Roger pounded up the path of crushed coquina shells toward the castle. Winds whipped the tops of the palmetto trees, sending down a blizzard of sharp-edged leaves. The sky overhead was black, shot through with purple-white flashes of silent lightning.
He tried to ignore the screams from the beach behind him.
He held his hands over his ears and ran as fast as he could.
Soon the crunch-crunch-crunch of his footsteps on the path turned into a light shuft-shuft as the path merged with a stone-flagged walkway.
He hit the stairs and half tumbled up them, casting fearful glances over his shoulder. Something pale and white and with rounded curves lie dead beneath the bushes to his right. He swallowed hard and turned away.
His outstretched hands smacked into the weathered wood of the manor’s front doors. The heavy doors swung silently open at his touch and he darted through them into darkness. He paused to look back down the path he had followed. Something huge and black might have been lumbering through the swirl of palmetto leaves. It was hard to tell in the stuttering light of the cloud-flashes above. Roger thought he heard the grinding crunch of heavy footsteps on the crushed sea-shells, but couldn’t be sure.
Quickly Roger swung the doors shut, leaning his shoulder into them. He fumbled around until he found locks and a heavy bolt, which he slammed home with a frantic thud.
Panting, he stepped backwards away from the doors.
They seemed to shake, hinges rattling, but it might have been from the wind.
“Is that you, Roger?” Called a richly accented voice from across the great hall behind him. Roger recognized the voice immediately as that of his Producer, Dmitri Lejos
“Don’t stand out there in the hall, Roger. Come into the study. Warm yourself by the fire.”
Roger blindly stumbled toward the voice, eventually coming to a door that swung open almost before he touched it.
The room beyond was spacious, but cozy, furnished with overstuffed chairs and a great long sofa. A hearty fire crackled and snapped in the fireplace, casting the only illumination in the room. Everything seemed to swim and waver amid shadows as the fire flickered.
Dmitri Lejos lounged in a high-backed chair, dressed as always in all black with a black beret on his head and a black silk scarf around his throat. His face was so white that it appeared almost luminous in the half-gloom. His dark eyes glittered brightly and there was a wry smile on his lips. He held a wine glass filled with a deep, dark red vintage that must have been a burgundy of some kind.
“Yes, do come in Roger!” Chimed a woman’s voice cheerily from the sofa. “We’re having a bit of a party. Sort of a wrap party for the production.”
It was Lejo’s assistant, Marnie. She was dressed in her habitual tight black pegged pants and Cat-Eye glasses. She wore a crisp-looking white men’s shirt, loose and half unbuttoned.
Next to her sat Rod, who was very, very pale and seemed to be trying to say something to Roger, but his lips barely moved. His eyes were feverish and unfocussed.
“A wrap party?” Roger gasped in disbelief. “The production’s a disaster! Almost everyone is dead! Everything is ruined!”
Hysteria tinged Roger’s voice. He seemed about to burst into tears.
“Oh, no matter.” Purred Lejos quietly. “Everything has gone quite according to plan. The project is a total success! You should be proud of yourself, Mr. Tennant.”
Roger’s mouth hung open in disbelief.
Lejos took a sip from his glass. The wine stained his lips a bright red.
“The production’s a complete shambles! It’s GONE! It’s all gone! I don’t even know where the film canisters with the footage we did manage to shoot are.”
Lejos paused for a moment, eyes fixed upon the ceiling.
“The canisters are on the beach, by the production tent. Where you left them. I will have them retrieved shortly. They might be valuable to certain types of collectors in a few years.”
“There was never going to be a movie, Roger. It was a ridiculous idea. Three monsters? In one film? The public would never have gone for it. It is hard enough to sell them one monster at a time. The whole idea was laughable.”
Roger stared. The breath froze in his chest. He felt like he’d been stabbed in the ribs.
“But!” Lejos raised one long, slender finger. “The three previous films with the beach monsters are already complete and proven commodities. Once the news gets out how your entire production crew vanished on the ‘cursed’ Viuda Island, interest will soar. We will just re-release the existing films and rake in pure profits.”
“You…you planned this?”
Roger’s face flushed red.
Lejos took another sip from his glass. He raised an eyebrow.
“You are quite correct, my dear. This has a remarkable flavor! Much richer than our usual fare.”
Marnie smiled and squirmed like a cat. She patted the half-comatose Rod on the head.
“Haven’t I told you? There is something special about the blood of Method Actors. There’s a greater nuance of taste, a more subtle bouquet.”
Rod’s eyes flickered open. He stared with desperate appeal toward Roger. Dry lips silently mouthed the words, “kill me” before Marnie laid a cold white hand across his mouth.
Lejos nodded thoughtfully.
“I would like to try another, to be sure. But if you are correct, my dear, we may have to sponsor an Actors’ School.”
