The Last Night
Written and Illustrated by Nate Phillips
Episode One: The Last Night of the World
Copyright 2017 by Nate Phillips
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
This eBook has been published for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook is free and may be given away to other people. If you want to share this book with others, feel free to do so. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
For my wife Claire and my children Aidan, Ashe, Cody and Chloe
[+ Chapter I- The Sweepers +]
[+ Chapter II- The Counters +]
[+ Chapter III- The Removers +]
[+ Chapter IV- The Doorkeepers +]
For those of you who have read Ray Bradbury’s The Last Night of the World, you might be asking the same questions as I asked after I read it. What happened to husband and wife? Did the end of the world actually happen? Why did Bradbury make reference to the made up date of February 30th, 1951? Well, since Bradbury passed away in 2012, I suspect we will not be getting answers any time soon. So, I decided to create a sequel (so to speak), which might answer some of the questions I (and maybe others) had. This portion of the series is inspired by Bradbury’s short story but is presented in my universe, featuring characters and settings of my creation. I hope you all enjoy and keep an eye out for more to come.
A man writhed in his sleep; his dreams were consumed with cries of horror. Floating along a darkened expanse, he found himself drifting between the silhouettes of screaming people. Suddenly he came to a halt and looked to his left as a wailing woman with outstretched arms burst into a shower of glittering lights. To his right he watched as two young girls, running towards him, disintegrated into sparkling dust. The man clutched his head and threw his head back howling in agony.
With a jolt he sprang upright in his bed, cold sweat and tears pouring down his face.
“Honey, are you alright?” a woman said. She was from his dreams, his wife, standing in front of him wearing a brilliant blue apron. She stared at him, wide-eyed and alarmed.
“Yeah,” he said, just noticing her as he wiped the sweat from his forehead. “I-I just had a bad dream.”
“You were making quite a fuss in here; I just came to wake you up.” She smiled uncertainly to her husband, who still looked as if he had no idea what was going on. “Um, you’re late for work, see?” She motioned to the alarm clock sitting by the night stand.
The husband idly regarded his attention the night stand, and then the realization hit him like a ton of bricks. The alarm clock read 7:12 AM, however, work for him started at 6 AM. He snatched the alarm clock off the night stand and inspected the lever that sets it. It was still in the down position.
“I forgot to set it,” the husband said with a mystified look etched into his face.
“Interesting,” his wife said, “I thought the end of the world would have to happen before you ever forgot to set your alarm.”
“Indeed,” the husband said profoundly.
The wife began to walk away but stopped at the doorway and turned to regard her husband with a concerned gaze. “You know, I think we must have had a strange evening last night.”
“Why do you think that?” the husband asked.
“The faucet in the kitchen was still running when I woke up this morning,” She said. “I must have forgotten to shut it off last night.”
The husband tittered and swung himself out of bed. “I hear getting old will make you lose your memory.”
His wife smiled wickedly and produced an oven mitt from her apron pocket. She threw it at her husband but he deftly caught it and tossed it back to her.
She chuckled contritely and walked away again. “Breakfast is done, so you better hurry or it’ll get cold.”
The husband stretched and approached the wardrobe. He quickly surveyed the contents and pulled out a pressed suit for work. He laid the suit on the bed and began tearing away the protective dry-cleaning plastic. As he was getting ready, he stopped and for a moment and anxiously looked around the room. An uneasy sensation had fallen upon him like a thick fog. For some reason, he had the strangest feeling that he just lost something important, almost like a part of him was taken away. He shook his head, unable to understand what instigated this odd sentiment and banished the notion into the deeper recesses of his mind. He then returned his attention to the suit lying on the bed and after careful consideration, placed it neatly back into the wardrobe.
The husband casually strolled to the bathroom and flicked on the light. He glanced at himself in the mirror through bloodshot eyes and thought he heard the horrific sounds of distant screams. He pressed his eyes shut and shook his head to expel the thought. When he reopened his eyes the wailing had subsided and left behind a ringing silence. Without looking, the husband slowly reached for his toothbrush and lethargically brushed his teeth. When he was done he slowly craned his head, as if to pick up the lost soundwaves. When he was satisfied there were no more strange noises, he shrugged and left the bathroom, grabbing his robe just before shutting off the light.
The husband ambled his way down the hall and stubbed his big toe on a red wooden block in the den. He muttered a curse as he bent down to pick it up. He shook his head, remembering the girls playing with the blocks the evening prior.
“Kids will be kids,” he said to himself as he precariously placed the block on the vinyl record player. A red letter “A” stared defiantly in his direction as he slightly limped his way off into the kitchen.
“Not going to work today, honey?” His wife asked from the kitchen sink.
“Nah,” he said while tying his robe. “I think I’ll call in sick today.”
The wife snickered. “Thursday’s a rather odd day to take off, don’t you think?”
“There is no such thing as an odd day to take off when I am spending time with you.” He sneaked up from behind and gave her a hug and a peck on the cheek. She playfully flicked water at him.
Suddenly, two young girls ran in from the den, still in their pajamas. Their yellow hair shone from the morning sun spilling in from the window over the sink.
“Daddy!” they said in glee. He lowered himself to embrace them.
“See,” the oldest girl exclaimed, “I told you I could hear daddy.”
The littlest one stuck out her tongue and turned to regard her father. “Daddy, aren’t you supposed to be at work?” she asked with a confused look.
“No, not today,” he said.
“Aww, we don’t want to go to school,” the youngest girl said with a profound pout, the older one simply nodded solemn in agreement.
“I am sorry girls, but your mother would be mad at me if I kept you off.” His wife gave him a feigned accusatory glare. He just shrugged his shoulders and smiled.
Both girls now wore deep frowns and crossed their arms.
The father imitated their sadden faces and crossed his own arms then he cracked a smile. “I’ll tell you what,” he said, “once you get ready and have breakfast I will drive you both to school instead of having to take the bus.”
“Yay!” The sisters jumped for joy.
“Now go on, get ready,” he said. The girls bounced away, back down the hall to the bathroom.
The wife chuckled as she watched the girls leave. She approached her husband with a coffee pot in hand. “You want some coffee?” she asked.
The husband’s knees pop as he carefully stood up. “Sure,” he said, “let me just get a mug.”
As he opened the cupboard and grabbed a mug, he noticed a little magnetic calendar on the refrigerator. It still had February’s page, staring at him. He tore off the page to reveal “March 1951.” When he back turned around, his wife was pensively waiting, still holding the pot. She smiled and motioned to his mug, which was gripped unsteadily in his hand. Startled, he held out the mug and watched as she poured the steaming back liquid. He inhaled the aroma and stole himself a sip before he made his way to the kitchen table.
As he took a seat, he noticed the daily newspaper sitting on the edge of the table. His eyes scanned the front page as he took a bite of his toast and felt a chill, noticing the date at the top, which read February 30th, 1951.
“Must be a typo,” he said to himself. Then he heard a faint scream, forcing him to leap out of his seat.
“Honey?” his wife implored. “Is everything alright?”
The husband ignored her and bolted out of the kitchen towards the hall. His worry melted away as he saw the girls skipping cheerfully down to the kitchen. He laughed nervously, making his way to the window over the kitchen sink. His eyes scanned up and down the streets, searching for any evidence of where the cry may have come from.
“What is it?” The wife asked, suddenly appearing next to him with a concerned gaze.
“Oh,” the husband said, just noticing her. “I thought I heard something.”
His wife clucked her tongue disapprovingly. “Too many late nights,” she said in a motherly tone. “Maybe a day off is exactly what you need.”
The husband tentatively smiled, then kissed her cheek as he made his way back to the table.
