BY : Keith
Category: Titles in the Public Domain > Gulliver's Travels
Dragon prints: 1161
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction, based on Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift. Any resemblance to person(s) living or dead is purely coincidental.

Spooky came into my shop for the first time on a summer evening.  The doors were open at front and back so the fan could draw a slight breeze.  It came out of the alley and went into the street.  She stood in the alley door for a moment, looking around.

I don't have a back-room.  My shelves of stock go from the front window to the back wall.  There's a bathroom with a deep sink in one back corner, the stairwell to my apartment in the other corner, and lots and lots of videos and DVD cases and other media.

Some shoppers were going through the shelves.  Sister Sarah was looking for something to show at the Mission.  She glanced at Spooky and nodded, then went back to looking through the horror movies.

I was at the register, on a little raised platform behind the counter.  I could see the whole store from up here.  I'd never met Spooky, but some of the homeless of the neighborhood had pointed her out.  She was tiny and skinny.  Elfin, almost.  Hard to imagine her holding her own on the streets, but she had a reputation for surviving all sorts of situations.  Usually by something odd happening that shifted the balance in her favor.

She finally came in, walking along the middle of the store towards me. She was short enough that she actually disappeared from view between the aisles.  She was back in view in a few seconds, holding a badly beaten reusable shopping bag.  "You're Peter, right?  You, uh, I hear you buy stuff?"

"Movies," I said.  I waved at the shelves.  "I'll just about buy anything.  Esp. if I don't have a copy."

"What'll you give me for this?" She pulled a DVD case out of the bag.  I reached for it.  She started to snatch it back, then visibly caught herself and handed it to me.

"Far OUT!" I cried. She looked at me weird.  And not just a 'why are you so excited about an old movie' look.  I may have to check my list of slang again.  Either I used it wrong or I was a few years off of mainstream use.   Time for a distraction.  "It's a remake!" I said.  "Well, no, this is the 1931 version.  Everything else has always been a remake.  I love remakes.  When you compare later versions, especially made with twenty or forty years' between them, you see how things change over time in the society that the intended audience lives in.  Social issues, slang, politics.

"This," I waggled the case, "newspaper story was eventually remade into a story about an all-news channel, called Switching Channels.  Which was interesting, because they even changed the gender of the reporter.  And now I have the first of all the remakes!"

Spooky stared at me for a bit.  "So how much'll you give me for it?"

"A buck twenty five," I said.


"Well," I said, "you didn't just happen on this.  It would have taken some time to find this even in the back of Terrell's Entertainment."  I pointed at where she'd left the price tag attached.

"I, I, I-" she protested.

"On the other hand, you had to spend quite a bit of time to figure out the one DVD I was looking for."  I looked down at her.  "Is that one of your spooky things they talk about?"  She didn’t say anything.  But she also didn't run away.  She just bounced a bit on the balls of her feet.  "So," I went on, "I figure you got it to open a conversation, maybe hoping I'd have good feelings about whatever you wanted to talk about.  Let's do that."

Sister Sarah came up to the counter and showed me the two DVD's she was going to borrow.  "I'll take these, Peter."

"Out of Africa, and Race With The Devil, the '75 version.  Got it, Sister.  Have a nice night."  She nodded at Spooky and left.

The younger woman watched her leave, then turned to me.  "Nuns rent horror?"

"She plays horror movies during the evening meal, and something more placid right before bedtime," I explained.  "Evidently homeless people get a kick out of watching middle class white people suddenly realize they might die before morning and lose their shit.

"She really reels them in on the nights she shows Friday the 13th movies."

Spooky shook her head like her brain was an Etch-O-Sketch.  "I want…  I mean….  I think I need your help."  She wasn't looking right at me.  Whatever she wanted to talk about, she didn't really want to talk about it with me.  But then something on the shelf…  "You have Beta-Max?"

"I have Beta," I nodded.  "I have VHS.  I have Laser Discs.  I have everything.  What's the problem?"

"People are disappearing," she said.

