The Saturday Morning Post #36: The Rêves, Part 14

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. NOTE: Due to a scheduling error, this post did not go up at the usual time of 7 a.m. PDT.

 

Gemelos

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.

* * *

Parlay

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?”

“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.

* * *
 
Image source: Gemelli by Jacopo Montano from Atlas Coelestis, John Flamsteed (1729), used under licence via (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Saturday Morning Post #29: The Rêves, Part 7

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.

Paperwork

Since Brenda was management, and therefore salaried, she was lucky enough to not have to report in the morning after the… adventure at Universal City station. Unfortunately, since she was management, she was expected to come up with some write-up of what had happened, and since she knew that all of the CCTVs scattered all over the place would show… something, she spent all of the next day after she’d woken up well past noon trying to come up with some plausible narrative… and she was drawing a blank.

She was also kicking herself for not getting contact info for the two guys who had been involved in the whole thing. All she knew were their names, Joshua and Simon, and that they lived somewhere in the NoHo Arts District, in one of the high-rise condo complexes that had sprung up like weeds in the late ‘10s.

She did manage to get her assistant to email her all of the CCTV footage from Uni City station, as well as the plaza and all of the street cams from there up to the clusterfuck intersection of Lankershim, Vineland, and Riverside/Camarillo, but there were apparently problems with anything north of that.

The footage from in the station wasn’t really helpful, since all it showed was various people freaking out and acting stupid. Same thing with the footage up the escalators and on the plaza. Lots of people in view, not a lot of… not people.

“Fuck,” Brenda muttered many times while reviewing the footage. She had definitely seen the things, and so had the dudes she’d gone to breakfast with — where were they now?

She decided to go take a drive, and wound up at the same Denny’s, flashed her credentials at the day manager, and managed to finally get somewhere — the CCTV footage of her visit the night before with the two would-be ghost hunters.

And while it didn’t reveal a whole lot other than their meal, when they left it at least gave her a direction, and she was able to call in a favor from an old family friend who worked for the L.A. Traffic Department, and those cams and footage traced those boys right back to their doorstep. Well, at least the building their condo was in.

She filed the paperwork that gave a pretty general idea of where to find the guys who claimed to be ghost hunters while claiming no knowledge of the thing herself; the perfect dodge. Except that two of her assistants had been accurate way beyond their paygrade, apparently.

They had also taken advantage of their connections to look at cell phone location data.

She’d thought that their info only included the building address, but it didn’t. It included the unit number and a link to the Zillow page on it. She hadn’t read their entire doc before she put it an email to Rita and hit “send.” Why would she? She trusted them, and it was already pushing four in the afternoon.

Ironically, considering where she worked, she wasn’t really able to take public transit to and from the office even though the Metro did run downtown to Culver City. The problem was that it ran too far away from her neighborhood, Blair Hills, to make it easy to get there without relying on a taxi or Über or something else, and there was no way in hell at her age that she was going to hop on one of those stupid scooters.

Anyway, her commute would have taken three times as long.

Unfortunately, she was in the wrong department to do anything about that. But she managed to get home by a quarter to five, half an hour before her husband Jonah did, to find her two youngest, Samuel and Malia, sitting in the living room vying to the death on a video game.

She had only recently gotten used to thinking of her younger son… no, daughter… as Malia instead of Barack, and she tried to drive that dead-name out of her mind, appreciating her youngest daughter’s very interesting choice of new name. Samuel and her oldest, Theresa, who was majoring in law at Penn State, hadn’t even skipped a beat when Malia made the announcement last Christmas, and immediately welcomed her as their sister.

Unfortunately, her husband Jonah was having a bit of an issue with it, but that probably had more to do with worrying about how to handle it with his parents, who were hard-core old school Baptists.

Brenda had had none of those problem with her parents, who were old-school radicals. Well, she knew that her father wouldn’t have had a problem, but he was long gone, shot in the head during a routine traffic stop by a white cop when Brenda was still in college back in the 90s. This had radicalized Brenda’s mother no end, and she had gone on every protest march possible after that — Black, LGBTQ+, Native American, Union, whatever.

This had had a huge impact on Brenda, especially her mother’s words: “Honey, it don’t matter your color, sex, race, whatever. What matters is who hates you for the way you were born. And then, take a good hard look at them, lock arms with the others who get hated for how they were born, and go kick their fucking hateful asses.”

And Brenda’s mother, Esme, had been her babysitter since each of her kids were born. Brenda and Jonah has specifically looked for a house with a so-called “Mother-in-Law Flat” out back — in this case, a full one-bedroom guest house — and had moved Esme in at the same time they did.

Malia was the first one to tell Esme her secret: “I’m not a boy.”

When Esme told Brenda about the conversation and repeated her reply, Brenda just broke down in tears and hugged her mother hard.

“She said, ‘I’m not a boy,’” Esme told her. “And I said, ‘That’s great. So tell me who you are to you, because that is forever who you’ll be to me.’”

It was five-thirty when Jonah pulled into the garage and came through the door into the kitchen, and grabbed Brenda to give her a huge hug and kiss, interrupted by Samuel and Malia running into the room to hug his legs while shouting, “Daddy!”

“Ooh… what smells good?” he asked.

“You do, for one,” Brenda replied.

“Nah… what you got cooking, princess?”

“It all depends on how soon Mamaw gets home to wrangle the kidlets, stud.”

“Stop! They might hear you.”

“Okay, what I got cooking is dinner, but you know your job.”

“Oh, right.” Jonah smiled and whistled, pulling five bowls out of the cupboard as the sound of twenty paws skittering along the floor, finally reaching a crescendo. Three dogs and two cats stopped in the doorway in anticipation.

The dogs were Libby, Prince, and Orpheus — a yellow Lab, black Lab, and German shepherd. The cats were Desdemona and Ophelia, a calico and a tabby. Ostensibly, each of the dogs belonged to one of the kids and each of the cats to one of the parents, but in reality, Jonah was the wrangler of them all.

But not the boss. Oh no, not that. Because all of the animals and all of the humans just knew and understood that Desdemona was in charge of them all, and Ophelia was her lieutenant.

It was kind of exactly like the Brenda and Malia thing, actually — right down to no one ever mentioning it.

By six o’clock, they were all seated at the dining room table — well, except for the dogs and cats, who had long since finished dinner and had wandered off to go snooze in whatever space they had picked — and Brenda set out their meal.

Honestly, this was her favorite part of every work day — when they all got to sit down and everyone told her about what had happened in their day. And it didn’t matter how “stupid” or trivial it seemed. To Brenda, it was about her family, so every single bit was the most interesting thing ever, and she never had to fake that.

So… Samuel had actually talked to Melissa at her locker today, and while Brenda could easily see that the girl had no interest in him, he was over the moon at having taken the chance. And Malia reported that she’d met a fellow student, Lance, who was a transboy, and they’d really kind of hit it off and were having lunches together.

Jonah sort of rolled his eyes at this, but Brenda kicked him under the table.

After dinner, while Jonah and Samuel did the dishes, Brenda called Theresa to check in, and she was already considering focusing her legal studies on social justice issues, but she had to cut the conversation short because there was a sorority event coming up.

Later on, Esme came over to look after the kids, and Brenda and Jonah headed up to their room to, as she put it, “binge and fringe,” although as he held her in his arms, she looked into his eyes and said, “You really need to lighten up and deal with our daughter.”

“Who, Theresa?” he said.

“No,” she replied. And she was beginning to think that he might have been the only reason that she didn’t just come out and share all the Metro ghost shit with everyone else, because they might have had actual ideas. But then he dug it deeper.

“We only have one daughter,” he continued.

“Are you that stupid?” she shot back.

“Um… excuse me?” he asked.

“No. Excuse me,” she replied, slamming her way out of the room and calling back, “Her name is Malia,” adding under her breath, “You are such an asshole sometimes.”

And that was when she remembered the thing she liked least about family dinners. Still, she figured that Jonah would eventually come around. It had taken a few months to get him to stop dead-naming Malia and he was making fewer mistakes with the pronouns, at least when she was around. But for god’s sake, he was nearly fifty. He should give a damn what his parents thought anymore.

* * *

Tailed

The next morning, Simon and Joshua got up, got ready, had breakfast, then headed down to the garage, carrying the trap with Anabel in it in the velvet bag. They were dressed casually and Joshua had called dibs on driving, which was fine with Simon anyway. They hopped into the Tesla, Joshua put his foot on the brake and shifted into gear. The car hummed to life.

