The disappearance of a local high school girl has been on the news for several days now. A compact disk arrives at the police station relating a grotesque and utterly unbelievable tale. Is it the product of a deranged imagination or a factual account of an all-too-real horror lying just outside of our known reality?



by Laika Pupkino
This is about Case #47325. Yeah, that Jodie Stewart chick. It's weird to think she was only seventeen. The same age, same year of high school as I'm in. I didn't know her from school, she went to Poly and I go to Mooreland, but I met her that afternoon, when she disappeared. Or I think I did...
I tried writing this, but it's just too crazy. I have to tell it, to say it out loud ......... And I couldn't do this on the phone, with somebody asking me questions, it would mess me up. It's hard. So I'm doing it this way, sending you this disc. The return address on the envelope is fake, but it's what you said you wanted. An anonymous tip. I know you'll just think this is nuts, but I have to do this.
And no, I don't want the reward. Or I mean it would be nice, but the people who did this---if people is what they are---well I don't know how far this goes. Who all they might have with them in their cult or whatever it is ........... I know this is sounding crazy already, and it's gonna get a lot crazier. But even if you think I'm full of baloney at least please check out where it happened. The old St. Sophia church on Hill Street, the one with the big copper doors. Because that's where I saw her. Where it happened. I mean think about it, I could both be nuts and I saw something ......... Like what if some schizo saw a serial killer but thought he was a demon, and what they told you had real things, information you could use, mixed in with all the crazy stuff? That could happen, right? So don't just blow this off...
Check out who's leasing the place, or who was there last, because they might have moved on. Which I wouldn't know if they did, I haven't been back there. Hell, I won't even go back to that neighborhood, is how scared I am! But whoever it is, they're the ones who did it, I mean if she was the girl I met. And I'm sure it was, because she did work at Taco Bell, like the one on the news and she looked just like the pictures they showed of her.
And that came as a huge shock to me! To almost convinced myself it was all just some weird dream, and then find out it was real, and I was the last person to see her alive. I know you say "missing" but I'm pretty sure she's gone, or if she is still alive it's not as anything you would recognize........... I know how this is sounding, and I can't make you do anything, all I can do is beg, so I am. Please! Listen to this all the way through, and try not to just shine it on because it doesn't sound like anything that could happen.
~~~~~ X ~~~~~
Okay. Now part of what's so strange about this is I don't know how it starts. My memory of that day is screwed up, I lost part of that day. And not the freaky stuff but what happened just before. My last two classes, and then right after school. Like maybe they tried to erase my memories but ......... but well nevermind that. Just the facts ma'am, right? Like they used to say on that old cop show, whatever it was. I don't even know what you would call them. Not like "vampires", because at least that's something that has a name.
So the way it starts, it was like a bad splice in the movie of my life. I don't know if it was my memories that are missing or I actually just jumped forward in time somehow. I was listening to the teacher in my history class and then I was there, at that old church.
Or I wasn't, not quite. I was ......... I'm not sure where I was. Maybe hanging in space, some dimension. Because what it started with was pictures. Photographs, one then another, like a slide show. Pictures of naked people having this- having sex ......... I know, I know; that with this being about sex, that right there makes this all suspicious, but that's what they were. These photos were big, or at least they were everything I could see, like I wasn't even there. Just these images. The first dozen or so were like this. And staying kind of a long time before they changed. The room, everything in it. The weird lamp, that old Snoopy wastebasket.
But then somehow---and I'm not sure how it happened---I was there. I could feel myself. I'm sorry I can't make this clearer, but the thing is it's not clear. I was standing, looking down, I saw my clothes, shoes, a wooden floor, the stack of pictures in my hand. They were about three by five, on that hard slick paper. Like for chemical photography. And they were pretty amateur looking, just snapshots really.
And so there I was, in that assembly hall, with those people. And with me not knowing where I was or how the hell I got there, my first instinct or impulse was to like hollar and take off running.
