Ghost in the Machine is the twenty-third chapter of Zak Saturday's Immortal Love Life. It was first published on January 23, 2016.
Dad was working on some kind of electrical zappers and Fiskerton, Sarah, Zack, and I were helping him.
“Alright,” he said. “Try charging numbers three and four.”
Fiskerton and I did just that.
“Green,” I said, and Fisk said the same.
“So what do we have here?” I asked. “Portable electro magnets? Really big flash lights?”
“Reflex disruptors,” Dad said. “I’ve been thinking the cortex disruptor needed a companion tool. Something for cryptids that are muscle than brain. It relaxes the quick twitch muscles on contact: leg, arm, whatever you don’t want to hit you. Any muscle you touch instantly goes dead for up to two minutes.”
That gave me an idea.
“Uh-huh,” I said. “And have they been equality tested?”
I held up two of them toward Fiskerton. He understood what I meant and picked up three of his own. Sarah also understood too, and she backed away from the both of us as far as she could.
“Thoroughly,” Dad said. “Once I get the charging station up, we can—”
We didn’t hear the rest because Fisk and I just zapped each other. We screamed in pain. It hurt a lot. We collapsed on the floor, some of our muscles completely weak. Sarah laughed.
“This is not how we equality test,” Dad said, sounding annoyed.
We shook our muscles awake. Then we heard some static come from a little screen we had in the room. There was a voice coming from it, calling for help.
“It sounds like a distress call,” I said.
“It can’t be,” Dad said. “That’s a satellite tracking monitor. It’s not set up for voice.”
A man appeared on the screen, but it was fuzzy.
“Solomon. Solomon!” he said.
“Dad, why does the voice that shouldn’t exist know you?” I asked.
“It’s Basil Lancaster,” he replied, sounding surprised. “A friend of my father’s. A scientist. But that’s not . . .”
The man on the screen began speaking again.
“Honey Island . . . the answer. Finish . . . Solomon.”
“He wants you to finish Honey Island?” I asked, trying to make sense of it.
“Honey Island, Louisiana,” Dad said. “It’s where he use to live. Where I helped him with his work.”
“Use to live? So where does he live now?”
“He doesn’t. Basil Lancaster died more than twenty-five years ago.”
That surprised me.
“So what?” Sarah asked. “Is this some kind of paranormal activity or something?”
“No,” Dad said. “I don’t know what it is, but I don’t believe in paranormal activity, and I’m not going to now.”
He started to take apart the satellite tracking monitor.
“Clearly,” Sarah muttered.
After a while, Mom, Zack, Raylee, and her Pikachu came into the room. We told them about the mysterious guy talking to us through the monitor. Dad may not believe in paranormal activity, but Mom seemed to.
“It may not be a glitch, Doc,” she told him. “It could be an actual message from Dr. Lancaster. The part that’s left of him.”
“So what are we believing in now: ghosts or zombies?” he asked.
“Oh, please tell me it’s both,” I said.
“That would be cool,” Zack agreed.
Sarah rolled her eyes at the both of us.
“It’s called EVP,” Mom said. “Electronic Voice Phenomenon. Now sometimes a receiver will pick up the proto plasmic energy, the spirit of a person who’s past on, just like it was a radio wave.”
“And Dr. Lancaster’s proto plasium just happened to run into my satellite tracker after twenty-five years,” Dad said sarcastically.
“Uh, there’s no ‘just happened to’ about it. EVPs usually show up when someone has unfinished business.”
“That’s exactly what the ghost said,” I said. “He told Dad to finish what they did on Honey Island.”
Dad sighed. “There may have been a project left incomplete. Or, maybe his life’s work. Honey Island was just one bus and a swamp boat ride from our house in New Orleans. I practically lived up there on weekends and summers. Dr. Lancaster was like a second father to me. The work was inspiring. A government funded project to isolate the unique DNA sequences that make a cryptid a cryptid. The potential was limitless. And sadly unrealized. We never finished, and then he was gone.”
Fiskerton found that sad and looked like he was about to cry.
“Unfinished business,” I said.
Dad understood what I meant and didn’t like it. “No. We have living, breathing problems to worry about. We’ve lost too much ground to Argost.”
“Argost,” the ghost of Dr. Lancaster said, appearing on the screen again. “Have the answer. Doc, Honey Island. Finish it.”
And he disappeared again.
