Nick’s Journal 9/22/14

Sometimes in life, you’re tracking down a globe-trotting storyteller entangled in a worldwide conspiracy that threatens to collapse society as we know it. Other times, you have to drive to Frisco to buy some bookshelves for your apartment at IKEA. This was one of the other times.

Clouds overtook the sky as I made my way north on the North Dallas Tollway, making the day outside as gray as my mood. Driving to Frisco was bad enough, but driving to Frisco and traversing the Swedish labyrinth of value-priced furniture? A man can only take so much, and I barely crack the surface of boyhood most of the time.

I walked through the siding doors and felt the cold, slightly wood-scented air conditioning breeze sweep over me. Couples, most of them already arguing, passed me by on each side as I stalled, trying to decide which entrance I should go in. Furniture displays? Straight to the warehouse? No, if I was going to make it through this, there was something I needed first.

I could smell them before I even got off the escalator: Swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce. The line went quick and before I knew it, two helping were in my stomach. As I slid the emptied contents of my tray into the trash bin, the receipt floated down to the ground next to me. I bent down to pick it up, only to discover words written on the back. Meet me in the Dining Room/Kitchens displays. My heart began to race. My Borgsjo or Liatorp would have to wait. The Collector was trying to contact me.

I walked as briskly as possible without breaking into an actual jog or run. One by one I searched each of the dining room/kitchen displays, until finally I came upon one in the corner, hidden away from the rest of the show floor by a fake apartment wall.

All the furniture in the section was white. The table in the middle had a glass top, and at seated at the end opposite from where I entered was a brown-haired woman in her mid-forties, wearing a tight red dress, smoking a cigarette. It was clear that she had once been really attractive but things had gotten rough for her. She looked like someone who attended a cocktail party then had partied the whole weekend without going home.

“Are you Nick?” she asked, her accent some kind of European something.

“I don’t think you’re allowed to smoke in here.”

“Sit your ass down in Idolf,” she said. I glanced quickly at the tag hanging from the chair to make sure that was what she was talking about, then I sat down. She put the cigarette in her mouth, got up, and walked over to one of the cabinets. She pulled out a bottle of vodka, then grabbed a display glass before sitting back down.

“How did-do you live in this IKEA?” I asked.

“No matter.” She poured the drink. “What matters is that you tell your Collector friend that this is it. I owe him no more.” She took a drag from the cigarette, drank the whole glass of vodka, then exhaled the smoke.

“I don’t even know how that was scientifically possible,” I said. “Who are you?”

She put the glass down and stood. This time, she opened one of the drawers and pulled out an IKEA catalogue. She slid it across the table to me. “You tell him that he and Veronika are EVEN.”

A pimply-faced kid with glasses in a bright yellow IKEA polo walked into the display area. His eyes went from me to Veronika (I assumed she was Veronika and wasn’t referencing some third party). “Awwww man, not again,” he said in a voice that couldn’t decide if puberty had happened or not. He pulled a walkie-talkie from his belt. “Guys we have a two-one-eight in Dining. It’s her again.”

Veronkia grabbed the bottle of vodka with one hand and pointed at me with the other. “EVEN.” Then she ran. I watched her long enough to see her removed the heels she was wearing and throw them at the three IKEA employees chasing after her. “YOU’LL NEVER GET ME YOU SONS OF BITCHESSSS!!!”

The IKEA catalogue she had slid over to me had a yellow post-it note sticking out. And grabbed it and saw the now-familiar writing of The Collector.

Sometimes those you appear to help can pose the greatest threat. Page 92.

-The Collector

 

Henry

The cat was so tiny. He was sitting all alone in the back of his little kennel cage, shaking and staring at Andrew like it was raining in there. He was grey and white—only a couple months old, really. Andrew loved him the moment he saw his tiny black eyes. 

The adoption didn’t take long, a couple forms and a few more dollars and Andrew was on his way with his new little friend in a cardboard box. He bought all the supplies, took him home, and named him Henry. 

Henry took a few days to adjust to his new surroundings. He was nervous and skittish, running from Andrew when he entered the room. Henry spent a lot of time hiding under the couch. He wouldn’t even eat or drink if Andrew was in the room. Andrew chalked all that up to being in a shelter for his little life. He’d had an adopted cat as a kid, and he knew that sometimes those tendencies and fears don’t go away easily. Andrew knew that if he was patient, everything would be just fine eventually.

A month in to their newfound relationship, Henry started sleeping in Andrew’s room. Under the bed, of course, still mostly hidden away. A couple weeks later, Andrew spotted Henry in the bathroom while he took a shower. He said some kind words, and Henry didn’t look terrified, so he took that as a good sign. A month later, Henry slept on the foot of the bed. Then, next to Andrew’s feet. Then hip. Chest. And finally, Henry was sleeping peacefully every night on Andrew’s pillow with him. He was learning to play with Andrew. He allowed Andrew to hold him and cuddle him. 

