Carl is not mine, but I'm borrowing him for this story. Please review.


Lodestone

by SpunSilk


"You want to hire me? To do what?"

"Go with me to the seance." Alton faced me across the table at the coffee shop where we had agreed to meet, his smooth face eager as he leaned forward over his tall carmel latte, extra hot.

I shook my head. "Sorry. That's not in my job description." I sipped my coffee, black.

"Carl Kolchak has a good reputation..."

I glanced at him sideways. My brow furrowed skeptically, but he was earnest. "Pray tell; where?" I asked with amusement.

"The Internet, of course. Don't you read blogs? All the stories you've covered all these years are out there, people have posted them. You are the go-to person for all things... odd."

I scowled. Infernal computers! I haven't ever read a blog, not real sure I understand what one is. "So you're thinking if I'm there, this ghost you're wanting to talk to has a better chance of showing up? I don't think so. That's up to the person doing the mumbo-jumbo. And the whim of the ghost, from what I understand."

"No, no. It's not about the ghost. It's more about the mystic himself. I'd feel better if you were there. I think..." he chose his words carefully, "...it would keep him honest. I don't think he would try to fake anything with a... mmm... an expert in the room."

I chuckled, but shook my head. "Look, son, it's true I've seen a lot of strange stuff in my day. But I what I am is a reporter––"

"Well, nothing says you couldn't report on the seance... And be paid for your presence as well, what could be better?"


His logic was convincing. And let's face it; I needed the cash.

So it was that I found myself, the next evening, standing outside the apartment of one of L.A.'s master mystics. I came with camera, recorder, and a healthy load of world-weary skepticism – three things I like to have on my person at all times. The man that answered Alton's knock was large and well-dressed with a full beard, neatly trimmed with a generous helping of salt.

"Hello. I'm Ryan Alton, we've spoken on the phone. And this is Carl Kolchak, I'm sure his reputation is known to you."

"Pleased to meet you both," the larger man rumbled, his low voice dove-tailing well with his large frame. He extended his hand. "I'm Donald Mansavage."

Mansavage? I grimaced sympathetically as I shook his hand. And I had always thought that 'Kolchak' had been a hard thing to be saddled with...

"Mr. Kolchak, I'm so pleased you could arrange time in your busy schedule to be here, this is quite an honor."

I'm not sure what this guy was smoking. Kolchak and honor are two words that don't often team-up together in a sentence.

"Do come in." He led us through what seemed to be a windowless receiving room and down a long hall, past a number of closed doors to a large inner room that was dripping with props to enhance the "mood". Heavy velvet curtains hung on the walls; velvet that swallowed audible tones whole. The stale hint of incense hung stagnant in the air as well, and the lighting was appropriately dim and mysterious. Low bookshelves sagged under the weight of a small library of books on the occult. I glanced around at his set and wondered once again at the gullibility of the human race. A round antique table was in one corner, no tablecloth, with bent-wood chairs sitting close. The dim light came from wall sconces that hung only near the table itself. A single candle and box of matches lay waiting for flame in the center. I shook my head.

Mansavage propped the double doors of the room open. "I have been in meditation for two hours now in preparation. I feel the spirits are moving tonight, and eager to communicate." he commented, guiding Alton to one of the bent-wood chairs.

"Convenient." I commented, and walked instead toward a pair of over-stuffed chairs that stood against a side wall in the shadows.

"Mr. Kolchak! Do join us." our host insisted, indicating a chair next to Alton.

"No, thanks. This ghost is no personal friend of mine, Mr. Mansavage. I'll just keep an eye on this side of the room here." I flopped down and pushed back my hat.

Alton smiled approvingly from behind the larger man's view.

"Well, if that suits you better..." he said, taken aback. "Ah... Shall we begin?" Thus began the normal mumbo-jumbo of a seance. They took their seats. The mystic lit the candle with a flourish worthy of any B-rated Hollywood flick. His voice took on a low, hypnotizing drone as he started his trance incantations.

