Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Troubling of Goldfish

The third entry in The Moistville Trilogy (also comprising "A Conspiracy of Prawns" and "The Amphibian Brief") was inspired (such as it was) by learning that the term for a group of goldfish (like a murder of crows or a pod of whales) is (and I am not making this up) a "troubling." Well, that was just too good to pass up, so what came out was a horror story--I got into kind of a Stephen King groove, apparently (I think I had been watching the TV movie based on Salem's Lot starring David Soul and James Mason, which I still think is pretty creepy). I would say that this dates from about 1994 or 1995, given the AOL jokes.

This is the longest one yet (16,000 words; one thing about having a real job back then, I had a lot more free time, it would seem). Thus, I'll post it in three parts.
"A Troubling of Goldfish"

What is the nature of Evil? Just when we think we know its form, it changes shape, like a clever virus with shifting antigens, defying its enemies to find ways to eradicate it. It is known that people can be Evil, but can inanimate objects also become infused with whatever that force is that works in unspeakably dark ways? Has the ability of Evil to affect people transformed into an ability to affect things? And if so, what does it mean for the future of humanity?

“That’s very good, lieutenant,” said Santos, “and raises important questions, but does it really belong on an insurance claim form?”

“That car shot out of nowhere and nailed my rear fender. No one can be that bad a driver, not even a New York City cab driver. The Force of Darkness is the only other explanation,” said Lieutenant Jordan, signing his claim form and folding it into an envelope.

“Speaking of the Force of Darkness,” said Santos, changing the subject slightly, “someone has finally bought the old Edgard House.”

“And this is important because . . . .”

“Oh, that’s right, you’re too young to remember the trouble up there.”

“Well, I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”

“You’ve been reading my back pages again, haven’t you?” said Santos somewhat cryptically. “At any rate, it was around ’66 the trouble happened. That was one hell of a summer. The weather was amazing. You know how hot August can be around here, well . . . .”

“Captain, as much as I would like to stroll merrily down Memory Lane with you, I am aware of my own mortality, so please make your point.”

“Mm. Old Edgard House, the town’s septic tank unclogger, murdered his entire family. He’s still in the State Prison. ”

“That’s awful. How did he kill them?”

“No one knows. The bodies were never found. In fact, there was no evidence that a crime had even been committed. Actually, the whole mess was purported to have been an ugly rumor started by his neighbor, who overheard and misinterpreted a conversation between House and the milkman. Apparently, the phrase ‘Could you not deliver any more cheese’ was heard as ‘I killed my family and buried them in the garden.’ Within hours, the rumor was all over town. About two in the afternoon, it reached police headquarters and they had no choice but to pick him up. It was a much smaller town back then, before the mall was built . . . .”

“What had happened to his family?” asked Jordan, hoping to end this story as soon as possible.

“Nothing, really. Some mini-series was premiering that night and they were all in the living room glued to the TV. By the time it ended and they emerged, it was too late; House had been arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced. Justice, or something quite like it, tends to be swift in small towns.”

“And no one bothered to release him?”

“Well, the paperwork was a nightmare and everyone kept putting it off. As it turns out, he found Jesus while in prison, and after one connubial visit, his wife decided she didn’t want him back. They left the house, and it’s been abandoned ever since. It’s rumored to be haunted.”

“So who bought the place?” asked Jordan.

“I don’t know, but I’d be curious to find out. It certainly must be a brave soul.”

The desk sergeant poked his head into Santos’s office. “Sir? There appears to be a problem on 13th Street. Something about an eerie death.”

“Well, that about does it for the backstory, lieutenant. Sergeant, we’re on our way.”

Way indeed.

“Most peculiar, lieutenant,” said Santos, lost in thought.

“No, I didn’t think you’d like the Carmen Miranda hat,” said Jordan, removing his non-standard-issue headgear.

“Mm. And what do you make of this?” Santos asked, pointing to the body on the floor.

“Oh, jeez, I didn’t even see him down there.” Jordan bent down and examined the body. “No marks on his body that I can detect. Was he naked when he was found?”

