Monday, December 27, 2010

Land of Shadows: Chapter XIX - The Uni

Dee found herself experiencing a sense of deja vu as they approached the small town where they would probably be spending the night. According to the map it was called St. James. It was about ninety miles southwest of St, Louis. They had been making good time, it was as if someone had gone before them and cleared their path of wrecked cars and such. It was not until she had bent down to pick up her father's journal after it had once again slid under the dash that she had realized that was exactly the case. Her father, along with many of their hometown's founders had done just that on their way up from Missouri years ago and there had been no traffic since then to clog things up again.

They had been unconsciously retracing their route since leaving Chicago. It was decided that the pursuit of James Nash's killer would be abandoned for now. They knew where he was going and it was hoped that they could beat him to it. She had read and re read the pertinent journal entries and hoped that her father was wrong. But she knew deep down that he was not. The catastrophe that had wiped out most of humanity had been man made.

The machines that had been used to work this horror had destroyed themselves in the process. But they were only prototypes. There was a secondary location in Houston that housed a bigger, more powerful machine. And it was just sitting there waiting to be used. Her father knew this because he had rescued a man that had helped build these machines. The man had been badly injured, but he had babbled about it constantly in his final delirious hours before dying. When he had been lucid he talked reluctantly about it, afraid that he would punish him for his role in the destruction of human civilization. But her father had learned enough enough to know how to go down there and shut things down. Or, for his killer to go down there and reactivate the machine. Neither her, nor her father knew if those that had been passed over once would be passed over again. Odds are they would, but no such guarantee existed for those born since. And even if they were not, would more wraiths, or worse, be visited upon them?

She shook her head and placed the journal safely in her pack and studied the road ahead.

They were coming to a bridge passing over the I-44. The wind was blowing something fierce and a sudden gust billowed snow from off the bridge and for a moment the road was lost. Dotty was at the wheel and slowed briefly. Then sped up again after the snow clear and a second later slammed on the brakes. A large bulky shape loomed in the road ahead. An ancient leftover from an era dead even before the disappearance. Dee recognised it at once. A Sherman tank. Its back was to them as they headed southward on the northbound lanes, but its turret could rotate three hundred and sixty degrees. And the Hummer was now skidding right towards it.

* * *

He sat in the passenger seat watching the miles fly by. The bleached blond jail bait sitting behind the steering wheel would not have been allowed to drive by the old laws. But things were a little less formal now and there were no police officers cruising about looking for underage drivers. Had one been around and foolish enough to pull her over, he would have been surprised by the hardware she had tucked away under the in various locations in the cab of the truck. A sawed off shotgun held to the door panel with Velcro straps, a revolver under the seat and a nine millimeter where the Delco stereo had once resided, not to mention the police issue Glock in the almost too large for her police issue gun belt strapped on under her parka.

The conversation was a bit one sided, but that seemed to be fine for both of them. All he had to do was nod from time to time and she just chattered away. He would be glad when the time to came to shut the bitch up. Unfortunately she was not compatible. But for now she was useful. She seemed smarter than his current host, she could read and was willing to take him most of the way to Texas. And he was sure that he would be able persuade her to accompany him further.

He had been making his way southwest across the overgrown parking lot of a big box store in Fond Du Lac, winding between battered old cars and rusting shopping carts. He literally stumbled into her. He had decided to climb over a flatbed truck blocking one of the aisles. He jumped down from the rusted diamond plate steel platform and knocked her down as she was carrying a bundle of liberated supplies from the box store. She had her gun out and pointed at him before he even knew what happened.

The two of them froze there for a few moments staring at one another. She smiled at his flustered expression completely misreading him. She put the gun away and said, "Well you look harmless enough."

* * *

Dotty managed to turn the wheel into the skid, take her foot off the brake and gas long enough for the big 37x12.5R17 Super Swamper off road tires to bite into the snow before gunning it again, just long enough to pull the Hummer off its collision course with the tank. Even so they clipped the forward edge of the tread with the right rear of the Hummer. Dotty tried to gun it again desperate to get away from the tank. Dee reached across and laid her hand on the older woman's shoulder.

"It's ok Dotty, it's dead."

"Dead ... are you sure?" She asked as she allowed the beast of a vehicle to coast to a stop.

"Positive. It's been dead for fifteen years now. Billy Parsons blew it up." She opened the door letting snow swirl into the cab for a moment. "I'll be right back," she told them before shutting the door leaving the other four human occupants to stare after her dumbly. Duke had quietly followed her out into the snow.

Aside from being almost buried in the snow the tank was as she had remembered it. Billy Parsons had stripped the fifty caliber machine guns and ammo before they left, but the tank was not what she was interested in. The big Unimog camper was just fifty yards away. Snow had drifted halfway up one side. There were holes in the windshield and it was sitting a little closer to the pavement than she remembered. Of course the tires were flat. She waded through the snow to the front of the vehicle. The steps leading up the door were not as far up as she remembered and it was not entirely due to the flat tires. She had after all only been five years old when she had stepped down out of this camper the last time.

The cab door was unlocked but the latch would not budge. That left the driver's side door which would have to be dug out or the main door into the camper section, which was slightly less buried. She opened it while Duke snuffled around the vehicle. It took some effort to push the door open past the snow. Stepping into the camper was like stepping into the past. It was all so perfectly preserved. Her father had been such a methodical man. Even while they were abandoning the Uni, he had take some time to neaten things up. His beloved old Smith Corona typewriter that had been fatally shot through the open cab door had been placed back on the writing desk. The platen and ribbon cover both bowed upward. There was a gaping hole in the back and the segment plate was broken in two. But as neatly as everything had been packed up and put away there had still been something left behind. Just inside the Uni's small bathroom was small pocket sized photo album. She picked it up and began flipping through the pages. She was unaware of the tears sliding down her cheeks. It had been so long, she had actually forgotten her mother's face.

She did not even have to turn around to know the light footstep on the stairs up into the camper were Allison's. She was the only one of their little group light enough to step up inside without making the weathered old springs creak and a stranger would have set Duke to barking.

"For a while, this was home. We had not yet found a safe place and we had to keep moving. It was small and cramped sometimes, but it was home. And Daddy was still alive. I helped kill a man to defend it. But it was already too late. He had shot everything up." She gestured towards the front of the camper and the tank beyond that, though the door between the cab and the living area was closed. There were bullet holes in the wall there. Many of the cabinet doors hung askew, having been knocked off their hinges. "I wanted so much for everything to just go back to the way it was before. Or at least to go back to our house back in Independence. Now I just want Daddy back." Allison did not know what to say, but her father had taught her that sometimes that was ok. She just climbed the rest of the way into the derelict camper and hugged her sister. Together they cried for all that had been lost.

* * *

Together Jewels and the boy Deek stared out the window at the girl. Jewels knew what the boy was thinking. It was dangerous, but it could work. Deek looked at Jewels and the old man nodded.

"Now we start fighting back." Deek said, smiling. But it was the smile of a stone cold predator.

© 2010 R. Keith McBride

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Land of Shadows: Chapter XVIII - Zombie Dog Walker

Of course, Sister Irene had decided to stay. She tried to talk him out of going, but he had insisted. He had thought to borrow one of the two running vehicles that she had somehow managed to keep going. He hoped that he would be able to find gas on the way. But she had instead led him out to a stable. Sheltered comfortably in the stable were three mares and a stallion. She wouldn't let the stallion go, but one of the mares she was willing to part with. After three unsuccessful attempts to mate with the stallion, all that she had produced was a deformed and stillborn colt.

She was a good solid chestnut colored Morgan Irene introduced as Penny. It had been a long time since Elias had ridden a horse. But, she was a steady horse and gave him not an ounce of grief for his clumsy attempts to pull himself up into the saddle. The last time he had been on a horse was back in the Marine corps. A girl he had been dating was a veterinarian that worked several ranches in around the vicinity of the base.

She would frequently exercise horses by riding out about the owner's spread. Her excuse was that this allowed her to spot possible problems. Like test driving a car. But she confessed to him that she just loved to ride but had no place for a horse of her own. She knew that some of the ranchers suspected this but allowed it anyway. She thought it was probably because they just didn't want to take the time to do it themselves. But Elias thought the real reason was just because they like to watch her ride. He knew he did. Kim was an attractive woman with an athletic build, but more than that, she was a born rider and more graceful in the saddle than most could ever hope to be.

During a two week leave she finally coaxed him up onto one of the gentler mares and gave him a few riding lessons. Like everyone else in his past, he had tried not to think of her too often, having long since given up hope that she was fortunate enough to have been spared.

It had been a couple of days since he had left the convent and Sister Irene back in Salina. He was now heading south to Houston hoping to get out from under an impending blizzard before it covered Eastern Kansas in a heavy white blanket. But if he didn't, at least he would not have to worry about the wraiths.

He had spent the night before in a Dodge Caravan that had come to rest under a tree some fifteen years ago just east of McPherson. The farmhouse he had come to that evening proved unsuitable. A tornado had ripped the roof off a few years back so the house was uninhabitable. There were not that many houses along this stretch of I-135. So by night fall his options were somewhat limited.