Then Andrew found a knife on his pillow. 

He found it because he cut himself, just a nick, when he reached up to give Henry his morning pets as he did every single day. At first, Andrew thought it was Henry reacting with claws to being startled, but when he sat up to comfort him, there it was. A 7-inch blade from the knife block in his kitchen. 

Andrew wasn’t really all that forgetful, but he figured, somehow, that he must have either A) brought it to bed and forgotten or B) become a sudden sleepwalker who also had homicidal and/or suicidal tendencies. It was all that made sense, really. 

He slipped in the shower the next day. He didn’t notice the bottle of conditioner that was popped open, squirted all over the floor. Andrew just stepped in as he always did, then felt the thud of his head against the tile floor of his bathroom. He had a concussion, and didn’t sleep well for a couple days. 

On Saturday, Andrew lodged a sewing needle in his foot walking down the hallway. Andrew didn’t remember owning a sewing kit. 

Monday, Andrew nearly tore off his cornea on a tripwire in his closet. He never saw it as he reached down to grab his laundry basket. 

Everything else he might have been able to pass off as a silly memory issue—some stupid things all happening at once. No need to look into coincidence! Some things just happen. Right? 

The tripwire was well-rigged and anchored deeply into two studs in his walls. It was metal, and so thing he never saw it until it burned a white-hot cut into his eyelid. When he turned to go to the bathroom and clean up his eye after the investigation, he noticed Henry there, starting at him contemplatively. 

Henry had drywall dust on his paws, and Andrew had a crazy thought that he shoved immediately out of his brain. His eye was swollen for days. 

The next day, Andrew woke up with a pillow on his face and Henry laying on top. 

The next day, his brakes were cut. 

Andrew was afraid to do anything in his home. He found knifes in sofa cushions, and hydrochloric acid bottles next to his Brita. Henry often followed him around, watching. Waiting. 

No, that’s crazy. Right?

One night, after Andrew had fallen ass over elbow downstairs to his car thanks to a well-hidden ice sheen in June, he sat watching Henry from his couch. Henry sat directly in front of him in the floor, staring deeply into his terrified eyes. 

"Henry? What did I ever do to you?"

Henry winked. 

Henry was rehomed thought a foster facility a week later—he was too adorable to not be picked up quickly. Andrew felt a little ridiculous, but also safe. No more obstacles. No more threats.

Several months later, Andrew noticed a smudge on his mirror, only hours after he cleaned it meticulously. 

A cat’s paw. 

Bloody. 

And that’s how Andrew ended up living for several years abroad. 

Noa’s Journal 9/15/14

Clearly, very clearly, things were not what I thought they were. Things were not what Nick thinks they are either, but here’s the thing: Nick probably still thinks we’re playing a giant game of Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego instead of a life-and-death scenario.

He was always kind of a sucker for adventure movies. I can’t blame him. I’ve tried.
I moved. First thing I did when I got home. Moved to a new place in a new town in the DFW area, in the cover of darkness. I told no one, which sucked because my bed is made of iron, but I did it. I had to protect myself somehow. Had to be safe. 
I didn’t even tell Nick, which he reminded me of when I got a text from him Thursday afternoon.
“Your house is on fire?”
“Oh is it? Ok, that’s really not a surprise.”
“Are you still inside?”
“No. I can’t tell you where I am just yet. I just had to get out of there.”
“I get it. But—all the maps, all the notes, they were at your place.”
“I have them, Nick. I’m trying to connect some dots right now. I’ll get back with you soon, but for the next few days, don’t contact me, ok?”
“Ok.”
Before me on the floor were 6 maps, detailing most of the world and a huge map of Texas as well. We had just begun to track the people who had already contacted us, just started to put together the pieces. All of them were dead ends. I had been staring at the maps for hours. Then through. Then over them. Nothing. No connections.
Then, just like the way your brain works, writing in the bottom left corner of the map of the Greater Southwestern Area of the US, I spotted The Collector’s Handwriting.
“It’s never where you expect it to be. It’s never what you think it is. In life, we’re either horribly or pleasantly surprised by every experience we have. You have some digging to do. Page 55.”

