Kolchak: The Night Stalker

Dead Like Me

By Lucky_Ladybug

Notes: The characters are not mine, including Mr. Zero and the angel, who are each from other TV shows. The story is very much mine, however. The idea came from a strange dream or musing that I had a few days ago. It morphed into this. Inspiration also came from the 30 Losses prompt Unexpected emptiness; Gaping chasm. Thanks to Kaze for plot help!

"The second day of November is what is known as All Souls' Day to the Christian world. According to Roman Catholic doctrine, some of the faithful departed cannot immediately attain their rest in Heaven due to sins committed in life. They must dwell for a time in a state called Purgatory to be cleansed from these sins. The living can help them by offering prayers, alms, and performing other acts of penance. A lot of this is done during the celebration of All Souls' Day.

"Personally, I never participated in any real way whatsoever. But on this particular All Souls' Day, to participate or not to participate was not optional in the least."

The creature was a flurry of fur, teeth, and claws as it and its human opponent engaged in their unwelcome dance of death. There were no two ways about it—one of them had to go, and each was determined that it would not be he.

The beast slashed out, cutting the man's cheek. He cried out in pain, but undaunted he lunged, his weapon bared. Their mortal combat had gone on for some time; they had both been wounded more than once. Now the fight was at an end.

For both of them.

At the same moment the sharp object pierced the shaggy coat and dug deep into the monster's heart, the creature was lifting its nemesis high above its head. With a final roar of defiance and pain it threw the hapless human down the flight of stairs to hit the hard cement at the bottom. It tumbled forward as well, the fatal weapon working its power.

The man looked up, his old hat askew on his head. The beast crashed at the bottom of the steps, one weak moan escaping its lips before it faded into nothing but large clumps of fur.

Darkness swept over the man's senses.

xxxx

The police officer stopped walking near Chicago's First Division Museum, beaming his flashlight ahead of him. He frowned as he stared past the trees, grass, and walkway towards the stairs of the closed and deserted building.

"What is it?" his partner asked. "There's nothing out there."

"Look again," the driver said. He waved the flashlight in the general direction of the museum. "Someone's over at the bottom of the stairs. Come on."

The rookie officer blinked in surprise. Now that it had been pointed out to him he could clearly see a body sprawled on the ground. The light-colored clothes blended well with the cement stairs and walk. ". . . Oh, you're right," he gasped.

His partner barely heard. He hurried ahead, not stopping until he was kneeling beside the form. With two fingers he reached out, pressing them against the man's neck.

"Well?" the younger officer called as he came to a halt at the scene.

"He's dead. It can't have happened that long ago; he's still warm." The senior police officer stiffened. "Look how banged up he is. He must have been in a fight with something and fallen down the stairs."

"'Something'?" the rookie repeated.

A nod. "These scratches and cuts weren't made by any human. There must be an animal around here somewhere."

The younger man was barely listening. He was staring at something on the ground near his foot. "This must be half its coat!" he exclaimed, bending down for a better look. Dark brownish-black fur was scattered everywhere.

The older policeman turned to look as well. "It must have one heck of a shedding problem," he observed. "It could still be in the area. You'd better call Animal Control."

The rookie nodded, pulling out his phone. "Is there any identification on that guy?" he wondered.

"I'm looking." His partner took out a wallet and flipped it open. His eyes widened. "So this poor devil was Carl Kolchak," he breathed.

The other officer almost dropped the phone. "Carl Kolchak?" he echoed. "Not the same Carl Kolchak who was always preaching about supernatural creatures being at large and interfering with crime investigations?"

"He won't be bothering the police, or anyone else, again. That's for sure." The senior policeman looked through the wallet. "There's only one number listed here as an emergency contact—Anthony Vincenzo's. I'll take care of that."

The rookie bit his lip. "You don't think there could be any truth to those stories he told?" he said, his gaze drifting to the mysterious fur.

"Of course not!" his partner scoffed.

Neither of them realized they were being watched. "Oh ho, are you guys in for a surprise!" a translucent figure exclaimed. "When your lab boys take that fur in for an analysis, they're going to find it doesn't belong to any known animal. You're just lucky that the fur is all that's left of it. If that thing was still alive, you'd both be . . . dead . . . right now. . . ."

