The Demon Box: A Dart Sawyer Mystery

The mist droplets hung in the air like swags of damp linen. The cold and wet pricked as the condensation adhered to my skin. All substance of reality flowed before me in a protracted kinesis of time as if I walked through an old silent film frame by frame. Before me lay a sea of variations of graphene shading. It gradually grew darker as I advanced. My perception was that I did not exist as a corporal being and yet my senses were hyper acute.

Presently I became aware of two men nearby advancing as I did in the damp and cold. They were talking but the speech was clipped and incomprehensible. It was some form of technical babble that was meaningless and irritating. Innately I knew that they were speaking in this manner to hide their own incompetence. I took no further notice of them.

Instead I began to focus upon experiences before me. Images of an edifice floated before me as I passed through into an interior world. Chairs, tables and other old and rotting furnishings appeared and drifted by in the murkiness. In a moment I stopped and stood at the entrance of a substantial room. The walls were wood paneled and the floor thick, true hardwood. There were oak beams stretching out above me to a ceiling beyond my sight. At one time this chamber must have been a great room within an affluent dwelling. At the far end stood a hearth of stone. It filled the entire wall. In front of it was a swirling mass of pallid miasma. I sensed an intelligence within it. As if to acknowledge my thoughts its essence appeared to deliberately cease its motion and settled into a cloud of vapor. Then almost without perception it crept forward. Gradually a figure began to form of a little girl. It was without color, a mere shadow of black and white. Her face was sweet and she wore an expression of curiosity. Her eyes peered directly into mine. Then instantly her face was next to mine. Her breathe flowed out at me with an odor of rotting human corps as her expression drew into a demonic sneer and she shrieked…… “Dart Sawyer”.

Chapter One

I awoke in a sheet drenching sweat. Immediately I threw off my covers and sat up on the side of the bed. Looking around in the near darkness I was momentarily disoriented. The dream hung over me like a vision of hell. Sluggishly I began to arouse my wits. I am Dart Sawyer….Yes I am. This is my home and beside me slept my wife Suzzee. Our dog Dustee is a sleep at the foot of our bed. I draw in a breath and slowly exhale.

I remember that after one of my little adventures in wonderland as we call it, I had been according to my clock that showed it was 3 am been sleeping nearly 12 hours. You see I have this small problem some… medical types call manic depression. I had just been on a 3 day bender of sorts in which I had not slept and had instead reconquered my world for the umpteenth time. While in mania you often are Napoleon, Alexander the Great and Attila the Hun all in one. At least for me it seems that way. My wife Suzzee Que is a blessing during these times and despite rather large dosages of meds it sometimes takes days to right my adventure ship and come out of the rabbit hole. I was now out thanks be to Suzzee and God both.

I quietly get up and a sleepy Dustee follows me out of the room. Dustee is a Cairn terrier like Toto from the Wizard of Oz only she is buff colored. We matriculate to the kitchen where I give her a few treats. Suzzee thinks that I over feed Dustee but being part Chinese, Suzzee never gets fat and thinks everyone else can be thin too. As for me, well my mom says I am big boned. My doctor terms it as being overweight and Suzzee says that I am fat.

As my Mr. Coffee percolates away I sit at the kitchen table, peal a banana, add a dab of peanut butter and wait. Dustee settles in at my feet after I pour a cup and add some milk and a little cinnamon. I rub my stubbled face and turn on my computer. Thanks to my manic side I call Mr. Jackal, I open multiple emails from various sources wanting me to finish my orders for such necessary objects like six man camping tents, exercise trampolines, mountain bikes and scuba gear. This was my natural although a bit agitated response to being on the fluffy side. Good ideas to how exercise a little more and as I agree with my intentions as I delete them all. Although I had a few regrets about the trampoline. The pictures of the jumping model in her yellow bikini was tempting. However, I am sure Suzzee would not have seen it that way. Dustee rolls on her back and I pat her belly as I open an email from a Mr. Sherman Emerson of Compu-Labs. Odd that a computer sales and developer company would be writing me and not my wife as she is a PhD in computer sciences. Whoa what did I order from them?

“Mr. Sawyer I am in need of your services please call me ASAP.” I look at the date on the email and it was sent just minutes ago this night. As a private detective I make more money writing novels rather than solving cases. I use to work for my home town police force as their lead detective in Mineral Springs Texas. However, I got slightly cross ways with her honor the mayor Ms. Jean Taylor. So much so that the police Chief and my uncle Abe Stouffer could not prevent my departure. Now I spend time unofficially working for my uncle and sometimes investigating rather odd cases that the regular PI’s would touch. Well the truth be known the cases were often considered to be “crack pot” request that sometimes flowed in the direction of the paranormal. This is why the fact that I possessed some talent for writing mystery novels came in handy. In fact I could not wait to read what I had written since Mr. Jackal took over. I know it must seem odd that I do not recall things that I do while being him but it is something like having a multiple personality thing. He writes rather well and prolifically too. As myself I can often fold his rather convoluted plots into workable novels. The problem is that somehow parts of them seem to come true over time. This was something the mayor found rather objectionable especially when it involved her family members. Hey her brother was a thief and a killer. What can I say? My novel did not cause that to happen or at least I don’t think so.

Suzzee hugs my neck and pours some coffee. Dustee follows her about like she was the best thing to have ever entered our kitchen and perhaps she is right. Suzzee Que asks what is up and I show her my email.

“That’s a high tech business. They produce cutting edge equipment,” she says. “I want you to take me along so I can get a tour of their development labs.”

“As far as I know some janitor helped himself to rolls of toilet paper and they want me to catch him in the act,” I reply sipping my coffee.

“Two ply or one?” Suzzee asks.

“Two, I don’t take cases I consider to be beneath me,” I answer.

My phone call with Mr. Emerson was very brief. He did not want to discuss the reason for the email just that he wanted both Suzzee and me to come that very afternoon, which was interesting considering that it was Sunday. We showed up at the security gate at 9 A.M. The guards were very menacing in their demeanor. We actually had to get out of our car so they could inspect it, we were searched, and then they kept our Id’s and told us that they would be returned when we left. We were instructed to drive only to a building designated as the administration office and nowhere else. The topper was that one of their security vehicles then follow us to that building.

When we arrived at the admin building I turned to Suzzee and said, “Do you think they will escort us inside?”

She nodded as an officer walked up to my door and waited for us to get out. Once inside things seemed to be a bit more relaxed. A secretary sat at a desk and warmly greeted us. Then after allow us to stand in place long enough for their facial recognition camera to picture and store our faces we were let into Mr. Emerson’s private offices. They were plush but not over stated in a modern motif way. Did I say that I hate modern furniture especially chairs. They are design as if the premise is to find the most uncomfortable construct to place a human body in and then to maximize gravitational pull to render that person unable to get out again. They compare remarkably to Chinese handcuffs.

Mr. Emerson was lean, tall and athletic. He was not your average looking CEO, unless your company was a young upstart that had made it big overnight. In fact his company was one of the reasons that little Mineral Springs was not so small any more. We were not the tech alley that Austin had become, thank you Lord who needs all that massive growth and traffic. Nonetheless other start up tech companies had also discovered our low priced goods and services and had started to move in to the area as well.

When we entered his office, Mr. Emerson briefly shook our hands and then did not even pause as he guided us into a more secure space just beyond. This room was starker and rather uninviting. An oval table sat in the middle of the room with chairs that were at least adjustable. Large screens covered the walls and even Mr. Emerson had to access the controls at the head of the table using retinal scans and what I can only guess was an instant DNA scanner. Was all this really necessary?

Before he said a word Emerson touch a small control apparatus and it turned on a 3 dimensional control panel that he did not even need to touch in order to select his options. “You will have to forgive me for using this outdated equipment the neuro-scanner is on the fritz at this time.”

I looked to Suzzee as if the ask, “Is he kidding?”

She kept her passive Far East expression intact but slightly winked at me. This told me that she thought that Emerson was now showing off.

Emerson dialed up multiple views of his campus. Then he began to run a video with the today’s date. There was an image of what looked to be a ten foot electrical fence separating the grounds from dense forest beyond. The time on the bottom of the frames was one thirty in the morning. Nothing seemed to be happening when suddenly a craft like I had never seen before flew just high enough to clear the fence and then shot by the camera in a blur. It was like helicopter yet it flew as fast as a jet. Then a second camera showed the black craft stick a sharp landing near one of the buildings. Two armor laden men got out and this air vehicle launched a blast at the side of the building. It was like the Enterprise locking phasors. The walls just dissolved away. The men charged inside. Loud echoing sounds of gun fire and bright flashes of light followed. Then rather abruptly the two men exited carrying a small box. One of the men returned fire into the opening of the building while the other boarded the craft. The firing man was hit multiples times but his armor held as bullets ricocheted away. He then jumped into the craft and it took off. It was gone in seconds. The video stopped and Emerson did not say a word.

“What in the hell was that?” I finally asked. “A video game or something.”

“I am afraid not, this was a modern version of corporate espionage,” Emerson answered.

“It was more like international war,” I replied.

“What was in the box?” Suzzee asked.

“Let me guess,” I said. “They took your quantum computer chip.”

Emerson raised his eyebrows and shock his head. “That would be just about worthless I am afraid. Everyone has one of those. No they took something even more valuable, Maxwell’s Demon.”

“Impossible,” Suzzee sharply replied. “No one has made a demon that would fit in a box.”

“It was the box,” Emerson replied.

“I am sorry but you two lost me. Who has a demon captured in a box? I mean what is this a Halloween prank?”

“Maxwell’s Demon is a logic construct when an intelligent apparatus would be able to separate different types of atoms. Super cold ones would be trapped in one place and hot ones in another. The cold atoms could then be used to cool the quantum chip down close to absolute zero so it could operate at peak quantum efficiency. At this time large tanks of cold gases are needed to accomplish this although some devices exist somewhat like a Maxwell’s Demon. Still the technology is believed to be at least a decade away from being practical.”

“I still don’t get why a shoe box size matters?” I replied.

“Because it makes a computer small and portable,” Emerson said. “Right now a quantum computer is the size of the old IBM machines of the 70’s.”

“So it is technology ahead of its time and therefore expensive to have,” I said finally understanding. “So where are the police or the FBI?”

Emerson suddenly turned ashen. “They will be summoned once you have left.”

I sat staring at him, “When did you get the ransom call?”

“About three A.M.,” he replied.

“You want us to deliver the ransom money?” I asked

“Yes and Dr. Sunshine after an update with our staff will be able to determine if it is the real device,” he answered.

Suzzee’s full maiden and professional name is Dr. Suzzee Que Sunshine. Her late father authored that moniker in a fit of exuberance soon after birth. When not working she would just as soon be known as Suzzee Sawyer.

“So I have a question, why do you need Suzzee and me?” I said. “You have quite a number of employees that could pull this off.”

Emerson sighed before he replied. “It is a simple matter of trust I am afraid. The raiders did not trust me and my staff with an exchange. They asked specifically for you to be the go between.”

“Me?”

“Sorry but they said you were not capable of any type of subterfuge that they could not handle,” Emmerson answered.

I did not know whether to take that as a compliment or an insult. After thinking about it, I chose compliment. We were honest, reliable and trust worthy. I chose to ignore other possible explanations like we might be simple and not particularly adroit when it came to corporate espionage matters. I did however, negotiate a rather nice price for our services which I collected half up front.

After a half hour Suzzee was ready to go and I asked about the ransom money. Mr. Emerson handed me a plain white envelope.

“What’s this?” I said.

“The bit coin account numbers,” he replied matter of factly.

“Ah sure, ok then,” where do we deliver it?”

“I sent the GPS coordinates to your phone,” he replied.

I looked at him. He was not kidding. “Yeah, right, can you do me a favor, look up those… coordinates. Just give me a street address or even an intersection name, please?”

“How quant,” Emerson replied. He nodded to one of his assistance and the guy went into another room and returned with a printed card.

As we drove out I turned to Suzzee and said, “I missed the old days when detectives like Bogie did ransom exchanges. It was prosaic handing off money for a damsel in distress. There were no corporate raiders flying futuristic copters, stealing demon boxes and asking for bit coins.”

She took my hand and replied, “That’s what I like about you Dart. You are just the kind of old fashion guy that a girl can appreciate and rely upon. There is no air of modern smugness or guile in you.”

Again I chose to take that as a compliment. I much rather see myself in her eyes as a knight in shining amour than an out dated old fart. Besides how difficult can this exchange be? Hand them an envelope and get a shoe box in return, piece of cake right?

