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Authors: Patrick Carman

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BOOK: Phantom File
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He smiled at me then, the wide, crazy eyes returning for an instant as I reared back in my seat.

“It is timeless.”

A chill of fright ran through me, but I forged on, desperate to know the end of his depraved tale. Such a master as this must have more to tell if only I could reach inside and get it.

“When Howard murdered his brother,” I began. But he would have none of it.

“There was no murder!”

Rainsford banged his fist on the table. Oh, the glory of men who drink! Percy and Lord Byron surely would have raced downstairs had they heard, but no, the house was big, the echo distant, and the men deeply sedated. And as for Claire? Well, she hadn’t an ounce of courage in her. She could never do what I was doing now. A sound from outside the door would only make her pull the covers up tighter around her neck.

“You don’t understand at all,” he continued. “The war took him, don’t you see? And all their meddling and playing God. It drove him out of his mind. Howard had to throw the switch!”

“What is this curse you speak of? You haven’t explained yourself, and this makes for a troubling story. It’s marvelous what you’ve concocted, but there are things missing. Tell me of the curse. Tell me what happened to Howard.”

I sat spellbound and desperate for the last of the tale while Rainsford scratched nervously at one of his forearms. And then he told me the very end, which was terrible indeed.

This thing is alive, but not in the way of the world. It lives in the world but comes from outside the world. Andrew called it a cornered spirit, hopelessly trapped in the world of men. It lives on in . . . in Howard, I suppose. And so Howard lives on. I could live a thousand years—longer.

Rainsford could not or would not remain detached from the story he told. Always he would drift from Howard to himself and back again. It was disarming and hopeless and thrilling to hear the words pour out of his mouth.

The procedure is mostly science, a victory. Nine parts human ingenuity, one part faith. But I don’t see how it could work without that special ingredient Andrew brought into the world. It’s small, but it’s mighty. When Howard is ready to die, when he’s had enough of this world, there will be no more subjects to find, no more procedures. At the end only faith remains. I fear it will take Howard to places best avoided as long as possible.

He looked at me then as if he might have a purpose for me. For a fleeting moment I thought I would follow him anywhere. My poor Percy would wilt under the heat of this man. He wouldn’t stand a chance.

I might stay on a day or two
, Rainsford whispered.

And I knew then, if he did, I would undoubtedly leave with him and never return. He had such magnetism, something more than mere charm alone. Two more days with this creature and I’d be finished. He would have me.

Rainsford was through. He had no more to say to me or, more likely, no more he wanted to tell for one night. Questions remained, questions I hoped to get answered in time. And so I left him there in the kitchen, alone with his thoughts.

Come morning, Rainsford was gone. I was both sad and relieved, for he was the most dangerous kind of a man, a man I could have gotten lost in. Who knows what would become of me in his arms? His absence made me wonder if it had all been a dream. But my notes were there on the nightstand. I had written it all down.

I will not write Rainsford’s story, because in the telling, I found a story of my own. I am especially interested in this idea of playing God, of tampering with creation and bringing things to life. And I do believe I’ll make for myself a character, a mad scientist of some sort, one who wants more from the world than it has to offer, one who makes things he should not, who goes too far.

My mind is aflame with ideas.

The first time I read Mrs. Goring’s phantom file, my mind was not aflame with ideas as Mary Shelley’s had been. My mind was aflame with something else.


Where did Rainsford go after that chance encounter with one of the world’s most famous writers? When did the war he spoke of take place? And how old is Rainsford, really?

Most people probably wouldn’t pay much attention to the minor details of a story like the one Mrs. Goring recorded. But I’m Will Besting. I’m all about the details. And the hidden detail that struck me more than any other in her story was the repeated mention of a desert.


There are no deserts in England. I’m not even sure they have sand. So I’m left to assume the war Rainsford spoke of took place somewhere else. But where? Could it have been a more ancient place and a much older war? There are records of wars as far back as 2700 BC (I know, I looked it up) and most of the old ones
near deserts. The war Rainsford speaks of could have occurred any time in recorded history. It’s scary to think of how old he might be, and in the end, unknowable. He’s the only one who knows and he’s not telling. But Mrs. Goring’s phantom file, at least for me, confirms what I have long suspected: Rainsford is much older than a mere two or three hundred years.

My other theory about this story is that it is the beginning, not the end of a great evil. Knowing what I know about how the cure works, I would also guess the death of Rainsford’s brother did not result in a long-term cure for mortality. It would not have been pure fear blood Rainsford was using, but that first procedure would have given him a clue to the power of a certain kind of tainted blood. A thousand years or more is a long time to work on a curse and a cure. It’s chilling to imagine how many times Rainsford experimented on people just like me in order to perfect his witches’ brew. Crazy Mrs. Goring is, in the end, one hell of a recorder of things. She’s even better than I am, and that’s saying something. It’s a pretty incredible story in more ways than one. If it’s true, there are some amazing things Mrs. Goring discovered:


Mary Shelley,
Mary Shelley, had an encounter with Rainsford almost two hundred years ago, and the encounter led to one of the most famous stories of all time:

Mary Shelley experienced something of Rainsford’s power on that very night. She said so herself. If he’d stayed on another day or two, Mary Shelley would have been like Avery Varone or Mrs. Goring before that, Rainsford’s chosen one, if only for a time. Whoa.