I shifted impatiently in my seat. Nonsensical way to spend an evening, if you ask me. Calling ghosts! Any ghost I'd seen in life was not wont to be called like a common terrier. Whistle – Here, boy! Good boy! But I was just here to observe; easy enough. I sighed.

I settled back in the over-stuffed chair, anticipating an easy fee.

I waited quietly a good ten minutes as he droned on in the heavy, scented air, expecting nothing would appear. But in direct contradiction to the wisdom 'Good things come to those that wait', something did appear.

In the dim light, I suddenly saw a knobbily ... creature peek in from the double doors. Biped it was, as tall as my knee, with a broad head sparsely covered with long hairs, which he shook from side to side. My mouth opened, but nothing came out. It crept silently to the table, and clambered up on an empty chair as gracefully as a monkey, and began blowing at the candle with a mischievous air. This made the flame stretch and dance. Neither Mansavage nor Alton paid the creature the slightest mind, seeming to react to only the candle's odd behavior, which interested them greatly. The thing had huge eyes and too many teeth for its small mouth, all of which peeked out from under its upper lip– stretched tight in a wide grin. Dressed like a small peasant in coarse weave trousers and a loose surcoat, he began gesturing towards Alton at distance of few inches. Although it never actually touched him, I watched the hair on Alton's neck rise up at the creature's attentions.

Mr. Alton shuddered.

I managed not to scream. Too shocked to scream, if I'm being honest. But not too much shocked to forget to bring my camera up. The camera; that's hard-wired into my spine. But as I raised it –and before I could touch the shutter– the imp startled, whirled around to face me, and when it saw me, froze with wide eyes . A beat later, the homunculus lit out of the dim room like quicksilver. I rose and slipped silently after it.

Down the long hallway we bounded. In the outer room it slid to a stop, frantically looking for an exit, but finding the door closed, it whirled to face me in a deep defensive crouch. "I am not one of the Forty-nine! Leave me alone!" it grated in a voice thick with an accent I couldn't place.

It spoke. "Wha– What the...hell are you?" I stammered and raised the camera. The flash temporarily blinded us both in the dim light.

He did not spook at the flash, but stared at me in amazement for a few beats– then laughed heartily. "A camera? Seriously? Come, come my good fool. Why do you think you can photograph me? And to what end?"

My body blocked his exit back into the hallway. "Don't worry, I'm not going to lay a hand on you." I spoke and gestured calmingly for both our sakes; my heart was beating like a drum solo and he was still crouched defensively. "You can keep your pot of gold. I just want some answers."

"My what?"

"Gold." I said reassuringly. "Not that I couldn't use it, mind. But I'd really rather have the Pulitzer–"

"What in the name of the Nibelungen are you talking about?!"

"You being a some brand of leprechaun, and an ugly one at that."

"Leprechaun!?" He spat, now incensed. "Unverschämtheit!"

"No? Okay then, what are you? A demon?"

"I'm a Kobold, I'll thank you." he hissed. "And now you'll do me the favor in return – and tell me what brand of creature you are!"

"Just a man."

He glared at me. "Ingrate! I spoke you the truth!" he spat.

"I did the same."

"You're human?" he asked in honest astonishment, standing bold upright.

"Yeah!" I answered, thinking it was obvious, bewildered by his surprise.

His eyes narrowed craftily, "Prove it, then. Open this door."

I glanced at the door he had indicated with a jerk of his mis-shapen head. He waited expectantly, but I chuckled and crossed my arms smugly. "I'd really rather you stayed and chatted a while. You can't open it yourself, I take it?"

He scowled.

"What's a Kobold?"

He gabbed a long, frog-like finger at me. "You have no power over me!" he declared.

"Then why are you so nervous?" I asked with a wry smile.

He hesitated. "I... I've just never seen a human before with that kind of... aura. That's all." He frowned as he studied me, calculating. "Are there a lot of your kind?"

"Just enough of us," I lied cooly, probing for information, "Where have you been hiding that you've missed us all these years?"

