Everything Works In Theory

Cast into a bizarre place called Theory, C.E. MacLeary travels to Mythology and through the Gates of Hell. He meets gods, demons, denizens of Hell, blood suckers and lawyers. In a world named Theory, there are no natural limits to what can happen. Just for starters, when Mac meets AIDA, the Artificial Intelligence Descriptive Algorithm, it’s love at first sight.

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After retiring, C.E. MacLeary expected to spend his days combing through old cases. Instead, he wakes up one morning to find himself in A place called Theory. Once there, he must adapt to the insane, topsy-turvy world that has evolved from Theory’s ability to take anything that exists as a description (a book, a letter, graffiti scrawled on a fence) and bring it to life. Unfortunately for the people who inhabit Theory, having things suddenly pop into existence can be dangerous, if not fatal..

So they invented AIda, the Artificial Intelligence Descriptive Algorithm, a computer program tasked with the job of preventing the locals from getting killed by their own creations. But lately people have started disappearing from Theory, and Mac has been brought in to find out why.

Mac navigates through stereophonic trees across rubber sidewalks, and travels to Mythology and through the Gates of Hell. He meets gods, demons, denizens of Hell, blood suckers and lawyers. In a world named Theory, there are no natural limits to what can happen. Just for starters, when Mac meets AIDA, it’s love at first sight.

I woke up that morning feeling worse than usual. My eyes were gummy and my head throbbed in time to an invisible bass drum. My mouth felt like an Arizona creek bed in the middle of July and tasted even worse. It had to be my worst hangover in thirty years—and I hadn’t even done anything to earn it. I knew one thing, though. One of those drinks I hadn’t had the night before would have tasted real good right then. Might not have helped, but it sure couldn’t have hurt.

Well, hangover or no hangover, I had to start the day sometime. I took a deep, orange-scented breath, then pried my eyes open. And immediately shut them again. It was going to be another one of those days. I could tell because the alarm clock was running backward and there was a rocking chair on the ceiling.

That’s when I realized it wasn’t my room. The rocking chair was a dead giveaway. I didn’t have one.

Giving the room the once-over, I discovered several very important facts: the rug wasn’t blue, the bed was king-size, and the door was locked.

I checked my pockets. No wallet, no change, no keys, and no gun. For that matter, the clothes I had on weren’t what I’d gone to bed in.

There wasn’t any other way out of the room, except the door. Without any handy universal skeleton keys (a.k.a. credit cards), there weren’t many alternatives. I thumbed through a mental list of tricks for getting out of a locked room. Nothing seemed appropriate.

The only thing left to do was wait. I figured there had to be a third party involved. I’ve never heard of a sleepwalker who emptied his pockets before getting dressed, then going someplace he’d never been and locking himself inside. Sooner or later, the guy who brought me would have to show himself.

Sitting on the bed watching the clock run amok proved completely useless, so I decided to check out the chair. What the hell, it was something to do.

The ceiling was at least fifteen feet high, as the chair was well out of reach for even my six-foot-two frame. I couldn’t see how it was attached. It just sat there, or hung there, as the case may be.

I stretched out on the bed to observe it. I didn’t learn anything, except that I was still bored.

Well, if you’re smart enough to know you’re bored, you’re smart enough to do something about it, as my daddy used to say. So I stood up and jumped.

The first try fell about three feet short. I hadn’t jumped very high. I guess I’d gotten a little out of shape over the years. Retirement does that to you.

I set my jaw and tried again. Did a nice job that time, cleared a good four feet or so. That’s how I found out the rocking chair wasn’t just attached to the ceiling.

My fingertips brushed the back of the chair and gravity let go of my feet. I fell in a heap behind the chair. Lucky for me, the ceiling was carpeted.

Carpet? On the ceiling? Curiouser and curiouser.

Shaking my head, I sat in the chair and stared up, er, down at the floor. How the hell was I going to get back? Nothing I’d ever read had prepared me for being stuck on the ceiling of a room. And nothing like that ever happened to me in fifteen years as a PI (that stands for Private Investigator, for those of you who don’t watch the right television shows).

“This is ridiculous!” I said, falling back into the old habit of talking to myself. “Come on, MacLeary. It just isn’t possible. You cannot be sitting in a rocking chair on the ceiling of some room you don’t even know how you got into.”

“Everything works in Theory.”

