by Ron Schulte
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
“Ah, here’s some.”
Dr. Divakar was on his back on the floor of Ed’s pantry, scraping a sample of wetness from the bottom of a shelf. They had the house to themselves; Ed’s wife had taken the kids out to a movie. The family still didn’t know the full details of Ed’s treatment, and Ed was relieved that he wouldn’t to have to explain why Dr. Divakar was speaking of things like “ghosts” and “ectoplasm.” Ed had simply explained that the doctor would be looking for clues that might help narrow down Ed’s new allergen, and this much was certainly true.
The doctor finished taking his sample, then surveyed the rest of the house in similar fashion, taking occasional samples from Ed’s condensation hot spots.
“What do you think, doc?” asked Ed when they’d completed the initial search. The doctor was standing in the foyer and had lapsed into one of his characteristic periods of silence.
“Hmm? Well, I am not happy about the mold in your guest bathroom; that can’t be helping. But that’s probably been there the whole time, so I doubt it is our culprit. Everything else I’ve collected looks like typical ectoplasm. Your allergy shots should handle this. I just am not sure. Something is obviously raising your allergen load drastically...”
The doctor trailed off. He was staring over Ed’s shoulder, down the hallway that led back toward the kitchen.
“Where does that door lead?” asked the doctor, pointing at a door on the left hand side of the hallway.
“The basement,” said Ed.
“The basement,” murmured the doctor. He walked past Ed to the door. He grabbed the doorknob, then glanced back at Ed. Ed nodded. The doctor opened the door and they descended. Ed flipped the light switch on the way, illuminating the space. The basement was unfinished and filled with boxes and plastic bins. The concrete floor, exposed beams, and foundation walls all seemed quite dry.
Except for one small area near the sump pump.
Dr. Divakar walked over to the rear corner where the sump pump was located. Above the pump, a section of concrete wall was very wet.
“Do you come down here often?” asked the doctor.
“At least once or twice a day. I work out down here, and we keep stuff in that spare fridge over there.”
“You’ve never noticed this?” asked Dr. Divakar, scraping several droplets of wetness from the wall into a vial.
“Only recently. But with so much wetness, I figured it was groundwater seeping through the foundation.”
“I see no cracks here,” said the doctor, running his hands across the surface. He backed away, removing a glove to scratch the back of his neck as he gave the rest of the room a cursory inspection. A few seconds later he cursed, removed the other glove, and began scratching at his arm. Then he abruptly stopped, frowning at his hand. He glanced once more at the wet spot in the corner, then caught Ed’s eye and nodded toward the stairs. Ed followed, killing the lights on the way out.
“Close it all the way,” said the doctor once they were back in the hallway. Ed obliged. The doctor strained to scratch a spot on his lower back, then turned to Ed.
“Something is very wrong down there. I will process these samples ASAP and call you.”
“Okay. How long do you—” Ed stopped in mid-sentence. The doctor was already jogging through the front door and out toward his car. Ed stared after him, jaw agape, as the doctor’s BMW peeled away from the curb.
“Stranger and stranger,” muttered Ed with a sigh. His stomach was growling. It was almost 5:00 pm. He walked into the kitchen, opened the fridge, looking for the leftover pizza. Then he remembered that the pizza was in the downstairs fridge. Back in the basement. He hesitated, but only for a moment. Pizza is pizza, after all, and a man has to eat.
The basement wasn’t completely dark; Ed didn’t bother to turn on the lights as he raided the fridge. As he turned to leave with pizza box in hand, he glanced toward the corner with the sump pump. He couldn’t see the wetness on the wall in the dim light. But he saw something else that made his skin crawl.
Eyes. Red eyes, glowing. Staring at him.
As Ed stood frozen, the shadows began to move, slithering from the edges of the room, coalescing into a cohesive unit around the eyes. Soon the shadows had clumped into a near-human form, complete with head, torso, legs, and arms.
Even hands, thought Ed stupidly as it reached for him.