But I knew I was in the middle of something, and it didn't exactly seem like they had brung me there against my will, so I told myself to just play it cool and to fake like I knew what was going on. They say drunks have things like that happen to them, blackouts, but I could tell I wasn't even buzzed. I've had beer before, but I don't do it a lot. And I don't do drugs, not even pot, and I don't have any history of mental illness. So if I have gone insane it happened real recently...
This old man in there, he was showing me these pictures. These, uh, snapshots ......... of an orgy. A bunch of mattresses that looked new and all the same.
And I might have thought, "Uh oh, what's he trying to do, showing me these?" But what I got from him was more just like pride, like someone showing you pictures of his new boat or something, than it was any kind of come-on or something. And I remember thinking, "Jesus ....... Everybody in these pictures is like, they're really old!" They were like, uh ....... sixty, seventy, eighty year old people all just going at it in a big pink pile!
Pink, yeah, because come to think of it there weren't any Blacks or Asians or Latinos. And with their big bellies or scrawny veiny arms and necks all loose and wrinkly, it was kind of gross looking .......... Or maybe not gross, they were just old, and I mean good for them if they can still do that and be having fun like they seemed to be, but not hot either. Not what you'd want to look at if you were looking at pornography. Which by the way I don't, much.
But as I got about halfway down through this big stack of pictures---and here things kind of went back into 'slide show' mode again---there was a .............. this transition. That they were getting younger. Maybe you couldn't tell from one picture to the next, but after five of them you could see a difference of maybe five years, and after ten it was real obvious. They had discovered some kind of elixer of youth. A process. That goo, whatever it was. And they were definitely the same people. The big guy with the anchor tattoo, the naked old lady with just that silly party hat on, her hair getting less and less gray, and her tits ............. well you get the idea.
When I got to the last couple of pictures they were all around thirty-five, I would guess. And if you're wondering what this has to do with Jodie Stewart disappearing, it has everything to do with it. This cult of theirs-
No, not a cult, cults are bogus, all the promises they make are pretty much always bullshit. This was different. They had something to back it up. And not just the pictures. Pictures can be faked.
I hate to call it magic; if you want to know the truth the whole concept irritates me. Even as a kid I was more Star Wars than Lord of the Rings. I like science fiction more than something with no explanation...
But I don't think it was technology, I don't really see how it could be. It would take breakthroughs in half a dozen fields to be able to do anything like that. Big breakthroughs, that you would hear about, and I can't see some little group like they had doing all that on their own. I mean anti-gravity, for God's sake ......... not when there still arguing about what gravity even is!
And then I thought well maybe they're aliens, but when I heard them talking later they were all too normal and boring to be aliens. So that leaves magic, mostly because they acted like that's what they thought it was, the way they............ I mean it was like it was a ritual to them. And they were using a church building, which I don't think was just a coincidence. Although I don't think they identified with the normal traditions and stuff, Jesus and the old book prophets and everybody, but maybe more like they were being, I don't know ............ ironic maybe.
~~~~~ X ~~~~~
They were in there with us now, the people from the photographs. Still looking about thirty-five, some in great shape and some not so great, everyone taking off their clothes, except me and the man with those photos---Todd he said his name was---who made sure I stood back behind the railing, on the little platform thing just inside the door with the three steps leading down at each end; while they all took all their clothes off and stood in a sloppy semicircle around the thing on the wall, which I didn't really notice yet.
They were all so casual about getting naked, I was probably the only one who felt funny about it all. And even I wasn't too embarrassed. It felt like an anthropologist or something, this privileged outsider they were letting view this thing they did.
But why? That's what I keep wondering. I'm not anybody, just a teenager. I didn't know any of them, and with my memory being like it is I can't tell you how I got this invitation, or why I would accept it, because I don't do that, will always find a way out if somebody invites me to their church or something ...... But really, to tell you the truth I don't even want to know why. I just want to stay as far away from them as I can. That was the weirdest goddamn day of my life, seeing the things I saw, and after what happened with the girl it was the scariest day too!
