nest of tightly braided hair, and he was roughing up another man at the front, laying into him with some vicious kicks. Blood spurted from his victim's nose. Joe didn’t care but he signaled Casey to make sure he was getting a recording of this event, then his phone vibrated with an urgent message and he took it out and checked it.

“Mike Wilde,” he said to himself. “How’d he get my number?” Then he read the message, read it again, did some angry muttering as he got up and did a slow stroll over to Casey.

Tiger Tom’s was so deep under the shelter of the towering complexes that it kept outdoor lights on all day. It was dark now and Joe picked up a red cast on his chiseled face as he walked past the garish sign to the patio.

“So what’s up?” Casey said.

“I got a message from Mike Wilde. He must have used psychic powers to get my number. Says a woman was attacked in the park over by the institute. She’s with him now. He thinks the guy might still be around. He sent me the GPS coordinates of the area of the attack.”

“Really, what kind of bullshit is that? Tell him to go down to the station with her and make an official report. We don’t investigate stuff that hasn’t been cleared.”

“I can’t do that. He sent the call in on a bounce number.”

“Don’t they have few serious cases locked somewhere in that institute. I wonder if one of them could escape.”

“Probably not, but it’s the same old shit happening here. Let’s take a brief trip over and check that location. Maybe we'll get to make a real arrest for once.”

There was no vehicular traffic in and out of Gunning though cars passed on the Switch Ring high above. To get to their car they had to walk across a court and through a broken turnstile to the Connector. There had once been unbreakable designer glass on the curved walls and ceilings, back before the local scum found ways to scorch and blur it into other art forms. The past view of lower streets off to their right was now mostly gone and it was like strolling down a see-through graffiti-scarred alley … scarred being the word that came to mind to describe failed attempts at serious street art. Not every place was like the Connector, as the West Haven still had some passable street art. Just not here, and no fresh air either as Casey felt like he was being gassed on the step out to the parking area.

To make it worse, everyone felt they had to smoke something foul in the parking areas and that triggered Casey’s allergies even more. The overheads created a haze of bruise-blue light that worked to make people look uglier than they really were and that was a bad thing in this area. A few creepy characters and their women were hanging out in front of a battered bank of automated stores they had to pass to the next section of the lot. Joe took off his jacket and shouldered it as he walked, his holstered underarm gun sending a warning message to anyone thinking about hassling them. Their vehicle had protection from thieves though it probably didn’t need any. In appearance it was a battered brown Ford though the engine inside was much better than anyone would expect. It was the same with the computer hidden in the dash. In a world of sleek, high-end vehicles, it would barely attract a passing glance.

The engine roared. Joe pulled out; a loiterer with a web tattoo on his cheeks bounced a can off their windshield as they turned to go out so he gunned the engine and swerved over like he was going to run him down. In the side-view mirror he saw the gang stepping out, one of them shaking a fist. The way ahead was clear so he sped on the upward route to the Switch Ring and headed out on Route 3 to the specified location.

The Jung Memorial Institute appeared like a charcoal sketch against the haze of light created by the city. A pale glow rose from the grounds on the other side of the wall. Joe had the car parked in the long grass well into the park and he was standing by it smoking a cigarette. He itched all over from being fir-whipped and bug bit while searching through the area of woods Wilde had outlined. He felt like kicking himself for following up this lead. Casey was still down there by the rise, the bright light orb showing nearly the entire side of the rise as he moved up it.

Joe got a message, telling him to come over. He did so reluctantly, and at a stroll, blowing out a cloud of smoke then batting angrily at a mosquito that lighted on the back of his hand. Butting the smoke, he climbed the rise to Casey then studied what he was highlighting. Two trees of a variety he couldn’t make, looking otherworldly in the bright yellow orb light, and a big circular clearing of scorched grass on the other side. It looked like a fighter plane had dropped napalm or something there and burned it.

Joe squinted at the scene. “I really wonder what the fuck we’re doing here.”

“I really wonder why in the fuck Mike Wilde sent us here,” Casey replied.

“Unless we report a suspected alien landing in that clearing, we got nothing,” Joe said. His phone suddenly hummed as he said it, but he knew it wasn’t Mike Wilde. The special buzz meant it was a call from the Captain, so he answered it right away.

Joe hung up, looked to Casey’s pale face hanging like a jack o’ lantern in the dim light. “A report came in on a body. It’s deeper in the West Haven. Captain wants us to get to it and secure the scene. I didn’t bother to tell him we’re way over here on a wild goose chase.”

A small compartment on the car roof opened and a flashing light rose up. Engine roaring, the Ford screamed around the curving roads of Route 3 back into the Switch Ring, then slowed as they hit the maze roads of the inner West Haven. As they neared the location, a couple cruisers pulled in behind them. A long turn took them to the entry lane into the New Yorktown Complex and from there Joe bullied through with the light and siren, following another narrow lane to a small park deep in the complex.

This area was scary enough. Generally, a body would be a gang-related shooting. Rape victims they didn’t kill but usually brutalized. This call was for a dead female with no reports of shooting so it wasn’t the usual. Barriers blocked vehicle access to the park so Joe and the cruisers stopped in the litter-strewn area along the barriers. There wasn’t much light. At the distant end of the park, the structures rose at various levels like a pyramid shading off into the distance. A tower was at the near edge of the small park. The tower and other close complexes had their windows shaded, most with the new night-tinting glass feature. It was a security thing that allowed faint light, showing that someone was probably home. It didn’t allow anyone to see inside fully so it prevented peeping Toms and peeping undercover cops.

“Shut off that fucking siren,” Casey said as he got out. Checking his back first, he stared at a nearby alleyway and then up at the tower. The many faceted windows glowed softy. No one was visibly looking out and he wondered if anyone would bother to look out if someone was being killed. Turning around he looked into the park. A small group was standing by a fountain and deeper in, a man had a bright light focused near some bushes. Whatever had happened, it was bad enough that others would not go in and look at it. That meant pretty bad because people in this neighborhood would rubberneck just about anything.

The cruiser cops got out and waited then followed Casey and Joe on the walk in. Half of the black-painted pole lamps in the park were burnt out, the others filmed with bugs and glowing with the new yellowish style of bulbs that you could almost feel crackling on your skin. The group by the fountain ended their chatter, creating a sudden hush. Joe and Casey did nothing to break it but just walked by. They had to cut over untrimmed grass.

“Watch out for dog shite,” Joe said. “People in this neighborhood probably don’t poop and scoop.”

Almost on cue, a couple of dogs started barking in the tower. Moments later, a dozen were yapping. Casey was carrying a portable light and he switched it on as he walked. It lit up the entire area, including the beefy oriental man waiting for them in the grass ahead. As they arrived, he nodded then simply pointed to a flattened area of grass shrouded by bushes. The body was there but Casey’s light was so bright it had the effect of burying it in long shadows. Two uniforms followed and all four men got a sudden and startling close-up view of the body as Casey shifted the light. One of the uniforms immediately turned and stumbled away, gagging as if he was about to vomit. The other uniform brought a hand up to cover his eyes and turned away. Joe and Casey didn’t have that luxury.

Shootings, stabbings could be messy. They’d seen plenty of them, so had the uniforms sickened by this scene. This they hadn’t seen. The victim, a white female was horribly mutilated. On other cases, Joe documented the necessary details on his pocket note tablet, scribbling the words in with a stylus. No way would he do that on this, as his hands were too jumpy for writing.

They both stared for a full minute. Rather than fade the shock grew.

“You ever read the tabloids about alien beings killing people,” Joe said, his head ablaze in the bright light. “It looks like that. Like he cut her breasts off for starters. Did things in a neat clinical way, almost as if he’s a surgeon. Not a real surgeon, but a mad one from outer space. I say 'he' because it is always a he that does this sort of crime. Worst a woman ever does is a crazed stabbing deal or cuts off her man’s balls.”

“Give me one of your smokes,” Casey said.

“I thought you quit?”

“Officially, but sometimes it helps handle the stress. Plus, your smokes are mild. We’ll be here all night and we’ll have to bring in the forensics robot. You know how slow that thing is. Analyzing those cuts will take it a long time. The killer favors circular cuts and cutting things out and placing them neatly aside. We’ll also have to check if all of her is there. They usually take trophies, I think. Unless an alien really did land here.”

Joe passed him a smoke and lit it. “Alien … don’t say that or the news will be filled with it. There are no real aliens, just those people flying mysterious lights around on drones all the time so they can say there are aliens and profit from it. I figure that maybe we won’t be here all night. Forensics will take over the whole deal. We’ll go back over to the Jung for another look around. That suspect Wilde reported might be the same guy. Probably is the same guy. We’re going to find Wilde and that woman and get their reports. Might be a description there.”

“Shit, this really is turning into the case from Planet X. First, a crazy report from Wilde, the psychic, and now this body. I remember something, a case study from the old days. Before the crash there was a serial killer with the same technique that had victims in this area.”

“Yeah, I remember something about that. A long time ago. It can't be him; they'd have his brain rewired by now.”

“Your faith in the Dr. Frankenstein shrinks certainly exceeds mine. My bet is that like in a horror movie, the monster has somehow returned. Before he's finished he'll ice the doctor that tried to cure him.”


Bowen had heard of leaps of faith, but this leap was something much different yet with as much effect. He’d been a honed predator out for the kill and had come in for a hard landing as a hopeless mortal trapped by another predator he couldn’t detect or explain. There was the shock of seeing his prey escape through a vanishing door then sudden imprisonment in a place that was not possible. It was too real to be a dream and too final to be a nightmare.

As Bowen looked around, his adrenalin dropped down the scale and then rose again as hair-raising fear. It wasn’t twilight here and the view shook him so much he went down into a crouch, seizing tufts of the long grass to hold onto for security. The vast reaches above him were unsettling. He was on a small island and at one end of a silver pentagram with moon brightness, so strong it appeared to blaze. There were sealed gates at each star-point of this pentagram but nothing beyond the perimeter but empty space. The bubble or force field he’d first seen above faded to invisibility, revealing an overwhelming field of stars and the sense of flying through space on this island as though it were a space ship.

The feeling of motion terrified him. It was total insecurity. He was little Bowen again, on his knees, holding on, not daring to look up as his mother beat on him with her hairbrush. Only this time there was no mother; he didn’t want to look up because of the horrible sense of vertigo, like he was about to be sucked away into oblivion. Reality, if there was such a thing, had taken another twist. If he was indeed on his drugs, which provided some nice hallucinations, but killed off all belief in aliens … why in the hell was he here in a place only aliens could have constructed?

He remained crouched and the fear became a personal wound. Bowen hunted; he tortured, mutilated, and killed like the aliens did. He had to feel strong. This trap brought all the old weaknesses and character flaws back. He’d never really been strong. In essence, he was a weakling, unable to control his own hideous urges. Neither was he physically powerful by nature. He’d been awkward as a child and it had stuck with him as he grew up. His arms and legs were a touch too long. His knees were knobby, his Adams apple too large. His neck ... his entire body had knots of muscle that body fat failed to smooth out.

Bowen's hair always grew into a bunch of untrained gray-brown tufts and his gate was unusual as he lacked natural grace. It was in running, and in pursuit, that he could lope like an animal, a mighty being of nature in all its beauty. He even had an animal look about him but perhaps the sort of animal no one wanted to meet, like a wolf or werewolf.

As his lips quivered in terror, he recalled just how much he hated those thin cruel lips. The face of a lover or artist wasn’t his face; his was thin-lipped with a big nose and mean staring eyes that were set too close together and slightly crossed. His facial symmetry and proportions aligned to highlight the hostile cut of his features with his face coming out a touch too narrow yet his forehead too wide.

Born on a farm in a remote area of the province, Bowen was odder than even most country hicks were. He didn’t fit in with the rustic people of the county or the hardened freaks of the West Haven … and now to go with it, he felt weaker than both breeds, about to puke. Letting go of the grass, he seized his head and shook it, forced himself to regain control. That worked for a moment then he suddenly spewed. It came out so fast it burned his nasal passages. The bad odor and sight of the half-digested vegetable platter candying the long grass in front of him caused him to heave again.

He got up and stepped away from it. He was going to find a way out of this … he looked up and a wave of fear swept him again. Feverish sweat beaded and ran on his dusty face. Aliens had him; it had to be so. Yet he saw none. All he could see was this strange, overwhelming, and impossible prison, flying through space, through the stars.

Dropping back down on his butt, he worked to calm himself. He breathed in and out slowly, trying to stop the panic attack. It went on for a long time, he didn’t know how long, and then he stood up and turned back to the gate he’d come through. One of the star points of the burning pentagram ended at the edge points of the gate. It was like walking up to a door, and now it was slate gray. He touched it reluctantly, pulling his hand quickly back. When nothing happened, he touched it again. The surface was hard, somewhere between glass and stone. When he rapped it with his knuckles, it boomed and he jumped back. Approaching it again, he went over every part of it he could reach but there was no hidden mechanism or button. It was a closed door or solid wall he could not open.

Bowen turned to face the rest of the island, almost whimpering as he did so. It wasn’t something he wanted to face. He wanted to find the easy way out. Yes there were four other points of the star and four other doors, but he didn’t want to investigate them. He feared being able to get through them more than he did them being sealed. They would lead somewhere no one would want to go. That was the feeling he had and was almost certain about. Yet he had no other option so he began to walk slowly over the grass to the next star point.

It wasn’t so bad if he didn’t look up. He could imagine he was on Earth if he didn’t do that. But even one look and fear would hit like an electric charge. Not even in the best night sky on Earth were the stars anything like this … colors he’d never seen before and dense, some spinning … like he was at the center of the galaxy in a cloud of stars. Stars so powerful he could feel the pull on his mind even when he didn’t look up.

Darkness and fire blinded him … the fire of the stars, the pentagram and the cold darkness of oblivion entered him. Feverish sweat, yet he felt ice freezing his back and he shuddered. Partway through the dry grass, he spotted an object over at the center. It was a sculpture and quite large. He was surprised he hadn’t noticed it before. It grew in his vision as he approached, then he was out of the long grass in an area with ground as smooth as polished granite. The object stood there, as lonely as he was under the blazing stars. It was his height. A collection of objects forming a sculpture, or orbs, would be a better description. He was close enough to study the first orb, which was a globe of the Earth. A bright ring at the center bound the five orbs, all of which were exactly the same size. As he walked around, he noticed that all of them were the Earth, with minor differences. The orbs had an essence, almost as if they were alive. He could see winds and clouds but wouldn’t dare put a hand in to touch anything. The feeling was that if he did that he would be electrocuted or something worse. Each was different in overall shading and colors; two being very dark murky Earths, two bright and sunny and the fifth shrouded in white clouds. It was that last fifth orb that was most confusing. He assumed it was another Earth and one where the clouds hid all below. The binding ring fattened at its connections to the fifth world and it gave him the certainty that it was from this fifth world that the creators of this whole deal came from originally.

Turning away and looking back across the pentagram, he was sure he understood some of the meaning. Five points, five doors, five Earths. Each door had to be a gateway to one of the Earths and the only one he was interested in was his own. He especially did not want to pass into the two darker Earths or into the unknowable fifth one.

The power of it made Bowen feel like an insect. Only godlike aliens could create a thing like this. No one on his Earth would believe it, especially when considering that his brain had been wired so that he would conform to a belief in no aliens. Five Earths? He’d never considered more than one. Where could the others be? Maybe that was the secret of the pentagram in black magic. Someone at some time or the other knew that Earth existed in five different places and five realities. Could they be similar or terribly different?  That binding ring in the representation seemed to be a key to the connection this island provided; he had the feeling that the ring was part of a firm separation that prevented a catastrophe that would occur if the five Earths fell together and thus it locked them apart.

He looked fearfully across at the door to one of the dark worlds, and though he was trapped, he hoped it wouldn’t open. Then there was an ominous click and things began to spin. His nightmare became reality. The whole island shifted and knocked him off his feet, but the doors remained stationary. The pentagram clicked over a position like clockwork. When he rose, the point he’d entered had moved to face that dark world. He stood up, looked at the flashes of light, and knew it was opening. If so he might be able to leave this trap, but where would he be going. His only hope was to get close enough for a look and hope nothing was coming through from the other side. Walking through the grass, he faced the now brilliant light.


Dealing with the situation formally was difficult for Breanne as no attacker was found and her experience was bizarre. After Mike had phoned a report in to his detective friends, they spent a couple hours sipping pints in a local pub called the Stumbling Duke. Most of the people in the West Haven didn't report crime at all so not heading down to the police station to put in an official report was normal.

The rear of the Duke was set up as a patio, though not outside, but under a 12-foot beam ceiling hung with iron chandeliers. They took an obscure corner table and spent some time cleaning up in the nearby washrooms. Servers at the Duke dressed all in black, which Mike felt was okay on the women as tight tops and skirts. On the young men, it gave them a brutal appearance like bar-backs or bouncers.

One of the muscled bouncer types set down two pints in cheat mugs and took their order. They engaged in some conversion made private by the blare of the music from the other side of the patio. Breanne ordered a spinach salad with almonds and Mike being hungrier had a Greek burger with house salad. They went over what had happened and both shook their heads on considering the oddity of a stalker who appeared dangerously quick and vanished into some

Pandora's Box. The man was mysterious like an alien or demon.

It was twenty minutes before the subject of the Jung Memorial Institute and their connections to it came up.

“So, perhaps I’ll be seeing you if you’re a nurse there. Especially if they decide to make me an in-patient.”

“You definitely will,” she said, her hair spilling across the table as she leaned forward. “If they don’t make me a patient, too. What just happened does seem like a hallucination now, but it wasn’t. There aren’t many in-patients so you probably won’t be one. There aren’t many female nurses there either. The male nurses are also orderlies. Even most orderlies have some form of doctor or shrink credentials. Though I don't place much faith in those credentials.”

Mike grinned, a little crookedly. “Shrink. You aren’t exactly bristling with respect for your colleagues.”

“Just because I work there doesn’t mean I think like them. I grew up in the West Haven. The Jung saved me economically if not spiritually. The rest of my family moved out, escaped the decline here. I've seen enough of some of the new treatments to have ethical questions. There is much Frankenstein stuff. Even psychotherapy can be professional hocus-pocus. Doctors are often more about their egos, and I think some patients tie their own heads in knots and want to hire someone to undo them. Your personal story, well – it sounds like you’re being punished. They want you to do time. They aren't trying to treat you for anything.”

“I know. Various treatments do work for some people. The advances in correcting outright brain disorders can’t be denied. At least from what I hear. They’ve reduced mental disorders and incarceration so much via the new medications and brain taps. Problem is I don’t want either. I’m not sure what they would be correcting.”

“What you hear about treatments is propaganda and PR minus the mention of all the side effects. You mention certain premonitions that proved real. I have studied enough psychiatry to know there is no such condition listed as an illness. A specific illness has to be outlined before they can go ahead with treatment other than psychotherapy. Not that there is a shortage of illnesses. In the old days, there were only few major mental illnesses. Now they list hundreds and many are dubious to say the least.”

“At least that is some good news. Who are the other in-patients there? I understand some are dangerous?”

“Only a few reside in the tower wing, as they call it. Incurable schizophrenics that are violent or murderers. They should really be in a maximum-security prison. The Jung studies them and is paid to keep them. No one else wants them, as special facilities and guards are too expensive. Some of the other patients are simply from abroad and staying for extensive treatment or therapy. It is still mostly a place that is busy in daytime. Many paying customers.”

“And maybe a haunted place at night.”

“Tell me about these psychic flashes you have.”

“Some other time. I will be telling it to the shrinks enough. Maybe I’ll posit that they’re gone. They have been fading. I try to suppress them.”

“I wouldn't suppress anything. To me it would be interesting.”

Austin Drive was the main drag into the depths of the West Haven and the upper street where Breanne lived. The mega complexes ran along it like almost unbroken cliffs. A few narrow alleys showed here and there as strips of deep black in the smooth building fronts. Floors higher up were bright with light from windows fit so neatly they seemed painted in place. There were semi-transparent rain and debris shields at the street fronts. The tinted squares of residential windows showed just above the neon haze of the lines of storefronts. Everything was open, bustling. The street existed as a commercial run of dozens of small stores.

They walked along quietly and she chattered on the phone to a friend about her experience. She clicked it off and spoke. “Sandra agrees that I should rest and put in a police complaint in the morning. My place is another block. We go up at Public Lift 72.”

“I already called it in so my guess is they’ll search the park tonight. The man has disappeared so if he reappears he may be stalking you. Maybe going home isn’t best.”

“My section has an outdoor security system. It was a park attack so he was probably lurking there, waiting for any possible victim.”

“Do you follow that route all the time?”

“Nearly every evening, but I never saw him before.”

“You wouldn’t. He’d know where to hide.”

A passing taxi hammered his horn and braked. Noisy people had congregated out front of a bar called the Blue Zone, across the road. The street area of Public Lift 72 showed as a bright stripe rising up the building side ahead to the left. The elevator car was disappearing like a silver bullet over the top high above.

“How high up are you?”

“At the top. We take the lift up to the lane-way on sixty-five and there are five blocks of sealed streets there. Secure fob access is needed to get in there.”

“I wouldn’t call that a true security area. Just about anyone that wants to gets through those security features.”

“True enough. But stalking would be risky up there. The surveillance would pick him up. Any stalker would probably wait down here and follow on the street.”

They stepped into the dim wash of light under the marquee. A theater crowd passed from up the street as they waited. Mike considered that meeting this woman might prove fortunate or a least an aid. War and combat he hadn’t feared any more than any other soldier; being found dangerous or psychotic and being put into psychiatric confinement he did fear. Returning to civilian life from the military had quickly deflated his superman complex and reduced him to weak flesh and blood. He was learning to fear the judgment of society.

An elevator car sped down like a shining lozenge riding the building’s indented side and the area at ground hummed. Then another sound took over, that of screeching tires on asphalt as a car slid to a stop across the road. The driver U-turned right in front of oncoming traffic and pulled partway up on the curb. It happened so fast Mike instinctively reached for the Glock he usually carried holstered under his jacket. But he wasn’t wearing the jacket or carrying the gun tonight, and he didn’t need to be because the person getting out of the car was Casey Slinger.

People stared but said nothing. Probably because Casey looked more like a gang leader than a cop, and he was walking up to Mike, who was also big and somewhat rough at the edges.

“This the woman from your report?” Casey said.

“Yeah. How did you find us here?”

“We have ways.”

“So … I guess it means the police department is taking this seriously.”

“Very. A body was found. But not where you were. It wasn’t pretty. Happened about a day back. Maybe your stalker is the same guy.”

“I’m going to file a report in the morning,” Breanne said nervously.

Joe was out of the car and walking over. He had a glowing cherry light raised on the roof as notification he was parking there, halfway on the sidewalk. “You live up there?” Casey said.


“We’ll go up with you. Take some notes. If it’s the same guy, he could be around your place. Maybe following you. We want to pick him up quick and your lead is the only one until the forensics robot finishes its work.”

Casey blocked the public from the elevator car. They went up and Mike watched the windows of the complex across the street flash like blinkers through the tinted shell as they rose. They were released at the top and faced a four-story streetscape of townhouses stretching off under the glow of the night sky. Mike didn’t take the elevator straight back down, but instead loitered there. He watched as Breanne walked off through the gate leading to her place. He felt better with her being under the protection of the two cops. He knew they'd found something ugly to act so fast. Someone was whistling nearby and it spooked him so he stepped around a cubed garden area and checked it out. He found a teenager sitting on a bench there and nothing else so he went back and took the lift down.


Bowen wasn’t sure what he was seeing through the opening door. Colors shifted in shade and perspective and reached into his mind. He felt warm jelly pressing on his open eyes and initially it was pleasant, like he was high on some new wonder drug. Expressions of placid kindness formed new lines on his face, as they were emotions he never entertained under regular circumstances. He remained on his feet in a dream state that began with those inexpressible thoughts or dream language that can’t be put into words. Bowen understood the feeling as he was a dreamer but more of a nightmare type. Where it got sketchy was when the dreams began to take shape as things that could be understood. They were all unworldly as if he could now experience things with some sixth sense he’d gained. It was a dark unfamiliar place where everything took shape from deep colors and miasmas. He was drifting and then a needle-like shock hit him between the eyes. It was more than a shock, every nerve in his body suddenly electrified and he stood there frozen in seizure. Only as he came out of it, did he realize how painful it was … the worst pain he’d ever experienced. It was like being the patch of skin and nerve hit by the point of a syringe.

Bowen fell dead on his face in the grass but quickly rolled onto his back as he was suddenly panting. He rose and looked back to the opening and had the experience of being visually shot through it at high speed. A vista from delirium tremens or an artist’s conception of the Abyss appeared around him and he saw faces so hungry, distorted, and evil that he willed his hands to rise and cover his eyes. Even that failed to block the visions and he began to rock back and forth on his knees under the weight of some waves of poison darkness assaulting his mind. Something had him, sucking the life out of him ... aliens, demons; whatever they were, they had more power that he’d ever exercised. All he could do was terrify and deliver some pain in carving people up. This was much more personal; an evil worm rotting him out from his core. It had found the black depths of his soul the way a virus finds an organ to feed on. He began to choke, collapse. Painful spasms shook his muscles then he fell and was free of the powerful grip.

Bowen saw his life pass before his eyes and though it was creepy, he had the awareness of being little more than a murderous insect in comparison with the thing that had poisoned him. When death came, he knew it with certainty … and he slipped into the blackness of oblivion.

He came out of it. All sense of time had vanished. He knew he was Bowen's body and that he had died. With clarity, he was aware that whatever the thing was, it had entered, tested him, and learned everything about him in some slimy dark way. Then it had murdered him and planted a seed to bring him back as it resurrected his mind piece by piece. It returned him to life but he did not want that thing to enter him again. Any way of distancing himself from it was better than being tied to it. If he could stay free of it, he felt his missing soul would return to its old self.

Yet it was part of him now. It had done this to possess and control him and there was no escape from this hideous being.

When he looked up again, he saw it in the doorway. A swirl of darkness, electrifying his eyes and stabbing at his brain with images of horror it had earlier dug out of his mind. It was immense. Outside the door, it swirled around him and to the top of the bubble. Bowen remained on his knees, hands out as though to fend it off … as long as it didn’t enter him deeper it wasn’t too bad.

Then it began to speak in his mind, and though it didn’t have a voice, it had a personality. That personality was the most alien and wicked thing he could imagine. Tremors passed through his flesh with it, and his flesh was cold and dead. A fragment of hope, of possible escape remained. This thing had his soul even though it was not much of a prize. He was in the spider's cocoon and had to get out or be there for eternity.


There was an intense light on in Donovan's abandoned apartment building to the right of Mike Wilde's house. Mike took immediate notice of it as he came around the corner. It was from the inset for a basement window so he hopped the wrought-iron fence for a look. A riot of snarled weeds was over the fence, even growing in the cracks in the patio area and on the entry walk. He picked his way carefully past some tall burrs and stood at the side of one of the fluted columns that rose up at the front. A long shadow moved then the light blinked out. Mike went back to the front entrance and saw that the bar and casing had been removed. Before he could inspect further, the door opened and a shadowy figure emerged. Mike was slightly startled but a closer look showed it to be Donovan, the owner of the building.

“So it’s you,” Mike said. “I saw the light and remembered what you said about calling if any squatters crashed the place.”

“Mostly vandals worry me,” Donovan said, using a cloth to pat beads of sweat on his lined forehead. He reached off into the dark and came up with the heavy lock bar. “Vandals might want to strip some things. Squatters have their own heaven deeper in the West Haven. They likely wouldn’t abandon it to move in here where the police have easier access. More of them are locating near the Edge Ring now, too. This location is the farthest from the wealthier neighborhoods in the city outside. Those people want to be closer to get out there to steal and beg.”

Mike watched him fit the bar in place. His hands were large and rough but shaky. He had spots on them like liver spots so maybe it was boozing that he didn't advertise. Perhaps he was one of those guys who always had the old bottle of gin and some breath mints within reach. Donovan's eyes remained trained. They could be bloodshot but there was no otherworldly gloss. He was rock solid, stocky ... his skin so tanned he looked almost like a black man. Donovan was tough by nature like many others in the neighbourhood.

“I’ve heard of thieves like that. I know the economy is bad. Maybe you need a security car to patrol by a couple times a night if you’re not planning to protect this place personally.”

“I’ll think about it. My two buildings are heritage structures and some parts of the interiors are quite valuable. This street is one of the few areas here that will get some refurbishment. The lofts across the road were the first. Your house is historic but in good condition and suits the new plan the way it is.”

“What exactly are the current city plans?”

“The historic facades remain; this building gets taller with a penthouse section above. I just did a check on the basement. They’ll be looking at it next week. The foundation wall appears to run over onto your property in one place and a section of it is a crumbled mess. You should take a look at your basement and see if there is any damage.”

“Sure, I’ll do that. I’ve never been down there much. I know that my house has a deeper cellar and foundation than one would expect.”

They picked their way through the sickly weeds to the gate and looked up as they heard angry shouting from a domestic dispute coming from the lofts across the road. Donovan opened up and they went out together. “Sounds like my ex wife,” Donovan said as Mike stared up at the building. “A real bitch.”

A bank of white clouds rushed past above the lofts. The woman’s voice echoed as she screamed at someone named Jimmy. He failed to holler back. Mike had a quick mental flash of a violent scene that would happen there. He saw her face as a bloody stamp on a slowly spinning coin. She was a shrew of a woman, sinewy and mean. He ignored it, turning to Donovan before he could walk away. “I might need you to check on my place. If things don’t work out tomorrow I could be stuck in the Jung for a while.”

“Sure. Will do. Now your little place is probably a squatter’s dream. There aren’t many houses down on these streets anymore and they'd love to turn a house into a trash hole. I view the West Haven as one housing octopus with filthy squatter arms radiating out. We’re in range of the tentacles. One big dirty sucker is trying to attach itself to your house. Those squatters all have sex together you know. They're a vile diseased lot with no morals. I heard there are movies of what they do that would sicken a beast.”

Mike was sure that if there were any movies, Donovan had bit his dirty fingernails while watching them repeat. “You have a weird imagination,” he said. “If the movies really exist, I’ll pass on them. I see the West Haven more like a train wreck. It didn't work as pricey housing; it doesn't work as a slum. Refurbishing it to something a little better would work.”

Mike rubbed the stubble on his face and watched as Donovan shuffled off down the sidewalk. He had an odd way of walking. Just chatting with the man made him feel somehow grubby. Him and his fixation on squatters and people he saw as dirty and perverse, when he was in need of a shower or two himself.

Mike went up the steps and unlocked his front door. It was a large solid oak door set in a heavy metal frame. His house wasn’t quite as desirable as Donovan portrayed it but it wasn't exactly squatter-proof either. He had an eye-scan that turned on the lights for him only and some other security technology to hinder any invaders. Mike had his guns stored in the basement in a closet at the bottom of the stairs. He had to use his phone light because he wasn’t even sure where the other light switches were down there. Stepping down the stairs, he wondered why the basement had been left unused when nearly all buildings made use of their undergrounds for extra living space. It was deep as if they'd planned a bomb shelter at one time. “Maybe a personality quirk of the builders,” he thought as he reached the bottom. Possibly, it had simply never been finished. Considering how deep it was something must have been in the works originally.

One dim yellowish pull light lit up the area by the closet. Smooth bare concrete stretched to some piles of junk. He opened the combination lock to check on his weapons. They had to be okay as the lock was on but the inspection was force of habit. His combat shotgun was hanging at the front with a vest and other items. He doubted he’d ever need such a gun now. It would certainly scare the hell out of squatters. Even the handguns at the back would be enough for that. He had a Ruger, a Remington, and a Glock, all with night sights, but his favorite gun was a custom Taurus with a short barrel and stub suppressor. Most people wouldn’t be able fire it accurately it as the trigger was odd. Being feather light and near silent, it threw shooters off the mark. Mike toyed with it, did some fast aims, put it back wondering why he kept the weapons. In the flurry of accusations against him, they’d overlooked taking aim at his gun license. Technically, he could work once free of the Jung but in reality he didn’t want to do so.

The earlier pursuit came to mind and how he’d reached for a weapon and hadn’t had one. He reached in, pulled out the Taurus and an under-shoulder harness, and put it in the small exterior lock-box.

Deciding to forget about weapons for the moment, he put his flashlight app back on. He’d never fully explored the basement. When he moved in, one breath of the rank air had convinced him to fix the closet for weapons storage and leave the rest for some later date. A brief walk around convinced him he’d made the correct decision. Smooth concrete made up the floor, south, west, and east walls. He found a small hammer and tapped on the walls. Solid steel-reinforced concrete and the concrete had no dull tap that would indicate rot.

The light revealed nothing exotic, only stored items, dust and some litter. When he explored the north end, the situation changed. The pile of junk he’d first seen really was junk. He shifted the light onto some old duffel bags, wrecked chairs, garden implements and other musty stuff. A chain was hanging from above so he pulled it and immediately that end lit up. The north foundation wall wasn’t where he expected it to be but farther off. That wall wasn’t solid concrete. Two enormous timbers ran horizontally there and the fill between them looked more like hardened red clay than cement. A pile of musty stuff rested there near a section where the wall had crumbled completely.

It was hard to figure. He had a solid foundation but technically the north wall wasn't where it should be. It hadn't been built; instead, he had an extension over to Donovan's foundation. It had been sealed in the past by the section now crumbled.

“Crap,” he muttered, considering that he'd have to pay to put in a proper wall there. He measured the distance with his eyes and wondered why the foundation ran off under the connecting lot. It was much bigger than his house. It meant some other structure had existed here at one time on his and Donovan's property.

Pausing, he studied the ceiling for cracks before walking over. It was solid so only a portion of wall had gone down. The light showed muck and slime; water damage, maybe long term from a bad pipe, and through a hole in the rubble he saw another room. Flashing the light through, he inspected it. A cellar-like room, not too big with more rubble on the other side that he was sure was the collapsed portion Donovan had been inspecting from his building.

Mike decided not to worry about that section. Donovan would have his people take care of it because farther over his foundation ran much deeper to the underground parking level at the back. He would have to repair it.

Mike turned back then noticed a shelf level on top of the old timbers on the intact section of the north wall. Some books and magazines were stacked there. The top magazine crumbled halfway to dust and fragments when he picked it up. It caused him to sneeze fiercely. This basement was pissing him off. His eyes watered and he had another sneeze attack. He opened one of the dusty books and found it to be an ancient encyclopedia. The others were parts of the set. He noticed one large book that appeared to be in good condition. Its binding and cover were smooth and red with no lettering or markings. A raised image had been stamped inside on the first page. It was a pentagram. The title page of the book was that shining raised image with no accompanying text. A sudden vision of a pentagram twirling in black space filled his mind. Stars rushed in and he nearly fell from a dizzy spell. He held the shelf, and then raised an eyebrow when his vision cleared.

He took the book with him as he left the basement. Feeling exhausted he sat in an overstuffed chair. After dusting off the book with a cloth, he sipped a nightcap of Irish whiskey and leafed through it. It wasn’t exactly prime reading material. Some pages were images, others symbols and writing in languages he couldn’t read. He figured it might be valuable as an antique and tossed it aside. If rare, he'd place it with someone who had use for it. However, he would photograph all of the pages first.

Before he could figure much more he fell asleep on the couch. Sleep came fragmented and in short pieces. Nightmares seized him. He was falling through black space and a field of incredible stars towards a huge turquoise planet. It was complex in essence, and when it suddenly transformed into a screaming alien face he woke. Sweat coated his upper body; he must have been having many nightmares. He looked at the clock and it was already morning. He had to be at the institute and there was no time to prepare breakfast.

The morning was brisk with a cool breeze that dispersed the usual sweat and urine odors of the West Haven. He took the refurbished portion of the transit line, nicknamed the Reaper, and it ran down the line with only minor delay to the new station not far from the Jung. Mike managed to arrive early. He ignored the blank morning faces in the passing crowd and sat on a metal bench sipping a cup of Carlson coffee. Pigeons whirled down in the play of light and shadows from fast passing clouds. The institute looked much kinder in morning light and the deeper park off to the side was a cornucopia of green things. A last gulp and he dumped the cup in the trash bin and felt uneasy about entering the place. He had to deal with a beefy guard at the gate information kiosk, which was really more of a security post; a fat hand directed him down a path that went around the building to the rear. The side of the structure was pleasant, the tan flagstones grown over with clover in the connecting lines. A hip-high stone wall covered in red vines lined it on one side and on the other side, birds sang in the ivy on the institute wall. At the rear, an area of shade trees led up to a patio section. An oval parking lot was beside it and he spotted Breanne there conversing with a tall man by the entrance.

The man turned and his loose summer suit caught the breeze as he walked inside. Mike strolled up, noticing how bright Breanne’s uniform was against the tan stones on the walk. It was in the loose figure-fit nurses wear and with a small tilted hat.

He looked her up and down. “I hope this isn’t what you wear when you’re handling the dangerous cases. The design is frivolous, like you’re a cross between an airline stewardess and fast food worker.”

Her smile was also frivolous. “I don’t handle dangerous cases. Security and orderlies do. You’ll probably laugh when you see the silly outfits they wear on the inside.”

“Not really. I’m a patient now. I don’t want to get on the wrong side of staff. I’m also just in time, so where would I find this Doctor Darwin Berenyi?”

“Oh my God. He’s your doctor. I’m surprised. You have to register first, follow me.”

“I thought you'd be at the police station today or at least taking a day off.”

“They took my statement last night. I didn't feel like staying at home.”

Just inside the rear entrance, they were herding some patients across a broad lobby that looked more like a concourse in an international bank. Mike immediately detected a queer atmosphere, something hidden beneath the mild clinical fragrance. It penetrated his mind. It was a scent of fear mingled with the sweetness of flowery disinfectant. There was no line-up like in a regular hospital. An older man with a few prominent wrinkles and young man’s hair was at the registration desk. Mike winked at Breanne and she walked off, leaving him to glance about anxiously while he waited.

The interior of this wing of the Jung was spacious and free of dust. Perhaps it would be the perfect place for someone who'd breathed the bad air of the West Haven for too long. Patients passing here were a mixed group. There were kids in their late teens but more were older and some elderly. There was a racial mix indicating that no one group had a monopoly on psychological problems.

Registration was merely the issuance of a plastic card and the thin brown man at the desk was bureaucratic and generic. Unsmiling, cold dark eyes that revealed no emotion, he had the voice of a hypnotist. Perhaps expecting that those he spoke with would already be on obedience drugs. He had an honor plaque from one of the medical charities behind him on the wall so maybe he really could hypnotize people and get them to donate.

Mike had the feeling of being x-rayed when photographed and the card the machine churned out had so many biometric indicators on it maybe his every cell had been scanned, too. With the shiny card in hand, he was allowed to follow another clerk’s directions to the waiting area outside Doctor Berenyi’s office. The card got him through the big frosted glass doors where he found himself to be the only patient in an area of padded chairs and walls painted with a sweeping mural of a calm summer seascape. It took a minute before he noticed that the secretary was a kiosk imprinted at the front with an insert for the card. After he had the card scanned he heard a recorded voice instruct him to wait and enter when the doors opened.

They opened fifteen minutes later, and Mike strolled in feeling somewhat subdued. Doctor Berenyi’s office had the feel of a large den and the man was sitting behind a massive shining black desk with carved angel end pieces. He was back-dropped by a tinted picture window that looked out on the ivied institute surrounding wall. Berenyi resembled a respectable doctor type from a modern movie, at least to a degree. He tried to look too perfect, outfitted in a serious grey suit with vest and tie. The conservative grey would give him that psychiatrist’s look in any place. Mike couldn’t picture him dressed in anything splashy. His expression was a calm mask, but his pink hands revealed a case of nerves. His skin was olive, strong chin, clean-shaven and trimmed comb-back. Mike had the feeling the comb-back was something he’d developed to make his forehead look higher and more intelligent. Dr. Berenyi wasn't a big man but more of a compact model.

The Doctor got up from his desk without saying anything and it struck Mike then that his eyes didn’t fit with the rest of him. They were brown, dark almost to black, and had a queer gloss like maybe someone other than him was looking through them.

“No wonder Breanne said, 'Oh My God,' Mike thought as the Doctor shook his hand and made weird eye contact.

The interview was halting and awkward in the opening phase but Dr. Berenyi passed through some obstacles and allowed the situation to grow comfortable for a space of time. Most irritating were opening questions on religion, as though those beliefs were the driving force of insanity. Mike simply didn’t want to hear the Doctor’s atheist-driven opinions and analysis of religion or express any of his general ignorance of that subject. Getting a person to ramble on about religion was likely a psychiatrist’s trap for profiling a person as a religious extremist. Dr. Berenyi had his file and it mentioned premonitions, but that didn’t mean he had to question him as he would a psychotic who felt he was the prophet Nostradamus.

Dr. Berenyi led a general chitchat about violence in society. Then he suddenly leaned forward, stared in Mike’s eyes, and said, “How do you feel about killing that man?”

Mike visibly leaned away from him and at first averted his eyes. “Er – uh, which man? I was in a war you know.”

“All of them if more than one. What did you feel?”

“Well, my encounters were always a law and order thing to me. There was always a feeling that someone watched from above and recorded the kill. Like I couldn’t hide it. I felt like maybe a sheriff would feel in the old West. I’d taken a bad guy out. He was an outlaw that earned his fate. I judged that particular war to be a just war, if there is such a thing. Maybe there isn’t but the enemy was evil, and there was no doubt about it in my mind. I saw them as evil heathens, gooks, whatever you want to call them.”

“Ah, bigotry was a driving force.”

“No. They were pretty ugly.”

“Do you resent authority figures or should I say, feel you are the ultimate authority?”

“We….lll, I uh, often did trust my own judgment over that of an authority figure. I followed orders; I always did what the authority figure wanted. I mean mostly. Sometimes I modified things according to the situation. I didn't see myself as ultimate because remember I said I had the feeling of someone looking down and watching me.”

“Possibly a symptom of mild paranoia or latent religious faith,” Dr. Berenyi said. He suddenly produced a stamped letter from his front pocket. “The judge in your case feels you modified a violent situation into something that went completely out of control to something deadly.”

Mike glared at the Doctor, his expression sour and judgmental. “The judge is off the mark. There were two contract killers. They created a deadly situation, planned one in detail.”

“You attempted to solve that situation with guns and violence. Isn’t that true?”

“I notified the police.”

“What’s your feeling about guns? Do you see them as problem solvers?”

“Not necessarily. In military and other training, you don't start by shooting, unless you’re a sniper. I only use guns when needed. I’ve hardly looked at a gun since. Last night I did check my gun storage area at home … it’s a habit of sorts …”

Dr. Berenyi suddenly clasped his hands together with finality. “You are gun obsessed. Guns are a habit we want to get you away from … and I think this means you should be an in-patient for a time. We want you away from guns and any temptation to use them. We’re going to teach you to negotiate with people, exchange real emotions. Your soldier-of-fortune attitude is something that needs neutering if you are going to be a meaningful member of society. There was a time when this city was headed in the right direction. Guns were banned. Now too many people have legal weapons. A person like you, back from war, could have PTSD. Your premonitions are probably exactly that.”

Mike frowned but at the desktop. This session had somehow become an interrogation and sentencing. He raised his head and gave Berenyi a hard look. “Maybe you should take a closer look at some of the people out there in the surrounding neighbourhood. Many of them are using violence and crime as a solution. They don’t exactly do a whole lot of friendly and warm negotiating. Some are the type of people that share their closest feelings with you before killing you. They have criminal minds and probably every second disorder you can rhyme off.”

“Ah, using the misfortune of others as a crutch. I see. The Jung is not really part of this particular neighbourhood. It is an international institute. Even thinking of the city as a whole, the West Haven out there is a unique slum of sorts and a creation of bad politics. I wouldn’t use the people living there as an example of anything to identify with other than considering what neglect can create. Society has given you a second chance. The sorts of people out there would be simply locked up for hard time.”

“It wasn’t neglect that ruined the neighbourhood. The history briefly is that it was upscale, a Sky-World condominium conglomerate, but went under in the crash and never came back up. Good people left, disadvantaged people took over. I suppose you are right that the Jung isn’t really fixed to the neighbourhood, when the patients are international. I may be the only patient living there.”

“Not anymore. After your tour, I want you to go home and pack some essentials. You’ll be in here until we say otherwise.”

Mike was in no position to argue. Saying more could extend his stay. He walked out wondering if the whole interview hadn’t been just a setup and the plan from the get-go was to seal him inside. He strode down the hall, attracting attention from a few other patients and passing staff. Probably because the cowed look stamped on the faces of other patients wasn’t there on his … at least not yet.

Back at the registration desk, he asked the man a few questions about being an in-patient, like what room he’d be assigned and what was required. The clerk came up with a room number so fast he became certain the in-patient thing really had been planned. Then he had to loiter for a time in a drab side waiting area before being informed that no one was available to take him on a tour until afternoon.

Mike was a person who could sit in the desert for days, watching and waiting to make a move on the enemy, yet back in civilian society he couldn’t stand five minutes of waiting for the bureaucracy. He needed a solution so he got the clerk to call Breanne and hand him the phone. She began to irritate him with a giggly attitude when she discovered he was condemned to in-patient status. Mike's mood picked up when she said she had a light schedule and could take him for the roundabout.

Five minutes later, she came down the hall briskly. Grinning broadly, she led him off to what she called the official start point, which was another waiting room. Like every other place in the Jung, the furniture was padded, curved, and rounded on the corners. Thick pillar supports seemed to be everywhere in the institute and they were also rounded with none square or fluted. Mike had to doff his shoes and put on a pair of disposable slippers. The large soft slippers were the real awakening to the fact he was an in-patient. They were official notification of the balls cutting that had taken place. Even to the point where he shuffled along behind Breanne staring dumbly at his feet.

The tour was mostly superficial and of medical amenities, facilities, and patient lounges. All areas of deep treatment, meaning drugs, therapies, the latest brain enhancements, were off limits. Mike supposed that only a touring doctor would get to see them. His only view came as orderlies rushed a wheel-chair-bound patient to a sliding copper door. It opened, revealing a brightly lit area with a large vat-like medical machine deep inside.

The patient suddenly spewed violently and gagged as he tumbled out of the chair. The orderly behind also slipped and fell. Breanne ran up to aid and Mike looked on stupefied as they dumped the man back in his wheelchair and the door slid shut. A spill of bright orange vomit coated the floor. Breanne waved him away and they left as cleaning staff approached.

“What was that guy fed?” Mike said. “It sure didn’t agree with his stomach.”

Breanne tweaked her nose in semi disgust. “Liquid diet. That is a special area. They come in from Western Hospital after treatment for brain tumors and damage. If things work out his brain will be put back in balance.”

Patient rooms were mainly on the west side and with a view of an enclosed courtyard and a nature area. Mike stood in a sterile hallway with Breanne. The view down was like looking at a park though the giveaway was some pedestrians wandering in generic institute clothing and plastic slippers, plus a couple wheelchairs.

“So they do have a fair number of in-patients,” Mike said.

“Yes, but they aren't dangerous patients. I knew you’d probably be one when I saw the name of your doctor.”

“How’s that?”

“One of his specialties is forensic psychiatry, and here that specialty means dealing with the few patients sealed in the old tower. The criminally insane. Dr. Berenyi doesn't actually see them any more. He collects data from other doctors and writes reports. He also has wealthy psychotherapy clients that pay handsomely.”

“You say he is known for dealing with the criminally insane. Now I see how that judge is setting me up. He sends me to Doc Berenyi, hoping I’ll talk my way into a padded cell.”

“Yes, and it appears you nearly did do that … or failed to talk your way out of this place.”

“I mentioned the word gun and that did it.”

A compression elevator floated them down to the walk and Mike strolled along the edge of the courtyard with Breanne. Inside a nearly hidden arbor, she clicked open a door that led to a section rowed with large townhouses. They had false grey-brown brick facades with a mix of tall rectangular and smaller porthole windows. Breanne mentioned that staff specialists resided in them, usually on a temporary basis. Mike noticed that they didn’t hang out on the street. The area was silent like a ghost town. An easy breeze cooled them and it was empty like the houses; no leaves, litter or dust in the blow.

Breanne looked to be in her element, seeming as ghostly as the area, though Mike knew he probably had that impression of her because of the strange circumstances of their first meeting. She was a lovely ghost perhaps, and most like a sprite when she smiled or laughed. Her delicate features added to the effect.

A walkway made as a faceted glass tube with a shining tile floor took them back over the courtyard to the main building. There they strolled through a garish commercial food court and Mike began to grasp how the view of the Jung from the front gave one a false impression. Most of the place was actually hidden behind the two imposing towers and the rear buildings were modern. It did not have the airs of an aging institution in the newer additions. In some parts, it was like a summer camp or easy rehab center.

A gym of rowing and running machines with no weights was on the other side of the food court and Breanne stopped there to talk to a couple people. They were patients she worked with and in-patients. One was a woman named Delina with large expressive brown eyes and a willowy figure. Her hair was mousy brown and lightly curled. She had the look of a person torn by mental illness and she accompanied a man named Hawkins, which was his first name. Hawkins had a West Haven accent and rough edges like someone broken in on the mean streets of its interior. His conversation was selfish and about registering for everything from aroma to acoustic and alpha therapy. All of it was supposedly treatment for his chronic pain.

He suddenly hugged Mike when Breanne revealed that he was an in-patient taking a room near his on the third level. Then he broke away and said, “Brother. I’ve got many things to show you.”

Mike faked a smile, feeling that if he’d been shown anything it was that Hawkins’ chronic pain was all in his head. His hug alone was enough to crack a person’s back, and he sure lacked the drawn look of a person long suffering. One of the places he wanted to show was the nearby aquarium so the three of them tagged along behind as Hawkins walked ahead with an affected limp. Hawkins had hair that had thinned badly and in patches, causing Mike to wonder if he was the victim of a bad hair transplant. And also a bad barbering because the cut was ragged like maybe he cut his own hair.

Hawkins showed them around the tanks of fish, his smile placid but creepy like he was the resident octopus but out of the tank. The glass, a wall of water, colorful shells, and swimming fish created a backdrop for him. Quiet music played and Mike figured the Jung had money behind it to be able afford amenities like an aquarium. It was a nice touch, and calming.

Yet it didn’t calm Hawkins. He waved his arms. “What we really need are some piranhas. We'll tell those tower guys that if they don’t behave we’ll feed them to the fish.”

The last stop was the secure tower and Hawkins and Delina couldn’t come along. Before departing, Hawkins pulled Mike aside and leaned in, breathing on him with sour drugged breath. “I’m not really mentally ill, you know. I’m a pain patient. I’ll be seeing you soon, neighbor.”

An imposing hallway with a high ceiling led down to the tower entrance and two huge elevators guarded by security. Breanne said a few words to them then waited off to the side with Mike while a call was made.

“Why is Hawkins telling me he isn’t crazy? I suppose that’s because he is actually stark raving mad.”

Breanne flashed a smile and the spark of it lit up her eyes, saying without words that Hawkins was in fact not fully stable. “It is confidential, but since you are his neighbor you might as well know. His condition is fluid and based on a form of paranoia. At present, he thinks he has chronic pain and a bag leg. A while ago, he thought germs with venereal diseases genetically targeted to him were being planted throughout the building. Unnatural fear of germs and disease is a common phobia in this place.”

Mike felt germs would have a difficult time surviving in a place hosed down daily with disinfectant. Fear of germs would be a mostly harmless illness in his opinion. Paranoia was really only dangerous if the person tried to strike out at imaginary persecutors and harmed people.

One of the guards was returning and Mike knew it was trouble when they pulled Breanne aside. That always meant trouble, like in bars when they pull a drunk aside to tell him he had better leave.

The guard walked away and stood with his pal, blocking the entrance. “They won’t let you in so I guess the tour is over. You have anything else set up for today?”

“I have my last breath of freedom planned. I have to pack a few things then move in here by tonight. I won't complain about not being able to do a tour in there. That judge would have me in there if he could.”

“It wouldn't be easy for him to do that. There are only a few men in there. All of them are criminally insane and mass murders. You hardly fit the bill.”

“So who are they … I know it is not publicly revealed, but some people must know?”

“They have nicknames for them. There are always rumors about the worst three.”

“And they are?”

“Well. One is The Mailman, real name Brett Haydicky. Lord Kenneth is another. Then there is Mr. Smothers.”

“The Mailman. I remember reading about him. He hails from this neighbourhood originally. It took the police a while to catch on to him. His style was something else. Delivers an express package, says he’s supposed to open it for the customer. Then the package is the cleaver he uses to behead them. He left no witnesses.”

“Lord Kenneth is considered the highest threat because of his hypnotic control over others.”

“Yeah. I remember that chap. He believes he’s a British Lord and orders executions under the authority of the Crown. He had those two creeps with him that went out and carried out the sentences. He hypnotized everyone around him. Even cops wear sunglasses and avoid eye contact with him.”

“Mr. Smothers is probably top dog. I think he replaced the boogieman as the evil kids most fear. His creepy looks and methods of asphyxiating people are legendary.”


The words the beast spoke were not genuine words, at least not in the sense of being anything he could understand as speech from vocal cords. They were like sound waves or probes testing the boundaries of his new existence. Bowen wished to struggle but he could not do so. He watched in despair as a cloud of black smoky filaments formed about him, its odor pungent and filled with lingering scents of death and decay. It blew over him, through him, and then began to condense into huge tentacles. The stars were gone now and soot patterned the bubble above. He could see the door again and he shuddered as two of the tentacles touched him. Coiling like a spring they suddenly had him in their grip and he felt paralyzed like some helpless animal stung by venom. The difference was that this poison stabbed through his sinuses and spread like a growth of electrified fibers in his brain. Some unsavory, vile, predatory knowledge arrived in union with his brain and altered his conscious view of things to something new. It came upon him so fast it was surprising. A form of mental anguish followed. The fear did not let go because the tentacles were pulling him to the door and then through it and the sensation was of being pulled under some hot wire and down into hell.

The netherworld in this case was a blurry world of foul smoke. He was at a frightening height on top of something immense. In the distance, an endless field of spires ran off into reddened gloom covering all of the area below. What looked like bright flows of lava or colored water separated these spires and the weather was mainly dark smoke above and a rain of ashes below.

The tentacles slipped away, leaving Bowen splayed on a flat white circle of ashes. He felt possessed in a sense where he was dead yet alive because this being animated his body. It worked to make this place bearable, where it would not have been otherwise. Darker smoke of this creature that had pulled him through spun in the air as the tentacles wound into one another and condensed. There was screeching, a roar like a cross between that of a machine and an animal. He saw a large maw form in the ebony condensation then the creature began to take shape. It was much larger than he was and in form somewhat like a bear, though it had four huge tentacles for feet that bit the ashen ground like tree roots. Its eyes were bright yellow and its face radiated intelligence of a predatory sort. As it fixed it gaze, Bowen found himself struck by madness so deep that he rolled in the ashes, spittle foaming from his mouth as though in an epileptic fit. In time, he sat up in the ashes and tore off some of his clothing, tearing it in strips and tying pieces here and there on his body. Then he began to rub his skin furiously with ashes and they penetrated like some white form of acid, creating chalk-white patches on his skin. When he finished, he rose and turned to face the bearlike being.

Smoke fragments drifted from it, touched him ... spoke. “To begin my search, the first thing that interests me is dreams,” it said. “The dreams of the people living in the West Haven.”

“Yes, dreams.” Bowen found himself saying it, though he hadn’t thought it. “Those we can use to search their minds and find who has the book containing the image key, the pentagram you need.” It was suddenly there in his mind - a pentagram, and book, yet Bowen saw beyond the new vision and wondered. He was to return like some demon from hell; but hell was this other world and he couldn’t see much of it. He wanted to escape it so returning to aid this thing find a key was a way. It was the only way. He certainly didn’t want to stay at the home of this beast. He would return to the West Haven where it would at least be bearable in his new form. Then when the creature received what it wanted, it would release him.


 Part Two: Dreamers

 Mike was in no special hurry as they had given him until 11 pm to check in at the Jung. The place was like a homeless shelter taking in people quite late. As the clerk had outlined, it was a 24-hour operation. They were not in a rush to get him inside, but they would make sure he stayed inside once he signed the admission form.

Walking about the house, he selected items here and there that he might need. A few decorations for the small institute room were an idea. He grabbed a small photo with his troop in the desert and another pseudo photo of the mythical Mongolian death worm. For his bedside table he took a lucky smiling Buddha perched on an eight ball. He packed some casual clothing, as he didn’t want to wear regular institute duds if he could avoid it. He packed his larger tablet. The book he'd found he stuffed inside his jacket in the larger inner pocket, figuring he would have lots of time to study the old parchment pages.

Locking up the place was another issue; he had a setup with strong exterior shutters and locks for the smaller windows. An alarm system was hooked to the living room window and front door. It was doubtful that the alarm company could bring any fast response in this neighborhood but at least he’d get an alert and photos sent by wireless on any intrusion. There were no overly large windows, so that added to security.

When that job was done, Mike puttered around in the dark lilac bushes, tossing away some liquor bottles somebody dumped. He spotted a group of squatters standing in the road outside Donovan’s place on the left. One man was looking through the iron fence and Mike recognized the man as Bozzo, a minor nuisance from the inner West Haven area. Bozzo had a scruffy clownish look. He was like a dark evil clown and his nickname probably came from his looks. Some people said he was Gypsy, others that he was local mixed race but claimed the Gypsy status because squatters thought it to be glamorous.

Mike strode up and the other six people, already on the road, stepped back on seeing him. Bozzo didn’t notice him until he was almost on him. He spun around suddenly from the fence and faced Mike as if he were an attacker.

The street crowd watched and muttered quietly as they exchanged words.

“You gonna shoot me, Wilde, and get yourself locked up for good. Say, we saw you closing up over there. You finally getting wise and leaving town?”

“I’ll be around and watching the property. And that includes this property, which happens to belong to Donovan.”

“We thought Donovan was leaving it derelict.”

“Sorry, no deal. It will be renovated. It’s just not being advertised … and, he has those two undercover cops you hate protecting this place. So watch out.”

“Yeah, right. Last I heard they were bogged down with murder investigations. But we are watching out for you. We know how trigger happy you are.”

The sound of a loud distant bang came on the wind from deeper in towards the West Haven center. Everyone looked, sirens rose in pitch. Mike ignored it and bent over to pick up a broken beer bottle by his fence. As he did, the book fell out of his interior pocket. Bozzo looked down at it and the glowing pentagram on the open interior.

“So, you're into Satanist witchcraft stuff now Wilde. I knew you were weird.”

Mike picked up the book and pocketed it. “I found this book. Figure it might be of some value to an antiquarian.”

Bozzo began to stroll away. “Sure, that's what they all say. We had better get out of here before you put a curse on us. We don’t need any of these places anyway, Wilde. At least not yet. But I know how this neighbourhood works. Before long, you and Donovan will chuck the neighbourhood for better digs. Like all the others with some money did. Then we’ll pick these places up for our own use.”

“Don’t put the listings in your registry yet,” Mike said. He watched Bozzo and his shabby crew stroll off down the dark street. They were tougher than they looked to be surviving where they did and Bozzo was no genuine clown. He wasn’t to be trusted, but his gang was much better than the Edge Ring gangs of robbers and raiders that housed in the West Haven in the daytime and hit wealthier areas of the city at night. Bozzo’s gang of squatters hung around the area, only going out to panhandle and roam during office hours.

Bozzo was partially right, too. This entire grungy place wearied him. He felt tired as he strolled inside. Heading back to the basement he hid the book then went back up and sat in an armchair. He thought things over. What exactly were his goals other than hoping to be cut loose from the Jung? He really needed a new career and as an idea popped into mind, he fell asleep – and dreamed.