“Yes,” said Santos, consulting his notebook. “I’m told that his name is Herb Smeldman, a 44-year-old cereal-box writer. He was found by his next-door neighbor, who says she found the body at 3:00 this afternoon, which is in about a half hour. Oh, damn, I forgot to set my watch ahead last night.” He reset his watch to 3:30, and returned his attention back to his notebook. “Anyway, he was found naked lying next to the fishbowl.” He looked over at a two-gallon fishbowl that housed an extremely large goldfish, which seemed remarkably unconcerned about the whole business. “There is no sign of any forced entry into the house, although the front door is always unlocked. The neighbor, a Miss Judith Pulp, was at home watching UFO on the Sci-Fi Channel. She accurately summed up today’s episode, which is no easy feat, so her alibi checks out. From the looks of it, he was apparently in the act of talking with his fish when he died.” He paused. “You know, that is one huge goldfish. It barely fits in that bowl.”

“Could it be natural causes?” asked Jordan.

“It’s possible, or perhaps Smeldman just overfed it. At any rate, have Smeldman’s body sent to Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder for analysis. Perhaps he can come up with something.”

“Captain, should we bring the fish in for questioning?” asked Jordan.

“No, I don’t think he’s likely to be able to tell us anything, for a variety of reasons.”

A uniformed officer approached Santos. “Sir, I don’t know how important this is, but I found the receipt for the purchase of the goldfish. You may find it of interest.”
Santos took the slip of paper and looked at it. “Twenty dollars for a goldfish? That’s rather a lot, even for one that size. Perhaps it’s a purebred. From Arthur’s
Aquarium. Never heard of it.” He pocketed the receipt.

“Evidence?” asked Jordan.

“You never know.”

“Captain, something fascinating,” said Jordan, later that day. He was in his office at headquarters, sitting at his computer.

“What, you’ve finally managed to get back to Myst Island from the Stoneship Age?” asked Santos.

“No, a somewhat odd correlation. On a whim I checked out Arthur’s Aquarium. It opened about a month ago, and is owned by an Arthur Mason, who moved to town shortly before opening.”

“Are you planning on buying a fish, lieutenant?”

“No, but Arthur Mason is also the person who moved into the Edgard House.”

“That is interesting. Who knows, it may even be useful. Keep checking. Now I have to meet with Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder. Wish me luck.”

“Good luck, Captain.”

“I’m afraid, Bernard, that I can’t be certain of the cause of death. Aside from the fact that there doesn’t appear to be a drop of blood in his body, I can find nothing wrong with him,” said Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder. Smeldman’s body was lying on an examining table in the middle of Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder's lab, covered with a sheet.

“Why does that sheet have Darth Vader on it?” asked Santos.

“The supply room was out of white sheets, so I took my son’s Star Wars bed sheets. Actually, it kind of livens up the place . . . .”

“Adolph, a forensics lab is in no need of being ‘livened up.’ You know how the commissioner feels about this sort of levity. I still get grief about the time he looked in your tissue samples freezer and found as pint of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream.”

“All right, I’ll get a new sheet. Sears is having a white sale this afternoon . . . .”

“At any rate, back to the cause of death . . . .”

“As I was saying, aside from the fact that he’s dead, there is no compelling reason why this man can’t just get up and walk out of here.”

It was at that point that Smeldman’s body stirred.

“Did you see that?” asked Santos, looking at the sheet.

“Oh, some residual muscular contractions are normal after death. I see it all the time.”

Smeldman’s body then sat up, the sheet falling down, exposing his face. Smeldman shook his head and rubbed his eyes.

“This, however, is a bit more unusual,” said Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder.

Smeldman threw off the sheet and walked out the door, slamming it behind him.

“How rude!” said Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder.

Santos ran for the phone and dialed Jordan’s number. “Jordan,” he said into the receiver. “Smeldman’s body has just got up and left the forensics lab. I want all units to be on the lookout for a naked dead man. . . .That’s an interesting question, lieutenant. I’m not sure to what extent he can be ‘taken alive’.”

Alive indeed.

