A team of psychic investigators are assigned to examine the grisly death of a night watchman in an abandoned fish processing plant.
The old warehouse stood at the edge of the water like a sentinel watching the lake. A darkhouse instead of a lighthouse, its purpose not to guide ships in safely but to warn them away on penalty of death, destruction, and even worse fates.
The car pulling onto the property heeded no such warning. The people inside were used to ignoring cautions of this type. It was, in fact, their job.
Charles was behind the wheel, while Sally sat next to him in the shotgun seat. Toby sat in the back, slumped down, tapping his hands against the back of Charles’s seat to a rhythm only he could hear. Charles was about to tell him to put his hands down or he was going to lose them, but it was pointless now. They had arrived.
The security guard who had pulled the gate open for them was now dragging it back into place as they swung around and parked in the large lot, empty except for the guard’s SUV.
In its heyday, the North Water fish processing plant had employed five hundred people. The building and the parking lot together occupied some of the most prime waterfront real estate in the city. It was a mystery to local developers why the land hadn’t been sold for condos or some lakeside attraction. But the current owners of the property had no interest in such things. They were in the business of mysteries.
Charles, Sally, and Toby got out of the car and went over to meet the guard. It was a dismal gray day with a heavy fog hanging in the air. The city looked like a smoker’s dirty lung.
“You guys with the insurance company?” the guard said.
Charles thought he sounded nervous—a perfectly normal reaction when speaking with someone from an insurance company. He imagined how much more unsettled the man would be if he knew exactly what kind of insurance company he was dealing with. Not that the man needed another reason for his current state, considering what he had been through. And what he had found.
“My name is Charles Courtney,” he said. “I’m an insurance investigator with the Mereville Group. These are my associates, Sally Wakefield and Toby Klein.”
Charles gestured at his companions. Sally gave a demure nod while Toby waggled his fingers. Charles groaned inwardly and pictured himself breaking those fingers one by one.
He knew they made an odd trio. Charles was in his late forties, while Sally and Toby were in their early twenties. Charles was dressed in a charcoal suit with a fine chalk stripe, a white oxford shirt, and a gold-and-silver tie. Sally was also wearing a suit, a black Donna Karan, with a pair of matching pumps. While Toby, a recent addition to the Mereville Group, was wearing a brown corduroy jacket, jeans, a raglan baseball shirt, and a pair of scruffy Converse sneakers that looked like they’d been stolen off a hobo.
“I already spoke to the cops,” said the guard, whose nametag said Voorman. “I don’t know what else . . .”
“We’d like to go over the details of the incident with you,” Charles said.
“I don’t know . . .” Voorman glanced over his shoulder at the warehouse. “Maybe I should talk to my boss . . . or my union rep.”
“As the employer of your employer, I can assure you that anything you divulge will remain among us.”
Charles looked to his companions to back him up. Sally gave another small nod, along with an equally small and conspiratorial grin, while Toby pantomimed running a zipper across his mouth. Again, Charles imagined performing painful tortures on his nettlesome colleague.
Voorman let out a sigh that seemed to deflate his entire body. He was a short, round-shouldered man with receding hair, jowly cheeks, and a nest of chins that appeared to be propping his head up. He wore a navy bomber jacket with the name of his firm, Eveready Security, in small block letters over the left breast. His white button-down was so transparent from too many trips through the washing machine that his undershirt was visible through the material. A clip-on tie hung crookedly from his collar, and part of his shirt was untucked from his polyester slacks. A black leather belt was holding up his belly the way his chins were holding up his head. Attached to it were a long-barrelled Maglite and an empty holster that once held a radio.
Charles knew why the radio was missing. It was for Voorman to keep in contact with his partner, which was no longer necessary. His partner was dead.
“You’re here because of Frank, right?” Voorman said. “Frank Budden?”
“He was your partner?” Charles said. He already knew this to be true, but found it useful when speaking to a witness to start with the easy questions and then work his way up to the hard ones.
Voorman nodded, his chins folding inward like a fleshy accordion.
“Were you friends?”
Voorman considered the question, then shrugged. “We didn’t hang out or anything outside of work, but yeah, I guess you could say we were friends. You get pretty close to a guy when your entire job is standing around keeping watch on a place, just the two of you.”
“How long have you been working at this location?”
“About four months. The company usually puts us on a six-month rotation for a site like this, where there’s not much to do except make sure no one breaks in. Not that anyone would break into this place. It’s empty.”
“How do you know that?” Charles said.
The words came out a bit more bluntly than he intended, and Voorman recoiled as if Charles had snapped a punch at him.
“I, uh, went inside when I was looking for Frank. I was . . . I was the one who found him.”
“And he was deceased?”
Voorman nodded again, rapidly this time, sending his chins bouncing. “Oh yeah. He was big time dead. Real bad dead.”
That’s one way of putting it, Charles thought. Another would be to say the man had been ripped to bloody pieces.
“Please don’t take this the wrong way, Mr. Voorman, but it was my understanding that the orders for this location were that no one, not even the on-site security, was to enter the warehouse.”
The colour drained from Voorman’s face. It was like watching a pitcher of Kool-Aid being made in reverse. His lips began to tremble.
“Yes, sir, that’s correct, sir. We never went into the warehouse before. I swear it on my mother’s name.”
“That won’t be necessary,” Charles said. “Just tell me what happened.”
“It was a shift like any other,” Voorman said. “Frank and me was on nights—midnight to eight o’clock. What usually happens is we sit in one of our cars, shooting the shit, drinking coffee, and take turns walking the perimeter, every hour on the hour. That’s the way we’re supposed to do it, by the book.” He held up his hand, palm outward.
Charles motioned for him to continue.
“At three in the morning it was Frank’s turn to walk the block—that’s what we call it—but he never came back. It usually takes about fifteen, twenty minutes to do our rounds, ’cause we’re supposed to do more than just walk around the site; we’re also supposed to check to make sure no one’s cut holes in the fence or busted any windows in the warehouse, even though most of them have already been smashed out.”
Charles twirled his finger: Keep going.
“So I waited and I waited and Frank was still a no-show. I thought he’d stopped at the Porta-John to take a leak, or maybe a dump.” Voorman flushed and smiled apologetically at Sally, who stared back at him blank-faced. “After he’d been gone about forty minutes or so, I went out looking for him. I checked the whole site—including the Porta-John—but I couldn’t find any sign of him. His car was still in the parking lot, locked up tight. I knew he hadn’t left the site because it’s fenced all the way around. I mean, except for the lakeside, but I didn’t think Frank had gone swimming.” He gave a nervous chuckle. “I did check just in case he had fallen in—it’s dark out here at night and we’d joked before about accidentally walking off the edge while on patrol—but I couldn’t see nothing in the water. I started to get scared and went around the building again, shining my flashlight all over the place, thinking maybe Frank had a heart attack and was lying on the ground somewhere. That’s when I noticed one of the doors to the warehouse was open.”
