The Saturday Morning Post #42: The Rêves, Part 20

Race against time

Brenda had come back home from her conversation with Mom pissed as hell for a lot of reasons, so she did the two things she knew she could do to get absolute privacy. First, she asked the kids if they wanted to play board games with Esme, and none of them could be happier, so they all retreated to the living room.

Next, she ducked her head into Jonah’s office. “If you want to binge some Oprah episodes with me, come on into my office.”

He just grunted, but she knew that this was, to him, the best way to tell him, “Stay the fuck out of my office” without putting it in those words — reverse psychology at its finest.

She did go into her office to binge, but it wasn’t Oprah. Instead, it was CCTV footage from Metro Stations but, more specifically, since she had figured out Joshua and Simon’s working order and timing of things, she started with the first station they’d been spotted at, then worked her way backwards.

Her goal was to find some way to contact them, and she was hoping for some moment when one of them would expose something on cam, like a phone, that would give a full name, or number, or something. She also quickly figured out that their preferred nights to work were Tuesday or Wednesday for the most part, and they never came down over the weekend, probably because the stations were too crowded.

Their outfits also changed, and she watched a sort of backwards evolution as later accessories — hunting tools? — disappeared on the reverse path. Still, nothing that would give them away.

When she’d followed them farther up the A Line into Pasadena, she had a sudden moment of kicking herself, realizing she’d been watching the wrong thing.

They had to get into the stations, and they had to do it with their TAP Cards, so she went back and pulled the time stamps from each station at every moment they had used TAP to enter. Next, she pulled up the TAP usage database, used a query to create a spreadsheet, then used INDEX and MATCH in Excel to pull up matches to the info she’d compiled.

She was practically over the moon when it revealed that all of the check-ins had been done on the same two TAP cards, revealing their numbers and card nicknames: ECTO-J and ECTO-S.

“I’ve got you now, you motherfuckers!” she muttered as she copied the TAP card numbers, then pulled the specific information on to whom they were registered.

“Shit!” she replied at the results, because Joshua and Simon had managed to register the cards with completely fake information, and use anonymous, pre-paid debit cards to fund them. She could tell on sight, because nobody lived at “1234 Main Street, This Town, USA, 90000,” and certainly nobody had the email address goodfucking@luck.com.

And while they had used the first names Joshua and Simon, she really doubted that they both had the last names “McBiteme.”

“Fucking kids,” she muttered, not realizing that both of them were actually on the older end of being millennials, and pushing forty.

She went back to the videos from Pasadena, and then traced them to the Arcadia station where, on a whim, she followed them back out only to see that they had come there from Santa Anita Race Track, and it was one of the few times they’d come down on a Saturday and had arrived at the station so early.

She marked the date and time on a hunch, but then wondered — who did she know at Santa Anita who could give her the info? This would be a major way in for one big reason: While TAP cards weren’t really that regulated, race tracks and gambling were heavily regulated, and no way either of them could get away with fake names or pre-paid debit cards if they wanted to gamble and actually win.

She wondered who she knew who had a connection inside Santa Anita, but then the irony of the answer made her laugh.

Rita’s husband was head of security at the place. Brenda hit the intercom on her home office phone.

“Yeah?” Rita answered.

“Want me to find those boys and get them to call you?” Brenda asked.

“Which part of ‘I already asked you that’ did you all miss?” Rita replied.

“None,” Brenda said. “So, your hubby still works at Santa Anita?”

“Yes,” Rita said. “Why?”

“I’m going to email you some dates and times. I need all of the surveillance cam footage from inside for those, plus any kind of pay out info he can provide — Tax ID, winnings, whatever.”

“Are you fucking shitting me?” Rita asked.

“Nope,” Brenda replied.

“Okay. I can probably get him to give you the video footage,” she explained, “But tax records and IDs?” She let out a belly laugh. “No fucking way. You know that. He’d lose his job, and so would I.”

“Okay, okay, got it,” Brenda said. “But if I can maybe point you to two specific people at a specific time and place, and he can use that info to give us the names and phone numbers…?”

“Dubious,” Rita said, “But I’ll ask. How soon you need this shit?”

“How soon did you want them to call you, again?” Brenda replied

“On it,” Rita answered, then she hung up.

Brenda typed out her email with the info, and ten minutes later a response came back, which Rita had forwarded from her husband. It contained a link to the CCTV videos from Santa Anita for the day she had requested.

“Finally,” she said, poking around until she found the point when Joshua and Simon had left the park to walk to the station and backtracking from there.

She jumped through the footage, tracing backwards from end of race to post time, and at no point did either of them approach the cashier window in order to collect. She was beginning to think that they were bad at this whole thing until very early in the day, when she caught them celebrating at the end of a race.

That’s when she followed them forward via the cameras. Maybe she had just missed the one that showed them collecting. But then, after they’d come downstairs she saw them looking around and then approaching a young black woman who was just sitting in the corner with her son, looking distraught.

There was no audio on this footage, but Joshua and Simon engaged her in conversation until, finally, Simon held out a ticket and handed it to her. She looked at the ticket, then up at them in disbelief, covering her mouth and crying.

Joshua and Simon shrugged and smiled, and then the woman jumped up and hugged them both before heading toward the cashier. Joshua and Simon smiled at each other before heading off to video Brenda had already watched.

She hit pause angrily on her computer. “Oh you goddamn generous motherfucking privileged little white boys!” she grumbled. “Who the hell are you?”

She had almost despaired running back through all of the footage until she hit a point when the two had arrived. Joshua headed toward the restroom while Simon waited, but then Simon pulled out his phone and scrolled — and it was in that moment, one single frame, that Brenda found the holy grail.

It showed Joshua’s full name, as well as a phone number. She screen-capped it, wrote it down, and refrained from screaming in joy.

“Suck it, bitch,” she muttered to herself with Rita in mind as she picked up her own phone and dialed, but after about a ring and a half, it went right to voice mail.”

“Assholes,” she thought, but after the tone, she left a very long and detailed voice mail, hoping that they would actually listen and respond.

But, assuming they wouldn’t, she decided on Plan B: As soon as the streets were passable, she was going to pay them a visit, come hell or high water. Well, so to speak. Also, note to self: See who she knew who could link Joshua’s number back to the one that had texted it at that specific moment…

* * *

Image source: (CC) BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Saturday Morning Post #41: The Rêves, Part 19

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.

To sleep, perchance…

Rêves actually did “sleep” — not in the same way that humans did, but they could sort of “power down,” at which point they would lose all physical visibility and substance. A Class I Rêve might be able to detect their presence, while Class II and III probably wouldn’t. Pearl, of course, was always aware of where every single one of them was at any moment, regardless of class or waking state.

But Preston didn’t know that yet.

All he knew was that he had curled up with Danny, who may or may not have been him but who was hella handsome nevertheless, and as they sheltered against the storm they both wound up falling asleep in each other’s arms.

It was a cold and foggy morning when Preston woke up. Okay, to be fair, it was visibly foggy, so he just assumed it was cold, which was something he couldn’t feel, although he and Danny could feel each other. He sat up and listened, and all he could hear was the distant crow of a rooster, and then drops of moisture falling from one level of leaves on the trees to another.

He nudged Danny to wake him — Preston could still see him for some reason.

“What?” Danny asked as he woke up and opened his eyes.

“Storm is over,” Preston said.

“So we lived?” Danny asked.

“No, dumbshit,” Preston replied, smacking his arm. “We’re still dead, but we’re still here.”

“Oh. Right,” Danny said. “So… now what?”

Before Preston could answer, there was a shout — “

¡Quédense. Manos arriba!

“What did he say?” Preston asked.

“Fuck if I know,” Danny replied.

Preston stood slowly, raising his arms.

“Y ¿por qué está desnudo en mi jardín, pervertido?” the voice called out again.

“Oh, wait, I think I knew one word, it’s about me, and it’s not happy,” Preston said, getting a good look at the angry father with the shotgun standing just outside the patio door.

“Tengo tres hijas jóvenes,” the man said, shotgun aimed right at Preston’s chest. “Qué ellas no vean sus cuerpos ni sus partes masculinos y forman ideas pecaminosas, si ustedes no se quitan del mi jardín en tres segundos, les voy a disparar y puedan decir hasta la vista a las nueces.”

On that last part, he lowered the shotgun to aim at Preston’s crotch.

“What did he say?” Danny asked.

“I have no idea on the specifics,” Preston replied, “But I think that the general idea is ‘Run like fuck.’”

“Oh, right,” Danny replied. “But wait,” he added. “Why are we running?”

“Because I get the idea he’s going to shoot us?” Preston answered.

“Right, and…?” Danny answered, refusing to move even as Preston got more antsy.

“I… dude, come on. Let’s not waste time. Let’s go!”

“You’re forgetting one thing,” Danny replied.

“What?” Preston barked back.

Danny just smiled at Preston, then turned to the clearly the angry dad, and gave him the finger.

“Are you fucking nuts?” Preston demanded. Danny just grinned and shook his head — and then dad unleashed the shotgun.

And… nothing. Well, nothing happened to them, but a flowerpot behind them exploded.

Preston looked at Danny, confused.

“Dude, we’re already fucking dead,” he replied. “How is he going to do anything to us?”

“Really?” Preston finally asked.

“Really,” Danny replied.

Preston laughed, then turned and marched right up into Dad with Shotgun’s face.

“Look, dude,” he said, “I didn’t want to be here, and I have no desire at all to wave my dick at you, okay?”

Dad with rifle seemed more scared than anything, but Preston pressed on. “On the other hand, I seriously wouldn’t mind slapping my dick on your chin, or you slapping yours upside my ass-cheeks. My name is Preston. What’s yours?”

Preston waited patiently as the dude reloaded two shells with shaky fingers, then fired right at Preston’s chest point blank, this time managing to blow apart a hanging potted plant behind him, at which point he retreated into the house.

There was a long silence, and then Danny just laughed.

“What?” Preston demanded.

“You scared him off, dude. “So… where do we need to be now?”

“I have no idea,” Preston said. “Maybe with my mother?”

“She’s not our moth — ”

“Fake mother, shut up, asshole,” Preston said.

“Okay, okay,” Danny replied. “So which way is that?”

“Follow me,” Preston explained, grabbing Danny’s wrist and Peter-Panning his ass all the way to the cemetery in Glendale… only to find the place empty. Well, not empty. It was full of corpses. They just didn’t see any Rêves around, of any class.

“Notice anything strange?” Danny asked.

“No,” Preston said. “Beyond the lack of visitors.

“Ground’s dry. Everything is.”

“So?” Preston asked.

“You saw the mess the storm left out there. Mud all over the place, some streets still flooded, everything still a little wet.”

“I’m still a little wet,” Preston said, unable to resist.

“Shut up,” Danny replied. “You remember that big flood back home in the summer of ‘10?”

“No,” Preston explained sadly.

“Great, whatever. My point is, during that flood, the cemetery out on Highway 52 was covered with water, and a lot of the graves got washed out. They were finding coffins all over the place for months.”

“Oh. Now I remember,” Preston said.

Danny gestured. “And yet, here…?”

Nothing was out of place, and the ground was still solid, all tombstones intact.

“Weird,” Preston said. “Maybe the flood didn’t get up this far.”

“You didn’t notice the road outside, did you?”

“Oh, right…”

“So what do you think happened?” Preston asked, warily.

“We both already know,” Danny explained to him. “We saw the storm, and what was causing it. There was nothing natural about it. I think it was an act of self-defense.”

“Self-defense, or war?” Preston pondered.

“I guess that definition will depend on who ultimately wins,” Danny said. “Who’s fighting, anyway?”

“Well, we know that the main enemy is some crazy mad scientist from Pasadena,” Preston explained. “What we don’t know is how the classes of Rêve are going to split up.”

“Wait… classes of what?” Danny asked, and Preston sighed.

“Oh, shit, right. I guess no one had a chance to explain this to you. Sit down. This is going to take a bit.”

Danny sat on the marble cenotaph that guarded the buried corpse that he and Preston shared, and then Preston launched into an explanation of what the Rêves were, and how they broke into classes.

The what, as far as they knew, was that they were not ghosts, but rather psychic “echoes” made manifest by human memories. But how close those echoes resembled the originals depended on two factors.

The first: How well did the living beings doing the remembering actually know them in life?

The second: How many living beings remembered them in any capacity, whether they knew them or not?

And so, the three classes.

“What it basically breaks down to is this,” Preston explained. “If you died with a lot of friends and family who knew you, and if they made it a point to commemorate your memory or pass on your stories in any way, then you wind up Class I — an echo of your true self who pretty much remembers your actual life. That’s why recent arrivals are Class I, after all!”

“So I’m not Class I,” Danny pouted, “Since my whole family wants to forget me.”

“Fuck ‘em,” Presteon said. “Now, Class II are the ones remembered by a lot of people who never met them and who died long enough ago that people only know them through cultural artifacts… movies, books, songs, whatever. Or, in other words, celebrities. They come back the farthest from themselves because they can only come back from what people who never knew them experienced of them.”

“But what about a celebrity who died last week?” Danny asked.

“I’m getting to that,” Preston said. “Hey, you met the Marx Brothers, right?”

“Oh, yeah, right. Not helpful at all.”

“Of course. They would have been in real life, but the echoes you met all came from their films. And you didn’t meet Gummo or Zeppo, did you?”

“Nah. Just the big three — ”

“The Groucho, the Chico, and the Holy Harpo,” Preston said.

“Wow. But, yeah.”

“The last of them died almost fifty years ago, so there aren’t a lot of humans left who knew any of them. So, there you go. Class II. But every Class II started as a Class III for one simple reason.”

“Social climbing?” Danny offered.

Preston laughed. “No, silly. Because even famous people tend to die while they still have a lot of friends and family left behind. So when people die with a lot of people who knew them really well in person and a lot of people who didn’t know them well by proxy, they wind up as Class III.”

“That sounds like a demotion.”

“Apparently there were a lot of politics behind creating the designations. Don’t ask… Fake Mom told me. Anyway, These Rêves are in a weird unique position, because they can remember both their private lives and their public ones, and switch back and forth. Ironically, even though they’re Class III, they are probably most in control of their echoes.”

“So, you’re Class III, then?” Danny asked.

“Actually, no. I am Class II, since most of the people who remembered me never met me, but only knew my porn persona. Why the fuck do you think I keep showing up nude, dude? The same reason you probably saw the Marx Brothers in full costume. This was my costume.”

“Okay, but… what if nobody remembers someone? What happens to them?”

“That one, I have no idea,” Preston said. “I’ve never heard of a Class IV. Although if you’re here because I remember you, I guess that technically you’d be Class I.”

“But if I remember you…” Danny started.

“How can you?” Preston countered. “You didn’t live through my porn career —”

“The hell I didn’t,” Danny cut in. “Who the fuck do you think was there the whole fucking time? And yes that pun was intended.”

“I…” Preston hesitated, then looked into Danny’s eyes, and suddenly everything came crashing back as far as he could remember, and he could remember back to staring at the mobile of pink and yellow stars spinning above his crib and hearing screaming and slapping.

Meanwhile, Danny flashed forward from the moment he’d submitted his proof of age documents — a moment that his old mind had kind of put down the shutters to indicate “You died here,” and suddenly rocketed through Preston’s entire porn career and up until his death.

And damn if he didn’t love every second of the ride.

And Preston got to re-experience everything he had lived from the ignition of consciousness until he signed that contract, and damn if he didn’t love every second of the ride.

When they both snapped out of it, they just looked at each other with new admiration and a stronger sense of security that told them, “You are two separate entities.”

“So… what class are we now?” Danny asked just before Preston did.

“Fuck if I know,” Preston replied.

Then, there was a sudden blast of white light from the Chanler mausoleum, and Anabel strode out, lighting flashing around her hair, and she looked pissed as fuck as she strode right to… she didn’t even know what to think of them as any more. Surely not her sons.

“What did you do?” she demanded.

Danny and Preston stared at her, looked to each other, then back to her and laughed.

“What do you mean, mommy?” Danny asked in a fake-innocent voice.

“I mean that you are upending the order of things at the wrong time!” Anabel shrieked back.

“But wasn’t that your thing, mommy?” Preston replied sarcastically.

“I’m not your mother, you little shits!” Anabel screamed. “And you both know it!” Danny and Preston turned to each other, smiled, and fist-bumped.

“Yeah. We know,” they said in unison.

“So… which side do you want us on?” Danny asked.

“Mine!” she replied.

“Sure,” Preston said, “But you’ll have to win us over. And keep one other thing in mind.”

“What’s that?” Anabel spat back.

“Well, it’s a real riddle,” Preston explained. “What class are we in?”

“That hardly matters,” Anabel said. “Two of you cannot outnumber the rest.”

“No?” Preston asked. “Here’s another way to put it. What if one or the both of us no longer fits into any of your three Classes?”

“That is impossible!” Anabel replied.

“Is it?” Preston asked. “For one thing, I’ve now moved up to Class I, thanks to Danny.”

“Who the hell is this ‘Danny,’ anyway?” Anabel demanded.

“Me. Only he died out here unremembered. And he managed to pick up one little detail from, oddly enough, a Class II, that meant nothing to him until, well, we remembered each other, and it’s this one… and it’s a nice puzzle, really.”

“Spare me your puzzles and choose a side!” Anabel demanded.

“Cool your panties, ‘Mom’,” Preston ordered her. So, we all know how the three Classes of Rêve work, right? Remembered personally, only remembered from fame, or combo. But there’s that awkward other one… not remembered by anyone, and generally commended to nature. Yeah, I think that happens to be right in the middle of Pearl’s territory.”

“What are you trying to say?” Anabel spat.

“Um… I just combined the actual person I used to be with the force you fear the most, thereby proving that there is another Class beyond the three, although calling Pearl’s domain Class IV would be really, really bad form.”

“Stop saying — ” Anabel commanded.

“What?” Preston replied pointedly. “Pearl?”

“How dare you!” Anabel shrieked, but Preston just smiled and laughed.

“Sorry, Mommy,” he said. “What did you expect? I think the game we’re playing here is like chess and gay life. It takes one Queen to defeat another.”

“Stop calling me Mommy, you son of a bitch!” Anabel hissed at him.