He squirmed. "Well... I ... started out in the mines, naturally. Not a large number of humans there, of course. " his gaze flittered fugitively around the floor. "Then, much later I was a Klabautermann on sailing ships for a few centuries... still kind of a limited exposure, I suppose." He looked up. "Ships are metal and less fun nowadays, my new turf is land again. How many did you say there are like you?"

"What's a Kobold?" I repeated.

He hesitated again, but finally answered. "Humans used to know. Nowadays most of them don't seem even interested in knowing what's in the world... Well. To you I'm a rascal-sprite. No threat. Just mischief. That's the truth, I swear it! I tweak humans when they are frightened, open the coop for their chickens, move their keys, that type of thing... " His voice turned sing-song. "... as in Kobolds are creatures whose sole delite consists in perplexing the human race, and evoking those harmless terrors that constantly hover round the minds of the timid." He cackled at his own boast.

"Were you summoned here by Mansavage?"

"By whom?!"

"The mystic in the back room."

"Oh. That's his name? Of course not; that halfwit can't summon squat. Simpletons come here all day long thinking he can. He even believes it himself. It's all so funny. No-one can summon a Kobold! I just hang out here sometimes because it's so entertaining." He backed up a step with a look of discomfort on his small face. "Your aura is awfully large, can you back off and leave me some space?"

"Answer my questions for me and I'll be kind and open the door."

His jaw set. "You're not making me happy, human."

"I'm not trying." I said simply. "Do you have a name?"

"Chimmeken." he answered, less than contrite, "Chimmeken das Galgenmänlein. Now, what do you call yourself?!"

"Carl Kolchak."

"Well, I have some questions for you, human Kolchak! Let's start with the obvious. Why can you see me?"

"I'm asking the questions here–"

"You've got no eyes for my kind. That is, unless I allow it."

"These eyes may be old, but they don't miss much," I retorted saucily.

At this he lay his head back and laughed full-throated. "There's a good fool!" he stomped his tiny bare feet in glee. At length he peered at me with a wry smile. "You don't even know what it is you don't know."

I ignored his insults. "By 'aura' you mean the invisible field of light a person is supposed to wear?"

"Not just people. Don't think of yourselves so highly. All creatures under the sun have auras. Life-forces is another way to say it. Weak beings have pale ones, more significant beings' auras are more powerful. That way, you can tell at a glance what you're dealing with. It's a neat system." He wrinkled his nose. "You yourself make quite a distortion in the Ether."

All the air seemed to leave the room. "I do what?" I asked weakly.

"Oh, yes." he nodded his small bulbous head. "I can imagine an aura like yours must be almost heavy to carry around." he grinned at his own joke.

He had me curious at this point, I must admit. "Describe it to me then, if you must." I said off-handedly.

"Oh, of course – you've not seen it! As a human, you've never even seen the Ether, have you?" He took on a mischievous twinkle. "Aren't you curious? Haven't you ever longed to see it? Just a peek?"

I frowned. "What do you mean with 'the Ether'?"

He gawked at me. "You've not heard of the Ether? With your aura? Well, I'll be pickled in beet brine! The Ether is what we all move in and through; you, me, all the beings of this round world. Not just the limited stuff: all of it."

"Air." I ventured.

He made a disgusted noise. "Not air, ninny. The Ether." He looked down his nose at me. I had to give the little imp credit; looking down your nose at someone is a trick when you top out at some 20 inches.

"If I can't see something, it's usually not there," I answered confidently.

He scoffed. "Like a blind man insisting there's no-one else in the room, simply because he can't see them there. Fool!"

"These five senses have done alright for me all these years." I countered. "I trust them."

"Ahh! Is that so? I have a question for you, human Kolchak. If given the chance, would you show music to a deaf man? For only a minute? If it were in your power?"

What a strange question. I considered it, then answered philosophically. "Does the deaf man want to know? Maybe having one minute of music wouldn't be worth the lifetime of silence that followed, once he knew... music was out there."

He studied me, amused. "I should be able... yes. Just a moment..." he frowned in concentration, working hard on something inside his own head. "Ah. Here."

