Dr. Roszó placed his hands on the latch of the wooden gate. The gate blocked off the flag-stoned path that led to the front door of the non-descript terraced house, and the only noteworthy thing about the whole place at the moment was the policeman loitering beside the gate. Dr. Roszó nodded at him, and tried to open the gate.
For a moment the whole world seemed to blur around him, and, as though very far off, he heard a faint screaming, a woman crying out his birth name over and over again. Then things returned to normal, the noise disappeared, and he realised that although he was leaning his full weight on the gate, it wasn't moving.
"It's been like that since we found it, Sir," said the policeman. His voice was deep and gravelly, not quite in keeping with his slightly plump appearance. Dr. Roszó felt as though the voice belonged to some chiselled 1930's film star with stubble and a hidden life that the public were kept away from. "Madame Annabel went in, but she came straight out again and wouldn't talk to anyone. They've taken her back to the station to talk to her."
"Who's talking to her?" Dr. Roszó looked across the road as he spoke, but couldn't see any sign of his assistant yet. He looked back at the policeman. "Have they called Rupert?"
"No-one's told me who's talking to her, Sir, and I don't know who Rupert is." The policeman stared straight ahead as he spoke. His eyes were slightly dull, and as he looked at him a thought grew into a certainty in Dr. Roszó's mind.
"Were you at twenty-one Cameron Road two weeks ago?" he said. "It would have been mid-afternoon, there were three officers turned up in a patrol car when we radioed in."
"Yes Sir," said the policeman. Dr. Roszó nodded.
"When you get off duty you are to go and talk to Rupert Warning," he said, his voice suddenly sounding colder and harsher. The light around them darkened a little as though a cloud had chosen that moment to cross the sun. "Tell him that you remember the toad-priest."
"Yes Sir," repeated the policeman, giving no sign at all that he'd understood the instructions. Dr. Roszó stood next to, wondering if it was worth reinforcing the suggestion, and was just deciding that it probably wasn't when a lively young voice jerked him from his reverie.
"Sorry I'm a bit late, Doctor, I was eating ice-cream with my friends and they didn't want me to leave."
Dr. Roszó looked round, and there was his assistant, eighteen year-old Adam, grinning cheerfully at his elbow. Adam was about a foot shorter than Dr. Roszó, had skin pale enough that he was often mistaken for a goth, a shock of black hair that he let grow, and a very European taste in clothes. Today he was wearing canary-yellow jeans and a carnelian t-shirt with a faded slogan almost unreadable across the chest.
"You're here, and that's what matters," said Dr. Roszó. "Want to try opening the gate?"
Adam was bright but unmotivated and had shown no interest in either work or study until Dr. Roszó had found him hanging out with friends outside a supermarket. One of Adam's friends had gone to push Dr. Roszó and the doctor had automatically defended himself, creating a paper-thin barrier of fluxing space-time around himself. Anything touching it would be pressed thin and sucked through, deposited in a random alternate universe that might, if they were very lucky, support life. As he'd reflexively thrown the barrier up he'd felt the energy flow between himself and Adam, felt the lad acting as a deep resevoir for the exotic energies he commanded. Although Adam's friend (not a good one, he'd confided later) had disappeared through an interdimensional rift with no proof of where he'd gone or how, Adam had also felt the connection. The taste of the power that Dr. Roszó commanded had been enough to pull him along for now, learning about the strange new sciences that people like Dr. Roszó had access to, and seeing them put to use in all the dark ways that humanity seems determined to experiment with.
Adam gave the gate a push, and it didn't move. He bit his lower lip and tried harder, the muscles on his thin arms standing out as he did so. The world seemed to blur again, but then righted itself and Adam had moved the gate a mere centimetre. Dr. Roszó was very impressed.
"Stuck solid," said Adam, shaking his head. "Shouldn't be possible, that's just wood. It should snap if was that stuck."
"It's being held," said Dr. Roszó. "Maintained, if you like. All I know for the moment is that something terrible happened inside that house, and the occupant is now–"
"Occupant? Like they're not human?" Adam was staring at Dr. Roszó with interest now.
"Occupant like I don't know what they are," said Dr. Roszó. "Someone, possibly something. But they're maintaining the entire house like this, and we need to know how long it's going to last and what kind of effect it's having on them."
"Like, if they're going to die?"
"Maybe, but more like if they're going to end up not human."
Adam looked a little worried; Madame Annabel and Rupert liked to tell him horror stories of the department's work to keep him a little wound up.
"So what do I do?" he said, his voice letting reluctance creep in to his tone.
"Help me," said Dr. Roszó.
This time when he placed his hands on the gate he felt Adam's reservoir of energy open up, and established a connection between them both, one that fed raw power into Adam and a second that pulled the refined energy back out again. Then, when he was sure of the pipeline, he pushed on the gate and saw how the black-and-red energies wrapped around it, emanating from the house. It was now child's play for him to guide the gate through the gaps in the patterns and then free it altogether so that it was free to move once more.