Critical Companions to Popular Contemporary Writer
by Joan G. Kotker, English Faculty, Bellevue College
Published by Greenwood Publishing
Copyright © 1996 by Joan G. Kotker.
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CHAPTER 3: Phantoms (1983)
Like nearly all Dean Koontz's later novels, Phantoms is a cross-genre novel that borrows conventions from several genres. It fits best in the suspense category, a broad group covering works of many genres and having as a defining characteristic the fact that "the characters and the reader are in a constant state of uneasy anticipation of the worst, which all too often happens" (Rosenberg and Herald 1991, 47). Phantoms opens like a classic work of science fiction, with the protagonist entering a town, only to find everyone dead. The solution to the deaths puts the novel in the subgenre of science fantasy, in which new laws of nature-laws other than those operating in our world-are at play. Phantoms also includes elements of the romance in the relationship between the protagonists, of the procedural in its descriptions of the way in which the chemical and biological warfare teams operate, of the mystery in terms of who is doing the killings and what that person or thing's motives are, and of the horror novel in its use of dead creatures who return as zombies, although in the denouement the horror aspect is undercut, since the supernatural aspects of the antagonist or villain are given natural explanations.
The scene then shifts to the county sheriff's station, where Sheriff Bryce Hammond is questioning Fletcher Kale, who is suspected of killing his wife and son. Through his questioning it becomes obvious that Hammond, who gives the initial impression of being a country bumpkin, is a very sharp policeman and no one's fool. As a result of Hammond's probing interrogation Kale falls apart, and it is clear that he will be charged with the murders. This scene also provides background on Hammond, whose wife died a year ago when her car was hit by a drunk driver, and whose seven-year-old son has been in a coma ever since. Hammond has been in despair, and is only beginning to come out of it as the novel opens.
In Snowfield, Jenny finally gets a dial tone and is able to get through to the sheriff's station. She reports that something is terribly wrong in the town, maybe a lethal epidemic, maybe something else, but whatever it is, the entire town of five hundred people seems to be dead, one huge morgue. Hammond goes to Snowfield with five of his men and they search the town, finding such appalling things as severed heads in the ovens at the local bakery and severed hands clutching a rolling pin. As they investigate, the characters feel as though something in the town is watching their every move, and they are proved right. One by one, the sheriff's men are picked off, with the first victim, a deputy noted for his caution, disappearing into thin air. Apparently, caution is no defense against whatever is in Snowfield. The second victim, another deputy, does not disappear, but instead is attacked by a giant pterodactyl-like moth, who sucks off his face and even the brain from out of his skull. This victim had been saying that all the other characters were being too imaginative, that everything could be rationally explained, that there was nothing weird going on in Snowfield. Clearly, denial is no more of a defense than was caution.
A message is found written in eyebrow pencil on a bathroom mirror saying, "Timothy Flyte, The Ancient Enemy." Two victims, also completely covered with bruises, are in the bathroom, having apparently locked themselves in there shortly before being killed. Does this mean that Timothy Flyte has caused the deaths and disappearances? If so, who is Timothy Flyte? At this point, a series of very strange phenomena are documented. The characters notice that there are no animals left in town, and that while they are finding some bodies, they aren't finding nearly as many as they should: most of the townspeople seem to have disappeared, leaving no physical trace behind them. Weird voices, perhaps those of the people and animals who were taken away, come over the telephone lines. In terms of a probable cause, the characters now begin to wonder if some sort of secret biological or chemical warfare agent could have been released in Snowfield. Sheriff Hammond, who is an old friend of the governor's, calls him and gets his permission to bring in the Chemical and Biological Warfare Defense Unit from Dugway, Utah. This team enters the town and establishes that whatever is going on in Snowfield, it is not chemical, not biological, and not an alien, extraterrestrial creature.
