17: Jack


The large man, sitting on the ground, straight-backed and cross-legged like a guru, stretched his hand out, palm first toward the unlit campfire, and stated, simply, “Fire”.

Jack watched as a jet of blue flame, like a propane torch, flared from the man’s palm and danced over the firewood, rapidly setting it aflame. He closed his eyes and held his fingertips to his temple.

“Every time I start to think of you two as normal, you turn back into spooks on me.”

Rogan flashed him a quick grin, then stood up, and began striding away. “I’ll go to get down the supplies. I have them hung up out of animal’s reach.”

Nam watched her partner for a moment as he walked away, then turned to Jack with a quizzical smile. “I have heard the term before, but why is it that you Earthers call us ‘spooks’, anyhow?”

Now that he had decent light, Jack could see that she sported a spectacular tattoo of a hawk wings spreading from shoulder to shoulder and eyes glaring forward from just below her collarbone. Her snake-skin bandeau left the entire decoration on full display. The artist was a genius. This was a work far more skillful than the pathetic tat on Jack’s shoulder, which was supposed to be the crossed flintlock pistols from the Military Police Corps insignia.

Once he realized that he was effectively staring at the girl’s chest, he looked quickly down toward the flames to think about his answer instead. The fire, and the way the man lit it, provided his most recent reason, but he decided that wouldn’t serve as an explanation.

“We have to call you something, of course,” he stated. “Ten years ago, when strange beings first starting appearing in our world out of the blue, we thought people were hallucinating. Most of the time, the beings were doing supernatural things, so it became normal to say people were seeing ‘spooks’. The label stuck even after we figured out you were living beings.”

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His first spook encounter streamed back to him from years before as he thought the question over. He had still been adjusting to the civilian world and the St. Louis force after years in the Army and the whole spook phenomenon was still new, not yet universally accepted fact.

He had been one of the people putting spooks in the same category as UFO sightings and Elvis reports. Just the previous night, one of his foster fathers, also a policeman, had been describing such an encounter to him. It had involved a vehicle that looked like a literal flying boat which zoomed through the downtown, apparently pursuing a rocket-powered hang-glider. Jack had listened with doubt. Despite years of Army police service, he was still considered a ‘rookie’, and thought the older cop was having fun with him.

Then, as he and his partner walked the mall, repeating to each other the screwy spook stories that guys like his foster father had been telling lately, a creature that looked for all the world like a bear in a cyclist’s helmet came running two-legged down the concourse.

Almost a bear. Its shape was wrong, and it was clearly comfortable running on two feet. It huffed loudly as it ran, a sound no human in a bear suit could have made. He wondered if it could possibly be intelligent. It acted intelligent.

The two bizarrely dressed people who came chasing after it while his partner frantically called in the situation on his radio looked vaguely like they might be soldiers of some sort. Their clothing and equipment didn’t resemble anything military or civilian that he had seen before, but they had a distinctly military bearing.

They subjugated the bear, which thrashed and howled in rage when trapped in their enormous net, and took off into the air using something like jet packs, with the creature riding in a sling they carried between them. Jack and his partner could do nothing but join the crowd standing and staring as the spooks blasted a hole in the roof and flew away.

The sheer sense of confusion and fear such encounters had caused might not get through to this woman from somewhere else, but he tried to give her the executive summary.

“You guys either make trouble, or stop other spooks from making trouble, and then you disappear.” He shrugged and looked into the fire again. “All we know about you is that you are extremely dangerous, and all we’ve been able to do about you is call you ‘spooks’, file reports, and avoid getting ourselves killed by getting in your way.”

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“Well, I have stopped to explain, a few times,” Rogan declared as he returned, then admitted, “though I’m usually too busy.”

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