“Open,” Charles said, like the word was alien to him. “Standing open? Or do you mean it was unlocked?”
“Unlocked and standing open,” Voorman said.
“And you went inside?” Charles said.
Voorman stared at him like he wasn’t sure what kind of answer Charles wanted. “Yes,” he said meekly. “There was nothing else I could do.”
Charles could think of at least one thing Voorman could have done—should have done—but he kept it to himself. Instead he made the twirling gesture with his finger again.
“So I went inside and started waving my flashlight around. I couldn’t believe how big the place was. I mean, I’d seen it from the outside every time I came to work, but it seemed, I dunno, bigger on the inside. Does that make sense?”
It didn’t, Charles thought, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t true.
“Anyway, I was wandering around in there, calling out for Frank, and I could hear this low swishing sound. It creeped me right out. It sounded like a bunch of people shushing me at the same time, like they was telling me to stop shouting. There was a breeze in there and it was chilling the sweat on my body. I shined my light where the swishing sound was coming from, and I saw the three big doors that open onto the lake. They were for the boats to come right into the building and offload their catch. The swishing sound was water coming into the channels under the doors, where the boats would sit. I saw something over there, on the floor in front of one of the channels, and went to check it out. I didn’t quite make it because I tripped over something on the way.” He licked his dry lips. “It was Frank. Or . . . it was part of him. I shined the light over the floor and there were pieces of Frank all over the place.”
“He’d been dismembered?” Charles said.
Voorman gawped at him. “Dis-what?”
“Chopped up?” Toby said, and made a two-handed hacking gesture with an imaginary axe.
“Yeah,” Voorman said, then he shook his head. “No. No, it weren’t like that. It was . . . messier. More like Frank had been mangled by some big machine.”
“Then what happened?” Sally asked.
“I got the hell outta there,” Voorman replied. “I called the cops and they came and got Frank’s body. They asked me a bunch of questions, then told me to stick around. Said some people from an insurance company were coming by to talk to me. That’s you?”
“That’s us,” Charles said.
“The cops didn’t stay very long.” Voorman looked over at the warehouse. “I was kinda surprised, actually. They didn’t put up any yellow tape or nothing. It wasn’t like on TV where they spend hours working a crime scene. It was more like they couldn’t get outta here fast enough. Strange, huh?”
“Strange,” Charles agreed.
“And no press. That part seems even stranger. You’da thunk this place would be crawling with reporters, but it’s almost like it didn’t even happen.”
Charles said nothing. None of what the man told them surprised him. For the Mereville Group, it was standard operating procedure for an incident of this type. The Group had a number of clients, and the City of Toronto was one of them. As such, they had an arrangement with the metropolitan police. Especially when it came to certain properties.
The truth was, Charles was already aware of the details of the incident involving Frank Budden. He’d been briefed by his superiors before he’d arrived. Having Voorman retell the story was more for the benefit of Sally and Toby, and also because Charles knew it was always better to hear the story straight from the horse’s mouth. He often learned things that couldn’t be found in any report.
“I thought I heard one of the cops say Frank had been killed by some sort of animal.”
Charles perked up. “An animal? Here in the city? You shouldn’t listen to rumours, Mr. Voorman. They’ll keep you up nights.”
“I think I already got that problem. For plenty of nights to come.”
“Go home,” Charles told him. “You have the rest of the week off—with pay. Your employer will be in touch with you.”
Voorman looked stricken. “Am I being fired?”
“No,” Charles said. “But this is the last you’ll see of this place.”
“That’s fine by me.”
Voorman jammed his hands in his jacket pockets and walked slump-shouldered to his SUV.
Toby opened the gate for him, then closed it again after he drove through. He came back to join the others, and Charles rubbed his hands together.
“Okay, folks. Let’s get to work.”
Charles walked around the perimeter of the building with his two colleagues trailing behind him. They did this in deference to his seniority—both in age and his position within the Mereville Group—but also because they knew Charles expected it when he was about to hold forth on some subject or another. Even Toby, who’d only been with the Group a few months, had already developed an almost instinctual reaction to Charles’s idiosyncrasies.
“What do you notice about this property?” he asked them in a light, passing-the-time sort of way.
Sally sighed inwardly. So this was how it was going to be. Charles was going to quiz them first. Toby she could understand. He was new and seemed kind of . . . well, dumb. But her? Seriously? She’d been working with Charles for the past three years and he still felt the need to educate her. As much as it irritated her—partly because she usually did end up learning something—she supposed it could’ve been worse. Charles could’ve gone full Sherlock Holmes and worn a deerstalker and smoked a clay pipe. The thought of being seen in public with someone like that was almost as scary as what had happened to Frank Budden.
“Speak up,” Charles prompted them. “Come on. What’s the first thing you notice about this place?”
“It’s a dump,” Toby said.
Charles stopped walking and turned to face them. “Anyone with eyes can see that, Toby. What else?”
Toby sighed and made an effort to look around. Sally didn’t know what to make of their new colleague. He was a scruffy-looking guy, with his unshaven cheeks and too-long hair, but she felt it was less a sign of physical neglect than a look he was trying to affect. The blasé rebel, perhaps, or the grizzled badass.
“Okay,” Toby said. “Using my keen investigative abilities, I’ve reached the conclusion that this place isn’t a dump. It’s a complete and utter shithole.”
Sally rolled her eyes. “The fence.”
Charles and Toby looked at her.
“This place is a shithole,” she said. “The parking lot is cracked in a thousand places and the warehouse looks like it could fall down if someone breathed on it. But the fence is practically brand-new.”
The trio turned in unison to the cyclone fence surrounding the property. It was twelve feet tall and topped with concertina wire, solidly built with nary a tilt or a sag. The type of barrier popular with correctional institutions, but less often used to prevent ingress to empty, dilapidated buildings.
“Correct,” Charles said. “And can you tell me: What is the inherent problem with a security measure of this type?”
Toby made a show of looking at the fence with a critical eye—from the diamond-shaped links of metal that started at the bottom to the coils of razor wire strung across the top.
“Rust?” he answered.
Sally let out a deep sigh, but to her surprise, Charles gave a small golfer’s clap of approval.
“Very good,” he said. “I assume you were pointing out the lack of rust on the fence. While the erstwhile North Water fish processing plant has continued to fall into decrepitude lo these many years, the fence itself looks fairly new. In point of fact, it was installed only last year. Or rather, it replaced the previous fence, which had been in place for the past ten years. This is the time frame the Group decided was appropriate for replacing the fence, barring any other damage or disturbances.” He held up an imperious finger. “But! There’s another problem I was referring to, and I won’t take up any more of our valuable time by asking you to figure out what it is.”
Toby grumbled under his breath, and Sally shot him a look.
“The problem,” Charles continued, “with a security fence around a property such as this—namely one that doesn’t appear to necessitate such a measure—is it sometimes has the opposite effect. Instead of dissuading potential trespassers, it ends up attracting them. You may have noticed there are even signs to this effect on the fence itself.”
