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So she left the stairwell
and entered the 99th floor to think and to wait for Wyn.
But the sight of the floor
astonished her. And she was astonished to have been so
You see: Completely unlike
the other floors of Lowen’s Black Building, the 99th floor was an
all-night diner that served nothing but breakfast from the American
A sign advertised their
Grits and buttermilk
. Forbidden biscuits.
Ms. Crystobal had the
distinct impression that the 99th floor was some sort of illusion,
but she was not sure. It was a very good illusion.
It was either that or a
fulcrum where two divergent universes connected.
She liked the idea of it
being a fulcrum. She liked saying the word.
The 99th floor’s all-night
diner had several customers. They looked like ordinary people –
mechanics, fishermen, roustabouts and roughnecks. They were all
sipping coffee and talking about taxes and reading the
They did not look directly
at Ms. Crystobal when she entered. They almost appeared to be
minding their own business. Yet they were looking at her through
the corners of their eyes.
Lowen’s Sleeper Devils were
nowhere to be seen.
Ms. Crystobal sat at a
table and looked at a menu. That night they were advertising “the
best chicken and dumplings south of the bible belt.”
A slice of Mrs. Butterbee’s
hot apple pie was included.
Mrs. Butterbee the owner
came over. She had a pencil behind her ear and a notepad in her
hand. She was short and portly, but spritely in her Sara-Lee-yellow
dress and a red gingham apron.
What can I get for you,
Ma’am,” she said with her Georgian accent.
Coffee,” Ms. Crystobal
Nothin’ else? No apple
Yes, there is one other
thing,” Ms. Crystobal said.
Mrs. Butterbee’s eyes
You can give me the access
code to the one hundredth floor.”
Mrs. Butterbee’s congenial
smile melted away like wax.
The portly matron became
solemn and serious. She had a fierce knowing look in her eye. She
glared at Ms. Crystobal savagely.
But in the next second, she
forced a smile.
Now how could I have a
thing like that?” she asked with feigned innocence.
Ms. Crystobal rubbed her
fingers together. Violet energy sparked between them.
Give me the access code for
the one hundredth floor,” she growled, “or I’ll hurtle you, your
diner, and your apple pie into a black hole.”
Mrs. Butterbee’s forced
smile became a sneer.
You should have ordered the
grits. Husband-cook outdid himself tonight.”
Then the portly matron
moved almost as fast as Ms. Crystobal. Mrs. Butterbee grabbed her
by the throat and flung her into soda machine.
Root beer sprayed
everywhere. The whole diner was suddenly slippery and
Elsewhere in the Black
Wyn finished leaping up all
those floors. Yet he could not get beyond the 99th. He felt his
insides start to turn inside out whenever he tried to enter the
Ms. Crystobal,” he said
There was no
Ms. Crystobal,” he said
again in a louder voice.
Her voice spoke inside his
This was followed by the
sound of dishes and cups shattering.
His mysterious housekeeper
seemed to have no end of talents. They were constantly surprising
and delighting him.
She had only recently told
him that she could speak telepathically. This news had quite
But now he was much more
surprised to hear through her telepathic link the sound of a gong –
like a frying pan having been knocked upside someone’s
Wyn cleared his throat.
“Ms. Crystobal,” he said liltingly, “need any help?”
The din of a kitchen
explosion rocked the telepathic link.
Not at all,” Ms. Crystobal
huffed as the peculiar Georgian twang of a matron shouted something
about frying Ms. Crystobal like a country chicken.
Wyn tried again to get
beyond the invisible barrier protecting the 100th floor. Doing this
made his stomach feel a hundred times heavier.
Have you gotten past the
ninety-ninth floor?” he asked Ms. Crystobal.
I’m trying to,” was her
This was immediately
followed by a very large crash, the howl of a wild beast, the
clucking of a few caged chickens, and the ding of an egg
Ms. Crystobal did not speak
for a moment.
Wyn listened to silence for
Then her panting voice
spoke through the telepathic link.
Try it now.”
Wyn was now able to move
through the invisible barrier. He cross the threshold and went into
the 100th floor.
Ms. Crystobal,” he said,
“will you join me?”
In a minute,” she said,
panting. “I need to slow my dytholom.”
ask what a
It’s like a human heart,”
she said, “only it beats faster than light and is omnicordial with
other planes of reality.”
The 100th floor was a
network of rooms, woven together like a maze. In each room were
computer consoles and large monitors. And each workstation was
dedicated to understanding a part of the Red Man’s
A woman scientist was in
the room. She was not one of Lowen’s Sleeper Devils. She was still
human. That surprised Wyn. And he was glad for her.
