The two of them had fled into the sky long before the storm, snaking around buildings, one alternately in pursuit of the other, neither one of them able to even touch or harm the other, but still they tangled like a pair of fighting dogs, two wisps of black smoke in the sky that most people below wouldn’t have noticed or, if they had, would have just put off to exhaust from some business or another.
One of them led off by diving down into the NoHo Metro station, then following the tunnel to Universal City Station. On the platform, they tangled and twisted until the one who seemed to be losing shot back up the seven mile tunnel to come out at Hollywood and Highland.
The chase continued down the tunnel past a bunch of stops until one of them shot above ground at the 7th Street Metro station, and then skidded just above the sidewalk about two miles to the Los Angeles Greyhound Bus Station, where it hovered, the other wisp hesitating nearby.
The first wisp vanished inside and the second followed until they both wound up in the bus station men’s room, at which point they manifested to each other — Danny, the first wisp, clothed and angry looking; Preston, the second wisp, nude and looking alarmed.
“Who are you?” Danny demanded.
“I’m Preston,” Preston replied.
“Then who am I?” Danny asked.
“I have no idea,” Preston said. “Except I think that maybe you are me. Were me?”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Danny spat.
“Well, I mean, we do look alike, right?”
“You look like a whore,” Danny said.
“What?” Preston replied. “Work clothes. And you? What are you supposed to be?”
“If I knew, I’d tell you,” Danny said.
“Okay,” Preston replied calmly. “So… what’s your name?”
“Fuck if I know,” Danny shouted. “And yours?”
“Preston LeCard,” he said. “Pleased to meet you?”
“Wait, stop, don’t tell me. I’m Tom Canty, and you’re Prince Edward.”
“Who?” Preston asked.
“Never mind. Unless you tell me that you’re rich or something.”
“Um, actually…” Preston started, then hesitated until Danny’s look made him continue on, “I’m kind of fucking loaded, really.”
“So who stole what from whom?” Danny demanded.
“I don’t know!” Preston said. “Look, this is just as confusing for me as it is for you, honestly. All I know is that I had this great career as a porn star, I made —”
“Sorry, what?” Danny asked.
“You heard me. Porn star. You know? I fucked for a living. And I made mad bank at it, and I loved doing it and, ironically, I was finally taken out by a plague that had nothing to do with the plague that used to take out gay men. Except that I kind of … stuck around? And the last thing I remember was a couple of sexy human dudes kind of … shit. If it had been a porn scene, it would have been really hot, but they basically tried to tell me I’m not who I am, and then bang, there you are. And if the idea of… what? Instant twin brother? Sudden clone? Whatever, isn’t the absolute hottest porn scene idea, then I don’t know what is.”
Danny and Preston stared at each other for a long time. Finally, Danny said, “Okay, great. You remember all kinds of shit. You know what I remember?”
“Um, no?” Preston replied.
“Okay, cool. It’s this. Not so very long ago, I woke up locked in a box with some dude who looks like me. I have no memories at all of anything before this, we both seem to be freaking out, and then we escape. And I have no idea who’s the friend, or who’s the enemy. Or who I am.”
“Well,” Preston said gently, “Apparently you’re me, except before I became the me you don’t know. And that’s the trick, really.”
“Nah,” Danny said. “The real trick is figuring out how I became the you that you seem to be, because you are not me. I’m no whore.”
“That’s kind of what I just said,” Preston replied.
“So you really believe that I was… no… that you were me once?”
“And I believe that I still am you, Danny. Shit… it’s starting to come back to me now. That’s weird. Idaho?”
“Yeah. I grew up — “
“In Emmett?” Preston continued before He could finish, Danny nodding. “I just remember that. And… oh wow… DWsub13M,” Preston said, very surprised. “I remember that handle.”
“Yeah, I did chats with that, so? Anyone on the board could have seen it.”
“Right but your password… Finn23Zack69. Right?”
There was a long silence before Danny said, “How do you know that? Are you a hacker?”
“No,” Preston said. Goddamn, those daddies were right. You are me before I became… well, me. The problem is that everyone remembers me and no one remembers you, but if you just help me remember you — ”
“Then what?” Danny replied, shying away into the corner.
“If you let me remember you so that you can remember me, well… shit. How powerful would you like to be, anyway?”
“I’d rather be alive again,” Danny said.
“Yeah, well, I’d like a unicorn,” Preston replied.