"Oh, god, how many movies have that plot?" I moaned.  "The corporation or the mad scientist or the vampires or the cannibals figure they can take whatever they want from the poor, because no one'll notice they're missing."  I walked along the raised deck behind the counter, pointing at horror, science fiction, comedy movie sections that employed that device.

"It's insulting, isn't it?  You people are 'transient' only in that your homes will disappear in a strong wind.  You see each other day in and day out, you notice people that don't follow their usual habits.  Now, if a CEO misses a golf game, his buddies'll think he's with a mistress or buying out some poor schmuck with a house on land he wants to develop.

"But no, you need blood, human flesh, guinea pigs,"  I dropped my voice an octave, "or suitable hosts, you go straight to the-"

"PETER!" Spooky shouted.  "Rich people are going missing."

"Oh."  I wandered back to where she stood below the counter.  "That's more like it."


My store is on the edge of a 'revitalized' downtown.  I'm on the aqueduct side of the area.  Across the aqueduct is a much poorer neighborhood, The Downs.  I sell new and used media, so I'm willing to buy stuff from walk-ins.  I probably pay a little bit more than a purely capitalistic approach might suggest.  I'm certainly not selling all that much stuff to the walk-ins.  But the business and the generosity allowed me to get to know people in two different social strata, and to compare them directly. 

Sister Sarah's Mission was on this periphery, too.  She wanted to minister to people in the Downs, but benefited from having an address where police actually answered phone calls. 

Beyond the Mission was the Diogenes Association Clinic.  I've never really understood that name.  Whoever founded it was either a very opinionated student of Philosophy, or someone who picked an ancient Greek pretty much at random.  Since Diogenes was something of a jackass, either way would have worked for him, I think.

Anyway, the DA Clinic offered some free medical care, and some of the best reconstructive surgery options in the state.  But they didn't specialize in rebuilding jaws after a car wreck. They were more aimed at people who woke up to find they'd done something incredibly stupid, with lasting marks.  They could remove a tattoo and leave the skin smoother than it had been before you got drunk that fateful night. Botched piercings, bullet scars, stretch marks, all were within their power to repair.  And rumor had it that when the Mayor accidentally (drunkenly) circumcised himself with his pants zipper, he came to what was commonly known as the Dumb-Ass Clinic to rebuild his foreskin.

The money from rich fools trying to escape the consequences of their addled actions paid to take care of the poor.  Again, I'd like to think Diogenes would have laughed.

"What makes you think patients from the DAC are going missing?" I asked.

"Their cars," Spooky said.  We were walking along the street, over on the canal side. 

"Their cars," I nodded.  "Yes, I can always tell someone's been kidnapped by the way their car has been parked."

"They have valet parking!" she pointed out.  "But there's two places the cars go."

"Two parking lots?"

"No.  Some cars get parked and when the kids come back they go home in them.  Some cars go straight to a chop shop.  Like even the valet knows these kids are never coming back."

"How do you know this?"

"I heard some rumors, and checked it out," she said.

I stopped walking.  "Rumors?" 

"Not now!" she said, grabbing my arm to yank me along. I didn't move.  She pulled twice and really looked silly doing so.

"Look, the hero always gets dragged into something he's not prepared for because his client or sidekick kept something from him.  Tell me about these rumors."

"Okay, okay.  So there's this guy, Chico, he was looking to see the security on the cars."

"Looking to steal some?"

"Yeah.  And he sees that there's good security, on the parking lot, but then he noticed he knew some of the valets.  Not all of them.  Just a few on the parking crew.  So he followed where their cars went."

"And found a chop shop."

"Exactly!  They're breaking up the car for parts to-"

"I know.  Maybe it's just a quick scam?"

Spooky shook her head, looking around nervously.  I let her get me walking again.  "No, no, see they've been there for four weeks."

"Someone would have noticed their car was missing…" I said.  She nodded.  "And then you verified this?  Why did Chico tell you in the first place?"