The little van was resting under a big maple at the end of the drive. Dirt and debris covered it to a degree that he could not determine what color it had been originally. But all the windows were intact. The sliding door was stiff and he did not think he would be able to get it open, but he slipped a couple of fingers into the track under the window and pulled out while pulling on the door handle. The door moved like it had sand packed in the tracks. The interior was a bit stale smelling but the door seals were still good. A few vacant wasp nests had clung to the sagging cloth head liner but he knocked them down and swept them out. He slept curled up on the back seat and stabled Penny in what was left of the nearby garage. It was not perfect, but it was the best he could do. The little van proved to be dry and a few candles carefully placed in cup holders with heavy foil bowls under them provided enough heat in the small confines of Caravan enough that he was reasonably comfortable, even with the front window cracked a quarter inch. But the next morning he had a few moments of panic when no matter how hard he tried, he could not get the doors open. He kicked out the rear side window and crawled out dragging his pack with him. He slipped on a layer of ice as soon as his feet touched the ground. It had drizzled in the night and froze on contact. The doors were frozen shut. It was a struggle to get back up to the house until he abandoned the drive and walked on the grass, His feet crunched through the ice with every step but did not fall ... much.

But tonight it looked like his luck was better. His going had been slower, even with four sturdy legs under her, Penny was not immune to the ice. She had not fallen yet, but he had not wanted to risk pushing her any further than necessary. But by the time the sun had started going down he had come to the small town of Hesston. A great many of the residences had been ripped apart by a tornado about five years ago, but the Mennonite church had been untouched. He brought Penny in through the big glass doors at the south entrance.

There the two of them rode out the blizzard that raged across Harvey County and most of eastern Kansas for three days. The church food pantry supplied all he needed for Penny in the form of canned wheat, oat meal and various vacuum packed dehydrated fruits and vegetables he found in plastic bins.

* * *

It had been quiet for some time. Deek had been following the old man's advice and laying low, but he just had to have a look around. The old man appeared to be asleep so he went to the window and peered out.

The lake was frozen over but a youth's lifetime experience hunting with his father told him that it was not yet thick enough to support his weight. It had snowed and the bike had been abandoned. To his horror, he felt his body moving forward to the frozen edge of the water and step onto the ice. A sudden memory of an incident in his childhood of his brother falling through the ice bubbled to the surface.

He stood there on the edge of the frozen little stream watching as his brother chased after the little deer. In the dim understanding of his six year old mind he knew it was wrong. But his brother knew better and followed his own council on this matter. When the ice cracked beneath him like thunder he stood there a moment in mute surprise before the rotten ice collapsed completely beneath him. He vanished under the cold black water. Deek just stood there not knowing what to do. He was still standing there when his father found him two hours later. The water was already filming over with ice.

The beast was three steps out on the ice when a loud cracking sounded. He froze and looked down at his feet. There were no visible cracks but he did retreat back to the shore of the lake and rethought his plans to cross the ice. He hunted around shore and found a large rock that was not frozen to the ground. It weighed about sixty pounds he estimated. He skidded it out onto the ice about ten feet. It sat there for a moment. Just as he had about determined that it was indeed safe the rock broke through and disappeared.

Deek watched, relieved as his captor seemed to change his mind about crossing the ice. He felt the old man's hand on his shoulder.

"You handled that well," he told him, but Deek had no idea what he was talking about.

The beast headed west along the lake shore. It was going slow. It did not like the cold and had bundles up so heavily it was almost immobile. The one lone slave he remaining of the trio he had started with had been unable to continue so he had shot it and was now travelling alone. But that was fine with him.

He came to a little bay and and headed north along a small side road that lead up to a main county road. He had no idea what road he was on but knew the general direction he needed to go. He would have to get new host that could read or find a companion or hostage that could. The county road went due west in one direction and north east the other way so he turned to the west. Half a mile later the road ended in a "T" and he took the southern path. He took a few steps and pulled up short. There were fresh tracks in the snow. Wide tracks made by big off road tires. He deiced to follow them. Perhaps it was someone he could hitch a ride with or use.

* * *

They had planned to go into the little town of Elkhart Lake to find a place to stay for the night. But two tractor trailer rigs lay tangled under a blanket of snow completely blocking the J Road junction so they headed south along Co Rd P. They passed the thinly frozen lake that the town to the east had been named for. A short distance from that they came to a tiny stone chapel. It was set back a little bit from the road but the winter bare trees did little to hide it from Dotty's sharp eyes. She did not immediately see any access to the chapel so she backed up the road a bit till she came to a slightly overgrown drive leading to a parking lot. The south edge of the parking lot was about a hundred feet from the chapel. No one like the idea of leaving the vehicle that far from where they would be sleeping so they pulled the Hummer as close to the chapel as they could.

The chapel was a small stone building with thick walls and deeply recessed doors and stained glass windows. The front door opened on the east was a heavy iron bound wood affair with a small window and set in the top half and a pointed arched stain glass window at the top of the door. Directly above that was a little round porthole of a stained glass window. The gabled roof was steeply pitched to so it could easily shrug off thick winter blankets of snow. Inside they found that most of the pews had been removed. There were three stained glass windows on the north and south side, just after the third window was a large stone arch lending its support to the vaulted roof. A large wooden crucifix dominated the west wall. A fire place had been added to the south side where another doorway had once been. This would provide heat since the wall heaters were cold and dead. A once neatly organised kitchen area was set up around the fireplace and a bed was set nearby. Furs were filed here and there and there were a few work areas set up, some with unfinished projects still waiting to be completed. A small blue plastic kiddie pool sat in the center of the chapel. But what really drew their attention was the dead man hanging from the ceiling, directly above the kiddie pool. Suspended beneath him, hanging by a heavy chain leash and a steel choker chain, was a large German shepherd. Allison would forever think of him as the Zombie Dog Walker.

"Well, there's something you don't see everyday." Dotty whispered.

Dee was just glad that Duke was out guarding the Hummer.

It took them about an hour to find a ladder and get the dessicated remains down. Dee wished that Pastor Tom were here to say a few words, but they just settled on a moment of silence while the placed the remains in a nearby garden shed.

Although the others seemed quite comfortable once they had a fire going and the place warmed up a bit, Dee felt a little uneasy, like she was being watched. She wondered if she was just being paranoid.

* * *

He peered through the stained glass as best as he could but it was covered in a decade and half of unwashed dirt and grime. He did not dare to wipe any away for that would surely draw their attention. He thought of setting fire to the little chapel but it was stone and they could be outside and looking for him before it caught enough, besides that damn dog would alert them if he even tried. He would love to get a his hands on the fucking mutt too. But it was better that he just go. But there would be paybacks, oh yes.

He backed away with a sadistic gleam in his eye, unaware that he was being watched.

© 2010 R. Keith McBride

Friday, October 29, 2010

Land of Shadoews: Chapter XVII - Awakening

Dee awoke to the sound of a big General Motors V8 rumbling roaring to life. It was just beneath her by the sound of it. She was stretched out on the over sized center console of Dotty's Hummer. Allison was leaning over with a concerned look on her face. She could hear James and Dotty arguing quietly nearby but could not make out what was being said. Every part of her body hurt.

She tried to sit up but Allison pushed her back down like she was small child. She didn't realize how weak she was, but she must be pretty bad off if Allison could so easily restrain her.

"Notebook," she managed to whisper. Allison fished about for a couple of seconds and produced the spiral bound notebook Dee had found at the scene. She fell asleep again with it clutched to her chest.

Duke jumped into the seat vacated by Allison and nuzzled his head into the crook of her arm. He refused to move when everyone else got into the Hummer.

* * *

Sister Irene once again found herself staring at the man with shameful lusty thoughts. She knew she was going to have to spend the next several hours in prayer. There was no priest to hear her confession, grant absolution or assign penance. She just had to hope that her prayers to God would be enough. If it was not already too late.

He had recovered quicker than she had thought possible. He had the body like a Roman gladiator, strong and battle scarred. She turned away before she would more to seek forgiveness for.

She ran back to the kitchen in time to rescue lunch from burning. She finished it up and served it on one of the good china plates normally reserved for holidays. She took the plate back to him in main garage where he was working on the generator. It was looking like he just might get it up and running. It would be good to have lights and a freezer. Ice cream! She could have cream again.

She set the plate down on the hood of the Bishop's Oldsmobile. It had last moved under its own power fourteen years ago when she had used it for gathering supplies from town. It was using too much gas. She had siphoned it off to use in the little VW Bug she had found in town. But the Olds was serving quite well as a workbench and table.

Elias had spread a tarp out on the hood of the Olds and laid several of the parts he had been working on on top of that. While it was true that he'd had no formal mechanical training his father was always working on his old Camaro when he was home. And Elias had often been recruited to help. Besides when you got right down to it living creatures where just complicated machines. An internal combustion engine was child's play compared to the muscular and skeletal system of a human.