The facade of the Jung rose like a medieval castle. Above it, an unseen hand tossed white stars across the sky. Billowing smoke blew across its grounds as though from some great fire. Yet there were no flames. He was suddenly soaring like a great bird or haywire kite, spinning in the air over Western Woods Park. The scene below was a nauseating blur of greenery and smoke. A power or spirit was foiling his efforts at control, leaving him in limbo. Mike tensed, his focus became intense, and he felt an alien force try to hold him then lose its grip on him. It left him like a hot flash of anger; like a demon driven out as steam from his ears.

The blur and his seesaw through the air eased, and in the smoke rolling in below something red showed. Steering his dream flight he moved over it. He saw the two strange trees again and that clouds of smoke were emitting from them as though they were a gateway from the underworld. The smoke was rising to a huge plume in the sky, and beyond the trees where the clearing had been, he saw a field of bright stars. He was getting close to the searing heat when the view changed - a red-hot coin spun before his eyes then came into firm position. The raised image was the face a beast with five orbs to its right and a clutch of distorted men as an imprint on the left. Mike felt he could comprehend this image but he did not wake to do so. Instead, he sank into deep dreamless sleep so strong that he did not twitch or move. He barely breathed, but had a subconscious awareness of a force swirling about him and penetrating all else. Whatever it was, it was unable to get through to him. He somehow held it back.


Breanne tossed violently in her sleep, shifting through a chain nightmare of bad days at the Jung. The rolling eyes and final death mask of a patient with severe paranoia flowered in her mind. He'd died of a stroke largely induced by fright, and such was the severity of the disease that missing a dose of meds triggered it. His frozen fright mask was one that stuck in memory and belonged to haunted dreams. His treatment had backfired, created the runaway paranoia that eventually proved fatal.

A burly black man named Arnie appeared and howled obscenities at his long deceased mother as he ran about barefoot wearing only fouled underwear and a strait jacket. Then she saw an old man they called Drecker lying dead in the patient hallway next to the pillar he'd used to bash his head ... thick red blood oozing with his swollen tongue from his open mouth. Drecker had been another experimental treatment error; an electronic correction spike that failed and triggered hysteria.

Sweat beaded and cooled on her forehead, evil dream visions continued to flow in ugly succession, a boy named Samim screamed about the bugs on the walls, then there was a sudden halt to it and she was looking down from above at a large plume of smoke. Streaks of black like veins were in it and it had greenery below it. She saw that it was in the park next to the Jung, up on that hill with the two odd trees. Smoke puffs emerged all over the park and more smoke hissed up and drifted into the huge vibrating plume. Haze drifted in the park and out of it into the nearby streets. She saw a man walking out of the smoke and distortion and he was white like an albino. Blacker smoke began to curl around him and she saw a ghostly form extend from him and become a large dark animal.


Doctor Darwin Berenyi was also dreaming, but his dream flow wasn't anything he'd be able to put to Jungian dream analysis. It was all too confusing, a foreign language he couldn't comprehend, and the symbolism was madness. He kept seeing his own face and his hands holding it as he screamed like one of the lunatics he'd treated over in Spain a year ago. An environmental toxin from metals extraction had poisoned them. The toxin had a withering effect on the brain. Those men used to yell about the smoke choking them, and they saw smoke everywhere. Now it was the same for Berenyi. It was drugged smoke, yet fragrant like wood smoke until it became cloying. In time, it pierced his nostrils and electrified his brain like a cold hypodermic was up his nose.

Death had many faces flashing past him and they were charged with evil emotions. Leering, glaring, grinning, howling ... hate personified, and it was driving him mad. Then he saw himself stumbling in the smoke on some alien world. There was nothing but stones, ashes, and some creatures about the size of large cats running here and there. One came close and its neck flared out as its face showed. It was not a cat at all but a nasty sort of dragon.

His thoughts tumbled around him then he saw himself on an easy chair in his den considering what this all meant. However, he couldn’t consider anything because the odor of the smoke was sickening, horrible.

He suddenly woke, sat up, and spewed across his bed. His lungs pumped like hot bellows; he breathed out and spat, trying to rid himself of the stink. He managed to rise and gather the mess of blankets into the laundry basket.

Back in the bedroom, he looked at his reddened face in the mirror, fainted, and fell back on the bed and into morbid sleep.


Hawkins tossed on his bed, his right hand occasionally tearing at his ragged head of hair. His dreaming didn't begin with anything ugly or the voices of mental illness. Instead, he had left his room in the Jung and was walking on a cloud of white smoke. It was heaven because the chronic pain was gone and he felt great. He was up there with the angels, though he didn’t see any. He wished he had a football so he could break into a charge across the cloud tops. His fears had vanished, too. There was no pain here. The clouds were a smoke below him that had cleansed the world.

Then he really did see an angel pass … a real winged angel, and when she looked back, it was Delina, but the Delina of younger days when her big eyes expressed joy and not the quivering of someone troubled and frightened. Her figure was full, too, the way it had been before mental illness had turned her willowy and worried.

A tower appeared in the distance. It excited him so he began to jog to it and when he grew closer, another feeling hit him. One of confusion, because the tower was one he recognized. He knew that wing of the Jung. It was no ivory tower, but a bleak one that housed maniacs like Lord Kenneth and the Mailman. The mad Mr. Smothers resided there too and the thought of him melted heaven into a fast appearing hell. He saw now that the tower windows were smoky like the clouds had gotten inside. A fragrance, sweet at first, of burning wood came as he looked up at the closest window. A face was there pressed against the glass and it was the smeared horse face of Mr. Smothers. His fattened lips were also on the glass and he was sliding his tongue lasciviously.

Hawkins stepped back from the shock of it and choked lightly. Bile rose and he spat out a big gob that sizzled into the clouds and caused smoke to rise. Mr. Smothers face turned to flames and now Hawkins staggered back; but it wasn't fear of fire, he'd always had terror thoughts regarding Mr. Smothers. Mainly because that particular dirty-old-man killer involved himself in a lot of up-close-and-personal, physical and sexual abuse … and he didn't care whether the victim was a man, woman or child.

The horrible thought of germs rose and Hawkins visibly shivered in the smoky heat. Heaven was now long gone and it went the rest of the way to hell as the windows in the tower shattered. Smoke and hysterical screaming poured out and rather than clouds, he found himself fleeing over hard stones and twirls of the rising smoke.


Somewhere dogs were howling and Officer Joe Kennedy, on the edge of sleep, wished he hadn't crashed over at Casey’s place. He did that a lot now that they worked this neighborhood and he hated it. Casey, as usual, was snoring like a hog, often with noisy rasps as he exhaled. Joe figured he must be dreaming about something really wicked tonight, judging by the occasional startled snort, usually followed by a rasp or two.

What in the hell were those dogs about? Was it a full moon or eclipse? Usually they would hear shouting or screams here at night and he would say – “Fuck it, I'm not getting up.” Casey would say, “We'll probably get the call in the morning when the mess is mostly cleaned up.”

Casey was no housekeeper and he didn't use a cleaner. He didn't trust anyone in his place as he kept sensitive files at home. Often unauthorized printouts tossed out on a coffee table or loose in some other insecure manner.

It always stank here but today the stench was something worse and he was sure he could smell wood smoke of the sweet kind mixed with some of that harsh lung-ripping stuff that spelled a building fire of a few alarms. The sort of raunchy reek that would arise when a hoarder’s place or squatter dump burned. He didn't investigate fires unless the blaze was a cover for murder or caused by a drug lab. He had pepper spray for dogs, and slowly he was going under in spite of it all.

Suddenly he was asleep and breathing softly, but it wasn't long before his heartbeat started to pick up. The howling of the dogs became a serenade and he began to appreciate each mutt's long voice. Their song was an announcement but he didn't know of what. He saw a shining moon in his mind then he fell into dream sleep and the bright moon hung over Gunning Quadrangle. Smoke drifted everywhere in a stagnant breeze and he was wearing only his underwear. Which wasn't so bad since no one else was around. He tried to remember where he’d parked his car. “Geez, an army must have smoked-up here then left. What in the hell was I doing?” That he couldn't quite remember, and then he heard one of those grating squeaks that make your skin crawl. All the bars and storefronts were closed, nothing but emptiness and smoke, but a number of doors were open and shutters rising. Suddenly doors were slowly creaking open all around and yellowed smoke oozed out, then as the doors fully opened, he saw people emerging … walking slowly and their faces yellow-tinted and dead. What made it worse was Joe didn't know he was dreaming. It seemed real. “What the fuck. A bad zombie movie,” he thought. Then he muttered. “I think they're sleepwalking.”

It was certainly creepy; he looked up at the dark walls of the buildings enclosing Gunning then back to the idiot people. Now they were breaking up, as they got farther out, heading his way like they could see him. A final door was opening, a huge club loading door that the noisy bands used to bring in their equipment. As it lifted, he saw that it wasn't greasy roadies behind it but dogs. Red-eyed ravenous canines that looked maddened, ready tear at any piece of meat. They saw the dead walkers but didn't attack. It was only when they saw Joe that they snuffed and then all rose together with a long collective howl. When they charged, Joe was already running for his life. The dogs were faster. He managed to reach the north end and he was knocking people aside, swinging around them, punching them, anything to get them out of the way. He almost made a bar doorway but a few of the dogs got him and pulled him away. He swung about trying to fight off the snarling and snapping beasts, but he wasn't winning, it didn't end. He didn't know it was a dream.


Casey woke hearing Joe crying out in his sleep. He was soaked in sweat and spittle and felt drained. It was how someone busted would feel after five hours under the interrogation lamp. He needed a coffee or maybe a tall beer. Sitting up, he watched Joe mutter some garbled nonsense and roll over on the couch.

“Fuck, my dreams must have been as bad as his,” he thought. He changed his mind about a drink and went straight into the shower; only he didn't make it to the tap but instead dropped straight onto the toilet and moaned as his entire bowels and intestines flushed out. It stank like hell. He wiped off his bloody ass, flushed and watched in total gross out as the toilet threatened to overflow. At the last second, he threw a plunger into the mess and pumped it. The suction was horrible but it all went down and he had to let it fill again to clean the plunger.

Disgusted he left it there in the toilet and got in the shower. He turned on the taps, showering himself first with hot then with cool.

When he finally felt soaped clean, he toweled off and threw on some clean shorts, jeans, a T-shirt, and a windbreaker. Hammering the toilet handle again, he walked out feeling slightly refreshed and went to the window. A pack of ten dogs ran by down on the street, all of them barking. Five stray cats headed up the alley in another pack. Four people were wandering about down there like they were sleepwalking or zoned out, and there was smog or smoke drifting. He could smell it seeping in through the air conditioning so he opened the window a crack. A warm breeze rushed in and with it the raunchy smell of wood smoke, like a big fire was cooking somewhere.

“What in the hell is going on out there,” he thought.


Casey wasn't the only person wondering what in the hell was going on. Bozzo was also confused by it. He'd been asleep for a brief time and had waked from deep dreams. Usually he slept little. He wished he'd stayed awake because everything about the squat had come undone in a very short period. His terrier had run off, so had the other dogs and they were out there somewhere howling. Dogs were barking all over the place and the alley cats he’d seen running by in a pack weren’t the usual either. Perhaps it was the odors in the air. It smelled like there was a big fire somewhere and wisps of smoke were showing outside the windows.

Something wasn’t right about the smoke. It didn’t look like normal smog and tended to curl in odd wisps and not disperse. There were probably odors in it only animals could smell and that’s why they were active. It occurred to him that he hadn’t heard any sirens or related noise that would come from a nearby big blaze. But his sleep had been deep.

The squat was unusually stinky, too. BO, the fragrance of rotting trash, urine, and beastly sweat seemed to reach deep into his nostrils with the fumes of the smoke. Even his own body odor troubled him and that didn’t often happen.

Bozzo sat in the dark wondering; with his pocked olive skin, shaggy dark hair and brown eyes he was like a darker shadow in the shadows. Brooding instead of sleeping was his nature, though the clownish arrangement of his facial features robbed his expression of seriousness. He had big feet and big hands that covered his face when he held his head. Tonight Bozzo thought about people in general and one all-encompassing truth was that people fucking stank. Their bodies and their personalities had a rotten core. Their snoring wasn’t pretty, either.

A number of men were snoring here and there, women too. This night was slumber time for people and a howl for animals. He glanced around the dim squat, which was one of the few ground level hangouts in the West Haven as most places were high in the sky or above ground. The squat had at one time been a condominium lobby, a huge one. It still had chandeliers on the twenty-foot-high ceiling and some of the original decor. Mostly it was all badly tarnished and covered with graffiti. Colored lights, the sort with tiny long lasting batteries were up on the chandeliers and painted yellow-tint bulbs were in the pot lights. The doors were a shabby replacement of the originals and the plate glass had been replaced with canvass sheets, most of which were stripped open to let in air. It was a sort of communal front end with other areas deeper inside. Since people hung out a lot at night, it had become a crash pad and now a dirty one. No one had proper communal spirit any more; people just let the filth and trash pile up. They stored their junk everywhere on the crappy street furniture they brought in.

They were uniformly dirty and now they had become so communist that they were all snoring in unison. It was frightening; creepy … he’d never seen absolutely everyone in deep sleep. Bozzo exhaled, and then as he saw a few people rising, he suddenly felt better. At least for a few moments, until he noticed that they seemed to be sleepwalking.

Bozzo’s eyes widened as he saw Shaleena’s huge right breast flopping out of her top, while a wet sheet stuck to her left breast. Her eyes were closed and she began to walk accurately if slowly toward the left exit. A difficult job for a sleepwalker considering the trash obstacles, yet she was doing it confidently.

His eyes flashed left as something jumped in the yellow-tinted lights and he saw Gavin’s pet rat jump out the window. Then Gavin himself got up and followed Shaleena to the exit. A couple of other people walked about the squat but appeared to be also asleep.

Bozzo walked over to the window and saw a few raccoons by some overturned garbage cans and farther up the street the shadowy figures of some people walking. Something was going on out there so he headed to the door and went out just behind the two sleepwalkers. Reaching in his shirt pocket, he pulled out his street glasses. Not glasses that helped him see but ones that created electronic noise to hide his face from cameras. The police were always planting hidden cameras around the West Haven and the residents were always destroying them. He was sure maybe a riot or something was going to happen out there so he wanted to be invisible.


Over at the Jung, Lord Kenneth awoke with an unusual feeling. His sleep patterns had always been poor with nothing but nightmares where the ghosts of people he’d murdered came back, sometimes headless, to haunt him. He’d wake up screaming and breathing hard. If he found anyone in close range, he’d deliver a fierce beating. It was that way; he had to hit someone because no matter how hard he tried he could not do anything to the fleeting ghosts in his dreams. They would mock him with impish laughter and Kenneth would end up finding himself pounding on someone totally innocent and shouting, “Stay Dead! Stay Fucking Dead!” It wasn’t as if he cared about the innocent part, he didn’t. None of the victims he and his pals had killed was especially guilty of anything either, though he’d held court and condemned them.

One reason Kenneth was in a solitary suite was that the prison authorities had never been in favor of senseless beatings unless the orderlies carried them out. Those beatings looked very foolish with the orderlies in their silly doctor-style outfits as they made hamburger out of an unruly patient. Lord Kenneth had suffered a number of beatings called Preventative Restraint on the official form. They always led to more punishment in solitary confinement.

Now they locked him in special quarters at night with the only thing he could beat on being padded walls and the unbreakable glass of the window. Even the window felt like padding, having enough give that he could pound it on endlessly like a boxer’s bag or rubber mat.

Tonight, just out of reflex, he awoke on his feet with his fists ready to strike, and as he stood there, it took a moment to realize that initially he didn’t want to hit anything. He’d been having this beautiful dream where he was running naked through wisps of smoke in some sort of Muslim paradise, but with him, the houris weren’t females but beautiful young boys that weren’t exactly chaste. As he remembered the tremendous sexual enjoyment he’d just been experiencing, rage suddenly grew and he sputtered, “Why in the hell did I have to wake up?”

His scarred fists went to work and he pounded on the window until he was out of breath. Finally, he let his arms hang at his side and waited for the nerve pain that was always there to ease. He felt so exasperated he didn’t know what to feel pissed off about anymore. If he could just kill someone, anyone, he’d feel better. But there was no one. Killing an orderly or a shrink would bring too many reprisals. He still had faint hope of talking his way out of this dump. Maybe going down south to that hideaway in the swamp the Mailman was talking about.

Yeah, that was a great idea and he was starting to daydream about it when his eyes finally registered what was going on outside the window. It was smoky out there, wispy like in his dream. Being high up, he could see most of the park and city streets hugging the park. Beyond Staten Street, a bit more than a block toward the West Haven, the buildings rose to a dark cliff and he could see nothing beyond. Every area he could see was drifting with that strange smoke and the haze created an alien view. Usually if he looked at this time, he’d see noisy night vehicles like the big trash-gathering behemoths on the side street … or he’d notice the roar of a late motorcycle chopping into the West Haven, driven by some undeserving character enjoying the freedom he didn't have. Cops always crawled about down there and sometimes shined their cruiser beams in on sections of the park. Tonight there was none of that, not even a single moving vehicle. No flash of headlights anywhere. However, there was movement on streets. People were walking; many dim forms sprinkled here and there almost like ghosts. He nearly failed to notice them because there was nothing brisk or purposeful in their movements and they made no sound. He couldn’t get a clear look at any one of them but they weren’t congregating together. They appeared aimless and like sleepwalkers ... or if he wanted it to be real scary, they were zombies. Lord Kenneth's greatest skill was hypnosis, yet even he had never seen a case of mass hypnosis like the one he was now watching. He knew that if everyone he could see out there was under the influence it probably affected at least the whole neighborhood.

“Nah,” he thought, on the zombie thing. “There have been too many zombie books and movies and it never happens that way. Plus, any real zombies would smell some meat and all move in pack formation for it.”

Nevertheless, something whacky was happening out there. The smoke had its origins in the park. It was flowing like a waterfall between the two strange trees on the hill. He had noticed those trees before, but they didn't glow then as they did now. The hill itself was smoldering; a fire without flames there. It wasn’t anything natural as fires in places like that would burn big with flames and a blow of ashes. Instead, a giant plume was rising up and not dissipating.

Distortion created a blurred lens over the scene. He strained to see but the window added to the distortion and the unreality. He did see clear enough to see a figure appear out of the rolling smoke. It was a man but he couldn’t see much of him. Then a second figure emerged and Kenneth blinked his eyes. This thing was bigger than a bear and ghostly. It decomposed into a cloud of black smoke and flowed ahead twenty yards and again condensed to form. It had a predatory walk and its feet or paws not only seemed unreal, they were clumped tentacles and standing on the air inches off the ground.

They’d been forcing too many meds on him recently. Maybe this was the result. Odd hallucinations, or were they that? He studied his aristocratic face in the reflection and decided he was okay. He’d soon find out what this was about as the two figures in the park were headed directly for the Jung. Something big was happening and there was no mistaking it. He hoped it would be black magic and would cut him loose.


Mr. Smothers was far from the waking world of the Jung Tower; he was in deep dreams and those dreams were of being smothered. There was smoke everywhere and it drifted in thick fluffy pillows that pursued him. He hated the burning fragrance as it had the stench of some sweet burning meat and it really dug up into his brain when one of the pillows got him. He kept running through a field of sunflowers and he knocked and broke as many as he could as he ran. Flowers he hated nearly as much as the hair prickling all over his body. It was fear, terror … he’d never really felt it before. Most of his victims didn’t get much of a chance for that either, considering his methods of quickly snuffing people out. Worse than the fear was the fact that it wasn’t of monsters or enemy soldiers or something he could justify. Instead, it had to be of floating pillows of smoke and if even one of them enveloped his head, he’d get on his knees in the agony of being smothered.

The awareness of being too old and having done too much time was also smothering him. His thinning and graying hair wasn’t much to tear at and his withering body couldn’t stand up to abuse. His throat ran raw, liquid snot poured out of his nostrils, his legs and feet ached. He stopped and screamed, half of the scream at the pain in his throat. Then he ran again as a whole pile of the pillows floated up and nearly got him.

Smothers darted left and right then dashed up a grassy mound where the smoke cleared for a minute, giving him a distant view. It was of Western Woods Park; he knew it well since it was the only view he had out of his window at the Jung. Somehow, he was higher up, too, like in the tower but in wind-weaving grass. Escaping was supposed to be something good, not this hell.

Those two super strange trees he was now seeing just below were deep in the park, so he had to be somewhere off of the grounds of the Jung. Smoke was huffing up from beyond the trees and forming a plume in the sky. The smoke puffed up in strong signals as it grew. He could see something fiery below like a pit opening up from hell. Mr. Smothers had expected he’d been taken there someday; he just hadn’t expected it would be this way, with hell hunting him like he was another easy sucker.

Smoke congealed into a stack of pillows then they all tumbled, spun, and floated for him. He stared in amazement for a moment. The form of a man appeared at the edge of the plume and emerged, followed by a large shadowy beast. Mr. Smothers watched a moment longer then turned and ran as the pillows floated after him.

He was unable to escape. They came down on him with force this time, choking the life out of him. He struggled, fought, his hands and arms flailing as he tried to find something of substance he could fight off. All he could grasp were wisps of smoke; his hands, strong, veined and calloused finding no purchase. Horror filled his eyes; as a strangler, he was a hands-on man terrified of ghosts that could not be seized. Yet though his hands were useless, the horrid pillows had no problem pressing on his face, neck, and chest. They released dust and down that had a power of burning; they suffocated him with the power of smothering rugs.

Finally, he went down in a bed of sand, struggling there, knowing he was dying. When he gave up completely his bowels suddenly emptied; a whooshing fountain of crap that added to the stench of the smoke. He expected that the blackness would consume him or devil’s claws would pull him down but instead he had a vision. He was still in the Jung tower, and looking down to his body where it had fallen on the floor of his quarters. Off out the window the strange man and the beast were making their way across the park, coming for him. He could see that the two were like one with the beast being smoke that had blown out from the pale man's nostrils.


The Mailman didn’t have a window in his special containment unit at the Jung. He didn’t enjoy looking out to see happy people and pets in the park. Pleasant and lovely people and children too, that he couldn’t reach. Without a seal, mind pollution could get in at him, flowing from that distant dirty West Haven, so his window was now a very large sealed painting of an austere mountain scene. Lonely, clean, and cold, that was how the Mailman liked it when he was inside; he even had the air-conditioning set down to a chilling temperature. On the outside, he knew how to blend into a filthy world but here in the Jung he wanted a clean environment.

In all his time at the Jung, he’d never told the shrinks about his boiling blood, how he liked to keep cool, with his mind neat and uncluttered. Many things irritated him; any type of stress irritated him. He would start heating up and when his blood began to roar it wouldn’t be long before he’d get the calling and eventually be on a death delivery.

With the lack of a window and the super air cleansing, he didn’t notice any smoke or anything physically wrong, but he could sense something. It was not something in the air but something in the general atmosphere. The Jung was sleeping too heavy tonight, settled in on a soft nest that hadn’t been there before. The night sounds of the institute were gone, like the regular slam of the night cleaner locking up the garbage chute door above him or the regular heavy footsteps of the patrol guard. There were many other exterior sounds he would notice, like delivery trucks, even night birds.

He had slept but that was only for an hour and he came out of it on his mattress with a crazy feeling of paralysis and black thoughts passing through his mind. Exhaustion so rough he couldn’t move, but it only lasted a while then he’d sat up feeling as if a great weight had been suddenly lifted from his chest. He rubbed his eyes lightly because they still hurt. The Mailman hated his eyes because they were small beady and close-set, a weak link in an otherwise strong body.

He pulled a coffee pack-and-cup out of the cupboard; it was the institute brand where the whole package would slide down his throat and digest if he tried to choke himself with it. He studied it for a moment, considering what fools they were to keep him on suicide watch when he had no plans on killing himself. Something else quickly popped into mind as he remembered the date. There was another sound he hadn’t heard; the sound of his special delivery. The Mailman had a crooked deal going with one of the guards to get a monthly delivery of his specially drugged snuff. Tonight was the night and the deal was off like everything else on this shift or else he’d slept through the faint knock.

He walked over to the almost hermetically sealed service door and wondered. Momentary mild anger struck and he let loose with a long legged kick. To his surprise, the door moved a touch. He investigated immediately and found that it wasn’t locked though it was hard to move. It was the sort of heavy fixture that had to slide a few inches left before it would swing open more than a tiny bit. “Fuck, all these years in this joint have turned my muscles into paper,” he muttered as he put some axle grease into moving the door.

Something heavy was leaning against it and it fell aside with a thump. The Mailman moved his bony body through the door, having to duck some because of his tallness. The crease between his heavy eyebrows pulled them together and he stared down with his small watering eyes. They were evil eyes that when focused, took in every detail, especially when it involved death. The man on the floor was Winston, on his back facing up with a purple face marred with distress. Tiny veins had expanded and popped in his nose. It looked like a heart attack induced by a super spike in blood pressure. It had killed him nicely; probably some drugs triggered it and created nasty angina until he fell choking on the floor, which would account for the ugly flow of vomit and spittle on his guard shirt. Winston had once had a pretty lady-type face; the Mailman knew that off duty he went out on the town dressed like one. He was gay as hell and the Mailman had paid him for his deliveries by sticking his big cock through the crack of the partially opened service door and letting Winston suck it.

There would be no suck tonight, no thrill of doing it with a mass killer. But what about the package? He bent over and went through his pockets and there it was … a quick pinch and snort and he felt instantly better. He looked around for the first time at this tiny vestibule leading to the door, and then down at the full set of keys and fobs attached to Winston’s wrist. The band that attached them was impervious and only Winston would know the special way to release certain keys. He’d really have to cut his arm above the wrist to get them … only he had nothing to do that with in this place.


Donovan kept brushing the lick of messy frontal hair out of his eyes as he tried to watch the dark road. It was worse than swatting at a gadfly. It was time for a cut and style even if sloppy and rough had been his style for a very long time. Dark shadows swept his tanned forehead and he pinched his face into a paranoid squint. Maybe time to get his eyes checked, too.

There weren’t many cars on the road. For some reason half of the highway lights were out on Highway 10 off the Switch Ring into the West Haven. It was dark ahead; he saw flashing lights then noticed a symphony of blaring horns. He seriously wondered why he’d made the decision to make this delivery at night. It was just a vanload of repair supplies he wanted to offload at his empty complexes in the West Haven. He could have picked a better time.

There was a cloud of smoke or smog ahead, low visibility. He hadn’t seen anything about smog in the weather report and the idea of any four-alarm fire over there where he owned property didn’t create a good feeling. The radio was built into his steering wheel so he touched the weather icon and started as a loud advert suddenly screeched in the cab. He nearly swerved but only did a wobble, and then he noticed the smoke wasn’t ahead, he was in the haze now, and just inside the West Haven.

He was coming up on a black BMW too fast and couldn’t brake quickly enough. This time he did swerve as he spun out of the passing lane, nearly hitting another slowing vehicle and going all the way over to the shoulder. The rutted shoulder was bad news because his wheels went wobbly in a deep groove. The van shook then a body suddenly rained down on the hood with a big thump and did a rolling bounce up to the windshield. It was a man’s body and the blood-smeared visage showed as a sudden horror as it went up and over the top. Donovan’s reddening eyes became suddenly shock and smoke blinded. He felt a heavy lurch and the van fishtailed and went over on its side.

The air bag slammed into Donovan, sparing him serious injury. His right hand stung from a bang on the wheel but he forced the door and got out. His van was on its side in a ditch; the body that slammed the windshield was right there in front of him in full gory detail. It was a large man, a fat man and it occurred to him that the other vehicle in the fast lane must have hit him and sent him through the air. Instant death, and probably also for the driver that hit him. “Fucking guy is so big it must’ve been like hitting a moose,” he thought. “Why in the fuck was he on the highway,” was his second thought. Then as another screech and bang alerted him, he ran right over the side of his own van and away from the road and the ditch.

Donovan looked back from the tall half-dead weeds of the roadside and became sure that luck and being spry had saved his ass. The highway was down with a major pileup of the sort that meant dead and injured people. He could already hear a woman screaming. Another vehicle slammed into the mess before it could stop. He could see ahead to a big rig that had gone over and created the disaster. Some people were dazed because they were walking about the smoking wrecks like they were sleepwalking.

Hanging around the wrecks was a bad idea because he could see a few explosions about to happen. Dashing back to his overturned van, he forced a rear door and pushed some debris aside to get to a metal box by the left wheel casing. He yanked it out and opened it, taking out a couple road flares. Moments later he had one burning, hurried over at the end of the pileup, and tossed it a ways down. He did the same with the second and put two more in his pocket.

Jeez, there was a lot of screaming now and he saw three men doing rescues. A sports car near the front exploded and lit the scene. Some of the people were heading back toward him, but not many. Then he saw one of the sleepwalkers ignite from the blaze of the burning car. The man didn’t even scream or flail but kept on walking about on fire. Donovan was definitely terrified of burning alive, and his mouth dropped as he watched the man burn without even noticing he was being fried.

A stout truck driver was yelling to another driver as they approached, but not a road rage thing. It was more amazement. “Some lady sleepwalked right in front of me,” he said. “I never thought I’d kill someone like that. I hit her and I stopped before riding into the big pileup.”

The other man just shook his head. “I don’t know what the fuck is going on, but it looks like an all-nighter.”

Donovan heard a chorus of distant sirens, not headed for the scene but away to what he guessed was the Switch Ring entrance to the West Haven. Ignoring the excited crowd forming around him, he jumped up on a stalled car and looked from the roof. The entire West Haven was smoky and mostly deep twilight purple. About ten percent of the lights were on and blinking in odd patterns. Whatever was going on in there was something big and he’d be going into it because he owned property in there. Turning and looking back the other way, he got a surprise. The view was blurry; the city barely showed behind some form of waves in the atmosphere. It gave him a scary feeling; it was like the rest of the world was about to blink out, like it was a feed on a bad TV set that was now losing its video connection and breaking up.

At that point, Donovan made a decision. To firm up that decision he pulled out a pocket flask of Jack Daniels and took a long pull. There were more than enough men to do any needed rescues here. He wasn't a doctor, so there was little he could do for the injured. The van was totaled, and even if it and some contents could be salvaged, nothing would move out of this area for a long time. The West Haven drifted in smoke; the world behind him seemed headed into total darkness. Jumping off the car, he pushed through the gathering crowd and went back over to the weeds off the roadside. He began the long walk deeper into the West Haven. He didn’t know it, but the people in the pileup were last the people that would be entering the West Haven for a while.


Mike Wilde had a dream where he was awakening in the dream as though genuinely awake. He lifted his head and found that he was sleeping on spongy wet grass in a park and smoke of some rare variety was everywhere. Even worse, he was naked. He sat up, spotted his clothes on the ground, walked over, and began to get dressed. He checked his wallet and everything was still in it. He was aware of vague forms passing on the street and a large impenetrable structure beyond the park. Though he turned, he couldn’t view any more than one wall of it. He was certain he was late for something.

It was only when looked up at the moon that he realized he was dreaming. It its face he saw Breanne’s image. The view took him in and he was looking down, watching her sleepwalking at the edge of some dangerous and dark precipice. It expanded to a vision of disaster with people sleepwalking everywhere in a blur of smoke below. He then saw through buildings into apartments as if he was seeing thousands of cells of a city beehive. The entire crowd collapsed, some falling into immediate sleep and many others simply dying. It ended with a monstrous crash and he woke.

Cooling sweat slicked his cheeks, the screech of compacting metal remained fresh in his ears; he immediately popped up and realized he’d fallen into deep sleep when he planned to leave early to check in at the Jung as required. It would be a black mark on his record if he showed late and he hadn’t even started the phony treatment yet. A check of the time showed it was still early, he hadn't been asleep long, and twilight had just ended.

He heard another crash and realized that the noise hadn’t been only a dream. Something nasty was happening out on the avenue.

He had his pack stuffed for the trip to the Jung. He stared at it for a moment, and then picked it up as he walked to the front door. A breezy rush of pungent smoke entered as he opened the door. He wasn’t fully awake yet and it stung his dry eyes, so he closed them. Foul, evil visions suddenly hatched in his mind like he’d inhaled poison fumes; they invaded his thoughts and nearly put him out through the psychic shock. Overall numbness penetrated his flesh, so he immediately went back to the old meditation technique he often used when the bad visions arrived. In it, he imagined himself in a quiet room with a number of doors. All of the troublesome things were outside those doors and one by one, he shut them. However, he couldn’t shut one door. Outside of it, the moon showed with Breanne's image in it.

His head cleared to a degree; he held the focus and opened his pained eyes. The numbness vanished like bad hypnotism fading. Stepping out, he saw that the smoke had hazed the neighborhood and there was an accident on the road half a block down. Mike still took time to lock the door and click the alarm button before he walked over the lawn. His ears tuned in on a chorus of horns and sirens, and they were from all directions, though distant. The lights of the Switch Ring overpass were flashing all the way across in red emergency where it rose to higher levels at the largest conglomerate of West Haven skyscrapers.

Funny thing was the area right in front of his house was peaceful … no cars coming, he saw a few fireflies. A couple of men were arguing at a small accident up the road so Mike walked up. A Chevy had swerved out and clipped an oncoming Mustang. Both had badly damaged front ends but the drivers were ok; at least physically, though not emotionally, as they were shouting at each other in the street.

An angry man of the white trash variety with a shiny shaved head, gold earrings and silky pants as baggy as sacks had a fist raised on a smaller guy. His muscled arm was unnatural in the cut of the tendons against the skin.

“They walked right out in front of me,” the little man said. “What could I do?” He pointed up the road where a few people, all of which looked dazed or stoned, were wandering about like sleepwalkers.

“They’re everywhere, you stupid bastard … dead bodies in the road, too,” the white guy said. “Drive around them like I do.”

“I can't now. I don't have a vehicle.”

Mike walked up and stood beside the small man. “You want some of it, too,” the angry man said, now with both fists raised in an incorrect boxing posture.

“I see there is disaster happening. You’ll just make it worse if you lose your head.”

“What? That little fucker hits me and you accuse me of losing my head.” He stepped forward and swung a hard right, which Mike stepped into, caught, and used to hip toss him on the road. He got up fast and charged but Mike stepped aside and swung around with a kick that propelled the man forward and he slipped and fell again. He got up, dusted off his now dirty pants, put his hands on his hips, and stared. Mike simply walked past him and the man did nothing this time. When Mike looked back, he was over the road yanking up the damaged hood of his vehicle.

Mike didn’t have to go any farther to know that a weird disaster had happened all through the visible neighborhood. It was up as far the Switch Ring overpass, too.

Back at the house, he disabled the alarms and went back inside. He grabbed a small tablet which he’d forgot and hit the link to the local Pulse News. A story was up; Weather Anomalies Strike the West Haven. He knew it was more than the weather, but the news seemed to be that it was local and affected the area but not the rest of the city. It said nothing about a fire but if the little bit of chaos he’d seen was an indication, stupid or mean people would have some going soon. He tried to switch to other news but the tablet screen flashed and died. He checked it briefly then tossed it aside.

He knew enough about his small visions to know his dream meant Breanne was in trouble. He couldn’t save everyone from this but if the vision was of her, he knew he was supposed to find her. He didn't know how he knew that, he just did and he didn't intend to go out hunting for her without a weapon.

Down in the basement storage, he scratched his head. Suddenly the walls shook as if a quake was happening. It subsided quickly. “What in the hell?” he muttered. He picked up a small gun, like a toy. The safety and trigger were only buttons. It had a small under-shoulder holster. It wouldn’t be visible. Disaster or not he didn’t want cops grabbing him with a weapon so the Remington Mini was his choice.

With that on, he locked up and left. Mike had a Ford sports car safely tucked away. He decided not to take it because he'd probably wreck it trying to get through. Then he’d be tied into the traffic calamity and short a vehicle. He’d find another way to get where he was going and do it fast.

Back at the accident site, Mike talked to the little man, as he was calm and looked like a conservative type, dressed in clean and very ordinary casual clothes. The other fellow, that had been violent, couldn't be questioned. He was now leaning against a lamppost and his hands were over his face like he was undergoing newly induced mental anguish.

“What’s your name?” Mike said to the little man.

“People call me Raj. Don’t ask Brutus there his real name. By the looks of him, he probably doesn’t know it. I think that small quake rattled his brains out of existence.”

“Mike is my name. How far did you drive? Any idea of the extent of this mess or of what it is?”

“I have some idea. I came in from Scarsdale and all was fine until I crossed the Switch Ring overpass, which is closed now. On the other side, I experienced some kind of mental anguish, like our friend over there is suffering from now. I pulled over because I was going crazy. My thoughts didn’t make any sense. I saw things zooming like bats everywhere and other stuff like demon faces flashing in … but I came out of it after falling unconscious or asleep for a time. There was a long period of crashes as cars and trucks collided. A symphony of noise. I got back on the road and drove around trouble spots. Like the other guy said, there were even people who dropped dead on the streets. Passing through here was a detour for me as other roads were closed. From what I’ve seen, this area is a dead zone for unexplained reasons. There is more than one dynamic at work.”

“This street is quiet now.”

“Probably most of the people on this street simply fell into deep sleep. When I drove in, the smoke hadn’t drifted much. From the Switch Ring I could see smoke only in the park by the Jung Institute. It was rising into a plume in the sky. That appears to be the source of whatever is happening. When I drove inside the haze, I encountered the sleepwalkers, and the smoke nearly put me under so I pulled over again. For some reason it doesn’t take on me like others. They get delirious, see things and collapse. You must have immunity, too. That place, the Jung. I think the mad doctors there did it. One of their creepy Frankenstein experiments. You know our society and the new obsession with making everyone fit according to an official version of sanity and social adjustment. This time they mucked up and released something like gas that drives everyone nuts. Even kills many people outright.”

Mike studied Raj, his small lightly wrinkled and brown moon face. His gold eyes were clear while the white-trash guy that had attacked had bloodshot eyes. “This is far worse than I expected. Complete disaster. I know the Jung is the only thing there at the source, but no one at the Jung could release clouds of toxic nerve gas in such volume. You saw it coming from the park. I can’t fathom it. Weird stuff is happening. Maybe the police or military are the people to investigate this deal. Right now, I have to get to the higher Haven. I want to check on a girlfriend. She's a nurse at the Jung.”

“I have to get there too. My townhouse is up there at a top level, but what if the public elevator banks are also down?”

“We’ll head over and check?”

“On foot, that far?”

“We take his Mustang. He can’t use it right now. Look at him.”

“I don’t like stealing, but I suppose if it is only borrowing.”

They inspected the cars. Raj's vehicle had been totaled but the Mustang had survived, though with some nasty cosmetic damage. It was a collector's model of the sort favored in the West Haven, stripped of modern electronics and tracking devices. Keys had been left inside; the main problem was the twisted front hood. It took some effort but the two of them managed to pull it off the car. It released a loud creak as it burst free from the snap-ins. There wasn't much they could do about the crumpled fender but the engine looked intact so they got in and Mike started the car. It choked for some moments then came awake with a roar.

Only about half the streetlights were on and half of them were blinking. Darkness ahead vanished under the power of the headlights, and the car inched forward, then a minimal dash lit up and the pedals unlocked fully.

Mike glanced at Raj. He looked worried and expectant. “The crashes everywhere. I see there are a few causes. Electronics are screwy. Then the psychological effects on people.”

“My car didn't go bad right away. It worked but there were some issues with the steering. Maybe it depends on the type of vehicle. This one with minimal electronics is the best for this situation.”

Mike pulled out and got half a block before encountering people in the road. They were like sleepwalkers, but not fully so ... as some organization showed in that they all headed in the same direction up the road, though not in a straight line. The Mustang did a slow weave around some of them. Mike took a close look at a woman walking in a nightgown and slippers. Some others were mostly naked. He thought about stopping and looking them over, seeing if they'd wake, and then thought better of it.

They passed one of the first skyscrapers on entry to the deeper West Haven and Raj stuck his head out the window and looked up. The building lights including interior unit lights were flashing in varying patterns like it was a giant game cube. Other tall building cliffs ahead were on and off in that some had all lights on and others none. In the lit windows, Raj saw no one. There were more sleepwalkers out on the streets. Many people who had pulled over were asleep in their cars. Some stretches had many corpses but they had nearly all fallen on the sidewalk. Corpses were always obvious in that they crumpled in skewed deathly positions. There were some sleepers but they had made it to benches or had sat down with their backs against walls and posts.

Mike passed a garbage truck with its rear end protruding out the front window of a variety store. He went around a series of wrecks using the sidewalk and a grassy area out front of a post office building. No one alive remained at the scene of the crash. No emergency vehicles had arrived either.

“What do you make of this shocking scenery, Raj?” Mike said. “Can you think of anything that could do all this?”

“I can’t think of any way to help people. I don't know the cause.” He shook his head. “I teach high school physics. I believe in scientific explanations. This doesn't make any sense to me. I may as well be one of the people sleepwalking because what I see is not real, like a dream. I'm not supposed to entertain supernatural explanations. We are at the epicenter of something that can’t be happening but is happening.”

“It’s more than happening, it’s pissing me off,” Mike said, and then he hit the brakes as a pack of dogs came out of a narrow alley and swarmed past the car. A large German shepherd howled and led the dogs on a run up the road. Its bark was immediately followed by dogs barking everywhere … behind windows, doors, bushes.

They reached a public lift to the higher levels and noted that it was out of service with one elevator car visible against the building side several floors up. Askew cars and an overturned bus choked the road ahead. A few people who seemed unaffected had gathered in a clutch on the far side of the accident and something buzzed down from above in a big arc then rose back up. They got out of the car and looked.

“Surveillance drone,” Mike said. “Police are watching from the sky. Where in the hell are they on the ground?”

“Most of the cops come out of that huge Station 1333 on the perimeter of the West Haven. All the rest are mini stations. Either they're blocked in there at the station or they are all busy elsewhere. Same with the fire department; the emergency vehicles aren't out on the road. They wouldn’t be immune either, so most of them in this area would be out of commission. Maybe others can’t get in from outside.”

They watched as the drone arced down from high above, and this time buzzed right for them. Without exchanging words, they turned and ran for the entrance to public Lift 72. It didn’t fly in after them but went back up after nearly striking the walk and a lamppost. Abandoning the street, they walked into the empty entrance. Most of the public banks had major store outlets or malls behind them, giving the public easy access. This one didn’t though it was close to the last upscale segments of the West Haven. The deep wide entryway led to a series of impervious glass doors. Faint emergency lights showed behind the doors but they saw no people. It was an office complex with half the units empty so no one would be about at night other than maybe cleaners or a security guard.

“Emergency lights mean the generator is on,” Raj said. “If so there is an emergency elevator running.”

“Yeah. It would be at the back and probably a service thing.”

In the lobby area, they passed a drug store with an eviction notice pasted on its door and then the rest of the corridor had wide doors on either side with corporate names. Marketing offices for the most part. There were some regular elevators for that section of the building inside but they were powered down. Finally, they found a locked service door. Mike shook it then stood back and laid a square boot right next to the lock. That did it, the door burst open, and they went inside past an area with service machines and storage lockers. They found the elevator at the side of a loading dock at the rear. The dock roll-up doors were closed, but a fire door was held open by a brick. Mike walked out and looked. He was a few stairs up on an overhang. Faint light lit the alley below. A body lay crumpled down in the alley so he hopped down and checked it. He recognized the uniform. He’d found the building security guard and he was obviously dead. After a close look, Mike stepped back quickly, startled by blood congealed in the dead man’s eyes and ears. He glanced around the narrow alley, saw no one, and then hopped back up.

Raj waited, nervously stepping side to side on the spot. “What happened to him?”

“Something killed him and I don’t want to find out what it was … maybe another part of this whole strange happening. It looks like his brain burst.”

“Doesn’t surprise me. Mine felt like it was going to burst back at the start of this.”

“The service elevator is working. But we can’t go up all the way because the top housing section is a secure area.”

“It won’t be a problem. Secure only means it is hard to access from lower streets. We’ll be able to get in from higher up. I’ve done it before.

The elevator door closed slowly and Mike didn’t enjoy Raj’s uneasy look. It began to whir upwards. “Are you claustrophobic?” Mike asked.

“This entire situation makes me nervous. If we get stuck who would get us out? We are relying on one big emergency power source somewhere down in a sub basement. I also don’t like the idea of unclean dead bodies on the street or the fact that we can’t explain exactly how they died.”

“You may have hit on something. Maybe a generator deep underground is insulated from the waves causing these anomalies.”

A button light suddenly flashed on and off, the elevator halted abruptly and the doors opened on the twenty-second floor. It wasn’t the top and Raj exited quickly to avoid any chance of the doors closing. They didn’t close because the elevator had lost power. Mike stepped out and saw the relief in Raj’s eyes. It occurred to Mike that people were likely stuck in elevators all over the place. There were a couple tricks for forcing the doors but few people knew them.

The twenty-second floor was a condominium apartment area, numerous small units. Only a few hallway lights were on in emergency mode. A short walk down the carpeted hallway and they saw that all the units had been broken into, the door handles forced and bent at an angle. The interiors were dark. It was silent. Mike checked one unit to see if the lights would come on. They didn't. Raj again had a fearful expression and his eyes told Mike he did not want to enter and investigate any spooky units. Mike was more amazed by the silence than he was worried about the common thieves who’d raided the units.

“Disaster always brings out the best in some people,” Mike said facetiously. “We take the stairwell up to the top. This is out of our jurisdiction. At least there aren’t any visible bodies or injured people here. If anyone is in these units, they are asleep or dead. I don’t hear any pets either. There should be dogs or cats. Looks like whoever did the break-ins released them and let them down the stairwell.”

“They’d be on the street with the rest of the packs by now. I bet my place has been robbed. I have to find my wife. Her phone doesn’t ring.”

“We aren’t there yet. Save the worries.”

A sense of urgency came out of the quiet. Mike took the stairs up fast and they were both panting. The last marked floor before the upper street level was floor thirty-nine and they were tall floors. One upper fire door was open and it allowed them into an under-street mechanical area. It was quite large and complex, running under the top like the conduit of everything from fresh water to sewage and trash/litter removal. They passed a row of small tow tractors parked in the semi dark and heard the grind of some trash compactor equipment that was still functioning. A web of nightlight from above shone down through a large overhead grate which was much too high to reach and too heavy to move. Some dust showered down through another grate ahead and they heard footsteps. Raj stopped and cupped his hands to his mouth but before he could yell, Mike threw an arm around him and a hand over his mouth … whispering to him that they’d find an exit first and not alert any hostile forces. That exit wasn’t far off because there was a vehicle run ahead up to an exit door. It was closed. They reached it and Mike fished around until he found an emergency handle that opened it without power via mechanics.

They hurried ahead up the ramp and looked around at the top, finding themselves next to a retaining wall. A waterfall of vines and red berries coated the wall. It was the end of an upper streetscape and the scene was peaceful. If there were robbers and home invaders, something had kept them from coming up here. They could see some people walking in the nightlight far ahead, but again they had that slow confused gate of the sleepwalkers.

Raj followed Mike and they stopped again and looked around then began walking toward the sleepwalkers. The townhouses at this top level were all three-story jobs and connected variations on the same uniform theme. Strange lights showed through the misted sky above and the light was like starlight filtering in but from stars much brighter than any that should be in the night sky. Raj stopped and stared up at them then they heard some voices ahead. A break in the townhouses provided for a small parkette and three people were sitting there on the benches. They were awake and obviously residents of the street. They glanced at each other suspiciously as Mike and Raj walked up.

A young man with brown hair stood and spoke. He wore a full suit. “You two look wide awake,” the man said. “That’s not the usual tonight.”

Raj tapped Mike on the shoulder. “I’m going ahead to check on my wife. You talk to them.”

“Sure thing,” Mike said, and then turned back to the man as Raj walked off. “We haven’t been affected like most others. I’m here looking for someone. What’s the story up here?”

“I’m Frank.” He nodded to the others. “That’s my wife, Amber and my friend, Ethan. The story up here is strange happenings, most of the people asleep or sleepwalking. A few are dead.” He pointed south. “The sleepwalking crowd went south, where your friend is headed. Others are in a sort of sleep where they don’t wake. They are all still in bed. We did wake and we met here.”

Mike attempted to assess the three at a glance. The two men were both well dressed. Frank's curly hair was close cropped, his features handsome in a slightly effeminate way. Ethan was a beefy black man with a rise of hair and businessman look. Amber was blond, a bit older than Frank, and casual in dress. Her hair was teased out. “The whole West Haven area is similar but there are variations. The air below is filled with smoke. Here it mists above.”

“I saw the sky before the smog,” Frank said. “There are stars like tiny moons up there … excessively big. It must be a distortion of air and light.”

Amber had a phone in her hand and she turned it to face Mike. “I’ve been trying to contact emergency services. But look at this thing. The calls all came up as long distance then didn’t go through. The GPS says we are located in Antarctica.”

“At least it works in some way. The electromagnetic spectrum is messed up.”


Raj hurried ahead along the slate tiles of the walkway toward his townhouse at the south end. The pungent air and a few sleepwalkers he’d already passed added to the effect of the backlit smoke above. The result was a case of sweaty shivering creeps. Sure, he was a physics teacher, but he’d seen far-fetched movies just like other people. He couldn’t shake the feeling that this was exactly the atmosphere to expect if aliens were about to appear. Not friendly aliens but the monster sort with plans for the human race that would involve horrible medical experiments or human heads on a dinner plate. Such evil invaders would want to soften the population up first and killing a portion while putting nearly all the rest to sleep would be a solid plan.

Raj assumed his wife Ayana wasn't among the sleepwalkers; she slept like a corpse barely even moving in the night. That led him to believe he’d possibly be lucky and she’d be home in bed.

The alien twilight filtering from above and the silence created a feel of rising doom. A huge crowd of sleepwalkers had gathered just beyond his house. Up here, some of them were children, while on the lower streets he'd noticed that sleepwalkers were nearly always adults. He saw a thirteen-year-old girl sitting on a strip of grass and crying. He halted. She was overly delicate and pretty with a mop of dark blond curls like a doll. Her big eyes seemed able to take everything in with a glance.

“I can't stop crying,” she said, looking up at him.

“We all have a reason to cry,” Raj said. “What's your name kid?”


“Okay, I’ll be back. My friends are over there. I have to find my wife.”

He picked up the pace even though winded. Running wasn’t his favorite pastime. Health bulletins and charity events that involved athletics at the school, he’d always avoided. The way the conglomerate worked each visible house was really four townhouses. His was pricier and he owned the entire house. He saw the door wide open and hurried in. A living room light blinked, the bedroom was dark. Raj did a quick search and Ayana wasn’t present. The bed had been disturbed so it meant she was among the crowd of walkers.

He paused just outside the door and looked south from the steps. The crowd milled about at the south end by a strip of flowerbeds, grass, and trees at the retaining wall. He wondered why they’d all gone that way but had no answer. At least they were safe, as they couldn’t sleepwalk over a high wall. If they did, it would be a quick end because beyond it there was a long drop to the roof of Metro Station.

Raj was almost sure he could see Ayana in the crowd and went down the steps. The girl Lucinda was crying much louder now. He looked over then saw her pointing at the sky and followed her finger with his eyes. His heart sank; a big drone was flying in and the way it soared was like a crazy balloon losing air. It shot up high and came down with a whoosh and metallic hum that was followed by a sickening crash and explosion as it collided with the south retaining wall.

The wall proved worse than weak. A section of it shattered like it was some kind of glass. There was a great shower of sparks and a single lick of flame. That lick was a big tongue and it set a sleepwalking man on fire. He suddenly spun around in a funny dance then fell as the fire extinguished. The smoke and steam that rose from him convinced Raj that he was certainly dead.

The retaining wall had crumbled in one portion to about waist height and the remains of the drone had done a hop over the crowd and slid up in a garden at of one of the townhouses. It was caught in some bushes, which were now smoking. Raj was running again because with the people doing their slow jig-jag walk south they would soon be able to fall over the wall. From this height any that went over would become flyspecks on the Metro roof below.

That such a crash had not awakened the people seemed impossible, and rather than look for his wife, Raj ran straight through the crowd to the smoking ruins of the wall. The drone had gone right through the wall and ripped up some big pieces of pine scrub on its bounce. Raj dragged the largest pine pieces and some rubble into the way, and by the time he’d done so he heard shouting and saw Mike and the other people from the parkette running up the street.

The sleepwalkers were compliant enough that Raj could nudge them off in other directions from the wall. He touched the skin of two men and felt waves of nausea as he did. They had some foul charge on them that passed with touch yet the feeling was emotional, depressing, and ugly. The odors of smoke had penetrated Raj's clothes and the sweat of the run was making him itch. He looked through the wisps as Mike along with Breanne and the three other adults and little girl ran up to him. Raj was about to speak when he spotted his wife Ayana in the crowd. Pushing past Mike and Frank, Raj stepped up to her and seized her firmly by the shoulders. A withering wave of nausea weakened his knees and he stumbled back. Her eyes had opened and they looked dead, no recognition in them. The hopelessness of it all came into Raj's thoughts and he felt defeated. The entire world had gone alien on him. He couldn't figure out how to save his wife. Maybe he couldn't save himself. All of the science he'd learned was useless against this power of the unknown.


 Part Three: Madmen

 Brett Haydicky, the Mailman leaned down like a big bony scarecrow and tugged at the keys on Winston's wrist. He figured the tiny beaded chains attaching the keys to the wrist collar were the strongest metal or plastic ever made. The fob wouldn't break free either and it felt unusually hot. Now the lights were blinking and flashing bright, tormenting his drugged brain. Frustrated, he began slamming Winston's wrist against the hard floor. That ended with a bang as the wrist collar suddenly exploded and the hot flash sent him reeling up and backwards. Some blood spattered his face and his chest was hit by hot needles.

A moment later, the lights stabilized and he checked the situation. Winston's wrist was seared and cooked but a portion of the band still had a grasp around the bone. Wiping the foul blood off his face, he cleared his mind. The pins and needles were fragments of metal embedded in his chest and he winced as he slowly pulled them out. The bleeding wasn't much but he had a painful burn there and the front of his shirt was black and scorched.

It was a piss off that he still didn't have the keys. At least the drugs killed the pain, so to double down on pain killing he took another big snort of the powder and it hit his brain like an anesthetic charge. The door out into the hall wasn't locked. Problem was to get any farther he'd need keys. He'd been led here and there in the tower before and knew the high security. The worst part about that security was it would read his facial features and eyes and disallow him. But maybe that would not happen now with everything malfunctioning.

With no other option, he stepped out into the hall. The bright white light assaulted him. The hallway was a like a hermetically sealed laboratory, not a speck of dust and lights that would highlight any amoebas attempting escape. The light washed over him in waves and for a moment, the hall waved like a big white snake. He caught hold of himself. Orderlies came to mind. If any were about, he wouldn't hear them. The floor was hard marbling but they wore soft shoes. With uniforms often as bright and white as everything else, they'd even be hard to see. They walked softly and hit with a big stick, and enjoyed doing it.

He passed three doors and every door looked the same; a shade of beige in the white walls trimmed by a deep brown edge. They were all locked tight ... not even a door handle or anything to grab or get purchase on if he were to pull. He came to a corner and instead of square corners, the tower halls rounded like he was in a space ship.

Hearing breathing he stopped dead, then slowly inched around. An orderly was there; big man, almost as tall as him but beefier. This orderly shuffled as if he was sleepwalking. Haydicky watched as the guy bumped the wall and slowly turned. There was an open door a ways beyond him and that meant opportunity. He walked up and hammered the orderly with a hard shoulder chop and he went down and out. There was no enjoyment in it as an unexpected wave of nausea hit him. It was like an electric shock and he had to step back.

He moved around the fallen orderly to approach the door but just then another orderly appeared coming through the door and he wasn't sleepwalking. He was marching very purposefully and he had a syringe in his hand. It wasn't clear whether this orderly was bringing a hit of something to wake the sleepwalker or had detected his escape and planned to nail him with a super whack of psychiatric medications. Knowing the power of those meds, the Mailman had no plans on being hit by that needle. That would be difficult because the orderly was snorting like a bull and charging up the hall now. The syringe grew in hallucinatory size to something more than scary. In short moments, the Mailman had managed to swing past the charge and the orderly’s needle hand bounced off his shoulder but didn't connect. Then they were both doing a dance in the hall as the Mailman tried to avoid the syringe.

The bald orderly's face was fierce, intense, full of the confidence of someone who knew what would happen once that point hit home. A big lunge from the orderly and the Mailman was almost running backwards, and he'd forgotten about the other felled orderly and tumbled over him. The charging orderly tripped too and lost his syringe swing as he came down, allowing the Mailman to grab that arm and wrest the syringe away.

This time it was the Mailman with the confidence and he turned with the syringe in his fist and jabbed it into the orderly’s eye. Grue spurted up, the Mailman used the palm of his other hand to hit the plunger, and then he scrambled backwards on the floor and got up. The orderly was in death spasms on the floor, a deadly taste of his own medicine had finished him.

He was in luck because this orderly had a fob set in his pocket and it looked like the house set general orderlies had to open most areas. He popped that in his pocket, moved ahead, and then peeked in the open door. He didn't expect to see anyone because the noise would have been an alert, but there was in fact another orderly in there fast asleep in a chair. He snored peacefully; it was obvious nothing would wake him.

A look around showed he'd found the right room because this had medical storage lockers and the locker fronts were all transparent so a person could see what was inside. They were also code marked and part of the code showed which fob and adjustment would open and lock them.

He needed a quick change of clothes so he went through the fob set and then opened a locker full of neatly folded uniforms and selected a set of crisp white uniforms. There were white outfits for both orderlies and working doctors. They had his size as orderlies were all big, but nothing could take away the weird feeling of the silly design and hat that went with it. Haydicky improvised by wearing the pants, shirt and shoes of an orderly but the outer jacket of a doctor. It was not a correct outfit but a step up to new form of medical mailman.

There were lockers containing medical equipment and drug containers but he didn't know what any of it was ... at least not with certainty. He hit pay dirt near the end of the rows when he found a locker of surgical supplies. Haydicky picked up one hefty curved blade and wondered what in the hell it could be for other than amputating someone's leg. It looked like it belonged in a museum but the metal was a new alloy. There were about ten different pairs of scissors and some surgical hooks. The assortment of knives made him wonder what else might be going on in this place. Psychiatric institute on the surface, but perhaps some slicing, dicing and Franken experiments went on in some of the off-limits areas. The big blade and another long sharp point were all he needed and all he took. After adjusting his outfit, he put them on a belt under his jacket and went back Winston's corpse.

His eyes were adjusting to the light. He encountered no one along the way. When he looked down at Winston's corpse it shrank and grew and at some moments looked like a dead doll. The Mailman decided he had to act; staring like an idiot wasn't an option in this tight situation. Winston's burned wrist just didn't look real. The explosion of the bracelet had burned the flesh around the bone so it was rubberized. The big knife cut the bone easy enough but the feel was like cutting the hand off a manikin. He looked over the keys then pocketed them. Stepping back into his room he emptied some processed food packs out of a box and put the hand inside it. It sure looked weird. He wrapped the box with some colored elastic bands figuring it would make a great mail delivery. Usually he delivered the knives he used to behead his victims but a change of style was in order now that he was a medical Mailman.

He exited with the package, attempting to move stealthily down the hall. An irritating jingle came from the keys so he stopped and switched them to his top pocket. He opened some doors along the way and peeked in but found only storage, electrical and other closets. The hall ended a metal framed door that he remembered as an elevator. He played around with the fobs for a couple minutes then it opened. Mr. Smothers and Lord Kenneth would be on the two floors immediately below him so he wanted to get to them. But nothing he tried worked. The door closed, no buttons would light up and he ended up locked in ... banging the door in frustration. He exhaled a blast of foul angry air and the elevator shook and moved down. He hit the buttons but they didn't light up, someone else had called it so he got the knife at ready figuring the orderlies already had him on camera and were calling him to an ambush.

