Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Monday, December 4, 2023

The Library (Inktober, Thursday, October 29, 2020)

For Inktober, Thursday, October 29, 2020. Prompt word: “shoes.” Tuckerization: Colleen Cahill-Landis

This is a reminder that volunteering for tuckerization only means a character in the story shares the participant’s name. Other than that, no other similar characteristics are implied.

The Library is an extension of the short story, Some Would Call It Worthless. Please take a few moments to read that first.

The Library
by Alan Loewen

“Come in,” the Director said. An aide popped her head past the doorframe.

“Director, we’ve had some new refugees from Sarkomand.”

“How many?”


“I will orient them in my Common Room.”

The aide nodded and silently closed the massive door behind her.

The Director looked at the stacked books that covered every available space in the office. She selected one at random and smiled. I have time to read one more book, she thought to herself.

Ten minutes later, she entered the Common Room where four people, three men and a woman, sat on the divans, the Director’s aide standing near the door. Their clothes and shoes were dusty from travel. None rose when the Director entered the room, but she was not insulted. The journey from Sarkomand to the Library was not one fraught with danger, but it was exhausting.

“Welcome to the Library,” the Director said. “I am Director Landis, currently in my forty-ninth year of service. I know you are tired, hungry, and thirsty, and my aide will see to your needs as soon as I explain where you have arrived.

“None of you felt at home in Sarkomand, and you have journeyed here to see if life is better. You have arrived at the Library, a city-sized building four by four square miles in size and a consistent ten stories tall. Like Sarkomand, we have no idea who built the Library, but we do know its purpose: to store the wisdom and written word of Earth and the residents that live here.

“My aide will assign rooms to you and the various jobs you are situated for. The only other responsibilities are to enjoy the books in the Library and to write the stories of your lives before you arrived in Sarkomand.”

The woman shyly raised her hand. “My apologies, but what are our options if we find life here that is not what we wanted?”

The Director smiled. “You are not prisoners here. You may return to Sarkomand or continue your journey on the westbound road.”

“And that leads to … where?” one of the men asked.

Director Landis shrugged. “We do not know. People have never arrived at the Library from that direction, and those that have taken the journey have never returned.”

Another man spoke up. “So, all you want us to do is work at whatever job we’re assigned, read books, and write our bios?”

The Director nodded. “Yes. It’s a straightforward life, and many have started families here.”

The speaker snorted. “I’ve not read a single book since I left high school. I’m willing to work, but I have no interest in reading and writing and will not start now.”

The Director gritted her teeth but kept a smile on her face. “Ah,” the director replied, “but the books here are special.” She turned and picked one up off the coffee table. “Would you humor me and read the first sentence in this one?”

With a sneer, the man grabbed the proffered book and looked at the first page. “When a traveler,” he began, “in north central Massachusetts takes the wrong fork...”

Suddenly, his eyes glazed over, and he sat staring straight ahead.

The other three pilgrims moved away from him in surprise. “What did you do to him?” one demanded.

The Director gave a humorless smile. “The books in the Library have a fascinating effect on the reader. Once you read the first sentence, you live the story's contents. Though it only seems a few moments, our friend here will live each second written in the book. And it will appear as real to him as we are to each other.

“I have lived countless thousands of lives through the books here.”

Suddenly, the man with the book dropped it from nerveless fingers, his eyes bulging in horror. He jumped off the divan with an ear-splitting scream and ran from the door. Wrenching it open, he raced outside, his screams fading down the hallways.

The Director turned to her aide. “Please make sure our guest finds the front door.”

“What … what in heaven’s name did you give him?” one of the pilgrims asked.

The Director picked the book up off the floor, inspecting it for damage. “It’s The Dunwich Horror by an obscure writer named H. P. Lovecraft,” she said. “I do not recommend it for newcomers.”

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

The Chupacabra

Written in the mid-1990s, The Chupacabra is the second story I ever wrote for an audience and is a direct sequel to A Very Strange House. Yes, it does seem misogynistic for how I treat my female lead, but I assure you in this story she gets her revenge and Dr. Pyre gets his comeuppance.

