|Thaumaturjekyll: Book One chapter 1 2 3 4 5 6 7||Book Two chapter 8 9 10 11|
Let's Make Believe
by Jeffrey M. Mahr
©1999 Jeffrey M. Mahr -- all rights reserved
Alas! Too evident, my discoveries were incomplete. Enough, then,
that I not only recognized my natural body for the mere aura and
effulgence of certain of the powers that made up my spirit, but
managed to compound a drug by which these powers should be dethroned
from their supremacy, and a second form and countenance substituted,
none the less natural to me because they were the expression,
and bore the stamp, of lower elements in my soul.
-- Robert Louis Stevenson
"Hey Pop. Can I borrow the lab?"
"What was that son?" Dr. Herbert Lanyon the Fourth took a moment to glance up from his research journal to see his son, Herbert Lanyon the Fifth, or "Hastie" as his friends called him. Dr. Lanyon was not surprised to find Jack Utterson standing beside his son. The boys had been inseparable since their birth, even being born minutes apart.
"I asked if I could borrow the lab."
"Nothin' special." Hastie spoke with a light, unconcerned tone, but his eyes never made it to his father's and his foot kept scuffing at a spot on the plush carpet that only he could see.
"You know the lab's not a game room son. Just remember our agreement. You have to replace whatever you blow up."
"Of course," Hastie grumped while Jack laughed into his hand, but Hastie made sure the rest was mumbled quietly enough that only Jack overheard. "Pop, you're such a stick in the mud."
"Very well then son, but I need it again later this evening so remember to clean up after yourself. Oh, and don't touch the TSP device." Dr. Lanyon's attention returned to his journal as the two teens left jostling each other good-naturedly.
Hastie was always disappointed that the lab was not in the corner of some dark, dank, dismal dungeon with crumbling, moss covered stone walls and assorted parts of strange devices. In actuality, it was the spare bedroom of the Lanyon's suburban home, and while there was a table in the center of the room with a Bunsen burner, some chemical compounds, and some flasks of different sizes, the walls were mostly bookcases and assorted family memorabilia covering the last century or so.
"So what do you want to do?" Jack dropped down into one of the overstuffed chairs in one corner of the room and let his feet dangle over the armrest while Hastie prowled about the room, poking through the books.
"I want a really great costume for the Halloween dance. That's what I want."
"So why aren't we at the mall or something?" Jack was confused. "I don't see anything like a costume in here. Have you looked in the closet?"
"What I'm lookin' for isn't in the closet." He kept browsing. "How about some help? Move that chair over here so I can check the top shelves."
"There! There is it." Hastie pointed to the other corner of the room. "Push me over there."
"I'm not moving you while you're on this chair, you dope. You'll kill yourself. Get down and I'll move the chair."
"Alright already," Hastie complained as he got down. "Jeez, you're so damn cautious. I don't think you've ever taken a real risk, have you?"
"Sure I take risks," Jack laughed as he moved the chair. "I have you for a friend. That's risk enough. Now when are you going to tell me what we're doing here?"
"All in good time. All in good time." He yanked on a large old leather bound book until it finally came loose from its place on the top shelf. Only Jack's hand on his back prevented a fall.
Ignoring his friend's sarcastic, "You're welcome," Hastie placed the book on the lab table and flipped through the last few pages until he found what he was looking for.
"This is what I was lookin' for." He danced jubilantly about the room grabbing his friend and leading him in an impromptu waltz.
"This is what?" Jacked pushed away and straightened his clothes as he muttered to himself, then demanded, "What is it already?"
"It's my great grandfather's formula... well, actually it's the formula my great grandfather got from his friend. I forget the name, but it's at the beginnin' of the journal, and anyway that's not what's important now."
"So what is?" Jack tried peering over his friend's shoulder nut was having trouble making words of the cramped handwriting in the journal.
"This is the formula, modified by my great grandfather, for changin' people into someone else. As I remember the story, the first formula didn't work, but great grandpa fixed it. We've had this sitting here for ages because no one in the family wanted to try it out." He paused for a breath.
"So this... this formula has never been tested?" Jack was incredulous. "I'm out of here. Are you going to join me at the mall, or what?"
"Relax," Hastie smirked. "Don't be such a 'worry wart.' I'm not gonna make you take any risks. You can watch me... and after it works for me, you can try it, if you're not too chicken, that is."
"I'm not a chicken, damn you. I've got more tackles than anyone in the league. If it weren't for me, think how many times you would have been chopped meat, Mr. Quarterback. I just don't think this crap will work, and we still need costumes. There's only two days left before the dance."