“Well, now I’m at least intrigued,” Dad said, which was enough to get him to go.
So we all, including the animals, got into the airship and were now heading to Louisiana.
“Hey, Mom,” Sarah said. “Have you ever been to Honey Island before?”
“I’ve been to every single city in the country,” she replied. “So yes.”
A while later, we arrived at Honey Island, and it was a swamp.
Dad breathed in the air and breathed out. “Isn’t it great?”
“When did they stop paying the gardener?” Mom asked.
I had to agree. Honestly, what’s great about a swamp?
“Government money is what kept this town alive,” Dad said.
I looked out in the distance and swear I saw something move around the trees.
“Umm, hey, Dad,” I said. “You said you studied cryptids here. Any, uh, up close study sessions?”
“The Honey Island Swamp Monster,” he replied with a little gratitude. “First cryptid I ever tracked. Boy, this place brings back memories. Come on. I wanna show you the lab.”
He grabbed Mom’s hand and ran off, Raylee and the animals following. But the rest of us stayed where we were, because I noticed something.
“It’s watching us,” I said, pointing in the direction of a cryptid.
It knew we noticed it and dived into the water.
“Come on,” I said. “Let’s go see what it’s doing here.”
I ran off in that direction. They followed me. After a while, we saw the cryptid again.
“Wait here,” I told the others.
I moved a little closer to it. Then I heard growling all around me.
“Zak, alligators!” Sarah called.
I noticed them, and they had me surrounded. One snapped at me. I jumped up and landed on its snout, but another snapped at me. I jumped again, sliding on the back of another. They all kept snapping at me, one after another, and I could barely dodge any of them.
Sarah flew overhead and grabbed me, lifting me out of the alligators reach. We landed on the ground and all of us began running away from them. Luckily, they were too slow to follow us.
When we were far enough away from them, we stopped to catch our breath. Fiskerton complained to me.
“Yes, you were right about the alligators, ok?” I said. “Just let me—” I faltered when I noticed the cryptid again. “Let’s go, guys.”
We ran after it. Once we reached it, it turned around to face us and roared, then it jumped up in the air, grabbed a vine, and used it to swing into us, knocking us all into the water. When we resurfaced, Fiskerton was wrestling with the cryptid.
“Let me try to connect with it,” I said, then grabbed the claw. “Calm him down.”
I activated my powers, and, somehow, blasted us all out of the water.
“Where did that much power come from?” I wondered out loud.
“Uh, Zak?” Sarah said, sounding hesitant. “That cryptid’s not alone.”
I saw what she meant. A lot more cryptids appeared out of no where. We were completely surrounded.
A cryptid came up from behind me and pounded its fist down at me. I rolled to dodge it. Fiskerton knocked away the cryptid he was wrestling with, and then we all ran for our lives. But, unfortunately, they followed us. We dodged one hit after another, and we were getting tired.
Fiskerton asked me which way the lab was.
“I don’t know which way!” I said.
He didn’t like that.
“It’s this way, guys,” Zack said.
He and Sarah made a right turn. I knew their powers told them that. We followed them.
We came to a clearing and I saw the lab. But the cryptids were still close behind us. We bolted for the lab. We entered it, but didn’t stop until we found our parents, then we closed the door behind us and leaned up against it.
“Zak?” Mom asked.
“We’re ok,” I said. “And just so you know, whatever happens in the next thirty seconds, it was completely not our fault.”
“For once, I agree,” Sarah said.
Then we heard a noise from outside.
“What did you do, Zak?” Dad asked.
“Well, that doesn’t matter now,” Mom said.
“Mom’s right,” I agreed. “It doesn’t matter.”
“I said it doesn’t matter now,” she corrected.
“Guys, there’s something, or a lot of things here,” Shillow said.
To prove what she was saying, the room began to shake. Then something broke through the door, wrapped its arms around me, and pulled me back. Dad grabbed my leg and pulled back, then punched the door. The cryptid let me go.
Then the cryptids began appearing one after another by breaking through the walls, ceiling, and floor. We began fighting them all off, but there were too many of them.
“Everybody hit the deck!” Raylee said.
Sarah pulled me and Fiskerton to the ground, then summoned a force field around us. Zack and Raylee did the same. Then I noticed Pikachu in the middle of the floor, and she activated her electricity, shocking all of the cryptids around us. And they were gone.
