I was lucky enough to be the next-door neighbor of a world-class chef. Like, legit world class. Like, Michelin star class. Yeah. The real deal. Stewart Therriault. Maybe you’ve heard of him.
One of the benefits of living near Stewart was getting to try all the sumptuous, creative dishes he’d make whenever he was home. Seriously, the guy cooked all the time. As soon as I’d see the lights go on in his house, it was only a matter of time before thick, luscious aromas wafted into my home. And, because he was a great guy, he’d often bring over a plate or two for me to try. “It’s all practice for the restaurant,” he told me. Continue reading “A Gifted Chef”
I was ten when it happened. My tenth birthday. I was in the woods with my uncle and father and they were making sure I knew how to shoot. Before I could hunt deer, I had to show them I could hunt bottles. By that, I mean I had to hit ten bottles from ten feet away, using ten bullets. It wasn’t much a test. I could’ve done that when I was seven. My guess was they just wanted to do something special with the number ten. I would’ve preferred ten cakes.
Thanks to my well-placed shots, the first three bottles exploded in glittering, green shards. Against the sullen backdrop of the sun-punctured gray sky and the forest still recovering from last year’s fire, it looked hauntingly pretty.
Even though I’d worn my ear protection, I felt discomfort in both my ears. It wasn’t the normal ringing I’d encountered before, though. It was a painful buzzing, like flies were trapped by my eardrums.
I looked over and saw my dad and uncle both rubbing the area around their ears. They’d taken out their plugs and looked uncomfortable and confused. I pulled off my own and asked what was going on. Dad shook his head and said he didn’t know.
“Mother of fuck!,” my uncle exclaimed, prompting a burst of giggles from me and a slap upside his head from my dad. But then we saw what had caused his outburst.
The seven remaining bottles were floating. They stood, motionless, three feet above the rocks where they’d been placed. The buzzing intensified and the three of us cringed. It was like a colony of bees had descended on the quiet forest.
“Let’s go,” Dad said, grabbing my hand, and we started walking back the way we came.
Then the world ended.
My father and uncle were hoisted into the air. I shrieked. Their eyes grew wide with fright and they held their rifles in deathgrips while pointing them in every direction in a futile attempt to threaten whatever was assailing them. I remember how my dad looked right before it happened. The instant before.
A one of the levitating bottles flew with impossible speed. It struck my dad in his open mouth and shattered. Glass stuck inside his devastated gums, tongue, and cheeks. My uncle, now screaming, was met with the same hideous assault. Both wailed around the glass impaling the soft tissue of their mouths while I tugged at my dad’s leg, trying to pull him back to Earth.
30 years later, their screams haunt me more than the sight of their blood. But blood poured. Blood gushed. In a haze of uncomprehending horror, I watched as the shards extracted themselves from the mouths of the men and began to carve. Lips were amputated. Cheeks were excised. Flesh dropped to the forest floor. The buzzing in my ears reached an unbearable level, and with a sharp cracking sound, everything went silent.
Deaf, I huddled against a large tree and sobbed. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the violence. In a noiseless, surreal nightmare, I saw the glass carve their gums down to the roots of their teeth. Their heads jerked forward in a powerful movement and teeth exploded out of their skulls and into the sky. I followed their trajectory and saw, for the first time, a patch of dull, green light behind the gathering clouds.
I looked back at my father and uncle. They’d stopped moving their arms and legs and trunks. The violent forward motion had to have broken their necks. My uncle’s eyes gaped and darted in every direction, but Dad’s were on me. They expressed pain, but something else, too. It was comfort. Even in the bloodbath, he wanted me to know it would be okay.
It wasn’t okay.
The green light intensified and I saw the outline of something – that’s still the only word I can use – something – in the sky. The first thing that came to mind was Medusa’s head. It had a spherical center and countless, serpentine spires jutting from it at every conceivable angle. Liquid patches of light traveled between the spires, and as it descended, I felt the buzz which had deafened me vibrating my hair and fat.