The elevator moved interminably slow, stopped and shook him like he was being prepared for the oven, went back up a floor and then down. Maybe no one was waiting. This new screwed up world was something he liked and hated; liked because it might set him free, and hated because it might be some new form of prison.

The elevator was becoming his new prison, it stopped now on the aquarium floor, but it didn't open. He didn't exactly want to use the help button so he waited a few minutes. That paid off as the door opened, but it wasn't a normal open. It opened and closed lightning fast leaving him standing stupidly there holding his package and amputation blade.

A fuck-me expression lit his face, the door flashed open and he moved fast, but not fast enough because the door slammed into him giving him a painful jar as he exited. The tip of his blade poked his leg as he stumbled, and he caught himself. A trickle of blood showed on his leg; he dropped the package and knife as he worked to squelch it.

An empty corridor was ahead. He began to feel lucky. Maybe nearly everyone else was sound asleep, sleepwalking somewhere, or even better, somehow dead. At least this corridor wasn't so bright, and it was large with lots of room to maneuver. Huge glassed-in ads disguised as public service announcements lined the walls. Most of them were drug ads. IS NERVE DAMAGE KILLING YOU --- CURE IT WITH AMDILOPAPILLOMEN INJECTIONS was the caption inside a monstrous pen syringe floating over a beautiful model who couldn't possibly be suffering from anything. “Yup, that's this society,” he muttered. “Everybody's got a license to save you by killing you.”

A siren began to wail. It sounded like an impending air raid. The sheer volume of it staggered the Mailman. It shut off as quickly as it started and a perfectly modulated voice began to implore patients to STAY IN THEIR ROOMS AND STAY CALM. Staying in wouldn't be hard because it also said all doors were being locked automatically. It said other things, all them in slowing distortion as it faded. Then he heard footsteps, soft shoes running, down around the corner from the aquarium entrance. Probably at least three guys and they were coming his way. A large and freakish potted plant provided cover and the Mailman proved right as three brutes rounded the corner. A flashing sign helped to hide him as he peeked. He knew them and disliked them ... all three with babyish faces and razored heads topping brutish bodies. Even soft shoes couldn't hide the slap of their slowing feet. The lead orderly carried a genetic detector, which meant they would find him instantly. The second slob carried a baton and the third a lockup jacket.

The Mailman was tall with lean muscles and a fierce nature. His appearance was scary. He knew that. But the idea of going head-on with three of them had his mind whirring. His small eyes developed pinpoint pupils as he thought furiously. Then he held back a snicker. He felt like openly chuckling because this time it wasn't him standing there looking stupid. Obviously, the detector was screwed up because they'd halted and were looking at the screen, then around. When one orderly stared up at the ceiling, he bit his lip to extinguish a laugh.

He knew the confrontation would come whether or not he delayed it so he boldly stepped out of hiding, turned at the center of the hall, and walked toward them, holding his present out with one hand and his knife behind his back with the other. The Mailman had a grand smile on his face. “Present for you boys,” he said.

The lead orderly waved the others back as he took a step forward. “All right, Haydicky,” he said in a nasal tone. “We got a present for you, too.” He pointed to the lock jacket. “Save yourself the trouble and don't resist. You know what happens when you resist, don't you?”

The Mailman certainly did know what happened, but they usually had the rubbers on his feet when they transferred him, so that even in situations where he was off the cuffs, he couldn't run anywhere or move fast enough to make any serious attempt at escape. When he did lash out and lay solid blows on any orderly the response was punishment. Fists, batons, the shock rod ... and they could get away with it because no one would see his injuries other than maybe a medic who was another orderly.

“I ain't comin' in easy this time,” the Mailman said. Then he tossed the package in the air. It arced and landed at the orderly's feet. He gave it an apprehensive look then he picked it up and pulled off the colored bands. He lifted the box top then he gasped and tossed the whole box on the floor. The scorched hand and wrist bounced on the shiny tiles and everyone stared at it.

“Why you motherfucker!” the baton orderly suddenly ejaculated. “You're really gonna get it now!” He moved forward fast, prancing so lightly on his soft-soled shoes he was almost like a big fat fairy. He pulled his baton with liquid speed as he ran. Here the orderly knew the power of a baton. With a large baton of that particular heft, he simply took out the opponent's arms or legs. Any swing of the baton would deliver pain and bruises. It would stop kicks, too. Defensive arm movements would bring just as much pain. If the enemy tried to body forward then a turn and gut or chest jab with the baton would cripple him.

The Mailman though, didn't appear to be putting up any defense, until the last moment when the orderly swung. Then Haydicky ripped his big amputation blade in a swing from behind his back and cut the orderly's baton in half. The force of his run and swing forced the orderly to keep plunging ahead even though he tried to halt. His rubber soles made a hair-raising squeak on the floor and the Mailman was able to use the time to duck aside and back swing his arm from the original swing and flat blade him on the back of the neck as he stumbled by. That sent the orderly for a face-first tumble on the floor.

The other two bulldogs homed in on him. Never knowing why he did it, the Mailman swung and threw the knife. He was not a professional knife-thrower and it was no dagger but an odd and curved blade. Through some piece of miraculous luck, the blade did a boomerang tumble and nailed the orderly carrying the lockup jacket. It bit in right next to his solar plexus and sank in about three inches. The orderly's eyes popped as he stared down at the reaper's sickle now killing him, then he turned white, dropped the jacket, and collapsed.

The third orderly pulled a small gun from a hidden pocket and it wasn’t a bullet weapon but a special packet gun. “So, you like playing doctor, Haydicky. Then you'll get a real charge out of this.” It looked cheap and plastic but the burst that emerged from the barrel was bright and red. The electric charge nailed the Mailman in the chest and knocked him down in spasms on the floor. The orderly moved in to fire again, but the first orderly had risen from the floor and was in a blind rage. He charged over for revenge, tripping over Haydicky and running into the second charge, which put him down like a dog.

The Mailman rolled behind a large rubber plant. A third shot smoked through the leaves and over him. He sprang up and charged. The orderly lost his gun, the two grappled with each other in the hallway. A head butt from the orderly sent the Mailman staggering back dazed. He fell to his knees and the orderly came in for him.

Seizing opportunity, he pulled the blade from the corpse on the floor. A rising thrust ended the battle and the last orderly spat blood and foul bile, breathed some more blood out of his nose and collapsed.

Taking stock of the scene the Mailman decided it was a mess. “What to do. What to do,” he thought. An idea came to mind.


In his dreaming, Hawkins escaped Mr. Smothers and a terrible nightmare. He emerged from a subtle blur of thoughts, shuffling quietly along somewhere inside the Jung. Only things did not look quite the same. A cartoon gloss and friendly glow worked to remove the usual waves of white fluorescent fear and mental anguish. He became aware of many others moving quietly around, hearing only the sound of shoes sometimes slapping, doors opening, deep breathing. A rush of fresh air hit then he realized he was outside. Brilliant moonlight lit the inner court and the fountain rushed up like a glittering waterfall. He saw rainbows in the splashing water and it made him think of fish. Beautiful colored fish like those in the aquarium.

He shuffled off but it was hard to get anywhere as other people kept bumping him. Some of them had blank faces while others smiled and sneered. He wanted to get out of this place. For some reason, there were cactus plants everywhere that hadn’t been in the courtyard before, those and flowering vines growing everywhere else. The moon vanished in darkness and he could see nothing at all. Still, he shuffled slowly on the remembered route to his favorite place, the aquarium.

Hawkins had always taken it easy on his bad leg, preferring a slow limp to muscle strain. There were many tough guys in the West Haven that had discovered how fast and deadly he could be if necessary. At those times, he’d forget about pain and take care of business. Now his shuffle was getting worse; he was walking like a fucking duck and couldn’t seem to find the door. When he reached for the handle, a wall was there … and it was getting to be blacker than a mine now. The only thing he could see was a shape like a massive vulture covering the sky above.

On the fourth try, he touched glass and then he felt and found the long metal handle, opened up and went in. He could hear someone sighing behind him and wondered if it was Delina. To hell with her, he thought. He didn’t want to fool with her now. Her negative attitude would make things even worse.

Light flooded over him and it was as if he’d entered a hallway at the Vatican. He saw elaborate artwork and angels everywhere on the palatial walls. It was interesting but the aquarium entrance was ahead and he wanted to get in there and gather some inner peace, watching his fish swim. He’d forgotten about the aquarium being closed at night but it didn’t matter because tonight it was open. He strolled through out of the bright angelic light into the semi dark of the aquarium. Before long, he was browsing the tanks. At first, he studied his own reflection and noticed that his hair had grown back. Instead of the usual patchy bald mess, he had a beautiful toss-back of hair.

The aquarium had also changed. The aquascaping had been vastly improved. Lush greenery and elegant rock formations filled the bottom of the tanks - rainbow fish, sunfish, puffer fish schooled and circled in patterns and a huge catfish came right up against the glass and stared at him. Time passed and stress lifted. All too soon, he was at the end of the tanks and walked up the ramp before realizing it. Then he noticed the door was open. They always refused him access when he asked to see the hidden workings and controls of the place or to get involved with the fish feeding. Tonight no one was around so he figured he would grab the luxury while he could.

Inside, he noticed quite a large area, though it wasn’t laid out as he would expect. There was a lingering odor and some torn bags of smelly stuff. There were rows and shelves of bags and ugly forms of pellet food in jars. If fish ate that sort of crap maybe they were full of toxins. “Naw,” he thought. “Unlike humans, fish have a super digestive tract that kills everything. They are like sweepers, eating filth and pumping it back out as minerals and clean water.” At least he hoped it went something like that.

A metal staircase led up to a side section of the largest tank. It was neat the way they’d built in a special segment, so that someone could be in there feeding and working on the fish yet be out of public view. Hawkins passed on the pellets and grabbed a bag of fragrant kelp, as it was the sort of food he felt fish should eat. He worked his way slowly up the stairs. At the top, he opened the bag and tossed some food in to the fish. A big school swam in to feed and he felt at the top of the world for a moment, feeding his fish.

Then it all went wrong. Someone else was up there. Someone he couldn’t see. Things were going dark and he heard devious laughter. And something else. He was sure he could smell blood. He turned and tried to speak but his lips would only rubber and no words would come out. Then he heard snickering again and felt the flat of a firm hand hit his chest.

In a long slow moment, he slipped and went backward and down to plunge into the water. Then everything changed. As Hawkins rose to the surface and spat water, he realized he’d been dreaming. But how in the hell had he got in here.

He did not have time to think, the pain of the water he’d already swallowed hit his brain with a cold bolt, and the taste was so foul he wanted to vomit. All this was happening as he thrashed about trying to grab hold of something, anything. It was so confusing he had forgotten that he could swim at least short distances. There was a tiny island platform there at the end of the tank with some of the equipment and food mechanisms on it. The edge was slimy and weedy but he seized it and got hold of what he thought was a rock at first. However, it was soft, slippery, and coming loose from the weeds. He did a mighty kick with his legs as it did and rose above the water. For a moment, he saw what he was holding. It was a severed human head with blood, weeds, and water dripping from the neck.

In that moment, he heard the snickering again, and then he screamed and went back under the water. He almost drowned this time but came back up in a hysterical state, one where he couldn’t even holler from the pain because he was too busy choking and spitting water. He was sure his wet hair was bristled from the fear and a bigger fright was the end that would come if he went back down again. This time he kicked with force and got up on the island partially, and then he slowly pulled himself up the rest of the way and dropped there gasping in pain and terror.

He was so weak his mind fogged; he heard definite footsteps, someone walking away. He turned his head both ways and saw large dead fish on other side of him. Some murderer was about so he forced himself up. With effort, he was on his knees. Then he saw more blood and realized the large fish were not that at all. They were headless human corpses.

Whimpering, muttering insanely, he got to his feet and stumbled off the island and along the walkway, making his way down to the public area of the aquarium. The same things were there like in his dream only slightly altered. He was awed and horrified by the experience and that he could have been sleepwalking in some altered state so close to consciousness.


Casey stayed out on the street in front of his place for a long time, observing a town gone crazy. If people hadn’t dropped dead, then they were sleepwalkers or looters. At least little kids weren't on the streets. His assumption was that they would be in snooze land with Joe.

It was all so confusing he could not decide what to do. He’d gone back inside once but Joe was out of it and wouldn’t be awakened. At least he seemed okay, just sleeping, sweating, and dreaming. Better than being like many of the others sleepwalking out on the night streets. Or were they sleep walking? He wasn’t even sure of that. They had a strange awareness about them but they didn’t respond. Touching any of them was a definite no-no because a sudden feeling of withering mental horror seemed to pass from them. If that was any measure of the state they were in, Casey didn’t want to know anything more about it.

His pocket phone had the special form of new-depth wireless that put him through to the station under any conditions. Nothing short of a world-shaking solar flare would knock it out, and it wasn’t out but it didn't work right either. When he called through to the station a woman on a sex line in Florida answered. None of the other security apps that connected with the station worked either. According to all reads, the station wasn’t present and his connections were routed elsewhere. GPS was haywire so he assumed things were still there but there was a big screw up in all things that worked via any form of electronics or magnetic spectrum. Even light was altered because everything seemed to have undergone a slight loss of coloration. Street scenes, tall buildings, even human faces emanated radiant darkness. It looked natural in the West Haven and that scared him because it wasn't like something alien had taken over but more like the West Haven had returned to its original state.

Casey had always believed that something wasn't quite right about the area. The rest of the city was nothing like the West Haven and that was probably because of the nutty developer that built it. They had glossed over it when he was in school, but Lee Brucker, the super-rich guy that built the West Haven had been crazier than a bedbug. At least he was said to be when he died.

The West Haven was supposed to be a habitat that was an entity in itself. It mixed all income groups, initially from the super rich in ultra condominiums and townhouses usually higher up. Rather than just a mass of concrete and steel, it had many amazing green areas and built-in parks. Originally, there had been plants and gardens everywhere on buildings tall and terraced like pyramids. That went mostly to hell when the recession took the place down. The recession killed the pretty gardens and grew the area over with vines, weeds, litter, dust, and death.

Old Brucker never would have imagined such an ending to his grand dream. He had been known for his eccentricities and being into the occult and witchcraft. In the end, he went mad claiming beautiful aliens were coming from another dimension to heal the earth. Why that belief had been considered madness, Casey didn't know. People believed all sorts of nutty things so why couldn't Brucker? Secrecy surrounded his death. There may have been a mean battle with lawyers and shrinks making a grab for his wealth, on behalf of family members of course. It depended on whom you talked to as some people said he committed suicide and others pushed various conspiracy theories of his death via association with occult lunatics. The old man had been bent, now even the light seemed bent with the area headed into another strange phase of its existence.

Because Casey was an undercover cop, he was used to watching for a long time before acting and making an arrest. The model was like a hawk circling above before homing in on the prey. This time around, the situation could be watched but he couldn't figure out what to do or even whom the enemy might be. Arresting looters would be of no use. He had nowhere to put them, and whoever was behind this chaos would probably be watching and laughing.

A pack of howling dogs had passed far down the road but there was no dogcatcher to call when any call would probably be answered in Germany or Florida. It was the same with the many explosions and distant car crashes he'd heard. Could he rush in nine directions to aid people? Could he somehow get the lights and the power working right? Funny thing was that nearly all of it was off this street. Here most people were sleeping peacefully like Joe. The nightwalkers were farther along. Same with accidents. Here the street was mostly clear and there was no traffic, as if everyone had driven out and got in crashes elsewhere. He thought of the eye of a hurricane like maybe he was at the calm center. If not, then there were some pockets where the storm lacked ferocity.

He had to act so he went to his car, got in, and wasn't at all surprised when it wouldn't start. At least it didn’t blow up like a couple of streetlights he'd seen earlier. Getting to the police station and getting facts was the only option. He was sure it was still safely ensconced on the perimeter of the West Haven. A small fortress there, almost like a border post protecting the more upscale parts of the city from the squatters and poverty of this area. Sure it was there but walking wasn't an option. Just from the noise, he knew there were too many situations out there that would either distract him from his purpose or get him in trouble. Getting in and seeing what the game plan was for this disaster made sense.

He gazed up at the ebony side of an office tower and saw a demonic face in the play of dark shadows. For the first time the situation brought real fear into his mind. It occurred to him that there was a way to get right into the station. That way was the underground line. The West Haven had a grid of underground subway lines. Many of them crossed parts of the old lines. The city had refurbished a portion of the line and the police had refurbished one old segment of decommissioned subway a few years back. Beat cops called it the Sewer Pipe. It ran through some stops from the station and across the West Haven, and was used during mass arrests or to send in riot cops. The Sewer Pipe name came from its most common use, piping in groups of squatters to the station on the perimeter for questions, temporary incarceration, or arrest. Since no one wanted them, they were piped back into the West Haven for release. The station end often served as a place to beat them or put them in the hotbox interrogation rooms for a very long sweaty wait.

The access point was at the rear of the local police kiosk two blocks ahead. It wasn't manned but was more of a storage area with a few temporary holding cells inside the casing. Casey walked directly down the center of the road, enjoying the absence of vehicles. There was a hum in his ears. It seemed to permeate everything and he wasn't sure if it was an actual sound or effect on his brain waves. The smoky sky flickered with light high above and something black spun in a semi circle and flashed off to the west. He thought it might be a police drone. More lights flashed in the distance so he paused then watched as a wave of light came up the street. All of the streetlights came on one by one on the approach then after he started walking again the wave returned, shutting them off and leaving him in semi darkness.

He studied some lighted windows for faces and saw none. The sleepwalkers had gone the other way with the dogs. It seemed that only he was going this way, against the will of whatever power was doing this ... if there was a power that could come up with a master plan of chaos as nuts as this one.

Near the corner of Dunns and Jane Streets, he heard the roar of an engine. A moment later he hurried off the center of the road as a speeding white van took the corner hard. Casey took in the crazed face and wild hair of the driver as he raced past. “What the fuck,” he muttered. Then he considered that maybe this wasn't the way to go.

Around the corner, the street was a deep dark canyon but the kiosk was there at the front of the Massey complex. It looked like the power was out on it as well. If electronic access didn't work, he was out of luck. The entrance was behind pylons with the door embedded behind a heavy posts-and-lintel affair with the police logo in the center of the door being its only identifying feature. Not even a tank could drive through it so Casey stopped and thought, then he walked up and swiped his fob on the patch at the center of the logo.

Amazingly, it opened, and there was some light inside. At least there was until he stepped in and the lights went out. His phone light worked when he put it on. He looked back and guessed that perhaps the heavy entrance had been blocking the waves that messed things up, or it had until he opened it.

Casey closed the door most of the way manually, then it stuck with the last crack open. He flashed his light about. There was a weapons lockup behind the front counter and a short connecting hall leading to the small lockup area and another staff room. The lift down was outside the staff room door but he didn't want to use it. Even if it worked, he might get stuck on it so that left the narrow stairs.

Musty air came out in a sigh when he opened the door. It had been sealed nicely. The platform was five flights down and he took them slowly, feeling spooked. It wasn't a good feeling tonight. If people were around it was spooky and it was the same if they weren't. If ghosts were running on a wire down there on the platform it wouldn't surprise him, and when he got to the door, he opened it a crack first. Dim lights were on and the two train trolleys were present. Last use had left them at this end, which usually meant cops had exited at the kiosk. Sometimes supplies were sent straight down on an unmanned train. He didn't see cops or supplies but since the train lights were on signs were good.

He had access to start the train built into his key fob and as he thought of it, he felt like cursing the computerized world. If this thing went all the way and permanently knocked out electronics the world would stop. Of course all of the old things would work. Doors with turnkey locks would be king again. Everything else would have to be refurbished old style.

The chair at the control panel was the only comfortable seat on the train. It was designed for interior space with a mostly open area and long hard red-enameled benches. No prisoners were shucked in there now, and the train had been cleaned because the stench of prisoner transport wasn't present. The engine started at his swipe and purred softly. On this beast, only the wheels on the old tracks could be noisy, while the engine itself was electric and so quiet that engine sound was partially a recording that played.

Headlights came on, the tunnel ahead showed as a clean corrugated bronze tube. The crosspieces for the track were also bronze. It was actually clean for a tunnel and the ride to the station was a slow smooth cruise interrupted by a few bumpy patches of track. The Sewer Pipe wasn't really the proper name for the old refurbished track. Initially it had been part of the huge West Haven underground transit system, which was nicknamed the Reaper Run after most of the system deteriorated and people started using the remaining trains as a way to commit suicide. The Sewer Pipe name was a cop bigotry thing that tied into exaggerations about how bad the prisoners, often homeless people or squatters, smelled. Casey knew cops who were bigots, racists, brutal … he didn't think of himself that way, but considering events of his career, he knew he had probably been all of those things at one time or the other. He just wasn't dedicated to those beliefs or any beliefs. He was undercover-cop reckless and could be ruthless; not as ruthless as Joe, but enough that even he wondered at times whether he wasn't just another one of the criminals. The trash had claimed him and he'd become another piece of shit traversing the Sewer Pipe. Maybe that was so, but maybe it would be different tonight. Maybe this new catastrophe would revive something good in him and bring to life that better side of him that had been dead for a long time. Maybe his ex-wife Linda would want him back. Yet behind the maybes was the certainty that fate had brought him to the bottom and to a beat at the West Haven … and now the whole damn deal was sinking with him, straight down into hell.

However, there was always time to try to be positive. Thoughts of rebirth, of rising to the occasion, drifted like fine silk in his mind as the train hummed along. And like all other good things in the West Haven, came to a quick and startling end. A shadowy figured appeared on the tracks ahead. It wasn't a tracks worker because the man was wearing a suit. Casey had his hands behind his head relaxing when the vision rose and by the time he got his right hand down to the emergency stop slider, it was too late. It was one of the sleepwalkers and how in hell he got down to the tube Casey couldn't guess. But he could guess that the man's eyes were blue, because the train heaved him right up, arms and legs spread and face first into the broad front windshield. Casey saw those opening eyes and a big splatter of blood smearing across the now spider-webbed windshield as the train ran onward with the body impaled to its front. His mind didn't work but his hand did and the train halted with a screech and a jolt. The body slid off and rolled to the side and Casey's hands were now covering his face as he breathed out, “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”

The next few minutes he didn't like because as a cop he had to get out and try to save or resuscitate the victim. He was able to squeeze out and ease along the concrete rim at the edge of the tube. But as he'd guessed, no resuscitation was even remotely possible. Some people do survive horrifying collisions. Casey had seen it before and never wanted to see it again. This time he was lucky. He'd squashed the guy like a bug and not much was left other than the spatter. He was able to pull his wallet and find that the man was an admissions clerk at Jung Memorial, who had somehow managed to sleep walk down into the tunnel. About a chance in a million of someone doing that and getting this far, yet this guy had done not only that, but he had messed up his trip to the station. Now he had to drag the damn corpse on board and ride in with the body of someone he'd killed. Trying to explain it to superiors would be impossible. They always expected undercover to do rotten things, when the truth was the beat cops were the worst.

Casey's curly hair formed a corona around his satisfied grin as he dumped the body on a bench on the back car. At least he'd done the job without getting blood on his clothes. Back at the controls, he started the train and it inched forward then promptly shut off. The lights went out including the tunnel lights and he was in total darkness. As he was about to spout some very foul language, it all came back on. The train responded and as it began to move, Casey decided to ramp the thing up to full speed and get to the station stop before the power went out totally.

The train rattled as he raced through stops and it looked like he was going to make it. He feared another person suddenly appearing on the tracks but that didn't happen. The whistling train trolley sang for Casey only. Another couple of minutes and he'd be there. He pulled out his phone and checked the signal but there was still no reading on the station. As he pocketed it, he saw a ring of bright lights ahead. The train rushed forward, the light became blinding and he had the feeling he was riding the train through a hoop of star fire. Things started to shake bad, his hand went for the slider to brake, and then he was suspended in blackness for a moment.

The entire train was floating in silence and the light appearing was like starlight. He wasn't in a tunnel any more but sailing through empty space. It wasn't a city train but a space train, which was impossible. He was flying through space with the engine now whispering. He'd heard the old cliché about rubbing one’s eyes, and he actually did it. It did not work.

A horrible gurgling sound from his rear broke the quiet and he turned and looked. It was the guy he'd killed, the clerk from the Jung, only he wasn't dead any more. He was walking through into the front car from the back. His head lolled on a half broken neck and his face, a mask of congealing blood, vibrated as he tried to issue some form of words. No way could a guy like that get up and walk, this really was outer space.

The man raised his arms but his bloody hands were broken and hung limp. He stumbled forward and Casey got quickly out of his seat and was suddenly thrown along with the living dead guy as the train went into a hairpin turn.

It also rode up like it was flying higher and Casey caught a railing and managed to hang on. The walking dead guy didn't and bounced back down to the back of the train. The turn was completed and Casey was on his knees and thankful he hadn't been seriously injured. His eyes went to the windshield and he was in the tunnel again, rolling into the station. The platform appeared and he felt like cheering as the train came to a stop. It was time to get out quick so he opened his doors and hurried out, noticing that the train had taken him back to the previous station.

As crazy as it was he went into serious thought on the empty platform. Did he have to cross space to reach the station, and the train had failed and didn't make it … or, had the rest of the planet vanished out of reach into space so that it no longer existed or couldn't be reached. If that were the case, the station needed his help not the other way around. Logic would dictate that if he could call somebody in Florida the rest of earth still existed, yet the West Haven was somehow closed off from it. More general logic would dictate that he'd gone insane, but looking that through proved the idea incorrect. Casey knew that he lacked the personal complexity for any detailed form of delusional insanity. From the perspective of others, he was a dumb cop and might get PTS or depression and nothing more. If this was a puzzle, it was a genuine one so what he had to do was be a bigger cop. Maybe like a movie private investigator working on a tough case. A guy that would break all of the rules. In that case, what would he do? The idea that formed was to get above ground here and see how things looked from there. Could the station or outside world be accessed? If not he'd head back and get Joe, maybe find Mike Wilde. Wilde was a real private investigator, and he wasn't known for going by the rules. And that included the rules of sanity. Maybe Wilde had a vision or perspective into what was going on in the West Haven.


Mike Wilde watched as Raj staggered back from the woman he'd seized. He assumed her Raj’s wife, and then he caught sight of Breanne. She was suddenly there in the corner of his eye and he wondered how he had missed her. Probably because the walkers had a tendency to look alike and she was a sleepwalker coming along a narrow stone path at the retaining wall that led to the collapsed area Raj had just blocked off. She had not been in bed asleep at the beginning of this because she wore running shoes, jogging pants and a strapless top. He believed she'd been the first to sleepwalk up to the wall and when she couldn't pass, went up along it. It was fortunate that there was no way over it.

Everything began to flicker, the lights in the sky, the streetlights, house lights and the lights of the cityscape. Mike took a shortcut over the grass to Breanne, but before he got to her, a new mental disturbance overwhelmed him. It was a feeling of his mind being touched and then invaded. He could see that everyone else had gone still. They were feeling it too, like waves coming in with the hypnotic flickering … a black sea rushing to shore, threatening to drown the mind. He had the feeling that he’d felt it before at another time and place, but the details wouldn’t come to mind.

Mike moved forward slowly but no else did. The others remained frozen. It was like walking through air thickening to liquid. He wasn't sure why he was doing it then he realized he was resisting the force by simply refusing to freeze. He continued walking to Breanne. He reached her and raised a hand to touch a delicate cheek. Though her eyes were closed, he saw tear lines and knew she was experiencing a terrible dream. For a moment, he went stiff with his hand in the air and he saw a big circle in the sky. A burning pentagram filled it, like the one in the book. He knew everyone saw it, like a mental image projected to all. Then the circle glossed over and it spun like a big coin as his hand came down and touched Breanne's cheek.

The contact was fusion and he saw Breanne's mind racing through thoughts, and something else, another thing, like a dark spider web that had seized her. A vision took hold and he saw the black web expand. It spread through the air of the West Haven and connected with human heads through tiny nodes. One of those nodes was suddenly in front of his eyes, attempting to connect. It was like a hot bullet trying to push through and lobotomize him. He fought it; sweat formed on his forehead, tears emerged from the corners of his eyes … the withering black horror slowly encased him. He had the sense of being in the trap of a spider or snake. The venom was about to hit home hard. He held it off and it slowly weakened and shrank away. He saw the webbing thin and break. The node in front of his face exploded into sound … a chorus of piercing screams. The sound was not real, he nearly fell, and then it was over and Breanne collapsed. Mike grabbed her, finding her shoulders cold and sweaty. She woke and caught her footing. She began to babble while Mike struggled with her, guided her back until they both went down and sat in the grass.

Breanne's eyes opened fully, milky residue poured out on her cheeks. She stopped stuttering as her eyes adjusted and she saw the same scene as Mike. The crowd had collapsed on the grass, except for the girl, Lucinda, the one Raj had spotted on the way over. She was running towards them.

Mike waited. Lucinda halted and looked on. He felt that Breanne was recovering but the flickering lights dizzied him and he almost fell as he tried to stand. He spotted Raj where he had fallen. He was stirring in the grass, beginning to rise with a couple others. Without warning the lights came on like a camera flash yet the sky above darkened. Mike glanced up, seeing swollen stars and blowing smoke. He noted that the people now on their feet were the same few people that had already been awake. The sleepwalkers remained down and still as though dead.

Raj's desperate moan ended the silence. He stood over his fallen wife. It affected Lucinda and she began to weep again.

Frank, Amber, and Ethan from the park had arrived just behind Mike and fallen. Now they were up and very confused. Mike walked over to Raj and the others gathered with them. Lucinda stopped crying as she joined them. Ayana had been a ways off from the main group and had dropped in deep untrimmed grass. They were now formed in a circle around her, wondering. Raj's expression slowly softened to morbid concern. He spoke in a weak voice. “I think she's dead.”

No one else spoke. No one else knew what to say. Lucinda's eyes widened and she gathered a stormy frown as if she’d matured in the space of a few minutes. She turned and kicked Mike, believing he was supposed to do something.

Mike got down in a squat and felt Ayana's pulse. A reverse pinch opened her eyelid and milky white liquid poured on her cheek. When it had run off, they could see that the eye was clear. Breanne squatted beside Mike, touched Ayana's cheek, and then pulled her hand away quickly.

“She isn't dead,” Mike said. He looked to Breanne but could not read the meaning of her frown. “What is it?”

“In nursing I've seen similar effects on people in shock. Based on what I have just personally experienced, I would call it a deep trance. She's barely breathing. It must be another phase of it. Almost like a coma. It is more than a trance because goop that forms in the eyes indicates physical changes that aren't healthy.”

Lucinda shook her mop of dark blond curls. “You were sleepwalking like all of the others. I saw you. You weren't in a trance. That’s just sleepies in their eyes.”

“No. It's a trance. My mental faculties came back right away when it broke. There must be more than one manifestation of it. In one you walk, in another you sleep. Something taps into the brain, almost like that brain tap technology at the Jung.”

Frank grimaced, put his hands on his hips. “The Jung. I know they are doing creepy stuff in there, but they couldn’t do anything like this. It would be like transmitting something that affects brainwaves over a large area. Let's hope there aren't more manifestations of it. I thought my brain was going to explode. It's hostile, whatever it is.”

Raj crossed his arms, regaining strength. “So what do we do?” He turned and looked to Mike. “You broke this woman out of it, Mike. Do the same for my wife.”

“Nothing happens when I touch her, like the sickness has become resistant to me. It was weird, when I touched Breanne, some horrible force tried to pass into me and then it went elsewhere and out of her too. It appears that the few of us that remain awake are immune to a degree.”

Amber knelt and touched Ayana's forehead with her fingertips then pulled them away and grimaced. “We should carry them inside and not leave them out here. We need time to figure out what to do about this. Touch them by their clothing not their skin.”

“More lights are back on,” Frank said. “That's one good sign.”

“You're more of an optimist than I am,” Raj said.

Breanne’s face remained pale, like she’d just fought off a virus. She looked around. “We can put them in the nearest townhouses.”

Mike nodded and the group went to work, carrying Ayana and one other woman across the lawn and up the steps into Raj's townhouse. They placed them in separate bedrooms and before going out for the rest they gathered in Raj's living room, which was quite large with thick carpeting and three couches. He pulled some bottles of water from the fridge and introductions were made.

Frank and Ethan were small-business people with townhouses on this sky street. Frank was better dressed and handsome while Ethan had more of a business look. Frank was white and Ethan black, but both had the West Haven accent common to the older wealthy class that in general did not exist any more. Ethan had a full head of wiry hair that suited him well. They looked reliable, even reasonably strong, but lacked the background for this brand of crisis. That left Mike with his military background and Breanne with her medical training as the only people with obvious skills.

In any crisis, Mike thought in terms of putting together a team. The recent trouble he'd stumbled into while trying to protect a client on his own was fresh in his mind. At least everyone in this group had a reasonable amount of self-control if not combat skills. He felt he was lucky getting them because most other people, if awake, would simply be too panicked and frightened to do anything at all other than try to hide. Evil types would of course loot and do all sorts of reprehensible things for a time. Such a crisis usually followed through the initial looting then attempts by better people to restore order if the situation was prolonged. In this deal, most of the people were completely out of action and no one seemed to be making it in from outside. The only course of action was to find the source of the problem, and that meant not wasting time attempting to rescue people when there were no workers for that kind of action. They could drag the rest of the people out there inside, but they would have to leave it at that and find a better strategy.

Studying the people, Mike felt that even the girl, Lucinda, was stronger than one would expect from someone her age. It occurred to him that he had been sent here through a vision, and maybe the reason wasn't only Breanne, but because he needed a team to fight this thing. Perhaps this was the only team available ... or maybe it was somehow the right one composed of people that could be trusted. But even with a team, he did not like the thought of taking these people to the root of this thing.

Mike pressed for more details. Frank owned a car leasing chain and several small grocery stores and Ethan a recycling firm. At first glance, the dark blond kid, Lucinda, came across as a delicate white girl of about thirteen, but closer inspection revealed Oriental blood, especially in the shape of the eyes and face. Other than Raj, none of them had family among the sleepwalkers. All of their family members had remained in bed at home locked in sleep. Ethan verified that the general condition hadn't changed by dashing two houses down and checking on his family.

Frank made a guess at genetic resistance, figuring that those who weren't affected had family members that at least had some resistance and didn't go out walking in a trance.

Raj shook his head. “I'm a science teacher but this has shaken any trust I had in science. At best, our science must be like a base x-ray that sees the skeleton and misses much of the rest. It didn't see any of this as possible.”

“Maybe look at it another way,” Ethan said. “Like weather. An anomaly or foreign system has hit here and it does more than make rain. It changes the rules on many things. Our street simply didn't get hit quite as hard as others.”

Frank snorted and waved his hand. “Changes the rules! I'm not even sure where we are. Before my phone went dead I called my brother and a man in Italy appeared on the screen.”

“My phone is back on now so I'm going to run a check on that,” Amber said.

“We know where we are,” Mike said. “We're in the West Haven. There may be help already organized outside that will come in. Maybe we should get off this street, find a safer place.”

Lucinda shook her head. “My family is here, everyone's family is here, and leaving them here wouldn't be nice. Maybe we could take them down in something to the hospital.”

Frank raised a cautious eyebrow. “I don’t even want to think about what the hospital is like or how helpless we’d be if we went there and tried to do something. On my last check, we couldn't even get down out of here. The vehicle lift is sealed. There are the flight cars for small hops around the sky streets but the pad here is empty and we already saw one go up in flames a block over. That was a while before that drone crashed in here, so my guess is trying to fly has even worse results than driving. Even way up here we heard all the crashes earlier.”

Raj’s voice bore a depressed tone. “This new weather, as Ethan calls it, struck like lightning and killed a lot of people right off. There’ll be corpses on the streets, too. At least this area is isolated; it’s almost the most isolated street in the West Haven. Maybe we should just secure it for now.”

Amber interjected. “I just texted my mother and she’s awake, everyone else there is asleep. It appears that some local calls can be made, but not calls outside. By local calls, I mean this immediate neighbourhood. I couldn’t reach my sister and she’s only four kilometers east. It just rings then goes dead. There is no video feed or clear sound, just text data on local calls. I told my mother to stay inside and wait out the night. See what happens.”

This news interested everyone but before anyone could speak, Lucinda dashed over from the window. “Hey, there are men outside and they’re robbing the sleeping people.”

Raj was quickest to the window. “Yeah, four of them and two of them have guns out.”

No one hurried out; they crowded the window and looked. Two men were kneeling and patting down unconscious people. Two more showed coming out the front doors of nearby townhouse 98 and went to the next unit.

Mike pulled the curtain closed and spoke. “They aren’t carrying anything but the guns. If they were looters, they would be. They appear to be looking for something and haven’t found it yet.”

“They might want only cash. I don’t like this,” Frank replied.

“We have to address it but it’s better if I go out.”

Frank attempted to follow Mike out the door, but obeyed and stayed behind when Mike turned back and shook his head no. They didn’t spot him until he was crossing the road and the two armed men turned their weapons on him, leaving him facing a rifle and a large handgun. Mike was also armed though invisibly so with the Remington Mini gun under his arm. They would find it if he allowed them to pat him down like they were doing even to unconscious people. He decided to attempt to disarm them by playing pussy and did his best to make over with a frightened expression while holding a hand up and pleading, “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot.”

The old man with the rifle lowered it and squinted at him with one evil eye; the other younger man kept his Taurus handgun firmly aimed at Mike’s chest. Their eyes had been locked on him since he showed so Mike was sure they hadn’t noticed the others yet. The smoky air and their poor observation skills were an aid. This closer look convinced him to keep the others hidden if possible. Something wasn’t quite right about these men and it showed via the gleam in their eyes. Mike had never seen that look before. Arrogant hardened criminals always had a special, mean gaze. Enemies in combat were always intense in all eye and facial movements. These ones had a druggie feel but were different still. They had the facial expressions of men who were serious and eyes like they’d gone down into the grave and come back out brain dead. Dark rings around the eyes and puffy lids added to the hollow look and the pupils and irises had the effect of projecting some form of darkness. It was an effect he’d being seeing everywhere else this night and now he was seeing it in people. It had been there in the light reflected off the streetscapes and haloing everything else, and it was only now that he realized that it was a glow of death. It wasn’t murder in their eyes but death itself; they were men who'd been torn down and put back up. Something controlled them so without a doubt their motives would be ugly, bizarre or both.

The man with the handgun spoke. His words were accentuated by the shake of his head and his crop of messy blond hair. “Maybe you found what we're searching for. Do you have the book?”

“Book? I have no book, other than eBooks on my phone, and it is malfunctioning.”

“We're talking about a paper book, a special handmade book.”

“He's awake and he didn't get the call,” the older man said.

“Call … my phone's been screwed up. Who called you guys?”

“Someone important,” mop head said, the nervous tick moving to his face. “Someone we all have to listen to.”

“I wish you guys would be more specific. Maybe I can help.”

“No maybe, you will. You just don't know it yet. That's how we woke up. We each got a phone call that woke us up. Before that, we were like the others, sleepwalking. The caller's name is Bowen. He wants that book. He said the people who answer when he calls are the lucky ones. The others are finished. They won't come back. The change going on will kill them. I guess you are of the few not affected yet. Things have changed pal, you don't know just how much.”

“Okay, so Bowen must know more about what is happening. But, look, I'm okay. I received no call. This Bowen guy could be lying. Taking advantage of you in some way. What would he do with a book? And why search this way? A book would be maybe in a library or store for rare books.”

“No, the way we are doing it is the right way. We touch people and the images of any books they've seen come to us. For some people it is a touch to the head or face. Others we have to pat the heart and vitals. It's a special book, one with the image of a pentagram on the cover page.”

Mike had not expected this turn of events. The image of the book from his basement blazed in his mind so bright he was afraid they would see it. There was that and the pentagram he saw in the sky. He could not imagine who this Bowen character could be but he obviously knew what was behind these weird happenings. And not in a healthy way. Especially not if he was saying most of the population, those that didn't receive a call from him, were doomed. He definitely couldn't turn the others over to these lunatics so he had to hope for an opening to move against them.

“Where would I find Bowen if I want to help him?”

The younger man lowered his handgun. “He’s over by the Jung now. He doesn’t want people brought to him. He wants the book, so where is it?”

The rifleman was getting impatient. He lifted his weapon. “Earl, go over and touch that guy. I think he knows something. Why else would he be fine when almost no one else is.”

Mike shrugged, indicating he would allow it. Mop head picked up the signal, placed his gun in his belt and ambled over. Mike did not want him to pat out his miniature weapon. He gestured towards his face so Earl would touch him there. Earl had the air of someone in command now and Mike eyes were up the street watching the other men enter another townhouse. He could seize Earl, but they were too much in the open and the man with the rifle was crazy enough to shoot Earl and him. He decided to let Earl touch him, though it turned out to be more than a touch.

Earl's hands came up; he seized and pulled on both of Mike's cheeks. It was like a bully's insult and nothing more for the first second. The second moment of the touch was an explosion. Earl and Mike were like roman candles exploding into a cloud of visions. In the mix of it, Earl's eyes penetrated and became like crystal balls, dark glass over an inky swirl. They weren't Earl's eyes but belonged to someone else and that someone wasn't human. Smoke geyser-ed and coalesced into a shadowy monster. Its eyes were a hypnotic spin of smoke sucking him in. He pulled back and was suddenly seeing other faces; faces of killers that spun about him like a carousel until it stopped at the face of a mean thin-lipped man. He knew this man was Bowen, though he was not exactly like a man – his face was white and cracked as though he'd been hit by the explosions of some unearthly force. His eyes too were penetrating, the image of a pentagram in the pupils burning and probing like fire into those he studied. But he didn't study Mike or penetrate his mind and neither was there contact the other way. Mike forced his eyes closed and drew his mind down to a blank. The next thing he knew he was stumbling backwards. He saw Earl fly from him like he'd been struck by lightning. Earl stumbled back, his face contorted, and then he froze and fell.

Mike regained his balance. Earl's rifle-toting partner didn't fire but lowered the weapon some as he stared slack-mouthed, amazed at what had happened. “I'll help him up,” Mike said, and he hurried forward and bent down. But helping Earl wasn't his plan. He pretended to slip slightly, pulled his weapon, came up, and fired. The tiny gun was very quiet; it snapped like a small firecracker, and Earl's partner hadn't been fast enough. He didn't get the rifle back up for a shot. Mike had aimed for the center of his body and his shot hit near the heart and penetrated. There was no great sound of impact but more of a sizzle. The man's eyes widened and he looked down horrified, and then he dropped the weapon. He remained a statue for three more seconds, choked and crumpled to the ground.

Earl wasn't recovering so Mike turned and ran back toward the townhouse. He hadn't especially wanted to finish either of them. It just turned out that way. He hadn't expected Earl's brain to fry and the only way he had a chance of hitting the other one was with a kill aim.

Frank was coming out the door and Mike had his hands up pushing air as a signal for him to go back inside. He did go back in as Mike rushed up. On the inside, Mike swung around and closed the door softly then hurried to the living room. The others were gathered at the window and turning to him but he said nothing as he got to the curtain slide and pulled the curtains completely shut.

The other men were still searching another townhouse; they hadn't heard the shot. Mike turned and quickly addressed the others. They didn’t listen; everyone began to speak at once. Mike raised his finger and shushed them and slowly there was silence. He started to speak again but a phone rang somewhere in the house. “Forget answering the phone,” he said. He looked to Raj. “Can we escape through the back here?”

Someone was answering the phone upstairs, but it couldn't be because everyone was present in the living room. Raj turned and looked.

“This isn’t right?” Lucinda said fearfully.

Then Raj perked up, visibly excited. “Ayana, Ayana … she's awake!” he said, remembering to keep his voice to a loud whisper.

Mike reached out and caught his shoulder but he squirmed free and raced for the bedroom. The others followed, leaving Mike alone at the window. He wanted to follow but couldn't because he needed to be sure the other men weren't coming this way. A quick peek out the crack in the curtains yielded bad news; the other men had left the townhouse and were running for their two fallen pals. There were now five of them. Two of them drew handguns from their belts. It wouldn't be long before a search would lead them to Raj's place.

Abandoning the window, Mike hurried to the upstairs bedroom and pushed his way past the others. The curtains had been drawn and Raj stood there in the dim light. He'd seized his wife by the shoulders and was babbling excited words. Ayana, sitting up on the bed, still held the phone to her ear. With a quick swift motion of her left hand, she slapped Raj’s face, causing him to backed off a step, and put his hand to his cheek.

Pushing by and peeking through a crack in the curtains, Mike saw the men running to the townhouse nearest to the fallen men. Now Raj was babbling profusely and the others wore shocked expressions. Ayana suddenly flew to her feet and seized Raj by the throat and the two of them stumbled as they struggled.

Mike moved in as the others retreated to the bedroom doorway. He looked to Frank. “Get everyone out the back way quick. I'll take care of this.”

Lucinda started to stutter and Amber pulled her clear. Ethan didn't want anything to do with this nonsense between Raj and his wife and he went out the door with Frank. Ayana then let go of Raj and he tumbled to the floor. She turned to Mike and he saw the same darkness in her eyes he'd seen in Earl's eyes. Breanne, standing behind Mike, tried to push him aside, saying, “I know how to calm her.” However, she didn’t get a chance because Ayana lunged at that moment. Raj rose to his knees at the same time and she tumbled over him.

Crawling out of the tumble, Ayana tried to claw past Mike’s feet to get to Breanne. He had already forced her back behind him. Putting his foot on Ayana’s shoulder, Mike managed to push her back toward the bed. With similar force, he turned, seized Breanne, pushed her out of the room, closed, and locked the door.

Stunned, holding his throat, Raj stood back up. Ayana’s crazed looked deepened and she suddenly screamed at the top of her lungs and attacked Raj. Mike pulled her away; she fell back on the bed, sat up and stared.

Something was wrong with her eyes; they blackened completely. She choked and blood poured out on her lips. Her hands flew to her face and a mass of blood and tissue oozed between her fingers. Then her hands fell away, revealing the ruin of her face a moment before she collapsed dead and rolled off the bed.

Raj went to his knees, choking and vomiting. It was an ugly situation and Mike knew they had to move so he seized him, and with the small man still spewing vomit, he went out the door. Breanne was there with a shocked expression on her face. She didn’t saying anything. She went down the stairs ahead as Mike followed carrying Raj.

As Mike went out the back door, he heard the crash of the men coming through the front door. Raj’s townhouse was walled in with a tiny patio, yard, and garden at the rear. The others had already pulled the picnic table into the rosebushes and gone over the wall. Ethan was still sitting on the wall waving to them with a hurry-up gesture. Things got complicated as Raj squirmed free and tried to run back in the house. Mike had no choice but to turn back and seize him again. He pulled him free of the door and Ethan jumped down from the wall and helped pull Raj away. Time was short so Mike spun Raj around, hit him with a knockout punch, and lifted him to his shoulder. That surprised Ethan and he paused, gave Mike a queer glance, and then went for the wall with Mike behind him.

The others had gone up the small lane toward the border wall. Ethan waited while Breanne helped Mike lower Raj down to the lane. The back door of the house opened. Still on the wall, Mike made a smooth pull of his gun and fired. The shot ricocheted off the metal doorframe but it held the man back as he quickly stepped back in and shut the door. Then Mike went down to the interlocking stones of the lane. From there he went down the lane walking backwards while Breanne went ahead with Ethan, dragging Raj. When a man’s head appeared over the wall, Mike fired again, forcing him to retreat.


Casey looked for a way out of the train station. He had not exited the train at this stop in the past. Neither had any other cops because the way out was sealed to protect the line. For a long time the train had been a vehicle to ride deeper in and back to the station.

Just around a massive pillar, across a dusty stone floor, a metal fan gate loomed in semi darkness. The lights above shone like dim eyes, the yellow cones of light barely seeping through the dusty haze. This place was dead, not even a mouse or rat scurrying in the gloom.

At the gate he checked the lock mechanism; old electronics. Pulling his Beretta, he stood back and attempted to shoot off the connecting piece. The bang echoed and so did the ricochet as the bullet winged back and nearly hit him.

Casey was slow to anger. Holstering the gun, he paused then said, “You fucking whore!” He grabbed the gate, shook it, and got lucky. It snapped free, and a moment later squeaked while he pulled it aside. He went up to the second level and got a view of bad subway art embedded in the walls and some closed store kiosks a ways over. Even the plastic glass had been removed or looted from the kiosks and the light was so dim it gave him a creepy turn of mind.

“Unless dust ghosts are coming to life, I'm safe here,” he thought as he walked over to an old seized escalator by the kiosks. Up at the top of it he was in near total darkness. A single filmed-over light shone down like a dusty diamond, revealing the sealed exit. The bastards had bricked it in but over to the left he saw a shuttered window higher up. It was quite large and the sill in it deep. He pried a partially rotten, old bench off the rusty bolts holding it to the floor and dragged it over. Then he had to move back to run and jump to the sill. He made it but he hit his funny bone and banged his ribs. He managed to pull inside, barely holding in the flat sill while he cursed and spat dust and recovered.

They'd closed off the window with corrugated metal of some type. Casey started hammering at it with the flat of his hand. It seemed solid. He managed to squeeze himself into the wide frame and get in a position to use his boot on it. That was difficult. For starters, he nearly knocked himself back down to the station floor and scraped the top of his hand in the struggle to hold on. Getting into a more stable position, he delivered a series of kicks that loosened one corner, allowing him to move over and work it open with his hands.

He looked out into the strangest gloom he'd ever seen. The odd street light winked here and there. Building and store lights were off. The street was below and over a fence, but no one was on it. Abandoned vehicles were parked askew all over the place. A couple of them had burned and he could smell it in the air. It was as if someone had set some cars alight and cooked alive some of the fatties that frequented the local Fair-Mart outlet, creating an unsettling fragrance of cooked rubber and burned human pork. It hung in the air with other wisps of smoke. He saw lights above through the cloud cover but they were more like darkness than lights in that they allowed one to see the sky but did little to light the streets below.

The fucking street had to be 12 feet down from the window, and he could see that they used the fenced-in station stop as a junkyard. Like everyone hereabouts with some old piece of moldy bed-bug-eaten trash to dispose of came here and tossed it over the high wooden fence.

He didn't want to drop down into it but he had no choice. Dropping feet and ass out first he held on precariously to the sill and part of the corrugated metal for a few moments until his weight overpowered him and he went down … and landed right on top of the lids of a couple of huge barrels. They split, dust spurted up as he stumbled forward, then he stared out at the junkyard, amazed by his luck.

He took a step and his right foot broke through a plywood sheet and went into some wet gook. He threw himself forward and as his foot caught trying to come back up, he slammed down face first into a bunch of rubbish.

Seconds later, he was standing in rubbish and still cursing as he used some old mattress stuffing to wipe the horrid stinking goop off his shoe, which he'd removed. There weren’t any rodents in the station, but they did thrive here and they flitted about nearby, causing him to feel more enraged as he slowly finished the job. He lined the shoe with a bit of newspaper then he was up and picking his way to the fence. Casey had always worked nights and had never hated the darkness until now. Being able to see was so much better and this new darkness had an oily shine to it that he didn't like.

A short minute later he'd swung over the fence and was down on the sidewalk looking at a narrow street on the east edge of the West Haven. Behind him, the streets climbed higher like a pyramid into the central Haven and blotted out the sky. This area was lower but not better and the buildings were mostly tall-slab public housing of the worst sort. Most people would get lost inside in the daytime the way the street levels looked all the same, and unless you were an alley roach belonging to one of the gangs you wouldn't have a chance at night. Building interiors were off limits to cops; none would ever go into that endless sameness to make an arrest. It was far too dangerous and ironically probably safer now in disaster if nearly all of the locals were asleep.

He figured that maybe it was better with no one around, but then, maybe it was worse, because why did they leave … or were most of them just sleeping inside and not waking up. Even so, there should at least be someone around.

But he saw no one.

Casey had a good sense of direction so he turned to head toward the station and moved on. A sense of foreboding told him that heading for the station wasn't a good idea. He was already in Nowheresville, and if the station was worse than this what would it be? He moved ahead like a ship against a gale given that he was going against the wind and zigzagging around the autos left everywhere on the street and sidewalk. He came upon an area without car wrecks, where they had all pulled over, and then apparently got out and died in the street. That is, died with a whole bunch of other people. Bodies were strewn everywhere. It was like an elephant graveyard, in that everyone around had decided to come here and then drop dead.

Holding his nose, he walked on. He came to a street sign and found that he was at the cross of Dalhousie and Front streets. So he wasn't far off. Turning right, he headed up the last few blocks to the station. The turn of the corner though, was a tad bit more than a turn. More like a wrong turn into another world. It was darker than hell here yet everything was visible. Lions-head door knockers, gloss-black gates, wired-glass windows shone … yet there wasn't any light in the sky, and ahead, about where the station would be, a dark rainbow ran like a layered ribbon across the sky. It was like the station was at the end of the world and the closer he got the more it seemed that way as the rainbow thing projected out of some dimension he'd not seen before.

Some figures moved across road about where the station should be. He couldn't tell if it was a play of shadows, ghosts, or people running, and he wasn't sure if he wanted to know. “Best if it's nothing,” he thought. A couple more appeared and they were too inky and malformed to be human. Possibly some dogs passing through. And the other way hopefully, because he didn't want to mess with any crazed dogs.

Out of the darkness, a light suddenly caught his eye - the station.

On a normal day, the Toronto West Criminal Justice Building was a huge white block with the main entrances being two neatly cut rectangular entrances on either side of the southeast corner. The station name was embossed into the stone above each entrance and the walls a bit higher than the embossing held inset square windows that went all the way around the structure. These windows were of tinted sky-blue glass and out of easy reach.

In essence, the station was a fortress. Two monstrous square stone blocks out front of each entrance would block suicide truck bombers or armored vehicle attacks. One block held a flag pole, the other a statue of former Justice Minister Johan Klesdale. The justice deal wasn't the best description of the station. There weren’t any court proceedings inside any more. Even the justice-of-the-peace offices lower down had been replaced with holding areas and the entrance to the underground train station. Perhaps the only justice administered was cop street justice in the form of station beatings given to rough customers.

Outside the entrance, Casey tried to focus on the building. For some reason it shone like a block of backlit salt and seemed surreal. The darkness above was soul searing. What had been a rainbow appeared now as ribbon bands that swung back until they were almost over the station, then away and back again. Casey wondered what would happen if they swung right over him, then something else caught his eye. The station was at the end of the street, and not because it was really at the end of the street, but because nothing showed beyond it. The road ended at a cliff of darkness just before the back station wall and parking area. Casey had no plans of venturing into it. He would look inside the station because he saw light filtering out of the windows high above.



At the entrance, he stopped and looked up at the flag, which was energized by a strong wind even though the wind had faded on the ground. On the street, the air was calm and there was nothing but those endless irritating curls of smoke. Shrugging his shoulders, he walked up and in the door. The immediate interior was a large open-concept thing. A long white counter top with pale blue fronting and a floor of large black stone tiles covered most of the area. The ceiling was two floors up in this area and it made an impression on visitors. The building was a completely modern design but barbarically simple and strong. With everything large, smooth, and austere, it was easy to clean and air condition so it could hold many stinking prisoners at times without reeking like a prison. On the side off to the left of the long counter, there was a row of white shell-backed swivel chairs with stool feet welded into the floor and a ceramic art piece above of a huge black square. Casey had often stared at the raised black swirls on this square and wondered why anyone would pay a handsome sum for such a thing, though he had to agree that in the station it fit in and matched the imagination of most of the cops usually working the front desk.

However, the chumps working the front desk now had no imagination at all, because no one was there. As his eyes adjusted, he noticed pools of black liquid on the tiles in front of him and was careful to pass around them. They looked like oil and smelled like foul cleaning fluid. He definitely wouldn't touch any of them. Some of the crap was spilled on the white counter too.

He got around behind to make his way into a spacious area of cop desks. The wall behind the counter screening them was little more than a cheap facade and he went through one of the walkthroughs and looked … at a scene of madness. Meaning Casey believed that maybe he'd gone mad. The madness was really darkness, yet visible. The desks, computers, tablets … you name it, were shades of black and where screening didn't block his view he saw uniformed police officers. They didn't appear to be alive; they were all black manikins frozen in place in a time-has-stopped tableau. The closest cop stood there facing another one with his hat held out and a stupid grin plastered solid on his face. A policewoman behind him had her mouth open like she was shouting to someone and she was halfway through a step. Another cop was talking to someone who wasn't there but the presence of a puddle of the black goop in front of him gave Casey the sudden realization of what it must be.

Now his mouth opened in a gasp, and as it did there was a terrifying flash in front of his eyes and a black ribbon chopped through the scene from left to right like a pendulum. Casey's hair stood up electrified and his eyes remained wide as the scene changed and two of the puddles of black goop rose up instantaneously and became standing ebony cop statues, while one of the others simply melted to the floor into goop. Not only that but time returned for about a second and the others moved just a tiny bit.

A chill breeze came with the movement and Casey began to step back. Too terrified to take his eyes off the scene he walked out backwards, continued around the counter, and got halfway across the entry lobby still walking backwards. Then there was another flash as the pendulum returned, this time cutting right through the counter, though it passed through it without splitting it. It wasn't without effect because a moment after it passed the puddles of goop on the counter and those nearest it rose in instantaneous growth. This time they didn't become police officers but revolting, mutated, black humanoid forms, the nearest of them with outreaching arms and twisting tentacles for hands and fingers. The expression on the thing's face was a puddle of sick emotions. It didn't succeed in touching Casey because he turned and fled.

He'd never dashed faster; he was out, down the steps and on the fly. Some of the shadow ghosts were zooming over the road in front of him and he ran right through, feeling his body suddenly burst with sweat from the effect of it. For some reason all he could think of was warning Joe, so he pulled out his phone and managed to hit the contact as he ran. It rang through and he stopped and looked back. The phone kept ringing and Casey kept staring and taking deep breaths. The station was a blaze of black light now and he couldn't be sure if it was real or a hallucination. Everything looked like hallucinations now, maybe nothing was real, or all of it was. Then Joe answered the phone. “Fer Christ's sake, Casey. My phone's been ringing for an hour. I'm tired, what do you want?”

“It wasn’t me calling. Listen, Joe. Don't go to the station. Listen to me. The world ends at the station and if you go there, you'll die. I want you to meet me by that park spot over off Indian Lane.”

“Oh really,” Joe said, his voice now clearer. “You couldn't get some rest could you; had to go out and get plastered. They probably threw you out of the station and ….”


 Part Four: The Long Night

 Lord Kenneth continued to stare at the peculiar man and beast slowly approaching from deep in the park. It occurred to him that something was familiar about the man. He’d seen him before. However, this time he wasn’t quite human, being pale and his skin cracked and whitened like a ghost. He was a ghost that somehow emanated the beast thing into black reality or was it the other way around. This beast was impossible; he studied it for a moment, then a hot ember touched his mind and he began to burn with the old hypnotic powers. Those powers had faded in recent times but the institute still forced psychiatrists to wear blindfolds in sessions with him. Guards received coordinated electric shocks on the way out of his chamber to kill off any states of control. Now Kenneth felt the special juice flowing so strong it was frying his brain. He stepped back, fell on his bed, and stared up. It was at that point that he received a psychic message from the Queen. It was the weirdest experience of his lifetime in that he knew it was the voice of the Queen, but the image he saw in his mind was that bearlike beast. It was speaking to him … saying something about escaping and obtaining a special book. The message was hard to digest and being a master of hypnotic control he had the feeling he was being controlled. Yet it didn’t bother him because if some supernatural being was powerful enough to control even him he wanted to work with it.

Stretching out his hands, he seized the bedposts and held on. It felt like a force was sucking him up to the ceiling and he saw a swirl of evil ghosts up there; the ghostly dead waiting to come back out of their dimension and torment him again. Them he could not hypnotize.