The setting now switches to London, where Timothy Flyte, an old man, is being taken to lunch by his American publisher. Many years earlier Flyte wrote a book on unexplained disappearances in history, such as that of the Roanoke colony in Virginia and, later, the disappearance of the ship Mary Celeste, with all of her crew. In his book, The Ancient Enemy, Flyte speculated that the cause of these disappearances was a being he called The Ancient Enemy, a prehistoric creature who from time to time preys on humans and animals, although It does most of its preying in the oceans, which is why humans have so little knowledge of It. The Ancient Enemy can be known only by its actions, rather than by eye-witness reports, since It usually operates where no one can see It and in the rare cases where It attacks people, no one is left alive to report the attack. Flyte's book is long out of print, a collector's item, and Flyte himself lost his teaching position as a result of writing the book, which was considered to be radical and unscientific, not to say bizarre, by his university colleagues. Flyte's American publisher now wants Flyte to write a popularization of his book for a mass audience.
The scene then shifts back to Snowfield, where the Chemical and Biological Warfare (CBW) team is performing autopsies, running lab tests, and the like-and in the process, being picked off one by one by whatever it is that is causing the deaths and disappearances in the town. The team establishes that the cause of death is some sort of living creature, but it does so at great cost to itself: only one of the CBW team is left after the initial investigations, Sara Yamaguchi, a geneticist. At this point, whatever is killing everyone and everything in Snowfield begins communicating to the survivors by computer, taunting them with hints as to who and what It is. It requests the presence of Timothy Flyte, whom It refers to as its biographer, promising him safe passage if he will come to Snowfield.
While this is happening, Fletcher Kale, the accused wife and child murderer, escapes from prison, kills a deputy, and flees to a mountain retreat on the other side of Snowfield. At the same time, a motorcycle gang has gone to this hideaway, with neither Kale nor the motorcyclists knowing that the other is there. Thus, Sheriff Hammond, his two surviving deputies, and Jenny, Lisa, and Sara are in Snowfield, with Fletcher Kale and a motorcycle gang very nearby; It, the creature responsible for all the devastation, is seemingly everywhere in the area. Before Kale reaches the retreat, It has picked off most of the motorcycle gang and only its leader, Gene Terr, is left to greet him, deep inside a limestone cavern.
The focus switches back to Snowfield and the arrival of Timothy Flyte, who explains to the sheriff's crew and the other survivors that, in his view, It is The Ancient Enemy, a creature that has existed for eons and may have been responsible for the disappearance of the dinosaurs as well as of all the living creatures in the town. When Flyte communicates via computer with It, the creature reveals itself as an egocentric monster who wants Flyte to write about and celebrate what It is, since it is Flyte who first recognized the being's true nature. Flyte accuses It of having a human ego and says that It owes human beings for its intelligence. He maintains that, as It has absorbed humans and animals, so too has It absorbed their intelligence and ego. But It will have none of this, and continues to see itself as far superior to human beings.
While Flyte and The Ancient Enemy are communicating, Sara Yamaguchi discovers through her tests that the creature is chemically similar to petrolatum, and she hypothesizes that perhaps It can be destroyed by the bacteria that is used to eat oil spills. She calls for the necessary equipment to attempt this, under the guise of doing yet further tests to learn about and celebrate the fabulous It, and she turns out to be right: the creature can indeed by destroyed in this way.
Yamaguchi's discovery leads to the climax, which is both the turning point and the emotional high point of the story. This is a very dramatic scene, with the survivors spraying the creature with the bacteria and the creature attempting to kill the survivors in retaliation. It succeeds in killing one of the deputies and Sara Yamaguchi, and in wounding a second deputy before succumbing to the spray and, like the townspeople, disappearing. It returns to its temporary base in the limestone caverns, where Kale and Terr are worshipping It as Satan. Telling them that its time is not yet come but that It will return, It gives them five commands to carry out, promising them that if they do so, they will have immortality and then It slowly disappears.
