The Saturday Morning Post #54: The Rêves Part 32

You can catch up with the first installment of this piece 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. We’re racing toward the finale now.

Planting a seed

After Anabel had summoned Pearl and explained why, Pearl looked at the body that was still lying on the table prior to being loaded into the casket.

“Do we know him?” they asked.

“I don’t think you’ve ever met,” Anabel explained, “But he and his… partner used to work for Ausmann — ”

“So now he has a spy on the inside?”

“No, no,” Anabel countered. “I think the opposite. From what I’ve heard from Preston and Danny, Simon and the other one had decided they needed to stop Ausmann as well. So they’re on our side, and now we have the spy.”

“Well, we don’t yet,” Pearl said. “Poor thing won’t come back as a Rêve until he’s been buried, and even then it’s not necessarily instantaneous.”

“You think I don’t know that, Pearl?” Anabel replied.

“Of course not.” Pearl circled the table, looked at a clipboard nearby, then announced, “Monday. His funeral is Monday, which is the day after tomorrow. So he might not be joining us for a few days yet. Any idea where his partner is?” they asked.

“No,” Anabel replied, “But I think that Preston and Danny have kind of become infatuated with him. You know — playing bodyguard and all that, especially after Simon was murdered.”

“He was murdered?” Pearl replied, incredulous.

“Yes, by Ausmann,” Anabel explained.

“Why didn’t you say that at first?”

“I thought that everyone knew!” Anabel replied. “Sorry!”

“All right,” Pearl huffed. “Preston and Danny, probably with Simon’s partner, who was…?”

“Joshua. And he’s still an ‘is.’”

“Right,” Pearl replied. “And… partner ‘business’ or partner ‘screwing?’”

“What?” Anabel exclaimed. “Hell, I don’t know. Ask Preston. Or Danny. And does it make a difference?”

“Only because if it’s the latter, the two of them will get along great with the Hadas. Not to mention go all Band of Thebes when it comes to war. All right. To Preston and Danny it is, and here’s hoping his partner is with them. Meanwhile, you keep an eye on Simon’s container, and let me know the second that he’s transformed, okay?” Without another word Pearl turned away, concentrated for a second, then vanished.

“Yeah, thanks,” Anabel fumed. How dare Pearl give her the grunt work. On the other hand, Simon was almost as beautiful in death as he had been in life, so there was at least that.

For his part, Ausmann was growing impatient. With Simon now one of… them… and reunited with his boyfriend, they should have been able to track down and deliver Lorre by now. It was, of course, a sign of his disordered and paranoid mind that it took him a while to realize, “Oh. Shit. How?”

He hadn’t given them a way to find him and deliver the goods, and for good reason, lest the goods he got came at the end of gun barrels from officers either city, county, state, or federal, or all of the above.

He thought about it for a second and realized that he was only one murder away from fitting the FBI definition of Serial Killer.

But he’d killed Simon on Wednesday and now it was Saturday, so surely he should be back already. Ausmann would have to look into that personally.

Fortunately, he had acquired a bunch of books on disguise and make-up and, since it was late August, that meant that all of the Halloween shops were already open for business, so he’d dropped into one on Bunker Hill that had managed to avoid any flood damage, and stocked up on all of the high-end professional stuff. Basically, anything that would defeat facial recognition.

One corner of his hotel room looked like the wardrobe and make-up departments of an indie production company — racks of clothes; and Styrofoam heads covered in tons of wigs, male and female. In the inevitable space between the hall closet and the bathroom, a ring light turned the vanity table into an impromptu make-up station.

So on Saturday afternoon, he glanced through his arsenal and decided on a disguise that would get him back to Joshua’s place undetected. This one actually involved some de-aging, but he was up for the challenge. By the end of it, he looked like a typical 30-ish hipster, complete with face scruff, black plastic-rimmed glasses, a culturally inappropriate man-bun, and carrying, but not riding, a longboard.

He should be good to pass on mass transit, so he made his way to the nearest Metro station to head to NoHo.

Joshua, Preston, and Danny had been pseudo-cuddling on the couch, watching the original Ghostbusters, when the air suddenly popped and this strange woman appeared in front of the screen.

Well, strange at first to Joshua until his brain did the math, but very familiar to Preston and Danny, who ran over and hugged her their mother had just come home.

As Pearl smiled at them, Joshua suddenly caught it… “Janis Joplin?” he whispered.

She… well, he was thinking “she” — pointed at him and hissed. “Pearl,” they replied. “And my pronouns are they, their, and them.”

“Oh, sorry,” Joshua replied, “Of course, I should have asked.” He sank into the sofa and smiled. “But, I mean… you are… were Janis Joplin, right? in some way…?”

“I was, now I’m not. Now we are. That’s how it goes, sunshine. Meanwhile, more important questions. It seems that you, your late partner — ”

“Husband,” Joshua interjected.

“Husband,” Pearl corrected, “Sorry, I assumed as well. You, your husband, and we are allies in this battle against Ausmann.”

“Damn right,” Joshua said. “He killed Simon. My husband. So fuck him.”

“And do you know how you’re going to defeat him yet?” Pearl asked.

“Not quite,” Joshua said, “But I’m close. He made a demand before he killed Simon, but I think we can fulfill it and turn it against him at the same time. I just need Simon to show up as one of you first.”

“Ah,” Pearl said. “Well, that’s not going to happen until after he’s buried, which I understand is Monday?”

“What?” Joshua asked, startled. “Why does it take so long?”

“Simple,” Pearl said. “The seed can’t sprout until it’s been planted.”

“Seriously?” Joshua replied.

“Seriously,” Pearl explained. “It has to do with returning to Earth. And why do you think the Hadas are so different than the Rêves?”

“Sorry?”

“The Hadas were all cremated, so they didn’t go into the Earth, just onto it. But, back to the important question. What was Ausmann’s demand?”

“To bring him Peter Lorre. Well, his Rêve. Oh… is that the right way to say it?”

“The Rêve Peter Lorre, thanks for asking. But… why?”

“He didn’t say, actually. But I can’t help but think that it has to do with the whole Class thing, and if we can find real Peter Lorre instead of movie Peter Lorre — ”

“But since he died almost sixty years ago, I doubt that there are many people around who remember the real him who could bring him to Class III.”

“Oh…” Joshua looked at her with a sudden realization, but he didn’t want to blow an Ace in the Hole that might not pay off. “So… Simon won’t be back until after the funeral?”

“No,” Pearl said. “Sorry. But he will be back.”

“Will it really be him, though?” Joshua asked.

Pearl gave him a long look, then replied, “It will be the he that you’ve held in your heart for all these years, and your love and memories that will sustain him. He will be back, as the best version of him he can be, because… well… because…”

“So… not him at all,” Joshua scoffed.

“Au contraire, mon frere,” Pearl said. “More him than you’ve ever known.”

“You better be right,” Joshua said.

“Darling, I admire your chutzpah, as they’d say in New York, although in good ol’ Port Arthur Texas, we’d just say ‘balls.’ I think you and Simon are going to win this thing for us.”

She turned to Danny and Preston, stroking each of their cheeks, then said, “Take good care of this one,” before vanishing in a puff of purple smoke.

“Wow,” Joshua muttered. “Could shit today get any weirder?”

That was when somebody rang them from downstairs and, when he went to check who it was on cam, he saw some weird, ancient skater dude, so he replied on the intercom via his phone.

“What?” he demanded.

“Joshua, it’s me. Ausmann. Just checking in.”

“On what?”

“Have you managed to find Lorre yet?” Ausmann asked.

“Of course not,” Joshua said.

“Can I come up?”

“Only if you want to fly down,” Joshua told him.

“Fair enough,” Ausmann demurred. “But what about Lorre?”

“Well, first of all,” Joshua explained, “I can’t do that without Rêve Simon, but apparently he’s not going to show up until after his funeral on Monday. Second, we kind of need to find some dead celebrity neither of us knows, so keep your panties on, cool your jets, and just be glad that I don’t report your ass to the police for murdering my husband.”

“Don’t…? You mean… you haven’t?”

“Exactly. Because that’s my ace in the hole on you, motherfucker. So, tell you what. Give me your text number, or whatever you prefer, and when we find Lorre, we will call you. Otherwise, stay the fuck away. ¿Me comprendes, pendejo?”

“So, I’ll hear from you on Monday?” Ausmann asked.

“You’ll hear from us when you hear from us, dipshit. Now what’s the number?”

Ausmann gave Joshua the number for his current burner cellphone, and Joshua thanked him before saying, “Okay. Now go on back to your hidey-hole at the Alexandria and I’ll text you when we have something.”

Ausmann almost felt his heart fall out his asshole when Joshua spilled the beans so casually on knowing where he’d been, so he hopped onto the longboard and took off as fast as he could for the Metro Station — which was a short but very undignified trip.

As Joshua hung up, Danny and Preston laughed their asses off.

“What?” Joshua asked.

“That last bit was intentional from what we told you, wasn’t it?” Preston asked.

“Make him run like hell,” Danny added.

“Oh, fuck yeah, boys. Why should he feel one second of safe?”

“And why should you not feel all the seconds?” Preston said as he and Danny moved in on Joshua, placing their hands on his head again.

“Oh, guys, come on, this is a little wei — ” Joshua started to say until his knees went wobbly and his brain turned into an endless loop of his own voice repeating “Ung.”

The real satisfaction came later, though — they had truly cornered Ausmann, and really held all the cards.

They spent the rest of the evening and all of Sunday in, Joshua catching Danny and Preston up on various shows and films they’d missed. There was really no reason to go out until the funeral. The whole thing reminded Joshua of the lost year back in 2020-21, when he and Simon had stayed home most of the time, having everything delivered and not doing any Rêve hunting at all.

Ausmann had fled back to his hidey-hole, wondering all the way whether Joshua was going to send the cops after him or not. Of course, they wouldn’t be able to find him by name. Then again, he knew of at least eight hotels within a four-block radius he could relocate to if necessary.

He still took the precaution of telling the concierge to keep an eye out for any kind of law enforcement who “Come looking for this man.” He handed the young man a card with his own name written on it. “Let’s just say that I’m looking for him, too, and I’d like to find him first. My cell number is on the back. Call me if they show up. And this should cover the cost of the call.”

He slipped a tightly folded hundred dollar bill into the concierge’s hand, but the short, young, cute, curly-haired man with the wide face and big eyes, whose nametag read Bacchus, quickly realized that Ben Franklin had come with four siblings. “Yes, sir!” he replied, pocketing the money. “First sign, I’ll let you know. And I’ll tell the other two shifts to be on the lookout.”

“Thank you,” Ausmann said, heading back up to his room. ==

Out in Simi Valley, the local police detectives spent all day Saturday still trying to decide whether there was a case for murder or some other foul play in Coraline Schliemann’s death, but they were still unsure about it.

On the one hand, she was heavily insured, with all kinds of indemnities that exactly matched the apparent circumstances. On the other hand, nobody had come forward yet to collect on those policies. The only one who could was Ausmann himself, but if he didn’t within ninety days, then the payout would go to a designated family trust.

“Hard to believe he wouldn’t take care of that right away,” Captain Lewis said.

“Unless he’s dead,” Detective Davis offered.

“Or very inconvenienced,” Lewis countered. “He did have his house blown apart.”

“I wonder whether he didn’t wander out into the storm for help, and something happened.”

“You did send someone out to his place of work, right?”