We drove north of town on highway 37 and came to 2188 which runs east to west. There was an abandoned diner there and we pulled into the old crumpling parking lot and waited. We were in Suzzee’s new silver Infinity QX 60. She lets me drive on Sundays. She says she will continue to do that is I am a good driver. I also use to watch Judge Wapner.

A number of cars passed by and no one stopped. An hour went by and it was almost noon. I was about to call it. The raiders must have gotten cold feet. Just as I had started up the car a dark blue Escalade pulled in about 30 yards away. It stopped and flashed its lights at us. I’ll say this for our thieves, they had style. I told Suzzee to get behind the wheel. Meanwhile I got out of our car and held up the envelope. Two men got out of the Escalade. One was holding the box. It was gray and blue and looked badly marred. It had several detached lines that apparently had been cut when it was taken. Emerson had said that this was not their only demon box and that the way it was removed meant that it would not be functional. Still it was the basic instrument that was important. Sort of like those triangular alien ships that the government had reversed engineered for humans or maybe not. But you get the idea. Someone could take it apart and build a working one very similar to the one they stole. So of course Compu-labs wanted theirs back whether it was damaged or not.

I waved the envelope. The man not holding the box started toward me. I put the envelope back in my inside pocket and shook my head. They had to exchange it at the same time as they got the bit coin exchange cashier’s check so to speak. The two men exchanged glances and then both began a slow walk in my direction. I did the same. I looked back at Suzzee. She looked ready for anything. My mind flashed to High Noon. The words to the ballad, ‘Do not forsake me, oh, my darling by Tex Ritter’ played in my head. Did I mention that I was an old movie buff?

They stopped several feet away from me. One was a white male and the other was Asia. If I had to guess knowing my wife’s family he was of Chinese extraction. They looked like soldiers of fortune standing there in fatigues and military boots. Both men appeared to be armed as was I. My Gluck made a nice bulge on the left side of my coat. Given the windows of their car were tinted I may be seriously out manned but I was not out gunned. The white guy began to say something when a sound like a low flying jet pierced our ears. The two of them instantly turned and made for their vehicle in a great hurry. The Chinese man dropped the box as it seemed to be slowing him down. Then over a stand of trees to my left the chopper from the night before appeared. It began shooting an arsenal of bullets at the Escalade. They fired back. A man I had not seen stepped from the SUV and placed a rocket launcher on his shoulder.

I had seen enough. I ran to the box and picked it up. It fell open revealing that it was empty. It was all a hoax to get the bit coins. An explosion occurred and the heat and outflow of the SUV disintegrating impacted me knocking me to the ground. I laid there a few seconds trying to understand if I had been injured. Other than an almost total lack of being able to hear apparently I had not. I got to my feet and I began to run. In the smoke and haze I lost my baring and instead of heading toward Suzzee and her Infinity I was rushing straight into a field of corn. I could hear the chopper behind me revving up its engines. I glanced back and saw it coming for me. In an instant I had gone from being Gary Cooper to being Cary Grant in North by Northwest. I pulled out my Gluck turned and fired as directly toward the cock pit as I could. I must have landed a few rounds as the pilot veered off rather suddenly. He made a wide sweeping turn and then as I feared he appeared to be coming around toward me once more. The chopper began to descend directly at me. I took a shooters stand and braced myself. I knew that it had too much fire power for me to survive. I had just been lucky enough to fend it off the first time. As I waited to die suddenly something zoomed in toward the chopper and as it came toward me it exploded in a blaze of glory. I fell to the ground as the fuselage shot passed me and crashed into the field just beyond. I stood up and looked at the smoke and debris from the crash and then as I turned and looked back toward the old diner I saw Suzzee holding the rocket launcher.

Chapter 2

After we gave my uncle the chief of police, our statements, Suzzee and I sat at the police station the entire afternoon and evening waiting to be interviewed. Due to the fact that Comp-Labs was a government contractor this investigation now came under the purview of the FBI. Dallas was the nearest bureau office and that was multiple hours away. Unfortunately it seems, Suzzee and I were not initially high on their list to interview. By ten PM we had just about had enough and quietly we slipped out of the station and went home. So the fact that we had agents pounding on our door at six the next morning really did not surprise us one little bit. We were ready to spill our story, after all we were awake most of the night discussing every detail we could recall.

A large black man in his fifties stood outside our door as I opened it. Two other Caucasian men stood just behind him. Those men were younger but none of them were in any way amicable in their manner. They were all dressed in a dark rumpled suits and needed a shave. The older man possessed an intense expression and piercing glare which told me that he was not someone to be messed with, so I promptly invited them inside.

“Agent Bonner,” the older man declared as he flashed his badge. “These are agents Levi and Davis,” the man continued gruffly. The other two likewise showed their badges.

“Would you like some coffee?” I asked.

Bonner started to say no but I knew his mind was screaming yes.

“Cream or sugar?” Suzzee added as she pulled down some extra mugs from the cabinet.

Bonner said, “Just plain black.” The other two men nodded in unison. I guess there was probably not a field agent for the FBI that took it any other way.

I offered them chairs and we all sat down after we brought them their mugs of java.

“You left without permission last night,” Bonner barked.

“As I understood it, we were not under arrest and therefore we were there voluntarily to offer our information we observed on the day. So we … voluntarily left,” I replied.

“You blew up a helicopter with two men aboard. That would be murder,” Bonner replied.

“If it were not in self-defense,” I objected. “Which it most certainly was.”

“You told the police that the box offered by the raiders was empty. Was this the one you were referring to?” Bonner continued.

One of the men had carried a plastic container with him that I had mistaken for files of some kind. Instead when he opened it I could see that it held pieces of metal scraps.

“I don’t really know for sure,” I replied. “It… doesn’t really look like it,” I told him as I peered into the container.

“Ok we have no further questions,” Bonner abruptly said as he stood up followed immediately by the other two agents.

“That’s it?” I asked.

“What about the downed copter and the blown up SUV and all the dead men?” Suzzee said.

“We are not interested in a crashed experimental craft that killed its two civilian pilots,” Levi said.

“Nor were there any other destroyed vehicles or deceased people other than the two luckless soles in the crashed aircraft. That experimental craft was the one you happened to see fall precipitously from the sky after a loud bang,” Davis added.

Lies and deception from the FBI is not new unfortunately. Then again what was I expecting? No destroyed vehicles or deceased individuals certainly took any possible murder charges off the table. However, they gave us that because the FBI wanted something more from us.

“We are however interested in obtaining a certain unaccounted for, nondescript box belonging to the U.S. government. We expect that you will notify us of any information you might come to learn regarding this object,” Bonner added.

And there it was. Bonner did not exactly say it directly but his meaning was clear. It was not if but when the individuals who had the real Demon Box contacted us again, we were to report it to them. He then handed me a small plastic bag. Suzzee gave me a puzzled look. I however recognized the contents right away. Inside the bag were two GPS tracking devices that were so small and soft that one could wear them on your person and a cell phone. Only a very knowledgeable agent would be able to detect the tracking devices and the cell phone was a burner with a direct line to Bonner no doubt. The FBI was asking us to go undercover if necessary.

“I am an independent private detective not a government operative,” I declared.

“Mr. Emerson will not be available to provide the monetary compensation you had agreed to,” Bonner replied. “Your bank account has been refreshed for the half fee as you had agreed to and a small added bonus. You will get the remainder of your compensation once said box has been located and returned,” Bonner added.

So the bonus was added as incentive to keep our mouths shut and the prize was another payment upon completion. Since I had actually asked Emerson for an amount very near my usual fee, the second payment would be almost like being paid twice. Then again it was more like two separate jobs anyway. The recovery of the object now appeared to be significantly more dangerous than my original quest was. I now know that the individuals involved were quite capable of murder.

My doorbell suddenly rang followed immediately by forceful pounding. The two young agents went immediately for their weapons. The rest of us looked anxiously at one another. Bonner nodded at me to go and answer the door. I motioned to Suzzee to back away into the kitchen. I was able to see the two young men on my porch and neither of them looked particularly menacing. They both worn costume outfits of black shirts and pants with a logo on the front which said, “Texas Apparition SeeKers” with the initials TASK also appearing below it.

I open the door cautiously both because of present adventure and the unknown individuals before me.

“Man are you Darf Sawyer?” The taller bearded one that actually reminded me of Shaggy from Scooby Doo.

“I am Dart Sawyer,” I answered.

The second shorter one that looked a bit like Marty McFly said, “Dart! Yeah Dart… that’s what it said.”

“Who said?”

“The ghost, man,” the first one replied.

“What ghost man?” I asked.

“No he means the ghost….man. You know like man… uh hey man,” the second individual explained. “Look my name is Bart Vander and this is Luke Johns and we are the Texas Apparition SeeKers.” He said this as if some music were to follow announcing the significance of the words.

I just stared at him as I had no clue what that meant.

“You know man like on TV, man,” said Shaggy…I mean Johns.

“We have a show on cable where we go to haunted places and seek out ghost,” Vander continued. He then peered beyond me and saw Levi and Davis. “Who are the stiffs?” He asked. “Like FBI or something?”

“Actually, yes they are,” I answered matter of factly.

Vander did a “whoa” like expression but Johns was either not impressed or slow witted. My money was on the latter.

“Can you get to the point?” I asked.

“Sure,” Vander said with some new found hesitation. ‘We need for you to come do a hunt with us.”

“Why me?”

“Like the ghost asked for you man,” Johns responded.

I again paused and just looked at him.

“Look if we can just show you the tap of our last show,” Vander began.

Suddenly Bonner, Davis and Levi approached the door and after a moment where Johns and Vander looked confused and a little threatened they moved and let the agents pass.

“We will be in touch,” Bonner said without looking back and then they left.

“Talk about spooky,” Johns said as he watched them leave.

“Look here I pulled it up on my phone,” Vander said as he put the device in my face.

On the screen I could see a wispy cloud in a darkened room begin to transform into a shape rather like a little girl and slowly approach the camera. Suddenly it bolted right up into the lens and said something… Sawyer. I immediately recalled my dream but I held my emotions in check.

“See it said your name,” Johns said. By now the use of the word man was understood to be after each of his sentences even when he did not say it.

“Uh, it could have been Dart but it may have been Bart like your name,” I said to Vander. “In fact I think it said Bart Vander myself.”

Vander stopped the recording and rewound it. As he played this time the name Bart Vander could have been what some would hear.

“See,” I said. “You boys just missed interpreted your own recording. Now if you will excuse me, my wife and I must be getting ready to go to work,” I said as I ushered these wrath finders or whatever they called them self out of my house.

I turned to Suzzee and she glared at me. “What?”

“Are we really going to be risking our necks for a few more bucks?” She asked me.

“We could use the money, but I am not sold on the idea and you are definitely not going to,” I said.

“I don’t think we need the money that badly,” Suzzee said. “It just too dangerous.

“It is indeed, especially if you get a hold of any more rocket launchers,” I answered.

Later that day I tried calling Compu-Labs in an attempt to speak to Sherman Emmerson, but all I got was a recording saying the facility was closed until further notice. I called Suzzee to tell her and she advised me that the story in the press was that the FBI had closed the facility because some janitor had been accessing porn from there. The media further reported that there was no indication when the facility might reopen.

“Who would believe such a preposterous story?” I asked.

“It seems the reporters do,” Suzzee replied.

By Wednesday even the local news had dropped the story of the down chopper. The two men were identified as men from Idaho who were here to test the craft for possible purchase. Our crack group of local reporters did not even follow up by investigating who the men were other than a couple of guys from Idaho. One station did an interview with a funeral company that shipped the bodies back to Boise but that was it. On to the local breaking news. The town’s Boy Scouts troop had their camping gear stolen from a trailer. I wondered if the FBI stage that story too just to give the Mineral Springs residents something nearer to home to obsess about.

That night I found a pre-Halloween special featuring a live investigation at Hill Manor by, you guessed it, TASK. Bart and Luke had two more guys and a girl to help them. The Hill Manor was in the country just southwest of Mineral Springs. It was a pre-civil war mansion that had been restored for use as a place for gatherings such as weddings, parties and ceremonies of all kinds. It as far as I knew was not in the least bit haunted. However the TASK team came up with some ridicules story about it lying on top of a Native American village that was wiped out by General Sylvester Hill prior to him building his home on it. The fact that the Cherokee nation was the nearest such indigenous people but they never lived for any significant time in this area. Or the fact that General Hill was well past his prime when he moved to Texas and never fought in any scrimmage with the Cherokee or anyone else for that manner was somehow not relevant to the discussion.

