Thanderians

 “The devil’s agents may be of flesh and blood, may they not?”
― Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles

The recent sale of Gilbert Keith’s television was, officially, the cause of his unsavory behavior. Of course, being a Peeping Tom suggested a disturbed state that must have begun some years prior, if not all the way into early childhood.   So often is the case that people are seen but not charged, or go for years without being punished, due to this loophole or that, and especially due to fear of retribution.

What made Gilbert Keith strange was that he had turned himself in. He told the Oakland Police Department that this woman was a resident of a neighboring high rise, whose name he did not know, but whom inquiries soon revealed to be a certain Mallory Blum. By all accounts, Blum and Keith had never met, beyond Keith’s self-accusations.

Detective Roger Wilde remembered the night Keith turned himself in well.

Wilde had been in his office, writing up his report on a previous incident, when he had gotten the call. At the time it had seemed like an irksome amount of paperwork and red tape. It paled in comparison to the long, sleepless nights he faced now.

He hadn’t seen Keith enter the department, but he later watched the security footage. Wilde found all security footage unnerving; it made him feel powerless in the most uncanny way. On one hand, he had the perspective of a ghost or even God in the room, but on the other hand he was deaf to the actual noise of events, and powerless to change them.

So in Wilde’s mind, despite stories of Keith’s entry that night, that January 3rd of 1994, being loud and abrupt, he imagined utter silence as the doors flew open.

Keith stormed up to the booth, and demanded he be taken in, reports said. When asked the reason, he said that he spied on his female neighbor and that he had invaded her privacy. Keith was informed this crime was a misdemeanor, something he would be fined for but not an imprisonable offense. At this point Keith changed his story and explained he didn’t feel safe in his own home. He requested custody and when that was denied claimed he was a danger to himself and others. Strangely he requested a full search of his apartment, and stranger still he seemed willing to admit to any crime that had him behind bars.

Detective Wilde decided to search Keith’s apartment twice–once before questioning him to do his homework and see if there was even any evidence of illegal surveillance, and then a second visit with Keith’s testimony in mind.

Wilde decided to go alone. He had a partner, assigned by the department, but he didn’t much care for him. He couldn’t even remember the guy’s last name; there was something just sort of bland about him. Kevin was his first name, Wilde remembered that. Kevin got to do Wilde’s paperwork during office hours.

With Keith’s keys, which he had given to the police, in hand, Wilde strode into the empty apartment. There was a strange reverse paranoia the detective felt about searching other people’s living spaces, he tried not to imagine how it felt for the person living there to know someone had definitely gone through their stuff.   Plus, each apartment and home felt like a graveyard to the person’s everyday life. Wilde’s line of work rarely had him searching nice houses. Usually he was looking through the living spaces of people who were neither rich nor smart enough to keep him out.

The natural light that would normally illuminate such a windowed space was diminished thanks to the neighboring high rise. It was a very sunny day, and this created in the apartment’s lighting an intense divide between light and shadow, the well-lit areas shining a dusty, naked white, the shadowed areas seeming extra ominous and occupied.

Wilde had been in creepier spaces, he told himself. Surely he had, and yet whatever thickness the air in this apartment had gave it a sinister feeling that began to form motive in Wilde’s mind for Keith’s mania. The man had found a way to get cabin fever in Oakland.

Wilde didn’t have to look long to find the camcorder. It was on a tripod, with a fabric shield that one might use to divide a desk in a non cubicle office blocking it from the window. It was eerie seeing the lengths Keith had gone to camouflage himself. There was even an ergonomic stool he had set up. The whole setup was in a corner a television might usually be found in; in fact an empty TV stand was being used for a makeshift desk.

Wilde put on some gloves to have a look at the desk’s contents.

Notably there was a journal. He flipped through the pages and found detailed sketches of the woman’s apartment, with certain areas on the edge of the drawing circled, with the words “where they live?” or “hiding place?” or “how does it fit?” written by the circles.

Wilde put this into a plastic bag for evidence.

He then took a few Polaroids before ejecting the V/H/S from its holder in the camcorder.

Wilde thought it strange that Keith had gone to the trouble of recording his neighbor when he had no television.
Wilde had a look through the viewfinder.

