“So she was never there. Okay.”
“Would you please stop doing that? Patronizing me? You saw the wig monster out there in my truck, in the cage. That’s what it was, you saw it.”
“I saw something. I saw what you wanted me to see. Some people are manipulators, I know that much. Oh, hey, you said those monsters, they ooze the soy sauce, right? So you can go out there and get some?”
“You seriously want to go try?”
“No, I don’t. Let me ask you, did they do any psychological testing on you when you had your incident in school? The one that got you sent away? And the report they wrote, did it have the word ‘sociopath’ on it?”
“Don’t make this about me. The people in Vegas, the ones who vanished? They never existed, Arnie. No, listen. This is hard to understand, but the moment they were sucked into that hole, or whatever it was, they didn’t just stop existing in the here and now. They were erased from the past, too. That’s why there’s no report of them being gone. At that moment, they were never born. If I had fallen in there, you’d be able to go back and see that my mom never had a male child and she never named him ‘David’ and we wouldn’t be sitting here right now.”
“Assuming this is true, which, incidentally, I’m not drunk enough to do, how can you possibly prove that?”
I took a breath.
Here goes . . .
“I have dreams, Arnie. And in my dreams the whole thing from the Luxor plays out, only we’re with another guy. And I know his name. Todd Brinkmeyer. A year older than me. Long blond hair. In the dream he’s with us, he’s toting the second dolly of sound stuff, he’s with us in the SUV. He’s carrying the second guitar—”
“Okay, okay, back up—”
“I heard her say his name, Arnie. I heard Jennifer shout ‘Todd’ plain as day. I think that was him getting sucked into the hole, the vortex thing. And as of that moment, he was gone, he got sucked in and he was zapped out of the past, present and future, out of our memories. They have that power somehow. But one night, me and John got really drunk and we sat around telling Todd Brinkmeyer stories, real stories, stories that happened but didn’t happen. I think of his face and sometimes I can see it, and it’s like a dream you can’t quite remember the next morning. And I go back and go over the chain of events and there’s places, holes where I know Todd should be. He was there and he helped us, Arnie. He fought with us. And I’m not even allowed to remember him, to mourn his death. At least Jim got a funeral. But Todd, I can’t find his picture in the yearbook. Can you even imagine what that’s like?”
Arnie sighed and for a quick moment looked genuinely sympathetic that someone could dream up something this elaborately sad. He said, “We both got places to go tomorrow. Is there any more?”
You act bored, Arnie, you act like you’re miles above it all. But you’re still sitting here, aren’t you? You’re still listening. I know you got reasons but I don’t know what they are yet. God knows I would have split by now if I were in your shoes.
I said, “You gotta understand . . . Vegas was just the beginning.”
Book II: KORROK
A yellow legal pad was found during an inventory of the items inside the Chevy Tahoe belonging to James “Big Jim” Sullivan after his disappearance. The following was handwritten on the first page. It appears to be part of an unfinished novel titled Jameson and the Invasion from X’all’th’thu’”thuuu. No other pages from this work have been discovered.
she held the blade before him and in the torchlight Jameson could see it was incredibly sharp and haunted with the ghosts blood of countless slain Terrans. Jameson stared into the wicked beauty of the woman before him, the one blue eye that was not hidden behind an eyepatch shined like a shiny blue jewel.
“Xorox,” said Jameson. “I should have known it was you. I could smell your evil before you came in the door!”
“You should not talk so, when it is I that hold this incredibly sharp blade!” And it is you who are She slid the slender razor-sharp blade lightly up Jameson’s bare thigh. Jameson strained against the chains that bound him to the wall and gritted his teeth in rage.
“The mighty Captain Jameson,” said Xorox, “bound in my dungeon while my mighty army amasses for the invasion of Earth!”
With a flick of her delicate wrist, she cut Jameson’s loincloth, which fell to the floor. Her eyes grew at the sight magnificence of Jameson’s exposed naked body, his exposed manhood a thunderclap of flesh.
“Mighty army?” said Jameson with a sneer. “I have slain larger armies on my way to battle!”
“Insolent dog!” She held the blade at Jameson’s scrot groin. “If I did not require your seed to infiltrate Earth, I would cut off your manhood and mount it like a trophy over my throne!”