He trailed off. They had just proclaimed him dead. But that was impossible, wasn't it? He was standing here, feeling more alive than ever, talking to them.

. . . And they kept right on ignoring him. It was worse than it usually was, when the police tried to rout him away from their crime scenes. Now they were talking around him like he was not there at all. He had thought at first that it was a new approach to dealing with him.

If he were dead, however, then that would make a lot more sense than he wanted it to.

He swiped an experimental hand at the nearest policeman. It passed through.

The officer gave a vague shiver. "It's cold tonight," he grumbled.

Carl Kolchak fell back. "That . . . that body really is mine?" he cried. "I'm dead? That thing killed me?"

He remembered the fight. He remembered plunging the necessary weapon into the creature's chest. Most of all he remembered being thrown down the stairs by the wounded beast, and of seeing it die and collapse into fur, before oblivion fell over him. Then, moments later, he had stood to find himself in this surreal state.

". . . Well," he decided at last, "at least I took it down with me. That's one less demon roaming Chicago's streets tonight."

Agitated, he began to pace. "So I'm dead, all you've got of that monster is some shredded fur, and you're calling the boys from the morgue to come pick up my sorry corpse. Exactly why am I still hanging around here?" He gestured wildly. "Aren't I supposed to pass through the veil into the afterlife? Heaven or Hell?" A chill ran down his back. "Or . . . am I going to be stuck on Earth, a wandering spirit?"

That was not a pleasant thought at all. It was hard to imagine a more lonely and frightening existence than that of those who lingered on Earth but could not communicate in any way with the mortal world.

The officer's voice broke into his monologue. "Hello? Is this Anthony Vincenzo?"

"Hey, wait a minute!" Kolchak ran over, grabbing in vain at the cellphone. "You can't just call Tony up at this time of the night and tell him I'm dead! He won't believe you." He cringed. "Or worse, he might." He moved closer, trying to hear the conversation.

"Yeah. What do you want?" Tony half-mumbled on the other end of the connection. "Oh no. What's Kolchak done now?"

"Sir, you're listed as Carl Kolchak's emergency contact," the policeman said.

"What about it?" Tony still sounded half-asleep.

"He was found outside the First Division Museum in Cantigny Park. He's dead."

For a long moment there was silence. The officers exchanged concerned looks. "Sir, are you there?" asked the one who had called.

"Yeah, I'm here," Tony spoke at last. "For a minute there I thought you said Kolchak was dead."

"He is. I'm sorry, sir."

"There has to be some mistake," Tony protested. He was completely awake now. "Are you sure it's him? A red-haired guy with an old seersucker suit and a beat-up straw hat?"

"It's him, Mr. Vincenzo."

Kolchak braced himself for the explosion. It only took a moment for it to come.

"What happened?" Tony yelled. "No, nevermind, don't tell me; I'm coming down there! That idiot, I told him his luck wouldn't hold out! I told him a thousand times. But did he ever listen? No! He didn't care. He always plunged headfirst into these kinds of situations!"

"Mr. Vincenzo?" the policeman called, fighting to get a word in. "Mr. Vincenzo!"

"What?" Tony roared.

"Do you know what he might have been doing in the park in this hour? From the looks of it, he got into a fight with some kind of animal and came out the worse for it. There's no sign of the animal other than some fur on the ground."

"Oh, he said something about some crazy monster running loose in Chicago," Tony growled. "I don't remember anything else about it right now."

The officer sighed. "I might have known," he said. "Alright. Thank you, Mr. Vincenzo. I'm sorry again."

A click answered him. Tony had hung up, either on purpose or by accident. The policeman folded his phone and looked to his partner, who had already hung up his own phone.

"Animal Control is on their way," the rookie said. "But first I called for an ambulance."

"Not that there's any hope for him now." The senior officer checked again for a pulse. He shook his head.

"It sounded like Mr. Vincenzo didn't take it well," the younger man noted.

"He's a screamer. And he said something about coming down here. I didn't have the chance to tell him to stay away." The older man stood, frustrated. "It isn't safe."