I staggered, and fell back on the door frame for support.

The scene around me didn't budge– I still saw the room, but in a flash, a lot more information was being picked up by my eyes. Well, to be honest, I have no proof it was coming from my eyes. But that's the best way to describe it. Suddenly the light in the room seemed... split up into its component colors; white light now appeared as smooth, straight beams of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet – and I could see all of them separately, all at once. Yet I'm not sure it was even actually light. Something was ... existing in straight beams. On top of this, what I was 'seeing' wasn't just limited to Mansavage's small receiving room.

My breath stopped short, in-spite of my mouth hanging open like a three-day-old Lake Bass.

More than the beams, there were... things. In the beams. It was a thick soup of activity. The things (shapes? beings?) moved through the beams, either being pierced by them or moving the colors aside as they passed – some of the things two-legged, some four, some without legs at all. Many appeared to be soft and amoeba-like, and oozed between the beams. Some were not 'visible' at all, only showing themselves as clear voids that moved the beams out of their path as they made their way lazily across my view. The beings that were visible did have bulk and color, but that seemed secondary in my mind to the fact that they interacted with the scaffolding of the beams, and the manner of that interaction. That impression came first.

I was able to 'see' these things from multiple angles all at once, which made my head hurt. Comparable, I guess, to the difference one sees between looking at something with two eyes instead of one; I had depth perception but it was more than that somehow, as if I had more than one vantage point.

"What the hell is going on?" I croaked.

"This, my good fool, is the real world. The Ether. You're seeing it through me. You humans don't have the sense."

"What is all this?" I asked, awe creeping unbidden into my voice. I suddenly felt very, very small.

"It's the Ether. Where do you think it all came from?"

"All what?"

"All of it, ninny." he answered. "All the Levels. Angels and Demons, spirits and phantoms, shades and shadows," he started gesturing into the soup, and to my utter amazement, I followed his explanation. "Creatures! Banshees and kelpies and leprechauns for you, Bogeyman and Defenders, pixies and monsters. The Abyss." he gestured.

At that point, he got what I would have earlier called 'a far-away look' in his eye and started reciting. In actuality, however, the look wasn't far-away; he was simply watching the shapes floating lazily by:

"Salamander shall kindle,
Writhe nymph of the wave,
In air sylph shall dwindle,
And Kobold shall slave.

Who doth ignore
The Primal Four,
Nor knows aright
Their use and might,
O'er spirits will he
Ne'er master be.

{ from Goethe's Faust }

"But that's only those levels. Take a look: Karma and the evil eye; luck –both good and bad– and more: creativity, despair, inspiration, rage, hope. These are real things. They have real substance. It's all here, moving around all living things, through us, in us, making us make up the world."

"It's here?" I asked under my breath. "All the time? All... close enough to touch?" I marveled at the graceful dance of the shapes through the beams. Each shape as I focused my attention on it seemed to have a different... taste. Not the right word, but I'm sticking with it for lack of a better one. Each taste was distinct blending of feel; some metallic, some salty, some tangy, some loud, some dry, some cool and soothing, some jazzy, some blunt, others tasted sharp.

As I started to finally get my sea-legs, my attention was drawn farther afield than the small room, and I was startled to see Mansavage and Alton sitting in the room at the back calmly continuing their seance. Beams of colors filled that room too, but the beams passed straight through the furniture as well as each of the men without interruption. My gaze widened at that to a startling distance. I could see hundreds of people in the buildings and neighborhood around me, all in perfect focus, each with their own particular color and 'taste' of aura, each moving through life pierced constantly by straight colorful beams. Shapes moved around the beams near each of the people, the softer ones occasionally coming to rest on someone like a soft feather blanket, occasionally leaving in the same manner. Only some of the shapes were like this though; others were shaped like sickle-cells, and others sharper even than that. Some seemed to have "noises" associated with them – metallic buzzing, or low tones, or audio-gibberish. It was an overwhelming assault on my brain.

