There is a train terminal beneath the vast halls and escalator-riddled chambers of the grand hotel. He runs down one last flight of marble steps and hurries onto a train. The car is crowded. The seats are in pairs, facing forward, with a narrow aisle running down the middle.
He’s barely sat down when the conductor spots him. The conductor makes his way over, as other passengers arrange their luggage and settle into their seats. The conductor is carrying a stack of hats. He places the stack of hats in the man’s lap. He asks the man to hold onto them until the train reaches its destination. The man feels inconvenienced, but agrees to do as he’s been asked.
What is unusual is this: before the train has even pulled out of the station, one of the hats begins to sing. The man doesn’t recognize the tune, or the words of the song. But one of the hats toward the middle of the stack is definitely singing, in a plain but not unpleasant male voice. Other passengers notice. The ones seated nearest to the man with the hats look over, nervously, but say nothing.
Then, the old man in the seat behind him stands up. He is trembling. He says, accusingly: “I know that voice! It’s that damned singing hat! It took me years to get rid of that hat!” He is wild-eyed and out of breath. He looks down at the man with the stack of hats in his lap.
“But now” the old man pants “…now, it’s yours! You’re the one that’s stuck with it!”
The hat continues to sing.
The man looks at the stack of hats in his lap, searching for the one that is singing. It is only then that he notices a man crouched beneath his seat, his hand cupped to his mouth. It is he who is singing, not the hat.
The passengers are playing some sort of trick on him …
He’d been called in to investigate an incident that occurred twenty years ago.
A group of thirty people had been missing since an accident that took place in the lowest levels of an immense factory. Their bodies had never been recovered. No one had been down to the factory’s bottom floors in decades. He’d been asked to go down and see if he could determine what had happened to the workers.
It was a surprise to find out that they were still down there, and very much alive.
The missing workers didn’t mind that he’d found them. But they had no intention of going back up.
He called the people who’d hired him, using a dusty, antique phone — the kind where you hold the cup to one ear as you speak into the receiver. He told them the situation.
Details were vague … The workers were in the company of a round-faced Native American boy, who they described as an “artificial being.” The workers said the boy was created in a laboratory inside a satellite orbiting the Earth. At his request, the boy came to talk to him. He was thrilled at the opportunity to interview a being of such strange origin.
The first questions that came to his mind concerned music. What did the artificial boy think of it? Was music of any interest at all to him? Did he enjoy music, or play an instrument?
The boy replied that he played guitar. He said that he only used his first two fingers on the fret board. He’d developed his own unique method of fingering chords.
It was true — the monkey knew how to use a gun. It was also true that the monkey was a good shot.
A man went to complain to the monkey’s owner. He said the monkey’s gun should be taken away. The monkey’s owner scoffed. “He never aims at people,” the owner said.
That was true, too. But the monkey never considered whether any people were positioned between his pistol, and what he was aiming at. The man and his friends had all had close calls, and he intended to complain until the owner disarmed the animal.
“He’s never shot anyone,” the owner said.
“That’s because we’ve learned to move faster than his bullets,” the man replied.
Mike’s dad was driving him through a residential area. It was winter. The front yards and sidewalks were covered with snow. He remembered Mike’s dad as a reliable, no-nonsense sort of man. But he was driving like a lunatic. He was calmly speeding up whenever they approached an icy patch. He was making the car spin and skid alarmingly between the rows of parked cars. They finally banged into a station wagon. Nothing serious, but they had to stop and fill out an accident report.
The man was travelling down a bleak German mountainside in a very small car, having had some dimly remembered adventure, higher up.
He was visiting castles and historic spots along the way. In one old castle, he ran into a girl on a dark, winding stairway. Like the stairway, the girl was dusty and gloomy-looking. He thought he recognized her. She had been part of the adventure, higher up.
But he’d traveled a long distance from where he’d known her. It was strange and disturbing to find her there.
He expressed his surprise. She told him that she was visiting the castle with her family. They were sight seeing. The man looked out a small window; he saw a man and two other people waiting below. There was something menacing about her family, especially the father.
They talked some more. Eventually, the girl admitted that they were following him. She said that she and her family had radiation poisoning. She claimed that they were able to track people who’d been exposed to them. Anyone who spent time with them became radioactive.
They had followed his radioactive trail down the mountain.
He had a sudden mental image of the family following him in their cramped little truck, holding a Geiger counter out the window.