Ed backed away slowly as the specter’s arms grew and stretched, pulling in more shadows from around the room. Dark, shadowy fingers groped for Ed’s face, causing Ed to stumble backwards onto the steps. Where the shadowy digits had grazed Ed’s cheek, a thin layer of wetness coated his skin.
Ed’s entire body was now aflame with itchiness.
Ed tried to scramble further up the steps, but he tripped, landing in a seated position. As he tried to regain his feet, dark fingers closed around his throat. Ed immediately started to wheeze. He dropped the pizza box and tried to pry the fingers from his neck, but he couldn’t seem to grab them.
Ed’s vision clouded. His throat felt smaller than a pinhole. He couldn’t breathe.
He was going to suffocate.
At that moment, the basement door crashed open. Light flowed down the stairs. Dr. Divakar rushed to Ed’s side, pulled something from his pocket, and pressed it against Ed’s thigh.
Ed felt a momentary flash of pain in his leg. The doctor had stabbed him.
With an EpiPen.
Just like that, Ed could breathe again. The ghostly hands were still locked onto Ed’s throat, but he was no longer choking. In fact, he couldn’t feel the hands at all, aside from the damp droplets coating his neck.
The doctor pulled Ed to his feet and guided him up the stairs. The ghostly hands finally released their grip. When Ed glanced over his shoulder a final time, one of the red eyes winked at him. The doctor slammed the door shut, then slumped to the floor, exhausted.
“How did you know to come back?” Ed panted.
“I started wheezing just after I left the house. I worried that you might also be having a severe reaction. I injected myself, then made a quick U-turn. Good thing I always carry some spare EpiPens, yes?”
“Guess so. So it was you, then? The other patient with the ectoplasm allergy?”
“Yes, guilty as charged. It is why I became an allergist. I lived with the hives for years until I made my breakthrough.”
Ed nodded, then asked, “So why did that work, anyway? Why did the EpiPen stop that ghost from choking me?”
“Choking you? What exactly was choking you, Mr. Hunt? Can you describe it for me?”
“You didn’t see it?”
“No, sorry. I used to see some ghosts, during my allergy shots. That’s a side effect of the treatment, actually; the ectoplasm heightens your awareness of the paranormal. I should have warned you about that. But since you don’t believe in ghosts, I thought it would fall on deaf ears, yes?” The doctor chuckled, then continued, “But the effect is only temporary; it wanes once the treatment has ended. I can no longer see such things.” The doctor sounded a bit wistful at this confession.
Ed described the ghost and everything that had happened in the basement. As the doctor listened, his eyes widened.
“I have never encountered a ghost like that, Mr. Hunt. We are dealing with something entirely outside of my experience. Here’s what I think: We both had extreme allergic reactions to a brand-new ghost, a brand-new allergen. The EpiPen fixed that, of course. I never suffered such extreme symptoms as these, else I would have insisted that you always keep an EpiPen handy yourself.
“Anyway, this ghost wasn’t physically choking you. It lacks the solidity to do such a thing. I think it mimicked choking you, probably just to scare you. I doubt it knew how well your allergic reaction would play into its little illusion, but anything is possible. It sounds like a most unpleasant little demon. Do you have any chalk?”
Ed blinked; he hadn’t been prepared for that question. But he soon rallied and grabbed a bucket of his daughters’ sidewalk chalk from the garage. He handed a few chunks to the doctor.
“Thanks. Be right back.”
Before Ed could object, the doctor reopened the door to the basement and disappeared down the stairs. He was gone for a couple of minutes before reappearing in the hallway.
“What was that all about?” asked Ed. “Shouldn’t we both keep away from that thing?”
“Don’t worry about it, Mr. Hunt. The epinephrine is still doing its job.”
Ed awaited further explanation, but the doctor had no more to say on the matter. Ed didn’t press him further. He ran a hand through his hair and said, “So what do we do now?”