The team had a variety of equipment that seemed very scientific but when it came down to it they were mostly electronic detectors and sensors that flashed lights, beeped and whaled. They were mostly used to persuade the viewer that something was close by, presumably a spirit, when actually nothing seemed to be happening at all. Then there were the recorder devices that were used to obtain supposed spirit voices that answered the team member’s questions. Every once in a while some noises occurred that could actually be a voice or perhaps just an aberrant radio signal or other electronic noise. I was about to turn away when a device used to “broadcast ghost voices” by actually using aberrant radio signals began to talk in amazingly understand able verbiage.

“Bring him…. Here!” the voice said.

“Bring who here?” Bart asked the device.

There was a long pause and then Bart asked again, “Bring who here?”

Suddenly the device’s monitor screen that showed what was being said along with the voiced words began to screech so very loudly that everyone present in the Hill Manor and probably those watching as well had to cover their ears. Then words began to appear on the monitor screen and spelled out over and over…Dart Sawyer…. Dart Sawyer… Dart Sawyer….

Somewhere in the background a non-electronic voiced whispered, “Bring him here, bring him here, bring him here….

I turned to Suzzee, who had stopped to gape at the broadcast, and said, “I am in big trouble.”

Chapter Three

The giggling of the beltless seat bounced me methodically up and down on its thin army green cushion. I sat on this length wise bench of the old open air bus as it traversed a cobbled old dirt road. The air surrounding the vehicle wiped into veils of brown powered earth as it trailed behind us. Outside the terrain was sparsely covered with dead and decaying vegetation sprinkled sporadically with brush that barely clung to life. It was summer in Africa and the drought had descended up the plain like flies upon the rotting carcasses that too nested about. I was the only passenger upon the conveyance and the driver dressed in safari like gear never turned in my direction. Presently I noticed a deck of clouds forming upon the horizon just ahead. Initially I saw no change of even a dribble of rain given the nature of the countryside. However, the clouds continued to build and eventually the wind rose from its death like slumber to a stir as it formed an agitated blending of sand and sky. The driver pressed on.

I roused from my chair like a once slumbering hog from a dirt bath. At first I merely stood and gazed out the front of the old and tattered van. But as the storm took shape I began to advance toward the driver. Suddenly the man turned and pointed a long finger in my direction. “Dart don’t you come any closer,” he warned in a shout that now could be barely heard over the whaling of the wind.

“Dad?” I called back.

Then the gale slammed into me knocking me back many paces. It continued it ferocious blow and I fell once more upon a green worn seat. Now I was facing forward and suddenly many young… lambs were wailing besides me as they began to run toward the rear of the vehicle. Stunned I once more began to move forward toward my father who drove like a man crazed by the heat as the bus pushed ahead faster and faster. Then before my eyes was a mountain that was now deluged in rain. From it its crest a flood of water bust forth in a fall of enormous size and power.

“Dad stop! Turn around…please!” I shouted but to no avail. Behind me the sheep began to scream and weep. I pressed ahead but it was as if I wadded through a torrent of water as my progress seemed thwarted by the wind. Meanwhile the driver, my father pressed a head into the cascade. I screamed out…

My eyes burst open and my brain reeled in response. I sat up and looked over at Suzzee. She must have heard me actually call out in my sleep because I could see the concern upon her face. I looked at the clock and read 3:01 AM.

Then calm and gentle touch of Suzzee quieted me. As she landed her hands upon my shoulders, Suzzee softly whispered, “Dart, Dart…it’s me. You are safe…you are fine.”

“My dad…the bus….waterfall” I stammered. In response Suzzee hugged me and held on until I quit trembling. I would have felt unmanly at requiring such cradling but you know I did need it right now.

“A dream nothing more,” Suzzee reassured me. “It is not real. It is over.”

Finally I breathed a sigh. “I never dreamed this one before. It was so strange.”

I laid back down and Suzzee let me go but snuggled into my left side.

“Tell me about it,” she said as she covered us both. And so I did.

I have a rather extraordinary…gift or perhaps curse is the better description. On occasions when I dream that dream somehow changes reality and I don’t just mean my own life but the lives of those around me. For instance Suzzee whom I brought back from the dead through an intervention in a reverie about my teenage years.

After I told her the dream. I watched Suzzee consider the meaning as she regarded our ceiling in contemplation. With a PhD in computer science and a second undergraduate degree in psychology, Suzzee was the only person I knew who was capable to a high degree to be both analytical in the abstract realm as well as the tangible working, every day world.

“You have survivor’s guilt she said.

“How the hell did you get to that deduction?” I asked bewildered.

“The bus in the African plains with your father driving you into a water fall?” Suzzee asked. “You know it has to be about Doris Gail.”

“No,” I snapped as I sat up. “Doris, died in a school bus accident. She drowned when the bus driver tried to cross a swollen stream. I was…uh…this dream wasn’t even about a school bus. I wasn’t on…she was not on… this bus,” I declared.

“But you were and even though you did not know her, you have always been traumatized by the experience of almost drowning. Your dream is you reliving it. Tell me that the little girl in your other dream about the ghost wasn’t Doris Gail,” Suzzee continued. I was watching her eyes. Suzzee has such beautiful deep dark eyes. Those eyes now seemed to be seeing clear through me. I turned away.

“Dart truthfully you knew one of those voices last night on the TV show. The one who kept saying your name over and over. It was her, it was Doris.”

“I don’t know, maybe. But the other one scared the…it was pure evil,” I sputtered. You know it, called out for ….me.”

“I know but I think that Doris is trying to communicate with you. It sounded like she needed your help.” Suzzee said the strain now showing in her speech.

“I do not want to face her or that dream and I especially want to avoid that other voice. What if I have a dream about the school bus and that catastrophe? What if I accidently change things but this time I die,” I answered. “Besides you are the one who always tells me not to do it. You told me to never change thing in my dreams. Why are you pushing this?”

Suzzee hung up on the question for a long moment. Then slowly she said, “Because I feel guilty.”

“Survivor’s guilt? You have survivors too! You have should have nothing to regret.” I said pleading with her, rather than admonishing her.

“You brought me back to life from a fall that killed me,” Suzzee replied as she stood up on her knees in the bed so as to obtain a position almost as tall as my sitting size. “I know because I remember dying. You changed it. How can I not feel, guilty?”

“But I did that out of love. I never meant for you to feel remorse.”

“I am grateful to feel anything and I love being here with you… my husband. But I know that it was not the way it was and I have to live with this. And you have to live with that knowledge and the tragedy that took Doris’ life.”

I turned away and now sat on the side of the bed looking into a Thomas Kincaid painting of a lush mountain side with a waterfall near a cabin. “The Sherriff officer swam out and managed to open the back door near where I sat. I got immediately out and so did every kid on that bus. Or so we all thought. It was not until later that they discovered Doris was still in the front seat. Apparently, in the chaos she got lodged into the seat by the force of the water and left behind. It was never anyone’s fault. But the bus driver, Wilson was his name, later committed suicide.”

Suzzee came around the bed. I sat there looking up at her. My lovely wife whom I married because of a dream. I cannot lose her again. “I am going to avoid those ghost chasing boys Bart and Luke and that’s it,” I replied. Suzzee looked down but she did not continue our discussion. Rather she just hugged me.

Suzzee went to work but I did not stay home in my office since the ghost boys found our address and payed us a visit several days before. Instead I checked in with my uncle Abe Stouffer the Chief of Police at the Mineral Springs Police Department. I had waited outside of his office as he finished up with a meeting with our illustrious mayor. When she left the mayor made sure that she looked past me as she strode out. I went inside and Uncle Abe closed the door.

“I know you are going to ask about your case but the FBI made sure that there was nothing left for me to investigate,” the Chief said as he sat down in his chair.

“They took all the evidence too?” I inquired.

“Every scrap,” Abe said. I was told not to even ask about it or that supposed kiddy porn case there at the plant. It is odd don’t you think that the janitor in question name was never released?”

“Not if he doesn’t exist,” I answered. My uncle rolled his eyes in response.

“So where does that leave you?” he asked.

I pulled out my GPS trackers and told him about what the agent Bonner had said about being interested in the demon box should it come up in a conversation.

“So he thinks the thieves are still around?” the Chief asked me.

“Yeah I guess,” I replied.

“But wouldn’t you high tail it out of Dodge if it were you?” Uncle Abe said.

I thought about it. “You have to know that the remaining thieves know that the FBI is searching for them. Apparently, there was a disagreement about how to proceed after the heist,” I said. “That botched exchange seemed to me to be a pair of double crossing boys just trying to get some quick dough. The real brains behind the job never wanted bit coins he just was the box and was playing along so the hired hands would do the job for him. I think the FBI knows who this person or persons are and I bet it is not any one local.”

“So running would be rather risky for them,” my uncle reasoned. “Ya know there is still an end game perhaps. Look here that we got involved in this morning. A college over in Tyler, reported that they had a 3D printer stolen last night,” the Chief said as he passed me a report.

I read it. I looked up at him, “As the illustrious Dr. Emit Brown said ‘Great Scott this is it’,” I laughed. “These guys are planning to sell the machine as a 3D copy on line.”

“It makes sense,” the Chief replied. “But wouldn’t they have to show that it actually worked first?”

“Yea they would need some expert in computer tech to…,” I suddenly realized why the FBI need us. I pulled out my cell phone and called Suzzee. There was no answer. I charged out of the station. Several minutes later I was at her college campus office. I blow past the security outside the build as alarms went off. Inside I barreled down the hall to her office. Her receptionist Doreen was sitting at her desk.

“Is my wife here?” I demanded to know almost out of breath.

Doreen was startled but keeping her cool she managed to say, “No she unexpectedly left with those two graduate students from China who showed up a little while ago.”

“Graduate students?” I asked.

“Yes, she said to tell you that they were part of the dream team or some such.”

Chapter Four

I reported Suzzee’s apparent kidnapping and then returned to the police station. When I arrived the police had Luke Johns and Bart Vander in custody. They were seated at an interview table. Officer Juan Hernandez had found them at my home trying to break in. My uncle accompanied me into the room.

“Sir I caught these two men playing with your lock on the front door,” Hernandez said.

“No we weren’t,” Luke said looking at me. “We were going to leave you a message about the China men we saw.”

“You can’t call them that,” Hernandez admonish Johns.

“Ok then the two oriental guys,” Vander replied.

“Not that either,” Hernandez answered.

“Why?” Vander asked.

“I don’t know but they told us in sensitivity training that anyone from that continent is called Asian,” Hernandez responded.

“Ok the three Asian guys,” Johns rejoined.

“Three? I thought you said two,” I said.

“Yeah man the third one looked like an Indian,” Johns said.

“Like a native American?” Hernandez ask as he was trying to write it down.

“No, like a guy from India,” Johns answered.

“That’s not Asian,” Hernandez replied.

“Isn’t India in Asia?” Vander said.

“That’s really stupid. That’s like calling me Hispanic,” Hernandez snapped back.

“You mean you aren’t?” asked Vander.

“No I am from Belize,” Hernandez explained.

“Ok wait, wait I think we have established that none of you will be asked to appear before the UN anytime soon. But what you are saying is that you saw two guys that could be said to look like Chinese…people and a man from India at my house?” I asked.

“Yes it was about 9:30 this morning. They were there casing your place out. When we arrived they left,” Vander explained.

“What kind of vehicle were they driving?” Hernandez asked.

“A 2015 QX 50 Black Infinity, Texas license ZXT 1200,” Johns said.

“Could you be a bit more exact,” Hernandez mused.

“The window sticker showed that its next inspection was due,” Johns added.

“Are you trying to be funny?” Hernandez retorted.

“No he just has one of those complete memories,” Vander said.

“You mean photographic memory?” I said.

“Yep,” Johns said.

“Then you won’t mind talking to our sketch artist,” Hernandez asked.

“Man, I love to draw,” Johns answered.

Hernandez just rolled his eyes at me.

The Chief and I went back to his office and he shut the door.

“Despite Mayor Taylor’s edicts you know this department will do whatever it takes to find Suzzee. We already have an APV,” he said to me.

“I know Uncle Abe and thanks,” I uttered trying not to get emotional.

“Dart did it occur to you that there is nothing simple about these men?”

“Yes, it did. A mixed group of individuals may mean that this is not espionage on a national level but rather a corporate one. Still I would have liked to know who the men were that died last Sunday. I think they may have been Chinese too. So even if the ring leader appears to be of some other nationality perhaps the Chinese government is involved.”

