Bewildering Stories

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by Donald Sullivan

Part 1 appeared in issue 105.

“Somebody tried to challenge the Goolies once,” said Maria. “I heard it from a member who has Transcended. Her name was Emily. She witnessed the challenge and said it was horrible.”

“Did she say what happened?” Mark asked.

“According to Emily, the challengers were a pair of twins. Before they were killed in a plane crash, they were some kind of research workers for the government. They said that since becoming spirits, they had done some experiments together and found a way to defeat a Goolie.

“Emily remembered that they’d said something about using some of their combined strength in their experiments, which made no sense to her. Anyway, one day a Goolie appeared and the twins challenged it. They just floated up, she said, going straight at it.

“But then a strange thing happened. As they floated up, one of the twins suddenly disappeared — he was there one second and gone the next. But the remaining twin kept on going toward the Goolie as if nothing happened.”

“Maybe the Goolie got the twin that vanished,” said Mark, “and Emily just didn’t see it happen.”

“Emily saw the whole thing happen. She knew she wasn’t supposed to watch — and she was scared to death — but she couldn’t stop looking. She knew the Goolie didn’t get him because he was too far away when it happened. Besides, it happened in the blink of an eye, and it would have taken the Goolie at least a minute to eat him.”

“Couldn’t he have Transcended?”

“Emily would have known if he did, because he would have glowed before vanishing.”

“So the remaining twin challenged the Goolie alone?”

“Yes, and he almost won the fight. The twin was sending out a beam of light from his hand that seemed to bother the Goolie. The Goolie finally swallowed him up, but afterward it was exhausted. It was so exhausted that it ignored Emily, though she continued to stare at it. It finally just floated away until it was out of sight.”

The story of the challenge left Mark perplexed. The twins surely wouldn’t have risked their lives unless they were reasonably sure they had found a way to defeat the Goolie. But what happened to the vanished twin? And what was the beam of light that Emily saw coming from the twin’s hand? And they had mentioned something about “some of their combined strength.” If Emily heard them correctly, what could that have meant? Was he — and everyone else — missing something about the incident?

Several weeks later the group learned of a news item about a local burglary. A homeowner had surprised a burglar in his home, and in a shootout the burglar was killed.

“What do we do in this case?” Mark asked. ”Do we save criminals from the Goolies?” The memory of his own murder by a criminal was still fresh in his mind.

“I’m afraid so,” replied Josh. “It’s our policy to help everybody, even worthless garbage. I personally don’t agree. It’s a big risk every time one of us goes to the cemetery, and it just don’t seem right to risk our butts saving a damn low-life.”

“We would even help my ex-husband,” said Maria, “and you can’t find a lower life than that.”

The day of the burglar’s funeral came, and Mark volunteered to go to the cemetery. He was surprised to find a fairly large crowd of mourners there. But even criminals have friends and relatives, he mused. He tried to blend in with the mourners in case a Goolie showed up. He didn’t know what the burglar looked like. He scanned the crowd for anyone who wasn’t dressed appropriately, and was surprised to see several mourners in street clothes. But one young man stood apart from the crowd, and Mark decided that this was the burglar. And then he spotted the Goolie.

From the corner of his eye, he saw the black robed figure floating down. As the Goolie landed among the mourners, Mark noticed that the young man was staring directly at it. Without hesitation, the Goolie advanced toward the young man.

The young man, now suspecting that he was in danger, backed away from the Goolie. The young man disappeared as he backed through a mourner — almost as if he had merged together with the mourner — and then reappeared as he passed on through the mourner.

The Goolie advanced, also passing through the mourner, and likewise disappearing and reappearing as it passed through. Mark caught himself staring at the strange scene and quickly averted his eyes; he hoped the Goolie hadn’t noticed.

As he made his way back to the station, he replayed the incident in his mind. He thought of the young man and the Goolie disappearing and reappearing as they passed through the mourner — and suddenly he knew what happened when the twins challenged the Goolie. The twins merged together, making it seem as though one of them had vanished.