The girls were already sitting, fighting over a plate of bacon. The husband closed his eyes and willed himself to think happier thoughts.
He felt a tiny hand grab his arm gently; his eyes snapped open. “Daddy, I am happy to see you today,” the younger daughter said with mouthful of bacon,
He smiled. “I am happy to see you also,” he said and all his worries began to melt away.
Today will be a good day, he willed himself to think.
After breakfast, the husband loaded the girls into the car and they pulled out of the driveway 10 minute before school started. The girls gave toothy grins and frantically wave to their mother. She smiled and waved back. She then turned to walk back inside and absently reached into the pocket of her aporn. When she pulled her hand out, a small pink ribbon was wrapped delicately around her fingers.
“Damn it,” she muttered. “I forgot to do the girl’s hair.” She placed the ribbon back in her pocket and went inside, slamming the door behind her.
One block away two agents, in matching black suits, stood in silence staring down the street. The older of the two pulled out a bowler hat and gently placed it on his head.
The younger agent spoke first. “When will I get my hat?” he asked.
“After a year of service.” The older man said sharply. “I do believe this was explained to you.”
The younger agent shut his mouth and nodded slightly. He then returned his gaze down the street. “Sir?” he implored after a little while. “Why are we still here?”
The older agent gave long sigh of annoyance. “I am making certain everything is in order.”
The young agent turned to face him. “Sir, this sector has been cleared,” he said exasperatingly. “I was very thorough in making sure everyone’s minds were completely wiped.”
“That is not what concerns me.” The older agent snapped as he turned to regard the younger. “There is more to this process than simply doing a ‘sweep,’ as we call it.”
“But sir, the boss gave us the orders to erase everyone’s memory since the February 30th doesn’t exist anymore.” The young man paused and then began to panic. “This has been done before, right?” The older agent nodded. “Then can you explain what you’re worried about, sir?”
The older agent reached into his pocket and pulled out a familiar wooden toy block, and held it out to the young agent.
The younger agent apprehensively took it. “You stole one of the blocks those little girls with the yellow hair were playing with.” The young agent snickered. “Aren’t you a little too old to be stealing from children?” He turned the block over and thumbed the bright red letter “A” embossed on the face. He looked back up to the older man, eyebrows knit with concern. “What is the relevance of this?”
The old agent sighed again “The block you are holding is from the day that was erased.” He paused. “I took it because it is imperative for you to understand what it is the Agency does.” The old man stood momentarily in silence then turned to walk away.
The toy block clattered to the ground. “Wait!” The young man’s voice was now shrilled and panicked. “There are two blocks?”
The older agent shook his head disdainfully. “There’s an infinity amount of this particular blocks.”
“What do you mean an infinity amount?” The young man asked incuriously. “No, no, no, this block shouldn’t exist, this is impossible. The day doesn’t exist anymore…” The young agent stopped in mid-sentence and grabbed the old man by the shoulders. “We have to do something!” he cried.
The older agent pulled away with a sneer and said, “How do you believe days are ‘deleted,’ boy?” After a moment, he pensively shook his head remembering when he first learned what it meant to be an agent. “I reckon the Removers are deleting everything as we speak.”
“Removers?” the young agent squeaked. “But all those people,” his voice caught in his throat. “The little girls…” he said in a ghost of a whisper.
The old man’s expression softened. “This is just the way it is,” he said quietly. He placed his hand on the younger man’s shoulder. “Do not fret for it is not our problem; we are just Sweepers and we only concern ourselves with erasing evidence.” The old man began to walk away. “Let the Removers deal with the people of February 30th, 1951.”
The young man stole one last furtive look at the familiar red block now lying on the ground. He closed his eyes and imagined how many versions of this block may exist or how many versions of himself may exist. Was the February 30th version of himself being deleted as he spoke? He shuddered at the thought. When the young agent reopened his eyes he said, “I need some coffee.”
The older agent beamed. “Coffee sounds good,” he said. “But before that, we need to speak with the Counters.”
“I am not in the mood to speak with the Counters right now,” The young agent said resentfully.
The old agent clucked his tongue indignantly. “I trust you want to get compensated for today’s work, correct?”
“Oh,” the younger man sniffed indifferently, feeling dirty that the money he earned was paid in blood.
The young agent want scream ‘no’ and say that he was done working for the Mystery Agency but the older agent gave him a look that indicated he knew what he was thinking.
“Leaving the Agency is ill-advised,” the older agent warned. “Come, let us get a cup of coffee and I shall explain more to you before we speak with the Counters.”
The young agent stood motionless, still staring absently at the red block. After a moment, he nodded and walked away with his partner; his gaze was still cast on the ground.
As the two agents left, the silent neighborhood began to stir as school buses picked up children and adults left for work. They all went about their day, oblivious to the fact that the universe had just lost a day. They were all ignorant to the fact that a part of them was now lost somewhere in time being deleted by other agents known as the Removers.
An unkempt man in mid-twenties stumbled into the bathroom and nearly missed the toilet, relieving himself. He flushed after a minute or so and turned to the mirror, rubbing his bloodshot eyes. He watched as a wretched version of himself stared back and frowned. He only had five hours of combined sleep in the past three days. The man felt as if he was going to pass out on the spot. Rubbing the stubble on his chin, he reached for his shaving cream and noticed the time on his watch.
“Christ!” he exclaimed as he dropped the can of shaving cream on his foot. While hopping on his other foot, he hastily put on his trousers which were laying in a heap with the rest of his suit in the corner of the bathroom.
Once he was haphazardly dressed, he rushed into the study and took a moment to survey the mess of paperwork strewed about the room. He frantically began to grab papers and stuff them into an old messenger bag.
“Solomon!” his wife screeched from the other room.
“For the love of God Colleen, what do you want, woman?” He said under his breath, as he continued gathering paperwork
The wife barged into the study with a screaming baby in her arms. “While you’re out, get more cigarettes, will ya’?”
“Look, I am up to my eyeballs in work and I gotta run these documents to my boss asap.” He scrambled to grab papers under his desk. The baby screeched even louder.
“Christ, will ya’ shut that kid up?” he snapped, which issued even more crying.
“Come on, I need a smoke.” she said pleadingly, motioning to the wailing baby.
Solomon sighed, “Fine, but on my way back.”
Colleen began to protest but Solomon interrupted, “On – my – way – back.” He punctuated the point. “I’m late as is; I don’t have time to get you cigs right now for crying out loud.”
Colleen frowned and stormed out of the room. Solomon just shook his head in disgrace; he didn’t have time to care about her feelings. After gathering as many of the papers he could find, he flew out the front door with a flurry of documents trailing behind him.
Solomon arrived at the office in half the time it normally took but was still over an hour late. He rushed into the building with stray papers still fluttering out of his bag. He barged into the boss’s office and slid to a halt as he saw the head guy behind his desk, frantically scribbling something in a notepad.
“S-sir,” Solomon interrupted while wringing his hands together. “I-I have the report.”
The man behind the desk continued to write in the notepad without even looking up.
“Sir?” Solomon implored again.
“I heard you the first time, Solomon.” The boss snapped. He slammed the notepad shut and peered beyond his spectacles to the disheveled man standing before him.
“You look like hell,” the boss said with a sneer. “And where is your hat?” The man tapped on his own black bowler hat perched on his head.
“Well, I-” Solomon started, inwardly beating himself up for forgetting his headgear.
“And you are over an hour late.” The boss suddenly stood up and took off his hat, he carefully placed it on the side of his desk. Even though the man looked old in appearance, he had a muscular build with wide shoulders and stood a whole head taller than most men. He was intimidating and possessed an air of authority that made Solomon quiver.
