04 BIGGER ON THE INSIDE [Speck of Light]

John had the sensation of passing through some kind of field as he entered the apartment. It wasn’t as spacious as John’s manor house, but it seemed more spacious than the luxury penthouse apartment that John was currently inhabiting. What should have been the apartment’s living room was a large vestibule with a coat rack attached to the wall. There were rooms to the left and right of a hallway leading to the back of the apartment.

There should not have been rooms leading off to the left because that is where Helen’s apartment was, immediately to the left of Thomas’ front door. The first room off to the right was the living room that could be seen from the outside window next to the door. Back behind the sofa and chairs was a small dining table and the kitchen. Farther back was the bedroom and bath, much farther than they should be.

John recorded video of his walk-through, capturing all the photos and knickknacks on display before moving into the kitchen to rummage through the cupboards and the refrigerator. The bareness of the refrigerator made it obvious that Thomas did not cook. Thomas owned the bare minimum of dishes, silverware, and cookware. The view from the kitchen window over the sink was of the back area of the apartment complex. A sliding glass door led to a small patio.

Walking to the end of the hallway took you to the second-floor loft with a view of the living room. A window overlooked a rose garden somewhere although the view tended to shift, one minute you would be overlooking a desert and the next you could hear waves breaking on a shore. The bathroom was spacious with a large pool in the middle of the floor and some fixtures that John could identify attached to the walls and floor.

Walking back to the front of the hall, John walked into the area that by all rights should have been Helen’s apartment. The light there was muted. There was the smell of must emanating from the redwood walls of the room. A single round window looked out at a grove of redwoods. John could see a metal railing. A thin line of light outlined a door to the forest outside of the room. John photographed the view outside the window.

After securing the deadbolt on Thomas’ apartment, John picked his way into Helen’s. The oddest thing about her home was how ordinary it was. The furnishings were simple and modest, most of them straight out of an Ikea catalog. The few paintings on the walls were generic pastoral scenes. There were no personal photos. There had been a few photos of Thomas and his family in his apartment, but there was nothing to indicate that Helen had any kind of family. Her refrigerator was better stocked, and there was evidence that she could at least prepare breakfast. John fought off the urge to clean up the dishes she had left in her sink.

John went upstairs to her loft bedroom and rifled through her closet and bureau drawers. She owned about two weeks’ worth of clothing, including underwear. The bathroom was small with barely enough room to step out of the tub and shower combo. There was a bottle of shampoo in the shower, a toothbrush and hand soap on the sink, and a roll of toilet paper on the tank of the toilet. It was almost as if she didn’t really live here. The only rational explanation was that her house had burned down and she was just beginning to recover from it. Either that or…

John dismissed the thought as being little more than wishful thinking. He needed to move on. Lucy was gone and no matter how badly he missed her, it was past time to let it go. John left Helen’s apartment as he had found it and went back to his penthouse to review the video that he had taken.

Distortions to the video image occurred every time that John walked through the hallway. The image practically folded in on itself when he walked into the redwood room. He captured stills of the view out the round window hoping to locate the specific tree in the Sequoia grove. Then he turned his attention to Helen’s apartment. Except for the sparseness of it all, her apartment was rather ordinary. He paused it to examine the dishes in the sink. He could tell what they had for breakfast from them. He took note of the cold coffee left in the coffeemaker. He started to notice details that he had missed when he was there.

When he arrived in the loft, John hadn’t paid much attention to the bedroom. He had always learned more in a person’s bathroom and inside their dresser drawers. And although he had searched beneath the mattress and the bed, he had missed something important. There was a scorch mark on the side of the bedside table. “It’s a miracle she didn’t set fire to the place,” he said out loud.

When Thomas arrived home, there was a shrill alarm alerting him to the presence of an intruder despite the door having been securely locked when he arrived. He went to his safe room where the monitoring system was located and turned off the alarm. He watched as a strange alien creature entered his living space. It looked like a blue-eyed toad with horns as it lumbered through his living room, pausing to examine his knickknacks and family photos then proceeding to the kitchen where it rummaged through his cupboards and examined the contents of his refrigerator. The beast then traveled to his bedroom to examine his dresser drawers and closet. It seemed puzzled in his bath facilities before stumbling back out. Then the creature ventured into his family shelter in Tectumque where it stood for a long time staring out the window studying the view.

Thomas copied the images onto the crystal around his neck and made arrangements to meet with his father. He knocked on Helen’s door and apologized for having to cancel their dinner date. “Something came up. It’s family related and urgent. I’ll make it up to you, I promise,” he said in his most apologetic tone.

A few minutes after Thomas drove off, someone knocked on Helen’s door. “Did you forget something?” she asked expecting it to be Thomas. But it wasn’t. John stood there with a smile on his face and a pot full of Lucy’s favorite flowers. Helen blinked at the stranger at her door, but invited him in. “I love Irises,” she gushed. “Come in,” she said totally unafraid.

“You don’t remember me, do you?” John asked. “But I remember you. My name is John Smith. I’m a private detective from back east. And when I saw you last, you looked twice as old as you do now.”

Helen placed the Irises on her table where they could get some sun during the day. “I have no idea what you are talking about,” she replied. “I’ve never lived on the east coast. But I’d love to hear more about her, the woman you think I am.”

