Kolchak: The Night Stalker
Questions, But No Answers
Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! It was written for the prompt Stubborn, Impudent, Determined, and Inflexible at 31 Days on Livejournal. It is written for the classic Kolchak, not the recent remake, and I'm also taking a page or two of inspiration from the Moonstone comics that continue the story. I hope the writing style of the story looks alright; I haven't written in this style much, but it seemed to be right for this fic.
Tony Vincenzo could not hold still.
Give him credit at least for trying. Every few minutes he stopped and stared out the window at the glittering lights across Chicago, attempting to plant himself in place. But it did not take long and he was up again, pacing back and forth over the tiled floor.
Several hours ago he had been awakened from a dead sleep by the jangling of the telephone—a sound that was all too familiar whenever Kolchak was out investigating a story. The police called him at all hours of the day and night to complain about Kolchak's questions and outrageous theories. Kolchak himself had called a time or so to ask Tony to post bail when he had ended up thrown in jail for some misunderstanding or another. Tony had grown to despise the sound of the ring.
Tonight was no exception, but the source of the call had been different. Very different.
"Hello?" Tony had mumbled into the receiver, still half-asleep. "Kolchak, if this is about you needing bail again, you're out of luck."
"Anthony Vincenzo?" The voice on the other end of the line had been unfamiliar. That had served to wake Tony up at least a little more.
"Yeah. Who's this?" He had risen up more in bed, propping himself up on an elbow.
"This is Chicago General Hospital. I'm calling about a reporter who works for you, Carl Kolchak."
Tony had blinked several times in the darkness, trying to process what he was being told. "What did he do this time?" he had demanded.
"He's almost gotten himself killed," the person had replied.
"He's always almost getting himself killed!" Tony had ranted. "He's too stubborn for his own good. What happened this time?"
"We don't know. We found him lying amidst the remains of an old mummy and what seemed to be the charred remnants of an overgrown porcupine tomato plant."
"I don't think I want to know," Tony had growled. "Alright, how badly is he hurt this time?"
The pause had lasted far longer than it should have. "I wasn't exaggerating a moment ago, Mr. Vincenzo."
"I never said you were!" Tony had shot back in frustration. "Stop with the short, unhelpful answers and just tell me what's happened to him!"
"He took a bad blow to the head. It could be fatal; he might never wake up."
Tony had stiffened, unable or unwilling to believe what he was hearing. In spite of his worry over that very thing, and his certainty that it would happen someday, some part of him had still not fully thought that it actually would. After all, Kolchak had come out of so many outlandish scrapes without being too much the worse for wear. In some section of Tony's mind, he had started to believe that that would always happen.
"Mr. Vincenzo? Are you still there?"
Tony had been startled back to the present. "Yeah," he had stammered. "I'm still here." And suddenly the fire had exploded. "What are you doing for him?" he had demanded. "Are you doing absolutely everything?"
"We're doing everything we can. There's not much left except to wait and see if he'll come to."
Tony had hung up the phone in a foggy daze. Almost on autopilot he had dressed and driven to the hospital, where he was still pacing back and forth now.
He had already snapped at more than one hospital staff member, letting them know he was not worried and he was not emotional and no, he did not need a tranquilizer pill. They had finally got the point and were avoiding him now, for the most part. But deep down he knew the truth—he was very worried. And the more he paced through the hours—first in the waiting room and then in Kolchak's room—he knew it all the more.
He could not make himself stay in Kolchak's room for any length of time. It was too uncomfortable, too unreal. Any previous times he had been at a hospital after Kolchak had been injured, he had known Kolchak would be alright. There was not the intense, very possible fear that Kolchak would die on him.
The first time he had been in the room, after at last being allowed, his patience and his temper had bent and broke.
"What's the matter with you?" he had screamed at the unconscious Kolchak. "Are you going to die here, like this? What would it even be for? A rotting corpse and a prickly plant? Why do you do these things to me? Why can't you go out and get a regular story for a change? Everyone thinks you're a crackpot! Do you like that, Kolchak? Does that not bother you at all?"
He was still not any closer to knowing the answers to those questions than he had been before exploding.
The longer this madness went on, with Kolchak discovering bizarre and downright impossible mysteries and insisting on trying to unravel them, the more Tony was pushed to his breaking point. Most other editors would have fired Kolchak long ago. But for some reason Tony had let him stay on and had kept giving him chances.
Kolchak had always been a bit of an odd duck, but he was an excellent reporter. And before these stories had started coming in Tony had never questioned the other man's sanity.
Sometimes he wondered, usually in the darkness of his office or his car or his house, if Kolchak was actually not crazy or delusional. What if everything he had said was exactly what was happening? Was Tony just too afraid to really consider that maybe the world was not as he had always believed it to be—that maybe, lurking in the shadows, were creatures that had always been the stuff of legend?
