(Click the links for the first four trips to Prospero, plus Four More Trips to Prospero Part 1 and Part 2.)
For today's story, we return to Prospero of the 1980's, when fear was real and imaginations ran wild...
The Prospero Chronicles:
Let's Scare the Babysitter to Death
By Matt Carter
Diana - 1986
Simple as that.
“Where is she?” I asked Sam.
He didn’t pick up his binoculars to look, “You know, there’s a ten o’clock showing of Deadly Friend down at the Canterbury. If we leave now-”
“We’re not leaving now,” I said. “We’ve put too much work into this to back out now.”
“-I mean, they say it’s a pretty crappy movie, but it’s got this basketball scene-”
“Where is she?” I asked again.
Sam sighed, lifting his binoculars to look at the Kim house. “Still in the living room. Still talking on the phone. If I could read lips I could tell you who with, but since I can’t I’ll probably just wind up making something up that would make the best story.”
“Probably Myra Denning or Harvey Kessler,” I said. They were Stephanie’s best friend and boyfriend respectively and were the most likely ones you’d find her talking to for hours on end on a Friday night when she was supposed to be grounded and babysitting her twin little brothers.
“They’re likely, but not fun,” Sam said, setting down his binoculars and checking his bag of walkie-talkies. “If I’m going to imagine something, I’d prefer to imagine something more sordid. I’m going to imagine that she’s talking to… Jack Keamy.”
“Jack Keamy?” I said, holding back a laugh. Jack Keamy was a blowhard rich kid with dreams of being an athlete that didn’t even come close to matching reality. Stephanie might not have had the greatest taste in boyfriends (as her dating of surly prick Harvey and the many arguments we had over him could attest), but she had a little more self-respect than to spend her nights talking to Keamy.
“Oh yeah,” Sam said, winding up for what I could tell would be another of his stories. “Haven’t you heard? The two of them are having an illicit affair. Sneaking off behind Harvey’s back to make out at Kirby Ridge, roof of his convertible down, Stairway to Heaven blasting on his eight-track. She wants to have sex with him, and he wants to wait-”
Now I did burst out laughing, having to clamp a hand over my mouth so nobody would hear us laughing in the bush we’d been hiding in.
“Jack Keamy? Wants to wait?”
Sam simply smiled, continuing, “It may seem a ludicrous notion to you and me, but at his core Jack Keamy is a truly spiritual man. He dreams of one day removing himself from the unfortunate shackles of his upper-class idiot, cheerleader-seducing ways and becoming an honest, faithful man.”
“By making out with Stephanie Kim?”
Sam shrugged, “I never said my imagination was particularly cohesive, just very vivid.”
As always, Sam Todd could make me laugh. It was the main reason I’d dated him longer than, well, pretty much every other boy I’d gone out with. He might not have been as good-looking as most of the other boys, but he was honest and was basically the only person in the world who could regularly make me laugh. Did we have a future? I didn’t know. It was as possible as anything else in this town, I guessed. Sure, he had a ways to grow up still, he still had to get past all his toys and comics and gadgets and puzzles, but when he did that he stood every chance of being a respectable boyfriend.
Assuming, of course, that he never got too close a glimpse at this town’s dark side.
I wasn’t sure he’d be able to handle that.
He picked up his binoculars again, “She’s off the phone.”
“Cool,” I said, grabbing the binoculars from his hands so I could see for sure. He made a mock strangling noise as the strap drew tight across his neck, but I knew enough from dating Sam to ignore it.
She was sitting alone in her family’s living room, looking disgruntled (from the call or from having to babysit on a Friday night, I couldn’t tell you). It was the only lit room in the Kims’ massive house. There was lots of empty space, lots of dark rooms (like the one her brothers slept in upstairs), and like Sam, Stephanie also had more imagination than she knew what to do with.
Which was the problem, really. If she had less imagination, we wouldn’t have to be here tonight, doing this. We could be out, having a fun Friday night, and maybe I’d have even let Sam talk me into seeing his terrible horror movie with that basketball scene he kept trying to work into every mention of it.