I strongly encourage you to read A Very Strange House first, as the plot and jokes will go well over your head. And a word of warning. Written over 25 years ago, both tales would be considered politically incorrect, and readers sensitive to these issues are encouraged to read other stories elsewhere.

This series culminated in a very popular essay that will follow in a few days.

The Chupacabra
by Alan Pyre


"I am so sorry, Madam, but your luggage has been temporarily misplaced."

Molly Ladanyi sighed and started to fill out the proper forms. Her traditional bad luck again reared its ugly head in her first thirty minutes in San Juan. Fortunately, she only expected to be in Puerto Rico long enough to write the article her boss had assigned her. Then she could bask in the tropical sun for a few days and follow her agenda.

Dressed primly in a peasant blouse and ankle-length skirt, Molly picked up her two cameras, her laptop, and her purse and walked through the airport customs, searching for the men to meet her. Her last run-in with them at a haunted house in Maryland had turned into an embarrassing disaster. This time, she told herself, I will convince them I am a professional news reporter with class.

She saw two of them waiting at the bottom of the long escalator. She pulled up their names from memory; Joshua Nozzi and R. Austin Smith. She waved serenely and stepped on the escalator, setting her heavy purse by her feet. Smiling and standing behind the security gate, they waved back.

When Molly approached the bottom of the escalator, she gracefully knelt to pick up her purse, allowing the hem of her ankle-length skirt to become trapped by the motorized stairs as they disappeared into the floor. With all the irresistible force of the cosmos, her skirt, held up only by an elastic band, was pulled down around her hips and thighs.

Screaming wildly, trying to hold on to her purse while clutching at her modesty, she lost her balance. She went sprawling on the floor at the bottom of the escalator. Within heartbeats, the relentless motion of the machinery pulled her skirt off, and it disappeared into the floor. The terminal was as silent as death except for motorized gears shredding her pride into individual fibers.

Suddenly, the silence was shattered when one little boy pointed and laughed. "Mira!" he cried with joy. "Mira! Es Donald Duck!"

Near tears, Molly stumbled to her feet, gathered her stuff, and walked to the gate with as much dignity as she could muster, wishing she had selected plain panties that morning instead of bikini underwear bearing the repeated face of a Disney icon. Sadly, her peasant blouse was slightly cut in a midriff style which barely covered her navel, let alone her taste in lingerie.

Joshua and Austin stood in stunned silence, their eyes irresistibly drawn to the small duck faces that maniacally stared back at them. "Strange," Austin muttered to Joshua. "Their eyes seem to follow you no matter where she moves."

"Shall we go, gentlemen?" Molly asked icily, trying not to break down in tears in front of these men she had wanted so badly to impress. Joshua motioned toward the door. Leading the way, Molly walked out into the bright Puerto Rican sunlight, ignoring the laughter, jeers, and delighted cries of "Es Donald Duck!"

Austin pointed her toward the large white van she remembered from her first encounter with this strange research crew. She could see Jeff Coover sitting in the driver's seat and staring at her goggle-eyed while he slowly shook his head in disbelief. Joshua held the back door to the van open, and Molly walked inside. As before, electronic devices covered the van's interior from floor to roof. Sprawled in the middle of the floor was a large, old basset hound that stared at her with large, soulful eyes.

Molly slumped into a padded seat while Jeff started the van. Molly burst into tears of anger and shame, unable to hide her mortification. Embarrassed for her, Joshua gave her his handkerchief.

"I really wanted to impress you with my professionalism," she sobbed into the handkerchief. "How come," she wailed, "I always end up in my underwear around you guys?" The trio maintained an awkward silence, unable to think of anything comforting to say.

The basset hound, hobbling as the van bumped over rough San Juan streets, padded toward her. It sprawled in front of her feet and looked up at her with what appeared to be strong disapproval on its face.

"Go ahead and stare," she blubbered at the dog. "Everybody else is."

"Please do not accuse me of a carnal nature," the dog said thickly, "I am beyond all that."

Molly stared at the dog in stunned silence. Somehow, she thought to herself, somehow this doesn't seem all that strange. I sit in a van with three guys in San Juan, wearing nothing but a blouse and my bikini Donald Duck underwear, and a dog is talking to me.