Sarah, Zack, and Raylee deactivated the force fields. The whole room was a mess, but, surprisingly, the equipment wasn’t destroyed.
“Everybody alright?” Dad asked.
“We’re fine,” I said.
“Good, because I’d hate for sympathy to ruin all the wonderful punishments I’m planning if this really was your fault.”
I was nervous.
“It wasn’t his fault,” Sarah said, coming to my defense. “It wasn’t any of our faults.”
“Well, Zak was kind of harassing them,” Zack said. “And they were defending their territory.”
We glared at him. “Not helping.”
“I counted at least six different species in that group,” Mom said, changing the subject. “All bipedal hominids, and they all just happen to be in the neighborhood? There may be something more going on here than just our boys causing trouble.”
“Like I said, completely not our fault,” I said.
“Not push your luck, kiddo.”
I stayed quiet. Sarah laughed.
“Why would a group of cryptids be making a coordinated attack?” Dad asked. “And why here?”
“I don’t know,” Mom said. “But there’s somebody who knows more about this place than even you do.”
The computer screen next to us blared static, and I was expecting to see that ghost doctor again, but no one appeared.
“Doc?” Mom asked.
“Most of what I know I learned from that man,” he said. “If that’s . . . some part of him, I need to finish this.” He turned toward the screen. “Dr. Lancaster? Basil? If your proto plasmic floating goo is out there, I need to ask you . . .”
The man appeared on the screen.
“Argost trying to stop . . .” he said. “You have to finish, Solomon. Stop Argost. Kur.”
He disappeared again.
“Zak, I’m half an hour away from something I’ve waited thirty years to see,” Dad said. “You think you boys can build a strong enough barricade up stairs to buy us thirty minutes?”
I nodded. “Oh, yeah. Absolutely.”
Fiskerton, Sarah, Zack, Komodo, and I left the room. We began moving furniture in front of the front door, and while doing so, I began thinking of something.
“Zak, are you alright?” Sarah asked.
I was so lost in thought, I didn’t hear her.
“What?” I said. “Oh, sorry. I was just— Think about it, guys. What is that EVP thing really said? Honey Island, finish it? He only mentioned Argost and Kur after Dad did.”
Them seemed to understand what I meant.
“Ok,” Zack said. “But then what do you think is going on here?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know. But, come on. We’ve gotta talk to our parents about this.”
I was about to move when I heard the window break, then two odd-looking balls were thrown in. They exploded and smoke began filling the air. I couldn’t breath, and neither could anyone else. We were coughing a lot.
It became too much for me to fight and I blacked out.
I woke up to Komodo growling. My hands and feet were tied up and so were Fiskerton’s, Komodo’s, Zack’s, and Sarah’s. But me, Fiskerton, and Komodo were in some kind of glass case. Sarah and Zack were outside of it, lying on the floor a few feet away. Then I noticed a few guys on the opposite side of the room, all wearing lab coats.
“I knew it,” I said. “Alright, which one of you is Lancaster? Come on. I know you faked the ghost to bring my dad here.”
“I assure you, son, Dr. Lancaster is long departed,” one of the said. He was pretty old. He walked up to us. “But, thankfully for us, he left behind hours and hours of video. With a little creative editing, the man can say almost anything. Oh, but I thought you had it all figured out, son. My colleges and I are what remains of the Honey Island Project. Well, us and the cryptids you met. The ones we built from the DNA.”
“What? That’s not true,” I said. “My dad wouldn’t—”
“Oh, calm yourself, son,” he interrupted. “Your daddy never knew about the ugly side of our work. The cryptid super soldiers the government hired Lancaster to make. When we lost Lancaster, they shut us down. We thought it was all over. And then twenty-five years go by and I see his little lab assistant up on the TV.” A screen next to him showed a newscast of us when we were in Osorno that time with the lava lizard. “So I called the boys and I said, ‘Gentlemen, I believe there’s still someone who can get that old machine running again’.”
“Wait,” I said. “What machine?”
“Now, I thought for sure you were smarter than that, son,” the guy said. “I’m talking about the machine you’re sitting in right now.”
Uh-oh. I had a bad feeling about this. Even Sarah and Zack looked frightened, but they weren’t the ones who were in it.
The scientists laughed evilly.
“Saturday’s work is uploaded,” the old guy said. “Fire up the machine.”
Komodo, Fiskerton, and I began to spin around inside the machine.
“Hey, what? No!” I said. “Let us out!”