It reached the treeline. It was the size of a house. My dad and uncle had their eyes on it as their ruined mouths wept. The spires stopped mere feet away from the three of us. A sliver of green shone on the two men, and they began to shake wildly.
If they hadn’t been paralyzed from the tooth extraction, the shaking would’ve ensured it. They flopped like electrocuted ragdolls pinned to a corkboard; arms, legs, hips, backs – all contorting in ways that would splinter and pulverize their bones. My father’s knees bent forward, hyperextending until his toes were touching his hips. My uncle’s lower jaw swept back and forth. There was no conceivable way they were still alive.
With a sense of resignation, I realized I couldn’t move. I was pinned in my position, helpless to do anything but stare at the carnage. I assumed I would be next.
The green light flashed red. The tattered clothing on my relatives split and fell to the ground. The glass, which had dropped to the ground after finishing with their mouths, took to the air again. It sliced through their bodies in long, deep incisions. The red light intensified, and I watched as their splintered, fragmented bones were hurled from their bodies toward the liquid light on the spire-studded object. In a final, hideous act, their eyes dropped from their boneless sockets and pulped brain matter followed them.
Two motionless bags of flesh hung in the silent forest.
If I passed out at that point, it wasn’t for long.
My eyes opened to the sight of the husks of my uncle and father being prodded by one spire each. Skin flopped back and forth. Any remaining blood rained onto the floor of the abattoir nouveau below them. The light had shifted from red to something else I’d never seen before. It was as if they were trapped in a beam of shadow; it wasn’t perfectly black, but dark gray.
Black fluid began to drip out of their skin. It puddled in the mess of blood and organs on the ground. Their flesh wounds began to close. The dripping slowed, then stopped. The bodies started to regain their original shape.
My despondent resignation grew teeth as fresh fear suffused my small body. The skins were full again. The arms and legs moved, as if they were being tested. Eyes sprouted from the empty sockets and teeth filled their mouths. After a couple minutes, they looked exactly like they had before they’d been murdered.
Everything blurred after this.
I remember them slowly descending to the ground. I remember their mouths moving as if they were talking to me, but in my deafness, I heard nothing. I remember trying to run, but being stopped; stopped and held against the chest of the thing who looked like my father. The twinkle of concern in his eyes was gone.
I was carried through the forest to our house. I remember Mom starting at the sight of my nude father and uncle entering, but then I lost consciousness. When I woke up, I was in my bed. It was the day after my birthday.
As I said above, it’s been 30 years. I am still deaf. Everything continued as if nothing had happened, other than a freak accident due to a combination of a misfiring shell and my shrugging off of my hearing protection right beforehand. I even told Mom about it all, and she just stroked my hair and told me it must’ve been a terrible nightmare.
There was no warmth in her eyes.
My mother, my father, and my uncle still live on the same street. I live across town. I don’t see them very often. They express great sadness at this and message frequently, but I can’t forget what I know happened – what I know wasn’t a dream.
Over the years, there have been clues. Every so often there’d be a newspaper article about strange lights in the sky or messes of blood and organs found in the forest. They’re things that are always explained away by auroras or animal attacks. Weird stuff, but not anything that’ll make people think more than twice.
Five years ago, I was on my way to the supermarket on my bicycle when my chain fell off. I pulled over onto the sidewalk to fix it. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw another cyclist crossing the street. Then a car made an illegal turn and the cyclist had to swerve out of the way. He fell onto the ground. I looked up and realized it was Dad. He was picking himself up. A small gash had appeared on his elbow. Greasy, black liquid trickled down his arm.
He saw me and smiled. Then he looked at his arm and sighed. He lifted the bike back onto its wheels, walked up to me, and signed, “your mother and I miss you.” He hopped on the bike and rode away.
I just stared at tiny black drops on the pavement.
Grandma would always warn me that the elf on the shelf was watching to make sure I wasn’t bad. Growing up, even when it was nowhere near Christmas, the elf would observe me. The elf would judge me.