Late that night, Santos sat in his living room staring out the window at the garden gnome on his lawn. It needed cleaning again, he thought. Dwelling on something as seemingly insignificant as a garden gnome was to Santos a good way of forgetting the unforgettable events of earlier that day. They had not been able to find Smeldman’s suddenly reanimated body. Although initially he hadn’t thought that it would have been hard to find a naked zombie wandering the streets of Moistville, but, well, Halloween was fast approaching and it became a more and more common sight. He walked across the room and went into the bathroom to look out the rear window. On the hill he saw the Edgard House silhouetted against the sky. Strangely, the Edgard House was visible from the bathroom window of every house in town. It had been designed by one of the first set of architecture students from the Lakeside Elementary School. Although very little frightened Santos—snakes and Cheese Puffs were it, really—he had to admit, to himself if no one else, that the Edgard House scared him silly. He had been eight when it was built, nine when the trouble with House happened, and a year later one of the infamous “dares” among his childhood friends involved walking into the house. Whoever could go in the farthest without running out in terror typically won. Won what? Santos asked himself in retrospect. Courage, perhaps. Or machismo, or some other abstract concept that at least one didn’t have to pay taxes on. Well, not yet anyway. It had been the Johnson Administration, after all. He had won his courage many times over. He even framed it and hung it on the wall behind his desk. He struggled to take his eyes off the house, but was unable. He found himself tripping back in time

I dare you, Bernard, to go into that abandoned house. You’ll never do it ‘cause you’re chicken. This was the voice of his chief nemesis in grammar school, accompanied by the prerequisite clucking sounds. I’m not chicken, Adolph. I once tried to spell your last name. Yes, his chief nemesis in grade school, Adolph Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder, was now working for him. God, he loved it. Dare you dare you dare you dare you!

“God, you’re irritating,” he replied. “All right, I’ll go into the bloody house.”

With Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder and his pack of cronies looking on, he walked up the driveway towards the house. Its front door seemed to beckon to him; he took the welcome mat at face value. A carpet of overgrown weeds covered the top of the steps that led up to the front door, as did a tangled web of supermarket flyers. Some people have no fear, he thought.

“Bring something out!” yelled Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder.

“Like a severed head!” added one of his cronies.

“Or a finger!” contributed another.

“Or some aspirin, if you come across any!” yelled another one, missing the point completely.

Santos ignored them and continued up the steps. He grasped the knob and turned it slowly, then pushed the door inward. As he did, he heard a loud rustling. His heart pounding, he looked down to see what was making the noise, and was slightly relieved to see that it was only a big pile of unforwarded mail that had been slid through the mail slot. By virtue of his youth, Santos had yet to experience the abject terror of the post office. Inside, he looked around nervously, and was surprised to see as many cobwebs as were hanging from the ceiling and in the corners like Spanish moss. This was, after all, before web sites would become fashionable. There was a set of stairs in front of him, and he mounted them one by one, the wood creaking beneath his sneakers. His mind was crowded with thoughts of building-code violations. At the top of the stairs, he came to a hallway, He turned to his left and what he saw sent the adrenalin shooting through him at Warp 10. He turned around and ran screaming from the house. He ran all the way down the driveway, where he was intercepted by Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder. In tears, and crying rather effusively, he spluttered, “It was horrible! It was horrible!”

His terror was infectious. “What was it? What did you see?” they all asked him, practically in unison.

“It was . . . . it was . . . . A Donovan poster. A big one, too. He was wearing a brocade coat . . . . Oh, the horror, the horror.”

“My god, that sounds awful,” said Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder, silently vowing to never go into the house.

“Terrible,” chimed in one of his cronies.

“It must have been awful,” said another.

“Actually, I like Donovan,” said a third.

The ringing of the phone thankfully snapped Santos back to reality.

“Hello?” he said, then realized he was still in the bathroom.

He walked out to the living room, still in somewhat of a daze, and picked up the phone. It was Jordan.

“Captain, are you all right? I didn’t interrupt . . . something, did I?”

“No, no, I was having some kind of acid flashback.”

“An acid flashback? You?”