But we kept spinning. I felt like we were being molded together. Then I lost consciousness.
I was crying. The thing I saw before me was not Zak, Fiskerton, or Komodo. It was something too hideous for me to even describe.
“What did you do to them?!” I screamed.
“I simply combined their DNAs,” the old scientist guy replied. “Now we’re going to take them to see your family.”
Oh, I could only imagine what they’re going to think when they see them like this. Especially Doc and Drew.
A couple of the other scientists put chains on their arms.
“What are you going to do with us?” Zack asked.
“Well, we find your powers truly interesting,” the old guy said. “So we’re simply going to try and take them as our own.”
He, along with the other scientists, laughed. Then they all left the room, taking the hideous mixed DNAs of Zak, Fiskerton, and Komodo with them.
Zack and I gritted our teethes.
“This is why we hate scientists,” Zack said.
“I know,” I agreed. “And building cryptids from DNA? What is this, Jurassic Park?” Zack shook his head in agreement. “Never a good idea.”
We struggled to break out of our chains, but, even with our super strength, we couldn’t seem to break free. Of course, I wasn’t sure if our super strength was even working.
“Great,” Zack sighed. “Now what do we do?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know. But Mom should be able to find us.”
As it turned out, Mom wasn’t the one that found us, for what felt like hours later, but the cheetah cubs.
“You guys need a hand?” Toto asked us. “Or, mouth?”
“Yes, please,” I said, practically begging.
They walked behind us and chomped their teeth down on the chains, breaking them to pieces. Hey, they’ve got super strength too.
“Thanks, guys,” I said.
“Any time,” Chewie said.
“Did you guys see Zak, Komodo, and Fiskerton?”
“Yeah, and so did everyone else,” Honey said.
“Disturbing, huh?” I asked.
“That would be an understatement,” Kika said. “They are way past disturbing. And, believe me, we know. We’ve seen a lot of disturbing things over the years.”
I nodded in agreement. “Let’s go.”
We ran out of the building.
Once we got outside, there was chaos. The scientists were having a hard time keeping their cryptids under control. I looked among them, but I couldn’t see the Zak-Fiskerton-Komodo transformation anywhere.
“Sarah! Zack!” Mom called to us. She was standing a few feet away, along with the other animals. “Oh, Thank God, you two are ok.”
“Where are the Saturdays?” I asked.
She pointed to the trees. “They ran down to the swamp.”
I didn’t ask anymore questions and I ran in that direction, my family following close behind. After a few moments, I found Doc and Drew about twenty feet away, but no sign of the others.
Luckily, my aura was able to sense them. They still had Komodo’s invisibility, because they were up in a tree to avoid their parents, then they jumped down from it when they passed by and ran in the opposite direction, right into mine and my family’s path.
It was really hard not to gag or cry at the sight of them. Doc shot some kind of cord at them. It wrapped about their legs, knocking them to the ground.
“Hold him still,” Drew said, walking over to them. “I wanna try to talk to him.”
Unfortunately, Komodo’s tail didn’t get covered by the cord and it knocked her and Doc away. They managed to unravel the cord from around their feet and began to run again, but I stopped them in their path.
“Zak! Fiskerton! Komodo!” I called to them. “I know you guys are still in there. Please listen to me.”
They didn’t. But me distracting them gave Drew a chance to jump on top of them. They were struggling to get her off their back, but Doc held their arms back.
“Zak! Fiskerton! Komodo! You know me,” Drew told them. “Look at me. You know me!”
They stopped struggling and looked at her. “Mom?”
It was Zak’s voice. Oh, I could barely contain myself from crying with joy.
“Yes, yes. That’s right, honey,” Drew said to him. “It’s your mom, and—”
Then suddenly, all of the cryptids we were running from earlier appeared around them. Zak growled at them and struggled to get Drew off his back.
“No, no, Zak. Zak, I’m still here,” she told him.
“Stay away from him,” Doc told the cryptids.
Unfortunately, they didn’t listen. One jumped up and grabbed Drew off of Zak’s back and held her to the ground. Another grabbed Doc.
Now we began fighting back. Another one of them wrapped its arms around Zak from behind.
“No! He’s my son!” Drew called.
“He’s not one of you,” Doc said.
“His name is Zak Saturday, and you can’t have him. You hear me?!”
The cryptid that had its arms around Zak suddenly began to speak. “Zak Saturday?”