It was still zoomed in, far enough that it was plenty clear which apartment Keith had been spying on. It was at a lower level, and the camera was tilted to have a slight bird’s eye view. Even now, without the apartment lit, Wilde could clearly see a small metal kitchen table with a yellow-checkered cloth over it, as well as a few magnets on the fridge, holding up what seemed to be postcards. A cat slept on the kitchen table, its expression the typical nonplussed feline glare.

This was all sufficient, at least, to ratify Keith’s claims that he was a Peeping Tom. Though it didn’t explain his desire to be in police custody.

Wilde returned to the station, and turned in the V/H/S.

“Have one of the eggheads look at this, would you?” he said to the Evidence clerk. “See if there’s anything strange.”

“You can probably have a look at it yourself, if you wish,” she said.

“That’s all right,” Wilde muttered. “These things can hold up to three hours. I’d rather use the time to give our person of interest a talking to.

The clerk shrugged and put the V/H/S into a plastic baggie, logging it and setting it aside for examination.

After grabbing some coffee, Wilde had a look at Keith through the window of the interrogation room. Keith had bloodshot, blue eyes, a physically unfit but thin build, and matted, dishwater blonde hair. Wilde considered that whomever was looking at the V/H/S would also be looking over a tape of his interrogation of Keith. Wilde realized he took some comfort in knowing who was looking over the tapes, or perhaps more accurately he felt a slight chill when he considered there were tapes of moments or memories that were recorded but never viewed. Theoretically no one looked at them, but surely someone did. Wilde wondered absently if so many people would videotape their child getting a bath if they considered the elevated likelihood that a stranger might happen upon it one day.

He sipped his coffee and walked inside.

“Afternoon,” he said, pulling out a chair. “My name’s Roger Wilde. I’m the detective assigned to your case. Mind stating your name for the record.”

“Sure,” Keith said nervously. “Gilbert Keith.”

“How old are you, Gilbert?”

“Twenty-nine, sir.”

“Twenty-nine. How long you lived in Oakland?”

“Four years, sir. Moved out here from Bakersfield.”

“Mmm. What do you do for a living?”

“I, uh, work mornings at Ronocom Shipyard. Drive a forklift.”

Wilde nodded. “That what you want to do with your life?”

“Don’t really know what I want to do with my life, sir. Don’t know that I’ll have much of an option after this.”

Wilde sighed. “Look, son, I paid your apartment a visit. I found the camcorder. Mind explaining to me why you have a camcorder pointed at your neighbor’s window?”

“D-did you watch the tape?” Keith said almost excitedly.

“Nah, letting the eggheads in evidence do that for me.”

Keith’s eyes widened. He looked almost angry.

“You shouldn’t have let that tape out of your sight,” Keith said.

“Why’s that?”

“They’ll try to destroy it,” Keith replied. “They might have destroyed it already.”

“Son, we have a pretty stringent policy on the handling of evidence. Trust me, there are things in that vault dating back to the 70’s. But are you trying to say you left that tape for us?”

Keith nodded. “I won’t pretend to be normal guy, detective. I’ve been interested in creating video performance art and needed a camcorder, so I sold my TV. But I also don’t have many friends, and not much to do on nights. She would always have her lights on and her blinds open, so I’d watch. I felt less lonely when I did.”

“You do it to get off?” Wilde muttered, a bit disgusted.

“Well, yeah, sometimes,” Keith said. “Again, I can’t defend it. And I felt awful gross about it. But there was no one to tell me to stop. And then one day I knew I shouldn’t stop.”

“Now what do you mean by that?”

“Well, I’m pretty sure she lived alone. Sure seemed like it. Didn’t have any roommates, just a cat, that seemed pretty affectionate towards her. But when she went to bed–and I never allowed myself to watch her bedroom, that was too creepy for even me–I would notice…people…in her apartment. And her cat hated them.”

“What do you mean by people?”

“Well, they sure looked like people, but they didn’t act like people at all.  They were dressed all nice, like businessmen. And they seemed to just step out from the shadows. Like they had been there all along, but she hadn’t noticed them. The cat would often hiss at them. One time it got so angry that she came back and collected it. But when she went back into the kitchen they’d step out of view.”

