You can catch up with the first installment of this piece here, or last week’s chapters here. It started as somewhat of an experiment. It seems to be taking the form of a supernatural thriller, set above and below the streets of Los Angeles.
Hunter sans Aisling
Joshua hadn’t slept well after that first bout, which was a long, disturbing dream in which he was chasing Simon down an endless Metro station, running while Simon walked, but never catching up. Rêves moved around them in slow motion, paying them little attention.
Joshua finally did catch up as Simon stopped to get on a train, pushing Joshua’s hand away and entering, the doors closing before Joshua could follow. The train started to pull away slowly and Joshua ran after it, but it started to speed up.
As the last car passed him, he looked in the windows and could see Ausmann standing there, laughing. After the train disappeared down the tunnel, there was a sudden burst of flames and a loud explosion, which woke Joshua up.
He didn’t see Danny or Simon, so he wandered around the place, had a glass of water, stood on the balcony looking at the stars when he wasn’t staring at the spot where Simon had landed. Fortunately, he had no intentions of following — Joshua just wasn’t like that.
He also knew that, since Simon had died, the police would be back for a statement, and he had to figure out what he was going to say. Tell them it was murder, or an accident? He knew that he owed it to Simon’s memory to insist that it wasn’t suicide, and at least he knew he was right about that.
And he’d been left weirdly free of complications. Simon had been an only child, and his parents and grandparents were all dead. They had their circle of friends, of course, but he could involve them later. He felt that he definitely had to let Brent and Drew know.
There were also the implications of what Ausmann had said about Joshua “needing his help,” as well as Preston and Danny insisting that Simon would be back. Yes, but not as himself. Would he just be an echo of Joshua’s memory? And, if so, how idealized would he be?
He returned to the living room and decided to play his hunch. “Preston? Danny? You guys still here?”
After a moment, the two of them materialized. They were on the couch, nude and spooning, so Joshua had no idea which was which until Danny’s clothes quickly materialized as well — he was the big spoon.
“How are you doing?” Danny asked.
“Oh, not great,” Joshua replied. “Look, you seemed pretty sure when you said that Simon would be back…”
“Well, yeah. That’s how it works,” Preston said.
“Are you sure though? And that it’s not all people who were already dead when they turned on the machine?”
“Sure we’re sure,” Danny replied. “We just met a guy who’d been killed the night before.”
“Really? Who?” Joshua asked.
“Some guy named Jerry,” Danny explained.
“And you know the guy who killed him,” Preston added.
“Ausmann,” they said in unison.
“Ausmann killed Jerry? Why? He was such a nice guy.”
“He knew too much,” said Preston in his best gangster impersonation.
“Ausmann offed his wife, apparently, and told Jerry,” Danny went on.
“Wait… what? I can’t even imagine why, but this is kind of helpful news. I mean, whether anybody knows his wife is dead yet or not, he’s killed at least two… fuck. Three times. So he’s definitely acting like a fugitive, which means he won’t go anyplace they’d expect him to go.”
“Unless he’s incredibly stupid,” Danny replied.
“Batshit insane,” Joshua noted, “But not stupid. It’s like he’s on a crusade to get rid of your kind, and if he can kill that many living humans that easily, imagine how little he’d think of the dead.”
“Hey, we don’t like being called ‘The Dead!’” Danny jokingly snapped.
“Yeah, please. ‘The Previously Lived-In,’ for sure,” Preston added, laughing.
“I’m going to stop him,” Joshua promised them. “I just have to figure out how. What time…” he glanced over at the clock visible on the kitchen microwave. Just after 3:30 in the morning. “Okay. I have some phone calls to make in the morning, but I’m definitely going to need your help, okay?”
“You got it,” Preston asserted, Danny nodding his agreement.
“But first, I really need to try to sleep again.” Joshua headed for the bedroom. “Oh. We’ve got guestrooms, if you want, or whatever’s most comfortable for you.”
“Ooh. A real bed!” Preston gushed.