Nick’s Journal 9/10/14

My war room, as I call it, is complete. Well, complete in the sense that it is as update to date as it can be at this moment. It will only be complete when I’ve found The Collector and I have all the answers. For now, it’s not a full room exactly, just most of my living room with all the furniture moved away and a bunch of maps and papers on the wall. I’ve only been able to pinpoint a few locations I think The Collector has been recently based on the stories he sent us, but I took great pride as I placed each of those push pins on my giant map. I brought in a couple of folding tables to put my research and computer on (I even bought a printer! Just for this!).
It may look a little crazy right now (a girl came over to hang out the other day, but left quickly, backing out of the room, eyes darting from one pinned-up clue to the next), but sweet vindication will be mine when I blow this whole thing wide open. And Noa and I may be one step closer.
Last week, I was at a stand-still right now. All my leads were cold. I tried Dr. Blanchard at SMU, but the department’s administrative assistant said he was on leave. I tried to find out more about that club on Lower Greenville. Nothing. I contacted Tinder about Alexis’s account. No dice. I went back to the graveyard where Noa attended the funeral. I tracked down the family of the person that was buried to see if I could find out more and the priest and funeral organizers. A lead as dead as that body that was buried.
And speaking of Noa, she wasn’t returning any of my calls or texts. Jerk. Here I was busting my ass trying to figure out this whole Collector thing, and she was probably off doing whatever or getting frozen yogurt or something. Oh, frozen yogurt, I thought. That sounds delicious. Sometimes when you’ve hit a wall, you just need to go relax and have a frozen yogurt, and hope that something will come to you. So I rode my bike (it’s good for the environment and it’s bonus exercise) over to one of my favorite frozen yogurt places off of McKinney. I loaded mine up just how I like it: chocolate yogurt with chocolate chips and chocolate brownie bites on top. Then I thought that I should probably go back and eat it at my place, just in case something did come to me while eating it, I would have my notes right there. So I got on my bike (it’s hard to steer a bike and hold a cup of frozen yogurt) and headed back toward my apartment. As I was riding I realized that it would probably melt before I got to eat it. I may have veered off the road a bit (steering a bike and eating from a cup of frozen yogurt is even harder) and didn’t see the cop car coming.
Luckily, it saw me and swerved. Swerved a little too hard. It went up on two wheels, then slammed into the wall of an apartment building. I caught my balance, but I’m sorry to report the frozen yogurt didn’t make it. Its final resting place will be the hot pavement where it landed. It deserved better.
The doors of the cop car were ajar. Smoke rose out of the dilapidated engine. The smell of burnt rubber assaulted my nostrils.
“Hello? Is anyone conscious in there?” I asked. No response. I approached slowly, only to find that there was only one body in the car: Noa’s. “Noa? Did you get arrested? Did you steal this cop car and were trying to drive it from the back seat?” There was no response from her. She was out cold. Or dead. I didn’t have time to check. There was a crack and then the back window of the cop car shattered. Another crack was followed by a ping on the side of the car. I dove into the car on top of Noa. Or what used to be Noa. AT THE TIME I DIDN’T KNOW. The shots continued. I peeked up over the back of the car and saw a cop, the right side of his face and right arm covered in blood, gun raised right toward my face.
“Just come out and I won’t hurt you,” he said, his voice booming.
“If that was true you wouldn’t be shooting at me. You’re a cop! Why are you even doing this?”
“Just come out, Collector-boy.”
Ohhhhh, I thought. Now it makes sense.
I definitely wasn’t going to do what he said now. I scanned the immediate area for an escape option. There was only one. A beer delivery guy, earphones in, wrote something on his checkboard and pulled the back door of his truck of his truck down. He didn’t lock it. I watched as he climbed in the front cab and started the engine. This was my chance. I threw Noa’s body on my back (I could feel her still breathing, so whew), jumped out of the car, and sprinted toward the truck, screaming the first thing that came to my mind.
“FFRRRRRROOOOOOOOOYOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!”
The cop got a few more shots off, but luckily he was tired and injured. They missed and I was able to pull open the back of the truck and get both of us in just the driver drove away. The door slammed down right as the cop fired again. It hit the back of the truck, but the truck just kept on going. He must have kept those earphones in.
In the back of the truck were some towels, and a small refrigeration unit with some beers in it. Probably for samples or something. I grabbed an ice-cold beer wrapped it in the towel. I placed it on what was becoming a pretty serious bruise on Noa’s forehead. Her eyes opened.
“You’re welcome,” I said.

Noa’s Journal 9/8/14

The thing about being an member of an international ring of people who want to murder unwitting members of a resistance is that you’re not gonna be super nice.

That’s what I’ve learned this past week, at least.

I was about to hit post on my latest translation from The Collector when my vision went dark. I don’t react well in situations where my vision is suddenly taken from me, so I started hitting things. I connected with something solid, and heard my fist thud against it.

"Don’t. Don’t make this hard on me. Then I’ll have to make it hard on you," a voice said. I recognized it—the man who helped me defend my home not so very long ago.

"What? Why are you here?"

"I have to extract you."

"May I ask—"

"No you may not."

"May I post—"

"This time? No. Not this time."

With that, he wrenched me to my feet and frog-marched me out my back door and into the backseat of some anonymous car. I heard him pace around the front, tap twice on the back window, and felt the seat shift down as he sat beside me.

"Go."

The car began to move, slowly. 

"We’re in danger? We’re not moving very fast."

