Sadie balanced on the stool, aligning the wires that connected the giant bat decoration to the ceiling. After it faced out towards the door, she hopped back down, almost tripping over the tail of her cat costume. It was early in the evening on Halloween and Sadie was fixing up some of the decorations in Anna’s Cafe.
“Nice costume,” one of the customers said to Sadie. Sadie had been making costumes for the Renaissance Faire for years, and her cat costume – which she had made herself – was intricately detailed. She welled up with pride and had to restrain herself from posing for her audience.
“Aren’t you kind of old to be dressing up for Halloween?” Dave said. “And as a cat, too.”
Dave was a new deputy in Selunia Falls. Right now he was standing at the cafe counter, finishing up a mineral water before starting his shift. He was one of those wellness kinds of people, or as Sadie preferred to think of him: snob. Though, she admitted to herself, maybe that wasn’t really fair. I don’t know him that well.
“Aren’t you kind of young to be so boring?” Sadie said back. She reached behind the counter and pulled out a foam sword that she had also made herself, and she waved it around. The customer who had complimented her earlier was lounging in the back of the cafe, and he nodded his approval. She tipped her sword back at him.
“You’re… a cat with a sword?” Dave said.
“I’m a catgirl with a sword.” Sadie corrected him.
“What’s the difference?” Dave put his now empty bottle on the counter. “I have to hit the bathroom and start my shift.”
After Dave left, Rainbow, who was sitting at his usual seat at the edge of the counter, said, “Hey Sadie? What is this catgirl you’re talking about? Is this some species on your world that I haven’t seen yet?”
“Shhh,” Sadie whispered. “You’re going to freak out the others if they find out about you.”
She looked around to see if any of the other customers at the cafe had noticed them. There were several groups scattered around the cafe, but they all seemed preoccupied with their own conversations. “It’s from this online game that I play,” Sadie said.
“You humans have such strange customs. We don’t have any such tradition of dressing up as something else at home.”
“Do you miss it? Home, I mean?”
“Not really. I’m getting used to it here. But my dad… I don’t know. He doesn’t like this place. He doesn’t like humans either.”
“I noticed,” Sadie said, remembering the last time she had visited their house.
Their conversation was interrupted by a loud thump outside. Through the window, Sadie could see a woman collapsed on the ground next to her bike. She rushed out, followed by Dave, who had also rushed out of the bathroom at the sound and was still holding up his pants with his hands as he ran outside.
Sadie reached the woman first. “Are you alright?” Sadie said as she knelt down beside the woman.
“I…” the woman mumbled.
Before the woman could say anything else, Dave had caught up to them. “What happened to you?” he said. “Did you fall off your bike or something?”
The woman seemed to be in shock. “He hit me. He hit me with his car and drove off,” the woman finally said.
Sadie looked around but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. There were a few parked cars and a few early trick or treaters, but that was all. The woman wore rings on every finger and a crystal pendant, and her hair was tied back with a headband. She might have been mistaken as dressing up as a fortune teller, except Sadie had seen her outside the cafe before, wearing the same thing. Sadie tried to remember if she had seen any cars driving outside just before, but she came up blank.
Dave was confused. “Who hit you? There’s no one here.”
“The vampire… He tried to control my mind, and when he couldn’t, he hit me and drove off.”
“Ok,” Dave said, losing interest in the incident. “You be careful now.” He wandered off to his patrol car.
Sadie followed him. “You’re not going to investigate?”
“Investigate what? A vampire? It’s Halloween, it was probably some guy wearing a vampire costume.”
There are stranger things here than you know about, Sadie thought. You’ll see after you’ve been here longer. “What about the mind control part?”
“Look at her. She needs a doctor, not an officer. I’ll call her an ambulance.”
“It’s still a hit and run. You have to investigate that don’t you?”
“Did you see a car? No. Her dress probably got caught in the gears of her bike and she fell over.”
“There wasn’t any grease on that dress.”
Dave appeared to be changing his mind. He studied Sadie. “Why do you care so much about this?”
Because, as strange as it seems, maybe there really is a vampire in Selunia Falls. Because, and you wouldn’t understand, I’ve seen stranger. “Because, what if it had been a kid who was trick or treating and gotten hit by that car? My shift is done anyway. I can help you. I can be extra pair of eyes.”