It would be fair for anybody to speculate how a couple of guys their age who only seemed to hang out in subway stations dressed as refugees from a Jules Verne novel could afford a Tesla, much less their own condo, along with all of the geegaws and gadgets involved in their ghost hunting.

The short answer was that in the previous decade, the two of them had designed a series of killer apps that had a habit of being bought up for anywhere in the high seven to mid-eight figure range. Simon was the idea man and Joshua was the coder and tech nerd, although it was Simon’s really uncanny ability to figure out what the Next Big Thing was going to be a year or two before it was that drove things.

But they had also made an agreement that they would never allow themselves to be worth more than a certain amount. They had originally set that at a billion until they exceeded it and realized how ridiculous a billion dollars was for just two people, so they cut it down to a hundred million, then finally settled on ten million.

Anything in excess of that went away as charitable donations, or to any of several dozen anonymous educational foundations they had set up around the world. It wasn’t uncommon for them to sneak a server a few grand as a tip, or buy a house and “rent” it to a homeless woman and her children for a dollar a year, or provide necessary supplies for a struggling school.

Still, they considered themselves to be the Banksy of charity — they never announced any of what they did, never put their names on it, and swore their beneficiaries to silence.

“We’re like thieves in the night,” Simon liked to say,” Except Robin Hood.”

They did start a charitable organization that would handle everything, but they had named it the Ada Lovelace Foundation, which they both felt appropriate for two reasons. One was that she was basically the world’s first computer programmer, back in the nineteenth century when “computers” were entirely mechanical.

The other was that she was an important character in William Gibson’s book The Difference Engine, which both of them had read and loved as kids and it was considered to be raison d’être for the entire steampunk genre.

Of course, as far as Ausmann ever knew, they were forever broker than shit and relied on their job with him and his largesse. This just gave them leverage that he didn’t know existed.

Joshua pulled out of the lot and turned right onto Tujunga, heading south toward Magnolia. As they crossed South Chandler — named for a family not related to the Chanlers — he and Simon both noticed a vehicle pull away from the curb by the park a little too quickly and obviously.

“Did you — ” Simon started.

“Yep,” Joshua replied. “Did you notice the license plate?”

“No,” Simon replied. “What?”

“Exempt.”

“Shit.”

In California, this designated that it was a government-owned car, although which level of government wasn’t certain — it could be city, county, or state. And, contrary to what some under-informed people thought, it did not mean “Exempt from obeying all traffic laws.” Rather, it meant “Exempt from taxation,” so the car wasn’t subject to annual registration, sales tax on transfer from one exempt entity to another, and so on.

Although the driver had been so eager to pull out on Joshua’s ass that they had cut off another driver who gave an angry honk.

“What do we do?” Simon asked.

“Drive casually until we figure out who they are,” Joshua explained as Simon turned to look out the back window. “And don’t look at them!”

“Sorry,” Simon said.

“Don’t we have an app that does the license plate thing?” Joshua asked.

“Oh, right,” Simon replied, taking out his phone and pulling up the app, porting the output to the car’s tablet. He activated the back-up cam, got a clear photo of the front plate, and in a few seconds the screen displayed the answer.

CALIFORNIA VEHICLE EXEMPT PLATE
JURISDICTION LEVEL: COUNTY
AGENCY: LOS ANGELES METRO
DIVISION: CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
LEO?: NO

“Shit, that’s it?” Joshua laughed. “We’re being followed by customer service? What are they going to do, make us take a survey?”

“We still don’t know who’s in that car,” Simon replied.

“True, but…” Joshua tapped the screen, went to the back-up cam and titled it up, pulling slightly away so he got a look at the driver and passenger. “Well, it’s not Brenda, at least,” he said.

“I really have a feeling she wouldn’t sell us out,” Simon said. “Besides, we never even told her where we live.”

“No, we didn’t. Did we? Hm.”

They continued up Tujunga and turned left on Magnolia, crossed under the 170, then turned left to hop on the on-ramp and head south. Traffic was light at least, so Joshua hit 70 and stuck to the leftmost number one lane carpool, apparently continuing down the 170 into Hollywood, Metro vehicle behind all the while.

“You want the other side,” Simon told Joshau.

“I know,” Joshua replied.

“Oh, shit. You’re about to — ”

“Make you shit your pants?”

“Joshie!”

“Sorry, honey. We need to shake a tail.”

Joshua accelerated to eighty as the approach to the lanes that cut off to the 170 and Hollywood neared. Then, at the very last second, he yanked hard right and swept over three lanes, punching it to ninety and heading down the 134.

The Metro vehicle behind them managed to make it one lane over before a BMW cut them off and Joshua sailed it down the interchange and onto the freeway to Pasadena without their pursuers, bringing their speed down to 65 to Simon’s great relief.

“I hate it when you do that,” Simon told him.

“You’re still hard right now,” Joshua replied, and they both knew that it was true.

“Yeah, but it’s a fear boner,” Simon explained sheepishly.

It had subsided by the time they got to JPL and made it down to Ausmann’s office. On the way, knowing full well by now that he’d probably already seen the footage, they had to come up with a plausible reason for Preston’s escape, so they had decided to blame it on the woman from Metro who had left with them.

She demanded to know what was in the other trap, against their better judgement they opened it, and Preston flitted off into the night, as these things were wont to do.

But, surprisingly, Ausmann didn’t even ask about Preston after they’d placed the other trap on his desk and removed it from the bag.

“Apparently,” Simon explained, “Her name was Anabel Rose Catherine Chanler LeCard.”

“Really?” Ausmann replied, looking stunned. “You two mooks managed to capture Anabel?”

“You know her?” Joshua asked, just as stunned.

“I know the name,” Ausmann said. “But are you sure that’s who she is?”

“That’s who the other entity said she was.” Simon explained.

“And how would that one know?”

“Apparently, he was her son,” Simon added.

“Did you bring the other one?” Ausmann suddenly asked.

“Uh… we caught him, but, um, he… got away,” Joshua offered.

“Oh,” Ausmann replied, but didn’t say anything more about it, just staring at the trap on his desk. “If this really is Anabel… I think you two are in line for a couple of bumps up the ladder.”

“You mean… up our pay grades?” Joshua asked, pretending that it mattered.

“Oh, yeah, that too. No, I meant… more on upping your security clearances. But… that all depends on whether this is Anabel or not.”

“Who was… is Anabel, anyway?” Simon asked.

“You don’t get that story until I’ve bumped you up from public trust to secret. Good work, boys. See you next time. Last stop is North Hollywood, right?”

“Next week,” Simon replied.

“Can’t wait to see what you pull in then. Thanks!”

Simon and Joshua left the office and headed up top. Once they were in the elevator, Simon asked Joshua, “Has he ever told us ‘thanks’ before?”

“Nope,” Joshua replied.

Back in his office, Ausmann turned the trap over and over in his hands. It was an amazing piece of work, really, and he had no idea how the two managed things like this on what he paid them. Still… Anabel was a name that had come up countless times in their failed attempts to keep these entities either trapped down here or from suddenly melting into nothing.

Except for the ones who popped up claiming to be famous people — a sure sign of insanity — most of the others cried out one name before fleeing or disappearing. “Anabel.”

In the chess-game Ausmann had been playing, it felt like he had just captured the Queen.

* * *

The Saturday Morning Post #27: The Rêves, Part 5

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.

All-American Slam

“Wow,” Brenda said after Simon and Joshua had finished their tag-team explanation of what was going on. “Oh, wow,” she repeated, absently finishing up the last of the seasoned fries which was the last of bit her breakfast.

They had agreed, by the time they’d gotten here, that the evening had left them all very hungry. Joshua had gone for a custom cheeseburger, with double patties, Swiss and cheddar cheese, bacon, mayo, caramelized onions, and red-skinned potatoes on the side.

Meanwhile Simon built his own omelet, with fire-roasted bell peppers and onions, jalapeños, sautéed mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, feta and pepper-jack cheese, an English muffin, seasonal fruit instead of potato, and fresh avocado on top.

Yeah, while Joshua and Simon were alike in a lot of ways, they weren’t when it came to food choices. That made cooking at home a bit awkward.

“I figured that would be your reaction,” Simon replied to Brenda’s “Wow.”

“But it makes so much sense now,” she said. “Of course that’s what’s going on. Okay, okay. I guess now it’s my turn to share.”

Of course, Joshua and Simon had only told her what they knew, which was naturally limited because Ausmann hadn’t been so forthcoming — and they had left out any mention of him or JPL, just that they were doing it for someone with government connections, while Joshua had done a brilliant job of tossing in the deflection of, “Well, this person is affiliated with a government organization we wouldn’t want to have anything to do with directly in a million years.”