“Shit, you sound just like my sister,” Danny muttered, and suddenly Preston found himself sucked out of the present world and down a dark vortex. At the end of it, he woke up staring at a crappy bus station ceiling, realizing that for the first time since he’d died, he could smell. Unfortunately, what he could smell was the heavy stench of urine, cum, and the over-arching mint of urinal cakes — and then Danny was kneeling above him, looking down and smiling.
“I don’t know where you went, dude,” Danny said. “But I took a little walk around when you vanished, and I ran into some people. Well, I ran into the Marx Brothers and I tried to ask them what was going on, but you can imagine how useful their information was.”
“I’ve met them,” Preston said. “I know. But you can’t blame them, because they’re trapped in their characters.”
“Kind of a reminder of how annoying movie characters would be in real life, right?”
“Except porn stars,” Preston quipped.
“Anyway, next I ran into that dude from the Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, and he was actually helpful. He explained a lot to me.”
“Yeah, really,” Danny replied. “Hey, I don’t know where you went when you blinked out, duded. But I’m glad you came back. Now, I think I understand, and there’s kind of two options.”
“Really?” Preston said.
“Number one, we just moosh together and forget all this shit and become one person again.”
“Not a bad idea, right?” Preston asked.
“You’d think, but… no. The other option is stay apart, each of us becomes who we really were, because we’re going to need to double up to take on the forces of evil.”
“And who would they be?” Preston asked.
“Oddly enough, it’s a two-front war,” Danny said. “On the human side, it’s some genocidal human asshole in Pasadena. On the Rêve side, it’s the woman who pretends to be your mother.”
And what do we lose if we moosh?” Preston asked.
“Bascially,” Danny replied, “Everything. Oh, right. I forgot to mention the other part.”
“There’s another part?” Preston asked.
“Sure,” Danny replied, “Or didn’t you see the sky where you were?”
Preston shook his head and Danny took him outside where they looked west and saw the lightning. Then he looked at Danny, who just grabbed him.
“So… self-preservation over any stupid argument. Agreed?”
Preston hesitated for a second, then nodded. Just as he did, the storm front swept over them and the rain and hail came down, although it couldn’t touch them. For some reason, it went around them, creating silhouettes in the falling drops that would point them out to any humans there to see them had there been any humans on the streets at all.
But Danny and Preston could see what no human could, and that was that this was no normal storm. They could see the wraith-like presence that was actually controlling it, a darkly luminescent shimmering blue haze that both permeated the cloud and led it.
“What is it?” Preston asked.
“My god, that movie dude was right. He said that the real danger would be if somebody warned… what did he call them? Silvester…? Or sometimes Pearl? Anyway… yeah, that. This is what he warned about.”
“So what does that mean?” Preston demanded.
“We’re all fucked,” Danny replied as he grabbed Preston, held him tight, and the two of them dropped through the ground until they hit the Metro tunnel, then shot up it to Union Station and, from there, into the local highlands above downtown on what were called The Avenues.
The Rêves had their own warning network, although the message was basically to avoid certain areas. Although Las hadas silvestres were not mentioned at all, the idea that the Rêves were in no danger from what was happening was. The main points were to stay out of the Metro, away from Cemeteries, and to avoid Pasadena entirely.
The Avenues actually weren’t that far from Pasadena, at least street-wise, but they were sufficiently above it.
By the time that Preston and Danny had taken refuge in an overgrown backyard behind a very old house in Mt. Washington, they decided that they were going to remain apart for now. As Danny pointed out, “Strength in numbers.”
“Also,” Preston said, “I’ve always wanted to fuck my identical twin.”
“Stop it you,” Danny said, more playful than annoyed. “Okay, we’ll fuck if we get out of this alive…”
“That’s kind of impossible, isn’t it?” Preston said. Danny just smirked back.
Then they did all that they could do, which was just to wait out the passing storm — that is, if it ever did pass.
In a lot of ways, Anabel really appreciated the ironic symmetry in the storm that Pearl unleashed because, just as none of the Rêves ever received any demands or ransom notes from the humans, they and Las hadas could not send their own demands back, at least not in any way that the humans would understand.
All they could do was kidnap the weather and ravish the landscape. And that’s when Anabel realized the irony of Pearl’s words, that they would warn the humans. A sudden but unprecedented storm would not come across as a supernatural warning, at least not to any sane or rationale humans.