Finally, the denouement presents the consequence or consequences of the action that has occurred in the climax and acts as a wrapping up of the story. In Phantoms, the denouement takes place at the hospital in nearby Santa Mira, where Jenny and Lisa are visiting the surviving deputy, who is being treated for his injuries and is already nearly recovered. By coincidence, Sheriff Hammond is also at the hospital, visiting his son, and at this moment Gene Terr and Fletcher Kale burst in with guns at the ready, following out the creature's five commands: kill all five of these people. Hammond kills Kale and the deputy kills Terr, both of whom are very surprised to be mortal after all. Time then jumps forward and we learn that the surviving deputy will probably find happiness with a nurse he met in the hospital, that Lisa has come to terms with her mother's death and is now living a normal teenager's life, that the sheriff and Jenny are married, and that he has had what may be a prophetic dream in which he has seen his son coming out of his coma. In other words, all of the survivors have achieved a happy ending.
The second major protagonist is Jennifer Paige, who is the first to discover what has happened in Snowfield. A doctor who went through medical school on scholarships, she is obviously intelligent, knowledgeable about many things such as how to handle weapons, and immensely brave. She examines the bodies of the dead even when she and her sister Lisa are the only living people in Snowfield, and she stands up to and intimidates the leader of the motorcycle gang in a fine scene in which, as she tells Hammond, she first pulls a gun on him and then explains to him quietly that she is a doctor and that "he might need a doctor some day. What if he took a spill off that bike of his and was lying on the road, critically injured, and I was the doctor who showed up-after he'd hurt me and given me good reason to hurt him in return? I told him there are things a doctor can do to complicate injuries, to make sure the patient has a long and painful recovery. I asked him to think about that" (119).
Like Bryce Hammond, Jenny is also a round character, since we have information on who she is and on how she came to be that way. She has been in an abusive relationship with a lover, and breaking out of it was the catalyst that gave her the strength to become a doctor and make an independent life for herself. She is, however, a static character, since this significant change took place long before Phantoms begins. In Phantoms, she does gain a certain amount of insight into her mother and the mother's attitudes toward her, but other than this, she remains at the end the same brave, resourceful woman she was at the beginning. The other two women characters, Sara Yamaguchi and Lisa Paige, Jenny's younger sister, are flat and static. Sara is bright, brave, and resourceful-characteristics that remain the same throughout the novel-and that is all the information given about her. Lisa is also brave, worships her older sister, and has had a hard time coming to terms with her mother's death. Her only dynamic characteristic is in a scene at the end of the novel, where she participates in conversation and socializing and clearly enjoys herself. This is a new response for Lisa, signifying that sufficient time has passed for her to accept the death, and she is now getting on with her life. Other than this, she acts primarily as a foil to her sister, giving us a sense of Jenny from someone other than Jenny herself.
The remaining protagonists are the CBW team, a group that is killed off so quickly most readers will have trouble even remembering their names, and Sheriff Bryce Hammond's deputies, who with one exception are each given a single identifying characteristic to differentiate them one from another and who remain static throughout the novel, right up until the moment when the creature takes them. The exception is Tal Whitman, one of Koontz's many positively drawn African-American characters. We are given his background in New York City's Harlem, and like Jenny, it is his reaction to the adversity he experienced there that has made him the strong person he is today. He is the only deputy who survives the encounter with the creature, and there is some indication that he, too, is a dynamic character. In Snowfield he has learned to acknowledge fear rather than to deny it, and this acknowledgment seems to have opened him to the possibility of a romance with his hospital nurse at the end of the novel.
A final positive character is Timothy Flyte, the author of The Ancient Enemy and the only one to understand what the creature is and what motivates it. He is drawn as a stock character-that is, a flat character who has become a convention in certain forms of literature, such as the hard-boiled detective, the wicked witch, or the cruel stepmother. Flyte is the stereotypical scientist, the intellectual who lives for his theories and has little or no sense of reality outside of them, and this concept of him fits well with the brief appearance he makes in the novel. He is also a static character, since he too remains the same throughout the work, although he does have the satisfaction of seeing his theories proven correct. However, since he dies immediately thereafter, there is no possibility for any significant change to take place.