“Yeah, JPL,” Davis explained, “But we had to let Pasadena PD lead. And deal with the campus police. He wasn’t there, and nobody could remember when they’d last seen him around. The guards weren’t even there to let anyone in to look.”

“I’ve been in this business long enough to know when to trust my gut instincts, especially on cases like this. You know what my gut is telling me?” she asked.

“I have a pretty good idea,” Davis replied.

“Older couple, adult kids out of the house, pretty affluent according to the neighbors and public records, he’s got some mysterious government job, and his house — and wife — are insured out the wazoo. Like, way over-insured. He seems to work late hours, and on weekends, which tells me that he could be having an affair — ”

“The JPL angle must work wonders with some girls,” Davis offered.

“You’d be surprised,” Lewis shot back. “On top of all that, there’s the weird little detail that out of all of the houses in the neighborhood — hell, in the entire city of Simi, and in all of Ventura County, his is the only one that seemed to suffer the particular wrath of the storm.”

“That is a bit suspect.”

“Right? And that goes back to the way over-insured angle.”

“So what’s your gut telling you” Davis asked her.

“It’s telling me that he is guilty as fuck of uxoricide.”

“That’s a new one.”

“Where’s your Latin?” Lewis asked him. “It’s the wife version of homicide. I’m thinking that he somehow managed to destroy the house, bludgeon her and leave her in the wreckage, and then take off into the night.”

“But how could one man destroy a house like that? I mean, so completely?” Davis asked. “Really big sledge hammer?”

“Really big storm to distract from the noise,” Lewis said. “Oh. You probably didn’t see this yet.” She slid over a file folder with a bulletin in it. “This showed up Tuesday afternoon from San Berdoo County. Explosion and fire completely destroyed a small house up there. Three guesses who the owner was.”

Davis read the document, then just muttered, “Fuuuck.”

“So, he’s quite capable of destroying a house. And given how loud that storm was — which all of the neighbors described in great detail — the sound of demotion and the sight of explosions would have hidden in the thunder and lightning.”

“He killed her,” Davis stated flatly.

“That’s why my gut says,” Lews replied. “But the really big problem is that there is absolutely no forensic evidence that he did demolish the house — no starters or explosive residues or anything at all. We do have evidence of plenty of direct hits by lightning, though, and the pieces we’ve found scattered all over the place don’t show any fire or smoke damage.. Those appear to have been ripped off by wind.”

“Then what’s next?” Davis asked her.

“I guess we meet with the DA on Monday,” Lewis said. “Show her what we’ve got, and see what her gut says.”

“You know that I’d love to nail this asshole as much as you would, right?” Davis asked.

“Damn right, skippy!” she smiled.

“So, what do you want for dinner tonight?” he asked.

“I’m kind of in the mood for Mexican,” she said. “But once we and the kids are all home, please. We are not discussing this one at all, deal?”

“Deal,” he said, “Love you,” and then he kissed his wife on the cheek and left her office.

Johnny Ramone and Ritchie Valens had hit it off when they met at the Rêve war council, and so had taken to hanging out since then, usually near one or the other of their graves, just for shits and giggles.

Of course, it had been a weird dynamic because, in their Rêve form, Ritchie was only 17, while Johnny was 55 and, while he could have appeared much younger if he’d wanted to, he didn’t want to. Now, to Johnny, Ritchie had been an influence down through the ages while, to Ritchie, Johnny was an older person, so naturally deserved respect.

So each of them was super-deferential to the other for their own reasons at first until they both realized how being a Rêve really played with the generational thing. After all, Johnny had been only ten years old when Ritchie died in a plane crash in Iowa, but he was 23 when Don McLean’s American Pie came out, and unraveling the mystery to those lyrics led him directly to learning about Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens.

“What do you think is going to happen with this whole thing?” Ritchie asked him as they hung out at the San Fernando Mission cemetery.

“Honestly, I think that the Class II’s are going to get their asses handed to them if they sell out to the Vivants,” Johnny replied. “They don’t know it, but Ausmann only wants to destroy them all.”

“Aren’t there more of them than us?” Ritchie asked.

“Oh, you don’t know your Andy Warhol, do you?”

“Who?”

“’In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.’ That’s what he said… well, wrote. And it’s definitely true by now. Which means that more celebrities have been created in the last fifty years than in all time before that. Which also means…?”

He left it hanging and Ritchie thought about it before the lightbulb went off. “There are more famous dead people who are Class III now, and not on the side of the Vivants?”

Johnny paused before he laughed. “Nah, dude, I’m just fucking with you. Most of those people are still alive. No… it’s this one. Regular folk always outnumber the famous. That’s just how it is, right? At any point in time — handful of famous, fuckton of not. But… the not famous people were well-known by their friends and loved ones, hence Class I is the dominant force, and Class II, as always, are deluding themselves.”

“What about us?” Ritchie asked.

“Oh, we, the Class IIIs, have the best of both worlds,” he said. “Above the fray, but clearly on the right side, which is the anti-Vivant side.”

“Viva los Rêves!” Ritchie shouted.

“Mort aux Vivants!” Johnny replied.

“This one or this one?” Brenda asked, holding first one, then another hat over her head. The first was a purple pill-box with a short veil over the face and fascinator on top. The other was a red cloche with matching feather held with a gold clasp on the left side.

“Oh, honey, I don’t know shit about fashion,” Jonah said. “Go ask our daughter.”

“I thought you might have an opinion about which hat I look prettier in,” she said.

“Whichever hat you be wearing while you’re butt-ass naked,” he replied.

“You are saucy,” she snapped back.

“It’s why you love me,” he said. “Anyway, why you always gotta be running off to do this church shit on Sunday when you don’t believe a word of it?”

“I do it for my mother,” Brenda replied. “And the gossip at the coffee afterwards, of course!”

“They got some good shit there?”

“The coffee or the gossip?”

“The second one,” he replied.

“Oh, yeah,” she said. “It really should be tea instead of coffee, because that’s what gets spilled big time.”

“What they say about me?” Jonah asked.

“Just that you’re the luckiest man on Earth because I’m your wife.”

“Bullshit!” he laughed.

“Don’t believe me? Come with us.”

“Sorry,” Jonah said. “I’d burst into flames if I walked in there.”

“Honey,” Brenda told him, “Why you think I always wear asbestos panties?”

“’Cause if you were any hotter down there, the Sun would have too much competition. Duh!”

“Eyes up here. Last call on the hat vote. Really, which one, with this dress?”

She held the hats up again and he gave them both serious looks, finally picking the purple one. “I think this, because it hides your face.”

“What?” she exclaimed. “Oh, so now I’m ugly?”

“No, baby, you’re beautiful. So I don’t want no other men looking at you.”

“Well, honestly, this church, I don’t think a straight man has shown up since 1997.” She paused, then laughed. “So maybe it’s best that you don’t go in case you get some man looking at you.”

“I don’t know, honey. Some of them dudes on Drag Race are… you know. Kind of — ”

“Stop!” She playfully slapped his arm, put on the purple hat, and did her best sashay away, just to remind him what would get his tail wagging when she came back home.

She met Esme in the living room and, as usual, her mother was dressed to the nines, make-up perfect, and not in that garish way that some older women over-did it in a misguided effort to look younger. Esme was stunning. Brenda took her arm and they walked out, down the street and down the hill to the church.

Of course, while Brenda didn’t believe any of the religious hocus pocus going on, the reason she was able to support her mother and come with her was that this was a place that went for Socialist Jesus instead of Republican Jesus — they had actively supported same-sex marriage when that had been an issue, had run a free AIDS hospice since the early 90s, encouraged members of the congregation to take in homeless people as well as adopt babies that might otherwise have been aborted, and on top of all that, my god, the choir!

The choir alone was worth the price of admission, along with their backing band, Shofar Shogood — yes, all six members came from a local synagogue and were Jewish — and they were not averse to tossing in a show tune or two now and then, with songs from Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar being regular repeaters.

Brenda was totally convinced that if she could ever get Jonah and the younger kids to come along that they would just love the hell out of it, because it was theatre of the highest order, and Pastor Rivera, who was Filipino, gave sermons that were wildly entertaining, energetic and, most of all, totally inclusive.

Then again, so was the congregation. This wasn’t a Black church. This was an everyone church and, as far as she could tell, there was an equal mix of Black, white, Asian, and Hispanic.

If Jesus had ever existed, he would have loved the place.

Right around the time that Esme’s church was passing the plate and the choir was singing Day by Day, Joshua shot up and awoke from a nightmare. He had fallen asleep while they’d been watching Sister Act.

Preston and Danny were there in a heartbeat. “Are you all right?” they both asked, in unison.

“What if he doesn’t come back?” Joshua asked. In his dream, he had been in the cemetery for the funeral, and the pallbearers had brought the casket to the grave but, instead of lowering it like normal, they opened the lid and flipped Simon’s obviously decayed body out like so much trash into the hole, which was then unceremoniously filled in by a loud, obnoxious beeping backhoe.

When the dirt had been filled in, Joshua flung himself onto it, in tears, and then a hand reared up, grasping, but it was completely skeletal. Reluctantly, Joshua took it.

“Is that you, Simon?” he asked. But then the bony fingers squeezed and he started bleeding and trying to pull away. Then the hand pulled hard and dragged him down face first into the dirt and the Earth and darkness and a kind of death before he woke up choking and screaming.

“Are you all right?” Danny and Preston asked, almost in unison.

“No!” Joshua replied. “Hold me?” he asked.

And so they did, as best they could, and made sure, whenever he did manage to drift off into sleep, to use all of their powers to fend off any other nightmares.

Thus did Joshua manage to make it to the most difficult day of his life.

Monday. The last Monday in August. The day of Simon’s funeral or, as someone more optimistic put it, the planting of his seed. But, right now, that just smelled like total bullshit.

* * *

The Saturday Morning Post #52: The Rêves Part 30

You can catch up with the first installment of this piece 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.

A grave undertaking

The next day, Joshua made the arrangements with the cemetery. Well, he activated them at least, because they’d set up the plot, marker, and other extras previously. Neither of them had ever planned to have a big to-do, and they certainly never planned to have it so soon, although they had taken the precaution when they decided to go into the ghost-hunting business, just in case.

“Metro Stations can be dangerous,” Simon had advised Jason, who agreed.

Funeral insurance covered the cost, and Simon’s life insurance payout would give Jason a nice donation to make, via the Ada Lovelace Foundation, to Simon’s favorite charities.

“So at least I won’t be completely useless in death,” Simon had half-joked when he had explained those wishes.

Preston and Danny stuck with Joshua the entire time, and he really appreciated having them there. He jokingly referred to them as “My emotional support Rêves,” wondering whether this meant that he could take them into stores everywhere.

“Only if he learns how to materialize clothes,” Danny joked about Preston.

“I think I should just call you Dr. Manhattan,” Joshua said.

“Dude!” they exclaimed simultaneously, and then said in similar words at the same time that Watchmen was their absolute favorite book, and they even liked the movie if it was… different.

Joshua agreed with them, although they had both also read Doomsday Clock, the graphic novel sequel while he had not.

“You know they made a sequel miniseries based on it?” Joshua told them. “It came out four years ago or so.”

“No shit!” Danny gushed.

“Is it any good?” Simon replied.

“Oh, yeah,” Joshua told them. “Hey — we’ve got nowhere else to go until the funeral, and it’s only about nine hours. Want to binge it?”

“Yes!” they both announced excitedly, so Joshua dropped the black-out shades, fired up the big screen, and they all settled back for a marathon.