“T-t the report sir?” Solomon squeaked as the boss approached him.
The large man held his hand out, waiting petulantly for the document. Solomon rifled through his papers and after a minute or so produced a crumpled piece of paper. He attempted to smooth it out on his pants leg but winced when the boss snatched it out of his hand.
Solomon wrung his fingers together again as he watched the boss’s eyes robotically scanned the document.
“This,” the boss crumpled the paper into a ball and tossed it into Solomon’s face, “is incomplete!” Solomon winced as the oversized man roared. The boss slowly made his way back to the desk and placed his bowler hat carefully back on his head.
The boss paused for a moment then nodded thoughtfully and very softly said, “Of course, it will be done.”
Solomon’s eyes widened with horror. “S-sir, i-if I might say so, we are short-handed Counters and the Removers and Doorkeepers come and go as they please so, it’s impossible to gather accurate data.” He wrung his hands together even more vigorously. “The Sweepers have been the only ones who have diligently given me the data I requested,” he said softly.
The boss clucked his tongue in annoyance. “Your excuses are pointless now,” he said in a solemn tone.
Solomon took a step forward but the boss waggled a finger which held the pitiful man at bay. “Sir, I did everything I could, given the information I received and the fact that February 30th was erased from existence, less than a week ago.” Solomon breathed heavy and waited a moment. He hung his head low when the boss did not respond. “Sir, if I could just have more time.”
“Time?” the boss growled. “Time is our business and you seem to be making a good effort in wasting it.”
“But sir,” Solomon dropped to his knees.
The boss shook his head gravely. “I am afraid I cannot help you.” He flipped open his notepad and began writing in it again. “This is not the first time you have failed the Agency but I can assure you it will be the last.”
“Sir I-” Solomon started saying exasperatingly.
“Consider yourself terminated.” The boss said without a hint of remorse. “Now leave, Solomon.”
Solomon felt his heart sink into his stomach as he slowly picked up his messenger bag and slinked out of the office. The gravity of the situation had not hit him when he left the building and went straight to the bar. He was semi-conscious when the hours passed into darkness, all whilst drinking his worries away. He had a vague understanding of what was going on as he stumbled his way out of the bar and to his car.
Solomon arrived home at a quarter after one AM. He parked on the road just in front of his house and smashed his fist into the dash of the 51’ Ford Vick he had just purchased a week prior. He didn’t know how to tell his wife that he had been sacked. Solomon had worked as a Messenger for the Agency since the beginning of time. Thorough hard work and perseverance, he slowly worked his way up the chain to get to the position he was at. Things were starting to look up now that he had finally been given the official title of Counter. To him, this seemed to be the start he needed to get his family out of the slums. It seemed to be the start Colleen and he needed to fix their crumbling marriage but now he had been fired.
Solomon sobbed into his steering wheel, unable to keep at bay the tears he had been holding inside all day. He knew a termination from the Agency was a very bad thing. He remembered a few Removers making a mistake a couple of decades ago and their termination did not end well. Solomon shook the thought from his mind. He hadn’t killed innocent people with his mistake. Surely, he hoped, his error was not in the same category. After a moment, Solomon regained composure and wiped his tears and snot on his sleeve. He absently glanced to his right and jumped in shock as he noticed a man dressed in black with a bowler hat, sitting in the passenger seat.
“Christ! I didn’t hear you enter the car.” Solomon said in shock. “Look, I don’t work for the Agency anym-” Solomon started but before the rest of the words could come out, the man in black pulled out a revolver and splattered Solomon’s brains all over the shiny new interior of his car. The driver side window exploded into a flurry of glass, cascading onto the ground. The gunshot reverberated down the corridor of houses and echoed into the silent evening air.
The man quickly stepped out of the vehicle as he noticed several houses in the neighborhood lights come on. He quickened his pace and walked determinately to Solomon’s house.
“Yes, Solomon and wife, I understand,” the man muttered to himself as he heard the distant wail of sirens drawing closer.
He kicked in the front door without even checking to see if it was locked. The house was pitch black. Without hesitation, the man pulled out a pack of matches and lit one. With his gun in one hand and the lit match and pack in the other, he deftly made his way to the master bedroom. He wasted no time throwing the door open and taking aim at the bed; it was empty; he glanced around the room to no avail.
As the man turned to leave, the match had run out to the end and burnt his fingertips. He made a short yelp of pain and dropped the match and pack to the floor. He quickly stomped on the little fire that was forming around his feet and tried in vain to find the pack in the dark. He abruptly stopped as he heard the screaming sirens drawing closer and closer. Abandoning the matches, he hastily searched the rest of the house in the dark and stumbled upon the nursery. Slightly nonplused by the baby decor, he took a moment and stared curiously at the empty crib. As he approached the side, he saw the silhouette of a toy, which appeared to be lying in the middle of the crib. He reached for the toy and felt the velvety softness of a small stuffed animal; he absently thumbed the buttons eyes.
“There’s a child?” he angrily muttered to himself. “Of course it mat-”
Suddenly, he heard a low growl and piercing pain shot into his right calf. A dog appeared and had latched on, snarling as it tore into his flesh. The man instinctively took aim in the dark, praying he would hit the dog. The gunshot rang out and the dog let out a short yelp. The man quickly put some distance between him and the beast and touched his wounded leg with fear. He was relieved to find the dog seemed to have got more pants than leg. To the man’s horror, he heard the dog growl once more but before the dog could attack again the man snapped his fingers and disappeared into a wisp of smoke. The dog leaped through the air and nearly smashed in the adjacent wall. As the sounds of sirens grew louder the dog sneaked his way out of the house before the police had arrived.
The cops never found the man in black. Sadly Solomon’s death would eventually be ruled as a suicide but one day a fatherless girl would come looking for the truth and the man in black was ready to bear that burden whenever the time came.
February 30th, 1951.
Somewhere in an alternate dimension, the people of February 30th sat in limbo in a perpetually reoccurring day while a group of agents known as the Removers deleted everyone and everything with cold efficiency. Now, only a few remain but they continued to persist despite their diminishing numbers and crumbling hope. A husband and wife huddled in cheap motel in Staten Island, New York. Their faith was beginning to dissolve as the Removers rapidly closed in.
The husband’s wife paced back and forth in the room with clenched fists. Her normally stoic exterior was depleting at the injustice of it all. She smashed her fist into the bed post and let out a shout.
“Shhh, they’ll hear you,” her husband said in a harsh whisper.
“What difference does it make?” the wife snapped as she walked towards a table sitting outside on the balcony. “We’re all going to die eventually.” She laughed bitterly
The husband winced at her statement, but also shared similar sentiments. It pained him to see his wife, as strong as she was, falling apart at the seams.
“Look, we’re safe right now,” he said, trying to sound reassuring.
“And what about the girls?” her voice broke. Though subdued, he was still able to hear the underlying venom in her tone. She lowered her head and collapsed in one of the folding chairs on the balcony.
Their daughters and most of the children from the school were the first to go. Someone had told the husband once, “Children have less body mass than adults,” therefore they were “easier to delete.” He didn’t believe mass had anything to do with it. He tried to dismiss the memories of seeing Removers delete whole skyscrapers in seconds. Men, women, and children, the Removers showed no prejudice and there was no order to who or what got delete first.
“What’s done is done,” the husband said flatly. He strolled into the kitchen, got a glass of water, and joined his wife outside. He handed her the glass but she knocked it out of his hand. He watched as it shattered on the ground and the shards of glass glinted orange and red from the retreating sun.
She glared at him for a moment. “So that’s it, ‘what’s done is done?’” she said in a growl. “Our girls meant everything to me; did they not mean a thing to you?”