"Oh, he didn't tell me," she said.  "I just overheard him telling someone else."  She didn’t explain what she was doing in Chico's vicinity to hear.

"So…go to the police?"

"And tell them upper middle class and rich kids who told their family and their girl-friends they were going to Palm Springs for a while, and came down here to secretly get a stripper's name UNtattooed off their ass before Buffy finds out, yeah, tell them they're actually kidnapped and their cars are stolen and I have nothing to do with it officer, just go poke around like Spenser and save the day?  Figure I could tell them that?"

"Then what am I supposed to do?" I asked.

"Well, you've got a business," she replied.  "A weird, weird business that can't possibly be making you money, but it's a business and when you call the cops will listen to you.  Right?"

She'd stopped and stared up at me.  We were across the street from the front entrance of the DAC.

"You're right," I said.  "It can't possibly make money.  The video store concept is now an internet app.  You think I'm a front for the DEA or Narcotics, don't you?"

"Aren't you?" she whispered urgently.

"No," I said.  I took her by the elbow.  I was going to take her someplace a little less public to discuss her assumptions, but she waved excitedly at the DAC.

"That's him!  That's one of the car thieves!  Follow him!"

I looked across the street and there was indeed someone dressed as a valet getting into a car.  A relatively young woman with a backpack was talking to him through the window.  I assume she was saying not to scratch anything.

"You want me to chase down a car on foot," I mused.  "Why don't we follow the woman we think is about to disappear?"

"Oh.  Yeah.  I suppose we could do that," she agreed.  We crossed the street and headed for the lobby.  We went around the car, and the kid was STILL explaining to the valet just how powerful her father was and what would happen if the upholstery was stained.

"Maybe," I whispered, "the young man is trying to improve himself, and only steals the cars of people that treat him like shit?"

"No," Spooky disagreed.  "It's still never reported!"

"Well, if he's careful to victimize people who can never admit they were here…"  The thought was attractive.  Mostly because it punished people should be punished, as Animal House and the rest of that genre convincingly demonstrated.  But some of them had to be driving Dad's car, and Dad would have had a cop look into it anyway.  I mused upon the relationship of the rich and the police while we loitered for a bit in the lobby.

We weren't, quite, as disreputable looking as the people going in and out of the Urgent Care or Chronic Care clinics, but not quite as polished as the people going past the desk in front of the stairs.  Which is where our suspect went after a brief discussion with the receptionist.  "Got it," Spooky said.  She led me across as the youth was on the steps. 

"We're here to see Dr. Cory," she told the guy behind the counter.  She must have very good ears to have heard it over the noise in the room.  We were directed to go up the stairs and down a hall to an elevator.  I thanked him and we proceeded.

"Good hearing," I said.  "Is that the basis of your spooky powers?"

"The other way around," she said.  Then we were around the corner and saw elevator doors closing.  Our target was in the middle of the car with seven other people.

"Darn," I said as she disappeared.  "Did you hear a floor number?"

Spooky looked distracted.  We walked closer and I pushed the call button.  "Fourth floor," she finally said.  I looked up.  The car was on the 4th, I saw. 

"You can't be sure that's the floor she got off on."

"I can and I am," she replied. 

"You sound like a cop," I said as we waited for the car to come back down.  "Maybe you're undercover and just want me as a reliable witness?"

"I notice you're still here," she said.  "You want to make sure you have your cover on straight?"

I shook my head.  "If there's a woman being disappeared over our heads, then I haven't got time to duck into a phone booth."

Spooky snorted.  "When's the last time you saw a phone booth?"

"I keep one in the basement for emergencies, I just never remember to carry it along on these adventures."  The doors opened and we stepped inside. 

When we stepped out on four, we were in the tattoo removal clinic.  A number of embarrassed-looking people sat or stood in the waiting area.  None of the patients looked up to see us.  I noticed they were favoring swollen or tender limbs, bellies, butts…  Or held gauze-wrapped wrists close to their chests.  None would make eye contact with anyone.