They had this idol, a thing up on the wall. I hardly even noticed it until it came alive, and then it was all I could see or think of. You ever see in a cartoon, there's a trophy of a moose's head or something up over the fireplace or somewhere, but it's alive? Like maybe the rest of the animal is on the other side of the wall? That's kind of like what this was. It had a base on it, bolted to the wall, a wooden circle with sun rays going out from it. The head-thing looked something like a tortoise---the chin, the wide mouth---but it had long dangly ears with notches in them. Eyes with pupils like a snake or a cat, slit eyes. It's skin looked as tough as leather, and with no chin on it at all. And its expression, that was the worst. Real creepy and cold ........ ancient ....... wise. But not any wisdom you would want any part of. And being alive like that, it scared the fuck out of me!
But they looked up at it with love, like Catholics taking the host or something. It spit this stuff out, this beige goop. Real controlled, so it landed mostly on them, and just a little on the floor around them. It got all of them, and a couple of seconds after it hit one of them he or she started to change. Time, or my experiencing of time started to get weird again. It felt jerky-like, to where I could almost see the frames clicking off as the head changed expression.
And when it saw me, you could see it registering me, somebody who did not belong here, and deciding it would pass judgement on me in its own good time. And I just knew it could do something really bad if it turned out it didn't like me, even if I didn't know what.
So this was like Phase Two of this .......... whatever it was. All these naked thirtysomething people getting even younger, stopping when they looked like they were just entering college or thereabouts. If it was strange seeing this happen in the pictures, it was a lot stranger to seeing it right in front of my eyes.
The demon shut down, turning back into just this dead thing on the wall. Without that light in its eyes it didn't look quite so scary. But knowing those eyes might snap open again at any time, well that was bad. But still I was trying to play it cool, like all this was no big deal. Part of me wanted to get the hell out of there and another part wanted to see what happened next...
I asked Elder Todd why they didn't let him join in. He shrugged and said each of them was only expected to do this once a year. He said he was the "Chronological Anchor", they needed him for that, just like I was the "Cognitive Anchor". He said the like it explained everything.
Now they were all putting their clothes back on, some of them were just getting back into what they had on, which didn't always fit so good now, while others had gym bags with new outfits in them. One had an old pair of bell-bottoms and a Nero jacket that he might have been waiting forty years to wear again. They were all gabbing in little groups, and flexing their arms and legs.
Todd told me to help myself to the refreshment table these two women had set up. I grabbed an apple and a can of Coke. One big guy just stayed naked, like he was showing off or something, and one girl had just slipped on her panties, but she was topless. So it was kind of weird, trying to mingle, and I didn't really. Because the others were really ignoring me, some of them kind of rudely---I wasn't one of them, I didn't rate---and when I announced that I was leaving now it got like zero reaction. No literature handed to me, no invitations to come back, or not to come back. Even Todd had better things to do than give me a proper goodbye, his wave was like, "Yeah, whatever..." Real half-assed.
So I went Okay fine, I guess we're done here, and went out the front doors, still wondering what the hell that was all about. Maybe they just like to show off what they could do now and then. I really don't know.
I was clear across town from my house, and wasn't too sure about how the busses ran in that part of town, but I remembered seeing a bus stop by the post office on Montgomery, so I figured I would head for that. But then I got an idea...
~~~~~ X ~~~~~
If you know that part of Hill Street, you know that Jensen Hill Park runs right behind it there. In fact the edge of the eucalyptus grove, it's kind of right there, hanging behind the back of St. Sophia's at the edge of a little cliff. I remember, when I was watching that ritual thing, seeing them through a high window that ran along one whole wall. And if I could see them from in there, then from up in the eucalyptus trees I'd be able to see down into the church. And that's exactly how it turned out. I could see everything...
The first thing I noticed was the bike lying there. A ridiculous little pink Sting Ray with a fake plastic basket on the front, like some Walmart Easter basket. And then, hiding in the bushes, the girl.