Lord Kenneth ground his teeth and his face remained taut with terror, everything pooled, then he saw a lifelike vision. It was Brett Haydicky, the Mailman, inside a lift and attempting to get out on his floor and failing because he didn't have the code sequence. Lacking the code was lucky for him because three heavily armed guards were in the hallway outside the entry chamber to Kenneth's room. Usually Kenneth picked up nothing on the hallway. It was a dead zone. The institute bombarded it with waves of some variety as part of his enclosure. Today things were different; his powers had risen so strong he could see through walls. They’d never been that strong, not even after the initial rogue experiments by British Intelligence that had created them.

Even if the Mailman did get through for a rescue, if he couldn't get off the bed it wouldn't do him much good. As the Mailman played around, attempting to open the elevator, the nearest guard was oblivious to it. The bull-faced bodybuilder type sat in a lounge chair with a sports magazine and sloppy drink beside him while he polished his weapon. The thing looked like a shotgun with the Jung logo embossed on it, but it fired charged rubber bullets. Lord Kenneth knew the type of weapon. A shot in the head with it could be fatal. The damn expanding bullets were effective in general. If a patient tried to run or attack the guard, the piece would fire a special rubberized pellet that expanded on impact to create one hell of a horse kick.

Kenneth drooled at the thought of laying judgment on a hard body type. It would be a sort of you're-fucked judgment, and from the rear, of course. Corporal punishment did have its merits and he was in need of some action.

The second guard was playing a silly kids game on a tablet and Lord Kenneth could see it was an especially mean game. “A fucking Nip,” Lord Kenneth muttered, noticing that the guard had Oriental genes. The way Kenneth saw it; Nips were all subhuman, so one playing a kill game that blew sheep and other farm animals into splashes of blood was what he would expect. He was also the sort of orderly Kenneth wished they would send in to him. He wore a padded baton on each hip, being a brutal up-close-and-personal guy of the sort Kenneth could take control of easy. He had his long hair up to form a silly knot on top of his head and Kenneth grinned with thoughts of dragging him around with it while laying a few boots to him. He’d cut the knot off for a trophy and wear it on his belt.

They never gave him any orderlies like that. It was always ones like the third guy. They were special Kenneth guards and wore special wrap-around glasses to protect their eyes. They worked from a distance making Kenneth walk ahead and if he tried anything they'd hit him with their electric guns; a brand of taser that hurt like a son of a bitch and left no marks.

The thought of that electric pain and Kenneth came alert. He saw that his hands were still on the bedposts but that he'd levitated right off the bed. X-ray vision struck again and he saw through walls. He saw the Mailman in a state of frustration and wiping his big hand over his sweaty face. For some reason, Lord Kenneth knew what to do and he brought the elevator panel into his field of vision and used his mind to pop down the hidden cover. He slowly began to mentally punch in the long code.

The Mailman's hands came loose from his sweaty face; an expression of consternation took over. He looked desperate and ready to panic. For sure he thought that the authorities were working the buttons remotely, and he'd definitely think that when he stepped out and faced the bull-faced muscular orderly.

Everything he'd seen out the window was fucked up, but that hallway was a normal reality and Kenneth wondered why. He figured it could be the waves they used to block him; they probably blocked whatever came out of the park. Otherwise, the guards would be sleepwalking. Then again, Brett the Mailman wasn't sleepwalking, so some things must have remained in the ordinary while others went to outer space or some other dimension.

The elevator slowly slid open. The Mailman froze and refused to step out. Down the hall, muscle boy was alerted. No doubt, he expected zero arrivals by elevator at this time of night.

Kenneth used his x-ray vision to look around. The hall up to his chamber was really another long chamber or tube and the walls of it were thick. There was one weak spot and on the other side of it was a large storage area for the upper tower. Semi abandoned with supplies neatly placed, it would do.

Muscle boy slowly got out of his chair, wide-muzzled gun at ready he began to creep toward the elevator. He got about three steps before the Mailman stepped out of the elevator door, saw there was only one way to go, and turned to face the guard. The orderly started and almost dropped the gun. He knew who the Mailman was and that if he was out there were dead orderlies and he would be next if he didn’t put him down. The idiot Mailman, Haydicky was armed with a knife, a big one but of no use against the rubber gun because it would bust his ribs, steal his breath, and take him down with one shot.

Lord Kenneth figured he could probably escape without Haydicky’s help but decided to raise the stakes, and concentrated as he levitated. The force was so strong he had to hold the bedposts with all his might to keep from flying off. He concentrated on the weak spot in the wall and that section suddenly crumbled like cookies. Being a touch better than daft, the Mailman didn't miss the opportunity. He dived forward, muscle boy fired; the shot went over as Haydicky hit the floor on a slide and rolled left into the opening. There was a hideous smunch as the rubber projectile expanded and hit the wall, leaving a round depression in it.

The Mailman had dropped his knife and now had no weapon. The Nip had come forward and responded quicker than the muscular orderly could. He ran right inside after the Mailman, pulling both batons as he did. Kenneth saw the Mailman up and backing off in the dark dusty area, then heard him curse as overhead lights came on from his movement. In this situation, the job of the Nip was to move in and pound the heck out of the Mailman before he could improvise. Instead, the fool huffed out a couple of bully cries and started flashing his clubs about in a nutso karate display. The Mailman reacted to that with real martial arts, using his long legs and tall form to swing in a side kick and send him back out the opening.

The taser orderly was also swift and he rounded the Nip as he flew by, and then burst in ready to fire. He was lucky the lights were on because otherwise he would’ve seen nothing through those dark glasses. There was an aisle with shelves and the Mailman ducked in. Something on those shelves attracted the electric charge and they went up in a blast of debris and dust. That made things confusing because being aggressive, electric man moved straight forward and turned, hoping for a kill shot. But in the dust and confusion muscle boy had stepped in, thought he was the Mailman and fired … high … the expanding rubber slug cracking his neck as it took him down like a duck in a shooting gallery. Falling, he somehow fired on himself and his body did a twirl on the floor as hot electricity crackled.

Lord Kenneth’s x-ray vision suddenly melted into temporary blindness, a feeling of falling, and a blast of air. He felt himself bounce up off the bed, and then he was stumbling in an explosion. As his vision returned, he saw that the containment door had blown open, and before it could close, he ran out of it … and found himself in the hallway. For a moment, he was stunned, mostly at the thought that some invisible force was aiding him in his escape. Then a face flashed in his mind and he saw Bowen and remembered the old Bowen, the former patient of years back. Whatever Bowen had discovered, Kenneth felt he could use another dosage of the power.

He moved ahead through the vestibule of the containment entrance and then saw two things ahead. The knife the Mailman had dropped had slid up the hall on the floor. Farther down, the Nip was recovering from the mean kick he’d received and rising. Sounds of a struggle came from beyond the crumbled portion of wall and he knew if no shots were being fired, the Mailman likely had things under control.

Lord Kenneth picked up the knife. The Nip was about to go in after the Mailman so he whistled like he was calling a dog and the Nip turned. He had no fear on his face; he saw the knife but knew he could knock that away with some smooth baton work. Kenneth knew it too so he simply dropped the knife as if he was surrendering.

The Nip became suspicious of this and approached in bully fashion, preparing to soften up the detainee before accepting any surrender. Kenneth had no plans on being tenderized, so quickly, as the Nip approached, he reacted … by simply dropping to the floor and sitting there.

It is easier to lay a brutal beating on a patient who fights. A sit down would mean obvious brutality, which didn't matter at this point, but the baton guard had been trained in the art of CYA or covering your ass. It caused him to look about for any camera locations before rushing in with blows, and that allowed Kenneth to suddenly scramble forward, grab his balls and squeeze.

The Nip screamed like a girl. His arms became as limp as his dick and the clubs fell to the floor just as Kenneth came up and slugged him hard on the jaw. The punch lifted the guy up on his toes, and then he fell back on the floor.

It had gone quiet in the other room but rather than check it, Kenneth swept up the knife, threw himself on his knees, and chopped off the Nip's knot of hair. He held it in his hand. “Best I get it before Haydicky decides to behead him.”

Stepping forward he peeked in the opening. It amazed him how much of a mess three guys could make in a brief struggle. A loud scraping sound came to his ears and the Mailman appeared, pulling something out of an aisle. He dragged it round and looked at Kenneth like they were meeting for some conversation over cold beer at a Sunday picnic. “Drag that other one in here,” he said. “I'm boxing them up for special delivery.”

Kenneth remained silent, wondering what in the hell the Mailman had in mind. Then he did as was suggested. The box Haydicky had found was more like a large bin, and there was room in it for the three bodies. Grabbing hands and feet, they swung them up and in one by one. With that finished, the Mailman went to work sealing it with pieces of shelving he'd pulled loose and rolls of packing tape.

Aware of the Mailman's bad habits, Kenneth played along to a point. But enough was enough and he turned and stared at him.

“If we want to make postage to ship that box we better get out of here,” the Mailman said.

“Best idea I've heard all night,” Kenneth said.

Simply walking away from the scene, they went to the elevator. The door closed and Kenneth suddenly seized the Mailman and gave him a big wet kiss. There was a struggle as Haydicky pushed him away and cursed. “You filthy germ-ridden fag. Get away from me.”

“Couldn't help myself. You're looking prettier every day.”

“Oh-oh,” the Mailman said.

“Oh-oh? Oh-oh what?”

“Oh-oh, maybe we shouldn't have got in this elevator.”


Doctor Darwin Berenyi woke remembering terrible nightmares. He usually slept lightly and tonight he’d expected a short dreamless nap. He spent some minutes wondering if his health was failing and a stroke coming on. Then he remembered that due to workload, he was using one of the institute townhouses as a residence to catch up on some work.

Paperwork he hated, but only he could do it. Transferring his unreadable notes to official forms wasn't an easy task. He preferred long sessions with his patients and the result was that time would fly and no paperwork would be done. One time he'd tried doing his notes on a tablet where the input pen smoothed out his handwriting for a secretary, but it hadn't worked because he really only wrote out scattered notes or a skeleton. It was mostly in his head so there was no way he could avoid the work sessions in the institute townhouses.

A ratty pile of scribbled notes regarding Mike Wilde sat in front of him. Usually one martini would get his brain in gear and he would do the work. Tonight something was in the air in many ways. There was a horrid smoky odor and a general dark feeling. He knew what he wanted to write but couldn't organize it in his head.

Mike Wilde was essentially a big customer because he had brought himself to the attention of higher powers. He was also violent and dangerous. This situation should be milked to the maximum, for the good of the institute and funding of course. Also for the good of personal profit. Dr. Berenyi had been fishing for a case like this … he could bill Wilde and the city, put Wilde through hell and in the future close it. Of course, there would be no closure until Wilde was recreated as a total pussy and emotionally destroyed. Essentially, Wilde was to be made a psychologically dependent ward of the state, hating anything the state hated and saying politically correct things about anyone or anything the state favored. Partial lobotomy via enhanced psychotherapy, counseled emotional disorder, castration of any attitude the man had … perhaps all worked to create the sort of man authorities would call rehabilitated. It was especially so these days when most senior administrative positions in the mental health and corrections industry were held by women. These sorts of women, Dr. Berenyi knew, could not stomach a real man and always wanted that ‘problem’ corrected.

Even thinking about Mike Wilde caused his blood to boil. He didn't even know him of course; Wilde just had the misfortune of resembling that bum, that filthy rat that ran off with his wife, and then bullied him through a very expensive divorce. The resemblance was slight but enough to be painful. “Ah, yes. Wilde is a man of all seasons,” Dr. Berenyi thought. His anger cooled. He felt he really should separate his personal life from the patient. Wilde wasn't really that person; he was just a lot like him. There was much money to be sucked out of treating him. End satisfaction was guaranteed. Unless Wilde resisted. He would be very sorry if he did, because that would mean expanding beyond psychotherapy to the scary stuff. There were about a dozen ways in which he could microwave Wilde's brain. The Jung had the tech and the drugs, though Dr. Berenyi usually avoided extremes if he could. He didn't like lending credibility to that sort of treatment, especially when he’d written books critical of it and in defense of high-priced psychotherapy.

Dr. Berenyi scribbled another note, a reminder to put any special treatment in the highly confidential section of Wilde's files so other techniques could not be credited for his cure and return to society. Satisfied, he finished his drink, savoring the burn of the alcohol. He stared in space, and then a light flashed. He came alert and realized he'd been sitting there frozen, holding a glass in the air for long minutes.

Dr. Berenyi scribbled another note, this time about himself. He gulped, his throat dry. Hairs prickled on his arms. It was fear. The Doctor prided himself on his perfect sanity, his rational mind. His every thought had been disciplined, like his diet and daily routine. He had no room for God or other delusions. Just facts and more facts … combined with research of course. As a psychiatrist he was allowed some idle speculation, but staring off into space for some long minutes,  and like a drugged or crazed patient, that had not happened before.

He stood up, got quickly dizzy, and sat back down. A sickly feeling crawled in his stomach and he put his hands on it then to his face. He wondered if he'd eaten something bad then he glanced at the window and saw heavy wisps of smoke. That damn stinking smoke that had been around all night. He'd assumed it to be from a fire in the West Haven. He winced; even the thought of the West Haven was undesirable. Experience with that place had shaken his faith in psychiatry. In the early days he'd felt all human beings could be cured, raised up to rationality. Then when the area declined from a space-age suburb into the West Haven, and most of his wealthy clients were ruined and impoverished … sinking into prescription drug addiction, alcoholism, suicide, murder … every vile thing imaginable … he began to believe that all people had demons inside. It didn't take much to strip away their civility and unleash the inner monsters. All of his years of aiding wealthy neurotics and all of the years of believing his therapy had constructed an iron core inside of men of straw … they all came to nothing. He’d been wrong, and people were really nothing more than straw. The simple tools of duress and challenge could ignite fires of madness in all of them, and burn them, along with everything around them. He remembered a grim day when one of his clients had broken down, fallen to his knees … was down there like a dog, praying to some fairy in sky, and right in front of him. Sure the man’s wife and daughter had committed suicide. Was it a reason to lose faith in psychiatry, and in reason? It wasn’t, yet it became Dr. Berenyi’s reason because it was at that moment that his faith finally died. He believed in human beings no more; they were just straw, nothing but stuffing.

Darwin Berenyi had one core belief remaining, and that was the total trust in his own solidity. He was the king of rational thought, the one man made of steel and not straw. He would never burn; he could look over at the West Haven from one of the higher tower windows and laugh at the losers there in their world of decay. The Jung and its doctors were above that and they carried the torch of higher humanity the others had used to set fire to themselves.

As more fumes crawled up his nose, Berenyi's feelings of being a superman faded, and he gave way to irritation. This time he stood firm when he got up and walked to the window. Smoke blew outside; his reflection caught his eye. Quite an accurate reflection of his olive skin, neatly dimpled chin and perfectly combed back hair. He needed a shave and there was a green cast and rings around his eyes that hadn't been there before. He'd never liked his eyes, they didn't seem to belong to his face, and tonight it was even worse. He could almost swear someone else was looking out of that reflection and it unnerved him. It was as if he was becoming a zombie.

He shook his head at the weird thought, like it would come out of his ears, then he saw through the glass and nearly jumped. Was it a premonition, thinking himself a zombie and then seeing the real thing out there in wispy smoke? A closer look and it was clear they were human, but not walking normally but like sleepwalkers. And they were other medical staff and doctors. What in the hell was going on?

A regular person would have simply stepped out and checked things, but Darwin didn't like to go outside wearing casual clothes. He felt he always had to look like a psychiatrist here and that meant wearing a full suit. One of the walkers was Dr. Samson. Dr. Berenyi pulled out his phone and gave him a call. Instead of a ring, a horrible squeal hit his ear and he nearly dropped the phone. He stared at it for a moment then went into his bedroom and changed.

On the front steps, he looked around. The sleepwalkers were strolling this way and that halfway up the block and on front lawns. He had a handkerchief at his running nose and sneezed out some of the horrid smoke. The foul stuff looked like smog but reeked like smoke, and the sky wasn't right. The moon wasn't purple, not on this Earth, but the orb behind the wall of cloud above shone through, putting a bright purple bleed into the sky.

Walking ahead, Dr. Berenyi had the feeling of walking in a dream, and it got more that way when the streetlights started flashing in variable patterns. He wondered if the smoke was drugging him, thus the strange euphoria.

It troubled him. He reminded himself that it didn't matter how you went mad, whether from stress or drug ingestion, the ill effects were similar. Dr. Samson was easily the closest, there on the lawn three houses down. Dr. Berenyi walked up and faced him, only to find that though Samson had his eyes closed, he'd seen him and now walked around him.

Now Samson was over by the bushes at the front window of the house. Dr. Berenyi considered things. “Hum. A case of mass somnambulism. I wonder how many people are affected. Local most likely, and having to do with the smoke.” He thought that but as he looked fearfully at the sky, he knew something more than smoke was happening. Knew that but couldn't admit to it because that would lead to something he couldn't explain. He preferred everything neat and compartmentalized. Any hint of supernatural things he completely denied. The Jung may have been named after Jung, but Berenyi was no Jungian but rather a denier of all things supernatural … or that appeared close to it like Jungian dream symbolism.

Perhaps a shake would wake Dr. Samson. Yes, that would do, and the man would feel like a fool being found in bushes in front of someone's picture window. Dr. Berenyi walked over and amazingly, Samson turned to face him but didn't open his eyes. At that point, Dr. Berenyi saw beyond him into the window. The lights were blinking inside like outside, and a woman was slowly sleepwalking in the living room. She wore absolutely nothing and he recognized her … a pretty registration nurse he often watched when she passed the office. The blinking lights highlighted large firm breasts and an hourglass figure. As his eyes dropped to her navel, he felt an erection rise so fast and strong he thought it was going to poke out the front out of his trousers. He stared like a mad voyeur, unable to pull his eyes away, and she sensed him and walked up to the window. Her juicy breasts pressed against the glass, the pink skin wet with mixed condensation … and without warning, the Doctor felt his penis explode and continue to explode. He began to moan and rock on his heels in the grass.

Finally, he pulled his eyes loose and turned away; his face reddened from the shame of it and he covered his eyes with his hands. His thoughts seemed to tumble in his mind. Now he was a crazed voyeur; he had to wake Dr. Samson and make some sense of this so he walked up to him and gave him a shake. “Wake up for God's sake … or I mean, not for God's sake … I don't believe in God.” He realized he was starting to ramble and Dr. Samson wasn't waking up. A sudden fright struck; perhaps others were awake and had seen him at the window. He looked quickly across the street at the other houses; then as though the God he'd just denied was watching, the clouds parted above. He glanced up and it was a shocker; the purple light was beaming down from three huge stars, nearly as big as moons. It was impossible; he was losing his mind. He seized Dr. Samson and shook him forcefully, and then he struck him in the face with the flat of his hand. Samson stepped back but didn’t wake. Dr. Berenyi became desperate and he hit him again then again. Samson crumpled to the ground unconscious and a feeling of withering horror passed through Dr. Berenyi like electricity. It staggered him. Samson looked dead and he didn’t want to check for vital signs in case there weren’t any. He stared at his open hand and began to weep, and then he looked down the street thinking of trying to wake the others. He realized he wanted to wake someone because he could not control this situation on his own. Leadership skills were something he’d never really had, though he’d assumed he did. Now it came clear that a leader had to be able face and deal with the unknown and he didn’t believe in anything unknown.

Going back inside and waiting it out was an idea but a wind blew up like a bad omen and created a blow of smoke. “Perhaps only this small area is affected,” he thought. If so, it would make sense to get out of it. Yes, it would be best to head over into the main grounds of the institute. Most likely some people would be awake and things would be organized there. It would be a better place to weather the storm.

More gusts swooped down and nearly put him off his feet as he hurried along. Some sand blew in his right eye and he stopped next to a few sleepwalkers. A scowl crossed his face as he looked at them with one good eye. Trying to wake them was of no use so he pulled the lid down on his eye, cleared the dust, and moved on. There was a shortcut to his left that wound through a narrow lane to a side gate of the Jung patient courtyard. He was about to turn into it but it was dark and smoky there. The lights were out and it gave him a bad feeling. He was now in a world he didn’t trust so he decided to go over to the higher walkway and cross on it. That way he’d get an overview of some parts of the institute before entering.

He started walking into the wind then halted at the sound of barking dogs. They were approaching and thirty seconds later he saw them bounding out of the smoke down the way he’d come. “Holy crap,” he muttered. There were five of them, big dogs, and they were heading right for a group of sleepwalkers. Dr. Berenyi didn’t want to watch these helpless people get torn up but he couldn’t take his eyes off the scene and ended up watching as the dogs ran right through them. Frozen to the spot, he realized the dogs were actually charging at him.

He ran left into the darkness of the narrow lane and managed to get down it and through the gate. He closed it just as the snarling dogs arrived. The beasts were trying to jump the gate; rather than run out into the institute grounds he followed another narrow lane to his right where there was a larger gate. That paid off because the dogs did get over the first gate one by one and he barely made it out the second gate. This gate was a firm security door of oak and metal. The dogs wouldn’t get through but he was now out of the Jung and on the street near the corner of Staten.

Some people were coming out of the smoke there from deeper in the West Haven. His heart was already pounding and he was winded from the run. Exhaustion changed to momentary hope, and then fear returned. The people were coming clear; a dirty bunch of squatters. Only the worst of luck could leave it so only they were awake. A big hairy knuckle dragger was well in the lead and shouting, “Hey mate!”

The Doctor was running again, this time over the trimmed strip of parkland at the front of the institute. A glance back showed that the people had stopped at the corner and weren’t pursuing him but forming a circle; a sinister circle in his opinion. Probably trying to decide whether to break in somewhere or simply rob and kill people on street.

He saw the flash of gunmetal and hurried around by the institute wall. He knew there was a gate by the park there and he had a pass card to get through it. Stumbling under a blinking street light, he nearly fell, and then he went crashing through the bushes to halt at the top of a small rise. The path ran below but he could barely see it for smoke. From his vantage point, he could see a large section of the park and what he saw in it he didn’t believe. It was something someone drugged or mad would see but he felt no state of euphoria. He was sure that he was just excited, frightened, confused. And now with amazement added, fearing that he would take a sudden stroke or heart attack.

The smoke blew in shifting curtains over trees, foliage, a public washroom, and a couple outdoor sheds. That part was expected but the path below shone like a molten river and the rise beyond looked like a scene from a science fiction movie. Deep in where an old closed-off city-works area had been partially hidden on the rise, it looked like a burning asteroid had struck. Visually he saw a giant plume emitting horrid waves of smoke and light that were spreading to the neighbourhood. This thing shifted in colors and brightness, illumined the cloud cover and an unreal sky of stars that showed through breaks in a few clouds. If it was an asteroid strike, it had made a soft landing on Earth, dragging another sky and reality with it.

Could it be real … it was another question he didn’t want to answer. If not, then he was crazy or drugged. But if it was real, it was something he had no capability of dealing with at all.

The scene was hypnotic and he was starting to get used to the irritating smoke. Over time, it became breathable like a new atmosphere. It didn't seem to cut oxygen or burn the lungs. On the hillside, the ground shifted like it might erupt. That frightened him and it looked like his only route would be down to the end of the path and back into institute. Perhaps he’d be safe somewhere there.

As he headed carefully down to the gate, he worried something might explode in the park. He did not want to step on the shining path so he planned on reaching over with the card and then jumping the edge of it. He walked over a wilting flowerbed, around some pine scrub then came to the bottom. The path didn’t shimmer so much close up but it was copper in color and like glass that had shattered into a mosaic pattern. He looked along it into the park and saw something moving. A man appeared, white as the smoke. His form shifted so that at first he appeared tall and thin. He gained body; an ugly face that Dr. Berenyi thought was familiar. It didn’t seem fully human so that could not be.

Frozen on the spot, he watched him come out of the smoke. Then he paused, looked back, and a dark form appeared approaching on the grass beside the man. It was as large as a bear but with dark fur that shifted like smoke. The eyes were smoldering and intelligent and it saw him.

Dr. Berenyi felt like his entire body would melt from the hostility of the stare. This creature thought him insignificant and so did the man with it. The smoky creature turned its face away and its eyes blazed, emitting red light that hit the gate and a section of the wall like a spotlight. That section shattered into a whirl of fading dust and left the institute open. Dr. Berenyi held up his hands to shield his eyes and stared in horror as they became blackened. He gasped, but there was no pain and he could still work his fingers. A glance down at the rest of his body showed that the front of this suit had been scorched. His eyes went back to the creature for a moment then he ran at desperate speed through the opening.

As he ran inside, he knew they were moving slowly behind him but not especially pursuing him.


The freeways curved above Donovan, providing a screen for the maze of flashing lights. Down below in a lower industrial zone it felt like being in the underbelly of the world's biggest fairground. The rides were now mostly closed as most of the crashes and bangs and wild yelling had died down. An ominous mood of sleep had come over the West Haven or so it seemed. Down here in a grimy factory area, there would be few people around on any night. Maybe security guards and the graveyard shift. So far, he'd seen no one and the lights were out. The smoke had flowed down like dry ice off a higher stage and it seem like he was in a London fog.

Rather than run into the action, Donovan had done the opposite and tried to escape it. Perhaps he wasn’t an action hero. He certainly didn't have the handsome looks. He looked more like one of the hardened graveyard shift employees that might be around here.

Stress always raised his blood pressure dramatically, putting him in the stroke zone. Because of that, he left heroics for others whenever possible. He thought that perhaps he was a greedy man. So long as the whole world wasn't a wreck, he'd get insurance on the vehicle. His buildings deeper in the West Haven worried him; the policies weren't up to date and no one would be there to watch them. Mike Wilde was probably buried in his own troubles now that this disaster had happened. He might even be dead or more likely, sleepwalking. Squatters would see it as the perfect opportunity to move in and take over. Once inside, getting them out would be nearly impossible; they had ways of entrenching themselves inside the West Haven and you needed legal orders and sheriffs to get them out.

In this new situation, a person had to look out for number one, and Donovan had been doing that for a long time. He'd abandoned his kids when the wife left with them; she could have them. Donovan wouldn’t waste his time trying to see the kids if it meant working with a cheating wife. He'd grown up witnessing so many sad stories; failures, illness, bankruptcy, poverty, lives turned to crime … so many people ruined that he did not believe it was possible to help anyone. Even government agencies couldn't help the West Haven people. Who could redeem a dirty squatter? Drunks died drunken, addicts and hookers stayed that way and went down the toilet. Once the money ran out the only ones promising help were special collection agencies that wanted to keep people alive to pay the bills. He'd known that when his wife decided to betray him it was best to just walk away, and get a good lawyer to fend off her money demands.

Today was a new disaster in the West Haven, maybe the weirdest one ever, but today was yesterday and just another day where he would have to make sure he survived while the others perished.

There didn't seem to be much of a struggle for survival in this section but he was only passing through and was sure he'd find trouble elsewhere. There was some light at the center of the road. He glanced at the dark walls on either side. It was the first time he’d seen radiant darkness. A large board fence partially hid an auto junkyard to the left. A factory with the name of a large processed-food company stood derelict in the night ahead. He passed it, seeing no one. He spotted some lights at the front of a bottling plant. It was far off but he could see a uniformed security man sitting there at the picnic table. “Huh,” Donovan thought. “Instead of leaving his post to see what's going on he stays there protecting bottles of pop or ketchup.”

He figured he'd have a chat with him, find out what he knew, but before he got there, two men appeared out of the blackness and walked up to the guard. Shabby clothes, longish hair, he pegged them for trouble before they even came clear in the light.

Donovan walked over to the dark shadows by a fence and watched. It wasn’t for long because one of the squatters suddenly produced a handgun and shot the guard. Donovan gasped at the brazen nature of the crime then covered his mouth with his hand as he watched them search him. They patted him all over, took the money from his wallet. They left going the other way up the street. The way Donovan had been heading.

He had no plans on going that way now, but he did creep up for a fast look at the guard. They'd shot the unsuspecting chap in the head. The wound was grotesque. His gun would've been of some value but they hadn't taken it. That didn't surprise him because he'd watched squatters at other times pick through trash areas and take worthless stuff while leaving other valuable stuff behind. They took what they immediately needed, he supposed … or what they could sell quickly. A scary thought was that they didn't need more guns because by now the squatters had looted the local gun shops.

Donovan took the guard's Glock, and then ducked off as he heard something snap. From the bushes, he saw the squatters returning. The longhaired squatter gang was a feature out here on the West Haven's edge. He'd encountered them before when they came in deeper. He realized they probably weren't finished with the guy and would notice his gun missing. Going around the side of the factory, Donovan headed for the back of it. He tried to glance back, stepped on a chunk of board and yelped. Quickly reaching down, he pulled a piece of wood and a nail from his shoe. A gun cracked and he felt the wind of the bullet as it narrowly missed him. He turned to fire back, and then realized the safety was on, but the man had seen the gun and ducked out of the way.

Donovan ran into the back with two more bullets whooshing by and cracking into some debris. This time he got the safety off and fired a wild shot back. There was cover as the area was stacked with skids of bottles waiting to be trucked out. He ran between the stacks as the squatters emerged at the back. Now his problem was that there was no way out other than jumping another high rear fence. Donovan managed to get a foot on a protruding nail head and hold of a section of board. He got to the top and saw a junkyard on the other side. It was dark below and he didn't want to drop to it, not knowing what was below. One of the squatters appeared, his gun raised. The guy's face was naturally swarthy and in his ragged clothing, he looked like a Gypsy. The sort Donovan's racist feelings led him to fear most, even though he was swarthy of complexion himself and no star dresser. It was mean versus mean and unfortunately for the squatter, his shot missed and Donovan's didn't. He hit the guy dead center and sent him down and dead, a blood-spurting blast to the heart.

Donovan remained on the fence. The fast and brutal kill sent his head spinning. He'd beaten people before. He'd always wanted to kill a squatter, but now that he'd done the deed, guilt colored his unshaven face. He was also totally winded. He swallowed air and teetered on the fence. The second shooter appeared and ran to his friend. He was a white guy and Donovan had seen him before. Jim Steel was his name. They called him Jimbo and he was a squatter gang leader out here at the edge of the West Haven. Jimbo didn't raise his gun; he just stared down at his dead friend and looked up to Donovan.

Donovan held his Glock up but his hand was shaking. “I know you,” Jimbo said. “Donovan!” He raised his left hand and put a finger in the air. His eyes were hard and cold, the color of steel, and his jutting jaw a symbol of determination. “You won't get away Donovan. We'll get you soon enough.”

Donovan's hand shook even more. He couldn't shoot and the bastard knew it. He had only one choice. He dropped over the fence and ran through the junkyard, and as he ran, he heard the sudden howl of dogs. He recognized that angry barking; he'd dealt with it before in the West Haven. Junkyard dogs and these ones were pit bulls. The sound was from the far south side of the lot so he had to make a fast escape. Turning, he ran north so he'd at least be running away from them. Some car wrecks were in that direction and Donovan reached them and felt a nail tear his pants as he jumped to the hood of the first car. He saw an old cabinet near the fence he could use to boost himself up. A sturdy tree branch hung over the fence there and he hoped to catch it. It looked difficult. He didn't know if he could make the double jump. He looked back and saw two angry pit bulls flying out of the smoky dark like they'd been shot from cannons. He made the jump. The cabinet cracked and broke as he did the hop to it and up, and all he managed to do was catch the top of the fence with one hand. He could hear the dogs coming over the cars with heavy thumps so he pulled, got the other hand over and did a chin pull so swiftly that he felt a muscle tear in his left arm. The tree branch was in reach so as the dogs slammed into the fence he went onto it and over to the tree.

Donovan studied his upper left arm. It would hurt like hell once the inflammation set in. He'd bind the torn muscle later and live with it for now. He was glad he was in the tree because the dogs were jumping, snapping, and reaching a height where they could nearly get over the fence. Once they'd established that he was out of reach, they ran in a circle around a car wreck below, their paws cutting a path in the soft dirt. The barks altered to disappointed whimpering.

Donovan took a swallow from a flask of hard liquor. He looked over the gloomy junk yard, then closely at the dogs. Their eyes smoldered. They were missing some patches of fur from an earlier fight. Behind him through the foliage, he saw a transit yard and a train stop. Inside the West Haven, this public transit was known as the Reaper Run. Classier city trains let their passengers off at the West Haven edge stops and the Reaper transit did a long snakes-and-ladders run through the West Haven. The reason for the switchover was that they wanted city trains to remain clean, crime-free and in good repair. That meant not running them through the West Haven tunnels but to them or around them.

City trains were also different from the specially built Reaper, and couldn't operate on the West Haven lines without trouble. The Reaper wasn't a true train but a hybrid of a weird form of light rapid transit Lee Brucker, creator of towering neighborhood, had invented. His design took transit through all of the huge complexes with stops at the amazing lifts running up them all. Today much of it was derelict and the line's slang name came from all the suicides. Everybody wanting a quick way out jumped in front of the graffiti-scarred engine cars. As there was always some reason for delay in this bad neighbourhood, many unhappy people were still alive because the Reaper had failed to show when needed.

This stop was also the main car yard and it looked like they'd picked the right place for it. Everything down here was a yard of some type. He could see the large holding barns lurking like dark hulks beyond the nest of tracks. It was getting hard to see now as the weird sky took on an unnatural gloominess. He couldn't see the clouds anymore. The whining dogs were getting on his nerves and there was an ominous feeling that something new was about happen. He glanced back at the dogs. The filthy beasts were nothing but fakers. As soon as he moved, they'd transform from yelp-ers to howling beasts. He could still see their eyes in the deep dark and as he stared down at them, the omen became reality. Something ebony black sailed down from the sky, through the junkyard and back up in an arc. It didn't make a sound but the area it hit became a deep trough of what looked like fused black lava.

A second fist of black swept the transit yard and he glanced to it and saw one of the parked transit cars simply melt. Whatever it was it followed a straight line from one yard to the other and it caused Donovan to act. He dropped out of the tree, breaking off a piece of the fence, and started running to the open train yard; the frightened dogs flew over the broken fence and he found himself racing between the transit cars with the dogs running beside him. They were no longer after him. Whatever that thing was, it put the fear of Hades into them.

The darkness seemed almost liquid. He saw a light and that there was a car chain at the station with lights on. Donovan raced for it with the dogs following him as if he was their new master. Coming out of the row of parked vehicles, he went up and through an open service door, then through another open door to the lit front car. The dogs were still with him and followed him into the car. It was the Reaper Run all set to go but no one was on it.

The dogs remained disoriented and took a moment to sniff around the car. Donovan crept ahead beyond a partition and hurried up to the operator's booth. No one was in it either but the train was ready to run.

He glanced at the controls then a light came on outside the window on a platform. It flickered then held. He looked out at that area and saw the passengers and the drivers. All of them had collapsed, blackened and dead on the platform. The bodies had fallen neatly. It looked like two of the Reaper train conductors had been facing the crowd from behind some makeshift gating, perhaps telling them boarding was delayed, when whammo, something hit them with whatever rays it takes to blacken a person with death yet leave the body without swelling. He saw the expression on the face of a female conductor. She was on her back with open dead eyes on the sky like the flash had shot through her pupils and killed her instantly.

Another black nightmare flash ran across the car yard and into the junkyard, telling Donovan what that something was that cooked them. Probably not even a direct hit; the thing just flew nearby and killed them. He took that as his cue to hit the lever and start the car moving.

Looking back, he saw the dogs sitting and whining; they could easily break ahead and attack but the fight had left them. It was likely a part of their training as well in that they didn’t phase into vicious attack mode unless they were on guard duty at the yard.


They reached the edge stairway. Cut neatly into the side of the building conglomerate, it ran down to a high and enclosed walkway over the street. Frank took the unconscious Raj off Breanne’s hands and carried him down lower on the stairs. Lucinda went down with them while Frank's wife Amber remained with Ethan near the top, just behind Mike, hiding behind a brick wall segment and its spillover of vines. The wall segment shielded the entry to the stairs so that it wasn't clearly visible from the upper street.

Mike knew he was taking a risk standing in the opening, but he couldn’t duck and fire with the small weapon. Seconds later one of the shooters appeared in the lane. A big man with purple tints in his hair. Mike took careful aim and shot first. A gut shot; the man's gun flew out of his hand as he grabbed his belly, groaned and slowly sank to the polished stones of the lane-way. The others behind him saw it and retreated, going back over the fence farther down. Mike guessed they thought he had a better gun than he really did. They would wait, watch, and then return. It meant he had to get his people down fast.

Mike turned, nodded, and Amber and Ethan raced down ahead of him. The others were three flights down and as they reached them, they saw tiny Lucinda drop down on the prostate Raj and start slapping his face. Surprisingly, it worked. His eyes fluttered and opened. He sighed miserably as the reality of where he was and what had happened came back to him. He sat up, pushing Lucinda aside. No one was speaking.

The staircase was enclosed, a strong segmented form of Plexiglas in clear and patterned colored pieces at the outer edge. Out in the gloom, lights still blinked here and there. A darkening sky was above and the long canyon of the street and the drop down showed as stark and dizzying.

Raj recognized where they were and spoke. “Are we safe?”

“Not yet, the goons will be on us soon,” Mike said.

“The walkway over the street isn’t too far down. We’ve got to cross to the lower sky street on the other side.”

Breanne felt humbled because of the scene at the house. “I'm sorry about your wife,” she said. “We couldn't do anything to help her. It happened too fast.”

Defeat showed in Raj’s expression more that any grief. “The best doctors in the world couldn't have saved her. Right now, I’m too numb to be sorrowful. I’d rather get away from this area so we can do some thinking before something similar happens to us. This entire place has become a death trap. We might all die; it’s only a matter of when.”

Voices, hurried footsteps echoed down from above them. Mike fired a shot in the air and the sounds stopped, then they all started moving, racing down the steps. Lucinda's running shoes and loose skirt were perfect for running and she took the lead. Mike snapped his extra clip in place as he followed at the rear. They came out on the walkway, stopped, and listened. Again silence, a strange hum coming from somewhere far off. On the other side, some faint lighting showed on the lower sky street. The humming sound ran down a bass scale and suddenly everything was black like they were in a darkened theater. A tremendous whoosh passed on the far side sky street and the darkness eased to gloom.

Frank pressed his face against the plastic screen. “What in the hell was that?”

Breanne's tone was worried. “Can we go over there? It might come back. Whatever it is.”

Lucinda stared across the walk with frightened eyes. Whatever had passed there was much too big and mysterious for her to understand. It baffled Raj, too. Deep facial lines cut an intense expression, as if the last hour had drained his soul from him. The whole night had become a dark shadowy vampire; a monster ghost as big as the West Haven. It defied the laws of physics, touched, and altered everything with its haunting passes.

A hail of bullets rained down on the front of the walkway along with pieces of shattered Plexiglas. Mike could see the shooters up a ways on the descending stairs. Both of them held automatic weapons. Fortunately, the enclosing shielding, though transparent, was almost bullet resistant. Though not quite because sustained fire could damage and break it.

“Shit, they aren’t giving up,” Amber said and she gave them the finger. Another hail of more accurate bullets followed. They began to move quickly across with shattered pieces and ricochets forming a trail behind them.

They were traveling in a close group now; afraid of the creeps at the rear and what might be lurking on the other side. The walkway opened on a small park at the edge of the lower sky street on the other end. At first glance, things looked a little better. A least half of the outdoor lighting still worked and it wasn’t blinking. The housing segment ahead wasn’t townhouses like Raj’s side, but rows of large condominium cubes each of about six units, forming an upper residential street grid. The lights were off in all of the condos and no one seemed to be about. At least until Ethan, who was in the lead, stumbled over a protruding foot and gasped.

They all stopped for a moment. The dead body of a uniformed security guard lay mostly in the bushes. He had died with a ghastly expression on his face and his bloody tongue protruding. Amber pulled Lucinda away. Mike noticed the weapon beside the guard. It was a shotgun; the new model the city police carried in their trunks, with a 30 round magazine. He wondered why a security guard would be so heavily armed on a mostly crime-free sky street. He hadn't died in a shootout either; it was impossible to say what killed him.

The pursuing shooters appeared entering the walkway. There were four of them now and all with high-powered weapons. Everyone looked to Mike as though he had now been elected leader. He pointed to a space between two condo cubes just past a screen of trees and bushes and they hurried off. But he didn’t leave. He picked up the gun. It wasn’t an unlocked model but needed fingerprint activation. Fortunately, he had the fingerprint available. He used the dead man’s cooling hand on the reader and fixed the setting so it wouldn't need activation again.

Gun in hand, he ducked into the scrub and waited. The shooters appeared, walking abreast at the end of the walkway with weapons out and ready to unleash a hail of bullets. He had a moment for a close look at them. They weren’t necessarily squatter types but tattooed shaggy dogs nevertheless, fitting more the description of local drug addicts or dealers. They were lean-muscled, one with a nasty scar on his cheek. Apparently, they had now received the call to do a new kind of business, something to do with a book … and it wasn’t a call that killed them like it had Raj’s wife.

Mike decided to correct that error and the bushes suddenly shook as he fired four blasts in succession. Only one of them got off a shot and that was in the air as he flew up from the power of the spray. The scar-faced man’s gun exploded as he was hit. He blew apart like he’d been grenade struck, and the shooter on the left hit the side of the walkway covering so hard that the force of blast and crash took him over the railing, through the glass and out for a lengthy fall to the street below.

Mike had slowly stepped back. The kick of the gun left him jarred. Silence returned, even the weird hum was gone for now. He wasn't sure what would come next but he was sure that people were being taken by various forms of mind control. Walking over to the others he decided to square one thing right away, but the situation eroded immediately and he didn't get to it.

Ethan wasn't happy about the shootings. His expression was shocked. He tore at his head of wiry hair with his right hand. “Did you have to brutally kill them like that? Cops killed my cousin like that with one of those guns. We spent two years suing. Now I'm hanging out with people even worse. Have you people never heard of civil society?”

The women were silent. Breanne looked freaked out. Raj nodded in agreement. Frank bore the most placid appearance of the men. He faced Ethan and said, “Jeeze, Ethan … I've heard of the graveyard. It was either them or us. If they didn't kill us outright … well...”

“Then it would be worse,” Amber said. “Then we'd be hostage to people gone mad. We can't take any chances on what they'd do to us.”

Breanne remained sickened by it. “It's all very disturbing. There is no law enforcement available right now. We have to move along somehow without letting this destroy our sanity. Look at Raj, he's holding up after the worst experience possible.”

Mike figured the media would have him painted as a maniac if reporters were here. “Those guys wouldn't back off. I shot them because they earned it and there was no other option. In some situations hesitating means you're dead. We have to deal with this phone issue. No one is to answer any communication device and the way to solve that problem is to get rid of them now. I want all phones, phablets or tablets tossed into those bushes now.”

Frank wasn't pleased. He held up his phone. “This is the most expensive SwiftG on the market and you want me to toss it. It is supposed to be a completely secure phone.”

Raj glared at him. “Do it. It was answering the phone that somehow triggered the destruction of my wife's brain. If I witness that again I'll lose my mind.”

Amber remained worried. “How will we call for help or get through to anyone?”

Mike shrugged his shoulders. “Good question. The immediate problem is that something is trying to get through to us. It is getting through to everyone in various ways, all of them unhealthy.”

Ethan tossed his phone. A cheap flip-top model. He grinned at Frank. “So we keep running?” he said as the others tossed their devices.

Raj snorted with disgust. “You make us sound like cowards. We aren't exactly a Special Forces team.”

Ethan frowned at Raj. “You're forgetting about our star shooter. The one-man death squad.”

Mike had his eyes deeper in, studying an anomaly there. “We should all be armed. That would be some help. But not against what I see up there.”

Lucinda grabbed Mike's belt and peeked around him. “Oh-oh. What is it?”

“The humming noise and the sudden darkness on the walkway … it was like something flew through over here. See the way the buildings are laid out here. Yet a block up a whole section is missing, like something cut across and vaporized two of the complexes, even the street and lights there.”

“Yeah, I see it,” Frank said. “Like part of the scene got plowed out of existence. We can't go back, so we might as well take a look.”

Again moving in a pack, this time with Mike in the lead, they came out and went down the center walk. The glow from the few lights and the sky created a video game effect, as if everything was almost real but not quite. They couldn't be sure if everyone was gone or inside, and after the experience with Raj's wife no one brought up the idea of doing interior searches. It was understood without discussion that anyone not alert and of normal demeanor was to be avoided. They reached the area in question, stopped, and stared. A charcoal black trough had been fused into the ground. It had a glassy glow and was as wide as one of the condominium structures. Off the road and open area, it cut neatly between the other structures. The edges of the trough were raised like a lip and were like fused red clay.

“Whatever it is, we can go around it over there,” Mike said, pointing. “I'd rather not walk through it. Sort of like the way I wouldn't want to walk down train tracks when the train might be coming.”

“I've been here before,” Raj said. “There is a spiral walk farther in that goes down to an upper Shoppers World and an interior community layer that is much grungier than this one. We want to see if we can get an elevator to ground there and avoid a lengthy descent through areas that will probably be trouble. If we get down we'll come out near the station.”

They walked along the trough edge and it narrowed and ended at smooth grass. Just over it, they went along the granite-and-glass wall of a complex back to the street. Whatever had struck had come down like a plane and gone back up, though no plane could do that sort of damage and there was no wreckage. An outdoor public pool was off to their left and they could see debris floating in the darkened water. They didn’t go to the pool because the sign to the walkway down to the Shoppers World showed ahead behind a circular fountain area. Only half of it was lit up and the sign had been warped or it was an illusion of the light. Lucinda turned, her big eyes staring up at Mike. He knew she saw the same thing he did. The fall of the water rising from the fountain was all wrong. Beautiful colors reflected in the light, but instead of coming down in the expected curve, the water warped in mid air and flowed off out of the basin, running in a stream across the grass and into an alleyway.

A breeze rose, bringing a bad odor with it. On approach, they noticed that the basin of the fountain was warped, burned, and blackened, and it was filled dark heaps of ivy of the type on the outer building walls. Rather than go any closer, Mike ordered the people to take a wide berth of the fountain, then he walked up close with Frank. They stood there staring.

“What is it?” Raj yelled.

“You don't want to know!” Frank yelled back. He wiped beads of sweat from his forehead with one hand and ran his fingers through his curly hair with the other. As a man who always wore fresh clothes, he hated the sticky rank feel of his suit clinging to his flesh. It made him feel like one of the dead bodies he was witnessing.

The tangled mass of wet ivy was really just a covering and up close, the white of skin and red of blood showed. Bodies filled the basin. They were twisted and broken and many of them were children. Both men remained silent. They now knew where the people up here had gone. They couldn't guess the cause of this nightmare. The basin of the fountain was wide and deep. There were dozens of them in there. Limbs twisted, all of them partially naked and most certainly dead. It was recent because they were wet and not bloated. Mass insanity or hypnotism was a possible explanation but it didn't explain the other matter warping and altering effects. A ghastly, fattened face stared through at Mike in one part, the eyes olive black and blank like the mind had been emptied. He saw Frank glancing at him, so he nodded, and they both turned and walked away without saying anything.

“Dead fish are over there. They stink,” Lucinda said convincingly as they walked up.

“Yeah, dead fish,” Mike replied as they moved on toward the warped sign and enclosure around the tube and walkway down. A drop-tube elevator was enclosed in tinted plastic there but it was only for disabled use and obviously out of service as text of a boot sequence was running repeatedly on the touch-screen panel. The escalator wasn't working either and entire segments of it were shifted either up or down earthquake style. It obviously wasn't safe, but the long curved walkway down looked okay though gloomy as only a few of the ceiling spotlights were on and they were the only lights. It was a Spartan style with only fake brick paneling on the walls and an embossed tile floor. The silence lifted and in the rush of breeze above, they heard that hum beginning to rise again and that caused them to begin to hurry. But not too much because no one was sure of what might be down below either.

It wasn't dark below, a haze of light showed, and then the hum rose to a crescendo. Lucinda yelled, “Run!” Amber panicked and screamed and they all lurched ahead. The walkway walls shook and Mike automatically swung around with the gun at ready. A useless reaction because firing at an earthquake was of no value, but he did see an entire lift of stairs fly free from the escalator and tumble over on the walkway. Everyone was already running when Mike shouted 'Look out' really loud, but they ran even faster and burst out into the dimly lit mall with the big section of metal stairs tumbling in at their heels. Dust was in air; they kept running across an open portion of floor and stopped near a seating area for a food court.


Hawkins' experience in the Jung aquarium led to a relapse of his paranoid condition. He sat down attempting to cope, looked at his soaked body and passed out for a time. He suddenly woke muttering something about Mr. Smothers and filth. When he remembered where he was, he went from gasping to angered cries then silent depression. The fear of awakening to headless corpses passed as did that of the sinister man who no longer seemed to be around. Anger rose because his beloved aquarium had been badly damaged.

Hawkins shook his fist in frustration; gaining strength in remembering who he was … he was Hawkins who grew up in the lower West Haven. He’d find that guy and bust him to pieces. Fists balled, he looked around. And saw no one. “Come out and fight, you bastard,” he muttered. He was all wet and that pissed him off too. His clothes stuck to his lumpy flesh and when he looked at himself, his mood went down to depression. His hair was a mess, sticking in all directions. His face, always somewhat handsome in a very masculine way was now pale and smeared with mud streaks. He’d always hated his crappy body. Muscular though it was, it had no athletic form. At least it had strength and he knew how to scrap. Hawkins danced around, tossing some punches in the air. Most of the water had run off and he was drying, feeling cool and a bit better. He suddenly realized that the pain was gone, the horrible chronic pain that had haunted him for so long. Cured, but by some crazy murderer’s shock therapy.

His thoughts flashed to his girlfriend Delina. If crazy murderers were about, something could happen to her. He decided to do a check and walked off. He remembered the dreams about Mr. Smothers. “Jeeze, I hope that guy isn’t out,” he thought. Dream germs hadn’t troubled him much before. He supposed it was that filthy Smothers’ reputation that brought that on. In consideration, he believed the man who had screwed with him wasn’t Smothers. That guy would have killed him not toy with him. Then again, drowning was a form of smothering.

Hawkins wondered why there were no security guards, night nurses, or orderlies. He walked slowly down the long corridor, looking about, but the only faces he saw were stern doctors of yesteryear in the artwork on the walls. Smoky fumes indicated a fire somewhere but no alarms were ringing. Only half the lights were on like it was an emergency power situation. He saw the reflective glass of a nurse/orderly station ahead. The nice head of hair of his dream was sure gone now. It made him hate the mirrored glass even more than usual. The bastards looked out on the passing patients through that one-way mirrored glass, which he found offensive. “Fuck you!” he muttered as he reached the door and yanked it. Fucking thing was locked so he gave it some hard knocks. They were supposed to be on the job not fucking the dog somewhere. It wasn’t a secure sort of lock so he took his hospital card out of his pocket and jiggled the door while he inserted it. He got one corner of the card in and that was enough to allow him to force it. He’d be in shit now because no doubt someone nasty would be inside or a hidden camera would record it.

Hawkins stepped in quietly, as if it would matter after making all that noise. He saw a chair pulled back from the reception desk but no one was in it. Stepping forward he found that someone was at the desk though, or part of someone … because blood was spilled across it and a woman’s head sat there leaning against the phone/intercom bank. The head belonged to Andrea, a plump aggressive nurse that Hawkins despised. His grin was hungry, even though the sight was a shocker, then the grin faded and he was somewhat appalled by what appeared to be a sexual gasp frozen on her face.

There was a small staff room behind the desk. Hawkins burst in ready to grapple with whomever he found. The two orderlies inside were asleep on the floor. “Assholes,” he thought. “Sleeping while a nurse is getting her head chopped off.” Then it occurred to him that people don’t sleep on cold tile floors unless drugged or knocked out. Squatting down he touched the forehead of the first man. Cold … he was dead. And the second had a feverish forehead. Hawkins stood up and moved quickly away from him. He held his right hand up and then saw an eyewash station. Using the bottle with his left hand, he washed off his right hand and hopefully any virus. The guy had something nasty, he was sure of that, and he didn’t want to get sleeping sickness at this point in time.

The killer was likely the same motherfucker that had played with him. But maybe not. Possibly, it was a fever of some type; a fever that drove people mad and turned them into killers. “Jeeze,” he thought. “You’d have to be bat-shit crazy to want to behead other people.”

It occurred to him that he'd better get a weapon of some kind. Whoever was doing this stuff had a big blade … maybe a crazed orderly had gone on a rampage, released something classified from the restricted area. He hoped not because if so he’d likely already be infected … but he had no fever, not yet. He felt okay.

Delina, Delina. The female wing was in the other section. The only fast way there would be to cut through one of the restricted areas. He’d been in them before but in a drugged state. He couldn’t quite remember them other than a blur, and where the entrance doors were situated.

The only weapon in the nurses’ station was a push-button spray can of pepper mace in an orderly’s pocket. Not exactly a taser or gun but a stopper. He strode back down the hall, around and through a waiting room to another hall and two massive swing-open copper doors. They had no handle, visible button panel or sign and were tight into the wall. He tried the fob he’d taken from the orderly and that took some figuring. There were four tiny touch buttons and it was a sequence of them that opened up, but only one of the doors. It swung open slowly as Hawkins watched, reached its maximum swing, and started to close. He hesitated then because a stream of smoky air puffed out and eddied, making it seem like he was exiting outside and not entering another hospital area.

Hawkins watched a big smoke ring float up the hall. He turned back to the doorway. It was gloomy in there. As the door swung back, he finally acted and squeezed through the last crack. Smoke stung his eyes and he sidestepped left into darkness. He did not rub his eyes because that would blur them more. After some seconds, the stinging faded and objects began to come clear. The area ahead had been hit by disaster. Tables, medical trolleys, equipment had been blown over and wall partitions ripped. Everything seemed askew or on a tilt and a couple steps told him that the floor had tilted. A nearby operating area had been hit by a withering unknown force. Banks of hanging flat screen monitors were twisted out of shape, some into distortion and melt that had again hardened. The glass in the overhead banks of circular lights had shattered and left pieces all over the floor. Hawkins walked carefully through that, glancing about in the smoke. A wall to an adjoining medical room had blown out. A white machine like a giant clamp with a huge telescopic lens on top of it teetered at the edge of a blast hole in the floor. It wasn’t any explosive known to man that had struck but some matter-bending blast.

It scared Hawkins so much that he held his hands out and studied them to make sure his flesh wasn’t being altered. At the edge of the hole, he found the bodies, if they were bodies. There were ten of them down in the depression. The upper torsos had blue medical smocks and caps on yet the what should have been the lower parts or legs had became a mass of twisted black tentacles frozen to the ground like tree roots. Wind and smoke was blowing in from the end of this room and he walked to the hole in the wall and stepped out. The area was a terrace-lounge outdoor area between two of the institute’s larger structures. The high wall forming a boundary with the park was at its end, though a section of it had simply disappeared. The neighboring structure was intact, but the one he’d exited had been sorely hit. Most likely by something that had come out of Western Woods Park, or what used to be the park because the park wasn’t there anymore. What Hawkins saw there was a smoldering wasteland spreading up to a smoky plume rising high above some hell. Hell was the term that came to mind because he was sure he saw human forms walking about in there.

He had no intention of going in there and Delina’s wing of the institute was up the terrace the other way. Rather than analyze this bizarre situation, Hawkins concluded that simply finding Delina and getting away from the area completely would be best.


 Part Five: The Beast

 Dr. Berenyi woke where he'd collapsed in an obscure and small service doorway inset into the brick of one of the institute buildings. His lungs felt raw and he coughed a few times on pungent smoke. He was on the rooftop and the fumes were drifting over the pebbled surface. As he rose, he couldn't remember a thing. Then he leaned against the wall, holding his head, and it all came back. At least most of it … and it didn't seem real. He stepped out of the alcove and looked around the roof area. His last memory was running in from the park. He could not remember coming up here.

This wasn't the highest roof level. Vines ran up the wall to his right to a higher level and he was on an area that jutted out. He must have come through the door to get outside. He looked up at a sky of smoke and colors. It was so hypnotic that for a moment he felt like he was standing upside down and he staggered a couple steps before catching himself. His sense of direction returned and his feet crunched over the stones, around a pipe and another rising wall to gain a look out at the park. He wanted to confirm or deny the weird vision he'd seen earlier.

Coming around the wall he was abruptly on the edge as only a lip of roof ran from here to the south. Not only was he on the edge but he was certain that he had suddenly confronted hell itself. There was supposed to be a park out there. His view was of a frightening panorama. Smoke was blowing in thick waves and deep in the center of the park, he saw an area of weird distortion and a plume rising to a terrifying height. Rises and hills used to be there, now they shifted as if they were behind a lens. He saw vague forested areas drifting in the smoke yet the trees were burning and moving in false flames that didn't disintegrate them. It terrified Dr. Berenyi to the depths of his soul. Most lunatics would not see such a vision and he could tell it was more than a hallucination. It was the fabric of reality itself coming apart. Distorted beings walked in the smoke; dark liquid forms that were humanoid maybe but not people. He hadn’t been able to see them at first.

The air a distance out from him suddenly spider-webbed and gained depth like another big lens cracking, and with a curvature like he'd been staring through a glass dome at what had become of the park. An explosion followed but it wasn't fire or blast pieces but a huge black cube that suddenly launched from the center of the park and sailed over the tops of the nearest buildings of the West Haven. Dr. Berenyi was sure he was going to pass out again but he didn't. He staggered back then stumbled around to the door. Back at the start point, he took some deep breaths then was sure he heard voices.

The sound drifted from the other section of the roof that would lead to a view down on the patients’ courtyard. He hoped the courtyard was still there because if it had become another world, too … he'd have no option other than to cower and hope the sun came back out some day. Someone shouted; it was a good sign if at least real human beings were down there and not sleepwalkers or squatters. Probably the orderlies or guards, he figured. He needed their help so he crept over.

He hesitated, afraid to look down, but the hideous unreal sky above caused him to seek out something normal and he glanced over. The courtyard was there … a mosaic of white shaded stones and numerous round and patterned metal tables. Each table had four chairs. He saw the main doors. They were a huge French style but painted in a clean white. Planters lined the walls. There were large urns farther off near an enclosed bird pond with an overhead trellis bursting with vines. The west section was clear. Its rain roof of diamond glass pieces fitted into a webbing of shining metal repelled the light of the sky.

Dr. Berenyi's eyes adjusted fully … so far so good. There was a small crowd of patients and staff gathered there. They were still and facing something under the rain roof that he couldn't see, so he moved along the roof for a better perspective.

An exterior fire escape was almost hidden in the vines and he was about to go down but halted and decided on a closer look first. It was that closer look that caused his heart to sink again. Yes, the crowd was human and more people were emerging from the interior and gathering in the courtyard. What they were gathering before was either not from Earth, or there really was a hell below and it had emerged from that place. He had hoped that the beast he'd seen on entering from the park was sheer illusion. Apparently, it wasn't, because it was now in the courtyard. In rough appearance, it was a beast like a large bear, but it wasn't composed of fur and flesh. The eyes and maw were of fire red and shifting darkness like roiling smoke wound tight to create its body while leaving a constant aura of wisps about it. At some moments, the two eyes seemed to gather to one large staring eye. Some of the people in the crowd were nodding their heads. If the beast was speaking to them, Dr. Berenyi couldn't hear it saying anything or issuing any sound. A man stood beside it and Dr. Berenyi hadn't noticed him at first because a sculpture shadowed him and he was white like the sculpture’s stone with even whiter hair. When standing, the man resembled a sculpted human being, but an odd one of awkward form no one would normally sculpt unless it was someone like Abraham Lincoln. When he moved, he became liquid and not awkward at all. He was moving now, down into the crowd and among the people.

None of them reacted properly. They behaved as if this was all as usual. The pale white-haired man stopped and touched a few people on the forehead. Those touched began to shake and gasp and Dr. Berenyi could definitely hear it. The touched became aware that something was completely wrong yet the others were not aware. They simply watched as those touched were led trembling under the rain roof and before the smoky beast.