“That would make sense for the FBI to be so engaged and so quick to cover up the real version of what happened,” the Chief replied.

“You know I wonder what Dude knows,” I responded.

“Well Dude Fong is well connected in the Asian community. But Suzzee is his niece, so it may not be wise for you to meet with him. This group could be watching him. You showing up at his office could panic them,” the Chief cautioned. “In fact any of us just being around him may draw suspicion.”

“Well he is the city coroner, but you’re right the last thing I want to do is to alarm these spies, if that is the right word, to flee and/or harm Suzzee.”

“Wait, now that I think of it dude sent over a coroner’s report just this morning,” the Chief said as his face suddenly brightened.

“So?”

“I wasn’t expecting any report so I did not read the email at that time. I have been too busy since then. Here let me open it back up. Yes it is encrypted, so here…”

The text of the message read, “Chinese government involved. Nephew with Suzzee. She is ok for now.”

“Nephew?” I said.

Suddenly a voice startled me.

“He is one of ours,” Agent Bonner said.

I looked up at him. His expression was as grim as ever, but I did not let that deter me.

“You ass, you knew all about these guys and said nothing about it to me,” I said this as I charged toward the man. Uncle Abe blocked my way which was fortunate for Bonner.

“Calm down Sawyer, you wife is in on it,” he said.

“What?”

“We recruited her.”

“I don’t believe you,” I barked back at him.

“The cousin is a distant relative of hers. He is actually CIA. We weren’t read into the situation until the incident last week.”

“CIA?”

“Here is what we now know,” Bonner said ignoring me and laying out a set of papers upon the chief’s desk. It contained photos taken with surveillance cameras of the three suspects. Luke’s descriptions and the sketch artist drawings were very close to these images. “This one is Chi Fong her cousin. The other Chinese agent is just know as Song and he is an assassin, and not someone to mess with,” Bonner said purposefully pausing for effect.

“Why did you get Suzzee involved? She…she…” I tried to finish but my emotions were too strong.

“Fong got word to his handlers that this man, Vihaan Wang was targeting your wife because she had been a consultant on the Compu-Labs project.”

“Wait what?” I stammered.

“She could not tell anyone as it… was a top secret project. All I can say is that this Demon Box is the key to our next level of space exploration.”

“Of course a mobile quantum computer would be very valuable in space, but Suzzee worked for… who?” I asked.

“Let’s just say she is a government employee,” Bonner responded.

“So that was how she knew how to operate a rocket launcher?” I inquired. Bonner simply ignored my question.

I zoned out for a while as the others talked about Wang. He is a top researcher in the field of quantum computing. Bonner was saying how the Chinese had recruited Wang. It was something to do with his mother. I could care less. My thoughts were about Suzzee. She had kept her involvement with the government from me. How long had this been going on? What did this say for our marriage? An old familiar feeling began to set in.

I left the police station and I just began walking. At the time it did not occur to me that I had forgotten to take my medication. I became lost in my thoughts and to the world. I just kept walking. My depression grew steadily worse and my thoughts just shut out the world around me and I just kept walking and walking.

Presently I realized that I was at the elevated back of a school bus filling with water. The door behind me was open and voices of children screaming and yelling clouded my perceptions. I tried to focus upon my vision. Before me was abandon row upon row of benches all facing forward and down. I clung to a bench just to maintain my precarious position. Below I saw the driver. He wore a blank empty expression. He stood on a steep slant near the second row. His posture and degree of forward pitch would be impossible for a normal person, yet there he stood. Behind him was a girl sitting in the front row. All I could see of her was the back of her head. She just sat in place not seemingly aware of the rising waters that now covered her legs. I began to rush forward but a strong hand grasped my left shoulder. Since I has seen no one else on the bus I turned immediately about and saw my father.

“Look again,” he said in a coarse, hoarse voice.

I did and this time I saw another being or thing as I was not sure which it was. He was dark black with deep grey features of a child, a young boy perhaps. However, his boy was large and rather muscular. His eye burned like scorching coals. His mouth was open but he seemed to be without teeth. Instead it gapped as a jet black, snake like tongue coiled and recoiled from inside.

“Come ahead Dart, I’ve been waiting on you. Come save the girl. Come save Doris if you can,” the creature’s voice blew out in a hot, raspy, and labored gasp.

In reflex I reacted by physically pulling back from the pull of gravity that drew me progressively downward.

“Don’t son, he means to take you for his own. He will never give poor Doris up,” my father said as his hand physically turned my face toward him so the demon’s eyes no longer held my own.

“But Dad I have to try,” I answered.

The demon laughed and the bus shook with his evil essence. I looked back at him and saw another figure next to his. It was Suzzee. The evil laugh came once again and then over and over again. I wrenched my father’s hand away and suddenly I was falling and falling.

Chapter Four

I awoke soaked in sheets filled with sweat. I looked around disoriented. I bolted out of bed and promptly fell on my ass. I looked about to try to make sense of where it was that I now occupied. It was home but not my house. Rather I was in my childhood room at my mother’s house.

It was morning and I discovered that three days had passed since I went on my depressive bender. I found Mom in her kitchen. I immediately inquired as to Suzzee. “There is no news,” she said. “The FBI and your uncle are doing the best they can. They wanted to know what you have been up to as they expected that you would be…as Abe put it, a pain in their collective backsides. I told them that you decided to let them do their jobs.” And then before I could even have a conversation with her, she made me take my medications.

“So they don’t know,” I asked.

“No you somehow managed to walk home after being gone for about six hours. I knew right away that the darkness had set in so I began giving you meds and dark chocolate. Now sit down before you fall down,” she ordered.

“What no breakfast and a warm hello?” I asked.

Cynthia Sawyer loves me but she is also a toughie when she needs to be. After dad died she took all the responsibility of raising me on herself. I was in my late teens when I started to go through my manic-depressive events. She hung with me but she learned how to manage me in a way that did not turn me away. “Tough love is all I have right now. Now that you took your meds, I will fix you a special if you like,” Mom said.

A special was her own invention of a breakfast sandwich comprised of a bagel cut in half and toasted lightly, several pieces of sausage and melted American cheese. It is not low in calories but it can kick depression in the butt too.

In case you lost count it was now Friday morning. I went down to the police station to check in with uncle.

“I am afraid we have very little,” he began. “The car we identified was stolen two weeks ago in Midland. So it is not traceable except to a well to do old rancher. And you know those trackers the FBI gave you and Suzzee?”

“Yeah but we never used them,” I said.

“Well Suzzee’s had hers and it was activated. We picked up her signal and so did the FBI. However, it turn off almost as soon as it came on.”

“Did they get a location?” I asked.

“No that is the bizarre part it gave a location that does not exist.”

“What?” I asked.

“The coordinates were unable to agree in such a manner as to be readable. Then when it stopped we never heard from the device again,” the Chief said.

“Is there a way that I can track her signal too? You know just in case her signal comes on again,” I asked.

“Our IT guy can put an app on your phone,” my uncle replied.

“Can they send the app to her too?” I inquired.

“Sure just give us her email. So you are going to turn on you tracker too?”

“Maybe later.”

“Just squeeze it and it will activate,” he said.

“Anything else,” I asked rather dejectedly.

“No,” Uncle said. “Except I know when my sister is lying and she was hiding your recent bender. That’s not going to help Suzzee. I am pretty sure that you are the only one who can find her. You have super-spiritual abilities.”

“I think you mean supernatural,” I replied.

He looked at me sternly.

“You’re right, I need to get on it…thanks,” I added.

“By the way those two knot-heads have been looking for you,” Uncle said.

“Luke and Bart? What do they want?” I asked.

“Something about a new passenger on your bus.”

I found Luke and Bart in the parking lot outside the station. They must have seen me enter the building and waited for me. “What do you guys want?” I asked.

“The demon has your wife,” Bart Vander announced looking rather grim.

“That’s not funny,” I replied.

“No man we know it is true,” Luke Johns replied looking equally grim but given his facial appearance he looked a bit like a cartoon expression of bewilderment.

“Ok just how do you know this?” I asked in discuss.

“We saw her two days ago,” Bart said.

“You what? Why didn’t you tell the police?” I demanded to know.

“We were afraid,” Bart replied.

“Yeah man the demon like got huge and like glowered over us,” Luke said in his rather high pitched for a guy voice.

Bart looked about and then took my arm. At first I resisted but I realized that I had to know even if I did not believe him. They led me into their white Dodge TASK van. We all sat down in back in front of a monitor. “Watch what we recorded the other night at the Hill mansion,” Bart said as he turned on the video. The screen flickered and then began to show the inside of a large den like room. I immediately recognized it as the one from the one in my dream about Doris Gail. A voice began to speak and I recognized it as Bart’s. “So we have set up REM pod and thermal detector. We are….” He suddenly stopped talking and stared off in the distance. Apparently Luke was working the camera and as Bart pointed off across the room Luke honed in on something.

“Are you getting that shadow man forming near the fireplace?” Bart asked.

“For sure,” Luke replied.

The lens then refocused as the automated feature began to center upon a greyish black silhouette which slowly took the form of a muscular body but boyish face with an abrupt extension of massive wings unfurling from behind him. It open it’s red piercing eyes and without moving its mouth a deep baritone voice shrieked, “Bring him here. I have his wife.” Then in even more ominous tenors it screamed, “Bring Dart Sawyer to me!” Then just behind and to the fiendish vision was Suzzee looking terrified as she stood stiffly beside the beast. The image rapidly faded into simple shadows and the video ended.

“I assume that isn’t a fake,” I asked grimly.

“No man we won’t do that to you,” Bart said honestly.

“It scared the pee out of us,” Luke added sounding horrified as he continues to gaze into the blank screen.

I sighed and looked at both of them. “Take me there,” I told them. They both nodded in response.

Hill Manor was west of town and the road was deep into the piney woods. We rounded multiple turns in the road and it was apparent that one could easily get ‘lost’ from the world out here. Presently we passed a rather steep side road and I glimpsed something from my right front passengers seat.

“Stop!” I cried out and Bart eventually screeched to a halt. “Back up there is something off the road back there,” I declared.

“Something?” Bart asked.

“Just do it,” I demanded.

Bart put the van in reverse and wheeled it back up the road.

“Stop here,” I said. “Look do you see those tracks. They go off into a ravine,” I said pointing to a particularly low visibility area of thick brush and trees where a set of tire tracks veered off the road. The path looks fresh.”

“It also seems to be less a road than a trail. Why would anyone drive down that?” Bart asked.

We got out of the van and walked for a ways down the steeping trail. Then ahead in the dimness of an overcast day I saw a black vehicle smashed into a stand of pine. I began to run toward the car. The license read TX ZXT 1200. Dear God I pray Suzzee was not inside. When I got to the sedan both front doors were wedged shut by broken trees. I was able to get the right rear door open. And as I squeeze inside I saw one passenger, a male. I felt some immediate relief. This individual sat behind the wheel and clearly was the driver. His contorted face was turned toward me. He was the kidnapper know as Song. His neck was obviously broken as it lay sideways from his body as a large tree limb had smashed the front windshield and collided with his head. I did not even bother to see if he had a pulse. He was quite obviously dead. Instead I eased back out the door and faced the others. I shook my head at them.

“The demon did this,” Luke said.

“You don’t know that,” I said. “To me it looks like the guy got lost in the dark and took a wrong turn and… These things happen.”

“You don’t know that either,” Bart retorted.

“Well I do know that Suzzee wasn’t involved. So let’s not waste any more time here,” I snapped at him.

“I should call the police,” Luke said.

I said nothing. I just got back into the van.

The rest of the short trip to Hill Manor was unremarkable. Luke did phone in an anonymous tip to the police. He used what I thought was a rather too convenient burner phone to do it. The fact that these two had such devices bothered me quite a lot. Trust was not something I give easily. These guys had earned some with the video and took some away with this phone. I was on guard.

Hill Manor was not exactly a rundown, derelict old classic house. It was in fact quit well-kept having been very recently refurbished. The owner was actually a rather large hotel chain the Marvinott. They wanted to use this place as a retreat of sorts but along the lines of a ghost escapade or journey if you will. So the TASK group was allowed here to explore and exploit the legions that had already surrounded the place. It was to be like an affirmation of the haunted nature of the grounds. Luke and Bart told me that actually there was another group of ghost hunting individuals who had explored the place a few months before but they had actually suddenly left with no explanation and no television show for the Marvinott Company to broadcast. So this is when TASK got its chance.