“Mm. Too much folic acid in my diet. At any rate, what’s the trouble?”

“Well, although Smeldman hasn’t turned up yet, there has been another death.”


“15th Street.”

“I’ll be right there.”

He took one more look out the back window at the Edgard House, then ran out the door.

It was some time before Santos realized that 15th Street was much longer than he thought it was. He supposed that he should have asked for a specific address.

“The body is that of Melvin Snogg, a 53-year-old professor of applied nudity at Drexel University, apparently on leave in Moistville for the fall.” He looked down at the body. “Same M.O., Captain,” said Jordan. “Lying dead and naked in front of a goldfish bowl. The goldfish is just as large as Smeldman’s, too.”

“Hmm. See if you can find a receipt for the purchase of the goldfish. I have a theory.”

Jordan opened a rolltop desk sitting idly in the corner of the living room. A cat leapt out at him.

“Zoinks!” shouted Jordan in surprise.

“‘Zoinks’, Lieutenant?” asked Santos. “What, have you been watching Scooby-Doo again?”

The cat retracted its claws, much to the relief of Jordan’s right shoulder. It jumped to the floor and ran over to the goldfish bowl. It looked down at the body of Snogg, and then began meowing and hissing at the large fish.

“Captain, that’s pretty peculiar,” said Jordan.

“Not really, Lieutenant. Cats and fish are natural adversaries, unless you raise them together, and so long as at least one of them is kept in a glass bowl.”

“Or a rolltop desk.”

“That is a possibility.”

Assuming the cat was just being cute, cuddly, and feral, they ignored it. Jordan rummaged through some papers in the desk, and found the receipt for the fish. “Captain, Snogg bought the fish—not surprisingly—from Arthur’s Aquarium three days ago. Cost: twenty dollars.”

“Hmm. This is damn peculiar, Lieutenant.”

Jordan noticed another slip of paper clipped to the receipt. It read, Goldie, weight on 10/29 2.3 oz. He showed the note to Santos.

“But today is the 29th of October, or did I forget to turn my calendar back?” He thought. “That weight must have been taken this morning. Jordan, take that fish down to the lab and have it weighed. Something fi–”

“Captain, please don’t say ‘fishy.’ I implore you.”

Fishy, indeed.

“Captain, something odd,” said Jordan, back at headquarters.

Santos strode across the room. “Aside from the fact that Snogg’s goldfish now weighs 10 pounds when this morning it weighed 2.3 ounces?”

“Perhaps Snogg’s bathroom scale was broken. You know how inaccurate those things are.”

“Mm, yes, I’m quite aware of how inaccurate bathroom scales can be.” He ran his hand across his stomach. “Anyway, what is so odd?”

“Remember Judith Pulp, Smeldman’s next door neighbor who claims to have been watching UFO on the Sci-Fi Channel when he died?”

“Ah, yes. I remember it as if it were yesterday.”

“Actually, sir, it was yesterday.”

“Well, that’s why I remember it. Go on.”

“Well, I checked the TV listings, primarily because I wanted to see if The Five Mrs. Buchanans was coming back. It’s not.” He looked crestfallen.

“Jordan, that show was cancelled years ago.”

“Well, they brought Star Trek back after, what, twenty years?”

Santos glowered at him.

“Anyway, sir, it seems that UFO isn’t on on the east coast until two o'clock.”

“And? We were there at 3:30. She found the body at 3:00. If I remember correctly, UFO is a one-hour show.”

Jordan smiled slightly. “Captain, what time is it?”

“It’s not time for lunch yet, if that’s what you mean. It’s . . .” he looked at his watch, “11:30.”

“Wrong. It’s 10:30.”

“Hmm. Lunch is much farther off than I thought.” He thought for a moment. “Wait a minute! Why is it 10:30?”

Jordan explained. “Neither of us caught this at the time, but your watch was correct when you arrived at the Smeldman house yesterday afternoon. Remember? Your watch said 2:30. Miss Pulp said she found the body at 3:00, so you assumed it was actually 3:30. And you said, and I quote, ‘Damn, I forgot to set my watch ahead last night.’ But I had set my watch yesterday morning to the wacky morning deejays on WORM, who pride themselves on taking everything in the world as a joke except the correct time. And they must have been right, because This Week With David Brinkley came on at the exact right time. I never reset my watch since then, so logically it must still be correct.”