“I-” was all he said, and then he simply nodded in affirmation and took a seat across from her. The couple sat quietly, bathing in the brilliant orange sunset.
After a moment the wife broke the silence. “We have been running and hiding for too long.” She slumped in her seat and her whole body began to shake with anguish.
The husband moved to console but hesitated, remembering her fury from moments before. “Honey?” he implored.
She calmed herself and with a steady voice said, “The Removers won’t stop until everything is gone.”
The husband shook his head indignantly. “There’s a resistance,” he said. “People are fighting.”
The wife gave a look of disgust. “Have you seen them fight?” she asked with a sneer.
A shadow passed over the husband’s face as he solemnly nodded. The resistance, if it could be called that, turned to dust every time they fought with the Removers; they were no match. Something was protecting these agents of mystery. Something made these agents more powerful than the average man. They seemed to defy all laws of nature, nothing short of a nuke seemed to kill them.
“I heard they killed a Remover once,” he said half-heartedly.
His wife gave a bark of a laugh. “And you believed them.” It wasn’t meant to be a question; she was simply affirming her husband’s ignorance.
“They said he turned to a beam of light when he died, so…” he paused, unsure of the truth. “I don’t know if it’s true.”
His wife laughed again. “Brilliant,” she said as she pushed away from the table to stand up. “Even if it’s true, the score is still one kill for us and three billion for them.”
Her sarcasm wounded him but he knew she was right. It was only a matter of time, and there would be no one left to fight. Part of him wanted to quit and join their daughters. He glanced at his wife and only just noticed how she had worn this feeling on her sleeves since the day the girls vanished. He tried to shake the thought from his mind.
“I am tired,” she said as she slowly walked back into the room.
“I think it’s best if we take turns sleeping,” the husband said following behind her.
“That’s not what I meant,” she said. “I am tired of running, and hiding.” The wife started to cry. “I miss the girls,” she gasped through her sobs.
“But,” the husband was at a loss for word. “I miss them too,” he said in the end, as he reluctantly grasped her hand and began to pull her into a hug.
A loud cracking sound came from outside and cut their tender moment short. Both their head perked up as they heard the familiar sounds of screams being cut off.
“They’re here,” the husband said urgently. “Quick.” He yanked at her arm but she remained frozen in place. He huffed in anger; her attitude was beginning to infuriate him. “We have to go now,” he said, pulling her towards him again.
“No,” she said softly as she attempted to free herself from his grasp. “I’m done running.” She clenched her fists at her sides. “It ends here.”
“What?” the husband said incredulously. He couldn’t believe it, after staying alive for this long, their story was going to end in a cheap motel with the fabrics of reality disintegrating around them. He angrily shook his head at first but then understood how she felt. Realizing the truth of the situation, he loosened his grasp of her arm and waited for the end. For one last time, he pulled her into a hug and kissed her; she didn’t protest.
A loud crackling noise drew their attention to the front door. It glowed and sputtered for a moment as the atoms that held it together accelerated and destabilized. Within seconds the door disintegrated into a burst of glowing dust.
Three men in black suits and bowler hats stood outside the door. The lead man had a pen-looking device in his outstretched hand as the remaining particles, of what used to be the door, flurried around the trio and dissipated into the air.
The lead man had a bushy gray moustache and thin cruel looking face. He removed his hat before crossing the threshold to their room.
“I do apologize for the interruption,” the man said in a manner that didn’t seem very apologetic. “But it is business as usual.” He said with a wicked smile.
“I’ll confirm their identities, sir” a younger darker skinned man to his right said in a quick tone. He produced a pen-like device, similar to the older man’s, and clicked it once. A red beam of light enveloped the room and scanned over the husband and wife. The young man clicked the pen again and the red light disappeared. “Allen and Jane Wilson, 3 Gumtree Avenue, Detroit, Michigan,” he said while looking down at the pen device. After a moment he looked up. “Their two daughters have already been deleted,” the young agent said in a somber tone.
Allen’s wife screamed as he tried to hold on, but Jane broke free and rushed towards the men in suits. “It’s no use fighting anymore,” she said with tears streaming down her cheeks. “Just finish it,” she said to the agents.
Allen fell to his knees. “No, wait,” he said, finding himself unable to force his eyes shut.
He watched in horror as lead agent held out his pen device and the tip glowed brilliant white. Jane’s bright blond hair began to glow. It turned to a luminescent white and for a moment. He was reminded of his daughters and how their yellow hair used to shine in the sun. Jane had enough time to turn and give her husband a sad smile before she burst into a glitter of light and dissipated into the air. Allen wailed in agony and anger, but before he could do anything, everything in his field of view turned a pure white.
Just like that, Allen and Jane Wilson became another removed piece of February 30, 1951.
The youngest of the three agents walked to where the woman was and picked up a small pink ribbon he saw flutter from her hand just before disappearing. He regarded it with mixed feelings and wondered if it had once belonged to one of her daughters.
“We have no time for sentiments,” the lead man said, taking note of the young agent’s demeanor. “We have a job to do,” he said coldly. “Unless, that is of course, you wish to join them.”
The younger agent quickly dropped the ribbon as if it had turned into a poisonous snake and shook his head vigorously.
“Good,” the older agent said with another wicked smile.
“Our work here is done,” the other agent said to the pair in a monotone voice. “The Doorkeepers will take care of everything else.”
The trio scoured the area for remnants. Once they were satisfied every living soul was eradicated, they began to delete the motel itself. With hands and pen devices outstretched they deleted the building until the area was reduced to nothing more than a slab of concrete. Night had fallen as the trio walked towards their all-black 1951 Buick Special. The younger agent paused and looked up the darkened sky; the other two also stopped and looked skyward. The three marveled as they watched the moon slowly disintegrated before their very eyes.
“Not long now,” the eldest agent said.
This was not Allen and Jane’s end. They appeared together, incorporeal in a common looking residential area. Everything looked grey and washed out, like the life was sucked out. There was no breeze and no sounds; everything was simply dead.
“Allen?” Jane whispered. Her fingers probed for him and she found he was next to her; she clasped his hand and they stood together. “What is this place?” she asked.
Allen only shook his head as he attempted to touch a nearby light pole. His hand passed through as if it was made of air. Jane gasped and placed her hand on her mouth in astonishment.
“I think,” he paused for a moment. “I think we are ghosts.”
Jane shook her head in disbelief. “I thought we would get to see the girls-” her voice was cut off as they both heard footsteps approaching from behind.
Allen and Jane both swiveled and saw a man in a black suit, with a bowler hat, and black trench coat making long strides towards them. Jane involuntarily let go of Allen’s hand and stepped backwards in fear while her husband stood defiantly with his fist clenched.
“Relax,” the man in the suit said as he drew closer, taking notice of their demeanor. “I am not a Remover.”
“W-who are you,” Allen stammered.
“The name’s John Gazzo.” He said in a voice that reminded them of a detective from a radio show. He held out his hand and Allen just stared at it. Gazzo grabbed Allen’s hand anyways and shook it enthusiastically. To Allen’s astonishment his hand did not pass through Gazzo’s.
“Are you dead too?” Allen asked.
“Of course not,” Gazzo said as if it was obvious. “I am a Doorkeeper, kid.”
“What is a Doorkeeper?” Jane asked.
“I am the keeper of doors, obviously.” Gazzo turned-heel and walked away. When Allen and Jane didn’t move, he turned to address them again, “Follow me, will ya’?”
“But-” Allen started.