There were actually four of the TASK adventurers but the two others a May Wise and Bobbie Thornton were “excused” after the demon had made his presence known. As May and Bobbie suddenly discovered that they were needed elsewhere. My opinion of that was that they may have been the smartest ones in the group. If I discovered that the video was a hoax, I would soon join them as my dreams were bad enough. However, the car and Song’s body served to convince me that looking for Suzzee may well start here.

“Before we go inside there is one other thing we need to tell you,” Bart began.

I looked at him balefully which did register with him as he hesitated for several moments before speaking again.

“This house is definitely off,” he began.

“Off?”

“Yes, you see at times individual rooms appear…I mean they seem to…uh.”

“What he is trying to say is that rooms go into other time frames or you know realities,” Luke chimed in.

“Realities, like what?” I asked.

“Like man I went into the parlor upstairs and it was night and then suddenly day and it was full of women drinking tea and dressed like they were from the forties. I mean you know like World War II shit,” Luke said.

“What did they do?” I asked.

“They like looked me over good and then vanished and suddenly it was night again. I like freaked out man, ya know.” Luke said with a look of really being earnest on his face.

“I went into a bedroom up stairs and a couple were sleeping in the bed in what should have been the middle of the afternoon only of course it was night outside now. The guy saw me right off and got out of the bed. He was wearing one of those old timely night shirts, you know the long ones. Anyway he lit a lamp by the bed and peered at me like I was a ghost or something. He then started yelling profanity at me and suddenly he grabbed a pistol from the bedside table. Well I just turned tail and ran out of there. When I cleared the door, damned if it all just went away or at least it seemed to,” Bart added. “The room looked dark and nobody looked to be still in there.”

I watched then both for sighs of lying and I saw none. These guys were just too dumb to be good actors so I choose to at least believe that this is what they perceived to have experienced.

“So I guess I need to go upstairs to the middle bedroom and face the demon,” I responded.

“How did you know that was where you will find him?” Bart asked.

“In fact it is the middle bedroom on the back side of the house,” I said. They both looked at me in alarm. “For a very long time I have had dreams of a place like this one that was haunted and that was always where the ghost was waiting for me,” I told them.

“Don’t go in that room alone Dart. It is no ordinary ghost. A demon is so much more powerful and very evil. If you go we all must go,” Bart responded sincerely.

“What makes a demon so evil and so powerful?” I asked.

Bart looked at Luke and Luke looked away. “He can kill and will kill anyone for no particularly good reason,” Bart answered. “Just because.”

“Whose he killed?” I retorted feeling like that there was probably no real knowledge associated with this demon.

Luke looked to Bart and just turned away as he brought his hands up and covered his head as he slumped away.

“We sort of left out something,” Bart began.

“And here it was. I just knew that these guys could not be trusted. They were hiding something from me.”

“The last group here we know well. They called themselves, the Wrath Runners. Their leader was a buddy of mine. His name was John Booth. He was like related to the guy who killed Lincoln. Anyway he decided to go after the demon all by himself since no one else in his group would. He went to the middle bedroom and never came back.” Bart said now turning away himself. “At first we thought that maybe he got lost in one of those time changes like we talked about but after a while we became convinced that he was just plane dead.”

“Why was that?” I asked.

“We found his bloodied shirt in the hallway. It was a spot we had been by on a number of occasions but this time we were down the hall and filming an investigation when I heard John’s scream. I ran down here and found his shirt in front of the middle bedroom door,” Bart explained. “There was so much blood. A crew from Marvinott came the next day and cleaned it up, but one them went into the bedroom to look for more blood and that was when he saw the demon. And well he sort of left rather soon after.”

“What about Doris?” I asked.

Bart just sighed and began to walk in circles. “We seen her twice. Once on the video and another time on the bus.”

“Bus?” I asked.

“In the den the demon showed us this school bus. It was like opened up or something. Anyway, she was there standing next to a driver. They both looked dead in the eyes but the other man and your wife looked alive and tried to move toward us, but the demon held them back,” Luke added.

“Other man?”

“Yeah he dressed like a hunter or something,” Bart answered.

“Dad,” I said to myself. I knew that he was long dead but it had nothing to do with a demon. It had been a hunting accident. Why here and why now? I asked myself.

“Can I ask you something,” Bart said.

“What?”

“Why does the demon want you so bad?”

“I don’t really know,” I replied. They both looked at me with rather sympathetic regard. I now took a turn at viewing the entrance to the manor rather than them. We all then solemnly preceded inside the ornate doors into a large entrance hall. To the right was the den area or great room as some called it. It was entirely paneled in wood with hardwood floors and a vaulted ceiling. The height of this room would equal the second story. I walked into the room and from the entry double doors I could see a balcony above the doorway on the second floor landing no doubt. The TASK equipment set up near the doorway and down the middle of the room on the far wall was the fireplace. The room was exceptionally large with various areas of chairs and small tables for individuals to sit. After a while I returned to the entrance hall again.

In front of me was the grand stairway that went up a flight of stairs to a second mid-level. The stairs then turned in both directions to the second floor. I somehow knew exactly how it was laid out without being able to actually see it from the entrance hall. As I stepped up to the stairs all I could see above that the white wooden railing that accompanied finely stained oak wood stairs proceeded to the top and formed a second floor rail across the landing there. I also knew that as the late afternoon passed on the shadows above was allowing the setting sun to cast light down the central hall above. With the last rays of the sun the hall above would fold into the dark recesses of the demon night. I ascended the stairs rather than viewing the dining area, breakfast room and kitchen that were to the left of the entrance. There would be time for that later if I wished.

The second floor had a huge window on to the west and behind the stair was a hallway opening on either side of a small central wall opposite these windows. This allowed one to walk up either side of the stairs and turn to the east into the same central hall. On either side of the hallway were doors to large bedrooms with three on the north side and four on the south hall way as one proceeded toward a much smaller stairs at the east end of the hall. From that point one would descend to the first floor just beyond the kitchen area toward the landing below and then on to the east lawn a flight below. There was also a short hall that lead directly from the entrance hall around the main stairs to the back stairs and the east landing about the lawns below so one did not have to walk through the dining areas to reach that landing.

I walked the length of the upper hall and looked down upon the lower east landing. Slowly I turned about and watched the late day sun extend down the hall on either side of the upper landing. My eyes eventually locked on the middle door to my right. This was the master bedroom. It was where the demon kept his hostages. Without hesitation I walked up to the door and opened it up.

The room was of course very large some twenty feet deep and fifteen feet wide. The king size bed was located centrally on the north wall. To either side of the bed were doorways to the bath beyond. The floor was covered with an elaborate multi-colored carpet. Dressers were on the east and west walls with large windows beyond the bathroom doorways with views of the north lawn. It was as elegant as it was peaceful. All of which belied the sense of rage I could feel beyond this facade.

“You are here,” I said out loud to the beast. “And you want me very badly. What keeps you at bay even now? Surely the sun light does not freighted you.” I paused and let the creature soak it in. “You see I am not here quaking in my boots.”

“You will,” a growling voice answered.

I was most surprised and yes more than a little frightened but I would be damned if I was going to let it know this. “I will what?” I challenged it.

“Dart don’t, go away now!” I heard Suzzee say. Still the room appeared no different than before.

“Suzzee?”

“Maybe,” the gravelly voice replied. “Maybe she is already dead and it is only me!”

“No you would save that for me to witness as it is something that would please you to watch me be in pain,” I said back to it as calmly as I could.

“I will give you that you talk as if you are brave but we know what a true coward you really are. You ran away rather than staying to save poor little Doris.”

Next came the voice of a little girl crying for help. It was so weak and helpless as it said, “Dart help me don’t leave me here alone to die.”

“That is false and you well know it. I was not but a small boy lead away by the Sherriff’s officer well before she drowned,” I said with my voiced now raised.

“You ran away and told no one she was left behind!” It spat back at me.

“Not guilty of anything,” I responded.

“You lived and she did not!”

“Is that the best you can do?” I asked.

Suddenly the room shook and I grew very dizzy. Suddenly the room faded away and I was on the bus, my school bus. I was midway down the aisles and below me water was pouring in on all sides. I saw Doris floating on the surface on the right side as the water levels steadily rose. The driver rush at me and then past me. A look of terror on his face. Then suddenly I saw not one but two girls in the water below me. The other girl was a young Suzzee. She was now as close to death as Doris as both struggled against the cold and wet. I was my adult self and without hesitation surged forward through the rising liquid maelstrom. Then suddenly a hand grasped my arm and I turned to see my father holding me back.

“No son this is what he wants you to do. He wants you to rush to them only for all of you to drown,” he cried out to me.

“I can’t let die!” I yelled at him. “Let me go!”

I struggled and my father held tight and gradually I began to fall. Deeper and deeper I fell into darkness beyond my comprehension. I fell into a vast and lonely void.

Chapter Five

I was alone in the darkness for what? Was it seconds? Minutes….days perhaps? I could not tell. Was this death?

Presently I knew that I was not alone.

“Dart,” a voice said.

“Dad?” I replied as I floated unable to see of feel anything.

“Yes.”

“How do I know that you are not the demon?”

“Don’t be a knucklehead,” he replied.

“You are the only one who ever said that to me.”

“Bingo kido.”

“That too,” I was reassured. “Where are we? Is this a dream?”

“No you have not been asleep. You have not dreamed anything.”

“Dad how do I get out of this?”

“I don’t…. I guess that you can repeat over and over…there is no place like home.”

“Really?”

“Sure why not. But remember this the demon’s only power is deception….the demon’s only power is deception…. demon’s only power is deception…. demon’s only power is deception….”

I opened my eyes and there standing over me were Luke and Bart.

“Are you ok man?” Luke asked.

I sat up and saw that we were in the entrance way once more. It was now dark. “How did I get here?”

“We found you in the master bedroom passed out on the floor,” Bart said.

“Man we had to carry you down the stairs. You know you really were passed out and dude you could stand to lose some weight,” Luke added.

“I was passed out and not asleep. That wasn’t dream…and it was not close to being real,” I said to myself. I stood up and looked around. As I did so I notice the dining room and something began to change. I went inside and watched as the room brightened without the lights being turned on. All of a sudden there were voices, then people and smells of food. I could see two rows of individuals seated at the long central table. They were dressed as if from the early twentieth century. There was much laughing and merriment.

“Get a shot of this,” Bart told Luke.

“I am, I am,” replied Luke.

Then after about a half minute it was suddenly gone. It just vanished and the light was dim again.

“Did it take this time?” asked Bart.

Luke hastily rewound his footage. “Damn, no man again it failed to…”

“Why is that?” Complained Bart obviously frustrated. “It never records, why?”

I turned away and walked back into the entry hall. “That’s because it isn’t real,” I said.

“What do you mean it isn’t real?” Bart asked.

“The demon is just messing with us. Nothing you hear or see here can be taken as genuine…or reality. It is all just us… hallucinating.” I answered. I turned on my phone and checked the app. It was still not showing Suzzee’s location.

“So you are going after the demon?” Bart asked.

“No he is worthless, I am only looking for my wife. You can do as you please,” I answered.

“We have a live broadcast in less than 30 minutes. Can we follow you?” Bart asked.

“No…wait, yes do that,” I said pulling my tracker out of my pocket and squeezing it. “Let’s let the whole world know what we are doing here.”

“Hey it works for us,” Bart said as he and Luke began to prepare.

We started the hunt in the great room and as I suspected there was nothing here to find or with which to interact. I move on quickly to the dining room in anticipation of a similar result. This room was about twenty feet long with a massive table centrally located about half as long as the room. Ten chairs lined the ornate walnut banquet style table arrangement. Luke had yelled out at me and I had turned toward him when a suit of armor lashed out at me. I was so busy ignoring what I viewed as mere distractions perpetrated by the demon that I nearly did not see the medieval mace weapon as it sailed by just short of my head.

I reeled down and away in front of a cold stone fireplace. I looked back at Luke. He was focusing his camera upon the animated suit of armor as it began to circle the far end of the table in pursuit of me. “You can see this on camera?” I asked.

“Man you better believe I can,” Luke responded.

“You better move,” Bart chimed in.