That was when they all noticed that the wind had kicked up, creating a slight whistle. Preston suddenly sensed a presence, as if hundreds of warm arms embraced him and he felt he a flow of positive thoughts, as if an endless line of people were marching by to greet him, saying, “You’re going to be okay.”

Then he heard the voice in the rustle of the grass, “Preston, Preston” it seemed to say.

“Yes?” he and Danny both said out loud, and both of them sensed a hint of confusion in the presence around them.

A woman appeared before them, and Preston assumed that this had to be Pearl, or some physical manifestation of the thing Anabel had described as a vast collective. She actually reminded them both a little bit of their real mother back in Idaho, little knowing that the original Pearl was from Southeast Texas, but was in fact a second cousin, once removed, of their mother’s.

She studied the two of them, raising a warning arm to Anabel before she could say a word, then Pearl circled them, completely intrigued.

“This is certainly new,” she said. “Not unexpected, it’s just that we’ve never seen it happen.” She pointed at Danny. “You should be one of us,” she said, before pointing at Preston. “And you should be part of that shallow celebrity class that has decided to turn against us.”

She seemed to be almost beaming as she turned things over in her mind. “But each of you is something completely different,” she explained.

She looked at Danny and told him, “You combine a Class I Rêve with one of us, Las Hadas Silvestres, or Pearl, if you will.” She turned to Preston, “And you managed to somehow go from Class II via Class III to pure Class I but strictly on his memories of you. You’re no longer a celebrity echo.”

“I’m Danny, by the way,” Danny explained.

“And Preston,” Preston added.

“Pearl,” Pearl replied. “But this is about to become a war zone, so we’d best do what they did in London before the blitz.”

“Oh, don’t you — ” Anabel started, but Pearl, not even looking at her, knocked her twenty feet back to land on her ass with a gesture.

“We need to evacuate to the countryside, and you two need to meet your real family. Ready?”

They both nodded and Pearl took their hands. The next thing they knew, they were standing in a clearing somewhere in the woods. Preston recognized it as Big Bear. He’d made a couple of films up here back in the day — Lumber Jack-offs, Bears in the Woods, and one of his favorites, Night on Bone Mountain, which actually managed to be artsy. Come to think of it, those were about half of all the actual films he had made. Winston had been right — nobody really wanted full-length story porn anymore.

He wondered briefly whether Anabel had seen any of them, although he was pretty sure she hadn’t.

All that Anabel had seen as she sat up, royally pissed, was Pearl taking the boys’ hands and then the three of them vanishing in a black wisp, like a puff of smoke blown up a chimney to quickly dissipate in the sky.

Her scream sent every bird within three miles scattering frantically into the air, and set dogs to barking as far away as China Town.

Image: Daniel Lobo, (CC) BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

* * *

The Saturday Morning Post #39: The Rêves, Part 17

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.

Double Indemnity

The ticking of the analog wind-up mantel clock had been annoying, but at least it had kept time. Ausmann had set it to his phone soon after he and Coraline had locked themselves into the panic room, and the sales rep who had set this whole place up for him had assured him that it would be accurate to within ten seconds per month, although he should never have to stay down here that long.

It also displayed day and date, and it was just one of the extra analog features that the rep, Charles, had talked Ausmann into.

He didn’t see the point, but Charles had been very convincing. “What if all of the power goes out and you use up your battery back-up as well?” he explained. “For one thing, you can’t open the door to get out, so might as well call it your tomb.”

“But if the lights go out, how do I even find the damn door?” Ausmann scoffed.

“Ah, you see my point!” Charles beamed. “So, you need to add in the fail-safe Kerosene lamps. Only two of them, but the design is so clever, it’ll knock your socks off.”

“Okay, tell me. I’ll bite.”

“Great!” Charles replied, scrolling on his tablet to bring up the sales page. “Hard-wired into the electrics with a magnet holding a pulley and striker as long as it’s powered. Lamp is pre-filled, but also vacuum-sealed so that the oil is guaranteed not to evaporate for at least forty years.”

“So how much is it?” Ausmann asked.

“Worth every penny!” Charles replied perkily. “So, the power goes. You’re in complete darkness. But… when the power goes, the magnets turn off, and the pulley drops. Two things happen. One, at the top it triggers a hammer that breaks the glass on top of the lantern which unseals the vacuum. The sudden pressure difference sucks that oil right up to wet the wick. About two seconds later, the striker hits the flint, you get a spark, and boom… Light like great-great-grandma knew it.”

“Really?” Ausmman asked.

“Really!” Charles beamed back. “I’m kind of proud of this one because my brother invented it, but at eight hundred bucks per unit installed, it’s worth it.”

“What if I have a 29 cent box of matches?” Ausmann asked.

“Only if you can find them in the dark, but then you have one hand full,” Charles replied. “If you buy two units, one for each side of the exit door, it really cuts down the cost, because the major expense is installation — so it’s nine-fifty for two.”

“And how much for three?” Ausmann asked.

“Eleven hundred,” Charles replied, adding, “But, honestly, you don’t need three. These are basically just emergency exit lights.”

“I see,” Ausmann said, impressed that Charles had discouraged a sale, so trusting him more — never realizing that this was exactly as Charles had planned. “What about these other… what did you call them?”

“Analog fail-safes,” Charles said.

“Right. That. Why do I need them?”

“Like I said,” Charles went on. Worst case scenario, you lose all contact with the outside, you have no idea whether it’s safe to leave. So… what happens if you open the door with… oh. I see you don’t have that feature.”

“What feature?” Ausmann asked.

“Well, again, if all power fails and such, well, the door model you ordered is a mechanical lock instead of magnetic. A magnetic lock would fail along with the power but it’s also not the most secure, for obvious reasons. But a mechanical lock works by physically dropping pistons into hollow cylinders bolted to the doors. You’ve seen how a door hinge works, right?”

“Uh… I guess?” Ausmann replied.

“Yeah, you know, it’s that brass thing, one side has two open cylinders, so does the other, stick ‘em both together like linking your fingers, then drop a bolt down the hole. Boom. They aren’t coming apart.”

“But a hinge is how you open a door, right?” Ausmann asked.

“Right,” Charles replied, “But if you put it on the other side, it’s also how you lock a door. Now the analog version of this one is actually cheap and simple. All it requires is that we drill a shaft under that piston on the locking side, sheer off the flat-top on the piston, and then add in a hidden slider cover that you can open with a crank on the inside.”

“I… I’m not sure what you’re describing,” Ausmann said.

“Sure,” Charles replied, again scrolling on his tablet to bring up a diagram of the thing, and it really was that simple. Drop a rod in place to lock the door, use electricity and a magnet to haul it back up into its cubby on the first floor to unlock.

Without that electromagnetic hauling capacity, then the only way to unlock the door was to create a trap door beneath the cylinder in order to drop it into a shaft below the basement and release the hinges.

The price on this one wasn’t all that ridiculous, either. Charles set it at five hundred bucks if Ausmann agreed to a steel rod with an iron cap instead of pure copper.

By this point, Ausmann was realizing that all of these extras added nothing, not when he’d already agreed to a mid-six-figure price for the entire job. So the addition of what Charles described as “Your last, best line of defense” at three grand was a no-brainer.

This was basically a set of sensors using very old-school analog methods and with likewise analog readouts in order to inform anyone in the panic room whether it was safe to come out.

The instruments would indicate whether the basement hallway was flooded or not, what the ambient temperature was, whether there was sufficient oxygen or any toxic gases, current weather conditions above ground, and whether any other human-sized creatures were lurking about upstairs or on the grounds.

“That last one is only a caution and should never be a reason for not leaving after a few days,” Charles warned Ausmann. “They could be bad guys, but those don’t like to stick around, so they’re more likely rescuers. So just exit carefully and armed, but be slow to shoot.”

Remarkably, all of this analog sensing was all done through a series of rubber hoses, copper tubes, and valves and diaphragms attached to brass and glass instruments that looked like something out of a Jules Verne novel.

Ironically, this was long before Ausmann met and hired Joshua and Simon, but the two of them would have been quite at home with this. Or pretend to be.

And when the storm and a day had passed, the room went dark and the Kerosene lamps had lit themselves, Coraline woke with a start and hurried to the door, punching in her code with no result.

Ausmann hurried over and stopped her. “Relax!” he demanded. “Stand back.” He opened the brass panel over the analog sensors and peered at the readouts — which were luminescent. Everything looked absolutely nominal and safe.

“Well, then,” he said, “Coraline, my dear, you may proceed.”

He reached down to the floor to the right of the door and turned the wheel which looked like it belonged on a submarine. After a few turns, he heard a tell-tale “thud” to the left of the door.

“There you go,” he said. “Give it a try.”

Coraline grabbed the handle, slid the heavy door to the right, and it opened. She stepped into the dark basement hallway.

Ausmann grabbed one of the Kerosene lamps — that was the other feature he had paid for. They were detachable and portable — then he followed his wife.

The hall was a mess, open to the sky, fallen timber and floorboards everywhere, and it was almost impassable. And then inspiration hit.

Well, that and something else.

He grabbed a fallen 2×4, set down the lantern, then took advantage of the lack of ceiling and his college baseball career to raise it far over his head and then crack it down on Coraline’s skull.

It only took one hit to send her to the ground, at which point he picked up the lantern, carefully set the weapon against the wound, stepped around the body, then did what he could to kick and shake some more debris on down, finding a couple of really heavy chunks to drop directly on her skull with his arms raised over his head.

He took no chances and hung around long enough to make sure that she had absolutely no pulse.

And why not? He thought. He had invested well with Charles, but he had invested better with Carl, his insurance agent, who had sold them double indemnity insurance policies, based entirely on all of the safety shit Charles and company had installed.

Meaning that if Coraline died in an accident that destroyed the house, Ausmann got twice as much. She was worth ten million to him dead under these circumstances and, frankly, she’d been worth not a lot to him for years.

So it had been a win-win, he supposed. That, and the house had been fully insured for well over its market value as well. This little storm had managed to give him both freedom and even more wealth, with which he could probably strike out on his own in order to destroy these pesky Rêves once and for all.

He briefly considered how he would eventually explain to authorities how his wife had died in the basement hallway while he had survived, then decided he didn’t need to. He’d explain that he’d been at his lab under JPL but, unfortunately, he couldn’t provide any of the logs because his work was top secret.

He could just drive there and no one would ever know otherwise. He already knew that the whole place had been evacuated because of the storm. That was one of the last texts he had gotten before he went into the panic room, and the texts that came piling in after he emerged confirmed that the place would be closed the rest of the week.

There would be no human security around his complex because it wasn’t necessary, and this had also been by Ausmann’s design. He alone could get in without leaving any fingerprints behind, as it were.

What he didn’t know, though, until he’d come above ground and walked to what was left of the garage — which wasn’t much — was that he wouldn’t be driving, because both his car and his wife’s SUV resembled a photograph taken from above with a telephoto lens — flat and dimensionless.

Also, useless.

“Fuck,” he muttered under his breath. And Simi was full of cops, so he really had to get out without being noticed in order to establish his alibi. Fortunately, he’d been paranoid enough to have set up a complete second set of ID and a pre-paid and untraceable debit card that he had funded with cash deposits over the years. That would get him to where he needed to be without being tracked on the grid, but there was that other issue of appearance.

He headed back down to the Panic Room, realizing that the only reason the kerosene lamps had come on was that he had forgotten to switch on the battery back-ups in the first place. Once he did that, the lights came back and he headed into the bathroom.

He looked at his face in the mirror, and his long-cultivated hair, goatee and moustache, all of which would make him stick out like a sore thumb.

“No time to be sentimental,” he thought as he grabbed the clippers from the bag in the cabinet, tapped the switch to make sure they were charged, turned them off, and then pulled off the guard.

He couldn’t risk even leaving a little length, lest the skunk-stripe in his hair flag him. He took a deep breath, turned the clippers on, and then started shearing.

It took longer than he thought, and by the end of it the pile of hair on the floor was incredible. He probably could have knit an entire suit out of it. He left his eyebrows intact, but looked into the mirror to realize a few things.

One — it had been far too long since he’d seen his upper lip or chin. The former seemed way bigger than he’d remembered it, while the latter seemed smaller. And the obvious tan lines on both the top his head and the bottom of his face stood out — he’d have to do something about that.

The other thing was that his head appeared much bigger than he’d ever thought it was, and his ears were huge. He stared at his reflection, then laughed.

“Holy shit, I’m fucking Lex Luthor,” he said. “Thank god I’m not up against Superman.”

He wondered what to do about the obvious tan line, then went to his late wife’s medicine cabinet and started digging through it until he found a bottle labeled “Liquid Foundation.” He remembered that word from somewhere, although whether it was Coraline complaining about running out of it or one of his many mistresses asking him to buy them some, he could not remember.

All he knew was that it was a woman’s ultimate secret — literally the foundation upon which was built the lie of their appearance.

Well, that was how Ausmann saw it, anyway. He never saw how men like him were part of the problem that made that necessary in the first place.

But he opened the bottle, squeezed it, and started with a little smear of a kind of thick and gooey beige splat on top of his head that had a very faint and oddly greasy smell. He started to spread it around, and then continued adding foundation and spreading it around until he’d covered the top of his head, then his forehead, nose, and cheeks, finally down his face to his chin, and his neck.

To him, he wasn’t trying to do anything fancy, just hide the lack of tan. But when he was done, he realized that he had a new problem.

Everything was too uniform. He looked like a mannequin. And sure, that wouldn’t be obvious running around the streets of Simi Valley.

He wondered what to do, then he remembered something he’d heard once and had been appalled by — lots of young women were making a fortune on YouTube by doing make-up tutorials.

Well, the survivalist’s motto was “Do what you have to,” so he gave a command to his phone that he never thought he would in a million years. “Make-up tutorials.”

He was soon presented with tens of thousands of options, most of which seemed to be aimed toward creating Glamazons, male and female.

Sure, that might be the best disguise of all for Ausmann, but no way in hell he’d go there in a million years. He tried refining it by adding “that don’t make me look like a mannequin,” and the first three results that popped up looked promising.

He skipped the first two, though. Number one was a woman trying to, as she put it, “Teach you plain Janes to glow up!” Number two was a gay dude with the tag line, “I finna make you bitches fierce.”

The third, though, seemed up his alley, because there didn’t seem to be any glamor involved. They (those were the only pronouns displayed, to which Ausmann thought “Okay…”) went by the name Estar. Not Ester, or Lester, but Estar.

And looking at… them, Ausmann really wasn’t sure whether it was a man or a woman, but the lesson started out with, “Okay, you cholas and jotas, you want to butch up and go Drag King, vamanos!”

He kept watching these videos for three or four hours, and learned all kinds of tricks until he finally managed to use his wife’s make-up and Estar’s advice to turn his face into something that could kind of pass as a much younger man. The big secrets were blush and blending.

But at the same time, Estar’s video’s had been full of asides and advice from actor friends, and so Ausmann got a completely different lesson beyond “Change your face with make-up.” It was “Change your entire personality with your body.”

By the time he’d finished his face and didn’t even recognize himself in the mirror, he started hunting through his and Coraline’s emergency wardrobe closets for items that would most disguise a skinny 6’5” guy, and wound up settling on a down vest to pad out his body underneath an extra-large T-shirt. Baggy pants that allowed him to walk with his knees bent to reduce his apparent height, all of it hidden by a long overcoat which helped complete the effect.

He also stooped his shoulders and practiced not making eye-contact and mumbling. He topped his head with a baseball cap into which he had glued and sewn his own hair, although nowhere near as long as it had been and leaving out the white stripe. He burned the rest of the hair in the bathtub and rinsed down the ashes. Wow, did that make a stink.

All of this had been advice that he’d gotten online, and he was seriously considering recruiting Estar and their friends to work for the government, because he had gotten an amazing course in espionage for free, and none of these kids even knew it.

If he ran into trouble, a quick duck around a corner and he could ditch the hat and hair and padding, stand up straight, walk the other way, and not be noticed by his pursuers.

Happy with his look, Ausmann checked for any last-minute texts from work, found none, and headed up. Making sure that nobody was looking, he quickly hit the sidewalk and started walking west, checking other apps of his to see whether there was any active police chatter in the area.

Oddly enough, there wasn’t. So he kept walking, doing his best to impersonate some Gen-Z douchebag, at least until he could get to a point where he could hop a ride all the way to JPL.

* * *
Image Source: Boone County Fire Protection District in Joplin (MO), used unchanged and licensed under (CC BY 2.0).

The Saturday Morning Post #38: The Rêves, Part 16

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.

Another garden

It obviously wasn’t a work or school day for anyone after the storm, although the internet was still up at the house, so Brenda and Jonah retired to their respective home offices to check in and see what was going on.

Meanwhile, Esme took Samuel and Malia on a tour of the front and back yards respectively to figure out what had been lost and damaged.

Brenda got the news almost immediately via a county bulletin: All Metro lines were closed, buses and at-grade trains due to extensive flooding, and the entire subway system due to even worse flooding. Drivers, station workers, and the like were put on furlough with full emergency pay until further notice.

Meanwhile, people like Brenda were only expected to keep tabs of their email, and consider themselves on-call.

That wonderful delusion ended ten minutes after she logged on that afternoon, when she got a text from Rita.

“URGENT!” it said. “Call me ASAP, away from earshot.”

“Damn,” Brenda said as she grabbed her cell and headed outside and down the street. At least they hadn’t gotten any flooding up here on top of the hill.

After she’d walked a block, she dialed Rita, who picked up immediately. “Hit me,” she said.

“Remember that project I mentioned? The one we wanted you to run?”

“Yeah, don’t remind me,” Brenda said. “What?”

“Well, somebody seems to think they got it on good authority that this little, um… weather anomaly is a direct result of the entities that they wanted to task you all with hunting down.”

“Oh, hell no,” Brenda said, but Rita continued.

“Plus, missy, it’s been booted up to state level. Direct report to the Governor hisself, and they are considering creating a state cabinet position for it right now.”

“Look, I have no idea what caused that storm, okay?” Brenda said. “You’re asking the wrong person.”

“Right. You still haven’t come through with your two little steam-punk boys — ”

“Rita, they are grown-ass men. Don’t talk about them like that.”