"Jeff," the dog said. "Pull up at the next clothing store so we can get some proper attire for Miss Ladanyi."

"You're Doctor Pyre," Molly said dumbly.

"I'm pleased to see you again," the dog said. "However, it's evident your taste in unmentionables is still of a questionable nature."

Jeff pulled the van up into the corner. After asking Molly for her measurements, the basset and Austin left the van to shop for clothes.

After a few uncomfortable moments of silence, Molly blurted out. "That ugly dog is Dr. Pyre!"

"Pardon," Jeff replied, "but that dog is also a much-loved family pet."

"But ..., But ..." Molly stuttered.

"Allow me," Joshua said gallantly. "It was the good doctor's weekly practice to upload his brain waves to a recordable set of CD ROMs. After his demise in Frederick, we were placed firmly on the horns of a dilemma. Dr. Pyre was the only man who could sign our final paychecks, yet he quickly assumed room temperature trying to prove a ghost wasn't a ghost."

"Anyway," Jeff interrupted, "my family had owned old Duke for many years, and he was getting on in age. Plus the fact we were getting a little tired of him. We planned to take him to the vet and have him put down, but instead we used him as a receptacle for the doctor's recorded consciousness."

"But a dog?" Molly asked, temporarily forgetting her embarrassment.

Jeff shrugged. "It would have been unethical to put him in another human."

"And expensive," Joshua added.

The van door opened, and Austin and the basset entered, the former bearing several skirts embroidered with Puerto Rican designs. Molly selected a floral skirt that ended just above the knee and belted around the waist. She sighed with relief to find herself decent again.

"Well, gentlemen," said the dog, "and lady," he added with a nod to Molly, "the game is afoot. Let's go hunt the chupacabra and make names for ourselves."

The road to Caguas needed to be better maintained. But, amidst the bumps and potholes, Molly got in her questions.

"The chupacabra," the doctor was explaining, "which is Spanish, by-the-bye, for 'goat-sucker,' is a local creature with the same reputation as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster.

"According to eyewitnesses, the chupacabra stands three to four feet tall, has a long tail, reptilian skin, strangely glowing green eyes, and a crest of spines that runs down the back.

"It's greatly feared in the area even though there are no records of it attacking humans. However, many goats, cows, and rabbits have been found with their brains, and blood sucked out with the precision of a talented surgeon."

"Gross!" Molly interjected. "But how will you capture such a thing when many others before you haven't even seen it?"

"Science!" the dog partly howled. "We've been tracking the sightings for several years and found a definite though complex pattern.

"According to our elaborate calculations, it awaits tonight in the moon-haunted tropical forests outside Caguas."

The remainder of the trip was uneventful though Joshua and Austin spent some time staring at Molly's shapely knees and legs. And that's as high up as it goes, gentlemen, she said to them in the privacy of her thoughts. No more peeks at my nether regions.

Five minutes later, the van turned into a very rough dirt road. Finally, after some bone-jarring bumps, the van wheezed to a stop.

"We're here," Jeff announced.

Molly, Austin, and Joshua, followed by the lumbering basset hound, stepped outside into the fading Puerto Rican daylight. It was evident the team had been here to set up beforehand as the ground was covered by a fine metal net covered by a smaller, coarser fiber net. A small goat was calmly chewing its cud in the middle of it all.

"What's that terrible odor?" Molly asked, wrinkling her nose in distaste.

"Goat urine," Joshua said, helping Austin hook a thick cable from the net to the van. "We soaked the ground with it several days ago as an attractant for the chupacabra."

"The trap is quite simple," Austin chimed in. "When the chupacabra attacks the goat, Jeff will send 200,000 watts of electricity through the metal net. Then, having hardly any amperage, it will simply stun the beast. We then trigger the fiber net, which pulls up into the tree, and we have our monster."

"Seems simple enough," Molly said.

"Are we hooked up, gentlemen?" Dr. Pyre asked. After they nodded their response, they returned to the van for the long wait.

Jeff had already taken his seat at the central console. The outside video camera showed the goat on its knees, close to napping. Taking their seats, Jeff passed out sandwiches, and they waited. Outside, the Puerto Rican evening turned into night. Jeff switched on the infrared.