Simon was actually proud of that one. Anyone who knew the two of them knew that they would each give their right nut, and probably toss in the left one, in order to have legit careers at JPL. Hell, offer to send them to Mars, they’d probably cut off their dicks as well.

“So, share?” Joshua replied.

Brenda proceeded to tell them about L.A. Metro lore, the stories that were passed along down the years, and shared as almost a rite of passage tradition for new employees — especially when a foreman was breaking in new tunnel crew who had the graveyard maintenance shifts of cleaning and repairing the trains, scooping dead rats out of the track beds, finding suicides that had been missed because they managed to get down a tunnel and in front of a train without a driver noticing, and so on.

That and constantly power-hosing piss and shit out of everything, because humans were pigs.

“Ghost stories to haze new employees?” Simon asked when she was done.

“That’s what I always thought, yeah,” she said. “But then I got into management, and then upper management, and then wound up actually seeing the so-called ‘R-Files.’”

“Is that anything like the X-Files­?” Joshua asked.

“Sort of,” Brenda said. “R. As in Riordan. Does that name ring any bells?”

Simon and Joshua looked at each other, both drawing blanks, finally replying, “No.”

“Yeah, y’all were probably too young. Where’d you grow up?”

“Here,” Joshua replied.

“Well, the Valley,” Simon said.

“West… Valley…” Joshua added reluctantly.

“So your parents probably voted for him. I was a junior, maybe senior in high school. So I knew of him, only knew I didn’t like him because he was an old white man, and a Republican — ”

“Eew!” Joshua and Simon chimed in together.

“And yet he marched in the Gay Pride Parade while was mayor. In the 90s. But the real shit was kept under cover, and that’s what’s in the R-Files.”

“Sounds… interesting,” Joshua said.

“Very,” Simon added.

“Yeah. Basically, it validates everything you’ve just told me, but I think it also fills in a lot of the holes in what you I know.”

“So tell,” Simon said.

“All right,” Brenda said, “But I think this is going to require coffee and dessert.”

“Agreed,” Joshua replied, Simon nodding.

Brenda went for the New York style cheesecake. Meanwhile, when it came to dessert, Joshua and Simon were the perfect match, so it was one chocolate lava cake, two forks. And then three large coffees all around.

* * *

Anabel

She knows that any Class 2’s or Class 3’s captured by the type of traps these assholes are using will, mercifully, be unconscious until they are released. She also knows, from what she’s seen, that those traps would not have captured her, and so was completely surprised to find herself taken in by something that left her entirely aware, and yet trapped like a butterfly under glass, able to see outside, and yet not get there.

She also couldn’t hear anything — the device she was sealed in was soundproof. Also, the dark-haired one had hung it back on his belt, and she was now sitting in her cage on the fake leather bench in what seemed to be a cheap diner booth, in between her two captors.

Even more infuriating than being imprisoned and not being able to hear what was going on, though, was that while she’d been alive she was the ruling power behind her entire extended family because she knew how to manipulate the patriarch of the clan, her paternal grandfather, Winthrop Stuyvesant Chanler, whom she always called Papaw Winnie.

She also had no brothers, only younger sisters, as did her father, which put her in a unique position, especially after her father died in a horseback riding accident while surveying one of their family’s many rancheros in the Eastern San Fernando Valley.

She was 13 at the time and it was 1906, about six months after the northern branch of the family had lost so much in the San Francisco earthquake. Or would have lost so much, except that when Anabel heard the news, she went to her grandfather and told him exactly how to use the disaster to make a fortune.

She told him he needed to go start a bank, to offer personal loans and to finance rebuilding; buy up real estate that seemed worthless; start several development companies; and get a few of her cousins into politics on the state level.

It turned out that the hardest part was starting the bank, but only because Amadeo Giannini, who had started the Bank of Italy in San Francisco two years earlier, had seen the promise in the idea, and had the gall to recreate it as the Bank of America with two Burgundy type wine barrels and a plank in the middle of the wreckage in North Beach, where he started handing out money to mostly Italian-Americans.

Fortunately, Anabel’s grandfather hated the people he always called “The Wops,” and made sure that all the bigger loans and better property went to the good old Anglos.

Ironically, decades later, the spot where Amadeo had started his bank would be near the site of the famous Transamerica Pyramid. Transamerica was Bank of America’s holding company. The Chanlers had always considered the Gianninis to be major-league assholes. The feeling was mutual.

But, in 1906, Anabel’s advice led to a flurry of telegraphs from her grandfather, as well as quickly booked train trips to as close to the Bay Area as they could get before riding in on horseback and horse-drawn cart, and over the next few years, Anabel’s plans succeeded beyond even her own wildest dreams. But between start and finish, her father died, leaving her as the only logical heir, which grandfather declared her to be on her eighteenth birthday in 1911.

This was when she pulled her second coup, seeing what was going on in Europe, and advising him that the best way to become rich in war-time was to provide arms. “To which side?” he had asked her.

“To all of them,” she said. And even though he had to compete with the Krupp dynasty of Essen, he gave them a run for their money, despite them having been in the arms business for almost 300 years at that point.

By 1918, the family had made another huge killing, grandfather had set Anabel up in several businesses of her own, making her a multi-millionaire, and everything looked great — then she caught the Spanish flu at the end of the year and it looked like she wasn’t going to make it.

Grandfather was beside himself, and consulted all of the experts as quickly as he could — starting with doctors, but then Anabel’s husband, Aldous LeCard, recommended several… less conventional “medics,” including spiritualists, faith healers, and mystics.

One of them, Madame Wilhelmina, happened to give the grandfather the idea that as long as a member of the family was remembered and honored by the rest of the family, no harm could come to them, so he immediately demanded that everyone think about and pray for Anabel five times a day.

He might have been a bit distracted and missed the doctor who had immediately started Anabel on the so-called “open air” treatment — that is, moving patients from inside of hospitals and into the outdoors onto field cots, which would be tented from direct sunlight but would receive adequate ventilation.

Second, while patients were still in the first stage of the illness, which Anabel was, doctors would give them several injections of quinine hydrochloride. All the while, medical staff would monitor lung function to make sure that pneumonia did not set in.

And, while there was no vaccine, Anabel lucked out by having a doctor who wasn’t against taking huge chances and, while medical science wouldn’t finally confirm his method for another sixteen years, he took the bold (and secret) risk of injecting Anabel with blood from a matched patient who had recovered from the Spanish flu.

Unfortunately, the end of her symptoms and his announcement to her family that she had completely recovered came exactly seven days after grandfather had started them all on Madame Wilhelmina’s mystic treatment.

Guess which one got the credit? And who wound up on the family payroll as “spiritual advisor?”

Aldous himself was not happy about it, but probably because he had finally consulted with professionals like Dr. Richter, and realized how wrong he had been. But try telling grandpa that. He had privately confronted Wilhelmina and accused her of being a fraud, but she had just laughed in his face.

“You’re not signing my checks,” she said.

“Yet,” he replied. “And hell will freeze over before I ever do.”

Ultimately, though, all that mattered to Aldous was that Anabel survived and thrived. Let the old man believe what he wanted to. Although they had both been too focused on business to think about starting a family at the time, six or seven years later, when they had both reached the ridiculously ancient age of thirty-two, it seemed like the right idea.

So, in late April that year, they went on a vacation far away from the family, taking the train to New York, then a cruise to London, a ferry to France, another train to Paris, and then a coach ride to a luxury hotel in the First Arrondissement, because of course they could.

They proceeded to lock themselves in, dine on only the best of room service — especially oysters — and then fuck like rabbits on Easter for the next three weeks. Aldous hadn’t picked Europe and was not thinking of rabbits at random, though. Here was where some scientists were working on a very experimental method to detect pregnancy early, and it happened to involve killing bunnies.

The current method prior to that innovation involved a doctor basically looking at a woman’s lady bits for color changes which may or may not indicate pregnancy, but which would also take one to two months to appear.

Meanwhile, a couple of Germans studying hormones had discovered that if they injected the urine of a woman who was likely pregnant into a group of rabbits over a series of five days and then cut the rabbits open to look at their ovaries, if any or all of them had, in fact, started to ovulate, then the woman was pregnant.

Aldous knew enough about biology and science to understand why it could work, and enough about American puritanism to understand why it wouldn’t make it over there for decades, if at all. What? Teach women more about their bodies and, god forbid, give them enough warning about an unintended pregnancy to end it before anyone else could ever know?