With my brother and cousins around all the time, it wasn’t easy to be good. But I tried. I tried really hard. When I’d make a mistake and be mean to one of them, I felt the elf staring at me. It would remember that moment. I’d picture it waiting until I was in bed, then running and tattling to Santa. No matter how much I screamed and sobbed to it, the elf wouldn’t answer. It would just watch and wait for me to do something bad again. It knew me too well.
On the fourth of July, I burned Marisa with a sparkler. I didn’t do it on purpose. I mean, I meant to burn Marisa, but I didn’t want to hurt her. I just wanted to see what would happen. Unfortunately, she got hurt pretty bad. Grandma had to take her to the hospital, but not before she got out the belt and whipped me until I couldn’t sit down.
After Marisa’s mom came over to give me a beating of her own, I was left watching Neil, my little brother. Grandma was still at the hospital. Neil watched TV while I tried to walk off the pain from the beatings. Before Dad died, that’s what he’d tell me to do. “Walk it off, you little faggot.”
I walked a lot.
When I got to the living room, the elf was watching me. It knew. Its wooden mouth was open, almost like it was screaming accusations.
“You’re a bad kid.”
“No one likes you.”
“Santa thinks you’re terrible.”
“You’ll be a bad man when you grow up.”
It didn’t actually speak, of course, but it was obvious that’s what it meant. It was the same stuff Grandma said to me, day in, day out. And somehow, I always made sure to live up to it. Try as I might, I couldn’t be good. At the age of eight, I was already certain I was rotten to the core.
Months went by and my best efforts yielded punishment. If I wasn’t accidentally knocking over a vase in the kitchen, I was tracking mud into the hallway. It invariably ended with my pants around my ankles and my grandfather’s old leather belt smashing into me as I tried not to scream. Screaming would only make the beatings last longer.
When it was finally over and I inched my jeans and underwear back up, I told myself I’d be better; that I’d be a good kid from here on out. And for a while – for the entire month of November and into December – I was.
Grandma, Neil, and I went to get our Christmas tree on December 4th. We came home and decorated it while cookies baked in the oven. I remember Grandma lifting me with her strong, solid arms so I could put the star on top. The star had been her daughter’s. My mother’s. It was one of the only things left that had belonged to her.
On December 5th, after Neil and I had gotten home from school, we were playing around. Like all brothers, we played rough. With him being six and me being eight, I was quite a bit bigger. When we were wrestling and I was spinning him by his arm, I made a mistake. I let him go and send him right into the Christmas tree. It fell onto the hardwood floor. Ornaments broke. Lights went out.
The star shattered.
In an instant, I was panicking. I knew Neil would tell Grandma. I knew the elf in the other room would learn what I’d done. I’d been good for so long that I’d started hoping I might get Christmas presents. After this, though; after breaking the one thing Grandma had left after her daughter was killed by Dad, I’d be doomed. Grandma would beat me senseless. The elf would tell Santa. I’d get nothing. And Neil would taunt me with his presents.
Something sparked inside me. What if the elf hadn’t seen what happened? What if Neil didn’t tell Grandma?
I was very busy for about an hour, but I finished. Grandma would be back from work any minute. I knew I might not fool her, but I’d fool the elf. That was most important; it was he who talked to Santa. Not Grandma.
I wore Neil’s face into the living room and looked at the elf on the shelf. He stared back with his black, judgmental eyes.
“I’m sorry I knocked over the tree and broke the ornament,” I said, doing my best impression of Neil’s high voice. I thought about his body cooling on the kitchen floor and his blood making a mess everywhere. Maybe Grandma would believe he fell on a knife if I cried hard enough.
Under the mask of my brother’s skin, I peered at the elf through the eye holes. The skin tasted awful, but I had to breathe through my mouth because the nose holes didn’t line up right. I wondered if the elf believed me.
“I’m sorry, elf,” I squeaked again. I heard the garage door rising and a car pulling inside. Grandma was home. I felt a new rush of panic. I glared through the cold mask at the arbiter of my Christmas fortune. The door connecting the garage to the kitchen opened and I heard my grandmother’s shrill, hysterical shriek.