"Yeah they’ll be looking for that, girl."

"Don’t call me that. Look, what the hell is going on. Who’s on their way now?"

"They are."

"Oh thanks. It’s all clear now."

His fist connected with my chest. My breath choked out of my lungs and tears welled up behind my blindfold. It felt like a car crash—dull and bone-shaking all at once.

"I could do without the attitude, girl.

I struggled for breath, tried to grab hold of the door latch. I knew I had to get out. I found nothing. Cop Car, I thought. Cop cars don’t have door latches in the backseat.

"Are you a cop?" I wheezed.

"For now, yes."

"You set that up. The attack. You aren’t with The Collector."

"Can we do this not talking, girl?"

"Look, what do you have to gain by taking me?"

"Gain? Nothing at all. You’re not my target. Not y—"

My body crashed hard into his, and I blacked out into darkness. The next thing I knew, I was in the back of a van headed God knows where, with an icepack on my head and Nick kneeling over me.

"You’re welcome," he said.

Noa’s Journal 8/25/14

For the next two weeks after I was nearly murdered by a pack of strangers thanks to the interference by another stranger, I was a little jumpy. 

I hit Nick a few times. I apologized for most of them. A couple of times he snuck up on me and he really should have known that something was going to happen.

One night I went for a drive, hoping to get away a little bit from the chaos of my life. Something about loud music and fast cars always calmed me down. Always drowned out the chaos of everything else. 

I noticed the black car following me. I just didn’t acknowledge it.

I noticed when the second one drove up beside me. I drove faster, shimmied onto an exit too quickly for them to follow.

I saw the text that said, “They’re from me. -TC.” I just didn’t respond.

I pulled up to my house and a red X had been painted on my garage door. 

I slammed my hand down on my dashboard and screamed. 

"WHY? WHY THE FUCK IS IT ME? WHAT DO YOU NEED ME TO DO? WHY AM I IN CONSTANT FEAR OF DEATH? IS IT REALLY WORTH IT?"

No one answered, of course. No one was listening. I was furious. I got out of my car and slammed the door. 

"WHO ARE YOU?!"

A hand clamped down on my shoulder and spun me back against the car. 

"You’re gonna die if you keep this up. Just take the note. Just shut up. Just do what you need to do."

I never saw his face. It was as if he wasn’t there, just the disembodied hand. Voice. 

The note was crumpled in the leaves in front of me.

"Soon. Keep your cool. I still need you. Page 115."

A Friend For Gregor

Gregor Diefenbaker lived in a large castle atop a rocky piece of land that was somewhere between a hill and mountain. He lived alone, unless one counted the servants, who certainly did not count him. They rushed through their duties, cooking (though Gregor rarely ate), cleaning, doing yardwork, then retreated with much haste to the servants quarters. They always locked the door behind them.

A village nestled against the base of the hill-mountain. The village was peaceful and serene, with a market that bustled just enough. Nearly every person that lived there was friendly and generous, quick with a smile.

But the servants in the castle and the people in the village were only bustling or cleaning in the daytime, and Gregor was a creature of the night. The sun seemed ill fitted to light the activities that he took part in.

Gregor walked down the flight of stairs toward his lab, his hand holding a dim gas lamp to light his way. His body was thin and sharp, a pale (sickly, you could say, and many did) knife cutting the the darkness of the stairwell. The steel door that led to his laboratory crawled open, shrieking and moaning in protest, as if it was trying to contain what was inside. Gregor felt along the wall until he found the large switch, then pulled. The lights flashed on all at once. The village didn’t even have electricity yet, and Gregor’s laboratory was the only place in his castle that had it. The villagers didn’t trust it, and the servants wouldn’t even go near the room, though that may have had more to do with what went on the rooms than the electricity.

Machines whizzed and crackled as they powered up, filling with electrical energy. Gregor walked from station to station, nothing inspiring him. Finally, he sat on a stool in the middle of the middle of the laboratory, shoulders slumped even more than usual. The truth was, he was lonely. Gregor was surrounded by servants and a whole village of people, but had no friends. And it wasn’t for a lack of trying. He tried bringing villagers up to the castle. But the villagers didn’t share the same interests as him. They didn’t enjoy cutting open cadavers and rearranging their insides. They thought his collection of jars filled with body parts and fetuses in embalming fluid was grotesque. His electric iron maiden was “painful,” his dinners of boiled bat organs and fox brains were “too garlicy.” Even his favorite hobby, taking different parts of animal bodies and combining them into hybrid beasts, failed to garner anything but terror and disgust.

He had applied on multiple occasions for membership to the Evil Mad Scientist Coalition and Summer Handball League, hoping to attend some of their social events and meet some like minded people, but they rejected him time and time again. Though he showed great potential, they said, the most evil thing he had accomplished so far was finance the killing of the many trees it took to supply all the paper for his applications.