“So I mistakenly set it ahead. But what does that have to do with Miss Pulp?”

“She said she found the body at 3:00. But we were at Smeldman’s at 2:30. She therefore neglected to change her watch Saturday night and therefore thought that it was 3:00.”

“But wait a minute. If she neglected to change her watch then we would have to have been there at 4:30.”

“No, sir. You seem to have forgotten that this is October. We set the clocks back in the fall, not ahead.”

“Wait, isn’t it ‘spring back, fall forward’?”

“No, it’s actually ‘spring forward, fall back.’”

Santos snapped his fingers. “Aha! I understand now. If it was actually 2:00 when she found the body, then she wouldn’t have been able to watch UFO yet. So how did she know the details of the episode before she had seen it?”

“Maybe it was a repeat? Or maybe there was a description in the TV listings? Who knows?”

At that point an elderly woman wandered in the front door. “Hello, Melvin?” she called.

Santos walked over to her. She looked past him to where Snogg was lying on the floor. “Melvin doesn’t look too good, does he?”

“No,” said Santos, “he has definitely seen better days.”

“It was his nudity, you know. I always told him it would get him in trouble. Especially when he visited the Vatican.”

“He’s dead, you know,” said Santos. “Did you know him well?”

“Not really, no. I had seen him naked, but then most of the Eastern Seaboard has, so I suppose that doesn’t count for much.”

“No, that’s probably true,” said Santos, desperately wishing she would leave. “I don’t suppose you know how he died.”

She thought. “No, I was at home all morning, watching my stories. There was a program on the television called The Prisoner. In this episode, the boy who is trapped in a mysterious Village, and who is only known as Number Six, had to defeat The General. All the residents of the Village were given subliminal history lessons, and they all knew the answers to test questions posed by other members of the Village. This nice Number Six thinks something very odd is going on, so he goes to some kind of intellectual retreat, and confronts the Professor, the man who is running these subliminal telecasts, and he fights with the Professor’s wife—”

“Yes, thank you, Mrs. . . .”

“—and then he tries to club the Professor with a stick, but he’s made of porcelain. And then some other number tries to help him by giving him a subliminal message that will reveal the General’s plan, but the General turns out to be a big computer and Number Six destroys it by asking it the question ‘why?’ and it blows up, but he’s still trapped in the Village.”

“That’s quite remarkable that you remember all that.”

“I have an excellent memory.”

Santos was confused. “What channel was the program on?”

“I don’t know. Maybe the Sci-Fi Channel. I must go now.” She turned to leave. “Oh, what will become of Melvin’s goldfish?”

“We’re going to find a new home for him. He’ll be fine. Don’t worry.”

She suddenly turned very pale, and her eyes glazed over. As if in a trance, she intoned in a deep, oddly reverbed voice, “You cannot do that. The Master wouldn’t approve.”

This struck Santos as strange. “‘The Master’? Who is The Master?”

She suddenly popped out of her trance, and seemed to forget what it was she just said. “The Master? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe Bobby Fischer? Good day, officer.” She strode back out the door.

Santos, not quite knowing what to make of that, turned to Jordan. “Lieutenant, I don’t quite know what to make of that.”

“Yes, I know.”

Santos looked puzzled. “Have that goldfish brought down to the lab for analysis. Oh, and have Snogg brought there, too. And make sure they’re clearly labeled. I don’t want Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder to get confused. I need to find a car park.”

“You know,” said Jordan, watching Santos pace, “they’re called ‘parking lots’ in this country. Besides, you’re not even British.”

“Shh. I need to think.” Santos continued to pace. “What do we have? Two middle-aged men, both found naked and dead, with no discernible marks on their bodies. Both are found right next to an abnormally large goldfish. And both have next-door neighbors who can accurately summarize obscure British science fiction programs. Lieutenant, this doesn’t make a great deal of sense.”