The only way that Anabel could warn them was to get herself caught again, and she wasn’t about to waltz into Ausmann’s arms, especially not after she had tipped him off to size being a factor in how effective their traps were.
But, she realized, if she could get Pearl to bring him above ground, away from his laboratory and technology, and place them on equal footing outside, then maybe she could deliver the message.
As soon as she thought it, she heard Pearl’s voice in her head. “Then take us where he’s at, man, and we’ll show him where it’s at, dig?”
Anabel wasn’t sure whether it was her imagination or not, but what did she have to lose? It wasn’t that hard a trip — just under seven miles in a straight line just about exactly north east, and only passing under one isolated mountain on the way.
So she headed from Glendale to Pasadena, even though the storm hadn’t gotten this far east yet, then hovered around where she had come up above Ausmann’s lab. But something seemed wrong. The place was eerily dark, with none of the buildings illuminated, and only the streetlights along the internal roads and parking lots providing any light at all.
She decided to take a chance and go underground, finding that she hadn’t missed Ausmann’s hidden complex by that much, but then venturing in while not manifesting to find it apparently abandoned. As she wandered its halls and through offices and labs, all she saw were empty work stations, all the equipment turned off, and everything bathed in a deep red light that came from LED strips set in the baseboards.
“Well, this is weird,” she thought.
She wandered around until she found a lobby with what were clearly elevator doors, keeping her distance from those, and went to the security station nearby, which had several large metal detectors in a row with double doors on each side and that’s when she saw the sign taped to the first door of the first detector.
“MANDATORY EVAC ORDER,” it read. The rest of it was typical gov-speak gibberish that took way too many words to passively state what could have been simply put: “The weather is fucked, so get the hell out of here. We are shutting everything down.”
And it wasn’t just Ausmann’s little project. It was all of JPL. It was so serious, in fact, that the notice ended with the scare words “SERIOUS FEDERAL CRIME” above some official-looking seal with an eagle on it.
“Ooh,” Anabel thought. “What are you going to do? Arrest me?”
Her other thought was, “I died in the 1920s, and the Federal Government still hasn’t upped their art game at all?”
But if no one was here, then where was Ausmann? How was she going to find him?
Reluctantly — because if anyone would defy the threat of being charged with a federal crime it would be him — she found her way down to his office.
Now the real trick was to figure out where he lived from what was available. The catch was that none of the electronic devices would turn on. Not that Anabel even knew how they worked, but she’d tried to turn on a lamp only to realize that all power had been cut.
That was when Anabel proceeded to do what any good 1920s detective would do, and she started going through drawers. Yes, they were difficult to move, but Rêves did have some ability to manipulate objects.
Most of them were full of random office supplies, way too many Post-It pads, boxes of staples, and promotional pens. Further down, she found file folders of documents that were at least a decade old.
And then, she found a birthday card, in an envelope. The card itself read “Happy Birthday Grandpa!” and her mind boggled at the idea that Ausmann was human enough to have reproduced at least once. But then she looked at the postmark to see that it was only a year old.
Then she looked at the address. Motherfucker lived in some place called the Simi Valley, which she’d never even heard of. But at least she had an address, and that was enough. She couldn’t take the envelope with her, but she could imprint the information on her hand and make it stick, so then she flew back up to emerge from underground, feeling triumphant.
“I found that son of a bitch, Pearl,” Anabel muttered to herself, and it was like a sudden warm and loving wind embraced her.
“Simi Valley?” Anabel heard Pearl’s voice in her head. “Yeah, that fucking figures. Let’s go.”
“Where?” Anabel asked.
“Thirty-five miles west. Where the white people went when the brown and black people scared them. Don’t ask.”
Suddenly, Anabel was flying over a mountain, across the Valley, across more mountains, and then down into a normal-looking suburban area that was already being heavily lashed by the storm. She landed on the front lawn of a perfectly tacky 60s-era ranch house, then heard Pearl’s voice in her ear.
“Go get him,” they said.
“But how?” Anabel asked.
That one didn’t get any answer. She decided on the obvious method, even if it was totally stereotypical, and just walked through the wall and into the living room, where Ausmann and a woman, presumably his wife, sat in silence, the room only lit by the glow of the large screen TV on the far wall, tuned in to the weather report.
Ausmann’s wife looked as dour and unpleasant as he did. “We need to evacuate?” she muttered.