He wondered whether they should ever go back, although even now, in the spring of 1925, it was clear that Europe would not remain stable for long — although Anabel’s family would certainly rake in several more fortunes and their child, he hoped for a son, would go on to start his own monopoly, one that in the world of the far-off 1940s and 50s would see the world’s first billionaires.

The first positive results came through in mid-May, on the 14th, and the next four rabbits were also popping eggs. Anabel was pregnant, she and Aldous were going to be parents, and it was time to sail back home and deliver the triumphant news.

They made it back to L.A. by late June, and the rest of the year went along swimmingly, with Anabel and Aldous really becoming the center of the apparently rising Chanler-LeCard dynasty. That Christmas, grandfather made it official. The two of them were going to be his sole heirs, at least of the main companies and assets. However, everyone else would get more than enough from his personal accounts and various smaller real estate holdings that they should be happy and just shut up.

“And this is how capitalism kills us,” Aldous thought as he hugged his pregnant bride, but he smiled and said nothing.

And then early one morning on Groundhog Day in 1926, Anabel went into labor and they all rushed to the hospital — which happened to be the Chanler Family Medical Institute — and as things progressed, they seemed to become more and more dire for Anabel. Her blood pressure dropped, she wasn’t dilating, her lips started to turn blue, and her doctors put the word out to the family.

“We may have to decide whether to save the mother or the baby,” they said.

Grandfather, Aldous, Anabel’s sisters, the cousins and aunts and uncles sat in silence until grandfather stood and glared at Aldous.

“This is your fault,” he suddenly shouted.

“Sorry, what?” Aldous replied.

“You and your modern science death cult ways — ”

“Again, sorry, what, old man? I seem to remember my ways saving her from the Spanish flu.”

“Do you?” grandfather bellowed, gesturing. Madame Wilhelmina swept in, glaring at Aldous.

“What are you doing here?” he demanded.

“Saving your child,” she spat at him.

“You are nothing but a fraud,” Aldous replied.

“Enough!” grandfather shouted.

“You saved nothing, old woman!” Aldous shouted.

“Shall we make a deal, then?” Madame Wilhelmina replied.

“No, but try me.”

“All right,” she said. “I will save your wife, and you will save your son.”

“And then?” Aldous asked.

“You get to keep the one you love more.”

“I chose the one who is still alive, then,” he said.

“So be it,” she replied. “Deal?”

“Deal,” he spat back at her.

She turned to the family members in the lobby and exhorted them. “Most of you remember how we saved her before. We need to do it again. Do you remember?”

“We have to remember,” a lot of them muttered.

“Exactly,” she smiled, and then started them in a chant. Meanwhile, Aldous went to the OR room doors and signaled. A doctor in scrubs came out, dropping his mask. “You can’t come in,” he said, “But are you the father?”

“Yes,” Aldous said. “So, what’s the situation?”

“We have about four minutes to save your child, but only via C-section. I’m sorry, but your wife… she’s already… I mean, there’s nothing we can do.”

“I understand,” Aldous said. “Save the baby no matter what you have to do.”

“Thank you,” the doctor said, pulling his mask back on and vanishing beyond the doors. Aldous came back out to the waiting room, took one look at his relatives chanting like useless assholes and all he could do was laugh.

He announced quietly, but was sure that none of them heard him or cared. “I saved my son, you morons. My wife is dead.”

Later that day, Aldous would leave the place with his son Preston, never to have anything to do with his wife’s family ever again. Fortunately, they had left him with one autonomous company that would leave them well off. Even more fortunately, it had nothing to do with weapons or war or any of that crap. It had been a hand-off because a company creating art and architecture didn’t interest them at all.

What he never knew was that Madame Wilhelmina had done such a snow-job on the family and had managed to be half right that Anabel would keep on haunting his world, even long after he and his own son had died.

Papaw Winnie, meanwhile, died that August, and hadn’t yet gotten about to changing his original will, so Aldous and Preston wound up with almost everything, anyway. When the rest of the family tried to contest it, he just told them, “Why don’t you have that fraudulent medium of yours pray for it to happen?”

Anabel had been very proud of Aldous that day, although she couldn’t tell him. She also couldn’t tell him that Wilhelmina’s tricks had worked — sort of — although not in any way she had ever intended. But she was going to be around for a long time.

She was starting to think that this late-night meeting was going to last an eternity when, finally, the group got up, apparently said their farewells, and headed off their separate ways. She never got a good look at who the hunters were talking to — presumably, the woman she’d seen down in the station — but the men walked home and came to a high-rise condo and buzzed themselves in.

“Great,” she thought. “Elevator.” At least she could be pretty sure that they weren’t going to leave her in here, but as they passed through the open doors and went inside, everything went black.

She came too briefly to catch a glimpse of what was their headquarters, although it looked just like a normal condo, even if the décor leaned a bit toward the eclectic and nerdy side. But then one of them slipped the trap she was in into a velvet bag and everything went dark again, although she was fully aware as she sensed the bag being carried and then quickly lowered.

She bided her time. Everything was as quiet as the grave.

* * *

The Saturday Morning Post #26: The Rêves, Part 4

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.

Preston on watch

Preston had spent most of the early evening drifting around the plaza next to Universal City station, invisible except when he got bored enough to take on the guise of a pigeon and jump into one of the flocks that had gathered around an old woman who kept tossing them breadcrumbs, even after she had been told by multiple authorities to stop.

To him, the best part about that had been the weird looks the other pigeons gave him. They weren’t really intelligent enough give it any expression other than a sideways look that said, “What the fuck, dude, you ain’t no bird,” but he was pleasantly surprised that they at least acknowledged him.

When it had gotten sufficiently late, he took the stairs down to the platform and then he spotted the dudes just as they were coming off of the train. They were pretty much what Anabel had described and he popped back into his human form — naked as usual but totally invisible — and just gawked.

He gauged them both to be probably about mid- to late-30s, but Anabel hadn’t told the whole truth. Sure, she had described them as a couple of lanky steampunk nerds, which had already got Preston going, but she had omitted the two most important words.

Hot daddies.

That had been Preston’s entire stock-in-trade back in the day. His catnip, his raison d’être. His raison d’être cet. He suddenly realized that getting captured probably wouldn’t be all that bad a thing and he started to strut toward them when Anabel suddenly popped up in front of him and, unlike a lot of the stuff around here, she had the power to physically stop him in his tracks.

“Glad you made it,” she said. “Don’t get jumpy.”

“I’m supposed to let them catch me, right?”

“Yes, but… again, can you just kind of fake clothes?”

“What? None of them can see — ”

“Or at least slap down the Angel Lust?”

“The… what?”

“Goddamn, you are way too new.”

“Yeah, sorry I’m not old like you… Anabel. Rose.”

“Shut up — ”

“Catherine.”

“You shut up now!”

“Chanler — ”

“You shut your fucking whore mouth!”

“LeCard.”

Anabel looked like something had punched the wind out of her sails and every aspect of her started to go monochrome before she recovered, grabbed the air, shrieked, although no one but Preston heard it.

“Who told you that?” she demanded.

“No one,” Preston replied. “I figured it out on my own.”

“Impossible,” Anabel said. “You’re… you…. no…”

“Oh, sorry. Were you about to say that I’m too stupid?”

“You heard me.”

“Yeah. I did. Ms. LeCard. Who died in 1926. Oh. Oh my god, stupid little himbo pornstar whore gets it — somehow, you married your ass into my family, so you’ve got some goddamn connection here. What is it?”

“Who told you that?” Anabel screamed at him.

“Architecture,” he replied. “So… why should I turn myself over to become the little prisoner of those two hot daddies?”

Anabel glared at him, shot him a look like she wanted to rip his head off, and then just sighed and shook her head. “Number one, because you fucking want to, you little whore. Number two because… yeah. I guess I know what architecture didn’t tell you.”

“What?”

“That Anabel Rose Catherine Chanler LeCard had a son. Named Preston.”

“You’re… your my mother? Then why are you asking me to sacrifice my ass in the first place?” Preston shot back. He turned away but she grabbed him and dragged him to the far end of the platform.

“Not yet. Idiot,” she hissed at him. They faded into the shadows and waited. It was still a little too crowded.

She was more infuriated that he’d figured out — sort of — who she was. She knew he must have stumbled into the family mausoleum, but also knew that he never would have bothered to do it on his own. Somebody must have tipped him off, but who could have done that? And why?