Wilde stared at him a moment. This had to be a lie, yet the sequence of events followed as such that Occam’s Razor actually worked in favor of Keith telling the truth.

And Keith had that look in his eyes as though he had seen something that had shaken him pretty deeply.

“So you saw some… ‘people,’” Wilde said. “But what’s got you so shaken? Maybe she has very eccentric roommates.”

Keith shook his head. “No, sir…they…if they’re her roommates, they killed her all the same.”

Wilde looked at him, confused. “Now, son, why wouldn’t you have opened with that when you came to the police station? Surely we could have gotten this investigation going better if you had said ‘I have to report a murder,’ or even better yet, called 9/11.”

Again, Keith shook his head. “I couldn’t be sure I would have reached you if I had called 9/11. And at any rate, the minute you went to her house, you wouldn’t have believed me.”

“Why’s that?”

“She’s one of them now. On that tape, it shows it…she goes to bring her cat back into her bedroom, and they surround her…I couldn’t see what exactly it was that they did, but whatever it was, when they backed away, she was lying on the floor, dead. A pool of blood surrounding her like a halo…but it all came from her nose.”

He shivered.

“Then they began to clean it, took the body to her room. I broke my rule and panned the camera to see what I could. The angle isn’t as good there, but I saw them cutting…they…”

Wilde knew what was coming, but it was bad protocol to finish a POI’s sentence for them in an interrogation. Instead he slid Keith a cup of water.

“If you need it,” Wilde said. “Now, what did you see?”

“One of them, a bald man, began to cut her skin off. Then a skinny, purplish creature with tentacles on its head that almost looked like hair…slid out of the bald man’s skin…stood over her body…put it on…and I don’t know what they did, this thing was way taller than her, she’s pretty short and this thing looked like seven feet tall…it wore her skin, and when they’d finished the, eh, operation, it looked just like her.”

Wilde stared at Keith, trying to hold in a laugh. The son of a bitch was pranking him. Well, two could play that game. Wilde had seen The X-Files.

“I see,” Wilde said, adopting a somber tone. “Well, son, you know…not everyone at the department will be as open to…extreme possibilities.”

“You don’t believe me,” Keith said.

“Oh, I want to,” Wilde said, failing to stifle a snicker. “Look, what did you expect? You’d turn yourself in, we’d eat up your story, and say, ‘you know, we actually have a whole dossier of unexplainable incidents in the Bay area, turns out the Golden Gate Bridge is actually an antenna for little green men to get TV reception from home.’ And the whole thing with the V/H/S tape? You knew I’d find that before talking to you, there’s probably nothing on it, or like you recorded the super bowl on it, then you’ll say ‘they’ messed up the footage.”

“I didn’t know,” Keith said. “I thought I’d give my testimony before you investigated my apartment.”

“Should have thought of that before you authorized us to look,” Wilde said.

Keith went pale.

“I didn’t,” he said. “I mean, I’m sure that’s on record. But I have no memory of that.”

“I’m done here,” Wilde said.

>>>

Wilde arrived home in a bad mood. Keith’s little stunt had added to his workload and wasted his time.

“Hey, Jackie,” he said, hanging his coat next to the door. “Got anything ready for dinner?”

“I don’t,” his wife said, muting the television. “You never told me when you were coming home, so I didn’t know when to get supper started.”
He gave her a look.

“We don’t have the money to be eating out every night,” he said.

“All the more reason you need to communicate with me,” she said.

“For god’s sakes, if it gets cold I can microwave it.”

Her eyes widened. “Okay. Guess I’ll have some stuff ready next time. Thanks for your patience.”

There was some silence, during which he sat down at stared at the muted evening news, Ted Koppel giving the most sincere stare that a well-dressed man could give as he read news that was lost on Wilde’s ears. It reminded him of the security footage he had watched, which in turn reminded him…

“I got pranked today,” he said. “This kid came running into the station first saying he was a peeping Tom, then saying he’d witnessed a murder, then saying aliens were wearing people’s bodies as clothes, and of course when I checked in with evidence his “tell-all” tape was just some adult film that he’d removed the label fro–”

“So where are we going to eat?” Jackie said. “I’m pretty hungry, and I wanted to wait to eat with you.”