"Get over here," she said. "Don't let them see you!"
And so I did, a little hollow area in the tall bushes there. She had a piece of cardboard she was kneeling on, and she scooted over on it to make room for me. You could smell the eucalyptus, those long leaves scattered everywhere. She was up there doing the same thing I was, and was all set up for it. Had a pair of opera glasses, those little binoculars in a case that snaps open.
She said three weeks ago---uh, I mean three weeks before that day---she was just hanging up here and happened to catch part of what they did in there. Kept coming back, and finally figured out that their meetings were on Thursdays. Would go by checking for their cars, but they weren't there on any other day. She watched them again last Thursday, and then today. I had to think about what day it was. And I was surprised, it actually was Thursday. I was thinking it was Monday for some reason.
I noticed the uniform she was wearing, and said something smart like, "Do you work at Taco Bell?"
"No, I wear this because I like it," she said. Sarcastic like, but friendly. I mean it was a pretty stupid thing to ask. I think of her as Jodie now---poor, stupid Jodie Stewart---but I don't remember if she told me her name. And actually she was the one asking most of the questions. She said, "Wow, I saw you in there with them when they did the getting-younger thing. How did you manage that?"
"I don't know," I told her. "I'm not even sure how I got here."
She looked at me, like maybe I was holding out on her, then decided she believed me. Asked, "So what was it like?"
"Scary," I said, "Really scary. That thing on the wall!"
"Yeah," she asked, "What is that? I see them all looking up at it, at something, but you can't see from here."
I looked, and she was right. It was on the same wall as the windows we were looking in through. I described it to her as best I could. I said, "Pretty weird, huh?"
"Oh man, I've got to see that," she said, excited, and she laughed. "But if you think all that was weird check out this next part!"
And it was. It was so goddamn strange! There's no name for something like this. They made like a circle around this one couple. It was the guy and the girl who hadn't bothered to dress again after that last thing they did, and now I could see why. I mean if they were just going to take it off again.
Like I say, I know it all sounds crazy, and you'll probably just throw this in the trash, or maybe file it with your crank calls, if you have a file for those. But that's one thing this is not. I wouldn't do that, I mean this chick fuckin' died, I mean I'm pretty sure, and I wouldn't make fun of that! And like I say, whatever else you think of this check out that church place. Maybe her bike is still there on the hill. That would definitely be something for you...
So anyway, the couple in the middle of the circle, they ....... It was incredible! Not only were these people able to like, turn back into nineteen, twenty, twenty-one year old men and women, but apparently they were able to do a lot of other stuff. These weird metamorphosises, that sex thing they did! At least I think it was sex ......... They started ........... stretching like. Arms and legs and their necks getting really really long, you know .......... twenty or thirty feet long and sort of winding around each other while they kissed and felt each other up, until they .......... I couldn't believe it!
The girl jabbed me in the side, and I jumped a mile! She wanted her field glasses, I mean they were hers, so I gave them back. And it turned out I could see it all pretty good with just my eyes. Because it wasn't that far, just across the little courtyard. So I saw it clearly, the couple, when they rose up off the wooden floor.
Now I had just been in there, and I didn't see anything that they could have rigged this up with. And in terms of this being faked, the levitation would've been the least of it. With the things I'd been seeing, the tricks it would take to pull any of this off would be so elaborate and expensive that you might as well go back to talking about witchcraft and alien science...
By now you couldn't tell which of them was which, or even recognise them as people anymore! It was like spaghetti, flesh colored spaghetti, spinning in mid air! Jodie was watching, rocking and slapping her leg; talking to herself. Like, "Oh my God! Oh My God!" over and over.
I say it was sex---there was that kiss afterward like you might do---but maybe it was something else. They weren't, uh, fucking; I mean you know, thrusting, but had basically wound together into this one, single ............. it was like a star shaped thing. A starburst, with these irregular points on it, blunt points, shiny, all very liquid looking ....... I don't know where their hair had got off to, I didn't see any. Just this weird Silly Putty Christmas ornament thing, rotating in the air, faster and faster...