Absentmindedly, Molly reached down and scratched the basset hound behind the ears. Dr. Pyre spun his head around with a snarl. "I would appreciate it if you wouldn't do that," he growled as Molly jerked her hand back.

"Sorry," said Molly meekly.

After a few minutes, Molly nervously cleared her throat. "Excuse me," she said, "but can anybody tell me where a girl can use the powder room?"

Dr. Pyre rolled his eyes in disbelief. "Infrared show anything, Jeff?" he asked.

"Nope," Jeff said, evidently bored. "All's clear."

"I'm sorry we have no modern conveniences," Dr. Pyre said to Molly, "but you'll have your choice of trees."

Blushing, Molly pointed at the video and infrared monitors.

The dog sighed in disgust. "I'll ensure these voyeurs keep their eyes on more important work. Jeff, please turn off the monitors until Miss Ladanyi returns."

Jeff shrugged and hit a switch. The monitors went dead.

Joshua looked at Austin and raised his eyebrows. Austin shrugged and discreetly reached over and hit the record button on the VCR. The monitors were off, but the outside cameras worked just fine. They were not interested in Molly answering the call of nature. Still, later they would put the video where the good doctor could find it and enjoy the resulting explosion of temper and outrage.

The good doctor was so much more entertaining as a basset hound.

Molly walked behind the van away from the net and the goat that served as bait, the beam of the flashlight she had been given reflecting off the leaves. She played the beam around the van and shivered to think that soon something might come that was not of this world or not meant to be of this world.

When she heard the hiss to her left, she instinctively directed the light toward the sound. Unfortunately, the light reflected back from a pair of large, emerald-green eyes. She stood in terror as the creature before her raised itself to its full height. It hissed again and opened its jaws where a stiff hollow tongue played over inch-long fangs. Once again, it hissed, and the spines on its back stiffened into a macabre row of deadly adornment.

Whimpering, Molly inched away from the creature that stared at her in sheer malevolence. She reached out for the door handle that would let her back into the van and safety. She slowly turned the handle, only to discover it was locked.

The beast charged.

With a scream, she ran around the van, only to go sprawling over the goat that began bleating in terror from being stomped on. Immediately, the floodlights were turned on, brilliantly illuminating the area. Molly stumbled to her feet as the men in the van began yelling as they realized her danger.

With a sob, she staggered and turned to face the creature that blinked at her in the brilliant light. It hissed and sprang.

Simultaneously, the hemp net was released. It brought the goat bawling into the air and snagged itself into Molly's skirt. Then, with another scream, she was pulled into the air, her skirt jerked over her waist. The chupacabra leaped only to find empty air and prey twenty feet above it.

Sprawling on the ground where its target had been, it hissed in its rage at being cheated of a victim. Molly hung suspended, held in place by the thin belt that kept her skirt cinched around her waist. She clung to the net and the bawling goat as her long bare legs kicked empty air.

The van's back door opened, and Doctor Pyre leaped out barking. Then, in desperation and anxiety, Joshua and Austin stumbled over each other and sprawled on the ground.

With a growl, the good doctor lunged, teeth bared for the chupacabra's throat. The chupacabra spun on its short reptilian legs and caught the dog in midair in its three-inch claws. It was over in moments.

Suddenly, there was a shower of sparks. The chupacabra screamed as 200,000 volts ripped through its body. It tried to run, but its muscles were frozen by the voltage. Finally, it slumped into the metallic net and over the body of the mangled basset hound.

Jeff turned on the outside speakers while Joshua and Austin regained their feet. "Quickly," Jeff ordered, "Cover it with the metal grid. I'll keep a low voltage flowing through it to keep it unconscious.

Within seconds, the chupacabra was wrapped in the metal net.

"Will somebody please help me down now?" Molly whimpered. Austin and Joshua looked up at her in pensive thought.

"You're right," Joshua said to Austin. "Donald's eyes do follow you as she moves."

An hour later, the chupacabra was caged and kept unconscious by a steady flow of low-voltage electricity. Joshua and Austin had carried the dog's body back into the van, and the four sat around it as they contemplated their next move.

