the Bottom of the Sea
The road narrowed as the forest pressed down on the car and the people inside. Wide-eyed, Robin Malloy stared ahead. "How far is this hospital supposed to be, and why would anyone build anything so far off the beaten path?"
Nelson shook his head and squinted. "Privacy? I don't know. I'd swear, the farther in we go, the darker it gets."
In the back seat, Crane stirred, leaning forward. "Now there's a comforting thought."
How, she wondered, could a voice from a dream invade her consciousness? But then,perhaps this whole journey was part of the dream. Her thoughts came slowly, as if strained through a tap barely turned.
"What do you want?" she whispered. From the corner of her eye, she saw Nelson turn and stare.
"What? he said, "You okay?"
She focused solely on the road ahead.
"Earth to Robin, did you say something?"
She shook her head slowly. "No, nothing."
"Nothing?" Nelson took one hand off the wheel and touched the side of her face. You sure you're Okay?"
"Something's wrong, Harriman." She stared at him, eyes wide, then back at the road again. "I keep saying that--don't I? I keep saying that something's wrong; I'm acting like a child."
"Not like a child. I think we're agreed something unusual's in the air. Maybe something dangerous--but Harlow needs our help."
An internal switch closed and she shook her head. "You're right as always. I'm fine, really. I'm fine."
The car rolled through the night, its occupants focused on the headlight's shadowy pool. Robin sensed a subtle scintillation stretching across the roadway, a membrane of barely detectable flashing sparks that spanned their path. The ripple spread off into the forest as far as she could see; they were about to drive right through it. Her mind, running in overdrive, perceiving in slow motion, detected a hint of pattern, a disturbing suggestion of organization in the faint web of sparkles.
to Bill Harlow that the whole damn world had been given a brand new
paint job; everything shimmered.
gazed past the village church with its picture-pretty picket fence,
gleaming white paint and towering steeple. Overhead, cottony clouds
scattered yellow rays of sunshine; the purity of the air almost knocked
him down. The streets looked as if they had been recently swept,
then picked clean by ravenous birds. Or maybe the stones had just
been newly laid. Whatever the case, they fit in perfectly with
everything else, the houses a mix of Victorian and turn-of-the-century
styles, the neatly trimmed lawns with no blade of grass misplaced..
Spectrum analyst John Benton frowned and set down his coffee. "I'm not comfortable with this conversation. I'm not the kind who goes around seeing things."
The station's doctor smiled. "The fact is, we're a long way from civilization. It's easy to get feeling cut off up here; isolation plays tricks with the mind. Are you sure you weren't asleep and just having a bad dream?
"I saw what I saw."
The doctor cocked his head to one side. "Go through it for me again, John. Precisely what did you see?"
"We've been down this road, but fine.... I'd been working on filtering magnetic readings since lunch and I was getting a little punchy. I decided to call it quits and get some shut-eye. I was on my way to my room coming through interconnect C when I saw a man, someone I've never seen before in my life. Scared the hell out of me." As he spoke, Benton stared into the distance until it seemed that his mind must be a million miles away. "You know this doc....once we're wintered in, there are no strangers here. None. No troop changes, no planes coming and going to bring in new personnel. But here was a complete stranger standing right in front of me. He had no earthly right."
"You said there was more . . . "
"Yes I did. I felt as if someone or something was telling me to get away from him, to get away for my own good. To run like hell. But I couldn't. For some reason, in spite of--Jesus, Doc, is this going on my record?"
"No, not necessarily. Just tell me the rest of it."
"Well, I was afraid of this guy--really afraid like in a dream. But it wasn't a dream. And the man,--this guy, uniformed, military--he was wet. Soaked to the skin. More like through the skin. It seemed like maybe he was drowned, but how could he be? He was standing right there in front of me. And yet I knew he'd been in the water for a long time."
"Was there anything else special, anything besides his being all wet?
"His hair--it was white and his skin was pasty, you know, really pale."
"So this soaked, white-haired figure was standing there. What happened then? Did he threaten you?"
"Nothing happened. Not for a long time, anyway. I just stood staring at him, unable to move, wanting to run. I began to feel pain. Real pain. And then, I knew it was coming from him; the pain was coming from him. When he stepped toward me and started to reach out with his hand, I found my feet and ran. Jesus, God, I muist've smashed into the airlock door and knocked myself out. Jackson found me, brought me here." Benton stared at the floor. "Can't you just let this drop? "
"It's not my job to let this kind of thing drop. This wasn't the first time you've seen this white-haired man of yours. You admitted that yourself.."
"So now, here it comes--I open up and tell you the truth and all of a sudden something's not right. Something's not right with me!"
"Calm down," the doctor soothed. "That's not what I meant. That's not what I meant at all. I agree with you. There is something wrong . . . but not with you. Because you aren't the only one who's seen this white-haired man. I've seen him too-and it scares the hell out of me."
"My God , would you take a look at that!" Crane practically giggled.
Even as she spoke, a widening wedge of yellow light signaled a distant door easing open from which a tall figure emerged, a haloed speck in the distance. She felt her jaw go lax. "Karloff?" she ventured.
Nelson touched her shoulder reassuringly. "I don't think so. More likely the man I spoke with on the phone." He waved and the distant figure returned the gesture. Nelson hit the gas and drove the remaining distance around the circular drive to the opened door and the light. As the car sighed to a stop, it's headlights doused, a silent curtain fell around the three within.
Robin couldn't see the massive heap, but felt it looming overhead in the darkness. It's not just me, she thought, peering at Nelson and Crane, reading something in their eyes, they feel it too. There is more here than the weight of stone.
All eyes focused on the halo of light and the man it framed standing in the doorway . Nelson stepped from the car. "Dr. Martells, I presume?" He grimaced, perhaps at his inadvertent historical reference.
"Welcome to our facility, Admiral, I am glad you are here," said the man in the doorway, "all of you. We have your man Harlow inside, but as I said on the phone, I'm afraid he won't be able to tell you much, he's still in a coma. Bring your things; I assume you'll be staying the night."
Nelson eyeballed Crane, who stood alongside Robin, barely visible on the far side of the car.
"It's late," Crane said with an edge of hesitation. "Makes sense, I guess. It's an hour and half back to civilization."
"Don't worry about your car, I'll have it taken 'round back to the garage," Martells said.
Nelson nodded. "Thank you."
The three travelers walked to the trunk of the car to gather their things and Crane looked up. "Must be the darkest night of the year."
Robin craned her neck skyward. "But Lee, Harriman, the moon is almost full tonight! What happened to the moon--and the stars for that matter?"
"Must be clouds have moved in," Dr. Martells called down. "It happens a lot around here--layers of clouds move in quickly."
Robin leaned in close to Nelson's ear. "Bullshit, Harriman. We all saw the radar scans on the way in, and the official weather report for that matter. There wasn't a cloud within five hundred miles of here. What's going on?"
"Good question," Nelson whispered over his shoulder and then led the way up the thick stone stairway toward the dark, looming pile.
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