"Tell you what. You hit the mall. See what you can find in the way of decent costumes. I'll pull this together. Pop usually has enough ingredients in stock here for just about anythin'. Let's meet back here tomorrow after practice, okay?" As usual, he didn't wait for an answer, but began reading and muttering as he tried to decipher the handwriting. Jack watched him for a moment, then just shook his head and left. Sometimes he wondered why they stayed friends.
"Man! Do I hate those damned wind sprints." The two friends were still breathing hard as they walked to Hastie's car.
"Yeah. That was one hellacious practice." Jack slumped into the passenger seat. "I'm beat."
Hastie just groaned his agreement as he started the car and headed for home. Neither boy had the energy to reach out and turn on the radio and the silence quickly became uncomfortable.
"So what the heck did you find at the mall?"
"Not a lot." Jack gently rubbed at a newly earned bruise on his upper thigh. "The department stores only had kid stuff left. The novelty stores had stuff for adults, but who wants to be Richard Nixon or a wolfman."
"Well, I wouldn't mind being a wolfman, but we did agree to get something different -- and something we could both do together."
"There was this one store..."
"It was kind of strange -- called Spells 'R' Us."
"So? What did they have?"
"Well, they had a lot of junky looking stuff. At first, I thought it was another variety store, like Spencer Gifts. They had a couple of racks of costumes, but I never really got to see them."
"Huh? You couldn't walk to whatever corner of the damned store they were in?"
"No wise ass. This weird old guy with a scraggily white beard, in what looked like a ratty bathrobe covered with even weirder designs on it, came out of the back room before I was more than a few feet into the store and stopped me."
"A big strong guy like you was stopped by an old guy in a damned bathrobe?" Hastie smirked. "Extra! Extra! Read all about it. Big, hulkin' center stopped in his tracks by an old fossil."
"Cut it, wise ass." Jack snarled in annoyance. "I stopped because I didn't want to be arrested for murder. That guy was so frail looking I was afraid I'd kill him if I touched him. You know Hastie, sometimes you can be a real asshole."
"Sorry guy. It just struck me as funny." He stretched forward and turned on the radio and they rode in strained silence until arriving at Hastie's house and settling in to comfortable positions in the den. Hastie grabbed the remote and started surfing channels on the television.
"So what did you come up with?"
"Huh?" Hastie stopped changing channels. It was one of those Schwarzenegger flicks.
"I said, what did you come up with?"
"I think it's 'Red Sonja.' You know, the one with Brigitte Nielsen."
"I meant for costumes," Jack didn't quite snarl, but he made it clear he still wasn't happy with Hastie's comments on the way home about his unmacho behavior at that weird store. For once, Hastie, intellectual genius but emotional ignoramus that he was, caught on and did his best to give a simple, straightforward, no nonsense answer.
"Oh. Yeah, I made up a bunch of doses of the formula. They're up in the lab. Come on." He jumped from his chair and jogged up to the lab leaving Jack to decide whether to let Arnold entertain a soon to be empty room.
Jack sighed and then turned off the television, but not before one last glance at the barbarian woman. He then ran and caught up to Hastie at the door to the lab. "Whoa up, boy blunder. You want to fill me in a bit about this formula before we use it?"
"Don't trust me huh? Cluck, cluck, cluck, cluck." He made flapping movements with his arms.
"Excuse me? Last year? The moon rocket? I remember being hard of hearing for a week after it exploded instead of taking off."
Hastie started to indignantly correct his friend's misunderstanding of the situation, but Jack waved him off and continued with a louder volume so that Hastie's words were lost in his friend's tirade.
"Then there was two years ago when you were going to transmute lead into gold based on an old family recipe. I almost lost two fingers when that exploded and splashed acid all over." He rubbed the still visible scars on his left hand.
"Don't interrupt me when I'm on a roll. Every 'experiment' you've cooked up has resulted in something going wrong, all the way back to when we were seven years old and you made gunpowder but didn't have any charcoal so you made some from wood chips and dumped it into the mortar -- before the embers had cooled. Once again, BOOM!
"BOOM! is the outcome of just about every project we've done together, so yeah, I want to preserve my hide and get a bit more information about this formula before using it." Jack finally wound down and dropped back into the stuffed chair.
Hastie stood waiting to see if he was really done before responding. "So why are you still here if you feel that way?"
"Because you're my best friend," Jack spoke with as much sincerity as he'd spoken with anger before, but then his face shown with a gleeful gleam as he continued. "And besides, who else would stick around to save you when things go wrong?"