At least she didn’t have to worry about him not getting captured. He was going to let his usual lusts drag him into trouble. While she’d told the truth that she was going to keep an eye on him, they really had no intentions of rescuing him. They just wanted to figure out where the two hunters were going to take him and what they intended to do.

She was pretty certain that it didn’t involve any of the things that Preston was hoping that they’d do to him. Maybe she shouldn’t be so angry, though. So what if he’d learned her full name and a little truth? It’s not like he was going to be around much longer to do anything about it.

She contemplated just throwing him into the elevator and sending it all the way up. Underground, those things were fine, but once they’d risen aboveground, even a little, they were death traps to her kind.

* * *

Shadows and sparks

Joshua was the one who spotted the shadow first and he signaled. Simon. They both got up and readied their equipment, but this shadow acted differently than the other ones. When it clearly had sensed their approach, instead of pretending to be an actual shadow or trying to hide among them, it actually seemed to become darker and more defined and stopped, as if waiting for them.

It almost looked like the actual shadow of a human being cast on the wall. Joshua and Simon stopped waited.

“Well, this is new,” Simon said.

“And very disconcerting,” Joshua added.

“Excuse me — ”

They both turned at the sudden voice to see Brenda approaching them. She was dressed in civilian clothes but had a name tag and badge identifying her as a Metro employee. “Can I help you two with something down here?”

“Um… just waiting for a train,” Simon replied.

“Long wait,” she said. “Are you sure it’s a train you came down here to catch?”

“It’s not an airplane,” Joshua offered, trying to lighten the mood.

Brenda huffed, pulled out her phone and tapped, then showed them the footage of themselves from the previous week, as they tried to evade the creature on the stairs. “Look familiar?” she asked.

“That’s not us,” Joshua said.

“They have a great fashion sense, though,” Simon added.

“Cut the bullshit,” Brenda shot back. “Mind telling me what’s going on here?”

“We can’t,” Simon told her.

“Sorry, yeah, can’t,” Joshua said. “Government stuff.”

“Very classified,” Simon explained.

“The other one’s got bells on it,” Brenda said dryly.

“Are you a cop?” Simon asked.

“No,” she said.

“Oh, good. Bye!”

He grabbed Joshua’s arm and they took off running, catching Brenda off-guard. Before she could do anything, the shadow suddenly darted after them, looking exactly like a human form racing along the platform.

“Oh, hell no,” she muttered to herself as she took off in pursuit. She could see the two of them racing up the escalator even as the shadow ran up the stairs. This one was fast, too. Faster than the faceless beast from the other station. All of them were faster than Brenda, who’d been driving a desk for too long.

Then, as she was almost at the bottom of the escalator, a similar creature to the one from Hollywood and Highland passed right in front of her, looking at her briefly with its absolutely blank and indistinct fact, but it seemed to have no interest in her as it passed on and started up the steps.

Joshua and Simon made it up to the plaza, looking behind to see that it didn’t look like anyone was chasing them — but then the shadow drifted up, overtook them, stopped in front of them and, presumably, stood to face them.

“What?” Simon demanded.

The shadow flickered and became slightly less umbral. Suddenly, there was just a hint of detail, enough for them to see that this appeared to be a short, young man. He was smiling at them and holding his arms out in what was clearly an “Arrest me” gesture.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Simon said, but Joshua had already pulled out a mirror trap and opened it. Looking extremely grateful, the young man leaned forward, went into shadow form, and whooshed right into the mirror with none of the sound and fury of their previous catch.

Joshua screwed the lid on. “Well, that was easy,” he said.

“Too easy,” Simon countered. “I guess we’re walking home from here.”

“I guess,” Joshua replied before adding, “Aw, shit,” making Simon look as well. Another one of those faceless creatures was standing at the top of the stairs, just watching them.

“How the hell did it get out of the station?” Joshua asked.

“We never knew for sure that they couldn’t, just that they didn’t,” Simon explained. “Do you think it’s trying to rescue our guest?”

“You know,” Joshua said, “I think it’s time to find out what these things can do. Here.” He gave the trap to Simon and started for the creature.

“Josh — no!” Simon called out, but to no avail. Joshua was stalking right up to it.

“Hi!” he called out. “Can I help you?”

It stared at him — well, metaphorically — but didn’t move. It seemed suddenly confused, but stood its ground. As Joshua drew closer, it actually seemed to shy away a step or two, and then transformed into the form of a wolf. Well, more of a werewolf, since it was standing on two legs.

“Cute,” Joshua said. “Look, we’d really appreciate it if you’d go back into the station and to wherever you came from. Our business is with… someone who apparently wanted to come along peacefully. So go on. Run along…”

The creature didn’t move, but it did go back to its more benign hooded, faceless form. “Oh my god,” Joshua suddenly said. “You’re not trying to stop us this time, are you? Of course. Simon!”

Seeing that Joshua hadn’t been attacked at all, Simon had already been on his way over. Now he broke into a trot and joined the other two.

“So,” he said to the creature, “Do you have anything to tell us?”

The creature gestured, as if urging them to be on their way and both Simon and Joshua got the sinking feeling that it wanted to follow them home. But before they could reply, there was a sudden loud snap, and then the creature was suddenly covered in arcs of electricity, like one of those plasma lamps. It went rigid and then its form changed to that of a quite normal-looking human woman who just stood there, transfixed.

Without hesitating, Joshua grabbed one of the tools from Simon’s belt, turned it on and aimed. This was one of their more high tech devices, and the creature, whatever it was, vanished into the mouth of the device with a pop. Joshua capped it and turned it off.

With the creature gone, Brenda was visible, standing there with a taser.

“I thought you weren’t a cop,” Simon said.

“I’m not,” she replied. “But I’m also not stupid. You two want to explain?”

“I guess we should,” Simon told her. “But… unofficially, maybe?”

“Oh, by this point, it damn well better be unofficial, because I don’t want anyone at work thinking I’m crazy. Coffee?”

“Sure,” Joshua replied.

There were a lot of coffee places in the area but it was also after three in the morning, so, since Brenda had her city car parked here, they all wound up at the Denny’s a few miles north on Lankershim, a couple of blocks from the NoHo station. Not exactly super-classy, but it seemed like the appropriate place to have this conversation.

* * *

Classes in crisis

There wasn’t really an official Rêves council, but those who were Class 1 had quickly realized that they really needed to create some sort of hierarchy, and then figure out how to deal with what they had wound up with.

Class 1 and Class 3 were not the problem. The former knew who and what they were, while the latter had no idea who they really were yet, but no problem being who they thought they were. The members of Class 1 thought of them as refugees or recent immigrants, since there had been such a sudden huge increase of their numbers.

The real problem were the members of Class 2, who thought they were more important than they were, had no idea who they really were, and were just generally a pain in the ass.

Meanwhile, while Brenda was having her conversation with Simon and Joshua at Denny’s, there was a sudden emergency meeting that took place in the forecourt of the Grand Mausoleum at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery — although reluctantly, because this was clearly a place where Class 2’s could try to run roughshod, so it was up to the Class 1’s to get there first, rope the Class 3’s onto their side, and proceed…

That was why the announcement didn’t go out via the underground to the Class 2’s until about an hour after the meeting really started, which was also two hours after Brenda and company had sat down at Denny’s.

By the time the Class 2s did show up, the board had already been established, and they were mostly Chinese and Hispanic. The lower board, meanwhile, had no obvious identities, but a lot of enthusiasm, and the Class 2s had little say in the matter.

The real issue was that a lot of their kind, mostly Class 2s, were being kidnapped and trapped by various rogue hunters, for unknown reasons, and the group was meeting to figure out what to do.

Richard, who was on the upper board, explained what Anabel had explained to Preston earlier. He had been a wise choice for this position because, while he shared a lot of the attributes of Class 2, he had the family connections to keep him firmly in Class 1.

“As far as we know,” he said, “There are not secuestros, kidnappings. Nobody has demanded a ransom or made any demands at all — ”

“At least not as far as we can tell,” a woman on the board named Yut Ho added. While Richard didn’t know her personally — she had died long before he was even born — he had heard her story. Her abduction led to a gunfight between two rival companies in Chinatown, inadvertently killing a white man in the crossfire. This led to the Chinese Massacre of 1871, as a group of white people, many immigrants, invade Old Chinatown and proceeded to burn, loot, and lynch.

Seventeen people were lynched, ten perpetrators were brought to trial, eight were convicted — and every one of their sentences was overturned on a technicality. He hadn’t learned that from her, though. She never talked about it.