"Of course it's safe!" Kolchak yelled in his ear. "What do you think I died for? I got rid of the thing!"

A low growl to his side caused him to spin around, peering into the darkness. What was here? It sounded like it was reacting to his voice. Could it see him?

Whatever it was stepped forward, into the light from a streetlamp. A huge black dog stood before him, its teeth bared. A dark aura surrounded it, the edges slightly frayed and waving under the lamplight.

Kolchak's mood plummeted all the more. The dog could definitely see him. Worse, it was most likely not from any good place. And beyond it, still in the shadows, was a tall figure in a flowing black cloak.

"Death," he whispered in realization. "Can this day possibly get any worse?"

"Good evening, Mr. Kolchak."

He jumped a mile. That voice was not coming in the direction of the Grim Reaper. He turned around and was suddenly face-to-face with a strange, enigmatic man. Though they had never met, there was something about him that Kolchak recognized from somewhere. And whatever it was, it was not good. His eyes were cold and dark, reeking of evil.

"Who are you?" Kolchak demanded.

"You may call me Mr. Zero," was the smooth reply. "Although you usually use another term for me."

Kolchak's eyes widened. It was true. Looking into those black eyes, he knew. And now he also knew that this day had gotten worse, far worse. It had gone straight to Hell.

"You . . . you're him!" he accused. "The Prince of Darkness!"

"It's always a pleasure to be recognized," Mr. Zero smiled.

"What are you doing here?" Kolchak stood his ground. If he still had a heart, it would be pounding. He was standing here, near his dead body, having a conversation with the devil himself. And the police officers were oblivious.

Mr. Zero continued to smile in that unsettling way. "Quite frankly, I wanted to see you and speak with you, Mr. Kolchak," he said. "You've done so much to disrupt my plans for this world."

Kolchak shrugged, hoping that his growing nervousness was hidden. "Well, somebody has to do it," he said.

"Yes, but why you?" Mr. Zero returned. "You're certainly no one important. Hardly anyone even likes you. And the more supernatural beings you defeat, the more everyone thinks you've taken leave of your senses."

"Look, I have to live in this world," Kolchak shot back. "And it's crummy enough without you completely taking it over."

"Ah, so your motives are selfish then," Mr. Zero smiled.

Kolchak looked trapped. "Well . . ." He averted his gaze. This was not something he wanted to get into with anyone, let alone the Prince of Darkness. In being pinned down like this, he found he had temporarily run out of sarcastic cracks.

"Hey!" he exclaimed in sudden realization. "Why do you need to ask me anyway? Didn't you tell Robert Palmer all about me?"

Mr. Zero frowned. "Robert Palmer? Now who was he again?"

Kolchak regarded him in disbelief. "One of your followers," he said. "He was a politician. Does the term Hellhound ring any bells?" He glanced to the vicious beast still glaring at him from across the way.

"Oh, of course," Mr. Zero exclaimed, recognition gleaming in his eyes. "Yes, I remember now." He adjusted his tie, nonchalant and unapologetic. "I have so many customers that I lose track of them all."

"I'm sure you do," Kolchak said, disgusted now.

"Anyway, Mr. Kolchak, you are correct. I know all about you—your strengths, your weaknesses, your inner sense of justice and righteousness. . . ." Mr. Zero regarded him with a sneer. "You may try to give off an air of selfishness, and you may not want anyone to think of you as a 'hero', but in actuality you are terribly, foolishly self-sacrificing. Who would have thought it of such a downtrodden reporter who once desired only to get back on top of the newspaper game? I'm also aware that Robert Palmer tried to entice you to join forces with me, promising you the fame and glory you desired, but you refused."

This time Kolchak was ready with his comeback. "Well, you know, I've never been crazy about 'join me or die' campaigns," he said. "Besides, even if I joined forces with you I'd lose my soul, so what would I really gain?"

"A bit of temporal happiness and satisfaction for a time," Mr. Zero said. "For most of my clients, that's all they want. And they're willing to do anything to get it."

"And it doesn't compute with you that I'm not," Kolchak said.

"Oh well, it doesn't matter." Mr. Zero smirked at him. "I'll get your soul now."