Sally had seen them when they first drove up. They were the standard red-on-white metal signs—private property, no trespassing—spaced out every thirty feet or so.
“The Group could’ve electrified the fence to further dissuade trespassers, but they didn’t for the exact same reason. Doing so would’ve been counterproductive and only ended up drawing more attention to the site. As for the decedent, Mr. Budden . . .” He let out a tired sigh. “While the coroner may come up with a more specific cause of death, the truth of the matter is the man killed himself.”
“Suicide?” Toby said. For the first time since they arrived, the smug look had been wiped from his face. “The guy was ripped to pieces. He couldn’t have done that to himself.”
“I didn’t say it was suicide,” Charles said. “I said he killed himself.” He turned to face the warehouse in all its derelict glory. “The guards stationed here had strict orders prohibiting any entry both to this property and to the building which stands upon it. This prohibition included themselves. Earlier this morning, one of those guards disregarded that order and paid for it with his life.”
Charles spread his arms.
“This place is no more an ordinary warehouse than the Mereville Group is an ordinary insurance company. This is one of the Eight. Buildings so paranormally polluted they have been deemed unfit for human habitation.”
Sally felt her entire body break out in a cold sweat. Even though she’d known the truth about the warehouse before they arrived, hearing the words from Charles’s mouth gave the place a reality she couldn’t deny, as much as she might want to. To deny it would be like denying the existence of ghosts, when she knew for a fact that they were real. She had acquired this knowledge through the most effective possible means—personal experience.
This was not her first time in the presence of the Eight. Two years ago, she and Charles had been assigned to investigate a double murder in a house on Ashley Avenue, in Rosedale. A house that should never have been placed on the market, much less sold and occupied. The couple who purchased the home were found dead less than twenty-four hours after they moved in, and before their investigation was complete, it almost claimed the lives of Charles and Sally, as well.
The fact that these properties existed was enough to keep Sally up nights, but it made her angry, too. The Mereville Group were the owners and caretakers of the Eight, and sometimes she wondered why they didn’t take a wrecking ball to each and every one of them. But she knew the answer to that, too. It was another truth she couldn’t deny.
The structures comprising the Eight weren’t only dwellings for dangerous paranormal forces. They were also containers. Prisons. As much as she feared these places, Sally was even more afraid of what would happen if they no longer existed to hold and contain these deadly entities.
“The problem,” Sally said to Charles, “if we’re going to talk about issues with the security of buildings such as these, is that we know the inherent danger of the Eight. The security guards do not. So it’s not fair to expect the same level of vigilance from those who don’t have all the information.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “Forewarned is forearmed, Charles. You taught me that.”
Charles looked taken aback for a moment—the closest he ever got to looking wounded, Sally thought—then he pursed his lips and gave a solemn nod.
“You’re not wrong, but I think you know me well enough by now to know I’m not an insensitive person. I’m sympathetic to the dead man’s plight, and I can assure you his family will be suitably compensated for their loss.”
Sally crossed her arms. “What you’re saying is the Mereville Group will pay them off.”
“Yes,” Charles said. “That’s something the Group will do—the only thing they can do in this situation to give Mr. Budden’s family the sense of closure they both need and deserve. Telling them the truth of what happened here would mean telling them the truth of this place, and they wouldn’t benefit from such knowledge. There are some problems the Group can fix by simply throwing money at them.”
He turned to regard the warehouse.
“For the rest, there’s us.”
Charles retrieved his briefcase from the car and took out a case file. Sally and Toby gathered around him as he spread the contents out on the hood. “Okay, kids. Time for a history lesson.”
Toby groaned and Sally elbowed him in the ribs.
“Shut up and you might learn something.”
Toby shook his head. “Go ahead, Chuck. It’s your show.”
Charles stared at the young man for a moment, then licked his lips and began.
“In 1952, the land we’re presently standing on was sold to North Water Fisheries. The processing plant was built the following year. It was a regular one-stop shop. The boats caught their fish in the lake, then came right into the building via the channels described by our friend, Mr. Voorman. They off-loaded their catch directly to the workers on the factory floor, where the fish were cleaned and processed, then packed in ice and loaded into refrigerated trucks that pulled up to the loading zone right over there.”
Charles pointed to a line of bay doors on the east side of the building.
“Then, on April 12, 1957, tragedy struck.”
Charles slapped down a series of 8×10 black-and-white photos, fanning them out across the hood of the car. Sally and Toby leaned in close.
At first glance, it was hard to figure out what they were looking at. There were arms and legs, hands and feet, and heads—lots of heads—but they all seemed strangely out of context. Familiar and yet oddly unnatural. It didn’t take the two investigators long to figure out why, and when they did they were glad the photos weren’t in colour.
The body parts looked strange because they were no longer attached to their respective bodies.
The lack of colour may have dampened the grisly nature of the photos, but it ended up giving them an unsettling, abstract quality. Dismembered limbs, severed heads, mangled organs, torn pieces of flesh—all of them splashed and splayed about in pools of blood that were as dark as chocolate syrup in the pictures.
Sally picked up one of the photos. “How many . . .”
“Twenty-five workers,” Charles said. “The entire night shift.”
Charles nodded. “Any questions so far?”
Toby raised his hand. “Why does a fish processing plant have a night shift?”
“Any real questions?”
Toby frowned. He picked up a paper clip from the file and started fiddling with it.
Charles continued, “DNA profiling didn’t exist at the time, and all that could be determined was that not all of the victims’ body parts were present at the scene. This in turn led investigators to believe that one or more of the workers could have been responsible for the deaths. They theorized that this individual, or individuals, had gone berserk—possibly from exposure to mercury in the fish—and slaughtered his or her co-workers with the knives used for cutting up the fish. It’s actually not a bad theory—as long as you can get behind the idea of one or two people killing twenty or so others all by themselves with no one escaping. Either way, it didn’t matter. No perpetrators were ever caught, much less convicted of the crime. It was the worst mass murder in Canadian history.” He hesitated. “At least until a few months later, when the same thing happened again.”
Charles spread out another series of photos. Sally and Toby made no effort to look at them.
“Forty-two people were murdered in the second incident. There were survivors this time—three of them—but they ended up being of no use to the police.”
“Shock?” Sally said.
“Catatonic,” Charles said. “Blessedly so, probably. Considering what they had seen.”
He picked up an old police report, the pages yellow and faded.
“The police were at a loss to explain what happened. North Water closed the plant for a time, then tried to reopen it again the following year without success.” He smiled grimly. “They couldn’t find anyone willing to work there.”
“I wonder why,” Toby muttered.
“And life went on, as it always does,” Charles said. “The story of the fish plant murders of ’57 was relegated to the newspaper archives, the history books, and documentaries about unsolved crimes. North Water went bankrupt in 1961, the fish plant was put up for sale, and the Mereville Group scooped it up for a song.”
“Of course they did,” Sally said.