The staff looked us over pretty closely, though.  "Where did your sister say she was going?" I said, just a little bit louder than necessary to talk to Spooky.  She pointed to the right and we stepped along.  The staff went back to whatever they'd been doing.  "Real hall of shame back there," I muttered.

"Uh huh," she said, still distracted.  I noticed she was counting the doors.  They all looked the same. She grabbed one near the end of the hall.  There was an office behind that, empty.  Spooky stepped through that and opened a door to show another staircase.  It only went up, so up we went.

"This is not your first time?" I asked, accused.

"It is," she said.  "But I've…heard rumors."

"I dislike the word rumor."

"I know."

"I made it clear that I don't like…  Now that's a door."  At the top of the stair was a security door.  Thick steel.  A cypher-lock.  A camera pointed at the door. I grabbed Spooky's shoulder to keep her from walking onto the landing and into the camera's view.

"What?" she complained.

"Camera," I said.

"Oh, we disabled that."

"We?" was all I asked.

"Um…  I have friends.  They're the source of my rumors.  And they-"

"Hacked into the system with their computer super-powers and looped the computer?" I asked happily.  She looked at me oddly.  "I mean, it's possible, right?"

"Yeah," she said slowly.

"And that's the source of your spooky powers," I guessed.  "They had access to the elevator and everything that helps you with your spooky reputation."

"Yes," she nodded.

"And I guess they accessed my inventory on the computer and found my 'most wanted' list?  So you knew I was looking for the movie you brought in!"

"Naturally," she said.  "Now, give them a moment…"  We paused outside the door for a while.  There were a few clunks and it sounded like it was opened, but she wouldn't let me through for a ten-count.

"What's the delay?"

"So they can, um, hack the cameras inside, too," she said.  Then she pushed the door wide.

There was a lobby inside.  I closed the door and looked around.  There was a reception desk, but no receptionist.  Chairs but no patients.  And there was one door leading further into…wherever we were.  That door was a twin to the one we just came through.  Spooky started to head towards it.

"Now this one door we can't hack," she said.  I grabbed her by the back of her neck and lifted her into the air.  Her feet flailed.  I ignored them and turned her so we were facing each other.

"I don't own a computer," I said.  "Pull the other one."

"Put me down!" she commanded.

"No.  Tell me what's going on."  She twisted back and forth and kicked me in the crotch.  I didn't flinch.  She even raked her fingers across my eyes.  I just squeezed a tiny bit tighter.

Really, I was being very careful.  I didn't want to grind her spine to powder.  "Just tell me."  She relaxed suddenly, hanging limp.  Except for her feet flailing ever so gently.

"Later," she negotiated.  "Just… I'll tell you everything!  We just need to hide!"


"Someone might come through that door!  We need to be ready to rush it!"

"Rush it?"

"My people can't get on the other side.  No access.  There's a closed-loop…um, computer network inside."

I carried her easily over to the next door.  "You know, sometimes when they install these doors, they don't know how to do it."

"What?"  I lowered her to the floor.  She adjusted her jacket.  "What do you mean?"

"Well, any idiot can hang a steel door.  But if it's in a wooden frame, then you can still kick the door down."  I tapped a finger along the wall, listening.  "Or, if the frame is steel, but the wall isn't reinforced…" 

From the tapping, I could tell that the wall was solid.  I was guessing reinforced concrete.  They had either hired professionals to install it, or the DAC people knew what they were doing.

"Sounds like plaster," I lied.  "So maybe we'll get lucky."  I stood in front of the door and lifted my hands.  I made sure all four fingers were parallel, perpendicular to the wall. 

Spooky opened her mouth to ask a question.  I punched both hands through the wall, up to about mid-forearm.  Then I grabbed the frame from the far side and yanked it towards me.

It didn't move at first, so I kicked the bottom.  That pivoted it around my thumbs, plaster and concrete dust bursting into the air.

I took a half step back, turned away from where Spooky stood and set the door down again.  We both looked into the space beyond.