Instead we were hiding in these bushes, looking to scare the ever-loving crap out of one of my best friends, because she just had to go and make a joke out of them.
My name is Diana Wilson, and in Prospero I might as well be royalty. My family’s been a part of this town since the late 1800’s and has held seats on the Town Council almost as long. My great-grandfather, my grandfather and my father all have held lifelong seats on the Council (sure, they’re technically elected, but the way this town is run, the elections are dramatically worse than our high school’s plays), and if I had a brother who didn’t die a crib death I’m sure he’d have been expected to do the same.
Instead, all my father had was me, and though I’m sure he was looking for me to marry right one day so I’d have a good strong husband to take over the job in his stead, I had no intention of doing any such thing.
If he wanted to keep the Council in the family, his seat would be mine.
Not that I had any serious interest in small town politics, because Prospero was about as pointless a town as it got. If the town were any less important, I’d have run in a heartbeat. Just take my college fund, go to school and never come back, becoming a big city lawyer in San Francisco or Los Angeles or even Portland if I really wanted to run far away. I could pull it off, and God knew the money was there.
But the thing was, Prospero was important, and my place in it was almost as important too.
Because I knew about them.
They were the family business, after all.
If you believed their stories, and I knew better than to take them at their word, they came to Prospero just after its founding. They could have taken us over, just absorbed everyone and made this a town of not-people, but they didn’t. Instead they struck up an accord with the town’s most affluent citizens to make Prospero one of their “probationary colonies”, a place where they could send their citizens who were either too raw or too tired of life but didn’t want to live on their home world. In exchange for their assistance and collaboration in covering up their nefarious deeds (including the occasional kidnapping and replacement of random townsfolk), the affluent would stay affluent and safe.
I hated them, as any sane person would, but I also knew I wasn’t in any position to do anything about them yet. One day, with that Council seat, maybe I could do something, but until then, all I could do was wait and hold my tongue and play my part as the loyal collaborator.
A big part of this, unfortunately, meant keeping the people I liked most in the dark.
Sam knew nothing, and I meant to keep him that way. Though he really loved science fiction and would get this better than anyone, he was also a gentle soul and would probably never forgive me for knowing everything that I knew about this. Sure, he would joke about our town’s strange quirks and history of UFO and monster sightings, but he kept it at just that, jokes. He would never cross any lines that would draw undue attention to himself.
Stephanie was another matter.
More popular than but slightly less beautiful than me, she was also deceptively smart and had a wicked sense of humor; a wicked sense of humor that she loved to push the envelope with. She delighted in elaborate pranks and for the most part everyone thought she was so cool for them.
Then she crossed the line from harmless jokes to jokes that would get their attention.
It was lunchtime about a week ago when she ran into the cafeteria claiming that the Freeling Farm Monster had attacked her and was chasing after her. The bright red slashes across her chest kept people from laughing. The grotesque monster that burst through the doors and tackled her to the ground made people scream.
It was all fake, of course. The slashes were makeup and the monster was one of her friends, Cindy Brooks (who, incidentally, was one of them, who got a good laugh out of this) in a heavily altered Halloween costume, but the fear they instilled wasn’t fake.
Everybody knew about the horrible deaths of those kids from Braiwood two years back up at the Freeling Farm. The official report claimed it was a bear, while the two survivors of the massacre claimed it was a monster. The truth was somewhere in between, where one of them had broken free from their world, bonded with a bear and failed at being a human, but not at being a monster. One of the survivors had killed it, and the Council and them did their best to cover the incident up, but there were still jokes and rumors and scary stories about the Freeling Farm Monster, stories that Stephanie just wanted to take advantage of for a stupid joke.
According to dad, they dealt with Cindy in their own way, but they were still furious with Stephanie for everything she had done and wanted her punished.
Knowing what their punishment usually meant, I told dad that I could take care of the Stephanie problem. I could scare her, make her never want to play any stupid jokes like this again, and he agreed.
For me, it was a win all around, for three reasons:
1) I could save a friend from being replaced by a shapeshifting alien.
2) I could punish a friend who did something unbelievably stupid and (hopefully) scare them so silly they wouldn’t consider doing something like it again.
3) I would look like a hero to dad, and maybe get him to start thinking that me taking up his Council seat after he’d inevitably retire wouldn’t be such a stupid idea.
Now to put my money where my mouth was.
It helped that Stephanie loved horror movies and was absolutely freaked out by them.
With an imagination as vivid as hers, it wouldn’t take much to frighten her.
We’d borrowed most of the equipment we’d needed from one of Sam’s friends in the school AV club, and begged and borrowed for the rest, though dad’s under-the-table funding of our venture made this part a lot easier.
With that, it was all a matter of following the script.
Act 1: Disconnect the phone line outside the house.
Act 2: Using some of the walkie-talkies I’d hidden in her house while visiting her earlier in the day, start making her hear voices. Maybe even tap on the windows some for good measure.
Act 3: Shut off the electricity outside the house.
Act 4: While she’s freaked out and in the dark, turn on the slide projectors we’d rigged outside her windows. They were angled in such a way and full of enough shock imagery (care of one of Sam’s creepier friends on the AV club) that it’d look like her house was being besieged by some of the scariest ghosts in the world.
Act 5: Using the keys stashed under the front and back door mats, we’d provide some up-close and personal ghosts. While our makeup and costumes were cheap, in the dark with only the lights of the projectors, they would be creepy enough.
Her house was isolated enough that neighbors wouldn’t be an issue, and dad said that he would use what sway he had to keep the police and Stephanie’s parents occupied for the night. If I had any regrets, it was doing this while her little brothers were upstairs, but she always used to boast that they could sleep through a hurricane, which made this a chance worth taking.
It was finally dark enough to do what I had to do.
“Showtime,” I told Sam, sneaking through the bushes to the box that connected her house to the city’s phone lines. I quickly unscrewed the base and pulled out the necessary line before sneaking back to Sam.
“You did it?” he asked.
“Pretty sure,” I said.
“You want to check?” he asked.
“No, I am not going to sneak over to someone’s house, dressed like this and ask to use their phone just so we could see if our prank on Stephanie’s going to work,” I said.
“It was worth asking,” he said.
“I know…” I said, planting a quick kiss on his lips. “And thank you for checking. And being so responsible. And for being so irresponsible to help me do something like this.”
“What else are boyfriends for?” he said, pumping out his chest proudly.
“Seeing if those walkies you gave me still have enough battery in them to make her think her house is haunted?” I proposed, taking the binoculars from him so I could get a good look at Stephanie.
“That’s another good thing, yes,” he said, pulling a walkie marked “LIVING ROOM 2” in masking tape, and holding onto one of the buttons on the end.
“Heeeelllloooo?” he rasped.
She jumped, her head darting around as she tried to look for the voice. I was pretty sure I could see her saying, ‘Who’s there?’
You see, Stephanie, this is why you don’t tell anyone the scariest movie you’ve ever seen is Poltergeist.
Sam and I took turns with the various walkie-talkies, doing our best scary voices and making her look around the living room, looking more freaked out with each passing minute. At one point I nearly shouted at her, “SIT DOWN!”, and she cowered onto the couch again quickly, near tears. She picked up the phone, trying to call out, then tossed it down when she couldn’t get anyone.
Now there were tears.
I didn’t like causing a friend pain, but like it or not I had to remind myself that this was for her own good. She had to know what it felt like to be on the receiving end of a prank like this, and she had to know that she could never do anything like this in this town again.
She was curled up on the couch, pulling some ancient afghan from the corner tight around her shoulders.
“Ready for Act 3?” Sam asked.
“That sounds about right,” I said. I took only one step toward the house, however, before the power cut out on its own.
“What the hell?” I muttered, lifting the binoculars to my eyes again. It took a moment to adjust to the new darkness, but the moon was bright, bright enough to let me see the hunched over, inhuman shape by the power box, stretched out and malformed. Bright enough to see it break out a window and slither inside.
“Shit,” I said.
“What?” Sam said.
The lie came quickly, “Someone’s breaking into the house.”
“Really?” Sam asked.
“Well, you didn’t cut the power, did you?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “Someone with the same idea as you?”
“Maybe,” I said, knowing the lie. “But it could be a burglar. I need you to run down to the nearest house and call for the police, tell them what’s going on and that I’m inside too.”
“What? Why are you going inside?” Sam asked.
“Because I’m faster than you and know her house better and might be able to get to her before whoever else is there can,” I said, trying quickly to find a weapon. Sam had an extra tripod for one of the projectors we didn’t wind up using. Though it wasn’t particularly heavy, it would do in a pinch.
“I can’t let you do this,” he said.
“You can and you will because you’re an awesome boyfriend who understands and respects me and who doesn’t want to get Stephanie hurt anymore than I do, right?” I said.
“Damn your logic,” he said, pulling me close and giving me a kiss. I kissed him back fiercely, knowing what I would have to do soon and hating every moment of it.
“Send help,” I repeated, getting only a nod from Sam as he ran to the nearest lit house down the road.
That would buy me some time.
I ran to the front door, scooping the key from under the doormat and let myself in.
Three steps inside the house, Stephanie finally screamed, though she was cut off quickly as a slithering hand closed over her mouth.
I ran to them, ready to fight if this was one of their more irrational citizens who might try to make a fight out of this.
Finally seeing the two of them, Stephanie fearful, her feet kicking off the floor, and her captor a swirling mass of mismatched, bony limbs and tentacles, I cleared my throat.
Stephanie looked at me like I was an angel sent from above.
The creature just smiled several of its mismatched mouths at me.
“Oh, hello Diiiiiana!” three of its mouths drawled, no two of them in proper sync with each other.
I relaxed my shoulders.
This wasn’t going to be so bad after all.
“Hi, Alexei,” I said. I wasn’t sure how much of my story I should fake for Stephanie’s visit, but I figured on honesty being the better policy with Alexei involved. He was one of the most ancient of their members in Prospero, having jumped from body to body since the formation of the town. Recently he had been in the body of Horace Gondrell, an elderly man with too many cats, and there had been talk that he’d be looking for a new body soon. Given her youth and the trouble she might cause them, I could see why he might have chosen Stephanie.
“Didn’t my dad tell you that I was taking care of this?” I said.
“He did, but we didn’t know if we could trust, so I decided to take my part instead. Besides, she’s got the beautiful black hair I like to have,” he said, stroking her hair and getting a muffled scream.
“She does, really, but I don’t think-”
There was a crash of glass from the rear of the house. Alexei and I turned to see what was going on.
Sam, you better not have-
No, there were multiple voices, sets of footsteps. An older man’s voice saying, “It’s in here.”
I put together, far faster than Alexei, what was going on. Before he could move, I darted between Alexei and the voices before they could make the living room.
There were four of them. An older man with a fedora and a hook for hand, a middle-aged woman, and two boys, one barely hitting puberty, the other a teenager maybe a year older than me. They were all very well armed, and very eager-looking.
Dad had told me about them, a bunch of misguided gun nuts who gathered on the fringes of town, hunting them down without any concern of what it might mean for the town itself. They’d mostly been able to kill only those creatures that had been taken over by them, but they’d made strides in the past few years to kill a number of their human copies.
Though I might have agreed with their ideas, I knew their tactics made them little better than terrorists.
“Step aside, girlie,” the older man with the hook said, pointing the lit tip of an old, World War II flamethrower at Alexei and Stephanie.
“I’d rather not,” I said, trying to think quickly.
The teenaged-boy said, “I think you really ought to do what he said, you don’t know what-”
“Don’t you dare tell her anything! She’s with the splinters. A collaborator,” the older man hissed with particular disgust. “I’ll spare you for your humanity, but don’t think I won’t end you if you try anything stupid.”
I wasn’t planning on trying anything stupid, not with a bunch of guns and sharp objects and a flamethrower pointed at me. Alexei, on the other hand, he was not one you could rely on not doing anything stupid. He might be one of the oldest known of his people, but he’d gotten pretty fried with his old age and was apt to do pretty much anything that came to mind.
“I know who you are and I know what you’re doing, but I’m asking you, right now, to reconsider and back the hell off before anyone gets hurt,” I said quickly.
“Last chance, girlie, I’m gonna count to three…”
“My boyfriend ran out-”
“-he’s getting the cops and he’s going to-”
“-and you know who makes up the cops and what they’ll do-”
“KILL HIM AND YOU’LL BE SORRY!” I yelled.
The man with the hook looked surprised, dropping the tip of his flamethrower a few inches. The other hunters looked at him, nonplussed.
“Continue,” Hook said.
Think fast, think fast, think fast.
“Do you know who you’re about to kill?” I asked.
“A splinter,” he said.
That was a weird as hell name for them, but I wouldn’t stop him from calling them that.
“Do you know which one he is, though?” I asked.
“Doesn’t matter. They’re all the same,” he said. “They eat our lives and they die when we burn them.”
“Yeah, not quite,” I said. “Some of them are better than others and the one you’re about to burn’s one of the best of them. Alexei here, he’s one of the oldest and most influential in the world.”
“She’s right, you know,” Alexei said, smiling with most of his mouths.
“Shut up,” I said to him.
“So far you’re not making a good case for why we ought not kill him,” Hook said.
“Yeah, well, think of it this way. You kill someone as important as him, and there’ll be hell to pay. It’s not like he’s one of your animal monsters out there in the woods, burned and forgotten, people will miss him, they will mourn for him, and they will take revenge upon those who killed him. They will make fire rain down from the sky and they will make it rain on you, and unless you run and never stop running, they will find you and they will kill you,” I said.
“We know what we’re doing. We can take that kind of fight,” Hook said.
“Maybe, but have you considered that taking a risk as stupid as this now and dying like this means you won’t be able to keep your fight going, that you won’t be able to keep killing more of them? Kill him now and you’ll all die soon with no more victims to your name. Let him live, and your killing will only be limited by how many splinters you can get your hands on,” I said, forcing the word out and just not liking the fit.
Hook just fixed me with his gaze (impossible to see behind his sunglasses), and waved the others back. Quickly, they all ran from the house.
“Girlie, I’ll just say now you’re good at talking. And stalling for time for the police to arrive. We’ll back off, for now, but only because I think you got a future and I don’t want to end it for you right now. Just know this: you’re backing the bad guys,” he said, turning on his heels and running from the house.
“Believe me, I know,” I said under my breath.
“Diana, thank you soooooooo much,” Alexei said.
Right. Still have to deal with him.
“If there’s ever anything, anything at all I can do for you, just let me know and it is done. I’m owing you my life tonight!” he said.
“Good. I’ll call that favor now,” I said. “Let Stephanie go and never come back.”
His dozens of eyes fixed me curiously, some of them soon breaking open into laughing mouths, “What a funny joke, Diana!”
“No joke. You let her go, right now, and you never touch her again, she’s off-limits,” I said. “I think she’s been sufficiently scared tonight, and I will make sure that she is never a problem to you or your people again.”
“That is nice and all, but that is not sufficient, I think, because I am still needing a new body, you see. So, I really am needing Stephanie,” he said.
“Look. Alexei. You know you talk a little strange, right?” I said.
“A little, perhaps, but only to you. My people-”
I cut him off, something dad would hate me for, but he wasn’t around, was he?
“And you also know that Stephanie doesn’t talk like you do, right?” I said.
Clearly, he hadn’t thought of that.
“You need a body?” I said.
“Yes,” he said.
“And you like the long black hair look?” I said.
“Of course. It is the greatest look, don’t you think?” he asked.
“I honestly don’t care. There’s a vagrant who’s been hanging out under the highway bridge just south of town. He’s been harassing some of the kids from school, trying to sell them drugs,” I said.
“He sounds like a baaad man,” Alexei said.
“Probably. Anyway, he’s got long black hair, and if you cleaned him up some he might look respectable to the point where nobody would notice he’s the guy from the bridge. And since he’s a nobody who nobody knows, you could even use your real name. Wouldn’t you like every human to call you Alexei for once?” I said, trying to sell the point hard. While I didn’t like selling a human life away, it was better a stranger than a friend, especially a potentially dangerous stranger.
Alexei still didn’t look sold. Here’s where I’d have to go in for the kill.
“And you know Ms. Montoya, the drama teacher at the high school, is taking a better job in Sacramento, right? We’ll need a new drama teacher, and my dad says there’s no better dramatist than you,” I said.
That was a lie, but a pretty good one. Dad had told me about Alexei just like he’d told me about the rest of them as prominent as him in town, and how he’d always dreamed of being one of the world’s greatest stars and had known Shakespeare back in the day, but was really more weird than anything else.
Still, it was the right bait to use on Alexei.
He dropped Stephanie to the ground, too hard.
“Oh, so sorry, Stephanie girl,” Alexei said, patting her head and stepping back. There were sirens outside, and I knew the police cars would be here soon.
“So, you’re going for the drama teacher position?” I asked.
“I cannot think of anyone better. Thank you for the idea, Diiiiiiiiana!” he said, tipping one of his heads at me before darting for the back of the house.
Two problems down. Now just for number three…
Finally, I gave Stephanie my full attention. She was a mess, tears streaked down her face, shirt torn.
“Let me guess, you’re at that stage where words aren’t coming easy and you’re wondering just what the hell is going on in the world. You’re wondering if this is all just some nightmare or if you really were just attacked by some monster who wanted to steal your body because it liked your hair,” I said, calmly.
“Well then, I got bad news for you: it’s all real,” I said. She shuddered, pulling herself into a ball again.
“But with all bad news, there’s good news. You can prevent this from ever happening again. Just keep your head low, keep your pranks harmless, no more monsters, don’t tell anyone what you saw here tonight, and you’ll be fine,” I said. Quickly, I added, “And check in on your brothers, they might be waking up soon, when the cops come in, and you’re still their babysitter.”
She continued looking up at me, stunned, frightened and confused, finally saying, “Who are you?”
I grinned, “I’m your friend. I’m a collaborator. And who knows, I may yet be this town’s best hope.”
Do I have a future in politics or what?
There's something rotten beneath the small town of Prospero, California. For over a century, the town's history has been rich with tales of monsters, miracles and mysterious disappearances in the surrounding woods. It’s a town where everybody has something to hide, especially those who may not be entirely human.
Sixteen-year-old Mina Todd knows about the otherworldly shapeshifters that secretly run Prospero and has dedicated her life to fighting them. Ben Pastor, in town to attend the funeral of his missing childhood friend, Haley Perkins, has never believed any of the strange stories about what happens in Prospero. When Haley turns up alive and well at her own memorial service, Ben and Mina are forced to work together to uncover what happened to her. Though they may not always understand each other, Ben and Mina’s unlikely friendship may very well be the only thing that can save the town, and possibly the world, from its insidious invaders.
When autumn descends on Prospero, California, Ben Pastor hopes that the normality of the new school year may offer a reprieve from the town’s horrors. Mina Todd knows all too well that there are no reprieves and no normality in Prospero, especially after she starts having crippling, unexplained hallucinations of the dead. But even she can't prepare for what the coming year holds.
On top of the Splinters' brewing civil war threatening to make humanity its battleground, inside the walls of Prospero High, Ben, Mina and their expanding Network must face a Splinter campaign to destroy their friendship, a newly human Haley Perkins struggling to readjust to life after the Warehouse, and a Splinter assassin of untold power picking off human rebels. Ben and Mina’s one hope rests with a mysterious figure hiding in the woods outside of town, a living legend who may know how to stop this dangerous new breed of Splinter. That is, assuming he doesn’t first kill everyone himself.
Coming June 16th, 2015!
To learn more, click here to get your copy of Splinters, book 1 of The Prospero Chronicles.
Or here, to pre-order Shards, book 2 of The Prospero Chronicles, available June 16th, 2015.
Or here, to enter to win a free advance copy of Shards.
Or here, for four more free short trips to Prospero!