Notes: The story lives! I've been having trouble figuring out how to work it without knowing in detail about what happens in The Burrowers Beneath. Let's see how it goes.
"September 4th, 10:51 P.M.
"Don't you hate it when the police and the military know very well that something is wrong, but they refuse to let anyone else in on the non-secret?
"I do, and boy, did I hate it when the National Guard got called in after the next two victims were found dead in McKinley Park. Even though everyone knew the National Guard wouldn't be there if there hadn't been an extraordinary disaster, they were trying to say that it was part of a hunt for a dangerous human killer. I don't know who bought that tripe, but I certainly didn't. And without Tony Vincenzo to back me up, I went to my good friend Captain Siska—who just so happened to be outside the area where the National Guard was at work.
"That . . . didn't go so well."
Captain Siska's eyes flashed at the sight of the reporter in the seersucker suit. "Kolchak! Don't you know how to stay away?" he snarled.
"I'm afraid not, Captain, especially when there's a story involved." Kolchak came to a smooth stop in front of the frustrated policeman. "So what's the real scoop here? Is the National Guard looking for the worm in its giant tunnel?"
"Of course not!" Siska snapped.
"Then why, pray tell, is that huge hole in the ground uncovered?" Kolchak asked, pointing to said hole. The dirt was in a large pile next to it, instead of being inside it. Incoherent voices could be heard calling to each other in the passageway.
Siska was not pleased. "They're trying to find the killer," he said at last. "Not a big worm, Kolchak—but a person!"
"They'll never find any people except its victims!" Kolchak exclaimed in frustration. "And they'll probably end up on the menu too! Are they prepared for what they're going to find? Could anyone really be prepared?"
"Kolchak, just shut up and go away!" Siska ordered. "You couldn't find out what we needed to know. And we don't need you around here!"
The ground rumbled underfoot. Both men stumbled, nearly falling. Siska grabbed onto a nearby squad car. Kolchak held onto his hat, clawing at the air.
"You see?" he cried over the noise. "The worm is making the earthquake by moving under the surface!"
"The Earth's plates are making the earthquake by moving under the surface!" Siska howled. "There is no worm!"
A chilling series of screams, mixed with the firing of guns, echoed from the direction of the hole. Kolchak and Siska turned to look, eyes wide. A tentacle flew out of the opening, thrusting a soldier into the air like a ragdoll.
"Then what just did that?" Kolchak burst out in horror. There was nothing that could be done for the soldier. He flinched as the boy landed several yards away from the hole with a sickening thud.
Siska cringed too. "I don't know!" he retorted. Other troops, stationed aboveground, ran to the thrown soldier's aid.
"I think you do, Captain," Kolchak said. "You won't say it, but you know."
Siska turned his full attention back to Kolchak. "Get out, Kolchak!" he ordered. "You don't have any leverage in this city anymore. Mr. Vincenzo won't back you up. I'm not going to either!"
The look in his eyes said he meant business. Kolchak backed up, then turned and headed back to his car. "I hope you know what you're doing, Captain!" he shot over his shoulder. "And I hope you think about it when Shudde M'ell's real-life inspiration is tearing Chicago to pieces!"
"OUUUT!" was Siska's only response.
"September 6th, 12:32 P.M.
"I tried to get into the closed-off area for a better look at the hole and the worm. I got as far as the spot where the hapless soldier had been thrown before his comrades-in-arms routed me out again.
"The days had passed in a strange blur. I didn't have work to go to, but as far as I was concerned I still had a story to cover. I researched everything I could about Shudde M'ell and his burrowing family. I showed up at the sites Chicago's worm was attacking. Eventually I got myself thrown in jail. And, well, without Tony around, I ended up spending the night before I was released.
"I did a lot of thinking that night, as I did before and as I've continued to do after. Some time ago I'd started to really consider how much Tony did for me, in spite of his refusal to publish a lot of my stories. But even though I'd begun to realize what a good and misused friend he had been, it didn't hit me anything like it did when I was suddenly on my own.
"Siska was right—without Tony, there was no one in power who was fighting for me. The police certainly were not. They were probably thrilled that I was mostly out of their hair, and that Tony wasn't around to get me out of hot water with them.
"I hadn't seen Tony since that fateful day. I'd promised Miss Emily I'd keep in touch, but I hadn't been down to the INS offices. Earlier I'd gone down to Miss Emily's house looking for her. She wasn't home. Maybe that was just as well; I wouldn't have been much company anyway.
