Copyright (c) 2016 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
By R. Peterson
In late 1929, we were almost a third of the way through the Century of Dreams and all things were in motion. Man and woman traversed the land and seas faster than ever before while rockets and flying machines proved that even the sky above was not the ultimate limit. The Callahan research laboratory, located in a desolate part of western Illinois, was dedicated to discovering the physics behind inertia and its relationship to the fabric of space time. I was being criminally instructed in the mysteries of the cosmos and the ways that the laws of physics could be broken by an almost painfully exuberant physicist-inventor when we were brought back to the familiar world by a cry for help.
I followed Joseph Callahan through knee-deep snow to the river. The eerie howling racket that had caused us to run from his research laboratory was now low guttural growls and tearing sounds. Callahan’s portable spotlight, held an arm’s length above us, showed a huge creature that looked to be made entirely of snow, except for a turn-of-the-century black hat perched on top of its enormous head. It was ripping apart a human body, where the frozen water met the bank. “Do something!” I yelled as a bloody dismembered arm skidded across the ice. A designer watch attached to the mutilated wrist looked strangely familiar.
“It’s too late,” Callahan said with a laugh. “You are already dead!”
I gaped at the face on the dismembered carcass. It was like looking in a mirror. I’d often dreamed of having an identical twin that I could blame my mistakes on. This was a nightmare!
“How can I be dead, if I’m about to upchuck the corn beef on rye I had for lunch?” I told him.
Callahan flipped a switch on the spotlight and the battery powered lantern projected ten times the luminosity. He trained the light on the snow creature. He grinned. The monster howled and stood erect.
“The pupazzo has an aversion to bright lights,” Callahan said as if he was teaching a class of sixth graders, “and it will melt if it gets too warm.” He held out one arm as if to keep me from dancing with the monster. “My battery will only last a minute at this level. Let’s hope the Snowman decides to finish his dinner later.”
The creature stared at us with eyes that I discerned were made with lumps of coal. With a snort the monster lurched toward us, but Callahan adjusted the light so that a tiny very powerful beam reflected directly off one anthracite pupil in the huge frozen face. A low howl rose in volume until it became a shriek. “I don’t have the equipment to completely destroy the pupazzo right now,” Callahan said. “I was hoping that you would lure the creature here … and you did. I’m sorry that it cost you your life!”
I stared once more at what remained of my bloody doppelganger and then at Callahan. “You’re sorry I had to die?”
“I hope you have a lighter or at least a match on you!” Callahan said as he removed a squeeze can from his coat pocket and sprayed a thick stream of what smelled like kerosene toward the advancing beast. “I don’t smoke!”
I dropped my silver-plated Dunhill in the snow when, with a hair-raising howl, the beast suddenly charged toward us. I could feel the monster’s icy breath crawling down my neck like January wind sweeping a rooftop when I retrieved the lighter and frantically thumbed a flame to life. A streak of fire followed the flammable liquid and engulfed the creature in a ball of flame. Frozen fingers were inches away from my throat when the monster turned and fled across the ice, beating at the fire with arms made of packed frost and disappearing into a flurry of snow.
“We must get back to the safety of my laboratory,” Callahan blubbered enthusiastically. I couldn’t believe he was still smiling. “The snow creature will learn very quickly not to fear fire. After all, what is there to burn?”
“I don’t know,” I sneered having just seen myself murdered, “suppose you tell me!” I slid the watch off the severed arm before I turned and followed 1929’s version of C. A. Rotwang as he skittered rat-like toward the buildings on the hill. The silver Rolex Oyster timepiece with blood running off the crystal was identical to the one I was wearing.
Callahan poured two mugs from a pot that smelled as if it had been sitting on a burner for a week. We were warming up inside his enormous laboratory. I was tempted to ask for a spoon. I drink my coffee black but I wasn’t sure the tar would come out of my cup without one. My numb fingers were beginning to sting and my tongue cringed when I took a first sip.
“For many years I have been fascinated by the ability of all objects to move,” Callahan said. “The scientific community has led the world to believe that the vacuum we call space or the nothing that exists between all physical material is without substance or property. Max Planck’s hypothesis that all matter, including the energy waves they produce, can be divided into a number of discrete dark elements each with its own statuary point, supports my own conclusion that space is a finite and ever growing substance manufactured as expansion occurs outward in all directions!”
“I graduated near the bottom of my class at Cloverdale High School,” I told him. “I didn’t take physics or any other foreign language. Can you translate what you just said into English?”
“Neither matter nor energy moves,” Callahan said. “The statuary points in the direction of travel are duplicated as the fabric of space time is woven. We see reality only for a fraction of a second before it is replaced.”
“That’s impossible,” I told him. “I plunked the coffee-cup on a table filled with Bunsen burners and test tubes and waved my fingers in the air. “I just moved my hand!”
“An almost infinite number of hands, arms, legs … whatever … were duplicated at the speed of light and are still duplicating,” Callahan said. “We only glimpse the instant of creation.”
I could feel my head growing larger. I wondered if Callahan had anything to make it shrink, perhaps a case of gin smuggled in from Canada.