“Elf,” I whispered, as tears mixed with my brother’s blood and cascaded down my face.
The elf on the shelf cocked its head at me as its mouth opened and closed. It spoke.
“You’ve been very bad, Neil.”
I fell to my knees in fervid, incomprehensible relief. Some part of me heard Grandma still screaming, somehow even louder when she came into the room and saw me. Again, the elf spoke: “You’ve been terrible, Neil.”
Grandma whirled around and looked at the elf, but then shook her head back and forth like she was trying to get ahold of herself. I stood up. Not wanting to ruin the illusion for the elf, I held the mask to my face until I left the room and sat down in the kitchen. Grandma didn’t try to hit me. She didn’t touch me at all. I plopped the skin back on Neil’s head and told Grandma he fell. She didn’t answer.
It didn’t matter, though.
20 days later, in my own, warm room at the hospital, I got some very nice Christmas presents. The doctors and nurses were so kind and gentle with me. One even hugged me after I’d opened my gifts.
The gifts weren’t exactly what I’d hoped for, but they were better than nothing. So much better. I giggled to myself as we hugged. When the nurse asked what I was laughing at, I lied and told her I remembered a funny joke. She smiled, and I was surprised to see a tear running down her cheek. I didn’t think much of it, though. All that mattered was I’d won. I’d finally fooled the elf on the shelf.
Jen and I love Halloween. We go all-out when decorating our house and yard. The neighborhood kids love to see what we put up every year and even their parents are impressed by the scale and sophistication of the decorations we use. We don’t just give out candy, we invite the trick-or-treaters into our home to see our setup. Pumpkins, spiders, skeletons, ghosts – you name it, we’ve got it. Our local newspaper even did a feature on us last year. “A Safe and Spooky Spot for Local Kids.” It wasn’t much more than a fluff piece, but it felt good to have our work celebrated.
A project Jen’s been working on over the last fifteen or so years is her “Halloween Town of Horrors.” It’s the centerpiece of our trick-or-treat trip around the house. The town takes up our whole dining room table and it’s a darker take on those big Christmas villages people like put out in December. The architecture is very Tim Burton-esque; lots of strange looking buildings, exaggerated colors, and blood splatters, while the townsfolk lurk in the shadows like little purple zombies and space aliens. As the years have gone by, Jen’s taken her Halloween town from a couple small buildings to the sprawling, populous nightmare-scape it is today.
This year, Halloween came and went. We had a blast. Jen’s Halloween town was a huge hit. Even adults from around the neighborhood came over to take a look. Jen loved the attention; she wanted to be an artist growing up, but, sadly, it wouldn’t pay the bills. As we cleaned the house, Jen picked up one of the townsfolk dolls. Its clothing had a little tear that needed to be fixed. Sighing good-naturedly, she gathered the rest of them into their box. I love those dolls; their aesthetic works beautifully with the town Jen puts them in. They range in size from a raisin to a lemon; some have distinguishable features, others don’t. It takes a while for her to make each one – between 2 and 5 months – but her effort always yields a product that’s perfect for Halloween. Until she can carry one to term, we both agree they shouldn’t go to waste.
My uncle worked for the State Department. He died a couple weeks ago. As per State Department policy, whenever one of their higher-ranking employees dies, the Department sends a small team to the home of the deceased to ensure they had no sensitive documents in their possession. It’s not that they distrust their dead colleague – they just don’t trust his family.
The Department team came to my uncle’s house one morning, spent a few hours rifling through his closets and drawers, and left with a small pile of papers. They expressed their condolences for my loss, then left. I never saw them again. Not even at the funeral.
On the night I visited and found him on the floor, dying of a heart attack, he told me something. It’s something I would’ve preferred to have never heard; something that made me wish I’d gotten to his house 20 minutes later to find him dead.
“Rockville Bank. Rangeley, ME. Deposit box 4426.” The key was on the ring between his car and house keys.