But this modified Stirling engine was completely different from any other engine he had ever seen. Combustion took place outside the piston and cylinder causing the air inside the cylinder to expand and exert force on the piston. Due to this arrangement it could burn just about any liquid or gaseous fuel with just minor adjustments to the fuel jets. But the jets were clogged and the combustion jacket was badly caked with carbon. Sister Irene had not been able to get it running since it quit three years ago. She had not known to, or how to, adjust the jets and the old gasoline had built up layer upon layer of carbon until there was just no room to burn fuel and the motor quit. The crankshaft used permanently lubricated ball bearings and the phenolic pistons were fitted in anodized aluminum cylinders. It needed very minimal lubrication on start up. The only thing he needed to do was clean the combustion jacket, and jets and make a few adjustments.

He had instructed the nun on how to do this if it ever needed to be done again. She had been watching him but he got the feeling that she was watching him for entirely different reasons.

He had just fitted the two halves of the combustion jacket on the block and was installing the air compressor. This engine was a heavy breather, it required a lot of air burn clean. He almost dropped the compressor when he felt a light touch at his elbow and turned to see Sister Irene's dark brown eyes staring into his. She looked away suddenly ashamed.

"Your lunch is ready." she told him quietly.

"You know there are other people out there. You don't have to live alone like this."

She turned back around to face him. "You don't think I know that? I hate being alone. I've always hated being alone. But I took vows..."

"Vows to who? You think your God wants you to be alone? Are you afraid that just being around other people that you will be tempted..." He stopped seeing in her eyes that the temptation was there. To just forget about her vows and abandon the convent, her duties and vows. He pulled her to him and kissed her then, knowing that it was wrong, not knowing why he was doing it. For a moment she responded, then she pulled away from him.

"Who are you being so loyal too?" he demanded. "God has turned his back on us if he ever existed at all! This isn't how it is supposed to end. I have read Revelations too!"

"But, this is not the end. It is only a test. Everyone is coming back."

"Denial of facts is not faith, it's stupidity!" He was as surprised by her slapping him as she had been by his kiss.

"They will be coming back, I've seen it. The will come back exactly as they left, naked and frightened. They will fall from the sky and tumble down the streets, And there will be nothing for them here. I have to do what I can to be ready. That is why God spared me!"

"And when will this miracle take place?"

"I don't know, but it will be the exact day and hour they left." That froze Elias. At first he had assumed this to be just a religious fervor or delusional fantasy. But what if she was right? It fit with everything he knew of the project, and he had not told her anything about it. Even in his fevered ramblings she said that he had not said anything intelligible.

He had thought that he was the only one sent forward in time because no one else had appeared with him. In the years since his arrival he had just assumed that whatever had vaporized the project facility had done the same to the people. But what if...

He began muttering a string of profanity that made Sister Irene blush. Now that the possibility had been raised the only way to put his curiosity to rest would be to go down to the company's headquarters in Houston and see what he could dig out there. He should have done it years ago, just to find out for sure what the Hell had happened, but the one person he had encountered from that area had said that Houston was infested with the wraiths.

"What's wrong?" she asked frightened by his sudden change of mood.

"I have to leave. I need to check on something. I don't suppose you would want to accompany me?" he asked already knowing the answer and grateful for it. He did not want to have to be worrying about her on the trip, and she was relatively safe here.

"Where are you going?"

* * *

"Houston," Dee repeated.

"Why Houston?" Allison asked.

"Because that is where Daddy's killer is going."

"How do you know that?"

"Because Daddy told me!" she handed Allison the journal. "Read it yourself." Allison took the journal and opened it to the folded over page Dee had used to mark the spot.

They had been travelling for two days now. Dee was not fully recovered, but she was able to sit up and walk with a pair of crutches Olly had fetched for her from a CVS pharmacy they had passed. The journal had been stained and torn in places from the rough handling it had received and some of the pages were out of order. It had taken her a while to find the answers, but when she did find them the implications of that entry scared her to the very core. She could see the same reaction now play out across Allison's delicate features.

"Daddy knew all this time? But why didn't he..."

"What, tell us and cause a panic? You know people would either panic about it now and make things worse or chalk it up to the ravings of a madman and ignore the warning. No, Daddy did the right thing. Tell a few select people and make quiet preparations."

"But we really should have done something about this before!" Allison protest.

"About what?" both Olly and Dotty asked, both feeling left out of things by this time. Allison handed the journal to her brother and told him. "About the end of the fucking world!"

* * *

In dark clearing in the woods moon light was spilling in drips and spatters on the forest floor. In one large puddle of moonlight a dark shape began to stir. It was large and slick with blood. Its dark eyes opened and took in its surroundings. It was alone. Perhaps for this first time in its life. Its litter mate, a constant companion since birth was nowhere to be seen. Neither was the master. It stood up, its legs threatening to buckle but still it managed to stand. It shook the leaves out of its short fur and sniffed the air. The scent was still strong.

Bo slowly followed Dee's trail out of the woods.

© 2010 R. Keith McBride

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Land of Shadows: Chapter XVI - Left for Dead

It had taken Allison so long to get around the woods, she half expected to find Dee waiting impatiently on the other side. But she was not there. She considered calling her on the walkie talkie, but did not want to in case she was trying to sneak up on the target. She settled in to wait.

* * *

Dee opened her eyes on a trial basis. When she found that she was not in the Lake of Fire Pastor Tom preached about, she sighed with relief. But that, like everything else hurt. She tried to sit up and found that her belly was a mass of pain. She had no idea how many times she had been stabbed with the little throwing dart. Only the short length of the dart saved her. But it still hurt.

As if in a drunken haze she took in her surroundings. It was dark and beginning to get cold. Through the hole she had blasted in the canopy of the tree was lying under, she could see a portion of the sky. In the moonlight that spilled through she could see Bo's lifeless body. Her shotgun was nowhere in sight and when she looked she found that her other guns were gone as well.

She tried to stand and was unpleasantly reminded of the bear trap on her leg. Her pant leg was soaked in blood, but she did not think that any major arteries were severed. But it was difficult to think clearly. She was tempted to just lie down and sleep. Just deal with it in the morning. But no that was not right. She tried to pry open the trap but the trap was old and rusty and the spring too strong. She felt around under the leaves and found a large rock. It took both hands to move the head sized stone. But she managed to get it up over her head and brought it down hard.

The pain was excruciating. But the rock had forced the spring back down and was holding it there. She yanked her leg free and kicked the trap away. It snapped harmlessly at her again and lay there. Blood, old and fresh painted its jaws a dark red and black in the moonlight.

She cut away her pants leg with a single edged razor blade she kept tucked away in the tongue of her boot. The wound was nasty looking. The jaws had bit deeply into the meat of her leg. But the bone was not broken and the bleeding was stopped except where the act of pulling the shredded denim away had re-opened it. She got up and stumbled over to Bo. Her leg supported her but screamed with pain at each step.

She was dizzy and faint and the poor dog looked to be about twenty feet below her as she looked down. Her head felt like a balloon about to float right off her neck. There was no sign of Duke. Things faded for a second and she decided to get moving. She wandered over to the dead stranger and found a notebook bound together with a plastic comb binder. Her mother had done that for her Daddy so he could keep his journal organized. She bent down to pick it up, her injured left leg up in the air behind her as a counterbalance as she scooped it up. For a moment she began to lose her balance and looked crazily about trying to figure out where she was going to land, but somehow managed to right herself before stumbling off in a direction she hoped would take her out of the woods.

* * *

Allison woke with a start, cursing herself for having fallen asleep. She quickly scanned the area to see what had awakened her. It was already dark. In the moonlight she could see a shadow moving about at the edge of the woods, it was too large to be one of the dogs. She snatched the night vision goggles from the dash. Sure enough it was a wraith.

She dove into the back and quickly loaded a missile into the mole gun. They only had about a dozen missiles so so had to make it count. The carefully centered the beast on the guns little LCD to let the missile get a good look at its target and fired. The sound alerted the beast and it broke into a run. But it was already too late for it. The missile swerved and followed it tracking its every move till it inevitably struck its target, whereupon it began to bore through the tough hide of the wraith. It attempted to dislodge it by rolling about on the ground, but that only drove it further into its flesh. That was when it detonated. The otherworldly creature was ripped apart.

She stared at the corpse and the blood matted grass for a few moments before making her decision. She locked the Volvo up and headed into the woods. If Dee was not out yet she was most likely injured and Allison would be damned if she would just leave her.

She found her a few hundred yards in. She was a bloody mess, but she was still alive. She was huddled at the foot of a tree with Duke standing protectively near her. Bo was nowhere in sight.

"dead." Dee told her just before she passed out. Allison ran back to the Volvo as fast as she could in the dark, to get the first aid kit. But a brilliant glow from the clearing at the edge of the woods warned her that something was not right. She stopped before leaving the shadows of the woods and stared.

The Volvo was fully engulfed in flames. A young man stood about twenty feet away. Closer than she would have wanted to stand next to a burning vehicle. Especially one running on propane. In the firelight she could see his features quite clearly. He was handsome but the insane grin on his face gave her the creeps. A wraith crouched at his side. He turned and looked directly at her. She knew it was impossible for him to see her, he would only be seeing spots after staring into those flames. But she slunk back into the woods a bit more anyway. He scanned the edge of the forest for a moment before he left heading south west with the wraith following like a faithful hound.

© 2010 R. Keith McBride

Monday, September 20, 2010

Working on story posts.

