Mindy looked at her cell phone absentmindedly, her attention being constantly distracted by the dozens of monster masks displayed across from the counter she was leaning on. The masks were of the vintage variety: Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and others she did not recognize. Mindy knew they hadn’t sold a single one since she started working there, but Doug liked to have them staring at him when he was in his store. Doug was a man with the resources to create whatever environment he chose to inhabit—no matter how strange—and was not afraid to do so. He was an overgrown child, Mindy couldn’t help thinking, wasting money that could have gone to more worthwhile goals. Still, it was people like him who made the world a little more colorful. As far as Mindy knew, Doug didn’t spend his wealth on scholarships for poor children or other charitable deeds. But every child that walked into his store—whether or not they had a cent to spend—was treated to the elaborate displays that had to cost far more money than they brought in.
And flock to the store kids did, always looking for a little amusement. At least in the summer months. This was the Wisconsin Dells, Water Park Capital of the World! But while there were plenty of indoor water parks and other sources of amusement available in November, there hadn’t been a customer for the better part of an hour now. Mindy was needed here—that’s what Doug said—but she couldn’t help thinking she could have gone with Johnny and Dave. She really wasn’t sure of Doug’s priorities, but in the final analysis Doug was the one who signed the checks. Dave and Mindy could work there or quit (which was a possibility never far from her mind), those were the options. And, for now at least, staying seemed the path of least resistance. While Doug was resistant to questioning, there was still the chance of learning a little more from him or one of the others. Presumably that’s what Dave was doing now as he travelled to…what was the name of that town again? Manitowic?
Of course although there was no large throngs of vacationers, there was other business to tend to. Doug’s business went beyond the little store selling cheap tricks to tourists. Doug knew all the important players in performing and collecting magic. He was always on the lookout for rarities and investment opportunities. And so Mindy minded the store.
She stared at her phone while thoughtlessly rolling a coin across her knuckles. It was a skill magicians prided themselves on, something that demonstrated their manual dexterity. She could always do it more smoothly than Dave and it had always annoyed him. There wasn’t much that provoked annoyance in him, but he took magic very seriously and was competitive when it came to skills related to the trade. So Mindy had kept in constant practice in order to have that thorn to press in his side whenever he got to feeling too smart for his own good.
She resisted the urge to text him, didn’t want him to know she worried about him. He was with Johnny, who knew a hell of a lot more than she did concerning such matters as they were now caught up in, but she was not one to delegate tasks when the safety of loved ones was concerned.
She was stuck somewhere between wanting to contact Dave and not wanting to lay bare her concern when she was startled by the opening of the door. She turned to face it and saw Izzy, the man who had introduced her and Dave into what lay beyond The Beyond Show. They had shared a frightening adventure, trying to prevent a replay of a mass suicide that had occurred some thirty years before. And while Izzy accompanied them on their quest, he did not reveal he accompanied them at the request of Doug, did not reveal that he had orders to keep an eye on them. He was a spinner of stories, weaving the most absurd plots and passing them off as truths.
And yet she liked him. At least part of her did. There was some truth to him that transcended her normal criteria, got him past her barriers that kept many others out.
Izzy was a middle-aged man of Native American ancestry, though of what tribe Mindy never got around to discovering. There was a lot that Izzy was never really clear about, a lot of things unspoken despite the fact that he was never at a loss for words. For Izzy, it was always about stories and the details didn’t matter much. There are bigger facts than the truth, she’d heard him say. To trust Izzy, you had to believe the stories he told, had to want to believe them. Or at least you had to find meaning in them. And Mindy did. Well, more or less. Maybe. She wasn’t really sure. But it felt good to believe him, felt good to think that every unanswerable question in life could be explained with a story.
But if it felt good to go along with his stories, she would never let him know that. There were still too many answers her intellect required regarding him. And the others as well. Still, it was good to see him again, good to get her mind off of worrying about Dave or at least have someone to talk to about it. Putting aside whatever instinctual urge she had to be combative, she said “Where have you been?”
“Didn’t Doug tell you? I’ve been on an important mission for him.” He was carrying what appeared to be two hat boxes and lifted them up for her to see. Setting them on the glass counter that separated them, he opened one and lifted from it something that Mindy for the briefest of moments nearly mistook for a severed head. After the initial jolt of surprise, she recognized it for what it was, yet another mask for the collection on the opposite wall. While its appearance was entirely human, it was as frightening as any of those that were on display.
“What is that?” Mindy asked, revolted by the fleshy face that stared at her like an executioner’s trophy.
“That, my dear young girl, is a Tor Johnson mask” said Izzy, rather pleased with himself, “star of such fabulous masterpieces as Beast of Yucca Flats and Plan 9 From Outer Space.” There was a certain amount of satisfaction he seemed to get from his triumph, as if he himself had a childhood tie to whatever black and white B-movies spawned such creatures.
