"It's just not right, it's not right . It's just the same as if someone
stole that time from me. Stole it, like stealing money. Just like
"Yeah, well," Proffitt said. "It's your thirty bucks we're talking on, so
why don't we get back to what you think happened." Proffitt was begining
to wonder if it was worth the money to listen to this yammerhead.
"That's just it, I pay taxes, and the police, they wouldn't do anything,"
the citizen said, off again. "They said they couldn't do anything, what
use are they, that's what I want to know. The most that Sargeant Malone
could do was say I ought to come see you, I don't know why the police
couldn't do something, it's just the same as stealing. And it's happened
to other people, too."
Finally, Proffitt thought. Something new. He hunched forward in his chair
and picked up the pencil. "Who else do you know this has happened to, Mr.
"Mrs. Hubbard, that's who. I told the police, but they wouldn't do
anything. Mrs. Hubbard told them too, but they still wouldn't do
anything. It's just like stealing." Nelson was a fat little twerp, too
soft around the middle for his Sans-A-Belts. He rubbed irratibly at a
pink mark on the back of his wrist.
"What happened to Mrs. Hubbard, Mr. Nelson, and where did it happen?"
"She doesn't know. It's just like what happened to me. She came to at
home and didn't know what had happened to her. The whole day. It could
have been anything."
Proffitt decided to go ahead and see if the fish would bite. The rent on
the office was due on Friday. He sat back.
"Well, Mr. Nelson, I think I can take your case. Thirty bucks a day plus
expenses. One day in advance. The thirty you already paid for the consult
covers that." This was the tough part.
"Oh dear," Nelson said, and Proffitt inwardly winced. "Well, I guess
hiring a private eye is expensive, but if those police just won't do
anything..." Proffitt relaxed. Looked like he was going to go for it.
"Yeah, well, I'm supposed to ask you to say confidential investigator, but
if you give me that cash you can say anything you want. Gimme this Mrs.
Hubbard's address and phone number and I'll get started right -- uh, as
soon as I can wind up some other stuff."
"For what I'm paying you I hope it isn't going to take too long to get
started." He wrote out a check with exaggerated care and handed it to
After he saw Nelson out the office door, Proffitt went back to the
battered swivel chair behind the desk. He slid open the bottom drawer and
looked at the fifth of rye. He slid the drawer shut and bent over the
notes he'd made of Nelson's problem.
Nelson was a 40 year old suburbanite who worked in the loan department of
a branch bank. He was married, one kid, and taught Sunday School in the
big church out on the highway near the mall. That was part of what had
Nelson so upset; he'd missed Sunday School and church and didn't know
why. Apparently this church had services three times on Sundays and a
couple of times during the week. Nelson hadn't been to any of the past
Sunday's services and had missed Wednesday church as well. And he didn't
know why. His family was no help. They didn't know where he'd been.
When they asked him, he acted as if he were just waking up at home with no
memory of where he'd been all day.
"Only not like waking up from being asleep," Proffitt's notes read. "More
like just gradually coming to realize hadn't been to church." The cops
were obviously no help. He wondered whether to thank Malone for steering
the business to him. This looked like a case that could go nowhere fast.
He pulled the phone across the desk and dialed the number for Mrs.
Hubbard, hoping she could do a better job of getting to the point than
Forty minutes later he banged the phone down in disgust. The Hubbard dame
was even worse than her pal Nelson. He looked at his notes. She was a
self described good Christian lady, married, three kids, worked as an
office supervisor for a light manufacturing plant, sang in choir at the
same church Nelson attended. Proffitt hadn't even attempted to ask her
age. She'd missed church too. Same complete lack of memory of where she'd
She did have one nugget, though. Another neighbor who'd had the same
thing happen. Proffitt's hopes for a lead dimmed when Mrs. Hubbard told
him that Mrs Sinclair attended a different church. Turned out Hubbard
knew the Sinclair woman through her bowling league. Sinclair had failed
to show for the league semi-finals. Didn't have any idea why. She worked
at an accounting firm around the corner from the strip shopping center
where Proffitt's office was located.
Figuring he'd been cooped up inside too long, Proffitt decided to walk
over there rather than calling on the phone. The clock on the bank on the
corner said 4:43 PM, Oct 31. Hettie Sinclair turned out to be a giggler.
Everything Proffitt said produced a couple of tremors of mirth.
"I just can't think what happened to me," she said between giggles. "The
problem with me is I'm always too conscientious. So this was just totally
unlike me. Just totally unlike." She rubbed absently at a pink mark on
the back of one of her pudgy wrists.
"You go to a club or something last night?" Proffitt asked, pointing to
"Oh, no," she giggled. "That's from something at the mall. The haunted
house or something." She giggled again.
Proffitt thanked her for her time and walked back to his office deep in
thought. He dialled Nelson's number. No answer. He called Hubbard
again. Yes, he could come by for a few minutes.
Thirty minutes later she was telling him that yes, she'd been to the
haunted house at the mall, and no the stamp on the back of the hand hadn't
worn off yet wasn't that strange, it wasn't a very good haunted house, not
very scary at all, of course you don't want it to be too scary, not for
the kids, you know, I guess they have to worry about liability, but this
haunted house was just sort of weird, not normal, it all looked so
amateurish, usually the mall did a better job than that --
She was still talking when he closed the door. The smog of automobile
exhaust created a reasonable facsimile of autumn haze as Proffitt made his
way to the mall. Across the acres of parking lot Proffitt could see a
line of trees that might have been changing into fall colors. The mall
Muzak blared from speakers. The food court was decorated in orange and
black with skeletons and winsome ghosts twined around the support
pillars. B. Dalton and Walden's were outdoing each other on their R.L.
Stine Goosebumps displays. Proffitt found a rent-a-cop and asked him for
the location of the haunted house.
"Nope," the rent-a-cop said. "No haunted house this year." He tugged at
his snap-on tie and Proffitt saw the pink mark on the back of his wrist.
He frowned and faded back into the mall crowd. The rent-a-cop blinked
absently and turned away.
He walked through the mall looking for pink marks on wrists. There were a
lot. Four teenage girls that Profitt would have expected to be giggling
and shrieking were walking quietly toward the exit. A woman in jeans much
too tight for her figure was sitting by the fountain with her head down.
Others everywhere in the mall, distinguishable by their uncharacteristic
quiet and the pink marks on their wrists.
He almost missed it as he walked down the concourse. It was a vacant
storefront with paper over the windows and a handpainted banner that said,
"Beware -- Not for the faint of heart. Enter only if you're not like the
others." The theme seemed to be more end of the world or fifties science
fiction movie than haunted house or graveyard. The banner had some bad
clip art of flying saucers shooting death rays and hanging from a string
was a model saucer that looked like two pie plates glued together. A
simple drawing of a smiling, pipe-smoking, fifties father-figure taped
above the door handle should have been reassuring but wasn't.
Proffitt pushed open the door and stood blinking in the dim interior.
There was another door and a sign that said, "Are you abnormal ? Then you
may be BETTER than other people." A slight figure in t-shirt and jeans
looked at him through thick glasses.
"Wisdom of the elder gods, only a dollar," he said.
"What?" Proffitt wasn't sure he'd heard him right.
"Eternal salvation or triple your money back. Realize your abnormality
potential, one dollar." He held out a church collection basket. Proffitt
fumbled a dollar out of his pocket and dropped it in the basket. Expenses,
"Be warned," the slight figure chanted. "Don't enter the inner sanctum if
you're not ready." Proffitt stepped through the second door and heard it
sigh shut behind him.
In the middle of the floor was a spotlight shining up through a slowly
turning wheel with four different colored lenses, the sort of cheap,
color-changing light seen shining on hundreds of aluminum Christmas trees.
The walls were covered with a collage of pictures and text. A strobe
light flashed and distorted music began to play. The room seemed to
lurch, and Proffitt nearly lost his balance. Now he couldn't tell if the
lights were spinning or if it was the room. The music faded in and out.
The strobe flashed again and again --
Proffitt was standing in the anteroom and the slight man was peering
intently into his eyes. Proffitt shook his head. "What -- what are you
doing to them -- to all those people --"
"Never mind them. One of them paid you -- how much?"
Proffitt shook his head again. "Thirty dollars. But what --"
"A sign! Do you have it here?" There seemed to be another figure standing
behind the slight man. Proffitt's head wouldn't clear and he couldn't
tell where the voice was coming from. "This one is ready."
He felt vaguely for his wallet and then felt other fingers on his. He
shook his head again, and when he could see, the second figure was
apparently sniffing what looked like dollar bills.
The room spun again. Proffitt felt a chair against the back of his legs
and fell into it. His head cleared and he could see that he was sitting
behind his own desk in his own office. He fumbled for his wallet. The
thirty dollars was gone. A white card fell out on the blotter. The phone
"Mr. Proffitt? Is that you? Nelson here. Well, I must say that you do
very good work. And in only one day. Very satisfactory. Oh, yes. I've
Fed-Exed the rest of your fee. Ten thousand dollars just as we agreed.
Very satisfactory." His voice had an odd, sing-song quality.
A knock at the office door was the Fed-Ex driver with an envelope.
Proffitt looked at the sign on the bank. 9:37 AM, Nov 1. The smog haze
was even thicker, and the Muzak in the mall parking lot somehow tinnier.
Inside, the crowds were strangely silent, shuffling through the vast
Proffitt found the vacant storefront with the papered-over windows and
shoved through the door shouting, "Did you do this somehow? Make him send
me that money? Did you think you could buy me off --"
There was no one in the vacant store. A few papers littered the floor,
among them the drawing of the smiling man with the pipe. Proffitt pulled
out his wallet, searching for the white card. He found it.
"The Church of the SubGenius, P.O. Box 140306, Dallas, TX 75214, This
certifies that James Proffitt is an Ordained Minister and High Priest
and/or Priestess of the Church and is on official Business. Donations
Proffitt pushed open the door and looked out into the mall. "But the
others -- they're all -- all like robots, or something."
He walked out into the concourse and the crowd parted around him.
"Why me? Why me?"
The crowds were silent.
Jim the Prophet
Licensed SubGenius Preacher
Awright now, LISSEN! I posted a nasty little story here last St. Patrick's
Day and got precisely TWO responses. Put up a really nice William Gibson
pastiche and got THREE.
This is your Halloween story. Let's hear some CHATTER about this one,
people. NEW THREAD, you alt.slack.slugs: TALK IT UP! Don't make me get
ANORDILMO FUTNUCKS in here.
Jim the Prophet
Licensed SubGenius Preacher
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