"Well, nothin' is going to go wrong this time, damn it. It's not even my formula."
"Sure," but Jack didn't sound convinced.
Hastie kept speaking as he jumped back up onto the chair and grabbed a bunch of test tubes from the same high shelf that the book with the formula had been found originally and stuffing as many as he could in various pockets, so he didn't hear Jack mutter about the formula for gunpowder not being his originally either.
"I did some research." His pockets were full, but there were still a couple of test tubes in his hand. "The original formula was developed by a physician by the name of Jekyll. He was best friends with my great grandfather, Herbert Lanyon the First, and got the book from Jekyll's estate."
"Let's save the family history. Our families have been close for so long, I probably know it almost as well as you.
"Sorry." Hastie dropped down into the other stuffed chair. "I gotta tell a bit more, so please bear with me.
"Hastie Lanyon the First, was a doctor also. It bugged him that his very good friend had died so suddenly. He knew it was somehow related to the formula in Jekyll's journal so he started studying it, looking for a way to make it work. It became an obsession for him, especially after his wife died and his children had grown and left for lives of their own.
"Anyway, Hastie the First eventually found out what was wrong with the formula and fixed it. This is the modified formula he created, exactly as he described it. No modifications. No substitutions. None."
"Well, that's good to hear, I guess. What does it do?" It was clear from Jack's tone of voice that he was still
leery."Damn! Still don't trust me huh?" Hastie's confidence had returned as he spoke of things he understood. "Let's see, how to describe it. Okay, let's try this. Remember that Chalker book, the one about the truck driver who turned into a barbarian and fought evil in an other dimension?" Jack nodded pensively. They both loved Chalker's books.
"In one of the later books in the series, the barbarian is bitten by a small dog that's actually a 'were'."
"I don't know. I don't see any wolf." Jack made exaggerated searching movements as he laughed.
"Right, and who's on first?"
"Second base." Now they were both laughing.
"Anyway," Hastie tried to control his laughter enough to continue. "You damn well know it's 'were', as in werewolf -- like Lon Chaney."
"Of course. That's where I heard the name."
"On a movie marquee?"
"No. The name 'Jekyll.' It's from that book by Robert Lewis Stevenson. That explains why I never heard any discussion of this in our joint family histories. What kind of crap have you been feeding me here?"
"No crap." Hastie glared down at his friend. "I told you I needed to give you some history. Let me finish the damn story already."
Jack nodded and waited, albeit not that patiently if the rapidly twitching foot was any indication.
"My great grandfather wrote that book under a -- whaddya call it -- pseudonym. I got copies of the galley proofs here somewhere if you don't believe me. Anyway, I told you that he had got obsessed. With no family around he also became somethin' of a recluse. Didn't go anywhere. Didn't see anyone. If you remember from your family's history, our two families almost split about then." Jack nodded his agreement.
"He did try his modified formula -- once, and then died."
"Oh great, so now it's poison you're selling here?" but Jack was smiling as he spoke.
"No. He had time to report that it worked and how it worked before he was run over by a hansom cab at seventy six years of age."
"Okay, so how does it work?"
"For that we go back to that Chalker story we were talkin' about earlier. The barbarian became a 'were', but not like Lon Chaney."
"Yeah, I remember. He didn't become a werewolf, he became a were-anything, what ever he was closest to when he changed."
"Exactly, and that's almost how this formula works."
"Oh oh. Here we go again. What exactly do you mean by 'almost'?"
"Relax Jack. Your feathers are showing again. The difference is that it's not what you're closest to, but what you are thinking of when the change occurs."
"Side effects? Do I turn purple? Does my nose fall off? Do I have an irresistible urge to walk in front of a hansom cab?"
"Nope. No side effects."
"Okay, what aren't you telling me. There's got to be something. Give."
"Nothin' damn it. It changes you into whatever the heck you think of after takin' the formula. It's based on Jekyll's formula which changed the emotions and then let the emotions, or spirit as Jekyll called it, change the body. Great grandfather reversed it so that the form changed and then the emotions, or spirit, changed to reflect the form."
"I knew there was a catch," Jack snapped his fingers. "So if I think of becoming a horse, I become a horse. Then I become convinced that I am a horse. Then I don't know to change back to me?"
"Wrong. You become a horse and you get the reflexes and instincts of a horse, but keep your intelligence. In effect you become Mr. Ed."
"A talking horse?"
"No, but a very smart horse. You might be able to speak a bit, but I'll bet the vocal chords of a horse would make speech damn difficult."
"But how do you know that I would know to change back? Horses aren't known for wanting to become humans as far as I know."