It was a frightening thought, really. Tony always pushed it away before too long, returning to the familiar world of logic and science—a world that rejected what Kolchak discovered.
Tony could even argue that he protested Kolchak's accounts because he was afraid for Kolchak's safety and life. (Which, of course, he was not. No, he was not worried at all. Why did everyone keep telling him that?) But that would not do any good. No matter how intense Tony's stand against the stories was, Kolchak would always go right ahead doing exactly as he pleased.
"You're stubborn, impudent, and inflexible!" Tony had yelled at him the next time he had been in the room. "Why do you always insist on doing everything your way? Why do you always have to run into these insane stories that no one in their right minds will believe? And when you do, why can't you just leave them alone like everybody else does? It's like you're a magnet for this kind of thing!"
Something else that Kolchak was, was determined. Once he started pursuing a story, no matter how fantastic, he never gave up until—he claimed—the thing was defeated and would no longer be a threat.
He had run into no shortage of trouble trying to end these supposed reigns of terror. Being arrested a couple of times was the least of his problems; he had also been very nearly killed more than once, in all manner of horrifying, unheard-of ways. Bitten by a vampire, mauled by a werewolf, run through by a reanimated suit of armor. . . . Anything one could think of, and a good deal of what one could not, was probably something Carl Kolchak had narrowly escaped.
"And are you going to let this defeat you now?" Tony cried the third time. "This, after making it out of all those other near-death experiences?"
Then he froze. By acknowledging Kolchak had come through all those other times, was he acknowledging the truth of those outrageous stories?
He found Kolchak's tape recorder hanging from the hook in the locker. Without fully understanding why, he took it out and carried it across the room to the window. As he sank into the chair, he pressed Rewind, then Play.
What he heard was a story that he had only heard bits and pieces of over the past few days. It was unbelievable, as usual—something about a porcupine tomato plant that had started growing out of control and a reanimated Egyptian mummy escaping from an exhibit at the museum. It was almost impossible to suspend his disbelief.
But it was towards the end of the tape that Kolchak's last report was interrupted by what could only be described as an unearthly shriek. Tony stared at the little machine, color draining from his face. What was that? Kolchak would have said it was the mummy, but it had to be someone playing a prank . . . didn't it?
There was a thumping sound—probably the tape recorder hitting the ground—but it kept going. Kolchak was yelling something that was definitely not English. Maybe he thought he had learned some chant in ancient Egyptian to stop the mummy. There was another bone-chilling snarl; a pained cry from Kolchak . . . and the tape went dead.
Tony stared numbly as the Play button automatically popped up at the end of the tape. There was no way to explain what he had heard. The screams gave him the creeps. Oh, he could try to explain them away as he had always done, and he probably would when things were more normal again, but right now, at this moment, he honestly did not know what to think.
"Kolchak . . . what really was out there with you?"
It was only after the fact that he realized he had spoken aloud.
It was some time later when Kolchak moaned, coming around at last. Tony looked up with a start, the tape recorder still in his hands.
"Kolchak?" he asked. He got up from the chair, crossing back to the bed.
Kolchak squinted, peering at Tony through half-closed eyes. "Oh no," he mumbled. "Am I in the hospital again?"
"Yes, you're in the hospital again," Tony retorted, even as the relief swept over him. "You're in the hospital again because you had to go run off into some foolhardy adventure and nearly get yourself killed by something that no one will believe attacked you!"
That woke Kolchak up more. "What happened to the mummy?" he demanded. "And the plant?"
"The mummy was just a regular, inanimate, rotting body that was taken back to the museum," Tony said. "The plant was wilted and dead."
Kolchak leaned back into the pillows, relaxing. "Good," he said. "Then it's over."
"Until the next mummy or plant or zombie comes along," Tony exclaimed. "When is it going to end, Kolchak? When you're dead? If you're looking for a story that will make it big for you, you're looking in the wrong places."
"I'm looking for the truth," Kolchak answered.
"The truth? Is this truth worth dying for?" Tony cried. "Answer me that, Kolchak. Answer me!"
Kolchak debated his response with himself. At last he said, "I'm not dead, Tony."
Tony leaned back, just giving him a searching look for a moment. "For how long, Carl?" he finally said.
Kolchak returned his gaze. For a brief moment, something that looked akin to weariness flickered in his eyes. "I don't know," he admitted.
Perhaps neither of them was being entirely truthful in this conversation. But when Kolchak was feeling better, Tony vowed, they would talk about this again. And when that time came, he had some questions to ask about what he had heard on the tape.
For now, however, Tony was just grateful that they would have a chance to talk later.