Phantoms has three antagonists, or villains: the murderer Fletcher Kale, the biker leader Gene Terr, and the creature that Flyte names The Ancient Enemy. Considering the small part that he plays in the novel, Kale is both round and dynamic. His psychology is drawn in more detail than that of any character, with the sheriff deciding that even though he doesn't think Kale is quite a sociopath or psychopath, a good cop would recognize the type and see the potential for criminal activity and, perhaps, the talent for brute violence, as well. There is a certain kind of man who has a lot of vitality and likes plenty of action, a man who has more than his share of shallow charm, whose clothes are more expensive than he can afford, who owns not a single book. . .who seems to have no well-thought-out opinions about politics or art or economics or any issue of real substance, who is not religious except when misfortune befalls him or when he wishes to impress someone with his piety. . .who has an athletic build but who seems to loathe any pursuit as healthy as physical exercise, who spends his leisure time in bars and cocktail lounges, who cheats on his wife as a matter of habit. . .who is impulsive, who is unreliable and always late for appointments. . .whose goals are either vague or unrealistic. . .who frequently overdraws his checking account and lies about money, who is quick to borrow and slow to pay back, who exaggerates, who knows he's going to be rich one day but who has no specific plan for acquiring that wealth, who never doubts or thinks about next year, who worries only about himself and only when it's too late. (60)
This is a great deal of background on a character who appears in only a handful of brief scenes in the novel, and it is possible that Kale is as richly conceived as he is because he is based on Koontz's abusive father, Ray Koontz. There is certainly a marked similarity between Kale and the father, as his son Dean has described him in interviews (see Chapter 1).
In addition to being a round character Fletcher Kale is also dynamic, since even though his appearances are brief, he comes to understand that he thoroughly enjoyed murdering his wife and child, that he is committed to evil, and that he worships Satan-insights that he did not have at the beginning of the story. Like the protagonist Timothy Flyte, the biker Gene Terr is a stock character, in this case a motorcycle gang member. Terr drinks, does dope, rapes women, and is a killer. His men worship him. He is every really bad Hell's Angels rider rolled into one, and unlike Kale, he does not change during the novel. He has always known that he is a creature of Satan and he revels in doing evil acts. The only possibility for change in Terr occurs so close to his death that he never has the chance to gain any insight from it, and this is the death itself. He had been promised by The Ancient Enemy that he would be immortal, but by the time he discovers that he is not, it's too late-he dies immediately afterward.
Fletcher Kale and Gene Terr are not inhabitants of the town, nor are they members of any group seeking to contain the monster, and the brief interactions they have with other characters are peripheral to the main story. Yet each is carefully drawn, given descriptions that contain a great amount of detail for such minor figures. This suggests that the characters are not minor, that there is something about them that is significant to the novel as a whole. In examining the effect that each has on the novel, the reader can see that they add stature to the protagonists. It is Sheriff Bryce Hammond's questioning of Fletcher Kale that shows the reader how very intelligent and insightful Hammond is, and it is Jenny Paige's facing down of Gene Terr that shows her bravery and resourcefulness. However, these are the only interactions that Kale and Terr have with other characters in the novel until almost the last scene, and it would be relatively easy to establish Hammond and Paige's qualities in ways that are more integral to the plot, displaying their characteristics by showing how they respond to the situation in Snowfield-something that Koontz does anyway.
Kale and Terr also interact with the creature itself, and they are the only characters who can be said to have a positive reaction to It. The creature does not threaten them, does not eat away at them, does not absorb them into itself or cause them to disappear, as It has with everyone else It comes across. Instead, Terr tells Kale that the creature listens to his secrets and approves of him. Terr's secrets consist of the fact that he and his gang routinely abducted young women, raped them, and then killed them in horribly drawn-out ways. The fact that the creature approves of Terr attests to the fact that the monster is pure evil, and encourages and solicits evil in others. For this reason, It is also attracted to Kale, the baby killer. It is as though Terr and Kale validate the monster and the monster in turn validates them. All celebrate the same concept, with Terr and Kale believing the creature to be Satan and the creature revelling in their belief and worship, for which they have been promised immortality. It would seem, then, that what is being developed here is the concept that evil exists absolutely, in human beings as well as in supernatural creatures. However, the fact that Terr and Kale are killed in their final attack on the survivors causes the reader to question this interpretation and suggests a final theory of evil that is more limited and less ominous than what has been initially proposed. If Terr and Kale shed light on evil, then the light that they shed ultimately has more to do with what it shows about them than it does with what it shows about Satan. The information we have been given about them is, after all, credible: they really are murderers who delight in their acts. The information we are given about the creature is less credible, though: It promises immortality, but does not follow through. The suggestion here is that we can trust only what the characters tell us, not what the creature tells us; if we are to know the nature of evil, we can learn it only from human beings who are themselves evil, people like the doomed Terr and Kale.