As the Doctor continued to watch, another small group of people emerged from the interior to the courtyard. They were all sleepwalkers, at least until they were nearly at the gathered crowd, at which time they gained normal composure. This was abnormal in this situation in the sense that they failed to apprehend any danger or that anything was amiss.


Hawkins hurried down the center of the walk and cut left into the undamaged building. It wasn’t difficult because a door that should have been locked was open and rocking on its hinges in the wind gusts. Just inside it, on the floor, he found the body of what he thought was a patrol guard. There was no blood and the man's uniform remained intact, but the head and protruding hands were freak-show warped with skin smooth and glossy like melted plastic of some variety. The hair was hardened in a windblown position. At any other time, Hawkins would have believed it to be a manikin. But not this time. His guess was that this fellow had been running from whatever blast force struck out there and tried to duck in this door, and a bit too late. Whatever hit him was worse than any radiation. It had caused the immediate mutation of every cell in his body to the point that he didn't have a human body any more. He was dead. It hadn't been a kind death because the expression on his warped face showed that his own scream had blown off his teeth and lips, leaving a large gaping hole. His eyes were glass eyes … blue glass eyes.

Dim lights were on and he saw that this was a storage area for either rarely used or obsolete medical equipment. It was another off-limits area with restricted signs everywhere. Until tonight, the guard must have had the easiest job going, guarding the warehouse of old dusty equipment.

Tonight was certainly not a night like any other night. The thought rose in his mind and suddenly Hawkins found himself laughing insanely. You had to be mad to believe this … it was heavy meds for sure. Yet the laughter didn't last; he'd forgotten how weakened he was and within moments a wave of nausea rose and he nearly vomited. He held the bile back, an ominous hum started to rise out in the alley and he felt the hair on his head rising, then he felt his legs moving because he was running like hell in the dim light. He ducked in at a far door; something passed behind him and though he had his back to it, he saw an image of black in his mind. Another of those damn things from the park flying down that lane and rising like it was a shooting gallery.

A little closer and he would've been as pretty as that security guard. He went right, down a corridor toward a sign that said Molecular Implant Screening Area. He didn't know what that procedure entailed and he didn't want to know either. Continuing to hurry, with hands in the air, he turned at the sign and crashed into a group of doctors.

He directly collided with two big men, tripped and went down hard in a tumble across the floor. Pain bit into his shoulder as tendons reached the limit of stress. Then his head banged something hard and he went over the edge of a low railing. Hawkins looked up; he was in a depression and the cone of some big medical machine loomed above him. He was shaken, but his shoulder seemed somewhat okay and his skull wasn’t fractured. He wanted to speak to these doctors and began to rise. Then a face appeared in the sodium light, looking down at him. A second and third face appeared and Hawkins gasped. He tried to speak but the words wouldn’t come out.

He knew who the men were … and a closer look showed their clothing to be a mix of doctor and orderly outfits. The first face now rose like a paper moon in the pale light; the floating image of Mr. Smothers. It couldn’t be but Hawkins also knew it was probably his rotten luck that out of all the hallucinations out there tonight, this one would have to be real. To make it worse the other two visages belonged to the Mailman, and Lord Kenneth.

Hawkins started to stutter, “Duh, duh, duh.” Meeting even one of them was an idea from his nightmares but three of them at once was worse than a nightmare.

It became too real and Hawkins’ body did what his mind wouldn’t. It acted, by rising and backing away. He found the courage to speak. “So, it’s you three that are behind that hell out there. I should have known it. What did you do? Dial up some alien monsters?”

Hawkins’ eyes went to Lord Kenneth’s distinguished Scottish face and then he moved them quickly away as he felt the power of his gaze and remembered the rumors about him. A glance to the Mailman caused rage to rise because Hawkins became certain it had to be him behind the aquarium damage. He was exactly the sort of person who would enjoy playing games and beheading people.

Mr. Smothers continued to grin kindly. Hawkins knew it was the sort of kindness that paved the road to Hades. “Why, we couldn’t call up aliens, Hawkins. You got it all wrong. There’s no hell out there. It is all in your mind. Don’t you remember the experiment? How I was working to cure you.”

“What?” Hawkins said. “You don’t cure people. You’re Mr. Smothers. You murder people.”

Mr. Smothers turned his head right and left, giving knowing glances to his two partners. He raised a condescending brow. “It’s unfortunate,” he said to everyone. “It looks like the brain damage is permanent. The implant has failed.”

“Implant,” Hawkins said. “What implant?”

“Think and it might come back to you. I’m your doctor, George Smothers. Remember all the sessions and therapy. This was to be your last step. The final road to the cure.”

“Cure. My chronic pain is cured.” Hawkins turned his gaze right. “Your evil partner, the Mailman cured it.”

The Mailman looked genuinely surprised. “That's good to hear.”

“Nonsense,” Smothers said. “This man is not a mailman. He is Dr. Brett Haydicky, a psychotherapist. His sessions allowed you to release the inner tension causing your chronic pain.”

“Yeah, right,” Hawkins said. “I suppose Lord Kenneth there is a doctor, too.”

“He most certainly is. Dr. Kenneth Billings is your hypnotherapist.”

Kenneth smiled placidly. Hawkins looked into his eyes … deep into them. He found himself thinking that perhaps something had gone wrong. No wonder everything seemed crazy and impossible. He’d received a brain implant and it had malfunctioned. If so, then it would be a matter of removing it and hoping to recover.

“I…uh,” Hawkins stuttered. “Suppose you may be right. I don’t remember requesting a brain implant. How would I remove a failed implant?”

The three doctors, in odd outfits, smiled. Hawkins looked in askance to Dr. Smothers. Then he turned his gaze slowly to Dr. Brett Haydicky. The doctor was holding something behind his back. He slowly brought it around and held it out. A huge curved amputation blade, but to Hawkins it looked more like a sword. “It is too late,” he said, switching his glance to Dr. Kenneth Billings. “The madness has progressed, at this stage only a full amputation of the head can save the body.”

Hawkins suddenly shook off the hypnotism. A gasp even he didn’t expect burst from his lips, and he turned to flee. However, halfway through his turn he locked eyes with Lord Kenneth, and froze. Confusion again filled his mind. He listened silently as Dr. Kenneth Billings said, “I don’t believe we are ready for a full amputation at this point in time. In my professional opinion, a lobotomy may suffice.”

Doctor George Smothers interjected. “We are being called to the courtyard.”

“Yes, yes,” said Dr. Brett Haydicky, lowering his blade. “We have a case of mass hysteria. Bring the patient along, Doctor Smothers. There is work to do.”


Donovan got the lead car started but his amazement subsided when he couldn’t get out of the station. The power car began to move ahead slowly and then it went into a turn in the tracks. Donovan found himself slowly circling the train yard in a long slow semicircle of the inner area then a big circle out by the barrier fence. He muttered a few choice curses as the ride took him right over near the junkyard, and then worse, around a twist so that the cars were running near the board fence of the factory he’d just escaped. He studied the control panel as he tried to figure out how to get the train out of the station. The big computerized display worked, which was amazing in itself, but it was user unfriendly, making it difficult to figure out what individual touch buttons did.

He tried what he thought was a setting to right-turn out of the yard as the train again approached the exit mouth. Instead, the train jolted to an emergency stop and the dogs started to howl. They were getting restless, scampered about, and ran up to the front. They sat and stared at him from a nearby seat. Donovan didn’t like that cold stare. He began to sweat, wondering how long those pooches would remain friendly if he couldn’t get that the train moving out of the yard. At least movement distracted them.

Moving again, Donovan was on another loop and the dogs were on the seat staring out a partially open window. The train picked up speed as it moved on the outer loop near the junkyard and Donovan saw another special button and touched it to see what it did. The horn blared, and it was so loud he jumped in his seat. The dogs remained unperturbed for a minute. Donovan scratched his head; there was probably an online video on how to operate this useless train, but of course, he’d never be able to pick it up on his phone. He pulled out his phone anyway, pressed an apps button and suddenly the phone grew hot and he tossed it aside nervously.

As the train rattled along the factory fence, he saw two shadowy men coming over it. One of them stayed on the fence while the other jumped down, dashed to the train, and tried to catch an open window near the back as the train passed. He missed and fell, the dogs were barking again.

As the Reaper moved into the inner loop, Donovan was hoping it had earned its name and made a big splat of that jumper. But unfortunately it hadn’t and he was turning again, doing the inner run. He saw the man dashing across the tracks, and then something even more frightening. Something black and cubic flew over the yard and swept the guy on the fence into oblivion. It didn’t knock him off; he blew up like a starburst and was simply gone like a splash of fading paint absorbed by the darkness. It didn't look like a painful death and if what he'd seen was real, the power of those black objects flying in the night was incredible. They were also Donovan's worst sort of nightmare, because if they didn't erase him one of them might hit his properties and erase them.

The other man hadn’t seen it; he was still running. He fired a shot at the train that didn’t even come close but it agitated the dogs. There was no way to avoid this determined man. Donovan got a closer look; one of the thugs he'd fled earlier. He sped up, but the man made an athletic jump and caught the open window at the back. Donovan’s eyes flashed to the mirror; he still had his gun in his hand as he tried to pull in the window.

Donovan at least knew how to stop the train. He jolted it to a halt, and the man went for a tumble. He was back up in a flash and walking alongside of the train. Donovan then messed up as he tried to start it moving and all the doors opened. He was so angry he pounded the panel, and he heard the man out there yelling, “Judgment day has come, Donovan!” Then he fired a shot in the air as he moved to board, and that was the last thing he ever did.

About as fast as that black thing had swept the other man off the wall, the dogs went silently out the open window. The man still had his gun in the air as they attacked and began ripping him apart. He screamed once, fired two shots, and went down. Donovan jumped out and began yelling, “Heel, heel!” After some time the dogs obeyed, left the man and circled Donovan’s legs. He watched them warily; they were no longer hostile but treating him like a master. They'd tasted blood and had the impression he had ordered it. He looked to the fallen man, and then picked up the handgun. No need to check for a pulse as the throat was torn open and there was a slab of meaty blood but no face.

“Maybe I should keep those dogs, they do good work,” he thought grimly. His eyes went to something else. The body was right next to a huge green panel on a pole. He snorted; it was the yard master controls and he’d been driving past the box without noticing it. It was also not like the train controls but a straightforward diagram with push buttons. In moments, he’d completed the setting that would get the train out of the yard and was back at the driver’s seat. The dogs followed him to the front. He closed the doors, started moving, picked up speed, and then really hit the power when he saw that black thing fly over near the yard again. Donovan, the dogs and the Reaper rattled out of the yard like the devil was after them.


Dr. Berenyi had been perched on the edge of the roof watching the scene in the courtyard for a while. The area was full of people now, all of them in a trance and facing the smoky alien beast. The Doctor was so amazed by it all he couldn't think as a psychotherapist any more. The symbolism was both alien and familiar like dreams of hell. Everything had a Biblical tinge of fire and darkness. The smoke had a musty flavor as if it had risen from deep in the earth.

Evil powers, prophecies, aliens … he knew people believed in stuff like that but very few of them expected it to arrive as swiftly as this had. As far as he knew, no one had predicted events like this taking place.

Something new was happening behind some ground-to-ceiling glass windows on the far side of the courtyard. The albino man that had been with the beast had gone over there through a door and he was standing with three men in ward-doctor medical uniforms in a lobby. There was one patient. It looked like the one called Hawkins. It was hard to see them clearly as smoke shifted in waves over the glass. His eyes were riveted on the albino; his facial features were suddenly painted over with new definition from memory and he knew who the ugly man was … or used to be. The man was Bowen Greer, a patient of his from way back when.

Bowen touched each of the three men on the forehead, knocking them back in a stumble one at a time. Dr. Berenyi had no idea what this was about but he doubted it was any form of religious conversion or healing. He felt it was more like this weird new Bowen was exercising a new brand of mind control. Something the institute couldn’t do without putting in a brain tap. Bowen, as he remembered, had been a dangerous psychiatric patient in the past. But nothing more. He wondered what had happened to him. The man was white like old man winter, with patterns of it like tattooing on his exposed skin. He knew stress and fright could whiten a man's hair. It was as if Bowen had seen so much in an instant it had changed him. He'd been hit by a shock wave, perhaps the effect of whatever he'd experienced in that park with that beast.

His eyes switched back to the hypnotized crowd in the courtyard and the smoke tentacles drifting about them. It was as if this beast thing had a spell on them to hold them while it sucked the life out of them. He wondered what Bowen and these phony doctors had to do with this situation. He saw that Bowen and the doctors were gathered in a circle now behind the clouded glass. They all nodded in agreement to something and then the doctors walked off out of sight. Like Bowen, there was something familiar about those men, but he wasn't quite certain as to what it was … he thought he knew all of the ward doctors, but he didn't recognize them.

Bowen returned through the door to the courtyard but the other men didn't follow. Weaving through the crowd, Bowen made his way to the beast and it shrouded him with tentacles of smoke for a time. Visually, Bowen became a pale statue with a shroud of smoke. Someone just happening on the scene and seeing him would think exactly that, as he didn’t move at all. The only giveaway being that he was too ugly to be an institute statuary piece.

The Doctor's eyes were reddened with irritation from staring so long at this scene. He didn't need them wide open now; he was a believer in the power of this happening even though he wasn't quite sure what it meant. He also believed it was something that should be stopped. One glance to the evil sky and back to the ugly beast below convinced him that it wouldn’t be stopped easily.

The crowd below was useless to him now. They were finished, worse off than the dead. Berenyi was certain of that. As if to confirm that belief, the crowd and the smoky beast suddenly came to life. The doctors that he'd thought had gone elsewhere showed in the smoke. They were opening a gate at the back from the other side, and when the heavy metal shutter was aside, they stepped in and went out of sight in the shadows of the vines along the wall.

The beast began to move toward the gate and the people silently followed. Out of that silence, a bone-chilling humming noise rose, and as it reached a crescendo another of the black UFOs soared in the sky over the institute. It had shot out of the hellish wasteland that the park had become, and Dr. Berenyi knew that going out the gate to the exit there would take the crowd of people out into the park.

Unless the view the Doctor had seen from the other portion of the roof was illusion, going out into that area was certain death. He'd studied cults and other weird religious groups during his career; he supposed walking out to doom would be nothing new for such people. Except this wasn't a cult; many of them were patients, staff, doctors … people he knew. Many others were familiar faces he cared little about, except that he didn't want them to perish in this manner.

It felt like this was riding down a scale. Every time he thought he was completely powerless against this thing, he became even more powerless. There wasn't anything effective he could do about it. He could shout and draw attention to himself. He could do that if he wanted to commit suicide.

His decision was to scramble back on the rooftop and then work his way around to get a view of the people exiting out into the park. He went over a flat stony portion and had to go along a narrow overhang. He nearly slipped, caught a pipe and a handful of vines, winced as a thorn stabbed into him, and eventually made it to the other section.

Dr. Berenyi obeyed his aversion to looking up; he looked down, and saw the crowd moving down a long angled embankment into the park area. Columns of smoke, hellish distortion of the air and view, strange curtains of fire and trees that burned but didn't disintegrate were ahead. The beast melted into the distortion, taking the people with him toward the base of that frightening plume.

Dr. Berenyi tried to see deep in and the effect caused his head to hurt. He saw the distortion suddenly gather and spin into a black curvature of space. Fine patterns of smoke filled it and the whole thing took shape as another monstrous plume of darkness and smoke rising into the sky.

The Doctor’s eyes remained fixed on the image, electricity crackled in his head, he heard a terrible hum rising … then it all snapped and he tumbled back as another of the dark cubes flew into the sky. On his back, on the stony roof, he had clear view of the sky as the cube cut away the smoke. Three red moons hung directly above, and so close it seemed that those globes were falling to him. Throwing his hands over his eyes, he rolled over and after a couple minutes crawled away. Stress became agony in his head and he could see nothing but a blur.

Dr. Berenyi sat propped against a wall, vines flowing over him. His thoughts whirled; he’d lost the will to fight if not the will to live. He shaded his eyes from the sky and wished it would fall on him and finish job. Smoke began to pass in sheets. It irritated his nose but at least it kept his vision clouded. He could remain buried under it until he died.

As fate would have it, the end wasn’t on him just yet. His nose grew irritated from the fumes and he began to sneeze. It got worse and he sneezed continually until it finally forced him to rise. Burning eyes made it hard to see and he went the wrong way on the roof and ended up on a ledge. One of the patients’ wings was across from him. A broad window showed the end of a stairwell and part of a hallway. A wispy woman was hurrying down it. He recognized her, one of his patients – Delina.

At least one person remained normal; perhaps he could find others. He tried to shout, but she disappeared from view. Then he found a window into another doctor’s office and forced it open. No one was inside. He knew the doctor, a man named Richardson. A deep bottom drawer of the desk was open and it was full of pill bottles. Berenyi reached in and sorted through the bottles. He found one full of Libreene 3, an instant short-term cure for anxiety. He opened it, popped three of them, and sat down. Five minutes later, he was calm and full of false vigor and courage.

He crossed the floor, went out into the hallway. No one was around that he could see and he didn’t plan to do a search. A better idea would be to find others away from the Jung. It and the park seemed to be the focus of the evil anomaly he thought of as the Plume after his last weird vision.

Stairs took him below and he passed a tall window with a view out to the courtyard. An eerie red light filtered down from above and hung in the smoke. Though the others were gone Bowen remained, propped there on a stone table as though in a trance. Doctor Berenyi wished he’d been born a big man so he could go out there and thrash him to death. Bowen was somehow responsible or partly responsible for this horror. He was sure of it. Yet there he was sitting there calmly, whitened to a ghost by the emanations of some hell, and still living while others died. It angered him and fascinated him and he found his feet taking him to the doors out. In the courtyard, he stood there in the weird light for a few minutes with the feeling he was standing in some other world.

A moment of decision arrived and Darwin Berenyi walked up to Bowen. There was some trepidation but the terror he'd experienced earlier had faded with the drugs and the certainty he was going to die anyway. The Jung had been a place of science and as the last sane survivor, he would find out what had gone so terribly wrong. The smoke drifted in reddish haze past Bowen as he sat on a table. A living statue, his eyes were open and solid black ringed by a tiny bit of ivory white and gold. They conveyed horror and though Dr. Berenyi knew Bowen saw him, the man did not acknowledge him in any way.

A rumble from the park shook the buildings nearby. Another black streak passed above. That Bowen sat there meditating on this destruction angered the Doctor and he spoke his first words.

“You fiend. You enjoy watching this, don't you?”

An unreadable expression rippled on Bowen's face. Pinpoints of light appeared in his eyes. He spoke slowly, his voice harsh. “You will die,” he said in a throaty whisper.

“You've killed everyone. You sent them in there to die quicker. Look at you. You are white as a ghost; your flesh is worse than dead. I'd rather perish than be like you. You know, I remember you. You were bad to the bone even before this, Bowen. Now, not even the devil would take you.”

“He already has taken me. This devil is of another order. Perhaps an alien spirit in our idea, and an evil one. We have something it needs and when that is done it will take that and leave.”

“You believe what it told you?”

“Yes, it doesn’t speak to me in words, it possesses me.”

“That figures. So why are you here, why are the others possessed and walking into death in that hell there?”

“That hell as you call it is the Plume. An area of fusion between this world and others is eating this area up in a distortion of reality. Inside that plume is an intermediary area that connects this world to other parallel worlds. I somehow opened a door in there and let that thing out. It wants a key hidden here in this neighbourhood that unlocks the doors to other worlds. Someone here has it and it must be found soon.”

“If I hadn’t seen that thing I wouldn’t believe you. What if it isn’t found?”

“It will be, but the longer it takes the more the destruction. A door is open between two parallel worlds, one dark, and the other light. The longer it remains open the more this area will disintegrate, up until a final explosion that will destroy the earth.”

“But you’re just sitting here, and that other monster is back in there. It isn’t looking for any key.”

“We sent men out to get it, and I am here for a reason. The beast altered me so my body has atoms of both worlds. I’m sitting here on the edge, stabilizing things somewhat. I am a sentinel. My presence holds off ultimate destruction and I supervise the hunt for the book and key. It has gone back in to wait because it can’t go farther into this world without destabilizing things. The people it took inside through the plume will be slowly atomized, but the presence of complex life forms slows the disintegration. It buys us time.”

“You can’t give that thing any key. Who could trust it? It has some other motive and it’ll kill you when it is finished.”

“No … it will free me when this is over. Free me when it goes into another higher world of light. The deal with it is the only hope I have. The only way the horror of communion with that thing will ever end. If I were you, I would run, hide, and hope to survive until this ends.”

Darwin Berenyi had hoped to find the answer but had only more of a riddle. Bowen did look exactly like a sentinel and a horrid and evil one … no longer human, with a wicked presence swirling about him and eyes like pits of terror. Dr. Berenyi didn’t have any other option so he turned and hurried off, hoping to make his way out of the institute. He had to find someone who could do something about this nightmare.


Delina woke with the feeling that something was wrong, but it could have been just the dreams. Usually the medications they had her on left her with no dreams at all. Sleep was a journey in and out of darkness with nothing to remember. This week they had changed her script to something new that would control her manic-depressive states. It had done little the first few days. Now it was exhibiting weird side effects. It did work; weeping spells had passed, her mind didn't rise to the excited states on it. It seemed much better than being one of the implant zombies. Most of them rarely left their rooms. They were taken care of but in all appearances in ways that simply made them easy to control and manage. Wards of the state, spoon-fed until the day they crapped themselves for a final time and died.

Dreams; it was weird; she remembered dozens of them from a long deep sleep. They were the sort of dreams where she was constantly trying to wake up and couldn't do it. All of them were disaster dreams of killing and looting in the West Haven, alternating with dreams of a black death, though not disease but people struck by flying dark objects and then disintegrating. Often she'd been running long distances but couldn't get out of the West Haven as every road turned back into it.

She walked over and looked in the full-length mirror; she'd slept in her clothes and still had on Khaki pants and a loose top with flared sleeves. Tangles messed her hair, and her eyes were bloodshot. She looked like an alcoholic in need of a coffee and water. Bright light from the window caught her eye so she walked over and looked out. She didn't have her contacts in and the sky above looked fiery. She wondered if she was still dreaming, shook her head, and then put on her shoes and lenses.

She wasn't asleep, she knew that, but back at the window, she could see that the sky was crazy. She wondered if a war had happened while she slept. A corner of the courtyard showed; her vision was still blurry but she was sure she saw a crowd down there.

Exiting the room, she padded down the hall, noticing that the orderly station was empty. She paused at a window for a better view of the courtyard and didn't quite believe what she saw. It was like a scene from a new horror movie. She saw a huge swirling monster and a pale man. The monster was facing a crowd of stupefied people and more were coming out to it. She didn't quite believe it to be real; she did believe that maybe the side effects of this new medication were mind bending.

Shifting her gaze, she spotted Hawkins in a lit area inside one of the courtyard windows. It was a recreation area with a piano and small stage. There were a couple doctors in white. They appeared to be talking; something was off because one of the doctors was smoking a cigarette. Moments later, they walked off with Hawkins following. She saw their passage as they crossed the room and went out of sight. Hawkins trailed behind and his walk was nuts; he walked like the Frankenstein monster in an old movie. She figured they must have him on heavy meds now too.

Everything outside existed in an unreal glow. It was like awakening in an alternate reality. Undecided, Delina hurried down the hall to her room and sat there for a while with her head in her hands. It gave her a headache. She knew she had to do something other than try to hide so she decided to hunt down Hawkins. Opening a drawer, she seized a snap box of fast-acting amphetamine strips she kept hidden for occasional use on those times when the institute attempted to med everyone to sleep. Usually when officials were visiting or there was an emergency. She could also dump a couple of them on Hawkins’ tongue and solve the problem of him being out of it. There was always a way to break the institute spell; if they had you up too high, take something special to come down, and if they had you dropping into slumberland, then pop a pick-me-up.

Another glance in the mirror and she wished she’d taken something to break the spell of her own homeliness. She'd let herself go scrawny like a chicken. Her face sagged; her eyes were becoming big black whore eyes.

Not wanting to look anymore, she turned and left. She hurried down the hall. Her room was on a secondary hallway, lined with a number of storage closets and private offices for lesser staff like nurses and orderlies. On the wider main hall, she noticed that nearly all the doors were open. She glanced inside; everyone was gone. Probably off into the courtyard. The thought caused a shudder; she was extremely glad she hadn't joined that group.

One of the double rooms had two people sleeping inside. A new patient, a plump blond woman was nearly naked and sleeping on the hard floor. Halting, she went inside, looked down at her, and decided to wake her.

Delina had cold hands, but the woman's forehead was cold like a corpse. Yet hot smelly breath eased from her lips. Before Delina could give her a shake, a charge went up her arm, and a vision of hellish horror filled her mind, causing her to break away.

“Stinky bitch’s got a case of the creeps. To hell with her,” she muttered. Walking out she promised herself to find Hawkins or someone competent. She didn't bother to check the elevators but went down the safer way via stairwells. At ground level, she avoided the courtyard and the other walkways and halls down to the park exits. With only emergency lights on, some of them blinking, her feeling was to write the place off and escape the institute altogether. She wasn't under any restraint at the Jung, but she wasn't wealthy either. Since booking a long stay here, she'd given up her apartment. More or less, she was a hostage of her own making, unlike Hawkins, who'd managed to get himself committed. Not that it was a bad thing. At least it meant no fees.

Delina turned a corner and passed the wide entrance to the library. She glanced in at the darkened paneled room then came to a halt as she turned her head back. Her toes were touching the arm of a fallen man, an orderly. Two more men lay askew just beyond. It took a moment for her to register them as bloody corpses as she didn't want to accept it. When it was clear, she screamed hysterically, ran back, and went inside the library. She found a woman hunched over one of the search kiosks there in the semi dark. Delina seized her only to find she wasn't hunched over but was dead and had fallen against the kiosk. The body turned as it fell, revealing ghastly glaring eyes, bloody lips and a reddened crushed neck.

Waving her hands in the air and screaming, Delina ran back and forth in the library then out the door. She jumped a body and ran toward the Aquarium area. She turned on a hallway that would grant fast exit to the parking court that led out into the tree fringe and the shortcut up to Austin Drive.

The run down the long hall in flickering lights felt never-ending. She burst through a revolving door only to go flying as she tripped over the corpse of a dead security man. As fast as she went down, she came up. The car court had jutting mosaic stones and she tumbled and put a big scrape on her arm. She was too out of breath to yell, but stood huffing. Bizarre light emanated through a thick cloud cover above. Smoke drifted everywhere in odd curls. The fringe of deciduous trees and bushes was blowing with webs of smoke but she could see the street and cars pulled over and stopped, some nearly in the middle of the road. No one appeared to be in them but she heard voices and saw a crowd gathered over on the corner. She couldn't see them clearly, just dim forms, almost like ghosts in the smoke.

Some were in white, the doctors perhaps. Delina jogged over the stones and into the trees but stopped there at the edge of the road. None of them looked her way. Being very thin, she was sure she looked more like a ghost than anyone else did. The crowd looked to be mostly young men, but a few were women. They were somewhat mixed racially. The bulk of them were obvious squatters. A few were ordinary locals and that didn't make them all that much different from squatters. Most jobs in the area were low paying, many were on welfare, disability … having a home or apt was the core difference, though squatters always had a shabby anarchist look.

The three men in white were different and they were not doctors or orderlies. She'd seen enough of professionals to smell them from far off. Orderlies were the natural enemies of squatters, and institute doctors would have nothing to do with them even in a disaster. These men seemed mostly in command. The biggest of them carried a long knife. Scary, but the squatter types facing him had handguns and rifles.

The meds or something else distorted the voices. An argument was underway. Perhaps a power struggle over who was running the show. That seemed settled when an obese squatter in the 300 lb range raised a short-barreled shotgun like he was going to blow the smallest guy in white away. Colored rings on the barrel indicated that it was cop riot gun, but the man holding it was too fat to get on the force. Riot guns weren’t real shotguns. Delina had seen police use them to flatten squatters with beanbag shots.

This time the little man in white was going to be flattened. Not that she cared; he had a creepy face and was a phony doctor. The shooting didn't start immediately. It remained a standoff. Then Delina saw something else. Hawkins was there, but on the fringe. He stood by a cracked store window and he didn't seem to belong to the crowd at all. Hawkins was totally out of it and near one of the bigger fake doctors. This one didn’t look even a bit like a doctor; arrogant face with bright eyes that shone in the dark, and he was grinning like he'd enjoy seeing the little guy get a face-full of whatever was in that gun.

Delina watched intensely through tired eyes. A hand came out of the darkness and tapped her on the shoulder. Startled, she nearly screamed, hopped a meter sideways, and turned to see Dr. Berenyi standing in the bushes. He had his finger at his lips for silence. He also had a gun and he looked desperate. She didn't think him an immediate threat.

Her eyes flashed back to Hawkins and she became overwhelmed with the need to save him. Exiting the bushes, she crossed the road while Dr. Berenyi waved desperately for her to stop. She ignored him and kept moving. Cars shielded her. No one in the crowd noticed her.

She was almost there when things went whacko. The little man in white threw a hand out and up, knocking the shotgun. It went off, firing a blast in the air. Chaos ensued. The shotgun tumbled to the ground; the heavy-dude shooter ended up with the little man on him using a strangler’s grip on his throat. There was a street dance as the fat man tried to shake him off.

Another squatter moved in and put a handgun to his head, ordering him to release the man.

Delina was now in the middle of a standoff at its explosion point. The squatters had their guns on the men in white. The strangler had cut loose, put his hands up. He was backing off while his opponent was down on his knees choking. The biggest man in white had his knife raised. Close up it looked nearly as big as a sword. Ridiculously, the third man in white, the most arrogant of them, had stepped away from Hawkins and was walking forward with five squatter guns pointed directly at him.

“Let's be reasonable,” he said, a grin still breaking his face. “Drop the weapons and let's talk.”

Delina flinched, waiting for the shots and his blood-spattered demise in a hail of bullets. It didn't happen. The armed men and two women lowered their weapons.

He had his back to Delina now; she didn't know what they saw in his eyes but it had to be magic because it turned them from evil killers to harmless fools in about two seconds. She turned to Hawkins; he looked dumber than a goat so she went behind him, seized him, pulled his head back, and forced two speed strips into his mouth. The action somehow awakened him and his head turned, his eyes growing alert.

“You're going to help us find something … a book with a key,” the man was saying in a honey voice. Everyone in the crowd was nodding in the affirmative to it. At least they were until Dr. Berenyi appeared and the man with the knife spotted him trying pass on the other side of the street.

“Hey, you! Come here!” he yelled. Dr. Berenyi's answer was to fire a shot in the air and run off. It broke the spell on the squatters. Two of them turned and fired at Berenyi, another ran off in pursuit then halted as Berenyi faded into an alley. As that happened, Delina took Hawkins' arm and led him off the other way. They were behind some vehicles and a ways off before anyone noticed. Hawkins was alert now because he pulled Delina down when shots were fired. Two bullets winged off a car hood right beside them. They began to run as a hail of bullets flew and missed. They managed to duck through a hedge that marked the front of a discount fashion outlet across from the Jung. A blade flashed dangerously close and lodged in a tree trunk. Then they were right at the front of the fashion outlet and Hawkins jumped to a ledge and turned as he crashed through the big front windows. Delina hopped up nimbly and ran inside. She again narrowly escaped bullets, but two manikins on the display were taken out by the fire.



There was no time to talk or study the latest clothing designs. Hawkins and Delina moved straight through the building and found a back door into an alleyway. They turned left and ran off. A block farther on they stopped to catch some breath.

“They aren't following us,” Delina said. “They didn't come out the back.”

Hawkins looked back. “Maybe they think we’re still inside.”

A man stepped out of the dark. It was Dr. Berenyi. “They aren't in a hurry,” he said. “They would figure they have lots of time to hunt us down.”

Hawkins became suddenly torn with emotion. He grabbed Dr. Berenyi and shook him, knocking his gun to the ground. “What in the fuck is going on … what did you do to us … what did they do to me?”

“Calm down,” Delina said. “He isn't behind this. But those men in white might be.”

Dr. Berenyi looked at Hawkins, his licks of thinning hair and desperate expression, and felt consoled to find that he wasn’t only person turned into a mess by this night. “A devil is behind it,” Berenyi said. “I already met him and spoke to his sentinel.”

“What in the fuck are you talking about?” Hawkins said. “There is no devil. I thought you were a shrink?”

Dr. Berenyi shook his head in resignation. “Yesterday there was no devil. Today there is one.”

Delina watched as Dr. Berenyi picked up his gun. “What do you remember, Hawkins?”

“Not much … it's coming back. Shit, they hypnotized me. Dr. Berenyi's right, too. There are devils on the loose.”

Delina raised her eyebrows. “I slept through it, whatever it is … but unfortunately I'm awake now.”

“You mean fortunately,” Dr. Berenyi said. “Those that didn't wake or are sleepwalking are probably doomed.”

“Sleepwalking, doomed.” Delina shook her head. “What do we do? Where do we go?”

“We hide for now, at least until those guys are gone.”

They traveled a kilometer with Dr. Berenyi and Hawkins explaining to Delina what they thought had happened. Hawkins jabbered on excitedly as the uppers Delina had popped down his throat took effect.

Delina kept stopping and shaking her head like a rag doll, but perhaps one a bit too thin. Finally, she said, “So this Bowen guy opened some Pandora’s Box no one knew existed. He let a creepy being from another world loose here.”

“He loosed more than it,” Hawkins said. “He freed those mad killers from the Jung. Not that they make much difference. That evil spirit he brought loosed forces that are causing this world to disintegrate.”

“Yes,” Dr. Berenyi said. “I believe that door has been opened before and that object they are looking for likely didn't come from here originally.”

They wanted to exit out on Austin Drive but every new turn-off from the alley opened up some new horror. The first route led to black smoke from a fire and screams that sounded like rape and murder so they retreated. A pack of dogs blocked the next exit and they moved off quietly, fortunate that the dogs had already found flesh to chew on out there. Armed men moved like shadows past the next exit but they didn't spot the three of them in the dark alleyway. At another exit, they found something new. A group of people sat near the street opening, awake, but babbling crazy stuff. It did not seem safe to exit there. Things grew urgent when they heard voices behind them. Hawkins pointed to a stairwell up and they hid on a ledge while an armed group passed below. The ledge ran for a block and Hawkins pointed to an abandoned city works shack fused to the back wall of one of the giant structures of the inner West Haven. It blocked most of the alley. They went down and Hawkins pointed to a door on the roof of it, which he ended up having to force open. Inside it was pitch black; stairs took them down into an area that stank like the sewer. However, it wasn't the sewer; it was a passage that led to more stairs.

“You really want to hide out in the sewer?” Delina said.

“Not the sewer,” Hawkins said. “The old train line is down here. There'll be no one in it. We can at least rest.”


Bozzo remained in a stupor, wandering down a narrow alleyway. The stupor was self-induced. When he'd first wandered out to find corpses and mayhem, his reaction had been to rob a liquor store and get quickly juiced. That hadn't been a sound idea due to his tendency to black out and be all over town without remembering a single thing he did.

The weirdest thing was that his phone was ringing and the bright auto-lighting display somehow worked to sober him up. Wherever he was, it stank like death.

He stared at the phone as it continued to ring. Then he said, “What in the fuck, why am I here?” All he could see was the phone screen, a brick wall and a garbage can.

Something brushed by his legs, he got the willies and hopped in the air. He heard a cat's angry meow and saw dim forms running by the garbage can. He answered the phone.

“Jimbo here. You better get ready for it, Bozzo. Some of my gang is in your territory tonight. We got a score to settle.”

“Territory? There ain’t much territory or people left here. I thought we settled things last week?”

“It’s not about your people, it's Donovan. He killed one of our boys. He’s riding in on the Reaper. He's gonna pay.”

“What? No f…ing way. He probably jumped in front of the Reaper and lived because it doesn’t work. We don't care anything about Donovan here. Stay away from ….” Bozzo's memory suddenly came back. “Wait,” he continued. Then his dry voice began to fail him. He spat out some words. “This isn't the night for it. It's chaos on the streets. There are dead bodies and crazies. Dogs are howling at the sky … who could give a fuck about Donovan. Keep away. The Reaper can’t be running either. No way is he coming in on it.”

“Look, we know about the disaster … it has taken out the area. But scores are scores. This is about respect. Donovan has been irritating us for a long time.”

A stream of garbled noise emerged as the return message from Bozzo.

“Shit, my phone died again. But I take that response as an invite.” Jimbo looked at his four friends. They were standing on the wall watching the Reaper roar off into the night.

One of them yelled down to Jimbo. “I don't know where Donovan is going. He's riding the Reaper down the tunnel into the old decommissioned underground. That's been closed for years.”

Jimbo jumped up on the wall and watched the taillights disappearing, looking almost hypnotic in curling smoke. He brushed back a handful of greasy hair, his chiseled nose and hostile stare looking natural in the eerie light. “I explored most of that as a kid. It goes all over the West Haven underground and it can access the new fast line in a bunch of places. My guess is Donovan is trying to fool us. He wants us to think he's going to hide deep underground so we'll look in all the wrong places. But I know his final destination. He'll come up at the end of the line, the Austin Drive stop near his properties. Part of the decommissioned line ends just below it. We got scouts already on Bozzo’s territory. I’m going to pull up a map of that old line and plant some shooters to finish him when he rolls by.”

He hopped down off the wall into some sickly pollution-fed weed growths. His friends jumped the brambles and followed him across the rail yard. They heard buzzing and saw that black anomaly flying in again from the distance. They all stopped and watched for a moment … flying was more a figure of speech when it came to describing it. It seemed to burst into the atmosphere like a ship from outer space, the hazy air forming webbing around it. Kind of like a flying black hole but usually it was square or rectangular with an aura. They knew what it did when it swept through. It would atomize all in its path. They way it killed people was merciful if a direct hit. If not … well they’d seen what happens then over by the shopping mall. Living creatures in its wake were transformed into something else. Remembering the horror of that they began to run. It was headed for another pass at the junkyard so all it did was speed them into the tunnel mouth across the lot. Inside they halted and got a deep breath of some exhaust fumes from Donovan’s train.

The widely spaced upper rows of tunnel lights were still on in this part. It would be a gloomy and musty trip ahead. Jimbo looked around. “We can do a quick shortcut through the old tunnels, if I remember it right. It is safer than above ground. I don’t like what’s been happening up there and don’t want to be delayed. A couple of roads in are clear, so we come up and steal a car there. I figure this whole thing is like a storm of some kind. Give it time and it’ll pass. When it does nearly everybody will be dead and we’ll own this area.”


At the heart of the West Haven, Bozzo remained staring with zombie eyes at his phone. He put it in his pocket. His head started to swim in the darkness. His stomach bit like a snake and he knew he'd retched it clean earlier. He'd been destroying his body far too long, but given the situation now he supposed it didn't matter much as long as he had enough strength to survive for a while. The only thing that would come to mind was ugly dead-body pancakes mashed in blood on the pavement. More memories came back and he realized how truly irresponsible he could be. He'd started out tracking Gavin and Shaleena after they sleepwalked out of the squat. Once he was plastered, he found them.

Now it was all coming back but in a murky way. He remembered the crazy streets, people like slow-motion zombies, then something else. Shooting and people falling, being searched for something, by a gang from up Indian Lane. Guys and gals that were usually friendly but gone nutso tonight. Which had mattered little to a drunken Bozzo; his blurred memory filled his conscience with shame. Jeez, he’d been so drunk people were lined up and shot while he danced around a pole. Then two of the shooters had come for him and his crazy response had simply caught them off guard. He dashed up like lightning, grabbed the barrels of their guns, and raised them as they fired. Then he pulled the smoking weapons away and bashed in their heads. If memory served him right, they were dead now. Luckily, their friends had been in some kind of shootout just around the corner at the time. He’d dragged Shaleena and Gavin into this alley then passed out.

Bozzo took a deep breath of foul air … on top of the reek of the garbage, odors of death rose in his nostrils. Blurred forms moved past at the front of the alley mouth so he moved back out of the way until they passed.

He tried to look around; he couldn’t see a thing. Then a phone rang and then another. They rang damn loud and Bozzo became worried it would alert the people on the street. He turned around and saw Gavin and Shaleena right there leaned against the side of a dumpster. Amazingly, they both woke and he saw enough light to operate when they removed bright phones from their pockets.

Two irritating and loud ring-tones were giving them away. Bozzo swiped with one hand and then the other, got the two phones, put them down, and stomped them to pieces. More movement showed up near the alley mouth; he heard a loud voice saying, “It came from around here.”

Then he saw Shaleena waking, mumbling … so he crouched down and slammed both hands forward, one over Gavin’s mouth, the other over Shaleena’s.

They were knocking about right near the alley mouth; the long shadows a scary thing because guns were part of the shadows. Another shout rang out, he heard footsteps as the men ran off and then he pulled his hands free.

Gavin was mumbling, Shaleena too groggy to speak. “Gotta answer my phone,” Gavin said. “Someone important is calling.”

Shaleena choked out some similar words.

“Shut the fuck up,” Bozzo said in a loud whisper that hurt his ears. “Doctor f-ing death is calling, that’s who. You two just sleep-walked through Armageddon.”

“Armageddon,” Gavin said, coming alert. “What did I miss?”

“I wish I knew. I was too drunk to tell … there’s killing and bodies everywhere. The wicked have been slain by the sword of the Lord.”

“If that was true you’d be dead,” Gavin said.

“This isn’t so great, what do we do?” Shaleena said.

Bozzo forced himself to think. “Maybe we can get out of here. We'll take the back way, check the squat. Start moving.”

They kept out of view and found a turn at the back of the alley. This alley was service and delivery and designed just wide enough for large trucks to drive in one way and out the other. Some trash compactors and bins were set into the walls adjacent to loading docks that were also inset. Wispy smoke drifted, almost no light. Cats were still running by and the walls were so high and sheer it made Bozzo dizzy when he looked up. The view up there was a knife-edge of sky highlighted by the darkness of the rising walls. That knife-edge was a fiery blade, and there were a few bright stars in it when stars usually didn't show in the West Haven. The only lights on were down in the alleyway and they were yellow and salted by smoke-haloed flies and moths.

At least in this section, they could see ahead, but Gavin wasn't learning very fast about keeping quiet. He kept muttering on how he felt he'd missed an important call and Shaleena kept nodding her great shaggy head of red hair in agreement with him. “Now I ain't got a phone,” he said. “That was my connection to everything. Now Shaleena and me have been disconnected.”

Some stuff was piled on a loading dock ahead and the three of them looked as they came up to it. “Yuk,” Gavin said. “It's a bunch of bloody stiffs. Someone dumped them there. Probably the cops.”

“Now you're starting to get it,” Bozzo said. “But it probably wasn't cops. Don't trust anyone you see. Something's up. I have a feeling that maybe those killers are people who are either making that important call you mention, or answering it.”

“Maybe those stiffs got phones,” Gavin said.

Shaleena pushed him back. “Don't touch them. Robbing the dead is against the code in the West Haven.”

“Yeah, but these are special circumstances and it ain't like I'm after money. We need to find out what is going on.”

“Not by phone,” Bozzo said. “Phones can be tracked easily. That didn't used to matter because tracking someone to the West Haven meant they would never follow it up. Now the trackers are inside and they're crazy. They'll be on us in a minute if we use a phone.”

They came to the alley mouth at a familiar corner and a familiar place was across the road. Bozzo peeked right and left, Gavin stared across the road at Kyles Luxury Liquor Store. Everyone knew Kyles’ plate-glass display window was some form of unbreakable stuff. It took a crowbar just to crack it. Now it was broken. Light flickered inside, casting color reflections off the bottles. A couple shelves had been knocked over but the rest was intact.

“Never thought I'd see that here,” Gavin said. “Whoever broke it didn't take much.”

Bozzo pulled him back in the alley. “Don't step out there. The someone who broke it was me, sorta. That was when everything went haywire. See that car wreck over there at the ZIPPO Store. I was trying to jimmy Kyles’ window plate out with a pry bar when this maniac comes right for me. The idiot weaves around some sleepwalkers, I dive, and he does a sheer bounce off Kyles’ window and knocks it loose for me. Don't look in that car because I remember seeing splatter. Kyle was nowhere around then. He wasn't sleepwalking. I saw him running off before I came. An armed loony was chasing him.”

“A couple bottles would hit the spot,” Gavin said, so obviously thirsty that it showed on his face.

Shaleena turned and glared at them both. “You must be idiots, wanting to get drunk now.”

“Ah, just some beer,” Bozzo said. “I need something to keep me powered up.”

Kyles wasn't the only place with damaged windows. The street was a total mess. Whole window plates had fallen from way above, along with furniture, junk, and farther up the road, what looked like assorted mashed bodies. It was hard to see around the car wrecks and it was dim, but the picture was of the aftermath of a frightful hour of destruction. Being a squatter, Bozzo had no feeling for people not associated with the squat. He certainly didn't care about property damage. He even thought it might look nice if was under moonlight instead of flickering and that horrid light from above. Dead things were supposed to be dead; the black shimmer on things, making them otherworldly and somehow alive, bothered him.

They crept across the road with the two men moving in the lead, and Shaleena behind, looking fearfully left and right. They gathered in the entrance. The door was still locked and they'd have to go in the window but they still felt better keeping under cover.

“I saw someone over there by Jackson Clothing, just behind that overturned Mercedes,” Shaleena said.

Gavin peeked out, then Bozzo.

“Crazy old man,” Gavin said. “Ugly horse face, too. Guy looks like a failed genetic-plan birth, but he's not that big. We could take him out easy. Don't see any weapon.”

“Look closer,” Bozzo said. “He's wearing some kind of doctor or paramedic outfit with a suit jacket over it. He's not a walker. He stares like a harmless old person. Sort of a nostalgic glitter there like he sees yesterday and not us. Something is familiar about him. He's hiding something.”

“Might be a spotter for the bad guys,” Shaleena said. “Let's get in and out before he calls someone.”

They stepped out. The old man wasn't watching but lighting a smoke. He shuffled back and forth in front the clothing store, puffing on it. Bozzo wasn't all that worried about him so he jumped through the broken window and the others followed. The beer coolers were at the back; they ran through the aisles. Gavin pulled out a case of Lockwood and Bozzo pushed it away, instead selecting three bound sixes of the best premium Canadian brand. Gavin offered to carry them, Bozzo pointed up the aisle and said, “Check for the all-clear.”

Gavin jogged off and Bozzo and Shaleena walked ahead slowly. They saw Gavin jump out the window and waited at the end of the aisle. When he didn't return immediately, they hurried ahead. The beer was below on the street. Some muffled noise and a bang broke the hum outside so Bozzo hopped out. He saw the old man, except he didn't look so old now, and he had length of cloth like a tie or something around Gavin's throat and was dragging him off. He spotted Bozzo racing to him, ripped at the length of cloth and sent Gavin tumbling into the gutter.

Gavin rolled, he was still moving, maybe mostly out from having his circulation cut. The old man didn't look like a dumb-ass anymore; his eyes were now fierce, gray, and sharp. He snapped the length of cloth like a whip then came for Bozzo. Being ambidextrous saved Bozzo from Gavin's fate. He didn't know how the old guy did it, but in a step forward, he flashed the cloth like a whip and Bozzo got both right and left hands up to block it from swinging around his neck. It spun around his left wrist; no doubt the bastard expected him to be right handed and miss. The cloth locked tight. He had rawhide or some other stringy stuff in it, and the force of the man's pullback nearly pulled Bozzo's wrist off. But he had strong wrists and was pulled to the man, close enough to nail him with a right. It was a good shot; he stunned the old guy and he stumbled back.

As he stumbled, Bozzo knew why he'd looked familiar; he'd seen him in the news long ago. It was that Mr. Smothers chap. The realization lifted Bozzo's scalp; he saw a bigger man running up from farther off. Another killer and just as bad no doubt, so he turned and ran, forgetting about Gavin.

Terrified and running he still paused to pick up the beer. Shaleena jumped out from the building entrance and ran with him. He saw a flash nearby and saw a knife fly in with such force that it stuck into the fender of the Audi they were passing. They took the corner and found a dark entrance to a familiar warren of alleys. They could stop at the squat, but he doubted that would be safe. A ways down they hid behind a dumpster and sucked in deep breaths.

“I think Gavin is finished,” Bozzo said sadly.

Shaleena eyes poured tears. “Where to, where do we hide?”

Bozzo ripped a can of beer loose, popped the tab, and drank it straight down. Beer was still pouring over his grimy lips as he said, “We pass the squat for a look-see if possible. Maybe we can hide there.”


Part Six: Station Stop

 They gathered in a small circle to talk, but paused to look up. The rising and falling hum gave the impression of unseen things passing above. This food court definitely felt shaky. Mike pointed to the far end, a distant luminous exit sign. A broad escalator to another lower level was off to the left, but some broken wires were sparking there. The food court showed signs of quick abandonment, but not the reason why unless the noise above had also come earlier. Some people had tossed disposable containers of food and drink on the floor as they ran, other tables were set up to eat but the food was uneaten or half-eaten. No one in the little group felt hungry, not with claws of fear in their bellies. They started walking and that was when the mother of rumbles came from above them. It sounded like a warplane was coming in for a crash landing. It hit with thunder not a crash, but it sent tiles, dust and a couple light fixtures down from the ceiling, causing them to disperse. Mike found himself to be the only one maintaining the course toward the exit. Amber and the kid, Lucinda, ducked off into a Chinese Food hut with Breanne. Raj was running for the other escalator, and Ethan and Frank were going over the counter of a taco stand.

More thunder arrived and the ceiling above split with a terrible crack at its highest central area; a flash of purple light shone through. It blinded them for a moment like a camera flash. Mike stopped in his tracks. He’d turned his head back and up to look, and when his vision started returning, he heard Lucinda scream and saw debris tumbling through a large split in concrete and steel above. Colors flashed and a sudden fall of water arrived; it was like a polluted waterfall in the center of the food court. A complete collapse followed in the center and a lot more stone, dust, and water came through.

It was hard to see; the hum from above was deafening. Mike knew everyone had been well back from the collapsed area, but he couldn’t see clearly because of the dust cloud. He remembered the fountain and swimming pool above; the spray of water meant it had come through somehow. The fountain would bring its foul collection of bodies down with the piles of stone.

Buildings in the West Haven were incredibly strong. They were built to withstand even major fires without collapse. This breach had halted on this floor but some of it had gone a floor lower. Water was pouring down through another split. He could hear it and felt it was better than swimming in it on this floor.

He made his way inside the nearest food hut; it smelled like a pizza place and as he stumbled to the rear of it, he found a door to a walk-in fridge. He went in and waited for his eyes to clear. He saw pop cans on a shelf, popped a can of ginger ale, and drank to clear his throat of dust.

He poured water to clean his face and went back out. The collapse at the center was clear; a spray of mist was working to dissipate the dust cloud quickly. He tried to recall the last locations of the others and then made his way to the hut Amber and Lucinda had retreated to and found them huddled in there and covered with dust. Breanne was already up but she wasn’t doing any nursing on the other two. She was guzzling a drink as he had done. She gave him a guilty glance.

“You three all right,” he said, knowing that no one could feel right about this situation.

Amber's white teeth showed in a tired grin. Her blond hair had white dust in it. Her breasts were showing through the wet fabric of her top. “I will be if I ever get this filth off me.”

Lucinda looked too frightened to speak. The odd curl was beginning to pop back up in hair plastered down like a helmet. Tears had cleared her eyes. Breanne was just as dirty but with her tan and thin clothing she had a way of looking sexy in spite of it.

Mike turned away as he spoke. “I think the others are okay but Raj is farthest off. He was headed for that other escalator. Wait here, I’ll take a look.”

Back out in the open, Mike looked fearfully up at the hole and split. The reek of death was in the air, the bodies had fallen through. He heard a thump, like something heavy, and where he’d seen some light, it became very black. Almost like some form of total night had sealed the hole. Then that darkness began to drip; huge globs of black goop plopped down at the center of the mall.

Mike felt his thoughts go suddenly haywire and he shook his head hard to break the spell. It was strange in a new way but he was sure the atomic structure of things was altering in places and there were effects that altered perception. It was as if the reality human beings trusted in was no longer there. Everything was becoming like the formless mud he saw falling from above, or like that black anomaly flying over the neighborhood. 

Amber and Lucinda hadn’t waited; they were there behind him. They caught sight of Frank. Mike ended up standing alone while the others gathered a ways from him, closer to the exit by Breanne. That left only Raj and Mike tried to see through the murk, and then he went over to the others.

“I can’t see Raj. Water and stone flowed over by that escalator and blocked it. If he didn’t move aside or get down he might have been crushed.”

Ethan toyed with a tear in his smeared designer shirt. “We leave then.” He pulled his ruined tie off and tossed it for emphasis.

“Not yet,” Mike said. He passed him his shotgun. “Take this. Wait over by the exit while I take a look.”

They obeyed silently, moved off, all of them shaking except Frank. Mike stared ahead and picked a path through the rubble. It might have made sense to go through it carefully, instead he ran, jumping from a fixed table over a pile of slabs into the mess of debris. Dirty mist was in the air, he was nearly where the escalator had been when he halted. He thought he was seeing a trick of the light but he wanted to be sure. Something large and black moved in the disaster area. Mike studied it; it was that pool of black goop that had come through, bubbling, swelling up like an elephant-size muffin rising.

He didn't have time to analyze it, he kept moving forward into debris and a cloud of filthy dust and small flies. The area was dangerous with rocks, tiles, stones still falling sporadically. Deadly crashes hit the rubble here and there. He heard a moan and stopped, and then he heard a second groan and spotted Raj. His chest and head were free but he was down under a pile of debris and coated with filth. The pile was mostly earth and ceiling tiles so Mike simply went behind, put his hands under his shoulders, and pulled. He came free easily; he'd been lucky in not being hit by any heavy pieces.

“Leave me,” Raj said, his voice choked. “I can't make it.”

“You'll make it.” Mike pulled him over a ways, stood him up, and stepped back. Raj caught his balance. He was able to stand. A sudden fall poured down and again they were caught choking. Mike grabbed Raj's arm and pulled him back toward the remains of a public washroom. Its front wall was gone but the interior was intact. Raj coughed repeatedly as they stood there watching a mist of water from above dissipate the dust cloud.

Mike slapped him on the back. “When I move, follow. We have to go over that pile of debris to the left.”

Raj didn't answer; instead, he was looking off the other way at a shimmering black curtain forming from the rising pile of goop. Mike looked, too; he saw things in that curtain, almost like a picture forming. A body had floated up into a swirl at the center. It looked impossible and in a long slow instant, it was sucked in out of sight. Then the sheer wall of black burst open like an unfolding flower. It had many long segments and on the tip of each, something horrible showed.

Raj's mouth opened wide as a blackened and elongated human head fell forward on a quivering oily tentacle. Another came forward with a grasping ebony claw made from the remains of what had been a human arm. It couldn't quite reach them as the whole thing was rooted in the rubble. The entire monstrosity shimmered with wet mist.

Mike pulled Raj back again, deeper into the washroom. Raj's terrified eyes flashed to Mike; he tried to speak but could only stutter out a couple garbled words. The quivering horror suddenly flashed its tentacles to the other side, and as it did, Mike gestured for Raj to follow and he did so on shaky legs. They went up over the rubble, and as they reached the top, a spray of the black goop hit below their heels like heavy mud. Droplets of blood were expelled from it into the air.

The narrow escape became motivation and Raj followed Mike in a jump and slide down the pile. Raj tumbled out on the floor, Mike was already up, and they ran for the exit. Raj fell again but Frank had rushed out to help and he pulled him with him.

The stairwell service exit was one that would normally be sealed. The area behind the door was intact and dust free. Mike leaned on the door once they were all in. They looked around the wide area. Ethan had bounded down the stairs ahead of them and he returned. “Bad news. The collapse goes to the floor below, so we can't get out there, and then these stairs end just below that at a wall.”

Breanne clenched her fists. “We have to get lower somehow.”

Raj slid down the wall and sat. Amber exhaled a breath of misery. Frank wore a pained expression and Lucinda's forehead pinched tight with frustration.

Mike remained determined. “We don't have other options. I want to take a look,” he said, and then he went down. Only Frank followed. They quickly verified that the collapse had gone through and was worse on this floor because water was pouring over the rubble and dust was clouding everything. Mike simply shrugged and they went down the remaining narrow stairs to a wide landing. Mike looked about for vents or openings and found none. However, he did find a crack and split in one wall and called Frank over.

“There's a sealed door here. Looks like the quake and collapse jarred it so it shows. We need something to pry at it. Maybe a slat of metal from above.”

They ran back and found the others gathered around Raj. Breanne was tying off an open cut on his arm with a piece of cloth. Mike said nothing; he went through the door into the rubble, followed by Frank. They found a couple of metal pieces to use as pry bars and went back into the stairwell. Back at the door space, they hammered in the two pieces with a heavy flat of iron. The door had been sealed well and it took time and force to inch it out. They finally got a grip on its edge and forced it open to find insulation and the dust that rose when they pulled it loose. Another wall segment was on the other side and the sight of it caused Frank to curse then step in and boot it.

His cursing ended; he liked the sound. This section wasn't reinforced with any concrete or brick. It was wallboard of some type, and it would break with effort. He turned to Mike. “Hear that. We can break this. Maybe shoulder through it. Except this is a really expensive suit and I don’t want to damage it more.”

Ethan reached the bottom of the stairs. “Check a mirror, your suit is toast. Step aside, let me hit it. I’ve got more weight.”

Frank did as asked and Ethan used his beefy body to shoulder the wallboard. He moved into it fast and hard and it was flexible like a drum. Another hit and a crack formed, and then it gave easy so that he crashed forward into another board-facing of chipboard. He stepped back out. It was clear he’d crushed the wallboard, revealing a space of about four inches to the next section. He’d also sent up dust that drove everyone back.

Mike leaned in and tapped on the board. He figured it was likely backing for wood paneling of some type so he gave it a few hard kicks, causing a break. More kicks created a split, then an entire section broke loose and fell inside. Some other objects fell in the interior then it went quiet and Mike squeezed through and looked around.

Mike found himself on the inside of a mammoth luxury condominium and judging by the design it was meant to be a hidden location. He didn’t see anyone in the living room. Clean and empty, it was lit by a chandelier hanging from a large circular jewel light fixed in the ceiling. There was no large collapse from breaking through. He’d knocked a painting and a hanging to the floor.

Ethan came through carrying Mike’s shotgun, passed it to him and looked around. “Any hostiles in here?”

“No. If there were any they would’ve been ready for us after we started breaking through.”

“Okay, I’ll get the others.”

Mike leaned the weapon against a shelf and walked about the main room. It was enormous. The furniture in it was all white with tables of glass and silver. A square divan rested under the chandelier. A long rectangular divan was across from it, a silver upholstered couch on the other side, and two designer chairs on the third side. Five modern paintings decorated the white walls. There was one tall green plant in any ivory urn, and a silver vase and lamp on one of the glass tables. Some floor and ceiling wood edging was of a mahogany close to black. He supposed the bright design and accent lighting compensated for the fact that there wasn’t a single window.

He went into another room, a bedroom all in gold and made more magnificent by the fourteen-foot ceiling. An adjacent lounge area was centered by a double-layered table in ebony glass on a white rug. The rest of the floor was beautiful new hardwood. An art hanging dropped down from mirrored pieces on the ceiling. Beyond that, there was a luxury alcove with an L of divans against an L-shaped white wall screen of a white pearl/shell substance. He found a glass wall in the farthest room and it slid aside as he walked up, revealing a solarium/balcony. Impervious glass enclosed it and at its edge, one got a street view from about forty floors up. He saw concrete debris on the upper curve of the glass so there had been some fall from above him. Off to his left he could see water pouring down the building side for the long drop to the street. He believed the station would be just around the corner, directly below.