Callahan strolled toward a jungle of wires with a massive blue-glowing apparatus in the center that looked like a threshing machine with electrical tubes for tines. “I’ve succeeded in creating a mechanism that places the universe’s loom in reverse,” he said. “I can roll back the fabric and select any point or bit of matter and energy along the way and bring it to life.”
I was beginning to understand. “One of the points you selected, was a duplicate of me that the Snowman ripped apart by the river!”
“The first night you arrived!” Callahan smiled, but when I didn’t return the gesture, he made a pretense of being sober. “Your points were gathered by way of an electrified Cranial Capture device much like a hatband that I placed on your head while you were sleeping.
“Why make an exact copy of me if I’m only going to be torn apart by your snowman? This monster terrorizing the upper half of Illinois is also one of your creations I presume.” I was suspicious and also a little afraid of science. Callahan was obviously a genius, but he had no right to play God.
“I needed your help, but I knew it would be very dangerous. I decided to use a duplicate in case something went wrong. The monster that came to life from a child’s effigy was not one of my creations but I take full responsibility,’ Callahan said as we walked into another room. A massive steel and cast-iron floor safe was suspended about three feet off the floor by what looked like only the beam from a cheap battery operated light. “As you know, Chicago has been controlled by underworld figures for some years. Capone and other gangsters extort money from legitimate businessmen as far away as California. The Mayor and the Chief of Police are merely employees of these mobsters. A week ago, three of Machine Gun McGooganheimer’s thugs tried to shake me down for two-thousand dollars in protection money. While we were negotiating, one of the mobsters secretly snatched a Cranial Capture device that I had used in a previous experiment outside the lab. It was placed around a silk top-hat as a mourning-band to disguise its function. Stealing is second nature to these ruthless thugs.”
“So one of the mobsters kipped your special hat,” I said. “What made the Snowman?”
“The experiment I referred to, was performed on a prison inmate named Peter Brandon Boils,” Callahan said. He flipped off the light and the floor-safe hit the floor with a boom that jarred my teeth. “A particularly unsavory character with a history of violence. I needed a test subject who would be disposable if the experiment went wrong. Unfortunately Mr. Boils refused to wear the hat, fought with the guards and the experiment was a failure. However, during the struggle, a bit of Mr. Boils’ DNA, Frederick Griffith’s molecule of inheritance, must have collected inside the device and was activated after the hat was stolen by McGooganheimer’s associates!”
I remembered discovering the bodies at the mob-fronted barber shop called Under Your Hat. The gangster probably wanted the fancy hat because of where he worked.
“I can only surmise,” Callahan said. “That the hat was too large and the gangster threw it away. Thugs are not noted for extensive brain capacity, and that the same hat was found by children who placed it on a snowman. The Cranial Capture device not only duplicated the snowman but also injected part of Peter Brandon Boils into the creature. Mr. Boils has a history of violence against unions, police and the mobsters who control them … this would explain the aggressive nature of the subject.”
“Subject Hell!” I told him. “You’ve got a monster running around the state with a bunch of Pit Bull Boils’ brains leaking from its frozen carrot-nose and it has already killed dozens of people! How are you going to stop it?”
“By using you for bait,’ Callahan said. “It was no accident that I picked you to help me neutralize the monster. It was partly your investigation into union violence that helped send Mr. Boils to prison for a dozen attacks and murders. The creature holds a genetic hatred for you and will seek to destroy you at every opportunity.”
“In that case, duplicate me,” I said. “If I’m going to die again, I’d like a front row seat!”
“Unfortunately the only working Cranial Capture device is the one the Snowman is wearing,” Callahan grinned. “Perhaps when we retrieve it.”
I didn’t have time to think of a smart come back. At that moment alarms began to sound throughout the complex. “We have visitors,” Callahan seemed thrilled, judging by the 1,000 watt grin on his face.
I realized the only thing I really wanted … was for the brilliant, but obviously stark-raving-mad, scientist from western Montana to stop smiling.
From an upstairs window of Callahan’s office we looked down on a half dozen mob goons exiting a black Essex sedan parked in the snow covered lot. All of them were packing heat. “What did you tell McGooganheimer’s associates when they demanded the two grand?” I asked Callahan. He was almost giddy with joy as he watched the approaching Chopper Squad.
“I told them to come back today and I’d give them twenty-grand cash,” Callahan spurted.
“You got that much dough on yah?” Most of the bank vaults I’d been in held less.
“Of course not,” Callahan laughed. “I just said that to give me time!”
I didn’t know what the valedictorian of Cloverdale High School had in mind as I followed him downstairs, but this had better work better than the Snowman experiment. McGooganheimer’s boys were here to collect on a cold stormy night and if they didn’t get what they were promised they were likely to fit us both with Chicago Overcoats … the kind you were buried in.
Fritz Lefty Mensal was known for his onion-bulb nose. Three of the others I recognized by the rings above their ape-like knuckles. These I had unfortunately seen up-close and for almost an hour in a mob garage the year before. They pushed past Callahan without an invite. Two of them crowded the space behind me. I could smell blood, and the fear that goes with it, reeking from their overshoes. Whatever dirty business these goons had been involved in before they came to the research lab … they had really stepped in it.