Charles smiled at her, then glanced over at Toby. He had stopped fiddling with the paper clip, but it continued to move around in his hand, twisting across his palm like a worm made of steel wire. Toby noticed him looking and winked.
“Did the Group know what this place was when they bought it?” Sally asked.
Charles reached into his briefcase and extracted another file—a red one.
“They knew something.”
On June 7, 1970, four Mereville Group operatives died while investigating the former North Water fish processing plant. This was in a time before computers, and since there were no other records in the Group’s archives about the plant, it was generally believed the property had remained empty and unexplored in the nine years since the Group had acquired it.
According to Charles, the report wasn’t very detailed—mostly because there were no survivors. The investigators arrived in the early hours of June 7 to begin their preliminary assessment of the property. The team was composed of four members—two field operatives and two psychics.
“What kind of psychics?” Sally asked.
Charles scanned the file with his finger. “They were twin brothers, David and Radovan Petrović. Born in 1947 to Serbian parents who had immigrated to Canada the year before. Popped up on the Group’s radar in ’64 when they were eighteen. Immediately entered into the Group’s psi-training academy and working in the field by March of ’65.”
“Get them while they’re young, huh?” Toby said.
Sally and Charles glared at him.
“What kind of psi-abilities did they have?” Sally asked.
Charles kept reading. “David was a mental dominant. Radovan was a telepath and a sensitive.” He raised his eyes from the report and looked at Sally. “Just like you.”
“What happened to them?”
“I’m guessing they got turned into Hamburger Helper,” Toby said.
“No one knows exactly what happened to them,” Charles said. “But yes, they were slaughtered, like the fish plant workers in ’57.” He closed the file. “Only this one didn’t make it into the history books. The Group covered it up—even in 1970 they were good at that. The building was sealed, the first in a series of fences was erected, and security guards were posted to keep people out. Things have been quiet ever since.”
“Until this morning,” Sally said.
“Until this morning,” Charles agreed. “Which brings us to the case of poor, unfortunate Mr. Budden.”
He reached back into his briefcase and brought out another file, this one a buff-coloured folder that wasn’t nearly as flashy as the top-secret Mereville Group file.
“Forensic science has come a long way in the past sixty years. And so has technology. This is the preliminary report on the autopsy of Mr. Budden performed by the Mereville Group’s resident pathologist just a few hours ago. Toxicology and DNA testing aren’t available yet, but the report states Mr. Budden died as a result of massive tissue loss. Wounds on the body are described as bite marks with wide teeth on the upper jaw and smaller, pointier teeth on the lower jaw. The predator with the closest match to these characteristics is a shark—specifically, a bull shark.”
“A bull shark,” Toby said.
“Yes,” Charles said. “A big one, apparently.”
“I think that autopsy report is a bunch of bull shark.” Toby turned to Sally. “Are you buying this crap?”
Sally frowned. “Wasn’t the body found inside the warehouse? On land?”
“Yes,” Charles said, “but . . .”
“I hate to state the obvious,” Toby said, cutting him off, “but even if this guy was attacked by something in the water and somehow managed to crawl back onto land, Lake Ontario is a freshwater lake. There have never been any sharks in there.”
“No,” Charles agreed. “Not recently.”
Sally and Toby took a moment to let that sink in. Then Toby said, “What are you saying, he was killed by the ghost of a shark?”
“A ghost shark?” Sally said. “Like that terrible movie?”
Toby glanced over at her. “I kinda liked it.”
“I’m not talking about a stupid movie,” Charles said. “And I’m not talking about the ghost of a prehistoric shark. I’m talking about a creature that existed long before there even were sharks. Millions of years ago this whole area was underwater, and it was home to all manner of creatures, some of them so strange and horrifying they would’ve made H. P. Lovecraft shit his pants.”
“I know about that stuff,” Toby said. “Continental divide, glacial drift, all that jazz. I read the dinosaur books. I watched those BBC documentaries.”
Charles said, “We can at least agree that whatever killed Mr. Budden, and the many victims before him, it was very big and very vicious.”
“Okay,” Toby said. “So the ghost of some prehistoric predator is munching on anyone who goes into this crappy warehouse. I get it. But why now? This place has been locked up tight for almost fifty years. If this thing has been here the whole time, then how come no one has seen it? And why hasn’t it killed anyone since 1970? I mean, before it gobbled up the security guard this morning.”
“I believe the entity has been manifesting over the years,” Charles said. “Maybe not often, but it’s been here. I also believe the entity’s ability to manifest is directly connected to the ‘meals’ it ingests—not so much the people themselves but their lifeforce energy, which is almost certainly the thing from which it takes actual nourishment.
“I don’t think it was Mr. Budden’s fault he went into the warehouse. Not entirely. I believe he was merely one factor in a confluence of events that led to his untimely death. Maybe the lock on that particular door finally failed after doing its job for so many years. Or maybe the wood in the doorframe had rotted to the point that the lock became superfluous, and a random gust of wind blew the door open. The point is, we will probably never know the circumstances that led Frank Budden to enter the warehouse. Maybe he’d been inside before. Maybe he went in there some nights to get out of the cold, or to take a break from his loquacious partner, Mr. Voorman. It doesn’t really matter. What it boils down to is Mr. Budden was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He entered the warehouse in the early hours of this morning when the entity happened to manifest on this plane of existence . . . and things happened accordingly.”
“Okay,” Toby said. “But what are we supposed to do about it? The man is dead and we can’t change that. Why don’t we lock the place up again and leave it alone? The legend of the Eight lives on and so do we. What do you say?” He looked back and forth between Charles and Sally.
“We can’t just leave,” Sally said. “Whatever started here this morning, it’s not over yet. The energy the entity absorbed from the guard wasn’t enough to sate its appetite. It’ll come back, hungrier and more powerful than before.”
“How do you know that?” Toby demanded. He turned to Charles. “How does she know that?”
“I just do,” Sally said. “And so do you.” She paused. “Because we’re psychic.”
Toby frowned at her, then looked over at Charles, who was smiling at him.
“I am not psychic,” Charles said, “but I knew she was going to say that.”
“It’s the pattern of the deaths,” Sally said. “The two incidents in 1957 were separated by a few months. Like a small meal followed by a big meal.”
Toby said, “You call twenty-five people a small meal?”
“A smaller meal, then,” Sally said. “An appetizer followed by a main course. Then the entity was dormant for a while. For years. As though it was recharging between meals.”
“Or digesting,” Toby said.
“But there was no pattern in the 1970 deaths. It was only those four Mereville Group guys. How come there weren’t more deaths after that?”
“Think about it, Toby. Two of those investigators were psychics. An entity like this will feed on the lifeforce of any living being, but a psychic is probably like foie gras to this thing.”
“So you’re saying those two brothers ended up super-sizing the monster’s meal?”
“Okay, fine.” Toby turned to Charles. “So how do we exorcise the ghost of a fish?”