He had learned it from an historian who had worked for the city of L.A. until his death in the early 1980s. Specifically, he specialized in Hispanic, Latin, and Chicano history and culture in the city, particularly centered around the original Pueblo downtown.

The first Chinatown in Los Angeles had started on land leased from a Mexican family that owned agricultural land around the Pueblo, and it was founded long before California even became a state, when it was still part of Mexico. Eventually, Old Chinatown would be destroyed to make room for Union Station, the fancy new train depot that connected the newly thriving entertainment capital to the rest of the country. The New Chinatown would move farther east.

Richard couldn’t help but wonder if these disappearances weren’t in a similar vein to all of those situations where a  particular racial, ethnic, or religious group would be driven off of their land in order to make room to “improv” it i.e., make it more profitable to already wealthy people.

Hell, he had lived long enough to actually see the Battle of Chavez Ravine and read about it for almost every day of his life. It lasted from when he was about five until he was fifteen, and it was the same story. Rich people decide they want a piece of land to put something on, never mind that people already live and have a community there.

Ironically, the original intent had been to build public housing in the Ravine, but once the people had been removed, the voters of Los Angeles said “No.” They didn’t want no public housing, dammit, and a newly-elected conservative mayor agreed. Hell, being anti-public housing was part of his platform.

And so, Dodger Stadium happened instead, and it housed exactly no one.

Not that the people were originally happy about that, but they failed to ultimately vote against it.

It had been thirty years since the Rêves had made their arrangement with another L.A. Mayor who was really conservative in name only, so they allowed the Metro system to be built through their territory as long as they were allowed to inhabit it and use it for their own purposes.

They even agreed to protect it from acts of terrorism, and these were the only times, short of protecting one of their own, that they would show themselves to humans. They never even pointed these instances out to the authorities. They just made sure that they didn’t happen.

Since 1993, they had averted seven would-be acts of terrorism, including bombings, mass-shootings, and one bio-chemical attack. Funny how many of the would-be terrorists flung themselves before oncoming trains once a Rêve or two made an appearance.

The discussion continued, with the Class 3s being the most gung-ho to go out and figure out what was going on, while the Class 2s were most interested in making nice with the humans.

“They’re not all bad, after all,” one of them, who had been an iconic actress until her premature death, announced in a breathy voice that was the public perception of her but not at all reality. “I mean, I liked them once. I was one!”

“We all were, Norma,” one of the board members replied with full bitchy venom. That would be Holden Sutter. Not generally known to the public at large, but a famous and larger-than-life camp figure of the late 50s and early 60s who hosted the most amazing parties up in the Hollywood Hills.

The public never knew him, but all of hidden gay Hollywood did, and so did a lot of not-hidden straight Hollywood. He could get you anything you wanted, legal or not — men, women, weed, coke, opium. He also had dirt on absolutely everyone, and referred to himself as The Bullet-Proof Bitch.

That turned out to be not so much the case when he was murdered in 1967. Officially, a couple of punks had heard about “this rich fag up in the hills,” pretended to be rent boys in order to get inside, then knocked him unconscious, tied him up, and proceeded to grab and pack anything valuable they could get their eyes on.

Holden died not from a knock on the head but because they had left him on his back, he vomited while unconscious and proceeded to aspirate and die.

But, of course, everyone in the industry, and especially in the gay demi-monde, just “knew” that Holden had been murdered by some politician he had threatened to blackmail, usually a City Council Member said to be fond of the boys, sometimes a U.S. Senator, and that the two perpetrators, who were never caught, were actually his lovers.

Of course, if anyone asked Holden now, he would just laugh. “Oh, silly twats,” he’d reply. “No. It was nothing so sordid. Daddy got greedy and hired two really hot stripper twinks to come on up and have a good time. One was both 19, the other was 16. I was 67. I came and went and then they left, but I died a very happy man.”

This story had always stuck with Richard not because it was so sordid but because it was exactly the opposite. There was no great big conspiracy anywhere — just a tale of natural human weakness, and how the Reaper is often summoned by one’s own needs.

But if there wasn’t any vast conspiracy going on, who was grabbing the Rêves, and why? And why were so many of them Class 2?

Then there was a sudden commotion as a Class 1 burst onto the scene from underground. Richard recognized her as Anabel’s great-grand-niece. He thought her name was Cyntoia, but wasn’t quite sure.

All eyes turned to her as she looked at them nervously.

“Anabel!” she announced, panicking. “Anabel. They’ve taken Anabel!”

There was an audible gasp. They’d all been wondering why she hadn’t been here because she was, in fact, head of the board and president of the council. That would explain it.

“Well fuck me sideways,” Holden muttered.

“What do we do now?” Yut Ho asked, but no one replied.

* * *

The Saturday Morning Post #25: The Rêves, Part 3

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.

Delivery

Almost a week later, after Joshua and Simon have hopped the B Line to the A line, and then taken the circuitous route to get to JPL. They never wore their hunting uniforms when they came here, but rather dressed civilian and very plainly, generally in jeans and casual button-down shirts.

Although they wore their hair a little on the longish-side to suit their work personae, they would use product to flatten it and look more clean-cut here. After all, in order to get down to Ausmann’s office, they had to clear security above ground twice, and then clear it twice more below ground, before they could bring their latest capture to Ausmann and turn it over.

The old man held the trap in his hand, turning it over and over like a giant poker chip, demanding details of the capture. They told him about chasing the shadow, how they finally lured it in, and escaped the station. He listened patiently, then gave them a jaundiced look.

“Anything else, boys?” he asked.

“Um… not really?” Simon said, Joshua nodding in agreement.

“Really?” Ausmann insisted.

“Really. Well, not really, no, not anything important to report,” Joshua insisted, Simon nodding.

“Do you really think I’m an ignorant old asshole?” Ausmann asked, not waiting for an answer as he tapped the edge of his desk a couple of times and footage appeared on the display above his desk.

It was the Hollywood and Highland Station, upper level escalators and stairs, right as Joshua and Simon were hauling ass up, pursued by the faceless thing who almost made it before fading away on top. Ausmann let it play, then tapped his desk to pause it and waited.

The silence became uncomfortable until he finally grunted, “So?”

“So…?” Simon asked.

“Any idea what the fuck that was following you?” he demanded.

“What what was?” Joshua asked, tossing on his best innocent face.

“Oh, don’t play that shit with me, you little cunts. You weren’t running up those escalators for exercise.”

“Um, no… but we knew that the last bus to get us to our car was about to pull out,” Peter offered.

“You parked one block west and one block down on Orange, you lying little assholes. Want to try again?”

“What were we supposed to do?” Joshua demanded. “That was the first time we’d seen anything like that. It’s not in the catalog or on the list, and I sure as hell didn’t think we had the tools.”

“Me neither,” Simon added.

“Anyway, it felt like it was beyond our pay-grade.”

Ausmann just stared at them for a long moment, then broke out into laughter, making them both look even more nervous. Finally, he just smiled and said, “Oh my god, you little assholes are even more suited for government work than I ever thought.”

Joshua sensed Simon tensing up for a fight on the word “assholes” and instinctively held him back. “All rightie,” he finally said. “I’m upping your pay grade and your rank, from H3 to H4, which also means you’re getting better tools. But, here’s the deal. In addition to your normal retrieval missions, if you see one of those things again, then you’re going to trap it as well. Understand?”

“Um… what are ‘those things,’ exactly?” Simon asked.

“None of your goddamn business,” Ausmann snapped. “Other than the more of them you catch along with those other things, the sooner you’re going to help me achieve our goals.”

“And the sooner we’re unemployed?” Joshua offered timidly.

“Don’t be a snarky fucking asshole like you usually are, boy. Got it?”

Joshua braced his arm across Simon’s chest and shot him a sideways look. “Sorry, boss,” Joshua explained.

“He can be snarky fucking asshole at times,” Simon spat. “But it’s what makes him good at what he does, and why I fucking love him to death. We good?”

Joshua just stared at Simon in amazement and gratitude as Ausmann turned away and stared out of his office window, finally grunting. “It all depends, boys. On your next trip down, bring me what I’ve asked for. Then I’ll let you know whether ‘we good,’ or you gone. Got it?”

Simon nodded, then Joshua dragged him out before he could say anything more.

* * *

The Chanlers

When Preston woke up later, he noticed that he was being stared at. Then again, in his sleep he had reverted to his usual naked, human form. He couldn’t help it — that’s how most people had met and remembered him. Occupational hazard.

He looked up and realized that a very large crow was perched on the sphere that held up the cenotaph above the family tomb. He smiled at the crow who peered down at him intently.