Dave shook his head and took out his notebook. He approached the woman. “Did you see anything that could help us identify the driver?”
“I can describe the car. And I think I caught part of the license plate.” She continued as Dave took down the details.
As Dave and Sadie returned to the patrol car, they heard another set of footsteps and turned around to see Rainbow. He had left the cafe also and he was following along.
“An extra two pairs of eyes?” Sadie said to Dave.
Dave only grunted and waved them both into the car.
Sadie fiddled with the visitor sticker on her costume again as she followed Rainbow and Dave down the corridors of the lab. Rainbow had gotten in easily enough – all he’d had to do was wave his employee badge. Dave had waved his deputy badge.
The guards had refused Sadie entry, and had been so firm about it that Dave had said she should just wait in the reception area while they checked out the lab.
When Sadie had insisted they call Arden, the head of security, the guards – perhaps only intending to humor her – had agreed, and to their surprise, Arden had confirmed that Sadie was permitted to enter. The guards had given her a curious look, but asked no further questions.
“Well, here we are,” Dave said. “The license plate that woman gave us – they belong to Dr. Campbell. According to the guards, he usually works the night shift.”
He knocked on the door. “Dr. Campbell? Are you here?” he called out.
There was no response. “The actual crazies are out on Halloween and I’m here chasing vampires,” Dave muttered to himself. He opened the door to the lab.
Sadie looked inside and her skin tingled. This is silly, she thought. I live in a town full of scientists, I know what a lab looks like, this looks like any other lab… and yet something seems off…
And then it struck her. The padded bench in the middle that looked out of place – it was the perfect size for a patient to lay down on. Various electronic terminals on carts were lined up throughout the office. Some of them were connected to what she recognized as a blood pressure cuff. Other terminals were attached to disconnected electrodes.
It looked more like a medical lab than a research lab.
“What did Dr. Campbell do again?” Sadie said.
Dave checked his notes. “He was measuring people’s brain reactions to various forms of electromagnetic radiation.”
“So like… mind control?”
Rainbow had been studying some of the equipment around the office. “I don’t think so. Most of these seem just like passive collective devices. The ones that do send a signal – they look pretty low powered. Probably the same power as your phone or laptop computer.”
Sadie slid around to the back of the office. A small refrigerator hummed. She knew she shouldn’t, but she couldn’t help herself. She opened it and jumped back when she saw what was inside.
There were several bags of blood. The bags were carefully stacked, each one labeled with a barcode. Rainbow and Dave gathered around her and stared silently.
“It still doesn’t mean he’s a vampire. That’s just ridiculous,” Dave said. He didn’t seem as sure as before though.
Sadie shut the door to the refrigerator.
They examined the rest of Dr. Campbell’s office as they waited for him to return.
“I don’t think he’s here,” Sadie finally said.
“Something’s missing,” Dave said. He pointed to a clear corner of the lab. As Sadie examined the area, it became obvious that one of the medical terminals had been there recently. Disconnected wires dangled from the wall, and a layer of dust along the floor outlined where the medical tray must have previously been.
“Did he steal something?”
Dave was already halfway out the door. “We’re checking out his house. Now.”
On the drive over, Sadie’s headache started acting up. She tried to focus on the drone of houses passing by outside the car, and it helped for a little bit. But after a while it wasn’t enough. “Do you have any ibuprofen?”
Dave pointed at the glove compartment. “Are you alright?” Dave said.
She rummaged around in the dark until she found a pack of tablets. She didn’t have any water so she swallowed the pills dry. “Yeah. I had a headache earlier tonight too. But it’s weird, I don’t usually have them this much. Must be the stress from all the Halloween stuff.”
Dave reached out a hand. “Give me a couple.”
“I feel one building up too.”
They pulled up to Dr. Campbell’s home in the suburbs of Selunia Falls, where a lot of the scientists lived. Like all the other houses in the area, the houses were standard and uniform. Here and there, a few houses had put out some carved pumpkins and other Halloween decorations, but for the most part the scientists here didn’t seem to celebrate Halloween.
Sadie wondered if Dr. Campbell could really be doing mind control experiments in this house. She didn’t think he was really a vampire – well, he probably wasn’t, though in Selunia Falls she could never quite rule out anything – but she had seen the blood and the medical gear. Maybe he was running some kind of illegal experiment.