“The psychokinetic energy the entity absorbed from the security guard won’t be enough to satisfy its appetite. Like Sally said, it will be back. We could lock up the warehouse again and hope for the best, or we could do something about it ourselves, right now.”
“Do what?” Toby said, although he already had a pretty good idea.
“The energy allowing the entity to manifest in our realm must be dissipated. In order to do that we have to draw it out. And in order to do that we need to lure the entity with bait—psychic bait.”
Toby looked over at the warehouse. “So one of us has to go in there.”
Sally turned to Charles. “Couldn’t I stay out here and project my mind inside?”
“That won’t work,” Charles said. “You were right about psychic energy being the kind of food this entity likes best. But it also wants meat. This thing may be a ghost, but it still remembers what it was like to be alive. It remembers hunger.”
Sally shook her head. “I can’t do it, Charles. I can’t go in there alone.”
“You won’t be alone,” Charles said. “We’re all going in.”
While Charles scooped up his files and returned them to his briefcase, Sally and Toby went over to stare at the building they would be entering in the all-too-near future.
“We’ll be fine,” Toby assured her. “The Group wouldn’t have assigned us this job if they didn’t think we could do it.” He held out his hand. “Here.”
For a moment, Sally thought he was offering his hand to hold, but then she saw something small lying on his palm. It was the paper clip he’d taken from one of Charles’s files, the one he’d been manipulating with his telekinesis. Toby had transformed it into a curved triangular shape.
Sally took it out of his hand and looked at it. “What’s it supposed to be?” she asked. “A tooth?”
“It’s a shark fin,” Toby said. He took her hand gently in his own and started moving it back and forth through the air while humming the Jaws theme.
Sally laughed in spite of herself. “Thanks, Toby. I’ll cherish it forever.”
“You should. That’s a valuable psychic artifact. It’ll end up in the Mereville Group’s private collection one of these days.”
Charles came over. He pointed at Sally. “You’re the bait.” He pointed at Toby. “You’re the fishing rod. You’ll be stationed in the doorway. Your job is to reel Sally in at the first sign of trouble.”
“Where will you be?” Toby asked.
“I’ll be in there, too, also as bait, but I’ve got a feeling Sally is going to present a much more tantalizing meal.”
Charles handed Sally a flashlight and took one for himself. Toby didn’t get one. He needed to keep his hands free.
They walked around the far side of the warehouse to the door Frank Budden had used to get inside.
Charles went in first, turning his flashlight on, followed by Sally, while Toby remained in the doorway, as ordered. It was the first order he’d been given that he was actually happy to carry out.
There was no electricity in the building—the power had been off since 1961—and it was dark inside. But not as dark as it could’ve been. Even without their flashlights, there were banks of windows on the east and west sides of the building—several of them smashed, as Voorman had told them—letting in a dim, milky light.
Sally shined her flashlight around, but there wasn’t much to see. The building appeared to be completely empty. Her beam passed over a stain on the concrete floor, and she brought the light back to look at it more closely. It looked like an oil stain, only it was still wet. She peered closer, realized it was blood from where part of Frank Budden’s dismembered body had lain, and snapped the beam up toward the rafters.
Her breathing quickened and she tried to slow it down by focusing her attention on the view overhead. There were a few holes in the corrugated steel roof, but for the most part it was holding up pretty well for its age. Breathe in, breathe out. She brought the flashlight back down and walked around the stain on the floor, pretending it wasn’t there.
On the far side of the warehouse, Charles was looking up at one of the three massive doors that opened onto the lake. The doors were closed, but the water lapped rhythmically within the channels extending into the building. Some fog had drifted in with the water and gave the channels the appearance of three rectangular, bubbling cauldrons.
“Careful you don’t fall in,” Sally called over to him.
Charles waved at her with his flashlight.
Sally resumed wandering the floor, panning her flashlight around—being sure to move it quickly away whenever it landed on a questionable stain—and in general avoiding the thing she knew she was supposed to be doing.
At one point she stopped and pointed the light at her left hand. Faint white lines ran across three of the fingers. On her right hand there was a crescent-shaped mark in the webbing between the thumb and index finger. Souvenirs from her one and only visit to the house on Ashley Avenue, courtesy of an entity composed of a broken mirror. A looking-glass creature like something out of Wonderland. Which, she supposed, made her Alice. Only most days she wasn’t sure which world she was living in.
She was scared, but she knew there was no shame in that. Charles said only show-offs and shitheads laugh in the face of death. There was nothing wrong with fearing death, he said. It was natural. Death was the great unknown. In much the same way, the supernatural was largely unknown. It was okay to fear it, too, Charles said, as long as you didn’t let it paralyze you. The Mereville Group had learned a great deal about the supernatural, and they were learning more every day. They did it by confronting their fears, by walking boldly into the darkness with their eyes wide open.
So that’s what Sally did. She turned off her flashlight and closed her eyes.
Then opened the ones inside her mind.
There was nothing in the warehouse. Sally was almost disappointed. Almost.
When she projected her astral self, she had expected to see the empty factory floor transformed into some spectral realm of dark delights. But it just looked like the same old crappy warehouse.
The whole astral projection bit was relatively new to her. It was an extension of her telepathic abilities, and when properly developed, she was supposed to be able to travel to other dimensions and planes of existence. To date she’d managed to successfully project herself into two locations—the cafeteria of the Mereville Group’s Toronto field office, and the bathroom in her condo.
She wasn’t exactly the Neil Armstrong of astral projection, but so what? Practice made perfect, right? And she didn’t need to be perfect today. She only needed to be bait.
Charles had walked along the edge of one of the concrete channels and was now examining the motorized pulley assembly that controlled the large bay door.
Sally’s astral body drifted over to him, swimming through the air. Even though the action required no actual movement of her ethereal form, she found herself stroking through the air with her astral arms and legs anyway. She propelled herself toward the ceiling, then spun herself around so she was looking down at the top of Charles’s head.
His hair is thinning, Sally thought. Poor Charles.
She swung back and did a slow circle of the warehouse, her astral body passing through the rust-pocked rafters. She glanced out one of the intact upper windows. Fog pressed against the glass, but with her astral eyes she could see through it to the city beyond. There was so much energy out there, so many people packed tightly together—she was glad the warehouse was isolated out here on the lakeshore. She probably wouldn’t have been able to do what she needed to do if they were any closer to the city.
She was about to bank around and do another circuit when she happened to glance down and saw Toby waving at her from the open doorway. Waving not at her body, which stood motionless on the factory floor, but at her astral form floating fifty feet overhead.
The shock of being seen in her present state was enough to break her concentration, and Sally felt her consciousness snap back into her body with enough psychic momentum that she actually stumbled a few steps and almost fell on her ass.
“What do you call that?” Toby said. “Psychically chumming the waters? It wasn’t bad, but you could use some work on your astral backstroke.”
“You could see me?” Sally said. She felt a strange compulsion to cover her body, as if she’d been seen naked. Which, in a way, she supposed she had.