Or maybe a snowflake. Holes in it, in patterns, like lace. And this was the part that really made think it was like a religion to them, the way the others were watching. Silent, and you would really have to say reverent, although they also seemed very turned on. They were staring, like mesmerized. And the girl too, she was making no secret of how she felt about it, how she was acting and the way she was breathing.
And me? Maybe a little, caught up in spirit of this whole deal, the feelings of the others, of Jodie, but mostly it was just too weird for that. Not something that I ever thought about, I mean how could you? Some big sexbubble meat-blort thing ........... And also, I was scared, which will usually wreck any sexual interest I might have in something. They let me see that one part, for what whatever reason, but somehow I couldn't help thinking that this was a part of their activities that NOBODY was supposed to see. And that head on the wall, I didn't think hiding in the bushes or being out of its line of sight would keep it from seeing us...
The starburst thing drifted back down to the floor, and unwound, just like it had come together only in reverse. The couple looked pretty out of it. Weak and laughing, and one last kiss before the others helped them get to their feet.
~~~~~ X ~~~~~
And afterward they all went outside. The church has that little patio out behind it there, all old faded tiles. And they were having coffee again, looking normal as anything, just like the b.s.-ing after church. The only thing that seemed odd was they were maybe a little stuffy and calm-acting for a bunch of twenty-year-olds. And they sort of .......... well they moved old. I didn't dig this part, they might have been able to see us if they looked up. That bright pink bike laying there.
And my "friend" was talking way too loud---"Wow, didja see that? I mean didja see that?"---and I really wanted her to quiet down, but she was being crazy. She really was! Because all of a sudden she just took off, went running down there, down the slope and hopping down that little brick wall thing around the patio that kept the hillside back. I just about shit!
She was just like, "Here I am, you guys!", all jazzed up and talking fast, telling them she knew all about what they did and everything, how they metamorphosized, "You do this and this and this...", trying to impress them with how cool she was---how adult and everything---and like they should just accept her right then and there.
Well she impressed them alright, they were all really very startled, and kept looking at each other, like "What do we do here?"
She was hot, hot for it, this thing they did. She told them she wanted to join them and be part of their group- she had to! She said she never knew what she wanted before. She had been with guys, she'd tried girls, but no matter how close you got to somebody, the truth was you were really both alone. This was the truth that people would just never cop to, that that kind of "intimacy" was a sham, because right in the middle of this so called closeness, somebody could still be lying right to your face.
She mentioned someone named Jimmy, she didn't much like Jimmy. Or at least this is as close as I can remember to what she told them. It was a pretty good speech. But then right in the middle of trying to sound so sophisticated, she started doing this, like ........... baby-talk. I don't know if she thought it was sexy or what, about running together into "one gweat big blob!"
She was so into it that she wasn't thinking, showed no caution. She was so excited about what she thought they had, what she thought they were doing, without considering if that's really what it was. And okay, maybe this was her business, but then for no damn reason I could see she pointed me out to them!
So now we were both down among them on the patio. I should have run as soon as she pointed, but I also had the idea that I had to get her out of there, you know? Even if she didn't have a bit of sense, and even if she had just put me in danger too. Because what she and I saw here were clearly two completely different things.
So after listening to what she said, one of the guys nodded and said: "Well you seem adequate."
Or I don't remember if adequate was the exact word he used but it was like that, not very flattering. But I don't think she caught that. And when he asked her if she was, um, willing to take ALL of them on she went like- "Oh yeeeeaaaaaah!"
But she didn't realise it was going to be like some sacrifice! I just sensed that, I was sure of it. And later too, those next two days. And when I saw the parents on the news, other than realizing that the whole incident wasn't some dream, hallucination or whatever, I can't say I was surprised...
And when the guy asked me, "And how about you, [NAME DELETED]?"
I went, Oh crap he knows my name!