"Triggering the hemp net and getting you into the air was the only way I knew to get you out of harm's way," Jeff explained to Molly. "Fortunately, the net snagged your skirt, or you would have had to face the thing on the ground."

"Whoa," Austin said, pointing to the dog. "Basset in a blender! There's not much left."

"He tried to save my life," Molly said, tears coming.

"Now, who's gonna sign our paychecks?" Joshua asked. They all stared silently at what little was left of the good doctor.

"When did he last update his brain wave CD?" Jeff asked.

"Just this morning," Joshua responded.

"What are we going to put him into this time?" Jeff asked, scratching his head. There was another few moments of silence.

"I've got a gerbil at home," Austin said.

Jeff shook his head in the negative. " Too small. It can't hold a pen. Anyway, we need something now. We got to get home."

The chupacabra moaned in its restless sleep. They looked at the chupacabra. They looked at each other. They all smiled.

"Any port in a storm," Jeff quipped.

"It'll fit his personality," Austin added.

"And it'll be a great learning experience," Joshua said.

"Why not?" Molly said. "He won't be any uglier than my boss at the paper." She let out a tired sigh. "I just want to go home. I'm tired of flashing my fanny at you fellows."

Austin simply smiled, hit the eject button on the VCR, and put the tape in a safe place.


Friday, April 7, 2023

A Very Strange House

Written in the mid-1990s, A Very Strange House is the first story I ever wrote for an audience. Yes, it does seem misogynistic for how I treat my female lead, but I assure you in the sequel she gets her revenge and Dr. Pyre gets his comeuppance. I will publish the sequel in the very near future.

So take this haunted house story with a grain of salt. It is quite politically incorrect for modern sensibilities.

 A Very Strange House

by Alan Pyre 




Molly exited her car and pulled again at the hem of her miniskirt. A natural procrastinator, when it came to washing laundry, she had let the pile of dirty clothes stack up. Then, as luck would have it, her boss called her at the last minute to immediately cover some stupid public interest story when the only clean dress she had in the entire house consisted of one very short skirt she had bought on a lark several years ago.


She had parked her car at the proper address and sniffed in disdain at the house in front of her. A modern ranch house, it did not look like it was haunted, nor did it come even close to the reputation her boss claimed marred its recent history. Next to the house in its driveway stood a large white van, electrical cables snaking from it into the home’s front door. Her boss told her that the new house owners had called on some professional ghost-busters to come and purge the house of its reputation.


A middle-aged man came to the door, bald and obese to the point of corpulence, his florid complexion a silent testament to the tragedy of a life of overeating and inactivity. He glanced at her, then suddenly did a double-take. His frown of censure was clearly visible even from where she stood. She sighed, ignoring that all too much thigh was showing; she boldly walked up to the front porch. For the first time Molly could remember, she was embarrassed to notice she jiggled when she walked.


“Am I addressing Dr. Pyre?” she inquired. He nodded in silence. Molly stood still, uncomfortable with the sudden silence.


“My name is Molly Ladanyi,” she continued, “I work for ...”


“You work for the Frederick Sentinel,” the man interrupted, “where for several years you’ve covered stories of an insignificant nature ranging from firemen rescuing cats to cheesy stories of fortunetellers with bad accents.” He looked at her and sniffed. “I was hoping for a professional reporter.”


Molly bristled. “I am a professional reporter,” she said, “and the work you’ve cited are stories any beginning reporter has to begin with to earn their keep.”


“So now they’ve got you covering stories on haunted houses?” he asked, grinning like a shark. He looked at Molly’s shapely thighs and shook his head.


“Look,” she said, giving in to resignation. “I normally don’t dress like this. But unfortunately, this was a last-minute call, and I had nothing else clean to wear. Can’t we just finish this interview so I can go?” She looked at him pleadingly. In response, the man simply shrugged and motioned her into the house.


In the foyer, he turned and assumed what Molly guessed passed as his lecture mode. “As you have surmised, my name is Dr. Milo Pyre.


“That’s Pyre with a ‘y,’” he said forcefully. “I can’t stand having my name misspelled.