Kolchak's mouth fell open. "What?" he cried. "That's ridiculous! I haven't been perfect, but I haven't done anything terrible enough to warrant that!"

"On the contrary, Mr. Kolchak." Mr. Zero looked like the proverbial cat who ate the canary. "You have bent the law many times while seeking the information for your stories. I know about your impersonations and your petty thievery and your breaking and entering. Do you actually think Heaven would want you?"

"Well . . ." Kolchak had to give a helpless shrug. When it was put like that, he honestly did not know how to answer.

Mr. Zero was triumphant. "Come with me, Mr. Kolchak. We're wasting time out here." He reached for Kolchak's arm.

"Carl!"

Kolchak pulled away, whirling back to stare at the scene before him. For one glorious moment it felt like someone else could see him and was protesting Mr. Zero's declaration. But the truth came down around him almost instantly. Tony had arrived and was hurrying towards them. He did not see Kolchak standing and looking to him in desperation. He knelt down beside the lifeless body, still in disbelief.

"Carl, come on, speak to me!" he pleaded. "Wake up! . . . They're wrong, aren't they? You're not really . . ." He trailed off as he processed the sight of the scratches and wounds. "What the heck happened?" he yelled.

"We don't know, Mr. Vincenzo," the senior policeman said. "As I mentioned, it looks like he fought with some kind of animal."

"Animal Control has been looking around the park," the rookie offered, "but they haven't found any trace of it."

"Of course they won't find any trace of it!" Tony snapped. "Not if it's . . ." But he caught himself in time. He would not say, "If it's what Kolchak said it was." He would not believe that. And even if it were true, maybe Kolchak had finished it off too and it had disappeared, like he had claimed had happened to quite a few of the other monsters. There certainly was a lot of fur on the ground.

"If it's what, sir?" the younger officer asked.

Tony cleared his throat. "Nothing." He bent down further, checking in vain for any possible signs of life. A pen slipped out of his shirt pocket, clattering to the cement and rolling towards a crack. Muttering to himself, he groped for it and then shoved it back into his pocket.

"You should have listened to me, Kolchak," he growled. His voice held a touch of resigned sorrow. "You just should have listened."

Now Kolchak felt guilty. "Oh, Tony, you really do care," he said from above his editor. "Not that I didn't already know that. You've always been terrible at hiding your feelings." He patted Tony on the shoulder with a transparent hand. "I'm sorry."

Tony shivered and whirled, looking behind him with a start. He was gazing right at Kolchak, but being unable to see him, it was more that he was gazing through Kolchak. Slowly he turned back.

Kolchak sighed, folding his arms over his chest. "This being a ghost thing is just depressing," he said. "I don't recommend it in the least."

Mr. Zero tapped him on the shoulder. "As touching as this all is, Mr. Kolchak, it's time for us to leave," he purred.

Kolchak jerked away. "Just a minute!" he snapped, turning to face his nemesis. "Do you really think I'll go with you to the depths of Hell just because, for some reason, you want my soul?"

Mr. Zero let out a sigh of exasperation. "Do you intend to go up to the gates of Heaven and ask if they want you?" he said. "Why do you think it is that you remained here upon your death instead of passing over to Paradise? You should really face the facts. They have already rejected you, Mr. Kolchak."

"Well, maybe I'm not good enough for them, but I'm not bad enough for you," Kolchak retorted. "So I think I'll just stay here on Earth instead."

Mr. Zero's lips pressed into a tight smile. "Unfortunately for you, that isn't an option." He snapped his fingers. "Come here, Malevolent."

The Hellhound was at attention in the same moment. With a ferocious growl it lunged, opening its razor-sharp teeth in Kolchak's general direction.

Kolchak yelped. In horror and fright he spun around, fleeing over the grass. The dog bounded after him, not about to give up the chase.

Mr. Zero smiled. "This won't go on forever," he said. "And when it's over, your soul will be mine." He walked forward with purpose. There was no need to travel too fast. Besides, he did not want to encourage Malevolent to catch Kolchak too soon. The hunt was a great deal of the fun.

xxxx

Kolchak held onto his hat as he ran. The Hellhound was right behind him, its hot breath directly on his back. And somewhere behind it Mr. Zero was strolling alongside the scene, entirely unconcerned about the outcome.