She was wearing
black-rimmed glasses and a long white laboratory coat. Her brown
hair was tied up in a bun.
Wyn studied the sinews on
the back of her neck.
His Probiscus started
She was busy entering
commands into a data pad. She did not notice Wyn enter. She could
not hear his silent footfall as he snuck up behind her.
He seized her upper arms
from behind. A look of fear and surprise lighted up her face. She
gripped the data pad tighter.
It happened so
Wyn pierced the back of her
neck with the tip of his tongue. Her eyes flashed with shock. He
drove his Probiscus deeper into her flesh. Her mouth widened to
scream. His venom seeped from his bee stinger. Her eyes rolled up
All her muscles relaxed as
her blood flowed from her opening and into Wyn’s mouth. Her lips
coiled into a smile as the venom flowed through her
She dropped the data pad.
It smashed at her feet.
Wyn lifted her off the
ground. One of her shoes had come off. The other was just barely
hanging on. Her toes were curling with delight.
Wyn rested her gently down
on the ground. The euphoria of his venom rendered her almost
unconscious. In some ways she reminded him of Aemilia. He liked
her. He thought about visiting her again.
Maybe for coffee next
time,” he whispered to her.
Her reflection in his
sunglasses was of a beautiful woman who was finally happy. That
made him happy too.
He licked the blood from
Her Blood Memories were
seething inside him. He now knew that her name was Beatrix, that
she was an excellent ballet dancer, and that she had a penchant for
Through her Blood Memories,
Wyn now also knew Pi to a thousand places.
He was smitten.
Also through Beatrix’s
Blood Memories, Wyn now knew all about Lowen’s research on the Red
Man. They informed him of Lowen’s plans. The Dark Man did not yet
understand how to create Blood Vivicanti. But he was
He had plans for
Elsewhere in the Black
Lowen the Dark Man was
vivisecting several Sleeper Devils to get the human body parts he
needed for his experiment.
He did not use anesthetic.
He listened to their cries of anguish. It was a new experience for
him. He liked it.
Nell, his most cherished
Sleeper Devil, helped him. Yet she wept a single tear for the
others crying in pain. She knew a lot about crying. She knew a lot
Lowen told them to return
to their posts in the Black Building when he had finished his
Some quickly hurried
Others left as fast as they
Out of the body parts he
gathered from his Sleeper Devils, he MacGyvered a long
Then he stitched it to the
end of his own tongue.
He did not use anesthetics
on himself either. Lowen wanted his host body – a man who had been
a priest in life – to suffer. But at the same time, the Dark Man
also wanted to feel this new and exciting pain.
He relished the human
experience in all its forms.
His finished work looked
almost entirely unlike a Blood Vivicanti Probiscus. It bore a
striking resemblance to the tongue of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster,
if his tongue dangled out of his mouth down onto his
Nell commanded several
Sleeper Devils to come inside. They obeyed her as readily as they
would obey Lowen. She told them to lift up Theo’s head. They did
this again without question.
Theo had been tortured and
traumatized so much that he was too exhausted to resist.
Lowen stood behind him. His
new monstrous tongue swayed back and forth like the pendulum of
some cadaverous clock.
From out of the tip of
Lowen’s tongue extended his makeshift Probiscus. It looked like the
needle of a metal syringe. The Dark Man held up his stitch-together
tongue and guided it toward the back of Theo’s neck.
Lowen’s tongue seemed to
come alive once the tip brushed against the flesh. Theo gave a gasp
of shock the instant before Lowen pierced him.
It happened in a
Blood poured from
Venom came from the
Probiscus as Lowen drove his tongue deeper into Theo’s spine. The
venom should have been euphoric. But the Dark Man had modified his
to heighten not pleasure, but pain.
Theo’s eyes widened not
with ecstasy, but with agony.
The last word that flowed
with his last breath both surprised and disappointed me.
I’m still not sure
man is a mystery.
But I must confess that I
had hoped that Theo’s final words might have been
Regardless, at least in his
final moments, his mind was on someone whom he loved very
Elsewhere in the Black
Wyn was exploring the 100th
Scattered throughout the
floor were several other scientists, all doing indepen-dent
research. One had been studying the Red Man’s brain waves, another
had been studying the Red Man’s Probiscus, a few more were studying
the Red Man’s blood and they were coming closer to developing a
method for making Blood Vivicanti through a blood stem cell
Wyn drank a pint of blood
from each one. He was as gorged as I had been when I drank the
blood of Joe’s family. Yet we Blood Vivicanti have almost an
endless capacity. Wyn could have filled himself utterly yet still
had room for the science department at MIT.