“Not like we can really feel it, but it’d be a first in a long time. Thanks!”
They started for the hallway as well, stopping when Joshua called out.
“Hey, I don’t mean to be rude or anything, but… were you two, like… fucking on the couch there?”
Preston and Danny looked at each other and laughed. “Oh, I wish,” Preston said.
“It’s kind of hard to explain,” Danny went on. “We can’t really… I mean, parts don’t work like that.”
“But we can swap energy and have what feel like the most incredible orgasms in the universe,” Preston added.
“Basically, all boom and no bust,” Danny explained.
“So… ghost fucking?” Joshua teased them.
“Don’t make me come over there and cover you in ectoplasm!” Preston replied.
“Good night, boys!” Joshua said, waving as he exited to the master bedroom.
“Good night, daddy!” Preston called out, Danny slapping him on the arm before they disappeared into the guest bedroom, not bothering to open the door first.
This time, Joshua slept through the night, only waking up one time who knew when, and he could have sworn he heard Simon lying in bed next to him, breathing until he realized he wasn’t. He cried again a little bit. He could be prone to insomnia, and one of the things that had always comforted him through that was lying with his back against Simon’s chest, listening to his slow inhales and exhales, and feeling his warm breath on the back of his neck.
The next time he woke up, light was streaming in the windows and when he checked the clock it was nearly ten a.m. He dressed casually and headed out into the living room to find Danny and Preston in the kitchen.
“Morning!” Preston called out.
“We were going to make you breakfast,” Danny said, “But it’s kind of really, really difficult for us to manipulate physical things all that well.”
“I mean, we can do it a little,” Preston added, “But it’s exhausting as hell.”
“Hey, speaking of that,” Joshua asked, “If you can walk through walls, why don’t you fall through floors?”
“We don’t really walk ‘through,’” Preston explained. “It’s more like we push. So floors and the ground always feel squishy to us, but we don’t fall through the floors because we’re not trying. Although we can if we want to.”
“Wow. That answers that question,” Joshua replied.
“That’s a thing?” Danny asked.
“You kidding?” Joshua replied. “That’s like Sceptic vs. Ghosts question number one.”
“Oh, about the ‘G’ word,” Simon admonished him.
“Eye roll, okay, what?” Joshua replied.
“I’m sure you’ve been told, but we are not ghosts, we are Rêves. Kind of a difference.”
“Right, right, sorry,” Joshua demurred. “Ausmann got a little bit into my head with the ‘G’ word.”
“Have you managed to get into his head?” Danny asked.
“Into batshit la-la land?” Joshua answered. “No. But I’ve got some business to take care of. Hey… are you guys at least able to maybe scroll a mouse and read stuff on a computer?”
“That, we can do,” Preston said, excited. “It takes both of us rolling the thing, but we can manage.”
“Great,” Joshua said. “While I’m calling people, I’ve got some files I’d like you to look at, give me your opinions on them from your Rêve point of view.”
“Sure thing!” Preston replied.
“Is it about science? I hope it’s science, because I am such a science nerd,” Danny gushed.
“Me too,” Preston protested.
“It is,” Joshua told them.
“Sweet!” Danny smiled, high-fiving Preston.
Joshua led them to the cache from Ausmann’s computer and set them loose, then went out on the balcony with his phone.
His first call was to the hospital, to determine how to claim Simon’s body, only to be told that it was on hold pending a police investigation due to the circumstances of his death.
Well, that wasn’t good.
His next call was to Brent and Drew to break the news, and he got them to join a Zoom conference — surprisingly, it was the older one, Drew, who was the tech whiz with that. Or maybe not surprising, considering his years in the entertainment business. When Joshua told them that Simon was dead, the two of them just lost it, and Brent immediately said, “We’re paying for the funeral, shut up and don’t say no.”
“Brent, we’re both heavily insured, so thank you, but it’s taken care of.”
“You two were always so smart about money,” Drew chimed in.