“Care to take a ride to the lab?”
* * *
“Congratulations, Mr. Hunt. You’ve discovered a new type of ectoplasm.”
Ed peered from behind a window at the two vials sitting side by side on a counter. The first contained the original ectoplasm; the second contained the new ectoplasm from Ed’s basement. The second was nearly identical to the first, but had a slightly darker tinge to it.
“Why didn’t that bother me from the beginning?” said Ed.
“I think it arrived only recently. The ghosts causing your initial hives were harmless, simple energies residing within your home. This new creature seems more transient, more purposeful. I think it was actively looking for mischief. It seems the darkness of its ectoplasm bespeaks its personality.”
“Do you think there are even more types of ghosts? More varieties of ectoplasm?”
“Probably. We’ll simply add them to the serum as we encounter them.” The doctor had just injected himself with the new serum; he insisted on playing the role of guinea pig before injecting Ed.
“How soon should I have my children tested?” The time had come to confess the true nature of his allergies to his family. He still wasn’t looking forward to that conversation.
“As soon as possible, Mr. Hunt. It is most prudent to keep an eye on them, considering the genetic nature of allergies and the severity of the symptoms you’ve experienced.”
“Right.” Ed cleared his throat. “How long do I need to leave that... psychic graffiti... in the basement?” Before heading to the lab, Ed had given in to the urge to peek into the basement to see what the doctor had done. He’d seen no sign of the red-eyed ghost. But the doc had made a heck of a mess. The chalk drawings were everywhere, including a big circle enclosing most of the floor, spirals on the walls, stars on the ceiling, and a whole slew of writing in some unrecognizable language.
“Oh, you can clean that up. It was the act of writing it that mattered, not the persistence of the content.”
“What does it all mean?”
“Honestly? No idea. I copied it from a book. It is supposed to drive away evil spirits. It has no effect on the simple energies that caused our original hives; believe me, I’ve tried it! But the ghost in your basement seems different. Mischievous, if not downright evil. It might keep him away.”
Ed frowned. “Tell me something, doc. You say this ghost can’t really harm us. Okay, we’re severely allergic, and the thing is creepy as hell, but we know what to expect now. Right? We have EpiPens, and a new allergy serum to protect us. A real scientific solution. Isn’t that enough? Why is an allergist wasting time on magical incantations drawn with driveway chalk?”
The doctor thought for a moment before responding. “I once had a patient with a severe bee allergy. She was stung multiple times in her attic, nearly died. Would have died for sure if her son hadn’t injected her with her EpiPen just in the nick of time. Brilliant win for science, yes?”
“Do you know what I told her to do afterwards, Mr. Hunt?”
Ed shrugged and shook his head.
“I said to hire an exterminator. She had a huge hive in the attic. Hundreds of bees, yes? Here’s my point. The shots WILL help eventually, and the EpiPen can save your life in a pinch. But why hang around with bees if you might avoid them?”
Ed nodded thoughtfully, then asked, sheepishly: “Do you still have a copy of that book?”
The doctor managed to suppress a smirk, but just barely. He opened his mouth to respond, but paused. Ed’s expression had changed. He was staring back with a funny look on his face.
“What is it?” Dr. Divakar asked finally.
“Are you worried about new side effects, Dr. Divakar? Different side effects from last time, with the old serum?”
“I always worry about side effects. There are risks with any new treatment, of course. But I am sure we’ll be all right.” The doctor smiled reassuringly, but Ed still had that weird expression. The doctor’s smile vanished.
“What is it?” repeated the doctor, more quietly this time.
“Is there a mirror nearby?” asked Ed.
Dr. Divakar frowned, then walked over to the lab’s sink. He looked at his reflection in the mirror on the cabinet over the sink. He had to blink twice to process what he was seeing.
His eyes were glowing red.
“Terrifying,” he remarked when he’d recovered from the shock. “We need to dilute the serum, I think.”
Copyright © 2019 by Ron Schulte