Mike walked back to the hole-in-the-wall entry and found the others already inside. Raj relaxed on a couch with a cloth on his shoulder. Breanne was just emerging from a washroom and saying, “There’s water in here. I’m going to clean up and then wash Raj’s wound.”

Lucinda dashed in before she closed the door and Frank was walking off in the direction Mike hadn’t explored. Probably with the idea of finding a second bathroom so he could clean up. Ethan had gone ahead of him because Mike heard him suddenly yell, “Oh shit!”

Grabbing the gun, Mike went that way and found a hall with three other main rooms branching off. He saw movement and found Ethan in a large den area. The “Oh shit!” was apparently in reference to a dead body resting there in a chair. He’d died with his eyes open, and the expression on the man’s face was that of someone who’d just seen the devil and then had a heart attack.

Ethan didn't want to breathe near the dead man. “What do you figure happened to this guy?” he said.

“Sudden death caused by shock of some variety,” Mike replied. The den had a deep open closet on the left side and the leather chair the corpse was in had wheels so Mike pulled it over and inside the closet and closed the doors. He was careful not to touch the body. A bad feeling washed over him just being near it. “The others don’t need to see this,” he said.

Frank walked in. “What do you figure this place is. It is almost like a show model. There is a silver cigarette case and lighter in the main room. It is like one person lived here alone.”

“Yeah,” Ethan said, looking to the closet. “One very rich person. One that wanted to hide. But hiding didn’t work for him.”

Frank wondered what Ethan meant. “There’s one entrance. I found it and it isn’t a door. It’s a private lift down to street level and up to the top so the guy can leave by car below or plane above.”

“He won’t be leaving either way,” Ethan said. “He’s dead. We put him in there.” He pointed to the closet.

“Yeah, well … he was fucking rich when he was alive. I can’t guess how much this place would cost.”

“There’s a sort of solarium thing on the other side,” Mike said. “One-way glass. He could see out but from the outside it would just look like part of the wall.” The table he’d rolled him away from had an expensive desk computer on it so Mike hit the touch screen. The entire far wall lit up with a fuzzy and distorted image. It slowly came clear though the light was murky in the room it viewed. It was surveillance of the inside of a nightclub. They could see the stage as Mike manipulated the screen. It was empty with a few lights illumining it. The view panned around some fallen tables. The scene was shocking; bodies littered the area, blood had spilled … no one was present, at least no one alive as the fallen looked dead and some were bloody.

Frank stopped the camera from panning and looked at the bar area. “I know that place,” he said. “That’s Club 444, down in Gunning Quadrangle. I’ve been there. No wonder this man was rich and hidden. The drugs that pass through that place would make anyone wealthy. He must be the owner.”

“Money isn't much use to him now,” Ethan said, as though it were a sad thing. “He’s dead and a massacre took place in his club. Looks like the bodies we see are all victims; they tore half the clothes off some them like they strip-searched them.”

“Nothing seems safe,” Frank said. “We know people are messed up, dead or being killed in strange ways. Where can we go to avoid that?”

Mike stood, turned, and shrugged. “There are the two empty buildings by my place and there is something I want to check there. Question is how to get there? We should get out of this complex because of that freak thing that keeps hitting the top. This condominium may not be safe for long. Lower might be safer. Down at Metro Station we could hole up until we figure something out. It is also a place we can defend if any attackers show up.”

Ethan raised his eyebrows. “Safe for how long … I caught a glimpse of those things you and Raj ran from up there. If that is happening in the rest of the neighborhood, no place is safe for long. We don't need to see any playback on that club either. It would be a repeat of what happened to us up top. Gunmen show, searching and killing.”

They went back to the camera setup, with Frank and Ethan standing back while Mike toyed with the program. He managed to pull up a multiple display with various cameras. One view was familiar and there was motion on it – Gunning Quadrangle. Mike brought it up large. The view panned over the square, damage, litter, and fallen bodies. Activity was taking place in the flicker on the far side. A couple of people were running in the shadows. One of them appeared to escape but one of two pursuers caught the other. Mike shrank the screen, studied the other postage stamp views, and brought up a camera on the far side.

The view was shocking, Frank stepped back, awed by the larger display. Two men in white like orderlies or doctors showed. The smaller of the two had a much larger and younger man down on his knees. A slick-outfitted street-punk type of guy and the sort of person that would hang out at Club 444 or around the patios in the Quadrangle. It was hard to figure out why he was losing against the smaller older man. The situation played out with the punk suddenly rising and swinging a switchblade for the little man’s neck. It didn’t connect. The man in white moved back and then forward so fast it was a blur on the camera. He suddenly had the wrist of the punk’s knife hand and the blade dropped. He used enough force to put him back on his knees, and then in another snake-quick move got a strangler’s grip on the punk’s neck.

The video display had no sound. Mike, Frank, and Ethan watched a silent strangulation and the man fall dead on the stone tiles. This dramatic event didn’t end the battle because another man dressed all in black came out of the shadows holding a gun. He grinned, and was about to pull the trigger on the strangler. The other man in white had been down doing a search on a man nearby and he suddenly rose and turned. A silver flash showed on the camera, and a large fast knife the doctor had thrown while turning hit the gunman right in the solar plexus. He staggered back, fired a couple wild shots, and fell.

The two men in white approached. The smaller man kicked the dying man then a third man in white appeared at the edge of the screen walking toward a few sleepwalkers on the far side. Mike did a zoom-in that wasn’t fully clear but showed enough to cause wonder because this one’s eyes had a glaze of light and glow.

Mike clicked, touched, and went through some other cameras very fast. He saw mostly damage, sleepwalkers, and a few armed and violent men in the streets. He wanted a view of the station but couldn’t bring one up.

Lucinda shouted something as she approached from the other room so Mike turned the view off. She entered saying, “Raj thinks we should stay here for now.”

Frank shrugged. “Tell him we’ll be right out.”

Lucinda spun about and hurried back.

Ethan remained disturbed by the camera surveillance they’d viewed. “What in the fuck do you guys make of what we just saw.”

“Those killer doctors appear to be just another ugly part of it all,” Frank said. “The white clothes mean the Jung. It’s the only hospital around with inside docs and orderlies wearing white. Maybe they aren’t doctors, but loonies that escaped”

Mike had a hand on his chin. “We saw human monsters down there, not like that thing above. The view was of a few locations, enough to paint a dangerous picture. That guy with the weird eyes, I wonder what happened to him. Any killers in white we want to avoid. They are too deadly. We are trapped in a zone of lethal oddity. I think it ends at the perimeter of West Haven, as the glow in the sky and on the horizon would indicate. This probably won’t end well for us unless someone gets to the source before it chooses its own ending.”

“Source?” Frank said. “Where would that be?”

“Somewhere near the Jung Memorial Institute or the park there … where the smoke clouds appear to originate.”

Ethan had stepped out. He returned. “That lift out of here. It sounds like someone is coming up.”

They hurried out, saying nothing. The gun was handed off to Mike, and Ethan went in with the women and Raj as they passed. The vestibule to the lift was off the room connected to the solarium. It led to an alcove with a cactus in a planter and two sconces on either side of the lift. There was vibration on the other side of the doors but they couldn't be sure the lift was coming up.

Mike glanced to Frank then he hit the button to call or open the lift. “We need it to come up so let's be sure it does.”

Ethan popped his head in. “Jeeze, I just saw something big fall past that solarium window. If we hit the streets below we better stay under the shielded walks.”

The sound from the lift changed and they heard a whir. It was definitely coming up and fast. It reached the top and stopped with a bit of a jolt. Mike raised his shotgun and waved the others back. He didn't plan to fire it though, because he didn't want to damage the lift.

The doors opened. There was no light inside but enough spilled in to reveal that it wasn’t empty. A flicker of the lights revealed two men. One had fallen and the other was standing, but leaning back against the mirrored back wall. He suddenly lurched forward; Mike almost released a blast, but held back. The man was big and wearing a gray suit, like a bouncer type. His eyes were splotches of blood. He came forward a second step and then fell forward, flat on his face in the vestibule. The thump shook the floor.

Mike got inside the lift, checked the other man, and found him to be dead. He put the gun aside and banged on the lower controls cover to pop it open. A simple switch allowed him to keep the lift on service. Stepping back out, he rolled the big man over. His face was pasty and bluing. He gripped a cell phone in his dead hand.

Pulling the phone loose, Mike went back in the lift and rifled the other dead man’s pockets for his phone. He tossed both phones down the small trash chute next to the lift and turned back to Frank. Frank watched as Mike slid a 444 Entertainment Corporation card from the man’s wallet.

Ethan was busy dragging the corpse out of the elevator; he waved for help and they pulled the bodies over and out of sight in the solarium area.

Mike wondered aloud about the deaths. “I think the one guy answered the phone and it blew his brains out through his eyes somehow. The second man is like our host in the den; dead but no visible reason why.”

“It worries me. I mean because of my family members sleeping up above,” Frank said. “I just have to hope those calls don’t go out to everyone.”

Ethan nodded. “Cross your fingers. Most of the weirdest destruction missed our street up there. One good thing is that those hunters don't appear to kill people who are sleeping; they just search and move on. I bet those club people were mostly awake on drugs or some brand of juice and they got erased because they resisted.”

“Even so, I prefer to be awake,” Frank said. “Those doped shits at Club 444 were probably in a worse state than sleepwalking to begin with. They probably never felt the bullets.”

“Yeah,” Ethan said. “But I’m not going to diss others. They didn’t ask for this any more than we did.”

With the lift secured, they returned to the main room and found the others going through a cleaning ritual and sipping drinks from the fridge. Amber, Breanne, and Lucinda spooned down cups of yogurt. Only Ethan touched the booze and he limited that to a double of scotch. Raj poked about, muttering about staying for a while. Occasional deep rumbles in the building persuaded everyone else that the welcome mat was thin at this place. Raj lost out and reluctantly followed the crowd as they headed for the lift.



Since the lift was spacious, they discussed whether to all pack on together or do two runs. Amber's idea of taking no chances on being split up prevailed and they all stepped into the lift.

The women took the rear and left side, all three facing the mirrored walls. Frank remained with Mike at the closing door. Ethan had the shotgun while Mike had a new Taurus pistol he'd found in a drawer in the condominium. Their dead host had been obviously quick on the trigger, as the gun had no safety. It also didn’t fire bullets but had a spin chamber loaded with six incendiary charges. Mike did not know what it would do if fired, other than that it would be something powerful. The stubby barrel gave it the feel of a flare gun. Shooting was something Mike wanted to avoid. He didn't especially enjoy exterminating people with super power. Stealth was a better option. Any loud shots, yelling, or excitement would no doubt attract any rough characters that might be around. Frank had a Glock he found; he had no shooting skills, he didn't want to use it other than as a threat.

One tiny overhead light remained on as the lift began to drop; it moved painfully slow, running from an emergency generator. There were hiccups as it crawled down. The button panel listed two lower stops – GR and PL. Rumbling shook the building twice as they moved down; it was frightening but the elevator kept moving. Near ground a third muted rumble hit, then they reached GR level and the elevator stopped. Only the doors didn't open. What changed was the mirror at the back of the elevator. It became a window running from the top to knee height and it gave view out the street. Nightlight spilled through the glass and they all looked out. Mike gathered that this was a security feature; more two-way impervious glass. It gave a view of a small courtyard and shallow steps down to the street. Most lights were out but the decorative pole lamps in the court area were on. Light pooled below them and the picture wasn't pretty. A man’s body lay at the foot of one lamp, with blood around it. He'd either been hit on the head or had fallen and hit his head. He showed no signs of having been searched. His light summer jacket was still in place. Some cars were parked askew in the shadowy street. There was no moving traffic. The drugstore across the road sported a smashed front window. It looked partially looted.

Some people suddenly appeared and they were running from a far corner straight for the courtyard. As they came up the steps, Mike recognized them as people that lived at the Lofts across from his house. All three of them were disheveled and apparently fleeing someone as yet unseen. They were running right for the window and then they cut left, apparently headed for an entrance. That entrance failed them because they ran back out, dodged around a small garden, and headed off toward the corner.

Breanne banged on the glass hard and shouted but they didn't hear it over some debris hitting an upper shield outside. One of the men in white Mike had seen on the condo camera appeared, first running in pursuit of the three. He stopped, came back up the steps and looked around. At one point, he was looking right at the window and all of them but he didn't see them. Breanne gasped and Amber grabbed her and put a hand over her mouth. The man turned away, two squatters appeared and went inside the smashed drugstore window. They saw the man in white but paid him no attention; he studied them for a moment then hurried off, pursuing the other three. As he disappeared another man in white showed down the road heading for the drugstore, then the elevator suddenly started and began the crawl down to PL level.

“Thank God,” Breanne said.

“Don't thank him yet,” Frank said. “This elevator door still has to open.”

It did open and they all turned. The exterior was as dim as a cave, but they didn't see any cave dwellers so Mike lowered his gun as he stepped out. They all followed and found themselves in a parking bay with space for about four large vehicles. Only one of the tube lights above worked, creating the cave effect with shadows on the curvature of the ceiling.

There were two parked cars. Frank stepped up and back quickly, whispering, “Someone is in that black car.”

Mike stepped up slowly, the others held back. He spotted two burly men in the vehicle … one black, the other white. Both of them were out of it, asleep. Mike put the gun in his pocket and tried the doors, finding them all locked.

The car had the creepy feeling of a hearse, being big, long, and black with no make or logo. The men, dressed in black, rested behind tinted glass.

Breanne came alongside and peered in. Mild disgust showed on her face. “Who'd want to wake those gangsters?”

The other car was empty and unlocked. Frank was already in it and he put his head back out. “It has the keys in the ignition. Voice and fingerprint lights are off. We could use it.”

Raj snorted. “For what, a Sunday drive through roads that are blocked by wrecks, debris, walkers and killers.”

Ethan banged the hood. “I have an idea. It looks bulletproof. I see only one exit from this place. We couldn't drive far, but if someone drove out and looked around it would be better than walking out and finding bullets.”

Lucinda appeared out of the gloom; no one had noticed her walk off. “There are doors across the bay there. They will lead somewhere underground. South too, and that is toward that station. We might be able to come out inside or near it. It might be a lot safer than going out on the street with a noisy car.”

Amber stepped between Raj and Ethan as they were facing off. She flicked a finger against Ethan's shoulder. “We agreed not to split up. Putting some people in a vehicle would be just that. Suppose trouble shows. The vehicle could drive off and leave us.”

Ethan’s expression changed to shock. “Is that an accusation?”

Mike pulled Ethan away. “We leave on foot, but only when it looks clear outside those doors Lucinda is talking about.”

There was no further argument. They strolled across the bay. Mike looked around in the gloom and found the place to have a dead dusty feel. Ethan finished a can of pop, crushed it, and tossed it noisily across the concrete. Breanne glared at him. Frank reached the doors first, opened the exit, and stepped out with his pistol raised. He popped his head back in. “All clear out here.”

They went through with the women sandwiched between the men. Mike thought it looked clear as mud; dim sulfur-yellow light, a claustrophobic walkway paneled with pale emerald tiles, leading one way slightly up.

Lucinda moved out and hurried ahead before anyone thought to stop her. She shouted, “Boo-yah!” Her voice carried with a small echo.

“Shut up,” Ethan said, also much too loud.

They continued walking, slowly. There appeared to be no dead to wake in this section. A few hundred yards on took them to end-point stairs going up and down. The stairs up were behind a Plexiglas door with a Metro Station sign, while the staircase down had a hazard sign that said Off Limits, Decommissioned Zone, Track Closed.

There wasn't any discussion as up seemed to be the only option. Frank took the lead through the door onto the wider stairs up. They were back into the brighter flickering lights territory that Mike hated. It always made him nervous, threw his thinking off. They came out in a small rectangular vestibule. It was ground level and there were two padded benches and two small windows about the right height for a taller man. There was also a vending machine, and it required no cash or card. Lucinda discovered that feature when she pounded one of the buttons and a chocolate Rush bar came out.

Ethan looked out one window, got a view of the street, and turned back. “We’re at the station by the Gunning area. Man, that dead guy up there had a setup. He could leave by car or train on his own private exits. And by the roof, too. He probably had a security man stationed in the parking and in here. It’s more of that one-way glass. They could see the street but the street sees only a blurred mirror.”

“It's our one-way glass now,” Mike said. “Let’s get a solid all-clear before leaving.”

Lucinda had to stand on her toes to see the station interior. Mike stepped over and picked her up with an arm around her waist and they both looked. The view showed two walls of silver mailboxes in a narrow hall that opened on a section of marble tiled floor leading to the main entry.

At other window, Ethan's view settled on a panorama of desolation. A few crashed cars blocked the street to the left. Some fallen glass and rubble was in the center of the road. A protective awning on a residential complex on the other side had been knocked askew by a huge fallen block of decorative stone. Bodies were in the street to the right and he saw a dog at an alley mouth there.

“Street appears empty and dangerous due to falls,” Ethan said.

“Can't see enough of the station,” Mike said. “I'll have to go out and take a look.”

Frank took a brief look then faced the others. “I'll go out with Mike. The rest stay inside. That exit door is electronically locked and the outside switch will be hidden or a fob access. Ethan can watch the window and open up when we return. Open it fast because if anything is out there we might have to run back.”

Lucinda answered. “Ethan can watch. I'll pull the door open on signal.”

Breanne nodded and the others didn't disagree. Raj decided on a break and sat on one of the benches. The door opened easily enough. Frank stepped out behind Mike and they watched it close from the outside. It shut into a floor-to-ceiling raised art piece at the end of the mailboxes. The image was of a train engine with a city backdrop. They both studied the bank of mailboxes, guessing that they stored no mail but were another part of the deception.

Mike walked ahead cautiously and they came out on the south side near the front of the station. The historic façade made the station one of the West Haven’s older buildings. It was massive and an inverted V shape of latticed and patterned glass. It directed the flow of pedestrian traffic entering. On the right and left of the entry, the long polished floors led to ticket booths, shopping and washrooms. In the center, people could walk right through to the train platform, which was on the same level. An arched walk took people over the tracks if their train was going the other way. The ceilings of this immense area were 50 feet high in the same inverted V shape as the glass façade and brightly lit. Rows of thin columns rose to support the ceiling on both shopping sides and the light streaming down had a friendly yellow tint that glimmered on the polished stone floors.

Mike had never seen this place without bustling crowds and neither had Frank. Metro was the fast way out of the West Haven to the rest of the city. Two empty trains had parked on the run-throughs as though ready to board non-existent people. They could see no one inside the trains. The long, beveled red engine car of one train had its headlights on as though it was in service, but there appeared to be no driver in the train.

Spooked by the scene, they both halted and lowered their guns. As they did an industrial humming noise rose to a deafening level and then the sound vanished with a Doppler effect. Frank dropped his gun as he quickly covered his ears. He picked it up and said, “What in the hell was that?”

“Don’t know,” Mike replied, “but I don’t like it. There is probably a reason no one is around.”

“I don’t want to know that reason because it’s sure to be super weird. Jeeze, you look rough in this light. Guess I probably look worse.”

“Hasn’t been an easy night.”

They stepped beyond a column and looked over at the portion of the central platform they could see.

Frank squinted. “Are those bodies or black trash bags lining the platform there?”

“Not sure. They are inside the trains too. Notice how they are all exactly where the doors open.”

The hum rose again and a black flash traveled east to west up across at the ceiling. It created temporary blindness and freezing fear. They stood in place and in a few seconds, their eyes cleared. It wasn’t over; the hum increased to an industrial shriek again and the polished floor was suddenly red as blood.

The intense red shade washed away. Frank nearly fell from dizziness. “Oh-oh,” he said. “Those bags of trash aren’t bags anymore, they’re quivering like jelly.”

As he spoke one of the nearest agitated piles suddenly rose up like a sculpture, forming itself as an all-black image of a person that remained in place for a moment before bursting into a pile of dark spaghetti that slithered on the platform.

Losing his cool, Frank fired a shot across the platform and missed. “Holy shit – those things are dead people,” he said as his second shot ricocheted into the train.

Mike remained tight-lipped for a moment. “Not dead. Worse than dead.”

Back in the hidden vestibule, Ethan kept his watch on the street. It looked like the dark side of the moon out there with all the dust and tumbled stone. There was nothing in sight but that rubble, messed up cars and some piles of what looked like trash farther off. A gust of night wind blew up puffs of dust and one lone mangy dog snuffed around on the street. It moved by then went farther off to pick through the garbage. It didn’t pick long; it went up to the first bag and suddenly backed away, howled and shook some black dirt off its head. It turned back in a trot past the front of the station then stopped. Ethan looked that way and saw why. Three scraggly, armed men were approaching and about ten paces behind them one of the men in white followed - the bigger one, and with a big knife. Ethan knew only a real bastard would prefer to dice people with a knife when he could do it the easy way with a gun.

The scruffy man in the lead fired a shot at the dog and missed. It yelped as it ran off and found an alleyway escape. They fired a few more shots at the trash in the distance then they halted as a black flash of some sort came from above right at the front of the station. The shooters stopped as if they’d been frozen on the spot. There was no mistaking the terror that lit their faces on seeing that flash. Ethan’s vision went into some hallucinatory mode at the same moment. It was as if he was seeing in a black light. Off in the distance the piles of garbage rose up into exploding licks of oil and when they landed Ethan saw black cables pulsing on the street near the men.

Though the others were terrified, the man in white wasn’t affected at all; he simply put his blade in his belt, pulled out a cell phone and tapped in something. Instantly the writhing cables collapsed in the street and then the men moved to walk up the front entrance steps to the station. One of the men didn’t make it; a big chunk of stone suddenly came from above and took him out in a gruesome mash of blood. The others stopped for a moment and stared at the bloody remains, which were quickly turning black.

Ethan came back to reality and called across to Lucinda. “Yell out that door now, tell them to come back!”

Frank had turned to retreat and Mike was backing off, facing across the platform. Lucinda’s voice sounded remarkably clean and young as it echoed in the station. It was genuinely alive when all else felt dead.

It was either coincidence or the call awakened a gathering black mass to some form of living object. It was rubbery and resilient because it squashed itself and bounced up like a ball, flying across the tracks from one platform to another and blocking their path. It flowered out into creeping tentacles.

Frank simply stared; too shocked to move, but Mike didn’t hesitate. He had a moment but rather than use the shotgun he reached into his jacket and pulled the Taurus he’d taken at the condominium. He’d never seen such a gun or fired one but hoped the incendiary rounds were effective. They were; the kick was manageable but flame and the roar of the barrel was something he hadn’t expected. The blasts of flame from the three shots he fired put him in mind of a flamethrower. A line of fiery projectiles that emerged from the shots blew the black object and its tentacles into a million burning beads that bounced off down the platform.

Frank was already running ahead as Mike lowered his weapon. There was another crash and they saw shards of glass fly and a man come through way down at the entry. Another black mass began the bounce across and Mike turned as he ran and fired a blast at it. He nearly lost his footing, but he managed to turn and move and fire another shot in the direction of the shattering glass. It took the man down in flames but another came through and he saw a flash of white.

Not good, Mike knew. It was one of those dangerous clowns in white. He kept behind Frank, moving fast around a pillar. As he did, he saw a flash beside him, heard a ricochet and then saw a blade embed itself in a pole beside him. He kept running and they got to the narrow locker area and found Lucinda and the open door. As Mike banged it shut, he figured that the man in white must have some throwing arm to attempt to impale him from that distance.

“Jesus Christ,” Frank said. “What a freak show?”

Mike looked to the others; they were all up and anxious. “We go back down and hide in that decommissioned zone that showed on entry stairs sign. I think there are old service tracks down there. It’ll take them a while to find our escape route. They may not figure out where this door is at all.”


Undercover cop Joe Kennedy didn't look nearly as bad as he felt. A quick wash-up and with a suit jacket over his jeans he was ready to go. The short cop hair was an advantage he figured as he looked in the mirror. He didn't have to fuss with hair all the time like longhaired Casey. With Casey, it was an undercover thing. He always chided Joe for looking too much like a cop.

Dogs were howling somewhere out on the street and Joe heard a distant shot which made him realize that he forgot to put on his shoulder holster and gun. He did that as he walked to the window. He was wondering what in the hell Casey was talking about – the world ends at the station. He shook his head to get the cobwebs out; that was one Cracker Jack of a sleep he'd had. It was like he'd been hit with a tranquilizer gun and was recovering from it.

His focus centered on the window and the view to the street. His eyes widened. It looked like the world ended outside the door not at the station. He saw car wrecks, smashed store windows, a loony in his underpants walking like a zombie, a pack of dogs emerging with a take from the butcher shop … what looked like bodies were piled in front of the Red Target store, but it was hard to tell in the odd light. Some super neon sign seemed to have been erected above the apartment window so he put his head out the open window and looked up. It was a long way up but he saw clouds breaking and light pouring down from what looked like some new bright planets that had appeared above. At least they looked like that. “Can't be planets,” he thought. “Maybe attack satellites; they've destroyed the neighborhood. I slept through a Russian invasion. B...utt … we have a new peace deal with them … Jeeze, maybe it's aliens.”

His eyes caught movement below; a few armed men were coming around the corner. They saw him and one of them fired a shot at him. It smashed the glass but missed. He drew, fired back, a direct hit that cracked into the creep's forehead and took him down.

The others ducked for cover; Joe ducked back in just long enough to go to the lockup in Casey's spare room and remove a sawed-off shotgun. This apartment had a back way out to a narrow alley that led to another street. He headed for that, stopped outside the fire escape door, and checked that all was clear. No one was in the alley so he ran down and covered a quick block on foot. He stopped by a loading dock at the back of a lower level department store, and as he did, his phone rang.

Probably Casey again. He was supposed to meet him at a halfway point. The guy could have at least told him he'd be walking out into disaster city. Instead, he had to mutter on about the end of the world.

“Hello,” he said.

“Is this Officer Joe Kennedy?” said a voice from the other end.

“Speaking. Who is this?”

“This is General Tom Robbins. I'm calling you via a special setup here at the National Security Agency.”

“What in the hell is going on? It looks like disaster city here?”

“That's why I'm calling you. We don't know what's going on. We haven't been able to contact anyone inside that area or get inside. You are the only person a call has gone through to.”

“What? Why can't you get in here?”

“That area of Toronto you call the West Haven has been hit by some form of anomaly. All we see is a blister of stormy black. It hides all under it and deflects or blocks entry. Anyone attempting to enter moves a ways in then ends up back outside. Listen carefully. This is important. Other levels of command want to hit that area with a special nuke. We need answers fast, we need to know exactly what is happening.”

“Nuke,” Joe said, stunned. “Tell them to put it on hold. There are no observable enemy forces in here. I'm working on the situation. I mean I just woke up. Something knocked me out for a long time but my partner Casey is out there working on it. I have to meet him. The area outside my window looked like a disaster area, but everything is there. I saw dead bodies, people shot at me. The sky looks alien from in here but I haven’t seen anything so dangerous that the feds should consider nuking us. Give us time to check this out.”

“I'll be lucky if I can buy a day. I don't know if we'll even be able to get through to you. Get out there and find out what this is and if it can be stopped.”

 “I am doing that,” Joe said as the line crackled and went dead. He stared at the phone. A general from the United States … any other time he would have been sure it was a crank call. This time he knew it was not that. One thing he was sure of was that command, as he called it, would nuke the area if they thought the danger might spread. That meant he had to find Casey and fast and find out what he knew. It was a race against death and if the little piece he'd seen out the window was any indication, most people in the area had already lost that race.

Meeting Casey at the Indian Lane halfway point meant doubling back around. He did that at a jog, glancing up at the smoky sky, thankful that it wasn't clear because he hated that light. He came out on Staten Street and from the middle of the road a glance west was a view down a long tunnel of thickening smoke. The buildings and sky were smog shrouded there while the east was clearer so he figured something bad was happening at the bottom of the street by the institute and park.

He wasn't sure what that something bad was. Early in his career, he'd done a brief stint as a front-line firefighter. This odor was not anything he'd smelled at any blaze. It was deceptive in that it did seem like there was a fire. It had a grotesque feel, fingers down your throat tang, as if the whole world was a dead body and starting to simmer and smoke. Yet it didn't cling; he inhaled through his jacket sleeve and it filtered the stuff out, where smoke from a bad fire would permeate even skin with foul odors.

Figures showed a couple blocks down, three civilians running in the smoke. It looked like two men and a woman. They disappeared down a side street. A fourth person, dressed in white appeared and hurried off on their trail. Joe had no plans on going that way to find out what had happened.

A body rested beside a car askew in the street; Joe stepped up for a closer look. The man had a cell phone locked in his blackened hand. It was as if the phone had gone super hot and fried his hand. A gust sent the smoke into a whirl, his eyes watered as he looked down. The man was older and had died horribly; he was on his back, his facial skin desiccated, the cheeks hollowed out, and gray. Joe always thought like a cop and the evidence simply looked like the car had gone out of control and stopped. The man had got out and was talking on his cell phone, when it killed it him in some horrible way like a super weapon. It made Joe wonder if taking any more calls was a good idea.

He started to move; something dark swooped from above and he ran and dived for cover behind a truck. It was a fall of rubble and a body. It slammed a parked car with loud crash and following thump … and it brought trouble. He heard a shout then saw men coming around the corner.

They were the same ugly ones he'd seen from his window; armed and fanatical in looks. He gave the situation brief consideration. So far, it seemed that people were dead already or hidden somewhere inside. If not dead, then they’d turned into crazy gunslingers. These three wore shabby windbreakers, T-shirts, jeans and running shoes. If it were yesterday, he would have described them as looters. Today he wasn't sure what to call them, other than dead, because he swung out and sent a two-barreled blast that sent two of them into the smoke as flying red bursts.

Bullets ricocheted near him; he got his Nighthawk pistol out and hit the third man with a single shot; a chest shot that took him down. The crazy man had been running while shooting at him; and running fast, too. What was the matter with people? Could they be that desperate to kill?

A couple people appeared in the rubble; Joe swung his Nighthawk, nearly opened fire. He held back because these two weren't running but more strolling, sleepwalking. He walked over and studied them; a young man and an older woman that looked like his mother. Both wore indoor night clothing. Something about them gave him the creeps; he didn't want to touch them or even say anything to them. Then he remembered the General. It meant no time for these people. He had to move, get to Casey, and find out what he knew.

He became aware of eyes watching him, spun sideways and then relaxed. It was a black cat, perched on a fallen awning, its yellow eyes bright. Joe had the feeling it knew something he didn't, which was more than he could say for any people he'd seen. His ears began to ring, the noise piercing but not quite a sound. He looked up, saw a black flash and dark smoke trail, and began to run. He heard some rubble crash far behind him but he couldn't see much because the flash stayed in his eyes. Everything took on an eerie glow. He'd never seen things glow black before, but it cleared somewhat. He ran a gauntlet of sleepwalkers here and there on the run-up to Indian Lane. As they grew thicker so did fallen bodies. Most of them had ruffled clothing like looters had searched them. Then the looters appeared. A gang of the worst squatter types and they were facing off with more of the sleepwalkers. Oddly, some of the sleepwalkers were aware of them and strolling away. One squatter pulled a gun and shot one, laughing as he fell.

Joe ducked down an alley; he'd off them later if he saw them. He had to work around a block and then get back on Indian Lane. The meeting spot was ahead, a small parkette with some thick greenery and hidden benches. No one was in the street fronting it so he kept jogging but stopped just before it and moved up slowly and silently. He heard voices and was sure one of them belonged to Casey. He moved at the side of a long stone planter filled with untrimmed bushes and got a view inside the parkette. He could see three men. The one in white was a bad sign. Another bad sign was the six bodies near the fountain, all brown-skinned men, and they looked like fresh kills.

Joe could've opened fire and got two of them right away. He was more interested in what they might be saying to Casey and crept closer. He could see the one in white in profile clearly; the man had a handsome face and was taller than the other two and Casey … but something was wrong with his eyes. They glowed almost like gems. Joe strained to hear.

“He's a cop,” said one of the armed squatters. “Check his ID. Got a gun, too.”

The tall man laughed. “A cop. Hey copper. You must have enjoyed watching us kill them sand niggers. You did, didn’t you?”

“I sure did,” Casey said.

Joe nearly spit out a cough, as Casey’s incriminating answer came to his ears. Casey knew better than to say idiot stuff like that. So why was he doing it?

Both squatters chuckled. “Kenneth, I bet he'd enjoy killing himself,” one of them said.

“Good idea,” Kenneth said. “Give him back the gun.”

Joe watched as Casey took the gun. He looked stupefied, staring at the Beretta as if he'd never seen it before when they had just taken it from him. Then Casey pointed the gun at his head. Joe noticed that Casey’s eyes remained fixed on Kenneth.

“Hypnotism, very dangerous form of it,” Joe thought. “Casey says and does whatever that guy wants.” He slipped his cop mirror shades out of his pocket and put them on. If it weren’t for the radiant brand of night darkness this night he wouldn’t have been able to see anything. The reflections of light off the gun and Kenneth’s eyes were clearest and the squatters were unlucky to be wearing earrings that shone in the dark. Raising his gun, Joe snapped the safety with a loud click. The eyes of the three men went to him.

Joe kept his focus off Kenneth’s eyes. There was a moment of silence, but the two squatters somehow knew Joe would get them if they tried to raise their weapons and fire on him.

“Let’s play a new game,” Joe said. “You just played shoot the sand niggers. My game is called shoot the earrings off the donkeys.”

“Don’t try it,” Kenneth said. “I can say the word and your friend will kill himself.”

“Nope. I can shoot the gun from his hand before he does.” 

Kenneth called him on it so that is what Joe did. Kenneth’s lips began to move. Joe fired. The shot was a perfect shot, hitting the barrel of Casey’s gun and sending it spinning away without exploding or busting Casey’s hand. Things then happened fast. Kenneth went backwards in a quick step, gaining cover of a vine-laden wall. Joe shot one squatter in the shoulder as he raised his gun. The other squatter dived for cover and managed to run off through the back of the parkette.

At the same time, Casey yelped. The hypnotism had lifted.

Kenneth had disappeared and as Casey ran to the street shaking his sore hand, Joe worked around the long planter and bushes. He got a view of Kenneth going out the same back way as the squatter.

The wounded man was down and alternately moaning and screaming in pain. Joe had no intention on helping him or pursuing Kenneth. Neither did he like the idea of the attention the shots and screams might draw. He picked up Casey’s Beretta, saw that it only had a nick on it, and ran out to Casey.

Casey was still holding his sore hand. He took his Beretta back with the other. “What in the fuck just happened?” he said.

Joe didn’t answer the question. He heard shouts and caught a flash of movement deep inside the parkette. “Just run,” he said, and they faded fast into the smoky dark, heading for cover in the warren of side streets that branched off from Indian Lane. Being undercover cops was to their advantage; they knew the area as well as squatters, even in smoky dark. Maybe better because they had more than a few hidden spy posts. They reached one of them behind the old Living Scene Theater and paused to discuss the situation.

“How much do you remember?” Joe said.

“Most recently, I remember ducking gangs of hostiles that were searching people, killing them. That last scene is coming back. I bumped into those three in a surprise sort of way. I was pulling my gun. Can’t remember dick after looking into that one man’s eyes … other than this sore fucking hand.”

“That big jerk in white hypnotized you and instantly. Keep that in mind if he shows again.”

“There was another one in white leading some looters. I ducked him. Doctors from the institute that went crazy, I think. Maybe a good part of this screw-up can be traced to that place.”

Joe told him about the call from the military outside and the possibility of the area being nuked.

Casey licked his hand, looked to Joe. “Don't worry about being nuked. They can’t nuke a city, and we’re at the edge of a really big fucking city. They can’t do it either, because they don't know what this is. Blowing it up might spread it or cause some deadly chain reaction. You say they can’t see in or get in from outside. What I saw out at the edge was motherfucking scary and powerful. That general probably knows more than what he’s telling you and he wants to spur you to action. If he’s telling the truth, they have no man in here and they need someone to stop this. I’d tell you more, like what I saw at the station, but you wouldn’t believe it. We are trapped in here. No way out that I can figure.”

“How would we stop this? It's like trying to stop a hurricane from blowing or black magic that we can't figure. Jeeze, we’re only mortal.”

“Getting to the source might be it. Our only hope is that there might be something we can figure out and stop it there.”

“Not if the source is some mad science thing, like a nuclear meltdown or something. Maybe they conducted some dangerous experiment in those secret wings of the Jung. Getting out of here makes more sense. Leave this area to blow.”

“It would make sense if there was a way out. Unfortunately, that is like meeting the devil. The perimeter is the crusher zone. Get caught in it and you'll be a lot worse than dead. I know. I saw it. We don’t really have anything we can do other than try to trace the source and stop it.”

A ramp ran down at the theater’s rear and upon hearing some voices, Casey and Joe went up it and through a door. They entered a combined lounge and storage area. It was dim to dark, theater props loomed like dangerous shadows. Joe took a startled step back when he noticed a couch and lounge chairs with sleeping people on them.

“Don’t bother trying to touch or wake them,” Casey said quietly. “I’ve been through that. That’s where most people are – asleep, and a lot of them are dead or in a coma of some sort.”

They moved across the room and peeked out a window salted with grime and cobwebs. Male figures moved down the alley. Four of them, all armed. They disappeared around a bend.

Joe faced Casey. “What now, if we can’t get out of this area?”

“We need to check back by the Jung and the adjoining park. I talked to one squatter who wasn’t crazy and he said he was sure it all emanates and originates from there.”

“Easier said than done. Getting there, I mean.”

“I know a way that takes us closer. The Sewer Pipe. The hidden entrance a block from here. We walk the tracks, and then go up.”

Joe nodded and walked away, stopping at a fridge on the way to the door. He pulled out two beers and they snapped them open and drank them straight down before going out the door.

The alley was quiet and spooky again. They moved north toward the hidden entrance, staying close to walls and deep shadows, and then they ducked behind some trash bins when men again passed. The hidden entrance was at the rear of an antique store where some iron railings surrounded a large sewer grate. In appearance, it looked like an entry to the sewer underground and they had to pull it up and aside to go down. Joe took the time to pull the mesh grate back in place, and then he went down to Casey.

They came out of an alcove into the Sewer Pipe. The train line was empty and dead and there wasn’t much of a chance of the train coming. At the end of the platform, they went down to the tracks and began the quiet dusty walk in to the Jung. Other than warning signs, red lights and some litter they saw nothing until near the end of the line. In the tunnel, they found a switch only train drivers and trackwalkers would know about. It was for a line that branched off to another area. There was no sign.

“Where do you figure that goes?” Joe said as they stopped and stared.

“It goes our way,” Casey said. “We can’t get all the way in on the Sewer Pipe. That is a switchover to the Reaper Run. It has to be because it’s the only line with tracks running everywhere that connect to other tunnels. It’ll be empty, too. Most of its stations are out of use.”

Casey proved to be correct. A walk in and then around the bend took them to an old decommissioned station. They jumped up on the platform and read the faded station name on the tiled wall - Cherry Street. Next to it, a long mural showed a cutesy picture of people in a friendly neighbourhood.

“I remember getting off at this stop when I was kid,” Casey said. “Shit, the old neighbourhood in the mural sure ain’t here anymore.”

Joe nodded. “Fuck, yeah. The people in it are probably lucky enough to have died long before today. They won’t have to see what became of this place.”


Shaleena eased around the corner following Bozzo as they took another alley route to enter the squat from the rear. The air wasn’t as smoky in the alley as a down draft swept it clean. It also blew dust, paper bits, and pop cans along. Bozzo stopped and looked up. The sky had cleared some; it looked like someone had covered the West Haven with a black dome decorated with bright jewels. Maybe something like that, he figured, because he found it impossible to believe what he saw was the night sky of the West Haven. In the city, maybe planes were visible, but not many stars. It awed him and he stared, almost hypnotized; in his loose scruffy clothes, with wild dark hair and a pocked brown face, he was a dark clown of night, wondering about another world. At least he was until Shaleena kicked him in the shin and told him to wake up.

“Get real,” she said. “Take your eyes off the sky. Think about what we’re going to do.”

He faced her and as she spoke, and like always, his eyes kept dropping to her huge breasts. They seemed about to burst free of her thin T-shirt at any moment. He licked thick lips as he finished, saying, “… the squat, we’ll see who is still around.”

She nodded and they strode forward, heading in the back way. They came out in the largest communal area near the front. No one was there. No one sleeping or sleepwalking and the cats and dogs were gone, too. Rubbish, food containers, bottles and cans, discarded bedding and worn furniture. The absence of people made Bozzo aware of just how ugly the place had gotten. Blankets worn to rags covered spaces of broken glass in the large front windows. A stinky breeze blew right across the squat and lifted up his nose. It twitched; Bozzo smelled a rat and moments later saw three of them. Jimbo and two pals coming in the front way, and they were carrying guns. A broad grin showed on Jimbo’s face as he spotted them.

“How did you get here so fast?” Bozzo said.

“That's for me to know and you to find out.”

“Looks like you’re late. Everyone is gone. Though I don’t know where. Probably the same with Donovan, if you’re still stalking him. In this scene someone else probably already killed him.”

“The situation has changed. Donovan isn’t the number one priority. Your people were taken for examination. The new bosses. They’re looking for something. You’ll have to be checked out too.”

“Checked out for what? I don’t have anything. What’s with the new bosses deal? You Edge Ring people moving for a takeover?”

“Not much to take over when so many people are dead or useless. The worst cases were hit by that black bird whooshing in from above the buildings. The new boys are angels in white. Come along and we’ll show you.”

“No thanks.”

Jimbo raised his gun. He grinned again and his eyes were glossed with that strange black light. “You don’t exactly have a choice.”

Bozzo shrugged. “Okay. Take us to your leader.”

Jimbo pointed the way and the three men got behind Bozzo and Shaleena. Bozzo shuffled slowly through the rubbish, irritated by Jimbo jabbing the gun barrel in his back.

“You in a hurry to meet the end of the world?” Bozzo said as he walked a touch faster.

“Just for the moment,” Jimbo said. “Once this job is done they’ll leave me in charge. Then I’ll have time to do what I want.”

“Yeah, right,” Shaleena said facetiously. They were now out in the center of the street, heading up the avenue toward some figures standing behind a series of wrecked cars that had formed an accidental barricade. Bozzo recognized a couple of the men from his own squat. They were up on the back of a parked pickup, apparently working with Jimbo. A couple other guys were shaking down some sleepwalkers. They passed a pile of bodies, seven in all. Some shot dead, others beaten badly like baseball bats had been used.

“Done some kills already, eh Jimbo?”

“In fact, we killed the losers that killed them. Killed a whole bunch of people on the way in, too. There weren’t exactly a lot of cops around to stop us. There have been a lot of kill or be killed situations.”

“Any reason why you didn't shoot those new boss guys?”

“They're the type that is hard to stop.”

One of Jimbo's sidekicks decided to get in on the discussion. “Say, Jimbo,” he said. “Any idea exactly what we will be in charge of once this part is over?”

“You ask dumb questions,” Jimbo said.

“Well, I was just thinking. If things don't change there won't be much neighborhood left.”

Bozzo scowled on hearing this conversation and Jimbo again pressed the gun barrel in his back. A big man dressed in white like a doctor or orderly was directing things behind the barricade. He glanced their way and stared directly in Bozzo’s eyes. That stare gave him the creeps. Bozzo didn’t like to judge others by appearance, mainly because people always made a quick-and-dirty judgment on him, either labeling him as thug, clown, or lazy squatter. Even so, he felt this man in white was creepy. Not that he was ugly; he was tall, strong, with airs of authority, even snobbery. As they walked up, Bozzo couldn’t figure him. Not a neighborhood sort of guy, but ruthless. Then he saw his eyes close up and his opinion changed. Something magical backed that intense gaze and for a moment, Bozzo felt like he was walking on a cloud. As they stopped before him he spoke with a voice like honey, yet Bozzo couldn't understand a word of what he said. His feet came back to ground as the man turned and faced Shaleena. She didn't seem trusting of him at all but shrank from him as he came close. One of Jimbo's boys seized her from behind and held her. She struggled but when the man in white put his hand on her forehead, she went still. Bozzo's head began to clear; Shaleena began to shake, the man pushed her away forcefully with his large hand and she fell limp. Jimbo's man let her slide slowly into a pile of dust and litter on the street.

Bozzo thought it was like the work of an evangelist that came to the West Haven once. At least they didn't search Shaleena or kill her. But they didn't get what they wanted either because the man seemed unsatisfied.

“Did she know anything, Kenneth,” Jimbo said, obvious fear of the man imprinted on his face.

“Nothing,” Kenneth said, then he turned to Bozzo and the magic was on again. At least it was for a moment, until Kenneth came up close and seized his forehead with a big hand. It immediately felt like a cold and dead squid had a grip on his brain. A dark and dreadful current flowed in his mind then a bright searchlight came on in his head. He saw the light and it was killing him. A flow like a river overpowered him with so many images it nearly made him cry out. One final image remained. Bozzo remembered it clearly, too. It was a burning pentagram and the one that had been in Mike Wilde's book of witchcraft. Now it had power that seared his brain.

Bozzo awoke on his knees; Kenneth had stepped away and the other men had gathered around him. Another man in white was approaching.

“So he knows about it,” Jimbo said. “We'll kill him for it.”

Jimbo glanced at Bozzo and as he did, Shaleena jumped up and dashed off through the car wrecks.

“Forget about her,” Kenneth said. “We don't need her. I saw it and I know who has the book. It's like a scent and we can track him.”

The circle broke as the other man in white hurried up and got the news from Kenneth. Jimbo pointed a gun at Bozzo.

“Lay off with the gun,” Kenneth said. “I'm going to use him.” Without hesitation, as he said it, he stepped up, reached down, and touched Bozzo again. This time Bozzo felt nothing, but he stood up and looked at Kenneth.

“You can go,” Kenneth said, igniting a sudden urge in Bozzo. This time it was as if buckets of black fear poured into him and even though two of Jimbo's men tried to stop him, he knocked them aside with ease, jumped right over the barricade and disappeared in the night.

“Why did you let him go?” Jimbo said.

“Good reason,” Kenneth replied. “The person with the item we want is a very dangerous man. Your friend Bozzo doesn't know it but we are using him. He'll get to them fast because he knows this area better than anyone else does. He's my hound-dog and he'll bite when it counts.”

If anything, Bozzo didn't feel like a hound-dog. He felt more like a sniveling coward fleeing the bogie man. He ran three blocks before he realized no one was following him. Everything had a different sort of glow on it now like the neighborhood buildings were charged with a force. Light of a new variety and aided by it he spotted Shaleena cowering in an alcove behind a tree planter. Feeling better, he walked up confidently and frowned as she backed away from him.

“What's the matter with you? Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Because your eyes are like Jimbo's and the others, like you're one of them.”

“I'm not one of them. They tried and failed.”

“What do you plan to do now?”

“We duck into cover somewhere. I have a feeling coming to me. Remember that abandoned train station we squatted in for a few days last October. We should hide out down there. Nobody else would ever find it.”


Part Seven: The Reaper

The Reaper’s air conditioning didn’t work and Donovan was hot and sweaty. He’d spent about an age as the train squeaked through a kilometer-long section about one inch at a time. It had taken so long the dogs had fallen asleep on a bench. Now the Reaper was moving and rolling on in the tunnel with the blaze of the headlamp showing the path ahead. The regular tunnel stop-and-go lights and the main station stoplights were not working. Rough tracks and fluctuations in power caused the engine to lose headlamp brightness in places, but Donovan could still see. The tunnels weren’t completely dark but had some basic bluish bacterial light emplacements throughout that created a mild glow. It was enough to see some even without a headlamp. He rolled through a number of stripped stations that all felt like a journey back to print photos from 1965 when transit stations were dull affairs tiled like public washrooms were in that era. This sameness fooled him so that it took a while before he realized he was looping the same four stops.

Donovan halted the train at stop four and looked at the dusty name in the wall tiles. East Valley; he was still way out by the Edge Ring, where he didn’t want to be. There was an iron bar in a clip beside him. It was an emergency sort of deal for switching tracks when auto failed. He took it for protection, though no one appeared to be around. The dogs followed him out and peed on a bench while he walked the stop. The faint blue light and green-tiled walls gave the feeling of being in a long men’s room on Mars. He found an encasement at the end, used the bar to break away a rusty lock and found that the panel was off. He turned it on and watched a series of lights flash and light up. The front was a map and he found that he could use his finger to draw a route through the line of twenty old stops. A problem appeared; he couldn’t draw a route to the end of the line at Staten Street near his building because error messages kept popping up.

He scratched his head. There was no way through. Messages like flooding, tracks out, power down. After some time he tried touching the point he was at and the end stop. A route drew itself automatically and lit up an entire new line that hadn’t showed. It was the working Reaper Run, or the one that had worked before tonight. The train could ride in a long pretzel to the end by using the up areas of both routes. He had to take a long ride in to some place under Metro Station and loop all the way back around through old stations and go in on another track.

With no other option, Donovan gave it the green and walked back to the engine car. He stopped to look down at the condition of the tracks. These tracks weren't raised but embedded right into the plating, creating a train that could take abuse without derailing. Corrosion spotted the plating but the tracks shone bright and clean.

The dogs were waiting, and they trotted inside with him. He moved ahead, never going over half speed. The long ride was on an incline down into floating dust. Sometimes the cars wobbled so much he wasn’t sure if it was the tracks or the whole tunnel shaking. A hairpin turn caught him unexpectedly and he held on, fearing derailment.

It didn’t happen; dead stops passed and then he rolled into Metro Station, the old decommissioned line of it far below the newer station. A crowd of people waited on the platform ahead. At first, he thought he was seeing ghosts, and then one hand flashed to his gun and the other to the bar.

As the train rolled in he opened a side window and prepared to shoot, but eased his finger off the trigger when he saw a girl standing at the front. He rolled by slowly, raised an eyebrow, and waved when he saw Mike Wilde standing there with two women and three other men.

The train stopped; Donovan opened the doors before he remembered the dogs. He got up and hurried out quickly, figuring he might have to shoot them if they attacked. But they didn’t attack; he saw them dancing playfully around the curly-haired girl. He shrugged his shoulders. “Junkyard dogs,” he supposed. “Locked in the yard they’re fierce as lions, but with some freedom, they’re like puppies.”


Mike Wilde did an automatic double check when the rumbling became a small train emerging from the tunnel. He believed a repair car riding the line was possible but not a train. Yet he knew the engine and headlamp on sight - the Reaper. It wouldn't be picking up fares down here yet it was arriving in a halo of bluish dust like a twilight run from the netherworld.

Everyone took a step back as it thundered to the end of platform, and they all stared at Donovan's grinning face as he waved in passing.

Mike had scanned the interior of the cars as they passed, only two pie-eyed dogs on board the train. It was hard to figure, but he didn’t care about reasons. At least this train would get them out of this stop. No one felt safe here.

Breanne's eyes lit with optimism. “Any idea why an empty train just came in?” she said to Mike.

“I have no idea, but I know the driver. Nobody board yet. I want to speak to him.”

Donovan didn’t look the picture of friendliness and greeting, hurrying out of the lead car, carrying a threatening iron bar and a gun. His disheveled appearance didn’t impress either. He ambled up to Mike saying, “Fancy meeting you people down here.”

They gathered around him, forming a semi circle on the platform. Lucinda and the dogs went over to a bench.

“You look like you’ve been through the gears,” Mike said.

Donovan's heavy-lidded dark eyes shifted from person to person. His motives were shrouded in the oddity of the situation. “My guess is you’ve been running the same gauntlet I’ve been running.”

Raj pressed forward, broke in, “Where are you coming from? Where are you going?”

“I’m coming from the Edge Ring area. Going home, same place Mike lives. It’s about the only place to go. No one can get out of here. It is complete death and disaster out there at the Edge Ring now.”

“In here, too,” Frank said quietly. “It's like we're caught in some massive clockwork winding down. Like a tight ring of chaos and the source of it is in Western Woods Park by the Jung Institute. Going to your home right near it probably isn't safe either.”

“Safe.” Breanne bit on the word. “The clockwork you mention is winding down like a swing of the Grim Reaper's scythe. I can’t think of anything safe other than escaping this neighbourhood.”

A distant voice echoed. It was faint in the momentary hush. They weren’t sure where it came from, whether the station or tunnel to the rear. A metallic crash followed and without further discussion, they all piled in the car and Donovan dashed down to the controls. He hadn’t powered down any systems due to fear they might not start again. As the train began to move, all eyes were on the steps down near the center. A pair of running shoes showed coming down the portion of the entry they could see and Mike took the signal as one to open a window and aim.

The train eased forward. One man came into view and he was longhaired and pasty-faced, looking alien to a degree in the blue tints of the light. His weapon wasn’t an alien blaster but an Earth-style rifle. His earrings glittered.

Mike pulled his Remington Mini and fired a warning shot off the steps but the man dodged agilely in his baggy clothing and got his weapon up to fire a shot. The projectile struck a reinforced window on one of the rear cars of the train and spider-webbed it. The young man ducked behind a post, and as the train went into the tunnel, Mike saw him running back up the steps. He would no doubt alert others. He knew the long hair and style of clothes. Edge Ring gang, one of Jim Steel's enforcers, and they had now moved into the core.

The dogs were still barking at the fleeing man. The Reaper screeched through a long wide turn. The wheels bit into roughened tracks that hadn’t been used in a long time. Raj tumbled on the floor from the force of the turn, and as Amber and Breanne pulled him to a seat, Mike went up to Frank and Donovan at the controls.

“Why the sudden big turn right inside the tunnel?”

“A mandatory diversion, we hit an off tunnel and I was going too fast because of that pursuer. There isn’t a straight way through; we loop back around and down the snake to reach the end of the line at the bottom of Staten Street. These tracks are decommissioned though functioning. The whole system is connected to a safety artificial intelligence. It allowed me to pick a route but it won't let us go anywhere it reads as unsafe.”

“They should have programmed that AI to scoop the people that leap in front of this thing,” Mike said. “Even better, program it so it recognizes Jim Steel and his boys as a hazard.”

Donovan nodded emphatically. “Guns on the front to cut Jimbo down, that’s an idea I like. Suicides can’t be prevented because of a momentum thing. It can't stop fast enough if someone leaps right out in front. Right now that helps us because those guys know that jumping in front of us on the tracks to shoot wouldn't be a classy idea.”

Ethan reached the front. “That guy has probably called others by now. Is there any way they can track this train?”

“It depends,” Mike said. “If there are a lot of them and they know of the old route, they could swarm a station. Let’s hope they have no way of communicating. If it's only a few guys we can escape them.”

Donovan coughed up some dust, trying to speak. “If it is the Edge-Ring gangs they’ve probably been moving into the core from the beginning of the chaos. They’ll be all over the area.”

Mike returned to the others and attempted to explain the situation, but the rattling of the train through rough areas made it difficult to converse. They had passed two empty stops, and were now in a stretch so bumpy it was like riding in a mineshaft. The rumbling got louder then the train jolted to a halt. The dim overheads went out but the even dimmer bacterial lights of the tunnel fought off total darkness.

Donovan shouted, “Hang on for a minute!”

Mike followed Frank back up for a look. Donovan pointed out the front windshield and they saw flooding ahead. Oily water covered the track bed. “The alert system doesn't work in this segment. I need to go out and see if it is stable enough to get through.”

Donovan opened the engine door and no others. Mike followed him to the edge of the pool. Two rats scurried through gasoline rainbows in the filthy water and went across the tracks. A bitter taste came with the dusty air. The soot clung like oil. Decayed segments from the tunnel’s protective coating hung loose above. Beyond the water, they could see a distant tunnel mouth opening on the next station.

“I’ve never seen a blue rat before,” Donovan said.

“I wonder what they drilled through down here. Those loose rock pieces look porous.”

“Okay. We go through and hope those plates don’t sag under. No other way.”

Mike had his eyes shielded to block glare. “I think I see a man moving down there. We’ll have to go through fast. I’ll warn the others to keep low.”

The entire group hunkered below the windows as the train moved ahead, picking up speed. Donovan kept his head lowered but his eyes up as the train sloshed through the water. A gut-wrenching creak came from the tail end and rotten debris showered down as they got through. Then it was the tunnel mouth, with Donovan waving everyone lower. He saw two men ahead by a post and ramped up the acceleration. The wheels thundered in the station.

Mike had a window open, trying to get a better look. It was as dim as the tunnel at this stop. He saw the glint of weapons, and kept low as he hurried toward the front. It was a surprise when Donovan braked. Wheels squealed and the front of the Reaper was partway into the exit tunnel when it stopped.

During the long slide, Mike got a close-up on the men - Casey and Joe, the two local undercover cops. He waved the others to rise as the train stopped, but the dogs got excited so Donovan didn’t open the doors. Instead, he came back and calmed the dogs. He told Lucinda to hold the beasts while he opened up.

Casey stepped in, his hair blowing in the tunnel wind. He pocketed his Beretta. “Mean night out there. You hijack this train, Wilde?”

Donovan answered confidently. “I commandeered it. I didn’t have much choice. Punks were shooting at me.”

Joe nodded at he entered. “So Wilde, we’re hoping you had a premonition of what is going on. We sure don’t know what in the hell this is. Only what it looks like. Up there, it looks like our world is being swallowed by another. Not to mention the fact that everybody's either crazy, dead, asleep or in a zombie trance.”

“You have the gist of it. The reality is stronger than the premonitions. I've been mulling it over. You probably wouldn’t believe what I saw in premonitions anyway.”

Casey grinned, but it was a troubled grin. “They're all dead and alive at the police station. After seeing what I saw there, your premonitions are small time.”

“Small time but I have a picture of what is going on from the premonitions and a book I found. It is what Joe said. We are being swallowed in a way. Our earth shares space and time with four other parallel extensions that are not visible to us. They are identical to ours, to a point. Sometime in the past, a switching point was built to allow beings to crossover between five parallel earths. The West Haven happens to be at the crossover point here.”

Frank shook his head in disbelief. “You didn’t say anything to us about any premonition. How could anyone see that in a vision?”

Raj released a hopeless sigh and the others were obviously confused by Mike’s explanation.

Joe shrugged and bit his lip. “I guess my hopes for a simple answer have gone out the window.”

“To answer Frank's question, I didn’t mention the vision. I had flashes a while back at the mall, while running with Raj. A series of pictures, mandalas came to me. I unraveled them. The sky here is alien because we are seeing into a parallel universe. This area is in growing chaos because someone opened a passage to a parallel earth and left it open. There is seepage into our world that is causing our laws of physics to fail.”

“Okay,” Raj said. “You're talking physics. Suppose I take your word. Where is the exact crossover point?”

“That I know because Breanne and I actually saw it but didn't know it at the time. The crossover is in Western Woods Park next to the Jung, where the anomaly originated. There is a key. I know where it is. I have to get inside and close it.”

Ethan cut into the conversation. “Someone opened a Pandora’s Box is what you are saying.”

“More like locked us in one,” Casey said. “I saw some of the contents out there at the edge that I don’t want to see again.”

Donovan looked at Ethan then the others. “Sounds crazy, but Mike is the only person with an idea for stopping this deal. We roll out and try to carry out his plan. Mainly because we have no other plan.”

“Wait a second,” Breanne said as she emerged from deep thought. “Who is the person that opened that door?”

Mike turned to her. “Think back about the man that pursued you and vanished. The two strange trees and the weird place you entered briefly. The memory that helped put the rest of it together for me. That spot has to be the entry point. Your pursuer somehow fell in, and then released or encountered something from the other side. It must not be able to come out very far into this Earth at present because it is using human agents to search for the book with the key.”

Joe pulled at his whisker growth. “It needs this key for exactly what?”

“I think it wants control … to be able to enter any of five parallel worlds, do what it wants, and escape when it wants. The key might give it that power.”

