a strange 9-1-1 call
After listening to Amy’s motor drone out of earshot, John climbed around the fallen tree, then up the bank that formed the edge of Shades’ neighbors’ property.
It was slow, slippery going until he reached the braced platform that was the base of the neighbor kids’ half-completed tree-fort project. Once on level terrain, he hit the ground running, able to smell the garden (and the compost heap) even through the misting rain. Past the barn-like garage to the house itself.
A squarish three-story affair with many windows facing the road, a dark-stained wood block. The front door was underneath the porch above, shrouded in darkness. John started by pounding on it; though Shades had told him they took a lot of vacations, he had no desire to get busted along with whoever broke into his friend’s house.
When no one answered after several rounds of pounding, he rammed it, wishing there were more houses around here. It was at least two blocks’ walk to any other houses in the neighborhood; even with Old Betsy, he didn’t feel very safe with those hitchhikers. The door proved as solid as it looked.
As a last-ditch effort, he actually tried the knob, finding it locked, as he figured. Just one of those days when he wished Shades, or even Arthur, had taught him how to pick locks. Stepping back, he peered up at the porch, spotting the sliding glass doors, seeing no way to climb up.
Out of the corner of his eye he spotted their enormous trampoline sitting out in the yard, and inspiration struck.
John went out and hauled the trampoline in front of the house. As he dragged the heavy frame along, he glanced over at Shades’ place, and the mere sight of it gave him the creeps. It just sat there, and he kept expecting something to happen…
He shook his head, and those thoughts. I’m not a little kid anymore. He told himself that the sooner he could get the police out here, the better.
Finally, he maneuvered the trampoline into place. Wishing he could do this sort of thing more often in spite of himself, he started jumping. As he built up his momentum, he wondered why, ordinarily, the bad guys got to have all the fun.
John’s first attempt proved that it was possible to reach the rail. But it was slippery, and he lost his grip, falling back onto the trampoline. He bounced high on his back a couple times before he ran out of bounce, then climbed to his feet and made another try.
This time he didn’t lose his grip, straddling the railing and staggering onto the deck.
“Score!” John proclaimed upon finding the sliding door unlocked, as he suspected. Inside was an expensive-looking master bedroom, and beyond that, a hallway. He fumbled for a light switch, finally finding one, and much to his relief, the power was still on.
The stray thought occurred to him that Sandy’s house was just down the street from Shades’, and he wondered if even his friend’s religious nut of a mother would deny him if her son’s friends were in danger. But it was too late for that now, he told himself, deciding that he had gone through too much trouble getting in here to walk away without first accomplishing something. That, and as spooky as it was wandering around an empty house on a night like this, he still felt it was better than stumbling around out in the storm.
Around the corner was a dining room, and a phone hanging on the wall next to the counter.
He picked up the receiver, still more relieved to get a dial tone. Though by this he now knew that Shades’ intruder had done more than just break a few windows. This just kept getting worse.
Wasting no time, he dialed 9-1-1 and got a swift answer. When the man on the line asked for information, John nearly forgot what he had to say, then told him, “My name’s John Doe,” (and winced, realizing that his name was now tied to this house no matter what he said later) “and I’m calling to report a break-in.”
Or two, he thought bitterly.
“Is the place you’re in being broken into?”
Well, yeah, now that you mention it, but that’s not the problem…
“No, it’s the place next door,” John explained. “I don’t know the address, but it’s in Lakeside…” This was getting worse with every word that flew out of this mouth. “My friend— he lives there— Shades, uh, I mean…” Don’t call me… “Dexter! Dexter MacLean is missing!”
“Could you please calm down. We’ve been very busy tonight…”
At first, the voice on the other end of the line began to waver. Then the air around John started shimmering. He fumbled the phone as he stumbled back— and the room changed.
“Hello?… Hello?… Is anyone still there?…” the voice on the phone kept demanding. But the receiver hung near the floor in a perfectly empty room in a perfectly empty house. A bright light flashed through the windows, followed by an eerie sound the dispatcher could not identify. “…Don’t hang up, sir. Help is on the way… Hello?…”
Meanwhile, John found himself stumbling in the dark. Somewhere.
He blinked a couple times, and his eyes began to adjust to the gloom. It was night here as well, so he could see only by the scant light of the moon shining in a few windows. Now he could see that he was standing in the middle of an enormous great hall with a wide stairway leading up to the next floor. For lack of anything better to do, John walked up the steps.
Anxious of every step, afraid he might end up someplace else. Trying to decide if this was really happening, or if he had hit his head falling off the railing, or if this whole mess was all just some weird dream. Or what. Each step a slow-motion dream-step, just at the thought of being an intruder here.
At least until a voice demanded from around the next corner, “Who the hell are you?”
“Looks like an interloper,” another voice answered as two men in white uniforms stepped around the corner.
“Who are you dudes?” John asked as he tried to figure out whether to talk or run. Both of them wore a strange tank on their backs, with a hose running to something that looked decidedly like a weapon to him. “What happened? Where am I?”
“Nice try, intruder,” one said, raising his weapon.
“We ask the questions around here, young man,” the other told him darkly.
John turned to run, but the men fired their weapons at him. Both guns sprayed a fine, clear mist at him. As he ran, the mist clung to him, and began to harden.
By the time John reached the bottom of the stairs, the stuff had solidified to the point that he could no longer move.
The two men walked casually down the stairs. John listened anxiously to their every footstep. He craned his neck around as much as he could, straining even harder at the sight of the syringe in one of their hands. The man injected him with something, and he started feeling drowsier by the second.
It was only as the sedative began to take effect that he realized the irony; Old Betsy, still tucked in his coat pocket, and the thought had never occurred to him to use it. Now his best chance of escape was lost altogether.
As he faded to black, he heard their next words.
“Spray-Net. Gets ’em every time.”
“We’ll have to question him when he comes to,” said the other. “He doesn’t look like paramilitary material to me. I want to know how he got this far inside the security perimeter.”
“Yeah, I know. And after that, it looks like Dr Pelkey’s got a new guinea-pig…”