The thing was slow and clumsy but the mace with its heavy iron ball and spikes was fast and lethal. It slammed into a chair just inches from my head and glanced off my hand. That really hurt. This was no mirage! I scrambled up off the floor and sprinted back toward Bart and Luke. They both in turn wheeled about and fled as well. I was not exceptionally fast but the knight or whatever it was appeared clumsy and slow in comparison. It then occurred to me that my only real defense was an offense. I jerked out a chair and flung it on to the table. Next I pulled out another chair and climbed up on to the top of the dense wooden structure. The knight swung again as I just managed to intercept the blow with the chair. The chair shattered into multiple pieces as the mace momentarily got caught up in the resulting debris. I gritted my teeth and flung myself onto the armored thing just hoping to disarm it. I really had not given a thought as to what I was expecting to happen as the metal man and I collapsed to the floor. Evidently there was nothing inside the suit to resist my weight and to my surprise the armor dissolved into about a dozen pieces. I scrambled to my feet and saw that the thing was trying to rejoin its sundry pieces. Somehow by reflex I guess, I found the mace and I began smashing the metal monster into little harmless shards. Finally Bart got a hold of my arms and calmed me in order for me to drop of the lethal club. I stood there panting over the assorted metal fragments.

“This is great stuff,” Luke said as he moved the camera closer.

I looked at Bart with what I could only call an ironic expression.

“He’s right you did a great job,” he said patting me on the shoulder.

I noticed that my polo shirt was ripped at the left shoulder but I did not seem to be bleeding from any part of my form. I just shook my head, grasped the mace and wonder toward the kitchen area just beyond the dining room. The two of them followed, Bart narrating my wonderings into this bizarre haunted house and Luke video tapping it.

In this space I found an empty room as far as I could tell. I searched now carefully for anything that could potentially bring bodily harm, but aside from only a few cooking utensils nothing seemed to pose any kind of renewed threat. Presently the mace began to feel quite heavy as my adrenaline began to wane. I dropped it and sat down upon a chair. I did so to rest but also I needed to collect some meaningful thoughts as reacting out of fear was not a very shrewd strategy. I had gone from cavalier to vigilant in only a few feet. I needed a tactic that would not be as risky as just slogging through the place and discerning what would happen.

I observed the back stair that lead to the upper floor bedrooms. More than likely the demon, Vihaan Wang, Chi Fong, my wife and the damn demon box were up there in one or more rooms. I knew that the demon had been in the master bedroom on what would be my right as I went from the landing into the central hallway. I believed that the demon could be capable of being in any of those seven rooms. I thought that the others were probably bound up by the demon in some sort of fantasy adventure not knowing that it was mostly illusions and hallucinations with real deadly forces thrown into the game. What its end game was I could not readily discern except that it wanted something, someone or most likely all of us to remain here with it playing ritualistic and realistic virtual reality competitions with each other. I knew that I for one did not desire to play by his rules. I began to now understand that Song’s death on the roadside was actually the demon claiming one of his victims. A soul if you will that was already his to claim.

To me Suzzee, Fong and I were not guaranteed to leave here, but I bet Wang was definitely not leaving at all or at least that was what I was counting upon. I stood and I began to climb without a weapon but with an idea, never give the devil his due as it only gains strength from your bestowing him with the gift of acceptance.

Chapter Six

My demon hunting team followed me up to the landing and we faced the closed door to the hallway. I turned to Bart and said, “Give me a moment to check it out.”

He nodded and I rather grimly open the door and moved cautiously inside. The hallway was darken now without the light of day. There was a dim glow but I could not readily discern from where it originated. I suspected the demon wanted me to see just enough to get inside and not enough to gage the whole of what lay ahead. I kind of thought that this fiend had picked me to be here because of my local reputation and the chance to get Bart and Luke to record my adventure. The demon to me was a bit of a showman and was enjoying his fame.

Suddenly the door shut sharply behind me. At first nothing happened so I went to reopen the door. The hallway suddenly lurched right and then left. Then for several seconds nothing happened and all was secure. As I again approached the door, the hall began to move in a rolling manner slowly at first and then progressively more rapidly. It seemed to be like I was standing upon a ship’s deck. A brisk breeze began to blow into my face. Out beyond somewhere lightening flashed and the ocean’s roar filled the atmosphere. My eyes watered as the spray of salt water instantly fell over me. I reached for the support of a nearby wall but there was none. I nearly fell over as I tried to balance myself. The floor beneath began speedily to drop away and I plunged head long into the darkness and then the sea. Something in the water bumped against me. What was that? After a few minutes, it came again only harder this time. But with the second push I saw its… fin! A large shark was seizing me up. I rolled away and I began to swing as hard as I could in the direction of the…ship? I could feel it in the dark stocking me. Was it real? Did it matter? All I could think to do was to try to swim away. Logically whether it was a hallucination or not trying to escape would do no good but the demon liked his games. So I reasoned that the demon would give me a change or let me believe I had a chance to escape.

I found myself beating at the choppy waters more that stroking through them. The waves began to grow into swells of several feet in height. Suddenly next to my left the shark struck and he apparently grazed my left leg as I felt some pain. I kicked out and bumped the beast with a glancing blow. I did no harm nor would I be able to do any. Up a head I saw a strange sight. It was a door. In fact it looked similar to the hallway door, sure why not. I struggled toward it knowing that the beast was circling back preparing for the kill. Hand over hand I pounded the rolling surf. I lifted up and plunged down as waves propelled me forward and then back. The shark lunged just as a wave broke into me. I was lift up barely beyond its reach and as I descended back down I came along side creature. Literally we were eye to eye. Its cold soulless gaze sent chills into me like nothing ever had and I knew that it desire a kill in the worst way. I saw it bend its back so it could circle one final time. I saw the door once more and I waited for the next wave. Time slowed and slowed. My anxiety rose as every frozen second passed. Again I ascended upon the wave and as the monster lunged toward me I stretched with all my might and with fingers slipping I grasped the handle.

Then in a microsecond I was standing before the door as it opened into the hall. Luke marched inside thrusting the camera into my face.

“Man, what you been doing in here?” He asked.

Bart close behind him thrust himself inside and between us.

“Look,” he whispered. “We are on the air. I would appreciate it if you would quit clowning around.”

I just gapped at them both as I could find no words.

After taking a moment to determine that I was dry and my leg was not injured I preceded to the first bedroom door on my right or north side of the hallway. I expected that this bedroom would not be as large and the master bedroom next door but since there were only three rooms on this side of the hall I knew that it would be of moderate size and it was. Still it was very much a standard B&B room with special bedding, antique furniture, and oriental rugs upon the hardwood floors. I walked about the room testing my phone’s GPS readings for signs of Suzzee’s presence but I found none. As I turned to leave a shower of multicolored lights filled my vision. I saw a Fourth of July fireworks display wrapped in a gigantic Christmas display, cloaked by multiple rainbows. It was dazzling and frightening all at the same instant. I was literally blinded by my vision. I no longer could see the natural world and only this extraordinary fantasia of colors filled my head. I fell to my knees and I began to crawl toward where I believed the door was. In my blindness of color I heard Bart’s voice calling to me.

“Dart what’s wrong. I’m coming to get you,” he called out.

“No! Do not come in or you will be blinded by the light as well. Just keep talking to me,” I called back to him. After a short while with Bart directing me I made it back to the door and out again. Immediately my vision cleared. Then as I watched the room I was just in darkened and the flooring fell away and in its wake was a dark swirling mass surrounded by shinning lights. I realized right away that it had the shape and look of a black hole swallowing up stars. As I watched I began to understand the message. If I had stayed much longer I would have been pulled into it as were these stars that lay too near its gravitational attraction. It to me was a message from the demon. He was allowing me to explore but I have only minutes to do so or he would swallow me up into his personal darkness. I was being tested by him. Perhaps it was a test all along. I had to ask myself, am I brave enough and am I Clint Eastwood i.e. do I feel lucky today?

“I don’t know how brave or lucky I am,” I said out loud as I regained my feet. “But I am determined to get Suzzee back.” It seemed to me that the demon was satisfied with my response as I heard a hissing sound that sounded strangely like a ‘yes’.

I went across the hall to the opposite door. I decided to work my way up the south wall with its four rooms before I returned to the norths most westerly door and then back to the master bedroom if that was where all this would lead. I knew that it was likely the room where I must eventually go, but the demon would not let me in until I had finished his personal fun house. I felt that I knew how Batman felt as he dueled the Joker.

This door was locked but Bart had a master key and so he promptly opened it and we all soon discovered why it had been locked in the first place. The odiferous perception filled our heads with the vilest of scents and sensations. It was so revolting as to make you’re your head burst from the aromatic trauma.

“Man it’s a demon fart,” Luke blurted out as he grabbed his nose and choked on his own words. Even though I had never heard of such a thing, I tended to believe him.

I knew that I had to explore the space but only after I plugged my nostrils with something. “Do either of you have chap stick?” I asked. Each of them did. I stuck one open container in each nostril and then I headed inside. Again I had no reading of Suzzee’s device. The demon did not have to calculate how long it took as I exited as quickly as I could. Bart immediately slammed the door behind me and we all took several moments to fan the air and recover.

I paused before the next door. “Now what?” I asked them.

“I have been in some of these rooms but I never experience any of this,” Bart replied. “How can you know what to expect?”

“Give me your head phones,” I said. He used them to get feedback from the studio about the broadcast.

“Why?” Bart replied.

“I am guessing that I will need them. Don’t come close to the door,” I answered.

Slowly I opened the door and fortunately the only smell was from an air freshener. I looked inside but the room was mostly dim with some ambient light coming in through the windows. I walked inside. At first I saw little, smell only the perfumed scent I has experienced from the hallway and I only heard a studio technician saying something about turning up the light gain on the camera. Then as I looked at the app on my phone momentarily I got a fix on Suzzee’s GPS which indicated that it was back out the door and to the north. As I tuned toward the door a soft sound began to come to me despite the equipment covering my ears. I only recall that it was the most beautiful music I have ever heard. It was like heaven, peace and love all wrapped inside a cornucopia of flesh made desire. Gradually the music got louder and louder and I was lost in its rhythms. A pounding in my brain started to build and I was floating away and just did not care as long as I could still hear the sound. Then there was Suzzee and she was dancing so sensually right next to me.

She was saying, “Following her down toward the music. You know that you want to do this with me. So come now.” I knew that I wanted to do this real bad. I would go with her no questions asked. Lead me, take me, and love me.

“Ouch!” I cried out. Something smacked me only foot and the pain negated the music and Suzzee was gone. I looked down and saw Luke’s video device resting upon my right foot. Then I noticed that Luke was there next to me with a faraway, gone look in his eyes. I looked around for Suzzee and only saw the dim room. At first I could not hear the sound that had so captivated me but then low and slowly it began again. While I could still think I saw Bart opening the window and preparing to jump out.

I ran over to him and pulled him away. He too had that goofy faraway look. Lacking anything better I smacked him on the jaw. He fell to the floor holding his mouth.

“What the frig man?” he suddenly responded.

“Get Luke and let’s get out of this siren’s trap,” I yelled as I began to drift away. Then barely able to manage it, I slapped myself on the face hard. It worked as the music faded again. I grabbed the camera and he took Luke and we all returned once again to the hallway and slamming the door behind us. This time we sat down on the floor for a good long time. I gave the head phones back to Bart as I was fully functional again and did not enjoy the studio people screaming profanities at us for just sitting around.

Luke kept saying, “Man all I had to do was walk down that path her and I was home free. Why did you stop me?” Finally Bart shook him hard and he stopped.

“Ya got any mints,” I said.

Luke just shook his head but Bart handed me breath mints in a tin box container.

Having recovered our senses as best we could. I loaded up my mouth with mints and I headed to the last door on that side of the hall. “This could be only one thing,” I said.

“It will probably taste like and roses at the same time,” Luke managed to say.

I turned, looked at him and laughed. We all did. “You’re very likely right,” I said. As it turned out, ‘shit and roses’ was a very apt description. Regardless the room turned out to be just as non-descripted as the others had been as far as I was concerned. So when we returned to the north wall I was not a tad surprised to open that door and see and absolute void. It was the deepest pit of nothing I could ever imagine. I just shut the door back.

“What was that?” Bart asked.

“Total sensory deprivation,” I responded. “You’d be a fool to go in there.”

So it was now on to the main doorway and back to where it all had to end.

Chapter Seven

I stood there in the hallway. It was now a few minutes before mid-night. How appropriate I thought. I reasoned that the demon was preparing us for a showdown. It wanted a warm-up before the main event. I suspected that this demon was all about staging a happening but I had to wonder if it could pull off the main event. The last room had set this up in my mind. Total deprivation was actually what I thought would be the main trust of the return to the master bedroom. Why waste it as the unusable preamble? It now occurred to me that I was missing something. Senses, sanities, minds, wits and intellect were what this was all about. The demon was testing my logic and my intuition. Avoiding the sensory deprivation was the clue to it that I was the foe it desired. This had after all always been about me. ‘Bring him to me’ had been the demand. Doris Gale was just a horrible memory placed out there to peak my interest. Taking Suzzee was the thing that drew me toward the flame. I turned to Bart and Luke.