He was in the kitchen of an ordinary-looking home. He was there to investigate a haunting. He was crouched behind a counter. Someone, a woman, was seated at the table behind him. They were waiting for whatever was haunting the place to appear.
Suddenly, the front door burst open, and he heard someone run noisily into the house.
He braced himself.
A harshly-lit, tormented figure exploded into the kitchen. It was hard to look at it for more than a few seconds. It seemed confused and terrified. It entered the kitchen at a full run, stopping just short of crashing into the wall. His lungs were filled with heat, and he could hardly breathe as he forced himself to look at it.
The apparition looked like a teenage boy with straight black hair and flashing lights all around his eyes.
The job interview was to take place outside of a window on the 10th floor. There was something there that might have been called a balcony, but looked much more like a dilapidated fire escape. It hung down at a 45-degree angle from the side of the building’s gray cement wall, looking as if it could break off and fall at any moment.
Still, the prospective employees clambered out and onto it, and sat down to wait for the interviewer. The man had a place in the lowest-hanging end. He was tucked uncomfortably between two iron side rails. He was afraid of heights. But looking out and over the streets of Manhattan’s west side, he was surprised at his lack of any real fear. There were five of them, waiting to be interviewed. They waited, and waited some more.
They began to talk among themselves. Nobody mentioned the unlikely, and potentially fatal, location of the interview. But none of them were making any sudden or unnecessary movements, either.
The woman seated next to him finally made a remark about how long it was taking the interviewer to arrive. He nodded in agreement. “Unless,” he wondered silently, “the interviewer is one of us, and the interview has already started.”
A few minutes before the wedding, the rain came pouring down. He was in the caterer’s tent. The plan was to see if the rain would let up soon. If it did, the wedding would be performed on the grass, as planned.
He was introduced to a young man dressed in workman’s clothes. The man had had an interesting supernatural encounter, and a documentary was being made about it. The man told him his story:
A few years earlier, he had been in great despair. One night, he decided to slit the wrist of his right arm and bleed to death at his kitchen table. He slit his wrist. While he waited to die, a shadowy being appeared. The apparition gave the man a cooking pan that was split nearly in two. Then, it gave the man a soldering iron, and told him to repair the pan.
The man did as he was told, bleeding all the while. He lost consciousness just as he finished repairing the pan.
When he woke up, the shadowy apparition and the pan were gone. The slit he had made in his arm was stitched together. The man got up, and looked in a mirror on the kitchen wall. On the mirror, written in blood, was a message. It said that if the man ever tried to take his own life again, the spirit would come back. And it would cause him horrible torment.
Something wakes him up. He is in bed, facing his wife. She’s awake too, and he asks her if something’s wrong. She gestures behind him. She whispers that there’s something in the room. He finds that it’s almost impossible to turn around, but he forces himself to roll over. There’s some kind of ghost hovering by his night table.
It’s made a mess there. It’s spilled a glass of water onto his things. He tries to talk to the ghost, but no words come out. Then he sees that it’s spilled water onto his camera, and he gets angry. “You fucked up my camera?” he hisses. “Get the hell out of here!”
He is sitting with his mother. He is aware that she passed away just over a year ago. They are discussing how impressive it is that people can calculate coordinates in space, and plan the docking of spacecraft, out there in all that vastness.
As they talk, they see animated diagrams of these maneuvers.
“Those dogs can’t stay in here. There’s no room for them. Put them on the sidewalk, across the street.”
He takes the three dogs outside, and paints a circle on the sidewalk. The circle is divided into three sections: red, yellow, and green. As soon as the paint dries, the dogs curl up inside the circle, one in each section.
The man and his wife are being taken to look at a new apartment. The real estate broker is leading them up fire escapes and down stairways, over fences, and through people’s backyards. Soon they are climbing on rooftops to get to the place. The broker is explaining that the apartment is hard to get to, but the rent is very reasonable.
He once rented an apartment that was haunted by the ghost of a young woman. She had fallen out of one its windows, years before. His wife had found a blanket the dead woman left behind in the closet. They suspected that the blanket was keeping the woman’s spirit connected to the place.
His wife’s parents drove over one afternoon. They had come to help the man and his wife free the young woman’s spirit.
They all took hold of the blanket. His wife’s mother looked upset. “We saw her in the window as we drove up,” she told the man and his wife. “She’s still here, alright.”