It had been as good as Joshua remembered from his first three viewings, and it was nice to watch it with someone who’d never experienced it. Danny and Simon were squeeing left and right like total fanboys, shuddering in giddy excitement at every sudden revelation and big plot turn.

The appearance of the teleported squid in Episode 5 really sent them into ecstasy, because this was one of the biggest — and most criticized — changes in the movie version.

Joshua couldn’t help but notice, too, that time apart, so to speak, had let Danny and Preston differentiate a bit. Not that they had started out as the same people, mentally, but their reactions were not absolutely identical, even if physically they were.

The only difference between them were their haircuts, which made sense because Preston had had access to and the means to afford high-end stylists while Danny hadn’t, but the changes were subtle enough that he really had to look for them.

They had started the marathon around eight in the morning and finished it, with an hour break for lunch and slightly longer for dinner (well, for Joshua) just after 7 p.m., at which point he opened the shutters and went onto the balcony with his phone, leaving Danny and Preston to eagerly discuss what they had just seen.

Nerd pornstar. Who knew?

He called Brett and Drew first to let them know the details of the funeral, then had to talk them out of inviting anyone else along.

“We’ve both always wanted this to be very private,” he said. “So I hope that you’d respect Simon’s wishes.”

They insisted on hosting a huge funeral procession, but Joshua explained that the funeral home was on the cemetery grounds, so it would be one hearse bringing the coffin out to the gravesite before the mourners arrived, and there wasn’t going to be any kind of religious service at all.

“A reception. You need a reception!” Brett insisted.

“Yeah, well… maybe an intimate dinner at someplace with great steaks after,” Joshua said. “But that’s it.”

“Done, and on us!” Brett replied.

“Thanks,” Joshua said. “See you there, then.”

His next call was to Brenda, for the same reason, and after she took down the details and agreed to the invite, he said, “Hey, so tell me about your family.”

She explained that there would be five of them — in addition to Brenda, one husband, two children, and one mother, hers. They had one other daughter, but she was off to school, and hadn’t come home for summer break because she was picking up extra units in summer school.

“Oh… I should explain,” Brenda added. “Our youngest is transgender.”

“Oh, cool,” Joshua replied. “What are their pronouns?”

“She, her, and hers, and thank you for asking,” Brenda said.

“Why wouldn’t I?” Joshua replied.

“A lot of people are not understanding and, sorry to say it, that includes gay people as well.”

“Oh, you don’t have to tell me,” he replied. “I’ve met plenty of transphobic gay men, generally the older ones, who can also be total racists. Just because we’re part of a traditionally oppressed group doesn’t mean we can’t be bigoted assholes, too.”

“Amen to that, brother. So, we’ll see you at the funeral, then. Is there a service before, or is that family only…?”

“No service,” Joshua said. “And our friends were and are our family. We’re probably doing dinner or something after though, and you all are absolutely welcome.”

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Brenda said.

“Thanks. See you there.”

Joshua hung up and realized that he’d probably just added another really close friend to his group, and it had all started with a government official harassing him and his husband while they were doing their job. Who knew?

And that had been only… what? A week and a half ago at most?

At the mortuary, the mortician started his work on Simon the afternoon after he arrived. It was always sad to see someone so young die. Fortunately, his cause of death had left him looking relatively intact.

Contrary to popular belief, human beings do not explode like watermelons when dropped from a great height. Most of the damage is internal, and Simon had been no exception. A lot of his bones were broken, and presumably he had suffered major internal organ damage — at least that’s what the attending physician’s report had said.

After the embalming part was done, the mortician, Olam Sharon, took a look to see what he had to work with.

It was going to take a lot of packing of the chest cavity to give it some sort of shape, since the hospital had removed the internal organs in the autopsy and the ribs were too fractured to support anything.

Oh, the organs were all there. They were just sealed in a biohazard bag left in the abdomen, and it wasn’t a mortician’s place to put them back together like an anatomical model. He just left them in there as he filled in the rest of the cavity.

Olam placed an assortment of newspaper, sawdust and florist’s foam in the space, with more florist’s foam on top so he could easily mold the chest into something looking normal. This was made easier by the fact that they hadn’t sewn up the Y-incision that ran from each of the decedent’s armpits to a midline just below his sternum, then all the way down to just above his pubic bone.

Olam preferred to never think of his clients by name for two reasons. One was that it made it much easier for him to think of them as precious objects to be restored for their loved ones. The other was that thinking the name could alert evil spirits to their presence, and should their soul still be hanging around, the evil ones might snatch it instead of letting it be extinguished to leave only their good deeds and life behind.

Okay, he didn’t really believe that last part, but his bubbe Mavet had told him many tales, including why you should never name a child after a living ancestor.

Once he’d filled in the decedent’s chest and abdominal cavities, he folded the skin back in place and then began to sew it shut, from top right all the way down, then from top left likewise, to give double stitching down the abdomen.

He’d learned to sew from his uncle Moishe, who had been a tailor, and at one point his family expected him to go into that business. Olam had wound up taking a different path, though, after his best friend died in a terrible accident just after they both became bar mitzvah.

They’d been playing around the train tracks near where they lived in the West Valley — this was back in the mid-1970s — and given that safety standards were a lot looser back then, the freight trains thundered down the rights-of-way mere feet from the back walls of tract homes, with nary a gate or wall to keep curious kids from wandering onto the dirt sidings next to them.

The only precautions were the flashing lights and guardrails that dropped across some (but not all) at-grade intersections.

Decades later, this line would be converted into the Metro G line, a busway, with huge warning signs saying “Keep Out!” on the sidings at every crossing along with fences blocking pedestrian access.

But Olam and Jakov were free-range children and had been playing near the tracks that summer afternoon, doing their usual shenanigans of putting pennies on the rails. When the penny came flying out flattened, Jakov ran to retrieve it, but misjudged it somehow and got too close to the train. The bottom of a ladder on a boxcar caught a sleeve on his jacket, whipped him around to slam his face into the metal, and then dragged him over a hundred feet before he fell off.

Olam screamed and ran to him, but it was obviously too late, and Jakov’s face was a bloody, unrecognizable mess. Olam ran the two blocks home, his mom called the authorities, and Jakov was buried two days later.

The thing that must struck Olam was that they actually had an open-casket viewing for Jakov (his father was Catholic), and that he looked so… perfect. No sign of the trauma at all. Sure, he had a sort of artificial, overly made-up look, but who knew that such a thing was possible?

So Olam switched from the idea of being a tailor to being a mortician. His parents weren’t happy at first, but once he’d learned that sewing was part of the process, and that it was kind of medicine adjacent, they supported him fully.

He’d been in the business for years, but every time he had a client who had died young and in a terrible accident, he took special care, and this decedent was no different.

Normally, he’d leave the torso a little lumpy, because the inevitable fancy clothes that would be put on them would cover imperfections, but here Olam made sure that everything looked as normal as possible.

He had even used his best, finest but strongest thread that most matched the decedent’s skin-tone so that should anyone happen to look (they wouldn’t) his chest would appear intact. Finally, he put matching foundation over any obvious bruises on the front of the body and blended it.

Next was the face, which he carefully tightened up by pulling back the muscles that had been cut in order to remove the top of the skull and excise the brain. Normally, a mortician would just stuff the mouth and cheeks with couch-packing cotton to keep things from sagging too much, but Olam had an additional trick that he used on decedents he really felt sympathy for, and this was one.

Part of his training involved anatomy, so he brought each facial muscle back to its original bone process to reattach, although he pulled them a little tighter than they normally would have been because they had lost some elasticity in death.

He had several reference photos to work from and only four muscles to put back in place — one on each side, and two in the front, stretching up roughly above either eye.

Obviously, he couldn’t sew muscles to bone and expect them to hold, but that was okay. He had glue. What they used was a generic, but it was similar to and stronger than what civilians knew as Krazy Glue or Super Glue or generically as a cyanoacrylate. It had been used during the Vietnam war to seal up wounds on the battlefield, hence its notorious ability to stick fingers together.

That was exactly what Olam needed, so he misted the skull and muscle with water and while wearing gloves that the glue would not affect, held the muscle with his right hand while slathering the skull with a generous coating of the glue.

When he was done, he pulled the muscle and put it in place, adjusting it and watching the decedent’s face tighten until he was happy with the results, then pressed his palm down and held it while he counted to one hundred.

He repeated the procedure for the other frontal muscle, then gently turned the decedent onto his left side, placed a block behind his shoulder to keep him in place, and did likewise for one side muscle. Lather, rinse, repeat for the other before he was flat on his back again.

While he’d been doing this, he noticed that someone at the County Morgue also knew their trick for putting the skull cap back on after it had been sawn off — denture adhesive — and they had aligned it perfectly.

He was also amazed to see that the decedent had managed to not fracture his skull at all, but that made sense then, because he’d read in the coroner’s report that he’d been brought to the hospital alive after a fifteen-story fall.

“Okay,” Olam thought. “That all looks good,” so he then went to work on making up the face.

Normally, this would just involve slapping on enough base to hide the pallor of death — maybe a little eyeshadow and lipstick if it was a woman, pale lipstick and rouge if it was a man.

Oh, he referred to the “make-up” as that, but you’d never find this kind in a fancy department store or a woman’s boudoir. It was made special for the industry because it had to stick to dead skin. It was more like very waxy paint, and designed to conceal.

Despite his injuries, this decedent didn’t look as bad as a lot of them. Quite often, there were bruises to cover up, or discolorations due to lack of oxygen or gangrene or dozens of other things.

They even had a trick for people who died due to liver conditions and came in incredibly jaundiced — just run a tank of condensed milk through the veins before the embalming fluid, which was Olam’s preferred method. He also knew of morticians who plopped four Alka-Seltzer into the pre-injection chemicals, added a gallon of water, pumped it in without letting it drain and let it sit for fifteen to thirty minutes before flushing it out.

This one didn’t need any of that, but got the full-on beauty treatment. Base first, and then a Hollywood studio-worthy process of blended layers that made him look about as life-like as possible and match him to the pictures his husband had provided.

When Olam was happy with that, he slathered the still exposed skull with a ton of the glue, then pulled the scalp flap up and over, being sure to yank it taut before bringing it back down in place. Fortunately, the decedent’s shaggy hair style would cover the incision, although he of course camouflaged it himself.

When he was done, he stepped back and looked at his work, before giving himself the chef’s “finger-kiss” salute. The finishing touches involved washing and manicuring the hands, which probably made total sense to people.

But the last bit before he dressed the corpse was one that was necessary and, probably, unknown to most civilians. He placed a rigid plastic plug up the decedent’s anus, making sure it was in tight. No need to have sudden anal leakage ruin the festivities, after all.

The last step was to put on the clothes that the husband, Joshua, had brought, and Olam couldn’t help but wonder what kind of interesting people these two were. Well, one was, one is. The outfit is a long brown duster, with a brass gauntlet on the left hand, a ridiculously dark black ruffled silk shirt, tan suede trouser and elaborate oxblood boots, engraved in paisley, with contrasting tan areas.

Olam is thankful that the accident made it easier to get the boots on, because if not, he would have had to shatter the decedent’s ankles. Otherwise, everything has been slit down the back and put in place in rather the same way that one would put a fitted sheet on a mattress.

The final touches were attaching his cellphone to his left hand, and placing a low top hat, in the same tan suede as his trousers but with an oxblood band, in the crook of his right elbow. No crossed arms for this one, and he didn’t have to strap down the hands because the arms weren’t “floating” as they often wanted to do.

