Cole was in the middle of a dream about scantily clad native girls feeding him tropical fruit when he heard something. He wasn’t certain if it was part of the dream, or if one of his buddies had come in. Wearily, he opened one eye.
“‘Zat you, Bob?” he asked.
There was no answer. Opening his other eye, he saw the outline of a man standing in the shadows.
In response, the figure simply faded away.
Cole rubbed his eyes. “Hm. Must still be dreaming.”
As he turned over, he found himself staring into a pair of floating eyes. Before he could react, he felt a clammy hand clamp around his mouth. He struggled, but he couldn’t break free. Cole could feel the pressure on his mouth growing stronger and stronger, and then, without warning, the hand was gone.
The man sat up, trying to make himself calm down and breathe. As he collected his wits, he saw a hand, presumably the one that had held him helpless appear in front of him. He could only watch as it balled into a fist, and then he saw nothing else as he felt the punch and fell back on his pillow, unconscious.
“Somebody’s been sleeping in my bed?”
Jim turned over and pulled the covers up around his neck, not realizing the voice he heard was real.
“Are you Goldilocks?” the voice asked.
The sleeping man pulled the covers even tighter and turned back over.
All of a sudden, felt the side of his bed being lifted and found himself falling into the floor. He pushed himself up into a sitting position and looked around.
“Come on, Bob,” he said. “This isn’t funny.”
When Bob didn’t answer, Jim slowly stood up. He was alone in the room.
“Maybe I was dreaming,” he muttered, “and just fell out of bed.”
Taking another look around, he started to climb back into bed. As he reached for the covers still laying on the floor, his eyes widened as they began to rise on their own.
Hanging in the air before him, Jim could see the outline of someone beneath them. “Real funny, Bob,” he said as he reached out and grasped the covers. Expecting to find his brother, Jim gave the covers a tug.
There was no one there.
“You sound like that owl that Doctor Mid-Nite kept as a pet,” the disembodied voice said.
Jim suddenly lost his voice altogether.
“On second thought, Goldilocks,” the voice said, “you can keep the bed.”
All Jim could do was faint.
Bob was a sound sleeper. His brothers used to kid him that he could sleep through an elephant stampede, and his only response was to laugh and agree.
Bob wasn’t laughing now.
He had been jolted awake when he felt the weight of something very large drop onto his chest. When his eyes popped open, he had found a very large man with blond hair sitting on his chest. The man was dressed in what appeared to be an old bomber pilot’s uniform of some kind. The only identifying marks he could see was a black skull in a circle of red.
Bob started to struggle but found that he had been bound to the bed with rope; his pillowcase was tied around his mouth as a gag. He could do nothing but watch in horror as the man picked up his pillow and put it over his face. It wasn’t very long before he lapsed into unconsciousness.
The man floated off of Bob’s chest. Just before he faded from view, he patted him on the chest. “Don’t worry, you’re not dead. But before this night is over, you and your buddies might just wish you were.”
And then the man was gone.
“Three down,” said the man who had just left Bob’s room.
His two companions appeared as if out of nowhere. They wore the same kind of outfit as the first man, even sporting the same insignia. Unlike the first man, however, these two had brown hair, not blond. The first was tall and slender and clean-shaven. The second one, too, was tall, although he was a little huskier than the first, but not quite as much as the blond. Unlike his friend, he wore a pencil-thin mustache.
When the second one spoke, it was with a slight Hispanic accent. “Two to go.”
“These last two seem to be in charge,” the slender man said.
“Then which one do we want to take care of first?” the blond man asked.
“Frankie,” all three said in unison.
Frankie had just got up and put more wood in the fireplace. He was still sitting on the edge of his bed when his door began to open. “Who’s there?” he asked.
“Shh,” Jess whispered as he gently pulled the door to behind him. Frankie could see that he was carrying his pistol.
“Jess, what’s wrong?” Frankie asked, lowering his voice.
“We’ve got problems. I heard something in the hall, and when I peeked out, I saw these three guys that looked like they just stepped out of an old World War II movie.”
Frankie looked at his brother. “Did they see you?”
“What were they doing?”
“They were talking about the others. Frankie, I think they took out the others.”
“Are you sure?”
Jess told his brother that he was. “They talked like you were next.”
Although Frankie usually deferred to his younger brother, he was the one who did most of the thinking. “Tell you what — you hide behind that dressing screen, and when they come in here, we’ll take them by surprise.”
Jess did what he was told as Frankie lay back down and pretended to be asleep.
As he watched from his hiding place, the three men he had seen in the hall suddenly rose up through the floor to stand at the foot of Frankie’s bed. The slender one started to take a step, when Frankie suddenly threw back the covers and fired a shot from the revolver he had hidden under his pillow.
“Should have listened to the news, boys,” he said as the bullet hit the slender man in the shoulder and spun him around. “We’re armed and dangerous.” He fired a second shot, but the other two men dived out of the way.
Jess knocked the screen aside and aimed his own weapon. He pulled the trigger, only to see the bullet pass through the blond-haired man and strike the wall behind him.
“Frankie, they’re ghosts. We’re fighting ghosts!”
“They can’t be,” Frankie shouted. “I just shot one.”
Jess looked at the floor where the first man fell and watched in surprise as the man became insubstantial and vanished.
“Geez, Frank,” he said, bordering on hysteria, “did you see that?”
The blond man and the mustached man also faded from view.
The two men reappeared in the room below. The slender man was already there.
“Are you OK?” the blond asked.
“We’re ghosts, so why the hell does it still hurt when we get shot?” was his reply.
“Friends, if they are going to use guns, then I think it’s time we showed them just what the undead are made of.”
“What are we going to do, Frankie?”
Frankie looked at his brother; he had never seen him this close to losing control. Before he could answer, however, his bed leaped from the floor and slammed into the ceiling. Jess watched in horror as the bed came crashing back down, his brother a bloody mess.
The man struggled to rise, but only succeeded in tripping over what was left of the bed. He hit the floor hard and lay unmoving. The three men appeared, standing over him.
Jess fired his pistol until it was empty, but his bullets passed through his targets. The ghosts turned and began to walk toward him.
They watched as the light of sanity faded from Jess’ eyes, and his mind turned in on itself.
“This is how we found ’em, Commisioner.”
The Keystone City police commissioner looked at the scene before him: a seriously injured man lay in the midst of the remains of a bed, and another sat in the corner, totally withdrawn from the world.
“We’ve found the other three in the other bedrooms,” the officer said. “They were in no condition to resist arrest.”
“And where did you find the money?” the commissioner asked.
“It was sitting right in front of the door when we opened it.”
“Well, let’s get them out of here and get someone in here to start the clean-up.”
Officers handcuffed the younger of the two men and led him away without incident. As the commissioner turned to go, he glanced down at where the man had been sitting; it looked as if the man had drawn something. Kneeling down, he examined the drawing.
It was a charcoal drawing of a black skull surrounded by a circle of the injured man’s blood.