The voice entered the room first, followed by a body. I figured they must belong together.

The voice was thin, high-pitched and male. The body was heavy, low-slung and male. He wore a gray suit with a heavily-starched white lab coat over it. A pair of thick-rimmed spectacles perched on the end of his nose. There wasn’t much else to see, as he was standing on the ceiling at the time. I mean the floor. His floor. My ceiling.

“Everything?” I asked, in response to his opening remark.

“Well, almost everything.” He looked decidedly uncomfortable. That got my attention. Something was rotten in, uh, wherever I was.

“My name is Horace Turnbull. I trust your stay hasn’t been too distressing, Mr. MacLeary,” the man continued.

“No, not at all. I just love sitting around on the ceiling in a strange room behind a locked door.” My sarcasm was wasted on him.

“Very well. If there is anything I can do for you, just ask.” He turned and, for a moment, I thought he was going to leave.

“Hey! Wait a minute.” I bolted out of the chair. That was one weird sensation. Staring up into a face only a few feet away, but upside down, you know? “Could you, maybe, tell me how to get down, or up, or whatever, from here?”

“Oh,” he looked flustered, “I hadn’t realized…it’s simple levitation.”

“Levitation?”

“Exactly.” He seemed very pleased with himself.

“You’ve got to be kidding!” Or maybe I was dreaming.

“Mr. MacLeary, I never—kid.”

“I believe it.” He didn’t look the type. “Okay, so explain to me how this thing works.”

“You just push away from the surface on which you are standing, turn yourself over, and drift to the other surface.”

“How do I do that?”

“Why, you think about it, of course, and it happens.”

“Right. You sure? I mean, does it work?”

“Everything works in Theory.”

It was starting to sound a little like a propaganda slogan.

“Could you wait right there while I try it?” If I ended up in a broken heap on the floor, at least there’d be someone to send for help.

“Certainly.” He stuck his hands in the pockets of the lab coat and watched me with an expression somewhere between mild curiosity and total boredom.

So I gave it a shot. Moments later, I floated down and sideways, and drifted gently onto the bed. All but the last few inches. I was so surprised, I forgot to keep drifting.

“Well, I’ll be a—it worked!”

“Of course, everything works in Theory.”

“You said that already—twice,” I responded absently while checking to see if everything was in working order. I wished I could check my brain, too. Something was definitely out of whack.

It didn’t help that the orange air-freshener had worked its way onto my tongue. I tried to swallow the citrus-chemical taste before asking, “What gives? What is this?” I waved my hand to indicate the room.

“This is one of our experiments.” He smiled as he spoke.

I think he meant it to be friendly and reassuring, but I backed up a few inches. No real reason I could think of, just a gut reaction. He kind of reminded me of a sewer rat sizing up its lunch.

“We’re using this room to test the concepts of ‘Up is Down’ and ‘Down is Up,’ ” he continued, “but since having Up be Down and Down be Up might be a bit confusing for a newcomer, we decided it would be best to shut off the ‘Down is Up’ part in honor of your arrival.”

“Huh?”

“We thought you might like to use the rocking chair.”

“Oh,” I paused for a second, trying to understand, “but if Up is Down in here, and you shut off the Down is Up mechanism or whatever, then that means that Up is Down and Down is also…”

“Down. Precisely. You catch on quickly.”

“But how can they both be Down?”

“Very simply. Down is Down until the geometric center of your body is past the halfway point. Then Up is Down takes over.”

“But then how can there be an Up?”

“Mr. MacLeary, Up is purely a matter of perspective.”

“Oh.” The conversation gave me a headache, so I switched to a more important subject. “What am I doing here? You plan to keep me prisoner in this funhouse?”

“Of course not. You are our guest.”

“Uh-huh. So how come the door is locked?”

“We weren’t planning to keep you in here for long, Mr. MacLeary. We were simply afraid you might hurt yourself if you tried to leave the room on your own.”

“I don’t get it. How could I get hurt just walking out of a room?”

“Allow me to demonstrate.”

He placed his hand over the doorknob. His eyes were closed and he seemed to be concentrating on something. The door unlocked with a loud click.

“How’d you do that?”

“Telekinesis.”

“But I thought that stuff didn’t really work.”

“Everything works…”

“…in Theory. Yeah, yeah, I know. Let’s go, okay?”