The cryptids around us stopped fighting, even the one that was holding Drew down let her go.
“Yes. Yes, my son,” she said. “Zak Saturday.”
“Solomon. Solomon Saturday,” the cryptid said slowly.
“I’m Solomon Saturday,” Doc spoke up.
The cryptid walked toward a wood building and walked inside.
“An old playmate?” Drew asked Doc.
“I’ve never seen him before now,” Doc replied.
The cryptid came back out, holding a picture in one hand and a voice recorder. He held up the picture to Doc. “Solomon?”
The picture was of him when he was a little boy with someone I could only assume was Dr. Lancaster.
“Yes,” Doc said. “That’s me.”
“Message for Solomon,” the cryptid said, then held up the voice recorder.
He played it. After listening to it, Doc looked flabbergasted.
The cryptids led us back to the lab, and Zak followed. The rest of the cryptids and the scientists were standing in front of us.
“The machine,” Doc said.
One of the cryptids pointed to it.
“You left it for us?”
“They wouldn’t touch it,” the old guy said. “Don’t ask me why. It sure caused them enough pain thirty years ago—”
The cryptid that stood behind him pushed him forward.
Then the cryptid that talked to us grabbed him by his shirt and pointed at Zak-Fiskerton-Komodo. “Fix.”
He didn’t argue.
Zak-Fiskerton-Komodo climbed into the machine and the scientists turned it on. He began spinning in a circle just like before for about a whole minute, then Zak, Fiskerton, and Komodo were back to their individual selves. They came out of the machine, looking grateful that they were back to normal.
“Boys,” Drew said.
They had a big family hug. It was so cute. Then I gave Zak an even bigger hug.
“Oh, I’m so glad you’re back and that they rest of you are no longer one big freak,” I cried.
He hugged me back. “Yeah, me too.” Then he noticed the scientists. “Mom! Dad! Those guys. They’re the ones who made the EVP. It was a trick to—”
“Zak, it’s ok,” Drew interrupted. “It’s ok. We know.”
“Well, now,” Dad said. “I can’t believe I fell for a ghost story.”
“I can’t believe the rational scientific explanation was actually right for once. Score one for you.”
“Are you all ok?”
“We’re fine,” Zak said. “Better than fine. You guys thought we were close before. We’re DNA brothers now.”
“Yep,” Zack agreed. “And we all know now what you would look like if you were mixed together. Literally.”
Fiskerton and Komodo didn’t seam to like that thought, and I didn’t blame them.
The cryptid that talked to us came toward us, still holding the voice recorder and picture. Fiskerton and Komodo growled at him.
“It’s ok,” Doc assured them. “They’re working for Dr. Lancaster.”
“Then he is alive,” Zak said.
“No. But he did leave me a message. No ghosts this time. Just a machine.”
He played them the voice recorder:
Solomon, if you’re hearing this, then you know what I’ve done, what Honey Island was really about, the voice of Dr. Lancaster said. I’m sorry, Solomon. My conscience knew it was wrong, but it took me too long to listen. I destroyed enough of our research to cripple the project, then fled to the Bayou. My colleges went into hiding, but I knew they’d never give up on our work. So I left Honey Island as it was, hoping if they ever tried to revive the project, they’d do it here, where my new friends would be waiting. Whatever this work means to you, Solomon, it needs to be destroyed. There must never be another machine like the one I built. You’re the only legacy I’m proud of, Sol. I hope you’re a better man of science than I was. But I know . . . I know you’re a better man.
After we listened to it, we did everything the doctor told Doc to do and destroyed the machine and all of the research with it. The cryptids helped us. Then we tied up the scientists together and delivered them to the nearest U.S. army area, Fort Jackson, leaving information in a file as to why they were brought there.
Then we went home.
Well, at least, to the Saturday’s home.
I’m so glad that this day was over, and I hope that I would never have to see Zak, Komodo, and Fiskerton’s DNAs mixed like that ever again.
That was just horrifying.
Little known fact: This episode first aired on my birthday.
I hope you guys liked this chapter.
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- Fiskerton Saturday
- Komodo Saturday
- Pikachu Hollinger
- Shillow Hollinger
- Amber Hollinger
- Kimbia Hollinger
- Kika Hollinger
- Chewie Hollinger
- Toto Hollinger
- Honey Hollinger
- The Scientists
- Doc's first name is known.