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Weird Mystery Tales: The Sleepwalker

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  • Doc Quantum
    Oct 29, 2013 Expand Messages
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      This is a story I wrote back in 2003 for a different group. Its original title was "Clifford," but after I rewrote it to fit into Earth-2 continuity, I decided a title change was in order. This story does feature a few Earth-2 characters, though the protagonist is really its narrator.

      Enjoy.

      Doc Quantum of the Time Trust

      ***

      I am not insane.

      If there's one thing I must make clear, it is that I am a man of sound mind, despite what everyone's saying about me. Oh, don't look at me like that -- I know they're talking about me behind my back, snickering every time I walk past them. Sure, they try to hide it, but you'd have to be completely ignorant not to notice.

      Well, I guess I had better begin, then. Let me take another sip of water first. There. Now, if you're sure that you are ready to take me seriously, I'll begin. My first name, as you well know, is Clifford. I won't bother repeating my surname, since it's on the paper right in front of you.

      It was late in the month of October, a few days before All-Hallow's Eve, when I finally relented and took a long-overdue vacation. I hadn't taken any vacations for over five years by then, and my employers were urging me to take the holiday pay I'd been saving up and get away from the city for a while. It wasn't my idea, you understand, to take my holidays in the South Seas. My supervisor told my sister -- my supervisor is my brother-in-law, I should mention -- that I didn't have any vacation plans, and she decided to take it upon herself to plan my vacation for me. It seems she and Ralph had spent a couple of weeks six or seven years ago in a sleepy little island-nation called Badhnisia. From what she told me, it was a very relaxing, low-key, and restful place -- the perfect spot to get some much-needed rest and relaxation for an overworked accountant such as myself.

      Yes, I was an accountant. A damned good one, too, if you'll pardon the expression. McChessney, Brockton, and Overton was the name of the firm at which I made my living. I'd be back there now, if... well, I'll get to that soon enough.

      Laura, my sister, bought an airplane ticket for me, and I was soon on my way to the Southeast Asian island of Badhnisia. She'd wanted to put me on a cruise ship for singles, but I would have none of it. The sooner I was in the South Seas and on vacation, the sooner I would be able to go back home and get back to work. Laura had also made all the arrangements for my accommodations in the capitol of Badhnisia, and I was registered to stay at the local Hilton.

      I arrived at the Badhnisia International Airport precisely at 9:36 P.M. and disembarked from the plane. The flight was uneventful, but I was hardly aware of any of it, as I busied myself working on a few remaining accounts in my ledger, which I planned to fax to the office as soon as I was at my hotel. I caught a glimpse of the sunset, I believe, but the golden hue in the sky was already fading to a deep blue as I waited for a taxicab to bring me to my hotel.

      As I waited, a persistent little brown-skinned boy -- a native Badhnisian, I suppose -- kept trying to sell me these tacky little items his mother made, and I could only get him to leave once I'd bought one of them. It was a charm that was supposed to bring luck or ward off evil spirits or something. It fell easily enough into my pocket, but I immediately regretted caving in to the sale and resolved myself to be much more hard-nosed about it the next time I encountered one of those little ragamuffins. The taxi came then, and I went straight to the Hilton.

      After finishing up the accounts I'd been working on, I photocopied them and faxed the pages back to the office, then decided to look around the capitol city and see what all the fuss was about.

      There was some sort of local celebration going on, as there were people with masks and costumes dancing all around in the streets to live music played by the Badhnisian equivalent of a Mariachi band. At first I assumed it was merely to celebrate the upcoming Halloween, but I found out later that night that it was called the Festival of Dreams, and it was apparently a very ancient celebration with numerous odd customs. The sights, sounds, and smells were almost overwhelming as I strolled about, attempting not to be knocked over by a drunken reveler. I interested myself in studying the local color as best I could, but some of the things I saw seemed to defy explanation at the time. I thought later on that I must have been slipped a hallucinogen with a drink at some point during the evening, but I could not be sure that what I saw was not real.