Marnie giggled and clapped her hands.
“What…what about me?” Roger whispered.
“Oh. Well.” Lejos stared at him coldly, dispassionately. “We have a rather special need for you, Roger. Mr. Radcliffe needs a transfusion. I have promised him a vacation of sorts on the mainland for quite some time now.”
Roger gulped. He tried to smile, nervously.
“Oh. That’s not so bad. I guess.”
“Sorry, Old Sport. I’m afraid I’m going to need it all, actually.”
The voice came out of nowhere from the empty air beside Roger.
“Ahhh! A Ghost!” Shouted Roger, backing away from the voice.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Man. There’s no such thing as ghosts. I’m merely…invisible.”
Lejos smiled indulgently and raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. Marnie giggled.
“All of it?” Roger gasped. “That’s…monstrous!”
“Monstrous, Mr. Tennant?” Lejos remarked. “No. It is merely unpleasant. And necessary. What Marnie is going to do to Mr. Spencer here, now that is truly monstrous.”
“I get bored.” Marnie said with a pout.
Roger tried to make a run for the door, but powerful, unseen hands seized him by the shoulders.
“I do rather like you, Roger. You’re a hack, but you are a pleasant and somewhat entertaining hack. I will miss you.”
Roger screamed at the top of his lungs as the Invisible Man dragged him off toward the laboratory.
La Mirada Radio Broadcast:
“Authorities are baffled by the total disappearance of Director Roger Tennant and his entire production crew, apparently swept off the beach of La Viuda Island by a freak storm.
Shortly after the storm, a motorboat ran aground on La Mirada Beach with a ‘strange creature’ in it. Initially identified by experts as some kind of giant, mutated Fantigua Fish, the figure proved to be a man in a life-like rubber suit. The man, as yet unidentified, is incoherent, mad from some terrible shock. He was transferred to a nearby sanitarium for observation and treatment.
Meanwhile, the hunt continues for the notorious Gill-Man, still believed to be at large somewhere near the La Mirada coast. Search teams remain on the water and vigilance is advised for all seaside communities….”
Aboard the S.S. Esmeralda, a battered, seedy sponge-boat that operated out of Key West, Ilzor Zandaab stood at the railing outside the pilot’s house and frowned angrily.
The skies above were black and churning with clouds stirred by unnatural forces. As a priest of the lines of Arkan and Karnak, Zandaab could feel the wrongness of the storm on his skin. He could taste corruption on the wind.
He wanted nothing more than to be on their way and out of these cursed waters as soon as possible.
The Captain, however, had pulled the ship close to a blighted rock of an island where he had some no doubt illicit business with a beachcombing hermit, and now the crew were engaged in an energetic effort to rescue some woman whom they spotted bobbing about in the waves.
There was a great deal of chatter and an excited buzz as sailors fell over each other trying to get lines to the water-logged wench. Two men gallantly pulled their shirts off and dove into the black water to rescue the girl.
She was lithe and limber, long-limbed with the ghastly pallid skin that infidels seemed to cherish so much. To Zandaab, she already looked too much like a corpse to bother with. The top of her swimwear appeared to have come undone just as she exhaustedly reached the vicinity of the boat and, after some weak arm-waving, she lie in the water on her back, great rounded breasts bobbing in the waves, her scarlet hair spread out like a blood-stain around her head.
“I wonder what happened to her?” Blurted his assistant Raghab with wide eyes.
Zandaab glanced at his underling with a frown.
After years of countless failures and betrayals by Priests of the line who were seduced by the exotic beauty of these infidel women, the wise men of Arkan had finally selected a man like Zandaab, a man immune to the charms of any woman, to retrieve the mummies of Kharis and Ananka.
His assistant, Raghab, however, was made of baser stuff and seemed vulnerable to the distractions of female flesh. Sadly, Zandaab had need of the man’s help and could only strive to help him attain a greater purity of service.
Zandaab sniffed disdainfully.
“It matters not.” He said tersely, with the sharp inflection of a schoolmaster correcting a pupil. “As long as it does not hinder the performance of our mission. We have been delayed here too long as it is.”
Zandaab turned abruptly and glided serenely back toward the filthy cabin he shared with his servant.
Raghab stared at the red-haired woman a little longer. He licked his lips. She seemed to be okay, with only a single ragged bite wound on one foot. Mostly, she was just limp, in a swoon from exhaustion.
Raghab wondered if he should fetch a blanket to wrap her with, then noted, with annoyance, that several of the sailors had the same idea. The nearly naked girl was bundled up in blankets and a bottle of fiery spirits was raised to her lips.
He winced at the impatient snap of his Master’s voice.
Reluctantly he turned away from the red-haired beauty and back to the holy mission he and his Master had been given.