Maybe that’s why he had to do it from outside the lab.
Dave pounded on the door. “Dr. Campbell! It’s Selunia Falls Security.”
A vampire opened the door.
“You’re a vampire?” Dave said reflexively, before composing himself.
“We’ve got some questions for you. Can we come in?”
He eyed them up and down. “I guess.” As they walked in, he pointed to a bowl full of candy on a shelf nearby. “Haven’t gotten too many kids tonight.”
They settled into the living room, with Sadie and Rainbow sitting on the couch, and Dave and Dr. Campbell sitting in chairs on either side of them. To Sadie, they seemed like two boxers, sizing each other up before squaring off in the ring.
Dave threw the first punch. “So you’re a scientist at the lab, is that correct?”
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“Don’t you normally work in the lab at this hour?”
“It’s Halloween. I wanted to be here in case any kids showed up.”
“Have you been home all evening?”
Dave’s voice droned on as the questions and answers continued. Sadie zoned out. Soon she could feel her headache coming on again. Odd, she thought. I’ve never had it this bad before.
It was too soon for another ibuprofen. Maybe something to drink would help.
She interrupted them. “Dr. Campbell, do you have any water?”
“I-” He seemed a bit reluctant. “I don’t have any bottled water.”
“I can drink tap. Please, I have a headache.”
“Okay, in the kitchen.” He waved to a door behind him.
The kitchen sink was filled with dirty dishes, some of which looked to have been there for days. The counter was covered with boxes of cereal and opened bags of bread and fruit. The kitchen connected directly to the dining room, where a table was covered with takeout boxes and leftovers.
I wouldn’t want anyone to see this kitchen either, Sadie thought. There isn’t even anywhere to eat at that table. I wonder how this can be so messy and the living room so clean.
She couldn’t find any unused cups. Even if she had found one, she didn’t think she would trust it enough to drink from it. She turned on the faucet in the sink and gingerly stuck her hands out to cup some water, and drank from her hands.
As she rested for a bit, hoping her headache would go away, she noticed a tarp in the corner of the dining room, almost hidden behind one of the chairs. It looked to be about the same size as…
It can’t be.
She reached out, having a sense of deja vu from just earlier that evening when she’d been poking around in the lab, and peeked under the tarp, trying to keep the tarp from rustling.
Underneath it was a machine, identical to the machines she had seen in the lab, electrodes and all.
She crept back into the living room. The entry stood behind Dr. Campbell, and so he couldn’t see her. She caught Dave’s attention, and when he glanced at her, she pointed towards the kitchen. Dave gave a subtle shake of his head, which Dr. Campbell didn’t notice, and continued on with his questioning. Sadie’s gesturing grew more and more animated.
“I’m sorry, Dr. Campbell,” Dave finally said. “Can I get a water also?”
Dr. Campbell turned around to look at Sadie, who now stood still as a statue. “Yes… fine,” he said, in a tone that suggested it was anything but fine. He leaned forward, as if about to get up and follow them into the kitchen, but then settled back into waiting in his chair.
When Sadie and Dave were both in the kitchen and out of earshot, Dave said in a low voice, “Now what’s so important that I had to come in here right now.”
Sadie pointed at the tarp in the corner.
Dave stared at it, and to Sadie it felt like a long time though she knew it couldn’t have been more than a second or two. She could almost sense the same thought she’d had earlier, echoing in his mind.
It can’t be.
But Dave looked underneath, and it was. He called out directly from the kitchen. “Dr. Campbell, why do you have lab equipment at your home?”
Dr. Campbell entered. “I have some subjects I need to measure for my experiment. And getting them into the lab is a major hassle. I mean, you know how it is, with all those procedures.”
“You’re still not allowed to take equipment out of the lab. You’re coming back to the lab with me.”
“There’s no rule against that. And I already answered all your questions,” Dr. Campbell said.
Sadie’s headache had built up again until it was almost intolerable.
Dr. Campbell was still speaking, but she couldn’t make out the words. It sounded like he was mumbling underwater.
She stumbled to her knees, and then she passed out completely.
“Sadie. Sadie.” The voice belonged to Rainbow. Sadie laid on the floor. She forced open her eyes where Rainbow was studying her face.