I have been having problems with a mild (serious) case of writers block. I have worked my way through it and will be pubilshing a new story post soon.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Land of Shadows: Chapter XV - One Year Later

Chapter XV
April 19th 2028
08:00:01 am
Dr. Elias Hood appeared quite suddenly in the air over a half mile crater. Well, crater is not the correct word. A crater is formed from an impact that displaces a certain amount of soil and bedrock. It is seldom perfectly round. The impact, absorbs and deflects some of the energy. Picture the shape of half an inflated, round mylar balloon and that is the most common shape of a crater. This hole was perfectly round like inside half of a basketball. So Elias fell, shocked and naked about thirteen hundred feet, to the floor of the hole. It was fortunate that the bottom had been filled with dirt, debris and snow. And perhaps a lingering effect of the projector absorbed some of that energy too, but he survived the fall with only a sprained ankle and some bruises.

He was tempted to just lay there, but he knew he had to get moving, the cold was already leaching into his bones. His ankle was a throbbing mass of pain, but he was in excellent physical shape which was one of the reasons he was deemed a good test subject. He had served in the Marines about twenty years ago and had kept a strict regimen of exercise out of habit. Another reason was that he had never had any kind of surgery in his entire life. Still had is tonsils and his appendix as well as all his own teeth. Not so much as a filling. No serious scars either. For his age he was a near perfect specimen. Back in college he had been recruited by the head of radiology department for use as a medical reference. He was scanned from head to toe with all the leading edge (at the time) medical imaging equipment. He was probably in more modern medical texts now than Jonas Salk. When you have a perfect specimen for comparison it is easier to spot flaws or damage.

He did not waste time trying to figure out what happened or where he was at this time, there would be time for that later, if he survived. He reached a point where the walls curved up out of the accumulated dust and debris. The bedrock had a smooth, almost polished look to it. It was slow going, but he managed to pull himself up by using some cracks in the rock. He spotted what looked like a cave in the side of the crater wall about a quarter of the way up. If he could just make it there he could rest and maybe find some way to get warm, he just knew he was far too exposed here.

He knew even before he pulled himself up to the scorched tile floor that the cave was not natural. It was perfectly square, what had not crumbled when this end of the corridor partially collapsed. By the time he got there his hands were a bloody mess and the frigid temperatures only made it worse. His ankle was swollen to about double its normal size. All his abused body wanted to do was lay there on the tile floor, he was beyond feeling or caring about the cold. But that is the very thing that got him going again. As a doctor, he knew that in cases of hypothermia when a person stopped caring about the cold was when they were in the most danger.

He forced himself to get up. At first the best he could do was crawl which did not make it easy to get around and over the rubble partially blocking this section of hall. It was very dark in the corridor, rubble from the roof collapse blocked most of what little light that entered the severed end of the hallway. But he could make out some colored stripes running down the length of the corridor, these stripes would lead newbies to various places within the facility. He recognized the color combinations. The top stripe was green indicating the cafeteria, second one was red indicating the gymnasium (complete with heated pool), the third was a brown indicating dry storage and the fourth was blue. He had never looked at the directory to see what that was for though. There was a junction in the hallway up ahead He fumbled around in the darkness and found what he was looking for. At the end of each hallway or junction like this one, there was a compartment or cabinet set into the wall, in those cabinets were emergency kits complete with a flashlight, first aid kit and emergency phone. The flashlight batteries were still good. The phone was dead. He wrapped his swollen ankle in an Ace bandage and swallowed a couple of painkillers. As much pain as his ankle was giving him he wished for something a little more powerful like Oxycontin. He settled on some Excedrin he found instead.

He limped into the gymnasium, his imagination working overtime on the bizarre shadows thrown by some of the more complicated pieces of equipment. He felt about in the darkness for a few minutes before finding the door to the locker room. He knew he would find some clothes there.

He was quickly found his locker and was again grateful that he had spent so much time in the gym. The lock was a dial combination lock, which was good, because, although he knew right where he had left his keys, he had no idea where his keys were now. The locker he had left them was just outside the projector chamber and that space was now just empty air.

He found three sets of sweats in there and put all three on. He put two socks on his left foot, but could only manage to get one on over his injured right ankle and he did not even attempt to tie his right shoe, opting to just tuck the laces in under the tongue. He sat down on the bench and tried to remember the layout of the facility. He knew his living quarters were on the other side of the Projector Chamber. But try as he might he could not remember if there was a way to get from here to the other side without taking a corridor that would now just open up into that pit.

The base was dead, that much was obvious. Something had gone horribly wrong. He had no idea what. He was a medical doctor, not one of the physicists that dreamed this crazy idea up. But it looked like no one had come out to clean up the mess. The portions of the base not erased by whatever had happened were littered with empty piles of clothes. He could not bring himself to examine them too closely and stepped carefully around them whenever he came to them. He did take a closer look at one of them though. He had missed it in the darkness and kicked something solid out of the pile. It was slightly larger than a softball not quite round. Reflexively he grabbed at the object and found himself holding a man's artificial heart. There was only one person here that had a prosthetic heart, he had done several maintenance checks on him. He was a good natured man, always ready with a smile or a joke to lighten your mood. He had gently placed the heart back where he found it and backed out of the room. He was not a religious man by nature, but found himself saying a quick prayer for the man.

This had been a major corporate project with a yearly budget of well over a billion dollars. The company expected a return on this investment. There would have been an investigation. What could be salvaged would be. The remains of the facility would have most likely been deemed unsafe and demolished. Even in the remote Alaskan wilderness the company would not have just abandoned it.

He would investigate more later, for now he see if he could find something to eat. One of the three cafeterias was right next to the gymnasium and while he was sure all the fresh and frozen food was long gone over, there would be plenty of dry and canned food. Exhaustion caught up with him and he fell asleep in the pantry on top of some fifty pound bags of flour.

After four days his ankle was recovered enough to support his weight as long as he took it easy. He had lived off of dried food found in the large cafeteria pantry. The batteries of his flashlight gave out the first day, but he found several boxes of candles and used those. They also had the added benefit of heating the small office he had been sleeping in. It was not too cold in these man made caves, but it was not very warm either. The office had belonged the head chef and kitchen manager. It was a small but comfortable office with a desk, file cabinet and large leather couch that he was using as a bed.

The four days of solitude had given him time to think about his situation. He was pretty sure that he had been projected the full year forward in time as planned, because he was still alive. He was not an astronomer or physicist, but it had been explained to him in terms that he could understand. A body in motion tends to stay in motion unless another force slows it down, stops it or deflects. Even if an object is teleported in time or space, it still has that energy. Due to the movement and rotation of the earth through space, if that motion is not in alignment with the motion of the place the object "lands" in, it will continue on in the direction and speed it was already going. Thus an object that was on the day side rotating in towards the sun suddenly teleported to the night side that is rotating away from the sun will continue in its original direction until something stops it. The rotational speed of the Earth at the equator is about 1037.5646 miles per hour. This would shoot the object or person out into space unless he was stopped by a solid object first. There would not be much left to bury. The rotational speed was of course less here in Alaska. Here it was only about five hundred miles an hour. He did not know if that would be escape velocity, but as a doctor he had personally seen what a seventy-five mile per hour vehicle verses pedestrian looked like. Granted the car was moving, not the pedestrian, but there was a quote from one of his favorite movies that really fit. "Whether the pitcher hits the rock, or the rock hits the pitcher, it's going to be very bad for the pitcher'". And on top of that the Earth is moving 66,660 miles per hour around the sun. So if you appear on the earth at the wrong point in its orbit, it is either, whoosh, out into space or splat, you're a puddle. He had seen the video of what had happened to one of the early test subject as a result of a minor miscalculation. The poor Guinea pig's body was shredded as soon as it materialized inside its cage. The plastic cage exploded and bits of shredded Guinea pig and plastic sprayed all over the main window of the control booth. The skull actually embedded itself in the bulletproof plexiglass. Several of the booth operators were suddenly and violently ill. One tech, a rather large, round man with a beard had fainted.

He had busied himself gathering supplies for the trip back into civilization. He had tried calling for help, but all the base phones were out. There were no other phones. All personnel working at the facility were contractually obligated to leave any personal communication and data storage devices at home. They were not even allowed to take handwritten notes off base. Violation of this policy meant sacrificing all of one's pay, retroactive to the day he or she was hired. Anyone employed less than two years would be fined an additional three years pay. It would mean financial disaster. But still there had been a couple that had been caught. One was a ten year company veteran. Last Elias heard he was now working at a McDonald's to survive. The company had forced the sale of his home and personal property to get back what was owed. And still they were garnishing half his pay.

The location of the facility was classified. There were not even any roads leading to the facility, everything was brought in by cargo helicopter. Personnel were flown in and out in windowless helicopters to a small private airfield. People on the ground opened the door and lead them to a windowless van that took them to Anchorage International Airport. From there they could arrange transportation to wherever they decided to go, at company expense. The chopper pilot and the ground crew never exchanged a word. It was a long trip, made longer by the intentional variations of the route. The only ones that knew the exact location were the top level project managers, pilots and the control booth technicians. It's a little hard to input the target time and spacial coordinates when you don't know where the hell your are. But he estimated that the base was about 150 to 200 miles from Anchorage. Probably if he had paid more attention when they were trying to instruct in the fine art of navigation in boot camp, he could figure out exactly where it was. But his interests were elsewhere. His father had been a marine and his father before him. Both career men. But Elias had wanted to go to med-school. He knew that his father could not and would not pay for it so he had to find another way. And the marine corps educational benefits would help a lot. He signed up for a four year term, was granted the full fifty thousand dollars he was entitled to and enrolled in medical school. His father was not happy about it, but he knew his mother was proud.

It would be a long walk to Anchorage, but he didn't think that he would have to walk the entire distance. Since he really had no idea where he was, he decided that he would just head due south. He would eventually come to a road and find his way from there.

On the sixth day he figured he was as ready as he would ever be. But he had yet to be up to the surface yet. All the elevators that lead to the top were in the area of the crater along with the personnel stairs. There was a drive-in loading dock on the other side. Maybe, if he was lucky, he would even find a truck in there that would actually start. He would have to cross the crater to get there. But that would prove problematic. Despite a year of weathering, the upper edges of the walls were near vertical and he did not think he would be able to handle them well in the best of conditions.

There was a big laminated map of the facility in the Chef's office and he would take that with him. Peering out across the crater he could see what looked like a partial service staircase exposed on the opposite side of the crater. It joined a corridor just before disappearing. There were some service passages down lower that would open up a little closer to the bottom of the crater. If he found the right one he, it would save him the dangerous climb down.

He hesitated at the stairwell door, staring at the alarm box. Though he knew that no one would be around to hear the klaxon he was reluctant. There was a small chance that the battery would be dead, but it had only been a year. He paused a moment considering that. So much had obviously gone wrong it was rather silly to assume that just because he was supposed to jump one year that was actually what happened. Suppose, that instead of jumping ahead one year he had jumped ten or more. But then he considered the condition of the place and relative freshness of the canned food. It could not have really been much more than a year, two possibly, three at the most.

He decided to stop piddling around and just go. He pushed the paddle on the steel door leading into stairwell and even though he was expecting it, jumped at the sound of the fire alarm. The right key would shut it off, but he had no idea where to find it. Presumably the facilities maintenance or security staff would have a copy, but he did not feel like poking through those piles of clothes, especially considering the very real possibility that they were on the inside of the area that God had taken his over sized ice cream scoop to. He tried to cover his ears while he consulted the map but it was impossible to juggle the flashlight and the map too. He moved down a couple flights of stairs to get away from the sound. It did not help much. According to the map he would have to go down 3 levels to the water treatment plant. From there he would take the north service tunnel either to an opening in the bottom of the crater or all the way to the northern service junction, which would lead him up to the loading docks.

The alarm continued for about ten minutes and then just quit. By that time he had reached the bottom of the stairs. It had been slow going because of his ankle and the supplies he was carrying. He was also moving with caution because of the dark. There was standing water in the bottom of the stairwell, not enough to even cover the top of his shoes but enough to make footing somewhat treacherous. Stenciled onto the door were the words "WATER TREATMETN". Elias shook his head at the misspelling. The public education system was really a marvel. The door was very stiff, but it was unlocked. He had been afraid that he would lug everything down here and find that the door was locked.

The darkness on the other side of the door was unlike anything he had imagined. The weak light of the flashlight only enhanced the darkness. Elias had never really considered himself afraid of the dark, but he briefly considered turning back. Pipes and cables crisscrossed the ceiling and crept up the walls. Large pipes, bigger around that he was, shut off valves, control boxes and unidentifiable equipment cast shadows that seemed to devour what meager light he had. Water dripped almost everywhere.

The door had opened up onto a metal platform with a rail and stairs.

Stairs that led

He panned the flashlight around until he found the object he had been hoping to find. A pair of heavy rubber waders. They were hanging on a hook and next to them was a heavy keyring with a key fob that read "Keys I haven't Lost Yet". He stuffed them into his pocket and struggled into the waders. They were designed to fit over clothes but he had never worn them before and they were very cumbersome.

It was only three steps down but that put the water up over his knees. It took him a minute in the darkness to even find the tunnel. Movement was slow in the water and the heavy waders were not helping in that respect. But he was glad to have them. The water was cold even through his heavy sweats and the insulation the waders provided. He knew he would get chilled long before he got out.

The tunnel was probably about eight feet wide and eight feet floor to ceiling, but the pipes and such that ran its length took up a lot of space to so that in reality there was less than six feet floor to ceiling and maybe four feet side to side. The water he was wading through made it seem like even less. Mud and who knew what else had formed a treacherous sludge on the bottom so he had to move carefully.

In the darkness, it was easy for his imagination to begin to misbehave. So the first time he heard the clicking he dismissed it as just that. He stood there for a moment listening and heard nothing but the ever-present sound of water dripping. He moved on. After what he estimated to have been half an hour into the cave and maybe a quarter of the way across he stopped for a break. This was exhausting. He peeled open one of the candy bars he had brought with him and quickly ate it, washing it down with some bottled water. He stuffed the candy wrapper into the bottle, crushed the air out of the bottle and screwed the cap on tight before stuffing it back into his gym bag.

A series of clicks froze him. He waited listening. The clicking stopped for a moment and he was just about to move on again when a series of sharp clicks sounded again. He could not tell for sure, but he thought it was closer. It was probably some kind of cricket, he thought. The flashlight revealed nothing. He felt like a thousand tiny eyes were watching him. The clicking stopped and it became very still. Even the constant dripping of water seemed somehow muted. He knew he should not waste anymore time down here, but for some reason just stood there. A series of large ripples lapped at his waders. He watched them for a moment and swung the light around again. There was something bobbing in the water back the way he had come and he almost panicked, but it turned out to be a rubber boot, probably left by one of the maintenence workers. He turned to start back on his way and found himself staring into a pair of milky, blind eyes above a mouth full of needle like teeth.

The teeth were about four inches long a narrowed down to fine little points interlacing like the bars of a cage. It had the appearance of a large evil grin. What he could see of its body was serpentine. It just bobbed there, head swaying on a slender, but muscular neck, staring at him. Elias was completely frozen with fear. Suddenly the mouth snapped open and the creature let out a breathy hiss and reared back. Elias fell back into the water trying to get away. The head plunged into the water and he knew he was finished. Cold, wet and his ankle still not fully recovered, he was out of his element. No match for this apparition. But instead of sinking a couple dozen needle sharp teeth into his leg and twirling him around in an underwater death roll, the creature quickly popped it's head back up out of the water. Half a dozen writhing little ... things clutched in its mouth. They were trapped good, unable to wriggle through the gaps in its teeth they were effectively caged. Several tendrils in the underside of its mouth forced them back where they were swallowed whole. The creature once again regarded him with its blind eyes before sinking back into the water and disappearing.

An hour later he was back at the WATER TREATMETN doorway, stripping off the waders and his now water logged sweats. That was when he saw the three inch leeches stuck all over him. There were at least a dozen of them. They were easy enough to dislodge, but his stomache clenched in revulsion everytime he had to touch one of the slimy rubbery bodies.

Once again he was left naked and cold. He hurried up the stairs to where he had started. He knew he would be able to find some more clothes in the gym locker room. He was halfway up when he saw the emergency exit signs and started laughing. He had been so intent on the tunnels when he was looking at the map that he had forgotten about the fire exits. These stairs would lead up to heavy steel fire door. He vaguely recalled the fire exits being mentioned, but with this being a privately owned, top secret facility, fire drill codes were not enforced so the fire exits had been forgotten. There was most likely an alarm and cameras up there to discourage unauthorized exit, but he would deal with them the same way he had dealt with the alarm on the stairwell door.

One thing was certain. He was never going back down to those service tunnels again. In fact the sooner he got away from the remains of the facility here, the better.

It was a long hike to the other side of the crater. He had plenty of time to stare out across it. Looking down at the bottom of he he marvelled that he was still alive. He thought he could even see where he had landed. If he had landed facing the other way, he probably would have seen the service stairwell that he had spotted from the other side and saved himself a lot of trouble. But with the shock of his sudden appearance and sudden fall, he had not taken the time to adequately survey his surroundings.

He was pushing himself somewhat, he wanted to reach the other side before night fell and not just because of the cold either. His encounter down below had convinced him that, well, monsters did exist. At least here they did. He decided that confidentiality agreement or not, he would report what had happened here to whoever would listen. Projecting a man forward in time was one thing. Releasing unknown monsters into the Alaskan wilderness was another. Thinking about the aforementioned unknown monsters spurred him on a little faster.

He spotted a couple of buildings a few hundred yards from the edge of the crater on the other side. Though he had only see the larger one from the inside as he was lead into the helicoptor he did recognise it. Having never seen either of the two smaller buildings at all, he decided to investigate them first. There were a couple of pickups in the small garage, but they would not start. Most likely the batteries were flat. A small shed a short distance away housed a couple of snowmobiles, one antique with a pull starter that would probably be his best bet, but he was hoping for something with heat. He moved on to the large hanger where the helicopters were kept. There were usually a couple of trucks inside as well as the ramp leading down into the subterranean garage.

Luck was with him and there was a generator inside with a handcrank starter. It had been scrupulously maintained beforehand and started on the third try, after he read the directions over a second time and found out what he was doing wrong. The heaters suspended from the ceiling started up a few minutes after the genny was running and within minutes he was warm for the first time since his arrival. As cold as it was he knew it could get much colder this far north. There was a battery charger and jumpstarter on a large wheeled cart. It was really nothing more than a large battery itself and needed to be hooked up for a while to be charged before he could use it. It w several hours for it to fully charge. As well as the one large cargo helicopter, there were four large trucks and an SUV to choose from. He started with the Suburban. But after three tries he gave up. He was pretty sure that the gas was bad. He looked over the larger trucks. One was a straight diesel, two were hybrids and one was a brand new fuel cell vehicle. A big four wheel drive International. There was a pile of clothes in the driver seat and a cell phone plugged into the power outlet on the dash.

He took the phone and plugged it into a power outlet at a nearby workbench. It powered up instantly, but it showed a 0% signal. He had never even seen a 0% signal. Not even while driving along the cell phone restricted zones of the I-70 turnpike last year, well at least two years ago now. Some states had passed laws enabling them to install short range cell phone signal scramblers along the lane marker stripe in 'high risk' areas that only allowed 911 calls through. Even in those areas he usually got at last a 5% signal. He decided to leave it to charge and check it later. He plugged the International in to the generator. It should not take too long, he hoped, for it to replenish the fuel cells.

He found a hot plate on one of the workbenches and finally fixed himself a hot meal of canned soup. Chicken noodle was not his favorite, but right now it was better than any meal served in any 5 star restaurant.
* * *
The International ground to a halt just as the trees parted. He had almost drive over a cliff yesterday and was a little wary now. There was not much in way of roads in this area so he had been following game trails and when necessary, frozen streams and rivers. This whole region seemed to be dotted with little lakes and they were all frozen over this time of year with ice several feet thick. Intellectually he knew that there was probably no danger, but having spent much of his life south of the Canadian border he was reluctant to trust it. He kept picturing the International crashing through the ice and his body being found frozen several hundred years later being put on display in a museum somewhere. This was a much bigger lake than the little ones he had skirted around. He estimated that it was about three or four miles across. At his current rate it would take days to get around it. And he didn't think the fuel cell would last that long. He decided he would have to risk it. The back of the truck was filled with food and survival gear, but he had no delusions about his chances of survival without the truck.

There were mountains in the distance, but without a map he still had no idea where he was.

He found the smoothest path down and eased the truck out onto the ice covered ice. As tempted as he was by the prospect of getting across the ice as fast as possible, he kept the speed down to fifteen miles per hour.

Halfway across he heard a groaning that sent a chill through him despite the truck's powerful heater. A loud crack sounded and he thought to himslef 'To Hell with taking it easy' and he pushed the accelerator down about three quarters. The International was a powerful truck, but it was not a fast truck. That was what saved him.

The big truck lurched forward, its four electric motors whining in protest. The speedometer jumped up to forty-five. Of course the wind chose that moment pick up and scour light, dry snow up from the frozen surface of the lake. Elias was suddenly driving blind. Even with the wipers on he could not see, it was like driving in a blizzard. He was convinced that the ice was going to drop him into the lethally cold water below. He plowed on.

The surface of the lake was not entirely flat. Snow drifts rippled its surface in places. Sometimes the truck rode up on them like a boat riding up a wave and sometimes he just rammed through them . The truck rode up one snow drift and Elias suddenly realized that it was not a snowdrift at all. He had ridden up the lake's shore and there just ahead of him was a line of trees. He slammed on the brakes and yanked the wheel hard to the left. All four wheels of the massive truck locked up. It skidded out of control and slid sideways towards the trees. The right wheels dug into the snow and the truck tipped up on the right. The cargo box of the truck snapped off a branch of the nearest tree and the remainder of the branch stabbed through the wall of the box near the top. The collision sent a cascade of snow down onto the roof of the truck. The truck dropped back to the left towards the lakeshore the right wheels now leaving the ground. Elias could only stare out his window as the truck tipped more to the left. He threw himself as far to the right as the seatbelt would allow, not really beleiving for a moment that he had enough mass in his body to tip the balance, but the truck was suddenly stopped as if jerked by a chain and once again settled onto four wheels.

Elias sat there for a moment, waiting for the both the wind to die down and for his heartrate to shift from scared hummingbird to something a bit more sedate like a rampaging elephant.

Eventually the wind stopped howling and he could see again. He was surprised to see a cabin about forty feet away. He carefully climbed out of the truck to inspect the damage and found a tree branch poking into the cargo box. It had hooked the roof of the cargo box preventing it from tipping.

The trapper's cabin was small but well stocked. It would make a good refuge till he decided what to do next. And it had one priceless commodity. A map tacked to the wall with a pin marking a single location, Written in black Sharpie was the label "Middle of Fucking NOWHERE"

© 2010 R. Keith McBride

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Land of Shadows: Chapter XIV - the Beginning...

April 19th 2027
7:15 am
Somewhere in Alaska
Exact Location Classified

"Scan complete." The computer generated voice announced. The technician checked the screen and saved the imaging data for review after the experiment. It would be a year before they could do the comparison, so the imaging data would be saved in multiple redundant systems. It was a full body scan at the highest resolution currently possible. Probably technology would have advanced some and the next scan would be at a higher resolution, but that would be fine. The technician leaned in and spoke into the microphone. The MRI chamber could get rather loud so the subject was given earplugs.

"Okay, Dr. Hood the scan is complete." When there was no immediate answer he checked the vital signs, everything was fine, in fact respiration and pulse rate indicated that he was asleep. The technician shook his head in mild disbelief. Dr. Elias Hood was the only subject he had scanned with this machine that had ever fallen asleep during the procedure. He hesitated to wake him, but knew he would be anxious to begin. He left the control booth and crossed the room to the MRI tube. This was not your average hospital issue magnetic resonance imager. It was much more powerful, had a greater resolution and custom designed image enhancement software. Normal MRI images were based on the interaction of mobile hydrogen nuclei present in all living tissue in the form of water. But this unit could also extrapolate other elements based on the interaction of the hydrogen with surrounding elements. It was like the way an astronomer can posit the existence of an invisible moon orbiting a distant planet based on the movement of the planet. Not only can its existence be determined, but its mass and distance from the planet. This was on a much smaller scale, yet much more complicated. This ability, combined with multiple fields of view, increased resolution beyond the designers dreams.

It did however necessitate building a more powerful computer to process the information. The CPU core was the size of a man's face. It had cost about one point three billion dollars and eight years to develop. At 11.5 Thz it was the fastest digital imaging processor in existence today. The projector downstairs used twenty of them parallel. The motherboard was ten feet across and was not really a solid board. It had been custom built in five - two foot sections laid out side by side rather than stacked as had originally been designed. They needed to be flat for heat dissipation. All of it was extremely classified. Until the scheduled press release in six months, none of them were even allowed off the base without an ankle bracelet GPS device similar to those given to people under house arrest. The main difference was that convict's ankle bracelets were not bugged and loaded with neurotoxin ampules that could be remote activated. Not lethal, but very unpleasant. The company took security very seriously.

"Dr. Hood?" the tech gently nudged the man's shoulder through the sheet covering his body. He began undoing the restraints that held him absolutely still during the scan. Dr. Hood stretched and yawned once free. It had been a three hour scan so he was rather stiff.

"So, Jeffrey, how did the scan go?"

"Everything, looks good, the twins are doing just fine, you should have a normal delivery."

"Very funny, Jeffrey. Did you get the copies made?" he asked while Jeffrey helped him down from the narrow "baking rack" as it was jokingly called.

"Yes sir. Copies have been made and sent off to corporate offices and backed up in three different media forms here."

"Good, I don't want to have gone through that for nothing. Is the Projector Chamber ready?"

"I think it is, let me call down and see."

"Do that while I get dressed. Don't know why I bother though, I will only have to strip when I get down there anyway."

"Well it will be a cold walk down there and while that would not be a problem for me, I'm hung like a horse, other people are not as lucky as I am."

"Don't BS me Jeffrey, I did your physical when you started here two years ago remember?"

"Yeah, but it was cold in that exam room and Ms. Morgan kept staring at me. Bitch could freeze the balls off a brass monkey with that face." Their banter was interrupted by a chime from Jeffrey's watch.

"Well I better get going." Dr. Hood said before he shuffled off to get dressed.

"Hey Doc, see you next year!"

Down in the Projector Chamber it was even colder. The equipment had to be kept cool to function properly. Elias stood on the Projector platform listening while they ran the routine systems check. Not that there was anything remotely routine in what there were about to do. At least they were allowing him a robe while they were waiting.

"Any time Dr. Lacey." he said shivering.

"Now Elias, you know the preset is for eight o'clock." a voice scolded him from the the chamber's intercom. "We are almost done with the pre-firing system check." She peered through the booth's window at the man standing in the center of the chamber. His breath was visible as little puffs of steam. She checked the chamber monitors and turned to one of the techs and asked him if it would hurt anything to raise the temperature in the chamber by ten degrees.

"No ma'am. but it would take about an hour to do so. The environmental systems in there are just designed to cool the room, there are no heaters, we would have to pump in outside air."

"Hang in there Elias I will see if we can get you a cup of hot cocoa or something."

"Just have it ready for me afterwards, Ok? That and a thick steak and baked sweet potato. I haven't eaten anything in fourteen hours!"

"Well I don't think the cafeteria takes orders that far in advance, but I will see what I can do. It will have to wait till after the return scan though."

"Well be sure to take starvation into account when you run that second scan will you?"

"Oh, stop complaining Elias, you volunteered for this!" She turned her attention to chief diagnostic technician running the checks.

"How does everything look?"

"Everything looks fine, but I'm getting an echo on the number eight processor. It is shooting out repeat data on a twelve point three-five second delay. I can shut it down if you want:"

"The system can handle that?"

"The system can actually operate fully with only four of the twenty CPUs running. It operates faster with all of them running, but we should not notice anything with just one in a controlled shut down. It would actually be worse to leave it running and there be a problem, it could crash the whole system when the projector fires."

"Well shut it down then."

"Yes, ma'am." the tech turned his attention to his laptop computer, unaware that his laptop had been feeding corrupted code back through into the system while he was talking to Dr. Lacey. He had broken protocol by using his personal machine and not the isolated units provided by the company. The bug it had picked up from that porn site was mostly harmless little cookie designed to track track the websites visited and transmit the data back to the original computer through dummy servers. But the new host had no defenses, it was supposed to be a completely isolated system with no outside contacts.

"Number eight CPU is shut down, everything else checked outs fine."

"Ok get the control crew in here and get the generator's cycling up. I want us to begin on schedule this time, I don't want a repeat of the Guinea pig incident. I still have nightmares about that one!" The control crew filed in and all but the chief of the diagnostic crew left. The DC would remain to monitor the system and warn of potential problems in case they needed to abort. The generators were brought on line and the refrigeration units kicked up to maximum. The lighting in the chamber was increased to maximum and seven hundred sixteen video cameras were activated, all trained on the center of the chamber. The temperature in the chamber was now thirty-seven degrees.

A technician walked out to the center of the room to retrieve the robe from Elias. He now stood naked in the center of the room, very much aware that if he farted right now it would be recorded from every conceivable angle in high definition and preserved for all eternity on company hard drives.

The actual firing of the projector was anticlimactic. The generators reached their programmed output level of .25 gigawatts and maintained that for thirty seconds. Barely one tenth the design capacity for one of them and there were ten of them buried a hundred feet below them. The Projector Chamber was bathed in an intense white light that the cameras compensated for. Dr. Elias Hood was standing there in the center of the chamber one second, then he was not. There was a slight "thup" sound as the air around him rushed in to fill the vacuum but that was it.

"Well that was easy. Now, comes the hard part, waiting a year to see how this turns out. Of course there is ... " Dr. Lacey paused as a the sound of the generators stepped up. "Why are you winding up the generators?"

"That echo is back!"

"What! I thought you shut it down?!" The DC tried to tell her it was across the board now, all of the processors were doing it, but he never got the chance. The projector was now operating on its own, but now all the generators were running up beyond their designed capacity. The power management board indicated four Tera watts before the screen blanked out. All the lights went dead and for a moment it seemed like all the power had gone out, but then one noticed that the generators were still going and a roar that was more heard than felt washed through the booth from the Projector at the domed top of the now vacant chamber. They were all silent, looking out the booth window when it flared. None of them felt any pain of course. The pain receptors in their brain had been seared away before the signals could reach them. Some might have considered them lucky.

The projector was not not designed to take that much power, but when it was active it was not entirely stationary in time. It fluctuated back and forth a few thousandths of a second and this allowed it to handle much more power than its designers anticipated. The projector range was magnified significantly. It was really too bad the targeting computer was housed separately.

* * *

Sister Irene could only watch helplessly as the man thrashed back about on the bed, in the grips of a nightmare, perhaps some horrible glimpsed future, real or imagined or, and she felt this more accurate, past tragedy. She had found him mauled by a wraith, the dead beast not far from him. She had brought him home, cleaned him up and tended his wounds. But she was afraid that she was going to lose him.

© 2010 R. Keith McBride

Monday, July 26, 2010

Land of Shadows: Chapter XIII - Trap

The stench was awful. The fire was still burning in the north wing when they pulled into the parking lot. Dotty compared the aroma to that of an outhouse fire back on her grandparents farm. It was obvious that neither Dee or Allison were still here.

If Allison had still been in the school when the fire started Dee would not have left or rested until she had been rescued or recovered. Had she been rescued and still able they would have continued on their way as soon as possible. Had Allison been injured Dee would have returned albeit reluctantly to the lighthouse and they would have met up by now. In the unthinkable even that she would have been killed, Dee would have buried her before carrying on with her quest. And in their brief search of the school grounds they had not seen evidence of a new grave and Dee would have made no effort to hide it, Quite the contrary, it would have been in plain sight so she could easily find it and direct her mother to it as well if asked. Oliver was not the accomplished tracker that Dee was, but the deeply treaded tires of the Volvo left a trail a blind man could follow. They had an advantage over Dee in that regard. Dee was not making any effort to cover her tracks.

* * *

Dee looked back at the ruts they were leaving in the wet spongy ground. They had left highway 151 behind sometime ago following the faint trail of the mountain bike. It was against her nature to leave such an obvious trail, but they had other priorities.

She banged her head on the edge of the roof when the Volvo jolted to a stop without warning.

"Ow! What the fuck! Ally, when I let you drive I said ... " she turned around to see why the sudden stop and began cussing even more. A wall of trees blocked their path. Just at the edge of the woods a muddy patch clearly showed a set of narrow tire tracks following a game trail into the woods.

Dee got out of the Volvo and checked the load on her shotgun and grabbed a few more shells from a box on the dash. Bo and Duke followed her out of the truck.

"I want you to circle around these woods, try to get to the other side ahead of him. You keep in touch on the walkie talkie and let me know if you see anything. I'll try to catch up to him in there. He won't be able to go much faster than a person on foot and when he can't ride he'll have to push that bike around, and that will slow him down."

"I don't think this is a good idea, separating like this ... " Ally protested.

"And it was a good idea when you and Olly left me back there in that garage? This is our best chance to catch up to that thing and end this, now get going!"

Dee headed into the woods without waiting to see if Ally was obeying her instructions. Both dogs sticking close to her. The bike's trail was easy to follow among the twin crescent of deer tracks, the clawed and padded feet of foxes and the almost hand like prints of the occasional raccoon. A couple hundred feet into the woods the bike tracks sank into the soft mud an inch deeper as if the bike had stopped for a minute and sank into the soft soil. A single shoe print was pressed lightly into the ground and there were crushed dry leaves on the other side. The bike tracks moved forward for about five feet and stopped again. There the shoe prints appeared again and the bike tracks became fainter as the terrain grew rougher. He was on foot now. But no evidence that a wraith was with him.
* * *

Deek leaned against a tree near the stream. He and the old man had been running all day and both were beginning to tire. They had so far remained hidden from their captor. The old man seemed to know a great deal about the creature, he was telling him about it while Deek led the way. Deek stepped through the door into his bedroom. He lay down on the bed and pulled the cover up over his head.

"What are you doing boy? This place is too obvious, he'll find us here for sure."

"I gotta rest. Let me sleep old man."

"You give up now and you'll sleep alright, but not before that things eats you alive. Now get up off your lazy ass and get moving. We need to find a safe place!" Jewels pulled the cover off the boy and yanked him to his feet. The room dissolved around them and they found themselves in a room high room high above the ground. The city below was a busy crowded place with cars racing down the streets and dozens of planes flying overhead. Big jumbo jets and Jewels did not have to see inside them to know that they would all be packed with people. But underlying this image was another. This was a city, long abandoned and decaying. Chicago.

The boy had populated if from his imagination. Jewels could feel the memory. Deek's father had taken him up to the top of the Lake Point Tower overlooking the old navy pier amusement park. He had told him of the city teeming with people and cars. The boy, who thought himself stupid, had built an entire city in his mind and filled it with people and cars and planes and brought them all to life, at least in his mind. But his father had either exaggerated or the boy had built on his father's tales himself, but Detroit had never been this crowded. The monster would not think to look for them here and if he did, there were plenty of places to hide. They could rest here.

The boy went to a window, picked up a chair and threw at the window. It should have just bounced back, but evidently the boy did not know better, for the window shattered and they found themselves looking out, not at the crowded/empty city below, but at a forest as the creature used Deek's body to push a bike through a wooded path. Jewels found himself once again looking over this boy and reassessing him.

Up ahead they could see an old man checking a trap, he straightened and looked back at them. Deek started to yell a warning, but Jewels clamped his hand over the boys mouth.

* * *
Things were going quite well, he felt that he had not seen evidence of his pursuers for some time so he sent the wraiths to scout ahead. One came back to let him know that human had been found in the woods nearby. He got the location from the slave, as always it was a little cumbersome getting any useful information out of it. It was like trying to get navigational directions from a toddler. He then sent it out again to look for food and shelter for the night.

He was surprised to find the man exactly where the slave had told him. It was an older man, but not as frail as his previous host. He was old enough that he would have been taught to read before the humans had sent themselves away and dragged his ancestors to this wonderful place.

"Excuse me sir, can you read?"

* * *
Dee found the bike abandoned at the base of an old oak tree. She quickly picked up his trail again with the help of the dogs, but she found another set of prints too, and these were wearing heavy boots. She hoped the booted stranger would not meet up with her quarry before she did. She quickened her pace, the tracks she had followed in were less than four hours old, but these were just an hour old if that.

She burst into the clearing with her shotgun ready, but it was already too late. The old man had already become the monster's latest victim, his throat was slashed. But before she could fire her first shot, sharp steel jaws bit into her left calf and she dropped the shotgun. The shotgun fired uselessly into the leaves above her only serving to defoliate a portion of the tree. The boy the monster was currently using spun around to see Dee with her leg caught in a steel jawed bear trap. It was anchored to a heavy steel chain attached to a spike driven into the ground. Dee could move no further than five feet without getting the trap off her leg. To do that she would have to give it her full attention and he would surely close for the kill before she could free herself. The weapon was out of her reach having been propelled quite some distance by the powerful kick of the over packed load she was using.

The Beretta was holstered at her left ankle and she could not get it out past the steel jaws of the trap. She pulled out a throwing dart from the leather band on her wrist and threw it, aiming for the boy's eyes, but it passed harmlessly over his head.

She was normally better than this, but she not normally practicing with a steel jawed bear trap on her left leg.

He quickly ducked behind a tree, but not before she threw another. She did not know if it hit or not, but it was not enough to slow him down if it did. Bo and Duke were now after him as well. Bo circled around the tree to attack but a sudden yelp and he was thrown back out into the clearing where he thrashed about for a few minutes before becoming still. He saw him move to another tree and wasted another dart trying to get him. But he made the mistake of trying to cross too much open ground trying to get to something left in the clearing and she pinned his hand to a tree. She thought to finish him with her final dart but found the elastic loop empty. A sudden image came to mind of the dart pinning a bug to the window frame at home.

Realizing that she was now unarmed, the boy yanked the dart out of his hand and attacked. Dee tried her best to fend him off but she was just too hampered by the trap and blood loss. About the fourth, or was it the fourteenth time the little dart jabbed her she blacked out.

© 2010 R. Keith McBride

Sunday, July 25, 2010

New Story post going up tomorrow.

I would like to apologize for not getting a story post up in so long. After all the problems I have been having with my computers and not really having a chance to write in sooo long I had a hard time getting back into it when I finally did have a chance. But by the time I got the first paragraph down I was back in the groove. I hope you will all like this next chapter.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Back on Line!!!

To any of my regular readers I may have left, I am now back on line. After weeks of nightmarish computer problems I have finally managed to get things fixed. Ok, not fixed, replaced. After my Toshiba died I tried to use my netbook, but if you own one of these wonderful little machines you know that they are not really suited for use as a full time work station. It was time consuming and left little time for writing. After two weeks of falling further and further behind I gave up and dug an older desktop out of the basement and set it up. It was an original Windows XP machine. I love XP but I have to admit that this machine was not working either. I had to install Service Pack 3 on it (it was still running SP2), clean off the hard drive run a defrag and several virus scans before I realized that I was beating a dead horse.

So broke into our emergency fund and stole $400 from it and purchased a new desktop.

It is about one rung up the ladder from a bare bones entry level machine, but it has a 500Gb hard drive and 3Gb of DDR3 memory.

I just hope the wheels don't fall of the van before our insurance settlement comes through on that, because, oh yeah, some idiot made an illegal left turn in front of us and wrecked our van. The perfect topper to this little chain of events is that while trying to repair a leaking carburetor my riding mower it decided to kick over all on its own. She while gasoline was spraying out of it like a fountain I was trying to get it to shut off. The spark plug set the fuel on fire. Foosh. I am back pushing a damn mower.

I should be able to resume regular story posts soon.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Land of Shadows: Chapter XII - Deek

It took more time than Allison really felt they could spare, but Dee insisted that they bury Jewels. The corpse was pitifully lightweight, little more than a collection of bones with a thin leathery skin stretched loosely over it. It probably weighed less than seventy pounds. Neither one of them could bring themselves to look at the pitiful waste he had become. They laid him out on a sheet and wrapped him up. The grave was shallow but concrete paving stones borrowed from the patio laid over the grave insured that Jewels would rest undisturbed by scavengers, For a moment they both stood over the grave in silence. Neither had the words to express how they felt. So without a word they turned the tear streaked faces away to continue their mission.

They managed to track the little Ford to this house, where they found it parked in the front lawn crushing a Lilac bush. The little van was filthy inside and deep gouges in the plastic flooring and interior panels showed that he had been travelling in the company of at least two lesser wraiths. But the van was finished. It really should not have even been able to make it this far.

It was clear that the monster had another host, probably the "big white boy" Ally said Jewels had mentioned. A narrow set of tire tracks leading out of the garage indicated that he liberated a bicycle. He had obviously fallen a couple of times in the street and a double set of wraith tracks trailed alongside the tire tracks. A good mountain bike actually had an advantage over even the Volvo. It could cut directly through woods, taking game trails that a car or truck could never hope to navigate. It would also be far harder to track. If they only knew where the Hell it was going.

* * *
He had no idea where he was going.

He was lost. The boy formerly known as Deek had never been more than twenty miles from home and had in fact been wandering around lost when he had fallen into a nest of wraith bugs.

Bitten several dozen times he had been nearly comatose when the wraiths had found him.

He remembered being prodded and poked by one, its drooling maw hovering over his face, Tendrils that felt like wriggling hacksaw blades probing at his belly. He was sure death was not far off. He was not able to speak, but began praying silently. Suddenly another wraith, much larger than the first swatted it aside. The smaller one crouched and began circling as if it wanted to challenge the larger one but it abruptly changed its mind. He had been carried off to their nest and thrown into an empty tool shed. Half rotten meat was thrown in a couple of times a day and a water bowl was provided.

The possibility of being killed frightened him enough, but the unknown reason they were keeping him alive scared him even more. He knew he was not smart. He never had been. Everybody was always telling him how slow or stupid he was. But he knew that there could be no good reason for them to be keeping him alive.

When the door to the shed was suddenly thrown open and he saw an old black man standing before him with a lantern, he thought he had been rescued. Then he saw the three wraiths standing beside him. He then thought the man had been captured and he would have someone to talk to for a while until his fate was decided. But something about the way the wraiths were standing by the old man caused a little voice to speak up in his mind, telling him to keep his mouth shut and his eyes and ears open.

The old man just stood there for a moment looking in at Deek. He felt like a cow being appraised just before slaughter. The old man started to say something, but never got a chance. An explosion thundered out of the darkness, man and wraith all looked to see what had happened. Deek thought his opportunity to escape had come, but the old man turned his attention back on him before he had take three steps towards the door. He just barely saw the stinger of the near wraith lash out at him. The world fell out from under him but not before he saw the old man pull a gun and shoot the wraith that had stung him. The other wraiths just stared at the suddenly dead wraith, their tiny minds mulling this situation over. For a moment he felt a compassion for them, for they were obviously as confused as he was.

He did not awaken again for several hours. At least he thought he was awake, but he could not move or see. There was a sound more heard really than felt of gnawing. It scared him more than anything else for some reason. But then a voice spoke out to him from the darkness. It was a kind but firm voice and he knew he could trust it.

"Follow me boy, if you want to live." He wanted to tell the voice that he could not move or speak, but he was already moving. Without arms or legs he moved across a rapidly brightening dreamscape of sea and forest valleys he recognized from a storybook his mother had read to him when he was a little boy. He came to a clearing where monstrous wild things happily frolicked. A black man, thin as a sapling but not at all frail, stood in the center of the clearing where Deek landed. His age was impossible to discern for it seemed to change constantly as he stood there.

"Did you make this?" he asked timidly.

"No," said the now old man laughing, "you made this boy, you're God here, not me. I'm just an unwilling intruder."

The sun blazed down bright and hot, beginning to sear the landscape, but a thick bank of clouds billowed up bringing relief. "You got strength you don't even realize boy," but even as the flush of youth swept across his face, he looked worried, "We gotta hurry boy, there ain't much time."
Much had to be abandoned for the enemy to use, but the old black man assured him that it could not be helped.

* * *

He was slowly finding what he needed and the bike was getting easier to handle. He was furious that the boy had had never learned to read. Interpreting the maps he had found at the local library was difficult. So much was always lost in transition. He knew what he was looking for, but not where it was. The boy had seemed to completely surrender, which had its advantages and disadvantages. Everything was there for the taking, but there were no reference points. The struggle for control always led him to the best bits, but this was like breaking into vacant house filled with unfamiliar relics. If you don't see what the owner rushes to defend, you don't know what is worth stealing. So much was always lost in transition. He knew what he was looking for, but not where it was.

He would have to find someone to read the journals to him. He would once again dig out the location of the of the miraculous machine these creatures had built and use it. It was just a matter of time. He would remake this world in the image of his own. But with food!

© 2010 R. Keith McBride