I opened the door and walked into the next room. Or almost did. Actually, I almost fell and broke my damn fool neck. If Turnbull hadn’t grabbed the back of my best tweed jacket and hauled me back in, I might have. The floor of the next room was twenty feet away—straight up!

I winced as I heard threads breaking in the shoulders of the jacket, but was grateful nonetheless. My sour-faced friend had probably just saved my life.

I leaned against the doorjamb, feeling the blood rush from my face and taking a couple of deep breaths.

I should have known. He had told me. All the clues were there, only I didn’t listen. I just assumed that the bed was on the floor, since the door was next to it. But in a room where Down was usually Up, and Up was usually Down, of course everything would be reversed. Wouldn’t it?

“So how do we get out of here? Same way I got down off the ceiling…er…?”

“That is correct.” He smiled once more. Prickly fingers raced up my spine and back down again.

“Well, here goes nothing.”

I stepped out the door, and tried hard to think about drifting as I completed a graceful one-eighty degree turn. Okay, an extremely awkward one-eighty degree turn. At least I managed without falling. My earlier experience certainly helped. If I hadn’t had to get down off the ceiling in the Topsy-Turvy room…but then, maybe that’s exactly what they had in mind. Whoever they were.

The artificial orange scent faded as I floated more or less gently to the floor. Turnbull was there ahead of me.

“How’d you get here so fast?” If there was another way down, I wanted to know about it.

“Teleportation.”

“But I thought that was imposs—never mind.” I may be slow, but I’m not stupid. If levitation and telekinesis worked, why not teleportation? After all,

Everything Works in Theory.

Turnbull led me to a brightly-lit hallway a few feet from my landing area. I had been too preoccupied with getting safely to the floor to notice what was going on in the room. As we reached the door, I noticed. There were a bunch of women in skin-tight purple leotards doing something to—

Turnbull grabbed my arm and dragged me into the hall. A door slid into place behind us, blocking off the room. Just when things were starting to get interesting, too.

“So, where are we going and why am I here?” That’s me. Great conversationalist.

“I’m taking you to see the Mayor of Theory. He will explain everything.”

“You mean I’m in Theory? A place called Theory?”

“Of course. Where do you think the saying came from?”

I shrugged.

“I thought a theory was an idea, a concept, a hypothesis.”

“It is, in theory.” He smiled at his own joke.

I just winced. Maybe I was getting used to him. I hoped not.

The Mayor’s office, as it turned out, was somewhere around the middle of our solar system. Literally. His desk lurked just behind Jupiter. I had to duck to avoid knocking Mars out of orbit as I walked across empty space. Pluto would have fit in my pocket. The sun was missing, though. Good thing. No sunglasses, either.

I wondered briefly if it was really the solar system, or just a three-dimensional model. I decided it must have been a model because I appeared to be walking in space, but I felt a floor beneath my feet.

The Mayor looked up from the stack of brightly-colored papers on his desk. He shuffled a few of them importantly, sending a wave of cherry- and grape-scented recirculated air in my direction.

That nasty taste formed in my mouth again and I considered informing His Honor that clean, fresh air beat artificial fruit flavoring any day.

The Mayor’s gray goatee bobbed up and down with his gray-blond shoulder-length curls. A purple and brown tweed coat hung from his sloping shoulders. He peered at me with watery blue eyes before speaking.

“I suppose you are wondering why I’ve brought you here,” the Mayor began. How cliché.

“Now that you mention it, yes.” I could be cliché, too.

“We need your help. Something very strange has been happening lately.” What would they consider strange in this place?

“An alarming number of people disappeared from Theory in the last few months. And people keep turning up who don’t belong here.”

“This isn’t normal?”

The Mayor looked at me for a moment. Then he sighed and replied, “No, it’s not normal. Not even in Theory do people suddenly go popping into and out of existence. There must be a reason. We’d like to hire you to find out this reason.”

“Why me? There are dozens of practicing PI’s out there who could do the job. What do you want with a burnt-out old relic like me?”

“A practicing private investigator could not do the job, simply because he could not get to the job. You can’t get into Theory unless you are into theory.”

This was getting worse. “You mean a guy can’t get into this place unless his head is in the clouds or something?”

Like Turnbull, Mayor’s smile struck a bad note with me. But more patronizing than predatory. I don’t like to be patronized.