      I cannot recall all that I saw that night, but a few images jump out in my memory as I think about it. A thin, wiry man with a pumpkin for a head whose speech was peppered with curses. A little boy in some kind of pyjamas accompanied by a cartoonish primitive tribesman and a green-skinned large man with a cigar in his mouth. A man in a green business suit with a purple cape, orange gloves and hat, and a yellow and blue gas-mask. A group of toad-like creatures who looked like they belonged on the Moon. A man who had a horribly scarred face under his hat and wore a red-and-black-striped sweater as well as a glove with knives for fingers. And a tall man in black with very pale skin and a head of long spiky hair. It was all very weird.

      It's strange, now that I think back upon that night. I have no recollection of returning to my hotel room, but return there I did, as I woke up the next morning with the sun streaming through my open window. As I thoroughly brushed my teeth and showered, I struggled to recall what I'd seen last night and how I'd returned to the hotel, but nothing came to me. It was a complete blank.

      The Hilton provided a delicious breakfast that morning, but as I dined on fruit and pancakes, I continued to try to remember what had happened to me the previous evening. Still, nothing came to mind. The local newspaper was no help to me. The Festival of Dreams was mentioned, of course, as well as the disappearance of a little girl and the rebuilding efforts on the island nation after a recent tropical storm. I found the charm I'd bought the evening before in my pocket then and remembered where it had come from. Something about it aroused my ire momentarily.

      As I finished my meal and began to walk around the downtown area of the city, I soon saw the signs of the storm's devastation firsthand. There were quite a few new buildings recently built there, but many of the older ones still looked to be in disrepair. I supposed they would be restored in time, but it gave the city a kind of incomplete look about it.

      Finally, I turned toward the beach and found a nice little spot in the shade where I could rest while watching the crowds playing along the shore. I think I drifted off to sleep sometime around noon. I had a strange dream, though -- one that I couldn't account for. It seemed that I opened my eyes while I was resting to see the figure of a slender teenage girl stand over me for a moment, one with eyes that glowed hotly, but I startled myself awake and found no one around. Strange. Very strange.

      The rest of the day passed without incident. During the evening I visited the airport bar and attempted to converse with an attractive young lady there but was rebuffed. I suppose I must have had too much to drink once more, as I found myself wandering along the beach away from the city some hours later, though I don't remember how I got there. As it was a pleasant enough night to stroll, I continued on my way along the beach until I discovered a nice little community by a stream. I decided to head into the town and noted that the largest building was an old temple of the kind one usually saw in Southeast Asia. At any rate, I halted in my tracks as I saw two men speaking in hushed tones by the side of the temple. I would have paid it no mind, except for the fact that one of them looked like his body was made of blue electricity.

      I gasped and stumbled backward at the sight, only to trip and fall to the ground. The other man -- not the man of electricity -- heard me, I suppose, and helped me up. He was an ordinary-looking young man with a New York City accent, short blond hair, and old-fashioned tastes, judging by his green suit and bow-tie. He asked me if I was all right, but I was too startled to answer right away as I noticed that the other man no longer looked like he was made of blue electricity at all, but now looked like an ordinary man of Native American extraction. I merely blurted out that I had become lost and needed a ride back to the city Hilton. The blond man obliged and rode back to the capitol city along a paved road through the forest, which -- at that time of night -- was very dark indeed. He seemed to have something on his mind, as he spoke little, but he was kind enough. At my hotel, he told me to take it easy and said his name was Johnny.

      That night I found it exceedingly difficult to fall asleep. The recent memories I'd racked up during my brief stay on the island were already feverishly tormenting me. It was normal enough, I suppose, to imagine strange scenes while under the influence of alcohol, but the dreams seemed to be something of a different sort. I felt as if I were somehow haunted, but I could not discern the reason.