Kolchak looked up at the sky in confused disbelief. In spite of himself, it was impossible to erase Mr. Zero's words from his mind. He had already been perplexed about why he was still on Earth. Now his doubts had increased tenfold. "Is that it?" he exclaimed to the Heavens. "Is what he said really true? Have You really rejected me?"

He soared over a protruding tree root. The crimes of which he had been accused were true. And he had dabbled with impersonations and other manipulative tactics off and on before he had ever stumbled across a supernatural mystery. Back then he had cared mainly about getting a good story and becoming an awarded reporter. He had been forced to make it on his own ever since his youth. He had grown up trusting no one but himself. Time and again people had proved to him that it was the best policy. And with that as the case, he had seen no reason not to do whatever he deemed necessary to get a scoop.

Of course, now it was different. Somewhere along the way his motives had changed. He had never wanted harm to come to anyone, and bringing criminals to justice had always been in the back of his mind, but it had only been after he had started running into paranormal murders repeatedly that hitting the big time had come to not matter so much anymore. The police had not been handling the cases well, due to their refusal to believe in any supernatural origins. And he had come to realize that it was up to him to protect the people, whether or not he wanted to risk his life day in and day out. The fact was, he did not, not at all. But he could not allow people to be hurt and killed when he could do something to stop it.

Nevertheless, maybe that did not make a difference. Maybe his methods were keeping him out of Heaven now. But he would not apologize for what he had done. Given the choice, he would do it again in a heartbeat. It was the only way he had been able to get ahead with some aspects of the mysteries, and hence, get closer to the solutions to defeating the monsters.

The Hellhound was closer. It lashed out, sinking its teeth into the back of his coat.

"Gah!" Kolchak reached behind him, tearing the cloth free of the vicious jaws. "Help!" he yelled in desperation. "I can't outrun this thing indefinitely. If You're willing to lend a poor reporter a hand, this would be a great time!"

He only managed to get several yards further before the ground gave out from under him. With a cry of alarm he plunged into increasing darkness.

Out of instinct his hands flew above his head. As he clawed the air, he caught hold of the edge of the crumbling precipice. He dug in, his frantic prayers continuing in his mind. It was too weak for him to try to pull himself up. The Hellhound would catch up to him any second and probably chew his hands to pieces. Either that or he would lose his grip as the ground fell apart. And either way would send him falling into what looked like a bottomless pit—which probably led straight to Hell.

"Help me," he whispered. "God, please help me."

A hand fell upon his wrist, soft and warm and gossamer all at once. He looked up with a start. All he could see was light. Suddenly it felt as though he would be able to pull himself up without the cliff breaking under him. As he fought to thrust his weight against the side of the drop-off, it held fast and firm. Gasping for breath, he struggled up and knelt on the grass.

The light bent down in front of him. He stared, awestruck. The aura was dimming enough that he could see the woman within it. She smiled, fairly radiating a pure and nonjudgmental love.

For a long moment Kolchak could not find his voice. It almost seemed that to speak would be sacrilegious. But then the words came to him, so strongly that he had to say them. "Who are you?" he asked.

She reached for his hand and stood, drawing him up with her. "I am an angel," she told him. "I came to help you."

He knew it was true, just as he had known Mr. Zero's identity. "What's going to happen to me?" he queried. "There's something after me—a servant of the Prince of Darkness. He's trying to drag me down to Hell. He . . . he said Heaven rejected me. And after I've been stuck here all this time after dying, I kind of have to wonder about that!"

She shook her head. "Heaven hasn't rejected you!" she said. "God loves you, Carl Kolchak. He knows of your sorrow and your pain. And He is aware of what you have been trying to do in keeping His children safe from the plans of the evil one and his servants."

If it were anyone else he would have denied his heroism with a sarcastic crack. But here he felt no such compulsion.

"Does that mean I'm going with you?" he asked.

"Ridiculous!" an unwelcome voice boomed.

Kolchak stiffened. Mr. Zero had caught up.