“Are you sassing me?”

“If that’s some kind of boss to employee threat, you really shouldn’t make it in the same breath that you’re offering me a job that will bounce me five hundred steps above your ass, should you?” Brenda replied. There was a long pause.

“Lordie,” Rita finally said, “You damn well better take this one, girl. It could see you as governor in four years.”

“I don’t want to be the governor,” Brenda snapped back. “I don’t want to save the world. I just want to enjoy the career I’ve got, be the best mother I can to my kids, and keep my family together and happy. Understand?”

“Understood. But last I heard, when weird supernatural forces were out to destroy the world with apocalyptic storms, the best way to keep a family together and happy was to go out and defeat that shit. And you and your team — and yes, I mean those gay boys — are the ones to do it. Do you understand?”

“I don’t even know where to — ”

“Stop,” Rita said. “I just emailed you their address. And, tell you what. I’ll forget your sass and all that if you don’t take the position, but I would very much appreciate it if you could get both of them on a Zoom call with me within, oh, say… forty-eight hours.”

“What?” Brenda shot back. “You don’t have their email or number?”

“Oddly enough,” Rita replied, “No.”

“And the city is flooded and shut down,” Brenda reminded her, “So how the hell am I supposed to get to them?”

“If you figure that one out,” Rita replied, “I’ll knock you up three paygrades.”

She hung up and Brenda restrained herself from tossing her phone into the street, but not from shouting, “Bitch!”

“Bren?”

That’s when she turned to see that Esme and the kids were in the front yard, probably not close enough to have heard the conversation, but close enough to have heard the aftermath.

“Oh, hi, Mom!” she said. “Didn’t see you there. How are you doing?”

“Fine,” Esme replied. “And you? Don’t answer. Kids, go inside and write down all the stuff we found wrecked. Your parents will need to know.”

Samuel and Malia nodded and ran inside. Esme walked out into the street to Brenda.

“Spill that tea?” she said.

“Oh, Mom,” Brenda replied, “How can an offer come along that is just so unbelievably incredible and yet totally fucked up at the same time?”

Esme just laughed. “Dear, that is the kind of thing that happens all the time. Let’s take a little walk, see what’s up with the neighborhood, and discuss it, okay?”

Brenda just nodded. Esme held her daughter’s arm as they started a long, slow stroll through the neighborhood.

Meanwhile, Jonah had found out that it was going to be business as usual, albeit remotely until streets were cleared. He was suddenly strangely grateful for everything they had learned during the plague, which hadn’t stopped any of his company’s construction projects at all while sending all of the designers and draftspeople off to work from home, which had actually become mostly the norm since then.

He pulled up a current design for low-income housing his firm was working on to be built on the west side. Nothing fancy, just a wood-frame block of flats, designed to accommodate a lot of families and rent cheap, something the developers were only willing to do with a heavy government handout, of course.

Every time Jonah heard one of these fat cats privately bitch about being forced to “put up welfare queens and their broods,” as they would say when they thought he wasn’t in ear-shot, the more he just wanted to punch them out, but he restrained his anger.

The biggest welfare queens were these same rich bitches who lobbied to get their property taxes cut to practically nothing, get gigantic subsidies on utilities, publicly complained about “illegals” while using nothing but undocumented immigrants on their construction crews — paying them way below what union workers would have gotten — and quite often grabbed up choice pieces of land via eminent domain, never mind that it was already covered with apartments with people who couldn’t afford to move anywhere else in the city when they got evicted.

“Motherfuckers,” Jonah often muttered under his breath. His firm had tried to do it different, but it was so difficult being in a profession that had to deal with the City Council and County Board of Supervisors, who were all some of the most corrupt people Jonah had ever met.

He had often considered running for office, but then wondered if the mere process of campaigning and getting elected turned out to be a deal with the devil, so he decided to do what he could from the inside, and last night’s storm suddenly threw a red flag in front of his face as he looked at the plans for the Sepulveda Arms Apartments.

On paper — at least in words — they looked amazing. It was a series of eight six-story buildings, arranged on three acres, with three buildings fronting their long sides on the north-south streets, and three fronting their short sides along the east-west side streets, a city block in front and a half block on the sides. The building sized gap in the middle was intended to create urban park land, with a swimming pool, community areas, and so on.

But… translate those words on paper to plans on a blueprint that an architect could read, and Jonah suddenly saw how this would not do at all.

First off, it violated the two golden rules of L.A. construction that had been learned through many earthquakes: “Thou shalt not build between four and eight stories, for such heights doth shake most mightily.”

The other rule: “Thou shalt not build the car stables beneath such housings, lest they fall into the ground even more mightily.”

In other words, four to eight story buildings with underground parking were the absolute worst things you could possibly build in L.A., especially for residential property.

But there was more, and again the storm had armed Jonah perfectly for it. If the flooding and winds and everything else were a harbinger of things to come because of climate change, a place like Sepulveda Arms would blow over in a New York minute.

They were designed for a temperate climate with little rain or wind and no thunderstorms, and he noticed that the bid used the cheapest of materials for the walls, windows, and doors. Anything resembling a mere tropical storm would take the façade off of the place in a second, not to mention flood the garages beneath.

He marked up all of his issues on the digital blueprints, wrote out his concerns, then sent it back to the design committee.

Meanwhile, Esme and Brenda had walked for a while in silence before Esme finally said, “My rose garden is gone.”

“Oh, Mom,” Brenda replied. “I’m so sorry.”

“So are the children’s herb and vegetable garden.”

“Oh no. Are they okay?”

“Yes,” Esme said. “I talked to them, and we all agreed. Flowers and vegetables and herbs will grow wherever you plant them, and if they get torn up in one place, you can always take them to another.”

“I don’t want to move my garden,” Brenda replied. “My roots are here. My family.”

“Why would you have to move?” Esme asked.

“Rita is hinting that they’re going to offer me a state job. One with a much higher profile.”

“And a lot more money, I hope,” Esme added.

“It’s not always about money, Mom,” she said. “Although Rita did hint at that. But I don’t want to move to Sacramento. Sure, it’s the state capital, but it’s a provincial little shithole.”

“Well, they can’t move the capital to L.A. But why would you have to move, anyway?”

“I’d expect that my office would be there.”

“You know offices don’t mean a thing anymore,” Esme explained. “You just need a place to be on those rare occasions when you have to go up there in person. Make your deal right, and those could be as rare as you wanted.”

“I suppose,” Brenda answered. “And maybe I’m just over-reacting. I mean, Rita did say ‘considering,’ not ‘offering.’”

“Your boss with Metro?”

“Right.”

“So why is she offering you a state job when she’s county?”

“She’s not, Mom. She’s just the messenger.”

“I didn’t even know the state had anything like the Metro. Oh — is it high-speed rail?” Esme asked.

“No. Actually, it’s about what caused the storm.”

Esme stopped walking and looked at Brenda with an expression of happy shock. She covered her mouth and stared for a beat. Then, “Oh my lord, dear. You mean figuring out what caused it?”

“We know what caused it. This has to do with keeping it from happening again.

“That is amazing news, actually,” Esme gushed. “Moving from working the subways to saving the environment? How can you say no?”

“It’s not exactly saving the — ”

“Brenda, if you don’t take a job like that where you can directly save the planet, then I will kick your ass. Understand?”

Brenda just sighed. This hadn’t turned out very helpful. “Let’s go home, Mom,” she said. “The kids are probably starving.”

“Lord knows, I am,” Esme answered with a laugh, but Brenda suddenly wasn’t in the mood.

* * *

Anabel v Jezebel

The usual collection of Class II old school stars had gathered again — this time quite openly at Hollywood Forever, and they brought a few more folk along with them. Naturally, Bette held court as Bette was wont to do, but for some reason decided to go full-on Baby Jane Hudson mode today.

“So now you see what those goddamn faeries want to do to us,” she bellowed in fine form.

“You shouldn’t call them that,” Marilyn intoned, in her more demure character from Bus Stop.

“It’s what they call themselves, you stupid slut,” Bette shot back. “Las hadas. That is literally ‘the faeries’ in Spanish. And their full name for themselves is the savage faeries — ”

“More like just the wild faeries,” someone called out. It was Ritchie Valens, who technically hadn’t been invited, but unfortunately was technically qualified, since he was Class III.

“Who the hell let that beaner in?” a voice called out, and everyone turned to see that it was Harold Lloyd, then turned as another voice boomed out.

“Unfucking cool, asshole,” a voice called out and while most of the old school crew didn’t recognize him, they still recognized that he was one of them.

“And who might you be?” Lloyd asked.

“A musician, like Ritchie here,” he replied. “He’s never heard of me either, but he certainly had an influence on me and my band. My name is Johnny Ramone,” he said. “I’m buried right over there, and I will not tolerate any second class racist fuckheads spouting that shit off, no matter who they thought they were when they were alive. ¿Comprende?”

“Don’t you know who I am?” the pasty-faced spirit demanded.

“Yeah,” Johnny replied. “Same as me. You are fucking dead and, honestly, the number of living people who remember you is going to shrink really rapidly really fast, so don’t get cocky.”

“I don’t appreciate your language, young man,” Lloyd spat back.

“And I don’t appreciate you being a hateful cunt trapped in your generation.”

Lloyd just stared at the young apparition with the woman’s hair and leather jacket, then sank back down. Meanwhile, Bette felt total admiration and Rudolph felt total lust.

“You were saying?” Johnny turned to Bette and she suddenly morphed into her character from Jezebel, red dress and all.

“What I was saying,” she continued, “Is that there is a plot against us, and it’s led by those people who still have direct connections to the living world. You know the ones. Class I. Hah! Little people, never famous, only remembered by their families. And they have put themselves in league with the… what did you call them, Mr. Valens?”

“Las hadas selvajes,” Ritchie replied.

“Right, that. The ones who died without even anyone remembering them, and who were scattered to the four winds and… look what they managed to do. This storm? This scourge that swept the city? That was them, and it was fully backed by the Class I Rêves… traitors… like Anabel.”

This got the crowd grumbling even as it kept growing, and some of the newest members who were Class III — famous but remembered by loved ones as well — started to pop up.

It was starting to feel like an Oscar “In Memoriam” reel, actually, but maybe that was encouraging.

“So what do we do?” Bette called out. “How do we stop it?” she demanded, but the crowd just looked back at her blankly.

Finally, Marilyn piped up, doing her shtick from All About Eve, in which she was a mere bit player in a Bette Davis tour de force. “We have to ally with the ones who keep us here,” she intoned breathily.

“Exactly!” Bette agreed.

“The living humans,” Marilyn continued.

“Amen!” Bette shouted, and the crowd assented.

They really didn’t need to take an official vote, but it was decided. Anabel and any of her allies — all of the Hadas, all Class I, and any traitorous Class III’s — were now considered enemies. This put the Class III’s who were present in the awkward situation of throwing their lot in with the Class II’s right now, or fleeing without being attacked.

But before any of them could make a decision, a stream of black mist came flying into the meeting and manifested itself as a woman. Well, at least the top half of one, everything below her waist hovering above the ground on a column of black smoke.

“Trust humans?” she scoffed loudly. “Really? This is what they did to me when I was alive. But that’s nothing compared to what they tried to do to me afterwards.”

“W-w-who are you?” Jimmy asked, back as George Bailey.

“She’s The Black Dahlia,” Johnny explained. “Infamous murder case in the 1940s… but aren’t you buried in the Bay Area?”

“Only my body,” she replied. “But the memories — ”

The crowd erupted in sudden jeers and Johnny approached her. “Yeah, don’t bring that up with this bunch, okay?” He explained. “They don’t like being reminded of… things.”

“Aren’t you one of them?” she asked.

“Yes and no,” he replied. “I’ve barely been here twenty years, so I’m Class III. Why should we not trust the humans?”

“Because they want to enslave us, trap us, and maybe even destroy us.”

A lot of the gathered Class IIIs let out a unanimous horse-laugh on that comment, Ritchie and Johnny notable among the exceptions. Bette stepped forward.

“Oh, really now, child? You think that? No, I think you’re confusing your sad fate at human hands with reality. None of us would still be around if humans did not remember us. Hell, you wouldn’t even be able to manifest so far from your grave without human memory. See how that works?”

This brought a murmur of confusion from a lot of the group.

“What?” Bette replied. “You never paid attention to the rules? We’re here because humans remember us. Those jealous Class I bitches who were never famous want to destroy us. How hard is that to understand?”

“I saw the creation of your kind in this city,” a voice boomed out. “And I realized that it would bring the downfall of humanity, because a lot of undeserving people would become really rich and way too fast.”

There was a murmur among the crowd and then a split as a bunch of them parted like the Red Sea before Moses, looking terrified. Anabel marched through the clearing and to the center, standing to face Bette, who glared back, defiant.

“Now… what were you saying, you bitch?” Anabel continued.

“I worked for my fame,” Bette hissed at her. “Oh, that’s right. I had fame.”

“I had fortune,” Anabel replied. “And I worked for that. A lot harder than you did. Well, because I didn’t do most of my work on my back.”

Bette rushed for her, but Anabel easily held her back without even touching her. “I don’t think you see the problem, Miss Davis. Yes, you’re here because the humans remember you. That is the only reason you are here. And yet, they are the ones who decided to try to wipe us all out. So how can you be on their side?”

“Why are you lying and saying they want to wipe us out?” Bette demanded.

“Because they tried to do it to me, and a few others. Haven’t you noticed any of your Class gone missing in the last couple of months?”

“We don’t exactly take roll here,” Bette replied haughtily.

“Maybe you should,” Anabel spat back before turning to the crowd. “It’s war all right,” she announced. “But I am not the enemy, and neither are the Hadas. The enemy are the humans who don’t want us to be remembered, who don’t want us around, and want all of us, but especially Class II, to vanish forever.”

There was a huge murmur from the crowd as Anabel continued.

“The storm?” she said. “That was definitely the Hadas. But it was not aimed at any of us. It was aimed at the humans, as a warning. Maybe they’ll heed it, but I doubt that they will. But if you want to save our kind, then don’t listen to people who are only famous for being famous. Listen to those of us actually in the struggle.”

A double rainbow suddenly appeared in the sky in the distance, with Anabel perfectly centered beneath it and the crowd gasped.

“I’m leaving now and gathering more members for my army. If you want to join me, rest assured that you can follow me out of here with the full protection of the Hadas, and not a single Class II can touch you. Of course, if you’re Class II, you’re also welcome to join. It’s time to fight or die… again.”

Anabel turned and marched out, all eyes watching her, then turning back to Bette, then to each other. There was a moment of confusion and chatter, and then large clumps of the Class III crowd turned and followed Anabel.

Bette bristled. “You’re making a huge mistake!” she shouted out, but she could sense she’d lost a lot of them. Then, some Class II’s started to leave. She was livid, and took on the guise of one of her least known roles, Madame Sin, a direct-to-TV thriller in which she played a possibly Chinese super-villain who actually won.

“You can run but you can’t escape!” she warned them. They didn’t listen.

* * *

The Saturday Morning Post #37: The Rêves, Part 15

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.

Rescue

In the afternoon, the fog hadn’t burned off and it was still raining, although the hail and thunderstorms had stopped. Joshua’s cell rang, which was really unusual — no one called anyone anymore — but he looked at the display and saw that it was Brent, so he answered.

“Uncle Brent,” he said, “How are you and Drew doing? Survive the storm okay?”

“We did,” Brent replied, “We’re fine, although we lost a lemon tree. And you boys?”

“Holding up on the top floor,” Joshua said. “I don’t think we’re going anywhere.”

“Oh, too bad,” Brent said. “We’re downstairs, wondered if you wanted a ride.”

“You’re what? How?” Joshua asked.

“You’ll have to come down to see,” Brent teased.

“So, the flood waters are gone?”

“Oh, no, they’re not. But the fog only comes down to about fifteen feet. So do up your faces, dress warm, put on your hip-waders and get your asses down here.”

“Okay,” Joshua replied. “See you in a few minutes.” He hung up and turned to Simon, who looked completely confused.

“You’re not going to believe this,” Joshua said.

The funniest part was that they actually did own hip-waders, although they had to look around to find them. At one point, Simon had gone through a big fishing phase and Joshua had gone along with it. It wasn’t that he liked fishing. He didn’t. He despised it. But if Simon was there, he didn’t care.

So they dressed warmly, put on the hip-waders, took the stairs down to the lobby and found that it was still flooded up to almost their armpits. Outside, they found Brent and Drew, sitting in the front seat of a goddamn hovercraft.

Oh, it wasn’t one of those full-on military versions, or the kind that ferried passengers commercially. It was about the size of a wide minivan, with an open cockpit and seating for four. Brent was in the driver’s seat, Drew next to him in his usual sun hat.

“Climb aboard,” Brent announced.

“Well fuck me,” Joshua muttered.

“Sssh!” Simon  hissed at him.

Joshua went up the ladder first, then helped pull Simon up, and they took their seats in the back.

“Why do you even have this?” Simon asked.

“Oh, past life,” Brent explained. “Doing biological and environmental impact surveys in the wetlands around here. Also fun for vacations. And this is one of the few electric models.”

“You know how bad the mileage is on the gas ones?” Drew chimed in. “You’re lucky to get eighty miles on a full tank, and that’s a regular car-sized tank.”

“Do you have anywhere in particular you need to go?” Brent continued.

Joshua and Simon looked at each other, not sure.

“Ausmann?” Simon said quietly.

“We should probably avoid him,” Joshua said. “What about Danny and Preston?”

“How are we going to find them?” Simon wondered.

“I’d start with where he’s buried,” Joshua whispered.

“Okay,” Simon agreed.

“This is going to sound weird,” Joshua said, “But can you get us to Forest Lawn Glendale?”

“We can sure give it a try,” Brent replied, and he fired the thing up and started it moving.

Since they were basically sitting on top of an inverted air hockey table with a fan in the back, the thing was a little loud, and the sudden ballooning of the skirt as the craft noticeably lifted was an unexpected noise, a sudden “fwoomp.”

The acceleration was also kind of slow, so they weren’t going all that fast as Brent took them east on South Chandler toward Lankershim. That didn’t really matter, though, because there was no traffic at all. The streets were empty and silent, the sky above about three stories up was solid white, and everything between there and the filthy water in the streets was full of falling mist.

