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Chapter 1: "The Folly"

June 10, 2008|By EVA NIESSNER / Pulse Correspondent

"Oh, come on!" yelled the young man in desperation, banging loudly on the heavy, iron door. Echoes bounced up and down the dark street. The door remained locked.

The man, a lab assistant and intern named Icarus Shortfuse, shoved the black hair out of his eyes. He was in his mid-20s, tall and lanky, with sharp, golden-brown eyes and a "who-gives?" stare that made half the other interns despise him on sight and the other half, mostly female, gravitate toward him.

The door, if it would open, would let Icarus into the Gemini Institute of Finer Sciences, the place where Icarus interned with world-renowned paranormal scientist Kella King-Brightsly. Icarus planned to become an expert in the field of paranormal science, a field in which Gemini had pioneered the scientific study of paranormal activity.

But Dr. King-Brightsly was going to fire him without a doubt if Icarus wasn't prepared for his presentation the next day. He had to have his files, which were at his lab station, inside the building. Which was locked.

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OK. The front door was a no go. Icarus had an intern ID, a swipe card with his picture on it coded to let him in doors he was allowed in but nowhere he wasn't - and being an intern, that was nearly every door except the front.

Icarus considered Plan B: He needed another entrance, and fast. Maybe there was a window or service door in back he could sneak through. He dashed down the alley along Gemini's west side, shoving his glasses onto his nose and trying to avoid fragrant trash cans heaped with garbage.

When he sidestepped a rusty, green dumpster, he noticed the door. It was an old-looking entrance, down a short flight of concrete steps. Icarus figured that he was on the west side of the building, right where his station was, and the door seemed so insignificant - maybe an old fire exit? - that he could get through without any alarms.

At the foot of the steps, Icarus stepped gingerly over a mat of dry leaves, old newspapers and empty tin cans. The door was a Steven-King-does-Dixie screen door and a wooden door behind it that looked only slightly thicker than the screen. He pulled open the screen door. It squealed, as expected, on its arms of oil-starved hinges.

There was no swipe card pad on the main door, but a bright, new padlock secured the entrance. Icarus yanked on it in frustration. The hasp wiggled. He noticed the wooden frame to which the hasp was screwed appeared rotten. He put his shoulder to the door. A few shoves, and it swung free.

Icarus peered inside, the streetlights illuminating the interior. He was in a lab, astonishingly new-looking, Formica tables where rows of new Dells and immaculate test tubes waited like children in a lunch line. The old door was apparently just a way to fool outsiders.

A tremor of horror ran down Icarus's body - he had landed straight in the Confidential Case Quarters, where only Gemini's best scientists were permitted. Office rumors said there was a dangerous ghost from a small town in Western Maryland being studied in CCQ - very hush-hush, nothing an intern should know about.

Forget the police. Dr. King-Brightsly would strangle him with her bare hands if she saw Icarus knocking around in the CCQ. Not to mention there were probably things in here that could kill him if he so much as breathed around them.

Icarus hurried through the lab, sprinted down the hall to his station, snatched up his file and essays, and retraced his steps. Halfway through the CCQ, he stopped suddenly.

"Help "

The voice was faint as the bleating of a faraway lamb, but it still made Icarus nearly jump out of his skin. It came from the far corner of the room. Peering closer, Icarus saw a square, bright blue container about the size of a pencil box. As he watched, it trembled and emitted soft mewing sounds.

Transfixed, Icarus approached it, clutching his files tightly. The closer he came, the more violently it rattled, as though it were certain rescue was close.

"They caught me, I don't belong here " The voice was pleading, female, soft as a little girl's but with a womanly urgency. "I've been trapped for so long "

Knowing he shouldn't, Icarus reached out toward the cage. His fingers trembled. Suddenly, a force lashed out at him. His ears roared with pain. His skin felt burnt.

"Idiot," a voice said, deeper and glowing with ferocity, before fading into the air.

Icarus realized with horror that whatever King-Brightsly had been trying so hard to conceal in her lab, he had freed it.

He turned and fled.

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