“Ridiculous,” Ausmann replied. “Typical media sensationalism.”
“We’re not that far from Malibu as the crow flies,” his wife said.
“The storm is moving west from Malibu, not north. It’ll never get here.”
The house rattled with a sudden thunderbolt from the south and Anabel decided to make her presence known. She popped over in front of the TV and manifested, being sure to glow for visibility.
“The storm is already here,” she said. As if on cue, lighting began to flash outside, the thunder coming sooner and louder with each moment.
“Get out of my house!” Ausmann demanded.
“We’ve come to deliver a message,” Anabel said.
“We?” Ausmann replied.
“Don’t you hear them?” she answered, gesturing. Now, the lighting was close enough that they could actually hear the electricity scorching the air and almost feel its heat. The thunder came within a split second of the lightning.
Outside at the foot of the driveway, a tree suddenly shattered under a direct hit, scattering bits of bark and splinters of wood all over the place, leaving a split and smoldering trunk and dropping several limbs to the street.
Their conversation turned into a shouting match because it was the only way to be heard, especially after the hail arrived moments later and began pelting everything.
“What’s the message?” Ausmann demanded. “Thor is pissed off?”
“The message is: Leave us alone,” she said. “Whatever you’re doing, stop it.”
“I’d love to be able to,” Ausmann said, “But there are reasons I can’t.”
“Like reasons I can’t tell you. Classified.”
“I don’t care,” Anabel said. “Neither do they. Stop what you’re doing.”
“And are all of you going to stop what you’re doing?”
“All we’re doing is existing,” she replied.
“No, you’ve been leaking into our world despite the agreement you made with us thirty years ago.”
“You’ve been pulling us into it against our will!” she insisted.
“I’m not the one you have to negotiate with,” he explained.
“We’re not negotiating,” she replied.
“Which ‘we?’ The Rêves?”
“We brought someone to negotiate with us.”
“Really?” he scoffed. “Who?”
“Who do you think is causing this storm?”
“I already guessed Thor,” he replied. “Should I have said Zeus instead?”
“Stop what you’re doing to us now!” Anabel shrieked over the non-stop thunder.
“No!” Ausmann shot back, stepping toward her, and then she caught a glimpse of what he had snuck into his right hand — one of those small traps, open and ready to spring.
She shot up through the ceiling and crawl-space under the roof and out into the night sky and the crashing hail.
“Tear it down,” she called out to Pearl. “He’s refusing.”
As she headed back to Glendale, the storm intensified, and lightning started to strike the house, blowing off shingles. Ausmann turned and ran for the hidden staircase, seeing that his wife was nowhere in sight.
He headed down to the basement and their hidden panic room, because of course they had one — practically everyone with money in Simi did — and he entered his code in the door panel.
It slid open and he stepped inside, to find that his wife was already there. As the door slid shut and locked again, everything shook and there was a resounding boom. Outside, the power went off, the various monitors showing everything inside the house going dark.
At least the power supply down here was still working, and they had at leasat six weeks’ worth between the batteries, capacitors, and propane powered generators, which they would go through in that order, unless at least two of the solar panels on the roof held and stayed connected, in which case they’d go through none of it.
“Was that a ghost?” Coraline finally asked him.
“Yes and no,” he said.
“Is it gone?”
“Yes,” he replied, staring at the monitors and watching as the cameras went out one by one.
Up top, half of the house was in flames and a sudden gust of wind tore the roof off of the garage and sent it sailing down the street. Lightning continued to pummel what was left standing, and hail the size of baseballs started to drop into the now exposed garage, pounding both of the cars in there until their roofs were practically touching tops of the window wells in the doors.
A couple of bolts of lightning turned a third of the water in the pool into steam, cracking the concrete walls and letting the rest ooze its way out into the ground. Another lucky strike breached the propane canister on the gas grill and sent it rocketing into the air on a jet of escaping fuel. It came back down right into the windshield of Coraline’s SUV.
The escape room held because it was supposed to — it had been designed and built by the same crew that had constructed Ausmann’s laboratory under JPL after all. But it wasn’t too long before all connections to the outside had gone dark with the exception of the underground cable that tied into the internet.
Ausmann streamed the news and watched the “Special Bulletin — Breaking” announcement about the sudden freak offshoot of the storm that was pummeling Simi Valley.
Although, in the morning, there would be only one house in his neighborhood that looked like a tornado had swept it away.