“Sorry guys but I go in alone. I have too much riding on this to be responsible for you as well.”

“Actually,” Bart began. “We don’t want to come.”

“Yeah we have had enough and have enough,” Luke added.

“He means that the TV station has pulled the plug and is going to use what we shot already to make a special from it.” Bart added.

“They don’t need a final?” I asked.

“Man they said it scared too many people as it is. They like freaked at what we already gave them,” Luke said as he covered the lens of his camera.

“Yeah they said any friggin more and they were afraid that the FCC would pull their license of something,” Bart declared.

“Oh,” I retorted. I was actually somewhat surprised and I could not actually believe but I was disappointed. I now realized that I had to some extend relished the adventure. Can someone truly enjoy a nightmare?

“Here man take my back pack,” Luke said as he handed me it. “It like has food and water. Who knows you might need it in there.”

I looked at it and it occurred to me that he might be right. Who knew what lie ahead for me? “So are you going to wait here for me to come back?”

“Yeah unless it takes too long,” Bart said.

I decided not to wonder what that actually meant. I shook their hands and then turned and place my hand on the door knob. I looked back at them. We all nodded at one another and I went inside.

I was walking on a broad main dark plain. There was no particular place I seemed to be headed. It was chilly with a slight breeze. I had no coat and save for Luke’s backpack, I had no gear or utensils. The earth beneath my feet was soft like sand. I had the strange impression that nothing about me was solid. So I bent down and placed my hand, fingers spread and felt the earth. It bent and sank away like the inflatable plastic punching clown I had as a kid. Presently I saw a flickering light and as I stood up I could distinguish a figure sitting before a campfire. I trudged on in its direction. Drawing nearer the man’s continence came into view, it was my father.

“Dad, what are you doing here? Is this a dream?”

He looked up at me. His eyes were sad and his mouth was tight. “Not exactly,” he said in a desolate manner. “Sit with me for a while,” he responded as his hand pointed to a place opposite of him and his fire. I took off my backpack and once I had been seated he handed me a warmed tin cup with a steaming liquid in it.

“What is it?”

“I call it demon stew or the cup of human kindness as it is a bit of both,” he said now displaying a brief but tender smile. “It’s kind of a soup.”

I took some, it was rather like beef stew with potatoes, cheese and sundry spices like hot mustard and green chilies. “It is rather spicy and I suffer from reflux.”

My father winked at me, “That would be the demon part. Eat up you are going to need it.”

After I had finished it I handed back the cup. We sat there talking for what seemed like days. The strange thing was that time did not seem to exist here. I looked down at my watch and it was indeed stopped. I felt for my phone and I could not find it. Then I realized that I could not find the backpack either.

“Have you seen my backpack?” I asked him.

“You didn’t have one,” Dad answered.

“Yes I did I laid it down right here next to me before I sat down,” I replied as I searched about on the still plastic ground.

“Dart,” he said interrupting my fit of confusion. “Son what you see and assume as being real often is not. All you need is what you have already.”

“But I have nothing Dad.”

“And yet you have everything.”

“You know that I hate riddles,” I replied.

“Then let me tell you the only true thing you need to know. The demon is a deceiver.”

“You told me that before,” I answered back.

“Did I? And still you do not believe it.”

“Yes I do, I believe you.”

“You can’t just believe me. You must believe it too.”

“But…”

My dad looked to his right and as he did I saw the light brighten his face. The wrinkles there however were new to me. My father was dead from a hunting accident in his young adult life, yet he seemed somehow to be still aging. This confused and sadden me. I too looked in the direction of this new light. It came from the rising full moon. And as I watched a building began to distinguish itself from the shimmering brightness at the horizon. Steadily as the moon’s glow illuminated it features I recognize it as Hill Manor.

“It is time,” Dad said as he stood up.

I stood as well and he gave me a hug. At first I was so taken back by the gesture that I did not respond. Dad was never the hugging kind. Eventually I reciprocated fully.

“Dad, I’ve missed you.”

“As I have you. Give my best to your mother. I have longed to hold her as well.”

“I will,” I said as I turned and faced the rising moon. I glanced back. Dad and his warm fire were gone. I somehow already knew that this would be the case.

I began to walk. Little by little in stages the house grew. And yet it still seemed just as far away as ever. I stopped and studies it. I was correct the optical illusion was that it was no closer yet it loomed larger and more foreboding.

I was conflicted and this realm could sense it, so it responded to my desires to both avoid and obtain. I closed my eyes and concentrated upon achieving my goal of reaching the house. I opened my eyes and I was now standing in front of the manor. Perhaps I already was. I sighed and climbed the front steps, open the door and went inside.

Once inside I felt a dankness and a chill unlike what the house had been like before. This was not the same place. It was more sinister and foreboding. Mist droplets hung in the air like swags of damp linen. The cold and wet pricked as the condensation adhered to my skin. All substance of reality flowed before me in a protracted kinesis of time as if I walked through an old silent film frame by frame. I had done this before in a dream, at least I think I did. I could not tell if this was still a dream or not.

Before me lay a sea of variations of graphene shading. It gradually grew darker as I advanced. My perception was that I did not exist as a corporal being and yet my senses were hyper acute. Illusions of other seemed that to be present as if ghost. I could almost touch them and yet they were not there. Instead I began to focus upon these experiences with which I could interact. Images of an edifice floated before me as I passed through into an interior world. Chairs, tables and other old and rotting furnishings appeared and drifted by in the murkiness. The manor I had experience before was not run down in the fashion this one was now.

In a moment I stopped and stood at the entrance of a substantial room. I recognized it. This was the great room or at least it had been. Now it seemed foul and decayed. The walls were rotting wood paneled and the floor thick, true hardwood but it lay in a broken patchwork before me. There were oak beams stretching out above me to a ceiling beyond my sight. At one time this chamber must have been an awe inspiring presence within an affluent dwelling. At the far end stood a hearth of stone. It filled the entire wall. In front of it I began to discern was a swirling mass of pallid miasma. I sensed an intelligence within it. As if to acknowledge my thoughts its essence appeared to deliberately cease its motion and settled into a cloud of vapor. Then almost without perception it crept forward. Gradually a figure began to form of a little girl. It was without color, a mere shadow of black and white. Her face was unexpectedly charming and she wore an expression of curiosity. Her eyes peered directly into mine. Then instantly her face was next to mine. I drew back my arms folded over my face in an effort to fend her off. As her breathe flowed out at me in soulful, melodic way, her expression drew into a …… odd sweetness. “Dart Sawyer, you have arrived at last,” she said.

Stunned I found myself barely able to inhale as I carefully lowered my guard. “You aren’t what I was expecting.”

The girl fell away to being a small child standing before me. “Do you not recognize me?”

“You appear to be Doris Gail, but…”

“I am.”

“You are long dead,” I said with some regret as the word sounded unkind.

“Has it been so long? For me it seems but moments ago that our bus went off the road.”

“Look at me I am a grown man,” I answered. “Yes years have passed for me.”

“Yet you have come back for me.”

“No I am sorry but I am here for my wife.”

“So you will not save me from the bus?”

I felt very sad, but I replied simply, “No.”

Her expression was deeply sad but she did not speak another word.

“You killed her then,” a guttural grinding voice said. Suddenly in Gail’s place stood the demon. His gravelly voice severely derided his child like face. His huge body dwarfed me and I felt claustrophobic just being so intimately near him. I sunk back as he stood still. His red eyes glowering down at me. “I was going to put you back on the bus and you were going to have a chance to change history and save the poor waif.”

“I… cannot do that. I regret that she died but I was too small and fragile myself to have been able to save her. I would have probably died too.”

The demon smiled at this and sinisterly replied, “Yes indeed.”

His horrific breath sicken me.

“You want me to die?”

“You already are dead and you have committed murder.”

“No I haven’t. I was not responsible for Doris’ death.”

“Who is talking about her?” He said as his face contorted into an evil grin.

“I don’t understand.”

“Robert Langton,” he said as he virtually spit the name out at me.

“No, he…I,” began. Robert was another story. I actually had brought him back to life through a vivid dream. In such dreams my actions changed reality. It was this the demon was tasking me now in order to save Doris.

“You will try,” the demon sneered and then he gestured to his left as through the mist a cage emerged. Inside stood my wife Suzzee. I rushed over to her. She reached out and we touched. To the best of my senses, she was real.

“Dart,” she cried. I did my best to hug her through the bars that separated us.

“Are you alright?”

“Yes, no….I am here but it all is so confusing. I am trapped in a room and not I am here…and,” she shuttered as if chilled.

“Enough of this sentimentality,” the demon declared and Suzzee was gone. “Your bus awaits, d’Artagnan.”

I sat at the back of a school bus. I was eight years old. It was a late spring afternoon and a thunderstorm had developed without warning on our way back from a field trip to a dinosaur park. That spring up to this point had been exceptionally dry so the dino foot prints in the dried up rock creek bed had been exposed for us to see them. It had been a delightful outing for me and my school mates. However, on the way home the storms came and the rain was quite furious as only a Texas thunderstorms can often be.

I could not see what lay ahead of us as the outside world had grown dark and grey with falling rain. The bus had been cheerful with much laughter and cutting up until now. The mood has suddenly dropped into a somber eerie quiet as if we all knew what was about to happen. A car had been behind the bus and was now attempting to pass. Ahead another vehicle appeared out of nowhere. The car swerved into the left front side of our bus sending us off the road to the ring and into a rain swollen drainage ditch. The bus rolled on its side and screams along with panic spread like wild fire. In the chaos I suddenly became my older self only I still was a child of eight.

Water began to pour into the front of bus as it was the lowest point as the vehicle as it lay nose down on its left side. Then the rear door opened and a man began pulling children out through the back of the bus. Before I had I been one of the first to be rescued but this time I dodged away as others went readily past me to safety. I managed to move down the aisle letting others move past me so I could essentially climb down to the front section. After a short while the way was clear. Doris’ head instantly appeared just above the back of her front row seat. Water was rolling in around her.

“Doris come on,” I called to her.

“Dart I’m stuck. Help me!” she pleated to me.

I fought my way through the rising water to her side. I ducked my head under the water and found her right foot wedged between the crumpled seat and the caved in side of the bus. I tried to extract it but I ran out of breath. I came up for air and dove in once more. This time I struggled mightily but my youthful body was too weak to achieve my goal. I ran out of air and resurfaced. We stared at one another as the water levels progressively rose above our faces.

“I’m sorry,” I said. Doris hugged me and I then held my breath and waited.

Before I could do anything else a strong hand touched my shoulder. Then I began to fall down and away. Below me I saw the spinning darkness. I was being pulled into it. It swirling mass tore into my mind as I felt my essence being pulled away in its substance. I screamed in terror.

Chapter Eight

I opened my eyes but I saw nothing. I was scared. “Mother? Dad?” I called out. To be lost and alone was an eight year olds worst nightmare. There was only a guttural grunting somewhere nearby. Then abruptly a horrific vision lay before me. It looked like an evil angel. It was dark with a childlike face and burning red eyes. I screamed and the thing laughed, a sinister snorting chuckle.

“Are you afraid little Dart,” it asked.

I could not, did not reply.

“You probably wonder where you are don’t you boy.”

“I want to go home,” I whimpered.

“Ha, ha, this is now your home…boy! What do you see other than me?”

“Nothing.”

“Yes and nothing is where and who you are, you died,” it declared. After what seemed like years of maybe just minutes it spoke again. “Dart you have been a very bad boy you know,” it continues.

“I…have?”

“Yes indeed for you have interfered with the natural progression of life.”

“Life?” I stammered back as my fear rose.

“Yes life and then death, you somehow believe that your gift for viewing and changing the past is an acceptable means to deal with life flow,” it continued as if a teacher and I it’s pupil. “You cannot cheat death! It’s not yours to play with how you see fit,” it shouted at me and I tried my best to back away. But when you are nothingness existing in nothingness this is very hard to do.

“Now you must pay for your sins,” it declared.

“Please don’t hurt me,” I cried.

“Hurt you, no Dart I am not going to harm you. I am simply going to leave you here in the middle of nothing and let you ponder that,” it explained.

“How long will I be here?” I asked in a weak voice.

“For as long as it takes, boy. Eventually you will beg me to… come be with me,” it answered and slowly it faded into the surrounding darkness of my nothingness.