Surprisingly, the traffic lights were still working, although all of the buildings they passed were dark, many of them with busted-out windows.

“Didn’t the news say they shut all the roads?” Simon asked.

“They did,” Brent explained. “Fortunately, I have an exemption.”

He pointed to an official state permit that was laminated in a frame on the dash: California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“I’m still deputized, even if I’m retired,” Brent explained. “So we have permission to be wherever we need to be.”

“Sweet,” Joshua grinned. Of course, he still hadn’t decided whether their single-craft armada was the coolest or most ridiculous thing ever. On the one hand, Drew was huddled in the front wrapped in what looked like a Snuggie, huge floppy sunhat hiding most of his head and face, and Brent was actually wearing a boat captain’s cap with all-white shirt and pants and a pea coat.

Joshua and Simon couldn’t have looked much better, what with their black rubber hip waders covering their lower halves, only to reveal flannel shirts under cable knit sweaters, both of them also wearing elaborately patterned toques.

Then again, there was no one to see them, so Joshua supposed they looked as cool as they wanted to.

Brent turned left on Magnolia, which seemed to be flooded a bit deeper, and then gunned it, and suddenly they were actually moving at decent car speed down the street. It was absolutely the most surreal moment that Joshua and Simon had ever experienced. The worst flooding they had ever seen before in the Valley was when the water backed up to barely cover the sidewalks, with flumes shooting out of overloaded storm drains.

This was something else entirely, and they could only imagine what it was like in the center of the Valley, which was its low point, with a huge public park designed to do double duty as a flood control basin.

But Brent continued eastward down Magnolia, and Joshua and Simon lamented all of the storefronts and businesses that were inundated. This stretch happened to hold a lot of places that had supplied them with their costume bits over the years, as well as a couple that had provided their tech. A lot of them had even managed to survive the plague years, but neither of them knew how they would survive this.

Their favorite costume shop of them all, where they had gotten a lot of custom work done, was inundated right up to the bottom of the marquee sign above its single story.

“Fuck,” Simon muttered as they passed it. Joshua just grabbed his hand and held it tight.

Eventually, they neared the bridge on Magnolia that leapt over the freeway and train tracks — although it was just a raging river down there now — but Brent turned right before they crossed it and headed south on Victory.

This took them past Griffith Park, which was a strangely unaffected island rising above the chaos below, and finally to a point where they crossed over the freeway on a sudden dry stretch and came back down outside of the cemetery gates.

This was the first moment when all of them just kind of did a collective “What?”

The water in the streets here was still about three feet deep, and Forest Lawn didn’t really have any kind of substantial walls around it, just some low brick work and very open wrought iron. And yet… not a drop of the floodwater on the outside spilled over onto the property.

“Oh fuck me sideways,” Simon blurted out. “How the hell is this even possible?”

“Honey, how is anything we’ve seen recently possible?” Joshua replied.

“Bitchin’ Hollywood special effects?” Brent offered.

“There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” Drew explained. “Shall we go in?”

Brent didn’t even wait for an answer. He powered ahead into the cemetery.

“So which dead body are you all looking for?” he asked.

“Who do you think?” Joshua asked.

“I know,” Drew said, and he led Brent right to the red marble cenotaph for the LeCard family, where they parked.

Preston’s marker was there, even though the body under was not him — or at least not the Preston they knew, although they also had no idea whether it was Danny. In either case, neither of them were there.

But someone else was, and she was walking toward them.

“Oh shit,” Simon muttered under his breath, turning to Brent. “You might want to move back a way,” he advised.

“Don’t ask twice,” Brent replied, turning the hovercraft around and moving far down the road.

Meanwhile, Joshua stepped forward boldly, hands raised at the elbows, palms out.

“We come in peace,” he said.

“I think your boss might be dead,” Anabel said.

“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” Joshua replied, and she actually raised an eyebrow.

“Anyway, if he’s dead, wouldn’t he be playing for your team now?” Simon asked.

“Phrasing…” Joshua whispered.

“He only plays for his own team,” she replied. “I… urged him last night to stop doing what he’s doing, but he refused.”

“Isn’t he doing what we’re doing?” Simon asked.

“What do you think he is doing?” Anabel asked.

“Well, I mean, like us, it’s basically catch and release, right? For research?”

“You really think that?”

“It’s what we’ve been led to believe,” Joshua explained.

“He told you that he lets us go when he’s done?” she asked.

“Well, funny thing about Ausmann,” Simon said. “He never really says anything in any straight forward way, but we asked him flat out. ‘Do you make sure that they’re let go unharmed when you’re done with them?’ And he said ‘Yes.’”

Simon hesitated a beat, then sighed. “Aw, fuck.”

“He’s never done with them, is he?” Joshua asked.

“Nope,” Anabel replied.

“So, wait,” Joshua said. “You asked him to stop and he refused, so you killed him — ”

“Not me, but he might be dead — ”

“Right. But if he is dead, doesn’t that pretty much stop him?”

She huffed, put her hands on her hips and gave him a jaundiced look.

“Oh, yeah. I guess not. So… what are you suggesting?”

“I get the impression that you only work for him because you had the necessary skills, but no idea what he was really doing. Correct?”

“Absolutely,” Simon replied.

“So how did you get those skills?” she asked.

Simon and Joshua looked at each other, and then shrugged. “Just a couple of coding nerds who got way too curious after they saw something weird in a subway station,” Simon finally offered.

“When was that?” she asked.

“Early in 2017?” Joshua said, hesitantly. “Something like that.”

“And you saw…?”

“Harold Lloyd,” Simon said. “It was really late at night, and he just wandered down the platform, but there were two things wrong.”

“First, we could kind of see through him,” Joshua said.

“Second,” Simon added, “He had all of his fingers.”

“The real Lloyd didn’t,” Joshua explained.

“We were never the kinds to believe in ghosts or any of that shit,” Simon continued.

“But there we were, looking at a ghost,” Joshua said. “But… if he was a ghost, then why did he have all of his fingers?”

“Which Lloyd, in real life, didn’t.”

“So you decided to start hunting us?” Anabel asked.

“I don’t like the word ‘hunting,’” Simon replied.

“Studying,” Joshua offered. “And since we were both basically retired — well, had been a couple of years — we figured, what the hell, why not use our skills to figure out what was going on?”

“Retired?” Anabel asked, incredulous. “From what?”

Simon and Joshua looked around, both of them making sure that Brent and Drew were far out of earshot.

“Okay. Coding and apps, basically,” Simon said.

“Spies?” Anabel asked.

“No, not spies,” Joshua said. “Making apps for people.”

“Oh, applications?” she replied.

“Yeah,” Simon said. “Those.”

“For… what? Insurance? Mortgages? Jobs…?”

“Oh…” Joshua and Simon said in unison, looking at each other, Simon finally continuing, “When did you… um… you know…”

He gestured vaguely.

“Die?” she asked. “It’s okay, you can use that word. It was in 1926. I am caught up on a lot of things, thank you, but not everything.”

“Ah…” Joshua and Simon said in unison again.

“A hundred years of linguistic evolution — my god, this is a primer for time travel, isn’t it?” Joshua asked Simon, laughing.

“We basically became filthy rich and made a lot of money making…” He paused, bouncing one hand palm up in the other, trying to come up with some way to explain it, looking to Joshua, who was more of a history buff.

“Um… yeah, it’s like… Oh… oh, dammit, no, 1920s, too early.”

“Telegraph?” Simon asked.

“No… home appliances. Crap!” Joshua sighed. “Wait, wait, okay. Kind of got it here, maybe. Phonograph?” he asked, looking to Anabel.

“Yes.”

“Okay… so imagine that phonograph records aren’t just for music, but they can also be used for information and learning. Like, you play a record, and it’s a dictionary or a cookbook or something.”

“Uh… they don’t really do that, but — ”

“We’re getting metaphorical here, okay? Go with me, because here comes the next stretch,” Joshua continued. “Imagine now that you have like a typewriter connected to the phonograph, and you can control what part of the record plays by typing words.”

“All right,” Anabel said. “So then what does it do?”

“So it’s… um a cookbook, and you want to know how to make… beef stroganoff. You type that on the typewriter, the needle searches, and boom. It plays back the one recipe you want. And if you want to get really fancy, we can also make that work over a telephone, too.”

“Dude… that was the single most steampunk thing you’ve ever done,” Simon said.

“Love you too,” Joshua replied.

“So… you make records?” Anabel asked.

“We make… tools!” Joshua finally gushed when he landed on the right word. “And while the tools of our time may be things that you can’t possibly understand, men in your time were doing the same thing and making the same kind of money and so, yeah, we both retired right around thirty.”

“Anyway, that’s why we had the ability to create all the stuff we use to identify and track and… study your kind.” Simon offered. “We were already working with portable super computers, so why not take it up another notch?”

“I underestimated you,” Anabel said. “Here, I thought you were just a couple of Ausmann’s underlings, willing to do his bidding. But if I understand correctly, you don’t need him or this job at all.”

“That would be one hundred percent,” Joshua replied.

“Well, then,” she said, “Maybe we can make a deal, and you can help us stop him — ”

“If he’s not dead,” Simon offered.

“Right. Let me rephrase that, then,” Anabel went on. “Stop what he started, but which is apparently stuck in motion. We need to put on the brakes.”

“On what?” Joshua asked.

“On his entire project,” she replied.

“We would still have clearance, wouldn’t we?” Simon offered.

“And it would be a glorious ‘fuck you,’ wouldn’t it?” Joshua added.

“And, honestly, we’ve probably got better firepower, at least on the tech side,” Simon added.

“Okay, so… I guess the only question is whether he’s dead or not,” Joshua replied, “But either way, I think we still have an in, so… yeah. Let’s stop whatever he was trying to do.”

“Thank you,” Anabel replied. “You won’t regret it.”

“What was he trying to do?” Simon asked.

“Commit genocide and destroy my kind,” Anabel explained before suddenly vanishing in a puff of black smoke.

“Yeah, way to hide the reveal,” Simon muttered.

“What?” Joshua replied. “Isn’t stopping genocide , like, the best thing ever?”

“I know,” Simon said. “But we didn’t get to thank her for the opportunity.”

Joshua laughed and kissed Simon, then gestured for Brent to come on back. He swung the hovercraft around and they climbed in the back.

“Was that a fucking ghost?” Brent demanded.

“What else would you expect in a cemetery?” Joshua replied. “Now… home, James.”

Brent gunned it, and the rest of the trip back to NoHo happened in silence.

By the time they’d gotten back home, the floodwaters had receded here. Joshua and Simon bid their adieus to Brent and Drew, then headed into the lobby.

“You want to check the damage now, get it over with?” Simon asked.

“Sure,” Joshua replied.

They took the stairs down to the parking garage, coming out on the floor where there car was parked, expecting to find it a soaked, muddy, and useless mess. Instead, the floors and everything else were as dry as usual, and the lights were even on. All of the cars here were completely untouched.

“What the hell?” Joshua muttered happily as Simon just stared.

Nearby, a maintenance man was walking back to his electric cart. He laughed.

“HOA didn’t want them flood doors until they got talked into. ‘L.A. never floods,’ they said.” He laughed. “Rich old bastards just saved themselves a fortune in lawsuits on that one. Have a great day.”

He hopped onto his cart and rode off as Joshua and Simon just stared at each other.

“Shit,” Simon finally said. “Wasn’t that our idea?”

“I seem to remember paying for it, too. That was the only way they’d do it.” Joshua said.

“Son of a bitch,” Simon muttered, laughing. “Son of a bitch.”

They threw their arms around each other’s shoulders and headed back up, checking to see if the elevator was working. It was, although it smelled a bit… moist.

* * *

Image source: digicla,  licensed under (CC BY 2.0)

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

You can catch up with the first installment of this piece here, or last week’s chapters here. It started as somewhat of an experiment. It seems to be taking the form of a supernatural thriller, set above and below the streets of Los Angeles. NOTE: Due to a scheduling error, this post did not go up at the usual time of 7 a.m. PDT.

 

Gemelos

The two of them had fled into the sky long before the storm, snaking around buildings, one alternately in pursuit of the other, neither one of them able to even touch or harm the other, but still they tangled like a pair of fighting dogs, two wisps of black smoke in the sky that most people below wouldn’t have noticed or, if they had, would have just put off to exhaust from some business or another.

One of them led off by diving down into the NoHo Metro station, then following the tunnel to Universal City Station. On the platform, they tangled and twisted until the one who seemed to be losing shot back up the seven mile tunnel to come out at Hollywood and Highland.

The chase continued down the tunnel past a bunch of stops until one of them shot above ground at the 7th Street Metro station, and then  skidded just above the sidewalk about two miles to the Los Angeles Greyhound Bus Station, where it hovered, the other wisp hesitating nearby.

The first wisp vanished inside and the second followed until they both wound up in the bus station men’s room, at which point they manifested to each other — Danny, the first wisp, clothed and angry looking; Preston, the second wisp, nude and looking alarmed.

“Who are you?” Danny demanded.

“I’m Preston,” Preston replied.

“Then who am I?” Danny asked.

“I have no idea,” Preston said. “Except I think that maybe you are me. Were me?”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Danny spat.

“Well, I mean, we do look alike, right?”

“You look like a whore,” Danny said.

“What?” Preston replied. “Work clothes. And you? What are you supposed to be?”

“If I knew, I’d tell you,” Danny said.

“Okay,” Preston replied calmly. “So… what’s your name?”

“Fuck if I know,” Danny shouted. “And yours?”

“Preston LeCard,” he said. “Pleased to meet you?”

“Wait, stop, don’t tell me. I’m Tom Canty, and you’re Prince Edward.”

“Who?” Preston asked.

“Never mind. Unless you tell me that you’re rich or something.”

“Um, actually…” Preston started, then hesitated until Danny’s look made him continue on, “I’m kind of fucking loaded, really.”

“So who stole what from whom?” Danny demanded.

“I don’t know!” Preston said. “Look, this is just as confusing for me as it is for you, honestly. All I know is that I had this great career as a porn star, I made —”

“Sorry, what?” Danny asked.

“You heard me. Porn star. You know? I fucked for a living. And I made mad bank at it, and I loved doing it and, ironically, I was finally taken out by a plague that had nothing to do with the plague that used to take out gay men. Except that I kind of … stuck around? And the last thing I remember was a couple of sexy human dudes kind of … shit. If it had been a porn scene, it would have been really hot, but they basically tried to tell me I’m not who I am, and then bang, there you are. And if the idea of… what? Instant twin brother? Sudden clone? Whatever, isn’t the absolute hottest porn scene idea, then I don’t know what is.”

Danny and Preston stared at each other for a long time. Finally, Danny said, “Okay, great. You remember all kinds of shit. You know what I remember?”

“Um, no?” Preston replied.

“Okay, cool. It’s this. Not so very long ago, I woke up locked in a box with some dude who looks like me. I have no memories at all of anything before this, we both seem to be freaking out, and then we escape. And I have no idea who’s the friend, or who’s the enemy. Or who I am.”

“Well,” Preston said gently, “Apparently you’re me, except before I became the me you don’t know. And that’s the trick, really.”

“Nah,” Danny said. “The real trick is figuring out how I became the you that you seem to be, because you are not me. I’m no whore.”

“That’s kind of what I just said,” Preston replied.

“So you really believe that I was… no… that you were me once?”

“And I believe that I still am you, Danny. Shit… it’s starting to come back to me now. That’s weird. Idaho?”

“Yeah. I grew up — “

“In Emmett?” Preston continued before He could finish, Danny nodding. “I just remember that. And… oh wow… DWsub13M,” Preston said, very surprised. “I remember that handle.”

“Yeah, I did chats with that, so? Anyone on the board could have seen it.”

“Right but your password… Finn23Zack69. Right?”

There was a long silence before Danny said, “How do you know that? Are you a hacker?”

“No,” Preston said. Goddamn, those daddies were right. You are me before I became… well, me. The problem is that everyone remembers me and no one remembers you, but if you just help me remember you — ”

“Then what?” Danny replied, shying away into the corner.

“If you let me remember you so that you can remember me, well… shit. How powerful would you like to be, anyway?”

“I’d rather be alive again,” Danny said.

“Yeah, well, I’d like a unicorn,” Preston replied.

“Shit, you sound just like my sister,” Danny muttered, and suddenly Preston found himself sucked out of the present world and down a dark vortex. At the end of it, he woke up staring at a crappy bus station ceiling, realizing that for the first time since he’d died, he could smell. Unfortunately, what he could smell was the heavy stench of urine, cum, and the over-arching mint of urinal cakes — and then Danny was kneeling above him, looking down and smiling.

“I don’t know where you went, dude,” Danny said. “But I took a little walk around when you vanished, and I ran into some people. Well, I ran into the Marx Brothers and I tried to ask them what was going on, but you can imagine how useful their information was.”

“I’ve met them,” Preston said. “I know. But you can’t blame them, because they’re trapped in their characters.”

“Kind of a reminder of how annoying movie characters would be in real life, right?”

“Except porn stars,” Preston quipped.

“Anyway, next I ran into that dude from the Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, and he was actually helpful. He explained a lot to me.”

“Yeah, really,” Danny replied. “Hey, I don’t know where you went when you blinked out, duded. But I’m glad you came back. Now, I think I understand, and there’s kind of two options.”

“Really?” Preston said.

“Number one, we just moosh together and forget all this shit and become one person again.”

“Not a bad idea, right?” Preston asked.

“You’d think, but… no. The other option is stay apart, each of us becomes who we really were, because we’re going to need to double up to take on the forces of evil.”

“And who would they be?” Preston asked.

“Oddly enough, it’s a two-front war,” Danny said. “On the human side, it’s some genocidal human asshole in Pasadena. On the Rêve side, it’s the woman who pretends to be your mother.”

And what do we lose if we moosh?” Preston asked.

“Bascially,” Danny replied, “Everything. Oh, right. I forgot to mention the other part.”

“There’s another part?” Preston asked.

“Sure,” Danny replied, “Or didn’t you see the sky where you were?”

Preston shook his head and Danny took him outside where they looked west and saw the lightning. Then he looked at Danny, who just grabbed him.

