Creature Features


Richard turned the pages over. There was a copy of a black and white photograph, a close-up of a man's face. Richard went pale. Dwight chuckled.

"Now tell me that isn't the man you shot that night. Tell me that isn't the face you saw when you took that mask off. I'd know it anywhere, and I wager you would too."

Richard nodded. "What in the hell does it mean?" he said.

"I'll tell you what it means," said Dwight. "It means that the professor's experiment worked even better than he intended." Dwight ordered another and waited until the bartender had gone to talk again. He leaned in and whispered. "The tulpa worked. The professor was able to take his thoughts and make them into matter, just like he theorized. But his mistake was in using the movies as his focus; he didn't summon real monsters that night, he summoned real actors, the actors who played the roles in those old movies!"

Richard took a moment to absorb this. "So the werewolf who attacked that young couple wasn't really a werewolf, he was...?"

"Lon Chaney Jr. I'd bet my life. And the masked man at the opera house was Lon Chaney Sr. See this man?" He pointed to another picture. "Tom Tyler. He played superheroes and cowboys in action serials, but he also played a mummy in the 1940 movie 'The Mummy's Hand,' one of the professor's favorites. I bet he was the mummy in the park. And the intruder dressed as Frankenstein's monster? None other than Boris Karloff."

"Now wait a minute," Richard said, "that doesn't make any sense. Why would this Tyler fellow attack a policeman?"

"Well just think what it must have been like for these...people." He stumbled over the word. "Imagine you're Tom Tyler, or at least, you're a psychic manifestation that thinks, for all the world, that you're Tom Tyler. You suddenly find yourself in a strange, frightening place with no idea how you got there, and it's dark, and for some bizarre reason you're dressed as a mummy. Tyler died in 1954, imagine what these buildings, these cars, these people would look like to him if they all just appeared out of nowhere. He was probably half out of his mind, or maybe fully out of it, when that cop tried to arrest him."

Dwight was getting more excited as he talked. His voice went up an octave: "Think about being Lon Chaney Sr. for a moment. All of a sudden, with no clue as to why, you're in a strange place, and you're dressed as the Phantom of the Opera, and there's a pipe organ in front of you; what else would you do but sit down and play it? What could seem more natural?"

"But this Chapman fellow killed the professor. Why?"

"The professor was pointing a gun at him, remember? And how did Chapman kill him? By pushing him into a pool! I bet he didn't realize that there was no water in it. It was dark, he couldn't see through his mask, and he thought he was defending himself. He was even trying to talk, remember? But we couldn't understand him.

"None of these creatures—no, these men—realized what was going on or what they were doing. Is it any wonder that poor, confused, frightened Lon Chaney Jr. and Boris Karloff panicked during those brief, terrifying reincarnations? Is it any wonder that they snapped? And by the time any of them might have come to their senses..."

"It was over," Richard said. "Pierce uncreated them."

Dwight laughed longer and louder than Richard would have liked. Richard took another round in the hopes that it would clear his head. "It's a crazy idea," he said.

"But you must admit, it's the only explanation that accounts for everything," said Dwight. "And think what it means! The professor, what a genius! His experiment worked even better than he'd hoped."

"Yes, a genius," said Richard. "But mad."

"Well, who isn't a little mad?" said Dwight, grinning. "But I have to tell you, there is one thing that bothers me about all this..."

"Just one?"

"Richard, let me ask you, have you been thinking a lot about that night?"

"How could I not?"

"And about the professor, and about those movies?"

"As little as I can, but more than I'd like," said Richard. He almost spilled the glass when Dwight seized his wrist as hard as he could.

"Don't!" said Dwight.

"Don't what? Drink my scotch? Hard thing to say after all you've told me."

"No, I mean, don't think about it. Don't think about that night, and for the love of man, stop thinking about those movies." Dwight's eyes were wide as he talked. "A genie has been let out of the bottle here, one neither of us can control. Now that we know the secret, our thoughts could be dangerous. Whatever you do, don't think about it. I'm afraid of what will happen if we do. The reach and the scope of this power is infinite. Next time, if we're not careful, we might have real monsters on our hands."

Richard finished his drink. "You realize that the more you say that the harder it'll be for me not to think about it?"

"I know," said Dwight, standing and putting money on the bar. "It's the same way with me. Truth be told, I think it's already too late. But I thought the least I could do was warn you. For old time's sake. Be seeing you, Richard. Look after yourself. I think we all need it."

Dwight tipped his hat to Richard and walked out. Richard watched him go. He shook his head. "Damn crazy story," he said to himself. "Damn crazy. Don't believe a word of it, though."

He paid his half of the tab. As he stood he swayed drunkenly to one side, knocking over a wineglass, spilling its contents onto the man on the next stool. "Christ, I'm sorry!" he said. He grabbed a handful of napkins.

"Quite all right," said the stranger.

Richard began blotting the liquid soaking the man's dark clothes. "I'm a damn oaf when I drink," he said. "I hope that wasn't yours? Here, let me pay for it. I just hope I haven't ruined your—" Richard stopped and squinted through the alcoholic haze. "Your, um, cape?"

The stranger took his cape away from Richard, then stood, face to face with him. His bloodless lips curled back in a smile. Richard felt his heart stop.

"No," said the stranger. "It wasn't mine.

"I never"

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