“I know you’re not what you look like,” Preston said. “And you can obviously see me.”

The crow let out a caw and hopped to the ground but, on the way, transformed into a young human male, dressed simply. Preston didn’t recognize him, but realized that they were probably about the same height, although this kid was obviously really young, and definitely Hispanic.

He had jet-black hair that came into a twist in the middle of his forehead, very 1950s-style, a smile that turned up the left side of his face while squinting his right eye, and a general demeanor that just made Preston trust him.

“I’m Richard,” the kid said.

“Preston,” Preston replied. “Nice to meet you. What brings you here?”

“A lot,” Richard explained. “You know how hard it is to get to Glendale from San Fernando via our usual methods?”

“You can do the crow thing,” Preston countered. “Why not just fly?”

“I kind of have a really big aversion to flying,” Richard said. “Don’t ask. I came here to make you change your mind.”

“About what?”

“I’d say running around with your pinga out in a cemetery, but none of the carne de prada around here can see that. What do you know about Anabel?”

“What about her?” Preston asks.

“Hm. Follow me,” Richard says, walking toward a nearby mausoleum. “How do you know her, anyway?”

“Um… we just met. You know. Like you do when you go to the same places. Hey, we just met, right?”

“True,” Richard replied, “But I was looking.”

“For me? Why?”

“Like I said. To talk you out of doing something stupid tonight in Universal City.”

“How do you know about that?” Preston demanded.

“I know a lot of things, Preston,” Richard replied. “Especially about Anabel.”

“Like what?”

Richard pointed at the mausoleum. “There. Notice anything?”

Preston studied it, not sure what Richard was getting at. Then again, Preston wasn’t really an expert in funerary architecture. But then it struck him — the building was actually huge, but there was only one name carved in the granite plinth that spanned the columns across its front.

Chanler

“Who are they?” Preston asked. “Like, Chandler the L.A. Times dude?”

“No,” Richard said. “Think Waldorf-Astoria, a bit removed.”

“Isn’t that a salad?” Preston asked. “No, wait. The Muppets, right?”

“You made it through life on your looks, didn’t you?” Richard muttered. “Anything else stand out?”

“Well… it’s big.”

“And water is wet. Big, one family, meaning…?”

“Rich as hell?”

“Yep. See any dates?” Richard pointed toward the cornerstone of the building because he was getting tired of Preston being so oblivious — although he wondered whether the boy wasn’t just acting to mess with him. Preston peered at the stone.

“Est. 1906,” he read. “So… really old, really rich. What about Anabel?”

“Okay, first of all,” Richard explained, “1906 was the first year that this place became a cemetery, meaning that the Chanlers were one of the first families to buy land in it. And look at this building. It was not expanded. This is the original, because it’s all one style. So, what does that tell you?”

“That you’re getting this information from someone else?”

“Oh, goddam right I did. That’s the first smart thing you’ve ever said today. What? Look at me. I’m a poor fucking immigrant Mexican kid who grew up with grape pickers and only got lucky because I could sing and some white asshole noticed, of course I don’t know about architecture, I was only seventeen when the plane…”

He spun away and silenced himself, confusing Preston even more. “What?” Preston asked.

“Yes, I got the information from someone else,” Richard explained calmly. “Now I’m giving it to you.” Look at the names on the vaults, and the dates, take your time, I’ll be over here.

“O… kay?” Preston replied as Richard just shrugged him off and wandered across the road to a section of more open plots. Suddenly, he was holding a guitar and started to play it, singing a song that Preston vaguely remembered hearing in some movie a long time ago.

But he did what Richard asked, looking at the vaults in the Mausoleum, which seemed to go in chronological order from top left, down each column in turn. They were stacked six high, with bronze plaques and flower vases mounted in the marble facing, and they were set four wide — two vaults, column, two more, column — before the main doors to the inner vaults.

These were crystal glass panes set in doors wrought from copper that had long since corroded to a deep green patina, three sets of two, each one with an elaborate doorknob on the left in the form of the face of a cherub, period keyhole in the door to the right. On the right side of the six sets of doors, there were another set of vaults, six by four.

So… forty-eight vaults along the front, but clearly more inside. Preston walked around the building to find that each side also contained the same number of vaults, although the only doors were on the front. The back of the building had sixty-six vaults, the extra eighteen taking up the space that would have been doors, but the names on the dates on the brass plaques stopped two rows from the top left and four columns down on the backside:

Justin David Chanler Gomez Jr.

Beloved Son, Brother, Husband, and Father

April 14, 1978 — September 23, 2013.

Preston came back to the front and peered in through the windows to see a lot more vaults inside. He still didn’t have a single clue what Richard had been trying to get him to figure out. If only he could go inside, it would be so much easier…

And then he metaphorically kicked himself. This was just a door, after all. It meant nothing to him. He passed through it and examined the arrangements inside.

Here, the internal vaults were obviously arranged around the seven feet of space each of the outer vaults intruded, and were set to create a sort of Greek cross open space of equal arms. Everything was centered around a rosette pattern set dead center, right under a domed skylight in which quartz glass depicted the signs of the Zodiac.

In the middle of that rosette, a bronze star with eight points, was an inscription:

In loving memory of Anabel Rose Catherine Chanler LeCard.

She will be forever missed, but never forgotten, that is our family’s promise.

August 1, 1893 — February 3, 1926.

Well, shit, Preston thought. She’d died on his birthday. Well, not the year, but the day. And she was a hell of a lot older than he’d ever thought, in more ways than one. And, somehow, more important to all these rich bitches than anyone else?

He ran back out of the mausoleum and to Richard.

“Dude, February 3. She died on my birthday!”

“So did I, pendejo,” Richard replied. “Anything else?”

It hit Preston in a flash, and he truly felt like a dumbfuck. “Wait… LeCard? We’re related? But… how? She’s too old to be my mother, and nobody ever mentioned anyone with that name in the family. What the fuck is going on?

“Simple, amigo. Nunca confundir casarse con cazar. En sólo una manera se puede crear familia.

“What the hell does that mean?”

“Figure out who she married and why.”

“Yeah, well… shit, what time is it?”

“Five o’clock.” Richard explained, adding, “In the evening.”

“That doesn’t give me much time,” Preston replies.

“Really, dude? You and I have all the time in the world. Unfortunately, so does she.”

“But what does she want?” Preston demands. “You haven’t told me that.”

Richard shrugs. “I’m only here to put you on the path,” he says. “Not to drag you down it.”

“Oh, fuck you — ” Preston yells, but Richard has vanished before the F even begins.

* * *

Arming up

After spending most of the day pointedly ignoring potential danger, then most of the afternoon after a quick drive over to Malibu for a fabulous lunch, Joshua and Simon had spent the hours between mid-afternoon and evening just holding and fucking each other left, right, and sideways and, as they had begun the day, ignoring the clear and present danger.

Then, well after nightfall they stared into each other’s eyes, trembled in fear, then got up, got hold of themselves, and armored up in their steampunk regalia.

Although tonight’s target was also the closest to home they ever had — in fact, they were just going to walk two blocks to the NoHo Metro station and catch that train one stop south to Universal City. But despite being the closet mission, it was also the scariest, given what had happened at Hollywood and Highland.

Not to mention what Ausmann might do if they fucked this one up which, honestly, was not beyond possibility. They discussed it on the way down the elevator from their condo, both of them finally saying basically the same thing at the same time.

“We need insurance,” they said, then added, “Jinx,” and linked pinkies.

“Well, we do,” Joshua insisted. “But what?”

“Too late to worry about it now, isn’t it?” Simon replied.

“I don’t need insurance,” Joshua said. “I’ve got you.”

“Ditto,” Simon answered as the elevator doors opened in the lobby. Their appearance startled a neighbor, an older man carrying two plastic grocery bags. Simon tipped his hat to him. “Good evening,” he said as they passed and the old man dashed into the waiting car.

One thing that Joshua and Simon had agreed on long before they set out on tonight’s hunt: Since they weren’t exactly sure what Ausmann was doing to the entities they were bringing to him — and they had always seemed to be sentient entities for as long as they’d been hunting — they would give this victim the chance to argue for their freedom. Or at least explain things.

Why not? It was only fair. Right?

They passed under the three metal arches at the NoHo Metro station and down the escalator to the bank of ticket dispensers on the first landing, but skipped them since they’d loaded their TAP cards to the gills long ago, then passed their way through the turnstiles and across the short path to the second set of escalators that took them down to the platform.