      Sleep eluded me until the sun's rays had already begun to shine across the horizon, but I did succeed in getting at least four hours of sleep that morning and managed just barely to eat my breakfast before the hotel staff had cleared away the serving tables for the noon-hour. A headache from my lack of sleep was bothering me immensely, but I did not want to return to my lonely hotel room. I needed to be around people, to get myself lost in a crowd. The beach was my first option, but it had been closed off for some reason. From all the ambulances and police cars, it looked as if someone had drowned that morning.

      Thus I began to wander around the market area, resisting countless sales pitches from countless vendors hawking their products. The same little native boy who had sold me the charm kept tugging at my pant legs, offering to exchange one of his little items for the charm that he'd sold me earlier -- muttering something in Pidgin English about his giving me the wrong one -- and it was all I could do to shake the little bugger off. Now, I didn't like to have been taken advantage of the first time when he'd sold me the damned thing, pardon my language, but I was sure as hell -- sorry again -- not going to get taken advantage of twice by the same unkempt little rascal. I told him in forced tones to stop pestering me.

      Now, I'm not a paranoid man -- far from it -- but I could have sworn that someone began to follow me that afternoon. Each time I turned my head, however, I saw no one except the various tourists and city workers about their daily business. Even as I turned out of the downtown area and wandered along next to a private school and a modern-looking building project that seemed out of place on the quaint island, it felt as if someone were matching my every step. Still, as I looked behind me and all around me, I found that no one was there.

      I ate my dinner at a small seafood restaurant that had been built from the shell of an old Dutch clipper on the outskirts of town and enjoyed the early evening sea breeze as the day turned to dusk. My headache had finally begun to fade with the sun, and I found myself able to relax once more. As I walked back into town, I passed a group of natives carrying all their wares as they walked back to their homes from the market downtown. A couple of them stopped to attempt to sell me something, but I angrily refused to buy anything, the trinket in my pocket suddenly arousing my indignation. The little boy who had sold it to me passed me as well, followed, I suppose, by his young mother, who glanced in my direction. I glowered and walked on, ignoring them as they both now tried to get me to exchange the little charm for one of their other baubles. Filthy natives, the lot of them.

      This is where my story may sound strange to you. Instead of walking back to the Hilton, I must have lingered on the edge of town for some reason. I think someone must have waylaid me as well, because much later found myself wandering through the dark forest in the middle of the night -- the witching hour, one might call it -- with a gash on my forehead and no memory of the past few hours at all. The blood had run over my left eye, which saw only red for a few moments until I wiped my forehead with part of my shirt. My hands were bloodied as well, and I don't know how I ever made my way back to the hotel without any help. I do know that I washed myself off at the beach before going to my hotel room, but I must have looked the worse for wear. And I felt as dreadful as I looked.

      Merciful sleep held me in its embrace that night, though the same eluding dreams tormented me once more. Still, I was able to wake up at a godly hour that morning -- the morning of October 31st -- and apply another bandage to my forehead, as well as properly wash myself off. Breakfast was the same as always, though the morning paper piqued my curiosity with a headline that emblazoned across it: "THIRD MURDER SHOCKS ISLAND." My eyes ran quickly over the small lines of type on the cheap pulp paper as a wave of déjà vu swept over me. And then I made a stark realization -- the brigand who had murdered these young women might have been the same vandal who had attacked me that night! It was a completely sensible deduction, one worthy of Holmes, I supposed to myself.

      After breakfast, I decided to take it upon myself to do whatever I could to find the man responsible for these heinous crimes, and I soon made my way out onto the streets of the capitol city in search of a clue. I wasn't sure exactly where to begin, of course -- I am merely an accountant, not a police detective -- but I reasoned that each murder scene would provide clues of their own -- clues that the local police of this backwater little isle would doubtlessly overlook.