I cried for what seemed a very long time. Eventually as my stomach began to ache I stopped crying and simple whimper. I wondered an odd thought. If I were nothing then why did I have a stomach ache? I reached for my belly and felt its smooth contours. I gently rubbed it in an effort to sooth my pain. It helped some.

I think that I sleep but I was not really sure, but when I heard my name I was definitely awake.

“Dart, son it’s me, Dad,” the voice said.

I recognized my father’s words and I responded, “Dad where are you?”

“Close son, close.”

I reached out but I felt nothing but a soft rubber like sensation.

“Dad I’m scared. A bad man put me in here and I can’t find my way out.”

“I know Dart.”

“Dad, am I dead?”

I waited for a very long time until he finally replied, “No Dart you are alive. You are just being held in a place without light or substance. Dart for you to get out of here you must be brave.”

“I will Dad but help me please. Can I come to you?”

“No cannot come to me son, you must find your own way out.”

“But Dad how do I do that. It is all dark and everything I feel is soft and smooth like a plastic pillow.”

“Dart listen to me, it is all a deception. Do you understand?”

“No I don’t”

“Alright, you know when you played hide and seek?”

“Yes.”

“Well this is the same only what is hiding is the door out of here.”

“Ok so how do I find that door?”

“You must believe that you can actually see it.”

“But I can’t see anything.”

“Ok let’s do this, Dart, make believe that you can see a door alright?”

“Alright, but…how?”

“Dart when you went to bed we left on the hall light remember?”

“Yes.”

“What did that look like?”

“I saw the light coming under the door and eventually around the frame.”

“Look for that Dart. Look for the light from under the door.”

I looked for what seemed to be forever and I saw nothing. I called out to my father but now he did not answer. I tried standing or at least I felt like I stood up. I then began to walk about and to my surprise I ran into an object. I caressed it like a long lost friend. It had a top that was smooth but a hard smooth instead of a mushy soft one. I inspected it from the top down under to its legs. I decided that this was a table. If I was supposed to be in nothingness why was this here? I then knew that it was a lie. The thing had told me a lie. My father was right. I just had to seek the truth.

I concentrated upon seeing the light. For a long while there was still nothingness but as I gripped the table top I suddenly became aware that I could see a dim light reflected off its top. I gazed in the direction of that light and slowly the line of light flowing in under the door was evident. Then the frame also came into view. So I walked to the door and opened it up.

But I did not. I still stood by the table. So I walked to the door and opened it up.

But I did not. I still stood by the table. So I walked to the door and opened it up.

But I did not. I still stood by the table. So I walked to the door and opened it up.

But I did not. I still stood by the table. So I walked to the door and opened it up.

I stopped trying and said, “Dad help me.”

“Dart,” he said. “You must also believe in yourself. The demon is making you not believe that you have crossed the room. You must believe in yourself.”

My stomach then began to hurt once more. I knew that this pain meant something. It really did hurt which meant that I was really here and not a nothing. Both the table I existed and so I could leave the table and walk to the door and open it. Then when I really believed this, instantly I was opening the door. Light poured into the room and while its brightness hurt my eyes it also enriched my soul.

Before I shut the door I heard my father say, “Dart, what was your favorite holiday movie and why?”

My gut ache again. I wondered what he meant, “Dad?” I waiting but I did not receive a reply.

In the hallway were Luke and Bart. They stood there just looking weirdly at me. I felt myself and realized that I was a full adult again. So why the strange look.

“Why did you do that?” Bart asked.

“Do what?”

“You told us that that room was a deprivation room and we did not need to explore it. You turned away, walked a few paces and then went right back into it,” Bart replied.

“Yeah man you were like in there a couple minutes talking to yourself and then you walked around a lot before you came out. You alright Dude?” Luke asked.

I noticed that Luke still wore his backpack so he never gave it to me and the whole experience from when I sat down with my father to when I left the deprivation room was just in my mind. It was not real, damn I wish I had not eaten that stew. For an imagined meal it packed a wallop.

I looked around at the upstairs hallway. Just the next door down was the master bedroom. Its door still closed. I began to hear screams of terror imitating from it. My stomach ached some more. I swallowed some burning reflux and pushing myself over to the door opened it and walked inside. It was mostly dark save to my left in the far corner of the room.

There occupying the entire wall was the demon sitting on a mammoth black throne. He smiled maliciously at me. “Dart you manage to extricate yourself from the deprivation room how nice,” it growled and then bizarrely smiled. “Ah, let us welcome you. You do know my other guests.” It continued as he looked to my right. I followed his gaze and froze. I saw three individuals. One was Vihaan Wang. He stood holding a carton or box of some sort. It appeared to be rather like a computer only it had no screen. Nearby was Suzzee’s cousin Chi Fong. He stood within a chamber enclosed on all sides save the front. Both men seemed unable to see anything. They stared blankly out into the room.

Finally very much aware of her surrounding was Suzzee. She looked to me but she could not move in my direction. She appeared locked into her place in front a large wooden building with two simple doors. Above her on the buildings front was a rather simple crudely painted sign that read, Demon Box.

“Dart is that really you,” she asked.

“Yes,” I said as I attempted to go to her. However I seemed to come up against an invisible wall.

The demon laughed and now stood up. He was tall and his posture was defiantly erect. It (for I could not say if the thing was corporal or not) marched in a regal manner near to where I was positioned at about mid room. At this time it gave the impression of being only about seven and a half feet tall, and so to me at this point it was somewhat less imposing than previously. Was this intentional? Its facial expression seemed to be viewing me with pity. “You have to choose,” it said to me as it laid a cold hand on my shoulder.

“Choose?” I asked as I reflexively withdrew from his icy grip.

“Yes, you can choose to join with me and the others will be freed. Suzzee could leave here at once. If you will not voluntarily join with me, you be punished for not taking the blame for your many crimes. Instead you have become the jury for what will happen to the others,” the demon had now less sinister and chattier. It at first through me off, but I began to understand that his persona was changing. It was now trying to entice me to willingly unite with it.

“I did not commit any crimes,” I said resolutely.

“As though you bare no guilt or regret. Have you not learned from your confinement?” the demon inquired.

“Nightmares are not real nor are illusions,” I answered.

“Hmm, this from a person who intentionally changes others destinies through his dreams. If you can play a hero in your dreams then why not be a psychopathic killer too? Save or kill, it seems to be two sides of the same coin to me.”

“I have killed no one in my dreams!”

“Are you sure Dart? And what of Robert Langton?”

“He is alive and well now because of me and my dreams.”

“Is he? I suppose that is a matter of what part of the multiverse you inhabit, isn’t it? Tell me should you be impacted by or held responsible for say… your doppelganger’s misdeeds and sins in another reality? Yes, no, you don’t know? Is it you, them or perhaps both of you that must suffer the consequences for committing unpardonable acts? Dreams can be so fascinating. You know perhaps you would like to take a little nap right now. You know so you could sort this all out.”

I stared back at him. He was mocking me with metaphysical nonsense. I decided again to not yet reply. I saw the gathering storm outside and in the semidarkness of the room I watched the lightning flash. While this storm should have lent an air of dread, it had the opposite effect upon me.

“Ah well nevertheless, let’s get on with it shall we… old friend.” With this its frigid grip grew even tighter upon my whole left upper torso. I grew sick to my stomach as an ache began to grow there. I savored that feeling for now I knew from whence it came and how it would serve me.

Then poor Wang began to shake violently as the apparatus he held sent an electrical current flowing and engulfing through him in a grip of scorching electrical blaze. His screams were almost drowned out by the zapping sounds imitating from what must have been the true demon box.

“Fitting don’t you think,” it began. “Wang is being electrocuted as he holds the box he so desperately desired. And as for Fong a double agent who has been deviously playing both sides for no true or justifiable cause other than to gain riches. He is getting a taste of both ends of the spectrum. His torment is to be alternately frozen and then seared by alternating waves of microwave heat and quantum level cold.” Fong’s cries were very loud and horrific

“You should stop this,” I committed.

It turned and regarded me as if not believing what his red eyes was seeing.

“Oh I will. All you need to do is give yourself willingly over to me,” the demon answered but his growing distrust for me was beginning to show in the slight intimidation laced between his words.

“No, I will not,” I retorted firmly.

“Well perhaps this will change your mind,” the demon said.

“Suzzee?” I replied.

“Yes,” the demon smiled at me. “Your poor Suzzee will enter see this ‘demon box’ which I modeled on the quantum paradox where the poor animal is said to be half dead and half alive until someone opens the box and looks inside.

“Schrodinger cat,” I added. “I know it well. It is impossible to recreate it on a macro level.”

“Uh it…” The confused demon began. “I can do anything I want!”

“Not really, let me show you something,” I said walking over to a nearby window. “You see I realized something important just a second ago. Suddenly lightning flashed multiple times as we stood watching the floor and then the ceiling. “Did you observe it?”

“Exhilarating isn’t it?” the demon sneered. “So what?” He was obviously becoming annoyed by my causal attitude. This was after all his big performance.

“No shadows,” I said turning to face him head on. He was now barely inches taller than me.

“Shadows?”

“Yes where are the shadow from the light flashes? Could it be that in here in this room we are only seeing the illusions you would have us see? Illusions that should have included shadows but did not.

“Bah, you are being inane. This won’t help you. I should just strike you down where you stand.”

“You can’t for you see I don’t believe in you,” I said confidently. Then I felt a new pain in my gut and cramps followed. I bent over and grabbed my stomach.

The demon eyed me and gave me a scornful smile. “You will be damned.”

“Stomach cramps is all it is,” I explained.

“So your bravado takes its toll. I am your belly pain,” the demon sneered and then laughed. “You and your beloved Suzzee will be damned. He turns and gestured at Suzzee as she too began to cramp with pain.

“That’s it? Stomach cramps is the best you can manage? You are not much of a sinister creature are you? Your fellow demons must really chuckel at your incompetence,” I asked. “You are a real bully when it comes to little kids, the weak and the uninformed. The only power you hold over any of us are ones we give you out of fear or a lack of understanding. As my father said, ‘The demon is a deceiver’…the lightning flashed briefly.

“I will destroy you!” It raged back at me but he now had to get up on his toes to even glare downward at me.

“I think,” I continued, “You know it may be you, rather than the task that is making me ill. In fact I now have come to understand that it is all about you.”

“Indeed I am in control,” it said.

“Not really,” I retorted. “I think that maybe I am the one controls what happens to be me not you. You are nothing more to me or my stomach than an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. That’s what you are. You are an old potato.” I replied as I turned upon him.

“What?” The demon responded in confusion.

“It is from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol,” or as I prefer the movie Scrooge, I continued. “It is about an old miserable man who decided that he would not be the man he was.” I stood up straight and released some penned up gas. “And that is all it was and all you are. In fact I felt now pretty undammed good. I began to march toward him and the demon actually took a step back. “Are you getting shorter?” I asked him as stepped right into his face. His height now was considerable less than my own. I then shoved him hard. The thing began to fall backwards and disperse before my eyes. Eventually it collapsed into a heap before me. Writhing and looking a little like the wicked witch, it dissolved away through the cracks between the boards of the floor.

“Impressive,” said Bart as he and Luck looked at me from the doorway.

Suzzee came running up to me and gave me a tender embrace. I was lost in it for a long time. When I finally released her, agent Bonner was there rounding up the players. “We got your GPS signal and came as quickly as we could. We’ve got this,” he said. “Your uncle is down stairs. Take your wife and go home. We can debrief tomorrow.”

I nodded and lead Suzzee through the door, down the stairs and out and away from Hill Manor. As we drove off I thought I saw my father waving at me from the front of the house.

The next day reporters were gathered outside my house wanting to get our story. I let only one inside for an interview. She was an old friend by the name of Doris Gail. It seems that she and I were once in a school bus accident. We could have drowned in an open flood ditch but my father happened upon the scene and rescued us after we had been trapped inside by the rising waters.

Epilogue:

I awoke once more from another one of my crazy vivid dreams. In it, once again I was this paranormal detective persona. Later that day I met up with Susan Quinn Clarke. She was my friend since high school. I call her Suzzee Q. I told her all about my run in with ghost hunters, corporate raiders, the FBI and of course a demon. I thought that she would find it to be extremely funny.

“You know Dart maybe you should write it down,” she said.

“Why?”

“Who knows, others may find it amusing to read.”

“Seriously?”

“You never can tell. People like to read different things and that is definitely different.”

“Sure, I’ll think about.”

“But Dart you need to change your lead character’s name. I mean it can’t be you.”

“What should I call him…James or something?”

“That would be ok, but I was thinking maybe… Jake.”