“Ha ha ha! You still do not get it, dog! With the seed of your manhood in my womb, we shall breed a race of Terran and Reptillian hybrids that cannot be detected by even your most sensitive R-Meters! They will walk among the earthlings as my agents, and not even they will know that their true loyalty is to me! Until the day when they strike! Now you will make love to me, or die!”
Jameson gathered his strength and pulled free of his chains. He seized Xorox’s wrist in the iron grip of his right hand and tore it free of her body as blood spurted like a fountain. He then stabbed Xorox in the belly with her own hand.
[insert Jameson one-liner here]
The Carpet Stain
MY MEMORY OF the next few months after Vegas is spotty. I know John went to jail for a couple of weeks that winter. It was because of a fight over a girl or something, no big deal. Jennifer moved out of my place and then moved back in because of a fight we had over something or other. My roof started leaking and I learned about the joys of home ownership when a bill for four thousand dollars showed up in my mailbox after I got it repaired. On my birthday I went and visited my adoptive parents and it was a little awkward, as always. But they’re good people. My birthday gift from John was an envelope full of baked beans.
Jen and I didn’t talk about Vegas. We didn’t talk about Big Jim and all the things we saw and did over those two strange days. That’s why she never got along with John, I think, because John loved to talk about it, loved to read about ghosts and dimensions and demonic conspiracies. He was soaking this stuff up from the ’net and telling us all about it over empty beer bottles and greasy pizza boxes. He’d talk and she’d fidget, change the subject. I usually took her side.
But I still made a habit of watching, looking for alien white insects zipping around outdoors, studying the shadows for the dark figures we saw float out from that portal to who-knows-where. I kept a lookout for, well, anything. And I saw things from time to time. Or maybe I didn’t. A dark shape slipping around a corner, a pair of lit eyes like burning coals, floating through the night. Always out the corner of my eye or in the reflection of a window. Or in the paralyzed state between deep sleep and wakefulness in those dim morning hours. Nothing you could trust, nothing you could admit to seeing.
John got me alone one night, I guess it would have been that next spring after Vegas, and asked me straight up if I ever saw anything strange. Because he did, he said. All the time, he said. He got a job working as a janitor in the Undisclosed Courthouse and he said he saw an old man walking around the basement, a ghost, semitransparent but very real and “There, man. Just there, there as a brick wall. I mean, he was just, so incredibly there.” John rattled off more stories, told me he watched a baseball game on TV and the announcers made some comment about how the stands were half empty, how the team was having trouble selling tickets. “But man, the stands were full, Dave. I’m tellin’ ya, to my eyes every seat was filled and I think it was the undead, I think I was seeing thousands of walking souls that nobody else could see, watching the game. Isn’t that bizarre?”
I told him the truth, sort of. I said I didn’t see spirits or demons or walking shadows or anything that couldn’t be written off as a trick of the eyes. I told him I thought the soy sauce made us see all that and it had been months since we’d ingested it and no matter what the stuff was or where it was from, surely it had worked itself out of our systems by now. An awkward silence followed, John letting the implication of that statement hang in the air. Without coming out and saying it, I had just told him I thought he was either full of shit or losing his mind.
A week later I was in John’s apartment, flipping through a magazine while he sat on the couch playing some game or another. I glanced at the TV and it looked like one of those first-person shooting games where you wander around hallways looking over the barrel of your gun, tearing bad guys in half with splashes of digital blood. I was never that into them.
“You still got that pill bottle?” John said, trying to sound offhand while he hammered a control pad with his thumbs. “You said you went back and found it at Robert’s old trailer, right?”
“And was there still sauce in there?”
“No. It had two—capsules, or whatever they were—in it originally and I had taken them both.”
On the screen, John shot and killed some kind of demon creature and a little box fell out of him. The screen displayed, YOU’VE GOT A BOX OF SHOTGUN SHELLS.
It wasn’t until later that I realized, with amazement and disgust, what John was saying: he would have taken the fucking soy sauce again if I had any left.
I started avoiding John after that.
JOHN DOESN’T MAKE avoiding him easy, though. He kept showing up at my house with a video game console curled under one arm, kept calling me to come play basketball, kept asking me if I was avoiding him. He was “let go” from his janitor job and he asked me if I could get him back on at Wally’s. I did and then I saw him every day whether I liked it or not. But when he tried to bring up anything vaguely spooky, I did what Jen did: I changed the subject.