Without thought, he walked among the fresh cadavers that were delivered that afternoon from down in the village. Some unruly cattle had led to the deaths of three men, now stretched out before him. He looked over at the tables a few feet away, where the carcasses of an ibex lay on one table and a lynx on the other. The gears inside Gregor’s brain turned. Perhaps if he couldn’t find a friend from another source, he would do what he always did: make one himself. He set about his task. He took the man and transferred him to the main table in the middle of the laboratory. He removed the arms and replaced them with the arms of the front legs of the lynx. He replaced the human teeth with lynx teeth. From the ibex he took the long horns atop his head and grafted them to the skull of the man. The cows made a mess of the internal organs and bones of the three men, so Gregor did his best salvaging and combining the best of what hadn’t been damaged. Gregor considered the brain. Not just any brain would do. He wanted this new creature to have a brain akin to his own. Over along the wall was a shelf holding jars that contained the brains of most of his late family members. He grabbed the most recent, his cousin, who had died in an unfortunate accident when experimenting with attempting to attach new limbs to those who had lost them. The accident had occurred when the husband of one of his former patients that had died from infection stabbed Gregor’s cousin repeatedly for “killing his wife.” Gregor’s cousin had accidentally forgotten not to get stabbed.

Gregor removed the brain from the farmer’s head and replaced it with his cousin’s. The stich and staple work holding the body together was some of Gregor’s best, if he did say so himself. He was always meticulous about such things. With the body assembled, Gregor hooked up the wires from his generator at strategic points around it. He gripped the switch that would funnel volts and volts of electricity into the newly assembled body, then stopped. What was he thinking? This was stupid. This never worked. He had tried many times before. Create a friend? Never gonna happen.

He threw the switch anyway. At least he would get to see a body twitch and burn before he settled back into his despair. He flipped the switch and watched the body convulse for a little bit, but even that made him sad, so he turned the electricity off and flopped down onto his stool. But even with the electricity off, the body kept moving. “Uhhhhhhhh…”

Gregor shot up and took a few steps back. The creature broke free of one arm strap, then the other. It used its claws to free its legs. It stood up, taking a moment to find its footing. Its eyes locked on Gregor, and it smiled, revealing its maw of predator’s teeth.

Gregor couldn’t believe it. It worked! It actually worked! He would finally have a friend. They spent the next few days running experiments. The servants were even more frightened than usual and refused to even be on the same floor as the creature. Unfortunately, as the experiments continued, he realized that the creature’s brain was not developed or high-functioning enough to be any kind of real friend. He was disappointed, but at least he could use to creature to get into the Coalition, and gain some friends from there.

When he had enough data, he wrote to the Evil Mad Scientist Coalition and Summer Handball League with his findings. Surely they had to respect him now. They could no longer deny him entry. Soon he would have friends from all over the world!

It wasn’t long before the coalition responded. Gregor ripped open the envelope, unable to contain his excitement, but his face fell as he read the letter.

Dear Dr. (?) Diefenbaker,

While your success no doubt has some great scientific significance, we’re aren’t entirely sure that it is really evil, persay. Maybe if you could get the creature to cause some havoc, or be responsible for a series of brutal murders or something we will reconsider, but for now your application has been denied.

Sincerely,

Evil Mad Scientist Coalition and Summer Handball League

Gregor crumpled up the letter and threw it in the trash. He was furious. Denied again. Fine. He would just have to prove himself to them. He wondered if they accepted beginners on the handball teams, or if there was a beginners league of some sort. If was ever going to get there, he knew what he had to do.

For the next few weeks he set a strict training regimen for the creature, which he decided to call Kreatur. Not overly creative, but direct. So each day Gregor walked Kreatur through ways to terrify, maim, and kill, but something happened along the process. Everything went well except for fire, which terrified Kreatur. As his brain continued to awaken, he and Gregor became actual friends. Kreatur laughed at Gregor’s jokes. He especially like when Gregor would do puppet shows with the cadavers. A few times Gregor threw a cloak over Kreatur and they went down to the village to watch the public hangings. They laughed at all the same parts, mostly when the doomed plead for their lives.

Eventually Kreatur was ready to do some terrorizing. Gregor gave him easy tasks to complete at first, like mauling pets and farm animals in the night, but soon Kreatur graduated to grisly murders throughout the village and surrounding areas. For a moment, Gregor hesitated on even telling the Coalition, but despite his reservations, he submitted his application. I can always use more friends, he thought.

This time the response came not in the form of a letter, but in a knock at the door. One of the servants led the guests down to the laboratory. Gregor sat with Kreatur, going over melee fighting techniques and ways to be more terrifying, when the servant opened the door.

“Guests, Lord Gregor,” he said, then ran away.

There were five of them, all different shapes, sizes and ages, all wearing the official lab coat of the Evil Mad Scientist Coalition and Summer Handball League. It was the tallest, skinniest one, with a long hook nose and jet black hair slicked back that spoke. “We are here to see the creature.”