The twins must have discovered that a merger of their spirits should give them enough concentrated power to defeat a goolie. And it almost worked. Even though the Goolie prevailed, it had nearly exhausted itself. But the combined strength of the twins had not been enough; the Goolie was too powerful.

When Mark returned to the bus station, he told the others of his experience and of his theory about the twins merging. “Why didn’t someone think of that before?” Josh asked. “It was so damned obvious.”

“In retrospect it seems obvious,” said Julie, “but who would have thought two spirits could merge to concentrate their power on a Goolie? And I think I know something else that the twins discovered.

“According to Emily, the twins mentioned ‘some of their combined strength.’ It’s my guess that the twins found that a merger produced power stronger than the sum of their combined strength.”

“Suppose three of us merged,” said Maria. “What then?”

“Only one way to find out,” said Mark. “I say we give it a try.”

“I agree,” said Josh. “But how the hell do we test our strength?”

“I suggest we try to levitate a heavy object before merging,” said Julie, “and then try to levitate the same object after merging — if the merger is successful.”

“Maybe we could try one of the smaller vending machines,” Mark suggested.

“I’m game,” said Josh, ”but we better be careful that a damn Goolie doesn’t catch us in the middle of levitating.”

The four agreed that Mark, Josh, and Julie would perform the experiments while Maria watched for Goolies. The three, working together, levitated a candy machine. They then tried, unsuccessfully, to levitate a heavier Coke machine.

“Okay, let’s merge and try the Coke machine,” said Mark. “I’ll be the anchor. Josh, you merge with me first, and then Julie. Each of you count to fifteen and then exit. Agreed?”

All agreed, and they proceeded with the experiment. As Josh merged, Mark felt a surge of power, and as Julie merged, he felt a much stronger surge — a surge so powerful that it felt near the limit of his endurance. He sensed that the power was not coming from Josh and Julie — but was coming through them from some outside source.

He levitated the Coke machine with ease, and on impulse, lifted the candy machine while still levitating the Coke machine. Seconds later, he felt the power wane as they withdrew.

Mark told them of the immense power surge he felt, and that three would probably be the limit of a merger. He also told them of his feeling that the energy came from an unknown source.

“I felt nothing but a mild shock when we merged,” said Julie, “but it was the first time I’ve felt anything at all since becoming a spirit. It was like static electricity.”

“That about describes what I felt,” said Josh. “Our merging somehow taps this power from an unknown source in the ether,” said Julie.

“The power concentrates in one member — apparently the anchor — and the other members act as channels. Did you notice anything special, Maria?”

“Only that you and Josh disappeared when you merged with Mark, but Mark did not change.”

“That’s interesting,” Julie observed. “The merger keeps the appearance of whoever is anchor — and I also noticed that the anchor makes all the decisions. I knew what was happening, but felt almost powerless. The only choice I had was to either stay with the merger or leave it.

“But what’s important is we know we can do it now. I suggest we try it a few more times to get a better feel.”

“Anybody else want to anchor next time?” Mark offered.

“You’re doin’ a pretty damned good job,” said Josh. “You keep it.”

Julie smiled. “It’s all yours.”

They made several more tries, including one try with only two of them — Mark and Josh. With Josh, he could still levitate the Coke machine, but when Julie was added, he could lift both the Coke and candy machine with ease.

“It’s obvious that we are much stronger than the twins,” he said, “and with only the two of them they came close to defeating a Goolie. I think we’re ready for a challenge.”

“Let’s don’t make the same mistake as the twins,” Josh cautioned. “They probably tried a similar experiment and thought they were ready. I don’t know — it’s a hell of a risk.”

“If you don’t want to do it,” said Maria, “I’ll take your place in the merger.”

“The hell you will, ’cause I’m staying in. I never said I wouldn’t. I’m just saying we should proceed with caution. But I’m ready when you guys are.”