OH SHIT! I shouldn't of told you my name either! I'd better-
No, I guess [NAME DELETED] is a pretty common name, and they already know it anyway. It's them that I'm afraid of. I told him no thanks.
"It is a type of immortality," he said, "Though nothing that you can imagine."
I told him no thanks! And I told Jodie, maybe you should think about this, come back next week. I was trying to drop some hint without being too blatant, the danger she was in! But it was useless, she was mesmerized by that thing we saw. And I wasn't able to- Oh God.
I don't know what happened after that. What they did to her. Like all of them shucking off their clothes and going into a big mid-air whirlpool with her---this tornado of liquid flesh---with them all going back to their normal shapes afterward and her just not being there. God, I hope not!
The guy was telling me, "Well you've put us in a very awkward position here"---which might not sound like a threat, but the way he said it, it was---when I saw my chance to get out of there...
Just then the mailman came walking in, in through the gate, to the grid of four little mailboxes they had in the wall. He was some old hippie guy with a pony tail, and you could tell he was ........... He was smiling, acting casual, but you could see he was bothered by the intensity in that courtyard. The tension. Like he knew somehow we were in this standoff, something very heavy. Maybe he already suspected them, or had seen things going on with them before...
I took off! I was afraid for a while that they were going to come after me, but I'm less jumpy about it every day that goes by. Although I think that thing on the wall could find me easy if it wanted to, reaching out with its mind. In fact I have felt it sweep over me---though yeah, it could be my imagination---but if I just keep my mouth shut I'll be okay...
Too late for that, huh? So in a way I'm hoping you'll just laugh this off. And that since I did what I had to do for my conscience's sake, I'll be able to sleep again at night, and I'll stop seeing that idol thing staring at me just as I'm starting to drift off.
Actually what I would love is to have Jodie Stewart show up, totally okay. For it to turn out I'm just insane. Because as horrible as that would be, it's less horrible than the idea that things like them are actually running around, living among us, doing all that whatever it is...
I really, really hope they didn't do what I think they did with her. Or if they did, that whatever it was, it was worth it to her.
[This was a dream I had in 1999, which had been sitting in my files until a few days ago. I rewrote it, expanding it slightly and adding the news accounts of the missing girl, the police investigation and the kid coming forward with an anonymous tip to turn it into a story...]



Hi VV,
I finally made it. I just couldn't leave a Laika story without a comment. Like I said, gruesome and scary. Idols on the wall;melting flesh; sounds like a mad psychiatrist's office. Yecchh! You have to be the winner of this challenge,

It Does Seem Dreamlike

There's practically nothing in this experience that makes rational sense. But the surrealistic feel that I assume you wanted comes through loud and clear. (I'd call the whole thing a Witches' Sabbath if it weren't happening on a Thursday afternoon.)

Trying to get an explanation out of any of this is probably a waste of time, but...

Our narrator can't answer the question, but I do wonder how badly they need a "cognitive anchor", since he wasn't on the premises for the second act and would, if he'd agreed, have been a participant in the third. Did they drag in another innocent bystander out of our narrator's view to take on the role?


("Nero jacket" instead of Nehru is a cute touch, given the madness inherent in the situation...)

I was thinking of Kafka

when I wrote this, when I didn't try to make it more logical than the dream it was based on (I did leave a bit of extraeneous junk out though). A lot of Kafka's stuff doesn't follow a reasonable narrative path, but it leaves you with impressions, emotional reactions. I was unsure of this tale, all I knew was I wanted to write something scary, and this one scared me the most out of 3-4 I could have entered into this contest; although even its connection to the "All Souls Day" theme is unclear to me, other than I sense one. Souls in peril, perhaps. And since I was unsure of whether I actually had a story or a pile of jibberish, I'm glad for the comments. The "Nero Jacket" bit was a late substitution, figuring that if the narrator is 17, he or she (I never specify) might not be too knowledgeable of 60's fashion...
~~~hugs, Laika

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