As usual, there was a “dead” train on the right-hand side of the platform, and another one waiting on the left. Experienced riders could tell by the sound whether it was still waiting or about to go by the simple sound of the air conditioning. If it was going, so was the train, so time to run. If not, then there was no hurry.

This one was humming, so they hopped onto the closest car. Within a few seconds came the ding and the doors closing warning, and then the train started to pull out of the station. As usual, it took its time pulling through the crossover that would put it on the right-hand set of tracks, but once it was clear of the intricate rails and tunnels south of the station, the driver put the pedal to the floor.

This was a short hop — actually very walkable aboveground — and in about three minutes, they pulled into the Universal City Station, where they got off of the train and headed to their usual station on a bench near the middle of the platform.

At this hour, the place was nearly deserted, but not completely enough. They still had a bit of a wait.

Down the platform, Brenda was camped out on a bench, dressed in her own costume, as a homeless woman, rocking back and forth and pretending to talk to herself — although she was really talking to Rita in a sort of coded style they had pre-determined. To any outsiders, she would sound insane. To Rita, she made total sense.

Of course, every single Metro employee, cop, and driver had been informed about her presence and appearance, so that she would not be molested or arrested.

“They’re here!” she announced, trying to sound paranoid. “Right down the platform, I can see them, looking at them right now — ” She was staring at empty tracks on the other side.

“Roger,” Rita’s voice came back. “What are they doing?”

“Sitting. Sitting, just sitting, pretending they ain’t doing nothing. You see them? You see?”

“Yes,” Rita replied. “We have them on camera. We’ll let you know if they do anything.”

“Amen!” Brenda called out in their pre-arranged code for “Copy that” before she went back to her fake homeless shtick of rocking back and forth and humming “Sweet Chariot.”

Truth to tell, she was enjoying this. She had minored in drama in college, mostly because her advisor in the Urban Planning program had, well, advised her that anyone majoring in a field like that really should have some exposure to the arts, because it was a bigger part of any career than any of them would ever think.

Surprisingly, she really took to doing musicals, and her favorite roles had been as Evillene in The Wiz and Mama in Raisin!, and she had gotten rave reviews.

Still, she always resented the fact that she had been rejected out-of-hand for the role of another Mama, the prison matron Mama Morton, in the production of Chicago her senior year with the lame excuse of, “Honey, this show is set in the 1920s. Ain’t gonna be no black woman in that position then.”

Four years later, Queen Latifah won a fucking Oscar for playing the same part in the movie, and Brenda decided to give up even trying to act ever again.

Now, she felt like she was playing the role of her life. No one would appreciate her for it, although she had a feeling that it would damn near change the world.

She waited, getting occasional reports from Rita, and then Rita’s assistant who eventually took over because, obviously, bitch couldn’t be bothered to stay so late as a salaried employee. The reports mostly amounted to, “Subjects still in place, nothing happening Stand by.”

She found herself quietly humming her character’s signature song from The Wiz; “Don’t nobody bring me no bad news,” and then felt a hint of regret at playing a character that she knew that every Black person watching the show would get, but very few white people would.

She also had no idea how much later it was because she wasn’t sure whether she’d dozed off, but then heard the voice in her ear. “Action on the platform. Action on the platform.”

“Well, shit…” she thought as she turned her attention to look to her right.

* * *

Image © 2017 Jon Bastian. Content, © 2017, 2020, Jon Bastian. All rights reserved. This content cannot be copied in any form or format without express written permission of the copyright holder.

Great Caesar’s ghost! Or not…

Here’s a flashback to March of 2019, back when theatre was still a thing and the world was (relatively) normal. Ironically, I originally posted this story a day short of exactly one year before ComedySportz was scheduled to leave its space at the El Portal in order to perform as a touring company before finding a new space in the fall. Ironically, that turned out to have been the best decision possible, as it kept the company together while freeing it of the financial burden of the space. A lot of other small theater companies were not as lucky.

As my regular readers know, I do improv comedy for the ComedySportz L.A. Rec League on Monday nights, as well as work box office for the company, which is located in the smaller space in the historic El Portal Theater, which has quite a history.

It was built in 1926 and housed both vaudeville shows and movies. It was badly damaged in the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, although fortunately restored to become a live theater, with three performance spaces. The smaller one, where ComedySportz is now resident, was originally occupied by Actors Alley and then later briefly by The Company Rep before they moved.

In an ironic full-circle, I joined that company as a playwright while they were at the El Portal, then continued on to act with them as they moved to the NoHo Arts Center and the former location of the Deaf West Theater, where I received a glowing review for my turn as a depressed, unicycle riding bear.

So that’s the background on the building. The other thing to keep in mind is that both Debbie Reynolds and Marilyn Monroe used to come to the place to watch movies when they were kids, and the main space and our theater are named after them respectively. The other is that it is an ancient tradition to believe that all theaters are haunted by ghosts.

Note: I don’t believe in ghosts at all, but I do believe that there are certain psychological and physical factors that can make people think they’ve seen them.

Now to the real start of the story. Recently, I had to pull double-duty running the box office and working as house manager on a night when we had shows at eight and ten in the evening. This meant that I had to come open up at six and stick around until the last show and the notes afterward were over, so I was there until midnight.

As part of the closing up procedure, I have to go up to our booth to shut down the light and sound boards and computer, and then have to make sure that there’s no one still working on the main stage. This means I get to go into the main theater lobby, which is deserted, and then into the main stage itself.

That night, I walked into the space, which was dark except for the so-called ghost-light, and called out asking if anyone was there, and for some reason, I got a sudden chill. You know the feeling, right? It’s like every hair on your body suddenly stands up and you feel that electricity travel from your feet to your head. It’s an ancient reaction common to mammals, and if you’ve ever seen a cat puff up or a dog raise its hackles, then you’ve seen it. It’s a defense mechanism designed to make us look bigger when we’re feeling unsure, although it doesn’t really work as well for humans, mainly because it doesn’t affect the hair on our heads and the hair on our bodies (for most of us) isn’t think enough to make us really puff much.

I wrote it off as the psychological weirdness of walking into a dark, cavernous space all alone late at night, then jokingly waved at the stage and said, “Hi, Debbie!” before heading back out to close up.

The next evening, I was talking to Pegge, the Managing Director, and Steve, the House Manager, of the theater and told them about this, and Pegge immediately told me with complete sincerity, “Oh, no. The ghost’s name is Robert. Don’t worry, he won’t hurt you.” She went on to explain that he was the theater’s original accountant back in the 1920s, and people always saw him dressed very formally, with a high white collar. According to her, there’s also a female ghost who would escort patrons to their seats and then vanish.

Steve explicitly stated that he doesn’t believe in ghosts either, but that he has had a number of people over the years independently mentioning seeing both of them and giving identical descriptions of each, generally wondering, “Who was that person I thought I saw before they just disappeared?”

It’s all rather intriguing and now I want to experience these phenomena just to try to figure out what could be creating these illusions in people’s minds. It is a very old building, and late at night also tends to be preternaturally quiet because the really high ceilings and carpeted and padded interiors like to eat sound.

Also, the single source ghost light on stage tends to create deep shadows and bright highlights, and high contrast lighting like that can create all kinds of visual tricks. Finally, the place does sit right above the L.A. Metro Red Line subway tunnel and has for 20 years. I can often hear the rumble of trains passing beneath the lobby, and the connection between low frequency infrasound and ghosts has been established. That’s exactly the kind of sound a rushing subway train might create toward the back of a large space.

Back to that ghost light, though. It’s a romantic name, but is also known as the Equity light, after the actors’ union. Its real reason for being there is to keep people passing through the space after hours from walking into things or falling into the orchestra pit. `

As for why there’s such a belief of ghosts in theaters? I’m not sure, but maybe we can blame Shakespeare, because he certainly loved the trope. Hamlet Sr.? Banquo? Richard III’s nightmare before Bosworth field? Both parts of Henry VI and the only part of Henry VIII? A whole family of ghosts who visited Cymbeline? (A rarely performed and underrated play, by the way, that manages to be both gross and funny at the same time.)

And, of course, there’s the titular ghost for this post, who also gave Perry White of Superman fame his famous catchphrase.

So I’ll be keeping an eye out for Robert and the nameless female usher in future days, and will report back on anything unusual I experience. This is definitely going to be interesting.

Have you seen or experienced anything you’d call “ghost-like?” If so, how do you explain it? Let us know in the comments!

Image: Painting, La morte di Giulio Cesare, by Vincenzo Camuccini, c. 1806. Public domain in the United States.