“But wait…there’s more,” he said, and produced from the other box an even more revolting acquisition. “Behold, the Moleman!”
“That looks nothing like a mole,” said Mindy. “It looks like…a meal worm with leprosy.”
“It’s a mole man,” said Izzy. “And look—“ he reached back into the box and retrieved a pair of rubber hands. “The whole set. And in mint condition!”
“That was your big important secret mission you were on for Doug?” And here I was worried about worrying about him, she thought. She had imagined him facing something on the order of what they had faced on Devil’s Island, facing something along the lines of what Dave and Johnny were likely facing at that moment.
“Well, more or less,” replied Izzy. “You see, that was the missing piece. This Tor Johnson mask is the rarest of them all. Now Doug has the complete set.”
Izzy carried the masks over to the far wall and reverently placed them on the shelves. Mindy watched him, becoming disgusted with the whole situation.
“How am I supposed to trust someone who has nothing better to do with his time and money than acquire hunks of rubber from his childhood fantasies? Asked Mindy.
“Oh, you misunderstand,” said Izzy, turning to her with the look on his face turning quite serious. “These masks are more than mere curiosities. They are imbued with the desire for the mysterious of a million young boys now men, their sense of what is possible lost to them but remaining in curios such as these. Each of them separately have an acquired power of perception into realms most of us could never access without an object of power such as these. But together they can open vast portals into worlds most humans could never imagine. Let go of your conscious mind for a moment and see if you can sense the potency that resides in these cultural artifacts.”
Mindy tried to relax her mind, let go her thoughts and preconceptions in order to grasp some sort of sense of what Izzy was saying. But as she did so, she noticed a familiar glimmer in Izzy’s eye.
“You Bastard! You’re just having fun with me, aren’t you?”
A smile spread wide across Izzy’s face, amused at having put one over on Mindy.
“That’s not funny,” said Mindy, never at a loss for ways of expressing her displeasure. “Dave’s off God knows where, dealing with God knows what, and here you are screwing around. How am I supposed to trust any of you when you don’t treat things seriously?”
Izzy had a few laughs to get in before he could respond. “Gallows humor, Mindy. You can’t stay sane when dealing with things so far beyond comprehension without blowing off a little steam. And besides, who’s to say there’s not a degree of truth in what I said? Those masks, the fact that it’s a complete set, it’s important to Doug for some reason. If it makes him happy, makes his mind a little lighter, who knows what positive outcomes that might effect (?)”
“You know, your time might be better served helping me understand things a little better rather than having fun at my expense.”
“I tell stories, Mindy, it’s what I do. Hopefully you can learn something from them, but that’s not really up to me. At any rate, I’m not really the one to ask. I was the newest of the group until you and Dave came along.”
“Yeah, but the rest aren’t here, and I doubt Doug would tell me anything even if I asked him.”
“Yeah, Doug treats things on a need to know level, pretty much. It’s not so much that he’s keeping things to himself, at least I don’t think so. It’s like he’s afraid of sharing what he does know, afraid that his interpretation might not be the right one. Or he needs to hear your interpretation in order to know if it agrees with his. It’s not so much he’s hiding something as that he’s just more concerned about seeing things correctly. He uses everyone else as his feelers and he doesn’t want to bias our feedback with his own. And I don’t think it’s being a spoiled rich kid, although from what I’ve heard he’s got plenty. No, he’s reminds me more of one of those absent-minded intellectuals always in search of answers to the point of forgetting to eat or sleep.”
“And you’re willing to bet your life on your impressions of Doug?”
“I’ve got a healthy sense of self-preservation. And I’m not much of a gambler. Doug pays the bills, so I’m willing to play along. But I don’t think he’d be too willing to sacrifice any of us. He took it hard when Alan died. Stopped all work for a couple of weeks, supernatural and otherwise.”
“And what about Johnny? Is he okay?”
“You don’t have to worry about him. He knows what he’s doing, or so I’ve heard. And he’s a lover, not a fighter.”
“Yeah. A religious man. And he’s got a girl. A real looker, I’ve seen a picture of her. But he happened to fall for a wild one. She wasn’t the kind to settle down, and he wasn’t the type to stop loving her. Had every reason to, too. She had a bit of an addiction to…well, dangerous living, mostly. I don’t know if you can blame somebody like that, it seems to be the way they’re wired or something. But she would leave him, go on a bender for a week, a month, a year. Then she’d show up on his doorstep when she’d run out of other options and he’d always take her back. See, he had an addiction to, an addiction to her. Some people are like that, some people love completely and never consider leaving no matter how much it cost them. So he’d always take her back. And she’d be good for a while until domestic living got to be too much and she’d be off again.”