“Is it supposed to? Isn’t it a bit early for it to make sense, sir?”

“You may be right. But—and forgive me if I sound melodramatic—I think there is evil afoot in Moistville.”

“Well, Time-Warner did acquire the cable system.”

“No, no, I don’t mean that. Something is clouding my mind. Something I cannot explain. I’ve been making mistakes, Jordan. Like the business with the watch on Sunday. I know I reset it to the proper standard time. And I know full well that you set it back in the fall. No, Lieutenant, there is evil here. Any dark force that hampers our ability to properly determine the time must be destroyed. Think of it, Jordan! No one knowing what time it is!”

“Does anybody really know what time it is, Captain?”

“Maybe in Chicago they don’t, but in our modern world we need to. Oh, this evil force knows us too well. You don’t eat our brains, or blow up the White House, or duplicate people. No, it knows that to truly conquer Earth, you screw up our ability to tell time.”

“Sir? Has it been a while since you had a vacation?”

Santos snapped to attention. “No. First thing tomorrow, I think I’ll pay Arthur Mason a little visit.”

That evening found Santos once again staring out the window at the Edgard House. Santos didn’t want to talk to that evening, so that evening was sent home rather abruptly. Santos thought back to his previous flashback

(but that wasn’t the whole story, was it?)

and winced. He knew what was in store for him. He had lived his memories, so no flashbacks could truly surprise him. Except perhaps for that one evening . . . .

“Go on!” urged Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder. “You can do it!”

Why young Bernard Santos agreed to spend a whole evening inside the Edgard House was a mystery to him. Maybe it was once again

(dare you dare you dare you)

the need to prove something. Proving those geometry

(a squared plus b squared equals c squared)

theorems didn’t seem to cut it with the malevolent Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder. No, the mischievous Adolph

(dare you dare you dare you)

knew the powers of persuasion needed to convince a ten-year-old boy

(is this getting annoying yet?)

to do anything he wanted. In Santos’s case, that happened to include revealing

(attention at Tuckahoe: the 6:46 train to New York will be 15 minutes late)

his credit card information. So, ultimately, he agreed to do it. Even if it meant camping inside that

(traffic on the BQE is heavy, we suggest you use alternate routes)

house. He had brought his sleeping bag, several night lights, a toothbrush and

(weather for the tri-state area, heavy rain in the morning, clearing up around noon, with heavy fog in coastal areas; stay tuned for Len Berman with sports)

a heavy towel.

A light touch on his shoulder jolted him back to reality, or at least an as yet unexperienced reality.

“I’m sorry,” a female voice purred, “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

He spun around and beheld a creature that walked in beauty like the darling buds of May. Or, no, wait a minute, she was compared to the night, no, oh, damn. He never could remember those sonnets. At any rate, she had a figure that resembled a perfect hourglass, or at the very least one of those three-minute egg timers. She had the kind of legs that went all the way to the floor and just stopped. Her heaving bosom reminded him of ripe muskmelons, either Cucumis melo, or either of the varieties of reticulatis, cantalupensis, or even inodorus, native to central Asia and botanically known as pepos. Her long, platinum blonde hair looked as if she had been growing it all her life.

“Who are you?”

“I am for you, Bernard Santos.”

She began to caress his shoulders and rub her leg against his.

“How did you get in here?”

“I crawled through the keyhole. Think of me as a black widow spider.” He suspected she meant this to be alluring.

“You hide in dry wood piles and build irregularly-shaped webs?”

She appeared to be having rather a good time with his leg.

“Is it true what they say about cops?” she purred.

“No. We don’t gratuitously beat people up.”

“Is it true you carry a big gun?”

“Actually, I prefer not to carry a gun. There’s not much call for weapons in a town like Moistville. Although, I did once thwart a burglar by hurling a garden gnome at him. Does that count?”

“Mmm. Was it a big gnome?”

“Well, as gnomes go, I suppose so. Look, Miss . . .”

“You don’t seem too turned on. Don’t I excite you? Look, this is your third case so far and you’re still pretty sexually ambiguous. I think you need to loosen up.”

