You know those books where it’s like the normal world, but goblins and zombies and other fairy-tale things exist, too? Where magic is real, and the heroes use it to keep the nasties at bay and save the day? I really like those books. It’s not just because they’re a fun read, although some of them certainly are. It’s mostly because, in the ones that I like best, the heroes have so much knowledge. They know exactly how their magic works, and how to train it; they know what the bad guys are, and how to beat them; they’ve got organizations that give support and gear; they’ve got friends and contacts who can provide answers or skills that they need. Heck, even the Ghostbusters at least had Tobin’s Spirit Guide. I like to imagine what that would be like, because when I have to deal with these things, I never have anything like that.
On the other hand, the heroes in those books usually have to deal with really overpowering stuff, instead of just one, um, well…I’m not sure what to call it. This weird thing in front of me, that seems to be trying to drain a little girl somehow, while her mother cries by her bedside, unable to even see it. I get one of these, instead of a vampire army or an angry god or something. So maybe it comes out even.
It sure would be nice to have some idea what the heck it is, though. Or where it came from. Or what it’s doing. Anything at all, really.
Anyway. Back to the task at hand. I’ve never seen anything exactly like this before, but in the past when I’ve run across something I can see but others can’t, I’ve usually been able to affect it by, um, well…hmm. I’m not sure how to describe it, since I’m not entirely sure how it works. It’s not like I’m exactly seeing it; more like I can sense it, but with some unknown sense that I don’t have any conscious control over. I do see it when I look, even if nobody else does, but if I close my eyes, I can still sense it, often even more strongly. And if I just focus on it, really concentrate on the fact that it’s there, then that seems to hurt it. If I can keep that focus strong enough, I can hold it in place, and if I can keep that up long enough, then it seems to actually kill it. Well, it’s hard to tell. It kind of dissolves, anyway, and it doesn’t seem to come back. You have to make sure that they can’t come back; if you let them run off, they often return later, for whatever reason. Even if they didn’t, they’d probably be off somewhere doing the same thing to someone else. I know from personal experience that whatever they’re doing is very unpleasant for their victims, so I do my best to keep them from getting away.
Of course, this also gets their attention, and they seem to be able to focus on me, too, if I’m doing it to them. It hurts me, too, like it does them. Then it becomes a battle of wills; like a staring contest, only not staring with eyes, but…um, well. Like I said, I don’t know exactly how it works, but it does. Or more accurately, it has worked before, and it might work this time too, if this thing is similar to those other things, and if I can keep my focus strong enough for long enough. I wish there was a handbook for these things.
I turned to the girl’s mother. “Ms. Williams, I can see the trouble, and I may be able to do something. The way I do that is very hard to describe, but it will help me if you can stay as still and quiet as you can. If this works the way that I hope it will, Becky’s going to wake up, but the problem won’t be completely solved yet; it’ll take a little while after that. She might be disoriented or confused. Try to keep her as still and quiet as possible, too, if you can. Can you do that for me?”
The sobbing, red-haired woman at the girl’s bedside looked up at me and nodded.
“Good. That will help me a lot. Now, there’s one other thing. I’m not sure how much time this is going to take, and it might seem to you at some point that I’m in distress. It might just be moans or shudders, or it could be a nosebleed, or blood on my lips.” I bit my tongue doing this once, before I knew to use a mouthguard. The guy that I’d been helping that time had freaked out a little. Plus, it took forever to heal. “It’s important that you not disturb me, even if you’re trying to help me. If I actually do pass out and collapse, though, wake me up as soon as you can. Splash water on my face, slap me, whatever it takes. Okay?”
The young mother’s face paled. “It sounds dangerous. What is it that you’re going to do, exactly? It won’t hurt Becky, will it?” she asked.
“It’s almost impossible to describe in a way that makes any sense. Believe me, I’ve tried, and afterwards I’ll try again if you really want me to. The best description I’ve been able to come up with is that I have to concentrate very hard, but that’s not really it. Maybe you could think of it as a form of meditation. I know it sounds very strange. What I do won’t hurt Becky at all, I promise, but it’s possible that it could um, well…stir up the problem that she’s having. I don’t know if that would make it any worse or not. No two things like this ever seem to be the same. I won’t do anything at all if you don’t want me to, but you’ve tried everything else you can think of, haven’t you? People try everything else before they’ll consider me. It’s understandable.”
“Nobody has been able to help, and she’s not getting better. I’ll try anything…” she trailed off. “Can you really do it?”
I tried to sound reassuring. “I think so. All I can say for sure is that I’ll do my best, and when I’ve seen things like this before, that’s been enough to work. You’ll be right by Becky’s side the whole time. Do you want me to try?”
She closed her eyes for a moment and let out a breath. Then she said, “Yes. Yes, please. Do what you can, and I’ll do what you told me.” She sounded determined.
“All right. We’ll start now. I’ll be over here, leaning against the wall by the door. You keep sitting with Becky, and calm her when she wakes up. Here we go.”
I sat down on the floor, trying not to let Becky’s mom see me slip my mouthguard in. No sense freaking her out even more. I closed my eyes and tried to slow my breathing. The whole time we’d been talking, the thing had been staying in the same place, hovering over Becky as she lay in her bed. It hadn’t seemed to take any notice of us. They never pay attention to you, until you pay attention to them.
Well, it was going to pay attention to me now.