Toby shrugged. “It was a surprise to me, too. Mostly I move stuff around with my mind. I’ve never seen anything on the astral plane before.” He looked around the interior of the warehouse. “Maybe it’s this place.”
“Maybe,” Sally said.
“Did you pick up anything?”
“You got plans later?”
The question was so unexpected it threw her off balance for a moment. “What?” she said. “You mean if we’re still alive?”
“Yeah,” Toby said. “If we’re not all horribly massacred by the ghost of a prehistoric sea creature, I was wondering if you wanted to check out Northern Lights with me.”
“The northern lights?” Sally said. “You mean the aurora borealis? I don’t think you can see them in Toronto.”
“No,” Toby said. “Northern Lights. It’s a vape bar in the Annex.”
Sally looked at him. “You vape?”
“Oh sure.” Toby reached into his jacket and took out something that looked like a flute with a case of the mumps. “It’s a pungi. Instrument used by snake charmers in Nepal. Converted for vaping, of course.”
He put it in his mouth and swayed from side to side in an enticing manner.
Sally shook her head. “I’m afraid the only snake you’ll be charming tonight will be your own.” With a grin, she added: “And if you keep this up, I’m gonna file a sexual harassment complaint against you.”
Toby slapped a hand over his heart, looking wounded. “You would do that to me?” He called over to Charles. “Hey Chuck, does the Mereville Group have a human resources department?”
“Of sorts,” Charles said. “But they’re not exactly human. And if you keep calling me Chuck, I promise you’ll find out all about them.”
An hour went by and nothing happened. A second hour passed and still nothing. The sun had started going down, and the fog outside the windows turned from a tarnished silver to a dirty, dusky gray. The anxiety and excitement they’d felt upon entering the warehouse had drained off, leaving the trio feeling emotionally hungover and more than a little bored.
Toby was still stationed in the doorway, sucking occasionally on his pungi, and turning his head to blow clouds of fragrant vapour out into the early-evening air. Charles paced slowly across the warehouse, back and forth, the soles of his Italian loafers slapping against the dusty concrete floor.
Sally was the only one doing any actual work—although it wasn’t visible to the human eye. It would not have been inaccurate to say she was, in that moment, in two places at the same time.
Her body was standing in the middle of the warehouse floor, while her astral form was back exploring the dark corners of the spirit realm.
Unfortunately she was having the same results as last time—which was to say, no results.
Although her astral vision could perceive much more than her physical eyes, she wasn’t seeing anything particularly noteworthy. The crumbling architecture of the warehouse was visible to her in stark relief, as if she were seeing a highly detailed MRI of the entire building, but there was nothing useful there.
She propelled her astral self down to ground level and hovered over the middle channel. As she pretended to walk across the surface of the water, she saw something she hadn’t noticed before. Or rather, it was something she couldn’t see.
It was the water in the three channels that came in under the bay doors. It appeared as dark to her now as it had to her regular eyes. It was, in fact, the only thing in the warehouse she couldn’t see in preternatural detail.
She swivelled around and called out to Charles, but of course he couldn’t hear her while she was in her present state. She waved at Toby, but he was leaning against the doorframe with his back to the room.
Sally frowned and spun back around. She hesitated for a second, then lowered herself into the water. It was less like slipping into a pool than riding an elevator down into the dark murk. She kept going until the water closed over her head and she was in complete darkness.
She couldn’t see or feel anything—which came as a shock. The astral plane was alive with impressions and stimuli much more complex than those processed by the senses of her physical body. To see and feel nothing at all was a new experience, and an unsettling one.
Since she had no awareness of her surroundings, she wondered if she was still drifting through the water. What if she got turned around and couldn’t figure out which way was up? This in turn caused Sally to consider an even more important question: What if she couldn’t get back to her body?
If it were possible for an astral body to hyperventilate, Sally would’ve been doing so at that moment. Even though her breathing exercises were useless here, she went through them anyway. Breathing in through her astral nose, and out through her astral mouth.
She opened her mind and sent out telepathic feelers in the hope of finding her way back to the light. Charles had told her it was dangerous to expose herself in this way, but she didn’t have a choice. She had a horrible vision of her astral self drifting through this darkness forever.
She could even picture it—a tiny glint of light set against an endless black backdrop. A blackdrop, Sally thought, and giggled. It felt good to laugh. It helped push back the dark.
The glint of light was still there, and Sally realized she wasn’t seeing it with her mind. It was really there, in the darkness, and it was getting bigger.
She started to drift toward it. Maybe it was her body sending up a psychic flare so she could find her way back home. She had never travelled this far on the astral plane before. Surely this was something her mind was designed to do to keep her from getting lost forever. A built-in safety feature, like telepathic GPS.
At some point—it was hard to gauge time—Sally became aware of two things. The first was that she was no longer in Lake Ontario. She had felt her astral body moving through the dark water, and then she passed through into another place even darker and deeper. A fathomless abyss that made her feel smaller and more insignificant than when she first became lost.
The second thing was that the light she was moving toward was not her body.
She didn’t know what it was, but it was getting closer. And bigger. She tried to push away from it, but it was as if she were caught in an undertow, pulling her toward the thing.
As they were drawn closer and closer together, she finally saw it for what it was. All of her psychic senses were attuned, so when the thing from the abyss appeared before her, she saw it in all its terrifying glory.
And when she felt/saw/sensed it was opening its mouth to swallow her whole, Sally did the only thing she could.
She opened her mind and screamed.
Toby screamed, too, and dropped his pungi. He might have also peed himself a little.
He spun around in the doorway and looked over at Sally. She hadn’t screamed, although he could have sworn he’d heard her. She was standing in the middle of the warehouse, motionless, like she had been for the last twenty minutes or so.
But something was different.
He couldn’t see it, but he could feel it. It was a new experience for him, much like the way he’d been able to see Sally’s astral form doing a Peter Pan impression around the ceiling. He figured she must still be on the astral plane; only if she was, he couldn’t see her.
Focusing with his mind instead of his eyes, he was able to make out something he at first thought was the beam from Sally’s flashlight. But her flashlight was off, hanging by her side in one limp hand.
This light was thinner and brighter, a focused beam of the purist white emanating from the middle of her forehead, in the spot where one’s mystical third eye was supposed to be.
The beam extended across the length of the warehouse on a downward sloping angle, terminating in the water of the middle channel.
As Toby watched, the narrow cord of light trembled like a plucked spiderweb. The luminescence stuttered as if a switch was being rapidly turned off and on.
Even though he was not a sensitive, Toby was a psychic in his own right, and thus receptive to such forces. The vibe he was picking up from Sally was one of intense fear and panic. The beam of light, which must’ve been some sort of tether to her astral body, was stretching and straining so much he worried it might snap. He didn’t know what effect it would have on Sally if that happened. Would her body simply drop dead like a puppet with its strings cut? Would her spirit be left to wander the astral plane forever?
Toby looked over at Charles, who was leaning against the far wall checking messages on his phone.