      While stopping in at the airport bar by the beach for a refreshment after poring over the scene of the first murder, I bumped into Johnny, the young New Yorker who had given me a ride back into town the night before. He seemed less distracted than before, but looked at me strangely as he asked me how my holidays were going, and he seemed concerned when I explained where I'd gotten my forehead injury. After talking about the weather for a few moments, I confided to him that I had decided to solve the mystery of the three murders of late. At this, he gave me a smile and relaxed somewhat. I suppose he knew from firsthand experience how Mickey Mouse the local police department was, so to speak.

      Out of idle curiosity, I asked him about the new building project, and he managed to convey to me, using numerous American idioms, that it was a part of the island-nation's continuing attempts at modernization. The building would house a kind of embassy for an international organization whose purpose was to protect the island from strange threats -- to wit, a super-hero embassy. This confused me. It was nothing but a small island, was it not? What kind of strange threats could Badhnisia possibly face on a regular enough basis to justify such an expenditure? Despite my disbelief, Johnny insisted that such a place was needed, and that Badhnisia's problems were too much for one hero to handle. Realizing he was serious about the subject, I finally dropped it despite my incredulity.

      The distracted look I'd noticed on him when I'd first met him returned to his face for the next few moments, until finally he asked me to save his seat as he visited the toilet. I assured him I would and returned to my refreshment. A lovely young woman with perfect brown hair wandered into the bar a moment later, searching the establishment with her eyes. I politely offered to buy the young lady a drink but was ignored. Taking another sip as I absentmindedly fondled the charm still in my pocket -- I must have unconsciously brought it along with me again that day -- I looked up to see Johnny returning from the toilet. To my astonishment, the young lady put her arm around him, and the two walked out of the bar, Johnny turning his head briefly to throw a wink in my direction. I raised my glass at him and smiled politely. And then the two were gone.

      I found myself in a foul mood by the time early afternoon came along and decided not to visit the second crime scene. Instead, I began wandering around the tiny little streets of this overcrowded city and attempted to lighten my mood by getting out of the downtown tourist area and visiting the poorer but culturally rich residential areas, where the true Badhnisians lived. My wanderings took me all over the city that afternoon, and quite a few sites I did see until I found myself closer to the downtown area. Walking up the hill once more, I decided to inspect the hurricane-damaged building project still in mid-construction. It was quite a sight, though the so-called super-hero embassy was still some months from completion. My curiosity as to the true purpose of the building beckoned me closer and closer, but the site was closed to the general public. All I could do was gaze at it from without and wonder.

      A few moments afterward, having encircled the lot and seen the building from all sides, I turned to leave for the quaint little seafood restaurant I'd dined at the previous evening for dinner, when from the corner of my eye I saw the young woman from this morning -- Johnny's lady-friend. I saw her only from a distance, as I was around the corner of the lot, and she was stepping from the incomplete building with an armful of papers. My eyes followed her as she walked toward a vehicle two blocks away, and before I'd realized it, my feet were walking in the same direction. Natural curiosity, I suppose. In any event, it was in that direction I needed to go to visit my seafood restaurant, and by the time I'd reached the spot where her vehicle was, it and she were already gone.

      That night, as I sat alone eating my dinner, my thoughts returned again and again to Johnny's lovely young lady-friend, and I found myself quite unable to break my thoughts away from them. It began to anger me that such an ordinary-looking, working-class young man as that, with his stupid-looking green suit, bow-tie, and blond hair, should have such a beauty for a girlfriend. Who was this young man named Johnny, anyway, that he was lucky enough to have such a woman, while I had no one -- not even any prospects? The little charm that had been in my pocket all day found its way into my hand once more, and I began to stroke it softly with my hands as I thought about Johnny and the brunette beauty more and more. It was unfair -- unjust, I told myself. I resolved that I should do something about it.

      Mere evening fancies all, of course -- nothing that anyone in my situation wouldn't have idly thought about. My mood lightened even as the sky darkened, and I walked back down to the beach. Instead of going left toward the downtown area and my hotel, I impulsively went right, toward the little town I'd seen earlier. It was there that I'd first met Johnny, of course, and it was in that direction that his lady friend seemed to have been driving when she left that building project. I didn't have any real intentions, of course, except to see Del Mar while it was still light outside. The last time I'd seen it, it was definitely too dark to actually see much of anything.