The procedure, as he called it, was used first on his own brother and a bunch of dead guys. If he’s had a thousand years or more to work on it, he’s obviously moved on to more live subjects and precise systems, but the methods seem generally the same. Blood is transferred—special blood—and Rainsford becomes younger. It couldn’t have stuck that first time, but it almost certainly gave him the achievement he needed to keep going, to keep experimenting, and to eventually find a way to stay alive forever.

There is a magic or otherworldly quality to what’s going on here. It’s not all science. It’s also paranormal. Whatever came out of Andrew ended up in Rainsford. It makes him stronger and more powerful. It’s the magic dust sprinkled over all his black proceedings.

How many people have recorded Rainsford’s path on his long march across time? At least three: Mary Shelley, Mrs. Goring, and me. We all received something out of the deal—Mary Shelley was given the seed of a world-class novel, I got cured of my crippling fear, and Mrs. Goring became the most bitter woman on earth, something only she could call “a joy.”

But I also lost something in the deal, and so did all my friends. None of the Seven came out unscathed. We’ve got the scars to prove it. And for that, I’m still planning to make Rainsford pay.

If there’s a way to end him, I’m going to find it.





“Any of you ever been in the pump house?” Goring asked, breaking her silence as we came to the dock.

No one raised a hand as Connor leaned down and splashed water on his face, but all eyes were on the rundown wooden structure that sat next to the pond. It was small, like the gardening shed in my backyard at home, and it looked like it might fall over in a strong wind.

“It’s not really a pump house,” Mrs. Goring continued. Then she walked away in the direction of the thing we were talking about and left us all scratching our heads about what was really inside.

“Why do we all have to go down there?” asked Ben. “Why not just Will? He got us into this mess.”

“Did not,” I said. Getting dumped on was growing old fast. “We all got cured, we all got symptoms. How is any of that my fault?”

“I think we should all go,” Connor said, “Come on, it’ll be cool.” And that, more than anything, is probably what got us to do it. In the end it was like a dare no one wanted to miss out on as much as anything. And there was the promise of a cure, even if the promise was made by an insane woman living all alone in the woods. It was something to hold on to.

“At least make him go first,” Alex said. “That way if I fall I’ll land on his head.”

Marisa didn’t come to my defense. She wouldn’t even look at me. It got worse when Connor started whispering to her, glancing over his shoulder as I fumed.

She’s back on the market. Nice. That’s what his muscle-headed look told me, and Marisa didn’t do a thing to protest the idea.

“Fine, I’ll go first,” I yelled, blowing past everyone and arriving inside where a metal door with a latch sat against the ground. Mrs. Goring knelt down beside me and grabbed the metal lever with her hand, shoving it sideways with a grinding noise that reverberated into places I couldn’t see.

“He’s older than seven hundred,” Mrs. Goring whispered close to my ear, and I turned to her. “Let’s make sure he doesn’t see one more bloody year.”

She shoved something in my hand and looked at me as if it was to remain our secret, whatever it was. Did I really think it was a good idea to conspire with Mrs. Goring again? She’d gotten me in a heap of trouble with Marisa and the rest, and yet I had a weird feeling I should let it pass. It crossed my mind to tell her about what I’d found in the woods, but there was no time.

“Agreed,” I said, staring down a long, wide tube with a metal ladder on one side. There was faint, crackling light coming from somewhere far below. I slid what she’d handed me into my back pocket and listened carefully for any sound coming from the depths of whatever lay belowground at Fort Eden.

“Good thing you’re not afraid of heights, Connor,” I said, imagining the old Connor Bloom, the one that had been terrified of falling.

I started down the ladder, feeling the rungs grow colder as I went, and immediately decided it was a bad idea. I stopped and started to complain, to reason with the others that we should go back, but Connor was the second one into the tube and he wouldn’t stop coming toward me. His body was a hulking shadow against the light of the world outside.

“Go, man! I don’t want to be down here all day.”

I didn’t move. I could feel the stupidity of what we were doing like a film of dread covering my body. I knew we shouldn’t do it. It suddenly felt all wrong just in time to have no power over what was happening to me.

“I’m going to step on your hand,” said Connor. He was staring down at me from above with a resolve that bordered on psychotic. “I’m getting those vials and you’re going to help me do it. Move.”

He placed one shoe on my left hand and began pressing down with his weight. Looking down, I saw that it was at least thirty feet more to the bottom.

“Okay, okay!” I shouted. “Back off!”

Connor removed his foot and I reluctantly went down another four rungs as someone else came in behind Connor, I couldn’t tell who.

If I could just keep Marisa out of here. At least that would be something, I thought. But I kept going, Connor’s relentless feet at my head, until I stood on a slick concrete floor and stared up. I could see all of them marching down the ladder in a line like little soldiers.

And at the very top, Mrs. Goring’s head, which suddenly disappeared.

And that’s when the metal door at the top of the ladder slammed shut, before half of us were even off the ladder.

I heard the handle turn way up there, grinding into the locked position, so it had to be loud. When everyone made it to the bottom, no one wanted to say what was really going on. We just stood there, still and quiet, and tried to come to grips with the reality of our circumstances.

We’d driven two hours out of LA, walked down a very long and steep path into a desolate wood known by only a few. We’d trusted a crazy woman and let her lead us a hundred feet underground.

And we’d let her close the door on us.

We were trapped.

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