“The home you are in was built in 1972. It was in 1978 that the family residing here began to notice what we in our business call the poltergeist phenomenon.” He led her from the foyer into the kitchen. The house was furnished and quite plain. And very normal. Except for the electrical cables that seemed to snake everywhere, the video cameras, the microphones, and the strange sensors taped to the walls, Molly was convinced it would have made an excellent set for any wholesome family sitcom. 


“It was the typical stuff,” Dr. Pyre continued. “Bric-a-brac flying around the room. Strange lights. Cold spots. The regular. When the attacks began, the house started going through a regular cycle of owners who would immediately dump it on the market after just a few months.”


“Attacks?” Molly asked nervously. “What kind of attacks?”


Dr. Pyre shrugged. “Nothing overly dramatic. Mostly people getting things thrown at them. The feeling that an evil presence was in the same room with them.”


He walked up the second-floor steps, and Molly followed behind, furiously scribbling notes on her small notepad.


“Unfortunately, even such minor attacks were enough to chase people out of the house for good. No curiosity—please watch the electrical cable there. You’re stepping on it—and people took off without even asking what they were running from.”


“And,” Molly asked, “have you noticed any unusual stuff while you’ve been here?”


“Yes,” he said nonchalantly as if he was discussing the weather, “but I’m a researcher and don’t have time for distractions.”


“And how are you researching this ... EEK!” she suddenly screamed. She dropped her notepad, causing the doctor to jump. She grabbed her backside and backed into a wall, almost knocking over a video camera.


“Some ... some ... something pinched me!” she shrieked.


“Come, come,” Dr. Pyre said. “A pretty girl like you wearing such clothes can’t be a stranger to a casual pinch.” He shook his head, clucking his tongue.


“What was it?” she asked, terrified to move away from the wall.


The doctor chuckled despite himself. “The force in this house has a penchant for young ladies. And as it is now aware of you, I suggest we leave and continue this interview outside.”


He began to walk down the stairs. Molly looked for anything that might give her a clue she would once again be accosted by an invisible agent, but the hallway was bright with sunlight and obviously empty.


“Are you coming?” Dr. Pyre asked at the bottom of the stairs.


Quickly, she scooped up her pen and notepad where they had been dropped and walked down the stairs as fast as her short dress would allow. Suddenly she yelped, her feet went out from under her, and she fell on her behind in front of the good doctor.


“Something goosed me!” she wailed. The doctor, his face frozen in a glare of disapproval, offered his hand to help her up.


“Forgive me for mentioning it,” he said, his lips set in prim annoyance, “but I couldn’t help but notice, but do you think your choice of undergarments is appropriate for a short skirt?” He said the words as if he would have to have his entire body dipped in boiling disinfectant just to speak them.


Almost weeping in embarrassment and fear, Molly ignored the offered hand and jumped to her feet, tugging at the hem of her skirt. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I was sent here at the last minute, and I ...”


“... don’t have a clean pair of decent underwear,” the doctor said, finishing her sentence. “Yes, well, shall we?” He motioned for the front door, and Molly ran out of the house before she could again be manhandled by whatever haunted the place.


Outside, the doctor closed the front door behind him and motioned her toward the large white van. “My three colleagues will love to meet you,” he said, again giving her a toothy grin. “You may find their attentions equal to the force that pervades the house.”


Having recovered from her shock and feeling safe outside in the warm sunshine, Molly turned her back on him and walked toward the van. However, the door opened before she could knock, and she was greeted by a thin, handsome fellow dressed in black and looking pale, dark, and very gothic.


“Joshua Nozzi,” he said, lending her a hand up the narrow steps. Then, bending her knee to walk up into the van, she was again conscious of her restricting and all-too-revealing dress. Next time I pull a stunt like this, she thought, I’m dressing as a nun.


The inside of the van was a wonderland of electronics. Everywhere lights blinked, computer monitors flashed, and strange boards chirped and whistled. The other two men in the van looked at their guest approvingly, and Molly sighed to herself.


“Gentlemen,” came Dr. Pyre’s voice behind her, “And I use the term loosely. May I introduce Molly Ladanyi, a reporter. She’s here to cover our exploits. Please be gentle. She’s already had a run-in with what we are studying.”


The doctor motioned to the young man who had helped her into the van. “I see you’ve already met my second-in-command.” Joshua Nozzi nodded, his eyes strangely glued to Molly’s hemline.