“So… self-preservation over any stupid argument. Agreed?”

Preston hesitated for a second, then nodded. Just as he did, the storm front swept over them and the rain and hail came down, although it couldn’t touch them. For some reason, it went around them, creating silhouettes in the falling drops that would point them out to any humans there to see them had there been any humans on the streets at all.

But Danny and Preston could see what no human could, and that was that this was no normal storm. They could see the wraith-like presence that was actually controlling it, a darkly luminescent shimmering blue haze that both permeated the cloud and led it.

“What is it?” Preston asked.

“My god, that movie dude was right. He said that the real danger would be if somebody warned… what did he call them? Silvester…? Or sometimes Pearl? Anyway… yeah, that. This is what he warned about.”

“So what does that mean?” Preston demanded.

“We’re all fucked,” Danny replied as he grabbed Preston, held him tight, and the two of them dropped through the ground until they hit the Metro tunnel, then shot up it to Union Station and, from there, into the local highlands above downtown on what were called The Avenues.

The Rêves had their own warning network, although the message was basically to avoid certain areas. Although Las hadas silvestres were not mentioned at all, the idea that the Rêves were in no danger from what was happening was. The main points were to stay out of the Metro, away from Cemeteries, and to avoid Pasadena entirely.

The Avenues actually weren’t that far from Pasadena, at least street-wise, but they were sufficiently above it.

By the time that Preston and Danny had taken refuge in an overgrown backyard behind a very old house in Mt. Washington, they decided that they were going to remain apart for now. As Danny pointed out, “Strength in numbers.”

“Also,” Preston said, “I’ve always wanted to fuck my identical twin.”

“Stop it you,” Danny said, more playful than annoyed. “Okay, we’ll fuck if we get out of this alive…”

“That’s kind of impossible, isn’t it?” Preston said. Danny just smirked back.

Then they did all that they could do, which was just to wait out the passing storm — that is, if it ever did pass.

* * *

Parlay

In a lot of ways, Anabel really appreciated the ironic symmetry in the storm that Pearl unleashed because, just as none of the Rêves ever received any demands or ransom notes from the humans, they and Las hadas could not send their own demands back, at least not in any way that the humans would understand.

All they could do was kidnap the weather and ravish the landscape. And that’s when Anabel realized the irony of Pearl’s words, that they would warn the humans. A sudden but unprecedented storm would not come across as a supernatural warning, at least not to any sane or rationale humans.

The only way that Anabel could warn them was to get herself caught again, and she wasn’t about to waltz into Ausmann’s arms, especially not after she had tipped him off to size being a factor in how effective their traps were.

But, she realized, if she could get Pearl to bring him above ground, away from his laboratory and technology, and place them on equal footing outside, then maybe she could deliver the message.

As soon as she thought it, she heard Pearl’s voice in her head. “Then take us where he’s at, man, and we’ll show him where it’s at, dig?”

Anabel wasn’t sure whether it was her imagination or not, but what did she have to lose? It wasn’t that hard a trip — just under seven miles in a straight line just about exactly north east, and only passing under one isolated mountain on the way.

So she headed from Glendale to Pasadena, even though the storm hadn’t gotten this far east yet, then hovered around where she had come up above Ausmann’s lab. But something seemed wrong. The place was eerily dark, with none of the buildings illuminated, and only the streetlights along the internal roads and parking lots providing any light at all.

She decided to take a chance and go underground, finding that she hadn’t missed Ausmann’s hidden complex by that much, but then venturing in while not manifesting to find it apparently abandoned. As she wandered its halls and through offices and labs, all she saw were empty work stations, all the equipment turned off, and everything bathed in a deep red light that came from LED strips set in the baseboards.

“Well, this is weird,” she thought.

She wandered around until she found a lobby with what were clearly elevator doors, keeping her distance from those, and went to the security station nearby, which had several large metal detectors in a row with double doors on each side and that’s when she saw the sign taped to the first door of the first detector.

“MANDATORY EVAC ORDER,” it read. The rest of it was typical gov-speak gibberish that took way too many words to passively state what could have been simply put: “The weather is fucked, so get the hell out of here. We are shutting everything down.”

And it wasn’t just Ausmann’s little project. It was all of JPL. It was so serious, in fact, that the notice ended with the scare words “SERIOUS FEDERAL CRIME” above some official-looking seal with an eagle on it.

“Ooh,” Anabel thought. “What are you going to do? Arrest me?”

Her other thought was, “I died in the 1920s, and the Federal Government still hasn’t upped their art game at all?”

But if no one was here, then where was Ausmann? How was she going to find him?

Reluctantly — because if anyone would defy the threat of being charged with a federal crime it would be him — she found her way down to his office.

Now the real trick was to figure out where he lived from what was available. The catch was that none of the electronic devices would turn on. Not that Anabel even knew how they worked, but she’d tried to turn on a lamp only to realize that all power had been cut.

That was when Anabel proceeded to do what any good 1920s detective would do, and she started going through drawers. Yes, they were difficult to move, but Rêves did have some ability to manipulate objects.

Most of them were full of random office supplies, way too many Post-It pads, boxes of staples, and promotional pens. Further down, she found file folders of documents that were at least a decade old.

And then, she found a birthday card, in an envelope. The card itself read “Happy Birthday Grandpa!” and her mind boggled at the idea that Ausmann was human enough to have reproduced at least once. But then she looked at the postmark to see that it was only a year old.

Then she looked at the address. Motherfucker lived in some place called the Simi Valley, which she’d never even heard of. But at least she had an address, and that was enough. She couldn’t take the envelope with her, but she could imprint the information on her hand and make it stick, so then she flew back up to emerge from underground, feeling triumphant.

“I found that son of a bitch, Pearl,” Anabel muttered to herself, and it was like a sudden warm and loving wind embraced her.

“Simi Valley?” Anabel heard Pearl’s voice in her head. “Yeah, that fucking figures. Let’s go.”

“Where?” Anabel asked.

“Thirty-five miles west. Where the white people went when the brown and black people scared them. Don’t ask.”

Suddenly, Anabel was flying over a mountain, across the Valley, across more mountains, and then down into a normal-looking suburban area that was already being heavily lashed by the storm. She landed on the front lawn of a perfectly tacky 60s-era ranch house, then heard Pearl’s voice in her ear.

“Go get him,” they said.

“But how?” Anabel asked.

That one didn’t get any answer. She decided on the obvious method, even if it was totally stereotypical, and just walked through the wall and into the living room, where Ausmann and a woman, presumably his wife, sat in silence, the room only lit by the glow of the large screen TV on the far wall, tuned in to the weather report.

Ausmann’s wife looked as dour and unpleasant as he did. “We need to evacuate?” she muttered.

“Ridiculous,” Ausmann replied. “Typical media sensationalism.”

“We’re not that far from Malibu as the crow flies,” his wife said.

“The storm is moving west from Malibu, not north. It’ll never get here.”

The house rattled with a sudden thunderbolt from the south and Anabel decided to make her presence known. She popped over in front of the TV and manifested, being sure to glow for visibility.

“The storm is already here,” she said. As if on cue, lighting began to flash outside, the thunder coming sooner and louder with each moment.

“Get out of my house!” Ausmann demanded.

“We’ve come to deliver a message,” Anabel said.

“We?” Ausmann replied.

“Don’t you hear them?” she answered, gesturing. Now, the lighting was close enough that they could actually hear the electricity scorching the air and almost feel its heat. The thunder came within a split second of the lightning.

Outside at the foot of the driveway, a tree suddenly shattered under a direct hit, scattering bits of bark and splinters of wood all over the place, leaving a split and smoldering trunk and dropping several limbs to the street.

Their conversation turned into a shouting match because it was the only way to be heard, especially after the hail arrived moments later and began pelting everything.

“What’s the message?” Ausmann demanded. “Thor is pissed off?”

“The message is: Leave us alone,” she said. “Whatever you’re doing, stop it.”

“I’d love to be able to,” Ausmann said, “But there are reasons I can’t.”

“Like?”

“Like reasons I can’t tell you. Classified.”

“I don’t care,” Anabel said. “Neither do they. Stop what you’re doing.”

“And are all of you going to stop what you’re doing?”

“All we’re doing is existing,” she replied.

“No, you’ve been leaking into our world despite the agreement you made with us thirty years ago.”

“You’ve been pulling us into it against our will!” she insisted.

“I’m not the one you have to negotiate with,” he explained.

“We’re not negotiating,” she replied.

“Which ‘we?’ The Rêves?”

“We brought someone to negotiate with us.”

“Really?” he scoffed. “Who?”

“Who do you think is causing this storm?”

“I already guessed Thor,” he replied. “Should I have said Zeus instead?”

“Stop what you’re doing to us now!” Anabel shrieked over the non-stop thunder.

“No!” Ausmann shot back, stepping toward her, and then she caught a glimpse of what he had snuck into his right hand — one of those small traps, open and ready to spring.

She shot up through the ceiling and crawl-space under the roof and out into the night sky and the crashing hail.

“Tear it down,” she called out to Pearl. “He’s refusing.”

As she headed back to Glendale, the storm intensified, and lightning started to strike the house, blowing off shingles. Ausmann turned and ran for the hidden staircase, seeing that his wife was nowhere in sight.

He headed down to the basement and their hidden panic room, because of course they had one — practically everyone with money in Simi did — and he entered his code in the door panel.

It slid open and he stepped inside, to find that his wife was already there. As the door slid shut and locked again, everything shook and there was a resounding boom. Outside, the power went off, the various monitors showing everything inside the house going dark.

At least the power supply down here was still working, and they had at leasat six weeks’ worth between the batteries, capacitors, and propane powered generators, which they would go through in that order, unless at least two of the solar panels on the roof held and stayed connected, in which case they’d go through none of it.

“Was that a ghost?” Coraline finally asked him.

“Yes and no,” he said.

“Is it gone?”

“Yes,” he replied, staring at the monitors and watching as the cameras went out one by one.

Up top, half of the house was in flames and a sudden gust of wind tore the roof off of the garage and sent it sailing down the street. Lightning continued to pummel what was left standing, and hail the size of baseballs started to drop into the now exposed garage, pounding both of the cars in there until their roofs were practically touching tops of the window wells in the doors.

A couple of bolts of lightning turned a third of the water in the pool into steam, cracking the concrete walls and letting the rest ooze its way out into the ground. Another lucky strike breached the propane canister on the gas grill and sent it rocketing into the air on a jet of escaping fuel. It came back down right into the windshield of Coraline’s SUV.

The escape room held because it was supposed to — it had been designed and built by the same crew that had constructed Ausmann’s laboratory under JPL after all. But it wasn’t too long before all connections to the outside had gone dark with the exception of the underground cable that tied into the internet.

Ausmann streamed the news and watched the “Special Bulletin — Breaking” announcement about the sudden freak offshoot of the storm that was pummeling Simi Valley.

Although, in the morning, there would be only one house in his neighborhood that looked like a tornado had swept it away.

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

The Saturday Morning Post #35: The Rêves, Part 13

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.

The Tempest

Brenda and Jonah’s neighborhood did have one advantage over most of the Culver City area — although it technically was part of Los Angeles and not Culver City. The advantage was that it was on the western edge of an area called the Baldwin Hills, which was an oddly out-of-place lump of mountain in the middle of a part of the L.A. basin that was otherwise generally flat all the way to the ocean in two directions, Rancho Palos Verdes to the southwest being the other exception, but it happened to actually touch the ocean forming a sort of elevated mesa above the crashing surf.

But what this height difference really gave Blair Hills was an incredible view of everything out to Marina del Rey and the Pacific beyond. On a very clear day and from the right spot on the hiking trail west of the neighborhood, they could actually see the water, or at least a thin blue strip that curved off to the horizon. On some days, it even sparkled.

In the evening, especially when the Sun set late, Brenda and Jonah liked to leave the kids with her mother and hike out as far as they could, put down a blanket, then just sit and watch the expanse of the silent city, the distant ocean, and the changing of the sky and clouds from cyan and white to orange and gray to dull red and almost black, then a final deep blue before the stars started to appear and before the sky finally went as black as it could over the L.A. Basin — which wasn’t much.

On some nights, they were treated to an extra show as a waning Moon would set not long after her brother Sun. On others, the full Moon would rise behind them even as the Sun left, and if they looked the other way, they could watch as it appeared and loomed huge over the other side of the neighborhood — although they had to stay up later for that one because the neighborhood itself blocked a lot of the view to the east until the Moon was probably at least 30 degrees in the sky.

This evening, the distant clouds over the ocean had grown very dark and ominous, but Brenda and Jonah didn’t really pay any attention to them because they were so far away. Instead, they focused on what they usually did when they came out here.

Brenda had dubbed it “Grievance and Reconciliation Time,” something she had learned from an interpersonal relationship class given by the county, and the idea was that each of them was free to bring up something that was bothering them in a neutral, non-judgmental and non-blaming way. Meanwhile, the other one would use active listening to restate the issue as they understood it, and they would continue this process until they both agreed that they understood it the same way.

Next, the other partner would explain the issue from their point of view — again without judging or blaming, although obviously not neutral — the partner with the grievance would do their active listening bit, and it would continue until they both agreed.

The third part was the hardest, but it also turned out to be the most beneficial. The partner with the grievance would explain why they were wrong based on the other partner’s POV, then the other partner would do likewise. This would wrap up with aggrieved partner explaining what they could do to not be bothered, and the other partner explaining what they could do to eliminate the grievance.

The typical result was a compromise between them that, in retrospect, was so bone-headedly stupid obvious that they should have just seen it from the get-go.

Taking a completely trivial complaint, a typical session in brief might go like this: Brenda always serves peas with dinner, but Jonah really hates peas, and he’s mentioned it before. Now, the wrong way for him to complain is to say something like, “Why do you always have to serve peas? I hate peas, and you know it. Are you just trying to piss me off?”

Instead, the conversation would go more like this:

Jonah: “I’m really bothered whenever we sit down to dinner and I see peas on my plate, because I have never liked peas since I was a child.”

Brenda: “So, you’re saying you don’t want peas with dinner at all?”

Jonah: “Just not with my dinner.”

Brenda: “So I should never cook peas again?”

Jonah: “No. I just shouldn’t have them on my plate.”

Brenda: “So, you don’t like peas, and you don’t want them with your dinner?”

Jonah: “Exactly.”

Ding! And on to phase two.

Brenda: “The reason I serve peas all the time is because they are very cheap, have a very long shelf-life and, surprisingly, it’s one vegetable that all of our kids will eat.”

Jonah: “So I have to eat like our kids?”

Brenda: “No. I just do it to be economical and convenient.”

Jonah: “So it’s peas because it makes it easier for you, and costs us less?”

Brenda: “Yes.”

Ding! Phase three.

Jonah: “Then I guess I should just learn to love peas — ”

(This would be considered a foul)

Jonah (as Brenda): “Maybe I can find a vegetable that you and the kids like?”

Brenda (as Jonah): “Maybe I could be a little more adventurous in what I eat?”

Usually, this is the point when they’d look at each other and laugh.

“Well, shit, honey,” Brenda would say. “I do tend to just dump ‘em on all the plates, right? I suppose serving bowls wouldn’t be out of order.”

“So I don’t have to take them if I don’t want them?” Jonah said.

“Exactly,” Brenda replied. “And I could cook up a mess of vegetables that you do like.”

“Then steam me up some baby carrots every night… baby.”

Of course, this being a hypothetical, it all happened very easily and smoothly. In real life? Not so much and not always, and the subject of Malia was one that Brenda had still not been able to crack with Jonah.

It had taken them several rounds to get him to agree to call her Malia in the first place, after she broke down his resistance to the idea that Malia changing her name was just disrespecting their greatest president. Brenda had to remind Jonah that President Obama would have been on their daughter’s side.

Which was the kind of thing that just brought up the next issue. While Jonah would call Malia by her name, he still referred to her as his son, at least when Malia wasn’t around, only using, “Hey you!” or “Mal” when she was present.

Tonight, as they sat on the bluff watching the distant sea, Brenda tried again.

“I want to do anything I can to make sure that Malia has a safe and happy life, but I get very upset when people do not acknowledge or accept her choice and her reality.”

“So you want to do anything at all to support Malia,” Jonah said, “And will do what you can to defend our youngest son.”

Even though it was against the rules, Brenda let out a heavy sigh, although she refrained from saying No. She paused, then tried again. “I want to do anything I can to make sure that our youngest daughter has a safe and happy life, but I get very upset when people do not acknowledge or accept her choice and her reality.”

Jonah said nothing for a long time, just staring off at the ocean, Brenda staring at him. Finally, he practically whispered, “Baby, you know I just can’t. Not yet.”

“So we’re not even going to try to reconcile this tonight?” she asked him, sadly.

“Look, I’ve told you all this before. This isn’t about which way the TP goes on the roll or where we’re taking the next family vacation, or why you don’t like spending time with my parents, or why I think you get jealous too much… we got past all of that. But this one…”

“This one is about one of our children, Jonah,” Brenda replied calmly. “One that we should love as much as the others.”

“I do. I do love Malia,” Jonah said. “I love him as much — ”

“Then why do you use the wrong pronouns?”

“I’m from a different generation!” he snapped. “I’m not used to this shit, okay?”

“You’re only three years older than me, honey,” Brenda said. “And I’m fine with it.”

“Yeah, well… I guess it’s probably different when you’re a man. And when your father is a Baptist minister. And when everything you’ve learned growing up says that there are boys and there are girls. Penises and vaginas, and one sex does not magically turn into the other one just because they say so.”

“Times change,” Brenda said. “And knowledge increases. The idea that there are only two genders is absolutely ridiculous. Science says so. And Malia didn’t just ‘magically’ turn into a girl.”

“Then why he got a dick?”

Brenda really loved Jonah, but sometimes she could just slap him. She thought he was too well-educated for this, but apparently not. “Not everyone born with a penis is a boy,” she explained, “And not everyone born with a vagina is a girl. Sure, a lot of the time… the majority of the time, the two do match. But every so often, the sex on the outside is different than the gender inside.”

“I wish I could believe that.”

“So Malia didn’t magically turn into a girl. She always been a girl. It just took her time to realize it and tell us. And there aren’t even only two sexes, honey. Do you have any idea how many different combinations of sex chromosomes result in viable human babies? Everyone isn’t just XX or XY, you know.”