I pocketed the key before the paramedics arrived. He was dead by then. I went through the motions, arranged what needed to be arranged, and let the State Department do their thing. Last week, I drove from DC up to Rangely. I showed the bank the documents proving I was in charge of my uncle’s estate and owner of the contents of the box. The bank manager unlocked the main lock on top, then left me to unlock the other one on the bottom. Inside was an envelope containing a single sheet of paper dated August 4, 2016, that looked like it had been pulled out of a fire. I took it from the box, left the bank, and read it in my car.
I have to preface this by saying I’ve never been one for conspiracy theories. In fact, I think they’re all a bunch of bullshit. We landed on the moon. Oswald killed Kennedy. Islamic terrorists brought down the twin towers. Vaccines are safe and important. None of the major conspiracy theories have been able to hold up under scrutiny, and all the exponents of the theories are, in one way or another, unhinged. But.
There’s nothing inside me that can adequately explain away what I read on that sheet of paper. Yes, it might be a hoax. During the long drive back to DC, I’d almost convinced myself that it was. But my uncle wouldn’t do something like that. He took his work seriously. He was passionate and moral. All the evidence pointed to the fact the document was real. And if that were the case, people needed to know about it. That had to have been why my uncle had hidden the file away. He wanted me, or someone else, to disseminate it after his death. I made up my mind, and when I got home, I submitted it to Wikileaks.
Five minutes later, I received a phone call. “Destroy the scan you sent us. It is not real. Destroy the file and the physical document. Do not attempt to submit it again. We know who you are.”
I hadn’t provided any personal information to Wikileaks. They don’t even ask for it. And hardly anyone has my phone number. Plus, no one else knew I had that document in my possession.
If anything could have proven the document was authentic and important, that was it.
That all happened last Friday. Every day since then, I’ve gotten calls from different numbers, all asking the same questions. “Is it gone? Is it destroyed?”
Each time, I hung up without saying anything. This morning, though, the voice on the other end said something different. “You will die if that document is leaked.”
I hung up and called the police, who said they would send a car over. But I’m still worried. I am going to destroy the document, but not before I transcribe it. Not before I put it online. Even if they get me – even if they kill me – I’m not sure I want to continue living in a world where the contents of that document are real.
I’ve replaced the burn marks with dashes. The content is still discernible. The context is still available. Whatever happens with this, once it’s out in the open, my conscience can be clear. If this is my last day alive, maybe I’ll be rewarded for bringing this to light. God knows if I live through today, I may never sleep again.
U.S. Department of State: Wikileaks & JA documentation — — summary
JA ordered multiple attempts on the — of BO JB HC according to — sources in — of Ecuador, London. Electronic surveillance of the — is ongoing, although human intelligence —. Following — offer of funding, most attempts linked to JA have stopped. Tactical reversion to JA — Embassy of Ecuador, London — budget to silence sexual assault — and smear accusers in tabloid — as promiscuous or drug users.
JA has accepted the — GBP sum in exchange for keeping secret US UK BZ IT — for refugee experimentation. (See cable —) — experimentation via biological, chemical, radiological, —
— — refugee populations in SY being moved — — —, though Ciprofloxacin shortage makes it difficult to keep enough alive before reaching BZ and IT labs. JA accepting variable sums to hold back information — to sick and dying refugees.
JA received cables — from RU re: US initial success in UK lab — Zika manipulation. Zika reengineering and subsequent failure — reanimation of dead tissue via adrenochrome.
Loss of containment in FL, US, GA, US, LON, UK — some bodies regaining movement and autonomy — — following brain death. In some cases, full recovery. — motivation altered. Wikileaks and JA rejecting — reports for GBP 1M per. Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and others complying — —.
JA assassination attempt on — — 2016 reported successful by — Ecuador, London and US team — via gunshot wound to head. Body — reanimated likely — dormant Zika — accidental exposure to lost mosquito — LON, UK lab. JA new motivation unknown. Gunshot — covered by hair styled — over wounds. Still responsive to — and communication.