The devil stepped over to them, walking quicker now. "Do you mean to tell me that Mr. Kolchak, a chronic liar and a thief, is being accepted into Heaven?" he sneered. "He's selfish and no-good. He certainly isn't fit to be one of your little projects." He flicked Kolchak's lapel and the man flinched. "If Heaven is opening its gates to his kind, then the . . . ahem . . . quality of the residents is going down. Mr. Kolchak's place is down below, with me."

Kolchak frowned. This was certainly different from what Mr. Zero had said earlier about him being self-sacrificing. Not that he would expect the devil to stick to any one story for long.

"You are wrong!" the angel declared. She stepped forward as well, in all her majesty. "It's true, Mr. Kolchak has lied and stolen, but his intentions were . . . well, mostly good. He has saved many lives because of what he has done. The only reason you want his soul is so you can punish and torment him for what he has done against you!"

Mr. Zero's lip curled. "And you want his soul just because of his war against me," he returned. "Isn't that right?"

"No. And in fact, I don't want his soul right now at all." The angel looked to the stunned Kolchak. "Mr. Kolchak, your place isn't in Heaven, either. You remained here on Earth for two reasons. Your strongest ties are on Earth. Those ties could not be severed to send you to Heaven. But even if that had been possible, you would have been sent back to Earth. It isn't your time to die!"

Kolchak stared. "What?" he gasped. "It's not . . . so I can live again?"

She smiled and nodded. "And he knows that." She glanced at the quietly fuming Mr. Zero. "He wanted to keep that knowledge from you."

Kolchak turned to look too. "How about that," he remarked.

Mr. Zero glowered. "This isn't over, Mr. Kolchak," he vowed.

"No, I wouldn't think so," Kolchak said. "It's probably just beginning."

Mr. Zero snapped his fingers and vanished with a howl of defeat.

Kolchak winced. "Goodbye to you too," he said.

The angel looked to him. "Let's go, Mr. Kolchak," she said. "It's time to get you back to your life."

Kolchak grinned. "And I am more than ready to go," he declared.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw the Grim Reaper vanishing as well. "I hope I won't be seeing him again any time soon," he said.

"But tell me this," he continued as they started to walk back through the park. "Will I ever see you again?"

She gave him a warm smile. "I don't know, Mr. Kolchak. You might."

xxxx

Tony straightened and turned away from the activity in front of the museum, despondent. He had still clung to some shred of hope, but it had been in vain. When the paramedics had arrived they had proclaimed Kolchak dead at the scene. They were lifting him onto the gurney now.

Tony ran a hand over his face. With Kolchak dead, there was a strange emptiness. There would be no more wild stories, which he should be relieved about—but instead he had to wonder what would occupy the days at the news service from now on. With only Updyke and Miss Emily it would likely be quiet. And what about when a reporter was brought in to replace Kolchak (which would undeniably happen)? Would Tony end up comparing the poor sap to Carl, even if he did not mean to? If he did, would he be in favor of the new reporter . . . or of Carl?

And what about how Kolchak had died? The newspapers would probably laugh at his tale about a vicious beast and going to encounter it. On the other hand, if no regular animal were ever found, maybe this would actually be a turning point and cause some people to believe in what Kolchak had said all along.

It was too high a price to pay.

Tony clenched his teeth. He had to face facts. The sheer aggravation and the trouble that always ensued from the stubborn reporter's presence did not matter. He wanted Kolchak back. Weird stories and all.

A scream from one of the paramedics brought Tony whirling around, his eyes wide in confusion. Before he could even ask, he screamed too.

Kolchak had flown upright on the gurney, gasping for breath.

"Kolchak?" Tony yelped.

Kolchak looked over at him, grinning in that typical, nonchalant way. "Hi, Tony," he greeted.

The paramedics scrambled to attention, hurrying to examine him and check his vital signs. Tony stood where he was, unable to believe and yet forced to. The proof was in front of his eyes. And there was only one way he knew how to react.

"Kolchak, what do you think you're doing?" he roared. "Do you think you can go get yourself killed and then waltz back to life like nothing happened?"