Gazzo stopped and said quickly, “Look kid, I got places to be and things to do, so how’s about we hurry it up, yeah?” He continued walking and stopped in front of one of the suburban houses. The couple noticed that the seams of the door had an eerie glow as if it was hiding something immensely bright. When Gazzo had opened the door, a brilliant golden light poured out. Allen and Jane shielded their eyes but Gazzo grabbed them by their elbows and wheeled them towards the door.
“Alright, in ya’ go.” Gazzo said as he tried to shove the husband in the doorway first.
Allen kicked his legs out and held his hands on the frame to prevent himself from entering. “Wait,” he said urgently, “where will this take us?”
“I’ve got no idea.” Gazzo said as he suddenly kicked Allen’s lower back, sending into the light. Jane’s eyes went wide as Allen made a short cut off yelp, disappearing into the golden light. She made a fearful momentary glance at Gazzo then ran after her husband.
After the two were gone, Gazzo slammed the door shut. He tentatively reached into his pocket and pulled out a small piece of scratch paper.
“The Starlight Diner, 8 AM,” Gazzo said to himself, crumbling the paper and threw it to the ground. “Damn, we really need to find a new meeting place, I hate the coffee there.”
Gazzo flipped up his collar and adjusted his bowler hat. He looked back at the door which had just returned back to normal. “Two more,” he said with a sigh.
He snapped his fingers and disappeared from the gloomy suburban neighborhood, leaving only a shimmering wisp of smoke behind.
Marco, a mousy looking 19-year-old from Manhattan, tapped his feet nervously as he waited for the investigator to show up at the Starlight Diner on the Hempstead Turnpike in Uniondale. He had been helping out a private eye named Giovanni “John” Gazzo for several months now. For Marco, this was an unpaid gig but he did it with the faith Gazzo would one day take him on one of his cases. All he needed was to find a good lead and then maybe Gazzo would feel compelled to take him on as an apprentice. He looked down at the address he scribbled on a piece of paper and smiled, hoping this was the case the detective would allow him to join.
“Coffee, sir?” a pretty blond-haired waitress asked Marco.
Marco glanced up, dumbfounded and fumbled with the cup. The waitress giggled and caught it before it fell to the floor. She sat it upright and poured out a generous amount of coffee.
“Thanks,” Marco said sheepishly.
“Anytime handsome. I’ll be back for your order.” Marco turned to watch the waitress, as her hips swayed back and forth. His face flushed red as she made a backwards glance to him and smiled.
“She’s pretty,” Marco whipped back around in his seat and gave a yelp of surprise. Gazzo was sitting in front of him stirring cream into Marco’s cup of coffee. Gazzo wore a black bowler hat that sat slightly canted to the right. He had a hard face that looked as if it were chiseled out of stone.
“Christ Gazzo!” Marco said nearly falling out of his seat. “I hate when ya’ do that. When d’ya come in?”
Gazzo did not respond but took a sip of the coffee. He made a sour face and quickly spit it back into the cup sliding it back towards Marco.
“There is no amount of sugar and cream that’ll make the tar they serve here taste better,” Gazzo said indignantly.
Marco frowned and peered into the used mug. He pushed the cup of coffee off to the side as Gazzo took off his bowler hat and placed it neatly on the table.
“Coffee, sir?” the pretty waitress had returned and Marco’s ears went red.
“No thanks. However, I’ll take an orange juice and two eggs, over easy with two pieces of bacon,” Gazzo said.
The waitress turned to regard Marco again. “And you?” she said with a bright smile.
“Er… just another coffee, please.” Marco gave the waitress the old cup with unsteady hands. She took it and looked at the full cup suspiciously. Marco flustered. “I, uh, changed my mind, I didn’t want any cream.”
She smiled and shrugged her shoulders. “Alright, it will be right up fellas.” She said and walked away. Marco stole another sideways glance after her.
Gazzo cleared his throat and Marco returned his attention. “So, why am I here?” Gazzo asked.
“Oh right. So, uh, d’ya hear,” Marco began, “they ruled that guy’s death in Uniondale as a suicide?”
“You don’t say,” Gazzo said with a sour look on his face.
“Yeah, newspapers said his wife was screwin’ some other guy, so the sap found out and shot himself in his brand new car.”
“Get to the point, kid.” Gazzo snapped.
“R-right.” Marco fumbled with the piece of paper in his hand. “Well, the thing is, the wife’s not convinced he killed himself and wants you to reinvestigate the evidence.”
The waitress came back with Gazzo’s order and a new cup for Marco. She poured coffee into the mug once again. “Is there anything I can get?” she asked.
Marco opened his mouth to say something but Gazzo interjected. “Just some privacy lady,” he said quickly.
“Of course,” she said resentfully and walked away. Marco’s face fell for a moment.
Once she was out of earshot, Gazzo spoke again. “The cops already investigated the case and ruled it as a suicide, obviously, like you pointed our earlier.” Gazzo shoved one of the eggs in his mouth whole. Marco gave a look of slight revulsion.
“Yeah, but for some reason the broad believes he was murdered,” Marco passed the piece of scratch paper he had in front of him. “It the address, in Uniondale,” he said proudly.
“Yeah, and what’s her reasoning?” Gazzo grabbed the piece of paper and shoveled the other egg into his mouth.
“She thinks the cops did a bum job on the investigation, like they were trying to cover something up,” Marco said.
“Can’t say I blame the broad.” Gazzo grabbed the glass of orange juice and downed it in three gulps. “The cops in Uniondale are more crooked than the crooks,” he said as he opened the paper. It read, 3712 Lawrence Street, Uniondale. He folded the paper and tossed it back to Marco, “I know the address, kid.” Marco looked slightly crestfallen as Gazzo placed the bowler hat back on his head and canted it to the right on his head.
Gazzo stood up and grabbed the pieces of bacon, shoving one in his mouth. Marco also got to his feet. “So, I was wondering if I could join ya’ this time?” Marco asked hopefully.
“Sorry, kid,” Gazzo said as he walked away gnawing on the other piece of bacon. “Not today.”
Marco crossed his arms and plopped himself back in the booth. He mimicked Gazzo as he walked out the door and then realized the he left out without paying.
“Sonofa-!” Marco exclaimed.
Gazzo had been to this neighborhood before, years ago when he was on the beat. Nothing had changed, it was still the slums and seeped corruption from every nook and cranny.
Gazzo arrived at the residence; it was only 5 miles away from the diner. He saw the vehicle the guy supposedly killed himself in; it was a red 1951 Ford Victoria. Under normal circumstances, Gazzo thought she would have been a beauty but the crimson splatter on the pearl white interior betrayed her splendor. He couldn’t believe the vehicle was returned to the widow so soon. It was almost as if the cops were paid off to just turn a blind eye. Gazzo looked to the house and barely noticed the widow standing on her porch, pulling a long drag from a cigarette. Her skinny frame was almost hidden by the post she was leaning on. She wore a vermillion bandana, as stray wisps of stringy, raven-colored hair flited across her gaunt face in the morning breeze. Gazzo could tell she was probably beautiful at one time but this area of town always had a way of robbing the luster out of people.
“Ma’am,” Gazzo said curtly, tipping his bowler hat to her.
“Offic’sa,” she said as she flicked ash from her cigarette.
Gazzo marveled at the fact that it seemed everyone associated private eyes are with the cops. He shook his head bitterly at the thought. “I’m not a cop,” he said.
“That’s funny,” the widow said. “I’ve seen ya’ down these streets before, dressed in blue.” She took a drag and blew the smoke out of the side of her mouth.
Gazzo bristled a little. “Yeah, well, I was a cop at one time,” he said irritated.
“What happened,” the widow asked.