"All the Levels have access here," Chimmeken commented. "Isn't it grand?"

"I can see all around me for a quarter mile! Even with walls in the way!" I panted.

"Fool. It doesn't seem strange to you when your eyeballs can see all the way to the horizon when you're standing a hill. Why should this range amaze you?"

The people moved about their evening activities blissfully unaware of the activity around them. And he was right about the auras. Colored halos surrounded each living thing... as well as a few things I would have pegged as inanimate... But 'color' was only one part of the mix of these halos. They had tastes too, rich blends of wildly disparate sensations –colors, fragrances, tactile sensations, as well as things English doesn't cover– all radiating out anywhere from a half an inch to sometimes two feet into the straight beams.

The Kobold's smallish aura tasted deep fuchsia with overtones of blue and vinegar. I turned my attention to my own, easy to do since I had other vantage points available. I radiated a good-sized aura of surprisingly intense evergreen with over tones of wood smoke and... sandpaper...

Only then did I become aware of the beams around me. Whereas they all passed straight through the other people in the city – and straight through the Kobold as well – the beams were... curving around me. Swirling in fact, most intense at about arms' length but extending out a good way beyond my reach. I was contained in a 3D... cage... of smooth colors that spun together without blending. I reached out to touch a tantalizing shade of blue, but it retreated away from me as I approached it.

"Why aren't the beams passing through me like they are through everybody else?"

He blinked. "Because you're a magnet, of course."

"Magnet?" I asked sharply.

"You didn't even know?" he stared at me slack-jawed. "How could you not know?

"What should I know?"

"Haven't beings from the Levels of the round world been attracted to you? To check you out? To test your mettle, even? I would think any of us would cross right over to see this oddity closer."

Magnet. He had used the word. I looked at the beams critically. That's what they looked like: magnetic force-lines. In colors. All around me. Flowing first out of my head then curving out and down to re-enter at my feet. It all clicked. "Huh." I groused. "That would explain my life."

This. This was why my life was cursed. This was why I couldn't seem to turn around without the stories I pursue turning bizarre. This was why I had to sleep with a cross under my pillow and a carry a Mojo bag around my neck. This was why my nightmares were off the Richter scale, and why a good chunk of my waking life looked like a nightmare.

The rascal smirked. "Around an aura like that, stuff happens."

"But, my life was perfectly normal for decades before the Odd Stuff started happening. What changed?"

"It's obvious, fool. You got magnetized at some point."

"How?" I demanded.

"You tell me; I wasn't there." he answered flippantly. "It happens occasionally... just usually not to humans..."

"Can I ever be de-magnetized?"

He looked at the lines appraisingly. "Anything's possible, but ..." he snorted in amusement, "It doesn't look temporary to me..."

The doorknob was turned from the outside. In my amazement at the vision I had not noticed someone about to enter Mansavage's apartment. I have to think Chimmeken had.

The connection was cut, and life snapped back into 3 dimensions. I reeled. The air was again clear and empty. I fought to regain my mental balance.

The door was being opened. The Kobold made for the exit like a gazelle . "Wait!" I cried, "I still have questions–"

"Yes." he clipped. "And I'm fine with that." He slipped nimbly between the new-comer's ankles, and then in a wink the imp –and my Pulitzer– were gone.

Everything looked normal again, but it all seemed gratingly flat, and the walls around me felt oddly claustrophobic. Mrs. Mansavage stood in the center of the small room looking at me quizzically. "Hello." she said. I tried to make sense of her greeting, but failed. I managed only a flash of a smile and a perfunctory touch to the brim of my hat before turning and returning weakly to the dim inner room.

Mr. Mansavage came out of his trance as soon as I stumbled in. "Mr. Kolchak! Where –– ? My heavens! Sit down here, man. You're white as a ghost!" he exclaimed.


All this was months ago, now.

The daily grind goes on; I go into the office. I type copy. I report my stories.

But sometimes...

Sometimes I find myself spending time staring into the empty air around me. Empty air. Wondering... about the Big Picture; imagining the music behind what I can see...