"Far out," I said.

It was a mad scientists' lab.  There's just no better term.  The whole thing was shiny, chrome steel everywhere. 

Hamster cages were lined up along the right wall, two rows on shelves.  The left wall had a couple of snazzy looking computer stations with printers and giant flat-screen displays and all the other trimmings.  A podium across the room, near the back wall, faced us across a tank of water.  A woman wearing goggles was looking towards us in surprise, even as her hand stabbed down on a control

The center of the room, though, that was the mad part.  The tank of water was twice again as big as a Jacuzzi.  The young woman we'd been following floated in the center, held by restraints stretching out from the corners.  And above her was the doomsday gun.  Any Bond villain would have looked totally malevolent with that gun.  It was conical, mounted on a series of gimbals to point it in any direction, supported by cables and hoses and, I think, chains?

Little lights flashed around a few spots, and it started to shake.  There was the typical sound of a turbine spinning up.  The restraints plunged down into the water, dragging the… Patient?  Victim?  Kid?   She was dragged down to the bottom of the pool.  I had an instant to think that there was some sort of kill switch the doctor had activated because we'd burst in.

Then the tip of the gun burst into light.  That was pointed down into the tank.  The ray hit the water and a cloud of steam burst out.  The whole room disappeared in a white cloud. Three of four people screamed.  I think the Doc was screaming for help, Spooky was screaming "No!" and I was shouting "Stop!" 

And I think I heard the kid screaming wordlessly.  But it was a weird scream.  It started high-pitched, then went really, really, REALLY high pitched.

Then the turbine sound softened, a bit.  Everything was quieter.  I heard the sound of someone crying softly in the far distance.

And Spooky slapped her forehead.  "Oh, of course!" 


"To take away the excess heat!"

"What?"  The cloud was starting to clear.  The first thing I saw was the gun.  Doc had climbed up the side of pool to grab at the inner gimbal of the gun.  She pulled down with both hands and the gun was coming up to point at me.

"Stop that!" I said, stepping forward.

"No, PETER!  RUN!" Spooky shouted.  She ran to get around me, between me and the gun.  She jumped up into the air just as Doc shoved her foot down to activate the gun.  There was a burst of light, a wave of heat, and then Spooky was gone.  Just…gone.

"Bitch, you're dead, now," I promised.  The turbine was still spinning, but it sounded weak.  The gun was still pointed in my direction.  Doc kicked the start button again, but nothing happened.   The turbine was still laboring, trying to get up to sufficient speed, or to supply sufficient power.

I stomped towards her, stepping to go around the pool.  "You are going to be found in so very many places," I told her.  "Two murders right in front of my eyes?  You don't do that."  She babbled something about no one being dead.  I didn't pay a whole lot of attention.  My people have no tradition of 'Famous Last Words.'  I wasn't about to preserve hers.

"PETER!" something squeaked.  I looked down.  Spooky was at my feet.  She looked a little bedraggled.  The tips of her hair had burned off, her clothes were scorched and her shoes were missing.

Oh, and she was about five inches tall.

"Peter, you have to RUN!  Save yourself!  GET HELP!"  So if she was okay…  I glanced in the pool.  The Kid was alive, also shrunken, in the center of the now-empty pool.  That would mean… 

I turned around to see that there were people in the hamster cages.  Little naked people banging on the little plastic walls.  I turned back to the Doc.  "Does this thing have a reverse setting?" I growled.

"You'll never know!" she shouted victoriously.   She stabbed the button.  I hadn't been paying attention to the turbine.  Bright light shot out and stabbed me in the chest.  I kept walking and tapped the Doc lightly in the belly.  She sailed over the podium and crashed to the ground.  She didn't move too much.

There was a control to release the patient and I recovered the Kid from the pool.  I set her down on a counter outside the cages.  I picked Spooky up and set her there, too. Her clothes crumbled at my touch.

"Why are you…?"  She waved at my body.

"I guess it wasn't as recharged as she thought," I shrugged. 

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