When Olam is done, he steps back and gasps. This one has got to be his masterpiece and, although it is ridiculously against the rules, he cannot help himself but take several photos of the results.

At least he’s smart enough to never share them on social media, or with anyone. But he does make a mental note: “Drop by this funeral. It’s got to be spectacular.”

There was a witness to his transgression. However, she could not have cared less. As soon as Simon’s corpse had been delivered, she had felt something, but couldn’t name it.

Ironically, what had finally drawn her in was Olam’s deep concern over this one, even though he’d neither known nor met Simon in life.

But that kind of emotional attachment to a dead person was like firing off a signal flare to the
Rêves, so she had hurried over to the mortuary to keep tabs.

To Olam’s credit, she had no idea who he was working on until he had completed his amazing job on Simon’s face, and the clothes had just cinched it.

“Holy shit,” Anabel muttered under her breath. “He’s going to be on our side now?”

She wasn’t sure what to think or do, but if this one was here and the other one wasn’t, then she just might have acquired the dual generals who would win this war.

Against her better judgement, she summoned Pearl. The Hadas had to know about this one. It was news too big to keep quiet.

* * *

The Saturday Morning Post #49: The Rêves Part 27

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.

Book Three

Hunter sans Aisling

Joshua hadn’t slept well after that first bout, which was a long, disturbing dream in which he was chasing Simon down an endless Metro station, running while Simon walked, but never catching up. Rêves moved around them in slow motion, paying them little attention.

Joshua finally did catch up as Simon stopped to get on a train, pushing Joshua’s hand away and entering, the doors closing before Joshua could follow. The train started to pull away slowly and Joshua ran after it, but it started to speed up.

As the last car passed him, he looked in the windows and could see Ausmann standing there, laughing. After the train disappeared down the tunnel, there was a sudden burst of flames and a loud explosion, which woke Joshua up.

He didn’t see Danny or Simon, so he wandered around the place, had a glass of water, stood on the balcony looking at the stars when he wasn’t staring at the spot where Simon had landed. Fortunately, he had no intentions of following — Joshua just wasn’t like that.

He also knew that, since Simon had died, the police would be back for a statement, and he had to figure out what he was going to say. Tell them it was murder, or an accident? He knew that he owed it to Simon’s memory to insist that it wasn’t suicide, and at least he knew he was right about that.

And he’d been left weirdly free of complications. Simon had been an only child, and his parents and grandparents were all dead. They had their circle of friends, of course, but he could involve them later. He felt that he definitely had to let Brent and Drew know.

There were also the implications of what Ausmann had said about Joshua “needing his help,” as well as Preston and Danny insisting that Simon would be back. Yes, but not as himself. Would he just be an echo of Joshua’s memory? And, if so, how idealized would he be?

He returned to the living room and decided to play his hunch. “Preston? Danny? You guys still here?”

After a moment, the two of them materialized. They were on the couch, nude and spooning, so Joshua had no idea which was which until Danny’s clothes quickly materialized as well — he was the big spoon.

“How are you doing?” Danny asked.

“Oh, not great,” Joshua replied. “Look, you seemed pretty sure when you said that Simon would be back…”

“Well, yeah. That’s how it works,” Preston said.

“Are you sure though? And that it’s not all people who were already dead when they turned on the machine?”

“Sure we’re sure,” Danny replied. “We just met a guy who’d been killed the night before.”

“Really? Who?” Joshua asked.

“Some guy named Jerry,” Danny explained.

“And you know the guy who killed him,” Preston added.

“Ausmann,” they said in unison.

“Ausmann killed Jerry? Why? He was such a nice guy.”

“He knew too much,” said Preston in his best gangster impersonation.

“Ausmann offed his wife, apparently, and told Jerry,” Danny went on.

“Wait… what? I can’t even imagine why, but this is kind of helpful news. I mean, whether anybody knows his wife is dead yet or not, he’s killed at least two… fuck. Three times. So he’s definitely acting like a fugitive, which means he won’t go anyplace they’d expect him to go.”

“Unless he’s incredibly stupid,” Danny replied.

“Batshit insane,” Joshua noted, “But not stupid. It’s like he’s on a crusade to get rid of your kind, and if he can kill that many living humans that easily, imagine how little he’d think of the dead.”

“Hey, we don’t like being called ‘The Dead!’” Danny jokingly snapped.

“Yeah, please. ‘The Previously Lived-In,’ for sure,” Preston added, laughing.

“I’m going to stop him,” Joshua promised them. “I just have to figure out how. What time…” he glanced over at the clock visible on the kitchen microwave. Just after 3:30 in the morning. “Okay. I have some phone calls to make in the morning, but I’m definitely going to need your help, okay?”

“You got it,” Preston asserted, Danny nodding his agreement.

“But first, I really need to try to sleep again.” Joshua headed for the bedroom. “Oh. We’ve got guestrooms, if you want, or whatever’s most comfortable for you.”

“Ooh. A real bed!” Preston gushed.

“Not like we can really feel it, but it’d be a first in a long time. Thanks!”

They started for the hallway as well, stopping when Joshua called out.

“Hey, I don’t mean to be rude or anything, but… were you two, like… fucking on the couch there?”

Preston and Danny looked at each other and laughed. “Oh, I wish,” Preston said.

“It’s kind of hard to explain,” Danny went on. “We can’t really… I mean, parts don’t work like that.”

“But we can swap energy and have what feel like the most incredible orgasms in the universe,” Preston added.

“Basically, all boom and no bust,” Danny explained.

“So… ghost fucking?” Joshua teased them.

“Don’t make me come over there and cover you in ectoplasm!” Preston replied.

“Good night, boys!” Joshua said, waving as he exited to the master bedroom.

“Good night, daddy!” Preston called out, Danny slapping him on the arm before they disappeared into the guest bedroom, not bothering to open the door first.

This time, Joshua slept through the night, only waking up one time who knew when, and he could have sworn he heard Simon lying in bed next to him, breathing until he realized he wasn’t. He cried again a little bit. He could be prone to insomnia, and one of the things that had always comforted him through that was lying with his back against Simon’s chest, listening to his slow inhales and exhales, and feeling his warm breath on the back of his neck.

The next time he woke up, light was streaming in the windows and when he checked the clock it was nearly ten a.m. He dressed casually and headed out into the living room to find Danny and Preston in the kitchen.

“Morning!” Preston called out.

“We were going to make you breakfast,” Danny said, “But it’s kind of really, really difficult for us to manipulate physical things all that well.”

“I mean, we can do it a little,” Preston added, “But it’s exhausting as hell.”

“Hey, speaking of that,” Joshua asked, “If you can walk through walls, why don’t you fall through floors?”

“We don’t really walk ‘through,’” Preston explained. “It’s more like we push. So floors and the ground always feel squishy to us, but we don’t fall through the floors because we’re not trying. Although we can if we want to.”

“Wow. That answers that question,” Joshua replied.

“That’s a thing?” Danny asked.

“You kidding?” Joshua replied. “That’s like Sceptic vs. Ghosts question number one.”

“Oh, about the ‘G’ word,” Simon admonished him.

“Eye roll, okay, what?” Joshua replied.

“I’m sure you’ve been told, but we are not ghosts, we are Rêves. Kind of a difference.”

“Right, right, sorry,” Joshua demurred. “Ausmann got a little bit into my head with the ‘G’ word.”

“Have you managed to get into his head?” Danny asked.

“Into batshit la-la land?” Joshua answered. “No. But I’ve got some business to take care of. Hey… are you guys at least able to maybe scroll a mouse and read stuff on a computer?”

“That, we can do,” Preston said, excited. “It takes both of us rolling the thing, but we can manage.”

“Great,” Joshua said. “While I’m calling people, I’ve got some files I’d like you to look at, give me your opinions on them from your Rêve point of view.”

“Sure thing!” Preston replied.

“Is it about science? I hope it’s science, because I am such a science nerd,” Danny gushed.

“Me too,” Preston protested.

“It is,” Joshua told them.

“Sweet!” Danny smiled, high-fiving Preston.

Joshua led them to the cache from Ausmann’s computer and set them loose, then went out on the balcony with his phone.

His first call was to the hospital, to determine how to claim Simon’s body, only to be told that it was on hold pending a police investigation due to the circumstances of his death.

Well, that wasn’t good.

His next call was to Brent and Drew to break the news, and he got them to join a Zoom conference — surprisingly, it was the older one, Drew, who was the tech whiz with that. Or maybe not surprising, considering his years in the entertainment business. When Joshua told them that Simon was dead, the two of them just lost it, and Brent immediately said, “We’re paying for the funeral, shut up and don’t say no.”

“Brent, we’re both heavily insured, so thank you, but it’s taken care of.”

“You two were always so smart about money,” Drew chimed in.

“It’s going to be a small ceremony, but I don’t know how soon, because his body is kind of tied up. Possible homicide and all that.”

“Was it?” Brent asked, clutching invisible pearls.

“No,” Joshua lied. “I was kind of the only one there, but I wasn’t out there when he fell.”

“Fell!” Brent and Drew exclaimed together.

“Do you mean fell,” Brent started, “Or could he have ju— ”

“No. No, no, no. A hundred times over. Simon would have never done that.”

“Let us know when the ceremony is,” Drew added. “We’ll be there, of course. Oh, we’ve been spending so much time in cemeteries and with the dead lately, haven’t we? Weird times.”

“Indeed,” Joshua said. “Thanks,” and then he disconnected.

He thought about what the hospital had told him, then went online on his phone to look into who handled the whole death thing, only to find out that it was county — and then remembered Brenda. He found her number on his phone from when she’d called them both, and dialed.

“Joshua? What’s up?” she asked. “Are you all right?”

“Uh… no,” He started, trying not to cry. “I hate to tell you this, but… Simon is dead.”

“What?” she exclaimed. “Did Ausmann find you two?”

“No, no he didn’t,” Joshua insisted, and then he told her the whole “fell off the balcony” story. She sounded skeptical but seemed to buy it, and then he explained how the body was being held up, but that Simon personally believed that a corpse should be buried as soon as possible after death.

“Oh. Was he Jewish?” she asked.

“Um… yes,” Joshua lied, not realizing that was an actual Jewish thing. “So, it’s apparently the county that handles the whole death thing and all that, and since you work for the county…”

“You’d like some strings pulled?”

“Pretty please, with sugar and sprinkles on top?”

Brenda laughed. “Well, there’s one little snag here,” she explained. “You two really, really pissed off my boss.”

“Um… you told us to do that,” he reminded her.

“I know, I know. My bad. Which is why I’m inclined to help you, as a make-up for it. I just have to figure out who at county hates her with enough blazing passion to help you all out. Give me a couple or two, okay?”

“Oh, thank you, Brenda. Oh — couple of days…?”

“Minutes or hours,” she replied. “All I ask is that we get to come to the funeral.”

“We?” Joshua asked.

“I’ve got a family,” she replied.

“I… I had one,” he said.

“I know. I’ll do my best and get back to you. Bye.”

“Good-bye. And thanks — ”

Although she’d disconnected before he could say thanks.

Having no more calls to make, he came back inside to find the boys huddled together over the laptop, absolutely enthralled with the screen. He had to clear his throat before they noticed he’d returned.

“Oh, dude!” Preston exclaimed. “Did you read about what this thing does?”

“Telegrams to the past?” Danny shouted. “That concept just made me jizz myself. Well, figuratively.”