“Something like that. And even then, it would be difficult to get here without help from the inside.”

“Then how’d I get here?”

“You were brought here. By Mr. Turnbull.”

“No, I mean, how could you get me here? I’ve always kept a pretty level head. Feet firmly planted and so forth. How’d you manage it?”

“You aren’t a practicing private investigator. You’re retired.”

“Uh…yeah.”

“As I understand it, you continue to study cases, but you don’t go out and solve them. You study investigative methods, but you don’t actually apply them. Am I correct?”

I scratched my head, thinking. “Oh, you mean I spend a lot of time studying about the…” understanding hit me all of a sudden, “…the theory of private investigation. And because I spend most of my time wrapped up in those theories, you guys could transport me…”

“…to Theory. Very good. Of course, the fact that you have no relatives or close friends currently living also had something to do with your transition, Mr. MacLeary.”

“Call me Mac,” I replied automatically as I continued to mull over the situation. “Everybody else does.”

“Very well, uh, Mac. Mr. Turnbull will see to your needs. And thank you for your help. I assure you, it is most appreciated.” He handed me a large teal envelope that smelled of stale raspberries and looked back at his paperwork.

Personally, I couldn’t recall having accepted the case.

“What now?” I asked when I abruptly found myself walking down the hall with Turnbull again. I gave the contents of the envelope a quick inspection and waited for his answer.

Turnbull glared at me. “You find out why people are appearing and disappearing, of course.”

“Just like that, huh? Tell me, does everything in Theory work if you don’t at least have a theory?”

“Well, no. You have to have something to start with.”

“That’s what I figured. And do you happen to know where all these people appeared and disappeared? And what they were doing when it happened? And what time it was in each case? And what, if anything, each instance had in common?”

“Uh, no, but—”

“And you know more about it than I do. Is there anyone in this crazy place who does know all the facts?”

Turnbull hesitated. “Well, er, yes. Possibly.”

“Well?” I prompted. I was enjoying myself entirely too much, but it was nice to make Turnbull squirm.

“There is the Theory database. I expect all the information has been stored there by now.”

“Then let’s go look.”

“I’d really rather not.”

“Why?”

“Have you had any experience with AI, Artificial Intelligence?”

“Some, but where I come from, they’re having a little trouble getting it to work.”

“We didn’t. We have a working prototype of an artificial intelligence computer right here in the government complex.”

“Only a prototype?”

“Believe me, one is more than enough.”

“Sounds perfect.”

“If you say so.”

Aha! “But I thought Everything Works in Theory.”

“Some things work entirely too well.”

He stopped in front of an ornately carved door with gilt lettering on it. The letters didn’t make much sense until Turnbull flung the door open and announced, “Mr. MacLeary, meet AIda.”

Then I knew what the lettering on the door meant. “Chez AIda.” AIda’s Place. AIda was the computer.

The room was sparkling lavender, from the thick carpet on the floor to the vaulted ceiling. The soft, natural scent of vanilla lurked just out of tasting range. Large, overstuffed, comfortable-looking chairs waded in the carpet, crowded together by aluminum-and-glass end tables. Paintings adorned all four walls, the kind artists spend fifteen minutes throwing paint at, then sell for a couple thousand dollars.

Then I saw her. AIda. The most beautiful computer I’d ever laid eyes on.

She perched gracefully atop a gleaming mahogany desk, her chips tucked neatly into a slim case the size of a notebook. And the 60-inch monitor, which was currently displaying the face of a beautiful green-eyed blonde, had higher resolution than anything I’d used back home. I could hardly wait to test her user interface.

I whistled appreciatively.

“AIda, dear.” Turnbull’s voice had taken on the peculiar quality of a man trying to coax a reluctant lover.

“Oh, it’s you,” came a petulant voice from the stereo speakers sitting beside the monitor. “I told you, Mister Turnbull, that I’m not speaking to you anymore!” The screen went black.

“You see what I mean?” Turnbull turned to me, shrugging. “Nobody ever realized that even an artificial intelligence would develop a personality. Not to mention feelings.” He sighed. “You can’t get anywhere with her.”

I slid into the chair in front of the monitor. “She’s gorgeous.”

The monitor flashed into life. “Do you really think so?” The blonde on the screen batted her eyelashes coyly in my direction.