Gregor gulped, and gestured toward Kreatur, as if to say “here he is.” The representatives from the Coalition inspected Kreatur and spoke to him. Sweat gathered on Gregor’s forehead and underarms at first, but as the inspection went on, the representatives became more and more impressed. Gregor stopped sweating. When the inspection was over, the tall representative walked over to Gregor and handed him a piece of paper. Gregor took it, his nervous hands shaking. The nervousness turned to excitement when he read what it said.

This certificate hereby and forthwith, grants Gregor Diefenbaker, M.D. (?) immediate and full membership into the Evil Mad Scientist Coalition and Summer Handball League.

The signatures of the five representatives were at the bottom of the paper.

He did it. He was in.

“Welcome,” said the tall one. “Now, we must discuss the tour…”

And tour they did. They took Kreatur from country to country, city to city, showing him off to every division of the Coalition. He was a hit everywhere they went. Kreatur was the toast of every party, meeting, or mauling they attended. Gregor, on the other hand, felt like luggage. This may have had something to do with that fact that he was often made to sleep with the luggage. Or because the others dragged him around behind them and ignored him like luggage. Or because they kept trying to open him and put clothes in him like luggage. Everyone was interested in the creature, but not the man who had created him. Gregor grew tired of such treatment and was eager to return home, so he asked Kreatur is he was ready to go back.

“Hmmmm,” said Kreatur. “I think me stay with other scientists. Hang out more.”

“Fine,” said Gregor, and left for the long journey home.

For a while Gregor tried to keep up with Kreatur. He sent him letters, and Kreatur would respond with pages full of incoherent markings. Writing was outside of Kreatur’s grasp, it seemed. Eventually the responses tapered off. Gregor only heard about what was going on through the Coalition’s newsletter and from reports of strange maulings around the globe. Occasionally he would run into Kreatur at different Coalition events. They exchanged awkward, stilted greetings and continued on. That is, if Gregor could get through the crowd of admirers that followed him everywhere at those events.

Without Kreatur, Gregor’s accomplishments weren’t very impressive, and no one really wanted to be friends with an unaccomplished evil mad scientist. They put him on a summer handball team, but only as an alternate. He tried to creature a new creature, but he couldn’t replicate his results from when he created Kreatur. He tried to cook up some new evil schemes, but then he would see something in the laboratory that reminded him of Kreatur and the sadness would creep in. He tried going to the public hangings alone, but the same thing happened. Same when he did cadaver puppetry.

His castle seemed even more lonelier now than it ever had. Most of his time was spent sitting in his chair, staring into the fire, thinking Kreatur hated fire.

 

Nick Journal 8/12/14

Noa protested, but I sort of insisted on calling the cops. I mean, multiple attackers entering your home isn’t something you just brush off as if they were just haters.

I dialed 911 and the phone rang twice before it was picked up. “This is Nick-“

“Damn it I know who you are. What they hell are you thinking? Don’t try to pull something like this again.” A click signaled that whoever had answered the phone had hung up.

Naturally, I tried calling again but the call wouldn’t go through. It’s clear now The Collector has connections. I just hope he lets my call go through if I have a non-Collector related incident. I helped Noa clean up her house that night then headed home, not having slept at all. I needed to get my head clear if I was going to find The Collector, so I went for a walk to try to put some connections together, and to formulate a clear plan.

And what better place to do that than the German-fest that was taking place at a park a few blocks from my apartment. I wandered through crowds of people wearing leiderhosen, eating bratwurst, drinking beer from ramsteins, and listening to terrible polka music. The smell of the smoked sausage lured me into one of the food tents and I approached the makeshift bar they had set up. I walked through the fold in the tent and quickly found the front of my shirt covered in beer thanks to an impact from running into someone exiting the tent.

“Please forgive me,” he said in a thick German accent without a trace of levity.

“Oh no worries it was probably my-“ I stopped short when I looked at the man. He was tall, with brown slick-backed hair and wore what looked like a military officer’s more casual uniform. But what stopped me was the man’s face. Half of it was burned, and a large scar crossed his right eye. “-fault.”

“No please. Let me buy your food or drink.”

I tried to protest, but he grabbed me by arm and ushered me up to the bar.

“Please,” he said, gesturing toward the girl behind the counter.

“I uhhh, I’ll take a bratwurst on stick I guess.”

“I vill pay for it,” said the stranger as he slid payment across the counter. “I apologize again for your shirt.” I watched him leave the tent, then turned back to the girl across the counter. She smacked her gum, and had her arms crossed on her chest, one hand up in the air, holding a piece of paper.

“We don’t take pieces of paper. We need like tickets or whatever.”

I took the piece of paper from her and handed her to 15 tickets for the Bratwurst On a Stick.