"Of course, I was sick of Tony's new groove—yells, anger, and little else. The Tony Vincenzo with whom I spent many hours arguing was just a big softie. But the main reason I stayed away from INS wasn't because of not wanting to incur his newfound wrath. The truth was, I felt like I'd lost something very important. And if I went back there, I would only rub that in. You see, I had no idea how to get it back.
"I'd looked and looked, scouring every bit of information I could find on the fictional worms in the hopes that I would learn something about how to break the amnesia spell, or whatever it was that had caused Tony to block all memories of how to be a decent person. But in the end I could find nothing. I was left to conclude that, even if the amnesia had been rendered through paranormal means, the end result was just the same as amnesia gained in other, more socially believable ways. There was no magic spell that could be broken to restore the gaps in Tony's personality. He had suffered a terrible trauma. His own mind had blocked his memories and feelings. And sometimes that never could be retrieved.
"Nevertheless, after coming to that acknowledgment, I also determined that maybe there was something I could do after all. Maybe, if I continued to drop in and visit Tony, he would start to wear down. Maybe the barrier in his mind would break. On the other hand, maybe I would just cause it to get built up even more. Maybe Tony did not want to remember what he had been before. Maybe he no longer wanted to be that person.
"Still, I knew there was no other choice. I had to try. So, I headed back down the familiar road that led to the Independent News Service."
Miss Emily looked up with a start when the door was flung open and Kolchak strolled inside. "Carl!" she exclaimed, getting up from her desk. "How are you? My goodness, what are you doing back here?"
"Hello, Miss Emily," Kolchak boldly greeted. He was relieved to see that Ron was not at his desk. "I'm doing just fine. I just came to pick Tony's brain about something. How is our Mr. Vincenzo doing today?"
Miss Emily cast a nervous glance in the direction of the closed office door. "Not very well, I'm afraid," she said. "Oh Carl, he's just stayed in as terrible of a mood as he was in when he fired you. Actually, he might have gotten even worse."
Kolchak frowned. "How could he get worse?" he wondered. He walked through the gate and to Miss Emily's desk. His own, he noticed, was still vacant.
"He's been very sullen since you left," Miss Emily told him. "Ron asked him if he was going to replace you and he snapped that he didn't want to talk about it and to just leave him alone. A couple of times I've seen him looking at your desk as though he regrets what he did, but he won't say a word or make any move to fix it."
"I wouldn't expect Tony to say anything," Kolchak said. "Especially not in his state." But the news interested him and gave him some hope. Maybe Tony actually was regretting it. Maybe he still had some sense of humanity and compassion.
"How is your investigation coming?" Miss Emily queried.
"Oh, fine, fine." Kolchak sighed in frustration. "Everyone knows something isn't right. The National Guard is even here by now! But everything official is still denying the truth. Chicago is being ripped apart by a big worm and no one will even report it!"
"Do you have any idea how to defeat it?" Miss Emily asked in concern.
"None whatsoever," Kolchak said. "I've sent for The Burrowers Beneath, the story that introduced the world to Shudde M'ell. But Chicago seems to be out of every copy. And, since the last couple of days outside mail hasn't been getting through by any means except electronic, I haven't been able to get hold of it."
Miss Emily blinked. "Oh, I know about that story!" she exclaimed. "I did a Lovecraftian-themed crossword puzzle a few weeks ago."
"That's right!" Kolchak cried in sudden remembrance. "Miss Emily, you don't happen to own a copy of that book, do you? The real worm may have been the inspiration for Shudde M'ell, so there might be something worthwhile in it."
Miss Emily paused for a moment, staring into the distance as she pondered. "I don't think I have the book," she said, opening her desk drawers, "but I might have the notes from that week's puzzle around here somewhere. You're welcome to look them over, Carl."
Kolchak perked up. "Oh thank you, Miss Emily. You're an angel, a true angel." He glanced to Tony's door, sobering again. "So, is the great beast in?" he asked, lowering his voice.
"Yes," Miss Emily said, hesitant. "But I'm afraid he won't want to see you."
"You're darn-tootin' right I don't," another voice growled.
Both Kolchak and Miss Emily looked up. Tony had opened the door and was standing in the doorway, his eyes narrowed in anger. They still carried that look that said he felt he was associating with strangers. He was aggravated and annoyed. But there was something else, too—a hint that he felt lost and did not know why.