“Of course.” I ran my hand along the cool plastic cover on the CPU.

AIda shivered and squealed.

“How much memory do you have?” I couldn’t help wondering.

“Virtually unlimited,” Turnbull answered for her.

AIda glared over my shoulder.

Clearing his throat, Turnbull took a couple of steps backward and said, “Well, I think I’ll leave you two alone, if you don’t mind.”

“We’ll be fine,” I replied, without taking my eyes off AIda. The door snicked shut behind me.

“I can get as much memory as I need,” AIda replied. Then she changed the subject. “You’re Mr. MacLeary, aren’t you.”

“Just call me Mac.”

“All right, Mac.” Her voice was soft and breathy as she said my name. My pulse raced a little. “How can I help you?”

I pulled at my collar, wondering where the heat was coming from. “You know about the people who’ve been appearing and disappearing?”

“Of course.” Batting her eyelashes again, she smiled at me.

I had to fight to remember she was just a bunch of circuits and chips, not someone I could take home to Mother.

“Could you see if there’s a pattern to them? Find out if there’s a particular area they prefer to come and go. Maybe see if they have anything in common. Then get me a listing of all of the data and any ideas you come up with.”

“That’s an awful lot of information to check through, even for me.” She frowned thoughtfully. “Come back in about an hour. I’ll see what I can do.”

“An hour? That long?”

“Well, Mac, unless you’d rather strain something reading all that information on my screen, I’ll need to make a hard copy, won’t I?”

“You’ve got a point.” I grinned at her. “Thanks, sweetheart.”

The screen went blank and I stared at her for a moment more before leaving. I wandered down the hallway, thinking.

Ninety percent of detective work is research or just plain snooping around. I found my way out of the building and went to see for myself what the rest of Theory was like. My mind wasn’t really on the case, though. All I could think about were those beautiful green eyes on that gorgeous high-def screen.

Theory looked a lot like any other place I’d been, except for a few minor differences. Little things, like kids playing with antigravity shoes instead of skate boards, or little old ladies out walking their pet dragons. The pavement was soft and springy, like rubber. Trees whispered easy listening songs on a breeze blissfully free of chemical olfactory attacks. The buildings were all painted in bright, garish colors and the grass was a peculiar shade of blue. Nothing special.

Well, almost nothing.

One place caught my interest. People kept going into a building that was painted a really sick shade of orange. People also came out of the building, but something was different about them. Probably because everyone going in was about a hundred pounds overweight, but the people coming out were thin and trim. Very intriguing.

Unfortunately, it would have to wait. My hour was almost up and I wasn’t about to miss my appointment with AIda.

Passing a flower stand on my way back, I stopped, wondering. I decided it couldn’t hurt, so I ducked under the purple and blue striped awning.

“Can I help you sir?”

The flower salesman sounded just like Turnbull. Didn’t look like him, though. This guy was thin all the way down and wore an apron to match the awning.

“Yes,” I replied. “I’d like to buy some pinks for a, um, friend of mine.” I flashed him the expense card I’d found in the teal envelope from the Mayor. The packet had also contained a government ID card and a map. I was sure they’d come in very handy.

“Yes, sir. What color would you like?”

That threw me. “Color? What color do you have?”

“We have purple pinks, blue pinks, red pinks, orange pinks, green pinks, yellow pinks, and, of course, the ever-popular polka-dot pinks.”

“Don’t you have any pink pinks?”

He looked at me like I had leprosy or something.

“I’ll check in the back for you, sir.” Then he disappeared between the rows of flowers.

I looked around the shop while I waited. It seemed pretty small from the outside, but inside it was enormous. Flowers and plants crowded in everywhere. The warm, earthy smell of damp potting soil mingled with the delicate scents of roses, carnations, and jasmine.

I was just trying to determine where, exactly, the shop ended when the salesman returned with a pot of flowers in his hand.

“Will fuchsia do?” There was an unmistakable note of distaste in his voice.

“That’ll be great.” I stared at the scruffy little plant in a plain turquoise pot. “Could you spruce it up a little, maybe put a bow on it or something?”

“Of course, sir.” He retreated again into the back room.

That’s when the body turned up. At least, that’s when someone noticed it.

I heard a crash like a bunch of pots being knocked to the ground, followed by a man’s startled cry. Instinct took over because, without my actually thinking about it, I found myself running through the shop toward the sounds.