“I mean, do you see what you’ve got here?”

“Oh… fuck…”

Joshua just stared at them and sank onto the sofa, a wave of possibility and hope thundering over him. Of course! He’d read it but forgotten the most significant part. Ausmann’s machine turning the dead into Rêves was just a side-effect. Its real purpose was something completely different and…

“Telegram to the past…” he muttered. “Kind of like an instant re-do.”

“You’ve got it,” Preston replied.

“Holy shit.” Joshua exclaimed, moving to his laptop and sitting, not really realizing that he kind of sat in Preston and Danny before they moved away. He read the page they were looking at, then brought up a Word doc and started typing.

When he was finished, he looked up and added the exact coordinates, address, condo number and time, then saved the message and copied it to the USB drive hidden in his fake car key.

“Now what?” Preston asked.

“Now… I need to get to JPL, and you two need to go see whether Simon is back yet.”

“Are you sure that JPL is safe?” Danny asked.

“Completely,” Joshua replied. “I told you. No way in hell that Ausmann would go there.”

“I hope you’re right,” Danny called out.

“Oh, so do I,” Joshua said.

As the boys Supermanned off of the balcony, Joshua closed and locked the doors, then headed down to the garage and drove the Tesla like a madman out to Pasadena.

* * *

The Saturday Morning Post #46: The Rêves Part 24

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.

Shot in the Dark

Danny and Preston had realized that they liked being up here in a forest on top of a mountain, and during the early mornings when everything was shrouded in mist and fog, they would go for long walks, not bothered by cold or fatigue or any of that human shit.

By their second day there, they had also gotten quite adept at being able to walk right up to random deer and other wildlife without freaking them out and sending them running.

“Goddamn,” Danny had pointed out at one point. “If we were still alive and could TikTok this shit, we’d be viral billionaires.”

“Tell me about it,” Preston replied. “Or we could just film some fucking in the forest.”

“Hm. The world’s first combo twincest/necrophilia OnlyFans. I’m sure that would make us billionaires, except… oh, right. How do we hook back into meatspace?”

“Heh heh. You said ‘meatspace,” Preston replied.

“Heh heh, you’re a dick,” Danny said.

“Right here, ready and waiting!” Preston told him, slapping both his thighs and helicoptering.

“Can you like maybe just try to imagine pants or panties or… something?” Daniel replied.

“Can you like maybe just give me one good reason I should?” Preston snapped back, and Daniel realized that he had nothing. “’Cause it’s your dick, too, and I know you don’t mind looking at it at all, or playing with it. A lot.”

They had hiked a good ways up a trail into the wilderness when both of them began to sense something unsettling, and then sickening, and then they both stopped abruptly.

“What is that?” Daniel asked.

“Hell if I know,” Preston replied. “I’m kind of new here.”

“Duh…”

They grabbed each other, grateful at least for the fact that they could touch each other, and both felt a ridiculous sense of vertigo, both of them spinning to their left and trying to hang on, and then before they almost fell over feeling two strong hands grabbing their right and left shoulders, respectively, and pulling them back onto their feet.

They turned and looked to see the figure of a kind-looking older man with silver hair, glasses, and a moustache. There was a weird kind of red mark on his forehead and a jagged line below it, but otherwise he seemed normal, albeit transparent.

“Sorry,” the man announced. “Sorry, sorry, just saw you, you seemed friendly. Hi! Who are you?”

“I’m Danny,” Danny said.

“I’m Preston,” Preston added, “Although it’s kind of he is me and I am him and… what was that Beatles song, anyway?”

“Goo-goo-g’joob,” the spectre replied. “Come Together. I’m not really sure who I am actually. Do you know who you are?”

“Like we said,” Preston chimed in. “I’m Preston.”

“I’m Danny, but we’re kind of the same person, really.”

“Oh, how good for you,” this entity replied. “See, I still have no idea who I am. I was hoping you might know.”

“Well, it depends,” Preston replies. “How did you get here?”

“Last thing I remember is a bunch of stars. And, no, there’s a sense of betrayal. But I think that my body is right around here…”

He led them to a patch of ground that was obviously a recently filled in pit, possibly a grave.

“Well, you remembered this,” Preston said. “Why can’t you remember who you are?”

“Maybe because no one knows he’s dead yet, you silly cunt?” Danny suddenly piped up, making Preston shoot him a dirty look.

But the old man seemed to take heart in this. “Of course!” he said. “No one knows I’m dead… is that kind of a requirement for… you know?”

“Who told you that?” Preston demanded.

“I… no one… it just… came into my head.”

“Interesting,” Danny said.

“But, if it’s true… give me a minute…”

Preston looked impatient, but Danny shot him a look and restrained his arm. After a long moment, the old man stopped staring and looked at the two of them.

“Oh,” he said. “My name is Jerry, I was coerced up here by someone pretending to be my friend, but then was betrayed and killed, and I’m buried over there.”

Needless to say, Preston and Danny greeted this with a bit of silence, and then a long look at each other before either of them spoke.

“Do you know who killed you?” Preston finally asked.

“Oh. Oh, yeah, it was… he used to be my boss… tip of my tongue. Dr. Schliemann.”

“That doesn’t ring any bells,” Danny said.

“You wouldn’t know him. He’s from down in the city,” Jerry explained. “Scientist at JPL, mostly works in his secret lab.”

Danny and Preston just stared at each other, jaws dropping, then they hurried right up to Jerry.

“This is the most important question we’re going to ask you — ”

“Two questions,” Danny interrupted.

“All right two. Mine is, do you remember this Dr. Schliemann’s full name?”

“Um, sure. Yeah. Give me a minute. Getting shot in the head can fuck with your memory, you know?” He laughed and then blurted out, “Ausmann. Dr. Ausmann Schliemann.”

If either Danny or Preston had actually been breathing, they would have held their breaths as Danny asked the other question. “Do you know where he is right now?”

“Well, my car is still parked over there, so I’m guessing that he’s in his cabin.”

“His cabin?”

“Yeah, right there.” Jerry pointed. “But it’s all kinds of crazy fortified. No one’s getting in.”

“Not even if they can walk through walls?” Preston asked.

“We can do that?” Jerry asked.

“We’re dead,” Danny said. “We can do a lot.”

“Thank you very much for your help,” Preston said, taking Danny’s arm to lead him away, but Danny stopped and turned back.

“Do you know why he killed you?” he asked.

“Sure, I remember now. He told me he’d killed his wife and knew I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. Which is probably true.”

“Thanks,” Danny replied as Preston pulled him away. “What’s the rush?” he asked him.

“You recognize the name.”

“Sure. But?”

“Dude, we’ve got him and he doesn’t know it. We could win the war right now, right here, before it even begins.”

“I thought it had started, with that storm.”

“That? I’m guessing that was nothing,” Preston told him, then he stopped and raised his arms above his head. “Pearl. Pearl. Pearl!” he called.

She appeared immediately. “That’s our name, don’t wear it out, and what can we do ya for?”

“We… we’ve found Ausmann,” Preston said.

“No shit?” Pearl replied.

“No shit,” Danny told them.

“Where is he?”

Preston turned and pointed at the cabin.

“You’re sure?” they asked.

“Well, we haven’t actually seen him,” Danny demurred, “But the guy he murdered told us that he has to be there because that car is.”

“Interesting,” Pearl muttered, closing their eyes for a moment, then opening them and smiling. “You’ve done very well, boys,” they said, gesturing briefly, sending waves of peaceful thoughts and a feeling of being appreciated up and down their bodies. “Now what shall we do?”

The wind started to pick up, and it was immediately chaotic, though still light. The leaves on the trees would flutter one way and then the other and then calm down, only to start up again. And then, smoky wisps flew out of the forest and coalesced into various Rêves. Preston recognized some of them whom he’d met in passing, and more than a few who were definitely Class II, although he had heard the rumor that the Class II’s were on Ausmann’s side.

Well, apparently not all of them.

The Hadas were also there, but as more of a presence that was sustaining the wind, and then Anabel appeared out of a dark blue wisp, to stand next to Pearl. Pearl didn’t have to make an announcement because they all already knew the news.

“What are we waiting for?” Anabel asked.

“Well, now, it’s a tricky thing,” Pearl explained. “We can’t exactly kill him, because that’s just letting him loose with our powers.”

“What says he’s going to show up as a Rêve?” Anabel demanded.

“These boys saw a brand-new Rêve just now,” Pearl said, indicating Danny and Preston. “And if it can happen up here right after he’s murdered… Well, let’s just say we don’t want to hand our enemy that kind of power.”

“Then what do we want?” Anabel asked her, then shouted it to the crowd. “What do we all want?”

Pearl smirked at her. “Dear, don’t try to play that rally the crowd shit on me. The Hadas could take out you and any kind of army you could muster in a snap.”

“All right,” Anabel replied, suppressing her fury. “What do ‘we’ want?”

“We’re going to drive him back down to L.A. and see where he goes next. With any luck, that will give away his strategy. Agreed?”

After a long moment, Anabel finally relented, reluctantly saying, “Agreed.”

Pearl raised their right arm and gestured, and then the weather started to intensify. Meanwhile, the Rêves strolled over and surrounded Ausmann’s cabin.

The sky darkened as deep gray clouds started to form above the treetops, growing grayer and then finally fully black as they shut off the sky. Lightning without thunder flashed through them, illuminating large chunks of their undersides in surreal blue-white bursts.

The first bolt to come down struck the satellite antenna on the roof of the cabin, shattering the dish into bits in a hail of blue sparks and sending up a black plume of smoke as the PVC mounts below burst into flames. The thunder came with it immediately.

Inside the cabin, even in the underground shelter, Ausmann had sensed the heat of the strike and definitely felt the rumble of the ensuing thunder, hearing a slight bit of it. That was also when his TV screen burst into static.

“What the fuck?” he said to himself as he switched over to display all of the outside cams on the main screen Zoom style, nine by six, showing his property from every angle — and what he was seeing he didn’t like.

First off, it looked like he was surrounded by those goddamn ghost things, no famous faces among them, and they were just standing there, about fifty feet from the cabin, doing nothing.

Second, it had started to hail, but only in one very specific spot that was about three meters on a side, and directly over the septic tank cover, since no sewer lines had ever been brought up here.

Third, one of those infernal ghosts stepped from the crowd, walked up to his front door and pointed, and he recognized that face. It was Anabel.

“Yeah,” he thought to himself. “None of this is good.”

He went to one of the smart panels in the wall and tapped the screen to activate the speaker in the front doorbell, surprised that it seemed to be working. “What do you want?” he demanded.

“We want you to leave these sacred lands,” Anabel explained.

“Sacred to whom?” he scoffed. “A bunch of low-life ghosts?”

“Sacred to something you’ll never understand,” Anabel replied.

“Like what?”

As if to answer, lightning smacked into the ground ten feet in front of the door, and the lights downstairs, which weren’t even connected to any outside power source, still flickered.

“We can put the next one wherever we want to.”

“Well, good for you, Zeus,” Ausmann sneered.

Anabel restrained her annoyance, but turned back toward Pearl. She didn’t have to say it because Pearl could read her thoughts anyway, but all she could think was, “How goddamn arrogant can this mortal asshole be?”

Appeal to his ego,” Anabel heard Pearl’s voices in her mind, wondering how she was going to do that when she remembered the car waiting nearby.

“How about a challenge?” Anabel announced.

“Like what?” Ausmann replied.