“Chuck . . . Charles, I think something’s wrong with Sally.”
Charles looked up from his phone, then pocketed it and came trotting over. He waved a hand in front of Sally’s face, but her eyes remained glazed and unfocused. He reached out to shake her shoulder and Toby said, “Don’t!”
“What’s wrong?” Charles said. “What’s happening to her?”
Toby looked from Charles to Sally . . . and then to the dark water of the channel.
“I think she’s in the lake.”
“I think she’s in trouble.”
Charles took out his phone, then seemed to realize anyone he might call for help wouldn’t arrive in time. He jammed it back into his pocket and said: “Can you do anything?”
Toby shook his head. “I don’t know.”
Charles gripped his shoulder firmly. “Try.”
He nodded and turned back to Sally.
Toby was a telekinetic; he could move and manipulate objects with his mind. Physical objects. He’d never used his powers on something—or someone—incorporeal. He didn’t even know if it could be done. But like Charles said, he had to try.
He took a deep breath and tried to focus his thoughts. Then, when he was ready—or as ready as he was going to be—he reached out with his mind and grasped Sally’s astral tether.
It was like touching a live wire with about fifty thousand volts running through it. It galvanized him, and should’ve killed him, but his mental defences were as strong as they were instinctive, and he was able to raise a psychic shield that blocked the majority of the surge. Still, it was powerful enough to light up every neuron in his brain.
Had it been an actual attack against him, he doubted there was anything he could have done to protect himself. But this wasn’t an attack. It was a cry for help. A psychic SOS transmitted along the astral tether and delivered directly into his mind.
In that moment, he experienced a vertiginous moment of bilocation. Not only could he see Sally at the far end of the tether—her distant form looking small and helpless as it struggled like a worm on a hook—he could also feel himself inside Sally, experiencing her fear and panic firsthand. It was so overwhelming, this hurricane of emotions that weren’t his own, that he almost lost his mental hold on the tether.
Pulling back from Sally and the darkness in which she dwelt—The abyss! I’m trapped in the abyss!—Toby was able to reassert both his will and his grip on the psychic cord. Then, after performing the mental equivalent of spitting in his hands, he began to reel her in.
Sally was wondering if it was possible to die a violent, bloody death while on the astral plane. Because it looked like that was about to happen. She had fought and she had struggled, but the entity in the darkness was too strong, too relentless. Too hungry.
When she felt the presence enter her mind, she thought this was how it would begin. The entity would start by invading her mind . . . and then devouring it.
But she recognized the presence. It was Toby. And for a split second she felt relief, not in the hope of escape—there was no escape from the abyss—but from the much smaller mercy that at least she wouldn’t die here alone.
She reached out to Toby, pleading with him to help her . . . then felt him pulling away, as quickly as he had arrived.
She was so shocked by his sudden retreat that it took her a moment to realize she was being pulled, as well. She didn’t know what was happening. Then she heard Toby in her mind, his voice speaking two words:
Toby was reeling her in, and things seemed to be going okay, until he realized something was wrong.
Sally was coming in fast—too fast. Part of it was the strength of Toby’s own telekinetic pull, and part of it was Sally’s own frantic efforts to return to her body. But there was something else.
When he first reached Sally in the darkness of the lake—the abyss—he had felt another force pulling her deeper into the depths. Whatever it was, it was much stronger than he was, but with Sally’s help he had been able to gradually draw her toward him. It was a slow, arduous process, with Toby constantly worried that the force on the other end would dig in its psychic heels and pull her all the way back.
That hadn’t happened.
There had been some resistance at first, a few sharp tugs on the astral tether, then nothing. Now he couldn’t feel the other force at all, and it worried him.
He told himself it didn’t matter. Sally was almost back. He could see her coming, her spectral form shooting toward him like a circus performer fired out of a cannon. He glanced over at Charles, and saw that he was standing almost directly behind Sally’s motionless body.
“Out of the way, Chuck!” Toby shouted. “Incoming!”
Charles frowned in confusion, then realized at the last second what was about to happen, and leaped out of the way.
Sally’s astral body connected with the flesh, blood, and bone she normally called home with all the force of a hundred-mile-per-hour fastball socking into a catcher’s mitt.
This time she didn’t just stumble a few steps. She was knocked off her feet and went flying backward like she’d been hit by an invisible battering ram. She landed on her rump and slid across the dusty concrete floor.
Toby and Charles rushed over, but she batted away their helping hands and their questions of concern.
“It’s my fault,” she said. “I think it was sleeping and I woke it up. It was so dark in there I couldn’t see a thing, not even with my . . .” She tried to indicate her astral eyes. “I started to panic and I screamed.” She grabbed Charles by the arm. “I woke it up.”
“It’s okay,” Charles assured her. “You’re back and it’s gone. We’ll return another day and . . .”
“It’s not gone,” Sally said.
Toby snapped his head around and looked at the dark water in the middle channel. He suddenly understood why he hadn’t felt any resistance on the other end of the tether.
Charles and Toby had managed to get Sally back on her feet when they heard an ancient motor cough and sputter into reluctant life. The trio turned and watched as the bay door of the middle channel started to rise.
There was no earthly reason why the door should have been moving. The building hadn’t had power in more than fifty years. Charles looked over at Toby and said, “Is that you?”
Toby shook his head without taking his eyes off the rising door. When it reached the top of the track, there was a moment of fragile silence in which any number of things might have happened.
Sally said, “Maybe we should—”
And then the world exploded.
It was a wet explosion. A tidal wave of cold lake water that rose high enough to touch the ceiling of the warehouse before it came crashing down to the floor.
Although Charles, Sally, and Toby were far enough back to avoid the initial blast—the force of which could have caused them serious injury and possibly death—they were close enough to get completely doused in the secondary splash.
The water spread to all points of the warehouse, as though trying to flee the scene. Charles understood the feeling. In the last fledgling light of the day, helped in large part by the open bay door, he could see that the middle channel was a flurry of activity, the water churning and splashing.
Before he could voice a warning, an enormous shape began to rise out of the channel, filling the space like some nightmarish submarine.
“Holy fuck!” Toby shouted. “It is a ghost shark!”
It was and it wasn’t.
The thing that emerged from the water wasn’t like any sea creature they’d ever seen before. It did look something like a shark—the head was conical, the eyes were cold black marbles, and it had a mouth full of serrated, triangular teeth—only instead of a single dorsal fin on its back, this creature had two, angled to either side like the rabbit-ear antenna on an old television. It had the scythed tail of a shark, and the same grayish-blue skin, but that was where the similarities ended.
It was fifty feet long—larger even than the prehistoric megalodon—and as the creature butted against the sides of the channel, like it was stuck, they could see something on its underside, an armoured node resembling the fingers of a bony hand clenched into a tight fist.
As the creature continued to twist and struggle in the tight confines, they quickly realized it wasn’t stuck. It was trying to get out of the water.
As they watched, the node on the creature’s belly opened and eight chitinous legs extended outward. They anchored themselves to the sides of the channel, and the creature began to rise slowly out of the water.
Charles stared at the creature, frozen with fear. He found it impossible to believe that something so monstrous, something so alien, could have ever walked the earth or swum in the seas. But as he watched the creature clamber onto dry land, he supposed it had probably done both of those things.
He noticed something else, as well. A small detail that almost certainly hadn’t been part of the creature’s already unusual physiology when it was alive.
Even though most of the water displaced when the creature surfaced was either glistening or sliding across its thick hide, some of it appeared to be dripping through its enormous body. As if it wasn’t entirely solid.
Although at that moment it seemed solid enough as it came scuttling toward them.
Toby reacted instinctively, pushing out with his TK. The creature came to an abrupt stop, as if it had suddenly become stuck in an invisible tar pit. Then, with a frantic shake of its massive head, it just as quickly became unstuck and continued to advance.
When Sally saw that Toby couldn’t hold the creature back, she realized it was up to her. Reaching out with her mind, she tried to scan the creature’s thoughts. If Toby couldn’t stop its movements, then maybe she could halt them at the source. Even if she couldn’t stop the creature indefinitely, it might buy them enough time to get out of the warehouse.
For Sally, reading people with her telepathy was both routine and unpredictable. Even though every mind was different, the human brain was familiar territory for her.
Touching the mind of the creature, though, was like sticking her hand into a mystery box, one that might contain tissues or tarantulas. It was scary at first, like trying to read the mind of any animal—a flurry of lightning-quick responses, not so much thoughts as instinctual reactions to stimuli. In this case: the water, the warehouse, and the three humans that probably looked to the creature like Happy Meals on legs.
Sally tried to get a grip on these quicksilver signals, but they darted through her mental fingers like a school of minnows. One thing was clear: the creature didn’t like her probing its mind. She was aware she had slowed its approach, though she hadn’t stopped it outright. The creature scuttled off to the side, as if being led away by the nose. Then it snapped its head to the side and course-corrected back the other way, its crab-like legs tapping a frantic tattoo on the concrete floor.
Sally could feel the creature pushing her out of its mind. It had almost succeeded when she became aware of another presence, another set of mental hands joining her own.
Working together, they infiltrated the creature’s mind, Toby laying down telekinetic anchors while Sally wove a telepathic web to ensnare its thoughts. The creature reacted even more strongly than before, struggling with all its mental will to evict these uninvited visitors, but they were dug in as tightly as ticks.
Charles couldn’t see any of this with his ordinary eyes. What he did see was the creature, no longer charging toward them. It now stood frozen in its bi-corporeal tracks about twenty feet away, whipping its head from side to side, mouth snapping open and closed.
“I think we’ve got it,” Sally said.
“Yeah,” Toby said, straining. “But what are we supposed to do with it?”
“Can you kill it?” Charles said.
Toby gritted his teeth. “It’s already dead, Charles.”
“I mean, can you neutralize it? Can you send it back?”
“We can try,” Sally said, but she sounded unsure.
The two psychics exchanged a look made up of equal parts determination and uncertainty. They didn’t have to say anything to each other about what they were about to do next. The conversation occurred in their minds.
Using their combined abilities, they tightened the psychic net around the creature. It reacted as they expected—by struggling even more frantically. When it was alive, it wouldn’t have had a lot of natural enemies, and now that it was dead (or undead) it had fewer still. It had probably never been challenged like this before, certainly not by the lesser beings it had previously only known as food.
Sally and Toby were banking on the idea that attacking the creature in this manner would cause it to lose interest in them, and become more concerned with getting the hell out of Dodge. To choose flight instead of fight.
To their mutual surprise, it seemed to work.
When they released their hold—just a little bit—they felt the creature start to move away . . . back toward the lake.
The psychics experienced a moment of relief that was immediately cut short when they felt themselves suddenly jerked off their feet—psychically and physically.
Charles watched in awe as the creature retreated toward the concrete channel. As it began to clamber back into the water, Sally and Toby suddenly snapped forward like they’d both been shoved hard from behind. They landed on the ground and began to slide across the floor toward the creature.
Apparently the psychic net worked both ways. Even as Sally and Toby had loosened their grip on the creature, it had responded by digging in some mental hooks of its own, and now it was pulling them in after it. No matter how much they struggled, none of them could break free.
The creature began to sink back into the channel, then surfaced again and rose completely out of the water, propping itself up so it hung in middle of the open doorway like a giant sea spider.
Charles wondered what it was doing—then the creature’s mouth dropped open and he didn’t have to wonder anymore.
The creature wasn’t dragging Sally and Toby back into the lake. It was going to reel them right into its mouth. One last meal to-go before it returned to the abyss.
Charles looked around for something he could use as a weapon, and spotted a pile of old rusty rebar lying in a pile against the near wall. He picked one up and went running along the concrete path next to the channel. He slowed his pace as he approached the creature, but as he suspected, all its attention was focused on Sally and Toby, who continued to slide rapidly across the floor toward the channel.
As Charles reached the edge of the doorway where the creature was suspended, he thought back to the water droplets he’d seen dripping through its body. The psychic net seemed to have an additional effect, one he was now close enough to see.
It had made the creature take on a completely solid form.
Charles raised the rebar over his head, then swung it down and smashed it against the motor that controlled the door.
Although the juice powering it was paranormal rather than electrical, it was still a machine, and it didn’t like being bashed in with a piece of rusty metal. The motor made a tortured screeching sound and coughed out a spray of sparks. Then smoke. A lot of smoke.
The door let out a small creak—almost like a warning—then came flying down the track. It crashed into the creature, slamming into it like a giant guillotine.
Even though the channel wasn’t deep, the creature might have survived if the door had simply knocked it back into the water. But in its panic to escape, the creature tried to move out of the way and the door struck it amidships, driving it sideways into the mouth of the channel. The creature was too big to fit that way, and its head and tail were snapped upward with a loud crack of breaking cartilage.
It was dead, Charles thought—or dead again. He watched the carcass slide into the channel, losing corporeal form as it sank into the dark water.
He looked over at where Sally and Toby lay together in a heap.
Toby grinned as he sat up with Sally squirming in his arms. “My catch of the day!” he said triumphantly.
Sally struggled out of his grasp and stood up. “More like the one that got away,” she said, slapping the dust off her suit. She gave Charles a weary look. “I’ll be in the car.”
Toby stared after her as she walked out of the warehouse. “So much for intense experiences bringing people closer together.” He looked at Charles. “I thought we were made for each other. Birds of the same psychic feather.”
Charles went over and helped Toby to his feet. He tried to think of something supportive to say.
“Plenty of fish in the sea.”
Toby stared at him. “Are you being funny?”
Charles shrugged. “It’s been known to happen.”
He clapped Toby on the shoulder and they walked back to the car.
“Go Fish” copyright © 2020 by Ian Rogers
Art copyright © 2020 by Goñi Montes