The final antagonist in Phantoms is the creature The Ancient Enemy. While it is not a flat character, since we know a great deal about its historical background-its actions, the source of its intelligence and ego, and even what it is made up of-it is certainly a static character: it begins and ends as a source of terror, pain, and death to all living creatures.
Another good use of natural setting is the limestone cavern where the creature originally surfaces and where it retreats to die. There really are underground rivers in such caverns. These rivers do eventually lead to the sea, where The Ancient Enemy originated, and strange life-forms do live in caverns-fish and insects that never see the sun and so are white and sightless because of living in eternal darkness. If a monster really were to appear, surely it would choose a place like this, one that is already home to monsters.
The weather plays the role it usually does in Koontz's novels, acting as a portent of what is to come. Thus, when Jenny is trying to contact her neighbors, a whirlwind comes up signifying confusion, and at the climax of the novel, a heavy fog settles over the town, symbolizing the imminent coming of the creature, which like the fog can drift into any shape it chooses. And in the closing scene, the action takes place on the golden beach at Waikiki, moving from the cold mountains with their memories of death to the warm seashore with its promise of life.
Finally, Koontz makes good use of the rustic houses in Snowfield to show how vulnerable human beings are to The Ancient Enemy. Even when they have locked every window and bolted every door, It finds a way in, maybe through a keyhole, maybe through an air vent, maybe through a sink drain. Again, the message is that there is no safe place, not even one's carefully locked and shuttered home. And Koontz uses the strange decontamination suits of the Chemical and Biological Warfare team to illustrate how strange and esoteric the work is that they do. Finally, Koontz has Jenny Paige drive a Pontiac TransAm, a sleek, fast, macho car that signifies how strong, brave, and liberated Jenny is. A TransAm may not be the average doctor's car, but it does very well as the car of a woman who has the courage to face down a biker.
Finally, this point of view enables Koontz to enter the mind of the creature and, in doing so, to construct a mentality that is a composite of all the minds it has absorbed. The only other possibility for such a broad point of view in Phantoms would be third-person limited (in which one character tells the story from the third-person point of view and the reader sees only what that character sees), with the point of view shared among many different characters. But this would be cumbersome for the reader to follow, since there are so many characters. There are just too many isolated but significant incidents involving different people to make third-person limited a practical choice, especially considering that some of these incidents are known only to the person involved and, for plot reasons, cannot be discussed. The geneticist Sara Yamaguchi, for instance, cannot explain to the other characters her plan for destroying the monster, since it is essential to the plan that it be kept secret. The monster overhears everything that goes on in the town, and if Sara were to discuss her idea with anyone, the creature would kill her before she had a chance to implement it. In contrast, the use of the omniscient point of view allows the reader to know what it is that Sara is trying to do even though none of the characters know this. It increases tension as we hold our breaths in the hope that the creature cannot read Sara's mind and that none of the others will ask questions that will make It suspicious of her requests for numerous supplies.