“Like… you manage to make it to the bottom of the mountain before we can catch you, then we let you go along your way.”

“Catch me with what?” he asked.

“With whatever we’ve got,” Anabel said. “And we’ll even give you a fifteen minute head-start? Twenty?”

“Make it ten, bitch,” Ausmann replied.

“So you accept?” Anabel asked him.

“As long as I get to bring along whatever I need.”

“Knock yourself out,” she said.

Over the next half hour, after Anabel and the Rêves had retreated beyond the property line so as to not present an immediate threat, Ausmann dragged an impressive arsenal out to the car, not all of it recognizable as conventional weapons. He also brought out two satchels that Pearl recognized as “Go Bags,” or as friends of theirs way back in the day had described them, “Hippie Helpers.”

After he’d loaded the car, he turned to address the air in general, because he, himself, could not see the Rêves standing there. “Fifteen minutes, then?” he announced.

Anabel chose to not call him out on his change of terms, but forced herself visible and said, “All right. And your time starts… now.”

Ausmann dove into Jerry’s car, started it up, backed around and drove down the dirt road to the highway, and almost immediately cursed the fact that he was stuck with the typical Old Man’s car — a Toyota that they’d bought new the last time they had money (in their late 50s), but which was now so old that it ran on hopes and dreams.

California version of the rule: “Never trust a car with a license plate that starts with less than 4.”

So Ausmann went chugging down the hill, while also discovering that the brakes and steering were pretty much shit, and one of the rear shocks was bouncing its tire like a basketball.

His one consolation was that just before he’d left his cabin he’d pulled the “Kill Switch,” setting the timer so it would go off around dawn. At that point, the underground propane tanks would have been opened long enough to allow all of the gas to seep through the lowest level, although the power down there would also have been shut off.

The real fireworks happened when all of the C-4 hidden around the place was set off. Combined with the propane, that should destroy the place and give the ghosts a good jolt. Ausmann had never worked the physics of it out all the way, so he wasn’t sure whether there’d just be an underground thwump that would create a sinkhole that swallowed the cabin, or if there’d be a glorious explosion that would send a fireball into the air and give a whole new meaning to the phrase “Cabin in the Sky.”

Not that this would hurt the ghosts, either, but if it started a major fire in the forest, it might keep them busy trying to stop it. They seemed like the type.

Half an hour down the mountain and with the storm and lightning clearly a couple of miles behind him, Ausmann began to despair. Were these assholes letting him win?

And the farther he went and the slower, he really had to wonder even more — were they just being lazy and hoping that Jerry’s shit-ass car would kill him first, or was it just some ruse?

Once he’d actually hit the bottom of the mountain by any definition, he found the nearest auto shop and parked. He had enough supplies in the car to wait out until they opened in the morning, he’d fulfilled the ghosts’ deal, and he’d brought a briefcase stuffed with cash, so whatever he needed repaired on this junker, he could do.

Then again, there was a used car lot across the way, so that was another option.

While he waited in the dark in the car, he worked on his own Plan B. He needed his ghost hunters, needed to find them, and also figured out the perfect incentive for them.

But the finding was the hard part, and as dawn was breaking, he still had no idea where those steampunk assholes were.

* * *

The Saturday Morning Post #40: The Rêves, Part 18

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 Southern California.

Plan B

From the very beginning, Joshua and Simon had taken their precautions regarding the job with Ausmann, especially because it seemed to have a government connection, and so had created their own insurance policy in case things should ever come to a weird junction like this.

While they had to leave their cellphones and any other technology in lockers on the surface whenever they descended, that only included things that looked like technology — but it was amazing what could be hidden inside of what appeared to be a regular number 2 pencil.

Simon had taken to wearing a pair of fake glasses whenever they went. He didn’t need them at all, but they were crammed with their own tech, which also served as an invisible to others heads-up display on what the other devices were collecting.

One of Joshua’s favorites for the sheer irony of it was a cross he’d wear on a chain around his neck whenever they went in. He wasn’t religious at all. In fact, he was a total atheist, but inside of the cross was more of the technology they used in order to harvest information that would be useful later. Like now. As they headed to JPL.

One of the things their devices had done was to remotely key-log everything Ausmann had typed while they were in or near his office, so they had managed to capture a few of his passwords as he entered them. They also had a remote man-in-the-middle device, and that took care of the transmission of encrypted information that had been auto-filled by the computer, where they couldn’t see it — user names, website URLs, and the like.

They were also able to log in remotely to Ausmann’s own computer, although not the network drive — but today they considered managing that part necessary.

They had come up with two plans for JPL. The first was ostensibly to check in with Ausmann, if he was there. If he wasn’t there, even better. They planned to go down to the lab alone and then… “borrow” every last bit of data they could get their hands on.

That would be a lot, too. They had managed to conceal a 5Tb thumb drive in what looked like an ordinary modern car key, but the USB connection could only be slid out after a series of very specific manipulations of the base of the key.

They had long since determined that the guards normally didn’t make people put keys in the safe except under a few conditions, all of which they had tested over time. If there were any kind of fancy keychains or extra fobs, like a rabbit’s foot or dice or even a small framed dog’s photo, it would be locked up.

But if it was just a few keys on a simple ring, they were good to go.

Of course, under normal circumstances, a regular USB drive would be pretty useless for dealing with terabytes of data. At maximum speed, it would take a USB 3.0 device about 56 hours to download just one terabyte, but Simon had estimated that they were looking at between three and four.

However, they had figured out that the computers in Ausmann’s lab transferred data much faster. An ordinary USB drive put it through at 5 megabytes per second. Ausmann’s did it at 5 gigabytes. This meant that four terabytes of data would take about fourteen minutes to copy.

Still a lot slower than in the movies, but quite doable provided they had the time — and they had already reverse-engineered the technology in order to match the throughput speed.

This time, Simon drove them to JPL as Joshua remotely logged into Ausmann’s computer one more time, to check the logs again. “Nope,” he confirmed. “He hasn’t logged on in person or remotely since the afternoon before the storm. Shit, I wish we could get to their network from here and look at the physical check-ins.”

“It looks like Plan B, then,” Simon said, and Joshua nodded.

“Plan B it is,” Joshua said, and then he started typing and tapping like a madman. Plan B was basically to forge their way in.

In Ausmann’s files, they had discovered an emergency protocol that would allow access by certain personnel in the event that Ausmann became incapacitated or otherwise compromised. Of course, the trick was that Ausmann had to trigger it remotely prior to that incapacitation.

“I don’t think he really thought that one all the way through,” Simon said when Joshua had explained it to him. “What? Dude drops dead, but triggers it first?”

“Good point,” Joshua replied.

But this was to their advantage, because it wasn’t until Ausmann triggered it that he also specified which personnel were to be admitted. Ergo, Joshua now gave access to himself and Simon under Ausmann’s emergency orders, tweaking timestamps so that it would have appeared to have been issued the evening of the storm, with the corresponding alert texts to Simon and Joshua being similarly backdated and showing at the appropriate place in their inboxes.

The extra security in that was that the messages seemed to come from “The Pasadena Social Club,” and the texts themselves read, “Bonus Birthday Brunch, just show this QR code.”

They both knew what that meant, though.

When they had first set up this plan long ago, Simon did think it through as he was wont to do, and one of the questions he asked was this: “What if we get there, think that Ausmann isn’t there, but it turns out he is?”

Joshua thought about it a bit, then had one of his brilliant flashes. “Of course,” he said. “If we got the emergency message, then we’d think that something is wrong, so we’d show up worried, asking, ‘Is Ausmann here?’ Only two answers for that, at least to us. Yes, or no.”

“Makes sense,” Simon said.

“So, if they say no, we go full on emergency protocol plan, we’re in, pan comido. But if they say yes, we turn on a dime, act all relieved, and report in as normal.”

“But with the emergency protocol stuff all hanging out there for Ausmann to see.”

“But that’s the point,” Joshua replied. “I think I can rig it so that once it’s sent, Ausmann is blocked from access to seeing any of the texts or documents or whatever. It only goes to the guards and us. That’s part one.”

“And part two?” Simon asked.

“Instant kill-switch,” Joshua replied. “I can also rig it so that if I text a certain code back, then everything gets erased instantly, like it never happened. So… kill-switch program on my screen as we arrive, you have the text on yours. If they say no, he’s not there, then I just pop up my message, too. If they say yes, I hit the button and we start acting.”

And so it was set, they received their codes, and pulled onto the grounds of JPL and headed to the entrance of Ausmann’s underground lair with no idea what was waiting in it for them.

As it turned out, he wasn’t there, and the boys made a big show of being concerned and upset as they flashed the QR codes for the guards to scan. They didn’t have any tech to turn in because they’d left it all in the car, but agreed to a pat-down search.

Of course, they kept the key, Simon’s glasses, and Joshua’s cross, then headed downstairs.

Joshua had pulled a few other tricks on their way over. For example, from about five minutes before they drove onto the grounds, all of the cameras in the complex stopped recording. They continued to display live shots with the timecode, but at the same time only sent a single frame from each camera while incrementing the timecode.

This meant that while the guards could see them, there would be no record for Ausmann to review later, except for the two cameras at the guard station, but they’d planned ahead for that one, as well.

The outside camera would see and record them, no problem, as would the inside camera, for about a minute. But Joshua had programmed the DVR to reboot when its facial recognition software spotted either of them.

This would put it out of commission for enough time for them to enter the complex, and then the camera would come back online and continue recording. Meanwhile, about two minutes into that reboot, the DVR connected to the outside camera would be fed a short bit of footage to override the actual recording — Joshua and Simon leaving the complex, with the “correct” timecode on it.

They had managed to capture the footage on a previous visit, and even dressed identically to it today so that they would match. But the end result would be that anyone reviewing the actual recorded footage would see them arrive, start to talk to the guards, and then leave shortly thereafter.

The electronic log of their check-in they could erase just as easily remotely. Meanwhile, as for the physical sign-in, which was done on paper, Simon had conjured up one of the oldest tricks in the book: disappearing ink.

In the post-plague days, no one batted an eye at someone insisting on using their own pen rather than a communal instrument, so Simon and Joshua both carefully signed and dated their check-in with the trick pen, knowing that all of the information would be gone in fifteen minutes.

They just had to take it on faith that no one else would be checking in before that, given the circumstances, so that there wouldn’t be two tell-tale blank lines where their names had been. Fortunately, none of the guards signed in on the public sheet, and Ausmann didn’t have to sign in at all.

Once they got downstairs, they went to work quickly and efficiently, knowing that the guards wouldn’t consider anything they did out of the ordinary. But just to be safe, they had hacked one of the exterior cameras that showed part of the parking lot to add a little something to it.

Not sure of the sexual leanings of the guards but wanting to be inclusive, it superimposed footage of a young and very attractive straight couple starting to get frisky inside of a Smart Car, and then next to it.

Although they couldn’t see the results, their gesture had the intended results. Within two minutes, one of the guards had spotted the couple — on the opposite bank from the one showing what was going on downstairs — and that screen became the center of their attention, especially when that couple started tearing each other’s clothes off.

It had the intended effect, though. Four bored and horny men, three in their 20s, one much older, two straight, one bi, and one gay, all focused intently on the screen and ignoring everything else.

The video distraction would run for thirty minutes. Joshua and Simon planned to be out in twenty.

Joshua logged onto the network via Ausmann’s computer, then popped in the USB drive and selected and copied everything that wasn’t part of the operating system. As the process began, the countdown timer indicated approximately fourteen minutes to go.