He didn’t like that she’d cut him off, but all the same, he put his arm around her. “I’m sorry. That’s really sweet. Let’s see…is Chinese okay?”

“That’s fine,” she said.

There was a cheap dim sum place near their townhouse that they would often go to on such nights as these. It held some nostalgia for them, as it had been one of their first dates. Wilde had convinced Jackie, his then girlfriend, to try the chicken feet.

“These are…much spicier than I had expected,” she’d said, trying and failing to rip the chewy meat off one of the toes.

“Here, let me help you,” he had said, and bit the other toe, and their tug o’war had resulted in a mess that they found very funny and their waiter did not appreciate one bit.

That same waiter greeted them with a smile now. Jackie and Roger sometimes wondered if they kept the place in business.

“I got a promotion,” she said after they’d ordered. “I hadn’t cooked because I’d wanted to celebrate.”

“That’s fantastic,” he said. “Where did they move you to?”

“They made me staff accountant,” she said. “They’re bumping hourly pay up to $20 per hour.”

“So we can afford to eat out now,” he said, grinning sheepishly.

“Yeah,” she said. “And it’s like, I handle finances for a division of a Fortune 500 company. I don’t know that I appreciate a vote of no confidence in how I handle home finance.”

“I was stressed,” he said. “I got, uh, pranked.”

“My own Philip Marlowe,” she said with a grin. “Ol’ Sam Philip Spade Marlowe getting pranked.”

“I’m getting sick of it,” he said. “I knew that it wasn’t going to be the gumshoeing that you read about, but I didn’t realize how much of a rudimentary desk job it is.”

“Get a new one,” she said. “There’s a lot you do at that desk job that could get you at least a better paying desk job.”

“Yeah,” he said. “You’re right. I keep hoping if I stay in it they’ll promote me to a more administrative position.”

“Still doesn’t pay as much as it could,” she said.

“I didn’t want it to be all about money,” he said.

“We moved to the Bay,” she said. “This is the most expensive place in the US. It will be all about money for a while.”

“I’m too romantic,” he said. “When I was single I could just slum it.”

“Was that ever a great way to live, though?”

“It was manageable,” he said.

“I don’t know if I agree with that.”

Wilde didn’t really know what to say back, and they continued their dinner in silence.

<<<

The next day, wishing to take out his frustration, Wilde checked on Keith’s case.

“Please tell me you fined his ass,” he said to the clerk of courts over the phone.

“Obviously we did,” the clerk said. “We even considered incarceration, but went against it. We don’t need this joker adding to our prison population.”

“So he’s back at his apartment?” Wilde said. “Has anyone notified the woman he claimed to be spying on?”

“Not my department.”

Wilde paged through the case file.

“Guess that’s my job,” he muttered.

>>>

A strange sense of déjà vu accompanied Wilde’s visit to Blum’s apartment. He even parked at the same meter as he had when visiting Keith’s place. He eyed Keith’s tower apartment now, trying to guess which window was his. He also felt vaguely annoyed with how unsafe he, a police officer, felt in Oakland. Surely he should have seen enough action that he was jaded to the city streets by now. The fact of the matter was, he was cooped up in the office most of the time. And as much as he hated that, he hated even more that he was secretly glad to be in such a safe place most of the time.

But he’d been in worse places than this, hadn’t he? He had to have been. And anyway, this was just a normal woman, not a Peeping Tom and certainly not an alien, he thought as the elevator rattled up to the eighth floor.

Blum’s apartment was 867. Wilde again felt annoyed by his anxieties, the emptiness of the halls leading to her space, the vague yellow glow of the hall lights, and the way the flickered. An old building, even if it was an expensive building, he reminded himself.

He knocked on Blum’s door.

“Oakland police.”

Silence, followed by gentle footsteps.

Why was he bracing himself to see something horrible? The story was a prank.

The door opened, revealing an astonishingly beautiful woman.

She had long black hair, blue eyes, and cream-colored skin, and was about five foot two. Not nearly tall enough to be some sort of vessel for an eight foot alien.

“It was a very skinny alien,” Keith had protested.

“Hello, officer,” she said. “Can I help you?”

Wilde sort of wished he had a hat to take off, like they did in the movies. Instead he just ran his hands through his wavy, light brown hair, and it looked silly.