Kolchak sauntered over to the gate. "Tony!" he said. "Don't you have anything more than that to say?"
"A whole lot, most of it stuff I shouldn't be saying in front of Miss Cowles," Tony retorted.
"Then let's go in your office and you can say it there," Kolchak said. He opened the gate and stepped through, moving towards the open doorway.
Tony did not budge. "Kolchak, I fired you to get you away from here," he said. "And now you're back. Why? Don't you think I deserve some peace from you after all these years? Huh? Or do you think I'm eternally bound to your stupid whims and stories?"
Kolchak stopped in front of him. "Well, according to Miss Emily, you haven't been getting that peace even though I'm not here," he said. "That's strange, wouldn't you say?"
"Yeah. I would." Tony moved to go inside his office and shut the door. "Now why don't you just get out of here and go chase whatever fable you're following?"
Kolchak hurried forward and grabbed the door, placing his foot just inside. "The fable I'm chasing involves our entire city," he said. "And you too, Vincenzo."
Tony held the door fast, not about to let Kolchak come in. "I'm not going to listen to that again," he growled. "No worm was responsible for anything that happened to me."
"You can't even remember what happened!" Kolchak burst out. "How would you know whether it was a worm or not?"
"Because worms aren't giants and they don't go around toppling metropolises!" Tony roared.
Miss Emily, watching it all, shook her head. It sounded so similar to the many arguments of long ago. But Tony's anger and cold attitude towards Kolchak made it so different.
She looked down, clasping her hands on the desk as she offered a silent prayer for things to return to normal. This was tearing Kolchak up inside. And although Tony would never say it, she had the feeling that he, too, was feeling an undeniable stirring and turmoil over all of this.
His mind no longer remembered, but somewhere, his heart did.
"September 6th, 2:30 P.M.
"It was strange, but I was actually more hopeful when I left INS. Tony had still been abnormally standoffish, but he was wearing down. The utter, fiery fury of before was gone. He knew something was wrong. He wouldn't say so, but he knew it. And that, I hoped, would eventually help to bring him back.
"For now I had Miss Emily's notes to look through. I had the hope that I would find something, some clue, on how to defeat Godzilla's cousin. So, when I got back to the apartment, I settled in to look through them.
"Meanwhile, back at the good old INS, Tony was having a little crisis."
Tony paced the floor, unable to calm his nerves. Kolchak's visit had rattled him more than he had already been. And that was not what he needed right now. He could feel that his stomach was churning. He would probably have to go in to the doctor about his ulcer at any time.
Curse that Kolchak. Why had he showed up again? Had he wanted to beg for his job back?
. . . He had not done anything of the kind. Really, all he had seemed to want was to yammer about that giant worm, or whatever it was rampaging through Chicago. And he had not acted like his story was so amazing Tony would want to re-hire him. He had just acted concerned that the worm was killing people—and giving amnesia to others.
Tony ran a hand through his hair. Something was definitely killing people. He knew that. And he had seen the damage report pictures. Could a human being have really caused it?
Was he just denying the other possibility because he was afraid, as Kolchak had told him?
He stepped to the doorway. Miss Emily was still at her desk, having resumed typing. Shoving his hands in his pockets, he walked out.
"Miss Cowles," he greeted.
She looked up. "Yes, Mr. Vincenzo?"
Tony stopped in front of the desk. "Carl Kolchak has ended up fired from every paper he's ever worked on, usually within a couple of weeks. Why was he working at the Independent News Service for so long?"
Miss Emily leaned back, as though taking in the question. She almost seemed to have half-expected it. But when she met his eyes again, there was a sadness there that he could not understand. "Because you let him stay on, Mr. Vincenzo."
"I know that! But why?" Tony threw up his hands in the air.
She shook her head. "I can't tell you that, Mr. Vincenzo."
He stiffened in disbelief. "You can't or you won't?" he snapped, his voice rising.
Miss Emily drew herself up to her full height. "I can't," she emphasized. "I know what I believe the reason was, but I don't know your mind. I don't know why you kept him on. And I don't know why you let him go!" she burst out.
Tony rocked back in surprise. "Because he's a terrible reporter!" he shot back. "He can't follow orders, he goes off on tangents chasing things that nobody believes in, and most importantly, he drives me crazy! He's driving me crazy right now. I can't get away from him, no matter what I do! He shows up here, he shows up there! He doesn't even have to physically be around to bug me!"