However, in the denouement, Koontz asks the reader to reconsider this easy answer. First, there is the fact that the creature is killed. If the creature really were Satan, who in Christian doctrine is immortal, obviously it could not be killed. Also, there is Jenny Paige's speculation that if the creature has gained its intelligence from human beings, perhaps it has also gained its cruelty and viciousness from them. Maybe the creature is only a devil that human beings have created in their own image. And finally, Kale and Terr, who think of themselves as the apostles of Satan, do not succeed in carrying out the supposed Satan's tasks; instead, they themselves die, in refutation of the promise that they will be eternal. It would, therefore, seem that if there is indeed a Satan, this Ancient Enemy is not it and, further, that Satan may be nothing more than our creation. This is an optimistic concept, since it suggests that evil can at least be contained, even if it cannot be eradicated. It is, after all, much easier to control other humans and their creations than it is to control a supernatural being. The conclusion of the novel is equivocal: there may be a Satan and there may be a God, but we cannot really know this. All we can know is that life does have a purpose.
This peaceful, balanced resolution is in sharp contrast to Koontz's later exploration of the nature of evil in the novel Hideaway, which concludes with the message that Satan exists, that his minions are real, and that the best we can do is carry on bravely in the face of such knowledge. In this work, Lindsey and Hatch Harrison, an artist and an antiques dealer, respectively, are driving in a snow storm. Their car goes off the road and into a ravine. Lindsey frees herself and then pulls her husband out of the car, holding him in raging, freezing waters until rescue comes. (Lindsey is one of Koontz's many strong female characters.) The Harrisons are taken to a hospital, where the dead-on-arrival Hatch is brought back to life by Dr. Jonas Nyebern, a resuscitation specialist. The scene in which this is done by Nyebern and his medical team is absolutely gripping, attesting to the careful research Koontz does for each of his novels. Hatch's return to life becomes a new beginning for him and Lindsey. Five years earlier they lost a young son to cancer and they have been grieving ever since, but now both have a new appreciation for being alive and for having one another. As a result, they adopt a child, ten-year-old Regina, a bright, witty, book-loving girl with a disability-a malformed leg and hand. Together, the three of them begin to build a family.
However, one odd side effect of the resuscitation experience is that Hatch now has bad dreams in which he seems to be in the mind of a psychopath-Jeremy Nyebern, son of the doctor who revived Hatch. When Jeremy was eighteen, he killed his mother and his sister and then committed suicide. Like Hatch, Jeremy was also revived by Dr. Nyebern, and he then escaped from the hospital and went into hiding. Jeremy believes that when he initially died he went to Hell, where he became Vassago, a crown prince of Satan. His goal now is to earn his way back there by committing crimes as horrendous as his original crimes. He therefore decides to kill Lindsey and Regina, another mother and daughter pair. He knows of them because just as Hatch can see into Jeremy's mind, so Jeremy can see into Hatch's. Jeremy and Hatch, because of their shared experience of having died and been resuscitated, share a mental bond over which they have no control.
Jeremy kidnaps Regina, and when Lindsey and Hatch follow him to rescue her, Hatch recognizes Jeremy as Vassago and tells Jeremy that he, Hatch, is Uriel, one of God's archangels. Each recognizes the other as a supernatural being and, in doing so, confirms that there is an afterlife and that it consists of a heaven and a hell, a place of good and a place of evil. Hatch then beats Jeremy to death with a crucifix and Regina is rescued. The novel concludes with a very subdued ending: Dr. Nyebern becomes a veterinarian and the other characters carry on with their lives. Lindsey still paints, Hatch sells antiques, and Regina seems well on her way to becoming a successful writer-but the tone is very low key. Dean Koontz's usual sense of the triumph of good over evil is here replaced with a sense that while evil has been defeated, the defeat has been at great cost to the characters, who will now wearily go on with lives that are not the innocent, joyful lives they might have been. Finally, Koontz's message is that evil is infinite and eternal, and that to even innocently experience evil is to be tarnished and soiled by it.
On the surface, Hideaway, with its focus on cutting edge, high-technology medicine, seems a far cry from Phantoms, a work whose plot is a classic seen over and over again in science fiction stories, novels, and movies. However, each work explores the same underlying concern: the nature of evil.