“God, I hope their IT motherfuckers defrag regularly,” Joshua muttered to himself.

Meanwhile, Simon was casually investigating the various physical binders in the bookcase behind Ausmann’s desk, checking them for any information on the particular Rêves they’d brought in. When he found applicable pages, all he had to do was turn them successively. His glasses did the rest of the job of imaging all of them.

They also kept the feed from the outside camera going to his left eye, in case there were any unexpected visitors.

After ten minutes, he’d made great progress, and worked his way back from Anabel almost all the way to their first catch. Meanwhile, the countdown timer was accurate for once, with just under four minutes left and “29% remaining.”

Right at the three minute mark, somebody came to the front entrance.

“Shit!” Simon snapped.

“What?” Jason asked.

“Visitor,” Simon said.

“Who?” Jason asked.

“Who?” Simon repeated, using a gesture of his eyes to activate facial recognition, then switch to the inside camera. The answer came back in a few seconds as text: “Schliemann, Ausmann Gustav.”

“Fuck!” Simon gasped. “It’s Ausmann. Doesn’t look like him, though.”

“But you’re sure?”

“The computer is. Dude is shaved bald and lost the beard,” Simon explained.

“Shit. Wish I could see that,” Joshua said.

“No you don’t,” Simon replied. “It’s not pretty. How long have we got?”

“Two minutes, forty-five,” Joshua replied. “Are they going to even recognize him?”

“They don’t need to,” Simon said. “Biometrics. Wait, hang on. They didn’t notice him come in because of the video.”

“Hallelujah, that ought to slow things down,” Joshua said.

“Shit, I don’t think so,” Simon replied.

“How do you mean?” Joshua asked.

“Ausmann just walked past where that couple is ostensibly fucking.”

“Oh. Shit!” Joshua exclaimed.

Simon watched as Ausmann stalked outside, the guards following. “Okay, they went outside,” Simon said.

“Good or bad?” Joshua asked.

“It is buying us time. Okay, you remember the emergency exit they showed us when we started here?”

“No.”

“Good, because I do,” Simon said. “Time?”

“Minute fifty.”

Ausamann and the guards stormed back in, Ausmann gesturing wildly, then stepping offscreen.

“He’s in the fucking elevator,” Simon said. “He’ll be here in a minute.”

“Almost done,” Joshua said.

“We’re going to have to rip and run,” Simon warned him.

“Can you slow him down?”

“I… I… oh. Wait…” Simon checked and quickly accessed the elevator controls, then stopped the car.”

“Whew. There,” he said. “Tiger in a box. Let me know when you’re ready.”

“Thirty seconds,” Joshua said.

“Great,” Simon replied.

After what seemed like half a minute, Joshua announced, “Twenty seconds. God, suspense like this just makes me horny as hell.”

“Everything makes you horny as hell,” Simon replied.

“Wrong,” Joshua shot back. “Anything with you involved makes me horny as hell.”

“Thank you and no, we are not doing it at work.”

“Fifteen seconds.”

“How can you even think of sex at a time like this?” Simon demanded

“How can you not? If Ausmann finds us here stealing his shit, we are fucked. And not in the good way.”

“Well then hurr — aw, fuck!”

“What?” Joshua asked.

“Guards turned the elevator back on.”

“Five, four, three, two, one…” Joshua counted, then hooted as he pulled out the drive and hit shutdown on the computer. “Let’s get the fuck out of here,” he said.

“Follow me!” Simon told him, and they headed out the door and around the corner, running flat out as they heard the elevator ding in the distance. They came to the door that led to the emergency exit, Simon slamming through it and Joshua right behind.

Right as that door started to close behind them, they heard the sirens blaring that indicated lockdown. If they hadn’t made it through there before that, they never would have. Fortunately, as Simon knew, nothing past that point was wired up to seal.

That door led to a long corridor that came out on a hillside some distance from the campus, next to a winding and little-traveled road.

“Now what?” Simon asked.

“Time to test that ‘Come get me’ feature our car dealer was so big on selling us, I suppose,” Joshua replied.”

“Oh, right,” Simon replied. Even though they didn’t have their phones, he could still access the app on his glasses, and in a couple of moments, ECTO-42 confirmed that it was on its way to pick them up.

That was a good thing all around. For one, neither of them were sure how far or which way the entrance to JPL was from here. For another, the last thing they would have wanted to do was show up in the parking lot to ask nicely, “Please, can we get our car.”

There was a reason that they’d left all of their actual tech in there in the first place, and that was the Plan C which was the escape route whether they used A or B, or what Simon called “Plan Crap!” As in what would they do if everything went to shit, like it just had.

Joshua drove them home in his usual maniacal way, but en route one question kept bugging him, and he finally asked Simon.

“So… you said that Ausmann had shaved his head and his beard?”

“Yeah. It was freaky, man.”

“Why do you think that was?” Joshua asked.

“I don’t know,” Simon mused. “He doesn’t seem like one to make fashion statements.”

“Or one to catch head lice,” Joshua replied. “Wait… what was the most distinctive thing about him?”

“Oh…” Simon gasped, giving Joshua a look of sudden realization.

“His hair and his beard,” they both said in unison.

“Jinx,” Simon said.

“He is fucking hiding from someone or something,” Joshua said. “But what?”

“Well, I think we’ve got about four terabytes of data that might answer that question,” Simon smiled.

“Oh yeah. Oh, shit. Does Ausmann know where we live?”

“Dude, he doesn’t even know our real names,” Simon assured him. “The employment docs we submitted to him were fake as hell, since the whole job offer wasn’t exactly legit on his part either.”

“Really?” Joshua said.

“Really,” Simon replied. “Our checks from them have never gone to us in the first place, not like we’d notice. If he looks closely, he’ll see that he actually hired a 501(c)(3) that supports Peruvian widows.”

Joshua laughed loudly. “You are a goddamn beautiful fucking genius, Simon.”

“Well, I don’t know about beautiful — ”

“Shut up and take the compliment,” Joshua insisted. “When we get home, let’s dig in this dirt and take this bastard down.”

“I love it when you talk dirt,” Simon said.

They’d made it most of the way home when a call came in on Simon’s phone and the display in the Tesla showed “MASON BRENDA” and a number.

“What does she want?” Simon wondered, but Joshua gestured to stop him from answering.

“More importantly,” Joshua said, “How did she get your number?”

They drove the rest of the way in silence with the unasked question hovering between them. If some county employee could get their number, then couldn’t Ausmann? And, by extension… their address?

“We really need to find out what he’s hiding,” Simon said as they pulled into the garage, and Joshua just nodded in agreement.

* * *

Image: Adam Foster, (CC) BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Saturday Morning Post #28: The Rêves, Part 6

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.

Falling short

Ausmann had made some progress with the samples he had managed to keep from escaping, although what Simon and Joshua’s had captured from Hollywood and Vine was disappointing.

The best Ausmann could figure, after he’d called in a colleague to translate, is that he was some young kid who had come with his family from Cuba, and he’d been run down by a drunk driver in Boyle Heights about ten years ago.  His name was Ramón.

He told Ausmann, mostly through the interpreter, that he had been a busboy at a restaurant, lived with his entire family in a two-bedroom apartment in the Heights, and that his mother and sisters still kept a memorial on the corner where he had died, regularly replacing the flowers and photos, and all of the neighbors helped maintain it, too.

He was nineteen when he was killed. The driver was never apprehended, but Ramón knew that his mother firmly believe that he never would be, because he was someone connected.

Ausmann found the information to be underwhelming. The story he’d heard was that these wandering spirits were echoes of the famous, kept alive precisely because of their fame. It made no sense that some glorified dishwasher who probably didn’t look before jaywalking would be among them.

The kid had tried to manifest in the larger containment several times, but mostly just looked like an inky shadow drifting around in a large, waterless aquarium.

“¿Y ahora puedo irme?” he asked. “No me gusta estar en una jaula de vidrio.”

“What is he muttering about?” Ausmann demanded.

“He wants to leave,” the interpreter said. “He doesn’t like being in a glass cage.”

“Tell him I don’t care what he likes,” Ausmann replied.

“Al jefe, no le importa lo que te gusta,” the interpreter explained. “Lo siento. Pero él es un gran pinche pendejo.”

“I do know a few words in Spanish, Victor,” Ausmann said, dryly. “Do watch it.”

“Let him go if you’re done with him,” Victor said.

“What makes you think I’m done with him?”

“He’s alone and he’s scared,” Victor countered.

“He’s dead,” Ausmann explained.

“But he’s still human.”

“Is he? I’m done interviewing him for now.”

He turned away from Victor and focused on his notes, which was Ausmann’s well-known way of telling people, “Please leave before I turn around and look at you.”

He was generally hated by his colleagues. As Victor’s lab partner, Estelle, a charming woman from Texas, put it, “Wouldn’t no one around here piss down his throat even if his guts was on fire.”

Once Victor had left, Ausmann put Ramón back in the small mirror trap and filed it, making the note, “Probably of no further use.”

Then he took out the trap from Hollywood and Highland, and hoped that this one would be more interesting. He released its contents into the larger holding trap and watched as the inky smoke drifted around.

“Hello,” he said. “Can you hear me?”

“Where am I?” the voice asked. Clearly female, American, and with a strong Boston accent.

“Who are you?” Ausmann asked.

“I’m not sure,” she replied. “I think I’m the… Black Dahlia?”

Well, this was intriguing, he thought, quickly tapping in a search. Some of the details fit. Elizabeth Short was from Boston, so the accent checked, although why she didn’t identify herself that way was a bit of a mystery.

“Do you remember your own name?” Ausmann asked her.

“Do you?” she asked. “Because it’s all kind of foggy.”

Indeed, he thought. And then he checked further details, only to see that she had been buried in Oakland, California, which was well over 300 miles away as the crow flew from Los Angeles. That didn’t match what little data they had compiled at all.

“Does the name Elizabeth Short mean anything to you?” Ausmann asked. The smoke in the box immediately seemed to gather into a corner as if shocked away from the other three sides, and then spun and solidified before it all landed with an audible thunk on the bottom, in the form of the top half of a young woman who had been bisected at the waist, and she wasn’t moving at all.

“Elizabeth? Can you hear me?” Ausmann asked. “Elizabeth? Miss Short…?”

Nothing.

Well, this shit was getting him nowhere. Plus the sight of half of a dead woman lying in the bottom of his holding tank was really disturbing, so he turned the valves to put her back in the original trap, but nothing happened.

“Fuck,” he muttered. He turned his attention to his internet searches for Elizabeth Short and the Black Dahlia, quickly realizing that while she seemed to be aware of her real identity, most of who she was in death had been defined under the nickname.

That gave him a bit of a Eureka moment. Of course. It all started to make sense now. Especially the biggest non-sequitur he’d come across so far with her. Normally, these creatures stayed local. Bury them, and they’d not go too far beyond a hundred kilometers in any direction.

The body of Elizabeth Short had been buried in Oakland, but the memory of the Black Dahlia had been interred in Los Angeles. He shut the valves and spoke into the microphone.

“I’m sorry,” Ausmann announced. “I was mistaken. You are the Black Dahlia, aren’t you?”

The figure of the half body suddenly burst into smoky mist again and drifted to the top of the tank, and then swirled around until it formed a jet-black dahlia, which looked like a bastard cross between a dandelion and a marigold.