“Yeah, well, that’s another thing,” Jonah said. “Sure, I trained in science, but it was all engineering. You know — math, trig, geometry, physics, calculus. But ask me about biology or genetics or any of that, I know nothing.”

“I know,” Brenda said. “I didn’t either, until my mother told me about what Malia told her. And god bless her heart, my mother — who was definitely born in times when these ideas were even more alien than they are to you, and who still sings in the church choir every Sunday — she was the one who educated my ass about it, and kept sending me links left and right on the whole subject.

“Your mother? Really?” Jonah asked.

“You’d never think it to look at her, right? Short tiny-ass black woman with the floral dresses and fancy Sunday hats, even wears her gloves to church and can beat the best of them at those hallelujah gospel singing moments. Yeah. That woman, my mom, taught me to love my other daughter, because she told me, every chance she got, that she’d be the kind of disciple that Jesus would have taken into his flock.

“And why not — that was his thing. He wasn’t about the rich or connected. He was all about the outcasts. Lepers, whores, manual laborers, whatever. That’s what Mom sent me, that’s what I read, and what I learned was enlightening. So… maybe you should let my mom have a chat with your parents…?”

There was a long pause before Jonah replied. “I love your mom,” he said. “I wish she were my mom,” then he laughed. “Shit, no, that’d be total hillbilly incest stuff. Oh, you know what I… and if I only had her to deal with, then, yeah, I’d be there in a second.”

“But you’re afraid of your parents,” Brenda announced casually. He replied with a shrug.

“You’re a grown-ass man with your own family, your own career, your own home, whatever… you don’t need their approval anymore.”

“Yeah, well, um… I’m their only son, and he is a very popular Baptist minister down in the community, so…”

“Now how do I read that?” Brenda asked, already knowing her answer. “Oh, right — he’s already bilked the hell out of his flock, is richer than Croesus, and you want to inherit all that filthy lucre when he kicks, so you’re not rocking the boat, and not accepting your daughter is worth it?”

Jonah said nothing, just fuming, as Brenda realized that they had yet again blown the intended format of their Grievance and Reconciliation Time straight to hell.

“Do you have any idea how much property he owns?” Jonah finally whispered.

“Which is more important?” Brenda whispered back. “Material shit your father only has because he bilked people in Jesus’ name? Or accepting your daughter for who she is? Even if you have to ignore using pronouns for a while and just call her Malia. Can you do that?”

Another long silence, and Brenda was surprised to see that Jonah was doing his best to stop from crying.

“I’ll try,” he said. “Really, I will try. For you — ”

Brenda sighed and gave him a look.

“Okay, for him…  her,” he replied.

“Thank you,” Brenda said.

Jonah looked off to the west, then suddenly sat bolt upright. “Holy shit,” he said. “Do you see that?”

“What?” she asked, following his eye-line. The black clouds far away over the sea had grown to cover more of the sky, meaning that they were getting closer. Meanwhile, out over the ocean, it was an almost constant barrage of lightning bolts flashing, although no thunder was reaching them. Neither of them had ever seen anything like it in their lives.

Brenda grabbed her phone and opened her local news app, where the weather reporter was frantically describing an unprecedented and unexpected front that had suddenly rolled up the coast, from Malibu south to Palos Verdes. There was a “Special Bulletin” banner across the bottom quarter of the image.

It had already made landfall in some areas, and was bringing heavy winds, heavy rain, severe thunderstorms, and even hail. Alerts had already been issued for people to shelter in place as far inland as the Central Valley, while people in coastal areas and foothills were advised to just evacuate to shelters ASAP.

“Well, at least we’re on top of a mountain,” Jonah said. “They say how soon it’s going to get here?”

“No,” Brenda replied. But I’d imagine that right about the time we start to hear the thunder is when we want to be inside.”

“Or, you know,” Jonah said. “Now?”

“There is one other thing,” Brenda added.

“Oh, now what?” Jonah grimaced.

“You might want to sit down for this,” she said, and he did. She proceeded to explain all the weird goings-on that had been happening with the supernatural entities and the ghost hunters and all of that. At the end of it, he just started at her blankly.

“So?” she said.

“So, woman?” he replied. “You been holding out news of the apocalypse on me?”

“Not at all,” she said. “I’m sure these two are not related, but I had to tell someone in the family.”

“Not related?” Jonah shouted. “Not. Related?! Look at that shit out there. If that isn’t some end of the world crap brought on because a couple of guys dressed like idiots pissed off the spirits, then I don’t know what the hell is!”

At that moment, they suddenly heard a distant rumble of quiet thunder that seemed to come from all directions and continue for a long time. They locked eyes and stood, Brenda grabbing the blanket.

“Run!” they told each other at the same time, and neither one of them had to say it a second time. They got home, went inside, locked the doors, found the kids and Esme, and then decided that they were going to have an all-night family movie night and the kids could stay up as late as they wanted.

Outside, thunder came again, this time noticeably closer.

On the other side of the continent, in a secure facility deep beneath the Pentagon, the agent on shift had been idly surfing the internet, as all of them did and had, every day and night for decades. The machine they monitored never received any messages at all. At least it gave him the opportunity to work on his great American novel.

Until tonight, when there was an abrupt signal indicating a message had been received.

“Oh, what the fuck?” he muttered, opening the inbox. He read the message three times, each time more slowly and carefully, then checked the date and time.

“Wow,” he finally exclaimed quietly before he grabbed the secure line in the room that went direct to the project director’s cell phone, no matter where he was. When the director picked up, all he said was, “Slingback. Credible and urgent.”

All the director thought was, “Fuck.”

* * *

The Teapot

Joshua and Simon had decided to commiserate over their absolute fuck-up with Danny/Preston with probably a bit too many edibles, a snuggle in the bedroom with a binge-watch of the old 1960s series The Prisoner, and a quiet cuddle, the sky to the east visible outside of the open blinds.

At some point, they got texts from the National Weather Service, and they were severe weather alerts, which they both read before turning to each other.

“Severe thunderstorms. Here?” Joshua asked.

“That’s what mine says,” Simon replied.

“Holy fuck!” Joshua answered, but coming from him it was an expression of joy, and Simon agreed. They both loved thunderstorms, which were too far and few between in Los Angeles in general, but in the Valley in particular.

“Suite B?” Joshua asked.

“Suite B!” Simon agreed.

In their particular building, there were two condos per floor, one on the east side and one on the west. Theirs were on the top floor, and while both came with lofts, they only used the loft in the front unit for storage of files, old equipment and whatever.

The main reason they had also bought the western unit, which they called suite B but which was actually Unit 2302, was for the ultimate in privacy — no immediate neighbors, and since it took a key to get to a floor, it meant no pesky outside visitors. They had also bought it in the name of the Foundation so that there would be no direct ownership connection to them, although they had paid for it via an anonymous donation.

Suite B was minimally furnished, but it did have computers networked to everything in their main unit, 2301. They had also set up the loft here as a kind of emergency outpost, with enough supplies, battery back-ups, and whatnot to keep them alive for a month with no outside support if necessary.

They’d both agreed that it was silly at the time, but also that it would really up the resale value.

The thing about the loft units were that they had both wrap-around windows, balconies on two sides, and skylights, and so from here, on the west side, they could watch the storm not only approach, but pass over.

They pretty much resumed their binging from where they’d left off, only this time, they had a front row seat for that glorious moment when either Zeus or Thor would march across the sky and teabag the city. The only light in the room came from the TV, but they turned that off as soon as the sky to the west started to light up like a bar at last call.

“Whoa,” Joshua said.

The entire horizon that they could see went a flickering blue-white for a good twenty seconds, then faded. Right about the time it faded, the barrage of thunder came, rattling the windows for about the same twenty seconds.

“Ooh… about four miles away,” Joshua said.

“Nice,” Simon added.

Joshua pulled up the local news on his phone, which was all about the storm. Santa Monica had already had about four inches of rain, complicated by a six foot storm surge. PCH had been closed due to landslides, and the canyons were experiencing flash floods.

“Shit. Wetter than a bottom at a circuit party,” Joshua said.

“Honey… eww?” Simon replied.

The sky went electric blue again, although they weren’t sure how long this time, and it seemed like it was only about ten seconds after it started that the thunder came, this time much louder and much longer, and the whole building shook.

Joshua held Simon tight, totally giddy. “My god, I can only get so hard,” he said. “This. This is weather. This is what I’ve missed growing up here.”

“Are you sure?” Simon asked him.

“Don’t tell me you’re not.”

“Yeah, but, what if we caused this?” Simon asked.

“You mean you and me personally?” Joshua shot back.

“No, silly. Humanity. What if this is all because of global climate — ”

Before he could finish, the sky above them went blinding white at the same time that thunder rattled downward at them. They could feel the bed shift and a picture fell off of the wall, the glass shattering. That bothered Simon a bit. It was a fanciful depiction of Russell’s teapot, a favorite of his among their artworks.

All the lights outside went dark, although their UPS kicked in immediately, so nothing even turned off. Sheets of rain started to pummel everything, and then hail started blasting onto the balcony and the skylight and the noise was deafening.

The thunder and lightning show kept on going, but Joshua just rolled over and held Simon tight, totally content. Simon held him likewise, and they both just smiled.

As long as the heavens were letting loose above them, the two of them were both in heaven. Well, okay, lying in each other’s arms had a big part to do with that, too. But the both of them together? Bliss.

The four-inch thick Plexiglas they’d installed in both the skylights also helped to assuage any fears they had of suddenly being pelted by ice.

The brighter the lightning flashed, the louder the thunder roared, and the harder the rain and hail struck, the happier they were. At some point during the onslaught, they both drifted off to sleep, not waking up until the morning, when everything outside their windows was a solid gray.

Their phones told them that it was almost 11 a.m., so the Sun should have been up. They checked the weather report, looked at each other incredulous, then strolled out onto the balcony. Since visibility was zero, neither one of them bothered to put on anything.

And the weather reports were true. The entire city and most of Southern California were now blanketed in heavy fog, and visibility everywhere was about two feet. All roads had been shut down, there was extensive flooding everywhere, and people were advised to shelter in place in case of emergency. The state had called in the National Guard to do overflights with infrared cameras and sonar in order to identify areas that needed immediate assistance.

“This is actually kind of cool,” Joshua told Simon. Although it was also literally cool. It was a summer day in L.A., but only about 65ºF out, and condensation was forming on everything.

“But what caused it?” Simon asked.

“I guess it depends upon how rational you want the explanation to be, right?” Joshua replied.

“As rational as possible,” Simon answered.

“Exactly,” Joshua said, realizing that they had somehow also modeled their working relationship on Holmes and Watson, the one big problem being that each of them thought of the other as Holmes when, in reality, they were both right and neither of them was the Watson.

“You want to go inside?” Simon finally said. “Because I think my balls just did.”

“Guess we’ll have to fish them out,” Joshua answered. They went back in, secured the doors, went back to 2301, and hunkered down to cuddle and watch all the news reports on whatever it was that had just passed over the city.

“Oh…” Joshua suddenly blurted at one point.

“What?” Simon asked him.

“Extensive flooding, including North Hollywood. I suppose that means that the Tesla is probably fucked.”

“Doesn’t that depend on how far up the garage the water made it?”

“If it’s four feet above the ground — ”

“Oh. Right. Oh well…”

They went back to watching news of the apocalypse. At least there were no reports of first-born sons having died. That would have taken Simon from Joshua, after all, and that would have just killed Joshua.

* * *

Image: Robert Stirrett, used unchanged under (CC) 2.0 license.

The Saturday Morning Post #34: The Rêves, Part 12

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.

Las hadas silvestres

Anabel had easily shot into the Earth and then up, not recognizing the place she emerged in, although she had heard the name mentioned: Jet Propulsion Laboratory. There was nothing sinister-looking about it, but maybe they didn’t even know that Ausmann had a lair hidden far beneath it.

She found her way to the A Line tunnel and into downtown, and then followed the E Line out to Santa Monica, and then the sea. Here, she followed the water up the coast a ways until she had reached Topanga, and then ventured up into the mountains above the beach, where she found a quiet bit of slightly forested meadow.

Ausmann had had some nerve asking her for their rules. He was going to have to figure those out himself, but there was one thing he was never going to figure out. There was a class of Rêves that none of his hunters would ever even encounter.

In fact, they didn’t even consider themselves to be Rêves. They referred to themselves collectively as Las hadas silvestres; basically, wilderness faeries.

And, to be honest, they didn’t even refer to themselves collectively. They tended to refer to themselves as a singular Them, which the Rêves always sensed as capitalized, mostly out of respect. They was genderless, ageless, raceless, and sexless. They was everywhere.

They comprised thousands of thems apparently, but They existed as a singular mind, or at least a collective consciousness, and They tended to stick to places where nature still held sway and humankind didn’t often invade.

You could find Them in the ocean, the mountains, and the deserts, and Their territory covered far more than any single Rêve’s did. Las hadas never even really took any kind of visible or tangible form. They were just there as a feeling or a whisper on the wind. The Rêves could always hear and sense them, but so could some humans.

How they had gotten to be who they were was a matter of Rêve legend and lore, although it was more true than not, and it had begun with a plague as well, although not the one that Anabel had lived through, nor the one that Preston had not survived.

This one was a virus that had hit in the 1980s, and many of the people it had killed in the cities were there because they had been rejected by their families. They were young, and healthy, and then they suddenly started getting sick and catching the strangest of illnesses before they started dying, and since most of them didn’t have any family to speak of (or anyone that the government would let speak as their family), a lot of them wound up being cremated.

At first, it was mostly gay men, but that demographic shifted quickly. There were addicts who shared needles, and transwomen who’d had sex with infected cis-men. Hemophiliacs fell victim as well, and so did the female partners of men who claimed to be straight but weren’t. And so did people who’d gotten blood transfusions at the wrong time.

The first three groups were the ones who had a lot of members die forgotten and without family, and whose bodies were burned, and they wound up finding themselves wandering. A lot of their ashes had been dumped at sea or tossed to the wind up in the mountains.

Then they started to find each other. Groups of them knew each other, and connected to other groups, and then one day they met a soul that had already been wandering out here for over a decade.

Her name was Janis, as in Joplin, and she’d been cremated and scattered after death.

While she hadn’t been forgotten and had plenty of fans who remembered her, she had ignored all of that and managed to hold on to her true self and just enjoy the Zen of nature. She always figured that it had had something to do with being burned and not buried, but she wasn’t going to waste any time trying to find out.

She became a magnet for the newcomers, sort of a hub around which they all gathered, and that’s when they declared Themselves to be Las hadas silvestres.

Over the years, others were added to their number — mostly those who died alone and forgotten, and for whom whatever local jurisdiction decided it was easier to just burn the body and scatter the ashes.

Many an orange grove in the area had benefited from those cremains, too.

Another big wave came in 2020, when cemeteries and undertakers could not keep up with the need for burials, and coffin makers couldn’t meet demand, although not everyone who’d been cremated chose the Joplin option. Plenty of them still felt the call of their loved ones and became Rêves instead.

Speaking of Joplin, Anabel did know that Las hadas allowed people to think of Them as Pearl in case the intricacies of pronouns became too confusing, as they most certainly did for someone of Anabel’s generation, and it was easier to say than Las hadas silvestres.

And so Anabel sat in the meadow with its view of the vast Pacific below the hills and cliffs of Southern California, and she manifested herself in a supplicating pose, hovering three feet above a large stone, arms at her sides and slightly raised, palms forward, head half-bowed and eyes closed.

Hovering above the Earth in her sky blue evening gown, she was actually lucky that no hikers passed by because she would have been totally visible — and vulnerable — to humans in this moment.

She also would have instantly led to sudden reports of a sighting of the Virgin Mary in the Santa Monica Mountains, and that wouldn’t have been good.

“Pearl,” Anabel sighed. “The Rêves need your help. We have a human who is hunting us and taking us, and we don’t know why. Pearl, please let me know what to do.”

She let her thoughts go blank except for one last one: “Pearl, please help.” Shortly, the wind kicked up a bit and the long meadow grass began to shudder back and forth, giving a slight whistle in the wind.

She sensed a presence, as if hundreds of warm arms embraced her and felt a flow of positive thoughts, as if an endless line of people were marching by to greet her and saying, “You’re going to be okay.”

Then she heard the voice in the rustle of the grass, “Anabel. Anabel,” it seemed to say.

“Yes?” she said out loud.

Then her memories of her encounter with Ausmann, from start to finish, came flooding back like a movie was playing in her head, and it was incredibly detailed, although she was watching from outside of her own POV, so she noticed things that she had not before. She had no sense of agency or volition. It played out as it had played out, although she paid very close attention to Ausmann, as well as the computer screens on his desk that had not faced the tank she had been trapped in.

What she managed to spot on it shocked her. Well, at least what she understood. There were a lot of graphs and charts that were useful without explanation, but there was one image with text, clearly a report, and headline stunned her.

“Toward a workable method for eradication of supernatural entities.”

Eradication.

Elimination.

“My god,” Anabel thought. “Genocide.”

And then the version of her in the tank shot out the side and her POV shot up into the Earth and darkness and popped out into the bright sunlight of the meadow, only now she was on her back, and she felt thousands of hands supporting her as they slowly and gently lowered her to the ground.

For the first time that Anabel could remember in ages, she cried. She hadn’t even really cried when her father died. She was never given to that kind of emotion, but here she was.

Something shadowed the Sun and Anabel looked up to see a young woman with blonde, shoulder-length hair, an engaging smile, and a slight Texas drawl. She wore an elegant silk blouse with an intricate design on the front, sleeves that started tight at the upper arms but then exploded into a series nested maunches ending in flared bells. She had lots of rings and bracelets on both hands, and a tattoo on her left wrist.

Her pants were very tight, probably also silk, and these too ended in flairs. A pair of octagonal glasses with rose-tinted lenses was perched on her nose.

Anabel might have mistaken her for human, but she had to have been at least twelve feet tall, and her feet weren’t on the ground either.

“Hello?” Anabel said.

“I don’t usually do personal appearances, man,” the woman said, “But this feels like a special occasion.”

