Alex and Harold sat in the minivan in front of Dr. Porter’s cabin. Every few seconds, there would be another pulse of the strange sensation. It made Alex’s hair stand up each time, but Harold, as usual, seemed entirely unaffected by it.
“What do you think we should do here? Come back in the morning? Watch and wait until she leaves and we can go in and look around undisturbed?” Alex said.
Harold looked at Alex, and said, “I think we should go inside, immediately, and recover the artifacts and my luggage. Why on Earth would we wait?”
“I’m just thinking that she might start screaming about intruders, and we might get shot at, either by her or her neighbors, if we just go in there in the middle of the night,” Alex said.
“You don’t seem to have very much confidence in your ability to be stealthy, Mr. Minor,” Harold said.
“That’s because I’m completely fucking terrible at being stealthy, Harold. Just ask Megan some time,” Alex said. He had visions of being chased down the road by a burly neighbor of Dr. Porter’s wearing nothing but pajama pants and brandishing a shotgun.
“Well, I’m stealthy enough for both of us, Mr. Minor,” Harold said. “Just stay close to me and try not to knock anything over.”
“You’re insane, Harold,” Alex said.
“Perhaps,” Harold said. “At any rate, stick close to me and we’ll be back out of here in the minivan in mere moments.”
“I sure hope you’re right,” Alex said.
They got out of the minivan, and Alex cringed at the way the doors screeched open. He expected to hear someone’s dog start barking, but none did. He joined Harold at the foot of the driveway.
“Remember, stay close to me, and don’t knock anything over,” Harold said.
“Whatever you say, Harold,” Alex said. “Let’s just get this over with.”
They walked up the driveway next to each other. Alex flinched a bit as each step in the gravel crunched under foot. He expected a dog to start barking any second, lights to turn on, and a need for him and Harold to start running.
“Please calm down, Mr. Minor,” Harold said, quietly.
“How exactly is it that you can be stealthy enough for both of us?” Alex whispered back.
“I’m a butler. It’s my business,” Harold said.
“We’re screwed,” Alex said to himself under his breath.
“Thank you for your confidence, Mr. Minor,” Harold said.
They reached the side door. Alex got there first, opened the hurricane door, grabbed the door knob, and said, “Here goes.”
The door was locked. Alex was mildly embarrassed that his first reaction was a feeling of relief.
“Allow me, Mr. Minor,” Harold said.
He took the door knob, and this time it turned easily. He swung the door open, and walked inside. “Stay close to me,” Harold said.
“How the hell did you do that?” Alex said. He followed Harold inside, doing his best to not let the hurricane door slam shut behind them.
“It’s a trade secret, I’m afraid,” Harold said. “Be quiet.”
The waves of the strange sensation were even stronger inside. Just as one pulse seemed to subside, another one began. Alex felt himself break out in goosebumps from head to toe. He was already on edge, and the pulses were pushing him close to panic.
It was dark inside the cabin, but there was enough light coming in the windows that they were able to see the interior reasonably well. The kitchen and living room were one open space. The walls were covered in wood paneling, and Dr. Porter appeared to have quite a collection of framed art. Most of the frames were kind of battered, and Alex guessed they were largely thrift store finds. The furniture was mismatched, and most of it was overstuffed. There was a wood burning stove in one corner of the room.
All in all, it was a pretty cozy cabin. Apart from the otherworldly pulses of energy, of course.
“She’s really made an astonishing amount of progress,” Harold said.
“How can you tell?” Alex said.
“I can feel it. I know you can too, your hair is standing on end,” Harold said.
“Is not,” Alex said.
“Be quiet. We’re being stealthy,” Harold said.
There were three doors in the far wall. Two were shut, and one was open. There was enough light coming in the window in that room to tell that it was a bedroom. It was also possible to tell that no one was in there.
The far door was shut, and there was only shadow showing underneath it. Harold and Alex didn’t waste any time on that door, since the middle door had a soft, very white light coming from underneath it. It seemed to pulse in time with the waves of sensation.
Alex and Harold stood outside the middle door. Harold reached for the door knob.
“Whatever you see in here, don’t be alarmed, Mr. Minor,” Harold said.
“I think that’s the most alarming thing you’ve said tonight,” Alex said.
Harold opened the door.
Inside, Dr. Porter sat alone at a three legged table. She had a small disk under each of the table’s legs, the larger wax disk and the gold disk on top of the table, with a piece of polished black obsidian on top of all of it. She had both hands on the obsidian, and was staring intensely into it. She was, so far, completely oblivious to Alex and Harold’s presence.