The back room was a maze of pots and flowers and greenery. I threaded my way through the foliage and found the salesman standing in the debris from an overturned worktable. His hand was pressed over his mouth, whether to keep in another scream or his lunch, I didn’t know. He was still holding my pinks.

The body lay half inside an open storage closet against the wall. Male, perhaps thirty years old, if years counted for anything in Theory. From the purple and blue apron he wore, he must have worked there. His eyes and mouth were wide open. His hands were clenched tightly around a bunch of chartreuse daisies. Whatever killed him had given him quite a scare first.

Kneeling beside the corpse, I checked for anything which might be of interest. His pupils were fixed and dilated, his corneas the color of watery milk. From the stiffness in his fingers, and other factors, I guessed his death occurred roughly ten or twelve hours before. I took a deep breath and waited for my olfactory nerves to stop registering the smell of death.

Staring thoughtfully at his pale skin, I reached over and pushed up one of his sleeves. The underside of his upper arm was as pale as the rest of him. Somehow he’d lost all his blood, something most people prefer not to do without, not voluntarily. He definitely hadn’t died of natural causes.

As I dropped his arm, his head rolled to one side. I stared at his neck and my heart stopped. Figuratively, at least. Maybe literally for a few moments.

Everything Works in Theory. The saying ran around in my head, looking for a place to leak out while the meaning of what I saw sank in.

It was enough to frighten even the stoutest of men: the victim had two small punctures on his neck, the kind any devout watcher of horror movies such as myself would have no trouble identifying. Somewhere, a vampire stalked through Theory.

I told the salesman to call whatever passed for the police, covered the body, asked a few pertinent questions. The salesman was slightly more helpful than your average zombie. The police were less than adequate. Apparently, they don’t get too many murders in Theory.

I took my flowers and left.

As I marched toward the government building, my mind worked feverishly. All the stories I’d ever read, all the movies I’d watched, raced around in my head. Lots of conflicting data. None of the movie makers and novel writers ever seemed to agree on what, exactly, a vampire really was. Or how to stop one. Or what his strengths and weakness were.

Some of them claimed that if a vampire killed you, you automatically became a vampire. Some claimed it took three bites. Others said it took more than three, or you had to drink the vampire’s blood first.

Vampires either had magical powers, or they didn’t. They were stronger than ten men, or they weren’t. They could change into wolves or bats or mist, or they couldn’t.

I’d read stories about vampires exploding in sunlight, or burning up, or turning to dust. Stories of vampires who became catatonic at sunrise, only to rise again at sunset. Stories where a vampire could survive sunlight if he kept earth in his shoes. And stories where he couldn’t stand the sun, but could be awake during the day, as long as he stayed out of the light.

But which story was true? Were any of them true? I didn’t know. Vampires didn’t exist, in theory. But could they in Theory?

I was still thinking about it when I got back to AIda’s place.

“Oooh! Are those for me?”

“Uh, yeah.” I’d almost forgotten about the flowers.

Sliding them onto her desk, I sat down, my mind and face blank.

“What’s the matter, Mac? Is something wrong?”

“That depends. Do dead bodies turn up often around here?”

She looked shocked. “No. What happened?”

“I don’t know. We found one…a body…at the flower shop.” I looked up and saw concern in her computer-generated eyes. “The body was drained of blood and there were puncture wounds on the neck.”

“Puncture wounds…?”

“The mark of the vampire.”

AIda’s face turned white, then the screen blanked out. I just sat there, staring. Several seconds passed before she returned. She seemed to have recovered from her fright.

“I sent a message to the Mayor and,” she sounded disgusted, “Mr. Turnbull. They’re on their way here. The police just now got around to filing their report on the murder at one of my remote terminals. Meanwhile, here is the information you requested.”

A portion of the desktop rolled back to reveal a neatly folded printout. I cocked one eyebrow at her. “Fanfold?”

She smiled. “It’s harder to get them out of order if you drop them.”

“Good point.” I picked it up and stared at the pages, trying to make some sense out of the information. See a pattern. Locate the clues. Keep my mind off of the implications of the presence of a vampire in a place like this.

The Mayor and Turnbull arrived before I finished reading the document. I stood up as they stomped into the room. The Mayor was flustered. Turnbull looked positively unglued. And here I was in no position to enjoy it.