Internet in general still unaware of bioengineered — outbreak. — and family of citizens in US and UK — — reanimated dead without anyone knowing it. Monitor cables from — and RU. Avoid mosquito exposure.
The bloody pacifier I found hanging from my tree belonged to Alyssa Harris, who went missing from her crib two nights ago. I figured it had to have been Alyssa’s when I saw it, but while I waited for the police to arrive, I realized it could’ve belonged to Matthew Roman. Or Muhammad Ahad. Or maybe even Hailey Davis. Over the last four years, they’d all vanished.
Hawthorn Lane developed quite a bit of notoriety in 2015 after Matthew and Muhammad disappeared on the same night. The Romans and the Ahads lived four houses apart, and as far as the detectives were able to tell, the children were abducted within minutes of each other. Both houses were securely locked and there was no sign of a forced entry.
As far as I’m concerned, though, the notoriety and brief rush of attention from the national news wouldn’t have happened if their disappearance hadn’t been on the anniversary of the 2012 abduction of Hailey Davis.
Hailey’s case was special, if it could be called such a thing. That’s because on October 1st, 2013, exactly a year after she went missing, pieces of her were found stuffed in the mailboxes of every family on the street who had, or were expecting, children. A swarm of investigators, both local and federal, descended on our quiet, suburban lane, and worked around the clock for months before admitting defeat. There was no evidence.
No fingerprints. No hairs. No mysterious DNA.
When the media came to town in 2015 after Matthew and Muhammad went missing, the rumors started. Rumors and threats. People from all over the country decided to get involved. They felt it was their duty. They began sending harassing letters and making threatening phone calls to the single adults who lived on Hawthorn Lane. These were people who’d lived here for years; people who had grieved alongside the parents and families who’d lost their children. But that didn’t matter to the crazies, who’d been thoroughly brainwashed by cable news into believing the abductor had to be someone from the neighborhood.
In December of 2015, a Georgia man named Alvin Stovall drove 300 miles up the coast, parked in front of Jose Partida’s house, and shot him to death when he came home from work. Alvin was certain Jose was the murderer of Hailey Davis and the abductor of Matthew Roman and Muhammad Ahad. He’d heard from a cable news anchor that Jose had a criminal record. That, as well as Jose’s name, was all Alvin needed to justify his action.
What the anchor had neglected to mention was Jose’s record was from 1977. And it was for nothing worse than being a passenger in a stolen car. Jose did his three months, got out on his 22nd birthday, and had been a model citizen ever since. He was my friend.
After Jose’s murder, the local police were ordered to keep a tight lid on any information pertaining to the disappearances. When Alyssa Harris was reported missing two days ago, it was printed on page four of the local newspaper. So far, there hadn’t been anyone from the major media outlets poking around. I know it’s only a matter of time, though. Yesterday morning, someone who looked like a reporter was tailing the police cars when they came to investigate the bloody pacifier. For the rest of the day, my phone rang and rang. When I answered, whoever was on the other line just hung up.
That alone was enough to make me worried. My name is Luis Goncalves. I’ve been on Hawthorn Lane for 40 years. I’ve lived by myself since Robert passed away in 1999. Jose Partida was my next-door neighbor. While I appreciate the efforts of our law enforcement officials, they weren’t able to stop Alvin Stovall from murdering my friend. They aren’t able to stop whoever is taking the neighborhood children. I’ve resorted to keeping my pistol holstered to my side all day, every day; even in my house.
I know that may sound paranoid, but look at it from my perspective. Someone is abducting and killing children on my street. An innocent man was gunned down because the news media has convinced a large group of people that Latinos are dangerous criminals. And yesterday morning, hanging from a small branch on a tree in my front yard, was a pacifier dripping with a child’s blood. I can’t take my chances.
All that said, there’s one more thing. I’m reluctant to talk about it, because it’s something I saw when I was experiencing a dizzy spell from my blood pressure medication. I’d blacked out from the medication before, so this could’ve been nothing but a hallucination. Still, these days, with everything that’s going on, I think it bears mentioning.