“I’ve seen the scorch marks. You used to make them when you lived at my manor house. Probably at your old apartment too. I always marveled that you didn’t set the place ablaze,” John said as he took a seat at the table. “We’ve missed you, Lucy, more than you’ll ever know.”

“My name isn’t Lucy,” Helen protested. It’s Helen…”

“Zaranie,” John said finishing her sentence. “I know that’s the name you go by now. Considering the number of languages that I speak, I should have recognized it sooner. Lucy Morgen, Helen Zaranie, heaven knows how many other variations you’ve used but always with the same theme. Always a reference to light because you are the Lightbearer, the Lucifer, the Morning Star, the light of dawn rising out of the darkness.” John suddenly fell silent as he realized what he had just said.

Thomas met his father at Abraham’s penthouse apartment. “Now what is so urgent that you had to see me right away?” the elder Caine demanded. Thomas walked over to the entertainment unit and placed his crystal into a small black box. An image appeared of the strange alien intruder in Thomas’ apartment. “Oh, I see,” Abraham commented.

“This creature invaded my apartment, took a good look around and then left. If I hadn’t had the intruder detection system active, I would never have known. Do you have any idea what it might be?” Thomas asked in an aggravated tone.

“Have you tried googling it?” Abraham asked.

“Seriously?” Thomas replied.

“It can’t hurt,” Abraham commented.

Thomas snapped a photo of the creature with his phone and did an image search. The results came back in favor of “probably a demon” and provided a multitude of similar images. “I thought demons were just human myths,” Thomas stated.

“You forget,” Abraham responded, “Humans think that we are myths.”

“Look at me, Lucy” John demanded. “Tell me what you see.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Helen replied. “What do you expect me to see? And stop calling me Lucy.”

“Fine, Helen. Now tell me what you see,” John insisted.

“I see a tall man with blue eyes and brown hair,” she replied.

“Look again,” John said. He had dropped his glamour field to make it easier for her to see his true form.

Helen gasped. “What are you?” she asked. “And why am I not afraid of you?”

John raised his glamour field again. Helen blinked and rubbed her eyes. “Now I see both of you,” she said. John laughed. “How do I make the double image go away?” she asked.

“We have a lot to catch up on,” John commented. “How about I cook dinner?”

Thomas went home to do a little research on demons. He was so focused on the intruder that he didn’t notice that Helen had company. Just a John was setting the table, Helen asked if there was enough food for three. “Who did you have in mind?” John replied.

“I saw Thomas pass by,” she replied. “I doubt that he’s had time for dinner.”

“Sure,” John replied, “I’ll get the extra place setting ready.”

Helen knocked on Thomas’ door. “Thomas,” she yelled through the door, “I know that you’re in there.”

Thomas was a little irritated when he came to the door. “What do you want?” he barked. “I’m in the middle of something.”

“I was going to invite you to dinner,” Helen pouted, “but if you’re too busy to eat.” She turned to leave.

“Helen, wait, I’m sorry, where would you like to go?” Thomas asked.

“My place,” Helen replied. “An old friend stopped by and he made enough for three.”

“He?” Thomas asked as Helen led him through her front door.

“Have a seat,” John said to the couple. “Dinner is ready.” He placed three plates full of food on the table. “Sorry about the quality. I didn’t have much to work with.”

Thomas took a small taste of the chicken tetrazzini. The chicken was tender and the vegetables were perfectly cooked. The seasoning of the white sauce made an otherwise bland dish into a treat for the taste buds. “Absolutely amazing,” Thomas said. “How do you manage to keep it all from being a gooey mess?”

“A good chef never shares his secrets,” John teased, “Unless there’s money in it.”

“Do you do catering?” Thomas asked. “I’d love to have you cater one of our office parties. Unless Helen objects to our hiring you, of course.”

John laughed. “I don’t do catering. I’m not a professional chef. I just like to cook.”

“Oh?” Thomas raised an eyebrow. “What do you do?”

“I’m a private investigator,” John said. “I’m here on a case for an old client of mine.”

“Nothing dangerous, I hope,” Helen said before taking a sip of her coffee.

“No, just a background check on someone,” John replied.

“Can’t you do that over the internet?” Thomas asked.

“I could, but I wouldn’t trust the information. People lie online or sometimes the information applies to two different people. A thorough background check involves legwork, visits to the library, talks with classmates, visits to hometowns, et cetera,” John explained. “You need to sort the facts from the legend.”

Helen smiled at the reference to the day they first met. John had used the legend of Lucifer to draw her out. She ended up moving into his house. They became close friends. He was almost a brother to her, perhaps the only real family she had. John was not responsible for the act of betrayal that led to her starting over. There was a little corner of his mind that still burned, that was still angry at her betrayer, that still mourned her loss. But Helen could sense that John loved Helen as much as he loved Lucy, that they would always be family.

Thomas had different feelings toward her, more intense emotions, less attachment and more possession. Helen wasn’t sure that she approved of his growing dislike of John as the meal progressed. It had by the last bite risen to such a level of jealousy that it triggered Helen’s special sight. And suddenly, Thomas wasn’t so human after all. His true visage was strangely familiar. She had seen those green eyes before in a dream.

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