That same afternoon they spotted a Goolie floating over the bus station. They decided it was now or never. The trio merged and floated up to meet it.

As he floated up, Mark saw the Goolie change course, coming to meet him. Within seconds, he was facing the Goolie in midair. He immediately felt a tug pulling him toward the Goolie. He tried to resist, but the pull seemed irresistible. He increased his resistance, but the pull remained steady. His power did not seem to be having any effect on the pull — the Goolie did not seem to be fazed. At this rate he, along with Josh and Julie, would be swallowed up in less than a minute.

He decided to quit wasting his energy in resisting and immediately went on the attack. He called on the same potent force that levitated the machines and focused that power on the Goolie. Nothing happened.

What was the matter? He knew that the tremendous power was flowing out from his body — he could feel it — but it was having no effect on the Goolie. “Idiot!” He thought. “You’re not fighting a vending machine — you can’t defeat a Goolie by using levitation.”

He recalled that the twins had sent some sort of energy beam against the Goolie. But no doubt the twins had experimented with the energy beam before attempting to challenge the Goolie. He regretted now that he hadn’t thought to try the experiment himself. But it was too late to dwell on past mistakes now; he was facing the Goolie.

There was but one chance for survival now — he had to try to form an energy beam, and he had to do it in the next thirty seconds, or the Goolie would suck them in. In the meantime, he hoped that Josh and Julie would not panic and break away.

He summoned the same force he had used to levitate the machines, but now concentrated on re-channeling that power into a beam of energy. He held his arm out toward the Goolie, and suddenly the beam formed.

A beam of white light shot from his hand. The Goolie abruptly ceased pulling and attempted to retreat. But it did not escape in time — it let out a terrible scream and vanished in a flash of light.

The victorious trio floated back down to the bus station

“Good Lord, Mark,” said Julie. “What took you so long?”

Mark filled them in on the failure of the first attempt and on his decision to try the energy beam.

“It was dumb not to think of that before,” she said. “But we were so caught up in levitating machines that we thought of nothing else.”

“Anyway, it was good thinkin’ on your part, man,” said Josh. “It saved our butts. But it was close, and I’ll admit I had thoughts of breaking away. If I had a body I’d be sweatin’ blood.”

Julie laughed. “And if I had one my knees would be knocking. It would be nice if there was some way to communicate during a merger. I was on pins and needles.”

“But the main thing,” said Josh, “is that we beat the damn thing.”

“And we don’t have to fear them any longer,” Mark added. “But now we’ve got to get the word out to other groups...”

“Mark, look!” Julie was pointing at something behind him. “It’s Maria.”

Mark turned to see Maria glowing brightly. She smiled, waved, and abruptly vanished. She had Transcended.

The next few weeks were busy. The trio traveled around the area spreading the word about the merging phenomenon. The word spread out quickly to other groups, and soon a campaign was underway to wipe out the Goolies.

Soon after returning to the bus station, however, the trio learned that the campaign had hit a snag. “It didn’t take the damn Goolies long to figure out what was happening,” said Josh. “They’ve learned to merge, too.”

“The only encouraging thing about that is that their mergers are about equal in strength to ours — sometimes more and sometimes less. At least, they can’t prey on us at will now. And maybe, if we put our heads together, we can figure a way to regain the upper hand.”

Mark caught a movement and looked to see a trio of Goolies entering the bus station. He quickly averted his eyes. “Don’t look, but we’ve got company — and we’d better get ready for a fight.”

But his warning came too late. Josh was staring at the trio. He was not only staring, but he did not seem to be concerned. Was he losing his mind? The Goolies, aware that Josh had seen them, were coming toward him. He did not react.

But as the trio drew closer, Josh began to glow. He smiled, waved at the Goolies, and vanished.

Mark and Julie were already mingling with the passengers, behaving like normal, living people.

Copyright © 2004 by Donald Sullivan

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