“Okay, we move on,” Donovan said. “Outline the rest of it on the way. I want to get out of this station.”

The Reaper began to roll, the grind of the wheels on the bad track giving it the sound of an old locomotive. As the ride smoothed out, Lucinda smiled, stood up and the dogs followed her to the front. Ethan watched her stroll happily away and wondered how she could take all of this as if it were some fun night out. He started fidgeting and mumbling to himself and then stopped it when he noticed Raj watching him with suspicion. He felt like saying something but didn’t. He felt that Raj had been behaving oddly enough himself and didn’t want queer looks from him. Casey was holding a sore hand and nodding and didn’t look well. The women were kind of beat up, like they’d spent a night with abusive husbands. Joe seemed solid and Mike Wilde was strangest of all … sitting there looking completely calm and normal but probably seeing things no one else could see.

Squeaking wheels ended Casey’s nodding and Ethan’s stray thoughts. They were into another dark and difficult stretch and the feel of a roller coaster hit the Reaper. The cars were accelerating and Mike went up with Frank as the train lurched side to side. Donovan had a small pull-down screen open and they could see that the acceleration wasn’t his doing. The old train had either compensation software or malfunctions of its own. Possibly a safety feature was for some reason speeding it through this stretch.

No singular reason was apparent, and then pouring smoke appeared from above and flooded the windscreen. It wasn’t smoke from the train but probably from some electrical fire, that was also affecting control. A cone of light appeared and the Reaper burst through a veil of fumes into a station stop. Oily black smoke cascaded over the platform in the distance. The train kept rumbling and rolling with the dogs howling and the passengers clutching the railings. Through the smoke, Mike observed marbled walls with embedded artwork and quality Tuscan pillars. They’d gone up into one of the newer stations on the regular run and a portion of it had collapsed. Fortunately, the collapse was over the platform and not the tracks. It was a nasty break with burning debris sending red embers rocketing through the smoke that poured onto the platform. Blue flashes and sparks lit up portions of the collapse and were most like sparking cables. An inferno was directly above, that was obvious, and it likely wasn’t sabotage but another effect of the general collapse. There were probably many fires burning in the West Haven.

Yet the Reaper feared no flames; it shot forward through the smoke like a lion through a burning hoop. Mike hit the floor with Donovan and the others as a wave of sparks like a thousand cigarette ends swept the cars. Frank jumped up and slammed shut one open window, sparks, and smoke sailing over him as he did. Then, miraculously, they were through it and moving into smoother clear tunnel, but going down again on a half loop to the old run.

Lucinda had both dogs by their collars, pulling them back as they were still barking at the windows and the disaster they had passed. Frank brushed soot off his already dirt-streaked trousers. Raj rose slowly from where he had fallen. The others looked shaken and weary.

Breanne stood up, pulling her hands down her face. “The damn soot is glued to me. We should have kept the window shut.”

Mike seemed to be the only one happy about making it through. “There must be a major fire and building collapse above that spot. We escaped more than soot.”

Joe was still looking back along the train, as if something might be following. “I thought buildings in the West Haven were all fire-proof enough to block fire spread. They're definitely not supposed to collapse.”

Ethan didn't buy that. “You've probably only seen the killers on the street and not a close-up of the UFO wrecking balls flying about. Collapse is hardly the word for what happens when they hit.”

Raj grunted in agreement. “We saw it in action back at the upper malls. All the laws our world works by are facing distortion in this area. Dark melt is seeping in here.”

Casey snapped fingers. “Then it's abracadabra and you see those things I saw back at the station. That’s where the dark melt gets back up and walks. I guess I'm lucky they never promoted me to a desk job.”

“That's demoted,” Joe said.

The Reaper's smooth glide didn't last, but ended with a jolt as the train's automatic emergency brakes fired up. The entire tunnel brightened from the blast of the brakes and then the train abruptly halted. A sudden roar of the engines had everyone moving to the front where Donovan was standing and looking out. Debris, mostly wood pieces, and part of a collapsed wall blocked the tracks ahead, but the Reaper was powering up its cowcatcher to clear it. Brilliant light shone on the pile of debris as the energy fork extended from under the front.

“No, no, no,” Donovan was saying. “I can't shut it off.”

“Shut off what?” Casey yelled in the roar. “What is it?”

“The cowcatcher. It's a force shield that clears debris away from the tracks.”

“Why would you want to shut it off,” Mike hollered.

“It ate up half the power bar just starting up,” Donovan replied. “The line is only transmitting minimal wireless power to the train. If it eats the battery we'll be stuck here for hours while it charges.”

Brilliant light shone off dust-and-sweat streaked faces. They were a crowd watching an amazing show they didn't want to see. This time the dogs whimpered but didn't bark. The catcher inched forward, the energy like a glowing pan under the debris until it had it all, then it lifted in the center and sent it to either side of the track. The bright light showed clear tunnel ahead for a moment then the train shut off and everything went dark. A chorus of sighs followed and Donovan's legs gave way as he collapsed into the driver's seat. Then emergency lights came on, the engine rolled over and reached a weak whine, and the Reaper began to inch forward.

“Donovan,” Mike said. “Are we good?”

“Don't know.”

“I do,” Joe said. “They refurbished the Reaper a while back after the supposed no-fail track and power system failed. This thing has a new brand of super backup battery in it that charges for days while the beast runs normally.”

Donovan's control panel lit up, but he did not increase speed, fearing Joe's words could be bullshit. The light of a tunnel mouth showed in the distance and he felt sudden relief. He felt it would be good to cruise in slow and then stop to check the condition of the power car's exterior.

No one was talking; they all watched apprehensively as the train rolled up and entered the stop. It was old line, the Parkside Mall stop. The mall portion didn't exist anymore. Monster-big glare board embedded in the walls and above showed the stop name, ads, and a list of stores. It wasn't lit but the lights of the train seemed to ignite it with bright light. This was a long stop and the wide shallow tiers of shell-fan steps up and down to the mall showed ahead as though they'd journeyed into the past and the mall was still there.

“No people, not even ghosts,” Donovan said as the train rolled ahead. The stop was actually much longer than the train but he let it ride to the end and stopped there. When the doors opened, Lucinda shouted with joy and ran out with the dogs. The others followed, all having the desire to escape the train and feel solid ground.

Donovan got out last and checked the front of the train, tapping here and there with his bar, as though that did something. Frank and Ethan strolled down toward the broad mall entrance, but the others all stayed close by, walking up and down the platform while Lucinda fed the dogs a bottle of water by pouring it in their mouths like they were babies. They lapped it eagerly, sitting by her feet at the bench.

“Maybe hiking it would be a good idea,” Raj said. “That train is becoming a terror ride. We are probably close. Frank will know if there is a clear way up.”

Amber shook her head. “No way. The streets up there will be more dangerous.”

Breanne nodded. “We are a ways off. I remember this location from when it actually existed.”

“A ways, yes,” Raj said. “Unfortunately the route our driver has picked takes us all over the place. We are traveling to China to get across town.”

“No choice,” Donovan said, returning to them. “Right, Mike.”

Mike wasn't listening. He turned away, and then he said. “Everyone get back on the train. I have to run down to Frank and Ethan.”

Lucinda got on board first, crouching and pulling the dogs by their collars, and trying to look down the platform as the dogs and the others were doing. Donovan waved the others on then he went back in and came out carrying his iron bar.

All of the old cobwebbed-and-dated embedded signs suddenly lit up fully as Mike ran, as though someone had pulled a switch somewhere. Both Frank and Ethan had been addressing someone on the steps and were now stepping back cautiously. Whatever was being said was drowned out by a jingle playing from an animated wall ad. Before Mike could reach them, two figures emerged from behind a pillar, coming down the steps. They were obvious squatters, the woman shabby but somewhat attractive. The clownish dark figure of the male clicked immediately - Bozzo. He wondered what he was doing here. But not for long, because before any meaningful greeting took place, all four of them were running and flames burst out on a column next to them.

Mike had to stop immediately to sidestep them. He caught a glance of Bozzo's wild eyes as he passed. Frank spun on the run and grabbed Mike's shoulder in a gesture to draw him with them. Mike didn't follow; he was armed and he waited to see who was coming down the steps. Three greasy men appeared. They were longhaired, wicked tattoos, more of Jim's boys. Just behind them came one of the men in white. Not a big person but an older one; he had a jacket over the white outfit now but the pants and shoes were hard to hide. One of the punks immediately threw a burning Molotov right at Mike, but it didn't land near him because he blasted it out of the air. The remaining kick of the shot forced the men to do a quick retreat behind the pillars.

Again, Mike was pacing backwards with a gun up. It seemed to be the night for it. The Reaper was already moving and he was forced to duck behind a pole as one of the longhairs sidestepped out and fired shots from an automatic. An explosion followed and it was something stronger than a Molotov was. It took an embedded sign off the wall and fragments out of a pillar. Mike did a return blast with the shotgun and the cover of smoke aided as he ran like hell and jumped off the platform to catch the back of the train. He made it, holding on with one arm and one foot.

Five men including the creepy old guy were running up the platform. The lead man fell but the others fanned around him. The running men fired a succession of shots, all of them wild, and the Reaper faded into the tunnel with Mike on the back and looking back. He saw the evil face of the old man and it flashed to a picture of something demonic, grotesque … yet patient and confident. Stopping there had been a mistake. Bozzo had drawn more of the devils after them.

When Mike turned, he found he couldn't get back inside the train. Breanne was there waving her arms and beyond her he saw Bozzo and Donovan in a struggle. They went to the floor with Lucinda nearby struggling to hold the dogs.

The rear door slid open and Mike got inside. He figured Ethan or Joe had taken the controls. He brushed past Breanne and found Frank holding Donovan back while Bozzo stared angrily. Bozzo's woman was on a bench weeping.

Mike's voice was gruff. “What's this about?”

“I don't want that dirty squatter on this train,” Donovan said, wiping sweat off his brow.

“You look like a dirty squatter yourself,” Bozzo snapped. “That's what you do, too. You squat on those empty buildings on James Avenue.”

Donovan struggled but Frank continued holding him back.

“Get yourselves under control!” Amber yelled. “Who knows what might be at the next stop.”

There was momentary silence. Donovan stopped struggling then the Reaper again stopped. “Let me go,” Donovan said. “That guy doesn't know how to run this train.”

After Frank released him, Donovan snorted at Bozzo, turned, and went to the front.

Frank confronted Bozzo. “Who are those guys back there?”

Bozzo didn't answer; he looked stoned or half drunk, his eyes like glass. The woman stopped weeping and spoke. “I'm Shaleena. Those people are killers. There are three of the ones in white but they aren't medical people. They escaped from the Jung; the psycho wing.”

“That's right,” Bozzo said, his dry voice cracking. “The crazy mailman and Mr. Smothers are out. Them and some other jerk who hypnotizes people on sight. They have something to do with this entire mess. They're looking for something – a book. Jimbo and his boys are working with them. They also have a thing going for Donovan. He shot one of Jim's boys.”

Donovan was just stepping back. “Talking about me,” he said.

“As if you don't know,” Bozzo said. He looked around from face to face. “You people should dump this guy. He's a heat score.”

Donovan couldn't speak; guilt clouded his face. Mike spoke. “You aren't exactly Mr. Cool yourself, Bozzo. Didn't we just see five men chasing you? Including one of those mad killers?”

“This conversation is going nowhere,” Raj said. “They're trying to kill everyone. Let's get this train moving before they come up the tracks.”

“He's right,” Casey put in. “One of the lovely chaps in white tried to do me in. We are all marked.”

Shaleena began relating the horror story of their experience on street. Mike skipped it and went up with Donovan where they discovered that Ethan had messed up the train. Donovan got it working in five minutes. During that time, he rambled on about not trusting Bozzo. Mike didn't say it, but he didn't trust Bozzo either. He didn't share Donovan's bigotry regarding squatters or especially dislike Bozzo. Squatters were just people like other people, and they had somehow ended up where they were … often due to plain old lack of breaks in life. You could just as easily hate rich or privileged people or anyone different for that matter. And expend endless energy in the bitterness of your own delusions. With Bozzo, he'd seen something in his eyes; they weren't quite right. He wasn't the same Bozzo, but he got no images beyond that … just a bad feeling. Bozzo's eyes were glass and mirrors hiding something. However, he couldn't exactly make accusations … no one was the same tonight. Things had changed.

This time the train rode easily through a few a stops and Donovan announced that they were riding the snake's tail home. His view being that the Edge Ring yards were the head of the snake and the end of the line was the tail. Three stops remained.

At the back, the people were generally silent but Ethan had taken to Shaleena and was sitting with her with an ear to everything she said. No one else cared to listen and mostly blocked her out. They'd been through the same deal. Even the dogs were being lulled to sleep as Shaleena had a way of turning an exciting tale into meaningless gossip.

The train emerged in one of the last stops, there was a shout from Donovan, and they were slowing. Thick haze colored by the lighting reduced visibility but there were three people on the platform.

“Fares or fare jumpers?” Frank said, as he was at the front with Mike.

Mike shrugged nervously. “Keep it slow until we can see them.”

“Check the whites of their eyes,” Frank added.

The train slowly rolled past, faces floated in the vapors outside the windshield. “It's people from Jung,” Mike said.

“You mean those maniacs,” Frank replied. “Hit the accelerator.”

“Hold on,” Mike said. “One of them is Dr. Berenyi. I know the other two.”

“Knew them yesterday,” Donovan said as he braked. “Who they are today, well … be careful.”

The train stopped but Donovan opened the doors to the front car only and Mike stepped out with Frank.

“Your doctor has a gun in his pocket. Let's hope he hasn't gone the way of his patients.”

Hawkins and Delina were obviously relieved to see Mike, but Dr. Berenyi looked nervous, like the train was trouble. Hawkins rushed forward, embraced Mike, and then broke away. “Why are you people riding a train into the jaws of Hades?”

“We are doing it mainly because the entire West Haven is the jaws of Hades, and there’s no way out. I'm tracking the source at the Jung and the park next to it.”

“The Jung is an empty shell, a spook house,” Dr. Berenyi said, his attitude toward Mike completely changed. “Only the sentinel is there. Roving gangs and escaped psychotics are on the nearby streets. Hawkins is right; you're going the wrong way.”

Delina managed a smile. “Don't let the Doc spook you. It's like he woke up tonight and discovered he's been an asshole all of his life.”

Frank ignored her comment and gave Dr. Berenyi a searching glance. “Get on board and we'll discuss it.”

Donovan left the train idling. Dr. Berenyi was obviously exhausted. He sat down like a sack. The old Darwin Berenyi with the weird eyes, where it seemed someone else was looking through, was gone. The new Berenyi had eyes with genuine remorse pooled in them.

Hawkins and Delina were well enough to remain standing, but even so, Hawkins looked like he'd just fought a match with a tough opponent. Delina though, was mostly unchanged; she looked like an inmate of the Jung, yesterday and today. Only a Jung that wasn't a life giver but more of taker that left one wispy, frail, and haunted. The power of pills kept her going.

No one was talking yet, Lucinda did a head count. “I count fourteen people and two dogs. We must be the only people not under the spell of this thing.”

“There is some small reason for optimism,” Bozzo said. “You people must have a possible solution or they wouldn't be focused on you.”

Donovan glared at Bozzo, and felt he was prying for information, but said nothing.

Frank sat forward and folded his hands. “Dr. Berenyi. What was it you said about the Jung? Only the sentinel is left. Who in the hell is the sentinel?”

Berenyi sighed and sat up. He related his experience at the institute in the short efficient sentences of a serial note taker. His sanity seemed intact though the events he related were fantastic. Hawkins kept nodding in agreement as he spoke but when Dr. Berenyi asked if he had anything to add, he said his night was probably a lot like the night other people on the train were having. He didn’t want to go into it in any detail.

Raj had listened intently. “Your experience lines up with what Mike is saying.”

Mike had been sipping a bottle of water. He felt he'd heard some valuable information. “I say we move ahead to the end of the line. All of us together have gathered most of the facts. Donovan, Joe, and Casey have confirmed that we can’t escape from the West Haven; all of us know it is worsening chaos and decay inside; and these folks have now confirmed the source. We have details on the deadly lunatics in white, and Jim Steel and the organized search for the book with the key. Dr. Berenyi has also brought us key information about this sentinel named Bowen and his possession by a hostile alien being. That being is in there at the plume. We have a chance because I have the book and key they want. It is hidden but with it, I plan to lock this deal up. We head to Donovan’s buildings and my place and go over that book. The answer will be in it.”

Bozzo had been listening quietly. “That’s the book I saw you drop. I mean the one with the brilliant pentagram inside the cover. You had it with you.”

Donovan suddenly stood up. “Don't tell him where it is?”

“I'm not telling anyone where it is. I can tell you that I don't have it on me.”

“Really,” Bozzo said. “Maybe you should explain why you are in possession of the book in the first place? How do we know you aren't involved in the whole deal with the alien and the sentinel?”

“You know nothing, shut up,” Donovan said.

Since all eyes were on him, Mike simply said, “It came with the house. I found it down in a crumbling section of the basement with some other stuff. Obviously, someone hid it there long ago. I found it while rummaging around and didn’t know what it was exactly. I figured out the truth a while ago, that it's the book they want.”

Shaleena looked up, she’d been dreaming. “Say Bozzo … that creepy psycho, you didn’t tell him anything, did you? He had you under.”

Bozzo glanced around, obviously not liking this change of subject. “Nope, I got away. I told him nothing.”

“Yeah right,” Donovan snorted. His eyes went to Mike’s and he walked to the front and the controls, certain that Bozzo had talked.

The others got into an animated discussion. Mike followed Donovan to the front. “They probably got it from him,” Mike said, as the train started moving. “But like he said, he thought the book was on my person. So he likely told them that. They’ll be hunting us and not my place. We can still beat them there.”

The ride to the end of the line was more of a grind and the tunnels were smoky. Donovan wanted to make it fast but the train didn’t obey his acceleration commands. Safety controls kept the speed down. They moved slowly into the second last stop with Donovan rubbing his bleary eyes when Frank suddenly tapped his shoulder and quietly said, “Shit, there’s a sleep walker right on the tracks.”

Donovan looked up. A dim figure showed in the smoke … fully dressed in a long coat or robe, he couldn’t tell. The man strolled like a sleepwalker but with his back to them.

Donovan began to brake.

“The platforms look clear. No one present,” Mike said.

With that news, Donovan braked fully, bringing the train to a halt twenty meters short of the sleepwalker.

There was a big hiss of hot air from the train and during it, the sleepwalker suddenly turned, pulling out a shotgun hidden in his coat. Long hair covered part of the man’s face but Donovan saw him well enough to know it was Jim Steel. “It's Jimbo, get down!” he yelled.

Donovan and Frank went to the floor. Mike dived, going the length of the car, yelling for the others to get down as he did. The blast laced the Reaper's windshield with a star pattern but it didn’t break it. The glass was bulletproof but not strong enough to take a number of the power blasts. Jimbo knew that and released another round.

Donovan hit the acceleration and the train lurched forward, leaving Jimbo no time for more shots. He simply tossed the gun, ran a few steps, and swung up over the platform. An armed gang of men and women swarmed down from the entrance as Jimbo jumped. They were squatters and Edge Ring gang members and they tried to break through the doors from both the platform and track-bed side.

Ethan and Shaleena were in the back car, having retreated from the blasts while the others had simply dropped. That left them closest to the swarm. Shaleena did a lurching run for the front, aided by Amber and Bozzo. They seized her and went forward with her as she'd slipped.

Ethan didn’t come forward, he tried to block entry and he managed to boot a man with a knife back out before he could get through a forced opening on the doors at the track-bed side. The man fell alongside the train, taking another man with him in the tumble.

A shooter on the platform side unloaded a shotgun blast on the doors. A section shattered, part of the blast knocking Ethan back a step. He didn’t fall but instead screamed and propelled himself forward, his beefy body going right into the crowd trying to enter as they forced the broken door on the run. Ethan tumbled out into them and Casey reached the doors and slugged a man entering, knocking him back out the door.

Two more men had got to the set of doors farther up but retreated when they saw the dogs trying to get out at them and Joe with his gun out.

The train pulled away from the pursuers with Jimbo jumping to the tracks and running for the end of the train. Mike was already dashing there, and as he reached the end, he saw Ethan down on the platform, and two shooters putting bullets into him.

Mike lifted his shotgun; Jimbo saw it and the two dogs beside Mike and ended his pursuit. The train was moving off into the tunnel with Amber screaming, and Lucinda and Shaleena rising from the floor behind her.

Joe hurried to the back. “They didn’t even want to question that Ethan guy, just murdered him on the spot. From now on, we shoot first and answer questions later. We give them the same medicine.”

Casey stepped down and stood beside Joe. “Unlucky thirteen, that's our number now. Maybe we should count in the dogs.”

Mike’s face had reddened with anger. “Those idiots will get their showdown, but on our terms. Right now, we go up and calm the others. We have to keep our nerves for a while longer.”

Donovan kept the train moving; Amber and Lucinda wept, Breanne was silent, shocked. Raj crumpled into a seat like he wanted to give up. Shaleena was no longer crying, but stunned, as she’d never made a friend and lost one to death so quickly. The dogs had already recovered and sat side by side panting because of the excitement and stale air.

This was the grinder from the sound of it, and they were on a long downhill to the end of the line. Donovan looked morose at the controls, but the remaining men remained alert, standing, and armed. As the Reaper continued downhill, it escaped the smoke and cooler air washed in. It made an uneventful entry into the final stop of the old line at Austin Drive. The station had some light from bluish strips along the wall. Originally, they had been embedded behind arty designs to light the area up in interesting ways. All of that artwork had been pulled out, leaving only the long light strips, which were fused into the wall and difficult to remove.

The tunnel widened near the end with the ceiling high and cupped. In the haze of light, it felt like riding into some abandoned underground cathedral. There were ways out of it because the train disturbed some pigeons and they began to circle in air higher up. Pigeons were all they saw but Donovan didn’t stop as the tracks went beyond the station to the turnaround. Once they’d coasted through the entire station, he stopped the train. All seemed clear but rather than ride through the turnaround he backed the train slowly out to the platform. There the dying purr of the engine and whoosh of all the doors opening gave the feel of a beast suddenly relaxing to sleep.

Mike stepped out, followed by Casey and Joe, while the others slowly gathered themselves to leave the train. Mike looked up at a flutter of wings, pigeons up by the ribbed station roof. They disappeared behind a large metal beam. His guess was they had a way in and out through an airshaft that opened at some obscure point in a lower West Haven roof. Since climbing up there wasn’t an option, they needed to find an easier way out of this place.

Even the benches were gone; this station was bare and though not smoky, the pigeon crap and down coating on large sections of it made for an oppressive atmosphere. An atmosphere that didn’t agree with Mike; he began to sneeze uncontrollably.

Donovan led the others out and he was still carrying his big iron bar, with the gun in his pocket. If anything, he made Breanne nervous, and Lucinda too confident, as she released the dogs. Raj came at the tail end and the dogs ran ahead as they chased down some pigeons on the platform ahead. There was some nervous discussion as Amber and Shaleena weren’t happy, then they headed down the platform. Mike went ahead with Casey while Joe and Frank shepherded the others. Donovan decided to keep at trackside, as if expecting attackers to rise from the train pit.

None did; Mike reached a chewed-up section of flooring that angled up and had probably once been an escalator. Off from it he saw the bottom of an elevator shaft, with the elevator no longer present. It had been sealed but poorly because a segment of it had crumbled. The wide shell stairs on what had been a wide walk up to a slightly higher area were chipped down to worn concrete as the expensive surface stone had been removed by some method.

In brighter light, on the other side of the train run, the city had constructed a small power substation. Mike stopped for a closer look and any signs of movement. The others stopped near him and Casey came ahead with Frank.

“There is definite way out,” Mike said. “I see now why they left all of the old line intact. The tunnels are mostly sound and can be reinforced. Even without any trains they can be used for substations and numerous other things put underground.”

Frank shielded his eyes. “I see a walkway down there in the gloom. We can go over and find the exit out of that substation.”

Everyone in the group remained on edge with the spooky feel of this last station stop adding to the negative vibes. Even the pigeons, in the cautious way they came down and did small circles in the central area, created a bad feeling. Mike, Joe, and Casey looked around for trouble. They knew the pigeons might be avoiding the lower areas because they sensed danger. The air was stuffy, fetid, and not just because of smoke leaching from above them. The dried pigeon crap that coated everything emitted dust that added to the problem. They reached steps that ran into the side wall and up to the walkway. That route had a barren look, stripped of adds and signage, with nothing but a lone pigeon roosting up top. Crossing the walkway would leave them out in the open and Mike moved up the steps in the lead with that in mind.

They gathered at the top of the stairs, still hidden in an alcove. They knew they would be visible from most of the station on the walkway. Mike raised a hand to the others, signaling them to remain. He walked out slowly and was nearly at the middle when the dogs started barking, two shots echoed, and a ricochet came off the railing. He ducked low.

A shooter had emerged down on the wide platform steps. He had already been hit and he fell dead; remaining slumped there in the pigeon crap, the victim of one accurate shot from Casey's Beretta.

A second shooter emerged from the gloom on the far side of the walkway, catching Mike off guard again. The fact that the shooter took his first shot at Casey and missed prevented much bloodshed, but barely. Donovan, Joe, and Dr. Berenyi emerged from cover and all three of them fired. The dive to the walkway floor saved Mike from being taken out by the wild shots fired by Donovan and Dr. Berenyi. Joe's shot with his Nighthawk pistol was accurate, hitting the shooter in the solar plexus and killing him. He fell, gurgling blood as he died.

Mike came up in a low crouch and waited, then hurried across. Casey followed, crossing swiftly, and they looked around the area. Caging blocked the pigeons out though they could get through from the walkway if they wanted. The area was clean, a few gloomy aisles of equipment and accompanying signage. An aisle led off to a large vaulted-in area with transformers and a power bus. There was also a cable tunnel, recently cut, and cabling thick enough to put two hands around ran into it. All indications were the substation was not manned but remotely controlled.

Casey waved Mike over and they looked through the mesh at a portion of the transit station below. A number of dead pigeons littered the floor.

“Those two renegades were waiting for us to arrive. Scouts likely or there would be more. Looks like they shot up some pigeons for entertainment.”

Mike nodded in agreement. “Damn. They had a bead on us below. We're lucky they didn't shoot earlier.”

“I know that style of hoodlum. They can hit pigeons up close with a handgun. Anything farther off and they would likely miss. Their guns are the same poor quality as that special Dr. Berenyi is holding. They wanted clean shots on us. Wanted to brag to the bosses about taking us out up close and personal.”

Mike frowned. “They could have unloaded on me when I was out front. The first shot went past me toward the others and you. Maybe they want me alive.”

“It’s possible. Though sending those gangsters to take someone alive is poor strategy. The way out is here, back through this caged-in work area. If any more of Jim's star shooters made it this far, they'll be right out on the street waiting.”

Joe led the others across, took them on a detour around the fallen body. Lucinda didn't want to look at it but didn't have much choice as the whining dogs wanted to sniff it and she had to pull them from it. They headed down for the exit, which was at the end of a wide, gloomy corridor with bare cinder-block walls. The exit was in fact a service elevator that was out of commission with the doors open. It was large enough to load a car inside it. Off to the side of it they found a sealed stairwell exit.

“Maybe you should be a cop. You operate like one on a bust,” Raj said, as Donovan broke the entire lock segment off the door with his iron bar.

Ignoring Raj, Donovan yanked it open the rest of the way with his left while holding the bar in strike position with his right. There was enough light inside to reveal dusty air, cobwebs and crawling spiders.

Bozzo laughed. “You need an iron bar just to kill a spider.”

Lucinda giggled. The dogs growled. “For you, I'd use the roach spray,” Donovan replied as he swept away a spider.

No one else felt like continuing this conversation, they waited quietly. Frank peered beyond Donovan at the narrow section of metal staircase up. He twitched his nose. “Smells like an exit to the sewer.”

The dusty steps showed no disturbance so unless someone waited at the top the way was clear. They went up slowly, wearily … this time with Casey up front. At the top, they came to a dusty enclosed foyer. Most of what had once been an arched entrance was bricked in from the other side. A single square door stood in the center of it, bolted, and locked from the inside. It was clear that power workers using the site used the service elevator only.

“Not exactly high-priced security,” Donovan said as he snapped the lock with his bar. He glanced at Bozzo. “I suppose squatters in this area only populate premium digs.”

Bozzo grinned, revealing crooked teeth. “You got that right. Unless there's a nuclear war, we won't be moving down here.”

Raj looked him in the eye. “What's waiting out there probably already looks like nuclear war.”

Amber apparently already had a similar idea because she sat on the one lone bench, put one hand on her forehead, and pulled her fingers through her mussed blond hair. Soot patterns showed on her face. Mike knew that like her some of the others couldn't make it much farther. Fortunately, they were close and could rest at his place.

The dogs smelled something and were eager to go. Too eager. Mike had them pulled back to keep them from lunging out and alerting any hostile forces that might be nearby. “This exit should be clear,” he said. “They didn't come in this way. There must be another way out from the platform steps. It's a good thing we missed it. Let me take a look outside first.”

No one showed any disagreement with the offer of him going first, or any desire to go outside at all. Breanne was looking back the other way as if she wanted to return to the train. Mike eased past Donovan and went out the door. Its exterior was inset; he found himself in shadows. A short alley space led out to the street. He took the few steps down and looked out. It was Staten Street and this exit was about a half block down from the new aboveground station exit and at its rear. That would put them in the clear, as anyone waiting for them to exit would be on the other side.

Glancing back, he saw Casey at the door with his Beretta ready. No one was on the street here. Wrecks blocked it, as it was a major accident site. Shadowy forms, likely dead bodies were in some of the cars. It was dim. The scene didn’t appear to be favorable. A shooter could hide in there pretending to be dead, but his guess was that there weren't any. There was no telltale movement. He waved to Casey and the others slowly emerged.

Mike watched as they came forward, worried that the dogs would start barking. Even the whispering of the people made him nervous. He didn't want to face shooters with this crowd. They followed Mike's left turn and kept tight against the shadows of the high stained walls. Every dark entryway, broken storefront, vehicle and pile of debris featured dangerous possibilities and hidden hazards. Half a block down, they turned into an alley over to James Avenue, Mike and Donovan's street. Near its end, a fire escape went up partway and Mike had them wait while he climbed to a low roof segment for a look out on the street. Added height gave him a better view and he didn't like most of what he saw.

The small parkette a ways up and across the street would provide a better look. He saw tall flames guttering behind distant buildings and fiery ash flowing to the sky. It was cloudy, leaden above, as if they were approaching deeper night rather than day. Though there were sporadic lights, everything distant appeared in a fading blur, like it wasn't quite real … like only James Avenue and its nearby surroundings had retained complete form. All the rest ended against a backdrop of impenetrable darkness.

The other way down the street toward the institute and Western Woods Park was shrouded in smoky haze. He could see could see inky forms in the drifting murk and the occasional black flash rise from the park. It could hardly be called a park now as a giant smoke plume rose to the sky there.

The office complex preceding the parkette was in partial collapse, with one wall fully crumbled like it had been hit in an air strike. Mike believed that a high pile of debris in the parkette was a pile of bodies as there weren't any on the street, though he'd seen bodies in the interiors of stalled and crashed vehicles. An overturned tour bus blocked the nearest intersection and there was little but phantoms beyond it. He could see that the bus had come down off Indian Lane at high speed. He couldn't tell if there were any corpses at the crash site.

Silence held and as far as other voices, they heard no shouting as they moved up the road. Wind gusted and the night hum rose in their ears. Ashes were falling and blowing north, creating an eerie effect; the higher stream of ash seemed to be the source of the hum, though Mike knew that to be illusion. He believed the genuine source here was the plume in the institute and park area.

They reached the bus and moved around it. He'd steered them away from the parkette and the pile of bodies. A whirling gust quickly replaced the general burning odor with the horrible stench of dead and rotting flesh. It was enough to halt even the dogs. They moved on without comment and after some moments were out on James Avenue. There were no sleepwalkers and no human sounds. Most of the lights were out but everything was intact and vivid. James Avenue was unaffected structurally to a large degree. There was a storefront collapse ahead and some fallen concrete, but beyond on the run to Mike's place things looked mostly untouched. One street ahead branched off toward a great heart of shabby decay; the higher West Haven showed as a moldering heap like burning sarcophagi in the sky, giving off fumes and emitting a blanket of blurry ash.

Mike glanced at Donovan, seeing that his eyes had brightened; no doubt with the idea that his buildings remained untouched. He wanted to press ahead faster while the rest of the gang and the dogs were cautious. The windows fronting the mall on upper James had been shattered and Mike knocked Donovan on the shoulder to let him know he wanted him to slow. It was dark immediately beyond the broken glass but blue light glowed in the deeper interior. The place had a forbidding look; few would venture into it. They had no intention of that and feared what might emerge from it.

The tail end of the Commerce City complex touched James Avenue like a huge northeast cornerstone at the next block. Only a few floors high on the James end, it rose to a colossus stretching a full block the other way. Its huge awning on James led to a walkway that ran over to the elevator car that rode over the complex - Public Lift 1. They stayed on the other side of the road by intact windows and buildings rather than pass the yawning open front of the mall. An area of young trees and benches was ahead in a small court out front of the Traders Building and they were approaching it when bright light suddenly lit up the walkway exit at Commerce City.

They halted, the dogs snuffed but didn't bark, and everyone instinctively pulled back into the shadows of the high wall and some foliage. The sudden ignition of bright light had blinded them to a man standing there. He was nearly as white as the light with a glowing sheen of sweat on his exposed skin. It dimmed some … Lucinda emitted a quiet gasp, Bozzo swore and most of the others visibly gulped. In the first instants, the man could have been mistaken for an evil specter but when Dr. Berenyi mouthed the word “Bowen,” they all knew who the man was.

Bowen’s shabby clothing and whitened flesh gave him an alien look, but closer inspection revealed an evil man. His knees and bowlegs showed. The thighs were thick and strong as was his chest. His face had aged yet he looked like a very powerful and foul older man with a full head of longish wispy white hair. The fierce expression and Bowen’s slightly crooked mouth seemed to convey that the aging hadn’t been natural but a wicked transformation. He also had no loss of hearing because from that distance he heard Dr. Berenyi's near whisper.

“Yes, it's me,” he said. “By now you know what I want.”

Frank stepped out clumsily, nearly stumbling. “You've got what you want. You've wrecked the neighborhood and killed most of the people.”

Even Mike felt awed by Bowen's strange presence. His appearance had the same feel of something seen in past visions. Only he was there in the flesh in this obscene reality. Mike didn't cringe like most of the others, but he was unable to act. He stood staring, partly locked in a flow of thoughts. Joe though, did act, in a risky manner, stepping boldly forward with his Nighthawk up, yet saying nothing.

Emboldened and angry, Dr. Berenyi also stepped forward; he raised his fist, still blackened from his first encounter with Bowen and the otherworldly creature near the plume. Shaking it, he quietly cursed then said, “You liar. You pretended to be a victim, saying you're possessed. I can see it now. You're just as much a part of it. You're no sentinel, forced to do some service. If that thing you met is the evil of another world, you're its counterpart here.”

The dogs began barking, trying to break free. Lucinda held them back, quieted them.

Bowen visibly hissed. “Shut up, you silly little man. You and your guilt trips learned from books. I never had a choice in life. I’m a victim of my cruel mother, the delusions that ruined my mind, the courts, and your crazy institute and its experiments. I'm a victim of this entire world and this world owes me. I'm going to get that key and make it pay. As for the evil creature possessing me, it thinks it can use me as a victim, too. Just like all the rest. It wanted to enter this world with my help, but it can't adapt here and it is losing control by the minute as this ticks down to the end. But that end would be too easy for my liking. Everyone going out in a nice big blast; that is not my idea of punishment. I'll never let it happen; I will help you to save the world and then I'm going to be loose in it with greater power than any man. Once I bring that key, I'm free because that thing won't need me. I will pay back those who wounded me and will have lots of time to do it.”

Dr. Berenyi had no answer. He stared dumbfounded. His mouth half open in confusion and awe. Mike felt about the same. Contact with Bowen had caused a vision of the beast’s world to pass through his mind. It was a place too grotesque and evil to be of any use to Bowen. It was clear that Bowen could only want this world or one of the others he hadn’t yet seen. And the thing possessing him was dying; whatever it had planned had gone wrong. Bowen was working to save it to save himself.

Joe still had the Nighthawk up and his hand was shaking. His eyes projected hate. A foul criminal become a genuine half-human monster; he hadn’t seen it before. At least not this way. The old Bowen was loathsome enough that Joe would break him to pieces. This new Bowen stoked the fires of burning anger in him.

Dr. Berenyi, being closer, experienced only revulsion now. “You say you will help us save the world!” he yelled. “You can't even save yourself, and that's why you came to us. We don't have to deal with you!”

Bowen sneered at him. “I'm afraid you do. Everyone left on the streets now works for me. You can't escape.”

“Really,” Joe said. “All I see is you alone. I think you're the one who did all this. You somehow brought that monster here and the disaster with it. You want to talk about payback, making people suffer. Well, it's time you felt some payback!”

Joe opened fire, emptying his gun, and as he did, no one moved or breathed. Mike, the women, even the dogs remained still. It was like watching something that wasn't real; a movie scene that would be over and then maybe the lights would come back on.

Bullets flew to the target and melted into Bowen's flesh. He staggered back from the impacts, and the wide bullet holes spattered blood then began to close. One of Joe's shots passed right through Bowen's skull, yet it remained intact. The last shot hit Bowen in the chest; a blackened wound expanded, releasing a black flash and stream of darkness that flew straight to Joe, lifted him off his feet, and threw him to the ground.

The impact with Joe blinded everyone. The dogs whimpered and retreated. Dr. Berenyi stumbled a few steps, half-blind, to where he'd seen Joe fall. As his eyes and the eyes of the others cleared, they saw that Joe wasn't there on the ground … only the shape of a body formed into a pool of dissipating black blood remained. The liquid ran into the dust. Before any of them could react, Bowen had his fingers to his mouth and he whistled. The sound was high; near ear splitting … it caused the shadows to flutter and the ground to shake. A guttural human roar rose. Figures emerged from the walkway opening behind Bowen; others were rising in the shadows. The first one showed in the faint light; perhaps something once human but now dead and blackened. Its eyes were closed but it had a lusting mouth and a scent of them.

The blinding spell and confusion that had been crippling Mike broke instantly. Now alert and thinking, he pointed up the road and commanded the others to run. His voice cleared the emotion piercing them over Joe's death and pushed them to flee. They fled and the dogs took the lead. Casey ran, though in shock over the death of his pal. Donovan was stunned but his life in the West Haven told him to flee a fight he could not win. Delina had been running from things all of her life so this wasn't new. Lucinda had tears in her eyes but she ran because she wanted to save the dogs. Breanne was escaping the unreality of a world where a person could be destroyed in an instant, her nursing skills turned into a joke. Amber ran gasping, filled with terror, feeling like a victim in a horror movie. Frank kept looking back, choking out curses, feeling impotent. Shaleena and Bozzo were at the rear of the fleeing group and operating under the squatters' code that said hold your ground until the end. They believed those black flashes Bowen could produce certainly were the end.

Only Dr. Berenyi failed to leave and he remained facing Bowen and the approaching creatures. Mike saw it, turned back, and ran to Berenyi, urging him to move. He saw Bowen opening his arms wide and his eyes pooling with darkness and knew he was going to release another of those flashes. It came and Mike instinctively stepped in front of Dr. Berenyi. He took the full brunt of the flash and a moment later was amazed to find it had done nothing more than shock him with a hellish vision. It shot down him and cracked the ground under his feet as his body channeled it to earth.

Mike lifted the shotgun and fired five blasts in succession, one shot lifted Bowen and sent him for a tumble, and the others cut into his mindless army of the dead. The hits were direct and blew them apart, exploding the things from the center of mass and spraying the pieces outward. The exploding matter was rotten and slimy.

Mike shot another one in the head then noticed that Bowen only raised men from the dead as if he didn’t feel women were up to the job.

Bowen didn't stay down but powered himself back to his feet with his hands and returned. He had an expression of combined loathing and horror on his face. Mike could see the possession of that other beast in his eyes and it was more than possession. New or warped laws of physics applied to his physical being. Mike didn't fire on him again; he wasn't sure if killing him was desirable or possible. The first blast had gone through him like wind, only knocking him over. He also had to consider that Bowen might be telling the truth. If so, they might need him to stop this thing.

“Bowen, next time you raise the dead try turning them into real men and not rotten vegetables,” Mike said. He turned back to Dr. Berenyi and saw that he was feverish, streaming with perspiration. His expression was determined. He was about to lunge for Bowen and Mike shouted “No!” and seized him. This time the Doctor obeyed Mike's urging and followed him on the run. Mike had his arm and they didn't get far before hearing distant shouting. Bowen’s whistle had alerted his allies. The crazy men in white and the Jim’s shooters were rushing to the scene. 

Mike glanced back and saw Bowen slowly following them, behind him in the distance the plume flickered like a living thing … like it was the power behind the evil. He knew the possessed bastard planned to use his killers against him now that his black power had failed to fell him.

They didn’t have far to run and Mike wanted to get everyone into his house because he had weapons inside. The crumbled basement section would allow them to travel over to Donovan’s second complex without being seen. They could create a second point of defense.

Dense smoke ahead made it difficult to see the others, but Mike spotted them and Donovan in the lead. Dr. Berenyi was also getting well ahead of him, catching up to the others. Casey hung back and waited for Mike at the last intersection, which was Brule Lane and James Avenue. As they met, they saw Jim Steel and some men running toward them with one of the men in white. They were still a ways off; Mike ducked behind an abandoned Land Rover, fired two blasts in their direction to disperse and slow them, and then hurried off with Casey, trying to make the house.

As they got closer, Mike discovered that the smoke was dense and rolling into the road because the lofts across the street from his house were burning. Flames roared on the upper floors. There was a commotion out front. It was hard to make out; shots were fired. Casey surged ahead, racing to this scene and as Mike began to sprint, a man rushed from a dark doorway and tackled him.

Mike’s shotgun flew off to his left and bounced into the roadside grass. He found himself in a wrestling match with one of Jim Steel's boys. Even the smoke and foul odors of the night couldn’t cover the repulsive body odor of the man he was fighting. Mike threw him off; saw him coming quickly back at him … messy untrimmed long hair and a scruffy red beard … a real squatter caveman. They made contact and slammed into the side of a car, went over the hood and back to the ground. Mike found it hard to get a grip on the sweating pig so he broke loose and used punches. It proved the better strategy; he scored a knock down. The man came up swinging a rock that flew into the car and Mike’s next punch put the man down and out. As the caveman slammed the pavement like sack of cement, a bullet winged the car and Mike raced off toward the house.

Casey saw the others dispersing ahead and appeared out of the smoke to find Donovan facing a tall, armed man wearing leather pants and a jean vest with no shirt. Earrings and tattoos, the man looked like he was probably the biggest ape in last month’s Pride parade. Donovan had won this showdown because the man was crumpling to the street, shot. There were other bodies in the street.

“Who is dead on our side?” Casey quickly asked.

“They didn’t get any more of us, just Joe and Ethan. Jimbo had a couple shooters waiting here. They didn’t do the job of ambushing us. Looks like they were side tracked, started those lofts on fire, and shot a few people hiding in there. The loft people got one of them before they were killed. I shot that pirate when he came out at us.”

Mike suddenly showed. He had a bleeding scratch across his right cheek. “Where are the others?” He rubbed his eyes. “I can’t see a damn thing. Smoke and dust in my eyes. I encountered a real beast of a man back there.”

Casey was looking down the road. “They aren’t even running now. They’re walking up slowly with Bowen. They’re sure they have us. But there aren’t so many now.”

“The others,” Mike said again. “Where are they?”

Donovan replied. “Behind the fence at my first building. Right there. The rest should be hiding behind the bushes, front of your house.”

“Okay, Donovan. Whoever is at your place get them inside and lock up. Casey and I will get the rest inside my place.”

The situation moved forward in a blur of speed that matched the blur of the smoke. Donovan and Mike nearly tied each other in dashing over, getting people inside, and locking up. Two minutes later Mike looked through a slat in the shuttered window. Bowen and the others had gathered at the front. The blowing smoke from the lofts fire added an aspect even more sinister than usual. They weren’t shooting yet, but gathering to discuss something. Bowen stepped away into some weedy grass and looked over the black iron fence at Donovan's place. Satisfied with what he saw, he went back to the others.

Casey thumped up the worn swayback steps from the basement. “The tally is Frank, Amber, Breanne, you, and I. Donovan must have the others.”

Breanne sprinted up from the basement, her light feet creating nothing more than a couple squeaks. Her voice was shaky, her hair streaked from the dusty night. “I think we lost Lucinda and the dogs in that confusion.”

Frank turned quickly from the other window. “They don’t have her out there.”

“They wouldn’t, she’d hide,” Mike said. He passed Casey the shotgun. “I can go through the basement and across to Donovan. I have underground access those boys on the street aren't aware of … plus some surprise weapons downstairs.”

Mike followed Breanne down the basement stairs and checked on the others. Amber had some candles burning already to aid the one dusty old light bulb that was working. Her top off, she was heading for the tiny washroom. Breanne collapsed in a foldout chair as he opened his gun cabinet. Mike fished around inside, told her to tell Casey to take what he needed, then he carried some weapons across the basement, ducked the beam and reached the musty steps up on Donovan’s side. He entered and crossed a dark empty room that smelled of oil and cleaning fluid. It was lined with shelves and dusty items. Most of them covered. The floorboards squeaked beneath the tiles and he suddenly found a gun planted in his back. “It’s me, don’t shoot,” he said.

Donovan hit the button on a huge cop-style flashlight. “Thought so. Had to be sure.”

“Who do you have with you here?”

“Hawkins, Raj, and Delina.”

“Then Lucinda and Dr. Berenyi are missing. Bozzo and his woman are gone, too.”

“That’s Shaleena. Hawkins says they came past your place but didn’t come in behind the fence with him. That puts them farther up the street, hiding if they haven’t run farther off. Dogs are up there with them. They were chasing a cat, with Lucinda chasing them. No one saw what happened to Dr. Berenyi. We don’t where he is.”

“Okay, take these guns and shock grenades. Send Raj down. I’m going to pull that book with the key. I want him to go through it fast. It should tell us what to do. Then I’m going out the side to find the others.”

“Sure you want to take a chance on that?”

“I won’t take long. They think they have us but I have some surprises ready. Casey and Frank can defend from my place and there’s you and Hawkins with a bead on them from here. They’ll rush us, probably not right away. They’ll test if we have any power. If Bowen approaches while I’m gone hit him with the flash grenades.”

Donovan walked off and Mike kept a brief watch until he returned with Raj, who wasn’t saying much. He moved from the bottom of the stairs like a limping blind man. Hawkins looked down from farther up the stairs, already holding one of the grenades in his hand. Donovan escorted them as far as the stairs down to the crossover.

Reaching up to the top of the old decrepit crossbeam, Mike pulled down the book and passed it to Raj, giving him the news that the key Bowen wanted was fixed into the title page. They moved to the other side of his gun cabinet to a cleaner spacious area of the deep basement. Breanne pulled out two more of the folding chairs and they sat for a moment. Mike took the book back, opened it to the title page with the key embedded, then leafed through it. All of it was in languages he could not read. His only understanding came from the graphics printed off old woodcuts. “It's all Greek to me,” he said. “But the sketches of ceremonies and the symbols I understand. Very much like witchcraft.”

Raj grinned. “It's all Greek to you because portions of it are written in Greek. I can read some of it but it will take some time. Just from the pages you flipped I can see that if it is witchcraft it is a bizarre form of it.”

“Good, maybe you can make something of it,” Mike said. He went back to the cover page and studied the pentagram. “It is raised, maybe glued on.” Playing with it, he found that it moved then came loose. He pulled it all the way free. A substance like webbing was behind it and the object somehow stuck to it yet pulled free, completely clean.

“What do you think of this?” he said, handing it to Raj.

Raj turned it over a few times. “Thin but the edges aren't sharp … a very brittle substance because it doesn't bend. I’m willing to bet that I couldn’t break it but I’m not going to try. It doesn’t look like a key, but we have no way of knowing what is embedded inside of it. To work as a key, it would fit into an indent of the same shape. I can't see any other way to use it. The underside has a fine pattern that indicates that. There is something odd about it, as if it touches my hand rather than my hand touching it. It is a special substance and the radiance is like emanations of something rather than just a reflection of light.”

“Go over the book, and stay down here. Breanne is the best person to aid you with it. I'm going back over to Donovan's side then out to scout the area. Maybe you'll have something when I return.”


 Part Eight: The Plume

 Lucinda crouched next to the pocked wall of an older structure; its facade was the remains of an old church used as an historical front for some condominium housing. The tower rising behind the facade cast deep shadows. Though now decrepit and mostly abandoned and overgrown with dusty weeds, the front provided cover. There was a garden on its perimeter. Tall ornamental grass and the silvery leaves of Russian sage bushes shielded her as she peeked out at the street. There was no sign of the dogs. She could hear voices and knew they were hostiles down in front of Donovan’s place.

Being only a block away she feared to go out, but couldn’t find a way around back. To her the strange and violent night was expected down here. She’d lived most of her life up on a few of the sky streets and she’d been told she’d be in danger if she broke the rules and came here at night. Her parents had spent so many nights arguing about moving out of the West Haven to the city proper that she was glad that she didn’t have to hear it tonight. Her mother used to yell about the West Haven being dead and her dad wanting to die with it. He claimed a revival was coming and the place would be vibrant once again. The more she thought about it, the happier she was that they were sleeping. Sleep that was disturbed, but they weren’t dead when she left. Awake, they’d just mess things up and be killed somehow when they failed to cope. Maybe they’d never wake; she knew that … her small circle of friends being probably doomed bothered her more.

She looked down at her scuffed running shoes and a tear in her skirt then licked a cut on her finger as she continued to wait. Her patience proved a wise move because a splotch of white appeared in the darkness; one of the nasty men in white was nearby. This one walked alone and silently, looking for something. She hoped that something wasn’t her. He had strong features, bright hawkish eyes and looked more serious than cruel. She wasn’t fooled by his calm aspect; he was as rotten as the rest only keeping it under the surface.

She watched him cut across a small yard and go down a narrow wood-chip path between two buildings. She hadn’t noticed that path until now and it occurred to her that the dogs had likely gone down it. There had been no sign of them up the other way.

Knowing it was probably a bad decision, she quickly crossed the road. A glance down toward Donovan’s place revealed some gloomy figures in the roadway. The smoky night cut visibility considerably when trying to see farther off; she was sure they hadn’t spotted her. She crept under the shade of a willow tree with branches that drooped near to the ground. At the edge of the path, she noticed that the building to the right was a funeral home the willow and other shrubs had shrouded and she wondered if the creepy man had gone inside.

She didn’t see him farther down the path. It split about halfway down and a gate went to a property off to the left. The path straight ahead was very narrow and between the walls of two other structures. She felt the gate to be more promising. It would be a place where dogs might go, and the gate was most of the way open.

Just inside the gate, she found that the man in white had gone through it. She spotted him about two stone-throws off talking to someone - a man. This person was dressed all in dark clothing and she couldn’t see who it was as a bush partly shielded him. She didn’t care to find out either. Ducking into some lilac bushes, she waited until they moved off and then she came back out.

She took the narrow path between two high walls and was surprised when she emerged in a broad enclosed courtyard. Surrounded on all sides, the area was ebony black with even deeper shadows running out from more lilac bushes and small trees. Her eyes adjusted quickly. She saw movement; a ginger cat running off. It passed through the center area toward a water fountain and some benches on the far side. The dogs had chased a ginger cat and she thought it was probably the same one so she jogged across and stood in the long grass near the fountain. There was a fence there; the cat had gone through it. She had the feeling the dogs were nearby but didn’t want to call out. She looked around but didn't see anybody and the high windows were all dark rectangles with nothing but a bit of night gleam. Releasing a low whistle, she waited for a response. Then she noticed a broken section of the fence by some bushes. Another path ran there with a hedge rising a few feet above the fence on the other side.

Before she could head to it, someone spoke behind her and she turned quickly. Though it was hard to see in the dark, she knew exactly who it was – Bozzo.

He stepped forward, the spring in his step adding to the funny way he walked. “Did you find your dogs?”


His voice took on an urgent tone with a creepy inflection. “We have to go back and help the others. You can look for the dogs later.”

“The house is surrounded now, we can't get back in.”

“I know a way.”

“That must have been you I just saw talking to that man in white. You're helping them.”

“Well now, aren't we clever. You won't be returning at all now. You might spoil everything. I’m trying to save the people by grabbing that book. Mike Wilde is controlling the others. He knows there is power in that book and he wants it for himself. It will be better if I have the book.”

Lucinda didn’t care about Bozzo or his plans for the book; she spun on her heel and was about to dash through the space in the fence. She got five steps and halted. The man in white was there, so tall she had to look up to see his face. She looked into his fierce eyes and became too scared to run. He stepped forward and took her hand, and she felt ashamed for allowing him to do it. He led her up beside Bozzo.

“Well now,” he said to Bozzo. His voice the tone an adult takes on when scolding a child. “You just told me you were going to bring the others out to Bowen. But I hear you telling this little lady that you have plans of your own.”

Bozzo took a step back. “Relax … I was just fibbing to her.”

“Fibbing? Perhaps we don’t need fibbers on the team. This child makes a perfect hostage. She's probably the daughter of one of them. Once they see we have her they’ll come out and ….”

Brett the Mailman never finished speaking as a rock flew out of the dark and winged off the side of his head. He let go of Lucinda's hand as he staggered back and fell. Bozzo responded by pulling a long knife from under his jacket. He nearly took a slash at a person appearing from the bushes, but when he saw it was Shaleena, he held back.

Lucinda looked on as Bozzo checked on the fallen man and she felt better with Shaleena on the scene.

“Shit, Shaleena. That's the Mailman. I made a deal with him to save our asses. You knocked him out cold.”

Shaleena’s chest expanded as she took deep breaths and Lucinda found herself hoping her own breasts would never grow to that size. Shaleena’s eyes narrowed. “You can't make deals with them. Are you crazy?”

“I'm not crazy. I saw the power they have when I was touched. The others have no chance. They'll all be killed. We have one chance. If I get that book, the key will make me the power. They’ll have to obey me.”

Lucinda didn’t like the turn this situation was taking. She stuck her tongue out at Bozzo then turned to run. Bozzo smacked her with the flat of his left hand, knocking her down for a tumble and she didn’t get back up.

A dusty wind full of ashes suddenly blew in, shaking the bushes and combing the grass. It blew in Shaleena’s face as she said, “Why in the fuck did you do that? You’ve been touched all right. Those guys turned you into a child-beating piece of shit.”

Bozzo's dirty hair rose with the wind, evil purpose pooled in his eyes. He could barely see Shaleena. “She'll rat me out to the others. It is better to kill her now before that happens.”

A hum from above came with the gusts and it caused Shaleena to shout, “You creep! You can't kill her, she's only a kid!”

Bozzo stiffened; he hated that bossy look in Shaleena's eyes and her pinched expression. Bitches he didn't tolerate. He raised the knife and glared at her. Shaleena began to step back, against a strong wind that was pushing her forward. She was sure Bozzo was going to swing, cut her, but the wind was so electric he remained there with the knife up, like a gruesome statue. It all suddenly blurred, something like a hole appeared, and it spun around her in swirls like dark pudding. Bozzo and the park vanished, replaced by a flat black landscape … then she felt herself tumbling and her head spinning as her mind fell into darkness.

Bozzo struck out with the knife as the gust of wind peaked, but his blade cut through empty night and he had to alter the swing to keep the blade from coming down and cutting his leg. He looked up and stared, dumbfounded … a luminous black web was spinning away into the sky. He had no idea what had happened to Shaleena, but this strange event did save him from killing her. At least that wouldn’t be on his conscience. He looked at Lucinda in the grass; she was beginning to rise. Killing her wouldn’t bother him, as long as no one knew about it.

A portion of the fence had vanished with Shaleena. He looked about fearfully but relaxed when he saw that the hum and danger had passed. He put his hands to his head as the stress was getting to him. Then he muttered, “Time for someone to die.”

The Mailman remained on the ground but he was stirring. Lucinda was up now, still groggy. Bozzo’s mood suddenly swung and he found himself wishing she had been swept away, too. He decided getting rid of her was the only option whether he liked it or not and he had to stop delaying it. She mumbled something unintelligible as she took a small step. Bozzo took a guilty look in all directions then raised the knife. “This isn't going to hurt kid. One quick cut, then it will be all over. Better this way; better than being turned into whatever Shaleena is now.”

Bozzo was about to make a clean strike, and then he saw something … bright eyes, four of them staring from the darkness that had replaced the vanished portion of the fence. He heard low growling, began to step back … he tried to lower the blade slowly to reduce his appearance as an attacker. Somehow it didn’t work. The blade gleamed and he was sure the dogs could the see through his attempt to trick them. “Easy boys, easy boys,” he said. He was repeating those words a third time when the dogs lunged, flew up, and took him down.

The dogs ripped flesh. Lucinda stumbled off in the long grass. Bozzo screamed like a dying demon. The noise woke the Mailman and he stood up, holding his aching head.

The dogs were so busy putting the bite on Bozzo they didn’t even notice the Mailman. Ten more seconds passed, and then the Mailman shook his head back and forth and whistled loud. It caused the dogs to break away. They came over, sat in the grass, and panted, but they didn’t attack the Mailman. He saw that they were satiated by the killing, and he took a slow careful step and reached out to take Lucinda’s hand.

He was still reaching out when a gun cracked and a bullet hit him between the eyes. It wasn't a large caliber bullet, just enough to leave a neat hole, with a touch of blood showing as he crumpled to the ground dead.

“Keep the dogs quiet,” Mike said as he pocketed his Mini and emerged through the hole in the fence. “We have to get out of here and back quickly.”


Amber ducked back to the basement with Breanne as gunshots drilled the front of the house. Most were clear misses that tore up brick, but some penetrated the front door and windows, tearing up ornaments, furniture, and walls. Being an older solid structure, Mike's house delivered a shield of protection. The house was far more bulletproof than lofts or condos with floor-to-ceiling windows.

Three of Jim Steel’s boys had taken cover in the smoke clouds billowing from the lofts across the street. The smoke and a line of bushes at the front of the yard made it impossible gauge their shifting positions. A shutter splintered and Frank was forced back with Casey. They hit the floor in the kitchen. Return shots erupted from Donovan’s building as Hawkins and Donovan released protective fire that kept the front clear.

Casey was satisfied with it and went out the back. He suspected some of Steel’s men were moving to the rear. Cutting out into the yard, he ducked behind a tree, moved quickly through the darkness, and peeked down the alley. Two shooters were near the back of Donovan’s building. Obviously, they wanted Donovan out of commission first. Hurrying back inside, Casey ran down the basement stairs and told Amber to run over and warn Donovan.

Alone by the bullet-pocked shutter, Frank watched a bullet ping off an air conditioner and wished Mike would hurry back. The blaze of protective fire from Donovan's building wouldn’t stop them for long and he was worried about that position being attacked with more force. Raj was spending what seemed to be an endless amount of time poring through the occult book Mike had given him. He wondered if he had any answer yet. In one sense, he was satisfied. There was at least some grim satisfaction in proving they could defend the house. He readied another flash grenade, and then he waited for shots to hit the bushes from Donovan's place before pulling aside the shutter and tossing it. It blew and did the job of holding Bowen's forces back from the house with a roar of sound and light.