“Look,” Gazzo said, trying to sound calm. “You called me here for a reason, so what do you want?”
“Sheesh, alright, keep ya’ lid on,” she said indignantly. “I need ya’ to reinvestigate my husband’s death.”
“And why in the hell would I do that?” Gazzo asked.
“The cops claimed my husband killed himself,” she said as she flicked the cherry off her cigarette. “But I know betta’, Solomon was too much of a wuss to do himself in.”
“So, you are saying you don’t trust the law enforcement here in Uniondale?” Gazzo said with only a hint of a smirk.
The widow cocked an eyebrow. “And you do?”
Gazzo chuckled ruefully. “Alright, where do want me to start?”
She moved her eyes to the Ford. “The car’s ova’ there, I left it, blood and all.” She lit another cigarette and took a drag.
Gazzo strolled towards the car and felt the widow was acting strange. She seemed very nonchalant about her husband’s death, almost elated. He pushed the notion to the back of his mind and focused on the current evidence. Gazzo pulled out his spiral notepad and walked over to the car. He immediately noticed the window was missing on the driver side door. He went around and opened the passenger side and observed a lot blood splatter on the ceiling just above the driver side doorframe. He looked up and saw blast powder above, which seemed to be from a medium to large caliber round.
Gazzo looked up from the vehicle and yelled to the widow, “Do you happen to know what size of a bullet your husband allegedly used, ma’am?”
“The docta’ person said it looked like a 38 somethin’ or another from the hole in his head,” she said.
“.38 caliber, maybe?” Gazzo implored.
She shrugged and said, “Yeah that sounds about right, I guess.”
“Did the police confiscation your husband’s firearm?” Gazzo asked while he walked back to the porch where the widow was standing.
“The copas’ didn’t find any gun,” the widow said hotly. “Like I told’ya, my husband didn’t kill himself.”
“Interesting,” Gazzo said while scribbling notes in his spiral pad.
“What’s interesting?” the widow leaned in closer to Gazzo to get a look at his notepad; he instinctively took a step back.
“It seems to me your husband was shot with a .38 Special.” Gazzo pulled out a cigarette of his own and fished around his pockets for matches.
The widow produced a pack of matches and tossed them to Gazzo. “So, why d’ya care what kinda’ gun killed my husband?”
Gazzo caught the matches and mused at the image of the Starlight Diner emblazoned on the front. He lit his cigarette and took a long drag the cherry glowed brilliantly; he handed the matches back to the widow. “A .38 Special is a standard issue police firearm.”
“So, ya’ saying a cop did it?” the widow asked.
Gazzo dodged her question. “The news says your husband killed himself because you were having an affair with another man,” he said absently.
The widow gave a bitter snort. “Who knew the newspaper reported things like that?” she said sarcastically.
“Yeah well, I guess word gets around,” Gazzo said through a drag.
The widow’s eyes blazed with mild rage. “Even if it’s true, what business is it of yours?” she asked.
“Ma’am it’s my business to uncover the truth and you were the one who called me here,” Gazzo retorted. “Now, why do you really care if your husband was murdered or not?”
“Dunno,” the widow said casually. She stubbed her cigarette out on a one of the pillars of her porch and flicked the butt into the front yard. “What does matta?”
“Because right now, you’re looking like a suspect with your nonchalant attitude.” Gazzo knew that he need more evidence than that to implicate the wife, but he was certain she wasn’t smart enough to figure this out.
“Alright, alright,” the widow said finally, “the insurance company wouldn’t fork out any cash on account of my husband killing himself.”
“So you are trying to prove it was a murder so they’ll pay you his policy,” Gazzo said with a smug grin.
“Ya’ got it.” She muttered grudgingly.
“Well, I can tell you based on wha-” Before he could finish a battered-looking truck sputtered into the driveway and a burly man got out.
“Hey, ya’ banging this guy too?” The big guy nodded in Gazzo’s direction.
“No,” the widow said abashed, “he’s the investigata’.”
The lumbering oaf stood there with is mouth open scratching his head. Nothing seemed to register in his vacant expression.
“Well, now that you’re here sir,” Gazzo said quickly, “I can ask you both some questions,”
“Sure,” the widow said flatly. She walked into the house and held the door open for Gazzo and her boyfriend. Gazzo entered and sighed deeply as he heard a baby cry in the back room.
Gazzo’s questions for them were arbitrary.
The following week Gazzo met up with Marco, as usual, at the Starlight Diner. Marco stormed in with the daily newspaper in hand. After taking a seat across from Gazzo, he threw the paper onto the table, nearly knocking over a glass of orange juice.
“So, the widow of the guy you investigated last week and some man-friend of hers turned up dead, frontline news,” Marco said with a hint of anger in his voice. “Gunshots to the head, a double suicide the cops reckon.”
“Interesting,” Gazzo said casually as he took a sip of his orange juice. He then thumbed through the paper to the comics.
“That’s all ya’ got to say?” Marco shouted incredulously. A few people sitting in nearby booths turned to them in annoyance. “I want to know what happened ova’ there?”
Gazzo stared at Marco for a moment then fished in his coat pocket for something. He placed a soft object on the table. Marco picked up the object with intrigue and inspected it.
“It’s a stuffed elephant,” Gazzo said flatly. “With buttons for eyes.”
“Obviously,” Marco retorted. “What does this have to do with anything?”
“It belonged to the baby daughter of Colleen and Solomon Stahl.” Gazzo tapped on the article about the double suicide.
Marco dropped the stuffed animal as if it just caught fire. “How did you get this? What really happened at the house?” he asked again in a shaky voice.
“It doesn’t matter,” Gazzo replied in an even tone. “What matters is that I need you to take it to Saint Emma’s Orphanage in Long Island and give it to a little girl named Lydia Stahl.
“God damn it, Gazzo!” Marco shouted. A hush fell within the whole diner. “I am tired of being your lackey and not having a god damn clue what the hell is going on.”
Gazzo gave a little smile and simply stared at Marco who was turning a brilliant shade of red.
“You appear and disappear whenever ya’ please, ya’ leave your food tab on my bill, and every time I ask if I can come with ya’ on a case it’s always ‘sorry, not today kid.’ Well, when am I going to get to do something? When am I going to get some answers?” Marco was breathing heavy and didn’t care that the whole diner was staring at him.
Gazzo, continuing to smile, took off this bowler hat and carefully placed it in front of him.
“Go on, kid.” Gazzo urged. “It’s yours, take it.” Gazzo then stood up and place a twenty dollar bill on the table. “And get yourself something to eat, my treat.” Gazzo started to walk away.
“Wait, I don’t understand,” Marco said in confusion. “I ask for answers and you give me your hat?”
“All the answers you seek are in the hat in front of you.” Gazzo said with a smile. “Plus, I don’t need the hat anymore; not where I’m going.”
Marco stood up stunned. “Wait, I am sorry was just-”
“It’s fine Marco,” Marco felt a pang in his heart, this was the first time he had heard Gazzo call him by anything other than kid.
“Where are you going?” Marco asked in an unsteady voice.
Gazzo laughed bitterly. “I don’t know if you have realized but there is a war going on.”
Marco’s eyes widened and his legs began to quiver. “You mean like a battle between the forces of good and evil?” he said exultantly.
“No,” Gazzo replied with a snicker, “between us and the Commies in North Korea.” He held out a piece of paper. “I’ve been drafted; I leave for Jersey today.”
“Oh, right. That’s what I thought you were going to say.” Marco laughed nervously. “I still don’t understand why you are giving me your hat?”
Gazzo thought for a moment then answered. “Because the Agency needs an unbiased opinion.”
“The what?” Marco asked, shaking his head. “Who’s the Agency?”