Underneath the table and Dr. Porter on the floor, drawn in either chalk or white salt, was a five pointed star inside of a circle.
More curious was that there was a softly glowing outline of something human shaped, but somewhat small, standing just outside the circle at each of the points of the star. The strange sensation had stopped coming in waves and was now constant.
“Holy shit!” Alex said.
Harold covered his face with one hand, and sighed. “I can’t provide stealth for you if you insist on being obvious, Mr. Minor,” he said.
Alex didn’t have time to reply, because Dr. Porter was no longer paying attention to the scrying mirror, and was instead staring at Alex and Harold with a mix of surprise and anger on her face.
“What are you doing here? How did you get in?” Dr. Porter said.
“We’ve come to collect my luggage, and the artifacts you’ve stolen,” Harold said.
“We got in through the side door,” Alex added.
“That door was locked, and I put a spell of protection on the whole house,” Dr. Porter said.
Harold chuckled politely, and said, “Spells of protection have no effect on me, Dr. Porter. I’m a butler.”
Dr. Porter’s eyes went wide. “Did you say you’re a butler?”
Alex looked back and forth between the two of them. He wasn’t sure which part of that conversation baffled him the most.
“I am,” Harold said.
“They said you were coming. I didn’t understand what it meant, but they told me,” Dr. Porter said.
“Could you tell me what the hell is going on?” Alex said.
“Well, Harold Derby, you’ve come a long way to see me. It’s too bad for you that I’m not about to let you ruin my triumph!” Dr. Porter said. “A lifetime of research and study. Failed experiment after failed experiment. And now that I have the proper tools, success is within my reach!”
“Ruin your triumph?” Harold said. “Completely aside from the fact that you’ve taken items which do not belong to you, I’m not here to steal your success. I’m here to save you from yourself. To save you from the same fate that befell Thomas Smith, and me.”
“Say what?” Alex said.
“The fate that befell you? To commune with the angels? To find the truths mankind has been searching for since the beginning of time?” Dr. Porter said. “I would be glad to meet that fate.”
Harold shook his head, sadly.
“There were no truths, only more questions,” Harold said. “And those are not angels. To their credit, they never claimed they were.”
“You lie!” Dr. Porter said.
She stood up from her chair suddenly, knocking it over backwards, where it fell through one of the glowing human shapes standing behind her.
“Look at me,” Harold said. “Three hundred some years old. I need no sleep, and there is no rest for me. I do not need to eat, and there is no joy in a fine meal for me. I watch, and wait, and hope that one day this will end. My reward turned punishment.”
“You were only a lackey to Thomas Smith. He has travelled to be with the angels, and eternal ecstasy,” Dr. Porter said.
“I don’t know about that,” Harold said. “Mr. Smith has travelled somewhere, certainly. Has it occurred to you that perhaps these ‘angels’ are seeking truth themselves. I think Mr. Smith has found himself the subject of study for them, and I don’t think I would wish that on anyone. They’re looking for a door and an invitation, and once they’ve found them, they will quickly make themselves unwelcome guests.”
“All lies. You just want me to give you the artifacts, so you can use them yourself, or collect a bounty on them. I’m not about to let that happen,” Dr. Porter said.
She grabbed the large wax disk, the golden disk, and her obsidian mirror from the top of the table in one quick movement and shouldered her way past Harold and Alex, knocking both of them back on their feet. They heard her stumble through the house behind them, throw the doors open and letting them slam again behind her.
“Holy hell is she strong,” Alex said.
“We were almost too late,” Harold said.
The five glowing figures still stood around the points of the star on the floor. Alex had a strong feeling he and Harold were being watched.
“Mr. Minor, go outside, close the doors behind you, and at least see direction she took off in,” Harold said in a quiet voice.
“OK,” Alex said. “What are you going to do?”
“Get rid of this lot. Go, go!” Harold said.
Harold’s voice sounded urgent enough that Alex did as he was told, leaving the room they were in, and closing that door behind him. He heard Harold muttering something, but he couldn’t make out what it was.
Alex stepped outside, shutting the door behind him, just in time to see Dr. Porter finish backing out of the driveway, and accelerating quickly away. Alex ran to the end of the driveway, and saw her tail lights receding, before making a left turn some distance ahead. He could hear her tires squealing around the corner, and then she was gone.