"Sorry, Tony," Kolchak said. "Trust me when I say it really wasn't the way I wanted to spend the night. Hey, watch it!" he exclaimed as the paramedics jostled him and tried to clean his injuries.

"And I didn't want to spend the night getting woke up at twelve-thirty in the morning to be told that you'd finally gone and kicked the bucket!" Tony cried.

"Please, Mr. Vincenzo," one of the paramedics interrupted. "It's vital not to upset him right now."

Kolchak waved a hand at him. "It's alright, it's alright," he said. "It's just his way."

"It's not alright!" Tony shot back. "Why did you wait until the last minute? Why didn't you come back before, if you were going to come back at all?"

"I would have loved to, Vincenzo," Kolchak answered. "Unfortunately, I was being held up by the Prince of Darkness trying to snatch my soul away."

"What?" Tony all but wailed.

"He chased me with a Hellhound. I was just lucky that that angel showed up when she did. Actually, luck probably didn't have anything to do with it," Kolchak mused then.

"Kolchak, do you expect me to believe this?" Tony wildly gestured. "Soul-stealing and angels and the Prince of Darkness?"

Kolchak shrugged. ". . . Oh, by the way, Tony, you'd better be careful you don't drop that pen again," he said.

Tony froze. "Pen?" He looked down at the head of the pen sticking out of his pocket. "What do you mean?"

"I saw you drop it, Tony," Kolchak said. "It rolled over by that crack in the sidewalk."

Tony stared at the cement. The color drained from his face.

"Well?" Kolchak prompted.

Slowly Tony looked back up at Kolchak. "You . . . didn't happen to touch me back then, did you?" he managed to get out, as if the very words would seal his insanity.

"As a matter of fact, I did," Kolchak said. All too innocently he added, "What makes you ask?"

Tony shook his head. From his expression, he was thinking long and hard about the weird, cold sensation on his shoulder. ". . . I'm going to go faint now," he mumbled.

Kolchak looked to the paramedics. "Catch him, will you?" he said to the nearest one.

xxxx

Kolchak leaned back in his chair, looking out at the darkened INS office room. His faithful tape recorder sat on the edge of his desk, still taking down the events of that fateful night as he dictated.

"The ambulance took us both back to the hospital, me to be examined all over after springing back to life and Tony to make sure he wasn't going into shock from seeing it happen. To their further astonishment, aside from a few inconsequential scratches and cuts, and a nasty bump, I had a clean bill of health. Within twenty-four hours I was back home, still pondering over what had happened to me.

"A dream? A delusion? Did I actually speak with both the Prince of Darkness and one of God's holy angels? Even now, I'm not sure of the answer. It all seemed so real at the time, and shortly afterwards, but since then the memories have begun to fade and dull. There are only three things about those events that I can say I know for certain.

"On November second, I died. The police officers attested to the fact that I was clinically dead when they found me. The paramedics have it on record that for the better part of an hour, there were no signs of life, nor any response to their attempt to resuscitate me. They can't explain why I suddenly came back to life. I can't either—unless what I thought I experienced actually happened.

"Animal Control never found any other trace of the creature with whom I had my death match. The results of the lab test on the fur haven't been released to the public, of course. In large, capital letters the report reads 'No known animal.' No surprise there.

"As for the third thing, I really saw Tony Vincenzo drop this very pen. Not to mention he was aware of my supernatural touch." A vague smile crossed his features. "Tony confirmed it and later tried to push aside all thoughts of it. It's hard, to face the fact that ideas you've held for so many years just may not be true at all." He slipped the pen back into his pocket.

"It's all at once eerie, unsettling, and awe-inspiring, that the spirit realm is so close. It seems to exist right here, in this same space, just in a different dimension. At any moment you could be observed by a friend, an enemy, or a neutral party, and not know it at all. I can't help but wonder who might be watching me at this very minute. I hope it isn't my dear nemesis Mr. Zero.

"As for what I plan to do about this in the future, well, for one thing I don't expect that I'll be participating in future All Souls' Days. This year has been enough participation for a lifetime and beyond."

He hit the Stop button. For a long moment he stayed where he was, gazing at the opposite wall without really seeing it. The office was empty at this hour, except for him.

And whoever might be at this location on another plane of existence.