“I’m ok. What was that?” she said. She tried to sit up, but then collapsed back down, her head still dizzy.
Next to them, Dave and Dr. Campbell muttered and groaned as they, too, were both coming awake.
“You passed out all of a sudden,” Rainbow said.
Dave was the first to stand back up. He gave a cough and shook his head. “Dr. Campbell, I’m taking you to the lab for questioning.”
“But that wasn’t me! I passed out just like the rest of you.”
“You did something.”
“That equipment wasn’t even on.”
“Something happened here. I’m taking you to the lab until we get this sorted out. It’ll be better if you cooperate.” Dave’s voice carried a new edge that hadn’t been present earlier in the interview.
For a second Sadie thought Dr. Campbell might bolt into the darkness. But finally he said, “Fine. I’ll prove it to you. I didn’t cause any of this.”
Outside, after Dave escorted Dr. Campbell into his car, Rainbow whispered to Sadie. “I need to talk to you about something.”
“Not here.” Rainbow led the two of them to the far edge of the driveway near the fence.
“Kind of cloak and dagger, don’t you think?” she said, amused.
“I need to make sure no one can hear us,” Rainbow said.
Sadie knew Rainbow wasn’t human, but she also knew that he’d been in Selunia Falls long enough to understand humor. And there was no humor in him now. There was only a brooding seriousness, giving her a bit of unease. She avoided his stare and looked over to where Dave was busy at some terminal inside his car – probably doing some electronic paperwork – while Dr. Campbell waited in the backseat. Both of them were a safe distance away. “What is it?” she said.
“I didn’t pass out.” Rainbow’s voice barely carried over the whispering of the nearby trees.
“I think that might have been a Karazai transmitter. I could kind of hear it. To me, it feels like a low rumble. I guess to humans, it causes headaches and blackouts.”
She couldn’t believe what she’d just heard. “You knew I’d been having headaches all night! Why didn’t you say something?”
“I didn’t know. I thought your headaches were, as you said, just stress from Halloween. And then I felt that rumble build and then saw all of you pass out… that’s when I made the connection.”
“So there’s a Karazai out there that’s planning to kill humans with this transmitter?”
“No, nothing like that. Though, I guess it could be used for that reason. But I could feel the rumble getting louder in this house – which means that the source must be close – close enough to cause you all to pass out. And you know…”
Sadie put the pieces together. “…your dad lives just a few houses over.”
“And he’s been working on some experiments. Yes.”
“We should go talk to him. Either he’s causing this, or he’ll know how to help us find out who is.” Sadie started down the driveway.
“Wait,” Rainbow said. “What about Dr. Campbell?”
Sadie glanced over at the patrol car, where Dave was still tapping away on his terminal. Dr. Campbell waited quietly in the back. “What about him?”
“Shouldn’t we tell them it’s not his fault?”
“And then what? Say that it’s caused by an extraterrestrial energy wave?”
“Technically it’s terrestrial…”
“Not everyone here knows about the Karazai, not even the security people. I don’t think this Dave guy knows. He’s too new. They wouldn’t tell him about it until they know he’s here to stay.”
“So we’re just going to let him get into trouble?”
Sadie wavered for a bit. Finally she said, “He’ll be fine. They’ll find out he’s not causing it, and he’ll just get a slap on the wrist for taking equipment home. Or maybe not even that. These kinds of people always manage to land on their feet. It’s fine.”
She could see that he didn’t understand exactly what she meant, but he nodded his assent.
“Hey,” she called out to Dave. “I think Rainbow and I are going to take off now.”
“You’re not interested in finding out what he was doing?” Dave said.
“Like you said, not a vampire, not mind control. It just looks like some boring science stuff.”
“I’ll take you two home.”
“No, no, it’s fine. Besides, you already have someone in the backseat.”
They hurried away before Dave could argue.
When they arrived at Rainbow’s house, Rainbow’s dad was tinkering with a machine in a spare bedroom that doubled as a home office. “Oh, you’re home early,” he said. Then he noticed Sadie. “Oh, hello.” It was said without malice, but without any warmth either. He went back to the machine in front of him – some kind of control panel covered with screens and dials and connected to a mess of metal plates and boxes that covered almost half the room.
“Dad, have you been fiddling with that all night?”
“Yes. I think I finally got the calibration working.”