I was washing up after a midnight snack. The sink is in front of a large picture window that overlooks the front yard. Since it was dark out, I couldn’t see anything but the reflection of myself and the kitchen behind me. I was already feeling dizzy from my medication, but it wasn’t severe enough for me to have to sit, so I kept cleaning.
As I washed the last dish, the overhead light blew. The kitchen went dark. It took a moment for my eyes to acclimate, but I could now see the neighborhood outside. And there was something across the street, opening the Richter family’s mailbox.
A wave of dizziness went through me and I gripped the edge of the counter to steady myself, but I’m certain, despite what I’m about to write, what I saw was really there. It was a pale, nude man with freakishly long legs and even longer arms that protruded from his hips, rather than his shoulders. Despite him being bent down, it was obvious he was tall enough to peer through a second-story window.
He paused with the mailbox half open, then abruptly stepped away and turned around. In two, long strides, he crossed the street into my yard. He gazed through my kitchen window with massive, gray eyes. I stared back. A toothless mouth opened, stretching wide enough to fit a basketball. I reached for my pistol. Through the glass, I heard the sound of infants screaming from deep inside his throat. His mouth shut, then twisted into a grin. Then his long, spindly legs carried him away, down the street, and into the woods.
The following hours passed in a blur of frantic calls to corporate, systems checks, and a near riot when the divers refused to collect the rapidly-dispersing grease slick that used to be John Edmundson.
The tension broke when Gervaso Zaragoza, whose headache had returned with a vengeance, grabbed a wrench that weighed almost as much as he did, hoisted it over his head like he was going to hit someone, and then toppled backward and fell on his ass. It’s amazing how the humor of someone falling down can diffuse a volatile situation. After a few minutes, the divers stopped complaining and did their part while the rest of the crew shut up and went back to work.
I hadn’t told anyone what I’d seen in the water. As far as corporate was concerned, a catastrophic failure in the hydraulics system was what had pulped their employee. Yes, people with knowledge of the systems involved would be able to dispute it, but at the moment, which was what mattered, no one did. I’d be able to talk with corporate later in the week, once I knew what was going on, and they’d appreciate me keeping it from the rest of the crew. A plausible lie is always better than a disruptive truth.
During the commotion, when I was trying to get everyone to calm down, the “tentacles,” or whatever they were, had fallen back to the floor of the plain. They sat in straight lines at the bottom. I dumped all the data showing their movement to a pair of USB sticks, pocketed them, and purged the storage array of the evidence.
For the rest of the day, I sat at the console and did my best to work without interruption. While the calls to and from corporate had slowed, every 45-or-so minutes, I’d be forced to respond to another board member’s secretary asking the same questions I’d already answered a dozen times. Thankfully, as the day came to an end, even those calls died down. It was quiet.
My direct supervisors left via helicopter in the early evening. I was in charge for the weekend. It wasn’t a new experience; the upper management of the platform had the freedom to go back to the mainland and visit their families a few times a month, and they did so as frequently as possible. I was used to being in charge. In fact, I enjoyed not having anyone breathing down my neck.
In the morning, more of the crew were reporting headaches. Gervaso was not one of them. He said he felt a lot better, and even volunteered to take the shifts of a few of his colleagues who were under the weather. His supervisor, Quan Williams, who felt like shit, told him to do whatever he wanted. I found out about that much later.
I’d been busy since early in the morning, working remotely from my dorm, and using my laptop to control one of the drones. I was studying the tentacles. Overnight, one had moved. Not much, but enough to warrant my investigation – especially because it was touching one of the platform’s support beams.
To make matters worse, the bottom was exceptionally murky. Sediment was floating in a thick cloud. Visibility was awful. While I could see the tentacle touching the platform through a visual/sonar composite, the resolution was low. It was obvious there was movement on the floor of the plain, but its source was invisible. Part of me was certain something was being intentionally hidden.