"Because that's what great grandfather turned himself into. The family had a hell of a time, removing the hoof marks so they could sell the estate and move to America. They couldn't figure out what the great grandpa had been doing with a horse inside the house."
"Okay. Another question. How do you turn back?"
"You take the formula and think about being yourself."
"How did old Hastie the First find a way to drink the formula if he was a horse?"
"He knocked the bottle with the formula in it off the table and onto the floor. Then he lapped up what spilled and turned back."
"That means we need to have an easy way to change back. How many bottles of that stuff did you make?"
"Dozens. More than enough for any eventuality. Does that mean that you believe me?"
"No, it means that I'm reserving judgement, although I'm still leaning towards the idea that this is a really elaborate practical joke."
"When it's not April Fools Day? Damn it Jack, we have a tradition to uphold," Hastie responded indignantly.
"Fine. It's not a joke. It works, and we're going to try it out tonight, two days before the party."
"You still don't believe me."
"Nope. I already told you that. Just assume I do and humor me. What is this going to turn us into for the party. Ideas?"
"Well. I was thinking about something mythical. A satyr or a centaur."
"Why not? We both like centaurs."
"Sure, but they'll never let me in. Remember your great grandfather's floors?"
"The precious gym floor or a fantastic costume." Hastie lifted one hand and then the other as if weighing his options.
"Gym floor wins, huh?" he answered ruefully. "Okay, how about Batman and Robin?"
"Nope. Too common. Care to guess how many cartoon super heros will be there?"
"Good point. How about rock stars. Old one's that have been around so that everyone knows them, but as themselves when they were young?"
"Sure. I'll be George Michaels and you can be Boy George."
"I was thinking of something just a bit more contemporary."
"Okay, how about you be Whitney Houston and I'll be Shania Twain."
"You're not takin' this very seriously."
"Of course I'm not. Why would I?"
"Because it works, damn it. Try it. Or are you chicken?"
"Don't call me chicken." Jack was out of his chair and trying to loom menacingly over his slightly taller friend. "Give me that crap."
"So you're going to try it out? Are you sure you're not afraid?"
"Sure," he growled as he grabbed two containers from his friend's hands.
"What are you going to become?"
"Damned if I know. I'll become... I'll become... Conan the Barbarian from the movie you were watching."
"I wasn't watching it, I was channel surfing and stopped there when you started talking to me again."
"Yeah, sure. Whatever." Jack uncorked the small test tube and swallowed the amber fluid inside. "Ugh. It tastes like scotch."
"Shut up and think of Conan. You want to screw this up?"
"I'm thinking. I'm thinking." He looked down at his body. "Why aren't I changing?"
"It takes a few moments. Give it a chance."
"Right. Absolutely." But Jack still squeezed his eyes closed tight and concentrated as hard as he could.
"Hey! I feel a tingling. It must be working." Jack's eyes opened wide with shock, and then he collapsed to the floor groaning and writhing.
"Oh, god. It's not supposed to hurt." Hastie dropped to the ground beside his friend, trying to cradle Jack's head in his lap as his eyes began filling with tears.
Jack suddenly became very still, hardly breathing. Before Hastie could start CPR one eye opened and Jack laughed. "Gotcha. This is one practical joke that's going to be on you."
"You bastard. You had me scared to death." Hastie pushed Jack's head off his lap and stood up. Still laughing, Jack pushed himself back so that he could lean against a stuffed chair.
"I told you this was a crock. Now what's the real plan for the Halloween party? Does it have something to do with the TSP device your father mentioned yesterday?"
"Sorry Jack. That was the real thing, and I suggest you keep thinking about Conan -- unless you want to be that centaur, or maybe you want to be Red Sonja?"
"Brigitte Nielsen. Now that's one good looking babe. Did you know she's exactly as tall as me. She's a redhead in that movie but she's usually sporting blonde hair. I wonder if she's a natural blonde? From the name, I'd bet she is."
"Jack. Don't do this. You really need to think of..." Before Hastie could finish Jack groaned and slid over onto his side, hands clutched tightly to his chest. As Hastie watched his best friend's twitching body slowly seemed to turn to Jello and flow into a new and different shape. Hair flowed out of his head, reddish blonde hair, that kept coming until it reached below her shoulders. His arms thinned and the skin lightened a bit. His upper torso didn't get smaller, but it did change shape with the shoulders and waist becoming thinner. His shoes didn't fall off, but they seemed to wiggle about more as he continued to twitch.
Suddenly Jack stopped twitching and lay still. His eyes shot open as he sucked in a prodigious quantity of the room's air and screamed.