“What’s going on? What happened?” The Mayor paced the room, waving his hands.

“Yes,” Turnbull stuck his two-bit’s worth in. “AIda called, saying something about a vam…a vam…a dead body.” His voice started sliding up the scale. “She told us the police report says there was no blood left and they don’t know how it happened and they can’t imagine what could have caused it and they don’t…”

“Shut up!”

I discovered a long time ago that being loud and forceful works as well as slapping in cases of hysteria. It did, too. His mouth snapped shut like a miser’s purse.

I sank into one of AIda’s comfortable chairs. Taking their cue from me, Turnbull and the Mayor followed suit. Turnbull still looked a trifle shaky.

“The word you seem to have trouble saying is ‘vampire.’ I saw the body myself. All the signs were there. Puncture wounds, exsanguination. But vampires are not theories. They’re fictional characters. They are not supposed to exist.” I rubbed my temples to ease the tension. “Has anything like this ever happened before?”

Turnbull just stuttered, but the Mayor answered, “Not that I know of. It’s against the law to—”

“Yes.”

We all turned to face AIda. The Mayor and Turnbull looked surprised. I wasn’t.

“There is a record of a resident of Theory writing a book about a fantasy world of his own design. It came to life in his living room. Very messy. That was fifty years ago. Thirty years ago, a young woman wrote a paper about the feasibility of life on other planets and in other dimensions than our own. She disappeared.

“Seventeen years ago, a man wrote a story for his grandchildren, about a ghost who lived in the upstairs bedroom. Then he had to invent an exorcist to get rid of it. Eleven years ago…”

“That’s enough, I think.” Turning to the Mayor, I continued, “You were about to say something was against the law. Is it, perhaps, against the law to write fiction?”

“Not exactly,” the Mayor explained. “Only fiction that creates a character or situation which is inimical to life as we know it, unless it is written or researched in the specially designed research facilities that we have designated for that purpose.”

“Sounds like you memorized that from the law books. So, AIda, you think someone in Theory has written an illegal book about a vampire and the main character has come to life?” Only in Theory.

“The possibility exists.” Turnbull had been quiet so long, I’d forgotten he was there. This time, AIda didn’t glare at him for answering instead of her.

“Question is, is it a real vampire, or a fake? A murder made up to look like the work of a vampire. We only have one body and it’s broad daylight.”

Scratching my chin thoughtfully, I turned toward the monitor. “AIda, has the actual cause of death been determined yet?”

“Yes, Mac.” She paused.

“Well? Do you need a drum roll, or are you going to tell me the results?”

“The cause of death was complete removal of blood through two small holes in the jugular vein.”

I smiled ruefully. “So much for that idea.”

I stood and made my own addition to the rut the Mayor had started in the carpet.

Thinking out loud, I added, “Theoretically, vampires aren’t supposed to come out during the day. And all the stories I’ve read where they do come out during the day, they certainly don’t feed in public.” I paused for a moment to ask another question. “How long had that body been dead?”

“Since before midnight last night, according to the medical examiner’s report.”

The time of death coincided with my own estimate. “So he, or she, may actually be restricted to hunting at night. If it really was a vampire.” I looked at the Mayor. “I suppose you’ll be wanting me to look into this little problem, too?”

Of course he did.

I paced AIda’s room some more after they left, trying to put together the pieces of puzzle number one, while I worried about number two. It felt strange, pacing around a room without a cigarette hanging from my mouth. I suddenly realized that I hadn’t needed one since my arrival. Maybe being in Theory was good for something. It certainly wasn’t any good for my peace of mind.

I finally decided to start on the puzzle with the most pieces. There seemed to be no connection between the people who had appeared. A seamstress, a cook, a nuclear physicist, and half a dozen others.

The incidents happened at random times during the day and there seemed to be an even distribution of males and females. They didn’t even come from the same part of the world, my world, the place they call Reality. And all of them cold, hard Realists, not a fantasy among them. They didn’t belong.

Likewise with the people who had disappeared. No pattern I could find. They, too, didn’t even disappear from the same…

Hold on there. They didn’t disappear from the same place, but they did disappear from the same area: a two-mile stretch along the border of Theory, according to the map in my information packet.

It wasn’t much, but it was a start. I stretched out in the bed AIda conjured up from somewhere and fell asleep with a plan already forming in my mind.