“That’s what I came home to tell you. You have to stop working on that machine.”
“I think it’s causing headaches among the humans.”
“That’s nonsense.” Rainbow’s dad flipped a few switches, and a panel of lights on the side brightened. The fans came to life, powerful enough to blow a light breeze that Sadie could feel from across the room. The machine started beeping.
Sadie’s ears started to tingle.
“Rainbow…” she said.
Rainbow’s dad adjusted some knobs, and the machine’s beeping became steady, the signal of a tracking system that had locked on to its target. “Look at that. I finally matched the signal frequency. Just a couple more minutes and we can send a message back home. Have you figured out what you want to say to mom?”
Sadie collapsed on the ground, her breath ragged. Her vision darkened, growing from the edges of her eyes to the center. Bright lights sparked in front of her, but not the lights from the machine, it was the white sparks of a migraine. Her blood pounded in her skull.
“Dad! Look at her! And it’s not just her. It’s other people in this town too.”
Rainbow’s dad paused. “Just one message,” he said, “and that’s all we need. Just to let everyone know we’re ok. Do you know what it’s like? To have your family out there, in limbo, not knowing whether they’ll come back? Not even know if they’re still alive?” He tapped some buttons on the machine.
“We can’t do it this way,” Rainbow said. “Even if you don’t care about the humans, think about us. So far no one’s been hurt – not really anyway. If you go through with this, someone will die. And the humans aren’t going to just forget about that. They’re going to go on a hunt, and they’re going to find out that it’s us that did it. And they’re not going to forgive that.”
“Do you think I’m afraid of them? Let them come.”
Rainbow didn’t respond.
Sadie thought, this is it. I’m going to die.
Then Rainbow’s voice cut through. “I know what I’m going to tell mom. I’m going to tell her about the people you killed to get this message home.”
“You wouldn’t,” Rainbow’s dad said.
“I would. You know I would.”
“Then you won’t be sending a message at all. You don’t know how to operate this equipment by yourself.”
“Maybe not today,” Rainbow said. “But what about next time? And even if you never let me send a message at all, eventually, we’re going home. I’ll tell her then. I’ll tell her everything. What are you going to do? Are you going to leave me here forever?”
Rainbow’s dad’s hand lingered over the buttons. It might have been less than a second. It might have been a minute. Sadie couldn’t tell through the pain. But he didn’t push the button. Instead, he dropped his hand and pulled at a lever on the side. The fans died away. The lights turned off.
The world went still.
He slammed the machine with his fist, the sound booming and giving Sadie a headache that was almost as painful as the one from the machine, and he stalked out of the room.
Rainbow knelt on the floor next to Sadie. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine.” She took a few deep breaths to clear her mind. “What’s your dad going to do now?”
“We’ll find another way.” He shrugged. “It’s not like we have anywhere else to go.”
Sadie untied the giant bat from the ceiling and hopped down from the stool. She dumped it in the corner with the rest of the other Halloween decorations. Beside the pile was another pile of angels and reindeer. Sadie had insisted that it was too early to put those up, but the eponymous Anna, owner of Anna’s cafe, had overridden her. She shook her head as Rainbow sat at his usual stool and watched her, amused. It was late afternoon and the cafe was empty.
The door opened and Dave strutted in. “I figured out the last piece.”
“What last piece?” Sadie said.
“Remember that lady who said she got hit by the car. But Dr. Campbell denied it. Turns out, she wasn’t hit after all. She said she suddenly got a headache and it was painful enough to knock her off her bike. And she was too embarrassed to admit it. Anyway she won’t be doing that again.”
“So the headaches were caused by that scientist’s equipment? You’re sure?”
“Yeah. There was another wave when he was in the car. I guess the equipment must have been still going or something. Even after all that, he still insists he wasn’t to blame. In any case, it’s all moved back to the lab now and it’s better shielded so things should be fine. One of those cage things or something.” He swiped his card and took a bottle of mineral water from the counter.
“So what’s going to happen to the scientist?” Rainbow asked.
“I told him not to take any equipment home again. I think he learned his lesson.”
Sadie gave Rainbow a sideways smile, and it seemed to Dave that she and Rainbow had just shared something unspoken, some secret he was not a part of. He was about to ask more, but then he shrugged, and with mineral water in hand, left to go start his shift.