“Sorry, I got a train to catch,” Gazzo opened the door to the diner. “Don’t forget about the girl.” He reminded him. “I’ll see you around.”
Gazzo stepped out but then poked his head back in for a moment and said, “One last thing,” Gazzo smiled widely, “don’t believe everything the hat says, it lies often.”
Marco snapped his attention to the bowler hat as if it turned into a monster. “What do you mean it lies?” When Marco looked back up, Gazzo was already gone. His head swam with even more questions as he stared intently on the bowler hat. Marco moved his head closer to the hat and swore he could hear voices coming from inside but that’s impossible he thought, hats don’t talk, do they?
Lawrence Street in Uniondale, one week ago,
Solomon’s head lulled from the impact of the .38 Special round that pierced his temple. As instantly as the bullet hit him, his life was extinguished and Solomon the Counter was no more. His eyes remained wide open, locked with an expression of utter surprise. A thin trickle of blood ran down his neck from his head wound and stained the white collar of his dress shirt.
After a short while, a glowing transparent blue orb drifted out of the back of Solomon’s head. The orb flickered rapidly as it floated around the corpse of Solomon. This orb was the incorporeal form of Solomon’s consciousness also known as his organic artificial intelligence core. As Solomon’s core drifted through the evening air, he couldn’t believe he was stupid enough to think the Agency would just fire him. Solomon was angry mostly with himself but also with the man who destroyed his host body. He knew the guy by name; it was a private eye named John Gazzo. He was a Doorkeeper, one of the older ones in fact, if not the first. Solomon wondered why the Agency sent him and not a Remover to erase him and his family. This was merely a fleeting thought; he had more pressing problems to worry about. All that mattered now was for Solomon to find another host and to get back to his family before Gazzo terminated them as well.
Solomon watched as Gazzo kicked in his front door and rushed into his home.
God damn it, he thought to himself.
His incorporeal form flew to the house across the street from his. An old couple lived in this house. Their lights were on and there was activity inside the residence. Solomon floated through the front door and saw the couple peering through the blinds in their living room.
“I am telling you, woman,” the old man said angrily. “The time I spent in the Somme, I know a goddamn gunshot when I hear one.
“Don’t talk to me in that tone, you old grouch.” The old lady said as she smacked the back of his head. “I just don’t like jumping to wild assumptions, like you always do.” She smacked him again.
The old man frantically swatted her batting hand away. “Jeezus woman, just go call the cops, will ya?”
The old woman stomped off muttering curses under her breath. Solomon had hoped for a younger, less frail host but he didn’t have time to hunt for any other one. Now that the older woman was occupied he had a window of opportunity to take over the old man’s body without raising suspicion.
Solomon flew forward and latched his incorporeal form onto the back of the old man’s head. His whole world went white as he attempted to gain control over the elderly man’s mind. He could feel himself moving the old man’s fingers and wiggling his toes. Suddenly, an image began to materialize in Solomon’s white field of view. It appeared to be a slender woman dressed in a short tight-fitted black dress. She had raven hair and amber eyes.
Something is wrong, Solomon thought.
“You don’t belong here,” the raven-haired woman said calmly.
“I – er – who are-” but before Solomon could finish the woman pushed him so hard he flew out of the man’s head and half way across the living room.
Solomon panicked. In all the time he worked for the Agency he was always able to assume control of his hosts with no effort. He quickly flew to where the old man’s wife was making a phone call.
“Yes,” the old woman said in the receiver, “him and the missus are always fighting, I think she finally had enough.”
Solomon wasted no time and tried to enter the lady’s mind. Instantly he flew out with the same result. Only this time it was a burly man with ram horns, in her mind, that gave him a swift upper cut, sending his ethereal form into the second story of the house.
Solomon cursed; something was preventing him from acquiring a host but he needed to do something fast. Just then he heard a nearby bark from outside.
Solomon didn’t think it would work but thought it was worth a try anyways. He soared out of the elderly couples’ home and noticed a stray dog, near his car, growling and snarling at his floating form. It wasn’t the best idea he ever had but he was out of time and options. Solomon zoomed into the dog’s mind and easily took control like he used to be able to do with humans. Wasting no time, Solomon sprinted past the wreckage, which was once his front door, and easily found Gazzo with his newly acquired animal night vision. To Solomon’s relief, it appeared Colleen and Lydia were not home but he still intended to teach Gazzo a lesson.
Solomon watched in rage as Gazzo pulled Lydia’s stuff elephant out of her crib.
Get away from there you bastard! Solomon tried to say but only came out as a growl.
Gazzo snapped his attention to where Solomon was standing but was too late to take any action now, especially in the dark. Solomon charged at Gazzo and sunk his new fangs into Gazzo’s calf. The acrid taste of blood filled Solomon’s mouth as Gazzo howled in pain. Solomon’s moment of triumph was cut short when he heard another gunshot ring out. A burst of pain issued from Solomon’s mouth where he had been shot. He made a short yelp and let go Gazzo’s leg.
Solomon staggered backwards but regained composure quick.
I am not going down that easily, Solomon tried to say but only produced another growl.
Suddenly, the sound of sirens filled the evening air and Solomon leaped again for Gazzo but he had already snapped his fingers and disappeared into thin air. Solomon skidded to halt, almost running into an adjacent wall.
Damnit, Solomon thought to himself. The coward disappeared. Solomon licked his mangled face and slinked his way out of the house before the authorities arrived. As he padded down the road, he didn’t know where to start or what to do. Solomon feared he would have to live his life as a dog. He needed to figure out why he couldn’t use a human host anymore. Despite Solomon’s misgiving about everything, one thing he did know was that he would find Gazzo and make him pay dearly.
Penn Station in Manhattan,
“The train to Fort Dix, New Jersey is on time and arriving in five minutes.” The announcer’s voice resounded across the platform as Gazzo sat on a bench next to a beautiful young woman with fiery red hair. She was dressed like an agent, in a black suit and a small bowler hat elegantly perched on her head.
“So,” the woman said as she pull off of her hat and shoved it tightly on her right knee, “you think you can just leave the Agency.”
Gazzo glanced at her hat on her knee and snickered. He then pulled out a cigarette but the woman grabbed it out of his mouth and threw it across the platform. “It’s a disgusting habit,” she said with a wry smile.
Gazzo sighed and put his hands in his coat pocket glumly. “I don’t know how easy it is to just leave, Julia.” he said. “But I refuse to continue to be a slave to the Agency.”
“Slaves don’t get paid, John,” Julia pointed out.
“True,” Gazzo paused for a moment, “but paid employees don’t have to go into hiding after they quit, for fear of mortal termination.”
“Good point,” she said flatly. “So, what’s a rogue Doorkeeper like you going to do?”
“Well, I reckon I will be doing my part in Korea and hopefully disappear from the Agency in the process.” Gazzo pulled out a fedora and placed it on his head. Julia cocked an eyebrow. “It’s just hat; it feels weird not wearing one.”
She gave a short chuckle. “And what about the hat you gave to the kid?”
“What about it?” Gazzo asked.
“You know the Agency is going to come after him now,” she said while casually watching the mass of people, mostly men, beginning to crowd around the station platform.
“The kid’s resourceful and I think the hat will help him.” Gazzo said.
“You’re kidding me right?” Julia barked a laugh. “The hat is connected to the Agency. You might as well have painted a big red target on the top of his head.”
Gazzo stared at her with a stony expression. “Not my hat.”
Julia’s looked at her own hat and her expression became serious. “Really, then enlighten me as to why your hat is so special?”