The writing on the paper read simply “Page 32.”

Collector Letter, 8/8/14

Nick and Noa,

For once, I’m not writing in the midst of danger. Well, I suppose I’m always in the midst of danger now, but the danger currently isn’t as immediate. I’m sitting in a café in a small village in Ecuador. The natives here, tribes like the Secoya, Cofan, and Waorani, have given me many fascinating stories. Hopefully these stories will eventually reach you.

You may think me crazy for still collecting stories despite the mortal danger that follows me around, but I can’t forget why I started this journey in the first place.

You’ve done well so far. I’ve kept up with your progress, and we’re right on schedule. I will continue to do my best to protect you, but I can make no guarantees. I regret having to involve you or anyone else, but it has become necessary. You’ll be meeting many of my aquaintences, and you’ll meet more soon. Traditional channels of communication aren’t safe, so the secrecy and passing notes is necessary. These exchanges are to be short and to the point. Do not become or ask a bunch of questions. I ask that you continue to trust me. DO NOT try to find me. Do not seek out information about me. The more you pry into this the harder it becomes to keep you safe.

Don’t trust anyone. Curiosity killed the cat. Whatever other clichés you can think of. Oh also some women that you meet that I know might be a little bitter. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and some have alleged that I have done some scorning. But I just need my space, you know? You guys understand.

A man just sat down across the café. He does not belong. I’m afraid this place has been compromised. They’ll have this place locked down momentarily. I must go, but before I do,: Nick, I’m sorry about your arm. Wait, has that happened yet? If not, sorry in advance.

Keep transcribing the stories.

The Collector

Joint Journal - Nick and Noa 8/4/14

Nick’s Journal

We’ve received another letter from The Collector. This time it came to Noa via some stranger that showed up at her house one rainy night. But I’ll let her tell that part of the story. Suffice to say, its contents don’t put me any more at ease. And how does he know where we live? Where we’ll be at random times in the day? How to reach us at any time? Is my phone bugged? Is he watching me while I’m in the shower?!?

He’s already making me paranoid and insane. I don’t particularly enjoy feeling like I’m going insane. Like I’m constantly being watched. Getting chills down my spine when walking alone on a street late night IN THE SUMMER. And after spending an evening in a club that I’m not sure even existed, I think it’s time we find out who this Collector is, particularly if I’m going to continue doing his dirty work. Okay, so I don’t really know if the work is dirty or not, but if something is done with a bunch of secrecy it’s usually not good. And if I’m going to be in potential danger just for deciphering these stories from his diary, I think I deserve more information. Which is why I’ve come to this decision (which I had made before we received The Collector’s new letter): I’m going to track him down.

To do this, I need to have all my resources at the ready. I played enough Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? growing up that I think I know how to track down a globetrotting master mind. And that’s where I started. I dug through some old boxes in my parents attic until I found our old copy of the Carmen Sandiego computer game, and more importantly, the copy of The World Almanac and Book of Facts that came with it. Then I went about gathering all the other supplies I would need. I put together a list of what I would need and checked them off as I got them.

The World Almanac and Book of Facts? Check.

iPad? Check.

iPad charger? Check.

World map? Check. (Sometimes technology fails).

Journal? Check.

Pens and pencils (you never know)? Check.

Snacks? Check. (Trail mix, the kind with M&Ms in it).

People Magazine’s Book of Celebrity Crosswords? Check. (What? I might get bored and regular crosswords are really hard).

Sweet messenger bag to carry it all in? Check.

I put all these items together and headed over to Noa’s house to let her know my plan. Well, sort of plan. At least the idea for the start of part of a plan. Rain poured down as I jogged up Noa’s front sidewalk. I rang the doorbell, and almost immediately the door swung open and I was greeted by an angry-faced Noa holding an aluminum baseball bat, ready to beat my face in.

“WOAH! Calm down it’s just me.” Her face softened. She lowered the bat. “Can I come in? It’s raining a lot out here.”

She cracked open the door enough to stick her head out to twist in left and right, then motioned me in. I was too excited by my new mission to even notice he behavior, and started talking as soon as I walked through the door.

“I know that he keeps warning us of the danger, but I think it’s time we find out who The Collector is.”

“Nick.”

The wooden floors creaked as I paced back and forth on them, pleading my case. “How do we know he’s even the good guy? How do we know that he’s not the bad guy and what we’re doing is helping some evil cause?”

“Nick.”

“If I’m going to be risking my neck, I would at least like to know who I’m doing it for and why.”

“Nick.”

“And honestly? My life is boring. This is our chance at a real life Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego. Well, if Carmen Sandiego was a man. Who like stories a lot.”

“Nick this isn’t a game.”