"Well, maybe you should take that as a sign!" Miss Emily spat.
"A sign?" Tony regarded her in disbelief.
"Yes, a sign!" She gave a curt nod. "A sign that you shouldn't have abandoned a good man when he needed you!"
"Oh, he needed me alright," snarled Tony. "He always needed me for something so he wouldn't lose his job. That's all he wanted; he took advantage of me all these years! He never even showed any gratitude! Quite the opposite, actually!"
Miss Emily looked for a moment at a loss for words. It was hard to argue that point. But then the answer came.
"It's not always easy for some people to show their gratitude," she said. "And I suppose sometimes we end up taking people for granted, even the ones we care about deeply. But Carl is grateful, Mr. Vincenzo. I can assure you of that. And you're important to him for far more than just his job. He came here today just to talk to you, to try to make you understand what happened to you! He's worried about you!"
"Pah!" Tony whirled away in disgust. "He's worried about his future without a job. No one else is stupid enough to hire him!"
But whether he wanted to admit it or not, Miss Emily's words had wormed into his mind. Now they would not leave him be. He reached up, massaging his throbbing forehead as he turned to go back to his office.
Now Miss Emily was concerned. "Mr. Vincenzo, are you alright?" she exclaimed.
"No!" he retorted. "And it's his fault!" He stormed across the floor and through the open doorway, just wanting to get away from it all.
As he sank down at his desk the realization of the argument fully hit him. ". . . I was just yelling at a little old lady," he said in disbelief to the room.
He slumped back in the chair, staring up at the ceiling as though it could give him answers. What was happening to him? Something was wrong, there was no way around that. Even his sister had noticed. But just knowing something was wrong did little to help him find a solution. Kolchak himself, for all of his insistence that a giant worm was at large, had no clue how to help his former boss.
Tony had no idea how to help himself, either. There were definite chinks in his memory bank. He realized that all the more as time went by. And he had started to realize exactly what was apparently missing.
He could not locate any positive feelings for anyone—not Kolchak, not Miss Emily, not even his close relatives. All he found was either indifference or negativity.
Did that mean he did not like anyone? Surely not. But . . . how could he have lost actual feelings? Was it more just the memory of those feelings that was gone, sealed away, something? How could he get them back?
Something was watching him. He jerked upright, instinctively looking to the doorway. No one was there. He looked to the windows. They were vacant too. Yet he could feel something, some sort of presence. And now his head was pounding worse. He reached up, clutching at the offending spot.
"Who's here?" he demanded. No answer. "I know you're here!" he fumed. "Stop messing around and come out in the open!"
The chuckle in his mind froze him in place. That was not his voice.
"Insignificant human. You have no idea what's been done to you or why."
His heart gathered speed, as did his breathing. Something was there. He heard it, he felt it. And whatever it was, it felt evil.
"Who are you?" he rasped.
"That is of no consequence. You will continue to serve me, whether you desire it or not. You are helpless, no more than a puppet on a string."
"I'm not going to serve anyone except Mr. Marmelstein!" Tony exclaimed. "I'm not a puppet; I'm my own person!"
"You're not even whole. You've felt it, haven't you? The missing portions of your memory? Oh, not that you will ever admit it to anyone. You're far too proud for that."
"How do you know about it?" Tony wanted to yell, but instead his words came out at barely above a whisper. It felt like the evil he had sensed was closing in around him. His hands shaking, he started to unbutton his shirt and reach for the Benedictine cross around his neck.
"I am the one responsible for your loss. And you will never reclaim any of it. You belong to me and only me!"
Tony curled his fist in desperation around the medallion, Hail Marys running through his mind and coming, whispered, to his lips. The suffocating darkness retreated. He gasped, as though a physical vise had been released from over his nose and mouth. He could breathe again. The air was clear. But his mind was all the more muddled.
What was that? What had it even been talking about? He did not belong to it, whatever it was. He couldn't!
Still . . . he did know that some of his memories were gone. What if . . . could that . . . thing actually be responsible, as it claimed?
"God help me," he choked out, his knuckles white as he clutched the relic. "Please, God, help me."
Standing unseen in the doorway, Miss Emily stared in stunned sadness.
"Oh, Mr. Vincenzo," she said softly. "If only we knew how to help you too."