Jim Vandewalker

from the SPUTUM website

 

"The man is certainly drunk, Proffit," said Poindexter, looking over

the balcony rail. "Or mad, perhaps."

 

Proffit turned his chair to look into the crowded concourse. The figure

below alternately staggered and ran, cannoning into passersby, his head

thrown back and mouth stretched wide.

 

"He is looking for someone I fancy, Poindexter. We'll know more when he

arrives here." Proffit turned back to the table. "I think we'll have the

waiter bring another cup."

 

"What on earth can you mean, Proffit? Why -- he is coming up here to the

balcony -- Good lord, Proffit, he's coming to our table!"

 

The disheveled figure arrived panting and no less wild-eyed, just as the

silent waiter laid another place. He stared at Proffit and Poindexter.

"Do sit down, sir," said Proffit. "This coffee is entirely fresh and quite

satisfactory. Or perhaps you feel the need of something stronger?"

 

"You have to find him for me! They're holding him prisoner! You have to!"

Poindexter recoiled at the outburst, but Proffit rose smoothly and guided

the man into a chair. "Some water first," he said, pushing a glass in

front of him. "And then some details, if you please sir."

 

"Ah," the man gasped, draining the glass. "I've got nothing but the

run-around since I arrived here -- and this is urgent -- damned urgent!

You -- you're the one they call Proffit, ain't you?"

 

"I am," Proffit said, half bowing in his chair. "And this is my friend

Poindexter. Perhaps you will tell us with whom we have the honor of

speaking?"

 

The tense figure suddenly slumped and put his face in his hands. "My God!

It's hopeless! I didn't know it would be so big! So many people! And the

other -- things --" He shuddered, and then raised his doleful face from his

hands. "Please, Mr. Proffit, please, you must help me!"

 

"Well, sir! I cannot do much if you will provide me with no data. Now --

systematically, if you please. Tell us your name to begin with. I percieve

that you are American -- from Mississippi, unless I am mistaken."

 

"My name is Gary Honea, and yes, I am from Mississippi, but how did you -- ?"

 

"Your headers quite give you away, my good sir. But never mind that. Tell

us who is being held prisoner."

 

"It's Mike, my old pard Mike -- those fiends! They've got him! Torture --"

Honea began to sob. Proffit steepled his fingers and regarded the man

silently. "All right. All right. I've got hold of myself now -- I'll tell

you everything I know straight out. But Mr. Proffit -- you got to promise

to help me get him free of those devils!"

 

"Well, Mr. -- Honea, I believe you said. I think I can endeavor to assure

you that your friend will not be held against his will. But please do go on

with your story." Proffit settled back into his chair and regarded Honea

over the rim of his coffee cup.

 

"It's my partner, Mike -- Michael Enlow. We had some -- business dealin's

-- back in Mississip. Mike made me a officer in some o' his corporations,

and I thought we were doing all right. I never had to do nothin' but sign

some papers every now and then. But Mike heard o' this place an' figgered

he'd come out here and make a bundle. He wrote back some and said it looked

like pickin's were gonna be -- uh -- that there were plenty o' business

opportunities here. Said he'd figgered out somethin' to try that would

bring in a lot o' money. But -- but now it seems like he's run afoul o'

some temple or cult an' them devils has got him prisoner. It's the -- the

SubGeniuses, Mr. Proffit. From what I heard o' how they're treatin' poor

Mike they must be Satan's own spawn!"

 

Proffitt replaced his cup on its saucer and continued to regard Honea.

"Uh --" the man stammered under the silent gaze. "I've looked everywhere

for him, but you know what it's like here! Sometimes I can see him in those

mirrors, but they're all different -- and -- and -- my God! The things they

show!" He gestured toward the dark structure halfway down the concourse,

complexly pillared and arcaded, with turning mirrors in some of its

embrasures. "It's poor Mike right enough, but what they've done to him!"

 

Proffit reached into his jacket and brought out a silver flask. "The

problem of finding Mr. Enlow certainly presents no difficulty whatsoever,

Mr. Honea. And indeed, the question of his being held against his will is

easily resolved as well. However -- " Proffit paused and proffered the

flask. "Perhaps you should have something a little stronger than that

coffee, sir. No?"

 

Honea held up his hand. "Nossir Mr. Proffit. I'm a Baptist. A Southern

Baptist, and teetotal."

 

"Well. As you wish, of course Mr. Honea. Poindexter, if you will excuse us,

we will go along and find Mr. Enlow." Proffit returned the flask to his

pocket and stood, gathering his hat and stick.

 

"It will be a great relief to my mind to see my old pard again, Mr.

Proffit!" said Honea rising to join Proffit.

 

"I doubt that," muttered Poindexter as Proffitt shepherded Honea off the

balcony and down into the thronged concourse. "I doubt that very much."