“It’s going to be a small ceremony, but I don’t know how soon, because his body is kind of tied up. Possible homicide and all that.”
“Was it?” Brent asked, clutching invisible pearls.
“No,” Joshua lied. “I was kind of the only one there, but I wasn’t out there when he fell.”
“Fell!” Brent and Drew exclaimed together.
“Do you mean fell,” Brent started, “Or could he have ju— ”
“No. No, no, no. A hundred times over. Simon would have never done that.”
“Let us know when the ceremony is,” Drew added. “We’ll be there, of course. Oh, we’ve been spending so much time in cemeteries and with the dead lately, haven’t we? Weird times.”
“Indeed,” Joshua said. “Thanks,” and then he disconnected.
He thought about what the hospital had told him, then went online on his phone to look into who handled the whole death thing, only to find out that it was county — and then remembered Brenda. He found her number on his phone from when she’d called them both, and dialed.
“Joshua? What’s up?” she asked. “Are you all right?”
“Uh… no,” He started, trying not to cry. “I hate to tell you this, but… Simon is dead.”
“What?” she exclaimed. “Did Ausmann find you two?”
“No, no he didn’t,” Joshua insisted, and then he told her the whole “fell off the balcony” story. She sounded skeptical but seemed to buy it, and then he explained how the body was being held up, but that Simon personally believed that a corpse should be buried as soon as possible after death.
“Oh. Was he Jewish?” she asked.
“Um… yes,” Joshua lied, not realizing that was an actual Jewish thing. “So, it’s apparently the county that handles the whole death thing and all that, and since you work for the county…”
“You’d like some strings pulled?”
“Pretty please, with sugar and sprinkles on top?”
Brenda laughed. “Well, there’s one little snag here,” she explained. “You two really, really pissed off my boss.”
“Um… you told us to do that,” he reminded her.
“I know, I know. My bad. Which is why I’m inclined to help you, as a make-up for it. I just have to figure out who at county hates her with enough blazing passion to help you all out. Give me a couple or two, okay?”
“Oh, thank you, Brenda. Oh — couple of days…?”
“Minutes or hours,” she replied. “All I ask is that we get to come to the funeral.”
“We?” Joshua asked.
“I’ve got a family,” she replied.
“I… I had one,” he said.
“I know. I’ll do my best and get back to you. Bye.”
“Good-bye. And thanks — ”
Although she’d disconnected before he could say thanks.
Having no more calls to make, he came back inside to find the boys huddled together over the laptop, absolutely enthralled with the screen. He had to clear his throat before they noticed he’d returned.
“Oh, dude!” Preston exclaimed. “Did you read about what this thing does?”
“Telegrams to the past?” Danny shouted. “That concept just made me jizz myself. Well, figuratively.”
“I mean, do you see what you’ve got here?”
Joshua just stared at them and sank onto the sofa, a wave of possibility and hope thundering over him. Of course! He’d read it but forgotten the most significant part. Ausmann’s machine turning the dead into Rêves was just a side-effect. Its real purpose was something completely different and…
“Telegram to the past…” he muttered. “Kind of like an instant re-do.”
“You’ve got it,” Preston replied.
“Holy shit.” Joshua exclaimed, moving to his laptop and sitting, not really realizing that he kind of sat in Preston and Danny before they moved away. He read the page they were looking at, then brought up a Word doc and started typing.
When he was finished, he looked up and added the exact coordinates, address, condo number and time, then saved the message and copied it to the USB drive hidden in his fake car key.
“Now what?” Preston asked.
“Now… I need to get to JPL, and you two need to go see whether Simon is back yet.”
“Are you sure that JPL is safe?” Danny asked.
“Completely,” Joshua replied. “I told you. No way in hell that Ausmann would go there.”
“I hope you’re right,” Danny called out.
“Oh, so do I,” Joshua said.
As the boys Supermanned off of the balcony, Joshua closed and locked the doors, then headed down to the garage and drove the Tesla like a madman out to Pasadena.