“We came for the twenty-five grand you owe us,” Lefty snorted. He sounded like he was blowing his nose every time he pronounced a vowel.
“The amount we agreed on was twenty grand,” Callahan told him. I could swear Callahan was fighting to keep from laughing as he led us all down a long hallway.
“Twenty grand …. Twenty five,” Lefty said. “You ain’t got the cabbage you get plowed under!”
“Right this way, gentlemen!” Callahan giggled. “I hope you brought bags … twenty grand is a lot to handle with your bare hands!”
The long hallway ended in a circular room about sixty-feet in diameter behind a bulk-head door that looked like it came from a submarine. In the center stood a huge open safe with bundles of paper money spilling onto the floor. “I’m sorry most of it is in fives and tens,” Callahan said. “Just as well, large notes attract attention from income tax Feds like Elliot Ness.”
Four of the thugs were already across the room dropping their guns as they filled their pockets with the bundles. “Damn! I thought you was putting us on,” Lefty said as he and the remaining goon rushed to join the others. “We might have to kill you quick and easy instead of the fun and games we had planned.”
An argument broke out as several thugs reached for the same bundles of dough. Callahan used the opportunity to activate a switch hidden in the wall. The floor beneath the men seemed to vanish while the safe and the bank-notes stayed suspended in the air. Fritz Mensal and all five men plus their weapons plunged into obviously cold water at least twenty feet below the floor level. Lefty came up spurting. “You bastard!” he gasped. “You cheated us!” Several of the men were retrieving Thompson machine guns from the five-foot deep water, even though I knew from experience that the guns were useless when wet.
“Not at all!” Callahan was laughing hysterically. “I promised you twenty grand and I delivered!” He pressed another button in the wall and a recessed gate opened in the pool. Long jagged tails made the water churn. “Twenty, I might say very hungry Grand Monitor Lizards originally from Indonesia. I located one species with exceptional size and remarkable aggression, it weighed in at three-hundred twenty pounds. I then duplicated him nineteen times as part of my early experiments with non-humans. Sorry about the cold water, but a decline in temperature gives the Komodo Dragon a voracious appetite!”
One of the more than ten-foot long creatures grabbed one of my ring knuckle friends and dragged him under the water while the others wailed. “You can keep your dough!” Lefty screamed. “Let us out of here … and we all go home as pals!”
“I like you, I really do,” Callahan told him. “But I promised my test subjects a ham dinner when my experiments were completed. Have you seen the prices of pork in the grocery stores … even with a depression starting? All that money suspended in the air above you is actually useless. I duplicated a ten and two fives a thousand times. It looks good except that the serial numbers happen to all be the same. You could spend the loot in small towns a bill or two here and there but eventually someone would catch on. No, this is a far better way to satisfy my obligations. Human flesh is supposed to taste just like pork … let’s hope I never have to find out!”
One of the lizards was chewing on Lefty’s ear and Callahan started to laugh. I dragged him from the circular room before I too went hysterical. The screams stopped when I closed the heavy door.
We were upstairs in Callahan’s office watching the snow fall. An hour before I’d went outside and found a bottle of Old Taylor whiskey in the back seat of the Essex sedan. I poured us both another drink and the bottle was almost empty. “If you had the Cranial Capture device back you could make all the booze you wanted … right?” Callahan only nodded.
“I had a full-proof plan to end this adventure,” Callahan said. For the first time in the last three days I saw him without at least a grin. “It’s this blasted snow that has me worried!”
“If not today, then tomorrow … a snow plow will come along,” I assured him.
“It’s not the roads,” Callahan said. “It’s the Snowman. He gets larger with every snow flake that falls …”
“How large?” I asked. The absence of his normally joyous expression had me worried.
“When the children first created the Snowman it was at most five feet tall more likely four.” Callahan reasoned. “The monster that ripped your other you apart at the river had to be three times that big … say twelve to fifteen feet!” I had to agree. In my memory the creature had seemed as big as a tree. “That means that even with the light snow we’ve had, the monster has tripled in size every twenty four hours!”
“But you can stop it?” Callahan looked at me and laughed but it wasn’t a happy sound.
“Science is a thing of dreams … as well as nightmares,” he said.
We watched in silence as the snow relentlessly came down, heavier than I’d ever seen it. We talked about the future. Callahan believed that people would someday use telephones no larger than a pencil box, all motors would run on gravity and that men, and perhaps even women, would one day walk on the moon. I wondered about the many rooms in his lab that I had not yet seen.
It was just before dawn when we heard footsteps like Marne artillery shells exploding across the drifting valley floor.
The monster was coming … and we waited.
I hope you enjoyed this story dear reader. You are the only reason I write. If you would like to read more about Cloverdale "The strangest small town on Earth" Please purchase my latest book of short stories CRAYON MONSTERS from Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Cloverdale-CRAYON-MONSTERS-Randall-Peterson/dp/1517660068 Thank you !!!!