“Are you Mallory Blum, miss?” he said.

“I am,” she said.

“Well, hate to disturb you or cause you alarm, but a man came into our station claiming to have spied on your apartment. Now, we’re pretty sure he’s a prankster, but all the same we did find camera equipment pointing directly at your place.”

“Oh my gosh!” she said, laughing. “Guess I’m not alone after all! Was he in that building, across the way?”

“Yeah, that one.”

“What apartment, if I can ask?”

“Well, not sure I’m at liberty to reveal that.”
She gave him a warm smile. “I just want to know so I can angle my shades away from that window.”

“Yeah, that’s fair enough. You know, if you don’t mind me stepping in for a moment, I can point it out to you. That way I won’t have told you his address, but you’ll feel safer. We in the precinct call that a loophole.”

“I know what a loophole is, officer. But yeah, I’d appreciate that.”

Gosh, he was smoother than ex-lax right now.

“Right,” he muttered, running his hands through his hair again.

He stepped into the kitchen, and again felt a sense of déjà vu, upon seeing the table and refrigerator magnets, which he could now make out as magnets in the shape of various states. One of course, was California, the other Vermont. They held up small postcards that read “Visit Glacier National Park!” and another that said “Mon Amie, Paris” with the Eiffel Tower on it and a little Made in Taiwan printed at the bottom left hand corner.

He wondered if Keith could see him in here.

“You from Vermont?” he said.

“No,” she said, “I’m actually from Nevada. Just always wanted to see the East Coast. I hear it’s lovely in the spring.”

He nodded. “That’s why I came out here. I’m from Iowa, actually. Got sick of seeing endless land.”

He pointed out Keith’s apartment.

“It’s that one. Been there myself. He had the camera set up in the middle window. Claims he never spied on your bedroom, but also seems like part of your bedroom might be visible from there. Didn’t really check myself, and the video in his camera didn’t have anything recorded on it. Seems like an odd prank, probably just wants attention, but seemed like it’d be negligent to not at least warn you.”

“Yeah, I appreciate that,” she said, taking a Polaroid of where Wilde had pointed. “Hopefully I never have to meet this guy.”

“He didn’t seem dangerous,” Wilde said. “Just a bit too into aliens and all.”

“How do you mean?” she said.

“Well, for starters,” Wilde said, “he claimed he saw aliens cut off your skin and put it on as their own.”

He decided to leave out the detail about the sketches. Anyway, he wasn’t giving Keith his journal back anytime soon.

“What a weirdo!” she said, giggling. “Well, just to be safe, you should, uh, take me to your leader!” She made the Vulcan gesture. “Too corny?”

They both laughed.
“Honestly,” Wilde said, “I wouldn’t mind if the humans took me to their leader too. I’d ask for a better job.”

A shrill hissing noise came from her bedroom that took him so aback that he hoped it wasn’t obvious how horribly startled he was.

“Oh, sorry,” she said. “That’s just my cat, Ripley. She doesn’t like strangers.”

The cat didn’t seem to notice Wilde at all. She was glaring at Blum, her eyes squinted, hissing so frantically that her mouth looked impossibly wide, like the Cheshire of Wonderland.

“Come now, Ripley,” Blum said. “No way to treat strangers! Back to your room!”

She went over to fetch the cat, but it arched its back and swiped at her hand, leaving a nasty scratch, before running back into her bedroom.

“Sorry about that,” she said.

“Hey, not to worry,” he said, dampening a paper towel. “I’ll help you clean the wound, put my police training to some good use.”

“‘The wound,’” she muttered and laughed. “For an officer in Oakland, you haven’t gotten out much, have you?”

“I’ve seen a thing or two,” he said, and she laughed even harder.

“Hey, maybe this is forward,” she said, but would you like to get dinner? There’s this kind of dreamy diner that’s not far away.”

He sighed, turning off the faucet.
“Miss Blum, I would really, really like to. I wish I had met you earlier. But I’m married. It wouldn’t be right.”

“Oh, of course,” she said. “Gosh, I feel so stupid. The nice people always get taken first, don’t they!”

He smiled, squeezing the excess water out of the towel. “I guess they do.”