      The little town was much closer than I'd remembered it. Isn't it strange how, the second time one makes a trip, it seems to take less time than in the first instance? My theory is that one's mind is much more focused on getting to a place during the first trip to that place, but once one knows how to get there, one is free to think upon other things during subsequent trips to said place, making it seem as if much less time has passed. It was that way during my walk to the town.

      The old temple was indeed the largest building in the little village, of course. I supposed Johnny must have some kind of connection to the temple, possibly as some kind of day-worker helping with its restoration. Perhaps his lady-friend would also be there, I thought to myself idly. I briefly strolled around the small neighborhood, which held little more than a few residential hovels, a tavern, and a few small shops, until I turned my attention back to the temple, which was the reason I had returned there. It was really the only attraction in the whole village, and if I should meet Johnny's lady-friend while visiting it, then all the better.

      I walked around the temple, noting the rundown look of it, and I supposed it had fallen into disuse in recent years. Making my way finally toward the main entrance, I stepped up to the front door and gave a light, cautious knock on it. My stomach was all a-flutters, and I half-regretted that I'd done it. It was only a tremendous strength of willpower that enabled me to remain on that doorstep, the thought of her on my mind. Still, no one answered my knock. I pressed my ear against the door and listened, hearing distant music in the background.

      My right hand slipped into my pocket once more, and I held my lucky charm in my hands again, unconsciously rubbing it nervously. Already it was getting dark, and I would still have to walk back into the city. A moment of despair took over me again, and I wanted to run, but instead I stood my ground. Resolutely, I raised my right hand, the charm still held within it, and pushed the door.

      To my astonishment, it opened! I gasped in a moment of surprise and joy, and with the feeling that I'd gotten away with something, and cautiously stepped inside. The lights were out. Or at least they hadn't been turned on yet, the blue sky still shining its feeble light through the small windows. I walked toward another door within, peeking inside to see what looked like nothing but a normal, empty administration office that had been set up in the ancient temple, and continued to walk down the hallway. The headache that had plagued me off and on during my stay on the island began returning with a vengeance. I passed another couple of empty rooms, keeping one ear perked for any change in the background noise. The music was growing louder as I made my way deeper into the temple, of course, but it was still quite distant. As I crept cautiously down the hallway, I was startled as I heard someone faintly humming. I stopped and flattened myself against the wall until I realized the sound was coming from a room two doors down.

      The sound of heels click-clacking on the floor prompted me to duck into the nearest abandoned room as I heard someone walking down the hallway past the room I was in, humming all the way. Through the crack in the partially opened doorway I caught a glimpse of pretty, flowing brown hair. I smiled to myself as my hand fondled the charm in my pocket. Perhaps it really was a lucky charm, after all. Perhaps with it my wishes really could come true.

      I waited for a few moments until I was sure there was no one in the corridor, and then I carefully opened the door of the room and crept back out of it, heading toward the main office, from which a single light now cast long shadows down the hallway. My stomach felt queasy from excitement as I slid along the wall, my head turned and eyes peering for any signs of movement. After another moment I found my way to the corner of the wall, where two corridors intersected. The office was at the opposite corner on the same side of the wall. The sweet, sweet sound of the girl's humming caused me to stop and reflect for a moment. How old was she? Seventeen? Sixteen? She could have been fifteen, for all I knew. The anger that had been held so long suppressed erupted in me once more. That bastard Johnny, I thought. What was he doing with such a young girl? He should be ashamed of himself! Hoping she was more like fourteen, I walked toward the office door with more confidence and slowly opened it.