Readers who choose popular fiction for their entertainment assume that their anticipations regarding a specific genre will be fulfilled, and they are willing to go some good way in cooperating with the author so that this can happen. They are basically friendly readers. They are more than willing to accept that a murder could occur in a locked room, provided the author gives them some reason-and it doesn't have to be all that plausible a reason-to accept this notion. And they are more than willing to accept that there are superior beings on other planets who come from civilizations far in advance of ours and who long to do nothing more than journey to earth and give us their wisdom. All readers ask in return for such acceptance is that the author go half-way with the reader in creating a scenario by which such benevolence on the part of alien races can be accepted, at least for the duration of the story.
Readers are willing to take part in a conspiracy with the author-to pretend that fantasy is reality-because they enjoy the genre or genres involved and because they want to be entertained. The technical term for conspiring with the author in this way is "the willing suspension of disbelief," which is defined as "the willingness [of the reader] to withhold questions about truth, accuracy, or probability in a work. This willingness to suspend doubt makes possible the temporary acceptance [by the reader] of an author's imaginative world" (Holman and Harman 1992, 464).
Every work of fiction ultimately depends on such a suspension of disbelief. After all, the reader on some level really does know that the story is only a story and that the characters are only make-believe. Nonetheless, so great is our love of stories and storytelling that we are more than willing to accept the fiction for reality, at least while we are reading the story, if only the author will give us the bare bones of plausibility that will allow us to do this-to enter the world of the author and pretend that it is the real, everyday world.
One interesting way of analyzing a work of fiction-particularly a work of popular fiction, where there are definite audience expectations-is to consider exactly how the author has gone about creating plausibility for the reader. This is especially to the point in a work like Phantoms. None of us in real life has ever entered a town where everyone has suddenly vanished, in the middle of meals, leaving behind only a few corpses with a cause of death that can't be determined. But Koontz makes this scenario believable to readers by reminding us of the many unexplained disappearances that have actually occurred. Where did the dinosaurs go, and what did happen to the colony at Roanoke, Virginia, and why can't we find any trace of the aviator Amelia Earhart, and how about those ships at sea that just disappear with all their crew members and never even send out a radio signal? If all of these things have happened, and we know that they have, since they are referred to in our history books and at the end of the novel the author documents them for us in a final note to the reader, then surely we can accept, at least for the duration of 400 pages, that the people of an entire (although small) town could disappear. And if we find it hard to believe that bacteria of some sort could just eat up the creature who has so terrorized the town, the same end note assures that there really are such patented microorganisms, although they are too fragile to survive outside of the laboratory.
Another way that Koontz creates plausibility is by anticipating a reader's likely objections. For example, when the first deputy disappears from the midst of the sheriff's group in Snowfield, the reader might well think, "Hey, wait a minute. Why just take one of them? Why not all of them?" But before this question can get in the way of reader enjoyment, Koontz has one of the characters ask the same question. As a possible answer, Jenny Paige speculates that the creature is teasing with them, playing with them in the same way that a cat plays with a mouse. The characters all accept this explanation, paving the way for the reader to accept it, too. Later in the novel, when Stu Wargle, the creature's second victim, is maintaining that there is nothing unusual about what's going on, that everybody is just imagining things, the reader is persuaded to put no faith at all in his interpretation because he is the one negative character in the group, a man too stupid and unimaginative to believe the evidence of his own eyes. Since the reader certainly does not want to identify with Wargle, the reader distrusts his perceptions and is therefore biased to accept that the creature is as weird as the other characters find it to be.
And as to why people haven't seen the creature before now if it has existed for so long, Flyte tells us that there are probably very, very few of these beings and that they probably live deep in ocean trenches, hibernating for years and eating mainly off ocean creatures, since the largest part of the earth's surface is covered by ocean. Very strange things come up from the ocean's depths, and we are willing, given a little help from the author, to accept that yet another creature may have surfaced in Phantoms. Dean Koontz is a careful writer, a painstaking researcher, and a craftsman who can always be counted on to give his readers an infrastructure of at least minimal plausibility so that they can become friendly readers, meet him half-way, and enjoy his tales, as they very clearly do. Karen Springen, writing in Newsweek, estimates that more than 60 million copies of Dean Koontz's books have been sold-that's a lot of friendly readers.