Around noon, Anand, the head medic, knocked on my door. I met him in the hallway. He informed me that 34 of the 66 crew members were sick with debilitating headaches. I told him to keep me abreast of what was going on, and if anyone took a turn for a worse, to keep it quiet and come to me immediately. He nodded. I think he understood the importance of avoiding another commotion.
I didn’t have to wait long. Anand came back at 2pm. He looked upset. When I asked who’d gotten worse, he looked around, then put his finger to his lips, shushing me. I nodded and he beckoned me to follow him. I did.
We traversed the labyrinthine staircases of the platform. We were heading toward the mechanical room. I hated the mechanical room.
The mechanical room was where all the heaviest equipment was located. It was always loud, always filthy, and always dangerous. Pumps and engines rattled and expelled noxious fumes while hydraulic cables transported fluids under pressures so high that a leak no wider than a human hair could cut a man in half. The crew who worked down there were a mixture of brave and insane. They’d been putting in double time over the last few weeks as they tested and prepared the platform to begin its main drilling cycle.
Anand and I reached the room and found five crewmembers being kept at bay by their supervisor, Karen Vant. When they saw me, they started asking questions – all relating to Gervaso Zaragoza, who’d volunteered to work there for the day, and Frank Panagakos. I’d never met Frank before, but I knew he was one of the newer mechanics on the platform. Karen told her guys to shut up and let us through. To their credit, they did.
Karen, Anand, and I walked down the main corridor between two massive generators. Karen told us how all the holes in the platform from the accident with Edmundson had been patched. All but one. The one we were coming up on.
The mechanical room was essentially the basement of the platform. Below it was nothing but pipes, cables, and water. I saw the hole ahead of us. As we got closer, I saw there was something coming out of it. Something bright red and glinting in the harsh, overhead fluorescent light. My breath caught in my throat.
We approached the hole. A hundred feet below, greenish-gray waves heaved against one another. I got on my knees and peered down, making sure not to touch the thing coming out. On the northern support beam, a thin line of red rose out of the Gulf, all the way to the underside of the platform and over to the hole. Once inside, it stretched down the corridor. Karen asked me if I had any idea what it was. I lied and told her I had no idea. Anand urged us forward, and we continued down the corridor, following the red tube.
We turned corners and ducked under cables and piping until we reached one of the hottest, noisiest, and filthiest corners of the room. Gervaso was there, facing Frank. They stood, motionless and open mouthed, staring at one another as we walked toward them. They didn’t move or acknowledge our approach.
The closer we got, it became obvious something was very, very wrong with them. The red thing had grown up Gervaso’s leg and chest and appeared to have entered his face under his chin. But that was the least disconcerting part.
The light was dim over here; blocked by the piping and machinery. I had to get in close to see exactly what was happening. Karen produced a flashlight without my knowledge and as soon as I was within a foot of their faces, she flicked on the light. I gasped.
Gervaso and Frank were joined by thin, red veins. They appeared to have sprouted from Gervaso’s eyes, and they entered Frank’s face at various spots in his mouth, eyes, and forehead. They trembled slightly, almost like they were shivering. As I watched, another cilia-like vein pushed from the center of Gervaso’s eye and twirled outward, searching for purchase, before settling on Frank’s temple and slipping inside.
“What is it?,” Karen asked. I looked at Anand. He shook his head. A string of drool oozed out of Frank’s mouth.
“We can’t leave them here,” Anand said. “They need to get to a hospital.”
“Can we move them?,” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Anand told me. “They might move on their own if we ask.”
“Gervaso, estas bien?,” I asked. He didn’t answer. He didn’t move. “Frank?” Nothing.
I took the flashlight from Karen and touched it to the veins. They stretched under the pressure, but didn’t react. I pressed harder.
“Maybe you shouldn’t –” started Anand, but I’d already pressed hard enough to detach one of the veins from under Frank’s tongue. Frank exhaled heavily and his left eye turned to look at me. Before any of us could react, the entire platform shook.
“What the fuck was that,?” Anand practically shouted.
“I have no idea,” Karen answered, wide eyed. “It felt like something just crashed into one of the support beams.”