      The door did not creak, like you'd have thought it would. No, despite the rundown look of the place, it was obvious that at least the office area was well-looked-after. I soundlessly entered the dimly lit office, where Johnny's lady friend was humming. I couldn't see anyone, though, until I stepped fully inside.

      And there she was. The young girl whose name, I learned later, was Daisy, was bent over a filing cabinet, her posterior to me with her back arched in a most lovely, lovely way. I felt a red rush come over my face and body, and I could not help myself any further. Dropping the charm -- which was still gripped firmly in my right hand -- into my pocket, I rushed over to her and placed my hands on her hips, embracing her with my body. She giggled, then, in such a delightful way, that my stomach began fluttering even more. But as soon as she said the words, "Oh, Johnny," my feelings for her turned to anger, and I gripped her much more tightly. She stopped as if to listen a moment, and then tried to turn completely around to look at me, her face already bespoiled with a frown upon it. My hand clamped over her mouth before she could utter a scream.

      I... I can't remember exactly what happened next. It was all so strange. In one moment, I was exploring the folds of Daisy's flowery summer dress and what lay beneath it with my hands, and in the next moment I was on the floor, opening my eyes in a brightened room, the gash on my forehead bleeding once more. Several figures stood over me now, silhouetted in the ceiling light, throwing questioning looks at me. Finally, one of them bent down to speak to me. It was Johnny.

      I greeted him warmly, happy to see a familiar face in this strange setting, but he greeted me only with a cold stare and a harshly worded question, made all the more startling since this man looked like he rarely ever became this angry. I stared back at him with confusion, and he barked his question at me again. I frowned, not comprehending what he was saying with the blood pounding in my skull, and I attempted to sit up. He pushed me back down and repeated his question, more forcefully now.

      Johnny's now-furious face seemed to shout at me once more, and I recoiled, catching glimpses of the others standing around me. A startled gasp leaped from my mouth as I saw the others. The young Native American man made of blue electricity I'd seen earlier was present, and he pointed one threatening arm of azure lightning at me, until a young girl wearing some kind of super-hero costume pushed it away and said something to him, pointing at the gash on my forehead with her other arm. But even more startling was a hovering, cartoonish man of pink-hued energy hovering in place and looking like nothing so much as some kind of genie made from a living thunderbolt. As I recoiled in fear, my searching hand gripped the charm still in my pocket.

      A strange thing then happened. As soon as my hand touched the charm, it seemed as if my hearing returned to me suddenly, and I could now hear a tumult of shouts from the figures around me, who now, seeing that I was grabbing for the charm, all clawed at me in an attempt to restrain me. My fist, holding the small charm, shot up in the midst of the group, and they were all thrust back from me, silencing them for the moment.

      I looked at the little lucky charm in awe, almost laughing as I saw this tiny thing do what it did. Looking at it for a moment as I rose to my feet, the throbbing feeling in my head seeming to diminish, I thrust it out before me once more. As before, the others were all pushed back and looked shocked at the fact. Realization of the power that was in my hands went through me in a moment of comprehension, and it seemed as if there was no one in that room or anywhere who could stop me.

      Then the young girl whispered something to Johnny, who nodded at her unintelligible words. The next words I heard audibly were something that sounded like:

      "Say, you oughtta relax."

      The glee I had been feeling gave way suddenly to shock, as, in a flash, the living pink thunderbolt suddenly moved before me, an odd-looking, unnatural grin appearing on this being's face as it looked at me -- looked through me -- with those strange electrical eyes. It reached out to me, then, and then it... and then it... touched... it touched... my forehead...

      I-I've got to stop here. This must all sound completely crazy to you, but I assure you that I am not. In fact, if there was one true thing I could say right now, it is that I am the only sane man on this planet... nay, this entire universe. You -- you haven't seen what I have seen, so stop looking at me like that. Stop it! I say again -- I am not insane! I do not belong here! Let me go! Unhand me, you b--

      Transcript of first session with patient Clifford Nathaniel Anderson, dated 1988/11/17, ends here.
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