I turned my focus to the thing. The best way that I’ve found to do that is to envision a red targeting dot right in the middle of it, like the snipers use on TV shows. Then I focus on making that dot bore into it, puncture it, blast right through it. The thing noticed right away, and even though I couldn’t really say what its form was like, it felt like it turned and looked at me. It had felt my attention, and now I sensed its attention focusing on me. I felt it immediately, and it seemed powerful; stronger than the other things like this that I’d seen.
At least it wasn’t concentrating on Becky any more. No, don’t think that. No thoughts of anything else, not even her. There’s only the red dot and the need to push it through. Blow through it like Superman’s laser beam eyes. Was it lasers or heat beams? No. Focus. Concentrate. Burn through. My head hurts. My eyes hurt. I can’t breathe. No. Focus. Concentrate. Burn through. It’s working; I can feel it working. The thing tries to run. No. Focus. Concentrate. Burn through. No getting away for you. I’ve got you pinned. Focus. Concentrate. Burn through. Will somebody please pick up that phone? Stop that stupid ringing. Answer it or turn it off. What? No! Focus. Concentrate. Burn through. I’ve still got you. You almost got away, but I’ve still got you. Focus. Concentrate. Burn through. I sense the thing starting to dissolve, but I feel like I’m falling. Focus. Concentrate. Burn…
Ow. I feel awful. Where am I? Ow. What is going on? Ow! My eyes finally open as another stinging slap hits my cheek. “Ow, okay, please stop, I’m back.” I look up to see Theresa Williams above me, her hand drawn back for another smack. “I passed out? How long has it been? Wait, just let me check…” I close my eyes again and try to sense the presence of the thing. I can’t feel it. “Help me up, please.” When I’m on my feet again, I look over at the bed and don’t see anything but a little girl, sleeping quietly. “Looks like it worked. I can’t see anything. Does she seem okay?”
Becky’s mom threw her arms around me in a joyful hug. “Yes, she’s so much better! She woke up like you said she would, and she was actually hungry! I’ve barely been able to get her to eat or drink. She had a little water, and I told her to just sleep now and we’d eat when she woke up. She nodded right off; she seemed so tired. But she’s been sleeping easily, not crying and thrashing around like she was. Oh, Mr. Graves, thank you! Whatever you did, thank you!” She sobbed against my shoulder.
I never seem to get comfortable dealing with these situations. Dealing with the things is easier. Well, maybe not this time; that thing was strong. “Um, I’m glad I was able to help, Ms. Williams. And you can call me Barrett.”
She pulled back, looking embarrassed to find that she was still hugging me. “And I’m Theresa,” she said, wiping her eyes. “How can I ever thank you? I’ve got a little money; I can pay you something.”
“Thanks, Theresa, honestly, but no,” I replied gently. “I’ve got my own reasons for what I do, and I wouldn’t feel right about taking money for it. I wouldn’t say no to a bite to eat though, if you have some cookies or juice or something. I feel a bit wiped out.”
She headed for the bedroom door. “Of course, I’ll get something right away. I’ve got some orange juice, I think, and I could make some eggs. Is that okay?”
“That sounds great, thanks. Before you do that, though, could you answer a couple of questions for me? First, how long was I actually out?”
“It was about 15 minutes. I remembered that you said to wake you if it happened, but Becky seemed fine, and I didn’t want to, you know, hit you…but then you didn’t wake up, and I thought I’d better do what you said. I’m sorry that I hit you so hard, but you weren’t waking up at first. I didn’t mean to make your nose bleed, I swear.” She looked sheepish.
Fifteen minutes! I breathed a sigh of relief that I’d actually gotten the thing before I passed out. Wait, did she say nosebleed? I checked and felt crusted blood on my lip. “Don’t worry about it. The nosebleed probably wasn’t you, anyway. Say, was there a phone ringing? I kept hearing a phone, while I was trying to…um, well. I thought I heard a phone.”
She reddened. “I’m so sorry about that. You said to be still and quiet, and I tried, but I’d forgotten to turn off my cell phone and it rang. I sent it to voicemail as soon as I could get it out of my purse. Was it a problem?”
Cell phone. Right. Should have thought of that one from going to the movies. Please turn off all cell phones before the thing removal begins. Sheesh. “No, no, it’s okay. It all worked out. Could you hand me my bag, there? I’m going to use your washroom to get cleaned up a bit, if that’s okay,” I said.
She passed my gym bag over. “Yes, of course. It’s just down the hall. I’ll go get the eggs started. Come out to the kitchen whenever you’re ready.”
“Thanks. I won’t be long.” I pulled my tablet out of the bag, and added turn off cell phones to my prep list. Then I added emphasize the importance of waking me if I pass out to my instructions list. Hey, I said there aren’t any books for this stuff, not that I wouldn’t try to write one. I do what I can.
In the bathroom, I washed the blood from my nose and lip. Looks like I popped something in my right eye; the white is spider-webbed with red lines. I’m starting to get a pretty bad headache, too. I take a couple of aspirin from the bottle I keep in my bag, and add a quick note about the eye to the file. I’ll write it up properly later. Let’s see…cell phone, wake me up, physical notes. That focus, concentrate, burn through thing worked pretty well, too; I’ll keep using that. Is there anything else I should jot down?
Oh, yeah, there is one more thing to look up. Maybe I should have known this already, but I was always more of a Marvel guy than DC. Here it is.
Got it. Heat vision, not lasers.
This short story first appeared in MYTHIC magazine 2019.
Edited by Marie Ginga
After retiring from a twenty year career as an air traffic controller, Rex Caleval decided to try writing a few of the story ideas that were always popping into his head, and has been pleased to find that some people like them. Links to his stories which have been published online can be found on his Facebook author page Rex Caleval.