He knelt down next to her and grabbed her hand, looking for the wound.

He couldn’t find it.

“You heal quickly,” he said.

“It wasn’t that bad of a scratch,” she replied.

She took out her wallet, and pulled out a business card.

“I’m a singer,” she said. “If you…and your wife can come too…ever want to see me perform, I work at Chicor’s jazz club. It’s on Phaeton Drive…guess it says that on the card, though.”

He couldn’t help but notice her number was also on the card.

“Thanks,” he said, putting her card in his wallet. “We’ll have to check it out. And hey, this Keith guy seems harmless, but if you’re ever feeling unsafe, here’s my card. I’m not there most evenings, but you can tell my buddies you know me and they’ll have a look, 9/11 charges be damned.”

He stood and added, “I better get going, I’m behind on non-prank case files that are unfortunately much less interesting. Lots of stolen bikes.”

“Hopefully see you around, Detective.”

As he left the apartment he took a glance towards the end of the hall. A bald man in a suit stood at its end, watching him. It was so lacking in subtlety that it was jarring.

“Can I help you?” he said.

The suited man turned silently towards the exit stairs and walked away.

Wilde considered following, but then what was the point? He felt, in a way, that to act at all like Keith might have been telling the truth would be to admit fault, and even moreso to admit that Mallory was potentially inhuman. Which was stupid.

Wilde took the elevator.

<<<

Back at the station, Wilde was logging the serial numbers on stolen vehicles in the area when boredom turned to curiosity. He picked up the office phone and called evidence.

“Hey, don’t judge me, but do you still have that skin flick Keith was watching?”

“Rough day?” the evidence clerk said.

“Rough couple of days.”

“Come on over, and clear this stuff out while you’re at it. We need room here for other things.”

Wilde collected the bankers box with Keith’s evidence in it–the box seemed a bit excessive seeing as it was just a tape and a journal, but protocol was protocol.

He closed the blinds in his office and slipped the tape into the player.

The tape had clearly been heavily watched, it was missing a few audio tracks, but then these things weren’t exactly prized for their writing.

Wilde decided it would be poor practice to beat it in his office, so he pulled out Keith’s diary instead, and began to page through it absently.

A couple entries stood out to him.

14 December, 1993
Sold television today. Haven’t been productive enough. Hoping sale of TV and purchase of camera will kill two birds w/ one stone. Using TV stand as a desk. Like view of city, even if it is blocked by another high-rise. Perhaps will test camera on what little of horizon I can see. Hope no one gets wrong idea. Maybe can hide camera for test.

Interesting, so he really did have good intentions at the beginning. What happened?

16 December, 1993
No luck, late nights + no friends = no crew or subject for filming. Fascinated by high-rise neighbors. Probably illegal but replaces TV. One in particular very pretty. Won’t creep on bedroom but she often reads in the kitchen alone with her cat. Wish I could meet her correctly and we both could be less lonely.

Boring. Wilde scanned, looking for the aliens to start showing up. Surprisingly, it was Christmas Eve.

24 December, 1993
Wanted to spend Christmas Eve with Raven [that was his name for her], but could swear I saw some intruders in her house. She wasn’t having a party. Need to sleep.

25 December, 1993
They’re back again. She doesn’t know they’re there. Now really glad my viewing spot is well-hidden. Feels like Rear Window. Maybe I can keep her safe. Want to find her apartment but don’t know which one it is. Don’t want them to know I am watching. They seem to always be there.

27 December, 1993
Talked to Dale at the library about stories where men snuck into a house without using door or window. Dale suggested paranormal or extraterrestrial. Told me about a book written in 1922 by a man who simply identified himself as “Kestrel.” Theorized Kestrel was FBI agent, as implied by his book, Imposters as Adam Clad. In the book Kestrel recounts staying in a hotel where he witnessed behavior of residents slowly begin to change; irritable residents becoming oddly pacified overnight, quarreling couples reconciling after a night of sleep, often to the other’s astonishment. Kestrel seems a bit like me, he was familiar with the hotel and knew of a passageway between rooms that allowed him to spy on residents. This was the way he saw the aliens, which he called Thanderians, not sure why, seemed to have some prior knowledge before writing? Dale couldn’t remember. But Kestrel saw large purple creature that looked like a dog and a silverfish and spider crawl into human body after shedding a temporary skin that they proceeded to burn. Kestrel wrote that the aliens often disguise themselves as musclemen, officers, or guards. Theorized human body was like exoskeleton to them.

Exactly like what I’m seeing here. Too weird to believe. Will keep watching.

Following this were many pages of drawings, where Keith had drawn the men, one of which looked a lot like the one Wilde had seen in Blum’s high rise.

These were the drawings Wilde had seen when searching the apartment.

1 January, 1994
New Years. Thanderians still visit. Don’t know what their plan is, but need to help Raven. Might be misunderstood but will videotape her apartment. Rather be charged with spying than let someone die. Can’t explain without tape. Not sure who to trust anyway, if Thanderians can take on human form. Will film tomorrow or night after if I can find good tape.

2 January, 1994
Turns out camera doesn’t come with tape. Seems like a scam. Could have sworn I had one. Went to Circuit City but tapes were more expensive than I can afford. Might just use Busty Brigade tape my buddy leant me if I can’t find anything else. Will peel label off so police don’t think I’m pranking them.

3 January, 1994
Oh god, it’s all real.

Wilde realized he hadn’t even been paying attention to the porno, and he looked up to see that Busty Brigade was no longer onscreen, but instead he was looking at a home recording of an apartment window.

Blum’s apartment.

Wilde felt the hairs on his neck stand on end.

He watched in horror as Blum went to bed, leaving a single lamp above the sink to illuminate the room.

He watched as bald men in suits materialized from beyond the corners of the window. Like Keith, Wilde wondered where they had been hiding. There were five of them, and they were very broad-shouldered.

They stood in the low light of the apartment kitchen, seemingly motionless, seemingly silent, at different points around the table.

Wilde wondered absently if they were in a star formation. Perhaps because they came from the stars?   He wasn’t sure which direction their star was supposed to be angled at. He had seen a horror movie during the Satanic Panic of the 80’s and knew that a lot of cults drew an upside down star to, like, summon demons or something. He wasn’t sure about that, they didn’t look to be summoning anything. Could have just been the easiest way for them to all fit in that room.

Blum’s cat ran in, just as Keith had said, and hissed at the men, the way it had hissed at Blum when Wilde visited.

He watched, powerless, as Blum ran into the dining room to collect her cat, only to be overtaken by these men, kicking, screaming, doubtlessly fighting with every breath.

He watched as she became hidden by the figures, which seemed to have knocked her out and set her on the table.

The camera panned, following one of them as it lifted her onto its shoulders and carried her to the bedroom.

The angle was indeed obscured, but it was clear a slit was made in her skin, looked like it was in her hairline, where a cut wouldn’t be visible. Keith had not mentioned that the man had used some device to remove organs such as her brain, and perhaps spinal fluid as well? He appeared to be hollowing out her body in a specific way­–it was hard to tell, and Wilde was somewhat relieved he didn’t have to know.

Then the most awful image came, as a purple creature slithered out of the man’s mouth, the skin and suit going limp around it as it “undressed.” It had a head that looked like a ring, with no discernable face, and tentacles around that head that looked like hair, but also a bit like the tentacles of a cuttlefish or anemone. It had frame like a dog, its double-jointed legs curved backwards, giving it a countenance that was both arachnoid and lupine. From its side jutted projections that looked like ribs, or maybe vestigial limbs? These were flexible, and it folded them, as well as its long arms and claws, to an almost impossible degree as it climbed into the slit in Blum’s hairline.

Blum was motionless for a moment, then violently twitched as she opened her eyes. She stood, picked up the disposed suit and skin, rolled it up, and brought it back into the kitchen.

The figures turned, looking out the window, and while they didn’t make eye contact with the camera, they closed the blinds all the same.

The tape stopped shortly after, though he could hear Keith muttering “oh god” behind the microphone.

“You and me both, buddy,” Wilde said quietly.

That reminded him.

They had sent Keith home.

And he had shown Blum where Keith lived.

He picked up the phone, and then cursed his disorganization.

If he had Keith’s number, he didn’t know where. And he wasn’t about to ask anyone in the department for it.

Better to haul ass and find Keith himself.

He called his wife, but got the answering machine.

“Hey, honey, I’m going to be a little late for dinner. Don’t worry about making supper, we’ll get takeout or something.” He thought about warning her to call for help if he didn’t come back soon, but then he wasn’t sure who might be at his townhouse, or who even his wife could ask for help.

“Love you. Bye.”

He hung up, threw on his coat, and ran.

>>>

It was an eerily calm night in Oakland. There were few sirens, few arguments on the street, and not a single junky out raving to themselves. Just Roger Wilde, parking at the same meter he had parked at before, dashing frantically into Keith’s building, trying to stay out of view of Blum’s apartment.

He wasn’t sure whether to take the stairs or the escalator, but opted for the stairs despite the fear in his body rendering his legs like jelly. He wanted to put himself in a position where he could easily escape, and while the concrete stairs were creepier they also provided more options.

He ran up nine flights of stair to Keith’s apartment, and was out of breath when he got there. He could feel his fear creeping up his spine frantically, checking his peripherals for one of the men in suits.

He knocked on Keith’s door.

“Gil, it’s me, Detective Wilde. I saw your video. I’m not a Thanderian.”

He had no clue what a Thanderian wouldn’t say, but he assumed their biggest agenda was to not have a name in the first place.

At first there was silence, and he could feel his fear mounting even further.

What if he was too late?

He felt some relief as he heard footsteps coming to the door.

But then his heart dropped as he realized:

How would he know if he was too late?

Keith opened the door, looking a little worse for wear but not dramatically different than Wilde had left him. He was in a t-shirt, boxers, and slippers.

“Detective,” he said with a smile. “Thank God. So you read my diary?”

“Yeah, and I saw the tape,” he said. “We need to get you out of here. Before I believed you I went to her house and told her where you lived.”

“Oh god,” Keith said. “Yes, definitely. I’ll get dressed right away. Please tell me you didn’t tell anyone you were coming.”

“No,” Wilde said. “I didn’t know who to tell.”

“Good,” Keith said, “Then we should have a few minutes. Come inside, I don’t want you standing out there and something happening while I’m getting dressed.”

“Thanks,” Wilde said, “I don’t want to be alone.”

He walked in and locked the door as Keith made his way into his bedroom.

“Do you have any idea where I’ll be going?” Keith said. “I don’t know where to hide from these things. This Kestrel guy seemed to be able to do it, which is probably good seeing as the FBI discredited his book.”

“Don’t know,” Wilde said, “but I’m going with you, and I’m taking my wife.”

“Hey,” Keith said, “close the window, just to be safe, if they see us together we’ll have much less margin.”

“Good thinking.”

Wilde went to the window and as he closed it, looked at Blum’s apartment.

His heart rose to his mouth.

Staring from the window, directly at him, was one of the bald men.

“Hey, Gil?” Wilde said, closing the shades with a panic.

“Yeah?” he heard Keith say behind him.

Wilde turned and screamed.

Standing in front of him was Blum, Keith, and two of the bald men.

Wilde continued screaming, but it was too late.

The last thing he saw was Blum silently charging at him, her hands outstretched.

<<<

It was almost 9:00 PM when Wilde came home.

“Hey,” Jackie said, “Thanks for calling me.”

“No problem,” he said. “I missed you.”

He ran up to her and gave her a kiss, holding her in a way he hadn’t done in years.

“Are you hungry?” he said.

“I went ahead and had dinner on my own,” she said. “I hope that’s okay.”

“That’s totally fine,” he said. “I actually just ate too. But I would like to have a night out. My friend told me about this jazz club called Chicor’s that’s in Oakland. I know it’s a Wednesday, but I can drive you to work tomorrow, if you’d like.

She put his arms around him, curiosity and hopes for a new chapter in their relationship in her eyes.

“Who are you and what have you done with my husband?” she said.

“I killed him,” Wilde replied. “I thought I could do better than him, so I slipped into his skin.”

“Don’t be gross!” she said, laughing. “I guess you’re still the man I married.”

Wilde tried to hide how funny he thought that was, and succeeded.

+++

Samuel Cullado
9 January 2017

If you liked this story and would like to see more, consider supporting me on Patreon.
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