“Are you… are you Pearl?”

“I am me, and them, and we are me and… fuck, what’s that Beatle’s lyric?”

“Sorry?”

“Whatever, man. You asked for help, and it really looks pretty bad. Like nothing none of these cats have ever seen, dig, man? What was that word? Oh, right. Genocide. Yeah, that is some total Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot shit right there, man.”

“I’m a woman,” Anabel said, not knowing what to think otherwise.

“I know, man,” Pearl replied. “And We’re not. Not normally, not anymore, but unfortunately, the only way We can get through is to, you know. Go all class two, and let the image the humans have of us take over. Joke’s on them, though, because I’m still in control.”

Pearl smiled and laughed and Anabel wasn’t sure what to think, but Pearl’s demeanor changed completely.

“Oh, shit. I’m scaring you, aren’t I? Sorry, sorry. Sorry, sorry… sorry, man.”

Pearl shrank down to human size, feet settling on the ground, then smeared out into a group of people of all types who all looked very normal and sympathetic. They held their hands out and Anabel was suddenly standing again.

“We will do what we can to help the Rêves,” They said, “But we cannot do it by killing any humans.”

“Then what can you do?” Anabel asked.

“Warn them to change their ways,” They announced.

“Do it,” Anabel replied.

“Done,” came the reply as the manifestation of Pearl vanished, but the word was a whisper on the wind instead of anything audible, and then the wind died down.

Far offshore, there was a sudden flash of lightning and as Anabel squinted, she could see a line of dark clouds start to rise above the entire horizon. There was more lightning, but no thunder.

“Damn, they work fast,” she thought as she made her way back down to the E Line and then to home, arriving just at nightfall. There was no storm up here yet, but there did seem to be a breeze rising from the west.

* * *
Image source: © 2017 Jon Bastian, Camp Round Meadow, Big Bear, CA

The Saturday Morning Post #33: The Rêves, Part 11

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.

Anabel and Ausmann

Ausmann had been so amazed by the possibility of having finally trapped the infamous Anabel that he did nothing with the trap for a while. No — he wanted to learn everything about her first, because he was definitely all about “Know thine enemy.”

He certainly wasn’t going to ask Joshua and Simon for information, because that would just tip his hand and make him seem weak. He gleaned what he could from their comments, but then went right to the online archives and files.

The main thing he could determine about her is that she had never really been famous and had died almost a hundred years earlier, in childbirth. However, when he searched for her son, all he found online were completely indecent search results pointing to some guy who had been born over seventy years after she died.

Now, her family had been well-known, and they were connected to several wealthy families back east, but given the theory he’d been developing on who had been remembered, how, and why, Anabel made no sense.

Everything he’d gleaned indicated that she was very important to all of these… things… but why would they settle on her?

He contemplated the trap that the boys had given him. It was unlike all of the others, which looked like nothing more than flat compacts with matte black exteriors. The only thing that they lacked was some sort of fancy branding, like an embossed silver stamp of J&S. Or S&J. He had no idea who was the boss in that relationship, but he didn’t really care.

This trap holding Anabel, though, was much more elaborate — an amethyst teardrop in a cage of gold that reminded him of the Kabalistic tree of life in three dimensions. He actually wasn’t totally sure they hadn’t been trolling him, but he decided, finally, once he’d had enough info, that it was time to unleash the beast.

He set up a triple containment field — two secured boxes, with an electromagnetic grid around that — then sent the trap up through the double airlock and used the remote manipulator arms to open it.

The usual fog shoots out of it, but this one is a vivid shade of blue, and seems to have more agency then most of them. Indeed, it isn’t long before the blue fog shimmers out into a human form, followed by pure white mists that form the head, neck, and arms, and then a black shoot that creates the cascade of hair.

In under a minute, there is the form a young woman in a long blue evening gown and matching elbow gloves. Her jet black hair streams down her back in a highlighted waterfall, one tress in front covering half of her right eye, which only emphasizes her thin face, alabaster skin, and glossy red lips. Her eyes are jade green and intense between dark black lashes, above sharp, high cheekbones, and below carefully penciled brows, set off by a pale dusty rose eyeshadow that serves as a quiet echo of her lips.

Her shoes match her lipstick, and she is just as tall as she needs to be to stand up in the inner box, although that isn’t full human height, of course. The images reminds Ausmann of the small ghost that says good-bye to guests going up the final exit ramp at Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion in both size and appearance.

“Who are you?” she demands.

“It’s not your place to ask, Anabel,” Ausmann replies. “I’ll be asking the questions here.”

“The hell you will,” she fires back. “Do you know who I am?”

“That was actually my first question,” Ausmann answers. “Who are you?”

“You already said my name, so it’s too late to play stupid. Who are you?”

“That’s not important. You are the one trapped in a box,” Ausmann shot back.

“Do you really think that we all don’t know who you are and what you’re doing?”

“We all, who?” Ausmann asked.

“Have you ever actually trapped a true celebrity?” she suddenly asked.

“What do you mean?” he replied. “The Black Dahlia. How’s that?”

Anabel just laughed. “No, come on. Someone you’d heard of before going full asshole on them?”

“When  have I ever gone full — ”

She shot him a look that shut him up.

“Well, I’m sorry, but I had questions.”

“So do I, “Anabel replied. “Want to let me out of this cage and talk like adults?”

There was a long pause before Ausmann finally replied, “No.”

“Why not?” she asked.

“I don’t trust you,” he replied.

“Probably wise,” she said, “But I don’t trust you either.”

“Fine!” he spat back.

“Fine,” she waved him off.

After a while, he asked her, “Do you know where you are?”

“Not specifically,” she said. “Duh. But I do know that I’m a lot farther underground than I usually am. Do all of the evil assholes happen to have hidden underground lairs?”

“I’ll ignore that,” Ausmann replied —

“Please don’t,” Anabel spat back.

“Next question,” Ausmann  continued. “What do your people want from us?”

There was a quiet moment, and then Anabel began to laugh very hard. In fact, so hard that Ausmann began to worry that she might injure herself, so he cut down the pressure in the tanks and opened the inner tank to the next one.

“Are you all right?” he finally asked her.

“Oh, peachy,” Anabel replied. “I was laughing because you’re arrogant enough to think that my people want or need a damn thing from yours? Right. Hint: We are all goddamn dead, so we don’t need to eat or sleep or… anything, ever again.

“And that could easily get so boring, except that we’ve vowed to entertain ourselves as long as you aren’t doing something more interesting. So I suppose, to answer your question, what we want is for you to leave us alone and stop kidnapping our kind.”

“What kind even are you?” Ausmann demanded.

“We refer to ourselves collectively as The Rêves,” she replied, “Although that’s not so much a description as it is more of a family name.”

“Rêves,” Ausmann repeated. “French for ‘dream.’”

“That’s part of the reason,” she said. “It also refers to ‘revenant,’ a person who’s come back from the dead.”

“That could be a ghost or a zombie,” Ausmann said, “But you don’t look like a zombie.”

“We aren’t zombies, and we’re not truly ghosts, either.”

“Then what are you?” he asked.

“Bored by this conversation,” Anabel said. “So, what are you?”

“A scientist,” Ausmann replied.

“Mad scientist?”

“Don’t be dramatic,” he sneered.

“Well, what branch of science?”

“Several that hadn’t been invented by the time you died,” he explained. “Let’s just leave it at physics. I think that branch was around in your day.”

“And what would a physicist have to do with our kind? I thought that you science people didn’t even believe in spirits or ghosts.”

“I don’t believe that you are ghosts,” he said.

“Then you tell me what we are,” Anabel snapped back.

“Don’t you know?”

“No,” she insisted. “I’m not a scientist. How would I know?”

“Well… what rules do you follow?” he asked.

“Oh… it’s impolite to scare humans, never manifest in your current, actual physical form, especially if you’re still in that awkward decomposition phase, never try to have sex with a human — ”

“No, I meant more like… actual rules. Physical things that seem to control or limit you.”

She tilted her head and stared at him for a moment, then just laughed. “Do you think that I’m that stupid?” she replied. “Your real question is, ‘How can we control you?’ Sorry. We are not interested.”

“I already seem to be controlling you,” he said, tapping the side of the outermost box. “And it doesn’t seem that difficult. Look at what a tiny trap my boys caught you with.”

She picked up the trap, which surprised Ausmann because he didn’t think they could do that. She stared at it. “Such a pretty thing to be so dangerous, don’t you think?” she asked him, but something in her tone made it ambiguous whether she meant the trap or herself.

“You’ve got a lot of voltage running around outside this box. Well, not anything that would kill a human through air contact, but pretty similar to how these little traps work. There’s a problem with that, though.”

“What?” he asked.

“I remember a teacher in school — it was biology class — answering someone’s question. ‘What if an ant was suddenly as big as an elephant?’ The short version of her answer was that its legs would immediately shatter under its own weight, and it would suffocate and dehydrate at the same time.”

“What does that have to do with us?” Ausmann asked.

“Some things don’t scale up,” she said. “And when you give a thing a power source, you give it great power. I enjoyed our conversation. Good-bye.”

She smiled at him, then abruptly shoved her arm right through the Plexiglas of the traps and then her hand made contact with the static field that was supposed keep the Rêves in.

As soon as it did, the entire inner box filled with a bright blue flash, Anabel shot up to full size and through the top, where she stood there for just a moment, seeming more substantial than she had already, and locked eyes with Ausmann.

“Leave us alone,” she said. “That’s your only warning.”

And then she blinked away, but it was so fast that Ausmann wasn’t sure which way or where she’d gone. He hit the general alarm button, then buzzed security.

“An entity has escaped containment,” he announced. “I don’t know whether it’s still on the premises, but consider it keter. Put the complex on full lockdown.”

As alarms sounded everywhere, Ausmann sank back into his desk chair and sighed.

“Fuck,” he said.

* * *

Split

Joshua and Simon got up, showered and dressed, made and had breakfast, and then moved on to the main event of the day. Joshua retrieved the trap with Preston/Danny in it from the vault while Simon prepared the holding trap they would interview him in.

They had gone back and forth over whether to just let him go free range like last time and, while he had made no attempt to escape, they weren’t so sure he’d stick around after today’s interview.

Simon also made sure that what they called The Tank was set up with a perfect view of their living room widescreen, and he had already cued up the programming that would appear on it.

They set the trap into the slider that would take it into the holding tank, which unscrewed the lid as it moved to the center. A mechanism slid into place to lift the lid once it was there, and the inky black smoke they were so used to drifted up to fill the tank, swirling around for a while before it resolved into Preston in his favored garb.. He looked around until he saw the two of them, then smiled and pressed himself up against the glass. “What?” he asked. “Don’t you trust me now?”

“Today’s questions might be… difficult,” Joshua replied. “We want you to be safe.”

“Around two hot daddies like you?” he said. “I’d always feel safe.

“Stop,” Simon replied. “We’re not ‘daddies.’”

Young daddies?”

“Didn’t your sex drive go away when you died?” Joshua asked.

“No,” Preston replied.

“You mean you can still — ” Simon started to ask.

“Wanna watch?” Preston said, licking his lips.

“No, and no, don’t answer that question,” Simon said, looking away.

“We were wondering how much you remember, so tell us about this scene,” Joshua said, nodding to Simon, who tapped the coffee table, which had touch screen controls built into its top. On the TV, video played.

It was Preston with two other guys in what was probably a fancy apartment, probably east coast judging by the city view out its windows, which were clearly from high up and full of skyscrapers.

The three of them were mostly clothed at this point, but were making out heavily.

“Oh, yeah,” Preston said. “Last full scene I remember doing. That was… Blake Alan on the left and… Gabriel Stokes on the right.”

“Do you remember where you shot it?” Joshua asked.

“Yeah, it was this sweet apartment in Manhattan that our producer rented for the month, right near the south end of Central Park with a great view of mid-town,” Preston explained fondly. “God, this was so hot to shoot.”

“Do you remember when you shot?” Simon asked.

“Right at the end of the video, baby,” Preston replied. “Twice.”

“Oh, goddammit,” Simon muttered. “Really?”

“What was the date?” Joshua asked, giving Simon a loving look in hopes of calming his embarrassment.

“Oh… this was like the beginning of April, probably, so I think it was the last thing I shot with other people. Winston did let me stay in the place until the end of the month, then made it the end of May. I was all alone, but doing Only Fans stuff all the damn time. Otherwise, everything kind of stopped after that for a while. No more scenes, and not even bringing a crew in for a solo.”

“Do you remember the end of May?”

“Yeah. I mean, I definitely remember the middle of May, when Winston gave me this insane offer to go appear in Florida.”

“The Memorial Day circuit party in Miami?” Joshua said.

“Yeah. God, that was amazing. And not just that I banked five hundred K for the appearance, but I made a goddamn mint on top of that in tips for stripping, signing autographs, selling underwear, doing escort work. The whole… what’s the word? Nine inches?”

“Yards,” Simon corrected him.

Preston laughed. “Did you know that ‘yard’ is British slang for cock?”

“Really?” Simon replied, but the tone was one of disdain, not interest.

“Yeah, Winston told me that. It came from naval slang. Yardarm on a mast holds up a sail, and it sticks out like a hard-on.”

Preston laughed again as Simon gave Joshua a jaundiced look.

“Okay, so you did the party, the whole weekend, I’m assuming, then what?” Joshua asked.

“Let’s see…” Preston thought. “I went back to L.A. Jason — my kind-of boyfriend — suggested I just stay at home and focus on doing my own shit for Only Fans.”

“Not that any of us were really selling by that point,” he continued. “At around the beginning of May, there was this sudden explosion of new OF accounts, so there was too much in the market. Plus customers were out of work, so nobody wanted to pay anything for it. Not that I needed money by that point.”

“And then?” Joshua asked.

“June… middle of June…?” Preston trailed off and stared, seeming lost in thought. “I remember suddenly feeling really bad, and Jason and Winston and I did this video conference thing with some woman in a black robe… oh. Yeah, I think we got married. Jason and I, not Winston. And…” he trailed off.

“And?” Joshua and Simon both asked quietly.

“I remember being in Jason’s car, in the back, and then… sitting all alone in the cemetery before Anabel walked up to me.”

“She was the first one to come to you… after?” Simon asked.

“Well, she was my mother, right?”

Before Simon could speak, Joshua gave him a warning look. “Do you remember when and where you were born and grew up, Preston?” he asked.

“Hollywood. The first thing I remember is the first day I worked for Winston.”

“Really?” Joshua continued. “Nothing before that?”

“No,” Preston said.

“Do you remember that first shoot?”

“Just me and my fist,” Preston said. “That’s pretty normal for this business, right?”

Joshua nodded to Simon, who seemed apprehensive, but he tapped the coffee table anyway. Another video ran. In this one, a clearly younger Preston sat on a mohair couch that looked like it had been stolen from a university dorm break room, completely dressed, with a baseball cap pulled down over his eyes.

A voice from off camera asked questions, starting with innocuous things like, “So, you said you just got here and you need money?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I can probably arrange that.”

“Cool.”

Before it got to anything too personal, Joshua gestured for Simon to hit pause.

“This was your first shoot,” Joshua said.

“Really?” Preston said. “Wow. Yeah, I kind of remember that one, but it was so long ago.”

“Not that long,” Joshua explained. “But I want you to pay very careful attention to the questions and answers, okay?”

“Okay.”

“And you’re absolutely sure that’s you in the video?” Simon asked.

“Oh, hell yeah,” Preston said. “I still have that… still had that hat.”

Joshua nodded and Simon restarted the video.

“So, pay close attention to the questions and answers, then,” he said.

The off-screen voice, who must have been Winston, continued.

“So, you just got here and you have no money, is that it?” Winston asked.

“Yeah, I’m pretty broke. I was sleeping in the bus station.”

“What would you do for fifty bucks, then?” Winston continued, and a hand holding a fifty dollar bill came into screen.”

“Um, I don’t know,” onscreen Preston/Danny replied. “What did you have in mind?”

“What’s your name?” Winston asked.

“Danny,” Preston/Danny answered.

“Danny what?” Winston asked.

“Just… Danny.”

Joshua gestured and Simon hit pause.

“Danny what?” Joshua asked.

“Just… Danny? Danny who?” Preston replied.

“That’s you in the video, right?” Joshua said.

“Well, yeah, duh.”

“So you’re really Danny… who?”

“Dude, don’t you know that porn is all fake names and shit?” Preston replied. “I probably didn’t want people to know who I was.”

“So… you went on to have a porn career under your real name? That seems backwards,” Joshua said. “Where was Preston born?”

“Hollywood,” Preston insisted.

“And… Danny?”

“In some dude’s fucking imagination, I don’t know,” Preston shot back.

“That’s good,” Joshua told him. “That’s it. Hold that thought. Preston, who is the real you, did tons of porn so that he wouldn’t be identified under his real name. Meanwhile… where was Danny born?”

“Shit, I don’t know. The second some fat old fuck with money decided to pay me to jerk off?”

“Or was that when Danny died?” Joshua went on, giving Simon the signal. The video continued.

“Danny. Nice name,” Winston said. “So, where were you born?”

“Idaho,” Danny/Preston replied in the video.

“Ah. Potato planet,” Winston laughed. “Boise?”

“Nah,” Danny replied. “Pocatello.”

“Oh my god,” Winston laughed. “Did they name everything in that state one off from some kind of porn reference?”

“What do you mean?” Danny asked.

“Well, first of off, ‘Boys-me.’ Second, you’re from ‘Poke-a-Fellow?’”

“Yeah, but I grew up in Emmett. Fuck, that kind of sounds like ‘in it,’ doesn’t it? I never thought… oh, holy shit, you’re right!” Danny started laughing, then reached out and grabbed the fifty. “What do you want for that?” he asked.

“Take your clothes off,” Winston said.

“All of them?” Danny asked.

“All of them,” Winston replied.

Simon paused the video again.

“Hm. Innocent little Danny from Pocatello Idaho, on the casting couch. You’re sure you don’t know who he is?” Joshua asked.

“It was all just made up shit, for the business. You know, stage names,” Preston insisted.

“All right,” Simon chimed in. “This still doesn’t make sense. You came to L.A., did one little jerk off vid under a fake name, then started doing legit porn under your real name?”