“This gentleman is the electronic brains of the outfit. May I introduce Jeff Coover?” Jeff spun around in his chair and greeted Molly warmly. Within moments, his attention was again focused on his computer monitor as if the electronic information streaming across the screen was the most crucial revelation in the cosmos.


“And finally, R. Austin Smith, my gopher.” Austin stood, smiled, and shook her hand, maintaining contact just a little too long for comfort.


“We’re almost set up inside, gentlemen,” Dr. Pyre said cordially. “Please be friendly to our guest.


“And if she sits down,” he said aloud to Joshua, “give her a blanket for her lap.” Molly blushed and stared at the computer screens.


The doctor left the van, closing the door behind him. Molly stared uncomfortably around the van while the three men stared comfortably at her.


“The Horse is going back inside the house, guys,” Jeff said, finally turning to his computer screen. “We’re fifteen minutes away from sunset and our time to rock and roll.”


Austin sighed. “I hope the Horse’s theory is right on this one. But unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll be able to get any more grants if his theories don’t pan out.”


“Why do you call Dr. Pyre the Horse?’” Molly asked. “Is it a nickname?”


“Not really,” Jeff said, his eyes glued to the computer screen. “It’s simply impolite to call the man who signs your paycheck a jackass.”


Once again, an uncomfortable silence came into the van, silent except for the buzzes and chirps of the electronics. Restlessly, Molly tugged again at the hem of her dress, a nervous habit she noticed she was developing.


“I take it there might be some disagreements?” she asked.


There was another moment of silence. “Off the record?” Joshua asked. Molly nodded her agreement.


“The Horse has this theory that there are no such things as ghosts, poltergeists, and whatnot. He feels they are natural phenomena like electromagnetic waves that sensitive people can intercept and perceive as occult experiences.” Joshua started warming up to his subject. “What the Horse has done is wire up a house completely so we’ll see it no matter where a cold spot develops. If there is an electromagnetic disturbance, we’ll record it. Tell her, Jeff.”


Jeff typed a few commands on the keyboard, and a 3-D schematic of the house appeared on the screen. A large red blotch slowly moved up the stairs. “This,” he said, “shows us every square inch of the house.” He pointed to the red blotch on the screen as it slowly moved. “Right now, we’re registering the Horse’s body heat as he moves around.”


“My turn,” Austin said. “Since the Horse thinks the bogeyman is an electromagnetic charge, he’s prepared a hot foot for it. He hopes to disturb its form and disrupt it. Sort of like a scientific exorcism.” Austin had been twiddling a small pencil in his hand when it suddenly dropped and rolled behind her. “Oh, drat!” Austin said, “Could you get that for me?”


Without thinking, Molly spun around and deftly picked the pencil up.


“Yeah, definitely inappropriate,” Austin said, nodding and smiling.


“Agreed,” chimed in Joshua.


“No comment,” Jeff said, but Molly could tell he was grinning wide enough to eat a banana sideways.


“You ...” she sputtered. “You were watching the doctor and me when we were inside the house!” She threw the pencil at Austin, who ducked and laughed.


“Yes,” Joshua said, “our sensors are always on, but now let me ask you a real question.” Suddenly the smile disappeared from his face, and he looked her straight in the eyes for the first time. “Do you really think it was an electromagnetic force that goosed you on the stairs?”


“The sun is setting, lady and gentlemen,” Jeff interrupted. “It’s show time.”


Eagerly they crowded around the monitors. In one, the house stood as a 3-D stick figure, the doctor forming an ungainly blotch of red body heat. In another, they could see him clearly in the video as he worked on a weird contraption that straddled the upstairs hallway.


The doctor looked at a video camera. “Okay, gents, can you hear me?” he said. 


Jeff hit a button. “Loud and clear, boss. We’re only three minutes from show time.”


“Good,” the doctor said, smiling. “I think we’ll see some fireworks tonight.”


“The tape is rolling,” Austin said, hitting a button. “We’ll at least make America’s Funniest Home Videos.”