Just then the pair turned their attention to the train screeching into the station. “All aboard to Fort Dix, New Jersey!” the platform announcer bellowed. The mass of people began piling on to the train.
“Sorry,” Gazzo said with a devilish smile. “I got a train to catch, sweetheart” Gazzo got to his feet and walked towards the announcer.
“John wait!” Julia cried as she leaped off the bench, her hat fell to the ground.
Gazzo quickly joined the jostling passengers and with that, Gazzo disappeared into the mob.
“Damn it, John!” She reached for his coat to pull him back but it slipped through her fingertips.
Julia shook her head disdainfully. “You crafty bastard, John” She said to herself with a smirk. Once everyone had boarded the train, she walked up platform staring at each window in the hopes to see Gazzo. As she was approaching the fifth cart from the front, a familiar hand waved outside the window. The train’s horn sounded and it began to move. Julia ran to catch up to the waving hand and was pleased to see it was Gazzo.
“Hey, do me a favor?” Gazzo shouted above the din of the moving train.
“Yeah, what is it?” Julia shouted back while trying to keep up with the train.
“Keep an eye on the kid for me, will ya?” Gazzo said.
She slowed to a trot and grimaced.
“Please, Julia,” he said in an uncharacteristically genuine tone.
She scoffed then smiled. “Sure,” she said as she watched the leave the platform.
“Agent Julia?” a man’s voice calmly said behind her.
She swiveled and saw another Doorkeeper standing with her bowler hat in his hand. “Is this yours?” he asked.
She laughed nervously. “Yeah, thanks.” She reached for the hat but the Agent pulled it away from her at the last minute.
“Why was it on the ground, Agent Julia?” he asked with the hat now clutched to his breast pocket.
Julia bristled. “Oh, it fell off while I was running to catch up with the train.” She said as nonchalantly as possible.
The Doorkeeper raised a suspicious eyebrow.
“I was seeing a friend off and he dropped his notebook.” She said quickly. “I tossed it into the window for him.” She beamed brightly.
The agent thought for a moment and slowly handed the hat back to Julia She took it and reluctantly placed it back on her head. There was a rushed of indiscernible whispers that filled her mind. She tried to remain impassive but the agent noticed her confusion. “It seems the Agency overheard you say ‘damn it, John’ through your assigned hat.
Julia remained calm, “Yeah, my friend John Willis. He left without his notebook.” She gave the other agent an irritated look. “I think I told you this already, right?”
The Doorkeeper smiled menacingly, “Yes, you did,” he said and turned to leave. “I’ll see you around Agent Julia.”
“Yeah, I look forward to it,” she muttered under her breath. Julia turned to leave the station she was safe for the moment but she wasn’t foolish enough to believe she wasn’t now on the radar. She willed her thoughts to create a John Willis as the voices in her head stirred.
I’ve got to find that kid, she uncontrollably thought to herself. The secret’s in his hat.
What secret, a voice asked in her head. She screamed and whipped the bowler hat off her head. She stared for a moment at it on the ground. In her mind it had just sprouted 6 inch long fangs. Julia closed her eyes and thought about everything but John Gazzo and his friend Marco. She slowly picked up the hat and carefully placed it on her head, wincing as if it had sunk its invisible fangs in. To her surprise, the voices were silent.
“Coffee,” she said urgently. “I need coffee.” And she walked away with absolutely nothing but coffee on her mind.
Meanwhile, at Saint Emma Orphanage near long island,
Marco gripped the small parcel in his hand tighter as he waited in the lobby of the orphanage. It was wrapped in simple brown butcher paper and tied with bailing twine.
“Sir,” an elderly black woman beckoned him closer to the desk she was sitting at.
Marco shuffled his way to the woman and held out the package.
The woman look mystified. “Don’t you want to give it to her in person.”
“Oh,” Marco said nonplussed. “Yes, of course.” He placed the parcel back in his coat pocket.
The woman laboriously got up and motioned for Marco to walk with her. “You know, she was left by a strange man dressed in all black with the night watch,” the woman said thoughtfully. “There was a note inside her blanket that said her parents were killed.” The woman looked at him imploringly.
“Yes, they, er, were murdered,” Marco replied solemnly.
“That is so horrible.” The woman grabbed his arm and guided him to the right corridor. “It is a good thing she is just a baby and doesn’t know any better.”
Marco simply nodded. He felt numb knowing the same guy who dropped the baby off at the orphanage was the same individual who killed her parents.
They past down several corridors until they reached an open doorway that said “0 – 2 year olds.” The lady stopped and regarded Marco.
“Well,” she smiled widely, “I can tell you, she has been nothing but a bundle of joy.”
Marco simply nodded again as he peered in the doorway and saw a large bay with dozens of crying babies in cribs of all sorts of variety and colors.
“And you say you knew her parents?” the woman said suddenly.
Marco jumped slightly. “Uh, yes, I used to mow their grass.”
“I see,” the woman said with a slight smile. “Well, Lydia’s this way.” She walked determinately all the way to the back corner of the bay and stopped in front of a crib with white paint chipped off on the railing.
Marco peered into the crib and saw a cute baby with dark brown curly hair and big blue eyes scanning the room. She stopped looking around and focused her attention on the woman and Marco. Eventually, her gaze rested on Marco and she gave a toothless smile. Marco couldn’t help but smile back.
“Looks like she recognizes you,” the woman said approvingly.
Marco pulled the parcel out of his pocket and placed it inside Lydia’s crib. “This is for you, Lydia.”
The woman chuckled. “Well she can’t open it herself silly,” the old woman said.
“Oh right.” Marco picked up the parcel and torn apart the brown paper. He stared at the little stuff elephant for a moment and then placed it inside the crib next to the girl.
She reached for it and giggled; Marco found himself laughing also.
After staying for a short while, Marco and the woman walked back to the lobby.
“Are you going to come and visit her more often,” the woman said with a hopefully tone.
Marco thought for a moment and remembered Lydia’s big blue eyes and smile then he remembered how Gazzo murdered her parents. The realization of this girl’s misfortune at the hands of his mentor suddenly sparked rage in his heart. Marco clenched his fists and reignited his fury for Gazzo and this Agency he spoke of.
“Sir?” the old woman implored.
Marco snapped out it.
“Will you come again?” she asked.
“Of course,” Marco said with a genuine smile. He waved good-bye to the old woman and headed towards the door.
As Marco was walking out, he glanced at the bowler hat that was still in his hand. He slowly brought it up to his head and heard a stir of voices emitting from the opening. Marco pressed his eyes shut and lowered the hat back down to his side.
“Not today,” he said. “Not today.”
Nate Phillips is a sci-fi and fantasy novelist and artist who spends way too much time repairing helicopters. After spending some time in the military, he enrolled in school to earn a Bachelor of Fine Art’s degree in Creative Writing for Entertainment from Full Sail University. His published work includes a children’s picture book called KING GILGAMESH AND THE CEDAR FOREST.
Nate lives in Savannah, Georgia with his wife Claire and four kids. Learn more about him at or send him a message at .
Have you ever wanted to know where people go when they die? Perhaps you wanted to know why February only has 28 and a quarter days. For the inexplicable question about the mysteries of our world, there is a simple answer to what is behind it all; The Agents of Mystery. The Agents of Mystery is a science fiction novella set in the 1951, which follow the events of The Last Night of the World, a short story by written Ray Bradbury. In the first installment of this series, we learn what happened to the people of February 30th, 1951 as we follow various agents and come to understand their involvement within an elite organization known at the Agency. The Agency has been “pulling the strings” here in America for centuries. They are listening and watching at all times. They are every where, in fact, you might even know an Agent. One thing you must understand though, is that they are here for the good of mankind… or are they?