“That’s right,” Preston replied. “All that Danny shit was just to get in the door.”

Joshua and Simon looked at each other, not sure what to do, but then Joshua signaled to Simon… let it roll.

He restarted the video, and it went through the rest of the set-up and story. The first fifty had gotten Danny naked, the next hundred got him hard, and the last hundred came after he did, and all the while Winston was asking him about his life back home, and he just kept giving details.

When it was over, Simon shut off the TV and Joshua decided that it was time to play bad cop. Not that he hadn’t kind of been already, but this felt like it needed extra attention.

“Okay,” he said. “So Danny was just this dude you made up for the first film, right?”

“Right,” Preston replied. “I didn’t even remember that until you reminded me.”

“Telling,” Joshua whispered to Simon. “Okay, so then you must have lied when you finally signed up to take the job.”

“What do you mean?” Preston demanded. Joshua snapped his fingers, and Simon put all of Danny’s proof of age docs up, which were all under his real name — and this seemed to have a slight effect when he read aloud…

“Winthorpe… Win… when…? Fuck…”

In the box, he collapsed out of his visible form back into the black mist. Simon and Joshua exchanged a concerned look, but then Joshua whispered to him, “Sorry. Ace in the hole, dear.”

“That seems really, really cruel,” Simon replied.

“Yeah, so do most of the things they do in rehab,” Joshua said. “Cue it up, and I’ll signal when I’m ready.”

Joshua went right to the box and pressed his ear against it as he spoke. “Hey, Preston. Hey, you okay? We were just trying to clear up all this thing, because rumors were starting to spread that you were not Anabel’s son, and we were hoping to, you know… stop that shit?”

There was a long moment, but then the black smoke sank and coalesced again, with Preston huddled in the bottom right corner of the box that Joshua had been speaking to.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“So am I,” Joshua replied, then he signaled to Simon, who fired up the screen again, this time with a copy of Jason and Preston’s wedding certificate — except that the name on it for Preston wasn’t Preston. It was Daniel Winthorpe.”

Preston turned, stared at the document, then began to shudder while letting out inchoate moans of some kind of existential angst and fear. He started to de-coalesce into a cloud of gray gas while keeping his naked porn star form. On the other side of The Tank, that gas reformed into a clearly younger, totally clothed, and more innocent looking form of Preston who was clearly Danny.

Each of them now knelt at opposite sides of the box before turning to stare at each other in disbelief. After a moment, both of them turned to stare at Joshua and Simon on the outside, then glare and point at them.

“Goddamn you,” they both said in unison, rising as best they could to point. “What the fuck have you done to us?”

“What’s your name?” Joshua demanded, defiant.

In unison, they each answered with the name they thought they had. “Danny Winthorpe.” “Preston LeCard.”

And no sooner were the answers out of their mouths that they turned to stare at each other in fear and anger.

Joshua turned to Simon and they nodded at each other, reaching for the emergency trap activation switch, but it was too late. Danny flew out of one side of The Tank and Preston flew out of the other, shattering the glass before they both roiled into trails of smoke and blasted out of the open patio doors and off into the night sky above NoHo.

“And… that went well,” Simon muttered to himself.

“Just shut up and fuck me if you know what’s good for you,” Joshua replied.

“Angry fuck?” Simon said.

“Yeah, I guess I kind of deserve that. Shut the doors and batten down the hatches. It’s going to be a humpy night.”

“Honey?” Simon told him as he slid shut the patio doors.

“What?” Joshua asked.

“We just managed to pull off a gigantic fuck-up. So all you’re getting tonight is, maybe, a little bro cuddle, And then we have to figure out what and how we’re going to explain this shit to Ausmann.”

“Are you saying that like it’s my fault?” Joshua demanded

“No,” Simon replied. “And that’s my point. We just both had a massive joint-fuck-up.”

Joshua stared at Simon for a long moment, then sank into the sofa in disbelief.

“We… lost one, didn’t we?” he finally said.

“No. We made two, then lost them both,” Simon replied.

“How the fuck did we make two?” Joshua asked.

“I have no idea,” Simon replied, “But that might be important later.”

Joshua sighed at the ceiling, tried to come up with an answer, but had nothing so, finally, he just pushed Simon onto the couch, climbed on fully clothed with his back to him and said, “First, I’m sorry. Second, just be the big spoon and bro-cuddle the fuck out of me tonight, because I think we’re going to need it for tomorrow.”

“Ditto,” Simon whispered into his ear before they drifted off together.

* * *

The Saturday Morning Post #32: The Rêves, Part 10

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.

Lunch Meeting

Brenda got the text from Rita at ten a.m. the next morning. “Lunch, Grand Central Market, Wexler’s, 13:00?”

She replied with a thumbs-up icon, then wondered what could be possibly going on with that. Rita hated face-to-face things, and wasn’t really into doing lunch. Still, Brenda wasn’t going to question. How could she?

She left her office at about a quarter to one and walked the mile down to GCM, entering from the Broadway side opposite the Bradbury building and stopping at the Wexler’s counter with Rita nowhere in sight. She ordered a Reuben. Five minutes later, Rita entered from the Hill Street side, ordering a Philly Cheesesteak.

Both of their sandwiches arrived wrapped at about the same time, so they decided to go outside and find a table on Broadway, where they sat and unwrapped in silence, until, finally…

“So… what’s on your mind?” Brenda asked.

“Everything, really,” Rita replied.

“Really?” Brenda wondered.

“Oh, yes,” Rita said. “Are you kidding? You’ve managed to raise so many questions and bring up so many issues, with proof, that… my god, Brenda… you don’t know the chatter downtown, but you just may have funded an entire department and, if you play your cards right, you’re going to wind up heading it.”

“And what would you say if I told you that two gay white guys actually did it?”

Rita stared at her for a moment, then laughed and replied, “I’d say that you wanted to get demoted to dog catcher. Yeah, I know who you’re talking about. I’ve seen them in the footage. Why do they dress like that?”

“A fashion statement?” Brenda said. “Actually, they told me it’s because they figured that the best way to not stand out in the Metro is too look like they’re trying to. Everyone just assumes they’re some kind of street performers heading to Hollywood and Highland and ignores them.”

“So it’s not as stupid as it looks?”

“Personally, I think it looks kind of sexy on them,” Brenda replied.

“At least we know exactly where they live,” Rita said.

“We got the building address, anyway,” Brenda said.

“Don’t be modest. You got their exact unit number as well.”

“I what?”

“But… those two are very clever,” Rita continued. “They figured out almost immediately that we were watching, and gave our crew the slip.”

“Why were you following them?”

“To figure out their methods. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to slip GPS on their car, so the last we saw them, they were headed generally toward Burbank. Or Glendale. Or who knows where else out the 134.”

“I wonder if it was Forest Lawn,” Brenda mused.

“Which one?” Rita asked. “They’re all over the damn city.”

“But why do you need to follow them to figure out their methods? You can pretty much see them on all the videos.”

“Well, methods and motives. I mean, you must have wondered,” Rita whispered. “What do they do with these things once they catch them?”

“I assume that they’re working for someone,” Brenda said.

“They didn’t tell you?”

“No. I mean, only vaguely. They hinted that they couldn’t say anything because it’s some government organization they work for.”

“Oh, goddammit!” Rita grunted. “How are we going to steal them to work for us if they already work for some government agency? And are they rivals within the county, just city level, or something else?”

“They only alluded to the idea that it’s an agency they’d normally hate working for, so given that they a couple of gay millennials, I’d say that it has to be federal.”

“Hm…” Rita mused. She took out her phone, tapped and swiped, then handed it to Brenda. On it was a photo of a Tesla that had been painted purple with an orange racing stripe running along its length. It had California vanity plates that read ECTO-42.”

“Damn,” Brenda said. “Double nerd reference. And who the hell paints a Tesla?”

“Someone who owns it,” Rita said. “But what government agency could they possibly work for that they own a Tesla?”

“Especially that one,” Brenda replied. “Tesla X, Performance version. That’s the most expensive one.”

“Why would you know that?” Rita asked her.

“I had to talk Jonah down from a little mid-life crisis a couple of years ago. Got him to settle for a Prius instead.”

“That’s not all,” Rita went on. “They own their condo, too. Free and clear.”

“No shit?”

“No shit.”

“Although, of course, while we could get the info about that, we couldn’t get their names.”

“Joshua and Simon,” Brenda said.

“Yes, but Joshua and Simon what?” Rita asked.

“Yeah, good point.”

“Shit,” Rita sighed. “I mean, even if you want to hire them as contractors, I guess…”

“Yeah, but wait. You know how long it takes government to do anything, especially the county, because the supes have to figure out how they can grease their palms off of it first and I did not just say that out loud to you, thank you — ”

Rita gave a loud, hard laugh at that, put her right hand on her heart, raised her left and said, “Amen, sister.”

“But why the hell would I want to actually run an agency or department or whatever when all that does is shove me in the spotlight?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Bump to the highest pay grade, county executive? Brenda, you could by your husband and all three of your kids their own Teslas.”

“Not really,” Brenda replied. “What are they even thinking of calling this department, anyway?”

“Well, we can’t exactly call it the Los Angeles County Department of Investigating Supernatural Shit Going Down in our Metro System, can we,” Rita said. “So we were thinking something like The Riordan Legacy Project, since this was kind of his doing in the first place.”

“You do know that that mofo is still alive, right?”

“And didn’t you tell me that you voted for him twice?”

“Only once,” Brenda insisted. “I was two young the first time. Second time was because Tom Hayden seemed a little too scary radical for me.”

“Weren’t your parents like crazy old-school hippie activists, though?” Rita asked.

“My mother still is,” Brenda replied.

“And your… Oh, shit. I’m so sorry. I forgot.”

“It’s okay,” Brenda said. “It’s okay. I mean, it’s not okay — what happened. But I don’t expect everyone to constantly, you know. Life goes on.”

“Okay, but seriously, we create a special department to investigate these things, with an eye on maybe — just maybe — eventually revealing the truth to the public — ”

“As if!” Brenda scoffed.

“What would you call it? What title would you like, which county building would you like your offices in, and how much should we pay those cute little gay ghost hunters of yours?”

“Did you just use the G-word?”

“Gay?”

“No. Ghost,” Brenda said. “I’m not even sure that’s what we’re dealing with here.”

“Then what do you think they are?” Rita asked.

Brenda shrugged. “I don’t know. Something… different? Weird? Maybe not even a spiritual or supernatural phenomenon at all?”

“So you do want to know!” Rita smiled, pointing at Brenda, who looked up, then down, then back at her.

“Okay. Busted,” she replied. “But no way in hell I want to run the whole show. Nuh-uh, not in a million years. I’d rather be behind the scenes, with my two cute little gay guys. Why don’t you run it?”

“Really?” Rita asked.

“Yes, really. You,” Brenda said.

“Oh my god, thank you,” Rita replied. “See, I told them that you’d never want the top spot, but they didn’t believe me. But I never in a million years would ever try to talk you out of it. Which I didn’t, right?”

“Of course you didn’t. Girl, you practically shoved me into.”

“Exactly.”

“So, wait… who did you tell, and why do you sound like this thing is already going to happen?”

“Fair questions,” Rita said. “Obviously, I told the Board of Supervisors when they brought me in to describe the project and suggest you for the top role.”

“The fucking supes. Of course,” Brenda sighed. “And…?”

“The Los Angeles County Bureau of Anomalous Events. Seems bland enough, right?”

“Did some asshole downtown actually try to make that acronym be BAE, or was it an accident?”

“Is it…” Rita paused, thought it out, then laughed. “Holy shit,” she said. “That must have been one horny fucker in Norwalk who pulled that one out of his or her ass.”

“Yeah, that County Seal is going to look ridiculous.”

“So… are you onboard?” Rita asked her.

“As what?” Brenda replied.

“Well, I don’t think they’d go for a title like Assistant to the Beautiful Latinx Goddess in Charge, so how about… BAE Deputy Director?”

“I don’t know,” Brenda replied. “I was thinking more along the lines of Chief County Fag Hag?”

“Really?”

“No, you silly bitch. But, how about we dump the BAE and deputy anything, and make it… oh, I know. Executive Director of Anomalous Investigations?”

“Ooh. Now you’re thinking like a bureaucrat, girl. Yeah, I think that’s doable. What am I saying? They gave me carte blanche. Of course it is. Although your acronym is about sad robots.”

“What?” Brenda asked in surprise.

“It’s ED, AI,” Rita replied.

“Oh shut up,” Brenda snapped back at her, and then they laughed and high-fived.

Yeah, Brenda thought, this might actually turn out to be interesting.

* * *

Gumbo

Joshua and Simon got home from visiting Drew and Brent late in the evening because Brent was a southern gentleman with Cajun roots, and if there was one thing he always did for his guests, it was to feed them, so the boys were not allowed to leave right away, especially after announcing their engagement — clutch the pearls!

Brent ran off to the kitchen, and set to cooking the famous Cajun “Holy Trinity” (onions, bell pepper, and celery) as the basis for what was going to become chicken gumbo.

He also phoned a few friends to come on over, and they started arriving within half an hour. Joshua and Simon knew some of them, but not all of them, although Joshua had stayed naked and in the pool while Simon had gotten completely dressed at the first hint of company.

It wasn’t even anywhere near dark, and wouldn’t be for a while, Joshua thought. Why waste good daylight?

“You know, I’d love to stay for dinner,” Simon told him, “But we picked up some really important information here, and I’d love to act on it as soon as possible.”

“So do I, dear,” Joshua replied. “But think about it. First, we’re going to have to come up with a strategy and a game-plan, and that’s going to take more than five minutes. And then, what? We’re going to try to pull it off after dark, which we both know is when these things seem to be the most alert and active?”

“But we have a chance to test our biggest theory!” Simon insisted.

“I know,” Joshua said. “But that is exactly why we need to take our time doing it. Tomorrow will be fine. Tonight… just relax and enjoy dinner, okay?”

“I’m sorry, honey. Really. You know how anxious I get about this shit. But, you’re right. We have time. Preston isn’t going anywhere.”

“Love you,” Joshua replied, and Simon just smiled back at him and nodded.

That was when Brent came outside and saw them and announced loudly, “There you two are!” It always struck Joshua as really funny that, while Brent never drank, something about his natural accent always made him sound drunk, and particularly right now.

The other guests came outside to crowd around.

“The nude one is Joshua, the really hot but shy one is Simon,” he announced. “They are very dear friends of ours, have been a couple forever, but finally decided to make it official, so this is their ad hoc and impromptu engagement party!”

Everyone cheered and applauded and Simon looked into Joshua’s eyes.

“Well, fuck,” he muttered.

“Roll with it, dear. Dinner will be worth it.”

By the time dinner was served, the sun was setting, and Joshua had finally deigned to get dressed again. He and Simon sat together at the head of the long table, and they both were amazed at how much food Brent had managed to make happen mostly by himself in such a short time.

Oh, he had the help of some guys he’d recruited to chop this and stir that, but otherwise, he was a one-man maniac in the kitchen.

The end results were amazing.

During the meal, Joshua and Simon were the center of attention, with Brent helping to drive the conversation, and the guests had so many questions, but they both decided that they had to be vague.

“What do you two do for a living?”

“Um… we code,” was about all they said. This had the advantage of making the much older guests, who were the majority, completely lose interest in that line of thought. Meanwhile, the younger ones had too many more questions.

“What do you code?” they asked. “Apps? Games?”

“Nothing you’ve ever heard of, really,” Joshua explained.

“It’s niche apps for very specialized industries, like oil drilling or logging,” Simon said.

“Ooh, good ones,” Joshua thought, just staring at his fiancé in awe. If there were two choices that would throw people off of the trail, those were them. Plus they were of less than no interest to the twenty-somethings who had asked what they coded.

They managed to steer the conversation onto musical theatre, and that finally took them out of the center of attention.

It was a bit after nine p.m. that they both finally managed to extricate themselves, politely rejecting the huge Tupperware bucket of gumbo that Brent wanted to send them off with, then they headed back down home, Simon driving this time while Joshua rode shotgun on a couple of their never released to the public apps.

One of them constantly tracked the Bluetooth and WiFi of every phone and vehicle around them to see if they were being followed. The other compared a database of government vehicles to their know tracking tokens, in case any of them got too close.

But they made it back down Laurel Canyon, right on Magnolia, left on Tujunga, and into their garage and down to their spot without being followed, all before ten p.m.

Once they’d gotten back upstairs, Simon was eager to grab the trap and let Preston out, but Joshua stopped him.

“I told you already, honey,” he said. “This one is way too delicate to rush.”

“What is the worst that could happen?” Simon asked. Joshua sighed.

“Sit,” he said. Simon sat on the sofa in the living room, and Joshua tried to explain his thoughts.

“Okay, so… ask yourself this. Dude is born as Danny Winthorpe. That’s who he grows up as. That’s who he is, his entire life, but then…?”

“Well, I mean… apparently, he died and was buried as Preston LeCard, right?”

“Exactly!” Joshua said. “But was he ever really Preston?”

“He thought so,” Simon countered.

“So did we,” Joshua said. “Okay, here’s another one. Who remembers Marion Morrison?”

“Um… who?” Simon asked.

“John Wayne?”

“Oh, right,” Simon brightened. “Yeah, I remember him, even though he was a gigantic, conservative racist dickhead.”

“But you only remember him under the one name, see?” Joshua said.

“Right,” Simon replied. “And?”

“Preston only remembers himself under that name because that’s the only name everyone knew him under. I mean, until we made the connection.”

“Okay,” Simon said. “So what’s the big deal?”

“The big deal is that these things apparently thrive on the memories of the living. So… what happens if one of them is suddenly confronted with two very different and conflicting memories? Is he Preston? Or is he Danny? Which one survives the battle?”

“Oh…” Simon  replied, finally getting it before adding, “Shit. So… Tomorrow morning, strategy session, heavy planning, that kind of shit.”

“That kind of shit,” Joshua said.

“Done,” Simon replied, and they hugged for what seemed like an hour, then put thoughts of unleashing Preston out of their minds and went to bed.

* * *

Image: Grand Central Market Downtown L.A., author unknown. Used under Creative Commons license (CC BY-SA 3.0).