My Kolchak: The Night Stalker Fanfictions

New city.
New adventures.
Same hat.

In 1970, Jeff Rice wrote a novel called THE KOLCHAK PAPERS. Set in Las Vegas, it followed journalist Karel "Carl" Kolchak as he investigated a series of murders whose victims were drained of their blood. As one bizarre occurrence followed another, Kolchak eventually came to believe that the serial killer was a bona fide vampire.

In 1971, ABC optioned the unpublished book for adaptation to TV. The screenplay was written by the veteran horror/sci-fi author, Richard Matheson. The film, now called THE NIGHT STALKER, was produced by Dan Curtis. It starred Darren McGavin as the dumpy, sloppily dressed, middle-aged Kolchak and Simon Oakland as his beleaguered editor, Tony Vincenzo. ABC ran the film on January 11, 1972. It was a smash hit that pulled in a 33.2 rating and a 54 share.

Encouraged by that success, Curtis hired Matheson to write a second Kolchak script. THE NIGHT STRANGLER found our hero, having been blackballed from Las Vegas, now living in Seattle and again working for Tony Vincenzo. His first assignment is a series of stranglings in which the victims each suffered a small loss of blood. The killer, Dr. Richard Malcolm, is 144 years old and must kill every 21 years to make the elixir that unnaturally prolongs his life. ABC aired THE NIGHT STRANGLER on January 16, 1973. Like its predecessor, the film returned highly favorable ratings.

Curtis commissioned Matheson to create a third Kolchak story. THE NIGHT KILLERS was set in Hawaii and involved an alien invasion in which the extraterrestrials planned to kill off world leaders and replace them with acquiescent android lookalikes. However, THE NIGHT KILLERS was never produced as ABC instead opted for a weekly Kolchak series. At this point, both Dan Curtis and Richard Matheson pulled out of the project.

ABC premiered KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER on Friday night, September 13, 1974. The series was set in Chicago and had Carl once again working for Vincenzo--but this time for a shoestring wire service called the INS (Independent News Service). It ran for 20 episodes that pitted Carl against a second vampire, a werewolf, a zombie, a prehistoric apeman, invisible space aliens, a succubus, two Native American apparitions, the original Jack the Ripper, a swamp monster from Louisiana, a shapeshifting Hindu demon, a headless motorcycle rider with a sword, a giant erect-walking lizard, an Aztec mummy, and even Helen of Troy.

The quality of these 20 episodes varied greatly, but the show was years ahead of its time. Without "Kolchak: The Night Stalker," there might never been "The X Files," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Angel," "Supernatural," or "Grimm."
THE WINGS OF LILITH (1998) image
(Cover art by Karl Lundstedt)

If you were in the Big Apple in mid-October and had a newborn baby, you also had good reason to be horrified. Over a three-day period, there occurred a string of crimes occurred so bizarre and heinous, even the most jaded New Yorkers took notice.

Allow me to introduce myself. Name's Carl Kolchak. I'm a reporter with the Independent News Service in New York. I had worked out of Chicago until I learned too much about a series of killings at the well-connected Merrymount Archives. Lieutenant Irene Lamont of the Windy City P.D., along with a high-ranking representative of the U.S. Army, got in contact with my higher-ups. They were ready to fire me, but my bureau chief, Tony Vincenzo, intervened on my behalf. He somehow convinced the people with the hangman's noose to allow me to transfer out of Chicago.

I've been in Manhattan for a few years now, reporting the news and making a general pain in the ass of myself in the eyes of New York's ironically named “Finest.” During that time, I've seen what you would expect a reporter to see—mob trials, drive-bys, political corruption, you name it. But nothing quite like this.

Staten Island, October 16th, 4:00 a.m.  Julie Ross' week-old son woke her up with his crying. She dragged herself out of bed and went to the kitchen to prepare his bottle. When his cries grew more severe and suddenly stopped, Julie, suspecting something was seriously wrong, ran to the baby's room. What the young mother saw put her in Bellevue for several months. What she could not have known was that similar incidents occurred all over her Staten Island neighborhood that morning.

Midtown West Manhattan, October 17th, 12:30 a.m. Terry Riley loved her job. She was a pediatric nurse at Roosevelt Hospital. Terry adored children and made up for having none of her own by giving her love and affection to the newborns at work. While making her rounds that night, she heard the piercing screams of several infants. Running into the room to see what was wrong, Terry burst out screaming herself.

I was driving home from a late night at the office when I heard the call on my police scanner. I high-tailed it to the hospital.

The maternity ward was a madhouse. New mothers screamed for their babies while the cops did their best to hold them back from the crime scene. As I entered the ward, I saw what all the pandemonium was about. Of the fifty-odd infants in the nursery, at least twenty were on the floor, mutilated and murdered. The surviving babies screamed in horror as the nurses attempted to calm them down. The cops, of course, were thrilled to see me.

“Oh, Christ,” an officer said. “Captain!”

Captain Dominic Sperranza's eyes narrowed when he saw me. “It's all right, Danvers. Let him in before he starts whining about freedom of the press.”

I approached Sperranza, my camera and hand-held cassette recorder at the ready. “Whining about freedom of the press. You have such a firm understanding of democracy, Captain!”

“Cool it, Thomas Payne. As you may have noticed, I've got a maternity ward full of dead bodies.”

I had noticed all right. In all my years as a reporter, I had never seen anything quite as stomach-turning as that room.

I asked, “Any idea who did it?”

“The night nurse got a look at the killer.”

“Can I talk to her?”

“No, you can't talk to her! She's giving her statement.”

I listened as Terry Riley gave her statement to Detective Heather Fontayne. Per Ms. Riley, when she entered the nursery, she saw a naked woman holding a baby boy by the ankle and taking a bite out of his throat. Numerous additional infants were already dead on the floor.

Terry described the woman as “six feet tall with red hair and….” She paused.

“And what?” said Detective Fontayne.

Terry shook her head. “You're not going to believe this.”

“Please, tell me.”

“She had wings.”

The detective did a double take. “Wings?”

“Yes, wings. Like an angel's, but black.”

A dutiful Fontayne jotted down the information. “And what happened next?”

“I screamed! That got her attention. She just looked at me and snarled. There was blood dripping out of her mouth and all down her chin and breasts. Then she….” Terry started to cry. Fontayne handed her a handkerchief. Terry dabbed her eyes and continued. “She dropped the baby like he was a towel or something! Then she disappeared.”

“She ran away?”

“No, she…. She muttered some word; it sounded like 'yeah, way.' Then….” She paused again.

“Please, ma'am, what happened next?”

“Oh, god! Now you're really going to think I'm crazy. She turned to mist and vanished into that mirror!” Terry pointed to a round ceiling-mounted mirror in the far corner of the room.

Detective Fontayne admirably kept a straight face.

I felt a strong grip on my shoulder. It was Sperranza. “Didn't I tell you to leave my witness alone?”

“I didn't go near her!”

He grabbed my tape recorder and removed the cassette.

“Oh, come on!”

“There'll be a press release in the morning. It'll tell you all you need to know.”

“You mean, all you want us to know. Will it be as useless as this morning's press release on the Staten Island baby killings? And what'll it say about the winged redhead who disappears into mirrors?”

Instead of replying, Sperranza escorted me to the exit—with one hand on his gun.

Not two years after I moved to New York, Tony Vincenzo, my old bureau chief in Chicago, became a victim of corporate downsizing. Rather than letting him go, I.N.S. offered Tony a choice—early retirement or a transfer to New York. He took the latter, somehow forgetting that I was here too. I'll never forget Tony's words when he first saw me again: “Oh my god, no!”

Several hours after the maternity ward murders, I arrived at the I.N.S. building and made a beeline for Tony's office. His secretary, Liza, sat at the reception desk.

“Carl, you can't go in there. He's in a meeting with Corporate.”

“Corporate can pound sand!” I burst into the office.

“Kolchak,” Tony roared. “Don't you see I'm in a meeting?”

A mousy-looking man in a business suit sat across from Tony's desk.

I exclaimed, “Uptight? Is that you?”

Vincenzo said, “No, Carl, that's not Updyke. Ron is still in Chicago. This is Mr. Howard Kirschenbaum of the I.N.S. Corporate Office.”

“Oh! Sorry about that. You remind me of this guy we used to work with.”

Kinrschenbaum asked Tony, “Who, or what, is this?”

“That's Carl Kolchak—one of my best reporters, if you can believe that.”

“My god, Anthony. If he's one of your best, we're in a world of trouble.”

I said, “Is it safe to assume this meeting is about the disaster with the printing press?”

Kirschenbaum did a double take. “What disaster with the printing press?”

“You mean, you haven't heard?”

“Heard what?”

“My god, man! Your bosses will be furious you weren't down there, investigating the accident.” I placed a hand on his shoulder. “It's all right, Howie. They'll give you time to clean out your office. They're good that way.”

He shot to his feet. “Anthony, I have to postpone our meeting.”

Once Kirschenbaum was gone, Vincenzo stood up and looked at me as if his head would explode. “Why do I keep you on the payroll?”

“Oh, come on, Tony. What would your life be like without me?”

“Peaceful! Well, now that you've sabotaged my meeting, what the hell do you want?”

I filled him in on the maternity ward murders.

“Yes, I know all about that. What does it have to do with you?”

“Since I was there, I figured you might give me the story.”

“Well, you figured wrong. I gave it to Dickerson.”

“Dickerson? He never comes out of the bar long enough to cover a story!”

“You're not in it, Carl. Capische?”

I eyed him suspiciously. “You didn't get a call from Sperranza?”

“So what if I did?”

“Should I file my stories with Sperranza, too? He can check them for cop-friendliness.”

Tony handed me a press release. “This is what I'm putting you on.”

I read it. “An art exhibit? What do I know about art?”

“Just cover the opening, Carl. Maybe some of that culture will rub off on you.”

“Go suck an egg!”

“Or not.”

Since the art opening was not until that evening, I had time to conduct some research. I sat at my desk and logged on to the Internet.

I was new to cyberspace. I had resisted the whole “information superhighway” thing for a long time—so much so that I took a hammer to my last computer. I.N.S. gave me a week off without pay and deducted the cost from my next six months' paychecks. But I now understood that the Internet had its place.

I switched on my terminal and clicked to a search engine. But what to type in? I tried “winged redheads,” but came up with “0 matches.” Then I typed in “baby killers.” That produced a bunch of articles and websites on the abortion controversy. As I waded through all that, I found a news item from Israel about a rash of baby killings in Tel Aviv.

It was a recent piece that stated for the last several nights, babies had been dying in greater Tel Aviv and authorities were stumped. One hysterical mother was taken to a psychiatric hospital after insisting that her newborn had been murdered by a naked redhead with black wings. I printed the document and logged off the computer.

I arrived at the art gallery ay 6:00 p.m. and took a look around. I photographed the paintings and jotted down some notes, but my thoughts were not on the exhibit—until I saw one particular painting. It was a 72-by-36-inch likeness of a winged, naked redhead. She faced the viewer and crouched like a panther about to strike. The painting was titled LILITH THE STALKER.

I approached the curator. “Excuse me?”

“Yes?” she said. “May I help you?”

“I'm curious about LILITH THE STALKER.”

“Oh, yes! That's one of Alice's best works.”

“Who is Lilith?”

“A mythological figure. I don't really know the story.”

“Can I talk to the artist?”

“I'm afraid not. Alice is in Paris for a month.”

“Well, I need some information on this Lilith. Is there somebody I can talk to?”

“Peggy Quinn. She owns Lilith House, a bookstore in the Village. Big lesbian/feminist clientele.”

“Do you have her phone number?”

“No need for that, Mr…. I didn't get your name.”

“Oh, it's Carl. Carl, uh, Steinem.”

“Oh! Any relation to Gloria?”

“No, but I do subscribe to her magazine. Helps me stay in touch with my soft side.”

“Really? You don't strike me as the feminist type.”

“Oh, sure! I'm as feminist as they come. I picketed THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT and I love to watch M*A*S*H.”

“Uh-huh. Well, I'll tell you what Mr....Steinem. Peggy is here tonight. I'll introduce you.”

Peggy Quinn was a heavyset woman of thirty with short blonde hair. She wore a sky blue pantsuit and had a pair of gold-rimmed bifocals on a gold chain around her neck. She was surrounded by several men and women who bore the distinct, cultured look of the literati.

When the curator introduced us, Peggy said, “So, it's Mr. Steinem, is it?”

“Yes, it is.”

“What makes you so curious about Lilith?”

“I'm a reporter and I'm doing a piece on Lilith Fair.”

She laughed. “Bit late, aren't you? Lilith Fair played the City three months ago.”

“Well, I'm doing a follow-up piece on how the festival got its name.”

“Uh-huh. So, what do you want to know?”

“The whole story of Lilith.”

She sized me up and decided I was a harmless nut. “Tell you what. I'm very busy right now. Why don't you stop by the store tomorrow afternoon. Say, two o'clock?”

Peggy gave me the store's address. I thanked her and went back to covering the exhibit. Once the gallery closed, I drove to the office to file my story. Then I got back on the Internet to research Lilith—or at least I tried, but the server was down. I muttered a few choice word about AOL and went home.

October 18th, 1:40 a.m. Within a half-hour period, every newborn in a six-block radius of Brooklyn's Park Slope neighborhood was killed. Some died in ways that suggested Sudden Infant Death Syndrome while numerous others had definitely been murdered. The story hit just in time for the morning rush hour.

When I got to the office, Vincenzo was livid—but not with me for a change. This time, Dickerson was on Tony's shitlist. He didn't even scream at the poor bastard behind closed doors, but in front of the whole office.,

“Why weren't you out there, covering the story?”

“I didn't know about it! I was sound asleep. I had been out with my friends….”

“Obviously! I can smell it on your breath.” Tony noticed me across the office. “Carl! You still want the dead baby story?”


“You've got it. Now find out what the hell happened at Park Slope.”

I spent the morning making unreturned phone calls to the police and the morgue and chasing dead-end leads. My story was little more than a rewrite of the press release. Vincenzo wasn't happy, but that was nothing new. Besides, I had other things on my mind—like a certain Greenwich Village bookstore.

1724 East Houston (pronounced “How-stun”) Street was a freestanding cinder block affair with Peggy Quinn's business on the first floor and an apartment upstairs. A professionally painted sign over the front entrance read LILITH HOUSE. Accompanying it was an image of a red-haired woman with black wings. A smaller sign in the front window said LESBIAN/FEMINIST BOOKS AND COFFEEHOUSE. I arrived promptly at 2:00 p.m. and found Peggy standing at the register.

“Ah! Mr. Steinem.” She suppressed a laugh.

“Hello, Miss Quinn. And thank you for agreeing to meet with me.”

“Yeah, no problem.” She motioned to a small white circular table. “Have a seat and I'll be right with you. Care for a cappuccino?”

“No, thank you. I never touch caffeine. It makes me act strangely.”

After she rang up a customer's book purchase, Peggy sat across from me. “So, you want to know about Lilith.”

“Yes, please.” I pointed to my tape recorder, which I had placed on the tabletop. “Is it all right if I tape you?”

“Sure.” She took a deep breath as I hit the “record” button. “Lilith was Adam's first wife.”

“Adam who?”

“You know, Adam. Garden of Eden.”

“Oh! That Adam.”

“Right! Before Eve, there was Lilith.”

“Really?” I said. “I don't remember that from the Bible.”

“You wouldn't. There's only one brief passage about Lilith, to the effect that she lived in the desert.

“Unlike Eve, Lilith was created at the same time as Adam. So when Adam demanded subservience, Lilith told him to piss off: 'Why should I be subservient to you? We were both created from the dirt. That makes me your equal.' That didn't sit too well with our boy Adam, especially when Lilith wouldn't let him get on top during sex. Adam got mad and tried to force her into the missionary position, at which point Lilith uttered the Ineffable Name of Yahweh.”

“Yahweh?” I remembered what Nurse Riley had said about the killer muttering what sounded like “yeah, way.”

“Another name for God,” Peggy explained. “So when Lilith uttered Yahweh's name, she turned into a cloud of mist and flew from Adam's bed. She ended up at the Red Sea, where she began to have illicit sex with fallen angels. Pretty soon, Lilith was giving birth to whole flocks of demon babies.

“Meanwhile, Adam was bitching and moaning about not having a wife who would adhere to his every demand, so God sent three angels to the Red Sea to bring Lilith back to the Garden of Eden. When she refused, the angels threatened to kill 100 of her demon babies a day until she returned. But Lilith still refused. So God created Eve, who was far more subservient than her predecessor had been.”

“Not subservient enough, though, if I remember correctly.”

Peggy grinned. “Well put! Anyway, Lilith embraced the so-called 'Dark Side.' Grew black wings, the whole nine yards. She even had a fling with Satan, who gave her a special mirror that allowed Lilith to travel between his realm and ours. Ever since then, she's used mirrors to get around in this world. If Satan's mirror is destroyed when she's in his realm, Lilith can never leave there again. On the other hand, if it's destroyed while she's here, she'll lose her powers and die.

“Some cultures claim that Lilith was the first succubus, seducing men in their sleep and sucking all the blood out of them. Others believe she slays newborn babies to get back at God for having his angels kill her demon children.”

That got my attention.

Peggy asked, “Is something wrong? You just went pale.”

“No, no. I'm fine. Please continue.”

“As recently as the 18th century, some cultures wore an amulet that bore the names of the three angels at the Red Sea. If you wore it, Lilith couldn't harm you.”

“You wouldn't happen to have one of those amulets?”

“As a matter of fact,” said Peggy, “I used to sell them here. At least I tried, but no one bought them.”

“Why not?”

“My customers don't want to drive Lilith away. They see her as a positive symbol of women's independence.”

“But she kills babies!”

“Well, yeah, there's that. In all likelihood, though, that part was added to her story centuries after the fact—by men, of course. Tell you what, Mr. Steinem. I'll let you have an amulet for free.”

I shut off my tape recorder as Peggy went upstairs to her apartment. She returned a few minutes later with the promised amulet. It was pewter and had three names engraved on it: Sanvi, Sansanvi, and Semangalef—the angels who went after Lilith at the Red Sea. I placed it in my jacket pocket and thanked Peggy for the gift.

“Now, I'm going to show you something really special.” Peggy led me to the far end of the bookstore. She motioned to a six-foot-tall mirror in a lacquered wooden frame. “I still can't believe it's mine.”

“I'm not following you.”

“This, Mr. Steinem, is the mirror I told you about. I just bought it from an on-line auction. Wiped out my savings, but it's worth it.”

“Who sold it?”

“A private collector in Tel Aviv.”

“Tel Aviv? When did you get this mirror?”

“Couple of days ago.”

“Peggy, you've heard about the rash of infanticides the last few nights?”

“Oh god, yes! Who would do such a thing to little babies?”

“Ask your friend Lilith.”

Peggy gaped at me. “What?”

I reached into my back pocket and produced the news item I had printed off. “Here, read this.”

Peggy skimmed. “My god, even more baby killings. What kind of a world do we live in?”

“What about the part that mentions a redhead with black wings? And notice the place? Tel Aviv! Now you tell me you've only had the mirror for a couple of days? That means you got it right before the baby killings began!”

“Mr. Steinem, please! Get a hold of yourself. Lilith doesn't really exist; she's just a legend.”

“Then why did you buy this mirror?”

“Because of the mythology attached to it.”

“We've got to destroy that thing! If we don't, she'll come back tonight and kill more babies.”

Peggy placed her hands on her hips. “All right, this isn't funny anymore. I want you out of my store now. And don't even think about contacting me again.”

I left without protest. But instead of returning to my car, I walked up the alley next to Lilith House and checked the windows. I found one that led into the bathroom. It was about my width, did not appear to be alarmed, and looked like it would open without much encouragement. I got in the Yellow Submarine and drove back to I.N.S.

The Lilith House closed at 10:00 p.m. At a little before then, I parked my car down the block and waited for Peggy to lock up. Soon, the store was dark. Peggy went upstairs and flicked on the apartment lights. When the building was completely dark, I walked toward the alley.

I got through the bathroom window without a problem and touched my inside coat pocket for reassurance. In it was the hammer I had brought to smash Lilith's mirror. I reached into my pants pocket to make sure the amulet was still there. It was. My heart racing, I exited the bathroom and made my way to the mirror.

I stood in front of it and was just pulling out the hammer when a small dot appeared in the center of the glass. As it grew bigger, the dot morphed into a naked woman running toward me. I yelped and hit the floor, feeling a whoosh of air above me as Lilith exited the mirror. She landed on her feet and spun around to face me. Her gorgeous face was a mask of fury. As Lilith lunged at me, I pulled out the amulet. She froze in her tracks and snarled.

As we circled each other, my eyes desperately searched the floor for the hammer I had dropped. Then a light came on. It was Peggy Quinn, who had come downstairs in her bathrobe.

“What the hell?” When she saw Lilith, Peggy's eyes shot open and she screamed. Lilith lunged at her.

I shouted, “Peggy, catch!” and tossed her the amulet. It bounced off the wall and landed a couple of feet away from her. Peggy grabbed it and kept Lilith at bay.

I found the hammer and gave the mirror a good, hard whack. A spider-web-shaped crack appeared in the glass. Lilith shrieked and ran toward the mirror. I dropped the hammer again as she grabbed me by the throat. We tumbled to the floor. I felt faint as Lilith's thumbs closed off my windpipe.

Peggy found my hammer and went to work on the mirror. When each blow she struck, Lilith's grip on my throat weakened. Finally, she rolled off me and laid on her back, the black wings spread out beneath her.

Peggy whacked away at the mirror in a blind fury as I watched Lilith die. Her wings withered as the ebony feathers dropped from her body and crumbled into dirt. She aged quickly as her once-firm skin became a hideous mass of wrinkles and blue veins. Her cheeks sank and her breasts sagged. Her fiery red hair turned bluish-gray and fell out in clumps. Meanwhile, Peggy kept up her assault on the now-glass-free mirror.

Lilith began to undulate. Her spasms grew increasingly violent until it felt as if the whole bookstore was quaking. Lilith emitted one last bone-chilling scream as she crumbled into the same dirt from which she had been created.

Peggy was still hitting the mirror. She stopped when I grabbed her arm. Peggy dropped the hammer and collapsed into my arms, crying.

“She's only a legend,” Peggy sobbed. “She doesn't really exist.”

I looked at the mount of dirt. “You're right about the second part.”

When the police arrived, following a call from Peggy's neighbors, she told them that vandals had broken into the store and that if I hadn't happened along, they would have caused far more damage than they did. The cops, knowing who I was, took me in for questioning but let me go after an hour. With Peggy backing up my story, they had nothing on me and they knew it.

Last time I was in the Village, I stopped in at 1724 East Houston Street. It was now called PEGGY'S BOOKS AND COFFEEHOUSE. No references to Lilith remained on the property. Peggy's customers were unhappy with the change, but they hadn't seen what we saw.

Legend has it that thousands of Lilith's demon children still walk the earth. Peggy suggested we watch our our backs in case any of them seek revenge. So far, we've been lucky.
(Cover art by Karl Lundstedt)

It was thought to be a prank, the work of an artist with a strange of humor and too much time on his hands. But it was much, much worse.

New York's Lower East Side, Friday, April 3rd, 8:00 p.m. Traffic on East River Drive, near the Manhattan Bridge, was brought to a standstill when two statues suddenly appeared in the thoroughfare. They were fully clothed. A maintenance crew was quickly dispatched to remove them.

Soho, Saturday, April 4th, 11:30 p.m. Gregory Wilkins, 56 and homeless, had just fallen asleep under the Williamsburg Bridge when a scream awakened him. He gasped at what he found: a statue in the form of a sleeping woman. It was dressed in torn, faded clothing. Next to it was a rickety shopping cart filled with the odds and ends that a homeless woman just might collect. A panicked Wilkins grabbed his few belongings and ran away.

East 20th Street and Avenue C, Sunday, April 5th, 10:00 p.m. For the third time in just over 48 hours, a maintenance crew was called in to move a statue that had mysteriously appeared. This time, police were dispatched as well.

I arrived at the I.N.S. offices at 9:00 Monday morning, April 6th. The first person I saw was Liza, our young and sprightly receptionist.

“Good morning, Miss Liza! And how are you this fine Monday?”

“My,” she exclaimed, “aren't you in a good mood!”

“And why shouldn't I be? I just had the most marvelous weekend.”

She giggled. “I should have guessed from that twinkle in your eye. Anybody I know?”

“I doubt that—unless your work history includes something you'd never put in a resume.”

“And I thought your money went to informants.”

“She is an informant, but it's not her only job.”

Liza shook her head with an indulgent smile. “Anyway, Tony wants to see you.”

“Geez! Am I in trouble already?”

New York is the fourth city in which I've worked for Anthony Albert Vincenzo, whose weight far exceeds his journalistic talents. He was my editor in Las Vegas, Seattle, Chicago, and now the Big Apple. His “edits” often entailed crumpling up my stories and throwing them in the trash. Alas, there is no such title as “Crumpler-in-Chief.” I knocked on his office door and walked in without waiting for a reply.

“Ah! Carl, there you are.”

“Figured that out all by yourself, did you?”

“Carl, please. It's Monday morning.”

“Boy, you're just a fount of breaking news. So, you wanted to see me?”

“Yes, I have an assignment for you.” He handed me a sheet of paper.

I looked it over. “Are you kidding? This isn't news.”

“Sure, it is. It's lighthearted; a human-interest story.”

“Terrific. A vampire stalking Las Vegas: not news. A 144-year-old strangler in Seattle: not news.”

Tony's eyeballs went skyward. “Mama mia.”

“A zombie, a werewolf, a swamp monster, a headless biker, space aliens: not news. But some sculptor with a weird sense of humor placing statues in Lower Manhattan: Pulitzer Prize material, by god. Thank you so much, Vincenzo!”

“Just cover the damned thing and stop yelling, will you please?”

I snapped my fingers. “So that's it! Over the weekend, you were visited by three spirits: Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, and Captain Morgan. You're a drunken Scrooge, Mr. Vincenzo.”

“If working with you doesn't make a man drink, I don't know what would. Now get the hell out of my office and do your job!”

I stormed out of his office and past the reception desk. Liza, who must have heard our shouting match (even through the closed door), said, “A vampire in Las Vegas?”

I replied, “Frank Langella was terrific in that film.”

“Who's Frank Langella?”

Didn't I say she was young?

It struck me as odd that the police had been called in to investigate something purportedly innocuous, so I phoned the N.Y.P.D. and asked for the investigating officer.

A woman with a husky contralto said, “Detective Fontayne.”

“Hello, Detective. Carl Kolchak, I.N.S.”

She groaned. “I'm going to kill whoever put you through to me. What do you want?”

“I'm calling about an odd series of events from over the weekend. Your name was on the police report.”

“This isn't about the statues, is it?”

“Why yes, it is. I'm supposed to write a story about them.”

She snorted. “Slow news day, huh?”

“Hey, what can I tell you? My editor gives me an assignment, I have to complete it.”

“Yeah, I know how that feels. Honestly, Kolchak, there's nothing to the story. Some weirdo spent the weekend putting up statues. Except for the ones in the middle of East River Drive, he didn't break any laws.”

“So, why was a police detective put on the case?”

Fontayne paused. “Kolchak, there's a call on my other line. I have to go.”

She hung up.

FDR Drive near the Queens Midtown Tunnel, Monday, April 6th, 10:15 p.m. Another statue placement—except this time, it was found behind the wheel of a Toyota Camry with the motor running. For good measure, the transmission was also in gear. The car had run a curb and slammed into a light pole. I heard the call on my police scanner and high-tailed it to the scene. When I arrived, I saw two uniformed cops directing traffic while several others worked under Detective Fontayne's supervision. As I approached her, she was lighting a fresh cigarette from the one she was finishing.

Fontayne saw me and rolled her eyes. “Jesus, Kolchak, don't you ever sleep?”

“I could ask you the same question. So, what happened?”

“Another statue—but this time, our merry prankster used a car.”

“Can I take a look?”

“Go ahead. Just don't touch anything.”

I looked inside the vehicle through the driver's side door. A statue not only sat inside, but had its left hand on the wheel. It held its right arm in front of its face and had an expression of unmitigated terror. Even the eyes seemed to radiate fear. And like the other statues, it was fully clothed. I took pictures of the scene, including the car's license plate, and returned to Fontayne. She was interviewing a nervous-looking young man in a pizza driver's uniform.

I heard him say, “I'm telling you, something was flying in front of that car!”

Fontayne said, “What? Some kind of bird?”

“Man, if that was a bird, it was from, like, six million years ago!”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, for one thing, it didn't have no feathers. And it was pretty big, maybe six feet long. You want to know what it looked like? A baby dragon!”

Pausing, Fontayne said, “A dragon?”

“Well, it didn't breathe fire or nothin'. You know what it did, though? It had these eyes that flashed red, and that's when the car jumped the curb.”

Once she was done with the witness, I approached Fontayne.

She breathed a fatigued sigh. “Yes, Kolchak?”

“A baby dragon, huh?”

“The kid reeks of marijuana. I'll bet he sees a lot of things that aren't there.”

“So how did that statue get into a car? How did it wrap its left hand around the wheel? Why does it look so frightened?”

“Look, I don't know the answer, OK? I'm as much in the dark as you are.”

“I'll give you points for honesty.”

“I have to get back to work. Tell you what, though: give me your card and I'll keep you in the loop.”

I handed her my card. “Are you sure you're a cop?”

The next morning, I called an acquaintance at Motor Vehicles, who ran the Camry's plate for me. Armed with a name and address, I obtained a phone number and called the Fort Lee, New Jersey, home of Roscoe Bennett. His worried wife stated that he had gone into the city the day before and was due back late that evening, but had not yet come home—nor had he answered Mrs. Bennett's phone calls or text messages. She also advised me that she had received a call from Detective Fontayne of the N.Y.P.D. as they had found her husband's car abandoned. So as not to worry Mrs. Bennett even more, I didn't contradict the detective's white lie.

I got on the horn to Fontayne. “What can you tell me about Roscoe Bennett?”

“Only that we found his car last night with a statue behind the wheel. But you already knew that.”

“What's become of all those statues?”

“They're in the evidence locker. Why?”

“Can I see them?”

“Are you nuts? If I let you anywhere near the evidence locker, they'll boot me back down to Traffic Control! What's this all about?”

“I don't think those are statues. I think they're real people who've turned to stone.”

Pausing, Fontayne said, “Boy, those stories I've heard about you are true, aren't they?”

“Well, what's your theory? Do you even have one?”

“Yes! I'm thinking our sculptor is more dangerous than we thought. He might be abducting people and keeping them hostage while he carves their likenesses into stone. I don't have any hard evidence, but my theory is a hell of a lot more plausible than yours.”

If Fontayne wanted hard evidence, I'd get her some. I checked the Internet for random statue placements outside of New York. Bingo! I found stories of numerous incidents dating back several weeks from as far north as New Jersey and as far south as the Caribbean Islands. I spoke with some of the reporters who had written the pieces. Two of them revealed a detail that that they had left out of their stories: eyewitness accounts of a dragon-like monster flying through the air.Armed with both printed stories and recordings of my phone conversations, I went to see Fontayne in person.

By age fourteen, Heather Fontayne was five feet nine inches tall. She took up cigarettes in the hope that it would stunt her growth.It didn't. By the time she graduated, the future policewoman was six-feet-two and a high school basketball star (despite her tobacco addiction). She attended the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at C.U.N.Y. The Department had recruited Fontayne during her senior year. She was now a fifteen-year veteran who had worked her way up from Traffic Control to being a highly respected member of the Detective Division. It was widely believed that Fontayne would one day make Chief of Detectives.

Appearance-wise, she had fluffy blonde hair that hung down to her shoulder blades, her eyes were an incandescent blue, and her impeccable face and body could have been sculpted from porcelain. If she hadn't gone into law enforcement, Heather Fontayne could very well have been a model.

As I walked across the squad room to her office, I could hear the officers present muttering little asides about me: “What the hell is he doing here?” “Who do you suppose he's pestering now?” “Oh, what I'd give to use deadly force on that prick.”

“To protect and to serve,” indeed!

I found Fontayne's office and knocked on her door. Before she could answer, I walked in. (I do that.) She stood next to the open window, blowing cigarette smoke into an outward-facing fan on the sill. Seeing me, Fontanye stubbed out her cigarette in the ashtray next to the fan.

“What do you want, Kolchak?”

I held up the sheaf of news items I had printed out. “Something to read.”

As Fontayne skimmed the stories, her mouth hung open. “Jesus! It's happened that many times? Wonder if it's the same person?”

“Still think it's a person, do you?” I produced my portable cassette deck and played an excerpt from my phone conversation with a reporter in Charleston, South Carolina.

He said, “One witness told me she saw some dragon-looking monster flying over the scene right before the statue appeared. I didn't even bother putting that in my story; never would've seen print.”

Fontayne placed the papers on her desk. “You don't expect me to believe those statues are real people who've turned to stone, much less that a goddamned dragon is doing it?”

“I didn't say it was a dragon, but two different people in two different cities hundreds of miles apart claim to have seen something like it.”

She sighed. “I probably shouldn't tell you this, but the statues on East River Drive had wallets on them—complete with money, driver's license, credit cards, you name it. And over the weekend, both people had missing-persons reports filed on them. We also found a wallet on the Roscoe Bennett statue.”


“'Ah-ha,' nothing! It gives credence to my theory that our sculptor is a kidnapper.”

I slapped my forehead. “What has to happen before you'll take me seriously?”

Fontayne shrugged. “An acquired brain injury, perhaps?”

Roosevelt Island, Tuesday, April 7th, 9:00 p.m. My police scanner went nuts with calls about an unidentified animal engaged with police in Four Freedoms Park. The dispatcher described it as “a huge flying reptile.” I hopped on to the Queesnboro Bridge and was there in minutes.

When I arrived at the locus, the cops were in a shootout—with what looked for all world like a baby dragon. It flapped its wings furiously and strafed the officers. The creature made visual contact with one, and its eyes flashed red. The cop turned to stone! Astonished, I whipped out my camera and frantically snapped photos.

The creature landed on the grass and hissed at length. As the cops shot at it, the monster gazed at one, its eyes flashed red, and a second cop had turned to stone. The creature stuck out its long, forked tongue, flapped its wings, and flew off into the night.

I ran up to Fontayne, placing a hand on her shoulder. Her skin pale as she gasped for breath, the detective gaped silently at me. Her beautiful face was a mask of terror and incomprehension.

“Not now, Kolchak!” She pushed my hand away and ran toward the statues that just moments before had been police officers. I followed suit, hanging back and eavesdropping on them. I heard comments like, “I can't believe what I saw,” “What are we going to tell their families?,” and “What is this, Medieval England?”

A short time later, a city crew appeared and loaded the statues onto their truck. As they drove away, I approached Fontayne. She was somewhat calmer.

I asked, “Ready to believe me now?”

“I don't know what to think.”

“You don't know what to think? You saw the same thing I did. That thing transformed two cops into statues!”

She motioned to my camera. “Did you take pictures?”

“You're not going to confiscate my film, are you?”

She held up the camera, which hung around my neck. “No need to. You left the lens cap on.”

“Oh, for….” I shook my head and walked away.

Fontayne called after me, “Better luck next time!”

The next morning, I visited Columbia University and spoke to Professor Neville Wessex of the Science Department. A balding, bespectacled man of 65, he specialized in herpetology, the study of reptiles.

When I described the creature, Wessex laughed and slowly shook his head. “I must give old Corrigan credit. He really outdid himself!”


“Oh, please, Mr. Kolchak—if that really is your name. Corrigan and I have played jokes on each other for decades, but never has he been this elaborate before. I presume you're an actor that he hired to wear that ridiculous suit and hat, then come to me and claim you've seen a creature that exists only in mythology.”

“No, really. I'm….”

“No need to continue the charade. Whatever he paid you, you've earned it. Tell Corrigan I said well done!”

My next stop: the office of Dr. Liam Corrigan, the elderly head of Columbia's English Department. He weighed nearly 300 pounds and sported graying red hair over a face and forehead splotched with gin blossoms. He spoke in an Irish brogue.

In response to my description, the professor said, “That sounds very much like a basilisk.”

“A bassa…. What's it called again?”

“Basilisk.” He pulled a dusty hardcover volume off his cluttered bookshelf and, muttering to himself, flipped through the pages. “Ah! Here we go.”

I looked in the book and saw an artist's rendering of a basilisk. It looked similar to what I had seen the night before: about six feet long, two feet tall, covered with scales, four short legs with four clawed toes apiece, a long tapered tail, wings similar to a pterodactyl's, and a smallish head with a sharp beak.

Corrigan explained, “A basilisk is born when a snake hatches a hen's egg. It's called the King of Serpents and can cause death with a single glance.”

“I've heard looking at one turns a person to stone.”

“Certain legends have said that, yes.”

“Does the basilisk have any weaknesses?”

“Yes. He and the weasel are mortal enemies. If they're in one another's presence, each flies into a rage and attacks the other. They won't stop fighting until one is dead. Also, the crowing of a rooster is said to cause the basilisk immediate death. And if a basilisk should see its own reflection—say, in a mirror—it will turn to stone. Poetic justice, I daresay.”

“Dr. Corrigan, you've been very helpful. I thank you, and so does Professor Wessex.”

“Wessex? What does he have to do with this?”

“I have not been completely honest with you, sir. My name is not Carl Kolchak and I'm not a reporter. I am, in fact, a member of New York's burgeoning homeless population. Professor Wessex hired me to come to you like this.”

Corrigan roared with laughter. “That tosser! He truly outdid himself. You did have me going, Mr. Kolchak—of whatever your name is. But of course you're homeless! I should've guessed by your suit. And the hat was a very nice touch.”

“I'll tell him you said that.”

As I exited the office, I heard Corrigan chuckle behind me. “Wessex, old man, at times you do exhibit signs of genius. God, that hat!”

Without knocking, I burst into Fontayne's office. “I found out what that thing was,” and told her about the basilisk.

“Great,” she replied. “So, what do you expect me to do about it?”

“What do you think? We arm ourselves with a chicken, a weasel and a mirror, and we go after the damned thing.”

“Uh-huh. And where would I get a chicken and a weasel? I can't just requisition them from the equipment room.”

“Look, have you noticed a pattern? Each time the basilisk attacks, it happens farther north than the last time. That's been the case ever since the attacks began. That thing is making its way up the Eastern Seaboard. If we don't stop it now, it'll go up to New England, and who knows? Perhaps even Canada.”

Fontayne leaned back in her chair and laced her hands behind her head. “Kolchak, I've been very patient with your wild stories, and you know why? You remind me of my Uncle Darren. Like you, he was a reporter. Like you, he was quirky and eccentric. He was, however, a much better dresser. I loved my uncle possibly more than I loved my dad. Having you around is kind of like having him back. But my patience is limited. So let's get something straight: I will not ask my captain permission to go on a fucking basilisk hunt! End of story.”

“Terrific,” I snarled. “As usual, I'm on own. I was beginning to think you were different than the other cops, but obviously I was wrong. Goodbye, Fontayne. I'm off to find a chicken, a weasel, and good mirror. Come nighttime, I'll be at the East River—just in case you care!”

“I don't,” she replied.

I spent the rest of the day trying to procure a chicken and a weasel. When I finished, it was a still a couple of hours until nightfall. Needing some dinner, I dropped the cages off at the I.N.S. office, which had closed for the day, procured my final piece of equipment (which I brought to the car), and went out to eat.

When I returned, Vincenzo was there, along with Howard Kirschenbaum of the I.N.S. Corporate Office. They were staring at my caged animals.

“Kolchak,” said Vincenzo, “what is this?”

“Looks like a chicken and a weasel. Why?”

“What are they doing in my newsroom?”

“Why do you assume I brought them here?”

“Why do I assume that water is wet? I had a six p.m. meeting with Mr. Kirschenbaum. We walked in here, and those things started screeching at us!”

“You must've scared them.”

We scared them? Why do you even need those animals?”

“They're to stop the basilisk.”

Tony slapped his forehead. “Dare I ask what 'the basilisk' is?”

“You know that statue story you've had me on? They're not statues; they're real people who've turned to stone. A basilisk is doing it, and I need a chicken and a weasel to stop it.”

“You know what, Kolchak? I don't even care why you think you need those animals. Get them the hell out of here! It's a newsroom, not a petting zoo.”

My eyebrows raised. “Only you would think of a chicken and a weasel as petting-zoo fare.”

“Get them out of here!”

“All right, all right.” I bent over to pick up the cages.

As an incredulous Kirschenbaum witnessed our screaming match, Vincenzo said, “And one more thing. The mirror in the men's room has disappeared. Do you know anything about that?”

“I'll bring it back, Tony.”

“Bring it back? Why take it in the first place?”

“If I can get the basilisk to look at itself in a mirror, it'll turn to stone.”

“Just go, will you please? Go!”

As I exited the office with my cages in hand, I heard Vincenzo tell Kirschenbaum, “This is why I'm on blood-pressure pills.”

Kirschenbaum asked, “Why do you keep that man around?”

“I was hoping you'd know.”

The mirror I borrowed had holes drilled in the top where it was fastened to the men's room wall.I ran a length of heavy string through the holes so I could wear it around my neck. Between the animal cages, my hands were already full. I would start my patrol at the Queensboro Bridge. As I hung the mirror around my neck and picked up the cages, a patrol car flashed its lights and pulled up to me. The officer who occupied the passenger's seat rolled down his window.

“Hey, buddy! What are you up to?”

“Just out for an evening stroll.”

“With all that stuff?”

“Well,I'm a performance artist. This is my latest piece. I call it THE CHICKEN, THE WEASEL, AND THE MIRROR. It's a commentary on mankind's inability to overcome the duality of existential oneness.”

“Why do it here, where nobody's watching?”

I sighed. “The proletariat will never understand art.”

“Well, I sure as hell don't. All right, pal, carry on.”

I carried on to the river's edge and began my search for the basilisk.I had walked northward to the Upper East Side when a car horn beeped. A woman voice's shouted my name. Moments later, I saw someone approaching me. At first, I couldn't see who it was; it was after dark and my eyes are not what they used to be. When she came into view, I saw a beautiful young blonde in work boots, bluejeans, and a C.U.N.Y. sweatshirt.

She smiled and waved at me. “Hi, Kolchak.” It was Detective Fontayne.

“What are you doing here?”

“If I hadn't seen that…. What did you call it again?”


“If I hadn't seen that thing with my own eyes, you'd be in Bellevue right about now.”

“You're helping me?”

Fontanye smiled and gave a shrug.

“Do you have your captain's permission?”

“I'm on my own time.”

“Well, great! How about taking one of these cages? My back is killing me.”

She took the weasel's cage. “Should I even ask where you found them?”

“Probably not.”

We were near East 85th Street when the weasel began to stir. I told Fontayne, “Put the cage down.”

She did. “What's going on?”

“The basilisk is nearby.”

The weasel screeched wildly and thrashed against the walls of its cage. I unlocked the door, setting the beast free. It ran to the river's edge, jumping up and down and clawing the air. I heard a hissing above us as the basilisk appeared over the water. It swooped toward the weasel, which dug its teeth into the monster's neck.

I told the rooster, “Now would be a good time to crow!”

They rolled around in the dirt, locked in a death grip. Both flopped into the water. Moments later, bubbles broke the surface, followed by the basilisk emerging. Its jaws clamped down on the weasel, which hung limp from its mouth. The basilisk came ashore, jerked its head to one side, and spit out the dead weasel.

I warned Fontayne,“ Don't look in its eyes!”

As she averted her gaze, the basilisk lunged at Fontayne. She yelped and fell backward, the creature on top of her. As I ran to help her, I tripped on some debris and onto the mirror. It shattered beneath me. I got up and threw myself onto the basilisk, grunting as I tried to separate it from Fontayne.

I stole a glance at the rooster's cage and shouted, “Crow, damn you!”

The basilisk thrust like an angry bull, throwing me off its back. I landed on my rear end, grabbed a piece of the broken mirror, and held it in front of the monster's face. Its eyes flashed red, turning itself to stone. Through our combined efforts, Fontayne and I pushed the basilisk off of her. I helped her to her feet and we stood there, breathing hard, sweat-covered, and brushing the dirt off ourselves as we gaped at the ossified monster.

Then, and only then, did the rooster crow. I resisted the urge to toss it in the river, cage and all.

The basilisk now resides in the police evidence locker, along with its victims. From time to time, Detective Fontayne visits there. She looks at the statues and cries tears of frustration that their story will never be known. As far as the city leaders are concerned, the victims of the basilisk are still missing persons. That includes the two cops who lost their lives while fighting the beast.

As for me, I'm used to not having my stories told.
SEPHER YETZIRAH (1999) image
(Cover art by Karl Lundstedt)

A recent wave of anti-Semitic violence in New York led to one of the most horrifying series of murders in the city's history. And I was in there to cover it.

Allow me to introduce myself. Name's Carl Kolchak. I'm a reporter with the Independent News Service in New York. I had worked out of Chicago until I learned too much about a series of killings at the well-connected Merrymount Archives. Lieutenant Irene Lamont of the Windy City P.D., along with a high-ranking representative of the U.S. Army, got in contact with my higher-ups. They were ready to fire me, but my bureau chief, Tony Vincenzo, intervened on my behalf. He somehow convinced the people with the hangman's noose to allow me to transfer out of Chicago. So here I am in the Big Apple, reporting the news and making a general pain in the ass of myself in the eyes of New York's ironically named “finest.”

When I transferred to New York, Vincenzo stayed in Chicago. However, the man became a victim of downsizing. In a rare act of corporate loyalty, Tony's higher-ups offered him a generous retirement package, but he said no. The man felt that he still had some good years left in him as an editor. (I beg to differ.) So the company offered him a transfer to New York. Vincenzo took it, somehow forgetting that I had been here for a few years myself.

Our reunion was a tearful one. Well, it was Tony who cried.

Borough Park, Brooklyn, Wednesday, July 21st. Dr. Jerome Goldstein, 63, was a true pillar of his community. He had spent the day seeing patients, many of whom he had treated for 30 or more years, after which he attended a board of directors meeting at his synagogue. The doctor had turned in for the night at 9:30 and was jolted out of a sound sleep some 90 minutes later. It sounded like somebody had kicked in his front door. The doctor went downstairs to investigate. It was the last thing he ever did.

Vincenzo and I were burning the midnight oil at I.N.S. when he came out of his office. “Carl, what are you working on?”

“The Hell's Kitchen story. You said you wanted it by ten a.m.”

“It can wait. There's been a murder in Brooklyn.”

“Big deal! Why not send a stringer?”

“Because I think it's up your alley; the victim was nailed to a cross.”

I retrieved my jawbone from the floor.

When I got to Borough Park, I saw police cars, fire engines, and an ambulance parked in front of Dr. Goldstein's house. It was in flames. The victim lay on the front lawn. He had, indeed, been nailed to a cross, but only after being severely beaten. Goldstein's mouth was duct-taped while a piece of cardboard hung from his neck on a length of barbed wire. Written on it in black magic marker was a most ugly phrase: JEWS, YOUR DAY IS COMING! I produced my camera and took pictures of the nauseating scene.

A uniformed officer approached me. “Sir, you can't be here. This is a crime scene.”

“Press.” I showed him my credentials.

“Oh, OK.”

“So, what happened here?”

“See for yourself. They nailed him to a cross and burned his house down.”

“Was he at least dead when they crucified him?”

“I don't know, sir. You'll have to talk to the M.E. about that.”

I shook my head. “I've seen some ugly things in my time, but this is a new low.”

“Yeah, it's brutal; but I've seen worse, if you can believe that.”

“Oh, I can believe it.”

I interviewed more first responders and a few witnesses, but they told me nothing of use. I drove back to I.N.S. and filed the story, thinking dire thoughts about the future of humankind.

Borough Park, Brooklyn, Thursday, July 22nd, 9:30 p.m. Six people were killed when two men in ski masks firebombed the Agudas Israel synagogue. They also a left a chalk message on the sidewalk: JEWS, YOUR DAY IS COMING!

When I arrived at the scene, I was surprised to see a familiar face: Detective Heather Fontayne, one of my few allies at the N.Y.P.D.

She greeted me with a half-grin. “Hey, Kolchak! Been a while.”

“Yes, it has.”

“I haven't even heard stories about you lately. You been behaving yourself?”

“Now, would I do that? So, what are you doing in Brooklyn?”

“I'm on loan. They've been short-handed lately.”

“Anything you can tell me?”

“Not yet. We've just begun the investigation.”

I motioned to the chalk message. “Didn't Jerome Goldstein's killers leave an identical message last night?”

“They might have,” said Fontayne. “I wasn't on the case yet.”

“That's not a denial.”

“No, it's not.”

Borough Park again, Friday, July 23rd, shortly after sunset. Two men in ski masks burst into Young Israel Beth El, where dozens of Jews were observing Sabbath. They opened fire with AR-15 assault rifles, killing eleven worshipers. They also left a message written in Sharpie on a piece of looseleaf paper: JEWS, YOUR DAY IS COMING!

I saw Fontayne at the scene. She was smoking a cigarette and looking heartsick as the paramedics brought the victims out on stretchers—a number of them with blankets over their heads..

I asked her, “Is it safe now to call these attacks an epidemic?”

Deep sadness in her husky contralto, Fonayne replied, “I suppose it is.”

Borough Park, Saturday, July 24th, 6:30 a.m. Rabbis Evelyn Weintraub and Isaac Aaronson were having a heated discussion.

“You can't do this, Isaac! It's an abomination.”

“Those murderers are abominations! How many more of our people are they going to kill?”

“The police are investigating it.”

Rabbi Aaronson snorted. “The police! Where were the police during the Holocaust? No, we have to deal with this ourselves. And you know exactly how.”

“Isaac, please! You know what can happen if we don't have a pure purpose.”

“I'm trying to stop these bastards from killing more of us! How is that impure?” He placed a hand on her left shoulder and assumed a softer tone. “Please, Evelyn. I'm 80 years old and my health is failing. I can't do this without your help.”

Borough Park, Sunday night, July 25th, 10:30 p.m. Two men in ski masks attempted to lob Molotov cocktails into the Congregation Shomrei Emunah. However, an unidentified man stopped them—by snapping their necks.

By the time I got there, the stiffs had been carted off. Fontayne and several uniformed officers were still on the scene. I asked her about the dead men.

She consulted her notes. “Thomas John Cullen, 24, of Bensonhurst and Ivan Rostov, 23, of Brighton Beach. Dumbasses had their wallets on them.”

I shrugged. “You can't expect thought from an anti-Semite. So, do you know anything about these guys? What was their problem with Jews?”

“Rostov and Cullen have priors for assault. And their fights were always with non-white people. We think they might have ties to the W.P.A.”

That was the Brooklyn-based White Person's Alliance. Two years before, I had written a series on nationalist groups in the city. I had interviewed Andrew Larson, the outspoken (to be charitable) leader of the W.P.A. Their beliefs came straight out of the Nazi playbook. However, despite the actions of some of its members, the organization was not known to be violent.

I changed the subject. “So, Borough Park has a vigilante?”

“We don't know that.”

“Well, without that guy, I'd be reporting on the latest synagogue attack.”

“We don't even know for sure the perp was male.”

“You didn't get a description?”

“Eyewitness accounts are conflicting. Some say the perp was seven feet tall, others think he was shorter. Some claim he was naked….”

I raised my eyebrows. “Naked?”

“That's not even the weirdest part. One woman insists the perp was covered with clay from head to toe.”

“What, like modeling clay?”

“That's what she told me.”

“Did you get a hair color?”

“He was bald.”

“How was he built?”

“I'd say husky. By all accounts, the perp was big and looked very strong.”

“Facial features?” I asked.

“Again, the reports are conflicting. One witness described the perp as 'having no face'.”

“No face?”

“Hey, your guess is as good as mine.”

At this point, I thought about renting a motel room in Borough Park. The nightly trips from Manhattan were getting tiresome. Still, what I first thought was a routine murder had turned into a most intriguing story.

My next stop was the city morgue, where I unexpectedly ran into an old acquaintance.

“Well, I'll be damned! It's Gordy the Ghoul.”

A mortified-looking Gordon Spangler held his index finger up to his lips. “Please, Kolchak, don't call me that. I don't need any trouble.”

“So, what are you doing in New York?”

“What did I do in Chicago?”

“You ran a corpse lottery that I never won.”

“You weren't the only one. Someone got so tired of losing, he reported me and got me fired. I was out of work for two years before I got this job.”

“Well, I'm sorry to hear that,” I lied. “Listen, Gordy, I need to see two stiffs that were just brought in.”

“Sorry, Kolchak, I can't do it. I have to keep my nose clean.”

“Come on! You just spent two years out of work. Surely you mounted up some debts?” I produced my wallet and removed two twenties and a ten. “Fifty bucks, just to look in two drawers.”

“You're a heartless prick, you know that?”

“But I'm a heartless prick who pays.”

 He exhaled noisily, took my money, and opened up the drawers. “Have a look.”

I had seen enough murder victims to recognize when a person's neck was broken. Rostov and Cullen, however, were strapping young men who couldn't have been easy to take down. What they lacked in brain power they had made up for in brute strength. Their killer must have, indeed, been very strong.

Something else caught my eye. “What's that under the fingernails?”

“Hell if I know.”

“Can I take a sample?”

“No! Jesus, Kolchak, you're going to get me fired.”

“There's another twenty in my wallet.”

He sighed. “You really know how to exploit my weaknesses.”

“Thank you for the compliment!” I used a toothpick to extract samples from beneath the fingernails of both Rostov and Cullen. I put the samples in a Ziploc bag and Spangler shut the drawers.

“Thank you, Gordy! It's a pleasure doing business with you.”

“Please, Kolchak! Not so loud.”

I couldn't do anything with my samples on a Sunday night. However, bright and early the next morning, I consulted a lab technician who owed me a favor. She placed the clay on a slide and put it under the microscope.

After a few seconds, she said, “It's clay soil. There's something odd about it, though; it's totally clean.”


“In clay soil, I would expect to find other things mixed in: bacteria, minerals, some kind of microbes. But not here. This stuff is 100% pure. You could eat this clay and it wouldn't hurt you.” She eyed me suspiciously. “You're not planning to eat clay, are you?”

“No, no! I'm strictly a meat and potatoes man.”

Monday, July 26th, 1:45 p.m. I was at the office, working on the Borough Park story, when my cell phone rang. It was an informant, advising me that Andrew Larson had called an emergency meeting of the Brooklyn W.P.A. It was to be held at his house on Seaview Avenue in Canarsie at 8:00 p.m. I decided to attend it clandestinely. For that, I would need some things from the equipment room.

It wasn't long before Vincenzo joined me. “Kolchak, what are you doing in here?”

“I need some things.”

He looked at what I had pulled off the shelves. “A long-range microphone, a digital recorder, our best headphones, and a camera with a telephoto lens? Do you know what these cost? What do you need them for?”

I told him about the W.P.A. meeting. “I suspect they're the ones behind the violence in Borough Park. With any luck, I'll get a recorded confession.”

“All right, Carl, but please be careful with that stuff. Remember what happened to the digital camera you borrowed.”

“So I put too much mustard on a hot dog and it got inside the camera. How much could the repairs have cost?”

“You should know; it came out of your paychecks.”

Canarsie, 7:30 p.m. I parked across the street from Larson's house. It wasn't long before white men of all ages began to filter in. I counted 22 in all. I wondered if the house was bigger inside than it looked. I plugged the directional mike into the recorder, donned the headphones, and aimed at the house.

I recognized Larson's loud, booming voice. “It didn't surprise me at all that Tom and Ivan carried out those attacks. I have to admit, though, I never would've given them credit for thinking up a crucifixion. That took balls!”

A second voice cut in, “The organization had nothing to do with it, though, right?”

“Right,” said Larson. “Tom and Ivan acted completely on their own. Problem is, the Jew-owned media's not going to buy that. As far as they're concerned, we're guilty by association. Now, I got a visit from the cops yesterday. That's why I called this meeting.”

A towering hulk of a man appeared outside the house. I picked up the camera and pointed the telephoto lens at him. But before I could see anything, he had crashed through the door as casually as you'd walk up a stoop. I jumped out of my car and ran across the street.

Inside the house, it was pure bedlam. The large man's arms were stretched above his head. He balanced a visibly frightened W.P.A. member on his palms and threw him at the wall. The impact was so hard, the victim splattered against the wall like a tomato and left a human-shaped indentation. Several other W.P.A. members punched and kicked at the assailant, but he seemed oblivious to the onslaught.

The man was a good seven feet in height. He was covered with clay, just as a witness from the other night had claimed. The man was not faceless, as another witness had averred, but his face seemed like an afterthought. He had eyes, a nose and a mouth, but they were nondescript, as if somebody's index finger had carved them into the clay. His fingers and toes did not seem quite human, either. But the two strangest things? There was lettering on his forehead: EMET. And the man had no sexual organs! The area between his legs was smooth, like a macabre Ken doll.

The camera dangled from my neck. I picked it up and snapped photo after photo as the man of clay massacred the White Person's Alliance before my incredulous eyes. Presently, I heard sirens, followed by a phalanx of cops in riot gear. One of them pushed me out of the way, and they opened fire on the killer. Their bullets made holes in him, but they appeared not to have the least effect. He turned to the wall, punched and kicked holes in it with his fists and knees, and walked away. The officers pursued him.

Someone tapped on my shoulder: Detective Fontayne.

Breathless, I asked her, “Did you see him?”

“I saw something, but I'll be damned if I know what.”

An officer entered the house. “Detective, I'm sorry. We lost him.”

“Shit.” Fontayne asked me, “Did you get pictures?”


“Good! Maybe they'll give us an I.D. Let's go to the stationhouse. We can develop your film.”

Fontayne and I stood at her desk, looking at my photos. The detective shook her head. “Why would he cover himself in clay?”

“I don't think he's covered. I'm beginning to think our killer is made of clay.”

“Oh, come on.”

“No, you come on. Remember our little adventure at the East River? If any cop should know the preternatural exists, that cop is you.”

“But a man of clay?”

“How else to explain that he's impervious to bullets?”

“Good question.” She further examined the photographs. "What do you suppose the letters on his forehead mean?”

Before I could respond, her desk phone rang. “Detective Fontayne.” Her face fell. “OK, thank you.” Hanging up the receiver, “A rabbi was just murdered.”

Welcome, my friends, to the show that never ends.

The victim was Rabbi Isaac Aaronson of Bay Ridge. The killer had smashed his way into the rabbi's house and snapped his neck. I followed Fontayne to the address on Bay Ridge Avenue. The house was adjacent to Congregation Ahavath Torah. A half-dozen police cruisers were parked on the street, their blue and red lights flashing in the sultry July night. Dozen of civilians lined the sidewalks on either side of the street, trying to see what had happened at their place of worship. Yellow crime scene tape surrounded the property. Fontayne lifted the tape so I could walk under it.

The front door had been smashed in and dangled precariously from a single hinge. Inside the house, Rabbi Aaronson's body was sprawled across the carpeted living room floor. His head lay at a grotesque angle and his elderly face bore a look of unexpurgated fright. A uniformed officer interviewed a stocky, gray-haired woman of about 65. She wore a white summerweight dress and sobbed uncontrollably. I heard her saying, “My god, Isaac, what have we done?”

I joined Fontayne as she knelt down to examine the body. She said, “There's something on his neck,” and called for tweezers and an evidence bag.

I said, “How much you want to bet that's clay soil?”

“But I thought the killer was fighting anti-Semites. Why would he kill a rabbi?”

As we stood back up, I motioned to the crying gray-haired woman. “Maybe she knows.”

Fontayne approached the woman and the officer who was talking to her. “Sergeant, I'll handle the interview from here.”

“Very well, Detective.” He walked away.

I hit the “record” button of my hand-held cassette deck.

“Ma'am, I'm Detective Fontayne. Did you know the rabbi?”

“Yes,” she replied. “I'm Rabbi Evelyn Weintraub. Isaac and I run—I mean, ran—the synagogue together. I live across the street.”

“Did you see what happened?”

“No. I wasn't home at the time. But as soon as I saw Isaac's door smashed in, I knew exactly what was wrong.”

“What did you know?”

“That he had turned on us.”

“Who is 'he,' ma'am?'”

“The golem.”

I asked, “What's a golem?”

Fontayne said, “Carl, please. Let me ask the questions.”


“As my colleague said, what is a golem?”

It was the first (and last) time a cop ever called me a colleague.

Rabbi Weintraub explained. “It's a being made of clay. They're created to fight the enemies of Judaism. It takes two rabbis to bring one to life, and the process is very involved.”

“What's the process?” I asked, earning an admonitory glance from Fontayne.

“First, we had to make sure the place of its creation was immaculate. We chose the synagogue's attic. It was empty, and we spent hours cleaning it. Then, we had to make the clay. Again, we needed to be certain the ingredients were 100% pure. There couldn't be dirt, bacteria—anything of the sort. We wore surgical gloves to handle the clay, and we washed a brand new sheet. We laid it out on the floor, and that's where we assembled the body.”

“What are the letters on its forehead?” I asked.

“Kolchak,” Fontayne said through clenched teeth.

“It's the Hebrew word for 'truth.'” The rabbi took a breath. “Once the body was done, Isaac and I chanted from the Sepher Yetzirah. That's the Hebrew Book of Creation. Again, our chants had to be absolutely perfect. If we got even one detail wrong, we'd have to start over. It took seven hours of chanting before the golem opened its eyes. Isaac and I were exhausted but jubilant. We sent the golem out to kill the two men who had attacked our people.”

“Rostov and Cullen,” I said. This time, all Fontayne gave me was an eyeroll of exasperation.

“Yes,” Rabbi Weaintraub replied. “After that, the golem should have returned to the attic so that Isaac and I could deactivate it; but instead, it went to that man Larson's house and killed everybody inside. That wasn't supposed to happen.”

This time, Fontayne herself interjected. “Why not? Weren't those men overtly anti-Semitic?”

“Yes, but only in word. That's not enough to merit being killed by a golem. At that point, I knew my fears were justified—we had created our golem with a less than pure purpose. It's out of control now; that's why it killed Isaac. It'll kill me, too, and anybody else who crosses its path!”

I asked, “Is there some way stop a golem?” This time, Fontayne did not seem annoyed with me.

“There is,” said the rabbi. “You have to erase the letters from its forehead; but I don't think that's possible now. The golem will kill anybody who gets close to it.”

Fontayne asked, “Where would we look for your golem?”

“It will eventually return to the place of its creation.”

“The attic next door,” I said.

“Yes.” Pausing, Rabbi Weintraub started to cry again. She buried her guilt-wracked face in her hands.

Fontayne placed a hand on her shoulder. “Rabbi, we need to get you to a safe house—someplace the golem can't find you.”

“There is no such place,” the rabbi insisted. “If you move me, you're just delaying the inevitable.”

“I'd like you to move you anyway. Will you allow it?”

Rabbi Weintraub nodded her head. Fontayne instructed an officer to accompany her across the street to her house, where the rabbi could pack a suitcase. Once that was taken care of, Fontayne regarded me with a cocky grin.

“So, you ready for a golem hunt?”

By age fourteen, Heather Fontayne was five feet nine inches tall. She took up cigarettes in the hope that it would stunt her growth. It didn't. By the time she graduated, the future policewoman was six-feet-two and a high school basketball star (despite her nicotine addiction). She attended the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at C.U.N.Y. The N.Y.P.D. had recruited Fontayne during her senior year. She was now a sixteen-year veteran who had worked her way up from Traffic Control to being a highly respected member of the Detective Division. It was widely believed that Fontayne would one day make Chief of Detectives.

Appearance-wise, she had fluffy blonde hair that hung down to her shoulder blades, her eyes were an incandescent blue, and her impeccable face and body could have been sculpted from porcelain. If she hadn't gone into law enforcement, Heather Fontayne could very well have been a model.

Not that any of this was on my mind as we walked up the stone steps that led to the ornate front doors of the synagogue. A uniformed officer stood guard but let us by as he recognized Fontayne. Once inside, we found the stairwell and climbed. As we got to the top, Fontayne drew her gun and slowly opened the metal door of the attic. Cautiously, I shined my flashlight inside. It was empty. We entered the cavernous room and I found a light switch.

When Rabbi Weintraub told us that she and Isaac Aaronson had cleaned up the attic, she wasn't exaggerating. I had seen operating rooms less sterile than that synagogue's attic!

The sheet still lay on the floor where the rabbis had created their golem. Assorted gobs of clay were strewn around the work area, but otherwise the attic housed nothing.

Fontayne said, “Now we wait.” We sat on the floor at the far end of the attic and didn't speak. After a time, she lit a cigarette.

I told her, “Those things will kill you.”

“So will a pissed-off golem,” she retorted, exhaling. “What about you, Kolchak? You ever smoke?”

“Cigars, but I haven't lit up in years. Lost my taste for 'em.”

Two hours and four cigarettes later, my stomach rumbled. “Wish I had thought to eat before we came here.”

“I'm getting hungry myself.”

“How about if I hit that diner up the street?”

“Sounds good to me.” She told me what sandwich and drink she wanted and went for her wallet.

“That's all right, I've got it.” I left the synagogue, determined to get back as quickly as possible. If the golem showed up, I didn't want Fontayne facing it alone.

As I approached the stone steps, I no longer saw the police officer on duty. Fearing the worst, I ran up the steps and found him dead.

“Oh, god.” I dropped the bag of food and high-tailed to the attic. The door was smashed in. At the far end, I saw the golem. It held Fontayne by the neck. She was against the wall and several inches off the floor.

“Get off her, you son of a bitch!” I ran up behind the golem and pounded on its back. It dropped Fontayne, who fell to the floor and coughed violently. The golem turned to face me. I ran away, hoping to distract the monster long enough to give Fontayne sufficient recovery time. I made a zigzag pattern across the attic as the golem gained on me. I stopped running and spun around to face the creature, surprising it long enough to run past it in the opposite direction. My heart felt as if it would blast out of my chest.

Meanwhile, Fontayne had regained her breath and footing. She ran toward the golem and fired her gun into its back, but it didn't faze the creature.

When the golem caught up to me, I stood in the landing. It wrapped its massive right hand around my neck and lifted me so I dangled over the steps. Fontayne appeared in the doorway and used her Taser on the creature, but it did no more good than shooting it. She wrapped her arms around the golem's waist and tried wrestling it to the floor, to no avail.

As I felt myself losing consciousness, the monster lifted its other hand to snap my neck. I had the presence of mind to wipe my right palm across the golem's forehead, erasing the letters written on it. Then I blacked out.

“Carl? Carl, wake up!”

I blinked numerous times and saw Fontayne kneeling next to me. We were on the second-floor landing.

Weakly, I said, “The golem?”

“You did it; he's dead.”

“Good, good.” I sat up and looked around. The golem was in several pieces on the steps and landing. I groaned and rubbed the back of my head, which hurt something fierce.

“You took a hell of a tumble,” Fontayne said. “I'm taking you to the E/R.”

“No, no.”

“Yes, yes. You're going, dammit!”

The emergency room doctor released me after a couple of hours. Though I was banged up, I had not sustained a concussion. As Fontayne pointed out, “Sometimes it helps to have a thick head.”

The police, the mayor's office, the higher-ups at I.N.S., and the city's representatives in Albany and Washington thought it best to withhold my pictures from the public. We would not, after all, want to start a mass panic. Nor would we ever admit that certain things cannot be explained away.

Now that the violence in Borough Park has ended, the city is noticeably more relaxed. Still, New York's Jewish population is second only to Jerusalem's. When will further acts of anti-Semitism occur? And will they be severe enough to give rise to another golem? Let's hope not.
THE DESICCATOR (2000) image
(Cover art by Karl Lundstedt)

Japan: Land of the Rising Sun. The Japanese have made many positive contributions to the world. In the last 40 years alone, they gave us the bullet train, pocket calculators, the Walkman, compact discs, the android robot, advanced automotive technology…. The list goes on. There was, however, one recent Japanese import we all could have done without.

Monday morning, September 19th. Norinaga Osatu, 59, was a highly successful Tokyo businessman. He was flying to New York to inspect his various properties in the U.S. He had planned to be stateside for a month. Little did the man know, he was taking his final journey.  Three hours out of New York, he suffered a massive stroke; death was immediate. Three flight attendants and the co-pilot took his body to the cargo hold. But when the ground crew opened the hatch, the late Mr. Osatu looked very, very different.

1:15 p.m. I was writing a story about corruption in the Water Department when my desk phone rang.

I grabbed the receiver. “Kolchak.”

“It's Heck. Something's going on I think'll interest you.”

“Care to give me a hint?”

“I'm a businessman, Carl. Have you ever known me to 'give' anything?”

“All right, I'll on my way.” I got up and grabbed my hat. As I was heading for the door, my editor, Tony Vincenzo, waylaid me.

“Kolchak, where are you going?”

“One of my informants just gave me a tip. I'm checking it out.”

“Did you finish the Water Department story?”

“I will.”

“You will? I need it by five o'clock!”

“You'll have it,” I said, walking out the door.

“I'll have it? The only thing I'll have is a heart attack!”

“Don't make promises you can't keep.”

Hector “Heck” Salazar was a retired New York City cop. He now worked part-time as a security officer at LaGuardia Airport and supplied me with leads he thought would interest me. I had come to trust Heck's judgment, which is why I drove out to Queens on that gray, rainy afternoon.

When I found Heck at the security office, he said, “Let's go for a walk.”

As we strolled the busy terminal, he told me, “We had a guy croak on a flight from Tokyo. Some big mucky-mucky business dude.”

“And why should I care?”

“Wait 'til you get a load of the stiff.”

“He's still here?”

“Yeah. They haven't carted him off yet.”

He took me to the basement storage room where Norinaga Osatu's remains awaited transport to the city morgue. As we stood in front of the locked door, Heck held out his left hand. I gave him a ten-dollar bill and said, “You'll get the rest if, and only if, what you're about to show me is worth my time.”

“Oh, it's worth your time.” He unlocked the door and we entered the room. The body lay on a gray metal table—if you could even call it a body. It looked more like a dried-out husk.

I turned to Heck. “How long has he been dead?”

“Five or six hours.”

“Five or six hours? What happened to him?”

“How the hell should I know? I'm a cop, not an M.E.”

I went to the table for a closer look. “It's like every last drop of fluid was drained from him! Is that how he died?”

“No. Co-pilot said the dude looked fine when they brought him to the cargo hold. He dried out postmortem.”

“But how?” I pulled out my camera and snapped photos of the decedent.

“So, what do you think, Kolchak? That worth 25 bucks?”

I gave Heck a five and a second ten. I'd get it back from I.N.S.

I returned to the office and dropped off my film at the photo lab. I went directly to Annette, a fifty-something tech whose love of peanut brittle had made (and kept) her plump. I handed her my film, along with a one-pound box of her snack of choice, and asked that she please put a rush on it. Annette was happy to do so. I returned to my desk and bided my time writing the Water Department story that Vincenzo was anxious to see. Once I had the photos in hand, I made my way to Vincenzo's office. I ignored the receptionist, Liza, when she said he was in a meeting. When wasn't he?

I opened his office door to the inevitable sight of Tony sitting with Howard Kirschenbaum of the I.N.S. Corporate Office.

“Kolchak! How many times do I have to tell you not to enter without knocking?”

“I'll let you know when you've hit the right number.” I gave Kirschenbaum an unctuous grin. “How it going, Howie?”

His face flushed with anger. “I've asked you not to call me that.”

“Yes, you have! And one fine day, I may just honor your most reasonable request. Today, however, is not that day.” To Vincenzo, “Here's the Water Department story.”

“Oh, good! But it could have waited until after my meeting.”

“That wasn't the impression I got earlier. Now take a look at these.” I bent over his desk and spread the photos out.

Kirschenbaum said, “Anthony, kindly advise your employee to remove his buttocks from my face.”

“Oh! Sorry, Howie. I can see how you wouldn't like that, especially since I had a big burrito for lunch.”


“Mm-hmm. I really shouldn't eat that stuff; it aggravates makes my gastritis.”

He gulped. “Gastritis?”

“Oh, yeah! Tony, here, can tell you. A few minutes from now, this room will smell like a gas chamber.”

Kirschenbaum shot to his feet. “Anthony….”

“I know. You just remembered someplace you have to be.”

“Exactly!” He ran out of the office.

From behind his desk, Tony looked up at me, his face not much angry as resigned. “All right, Kolchak, what the hell am I looking at?”

I related what Heck had told me at the airport.

Vincenzo stared at my pictures thoughtfully. “A dried-out corpse only a few hours old. And no one has any idea how it happened?”

“I was going to visit the morgue. Maybe Gordy can tell me something.”

“All right, Carl. We're not terribly busy at the moment, so I'll let you work on this. But if something more important comes up….”

“You can trust me, Tony.”

He rolled his eyes. “Where have I heard that before?”

My next stop: the city morgue and my old pal, Gordon Spangler—or as he'd rather not be called, Gordy the Ghoul. I had known him in Chicago when he ran a corpse lottery that no one ever seemed to win. Eventually, that got him fired. Two years later, he landed in New York and was still trying to get back on his feet.

I bounded into the room. “Hel-lo, Gordy!”

“Whatever it is, Kolchak, I can't afford to help you.”

“Ah, but can you afford not to help me? Remember all those debts you ran up while you were out of work?”

“You're going to get me fired. And you won't give a damn, will you?”

“Probably not. But until the day you're terminated, how does 50 dollars sound?”

Gordy paused. “For what?”

“You had a new arrival this afternoon—a gentleman from Japan.”

“I should have known it was the dried-out guy. So, where's my money?”

Having just been to the ATM, I forked over two twenties and a ten. Gordy found the right drawer and opened it for me.

I said, “I've already seen the body. What I need is the autopsy results.”

“You mean, how he dried out so quickly?”

“What else?”

Gordy pulled the M.E.'s report. “There's not a drop of fluid anywhere in the body. No blood, water, saliva, bile…. It's all gone.”


“The M.E. found nothing conclusive, but there was saliva located on the exterior, along with what looks like puncture wounds.”

“Puncture wounds and saliva. Somebody drank his bodily fluids?”

Gordy shrugged. “Wouldn't be the weirdest thing I've seen in this line of work.”

“But that somebody would have had to stow away in the cargo hold of a flight from Tokyo.”

“I'll bet he was more comfortable than the passengers. Have you flown lately, Carl? I think they design the seats for bulimics.”

The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, Astoria, 10:00 p.m.  During a heavy rain, Donna MacLean, 45, in a hurry to get home and out of that miserable weather, floored the accelerator to pass what she deemed a slow-moving truck. Her Toyota Corolla spun out of control, bouncing off the eighteen-wheeler three times before it smashed into a guardrail. Mrs. MacLean was dead before the mangled car stopped moving.

The EMTs arrived six minutes later. To their shock, they found a desiccated Donna MacLean behind the wheel. Her body had been drained of its fluids.

I couldn't get to the locus because the accident (and the heavy rain) had backed up traffic, but the next morning I paid Gordy a visit and got the information I needed for a follow-up story. I brought it to Vincenzo, who was not, for once, in a meeting with Kirschenbaum.

As he read it, Tony's eyebrows knitted. “I'm not seeing a connection between the airport incident and this one.”

“Tony, both corpses were drained of their bodily fluids! The M.E. found puncture marks and saliva on each of them! How can you not see a connection?”

“I'll admit it's peculiar, but where's the proof? Come on, Carl, you're a seasoned reporter. You know I can't print these allegations without hard evidence.”

“What did you want? Video of the dead woman being drained?”

“That would constitute proof, Carl. Congratulations! You're learning.” He handed me back the story. “Rewrite it objectively. No conjecture, no allegations, just facts.”

As I walked out of his office, I muttered, “You wouldn't know a fact if it bit you on your….”

“What's that?”

“Nothing, Tony!”

Tuesday morning, September 20th. At one time, Harlem was the center of African-American life and culture in New York. However, in this new millennium, like much of Manhattan, it was undergoing gentrification. Corporations and wealthy residents were moving in, displacing thousands of poor and middle-class Harlemites. The Wall Street Journal might consider it progress, but those born and raised in Harlem do not.

One company that bought Harlem office space was Takayama Electronics. Its CEO was Uchi Takayama, 34 and recently named one of New York's 10 Most Eligible Bachelors. As he usually did, the young entrepreneur arrived for work in what he called “the blessed silence of the pre-dawn hours.” He didn't know a guest was waiting for him.

Uchi had just turned on his desktop computer when he heard an eerie voice, rasping, “Uchi. Uchi.”

He turned his head to both sides but saw nothing. Convinced that he hadn't really heard anything, Uchi returned his attention to the computer.


Annoyed, he said, “Who's saying that?”

In Japanese, “Don't repeat my mistakes.”

“What? Where are you? Who are you?”

Again in Japanese, “Avoid my fate, Uchi. It's not too late for you.”

He saw a shadow near his office door. Uchi got up from the desk and approached it. He threw open the door but saw nothing except a dark, empty office. Exhaling noisily and returning to his desk, Uchi murmured, “I'm not getting enough sleep.”

Marcus Garvey Memorial Park, 5:30 a.m. Extreme poverty lives in the shadow of gentrified Harlem. One of its victims was Louis Jackson, 53, a hard-drinking Vietnam veteran who fell on hard times and became homeless. Having raised enough cash to drink himself to sleep, Jackson reposed on a park bench, covered in a filthy blanket he had found in a Dumpster. His combat experience had driven the man to spend three decades drinking more than his liver could take. It finally gave out, causing his blood to back up into his throat. Louis Jackson choked to death.

Minutes later, two other members of New York's homeless community happened upon the dead man. Somebody was crouched over him—somebody who would give the homeless couple nightmares for the rest of their lives.

My police scanner jolted me out of a sound sleep with the news. As I live near Harlem and traffic was light at that time of day, I got to Marcus Garvey Park before the EMTs had removed the body. Supervising the scene was Lt. Mark Ludwig, a light-complected meatball of a man whose hate for me was limitless.

Two years before, I had published an expose on Ludwig and his squad, whose use of excessive force on young men of color far exceeded the severity of their ostensible crimes. My story made the national news, with numerous human-rights organizations demanding that Ludwig be fired. He wasn't, but the N.Y.P.D. issued a formal reprimand and demoted him from captain to lieutenant. So I could understand why he wasn't happy to see me at Marcus Garvey Park.

“Kolchak! What are you doing at my crime scene?”

“My job, just like you.”

“Don't flatter yourself! You're nothing like me.”

“Can't argue with that. I never billy-clubbed a kid in handcuffs.”

“Cut the shit, Kolchak!”

“Only if you lick the knife.”

He was clearly suppressing the urge to deck me. “Why don't you go back to bed? There's nothing here for you.”

“Ludwig, don't tell me how to report the news and I won't tell you how to shoot an unarmed Black man.”

His face turned the color of a fire engine. “I ought to shoot you for that!”

The lieutenant notwithstanding, I photographed the husk that was Louis Jackson's body. I questioned the EMTs, but there wasn't much they could tell me. When I talked to the uniformed officers on the scene, their reaction was not dissimilar to Ludwig's.

I noticed a Black couple behind a hedge. They were in their 60s and bore the haggard look of the homeless. The man looked horrified, while the woman was in tears.

I approached them. “Excuse me, I'm a reporter. Did you see what happened?”

Sobbing, the woman said, “It was horrible! I never seen nothin' like it before.”

I pulled out my hand-held cassette deck and hit “record.” “What did you see?”

The man told me, “It was Louis on that bench, Louis Jackson. I recognized his blanket.”

“Was he dead when you found him?”

“I sure hope so! Otherwise, that monster killed him.”


His wife said, “It was this big, ugly red thing. Shaped like a man but it had these fangs and big ol' horns and long, nasty white hair. Looked like the Devil, except for those slanty eyes.”

“Slanty eyes?” I repeated.

“Yeah! I think it was Chinese or Japanese or somethin'.”

“What did it do?”

The husband said, “It was bent down over Louis and its fangs were stuck into his belly. Sure as I'm standin' here, that devil was drinkin' the man's blood out of him!”

The wife told me, “I know it sounds crazy, but we both seen it!”

“Did you tell the cops?”

“Mm-mm,” said the husband. “We don't go near no goddamned cops. They don't like the homeless, especially if you ain't white.”

I shut off my tape deck. “I'll make a note of that.”

A phone call to the morgue confirmed what I already knew. Louis Jackson's body contained not a drop of fluid. Maybe now, Vincenzo would see a connection.

Later that morning, I drove to the East Village. Amid a cluster of restaurants stood a tiny shop whose name I couldn't read;the window sign was in Japanese. However, some investigating on my part had revealed that the store sold books and other items related to Japanese folklore. (As the first desiccated body was on a flight from Japan, I thought it best to focus on that nation rather than China, Korea, Thailand, or any other East Asian country.)

The store comprised a room hardly bigger than a prison cell. It was crammed with ancient hardcover books, wall hangings, different-sized statues of mythological beings, and other items. There was dust on everything, the air smelled of musty paper, and the picture window had not been washed since the Truman presidency. The hinges creaked as I opened the wooden door; the floorboards squeaked beneath my feet.

Sitting on an old metal stool behind the counter was an elderly Japanese man of indeterminate age. He was bald on top, though wispy tufts white hair stuck out from the back and sides of his head. He sported a white mustache with a long, poorly trimmed beard. The man was dressed in a rumpled navy blue suit and tie. He wore gold-rimmed reading glasses as he pored over a book. The man appeared not to notice that I had entered his shop.

I walked up to the dust-covered glass counter and waved. “Umm, hello?”

Startled, he looked up from his book. “Oh, hello. How may I help you?”

“My name is Carl Kolchak. I'm with the I.N.S.”

He rolled his eyes and threw the book on the floor. Getting up off the stool, he placed his palms on the counter and leaned in toward me. “How many times do I have to tell you people? I called your office; they said my green card was on its way. Will you please stop harassing me?”

“Oh! No, no, no, no. I'm not with Immigration. I'm a reporter.” I handed him a business card. “I.N.S. Independent News Service.”

“Ah! My apologies, Mr….” He looked the card. “…Kojak.”

“It's Kolchak.”

“Yes, of course. So, what brings you to my shop?”

“I was looking for some information.”

He said, “I do not sit here all day to give out free information. If you buy something, I will be most happy to speak with you.”

“Oh, certainly!” I half-heartedly looked over the inventory and zeroed in on a ten-by-twelve print called Jigoku. It depicted scantily clad Japanese with what looked like anvils around their necks. Horned men with pointed tails followed these miserable-looking souls, flogging them with whips. I asked the man, “What is Jigoku?”

“It is Hell.”

“How much is the print?”

“Thirty dollars.”

“Fine!” Smiling vindictively,I removed it from the wall and brought it to the counter. “This is perfect for somebody I know.”

Once I had paid for my purchase, a smile crossed the man's wrinkled face. “Now then, Mr. Kodak….”

“It's Kolchak.”

“Yes, of course. What information do you seek?”

“I'm wondering if a being exists in Japanese folklore that drinks the bodily fluids of fresh corpses, leaving them all dried up.”

“Ah! You refer to a Hannya.”

“A Hannya?”

“Yes. I will show you.” He came out from behind the counter and, among the thousands of books cluttering in the room, honed in on a single volume. He opened it, creating a massive cloud of dust that made me sneeze. The man appeared not to notice. He placed the book on the counter and pointed to an artist's rendering of a Hannya. It looked very much like what the homeless couple had described: the size and shape of a man but with blood red skin, cloven hooves,curved, yellowed fangs, lifeless, almond-shaped eyes, long, scraggly white hair, and curved horns that protruded a foot above its head. The Hannya's facial expression did not suggest evil so much as suffering and desperation. The accompanying text, unsurprisingly, was in Japanese.

The man asked, “So, what would you like to know about Hannya?”

“Whatever you can tell me.”

“If a person lives a life of decadence and sin, he will walk the Earth as a Hannya after he dies.”

“Decadence and sin. Does that mean, say, a murderer?”

“No. If someone has led a truly evil life, they go directly to Jigoku upon death. If someone becomes a Hannya, it is because they are still redeemable. A Hannya may have spent life pursuing money or pleasures of the flesh.”

“So, the Seven Deadly Sins.”

“Very good, Mr. Coatrack!”

“It's Kolchak.”

“Yes, of course. A Hannya sustains itself on the bodily fluids of the newly deceased. If he does not partake, he will die and spend eternity in the darkest corners of Jigoku.”

I asked, “Is there any way to stop a Hannya?”

“Can a Hannya be killed? Is that what you are asking?”

“That's what I'm asking.”

“Yes, it can be done. However, that will send a Hannya's soul to Jigoku. I doubt his loved ones would want that.”

I mulled that over. “How does one kill a Hannya?”

“With the Sword of Shinto.”

“And where do you find that sword?”

“At the Museum of Kyoto. It is on permanent display there--beneath alarmed glass, and with armed guards present.”

“Oh. And there's no other way to stop a Hannya?”

“I never said that, Mr. Coldpack.”

“It's Kojak, uh, I mean Kolchak.”

“Yes, of course. As to your question, there exists a ritual that will purify a Hannya's soul. This allows it to return to human form and ascend to the Spirit World.”

“And what does this ritual consist of?”

He ran down the particulars.

“I'm guessing you have all those supplies for sale?”

“I do.”

“Am I to assume the ritual is in Japanese?”

“What other language would it be in? Do you have a reason to want this ritual performed?”

“I don't know. Let me get back to you.”

I left the shop with my purchase under one arm. When I returned to the I.N.S. offices, I sat down at my desk and picked up a Sharpie. I wrote on the print, GREETINGS FROM HELL! WISH YOU WERE HERE. I scrawled Howard Kirschenbaum's name on an interoffice envelope, slid the print inside, and placed it in the outbox.

Next, I logged on to the Internet and pulled up a special database for journalists to which I.N.S. had a subscription. I checked for any recent news items out of Japan involving desiccated corpses. There were several such items, all in Tokyo. They began three weeks before and ended two days ago, when that jet liner took off for New York.

The Hannya had clearly hitched a ride aboard that plane. But why? It must have come here for a reason. Unsure of how to proceed, I checked the Web site of the Japan Times and read the obituaries of Tokyo residents who had died three weeks before. There were dozens, most of whom had no clear connection to the United States.

One name, however, stuck out: Akira Takayama, 67, of Jinbocho, a Tokyo suburb. He had been the founder and president of Takayama Electronics. He left a son, Uchi, of New York City.

Takayama Electronics occupied six floors of a 38-story building on Lenox Avenue near 125th Street. I stepped out of the elevator and into a modest reception area.

The receptionist smiled at me. “Hello. May I help you?”

“I was wondering if Uchi Takayama might be available.”

“He's the president of the company, sir. He really doesn't do walk-ins.”

“I understand, but I have something important to discuss with him.”

“So do a lot of people.”

“This is about his father.”

She frowned at me. “Mr. Takayama's father died three weeks ago.”

“I know. That's what I need to discuss with him.”

She sized me up and decided to get rid of me. “Do you have a card?”

I handed her one.

“All right, Mr. Kolchak. I'll give it to him and say that you'd appreciate a call.”

The Harlem Hospital Center, 3:30 p.m. Dennis Coleman, who worked at the Larchmont Funeral Home, picked up the body of an elderly woman who had just died on the operating table. By the time he got to it Larchmont, one half-hour later, the corpse had been drained of its fluids.

Larchmont, NY, 9:00 p.m. Uchi Takayama, having put in yet another long day at the office, dragged himself out of his Lexus and entered his house through the garage. Before he could turn on the kitchen light, Uchi saw a shadowy figure in the next room. He blinked rapidly but still saw it.

“Uchi,” it rasped.

“Who are you? What do you want with me?”

The figure said in Japanese, “Don't repeat my mistakes.”

“What mistakes?” Uchi on flicked the light and ran into the other room. He saw nobody. “Where did you go?”

He collapsed into an armchair, shut his eyes, and massaged his temples. “Maybe it's time to see my shrink.”

When I got in the next morning, Vincenzo sent me to Larchmont to investigate the dried-out corpse. The trip was a waste of time; I could have used the phone and saved my gas.When I returned to the office at noon, Liza handed me a phone message. To my surprise, it was from Uchi Takayama. I didn't expect his secretary to so much as give him my card.

When I called, she put me through immediately. “Mr. Kolchak? You wanted to talk to me about my father.”

“Yes, I did.”


“I think it's better to have this conversation in person. How soon can you be at my office?”

No time like the present.

I arrived at Takayama Electronics carrying a manila envelope filled with news items I had printed off the Internet. Uchi's now-deferential secretary showed me to his office. We exchanged greetings and I sat in front of his desk. The young CEO looked exhausted.

“So, why do you want to talk about my father?”

I took a deep breath. “What I'm about to tell you sounds incredible, and you've every right to think I'm nuts.”

“It just so happens, at this time, I'm open to things that are nuts. Tell me what's on your mind.”

I launched into a monologue about the last few days' events, bolstering my claims with the printed-off news items. I related the legend of the Hannya as the old man in the store had told it and asked Uchi, “Did your father work a lot of hours?”

“Well, yes. He had a business to run.”

“Did it seem like he had more time for work than for his family? Did he talk about money a lot?”

“I suppose he did.” Pausing, Uchi continued, “Now that you mention it, I recall very few conversations with my father that had nothing to do with profits or his company. And he was out of the house a lot, always working. My mother basically raised me alone. And you want to know the truth? I never cried when my father passed away. We just weren't that close.”

“I think that's why your father became a Hannya. And he came here to warn you not to follow his path, or you'll suffer the same fate.”

Uchi took in what I had told him. “If you had come to me like this a week ago, I never would've given you the time of day. But lately, I've had some weird experiences.” He explained to me about the encounters at his office and his house, concluding, “And that voice reminded me of my father.That's why I returned your call. It seemed too coincidental that you had phoned me now, of all times, to ask about him. Still, what you're claiming is awfully far-fetched.”

“What other explanation is there? Doesn't my story make sense in context?”

“Yes, and that's what frightens me. So, there's a ritual that can free my father's soul?”

“Yes, but it's rather involved and I can't perform it.”

“Because it's in Japanese?”

“Exactly. So, you want to give it a try?”

He blew out his breath through puffed-up cheeks. “I just want these visions to stop. I haven't slept a wink, and I feel half-dead. If you think this ritual could work, let's do it.”

I took Uchi to the store in the East Village. Since I knew how to get there, I volunteered to drive. When Uchi got a look at my yellow Mustang, he exclaimed, “How old is this thing?”

“Pretty close to your age.”

“Looks like it's closer to my father's age,” he said, getting in.

At the store, I introduced Uchi to the elderly proprietor, who was intrigued that we planned to perform the cleansing ritual. Along with selling Uchi the requisite items, he insisted on coaching the young CEO. They spent the next two hours practicing until he was satisfied that Uchi has mastered its rudiments.

As we were leaving, the old man said, “Please let me know how it turns out.”

“We will,” I replied.

“Thank you, Mr. Goalshack!”

“It's Kolchak.”

“Yes, of course.”

My guess was that the Hannya would reappear at Uchi's house. When I suggested we have the ritual there, he agreed. It took us an hour to set everything up. I won't bore you with the details. Suffice it to say, the ritual necessitated (among other things) a tatami prayer mat, a gong, a special set of bells, the burning of incense (whose smell I detest), and reading from a Buddhist prayer book. Once we finished the preparations, there was nothing to do but wait. An exhausted Uchi fell asleep on the couch while I sat in the dark and eventually drifted off myself.

“Uchi. Uchi.”

I woke up with a start and saw a shadowy figure by the couch. When I flicked on the lamp, the figure disappeared.

I called out, “No, come back! We want to help you.”

My shouting awakened Uchi, who sat up with a gasp. “What? Is he here?”

“He was.”

“Father! Where are you?”

“Start the ritual,” I said. “Maybe that'll get him back.”

Uchi did so. He lit incense, knelt down on the prayer mat, and chanted. Within moments, the Hannya reappeared in the living room. The sight of him made my heart jump, but I did my best to remain calm. The Hannya stood motionless and looked intently at Uchi, seeming to understand what that young man was doing. I stood back and kept out of the way.

The ritual seemed to last forever. Sweat ran down Uchi's forehead in rivulets. He rang the bells and banged the gong as the ancient text mandated. He lit fresh incense and chanted until he could barely whisper. And I watched in rapt fascination.

A white light filled the room. It enveloped the Hannya and spun like a mini tornado. Eventually, the light dissipated. When it did, an elderly Japanese man stood where the Hannya had been. Uchi stopped chanting, wiped off his forehead, and beheld the sight.

“Father,” he said.

The old man smiled beatifically and bowed to his son. “Arigato, Uchi. Arigato.”

He faded from sight as he ascended to the Spirit World.

Uchi, still kneeling, began to cry. He dropped onto his stomach and pounded the carpeting with his fists. His sobs caused him to undulate. This went on for several minutes until a Uchi, thoroughly drained, rolled over on his back and wiped his eyes as he gasped for breath.

He sat up. “Is it finally over?”

“It's over; you did it.”

“No, Carl; we did it.”

Uchi was prepared to sell Takayama Electronics, disperse the money to different charities, and move to a Buddhist monastery in Japan. I suggested he take some time before he made any life-altering decisions.

He still runs the company, but limits his workweek to 40 hours. Uchi now devotes the weekends to a newfound hobby: SCUBA diving. He's even dating his SCUBA instructor. When last I heard, they were spending two weeks on a yacht off the coast of Greece.

My experience with the Hannya has increased my optimism. If Akira Takayama could be redeemed, maybe there's hope for me.
BLOOD FOR OIL (2000 / 2018) image
(Cover art by Karl Lundstedt)

NOTE: I began work on this story in 2000, but set it aside due to writer's block. Eighteen years later, I finally got back to it!

Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plain. Except in this case it wasn't wind, but fire and brimstone, that threatened the Sooner State—and by extension, the world.

Thursday, August 10th, 12:30 p.m. Mountain Time. Elk City was located in Osage County, less than a half-hour from the Kansas border. Lone Star Oil practically owned Elk City. Roughly 82% of its population worked for the company in one capacity or another. In the case of the 12 men and women who died that day, said capacity included the drilling of oil wells. They were testing a new model whose inventors claimed it could bore deeper into the Earth than any drill before it. They were right, though they may have wished they weren't.

3:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Tony Vincenzo, my ulcer-plagued roly-poly editor, came out of his office. “Kolchak, you're going to Oklahoma.”

I rolled my eyes. “Who did I piss off now?”

“Nobody! There's an oil well fire; up to 12 people are dead.”

Call me ghoulish, but if anything piques my newsman's interest, it's violent death. And for once, it seemed these particular deaths would not send me chasing after some evil entity. Little did I know.

6:15 p.m. Mountain Time. My flight set down at Tulsa International. I picked up my rental car and spent the next hour driving north on Route 75 to Elk City. For the final 20 minutes, I saw a massive plume of black smoke rising ever higher. I didn't even check into my motel. Rather, I headed straight for the action.

As I neared the oil fields, a patrolman stopped me but waved me through when I showed him my press I.D. Lucky for me, a strong breeze blew at my back and kept the lion's share of the smoke away. Otherwise, I'd be coughing violently and gasping for breath.

I parked a good distance from the fire but still felt the heat. Factor in that the air temperature was 98 degrees and you can well imagine how uncomfortable things were. Wiping my brow, I climbed out of the rental car and saw a man of about 30 sitting on the running board of a fire engine marked LONE STAR OIL COMPANY. He was clad in bluejeans and heavy work boots and had taken his shirt off. The man was covered in sweat and smudges of black dirt.

I walked up to him as he guzzled a can of Pepsi. “Hi! Carl Kolchak, Independent News Service. Mind if I ask you some questions?”

He motioned to the spot next to him, so I sat down.

“You're a fireman?”

“Yeah.” He offered his right hand. “Jimmy Gallagher.”

I shook his hand. “Looks like you've been going at it pretty hard.”

“Man, that is one stubborn fire!”


“Yeah.” He crushed the empty soda can in his hand and threw it. “Do you know anything about oil well fires?”

“I really don't.”

“Well, the first thing you do is, you set off a high explosive as close to the wellhead as you can get it.”

“A high explosive?” I exclaimed.

“Yeah, like dynamite. What that does is, it pushes away the oxygen so the oil can spill out of the ground without catching fire. It's like blowing out a candle. Thing is, with this fire, we can't get to that stage.”

“Why not?”

“It's too powerful! We've blasted every damned thing we could think of, but it's not enough to push all the oxygen away. If anything, the flames have increased in intensity. It's like the goddamned fire is daring us to extinguish it.”

“I understand 12 people are dead?”

“That's how many were at the drill site. I don't know what they hit, but the flame shot right out of that hole and burned every last one of 'em to a crisp. I didn't see it, but someone told me it was like the fire zeroed in on those people.”

“How can that be? It's not like fire is sentient.”

“Buddy, I couldn't begin to explain it to you. I've seen a lot of fires, but this one scares me.”

I photographed the scene and wrote extensive notes. When I decided that I had seen all I was going to, I drove into town. I checked into my motel, changed clothes, and took a shower. As I stepped out of the bathroom, I heard my phone ringing. Who else but Vincenzo?

“Carl, are you in Oklahoma?”

“I am.”

“Why haven't you returned my calls?”

I explained that I had gone to the locus before the motel and had not looked at my phone in the last few hours.

“So, what did you see?”

“Tony, this is one hell of a fire!” I relayed what Jimmy Gallagher had told me.

“Oh, no! Not another Kolchak special?”

“I'm just telling you what the fireman said.”

“Just make sure you stick to the facts, please? I don't want read about fire-breathing dragons.”

“Fire-breathing dragons? Boy, do you live in a fantasy world!”

“Just get the story, Carl. Pronto.”

By force of habit, I had brought my portable police scanner along. I didn't expect to hear much on the Elk City police band, but I still flicked it on. Then I sat at the laptop to write my first dispatch about the fire. I was still working on it forty-five minutes later, when the box squawked to life.

“Sheriff, you there?”

After about 10 seconds, “This is Rainwater. Go ahead, Jeff.”

“I was driving by the Carsons' farm just now. The cows are all dead.”


“Yeah. Looks like they were gutted.”

“OK, I'm heading over.”

I bolted out of my room and jumped in the car. As I pulled out of the parking lot, I realized something: I had no idea where the Carsons' farm was. Luckily, a police cruiser marked OSAGE COUNTY SHERIFF happened by, so I followed it.

The farm was three miles outside of town, on a very dark and narrow road. The sheriff's car parked behind another cruiser. I followed suit.

“Excuse me! Sheriff?”

He shined a flashlight in my direction. “Who are you? Why did you follow me?”

“My name's Carl Kolchak. I'm a reporter from New York. I'm covering the fire.”

“You're in the wrong place. That's at the oil field.”

“Well, I know that! It's just that I heard on my police scanner, there's a bunch of dead cows out here.”

“Why would you care about that?”

“It's the way your deputy described them. He said they were gutted.”

“That's what I'm here to check out.”

“Mind if I tag along?”

“Yeah, all right.”

“Thank you, Sheriff. I didn't get your name.”

“Marvin Rainwater.” He pointed his flashlight at the other cruiser. “Hey, Jeff! Where are you?” The sheriff walked to the passenger's side and inhaled sharply. “Son of a bitch!”

I ran over and saw what had shocked him. Lying on the ground with his guts hanging out was Deputy Jeff, his young face frozen in terror.

A mortified Rainwater returned to his cruiser to call for an ambulance. As he did so, I took pictures of the murdered deputy. Then I shined my flashlight through the slatted fence. A number of dead cows lay on the ground. Most were tipped on their sides and had been eviscerated, just like the sheriff's deputy. I took additional photos.

It didn't take long for the EMTs to arrive and load the murdered Jeff aboard their ambulance. As it drove off, I said to the sheriff, “Any idea what could have done this?”

“None. And why do you say 'what?' Don't you mean 'who?'”

“That's a good question.”

But for a single barroom, not one business in Elk City was open on Main Street after sunset. Rainwater and I decided to get a drink.

Now that we were out of the pitch darkness of the Osage County night, I got a good look at Marvin Rainwater. He was about six feet tall and 200 pounds, not one ounce of which was fat. He wasn't muscular but could clearly hold his own in a fight. I would best describe his facial features as chiseled—not in a male model way, but more like a man whose career in law enforcement showed him more about the dark side of human nature than he ever wanted to know. I guessed his age as forty-five.

The sheriff asked for a Marshall's Red Ale, I for scotch. The bartender, a chunky, gray-haired Osage woman of 60, delivered our drinks without a word. We sat in silence for a time, staring at the TV set. It was tuned to CNN's live coverage of the oil well fire.

The bartender broke the silence. “So Marv, you gonna introduce me to your friend?”

“Oh, yeah! Sorry. This is Carl; he's a reporter from New York.”

“Hi, Carl. Josie Littlefeather.” She offered her hand, which I shook. Josie's dry, firm handshake suggested a woman who had spent her life working very hard. “You here about the fire?”

“Yes, I am.” I motioned to the TV set. “Looks just as bad now as it did when I was out there, and that was hours ago.”

“Doesn't usually take 'em this long to put out a fire. I wonder what the deal is with this one?”

“That's what I hope to find out, Josie.”

Without warning, a jarring image appeared on the screen—a face had formed in the thick black smoke! The CNN reporter asked the desk anchor, “Jill, do you see that?”

Jill replied, “Yes, I do. What is that, a face?”

The reporter told the cameraman, “Zoom in on that.” As he did so, the awestruck reporter asked, “What in God's name are we seeing?”

Josie said, “I don't think God has anything to do with it.”

I turned to Rainwater. “You want to head out there?”

I rode with the sheriff, who flashed his lights but left the siren off. At this time of night, there was no traffic to impede us.

During the drive, he got on the two-way. “Sherry, you there?”

A woman's voice crackled through the static. “Yeah, Marv. What's up?”

“Do me a favor? Tell Father Declan to meet me at the oil field.”

The scene was abuzz with activity. The myriad TV cameras were as close to the phenomenon as  the authorities allowed, while firefighters (both private and public) surrounded the site with hoses and other equipment at the ready. Dozens of fire engines were present, some from Kansas and Missouri. The Oklahoma State Police and National Guard had also been called in. I heard the Army was also on its way. Figuring that would mean a press blackout, I talked to as many people as I could. Not one of them had an explanation for the face in the smoke.

Using my digital camera, I snapped one photo after another. The face itself was charcoal-colored but its eyes glowed orange. Seeing it made me shiver despite the stifling August air and the heat of the flames. I didn't know what I was looking at, but it felt like pure evil.

I jumped as someone tapped my shoulder. It was the sheriff. Standing next to him was a freckled, red-haired man in his late 30s.

“Carl, I want you meet someone. This is Father Declan. He runs the church on Redbud Road.”

“Hi, Father. Carl Kolchak, Independent News Service.”

“Declan McManus.” As we shook hands, he said, “Usually when I get a call this late, it's a parishioner having a bad night.”

“I'm thinking we're all going to be having some bad nights with that thing.”

Shaking his head, the father told me, “I've never seen anything like this in my life. It can't be what I'm thinking.”

“What are you thinking?”

He fingered the cross around his neck. “I'd rather not say.”

Friday, August 11th, 2:20 a.m. Willie Winfield, 38, was the night manager at Elk City's only all-night convenience store. He was outside smoking a cigarette when he saw something out of the corner of his eye. It was the last thing he ever saw.

3:30 a.m. Robin Luke, 17, picked up the bundle of newspapers he delivered in the early mornings. Over the next few hours, Robin's customer's would open their front doors and find nothing to read.

4:40 a.m. Linda Jones, 41, backed her 18-wheeler up to the loading dock of the big box store in town. As she climbed the stairs to the loading dock, Linda was horrified to see two store employees lying dead with their guts hanging out. A moment later, she joined them.

5:45 a.m. Arlene Smith, 24, stepped out her front door and began the short walk to her waitressing job. The Elk City Diner was a popular breakfast nook for workers on their way to the oil field. But those hungry laborers had to do without Arlene's fast service and glowing smile; she never made it to the diner. Instead, she ended up at the morgue.

Meanwhile, the face in the smoke grew bigger.

“Hello, Mr. Kolcheck.”

“Whaaa?” I was jolted awake and sat up in bed. A shadowy figure stood at the foot of it. I flicked on the light and saw a dark-haired man with a mustache.

He folded his arms across his chest. “Remember me?”

“Bob Palmer?”

“The very same.” He pointed a finger at me. “You sent me to hell!”

“Uhh, no. You did that to yourself. I merely sped up the process.”

“I'm not here to argue; I have a message.”


“Yes. My lord is returning. He has dispatched his underlings to prepare the Earth for his dominion.”

“Your lord?”

“You know who I mean. Until we meet again, Mr. Kolcheck.” Palmer faded into the air.

I rubbed my eyes and wondered if I had just had a bad dream.

There was a Bible on my nightstand. I opened it and read the parts about Satan. When I was done, I got on-line and found a website on Biblical scholarship. What I learned made horrifyingly perfect sense, given the events of the last 24 hours.

Father Declan had given me his card, so I called his home number. Given the earliness of the hour, my call awakened him. When I told him what was on my mind, he asked that I come over immediately.

As I drove to his house, I saw not one but two murder scenes. Each time, I stopped to ask questions and take pictures. Sheriff Rainwater was at the scene of Robin's Luke death, looking heartsick and desperate. He told me, “Carl, this is the fifth gutting since Jeff last night. I'm in way over my head.”

“Have you asked for help?”

“Yeah. The FBI's on its way.”

One more barrier to my getting the facts out.

Father Declan was still in his bathrobe when he answered my knock. We were in his kitchen, which contained a white plastic water dispenser with a blue tank on top.

“Can I get some of that?”

“Sure,” he said, pointing to the cabinet above his sink. “Grab a glass.”

I pushed the lever and filled the tall glass. As I took a gulp, Father Declan invited me to sit at the kitchen table.

“Now, what was this about an apparition?”

I told him about Bob Palmer—my first experience with him in Chicago, followed by his appearance in my room just now.

“His lord is returning? That's what he said to you?”

“His exact words.”

Father Declan's youthful face was a mask of worry. “I knew when I saw that face in the smoke….”

“Listen, you know way more about the Bible than I ever will. Didn't Lucifer start out as God's top angel?”

“Yes, God made him perfect in every way—too perfect. Lucifer became prideful and wanted to overthrow God so HE could rule the universe. Lucifer persuaded one-third of the angels to join him, and a war erupted in Heaven. But God won, and Satan was cast into Hell for 1,000 years.”

I said, “A number of Biblical scholars believe that happened in the year 1000.”

“You're right. Some do posit that argument.”

“Well, what year is it now?” When a worried-looking Father Declan didn't respond, I continued. “I think Lone Star Oil drilled so far into the Earth, they penetrated the roof of Hell and set the Devil free. He sent his minions up ahead of him to ready the Earth for his return. So far, they've eviscerated five people. And they're just getting started!”

“I think you're right, Carl, and I don't know what to do about it. I could contact the church's higher-ups, but I doubt they'd believe me.”

Before the young priest could voice his next thought, the kitchen door flew off its hinges and smashed into the opposite wall. What entered the kitchen must have come straight from the bowels of Hell. It was a hideous creature the size and shape of a man but with green skin that exploded with abscesses, gnarled and disproportionately sized hands and feet with frighteningly sharp claws, a bulbous head with elephantine ears and short black horns, and eyes of scarlet.

Father Declan gasped, grabbed a cross off the table, and held it in front of himself while chanting in Latin. The creature rushed past him and lunged at me. Instinctively, I threw my glass of water at it. To my amazement, the water sizzled and steamed as it hit the demon's flesh. The monster shrieked in pain, clawed at its wounds, and ran out the door.

Father Declan sweated profusely and gasped for breath. “I'd better call the bishop.”

Bishop Frank Tardogno was 66 years old and bore the authoritative air of a man even the Devil wouldn't mess with. Still, his voice was soothing and his manner reassuring. The bishop listened patiently as Father Declan and I related what had just happened.

Tardogno said nothing for several moments, processing what he had just heard. “Declan, that's an incredible story, but I've never known you to jump to conclusions. Factor in that your door is, indeed, off its hinges and I believe something happened here. One thing puzzles me, though. Mr. Kolchak, when you threw your glass of water at...whatever it say it sizzled and steamed?”


“Only holy water can do that. I don't understand how regular water would have that effect. Declan, is there something special about your water cooler?”

The father looked at the floor and shifted awkwardly from foot to foot.

The bishop repeated, “Declan?”

“This is so embarrassing.”

“Please, Declan! You need to tell me everything.”

McManus looked up at Bishop Tardogno. “The sheriff and I are drinking buddies. But as a man of the cloth, I can't go to a barroom. So Marv and I visit each others' houses and get drunk together, usually once a week. Now when I'm drinking, I tend to get really silly. So last week, Marv and I were here in the kitchen, sharing a bottle, when I started....well, blessing things.”

The bishop's eyebrows raised. “Blessing things?”

“Yeah. I blessed the oven, the fridge, the microwave, the cabinets, even the water cooler.”

I said, “So, I hit that demon with holy water.”

“Yes, you did.” Father Declan said, “Bishop, I'm really sorry. My behavior was unbecoming a man of the cloth.”

He smiled beatifically. “It's all right, Declan; you're human. God doesn't expect you to be perfect. Besides, I enjoy a drink or two myself. As for the issue at hand, I need to make some phone calls.”

In my travels around Elk City, I had seen a Toys-R-Us. I walked in the minute they opened. After I made my purchase, I looked for a good source of water. The janitor's closet of a gas station/convenience store gave me what I needed. Back at Declan's house, I laid my purchases out on the kitchen table.

“Father, I need you to bless these Super Soakers.”

“Excuse me?”

“Oh, come on! You blessed a water cooler, why not my Super Soakers?”

“Why do you want me to bless them?”

“Because if a demon tries to gut me, I want to hit him with holy water!”

“Carl, we're talking about the Prince of Darkness—the main source of all the evil in the universe. Do you really think you're going to take him down with a Super Soaker?”

“Just bless the damned things, will you please?”

Father Declan sighed and produced a cross. “I can't believe I'm doing this.”

My next stop: the sheriff's office. He was there with a couple of deputies, a severe-looking woman in a business suit, and a U.S. Army Colonel.

“Ah, Carl! There's some people I want you to meet.” He motioned to the woman. “This is Agent Barbara Crandall with the F.B.I. They're handling the murder investigation now. And this is Colonel George Braddock. The Army took charge of the oil field.”

“Pleased to meet you both,” I lied.

Agent Crandall gave a weird look. “Is that a Super Soaker?”

“Yes,” I replied, “and I have more in the car. I had a priest bless them so we can fight the Devil and his minions with holy water.”

Now it was Colonel Braddock's turn to look at me strangely. “The Devil and his minions?” To Rainwater, “Who is this man?”

“I'm a reporter.”

“Oh, a reporter? Well, I ordered a press blackout, so don't even think about going near that oil field.”

“Yeah, sure. Listen, whatever weapons your soldiers have, they're not going to work.” I held up my Super Soaker. “Holy water, and lots of it—that's the key.”

Agent Crandall interjected, “You can't be serious.”

“I am! The Devil is escaping from Hell through that hole in the ground. He sent his minions ahead of him to wreak havoc on the Earth and prepare it for his return!”

Rainwater said, “Carl! Come on, man, you're making me look bad.”

Ignoring him, I told Braddock, “There must be 50 fire engines at that oil field. Get some religious leaders to bless them, shoot all that holy water at the fire, and maybe it'll drive the Devil back to Hell! Then Lone Star can seal up the hole and keep him there.”

The incredulous-looking colonel was about to say something when his cell phone rang. “Colonel Braddock.” His face took on a look of dread. “I'll be right there.”

Rainwater asked, “Something wrong, Colonel?”

“I have to get back to the oil field, now.” He pointed to me. “And I don't want this man anywhere near it!”

Once he was gone, I turned to Rainwater. “Oil field?”

“Bet your ass!” To Crandall, “You coming?”

She smiled. “Wouldn't miss it.”

Though it took some urging on my part, Rainwater agreed to bring the Super Soakers along. I transferred them from my rental car to his trunk.

Between the sheriff and the F.B.I. agent, we had no trouble getting through the Army checkpoints. And we quickly saw why Colonel Braddock had run out on us.

The landscape was littered with gutted soldiers and civilians. You could barely take a step without setting your foot down in somebody's blood. And that wasn't even the worst part; dozens of demons like the one that attacked me and Father Declan dotted the oil field. The cops and soldiers fired at them, but it did no good. The Devil's minions eviscerated their prey like machetes cut sugarcane.

“The Super Soakers!” I shouted. Rainwater, Crandall and I jumped out of the car and grabbed the plastic toys from the trunk.

Not a moment too soon. A demon was bearing down on us. I gave off a “Gyah!” and fired at it. No sooner did the water hit the demon then the ugly bastard screamed in pain and dropped dead. An obviously frightened soldier, seeing what had just happened, ran up to me.

“How did you kill that thing?”

“Here.” I handed him a spare Super Soaker. “It's holy water.”

“Thanks, pal!”

Rainwater suggested we spread out. As he and Agent Crandall took off in separate directions, a minivan pulled up. Father Declan drove while Bishop Tardogno sat in the passenger's seat. Once the van stopped, five men and a woman got out. They were dressed in the black cassock and white collar of the church.

Relieved, I placed my hands on the father's shoulders. “Am I glad to see you! There are two more Super Soakers in the trunk.”

“We don't need them.” He motioned to the others. “These are all higher-ups from the church. And there's more on the way. Some are flying in from as far away as the East Coast.”

“Great,” I exclaimed. “Gentlemen—and lady—start blessing those fire engines! I know it sounds weird, but...”

The bishop cut me off. “Mr. Kolchak, your idea might just save us.” He and the others ran toward the fire engines, waving their respective crosses at any demons who crossed their paths.

I grabbed the remaining Super Soakers from the sheriff's car and beheld the carnage. It played out for as far as I could see. It was sickening, but I needed to focus.

I had to find Colonel Braddock, but had no idea where to look. I ran aimlessly as the face in the smoke continued to grow. I shot down a few more of Satan's green hordes and worried that my Super Soaker felt much lighter than when I had filled it.

I saw Braddock. “Colonel!”

His face flushed with anger. “I thought I told you to stay the hell away from here!”

“You can put me in the stockade later. Listen, I know how to make this stop.” I held up my Super Soaker. “I've already killed four or five of those demons with this thing. Here, take one.”

The colonel was about to reply when a demon leaped at him. I pulled the trigger and hit its face and chest with a stream of holy water. It died immediately.

To Braddock, “Believe me now?”

Incredulous, he accepted a Super Soaker.

“Listen, a bunch of priests are blessing those fire engines. Once they finish, you give the order to hit the wellhead with all they've got.”

The colonel, looking shell-shocked, replied, “All right, we'll give it a try.”

It wasn't long before 50 or so geysers of holy water drenched the wellhead. The face in the smoke began to shrink! Its orange eyes grew dimmer. An enraged cry emanated from the belly of the Earth, causing the ground to quake. The demons stopped attacking people and discomfitingly bellowed, aware of their fate.  A crack formed in the ground and swallowed them up, including the dead ones. When the last demon was gone, the fissure closed itself up. Not one human, dead or alive, had fallen in.

As the fire went out, the face in the smoke appeared to fold in on itself. There was one more bellow, much weaker, before the face vanished.

Braddock ordered the firefighters to shut off their hoses. Once they had done so, he commanded  a crew of Lone Star Oil workers to seal up the well. He didn't have to ask twice.

Of course, you never read about these events—except in the Weekly World News and on the fringes of the Internet. They included quotes from Sheriff Rainwater, Father Declan, and “an anonymous government source.” (Agent Crandall, perhaps?) They also published a few of my pictures. But who takes that stuff seriously? The story was a fabrication, the quotes were all made up and the photos doctored. Right?

The dozens of people who lost their lives in Elk City were all swept under the carpet. Through the combined efforts of the Army, the Bureau, Lone Star Oil, and the mainstream press, humanity will never know just how close to perdition it came.

I can't help wondering if someday, another drilling crew might punch a hole in the roof of Hell? Let's hope we've rethought our addiction to fossil fuels before that happens.
THE SNOW MONSTER (2018) image
(Cover art by Karl Lundstedt)

As I'm not a fan of winter, you can imagine how thrilled I wasn't when my dear editor, Tony Vincenzo, sent me on assignment to the Himalayas. Little did I know just how chilling the experience would be.

I knew something was up when I was summoned to Vincenzo's office, only to find Howard Kirschenbaum of the I.N.S. corporate office standing next to the desk. He and Vincenzo often had meetings, but Kirschenbaum always sat for them.

Acting nonchalant, I asked, “Another meeting with Corporate, eh, Tony?”

A smirking Kirschenbaum replied, “No, Mr. Kolchak, there's no meeting. I just wanted to see the look on your face.”

I knitted my brows. “What look on my face?”

Kirschenbaum suppressed a laugh.

Vincenzo took a deep breath. “Carl, I have an assignment for you.”

“All right, let's hear it.”

“You're going to the Himalayas.”

Unable to contain himself any longer, Kirschenbaum burst out laughing.

My mouth dropped open. “I must have misheard you, Tony. You didn't just tell me I was going to the Himalayas?”

Wearily, Vincenzo replied, “Yes, Carl, that's what I said. The Indian government just opened a high-altitude research facility near the Tibetan border. You're to do a feature on it.”

“Why not send Sidney? He's the science editor.”

Kirschenbaum answered for Vincenzo. “Because I want you there, Mr. Kolchak.”

“Why? What did I ever do to you?”

“Surely you jest! What have you ever done to me? You nearly gave me a heart attack by lying to me that there was a disaster with the printing press. You placed your buttocks near my face as I sat in that very chair (he pointed to it), and told me you were digesting a burrito.”

“I only did those things to get you out of this office. You're always in here when I need to see Tony!”

Kirschanbaum continued, “Not to mention that your shenanigans get us flack from the police and the mayor. That stunt you pulled last week earned us a call from the governor's office!”

“As I already explained to Tony, I never told those F.B.I. agents that I was from the governor's office. I simply implied that he wouldn't appreciate it if they denied me access to their crime scene.”

Kirschenbaum pulled out his iPhone and tapped the screen a few times. “The temperature at the Himansh facility is 22 below zero.”

I felt my anger rising.

Vincenzo said, “I tried to warn you, Carl. I told you the new owners weren't as tolerant as I was. Why didn't you listen for once?”

I glared at him.

“Look, I'm sorry, but it wasn't my decision.”

 “No,” said Kirschenbaum, “it was mine. What can I tell you, Mr. Kolchak? Revenge is a dish best served cold.”

The flight to India was 14 hours long, and that was only the start of my trek. From there, it was an eight-hour road trip to Manali, followed by an additional four hours to Spiti Valley, the ostensible home of the Himansh facility. I say “ostensible” as its actual location is some 13,000 feet up in the mountains. The last leg of my odyssey would be by helicopter. But as stressed as I felt, it was nothing compared to what happened at Himansh while I was still in the air.

April 19th, 6:18 p.m. local time. To limit their exposure to the treacherous mountain climate, the scientists at Himansh sent unmanned drones to digitize glacier movements and cover snow variations. The drones took pictures and transmitted a live feed back to the facility. However, on this night, the viewscreen of drone #3 suddenly went blank. The tech on duty, one Vihaan Apte, alerted his supervisor, Dr. Pari Datta.

Staring at the inky darkness of the screen, Dr. Datta sighed. “That's the third drone this week.”

“We never found the first two. I'm beginning to think something's wrong out there.”

Dr. Datta shrugged. “We'll look for it in the morning.”

April 20th, 7:00 a.m. local time. Apte and Dr. Datta bundled up in several layers of clothing. This included a thermal snowsuit with a battery-operated internalized heating unit. And they could still feel the cold, even within the confines of their two-person snow vehicle.

7:45 a.m. local time. The tech on duty at Himansh, one Anil Gupta, answered a radio call from the search vehicle. “This is Himansh. Go ahead, Vehicle One.”

It was a frightened Dr. Datta. “He's dead! It killed Vihaan!”

Gupta was incredulous. “What? Is that you, Pari? What's going on out there?”

“It killed Vihaan and now it's going to kill me!” She let out a guttural scream, during which the audio cut out.

Gupta fiddled with the radio. “Pari? Are you there? Hello? Pari? For god's sake, answer me!”

A two-man search party--Arun Khatri and Ramkumar Patel--found the vehicle two kilometers from the facility. It was upside down. The windshield and side windows, each about an inch thick, had been smashed in. The interior of the cab was covered in blood and entrails. The horrified men followed a path of frozen blood. Before long, they had located both Vihaan Apte and Pari Datta—or rather, what was left of them.

When they regained their presence of mind, Khatri called Himansh with the grim news. His instructions were to return to the station, that arrangements would be made to collect the dead scientists. Meanwhile, Patel had walked back to the overturned vehicle for additional inspection.
He noticed the drone in the snow. It appeared to have fallen out of the back of the vehicle when it flipped. The drone was snapped nearly in two. Khatri and Patel carried it back to their own vehicle.

As Patel climbed into the driver's side, Khatri pulled out his iPhone and snapped some pictures of the grisly scene. They included a most unusual footprint.

Not that I knew any of this when the helicopter pilot motioned to the mountain range ahead of us. “That's Himansh. We're almost there.”

I heaved a sigh of tremendous relief. “Praise the lord and pass the ammunition!”

I had no idea how fitting my utterance was.

The director of the facility, Dr. Sanjay Bangalore, was a short, slightly overweight man with a clean-shaven face and graying black hair. He met me at the helipad and drove me to the facility in a snow vehicle. He shouted over the engine noise, “You must be exhausted after your long journey. I'll show you to your quarters first thing. You can meet the staff later.”

“That's fine with me. So, what does 'Himansh' mean?”

“Quite literally, it means 'a slice of ice'.”

“Interesting. So, what kind of research are you doing?”

“We study and quantify the effects of climate change on the Himalayan glaciers. You see, the this region has the largest quantity of them anywhere outside the polar ice caps. This area feeds all of India's ten major rivers. It provides irrigation, electricity and drinking water for 700 million people.”

“Impressive! And you have 14 people working up here?”

Hesitating, Bangalore said, “Twelve. Two of them were called away. Family emergencies.”

“Oh! Sorry to hear that.”

Bangalore was silent for the rest of the drive.

The wood and brick building was sufficient for up to 20 people. The front door opened into a carpeted room with electronic equipment lining three of the four walls. Five technicians—three men and two women—manned the equipment and barely looked up as we entered. Bangalore led me through a doorway at the far wall. It opened into a lengthy corridor with many doors on either side. A bearded young man in jeans and a heavy plaid shirt came out of a room and walked toward us. He and Bangalore nodded to each other as they passed. I glanced over my shoulder and saw the young man had turned around and stood looking in our direction. When he saw me looking back, he continued on his way.

My quarters were spartan. There was a cot, a desk, two chairs and a small dresser. The room itself had windowless painted white walls with nothing hung on them. I put down my suitcase, took off my boots, gloves and snowsuit, and laid down on the cot. It wasn't long before I drifted off to sleep.

I inhaled sharply and quickly sat up as an alarm blared. I slipped into my shoes, grabbed my camera, and threw open the door. Two young Indian men ran past me toward the front room. I followed suit. Catching up to them, I asked, “What's going on?” They didn't answer.

The front room was a shambles. The east wall had a gaping hole while tables, chairs and equipment were strewn across the floor.  A scientist lay on his back, blood gushing from his abdomen. He breathed raggedly as two of his colleagues attempted to stop the bleeding.

As a staff member shut the alarm off, I approached a mortified Dr. Bangalore, who stood in front of the hole with a rifle in his hands. I placed a hand on his shoulder. Bangalore gasped and whirled around to face me.

I asked him, “What happened?”

“I've no time for questions, Mr. Kolchak. Please return to your quarters.”

“I will not! I'm a reporter, and something newsworthy is going on. Now, what happened?”

“Something tried to smash its way into the room. I scared it off with a rifle shot.”

“Did you hit it?”

“Possibly; I don't know.”

“So, what tried to break in?”

“I don't know, Mr. Kolchak. It was a wild animal of some type. It all happened so quickly, I didn't get a good look at it.”

I asked the room, “Did any of you see the animal?”

Kneeling next to his bleeding, moribund colleague, a man exclaimed, “Not now, sir! We're trying to save Satish's life.”

The other kneeling man sadly shook his head. “It's too late. He's gone.”

A heartsick Bangalore said, “Take him to the freezer.”

The men lifted the blood-covered corpse and took it from the room.

Bangalore instructed two of his staff, “Please clean up the blood.” To the others, “Let's patch this hole up.” And to me, “Please, Mr. Kolchak; it's over. There's nothing here for you to see.”

“Is there some way I can help?”

“Yes—by returning to your quarters.”

I left the room, but not before snapping some pictures. Bangalore looked at me as if to object, but returned to the matters at hand.

I went back to my quarters, but only while the two men placed their colleague's corpse in the freezer and returned to the front room. With everyone distracted, I thought it would be a good time to have a look at the facility. To my surprise, most of the doors were unlocked. The first several opened into living quarters similar to mine. One led to a small janitor's closet with nothing of note. I also a found a workshop for (presumably) fixing broken equipment, along with a supply room stocked with dozens of cardboard boxes and items I did not recognize. Then there was a lounge with a huge TV set mounted on the wall and a DVD player beneath. On either side of the TV was a pair of storage racks holding a few hundred DVDs. I also noted overflowing bookcases and a stereo with perhaps 100 compact discs on a wall shelf. After the lounge came the kitchen, which again contained nothing out of the ordinary.

Then I found the freezer.

It was a walk-in affair with hundreds of pounds of food lining the shelves on either side, as well as the back wall. What caught my attention, however, is what I saw on the floor: three dead bodies. I had only expected one. They were similarly eviscerated, though the others were in much worse condition than the just-killed Satish. Whatever took their lives had also used the other two for food. I produced my camera and took pictures of the cadavers. Having looked in every room (except those with locked doors) and not knowing what else to do, I returned to my quarters and pondered my situation.

I needed to get through to Vincenzo, but how? There must be a means of communication from Himansh to the outside world, but what was it and how would I gain access? I had a feeling Dr. Bangalore would no more cooperate with me than did the police in Las Vegas, Seattle, Chicago, and New York.

I sat at my desk, dictating the day's events into my portable cassette deck—yes, I still use one—when there was a knock at my door. It was the bearded young man who had passed me and Dr. Bangalore in the hallway. He looked very anxious.

“Mr. Kolchak.”

“Yes, I'm Kolchak. And you are…?”

“My name is Arun Khatri. Can we talk?”

“Sure.” I stepped aside to let him in and shut the door. “What can I do for you?”

“I know who you are.”

“You do?”

“Folklore and mythology are a hobby of mine. I've seen the websites and Facebook groups about you.”

I had to chuckle. “Yes, I have a cult following. But the rest of the world thinks I'm a kook.”

“Admittedly, I liked your stories for their entertainment value, but I never took them as fact.”

“That puts you in the majority. You still haven't told me why we're having this conversation, though.”

“Mr. Kolchak, I'm a man of science. I've spent my professional life studying that which can be verified or disproved empirically. But I saw what killed Satish. It was something I never thought existed.”

I motioned to my cassette deck. “Can I record you?”

“I'd rather you didn't.”

“Never hurts to ask. OK, what did you want to tell me?”

Khatri related the events of the previous day, which explained the two other corpses in the freezer. He also showed me the pictures he took with his phone. They were grisly, to say the least. The one that intrigued me the most was a shot Arun had taken of a three-toed footprint. I asked him its size.

“About 45 centimeters,” he said.


“Eighteen inches. Why do you Americans resist the metric system?”

I ignored that. “So, you saw what killed your colleagues. Care to tell me what it was?”

Khatri took a deep breath. “A Yeti.”

“A Yeti. And what's a Yeti?”

“You Americans call it Sasquatch or Bigfoot. It's also been called the Abominable Snowman.”

“And that's what you saw?”

“I got a good look at it, Mr. Kolchak. That creature matches every description of a Yeti that I've ever read. It also matches most of the artists' renderings I've seen.”

I took in what Khatri was telling me. “So, what does a Yeti look like?”

“It must have been nine feet tall. It had thick white fur, sharp claws, and the most frightening teeth I ever saw. They were huge and yellow; I swear, they could bite through steel! Its face was like that of a simian, but no simian I've heard of. I'm telling you, Mr. Kolchak, it was a Yeti.”

“Have you told anyone else?”

“I tried to tell Dr. Bangalore, but he was having none of it. I couldn't blame him. After all, the Yeti is assumed to be mythical. Until today, I had assumed it too.”

“Until today,” I said. “So, what do we do about this Yeti?”

Before he could answer, there was another knock on my door. I didn't open it. “Yes?”

A muffled voice said, “There's a meeting in Dr. Bangalore's office. Everyone must attend.”

“What time?”


Bangalore's office was one of the few locked doors I had encountered. He stood in front of his desk, looking exhausted and grim. The rest of us stood around him in a semicircle.

“First,” he said, “I wish to personally thank each and every one of you for the job you did after the attack. We patched up the wall in less than an hour. And cleaning up Satish's blood, along with moving his body to the freezer, was extremely unpleasant. But you did it with professionalism, and I very much appreciate it.”

I raised my hand. “Dr. Bangalore? Question?”

He sighed. “Yes, Mr. Kolchak?”

“I need to get in touch with my editor in New York. How can I do that?”

“That's impossible. Our one means of communication, a radio phone, was damaged in the attack. We're going to start repair work after the meeting.”

“Will you order an evacuation?”

“Why would I do that?”

“Because three of your colleagues are now occupying a freezer!”

Bangalore glared at me.

“I saw them, doctor. That's quite a 'family emergency'.”

“Mr. Kolchak, do you know how many years it took for Himansh to become reality? I'm not about to order an evacuation! We have important research to conduct, and we're going to do so.” To the rest of the room, “Look, some kind of wild animal is out there. It's huge, it's strong, and it's vicious. But it's not invulnerable. I'm going to unlock the armory and issue each one of you a rifle. If you've no experience with one, I'll teach you. Mr. Kolchak, do you know how to use a rifle?”


“All right, I'll give you one too. Now, until the threat is eradicated, we'll be on 24-hour guard duty.” He paused as staff members whispered to one another. “I know you're all scared, and so am I. But remember: we outnumber this animal and we have weapons that can bring it down. We will prevail.”

I asked, “After how many more of us are killed?”

“This meeting is adjourned. Mr. Kolchak, please stay behind.”

In hot water again.

Once we were alone, Bangalore said, “I'm going to need your camera.”


“I saw you taking pictures. I can't let you print them.”

“You're not taking my camera! Ever heard of freedom of the press?”

“You're not in America now. And if you don't give me your camera, I'll report you to the Army. They'll make sure you don't leave India with those pictures you took.”

Shaking my head, “It doesn't matter where I go. You goddamned bureaucrats are all the same. Fine, I'll give you the camera. But it won't stop the Yeti from tearing this place to pieces.”

Bangalore laughed. “Yeti? I see you've been talking to Arun.”

“Well, if it's not a Yeti, what is it?”

“I don't know. But it's a not a Yeti because they're a myth.”

“Oh, yeah? Well, that myth capsized a two-ton snow vehicle, ripped a hole in your wall, and shredded three people. And I have a bad feeling the worst is yet to come!”

“I'm surprised at you, Mr. Kolchak. I thought reporters dealt in facts.”

“We do. And the fact is, we're all in grave danger. We need to get off this mountain!”

“As soon as the radio phone is fixed, I'll send for a helicopter to take you away.”

“What about everyone else?”

“That's my responsibility, not yours. Now stay out of my way and leave my staff alone. We have a job to do.”

And so did I.

Bangalore was as good as his word. He did, in fact, issue me a rifle. But since I was a guest, he did not require me to pull guard duty. That, and the man didn't trust me one bit.

I tried to look around some more, but now the doors were locked. I tried talking to staff, but they all brushed me off—except one. Later that night, Arun Khatri knocked at my door. As soon as I opened it, he said, “The Army is here.”


“We're required to transmit a signal every three hours. If we miss one, the Army sends a helicopter. It just landed.”

“Bangalore never mentioned that to me.”

“Did you expect him to?”

“Point taken. So, what's going on? Are we evacuating?”
“Quite the opposite. Bangalore is telling them to leave us here.”

I slipped past Khatri and ran to the main room. An officer of the Indian Army stood rigidly near the front entrance. On his back, an AK-47 hung from a black leather strap. He was talking to Bangalore.

I heard the doctor say, “Really, Colonel, everything's fine up here. We just experienced a minor mishap.”

“He's lying,” I called out.

A startled Bangalore turned around. “Mr. Kolchak, return to your quarters!”

“The hell I will! Colonel, you've got to get us out of here. A Yeti attacked and killed three people.”

“A Yeti?” He turned to Bangalore. “Who is this man?”

“An American reporter. I never should have let him up here. He has been nothing but trouble.”

“I'm trouble?” I exclaimed. “I'm not the one keeping all these people in danger with my bureaucratic stubbornness.”

The colonel asked, “Dr. Bangalore, what really happened here? And please don't repeat your story about high winds.”

“Surely, you don't believe that man with his Yeti nonsense?”

“Nonsense?” I roared. “What about the three dead bodies in your freezer?”

The colonel's eyes opened into saucers. “Dead bodies?”

Bangalore shifted uncomfortably from one foot to another. “Colonel, please. You and your men don't need to be here. I've everything under control. And I'd be most grateful if you took Mr. Kolchak with you when you left.”

“I had better have a look at your freezer.”

But before the colonel could do so, a crashing noise came from outside, followed by the sound of gunfire. He threw the door open and looked outside. Four soldiers fired at something in the dark, but I couldn't see it from my vantage point.

Not six feet from the colonel, a window shattered as a solider was tossed through it. He landed on the floor with a dull thud and did not move. The colonel cocked his rifle and fired out the window. I heard a primal roar from outside. Feeling the need for a weapon more powerful than the rifle in my quarters, I crouched down next to the soldier. He wasn't breathing and the puddle of blood beneath him grew wider. Clutched in his right hand was a bazooka (or whatever they called it in this part of the world). I hadn't fired one since my military days and hoped I hadn't forgotten what I learned.

As I relieved the dead soldier of his weapon, there was another crash as the front door flew off its hinges. My mouth dropped open as the Yeti smashed his way into the room. He bled from several holes in his chest and torso where the soldiers had shot him, but was still ambulatory and very much pissed off. Two soldiers appeared in the gaping jaws of the doorway, firing their AK-47s at the Yeti's back. Snarling, the beast whirled around and swung its blood-covered claws at the soldiers. The poor bastards each gurgled as their guts poured out of them.

Dr. Bangalore yowled in horror, which caught the Yeti's attention. It swung at the man, taking his head off with its sword-like claws. A geyser of blood shot from Bangalore's neck as his body fell and his severed head rolled across the floor.

My heart pounding like a Buddy Rich solo, I ran down the corridor. Not three seconds later, the hallway door gave out as the Yeti pounded through it. Three staff members in the hallway stood motionless with fright.

“Get back in your rooms,” I shouted. They did.

I was at the end of the corridor. There was nowhere to go as the Yeti grew nearer. I hoisted the bazooka onto my shoulder and mustered every iota of discipline I had. I couldn't fire until I was reasonably certain I would hit the creature. I had but one shot. If I missed, I was Purina Yeti Chow.

The bullets it took had slowed the Yeti down, but I had no doubt it could still tear me limb from limb. The monster's slackened pace gave me a chance to aim the bazooka. When the Yeti was about six feet away, I fired. A missile blasted from the barrel and hit the monster square in the chest. The Yeti exploded, showering me with a disgusting spatter of blood, bones, fur, bodily fluids, and chunks of internal organs.

Where the Yeti had stood was now a blackened spot on the floor and a pair of feet with legs up to the knee. Several small fires burned on the floor, walls and ceiling, filling the hallway with smoke. Plus, the backburn from my bazooka had set the wall behind me ablaze. An alarm sounded, causing the staff to rush from their rooms to the main entrance. I joined them as the fires grew. Within seconds, Himansh was engulfed in flames.

Outside, the colonel stood with two soldiers. At least four dead ones lay in the snow. He ordered us to the helicopter. Not two minutes later, we were in the air, the fiery wreckage of Himansh fading into the pitch-black Himalayan night.

With the Yeti blown to pieces, so was any evidence of his existence. The official story was that Himansh was destroyed, and its scientists killed, in an avalanche.

Before he let me leave India, the colonel took me to an interrogation room. He spent several hours making sure I understood there would be serious repercussions if I said anything about a Yeti once I was back home. A strongly worded letter to our U.N. ambassador from India's backed up the colonel's threats.

The Indian M.P.s snatched Arun Khatri mere seconds after the helicopter set down. No one has seen or heard from him since. As for the other Himansh survivors, they're not talking. I can only assume they received debriefings similar to mine.

I didn't bother trying to sell Vincenzo on my Yeti story. He had never believed me before and certainly wouldn't now. Still, as the only reporter on Earth who was there when Himansh was wrecked, I wrote a first-hand account that was picked up by news agencies all over the world. For the moment, I was the golden boy of I.N.S. But I'd screw that up soon enough.

As for Howard Kirschenbaum, he's now formerly of the I.N.S. corporate office. A furious Vincenzo went over the man's head, complaining that Kirschenbaum had willfully, deliberately, and unnecessarily sent a reporter into a life-threatening situation. That wasn't strictly true, but it was nice to have Tony on my side for once. So I kept my mouth shut. Kirschenbaum was let go, but not without a severance package that dwarfed the G.D.P. of entire nations. The rich do look out for their own.

India's Ministry of Earth Sciences put out a press release that Himansh will be rebuilt. That made me think of the Yeti. Was the beast I killed the only one up there? Were its attacks rooted in the resentment of humans intruding on its home? What if more of those things are lurking in the snows of the Himalayas? How safe will the next group of scientists be? Time will tell.
(Cover art by Karl Lundstedt)

If you're in New York City and looking for anything of Filipino origin, your best bet is Little Manila. Located in Woodside, Queens, the nine-block neighborhood is home to some 13,000 Filipinos. It was also home to the recent wholesale slaughter of pregnant women.

John F. Kennedy International Airport, Tuesday, June 13th, 6:00 p.m. Corazon Bautista, 27, was a top fashion model in Southeast Asia. Her agent, deciding it was time his client broke through in the States, booked her several gigs in New York. Corzaon flew from Manila to Tokyo and on to JFK. By the time her connector flight set down, she was famished. Corazon knew exactly what to eat and where to find it. She needed only to get there before nightfall.

Roosevelt Avenue, Queens, 9:30 p.m. Dalisay Parungao, 23, was walking home from her fast-food job at Jollibee. She was four months pregnant with her first child and about to marry the baby's father. Dalisay thought herself the happiest woman alive. Minutes later, she wasn't alive at all.

I was at home watching a DVD when the call came in on my police-band radio. I should have turned the damned thing off and watched my movie in blessed ignorance. But my newsman's instinct had kicked in, so off I went to Queens.

I parked the Yellow Submarine next to a police car. EMTs were tending to the body as police questioned people and kept rubberneckers at bay. A plainclothes African-American woman dealt with a minuscule lady of about 75. She stood with a Filipino man in his 20s and screamed hysterically. She kept repeating the same thing: “Manananggal! Manananggal!” The young man held her arm and spoke soothingly in a foreign tongue.

I approached the plainclothes, a middle-aged woman with a badge hanging around her neck. “Excuse me? Captain?”

“Who are you?”

“Carl Kolchak. I'm a reporter.” I showed her my press credentials.

Her eyes narrowed. “I've heard of you.”

“Oh, that doesn't sound good.”

“You're right; it doesn't.”

I returned to the subject at hand. “So what happened here, Captain, um...?”

“Roberts. Sheila Roberts. A young lady was killed.”


The old woman repeated, “Manananggal!”

“What is she saying?” I asked.

“I don't speak her language,” said the captain.  “I don't even know what language it is.”

The young man said, “It's Tagalog. My grandmother doesn't speak English.”

I asked him, “What's that word she keeps saying?”

“It's nothing; she's hysterical. The dead girl was her granddaughter. And my cousin.”

“Oh! I'm terribly sorry. But your grandmother sounds awfully sure of herself. And you sure it's nothing?”

Captain Roberts said, “Yeah, he's sure. Now I need you to leave these folks alone. They just suffered a tragedy.” To the young man, “Why don't you take your grandmother home?”

He said something to the old woman in Tagalog and they left.

The captain told me, “Kolchak, I know you got a job to do, so go ahead and do it. But you impede my investigation and you're outta here.”

I walked to the alley where the dead woman lay. EMTs were lifting her onto a stretcher. I asked to get some pictures.

One EMT said, “I don't think you're going to want to print this.”

I saw what he meant. The victim's stomach had a hole maybe a quarter-inch wide. Blood covered, and had congealed, on her abdomen. I pulled out my camera and snapped away.

I asked the EMT, “What happened to her?”

“The fetus was taken from the womb.”

“Whaaat? How can that be? Look at the hole; it's too small.”

“I know, but that's still what happened. It's like the killer sucked the baby out with a straw.”

That was a mental image I did not need. “So, where's the fetus?”

“It's not here.”

“The killer took the fetus?”

“I don't know, sir. You'll have to ask the police.”

A fat lot of good that would do.

Wednesday morning, June 14th. I stopped in at the city morgue to see my old pal, Gordon Spangler, A/K/A Gordy the Ghoul. He stood near the wall of drawers with his supervisor, Dr. Carol Huizenga, a stern-looking heavyset woman of 60 whose humorless face was topped with a tight gray bun.

I said, “Oh, sorry. Didn't know you were busy.”

Dr. Huizenga said, “Are you Kolchak?”

“Um, yes.”

“Come in.”

I didn't like the sound of that.

“I was telling Mr. Spangler that it's both illegal and unethical to sell information on our decedents for personal gain.”

Gordy said, “And I was telling Dr. Huizenga, I couldn't agree more.”

“Well,” I said, “I wouldn't want to intrude on your meeting, so I'll just be on my way.”

Dr. Huizenga said, “Not so fast!”

I gulped.

“I was going to further advise Mr. Spangler that the law can be quite flexible, and that my personal ethics are on a sliding scale.”

My eyebrows raised. “Meaning…?”

“Meaning,” she said, “that if you cut me in, I'm willing to look the other way.”

Gordy and I each broke out in smiles. I said, “Dr. Huizenga, I think we'll get along just fine!”

“Very good,” she said. “I'll leave the two of you alone to discuss business. But remember: I expect an envelope every Friday. And, Mr. Spangler? If you get caught, it's your ass, not mine.”

“I understand fully,” said Gordy. Once she had left, “How about that?”

“Good news for us both. Now, about the young Filipino woman….”

“Just a moment.” Gordy held out his hand. “And now that I have a partner, I'll need to charge more.”

Instead of the usual $25, I pulled twice that much out of my wallet. I'd get it back from I.N.S. I just had to come up with something creative for my expense account.

Gordy pocketed the cash and opened the drawer with the decedent inside. As I got a closer look at the hole in her stomach, Gordy pulled Dalisay Parungao's file.

“The M.E. says she died of massive blood loss after a four-month-old fetus was taken from her womb. Judging from the size of the hole, it likely was done with a tube of some kind. And here's the best part: the wound contains traces of saliva, only half of which is human.”

“What's the other half?”

“He didn't know; couldn't match the DNA to any known database.”

Vincenzo would love that.

“Carl, this is not the assignment I gave you.”

I stood in front of Tony Vincenzo's desk.

“I know, but when I heard the call on my police radio, I just had to check it out.”

“Would you mind terribly if I decide who gets which stories around here? That's why my nameplate says Editor-in-Chief.”

“Tony, somebody—or something—killed that young woman and sucked out her unborn child!”

Vincenzo, taking a bite out of a danish, suddenly looked nauseous. “And what is this about the DNA being only half-human?”

“That's what the M.E.'s report said.”

“And where's the report, Carl? I haven't seen it.”

“That's because you're sitting on your butt, eating danishes, while I'm out gathering information!”

“How about gathering information on the story you're supposed to be writing? That is what we pay you for.” He crumpled up my story and put it in the trashcan.

“You know what, Vincenzo? You're not a newshound; you're a news mouse.”


65th Place, Queens, Wednesday, June 14th, 10:00 p.m. Tala Mendoza, 32, stood in the dimly-lit parking lot behind her building. She had just lit a cigarette. Pregnant with her fourth child, Tala had tried to cut back on her smoking, but without luck. She only hoped it would not affect her new baby any more than it had the first three. Mrs. Mendoza never got the chance to find out.

Though it still wasn't my assignment, I drove to Little Manila to cover the murder. I saw Captain Roberts, who rolled her eyes when she saw me approach her.

“Captain, who's the victim?”

“No comment.”

“Another pregnant woman?”

“No comment,” Roberts repeated.

“I'll take that as a yes.”

“I don't care how you take it. Just keep my name out of your damned paper.”

“It's a wire service, not a paper.”

“Like I give a shit.” She walked away.

I looked at Tala Mendoza's body. As with last night's victim, she had a quarter-inch hole in her stomach. I asked an EMT, “Is the fetus gone?”

“Looks that way.”

Whether or not Captain Roberts would admit it, Little Manila had a serial killer. This gave me a Herculean task: persuading a certain editor of that. But as fate would have it, I didn't need to.

69-10 Roosevelt Avenue, Queens, Thursday, June 15th, 11:00 p.m. Fritzie's Bake Shop specialized in traditional Filipino fare along with cakes, coffee and donuts. Once they had closed for the night, Jasmine Pilar, 19, stood out front and offered a service of her own--one she hoped would raise enough money to end her unplanned pregnancy. It ended a few minutes later, along with her young life.

Vincenzo called me himself. “You wanted to report on those dead pregnant women? The assignment is yours. Now get your ass to Woodside; there's another victim.”

“So, you finally admit it. I was right the whole time.”

“Just go!”

It was pure disarray. The dead woman lay on the sidewalk while police fired into the air and civilians ran for cover. I looked up and saw a winged figure soaring above the building. It looked like a huge bat but appeared to have human arms. The figure was gone before I could pull out my camera.

Captain Roberts ordered, “Cease firing! And get those civilians outta here.”

I noticed the old woman from two nights before. She stood with her grandson and screamed, “Manananggal! Manananggal!”

I approached them. “Hello. I believe we met the other night.”

“Yes,” the grandson replied. “You're the reporter.”

“Carl Kolchak. I never got your names.”

“Mauricio Balinton. My grandmother's name is Umpeylia.”

“Did you see what happened?”

The old woman grabbed my arm and repeated, “Manananggal!”

I asked Mauricio, “What is that word she keeps saying?”

Soothingly, he spoke Umpeylia in Tagalog, but the old woman was having none of it. “No!Manananggal!”

I felt a strong hand grip my shoulder: Captain Roberts.

“Kolchak, what have I told you about harassing my witnesses?”

“I'm not harassing! I'm asking questions. You know, like a reporter is supposed to do?”

“Yeah? Well, go ask your questions somewhere else. I need to talk to these people.”

I gave Mauricio a business card. “Call me when you get a chance?”

I made my way to the murder scene and overheard two officers talking.

“What the hell was that thing?”

“I just hope I never see it again!”

I approached them. “Excuse me? Carl Kolchak, Independent News Service. Did you get a look at the killer?”

The first one said, “Uhh…. No.”

The other added, “I didn't either.”

“I heard you say something about not wanting to see it again. What were you talking about?”

Officer #2 replied, “The Voice.”

I repeated, “The Voice?”

“Yeah, man. They have some  terrible singers on that show!”

And they walked away. The Blue Wall of Silence was up.

Friday, June 15th, 1:00 a.m. Corazon Bautista sat on the doctor's table as he bandaged her bleeding calf. He was one of those doctors who worked for cash and asked no questions. A friend of her agent's had put Corazon in touch with the doctor.

“You were lucky,” he told her in Tagalog. “The bullet only grazed you.”

“I don't feel very lucky. It stings like hell.”

“I've got a pill for that.”

“OK, good.”

The doctor worked fast. That was also good because Corazon had another stop to make before sunrise.

63rd Street, Woodside, Queens, 3:15 a.m. It took Umpeylia quite some time to get to sleep. She desperately needed someone to believe her before more pregnant women died; but even her own grandson wouldn't take her seriously. Not that she blamed him; he had never seen a Manananggal.But she had. It was sixty years ago and the old woman still had nightmares.

She awoke to breaking glass. Umpeylia sat up in bed and saw the winged figure hovering at her window. She felt the same mortal terror that had gripped her as a fifteen-year-old. Umpeylia screamed and reached for the pendant beneath her nightgown. As the intruder flew toward the bed, she saw the pendant and stopped. Her face a mask of malevolence, the killer glared at the medal and snarled in frustration. She turned around, flapped her wings furiously, and flew out the window.

Mauricio burst into the room and flicked on the light. He saw his terrified grandmother sitting up in bed, shaking violently and clutching her pendant. She pointed at the broken window and screamed, “Manananggal!” Mauricio ran to the window and saw a winged figure in the distance, silhouetted against the moon. He was too stunned to react.

When I got to the office that morning, the receptionist handed me a phone message. “He's already called three times. He really wants to talk to you.”

It was Mauricio Balinton. Sounding both frightened and exhausted, he asked if we could talk. I made a beeline for Little Manila.

A policeman stood guard outside the Balintons' apartment building. I recognized him from the murder scenes.

He sighed. “You again?”

“Me again.” I walked past him and took the elevator to the fourth and top floor. In the small apartment, Mauricio thanked me for coming while Umeyplia sat on the couch, wide-eyed and hyper-vigilant as she clutched her pendant. When I asked what was wrong, Mauricio replied, “Someone tried to kill my grandmother.”


“She knows who's killing those pregnant women. I called you as soon as the police left.”

“Did she tell them what she knows?”

“We tried, but they wouldn't listen. You might not either; it's an incredible story. I didn't believe it myself until I saw the killer in grandmother's bedroom.” He showed me the room and and its now boarded-up window. “She broke the window to get in.”

“But we're on the fourth floor. How did she get up here?”

A wary-looking Mauricio replied, “She flew.”


“Yes; the killer had wings.”

My mouth dropped open. “So, that's what I saw last night.”

“It was a Manananggal.”

The word Umpeylia kept saying.

We returned to the living room. Mauricio sat on the couch with Umpeylia while I took an armchair. I placed my hand-held cassette deck on the coffee table in front of them, hit “record,” and listened as Mauricio translated for his grandmother.

“I was born in a small remote village in the Philippines. (She pronounced it “Peel-a-peens.”) My parents, my sister Rosamie and I lived in a wooden hut that daddy built himself. Our village had no electricity, no indoor plumbing, and no running water. We were very poor and very religious.

“When I was little, my mother gave me this.” She held up her pendant. “It's called a Miracle Medal; it was blessed by Pope Pius XII. Mama told me it warded off evil spirits. Rosamie had one too, but she rarely wore it. If only she had….

“At nineteen, my sister got married and became pregnant a few months later. I was fifteen at the time. One night, the village was awakened by a piercing scream from Rosamie's hut. I saw my sister murdered by a Mananangaal.”

I cut in. “What is a Mananangaal?”

Umpeylia's reply: “A monster. It eats the fetuses of pregnant women.”


“During the day, a Manaanggal is a normal woman. But at night, she transforms. Her upper half separates from her legs and torso, her skin becomes red and scaly, she sprouts black wings, her eyes turn yellow, and her tongue becomes long, thin, hollow, and sharp. This allows her to pierce a pregnant victim and suck out the fetus.”

I hoped I didn't look as grossed out as I felt. “There must be plenty of pregnant women in the Philippines. Why would a Manananggal come to New York?”

“Her alter ego likely has business here. As to what business, I wouldn't know.”

“So, you don't know her human identity?”

Umpeylia looked apologetic. “I'm afraid not.”

“What happened to the Manaanggal that killed your sister?”

“The villagers destroyed her. We found her lower half and covered it with salt. That kept the Manananggal from reuniting with it and returning to human form. With our Miracle Medals, we held her at bay until the sun rose and the light killed her.

“Several years later, I married Mauricio's grandfather. We moved to Manila and started a family. Eventually, we came to New York. I've tried to put my encounter with the Manananggal behind me, but now….”

“There's one right here in your neighborhood.” Pausing, I asked, “So, how does one become a Manananggal? Are they born that way?”

“No. It lies dormant in the hostess until her 20th birthday.”

I shut off my tape recorder. We sat quietly until Mauricio broke the silence. “Mr. Kolchak, I can't help wondering why you're so quick to believe in theManananggal. Because of what you saw last night?”

I grinned humorlessly. “Among other reasons. One more question: does the Manananggal have superhuman strength? Is she impervious to, say, bullets or knives?”

Umpeylia said, “No. She has the same strength in both forms. A Manananggal can be shot, stabbed, burned, drowned…. She can be killed any way a human would. Your biggest danger is her tongue. She'll use it like a bayonet.”

The Philippines prides itself on being the only Christian country in all of Asia. Its predominant faith is Roman Catholicism. Unsurprisingly, the faith is well-represented in Little Manila. I took a short walk from the Balintons' building to a small store that sold religious items. The proprietor was a small, chubby, gray-haired man in his 50s. When I asked if he stocked Miracle Medals, the man chuckled and immediately produced one.

As I paid for it, I asked, “Do you sell many of these?”

He said, “They move briskly enough, especially in the last few days.”

“Because of the murders?”

“Exactly. It's terrible, what happened to those poor young women, but it's been great for business.”

Since I couldn't fly to Rome and ask the Pope to bless my pendant, I did the next best thing—I walked to the nearby Corpus Christi Church and had a priest do so. Father Khun Santos advised me that I was the 18th person this week whose Miracle Medal he had blessed.

My next stop: the Queens P.D. and the office of Detective Sheila Roberts.

“Before you say a word, Kolchak, I don't have anything new on the case.”

“Well, I do.”

“What do you mean, you do?”

“What if I told you, your serial killer was a flying monster from the Philippines?”

She gave me an “Aw, hell no” face. “Excuse me?”

“No, really! It all makes sense if you look at it the right way.” I somehow got Captiain Roberts to listen as I related the legend of the Manananggal. “So all you have to do is find the torso, cover it in salt, and let the sunrise kill her. You do that, and no more pregnant murder victims! What do you think?”

She shook her head. “Kolchak, I've heard some weird stories about you, but goddamn!”

I persisted, “Why have so many pregnant women bought Miracle Medals and had them blessed by a priest?”

“It's called superstition, Kolchak. Stevie Wonder sang about it when I was still in diapers. Now take your damned story about this monocle or monaural, or whatever the hell it's called, and get your crazy ass out of my office!”

As usual, it was up to me to allay a threat while the cops chased their tails. Back at the I.N.S., I wrote my story and walked it to Vincenzo's office.

“You know, Carl, we have e-mail. You don't always have to deliver your stories personally.”

“Oh, come on, Tony. How do you crumple up an e-mail? Go on, read it.”

It didn't take long for him to groan. “Another Kolchak special, huh? Winged monster, separates from its torso, kills pregnant women, eats their fetus…. Oh, this is good: cover the torso with salt so the two halves can't reunite. We are a news organization, Kolchak, not a publishing house for Stephen King wannabes!”

“I saw it, Tony! It was flying over the murder scene.”

He crumpled up the story. “Well, you're right about one thing: I couldn't do this to an e-mail. Now take this bat-woman story and put it in your belfry, where it belongs!”

As I stormed back to my desk, I passed by Sandy, our fashion editor.

“Hey, Carl: something bothering you?”

“Just the usual: an editor who can't see past the end of his nose.”

She smiled sympathetically. “What did Tony do now?”

I told her about the Little Manila story, though I left out the part about the Manananggal. Rather, I said, “There's reason to believe the killer is from the Philippines, but that's all I have to go on. Of course, Vincenzo told me that's not enough to print the story.”

“You know, Carl, there is somebody in town from Manila: Corazon Bautista.”

“Who's that?”

“Big-time fashion model in Southeast Asia. She's in New York for some photo shoots. I did a feature on her. But you're looking for a serial killer. There's no way it's Corey!”

“Do you know where she's staying?”

“With her uncle in Woodside.”

“Really?” I exclaimed. “Geez, you'd think a big-time fashion model would be at the Ritz Carlton or somewhere fancy.”

“Corey doesn't know English and feels more comfortable with people who speak her language. Plus, there's the cultural familiarity.”

I muttered, “Not to mention the snacks.”


“Uh…. Nothing. Thanks for the information.”

At my desk, I typed Ms. Bautista's name into Google. She was twenty-seven years old, six feet fall, and quite easy on the eyes. Her lustrous black hair hung down to her 24-inch waist. Her eyes were disturbingly dark, her cheeks warm, her nose Grecian, her lips alluring, her body svelte. She had picked the right career.

I logged on to the journalists' database to which I.N.S. had a subscription. A quick search of Southeast Asian news sources produced many instances of murdered pregnant women whose fetuses were removed. They were mostly in Manila, but there were other occurrences all over the region. A deeper search revealed the deaths had coincided with Ms. Bautista's travels.

The killings went back as far as seven years. What had Umpeylia Balinton told me? That a Manananggal lay dormant inside its hostess until her 20th birthday. And Corazon Bautista was twenty-seven.

The Queens White Pages taught me that Bautista was a common Filipino surname; there were many listed in Woodside. Rather than work the phones, I thought it best to pound the pavement. After all, Corazon was a celebrity in Southeast Asia. Surely her fame had spread to New York's Filipino enclave.

I assumed the guise of a reporter who had an interview scheduled with the model but lost her address. It wasn't long before I was knocking on the door of her uncle, Gian Bautista, who owned a brownstone on 66th Street. He was a short but tough-looking man with steely gray hair atop a stern, wrinkled face. I also noticed a Marine Corps tattoo on his upper right arm.

He eyed me suspiciously. “Yes?”

“Hi! Is Corazon here?”

“Who are you?”

I showed him my press credentials. “Carl Kolchak, Independent News Service. I have an interview scheduled with her.”

“She's in Manhattan.”

“Oh! Do you know when she'll be back?”

“No. And Corey said nothing to me about an interview.”

“Well, it was last-minute. I didn't schedule it. I was told to be here at, um….” I looked at my watch. “...four o'clock.”

He folded his taut, muscular arms over his barrel chest. “I think you're just another pervert trying to seduce my niece.”

“No sir, you've got me all wrong!” I made a sweeping motion up and down my torso. “Would I dress like this to seduce a woman?”

“I see your point, but Corey's not here.”

At least I knew where to find her.

8:30 p.m. I parked across the street from the brownstone. It was nearly sunset—time for Corazon Bautista to leave her torso and fly to dinner.

10:20 p.m. A ground-floor window opened and out flew a winged figure. My digital camera at the ready, I snapped some pictures. To my frustration, the Manananggal's image did not register. All I had was photos of the brownstone.

I knocked on Gian Bautista's door. He answered in a bathrobe.

“You again? You know, when I mentioned you to Corey, she said she never heard of you.”

“Well, you see….”

“Now you listen good: I have a gun, and I know how to use it. You come near my house again, you'll have a buttful of lead. Understand?”

Before I could answer, he closed the door in my face.

Friday, June 15th, 11:30 p.m. The Manananggal soared above the rooftops of Little Manila, seeking her latest victim. It came in the form of Mahalia Valderrama, a 25-year-old mother-to-be. She swept the popcorn-laden floor of the Filipino American Cultural Center, where she volunteered, after its monthly movie night. She heard a tapping on the window, whose blinds were drawn.

“We're closed,” she called from across the room.

The tapping persisted. Sighing, Mahalia propped the broom against a couch and opened the blinds. What she saw made her scream. She turned to run as the window shattered and the Manananggal flew in. Moments later, the victim was sprawled on the floor as the monster removed her tongue from the dead woman's womb, her appetite slaked.

I had moved the Yellow Submarine down the street from Gian Bautista's brownstone, where I hoped he wouldn't see me. I staked the place out until he shut the lights off just before midnight. I waited a half-hour to give him time to fall asleep. Then I parked in front of the house. I touched the Miracle Medal around my neck for reassurance, grabbed the sizable container of salt on my passenger's seat, and approached the brownstone.

The window from which Corazon had flown was unlocked. I climbed into her bedroom and tried not to yelp at the sight greeting me: the lower half of a woman lying on the bed. It was naked and ended at the waistline. I won't attempt to convey the smell. Let's just say, I was sorry I hadn't worn a gas mask. I popped the lid off my container and poured the salt onto the naked torso. I could do no more to stop the Manananggal. With any luck, I had done enough.

My plan was to be far away from Little Manila when Corazon returned. Unfortunately, that wasn't HER plan. As I neared the window, I distinctly heard the flapping of large wings. Panicked, I ducked into Corazon's private bathroom. I stood in the tub and closed the shower curtain.

Moments later, there was a hair-raising shriek. Corazon must have seen her salt-covered torso on the bed. There were thuds as she bounced off the walls and ceiling, followed by an eerie silence. I stood in the bathtub, clutching the Miracle Medal in my right hand and trying not to breathe. I sweated profusely and had to wipe it from my eyes.

I yelled in fright as the bathroom door flew open, followed by the shower curtain. TheManananggal was directly in front of me! Even in the dark, I could see the gleaming yellow of her eyes And I felt the diabolical heat of her foul breath. She snarled and was about to lunge at me when I held up the Miracle Medal. She stopped in mid-air.

Flashing back to my showdown with Janos Skorzeny, I stepped cautiously out of the tub, holding the medal at eye-level. The Manananggal slowly retreated from the bathroom in reverse as I took one careful step after another. I couldn't afford to trip and fall as I was wont to do in situations like this one.

We were back in the bedroom now, circling each other. I made my way to the window to keep the monster from escaping and taking more victims before the sunrise killed her.

“It's all over, Corazon,” I said. “You can't reunite with your torso. You are one dead Manananggal!”

Though she didn't speak English, the monster seemed to know what I was saying. I hoped I could keep her at bay until sunrise, but that was hours from now.

The bedroom door burst open. Gian Bautista entered, clad in pajamas and clutching a pistol in his right hand. He gasped loudly at the spectacle before him. The Manananggal, not caring that this man was her loving uncle, lunged at him. He aimed the gun and fired three times. Each bullet caught her squarely in the chest. She hit the floor with a nauseating splat, blood spraying from her wounds. Corazon flopped around like a dying fish, her black wings slapping the floor with ebbing intensity.

Gian flicked on the lights. We both stared, mortified, at this abomination of his beautiful niece. She gaped up at him, her reptilian eyes appearing to beg for death. He knelt down next to her head, placed the gun against her right temple, and fired. The monster's head exploded. What remained of her upper half twitched for several moments before it finally ceased to move.

The authorities quickly concocted an alternate version of events regarding the death of Corazon Bautista: seems the poor thing was drug-addicted and died of an overdose. Just another casualty of the opioid epidemic.

I returned to Little Manila one last time—to personally deliver the news to the Balintons that the Manananggal was no longer a threat. Though I've years of writing experience, I cannot find the words to properly describe the relief on their faces.

Corzaon was mourned in both Southeast Asia and Little Manila, but only by those who did not know the facts. We who did were just glad that the pregnant women of Woodside, Queens, were again safe to carry their babies to term.
MANANANGGAL (2018) image
(Cover art by Karl Lundstedt)

“What goes around, comes around.” I've heard that expression as far back as I can remember. But thanks to an 83-year-old South African immigrant, it recently took on a whole new dimension.

Monday, November 13th, 7:40 p.m.  The David N. Dinkins Building at One Center Street housed the offices of Manhattan Borough President Lawrence A. Farkus. His staff had gone home for the day, but Farkus remained at his desk, where he often sat until 9:00 p.m. Managing an island of 1.75 million people was a lot of work.

Farkus was on the phone with the deputy mayor when a deafening clap of thunder boomed over the city. Farkus shouted, “Whoa,” and nearly jumped out of his chair. “Did you hear that?”

“Oh, I heard it, all right,” said the deputy mayor. “How could I not?”

As the tsunami-like rain pounded against his office window, Farkus remarked, “Looks like our dry spell is finally over.”

Those were his dying words, unless you count the scream that followed.

The deputy mayor exclaimed, “Larry? You there? What's wrong?” When there was no response, he called 911.

The Borough President was not the only New Yorker who routinely stayed late at the office. Your Humble Reporter does, too. I was working against a deadline when my rotund editor, Tony Vincenzo, approached me.

“Hey, Carl?”

“I'm revising it now, Tony. Give me about twenty minutes.”

“That can wait; Farkus is dead.”

“Really? He just aced his yearly physical. How the hell did he die?”

An exasperated Vincenzo replied, “I don't know, Carl. That's why I'm sending you to his office—to find out how the hell he died! Do I have to tell you everything?”

The hard part was finding a parking space. One Center Street looked like a dumping ground for police cruisers. Nor did the three ambulances help. But I finally parked my car (illegally) and was waved through the police checkpoint. I took the elevator to the Borough President's suite.

To my relief, the lead investigator was one of my few allies at the N.Y.P.D.  A luscious blonde of 39 who stood over six feet tall, Detective Heather Fontayne had been with me during a pair of particularly weird episodes. So she knew that my stories were not the result of untreated psychosis, to quote a police shrink.

“Hey, Kolchak!” It sounded like she was vaguely glad to see me. “How you doin'?”

“Better than Farkus, from what I'm told.” I sniffed the air. “Did he have porkchops for dinner?”

“You mean, the smell? That's Farkus.”

My eyebrows went skyward. “What happened to him?”

“Come on, I'll show you.”

She led me into the Borough President's office. The corpse had not been touched. Farkus was in his fancy leather chair, holding what had been a phone receiver. Now it was a blob of melted red plastic. Not that Farkus himself was in better shape. What smelled like pork was the charred remains of the Borough President. I also noticed a hole, about the width of my forearm, in the center of his picture window.

I turned to Fontayne. “He burned to death?”

She threw her hands up. “Your guess is as good as mine. And please don't quote me on that.”

Once the body had been shipped off to the City Morgue and the M.E. had performed an autopsy, I dropped in on my favorite morgue attendant—Gordon Spangler, affectionately nicknamed “Gordy the Ghoul.” No sooner had I walked in then he said, “Let me guess: Farkus.”

“What else would bring me out on such a lousy night?” I removed my hat to shake off the excess rainwater.

“It's really coming down out there, huh?”

“It's miserable.” I pulled out my wallet and handed Gordy his standard fee, plus a gratuity for his boss, Dr. Carol Huizenga. When he first landed in New York, Gordy was skittish about supplying me with information as doing so had gotten him fired in Chicago. However, he recently learned that Dr. Huizenga shared our taste for the mercenary. As long as she received her weekly cut, she would look the other way when Gordy, shall we say, moonlighted. This was good in that we no longer had to operate clandestinely, but not so good in that I now had to pay twice as much as before. And I was running out of clever ways to sneak those payments onto my expense account.

“I've already seen the stiff,” I said. “Just tell me what killed him.”


I did a double-take. “Lightning?”

“Mm-hmm. He was electrocuted.”

“In his 40th-floor office? How is that possible?”

“Carl, you wouldn't believe what I see on this job. Why, just last week, we had a woman who died of internal bleeding. She tried to use a wine bottle as a….”

“Never mind!”

Back at the office, I called the National Weather Service and spoke to meteorologist Janet Vogel. She told me that indoor lightning strikes were rare but known to occur. Ms. Vogel named three occasions during the last seven years when people inside a building had been struck by lightning. Like Farkus, all three were using a phone. But unlike Farkus, none of them died.

As Vincenzo read my story, he looked quizzical. “Struck by lightning?”

“I got it straight from the M.E.'s report, not to mention the meteorologist I spoke to. It's freaky, but it happens.”

“So, the lighting punched a hole in his window and got Farkus at his desk?”

“That's how it looks, Tony.”

“Well, it's weird, but at least it's believable. That's more than I can say for a lot of your stories. I'm just glad you didn't say the Loch Ness Monster was to blame.”

“I'll save it for next time.”

He handed me back the story. “All right, Carl, put this on the wire.”

Tuesday, November 14th, 8:00 p.m.  Julian McMichael, 36, was founder and president of the McMichael Group, one of New York's biggest real estate developers. The Wall Street Journal called him “The Boy Tycoon.” McMichael's specialty was buying apartment buildings and converting them to $3 million condominium units. The thousands of people he had put out of their homes never entered his mind. On the rare occasion he was questioned about it, McMichael shrugged and replied, “In this life, bloodshed is inevitable.”

He was right, of course. And on this night, Julian McMichael shed his own blood. Outside of some old college pals and a few business associates, nobody mourned him.

McMichael had died while his car sat at a red light. When I arrived at the scene, I saw Fontayne interviewing a Latino woman in her 20s. She was saying, “This lightning bolt just came outta nowhere and struck the dude through his windshield! I never saw anything like it.”

“OK, thanks.” Fontayne closed her notebook and finally took notice of me. “I assume you heard that?”

“Uh-huh. Another lightning strike.”

“Yup. And three other witnesses corroborate her story.”

I looked up at the sky. The moon shined brightly, the stars twinkled, and there wasn't a cloud to be seen.

At the office, I got back on the horn to meteorologist Vogel. She told me, “Cloud-to-ground lightning bolts are common. About 100 of them occur every second.”

“But the sky is cloudless tonight.”

“Let me check something.” She put me on hold for about 30 seconds. “I was looking to see if there were any thunderstorms in your region tonight. You see, a lightning bolt can travel up to 25 miles. But I'm not seeing anything. The entire Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions are dry as a bone.”

“Does lightning always come from a thunderstorm?”

“No, it has other sources. You can see lightning in a volcanic eruption, a really intense forest fire, a heavy snowstorm, a hurricane, or a surface nuclear detonation.”

“None of which have occurred in New York tonight,” I pointed out. “So, where did that lightning come from?”

“Mr. Kolchak, I'm damned if I know. There are some things that science just can't explain.”

“Oh, I'm aware of that.”

Vincenzo, at his desk, looked up from my copy and gaped at me. “Another one?”

“Another one.”

“And your meteorologist friend has no explanation?”


He shook his head. “What the hell is going in this town?”

I shrugged.

“Really? You haven't concocted one of your infamous theories to explain this?”

“Not yet.”

“Maybe there's hope for you after all! Here, put it on the wire.”

Wednesday, November 15th, 10:00 a.m.  In a change of pace, I was covering a protest demonstration at the courthouse on Center Street—not far from where Larry Farkus had been killed. A lawsuit was filed by the Human Rights Coalition on behalf of the tenants of Manhattanville Arms, a 90-year-old apartment building at Amsterdam Avenue and West 133rd Street. The building had been sold and was slated for renovation—or should I say, gentrification. Many of its 500+ residents were elderly and had lived there for decades. The Times had just run a feature on the Arms, which included quotes from its mainly African-American tenants. I'm not what you'd call sentimental, but some of what they said nearly had me in tears.

The rally was loud but peaceful as the elderly residents, some in wheelchairs, held signs and rhythmically chanted their dissatisfaction with being evicted. As a journalist, I need to remain objective when reporting a story, but it was hard to do; a lot of these people weren't more than a decade older than I was.

A young woman stood on the courthouse steps, holding a microphone plugged into a portable amplifier. She was about 25 with short reddish hair and black plastic glasses. She wore bluejeans and a heavy jacket. Her breath was visible as she said, “He calls himself the People's Mayor, but he supports the Manhattanville Project. Which people do you support, Mr. Mayor? Certainly not Harlem's elderly!”

The crowd cheered as I took photos. A limousine escorted by motorcycle cops pulled up in front of the courthouse. Out stepped Attorney Charles Moffett, representing the defendant. A phalanx of police cleared a path for him as a mob of reporters rushed to question the $900-an-hour lawyer, who said nothing as he walked stoically toward the courthouse steps.

Over the cacophony, I heard the discordant call of a bird. I looked up and saw something hundreds of feet in the air. It looked avian, but that was all I could make out. I pointed my camera upward and took some pictures.

It swooped down and circled the crowd, who took notice of the beast with a collective gasp. The bird was black and about the size of an adult human. I took more photos as its call became louder and more painful to endure. A number of demonstrators, along with Attorney Moffett, covered their ears. Police drew their guns and aimed at the bird, which continued to circle at a height of about 30 feet.

The next thing we knew, the bird extended its legs and shot lightning from its talons! The twin bolts merged and hit Charles Moffett squarely in the chest. Demonstrators screamed, ran away, or hit the ground as police fired at the creature. I stayed on my feet and took one picture after another.

As quickly as it began, the lightning stopped and the bird flew from sight. Attorney Moffett lay on the courthouse steps, burnt to a crisp and giving off tendrils of smoke. The Fire Department arrived moments later, along with additional cops. I left before they could take my camera.

Vincenzo groaned as he read my story. “I should have known it was too good to last. A lightning bird, Carl?”

“I saw it, Tony, and so did 100 other people! I have pictures, too.” I pulled out my digital camera and showed him.

His eyebrows knitted as he scrolled through the photos. “What kind of a bird makes lightning?”

“Not a clue.”

“You say this thing was human-sized?”

“Biggest bird I ever saw. And the scariest.”

Vincenzo expelled his breath through puffed cheeks. “Let me think about it.”

“What is this 'think about it?' That's news, for Christ's sake!”

“I said I would think about it. Now go!”

“Go,” I murmured as I left his office. “All the time, go. How about you go, Vincenzo? Straight to hell!”

At my desk, I got on-line and tried to match my pictures with existing bird types. However, that bird looked like nothing the Internet ever saw. I found a chatroom for ornithologists and asked if any birds produced lightning. The median response was “LOL.”

I looked up information on the victims. They all had one thing in common: the Manhattanville Project. Lawrence Farkus had persuaded the mayor to go to bat for it, the McMichael Group had bought the building, and Charles Moffett was the Group's lead attorney. This electric avian was taking out those looking to gentrify the Manhattanville Arms. Did that mean the mayor himself was a target?

As I pondered this, my desk phone buzzed. “Yes?”

It was Vincenzo. “Carl, I need you in my office. And bring your camera.”

“Oh, this can't be good.”

“Please, just get in here.”

As I entered Tony's office, two men were with him. One I recognized as the Police Commissioner.

“Carl, you know Commissioner Galloway.”

“Oh, I know him, all right.”

Tony motioned to the other man. “And this is Bobby Lester of the mayor's office.”

“Mr. Kolchak.” Lester offered his hand, which I reluctantly shook. His grip was weak and clammy. It made me want to recoil in disgust.

I took a deep breath. “So, what's going on?”

“Carl, I'm going to need your camera.”

“My camera?”

Lester explained, “Mr. Kolchak, you took some pictures that we can't allow the public to see.”

“Allow? Since when does the mayor's office tell a news organization what to report?”

The commissioner replied, “Since we have the power to deny you access to the N.Y.P.D. and the mayor's office. Try reporting the news without that!”

“Now, Dicey.” The unctuously outgoing Lester called Galloway by his nickname.  Rarely had one been so fitting. “We hope it won't come to that. Don't we, Mr. Vincenzo?”

“Of course, course.” Tony turned to me and assumed a soothing tone. “Carl, I wasn't sold on your story anyway.”

But I wasn't listening. Instead, I told Lester, “Listen, that bird has killed three of the big mucky-mucks of the Manhattanville Project. It doesn't want that building gentrified.”

“Please, Mr. Kolchak,” said Lester. “We don't say 'gentrify.' We prefer to call it 'urban renewal'.”

“You're putting 500 elderly people out of their homes! How is that urban renewal? Do you even know how full of shit you are?”

“Kolchak!” said Tony. “Show some respect.”

“For this guy? He's a weasel! And the same goes for you, Galloway.”

The commissioner's eyes narrowed, but he said nothing: a first for that big-mouth.

I told Lester, “I think that bird's going to target the mayor. You better get him out of town until this thing blows over.”

Lester's jaw dropped. “Why do you think that?”

“Because the mayor supports the Manhattanville Project! I don't know why, but that bird has a grudge against it.”

Galloway spoke up. “Vincenzo, I don't want to see a word about these deaths being caused by a lightning bird. Do you understand me?”

“Of course, Commissioner, of course. There's nothing to worry about.”

“Thank you. Now before I leave: Kolchak, I want to personally witness you deleting those pictures from your camera.”

Burning with resentment, I did so.

“Good,” said Galloway. “Now, did you download those pictures anywhere?”


“I don't believe you.” To Vincenzo, “I want to see Kolchak's computer.”

At my desk, Galloway sat in my chair and snooped around on my P.C. He found nothing.

“I told you I didn't download them.”

“All right; looks like the pictures are gone. Let's get out of here, Bobby.” Galloway looked directly at me. “I don't like the smell.”

I shot back, “Try Right Guard, you Nazi prick.”

Vincenzo said, “Kolchak, please.”

“Please, nothing! They've suppressed the goddamned news, and you let them do it!”

As he walked away, Tony asked no one in particular, “Why didn't I take early retirement?”

Needing to cool off, I drove uptown to the Manhattanville Arms. It was a 30-story brick building whose best days had predated the Johnson White House. Next to it stood an abandoned factory that looked like something out of Dresden after the Allies had bombed it. I walked through the main entrance to the Arms, a revolving door that led to a spacious (if grungy) lobby. Beyond it was a metal door opening into a cavernous dayroom. If the McMichael Group had its way, this would all soon be a Whole Foods.

A couple of dozen tenants sat on couches and around tables, playing cards, watching TV, or talking. Not one looked a day under 65. On the wall nearest me, in a poster-sized frame, was the New York Times piece on the building. I skimmed it and saw that a few people whose photos accompanied the article were currently in the dayroom. The quote that really jumped out at me was from Lubanzi Naidu, an 83-year-old immigrant from South Africa. Naidu and his parents had emigrated to New York when he was sixteen. He spent 48 years working for the City as a subway mechanic and was a 56-year tenant of the Manhattanville Arms. Understandably, he was unhappy about being gentrified out of his long-time abode.

To quote the Times piece, “Naidu gazes into the distance, his dark eyes flush with anger. 'These men care more about money than they do about people,' he says. 'The day will come when they pay for their evil deeds'.”

Someone tapped my shoulder. It was the young red-haired woman who had spoken at the rally.

“Hi,” she said. “Lillian Leach with the Human Rights Coalition. Aren't you a reporter?”

“Yes! Carl Kolchak, Independent News Service. I was looking for some information on the Manhattanville Project.”

She looked at me askance. “Pro-corporate or pro-tenant?”

“I don't want to see these people kicked out of their homes, if that's what you mean.”

Lillian smiled. “Well, you don't sound like a money-grubbing scumbag. Let's talk.”

We sat at a table in the far corner. I pulled out my digital recorder, which had replaced my old hand-held tape deck. After more years than I could recall, it finally died on me.

I asked, “Is it OK if I record you?”


“Any thoughts on the death of Charles Moffett?”

“Oh, god,” Lillian exclaimed. “Did you see that yesterday?”

“I was there.”

“What the hell was that thing? Some kind of bird?”

“That's what it looked like to me.”

She shook her head in disbelief. “It just swooped out of the sky and zapped him! I'm still trying to wrap my head around it. And why wasn't there anything on the news?”

I didn't reply to that. “So, I take it your people had nothing to do with Farkus, McMichael, or Moffett dying?”

“No! We're a human-rights organization. We solve problems legally, not violently. And whoever's doing this, I hope they stop. It makes our movement look bad!”

Back in the lobby, I checked the tenants' directory and found a unit number for Lubanzi Naidu. I took the elevator to the 27th floor and rang his bell. It was some time before the door opened. Mr. Naidu was a frail-looking man with wisps of gray hair that dotted his otherwise bald pate. His forward-leaning posture suggested back problems. He wore navy blue bedroom slippers, the same color slacks, and a kelly green sweater. I introduced myself and lied that I was writing a piece on the Manhattanville Project. He smiled and invited me in. I walked patiently behind Mr. Naidu as he led me into the living room and motioned to a table. I took a seat and waited for Naidu to follow suit.

The wall dividing the living room and kitchen was only about five feet tall. Sitting on top of it were framed pictures of a younger Naidu with his wife and children, and old knickknacks that looked African. On the living room wall was a flag of red, white, blue, green, black and yellow: the flag of South Africa. Also on the wall was artwork that I presumed was by African painters. One struck me in particular: a black bird encased in lightning. The creature seemed to control it.

I pointed out the painting. “That's an intriguing work. Did you paint it?”

Naidu laughed. “Oh, no. My father brought it from Cape Town when we came to America. I inherited the painting when he died some 30 years ago.”

“Does the bird signify something?”

“That is the Impundulu.”

“The Impo…. What's that again?”

“Impundulu,” he repeated, enunciating each syllable. “The Lightning Bird—a magical creature the Sangomas of my tribe pass down from father to son.”

“I'm sorry. Sangomas?”

“You'd know them as witch doctors. The Impundulu carries out the wishes of the one who owns it.”


He laughed again. “I wish! It's a mythical being, Mr. Kolchak.”

“Well, I'd really like to know how Larry Farkus, Julian McMichael, and Charles Moffett all died of lightning strikes?”

His eyes narrowed. “Why are you really here?”

“I told you, I'm writing a piece on the Manhattanville Project. I wanted to get a tenant's point of view.”

“And you came to the 27th floor with plenty of people in the dayroom? Why would you do that?”

“Well,” I said, thinking quickly, “I saw the Times piece and remembered your quote, that the day would come when they'd pay for their evil deeds. You intrigued me, so I sought you out.”

Pausing, Naidu said, “It's time for my nap. You'd better leave.”

Something told me to stake the building out. So I sat in my car and kept a close watch on the Manhattanville Arms. Sure enough, not twenty minutes later, Lubanzi Naidu exited the building. He only walked as far as the abandoned factory next door. I got out of the Yellow Submarine and followed him in.

The place was every bit as decrepit as you'd expect. There was dust everywhere, but that allowed me to to follow Naidu's footprints to the basement. I could see him at the far end of the long hallway, opening a door and walking through. I gave Naidu a minute before cautiously opening the door myself.

It was a boiler room, about twenty by twenty feet. Naidu was in front of the boiler, setting up what looked like an altar. He was dressed in what I later learned was the traditional garb of a Sangoma. This included white make-up that covered the old man's face. I hid behind a stanchion and watched as he lit a fire in a large metal bowl and added ingredients to the flames. He chanted in Xhosa, clicking his consonants. The only word I understood was “Impundulu.”

Naidu picked up an 18th-century styled quill, which he dipped in an inkwell. He scrawled something onto parchment that looked as old and brittle as a 78 RPM. Naidu held it in both hands above his head, which allowed me to see what he had written: “CARL KOLCHAK.”

I suppressed a gasp. Lubanzi Naidu was sending his lightning bird after me! That's what I get for asking too many questions.

He dropped the parchment into the flames. As it burned, the boiler came to life. It shook violently, followed by a cacophonous bird call. As Naidu's chanting increased in ferocity, the boiler's door opened and out flew the Impundulu. It circled the room twice, cawing ferociously, and disappeared up the chimney flue. I exited the boiler room and ran for the stairs before Naidu could see me.

In a panic, I hopped onto the Henry Hudson, which I took to I-95 Northbound out of the city. In Connecticut, I turned onto the Merritt Parkway and followed it until the expressway ended. It was now called the Berlin Turnpike. Exhausted, I got a room at the Days Inn and hoped the Lightning Bird wouldn't find me.

No sooner had I slipped off my shoes and socks then my cell phone rang. Naturally, it was Vincenzo.

“Carl, where the hell are you?”

“Berlin, Connecticut—two hours from the city.”

“What are you doing up there?”

“Trying to stay alive.” I relayed the events of earlier.

“But if this Lightning Bird kills people involved with the Manhattanville Project, why did this witch doctor send it after you?”

“I was asking questions that made him uncomfortable.”

Vincenzo assumed his fatherly voice. “Carl, come back to the city. We'll work this out together.”

“No, thank you!”

Using my phone, I got on-line and looked up “Impundulu.” I read several pieces, all of which agreed that the Lightning Bird had but one weakness: fire. Ironically, I would have to burn it to death. All I needed was a source of fire, one that didn't require me to be close to the Impundulu.

“Do I know where you can get a flamethrower?”

“Yes, a flamethrower.”

Detective Fontayne exhaled into her phone. “Should I ask why you need one?”

I explained about the Lightning Bird.

“Good Christ, Carl! How do you get into these situations?”

“If I ever find out, I'll let you know. So, how about it? Can you steer me in the right direction?”

Pausing, Fontayne replied, “I'll look into it.”

I decided to take a nap. My phone woke me up 90 minutes later. It was Fontayne.

“You're in luck,” she said. “A uni who owes me favor happens to own a flamethrower.” (“Uni” was cop talk for a uniformed officer.)

“He owns one? But aren't they illegal?”

“Not in New York. And before you ask: I don't know why he has one, and I don't want to know. But he's going to loan it to me. We're meeting at his house at nine o'clock.”

I set my phone's alarm for 6:00 p.m. That would give me plenty of time to return to the city. Now to get back to sleep….

8:30 p.m. I crossed the city line into the Bronx and nervously searched the sky for the Lightning Bird. So far, so good.

9:30 p.m. Fontayne met me at the I.N.S. office and gave me the flamethrower. I hadn't seen one since my Army days and was surprised at how lightweight and compact it was. I had assumed I'd be strapping an olive drab tank onto my back, but no. This wonder of modern technology was the size and shape of a rifle. And for some reason, it was colored white.

Fontayne said, “Where do you plan to look for this Lightning Bird?”

“I'd say the factory is a good place to start.”

“I'm coming with you.”

“That's not necessary! It's my battle.”

“And it's my murder case!”

“If I need you, I'll call your cell.”

Reluctantly, Fontayne agreed.

At the factory, I held the flamethrower in one hand and a flashlight in the other. I took the basement stairs to the boiler room. It was dark and empty. I shined the light around and saw nothing but the altar in front of the boiler. Tendrils of smoke rose from the silver bowl. Clearly, Lubanzi Naidu had used the altar again—after he sent his bird to kill me.

Sweating profusely, I opened the door to the boiler; it was empty. Naidu had indeed dispatched the Impundulu. But who was the target?

I noticed a fragment of burned parchment in the silver bowl. A partial name was legible: the mayor's. My guess had been right. I pulled out my phone to call Fontayne, but there was no cell service in that damned basement. I hauled ass up the stairs and tried again. This time, I got through. Frantically, I told her that the Lightning Bird was coming for the mayor.

“I'm on it,” Fontayne said and quickly hung up.

Since it was late at night, I took a guess that His Honor was at home. I floored the Yellow Submarine and headed to Gracie Mansion. The four-mile drive to Yorktown seemed to take forever. By the time I got there, the cops had already arrived. I heard the cawing of a bird and saw the Impundulu circling the spacious front lawn as a dozen or more cops fired on it.

“That won't do any good,” I tried to tell them, but between the birdcalls and the gunfire, no one heard me. Not that they would have listened anyway.

The bird extended its legs and shot lightning at the cops. The twin bolts nearly took out two officers, causing Fontayne to scream, “Retreat!” I fired up the flamethrower and aimed at the Impundulu. The bird turned its head in my direction and seemed to recognize me as the target that got away. As it flew toward me, I pulled the trigger.

Nothing happened. I yelped and jumped out of the path of an oncoming lightning bolt. It hit the grass not four feet away from me.

Fontayne yelled, “Dammit, Carl, use the flamethrower!”

“I'm trying!” I gave the trigger another pull. This time it worked.

The bird flew up to the mansion's roof, emitting its ear-splitting call. I aimed the flamethrower straight up and fired, hoping to get its attention. “Come and get me, you son of a bitch!” It flapped its wings and came at me kamikaze-style. Before the bird had a second chance to zap me with its payload, I fired. The flames hit the Impundulu's mid-section, causing it to shriek in agony. It hit the ground and slid several feet.

The police advanced on it. I shouted, “No! Keep away,” but it was too late. The Impundulu was injured but still powerful. It shot lightning from a talon, just missing a uni. The other cops shot at the bird, but their bullets couldn't harm it. I bombarded the creature with fire, causing it to flail about with an earth-shattering scream. I kept my aim steady, continuing the fiery onslaught until the Impundulu stirred no more.

While the patrolmen cautiously approached the dead bird, Fontayne walked up to me. She gave me a hug and kissed my cheek. “Nice job, Carl.”

Once the threat was neutralized, Fontayne escorted me into Gracie Mansion to meet the mayor. He sat in the living room wearing pajamas and a bathrobe. A bodyguard stood behind the couch while the obsequious Bobby Lester sat with him.

The mayor stood up and vigorously shook my hand. “Mr. Kolchak, I can't thank you enough! You put yourself at risk to save my life. How can I possibly repay you?”

“You can let me print my story.”

Before His Honor could respond, Lester intervened. “We can't do that, Mr. Kolchak! If the public found out that monsters really exist….”

I cut him off.  “…they might be prepared if a monster attacked them. God forbid! I should have known better than to even ask.”

The mayor looked ashamed. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

I thought for a moment. “Actually, yes.”

After the fracas at Gracie Mansion, Fontayne drove uptown to question Lubanzi Naidu. However, he did not answer his bell. When the superintendent let the detective in, she found Mr. Naidu dead on the floor. Oddly enough, his painting of the Impundulu had disintegrated. A pile of dust lay beneath the now-empty frame.

To my surprise, the mayor honored my alternate wish—the Manhattanville Project was canceled. Those old people no longer have to dread being evicted from their homes.

My story on the Lightning Bird never made the news, but a related story did. Due to facts I dug up, the McMichael Group is now under investigation by the Manhattan D.A.'s office. It seems their business practices were something short of ethical. If you'll pardon the expression, what a shock.
The Encyclopedia of American Loons is a real blog ( Just for laughs, I wrote a satiric entry about Carl:

At one time, Karel “Carl” Kolchak was a rising star in the now-moribund field of print journalism. He routinely exposed political and corporate corruption, though his highly abrasive personality kept him from reaching the big time.

Kolchak's descent into lunacy began in Las Vegas, where he was a reporter for a second-rate paper that no longer exists. While covering an admittedly bizarre series of murders (in which the victims were drained of their blood), Kolchak somehow convinced himself that the killer, Janos Skorzeny, was a vampire. He doggedly insisted that police arm themselves with crosses, mallets and wooden stakes, and that they drive a stake through Skorzeny's heart. When police killed Skorzeny in a shootout, Kolchak screamed “cover-up” and lost his job.

A year later, he turned up in Seattle, where his old editor from Las Vegas, Tony Vincenzo, inexplicably rehired him. This time, the clearly delusional Kolchak tried (and failed) to convince police that a serial killer stalking Pioneer Square was Dr. Richard Malcolm, a Civil War-era physician who had developed an elixir that unnaturally prolonged his life. However (per Kolchak), the elixir was only good for 21 years, at which point Malcolm needed to make another batch. The primary ingredient (of course) was the blood of freshly killed women. Unsurprisingly, his second descent into paranoia got Kolchak booted from the newspaper.

He next turned up in Chicago, working again for Tony Vincenzo (who must have had a severe masochistic streak), this time at a shoestring operation called the Independent News Service. During his time in the Windy City, Kolchak suffered from one psychotic episode after another. Among the beings he claimed to encounter: a second vampire, a werewolf, a zombie, invisible space aliens, a shape-shifting Native American medicine man, a politician who had literally sold his soul to the Devil, a homicidal android, a prehistoric ape man, a giant erect-walking lizard, a Louisiana swamp monster, and even Helen of Troy. Kolchak's reign of error frequently incurred the wrath of the Chicago P.D., who regarded the so-called reporter (and rightly so) as a demented pain in the ass.

After I.N.S. wisely fired him, Kolchak flew under the radar for some years, but resurfaced with the rise of the Internet and its embrace of pseudo-scientific bullshit. The ex-reporter has a substantial on-line following that has led to magazine and TV interviews regarding his ostensible experiences with the paranormal. At this writing, there is even a book deal in the works.

DIAGNOSIS: Dangerously unhinged and determined to convince people that his claims are not merely the result of untreated psychosis. At one time, we could have written Kolchak off as a harmless kook. But he is now a social media sensation who was recently named one of the 50 Most Influential People on the Internet. That makes him a serious threat to logic, reason, and just plain sanity.
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