Suddenly, four blue columns appeared on the 3-D monitor scattered at various points around the house. Jeff keyed the mike. “The cold spots have made their appearance, boss. Right on schedule.” He turned to Molly and pointed to the screen. “Those four columns are columns of cold air which maintain a temperature level of precisely 13 degrees below ambient. They appear 39 seconds after sunset and will dissipate at 4:09 AM.”


“What causes them?” Molly whispered.


Jeff shrugged. “I say spooks. The Horse says it’s a natural phenomenon. Now here’s the best part. In about five minutes, you’ll see an electromagnetic presence materialize in the basement. It’ll then walk up to the first floor, up the staircase, and through the hallway where the Horse is waiting. Finally, if undisturbed, it’ll go up to the attic, where it will disappear.


“But you see,” Joshua interrupted, getting excited despite himself. “The Horse is waiting with two huge electrodes in the hallway. When the electromagnetic disturbance walks between them, he’ll send an electric arc of 250,000 volts through its space. He thinks it may disappear forever if it’s just an electromagnetic wave.”


“Okay, fellows,” the doctor said, speaking into the camera. “I’m standing on the rubber mat and ready. Remember. When I start the arc, you must kill all output from this house. The electricity will fry everything, and I don’t have enough money to replace stuff.”


“Doc,” Jeff interrupted, “I still would feel better if you would observe from the van. We can safely trigger the arc from in here.”


“Nonsense!” the doctor said in curt response. “I’m completely safe. Anyway, I want to see the culmination of my work and the proof of my theories with my own two eyes.”


“There it is,” Austin said, pointing at the screen. A colossal blob of blue electromagnetic force slowly formed on the monitor in the basement.


“We got it on target, sir,” Jeff said. “It’s starting to move.”


“So that’s the thing that pinched my butt,” Molly said in awe.


“Shh!” the rest hissed in unison.


They watched silently as the blob moved to the cellar staircase and made its way to the first floor. Then, finally, it slowly went through the closed basement door and turned into the small hallway leading to the main staircase.


Once again, Jeff keyed the mike and whispered into the set. “Doc, it’s coming right for you. It still appears to be moving with intelligence.”


“Nonsense,” the doctor replied in a normal tone of voice. “Don’t personify the force. It’s no more than an electromagnetic wave.” He smiled smugly into the camera.


“Arrogant little bugger, isn’t he?” Molly whispered to no one in particular. Nobody spoke up to disagree with her.


“Starting countdown, Doc,” Jeff said. “I’ll turn off electronics when I reach three.”


“Seven ...”


“Six ...”


“Five ...”


“Four ... Good luck, doctor.”




Jeff hit the switch, the van’s interior went jet black, and silence reigned except for their breathing and the noise from a safety mike on the first-floor landing.


Suddenly, the sound of an electric arc filled the cramped van, its sizzle amplified by the speakers. It was immediately followed by an unearthly howl of rage and pain, followed yet again by the doctor’s screams of fear and agony.


“Hit the cameras,” Austin yelled, but Jeff was already swatting at the On button. They seemed to wait an eternity while the monitors came to life. The speakers remained dead.


The camera on the second floor was lying on its side, but it showed all too clearly the remains of the good doctor. The three men and Molly stared at the image in shock and horror.


“Something chewed his face off!” Joshua whispered in awe.


“Why ... why ... why, that’s wonderful!” Molly stuttered.


The three men looked at her in stunned surprise.


“I mean, it’s a tragedy, but this story will make my career,” she explained. “I’m going to be famous!”


They all returned their stare to the monitor and the mangled remains of the doctor. 


“I am NOT cleaning that up,” Austin muttered.


“That’s no problem,” Jeff responded. “That’s why we elect coroners.” Jeff spun around and looked at Molly. “My van is right outside, and I know you’ll want quotes for your story. Do you like sushi?”


Joshua and Austin held their breath in stunned silence, hoping she’d say no.


“Why,” Molly said, “if you’re paying, I think you got a date.”


The other men moaned their disappointment. “But,” Molly added brightly, “I’ll still need to interview you two.” She winked. “At a future date, that is.”


Later, after the four had left the van, but before the coroner’s arrival, the monitor showing the 3-D map of the house displayed a small blue column of cold air slowly materializing over the corpse of the late doctor.