“Mind you, I’m just telling you what I’ve been able to piece together from Johnny and Doug and Al, but I’m rather talented at piecing together a story if I don’t mind saying so.”
“Do go on,” said Mindy. She wasn’t sure how close to reality Izzy’s stories got, but they were always of interest. And she was always able to get insight from them. It occurred to her at that moment that what he had was an ability comparable to Dave’s. As Dave was able to gleam truth from dreams, Izzy seemed to gather truth from stories. Mindy was willing to gather information in whatever way was available.
“She was an artist. Raychel, that’s her name. Truly gifted, as you have seen.”
“What do you mean?”
“Why, Johnny, of course. That’s all her work.”
“She did that?”
“At Johnny’s insistence. Never had a tattoo in his life until he met her. And I don’t know his full intention, but that never stopped me from giving my own spin on things,” he gave her a smile. “I believe he wanted to encourage her talent, to allow her to find a constructive outlet for the urges of freedom she could not contain. Or perhaps he wanted to show his commitment to her, to demonstrate that he was hers completely. I believe on some level that by his choice of subject matter he sought to keep Raychel’s thoughts fixed upon spiritual themes. They’re all Bible related tattoos, you know. I’ve seen them all, more than I wanted, actually. Ask him and he’ll show you too, if you’re not the squeamish type.”
Mindy hadn’t pegged Johnny as the religious type. Nor the one woman type either. She had misjudged him, but she forgave herself for it.
“And did he win her over? Did she ever settle down.”
“Oh, she settled down, alright, but if it was Johnny’s doing, I couldn’t tell you. She got sick, so sick that bad behavior was no longer an option. For a while Johnny took care of her, but she got so bad he couldn’t do it by himself. He still visits her. She’s in a hospital in Marshfield. Johnny still regularly visits her. She’s still the only woman in his life. I’ll have to pay her a visit with him sometime. I’ve been meaning to.”
The story Izzy told her made her stop worrying for a while about Dave, made her worry for Johnny instead. She couldn’t imagine allowing herself to be treated like that, but part of her respected the sacrifice Johnny was capable of.
She wanted to get Johnny and Dave out of her thoughts for a while, wanted to do something constructive rather than worry about others. So before Izzy decided it was time to go, she thought she’d pepper him with some more questions.
“You weren’t there when Doug asked us to join you guys. He said we society is undergoing a sort of paradigm shift, that our way of seeing life is no longer a sufficient tool for the reality of our current situation. Is this true?”
“That’s Doug’s story, which I think is more or less true. But the more opinions you get on the matter the closer to the truth you’re going to get. Here’s my take: Every story starts out simple, but if it is a good one, people add to it, make it more complicated. If too many stories are told around the central story, it’s hard to keep the message consistent. People lose track of the many little details. So the old gets swept away. The story starts fresh, with the essential elements remaining, the ones that deal with the reality at hand.”
“A reboot,” said Mindy.
“Yeah, like that. Like an animal that sheds its skin, humanity is carrying around a big shell of dead stories.”
“But if you’re looking for a better understanding of what’s going on,” said Izzy, as if in answer to her thoughts, “you should try talking to Russell, then. It seems he’s available anytime Doug calls him.”
“Do you know how I could reach him?”
“No, but you could probably find him doing a little searching. Nobody stays hidden from those amazing little devices attached to all-seeing satellites that constantly roam the sky,” he said, staring at Mindy’s cell phone that still sat on the counter.
“So you suggest that I search the internet for a guy name Russell?”
“There’s got to be something around here that might give you a little information. Somewhere in Doug’s office, perhaps. I’ve got to be going. I just got back from Philadelphia with those masks and I’m off to Denver tomorrow on another piece of important business. I’m earning my paycheck this week, let me tell you.”
Izzy was already heading towards the door when Mindy stopped him. “Why? Why send you to conduct a business deal when he could just do a deal over the phone and have the items shipped here? Why send you all over the place?”
“In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a bit of a story teller. I can be rather persuasive with the right sort of people…and there was a little more involved with the Philly trip than just a couple of masks. I’ll fill you in on it when I get back from Denver.”
He turned his back on her and walked through the door. She could perceive in his posture and in his gait that there seemed to be more to his travels than the purchase of collectibles. His shoulders appeared hunched as though he had been carrying a great weight, and Mindy found herself forgiving him for his rather mean joke at her expense. If he was too tired for talking then he was tired indeed. She wished he would stay longer, wished he would share more of what he knew, but she didn’t want to keep him from whatever rest he required. Perhaps Dave and she had yet to see the worst of what this line of business had to offer.