She began to blow in his ear gently.

“I’m sorry, but like the Vulcans I only take a mate every seven years, at the time of the pon farr.”

“You dress in women’s clothing?”

“No, that’s the jamie farr. This is something . . . different.”

He was beginning to fall under her spell, but struggled to resist it. He had once fallen under a woman’s spell, and had found himself on a stage, lying on his back supported by two straight-backed chairs. He hoped never to relive that experience again.

“Whisper sweet nothings in my ear,” he said to her, not quite sure what a sweet nothing was. Perhaps this would finally clarify it for him.

“Oh, yes,” she obliged, “now we’re just like Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, in that episode of Space: 1999, where the Moon is being pulled into a black hole—”

He came to his senses abruptly and pushed her way. “Another science fiction plot summary! All right! Where’s the goldfish?”

Like the elderly woman in Snogg’s house, she went into a kind of trance. “The Goldfish. So, you’ve been to see the Master. Good; he’s been wanting to see you for a long time, but is rather shy about these kinds of things. He’s not very adept at socializing or making new friends, which could explain rather a lot.”

He decided to play along. “Yes, I’ve been to see the Master.” he paused, hoping to get another cue from her.

“Oh . . . good,” she said haltingly, as if not sure how to continue. “What did you think of him?”

“Uh . . . seemed like a nice guy.” He thought wildly. “Um . . . taller than I thought he’d be.”

“Mm. He wears lifts. Don’t tell him I told you. And the hair; bad toupee. For some reason, he seems to think being short and bald diminishes his hold over people. I told him he shouldn’t worry about such things. He has the power to move continents, and he has to wear a wig? Silly, really.”

“Right, right. Well, ours is not to reason why. So, um, where is the Master now? I thought I’d drop by and say hello. You know, see if he wants to go out for a beer or something.”

“What do you mean, ‘where is the Master’? What a silly question. You—” She suddenly leapt back in terror. “You have not been to see the Master! I can see it in your colors. You were trying to trick me! You have not seen the Master of the Great Dominions.”

“Oh, that Master,” Santos said, hoping to recover, or at the very least survive the evening. “I thought you meant Bernie Edelstein, the bowling champ. We call him the ‘Master,’ just for kicks, you know. He also wears lifts and a cheap wig.”

“You evil—or, no, check that—you completely non-evil man! You will pay for your crimes!”

With that, she spun around and marched out the door.

He stared after her for a long time.

“That was weird.”

Weird, indeed.

“Ah, yes, the goldfish,” said Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder. “Carassius auratus, in the order Cypriniformes in the family Cyprinidae. It’s an Asiatic fish, and does reach sixteen inches in length and can weigh up to three pounds.”

“But according to Snogg’s note, it weighed only a couple of ounces earlier in the day. Do they grow so fast so quickly?” asked Santos.

“No, not really. But one never knows.”

They watched the horribly obese fish lurching back and forth in the very small bowl. Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder reached in and grabbed the fish. He immediately screamed and withdrew his hand from the tank, releasing the fish.

“Ah! The little bastard bit me!”

Santos looked strangely at the fish. “A biting goldfish?”

“And that's not all,” said Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder, sucking on his injured finger. “Remember Melvin Snogg? Well, his body just got up and left, too, just like Smeldman’s did. So now there are two naked zombies wandering around town.”

“Well, that’s only a few less than usual,” said Santos reflectively. “Anyway, keep examining that goldfish. I’m certain there’s something unusual about it. I’m going to meet with Arthur Mason.”

“Ah, yes, Arthur Mason,” said Schlickelmeinengrubenbieder. “Didn’t he move into the old Edgard House? You remember that place, don’t you, Bernard? Didn’t you spend a night in it once?” He chuckled malevolently. “If I remember correctly, you, shall we say, ‘left your mark’ in it.”

Santos was not amused. “And, if you’ll recall, Adolph, I did get my revenge on you. Let’s see, how did that go . . .?”

“All right! Save it for another flashback. Don’t you have to meet with Mason?”

Meet, indeed.
To be continued...

No comments: