I clutched at the two by four but before my hand could close on it, the tentacles jerked my feet out from under me and I landed hard on the cold concrete floor. Desperately, I scratched at the web-covered end of the two by four but all I got was a hand full of spider web. The black tentacles jerked me across the floor toward the staircase.
As I was pulled past the desk, I grabbed one of its short wooden legs with one hand and hung on for dear life. As the creature tried to pull me loose I used the other hand to reach for the power cord of the nail gun. The monster pulled so hard that the desk swiveled out from the wall just as the nail gun fell to the floor. Before I could grab the gun, the desk and I were pulled further, leaving the nail gun again out of reach.
I grabbed the cord and jerked the nail gun forward but now it hung up on the back of the desk. My feet were starting up the stairs toward the black blob as I jerked at the power cord again and the gun stuck again. The tentacles hauled my feet up to the third stair as I forced myself to calm down and pull the gun carefully under the back of the desk.
The nail gun finally came free with my feet only inches away from the monster. A quick jerk on the cord brought the gun flying to my hand where I caught it and in one motion turned it to the monster and pulled the trigger.
The bastard had unplugged my nail gun.
The old desk was jammed in place and the monster was not strong enough to break the death grip I had on the desk. I guess that's why it gave up on pulling and instead started oozing down the stairs toward my feet. As the creature began flowing around my ankles and up toward my knees, a tremendous feeling of ... something ... overwhelmed me. It was like my heart was being squeezed from inside.
I took a deep breath and let out with a primal scream of outrage as I let go of the desk to sit up and attack the monster with my hands and teeth. It was an act of pure defiance; I didn't really think I had any chance to escape the monster, but I was going to do whatever I could to hurt it. As I was trying to sit up my shirt burst open and a black blob swelled up from my chest.
In a moment, the blob on my chest had grown large and very heavy. It coiled itself like a huge cat and lunged at the monster on the stairs, nearly caving in my chest with the power of its spring. I lay there stunned and gasping for air as the two black mercury monsters joined in combat.
The battle was eerily silent. There were no screams or shrieks, just a sound like wet rags thumping against the floor and walls. There was a louder thump when they fell from the stairs to the floor of the basement where they kept fighting.
The thing that had leaped from my chest was shaped like a giant cat. It looked like the tattoo the old man had given me except that it was solid black, the same color as the ink in the tattoo.
The tentacle monster had let go of me when the fight started, so as soon as I could move, I began dragging myself up the stairs. The black-ink cat was clearly losing and I didn't want to still be there when the tentacle monster had time for me again so I struggled to the top of the stairs before I collapsed. As I lay there I saw that the monster had indeed unplugged my nail gun. It seemed that this tentacle thing wasn't some dumb animal.
The tentacles found my ankles again as I was wobbling to my knees. They hauled me roughly back down the stairs, my face bouncing on each step. I landed in an aching pile at the bottom of the stairs, gazing about in a red daze. The black-ink cat was gone. The tentacle monster just squatted there like a spider in a web, holding my ankles in a rubbery grip. The creature seemed to be gloating at me, giving me time to suffer before it consumed me.
My right hand found the nail gun almost without conscious thought. The blob started flowing toward me as I struggled to raise the nail gun. The gun barked out a ratcheting whine and in seconds it had unloaded forty inch-and-a-quarter brad nails into the blob. The creature vanished abruptly, silently, like a shadow when the light comes on.
Good thing I had plugged the nail gun back in while I was at the top of the stairs.
I lay back in exhaustion and my eye fell on the tatters of my shirt, on my bare chest. The magic tattoo was gone, vanished like it had never been there except for the two red slits where the eyes had been. So, the black-ink cat was a one-shot deal. Well, I figured I still owed that tattoo guy a big check. As soon as I had the strength, I got the hell out of that house, but I didn't forget the journal or the letter.
My mother was at Vicky's Coffee House when I finally caught up with her. She was having her usual after-church lunch with friends --Vicky's Cup of Soup and Half Sandwich Sunday Lunch Special. Beet soup and crab-salad sandwich. After Mom got over her excitement about the state of my face I got her to read the letter. The letter told her that Dad had been kidnapped for his invention some fourteen years ago by some foreign power. The two of us must disappear so that we couldn't be used to control Dad any longer.
Very neat. For all I knew it may even be true for a sufficiently generous reading of "foreign power".
Mom and I flew to Denver where Mom caught a connecting flight to points further east. I stayed in Denver, telling Mom that I had some business to take care of. Is it my fault if she assumed the business was in Denver? But I don't run from no steenking monsters; I was going back to the Bay. Besides, I had to pay the tattoo guy.
The hotel was one of those low rent affairs where you stay when you are too tired to look for someplace better. The walls were so thin I could hear the guy next door clear his throat. He did it a lot. I called room service and asked them to send him up some cough syrup on me, but they said they didn't have any. The room heater had two settings: boiling hot and off. The chair looked very comfortable but that was a cruel illusion. It felt like sitting on a cardboard box with a leaf spring underneath.
I spent the evening in the comfortable-looking chair scanning through my father's journal, trying to get a quick overview.
The gravity lens, it turned out, was not a way to control gravity but a way to focus gravity waves into an image. Dad called the imaging device a graviscope. According to the journal, Dad had succeeded at least to the extent that he could get images out of the graviscope.
The images were ghostly and indistinct but there is nothing opaque to gravity. The graviscope could see though anything. Also, Dad seemed to believe that with enough work he could get the device to show what was happening at any spot on Earth.
Hello, big military contract. Goodbye any hope of privacy, ever again.
Dad was having serious problems with what he called phantoms: ghostly images of people who were not in the spot that he was imaging. He spent a lot of time trying to figure out what was causing the split imaging, but failed. Finally, he decided to try to focus on the phantoms and study them, trying to figure out where they were coming from.
Dad had a lot of trouble focusing on the phantoms. They always came out badly distorted, inhuman. Well, the bipeds were inhuman, and there were apparent quadrupeds that were in-canine, in-feline, and generally unearthly. At first, Dad recognized none of the phantoms but eventually he found some that had recognizable shapes: some humans, some animals, depending on where he looked.
Of course that caused some theoretical problems for Dad. Why would one phantom look human and the one right next to it be so badly focused that it looked like a monster? In some cases the human-looking phantom was clearly interacting with the monster phantom.
There was another problem, one that Dad described in disturbing detail. Even allowing for the bizarre distortions, there were things going on that Dad couldn't imagine happening anywhere nearby --acts of grotesque cruelty and violence by many different creatures on many other creatures.
Eventually, after months of investigation, Dad came to the conclusion that he was actually seeing another world. Here is the entry where he put forth his theory
I finally have a hypothesis to explain my phantoms, creatures that seem obviously real but that can be detected by no means other than gravity waves. It is almost as if they exist in a parallel universe that has no connection to ours other than gravity.Later he wrote this:
It is well-known that there is not enough matter in the universe to explain the way that galaxies and clusters of galaxies move. That is, there is more mass in the universe than astronomers can account for. Therefore, astronomers have postulated the existence of dark matter, a form of matter that we cannot detect using the traditional tools of astronomy.
As all of our detection methods, prior to my graviscope, have relied on various forms of electromagnetic energy, this dark matter must be matter that does not produce or absorb such energy. This suggests that the matter is electrically neutral, but does that necessarily mean that the matter has no binding forces at all? What if this dark matter possesses another force, dark electromagnetism? This dark EM would have no causal interaction with bright EM, the electromagnetism that we know, but it could follow exactly the same laws on different matter. There could be similar dark analogs to the nuclear interactions and the world of dark matter could form a universe just like ours with suns, planets, and even life.
There could be an entire universe of suns and planets sharing the same space as ours, and the only way we could detect it would be by gravitation. Since the universes share gravitational attraction, we might expect massive bodies of the two universes to attract each other and to share the same orbits --dark sun sharing the same space with the bright sun, dark planet sharing space with the bright planet.
I am now fairly convinced in my theory of a dark matter universe. There is a dark planet that shares the Earth's orbit, circling, no doubt, a dark sun that shares the orbit of our sun. I wonder how many of the other planets have dark companions.And thanks to the journal, I had a bit of trouble sleeping myself that night. Dreams kept me restless: dimly-remembered nightmares of otherworldly spies with a graviscope, demons who could follow me anywhere. How to hide from such a menace?
Dark is a good name for the phantoms in my graviscope. They are monstrous creatures of great cruelty. In fact, I have taken to thinking of them as demons: invisible, intangible, evil creatures that walk among us. Sometimes I have trouble sleeping at night.
The black-ink cat came to me in my sleep. I woke in the darkness to find two glowing red eyes staring at me. The cat that had climbed out of my chest to fight the monster now sat on my bed looking hungry. This time the cat wasn't all black; it had the red eyes and white fangs of the tattoo. I wondered if it was a pet now or if it thought I owed it an arm for protecting me.
The cat gave a low rumble, then it slashed out with a huge paw, glowing claws extended to rip open my chest. I gasped in pain and my back arched involuntarily, but I couldn't move. The slash opened a cavity of raw meat where my chest had been. There was little blood but the white ribs were exposed, along with some organs and a still-pumping heart. As I gaped in horror, the cat leaped into the chest cavity. It was far bigger than my chest, but somehow the cat managed to pass smoothly into the cavity and disappear.
I awoke with a shock, bolted upright in the bed, and clutched at my pounding heart, gasping for air. I ripped the sheet away to feel my chest in the pitch-dark room. The skin was intact but it didn't feel quite right; it was too smooth, too slick. I fumbled for the switch on the bedside lamp. It clicked on with a dim 30-watt glow to show me why the skin felt so funny. The black-cat tattoo was back.