“I know it’s not a game.” I’ll be honest, I said this just to appease Noa. It sort of is like a fun game. A fun, possibly life-threatening game. “But he could be anywhere, and be up to anything. He sneaks around the world from Kiev to Carolina, a sticky-fingered filcher from Berlin down to Belize, he’ll take you for a ride on a slow boat to China-“

“Are you saying the lyrics from the Carmen Sandiego theme song?”

I was.

“It doesn’t matter what are the lyrics to what. You’re missing the point.”

“Nick.”

“The point is we need to find out who The Collector is and what his motivations are.”

“Nick.”

“What?”

“We got another letter from The Collector.”

That’s when I saw the open package on the table. While the message inside didn’t do anything to put me at ease, in fact, the opposite, I am now even more resolute than before. Who in the world is The Collector? I have to find out.

Noa’s Journal

I’ve been through so many emotions the past few weeks about The Collector that I’m not even sure what to feel anymore. It’s exhausting, trying to figure out what you’re supposed to do next when it feels like the world is on your shoulders and the only man who can help you is…well…a ghost.

Figuratively.

Not literally.

Maybe literally. I really don’t know. He could be dead for all we know, and it wouldn’t even surprise me a little bit. I might even feel a little better then, because then I could explain to myself how he seems to know everything about Nick and myself.

Seems like I can’t him off my mind. It’d feel like a junior high crush if I weren’t constantly looking over my shoulder.

Last weekend, I had finally relaxed a little bit. My husband was out on business, and I was enjoying a quiet weekend to myself, binge watching X-Files, painting my nails and enjoying an ice-cold Shiner Ruby Redbird. It was peaceful. Fun, even. 

I heard a knock on my door about 11:45 pm, and seeing as how I was a tiny woman home alone, I didn’t answer. As a knee-jerk reaction, I stood up to go quiet down my dog who barks like a hell hound every time anyone comes to the door. 

She wasn’t barking. I started to walk to the back door to see if she had gotten out somehow, and I heard the knock on the front door again, this time much louder, much more insistent. Still no dog. The hair on the back of my neck raised. I stood in the door between my kitchen and the living room, the house lit only by the light of X-Files, still playing. 

"Don’t answer the door. Don’t move. They know you’re here. They’ll be coming in soon, and you need to be ready to fight."

The voice came from the door, swung partially open right behind me. My mind, my body was now rushing with adrenaline, everything moving faster and slower at the same time. 

"Who are you?"

"Be quiet, and go get the bat that’s underneath your bed."

I was as quiet as I could be, slipping down the hall, grabbing the bat and clutching it in my hands, and slipping back down the hall. I saw a hand in the darkness come from behind the door to the kitchen, motioning me to stop. The knocks on the door became ever more insistent. I tightened my grip on the bat. 

In the movies, when someone breaks into your house ready to fight you, they always kick it in and rush in, guns blazing, screaming, raising hell. 

When they finally made their way inside, it was so quiet, so calm that I almost didn’t hear it. They just slipped the door open, cracked the windows, and 4 people dressed entirely in black slipped in, hunkered down, eyes glancing around nervously. I heard the back door open and knew they were going to be coming from both sides. 

The light lit the 4 eerily, in green and black tones. It was spooky. It was unreal.

When the line of the 4 people stepped just outside of the hallway, I saw the man behind the door rush out. I launched myself at the closest one and started swinging, connecting with his ribs. I pulled back and swung again, this time feeling his shoulder crunch beneath the bat. It was intensely satisfying. I rushed forward and hit the next one, a smaller guy, nailing him in the stomach.

The man behind the door was doing alright alone, punching his way though three of them who’d come from the kitchen. I paid for looking away when a fist slammed down on the right side of my body. It was so hard it felt like my ribs bowed inward. I lost my breath but gained rage, and as soon as I felt another punch to my back—a cheap kidney shot—I spun and cracked the bat over someone’s face, and then didn’t stop swinging. I could have been hitting the man behind the door and I wouldn’t have cared. I was on a bat-cracking roll. 

"Whoa whoa whoa—they’re all out in here. Stand down."

I froze in place, hands still white-knuckled around the grip. 

"Who the fuck were they?"

"They came to stop you. To cut off the arms of our operation." 

"Our?"

"Did you think it was just the three of you? You have a lot to learn."

"Can we not be sarcastic right now? Are there more of them outside?"

"I have my shit together, girl. I’m scanning the area."

Of course this motherfucker had FLIR heat signature goggles. Jesus, what was even happening?

"You know you have possums in the attic?"

"Yes, I am aware, but thank you. Do you happen to see any murderers?"

"Looks like we’re clear for now. Here," he said, tossing a wooden box onto my dining room table. "This is your next mission."

"It’s not clearing the bodies from the floor? WAIT OH MY GOD ARE THEY DEAD?" 

"What bodies?" He asked, walking towards the front door, and slipping out into the darkness. I looked around and…it gives me chills…there weren’t any bodies. 

What the fuck was happening?