“I think I get it now,” Ausmann muttered to himself, then he opened the valves again, and the image of the flower and all that was Elizabeth Short was sucked back into the original trap. He tried to ignore what sounded like screaming, then, as he’d done for Ramón, sealed it up and filed it.

His hunters had better bring him something really interesting next time around. Otherwise, he was seriously considering ending the contract. Possibly with extreme prejudice, as they used to say in old gangster films.

Or was that an old government expression? Who knew? Ausmann was too busy working on his own reality down here.

* * *

Morning after

Joshua and Simon had stumbled home just before five in the morning, put their latest catches in the vault, then dropped the blackout shades, stripped off, and fell asleep in each other’s arms in about five minutes.

When they woke up, they smiled at each other and snuggled, then grabbed their phones, both of them rather annoyed to see that it was only nine a.m. They both futzed around with email and social media for a bit, then cuddled and went back to sleep.

Both of them went through a bit of sleep, dream, wake, snuggle, repeat, until Simon finally announced, “Fuck. It’s two-thirty.”

“I know the second part was a statement of fact,” Joshua said, “But was the first part an interjection or a request?”

“You know that what they used to call ‘interjections?’” Simon asked, not waiting for an answer. “Ejaculations.”

“So it was a request?” Joshua smiled up at him.

“It’s still two-thirty,” Simon reminded him.

“And it’s the day after a catch, our traditional day off,” Joshua said, “So we don’t have to get up for anything. I mean, we could get up to one thing…”

“Was that a request?” Simon teased him.

“It’s two-thirty,” Joshua said. “Fuck?”

When it came to Joshua — especially when he turned on his ‘cute face’ — Simon had no resistance, so his interjection became Joshua’s request and, eventually, both of their ejaculations. It was about four in the afternoon when Simon finally said, “Okay, I think we have to get up for real now.”

“Shower, supper, and binge watch?” Joshua suggested.

“Right time for the first, too early for the second, and we have more important things than the third.”

“Yes, daddy,” Joshua muttered, faking resentment. “So what’s more important than stream — ”

“What we caught last night.”

“Oh,” Joshua realized. “Right. Well, one of them is interesting, anyway,” he said. “The other one scared the shit out of me.”

“Me, too,” Simon said. “I assume you’re interested in the shadow who seemed like he wanted to be caught, too.”

“Oh, hell yeah,” Joshua agreed. “I sure as hell don’t mean Scary Mary who went all Goth Chick once she got tazed.”

“Yeah, that was a first. But I have a weird feeling that it’s going to get Ausmann to up us a couple of pay grades.”

“Ooh. It makes me so horny when you talk money.”

“Honey, it makes you horny when I breathe. Admit it.”

“Okay. Guilty. What? You’re fucking sex on legs, shut up. What do you say, then? We get brave and let Smoky out of the bottle?”

“Yeah,” Simon said. “Why not? Although we should probably be presentable, right?”

They jumped out of bed, hit the shower, then made coffee, checked social media again, then retrieved the mirror trap from the vault and set it on the granite living room table, all windows now open to let in the sunny view over NoHo.

“So,” Simon said, “You know the general history. Pull the top off, and these… things run away.”

“Right,” Joshua replied, but remember what was different about this one?

“We got caught by Brenda mid-snatch?”

“Eew, don’t say ‘snatch,’ and no. This one wanted to be caught. I mean, wasn’t that obvious?”

“It did feel a bit different.”

“And then Goth Girl showed up, but she seemed more like, oh, I don’t know… an over-protective big sister or, more likely, a super Fag Hag.”

“So, what are you thinking?” Simon asked.

“I’m thinking that the one we’ve got in the vault right now — ”

“Nasty Morticia?” Simon said.

“Ooh, I like. Yeah, her. I think she’s a lot more valuable to Bossman than the one in the mirror.”

“Oh my god, dude. Bossman. That’s new. Did you just think of that?”

“Yeah, it just came to mind.”

“Love you.”

“Love you more, dork. So ready to unscrew?” Joshua picked up the trap and held it between both hands.

“I guess so,” Simon replied. “I mean, what’s the worst that could happen?”

“Our place winds up haunted and we could rent it out for a fucking fortune to one of those fake ghost-hunter shows? Maybe this spirit is union? I don’t know. Personally, the worst that could happen is that it flies out the window and goes back home.”

“Well, then,” Simon said, “Let’s unscrew him.”

“Phrasing,” Joshua muttered under his breath as he grabbed the top half of the trap and turned it counter-clockwise while holding the bottom steady. After three turns, the top came off, revealing the mirror, and nothing happened.

“Hm,” Simon said, then, “Shit.” The mirror remained dark as they both stared at it. “You think we killed it?” Simon finally asked.

“I don’t know,” Joshua replied, staring down into the silvered glass and seeing his own distorted face. “Hey, little dude. You okay down there? You want to come out and talk to us, it’s okay. Hell, if you want to come out, you’re free as you want to be.”

Nothing happened, so Joshua tapped the mirror. “Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakey,” he called out, remembering something that his Aussie grandmother had used to wake him up with.

Suddenly, wisps of shadow, looking like black smoke, started to drift up from the mirror. They lazily gathered above the table, eventually drifting into a vaguely human form, although a not very tall one, like a silhouette painted in the air, with a clear head, arms, legs, and torso.

The arms reached out, one toward Joshua and one toward Simon. They looked at each other, not sure what to do.

“I… I don’t think he’s dangerous,” Simon finally said.

“Neither do I,” Joshua replied.

They gave each other the secret look they always did before agreeing to do something dangerous and stupid — silent eye contact, a half smile, and then a very subtle nod of the head that said “One, two, three,” and then each of them reached out and grabbed one of the inky-smoke hands reaching for them.

As soon as they did, they both felt a sharp but harmless static shock through their bodies, and then the vague and smoky form on the table resolved itself into a quite visible human being.

He’s not tall — maybe 5’7” — but he does have a wide, smiling face with a lupine nose, and eyes that are almond both in shape and color. His hair is a russet chestnut, a little shaggy without being long. He’s also completely nude, not that Simon or Joshua have any complaints, but it only takes one look at the ass and face before they look at each other and gasp.

“Preston LeCard?” they say in unison.

“What?” Preston replies.

Neither Simon nor Joshua knows what to say. They never expected to have trapped one of their favorite porn stars while hunting, and certainly not one who’d only been dead for a few years, and not for any of the usual porn star reasons.

“So… what brings you here?” Simon finally asks.

“I’d like to lie and say two hot nerd daddies like you,” Preston tells them, “But, sadly, no. Honestly, it was my control freak mother.”

“Do we know her?” Joshua wondered.

“Know her?” Preston laughed. “You met her last night.”

“Are you sure?” Simon asked.

“Anabel Chanler LeCard. Does that ring any bells.”

“No,” Simon said. “But do you want us to let her go?”

“You caught her, too?”

“Right after you surrendered to us,” Joshua explained. “But if you think we’re letting her go — ”

“Oh, hell no,” Preston said. “You can keep her for now.”

“So what do you want, really?” Simon asked.

“I have no fucking idea,” Preston replied, “Except that I seem to be the prisoner of two hot daddies, and whatever you want to do, just go on and fucking do — ”

Before he could finish that sentence, Joshua slammed the lid on the trap. It was a crapshoot, but it managed to suck everything back in and shut up Preston. Joshua casually walked into the bedroom, dropped the trap into the vault, and came back out to the living room.

“What the actual fuck?” Simon muttered.

“Never mind,” Joshua replied. “Maybe we toss both their asses to Ausmann next Tuesday. Meanwhile… supper-time. What do you want to eat? And shut up, I’m not on the menu until dessert.”

“Oh, you cock-teasing asshole,” Simon replied, smiling. “Then how about… Victory?”

“Pussy!” Joshua smiled and walked away.

“Never!” Simon called after him, but he could only smile in admiration before trembling in fear. What if they hadn’t defeated that Preston thing? And then he had another awful thought as he headed after Joshua.

“Shit, Joshie. Do you think that Preston wanted us to… fuck him?”

“Seemed like it,” Joshua replied.

“Wouldn’t that be… necrophilia?”

“Hm,” Joshua mused. “No… necrophilia is when a living person wants to fuck a dead body. So when a dead person wants to fuck someone alive…? Hm. I wonder what that would be.”

“Vivephilia?” Simon offered.

“That’s a new one,” Joshua said. “I wonder if it’s just as icky to most of them as other way around is to most of us.”

“One could hope,” Simon replied. “Wait… what did he say Anabel’s full name was?”

“Anabel Chanler LeCard,” Joshua replied.

“So they’re related?” Simon wondered.

“The name sounds really familiar,” Joshua said, tapping on his phone. “Ah. Apparently, her family was quite the thing around here early last century… oh. Check this out. She died in childbirth but her son survived. Her son Preston.”

“So he is her son?” Simon said.

“Now I remember why the name sounded familiar,” Joshua said, scrolling. “We had a gig at her family tomb last year, didn’t pan out but… sure. Here it is… holy shit. Well, that can’t be right?”

“What?” Simon asked as Joshua showed him the screen. It was a photo of the rosette in the center of the family mausoleum. “So?” he asked.

“Died 1926,” Joshua explained.

“Right. And?”

“You do know that your difficulty with math is one of those traits I find really endearing, right?”

“Fuck you, silly. What?”

“Okay. How old is… was Preston LeCard when he died?”

“Um… twenty-something-ish?”

“Twenty-three,” Joshua reminded him. “So he was born in… 1997.”

“Right.”

“And Anabel is his mother?”

“That’s what he…” Simon stopped mid-sentence and started at the photo. “Aw, fuck.”

“Exactly,” Joshua continued. “Unless that was the longest labor ever, or he was born way, way post mortem — ”

“His ’mom’ died more than sixty years before he was born.”

“Bingo! So, Simon, what does this tell us?”

“Preston LeCard is not who he says he is?”

“No,” Joshua replied. “He’s not who he thinks he is. He’s who we think he is. Oh, of course! Oh my god. This could change everything.”

“Really?” Simon asked.

“Really,” Joshua replied before doubling over in laughter.

“What?”

“Okay, this is evil, but hear me out. We keep Preston on ice, as it were, until we can figure out who he really is, but we toss Anabel to Ausmann.”

“And why do that to her?” Simon asked.

“Because she does know who she is, and I have a feeling that she’s the first of their kind we’re going to toss down his rabbit hole who does.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Because… she was never a celebrity to anyone,” Joshua explained.

“Shit,” Simon replied, getting it. “So there really is more than one type of these things running around?”

“Oh yeah,” Joshua answered. “I’d bet my left nut on it.”

“Please don’t,” Simon said. “That’s my favorite one.”

“Hyperbolic metaphor, honey,” Joshua replied. “Anyway, we need to figure out who Preston really was, and maybe get some dirt on Anabel, so grab your sunscreen, because we’re going to have to drop in on my uncle Brent and his husband Drew.”

“Do we have to?” Simon asked.

“Yes,” Joshua insisted. “What? Drew’s only ever grabbed your dick once.”

“Yeah, but he’s 97,” Simon replied.

“So… who better to ask about ancient shit like this?”

Simon wanted to resist, but the look Joshua gave him made him relent. They’d stumbled on the biggest mystery of their careers, after all, one that might even be bigger than anything Ausmann could handle and, as they would have said in character as their steampunk ghost-hunters, “In for a penny-farthing, in for a pound sterling.”

Or… whatever. Josh was the one with actual Brits in his background. Simon was stuck with Portuguese and Danes.

* * *