Three men had already gone down thanks to Casey. The most Frank had accomplished was to wound one of them. He didn't want to kill anyone but felt he didn't have much choice in the matter. Either Donovan or Hawkins had nailed a couple of them from the other building. Their numbers were diminishing and from it, Frank learned that it was much easier to defend than attempt to assault a fortified position. He also knew it might be early luck because Bowen had simply retreated to watch all of this … as if he enjoyed watching the scene and people dying, probably knowing he could use that power of his when needed.

He tossed another grenade and there was a lull as Bowen's remaining people regrouped down the street in the yard of a rundown detached house. Taking advantage of the moment, Frank rushed to the basement. He saw Mike coming out of the gloom from Donovan's side. Breanne had the book, candle light spilling gold on her blond locks. Raj was pointing something out. The two of them appeared calm like two librarians, even though new explosions and shots shook the building from Donovan's continued attempts to keep the hostiles from the street out front of the house.

“Lucinda and the dogs are with Donovan. They’ll be over shortly,” Mike said as he walked up to Frank. “Bozzo and Shaleena are dead and one of the maniacs in white has perished. I won't go into the grim details on Bozzo. Shaleena met some new form of oblivion, sucked into a black web from the sky. The neighborhood is coming apart fast now. More flying black holes are appearing, eating everything. What have we learned from the book?”

Breanne broke away from a page of sketches. Her gaze was serious. “Raj and I have discussed it. The sketches and description outline various ceremonies. Some description is written in Greek and Latin, other pages are ancient, copies of Germanic runes. Neither of us can read them. Murals in the book depict that huge plume rising from the park and have details on that isolated place I briefly experienced beyond the two trees.”

“Does any of this help us?” Frank said.

“Yes,” Raj replied. “I studied languages and speak five. One of the languages in the book is not a known human language. The book is a copy of a very ancient book with new images added. Many of the symbols later used by humans in witchcraft actually come from the unknown language in the book. In my opinion, the ceremonies are mostly meaningless. The witchcraft ceremonies built around the key were created to protect and hold the key in a safe location near the portal to be available when needed. At certain times that plume appears and the key is taken inside and placed. I do not know why that is done or what the key is exactly.”

Mike’s eyes were pinched with frustration; he shook his head from the stress. “What good is all of this to us? It seems like another dead end.”

Raj shook his head in disagreement. “I believe we can use the key to shut this thing down. It appears that the witchcraft system was created because on this side a human has to use the key. I think that if you return that key inside the plume this will end. The book depicts that so there isn’t really anything else we can try. Centuries ago, when the portals were in use to cross between the worlds, there was always a witch or a high priest of the key that let the visitor back through to go home. The visitors don’t come any more, at least in my opinion. I’m talking about the original visitors who created this system. Something else crossed this time; I am referring to the evil being that transformed Bowen. Our friend Bowen happened to be in the park at the time the portal opened and the being took control of him.”

“It's a mess … I mean that plume chaos thing, Bowen and that monster,” Frank said. “We can see that by looking out the window. The problem is that we can’t get out of here to use that key, unless Bowen allows it.”

As Mike listened to Frank’s disparaging words, he felt sudden relief. “I think that is what he wants. For some reason I am immune to that power of his. He is sweating us, sweating me, so I’ll do what he wants. I found the book and had the key first; maybe I’m the only one that can use it. I think we’ll find out soon enough.”


Dr. Berenyi struggled inside of an overpowering dream; he was in a dark vile world, and in a gray crowd shuffling down a bleak street. Drooling and rank odors from the others disgusted him. None of them had their eyes open. They were worse than dead and he was dying with them. A sudden impulse caused him to look up and instead of a blue sky, it was a sky of fiery clouds, yet it cast shadows not light on the city below. Someone suddenly bumped him hard and he woke, finding it had been a vivid dream.

Now he was in a heap of damp leaves and twigs by some black chokeberry shrubs. The Doctor felt so exhausted it took half a minute to remember how he'd ended up on the ground. The memories weren't fond, but a series of unfolding thoughts of the long ugly night. The fact that he was again waking from the fog was disappointing but he supposed remaining in it would be death. Realizing that he'd lost the others was frightening; it meant he was on his own again with slim survival chances.

Getting up, he brushed dirt and damp leaves from his rumpled suit. His hair was a wild mess, he could feel it, but he didn't want to touch it with his dirty hands. He spotted the cheap gun he'd been carrying. It was right beside where he'd fallen. A foul look stamped his face. He hated guns and all of the characters out tonight killing people with them. Now they'd brought him to the bottom with them. Carrying a Saturday night special designed for fast kills. He’d become like another of the mad killers. At least he would be if could shoot well enough to hit someone.

He'd at least collapsed in a secure hiding spot, halfway down a small ravine, among chokeberry bushes, debris, and trash. Some evergreen scrub lined the top and he could see flames and smoke from a fire up there. He made his way up slowly and at the top, he peeked through the pine scrub. He was a ways up from Mike Wilde's house. If memory served him right, they'd said the two odd buildings to either side of it were Donovan's property.

In the chaos on route to the house, he'd fled, pursued by a shooter dressed in loose shabby clothes. The sort of ill-fitting clothes one would pick from a trash bin or thrift store without a change room. Running from a vulgar unshaven rogue who could afford a quality gun but not clothing or a dentist was exactly the picture he’d had of the West Haven for some time. He'd tumbled down the small ravine-side. The shooter hadn't realized his bullets had missed the target and thought he'd fallen dead and rolled to the bottom. Apparently, the pickings were so good tonight, he had no need to climb down and rob him.

Dr. Berenyi knew he hadn't been out cold for long because he could see dangerous people gathered across the street from Wilde's place. The situation looked to be a temporary standoff. His friends were in the house and armed while the enemy was outside. Soon the final shootout would begin, assuming it hadn't been underway already.

The Doctor could see Bowen, one of the maniacs in white and a few of the longhaired shoot-em-up boys. Obtaining access via the front wouldn't be possible but he could use the smoke screen to get closer. The lofts across the road from Wilde's place and over the yard behind Bowen and friends were on fire. There were no tall flames now but dense smoke was rising and thankfully drifting the other way.

Dr. Berenyi kept well back from the street, moving in front yards until he could see more clearly. Some men were coming up the street the other way led by an asylum escapee in white he knew was Mr. Smothers. Two of the men pushed wheelbarrows containing drums. They stopped and gathered with Bowen and the others. Smothers pointed to one of Donovan's buildings and Dr. Berenyi understood that they were for some reason going to burn it. He wondered why they wouldn't just set Wilde's house on fire and force them out, then he saw Smothers pointing up at a small balcony on the fourth floor and got the picture. They were going in and planned to pour the liquid down on Wilde's roof. Once done they could turn that roof into a cap of fire that would force the people out.

A shot pinged near one of the drums and suddenly the men with the wheelbarrows began to run with them. One of them fell with a shoulder wound. Dr. Berenyi saw what he thought was a large stone fly out of a window in Donovan's other building. It hit the ground near Bowen as he retreated, and sent up a noise and flash that deafened and blinded Dr. Berenyi half a block away.

The Doctor waited for his vision to clear. Sudden nausea caused him to lean over and vomit. When he looked up, Bowen and friends had retreated out of range and were firing shots at the house and one of Donovan's buildings. It was clear Wilde's party had been split and some of them had taken refuge in the house and one of Donovan’s buildings. The two men with the wheelbarrows had escaped and showed in the gloom approaching Donovan's other apartment building.

Dr. Berenyi felt he had to warn his friends about this and decided to try going around the back way. He moved off until he was under the cover of bushes and a willow tree at the front of a funeral home. He stood beside a sign that said Burial & Cremation Options. Smaller lettering under it promised Good Fortune in the Next Life.

When he crossed the road, he did it swiftly and he didn't pause to look. He reached the yard of a rather dead condo complex with a classic front. The way to the back involved climbing over two iron fences, which he did grudgingly. He cursed all the exertion this night was forcing upon him, but he was glad when he found a back lane.

There were no lights, it was all murky and dark; he assumed Bowen had at least a couple of men covering the rear. He hurried down a ways, keeping his footfalls silent and took cover in a doorway in a back garage. Two of the longhaired shooters lurked in the shadows right behind Wilde's house. As he watched, one of them walked off the other way and entered at the rear of one of Donovan's apartment buildings – the structure that Smothers and his wheelbarrow boys had been approaching from the front.

Dr. Berenyi crept closer; he felt it was possible to sneak up on this troublemaker and knock him out, yet he couldn't gain the courage to do so. He realized the contradiction with his mood earlier when he'd been angry enough to confront Bowen. Being older and wiser, he now wanted to somehow defeat these nasty characters, rather than receive an after-death award for bravery. Taking out the gun, he looked at it then put it away. Even if he did hit the target, the sound would probably alert others. With no other choice, he took a slow deep breath and moved in close enough to make a run at the man. There was opportunity; the fellow was lighting a smoke, his gun beside him in a niche in the wall. Berenyi put a foot forward, he was about to move in and slug the man with his gun … then found he no longer need to do so because Donovan appeared from the other approach and seized the man. The struggle was violent and breathtaking. Dr. Berenyi watched as Donovan strangled the man and cracked his neck on the spot. He dragged the sagging body into the dark, turned the Doctor’s way, halted and pulled his gun.

The swarthy Donovan was nearly buried in shadows but for some reason Dr. Berenyi could see him clearly. “Don't shoot, it's me,” he whispered, his frightened eyes dropping to the barrel of the huge handgun Donovan was wielding.

Donovan looked around. He waved the gun recklessly as he spoke, not thinking about what the .45 auto-round Glock would do if he accidentally fired on Dr. Berenyi. “What are you doing here? I nearly shot you.”

“Coming to warn you people.”

“Warn us. There'd be no help for us if we didn't know about those killers by now.”

“Not that … about their plan. They're moving barrels of flammable stuff into your building.”

“That's why I came down here. I saw Jimbo pushing one of those wheelbarrows. He wants to burn my building.”

“No … they're going to dump it down on the house, burn out Wilde and whoever else is in there.”

“Same difference, my places will go up. Enough talk. Stay a few paces behind and keep silent. Keep your gun out and watch my back.”

Dr. Berenyi followed as Donovan crept up the alley to the entrance the other man had used. The Doctor looked around but saw no other hostile forces. It looked like they weren't that bright, planning to burn Wilde out and leaving an escape route through the back. Then he realized more men were probably coming, saw Donovan wave and hurried to the entrance to get off the lane-way and out of sight.

He followed Donovan inside, assuming he'd use the stairs. Instead, Donovan led him along in the dusty dark to a storage area and a battered service elevator. Using both hands, Dr. Berenyi tried to wave no to Donovan. He did not want to get on some old service elevator that looked like it had been designed during WWII. He ended up getting on it anyway, and regretting it as he watched Donovan stand on a chair and open the roof hatch. Donovan climbed up easily and Dr. Berenyi waved no again, furiously, as he reached down to help pull him up. The sound of squeaking floorboards changed the Doctor's mind and he hopped quickly to the chair and went up with Donovan's pull. He found Donovan to be amazingly strong. Berenyi wished he had that strength; he'd get Bowen and strangle him on the spot.

Donovan lit his lighter, revealing an old gray-painted built-in ladder that went up the shaft. Fortunately, the shaft only went up about three floors. With no alternative, Dr. Berenyi again followed as Donovan went up the ladder.

Cobwebs hit the Doctor's face; he felt like doing a primal scream to excise the frustration, then they were at the top and in the dark again. He stood and listened with Donovan and heard noises and some banging. Donovan pulled him along then they waited beside a door, listening.

A gruff voice spoke. “You stupid fucks; you put the barrels in the wrong place. The plan is to cook Wilde out, not set the street out front on fire.”

“Uh, okay, Jimbo. We'll move them.”

“Just wait. I'll check the stability of that balcony. Smothers is coming up to oversee the operation. He'll be here in a minute. So make sure you don’t start shooting at him.”

Dr. Berenyi disliked what he was seeing in the dim light even more than what he was hearing. Donovan had his back to the door and his hands were rising and falling as he tried to control a state of rage. His left hand went to his sweaty forehead, his big gun shook in his right hand and Dr. Berenyi found himself waving no again. Donovan paid no attention. He spun about, threw the door open and fired two very loud and accurate shots, killing the two men standing there and fortunately not hitting the barrels of gasoline.

The powerful shots had knocked the two men across the room. Donovan ran inside. The door remained open. Dr. Berenyi remained in the semi dark, his low-budget gun in his hand as Donovan walked about the two fallen bodies, making loud exclamations, and waving his Glock. “Gonna burn my buildings, shooting at them … you're dead cocksuckers now!”

Donovan went to the window, brandishing the gun some more. A voice came from behind Donovan and off to Dr. Berenyi's left. “You're dead, too, Donovan!” the man said.

Dr. Berenyi couldn't see him but he knew it was Jimbo.

Donovan turned quickly, but neither of the two men fired. “Jimbo! You bastard!” Donovan howled. “You want me, here I am!”

In the shortest second Dr. Berenyi had ever experienced, Donovan threw the gun, dived and rolled. Jimbo's shot missed him, Donovan swiped the gun away as he came up and a moment later, the two men were in a struggle in the room. Dr. Berenyi could see both of them now but all he could do was stand there with the gun clenched in his hand. Donovan was getting the better of Jimbo, a couple of solid head punches, but Jimbo managed to rise from a fall, trip Donovan, and throw him over. Quicker than a snake, Jimbo grabbed his gun from the floor, he fired on Donovan as he rose … a gut shot that put Donovan back down, and this time it looked like it would be for good. The wound in his stomach was a mean one that would make for a long painful death if Jimbo didn't finish him. And it looked like Jimbo planned exactly that, because he didn't fire again but began to grin and gloat. “Finally paying the price, Donovan. Time to burn and die, remembering that Jim Steel was your suffering end.”

Donovan choked and he could see Dr. Berenyi in the darkness beyond the door. His eyes were saying - shoot him, shoot. But the Doctor couldn't shoot. He was too scared. He took a step back and the floorboards squeaked. Jim Steel turned and held the gun on him. The expression on Dr. Berenyi's face was so full of shock and cowardice that Jimbo grinned even wider and held off on the shot. “What's the matter little man? Afraid to shoot. I guess so. With that shaky hand of yours you'd probably hit the gasoline and fry the three of us.”

Perhaps a grain of pride remained in Dr. Berenyi's soul. No matter how frightened he was, he still hated rotten creeps that would gloat about killing people with guns. He bit down on his tongue, pulled the trigger and he missed Jim Steel and hit one of the barrels. He was sure he saw Donovan smile in that moment as Jim's face lit with shock and the barrel lit in an explosion of fire.

The whole room was burning; Dr. Berenyi staggered back, deeper into the other room as the heat scorched him. He saw Jim Steel on fire and crashing out the window, then he turned and ran … knowing Donovan was a cooked burger and Jim Steel was a flaming shish kabob landing in the street below.

Dr. Berenyi reached the elevator shaft but his nerves were so bad he didn't bother to climb down it. His hand was locked like a vise on the gun and he lifted it then opened his hand and dropped it down the shaft. It clattered at the bottom; he stood there thinking he would never shoot a gun again, and then he heard furtive footsteps and turned. It was dark, another dirty cobweb splashed across his face and he swatted off a fat spider. The sound was from the right so he hurried off to the left. He went through a door into a hall. Though a couple lights were on, Donovan’s place was the dingy sort that sucked the light out of the air and left corridors stained with yellowed gloom. The floors of the building were large and confusing. He assumed this was a row of apartments, all of them empty. Hiding in one would be of no use. It was possible no one would find him but there would be no quick exit either unless he jumped down four floors to be shot in the street when he landed.

Fumes were rising, a lot of smoke. This dump was firetrap for sure and now it was going up fast. The footsteps grew closer. Dr. Berenyi made it to the stairwell, through open the door, and fell one flight down.

He recovered and saw a man on the landing above. Dr. Berenyi popped up, dashed down a flight, through the door and down another hall. He was running into smoke; he was running right into the fire as the burning gas had poured down from above him. There were flames flickering on the hallway walls. He dashed past that section and turned. Now there was enough light to see his pursuer. It was Mr. Smothers and he had a perverse grin on his face; in the garish light, his ugly horse face terrified Dr. Berenyi. He raced right into flames, into the stairwell, down a flight, through a door and then down a hall away from the fire. Mr. Smothers was hot on his tail, he didn't have to look back to know it.

Panting, running, stumbling … Dr. Berenyi made the opposite stairwell and got down to an exit. He burst out the door and found himself just in off the back but there was a gate ahead and it was closed. He ran ahead to it, seized it to open it, but it was locked. Turning around, the Doctor looked and saw Mr. Smothers coming out the door. He was so winded all he could do was lean back against the gate and stare at him.

Mr. Smothers approached and he was carrying something. He lifted his right hand to display it. It was nothing but a big piece of pink insulation. Mr. Smothers had ripped it from a wall and Dr. Berenyi knew what he planned to do with it.

“Well now,” Mr. Smothers said in a voice as smooth as oil. “I've caught myself a doctor. How many people have you finished off back there in the Happy House, Doc? A hundred, a thousand … where you destroyed their minds or brains or locked them away in padded isolation cells. Wasn't it you who wrote a special paper on me at one time? I read that paper and it sucked. It was a bunch of Freudian nonsense. Perhaps you’d like to try some psychotherapy right now and see if it cures me.”

Dr. Berenyi stuttered a few unintelligible words. He had his hands behind his back on the gate and he felt something he'd missed – the latch. Mr. Smothers approached cautiously like a cat working prey that might be tricky. The Doctor snapped up the latch and swung around the open gate just in time. Mr. Smothers lunged but missed him and banged against the metal. Dr. Berenyi reached the street, tripped on a brick and rolled. By the time he could move to get up, he saw Mr. Smothers standing over him with the piece of insulation in both hands. He was backlit by the fire burning wildly in Donovan's building above. An entire porch-like section looked like it was about to collapse on both of them, but Mr. Smothers wasn't aware of it.

It was the end, the Doctor knew. He had no strength left to fight or run. His last breath would be filtered by a foul piece of old insulation. As he thought it, he heard woman's voice calling gently, “Hawkin's, is that you?”

The Doctor knew it was Delina. He'd seen her nervous anorexic figure around the institute enough times. She was not the type of patient he favored. She was beyond psychotherapy … a depressed loony for the brain or drugs experimental departments. He had no doubt that Mr. Smothers probably recognized her too. And in spite of Smothers’ recent speech, portraying himself as the avenger of psychiatric patients, he wouldn't hesitate to finish her.

Wouldn't hesitate turned out to be understatement. Mr. Smothers turned and charged her so fast the fear didn't have time to show on her face. She struggled but he took her against a wall, banged her head, and stuffed a piece of the insulation down her throat before smothering her with the rest.

Dr. Berenyi watched it from the ground, with a face full of horror. It happened so fast he couldn’t think to try to stop it.

Smothers dumped Delina aside and turned back to the Doctor, proud of his work. Sickened, Dr. Berenyi was about to say something, but he didn't have to because bullets suddenly flew out of the smoke and sent blood spatters up Smothers' chest to his face. He fell as a dead and bloody mess to the street. Dr. Berenyi couldn't see who it was and he couldn't believe his luck. He stood and was about to step away, then he looked up and saw a huge mass of burning debris falling, a moment before it hit him and buried him in flames in the alleyway.


Mike appeared in the yard and did running approach toward the scene of tragedy in the alley. Casey was staggering back, burning debris bursting through the air from the impact of the collapse above. He caught Casey and pulled him free of the exploding flames. They moved over to Mike's backyard.

Casey licked at his singed hand. Mike stared over at the heap of burning debris. “That was Berenyi it fell on, wasn't it?”

The foul sweat soaking Casey and the bitter taste of ashes caused him to spit in disgust. His hand had been hurt twice tonight and it hurt like hell. “More than the Doctor. I picked off that Smothers guy. He strangled Delina.”

Hawkins had stepped out, he turned Casey around. “She's dead! I told her not to come out here. She was supposed to watch the back only.” A tear fell on his sooty face. He shook his fist in rage at the roaring fire. “What now?”

More rotten wood fell, creating a blaze that would cremate Delina's and Berenyi's remains, and hopefully carry Smothers lower to the fires of Hades he deserved. Mike had that haunted look in his eyes again. He answered. “Frank and Amber are firing from the front shutters. Maybe not accurate fire but steady to convince them we are in there. That fire will soon spread to this house. We need to kill off the rest of Jim Steel's boys. He has a few left. We have the best chance of hitting them from Donovan's other building. Hawkins, you stay here and guard the rear. Shoot if any of them show. Lucinda and the dogs are in the basement now. The dogs are agitated. Casey and I will go inside the apartment building and see if we can pick them off.”

“I'll set the dogs on them if I have to,” Hawkins said. Soot darkened his face and clothes to the point that he looked like a soldier painted for battle. He moved to his hidden backyard post behind scrub and recycling bins. Mike moved off with Casey away from the fire toward the other building.

They stopped at the back entrance. Mike spoke. “The fire is blocking access to the alley from the south so they can only come down past this apartment building at the back. We'll try to cover the back and the front. Moving quickly to the back if we hear Hawkins start shooting.”

Inside the building, they moved to the third floor and front. It was completely dark but they knew the route and there were no surprises until they peeked out the window. A couple of hostiles were vaulting the iron fence below and others were moving closer to the front of Mike's house, having noticed how poor the shooting was of those remaining inside. Mike picked a shotgun from the floor and sent blasts down at the men creeping through the deep weeds. One went down dead; the other ran behind an evergreen tree, jumped the north fence, and got away.

Mike watched as Casey fired a sniper shot with a Remington rifle taken from the house gun cabinet. He picked off a new attacker as he emerged from the smoke.

Four more of Jim Steel's men remained out of range. Three others were fleeing in the night. They went out of sight at the side of the burning lofts. Over on the other side, Bowen and the last man in white, that being Lord Kenneth, had stepped into the road. Burning lofts were on one side and Donovan's burning apartment building sent up a column of smoke on the other side. Casey sighted and tried a shot on Bowen. It disappeared in thin air somewhere; it was as if he had fired an empty shell.

After that freak shot, Lord Kenneth remained standing in the street and Bowen retreated out of sight in the smoke. And that didn't sit right with Mike or Casey.

“Looks like trouble,” Casey said. “Bowen is up to something. He left that one white maniac in the street; wonder why? I might be able to hit him from here. Not sure.”

Before Casey could get a bead on Kenneth, he followed Bowen into the smoke.

“Don't get it,” Mike said. “There is nothing that way.”

Four of Jim Steel's men began moving in and out of the smoky lofts front, firing some heavier guns at the house and Casey, and Mike in the perch. Return fire worked to hold them there, as fire from above was the only way to keep them from blasting their way into the house. Mike moved to another window and fired two useless blasts that didn't reach them but drew them out to return fire. It allowed Casey to take them out one by one with more sniper fire. When the last man was down, no others showed.

Mike watched for movement in the area out front. He saw none. “Time to get back to house. I doubt Bowen and Kenneth will be gone for long.”

Casey flashed a light as they turned to leave. A circular pattern marred the wall from bullets Jimbo's boys had shot from below. Mike shook his head as they passed it into the hallway. At the same moment, an area of dark distortion appeared in the alley. When it vanished, Bowen was present and walking toward the back of the house. Hawkins saw it but hesitated for some moments because it didn't seem real. Yet it was happening and even from this distance, he could see Bowen's eyes – he was slightly cross-eyed with expanded pupils surrounded by an amber glow that gave the impression of some engine of evil burning inside of him.

Hawkins emerged from cover, opened fire, and again experienced unreality. It was like he was firing a cap gun in a game of cowboys and Indians or in a carnival shooting gallery; where the sites of the guns were fixed so he'd never hit the target. The bullets went wild, and Bowen didn't even halt his approach, as though Hawkins' assault was nothing of consequence. That caused anger to rise and Hawkins was already overheated and frustrated. If bullets wouldn't work, he decided to rely on physical strength and went through the open gate towards Bowen.

That stopped Bowen. He gaped as if he hadn't expected anyone would dare a direct physical challenge. Hawkins was the better street fighter and he took advantage of Bowen’s hesitation. He put him down with the palm of his hand to his chest, followed by a knee to the groin and a slug to his head while he was falling. Yet Bowen somehow vanished, rose behind him, and threw him forward to the road. There was a pause as Hawkins rose and turned, then they engaged and did a violent dance as they struggled in the street. They tumbled and this time when Hawkins rose, he saw nothing but an empty black landscape. The ground below was black, smooth, and gleaming, as was everything nearby and in the distance. The sky above was a black covering with the only form being Bowen. He was white but more a deathly pale shade of it, and he grinned as he stepped back and vanished. Hawkins didn't hesitate; he ran to where Bowen had been standing. A second later, he felt himself falling. His eyes filled with a vision of huge complexes below; some burning, some crumbling amid flashes of deep black rising over the Switch Ring, and he was headed down toward that broken overpass and certain death. He opened his mouth to scream but nothing came out as he fell in silence down a narrow space between two massive structures.

The dogs were barking furiously in the backyard and as Casey ran past with Mike, they joined them on the run. They all stopped at the edge of the flames at the spot where they'd seen two dim forms grappling then vanish.

“It had to be Hawkins,” Mike said. “He was watching the back.”

The dogs howled at the flames. Casey frowned to block the glare and ashes. “That man in white was probably Kenneth.”

“No, it was Bowen. They didn't go into the flames … I saw them vanish right here at this spot. We both know what that means - death or something much worse.”

“Yeah, but probably not for Bowen … he brought it on, most likely.”

“We'll likely never see Hawkins again, but Bowen will be back. He might already be around front.”

Casey went into the house through the back and gave Frank the bad news. Another man down caused him to throw his hand to his forehead and eyes, but Mike had gone to the window and he said that the front was clear and maybe the deaths were at an end.

A loose end needed to be taken care of and that was the basement access from Donovan's building. Mike took Casey downstairs to the far end and the crossover to Donovan's side. They weren't sure about Jim Steel's men. Some of them could have returned to enter Donovan's building so they planned to block any access. Mike placed a pry-bar under the old beam. It took some effort, but the beam cracked then suddenly snapped, bursting into rotten splinters. They backed out of the way quickly as some sandy earth came down, and then some more pry bar work brought down enough of that ceiling section to seal the area. The rest of Mike's basement was unaffected as the ceiling there was a newer construction.

Mike studied his work. No one could get through now, but it meant that exit was closed to them as well. Turning, they went back to Raj and the others at the east end of the basement. That area was lit by candlelight to supplement the one naked light bulb. Though Armageddon-style devastation had hit the entire neighborhood, the others were sitting on floor mats listening to Breanne calmly read something in a foreign language.

Mike moved slowly around the circle and though he looked down at it, his eyes were far off, seeing something else. A feeling of being disconnected had been growing on him, like he was losing his grip. The cause was sudden mental images he couldn't interpret. The images created the strange sensation of being some other person. The perspective bothered him immensely as he didn't care much for the idea of developing a split personality at this late date and urgent time. He did his best to shake it off and concentrate on the present.

Casey observed that the key, the silver pentagram had been placed on a small green glass table. A few candles in silver holders formed a circle around it. Images had been chalked in and a larger pentagram drawn on the concrete apron in front of the key; he assumed by Breanne and Lucinda as worn chalk pieces were on the floor by the two of them. The pentagram he recognized, the other images were symbols, no doubt taken from the book. Lucinda, Breanne, Amber, and Raj were end points of the pentagram and the key was at the fifth point.

A glance left and Casey saw Frank and the two dogs sitting at the top of the staircase. Frank appeared to be as mystified as he was and watching the whole thing with suspicion. Perhaps feeling ceremonies with this key object would be dangerous or maybe just a waste of time. Casey sympathized with Frank, as he didn't see magic as a solution to problems either. He gathered that the situation had changed; a while ago, the word from Raj had been that the ceremonies outlined in the book were symbolic, the real power being the key only. Listening to Breanne doing stilted reading in foreign language, and half in a trance from it, reminded him of an aunt that sometimes spoke in tongues. Seeing a pretty nurse intone magic mumbo jumbo was just another of the insane things that transported this night beyond any formerly conceived reality. Only as she passed the book to Raj and he began to read a passage did Casey realize that whatever they were doing was magic that worked to some degree. The basement, Mike's house, remained stable and calm in a neighbourhood crumbling to dust and formless darkness … even the drifting dust at the other end of the collapsed basement had fallen to earth and not choked this area.

Candle smoke and body odors were the only fragrances in the musty air. Casey found himself wishing his friend Joe had lived to see this odd sight. Doctor Berenyi, too. They had both been skeptics and both were now in the hands of death and devils. Perhaps all of them would pass into those hands but at least they had hope for the moment. Raj, who had had nothing but confusion and pain earlier, was the new high priest. Though he didn't look like much of a priest. Whatever Mike Wilde was seeing off in space and trying to shake out of his head was probably nothing new to him; he was perhaps the only person in the West Haven who actually fit in with this whole deal. Frank and Amber sure didn't; Amber resembled an oversexed suburban housewife playing with witchcraft in her spare time. Lucinda perhaps did fit to some degree as Casey considered that magic ceremonies he'd read about usually required a virgin.

As the book passed to Amber, Casey went quietly up the stairs to Frank. He had pulled a chair up to sit by the door. The dogs rested at his feet and though the earth outside continued to rumble the house seemed fine. “What's with the ceremony?” Casey said. “Shouldn't we be defending the front rather than trying stuff that likely won't work?”

“Apparently Raj decided the ceremony for the return of the key is necessary. That is what is happening down there. He has reasons for it.”

“I see, and in a way I don't see.”

“Bowen is waiting out front on the street with that hypnotist murderer, Lord Kenneth. When I last checked, Kenneth was sitting by the lamppost on the fender of a car, having a smoke. They are giving us time.”

“I don't understand that either.”

“They are waiting for us. Bowen knows they are doing the ceremony and is letting it happen. He held back. Let us kill off the others. He was just penning us in and he used Jim Steel and his men for suckers. Bowen followed us to the key knowing that if we read the book we'd do that one last ceremony. He wanted enough of us alive for the ceremony. Raj found it near the end of the book. It works to protect the key holders in the event of the sort of collapse we are seeing right now. Matter is disintegrating in this area because that connection to a world with different physics remains open. According to the book, the ceremony will protect us and allow a path to that protected area in the plume. Someone has to go in and place the key. Looks like it can only be us.”

Casey patted the head of one of the dogs. “More fun coming up,” he said.

“I see by the look in your eyes that you think it's crazy. Raj thought the idea of doing the ceremony was absurd at first, but he changed his opinion. Maybe there was no other option so they had to try it.”

“I can't shake off the idea that the whole thing is wacko, but a look outside says this place should be roaring with flames right now and it isn't even burning. Something is going at least a little bit right here. We do need a final solution, and fast. Ethan, Joe, Donovan, Hawkins, Delina, Berenyi, Bozzo, and Shaleena are gone now. Some of them just seemed to vanish. If it keeps up our entire little party is going to meet with the rest of the folks from this neighbourhood, in the mutated darkness out there.”

Casey's words found emphasis as a deep rumble shook the house. It grew to a roar and it felt like the center of the earth was rising. As it ended with a terrible bang, he lost his footing and fell headlong down the basement stairs. His face hit the dirt, and when he looked up, he saw Frank holding a beam at the top. The dogs cowered beside him. He turned his head to the others by their chalked images and pentagram. Mike Wilde was helping Raj to his feet and the others were also rising. Casey got to his feet quickly, stepped over, and said, “You people conjured up an earthquake. What does it mean?”

Breanne brushed a sweep of hair back from her face. She smiled and Casey found himself wondering how anybody could smile at such a time. “It means the ceremony is done. What else it means, we don't know. We're going upstairs for a look.”

Enough light from the fires outside came through the smashed window and shutter to light the room. Frank was already looking out the window. He didn't shout any warning or wave anyone back so they all came up for a look. Dead bodies littered the street but there were no active shooters. The dead scene brought some momentary relief but dangerous flames were devouring Donovan's building and burning ashes and debris were falling in the yard. There was too much smoke rising to see anything in the sky or distance but there was movement across the road as Bowen and Kenneth appeared through a split in the bushes.

Breanne took a deep breath as Bowen reached the walkway to the house. “Shit,” she said. “I was hoping our ceremony would vanquish him.”

“No such luck,” Raj said, as though they were the last words of the ceremony. He watched as Bowen left Kenneth standing behind him on the street and approached, looking larger in the weird smoke and firelight and positively evil, but more like a raw form of it rather than any prince of darkness.

Casey's police training and Mike's military background caused the two of them to do more than stare with fascination at Bowen. They looked beyond him, taking in the immediate target area at the front of the house, and then all else visible. Mike put his head partway out the window and noticed that nothing seemed to exist beyond James Avenue. The only strong light was on the street and it ran like a dim smoky tunnel in the direction leading to Western Woods Park and the Jung Memorial Institute. The other way up the street was a wall of rippled darkness that banked up to a lowered sky that resembled a lid of dark smoke. They couldn't see above the housetops or into the distance to any of the large structures of the West Haven. The only reality remaining was defined in one house and a street of dead bodies, rubble and abandoned vehicles. It was a shaky reality as they could feel the house vibrating in a deep hum that made their bones ache.

Black flashes showed higher in the smoke and Bowen suddenly threw his arms up, sending out a yell that started the dogs howling. Breanne moved away from the window as he did it and shouted “Down!” Everyone except Mike went to the floor as Bowen released a blinding wave, another of the same type that had destroyed Joe. However, this one spread out and dissipated; it didn't hit Mike or the open window and it ended with an ear-popping poof.

Confused, they began to rise from the floor. Breanne took Mike's hand as she stood up. The dogs remained crouched low. Lucinda's eyes were so wide in the weird light, Frank wondered if the next emanation of darkness would be from her. Amber was also wide-eyed, and with the sweat sheen and dust on her shoulders, and face, she looked baked from the long hot night.

“I guess we now know what that poof was about,” Raj said as they all looked out at the huge mushrooms of black smoke rising from the lofts across the road and Donovan's building next door.

Casey couldn't quite believe his eyes. “He put out the fires, like now he's saving us rather than wanting to kill us. Could be he's planning to smoke us out.”

Mike looked at the dirty yellow haze that had replaced the light of the fires. “He expects to earn our cooperation by terrifying us. Smoking us out will probably be next.”

Smoke blew unnaturally around the two men as Kenneth came up beside Bowen, then grinned arrogantly and waved. His eyes were fixed on Mike.

Breanne held Mike’s arms from behind, saying, “Please, ignore him. Don't go out there.”

“That's not really an option now,” Mike replied. “We might as well find out what they want. They aren’t going away.”

Except for Raj, the others thought going out for a talk with them was a bad idea, but there was no alternative plan other than remaining in the house. Mike brushed aside objections, opened the door and walked out to them. As he did, Frank pulled Breanne back and closed the door before she could follow.

The atmosphere outside was uninviting. Beyond Bowen and Kenneth, Mike saw nothing more than a wall of swirling dust and smoke. It covered the sky above and the road beyond both shoulders. If anything remained of the West Haven, it was buried in clouds of smoky dust. A vision of it spun like a terrible wheel in Mike's mind and it had a blinding effect on his powers of perception. He perceived nothing but that bleak landscape and the doom that lay inside of it.

Stopping and facing Bowen, he looked him in the eye but he couldn't fathom him, as there was nothing but horror behind his gaze. The spark of life was alien. Kenneth had a similar look, but his were the eyes of a mad genius and not an alien.

“I will need more than the book and its key,” Bowen said confidently. “I need you and your people.”

“Haven't you had enough violence? This has been a long night of it.”

Bowen gestured out at the blinding storm. “If you want to keep that chaos from spreading to the whole planet you have to come with me. The West Haven, too. In a very short time, everything in the West Haven will disintegrate. Your people will be gone if they stay here.”

“You don't look much like a savior to me. We'll have to consider the violence of your first coming before embracing the second. I know you have no concern for us, so what is your game?”

“The game has changed since it began. I didn't start this thing. It started on its own. I fell into that trap and that being that altered me, possessed me. It did originally plan to inhabit this earth and feed on it. Unfortunately for it, it can't adapt to this particular parallel world. That is why it waits inside the plume.”

“Do you expect us to care about that creature and want to save it … or even believe it is telling you the truth?”

“No … I expect you to believe that I want to save myself. And in the deal, this planet, the West Haven, you and your people will live. Yes, this beast gave me special powers, but the horror of being possessed by it is unbearable. Even those dreamers and sleepwalkers out there in the West Haven suffered greatly from partial communion with it. You don't understand the pain of being constantly probed by it. This must come to a close in a way that I am free of it and not drawn into its world or any other with it.”

“That evil thing has plans of its own. I am sure of that.”

“It does want more but it can't get it. You may have found the book and key but you don't know the reasons for them. I know some of it. There is a key in each of four parallel worlds. Each has a different shape. Keys have to be returned periodically, every couple of centuries into the crossover. The beast knew our earth's time of return was near, and tried to cross when the entry readied to open. It caused the plume to grow larger than during usual contact, creating a force threatening total destruction. When you return the key it will end, and it will open the door to that fifth world for a time. I believe the beast will try to cross to it. We can then return to earth and the plume will end when the doors seal.”

“You want us to allow that thing to enter another world and possibly destroy it?”

“You don't know what will happen when it crosses, and like me you have no choice but to gamble. If you don't, this earth will be destroyed. If you looked through the book, you know that the end section with drawings of the plume shows only one solution – and that is returning the key.”

“Okay, I’ve heard you out, but you'll have to wait. I have to discuss it briefly with the others. Explain to me why you need all of us?”

“For certainty. The beast knows some of what the book shows. As you discovered the key, you will place it. Everything surrounding the key in the book, the drawings show a group of people who protect the key and a final procession to place it. We will do according to what is shown to make sure it works.”

“I see …. I mean, I see why you didn't kill us. But I can't force the others to come.”

“No, but you can give them some sound advice. As this ends, it will be safer in there with the key. They'll certainly be killed if they stay here.”

Mike looked deep into Bowen's black and amber eyes and then to Kenneth's glassy eyes. There was mystery in Kenneth's eyes but the hypnotism was gone. “It's called compromise,” Kenneth said. “Bowen and I will gain freedom. But so will you people. There will be no further imprisonment in the Jung for me. I'll escape with Bowen when the plume is stopped. It may not be your perfect answer, but it is better than the alternatives of complete destruction or of that beast entering here to attempt to get the key.”

“I don't like it. As you say, there is no perfect answer. The deal is that if we agree, then you make your escape quick on exit from that area ... and don't trouble us then or after. I'll go in and consult the others.”

Both Bowen and Kenneth nodded so Mike turned away. Back inside the house, the discussion was brief; Raj passed the book around with the drawing of the final procession; the people walking into a swirling tunnel, a dim form in the lead that looked more ghost than human. Rough sketches of the area that lay beyond the plume followed it. They agreed that the key had to be placed and that it didn't make sense to leave anyone at the house. Raj said that he couldn't guarantee any outcome because he had no idea what would happen. He just hoped it would work. There were no expectations that Bowen and Kenneth would honor their word so that was also a problem.


Twenty minutes later the solemn procession went up the street at a calm pace. Bowen the sentinel was in the lead and in no apparent hurry. He had fully taken on the role of sentinel now and looked like it more than a mad killer. Lord Kenneth paced beside Mike just behind Bowen, and the two eyed each other warily from time to time. Mike did not know exactly why Kenneth was needed other than perhaps Bowen wanted someone to watch his back on this walk or maybe to aid his escape. The others kept behind a few paces and there was certainly no spring in their steps; they walked more like prisoners heading to their execution. All of them had the same feeling of deja vu as if this had happened before, and with Mike, the feeling was so strong he felt it had repeated many times. Considering the night and all that had occurred, Mike was surprised that the psychological effects weren't already something far worse. Screaming mad or emotionally ruined and at each other’s throats was what they should be yet were not. Even the dogs, following at the rear, had held up, though they were now looking tired and glancing warily at the spin of smoke to either side.

Flashes appeared up in the high clouds of the great tunnel of dark smoke. A clear path to the plume remained, but all else had been eaten by the chaos. Terrible thunder shook the ground. The area rocked so hard they had to stop and wait. A huge tower block to their left fell in a sudden roaring collapse. They couldn't see it but heard and felt it. It fell in on itself like a demolition and the dust rose to add a great wave into the smoke spume that rushed around their open path. In the dry air, only a faint sweet odor remained. The horrid smell of corpses and death that had been rising earlier had been sucked up into that spinning cloud with all else.

It wasn't complete destruction. From time to time, they caught a view of damaged tower blocks standing like huge tombstones and sarcophagi in the dust. Complexes that had crumbled took on the appearance of monstrous cairns in the dark and flashes of light. The frightening sky beyond the smoke was mercifully hidden and most of time their minds were taken by the path and the way debris, corpses, collapse, vehicles had been swept aside so they could make the walk to the plume.

They were nearly there and overshadowed by the plume rising in the sky. It was a terrifying living fan of black-streaked dust. It shifted in shape but always remained a plume. Mike felt the urge to speak to Kenneth. “Do you like this wreck the West Haven has become or are you planning to escape into some other world with Bowen.”

“Not likely. I'm not an otherworld kind of traveler. The West Haven could be worse. Devastation yes, but Bowen told me they tried to nuke us, and at least one of those flashes we just saw was likely them trying it again.”

“So why are we still here?”

“They can use any weapon they want. It all goes into a void. The West Haven is inside the plume's perimeter and it has no location, at least not until we settle things inside. After that, it will be suddenly back as part of our earth. Think about how big that city outside is and you'll understand that the rulers of our world are the real psychopaths. They would have destroyed all of it had their bombs worked. Bowen and I are kind men compared to them.”

Mike nodded though he didn’t think of Bowen or Kenneth as kind men. “It's a sad fact … so many people in this world suck, and they have their hands on the controls. We don't even have a guarantee that they won't bomb us when this is done.”

Bowen heard him; he answered without turning. “We have a guarantee. That book you are carrying. The language is clear that placing key ends all destruction, even theirs. This has happened at other times … the plume, the damage caused, then the return of the key. What it is all for is something I do not know. It affects the entire world. They won’t be able to act against it.”

The path took a dip, the landscape shifting in the smoke was vegetation, and trees that burned in flames that failed to devour them … a hellish landscape that was Western Woods Park at the base of the plume. If anything remained of the Jung, it failed to show through the smoke. The two strange trees were at the end of the path ahead. Their thick gnarled trunks quivered and the upward twining branches and coin-shaped red-gold leaves burned with a radiant halo. Between the trees a vortex of ebony black swirled, the entry way and one that seemed impassable. The trees and the entry were in the base of the plume. Glancing up at it caused such terror that even Bowen and Kenneth avoided it. Lucinda and Breanne shielded their eyes while the others kept their gaze down. Even the dogs kept their noses to the ground and wouldn't look up.

They stopped twenty meters from it, leaving Bowen to walk up to the vortex alone. He did not enter it, but turned and came back to them. He nodded to Kenneth. “The door is open but we waited too long and the vortex has strengthened as the plume grew. This is your portion,” he said. “Go up and use the power I passed into you to open the way for us.”

Kenneth didn't reply verbally but with his eyes as they suddenly flashed with a fire that didn't fade. As he stepped forward, he began to burn with an aura like that of the trees. He stopped before the vortex, raised his arms, and then placed his open hands into it. A roar of wind followed and Kenneth was sucked into the darkness of the spinning vortex. His body showed, turning in the swirl then it blew like a hatch, rotated before them like a dark coin and flew off over their heads. They all looked back along the path and saw Kenneth fall and tumble on the road. Light exploded around him, he didn't get up, and no one moved to go back and help him. The dogs whimpered like it was a sign of his abandonment and even Breanne shook her head no when Raj asked if she wanted to help him. 

They turned back to Bowen. He was not concerned about Kenneth. “Leave him, he'll recover. And if he's lucky he'll escape when this is over.” He signaled to Mike, indicating he wanted the others to come through behind him one by one. Mike obeyed and they all walked slowly through the open portal.

The change of scenery was instant as they came through the arch. They left devastation behind as the path ended and they were in deep grass. A shimmering transparent bubble replaced the smoky confines of the tunnel, creating a new larger enclosure. The grass filled nearly all of it and the sky beyond the bubble was night sky full of blazing planets and constellations that hung so close as to be threatening. Four other dark arches rose on the perimeter, spaced at the endpoints of a huge silver pentagram. They were near the blazing end of the fifth point.

Everyone had stopped on entry due to awe and something else - vertigo … the whole island was flying like a space ship and they could feel it. Both Raj and Breanne had studied the sketches of this place in the book but found the reality impossible to believe. Frank and Amber held hands and she looked fearfully up at the sky while he viewed the arches. The group kept close and Lucinda in the center saw the least and was grateful for it.

As their eyes adjusted, they noticed something else; the two open doors in the arches. One door was at their rear, which was the door from earth. The other was across to their left. It stood open and a large slithering thing with one great morbid eye was inside of it.

“The monster and it’s sick,” Lucinda said, peeking around Casey to look its way.

A mass of slimy tentacles swayed on its body and a miasma of black mist floated about it. Sores and rot spots covered it and it no longer resembled the bearlike creature Dr. Berenyi had seen entering the grounds of the Jung. The mist shifted in and out, giving the impression that it could choose its form, but that all of those forms would reflect its current state of decay. The evil eye conveyed hostility and hate to a degree that was withering to look at for very long. Raj, Breanne and Lucinda couldn't look at it for more than a moment before being creeped-out so they turned their gaze away. Frank appeared hypnotized by it and shook his head when Amber tugged him away.

Breanne shivered even though it was warm. “That thing makes my flesh crawl. I wish we had a plan. I don't like this place at all. We should have stayed at the house.”

Raj nudged her. “This is the plan. There is nothing else we can do other than deliver the key. That miserable alien creature over there failed to transform itself to escape into our world. It will probably destroy itself trying to get into another. Just keep an eye on it in case it tries to approach us. It won't do anything yet because it thinks it needs us.”

“That demon is one thing,” Frank said. “Bowen is another. I do believe he wants to be free of that thing's control and get back to business on earth, but I don't believe he plans on letting us get out of here with him.”

“We're caught in a trap,” Lucinda said. “I don't want to stay here long; it's scarier than it was outside.”

Raj agreed. “We stay near our portal exit. Whatever happens when Mike places that key, we avoid being taken by it and make a quick exit.”

Mike followed Bowen as he paced through the grass toward a large structure; a sculpture placed at the center of the pentagram. It was a wheel of sorts with five glowing orbs aligning with the five points of the pentagram. A bright ring bound the orbs and a pillar of stone off to the side of it had niche in it to hold the book. As Mike placed the book and opened it, Bowen retreated from it, returning toward the others and the arch leading home.

Raj glanced the other way to make sure the beast wasn't also approaching then quickly lead the others aside so Bowen could pass. It forced them closer to the beast but it began to slither across the grass toward another door they assumed had to be entry to the fifth world it wanted to access.

Having opened the book in the center, Mike leafed back to the cover page and key. The raised pentagram, again embedded in the page, now glowed with an aura and it looked red hot. Mike touched it tentatively, fearing heat and razor sharp edges, and found neither. It snapped up into his palm like his hand was magnetized and the effect was instant and potent. He suddenly felt like a giant and full of stamina; he looked around and his vision altered. The ring of worlds was no longer a representation, but a real view. As his eyes passed to one of the planets on the ring, his mind suddenly flew right toward the surface and he saw a city of spires and strange beings. Awareness of the awesome power of this place he'd entered dizzied him; he lost the feeling of large size quickly as more details of three entire worlds he could see into engulfed his mind. The view inside the first of the dark Earths presented an altered and horrific reality that staggered him and he fell to his knees. It was seeing into to some other dimension of space and time that caused instant terror and a fiery headache.

On the ground, he shook his head. He glanced up at the ring of orbs and beyond them to the planets and constellations hanging above in that frightening sky and felt like an insect. He was about to collapse completely then felt power emanating from the key. It surged through his body and he rose to look at the five orbs again. The entire ring began to move like clockwork and then stopped when the orb of home earth faced him. A patterned indentation in the outer ring matched the pentagram key in precise fit so he moved forward, reached out, and placed it.

The flash blinded him; a silent earthquake shook the ground … the feeling was no longer of the whole place sailing through space but of plunging fast. A kaleidoscope of fiery colors passed outside the bubble above; he saw a vision and then he began to understand the key and his reason for bringing it.

The enlightenment was beyond that of any vision he’d previously experienced; he turned and saw Lucinda walking through the grass towards him, and the others beginning to follow. An aura of brilliant gold shone around each of them and their eyes were liquid gold. Lucinda's mouth was open and she was calling out something to him. Then the others began calling too and the dogs opened their mouths to bark.

They were aglow in falling twilight and neither sounds nor words emerged from their lips, but a stream of golden symbols did. They kept calling, forming a semicircle in the grass as they stopped and faced him. It all flowed into the air of the bubble and into Mike's mind; a language he slowly comprehended all through the images penetrating his thoughts. Sun-wheels flew through a thousand shapes and shifted to a chaotic flow of dream-catcher symbols. Symbols of the elements, pentacles, hexagrams came from Lucinda's mouth while Frank sent tumbling forms of crescent moons through a yin and yang pattern. Golden symbols of animals, insects, unicorns, and scarabs flew from the mouths of the barking dogs, becoming spinning infinity snakes floating with the runes that flowed from every call Amber and Breanne made.

Mike felt the knowledge entering him, passing and leaving again in a language long forgotten. A language with its remnants left on earth as ideas of magic people no longer entertained. In the air, the symbols gathered, flowing into larger shapes, Celtic crosses, the great mandalas, and tree of life representations. The sum if it all being a history of life, of a world settling in memory where it would never be forgotten.

The time of silence finally came and with it other memories, but of times past when they'd all been together to return the key. The full realization filled Mike's mind and he turned and faced the fifth door, which began to glow and alter in shape until the arch became like a huge amulet of moonstone. It flashed brilliant rays and in turn, the doors of the other four worlds became similar amulets in shape.

Bowen had staggered away from the door to earth as it changed to topaz, and the beast turned and slithered off as its doorway became azure. The other dark world took on a sapphire form and aquamarine became the color of the second light world.

Above them, the terrifying orbs were gone and they saw a deep blue sky like that of earth, and the transparent dome beginning to crack. Lines formed like that of broken glass and shattered, the pieces fluttering to the ground in the shapes of semi transparent runes. Fresh air blew in, washing away even the stench of the one-eyed beast, and they could all see that they were no longer on some hidden island in space, but on firm ground. Earthen with fields of the green grass stretching off beyond the perimeter, while they remained inside the ceremonial circle with the pentagram, the living sculpture of the worlds and the entrances become amulets.

As the rush of air ceased, the silence was complete and the only thing was movement as the amulets began to open, all but the fifth world, revealing entry, a path that could be taken into each place. They all looked but no one moved, because the fifth amulet, the one before that world of clouds that could not be seen into, began to open. The opening was silent and all the entry revealed was blowing clouds.

There was a sense of finality, that all had been completed. However, that passed when they saw that Mike again had the key. He'd taken it from the placement and was walking over the grass to the door to the fifth world. Bowen had moved over the field nearer the others, completely fascinated by all that had happened, though he understood none of it. What he now understood was that if the key had been removed the doors might seal shut, and he turned to make a hurried escape through the door to earth. He didn't get far; the beast had moved in the silence, stalking him, and it now blocked the wide entrance; its tentacles spread like a web, forming a complete seal no one could pass.

Bowen saw that he couldn't get through and turned, looking for another avenue of escape. Vortexes appeared and sealed two other portals; he didn't consider the beast's world an option. That left only the fifth world and the clouds were now blowing out of that door in twisting mist and Mike was still walking toward it. The mist whirled, rose, and became a flow of masks, ecstatic faces of all types - human, animal, alien … they expanded, elongated, rose like smoke signals to the sky and Mike walked right through them and through the portal.

Bowen began to run through the grass, desperate in his attempt to reach the portal. He passed the others and the sculpture then tumbled. He rose to cover the final distance but slipped again as a tentacle whipped out and caught him by the hip. The horrid beast had slithered up on him quickly and had him in its grip; he choked and shouted profanities, flailed his arms, but more tentacles shot out and entwined him.

With Bowen held, the beast turned and slithered back to the open portal to its own world … to that hellish place no one wanted to enter. Bowen struggled to the very end, called out to the others for help, but it was too late. He went through the portal and the amulet to the darkest world closed, leaving only a rising puff of dark smoke.

With Bowen and the beast gone the others walked silently to the portal of the fifth world and sat in a semicircle in the grass outside it. They felt washed clean by the fresh air, and they knew the wait wouldn't be long. They remembered everything now and knew Mike would emerge soon, carrying a new key. They would leave with the book and it would be hidden again until the time came for all of this to happen again.

Breanne's smile was angelic, her face pale but refreshed by the wind. The grin Lucinda returned was mischievous. Cloud faces continued to blow in the mist from the portal, and the dogs ran and leaped at them, dispersing some as they rose to the sky. Amber twirled a yellow flower on its stem. She'd picked it from the grass. Casey's eyes were dreamy and still on the door to the dark world. Frank rested on his back, staring at the endless sky, and Raj sat with his hands folded, an expression of deep relief and meditation breaking like a calm wave on his face.

Lucinda spoke first. “The monster that came this time was the creepiest one yet.”

Breanne took her hand. “They all repulse me. Everything in that world is ugly.”

“I wonder what it wanted with Bowen,” Casey said.

“It used Bowen, but the beast is also used,” Raj replied. “A beast always crosses to start the plume, and also to force the return of the key. To make us remember. This one transformed Bowen and deceived him as it used him to aid it. It took him because he can't return to us; he is made of the alien matter of that world now.”


A dreamy hour passed, the cloud faces vanished. Sunshine filled the portal, becoming a fan of rays behind Mike as he returned. They didn't ask what existed in that world. They never did, and they knew some of it from their dreams anyway. All that mattered now was that it was time leave and they could not delay. As the amulet door to that fifth world closed, they paced across the grass, the door to earth spilling some light as it opened fully on their approach. With Mike in the lead, they emerged in the scorched foliage of Western Woods Park. The two gnarled trees remained, soot on the leaves, brilliant daylight on the boughs above. They formed a circle and watched as Mike opened the book, and fixed the new key on the title page. He then flipped the book to the end pages to the sketches of the procession. The figures remained the same in form but the clothing had changed from 18th century style to the clothing they were wearing now. He closed the book; silver jets roared across the sky and they turned and looked from the hilltop at the ruins of the Jung and the massive heaps that remained of the buildings of the West Haven.

The road back to Mike's house remained open and clear and they set off home, looking unusually small next to the ruins towering on either side. The pace was brisk and they didn’t plan on any discussion until they were off the street. Mike didn't travel all of the way with them. He had something else to take care of first. Halting, he let the others pass, and then waved Breanne and Raj on when they stopped to wait for him. Holding the sleeve of his windbreaker over his mouth to block the blowing dust, he watched as the others reached his walkway and entered the house.

Donovan’s two buildings and the lofts over the road were blackened hulks, yet the house was only scorched. Satisfied, he turned and walked through the desolate landscape to an alleyway that remained miraculously open. Two structures had collapsed to either side of it. He came out on upper Staten Street. The former Northern Musik complex blocked most of the street and the next block. It had none of its former airs of beauty but was a collapsed mountain breathing dust into the air. One tiny court at its side with a collection of metal sculptures and benches remained clear. A man, fully decked out in an expensive suit sat there puffing a cigarette on one of the benches. A six-pack of tall beers rested beside him. A whale-size metal sculpture shielded him from the dusty breeze.

Mike walked up, nodded, and sat beside him. Kenneth remained silent as he passed him a cigarette and a beer. Mike didn’t smoke, but it somehow seemed appropriate today. Kenneth gave him a light; he inhaled and watched the blue cloud blend into the passing wind as he exhaled. He cracked open the can of dark beer and drank half of it to wash the dust out of his throat. “I see you picked up a new suit, Kenneth. A touch pricey for you isn’t it.”

“Yes, but things are cheap today in the West Haven. I went budget on the beer. You have to admit. I look much better.”

“Like a gentleman.”

“Yes, a Lord. I really was a Lord once you know. These days they say mentioning it proves I'm a madman.”

“I remember that time around. I also know the military is coming in, so I will stay looking like a grubby survivor, as will the others. Don’t want to be accused of being a looter, you know.”

“Neither do I. Wouldn't want to be accused of being behind this destruction either, but they aren’t going to find me so there won’t be any questions or accusations.”

“It wasn’t the same this time was it?”

“No,” Kenneth said. “Funny how it always changes though the players don’t. Lucinda is only a kid this time. My old pal Brett was killed off, so was Donovan. They survived last time.”

“True, but it is usually the same group for the final procession and me placing the key. Always you thrown aside reopening that door through the plume.”

“I’ve been knocked by that thing so many times, I still feel the pain. Bowen was new. Do you think he deserved being sucked into that hell?”

“He did. They always pick someone deserving for the sentinel. Someone who is transformed by the dark being that enters from the opposing world. It's too bad Bowen never understood his purpose.”

“Neither do I understand it.”

“The dark visitor and the sentinel it chooses always insure that we return to the plume with the key.”

“I’ve never been reincarnated as a psychopath before. Kenneth of the Jung enjoyed destruction and killing. Now that my old self is back, I don’t care for it much. Sophistication has its drawbacks. Look at that wreck out there. The West Haven is gone, so many dead. I wonder why they always do it that way.”

“Whenever the connection is made and one of the worlds passes over its key, it causes the plume and some destruction in the affected world. They manage that destruction here and control the forces of good and evil that rise by always using us as the lead players. Our parents came from that fifth Earth, not this one. It is the mother Earth. This time you, and Brett, were their eyes on the bad guys. The usual cast went through the struggle that always ends by entering under the plume and passing the key.”

“It is so much trouble for a key. I never remember what they use it for, and I’ve lived many lives because of it.”

“It is not a key only; it encodes a record of earth’s history and with it they alter things.”

“You mean predestine our future?”

“Some things are predestined, but most things they leave up to us. They do just enough to direct the planet to the future they want us to attain.”


“The fate of the five parallel worlds is tied together. The Earth of clouds gained supremacy in the beginning and took control. If our earth is not directed by them to some extent, it will go dark, completely evil. The worst of mankind will come to the forefront.”

“Do you really think this can happen again in a future year, when the planet will have advanced into space?”

“It will happen, it always has … people in those times won't remember this period. We’ll be there, reincarnated somehow again, and going through the whole deal, only remembering in the end. The more the world changes, the more some things will remain the same. I think they are taking care of that; preventing the people of this earth from advancing beyond their own humanity.”

“I guess we'll meet again.”

Mike tossed his cigarette, stepped out into the blow. He glanced back at Kenneth and grinned.

“You going to marry Breanne again,” Kenneth said.

“I’ll decide when I see her.”

“How long will I remember this deal?”

“You’ll remember until you escape and have a new life started. The others will forget it all as soon as we make contact with other people. But I’ll remember for a long time because I have to lay the groundwork, plant the key with the book for our pickup next time.”

Kenneth raised his beer. “Cheers then, until next time.”

“Cheers,” Mike said, and then they tapped the cans and swallowed. Mike crushed his can and tossed it as he walked away.

Big chunks of ash were blowing overhead. He saw an armored vehicle parked up on a piece of the Switch Ring freeway that protruded into empty sky. The rest of the bridge had fallen, collapsed. The soldiers were coming and would be inside soon. A helicopter appeared up in the ashen sky and confirmed it. The next task was to show the others how to surrender, to make sure that nervous soldiers wouldn't shoot or brutalize them. With that in mind, he picked up the pace and on turning onto James Avenue, he saw Breanne, Frank, Lucinda and the dogs standing out front of the house waiting. Breanne’s hair was wild but her face had a rosy gloss, the beauty of youth that resisted all disaster. Would he marry her again? Kenneth had asked that. He walked up and embraced her, thinking it to be an excellent idea.

 ----The End ----