 

Proffit expertly threaded himself and Honea through the jostling crowd.

Somehow despite the Babel of voices and the clatter of the mob, Honea could

hear Proffit quite clearly. "Perhaps you may have surmised, Mr. Honea, I

have heard of your partner Mike Enlow and his -- singular predicament --

before now. Indeed, sir, there are few in these parts who have not heard of

Mr. Enlow."

 

"Well, that's sure just like old Mike. He told us all he was going to make

a name for hisself when he came out here. But -- my God!" Honea stopped,

staring in horror at the many-columned temple fronting the concourse.

Above eye level, mirrors turned in revolving orrereys and in each mirror

the same tormented figure writhed. The same -- but each mirror showed a

different torment.

 

Honea turned away and covered his eyes. "I can't look! Sweet Jesus! -- are

those real? Those things they're doing to him?"

 

"Of course they are not real," Proffit said briskly. "These -- effects --

are the speciality of this particular temple. Come inside here and we'll

have a look at Mr. Enlow's true condition." Proffit swung open a postern in

the great door of the temple and stepped through. "Mind the basilisk."

 

Inside, the great narthex stretched away, larger than its exterior had

promised, the dimness fitfully lit by flashes and glowings from the bays

between massive columns. Honea entered hesitantly, shrinking away from the

carved stonework of a great lizard or dragon just inside the vestibule. An

involuntary gasp escaped his lips when he saw the beast's indifferent eye

slowly blink.

 

"Well, old dinosaur," said Proffit. He pulled a live rat from his pocket

and flicked it into the huge beast's mouth. "There's our admission fee."

He turned to Honea who was looking back and forth from Proffit to vast bulk

of the lizard-shape, his eyes wide, his mouth a circle of horror. "My dear

sir! You look quite unwell. Are you sure you will not change your mind

about the brandy?"

 

For answer Honea clapped his hand over his mouth. Proffit took him by the

elbow and guided him deeper into the fane. Honea looked into one of the

bays between two columns and looked quickly away. At the next bay a robed

and hooded figure darted out, gibbering, threw both hands high over its

head and disappeared in a downdraft of thick red smoke. Other figures came

from the darkness into the dim light of the central aisle, their feet

whispering on the stone as they followed the two. On the walls images

appeared and dissolved one into another. The carvings of the columns

writhed slowly.

 

Proffit guided the nerveless Honea to a great apse deep in the temple.

Stone steps rose to a stone platform illuminated by flickering torches.

Honea stood, staring fixedly at the floor before him.

 

"Who -- who are they?" He gestured weakly over his shoulder.

 

"They -- we! -- are the congregants here, Mr. Honea," said Proffit in a

sonorous tone.

 

"You're one o' them! One o' them devils that's holdin' poor Mike prisoner!"

 

"That profaner of sacred places is no prisoner of ours!" Proffit swept his

hand toward the stone platform and the torches flared.

 

On a turntable stood a draggled figure before a chest-high partition. Both

the man's hands were thrust through a slot in the partition. His

elaborately coiffed and sprayed hair was matted with sweat, and he was

dribbling into his dark beard. His stained polyester shirt was open to the

waist and a gold chain glittered on his chest. As the turntable rotated

slowly, he caught sight of Honea.

 

"Gary! For the love o' God, Gary! Get me out of here!" He strained to pull

his hands free of the slot in the partition. "Oh God, Gary! I'm gonna sue

'em! I'm gonna report 'em to the FBI! My hands! I can't get my hands

loose!"

 

"So, Mr. Honea! Now you see what has befallen Mike Enlow! He came here --

here! -- to our place of worship! And he defiled it! With his paltry

money-making schemes! He tried to place a picture of himself among the holy

images. The temple guards threw him out and spit upon him in the concourse.

And the holy monks took his foolish picture and made it into images fit for

this temple. We were merciful!

 

"But he repaid our mercy with scorn! He returned to our holy place babbling

of injustice -- injustice! He gabbled of revenge! Fool's talk of injustice

and revenge from one to whom we had shown mercy! Mercy he did not deserve!"

 

Honea stared in horror at the figure on the turntable straining to pull his

hands free of the slot in the partition. "You lied, Proffit! You said he

warn't bein' held prisoner! Let him go! Let him go!"

 

"He is no prisoner!" Proffit swept his arm up again and the torches flared

once more. The turntable continued its slow rotation and now Honea could

see the other side of the partition and Enlow's hands thrust through the

slot. Enlow's hands clutching cans of Spam too large to go through the

partition. Enlow's hands quite free to be pulled back through the slot if

they would let go of the Spam.

 

"I've got their treasure, Gary! We'll be rich! We'll be able to pay the

office rent! Oh Jesus, Gary! Make 'em let me go! Let me go!"