“How the hell are we supposed to find her now?” Alex said to himself. He walked over to the minivan, leaned up against it, and wondered how long Harold was going to be.
After about thirty minutes, Harold came outside again, looking disheveled and tired. He walked deliberately down the driveway, to where Alex was waiting. Alex noticed Harold was carrying his luggage.
“Are you OK, Harold?” Alex said.
“Fine, thank you Mr. Minor,” Harold said.
“You don’t look like you’re fine,” Alex said. “What happened in there?”
“I’m just tired, Mr. Minor. They didn’t care to leave, so I had to throw them out. It required a great deal of effort,” Harold said.
“I guess so. I see you’ve got your luggage back, at least,” Alex said.
“Yes, and it’s a good thing, too,” Harold said.
“Did you get the disks she left behind?” Alex said.
“They’re in my luggage,” Harold said.
“OK, cool,” Alex said.
They were silent for a moment. Alex was unsure of what to say next, and Harold seemed content to say nothing. Eventually, Alex pointed down the road and said, “She went that way.”
“Is there a body of water around here?” Harold said.
“Are you kidding? We’re in the land of ten thousand lakes. We’re lucky our feet aren’t getting wet right now,” Alex said.
“She’ll probably be heading for a big lake, then. Let’s have a look at a map, and hope we can pick the same one she did,” Harold said.
“Why would she be heading for a lake?” Alex said.
“There is a lot of power in a good sized body of water. She’ll want to use it,” Harold said.
“How is she going to use it? She’s missing three of the disks, right?” Alex said.
“Get in the van, Mr. Minor. I’ll explain on the way,” Harold said.
After they had taken a look at the surrounding area on the GPS, and Harold had selected the lake that seemed the most likely for Dr. Porter to go to, Harold turned the minivan around and they started to drive.
“The reason Dr. Porter needs the lake is because she’s missing the three disks that were under the table. Think of them as batteries. Right now, she has power tools with no power source. If she can tap into an alternate power source, however, she can keep working,” Harold said.
“So we’ve got her batteries, and now she’s looking for an outlet?” Alex said.
“More or less, yes, Mr. Minor,” Harold said.
“Great,” Alex said.
The drove in silence for a few minutes, before Alex said, “So, Harold, what’s the deal with your luggage?”
Harold sighed, and said, “I suppose that by this point, I may as well trust you with this information.
“You’ve already put together that I was Thomas Smith’s butler. I was also his assistant as he worked on his research into the occult. It was fascinating work, and we thought we had found a way to find the great truth.
“We spoke with the beings Mr. Smith referred to as ‘angels’, who were only too happy to answer our questions about the nature of the universe. Their answers furthered our mathematical work, as well as our alchemical experiments. What they taught us would be considered basic facts of chemistry and physics today, but at the time the information was a revelation.
“At first, the angels provided only the most vague visions to Mr. Smith in his scrying mirror, but building on what he learned from those visions, we were able to eventually hear their voices, and then see them as we saw them tonight.
“Before much longer, we knew enough to open a door for them to come into our world and, as we would learn, for us to go into their world as well.
“Mr. Smith went into their world, and never returned. I vowed to find him and bring him back, but I never found even a trace of him in years of searching. Eventually, I abandoned my search.
“Over the years, Mr. Smith’s personal effects were scattered and lost to time, which was for the best.
“However, I’ve kept one item with me all these years. The key, such as it is, to open the door made with the artifacts we’ve been trying to recover. It is another disc, about the size of a large coin, made of lead. Years ago, I concealed it in the lining of my luggage, to keep it secret should anyone try to piece Mr. Smith’s work together again.”
Alex didn’t quite know what to make of this new information. He was pretty sure he had the basic gist of it, however.
“So, what you’re saying is, you’ve got the key to unlock the universe hidden in your luggage?” Alex said.
“In short, yes,” Harold said.
“And it would be bad for Dr. Porter to get her hands on that key?” Alex said.
“It would be very bad,” Harold said.
“Then I have to ask… Why don’t you keep it in a safe deposit box?” Alex said.
Harold laughed, to Alex’s surprise.
“An excellent question, one I have been wondering about as well these past few days,” Harold said.
They road they were on came close to the lake Harold thought the most likely. Alex looked out across the water, and said, “How are we supposed to spot her in the dark?”
Just then, the same soft white glow they’d seen in Dr. Porter’s cabin appeared on the far side of the lake.
“Oh, I guess that answers my question,” Alex said.